Feeding Fish

Feeding Fish

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Is Hell’s Waiting Room called Purgatory or Barnes and Noble?

Arrive at local BNob at opening time this morning.  We’re the first in the store.  Yes, they are open for business.  Do they know it?  No.

Can’t get to the section of magazines I want because a huge, heavy restocking cart is in the way, no employee in sight.  Have spousal unit move cart.  Look at magazines, move on to next aisle.  Later hear angry voice grumbling that “someone moved the cart.” 

Go to Science Fiction section, which is noticeably smaller than it was a few weeks ago - books slipping into rift in time/space continuum, or just not showing a profit?  Again blocked by another stocking cart.  Ask employee to move cart.  “Is there something you are looking for specifically?” she asks in insectoid robotic voice.  “Yes, we’d like to look at the books,” I respond.

Suddenly finding it more and more difficult to concentrate because of loud vacuum cleaner sound.  Yes, I’ve come all this way to listen to a vacuum cleaner, my least-favorite type of music, second only to the voices of whiny children.  Ruminative book ramble interrupted, go to front of store where it might be quieter.

Realize I can hear the overhead music, and I like it.  A mix of Zydeco-Reggae with a bit too much pop, but still.  Ask Spousal to go to music section and see what it is, buy it.  He returns with Sad Face. Sad smile “The girl doesn’t know what it is,” he says.  “Could be one of five CDs, she doesn’t know which one.”  Ask that person over there, I suggest.  The person over there says “I could help you, but I can’t because I’m supposed to be in this section of the store now.  If you find the woman with the red hair and a bandanna, she will know.”  This has turned into a detective novel.  We give up.

Same girl at the checkout, 20 seconds later.  “Did you find what you were looking for?” she asks.  Supreme example of bad programming in this droid model!  “No,” I say.  “Remember us?  No one could find us that CD.”  “Oh, sorry about that,” she replies brightly and gaily.  “You missed a sale,” I say.  “That’s unfortunate,” she says, grinning. 

We leave disgruntled.  We will never, ever again feel sorry for Barnes and Noble when they do their “We try and try but we can’t compete with Amazon” dance.  Slowly and surely, they are driving us away.  And we can’t be the only ones. 

Saturday, July 5, 2014

It doesn’t pay to write a nice note to a stranger

bee strip                                                             

This morning I stumbled across a local supplier of honeybees online, simply because she happened to have the same name as an artist I admire.  On the off chance she might know why I haven’t seen any bees yet this year, I dropped her a pleasant little note.  This is a prime example of how quickly a conversation can go straight to hell.

What's up with the honeybees this year?  Despite the threat of CCD we have always had plenty of bees.  We have several acres which we garden organically, lots of varied habitats, etc.  This year I've even grown a stand of buckwheat just for the bees.  And nothing.
Have you heard this from other gardeners this year?


Yes bees at doing very well thanks for sharing going to pull queens have a good day


What?  Did you read what I wrote?


If your bees made it threw the winter the strong ones are doing well my bees are awesome I don't know why u have nothing what's around you is important as far as collecting honey did you start with packages


You are just not reading what I wrote, and your responses are gibberish. 


I m making sense I have not heard that sorry I can't help you I don't understand your email  maybe something else is going on with the bees I'm in the bee yard working sorry I can't help you have a good day it's hard answering emails when you are in the middle of a bunch if bees an u have 2 poop.
Have a good day


You are a moron.


What comes around goes around I did not email you with a stupid question go read a book and hope you have a good day


You are truly an imbecile. I started with a pleasant note which you just didn't understand because obviously you've been stung one too many times.  Yes, what goes around comes around, as that absurd saying goes.  If you think "what happened to all the bees?" is a "stupid question" then my opinion about you is proved. 

Thanks for supplying the contents of today’s blog post. 


And yes I did not read your message I have little or no use for you have a good day in the garden

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

An Interview with Mr. Sulu

Sprockets Inside is so fortunate to be here at the “Bent Trekkies” Convention in Duluth with Mr. George Takei, also known as Mr. Sulu from Star Trek. 

SI:  Mr. Takei, what can you tell us about the evolution of the character of Mr. Sulu over the years?

GT:  george-takei bubble right a










SI:  No, that’s my mother.  Just the other day, Mr. Takei, one of our readers asked whether you’d ever felt the scripts for Star Trek, either the original series or the movies, were challenging.  Also, did you feel you got enough camera time?

GT:  george-takei bubble left a










SI:  Well, actually, I’m not gay.

GT:  Oh, sure you are!  Everyone is!

SI:  No, I checked just now.  Mr. Takei, have you had any acting work in the last twenty years, apart from that unfortunate South Korean commercial for disposable thongs?

GT:  george-takei bubble right b










SI:  Thank you for your time, Mr. Takei.  Good luck with your. . .er. . .career. 

Your Two Cents are Worth A Lot

buffo headAce reporter Buffo Sprinkle says:  “Maybe you’re not a trained writer like I am, but you should never be afraid to submit a review for a product you are impressed with.  I did, and it was published today.”  That’s good advice, boys and girls.  It’s your world as much as anyone else’s - participate!

product review total

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

19 Injured by Tomatoes

 Militiaville, Idaho - Idaho authorities say dual tomatoes that touched down in a small town about 100 miles from anywhere injured at least 19 people, some of them critically. 

tomato attack

It happened in Militiaville, Idaho, a community of about 350.  The National Weather Service says the twin giant tomatoes touched down within roughly a mile of each other.  A county commissioner says more than half the town was wiped out.  Many single-wide trailer homes were damaged.  Structures that were demolished include the co-op grain bins, the Loyal Order of Elks Hall #33, and the Dairy-Freeze on Main St. behind Wellco Auto Parts.

