Dec 21, 2009

You Cannae Change The Laws of Physics!

Did you know, however, that hot air ballooning can alter the flow of natural events?  Or at least push events toward one outcome or the other?  It's true, and I just proved it this weekend.

Sunday morning down here in central Louisiana was a mite nippy, but it made for some beautiful flying.  We've had a tremendous amount of rainfall in the last month to six weeks, so the ground has been awfully soggy where ever we go, and since this isn't my first rodeo I had the (surprising) forethought to bring my knee-high rubber boots along.  I've had to wade into some unpleasant places to help recover, including cow pastures, briar patches and rowed fields and thought that with as much rainfall as we've had lately any field large enough to accommodate a comfortable balloon landing would also play host to a lot of standing water and mud, so I figured I was well ahead of the game.

Now Jim has his own ideas about laws natural and man-made and ballooning.  When driving the chase truck he's fully of the mind that Ballooning Rules apply.  Ballooning Rules state pretty simply that where things like laws and so forth run counter to what we need to do to safely and accurately chase the balloon then those laws are temporarily suspended.  It's a good rule, and we've only had to invoke it a few times.  Well, maybe a a lot, if you count (very gentle) trespassing and illegal u-turns but you won't catch me saying this on the official ballooning blog.  This past Sunday's flight was supposed to go up Saturday afternoon, and Jim had brought Tracy and I our Christmas presents--cunningly made wooden hot air balloon birdhouses.  Attached to my other present (still wrapped) was a smaller one that he suggested I needed to open before the flight.

Well, Jim's been doing this a lot longer than I have, so I opened it.  What did he get me?  A headlight.  One of those clip-on LED lights that you can attach to the brim of your hat.  "So," he told me, "this afternoon's flight doesn't become a night flight."

See, Jim Knows.  He knows that whatever you prepare for won't happen.  Have a good source of light?  Evening flight won't end anywhere near dusk.  Got brand new mud tires on the chase truck?  We won't get near soft ground.  Have a full compliment of tools?  Zero chance of mechanical mishap.  When I got into the truck Jim gestured to my boots and asked me if I was expecting water.  I should have known then that I was wasting my time bringing them but I persevered.  I Knew Better, you see.

So there we were, nearing the end of the chase.  Ski Lift, the other balloon in the morning's flight was down safe in a new subdivision, right in someone's side yard, and Skybird seemed too high to make it safely into the small cul-de-sac that ended the development.



Jim and I discussed it, and we both decided that he was going to pass over and land in the large open field that bordered the neighborhood.  I slipped my hiking boots off and slipped on my rubber boots, certain I'd beaten the odds and that my feet would stay dry and warm and that I'd be the only comfortable one on the ride home.

Next thing I know Skybird is about twenty feet high off the road, literally right in front of the hood of the truck and descending and the red line comes over the side of the basket.  The red line is a nylon strap much like those you see securing loads on 18 wheeler trailers, only this one is attached at one end by a thick steel carabiner to the basket and is used for, among other things, letting the ground crew haul the balloon down out of the air fast.  Jim slowed, I jumped out and went galumphing up the road in my boots toward the gondola, seeing the end of the road and a lamp post straight ahead.  I flung myself onto the edge of the basket, hooked my arms over it and tried to get traction--zero.  Rubber boots do not make for excellent gripping on new asphalt.  So there I was, skidding along with my feet making that weird rubber-dragging sound.

Stop we did, thankfully before encountering anything steel or otherwise unyielding and bemused neighbors started popping out of front and back doors to see what had happened to disrupt their Sunday morning ritual.  While the cellular phones and cameras came out we went about the routine of taking things apart and repacking.  I finally had opportunity to change back out of my completely dry knee-highs as well, but I'm thinking pretty seriously about leaving them in David's truck toolbox: I could get pretty spoiled to sidewalk landings in manicured subdivisions.

Dec 13, 2009

And Now, A Word From The Puppies

Or a word about the puppies.  Since I'm required by blogger edict or common law or a mandate from my readers sorta thing.

They're great.  They're huge--Vincent at six weeks of age, if he's still growing like he was a few days ago now weighs 13 pounds.  That's the same weight an "average" Borzoi pup weighs at 8.  Apparently we're growing monsters here.  Or moose.  Moosi.  Mooses.  Moice.  Whatever.

Luna has even more become The Affectionate One, the one that is always up in our laps, always howling for attention when she's in the play enclosure with her litter mates.  This is making the final decision (which one of the seven to keep) even more difficult.  She and Poe are currently neck and neck but only time will tell.  I think.  Not taking into account that Luna at birth got the favoured name AND was singled out as being the one we'd keep.  Just sayin'.

(Oh, the official Zorya Borzoi website is up and running, too!  It's simple, and still incomplete but it's up and working, a work in progress.  Zoryaborzoi dot com)

The rest just keep growing, keep learning, keep eating.  Gods do they eat.  They're officially weaned now, in that Belle refuses to give any suckle, and they're eating their Eukanuba puppy food dry, crunching through it like rabbits in a lettuce patch.  Also leaping into it and/or stepping in the bowl and/or running through it at full tilt, thereby slinging it across several hundred square feet of den.

They're a mess.  An adorable, fuzzy, sharks-mouthed mess.

Here's a pic before you guys kill me (apologies to Facebook folks who have already seen these.)


Salem, Ex Libris




Punkin'




Barnabas.  No question he's a Borzoi.


 
(l to r) Einar and Vincent


The more astute readers/viewers will note that they're all either asleep or dozing off.  This is because when they are awake there's no way to aim a camera at them.  I'm not that fast, you see.  They don't stop moving, EVER.

In other news:

Work proceeds.  Yes I'm spoiled insensible with this work-from-home thing.  It's also troublesome--I found myself going stir-crazy during yesterday's all day rainstorm.  It was then that I realised that I'd not been outside except for very brief sorties to the chicken coop and to walk the hounds in the evenings since the last weekend.  It's taking some adjusting, and I'm not the fastest learner, but I'll get there.  I just need to remind myself that there's nothing really forcing me to leave the house on a daily basis, and if I don't think about it I'll end up turning milk white and blind and perhaps developing some sort of superior food-finding sensory apparatus.

Yuk.

I'm also getting better at the stress.  Yes, shut up about it, I'm tired of being derided for not swilling of the work-from-home cup to the fullest, for having worries about my job when I can work in my pajamas if I want to.  I'm not you, I have my own set of problems, and one of them is anxiety.  Which I'm working to correct, and yes, making nice progress at.  I'm not fully there yet, tho.  The anxiety kicks in once in a while, usually when I'm stuck in a situation where no one in charge seems to know how to get back in contact with me, and apparently every Sunday night about 1 in the morning, but the panicky, spikey bits are gone.  Now it's just anxiety that manifests itself in disturbed sleep patterns, vivid nightmares and a lot of residual anger.  Still, far better than it was, and I'm hoping that with continued therapy and diet control and the non-pharmaceutical supplements I'll continue to improve.  Hell, I have thus far, so I'm not complaining.  Well, not complaining too loudly.

I've also found something else good about this enforced home-living thing.  Houseplants.  I can care for them with much greater attention and consideration that ever before, so just last weekend I took my first big horticultural step in many a year.  No mere potted ivies for me, I've gone tropical:




A Phalaenopsis, or "Moth Orchid."  Phalaen from the French for "moth," which also oddly enough coincides with Penny-- Papillon is French for "butterfly," which their upright ears and long silken fur imitate.  When  Papillon's ears droop instead of stand upright the dog is called a Phalaen, or 'moth' instead of a Papillon. 

Anyhoo.

I've been thinking about growing orchids for probably several years now, ever since they have made a showing in this area in the local commercial greenhouses and so forth.  I was always aware of them in some background sort of manner, and being a devout fan of Rex Stout's Nero Wolfe series I was hard pressed not to learn the basics of orchids, but I never considered myself an orchid fan until I began seeing them up close and in person, which is saying something in this tiny backwater town.

The Phalaenopsis branch of the orchid family are some of the easiest house-kept orchids, I've learned, which is right up my alley.  I've been told by two very reliable sources that orchids are easy to keep indoors, but I'm the guy who used to kill cacti and overwatered a bromeliad unto death.  But, I'm trying.  Stepping out.  Pushing boundaries, albeit small ones.  Plus they're utterly beautiful.  This first dear has even grown well enough to turn the second to last bud on its raceme into an opening flower and has begun to open yet another tiny bud at the very end.  Hope springs eternal.

