Tuesday, November 30, 2010

fall reads

Here's my fall reading list while I come to terms with the past two days.

historical fiction, science fiction and the three 'girl' books:

Cleopatra's Daughter by Michelle Moran – After Cleopatra's and Marc Antony's deaths, their children were brought to Rome and raised by the the emperor Octavian's sister, Octavia who was also a previous wife of Marc Antony. This is the fictional story of her daughter's upbringing in Rome and until her eventual factual marriage to Juba II. They reigned as king and queen in Mauritania though the story ends at their engagement.

Day After Night by Anita Diamant – I don't read books about man's inhumanity to man and I especially don't read books about WWII and the extermination of and cruelty to the Jews. It makes me feel sick and helpless. This book is about the aftermath of WWII when the Jewish survivors of the holocaust with nowhere else to go were streaming out of Europe and into Palestine where they were intercepted by the British and held in another camp, placed in barracks and surrounded by barbed wire. They were treated much better of course and most were only there for several weeks before they were released but can you imagine? To be released from the concentration camps only to rounded up as they tried to reach Palestine and be in another 'detention' facility? But I digress. This story follows four of the women who are currently interred in the camp until their escape several months later. Their stories, their 'secrets' are slowly revealed. Secrets because no one wants to talk about their particular pain, misery, guilt and shame, no one wants to be judged by what they endured, what was forced upon them. No one wants to be defined by what they survived.

The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson – Well, I had no idea what this book was about even though everybody else has already read it. I had no idea what it was about but I certainly didn't expect what it was about. It took me a little while to get into it as he introduced the characters and set up the story and to get past the Swedish proper and place names. Pretty gruesome (and all too real if you are a woman), the story itself (or stories since it seemed to be three stories intertwined) and the statistics that precede the sections. It set me to wondering, and not for the first time, about misogyny, about why so many men seem to fear and hate women and why that drives them to such brutality. And I wonder about the author himself. One the one hand, his female characters are very strong, competent, capable. On the other hand, he paints them as either victims or jumping into men's (or rather one man's) bed. All that aside, it was a good story, a good mystery and kept me reading.

Dragon Keeper by Robin Hobb – The first of a trilogy about dragons on the brink of extinction and a pact with humans to aid the last dragon in saving her kind. I suppose it works in the end but in this book, the dragon has disappeared and the humans are left with caring for a group of young stunted deformed hungry dragons. The humans devise a plan to send the dragons and the undesirables of their population as dragon keepers to find a better place for the dependent dragons.

Ground Zero by F. Paul Wilson – One of the final Repairman Jack books. There are two more and then a comprehensive rewrite of Nightworld, a book already published that really comes last. It's a science fiction/fantasy series but it has nothing to do with outer space or alternate worlds but does deal with the supernatural. It is about the classic struggle between good and evil, a hero's tale, but not in the usual sense. More like neutral vs inimical. The bad 'force' wants possession of this world to feed off of and the 'good' force, mostly benign neglect, doesn't intervene unless it wants to manipulate someone's life as a means to an end. Like creating it's Defender. The Conflict is eternal and once Earth falls sway to the Other, the Ally will not want it back and will turn it's attention to other fronts. Anyway, all that comes much later. Jack, the main character, flies under the radar and what he does is fix, or repair, situations. His clients come to him when all the traditional legal recourses have failed. He's a stand up guy though, our Jack is, but he does know how to handle himself and doesn't hesitate when need arises. You should really start at the beginning with The Tomb. Jack is just a regular guy fixing things for people and then weird stuff starts happening to him one book at a time. Or you might want to start with Jack: Secret Histories (a young adult selection) which is a prequel but then definitely The Tomb. They build on each other so you should read them in sequence. The nature of the struggle doesn't become apparent until you are 5 or 6 books in.

Dragon Haven by Robin Hobb – a continuation of the story started in Dragon Keeper. The dragons are growing out of their deformities and maturing with the exercise and fresh food and the human keepers are continuing to evolve into their 'elderling' forms. Love, intrigue and a flash flood fill out this book. Just when they fear all is lost, they find the lost city of yore that has been their goal.

