Saturday, December 17, 2016

Into Putin's Hands?

I saw this on an MSN news feed and thought it was pretty interesting reading. Let's keep vigilant, folks. One eye open and one foot moving. Let's not go to sleep. Or get complacent.

The Republicans are Delivering America into Putin's Hands
by David Klion of The Guardian

At the beginning of the 18th century, Poland was one of the largest states in Europe, a sovereign, multi-ethnic republic. By the end of the century it had vanished from the map, absorbed by the expanding empires of Russia, Prussia and Austria.
Poland was brought down not by invading armies, but by the weaknesses of its political system, which could be paralyzed by a single noble’s veto and thus easily compromised by outside powers offering bribes. By the end, Catherine the Great of Russia had even taken the king of Poland as a lover.

Three centuries have passed, but Poland’s experience carries uncomfortable lessons for the US in 2016.

Last week, Barack Obama ordered the CIA to review evidence that Russia was behind a series of cyber-attacks that compromised Hillary Clinton’s campaign and may have helped Donald Trump win the presidency. There is also a strong consensus that Trump’s businesses and advisers have extensive connections to the Russian government.
In short, the Kremlin appears to have directly interfered with an American election in order to boost a presidential candidate with a Russia-friendly foreign policy.

It shouldn’t be surprising that Vladimir Putin would want to interfere in US politics to advance Russia’s foreign policy goals – from curtailing NATO to ending sanctions over the conflict in Ukraine and preserving Bashar Assad’s regime in Syria. And as many critics of US foreign policy have noted, Washington has its own long history of meddling in foreign elections, including in Russia and its closest neighbors. Maybe the turnabout is fair play.
But what should surprise and disturb all Americans is that our political institutions, and above all the Republican party, are so vulnerable to Russian interference. The Republican party, traditionally associated with a hawkish stance toward Moscow, threw its support behind a presidential candidate who openly called on Russia to hack his opponent’s campaign.

According to CIA sources who spoke anonymously to the Washington Post, Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell told Obama and leading Democrats that he would regard any effort to release evidence of Russian interference before the election as partisan. In other words, he put his own party’s interest in electing Trump and gutting the welfare state ahead of the national interest.

Neither he, nor House speaker Paul Ryan, nor any other leading Republican seems the slightest bit apologetic about the Republican party’s all but open alliance with Putin.

Before 2016, it would have been unthinkable that Russia, or any foreign power, could exert this kind of influence on the US political process. That’s because no national politician before Trump would ever have been comfortable aligning so shamelessly with a rival government.
Trump has obliterated this norm, along with so many others, and his party has gone along with him. The Republican’s contempt for the democratic process and the national interest have created an opening Putin never could have created himself.

Besides the Republican party, America’s weakness can be seen in what appears to be an escalating war between our domestic intelligence agency, the FBI and our foreign intelligence agency, the CIA. The FBI released damaging information about Hillary Clinton shortly before the election, which may have swung the outcome in key states and allowed for the election of Trump on a law and order platform. Meanwhile, the CIA is belatedly undermining Trump by releasing information about his foreign ties. This is not the sign of a healthy democracy.
America’s political system is as broken as that of 18th-century Poland. Our territory may not be under threat, but our ability to govern ourselves without outside interference is. Our antiquated electoral system has yielded a president-elect who is unqualified and temperamentally unstable, and who is openly building a kleptocratic state closely modeled on Putin’s, to whom he arguably owes his victory. Given America’s vast arsenal and international commitments, a government that can be so easily swayed by outside powers represents a danger to the entire world.

In an 1838 speech in Illinois, a young Abraham Lincoln considered how the United States might fall, asking: “Shall we expect some transatlantic military giant to step the ocean and crush us at a blow? Never!”
Instead, he warned, “If destruction be our lot, we must ourselves be its author and finisher. As a nation of freemen we must live through all time or die by suicide.”

Today, Russia may be a transatlantic giant, but the author and finisher of America’s destruction is weeks away from the White House, with Lincoln’s party firmly behind him.

Saturday, November 26, 2016

I Couldn't Handle It

I had a momentary thought to get on the internet for the Black Friday deals. I had a couple things in mind to get for Marty and Ari and I was not about to get into the crowds in the stores. I think I have claustrophobia and besides, there are so many germs. Howard Hughes and I have a teeny bit in common.

O, woe, it was not what I thought.

First off, the things I wanted were not on sale or they were "sold out" (click here so we can let you know when they are available). Then other things I wanted were available but the discount came in the form of gift "cards" so you would be locked into spending your discount at the place where you purchased the original item. For a person like me who buys very little and then more than likely only one thing  at a time this was an anathema.

