Sunday, December 26, 2010

The BB (Big Bathroom) Project

After months of preliminary planning (waffling on my part), the big bathroom project is officially underway. Cheryl and I found some tiles and a design plan that we both like--these are green Huichol handmade tiles from Mexico. Unfortunately we found them in Arizona and will need to ship them to Florida (expensive). Oh, well.

We had expected to use a more traditional Talevera-type geometric pattern, but the wavy watery design of the running border tile grows on you. There's a cute sink that goes with it, too. When we get back, I'll do the dimensions and place the order.

Deciding on the tile was crucial, but it will be weeks before they actually get set into place. When I think of all the prep word that needs to be done, I am sorely tempted to throw up.

-- First, I'll draw up the detail tile plan.
-- Then we'll strip everything out of the bathroom, including the toilet and sink.
-- The existing tiled walls come out completely, down to the 2 x 4s, a huge and nasty job in itself. If I'm correct, I will then need to remove and replace some of the termite-eaten and water-rotted framing.
-- I'll need to sand or strip the old door frame.
-- The old, cracked tile floor will come out. I'll be replacing this with oak.
-- I'll remove the old plumbing and install the new. We'll get some cute old-timey faucets, and I'll fix the overflow drain so that the overflow no longer pours down into the kitchen. (I wonder who thought that was a good idea?)
-- The cement wallboard then goes in for the tiled areas, and sheet rock for the painted areas.
-- The door frames, walls and ceiling will get some paint.
-- Finally the tile will get set onto the wallboard. We're planning to frame in a mirror with the decorative pieces. Then I'll grout and finish the tile.
-- The oak floor goes in.
-- I'll need to find a nice table or stand for the ceramic sink, fasten this to the wall and plumb.
-- The toilet comes back.

All done.

Excuse me while I throw up.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Christmas Party

Our Christmas party on Saturday went pretty well. Cheryl and I started with the food mostly on Friday, with trips to three grocery stores to get everything we needed, including the 60 fat poblano chilies: 30 for the soup and 30 for the stuffed poblano entrees (stuffed with shrimp, small bits of apple and almonds).

Here are some of the chilies roasting on the grill. These weren't particularly spicy--you just never know with poblanos. I cleaned out all of the poblanos from one Mexican grocery while the produce manager gave me the stink eye.

We had spicy appetizers, poblano soup, followed by heart of palm tart, spicy pork in banana leaves, the stuffed peppers, a salad, and some garlic and chili black beans. Bob and Suzanne helped us out with the banana leaves (we had already decimated our tree when we made the dish a few weeks ago). As usual Patrick brought some great deserts: a berry pie, cheese cake and a chocolate cake.

If there's one thing Cheryl and I agree on, it's garlic. We probably used 3 or 4 heads of garlic in all. The more, the better.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

My Violin

As an anniversary present, Cheryl took my old violin to have it fixed by a violin guy in Tampa. I quit playing it over 20 years ago, though I've taken it out occasionally, usually just for few minutes before sending back into isolation in the closet. Sad, because of its pitiful condition and because of my ever-compounding inability to play it.

Here's my Hopf, back from the restoration job.

It's a Hopf violin, 150 or 200 years old, and it would be worth some money today if not for me. I haven't been a good friend to it at all.

I bought it while in college. Folk music and bluegrass were in a revival, and it was cool to play Nitty Gritty Dirt band and other acoustic music. I took lessons from Dr. Carl Forsberg, a great guy, played in the university's orchestra and string quartet--a whole world of music that was new to me. And then, somehow, my violin and I found ourselves playing cheesy country music in smokey bars, for money, and this went on for much too long.

Then one night, as I was playing some yee-haw thing or another, my Hopf literally exploded in my hands. The neck came loose from the body and the tension of the strings snapped it two. Even the lid came loose from sides. It was violin suicide, I believe--the old guy couldn't stand one more note of that crap.

Being broke and single-minded in estimation of my abilities, I took it upon myself to do the repair. But it never was the same. A hollow thin sound was all I could get, the raspy voice of a sick old man.

The accident also further damaged the exterior, which was in a very sorry shape, so one night I decided to strip the varnish and put on a new finish. A dumb idea but I just didn't care. I read about a formula that called for boiling down shrimp shells in lye until they become a sort of varnish. Then you're supposed to put in some human blood for color. A friend of mine owned a seafood restaurant, so I had the shells. I wasn't too keen about the blood. In the end I just used some tung oil. Of course, by removing the original varnish I also stripped away the collecter's value if I ever try to sell it.

So, I didn't have much hope that the violin guy could really fix it. But Cheryl wanted to give it a try, and that was present enough for me.

When I pulled it from its case and played it yesterday I nearly cried. It looks good. It sounds as good, maybe better than ever. Now I just need to learn to play again.

Read about the violin guy in Tampa.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Make Something Up - Part 2

"Crap," John said. "Make something up."

The three college students were getting antsy--one of the girls stood up to leave but was coaxed back onto the couch by the other two. John had promised them I would play some real jazz if they came over to the party.

Except... John was a country boy from Corinth, Mississippi, raised on grits and country music, and nothing made him happier than music that allowed him to clap his hands and laugh and stomp his right foot. He didn't have a clue about jazz, and neither did I (other than I couldn't play it).

He and I would go to big bluegrass parties on Wye mountain, with guitar players and banjo players and fiddle players in the big back yard of our friend's house. John was the master of ceremonies, the person who told jokes and yelled things like "Hot damn" while we were playing. At the time I was learning to play bluegrass fiddle. I wasn't particularly good, but I'm pretty sure that John didn't realize this. Music was just music to John.

Purists, on the other hand, have a different mindset--they are on a mission, and it doesn't matter what has captured them: sound systems, motorcycles, jazz, wine. They can be a little... critical. These three students were jazz purists. I had listened as they argued over the relative merits of Bud Powell and Bill Evans, and I had shrugged my shoulders as if anyone knew who was best, when in fact I didn't have a clue.

I was boxed into a corner. Who knows, maybe I could play something that would entertain them. I did know a jazzy version of "Someone to watch over me." I moved toward the piano bench.

Here's Art Tatum playing Little man you've had a busy day.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Make Something Up

Years ago our band was playing music in a seedy nightclub, the kind of place you'd never ever go--an ugly concrete box on a dirty street in a mean section of downtown Little Rock where only bikers and construction workers felt at home--when, just as we were playing our last song, my roommate John T. came into the club followed close behind by two girls and a guy, the three them huddled closely together.