The sheriff said the town’s school bus is beyond repair.  The injured were taken to three regional hospitals, including a trauma center in Apathy, Idaho.

Idaho Gov. Eyeball Ripsore declared a state of emergency.  The National Guard is preparing to assist local emergency responders and help with the cleanup. 

Gov. Dave Heineman declared a state of emergency. The National Guard is preparing to assist local emergency responders and help with the cleanup.  Militiaville was evacuated for the night and roads were closed by state police. Some residents were taken to a shelter at a school in a nearby town.  Others were dropped off at the White Castle in nearby Cornhole.

A meteorologist with the National Weather Service says dual tomatoes of such size are rare but not unknown.  At the same time, smaller tomatoes damaged nearby counties.

Long-time resident Martha Kraushopper was undismayed.  “Oh, we’re used to this kind of thing here,” she chuckled.  “During tomato season we pretty much hide out in our storm shelters.  I even got cable down there.” 


CORRECTION:  In the above story, for “tomato” read “tornado.”  This reporter obviously has a lot of ketchup to do.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

The Creation of “Half Life”


This is more or less the process I went through in making Half Life.  (See more photos in the Art Gallery section.)

All of my pieces are made through trial and error, haltingly, with many visions and revisions, often over a span of days or even weeks (“Best Toy Ever” took several months, with long periods when I forgot about it completely.  I’m very proud of it.)

I start with a concept, a mood, and/or a piece of ephemera or a photo I feel drawn to.  In this case, the inspiration is a photo of some of the Japanese “hina ningyo”  doll heads I bought online about a year ago.  They’ve been sitting in the studio, waiting for something to happen.  They still are.

I will use the 12X12 piece of plywood I just bought at the hardware store.  I like using a wood substrate because it gives me something substantial to attach things to.  I also like the framelessness of this kind of substrate, which creates a visual float.6

I coat the board with gesso on all sides, to give it tooth and decrease its absorbency.  After the gesso dries I start experimenting with various elements, seen above.  I also make a silicone mold of one of the doll heads and cast it in epoxy putty, seen at the left of the photo.  It wasn’t right for this piece.  I end up using only one of these auditioned pieces. Initially I work with this smaller photo, but it quickly becomes apparent it doesn’t have enough presence, so I enlarge it.  


I apply different various neutral rice papers, with the lightest at the top.  I mark the board roughly, tear the rice paper to the approximate finished size, and adhere them with matte Mod-Podge (MP).   I let the papers hang over the edges, and when they dry completely I sand them off by holding the sandpaper at an angle to the board.  This takes only one or two passes and is the best way to get a good edge on rice paper.  Notice I’m still playing with elements, and the numbered stick and the plastered wire have come into play.

Right now the piece is boring.  I know this but it’s all right, because I’m still trying to get the balance right.  At various times I temporarily adhere elements and put a piece on an easel and squint at it.  Other times I’ll turn a piece on its side or upside down to see the balance objectively.  I will also photograph the piece and alter it to black and white to eliminate any color confusion.  It’s a slow process.


The photo still isn’t strong enough to be the focal point, so the Strange Cover Thing is introduced to the mockup.  It came from one of my odds and ends boxes.  (I’ve been a disassembler of things for years, so it’s no use wondering what it was originally.)  The glass is quite thick.  The right and left labels are original.  I like the composition, but overall the cover is too dark and therefore too weighty.  So I sand it down, coat it with gesso, sand that back, dab on some walnut ink glaze, sand that back, and so on, until I’m happy with the result.  I sand the fixed screw in the middle and put a chemical antiquing solution on it.  

(It’s also important to note that before abusing the cover in this way I made and adhered a transparency of a nuclear symbol and placed it between the two existing labels (see final photo above).  I wanted this to be very much a background kind of image, despite being located near the center of the piece.  It’s my only direct nod to the title of the piece, and it needed to not be glaringly obvious.)

Before attaching the cover, the enlarged picture was sanded down a little and I applied a thin gesso glaze in strategic areas.  I also adhered a piece of shiny translucent ribbon over the mouths and lower faces. 

In working out how to attach the cover to the board, my first impulse had been to use nuts and bolts, but I couldn’t find six appropriately-sized bolts with nuts of the right length, even 7though the vintage nuts-and-bolts section of my hardware collection is obscenely large .  I was able to painstakingly locate six black pan-head screws that were almost the right length, but in the end they poked out the back just a bit, and it was not possible to file them down or clip them off.   I remedied this by putting circles of two-part epoxy putty (Apoxie Sculpt) over each screw point and then making the blobs the centers of bright red circles, so as to seem intentional. 

Sometimes things come together all at once.  I’ve attached a vintage envelope above the photo unit.  This blends in nicely with 11the existing colors while introducing a new texture.  I’ve adhered strips of previously-marbled green paper to the edges of the board.  I’ve also attached a favorite piece of vintage card across the bottom.  This was an old photo mat, and when I peeled it away from the frame it was in, it came away with white marks that I liked a lot.  I enhanced them with a glaze made of white paint and extender.  The gap between the pieces leaves a “way out” of the composition. 


