Friday, April 23, 2010

The Backyard Project Starts Up Again

The Season of Cobblestone Making has officially begun for the year. Last year, we ended the season in front of the mulberry tree, after having done half the patio with hand made cobblestone pavers. During the winter, we got the bright idea to build a casting table to do the pavers, instead of bending over to do them in place, on the ground. My back, shoulder and knees took a horrible toll last year, and I was not looking forward to the pain, as much as I wanted to finish the patio.

Today, we began the first casting and it went well. My back and knees are not on fire, and while I can tell I've lost some muscle strength from not mixing cement, I can do a little happy dance.

The rest of the patio pavers should go into place much faster than the last session, since we don't have to do all the preparation work, just smooth the sand base and add the stones, paint them, and then fill in with the sand/Sand-Lock mix. Maybe we will have it done before the official start of summer... that would make me very, very pleased.

We bought the Bocce Balls for a celebration (to play, not to eat them....) so when the stones are all painted and pretty, we will throw a summer party.

In the meantime, we've discovered a wonderful new creature that lives in our garden: a "sharp tail snake". The little guy must be all of 9 inches long, and it's a reddish brown, very slender, and lives under things like boards. I'm afraid I disturbed it when I took pictures today, but I'm hoping that it stays. They eat bugs, and this one doesn't move very fast and isn't very scarey. One more thing that makes this house feel like country, along with wild turkeys, skunks, raccoons, possums, etc.

Quick note: we did another two squares this morning. Went well, but I can sure feel the work I did yesterday in my arms. The good news is that my muscle tone should be back to "normal" for this in a short time. Decided to make another casting table, because there is always a tiny bit of cement mix left over, enough to cast one or two stones (three this morning) and I don't want to be bending over working them at the end of the session. Also, we can do three squares instead of two, once my stamina is up.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

April Showers and My Flowers

Iris in backyard This spring has been glorious so far. We have had days of balmy breezes, rainstorms, wind, sun and crisp mornings. The flowers in my garden are lovin' it; in fact, all of Sacramento is blooming, a city in living color. Azaleas, camillas, dogwood, lavender, the list goes on. My roses are blooming, and, as you can see, my iris. Some of the stalks of iris have up to 6 blossoms, and the blooms are huge.

Yesterday and today are rainy, but the days before that were warm and sunny, and the sun will be out again in another day or so. I couldn't ask for more. Today, a journey to the local Starbucks is on the list, not for coffee to drink, although I might indulge, but coffee grounds for the plants. Good compost, and I'm told that it repels snails and slugs, although I'll need a couple of cubic yards to help the buggers in my vegetable garden. They are HUNGRY, and have eaten numerous plantings. Grrrrrrrr.
deep pink roses
Lately I've had reasons to think about how small this world is, and how much we are affected by events happening on the other side of the globe.

The volcano in Iceland is an example. As we watch the news, or read blurbs on our home pages, it doesn't feel connected, yet everything that happens has a way of touching us in one form or another. Here is how the connection works in my universe: The volcano goes off, and I get to see Alice in Wonderland and eat Chinese food. Like that?

Here is the path: Four of my friends have planned a trip to Paris for a long time, a dream trip for them. They had to cancel because of the airline nightmare, and so, this week, they are home, and not at work. Since they are here, they called us and asked if we had seen the movie, and did we want to go and then eat at Frank Fats afterwards... so six of us went to the movies and ate Chinese. Jim and I probably would not have made it to the movie before it went away, and while I love Chinese food, we have been conservative on eating out lately. So, there you have it, volcano blows, and we eat Chinese.

Fair Oaks Rooster I've been spending more time with friends lately, treasuring this slower-paced life. Last week I had lunch at a little vegetarian restaurant in Fair Oaks, called the Sunflower. It served the best nutburger/patty melt I've ever eaten. My taste buds were dancing in my mouth. I know that it was on wheat bread, but it was so good. There aren't many tables (just a long picnic style bench inside, and little ones out of doors), but Melinda and I sat at a little wrought iron cafe table in the sun, and watched the chickens of Fair Oaks. These birds wander around in all their glory, and are fearless. I have them on my list of "must paints".

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Mixed Bag

Today is a mixed bag of chores and appointments. Dentist, bank deposit, groceries (I've delayed shopping because of the weather, but we are out of basics...) and just "stuff". I have to start preparing for a gathering of "Pine Nuts", my basket making group, meeting here on Sunday, and there is some major cleaning to do, and a small menu to plan.