So.  Fifteen dollars at my local Lowe's and I brought home my first.  It was on clearance, it being what passes for winter here, one of four little glazed clay pots forced into a tiny little space between walls of poinsettias.  I had the money, I picked my plant and made the leap.  Today we happened to be in our local Kroger's grocery store.  Far from our usual haunt on a quest for some specific xmas stocking stuffers (my child loves odd Japanese candy now,) we'd happened into the flower department to find a bouquet for the kitchen table, and I saw them.  Orchids.  A whole massive display of them, tier upon tier of them.  And not just any old Lowe's orchid but plants twice the size, every one with either branched racemes or multiple ones, each simply dripping with flowers.

For the same price.  So yes, this weekend I brought home my second:



Another Phalen, because I'm not about to invest a lot of money on something I don't have the necessary skill to grow, but gods look at those petals.  Up close they look like someone dribbled purple ink on a cotton sheet.

I was described a long time ago by a very good friend of mine as having "an old soul."  I've pondered that a lot.  Turned it over and over, looked at it from many angles and consider it intensely satisfying.  If I had to be described in five words or less I'd be beyond pleased if someone voiced "He has an old soul."  I've carried that descriptor around in my heart for a long time now, savoring it like a hard candy.  Carrying my newly found orchid today through the store my wife told me that she wasn't surprised at all that I'd gotten into orchids.  She'd seen it coming, she confided, for a very long time.  Then she said something that really made me smile.  She said that raising orchids seemed "a thing that a Victorian gentleman would do."

I read just a few days ago that orchids were first kept by amateur botanists and flower fanciers of all sort in England, circa 1890.  Victorian homes were often found to sport varieties of orchids brought back from far-traveling merchants and tradesmen, and were prized by their collectors.  I'm no Victorian, my moral compass is far too modern for that forthright title to be applied to me, but it's a comparison that I'm also proud to at least, in some small way, live up to.

It's a funny old world.  I'm glad it has orchids in it.  And Borzoi.

Dec 3, 2009

Fun With Particle Physics

A chance joke on a Facebook post originated by The Ancient And Inscrutable Legume Hisself got me to thinking.

The Large Hadron Colllider is, as we all know, a machine intended to destroy the entire universe.  Little known is its secondary purpose: to help socially awkward physicists (and aren't they all?) meet hot chicks.  Way down the very long line of possible purposes for the LHC is to prove or disprove the existence of a particle called the Higgs boson, supposedly an integral and pervasive component of Life, the Universe and, well, Everything.

Back to that chance joke--a friend of the old Bean suggested that Higgs Boson was also, coincidentally, the name of a Red Sox second baseman.  My thought was that it was possibly the name of a late Twenties touring sedan, the Higgs Boson Phaeton Supreme.  Elegant thing, but it had the unfortunate tendency to have its tires burst into flame at high speed and one such accident was responsible for the death of Grover Cleveland's great great grandson, Ohio Cleveland.

Now.  Your turn.  Keep the coincidence going.  Be as succinct or as flowery as you want.  What else just so happens to share that name/title/description?

Nov 17, 2009

Puppy Pics (And Very Few Words)


Vincent sucking on Poe's foot.  They're hungry I tell you!  Hungry!!


 
 Less than a week old--Barnabas and his mama's foot

.
  
Salem and momma


 
Salem sleeping on the best bed in the world.  Until she's big enough to get on the couch.


 
Leeches, crowd-surfing.


 
Best bed in the world.


 
Too pooped for photos.


 
So why do you think we named him "Vincent"?

Nov 14, 2009

"I Am Not A Number, I Am A Free Man!"

"I will not be pushed, filed, stamped, briefed, debriefed or numbered. My life is my own."

This is GOING to be a post about AMC's new "The Prisoner" remake. I've been told, however, that I am now required to post something about the puppies in each and every post, however, so here goes:

Belle has taken to spending less and less time with the little ones, starting the weaning process. The puppies have a different idea, however. They LIKE nursing--often, and rather violently, and Belle gets tired of that level of abuse pretty fast so she often gets up with a full compliment of whelps attached. The resulting sound of vacuum-seals breaking is surprisingly like the sound of all those snaky black tubes popping off Neo when Morpheus first released him from the Matrix.

Pokkka-pokka-pokkapokkkapokkpokPOKPOKPOK!

Okay. 'nuff said.

The Prisoner. If you've not seen the 1960's era cult classic, you need to. Do yourself the treat. It's entertaining, engaging, surreal and often rather intelligent. It deals with our peception of reality, the ways we treat others and even the nature of the relationships between jailor and jailed.

Did I mention it's surreal? One of the great joys of The Prisoner is that they didn't have the biggest budget in the world, so they really had to drag every ounce of story out of every piece of scene, make the absolute best out of every prop. Something like a white weather balloon, guided by fishing line and some engineered gusts of wind, aided by some weird growls and roars on the soundtrack became Rover, a terrifying, suffocating mechanical threat on the island. An off-season vacation spot became The Village, a place where spies are taken to be emptied of their useful information in whatever means the jailors see fit.

And now AMC has gotten it into their heads to remake that incredible series. With a massive budget they can film in Tunisa, they can remake a city block in said city into New York, can hire the likes of Sir Ian McKellan to be the chief heavy in The Village--Number Two.

I don't remember when I first discovered The Prisoner, much in the same way I don't remember when I first discovered Blake's 7 or The Avengers. They were always there, it seems, only waiting for me to find them, reveal to me their mysteries and their sly winks and their gasping surprises.

I do remember the feeling of joy as I watched each episode open, reveal its plot, the little twists and turns, the cleverly hidden clues that said "Yes, this is the same retired spy from 'Secret Agent Man' only we're not going to come out and admit it." There was always some little something to make you wonder. The Tally Ho, printed seemingly as the 'news' happened in The Village. The living chessboard. The statuary with cameras for eyes. The allusions to people who came and went from the outside world. Number 2's green dome, and Angelo Muscat's quiet, mysterious butler character who never spoke a word, but who no doubt knew more than any Number 2 ever did. For that matter, the ever-changing Number 2--each episode there was a new Number 2, eager to crack Number 6's iron will, desperate to dig through his mind, picking out the information like meat from a cracked walnut.

Except in this reinvisioned Village he's not Number Two, just "Two." Just as John Casiavetesetees whatever his name is is just "Six." And so far as I can tell there's no butler, silently absorbing everything. Cut from the story to streamline it, I suppose. Like the titles of the six episodes they're airing--the hauntingly named "Do Not Forsake Me Oh My Darling" is now simply "Darling." "Living In Harmony," the weirdly-canted American Western episode is now simply "Harmony." Each new episode bears a trimmed-down version of an original episode's name.

A lot of it seems to have that feeling--like it's been streamlined, cleaned up, modernized. The round buttons that each prisoner used to wear, the buttons that had the penny-farthing bicycle logo and the prisoner's number have been replaced by retail-style glossy rectangular badges with a number and a somewhat Art-Deco rendering of a city skyline; several tall, round-topped rectangles. The quaint little holiday houses that once dotted The Village's manicured park have been replaced by Aspen-style cookie-cutter cottages. Rover, from the previews, seems to be about five stories tall and awfully ethereal.

Another thing that bothers me? Two has a family. Yes, a FAMILY. A wife who from the previews seems to be bedbound (but perhaps kept that way?) and a son, "12-13" who Six seems to be trying to sway to the side of liberation, freedom from the restraining Village. Interesting, but way off the mark. A family is weakness, a liability, a way to do damage to an otherwise strong, untouchable target. No Number 2 would have tied himself to something as dangerous as a family.

I will say this, and this comes as no surprise--Ian McKellan's Two looks and sounds consumately wonderful. Set as it is in a desert (Tunisia, I'm told from the multiple making-of's) he's always resplendant in an ivory suit, an ice-cream cone fresh from the freezer on a hot day. He's dapper, always impeccably dressed in vest and coat and slacks and a beautiful ivory-white fedora. He oozes charm and power. He speaks like a man who is accustomed to wielding that power, a man to whom the ways and procedures of extracting information "by hook or by crook" come as naturally as breathing. But then again an actor of that caliber makes it look easy. I only hope the rest of the cast can pull it off.

So. Starting tomorrow night on AMC we get to see this re-invented Village, this new Six and Two. There's even at least one grossly overt nod to the original--when Six wakes up in the desert outskirts of The Village he is witness to an elderly man who seemingly has escaped. This elder wears the trademark black sport coat with white trim, khaki pants, boat shoes and deep blue shirt that Patrick McGoohan's Number 6 always wore. The director says it's to tie the two together, so that we can imagine that Number 6 has been trying and failing since the 60's to escape from The Village, and the new Six meets his numbersake.

