Thursday, March 31, 2011

YOUNG TALENT

Our Arts Council recognizes young talent by giving high school students an opportunity to display their work in a public gallery. Every year at this time, they advertise this special exhibit and I had to go. People who can paint or draw, as this painter did, make me green with envy. I like the expression on this girls face. You can read it, a might distrustful, haughty, independent.  Intriguing.

I am an artist of sorts.  My medium is mixed, so  my second favorite piece from the exhibit is this sculpture. I like sculpture made from recycled, found "stuff" and this fit the bill with its pressure gauge, clocks and faucett handles.
I never could draw anything but kindergarten stick figures so my greatest admiration is for those who can do what I can't, render a likeness that looks real. Like this old man and his cat.
Or this one entitled, "Poverty".
There were several computer generated pieces nicely enhanced and interesting as well. The child with fragile wings.
This black and white photo with magical sunglasses that reflect a shinning world of promise.
And this piece reminded me of those ads in the 50's with a line drawn profile much like this girl's, beckoning you to take an art course, promising "you, too, can draw this well." I perfected that profile by drawing it over and over, but, I couldn't afford the course. And, it was probably one of those sham kind of things anyway that wouldn't have done a thing for any latent talent I may have had.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

AFTER THE STORMS

The recent storms left us awash. Every little indentation is filled or flowing with water. For awhile I thought I should get out the oars just in case the house decided to lift off its foundations and flow down the canyon with the water. Now, in the calm, is a refreshing cleanliness and the song of moving water on my morning walk.
video
This is a gentle trickle.
video
This water is thundering.
video

I found seven spots where water flowed and sang within the first quarter mile from the house. I've always loved to walk this country road, in winter, spring and evenings during the summer.

Monday, March 28, 2011

DUNSMUIR SCOTTISH DANCERS

After days of rain, it felt good to get out of a Sunday afternoon and attend our Calaveras Arts Council Ovations program in Angels Camp. The last of the season, the renowned Dunsmuir Scottish Dancers from the San Francisco Bay Area gave a two hour performance. My luck was a seat next to Amanda, the granddaughter of two Scottish Highland Dancers, Scot and Mary Maur. The program covers the history of Scottish dance in many forms from 18th century story dances, strathspeys and reels, to modern compositions.
The costuming, especially the women's changes, represented a swath of history, some formal, and others more folksy country clothing. The music is lively and the dancers do complicated reels and precision stepping.
Pictures were not allowed during a performance, but back stage, the dancers willingly formed a reel and demonstrated for the camera. It reminded me of square dancing as I watched them reel through complicated movements. Then I realized these dancers move without benefit of a caller. They memorized precise steps and placement on the floor; they never miss a beat or a position as they swirl at dizzying speeds .
The men had noticeably muscular legs and when I went to their website, they have more exciting pictures than what I could take. On the link below, their leader and teacher, Ron Wallace,  has a button you can press to hear a bit of the very lively music.www.dunsmuirscottishdancers.org/home2.htm
The music was live, back stage and we didn't get to see the musicians until the end. Someone should have tooted that bagpipe as a solo. They are pretty fascinating instruments we  rarely get to see.
The young girls in kilts did a lively sword dance, perhaps the Highland Fling? I thought it would have been nice to have an MC explain the charm and history behind the various pieces. You could tell a couple of the early dances were about a harvest or fishing. The costuming was fabulous, but still a mystery in time.
They gave the dancers, (I tell you, this is a strenuous activity), a rest,  and had three musical interludes. One of note was a ribald song of a man from Inverness who travels to his beloved mountains and proclaims, he is "...a wage slave on Mondays, but a free man on Sundays." The other two musical numbers were forgettable, but the dancing is what we came to see.
Amanda told me she wants to someday be a dancer like her grandparents. She was fascinated, as I was by the performance. I hope she follows through and it all works out. The website gives a glimpse of where the dancers will be next. Maybe in your area.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