Heart BasketThe Pine Nuts are a group that formed after I started teaching at the Senior Week (over 50) at Camp Sacramento. That venture ended after 5 years, but the basketmaking goes on. The gatherings are a good way to set out time to work on a basket, catch up with friends and see what each of us is doing. I think this time we will be sharing other art forms, in an adult version of "show and tell" that we had as children. Wonder if they still do that in school these days, or if it's gone with all the other programs that have been cut.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Nasty Weather Inspires Kitchen Magic

April's weather turned cold, wet and blustery a few days ago, and I'm not going out in it, not not not! I started a pot of beans (Trader Joe's 17 bean mix) with a ham bone, made up the first step for more bread (that last batch disappeared quickly), and am preparing to try a recipe for "Greens in the Crockpot" that was posted on a blog by friends of mine who are travelling around the country in their RV.

I started a batch of basil in tiny little home-made peat pots (egg cartons with a peat/coir mix in them) to see if I can circumvent the cost of specialty herbs from my favorite nursery. Thai Basil, Cinnamon Basil, Lemon Basil and Sweet Basil for starters, because the critters are chomping away at the plants I bought at TJ's. Those will probably survive, but I use a lot of basil in my kitchen, and if there is extra, it will be dried and put away for next winter. Cinnamon basil is sooo good in the beans.. which reminds me, need to pop some in the pot soon. It's starting to smell heavenly. Chopped celery, some red bell pepper, and whatever else looks good.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

A Perfect Saturday

Sonoma Hills and Vineyards
Yesterday was my idea of a perfect day: spent with friends and loved ones, surrounded by beauty and interesting things to look at, good food, wines, art, conversation that encouraged imagination and ideas and then, inspiration for artwork in the days to come. I am fascinated with the small towns that populate the hills and valleys of California, and want to explore more.

From Cline winery looking toward Jaccuzi
A group of us drove to Sonoma to pick up some organic wines (low sulfites) and spent time tasting, nibbling, talking, enjoying the beautiful surroundings, tasting more wine, olive oil, cheeses, chocolate.. (my tastebuds think I died and went to heaven). One friend from long ago, two new women that I will enjoy getting to know better, and a road trip. What a fun time, and I was able to be a passenger, so I had the opportunity to look at all the fascinating little places we passed through. Glen Ellen, Kenwood, Carneros: all these are filled with visually-rich turns and corners, and I want to get back there with paints and brushes someday.

Then, after returning home, my husband and I joined some other friends and strolled through a few galleries during the Sacramento 2nd Saturday art walk. One of our friends (Hilda Tonarely) is an artist, and had work in several of the galleries, so we viewed her work, and then stopped in a small restaurant for a late light supper.

Overall, I don't think I could have stuffed another good thing into the day, and I'm left with great memories, photographs for art inspiration, bottles of good wine and olive oil, and two new friends. Life is good.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Gluten-Free Sourdough Bread

This starts, of course, with my husband craving sourdough bread. Normally this isn't a huge issue in the world of grocery stores just down the street, but Jim is gluten or wheat sensitive (not sure which or what the difference might actually look like). We bought a breadmaker and have been purchasing packages of bread mix so he can indulge in fresh bread (ok, I LOVE it too!) but so far, sourdough has eluded us.

A friend had given us the magic secret to making it, and we have started the long process of making a sourdough sponge, to create magic in the kitchen. Tonight we mix the sponge with some of the bread mix, let it "proof" overnight, and then, before I leave in the morning, add it with the other ingredients to the breadmaker, and three hours later, it's bread!

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

A Day of Painting Beats Almost Anything

Big Dawg Waits for Trudy

Yesterday afternoon, to banish the dust of computer work from my mind, I threw myself into the studio, and plunged into a piece that had been hovering in my imagination for a while. (Really, a long while: I took the photograph of Durango Thanksgiving weekend last year.)

Since I have been taking a painting class from a private school/instructor, to refresh and exercise my creative muscles, this was the first home-work with the new parameters.

I'm pleased with the first run-through, and although I will go back into it this afternoon, the amount of actual changes will probably be small, in the overall scheme. I'll post the finished one later, when it has settled for a while.