Uhm...did anyone think to watch the original first? The trial never happened? "Fallout" never occurred? Number 6 met and unmasked Number 1, seeing himself beneath the layered masks? What about his apartment door in London opening with that eerie mechanical whine, just like his apartment in The Village? Jailor as prisoner, and the butler returning
"home" with him...

Yes, I'm going to watch. Probably will even watch every single one even if they stink, and I really sincerely hope they don't, but we'll see. I'll let you know in a few days what my initial verdict is.

Be seeing you.

Nov 2, 2009

Memento Mori

It's been a very full week, let me just say that up front, and circumstances have made me think about how life runs in long, strange chains. How the littlest thing, the most overlooked moment can set you on a whole new path.

I used to go to dog shows a lot, decades before I considered myself anything close to being a dog show person. Admission was free, the coliseum was ten minutes away, and I liked dogs. I'd go and watch the Dobermans, because I loved how strong and brave they appeared, and I'd watch the German Shorthaired Pointers because I grew up with one as a kid. I'd watch the people fervently grooming and brushing and I never once thought I'd be one of those people.

Couldn't tell you now what ring I was watching, but I was watching some breed or other when I felt a very long, very hard something slip tightly between my legs. Now, in my sum total experience that's something I do, not have done unto me. I turned and watched a small lady with a very long, very tall dog with the longest nose I've ever seen walk off. I'm sure she said something apologetic but I don't even remember. I knew I'd never seen that kind of dog before, but I dismissed it from my mind and went on watching the breed ring.

Later that day I saw that same dog and lady again. They were in a quiet part of the coliseum, and she was moving at a very fast jog alongside her dog. Now, ordinarily a jogging woman is enough to make me stop and look but it was the dog that caught my attention. It wasn't that he was tall (he was, exceedingly so) or that he had a coat of beautiful flowing curls that ranged from black to russet to white. It wasn't even his long, elegant face with small, tucked-back ears that looked like it had been designed for cutting through the wind. It was the way he moved. He moved like he was floating, like his feet weren't quite touching the ground and he was in fact flying, and all the leg movements were just a smoke screen to hide the fact that he was disobeying gravity's immutable law.

I stood and watched for a while, and when they stopped I walked over and said nine fateful words. "Excuse me ma'am. What kind of dog is that?"

Perhaps someone with sharper ears than mine would have heard the switch being thrown, might have noticed the change in the air as the train of my life slipped onto a new track entirely, but not me. Maybe Jesse noticed, but if so he never told me. He won't be able to tell me now, if he'd ever planned to. He died about a week ago. I won't get into how, suffice to say it was too early, and it wasn't fair, but then again Death never stops to ask how you'd like it to happen, it just does.

He changed my life, though. For a year I learned about Borzoi. The wife and I continued to talk about going in the show ring but instead of with Bedlington Terriers like we'd planned the talk turned to Russian Wolfhounds. I kept up loose contact with Rita, and the next year I saw her again at the same AKC show. This time she handed me his leash and said "Here, go walk him around." She smiled then, a little secret smile whose meaning I missed entirely. She knew. She knew how she felt when she walked her first Borzoi around. She knew full well how it felt to have someone ask about that rare breed, how it feels to walk beside such an elegant creature.

I made one circuit of the building with him, then a second. I felt like someone had given me the keys to a sports car, felt like the kid who asked for a Breyer horse for Xmas and got a real pony instead. I was so proud, smiling like I'd been given candy from a well-meaning stranger, and I ate up every moment with gusto.




You guys know the rest of the story. We brought Belle home not long after that, and it's been a whirlwind ever since. Coursing. Show ring. Learning the ins and outs of traveling with a 75 pound dog, learning new cities, seeing new faces and familiar ones too. Learning how political the dog show world can be, and learning how heart-breakingly exhilarating it can be to watch your dog run after a white plastic bag with every ounce of their body poured into the effort. Knowing that the same dog that trotted off the field to stand ribs-deep in the cow pond after the race just won Best In Field, and the judge hands you a ribbon, a huge rosette of red, white and blue. Learning how proud you can be when she finishes her ring championship and you can put that magical "Ch" in front of her name. Not to mention the best part: spending years with an extraordinary breed of dog. Bonding. Learning together. Forming that connection that you can only form with a dog.

Jesse was in my life too, during those years. We'd travel to Fort Worth and visit, and there he'd be--three feet tall, three inches wide and every gram of him comprised of power and grace and a consuming desire to be with friends, with people who love him as unconditionally as he loves them. He even spent some time here with us, lounging around one January in the cool air in our back yard, lying in the piles of pecan leaves we were trying so fastidiously to rake up. I wanted to keep him, Rita wanted to give him a good home after he retired, but we simply didn't have the space for him, as much as I regretted it.




So now here we are. Sheba and Remy are just passed their first birthdays, their entire careers as runners and show dogs ahead of them. Growing from pups that you could comfortably hold in your lap to dogs who command half the couch when they sit with you. Belle pregnant, growing wider by the day, moving slower, her body crowded by seven new bodies. Sitting up one evening with her, hurting each time her whole body clenched, pushed. Wanting to cry with her every time she cried out, not understanding why it hurt to push but her body overriding her brain and pushing anyway. Holding a placenta in your hand, still fever-hot and dripping with blood while your wife carefully attaches hemostats to the newborn puppy's umbilical cord, cuts it, towels the tiny thing until it squeaks with outrage, then hands the tiny puppy to Belle to lick, to clean. Watching the tiny blind thing find a nipple and latch on with fervent need while her brothers and sisters each come into the world the same way. Bloody, covered in slick fluids, squealing and thrashing legs that refuse to obey, eyes and ears closed, filled with a hunger for mother and milk and warmth.

It hasn't been a week yet and already they've grown, rapidly. The biggest is already two pounds, and they're all healthy and sleek and show tiny glints of the graceful, elegant hounds they'll become in a few short months. They're developing personalities: Luna the fifth to be born, the smallest, talkative and feisty. Poe, marked with a huge black heart on his white side who likes to sleep on the outside of the puppy pile. Einar, the biggest so far, who loves to bury himself right into the middle of the pile, disturbing his litter mates. Vincent with his tiny black pencil-thin moustache across his upper lip just like Jesse had.

Rita, when she called to deliver the news that Jesse had died, said that maybe he'd be reborn into one of our puppies, one of our seven who arrived just two short days after he left our lives. Perhaps she was right--there are two tri-coloured pups in there, and one a male. Maybe that old soul, that light foot and that unstoppably cheerful spirit found a new outlet, a new way to burn bright in the world. I certainly like to think so.




Bilbo said it best: you never know where the road is going to take you. Thank you, Jesse, for setting my feet on this one.

The Classic Horror Litter:


"Shadow Over Innsmouth" -- Barnabas


"Sleepy Hollow" -- Punkin'


"October Country" -- Einar


"The Telltale Heart" -- Poe


"What The Moon Brings" -- Luna


"Fall Of The House Of Usher" -- Vincent


"Old Black Magic" -- Salem


A Funny Thing Happened In The Kitchen

A few mid-mornings ago for my Second Breakfasts I decided on a single slice of wheat bread (the real kind, nice and dark and rich, not that weird ‘white wheat’ pseudo-bread) dressed with a thin layer of creamy peanut butter and a steaming cup of Prince of Wales tea.

“What’s so interesting or funny” I hear you ask, “about making a half-sandwich, except maybe the not-all-that-clever LotR reference?” Well, I’ll tell you. I spread the peanut butter with a plastic knife, the kind with the tiny serrations on. Seems the peanut butter was just the right consistency to hold the pattern beautifully so the very thin layer of tan was covered in hundreds of perfect, tiny left to right furrows. The first thing I thought about was how you furrow grout like that when you’re laying tile on a floor or wall. The second thing I thought was “Wow, if I lay a second slice of bread on top and give it a gentle side-to-side wiggle as I press it in place it’ll REALLY adhere.

Yeah, I’ve been watching This Old House and HGTV way too much.

Nov 1, 2009

An Open Letter

Dear Great Pumpkin

Well, another Halloween has come and gone, and I spent the whole night in the most sincere pumpkin patch I could find. Sadly, and much to my distress, you did not see fit to fly over in your ceaseless eternal wanderings and gift me with brightly wrapped presents. I can only assume that the particular patch I chose to spend the cold, wet night in did not meet your high expectations for sincerity, because I know you respect sincerity above all. Surprisingly, even my constant efforts on your behalf, furthering your cause above that of that red-suited fake Santa Claus person didn't affect your decision this holiday, but I understand that we cannot be expected to understand Your ancient and inscrutable thoughts.