John had met these three at a college party and discovered they were jazz lovers, so he convinced them to come with him to see us play. In particular he told them several lies about me--how I was such a great jazz player (when I fact our band just played cover tunes and I could not play real jazz piano at all). John was a first-class liar.

I could easily have set the record straight but it was late, I was depressed about the dull, sad state of my life, and I was a little jealous of these brightly polished people out on a break from medical school and never before in a nightclub and certainly never in a place like this. Why not let them like me a little? So we all talked jazz, how we liked Art Tatum and Oscar Peterson, and I was very cool about it.

About an hour or so later, 30 or 40 people had gathered in my house for a party, yet another party fueled by John's excessively enthusiastic personality. I had my grand piano in the living room. The three students were there, still stuck closely together and now sitting on the couch a few feet away from the piano. An assortment of drunks and other musicians wandered about in their normally stupid fashion.

John and I stood at the far end of the room, far away from my piano. "I told them you were going to play," he whispered into my ear like a kid on Christmas morning. He didn't have a clue about jazz or my inability to play it. In Vietnam, John was a general's assistant, so he never saw combat. "Vietnam was a big party for me," he liked to say.

"They're going to leave," John continued, still grinning his goofy grin. He was always smiling. "Play something."

"I don't know any jazz, John," I said. "That's the problem."

"Crap, make something up."


Wednesday, December 1, 2010

My Bread

I cut myself this morning. Not bad. I was preparing the toast portion of my morning coffee and toast break with Willow when the bread knife just slipped off the top of the bread. I have a nice, sharp serrated bread knife but it suddenly seemed very dull. When I pushed harder, the knife skimmed over the crust of the bread and hit my other hand. The crust of the bread did not show a mark at all.

Just yesterday I cut a piece no problem, so I wondered what could have happened to my knife. OK, then. I pulled out a butcher knife. Since this is a flat bread loaf, I thought I'd just chop off a few pieces (keeping one hand behind my back).

Then I decided to get the video camera.

Oddly enough, the bread tears apart with no problem and is tender on the inside. Tastes good, too.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Gramp, part 2

I was thinking more about my grandfather this week.

My brother and I were leafing through a Sears catalog, sitting there in Gramp's living room years ago, and he asked us what we were looking at. I said a swim mask and snorkel--I can't remember what David said. Gramp stood up and walked out to his car and returned later with the swim mask and David's present. We were bug-eyed and excited to be sure, but he just returned to his newspaper, and I'm sure he told us to "get the hell out" soon after.

My mom was treated unfairly once by the bank--I can't remember the specifics, but she said Gramp got in his car, drove to the bank and told them "I'll be taking out my money now. All of it." Other stories included how he produced or threatened to produce a shotgun for one reason or another. True or not, the stories have a sort of Godfather theme.

I'm sure he had moments of weakness, of self-doubt, but I'm not sure if he ever allowed anyone to know about them. Today it's OK for grown men like me to blog and blubber on like teenage girls. But I wonder if it is such a good idea.

Unfortunately, we don't get an opportunity to play the Godfather very often or to become bigger than life. But I suppose I should just tell myself to quit crying and shut the hell up and quit writing this crap.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

On Choosing a Team

When Cheryl is away on one of her school trips, as she is this weekend, I could just go out to eat, but that's no fun. Better to cook something, hibernate and watch movies.

Light night I started, as usual, with a saute of garlic and olive oil. (The kitchen just doesn't smell right otherwise.) Then I took a big handful of roasted almonds and threw them in my 2-horsepower mega blender with chicken stock, reducing them to liquid, which I poured over the garlic. In the meantime I had a collection of chili peppers (anaheims, poblanos, serranos, habeneros) roasting in the oven. And in a little while I skinned them and chopped up fine and into the pan. After a slow simmer for an hour, I opened a can of crab meat and put some in a bowl and covered with the soup.

So what movie to watch? It's occurred to me, more than once, that I really don't belong to a team (i.e., vampire or werewolf). And so I risk becoming irrelevant in the modern culture, not that Cheryl cares because she's declared herself to be beyond team-choosing in this case and refuses to watch the movie, even though she consumed the books like I consumed my soup last night. No, I finally had to watch the movie by myself.

From what I can tell, my wife and other adolescent females seem to have their own bizarre notions (that I certainly can't imagine), while I can only approach the issue logically and with some practicality, which is to say that we (you and me) are most likely to join a team that reflects our inner qualities, at least as we imagine them, right?

And though I'm not one to make hasty decisions, or to swear allegiance to an unknowable or generalized concept (especially when there is still one movie to go), it does appear that I'm closer to one team than another. With the image of a muscled puppy boy on one hand, and a pensive, glittery ponce on the other, I don't have much choice, do I. But then again, neither did she...

Tonight I'm making pizza.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Bread. Good.

This week I finally made some whole wheat bread that tasted like real bread. OK, so the loaf spread out instead of up, but it had a really nice taste. Even Cheryl ate some, and she is a tough sell when it comes to food.

During the process we discovered that our oven wasn't cooking as hot as we thought--the bread recipe called for 450 degrees, but the oven thermometer I bought (actually I bought two of them) showed that the temperature was only 375. (I found out how to calibrate it.)

My new bread book (thanks again, Gisah) describes how whole wheat flour contains the whole grain (gluten, germ and bran), while white flour has the nutritious germ and bran removed. The rise of popularity of the high-carbohydrate white flour (and the emergence of pretend foods like Wonder Bread and Twinkies) can be traced back nearly 100 years and to a simple fact: while flour has a longer shelf life than whole wheat, especially when certain chemical enzymes are added.

Like with countless other examples, our current food culture is the direct result of the corporate control of all food. Since white bread can be transported greater distances before it goes stale, it can be baked in a few big corporate bakeries instead of several local bakeries. Corporations can kiss my butt. (Oh, wait. I am one.)

White flour also puffs up like a balloon (this is because the gluten helps trap the gases created by yeast). Whole wheat flour is notoriously difficult to transform into a light loaf of bread, and I've had one failure after another, untl now.

So I'm really happy to have a decent whole wheat loaf. In this approach I put an iron skillet in the bottom of the oven to get hot, and then pour in some water when then bread goes it, creating some steam.

