Along for the ride:

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Laughing all the way to the Riverbank

Remember the last post, about disasters? The theme continues, from sublime ( were we ever sublime?) to ridiculous.
If you're going to get rear-ended on the Fourth of July weekend, it might as well be by Balloonatics, right?
No injuries. We hardly felt a thing, but my car is considered totaled. There's more damage than the car is worth and the insurance company proposed a settlement that I thing is very generous. It's almost twice what I was expecting. They probably have a quick settlement policy so people don't decide they'll suddenly say they have back pain and sue. 
We left our troubles behind this weekend and drove north, to Chico, to attend a friend's Art Show opening. We chose back roads through peach and walnut orchards, with the occasional shocking green rice field dotted with bright white egrets.
I did buy this amazing fired clay casserole dish, which was the work of another Artist in the Show and very reasonable. I love the flavors of covered-pot cooking and I have some other, similar pieces.
We slowed for lunch at the kind of secret place that doesn't make it into the Michelin Guide but has atmosphere and flavor in every sense of the words.
An impressive outboard motor collection, for ambience, and a VW bus with the usual paint job, but sliced in half and installed on either side of a tree.
So, here I'll leave you, with a shared view of my blogging-station, in the deep shade of the riverbank trees, buffetted by a warm breeze, with the taste of my Hawaiian burger still on my lips and Margaritaville playing softly in the background.
Life can be tough:)

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Disaster Magnets?

It's been a week now, since we first collapsed to sleep, surrounded by cardboard boxes, in our new home. So far, two houses have burned to the ground and two dead bodies have been found in a nearby park. There's a high likelihood that idiots playing with fireworks, on a hot and windy afternoon, ignited the long dry buffalo grass on the hillside and that wildfire devoured the houses. There were loud explosions when the propane tanks went up and news photos showed blackened rubble and barely recognizable skeletons of family cars that never had a chance to leave their garages. Sirens, firetrucks and helicopter rotter-blades provided the sound track to which danced the pillars of black and, later, white smoke. Prelude to the Fourth of July.
The bodies appear to have been a murder-suicide. It seems callous to feel relief, but as sad and difficult as that must be for all concerned. It is a self-contained crime. There are no retaliations or repercussions that might affect us. There is no unidentified murderer on the loose.
Our house is a "Fifties-Modern" box with windows. It's all on one level and has mature trees shading the front, creating a cool privacy set-back from our cul-de-sac. Children play in the street in the afternoons, fighting for turns on their scooters and making up imaginary games, for which there is, as yet, no "App" or "i".
my desiccated bird of paradise flowers stand scarecrow sentinel, waiting their chance to flourish now that someone will be watering them again.
This house comes with a secret treasure, barely mentioned in the advertisement. There is an enormous workshop on the property that will allow The Artistic One to organize his hoard and play two-fingered torture on his piano without driving me crazy. It also means that the double garage is mine, for laundry,  garden tools and dog supplies. There will be shelves around the perimeter and a table or two that can be for ongoing projects of my own. Imagine that!

I had a very sad task on early on Sunday morning. Abby-Rose's adoptive Mom, Barbara, called from Hawaii where she was on vacation with her adult children and their families. Her dog-sitter, Valerie, had told her that Abbey wasn't doing well and she was going to see the emergency vet. Barbara asked me to accompany them and see if I thought Abby could make it through another two days until Barbara could get home to be with her.
I got in my car and drove to meet Valerie and Abby at the vet's, leaving a u-haul truck, our muscle team and a stupefied husband in my rear view mirror. As I headed out, I put out Mayday! calls to two good girlfriends. At 8am on a Sunday morning they dropped everything, left their homes and families and came to take over the helm of The Move-Boat for me.
Abby-Rose needed to be given The Final Rescue. She was not a young dog when she was pulled from the shelter, at the eleventh hour, and she spent almost a year with me in training, before going to live with Barbara. She had three really good years and found and gave a lot of love during that time.
After a long phone consultation with the vet, pet-sitter and myself, Barbara knew that she must let Abby go. I thanked her for adopting Abby, for loving Abby and for releasing Abby from all discomfort. 
I cried my way back home to hugs from my champion girlfriends and sympathy from my employees who knew Abby, as she always came to work with me. I was glad of the distraction of boxes and moving in need of my attention. Little did I know...