Ah well. I assure you I will continue ever vigilantly to remain sincere and forthright, and I await next Halloween with a heart overflowing with zeal, hoping beyond hope to see you rise up from my pumpkin patch.

Most sincerely yours,
Paul

Oct 26, 2009

Sleeping In

I used to be a night owl. Not the sort of geeky guy in The Watchmen, I look terrible in fitted costumes, but the sort of person who likes to be awake at night.

When I was in school I discovered a lot of things. One of those things was reading. One of the others was quiet. Then I discovered that the later you stayed up at night the more reading you could do, and the quieter it became. A love affair was born.

My parents, who saw nothing wrong with getting up at four am were in bed religiously by nine pm. On school nights the same went for me and my brother. But come the weekend, and most especially the holidays that nine pm marker went out the window. I had one of those bed chairs, the things that look like someone scissored off the top of a cheap stuffed chair, and I kept a stack of paperback books beside my bed. Granted this was back when fifteen dollars would buy you three paperbacks and still give you some change for a fountain Coke. Those were the glory days: I was discovering Michael Morcock, Robert A. Heinlein, Frank Herbert, Ray Bradbury, all the giants of science fiction, and each night found me staying up later and later to read just one more chapter, just one more handful of paragraphs.

I loved those long quiet hours at night. The cat would climb into bed with me, I'd be sitting there with my reading lamp over my shoulder, my big bed chair stuffed up behind my back and a handful of science fiction masterpiece. The house would grow quiet and the world would narrow down to that small pool of yellow light that opened a window into the sun-scorched sands of Arrakis, the sterile white environs of a sentient FTL starship, the paved streets of ancient Melnibone' or of Greentown, Illinois. I'd often read half a book or more at night, steeping myself in the story, losing myself utterly.

Oh, once in a while I'd be distracted out of the world in my hands by the sharp yipping of foxes in the fields hunting mice, or the soft lonely hoot of an owl in the pine trees outside my window but always the world of the printed word called me back, drew me in like the Siren's song calls sailors to their doom. Midnight became not the witching hour but just a marker that the house was cool and quiet. Two and three am would often find me still reading, and the next morning I'd sleep until noon, getting up to have lunch served for breakfast.

My folks were awfully understanding about it. I guess they figured I wasn't drinking, wasn't smoking, wasn't even out of the house (in body anyway) so what was a little sleeping in?

Work intruded soon afterward, but still I found time to stay up late, and evening shifts often meant that I could lie abed long after the sun had come up. Most times it was a requirement, working retail, because I'd be up until midnight or better at work, so getting to bed and staying there was quite the reward, plus it served as time to let aching legs and back recover some spring.

Somewhere in there, though, the status quo shifted. I became a parent, and work changed from evening shifts to day shifts, eight to five, Monday through Friday, and I could no longer stay up late because I had to be up early to get not only myself dressed and fed but a little wiggle worm of a child too, and later school added into the mix. Nine pm became the standard again by the simple expedient of me liking to have eight hours of sleep a night, and having to be up to get a child going meant firm nine pm bedtimes. Books became an expensive hobby, paperbacks up to seven and eight dollars each, hardbounds for twenty five and thirty, and so they were paced out, spread across days, made to last like an old drunk nursing his last beer.

The weekends still found me sleeping in a little, but something else had begun changing in me--a desire to be accomplishing things. I was astounded to find that if you woke up before dawn and got your morning routine out of the way that gave you the entire morning to cut grass or plant a garden of roses or, well, the list was endless. That five hours before noon seemed like an eternity after so many years of thinking that breakfast was always served at eleven am.

Now that I'm a regular balloonist (some would say balloonatic) I find my weekend mornings are also in grave danger of extinction. Weekdays find me getting up at five forty-five so I can start for seven, but weekends find me getting up even EARLIER so I can get showered, dressed, and slip out on the bike to make it to LSUA for a pre-dawn meet with David and the rest of the crew to set up for a flight. Don't get me wrong, I love it, and wouldn't change a thing about it. I mean, in what other sport do you find the drinking starting at nine am, and with champagne to boot?

No, now more than ever it makes sleeping in feel like a luxury beyond measure, a luxury rarely tasted. Once in a while nothing is planned, nothing needs doing, nothing is pressing hard for me to accomplish it and I can sleep in. Mrs. I wakes up early and lets the dogs out and closes the bedroom door. I fall asleep again and wake up late, seven thirty at times, sometimes as staggeringly late as eight am, and it feels so decadent. I feel like an emperor arising from his golden bed, knowing that the household is going on as it should, that the world outside has woken up and gone on working without me being in it.

The guilt usually kicks in around this point, and the Protestant Work Ethic goads it sharply enough to get it moving pretty fast, but I still get to enjoy sleeping in for a few minutes. I know I'll never get to retire, never get to enjoy sleeping through every single morning again but that little taste sure is nice. And who knows? Maybe one day they'll make books cheap again, and I'm sure they still make those bed chair things. I'm sure I can find a lamp, and there's always a cat willing to curl up on my legs, if not a Borzoi, and lord knows they love to sleep.

My fear, however, is that one day I'll start thinking that four am isn't THAT early a time to rise.

Oct 21, 2009

Taking Off Is Always An Option. Landing Is Not.

Student flights. I know, you guys just live for this stuff, right? Well, this one has a couple of twists.

The Great Mississippi River Balloon Race in Natchez this last weekend was a wash. Or rather a blow, since the wind never wanted to drop below 15 knots or so. We managed one flight on Sunday morning, landed on a golf course and got the balloon soaking wet with dew. Monday afternoon my mentor emailed me around 2:30 and asked me if I wanted a student flight. The Sunday afternoon flight in Natchez got canceled and so the envelope was still pretty wet from Sunday morning. He needed to unpack and inflate it so that the heat of inflation would evaporate the dampness right off and giving me another student flight would kill two birds.

So immediately after work the 'weekday crew' joined him and myself in Lecompte, we found a really nice old man who had a lovely big side yard and we set up. David handed me the striker after we'd cold packed with the fan, gave me some basics again as to inflation, showed me the signals he'd give me to start or stop burning and let me at it. I sparked the pilot light into life, stuck the striker in my back pocket, picked the left upright up enough to set it on my left knee like he does, he killed the fan and I burned.

I actually managed to inflate it nicely up until the very last when a good big stiff wind came in and flattened her, and he took over since that's a VERY dangerous time, where the risk of burning the envelope is very high.

Once the initial struggle of setup was over I clambered in, gave her a little head and we were up and going. He let me get to about 500 feet (I tend to stay HIGH!) and said "Okay, do a touch and go in that field there, and don't bounce it. Just ONE touch." He knows me too well, knowing that I'd much rather approach a landing tentatively, in ten or eleven small landings leading up to the final one. I didn't actually stick that one, either. Didn't quite get her fully on the ground that is. I'm always leery of coming down too fast, so I over-burn and don't ever quite make it down.

Well, this went on a bit, he had me get low and do some contour flying in a flat field, then he had me fly up and contour along some trees. I was really genuinely getting the feel of it, which I didn't realise I'd lost so bad but I've not flown in three months. It was a really truly good feeling, very akin to the feeling I got when I realised I'd found the sweet spot between throttle, clutch and shifter on the bike, so that each shift was seamlessly smooth. I was really feeling how she was supposed to be flying, really FLYING her and not just riding along. That's when my glove brushed the toggle switch up on the burner handle area and turned the pilot light off.

There I was, blissfully unaware, gliding over the treetops in silent splendor until I squeezed the handle to burn a short burst and all I got was a "pfffffffffffffft" sound and some white vapour where there should have been a six foot tall gout of blue flame.

I panicked.

He stayed as cool as an alligator in deep water, however, which comes of having more hours logged piloting aircraft than I've had hot meals. My one point of pride is that I got my striker out and up to the pilot light tubes just as fast as he did. Problem being, 1) my striker came open and I couldn't get it together again and 2) there was no gas there to LIGHT. He told me in that loud/calm Instructor Voice: "Just fly the aircraft, I'll get this." I didn't see what I could do, really. Without fire I couldn't rise, and venting would put us in the branches so I sort of stared forward and waited. Oh, and quietly panicked.

