Dozer, the Bulldog

Dozer, the Bulldog
Feeling the "Bern"

Ellie Mae

Ellie Mae
No time for gates...

Ollie Mac

Ollie Mac
My cooking assistant

Ollie and Annie

Ollie and Annie
Azorean grandmother


38 years on this mountain, come May 31st...



Papa and Ollie Mac

Papa and Ollie Mac
Priorities, Baby


Annie, my Sweetest of Apple Blossoms

My first portrait

My first portrait
"Mr. Farmer"

Mahlon Masling Blue

Mahlon Masling Blue
My friend and brother.

Mark's E-mail address

Monday, May 30, 2016

As Giddy As I Please

As Giddy As I Please

Whether you are a sports fan or not, you have to be aware that the Bay Area is collectively embroiled in an intensely emotional roller coaster of a playoff series, between the Golden State Warriors and Oklahoma City Thunder. You don’t have to know anything more than that.

Now, I am acutely aware that some of you care no more for pro basketball, than you do for poking a sharp stick into your left eye. This is a given so I am not trying to convince you that you should care; all I want to do is explain the rationale of those fans who are hooked. 

I am hooked.

To be a fan one need not invest anything more than emotional attachment. I am a fan of the Warriors though I can honestly say that I have not watched one single basketball game from start to finish all season. Bits and pieces is more my style.

I like to read about the accomplishments of the individual players, because before the 2014/2015 season, the Warriors had not won the whole enchilada for forty years. The team served as a welcome mat for other clubs, who routinely walked all over Golden State for a couple of generations.

Along these same lines is the case of the San Jose Sharks, who are about to begin a playoff series with the Penguins, that could result in their first championship ever, known as winning the Stanley Cup. Stop me if you have heard this before, but I have never in my life watched as much as five minutes of a hockey game, either in person or on television.

I do not like the sport.

That being said, I have a great deal of affection for the Sharks as a Bay Area sports franchise. A lot of my friends like hockey, just as a lot of them like pro basketball.

My drug of choice is baseball. Oh, you knew that? Weird. Unlike basketball’s 81-game season, baseball somewhat cosmically has exactly double that number of games, 162. I have abandoned ship on attending the games at AT&T Park, because it is just too hard for me. As a result I watch many of the games on television.

Until about seven or eight years ago, I used to listen to the games on the radio because we had no tv reception. Each game is likely to approach three hours in length, and there is an ebb and flow to major league games that is very soothing. I associate baseball with a slower pace during summer, even if I am working harder than ever. It’s all in your head.

The whole phenomenon of following a sports team, for that matter, could be said to be all in your head. That’s the point I’m trying to make. If my team wins, whether it’s the Warriors, Sharks, Giants or even our incredible Women’s softball team, the Laytonville Warriors, who just won their division championship as well, it’s a great success.
The lads are on a tear...

Currently the San Francisco Giants are on a tear, winning fifteen of their last seventeen games. That’s a lot of success for me to enjoy because I allow myself to feel as giddy as I please without apology to anyone. 

Conversely, should my team should lose, what do I care? I have to get up and go to work the next day, and nothing about sports is going to change that. The result is a win/win proposition, because there is no downside.

By comparison, my life partner has stage-4 cancer; how does a loss by my team of choice, stack up against that? Duh. 

So if I can derive any degree of enjoyment from sports, especially since it does not cost me anything, how can that be bad?

If you do not follow sports and don’t care if the Warriors complete an epic backs-against-the-wall comeback against the upstart Thunder, then more power to you! Each of us is free to choose the forms of entertainment, which blow air up our skirts.

Just don’t rain on my parade if I choose to go around feeling buoyed by the antics of my sports heroes. Speaking for myself, it is a clear case of “small minds, small pleasures,” but it’s my small mind and my small pleasure.

Not to mention the pleasure of a whole lot of other folks too.

Friday, May 27, 2016

Quite a Ruckus

Quite a Ruckus
I never thought I would be in a position, where if someone handed me a check for ten thousand dollars, I would be inclined to say, “Gosh, thanks, but no thanks.” I mean, isn’t that everyone’s dream? To open the post office box and find that long, skinny envelope with only one piece of bond paper, folded around a phat check?

Many's the night we crashed on this upstairs balcony.
I am on a fixed income and have been thus for going on a dozen years, so it’s not as though I could not find something, upon which to spend the loot. The problem stems from being in an economically challenging income bracket, from which Annie and I derive certain benefits, based on that minimum income.

My veterans benefits leap immediately to mind. Having served in the military, and having applied for VA insurance when my school district insurance “ran out,” something I still struggle to grasp, I am now caught between a rock and a hard place. I can hear you now, "Sounds like a personal problem; take it to the chaplain..."

If I cash the check, thereby spiking 2016’s income upward, am I risking losing these benefits, at least for this calendar year? Act tung, Chucko, no bueno. On the other hand, if I don’t cash the check, what becomes of the loot?

Where did it come from? The money comes from my youngest brother Kevin, who is the lawyer in the family. I know, I know. Such the conflict. On the one hand I grew up with this dude in the same household; on the other he IS a lawyer.

It’s not that I distrust this profession, it’s more a wariness maybe, or skepticism. Once a lawyer has strapped on the gear, how in blazes is he or she supposed to differentiate between those who are family and those who are not? 

But enough of this prattling. My folks blazed the trail from the San Gabriel Valley in SoCal, to Blue Rock Ridge back in 1977, when my pops and oldest brother Eric, built the big house out of cinder block. It sits on twenty acres of land, nestled among three other twenty-acre lots that belong to various members of the family.
Slightly rearranged, the kitchen features
Robert's craftsmanship.

When my father passed in 1996, Mama stayed on in the big house for going on twenty years before spending the last couple of years of her life, closer to civilization. She reveled in her mountain chalet, wrote her life’s story in four lengthy installments, and enjoyed the solitude of her existence. 

