Thursday, December 29, 2016

Yosemite's Red Headed Step-Cousins

Everyone's heard of Yosemite.  You got your Half Dome.  You got your El Capitan.  You got your Matterhorn.  Wait a minute.  That's in Disneyland.  Which is ironic, because that's what Yosemite is like, a Magic Kingdom, in a natural sort of way.  But I'm not here to talk about Yosemite, I'm here to talk about those other two magical kingdoms just south of there, Kings Canyon and Sequoia National Parks.

I have lived in the Golden State for 62 years, which is sort of dating myself.  But if I was really doing that I'd have to take myself to dinner.  Which means I'd have to put on a dress, high heels and lipstick and why am I telling you this?  Where was I anyway?

Kings Canyon.  Sequoia.  National parks.  Sixty-two years.  I had never been there before.  I've been to Yosemite several times, but then we're not talking about Yosemite.  Why the heck had I never been just south of there to the adjoining natural wonders?

From a perspective point of view, we met a couple from Singapore at Kings Canyon after finishing our hike.  It was their first visit to this glorious state.  Where did they go after landing in San Francisco?  Lake Tahoe.  Yosemite.  Kings Canyon/Sequoia.  From there to visit a college friend in Monterey and then back to Singapore.  They hadn't even been in the state a week and went to Kings Canyon.  It took me sixty-two years.

Kings Canyon National Park is roughly due East from Fresno, Ca.  Sequoia adjoins and is directly south.  Good old Yosemite is directly north, but we're not talking about Yosemite.  There are two roads in to Kings Canyon from the west, there are no roads in from the east.  Big granite mountains with sheer granite cliffs make that kinda difficult.

We took Highway 99 south from Sacramento to Fresno, and then took Highway 180 East.  Fresno sure seemed bigger than I could have imagined.  The interchange to go from south to east, which looked like a simple two road intersection on a ten year old map, was actually worthy of any Southern California mystical highway maze.  Holy cow.

But once we were out of highway boulevard metropolis land, the road narrowed down to two handsome lanes.  Soon it became "The Orange Blossom Trail", which was a logical name.  We began passing through beautiful, bountiful, and perfectly aligned orange groves on either side of the highway as we cruised into the foothills from the valley floor.

It's only forty-five miles from Fresno to the park's entrance, but it's a world away.  $30 to get in and stay and play for seven days.  What a bargain.  We Americans need to get out and explore and support our national parks more.  They are treasures.  The rest of the world certainly knows this.

When we arrived at the Visitor Center ten minutes later we quickly discovered we, as Americans, were the minority.  I felt like I was in Paris or Southeast Asia.  Or an elevator in San Francisco.  There were foreign speaking European and Asian tourists everywhere.  Well, not everywhere.  There were about twelve cars in a parking lot that could hold a hundred.  High season was certainly behind us.

Besides the very informative visitor center, there was also a gift shop and general store in the vicinity.  Around the corner and up the bend a couple hundred yards sat the John Muir Lodge, our quarters for the next two nights.

There were only two places still open in the park where you spend the night, unless you wanted to sleep in your ice box refrigerator car.  The Muir Lodge was one, the Wuksachi Lodge the other.  All the campgrounds were closed for the winter, and there were plenty of those.  I would imagine the park is a  human freaking zoo in the summer.

The location of the Muir Lodge was perfect for our ramblings.  We were going to drive down into the canyon the next day and do some hiking.  The following day we'd head south through Sequoia Park and then out through the south entrance to parts unknown.  We had two days and nights before a very important dinner engagement with the kids in Oakland.  Babysitting payback.  That's our price.  More quality family time.  On their dime.

The ambiance of the lodge is like rustic meets Denny's.  The lobby, cafe and wifi chill area are all in the same wide open place.  There is a high ceiling with huge, rough hewn beams, a large rock fire place and wrought iron chandeliers.  There's also a few overstuffed leather type arm chairs with Navajo type blankets.

Then there's about fifteen standard cafe type melmac and metal tables with K-Mart chairs.  A couple glass door fridges also graced the cafeteria where you could grab a sandwich or salad to go.  Then there were a couple more candy and soda vending machines leading down the hall towards the lodge's rooms.

The lodge cafeteria boasted an extremely limited menu.  I think there were seven items on it.  The food was also prepared in attached trailer.  There was park signage calling something somewhere a "food court", but it was a lot more like a selection you might find, say, at a Topeka trailer trash pot luck.

In fairness, apparently in summer there were food trailers out in the parking area that offered varied fare.  There was also a new food court/restaurant that was under construction and should be available for consumption in 2017.  Which is good, because the seven item menu lacked, well, variety.  Substance.  Flavor. 

The first night I had a burger, which was palatable, but not even close to an In & Out.  My lovely wife had beef stew, which included two or three bites of beef.  The second night we both had a chicken Caesar salad.  They were OK, except I saw the chef that morning retrieving the unsold salads from the day before from the glass fridge in the lobby.  I'm going to assume some of that lettuce, a bit wilted and brown, made it into our salads that night.

He probably did it on instructions from the Delaware North Corporation, the company that runs the concessions at many, if not all our national parks.  Sorry guys, you get, like a "D" for food service.  And the only reason you get that is because the marinated chicken was good.

What was much better than the food though was the human ambiance factor.  It seemed like everyone dining was dressed in outdoor and/or mountaineering gear.  Except for one European malcontent in sweats.  He could have been anywhere in America the way he was attired, like a Wal-Mart hot dog stand for instance.

I got the feeling we were at a high sierra base camp getting ready for some fantastic mountaineering conquest the following day.  Folks were talking about the current day's exploits, or they were pouring over maps of the gargantuan park planning the next day's assault.  We were all on the verge of something great.  I knew then my lovely wife and I would easily conquer the highway the following day in our sedan as we motored through the glorious scenery.  With snacks and drinks.  We had this.  Piece of cake.

When we initially checked in, the front desk clerk informed us that there was going to be a constellation viewing that night with a park ranger.  Everyone interested was to meet in the lobby at 7:30 PM.

Sounded good to us.  I mean, at our age you can only have so much motel sex before the batteries need recharging.

After dinner we returned to our room and continued planning the next day's assault.  Then we left the room at 07:25 and walked the forty-five steps to the lobby, arriving at 7:25:42.  It was more of a stroll I guess, plus I lingered a couple seconds in front of the candy machine planning that evening's assault of a Butterfinger bar.

There were still a few folks in the cafeteria and there was also another couple sitting in two of the over-stuffed arm chairs.  The foreigner in sweats and his girlfriend were still in the wifi area playing with their phones.  A few folks filtered in and out of the double glass doors.  A party of five young, strapping German lads waltzed into the room.  Rock climbers I presumed.  They bought some candy and disappeared down the hall. 

We sat in the other two over-stuffed arm chairs and patiently awaited the ranger.  We sat there quite politely for ten minutes or so, figuring the ranger had run into Yogi Bear.  Or Boo-Boo.  Then the front desk whiz kid hospitality jack of all trades walked by and asked how we were doing.  We said fine, and informed him we were waiting for the ranger for the constellation show.  He said they had already left.

"Um, what?" I inquired, looking around quickly while trying to ascertain if I had missed something as obvious as a park ranger with tourists in tow.  Three feet away.  Maybe he didn't have his ranger hat on...     

"Yeah, he rounded up five people and left a few minutes early.  He asked if there were any others coming."

And so I pose this question to anybody willing to listen: Without a sign-up sheet ANYWHERE, how is a complete stranger going to know if another complete stranger is going to show up?  And why the hell have a meeting time if you're going to leave before the appointed time?

I checked my watch.  It's a Swiss Army Watch, man.  It's accurate.  It has a toothpick and everything.  Plus our room was about twenty seconds from the meeting spot.  We were on time, actually early.  Man.

The next morning we took the couple mile drive to the view point where the constellation show was the night before.  We didn't see any stars, but found the view vast and enormous.  Majestically supreme.  Granite walls and mountain peaks stretching our forever.  The last range in the distance included a few of the 14,000 foot peaks close to Mt. Whitney, the tallest point in the continental US at 14,491. 

From there we took the incredibly impressive thirty-six mile Kings Canyon Scenic Byway drive down and through the eventually towering granite faced Kings Valley.  Whew.  Everywhere you looked the views were magnificent.

As you might imagine, there are a few twists and turns as the road winds its way down into the canyon.  It's fine for a sedan or just about any four wheel vehicle.  The signs say it's also fine for trucks with trailers, but some of those curves around some of those mountain ridges would be too tight for my comfort.  Not to mention the hundreds of foot fall if one of those tires skid off the lane.

They surely used some dynamite when they cut that road along some of those sheer granite cliffs.  The drive is not for the faint of heart, but eventually it levels out on the canyon floor and then follows the south fork of the Kings River all the way to Road's End.  That's where, well, the road ends.

