Category Archives: Life

The Rise and Fall of the Arrow Man.

Astonishingly ugly utility boxes.

Astonishingly ugly utility boxes.

The sorry situation:

Our 1980s-era house came equipped with these astonishingly ugly and poorly placed utility boxes attached to the structure’s outside back wall. They are situated right beside the deck so that I might contemplate with almost daily frequency what fool would have placed something so butt-ugly in such a prominent and visually unavoidable location.

After three years’ contemplation of these warts upon our dwelling, I could tolerate them no longer. However, I am strongly averse to spending money on cosmetic house repairs that might be better spent on something like, say, a backpacking trip to Death Valley National Park in mid August, so a quick and economic fix was the only acceptable solution.

“Make it so.” Patrick Stewart would love me, I’m sure of it.

From the fabric store came a couple yards of fuzzy-backed tablecloth vinyl; WalMart supplied a few cans of cheap spray paint in random colors: yellow, two shades of purple, navy blue. The yellow would provide a base color on the vinyl fabric and I could then adorn it with some stick figure florals using the other colors. Voila! For $25 and change, a masterpiece would emerge that I could hang in front of the utility boxes.

The playthings:

From white to happy yellow.

From white to happy yellow.

The tools of my trade.

The tricks of my trade.

 

 

 

 

 

But then. . .

The prospect of spray painting floral stick figures rapidly became ho hum, unimaginative. Sad, actually. The endeavor began to seem too mainstream Hobby Lobby. My interest lies in finding unexpected uses for everyday items, such as turning wine bottles into garden edging or teaspoons into wind chimes, but I’m mostly devoid of true artistic ability. My creative bursts are usually solo efforts, but I like to give people, strangers mostly, the opportunity to think differently and perhaps have a unique, fun experience. I want them to see that they can go beyond just thinking outside the box, they can throw away the box altogether. The icing on my creative cake is collaboration, and the sugary rose atop that is anonymity. Why not take a board from Tom Sawyer’s fence? Continue reading

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Weekly photo challenge: Window — see the giants.

The Giant

The Giant

This poster print of “The Giant”  by artist N.C. Wyeth became part of a cross-country collaborative project between me and Mike’s niece and her two young children. Having the $10 print custom framed would have cost the equivalent of a one-way airfare, so I bought a frame and spray painted it white. I then shipped the frame cross country to my artistic partners, but not before I had to saw the  frame in half to get the price of shipping down from $100 to $50. My instructions were for the kids to have fun and hand print the frame. As you can see, they did.

While my co-artists were “handling” the frame, I spent many hours looking at the poster, coming to understand each child’s pose. The two smallest children in the center, fully facing The Giant, embody awe and unquestioning belief that it exists. The older girl standing in the rear sees, but will soon turn her head and nod absently and maternally when the two children explode with excitement about The Giant. The kneeling boy in red sees but his own energy will quickly outrun his belief and draw him back to his activity in the sand. The boy at far left sees and accepts, quietly. I find myself in the girl to the far right, apart from the others — just seeing, neither believing nor disbelieving. She will try, not always successfully, to remember The Giant. But she will keep trying.

I wrote this phrase on the crude homemade matting I inserted to fill the too-large opening:

See The Giant.

See The Giant.

What does all this have to do with this week’s photo challenge “Window”, you ask? Because this is where the poster hangs in our house:

Always look for giants.

Open your mind, and see the giants.

The Giant hangs between windows.

 

Brief encounters of the nearly fruitless kind.

My husband owns a quantity of underwear sufficient to see him through a storm of epic proportions that might leave us without power for 100 days (after applying the male rule about turning underwear inside out for a second wearing before washing). I, on the other hand, own a mere fraction of that quantity, possessing only a dozen or so pairs of underwear, plus or minus a few pairs that cross-dress between the rag bag and the clothing drawer. A significant portion of this dozen pairs is nearing critical structural failure status or are about to achieve invisibility after having been worn for nearly 10 years, and I have been forced to engage in an activity I despise: shopping. And underwear shopping, no less, where planned obsolescence is more prevalent than on an auto assembly line.