ECONOMIC SKILLS ARE SADLY LACKING

Weary of rain, feeling trapped inside staring at too many tax papers, I went on a rant. And, I got it wrong. Vanguard recommended a 529, not a 526 educational account. Guilty of basically ignoring these accounts, I misunderstood the letter I received. It seems the old ESA accounts, that I opened, will be taxed upon withdrawal only if the beneficiary has both types of accounts, the 529 and the ESA. In my own defense, the letter wasn't very clear and the companies will not speak to you if your social security number is not on the account, even if you generated the account and paid into it.
To make up for it I downloaded an online lecture on economics from  The GREAT COURSES, a fantastic college level course taught by Harvard PH.D., who teaches at Carnegie Mellon University. His award winning research is supported by the National Science Foundation. Through my account, they allow me to share it by email with friends and family, but not on my blog.

However, I spoke with Kathleen Fournier from The Great Courses. She suggested that anyone can find this free course online by going to: http://www.teach12.com . The lecture you want is China_India_Branstetter.  He talks about the future of the US with China and India predicted to be the next great economies. This learning  company has marvelous stuff. I'm soooo glad I found them. You will be too. 

Friday, March 25, 2011

LETS TAX THE KIDS COLLEGE EDUCATION

I have two grandson's graduating high school this year. I had established for each of my grand kids when they were young, an educational account in mutual funds that can be drawn upon when the kids reach college age. Something manageable, putting a little bit of money aside as they were growing up. They can draw on them only for college or vocational or other accredited schools. It can be used to pay for tuition, books and a defined number of other college related expenses without having to pay taxes on the earnings. A sound idea. If they had graduated in 2010, everything would have been fine. But, its 2011.  Our wonderful congress has slipped in a little grabber. The funds wrote me a letter informing me they will no longer be accepting new educational accounts. Van Guard suggested I should change them to another type of account, a 526, whatever that is. It seems congress has decided taxes must now be paid on the earnings these accounts made when they are withdrawn.

Gee, our wonderful congress has to balance the budget and reduce the deficit. Did you notice when the government investigation report of the banking and mortgage failure came out, it concluded there are guilty parties and the whole melt down was preventable and that laws were broken? Did you notice not one congress person decided we should go after the guilty parties and hold them accountable? No one was fined for slurping up billions of illegally gained dollars at taxpayers expense?  But, shucks, lets to go after those juicy educational accounts that are benefiting our students now that the economy of the world was affected negatively by these bozos and we are buried in debt,and trying to crawl out of it.

It makes me so angry I want to reiterate that old saw- THROW THE BUMS OUT.
House rules should dictate that every congress person should have to publically declare who gave them or their campaign committee money, or any promises, or deals made concerning the passing of a bill, while connected to a lie detector, before they are allowed to vote. This is not the type of ugliness any of us imagined could happen in America. Its so sad.

Preventable, that's what gets me. This mess was preventable.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

SURVIVAL

I've always had a survivalist mentality. I think it stems from being raised on the land, with few amenities, and dependence on what you grew or raised to live. Subconscious fear may have played a role as well since we were put through air raid drills in school. We were  instructed to hide our heads under our desk when the air raid siren went off during the Korean war. Of course, we now know hiding our heads under our desk  wouldn't have protected us. The powers that be probably knew it then, too. It was just feel good stuff.

During the 1970's, people were building bomb shelters in their yards for fear of a nuclear bomb from Russia.  We didn't build a bomb shelter in our front yard during the 1970's, but, I have to admit, we pondered the idea.  We read in the newspapers the way to survive nuclear fallout from a bomb was to fill your tub with water, stay inside, put foam rubber over the windows and doors, and buy a lot of flashlights and sterno. We were instructed to stock up on basic foods like rice and beans, but only canned goods. We took it seriously, and did stock up, except you couldn't buy a flashlight or a battery within a day of the announcement.

Again, fear is in the air. Bomb shelter sales are up 1,000 %. Membership in  giant communal bomb shelters on the plains states, like Kansas, are selling like hot cakes, and many of them aren't even built yet.( I read HOAX.)
Health food stores and pharmacies have run out of iodine as people stock up on the stuff even though "experts" say it isn't needed. But then, various "experts" have lied to us so many times in the past, and we know many expert's opinions are for sale to the highest dollar. Why would we believe them? Oh, I'm so cynical. Yes! 