Campgrounds abound once you hit the river, there's even a lodge down there.  But all of that closes up for winter, as a matter of fact the road we were on was closing entirely the Monday after we would be there.

Autumn is a glorious time to visit the Sierras.  Colors abound and, incidentally, humans don't.  There were five cars at Road's End when we arrived.  The parking lot could hold fifty.  And there were probably fifty different hikes you could take from that location.  From six minutes to six days.

We chose one that was somewhere in between.  It ended up being six miles.  It was nothing short of magical, better than Disneyland and a whole lot quieter.  The route was mostly level, heading upstream first and then back downstream, in a long oval.  The path wound through a hundred foot wide forest surrounded by sheer, several hundred foot tall granite cliffs.  The river ran through the middle.  Foot bridges allowed us to ford the stream at both ends.

Every single view along the river was a post card.  I kept imagining the area encased in snow, the white, clear beauty captured in enraptured silence.  Not a human soul around.

When we arrived back at the parking lot and began unloading our gear, I noticed a young Asian couple holding a map and making a beeline towards us.  She was pretty frantic, he was a little less so but still quite concerned.  They were both just a little bit lost.  Fortunately I knew exactly where we were and exactly where they had left their car.   As a matter of fact it was our next stop, so we gladly gave them a ride.

They both spoke very good English, however a few adjectives haven't quite made it into their far east vocabulary.

When they said they were from Singapore, my lovely wife, ever polite, enthusiastically responded, "Oh, I hear your city is awesome!"

"Why, what have you heard?" responded the husband, mortified and taken aback.

It was then we assured him "awesome" is good.  We chatted briefly, wished each other well and continued on our separate ways.

After the young Singapore couple put Monterey in my head, that evening we decided we'd go from the Sierras to the Sea the following day.  The mileage wasn't that large and we hadn't really been back to Monterey since we lived there in 2005.  What the hell. 

Before we could go to Monterey the next day though, we had to drive by and see some really, really big trees.  I'm talking massive here.  We had already seen the "General Grant" when we first got into the park, it was only a couple miles from the lodge.

The General Grant, the second-largest sequoia in the world, is a 3,000-year-old wonder and the centerpiece of Grant Grove in Kings Canyon National Park.  A massive specimen of Sequoiadendron giganteum, General Grant measures almost 270 feet tall and 107 feet around at its base. The tree was named in 1867 to honor Ulysses S. Grant, and was coined the “Nation's Christmas Tree” by President Calvin Coolidge. It is one of the biggest attractions in the entire national park system.

Yeah, we'd visited Grant, but we had to see the undisputed king, General Sherman.  The King of the Giant Forest, the General Sherman tree is not only the largest living tree in the world, but the largest living organism, by volume, on the planet. General Sherman is:
~ 2,100 years old
~ 2.7 million pounds
~ 275 feet tall
~ 100 feet around at its trunk

And all around the Sherman tree are other incomprehensibly giant trees, all hundreds if not thousands of years old.  Imagine the stories they could tell.  

Once again we ended up being about the fourth car in a parking lot that could hold a hundred.  And once again we two Americans were the minority.  There were a half dozen foreigners at the tree when we arrived.  How do I know they were foreign?  Conversation sounded like an elevator in San Francisco, only, you know, quieter.

As we drove through both parks both days I noticed there were quite a few dead and dying pines.  Besides  the drought casualties, a wild fire had blown through portions of the park a few years back. 

Which begs the question: If a tree falls in the forest and you get squished do squirrels even care?

The road heading south out of the park is not for the faint of heart either.  Or long vehicles.  As a matter of fact, trailers are prohibited that way.  Hell, it's about 10 MPH in a sedan.  Hairpin does not even begin to describe some of the turns.  It reminded me of Lombard Street in San Francisco.  Or my driveway.

Eventually we wound our way out of the park and we were off to the sea, taking the mostly two lane Highway 198 all the way across the state. 

It had been a while since we'd gone a stretch on a road that wasn't a freeway though.  We were getting close to needing gas and we were discovering it was hard to come by.  Freeway's are easy.  Gas is everywhere.  Two lane highways, at least this portion of 198, not so much.

The scenery was gorgeous though.  We were passing through beautiful farm land throughout the middle of the state and having a grand time looking at all the old farm houses that were dotted amid the crops and orchards.  I kept my eye on the gas gauge and figured we should be able to make it to the next town which was about forty miles away.  But it would be do or die.  If there was no station I was going to have to siphon some from somewhere.

Ever have gasoline burps?  You think taco, sauerkraut and beer burps are bad?  Try huffing on a hose stuck in a gas tank and just getting your lips off in the nick of time.  But before you get to that glorious moment you've already inhaled a helium balloon or two of gas fumes.  So not only are you talking weird but you've got gas vapor coming up out of your esophagus.  There's not enough beer in the world to quell that noxious swell, folks.  Not enough beer in the world.

And then, as if by miracle, an oasis appeared before us, sparing me the awful potential of regurgitating gasoline.

It was where Highway 198 intersected with Interstate 5, the main north/south artery in the state.  Speaking of freeways.  We hadn't just stumbled into an oasis though, we hit the Motherlode!  There were no less than three gas stations and seven eateries.  Epicurean gold.  McDonald's, Taco Bell, Subway, Denny's, Baja Fresh, Burger King and Carl's Jr.  There was even a Motel 6 just in case you ate too much and needed a nap.

Sound bite quote of the day, "It was an honorable conclusion to the ending of the completion of the project at hand."  Spoken by a redundant repeater on the TV news that morning.  Must've been a politician.

We gassed up, my lovely wife got a taco and we were on our way.  Another hour or so and we hit Highway 101 North to Salinas, then over Highway 68 Westward Ho past Laguna Seca Raceway to Monterey.
Pardon me.  I guess it's now called Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca.  Whatever. 

I had finagled a great deal on the motel the night before on Priceline, $90 for a regular $160 four star room.  We checked in, refreshed ourselves and then moseyed over to the Monterey Fish House for dinnerIt's where the locals goThe hell with the wharf and Cannery Row.  There's always a gazillion tourists over there.

The Fish House is on Del Monte Avenue and is located well away from those tourist traps.  There's an oyster bar and the ambiance is boisterous.  Boisterous fine dining.  It reminded me of Le Petite Colbert in Paris.  We arrived at 5:30 and got the last table, almost shoulder to shoulder with the couple next to us.  A minute later another couple ventured in.  Thirty minute wait.

We had a sumptuous meal, then played tourist and drove down to the wharf.  There we smelled caramel corn and sea urchins and I bought my lovely wife a John Steinbeck coffee mug.  He's one of my well read lovely wife's favorite authors.  So am I, or so she says. 

The last day of our short trip was spent in Oakland with our wonderful kids and grandchildren.  And then that night was our dinner out with our daughter and son-in-law.  At the Cliff House in San Francisco.  It was a wonderful choice, and would have been better if I didn't have to drive in Daytona 500 traffic across the damn Bay Bridge at 6:00 PM on a Saturday night.  Ah chi mama.  Good thing I don't drink anymore.

The Cliff House is a very notable, distinguished and posh San Francisco restaurant.  It's, like, famous even.  It deserves, you know, reasonable attire.  I was not sporting a tie, but I was sporting a coat.  Slacks.  Shiny black shoes.  Son in law the same, sans the coat.  My lovely wife and fabulous daughter were in cocktail dresses.  Our table was entirely respectable and appropriately attired.  There were also several gentlemen in the restaurant sporting ties.

Most folks were presentably attired.  Except for the nimrod in cargo shorts, t shirt and tennis shoes.  I mean, he could have gotten away with that at the John Muir Lodge in Kings Canyon Park, but he would have been cold.  What's wrong with people anymore?

Sigh.  The dinner was splendid and it is always simply marvelous spending time with your grown up children.  It was a fine fitting end for a five day getaway.  The drive back across the bridge was much tamer, and the drive back up to the foothills the following morning was a breeze.

The old homestead was just as we left her, thanks to our pet sitter extraordinaire, Amber.  I'd recommend her but I don't think she can take any new clients, she's that good!  Here's a plug anyway: Pet, Plant & Home., just in case she has an opening.  Amber makes leaving easy.

All the chickens and kitties were fine.  Well, until the big bad but entirely beautiful bobcat showed up.
Stay tuned.

I hope you all enjoyed a splendid Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa or whatever you celebrate and I hope we all have a safe and joyous New Year.


Thursday, October 27, 2016

187 Reasons Why Folks My Age...

...should NOT have babies.  Unless, of course, they can afford a full time nanny.