When I originally questioned how healthy it was for her to remain isolated five miles up a dirt road, with no one to share the big house with, she just got this glazed look in her eyes, and smiled, broadly. I tried to belt-sand that smile off her face by pointing out all of the pitfalls of living by oneself.

“You don’t get it, Markie,” she said softly. “After fifty years of raising you kids, and living with Himself, I’m ready for some peace and quiet.”

I understood what she was saying; I have heard similar sentiments expressed by more than one of my siblings. It’s just that I cannot identify with the lifestyle. I abhor spending time by myself and I always have. I like to be around others and struggle when I’m not.

These past four years have found me spending more time by myself than I have since 1980, when I took a little flat in San Jose and lived alone while recovering from the breakup of my first marriage. I didn’t like it then, either, but with two cats for company and a good set of friends, I made it through and then met Annie, in January of 1981.

When we made the move up north, in May of 1982, thirty-five years ago come this Tuesday, the folks extended to us an open invitation to take advantage of their hospitality. This included hot showers because, of course, we had no bathroom.

Why have a bathroom if there is no running water? The last thing we would have wanted to see would have been a mirror, reflecting the fact that it was time to visit the big house…for showers. With the impending arrival of Casey, scheduled for September, Annie firmly established her credentials as a Mountain Mama.

Pauline, the original O’Neill Mountain Mama, knew a little something/something about expecting children. She also recognized that a home without the basic of amenities, could get tiresome real quick-like. After all, it was not until October of that year, that I was able to add-on a little eight-by-ten bathroom.
The bathroom at the big house had the shower
located in a separate room.
At that time I installed a water heater, a sink and a claw bathtub, acquired from neighbor Rex, who had most recently utilized it as a water trough for his horse. It just goes to prove that old adage, "One man's trash is another man's treasure." I ain’t proud and I knew how to use a scrub brush and a paintbrush, and I knew how to make use of scouring powder. Voila!

As for a toilet, well, that was a different story, what with the septic system and paperwork, et al, so we went with the old stand-by, an outhouse for three more years. But the big house had the real McCoy and Pauline was gracious in her welcome of Annie.

In fact Pauline made it well-known that it was her desire to extend this hospitality into perpetuity, so that after she had passed, the house would be made available to family members, who wanted to come up to Bell Springs for a visit. Her rationale was that the house had served as a family gathering spot for 35 years, and why could it not continue to serve as such?

The answer to that question was answered almost immediately after she relocated to Willits, in October of 2012. Also relocating, coincidentally just after Pauline made the move, was a legion of various varmint-like creatures, who could not help but take note that there was a vacancy in the neighborhood, and did anymouse need a new home? 

Oh, bats, rats, spiders too? Sure, come on in. There’s plenty of room for everyone. Before we could say, “There goes the neighborhood,” it went. The few times that Pauline made the “journey” from Willits back up to Bell Springs, were hard for her. There was just no amount of prep work, which could adequately prep her for the changes the house was undergoing, with there being no human presence in the middle of the critter kingdom.

Once the time had come when Pauline’s affairs needed to be settled, Kevin assumed the role for which he and Pauline had prepared. It was not as simple as Mama envisioned, because the house was in need of renovation and there simply was no money. I suspect that there is no surprise there, but the reality was that the plan she envisioned, lacked substance.

Having sat uninhabited for so long, exacerbated the situation, and it was deemed essential that something occur, or we ran the risk of having the house deteriorate to the point of no return. Maybe not so much the point of no return, as the point where diminishing returns become an issue.

Kevin consulted with brother/general contractor Matt, to investigate the possibility that Matt would be interested in taking on the project, should the bling be forthcoming. Matt thought the project was indeed viable and offered to make his services available, should the decision be made to renovate the home.

Long story short, primarily because I have very little clue as to how the machinations all fell into place, that being well out of my realm of both interest and expertise, Kevin purchased the house. He financed the renovation and put forth the proposition that the other eight siblings, to whom the house had been left, along with Kevin, accept equal shares of $10,000 apiece to relinquish title to the big house.

Done and done. None of us had any interest in interfering with either Mama’s wish that the house be preserved, or Kevin’s plan of action. As a result, I now have a check for my share and with it, the dilemma I referred to at the beginning of this account.
Mama did love her daffies...

I would say it’s a nice problem to have because our electrical system is in need of refurbishment, and ten grand would more than do the job, but then again, health insurance is kind of important too.

If you have insurance, you don’t necessarily have to make use of it, but the minute you cut the cord, you know you will fall apart. At the present moment that is not an appealing thought. Only one of us can fall apart at a time, and right now Annie is still gathering up the pieces from her own health puzzle, so I can’t afford to have to make use of health insurance.

It’s kind of a back-door logic, but sometimes you just have to avoid the front porch light, so you go around to the rear porch screen door, and slip through without the door squeaking. Needless to say, ten grand can raise quite a ruckus with my scene, so I am being cautious.

I just know that some brave soul out there will rise to the occasion and offer to take my financial burden upon his own shoulders, and for that I can only be most grateful. Unfortunately, it is not my nature to shift my responsibilities onto others, so I will say in advance that you will have to put your generous natures aside, and let me work this out on my own.

If you need to get in touch with me, I suggest that you do so within the next week, before our plane takes off for the Mediterranean. After all, I think it only normal, that for decisions of such magnitude, an appropriate venue be provided.

Bon Voyage! 

P. S: I’ll keep an itemized account of our decision-making process, and post it upon our return. Who knows? These problems have a way of working themselves out. Based on my research in the Travel! section of google, I calculate it may take about a month.