So I gave up. I'll go find these items somewhere in a real live bricks and mortar store. I might not get a deep discount but I'll have the satisfaction of spending only what I want to spend on the thing I want to buy and not get roped into buying more than I need. The rest of my gifts will be handmade.

Here's my theory and contest it if you will but I think this Black Friday business is just for people who spend, spend, spend and love to surf the internet or brave the crowds as some sort of ritual. They are ok with seeing what they can find for the most part randomly and getting a spur of the moment good deal. This is my humble opinion.
The best of luck to all these people and I hope someday they realize this is not the path to happiness. It's just not me.
I like what this guy says about "stuff".

I hope you had a really, really nice Thanksgiving and that the Christmas season will find you joy and peace.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Trained Beyond Use

I had a hard time figuring out what to entitle this piece. I thought about "Adjust to Fit the Situation" because what I'm feeling right now seems like a horse training philosophy promoted by Tom Dorrance, the famous natural horsemanship trainer.

But "Trained Beyond Use" won out because it, too, is a horsemanship phrase and it feels more apropos. You see Marty and I are studying to become real estate agents. Our state test is scheduled at the end of this month and we are studying with an unrivalled ferocity. We have to make this work. And we will. Living on social security doesn't cut it. So we're adjusting to fit the situation. (Thanks Tom) We'd love to be able to make a living from our homestead but that isn't in the cards. Anyway, not any time soon. Even the redoubtable Corina and Steve of Marblemount Homestead, who I love to follow and learn from, have Steve going off for part of the year working for wages to plant trees for reforestation.
Alas and alack, we're too old for that. So what can we do?

To keep it within budget we signed up for self study through an online class. We passed the first hurdle and received our certificate of completion which entitled us to sign up for the state test. Now we're preparing ourselves with a few hours study every day. We're going through chapters in the last book which is the exam prep book and then we take the quiz at the end of the each chapter.

I saw this house recently. Look at all the amazing architectural details.
The quiz questions are badly worded and the answers sometimes incorrect! The questions are about things that I am 100% positive we will never use as agents. Subject matters such as Legal Descriptions, Methods of Acquiring Title, and Deeds,  or Encumbrances, Liens, and Homesteads sounds benign enough. (Is your head popping just reading that? Mine is!) But then you get to the chapter on Taxation and you start to really wonder. That's when I feel like what John  Lyons said during one horse training seminar. He stood up in the arena in his usual way and asked the crowd if they knew what the term "dressage" meant in French (it was originally a French system for the refined training of horses). A few people volunteered an answer and then he said you're close but it actually means " trained beyond use".
Everyone laughed.
Now I doubt that is the real definition in French. It sounds pretty sassy and John Lyons was a funny guy prone to injecting humor into his seminars. But it fits. I feel trained beyond use.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

It's a Wonderful Life

I was recently reflecting on how much my life has changed since I moved out of the city and into the life in The Big Valley. First the northern part of The Big Valley and now the middle part of The Big Valley. If only it were more like what Barbara Stanwyck's and Linda Evans' life was like on the TV show set. Being a rancher is a very interesting existence. It's nothing like City Life. Maybe even 100% different in every way. Here's a list I have compiled in the 5 years I have been away from City Life that I have to gratefully and sometimes not-so-gratefully contend with.

Thinking I washed all the chicken feathers/horse hair/etc. off and then getting in bed at night and finding more.

Finding alfalfa in the washer and dryer, my bra and hair, shoes and pockets.

Painting my nails not because it's pretty but because I can't seem to get all the dirt out from underneath.

Sweeping the dust off the floor and then having to go back and do it again because it's never ending and then saying heck with it and not sweeping the floor and letting it accumulate until I'm disgusted.

Having a "Farmer Tan" (i. e. electric white forehead, upper arms, legs and torso; George Hamilton color on face and forearms and hands)

Going to the auction to pick up what we bought and calling it a vacation.

Having to stop whatever I'm are doing to chase (horses, chickens, dogs, guineas, etc.) that got out on the road (usually in the dark in the rain). Thanking God I live in the middle of nowhere so there's no traffic and no one gets hit by a car/truck/pick up.

Not knowing what holiday it is because I basically work 24/7 360 days a year.

Buying boots and gloves is a bigger decision than buying a car.

All my clothes have stains on them except a couple nice outfits that are back in the closet that I never wear.

My (horses, cows, chickens, etc) live better than I do. (they're essentially on welfare.)

I really look forward to when it rains because I can stay inside.

A romantic adventure is riding out with Marty to move cows from one pasture to the other.

Shopping for clothes in the men's section of Tractor Supply because they're sturdier and fit better.

Realizing that being a "morning" person looks good on the resume because the work day prevents me from sleeping in. (Always.)

