Simple joys

This is why we have children, James is so happy to be picking up plastic eggs.





















In addition to the boring board meetings I report on, I go out to community events for the photo ops. People call the paper about their event or achievement and I’m usually the one to get the photo. People are always so pleased I stopped by and somehow they always expect Page 1 coverage.

A weekly paper has some standard front page photos and people in Plumas County expect to see the Homecoming Queen, high school graduation, and the first baby of the year. If it’s not there, the phones ring off the hook. It’s a small community and everyone knows everyone else.

We have an ancient press at the paper and limited ability for color: Grip and grins and scenics are the usual front page fare. I always try to do justice to people’s achievements, but frankly how many handshakes can you take pictures of?

I groaned silently when the call came to take pictures of an Easter egg hunt at a local day care provider’s house. She’d invited everyone in the neighborhood as well as the clients’ children. As it happens, she’s next door to my daughter. As it also happens, my grandchildren were invited.

Last Christmas James and Ruth were invited to the neighbor’s Christmas party and Santa would be in attendance. I don’t really know who is to blame or what really happened, but Santa handed out gifts to all the children except Ruth and James. Ruth, in particular, was devastated. I was more than worried about this invitation — would they be excluded from collecting eggs?

When I arrived, camera in hand, the front lawn was covered with eggs and the children were seated in a row waiting patiently. Soon there was quite a crowd of moms, dads and children and the Easter Bunny came skipping up the street with colorful balloons. Pandemonium!

I began shooting photos as quickly as I could frame them up. Because I could direct James and Ruth, I tended to follow them. It’s no surprise that I chose the picture I did. If a grandma can’t get her grandson’s picture in the paper on Page 1, she needs another line of work.

Desperately seeking spring

This gallery contains 4 photos.

  I’m not usually a weather weenie. I’ve lived in the mountains a good part of my life and I expect weather to be a force in my daily life: It comes with the territory.   I enjoy a good storm; the power of the natural world fully unleashed is awe-inspiring. Deafening thunder, howling wind, whiteouts […]

Growing old

Part of this year's twenty. Geez, I'm getting old.

Old is not the number of candles on the cake, old is in the mind. Image via Wikipedia

A 38th birthday looms for one colleague, at which I scoffed — number 59 is about a month off for me. That means the big 60 is not far behind. Milestone birthdays — 13, 16, 18, 21, 30 and 50 — have never held much terror for me. Mostly, I’ve just been surprised to be so old! How did that happen? The inside me is still stuck at 16, unsure whether I’m making the right decision or if I even know what to do when faced with a problem.

Years ago when God was a pup and so was I, I had dreams of things I wanted to do in life that came straight out of Cinderella. In those days, June Cleaver and Donna Read were the epitome of a female’s life attainment. My Ward would come home and I’d be wearing my tailored dress and pearls, not a hair out of place.

I got a little older, and aspired to be the smart, chic single woman around town, a la “Breakfast at Tiffany’s.” A little older still and I would want to grow up to be a Joni Mitchell or Carly Simon type.

Somewhere along the way, I figured out that I’m just me. More important than who I should model myself after is the concept of just molding me.

I don’t use the mirror much beyond making sure my face is clean and there is no lettuce stuck in my teeth. However, I can still see the dark brown is giving way to gray. It’s in photographs that I’m amazed to see my hair is actually white. Make no mistake, I’m proud of it — I earned every single white hair on my head.

In “Beautiful Boy” John Lennon sings “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.” I guess that’s what happened to me. As I review the bucket list I built as a girl (before I’d ever heard of a bucket list), I have to say I’ve done pretty well for a grasshopper. Largely that’s because of my ant husband.