He told me after I got home in an email that he'd learned twenty years ago to use Fire II (the extra boost/backup fire for emergency lift) as a pilot light in case the pilots would not light, but he'd never had to use it until just then. He twisted the Fire II valve open and suddenly we had a sputtering, blasting three foot tall flame of a pilot light. I squeezed the trigger and my heart returned with the sputtering roar of fire and heat and lift.

Just in time, too. We'd cleared the treetops but were coming down fast into a clearing. We hit pretty hard and did some bounce-drag stuff for a while. I nearly got my arse tossed overboard for my troubles too. My center of gravity at 6' 2" is higher than his and he's better at bracing for impacts than I am, but I hung on to the uprights like a baby monkey clinging to his momma and rode it out, burning every time we got clear of the ground, remembering that he'd told me NEVER to burn, to actually take my hand off the trigger when bouncing on the ground to prevent accidents. Well, we finally got back up and I settled down as the gondola swung back and forth like a pendulum, slowly settling back into vertical.

I was proud of myself--he told me that if we'd had a real emergency, rather than a self-inflicted one like I'd just done he'd have had me land with the Fire II in the field and be done with it, but since we knew what the problem was (he saw the toggle and flipped it back on just before we began bouncing) we'd go on. I was proud because I'd been about to ask him if we needed to land and stay put. Score a tiny one for the student. We flew on for a bit, me trying to generate enough spit to dampen the desert that was my mouth and in my nervousness I was climbing pretty high again, so he told me to vent, to get us low enough to cross the corner of a certain field using the prevailing wind down on the deck.

Now this is the tricky bit. When Skybird got her new material added on the folks there sold him on a pulley system for the red line that controls the vent at top. It's akin to power steering on a race car, however: while it makes the job of pulling the top out it also robs you of a good bit of feeling. In my nervousness and so forth I'd vented already but I wasn't sure that the top had come out. It was so 'soft' feeling that I thought I'd not pulled hard enough so I pulled again, and again. Each time losing heat, and lift. WAY too much lift. We lost a whole lot of lift and went into what Jim likes to call "a screaming descent."

I began burning when he realised I was trying to self-engineer another in-flight emergency for us and he started his insistent "Burnburnburnburn" order. We had time to recover but we were still descending awfully fast when we hit. Jarringly hard. Hard enough to unhook one of the three spring-loaded hooks that holds the burner in the frame. Hard enough that I felt it in my back teeth. Suddenly we were sitting flat on the ground and everywhere around me was blue, nothing but blue nylon settling around us in huge swaths almost to the ground.

I had just enough time to hear David say "Hang on!" before she popped up again. FAST.

And we started what I like to call a "BDS landing." BDS for "Bounce, Drag and Scream." We were dragged all across a rowed field, thumping and falling across each other, juddering and swinging and hitting again, up and down, back and forth. I was ready for this one tho, had my right arm looped around an upright and my left hand clenching another until I could get it free and we were off the ground long enough to burn, to inflate, to get us up off this forsaken violent rough ground!

And finally we did get back up, and swung madly back and forth like a pendulum for way too long.

But he took it like it was nothing at all, and I guess in a way it was. I mean, we were fine, just shaken up. No blood, no broken bones, and the aircraft was intact. I think I hit my hip on the aluminum lip of one of the cylinders, gave myself a nice goose egg, and my shoulder and upper arm are still sore as is my neck, but we were intact, and finally airborne again. Well, after that I was white knuckled and dry mouthed, but David was still as calm as milk. Astounding.

He talked me through a mediocre landing right next to a parking lot, and Richard and Susie and Monica got us secured and it was all good. The campus security guy came up while we walked Skybird the twenty or so feet to pavement and we took her down, no problems. While Cap'n Miller talked to the Thick Blue Line I went ahead and took...command, I guess. I did what he would do if he were free: set to completing the process of securing the balloon. I made sure the top was pulled up to the center ring, walked back to the gondola, wrapped my arms around the Nomex part of the throat, called Monica to get behind me to help keep the weight of the material off me and started squeezing.

I actually squeezed the whole thing out before David got to us, which I think made him a little proud; even as shaken as I was (and I WAS) I was still seeing to securing the aircraft. We talked a little bit then, he got a lot of good laughs out of the very curious crew, and I mostly stood there and smile sheepishly. We told them the condensed version of what had happened, and loaded the lot up.

He told me there and again in the truck and again when I was back at the parking lot getting my log book filled out that I'd done good, really good on the contour flying, that he could tell I'd really gotten the feel for the burn/pause/maintain process that keeps us at level flight, and that it was GOOD that we'd endured both of those events together, so that now I'd be familiar with what can and does happen.

He asked me several times if I was okay, and I assured him I was, that I was ready to go again if need be. I called Jim on the way home and told him the same thing, and he said the same thing also--that it was GOOD to get in trouble when you're training because those are the moments during which you really learn what to do. I've faced two serious problems now. Not common problems but problems that can and do crop up, and now I know how to alleviate both.

As for me, two days later? I'm sore, no question about it, but I'm ready to go again. I feel like the first time I dropped my motorcycle--I'm anguished over it, but I know I can't stop just because of it.

So. I know this--it's not dampened my enthusiasm at all. I'm ready to go again, would go right now if offered the chance. And like Jim said, I've not experienced all that can go wrong, not by any means, but I did get a good look at what can and does happen at times, and have learned a little of how to deal with it next time. David said the next morning that he was perfectly fine, that he'd learned "a long time ago" how to roll with those sorts of punches. I envy him that. But I'm glad I got my lumps, too. They'll help me remember. And one day I'll feel the same way--a BDS landing won't be anything worse than something to be endured, I'll know where to brace my feet and how to hang on so that I don't get brained by the burner.

Now all I can do is imagine how I'd be in my own balloon. What it'd be like to be up there alone, standing underneath High Hope, for instance. More and more I think like that. I guess I'm thinking toward my solo flight, and beyond. What I'm going to have to do, how I'll have to do all of it, not just most of it. How I'll be fully reliant on me, on my ability to keep it aloft and flying level and steering with the wind and all that. Looking for and choosing my landing spot, everything.

It's a terrifying feeling, but in a good way, like a mountain you want to climb, a mountain that you know can hurt you, could even kill you if you don't respect it, but if you can just get on top you'll never ever forget the view.

Oct 12, 2009

Great Zombie Jesus!

That's the costume I WANTED to wear to the 2009 Shreveport Zombie Walk. 

So.  In a nutshell: 7 hours in greasepaint and a surprisingly realistic looking prosthetic wound attached to my cheek and neck with spirit gum.  Three hours on the road round trip.  Roughly one hundred seventy five people dressed, with various degrees of success, as zombies.  Almost six hundred pounds of non-perishable foodstuffs donated to the Shreveport Food Bank.  Worth it?  Does Zombie Jesus lurch around turning water into brains?*

But no Zombie Jesus for me this year.  I settled pretty happily for a zombie priest: Monsignor Macabre, and the Missus went as Sister Mary Gruesome.  Funnily enough we encountered enough other undead clergy to make a smallish convent and had quite a blast I have to say.  But then again, how do you not?  Lurching around a mall groaning in some of the most gruesome makeup you could imagine, in the company of almost two hundred other like-minded individuals, each marching to a different funeral dirge. 





I really do have to say there's nothing quite like dressing like one of the living dead and enacting (well, sort of) scenes from a classic George A. Romero movie.  A whole graveyard full of greaspaint and faux wounds and oddly enough a lot of smiles, too.  I never knew the undead could smile.  Young undead and old undead and even a celebrity or two: Zombie Where's Waldo showed up, as did Zombie Hotdog Guy and even a couple who did a really breathtakingly good version of Bela Lugosi's White Zombie from mid 1930's Hollyweird.  They even brought their own hearse.




Surprisingly, after lots of trepidation on everyone's behalf about venturing into the world of semi-professional prosthetic wounds I have to admit that the hand-sized patch of icky-looking rubber I bought to attach to my cheek and lower jaw was a lot easier to use than I thought.  And I discovered that all those 'skin tearing' scenes you see in the movies are done as simply as anything--a little fake skin attached with spirit gum.  When I pulled mine off (slowly) it gave the exact same appearance, that sort of pulling, tearing look except in my case all it reveled was a patch of skin not sickly white with greasepaint.  Who needs Skywalker Ranch?