In the meanwhile, there are chocolate chip cookies (gluten free) chilling in the fridge, and a beautiful sunny day that calls, so I imagine that I will spend a little time in the garden today as well. Jim has his classes on Monday and Wednesday afternoons, so I have uninterrupted alone time today. Life is good.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Computer Maintenance for a Creative Soul - A Whine

This morning I have spent several hours so far working on my husband's computer. We let our grandson use it while he stayed with us, but when he left, we discovered that he put himself as administrator, locked us out, and while surfing game sites, caught a number of nasty trojans, virus thingys and on top of that, added and deleted things that made it impossible for Jim to use. When asked for a pass word so we could correct things, he conveniently couldn't remember.

So, I had to rummage through storage, locate recovery disks, and then reformat EVERYTHING. Now I am attempting to update all the Windows Service Pack garbage before I can re-add programs that we want to use. I predict that this will eat up my entire morning, and leave me with little time to put toward my own work.

There are several nasty thoughts and names that are rattling around my brain regarding our grandson, a 17 year old know-it-all that I think of as butthead. He, of course knew better than us about security on computers, which is why the one he was using is now having to be brainwashed and reprogrammed. I can't wait until he has a teenager of his own, should he live that long.

Oops, have to restart the other computer for the zillionth time. Back in a minute or two...

So, you might wonder why I am doing this instead of my husband. (Sometimes I wonder that very thing...) Well, Jim is one of those people who refuses to learn touch typing on a keyboard, never remembers how to use shortcuts, and when you ask him if he remembers how to do something on it, he gets this "deer in the headlights" look on his face. I don't comsider myself knowledgeable on these things, but for self-defense alone, I end up having to spend hours with them.

Let's get this straight from the get-go: I do not like time spent in updating, fixing, maintaining my computers. I resent the time, suspect that most of it is actually a monumental waste, and am always left with the feeling that I've either forgotten something, been swindled, conned or fooled into thinking that "now things are safe".

This belief has been reinforced by a run-in I had recently with Norton Symantec. So, $240.00 later for their virus-removal-tech-support, with a computer that no longer functioned in the real world, I ended up taking it physically to a local electronics megastore (Fry's), paying another $70.00 and getting it fixed. I spoke to multiple technicians in Mumbai. Each and every one did the same thing every time. After the 3rd day of spending hours on my cell phone with them, I could have told them what they were going to do before they did it. The virus-removal team took control of my PC remotely (anyone else think this is creepy?), went through my files, moved things around, and then declared me virus-free, then transferred me to the installation team for Norton 360, because THEY couldn't seem to install their own product without screwing up my internet connection and/or leaving me in "SAFE" mode. Hmmmm. Strange, No?

The installation team did the SAME things that the virus-removal teams did, then declared that I must still have a virus, and told me that they would forward me on to the "expert" team, who looked at the files, and told me that they had to "research" further, and would call back within 24 hours.

You might have guessed it already. No call-back. So, I call them, go thru the virus-removal tech, his/her supervisor, and then another transfer to the expert team, and another promise of a call back because this was a complicated issue. This went on for three days, for a total of 6 days futzing around before I said forget it and took it to Frys.

I know that I am not the only one in the world who goes through this, not the first and certainly not the last. There is a special place in one of the multi-level hells reserved to house the nasty pock-marked vermin who create the issues that make this work necessary. I personally hope that they will spend all eternity watching one of three episodes of Barney cartoons.

Monday, April 5, 2010

How Much Is Enough? Meanderings on Money.

The other day, a question was asked about how much money did I want/need/desire? That started the gears turning and a long meandering route to chose some arbitrary number that would "make me feel safe", because that ended up being the final criteria. The issue of safety branched off to other thoughts of how we live our lives (I'm not going down that quiet desperation road that is so often quoted). Bottom line (heh, you can flog me later for that one) is that I desired $1,501,000.00 to feel comfortable about my finances. Might as well place the flag far enough away to really stretch... oh yeah, really really stretch.

Is that such a stretch? There are an almost uncountable number of people who have achieved and surpassed that goal, just here in the great ol' USA. What used to be a figure spoken about in a reverenced hush is commonplace now, even with the economic quagmire we have experienced lately. So maybe it's not so unobtainable a goal.