Germany has decided to wean itself off nuclear power. But, it won't help unless  all countries do it. Nuclear Power is like playing with extremely, costly, destructive dynamite. But, there is no warning or protection from fallout  if you live anywhere near one, except to get farther away.  If a huge comet or asteroid hit the earth, with  hundreds of nuclear power plants in the United States and a couple thousand of them around the world? Oh, boy!  There is no protective measures anyone, governments or communities or individuals can take against a cataclysmic event that sets up nuclear winter. 

Wars all over the mid-east have religious fanatics predicting that Armageddon is at hand and they are giving a precise date in May. I've lived through these predictions before as well. I don't remember the year when a large group of people sold their worldly goods and waited on a mountain top to be brought up into heaven at the given date of the end of the earth. How do these people reconcile their lives after it doesn't happen? And, that, or a similar event has been repeated several times in my lifetime.

Fear is in the air. We live in troubled times. But, there are practical things one can do to keep yourself comfortable and relatively safe. First is to just enjoy each day, and do what you normally do. Live one day at a time. You can't do anything about it anyway. Its like taking an airplane flight. It could drop in the ocean, but you still take the flight.

Practical measures you should always take: Keep a decent stock of  staple goods on hand. Always, flashlights, batteries, candles, and simple medical supplies like aspirin, band aids,bandages, burn and antibiotic salves. Its easy enough to  keep a  couple gallons of distilled water in your garage for emergency use. A couple five gallon cans of gasoline might be helpful if you can safely store them. In your car? Keep a first aid kit, a couple blankets, flashlights and water, an umbrella, extra socks and lightweight jackets, a couple flares, matches, rope and a tarp. It sounds like a lot, but it can be packed tightly into a backpack and jammed into the corner of your trunk. This isn't to protect against a nuclear event, but any event that leaves you stranded, be it a storm, a road closure, or a flat tire on a lonely road. Then, hope for the best.
When you have a  chance, read George Stewart's novel, Earth Abides. It will give you a blueprint on how to survive anything. Its out of print, but available in those old book stores that deal in out-of-print novels. And, its based in the San Francisco Bay Area. Its an eye opener even though it was written in 1931.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

THE ANTS GO MARCHING ONE BY ONE...

Its the weather!  Its the rain!  Its the marching ants brigade! I opened a hall closet door and a stream of ants was congregated near the ceiling. I followed them over 30 feet away, marching along at ceiling level and then crossing down to my cupboard doors.

I don't spray but I do dust my cupboards and baseboards with diatomaceous earth.
It works very well. They don't dare come in my door, or up through the floor. It controls the small ants I'm used to seeing every once in awhile. But, these giant cousin found a way around my baseboards by coming from the outside, up the side walls, through the attic and ceiling and into my kitchen. I looked to see what they were after, but they didn't seem to be interested in anything I had in my cupboards. I would have wiped them away, but past experience leads me to believe it never stops the endless stream. Besides, I was busy working on my heritage picture project with my brother and sister.
Bill scanned the photos.
Dawn sorted and read me inscriptions from the backs to type into the program.  We ate dinner late; She told me I should watch the movie ANTZ.  We ignored them.
This morning, before I could get the diatomaceous earth out to discourage this new entrance, they had all disappeared. Haven't a clue? Glad to see them gone. Its still very wet outside, but the rain is gone. I'll be watching for them. My youngest daughter, a biologist, claims you can't do much about them anyway, unless you poison them. I choose not to poison anything anymore. It seems to be working. The ants go marching two by two harrah, harrah!

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

BETTER PIE CRUST

When I returned from the grocers yesterday, son Doug was cutting up my fallen tree. He cleared the driveway and piled the brush. Since I managed to celebrate Ken's and Kristanne's birthdays with them, his older siblings, I invited him up for his favorite dinner to celebrate his birthday.  The next thing I knew he was busy in my kitchen making blackberry apple pie.
 I like to cook, but baking has never been a talent to which I could lay claim. Its really kind of annoying that my son makes a better pie crust than mine. He pre-bakes the bottom crust so the filling won't make it soggy. He picked the blackberries last September and stored them in my freezer. He likes to put on a dainty lattice top.