As evidenced by the above timeline, it has been rather a while since I’ve purchased underwear. I do recall, though, that the experience was neither simple nor enjoyable in the past. Actually, “enjoyable” never accompanies “shopping” in my thoughts. Nevertheless, my hope for a better world  is boundless, and that hope extends to a better underwear acquisition experience. Adopting this sunny disposition I took myself to a few brick-and-mortar retailers to initiate the hunt. Even while living in a small town where all shopping is accomplished in miniature, three stores are the limit of my shopping endurance.

And, three stores later, I found that some things don’t change, even after 10 years. I’m not really referring to my sorry inability to endure marathon shopping sessions; I’m talking about the brain-sucking maze that is women’s underwear, and then only that portion that resides below the waist. After quickly reaching deer-under-the-fluorescent-light status in the women’s “intimates” aisles, as if they were my friends and not my clothing, I thought I’d have a look at the men’s underwear selection to see if they endure the same multitude of choice as women. I actually had to walk the store twice to find the one aisle of men’s underwear. (Note the singular “aisle” for men, versus the plural “aisles” for women.) Men’s underwear consisted of (white cotton) briefs or (cotton solid or plaid) boxers. Including tee shirts and socks, men’s undergarments took up one store aisle.  Women’s underwear occupied nearly a quarter of the footprint of the store’s floor space; there was absolutely no problem whatsoever locating it. All of it.

Yes, indeedy, we’ve got it All. We’ve got our traditional briefs — cotton in solid colors and a few modest flower patterns in a package of 4 or 6 (with an Extra 2 Pairs Included at No Extra Charge! except that a couple years ago the package used to contain 6 pairs to begin with), or satin in solid colors in packages of 3, all of which are styled to make the wearer feel Old and Irrelevant; then we’ve got our 4-packs of cotton hipsters consisting of 3 striped patterns that bleed through light-colored outerwear and one teaser pair of white thrown into the mix so you have to buy three packages at $8.99 each to get the white pairs you really wanted, or you can forego cotton completely to buy the mysterious “microfiber” fabric type that vows to leave no pantie lines. “Panties.” Whether 5 years old or 50, females are wearing “panties.”  Then we have bikinis with the photo of the teenager  sporting an impish smile while wearing said fabric scrap and looking perfectly athletic-girl hot in them and projecting the subliminal message that you too can look just like her (or at least pretend) if you put down $25.00 for 3 pairs that in total are made of less fabric than 1 pair of size 5 briefs.  There are string bikinis (can you lace your shoes with them too?), thongs (where the manufacturer gets you to pay for nothing), French cuts (zut alors!), hi-cuts (these must be the across-the-channel version of the French cuts — you go, Queen Mum!), and the trendiest in women’s underwear — boyshorts! Why aren’t they called “boypanties?”  Those clever marketers slipped a little color into these and closed up that front equipment opening so the girls can wear them too after paying twice as much money as the boys pay. I say buy the men’s briefs, duct tape the front shut, and draw a few flowers on them with a Marks-a-Lot. The only missing card from this deck is the style with days of the week printed on them, which I personally find quite useful.

To my astonishment, I actually did find the type I wanted. I averted my eyes from the price and took them home. Alas, while they were in the store bag, Black Magic happened and they were the wrong type by the time I took them out of the bag. Still virginal and unopened I returned them to their retail origin. Technically, that transaction took me past my 3-store shopping limit and I turned hallelujah! to my fail safe: the internet. A few clicks, a couple of sorts, a choice of color, and my shopping sentence would be served and I’d get time off for good behavior and a martini to celebrate my victory over fashion tyranny. I snickered self-righteously as I thought about all those women wasting their time wandering fruit-of-the-loomlessly through physical stores when they could be letting their manicured fingertips do the walking across their keyboards.

Thou shalt not take thy search results for granted.

My first eBay search produced 600 results, which shrank like 100% cotton in a hot dryer when I entered my size. Two of that number were in the fabric I wanted, and the photo made them look markedly smaller than what I already owned. Of course the shipping was three times as much as the product. Amazon had nothing. Now I was getting my panties into a bind over this. The only thing that gives me a wedgie faster than underwire in a bra (what the hell is that for anyway??) is paying $10 each for something that’s essentially 3 large holes with a tiny bit of fabric between them. But what’s a Mad Queen to do — go commando? I’m ditching convention almost faster than I can keep up with me, but this Queen isn’t Paris Hilton. I fumed. I clicked. I paid. I got.

