Sunrise Hall of fame

Sunrise Hall of fame
Just another sunrise?

The pond

The pond
Filled at last

Hurray for da bees!

Hurray for da bees!
HappyDay Farms bees.

Iria and Daffy-bff. Who'd a thunk it?

Iria and Daffy-bff.  Who'd a thunk it?
My good friend, Iris and Daffy.

At the wharf in San Francisco

At the wharf in San Francisco
Mark and Annie

Blue Rock

Blue Rock
One day last winter...

My Shrine to baseball

My Shrine to baseball
Bring on the Dodgers. We're in a bad mood!

Biggee Fats gets patriotic and joins the army.

Biggee Fats gets patriotic and joins the army.
Private Fats, Biggee, reporting for duty, Sir! Can you direct me to the mess hall?

The mustache...

The mustache...
Be careful what you wish for...

Mahlon Masling Blue

Mahlon Masling Blue
My friend and brother.

Mark's E-mail address

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

The Outlook Isn't Stellar for the San Francisco Giants- Poetry

                                       The Outlook Isn't Stellar for the San Francisco Giants

The outlook isn’t stellar for the San Francisco Giants. I’m no freakin’ genius and this isn’t rocket science.
We have a dozen games to play, with three against LA; We’re going to need to win them all to make it all the way.

The division crown is what we need, the wild card won’t do, ‘Cause when you hit the playoffs, ONE game is four too few. 
The Dodgers have it going right now, they’re at that magic spot; The Orange and Black must strike-not out-but while the anvil’s hot.

Posey has amped up his pace-we’ve seen his act before. He’s led us to a pair of crowns; the pedal’s to the floor.
Pence is still the preacher man and Sandoval don’t stammer; The former is inspiring, the latter wields the hammer.

Now the first of two big series has gone the Dodgers’ way; It wasn’t what we had in mind, there’s nothing much to say.
But come next week we’ll meet again, down in the smoggy city, And if we can’t get ‘em back, all the more’s the pity.

Jake’s lined up to pitch this time-he is a Dodger killer; His win/loss mark against the Bums makes him a Giant pillar.
MadBum goes on Tuesday night-he is the starting ace-And Hudson throws the final game, trying to save face.

Tim got rocked so hard last time-he lasted just one plus-That now he has a real bad need to prove himself to us.
He’s never had a losing year; you know that says a lot. So don’t expect that Tim is done; he’ll show us what he’s got.

The season series, tied at eight, is just one element, Though winning two instead of three is only just a dent.
San Francisco needs all three; of that there is no doubt. With timely pitching close at hand, we need offensive clout.

Zack was hot and shut us out; maybe try some bunting. With speed at hand and practice too it could make for good hunting.
Get the rabbits on the paths and bring the big bats on; Home runs are not necessary but Man, they sure are fun.

Clayton Kershaw is the best, we say with certain candor. It’s funny that I’ve heard that tune back with Justin Verlander.
We listened to the things they said, “The best on all the planet,” But when the Panda finished up, the Tigers just said, “Damnit.”

A walk, a bunt, a hit batsman, and we’ll have things a going, Especially with the new kids here and backups really rolling.
Small ball works just fine for us, and Blanco likes the extra, So when we load the bases now, get ready and I’ll text ya.

Experience the Giants have; they know the script by heart. Seventeen of them were there and buddy that’s a start.
The playoffs are the time they thrive; the team plateaus together
And overcomes adversity so we can add a feather.

So put aside your negatives and just remember this: The Giants have stood back before and stared at the abyss.
But when the fog had lifted and we saw what had occurred, We found ourselves in cruise control, ahead of all the herd.

To win it all is no small feat; it takes all twenty-five; The schedule is so grueling that they’re barely left alive.
But if it were so easy that just any team could do it, We’d all let out a boring yawn and say, “There’s nothing to it.” 

Battling adversity, along the path is healthy, Especially if it also means the uniforms get filthy.
Complacency in MLB is not the way to go; Hunger drives the Giants-they’re ready for the show.

Some teams have got the grit it takes to overcome bad luck, Instead of simply giving up and saying, “What the heck?”
The Giants are the kind of team that knows just what to do, When October is upon us and the lot are just a few.

