Dozer, the bulldog

Dozer, the bulldog
About those fireworks...

Ellie Mae or may not...

Ellie Mae or may not...
In through the out gate...

Rattler relocation

Rattler relocation
Snakes are beautiful critters.

HappyDay Farms bees are happy bees.

HappyDay Farms bees are happy bees.
"Let us bee happy in our work..."

Summertime

Summertime
Nothing says summer like zinnias.

Pink Yarrow and carnations

Pink Yarrow and carnations
Life on the farm

HappyDay Farms grows it better.

HappyDay Farms grows it better.
Home-grown by HeadSodBuster

Where the living is easy

Where the living is easy
Garlic drying, with our newly painted water tank in the background

July magic

July magic
Artichoke-strictly for ornamental purposes

Mahlon Masling Blue

Mahlon Masling Blue
My friend and brother.

Mark's E-mail address

bellspringsmark@gmail.com

Sunday, December 31, 2017

To Fix A Fence

This is the tenth episode in the saga of Ellie Mae (or May Not), whose reputation has drawn the interest of ExploiSational Press, and its morose editor, Max. The following is a tawdry bit of business, set in the back rooms of ExPress, taken verbatim from the notes of Flash, rogue reporter for this glitzy newsstand staple.
"Lies... nary a word of truth..." Ellie [May Not]
Cigar smoke permeated the cluttered editorial offices of ExploiSational Press, despite the NO SMOKING sign clearly visible on the wall. Leaning back in his executive Ergonomic Gaming Tilt Swivel High Back Leather Office Chair, Max glared around him at his staff, as if daring someone to speak.

“You got nothing? You were sent to bring back the schiznik, and you bring me nothing?” The dour editor waited, and then growled after an interminable delay. He pronounced the word nothing, nuttin.

Flash leaned back in his own metal folding chair, leveled an amused look at his boss and replied, “Because…there was nothing?”
There's not a fence made I can't crack...

“Argh! Has to be SOME-THING: Says so in the manual. I told you I have been following this schmuck who is writing about Ellie Mae (or May Not), an “alleged” rescue dog out of the Humane Society for Inland Mendocino County, and I’m not buying his line of malarky.” Max took a swig off of his coffee and grimaced. 

“Malarky? This would be a good time to explain that.” Flash’s amusement was clearly evident.

“Oh, come on. The way this guy paints the picture of that mutt, you’d think it was some sort of Wonder Dog. I know there’s more to the story than he’s giving us, ‘cause I know rescue dogs. If it was as easy as this knucklehead would have us believe, then so many folks would be lining up in front of the shelter, the shelter would be obsolete.”

Amusement transformed itself to incredulity. “You think the author of Mark’s Work is lying?”

“Whoa! We don’t use that word here at ExploiSational; I prefer embellishing the truth, but yeah, I think it’s just a tad too easy for old Mark. I mean, don’t you?” The ash from his glowing cigar chose that moment to drop off, splashing down into his coffee, without Max noticing.

Flash’s head swiveled, as if he sought another voice to help him out, but clearly he was flying solo.

“First of all, from what I observed,” he began, “it’s not easy. This hound is a genuine country dog, reared in Covelo, and already a legend as an elite escape artist. Said so on the paperwork that accompanied her from the shelter. According to what I saw, there was nothing alleged about Ellie Mae’s skill-set. Never saw a dog so adept at going under the wire.”

Ready for action-ready for danger!
“I knew it!” roared the salty editor. “So you got some good footage, I trust?”

“Not much to see. There’s a hillside, it’s loose and covered with rocks, leaves and branches, and the fence is almost impossible to dog-proof. Ellie escapes, the old coot goes out and piles up a bunch of rocks and branches against the fence, and hopes for the best. As for footage, Ellie Mae is so quick there’s not much to see.”

“No!” Max bellowed. “Not footage of the dog-footage of the old guy jumping up and down, screaming at the dog! Do I have to teach you everything?”

Flash nodded, comprehension dawning on him. “No, nothing like that, but I got some great footage of him talking to the dog, explaining how he knew there were deer, foxes, mountain lions and bears, not to mention squirrels, chipmunks, ravens and cats, all there exclusively for her entertainment.”

“Not only that, I heard him prattling on to Ellie Mae how the old bulldog who used to live there, had short stubby legs and could not fly like the wind, chasing the deer. The old bulldog never once tried to escape. Didn’t make him better or worse-just different.”

“On the other hand, whenever he walked the bulldog, he had to worry that the old sod would keel over, if he wanted to walk at all. Such is not the case with Ellie Mae, who can dance circles around the old dude, and who appreciates the time spent with her.”

We leave the murky editorial backrooms of ExPress and return now to the editor’s desk at Mark’s Work, where Sunday’s post is about to hit the newsstands, er cyber-stands. 
Ellie Mae and Emma (and Margie to the right)

Indeed, eager to romp with the free-spirited Emma, who lives a football field up the driveway from Ellie Mae, our little hound dog has taken to living up to her reputation. She has been going “under the wire” pretty routinely now for about a week.

BossLady has returned her at least twice, Gluten-Free Mama brought her down from the farm once, and I have let her back in the front gate at least three times. I tried tough love and left her at the front gate once, but when she just sat at the gate and waited, I gave it up. 

