A Garden Tale

We have a planter box in our back garden that is empty. Alf and I decided it took too much work, and not to mention water, to nurture and grow vegetables. Consequently, word got out in the neighborhood and it has become the toilet for cats that poop in for visits. I caught one the other day peeing. He looked me straight in the face with a grin and continued peeing.

Our son however, didn’t like the look of the empty box. Last weekend he showed up for a visit with four sweet pea plants and put them in the ground.

“The soil is full of cat pee,” I warned.

“Fertilizer,” he said.

I love sweet peas with their curly tendrils and their delicate multi-colored flowers that can fill a room with their fragrance. We didn’t have trellises, but he found leftover tomato plant stands which he put around each plant.

“Take care of them,” he said when he left.

Two weeks later he called me from the road to Idaho. “How are the sweet peas?”

I stuttered. It has been scorching hot and the sweet peas turned lemon yellow and looked exhausted.

I called a local nursery for help. They told me to shade the plants with an umbrella, water them frequently and fertilize them.

I envisioned taking shifts with Alf holding umbrellas over them. Or recruiting neighborhood kids to take turns and we’d pay them in candy.

What we did instead was drape a tablecloth over the tops of the stands, and clip clothespins to keep it from flying away. It looks like a Sukkah booth.

This morning the sweet peas look perkier. And our son, who is coming for a visit, will see we’re taking care of his investment.

Frankly, Calvin is less fuss.

“I’m the best investment you have in this family. At least I don’t ask you to shade me with an umbrella on our walks!”

And the Theme Continues

The older I get the same themes in my life keep coming around. Maybe it’s because there aren’t any new themes out there anymore. They’re all used up. Like going to the party store hoping to find new colors and designs and coming home with pink and yellow again.

My neighbors are from India and they tried very hard to get into the spirit of Christmas this year. The ones across the street draped the front of the house with strings of lights from the eaves and bushes. They also inflated several snowmen that lit up at night. They still haven’t taken them down. They must be on a timer because promptly at 6 pm the lights come on and the snowmen stand at attention with smiles on their faces.

Why am I mentioning this? Because I’ve lived in the same neighborhood for forty years and have seen different people groups come and go. When we moved in most of the neighbors were Portuguese. Then they were Asian. Now they’re Indian. And every one of them were bitten by the Christmas bug. But nothing beat the Portuguese. One neighbor was the master decorator with reindeer, Santa, sleighs, trees, and magic stars over the roof. We waited every year for the unveiling, which was at the end of the street so no one could escape his display.

Themes come and go. Traditions too based on the culture. Ours are especially commercial. Everyone gets infected the longer they stay here. If I lived in Mexico I’d be drinking Mexican hot chocolate and marching in a procession to the Church. No Santas allowed.

Calvin says, “Good grief! What made you so broody today? Maybe it was what you ate for dinner last night. Speaking of which, are you going to give me those leftovers I saw you store in the fridge? You can skip the hot chocolate.”

And We’re Back

It’s been a while, I know, but between the pandemic and some serious health problems for me, life got complicated. Calvin pivoted quickly when he realized his treat schedule was going to change, his daily walks, too, and he was going to need to roll with it, and not in the mud either. Not an easy task for a beagle but he rose to the occasion.

My family came to the rescue as well, each member contributing their talent for keeping me sane. My daughter took care of the endless administrative details that came with doctors throwing papers, articles and weekly instructions at me, not to mention the myriad of appointments for tests. The paperwork was my doing. I insisted on seeing the research for the prescribed protocols that my care team wanted me to embark on.painting30

My son took time off from work to take me to doctor treatments, hold my hand while I was in treatment, and made sure I was looked after well. He would have made a great RN.

Alf held down the fort. That meant Calvin at home. The chemo center would not allow for a nose-to-the-ground hound dog on the premises, although he would have made a great therapy dog dispensing slurpy kisses and smiles to fellow patients. He also would have devoured the contents of their lunch boxes and left them with only their water bottles and tea.

Nobody is ever prepared for a cancer diagnosis. It’s shocking. It takes time to process and accept it. I’m grateful for the resilience of my family and their loving support, the care of neighbors and friends, and the amazing contributions from my extended family without which I wouldn’t be here to tell about it.

