Saturday, February 28, 2009

Cordon Noir

I'm off in a minute on the trek, albeit quite short, back to Winedale. Yesterday was the last test and I feel like midterms are over. Remember?

Anyway, I got the filthy car washed afterward. (Brilliant material, here, no?) Then I went to a shop where a friend said I could find dust ruffles (for beds) that don't require lifting the mattress. The shop was Indulge on Saint Street. (Isn't that a lovely juxtaposition of names? Doesn't a shop called "Indulge" just flick your wicket in our current economic situation?) Now, if it sold chocolate instead of bedding...

But I digress. (I do have a point in here somewhere...)

In the entry of the shop, there is a large antique wicker birdcage with two birds in it. Cordon Bleu Finches. I looked them up on the internet, but the picture in no way does justice to the beauty of these little birds. They have red bills like jewels, and for the most part their plumage is bright blue. Naturally I spoke to them, and they seemed to respond (anthropomorphic of me, I know).

One started elevating himself to the top of the cage before returning to the perch beside his companion. (The people in the store think they're sisters, but I think they're both males.) When he returned to the perch he turned his head so his bill pointed straight up. Then he elevated himself, helicopter-style, once more. And repeated the bill-point. Never before have I seen a bird do that, but then I rarely see caged birds, right?

I awoke in the middle of the night and the thought came to me: those little birds never see the sky.

That upset me considerably for quite a while.They're natives of Africa, which I imagine they've never seen either.

What kind of life is it for a bird, to live in a cage with a companion of the same sex, never to fly in freedom? Just thinking of it makes me both angry and sad. What do you all think?

Wednesday, February 25, 2009


I never liked the word "tests" in school. And I don't like it any better now. We're back in Houston for me to have a couple of the medical variety, and I'm not regarding the prospect with equanimity. This is by way of apology for no posts for a couple of days.

For the past half hour we have been treated here on the 6th floor of our condominium to a beautiful mockingbird solo. We appear to have a pair at Winedale for the first time, but so far we haven't heard any song. We keep hoping.

And I hope to return to discover that and many other things--are the redbuds finally blooming?--this weekend.

May your day be a happy one.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Seasonal Change

We revolve and spring is out there, somewhere, waiting. Or perhaps it approaches, teasing, like the children's game we used to play--one giant step forward, a little one back. The past two days, it has been warmish in daytime, with a spring freshness in the air, quite cold at night. In Texas we watch the limbs of certain untrickable trees to decide when the last frost is past. Post oaks, on our little acreage. Mesquites in south Texas. The post oaks still look dead, and a light frost nipped Hale's optimistic tomato plants.

Yesterday we found the kind of beetle we call a "June" bug, walking along our kitchen counter. He or she or it looked newly hatched, and none too healthy. We put it out on the porch. In a month or two (I always thought these bugs were wrongly named), there will be hundreds, clamoring for entry.

This morning the bluebird was back, just as commenters to my previous post foretold. He was exploring another box out closer to the big yard gate eighty feet from the porch. We try never to use that gate, in the hopes that the construction damage to the ground around it can repair itself. I was so thrilled that I whispered to Hale to look and something in my voice attracted Bronte, instead. She came bustling up to the screen door, ears forward, and barked. Out of hope, really, that there was something worth barking at. Naturally the bird flew off. And has not returned. I fussed at her, I'm ashamed to say.

To compensate, I hope, I directed her attention to the omnipresent squirrels on the back bird feeder whom she loves to chase. This feeder is a tray that PJ's Richard has constructed and attached to our porch railing. The squirrels, being squirrels, are very cheeky in appropriating the sunflower seed, and they spook the little birds. We know chasing them back to the tree is a losing battle, of course. What is needed is something squirrels love to eat that birds dislike...Personally, I have no idea what that would be.

The native grass across the bare front pasture is renewing itself in a green flush, perceptible now from our porch. This amazes the husband, because there's been so little rain. Apparently hope springs eternal in the veins of vegetation, too, along with a stubborn determination to live.

We all feel hopeful this morning--despite the deplorable news blaring at us from every media venue--and I attribute it to the stirrings of plants and birds, the faintest hint of infant vegetation in the air. Who can think of spring and not feel hope of some kind?

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Blue is the color of spring, I.

I was at my desk this morning when a flash of blue caught my eye. It was flying directly between me and the corner post depicted in the blurry photo below. We have a number of blue jays around here, so I thought—okay. Then I thought: Wait, it’s a different, more intense, blue, isn't it?

The bird landed on the wire between posts, revealing its rosy breast.