I’m a pushover for a set of limpid brown eyes, ones which express adoration every time they flash my way. I’ve also been a country boy for 35 years now, living five miles up a dirt road, off the grid and deliriously happy for it, so I understand country dogs. Independence is pretty central to life.
"Like, I didn't hear that?"
Dozer the bulldog could only see the deer and fantasize; Ellie Mae sees the deer and wants to chase them. Different strokes for different folks, and because I have all of the time in the world, I can give this matter my full attention. 

When Ben-JAM-In was here with his pup, Delta, he gave Ellie Mae a present on behalf of Delta, who appreciated how kind Ellie Mae was to her. The present is a squeaker chew toy with a low-key squeak, one meant to be tossed and retrieved, and Ellie has quickly learned how to do just that. I was hoping a few thousand tosses would tire her out, but I was the only one who needed a nap when we were finished.

With Ellie Mae’s obedience classes starting in January, I am looking forward to this next leg of our journey together. I never took Dozer to obedience school, he being a bulldog and predisposed to doing things his way, so this should be enlightening.

I mean, I do enjoy the challenge of trying to fence in a curious, inquisitive, country-born and reared hound dog, but I also suspect I have met my match. She just keeps going to the same spot, scoffs at my puny efforts, and burrows under, below and through whatever minor impediments have been placed in her way. 

Evidently, it’s easier to fence a dog in and take it out of the “country,” than it is to take the “country” out of a dog. On the other hand, we have had two consecutive escape-free days, so I am holding my breath. 

Metaphorically speaking, anyway.





Tuesday, December 26, 2017

A Blue Rock-Wellesque Christmas

I would refer to Christmas Day here on-farm as Rockwellesque, except that some folks might point out that a bong, even a well-chambered, twelve-year-old gem, does not conform to the stereotypical All-American image.

Nonetheless, or maybe even more so, our Big Day was celebrated in a low-key, non-choreographed fashion, with the ebb and flow of the day determined by whimsy. I was still whimsically pot-walloping after a sumptuous repast of home-grown pork sausage patties and bacon, fresh organic eggs and a passel of blueberry waffles, with piping hot maple surple, when the idea of taking a morning stroll began to take form.

Surple? Sometimes you just have to let your fingers do the walking, and see what kinds of mischief they can get into. There was little mischief we could get into meandering our way up the quarter-mile-long driveway to Bell Springs Road, but that did not detract from the experience.
Our driveway

The day was sunny and cool but the climb up the steep driveway drove that brief impression right out the window. My tee-shirt was more than adequate for the excursion, which if you are not going to have a white Christmas, is the next best thing. We headed north toward Blue Rock, with no particular ambition of actually hoofing it all the way.

We have done so often enough in the past, but we were also allowing for a slightly more-modulated pace from Gluten-Free Mama, whose valiant efforts in the kitchen, made double-timing it seem unreasonable. Let’s be practical here: With dinner still in the refrigerator, we did not want to hamper the golden goose. 

And oh yeah, we had the fab four of (In order of appearance on-farm) Emma, Large Marge, Ellie Mae and Delta, an assortment of doggies ranging from more-or-less 100-pound Emma, to 11-week-old Delta, visiting with Ben-JAM-In for the Holiday weekend.

Gluten-Free Mama had requested that all three of her sons spend time with her this festive time of year, in lieu of other gifts, and they presented themselves accordingly. Hey, it’s a tough job to have to try and keep up with the incessant flow of Holiday delicacies being presented, but if there is a more dedicated squad, I am unenlightened as to its existence.

We wandered up to the ranch house to say hey to Jeff, and then moseyed another short stretch of the legs, before we decided that Frank Capra, Jimmy Stewart and Donna Reed were beckoning a little too strongly to resist much longer.
Margie, Emma and Ellie Mae (or may not)

The doggies were stoked to be able to sniff and smell, but the more they discovered, the less they told. Truth be told, my guess is that Emma knows far more than she’s been sharing all along, but that is just my intuition prattling on.

All four snoozed in four-part-harmony upon our return, as we tuned in once more to “It’s A Wonderful Life,” a story about values and sound principles winning out over dishonesty and greed. 

No wonder it is an iconic film in our culture; it has such a fairy tale premise.

Munching on Tamari/nutritional yeast infused popcorn, and sipping on a port wine, I was plodding away at the fifth-or is it sixth?-jigsaw puzzle of at least a thousand pieces. The one I had just completed was highlighted by my overturning a full mug of H2O, and seeing it rapidly flow over, through, between and among about 20 percent of the puzzle, or two hundred pieces.

Even for me this was classic.
Almost added a pond, but it dried.

No panic because water dries out. The first thing I did was rinse the bong and take a bodacious Holiday rip. I reserved judgment for the time being, to see whether there would be warpage or even a separation of the picture part of the surface of the pieces from their respective bases, but nothing of that nature took place.

I assembled three of my square-foot chunks of cardboard, placed a paper towel upon each and distributed the bedraggled puzzle pieces evenly, and waited until the next day for results. Without issue I completed the puzzle, marked it as having all pieces present and accounted for, and sent it off to hibernate.

BossLady expressed an interest in “A Christmas Story” and the words were no sooner out of her mouth, than the film was rolling and we were once again writhing in discomfort at Flick’s agony over having his tongue frozen to the flagpole.