I'm trying again this weekend.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010


My aunt Helen sent me a picture of me and my grandfather--one I've never seen before. We all called him Gramp. Over time he became a legendary figure, a no-nonsense man from that generation of pipe-smoking, hat-wearing, crusty tough guys who you normally don't see spread out on the lawn and playing with a toddler.
The note is from my mom.  I'm not sure where this was taken--it doesn't look like our yard.
Gramp lost a leg as a teenager. That much was true because I saw him several times without his prosthetic. He told us he was run over by a train, but he had lots of stories; about living with the Indians in Canada and about meeting Clark Gable while working as a lumberjack (and encouraging him to go to Hollywood). Who knows?

Also to entertain us, he often recited this poem (unless my mom could stop him before he got to the end). I can't remember all the verses, but here's the general idea:

Went down town, bought me a shovel
Shovel wouldn't dig, traded it for a pig
Pig wouldn't squeal, traded it for a wheel
Wheel wouldn't run, traded it for a gun
Gun wouldn't shoot, traded it for a boot
Boot wouldn't fit so I threw it in a pit
And covered it with shit
And that was the end of it.

But mostly he is remembered for not being overly sentimental. I was crying like a little girl in the backyard once, probably for no reason at all, and he walked out and told me to shut up and then walked back into the house. I don't remember the exact words; he may have said Shut your yap or even Quit your belly-aching.

He was right--it's not complicated. There's no crying in the backyard...

Thursday, November 11, 2010

No Toilets

It doesn't seem possible, but I quit playing music professionally over 20 years ago. I use the word professionally only in the loosest sense, in that it was my job (and my only job) for about 12 years. As for the quality of my playing, I was certainly no professional, and I'm still amazed that anyone ever gave me money. We do live in a great country.

Other than the playing, I liked nothing about that life: the late hours, other musicians, loud smokey bars, drunk people, lousy pay, mean or insane club owners, hours on the road, etc.

Once, while standing in a men's room, the guy next to me (another, much older musician) said to me, "They're all toilets," meaning all nightclubs and bars. Even the nicest ones, he said. No difference. Who, I thought to myself, wants to spend their life in a toilet?

So I got out, though it sure took awhile. Still... sometimes I think it would be nice to play with other musicians again. But no toilets.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Jazz, On The Page

I just recorded some jazz piano. But now I can't find the cord to download the videos from the camera, and that's probably just as well. If I had to choose one word to describe the videos: boring. (And that's one of the nicer words.)

Funny, because I didn't feel at all bored while playing. My ears were buzzing, my heart racing, my toes tapping, my mind struggling to get things right, struggling to turn those notes on the page transformed into instructions for my fingers, which is the opposite of how I played for years--from memory and while watching my fingers go wherever they liked.

Each day I get a little better at sight-reading and I enjoy it more and more, like reading a good book, lost in time for a while, even to the point that I can't actually hear the boring crap I'm playing as I'm playing it. But it's a struggle, and my improvement is measured in snail steps.

I could just memorize these songs and watch my fingers play them, but I'm determined to stay on the page. My fingers (to be honest) are stuck in some smoke-filled blues club of the past, and they don't like being told what to do.

Sometimes, usually early in the morning when my brain is not too worn out, I can read through a difficult passage effortlessly, and I get it. Like a teacher once said: "Playing an instrument is easy; playing music is hard." Or, as jazz musicians like to say, "Cool."

Except I'm almost never cool.

Looking at this from a broader perspective, I would probably be happier if I didn't record videos of my playing or, in general, if I didn't spend too much time measuring my own coolness. Oh well, one snail step at a time.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

The Best Halloween

I never liked Halloween. I only have one fuzzy memory from my youth, walking up to my neighbor's house in, I suppose, a costume of some kind, though I just remember a paper sack in my hand and some abstract fear that made me reluctant to press the door bell. What if I say "trick or treat" and they just stare at me.

The next memory comes from the late 70's. I'm playing music in big dance hall that is strategically placed next to a truck stop and several college bars. It's Halloween--I can tell because all of the women are dressed up like tramps, which is ironic because they are always dressed like tramps, only without as much imagination.

That brings me to the present. I made some pizza Sunday night (thanks to the bread book recipe that Gisah sent me) and Cheryl and I sat out front, with a huge bucket of candy and a little table between us, with Cheryl's new iPad set up to watch a movie while we waited--laughing and eating pizza and talking--for the neighborhood kids to show but only a few came, fewer each year, and that's OK. A little girl dressed as Tinkerbell was cute and said nice things about our house. We packed it up at around 8pm and finished the movie and pizza inside.

As always, I'm the luckiest guy in the world.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Bamboo Takes One for the Team

I'm convinced that the nice stand of Bambusa oldhamii in our back yard is smarter than most plants. Spooky smart. Until a few weeks ago, the canopy was very full on all sides, and then it just opened up around the new culms. Before, you couldn't see the new shoots at all. Now, they are clearly visible, limbless and shooting to the sky.

Why did this happen? To allow in some sun, I suppose. I don't know. I mean, how does a plant know to do that? The other plants out back are just mildly opportunistic--they grow and push and shove until I reprimand them or until the rain quits feeding them. But they don't make room for other plants.

The Bamboo, though, always seems to be thinking and working together. It (or is it a they?) drops its leaves and sleeves on the ground and creates it own mulch. Each culm sends out branches, but not to compete with the neighbor culms--there always seems to be enough sunlight for all. Not bad for beings in such a crowded space.

Now I've discovered that 3 or 4 of the culms are broken at the top. Sure, maybe the wind snapped them.

Or maybe it was intentional, knowing that the real estate is limited up there on top, with just enough room for a few branches at the crown, so maybe they drew straws (as plants are known to do) and the short straws took the hit for the good of the team and snapped themselves.

Anyway, it's just a theory in progress...

Friday, October 22, 2010

Frisbee Season

Frisbee season is officially open for Willow now that things have cooled off. She would gladly play all year long, but after watching her pass out from heat exhaustion a few years ago, I have probably become overly cautious. Even on a cool day we only play for a few minutes.

We are reminded lately that Willow is getting old--she's almost 10, but what does that really mean? Her behavior has certainly improved. No more hopping up and down like a bunny, jumping on house guests. Is this evidence of old age?

And I'm sure there are other signs that I rationalize or refuse to see (like those gray hairs on her chin), just as I do when looking in the mirror.

