Thursday, May 17, 2018

I Could Get Used to This

This morning is a common spring morning in Kansas. Not a cloud in the sky. It cooled off last night so this morning the air is sweet. There is no wind, and most wonderfully, no heavy machinery disturbing the peace and quiet. Only bird song, and the occasional farm truck growling past. I have the house open to the fresh air and sunlight. The rains finally brought on the leaves of every tree so through every window of my home there is only green and gold. I do not have to go to work. I do not have to go to work! I do not have to do anything but tend the dogs and check the water tank for the horses. That is basically a big heaping helping of nothing. Nothing!

I could get used to this.

My trusty lawn tractor stopped mowing just as I was finishing up the first cutting of the season. I took it to the Wizard to be restored so when I get it back there is going to be some serious mowing to do. All those horrible years of pushing lawn mowers around, I imagined that getting a lawn tractor would make mowing painless, effortless. A lawn tractor absolutely improves that task immeasurably but I still get hot and sweaty and covered with dust and pollen. I still get ticks and chiggers, though not nearly as many as I would if I was walking through all that grass. Even with a tractor, mowing is still work - not a lot of work but work just the same. I wish I did not have to mow but if I did not attempt to tame the willful advance of nature, I would be surrounded by snakes and all manner of other creatures that I do not enjoy. It would be a fire hazard, too. I truly enjoy the way the property looks after I have mowed. It is not a carefully manicured, meticulously trimmed and precisely managed look whatsoever. It simply looks as if a human made the effort. I must have suitable habitat for the fireflies, after all. The few days of the fireflies every summer are most magical. Some years there are thousands of them. Because I do not have an artificial light at night, and because the light pollution from Topeka has not yet entirely washed out the magic of night, I can see just how bright each little insect's light truly is. It is easy to see how the myth of fairies began.

Since I do not have the stress and tension of work any longer, since I live alone in a very peaceful spot (orcs not withstanding), and because I am seriously meditating these days, I am getting so calm and quiet inside my mind. My speech is even slowing down and my normally impatient self is becoming immensely patient. I worry that I am becoming senile. (It would not be the first time I mistakenly assessed the situation.) Perhaps this is one of the side effects my teacher ascribes to the practice of meditation. I feel as if I am standing at the very edge of an immense pool of calm water. If I could simply step into it... But, then I have to do something like reset my Netflix password using my "smart" phone. On Mothers Day, my frustration boiled up in the typical torrent of really juicy ten- and twelve-letter cussing and cursing. It made both of my kids laugh to hear me. It must have reminded them of the old days.

Monday, May 7, 2018

Art Supplies and Elves

Sadly, times have changed. Prior to the soulless plague of Hobby Lobby with its acres of literal JUNK from China, there was a Ben Franklin store in Topeka. BF's had enough people working in the store that you never had to wander around looking for something. The employees knew where every single item was located and they were knowledgeable about those items. If they could not answer a question, they called the right person over with the answers. The store was small but it was absolutely packed with colors, scents, tools and supplies for every art endeavor or craft need. It was one of my favorite places to go. Of course, I had hardly any disposable income in those days but it was a wonderful place to shop. I went there as often as I could. When Hobby Lobby came to Topeka, Ben Franklin went out of business almost immediately - within a month or two. It was a genuine loss.

Forced to shop in Hobby Lobby, I was amazed by the size of the store and they had almost everything I ever needed - at first. I was shocked at the enormous square footage devoted to fake flowers and junk from China. Who wants to buy that useless junk? None of the dishes are food grade so they are decorative only. Even if I happen upon something I find attractive or whimsical or even well done, it is made of such crappy material that I do not want to waste my money. Not to mention, there are likely 10 billion identical pieces destined for the landfill of every city, state and country. No thanks. But, if I wanted easy access to art supplies in Topeka, Kansas I had no choice but to shop in Hobby Lobby.

Then came Michaels, a much smaller store devoted almost exclusively to arts and crafts, and no controversy over Sunday and birth control. I have spent a lot of money in Michaels but they only offer a short aisle for real art supplies. As time goes on, both of these big chain stores have employed fewer employees, and they offer fewer art supplies. The last painful trips through either store did not yield the size or quality watercolor paper I want or some other basic items. I suppose Amazon.com is responsible for this.