Prizes were exchanged after the film was over, Gluten-Free Mama and Small Boy seeming to divide the distributing between the two of them. The boys were going to wheelbarrow those truckloads of seasoned, bone-dry oak/manzanita mix into the house, but stopped short when informed that dinner was about to be served.

Our pigs, Pork or Beans, contributed, as did one of our chickens, looking more like a small turkey. Roasted beets, turnips, cauliflower, broccoli and leeks accompanied the roasted chicken and the smoked pork ribs and pulled pork roast that went along. The pumpkin in the cheesecake came from on-farm, but the chocolate for the cream pie did not. 


No one boycotted the chocolate pie.

This time the whipped cream had organic sugar in it, quelling a possible rebellion if the Thanksgiving Day Whipped Cream Travesty were to make an encore. I’ll stop short of calling said efforts “a mission from God” but just barely.

I got into pot-walloping those dishes again, after dinner but before dessert, simply because I liked Gluten-Free Mama being free to just sit and converse, without having to move. Later, games were in store, but not Monopoly, I understand.

I do know that Ben-JAM-In won on Christmas Eve, in the midst of swirling allegations from the days of growing up in the house. The boys used to wage marathon contests, lasting eternities and involving borrowing large amounts of money from offshore bank accounts, with HeadSodBuster seemingly always coming out on top.

Again, unfounded (and unquestionably libelous) finger-pointing indicated $500.00 bills being lifted by sticky fingers-outright-from the on-site bank, a rumor of devastating implications when one considers HeadSodBuster's track record of success. As I drifted off to sleep at my customary time, however, they were embarking on a rousing game of RummiKub.  

It did occur to me that this was one game which was not a part of their upbringing. 
Gobble, gobble?








Monday, December 25, 2017

If the Collar Fits

This is the ninth in a series on our sweet rescue dog, Ellie. That’s Ellie Mae.

Four of my favorite gal pals gathered at our spot, Christmas Eve, including Ellie Mae the dog, now with us exactly one month to the day from the Humane Society of Inland Mendocino County. Along with hostess Ellie Mae were Large Marge, Emma and Delta, Ben-JAM-In’s German Shepherd, an 11-week old search-and-rescue dog in the making. 

Delta arrived first and Ellie Mae was inquisitive, polite and most importantly, friendly. I say most importantly because Delta had been experiencing some nervousness around “big dogs.” Ellie is not big by conventional standards, weighing in at 45 pounds, a three-pound gain in the four weeks we have had her, but compared to eleven-week-old Delta, Ellie Mae is big.
Delta at seven weeks.
   

Large Marge, aka Margie rolled in later with the start of the San Francisco Forty-Niners’ rousing victory over the playoff-bound Jacksonville Jaguars. Not to brag but ever since Ellie Mae joined us, the local gridiron favorite has posted a 4-0 record, after beginning the season 1-9. 

If you got it flaunt it, and I have Ellie Mae, Secret Weapon.

Apparently Margie and Delta had already crossed paths earlier in the day, up at HeadSodBuster’s, resulting in Margie exhibiting a cantankerous side to her three-year-old self. She had the unmitigated gall to nip Delta, who had been enthusiastically inviting Margie to participate in some puppy play.

“You could have just declined,” Delta might have said to Margie, but it also served the purpose of enlightening Delta to the fact that not all dogs want to cavort. Furthermore, when Emma the Great Dane mix strolled in, all she had by way of greeting to Delta, was a growl.

Emma outweighs Ellie Mae and Margie by sixty pounds at least, so she must look like Babe the Blue Ox to Delta, who was willing to take Emma’s word for [anything]. With Margie in the immediate vicinity, Delta was content to let discretion dictate her further sense of adventure.

Who distinguished herself by providing a safe port for puppy Delta? Cough. None other than Ellie Mae, who is the only one of the trio of older dogs who has gone the route of Motherhood. Ellie Mae was patient, cognizant of Delta’s age and more than willing to play games with the rejuvenated pup. 

Ellie Mae loves it when her gal pals come by for romps. She can outrun any of them, even though she is so much smaller than Emma it is ridiculous. Whereas Emma has huge strides and covers a lot of territory, Ellie Mae is nothing short of lightning-fast. 
Ellie Mae on a walk

The information on Black Mouth Curs emphasized that this breed needs room to sprint. It matters not to me whether Ellie Mae is or is not a BMC, she is by definition a sprinter. If the collar fits, buckle that beast in place and don’t look back.

There were five or six adults situated in our living room, and all four dogs, each with her own spot. We were watching Sunday football, a jigsaw puzzle under way, and the living was easy. I had fretted that all of the company would stimulate Ellie Mae but she was golden.

For one thing, unlike her predecessor, Ellie Mae does not beg at the table. The other day at lunch, when Gluten-Free Mama had hooked everyone up with fish tacos, I was proud as a peacock that Ellie Mae was curled up in her bed, ignoring what must have been a tantalizing fragrance wafting through the air.
All puppies have that one auntie...

For Ellie Mae to be the perfect hostess, raking in big ups from all present, warms the cockles of my heart. GF Mama and I were inspired in the first place by a friend who stayed on-farm for quite a spell, who had a rescue dog as a companion. 