The pitching rises to the cause-the bats follow right along. Before you know what’s happening, we’re singing Journey songs.
Parading down the City streets, drinking at O’Leary’s-Once again the Orange and Black has won the World Series.

Friday, September 5, 2014

All That Would Fall Apart

All That Would Fall Apart

I celebrated my sixty-second birthday yesterday and spent it canning tomatoes, about the most enjoyable thing I can think of to do on one’s birthday, because I was surrounded by family and we did a lot of laughing. The contrast between yesterday, one of the best birthdays I have ever experienced, and my birthday two years ago, without question the lowest point of my life, is stark.

Two years ago in August is when our family was rocked with the knowledge that Annie had kidney cancer, she had a tumor the size of a softball that had to be removed, along with one of her kidneys, and she needed to get a place in Willits to be near her health-care provider. The surgery was scheduled, she was leaving after dinner on my birthday for San Francisco, in the company of her daughters-in-law, and I had to stay at home to tend the home fires.

I had never felt so desolate in my life. Even spending sixteen months, 7,000 miles away from home while in the army, did not compare. As is the custom in our home, I got to choose my birthday dinner, but it was like being a condemned prisoner eating his last meal. I had no interest in food but I did not want to hurt Annie’s feelings. So I ate.

I felt as though I were a high-rise and that a good portion of my substructure had crumbled, allowing me to move about sluggishly, as if in a daze, but unwilling to show on the exterior that I was not up to handling my end of the arrangement. I would be maintaining the home front, including critters, garden and all that would fall apart if no one were there to care for it.

And I would be trying not to fall apart myself, after having spent from earlier that year in March, through August, undergoing intense cognitive therapy, to try and get a handle on my mood spectrum disorder. Annie was my coach and my mentor, having done her homework and guided me through the process. Now, when I needed my coach the most to help me cope with this life crisis, not only was she not there, she was in critical danger of never returning.

I would love to say that I have little memory of that bleak period of time during which Annie was in the hospital in San Francisco and then recuperating and trying to get back on her feet, but unfortunately, I remember it vividly. I still shudder to think of it. I remember cleaning the house from top to bottom, and then doing it again, more deeply and thoroughly.  And when I finally finished the second time, I started on it again.

I did not write; I did not feel. I just functioned, operating on automatic pilot, going through the motions, waiting. Annie, who had never been sick in her life, who walked for exercise daily all those years we lived on the ridge and who was so health-conscious, had cancer.

Now, two years later, battling not only kidney cancer but thyroid cancer as well, Annie never stops. She is preserving her relishes, salsas, sauces, peppers et al; she is cooking for the farm crew’s big midday meal, two or three times a week; she is working endlessly on all matters pertaining to Relay for Life, all-year-round; and she is fighting the battle of her life and holding her own.

We traveled down to San Francisco on Wednesday, the day before my birthday, so Annie could see her thyroid doctor.  It was a two-thirty in the afternoon appointment, and we were reasonably certain that it would be a long ride home. We were an hour and fifteen minutes early because we always leave early to account for traffic and road construction delays so we checked into the office.

Amazingly, Annie’s doctor, knowing we come from Mendo, whisked her in, conducted the consultation, and got us out of there by two. The commute home was a breeze, we stopped at Star’s in Ukiah for a pleasant meal and we were home by six. Talk about lucky.
Well, yesterday’s birthday dinner of barbecued tri-tip, with corn on the cob, still in the husks, string beans and zucchini also on the barbie, a green salad, and the two biggest rainbow tomatoes I have ever seen, was stellar. My productivity yesterday, plowing through eight heaping lugs of tomatoes, coming up with a forty-quart stockpot filled to the max with sauce and enjoying the company of Annie and the family is what yesterday was all about.
Sure, I’ll talk about lucky. Anyone who has ever spent two minutes with Annie knows, that I am the luckiest man in the world.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Anything But Old-School

                                                          Anything But Old-School

Yellow pencils and watches are old-school, you know. Most people eschew both in favor of mechanical writing devices and cell phones, because, you know, pencils need to be sharpened, and watches are so limited. All watches do is keep one informed of the time.

But what happens to those folks out there who still have the audacity to not want a pencil that clicks, or who wants to be able to see instantly how much time remains before the start of a baseball game, without having to fish through one’s pocket for a phone, which must then be turned on and consulted, only to find out it is anywhere but in one's pocket? Thank-you, I’ll pass.  