For now, the garage is crammed with paintings and boxes that our employees unloaded randomly when we left them alone to take TAO to the hospital during the move. TAO had fallen full length on Friday and, seemingly, escaped major injury. That Sunday, two days later, when I returned from saying farewell to Abby-Rose, he was sitting pathetically in a chair, with an elbow swollen like a cantaloupe. He didn't want to leave our crew without supervision, until the truck was packed to exploding point and we'd made it to the new place to show them what came next. By then, it was mid afternoon on a Sunday and we were lucky to be able to get a Doctor's appointment at the last minute. The doctor sent us to X-Ray, with a follow-up referral to orthopedics for the next day.
Monday morning dawned with TAO's wrist now as swollen as his elbow. The orthopedic department called to try to schedule us a day later, as they were slammed after the weekend. It was a case that couldn't wait, due to TAO's age, past reconstruction surgeries to restore that arm and hand, after a severe crushing trauma long ago, and regular prescription of blood-thinners. The medical assistant heard me out and put us on hold to go confer with someone who could write up an appointment where she had no time slots and no authority to bend the rules. We were asked to come in right away and told that they would somehow fit us in, leaving a red-flag at reception to get another x-ray as soon as we arrived.
The Technology in Ortho. had a Monday morning moment in reaction to us arriving, and we were shuttled to the main hospital radiology department in a small electric vehicle with a parking security officer as make-it-work chauffeur. We boarded the more official shuttle bus for the return trip back to the consult.
As strange as it may sound, we were happy and relieved with a diagnosis of internal bleeding as the cause for the swelling. The fall had caused movement in joints that had long been fused by arthritis. The seepage had nowhere to go and wrist and elbow expanded painfully. TAO cannot take any anti-inflammatory meds, so his fall-back treatment is ice and elevation, with some gentle exercise to keep things circulating. It's a slow process but much better news than we had feared. Surgery of any kind would be a nightmare.
Since then, our first painting has been hung and we've carved pathways through the boxes, between kitchen appliances.
We've managed some pleasant meals on the covered patio. It's so much easier when everything is on one level.
The cat has adapted well. She's located a spot where she gets a cooling breeze, out of sight of the aggressive mocking birds that are entirely focused on dive-bombing her and squawking loud warnings that there is a feline in "their" territory. 
We're exploring a bit, trying new trajectories to see if we can duck traffic jams on our increased commute. We've been carpooling, although we don't agree on temperature control or radio stations. Air-conditioning on for me, window open for TAO etc. 
We shot home early today to meet the cable guy and receive delivery of the last pieces of furniture that were in storage since the flood.
I'll be hitting the road in the opposite direction soon to drive another hour to my regular Friday ride, then drive back home once again. Little bits of the new plan are shaping up, but it's still far from perfect. We'll work it out, I'm sure.
As they say here: "It's not our first Rodeo".....Did I mention we now live on Palomino Drive?