Amazon offers every art supply imaginable, normally much more cheaply that I can buy retail in Topeka. However, for the last three years, everything I order from Amazon itself takes almost two weeks to get to my house. United Postal Service and the United States Postal Service have spent the last three years blaming each other for the fact that my order goes from Topeka to Manhattan, Kansas, then back to Topeka, then to two different facilities there, and finally gets delivered to me days past the expected date. I have talked to Amazon, USPS and UPS. The actual issue is the wrong post office facility address Amazon uses for their contract between UPS and USPS. My packages continue to travel up and down highway 24 before it ever gets to me. I order far in advance for anything I will need. I also discovered that I am shortchanged when ordering from private sellers through Amazon in every instance. Items advertised with a quantity of 20 arrive with 16 or less in the package, sometimes by as much as half missing! I was so dense it took more than once to notice this scam.

I have been saved by the fact that my son moved to Kansas City, Missouri. There in the heart of the city is a tiny little art supply store with EVERYTHING in it any artist could ever need. It is the Blick Art Materials store. Their prices make me swoon but they give the online discount for everything. Of course, I pay sales tax on the full price, but I still feel as if I get a great deal. The young people working there provide excellent customer service. They are cheerful and smiling and they know their store and their merchandise. I can put my hands on the supplies and spend a little time day dreaming about things I wish I could afford to buy, or wish I knew how to use. It is the energy of potential that feels so good. (The Harley store felt the same way to me in those days when I was interested in all things Harley Davidson.)

Best of all, there is a handsome and gentle young man working at Blicks, with long blond hair and a very cheerful manner. I think he is probably a real life Legolas. I enjoy seeing him and chatting with him when I pay for my purchases. Amazingly he remembers me, though I have only been in there a few times over the last few years. He offered good advice on a particularly expensive watercolor paper I was going to buy yesterday, which I greatly appreciated. I told him I was now retired and that I am painting every single day. He laughed and gave me a high five. You will NEVER get to high five Legolas in Hobby Lobby, believe me.

Sunday, May 6, 2018

Alternate Universe?

One of my most favorite things in this world is a soft serve ice cream cone. I loved them from the very first taste, and well over six decades later I still love them. If something is wonderful, you want to share it with those you love, which for me includes the dogs. (The horses get apples, pears, and very occasionally a white and red peppermint candy.)

Beginning with Nuke, my first German Shepherd, I would occasionally give him an ice cream cone which he gulped down in one ferocious bite! Then Duke came along. On his yearly trip to the vet, I would get him an ice cream cone which he also consumed in one big, unceremonious, wolf-like chomp! Once in awhile I would take Duke with me just so he could have a cone, too. He enjoyed a special treat no reason.

Jake, my least favorite dog of all time, gets a cone after vet visits. His method of eating it is only a tick better than the other two yahoos: two bites, maybe because he is timid by nature.

Then came Ms. Mattie, my favorite dog of all time - Ms. Pretty Girl and Smartest Dog. Well, she got an ice cream cone right away, when she was still a puppy, but I scooped out most of the ice cream first. She daintily consumed the ice cream, holding the cone still with her front paws. Once the ice cream had been eaten she took tiny bites of the cone. Amazingly well mannered!

Jake just had his yearly visit to the vet for his shots and a check up, so I stopped at McD's for cones. He politely tasted the ice cream when I offered it then he ignored it. After a few attempts, I finally threw it away. Entirely unexpected behavior! Jake is a weird dog, so I did not think too much about it. Yesterday, I was thinking of an ice cream cone for myself, so Mattie and I went to town specifically for cones from McDonalds. Mattie reacted the same way Jake did! She politely tasted it when I offered it to her then she ignored the whole thing.

The ice cream tastes the same to me, but for some reason it is nothing my dogs want to eat. Perhaps I shouldn't eat soft serve from McDonalds either. Maybe it is just that particular McDonalds, or maybe it is something that has changed in the recipe of McD's soft serve. Or, the only other possible explanation is that I have fallen into an alternate universe...

Wednesday, May 2, 2018

Repeating Cycle...

