A desert, an oasis, green hills and home.

029 (2)I’m home from the Great Ash Dash of 2014.  It was such a good trip and I hated for it to end; however, driving up the hill on the way home from the airport, my heart just thrilled.  It is so good to be home.  I’ve wallowed this day away for the most part.

I did manage to do some laundry and sort through the nearly two-thousand photos that one of my traveling companions took.  With my bum foot I found it hard to take photos.  Balancing a heavy camera to focus puts more stress on a body than the fully-able realize.  Fortunately, Mr. Paparazzi took care of the problem.  Some of the photos I did take were of one of my childhood homes.

746 (2)1047 Bluegrass in Vista, California was my stomping grounds for 1st and 2nd grade.  While I have few memories of that time, I do have some.  I can remember attaching a quilt to the chainlink fence in the backyard to make a tent.  I can remember a scary goose following me home from school and I can remember playing with snails in the side yard.  I can remember posing with my brother in front of the house.  I was wearing a pair of my mother’s high heels.  (Even as a small child, I was into shoes!)

743 (2)When my parents bought the house it was brand new and the show house for the neighborhood.  Bluegrass was a cul de sac of new construction.  Behind our house was a small orange grove and farm replete with chickens.  The neighborhood itself was lush and green.  Most of the residents on the street took pride in their yards and the masses of geraniums were planted so that a ribbon of them undulated through all the yards.

My mother was an avid gardener and I can remember apricot roses and calla lilies taller than me.  I also remember their scent and her dislike of the snails that intrigued my brother and I.

Returning to this place was interesting, but also a little sad.  The neighborhood is run down and evidence of California’s long drought showed in the absence of gardens, geraniums and lush grass.  Still, it was a treat to visit.

756 (2)I haven’t been in California, the state of my birth, since I was 10.  Going back with adult eyes all these years later was sweet.  Besides the house in Vista, we also visited the town of my birth, Twenty-nine Palms, California also known as 29 Stumps.

We stayed at the 29 Palms Inn, established in 1928 and the site of the oasis for which the town is named complete with the fabled 29 palms.  In the middle of desert, there was this oasis with turtles and humming birds and lush vegetation.  No wonder people think oases are mirages.  This beautiful, verdant spot was set against the spare, brown desert.

764 (2)HMO’Keefe once wrote at length I a letter to me about his love for the desert.  In the letter, he lamented ad refuted the idea that the desert was empty and dead.  His eloquent words made me love the desert I couldn’t remember.   I was disappointed on this trip to learn that I don’t love the desert.  I want to.  It seems that I should.  But the desert did seem empty and dead to me.  I kept thinking that with a little compost, some seeds and water, the desert landscape could match the sky for sheer majesty.  Perhaps the fact that I was born in a town named for an oasis explains why I so love the green of West Virginia and its mellow hills as opposed to the browns and rusts of the flat desert.

A Hallelujah Chorus in Leaf Mulch

I love windows.

I love windows.

It did my evil little heart good to get outside in the garden today.

I hadn’t attended to any of the leaves until today because of the cataract surgery. When one lives in a forest, this is, perhaps, not a good idea. I am not exaggerating – I had fallen, unraked leaves that accumulated on their own into 1’ and 2’ piles in the fenced area of the garden.

I did a lot in the garden this past spring. Doug was recently discharged from the hospital and not well enough to be left alone for several weeks. That time period coincided with a streak of beyond-gorgeous weather that makes a body’s heart hurt.

I’m reading a book by Julia Keller titled A Killing in the Hills that is set in West Virginia. I’m not very far into the book, but she astounded me on pages 27-28 with her description of an Appalachia spring. I’ve spent years trying to develop a concise, accurate description that could be conveyed in writing without accompanying photographs.

Keller wrote:

It was a beautiful place, especially in the late spring and throughout the long summer, when the hawks wrote slow, wordless stories across the pale blue parchment of the sky, when the tree-lined valleys exploded in a green so vivid and yet so predictable that it was like a hallelujah shout at a tent revival. You always knew it was coming, but it could still knock you clean off your feet.

leavesImagine if you will that the acres surrounding my barn exploded into a lengthy mountain music version of the Hallelujah chorus. That was this past spring. Imagine now, piles of leaves waist high being mulched with a lawn mower. Can you hear the closing strains of those Hallelujahs as they shelter the plants for the winter under a blanket of leaf mulch. Yes, the wheel turns.