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Reverse Gardening


The weather has been truly idyllic lately. Warm temperatures mitigated by breezes. The trees bounce and swirl their bright fresh-leaved branches and there's a small ripple stealing moisture across the surface of the pool.
I was at the barn on Sunday morning, an hour early for my ten o'clock ride. The school horses have a fifty-five acre pasture now, with a rolling topography that hosts well-spaced oak trees, a coyote den and several rather territorial deer. It can be quite a hike to gather up one's horse and bring him back to civilization. My ride was already in, so I was able to sit in the shade and be a spectator for a while. There's always something to observe and learn.
Boots was the horse listed next to my name on the board. I'd never ridden him before. He had some unexplained discomfort in his mouth on Friday and they've been working him in a bit-less bridle, to let him get over whatever it is. He's a visibly forward ride at the best of times so I didn't know quite what I was in for.
Transitioning to a new horse is always interesting. There's the initial comparison of how much horse you have underneath you. Is his neck longer or shorter than the horse you're used to? It's a bit weird to have less in front of you than you're used to but it only takes a few minutes to get past that disorientation. The roundness of a horses body affects the position of your legs. Again, as soon as you start working to apply your aids your muscles adapt and you find yourself on a familiar planet.
There's a short test period, learning how sensitive a horse is and how much leg or hand are likely to get the desired results. Having no bit, on a horse who usually had both bit and martingale, I was somewhat tentative about our first trot and canter. I was not sure I'd have the option of slowing down again once we started going faster. I asked for trot and worked on returning to walk just by slowing my body rhythm down, no rein contact at all. We achieved that a few times and I started to relax. 
Riding is ideally a mind-body experience. We look inward to achieve "The Zone" of harmony and communication with another, much stronger and larger species. Sometimes, if we "think" what we want a horse to do, we can make it happen with subtle muscle movements and shifts of weight, to which the horse responds. That is the Nirvana of riding.
The opposite end of the spectrum is when a horse anticipates or does something we weren't quite meaning to happen. I've been known to pretend that that was what I wanted, just so that (in my mind) the horse, and others around me, would still think I was in charge.
The lesson went well. We didn't disgrace ourselves riding a course of trotting poles and then canter work with simple change transitions and a few small jumps. We finished before the day heated up too much, washed down our sweaty horses, applied fly spray and released them back into the pasture. We always watch as they canter gently away up the hill, in search of the rest of the herd.
Back at home, after my shower, I had a peaceful lunch and then forced myself to pack a few boxes. Our move is looming. We will have to step it up a bit once TAO comes back from France.
The sunshine was calling me outside and I felt I had earned a respite. The birds have flown from the nests on our balcony so I didn't feel guilty about taking my book and lounging on the chaise for a while. It was quickly too hot and I have no desire to be a lobster red example of sun-stupidity. I went down to the pool, at the bottom of the garden, for a very quick first dip of the year and a significant cool-down. As I luxuriated in the relatively chilly water lapping around my shoulders, a family of Orioles perched on the phone wires above me, looking questioningly at me as if wondering why i was bathing in their pond. It's rare to see these dressy gold and black birds. I'd never seen one in my life before moving here and I've never seen more than one at a time. I don't know if our new neighborhood is Oriole territory. This visit made my day.
When I move, I have a lot of plants in pots so I have an instant garden that comes with me. I'm surrounded by familiar faces, although in a new setting. Landlords and realtors forget that the sumptuous floral surroundings are mine, and portable. They are left with the clean, but naked seeming, architecture that was there when I arrived. Not all is taken. There are some specimens that have grown large and been planted in the ground. I do leave more garden than was there before. There's a Rhododendron near the front door, and an azalea in the back garden, that was first given to me as a hostess gift, to put on the dining table. It had already expanded into my largest pot at our last home. it is a permanent resident here now and will stay behind when we leave.
There's a Cecil Bruner climbing rose that I planted last year. I had one that accompanied us from house to house for a long time. From 4" pot given to us on Lovely Daughter's first birthday, by my best friend's mother, to the rambling climber in a half barrel that embraced the chimney stack and made the front page of a local newspaper for an article on curb-appeal. We stayed ten years in the last house and the roots grew through the bottom of the barrel and anchored that rose to the ground. I trained the branches along the wooden fence and it spread out on either side. It would have been cruel to move it but it was hard to leave it behind. Both our daughter (then in her early twenties) and the Mother of my best friend were sad that the relationship had ended. I drove by that house yesterday. It's being demolished. They're down to the foundations and the garden is a wasteland. My current Cecil Bruner is being transplanted and will change neighborhoods with us. My other rescues will be my Hawaiian Ginger plants. I already have some in pots but will cull half of those that have spread to embellish the slope above the pool. I'll divide out some flag iris as well. I have a variety of unique colors that I enjoy too much to abandon.
The rest will be decided by time and energy. I have some native plants, such as Mallows, but they're easily replaced and grow quickly so I'll probably not reverse-garden those.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

New Human Interface Device

"My computer froze". Words to make any 21st Century human tremble. 
In the middle of a bookkeeping session, I found that I could move the cursor but not activate any commands. I really didn't want to lose the work I'd already done, bringing my business accounts almost to the stage of knowing how much money might be left after all of the deposits and pre-allocated expenses (debits) were accounted for. I've been struggling to keep up this last week, as The Artistic One is off galivanting around France and I'm doing his job as well as mine. I snapped a photo of what was on the screen before shutting down and restarting the computer. I wiggled the electric connections to make sure all were properly attached and then I tried rebooting one more time. No dice.
I manually did the math, taking the bottom number on my photographed register and the debits left to enter from the bank balance statement I'd printed out earlier. At least it was a number without a negative sign in front of it. I mentally pre-allocated it all to pay the phone bill, forklift maintenance company and a couple of our French suppliers. All important cogs in the wheels of a business. Then I called my Computer Fix-it Guru who promised to come in the next morning.
John is OCD and ADD, much appreciated qualities in this Tech-World we live in. He pretty quickly discovered that my Mouse had squeaked its last and we borrowed the mouse from TAO's computer to prove the point and then he was off!
John needs to know and wishes to share the intricacies of the deep down functioning of hardware, software, defragmentation, anti-virus, memory, storage and much more. He bounces around like Tigger at a picnic, sampling, exploring, testing and opining. There are no short answers or explanations. John gives his all and enjoys every minute of it.
I survived two hours, my brain first sizzling, then wilting a little more with each tangent, on which we embarked. We finally reached a moment when he had finished one project and was considering the pros and cons of starting another. I was able to shut him down, write him a check and get his enthusiastic and energetic persona out the door, reclaiming my office formyself. Thank you but Phew!
I went to the big box office supply store to invest in a new mouse. It took a while to notice that the whole display of umpteen choices of different sizes, shapes, (ergonomic or otherwise) and colors was presenting the wireless variety.
My work computer is a PC. It is stationary. I have no need of a wireless mouse. I won't be taking it out for walks or scenic car drives. Once it enters my space, I want it tethered to the machine and never to hear it whine about failing batteries. I am willing to lift it up occasionally to dust underneath. That will be the extent of its travels.
The bottom shelf had some old school meeses. There were a couple of colors to choose from; black, grey, off-white or red. A far cry from the rainbow, metallic and psychedelic selections above. I went with grey. Black shows the white stone dust too quickly and off-white always just looks grubby.
I have never purchased or installed a mouse before. They turn out to be under ten dollars and very easy to plug in. I cleverly followed the cable from the old mouse until I found where to anchor the new one. The switch took place without incident and my computer welcomed it with a "ping" and announced " New Human-Interface Device Discovered". 

