Can This Lavender Be Saved?

It is the 11th of February and here in Central Texas we are bracing for a week of very cold weather.

In the backyard herb garden, half a dozen lavender plants are covered with buds. They would do just fine in an ordinary winter, but I’m looking at a week of 20-degree nights that includes one in the teens and maybe, just for fun, 10 degrees next Monday night after it snows during the day. If this forecast comes true, we will be losing a fair number of big landscape plants – shrubs, hedges, small trees, all the peaches – let along things like lavender.

So this morning I decided to dig up a couple of plants and set them up in the greenhouse. No doubt they will experience transplant shock; but I’m pretty sure staying outside, even with a cover, would be a death sentence. We shall see. It’s like I have two experimental groups, and now you know why I never would have been on the tenure track in any psychology department in the land.

Whatever the outcome, my little greenhouse smells like heaven. Too bad there’s no room to sit out there at this point.

Maybe it’s just as well.

I was out there yesterday chatting with Mary on the phone, watering plants ahead of the cold and just being a perfectly nice caregiver when without warning a cactus grabbed me. With barbed spines, of course.

Naturally I had no sharp implements within reach, so I had to saw the stalk off with my fingernails, saying very rude things the entire time. Went into the house, still rude, and searched for numbing liquids of any kind. Couldn’t find the lidocaine roll-on, of course. Poured on some clear Benadryl liquid. Searching under bathroom sink, what? What?

Why, Preparation-H pads, of course.

Fortunately I have plenty of ambidexterity practice, so my left hand was totally up to the task of cutting the packets open, cutting the pads down, and wrapping the offending digits. A bowl of ice water completed the numbing protocol and I shall spare you the rest of the operation. It was also fortunate that this particular cactus left no toxins behind: when it was done, it was done and all was back to normal.

Did we think gardening is easy?

It only just now occurs to me that I could have put that damn cactus out in the yard to freeze, making room for a worthier plant. Nice to know my mind doesn’t always turn to revenge.

Now it is Sunday, the 21st of February, what seems like 100 days since I started this post. I’ve been thinking about it for a few days now, and how quickly an innocent question like “Can this lavender be saved?” can turn into an embarrassing absurdity.

On Valentine’s Day we had icy rain, and the next morning we awoke to this:

I can’t remember a time when we had snow twice in one year, and I most certainly cannot remember a time when it stayed around for days. And days. And days.

With daytime temperatures below freezing and nighttime temperatures swooping down into the teens and below, this winter weather wasn’t going anywhere. Even if the peak of the days’ warmth caused a modicum of meltage, the next morning that was just a veneer of ice atop the snow. Which actually came in quite handy, as it gave my feet some purchase when taking Travis for his walk. Plus it was evilly fun to watch poor Marco Polo try to get back his outdoor adventure life only to have one paw or another break through the frozen surface and send him hurrying back into the house.

Travis didn’t love the icy part, but he enjoyed so many long hikes on the greenbelt with Floyd that he needed to take a day off and then head to the vet for his Adequan shot.

He always think that’s worth it.

While I spent a certain amount of psychic energy resigning myself to the death of much of our landscape, I worried most about that great live oak in front. Not a limb was lost. I can almost breathe again.

Everything else can be replaced.

Of course snow is so beautiful it’s hard to complain about it when it’s such a rare visitor.

We were very fortunate compared to so many people! We never lost electricity or gas, and spent only about four days without water. My daughter had given me a heads up and so we started the drought with two full bathtubs. We tried to be conservative with that stash, but surely some thoroughly cooked snow would serve for washing dishes. Toss in a tiny bit of bleach and it’s all good.

Thoroughly boiled snow is just as tricky to work with as any thoroughly boiled substance, but I managed not to spill much or burn myself too badly.

As a few days passed and the bathtub levels diminished, I began to look up assistance sites where we might obtain some water. Again fortunately, we were able to leave all that for people whose needs were truly dire. At about two o’clock one morning it occurred to me that once the frozen rain barrels weren’t totally frozen, we’d have all the toilet flushing water we could possibly desire.

Before the melt, the world looked like it was full of Christmas trees.

I wish I could have captured the splendid light going through the iced branches. It made me think of that line from Annie Dillard’s A Pilgrim at Tinker Creek where she’s writing about a book she’d been reading. It gave accounts of people who had been blind from birth having surgery and seeing for the first time, and one person kept referring to “the tree with lights in it.”

That’s what it was like.

Naturally there were many snowmen and snow-women, and one afternoon an entire section of roadway that’s between two steep hills was turned into the neighborhood sledding and ski resort. While our neighbors are always helpful, there was an extra sense of caring and watching out for one another.

One nearby family had a display so clever I posted it on Facebook, worried that perhaps they had turned to ice and melted:

Of course they hadn’t; they’d even made it through a few “blowout” episodes with their baby, still in good spirits. How??? (For those among you who may be childless, a blowout episode involves shall we say a poopfest that can go from neck to heels and everything in between and in the surrounding area. Without running water in the house. Bless them.)

It’s been a wild ten days. I’ve thought long and hard about people who went through the entire ordeal with no electricity, no water, then water pouring down through collapsing ceilings. Impassable roads, stores closed due to water damage. People were hungry. People died from hypothermia, people died from carbon monoxide poisoning trying to stay warm. Politicians were their characteristic altruistic or unspeakable selves. I hope we all remember who was who.

Just as I have run into some troubles because of my independent streak, the “great” state of Texas has its problems with its fierce wish for autonomy in a world where in truth we are all interdependent. I know a little about the history of utility deregulation, and some of the organizations and individuals who fought hard against regulation because – let’s face it – money. We don’t want no federal government telling us what to do, but damned if we won’t ask for federal money when disaster strikes.

Sometimes independence can be expensive. I saw a 2011 report following a bad winter siege; it seemed extremely (ok, tediously) thorough and made what appeared to be very cogent suggestions to prevent the next winter disaster. Those suggestions were roundly ignored (except in El Paso, I believe). Then I read today that the insurance industry (let’s not get started on THEM) will now face spending $1,000 for every $1 that was put into infrastructure. Who’s the boss lobby now, losers?