HIS pies NEVER bubble over in the oven. Cooked to perfection, beautiful,  and, he is quick, besides. He can chit chat while working and never miss a step. I mean, I CAN make a pie, but cut up a tree? No! Two of my brothers and a sister came out for the occasion. I was having so much fun, I forgot to take pictures---except for that pie. After a certain age, birthdays are kind of meaningless if inevitable, but throw in a home-made  pie and its an occasion to remember.

Monday, March 21, 2011

IN FOR A SIEGE

It snowed all day yesterday. A wet half-rain kind of snow that is deadly to oak trees. The limbs of my trees got so heavy at one point, some of them were practically touching the ground. Around five p.m. the snow turned to rain and it was dirty, slush and cold. Snow didn't exactly melt, it kind of washed away.
The drain on my front walk was too full to carry the water off. I guess we are in for a siege since more of the same is predicted for the rest of the week. We can officially declare the drought is over but its UGLY out there. Brrrr!
I wasn't too interested in looking around the property for trees down unless a tree appears to threaten a building or block a driveway. This driveway goes up to the well and isn't preventing anyone from coming and going. I spotted it yesterday, after the afternoon melt.  I'll survey total damage after the storms are over. If I were going to lose any more than this one tree, I'm sure it would have fallen by now because yesterday's storm was the wettest snow I've ever seen, here.
Its a good time to be hunkered in and working on my taxes. I'm making progress on a job I dislike.
Neighbor Karen rescued me and fixed us a light dinner. And, I hate to say it, but its snowing again this morning. Snow, snow, go away. We'll take the rain, any day.
We can stay in and keep warm. I took a shot of this horse all bundled up in his winter coat. That was during a break in the storm several days ago when it wasn't nearly as cold. Makes me think that horses should have a place to seek shelter of their own choosing rather than wearing a ridiculous looking outfit like this .(My unwanted opinion.)

Sunday, March 20, 2011

MURPHYS IRISH DAY CELEBRATION

This is a view of Murphys Irish Day around noon. People were bundled up but still determined to have a great day, and, they did.
That is because earlier, at 9:00, volunteers were out shoveling the white stuff off the streets. Then, once shoveled, where do you put it?  
It had to go somewhere, so it kind of lay piled around in mounds here and there. I saw a few snowball fights, but the kids were respectful and took their fun away from people and onto lawns or side streets.
At the beginning of March, in preparation for this day, the street was painted with two huge clovers and the space between the double lines was painted green for the length of Main St. This is done legally, now. It wasn't always so. The guys who started this affair, Jim Riggs and Bob Bliss,  would invite people over to Riggs Beauty Salon for corned beef sandwiches and beer. Then about midnight, after they'd had plenty of  liquid courage, they'd paint the single yellow line green with the help of anyone else willing to face arrest if caught.  The powers that be laid in wait and caught Jim Riggs, arrested him, and put him in jail one year. The judge was friendly to one of the outstanding merchants, movers and shakers about town, and Jim was released the next morning without charges being filed.  They finally made a deal to everyone's satisfaction, and the practice continues to this day.

The local booths provided good eats and drinks of all kinds. The churches brought home made soda bread and  pies to sell.  The nearby Congregational Church held a pancake breakfast. The Native Sons provided corned beef sandwiches and green beer. There was all manner of barbeque, chicken, fries, corn dogs and other good stuff. I opted to get warm at the pancake breakfast and just missed the parade.
The last event of the parade is the manure scoopers with their little green wagon and shovel, but I couldn't see any horses. I think it must have been a short parade this year.
 Cute glasses.
 The old foggie club.
 I enjoyed the green trappings.
Meeting old friends. Glen Berry is once again President of the Native Sons, he told me to be sure and tell my son, Ken. (They're old school chums.)
And young girls looking for an older boy than the one interested in them.
And the music. They had an Irish band, but this guy with his hammer dulcimer was fascinating to watch and hear.
video
Here is a very short sample. I was sorry I cut it off so soon.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