The plaster-covered wire mesh is in place.  I adhered it by drilling two tiny holes in the board and tying the mesh to the board at each side with black twine laced through small vintage buttons on the back.  (The buttons didn’t need to be vintage, but they were the sturdiest small buttons I had.)  This lets the mesh project outward where it wants to, but keeps it from falling off.  I tied square knots in the twine and put glue on each knot. 


Things are going quite well, but the composition needs weight at the top of the left side, especially as I plan to leave the rest of that side empty.  I want something circular as a counterpoint for all the straight lines.  A new type of material, and a splash of color.  I had previously textured these two washers and Crazy-Glued them together, and I realized if I painted them red they might provide a reference to the Japanese flag.  The first coat of red was far too bright, so I sanded most of it away and then sealed it with MP.  I used a heavy bodied gel to adhere it to the board, weighted overnight while drying. 

Then the numbered stick was attached with double-sided tape and brads.  I colored the brad heads with a Sharpie to tone them down.  This stick had been intended for another project, but it didn’t work there.  It was originally a divider in the box of an antique stamp set, and some of the original ink is still on it.  I made the “countdown” marks with India ink.

At this stage, the piece is still not done, and I am frustrated.  Something major is missing, but I can’t figure out what.  (I constantly struggle against adding elements that only jazz things up and don’t contribute in any meaningful way.) Something vital is missing.  So I take a picture. 

I study the picture on my iPad for a while, until I realize the missing element is color.  I manipulate the piece in Photoshop.  Green feels like the natural choice, but I try another color first. 


Interesting, but just wrong.  I’d like it if it were on someone else’s wall, but it’s not what I need.  The mood of this is perky and cheerful, which is always irritating.  If I ever commit an act of violence against another person, their perkiness will be the inciting cause.  


This is nearly right, but I need a more dusty green, a very loose underwater kind of mood.  I mix a thin glaze of that most amazing color, Jenkins Green, with various extenders, a little MP, and some water, taking care to not mix it too thoroughly so the color will vary.  Then I try it on a mockup made by gluing a small piece of the same rice paper to the back of another substrate, where it can be painted over in the future.  That works, so I carefully brush on three layers, drying each with a hairdryer because I am impatient.  (I don’t usually do this, because if layers don’t dry completely and in their own time, nasty messes can and will happen.  But I am feeling determined.)

Am I done? I certainly want to be.  I’ve already put the label and the hanger on the back.  But no, it’s not finished.  That blank area on the envelope over the heads is irritating me.  I’d tried to tone it down with small specks of walnut ink, but that isn’t enough.  It desperately needs some kind of relief, but I don’t want another focal point.  I flick through the pile of all the various pieces I’d auditioned at the beginning of the project, and I find the small three-dimensional “skin” I’d made previously from heavy gel.  I audition it and fixed it in place with MP. 

A final all-over coat of MP and the piece is done.  I’m very happy with it. 

Note:  Sometimes I alter pictures of the final pieces.  I’ll also photograph parts of pictures, enlarge them, alter them, and save them as filters to use over/under other photos.  Here I inverted and colored the final picture in two different ways with Photoshop.  They amuse me.



Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Root bridges, pollards and coppices: when we went slow

2Here is a stupendous photo of a bridge made entirely of roots.  Some of these bridges, found in rain forests of the Indian state of Meghalaya,  are over a hundred feet long, and can take ten to fifteen years to become useful.  They often support the weight of fifty or more people.  This one is even “paved” with stones to make walking easier.  And it stands to reason that they get stronger over time.

The process of constructing a root bridge is both inventive and quite simple.  Rubber tree roots pointing in the desired direction are “trained” through tubes to grow long instead of branch out.  After a time these trained roots are long enough to span the desired distance.  Other roots which have been trained at the same time are entwined with the main leaders, and so on.  As the roots continue to grow they are directed to form living vegetative cables. 

The Pollard and the Coppice

pollarded beech tree

Pollarding and coppicing are fascinating practices that turn trees into crops.  In the process, the trees are healthier than they would be otherwise, and they can live for many centuries.  The pollarded beech tree above is at least several hundred years old. 

Pollarding is a pruning system in which the upper branches of a tree are removed, promoting a dense head of foliage and branches. It has been common in Europe since medieval times.  Traditionally, trees pollardingwere pollarded for one of two reasons: for fodder to feed livestock or for wood. Fodder pollards produced "pollard hay", which was used as livestock feed; they were pruned at intervals of two to six years so their leafy material would be most abundant. Wood pollards were pruned at longer intervals of eight to 15 years, a pruning cycle that tended to produce upright poles favored for fence rails and posts, as well as boat construction. One consequence of pollarding is pollarded trees tend to live longer than unpollarded specimens, often for hundreds of years, because they are maintained in a partially juvenile state, and they do not have the weight and wind resistance of the usual top part of the tree.

coppiced tree

Coppicing is a traditional method of woodland management which takes advantage of the fact that many trees make new growth from the stump or roots if cut down. In a coppiced wood, young tree stems are regularly cut down to near ground level. In subsequent growth years, many new shoots will emerge, and, after a number of years the coppiced tree, or stool, is ready to be harvested, and the cycle begins again.

The cycle length depends upon the species cut, the local custom, and the use to which the product is put. Birch can be coppiced for faggots (bundles of brushwood) on a three- or four-year cycle, whereas oak can be coppiced over a fifty-year cycle for poles or firewood.

Coppicing maintains trees at a juvenile stage, and a regularly coppiced tree will never die of old age. The age of a stool may be estimated from its diameter, and some are so large—perhaps as much as 18 feet across—that they are thought to have been continuously coppiced for centuries.

