Saturday, May 30, 2015

spring reading list

I'm not likely to finish my current book by tomorrow, though I have had plenty of time to read it, so here's my book list from the last three months.

Wicked Business by Janet Evanovich – a new series by Janet. Same formula...Lizzie has two men in her life, both alpha males and opposites, only this time there is a supernatural element. Lizzie is a pastry chef and works at a bakery with countergirl Glo who aspires to magic. Diesel, a person with special abilities who has been assigned as Lizzie ersatz bodyguard, teams up with Lizzie, who is also a person with special abilities but different than Diesel's, to find another of the magical stones that used to be for good but have now been cursed and will be used for evil if the wrong people find them and so of course all the wrong people are looking for them as well. This stone, the True Love/Lust stone is the one they are looking for in this book. Their main opponent, Wulf (the counterpoint to Diesel, dark haired to Deisel's blond), Diesel's cousin and also a person with special abilities, operates on the shady side as opposed to Deisel's wanting to save all the world side. No hot sex though, implied or otherwise though they are tempted (of course, it's a Janet Evanovich book) because having sex means one of the partners will lose their special abilities and there's no predicting which one will lose. This is the second of this series. I'll have to go back and find the first.

The Nethergrim by Matthew Jobin – 14 year old Edmund is the eldest son of an innkeeper in the feudal society of this world of magicians and dangerous evil creatures. The inn is in the town that serves the Lord that presides over this section of the kingdom. Decades ago, a monster who's lair is in the mountains and had been under a spell from ancient times was due to finally awaken and it's monster minions were wreaking havoc on the countryside in anticipation. A troupe of men set out to kill it before it could. Only three returned and one of those men, who never spoke of what they saw or did besides to say that the Nethergrim had been slain, lived in the town raising and training warhorses for the Lord. Young Edmund who would rather be a magician than an innkeeper had a secret stash of books which his father found and burned. When livestock is found butchered then children go missing including Edmund's younger brother, he and his two friends Katherine, the daughter of one of the heros, and Tom, an indentured servant to a local farmer, set out to rescue the children. It's a good tale, suspenseful in places. I enjoyed it. It's a first book of a series.

Wicked Appetite by Janet Evanovich – this is the first of the 'Wicked' books and introduces the cast of characters mentioned in Wicked Business. The first of the magical stones of the seven deadly sins to be located is the gluttony stone. Entertaining and a quick read.

The Mourning Hours by Paula Treick DeBoard – I was actually looking for a different book by this author but the library didn't have it so I picked this one up instead. Kirsten, now in her early 20s, is headed home for her father's funeral but before she arrives at her aunt's door, she remembers the past and the unraveling of her family. The story starts during the summer of Kirsten's 9th year when her brother Johnny, high school senior and wrestling champ, starts dating a local girl. One winter Saturday Johnny and Stacy leave for a dinner and a movie. When they didn't return at the expected time, and during a fairly severe snowstorm, their father goes out to look for them. While he is gone, Johnny returns alone having been given a ride by a neighbor and his story is that his truck slid off the road into the ditch and Stacy, his girlfriend, decided to just walk home, less than a mile away, instead of sitting, freezing, in the truck waiting for someone to find them. Johnny is shocked to discover that she never made it home. Police are called and a massive search begins but Stacy is never found. So begins the fracturing of a family when the whole town is convinced, though he is never arrested and without a shred of proof, of Johnny's guilt. There is a healing at the end of the story and we do find out at the very end what happened to Stacy. It's a good story and I enjoyed it well enough.

The Girl On The Train by Paula Hawkins – this story is told by three women, all of them just a little unstable each in their own way. Rachel is the main story teller. She spends her days pretending to go to work after she lost her job and was too afraid to tell her roommate with whom she has lived for the past two years after losing her husband to his mistress. She passes her house, now their house with their perfect little baby, the baby that Rachel could not conceive, every morning on her way in to London on the train and every evening on her way home. She also watches a house several doors down and fantasizes about the couple that live there. Rachel has sunk into drunkenness in her inability to conceive and then in her loss of Tom whom she can't seem to let go, calling the house, appearing on the street, watching them, and unintentionally terrorizing Anna, Tom's wife. Then one Saturday night, Megan, the woman that lives in the other house, the one that Rachel fantasizes about, leaves after an argument with her husband and is never seen or heard from again. Rachel, who was blind drunk that night and woke with an injury, thinks she was there and saw something but she doesn't remember what or who. And because she knows something no one else knows about Megan, she gets herself entangled in the whole affair. It was a good read, a good ending, a little suspenseful, a little surprising.