The Girl Who Played With Fire by Stieg Larsson – I don't know what to think about this guy and the theme of these books. The theme is misogyny and I don't mean the rude and condescending form of it. It's about the brutal rape and torture of women kind of misogyny, the disregard the facts that fly in opposition to your opinion of women kind of misogyny. The author writes about it in a way that makes it abhorrent and the perpetrators detestable. But he writes about it, creates these repellant characters all the same. The women are all strong characters, no complaints there, even when they are being brutalized. And they do. Get brutalized. The main character, 'the girl' of the title takes no shit from men who want to harm women. She's still pretty much a big unknown when this book starts but her back story is finally revealed. She's small, slight, extremely intelligent and is capable of lethal violence when she feels threatened. So, I changed my mind. I do have one complaint. At the start of this book, she has money and mobility and the first thing she does is get a boob job. What?! What the fuck is up with that? It was totally out of character and didn't come into play in the story again once he had dwelt on it somewhat in the very beginning. C'mon on. Really? You really want me to believe that this strong female character, however wacko she may be, really cares about having tits? So is that what the author thinks all flat chested women want given the money and the mobility...to get tits? I almost put the book down. Once he started telling the actual story, then things were fine. This was not a mystery like the previous book, more like a man hunt with some murders thrown in. The conspiracy against 'the girl' is revealed.

Snow Flower And The Secret Fan by Lisa See – 1830s country life in China, the story follows the lives of two young girls who become 'old sames', two girls who promise to love each other and hold true all their lives in a culture where women are considered an unwelcome mouth to feed that will be 'married out' but never really accepted into their new families until they become the matriarch. So much sadness and heartbreak women have suffered.

The Thousand Autumns Of Jacob De Zoet by David Mitchell – A story set in Japan in 1799-1800, or actually mostly Nagasaki and Dejima. Dejima was the fabricated island and sole trade port of the Dutch East India Company in Nagasaki Harbor. The story follows a young clerk whose intent is to spend 5 years, make his personal fortune and then return to marry his sweetheart. Events conspire to thwart his ambitions, including his fascination with Japan and one woman in particular and it is twelve years before he actually leaves. The story shifts perspective from Jacob to the woman of his attraction to a Japanese interpreter telling their stories and then back to Jacob. It was a good and engaging read.

The Girl Who Kicked The Hornet's Nest by Stieg Larsson – OK, I finally get it. This is about violence towards women and the men who commit it. Duh. (I had to have that spelled out for me towards the end of this third book.) It is cloaked in a story about murders and a conspiracy and an expose´ magazine. In this final book, the conspiracy having been revealed in book 2, the perps are tracked down. All the bad guys get what's coming to them but not before lots more havoc is wreaked. This is probably the only book written by a man that I have ever read that has not only strong women characters, but so many of them. But for every strong woman character there is an equally repugnant man who hates women. These women are in charge of their lives and have no trouble initiating sex when it suits them but really, did they all have to jump in the bed of the main male character? Well, not all of them but damn near. I enjoyed all three books. It's really one story with each book taking up where the previous one left off. As noted, the theme is brutality towards women and he quotes a lot of statistics but the story in no way attempts to explain the prevalence of the behavior in society.

Sunday, November 28, 2010


Reya, over at According to the Cosmology of Reya, has been posting about family and group souls and and the drama of our family plays, our gatherings for holidays and life cycle events. My mother passed away some years ago and with her passing went the drama that always surrounded her, that she carried around with her like a prize.

I've been thinking about my mother a lot lately, something I don't ordinarily do. I didn't like my mother much and towards the end, I'm not sure I even loved her. Even now, there's mostly emptiness when I think about her. I cried when she died though, something that I don't think my brother ever did. My sister had already shed her tears when she took it upon herself as the oldest to 'handle' Mother's dying, making all the decisions and arrangements (with our input) as the spokesperson for us kids.

The three of us were there. We had gathered because her death was imminent. She had been living at an adult family home near my brother and the damage from her TIAs had finally shut down her ability to swallow. She had already lost her ability to speak. My brother had to cut short an overseas business trip and my sister and I had to fly in. She knew we were coming and waited for us.

We stayed by her bedside until evening intending to go back the next day and spend more time with her but she died in the early morning before we could return. We went over to the home where she had been in hospice care, my two siblings dry eyed while I cried at the kitchen table, her body still in the bedroom waiting for the funeral home to come fetch her.

My mother's end was messy. She was a selfish, self centered and demanding woman who needed to be the center of attention. While my father was alive he cared for her and pandered to her and when he stroked out one night she reacted as if she had been released from prison. I don't think I ever saw her cry over his passing. Us kids had scattered. Well, my brother early on and finally settled in Washington state and my sister and her grown kids eventually all ended up in Arizona. That left me and even I was an hour away as our parents had moved to the family beach house, isolated on the end of Galveston Island.