I am hugely impressed by all of these practices.  Not only are these ways of management that have stood the test of centuries and have improved the plants involved and the ecologies surrounding them, but all of them use only local materials and hand labor.

None of these management techniques give quick results.  These were processes that couldn’t be hurried, and apparently that worked for thousands of years for the people who employed them.  This tells me that past cultures operated at a much slower pace than we do.   I try to imagine the mindset of a farmer who harvests a crop every seven to fifty years (he will probably see only one cutting of oak in his lifetime), secure in the knowledge that his children and grandchildren will carry on the tradition and reap the benefits, generation after generation.  I can almost comprehend. 

None of these practices has survived to any great extent in the industrialized age.  Just as root bridges won’t support a motorized vehicle,  today’s agriculture pig adoesn’t support a several-decades-long growing cycle.  We no longer send pigs to forage for acorns underneath pollarded oak trees heavy with their crop of nuts, allowing the pigs to fertilize the ground as they feast.  There isn’t much call for young willow shoots to make traditional fences, and wood for building is grown quickly in pine forests. 

Still, those of us who have an acre or two to manage can do a few things in the way our ancestors must have done them.  We can:

  • Compost yard and suitable kitchen waste and return it to our gardens. 

                        compost pile

  • Shred  any trees that have fallen or that have needed to be pruned or cut down and use the resulting mulch, both on our garden beds and in our compost piles.  If you buy mulch, you buy disease. 
  • Leave the grass clippings where they fall after mowing. 
  • Maintain the topsoil in its intact state, improving it by applying compost to the top of it, and never, ever, turn it over.
  • Not kill the soil’s ecology by using chemicals.
  • Stop trying to force exotic plants to grow where they don’t want to, causing them to be subject to failure and disease. 
  • Decide to not grow plants which will call the wildlife to eat them
  • Do silly, destructive, and ultimately useless things to attempt to scare away wildlife. 

In short, we can do our little part to stop fighting nature and to live in harmony with it.


Yesterday, we planted a bed of buckwheat for the honeybees.  Later this week we will plant dill and milkweed for butterfly larvae.  As a result, our very tiny local ecology will be a bit healthier and more diverse because we intervened.  For a small effort, we will have done something good.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Bullets for Breast Cancer

Here’s a lovely item brought to you from the Folks Who Make America Look Even Dumber. 

They’re “Lite” for girly girls who are trying to watch their weight (bullet-wise) but that expansion head packs a nice punch as it hurtles through whoever you’re shooting.  For the fashion-conscious, the tips are pink!  Ooh la la!   The only thing missing is a picture of a Magikal Unicorn.

But that’s not all, folks.  This caring, compassionate manufacturer is donating part of the proceeds from your purchase to fight breast cancer! 

Either the money donated to this worthy cause will help find a cure, or it’s true what they say in Texas - “when you’re lying in your friend’s yard with a bullet through your chest because she didn’t hear you knock, your breast cancer diagnosis suddenly doesn’t mean a whole heck of a lot.” *

*This is the second most popular bumper sticker in Texas, with “Ammo costs too much to fire a warning shot” being the all-time favorite.

Monday, April 28, 2014

Neighbors are Evil

When the Colonel* and I moved here from the medium-sized city several years ago, it was in part due to issues with neighbors.  Decades of interaction have taught us that anyone we live close to is generally insane, and if we think they aren’t it’s just because we don’t know them well enough, and all we have to do is wait.  Or, as the Colonel says (sometimes in his sleep) “Humans Suck!”

3We require several things from our neighbors, all of which boil down to “keep your stuff on your own property.”  That includes vehicles, children, dogs, cats,  lawn chemicals, loud noises and smoke.  In return we are quiet, we maintain our property, we cause no commotion, and just want to be left alone.  Our expectations don’t seem unreasonable to me, but experience has taught us that others find us aggravating.  The fact that in most cases we’re only asking them to behave in accordance with existing law doesn’t seem to mean anything to them. 

We lived in the medium-sized city for several years without much in the way of incident.  Early on, a few children decided to ride their bikes in our driveway, around and around.  The Colonel went out and told them nicely to not do that, and they stopped.  We forgot about the incident.

There was a barking dog for a while in a house behind us.  The dog was left outside, and it barked for hours at a time, every day.  We found the address, looked up the owner, and the Colonel called and again politely asked that the dog be controlled.  The barking stopped.  All very pleasant, very civilized. 

The man who lived directly behind us seemed strange, even from a distance.  He was always outside picking at his yard with a stick at night, for one thing.  And in the daytime it didn’t seem that anything in his landscape had changed.  “I don’t think he’s gardening,” I said to the Colonel.  “I think he’s just out in his backyard poking around.”

“Maybe he’s searching for treasure,” suggested the Colonel.

“Maybe he’s just insane.  Maybe we should put up a privacy fence.  Then I wouldn’t have to wonder.”

So one evening, just as the man came out to do whatever he did, we walked up to our side of the boundary and said “Hello.”  He jumped in shock, because apparently he had never realized he was 50 feet away from our house in full view.  He looked faintly guilty as he walked up to us, after obviously considering whether he could get away with running back into his house.

“Hello, I’m Carl.  My wife (not visible, never seen) is Louise.  I’d shake your hand but it’s dirty,” he said.

With what?  He’d just come out of the house.

“We’re going to be putting up a privacy fence along our property line,” said the Colonel.  “Where do you think the boundary is?”

“Wherever the auditor says it is,” was Carl’s helpful response.