Getting my boot stuck in the mud and my foot pulls out of it and there I am having to figure out how to get the stuck boot out while balancing on one leg. In the middle of cow/horse/pig/etc. shit.

Thinking the smell of horse manure is pretty good! (but not extending that to pig manure or dairy cow pee. That I've just gotten used to.)

Having animal tails smack me in the face while I'm working on them.

My haute couture is dirty jeans, a grungy baseball cap and a snap button cowboy shirt.

Having peanut butter sandwiches for dinner because I'm too tired to fix anything and I forgot to set the crock pot to cooking in the morning.

Thinking the cooing of chickens is better than music.

Having to explain to my city friends what those Burdizzo pinchers are that are on the kitchen counter. And what they are used for.

Monday, August 29, 2016

She's My Daughter She's My Sister

Some of you may remember the iconic movie China Town which was a fictionalized account of how water was gotten from the Owens Valley to supply the growing metropolis of Los Angeles. That was the subplot. The main plot involved an investigation into the murder of an engineer married to the local power broker's daughter, Evelyn Mulray, by private eye J.J. Gittes, played by Jack Nicholson. All this was part and parcel to the subplot of stealing water from the Owens Valley.
Somewhere along the line J.J., confused but smelling a rat, tries to get the truth out of Evelyn, played by Faye Dunaway, and he slaps her as she says, "She's my daughter. (slap) "She's my sister". Finally, breaking down, "She's my daughter AND my sister".  It turns out that the power broker, Noah Cross, played by John Huston, molested his daughter and a child was the result.

My recent turmoil of not being able to get my Valley Fever medication - Itraconazole, it controls the spores in my lungs, keeps them from taking over - felt just like China Town.  In a moment you'll see why. But first let me preface it by saying three months ago I found out my meds were not going to cost $100 a month any more but over $400. $424 to be exact. Humana, the health coverage, couldn't/wouldn't help.

I went into hyper-drive to find a solution, calling internet help sites but none of them covered my weird medication. Would something else work? No, I patiently explained. We've been through that. The cheap meds give me excruciating joint pain.
Finally, I contacted the pharmaceutical and my Madera primary care doctor. Both my PCP and I made application to Johnson & Johnson to their Patient Assistance Program. I made application, too, because I didn't trust my doctor to make the application in a timely manner. I only knew her for a couple months and I wasn't sure if she had True Grit.
Two days before I was going to run out I got word from J&J that they denied my application.

I then went on GoFundMe to get by with a little help from my friends (I was desperate) and sure enough my friends were my friends and I was able to get a month's supply. Whew. Now I had 30 days to keep working on it. I then saw Dr. Thompson, my Valley Fever doctor,  who has been with me since 2012. I told him what was going on and he said we'll get the UC Davis Infectious Disease Pharmacy working on it. Now we were getting somewhere.
The very next day I got a call from my Primary Care doctor saying that J&J had called them and had approved assistance after all and that they would be sending a retail card*. This was two weeks after I would have run out had my friends not helped out.

A week later I got a letter from Humana saying they would help, too. Actually, it was a letter (and I was copied) to my Valley Fever doctor Dr. Thompson.

I don't understand how this "system" works.
I think I could call this blog The Squeaky Wheel Gets the Grease but She's My Daughter is what it feels like.
* a retail card means I get my medication free for a year! Yippee!

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Dust If You Must

We got back yesterday from the Memorial for my friend Georgia who found out she had a terminal brain tumor 3 years ago. It was a fine memorial and I walked away thinking what would Georgia say if she had been here to contribute? Many people had recollections of her and they were all wonderful. They said things like she was brave until the end but I had a different experience of her. She was human until the end. She was not brave. She was confused. She was angry. She was extremely sad. And she was also sometimes brave. It's ok to eulogize her as being brave until the end. I don't have a problem with that. Much. It's a bummer to pass but as Mark Twain said someone has to do it.

So I think I will videotape a short speech before I pass and have those guys play it at my memorial. I want to make a contribution, too. Don't worry. I'll try to be nice.

Life goes on as they say.

I'm going to visit my sister in Colorado. I'm really looking forward to it for a number of reasons. My sister turned out to be a really cool person who I get along with really well. Oh boy. It could have been different but it's not and for that I feel grateful. It's really nice to get along with someone who understands you and your family dynamic. It's really nice to have someone like that who you can talk to about anything and they won't judge you. Yes, I'm really looking forward to being with her. Lucky me.
She also gives me free laser treatments because she's a part time aesthetician. The treatments are a drop in the bucket of wrinkles and brown spots but I'll take whatever I can get. Also the weather is so much better out there. It's in the tolerable high 80s instead of the intolerable low 100s. She likes to do things I like to do. We're going to the best second hand store on the planet. I'm going to tell you what it is and I'm not afraid that you will get all the good stuff. There's plenty there. So here it is. It's Mile High Thrift in Denver. I don't even much look for clothes anywhere else. I see something retail and then I think, no, wait until you get to Mile High.