My lovely wife and I each turned 62 this year.  She turned a little before I did, which means she's older than me.  A fact I like to bring up now and then when the moment is right.  I have already lamented about Gettin Old, which can be found there.  But besides the usual bothersome and often annoying situations and occurrences that accompany folks as they reach riper maturation, we have uncovered another arena where older folks really have no business.

We recently hosted our three Grandchildren for a 48 hour weekend while our daughter and son-in-law celebrated their 10th wedding anniversary.  During this time we reached the conclusion folks our age should not have babies.  I'd like to say there are 187 reasons, but there was really only one.  And that would be a two year old.

We have been blessed with the most incredible grand kids one could ever hope to imagine.  I'm sure you've never heard that before, but it's true.  Our ten-year-old grandson and seven-year-old grand daughter are the best ever.  They have your typical sibling skirmishes, but, for the most part, they get along pretty great.

Since they are city mice living in Oakland, CA it's really great for them to get on out and run amok on a couple acres in the country.  We have actually hosted them the last couple years for an entire week while they attended a local summer camp.  We always have a wonderful time when their pesky parents aren't around.

Enter the two-year-old blond, crystal clear blue-eyed atomic bomb.  And this is a great kid.  He went to bed at 7:30 both nights without much fuss.  He also took a nap both days from 1:00 to 3:00 PM.  He actually slept until 4:00 the first day because we worked him real hard at a local park.  But I'll tell you what.  If mankind could find a way to harness the output of this kid we'd have the whole energy thing whipped.  Talk about alternative energy.  A room full of two year old's simply doing what they do could easily light up a city block.

As I write this essay I am reminded of our grandson when he was two.  I think we were living in Portland at the time.  It was around 7:00 PM and the three adults present, me included, were splayed out on the living room sofas, completely zoned out.  It looked and felt like we had been drinking alcohol and tooting Peruvian Problem Solving Powder for three days straight.  And we had just run out.  And nobody had the gumption to go to the liquor store or meet Rico, the dealer.  So we stared into oblivion.
Since it had been over twenty years since any of us had partaken of said mind and body bending substances, what on earth could have sent us into near comas?  And then, just like the pink energizer bunny banging that damn drum, our two-year-old grandson waltzed by.

48 HOURS.  2:00 PM Friday until 2:00 PM Sunday.

We were as prepared as Grandparents can be. We were motivated.  We were energized.  We got lots of sleep the night before.  We also made sure there were lots of goodies available.  You know, bribery gets you everywhere.

After a pancake breakfast on Saturday, the two older kids set out to help their old Big-Pa on their upcoming Tree Chalet.

The tree chalet has been in the planning stages since we moved here six years ago.  Homeboy, the previous owner, the guy I continually love to deride, sorta had built some sort of concoction up in them thar trees.  Or maybe his ten year old kid did.  By the time we got on the scene it was pretty dilapidated and not fit for anyone's consumption.

Our Grandson has wanted to get up there for years, but I deemed it unsafe.  Old battered, creaky wood.  Disconnected, rusty nails.  Fifteen foot fall to the ground.  Nope.  Not on my watch.  So I made him a deal. We'd begin on the tree chalet when he turned nine, because then he could play too.  He turned nine in August, so the next time they were up we began planning our assault.

Rather than do the tear down from ladders, which is always risky, especially on a slope, we decided to build the main platform first.  Since there is another oak fairly close to the two above I wanted to incorporate that into the mix.  But when we played out the joists my Grandson and I determined it was going to be too narrow at the one end.  This required me to sink a 4x4 post to widen it, and, just for structural support and good measure I added two more along the nine foot run.

The posts were put in by this scrappy 62 year old a week before so that we'd be ready to go.  Hauling the 10 and 12 foot 4x4's halfway up our hill and digging the two foot deep holes was the easy part.  Gettin the concrete up was another thing.  I had to bust the eighty pound bags into two to get 'em up.  And that was still a workout.

I'll tell you what.  Wanna save money on gym fees?  Buy a house in the country.  Bonus points if it's on a hill.

We began our Saturday assault by hauling assorted lengths of 2x6 redwood up the hill.  These pieces were saved from the old deck we replaced last year.  Some of that had dry rotted, but at least 70% was still in good, tree chalet shape. 

We bolted the joists to the trees and posts and then began putting up the decking.  I was on the ground cutting to fit while my Grandson was up top, screwing in the deck with a power drill.  He was a champ!

We worked for a couple hours each day and are almost finished with main platform.  Once that is complete and rails are up we will have a solid, elevated platform on which to begin demolition of the old structure.  Once that is done we'll begin work on an updated version of that crow's nest.  There may be a third level as well.  And a zip line.  Slide.  Rope swing.  Elevator.  We got plans.

After we played with the chalet on Saturday, we went to a local park to work the two year old.  My lovely wife pretty much had him most of the morning while the other two and I played.  She was ready for assistance, cause, like, a two year old is NON STOP.  And unfortunately, that energy and innocence comes with the potential for injury because dangerous is no where near his capacity.  Plus he can make a monumental, calamitous mess within SECONDS.  I know of this firsthand.  Several times.

Want a soda pop on the kitchen floor?  Easy.

Can of nails all over the garage floor?  Piece of cake.  That child is a one team demolition derby.

Sunday was much of the same, although when we were finished working on the chalet we had relaxing time watching football.  If you can call it that.  Football was on in the background, our two year old was on in the everywhere.  Constant.  Sometimes I could steal a few seconds to check my fantasy football scores, but other than that it was constant.

I'm sure it was that way with our own kids.  But if it was, I don't recall it sapping every ounce of energy I could muster.  Oh yeah, I was in my twenties back then.  Without a doubt, with this two year old as my witness, there is a BIG difference in energy levels between your twenties and your sixties.  I don't care who you are or what you're ingesting.

I made a couple other observations that I don't seem to recall from our own kid's childhood.  Maybe I purposefully forgot about them or maybe they simply vanished into that warm realm of overall familial child rearing experience.

When I did the laundry, somehow, someway, all of the kid's clothes were inside out.  Our clothes and the towels weren't, their clothes were.  Every single item.  That happens some of the time of course, but all of them?  It was as if they took the time to do it on purpose.

Saturday night I cleaned the kitchen floor while my lovely wife bathed the troops.  I think I swept up enough crumbs to feed Haiti for a day.  Not that we ate a ton of food.  It's just that most of it apparently ended up on the floor.

Saturday night, when my lovely wife and I were splayed out on the sofa, exhausted, I made the observation that our oldest Grandson was moving some part of his body every single second.  It was amazing.  My body couldn't move even if I wanted it to and here this kid was in constant motion.

I bet him a buck he couldn't sit still for a minute.  I found out he could.  For a buck.

He wanted to go double or nothing.  I declined.  What a mercenary.

And after they were gone, and the house was quiet and empty, and the absence of their delightful, busy, effervescent spirits could be felt everywhere, I noticed the once white banister leading upstairs.

It looked like a coal miner had lived in the house for a decade.

Nothing a little rag and old man energy couldn't cure.

Worth it every time.

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Music Appreciation

My lovely wife and I have discerned over the years that we are not gifted music people.  We can't play an instrument, we can't hold a high note to save our lives.  Hell, we can't even hit a high note.  In key anyway.  If you want some essential hollering, we can foot that bill.  Real loud too.  But as far as Do Re Me talent is concerned, that all went to someone else.  We accepted this fact long ago and have since settled quite comfortably into the role that has been given to us; we are music appreciators.

And let's face it.  Without us and our inspired ilk, and I'm willing to bet there's a hell of a lot more of us than there are talented musicians and singers, those talented musicians and singers would not have anybody to play or sing to.  Or buy their music.  Just look at a live show.  There's usually hundreds, if not thousands of inspired folks in the audience.  And there's usually only 1 or 2 or 5 talented people on stage.  I rest my case.

My lack of musical prowess was not for lack of opportunity.  There was an upright piano in our house throughout my childhood.  Dear Old Mom played it every now and then.  I think she knew four or five songs.  Not well either.  And she kinda sounded like Lucy Ricardo when she sang.  It really didn't matter what the melody might be, she sang to the tune of her own distant off key harmony.

I guess it was because we had that piano sitting in the living room collecting dust that DOM decided to enroll me in piano lessons when I was around five or six years old.  I'm still traumatized by that whole ordeal.

First of all, she took me to this piano teacher lady whose house looked a lot like the Cleaver's in Leave it to Beaver.  And the piano teacher lady was always dressed like June.  Peal necklace.  Fancy dress.  All the time. 

And her house was immaculate.  There wasn't a glass figurine out of place, nor a speck of dust anywhere.  I'm sure I had to take a bath before every piano lesson.  Probably even had to scrub behind my ears.  For what?  A chance to be clean and scared shitless I would accidentally sneeze on her polished ivory keyboard?  My heart was in the hills.  Dirt was in my shoes.  Whose idea was this anyway?