The bond was so strong, and the dog so devoted to her Designated Human, it was inspiring. Minimal dialogue was required for Gluten-Free Mama and I to make our choice, and we are now able to experience firsthand, the rewards of going the rescue dog route.

Ellie Mae or may not always do the perfect thing, but the bad things are little and the good things are big, like being nice to a little puppy, or replacing the piece of our hearts that was missing. 
FORTY-NINERS? Hey nothing against,
but read my lips: Buster Posey



Friday, December 22, 2017

The Dog Is Not a Toy

This is the eighth episode on Ellie Mae the dog, and her adjustment to farm life, in which a truce is formed between Ellie Mae and Toby, the orange tabby cat.

If you cannot get along with your neighbors on a farm, you are the odd critter out. When we were communicating about Ellie Mae the dog with those nice folks at the Humane Society of Inland Mendocino County, prior to her joining us, Gluten-Free Mama and I stipulated that it would be nice if our adoptee were cat-friendly, but that it was not a deal breaker.

I don’t know about the felines in your ‘hood, but the cats around here chew dogs up for breakfast, and spit them out afterwards. I saw a kitten take Emma the Great Dane mix down, with one hiss combined with one swipe of a tiny paw. It was an example of “know your opponent.”

This is the same Emma who flushed an adult mountain lion from out of the creek bed behind our house, three days ago, and chased her until she crested the hill on the north side. 
Needless to say, a domestic cat that can’t merck a dog around here is in a world of hurt. With that in mind, GF Mama and I went about the task of introducing Ellie Mae to Toby, the designated indoors cat here at the farm house, carefully. We weren’t worried about Toby, mind you, so much as poor Ellie Mae, who would learn soon enough who ran the show.

Nonetheless, for the first couple of weeks, all interactions between Ellie and Toby were supervised, with only two sputtering chase scenes occurring. I say sputtering because whereas Ellie Mae had enthusiasm on her side, she was on tiled surface so all she could do was spin her paws. 

If sound and fury equated to speed, Ellie could have won the Indy 500. The second time with her legs gyrating furiously, all Ellie could manage was to run into one of the table legs. Meanwhile, Toby sneered at her from halfway up the stairs. 

You see, Toby glides right through that child-proof gate, leaving Ellie Mae on the bottom looking up triumphantly, as if to say, “Just where I want you, you little pointy-eared fiend. Go upstairs before I am forced to chew off your head.”

“If you try to chew off my head, you’ll never hear the man count ten,” Toby might reply, not moving until I clap my hands at him to roust him along. In doing so, I remind him once more that the dog is not his toy.
Ellie Mae and Emma

Thus far matters between Ellie Mae and Toby have proceeded beyond my highest expectations, with the culminating moment arriving yesterday morning. As Ellie burst out the front door for a sprint, she came eye-to-eye with the Tobester, sunning himself on the petite red deck chair. 

As I stood inside the door and observed, Ellie presented her usual taut willingness to engage in that little dance she does so well, but all Toby could manage was a leisurely rollover onto his back, and the most exaggerated stretch possible, ignoring Ellie Mae completely.

“Chew my head off, huh? Well, here’s your opportunity,” Toby might have been saying.

I waited for the fireworks but they fizzled when Ellie Mae capitulated. “What? Now? With my Designated Human watching? My mama didn’t raise no fool. Chew your own head off-I’m planning to escape this joint-wanna come?”

Amusement might have escaped Toby’s eye if it weren’t for the contempt. “I am not in jail-you are. I can get out of this sieve in more ways than you have brains.”
Will beg for bacon...
“BraIns? I’ll have you know my DH and my trainer think I am gifted,” and it’s true, Ellie is a quick study.

“Gifted? Can you catch a mouse, torture it indefinitely, chew it up and then deliver it to to your human?” The gleam from Toby’s narrow eyes made Ellie Mae take note.

“You got me there. All I get is bacon treats,” and she walked away, without a backward glance, knowing the debate was over.


 A truce for any reason, is still a truce.

Did someone mention bacon?

Thursday, December 21, 2017

420 Archive

That breeze you felt yesterday could very well have been caused by my flapping jaws, as I contributed to the 420 Archive. This is a project geared towards obtaining the oral history from those who had firsthand experience with the “activism and culture surrounding the prohibition of cannabis in the United States.”

HeadSodBuster hit me up with a text on Tuesday, asking if I was down for an interview about the early days of being up here on Bell Springs Road. I agreed because I am never one to be short of breath when it comes to the subject of the gentle giant of herbs, the one that allows me to thumb my nose at Corporate ‘Merica and her devotion to opiates.

Been there-for a minute-and done that, never to do it again.

Punctual to the minute, Joe Hoover arrived at 2:00 to conduct the interview, after arranging logistics with HeadSodBuster. It turns out Joe was visiting Cali from Minnesota to interview back-to-the-landers, and he was stoked to be able to squeeze one more unscheduled interview onto his plate.

Mind you, though the term “back-to-the-land” may apply, I have never thought of myself as such. Gluten-Free Mama and I made the decision to relocate from downtown San Jose to Bell Springs Road in May of 1982, because we did not want to raise children on the streets of San Jose. Oh, by the way, we were expecting our first in September of that year.