I know you will tell me that watches are still available and that one can still find pencils, even if the erasers on said pencils are as effective as rubbing a penny across something you would like erased, because they are as hard as granite.  

The problem isn’t that I can’t find a watch, the problem is I cannot find a watch that does not also have the day of the month feature included on the face of the watch.  And I have found pencils also, but only in bins of merchandise clearly marked “discontinued.” How long is that going to go on?

There are countless other practical items that have faded from the landscape, but a watch with a plain face and a pencil with a planed tip seemed like they would be available forever. Why does someone who is retired have to worry about what day of the month it is? And what about the classroom pencil sharpener for the kids? No longer necessary?  Is nothing sacred?

I would tend to lump these sorts of trivial concerns under the category of suck it up, except that it bugs me that no one ever asks the public’s opinion. OK, so I would still come out on the short end of the stick and I appreciate that, but how about a small compromise?

Can we just still manufacture a few of these old-school items, at least until these same old-school folks have sauntered off into the sunset, the sunset that can never be anything but old-school? 

Saturday, August 23, 2014

All About the Tomatoes

All About the Tomatoes

I first canned tomatoes in the fall of 1974, when I was living in San Jose, going to San Jose State, the year after I got out of the military.  We planted six things in our back yard, one of them being tomatoes, and the tomatoes went ballistic, producing enough fruit for me to can six cases of quart jars, half cold-pack, the other half, hot-pack.

I didn’t know anything about making sauce or puree or ketchup, just the tomatoes.  With quarts of tomatoes, I could do anything.  We were a vegetarian household, not because of philosophy or religious reasons, but purely from an economical perspective.  We could not afford to eat meat.

The only time we ate meat the summer of 1974 was on the Fourth of July, when we walked the couple of miles to the local grocery store and bought steaks for everyone in the household.  I’m sure they were sirloin-tipped at best, on our budget, but when barbecued up properly, and served with salad and corn, it was the bomb.

With jars of tomatoes, I knew what I was doing.  Somewhere in this time period, I developed and perfected my lifelong ability to cook a mean chicken cacciatore, beginning with the onions, peppers, mushrooms, garlic, seasonings and tomatoes, and then adding it all to the browned chicken, and simmering it on top of the stove until everything was tender. It was all about the tomatoes.

We added tomatoes to our home-made soups, and then started making soups by adding things to the tomatoes.  We never got tired of trying new recipes and to do so, we needed lots of tomatoes.

Now I live on a farm where we have planted fields of every variety of tomato imaginable, with emphasis on specific varieties being used for specific purposes.  We don’t can the Heirlooms as a rule, because they are for market, and we don’t take the Heinz tomatoes in to town to sell because they are for the ketchup.

Annie takes the little drying tomatoes with her when she is in Willits, to take advantage of the electricity to use her dehydrator.  We can do them up on the mountain, but it is a strain on the solar system because it has to go 24/7.

What I spend a lot of time doing with tomatoes these days is washing, coring, cutting up, heating up, and grinding them through the mill to remove all seeds and skins.  Then I cook them down to thicken the sauce.

It’s an art, especially if you do not have the large saucepans needed, at least ten-gallon, fifteen being better.  The sauce needs to cook at a low heat for at least thirty-six hours, which just means that if you can combine four smaller saucepans into one huge one, it’s just that much more efficient, even if I still need two burners to heat the big dude.  It’s better than four burners to keep four smaller pans going.

For puree, or what we call pizza sauce, it’s another twelve hours or so.  It’s very thick and works for pizza, meatball sandwiches, and to thicken up regular sauce if it’s too watery.  We usually can it in half-pints.

For ketchup it’s three days of cooking down and then you add the spices and whatever you are going to use to sweeten it with.  Everyone has different tastes when it comes to ketchup, and everyone has an opinion on what should be used to sweeten it with.  You just have to figure out what works best and go with it.  All I know is that any recipe we have ever looked at requires way more sweetener than what we end up adding.

So now it is August, my back needs frequent breaks on the recliner, and the root cellar has twenty-five cases of different processed goods, waiting to be sold at market or placed into CSA shares.  It is a remarkable development here at Happy Day Farms, and it’s only August.  We have two more months of processing to go.