I wanted to see Stonehenge and Stratford-on-Avon and I have. I’ve even stood inside the stone circle. I’ve been to West End theatres, tromped across London and learned the Underground. I’ve been lucky enough to walk along the Seine and on Hadrian’s Wall, see the Holy Week paseos in Sevilla, the Alhambra at night and smell the money in Monte Carlo. I’ve stood in Anne Boleyn’s private chapel at Hampton Court and at the site of her death in the Tower of London. I found Lope de Vega’s Fuenteovejuna in Spain and the canals of Venice.

Venice, Italy

I never thought I'd see this, but I sure hoped I would. Venice, Italy (Photo credit: kh1234567890)

Where those places different from the romantic yearnings of a little girl? You betcha!

I also got to live and work in England and not just be a resident tourist. I’ve learned that to say someone is a Mexican is not to insult them and that everyone — regardless of ethnic heritage — loves, laughs and weeps for the same reasons I do.

I have come to realize age is a state of mind. Physically I’m no spring chicken and my joints creak more than they should. But, that’s just the outside! Inside, I’m still 16, green and untried. I hope I die at 16 because that will mean life has been an adventure ride from cradle to grave. As long as there’s more to want to do, the more I’ll be inclined to go and do it. I figure age correlates to enthusiasm; the more enthusiastic you are the younger you get.

For all that I’ve been and done, there is so much more on my list. Ayers Rock (Uluru, as it’s known now) holds magic for me: Is it really the mystical place of aboriginal Australia? In the good ol’ US of A, there’s plenty still to see. I need to stand on Capital Mall and before the Wall in D.C. I’d like to see New England in the fall and experience a nor’easter. What are Nantucket and Prince Edward Island like? I’d love to sail the Inside Passage.

I want to see and do it all. While there’s life, there’s hope — to coin another cliché.

On the Road with ABBA and Simcat

US 6 & US 95 passing through the center of Ton...

Rush hour in Tonopah, which as Simon said, has less life than Bodie. Image via Wikipedia

Simcat flew home last Wednesday after a hugely successful five-day road trip across the barrens of Nevada, preceded by a three-day trip to Glen Ellen for wine tasting and visiting the beach and Michael’s.

I should explain Simcat is how my brother-in-law Simon and his wife Cathy, my bestest-most-favouritest English sister-in-law are known to my husband and I in cyberspace. Has sort of a ring to it, don’t you think?

The last time they visited was nine years ago. Since then we moved to the UK and back and it’s been a couple of years since I’ve seen them.

Cathy is an inveterate list maker: Honestly the woman makes lists of the lists she needs to make. This has been a difficult adjustment for me—my idea of planning is to show up and see what happens.

After a four-way telephone conversation, we settled on what to do while Simcat was here: Visit Sonoma, the coast and craft stores over the Labor Day weekend. That would be followed by a quick stop at home for laundry services and an appearance at the paper, and then we would hit the road again for Las Vegas and points south.

Now I don’t know how many of you have been road trips with family and friends, but let me tell you it’s not to be undertaken lightly. There are personal idiosyncrasies and shortcomings to be overlooked, personal tics, flatulence and other boorish behavior from the brothers. Usually it all begins to appear as you pull out of the driveway. Cries of “Are we there yet?” and “I have to go to the bathroom” echo in the collective consciousness.

My own sister and I can do well on road trips only as long as she controls the map and I control the motel choices.

There are also cultural differences apparently, despite the fact Steve is English. Simon scrambled eggs for breakfast our first morning in Glen Ellen. I was late to table and was saved. What Simon had thought was olive oil in a cute dispenser, was, in fact, dish soap in a cute dispenser. Who, I want to know, uses olive oil in his scrambled eggs?

I have cooling issues; my preferred environment is about 68. Cathy likes it to be hot—poor thing, never sees much sun in Blighty. The very idea of Las Vegas in September (been there, done that) gives me heat stroke.

What’s more the dear girl wanted to do all the casinos on the strip—in an afternoon. I declined to join them before dark; they ventured off about midday. By 5 p.m., they were back; absolutely wrung out from heat—it was 117 on the Strip that afternoon. I was really proud of myself: I merely thought “I told you so” as I lay up to my neck in the swimming pool.