Ah, but it is now seventy degrees and sunny. The snow is gone, more of the landscape has survived than I expected. I’ve run the dishwasher and am looking forward to my first shower in nearly a week.

I’ll leave you with a portrait of Marco from the middle of the week, as he sat on a chilly windowsill both longing to be outside and wanting nothing to do with being outside. Poor dude! I can only try to emulate his sweet equanimity as he manages to roll with whatever nature throws our way. Having been rescued from a freeway as a tiny baby, Marco doesn’t let too many things get him down for long.

I’ma try to be like Marco.

What Do You Do With This?

It seems as good a time as any for collage, no?

But first one brief political rant because I believe silence is complicity:

Let me be clear: I am absolutely horrified by the current political situation in the USA, and I find reprehensible the utterances of anyone who professes support for those who invaded our Capitol; those who inspired them (I believe “sedition” is the word: look it up); and anyone who chooses not to see the horrors of white supremacy and white privilege in both the events and the aftermath. And if I hear one more “what about BLM riots,” I swear I will sentence you to ten years of being exposed to nothing but Black history in a locked room.

That’s a big mouthful. But I know the very thought of guns in my workplace destroyed my health and my teaching career, and I stand with those who are courageous enough to say this shit must stop. If you truly believe our election was rigged and your Fearless Leader actually won, go find some actual data and get back to me. Federal courts aren’t interested in your feelings, your beliefs, or your rantings. Find some evidence or just shut up, okay?

Well. All righty then.

If you’re still here, let’s talk about finding a few tattered shreds of sanity in art. Which happens, oddly enough, when you let go.

I can barely manage to make acrylic paints do what I want them to do. So of course I have to play with watercolors, a notoriously difficult medium to control. Hence the word “play:” it’s a built-in excuse for aiming really low.

I’ve always said I’m a doodler, not someone who can draw or paint anything that actually looks like anything real. Being a doodler is another great permission-giver. And watercolors do amazing things all on their own, so all I have to do is sit back and more or less let go of the outcome.

I take online classes through a website called Skillshare, and follow an artist named Robert Joyner https://www.robertjoynerartist.com in the hope of learning to paint “loosely:” not exactly abstract, you can clearly see what he is portraying as if it were real life. He calls himself a paint-slinger, and I love to watch the videos in which he appears to just slap on stroke after stroke, color after color, shape after shape and suddenly it’s a harbor, or a street scene, or a cow.

It’s like real life but through a kaleidoscope.

At some point over the holidays, Joyner posted some ideas for fun quick art pieces and naturally I had to try some out. Here’s my favorite:

I sent him the image as I was asking whether he would be okay with my getting it printed up to sell at what I hope will be our neighborhood Mothers’ Day Art Sale. He said that’s fine, there’s no copyright, and nice job!

Well, that’s practically right up there with the time Annie Dillard said she loved my poetry. It’s just lucky I have sufficient shortcomings to keep me bearable.

On the food front, I’ll start out with where I fall short: ciabatta. I think I may be too impatient with the final rise, but I cannot get a crust or crumb that makes me happy. Floyd recently cut me a beautiful baking steel, and I’m sure that will be the answer to all my bread-baking needs. Luckily, thanks to the best daughter in the world, we have a supply of olive oil straight from Tuscany. It helps.

And as everyone knows, even bad bread smells wonderful in the oven. So I shall continue to plug away at it.

For reasons I can’t begin to fathom, I had it in my mind to make cinnamon rolls. Part of the fun of baking nowadays is the internet search for the “best of” recipes and finding one that calls for ingredients that are actually in the house. I’m still not shopping out in the world, but Floyd is kind enough to pick up things like yeast when he goes to Central Market. I have no idea what I would do with the 32-ounce jar available at Costco.

In any event, I thought the cinnamon rolls were wonderful. The pecans were my idea.

I’d also had it in mind to bake a cheesecake, since 10,000 calories a day is hardly enough to get one through a year like this or a winter like this. More about winter in a minute. But what I mean to say is, I somehow had a whole lot of cream cheese inn the fridge.

So last Sunday I made my usual fresh tomato sauce. Tossed in 3 or 4 ounces of cream cheese, cut up, and a few handfuls of baby spinach. Threw in the penne and lots of toasted pine nuts and ate enough of it for two days to create many wonderful regrets. OOOOH, I ate too much, you know what I mean?

Best part: I made a double batch of sauce, so I can eat this all over again!

On to the gardening section: it was a long and dry autumn here in Central Texas. At such times the wisdom of native and well-adapted plants becomes evident – in case you missed it before. The sidewalk garden provided color and bee food throughout.

I don’t even remember whether I’ve told you about my cactus-ish planter made of six-inch tubing, but there it is. It is supposed to be West Texas on one side and Joshua Tree on the other. I think in Spring I’ll plant it with very drapey succulents. Or maybe very spiky yucca. In winter we must daydream about what we’ll do in Spring, or we would have nothing to look forward to at all.

Right outside the front door, lantana, flame acanthus, and shrimp plant were super colorful and therefore inescapably cheering.

I even had blossoms on my Stapelia, which are a great treat as long as you don’t stick your nose in too close.

In the back yard, I’d sit with Mary on the phone for hours and just kind of take in the space in all its tininess. While I thought on first seeing it eleven years ago that I could never live with such a postage-stamp landscape, I’ve reached an age at which a tiny yard has infinite appeal.

It is now mid-January. I miss my basil plants. I miss all the leaves, really, even when they fall and make a mess and a bunch of work for me. From the lemons-to-lemonade department, Floyd’s truck was broken into and some tools stolen (I hope that ancient grinder with the cord that was more holes than cord teaches someone they ought not to steal stuff, especially a working man’s tools). He replaced them with a bunch of Milwaukee brand tools, and holy Swiss cheese are they great.

I do love a good reciprocating saw.