Joe explained some basic goals and objectives of the 420 Archive, gave me the opportunity to ask questions and then we commenced. In as coherent a manner possible, I related to him the events leading up to GF Mama and I having the option of both quitting our jobs in San Jose, and moving up to Northern Mendocino County.
"Be it ever so humble..."
I explained about the dream conceived of when I was overseas in the army, that some of my siblings and I would relocate to the Bay Area, go to school and search for land. Then, after finishing our respective educations, we would move north and form a community.

For $68.00 a month over 13 years, I paid off the $8,000 that the land cost. For those of us who are math-challenged, that is four hundred dollars per acre. I reminisced about spending the summer of 1981 building a shell of cabin with two of my brothers and a neighbor.

Finally, I told Joe how Gluten-Free Mama and I settled into our 16 by 20 foot “home” a year later, with no running water, no electricity, no furnishings, no cabinets/cupboards, and with boarded up openings for windows. It had a loft but no steps leading up to the loft. I could use a ladder, but at five months along, it was unthinkable that GF Mama would be climbing any ladders, besides the ones in her head.
Statement from 420 Archive

She remembers lying on the bed in our “dark cave,” possessions heaped up all around us, a gentle June drizzle making the cabin unduly chilly, and wondering, “What in the *%&#! have I gotten myself into?”

I described the back door to my house, a door constructed from left-over two by eight pine that I had used on the upstairs floor, and how for 25 years I had no way to lock it. “That was actually OK,” I went on, “because I misplaced the keys to the brand new front door about two weeks after we moved in, so what difference did it make? May as well be consistent…”

I told Joe about being CAMPed on in 1985, about the notice from the government that our home and property were being seized, and about the nine months’ legal struggle to extricate myself from the whole mess. I gave thanks to smart lawyers and told him I paid Ron Sinnoway the $17,500 with a smile. And I meant every word of it.

For what? 33 cannabis plants.

Earlier this spring, when all the intended girls were in the ground behind my house and the total came up 33, I said, “Best find one more homeless waif and send her to me; 33 (also my number in the lottery for the draft, back in 1971) is not going to cut it.”

Joe continued to probe, and I filled him in on the history of our family. I told him that Papa had come from Michigan after WWII, and settled in the San Gabriel Valley, where the house backed up against a vast orange grove. After the grove was replaced by tract homes in the late fifties, Papa started to feel hemmed in. He had wanted to relocate to NorCal when JT and I were in high school, to start a restaurant, but we both essentially told him, “Go for it, Papa, so long as your plans do not include us.” It was he and Mama who were the first to move up to The Bell and the first to grow cannabis in 1978 on our land.

When the little school on the mountain ran into issues in the late eighties, I took on the role of liaison between the little educational collective and the Laytonville Unified School District. This involved going back to Dominican College out of Talmadge, to obtain my teaching credential, but I owed my community much for its support of me when my home had been seized by the government.
After our little school was finally forced to close down, I joined the middle school in Laytonville, a position that certainly seems aligned wth my permanently arrested juvenile development. There are many who view my volatile reaction  to our recently-lobotomized government, as immature.

Like the meme says, “I don’t want to have to explain to my children, why I stayed silent.”

So yes, I prattled on for ninety minutes yesterday, reflecting, enjoying-even marveling at what I was saying. I told Joe that I have always been a seize-the-day kind of guy, there being only two major choices I made that bucked that trend: buying 20 acres of land, and going back to school to get a teaching credential. 
Our wedding morning, fatigue jacket, et al...
As I wrote about three weeks ago, even the date for Gluten-Free Mama’s and my marriage, was only arranged 24 hours in advance, contingent on the two witnesses being available to travel to Ukiah.

So yeah, breezy day yesterday, as the winds of time and change swirl about, mixing in with my droning voice, to chronicle the path cannabis has taken, to get where it is today. 

When asked by Joe how I felt about two of my adult sons being involved with cannabis, I told him I was proud of them. Along with SmallBoy and HeadSodBuster, I told Joe there was also Ben-Jam-In, who taught at Ukiah High School.

“All three are community contributors,” I mentioned, “and what more can you ask?” 

Our path could never have been traversed without cannabis, and I am grateful that we now have the opportunity to talk about a time when people were subject to losing their homes for the dastardly crime of growing 33 plants.

Big ups, 420 Archive.




Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Eau de [Boot] Parfum




This is the seventh in a series on Ellie Mae, in which Ellie Mae receives a progress report.

Christmas Day will find Ellie Mae having been in her new home for exactly one month, so I felt a progress report was in order, for those who like to keep track of these things. There are considerably more categories I could have chosen to examine, but some folks may feel that I am jumping to conclusions for attributing the San Francisco Forty-Niners’ current three-game win streak to [Lucky] Ellie Mae’s joining us.
Whatever.

Let's take a peek at the first Progress Report for Ellie Mae ONeill (In alphabetical order)

“Accidents”……………….…  A+

Barking………………………… B

Basic Commands 101………. B 

Boundaries: ………………….. A-

Conduct……………………….. B

Effort …………………………. A

Getting along w/others…… A

Home Security: ……………… A

Separation Anxiety: ………… C

Sleep-Time…………………… A

Willingness to Learn: ………  A+

Grade Point Average: 3.545, which entitles Ellie Mae to a spot on the Honor Roll, with distinction.