Then we're going to the Peach Festival and maybe learn how to line dance and walk and talk and walk and talk. Yah. We have fun.
So I'm running around trying to prepare so when Marty's here holding down the fort things won't degrade too badly. Marty is actually quite good at holding up his end of the stick. The house will be clean when I return and I'll not worry one lick about the animals. Maybe I'll worry about the plants because he has that black thumb. So I'll call him once a day and say how are the tomatoes looking? And they'll be fine.

I was out in the horse barn this morning after rounds and noticing the accumulation of dust.

I really wanted to get a rag and then I said no. I thought of my favorite poem.
Dust If You Must
by Rose Milligan

Dust if you must but wouldn't it be better
to paint a picture or write a letter?
Bake a cake or plant a seed,
Ponder the difference between want and need?

Dust if you must but there's not much time
with rivers to swim and mountains to climb.
Music to hear and books to read,
Friends to cherish and life to lead.

Dust if you must but the world's out there
with the sun in your eyes, the wind in your hair,
a flutter of snow, a shower of rain.
This day will not come around again.

Dust if you must but bear in mind,
old age will come and it's not kind.
And when you go and go you must,
you yourself will make more dust.

So what are you going to do today?

Sunday, July 31, 2016

A Peaceful Place

It's been hot. Too hot. And there's nothing I can do about it. Of course, one can take solace in the fact that it's a "dry heat". But really? The only solution seems to be the solution we are already very familiar with having lived on The Ranch for four years. We get up early, do as much work as we can outside until we're dying and then we go inside where it's cool for the rest of the day. Then later, as the sun starts to go down, we come out again and do more work until it's too dark to see. Sometimes to extend my endurance I soak my shirt and head with water but that only serves to keep me going about 15 minutes longer and then my shirt is 100% dry.  This system is kind of an inch worm approach to getting outdoor things done.

I am in awe of the field workers. I wouldn't last a minute out in the fields of the San Joaquin Valley. I wasn't born to the heat. As you drive along the highway you see billboards that advise the farm workers, "Agua. Sombra. Descanso." Which means "Water. Shade. Rest." They might be more accustomed but it's still dangerous and everyone knows it.

I grew up in central Iowa and when it got hot it was also humid, too. We didn't know anything about heat index at the time and we didn't have central air conditioning either. We didn't get central A/C until I was a teenager so I remember quite clearly how Mom would put a big fan in the hall way at night between the bedrooms to circulate air that sort of but not really helped to evaporate the sweat off our miserable sleepless bodies.

I don't know how my uncles and cousins did their farm work. They'd come in off the fields and take off their caps and their foreheads were white as snow against their darkly tanned faces. They would drink huge amounts of iced tea and lemonade my grandmother and great aunt would make. There were no air conditioned tractor cabs in those days.

We were out late in the evening the other day and the dusky air took me back in time in my mind. Being out that evening reminded me of the days back in Iowa when we would come out of the house in the evening to play or go for a walk or a swing on the porch. My grandmother, in particular, had a north facing porch the length of the house and a porch swing that we kids wore down until we almost broke it. On those sultry evenings the air was quiet and off high up in the trees we heard the drone of the cicada. The stillness of the air. The drone of the cicada. The dusky light. Swatting a mosquito from time to time.

My mom called them June bugs. I think she really knew the difference but we kids didn't and it didn't matter. You'd find a June bug that had shed its exo-skeleton and left it in the crook of two branches of the tree limbs. Fascinating stuff.

My Aunt J said: "I hated that June bugs would come in through holes in the window screens and would buzz around at night when I tried to read in bed before falling asleep.  I would holler for Mom if I thought there was a chance that Mom would come and get rid of the thing.  Mom usually said ”Turn out the light and it’ll go away." Or  "just catch it and kill it yourself.”  Ugh!  I would usually kill it because I didn’t trust that it would politely leave if I just turned off the light. The cicadas came at night in August.  We always knew summer was going to end in another month or so when we heard them start up.

My mom said she listened to them at night and that their buzzing was hypnotic in a way. Later when she learned a meditation technique she said listening to cicadas buzz was similar to meditation. The buzz of the cicada was like a mantra that helped her transcend the world and go to a peaceful place in her mind.

Monday, July 25, 2016

For Those of Us Left Behind

Georgia and I at the horse pasture a few weeks before she passed.