The Martian by Andy Weir - "I'm pretty much fucked." That's the first line of the book. How can you not immediately like this book? Astronaut Mark Watney has been left for dead and the mission abandoned after a particularly fierce storm sent the crew running and headed back to earth. Watney suffered an injury that should have killed him, his suit compromised. His crew saw it and they were right, his suit was not reporting any life signs, he should have died but he didn't and when he came to, the ship was gone. So now astronaut Mark Watney, engineer fix-it man and botanist and low man on the totem pole of command has to figure out how to survive until the next mission comes in four years. He has the habitat and the rovers and all the equipment and all the food for the whole team of 6 for the whole mission plus some. What he doesn't have is any way to communicate with the ship or with earth because the storm ripped off and blew away the antenna dish on the habitat and no one knows he survived. Two months later, when satellite images of the Ares 3 mission site show some peculiar alterations to the habitat on Mars and, more importantly, no dead body, NASA understands that he is still alive. It's a great story even if you don't care for science fiction. It's a survival story and a rescue story and it has successes and catastrophes and ingenuity and action and humor (I laughed out loud more than once). I keep writing more and erasing it. I don't want to tell you the story, I want you to read it.

A Spool Of Blue Thread by Anne Tyler – I'm not really sure what this book was about besides being about the Whitshank family, their stories and their secrets. It's told in sections starting with Abby and Red and their four children focusing mainly on their sons Denny, secretive and unforthcoming with his family about his life and who comes and goes abruptly sometimes after years of no contact, and Stem, who follows in his father's footsteps in the family business, in which we learn Stem's story, then it backtracks and tells the story of Red's father Junior and how he came to build the house and then get possession of it, the house that Abby and Red now live in and have raised their family in. Then it jumps back to Abby and Red who are now older with grown children and grandchildren and then we get Abby's story which is really just the story of one day, the day she decided on Red. At the end we get Junior and Linnie Mae's story before it returns back to the main story line. What we never really get is Denny's story. He remains as mysterious to us as he is to his family. It's a good enough read but I feel a little disappointed for some reason.

The Outcasts a novel by Kathleen Kent - I picked this off the new arrivals shelf at the library, sort of a 'this'll do I guess' pick, about 320 pages. The story is set in post Civil War Texas and is told from two characters' story lines. Lucinda, who suffers from the falling sickness, begins by escaping the whorehouse where she works and running away to meet up with her robber/killer boyfriend to seek out the legendary pirate treasure buried somewhere in the small settlement of Middle Bayou. While Lucinda is getting herself settled in as the new teacher for the settlement, Nate, as part of his 6 month commission in the new Texas State Police, has been ordered to assist two veteran Texas Rangers in their pursuit of a dangerous killer. Chapters alternate between the two characters and the story progresses to their intersection. Through the story telling the characters are revealed and how they're connected and while the story doesn't end with the apprehension, the ending is right, the last loose end revealed. This is a good well told story and I enjoyed it a lot. I'll be seeking out her other two.

The Bride Collector by Ted Dekker - A psychotic schizophrenic goes on a ritual murder spree collecting the seven brides for God, being god's messenger and all. He selects only the most beautiful, drills their heels and then glues them to the wall to drain their blood. Brad Raines is the FBI agent tasked to catch him. It starts out very formula and I was almost immediately over the whole soul searching thing by the killer, crazy religious, and by the FBI agent, who wonders if he is not quite stable as well. Boring. And then it took an interesting turn leading to a residential facility for the crazy with high IQs and a small group of patient/residents. Then back to all the crazy head stuff especially the crazy killer guy. But really just about every character, half the story was crazy head stuff. Halfway through, the killer abducts and kills the FBI's psychology partner on the case. It was an OK story, good enough when he was advancing the story but I would have enjoyed it more if it had had less psyche searching and been 100 pages shorter.