Gardening and writing keep me sane. Last spring, my sanity was hanging by a thread. Some would argue the thread broke. That stretch of spring, with its soaring melody, kept me grounded. Since Doug slept a lot, I spent a lot of time outside – often working by lantern light.

My long-time readers know that my garden is a work in progress – one that began with acres of packed gravel inches deep in unblastable clay. In the beginning, to plant a daffodil required a pick axe and sometimes an auger. After 22 years or so of waging battle against bad dirt, I was sure this year was going to be The Year My Garden Landed on the Cover of Southern Living.

a lot of work

During the 2013 Garden Palooza

By my standards, I poured a ton of money into the ground out back. I painted lawn furniture, bought new cushions, planted a dozen or so shrubs and bushes, and planted flats and flats of petunias and impatiens. I babied a patch of Irish moss, let lavender roam free, and lost all sense of prudence when I bought the fountain and the super-duper-big planter to hold a tropical, vining plant. This was going to be the year.

And then the rains came. The news described them as “scattered storms.” Every one of those scattered storms stalled over the top of my piece of heaven and monsooned. I joked and quipped and carried on about building a lotus pond combo moat to try and keep my barn from sliding off its foundation in a mudslide.

I measured daily rains in inches. Really. If memory serves, we had one of the wettest Mays and Junes of all time and I got more of those scattered storms than most.

Marine Corps Veterans - Daddy and his Good Officer's Wife

Marine Corps Veterans – Daddy and his Good Officer’s Wife

And then Doug went into the hospital for the last time. As I moved into my role as psychopomp, the garden boiled in the wet heat. And then it was overrun with weeds. And then the lawnmower broke. And then I was grieving.

The garden is a mess. A passerby (if I had passerbys) would swear it’s been neglected for decades.

I’m hoping the weather holds for the rest of this Veteran’s Day weekend. I could do some serious cleanup, weeding, this-and-that’s and have a garden ready for frolicking come March. Last year was the first spring I was able to just leap into planting mode without having to spend on weeks on winter clean up. I’m hoping for a repeat.

petunias in november

Petunias in November!

It’s been abnormally warm.  I found blooming petunias today as well as a climbing hydrangea with buds. It’s too much to hope that this weather will hold for long, but I’m enjoying it.  My serotonin levels are enjoying it and I’m pretty sure my Vitamin D got topped off today.

Four months.  I can hang on until then.  Happy Veteran’s Day Weekend, y’all.

Coming Home to Me – An I , But Not a We.

So. I’m sitting here rocking out to A.J. Roach (what a talent!) and feeling like myself more and more.

I like this song about his great-grandfather – Appalachian storytelling at its finest.

Blogging

Blogging

I’m of a mind to tell stories these days. I haven’t felt this way in a long time.

To quote an old friend I nicknamed Guitarzan, “It’s been an ‘orrible year, just fucking ‘orrible.”

But I’m getting my sea legs on this new journey.

Y’all know me – the state of my house is a reflection of my well-being. I’m pleased to announce that the house is getting tamed. I’ve made much progress in the past couple of weeks. The study is functional, plastic bins are getting emptied, junk is being dispatched and stuff hung on the wall. The house has been in a state of chaos for so long that I am just loving the return of the Barn Wa.

I’m rocking out to A.J. on the new stereo receiver. Some low life stole mine during one of Doug’s hospitalizations. Listening to stuff on a boom box is Just Not The Same. I need it loud. I need strong stereo definition. I need the walls to vibrate. (I am an old woman with cataracts and hearing loss.)

Onkyo -- Needlessly Complicated

Onkyo — Needlessly Complicated

The music is so good. And I’m at complete peace in this moment. True Confessions: I’m drinking wine from the Dollar General. I’ve surely sunk to a new low because this $3.85 Cabernet tastes wonderful. I’m planning on restocking the wine rack with it.

The Berry Berry Sweet dog (new to me) is snoozing on the stack of pillows oblivious to the ear deafening music. I’m now convinced he’s deaf as well as mostly blind. Perhaps, I should have named him Keller. In any event, that’s a story for another day. Such a story needs a proper telling.