In the order that the assessments were given, I will make brief commentary on each, beginning with in-house accidents, what is generally a dog owner’s biggest or least problem. Rarely is there any in-between. Except for the one incident that I documented in my second piece of writing on our sweet rescue dog, “Howdy, Doody!” Ellie Mae has been perfect.

That being said I will be frank here: For the first week never more than an hour went by during the day, without me escorting Ellie Mae outdoors, either on the leash or not. Invariably she marked at least one or two spots, and was praised highly for it. 
Emma, Ellie Mae and Margie, BFF's
Each morning since she arrived, I have accompanied a leashed Ellie Mae up onto Bell Springs Road for a bit of a romp, each day’s walk lasting close to a half-hour. Without fail, during this daily migratory expedition, Ellie finds a convenient spot to do a doody, and she never fails. I have no idea what kind of training Ellie has had for being in the house in the past, but she has been a gem.

Ellie Mae earned a B in Barking, because she does a good job of balancing her need to inform us of visitors, and the ability to not go overboard. The only reason she did not earn an A is because of one specific night’s unexpected outbursts, which had a negative impact on Gluten-Free Mama, who needs her sleep to help battle her health issues.

No one expects Ellie Mae to remain silent in a neighborhood populated with dogs. Emma the farm dog, right up the driveway a football field or so, serenades us regularly and Ellie almost never acknowledges this. This is unlike the recently departed Dozer, who used to respond enthusiastically. Mind you, we could not hear Emma-just Dozer could.

Basic Commands earned Ellie a B because she does a good job overall, considering she may have had no training whatsoever. However, she still has that middle school joie de vivre, which occasionally rears its mischievous head, and causes her to, well, falter.

She may want to remain outside for that extra two minutes, or it may be the look she gives me, after she comes into view dragging one of my useless steel-toed boots. She knows it is not her chew-toy, she knows I am going to say, “Leave-it,” in a different tone of voice than normal, and she knows she should do something to rectify the situation.

But dang it all, you’re only a dog once, and that boot exudes such an overwhelming “fragrance,” that she just can’t help herself. It hasn’t really mattered for almost two years now, because I can’t get the boot on my right foot, anyway, due to some technical difficulties with a problem toe.

For her A- in Boundaries, there were two indiscretions early on caused by a faulty fence, but since then Ellie Mae has been content to remain within her two-acre yard. She spends most of her outside time responding to the critters she hears outside the fence, including a big cat a couple of days ago.

I was loading firewood into a wheelbarrow out front, when I heard Ellie Mae emit a purely hound-dog wail. Looking up I instantly saw the tawny mountain lion, tail flapping in the breeze behind her, indicating this was not a bobcat. 

Emma the Great Dane mix, was furiously pursuing the lion, barking up a hurricane as she did so, but the cat was already half way up the hill from the creek bed on the other side. Emma was just jumping the creek, so it was no contest. I wanted to ask Emma if she was familiar with “Where the Red Fern Grows,” but she was busy.

Nonetheless, it just illustrates that much of what Ellie Mae knows and senses, I do not have a clue. I know she responds to the deer, ground squirrels, tree squirrels, jack rabbits, ravens, and wood peckers. We also have foxes, wild boars, bears and badgers.

I think Ellie Mae does just fine in the barking department.

In Conduct Ellie earned a B because again, she does a good job. She is still somewhat of a stranger in strange land, and I give her big ups for adapting as well as she has. But there are lots of nooks and crannies in her new home that bear investigating, not all of them appropriate for a little doggie.

In Effort there was no contest; Ellie wants so badly to please, it is palpable. One glance into those limpid eyes and my heart melts. Every time. She is trying so hard to be the good girl that it is impossible to get salty when she has hits a speed bump.
Getting along... btw, the black lump to Ellie Mae's
right, is a dead bat, Toby's contribution...

Getting along with others? A Zounds! Ellie wants to play with her friends Emma and Margie so badly, that she is a model citizen when around them. She can also run circles around them.

On the other paw, Ellie must contend with Toby, Mr. Crips and Shirley, three country cats who have been around the block more times than I can shake a stick at. After all, they also must deal with mountain lions, bears, badgers and wild boars, when they are not dodging Ellie Mae. Yesterday, though, Ellie Mae went out onto the front deck where Type A-Personality, Toby, was sunning himself on the petite red deck chair. 

As Ellie Mae approached Toby and paused, the Tobester actually rolled over on his back and STRETCHED luxuriously, pointing his front paws up into the sky in a blatant display of nonchalance. Ellie Mae took her cue and drifted past without so much as a glance. I was so proud! 

Home Security? A She does an excellent job of giving us notice of visitors, without going overboard. She loves people and responds to a friendly hand with appropriate appreciation.

Ellie’s only C corresponds with her own insecurity due to her former life. I have responsibilities that involve my having to traipse off and leave Ellie behind. Gluten-Free Mama informed me the other day that Ellie whined and paced for an hour before she settled down.

I was over at SmallBoy’s spot, building a little front deck for easy ingress and egress of their home. I could not take Ellie Mae with me because there is no fence. Whereas I am convinced Ellie would not have strayed, I was not able to give her my full attention, so I elected to leave her home.