Saturday, May 10, 2014

We're on the Move

Oh Boy! Our landlord gave us our notice recently. We have ninety days, but he wrote that he has no intention of repairing any of the flood damageed portions of the house until we leave. He's going to use the insurance money to remodel and put the house on the market. It's not a huge surprise. It's just such bad timing, as these things always seem to be.
We've been talking about a future home without stairs, to make life easier for The Artistic One. Including a stipulation that we be allowed a cat and "a" dog, knocks 80% of the available rentals off the list. Further filtering for price leaves us with three or four maybe-feasible options, as long as we're willing to add an hour to our commute or live beside a busy road. Even then, there are lines of people at each open house.
Landlords no longer return emails or calls to answer questions. They fire out an announcement of a two hour time-window when the houses will be open. Like it or lump it.
One advertisement on Craigslist made me want to chastise this rude and arrogant person: "1,500 sqft. 3 bed, 2 bath" so far so good, although half the size of where we are now. "You must have the following to be considered:"
credit score over 800 over last 3 years
employment, 4 years with no gaps
family income in excess of $150,000
previous landlord references
employer references
Bank Statements to SHOW SAVINGS
Residency in Bay Area, more than 3 years

"If you do not have these don't waste our time!" 
All this, for $3,500 a month, makes me think of my sidebar poneyism regarding puppies and dicks. 

One other example of "same planet-different worlds" invites us to "Have it all!" for $4,990 we would get a "Huge, Fabulous back yard with Beautiful Artificial Turf". That particular oxymoron made me smile, I must admit. 

If we attempt to find a place that's closer to our business, in this price range we're looking at two beds and one bath, on the wrong side of the tracks. TAO just states his wish-list and imagines it will materialize. He wants a country property, with a barn or other structure, that will serve as his art studio. That is not impossible, if we're willing to drive for hours every day. There is one that was advertized and the owner told us she'll be having an open house sometime this month. Of course everyone must bring their qualifications at that time, to compete. Now, if something else is vaguely acceptable, we must decide whether to wait for something better or jump at the compromise.

There's a house on my radar that we may be allowed to see later today. It's not completely a country house but it's an older home, out towards the foothills. It's in a rustic, neighborhood that's hard to describe as anything other than "Redneck". I'm using that to mean a blue-collar, born and raised here population that is increasingly rare and remains proudly ungentrified and unnaffected. It doesn't have a view but is within short walking distance of designated open space.
"Rick" is renting out his father's property, where he grew up. It's on a quiet cul-de-sac and has a huge extra building, where the Dad used to keep his heavy machinery. There's a big side-yard that they're keeping out of the contract, where all of his vintage vehicles are stored, and another back yard with some fruit trees. Rick is thinking of pouring a concrete patio but wants to wait and see what his renters think. (How unusual is that?). I told him I can advise him on what would enhance his property value, as I have a lot of experience.The house is one storey, almost 2,000 sqft. They don't mind pets and the price is 3/4 of what we pay now.
Rick called me back to chat, as soon as I sent him an email. I like him. We connected. I may have had an ulterior motive when I mentioned that I can skin a rabbit. Not something I drop into conversation on a daily basis. He has been painting and cleaning up the property, so he didn't want us to visit before now. He reluctantly gave me the address, when I asked him, and I promised not be a stalker and drive by uninvited. Promise kept. (Looking at satellite images doesn't count.)
I have my phone by my side. Rick wants to show us around today, depending on what time his daughter's confirmation, and subsequent family celebration, are over. Realistically, he may not call today. Tomorrow is Mother's Day. I like him more that he said he had to take care of the women in his life. 
This might well carry over to Monday.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Nesting Birds and Migrating Postmen

On a sunny Saturday, such as today, we'd normally take our lunch outside onto the deck and enjoy the breeze-dancing tree branches and birdsong. We're not short on birdsong right now. Two pairs of finches have chosen to nest between the beams, under the protective overhang. I can't bring myself to disturb their sanctuary.