“Yes, of course that’s the legal definition,” I said, “but our experience is that it’s a good idea to get together with a neighbor to see what his perception is, so there are no hard feelings in the future.”  I already knew where the auditor drew the line. 

“I guess it’s about a foot back from your shed,” Carl said.

“Okay, so we’ll come right across at that point to join up these other two sections of neighbor fence.  Does that seem right to you?”

“I suppose, depending on what the auditor says.  I’m an accountant, so I’m used to dealing with what’s on the page,” he chuckled. 

“So we’re going to do that in a few days, and is that your pile of wood behind our shed, or did we inherit that from the former owners?”  The wood was jammed up against our shed, some of it even underneath.  It was rotten to the point that it had lichen and other fungal growth on it, and it was visibly disintegrating.

“That’s mine.  It’s firewood.  I’ll move it, but I can’t do it for a few weeks, because it’s tax season and I’m very busy.”

You could make it a nighttime chore, I wanted to say.  Especially as you’re always out here doing something.  “Then we can move it for you, if you’re okay with that, because the fence is going up in a couple of days.” 

“I don’t know where you’d move it to,” Carl said nervously, looking around.

“Where would you like it?”  I asked.  I could sense the Colonel fidgeting next to me, because he knows my barometer.  “We’d probably just move it a couple of feet back on your property from where it is.”  I felt like I was in a very bad foreign film.  The lighting had become grainy and sepia-tinted. 

“Well,” Carl thought a while, looking puzzled.  “I’ll have to ask Louise.  My wife,” he added, as if one of us had forgotten her name in the last five minutes.  “If you give me your number I’ll call you.” 

He called later that night, sounding even more shaky.  “We think that would be okay,” he said.  “A couple of feet back.  I’ve put a little flag marker there.”  When?  It was fully dark outside.  “I’d like to move the wood myself,” he said, “but of course as you know it’s tax season.” 

“Yes, I know.  It is for us, too,” I said kindly.

“So I’m very busy.  I hardly have even a few minutes to myself, because business is so very brisk.  Otherwise I’d have done it already.  Firewood has to be taken care of.  It’s isn’t cheap, you know.” 

“Yes, thanks for calling.  That fence will be going up soon.”  None too soon.  The fence went up and we never saw or spoke to him again.  We wondered whether Louise existed.  Each time we drove by his house on our way to or from somewhere, the curtains were always closed.  That fence was a very good idea. 

Later that year, the neighbor across the street was doing some renovations and her handyman started reversing his heavy truck into our driveway to turn around.  This would ordinarily be no big deal, but due to a slight incline at the beginning of our drive and the way his truck was built he was leaving big white scrapes in the asphalt.  In short, he was damaging our property.  The Colonel told the handyman he couldn’t back up on our drive.  The next thing we knew the neighbor was on our doorstep yelling at us, asking how we expected her handyman to turn around if he didn’t use our driveway.  I told her he could do it any way that didn’t involve tearing up our driveway.

A couple of days later I came home to find the Colonel outside, white-faced.  Apparently in my absence the neighbor (nicknamed Big Red for the size of one of her body parts) had come across the street and told the Colonel that we were not “neighborly” because we had “yelled” at the children riding bikes on our driveway, had called about the barking dog, and now didn’t want our driveway dug up by her workman.  According to her we were the neighbors from hell.  “You are UNNEIGHBORLY!” she yelled at him. 

We were both astonished that Big Red had been saving up grievances against us for years, especially as we’d never spoken to her and didn’t know her real name (which turned out to be Mrs. Gigantorusso, go figure) and it was immediately apparent that we were living in a hotbed of petty gossip, and we’d been cast as the bad guys. 

At that time we’d already begun looking for another property because we wanted more space and a larger house, but this episode put us into high gear.  Shortly after Big Red laid into the Colonel, our next-door neighbor went on a psychotic rampage.  Each spring, a clump of ferns had come up on our side of the 4-foot-high dividing fence and they always died because they were in the sun.  I wanted to rescue the ferns, but our yard wasn’t very shady so I had nowhere to put them.  So one day I asked the neighbor if she’d like to have the ferns, because she had a lot of shade.  She said she would, and I told her she was welcome to dig them up and take them, but it had to happens soon, because they were already not doing very well. 

A week went by.  I heard nothing from the neighbor, and the ferns were still there.  So I called the local garden club and asked them if they’d like to come and dig up the ferns and distribute them.  They were thrilled, and they sent someone over immediately.  The ferns went to new homes. 

The next day there was a knock on the door.  I opened it to find the next-door neighbor and her husband.  They clearly wanted to be asked in, but that wasn’t going to happen.  People who come to my door without being invited aren’t welcome, unless there’s some kind of emergency.  I asked them what they wanted. 

“You gave away my ferns,” she said loudly.  I smelled alcohol.  Her husband was clearly even farther in the tank.  We’d suspected this for a while.  Did I mention I also don’t like talking to drunks?

“They were my ferns,” I said.

“They were on our property.  That fence isn’t on the property line.”  She wanted me to have an argument about ferns with two drunken people, but I wasn’t going to do that. 

“Well, okay.  Goodnight,” I said and closed the door. 

They didn’t leave.  They rang the doorbell.  I sent the Colonel to answer.  He told them to go away.  He also told them we were putting up a 6-foot privacy fence.