Then I had to memorize a four note "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star" sonata to play at a recital in front of a bunch of strangers.  I also I had to take a bath and get dressed up in church clothes on a Saturday afternoon.  Talk about not wanting to be somewhere and the waste of a perfectly good sunny day.

I don't remember exactly how it all transpired, but after a few months it was determined I was more interested in mischief than becoming a concert pianist.  The lessons ceased.

The next step in the family's musical overture scene came when my older brother took accordion lessons for a while.  I think I was 8.  So he must have been 10.  I don't know what the "Beer Barrel Polka" heck was behind that decision, but possibly it was because our mother owned an accordion and thought my brother should learn to play it.  You know, that, too had been sitting around and collecting dust.

I don't think those lessons lasted long either.  Which is a shame.  Because if he learned how to roller skate and play accordion maybe he could have done something like this: Die Twinnies.

Who knew that was a thing?

Somehow, apparently, I wasn't quite done with my musical odyssey and I began taking trumpet lessons in the 5th grade.  Trumpet?  When the Beatles had just reached our shore?  Whose idea was this, really?

That brass adventure lasted through the 8th grade. I was going to continue when I went into high school, but it all seemed to be getting serious.  And anybody who knows me will tell you I have a hard time with serious.  Seriously.

Even junior high was almost semi-serious.  At least it was to the music instructor.  I was good enough to be first trumpet some of the time but ended up being second trumpet most of the time because kidding around always seemed to get in the way.   High school was going to take it to a level I decided I didn't want or need.  I had some serious goofing off to attend to, plus, chicks weren't into trumpet players back then.  Hell, have they ever been?

I mean, really?

The next musical impulse to tug at me came when I was 19.  The prospect of playing piano in a rock and roll band sang to my musical heart and I began taking piano lessons again.  It was partly these guy's fault: Jessica.  And this guy's too: Song For Juli.

I might have actually been at that last show.  Or one just like it.

I was already in the business world and on my career path, but what aging teenager doesn't want to be a rock and roll star?

Besides, I still had that damn piano that had been in our house.  Forever.  Nobody ever played it, at least in our family.  However, once the world of party entered our domain it truly entered our domain.  And that brought a couple players to the keyboard.

You see, high school kids have a tendency to host parties when their parents were away.  Our mother happened to be away for almost my entire senior year of high school.  It was legendary.

The scene of the crime.

Our group of friends was also very fortunate.  We happened to be on the outside edge of a very good local band.  Some of whom ever so often could be found swilling beer in the neighborhood.  Or our living room.  Sometimes a guitar came out, sometimes one of them would pound out a few tunes on the piano.  There was always singing, sometimes really loud.  And really late.  Fortunately, the cops only came twice.

It was during this period of time that my appreciation of music reached new highs.  Probably because I was high too.  And being high allowed music to flow into my soul a little more freely and easily.

We listened to a lot of music back then, the late sixties and early seventies.  And what a platter we had to choose from.  From Barbara Ann to Carrie AnneItchycoo Park to MacArthur Park.

Ok.  Scratch that last one.  You really had to be on a lot of acid to even remotely comprehend that one, which, coincidentally, Itchycoo Park is about.  "It's all too beautiful", you know?

Obviously the songwriter had a very good trip.  Cause, like, if it wasn't, Itchycoo Park would have sounded a lot more like a Tim Burton movie.

In order to pursue this rock and roll pianist sideline impulse I found this enchanting little old lady giving piano lessons out of her modest home in Sunnyvale, CA.  I was entirely not threatened at all this time around by the lady or her abode.

One day when I arrived for lessons she was quite distraught.  Her yard person had quit and left for greener pastures.  So to speak.  I didn't need the money or the job but volunteered to do her yard in exchange for lessons.  She jumped at the prospect.  What was I thinking?

I was already trying to put twenty pounds of taters in a five pound sack every dang day.  Besides lessons and practice I had just added another hour and a half to my week.  Something had to give, and that something eventually was my rock and roll star aspirations.  And my yard job.

That damn piano, while a lovely piece of furniture, continued to collect dust with me for a few more years.  It weighed about 800 pounds, so moving it from here to there was always a challenge.  And since I was just a kid I moved a lot, like about every 6 months.  I always had to have a stout wrecking crew and plenty of beer on hand when that all went down.

Somewhere along the line DOM, who had moved to San Diego years earlier, decided she wanted to sing off key like Lucy again.  She wanted her piano back.  Which was fine with me, I have no idea how I got custody anyway.

How do you get an 800 pound piano to San Diego?  Well, we couldn't mail it, that's for damn sure.

Road trip.  My brother and I rented a U-Haul and a high school friend tagged along.  He wanted to check out the San Diego State scene and we needed him to get that 800 pound gorilla up a flight of stairs to DOM's second floor apartment.  That was not, and let me emphasize NOT, a fun experience.  Thank God we were young.  And dumb. 

I can almost actually carry a tune, vocally, sometimes.  As long as it's mid range and doesn't vary more than three notes.  I really could carry a tune back when I had been drinking, especially if I was at a very loud rock and roll show.  Hell, even my lovely wife sounded good then. 

My lovely wife can't really carry a tune.  At all.  She sounds worse than Lucy.  She apparently inherited her vocal chops from her wonderful father, who can't carry a tune either.  At all.  Listening to them sing hymns in church together is quite an experience.

Even though we are not personally musically gifted, that does not mean we don't enjoy a broad range of music.  From Bocelli to Bocephus, Coltrane to Cash.  A broad spectrum of rock, country, classical, jazz, soul, blues. Calypso.  Steel drum.  Samba.

No rap though.  I don't understand rap and I don't equate it with music.  Rap's more like an off the wall often obscene spoken word type of thing to me.  Which is OK, but not if you want to listen to music.

I'm currently on a real Fleetwood Mac kick.  You know, them days before that male and female pop duo entered their realm in the mid 1970's.  Peter Green, Danny Kirwan and Bob Welch days.  Kiln House, Future Games and Bare Trees days. The guitar work in this song always sends my heart dancing along a light fancy of blue ribbon dreams: Woman 1000 Years.

Other guitarists?  I have an affinity for Betts, Clapton, Allman, Garcia.  Mangione.

Kidding.  About that last one anyway.  Though Chuck might be one of the only horn players chicks might dig.  Only he didn't really play trumpet.

If I'm into clarinet, I like this guy: Stranger on the Shore.  That song will also take my heart on a magical, melancholy voyage into the sublime.

Tom Rush recently made me cry with his version of this song; Circle Game.  If you're reading this and over the age of fifty, I dare you to give it a listen.

Recorded music is good, live music is better.  Live music can be an experience.  Getting caught up in the energy of a live show can be transcendent.  With or without acid.  Here's a link to my post on Small Town Rock and Roll, speaking of live shows.

Music speaks to our heart, our soul.  It can help make our highs even higher, it can soothe us when we're low.  Music has been a large part of my life through all its ups and downs.  I may not be able to sing or play a lick, but I sure as hell have appreciated many, many crescendos.

Thursday, September 8, 2016

Major Sundry

OK.  I confess.  I have no idea who Major Sundry is.  Or why.  I sincerely doubt they're even a real person.  Whoever they are.  The title actually means I have absolutely nothing specific to write about but I've got a few sundry tidbits.  Maybe.  Hopefully it'll be entertaining.  I do apologize to my loyal fan base of six, or seven, for not having posted sooner.  I have no excuse.  Well, I kinda do.

I have been so darn busy these last couple months I haven't had the time to clear my mind in order to be creative.  So there's that.  I have also not done anything exciting or noteworthy to write about, that's also been part of the deal.  Double whammy mammy.

I once told my mother, speaking of mammys, that I could write a short story about a cube of fucking butter.  She told me to stop swearing.  I suppose I could have left out that utterly charming and pungently descriptive adjective, but what the hell.  She usually swore like a sailor, although apparently not on that particular day.  So much for a conversation about butter.

Anyway, I am going to do my best to entertain you with some mundane meanderings of just what the heck was so dang important that I couldn't find the time to blog or make up stories about fucking butter.

Let me start by saying when the dry summer heat hits around these parts my usually rapid fire activity level jumps into over drive.  I happen to love plants.  It's what I do.  Indoor.  Outdoor.  Ornamental.  Edible.   They're in the ground, they're potted.  They're all over the place.  It's a fledgling homestead for crying out loud!

The potted plants right around the house , patio and decks are especially vulnerable when it gets into the 90's and beyond.  If they're not hit daily they fry.  Then there's the orchard, vegetable gardens, nursery, greenhouse etc.  A lot of what needs to be watered is on automatic drip, which is good, because there's only one of me.  I still spend a minimum of two hours a day, every day, watering in the summer.