Great success!

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Another Chapter in the Book of Life

                                                         Another Chapter in the Book of Life

The deed is done and done well-gallantly even.  They came, we worked, we laughed, we tried not to cry and we spent a fair amount of time running various scenarios through our collective memories.  We shook our heads in amazement, occasionally, but not with any disrespect, only with an ever-expanding wonder at the depth and breadth of all that we found.

We were cleaning the big house up here on Bell Springs Road, three of my siblings, a bro-law and a sweet-niece, working industriously for much of one day and a long second day, trying to get a handle on a lifetime’s possessions.  I might say accessories because Pauline has already taken those things most precious with her, first to Willits and then on to Windsor, but again, the last thing I-or any of us-wanted to do was trivialize either her possessions or her request.

By getting a handle on a lifetime’s possessions, I simply mean to take everything of any personal value to Pauline, box it up, and make it available to her over time, for her to peruse and decide what she would like to have done with it.  We have consistently refused to express spoken blame or criticism of our matriarch at her lack of foresight to this inevitable step that we are taking.  For those who would criticize her for failing to deal more realistically with her things earlier in life, I would respond that she never saw the time coming when she would no longer have access to her home on the mountain.

Mama is ninety-one and very frail, physically.  Intellectually, she can still function very well, thank you very much, but any excursion outside of the assisted-living facility in which she dwells, is very challenging for all involved.  It’s one of the reasons we are all so pleased that she has adapted to her surroundings so well, and the people within those walls.

The idea that she would be able to make the long trek up here again is just unthinkable-there are too many issues which arise every day, that would make the whole venture not only unsafe, but downright hazardous. We were dealing with a home that has not been lived in for going on three years.  The results were predictable, but not insurmountable.

The house has been the scene of a rodent-fest, with the little varmints invading every part of the dwelling, searching out food and material with which to build their nests.  They found an abundance of both.  Again, this is not a criticism, only an observation; I have no desire to offend anyone, in any way.

Our job was to sort, analyze each item for emotional connections to Herself, classify and distribute to a number of potential destinations.  I won’t go through all of the minutiae of the process, but just ponder the books for a moment, if you will.  Vast, unlimited quantities of action-packed thrillers, dramas, classics, who-done-its, and an endless list of other topics and genres.  

Both Robert and Pauline were already lifetime readers, and moving up on a mountain, where the winters are long and cold, only fostered this occupation.  Pauline dabbled in exchanging books with The Book Juggler in Willits and a few other used bookstores, but she always brought more home than she took back.

But brother Eric has taken on the mantle of going through the books, keeping the ones he wants, making available others to family members, and finding homes for the rest.  For quite a while there, books were being boxed up and relocated, but it was such a time-consuming endeavor, that it was deemed appropriate that Eric take care of the business of the books himself.

But there were countless other instances of specific items that would have no value to Pauline, being distributed to any one of many piles.  Of course, much of the contents are slated for the local Goodwill in Willits, along with the Senior Center in the old complex where Pauline lived for a bit over two years.  Many household items, such as the dishes, pans, silverware and cleaning utensils were simply left as is.  Pauline doesn’t need any more dishes, and the next person to live in the house just may.

So what we accomplished is the complete removal and close examination of the contents of the house.  The women spent much of their time going through the office and Pauline’s room, packing up correspondence, photo albums, keepsakes and personal papers.  They went through Pauline’s wardrobe and gathered a selection of items to supplement what was already in Windsor, and they boxed everything up for her to look at.

        Kevin kept the pace lively and even took the first selection of goodwill items down to Willits to get the ball rolling.  Isabel never stopped packing, hauling, moving, maneuvering and just plain putting the pedal to the metal.  Michael was everywhere, moving mountains of valuables to their respective spots.  We got a huge boost from Nathanielito who showed up the first day to help with the moving and brought a trailer with him, hooked up to his truck.  It was inevitable that there would be unusable items and items damaged by rodents, so it nice to have the means to dispose of these things.  Casey and Amber got into the act, loading up their truck with recycling and agreeing to facilitate the removal of the rest of the items going to Goodwill.