And the Milwaukee leaf blower, battery powered, is far lighter and quieter than the gas version. Not to mention less polluting. I know everyone hates every leaf blower except their own, but if you were to borrow mine you would love my leaf blower too.

This year I did remember to start getting plants into the greenhouse early. Usually I am in a back-breaking rush as a north wind comes slamming down from Canada pushing me into the task. Not this year!

This is my therapy office these days, brimming over with oxygen and the smell of damp potting soil. By now there are hundreds of succulent buds trying my patience by making me wait for them; knowing, I imagine, that I need a great deal of patience practice. You can’t hurry succulent flowers.

I went out to the shop one day to pick out steel for planters, thinking of the Mothers’ Day Art Sale (about which I really ought to be doing something by now). Here we see a steel planter being born:

Isn’t a plasma cutter a wonderful thing? Everyone should have one. This particular piece of steel came with a pattern of rust that’s so pretty I hope to recreate it with paint.

Should have just clear-coated it on the spot. But maybe by the time it warms up enough to work in the driveway, the rust will have re-asserted itself.

Did I tell you our weather turned cold? Stop laughing, New England fam.

It was pretty enough to make me want to stand and scrub out the kitchen sink.

I decided to walk up the street instead.

Just around that curve the kids were having a great time – first snow for a few of them. If it hadn’t been so wet I’d have shown them how to make a snow angel.

The sidewalk garden was quite picturesque, I thought.

Travis, just back from a long hike in the greenbelt, was in no hurry to get back in the house. He would have hung out with the kids all day.

It’s hard to imagine he is turning twelve this month.

The kitties, on the other hand, were having none of it. Lucy refused to step foot outdoors, and although Marco did go out for a while, he spent much more of the day just watching from a warm perch, just like me.

I was so glad the year-long Knit A Blanket For A Tall Grandson project had been completed in time for such winter weather. Tracy says Jessie says he loves having a blanket long enough for him. Aww.

I am not as short as I look in this photo, just so you know.

As you see, we are all well and managing to keep COVID-19 away for the moment. I’m working on signing us up for the vaccine, but websites remain clogged and very busy. That’s okay; let the people on the front lines, the people with higher-level needs, go first. I’m not going anywhere and I am madly in love with Instacart anyway. We’ll get there soon enough, I imagine.

Circling back to collage, here are a couple:

Nothing like cutting up paper and getting glue stick all over everything to bring out your inner kindergartener.

I’m going to close with a photo that has nothing to do with gardening, food, or art. It has more to do with letting surprise in, and turning it into something beautiful. One day when the weather was mild and the front door was open, I caught a very attentive Lucy watching a bunch of noise up in the skylight tunnel thing in our foyer.

Fortunately the little noisemaker managed to fly down, take a few moments to reconsider the whole thing, and decide to go back the way they had come.

Go be surprised.

Beginning Again, Again

White Point

It’s good to know that with so many things in life we can just start over.

It’s the end of October here in Middle Texas, megatons of promised rain have failed to arrive, and we stand to lose 40 degrees tonight. Our gardens are looking positively autumnal, or our version of it anyway: still plenty of color, multitudes of flowers; but every day more dead leaves and bare stalks.

The very thought of cutting down the sidewalk garden makes me tired, but starting over means work and what good is a garden if it can’t remind you multiple times a year that you can always start over?

I’m writing this on the very brink of an election so important I’ve had a stomach ache about it for months. I know that people who approve of the current administration believe what they believe and no amount of data or rational thinking can change it. I myself am hoping we have a chance to start some things over.

At this writing 224,466 Americans and their families will have no opportunity to go back, start over, do things differently, or wish that a president for whom many people would walk through fire could have said what all the medical professionals said: take COVID-19 seriously; social distance; and wear a mask.

I myself personally have had no problems wearing a mask. That way no one can read my lips when I am silently berating the damn fool humans who make every adventure out in the world downright annoying. I also love not shopping. I also love hardly ever having to drive anywhere. So, other than worrying about my kids and grandkids, and feeling horrible for the people who are ill and dying and the people who take care of them, COVID-19 has mostly been a mere annoyance for the likes of me.

In early August I did, however, screw my courage to the wall and board a plane for LAX – which looks very strange when deserted. My girl Mary had at last been granted a date to begin again with a new shoulder, and I was going to help her. I know, it would mean seven weeks alongside the Pacific Ocean, but sacrifices must be made in difficult times, no?

It was weird to be unable to just say, Let’s go have lunch at the 22nd Street Landing, or Let’s go see what’s at Ross today. But we managed. Especially the lunch part.

Chinese Take-Out by the Sea

Doesn’t everybody bring vintage embroidered linens to a picnic? My girl Mary, channeling Elizabeth David, certainly does.

Just as I believe resiliency is a critical component of survival, I believe finding beauty is a key factor in navigating truly ugly times. What else can you do, wallow in the nastiness?

Although I missed the first crop of night-blooming jasmine, my extended visit meant I would be there for the late-summer round. Knowing how I feel about NBJ, Mary clipped a sprig for my bedside. I had to move it to a spot behind the fan, as this perfume is powerful stuff. Especially coming from tiny flowers that don’t look like a heck of a much.

NBJ

I think another important aspect of surviving difficult times is perspective. I am human enough to feel compassion for all the parents who’ve been thrust into three full-time jobs during the pandemic, but for reasons I can’t quite explain I keep thinking of Anne Frank and her family.

Cliffs and the sea are always good for perspective.

Mary and I wandered on foot and by car. One day I drove us down around the marina, where many boats large and small are moored. We waxed nostalgic about the days when San Pedro was a working port, very rough, very industrial. I don’t know how I feel about that rough town beginning again, but I suppose it’s a good thing all in all.

Still.

If I were a journalist, I would look up the history of that building. What happened there? Train tracks run through numerous buildings down at the old port. What are those angled chutes? And the animal heads?