We used to have a couple hanging plants in front, where the afternoon summer sun sizzles.  I had to water them twice a day or they'd be toast.  Literally.  They'd usually have to get replaced at least once during the summer cause, like, I'm old and sometimes I'd forget.  And they'd fry.

Those two plant hangers now contain beautiful, flourishing begonias.  They're on the east side of the house where they get light, filtered morning sun and then shade in the hot afternoon.  They get watered every other day and if I miss a day they don't get fried.  Plus now we have a totally unobstructed sunset view in front.

June of this year was a wild month, even by our standards.  I think we had something big going every single weekend, culminating with my lovely wife's humongous family reunion at the end of the month.  This is the large family I married into.  I've been around them for over forty years and I almost remember some of their names.  It's that big.

Once again the reunion was held at Lodi Lake Park in Lodi, CA, which is located in the bowels of the Central Valley about forty miles south of Sacramento.  It's usually in the low 100's in Lodi in the summer, which is just plain wrong.

Why?  Why?  Why?  Why would this insanely large family reunion be held in Lodi in the summer in sweltering 100 degree heat?

Well, as the old adage goes, he who organizes the play gets most of the say.  I might have actually just made that up.  It's probably not an old adage at all.  You can use it if you want.

Anyway, two of the five "elders" of the tribe live in Lodi and one of them is the primary reunion mover.  And he apparently has quite an affinity for his home town park.  I was enlisted to assist this year, although I have no idea why.

It could have something to do with the reunion I co-organized with one of my lovely wife's cousins a few years back.  The elders were concerned none of the younger tribe were getting involved with reunion organization, so we did.  We put it together at a low key old style non chain motor inn over by the Russian River in Guerneville, CA.  There was a large, green grassy area, a BBQ pit with tables and a swimming pool.  Lots of activities for little kids to do.  Plus it was only 84 degrees.

It was also an over-niter for most of the attendees.  I don't know about your soirees, but after dark is when the real fun begins.  Everyone drops acid and...oh, wait a minute.  Wrong soiree.  After dark with this super large family is when most everyone drinks wine, laughs real loud and annoys all the other guests who were unfortunate enough to get a room near our party.

That reunion was a pretty big hit.  Most of the large Washington State contingent made it down.  So did a few other out-of -staters.  Interestingly enough, only one out-of-stater came to Lodi this year.  Nobody from Washington came.

I jumped right in the beginning of this year and began looking for venues.  Not a novice at this game, I was keeping the Washington State contingent in mind.  I was also cognizant of airport travel time as well as travel time from Lodi and the Bay Area, both locations rife with people whose names I still do not know.  I was also cognizant of trying to keep it cooler, so Arizona was definitely out.  So was Lodi.

I found a several places in and around the Mount Shasta Area, not too far off Interstate 5.  Two were ideal for family reunions and both were quite affordable.  It was about a three to four hour car ride for most of the California tribe as well as airport travelers.  And about a three to four hour shorter drive for the Washington faction.  Win, win, win.

But when I presented this to the Lodi elder, I was told it would need approval from all the other elders.  In the meantime, just in case, he was going to reserve the picnic table spot at Lodi Lake Park, the same spot the reunion has been held probably seventeen of the last twenty times.  I knew then we were looking at eighteen.

Lodi Lake Park sounds like it might be inviting, at least the lake part.  But it's not, really.  No swimming is allowed.  At least not where we congregate.  And it's more like a big pond than a lake, a little shallow fallow from the Mokelumne River.  Kayakers like it, so do ducks.  But every one else just watches the kayakers and ducks and wonders what in the hell they are doing there.  Not the kayakers or ducks.  Hopefully they know what they're doing.  The people on the shore, sweating profusely.  They're the ones dreaming of chlorine filled swimming pools and Pina Coladas, wondering what brought them out to this super heated wasteland in the first place.

Oh yeah, family.  

The Lodi elder never talked to anybody.  The two Bay Area elders thought Shasta was fine.  I'm pretty sure the Washington elder would have approved as well.  I don't know what the hell the deal is with that park besides being close, it's certainly not accommodating.   I'm pretty darn sure he might be the only one in the family that's enamored with that place. 

The sweltering day of the reunion I was actually approached by one of his daughters, who also lives in Lodi,  about the prospect of holding it at another location.  I was also approached by one of the elder's sisters, stating we have to hold it elsewhere.  She lives in Lodi too.  Neither of them wanted to be there.  Both spoke to me on the condition of anonymity, so don't repeat this.

There's nothing to do at the existing park but sit, eat, chat, sweat and watch kayakers take their craft from the parking lot to river annex.  Dream of chlorine and coladas.

That's okay for adults, we've all been properly trained in the fine art of polite social grace under fire.  Plus there was alcohol involved for some.  Alcohol can turn anything into a party, even a sweltering day. 

But the younger generation, our kids, they all have kids, and a lot of 'em.  They're not old enough to drink and they need something to do.  And it was 103 degrees.  Beads of sweat were breaking out with simple discourse.

"Hi, how ya doin?" I inquired to a face I had seen sixty times but whose name escaped me.  "Nice day."

"Are you kidding?" came the reply. "Nice day to BBQ our souls maybe."

I may not have remembered his name but he sure was funny.

I think part of the deal with the Lodi elder was cost.  With my proposal folks would have been looking at a night or two at a very reasonably priced, comfortable motel with all sorts of activities for adults and children.  I think it would have worked out to about $120/night for a room.  One of the places had cabins where entire families could fit, thus decreasing the average cost.  Large communal kitchen.  It would have been a hoot!

Instead we got to pay $5.00 to sweat in public.  Granted, it was a lot cheaper.  But.  Then.  That's why real estate in El Centro is cheaper than it is in Santa Barbara, ya know?

I'd much rather drive another hour or two more for a cooler location.  Apparently so would folks who live in Lodi.

We held my side of the family reunion at the house here this year in late July.  My family is a heck of a lot easier.  I have a brother, three first cousins, their kids and families.  Bam.  Done.  I even know just about all their names.

OK, another confession.  I do have a second cousin and a boatload of relatives in Norway.  But I couldn't  pronounce their names even if I could remember them.  So they don't count.  They never show up anyway. 

As always, prior to any event here there's some improvement that needs to take place.  So I had to turn this:

into this:

But before any of the above had a place to sit we had to make a place for the stuff to sit on.  Nothing a couple tons of sand and a couple tons of rock couldn't cure.

The project itself was in the back of the house.  The closest the guy could drop all the stuff off was the front of the house, about fifty yards away.  It was either that or have him mow over the picket fence and rose arbor.  I chose the less damaging route, at least to the property.

I actually did try to enlist a younger human specimen to help with some of the physical labor of this project as well as weed whack this year.  A couple times.   As a matter of fact, several weeks before this project commenced I was trying to hire my second guy.

The first guy I hired to weed whack showed up on time on the appointed day and whacked for four hours.  I paid him.  He showed up the next day and worked for about two hours and then left.  I never spoke to him.  I figured he'd be back, since, like, he was no where near done and I owed him for two hours.  I never saw or heard from him again.

Then a neighbor referred me to his guy Friday who promptly came over for a meet and greet.  We went over everything, including the fact I'd like his help getting several tons of sand and rock to the back of the house.  He said he was busy the next couple weeks but then could get to me.  I said fine, I had a four to five week time table.  He said he'd call me later that afternoon to firm things up.  Never heard from him again either.  Well, I take that back.

Even though he didn't call when he said he would, I texted him two weeks down the line to see if he was still in the game.  No reply.  Nada.  Nothing.  So I carried on.  Then about six weeks later I got this long, apologetic text from him asking forgiveness for being a shit head.  Not an apologetic phone call, but an apologetic text. 

What was I supposed to do with that?  I was already done with what I needed him for.  I also think certain social and professional interaction requires voice communication.  Sometimes in person.  I forgave him and threw his number away.

You know, I get it.  He was busy.  Couldn't get to me.  Couldn't even call me or text me to tell me he was so busy.  All of a sudden he wasn't so busy.  Then it was time to try and salvage the folks he blew off.  At least me.  Oh well.  Homey don't play that game.

I mean, I think communication is part of the work ethic and kind of important.  And ya really should show up or call on time at least once before you start slacking off, just to show a mild modicum of responsibility. 

I'm purdy sure that's in Business 101, "Show up on time for your first day of work".

Yep.  Nailed it. 

After I didn't get a response from my initial text, I sought out another recommended weed whacker and potential ton mover.  I thought I had things relatively dialed in with him until he stopped responding to my texts.  Then finally, a couple days later he texted he had fractured his ankle.  What the hell?  I was weed whack snake bit.

I ended up doing all the eye high weed whacking myself.  About thirty hours of it.  Bad back and all.