There was a great deal of humor, simply because it is far more acceptable to conceal deeper feelings through humor than through pathos.  It was harder for those of us who spent a lot of time over the years up at the big house.

Laura and I reminisced that we used to pack up the families and head over to the big house whenever we would get those three dayers in, snowstorms that would go non-stop for three days.  We’d watch films, play bridge, the boys and their cousin, Erin Rose,  would play with the Leggos and read books, and we’d eat and drink. Those are the times that I think back most fondly on the big house.

I must admit that I found the whole cleansing process much easier than I might have thought.  The only time I struggled with my emotions was the first time I wandered out to the gate to the orchard to indulge in a quick dose of my medication.  While thus engaged, I glanced out over the orchard and was stunned to see that it had completely returned to the jungle that existed, before we reurrected it a few years ago, and fired up Robert’s old garden.

Now the blackberries have once more stormed the walls and retaken the orchard, and it made me want to break down and cry.  Not the house, not the contents of the house, but the orchard.  All of the weed-eating I did, and all of the effort to keep the trees watered and nurtured, and it would all have to be done again.  Someday.

We all agreed when the work was done that Pauline’s wishes had been carried out to the max, and that everything that could have been done to protect the integrity of the process, had indeed, been accomplished.  

Pauline now has the knowledge that the chapter of her life up here on Bell Springs Road is over.  It may be over but it is not forgotten.  She spent the last thirty-five years up on the mountain that she did not want to live on in the first place, and I have to believe they were good years.  

We packed up a lot of good memories in those boxes but we couldn’t pack up the memories we hold in our minds and that’s a good thing. We’ll carry those memories around with us and they will be one thing that we won’t have to worry about packing up when we go.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Taking Notes

A few of my siblings and I are going to gather in a couple of days to clean up the big house, so as to possibly rent it out as a source of income.  The big house was the term given to the folks’ cinder-block home, up here on the ridge, back in the day when there were mostly little houses.

Pauline is ninety-one years old and residing in an assisted-living situation in Windsor, a site that allows her to thrive in an environment surrounded by others who can do most things, but need a little help with a few details along the way.

However, it is a fairly costly venture.  In an effort to accomplish several goals simultaneously, it was deemed appropriate that some care and attention be given to the original homestead up here on Bell Springs Road, if for no other reason than the house will deteriorate quickly without such maintenance.  

However, there are several other reasons for undertaking this endeavor and one is that Pauline still has most of her possessions up at this house.  Now it’s not practical for her to import them to her studio apartment in Windsor, because she has already filled that one to capacity, but she would still like to see some flexibility, so that she might be delivered a box or two of possessions from Bell Springs, in exchange for a comparable amount of goods being exported.

If it sounds kind of complicated, it beats the alternative of transporting her up to the house.  First of all, she is a very frail individual.  The ride would be uncomfortable and interminable.  Second, the house itself is not a healthy environment for a person of her fragile nature.  There are steps, stairs and unconventional features to the big house that make it impractical.

I do understand that she may have need of information, documentation, books, videos, etc. so we are happy to make those arrangements.  So the main goal for this upcoming venture is to sort, classify, clean and relocate, so as to make the place available for rent, and to present to Pauline a list of the contents so that she can determine if there is something she is in need of.

I think our crew is up for the task.  Kevin is joining us and his presence will be valuable.  As an eleven-something year old, Kevin moved with Robert and Pauline from the San Gabriel Valley in SoCal, to this mountain ridge in northern Mendocino County, where he lived until after he had graduated from Laytonville High School and traipsed off to Santa Clara university.  

J.T. is coming from Sebasketball to lend a hand and she’s such a good organizer that I am sure we are miles ahead before we even start.  If we are lucky enough to have Mikey here too, we will be that much further ahead of the game.

Laura and Isabel are coming from Redding and are key to the whole process.  Laura will be sifting through sheet music for one thing and the two of them always bring their own inner music to any venue, even if it’s a house-cleaning, three-day event.

We are assembling a shop vacuum cleaner, latex gloves, masks, garbage sacks, new empty boxes, mops, buckets, cleansers, scrubbers and vast unlimited quantities of good booze and drugs.  OK, the last sentence is just my imagination running amok.  Sounds inviting, though.