Hauled my lawn tractor to the Wizard of Lawnmowery for a spring check, tune up and general readiness for the season's work ahead. It was pleasant to finally meet the Wizard in person, and I also met Mrs. Wizard!

While I was suffering the expensive, inept brutality of the Sears extended warranty for four years, I was able to mow using this tractor maybe twice a season. I came to hate it as an expensive, failed solution to a real problem. I had to push a regular mower around. I had opportunity to cuss in magnificent blazing torrents as I continually struggled with machinery and grass 16" tall and heat and humidity and my own waning physical strength. Oh, it was surely one of the seven levels of hell. I likely deserved every moment of it for all past, present and future transgressions but I certainly did not feel as if I deserved it at the time. I felt victimized and I felt really, really sorry for myself.

When my new house was built, the brother-in-law of the builder offered to take a look at that tractor. He fixed it - healed it, actually - and also told me about Stabil, a gas tank additive. Since then, I have loved my tractor. I actually sing while mowing (no one car hear) - unless it's so hot and dusty that I have to keep my mouth shut for practical reasons. It starts every single time, and I can mow the whole yard with not a single word uttered in frustration or anger or despair. Amazing.

Monday, when I retrieved the tractor to bring it home, it looked almost brand new. It was amazing. That little engine runs so smoothly now - like a Chevy 327 small block V8 engine. (Yeah, that sweet!) Every mowing season, I am so thankful for this good fortune! Most of my entire adult life, short-lived marriages aside, I was responsible for mowing. It NEVER, EVER, EVER went well. It was awful and I dreaded it so much. I did not mind the work, but the machinery and I could never get along. But no more. Mr. Wizard took care of that plague on my life. I am very thankful.

If it is lawn mowing season, it is also snake season. On the way to pick up the lawn tractor, there were two snakes crossing Vera Road. The plumbing and heating guy was out here yesterday taking measurements for water and electricity to the barn, when he spotted a very large black snake. I see this snake every year. I fancy it is the same snake but for all I know there are dozens of black snakes living on my property. The plumbing guy actually walked toward the snake and I almost fainted. The serpent was frightened and kicked into high gear in a very horrific snake-like slithering toward cover that has kept me in the house since.

Plumbing man says, "That is such a big snake, I wanted to make sure it was a black snake and not a big timber rattler." My blood pressure dropped precipitously and in a faint voice, I asked "Timber rattlers get that big?" I did not know that. In fact, I did not know there WERE timber rattlers in this part of Kansas. "Oh yeah!" he cheerfully affirms.

Oh no.

Soooo, that concludes going to the barn at night. Ginger and Wally, my horses, are now on their own from twilight until sunrise, or the temperature drops below 40 degrees.


Tuesday, May 1, 2018

Wounded Spring

Yesterday was quintessentially Kansas weather. Strong south winds moved in moisture and warm temperatures. I can think of nothing about Kansas I love more than the powerful winds bringing enormous weather changes.

My horses and I share a restlessness when the winds rise.  Horses must smell distant places.  Their gentle spirits suffering the long confinement of domestication desire to run freely to the clarion call in the warming wind. 

For me, the winds call up the long-ago and brief days of my childhood when my parents were living - young and strong and still in love with their lives. My mother's sheer curtains rose and fell in perfect accord with the rising melody of the first spring wind. The graceful lift of fabric made the wind visible and comforting and lovely.

Yesterday was such a day. I opened the windows and doors in greeting to the south wind, welcome in all the years of my life. I recalled the comfort of those early happy days, now so long ago.  For a short while I ignored the troubling changes in weather and timing.  I chose not to grieve the vast lost expanse of an unimaginable prairie.  I forgot that spring sometimes falters without rain, that the earliest and most welcome blossoms are killed in a cruel freeze.  I forgot that in some years spring is wounded and I simply accept the loss.


Monday, April 2, 2018

I Think We Are Doomed

As human beings we all experience embarrassing lapses in judgment, forgetfulness, misunderstanding and miscommunication. I am right at the top of the list in all these areas. Sometimes I run across things that cause a major wave of despair in my American soul. We are perhaps the most arrogant people on the planet but I often run across proof of our very real stupidity. Coupled with our signature American hubris, our nation is doomed to fall.