I have to say too that there was some truly creative people there.  Simple makeup effects that went a LONG way.  One lady who had obviously had a knee replacement surgery showed up in her wheelchair with her freshly-healed scar, and had the local talent makeup lady apply some Eau De Undead and she was suddenly on tv, growling and groaning, rolling herself toward the tv camera like it was as natural as anything.  Simple additions of mascara and rouge that produced some really ghoulish bruising and dead skin effects.  Homegrown talent can produce some excellent fruits.

The evening for me was full of little moments of utter glee.  Walking through Sears to the restroom, eating up every double take.   Standing around watching the other zombies enter, drinking in the envious stares at my grievous wound that showed only from one side.  Surprise!  My cheek and throat are torn out!  The giggling waves and exchanges of "dead skin" recipes with other undead.  The weird freedom that comes with being in a mask, being something/someone you're not.  Being a stranger in a very deeply strange land.  Having people seek you out to get their photo taken with us was pretty cool too.

The local TV crew came out, and I so wished we could get to see the footage.  A hundred or more of us pressing hungrily forward as the cameraman filmed us from his perch on the dais.  Our hands reached for him, grasping at the end of straining arms, each of us together desperate to pull him down from his perch and into our seething mass.  From our throats rose countless desperate groans and in the middle of that surge of bodies you could almost feel how it might be to be eternally hungry, forever cursed to walk the earth and devour the living.  Lucio Fulci would have soiled himself to see us.

The walk itself was worth all the build up, worth all the wait.  The costume contest winners were announced (we didn't place,) and the numerous door prizes were given away (we didn't win) and then it was time.  A brief period of instruction from the Zombie Hotdog ("loosen up, think 'dead' and don't walk fast!") and all of us were off and shambling, lead by Undead Billy Idol and Undead Waldo from, I can only presume, the popular children's book series "Where's Undead Waldo?"  We straggled out over almost half the length of the mall, each of us moving at our own pace, our own "old school" zombie stagger integrated into our costume.  I let my mind go blank, let my limbs hang slack until I almost felt myself falling, then staggered away, bumping into other zombies, desperate to find that one bright spark of life to extinguish.






Oh yes, I had fun.  Walking up behind kids who were foolish enough to have their backs turned, dropping heavy hands onto them.  Turning suddenly toward people aiming iPhones and video cameras at us, startling them into staggering back into their giggling friends.  Groaning at the windows, scrabbling fruitlessly at the retail drones all stopped to stare as the seething mass from the grave passed their plate glass walls.  Oh yes I had such fun.






(Sadly I can't yet find any video from the 2009 walk but this is a nice little clip from 2008, the first Walk.)


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* Yes.

Oct 7, 2009

Getting Started

It's a good title.  Explanation can be found at meno's blog.  Go see her, do.  She's got a purdy keyboard.

Me, I'm gonna get started with a few vignettes and see where it goes.

Vignette one: The Inside Of A Home Office

So Ver' Ver' Big Home Health Company bought me a nice HP multifunction machine when I took this job, to go along with my new lappy and my two flat panel monitors and my funky freakout internet-connected hellophone.  It seems, however, that the powers that Be didn't take into account the fact that we'd all be printing almost a ream of paper A DAY in reports, and these little machines aren't nearly designed for that level of workload.  So, they break.  A lot.

Now me, mine's not broken, but you know me, I believe in maintenance.  When the little rubber feed wheels started to squeak just a little I popped a trouble ticket into the IT line to see if I could get a maintenance kit, which is basically a plastic bag of little rubber feed wheels that you stick in, and you're good as new.  Except not with this model.  See, with the HP LaserJet M2727nf (and yes, I spell it out intentionally, so others can find this and be warned) there are no end user serviceable parts inside.  Zero.  None.  Except the toner cartridge, which don't count.  So when, say, the feed wheels start wearing out after three months of heavy use or the fuser goes bad you're pretty much screwed, because you're gonna have to pay an HP tech to come out and fix it.

Except VVBHHC paid for the three year extended maintenance plan!  In a day I had a replacement machine on my doorstep.  I unpacked it, set it up, packed up the old one and was ready to go again.  I noticed that this one had slight cosmetic differences, but didn't think anything of it.  Until this afternoon, not 6 hours into its life when I realised it was faxing blank pages.  The scanner part of the fax machine had died, you see.  Because this is not a new machine, it's a refurb, which is industry shorthand for "a used piece of shite that HP foisted off on us because we had the foresight to purchase the extended warranty/replacement plan."

So now that I've sent my other machine back, the NEW one, the one that really did work pretty good (it certainly faxed okay) I have to wait for another refurb machine to show up on my doorstep tomorrow evening, so I can lather-rinse-repeat the process and pray that the second refurb machine works for longer than six hours.

I've never regretted being proactive until today.


Vignette two: Outside A Very Pregnant Dog

Because as the old joke (more or less) goes, inside a very pregnant dog there's no room for anything, much less reading.*

Belle is about two weeks short of squirting out into the world a passel of puppies, and it's really starting to show.  Much like a woman very close to her due date she's...er...big.  Very big.  Wide, in fact.  In human terms she's about three days from her due date.  In dog terms she's got about two more weeks.  As such she moves slower, she eats a whole lot more, and she's cranky.  Watching her lie down is an awful lot like watching a very pregnant woman try to sit down in a recliner, which in itself is sort of like watching a very old man try to back his 1954 Cadillac into a very small parking spot.  Oh, there's room for it, but it takes a certain level of concentration, skill and just plain bloody-mindedness to make it work.  When she decides to lie down you can tell she's really thinking hard about it:

"Do I really want to lie down?  Because it's gonna take a while, and when I get there it's gonna take even longer to get back up again."

Yesterday at the midwife's (Mrs. I) behest I touched a certain spot on Belle's very round, very tight belly and could feel the lumpy outline of a puppy.  It wasn't quite as powerful, emotionally speaking, as feeling my daughter in utero but it was fairly close.  They're not quite old enough to move, for which Belle I'm certain is giving thanks, but they're very nearly there.  In another week Belle is going to start nesting very seriously, and The Book of The Bitch, which is not, as the title seems to indicate, a primer on women but is in fact a handy reference guide for dog breeders expecting a litter, is going to be in hand a lot more.  Certain chapters will be underscored and re-read, and final preparations will be made.  Including bringing in the plastic wading pool from the yard (sanitized and lined with old blankets and newspapers for shredding) and moving some furniture around in the den in order to make it the Puppy Birthin' Room

And yes, photos will follow.  As will the link to the website as soon as I buy the domain name.


Vignette three: The Zombie Walk

Yes, I'm excited.  I'm downright giddy.  For the local foodbank, and to coincide with National Zombie Day (October 11th, also Weerelephant's birthday oddly enough) a local city is hosting a zombie walk.  At their local mall.  Too good, I know!  You dress up as much or as little as you want, bring some non-perishable food as your 'entry fee' and you're in.  We get a brief lesson in zombie walking (for the n00bs) and then we're off for a moaning, groaning, shambling...er...shamble around the mall for an hour.  Makes me wish I lived in Shreveport because the local film center is doing a three-night zombie retrospective filmfest.  Damn you Shreveport for having culture!

I decided, after a brief tour through our local Hallo'een store to go as a zombie priest (Monsignor Macabre, perhaps,) as an homage to the priest in the basement of the tenement building in Romero's second landmark movie.  Mrs. I is going to continue the theme, going as a zombie nun (Sister Mary Gruesome,) and my daughter is going to finish our ghoulish trio by going as a zombie cat.  Yeah, I know it doesn't really fit the religious theme except maybe as a witch's familiar, but I'm not about to stomp on her creative side.  I even broke down and bought a semi-professional style prosthetic wound (which will cover either half my neck or all of one cheek and down across my jawbone,) and the necessary liquid blood, spirit gum and makeup to make it truly gruesome and deliquescent icky.

Still, there were two things that bothered and continue to bother me:

1) The vast preponderance of Sexy (fill in the blank) Costumes at the costume store.  95% of the teen/adult women's costumes there involved exposed breasts, mesh hosiery, corsets and micro skirts.  The photos of how you-yes-you would look in each costume was an endless procession of blonde supermodels with Barbie doll figures and faces just as plastically vacuous as you'd expect.  Since when was Hallo'een about sex?  It's the season to have the freckles scared off you, not be enticed by a woman whose costume looks like it came from the bastard child of a dominatrix police officer and a fifty dollar a night stripper.  What further bothered me was the hundreds of high school girls who were buying these costumes like they were going out of style.  And before you get to be a punk, Stucco, yes I was looking and yes it was enticing, but it's HALLOWEEN for shite's sake, not National Be A Sexual Predator's Favourite New Toy For A Day Day.  What is wrong with people?  Moreso, what is wrong with people's parents? Which is itself another post.

and

2) I really wanted to go as Zombie Jesus but the costume was $75 and I don't have the time to put one together out of bits and pieces.  But could you imagine?  Zombie Jesus.  Oooooh how good would THAT have been?  "Verily I say unto thee 'Go in peace, and devour the flesh of the unbeliever.'"