A few days later they put up their own privacy fence, and because they were petty, nasty people they put it up with the “good” side facing themselves - not the way it’s usually done - which made it seem to the casual observer that it was our fence.  That suited us fine, because we had found the property we wanted and we were moving in a couple of weeks.  Their fence installation made our backyard totally private, which was a selling feature I had our listing agent add to the particulars.  Thanks, horrible neighbors!


The lessons we took away from these incidents were enlightening but fundamentally upsetting.  They showed us people were petty and vindictive, and that you could think everything was pretty much okay - with a few blips, which is just life - only to find that your neighbors viewed you as Attila the Hun, and had for years.  We had gone along giving next to no thought about what our neighbors were up to, because it simply didn’t interest us.  We had assumed they weren’t thinking about us, because they didn’t know us.  We were wrong. 

I now think that in communities like that, where people have lived on tiny eighth-of-an-acre plots for decades, nasty things simmer below the surface.  At the end of the day it seems so very sad to me that people cannot just live together in relative harmony, and be much more focused on their own lives than on creating nasty neighborhood dramas.  And even knowing what we know, the unpleasantness always comes as a great shock. 

So we moved our here, to our five acres in the country, thinking we surely had enough distance between us and our neighbors so that, in the worst possible case, we would be left alone.  (Of course we hoped for more.  We hoped for like-minded individuals, people who were interested in the ecology, organic gardening, and so on.  We would have been so happy to find educated, intellectual people who had travelled and who were liberal in their thinking.  But we didn’t count on it, and that’s good because it did not happen.)

To our surprise, it turned out that five acres of land was not enough to protect us from human rudeness and ignorance.  I’ll talk more about that later.  But in the spirit of first things first, I need to recount my initial surprising disappointment, which involved not an individual but a neighboring industry of which we’d been completely unaware until we moved in. 

Within the first week of our arrival, we noticed horrible smells that occurred with regularity.  We live about 1/4 mile away from a small town, and in a part of that town which we’d never seen there is some industrial activity.  The industrial area is due west of us, which means we get the prevailing winds and the full benefit of all emissions.  The smell is horrible.  When it first enveloped me, my overriding thought was “This is something I’m not supposed to breathe.”  That is the message the smell brings to the brain.  It is oily, nasty, the sum total of every rotten burned thing that ever existed.  (I’m being dramatic, but it’s a dramatic smell.  I’m not exaggerating by much.) 

“What is that smell?” I asked people when I was shopping locally.  “Oh, that’s Freedom Castings,” they replied, clearly uninterested.  How could they not care?  The smell grabs you, throws you to the ground, and says “I’m killing you slowly.”

I spent a whole day on the phone, trying to find out from local authorities what I was breathing.  It seemed to me I 4had a right to know that, at least.  I knew there would be very little if anything I could do about it, other than to stop breathing.  But I wanted to know what it was.  I was shunted around from one office to another.  Each local “official” listened politely to what I asked, then though about it, and suggested someone else who would “surely know.”  It only took me half a day to realize they were having a good time with me.  I was referred to several people more than once.  Finally, I was given the name of an EPA official in the medium-sized city.  I called him.

“I’m calling about Freedom Castings here in Dumbhead,” I said.  (Name changed.)

“Yeah, the foundry.  What about it?”

“It stinks.  I need to know what I’m breathing.”

“Oh, don’t worry about that smell,” he chuckled.

“I’m already worried,” I said.  “How can I find out what I’m breathing?”

“But there’s nothing to be concerned about.  You’re probably in more danger from your indoor air quality than you are from the air there in Dooberville.” (Name changed again.)

“My indoor air quality is fine.  Who can I contact to find out what’s in the air here?”

He sighed.  Clearly I wasn’t going to go away.  “That would be me.  And the answer is no one knows, exactly,” he said in a smaller, more confidential voice.

“But you’re the EPA.  Don’t you do tests?”

“We don’t actually measure anything.”

“You’re joking.  Is there any EPA oversight at all?”

“Sure.  We schedule visits with the plant owners.  During those visits we look at their logs to see what they say they burned, when they burned it, and other parameters.  Based on that, we calculate what was most likely released in emissions.” 

“So you’re saying they know when you’re coming, they can write whatever they want to in their books, and then you do some math and decide what I’m probably breathing?” 

“That’s about right.  And they’re grandfathered in, so they don’t have to meet current regulations.”

“What would be different if they did have to meet today’s standards?” I asked.

“We’d visit more often,” he said. 

A couple of day later he called me back.  “I’ve spoken with the woman at the foundry who’s in charge of public relations, and she says she’d be happy to talk with you,” he announced cheerfully, as if he’d pulled off a great coup. 

“Can she tell me exactly what they’re putting into the air?”

“No, but she’s very nice,” he said, clearly disappointed that I wasn’t more grateful to him for reaching out to the company on my behalf. 

“Thanks anyway,” I said.  “If there’s anything you can do to find out what I’m breathing, please call back.” 

So that wasn’t exactly a neighbor dispute, but it did set the tone for the kind of response I’d get in the future in regard to other issues, on an individual level as well as a municipal and state level.  In short, no one here cares about the things I care about, and many of them think I’m crazy to be concerned.  About anything.

It’s now been several years since I was educated in how little anyone here cares about the air we breathe.  I wish I could say we’ve become used to stepping outside on a lovely summer morning only to have our lungs filled with the odor of rotting fish mixed with turpentine.  I am concerned about the elements in this filthy air precipitating out with wind and rain, covering our property and our pond with poisons that are cumulative and might perhaps dissipate within 10,000 years, but 6probably won’t.  I wouldn’t be surprised to find fish with three eyes or missing fins, and if I did there would be nothing at all I could do about it.  Our health is also declining, which might be mostly a function of age or it might not be.  I’ll never know about that either.  The knowledge that I’ve done what I can to find out what I’m breathing doesn’t improve the reality.