OMG! My first bluebird! I’ve heard their shy burble for years, mostly when my husband points it out underneath the calls of more assertive birds. But I’ve never actually seen one before.

The bird, a male Western Bluebird, in fact, moved over to the bluebird box attached to the post. It’s been fastened there for more than twenty-years and no bluebird has ever deigned to notice it before.

He stuck his head into the box for awhile. Then removed it and flew back over to the wire. I thought he might have something in his beak, but I couldn’t be sure.

He returned to the box and repeated the procedure. Then after a few moments reflection, he flew away.

As the photo indicates, it’s far too popular a spot for any bluebird nest, of course. Too many birds, too much activity. But we have other bluebird boxes in more secluded locations around the place, so—one can always hope.

Monday, February 16, 2009


Lately my mirror has been showing me too much neck. I try to check my hair, but neck is all I see. I begin to put on lipstick, but my neck rises up before me and obliterates the view.

In desperation, I turn to my closet. Take out a turtleneck sweater, slip it on. Now it looks as though I’ve been doing those exercises schoolboys do to strengthen their, yes, necks for football and wrestling. Even a black turtleneck has this effect. All that’s missing are shoulder pads.

I take off the sweater, pull down a long scarf and start winding. And winding. When I finish enveloping the neck, I keep going, wrap it around my head, like Audrey Hepburn in that movie with Albert Finney.

I do not look like Audrey Hepburn, though. (See wrestling effect above.)

I unwind the scarf.

I reach up and grip my neck with one hand from behind, pulling gently, Miraculous! The real me is restored, but my arm quickly cramps. I remember reading that Jacqueline de Ribes used to go to parties with a special theatre tape, anchoring her chin in its girlhood location.

Where do I find theatre tape? Even though my hair is too short for that solution, perhaps I would rather people see tape than my…I hate even to say the word…neck.

Am I the only one who admires a woman in the public eye for the condition of her neck every bit as much as her intellect?

Nora Ephron has written a funny book about getting older in which she says the following: “You have to cut down a redwood tree to see how old it is, but you wouldn’t have to if it had a neck.” For some reason I find the thought of a tree with a neck hilarious.

Or clams…except that ugly thing that sticks out is called a foot, isn’t it?

The truth of the matter is that I really don’t have a neck any more. What I have is my mother’s neck…

Sunday, February 15, 2009


My hands at this moment are showing the effects of several days’ dealing with prickly things. The most recent is the cactus in our new window boxes. Having read here that one box fell, their creator came over yesterday (on his day off) and fixed them with screws. They will now be there as long as the wall they’re attached to.

So today I planted the little cacti, most of which survived with their thorns intact. Some will grow to 15 inches, some to six. I have no idea whether they will like their boxes and grow at all, but we will see.

On Thursday, a young man came to help us cut back the roses and perennials that sprawl among our flower beds. I helped him, of course. Yanked up dead verbena (didn’t know those have invisible prickles, but discovered it when I tried to grip something else afterwards); cut back several large cramoisi superieurs; disentangled a great quantity of dead climbing rose where it had grown around the fretwork, on the back porch, in its effort to pull the porch down.

We cut back the rose itself a couple of weeks ago, and have been waiting for the long canes to dry out, so they’d be easier to remove. They are intertwined with long canes from what we call our “fried egg” rose, Mermaid. The only way to tell them apart was to let the severed ones dry out a bit.

Problem is, I don’t wear gloves. I know that’s strange. I tell people that the reason is, if I do wear gloves, I can’t feel what I’m doing. I know that they think I mean that I can’t feel what I’m gripping, or cutting, which is true. But that’s not quite it.

Wading into a rose bush with a pair of clippers in mid February in our part of Texas means you will be lopping off healthy foliage, bursting with life. I hate that. Yet, if I don’t do it, the rose becomes so spindly that it is vulnerable to a variety of unhappy things come summer. So I take my cutters and begin. And when I am snagged—as I will be inevitably more than once—I feel that it’s only fair. I should share the pain. It keeps me mindful of what I am really doing, and reminds me to take no more than is absolutely necessary. To prune the rose with care.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

25 Ways to Not-Write

Yesterday our internet was intermittent--oh, frustration--but this morning it's back (so far) and I want to post this list of 25 ways to avoid writing fiction:

1. Check Facebook
2. Read blogs—good for hours and hours of not-writing
3. Prune roses
4. Eat chocolate covered almonds
5. Fix piece of toast, with marmalade
6. Check email
7. Walk down to the pond to see if it caught any water last night
8. Unload the dishwasher
9. Fill window boxes with gravel, sand, growing mix for cactus
10. Plant cactus, carefully and slowly
11. Eat a banana
12. Think about what to make for dinner
13. Drive to the grocery store
14. Check Facebook again
15. Eat another handful of chocolate covered almonds
16. Sit at your desk and look out the window
17. Look up that new bird on the feeder
18. Take a picture of new bird, if it will just hold still
19. Check for blog comments
20. Sweep seed shells off back porch
21. Put out fresh seed
22. Check that noise—whomp!—outside
23. Pick up cacti where they got buried in dirt when window box fell apart
24. Wedge big stick under second window box so it won’t fall
25. Start a list like this

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Morning Light

A rainstorm and mild cool front passed through with bluster in the night, leaving crystalline skies and brilliant sun this morning.

Immediately the spirit lifts, climbing the light, drawn to its source.

The sky still wears a wintry pallor. Only in summer on especially clear dry days does it deepen.

Even so, the contrast with shadow is complete, as the white light pours itself over fence posts, flickers on shiny live oak leaves.

Hope bubbles up and with it the question: is this the other half of low spirits under dark and gray skies? Does the very intensity of one's response to the light measure the parallel response we have to the shadows?

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Face Time

We have been exploring Facebook for the past few weeks and I can feel a mild addiction taking hold. As if blogging weren’t enough…

What are you doing right now? That’s what they ask. And people respond. Really. I thought that was a little solipsistic, you know? (A lot solipsistic, actually.) And then I wrote one in for Hale. Then later another one for Hale (with his permission, of course). That broke the ice.

Now I find myself having to resist answering the question. What would my answer be, anyway? Avoiding work; wasting time; preparing to work; not working…duh. But how interesting is the truth: Taking a break from researching geothermal energy? Or procrastinating the cooking of a meal?

Then there’s the really addictive part: logging onto your page to see what your friends are posting. This business of “friends” is a chastening experience. My grandniece has 917. Her brother has about the same number. Amazing. We won’t speak about mine, but I just started.

Actually, it’s amazing I have any. I wouldn’t if, the moment you sign on, the app didn’t pop up all your email associates who are on Facebook already. Then, if you agree, it sends out requests for them to be your “friends”. You can choose, of course. No reason for your business contacts to be able to read your most meaningless trivia.

My son’s response was: why? Why would you want to do this? But I noticed he has 150 friends, so there you go.

Of course, you can search for friends. I turned up a very old friend I’d lost contact with. Very nice. And you can troll your high school class, or college classmates. There are a lot of networking groups. Hale got a number of friends from the Chronicle and Texas Institute of Letters networks.

Then what? Well, not much. Friends will post photos, or weird things happening to them, or funny things. For instance, Justin Cronin sent out a link to William Shakespeare’s “25 things.” Pretty funny in the boy-humor department. And people comment on that. The way you find out is that there’s a feed where anything that your “friends” post on their personal page pops up on yours, so you can just stay in touch. It’s really kind of nice. (I took a series of workshops with Justin, hence the contact.)

I’m in the process of setting up a professional page for Hale, which gives his book purchasing information and links to his blog, etc. I don’t know how that works, yet, but it’s a way to bring your “brand” and its details to the attention of the giant Facebook community. More to come about whether it works.

Photos today are random ones, taken recently before the clouds and rain began:

Monday, February 9, 2009


This morning I awoke to a double concert of coyotes, an ancient predictor of rain. And indeed, it is raining! Slow rain falling straight down! I can almost hear the plants and trees opening to it. Hale and I were down on the stone deck untangling a particularly convoluted hose when it started. Neither of us minded getting wet, believe me.

Sydney asked me a question about our country property. We were amazed even to find it more than 20 years ago, It happened by complete luck, as it belonged to the realtor who was helping us look for a place. It was a small parcel adjacent to his father’s larger acreage, and cut off from it by a creek. Very few small places were available then; now they are more common, as developers have struck. What the downturn will do to the prices is open to question.

We do have a small pond (currently more mud than water); we do have said wet weather creek. We might have a horse or two if Hale hadn’t made me promise that we would never have any livestock that required feeding. Frankly, we have so much fun trying to discourage rabbits and armadillos that I can’t imagine what we would do with a horse. Someone suggested goats to eat the poison ivy, but we seem to have managed to eliminate that without them.