So I have to accept the possibility that we are growing old together, slowing down like objects on Einstein's train, slowing down from the perspective from others but unaware of that fact, maybe...

A video might make the case one way or the other, so I took one. Slowing down? Not this season.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Confronting the Vines

Another result of our rain-soaked summer became clear to me this weekend as I sought to clear out some vines that were threatening to overtake our two cute silver palms in the front yard, a job that took about 4 hours.

I try to keep an open mind. Plants do what they need to do to survive. An oak tree will shade out and kill a whole village of its neighboring plants once it gets big--I won't hold any ill will toward it. But let a skinny, pipsqueak vine attack one of these giants and I am outraged.

The picture above was taken midway in the process, after I had pulled the vines from the palm but before I went after the heavily-laden Cherry Laurel tree on the right. These vines (there are about 4 varieties of them) pop up in so many places that I can imagine the vast underground net of roots, as dense as a seine.

I punish them and cuss them. I pull up their roots. I taunt them and embarrass them and belittle them. But they don't care. They have no real defenses at all. They have a vicious grip on their host plant--some of them grow to the very top of the oak trees--and yet they are as easy to cut as a stem of asparagus. There's a lesson here somewhere...

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

A Load of Fertilizer

As a rule I shy away from seminars, classes, meetings and all forms of regimented assembly. And certainly I steer clear of any clubs or groups that would, as the saying goes, accept someone like me as a member. Yoga class is the one exception.

But this weekend Cheryl and I were drawn to a local plant nursery where a plant guru was scheduled to speak about Florida native plants that thrive in the shade--just exactly what I'm interested in.

We gathered outdoors in the perfect weather, sitting in a grove of oak trees (a place that I learned is called a hammock because of its slight elevation above a neighboring marshy place). About 30 people were assembled--granola crunchers with assorted khaki hats and hiking boots, serious tree-huggers. The popularity of Florida native plants is growing, mainly for all the right reasons: to reduce the use of herbicides and the drain on the water supply. These were my people, for sure.

I learned lots of things: the crinkly leaf ground cover in our yard is called basket grass, and it is a native. This gave me a warm fuzzy inside, and I was tempted to raise my hand (like in grade school) and tell the class that I have basket grass all over the place. In fact, I felt compelled to make them all like me, if only I could think of a way.

After about an hour I noticed that no one had asked a question about fertilizer yet. If I asked a good question, I reasoned, then everyone would like me. Timing is important. And just then the instructor mentioned the anise plant. My hand shot up, and I asked "What kind of fertilizer should I put on my new anise plants at home?" explaining how they were deep in the shade, etc.

"A very good question," he answered. Home run. "Very soon," he said with the most serious tone, "we will be forbidden by law from putting anything except a few types of chemical fertilizers into the earth."


Not a single person would look at me as he listed off the evils of fertilizer, even swatting down my attempt to weasel out and claim that I, of course, only meant organic fertilizer. But it was too late.

Cheryl, who had the good sense to wander around the nursery instead of sitting through the speech, laughed when I told her what happened. She asked, "Did you tell them that your favorite plant is a Chinese bamboo?"

Damn! I should have...

Friday, October 8, 2010

What I Don't Know

Our friend Suzanne gave us a cute little beautyberry (Callicarpa) plant that I put into the ground out front near the thriving wild coffee bushes and under the lesser oak tree, though while doing so I failed to notice that I had placed it on a slight hill, making my attempts to water it a chore since the water just runs off and onto the sidewalk if I'm in hurry, and I'm always in a hurry.

I don't have any water lines out there, so what to do? The little guy needs water for the next few weeks or it will pucker up and blow away.

Then it hit me: I could fill a plastic bag with water, punch a tiny pin-sized hole in the bag, and just let it run out. Preliminary testing at the kitchen sink found this to be a deliciously successful idea (how could I be so smart), so I set out the bag early this morning. It went drip, drip, drip, just like I hoped.

Except just now I went out and found the bag still full of water. What happened? Like many other concepts that I should have learned at school, this one is a mystery to me. Even so, my mind believes that it knows why the water stopped dripping out. My mind believes that the minerals in the water are clogging up the hole.

Pathetic. I am incapable of just saying I don't know.

No I'm not.

So I punched a bigger hole. Meanwhile, in the backyard, I am drawn to this milkweed plant, the host plant of the Monarch butterfly, with the prettiest reds and yellows I've ever seen (though i can't seem to get my camera to believe it). If I were a butterfly, I would squat all over this.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Toast and Coffee

Today Willow and I are exploring the simple perfection of toast and coffee. On Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays (the no-Berkeley days) I fix a piece of wheat toast with my second cafe con leche, take it up to my office, and tear off pieces of bread--one for her and one for me (she loves bread).

Now that I think about it, this sounds pretty much like prison food. Oh well, we like it.

On Tuesdays and Thursday, we have a different, more puppy-centric routine. No toast. And definitely no coffee for Berkeley, who could probably fly after a nice latte.

I am, however, sharing some coffee with my new anise bushes, which are hungry for organic matter, so says the nursery guy, who squinted at us with some doubt when we bought the plants last week, as if he suspected we weren't responsible plant owners, which we probably are not. So I save up the grounds and each day I pour them on a different plant.

Also, when no one is looking, which is every day in our backyard, I have a brief coffee-chat with that anise plant, just getting familiar and keeping them in a positive frame of mind (not that there's anything weird about that). After the spectacular failure last year of our verbena plants (all but two of which are dead and gone, and the those two are sad little dwarfs), I'm taking no chances.

Note to future self: I'm not actually talking (out loud) to the plants, at least not yet. But stay tuned.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Yellow Anise

There are places in our yard where Cheryl has never been, not because the yard is so big, but because it is, in a few places, overgrown and dark and long-since surrendered to the whims of nature, with twisted vines, rotting tree trunks, whispering leaves and sad amphibians who may have evolved into a new species after generations in the never light.

Our idea is to introduce yellow anise (Illicium parviflorum) as a border shrub to screen the neighbor's garage and guest house, now hidden by the dark wilderness. If it works, we can reclaim this part of the yard--bring it back into the real world.

And yet, as I looked at the pretty and sweet smelling shrubs, a sense of guilt came over me. Sure, these plants love the shade, but what could possibly live in that dank overgrowth other than a few desperate ferns, would-be saplings and some psychotic squirrels?