In my imagination those maws are drains, so that floors could be washed with hoses, although I can’t really imagine multiple stories of seafood processing. Perhaps that’s because I dream of living in a house like that – where at least some of the rooms could be washed out with a hose now and then. Talk about a handy new beginning.

While I was away, two grandsons and my daughter helped keep the gardens watered and Travis walked. Tracy reported a bountiful harvest of passion flowers. I was relieved some of them waited for me. I finally thought to snip one and bring it into the house to photograph out of the wind.

Once home I also had to begin again on my Big Knitting Project, the blanket I should have knitted for my first grandson before he topped 6’4″. It is a very nice thing to have two hands to work with once more.

I envision being finished just before this blanket reaches the hallway.

Since I am forever nagging people to make art out of difficult experiences, it is only fair that I take my own advice. It’s a good time to paint wildly with a palette knife

a good time to return to the unbelievably sticky business of resin

Thank you to Tracy for the Santorini marble!

and a very good time to try an entirely new medium: alcohol ink, again on a piece of Santorini marble.

It takes a certain amount of creativity to begin again. It takes some imagination and a willingness to take risks.

Sometimes all it takes is the desire to wash away the things that haven’t been working so well and clear a space for something better.

What’s A Lazy Retired Introvert with a Broken Arm to Do?

Why, nothing, of course.

I might as well open with two confessions: first, that photo is a little misleading. It’s not, thankfully, Lucy Sparkletoes who has the broken arm. Nor is she an introvert. But who wants to open with a splint and oddly colored fingers?

Second, I’ve been away so long that WordPress has managed to become almost incomprehensible to me the user. So bear with the odd font sizes etc. I may have nothing to do, but it will take a whole lot more nothing to do to get me to try to learn a new way of writing a blog post.

Since pretty much my entire readership consists of family members, you probably know all about what happened. But for anyone else, I’ll just say it isn’t as strange as it seems to learn that Floyd and I went out for a little skate around the neighborhood. We do that periodically. We MET skating. At my peak I skated up to 2000 miles per year. And I very rarely fall.

If you go back three years in this very blog you can read all about that time I shattered my right wrist while on a walk, so. In a way this experience was similar, with all the “Yup, you’ve done it again,” and “Nothing by mouth after midnight” stuff.

This one did bring a new experience, though: having a fracture reduced! (Squeamish people skip ahead.)

The people at our lovely ER were wonderful, of course, and very generous with IV morphine. Still, when they came to tell me the fracture would need to be reduced, and they wheeled in this, this medieval looking device that looked like they might tie my fingers to it and run out of the room with them, I wasn’t too stoned to realize that sounded pretty bad.

“No worries,” they said. “We’ll give you something so you won’t remember a thing.” Riiight.

I fell off my skates, you guys, not off a pumpkin truck.

Actually that procedure was excellent! It was like general anesthesia except I was pleasantly dreaming the whole time; and the arm felt way better with those bones more or less back in place. So if you ever need a broken limb reduced, do not fear it – especially if you are in my closest ER.

Flash forward a week and, much to my dismay, I was told and could see very clearly that those bones were nowhere near as in place as they should be. Not to mention a little fragment that was quite far from where it should be. So.

SQUEAMISH PEOPLE CAN COME BACK NOW. THE WORST IS OVER.

“At least it’s my left arm this time,” and “This one is nowhere near as bad as the last one,” are statements that truly scrape the bottom of the optimism barrel, in my opinion. Just like, “It’s a good time to be in quarantine.” But there you have it.

Now all I want to be able to add is, “I had to visit numerous health care facilities and didn’t come down with COVID-19.”

Meanwhile, spring arrived in fits and starts and chilly and hot and rainy and dull and gorgeous.

So a lazy retired introvert with a broken arm gets to sit in the front yard a great deal, where there is almost always a breeze and the agave flower stalk across the street grows every day like a mammoth asparagus that will soon be topped with yellow flowers and a million honeybees. It’s a very good time to look forward to things.

It’s been a joy to watch the young families all around us make the most of a very challenging situation. They have spent time making things, and playing, and producing beautiful sidewalk art; learning to ride two-wheelers and skateboards; and letting their 4-year-olds holler nonsense at each other across the street.

Of course there is much beauty in the here and now; I feel extremely privileged to be in a suburban neighborhood with plenty of space for walking. Travis and I have gone around a few blocks many times over the past months, and now that my arm is so much better we’ll be able to roam a bit wider. The greenbelt remains Floyd’s purview, however, now that the snakes have awakened for the season.

Speaking of Floyd and his #1 helper, while I’ve been indulging in 800 varieties of indolence, Floyd has been hard at work building a model airplane. It is a model of his own design, dating back to the ’80s; he’d been thinking of building it for quite some time. It’s not nice to get the gift of time from a potentially deadly virus, but not much to be done about that. Might as well make the most of it.

I cannot imagine making anything so detailed and meticulous. The battery is the heaviest part of the whole thing, and all together it is just about precisely nine pounds. Floyd mowed a runway in a nearby field (no worries, the rattlesnake den is YARDS away) and on the one occasion Travis and I went to witness a flight, that dog ran like a wild puppy trying to corral the flying machine. Fortunately we each have our assortment of pain pills for afterward. 100% worth it, said Travis.

Back on earth, the usual spring explosion of flowers. One of the advantages of a native/well-adapted garden is it can fend for itself quite well. I’ve had no inclination for weeding or bug-chasing, so there sidewalk garden has had to make what it could of the season.

Fortunately the bees are not confined to their hives.

I’ve been listening to Jane Austen novels on repeat, and watching cosy mysteries one after another. Miss Marple spends an inordinate amount of time battling weeds, imo. She would never approve of the tangled mess at the end of the Unruly Gardener’s driveway.

I’m sorry I don’t have a photo to do them justice, but we’ve had masses of these beautiful purple flowers all over the place. You might think someone with nothing to do should look up everybody’s name, or at least download a plant identifier app; but there is a very slippery slope between nothing to do and doing nothing, and as you know, I find the world a pretty slippery place.