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Hair Curlers Optional

Hair Curlers Optional

The first thing you need to understand about Parking Lot Culture (PLC) is that it more than just exists: it comes and goes, ebbs and flows, waxes and wanes, twists and turns and rocks and rolls, while it also hems and haws. It is teeming with life and energy, even as it lounges lethargically on its side.

If it did not seem just a tad peculiar, I would come right out and admit that I have become an expert on the subject, through no other formal methodology than that of observation. I have become an authority on  PLC because, well, I hang out in parking lots a lot.

I mean, I help grocery shop, including expertly sacking the groceries, meticulously placing the tomatoes and avocados on the bottom of the bag so they don’t fall out. I go into Pierson’s and check out all of the ornamental flower options with Annie, and I am happy to stand in lines to pay bills and perform those kinds of errands. I do it with ease. 

However, I do not like venturing into big department stores, the ones where a guy like me can-and does-get routinely turned around. 

Can you say “directionally challenged?” I can get lost in a corner Seven-Eleven; it’s a gift. I’m the type who gets easily confused, trapped in a maze of sugar, clothes and glitz. I do not like jockeying for position in front of the cargo pants displays, nor do I like folks hovering behind me. 

I have no need to keep up with the latest fashion trends, as long as I have lots of pockets and I do not like crowded venues, even ones which are singularly attractive. 
Have I mentioned that I no longer attend ballgames at AT&T Park? Sitting amidst such a mass of humanity has become practically impossible for me. The law of diminishing returns plays a factor here: Just how much enjoyment must I attain, to make the effort worth it all?

Thus it is that I spend a fair amount of time in our little pickup truck, out in parking lots. Hey, I can handle some gnarly venues in Ukiah, whether it is Gall-Mart, Spaceway, or the Lost Office to mail a package. I ain’t skeered, but that being said, there are pitstops along the highway of life that are more designed for Annie than for me. 

She loves antique shops, thrift stores, fabric boutiques, and quilting venues, and she enjoys spending a minute or two engaging in the art of just browsing. She has little money to spend, so it’s not like she goes on binges, plus I enjoy riding shotgun on her travels.

Besides, some parking lots have decent art work.

I always go into the various businesses long enough to establish that I have a high regard for the shop and its contents, before fading to the friendly confines of the truck. I just like to clarify that the scruffy-looking dude out there in the parking lot, is actually attached to the saucy and chic Annie. Nothing cements a male’s legitimacy in this world, like that of being associated with a beautiful woman.

After all, if she lets him hang out with her, he can’t be all bad, even if he shuns the shop experience for that of the outside world. And make no mistake, that outside world is teaming with activity; you know this if you are an inhabitant of it for any more than two minutes. 

I mean, say there are only ten available parking places in the little backlot behind the upscale antique shop(pe), and all of them are filled. A minimum of three of those vehicles will be occupied, more often than not, by more than one person.

Extrapolate that out to the expansive Gall-Mart lot in Ukiah, and you have enough PLC to start an army. The uniforms of the troops are diabolically simple: sweat pants and tight-fitting tops, with hair curlers optional.

This army produces a cacophony of noise, from the incessant chirping of horns as folks lock up their whips, to the slightly more urgent blaring of the same horns as the alarm systems are activated by…the barking of the great dane in the back of the truck in the next slot.

Horns and dogs are as inevitable as sound systems. I was going to say music, but it’s not about the tunes: It’s about the volume. We’re not talking ear-splitting, we’re talking about splitting the atom. And it’s being done via the base component of multiple sets of 808 drums, amplified by the best systems that Dolby can provide.

All of this ambience is available to me on a continuous basis, heightened by my own personal encounters, which are inevitable. If I choose an outlying spot, inhabited only by a smattering of vehicles, I am certain to draw a crowd like a stoner with a sack of OG Kush at Reggae on the River.
Meet Suzy Puente

I might be reading my book, I might be working on a piece of writing on Suzy Puente, my new computer, or I may be lucky enough to find the the establishment provides internet access. 

Whatever, I stay occupied.

Just don’t expect wifi at Ellie’s in Ukiah. I made the mistake of asking for the password to access their internet, and was informed by a quite-flustered wait-person, that the internet was only available to the hierarchy. That wasn’t his word but that’s what he meant. He was abjectly apologetic.

Folks routinely pull into the parking lot…and just sit there. No one gets out, there is no indication that anyone is about to get out and life goes on. 
Beautiful Annie

Primping? Maybe. Completing a phone call/text? Probably. Making a store list? Yeah, whatever. There are a hundred possibilities, including being merely a chaperone or a gopher. All exist more or less independently of one another, and yet all form a cog in the machine that is the PLC.

I’m part of this Parking Lot Culture, by definition. Oddly enough, homeless individuals are rarely part of this army. For some reason they are not welcome around unguarded personal belongings of others, especially vehicles, and are frequently harried into moving along. Weird, I know.

I have observed multiple clandestine rendezvous between two parties, who each arrived in a separate vehicle. Items have been exchanged. Knowing, even smug glances have been exchanged. Business has been conducted in these parking lots, none of it mine.

Like Sergeant Sholtz, I see nothing, I hear nothing (metaphorically if not literally) and I know nothing.

Well, that’s not accurate. I know enough to keep both windows all the way down for efficient ventilation. 

Tuesday, May 24, 2016



Closets have a bad rep and well-deserved. They’re dark and musty, monsters dwell in them and too frequently, nice folks-people just like you and me-are forced to take up residence until such time as they can escape.

I have spent most of my adult life, securely entrenched in the cannabis closet, comforted only by the sheer numbers of those who were also similarly situated. There were so many of us within our own respective closets here in NorCal, that we actually formed our own microcosmic culture, one in which the concept of the cannabis closet did not exist.
Amber at the 2014 Emerald Cup

On the contrary, our community has always extolled the virtues of the gentle giant of herbs, in stark contrast to the established order, thus at least providing some balance in our lives. Sure, we had to play the game whenever we were outside the boundaries of our community, but that was not such a huge price to pay, not when one considers the benefits derived from cannabis.