I planted seven of them yesterday--three more to go. For each hole I had to cut through a maze of roots and knotted undergrowth, an inch at a time; I have a sharp-edged cutter just for this purpose (reminding myself not to get my foot in the way). Sweat and dirt, nasty shadow bugs warning me to leave. Ha.

And I still need to run water lines to give them a chance to establish. After that, may the gods have mercy on them...

Friday, September 24, 2010

Back in the Green

The wind was blowing just so today, just in the right direction to peel back the canopy and expose the new culms that are stretching into the sky, now just bare stalks, OK (it seems) and alive again (after scaring me last week). The green is back. My lesson is learned: too much water can hurt these bamboos. Just give them some fertilizer and stand back.

The patch is doubled in size this year--at least 13 new culms, and the fattest ones yet. I don't know why this plant captures my attention so much. If our entire yard was covered in Bambusa Oldhamii I would be thrilled. In a year or two I'll start harvesting some of these to create new patches of green here and there.

Also, one of Cheryl's friends gave up a new planter of black bamboo--I've got it in the ground near the palm trees out front. Its culms are green at first and then turn shiny black after a couple years--sweet.

Who knows how high these new culms will get. Probably not much higher since they are starting to feather out at the top. I was hoping for some skyscrapers this year but am happy just for green.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Small Stuff

Willow hurt her foot the other day, I don't know how, but now she's having a little trouble getting down the stairs, which considering her habit of following me up and down, countless times a day, to get a snack or play piano or go outside or play Frisbee or sit outside, then back upstairs to work, day in and day out, even now when it is difficult for her, so much that I have to tell her to Stay at the top of the stairs and wait for me to come back, which she does, and with a patience that breaks my heart.

She got an extra piece of bread today (her favorite thing) and I had an extra cup of coffee. Small stuff.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Fixing a Leak - Sad News

I didn't go up on the roof this weekend as planned. We got some sad news. I could write a short essay here for my future self who, reading this 20 or 30 years from now, might be interested in a fresh accounting of events, so as to know my real feelings at this time.

But the details aren't really important. And the circumstances are so very minor compared to the reality of life for many people--suffering, hunger, dispair, loneliness, disease. I would be tempting fate to complain about my petty problems. As my grandfather used to say... Well, I can't remember exactly what he said but it was something like shut your yap and go to work.

So maybe I'll do the roof next weekend.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Fixing a Leak - Fears and Memories

I've never been able to get up on our roof here. Getting up there is the problem. But once there, it's nice and flat, with no danger of slipping off the sides, not like the time Cheryl and I climbed the big Temple of Kukulcan at Chitzen Itza in Mexico.

At the time anyone could climb the stairs, and at the top is a room, dark and a little creepy. I'm not sure how I made it, but I was just fine until I turned around. Because the stairs are so steep, from the doorway on top it seems you are just floating in air, which Cheryl thought was great fun, but the sight of it suddenly grabbed me the seat of my pants and made me sit down and remain sitting for the longest time, unable to move and then furious at Cheryl for walking too close to the ledge, just as some teenagers (from Europe somewhere) shook their heads at me and laughed and chased each other around the top.

After a while, when it became clear that we would starve to death otherwise, I was able to walk down, or rather scoot down the stairs, my rear end doing most of the work, stair by stair, puckered up tight.

Anyway, this weekend I'm determined to get up on the roof and sort out this leak problem. I may take some extra food and a blanket in case I can't get back down.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Fixing a Leak - Where's the Witch

Skipping ahead to the part where I hire this guy named Gino to come out and caulk the window--and sure it isn't a pretty job, but I kept thinking that he was going to fall and land head-first on the air-conditioner so I just wanted him off the roof. Even so, I figured, if this window is the cause of the leak, the caulk job should do the trick (or a least slow it down).

But no. We had a wicked rain yesterday evening just as I was leaving yoga class, so crazy that I draped my yoga mat over my head to get to the car and still got drenched (and what are the chances that someone driving by saw me and said Look at that jackass? Pretty good, I imagine.)

Anyway, I'm back at home there's the leak, just as bad as ever. So the caulk didn't work. Back to the drawing board, or as they liked to say in the middle ages, where's the witch?, because that's what my deductive ability is worth these days.

Time for a new theory. And here it is: I've noticed that the area around the window has some green mold on the paint, and there's an odd stain just above the window. A drip. An old leak. Maybe there's a clue up there?

More later...

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Fixing a Leak

My office here at home is on the second floor, and it has a little window on the east wall, up in the corner, just behind my right shoulder, that allows the morning light to come in. This tiny window seems to control all the light in the room, even more than the big set of French doors behind me, and especially when a set of clouds moves by as I'm drinking my morning coffee and daydreaming.

Out on the patio I can just peek around the east corner to see the outside of the little window. To wash it would require me to climb over the patio railing and crawl onto the steep living room roof, and this is never, ever going to happen.

For months I have suspected that the poor caulking job on this tiny window is responsible for the leak downstairs. In my mind I've constructed scaffolding and flying buttresses and hanging ladders and hovercraft--anything to allow me sit out there and re-caulk that stupid window. It's just out of reach. Just a few feet.

More later.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Bamboo Distress

We've gotten 12 or so new bamboo culms this summer, big fat ones, so many that I felt very good about my favorite plant and its general disposition, which appears to be a happy one on the surface--so green and tall.

But the other day I noticed that one of the tiny new shoots lost its green color and just quit growing and died at about 2 feet tall. That hasn't happened before.

Then I looked up into the canopy and could see that many of the new culms are a little pale looking on top. Have they quit growing? Arghhh! Let the hand-wringing begin: Maybe I fed it too much this spring. Maybe it needs more fertilizer now. Maybe it's gotten too much rain. Maybe the dogs pee on it too much. Maybe I am a complete and total idiot. Maybe the thick canopy is robbing it of the sunlight it needs. In times like this I tend to pull back and wait and watch, not knowing what to do and all.

Instead I did a little investigation and found that the ground on that side of the bamboo, right next to the dead shoot, has a sort of white fungus just under the mulch. Must mean too much water. So I turned off the sprinkler (the one dedicated to the monk's cap and bamboo) to see what happens.