Back in the Time Before, Travis and I made a couple of trips out to The Natural Gardener; for once I treated myself to a couple of dahlias – the world’s most photogenic flowers.

Pure eye candy for difficult times!

I am not much of a rose gardener, but I do have a couple of graveyard (read “ABANDONED graveyard”) roses. I must admit they tempt me to go in search of some really fragrant varieties but we are not allowed out and I meant it when I said “lazy.” Why else would you plant roses that thrive on neglect?

My crown of thorns, the one plant I would rescue from a house fire if I could move it, sailed through the winter draped in plastic down at the open end of the greenhouse. I’ve had it since it was a tiny baby and it has never for one minute been without flowers.

Look, you stay healthy too, okay? Stay at home if you possibly can and be extra nice to the people who deliver what you need right to your door. My most recent delivery person said that shoppers are being extremely rude. Don’t be those people!

Send all your best thoughts to the people who are fighting on our front lines in hospitals and clinics and grocery stores, and find out if you have anything a neighbor might need.

And wear your mask!

Winter Light

Off once again to San Pedro, where it is a wet and chilly almost-winter. Mary’s house turns 100 this coming year, and is not exactly equipped to meet the needs of a nearly frozen Texas resident, so items like a space heater and the warmest socks the internet has to offer were top priorities.

When I wake up early as usual and return to my cozy bunk with a Thermos of hot coffee, I feel I’m channeling writers like Elizabeth David, who was known to spend the first half of the day in bed with a Thermos of hot coffee. It is only right that the other part of the day should include cooking, often Mediterranean inspired.

There must be some sunshine somewhere.

On many days it’s been hard to tell where the sea leaves off and the sky begins; it’s all the same pale blue-white of skim milk.

At other times the clouds take on a little definition, letting the watery sunlight through.

Mary and I have been much indoors, for a few days getting ready for a new couch. How much do you have to trust a friend to let them see under all your furniture, even the piano? But now the living room is rugless and somehow roomier, and tiny colored lights festoon the large bookcases in preparation for the arrival of an old friend who loves Christmas.

It’s good weather to work on a blanket for a very tall grandson, with plenty of feline assistance available.

We’ve been making it a point to take a good walk every day, our pace and distance dictated to a certain degree by Mary’s fancy new hip. Her recovery has been truly amazing, and I am usually the one having to set limits on terrain and distance. Just yesterday we tested the new hip on a long slope downhill, to where a few surfers had a small cove all to themselves.

From top:

to bottom:

down to where the waves rush in and then pull back in a roar of water and the constant clatter of stones wearing each other smooth.

Even on the cloudiest days, winter flowers seem lit from within.

When the sun does come out, my phone seems to produce photos in Technicolor.

Just as in Central Texas, the winter days go from that damp cold that inserts itself into your bones, to warmth that peels off sweaters and makes life livable again.

Back at the house, a big bush I’ve been teasing Mary about for years has proven me wrong. I don’t know when she tossed that apple core in the back yard, but the impossible seems to have happened.

In real life I know apples don’t come from tossed cores, but you don’t come to Southern California for reality, do you?

Late on a recent afternoon Mary and I ventured down to White Point to see what the winter sunset had to offer. I was interested to see what my phone would do when pointed straight into the departing sun.

In Austin, if you drive out to the Oasis for some mediocre Tex-Mex and a full view of the sunset, when the sun finally drops down below lake level everyone claps and cheers. At White Point I was the only one clapping.

Then everything went quiet again.

And we headed back up toward home.

The Fall and Scuff

We all know what it sounds like, and we all know the scent: crisp leaves collected into piles. Then the leap, the mild sharp edges, the smell of the year’s last season. No matter how long it’s been since we’ve made that leap, the sensations are unforgettable; and a scuff-walk through fallen leaves brings it all back in a rush.

A Texas summer can be so relentless, so monotonous, that it’s easy to forget that weather ever changes. Weather forecasters promise rain week after week to keep us from hitting each other, and week after week we have no rain. Or ten drops and 100% humidity.

Then one day, or in the middle of one night, the north wind arrives and summer is slammed into the Gulf of Mexico. Rains return and we’re kind of supposed to be glad it’s 40 degrees and raining.

Bah.

Fortunately those miserable days are quickly replaced by the high 70s and we watch our leaves change color. They go tree by tree at first, rolling out different hues and patterns as the days go by. It’s now late November and we have plenty of color still to come.

But the serious falling has begun.

Speaking of falling. Last month I made the amazing discovery that I don’t even need to fall to break myself. It was the most ironic situation I’ve landed in since years ago when a kitty I was holding onto at the vet bit my right ring finger so hard I ended up in some of the most painful and long-lasting trouble I’ve ever endured. No good deed going unpunished and all.

This time I don’t even have a frightened kitty to blame. I could blame a hose, however.

Since I paint in a corner of the garage when weather permits, I make much use of the hose right outside the garage. The ground in that area was covered with 2-6″ rocks placed by I myself personally that all of a sudden seemed a little unstable. Clearly the large rocks had to go, and a cubic yard of gravel must be put into place in their stead.

That was all it took for the universe to admit me to the world of stress fractures. I wouldn’t have believed it myself if I hadn’t seen the X-ray.

Breaking your foot in the effort to render a piece of your property safer. Can I be the only one?

… A few days have gone by since I started this post; I was glued to the TV and having flashbacks to the ’70s. Fortunately, nature has moved along on its own and during TV breaks I could take in some more colors.

In the back yard, the pomegranates that always split open before ripening (about which I do not care because I only like pomegranates for their flowers) create cracked red orbs filled with red beads. This is sufficient holiday decoration, as far as I’m concerned.

The birds will make good use of the fruit. And maybe a thirsty skunk or two. We’ve had a few as night visitors and are only lucky enough to have a pretty passive dog and a VERY calm skunk who didn’t even become punitive when Travis trotted off up the street after them! We now have five quarts of hydrogen peroxide at the ready, and all fingers crossed.