For me it has always served as medicine for my as-of-yet undiagnosed mood spectrum disorder. Cannabis helped keep some distance between me and the ceiling, a venue I seem to gravitate towards most days of my life.

Then, when the opposite occurs and I plummet, with the bottomless pit of depression beckoning me downward, cannabis stops the descent. This is not conjecture on my part-this is reality.

Existing as it were in two dimensions, there were times when I was caught in the middle between my own personal values and beliefs, and those of the established order, the original order, the only order in our small community for as far back as anyone could remember.

This established way of things did not have room for cannabis nor those who partook of it. 

When I entered the field of education, pressed into service by the needs of not only my three sons, but the needs of my community when our little education collective was threatened, I took a large step away from the comfort of my community closet. 

I crossed over and into the world of the established order, and nowhere is it more prominently displayed, than it is in the school system. There is zero tolerance for acceptance of cannabis in this venue, despite the fact that many of those associated with the district, also dwell in the cannabis closet.

I couldn't spend any time worrying about the dichotomy which presented itself, because I was in it for the money. I was in it because I wanted that paycheck and that medical coverage, and I wanted out of the construction field that was creating more and more personal physical issues as I aged.

So I recognized that to even consider cracking that cannabis closet door, was to quickly lose all of that security. Besides, as anyone who has ever taught knows, there is no way one can indulge in the herb with any degree of frequency, because it’s not possible.

I should qualify that by saying it was not possible for me to teach language arts full-time in the middle school, and indulge at all. I had no access, no time to gain access and too many days when we left for school while it was still dark, and returned after nightfall had arrived.

Exactly when was I supposed to indulge?

The official mantra of the team-taught classroom that Paul and I operated, was “Make wise choices.” The reefer madness school of thought competed with the just-say-no nonsense, for winner of the ridiculous award, while our slogan rang far more true.

“Which is preferable if you want to experiment with weed?” we would ask.  “Staying at home with friends, when no one is leaving the premises for any reason, or on, say, a field trip to Yosemite, when getting caught means calling your parents to come and get you? That’s a mighty long time to spend in the car with your parents, if they are mad at you.”

With all of this foundation in place, I must now admit that as one who straddled the line, I missed out on the chance to do some serious bridge-building between the two sides: the established order, and those who dwelt in the cannabis closet.

I had that golden opportunity in the palm of my hand upon the occasion of my oldest son’s eighth grade graduation, but I fumbled it away in the most clumsy of manners.

The stage was set when Elina announced that her parents were allowing her to throw a party, clearly THE graduation event of the season and one that most everyone wanted to attend. Naturally that included Casey, leaving me in what I perceived to be an awkward spot.
I taught Casey to question authority, but to do so with a smile.

Because it was known that both alcohol and cannabis would be present, I simply said that it was not an appropriate environment for Casey be in, and left it at that. We’d been down this road before, and whereas the boys all knew that I had been a willing cannabis participant in the past, that was then and this was now.

I would not jeopardize my position in the district, by even remotely associating myself with any aspect of the evil weed.

Interestingly enough, I now realize two things: I was dead wrong and the kids could have nailed me to the wall with my own mantra. All they had to do was point out that I was violating my own principle of what constituted an appropriate environment for experimentation.

The proposed party had all the essential ingredients: It was to be chaperoned by responsible adults, no one was to be allowed to leave in any circumstances but those which were deemed safe and there was a good reason to celebrate in the first place.

All of this sailed clear over my inflated head as Ariel confronted me in the classroom that day, with maybe five minutes to go until lunchtime. I missed out on the chance to practice what I preached.

“So, Mr O, are you going to let Casey attend Elina’s party?” Ella had the collective attention of the rest of the class.

“Ask me no questions and I’ll tell you no lies,” I tried, figuring I’d run levity up the flagpole first, to see if anyone saluted it.

“No. Seriously. Are you?” she persisted, taking advantage of the fact that I had always encouraged students to question my authority, so long as they did so respectfully. I was always glad to answer clarifying questions in an open environment of candor and honesty. 

“Fine, I will answer the question in front of the class, if that’s what you’d like, but you’re not going to like what I say. It’s been made clear that alcohol is going to be made available [a keg of beer was rumored to be on order] and that doesn’t work for me.

Eighth grade is too young for kids to be getting smashed. I’m sorry. I must set age-appropriate boundaries for Casey, and this is one of them.”

Never was I more dead-wrong. What about the possibility that Casey would choose not to participate in adult activities? Or how about he did so responsibly, without getting trashed? Or how about he did what he wanted and I didn’t find out? As long as he followed the directive to remain at the party, all should have been good-to-go.

Why didn’t Elina or Ariel-or Casey for that matter-rub my mantra in my face? Why didn’t one of them point out that the party met the criteria for acceptable experimentation, criteria that I had established?

Further discussion was eventually interrupted by the bell, and that was that.

It has taken me a decade to reach the conclusion that I screwed up, and of course, it has been scintillating to watch Casey lead the political charge here in Mendocino County for regulation of cannabis.

He has done more for those of us trying to escape that closet than anyone else I know, and I feel bad for not having recognized that I had the perfect forum for the application of making wise choices, and I blew it. 

I take solace in the fact that the pupil has become the mentor.

Monday, May 23, 2016

As Moot Points Go...

As Moot Points Go...

Of the many blog posts I have kept balanced in my head over the past six months, as I waited for Terra Jean’s replacement to materialize, the hardest one to pull off is an account of a visit Annie and I received, from two delightful ladies who were traveling through the area, and wanted to meet the author of the blog, “Mark’s Work.”