We've progressed from parent birds working hard to build nests, through the incubation period, to the chattering chirrups of demanding fledglings and the incessant air traffic of birds trying to satisfy their ever-hungry young. There are baby birds hunkered down in this photo. I climbed on a step ladder to get the shot but they're struggling so hard to be invisible that you can hardly see them, unless you enlarge the image.


There's another nest in the lamp outside our front door. We took the bulb out of the light early on, so no one would inadvertantly toast them. This nest is fashioned from jasmine and collie fur. Our cat sits in the entry and watches the winged silouhettes flash back and forth across the stained glass windows.
We have stereo bird song from front and back of our living quarters. Who could ask for a sweeter wake up call each morning?
Our neighborhood Postman retired this week. Bob has been here longer than we. He's an old fashioned looking guy, with a civil war hair do and moustache. He knows everyone by name and has a soft spot for dogs and cats. He's originally from the Smokey Mountains and has a slight disability due to an accident with a moonshine still, in his youth.
We have an email group for about eighty houses on these three streets and a cul de sac or two. It was instigated for disaster preparedness after the earthquake in 1989. The group email was used to chat about how best to thank Bob for his diligent and friendly service. A collection was proposed and topped $800 in two days. We all left cards and notes for Bob on our mailboxes on Friday. Mine suggested that he leash up his own dogs and come walk these streets as an honorary neighbor. 

Sunday, April 13, 2014

I was going to bitch and moan...but I changed my mind


A party was had, and enjoyed by all, at La Bodeguita Cuban restaurant, last evening. Six riders, one (birthday girl) trainer and The Artistic One. TAO's an honorary member of our little gang. It's a pretty special group of women, to include an old guy who doesn't ride, or even speak the same language. He pulls his weight when cooking or driving tasks come up and can converse with three of the group, who speak French, or through our translations. He makes it quite obvious that he loves to mingle this way and feels right at home. In fact, the other day, when I told him I was planning on riding a horse at another barn, he asked right away "You're not giving up on your girlfriends, are you?"


The horse pictured here is one I tried out yesterday. I'm the pre-selection vanguard, now it seems, weeding out horses that are completely unsuitable to complement and enlarge our school horse herd. Size, price, aptitude, character, training and soundness are like ingredients in a secret recipe. One flavor too weak or too strong can upset the balance, but some compromises make sense.
This horse had no official name. A 16h1" thoroughbred who had not been near a race-track, he's five years old and a little skinny. The owner is moving abroad and needs to sell quickly.
The photo we saw in the ad. showed No-Name doing a creditable job of jumping. His owner said he rode around the countryside a lot and had also played a few games of polo. NoName has good ground manners and is polite with people. Those are important ingredients in a school horse environment. 
The footing was terrible, where I rode him. The sand arena was bumpy, overgrown with weeds and pitted with gopher holes.  Sure-footedness was checked off the list. 
The arena was next to a field that was being prepared for planting. A bulldozer and a big grading machine trundled around a few feet from us and NoName ignored them as well as the three corgis who tried to herd us the whole time. Desensitization, check.
The gelding was quite a bit greener than we had imagined but had no major negatives to unlearn. He was willing and cooperative and accepted contact. Canter leads need work but nothing disastrous. The two things I liked the most were the fact that he carried himself well and he gave an impression of sanity. I quickly felt he was trustworthy. I don't often put trust in an unknown horse.
NoName has a lot of positives and the negatives are in our favor for justifying a realistic price. I'd be seriously tempted to make an offer myself if I didn't have as many unresolved issues in other areas. The old time and money connundrum.
I'm waiting to hear what happens next. I'd love this horse to come to us. I know I'd enjoy riding him. The trainer's concern is that he's not instantly ready for more general use. I think, if she'd make the trip to ride him herself, she'd see that he'd be very easy to get in shape and let's be realistic. You can only get so much for a steal of a deal. 
He's an hour away. He'll cost her half of her day off, one way or the other. I think that's a big sticking point. I think he's worth it, but it's not my final call. I'll let you know what happens next.