Bamboo. Good.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Out of Mind, Out of Sight

It seems that our prickly pear cactus is remarkably unstable, like some leprosy-ridden, crack-stupefied zombie whose limbs fall off for no reason at all, except the cactus has a clever strategy: it can sprout roots from any part of its body that hits the ground, especially when the ground is drenched in the steady rain we've seen lately, spawning hundreds of cactus plants that poked up in a circle 10 feet in all directions from the plant (itself about 25 feet tall), that is until I went to work on it this weekend.

In the picture above, the entire area to the right was overgrown with cactus, spreading under and over the poor orange tree to the left and even attacking its roots underground (at least that's my theory) to cause the oranges to taste pretty awful (also pure speculation, but why else would they suck?), spreading even into the shady area in the rear but unable to fend well there against the vines and other dark-dwelling plant whores that thrive where even the lizards are afraid to go.

In the end I must have carried off a ton of cactus body parts. So I've made vow (yet another) to keep an eye on this prodigious limb-dropper, this prickly procreator, this wildly ambitious sticker plant, so that it does not attempt another takeover of the yard.

On a lighter note, Willow and Berkeley had some fun chasing each other.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010


Berkeley is away at school today, so Willow and I are making the most of it. She's promising not to be mean to me anymore, and I'm promising not to take her for granted, such is the effect of our cute new hyper-puppy who can't seem to resist chewing on Willow's ears and tail. Of course, I'm promising Willow that everything will get better soon. Maybe we can even start a new project...

It rains and rains, buckets and sheets, morning and night, so much that yesterday I was walking around in the backyard with the dogs and realized that a light rain was falling. It's not like I'm going to ruin my hair-do, but I've never just walked around in the rain before. We noticed the same thing in Ireland--most people walked about freely through the drizzles and sprinkles, paying no attention at all, but Cheryl and I always had our heads covered.

This rain is probably all my fault because during the drought a few years ago I swore that I would never again complain about the rain, no matter how much fell. It was an implicit contract with mother nature. I've got to remember how powerful I am when it comes to the things I think and say. My theory is that the universe is slowly shaping and bending to my will, so I need to be more careful about the consequences.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Voracious Puppy

Our new CIA puppy came with her own satellite link and 24-hour access to feed from the agency, and who knows what crap they are feeding into her head. Sometimes she gets this far-away look, like she's talking to someone else on a cell phone, but it is doubtless some new training software or puppy propaganda downloading into her cyber-brain.

What she doesn't know is that I can sometimes hack into the feed and catch glimpses of the unencrypted stuff. I know, for example, that her code name is Voracious Puppy and that her training is mostly in physics and in Mandarin Chinese.

She sits in my office in the morning, moving her lips and (I'm not making this up) saying stuff like Woh Yow Nay Guh, which might just sound like woof woof arf ggrrr, that is, if I didn't already know better. Every once in a while she looks up at me as if to ask a question, but then she just looks away, as if realizing for the first time that I'm too dumb to know anything, anyway.

A picture of Berkeley sitting by my office chair and being good. I had to grab the camera quick.

Willow won't get near the puppy: code name Voracious Puppy--what's that all about, anyway?

Meanwhile, it rains and rains. Vines threaten to consume the trees, bushes, ferns, etc., and I run out now and then to strangle one of them. Obama calls me non-stop, but there's just too much to do. Why not call the puppy, I feel like telling him, if she's so smart?...

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Won't be fooled again--Final

...besides, I like the thrill of hot wires in my hands. Nothing will wake me up faster than a quick fzzzp#@$! electric shock. Not all the time, of course, but now and then it can be a little fun.

I took the light dimmer out from the wall with all the certainty in the world, so confident that I ignored something poking out from the wall only a few feet away and down near the floor. A curious thing on any day, but why look when I had the culprit in my hot hands and certainty in my mind?

The pointy metal stickers of my voltage meter would confirm the truth as I knew it. Power would be going in, but not going out, meaning that all I would need to do is replace the dimmer switch. But no power. No power on either side.

Once again my grasp on reality dissolved, and I'm surprised I had the energy to even move my head--why am I always wrong about this electrical stuff?--but I did manage to look down in the corner, a place formerly hidden by the library card catalog, a thing existing where it should not exist and against all practical sense. There it was, a GPF switch, its little red button sticking out and taunting me, saying "See, all you had to do was push on me".

Like magic, the circuit sprang back to life. Willow could not help laughing at me...

Friday, August 13, 2010

Won't be fooled again--Part 5

My usual nature tends to keep me in a self-deluded state, one in which I see myself as a smart, handsome and capable young man with thick hair and a chiseled jaw. But my anti-nature is always there, waiting for me on the edges, waiting for me to give up and admit that I'm a complete fraud with a gray beard and in need of a nap, convinced that I Really Can't Do anything.

And in my frustration about having several power outlets dead, I was imagining crazy squirrel wire-biters again, even though I went through that phase once before. But now they're back, these insane rodents with tattoos, a bad attitude and a death-wish compulsion for biting into live electrical wiring. I can see them handing the wires back an forth, spitting and cussing and daring each other to take a bigger bite.

On the phone, my brother offered a more reasoned approach. He said to find the outlet or device closest to the circuit box, then test from there. The closest device is a light dimmer. A light went off in my head--surely the dimmer is the culprit. So in a flash, the squirrels are gone from my mind. It's the dimmer, of course. I knew it...

The light dimmer is behind an old library card catalog that we use to store napkin holders and silverware and the innumerable food-related nicknacks that Cheryl has collected. To move it is difficult because our dog Buddha (may he RIP) chewed off one of the legs, so we have it propped up on an old stool.

Anyway we pulled the card catalog away from the wall and I unscrewed the cover plate off of the light dimmer. "Shouldn't you turn off the power?" Cheryl asked, even though there clearly was no power going to this switch.

More later...

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Won't be fooled again--Part 4

A picture of willow sitting in a chair and gazing out the window
By this time Willow had curled up for a nap. Nothing says failure like the sight of your boss so bored with you that she can't keep her eyes open. She would get interested now only if I shocked myself good, and even then it would need to be a very good shock, one of those shocks that makes your eyes poke out and your pee turn blue.

I didn't know what to do next. My attempts with the mirror were inconclusive. I just couldn't see behind my behemoth book case to see if a GPF switch was back there. Beside, everyone knows that GPF switch are not used in the living room. Would I remove all the books and the TV only to find a blank wall (and feel like an idiot)?

I went up to my office to search for the electrician's phone number even though he was pretty snotty to me the last time for not knowing about the GPF switch in the garage. I was feeling pretty low--nothing is worse than calling a contractor.