I am sure the next time will go better.
Ellie tolerated her bath.

Ellie’s strongest point has been her golden behavior at night, with one small indiscretion that I mentioned. That and her willingness to learn, which is something we are going to develop with the beginning of obedience school in January.

Except for Separation Anxiety, our Miss Ellie Mae excels when it comes to her first progress report, and I am delighted to pass on the good news. Each day she shows improvement in her challenging areas, and we are dazzled.

I know the progress report is a bit over the top; I guess it’s just force of habit. I have high expectations for Ellie Mae, just as I always did for my middle school students, and I have always found that my students will rise to the level of expectations.

If I ask Ellie Mae to jump, I am sure she would look at me with those eyes of hers and ask, “How high?”
Barking? Me? Do I look like a barker? Fine. Just call me "Bob."






Monday, December 18, 2017

Tip-Toe Through the Mistletoe

The mystique of Fellowship Street, the home in which I grew up, resulted in part from the instilling of Great Depression values and pragmatism into our daily routine. When these qualities really rose to prominence, however, is when it came to raising a little extra capital. And when do you need a little extra capital more than the Christmas Season?
Cost you $0.15.


Papa worked as a heli-arc welder in a steel factory all those years, which belied the fact that he was extraordinarily artistic. We saw it in his carpentry skills, which included masonry. He did everything one could do with sand, gravel and cement, including building fireplaces. He built sail boats, crafted and installed kitchen cabinetry, created desks, chests of drawers and hope chests, and welded ornate metal bases for decorative tables. 
Papa built this desk.

He would then lay plywood down on these metal frames, tile the surface of these tables in ornate designs, including a majestic red and black dragon on one occasion, and offer them for sale. When he sold them he inevitably invested those monies in further projects. 

Much of the metal he used was discarded scrap from State Steel, which he utilized to create what was needed around the house. One year it was a stainless steel roasting pan, capable of “housing” a 41-pound, home-grown turkey. Other times he would acquire a chassis for a utility trailer, weld a frame together, build the trailer and put an ad in the San Gabriel Valley Tribune to sell it. 
Where I would get mistletoe today...

When it came to consummate family effort, none surpassed that of the mistletoe extravaganza long about the first or second week in December. We did it two or three times, I think. This involved an excursion up into the San Gabriel Mountains to obtain mistletoe and pinecones, the attractive packaging of these commodities, and the peddling of said seasonal embellishments, both door-to-door and out in front of good old Sav-on Drugs Store.

It was a game the whole family could play.

In going door-to-door in the ‘hood, we would be familiar figures. Being Catholic school attendees, we sold raffle tickets for turkeys at Thanksgiving time, we sold tickets for the parish car raffle in May and we sold The World’s Finest Chocolate at Christmas time. 

Additionally, I did magazine sales and other fund-raisers for the Boy Sprouts, as Mama [fondly?] referred to the Boy Scouts of America. I was an enthusiastic participant for long enough to get to the level of Life, as it were, back in the day when “levels” did not refer to electronic games.

That Papa would spearhead this mistletoe action, was what made it so intriguing. We knew that he was not going to get squat out of the deal, comparatively speaking, and yet he put his time and energy into the venture so that we kids would have the pecuniary funds necessary to defray the cost of the Yule Season. 

We would have loot to spend on Christmas presents!

How much loot? Mama (with help) would package a nice sprig of mistletoe with a red ribbon attached [for easy installation] in a small plastic baggie, and charge $0.15 per. Toss a big pinecone into the baggie, or a couple of smaller ones, and the price rocketed to a quarter.

Of course, we are talking circa 1960, so it works both ways. Not much money was needed to make us happy campers. My memory says that one year we amassed around thirty dollars for our efforts, the majority of the $0.15 variety. Times were not necessarily booming in La Puente, where Papa pulled in an annual salary of $7,000, and he a specialist in his field.

Papa and Mama calculated each contributing member’s share of the venture, we were all uniformly stoked, and we took the money and used it to buy Christmas presents. It was a family affair because Christmas in a big family is serious business. Everyone gets into it like a meditation.

Even if I were thrilled with my (Let’s call it $4.00) share, exactly how much damage could I do if I were trying to buy presents for each of my (at that time) seven sibs, not to mention the folks? “Not much,” they all said in unison.

However, if we pooled our shares together, we siblings could do some serious damage in accomplishing the same goals. The logic was simple: Which was better, a bunch of nickel candy bars and fifteen-cent kites/ rubber-band-propelled wooden airplanes, or one carefully selected gift by the combined efforts of ALL my siblings? Duh. 

As a family we went up into the San Gabriel Mountains, maybe a 45-minute drive, spent the day enjoying the [mostly] West Fork of the San Gabriel River, and returned laden with what was essentially deemed worthless commodities. 

There was not a tremendous demand for either mistletoe or pinecones gathered from the ground. And should Papa find a particularly beautiful  manzanita tree, he might take a bowsaw and cut a limb off to use as the base for a lamp.
manzanita wood

He was quite innovative in this mode.

Meanwhile, we worked as a family unit to distribute the goods, including always pairing up so that no one worked alone. The little kids would be assigned to an older pair of sibs, and would therefore be able to learn the ropes early. 