Heart don’t stop. They wanted to meet me?

It seems that they had connected first with my blog, then with HappyDay Farms through my blog, and then finally with Casey, from whom they got my email address.
Josie and Keri wanted to see the farm.

Why is this post hard to write? Most of my posts are written off the top of my pointed little head, and there is rarely any need to consider anything other than my own convoluted mind. When I write about a specific event, then there is that pesky need for accuracy in my recollection process.

Accuracy? Uh, oh.

Now, as many of you know, I have an impeccable memory for events that occurred twenty years or longer ago, but my memory for events that occurred last week is not so on-point.

I could blame it on old age and probably get away with it; others might tend to put it on my prolific use of cannabis. Whatever. My issue is that whereas I remember the visit quite clearly, I am not as convinced I will be able to complete with any degree of certainty, a biographically accurate picture of our two visitors.

I went to high school and graduated in the same class as Josephine, heretofore referred to as Josie. Keri accompanied Josie, a gal about the same age as me and Josie, who hailed most recently from Florida. I never clearly understood how the two had met but it was immaterial.

Josie had stumbled upon my blog for the sole reason that I wrote a great deal about my military experiences early on. Having spent eighteen months in Missouri with her husband, who was stationed at Fort Leonard Wood, she became hooked by my description of basic training at the same venue that she and her husband had been stationed at.
I posted more than 100,000 words about my military
experiences, under the heading of "Military Madness."

OK, hooked is my word but this is my account, so…

Josie liked my writing style, was aware that I had graduated from Bishop Amat Memorial High School in 1970 the same year that she did, and made her way gradually through large chunks of my blog. She knew about Terra Jean, my mood spectrum disorder and most points in between.

As if this was not amazing in and of itself, she had introduced my blog to her friend, Keri, who also liked my writing style. Keri found, though, that she struggled to access the writing by reading it electronically. I get that because I do not like to read on Annie’s Kindle, preferring books instead.

So Josie began reading the blog posts aloud to Keri.

I have to tell you I am flattered. I mean, the reality is that I can monitor the number of page-views that Terra Jean records as folks click on various posts, and they have added up. It goes without saying, however, that to click on a piece of writing is no guarantee that the piece gets completely read. 

That’s not the point. If you have been to my blog before, and scrolled past the dozen or so colorful photos, then you more or less know what you are going to get. In the almost-five-years that I have been posting, close to 63,000 page-views have been recorded. 
I always have my antennae out for colorful pics.

So either a limited number of folks are pounding my blog, or lots of folks take a cursory interest, in that they stop by when a topic appeals to them. I prefer to think it’s the latter. I ain’t proud, but I ain’t skeered either.

I have never made a nickel off of either my writing or my photos, nor have I tried. They’re hobbies. When I need to earn money, I work.

Therefore, it’s flattering to me, to know that there are at least two adults out there, who without being connected to me in any personal way, could become interested in my writing to the point that they wanted to meet me.

Had I to do our first meeting again, I would have simply invited them up to the farm. As it was, I fretted about making any assumptions about folks’ ability to navigate Bell Springs Road for the first time. Five miles of it. Folks not from around here. City folks.

So Annie and I made the thirty-five-minute run down to town one Saturday in February, to meet Josie and Keri. We met at Wheels for breakfast and spent a couple hours exchanging pleasantries, before deciding to go ahead and head up to the farm.

They followed us up and did fine, but afterwards Josie mentioned that she was glad for having had me lead the way. I told her about Annie’s Aunt Marie and her man, Blue, who were petrified the whole time they were on the dirt road, when made the single visit that they did. 

Marie was having trouble articulating her fears, but I think they stemmed from the simple act of driving alongside a precipitous drop-off to the right-hand side, should Blue let their van creep too close to the edge. I can’t say how far down a guy would drop, but past a certain point, it becomes moot. As moot points go, it's kind of a biggee. That’s the only thing I can think of, anyway.

The four of us visited, we talked a lot and laughed, and it was enjoyable. They even made a return visit on their way back down the 101, five days later. One thing I never remembered to ask Josie, was if she remembered me specifically from high school, because I had no recollection of her.

Of course, there were no coed classes at Bishop Amat, just the presence of both genders on the same campus. There was an invisible line separating the girls’ classroom wings from those of the boys.

Oh yeah, we could eat lunch together.

I was nervous that Annie would not be very appreciative that two women, unknown commodities at that, had wanted to visit me, but she was good with it all. I think she was pretty amazed that the gals had taken such an interest in my blog also, but not in any kind of weird way. 

One thing I took away from the whole experience, is the simple fact that if two people could derive that much enjoyment from reading my stuff, folks who did not know me, then there were others who would likely do so also. 

Food for thought. 

Saturday, May 21, 2016

If Rocks Were Nickels...

If Rocks Were Nickels...

Oh home on the farm, where the dogs and the wild boars all play, where rarely is heard, a disheartening word, and the skies are not smoggy all day…

Oh, home on the farm, where:

…love is the greatest power.

…if rocks were nickels, I’d need a wheelbarrow to haul them to the bank (the nickels, not the rocks).

…I have seven right-handed work gloves without partners; I am a southpaw. Let me think this one over and I’ll get back to you.

…I have two forms of footwear, sandals and steel-toed boots. I haven’t laid eyes on the boots since last August.

…if it’s the first weekend in August, you can find us at Reggae on the River.

…the work doesn’t stop just because it’s raining; it just means we either put rain gear on or move indoors. There is always work to be done in the greenhouses.

…cats are a dime a half-dozen, which is the number of farm cats we have; their sole job is to ride roughshod over the region’s rodents.

…dogs fulfill critically important roles, the specifics of which elude me at the present moment.

…Mondays and Wednesdays mean market days, and no one loses track of this.
Quarry Market 

…veggies rule and water’s cool.