THAT'S what Samhain is all about.**
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*  For those of you not familiar with the quote: "Outside of a dog, a book is man's best friend.  Inside a dog it's too dark to read."  ~Groucho Marx, world's greatest moustache wearer.

** And yes, I also fully realise that the origins of what we call Halloween are based in festivals centered around Fall harvest time and end of the year/end of the world fears and as a preparation for winter's long night, but really now, "Sexy Barmaid"?  How is that scary?  Unless maybe you wear a hook for a hand.

Sep 29, 2009

Puppy Paranoia

It's official.  Belle is pregnant.  Let the rejoicing being!  Soon to be replaced by terror!

We've bypassed the troubles of the last attempt at the big PG by a bunch of antibiotics when the grand event occurred, lots of prayer-wheel spinning and holding of breath.  Now she's just like a pregnant woman in her third trimester:* she's bloated, irritable, and eats anything and everything that gets within a few feet of her long and very agile nose.

The test made it official today at the vet's office but we still don't really know how many little rug rats she's carrying around in there.  Every time any of us try to palpate her belly she sucks it in like a failed dieter at the doctor's office and the pups end up sliding into her chest cavity, well out of counting reach.  I'm not horrifically worried, honest.  I feel about this pregnancy the same way I felt when my daughter was in utero: all I want is that the little ones be healthy.  I don't care how many or what sex or what colours, I just want a healthy batch of little ones.  In my daughter's case, though, I KNEW it was just one pup in there.  In Belle's case it could easily be up to a dozen or more.  In her 'family' there are bitches who have whelped litters of FIFTEEN.

Oh please don't let it be fifteen.

I'm thinking about setting up a pool.  The litter is due somewhere around the last week of October, a few days before Hallo'een for certain.  We've already decided on a Hallo'een litter name, and have compiled long lists of names for individual pups.  There's even several VIPs in the Borzoi world who have dibs, which I have to say is awfully flattering.  The thing being, there's not fifteen of them waiting in line!  So me, what I'm thinking about doing is setting up a pool: guess how many pups there will be, and the birthday.  Get it right and you get a puppy.  Heck, get it CLOSE and you get a puppy.  *lol*

Okay, so not really.  I'd be crucified if I gave away a pup, but I'm wondering if maybe after the dozenth pup makes its way into the world, damp and squealing and smelling vaguely funny we might be thinking about giving away one or two at bargain basement prices.

Honest, I'm excited about it.  I watch Sheba and Remy run and play in the backyard, powerful and elegant and quite frankly goofy as hell sometime.  That's part of the fun, too.  Watching them soar around the back yard like rockets then just as suddenly stopping to try and snap a fly out of the air to eat.  Yes, eat.  I'm just wondering what it's going to be like when there's a whole giant pack of them.  Like fifteen.  Oh my headache just got worse.

It really is exciting, though.  Knowing that she's growing them in there.  Each one a potential Field Champion.  Each one a potential Best of Show winnner.  Each one potentially an 80 pound lapdog, like Remy and Sheba both.  Like I said, goofy.

Sheba even smiles.  It's something that dogs in her family do.  Smiling is an ancient throwback to baring your teeth at someone or something to make them back off.  We use it now as a social connection.  Well, Sheba has made the connection somehow--she smiles at people.  She'll curl her lips up in the most frightening manner, as though she were snarling but no sound comes out except for some soft snorting, her tail wags in big circles, her head goes sideways and she just radiates happiness.  She's gotten to where I can make her smile for me.  I simply make a big, gruesome smile at her, make some gentle snorting noises and she'll smile right back, as happy as she can be.  Then she'll try to jump up and put her front paws on my shoulders (not hard for her these days) and kiss me. 

It makes me wonder what this new batch is going to be like.  I cannot WAIT!  Just...please, not too many, okay?
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*  An interesting fact--a dog's pregnancy runs about three times as fast as a human's, so now that she's passed her first month she's reached the equivalent of her first trimester.  She's starting to get swollen ankles and crave strange things to eat, like soap.  Honest.  Well okay, not the ankles.

Sep 25, 2009

A Message From The Arkansas Dept. of Tourism

Moving to Arkansas?  Welcome, and make yourself at home!  There's something we'd like to give you!

When moving to Arkansas to become a new resident, we like to issue each of our new rural homeowners a few starter Arkansan gifts.  When you settle into your new home, you'll receive:

A mid-40's coupe, non-functional, to place in your front yard.  This object can also be put up for sale, to fulfill the main requirement of having at least one item in your front yard for sale.  Preferred sale items are fresh produce, vintage automobiles, tractors, or slag glass.

An 1800's era item of agricultural equipment, also non-functional.  This is to be used as side-yard decoration, main focal point of your yard, or to tie your dog to.

One dog, indeterminate breed.

A dilapidated farm building, usually a barn but we reserve the right to substitute. Some substitutions include smoke houses, pump houses, or sheds.  All will exhibit a slight lean, and be just barely unusable but also unrepairable.  Your choice to let it become overgrown or kept clean, "because I'm gonna fix it up one day soon."

If you are moving into one of our two major cities (population 500+) then the above will be negated in favor of a mid 90's truck in at least two paint schemes and a single-axle trailer which you will be required to keep full of agricultural products, ie hay, a lawn mower or a farm animal.

We're pleased you decided to move to Arkansas!  Us all here at the Tourism Bureau want to make you feel as comfortable as possible, and making you fit in will go a long ways to helping you feel like one of us good 'ole boys.  And remember, ya'll come back now, y'hear?

Sep 24, 2009

Wedding Bells and Twisty Roads

Okay, so here I sit in a hotel named for a Swiss mountain of some repute listening to what sounds like a near-constant stream of Harley Fergusson motorcycles passing in very low gear, getting ready to slip into a tuxedo and attend the wedding of a dear friend in a glass-and-wood chapel in the middle of the woods of Arkansas that was designed by a student of Frank Lloyd Wright.

Could I be any happier?

Well, I DID catch some nice photos of a pair of black-with-white-chevrons ex K&O RR engines on the way up.  And tomorrow's iteniary includes going into some really beautiful caves and then maybe a trip to see one of the world's few natural stone bridges AND a house-sized rock balanced on a tiny spire of rock, both of which, I'm told were featured on Ripley's Believe It Or Not.  OH, and stopped by a gorgeous little tobacconist's place in Eureka Springs for a couple of Punch puros to puff on while we wandered the streets of this almost-New-Orleans-and-almost-Pacific-Northwest little town.

Let's put it this way--it'd take some doing.

Oh, and I'm not at work.

This place is unreal.  The GPS lead us up the back way, no interstates at all hardly, nothing but winding two-lane roads through back country that got progressively more hilly, wooded and rural.  Gorgeous stuff.  And it's not done yet.

This place is just too freaking pretty to be Arkansas.  It looks like it was ripped right up out of the country between Eugene and Florence, OR and put here whole, with some more pine trees tossed in, and lots less hippies.  Winding roads?  It's a motorcyclist's wet dream.  NOTHING but twising, winding roads, many with massive mountain-sides on one edge and calamttous drops on the other. Oh, and often they've got DOT warning signs that say "Warning: Crooked And Steep Roads Next 10 Miles."  Yeah, I'm wishing I could have forked over the cash to have trailered Sally up here.  Maybe next time.

Did I mention the scenic railway tour that lets you eat dinnerr in Pullman cars?  (Again, perhaps next trip up.  Budgetary concerns.)  But oh my kids, it's lovely as a newly-minted penny up here.  Victorian painted lady houses everywhere, buildings dating into the beginnnig of 1900 and winding pedestrian-friendly streets.  Shops?  Check.  Art?  Check.  Everywhere.  This place is very artist friendly.  And not hot!  It's unreal.

So yes, I'm having a good time.  Hell, a grand time.  I feel utterly stress-free for the first time in way too many months.  Already planning on coming back to catch all the things we can't catch this time.  And then some.

Did I mention the candy shop with the antique taffy-pulling machine in the window, working on an electric-green wodge of taffy?  Oh yes, photos to follow.  Foolishly I didn't bring my USB cable to hook the camera to my lappy.  Or, for that matter, my wallet.  I remembered the tux, though, and my appetite for giant blocks of sinfully good fudge.  And a pound of saltwater taffy.  And even a piece of lovely jewelry for the missus.