The Fragile World by Paula Treick DeBoard - this was the book I was looking for originally when I picked up The Mourning Hours which I enjoyed well enough. I had no idea what this one was about or why I even had it on my read list but the library got it for me. In the first 10 pages, the amazing musical prodigy, only son and first child whose family's life...father, mother, younger sister...revolved around the rising star of the talented son who is away at a music conservatory or school and who dies in a freak accident. The story basically opens with the phone call in the night. The entire rest of the 300+ pages is about how the remaining members of his family cope, or don't cope blah blah blah. I didn't read it. The library had another book I requested so I turned this one back in.

Thursday, May 28, 2015

flood stage

I went down to Riverside Park to check out the river in flood Wednesday afternoon. Riverside Park is pretty high up from the river with long fairly steep banks and switchback walkways down to a fishing deck. But unfortunately no good canoe ramp. I wasn't the only one. There were quite a few of the townspeople coming and going doing the same thing as me.

I took a few pictures and my first video ever which I have managed to embed in this post (I think. I followed all the instructions and it appears to be here but I won't know for sure til I hit publish. edit I guess you need Adobe Flash plug-in to see the video. It shows up fine on my screen but Marc can't see it on his). The pictures don't really convey the immensity of the amount of water here, and more to come, partially because you don't have a before picture to compare it to but also because, as I found after being a river guide for a few years in a majestic canyon, pictures of power often fall flat. At least they do when I take them.

Anyway... Here's some photos of the high water and my video which I made so you could see how fast the water is moving.

Water is powerful stuff. A person can drown in a foot of water if the force of the moving water is strong enough. I saw lots of examples of the power of water during my years as a river guide and not only it's effects on the physical world.

When I realized I hadn't seen the last, sweep boat in too long, I stopped and waited. When I saw a bailer and a water bottle float past me I started back upstream to find one of the most capable among us had gotten his boat wrapped around a boulder in two feet of water and he and his paddling partner had not been able to free it even after they unloaded it.

It's a great metaphor for life I think. The stone age cultures certainly thought so.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

it's floodin' down in Texas...

I started a post yesterday on Memorial Day which quickly segued into a little trip down memory lane but before I finished, my daughter and the grandgirls showed up to spend the day and share a meal. Her husband and son couldn't come because they had to work.

That post will have to wait because last night about midnight a huge storm woke me up. I don't know how long it had been going on before I woke up but I woke to constant lightning and thunder, high winds and torrential rain. It went on for a couple of hours before it tapered off. The Little Backyard was covered in water as was the west side of the property but it drained off/soaked in quickly after it stopped.

This morning, the yard is littered with branches dead and green with another large limb off the pecan tree, empty pots scattered down the driveway, lawn chairs blown about, pots with plants knocked over, the arbor knocked over and onto the little dogwood tree and a totally demolished turk's cap, water still standing at the back of the property, the Lee Littlefield sculpture was turned 45˚ and listing heavily to one side.

We only got 4.5” of rain in a couple of hours but Houston got 11” in about 6 – 8 hours. The whole city is flooded. My daughter left her house to pick up her son from work at 10 PM. She got there OK but couldn't get home due to flooding. Fortunately her husband was working night shift nearby so that's where they went but now at noon, she has just been able to get home after making a previous attempt.

I tried to find the long shot of this picture but couldn't. I passed over this bridge and under it many times a week when I still lived in the city.

Also part of my old stomping grounds.

 Downtown, on the far edge of my old neighborhood.

 Drove through here every Thursday afternoon on our way out of the city.

 White Oak Bayou I think which runs through my old city neighborhood.

This could be any one of the many freeways through town that are below ground level.