My friend Georgia Zurilgen Williams passed away peacefully last night. She was 62 years old. She had been living with a glioma brain tumor for nearly three years and had endured chemotherapy and surgery more times than I can recall. For most of those years she was upbeat and optimistic. She was hoping she'd beat it. It's true that some people can live for years with a tumor but it has to be very special circumstances. I have even heard of 25 years. Near the end she was not happy. As a matter of fact, she was miserable. The tumor took her ability to speak correctly and to reason and she knew it. There's no blanket way to deal with these things. It's all personal and if such a thing befalls us we each have to take our individual situation and decide what to do. There's no cookie cutter approach.

Georgia took her way and I was in awe of her bravery. I forgive her the confusion and anger she experienced near the end.

Our Friendship

I knew her for 30 years. We were partners in horses for that whole time. First, we had Magic, an appaloosa gelding, and Majestic, a paint mare. Then we had Dusty, another appaloosa gelding, and at the same time there was Baush and Spice. Seems like there was one more but I can't remember its name because I had moved out of the Bay Area by that time. Of course, before I met Georgia she had a slew of other horses because her history in horses started when she was a girl.

I remember once we went to a John Lyons clinic in Davis, CA. We slept in the back of her pick up in the clinic parking lot because we were both too broke to afford a room. It was better that way anyway. We could get up and be the first ones in the bleachers. We could wander around the grounds and commune with the animals.

There are so many things I remember about her. You know how a lot of times when you eulogize a person that in the back of your mind as you're saying all the nice things you're also thinking I wish I could say the whole truth of my experience with this person? Like he sure was a bastard in many ways and cruel and selfish? I wanted to say this about my dad. But I didn't. There's no point.

Well, in Georgia's case I can honestly say there was not a mean bone in her body. I can eulogize her with confidence about her sweet nature. She was an exemplary person who always looked for how it might feel to walk a mile in another one's shoes. She was kind. She was thoughtful. She had demons like we all do and she battled them and it made her a compassionate person. She lived that compassion in her daily life.

Of course, I'm going to miss her. Like I miss my dad's wife Teresa. Also taken before old age. Also taken while still young and vital. They're both gone on ahead to the ultimate adventure. They've both travelled up the road ahead of the rest of us and have left us behind. We'll follow them on that same path soon enough. May life set lightly upon you and give you have peace.

Monday, June 27, 2016

Fee Fi Fo Fum!

A lot has been happening here. NOT in order of importance:
I'm working on my lesson plan for after school art that I will be teaching in the fall for Madera County School District through the Madera County Arts Council.
I am experimenting with making root beer completely from scratch. That is, from herbs and roots. No store bought extract. Good luck to me.

We got a new roof and windows by participating in a State Program that loans us the money and we pay it back at property tax time. Being poor has a couple advantages and this is one. Other than that you can have it. Being poor that is.
Then we get a hefty rebate from Pacific Gas and Electric for becoming energy efficient. And energy efficient we are now! BWR (Before windows and roof) the air conditioning would not go off on a triple digit heat day. Now it does so we know it's working.

The other advantage of being poor: we're getting a new wood stove completely free! There's this county program to promote clean air in the valley and through it we get a voucher that will pay for a brand new energy efficient woodstove to replace the old decrepit one we have.
We had a great visit in San Jose with my old friend and boss Lisa. Robert and Carolyn, who were co-workers, were also in attendance. Lisa pulled out the stops with food and it was great to reminisce and be amazed at the changes to our old company.

My friend Georgia continues to defy the odds in her fight against The Brain Tumor. It's been over 3 years since she had the seizure in the middle of the span of the San Mateo Bridge that was the first clue to what was going on.

Happy the horse is getting more so. We can now approach him without him running off. Marty has a few rides on him and has performed what I call "Going Through The Motions" even though that's not quite correct. GTTM is walk, trot, canter and the canter is a mile stone as that is where The Buck usually comes out if it's going to happen. But it didn't come out. Marty the Horse Whisperer. Don't tell him I said that. He hates that moniker.

We attended a Career Day at Keller Williams. We're going for it. We're going to sell real estate. We have to do something. The home stead will not be self sufficient for a few years and I'm telling you Social Security is not even near enough to cover expenses. Neither are my savings is going to cover expenses. The good thing about real estate is that we can work when we want (for the most part), it pays really well and is not a commodity that is against life. That is to say, it is not something that no one needs which is what most of the things sold these days are.
I am reading two great books. Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert and Die Wise by Stephen Jenkinson.

My art room is finally ready to use after a delay of 3 months. None too soon as I now have a commission from the First Christian Church to render 3 views of their altar. For pay, by the way. They need visualizations for how 3 different remodels will look so they can decide which one they like best.