It's been a great microcation.  More to follow.

Sep 17, 2009

That Time Of Year Again

I know Fall is here finally.

Not because school has let back in, not because the pine trees are turning some of their needles honey-brown and dropping them, and not because football is back on tv. I know it's Fall because the hummingbirds are back. Not for good mind you, not at all. They're all on the road, headed to Mexico for the winter. Not a bad idea if you ask me, but I can't travel as light as they can.



Hummingbirds

I've had my feeder hung up for months now. I'd see one, two perhaps in a day if I was lucky. A solitary little grey and green flash would stop, drink, then be gone. Every weekend I'd go out on the front porch, take down the feeder, dump out the old liquid, clean it good, refill it and hang it back up. One cup sugar, four cups of water, and just a tiny splash of red food colouring to make it appealing, then back on the nail it'd go. To be mostly ignored.

Until this week that is. Something in the air told them it was time, and suddenly my front porch is an absolute dervish of activity. Tiny bodies flashing through the air like lightning, and constant squeaks and peeps and chittering calls eek their tinny way through my window. I look up one day and there's nothing. The next day there's four at a time. The next day there's so many flashing, dancing bodies I can't even begin to count them. I count them now by how often I have to fill the feeder. Two cups of sugar water are gone in less than 8 hours now, and I'm at peak capacity. I know this because they're piling up two at a time on the feeder flowers--one standing on the perch, another flying, both with their long beaks deep in the sugary goodness.



Hummingbirds

And the fighting? I never knew something so tiny, so inexpressibly impossible could be so violent! Males crashing together, issuing outraged squeaks and chirps at each other, tangled together so intensely that they both fall to the soft grass, then separate to fly up and do it again, hammer and tongs, only pausing long enough to get a drink to refresh, then back at it again, while the females struggle with each other to fill their bellies before heading back out, many hundreds of miles left to go.


Hummingbirds


I'm told that if you hang a feeder out once you have to do it forever if you want to keep your birds. They remember, you see. If a feeder is there one year they'll come looking for it every year, every time they're in the area. If it's gone one year you won't see them again. That saddens me, and yet it makes me glad, too, to think that the little tiny dancers in the air that I feed this year will be in the crowd next year, having remembered this place.

I also love that they're so very unconcerned with my presence there. They're hungry, and they know that I'm so huge and slow that there's no way I could possibly HOPE to touch one, much less harm one. I stand with my camera pointed at the feeder, not three feet separating me from the tiny swirling motes of green and black and grey and they are utterly oblivious. When I take down the feeder to fill it the air is filled with angry chittering, and more than once I've had a bird begin drinking its fill as I'm still trying to hang the feeder back on its nail.



Jostling For Position

The doves that feast at my seed tray every day? They scatter like sheep before a wolf at the slightest provocation. If they see me move through the big windows that front my desk they're gone instantly. A quickly-shifted pile of papers will put them to flight. The hummingbirds? Not even the explosive flash of my camera bothers them anymore, and me moving around only sets them to stirring in a faster frenzy than before, like silt stirred up from a river bottom as a fish passes, quickly settling again.

Tiny, and so improbable. So beautiful, and so irrepressibly self-assured. How can I not love them?


The whole Flickr set can be found here--too many to post. *s*

Sep 13, 2009

Amusing

(If you're reading this on Facebook you can get the whole blog at irrelephant.blogspot.com)

So I gone and done it. I painted last week. I painted again today. I'm reminded of the old joke in Mel Brooks' History Of The World movie.

Scene: Rome, an unemployment office line. A CENTURIAN stands in front of the benefits window. BEA ARTHUR dressed in a toga as the UNEMPLOYMENT OFFICIAL questions him:

Bea: Have you killed anyone this week?
Centurian: No.
Bea: Have you TRIED to kill anyone this week?
Centurian: Yes.

Etc.

So no thanks, no unemployment for me, I've painted every Sunday for the last four weeks in a row. It's a freaking record!

Today was a little strange, though. Usually I have no end of ideas in my head, and a blank canvas has never scared me. Today I decided that I'd put aside the handful of canvases I've already cartooned on, precursors to painting. I wanted to start a study, a test run sort of thing on an idea I've got, an idea that is going to take a big canvas. Specifically one I just finished gessoing early this afternoon.

When I was in college learning how to paint one of the first things we learned in the very first class was how to make our own canvases. The little studio classroom had a waist-high miter box and saw and lots of scrap plywood for corners. The thing being, we had to buy and bring our own raw stock--2x2s and quarter round. We were taught (well, THEY were taught, I already knew basic carpentry) how to miter corners and tack quarter round onto frames, how to measure and square and use triangles of plywood to strengthen corners. Then came the huge rolls of raw canvas, six feet tall and pale tan. We'd roll it out on the floor, lay the newly-constructed and still sweet-smelling wood frame onto it and cut it to rough shape, then get out the heavy duty stapler and staple and stretch, staple and stretch. I learned how to make neatly tucked corners, folded just right, then the buckets of gesso would come out and the four-inch house paintbrushes and we'd start in the middle applying snow white to the tan, working our way to the edges and over until the whole thing was pristine and ready to go.

I always loved the miracle that is gesso. How fabric that I strained my finger muscles on to tighten could suddenly, as the gesso dried, become tight as a snare drum's skin. And the sweet, pale smell of it, it always signaled to me that it was time to create. I built canvases of every size, often building stretchers to fit the odd-sized bit of canvas I had left over from building another stretcher for a class assignment. I'd build canvases a foot tall and five feet long just to see if I could do it, and built canvases so big they took internal cross-bracing to keep from collapsing. I've built canvases so bit it's an effort to carry them. I built a six foot by four foot monster for a class assignment, and got chided for it because I'd spent so much time prepping and building the canvas that I didn't have time to cover the whole thing properly, ending up rushing the assignment. (And still I never beat Bryan, my friend who was a year ahead of me who used to buy and gesso military surplus canvas pup-tents and use three, stretched and nailed together as his floor-to-ceiling canvases.)

Even though the ease of store-bought and pre-prepared canvases quickly took over it never stayed rooted. Today I stripped a pair of experiments off an old stretcher I still had, dug out my roll of raw canvas and with a big bottle of clearance gesso I set to. Rolled out the canvas on the living room floor and went to work. Stretched, stapled, stretched again, then around once with the hammer just to make sure everything was secure. Then the gesso, poured onto an old house brush that I've had since my college days for just such a job. Starting in the center, working my way out to the edges, watching the miracle happen again as the sweet-smelling gesso tightened the canvas up like an old prude's mouth.

Then, that one got set aside. I'm not quite ready to work on that painting, but I did start on a study for it. Started, and it went terribly awry, strangely. I painted on it for perhaps half an hour, hated where it was going, hated what I was doing, and set it aside. Picked up another, one with a cartoon already on it that I didn't care for a great deal (another chess piece study, actually) and took off in a new direction. I'd thought about populating the bottom of my big canvas with some strange little things, and I'd just watched Hellboy II again, and kept remembering the Troll Market, and the two figures who passed through in the background carrying what looked like huge Chinese paper lanterns made like koi fish, only very stylized.

So, I took that idea and worked on it. Practice for myself in making round things look round, practice in using colours outside of my usual palette (not entirely but I don't often go the red-orange-yellow route) and looking at something that I might or might not include in the big canvas, I guess. A dry run so to speak, especially since this particular pair of things isn't part of my usual vocabulary of images.

It was nice to be working, though, smoothly and quickly, which is how I like to paint. Not going entirely into abstract action-painting, and certainly not using the trowel, tho I do love a good trowel-painting, applying pigment so thick it's like spreading cake icing. No, instead just a fast, free application of paint, working at fooling the eye into believing a pair of flat objects are actually round.

The magic worked again, in its own strange way. Hours passed, I completed it, liked it. Set it aside to dry, cleaned up my work area and returned my office back to my office and not my studio. The smell of turps and oil pigment still lingers strong, but it's all put away again until next Sunday afternoon.

I think I need to get my sketchbook out, though. I feel a long-legged harpsichord coming on. Perhaps one with orangey-red almost-fish-lanterns under it. Or perhaps not.




(That white sheen you see isn't actually pigment, it's the wet oil reflecting the flash. Not much way to get around that unless I wait three weeks for it to dry and THEN take the photo, which pretty much ruins the idea of posting photos as I finish these things.)