I was asked to critique a novella for a friend (hi Mark!) The process of reading critically and reading something new and reading something written by a friend has made me long to get back to my writing. I haven’t written anything serious in years. I can’t remember who said it, but somebody famous said they hated writing, but loved having written. I love all of it, but it takes tremendous amounts of time and energy – both of which have been in short supply. Right now, I’ll have to be content with the blog which I really missed. I think I need to do this. It keeps me sane. (And we know that’s not something to be taken lightly.)

Berry Berry Sweet Dog

Berry Berry Sweet Dog

I was telling a friend the other day that Doug’s death had the blessing of making me realize how loved I was by him and by others. The support and patience given to me has not been received carelessly. I get teary-eyed and lost for words when I try to talk about what it has meant to me.

I just made the mistake, maybe, of looking at pictures of Doug. This is not how it was supposed to be. Nothing about the past few years was how it was supposed to be. And yet, here we are. Or here I am. Using the singular pronoun rather than the plural flays my soul some days. Today is one of them. I like being an I, but I also liked being a We. Now, I’m just an I and I miss the We.

Now Clapton is on the box. Some of you will say, “So, what’s new?” But, I haven’t listened to my man for probably a year. It’s just made my heart hurt to much. Listening to “Have You Ever Loved a Woman” is breaking my heart. And with that, I’m going to drink cheap wine and reminisce.

Guillotines, I tell you.

I’m not kidding.

While I sometimes do not agree with the way we use our Armed Forces troops, I support the troops.  Similarly, I’m whole-heartedly appreciative of and grateful to the workers of Appalachian Power who’ve had a hell of a couple of weeks getting (most of us) back up and running after the Derecho and subsequent storms, however. . .

HOWEVER.

Since corporations are people (and possibly boards, commissions, etc. etc., are too) and today is Bastille Day, it’s time for guillotines.

Appalachian Power’s customers have seen a rate increase of 50% over the past four years.  That increase might be more palatable to me if the reliability of my service was not declining more and more with each rate increase.  Significantly.  For the month prior to the Derecho, my service went out long enough EVERY DAY to necessitate the re-setting of clocks.  It’s become a routine, I return home and, starting in the kitchen, begin setting clocks.  Over the course of the past four years, a routine rain storm will leave me without power overnight or for several hours during the day about once a month.  Every day, several times a day, day in and day out, my power flickers.  I have lost many appliances, small and not so small, to the frequent flickerings/outages resulting in power surges.

The Derecho was historic and I appreciate that.  However, the U.S. Department of Energy has noted that, on average, it takes Appalachian Power four times longer to repair outages in West Virginia than the national average.  On the surface of things, one would attribute the difference to our state’s terrain and rural nature.  Well, Donald E. Walker, a technical analyst for the PSC looked into that factor.  He noted in a report that in comparison to areas of New York with similar terrain and similar instances of power outages, the reliability factor in West Virginia was below the norm.  Specifically, he said, “Other states with comparable operating conditions to those found in West Virginia reflect similar statistics found in the New York performance report,” Walker wrote. “It is therefore reasonable to expect utilities in our state to achieve the more stringent reliability index targets recommended by staff.”

However, Appalachian Power’s and the other utilities’ proposals for increasing the reliability of service in our state didn’t impress.  Ken Ward, Jr. wrote:

Officials from the PSC staff and the Consumer Advocate Division are concerned that plans proposed by the industry will do little to improve the reliability of West Virginia’s electrical system.

Last month, PSC staff warned commissioners that utility proposals would simply require companies “to complete work which was neglected for the past 10 years.”

Appalachian Power is not the first utility, nor do I suspect it to be the last, to rape and pillage West Virginia.  (And I don’t use those loaded words lightly.)

Verizon’s neglect of the communication system left West Virginia with sub-par telephone service and even worse broadband.  Frontier bought a pig in a poke and I won’t be surprised when they throw their hands up in the air and close shop.  After my hissy fit with good, old Ken, my phone service is stellar which proves it can be done (and could have been done), if more people had more hissy fits.  Guillotines, I tell you.

During my 6 days without power following a storm which followed the Derecho, I had a lot of time to cogitate and bitch.  I absolutely out did myself.  I did not bitch about the power outage, per se, I bitched about what I was reading all over the web.  I can’t prove it, so it’s anecdotal at best, but the citizenry of West Virginia in online forums, media comment sections, Facebook, Twitter and other social media sites were reporting that the out-of-state electrical workers that rode in here on their white horses to help restore us our normal state of unreliability expressed surprise at how poorly the lines and the right-aways were maintained.  I’m not surprised, are you? If West Virginia were anywhere near the national norm, I would have been 2 days without power, not 6.