Actually, the pinched nerve between my L4 and L5 did not misbehave too badly.  I had a facet joint block done about this time which helped immensely with the pain.  I almost felt like that cry baby guy on the Good Feet Store commercial.  It had been months of pretty much constant pain for me.  But if I did shed a tear of back painless joy I did it in the quiet of my living room, not on national TV.  

So how did several tons of sand and rock travel fifty yards to the back yard?

On my back.  And my darling daughter's.  She came up to help with the project.  One wheelbarrow and one or two rocks at a time.  Back and forth, up and down.

Not only did my darling daughter help with heavy stuff, but she took on the role of jigsaw puzzle master, seeking out the perfect rock for the perfect fit.  I actually had to tone her down a little bit.

I explained, "I am certain there is an exact fit for that particular space somewhere on this planet.  However, we only have what we have and we're not traveling to Tanzania to find the perfect fit.  Don't get too crazy."

Once she had a few puzzle pieces placed, I would bring in some sand and level the stone.  While I was doing that, she'd move to the other side and jig saw.  Working back and forth in tandem, we rolled that entire patio out in two days, about 350 square feet.

Another arty project my lovely wife got me involved with was re-purposing a couple antique caned chairs we've had for about 35 years.  We originally had four of them, but then we also had two young children.  Antique caned chairs don't mix well with young children.

There have been a few expensive re-caning jobs, and two of the chairs have essentially disintegrated.  The other two chairs, after losing their respective seats again, have henceforth been hanging around in the garage taking up space.  For about fifteen years now.  And of course they morphed from being potential fanciful, ornamental objects of art into pieces of crap that made me swear a lot.  Primarily because I was prone to bumping my head on them fairly routinely.  And when I hit my head, which I really, really hate to do, I almost always yell "Fuck".

There's that word again.  Seems to follow me around like a pair of boxer shorts.

Fortunately, my lovely wife came to me recently with their new purpose so I don't have to yell "Fuck" quite as often.  I happily took them down from their head bumping hooks and carefully removed all the old, torn up cane.  I patched up some holes and I painted them white.  Then I cut 1/2 inch plywood to fit to make a love seat bench. 

Of course once I, the underbelly guy, was through with my part my lovely wife went to work.  A little padding and material and wah lah.  Four screws went through existing holes in the seat of the chair up into the bottom of the plywood.   That holds it all together.  There was no need to attach anywhere else.

I've also been working on my second book, editing, editing and then re-editing.  Who said being a writer was glamorous and fun?  In case you haven't read my first book, you can find that here:  Late Night Letters to the Moon.

Now it comes to true confession time, cause I've got nothing better to do:  I've had a wart for the last couple years.  No, it's not that big thing I breath through between my eyes, nor is it a big hairy thing on that big thing.  It has actually been an annoying bit of frustration located on my right index finger.

I've tried everything.  Compound W.   Duct tape.  Salt and vinegar.  Preparation H.  I tried the Tenth Avenue Freeze Out route, multiple times.  My doctor has even tried his brand of freeze out, multiple times.

It's been a CONSTANT battle.  For a couple years.  A real pain in the patoot.  And every time I thought I had blasted the surrounding skin down enough that little bastard kept rising from the ashes.  Time and time again.  Then I found what is called a wart stick.  It looks like a chap stick, only it contains that salicycic acid stuff that essentially dissolves your skin.  So you don't want to be mistaking the two.  Cause otherwise, you know, you could end up with no lips.

The last time I was in to see my Doc I had him hit it again with his freeze out. Then while it was reeling from the arctic chill, I hit it with the stick.  And covered it with tape per instructions.  Every day I'd add more of the stick stuff and cover it again.

The skin around the wart became avalanche white and chunks were flaking away.  That little sucker still held strong, like a snorting little volcano.  I kept at it until I was almost at bone.  There was nothing left in the space except dead white skin.  Not a bump of any kind.  I thought I had finally won the battle.  But now, as I write this, that sucker seems to be rearing his ugly little head once again.  Hydrochloric acid anyone? 

The chickens are all doing fine.  So is that damn rooster.  The six new additions are fully integrated into the flock and have started laying.  We're getting a nice assortment of egg colors these days.

We also just got our first green egg! 

Where does a green egg come from?  Well, besides Dr. Seuss's brain, a green egg comes from an Ameraucaca hen.  This first little green egg has also solved our ongoing second rooster riddle.

For the last couple years we've had a phantom rooster enjoin with Goldie and his early morning chorus.  A little weak, a little stunted, but there nonetheless.  But the little guy has never shown himself nor given any indication as to who he might be.  No noticeable outward signs have been apparent, at least to me.

And then we got the green egg, and then I got the aha!  We got an Ameraucana "hen" a couple years ago, at least I thought we did.  But we never got a green egg.  I think maybe I thought the feed store was wrong about the breed or something, because if she really was an Ameraucana we should have been getting green eggs.  Long ago.   I never thought "Flash" might be a he.

"Flash" was named by our Grandson, and he was real good buddies with a beautiful Speckled Sussex we unfortunately lost to heat.  He's a very friendly bird, not like the current alpha rooster.  He's also always been quite adventurous, but other than that, nothing to show that he was a he.  Comb, waddle, saddle feathers, aggressiveness.  Nothing unusual.  He just blended right on in with the girls.

Our first year garden has been a big hit.  We're getting tons of tomatoes, corn, potatoes, leeks, radishes, cukes, pumpkin, honeydew melon, crenshaw melon, watermelon and cantaloupe.  There's also a nice assortment of morning glory winding along the front fence.

I don't know if you read my earlier post regarding my corn crop this year, but I'm going to regale you once again because I have learned a couple of important things.  OK, at least one.

1-Don't pre-start your corn and then transplant the seedlings to the garden.  It will experience severely stunted growth, if any, and if you're lucky you may get a couple of those small ears you find in jars in the oriental food section of the grocery store.  Then, after they grow another 1 to 2 inches, they die.

But if you plant your corn seed directly in tilled soil it will flourish and award you with tall green plants and fresh, sweet corn.  Trust me.  I did all this quite by innocent accident this year, so I be knowing.  Also, if any of you would like organic, heirloom, non GMO and non-hybrid "Sugar Buns" (yellow) corn seed that is acclimated to Nevada County, let me know.  $5/100 plus kernels.

There have been a few other time consuming yet boring as hell projects that I won't regale you with.  But excitingly, I am in the process of planning an autumn road trip getaway for my lovely wife and I.  At last!  Besides some leisure time away with the one I love I will also have more food for my travel fodder folder.  That will all hopefully and eventually become Book Three and beyond, cause, like, I wanna be a travel writer when I grow up.

Friday, June 3, 2016

A Trip to My Kitchen

Since it may be a while before I travel anywhere else worthy of writing about, I figured this was a good time to visit an area of expertise I have threatened to visit before.  Yeah, besides being a Lumberjack, Jack of all trades and a fan of Jack Lemmon, sometimes I put on women's clothing and hang around in bars.  Kind of like Jack did in "Some Like it Hot".   Or maybe I just put on an apron and cook in the kitchen, although I have actually been in drag in a bar once.


I have visited one area of this expertise a couple years ago with Let's Get Sauced, which can be found there.  Just click on the link.  It's not really a story about debauchery, it's about about making sauce.

I've been cooking for over fifty years, give or take a year or two.  Granted, gourmet didn't come for a while.  But everybody has to start somewhere, you know, peanut butter and jelly land.  Actually, my penchant for combining unusual complimentary flavors began back when I put together a peanut butter and carrot sandwich.  I mean, peanut butter and celery went together.  And carrots and celery went together.  It seemed natural to a five year old that peanut butter and carrots should go together.

It wasn't my finest culinary achievement, but it was edible.

And then came ground beef.  Seven ways to Sunday.  My brother and I pretty much lived on Hamburger Helper the entire four years I was in high school.  We knew our way around that staple for sure.  And if we didn't cook it we probably weren't going to be eating anything, at least during the week.  DOM was a divorced mother of two, she had a job and worked late.  So we cooked the beef.

Some sophistication came to my cooking when I took a Boy's Chef class my senior year in high school.  I  learned about properly measuring ingredients and why peanut butter, tuna and pickles shouldn't be served in the same sandwich.

I actually took Boy's Chef twice my senior year.  It wasn't that I didn't pass the first time, I did.  It was more along the line that I only had two or three college entrance requirements left to do my senior year, the rest of my classes were all electives.  Since I didn't want to take Sewing the second semester I took Boys Chef again. 

Each semester I ended up having a different very good friend at the three person cooking station in class.  Naturally we all got A's, I mean, how hard is it to kanoodle a carrot?   We also pushed the envelope and had a rousing good time.  One morning, and we're talking first period 8:30 in the morning, a future CEO and internationally known expert in his field and I drank a bottle of Annie Green Springs wine in class.  Amidst all the cooking chaos.