I’m depressing myself here, so I’ll stop for a while.  But before I do, I want to say that I truly do not look for fights.  I don’t try to be upset.  I ask questions about things that matter to me and I stand my ground when I’m happy with my position.  I keep running into a wall with people and organizations, but I examine my actions and words and they’re fine.  I examine my expectations and they’re reasonable.  I don’t know any other way to proceed through life in an honorable fashion. 

*The current preferred form of address for Spousal Unit.  It was his second choice, after I refused to call him Squidgy the Benevolent.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

In Search of Rain Barrels


For the last couple of weeks I’ve been searching for rain barrels that are both functional and economical.  Unfortunately, function is very hard to find and nothing worth having is cheap.

Our reason for wanting rain barrels is the quality of the water.  We’re on city water here, which we’ve stopped drinking because it’s full of bad things, in addition to poisons like chlorine and fluoride.*

We’re trying to be good stewards of our bodies and of the land.  We have two large compost piles.  We mulch with fragments of our own shredded trees, and we use no pesticides or chemical fertilizers of any kind.  Given all of that, it makes no sense to pour city water onto the soil and kill the very microbes we’re trying to encourage. 

We know our city water is bad news from a long period of research which produced very gloomy results.  Our water comes from a local river, which is disturbing enough in itself (Where do fish poop? For that matter, where do fishermen poop?).  The point where our water company takes water from the river is a few miles downstream of a Federal Superfund Cleanup site.  That means the site (the old city dump for industrial and commercial waste, closed in the 1960s) has been designated as hugely toxic.  It is also located right next to the river, smack dab on its shores, and the underlying geology is free-draining shale, as in drains right into the river, as studies have shown.  So, although it is a massively poisonous site, the feds have designated it as “no action,” because in fact there isn’t anything they can do that won’t make the problem worse.  So much for the “cleanup” part of the site’s designation.  Disturbing it, even to clean it up, would no doubt be disastrous.  I sure can’t think of a safe or effective way to do it. 

At the very least, though, the local authority could stop taking our drinking water from this river just a few miles south of the site.  Appallingly, when I talked to the head of the water company, he said he had no knowledge of the superfund site.  It’s in the incorporated town, whereas the water facility is located in the county.  As Water Boy reminded me, (making it sound like he was referring to a remote and foreign land where natives dressed in coconut hulls and ate raw lizards) “I have no jurisdiction there.”  He made it clear that he had no interest in the issue, either.  He’s following all federal and state laws, and that’s good enough for him.  I’m pretty sure he drinks bottled water, too.

After we moved here to this bucolic five acres, we both started experiencing joint pains, tiredness, soreness in our muscles.  Some of this is due to the natural aging process, but the timing of our symptoms was an obvious red flag.  Nevertheless, it took me several years to wonder if the water was playing a part in our conditions.  So a few filling in glass of drink water from faucetmonths ago we started drinking spring water from a named, certified source.  It’s a pain in the butt, not to mention the wallet, but I’m not going to drink poison.  How much arsenic and xylene do you want to ingest?  I’m guessing none.  And of course in any chemical test you only find the things you are testing for.  Who knows what these chemicals brew into when they mingle for decades, lying under a layer of styrofoam and on top of asbestos covered by old refrigerators?  Nothing good, I’m sure. 

It’s true that city water is cheap, and that’s certainly a consideration.  But how can cost matter when it’s full of things I can’t drink?  And if I can’t drink it, how can I feed it to my plants and saturate my property with it?

What I Need in a Rain Barrel

Rain barrel construction might seem like a no-brainer, and in some ways it is.  You can certainly set a big old 1wooden barrel in the middle of the garden and fill it from a well, as people have done for centuries.  When you need water, dip a bucket in.  I guess you could do the same with any large container.   But, for me, there are so many other considerations, all to do with functionality.


Many rain barrels on the market today are attractive, but appearance is the least of my concerns, as anyone who knows me personally will be happy to tell you.  A well-functioning rain barrel is going to be a workhorse.  It has to handle hundreds of gallons of water in a way that is sensible and effective.  Criteria:

  • Of sufficient size to be useful.
  • Located close to point of use.
  • Durable, UV resistant.
  • All spigots and drains in sensible places.  Enough room to get a watering can under a spigot.
  • Effective and sufficient filters.
  • A sensible overflow system.
  • A good winterizing system.
  • Secondary spigot for attaching a soaker hose, if needed.

What’s Out There

The market is overflowing (sorry) with rain barrels.  I’ve seen them at Whole Foods, standing out front looking green and ecological.  Predictably, they are very expensive and they apparently come with none of the downspout diverters, filters, and attachments I need.