The steel planter tree outside my window is dressed in winter colors. I’d been thinking “pansies” when I realized I was out of pressed flowers and thinking about selling art at the nearest farmers’ market. They’ll be pretty all winter.

Also in the back yard, maple tree + pomegranates + this morning’s wild north wind.

Some of our crape myrtles are the late-blooming types, and two outside the front window are also late to take color.

Damp air and a north wind are the perfect excuses for painting in the kitchen instead of the garage. It’s amazing how much of a mess I will clean up every day when I have to.

I’ve been playing with a few techniques.

On a recent evening walk Travis and I looked up for sources of color, and were duly rewarded.

It reminds me of the part in Pilgrim at Tinker Creek when Annie Dillard writes about people who’ve been blind from birth being surgically given their sight. One person exclaimed over and over about “the tree with lights in it.”

So I’m living the quiet life and really loving it. Off to LA in a few days where I’ll spend a month with my girl Mary. When I return all the leaves that fall will have fallen, and the dull days of winter will be in full swing.

Fortunately for me, that doesn’t drag on for too long.

Escape

Central Texas weather in July is positively inspiring. This year it inspired me to leave for an entire month rather than my usual two weeks.

White Point

Mary and I spent a great deal of time at White Point this year. It’s a place of high cliffs, an interesting history, and a sea breeze that often sent me back to the car for sleeves. http://blogs.dailybreeze.com/history/2010/06/02/white-point-hot-spring-hotel/

If you look to that last distant sweep of sand you can see Royal Palms, where for a brief moment in the early 20th century there was a terrazzo dance floor, a stage for the band, stone benches and fireplaces, and what I imagine to be very glamorous flappers and their brilliantined gents drinking cocktails, smoking cigarettes, and dancing the night away under the swaying palm trees.

Now there are mere remnants left, and the majority of customers are people coming down for a picnic lunch and Ah Youth coming down to smoke weed in cars, positive they are the first youth ever to be so daring and cool. I wanted to tell them stories about things that used to happen in cars like a certain Chevrolet before their parents were even born.

1952 Chevy Deluxe

One afternoon we walked over to San Pedro High to get a late glimpse at the classic car show. Although the one I squandered much of my adolescence in was green and cream, you get the idea. Having to stop at the town dump on our way to the drive in to steal an old transmission to get through next week was way more fun in the telling than the doing, but to be honest I was a teenager with a certain thirst for adventure.

But back to White Point.

These gulls are perched in front of some of the ruins left behind by the hotel and hot springs resort. An earthquake blocked up the sulphur supply and ended the hot springs part, and it seems the resort didn’t last very long after that. I’m fairly sure we’re seeing where the saltwater swimming pool used to be. Now it’s an area with calm clear water and scrambling kids – the kind of place I would have to be dragged out of when I was a kid.

There had been an earthquake or two in the days just before my trip. Mary experienced them much as she does with those few she actually perceives. When the long metal tubes of her doorbell began to chime by swaying into the statue of the Infant of Prague, naturally she first thought raccoons were in the attic playing with the doorbell mechanism.

We didn’t see much new damage, but as we walked steeply down along the high cliffs beside the road down to White Point, we saw one disappointing alteration in the landscape. Up until January the section I’m talking about looked like this:

We just loved that beautiful swirl of rock, narrative of centuries of events for someone who knows how to read them. Now that spot looks like this:

So many details on the left have had enough of pressing one another together and have collapsed in a huge pile of rock and rock dust. Here it is from a little distance away:

We were glad to see the road down has been beautifully repaved and a stout curb poured into place on the cliff side of the road, but every day when we visited there were more and more rocks piled up between the curb and the cliff. Time for helmets when walking down the hill?

On many evenings we walked down to Point Fermin. If you have ever watched the opening scenes of “Chinatown” or a recent series on Netflix or Amazon about a young widow (“Dead to Me.” Thanks, niece Chris!), you have seen Point Fermin. Even though the TV show claims to be set in Laguna Beach. As we walk toward the park on Paseo Del Mar, first we would see the place where peregrine falcons nest and people with expensive-looking equipment photograph them.

This guy looks like he really wants to join his comrades in flight way down there, but it’s a big leap!

Should I Stay or Should I Go?

High atop the cliff face, people come to watch the falcons. I was never able to get a good shot with just my phone (my excuse and I’m sticking to it).

That concrete structure is one of the many gazebos set along the broad sidewalk leading to the old lighthouse and finally the point itself. Every time we went walking, there were kids and families and lovers taking advantage of the fresh air and the views.

The concrete wall between the gazebos is pretty decorative itself, and as they will do everywhere, wildflowers enhance the situation.

Walking back from the point to the car, the broad lawns and palm trees along that stretch of Paseo are enough to put the stupid stupidity of our current world right out of my head. Let’s hope beauty wins.

I suppose nothing need be said about flowers in Southern California. Mary’s back fence:

Little spots of beauty seen on every walk:

I could go on. I saw hedges made of geraniums

hedges made of lantana

hedges of roses, hibiscus, rosemary – what could be better than that?

I should have taken a photo of the delicata squash plant that came up from seeds Mary had tossed out after her meal prep. We ate roasted squash one night, but she has plenty more where they came from; just before I left, one vine seemed to be heading straight for the house.

It was lovely to savor long mornings with no need to get out and exercise before the day’s thermostat is set to Broil. We bought paint early in my visit and I did many, many pours. On canvas, on plywood, and on an old glass table top.

I even used leftover pouring paint to cover a table on the back porch that had nothing but some cracked white tiles to say for itself.

Since Mary has a book on how to paint with watercolors, I thought that might be fun.

A little more piano practice, the mastery of a few modern languages, and I’ll qualify as one of Jane Austen’s accomplished ladies.

We ate out often enough to still feel on vacation, but we ate on the back porch most days. Suffer, suffer.

Don’t let me forget to get the recipe for that cauliflower soup!

Of course there was time to get over to Hermosa Beach and get myself into those waves. The water this year was very mild, temperature-wise.