As a native Houstonian, I've seen this happen about 5 times now. After the third time that the sunken freeways filled with water from storms and heavy rains, the city finally admitted that they were planned that way to capture flood water. Nice unless you're one of the people whose cars got trapped down there. Fourteen years ago tropical storm Allison sat on Houston for a week dumping 40” of rain, more than half in a 36 hour period. It was pretty awful with the tunnel system downtown flooding as well as the basements and lower levels in the medical center, the freeways swallowed up 18 wheelers as well as cars, all the bayous out of their banks, acres and acres and acres of land underwater, tens of thousands of homes destroyed. The city has made some improvements since then.

Oh, and we're expecting more rain all week.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

rain results

Our sky the other day when I was trying to get some stuff planted.

Some of you might remember how much I moaned all winter and spring about all the rain and overcast days we had and are still having but I have to say all the plant life is loving it. I haven't seen all the green life so lush in a decade due to the state of drought our state has been in. I think that's been pretty much remedied this year, at least in my part of the state.

All the spring bloomers are done and the summer flowers are taking center stage. The altheas have always been reliable bloomers but this year only two of the nine shrubs are blooming and they are just covered with enormous blossoms, easily half again as big as last year. The other seven either have no blooms or just a few.

And the day lilies are sending up copious amounts of bloom stalks.

Lest you think they are all pink...

The elephant garlic get so tall they tend to fall over.

The purple coneflowers are putting on their display.

The walking iris will plant itself where it blooms as long as it's in the ground and not a pot on the patio.

The downside of all this rain is that the mosquitos also love it. It's nearly impossible to go out in the mornings and evenings without being swarmed.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

a thump at the door

So, it was after nine last night and we were sitting on the couch and we heard a series of thumps outside the front door. Marc gets up and opens the door, turns on the light, and's the turtle!

Big Mama?!, I ask, getting up and looking, wondering if I had left the gate open, which has been known to happen. Not Big Mama. Bigger than Big Mama. And I wouldn't call Big Mama small or even medium. She's pretty big at 10 1/2".

I know we've been getting a lot of rain but how, and the bigger question why, did a huge red ear slider find it's way to thumping around the front door of our house on the concrete under the overhang. It's not like we live on the banks of a bayou or even a creek and the river is about 3 miles away though there are several drainage ditches nearby.

You just gonna leave it there, he asks me?

Well. Yeah. I wasn't thinking of trying to keep it. Big Mama is one thing, she's been a captive since she was hatched just about (and just what would she think to have a bigger wild turtle plonked down in her pond). This girl had survived quite well on her own. Still he was concerned that she needed water so I carried her through the house (paused for a photo shoot) and out the back door and out the gate and set her down on the ground next to the water lily pond. She could indulge or continue on her journey.

No sign of her this morning.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

what passes for excitement around here

Last week, the tank that holds the water that the pump pumps from the well over at the shop failed. Meaning that some seal at the bottom of the upright tank gave way and was spewing water out into the yard.

The shop is on city water, having converted over at the same time as our house did (before we bought it) when the city was putting in water pipes for hydrants of which there is one across the street from our driveway. There might be one more house on city water on the street but everyone else relies on their well. The well and the pump and the water tank were still there and, as far as we knew, functional, so we turned the pump back on thinking we would use the water for the garden and it has held for a year.

We have no idea how long it was spewing water, couldn't have been more than a day or two, but now the pump is off again. It's an old well and all kinds of things go wrong or deteriorate or erode so I'm not sure we will do anything about it. We'll see.

Anyway, I was working in the shop and Marc walked back there to check it out now that the standing water had soaked in. Next thing he was back bent over, pale, hand on heart; just call the ambulance now, he says. He had a close encounter with a 'brightly' colored snake about 20” long, slithered over his sandal clad foot. First snake sighting of the year! When I quizzed him about it he said he and it were going in opposite directions as fast as they could so he didn't get a good look. It was probably a coral snake, very venomous (but little bitty mouths) and very shy, they would rather run away. They feed during the day as opposed to other snakes that mostly hunt at night. He liked to have had a heart attack.

Needless to say he never made it back to the tank for a look.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

incremental progress

the peach log Wesley didn't take

I got my first look at the milled and sanded peach wood for the top of the peach box last Saturday. Wesley was waiting for me in the front of the store when I came around from the other side after opening up. He had two slices that he got from one of the two logs I gave him. He cut thick slices out of both logs and because they were still 'wet' with sap, he put them in front of the heater blower all winter. The ones from one log warped but the two from the other log didn't.