And for this privilege, I’m paying 50% more than I was 4 years ago and 4 years ago I was paying more than I was in the four year period prior to that and on and on and on.  My service continues to degrade.

Even Senator Manchin, who I really don’t like, managed to get his head out of his, ahem, long enough to speechify about how the U.S. should not be spending money on the electrical infrastructure in Afghanistan when West Virginia is falling apart at the seams.  We’ll leave for another time my thoughts on what part Manchin and the rest of the  coal-crazy robber baron politicians have played in the not-so-benign neglect of West Virginia’s infrastructure.

In another peachy editorial in the Charleston Gazette, I learned that last fall Appalachian Power’s parent company gave $1 million to a “social welfare organization” that denies being a lobbying organization.  Take a gander:

What is it called when AEP seeks limited government for its subsidiaries? Limits on the government that enacts and enforces environmental regulations? The government that reviews and enforces workplace safety? The government that evaluates rate increase requests? The government that reviews how companies respond during power outages?

If AEP is concerned about our social welfare, is it not reasonable to expect they’d want the people of West Virginia to be up and running after a power outage at least as soon as the folks in upstate New York?  They’re not concerned about our social welfare, you say?  I’d say your right.  And to that, I say, “Guillotines, damn it.”

And with any luck I’ll be able to post this before my power goes out again.  It’s been up and down like a yo-yo today. For no apparent reason — just like all the days before the Derecho.  I’m a little crazed these days.  There’s been way too much life happening and it’s not going to take much for my transformer to blow.  If you read or hear about some hillbilly woman with a homemade guillotine taking hostages, I’d appreciate a bail fund as the Derecho pretty much left me without much in the way of surplus funds.

So, before I could publish this, AEP came rambling up my hill to respond to my earlier service ticket.  I had quite a talk with the cutie driving the truck.  I told him my power woes.  He assured me he’d heard it all before.  He assessed the problem.  The right-away needs serious work.  He was dubious that a work order would ever be placed.  He said, “I’m not telling you this, but you need to file a complaint with the Public Service Commission.”  I told him that I routinely file complaints and to-date it’s not done one jot of good.  We talked some more, he allowed as to how there were some forms and whatnot he could submit that might get them moving.  Old Ken at Frontier surprised me, so maybe I’m wrong in not feeling optimistic that this will be repaired any time soon.

Chaos and Trees

From this angle it looks a little serene.

So, no. Today wasn’t a particularly good day to me, but it wasn’t all that bad either.

In giving advice to others, I often tell folks that if they don’t slow down, they’re body will take matters into its own hands. Good advice. I should have listened. My body kept me home today – a myriad of minor ailments no doubt brought on by the heat and the stress and the frenzy. In addition to the headache and what feels like the onset of a cold, I’ve managed to sprain my left wrist. I have no idea how that happened, but it’s a nice companion for the ankle that began swelling a couple of weeks ago. As with the wrist, I’m not sure what’s up with the ankle. The wrist aches, the ankle does not. I once woke up with a broken foot and didn’t know how that happened either. It’s possible I have an active dream life. It’s possible my life is just a lost episode of the Twilight Zone. It’s possible someone has a Connie voodoo doll.

So, I’ve wallowed on this couch today not even pretending to do anything of worth. Given the to-do list, many of the bulleted items bearing firm deadlines, I should feel guilty or at least panicked. But like I said, if you don’t slow down, your body will slow you.

And then the chaos begins to emerge.

So the couch is becoming a favorite. I inherited it from HMO’Keefe who inherited it from his inlaws. It’s a beautiful rattan affair – part of a whole suite of furniture. We know what a furniture junkie I am. I particularly like old furniture with happy vibes. This stuff fits the bill. It’s what you’d call Florida room furniture. At the pied `a terre, we had it in the sunroom where it seemed the room had been made for it. When it came time to move out, there was consternation as to what to do with it. Between Boston Boy and myself, we have 4 sofas none of which we’re willing to part with. So there was a lot of moving stuff around and when it shook out, the guest bedroom turned into Doug’s mancave, my study lost the old library furniture which went to Doug and the rattan furniture came in here. This will create a crisis when one of the younguns comes to visit, but I’ll worry about that later. (I really do think the offspring ought to have a bed to sleep on during their infrequent visits.)