Those who sat out in front of Sav-on Drugs Store, invariably got positive feedback, regardless of whether a sale was made. We were polite, had attractively packaged goods, and most importantly, were not competing with Sav-on Drugs, which did not happen to sell mistletoe.

More than likely, we went to this same strip mall to shop, once again as unit. It was fun to band together with all of your siblings, sans the one for whom you were hunting for just the perfect gift. With input from all of us, it was a slugfest of pure entertainment.

Finally, after cleaning the house from top to bottom as a unit, we awoke to Christmas morning and all the fanfare that accompanied it.

A family that works together in order to earn money to buy presents for one another, to better rock Christmas, is a family with its act together. The mistletoe gig was light and breezy, unified us in a single purpose, and allowed us to celebrate the victory in the end. 


A family that works and plays together, stays together.



Saturday, December 16, 2017

"How Many Tickets, Please?"

“Name something you did as a kid that is no longer possible to do,” read the meme on social media, the other day. I guess this probably has nothing to do with physical capabilities, because there isn’t enough ink or paper to list them all, so I will go with the “drive-in movie theater” experience.

A family could pop up a grocery bag of buttered popcorn, pile into the station wagon and mosey on over to the local drive-in, to catch “How the West Was Won.” Depending on the establishment, patrons either paid by the carload, or bought individual tickets to get in.
My first car

I have ridden in the trunk of a car to gain entrance to drive-in theaters; I have driven my brother Noel and his then-girlfriend, Sharon, into a drive-in, while they were in the trunk. I have sat up on the roof of a ’64 Ford van in 107 degree heat, in Weed, California, and watched a movie (“The Magic Christian”), while consuming vast quantities of beer.

Finally, together with my then-girl friend, Nancy, I have fallen asleep while at a drive-in, and awakened in the wee hours, only to discover that the car wouldn’t start. The culprit was my ’64 Chevy Nova, rocking a small-block 283, which had been “bored-out” to a 301.

It had a Holley 4-barrel carburetor, with a float valve made for sticking. As inconvenient as it sounds, what used to happen was that this valve would become stuck, causing the carburetor to fill up with too much gasoline, which would then overflow.

I had just enough knowledge to be able to troubleshoot and attempt a repair job, but not the experience to be able to see it through. When the carb acted up, flooding was the technical term, the only thing I usually could do was wait.
Brian, letting his beard
"hang in there."

So Nancy and I woke up, I tried to start up the Nova, but it wouldn’t. Sure enough, within seconds the inside of the car reeked of gasoline. I stumbled over to a pay-phone, and called my big brother Brian, to see if he could come bail me out. Brian alternated between staying at the house on Fellowship Street, in La Puente, and out at his apartment in LA, where he attended Loyola of Marymount University. 

He was understandably groggy. After explaining the situation from the beginning to end, he asked if I could repeat it. I did so, after which he said, “Fine. I can come and pick you guys up. Just answer me one question: Where am I now?”

True story, though it may have been Brian’s way of letting me know that 3AM in the morning is not specifically the best time for this kind of favor. Meanwhile, partly out of boredom and partly out of frustration, I “tinkered” with that carburetor while waiting for Brian. 

I had no flashlight but the [empty] theater parking lot was kept lit by random lights atop high poles, needed to facilitate hundreds of cars entering and exiting a venue which by definition only functioned after dark.** Let’s be clear about one thing: Tinkering is loosely defined as messing with something that defied being understood.

In this case it translated into taking a crescent wrench, encasing it in a engine rag, and tapping on the side of the carb to see if I could “unstick” that float valve. To my utter astonishment, either what I did produced results, or more likely, what I did came after matters had been resting long enough to allow the flooding to recede. The car fired right up.
Nancy, Mark and Pauline

Bottom line? When poor Brian rolled in at whatever time it was, Nancy and I were sitting in a car with its engine idling, while the heater kept our feet snug and warm. Had I been thinking, I would have gotten the car started, warmed it up and then shut it back off again.

At least Brian need never have known that he made the rescue attempt in vain. Nancy could have driven me back the next day in her little white VW Bug, and no one would have been the wiser.

As it was, I could not help but marvel at the memory of Brian asking me, where he was at. Growing up, my father would frequently ask me, particularly after a shot of bourbon (strictly “for medicinal purposes, you understand”), “Mark, do you know where you’re at?” Naturally, I would reply, “I’m right here, Papa.”

Eyes twinkling, he would nod appreciatively, as if to say, “Well, there are worse things in life than a young man who knows where he is at.”

Drive-in theaters are gone now, long since having been outdated by the onset of technology. It seems inconceivable to me, that this was once a prevalent form of entertainment in our culture, and that the modern theater-goer will never get to experience this thrill. 
Mark at 19

Not only did we get to see a top-shelf film, but we got the added kick of getting over on the system, by sneaking in, hidden in the trunk of a car. I will admit, it was even better when I managed to avoid lying on-and crushing-a tube of axel grease while in the trunk. It wasn’t that bad. I guess.

But hey, I saved $1.65, the average price of a movie ticket in 1971, while ruining a ten-dollar pair of pants.

Fun memories, those.


** I would be remiss if I did not mention that on weekends, these drive-in theaters became “swap meets” or “flea markets,” but they still began when it was pitch black.