IT WAS A DARK AND STORMY NIGHT

It was supposed to rain all day yesterday. It didn't. About 2:00 pm it began a light rain that quickly turned into snow. The pink blossoms of this apple tree are covered with the white stuff. Pretty! We can't really complain when we compare to hard winter climes, I suppose.
Snow here usually melts away before you can get out the shovel. I expect it'll be gone sometime today. But, that isn't a certainty. What we all look out for at oak elevation is tree damage since we are supposedly below the snow line and above the fog. Definitely above the fog. But, snow kind of wanders. Some oaks retain leaves, the live oaks. A heavy wet snow can break branches, and with saturated soil, topple huge trees.
As evening commenced, while reading, the power went out. Without even a bit of ambient light from a clock, or an electronic device, it was like being trapped in Mercer Cavern. I carefully felt my way to my purse that I left in the dining room where I have a tiny flashlight.  I have  flashlights strategically placed near beds in the house. Kind of makes me think I need one next to my favorite chair. Got the matches, lit the candles then read by flashlight until 8:30.  It was, as Snoopy writes, "...a dark and stormy night."  This morning, the snow is still on the ground. Not looking good for the celebration of Irish Days downtown later today. I'll keep you posted on the Irish.

Friday, March 18, 2011

NUCLEAR POWER

If there was ever an event to make one rethink the wisdom of nuclear power, its in the news each day. I'm not surprised, but certainly dismayed that Obama is still forging ahead with nuclear power plants. I heard a government nuclear expert speak and declare, "There were only 64 deaths in Chernobyl."   Lie by omission doesn't go down well with me. Yes, 64 deaths from the actual explosion, but the clean up crews that went in?  They sickened and died. Many people with radiation poisoning died slow deaths from cancer and other maladies. But they didn't mention those. Or, that even today, radiation in animals can be found in Germany and other areas affected by Chernobyl. Some people will portray the Chernobyl site as a wonderland of nature's recuperation. Grass and plants and bushes and herds of deer, rabbits, mice, birds, etc. Visitors are now safely allowed in the exclusion zone, the air is pure. But, they don't mention the animal anomalies, albino birds, two headed mice, mixed colored furs and feathers, and, in this unnatural laboratory, subsequent generations of mice becoming more and more resistant to radiation. I guess that's a plus and its reassuring to know. There are also poor farmers who have moved back to Chernobyl and are living in this exclusion zone. Again, a natural laboratory. Their future  is uncertain.The government there is not testing these people. 

The Nuclear Lobby doesn't want anyone to talk about the fact that lead containers storing spent rods that were supposed to keep radiation out of our water supply and soil for 10,000 years are now leaking. Or that the costs to build a nuclear power plant compared to wind, solar, geo thermal, even dams, is enormous. To keep a nuclear power plant running after its up and working is very expensive. To keep the reactor cool warms huge amounts of water around a nuclear power plant. The warming of water  has a negative affect on the natural life in that water. Regular inspections of nuclear power plants, demanded by law,  have been spotty and in some areas, non existent for periods of time.  Never have the costs of a natural disaster like an earthquake been factored into the costs. Why is it that nuclear power is getting huge investment monies instead of alternative, cheaper, safer power? And, alternative,cheaper, healthier fuel?

Our government, even when the budget was balanced, couldn't, or didn't want to,  find enough money to test all the chemicals companies use in consumer products to find out whether they are harmful or not. Gasoline additives allowed in California's pumps have contaminated every bit of soil and water in this state, and, it turns out, the chemical did nothing to enhance the fuel it was supposed to make better. Scientists are baffled by how to get rid of the stuff. Unregulated, unknown, costly...profitable to Dow.