We had no idea how damaged she was even then from the TIAs. She seemed lucid and in control and she stubbornly refused to move into town where it would be easy for me to look after her. We didn't find out until several years later that she was already suffering from dementia and depression.

As her health started failing and her dementia progressed, still it did not occur to me or to my sister just how bad things were. We did what we could, my sister long distance and me by driving down once or twice a week. She just seemed like the same person she had always been if a bit more distilled, never vague or forgetful. When she started falling I finally gave her an ultimatum and I wasn't nice about it. She could move to town near me or she could move to Washington state to live with my brother. His contribution to her care was telling her she could come live with him but he really had no idea how bad things were even though I would send him updates. I think he thought I was just being over dramatic. She only stayed in his house for 6 weeks because by then she really needed 24 hour care, could not be left alone.

I should have done a lot of things differently. I should have been more caring instead of just dutiful. I should have been more insistent that she move to town instead of insisting, if she was determined to live alone, she have a paid helper to check on her every day. I should have been more forceful when she fired the helper instead of letting her continue to live alone even when I found out she was living on cookies and frosted flakes cereal. Instead, my sister arranged for meals on wheels. I should have started accompanying her into her doctor's appointments sooner instead of just at the end before she moved to be with my brother. I would have learned much earlier that she was suffering from dementia and depression and refusing any and all medical care and advice. I should have remembered first and foremost what an actress my mother was and that I was her main audience.

Maybe I'm thinking about my mother more now because I have turned the age she was when she proclaimed herself old and then proceeded to become old. Maybe I'm thinking about her more now because my BIL is one step away from being a complete invalid with only my sister to care for him while she works two part time jobs and tries to keep home and hearth together while waiting for his appointment with the doctor Dec. 13. We fear it's already too late for the surgery and wonder what's next with no insurance and two years too shy for Medicare. Maybe I'm thinking about her more now because I am afraid that I have created my own future via my own uncaring inaction towards her. If my being in this family dynamic was a karmic test, then I fear I failed the section on compassion miserably. Maybe it would have been different if my own life hadn't been falling apart at the same time.

I suppose that getting her up to Washington state and in the care of my brother was the best thing I could do for her. What she would have fought with me tooth and nail over, she readily acquiesced to him. And her last years were spent with excellent caregivers in a warm and compassionate family home with three other residents because Washington state cares about their elders, unlike Texas. Had she remained here, she would have ended up in a stinking frightful nursing home because the nicer facilities here do not accept medicare.

I didn't know that at the time though. All I knew then was that I was getting rid of her and glad of it.

Friday, November 26, 2010

role model

my 80 something year old neighbor on the roof of his house making a repair

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

giving thanks, being grateful

image via http://mysocalledbloglife.com


my general good health and this amazing body

my loving partner

my family

my friends

this place in the country

this balmy weather on winter's doorstep

the kiln in my shop

the birds that entertain me daily

the unaffectionate cat who slept at my feet all night last night

the stars I can see at night

the abundance of food available to me

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

shepherd's pie


1 lb water buffalo
1 can cream of mushroom soup
misc. vegetables (he used onion, bok choy, and carrots cause that's what we had on hand)
4 cups mashed potatoes

Brown ground water buffalo, add salt, pepper and garlic while browning. Add cream of mushroom soup to ground meat. Saute vegetables and add to ground meat and stir ingredients. After ingredients are mixed, spoon mashed potatoes on top. Place in oven at 350˚ and cook for about 45 minutes. (He used a deep cast iron skillet.)

Yes! Yes! Water buffalo!

We went to the fall Farmer's Market here in Wharton two weeks ago and there was a vendor there from Blessing TX, which is just down the road a piece from here, that raise water buffalo for meat. They have it butchered and processed at a facility in a small town in the hill country and then they sell it or make sausage mixed with pork with it. So we bought a pound, only a little more than twice what ground beef cost in the store. It was very good and is supposed to be the healthiest meat of all domestic meat animals with less calories, less cholesterol and less fat.

Monday, November 22, 2010

a confession

I set fire to a bridge last week.

I wrote about this a while back. If you want the back story, go here.