 Annie Green Springs?  In class?  At 8:30 in the morning?  What were we thinking?  A bottle of Pinot Grigio would have gone much better with the meal we were preparing that day. 

Another howling hoot that compadre and I manifested upon the unsuspecting high school establishment happened during "cheese" day in class.  That morning we were introduced to a number of elegant, sophisticated and quite pungent cheeses.  One of which was Limburger.

You ever smell Limburger cheese?  It smells like a combination of a four hundred pound man's hairy stomach roll sweat, the toe jam that's been incubating inside his sweaty socks and a dead warthog whose guts have been exposed to the baking sun for hours.  Mmmmm, Limburger cheese.  It was foul, but it was also gold.

So my bud and I took a few little chunks of this precious stuff to our next class, which was Mythology.   Prior to class starting we wandered around, chatting with friends, putting a little dollop of Limburger about the size of a chewed up stick of gum under desk tops here and there throughout the room.  It wasn't bad during our class, but by early afternoon ALL the desks were outside and all the doors and windows of the room were open.  We were never suspected. 

The other semester allowed another life long chum and I to collaborate on some really silly literary ventures for my next class, Creative Writing.  After graduation we continued to collaborate on renowned invitations to renowned parties wherever I happened to be living at the time.

The upshot of all this is the literary sense of humor you see scrawled across these pages was actually born in a high school cooking class.  In case you were wondering and maybe seeking some correlation.  I know I don't understand.

I still have my Mother's all round basic Betty Crocker Cookbook I used back in my early cooking days.
It looks a lot like this,

only mine is really beat up.  Scuff marks, tape and food stains are everywhere.  This cookbook, by the way, circa 1969, contains the absolute best Meat Loaf recipe I have ever tasted, and I have tried more than a few.  I'll even order it in a restaurant from time to time, just to see what the chef is doing.  Naturally I have added a few touches of my own to Betty's version, which brings me to a point.

When you're cooking a "savory" dish, a little bit of this and a little bit of that is just fine.  Encouraged as a matter of fact, unless you get a little heavy handed with the pepper on my corn flakes.

When you're baking, you need to be precise with the batter ingredients.  After that you can play away.

For instance, when I make a coffee cake, I measure all the ingredients that will make up the cake batter of the recipe.  Then I'll usually toss some sort of fruit in the batter, like chopped apple or blueberries.  Then I top it x3.  I alwayas triple the topping of a coffee cake.  I usually triple the filling of cinnamon rolls too.  And once either of those sumptuous delights are out of the oven they get drizzled with icing.  Lots of icing.

Let's be clear.  When I want a sugar rush, I want to dance like Snoopy on a sunny day.  But I don't wanna have to eat the whole shebang to get there.  Think of the calories!  One or two slices or rolls should do, but let's be clear on something else.  If there's room in my stomach I'm gonna have three, even if I'm already tripping a light fantastic.

Cakes are another sweet treat I enjoy baking.  I have lovely, nine inch round commercial grade cake tins that bake batter wonderfully.  To make sure the cake releases properly, I always grease the pans with butter.  Sure, you can use Pam, but maybe she doesn't want to be bothered.  Besides, butter will impart a little more flavor.  I also put in parchment paper, grease again and finally dust the greased up pan and paper with flour or cocoa, depending if the cake is chocolate or not.  Scratch cakes, which is what I tend to make, tend to be a little denser than cake mixes, hence the extra care.

The last thing you want to have happen after lovingly creating a masterpiece is to not have the cake release properly.  Cause now you've got pieces of cake that you can only put in a pudding, and maybe that's not what you had in mind for the company coming that evening.  Plus, now you gotta make the pudding and you just used your last three eggs in the cake.  Which means a run to the store.  Which is a forty minute round trip cause you live in the country.  Ah, screw it.  There's some Ho Ho's in the pantry, those will have to do.

Why take the risk?  It only takes a couple minutes, and then you completely avoid a potential cake-tastrophe happening early in the game.  Cake-tastrophies, by the way, can occur at almost any time in the process.  Mine tend to occur getting the cake from here to there.

It's easy when it only has to move two feet into the fridge after creation.  I chill my cakes by the way.  It gives the frosting and fillings a creamy thick "ice cream" sort of aura and texture.  Plus, if the cake has to travel further than six feet to the table it travels better chilled.  More solid. 

I learned about traveling cake-tastrophes many moons ago, I think I was twenty at the time.  And a friend was getting married.  Kind of a hippy sort of thing.

I don't remember if I volunteered or was volunteered, but I was making the cake.  And I took it seriously.   I did my research, and since this was in the days before the internet I probably went to a library.  And a book store.  I also went to our local bakery for some tips.

When go time came I rented three round cake pans, big ones.  Wedding cake size and everything.  I baked the three descending layers, each a different complimentary flavor.  With complimentary fillings and icing.  Some of them rather unusual for a cake.  I think I had some flavor input from the bride and groom.  Probably after smoking a joint or two.

"Haaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaay.  How about some peanut butter cream filling for the carrot cake layer?" I seem to recall coming from somewhere.  Or maybe that was something entirely different.  I wish I could recall exactly what I did because the cake got rave reviews.  Alas.  That, my friends, was a long, long time ago.

The big trick was getting the dang thing to the venue, which was about thirty miles from its point of creation.  Which was a bachelor pad without a fully equipped kitchen.  How the hell did I do this, anyway?  I'm beginning to think I'm making it all up. 

Anyway, another one of the invited guests and a roomie hopped in the back seat of my orange VW bug named "Edith".  There's a story there too, but I don't remember that either.  I don't even know anybody named Edith, then or now.  As far as you know.  But then this was the 1970's.  Anything could be possible.  Between the natural aging process and the fairly consistent ingestion of mind bending ethereal substances throughout that decade it's amazing I have a mind left at all, let alone a few casual memories. 

Once the human cake holder was in place in the back seat, another roomie and I carried out the three layer, foot and a half tall twenty pound beauty.  I had put it together on a foil wrapped chunk of plywood, which was good.  It definitely needed sturdy.

It was a long, precarious 35 MPH drive with lots of twists and turns.  There was some slippage and sliding.  A hand got involved.  So did a lap, a shirt and the seat of the car.  But nothing touched the floor.  So we had that going for us.

Once we got to the venue, we went to work.  With surgical precision I maneuvered the layers on center and sashayed the frosting back into sunshine and rainbows.  Rob went in search of some I Beams or Moonbeams or some other stout support, and probably some stout ale or Jim Beam because we both needed a drink by that time.

I forget what else went south, but Rob returned with home made cookies, store bought daisies and a six pack of malt liquor.  We placed the cookies around the bottom of each of the three layers for foundation support.  Then we interlaced the daisies around the cookies to hide any and all deformities.  All the while drinking malt liquor.  The cake ended up looking great.  Perfectly hippie great.  I actually got a compliment from the bride's mother.  She had called months earlier expressing concern I would be arriving with an ice cream sheet cake from Baskin Robbins.

I think part of the travel problem with those types of cakes is their thickness.  Plus a lot of frosting between layers doesn't help solidify the situation.  Unless it's chilled.  Then the frosting acts almost like concrete.

If pressed, I would admit to being a frosting and filling kind of guy.  I mean, who doesn't love frosting?  I like just the right amount of cake going along with just the right amount of frosting.  Your basic two layer cake usually ends up with too much cake for the amount of frosting per bite.  Per me.

To fix this problem I now slice each cake layer in half, diagonally, so I get four layers out of two.  They're usually about a half inch thick instead of an inch and I get a lot more surface to play with.  Many times I'll put some fruit between layer one and three, a cream filling in the middle and frosting all round the sides.  I can get at least three complimentary flavors going, with a variation of a fourth.

Like a go to for me is a really dense chocolate cake, four egg and a cup of butter dense.  I'll put some cherry or strawberry filling between layer one and three with an almond cream filling in the middle.  Topped with some form of chocolate frosting.  Many times I'll sprinkle each layer with a little Amaretto. 

This all came about because of a dessert bar at an all inclusive resort in San Jose del Cabo we visited about a decade ago.  It's what their pastry chef was doing with all their cakes.  Four layers with all sorts of games in between.  It was a major cake epiphany for me.  Good sugar rush too.  Nothing like having to eat cake for research's sake.

I do pies too.  I use butter in the crust instead of shortening.  Do you have any idea how bad shortening is for you?  I also add 1-2 T of sugar in a sweet pie crust.  Yeah, sugar is bad too, but at least it can get you high.  All shortening does is coagulate in your veins.