The folks doing the cleaning are not making any decisions, believe me.  I am in no position to be doling out the possessions of my parents, nor am I interested in preventing anyone else from acquiring a beloved memento from his or her childhood.

All I am interested in accomplishing is putting the past behind us and moving forward in a direction that works for everyone.  I am also taking notes and paying close attention.

One thing I can assure you is that when it comes time for me to join in the Eternal Bleachers in the sky, there will be minimal detritus remaining from my time here on the earth.  Life’s complicated enough when you have to keep track of your own stuff, let alone someone else’s.

That being said, rest assured, Pauline, that your possessions are in good hands, and we will look after your things.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

My Drug of Choice; Hint: It's Not Alcohol

My Drug of Choice; Hint: It's Not Alcohol 

I’m taking Sunday off from Kate Wolf and her festival.  I enjoyed Friday immensely, but had some hard times Saturday, some of them completely unnecessary.  I do understand how logistically cumbersome the whole arrangement must be, and that certain formalities must be in place, but the reality is, individuals control various components of the fair, and there lies the rub.

Give a person a position of authority or control, and watch him or her go to town.  Even if there are three people involved in the process, the one with the need for power and control will assert his or her influence over the situation.

Take the two “checkpoints” at the entrances to the main stage area.  Please.  The purpose would appear to be to prevent alcohol from being transported into the venue, for obvious reasons.  All well and good.  The organizers are not interested in inebriation abounding. 

So in achieving egress and ingress from the main area for entertainment and food, one must clear the “checkpoint,” over and over again.  There are three persons of both genders controlling the entry-points, and there is generally a steady current of festival attendees flowing through the checkpoints.

Thousands of people attend this event and one of the most challenging of logistical elements deals with the banks of porta-potties, which are clean, well-maintained and sufficient in number to handle the numbers.  But you must leave the main stage area to get to them, and then return once again.  So every time you need to use the restroom, you must pass through the checkpoint(s).

It was in the nineties yesterday; Annie and I hydrated ourselves with water brought from home in twelve-ounce bottles, and we brought a lot. Most remained in the truck, but we always had from a few, to as many as a half-dozen water bottles with us at all times.  Annie’s issues with cancer require that she drink vast amounts of water every day.  I personally drink three liters a day.  

Consequently, we needed to make that jaunt to the bathrooms pretty regularly.  Of course, we had our chairs set up in the main stage area, so they could remain there when we left the area, but we did not want to leave the backpack behind, for obvious reasons.

In addition to the the water, we had our food.  Annie being a Celiac, cannot eat the cuisine featured at the festival, despite efforts in past years.  She found that the food sickens her.  No problem.  We bring our own.

I have no food allergies, but still find the food offered at the festival to be unappealing to me.  I mean, hey.  Who’s going to argue with Indian, Greek, Ghanian, and an assortment of vegan and gluten-free food, from which to choose?

I mean, anyone besides me.  I do not apologize for my lack of adventure when it comes to food.  I do not care for curry; I do not care for lamb, and I detest the smell of garlic fries.  Garlic permeated the area.

There was a booth selling sandwiches, but the only thing I found to be conventional [to me] was the BLT.  There was also a pizza booth featuring gluten-free pizza, but what about something as bizarre as organic hamburgers, with cheese, or a turkey on sourdough bread sandwich, with tomatoes and lettuce?  Just asking.  Political correctness need not spill over into food.

The point is we chose to bring in our own grub, along with water and whatever else we crammed into the backpack.  I even informed the over-zealous guards that I did indeed have my drug of choice with me, but that it was not alcohol-it was reefer.

I do not like to think that I was singled out because of my somewhat unorthodox appearance ( I rock a prominent mustache), but I have little other recourse.  I watched countless people stream through, unmolested, and then Annie and I get accosted.  We are interrogated, and I have people I do not know, rummaging through my personal belongings.  And I certainly do not feel it’s anyone’s business, why we choose to bring our own food with us.  I owe no medical explanation to anyone but my doctor.

I did not have a drop of alcohol to drink all day, so they could not have smelled it on my breath.  I was walking by Annie’s side, holding her hand, and I was quiet and obliging.  

What purpose is served by me having to repeatedly subject my personal belongings to the gropings of strangers?  Call off the dogs and let us pee in peace.