Are they smaller? They’re shorter when held up to a current pair. Do they fit? Meh. Marginally. I am genetically incapable of buying more than one of anything so my wallet is not significantly lighter. I’ll give it another 10 years or so and maybe women will get mad as hell and not take it any more! One underwear under all!

Then again, maybe I’ll just go have another look at the men’s underwear. It has possibilities. Where’s my duct tape?

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Biking.

My idea of a happy bike ride doesn’t so much involve physical fitness, but rather mental fitness as I see what the city’s up to  — leaving the Magic Bus behind and exposing my senses to all the stuff of living that’s on my route: sporadic dog barking, the gentle cacophany of vehicle traffic, the crunch of the bike’s wheels over dirt and gravel, leaves overhead applauding my progress  and splashing me with blobs of sunshine as I ride beneath them.  So after what seemed like 50 years of being away from it, and being graced with no rain at last, this morning I pushed my old bike into the driveway and pedaled off to see what was new in the ‘hood.

I needed the full experience of the wind through my bird’s nest hair, so I took the bold and dangerous step of riding without a helmet — ah, authority-defying bliss! The erratic breeze fingered my scalp like an invisible masseuse.  Around the corner I wheeled, past the watermelon pink crepe myrtle blooms and onto the boulevard.  The bike’s rock-hard, ancient seat squeaked its own commentary as I glided past the coffee shop that lay in silent wait for its late rising patrons.  My wrists took a jolt as I bumped through a pothole — ouch! — and I wobbled down the imperceptible slope of the wide, wide road. Joggers huffed down the center path in all manner of attire, including the shyly smiling older man with stringy shoulder-length hair wearing a pink tutu. The bungalows, with their porches doubling as bibs as they waited to nibble a tender morsel of visitor, slid from front to side vision, each displaying their exterior finery of ripe mulberry, silvered sage, pale blue and sunset gold. There went the simple iron sculpture of the man being held up by a handgun, then the empty doghouse that barked at me as I passed its hidden eye; there was the ordnance being used as yard art in the two-story’s shade garden. Velvety Mexican sage and lime green ginger and periwinkle morning glories extended friendly blossom-hands to me through wrought iron fences. The parking lot of the taco joint where I could get a beer before noon was filling up, but I didn’t stop. Later, maybe. Live oaks stretched a thousand leafy arms across the side streets to form shady arches and pushed their feet up against the sidewalks to create small peaks and valleys to keep walkers on their toes. Condensation frosted the old library’s windows. A single file of casual bikers flowed easily, unhurriedly, in the opposite direction, each bike customized with a low-rider frame or chrome fenders or a sparkly seat,  each rider resembling his ride.

The sun was higher now and the shade was heading for its own siesta as I rode out from beneath the oaks. Sweat loosened my sunglasses as I passed the thrift store. I could almost smell the universal second-hand store odor as its door swung, and see the clothes arranged by color and style, rack upon rack. Bargains to be had, assuredly, though not right now. I continued on. Faint strains of “Turkey in the Straw” sifted through the breeze as a nearby ice cream truck trundled along. A parrot squawked. Wind chimes tinkled. Cicadas whirred. A raccoon scuttled into the sewer.

Past Mexican landscapers hanging onto mowers that bucked like fractious mules I coasted, along the familiar grid of streets where no two houses were the same — each one stamped its own footprint and flaunted its favorite color. Lead and stained glass windows glowed, yellow and purple and red doors lounged insolently atop gleaming wooden stoops. I slipped past a church, an auto repair, the se habla espanol lawyer’s office, the vet’s house. It seemed like I would have to ride off the end of the world before finding two alike of anything here. Truly, there’s nothing like riding a bike in the city, this city, where everything changed daily, like the specials on a restaurant menu.  I’ll have the unexpected, please, with a side of surprise.

The heat had gathered quickly. Already it was time to wind down the ride, find a glass of water. I should have started earlier; next time I would. The too-short spin had been magical, leaving me with a smile.

I opened my eyes, and the tableau disappeared.  The occupying army of identical trees surrounding our ruraburban house closed ranks. The lid of silence slammed down. I got off the bike and went into the brown house to get the water.

 

BIKE

 

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Weekly Photo Challenge: Companionable

This gallery contains 10 photos.

This weekend we made and saw history at the Gettysburg 150th Anniversary Battle Re-enactment, accompanied by friends from Texas with whom we have our own history. The event was more than shooting, as these few photos can attest.