Which brings me to Fee Fi Fo Fum.
We took a day trip to Huntington Lake in the High Sierra. It's at over 6,000 feet so it's pristine and extremely cold being exclusively filled by snow melt. I got in but not for very long I can tell you! I am kind of a polar bear but I have limits. To really swim we went down to Shaver Lake which is not as pristine but warmer. It's at 3,000 feet.

Huntington Lake is very beautiful. It is above the bark beetle devastation that is afflicting the trees farther down the slope. Down there they are all dying and it looks like fall. So many orange trees. Awful. The drought is what did it. The beetles took advantage.
Here's the thing about Huntington Lake though. They want you to pay for everything.

I'm not sure there's any way around this. You're taking a chance bandito-ing a parking place to walk down to the lake for a quick look-see or commune with nature. Rangers patrol like hound dog Beagles. If you own a cabin I suppose you could walk in and not have to pay but that's not an option for us. I guess we'll hop in the car and go even farther up the road to Florence Lake or Mono Hot Springs and see what's happening there.
Love this gnarly old cedar.. or juniper?
A sight for sore eyes that live in the dry San Joaquin Valley.
High Sierra granite.
By the shining Big-Sea-Water...

Sunday, June 5, 2016

A Spider, Mr. Bill and a Horse Named Happy

But First..... Die Wise
I've been reading a very cool book recently. It's about the challenging subject of dying. The book is called "Die Wise" and it's by Stephen Jenkinson who is a psychologist and a palliative care worker. The book is very challenging but I'm getting a lot out of it. What I've gotten most so far is that waking up each morning is a gift and not to be taken for granted or expected like it's a right. When I think of it this way I actually feel happier, brighter, and my recent bout of depression (not debilitating, just garden variety ennui) is dissolving into thin air because I'm thinking about life and death in a different way.
One of my best friends, Georgia, has terminal brain cancer and Lenny, her husband, is right there with her. What an ordeal and I am very proud of them. I can't even think of a thing to say about it. My society does not give me a decent language with which to talk about it.

Ookina Kumo
Years ago I was visiting my friend Betsy and her husband at that time was Minao. Minao is Japanese. As we walked into the house I glanced up and saw a very, very large spider in its web just above the trumpet vine. I called Minao over, pointed at the spider and said "how to you say big spider in Kanji?" Minao says "Ookina ku-mo. Pronounce it Oh-kee-na Ku-MOH. If you say KU-mo it means "cloud".

This is a Black Widow. It's the biggest Black Widow (ookina kumo!) I've ever seen and it was living above our front door until one night I went out to get something in the car. I saw it when I started to go back in. It doesn't live there any more, needless to say and, no, we did not relocate it. Unless you consider relocating it to its next incarnation a relocation. Gone Girl.


We tried to get close to Bill Clinton the other day. This is the closest we could get. That's him and his white hair over there going into the back of the Fresno State University Student Union.

I'm kind of a celebrity junkie within reason. I only want to go see one when it's easy. I would not go out of my way. My best celebrity sighting was when I was in my hometown of Marshalltown, Iowa a few years ago. At the time I was visiting my dad and we were in a downtown antique store. When we went to the counter with our purchases the lady behind the counter said oh did you know that Hillary is going to be at the Court House in 15 minutes. I said Hillary who and she said you know Hillary Clinton. So we bought fast and raced down to the Court House a couple blocks away and sure enough here comes her big ole bus. She spoke to a small crowd (she says I just had a Maid Rite and I can tell you they're Made Right!) (Really Hillary so cheesey) and then they said she would be greeting the audience. Sensing my celebrity opportunity, as soon as she came off the podium I used my height and confidence to push my way to the rope and as she walked by I shook her hand (soft and small) and said I am happy to come all the way from California to meet you. She just kind of smiled and said thank you and went on to the next person. So maybe I've shaken the hand of the next President.

I'm pathetic. I know.

Marty is crazy. Maybe that's what I love about him. He was looking at Craigslist ads yesterday and came upon a horse for sale for $750. He called the owner and next thing you know we're in the car and it's 105 degrees and we're looking at this cute little pony size horse. The owner looked reputable. The horse looked confused and scared. But it also showed this quality that is hard to describe and is something that probably only years of looking at horses will tell you. He looked like he wanted to be a good horse.

So we bought him.

I said Marty you know you have to train him and find him a new home before winter, right? We only have a limited amount of space and budget for horses here. Here's what I think. If this little guy has any interest in jumping I think he might make a great Pony Club pony. In stature he reminds me of my daughter's first pony Spice. Of course, Spice was well broke when we got him. He needed to be. He was intended to be a 10 year old girl's horse. And he was.