…where music rules-ANY kind of music. (Yes, even country…)

…a pond is the same as a magic wand. 

…the minutes are interminable but the hours fly by… and the hours last forever, but the days rocket past.

…the work never ends so much as it takes brief intermissions while laborers take in refreshments (dinner) and a quick cat-nap (hopefully eight hours), before it begins once again.

…the food is to die for, which in turn reminds us of why we got into it in the first place.

…water occupies a much-deserved elevated status and is correspondingly treasured. Nothing sounds the alarm more stridently than water being wasted.

…the bong rules and the only alcohol to be found is isopropyl.

…if the grass is greener on the other side of the fence, you’d best check for a leak in the water line…and fix it before Casey sees it.

…dinner is routinely served promptly at the prescribed time…to an empty dining room because the crew was in the middle of something and couldn’t/wouldn’t stop.

…it is possible to go to bed overwhelmed by the number of chores still to be accomplished, but feeling elated anyway because we are gittin’ ‘er done.

…where love is the greatest power…

…where every single denizen of the farm, rises to the occasion when Boss Lady has to go back to Ohio to care for her mama, and does so with enthusiasm, because, well, love is the greatest power.

…gals are as likely to be seen slinging hay around as dudes.
Savage Courtney...

…family matters more than ever before, each and every day of our lives.

…religion and spirituality blend together in a soothing panacea for our souls. 

…the most likely noise you are going to hear is Emma the dog, responding furiously to the call of…oh, it’s a cricket.

…machinery comes into play, only as a last resort.

…where the phrase “off the grid” has little relevance because by definition, we don’t need no stinking grid to grow food, flowers and medicine.

…where twenty acres may as well be 10,000, for all the soil we can actually till. 

…where “Paradise with an Ocean View” is more than just the title of a song.

…where I unplug the solar-operated refrigerator every morning about 3AM, because the batteries are precipitously low.

…the distinction between “family” and “friends” gets blurry around the edges, and deep into the core.

…life moves at a slower pace, even as the pitchfork prods us along.

…Boss Lady calls the shots, without having to shout.

…the only dishwashers we have do not need to be plugged in, so much as turned on.

…where the quad has become indispensable.

...where dogs must fulfill SOME function, even if it is just to entertain us.
Dozer, totally useless as a farm dog, but highly entertaining.

…dryers and Dreyers have something in common: neither is to be found  in my home. We have a freezer that freezes ice just fine, but not ice cream.

…all we have to do is look around and we cannot help but notice the countless things that we have, for which to be grateful.

…if I have said it one, or even twice, it’s only because it bears three-peating: Love IS the greatest power.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Ten Rounds with a Rooster

Intimidation will get you nowhere, Dude.
Today’s quotable moment: “Dang, it was just two roosters duking it out…”

Ten Rounds with a Rooster

I had a good day yesterday. I didn’t hurt myself, I was moderately productive, I won a solid decision over the rooster in our latest foray and the Giants won their seventh game in a row. I’d like to take credit for that last, but since my name is neither Johnny Cueto nor Hunter Pence, I don’t think you’d swallow that. 

I was also asleep by the time the game started so I didn’t even find out who won until the wee hours this morning.

But hey, how about that rooster? I’ve mentioned in passing that Dude has a dual role on our farm, providing not only the conventional alarm clock beginning punctually at 4:57 AM, but also that of the raucous hens, squawking away gleefully at the arrival of an egg. 

He is quite dependable, in a sick, twisted sort of way.

Unfortunately, I am particularly susceptible to the incessant cackling of the hens, as they congregate together and attempt to outdo one another announcing somewhat dubious glad tidings. 

The added ruckus of the rooster is not a welcome one.

In the greater scheme of things, laying an egg is not a very glamorous accomplishment; mimicking the hens hardly qualifies as a feather in one’s comb.

So when the rooster joins in, bleating out the same bizarre note over and over on two-second intervals, loud enough to pierce my two hundred dollar Dr. Dre headphones, I draw a line in the sand, er, straw. This is devilishly hard to do, especially when the rooster will insist on flapping his wings in addition to flapping his beak.

I have made it a point to address my issues with said rooster but he has not been receptive to my concerns. It’s possible he was too busy avoiding the broom I was wielding as the primary means of clarifying my angst, but that is a weak excuse.

More likely, he was embarrassed by being observed by a second party, being chased around the chicken-yard by an old geezer with a broom in his hand. 

Not half as embarrassed as I was. 

Sure enough, there was Ian in the workshop, door wide open, as I emerged victorious from my furious workout with the rooster. He was placidly working away (Ian, not the rooster) without any indication that he had just seen me silently pursuing Dude around his own crib, attempting to clobber him with a broom.

Ian figures we went ten rounds, but I’m not sure about that.

I felt as though I chased that rooster ‘round that yard way more than just ten times.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

I'm Helping! I'm Helping!

San Francisco is always kind of unfocused for me.

I'm Helping! I'm Helping!

The less-is-more concept is much easier to describe than it is to implement, because it’s hard to admit that by staying out of the arena, a guy could actually accomplish more. I mean, I want to climb into the ring, with my gloves tightly laced, but I keep tripping over those same laces in my desire to help.

It’s in my nature to want to contribute. But what if in trying to be helpful, I actually cause more trouble than if I just stayed away? Think of it as the two-year-old wanting to “help” make the chocolate chip cookies, which includes a steady stream of taste-tests, complete with finger-licking, lip-smacking sound effects.

And did we have to put ALL of those chocolate chips into the mixing bowl?

I am less likely to produce sound effects than I am to produce anxiety. I can sit in a hospital room, ostensibly offering strength and support, when in all reality everyone in the arena can clearly see that I am a basket case.