Then, depending on what the filling is, I will also add some spice to the crust mixture.  For instance, a little cinnamon, clove and/or nutmeg in an apple or cherry pie crust.  A little lemon zest and sugar in the flaky light crust of a blueberry pie.

I cut my pastry dough in a food processor.  I'll spin the dry ingredients to combine then add cut up ice cold butter.  Spin that until it's rightly mixed and transfer to a bowl.  I'll then add 1/2-1 T apple cider vinegar along with 2-3 T ice cold water.  Mix it up and form a ball.  The vinegar adds a nice, faint taste and also helps with texture.

Speaking of apple cider vinegar, who doesn't love buttermilk pancakes on a Saturday morning?  After five harried mornings of pop tarts and cold pizza you finally have a little time to slow down and enjoy a relaxing breakfast. 

Buttermilk pancakes.  Been thinking of them all week.  Hot off the griddle.  Drizzled with butter. Smothered with syrup.   Mmmmmmmh, buttermi.....

Uh oh.  Did you forget to put buttermilk on the shopping list?  Hell, it's not going to be a relaxing morning if you have to go to the store at 8:00 AM to get buttermilk.  Especially if you live in the country and the store is ten miles away.  Might as well just go to Denny's.

But if you have milk in the fridge and apple cider vinegar in the pantry, you've got buttermilk.  Simply add 1 tablespoon of apple cider vinegar to 1 cup of milk.  Stir and let it sit a couple minutes.  Buttermilk.  If you don't have apple cider vinegar in your pantry, get some.  You now have two uses for it.  Plus now you don't have to remember to buy a quart of buttermilk when you go to the store.  You can make it on demand.

One of my original go to fancy pants dinner recipes was Scampi.  I got the basic recipe from a long established restaurant at San Francisco's Fisherman's Wharf.  It's the best.  Ever.  My lovely wife and I can no longer order it in a restaurant.  It's a flavor waster of gastronomical time.

Most Scampi you see out there is simply prawns sauteed in a garlic butter.  With maybe a shallot or two tossed in.  It's hard to go wrong with just garlic and prawns, but there can be more.

I dredge the prawns in flour before tossing into the crackling garlic butter.  A minute or two a side, and then I'll add about a cup of sweetish white wine, like a Riesling.  You can use any white wine, like the Chardonnay you're having with dinner, but the flavor is better with a sweeter variety.

Then I'll toss in some chopped scallions or shallots, squeeze in a teaspoon or two of lemon juice and stir for a couple minutes while the sauce thickens.  If done properly, you should end up with a nice, medium white wine & garlic flavored sauce to go along with your gorgeous prawns.  Goes great with wild rice or rice pilaf.  Asparagus or Brussel sprouts.  Total cooking time on the prawns, including sauce, should not exceed 6-7 minutes.  Too much longer and the prawns will have the texture of my two year old grandson's play toys.

If you're a guy and just starting out at the cooking console and want to impress a woman, you can't lose with a rendition of "Girlfriend Chicken."  I need to acknowledge the hilarious PJ O'Rourke for that term, although my recipe is different than his.  "Girlfriend Chicken" first appeared in print in PJ's now out of print tome for single guys, "The Bachelor's Home Companion." A Kindle version is currently available.  It's a must read for any college student or just out of high school beer guzzling service station attendant.

Basically you get a couple boneless chicken breasts.  You can buy breasts still on the bone if you want, but then you're going to have to take the bone off.  Have you ever done this?  It's a hassle.  Plus, if you're not using a really sharp trimming or boning knife chances are you'll be taking the tip off a finger as well.  Then you're gonna have to go to the ER so they can stem the hemorrhaging and try to sew the damn thing back on.  There goes seven hours of your life.

Just start with boneless.  It's safer and much less time consuming.

If you want to be macho and BBQ the breasts, then marinate them for half a day in a mixture of olive oil, minced garlic, lemon juice and a little of that Riesling left over from Scampi night.  BBQ away.

Or, if you want to show a more epicurean side, dredge the breasts in flour and fry in the olive oil.  Add the garlic, maybe shallots, lemon juice and Riesling.  Similar to the Scampi recipe, only it'll taste like chicken.

Right about the time I was seriously getting into cheesecakes and cream pies, a decade or so ago, I discovered I was lactose intolerant.  So I stopped making those and ventured elsewhere to seek my sugar mania.  But I recently made a discovery about five years ago that changed all that.  Lactards, pay attention!

First of all, cream pies and cheesecakes are a gas because of what you get to do with the crust.  Graham crackers, chocolate grahams, Nilla Vanilla's, ginger snaps, nuts, coconut, the list is almost endless.

Cheesecakes are still out for me though.  Yeah, there's a cream cheese substitute out there, but it's expensive as hell and the flavor is not up to my par.  But, there is a substitute for whipped cream I have discovered that allows me to make lovely and wondrous creations of creamy and custardy delight without sacrificing flavor or texture.  Two words.  Silk tofu.  Replace any called for whip cream with the same amount of soft, or silk tofu.  Simple as that.  Oh, and use lactose free milk for any other called for milk.

You may be skeptical, but I make a lactose free Bavarian Cream Pie and Tiramisu that I'll put up against anyone's.  And the original recipes are loaded with whipped cream.  So lactards, rejoice!  You can now enjoy a Boston Cream Pie without putting your intestines through a buzz saw. 

Just in case you're wondering, I BBQ and smoke stuff too.  Beef, turkey, pork, chicken, cigars.  You name it, I'll smoke it.  Although there are some items I think it would be a complete waste of time to smoke. 
Like jello.  I refuse to smoke jello.  On the grill or in a pipe.

Immunocal News

Glutathione, the body's master anti-oxidant, was featured in 2012 on an episode of Dr. Oz.  You can catch that here: Dr. OZ and Glutathione.   

Immunocal is scientifically proven to raise Glutathione levels in the body.

Homestead News

Boy Howdy, it's almost summer.  What have I been up to?  Well, a lot.  This year I cleared about a quarter acre of my neighbor's property so that our house now has a hundred foot clearance over yonder.  It's been a concern since we moved here.  That was huge, and a huge job.  Slash and burn, slash and burn.  It's the hardest work an old man can do around here.

Then, since it's the first year we are deer free, I've gone garden crazy.  I got started back in February with some corn seeds.  Since I wasn't sure how they'd sprout, I ended up with about 120 plants.  Did the same with tomatoes.  Anybody need or want an heirloom Beefsteak tomato plant?

Then there has been deployment of the corn in the ground, construction of several grow boxes, weed whacking and general all round maintenance.  This will be the second time in six years we've brought in help with the weed whacking.  Only he worked for a day and a half last week and then disappeared.  Looks like I'll get to play some more with that.  And since we had close to normal rainfall this year the weeds are no longer thigh high, they're just about eye high.


I've also been working on the Winchester Mystery Steps on the back cliff.  You know, steps that go up a cliff to seemingly no where and then abruptly stop.  They looked something like this.

It's been a process.   Drilling holes in the treated 4x4's, then pounding two foot long pieces of rebar through to hold the wood and bricks in place.


That's a lot of digging right there.  Just in case you wondering.  I've completed both top side laterals now, three and four steps respectively.  The ground was still a little moist underneath, I had to get it done.  Another week or two that earth will be like concrete.

Fortunately, I have an area I could put all the dirt, about 25 wheel barrow loads.  That will even out the over flow parking area.

On a less physically exhausting and bodily breaking note, we did pick up six new chicks in March.  We've added from two to four every year since we started the flock in 2012, and prior to this new batch we have the same amount of hens as what we started with.  Yeah, there's attrition.  And varmints.

The new girls have already been integrated into the main flock, although they all still want to sleep together in the companion cage, which is next to the main cage, which is fine with me.  They should be online and laying this fall, and in anticipation of this new influx of layers I have added three more nesting boxes in the hen house.

The front and back decks have both been washed and oil finished for another year, I just need to get everything back up on them.  Potatoes, tomatoes, corn, pumpkins, melons, leeks, radishes, onions, spinach, lettuce and zinnias are in the ground.  So are the raspberry plants I've been harboring for a couple years.  More stuff will be going in soon.

Next up, besides 20-30 more hours of weed whacking, will be planting drought tolerant yellow and white blooming perennials on the hillside above the back lawn and on either side of the new stairway to infinity.  Then I've got to refinish an old oak antique table for the back yard.  Might do a blog post on that one.  It's another creative re-purpose whisperer type dealio.  My lovely wife's eye.  All this by Dad's Day.

Then, nah, forget it.  Rest assured there's a ridiculous amount of upcoming to do's.  We live in the country, it's what we do.  There are a few minor upcoming excursions on tap though and I shall hopefully be able to strip some veneer from them and squeeze some funny out.  I'll keep you posted.

Happy summer of 2016 y'all.