Maybe this little guy can follow in Spice's footsteps (hoofsteps?). We'll see.

In the meantime, Marty has a fun project on his hands. Marty is really good at taking scared horses and making their inner gold come out. When we were at The Ranch he took their young mare who was all wound up tighter than tight from who knows what had been done with her and softened her right up. She was well on her way to becoming a really nice horse when we left The Ranch. Now we have Happy. I wanted to call him Apples for my sister's old Appaloosa but Marty insisted it was Happy and I'm letting it go. I want the little guy to grow into his new name. He's anything but happy right now but that's our goal for him. That Happy the appy loves his job.

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Always Trust Your Cape

Here's a cool song. Check it out.

The Cape
By Guy Clark (in memory of)
Eight years old with a flour sack cape
Tied all around his neck
He climbed up on the garage
Figurin' what the heck
He screwed his courage up so tight
The whole thing came unwound
He got a runnin' start and bless his heart
He headed for the ground

He's one of those who knows that life
Is just a leap of faith
Spread your arms and hold your breath
Always trust your cape

All grown up with a flour sack cape
Tied around his dreams
He was full of spit and vinegar
He was bustin' at the seams
He licked his finger and he checked the wind
It was gonna be do or die
He wasn't scared of nothin' boys
And he was pretty sure he could fly

He's one of those who knows that life
Is just a leap of faith
Spread your arms and hold your breath
Always trust your cape

Old and grey with a flour sack cape
Tied all around his head
He's still jumpin' off the garage
Will be till he's dead
All these years the people said
He's actin' like a kid
He did not know he could not fly
So he did

He's one of those who knows that life
Is just a leap of faith
Spread your arms and hold your breath
Always trust your cape

© Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC

Hills east of Madera on the way to Hensley Lake at twilight

Friday, May 13, 2016

Madera Likes Me. It Really Likes Me.

I now have something in common with Sally Field.

I didn't get this feeling that I was liked when we moved to Elk Creek. Well, I should say I knew that our employers, the ranch owners, liked us. For sure, they were going to come to adore us because we were the first caretaker managers that actually did anything. Yeah, the ranch owners were really sad to see us go.

But, honestly? The people who lived in Elk Creek and the area around there couldn't have given a hi howdy about us. Now I can say what I think and I'm really pretty sure we'll not be burning any bridges. No, we'll not be going back there. Ever.
OK, the area folks were "friendly". Enough. But they were not welcoming. There's a difference.  And I've written about this before. I've written that Marty said, "What do you expect? People don't live out here on the edge of nowhere because they're super social. They live out here because, for the most part, they are loners." And I believe that but I also felt a level of, how shall I say it, distance? To the point that I almost felt NOT welcome. When Marty and I would talk we would postulate something along the lines of "Well, we did take away a job from a local." That certainly would not endear us to the local people who are having a hard time making ends meet.

Now I know how Mexicans feel when they go to, say, Marshalltown, Iowa (my hometown) and take a yucky job at Montrose, the local meat packing plant and they get attitude from the local Marshalltonians. It's rude and not right. I could say to an Elk Creekian, "Dude, if you could pass a background check maybe you could have the job." There's a sense that they feel entitled even though they are not qualified. People. Hmmmpfh.
I think if we had bought property out there they may have accepted us more. Just more. Not totally. Because there are the folks we did get acquainted with who would say things like "I'm still a newcomer. I've only been here 20 years." I'm sure there's a feeling of "Well, they won't last so why bother getting to know them or even giving them the time of day much less be welcoming?" Don't you know that your reticence contributes to people taking off out of there when they get fed up?
It took me 4 years and I finally made one real friend. Anna Dearing. And then within 6 months of getting to know her she passed away. She was 88 years old. She was the only  real friend I made in 4 years. Even Anna herself said "The people in Paskenta are much nicer than the people in Elk Creek." (Paskenta is a half hour drive over back country gravel roads from Elk Creek.) Anna had lived in the Elk Creek area for more than 30 years. Maybe they considered her a newcomer, too.
So it's really nice to experience being welcomed into a community. We haven't been here but 2 months and I already am going to be an art teacher for the Madera County Arts Council. When I call Sherril Royce, who runs the program, she greets me with "Hey, You!"

Alma gives a yoga class at Thrive Fitness and she invited me to a get-together at her house and she doesn't even know me from Adam. Just from the yoga class. The neighbors are great, too. Hector, Jaime and his wife, Gustavo and Heidi and her husband.

Madera may be hot in summer but it's pretty cool. I think this is going to be a little bit of all right.