Yes, I write much more up here. I love my study, which is in the loft/attic we made years ago by raising the roof a little. I sit at my desk in the dormer and can look out across the yard into the woods that lead down to the creek (currently dry). I hear birds, and assorted wild or bovine cries, as well as any drilling rig within four miles, it seems, depending on which way the wind is blowing. Right now, the horse farm on Winedale Road seems to be in the process of creating a track of some sort. They have brought in great quantities of dirt, piled it up, and leveled it off some 6 feet above grade. I am hopeful that whatever it is won’t involve combustion engines or a loudspeaker system. We are particularly vulnerable here in this unincorporated area which has no noise ordinances.

This first photo is of the wet lichen on a branch of our most endangered live oak.

This second photo is of an egg I plucked from a container of free range eggs we bought on Saturday at the Farmers' Market on Eastside in Houston. Complete with small reddish feather. The eggs came from a farm located in Weimar, and at Winedale we are closer to it than to where we bought the eggs in Houston. Not very green of us, is it?

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Blood and birds

This morning, back at Winedale, there was fresh blood on the porch railing and a single whitish underfeather on the floor beneath it. A hawk strike? We'll never know for sure. It was directly under the (empty) suet block holder that the squirrel was stretching for in my previous post.

The sight is a reminder, though, that the wonderful tapestry of birdsong we so love to wake to in the mornings denotes something quite different to those who sing. Some sounds of distress are unmistakeable, of course. When a blue jay is upset, the whole world is informed. If he's complaining near the house, the customary cause, I find, derives from snake or hawk--our two great predators of small creatures around here. Reputedly we have bobcats, but I've never seen one. Oh, and owls and coyotes...

The chatter among the trees and underbrush this morning, however, appears to be mainly a clamoring for spring. The weather is mild--66 degrees farenheit--and expected to climb into the high seventies. (A titmouse just turned up his beak at the odd-looking seed my husband has distributed. We're out of sunflower seed and suet. That means a seed-run into Brenham today. Our birds have no loyalty whatsoever. If we don't feed them, they leave.)

The urge for spring is mounting in people, too, culminating in the drive to Plant Something. Even though it's WAY TOO SOON! We've had hard freezes in March on this acreage, we must remember.

Also, and more sadly, our drought continues. This is far from funny, folks. Brown grass we can live with. Even moribund perennials are okay. But I have such fear for our live oaks, in particular the ones around the house that were impacted by the construction last year.

Learning not to grieve in advance over their possible demise is one of my challenges, at present. One youngish live oak away from the house does seem to be flourishing, however, (see photo) and I find that a hopeful sign. Also, as LH points out, the older trees I'm so worried about withstood the awful drought of the 1950s, so they should be fine.

There in a nutshell you see why he's Hale at 87. Attitude, attitude.

Thursday, February 5, 2009


(I wonder how Bentley the Lab sees through that broken windshield while he's driving?)

It's not a bad metaphor for the way I feel when I'm back in Houston--like my ability to see where I'm going is fragmented by a multitude of little tasks that take me in multiple directions.

Women are supposed to be good at it, right? Maybe it came with the territory of raising children. Because there is certainly no way to put in sustained effort on one thing in the middle of a houseful of kids. A mother has to be able to stop one thing, start two or three other things, then go back and complete the first thing, or maybe never complete any of it, and not go stark, staring mad in the process.

I was never very good at that, I admit. And I'm certainly not getting any better. Which is unfortunate, since the nature of my job is multiple projects, none of which ever really ends; and the nature of our life is trundling back and forth between two places, one located conveniently near medical facilities, one located in a place of clean air and birdsong and lovely light--making both equally necessary, even though each one comes with its own set of urgent tasks.

So coming back to Houston for me is like the butterfly crawling back into its cocoon, where the cocoon has many compartments. Yesterday we filed for four hours. Yes, really. We have temporary file boxes stacked in the middle of the floor, and we are making progress, slowly. Before that, I spent a delightful half hour trying to get inside the head of a character in my novel--something I should have tried two years ago. Then I pulled out of her head, I hope, before I sent email to our building's manager on efforts elsewhere to make condos non-smoking. Also, I did a couple of hours work on my company's business--three or four different items there. Also, had physical therapy, and fixed a couple of meals. A normal day all in all. No stretch necessary.

Monday, February 2, 2009


A short note, here: Dr. Beatrice Golomb of the University of California, San Diego Medical School, published a paper last week that documents some of the side effects of Lipitor, Crestor and similar statin drugs. She has been studying it for some time and is a recognized researcher in the field, not a crank. The side effects, like foggy thinking and muscle pain and weakness, are not imaginary or the result of aging. They're the result of the way the drugs deplete the production of co-enzyme Q-10, which delivers energy to muscles. So the report says.