I needed graphite paper to transfer a detailed pencil drawing of horses to a canvas for a painting. I assumed it was available wherever art supplies or crafts were sold but not 100% certain. (I have wasted so much time wandering in those huge stores looking for things they do not have!) I researched online before making the trip to town. With the magic of Google, a billion returns instantly lit up my computer screen including the ubiquitous customer reviews. One woman had taken the time to complain that after "five or six" uses, the graphite paper was no longer effective. She used her real name.

Another time I was researching auto repair garages in Topeka, looking for a reputable place. I carefully read all customer reviews. One place had many satisfied customers and only a few dissatisfied reviews. One particularly dissatisfied customer had made a long, detailed complaint. The more I read the more I doubted I should take my car there, all the other glowing reports aside. That is, until I got to the next screen where it was revealed the time lapse between the repair at the garage and the failure was in excess of two years! The man was so obsessive about detailing his complaint that he actually documented a string of his own failures to avoid a catastrophe. Any reasonable person would have taken steps at the first sign of trouble - trouble that appeared two years after the fact. Not only was he a dumbass, he had publicly and carefully documented that he was a dumbass... AND he felt very strongly someone else was to blame for his own dumbassery.

It would be helpful if our phones and computers would ask "Are you certain you wish to make a dumbass of yourself?" before the Enter key is functional. Better if there was a committee review.

Sunday, March 25, 2018

One Cat to Another...


Going through some of my old files, I came across this letter my cat wrote to my mother's cat.  According to my stepfather, this letter made my mother's day.  Snoops is my mother and stepfather's cat, long deceased.  Aldebaran is my cat, also long deceased, murdered right before my eyes by a crazy goddamned stray dog that showed up here and I was stupid enough to feed for two years.  Though my mother is also gone, this letter brought some good memories.


Aldebaran


August 28, 2001

Dear Snoops,

          You don’t know me, but we are related through our human beings.  I overheard my Most Important Human (MIH) laughing about how weird you are.  She even hinted that you might be a product of inbreeding because you come from such a small and isolated town.  What a crock!  You can’t help it because you live with two old people and you’re a bit weird. 
Everyone knows that when humans get older, they lose their strength against Cat Powers.  I have it on good authority that you’ve done a great job with your two humans and they are feeding all the cats in your neighborhood!  Good job.
          It’s important for cats to emotionally support one another.  It ain’t easy being a cat.  I live with a teenage boy and he is a real pain in the neck.  He wears stinky athletic shoes.  He loves to shout unexpectedly to cause me (and his mother) to jump three feet in the air.  And he listens to the worst gangster music you ever heard.  He’s so mean that even I, the Great Disdainful Aldebaran, do not dare to bite or scratch him.  I bite and scratch his mother instead.  She’ll be fifty in a couple of years so she has almost no defense against my Cat Powers.
          I have almost complete control over her.  Each time she puts a rug on the floor in the bathroom or the kitchen, I poop on it.  She throws the rug out instead of me!  She doesn’t even bother buying rugs now.  I heard you chose one of the most important rugs in your whole house to poop on and the old man you live with has to wash it all the time.  (Damn, you’re good!)
          I do other things with my Cat Powers.  I chase mice around when I feel like it and that endears me to the woman I live with.  When a snake got in the house, though, I just let it slither under the kitchen stove.  Now I sit in the kitchen and watch her cook with her feet as far away from the stove as possible.  I could have caught that snake, but hey, I don’t get treated THAT well around here.
          At least you don’t have to live with a dumb dog.  I do.  God, is he stupid!  A skunk sprays him at least once every other month.  I stare at him all the time from the front window, exerting my Cat Powers on him.  (Who do you think convinces him to play with the skunks?)
          I am going to close for now.  I need to stretch and roll over and fold my furry paws on my chest and watch the woman upside down.  She has absolutely NO defense against that.  I just wanted to let you know I am standing up for you, Cousin.  When she said you were inbred, I went over and sharpened my claws on the furniture, but she just scooped me up and hugged me.  Cat Powers!



Sincerely,


The Great Disdainful Aldebaran

Post Script:  Aldebaran called my son "mean" because he was loud and constantly active and enjoyed teasing the cat and his mother.  He has never been abusive to animals - just to clarify!