If it’s not the pained expression on my furrowed brow, then maybe it’s my quasi-fetal position I have assumed, as I struggle to contend with the forces that swirl in and out of that revolving hospital door. The flow of hospital staff seeking clarification, imparting pearls of wisdom, and conforming to hospital policy is of white-water proportions.

Annie meets every lurch and jerk with a practiced hand, while I am still trying to process what was just asked. I do struggle to comprehend the spoken word, especially in a venue which promotes anxiety by definition. 
Driving in San Francisco? Not I.

When she went down to San Francisco to have both a kidney and a softball-sized tumor removed back in September of 2012, I remained on the mountain because I had to-someone had to keep the home-fires burning.

I mean that metaphorically, of course, September being not such a good month for fires and all. Somehow, though, the critters just don’t understand the concept of hunger, any better than we do, and besides, San Francisco is not a venue that meshes well with that of the country.

Therefore, I acquiesced, until such time as the venue shifted closer to home, like Willits or Ukiah. Then it was much more feasible to commute back and forth, than it was to The City, and therefore more feasible for me to be in the same room, “helping.”

One such stint last fall, took place at Howard Hospital in the new facility that just opened up on the east side of Highway 101, about five minutes off the main drag. It involved a couple of days and nights for a normally-routine procedure, that got complicated, because the original plan called for us to return to the mountain that same afternoon.

That tends to happen with cancer patients.  

I had dutifully checked in with Annie and hovered for a short time until they wheeled her away, and then returned to my truck out in the nether regions of the parking lot, where Dozer our faithful bulldog was patiently waiting. 

That’s how routine we had thought matters would go, or else I would never have brought Biggie Phats along. The idea was that the two of us would get to know the immediate vicinity of the hospital intimately, by circling said facility as regularly as the second hand of the clock, until it was time to go home.
Dozer, speaking of rays of sunshine...

Unfortunately, that time never arrived for Annie until two days later, so I had to go home to put the chickens away and batten down the hatches. Ben and Holly took over for me, since they now own a home in Willits, while I returned the following day, sans Boo-Boo, and vacillated between Annie's room and the truck.

I was determined to be a ray of brilliant sunshine for Annie, but there were simply too many threatening clouds blocking her vision. After all, how could I be anything but personally affronted by the construction that was going on out in the hall, the new facility still working out the kinks of its being, well, brand new?

My thought process was unclear enough to provide what might have been an acceptable time frame, except that it should be a time when there were no patients in-hospital.

Come again?

That pretty much sums up why it was that Annie had a hard time basking in the glow of all that sunshine that I had intended to emit during my stay with her. I kept finding ways to block that sunlight out, that did not involve sunscreen. 

I knew I was blowing it, I acknowledged that I was part of the problem and not part of the solution, and I agreed to reevaluate my role in future hospital stays, should such stays prove necessary.
Say, can I get any of you girls some, er, chicken soup?

Voila! The next time the situation arose, matters went quite smoothly, the more so because I never went south of Laytonville. With Annie in Ukiah, I was thrilled to have had to remain on the mountain. Taking. Care. Of. Chickens. Instead. 

While sighing, I can still smile. 

But since Ben and Holly were there for Annie, along with her bff Debbie, I went with the flow, and you know something? We avoided that same white-water patch that we seemed to keep encountering in the past.

I know. Weird.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Has Anyone Seen My Mop?

I am even entrusted to wash the quilts.

Has Anyone Seen My Mop?

In Spanish, the word mal means bad, besides-coincidentally I am sure-being the first three letters of the word “male.” 

Well, I’m here to tell you that I am male: Hear me roar!

I am a male. I don’t drive a monster pickup truck; no, it’s this cute (if that word can legitimately be applied to pickups by a male) Ford Ranger. 

I am male. I don’t get drunk on weekends, or any other time for that matter. I am quite efficient at playing the fool, without the element of alcohol, thank you so much.

I am male.  I don’t ogle anything in a skirt, unless she is Annie. Respect is a concept that supersedes any other.

I am a male. I scrub the toilet every morning of my life because, well, it needs it.

I am male. I empty the trash, recycling and compost as needed, without having to be reminded about it every six months.

I am male. I refuse to acknowledge discomfort until such point as hospitalization is required. Surgery can then be expected to follow.

I am male. I bring Annie coffee in bed every morning of her life that we are in the same venue, and have done so since January, 1981. 

As many cups as she desires. 
I'm not that complicated of a guy when it comes to laundry.

I am male. I do my laundry, the household laundry, and Annie’s laundry, when she is in a trusting frame of mind. 

I am inordinately careful with Annie’s laundry.

I am male. I could no more make love to a woman not named Annie, than I could vote for Donald Trump.

I am male. I sweep, I dust and I mop. Ever since Annie has been poorly, I do my best to ensure that she does not sweep, dust nor mop. 

She needs her strength for more important battles than house-cleaning.

I am male. I wash the dishes after we eat and I always have. Being the fourth consecutive son born to Robert and Pauline, prior to my poor sister JT arriving amidst all that maledom, I learned at a very young age that if I wanted to eat, I had better learn how to do the dishes. 

There was no shame in pot-walloping in our household.

I am male. I learned how to peel potatoes, dice onions/bell peppers and slice carrots/radishes as soon as I was old enough to stand on a stool at the counter and keep my mouth shut. 

I’d like to say that the two tasks were equally challenging, but that would be a falsehood.

I am male. I am squeamish at the sight of blood, except for my own or that of kids and Annie.

I am male. I hate scary films. It’s not a matter of dislike; it’s a matter of self-preservation.
That's Lito hitchhiking...

I am male. When the boys were still small, I habitually had one in a backpack on my back, while I went about the business of washing dishes, cooking or restocking the woodbox.

I’d bet my bottom dollar that each of my three sons will do the same for his children.