What then was I doing two days later? Driving into Death Valley, where the afternoon air temperature was 122-plus. It was so hot, the birds were panting. Mad dogs and Englishmen, bah! Give me A/C anytime.

On our way down to Las Vegas we stopped overnight at Tonopah. I can highly recommend the Best Western there as clean, pleasant overnight accommodation. However, take a picnic dinner. My parents eat at the hotel, but I allowed my husband who had told me how bad the food was to take us to the Ramada.

I swear zombies staff it. Our waitress, and I’m using the term loosely here, appeared to be human but had the gumption of a bump on a log. I keep trying to think of where the stereotypical roadside diner waitress image came from. She could have been the prototype: completely listless, exuding an air of resignation and hopelessness that was really depressing.

As we were driving away, all I could think was “OMG, people live here!” We stopped to visit Bodie on our way home from Death Valley. As Simcat observed, “There’s more life in Bodie than in Tonopah.”

Then there’s the music issue. I think the music died when the Beatles broke up; Cathy is the original Dancing Queen and Steve and Simon, well the kindest thing is to not discuss their lack of musical discernment—I think it must be genetic.

English: Russ Parrish performing with Steel Pa...

He doesn't look like one of the Fab Four! Image via Wikipedia

According to Cathy’s list, Simon was in charge of road music and he arrived with a dozen CDs: Billy Joel’s greatest hits, Peter Gabriel’s greatest hits, Paul Simon’s “Graceland,” U2, UB-40, Chris Rea, Dolly Parton I & II and, wait for it, ABBA.

I just could not believe Simon would own a Dolly Parton CD, let alone rip it to share. It was fortunate he did however because Cathy and I taught them the Kenny Rogers-Dolly Parton duet “Islands in the Stream.” Uh-huh!

“Uh-huh” turns out to be a very useful lyric: ABBA uses it extensively. I almost know all the words to “Super Trooper” and “Voulez vous.” Uh-huh! While this may sound like the road trip from hell, there was never a cross word. We laughed and sang and enjoyed each other’s company in a way so few people can in such close quarters for an extended period of time.

We were glad to be home, but we weren’t. It was fun and I’d do it again in a heartbeat.

Take that Kerouac, uh-huh!

Humans take lead, dogs play hardball

Great Pyrenees (Pyrenean Mountain Dog) puppy

Who wouldn't love these gentle giants? These loyal, obstinate dogs make great livestock guardians - once they're trained. Images via Wikipedia

I blame Dorothy really. Be sure to get two Great Pyrenees — a pair will be more of a challenge for predators, she said.

I heard predators, not challenge. Two 70-pound, 6-month-old puppies are more than a challenge for anyone, never mind a predator. I even think they could beat the demon squirrel.

My poor husband labored through the hot summer building a nice fence: best quality no-step fencing, cemented-in fence posts, evenly spaced. It was a thing of beauty.

It cannot keep Houdini One and Two confined. They’ve escaped more often than Steve McQueen. If they are not tunneling under, they’re climbing over or going through.Everyone in the neighborhood knows my “cute” dogs because they go visiting faster than we can bring them home.I’m sure my arms are six inches longer from trying to teach them to heel, sit or stay — especially stay. Jack would rather choke himself than heel.

Of course, Jack is the evil twin, known to Steve and me as Jack the Lad. He’s a nice dog, just a happy-go-lucky mule, determined to find mischief before it finds him. He is the instigator, leading George astray at every opportunity. And he’s so happy.

George is devoted to Jack, hates to be separated from him. He’s steadier, quicker to learn and shows signs of becoming a fine livestock guardian. Well, except for his unfortunate willingness to follow wherever Jack leads.

Pyrs think everything they see is their territory. The breed developed back in the day when sheep roamed free in the Pyrenees and there were predators in Europe (besides today’s two-legged variety). They were bred for size and territoriality, to go where the flock went and protect it.