I know it's my own fault I'm in this situation. I should have terminated the arrangement the first time I felt uneasy about the whole thing. But I didn't, for a whole lot of reasons that really aren't that important. What is important is that I ignored my intuition and paid attention to the words I was hearing. That's never worked out well for me in the past so I don't know why I continue to think it will in the present.

At any rate, there came a time when I knew there was no way this was not going to end badly. I'd like to say I ended the arrangement right then and there but I didn't. It was some while yet before I did. Our glacier speed move to the country had finally gathered some momentum, it was membership renewal time at the gym and the crashing economy all collided before I got the courage to call an end to it.

Mea culpa.

So now it's payback time. And I do like to pay my debts. The problem lies in a lack of common understanding about when and with what it is to be paid. She is not easy to work with in this regard. I conceived and proposed a fairly major original work in pate de verre that I hoped to balance the remaining scale with more or less and felt I deserved several years in which to work out this obligation that took 6 years to accrue.

Well, it all came to an ugly head in a phone conversation that started out pleasant enough. But she turned it inevitably toward the work I was doing for her. The conversation I had been avoiding and deflecting. Oh she had some different ideas instead of this work I have already spent hours on. I refused to renegotiate. Then there was the when? and the how much? and the incredulity that we could be even with this piece. The interrupting and accusations started. The raised voices and the anger.

I hung up on her.

She sent me a demanding and dismissive text. So I struck the spark to the tender. I responded, held my ground but I was kinda rude.

I don't need friends like you”, she sent.

You are right”, I replied. “That was wrong of me. I should not have said that.”

But, I'm sorry to say, I am not sorry.

Clearly I need to work on my karma.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

short stories 7

Well, the wrens are at it again. Every fall they become intensely interested in our garage/shop and the stuff in it. Earlier today I interrupted one giving the open tool box a look see. I have startled them on several occasions in the last week or two and just now I could hear and see one through the open door poking around on the top shelf of one of the shelving units. It's nearly impossible to get a picture of the wrens but I did get one of the tool box.


Yesterday as I was sitting here at my computer gazing out the window and (different) open door I saw a squirrel climb down the trunk of the chinese tallow in the little back yard (as opposed to the big back yard which is the back half or our little half acre of heaven) and scamper across the yard to the bird bath which he promptly climbed and then perched on the rim of the plastic dish and got a drink of water. First time I have seen that. Now I know why sometimes when I come back after being gone for several days, the dish is laying on the ground. I imagine when it doesn't have much water in it then it tips over surprising the squirrel with an unplanned bath. The squirrel was too quick for me but I got an excellent shot of the birdbath.


This morning as I sat at my computer gazing out the window didn't I already use this sentence? one of the local hawks swooped down out of the air and perched on a small low branch of the same chinese tallow in the same little backyard. Oh, he was huge and so beautiful, perhaps 25' – 30' from me. He (she?) sat there for a few minutes scanning the yard then spread his wings and flew off low across my neighbor's empty half acre toward the agricultural fields. I have been unable to identify the hawks here and when I inquired of one of the locals what kind of hawks we have out here he just looked at me like I was stupid and said 'chicken hawk'. Allrighty then, chicken hawk it is. Since my camera was not in the same room and I was loath to miss even a second of watching this beautiful bird, I did not get a picture of it but here's a shot of the branch he was sitting on.


I've picked up another 24 pounds of pecans but I decided not to take these to the cracker. They will last longer in the shell and now I can take my time shelling them. I've come across two mutants, nuts that had three 'halves', a triplet. The first one I cracked was not good and it broke apart. But then, last night I cracked another one and it was good and remained intact. In fact I succeeded in shelling it without it breaking apart. I put away the shelled nuts and left the triplet in the bowl. I had forgotten to remove it so I could take a picture and I shelled more nuts into the bowl tonight. When I went in a minute ago to retrieve it, half the nuts I had shelled were gone and the triplet was missing. I looked at the husband sitting there with several in his hand. He ate my triplet. “I can't believe you ate my nut!” I said. “You just had dinner. Man, I can't believe you ate my triplet.” So here is a picture of some broken shells instead which may or may not have been from the triplet.


We tackled the dead cherry laurel tree a couple of weeks ago that fell over in early summer. It was in the very back of the property behind the little shed and it fell into the space between it and two other trees right at the edge of the little 'wild' spot of the property where it backs up to the 13 acre field and joins the trash tree line that has grown up between my neighbors' properties. Here in the country we don't have fences or hedgerows so much as trash tree lines that separate properties. Although there are plenty of fences if the property is a pasture. Don't want them cows straying too far. I passed one of the sheriffs one day trying to herd a cow out of the road and back to it's pasture.