I decided to be a bit of a tourist and take a few photos I would have taken in Italy as I walked around Mary’s neighborhood. I think it helps.

I also had to get a photo of one of Mary’s three kitties. They were, um, bequeathed to her years ago when an old acquaintance left them because she couldn’t take care of them any more. Mary resisted as long as she could, but they basically never left her yard and now rather own the house as well. I give you Baby Kitty, who will hiss like mad if you pick her up but then start to purr and get all drooly once you start the petting. She is the sweetest thing ever.

As always, I was homesick for San Pedro before I even left.

Every Day is Friday

Have I mentioned that retirement is the greatest thing in the world besides spaghetti? I knew quite some time ago that I didn’t have the time to go to work. Now that I am blissfully retired, I can see that I was right.

It is late June in Central Texas; a chilly wind blew a storm through yesterday. We had a very pleasant spring, though a little on the humid side, and when you’ve been through years of devastating drought it’s hard to complain about that.

What else can I not complain about? My world is made of flowers.

Even the day lilies keep coming; even ones that have never blossomed before.

The crown of thorns that received a splendid new planter after a wild wind blew its pot to the ground in a storm of potting soil and terra-cotta shards is doing amazing things. Talk about an ill wind that blows no good! In its steel plant stand, it had become so difficult to move that it has spent the past couple of summers outside the master bath window.

While it was nice to see all that refracted color coming through the glass, that’s not my favorite part of the yard to visit. I’ve had this plant since it was a tiny thing – over ten years now – and it has never once been devoid of flowers. Now it is a floral blast by the front door, and I can see it from the front window any old time I want. Not to mention there’s a bistro set right there on the patio (not in my kitchen, you moronic house stager you) where I can drink a beer in the shade at the end of the day.

How did dog feet end up in my photo? I hadn’t even noticed until now. I shouldn’t be surprised, though: Travis is ten times more my shadow now that I’m home so much.

Our part of the world is currently covered in crape myrtle.

Pink, white, dark pink, red, purple – all the colors. Tiny blossoms litter the sidewalks, so you always feel like a bride walking down a petal-strewn aisle.

Okay, well not really. But it is very pleasant.

The sidewalk garden is the same old thing.

Ho-hum.

No big deal.

They’re just flowers.

Before we move on to what I’ve been up to (I can just picture you on the edge of your seat), I’ll remind you that my niece Chris visited recently and we had that Thelma & Louise & Mary trip to west Texas. Then Chris returned to Connecticut for reasons I cannot fully fathom. Being as she is the real Martha Stewart of northwest Connecticut, what used to be known as a bread-and-butter gift soon arrived at our house.

I have visited this farm with Chris; you can read all about it from November 2016 if you want to see a Heaven On Earth For Cows.

The chocolates arrived thoroughly and magnificently attired and cushioned and cooled with cooling packs. Boutique chocolates. Flavored with things like lavender and mint that those cows obviously help to grow. (If you have never had a chocolate mint flavored with real mint leaves, you have never eaten a real chocolate mint. Rather than the sharp intensity of a peppermint patty, these mints arrive like satin in your mouth. I can’t think another way to say it.)

Anyhow, there’s nothing like chocolates that arrive with an “eat by” date to inspire indulgence. Without that imperative, we might have just kept them around to look at forever.

Boy, do I hate going from candy nirvana to the story of my life on the world wide web over the past few weeks.

Being as I am a woman of the 21st century, I thought it might be a good idea to start selling my art online like everybody else on the planet. I thought I might set up a shop using WordPress, since I already use WordPress and no doubt that would simplify things.

I’d be falling out of bed laughing right now if I weren’t afraid of ending up back in surgery.

I’ll just say a couple of things about the So Easy One Click world of setting up an online store. 1.) If you are the type of adventurer who loves arriving in a foreign land where the people speak a language you have never heard before crafted from an alphabet you have never seen, this is your trip of a lifetime.

2.) If you are more of the stay-at-home type but you love nothing better than enormous meditation mazes in which you can meander for hours and lose all track of where you are but it doesn’t matter because you can’t possibly be lost because you have been in this part of the maze 25 times already today, this is a great trip for you, too! See? Something for everyone.

3.) Schoolchildren learn coding for a reason. Go back to third grade and sit in on the coding class.

4.) People who earn mucho plenty bucks galore helping people set up their online shops deserve all the bucks they make. And as soon as the dust settles, I am going to go find me one and see if I can even formulate a cogent question about what the hell am I supposed to do next.

That is all I care to say about that.

In the midst of all this hair-tearing fun, my neighbor the real artist Sherry Steele https://www.sherrysteele.net/ stopped by to tell me about a website that helps you organize and apply for all the arts and crafts shows anywhere you want to go https://www.zapplication.org/event-info.php?ID=7562&fbclid=IwAR0epvMJNw24jJ85OCR8_CEZBNGLxt2yLdRu6k4okKwRK3m0SXumLblP2N0.

Now Sherry is a “fine” artist (fine in every sense of the word, but what I mean here is not a paint thrower like myself), completely self-taught (please click on her link so you can see things people can teach themselves to do). Meaning she is not going to go to a July 4th craft show at an outdoor mall for a couple of hours. But she thought it might be a fun place for me to set off on my road to becoming a millionaire.

There is nothing like an extremely time-consuming and energy-zapping distraction to rescue one from an impossible task like setting up an online store. The deadline for applying was about four days away, and one of the application requirements was a “booth shot.”

Now this was nowhere near as bad as that time when my friend Hillery and myself, having just finished collecting dissertation data for a year, stopped by the IT office for statistics help and the guy said, “Do you have a codebook?” and we said, “What’s a codebook?” and we ended up spending four days and nights writing a codebook to cover 1200 scorable items for each individual in our study (3×52 individuals, if you must know) and then entering those little pieces of data along with our comrade in misery Randy because Hillery and Randy were days away from leaving for internship.

But I certainly did not have a “booth.”