So now they are sanded down flat and smooth on both sides, about 3/8" thick and they are so pretty! I had no idea what the wood would look like, the color or the pattern of the grain, but I am very happy with it and while I had my camera with me, it didn't occur to me to take pictures.

They would be finished but Wesley lost the pattern I gave him for the size so I need to get him another one. I've done the cold work on the box and I'm diddling about whether or not I want to grind the peach inlay down some more since it fits fine now. I have to decide if grinding more off the bottom will actually make it better or just satisfy my tendency to focus on small details, in other words, things only I would notice.

And I still need to decide if I want to make a new sculpture of the peach blossoms for the top. I still haven't done the cold work on the one I have already done because, essentially, I'm not really satisfied with it. The leaves didn't cast completely and the color is too consistent and too dark for my liking. That's also one of those decisions about quality vs being anal.

At this rate it's going to be three years before I get this one finished.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

tiny things

More gardening planned for today. Banana trees and bougainvillea first on the list.

I started noticing these tiny flowers and bugs this spring. Mostly these are from the grounds of the shop. All these little flowers and bugs are 1/4” or less in size with one or two exceptions.

 ants inside the squash flower

 scarlet pimpernel

 baby praying mantis

 pink flower

this little spider was closer to 1/2”

 this deer pea vetch flower was 1/8”

 the bug on the pea tiny!

 the little dayflower was about 5/8”

little lawnflower also about 1/8”

 yellow wood sorrel (?)

 tiny venus' comb flowers in a cluster

1/8” black medic bloom

coral colored flower

Friday, May 8, 2015

flowers and films

I've been taking a lot of pictures of a lot of the same things like the easter lilies 

and the wildflowers with the queen anne's lace and the clasping coneflowers ascendant, 

the larkspur, 

the coming on day lilies. 

The poppies are gone and I'm collecting seeds. I've been working on the grounds over at the shop too. I have two, three really, areas that I am starting to landscape: around the concrete bunker, on the far left side (the west side), and in front under the awning. I'm also eyeing the light and sign poles as starting points...banana trees next to one of the light poles, put up some poultry fencing between the old sign poles and plant the desert willow trumpet vine waiting patiently in a pot, the bougainvillea against the west side of the old dog pen. Once established, these will take no care. I need to do another section around the bunker which already has the pony tail palm, spider lilies, yellow angel trumpet flower, and love in a mist in between. Oh, and a great start on baby blue eyes too.

My newest effort was clearing about 10 feet of stuff along the west side of the building and planting some morning glory bush cuttings on the corner and an angel trumpet farther down and scattered some fall blooming cosmos seeds between them. I've been working mornings while it is in the shade over there. Even so, I sweated buckets today. By the end of the month it will be too hot to work outside no matter what part of the day you try to do it. So, since this is bearing down on me and I still have lots of things I want to get in the ground, that's what I am doing, working on business matters in the afternoon.

Unless I'm going to the movie.

We went to see two movies this week. After our very happy clients left with their piece Tuesday morning, we hopped in the car and went to see The Avenger's Age Of Ultron since we had postponed the birthday movie to this week.

We would have changed our mind and gone to see Ex Machina except it wasn't playing at the theater. We totally enjoyed The Avenger's as we are fans of the genre but decided that when we went in to the city on errands, we would go see the other. So on Thursday, we did.

We were glad we had seen The Avenger's first because this film, Ex Machina, is a good film but it is not exciting in the general Hollywood fashion. It is more cerebral and there are really only three characters, or four, one who doesn't speak and all the scenes are one on one. The trailer makes it seem more flashy and exciting than it is and that's probably to attract people. It's about artificial intelligence, a kind of creepy billionaire genius, and the person he selects to conduct the 'test' to see if his creation passes for real. It's a film that makes you think and it's a bit edgy with full frontal female nudity and there is some build-up to the film's finish. I enjoyed it but don't go see it thinking it's a flashy with lots of action sci-fi film.