Calvin says, “You didn’t push very hard for me to be in the chemo room with you. I would have made everyone giggle like children and that’s better than any treatment.” beagle

Losing My Grip

I’m wondering if I’m not experiencing what prisoners feel in a small cell with the walls moving in, the stale air, the absence of noises from the outside, and only fluorescent lights overhead.

My life feels narrow. I find myself not wanting to go outside because I’ve forgotten how to do it. I no longer know if I can strike up a conversation with the grocery clerk or a fellow dog walker.

“You always had trouble with that,” Alf said.

“I did not,” I said.

“Think back before the lock down, you didn’t want to be bothered.”

“That’s because my life was full of people and I needed a break,” I said.

“Excuses, excuses. Face it, you don’t like people.”

“I like you,” I said.

“I’m not people,” Alf said.

“I like our dog, he’s people.”

“Like I said…”

The trees in my garden are looking limp with yellow at the edges. My flowers have a layer of ash on them. The squirrels have stopped chattering. The bees seldom come out of their hive. My neighbors are playing hide-n-seek. There are no new seasons for my favorite shows. The news is depressing, well when is it not. I thought I’d read the classics, but that’s too much work. Even the idea of starting a new painting stifles a yawn.

Lately I’ve noticed never ending ads for makeup products for women past 40 on all the social media platforms. I guess the cosmetic companies think we look like old hags by now and need updating. I’m tempted, but then where would I wear it if I’m not going outside?

I did watch the U.S. Open without an audience. I think the competition was better. It allowed the players to focus on the game. And there were no theatrics from the typical suspects. Except someone with style needs to speak to the brand names that clothe the athletes. It gets worse every year. The men wore pink, the women wore the ugliest outfits I’ve ever seen. What happened to white?

Calvin says, “So I’m people, huh? Where’s the people food then?”

Eerie Air

I am waking up this week to apocalyptic scenes in the sky. Because of the wildfires raging all around us, the sky is dusty yellow and the sun comes up red. The birds are silent. The bees haven’t left the hive. There’s a layer of ash on the cars and on the street. And then there’s an eerie silence, as if no human beings are breathing and living. I’ve never experienced this before, most of us haven’t. With virus spikes continuing and now this, it’s a wonder what else is in store leading to the end of the year.

The weather patterns are wonky too. Wyoming is under a blanket of snow while Southern Oregon is up in flames.

Some states are regretting opening their schools because apparently children are the biggest carriers of the virus. Children have always been the carriers of everything. They’re children. They have no sense of distancing on a playground or in a classroom. Nor do they wash their hands that often. What did these educators in their high-tower offices think?

I’ve heard in some cities Halloween is cancelled. Why I wonder? Our masks can blend in with the costumes. So can our uncut hair and wrinkly faces. If we make sure our candies are wrapped and washed down with disinfectant wipes, where’s the harm in that? Next, Thanksgiving is in jeopardy. We’ll be told we can’t buy turkeys because they might be virus carriers. It will be an opportunity for the vegans to shine this year. Pull out your veggie recipes.

And let’s not even think about Christmas. Christmas trees will be cancelled in favor of fake ones where no human has sweated to cut them down.

Calvin says, “That means no doggy bones for me this holiday. I’ll have to educate my palate to gnaw on a cauliflower ear.” 




All Lit Up

If it wasn’t daunting enough with the pandemic, we in Northern California have been fighting fires that began with lightning storms two weeks ago. I woke up to the crack of lightning strikes early in the morning that lit up my bedroom, followed by rumbles of thunder. I was transported to my childhood where storms like these were normal every day occurrences. I should have known better. Instead of being delighted with the weather, I should have known it spelled trouble for this part of the world. We’re known for earthquakes, not stormy weather.

Many of the fires started around farms and hillsides. Farm animals had to be vacated to an event arena in San Francisco where it’s been turned into giant stables for horses and cows and housing for smaller animals like chickens, sheep, goats and llamas.

Every firefighter has been on the job for days on end with no respite. Some are volunteers, others are career veterans. All are exhausted. We’re importing units from Southern California and even overseas like Australia. One local restaurant I know prepares meals for free every day for them and residents hand out water and homemade brownies and cookies in the evening.

I wanted to help, but Calvin and I wouldn’t be allowed in or out of those areas. Instead we took a walk to our local fire station to say thank you. I had to keep my distance, but Calvin kissed everyone for me.