I am male. I am a sucker for a romance movie, especially if it is a drama.

I am male. Though I enjoy professional football immensely, I have never watched a hockey game on either television, or in person. I do not like to watch dudes punch each other in the face. 

At least in football, you don’t generally see the nasty stuff, or if you do, it is heavily penalized.

I am male. I learned how to cook from watching my father cook for a family of eleven, intoning as he sampled the ambrosia he was preparing,  “To the North, to the South, to the East, and to the West. And to all of the gods in the universe, to Mercury, and to Mars…”

I am male. I open doors for women, help Annie on and off with her winter coat and jump up to refill the glass of any female who happens to cross the threshold of my home.

I am male. I cuss like a mofo, except when there are females present (Annie excepted, because she can out-cuss me any day of the week and twice as colorfully before she has had that first aforementioned cuppa Joe.)

I am male. I will not apologize if your male cannot keep it in his pants. It sounds like a personal problem so maybe you should talk to a chaplain.

I am male. In the unlikely instance that I would be hit on again by another male, I would feel the same way I did the other time: genuinely flattered but as just equally, genuinely uninterested. 

Why would I feel any other way?

I am male. If you are a guest in my home, you may sit and enjoy an after-dinner bowl if you’d like, but you will not be doing any dishes.

When I visit your home for a meal, then you can do the dishes for me.

I am male. I could no more hit a woman-or a kid/dog-than I could poke an ice pick in my eye.

Make that both eyes.

I am male; hear me roar, “Has anyone seen my mop?”

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Birthday Love

Birthday Love

May 14th was Annie’s birthday, and for the umpteenth year in a row, I did not spend a penny on her. Had I chosen, I could have trekked to CostCo and purchased her, I don’t know, say a new set of gardening shears, the ones with bucket seats and four-on-the-floor.

Or maybe she would have appreciated a new boom box for her sewing arena, one with 808 Speakers so that when she is listening to her favorite sound tracks, so is the entire neighborhood. Or maybe not. It might be hard to hear the finches over the sound of Mumford and Sons. 
Finches on the feeder on the front deck

The reality of farm living is that money constantly battles time for our attention. Oh, it’s the same for you? Who’d have thunk?

There is no wriggle room when it comes to Triple-A or U.S. Cellular, or buying organic layer crumble for the girls, but when it comes to matters of the heart, the back will win out over the buck, every day of the week, and twice on Sundays.

I’m not criticizing folks for buying birthday gifts, for Buddha’s sake, only clarifying that when a guy is retired, and can budget his time as he sees fit, it’s a no-brainer. Just being able to say that, after an adult lifetime of having to be somewhere that was determined by someone else, is a gift.

I spend as much time trying to do work designed for those half my age, as is physically possible. That’s why schedules and time constraints simply do not work. I do what I can and those around are pleased as punch not to have to do that which has already been done.

No one goes on to complain that it would have been nice if I had also been able to prep the south-forty, as well as the north. It’s one of the perks of being a gray-beard. Because there are so many, they tend to blend together. Perks, I mean.

Therefore, in trying to prepare properly for Annie’s big day, I inevitably spend time looking for something in her world that I can do, that will either make her life easier, or make it more aesthetically pleasing. Or both.
This used to be a slightly sloping lawn.

One year ago, while in the throes of coping with the jettisoning of our little apartment in Willits, I spent the bulk of April and May, converting an area that had been a lawn for the previous twenty-five years, into a set of flower boxes.

When I began the project, I just knew that I would have to do a bodacious amount of digging, but that if I did, the shape and form of what I was trying to create, would assert itself. 

Sure enough, after scouring my twenty acres for every available piece of split-rail fencing that was used on the property, I began assembling. The right side of the brain may remain on hold for long periods of time, but when it busts loose in my world, the results can be quite rewarding.

There are four levels of boxes for Annie to make use of, currently housing chives, sweet-peas, black-eyed Susan vines, several rose bushes, lavender, mint and other garden favorites. Ironically, the original lawn itself was a birthday effort all those years ago.

In typical Mark-fashion, I trundled approximately one hundred and twenty-five wheelbarrows filled with topsoil from under the manzanitas, a football field away, to the present site. The idea was to build up one side of the sloping area, so as to not only provide a more level surface, but to enhance the clayish soil with a better mix.
Mama Annie's herbs

So one year ago, I was simply rearranging all of that soil that I had imported in the original effort.

What about this year? I tackled the front deck and did the annual spring cleaning of oak leaves, sweeping, gathering and disposing of the leaves that have swirled and danced since they dropped last November. If that were all I did, it would constitute nothing more than normal maintenance, so there has to be more.

I gathered up an assortment of little deck accoutrements, scrubbed the winter glaze off of them and centrally located them in a discarded cassette tape shelving unit. I had to tighten it up a bit but a few screws and the impact drill were all I needed.

I then affixed it to the north exterior wall of the kitchen. This is the part of the deck where the table and chairs are situated for outdoor, summer dining. Casey and Amber will stroll down the driveway to join us for dinner, as we hash over the events of the day.

Yesterday, I made sure the emitters were in place in each of the flower pots and functioning properly, even as the mizzle gently enveloped me in a May mist. I ensured that the knick-knacks, many of which came to Annie when her mom Beverly passed more than ten years ago, were properly arranged. 

This spot on the front deck is one of three or four that Annie has set up, where she can take a cup of coffee or a glass of water, and sit for a few minutes to just breathe in the beauty that surrounds us.

Make no mistake; there is an abundance of beauty.

And that’s what it boils down to: I can’t find anything as beautiful or more meaningful at CostCo, than I can right here outside my front door. And it invariably involves a strong back and a weak brain. 

I qualify for both though the back is not far behind the brain. I’m just lucky that I have a country girl who prefers flowers over diamonds.

Those are the best kind.