Because the fallen tree was in the wild space and we have been unable to get back there, things have grown with abandon. Before we could even get to the actual tree to start cutting it up, starting with the small branches and working our way to the trunk, we had to hack our way through a jungle of vines that had covered the fallen tree, both the trees it fell next to and the little shed. In one summer, the wild space had doubled.

It took us half the day just to get enough of the vines down to actually get to the closest fallen tree branches. The worst was the wild grape vine that has trunks as big around as my bicep when I was working out regularly. It had covered everything with a thick layer. Think kudzu. After that was the trumpet flower vine which had also climbed into and over everything. Virginia creeper was making inroads and another vine that grows out here that I don't know what it was but it pops up in the grass constantly and the vine is tough as wire.

I forgot to take a picture before we started but this is what it looks like now.

Friday, November 19, 2010

blow by blow

This past week found me with little free time. I have tried to at least keep up with my reading in blogland to more or less success but finding time to post has been beyond me. This is how my week went.

Saturday – we spent the afternoon turning this

into this

in preparation for the electrician scheduled to come out on Wednesday to put in a plug in the garage/shop for the kiln.

Sunday - my unscheduled trip in to Houston to help the g'kids with their science projects. I helped the girls organize their research and experiment results with an outline so they could transcribe the information in a composition book. This was the weirdest thing. Instead of doing an outline (which apparently they don't teach students to do anymore), the teacher wanted all the information in a composition book with tabbed sections. Essentially, an outline but a totally different form. Then I helped one of the girls make paper as part of her research. For someone who had never made 'handmade paper' before and didn't have the right equipment exactly and didn't know how it was supposed to look or how thick it should be, I think Autumn and I did pretty well.

Monday – revised three drawings, worked on proposals, followed up other business stuff and preparing for my day in Houston on Tuesday.

another day in Houston working in our friend Gene's studio. We are collaborating on a series of pieces for the upcoming annual open house that our glass blower friends have every year and graciously invite others to participate. We are doing three sets of the drawings we did the samples from for the fused glass art panels we are proposing for the church. One set (one of each flower) done thick in different layers, one set done fused like the samples for the church and one set done kiln carved. This day we got two of the deep pieces and the three fused pieces in the kiln.

Wednesday – oh happy day!

The electrician showed up and got our 220 plug and 50 amp breaker installed. I spent the day cutting out the various flower pieces out of the fiber paper (a refractory material) and it took me til long after dark to finish.

Thursdayheaded into Houston (again) to work in Gene's studio for an hour or so to get the kiln formed set (kiln carved – slumping over fiber paper) in the kiln. Next we headed to our in-town shop to collect the kiln (our other kiln is at my sister's house here in the country). Couldn't get it out of the shop, the door was about an inch too narrow. Don't ask how we got it in, we couldn't remember. Anyway, Marc had to deconstruct part of the door frame which wouldn't seem to be that big of a job except that we hadn't brought the tool box with us. So he mangled it apart with a leatherman type tool, a pipe wrench and a pair of pliers, got the kiln out and then had to put it back together again with the same lack of tools. On our way out of town we stopped at a potential client's house so I could show them the sample (we're doing a kiln carved piece for their window) and the final proposal, got our deposit and headed home.

Friday – today we wrestled the kiln out of the truck

and got it moved and plugged in.

I am taking it easy and organizing all my glass frit. I have molds to fill!

Sunday, November 14, 2010

river vignette 10 - the Rio Grande

An unexpected and unplanned trip into the city today to help my daughter. She's been fighting off a migraine for two days, husband is out of town and twin daughters have a major portion of their science fair projects due tomorrow.

We had heard thunder rumbling way off during the afternoon and after we made camp we could see the storm coming our way. We had about 30 minutes of a hard sprinkle and then it moved off. As the storm moved away, we saw a rainbow and had a clear sky for stargazing in the east and an incredible lightning show on the horizon in the west that went on for hours. It was a beautiful night and hard to decide what to watch...the lightning show behind us or the star field in front of us. The Milky Way blazed across the sky and we saw the most incredible shooting star. The longest, biggest, brightest any of us had ever seen. It went on and on all the way across the sky almost to the horizon.