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Weekly Photo Challenge: The World Through My Eyes

This gallery contains 8 photos.

I rarely go anywhere without chalk — it’s in my purse, in the Magic Bus’ glove compartment, outside my front door, and in a plastic container where my driveway meets the road. I started chalking when something very dear to … Continue reading

Shoveling up a cumbia in the rain.

I’ve been relocating my garden. Most of the fuzzy, silvery (read unappealing to deer) lambs’ ears from the back yard notgarden are being transplanted, shovelful by shovelful, into an instant garden in the front of the house. This is a time-consuming process as I must step back frequently to evaluate, ruminate, and procrastinate over the direction and flow of the plants, the angle and quantity of rocks and geegaws subsumed into the making of the new garden, and to clumsily punch the minuscule button on  my MP3 player with my muddy garden glove to bypass, or circle back to, a particular song. As always, I was accompanied by that electronic companion, comforter, personal trainer, and virtual Lucifer himself ever ready to distract me, magically squeezed into a purple 1.5″ x 2″ case; my MP3 player. On this typical Sunday morning consisting of neighborhood silence and solitude so thick and clinging as to seem post-apocalyptic, my garden slogging was backed by Ingrid Michaelson singing cheerily against my brain about broken hearts and broken parts and Sheryl Crow reminding me that “all I wanna do is have some fun” and Pitbull rasping that I’m” groovy, baby” and he wants us to” make a movie, baby” and Haley Bonar voicing my exact wish that “I could be my former self, she’d be a fun girlfriend — she got a bad reputation.” Suitable music for gardening, or the end of the world, in case this day actually was and I didn’t recognize it.

The morning’s mucking about was slow going and it was evident the game would soon be called by yet more rain. My $1.25/bag  soil was going to be  nickel-a-pound mud if I didn’t lay the traveling lambs’ ears lickety-split into the dirt to be held in place temporarily by the oval marble cutouts scavenged from somebody’s bathroom sink installation. I continued digging and pulling and wheeling back yard to front.

And humming. And singing.

Raindrops began falling around me. I saw their impressions on the pollen-glazed driveway more than felt them. There would be no stopping the transplant slog just yet, though. I’d been carting this garden around for weeks between rainstorms and traveling. At this pace, autumn would be here before I got this project done. After autumn, the world does end, nearly, for me.

Digging and wheeling, digging and wheeling. Singing. Punching the replay button on the MP3 player with ever dirtier gloves. More singing.

The rain continued upping the ante.

The Blazers queued up on my electronic Lucifer, playing their jaunty “Cumbia Del Sol.” I’d steadfastly cast tempters Ingrid and Sheryl and Pitbull and Haley behind me, but the Blazers held out the ultimate apple. “Cumbia” — a dance form; “del Sol” — the sun.

I looked at the substantial expanse of waiting dirt. Just another wheelbarrow or two would allay my procrastination guilt. At least two more days of rain were forecast. The trees stood near me aloof and dripping and mute amongst their brown leaf carpeting, the sole witnesses to my labors aside from an occasional road biker blazing past.

So, what really mattered here?

I bit the Blazer’s apple.

I poked the volume button. I dropped the shovel.  Stepping over the wine bottle garden edging, I proceeded to trample the nearby clover with my own cumbia, dancing alone and upright and madly in the front yard, dissing the dreary sky, seeing a cartoon-bright sun in my mind. I danced opposite the grubby me reflected in the house windows. I danced among the imaginary crowd on the backs of my eyelids. I danced with my back to every self-imposed Puritanical “should,” hoofing gleefully with the Lucifer of right here and right now. I danced because I could, and because I couldn’t not dance.

And there it is. Don’t wait. Drop your shovel or your phone or your loneliness or your disease and dance, with your eyes closed and your back to your Puritans if necessary.  Whatever’s in your garden, weeds or prize roses or just dirt, nothing’s going anywhere. Right now is all that really matters. Don’t let the chance to be happy, to have fun for just this moment, slip away. Never let that chance get away from you. There’s no replay button for it.

 

Listen to my temptations:

Ingrid Michaelson, “Be OK” 

Sheryl Crow, “All I Wanna Do” 

Pitbull, “Back in Time” 

Haley Bonar, “Bad Reputation” 

The Blazers, “Cumbia Del Sol”