I did have a vision of wood-framed cattle mesh from which to hang my canvases, but there was no time for that now. Pegboard would have to suffice for the application photo, and maybe I could come up with something more suitable if I passed muster and was admitted to the fair.

I’m just going to tell you this once: never even attempt to paint pegboard without your own personal spray booth, a professional paint sprayer, and of course all the respirator stuff you need if you want to be able to breathe afterward. There’s about four hours I’ll never get back.

And if you order a mesh banner from a great place you know will get it to you fast, be sure you have time to let it off-gas outside. Vistaprint, I love you, but the thing smelled like rotten baloney.

There’s no sense saying a thing about wind, because wind is a given. Try not to think about what will happen if you pass the audition and have to set up your tent in a place where you cannot drive stakes into the ground. Because no way can you hoist sandbags. So worry about that later.

There was plenty of wind on audition photo day, I can tell you. It was Keystone Kops, starring yours truly, as I ran around trying to keep the pegboard upright, the canvases sort of level, and the garden posts from tumbling to earth AGAIN. Thank you for that great rack, Floyd.

unrulygardenart may not be ready on the world wide web, but I like outdoors better anyway.

Welcome to Neptune

For the past two weeks I’ve been trying to figure out how to sell my art online. Clearly everybody in the known universe is capable of selling stuff online; they have links and swipes and sponsored posts and ads and all the things.

Certainly I could sell some paintings! I’ll just add another blog site right here on WordPress! It will be so efficient and easy! I already sort of know how to work WordPress!

And so, dear reader, I fell down into a hole in which every day was like finding myself in a faraway nation where I not only had no idea what nation I was in, but the language and the alphabet resembled nothing I had ever seen before. I couldn’t even formulate a decent question for the kind people who were trying to help.

So unrulygardenart exists and it doesn’t. I own the domain name and I have a certificate claiming to make it safe for people to buy things from me online. I have photos and the start of an index and many dozens of paintings on the dining room table, the bar, numerous cartons, and just about every flat surface in the house that isn’t too close to water.

I’m only telling you this because I’m kind of excited about it even though I am way beyond LOST in terms of how to actually do it.

Maybe you could stop by the house and see my paintings in person.

A Quick Trip West

Sometimes it’s good to see a place through a newcomer’s eyes again.

This year when my niece Chris wanted to visit Austin, she expressed a need for a little adventure. What could we do?

Well, we’ve done Austin numerous times; someone who lives in Connecticut and vacations on the Rhode Island coast doesn’t really need a new beach; and Chris had never seen a desert in real life. So I booked us some space at the Indian Lodge https://tpwd.texas.gov/state-parks/indian-lodge. Floyd and I had stayed there once during winter break with kids and grandkids; it would be great to see it in a different season.

We’d spend time in Fort Davis and Marfa and try to summon the discipline to return to Austin in time for Chris to return to work and for Mary to get back to peaceful retirement alongside the Pacific.

On a whim I’d asked Chris if she’d be okay with my best friend Mary coming along and Chris, agreeable with nearly everyone and everything, said of course. It would have been more of a Thelma & Louise & Mary kind of drive had the convertible Chris ordered actually been ready for her as the numerous Hertz staffers assured her it was. However, we might have been burned to a crisp by the sun and deafened by the wind after 450 miles, so the fancy SUV served us even better.

The desert was greener than I’ve ever seen it, the vast carpets of wildflowers still vivid and amazing. It looked as though every yucca in Texas was in bloom.

After a long day’s drive we were very glad to reach our destination.

Nestled in the scruffy hills above Fort Davis, this is an old hotel built in the 1930s by the Civilian Conservation Corps. It has recently undergone quite a few structural and cosmetic improvements, but I love its rustic flavor and its rooms built on multiple odd levels.

The weather treated us extremely well, sunny and mild with cool nights and all the dry desert air that has made me very nostalgic now I’m back in Austin with roughly 700% humidity. Mary had teased me when I talked about wanting to try living in the desert, but once we were back at my house a short walk around the block helped her to understand such a whim.

Chris was ready for unplugged days and long stretches of just sitting; the Indian Lodge has many lovely places for that.

With such chilly nights, the pool water was quite cold for Mary and me, but Chris is a New England woman and plunged right in. Then came her favorite part, lying in the sun and slowly drying off.

We’d picked an excellent week, not only for the weather but also for the fact that Texas kids aren’t out of school yet so there were no crowds anywhere and the world around the Indian Lodge was silent except for the calls of birds. Evenings we sat up on a covered deck and kept track of the distant hills.

I took a boatload of photos in the hope of making a desert painting or two – it’s difficult to imagine how colorful the desert is until you see it firsthand.

On this trip I had enough experience to book rooms with windows overlooking the sunrise, and on our mornings I (up early as always) just sat on my bed, pillows to lean on in the window sill, and watched.

Of course we had to drive down to explore the town of Fort Davis; it doesn’t take that long. One reason why I knew the three of us could travel together is that I have spent many hours with each of my companions wandering and window shopping until it is time for the next meal.

One little shop had many representations of a creature Chris and Mary had hoped to spot in the wild. Alas it wasn’t to be: we had to settle for inanimate versions.

Once we were back in Austin I could show them the photo I’d taken from the car during that winter visit. Not as good as the real live thing, but you must admit, javelinas are cute enough to be worth waiting for, with their tiny little feet and friendly ways.

Don’t mess with their babies, everyone said. But when is it a good idea to mess with wild animal babies? Sheesh. They must have thought we were the kind of city slickers who think javelinas are a kind of pig! They are not. https://www.desertmuseum.org/kids/oz/long-fact-sheets/Javelina.php

Fort Davis certainly has a bit of a western twang about it.

As well as the typical Texas courthouse, surrounded on all four sides by streets wide enough for a horse-drawn wagon to turn around:

We made the executive decision (okay, well I made the executive decision) that we would depart early enough on our last day to eat breakfast in Marfa. Chris and I were out early in our pajamas to grab photos.

So far it had been a sweet little getaway for three friends, old and new.