Pyrs also make great family dogs. They are loving, if large. They’re protective of their people. Did I mention they’re large?

Created by myself. A picture of several of our...
Silly-looking and dimmer than Pooh, alpacas do not fight off predators. Instead, they kush in place and wait to be eaten.

However, they are happiest doing what they were bred for: guarding the flock in the great outdoors. They need space. Problem is: the outdoors has been parceled out and Pyrs don’t know it. Somehow, two-thirds of an acre for three alpacas and two dogs is not great outdoors enough.

Steve works at home and he was so busy trying to corral Jack and George that he wasn’t working. He dug, he shoveled, he hammered and he sawed, trying to create a Maginot Line.

 My backyard fence looks like a scrap yard — tin, cement, rocks and wood are piled up to fortify it against our canine escape artists.

To no avail. They climb hay bales and leap tall buildings in a single bound. Logs? Drag them away. Large boulders? Push them aside.

Events came to a head in February: Jack and George were bounding away so often we thought the fence had disappeared. As with the Germans, our line was ineffective.

I made an appointment with the vet to neuter Jack and George in hopes that would decrease their drive to wander at will. We also ordered an “invisible” fencing system, complete with the radio collars and 500 feet of cable. The fencing system arrived to coincide with the first major storm in weeks. Of course.

My lovely, patient, salt-of-the-earth husband began installing it the next day. Steve soldiered forth, clad in his flannel lined jeans and bright yellow canary suit to do battle with the elements and install the fence. The canary suit is a full set of yellow waterproofs and my 6-foot-5-inch husband is a sight to behold in it. He loves it, says it’s the best $30 he ever spent.

Most of it was comparatively easy, tying it to the existing fence line. I say comparatively because despite the accumulated snow, it was nothing compared to burying the cable at each of the two gates. After wading through hip-deep snow, attaching the cable with quickly frozen fingers, he came up 20 feet short. I nearly had to put him in therapy he was so distraught.

At the weekend, we found and bought the only extant 20-gauge cable in Quincy, relieved to have avoided a trip to the big city. After another few hours’ work, the circuit was complete.

We introduced Jack and George to their new and improved field the next day. Lo and behold, it worked and all was right with the world.

FOR SALE: lightly used invisible fencing system.

WANTED: Livestock electrical fence installer. Work to include concertina wire, watchtowers and minefield suitable to contain escaping dogs.

No training wheels

A boy riding a bicycle with training wheels

Learning to ride a bicycle is the ultimate metaphor for living: no training wheels. Image via Wikipedia

I don’t believe in training wheels, literally or metaphorically; they limit us — however unconsciously — to the possibilities we have.

Learning to ride a bicycle is an iconic example of parenthood. In our mind’s eye, we can all see mom or dad running alongside, holding onto the seat, as a small child wobbles uncertainly down the pavement. The handlebars move too fast from side to side as often as the pedaling feet stop.

After perhaps weeks of running alongside, out of breath and out of patience, we simply let go. Amazingly, our children continue to ride, blissfully unaware we are no longer holding them up. They have mastered the skill and needed only for us to let them go.

Modern parenting in America strives to safeguard children from mistakes and injuries. Johnny seldom fails because Johnny is seldom encouraged to risk. We protect our children against germs, dirt, risk and, I submit, living.

It’s understandable that parents fear their children’s pain; we would like them to never know physical, emotional or mental pain. But, it’s an unrealistic goal.

Our real job as parents is to teach resourcefulness in preparation for life. They will lose; they will fail; and they will fall. If they have no experience with these things, they have no idea what to do next. Failure takes on an importance out of all proportion to reality: missed soccer goal, no date for the prom, passed over for promotion, turned down for a job.

By interceding in their life lessons, we parents tell them we’ll always be running alongside you in case you fall. Instead, we should tell them, “Get up, get back on and ride. Once you learn, you’ll never forget.”