Calvin says, “Those guys are my champions, especially the ladies.”





Penguin Goodies

Animal crackers, in the large 4 pound container, are my favorite cookies. I have to parcel them out otherwise I can eat my way through the container in a week. There are a few other foods that I love. Cheese, figs, peaches, a French baguette, grilled beef, fries, a strong cup of English tea, and yerba mate.

I’m convinced that what you loved to eat as a child stays with you for life.

Except chocolate. I couldn’t eat enough of the stuff as a child, especially white chocolate with a beehive interior. I gobbled it up every week. However, today as an adult I no longer crave it. I can easily say no and keep going into the cheese store.

“That’s because you graduated to salt better than sweet,” Alf said.

“Except for those animal crackers, they get me every time,” I said.

“You just like the animal shapes.”

“It’s the taste,” I said.

“How can you eat a penguin followed by a koala?”

“Simple, I like the crunch,” I said.

“That’s horrifying.”

“Not anymore that cutting into a steak,” I said.

Calvin says, “I’ll finish the container of animal crackers with you. We’ll have tea together.”




Pretty Ugly

Some animal vomited all over the base of a plant in my garden. Not a pleasant sight. We ignored it for a couple of days, then it hardened, and Alf hacked at it with a spade and dumped it into a plastic bag and deposited it in the garbage, which goes out tomorrow.

I mention this because not everything is pretty in my garden.

Occasionally I come across the body of a dead bird on the ground. This usually happens when it bangs into a window. But I have learned to leave it alone because it could be just stunned into unconsciousness and eventually, after a few hours, it will come to and fly off. I can’t think of how many “dead” birds I’ve thrown away when they probably could have survived.

Have I mentioned that every pet we have ever owned, when it died, we buried in the garden? From Chico the ring-neck parrot, Eternity our Siamese, Baxter and Jones, our two parakeets, and Gwen our Springer Spaniel. Right now their burial plots are springing up flowers. Their bones have fertilized the soil and given new life to lovely plants that house hummingbirds and butterflies.

“The circle of life,” Alf said.

“I wonder what the vomit could have produced,” I said.

“Maggots,” Alf said.

“Don’t they make good fertilizer?”

“Not if you want creepy crawlies underfoot.”

Calvin says, “Don’t you bury me in the back when my time comes. I want to be let free in wild grasses to frolic all day long.” 


Roller Coaster Life

I can’t keep up with ups and downs of the COVID spikes. They’re like a roller coaster. All I know is that California remains in quarantine and that means I continue to be stuck at home with Alf and the hound.

We’re barking at each other more than usual. We’re reading more, watching more TV, and needing more sleep. By the time we emerge from this, like bears after a winter’s hibernation, we may not recognize who we are. We’ll need to introduce ourselves all over again to family and friends.

“Remember me? I’m your mother.”

“I thought you were dead,” my daughter would say.

“Not dead, just buried,” I would say.

“You look a little long in the tooth,” she would say.

“That’s better than crinkly skin and hollow eyes.”

“You’re almost there. You need to soak in a milk bath and soften up,” she would say.

“As long as it’s almond sweet with lots of rubber ducks with me.”

Calvin says, “Has someone told you you’re brain is rotting too?”

Fashion in Your Face

Face masks are becoming a fashion statement. They’re no longer the pale blue type worn in medical settings. Now you can buy colorful, creative and attractive ones. Some look like leopard spots, others like Picasso paintings, others like quilt patterns. There’s no end to the choices. And since we’re forced to wear them, we might as well make a splash.

I know of artists that have printed their abstracts onto masks as a side hustle.

“You should try that,” Alf said.

“My art isn’t that wearable,” I said.

“Those faces you paint, they’ll do.”

“You mean my painted ladies?”

“Those,” Alf said. “They need to be outed.”

Some people wear their masks like cowboys in the Wild West, covering their nose, mouth and chin, down to their necks. They’re bandanas really, but they do the trick. I wear a red one. Makes me look like a bandit. It’s my chance of impersonating a villain.

The cosmetic companies need to catch on. We need a new line of makeup to enhance our eyelids and lashes since it’s the only part of our face we show to the public. They can call the brand Flutter.

Calvin says, “We need a line of masks too. It can be branded “Muzzle tov!”