But wait! My nephew was coming to visit, and I could just call his dad, my brother Ernesto de Blad, who is is a whiz with electricity and such.

Ernesto explained to me that I could use my new voltmeter to narrow down the problem. And then he gave me an important clue. He said "Find the outlet that is closest to the circuit breaker box."

More later...

Friday, August 6, 2010

Won't be fooled again--Part 3

With the power out to the TV, I had to string an extension cord from the opposite side of the room, up over the side doors, up high out of the reach of our CIA puppy, who understands calculus already at three months old but still does not realize that chewing on electrical cords could have unpleasant consequences.

I got it in my head that a GPF switch was hiding behind the bookshelves. A silly notion, maybe, but one that I could not easily dismiss, at least not without taking out all the books and the TV. Willow gave me a familiar look, as if to ask me "What are we paying you for?" But the puppy gave me an idea.


I cut a hole into the back of the book case, then took a flashlight and small hand mirror to look in back along the wall for outlets. There's about 3 inches between the back of the bookcase and the wall, just enough (I figured) to get a look, if I could hold the mirror at just the right angle. (smart)

More later...

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Won't be fooled again--Part 2

To summarize: a lightning storm blew through, and one of our electrical circuits was dead, leaving us with no TV, which is not an acceptable state of being, so Willow called me in to Fix It.

The circuit breakers were OK. One explanation (a fact that I learned to my own embarrassment in April) was that a GPF switch had tripped. The GPFs are outlets with some push buttons--they are little circuit breakers usually found in the kitchen or bathroom. Usually not in the living room, but all evidence pointed in this direction.

But I built a big bookcase--floor-to-ceiling, wall-to-wall--on the wall with the dead outlets, and possibly there could be a GPF switch behind it, but to know for sure I would need to remove all the books and the TV. Are you kidding?? At times like this I usually sit and stare and wait for some inspiration. Willow, the project manager who has no stomach for my indecisiveness, left the room in disgust. Or maybe she just can't bear to see me shock myself.

So our new CIA-engineered puppy took pity on me and stepped in to make a suggestion. (More later...)

Here's picture of Cheryl and Tom, my nephew, and our puppy Berkeley, who was on secret assignment this weekend and was not allowed to be photographed.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Won't be Fooled Again

As Willow will be glad to point out, I've been so distracted lately by our new bionic puppy and by my so-called day job that I can't get started on any new projects, unless forced by practical necessity, which is what happened this week when the power to our TV went off in a lightning storm.

Normally a flip of the breaker switch will fix the problem, but the breakers seemed OK. Sometimes these breakers can go bad and just appear to be OK (this I learned on YouTube) so bought a cheap voltmeter to test them. OK. The breakers were all good, but several power outlets were dead.

I consulted Willow on the problem but she was too embarrassed to even look at me. She knows that I am an idiot about electricity, that I am prone to shock myself and that I tend to stare at wires with a blank fear on my face. In short, I am electricity's bitch and she knows it.

The last time something like this happened (it happened in the garage just a few months ago) I had to call an electrician, a young guy who made me feel like a four-year old. "This will shock you," he said. "Don't touch."

This time, though, I was determined to fix it myself. To be continued...

Sunday, July 25, 2010

A Blue Pig

Cheryl handed me a ceramic blue pig the other day and asked me if I wanted to keep it. She's on an organizational tear, putting our house in order and tossing stuff out, all because of this reality TV show that goes into some incredibly cluttered homes occupied by some incredibly undisciplined people. And, fearing that we might have some inclination in that particular direction, Cheryl is on a mission, which is good because we have more stuff than we could ever possibly use or need.

The pig looked familiar--it's a pig piggy bank, about 4 inched high, light blue with yellow swirls on it. I sure couldn't see any reason to keep it, but Cheryl reminded me that my mom gave it to me. So I put it on my desk. It's not a pretty pig--I remember now that mom laughed when she gave it to me. And it's heavy with change. This morning I noticed something white though the slot in the pig's back: a folded up piece of paper. So I fished it out. I'm guessing that I was 52 or 53 years old when she wrote the poem for my birthday. (Richards is a health food store where she lived.)

For future reference: don't throw out the pig.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Scary Smart

Still no word from Bingo but I did get a strange email with a header from southern Italy yesterday. Normally I delete these right away but this one grabbed by attention--some kind of code or something that seemed familiar. I thought: maybe it's from Bingo, but then it just didn't make any sense:

confirming that we
brought in nine gallons of
softer water. oil is not stopped.
going to phase 2

Anyway, the new Bionic puppy, Berkeley, appears to be the next generation model, and from what I can see, most of the bugs are out.
(CIA Photo)

I showed the email to Berkeley and she seemed fascinated for the longest time. Or maybe it was the doggy toy on my desk. I continue to be amazed that a species can exist and thrive when its infants are so completely clueless. (I mean humans.)

This puppy is scary smart...

Tomorrow we begin calibration testing on the puppy's electronics. Apparently I still am in the doesn't need to know camp. Then I will mow the yard--at least I'm good at that...

Friday, July 9, 2010

Good Luck, Bingo

Thursday was a sad day for us. Bingo, our CIA-engineered puppy, left home on his top-secret mission, and it will be weeks before we hear any news from him.

We drove him down to one of those huge undisclosed locations that you always hear about. This one sprawls out over several acres and looks, to the unsuspecting passing civilian, like a posh, gated grade school, tucked away and surrounded by dirt roads, live oaks and Florida wilderness.

Just outside the main facility, two other dogs (who looked remarkably like Bingo) paced back and forth, accompanied by civilian handlers just like us, a few of whom we had met before, maybe in Central America (or maybe that was just a dream). Anyway, we all talked for a while, put on our best faces and tried not to get overly sentimental.

Bingo is in the middle
(Photo by Durga Garcia)

The boys wanted to pose for a quick photo. That's Bingo in the middle, hamming it up for the camera. A door opened, and a group of uniformed young people marched into place. Time to go. We said some quick good-byes, and then the three boys climbed into a waiting helicopter and they were off. Who knows what they are all doing now?