So, now that we are in the middle of a lengthy recovery, and slashing programs is on the table, can we trust our government to handle the horrendous unknowns and disastrous potential of more nuclear power plants?
I don't think so.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

THE IRISH, MORE THAN BLARNEY

Being part Irish, I learned more about them from books and history than my own parentage. My father would sometimes say, "Greetuns', greetuns and salutations," when  he was in a good mood. And he'd say, "mournin' boys" to my girl friends, which kind of embarrassed me as a teen. We got the great big "eye", a television set, when I was about 16 and he didn't let me watch old British films because they aggrandized the British. (I really understood that after I read Trinity.)
He believed in political debate at the dinner table and never let us forget that the working man had to fight for every right he ever had and if it weren't for the unions, we'd all be working in sweatshops.
"I've worked all my life, and I never had a day of sick leave, and I've been plenty sick,"  he would say.
Even so, he was grateful for seniority, the right to organize and ask for pay increases, the right to complain if an individual thought he was fired unfairly. They won pension benefits, and health care, which in my father's time was simply a nurse on the job to report and treat injuries and provide a record that injuries happened on the job so the union could investigate if any safety rules were ignored.  They won the right to have written evaluations and records of their work so the boss couldn't lie about a man's worthiness. Companies didn't just roll over an capitulate. They fought it tooth and nail, and had other ways of forcing an older man off the job so they wouldn't have to pay a pension.
In my father's case, he worked for Pacific States Steel Company. They didn't like guys who wouldn't tow the line or complained to their union about infractions of the union rules and safety violations. He suffered through many attacks;  acid in his locker which ate holes in his clothes. Tacks under his tires, which gave him flat tires. His lunch sandwiches filled with sand; midnight phone calls and threats to my mother. (This happened in the 1960's.) They finally quit the harassment when the bosses had a meeting with the union and my dad appeared with my husband and my brother-in-law, both dressed in suits and ties carrying brief cases looking like lawyers, and holding a tape recorder. My dad got his pension of  $98 a month. When he died, my mother got $76 of that which was considered very generous.

My husband's job as a cop was subject to the whim of the Board of Supervisors. In the forties, cops would be fired if they tried to organize into a union and were told so. In fact, at one time you had to be a Republican and join the Masons to become a cop. Later, you had to be a Republican and a Mason to get a promotion. During one bitter strike by a local cannery in Alameda County, CA. cops were instructed to beat back the protesters with their batons even though the cannery workers had the right to protest. Even forming a deputy sheriff''s association was done with trepidation. Deputies served at the whim of the Board of Supervisors. They could not negotiate for better pay. They did not receive overtime pay. Eventually they received compensatory time, but certain bosses wouldn't sign their comp time cards and refused to give it to them. Other supervisors would come on the job and say, "You-take your vacation this week." Just like that. You took your time, with no opportunity to plan, and you were grateful that you got vacation at all.

The Irish were very much at the forefront of unions and union organizing. They suffered so much from the British, they made sure it wouldn't happen in their adopted countries, US and Australia. So, Happy St. Patricks day, and here be a Salute To The Irish, by gorrah!

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

IN TIME OF WAR

I'm an anti-war activist and I come by it understandably. One of my uncles spent a good portion of his life suffering what they used to call shell shock, and is now called  post traumatic stress syndrome. When you take a normal person and ask him to kill, and he does, it changes everything he believed about himself.
During the Cold War with Russia, my father subscribed to Russian Life if only to teach us that Russian people were not evil. They were people who desired the same things in life that we do. People around the world basically want the same things, family, security, shelter, enough to eat, freedoms to pursue a fruitful, productive life. They are not evil. They have evil leaders.
Locked away in the Hermitage for all those cold war years and beyond, were beautiful, unseen masterpieces. I found a book with Hermitage pictures and tried to get some reasonable images. I tried several websites and no one is allowed to photograph the master works and I didn't find any pictures. Hope these suffice for a peak.
High society.
A man bringing home food for his family.
A beauty.
Removing a cinder from the eye was a family affair.
One of hundreds of paintings of the Madonna. Many have been replicated on stamps and Christmas Cards.
Pregnancy watch.
The clothing and trappings are colorful and interesting.
 The Hermitage has artworks from masters around the world. Several books have been written about it with photos. It has a gold room, and priceless treasures besides paintings. 
On my bucket list is a trip to the former Soviet Union to see the Hermitage at St. Petersburg.

http://www.hermitagemuseum.org/html_En/13/hm13_3_008.html
This link gives information about the Hermitage.