The Hovel

this sofa in here was quite the feat. There’s an awkward corner and turn at the top of the stairs and the sofa was 5/8 of an inch too long. I was determined. Three men told me it wasn’t happening. I was more determined. I took the door molding off. I took the door off the hinges. I took the two strips of wood off the sides of the doorway – the strips that when everything is assembled stops and stabilizes the door. Even then, we beat the hell out of my drywall getting it in here. I’d have taken studs out if I had to.

It’s never coming out of here. I believe we’d have to saw it half to get it out. It suits this room nicely. I’ve sort of an Appalachian Tree House Tiki Hut vibe going.

I’m clocking some hours in here – it’s rough living with someone after years of living alone and liking it. I haven’t actually put a “No Boys Allowed” sign on the door, yet, but I may.

My wrist aches and keyboarding isn’t helping, but, oh well, this too shall pass.

Hovel – Inside

So I have the rattan furniture in here and a giant piece of bamboo my dad brought home from Vietnam. I have the Maiden Mother Crone triptych of torsos and the Maiden Mother Crone painting. My art supplies are stacked here and there and the books are all boxed pending getting the mess downstairs straightened out and replacement shelving installed. My rolltop desk has not been toted up the stairs yet as I can’t do that by myself. Under normal circumstances, the broken zen of this room would grate like the Chef du Hashbrowns at the Waffle House, but this room is the best one in the house right now. Comparatively, it’s an Appalachian beach of treetop calm.

This is a whole lot more overwheming in real life. The hovel is behind the branches on the left.

And speaking of trees, I finally took a good gander at the derechoed (derechod?) trees out back. It’s a freaking mess. It looks like the hovel is spared, but just barely. Cleaning up and preparing the hovel for use again has been on the to-do list forever, but is rising to the top as my need for alone time increases. However, the hovel had structural issues and the vibrations of a giant oak falling may have been the death knell. Shorty, the Whirling Dervish Handyman, will be taking care of the trees in a mañana fashion.

The hovel was born years ago when I needed an alone place and I wanted somewhere I could sit outside and hear the rain. It began life as Chef Boy ‘R Mine’s clubhouse, but he was unhappy sharing it with wasps and abandoned it. I reclaimed it after it had languished empty and forlorn for years. It is lusciously appointed complete with a copper chandelier and Diego Rivera artwork, but has been left to the wildlife for some years now. It’s going to be a righteous mess to clean up. Maybe this fall.

As reality becomes more real and I realize more and more what I can expect, the to-do list becomes frightening. I know I can’t live with this chaos and I know it’s up to me for mitigation. I fervently believe that I must work on “finding contentment in creating chaos” but every area of my life is in flux. And I wonder if I’m to be content with the chaos I create or must I also find peace with that inflicted on me. And if the answer to both is affirmative, do I have to do it at the same time. Are there rules about these things? Probably not – chaos is the absence of rules.

I sometimes hear the echoes of panic.

High Falutin’ Beans and Cornbread

Braised and crispy fried pork cheek, leek puree,
warm lentil salad, microwave brioche and smoked ham hock jus.

Chef Boy ‘R Mine works at one of the top 20 country clubs in the country. As Sous Chef, he is sometimes called upon to choose (and prepare) food that complements particular wines. Planning and executing the wine tastings are something he enjoys doing and, according to the wine reps, something he does well.

He told me that for his next tasting, he wanted to sneak some “beans and cornbread” onto the menu. I howled with delight and was anxious to see and taste the result. Since he’s in Charlotte and I’m not, I didn’t to get to taste. (But doesn’t it look lovely!) I’m a teeny-tiny bit disappointed that he didn’t use pinto beans as that would have been a nice nod to his Appalachian roots.

[Lentils, kid? Seriously?]

My disappointment is slight as it is, but also tempered by the fact that I am often the recipient of some of the left-over wine as (shock, gasp, choke) Chef Boy ‘R Mine doesn’t like heavy, dry reds.

My son prepared this wine tasting yesterday, which was also his birthday. He is now the same age I was when I gave birth to him. I felt so old when I had him and, when I look at him, I see just how young 26 is.

And, yes, folks.  I do love it when he comes home and cooks for me.