To help us feel better, they gave Cheryl a pin and a letter from President Obama. Did I get a pin or a letter? No. But that's OK. I told them I didn't need any letters from the president--I've already got a big stack of his letters (asking for my help, but I've been so busy), not to mention all the phone messages that I haven't returned yet (including that one about the oil). :)

Good luck, Bingo.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010


Last night Cheryl and I helped Bingo prepare for his upcoming, top-secret mission (we never know what he's doing). He wanted to test his new biocam, posing as a guide dog, but something went wrong with the conversion matrix mid-way through. He's working to correct the algorithm today. When I asked if I could help, he just snorted.

You know, I might not be the brightest bulb in the basket, but I'm getting pretty tired of his insults...

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Lost in Transition

In a few days we get a new puppy from the CIA training facility, a female black lab named Berkeley with all the latest techy apps and programming, like the ability to detect WiFi by actually sniffing it. In just a few years, so I'm told, all of our technology will be bionic and genetically engineered. And once we all get on the ambient power grid (now in top-secret development), we'll never have to buy a TV, cell phone or computer again. (It's nice to be part of this new wave, if only as a stooge--an old dude in the brave new world.)

Bingo we be off for special-opps training in early July. I can't help worrying if we have done enough to help him get ready. It's such a tough program--only the best of the best can make it. His language requirements alone will be very difficult. Here's part of what he was watching last night. A CIA training video I think...

Either that or it's some strange dog comic. Of course, when I asked about the video, Bingo just laughed in my face, just like some teenager who thinks he knows it all. I'm glad I at least provide some amusement for him.

Who knows where Bingo will be in a few months? Maybe undercover in Taiwan or Singapore. Maybe posing as a wild mutt in Paris. Or maybe running from cave to cave in Afghanistan. Good luck, little guy.

Now we start over with Berkeley...

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Beating the Odds

Today (the 23rd) is my birthday and I'm 57 years old. For most of the past year I mistakenly believed that I already was 57, so this is really like getting a free one. Self-delusion works that way. I still believe I'm 23 on the inside. Why not?

I'm probably the luckiest guy on earth, in a very real, Vegas sort of way. 25 years ago I was in a bad car wreck, my band broke up, I couldn't drive, had no money, no job, no real friends (my fault). If someone wanted to lay odds on my prospects at the time, I would not have been a good bet.

So I mean lucky in a real way. I did get back into school and finally moved away--I did those things on my own initiative. But I was really lucky to meet Cheryl and I'm lucky she's stayed with me. I was really lucky to find the work I'm doing, and for the past 10 years I've been able to do it from home. I'm lucky now to have family, friends, a house, a yard, my health, our dogs.

What were the odds, the prospects for my happiness, 25 years ago? Not a good bet.

Friday, June 18, 2010

New Shoot

I'm thinking small today. Micro. Down on the level of microbes, thinking that it (the world down there) is just as nice a place as any. Why? Because I just spotted our first bamboo shoot of the season. It's in the very center of this picture, or at least you can just make out the tip. In a week or so this guy will be out completely, glossy green, bigger around than the thick end of a baseball bat, with one mission in life: to grow fast.

While I was down on my hands and knees I noticed that the stone patio has developed a really nice patina, a variety of microscopic fungus and moss on the stone itself, shades of green and gray, a velvet patch of fungus between the stones, and of course all the weeds that I am neglecting for now. We see only the refracted light surface of this world, not the amazing microscopic detail.

I got my face close, then closer, but my eyes have conspired against me so that I cannot see objects up close. I'm tempted to go get my glasses and go back outside, back on my hands and knees, to get a better look, but I guess I don't care that much.

The bamboo shoot is different. I'll keep an eye on him for the next several weeks.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

No Work Today

Today is hot, humid, overcast, thundery, and one of those days when every initiative (like should I go pull some weeds?) is easily squashed and pushed to the side.

I can't help wondering, had the stars lined up differently last year and I became president instead of Barack Obama: where would I be right now and what would I be thinking? The oil spill in the gulf continues with no end in sight, and I, the most powerful person in the world, am powerless to stop it. The economy tips back and forth, leaning at times into an unknown black hole, with state governments preparing to lay off thousands of teachers and police. Soldiers are dying and no one seems to notice. I can't help wondering if I could possibly deal with all of it.

Instead, I find myself rested after a long afternoon nap with Cheryl and the dogs, with time now to write wandering ideas into a blog. Our air conditioner keeps out the heat--I don't have to pull weeds today.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Sitting on Spinach

The first swamp hibiscus flower of the season came in this week and it was a beauty, perfectly shaped and an iridescent blood scarlet that no other flower can quite match. These don't open slowly like a rose. No, they burst open over night and are usually gone in a day or so. As its name suggests, this plant likes water, so it is planted in a pot in the lower pond, where it dies away each winter and comes back new in the spring (this is its fourth year, I believe).

I'm not sure why it comes back every year. Does the new growth come from seeds dropped into the water or does it come directly from the roots? Apparently the swamp hibiscus (Hibiscus coccineus) is capable of both methods of reproduction, which makes you wonder how such a thing could happen. I mean, we know why humans have babies. What if we discovered that babies could also be made by sitting on cabbages or spinach? We'd think: isn't the one way enough?

I wish I knew more about everything.

My real fun this time of year is looking for the first bamboo shoot of the season. These come up from the ground at their full width (Oldhamii shoots are 2 to 4 inches in diameter), green with soft folds on top that allow them to squirm upward with amazing speed and reach their full height by the end of the summer--maybe 40 feet this year.

No shoots yet.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

The Frogs of Summer

Summer is here. I walked around the property early this morning to throw fertilizer on my favorite plants (I'm not on speaking terms with some of them), and I was soon covered in sweat. Then in the side yard, as I was clearing out some weeds, I noticed that the Bombax tree has recovered from the winter freeze, growing out and up from the dead brown stock just above the ground--I'd given up all hope on him. In this picture the new green stock is barely visible to the left of the brown one.

Life is resilient, and I would be more encouraged about things if not for all these videos on TV of birds covered in oil, many of them were dead or will soon be. It is a real crime and sad beyond words.

And the oil is heading our way...

The frogs are back in our fish ponds. They come and go with some invisible purpose, some schedule that makes no sense to me, sometimes with the rain and sometimes during a dry spell. Lately Bingo, our bionic CIA dog, is content to rest quietly on the back porch with us and listen.

It's no secret that Bingo is preparing for a top-secret mission (infiltrating the oil cartel), and there's a good chance that he will be away for quite a while. We'll miss him, but maybe at least he'll get transferred to a cold climate. He's definitely not fond of the hot weather.