Friday, May 6, 2016

Oligarchy and Demagogue

My potato patch is growing nicely. Therefore, I'm taking a short break.


NOUN - a small group of people having control of a country, organization, or institution

I remember back in 1969 when we went down to I-80 near the Art Building on the University of Iowa campus and laid down in the freeway to stop traffic. There were about 150 of us and we had let the newspapers know. There were enough of us that we weren't putting our lives in danger. Too much. Besides the cops showed up and they helped us stop traffic because they didn't want us to get squished by someone who wasn't paying attention. Then they told us to disperse or be arrested. We had made our point. We dispersed. People and police didn't panic in Iowa as much as other places.

We wanted people to notice how we felt about people being killed in Viet Nam. We didn't like it because we felt the reasons why they were being put in harm's way were flimsy reasons at best. There's something about masses of people shouting out all at once that finally gets the attention of the law and policy makers. If people don't organize and shout all at once there is a tendency for a small group of people to take control.

It's human nature. Or maybe it's nurture. Families aren't democracies. Maybe we're just living out the grown-up version of what we learned as children. Ya think? Maybe that's the trouble.

Here's why I feel there is hope for the human race. Things aren't as bad for children as they used to be. It's all about education. There's more of it and we want better. Everybody is always clamoring for it. And thinking up ways to improve it. Yes, one step forward, two steps back, three steps forward and so forth. The change is taking place at a glacial rate. It seems that things are not getting any better but, trust me, they are. Hey, we've now had a black President. Now maybe we'll elect a woman. Don't get me wrong. I love old white men. I live with one. But let's share the responsibility and the power. Hey, old white men! Don't you want a vacation?


The situation we find ourselves in with the person who is winning the Republican nomination is just part of the Old Way that will not die easily.

NOUN - a political leader who seeks support by appealing to popular desires and prejudices rather than by using rational argument

It's OK. It certainly doesn't seem that way but it is.

The way of Old White Men Exclusively is slowly giving way to a new way that includes everyone. Those of you who are dismayed and losing heart. Don't. Just know that through your efforts change is going to come and even if you aren't here to see it, it will come. Just keep going. And while you're at it. Celebrate. Death will come soon enough.

Yoga stah, kuru karmani

Established in Being, perform action. (Chapter 2, verse 48, The Bhagavad Gita)

Monday, April 11, 2016

I'm Baaaack and We Go To Sequoia

"Spring has sprung. The grass is riz. I wonder where the flowers is?" - Margie Engelbrecht Benoit (my mom)

Here at our new place one need only look out the back door and you know instantly where the flowers "iz". They're everywhere!  You give Nature enough water and she takes advantage of it. As a matter of fact I'm pretty impressed with Ma Nature. Her seeds lie dormant for years. You'd think they'll never come back and then... they do! The Earth will endure.
We had a rainstorm last night. I thought we were through with rain. We have flooding. The back part of the acreage is a lake but I don't care. Drought is no picnic.
We're settling in to our new place. I can't decide what to call it. It's too small to be a ranch and not big enough to be a farm. It's an acreage for sure. It will be a homestead for sure. There's time. Maybe I can get some suggestions from you fine people?
Tonight I steamed broccoli, sauteed asparagus with green garlic and to top it off I baked baby yams in their jackets. Yes, this time of year is bliss.

On other fronts we got our weed patch under control. Marty now regrets deeply that he sold his ancient tractor last year. We could have used it to disc the garden area. He hates renting equipment so he's scouring the ads for a new used tractor. They're really high around here. It's a big farming community and small tractors are super useful in the vineyards and orchards. California Central Valley. Truck farming capital of America.

I told him I wanted to make sure we disked the weeds into the dirt to add organic matter. I did a quick test for composition. Looks like what I suspected is true. Sandy loam clay or maybe just sandy loam. The clay layer is just barely discernable this morning.
The bottom is the sand, the next is the silt, the tiny top layer is clay. No, not that huge layer. Look really close. The real clay is a teeny tiny layer.
I'll need to incorporate compost, manures, bio-char, and old mulch to enhance it. This, by the way, is a dream come true after enduring 4 years of heavy clay soil. I mean really heavy. Heavy as lead it seemed. I stuck the gardening fork in yesterday and I don't need to yell for help. I can turn it myself. Today I planted potatoes from the store that had sprouted. Bliss.
Then because all work and no play makes us a dull boy we decided to hit the road for Giant Sequoia National Monument.

On the way up we see drought stressed trees that were killed by bark beetles.
I can't stand next to the tree which would give you a very clear idea how gigantic it is. People larking about on the root system is a very bad idea.

When people first heard about the big trees in the 1800s they thought is was a joke.

On the way back we encounter beautiful rain clouds.