It's about belief systems. For the first part of my adult life, I spent most of it in a state of financial jeopardy, hopping from one small safe zone to another. I worked numerous jobs while creating a following as an artist, working in multiple mediums, and sometimes working 3-4 part time jobs at a time. I worked a lot, just not in highly lucrative positions. I think it's called survival. Had fun, created some wonderful inspired pieces, lived on the edge and gathered friends and memories that made life interesting. I just never thought much about bigger money, or how I could gather it, or what that would mean. I didn't believe that was in my future, so I never spent much time pondering on the idea.

Fast forward to my late 40's. I landed a job (thinking that it was another temp position until I found something interesting), and stayed with the company 10+ years. Relocated while with them, bought a condo (that was a real feat), married, bought a bigger house, grew a 401K, and ultimately laid off with a small severance package. I slipped into a different lifestyle by default, without any intentions, no game plan, nada. The years have gone by faster than the time it takes for your tax return to dissapear out of your checking account. Poof!

What I have now, with my husband, is a small amount of money in our retirement fund. Not enough for me to actually retire on, yet enough that I watch it like a hawk, and think about money and retirement almost daily. More than a decade has passed, and my mind-set has changed drastically. I can almost feel what it would be like to have "enough money". I can imagine what it would bring into our lives, and how it would feel. All the self-help gurus indicate that this is essential to "bringing in the bucks". Can't tell if this is an improvement in my life or not, but it's different.
So, back to the million-and-a-half. What would we do with that? Travel (much more), do some shopping, put some safe-guards in place (like long term medical insurance), play a bit more. I don't think it would change our world drastically. I think it would ease our worries a bit, and let us have more fun. So what would be the difference between that and our life now? Probably a new car, and a new truck for my husband. We might consider building a little vacation home in Mexico. Might get to see Europe, and fulfill my dream of spending a month in Tuscany, painting and exploring. The funny think is, we can probably do that with much less money, and may accomplish some of that with what we have now, if we apply things carefully.

That's an amazing thought. We might already have enough to do the things we would do if we had the "big bucks". Just a little bit at a time, on a smaller scale. That is, in my mind, rich. When you add happy to that, (contentment, joy, however you want to label it), you have two really important ingredients of a great life. The Spanish have a toast and to paraphrase it: "Health, Love and Money, and the Time to Enjoy it" and that covers the subject, although a friend of mine would add "something interesting to do and people who need you" to the requirements for happiness. I'll take that.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

In the good a place to start as any.

Gala Apple Starting this makes me feels as if I've done a cannonball into the pool and managed to get my towel and paperback soaking wet. Either I stand at the edge of something and think too long before beginning or jump in and to hell with the consequences. This seems to be a case of the latter. Time will tell if this is "a good thing".

Todays menu: meatloaf and fresh baked bread. I'd worry about balancing the meal, but I know that the meatloaf has onions, sweet potatoes (leftover), shredded zucchini, and freshly picked flat Italian parsley, so we will be eating our vegetables. The garden is yet to provide much for the table, but I know that, barring any disaster, it will yield up tomatoes, potatoes, chard, beans, onions and other wonderful things within a couple of months. There is no recipe for meatloaf. You just dump in ingredients until it feels right. There are general guidelines, but it's different every time; always a surprise.

Meatloaf might be a metaphor for my life. No recipe, just add ingredients you like and mix until it feels right. Pop it into the oven and ignore it for about an hour. Yum.

The ingredients are: time in the garden, time in the kitchen, time in the studio (not enough, but it's an off day), and time at the computer. Oh, and shall I mention some time for reading and eating chocolate? In spite of the windy, rainy, dreary weather, the day has been pleasant, and there is something that feels good about how it's passed.

If you know me, you know that there are several activities that dominate my life: art (oh, should it be capitalized as "ART"? Today, I think not...), cooking, and the garden. Then add reading, spending time on my husbands projects, meditating of sorts, and any other numerous distractions, and you will watch my days speed by. I even have time to daydream. That by itself is a wonderful luxury, one that I appreciate more and more as time passes.

So, I lied (just a tiny little bit). There is no real beginning to this blog, just jumped into the pool and splashed everything. Don't know where it's going, or how it's going to evolve, but it's started, and that's the most important thing for now.

Soon, it will be time to shut down the house for the night, and dive into bed. Tomorrow may be time to write more about the things that interest me, so I will do whatever it takes to say g'nite.