Amazon.com is full of rain barrels as well.  We recently became Amazon Choice members, which enables us to order merchandize at inflated prices (yes, even higher than many other current selections!) and pay no shipping costs, thereby fooling ourselves into thinking we’re getting a great deal.  This does pay off on heavy or bulky items, so ordering a rain barrel from them might be feasible.  But the selections!  And the reviews!  Here’s a doozy:

lump of plastic

The Lump O’ Plastic, which is described as having a “realistic rock shape.”  As you can see it’s just about a realistic as all those other pseudo-rock shapes on the market, the ones that are designed to hide “unsightly” things like water meters in your yard by covering them over with absurd plastic globs.  Even if it did look realistic, it would only make your friends and neighbors wonder why you had a giant rock leaning against your house and why your downspout drained into it.  Note the spigot, which is about high enough to fill a teacup from.  See the tiny hole (design afterthought) in the top front, presumably to prevent suction problems.  Mosquitos actually are clever enough to enter that hole.  Where’s the filter?  The user obviously has to cut her drainpipe to go in the top – so what happens in the winter?  Here’s what one purchaser had to say about it:

“The rock shape looks fine, but the spout for the spigot was plastic, they used so much glue it looked really terrible. The box was all torn, came in one piece and do understand it may be hard to use.
Also the spout thread was partially damaged so not sure if it was a returned item sent to me. so it didn't help that the rock was a little flimsy so it was hard to turn the spigot in there. I wished they had done it for me. As much as I said that, there was so much shaving it filled the spigot and couldn't figure out why I was only getting drips.
it's okay.”

Ignoring all the errors in punctuation and syntax (one must or one will go blind with apoplexy), I wonder why the reviewer concluded that “it’s okay.”  Does he or she expect to receive faulty merchandise?  And even with these issues, the product was given a three out of five stars by this reviewer.  Still, he or she is calling the product “the rock,” so I guess it must look a lot more realistic than it does online. 

Here’s another totally silly rain barrel, along with the official product description:


“The top is the only of its kind that acts as a planter space and also self-drains when excess water is present. There is also a channel built into the rim, which diverts overflowing water to the front and away from the barrel and home foundation. You can have peace of mind that you're helping the environment by conserving water and giving your garden the best water it can get, devoid of harsh chemicals and rich in nutrients.”


In the first place, no one needs a planter on top of their rain barrel.  In the second, what about all that dirty water that drains from the planter into the barrel?  Also, how will I water those plants?  I sure can’t get a watering can under that nozzle.  And where is the filter?

The “overflow” (see that lip at the top front?) is pathetic.  Judging from the description, the water in the barrel rises to the top, soaks the heck out of that poor sad plant, and then gushes out of the lip onto the soil in front of the barrel, about a foot and a half away from the foundation.  Wouldn’t take much time for the overflow to gouge a canyon in front of the water barrel, and the entire front of it would be covered in splashed mud from day one.  Also, the same problem with winterizing – I’d be left with a dangling, sawed-off downspout.  Lovely.  At least it’s only around $100.  What a deal.

The worst part for me, in many ways, was that the manufacturers claim rainwater is “rich in nutrients.”  Rainwater contains no nutrients at all, and if they don’t know that they are incredibly ignorant about their own product. 

What’s Wrong Here?

All of the products offered on Amazon – as well as the ones I’ve seen in stores – have at least some of the flaws I’ve noted above:  they don’t provide adequately for filtration, overflow, or winterization, and in most cases you can’t fill a watering can from them if installed at ground level, which is the height at which all these rain barrels are displayed.

Rain barrels look pretty at ground level.  However, a decent-sized rain barrel can weigh over 500 pounds when it’s full, so it needs a very stable foundation.  It also needs elevation – not only so a watering can is able to fit beneath the spigot, but in case a person wants to attach a soaker hose.  The higher the elevation, the greater the water pressure at the spigot. 

All of these commercial barrels are designed for one purpose - to get people to buy them.  Whether the consumer is happy afterward, whether they work properly, whether they do the job in the most efficient way, is obviously not something these manufacturers are concerned with.  Their designs (and descriptions) make it clear that, although they do understand profit, they don’t understand rain barrels.  Or drainage.  Or rain.  Or winter freezing.  And so on.

So Here We Go

A couple of years ago I was noodling around online and I found a small local company that installs rain barrels, cisterns, etc.  It seemed like a very good idea to me and I called them and had a chat.  I then filed them away in my memory banks (unreliable at my age).  Recently, when we stopped drinking city water, I thought of this company again.  I asked them to come out for a consult, and I was pleased with the professionalism of the owner. 

All of the items on my list were answered well and fully.  I was impressed with everything I was told. 

The estimate was higher than I thought it would be, but estimates always are.  The total, as it turned out, was exactly what it should have been if I’d bothered to sit down and add up the costs of the individual items, as detailed on the company’s website.  

I suffer from endless “checkout shock” in stores, even though I make rough additions as I’m shopping.  My stress in regard to spending money - especially large chunks of it at one time - no doubt comes from those decades of my life when I didn’t know where next month’s rent was coming from.  I also grew up with a mother who squeezed pennies so hard that Lincoln screamed.  I’m too old now to ever get over my anxiety about lincolnspending money, even though I periodically try to heal myself by buying lots of stuff (aversion therapy). I take no enjoyment in spending money.  I do not like to shop.  But I keep trying, because I’m not a quitter.

So now we’re in a holding pattern.  I have some secondary questions and I’m waiting for answers in e-mail.  When I get them, assuming they’re satisfactory (I’m pretty sure they will be) I’ll schedule the installation of three large rain barrels, two with soaker hoses.  There are also separate downspout filters that trap debris before it enters the barrel, as well as various screens inside the barrel and at the point where the soaker hoses leave.  These are much more permeable than regular soaker hoses, to accommodate the barrel’s lower water pressure, and their lengths have been calculated scientifically.  The barrels will be on two-foot platforms of concrete blocks, and a watering can will easily fit under the spigot.  Winterizing will be a breeze. 

Very excited here, feeling greener.  Updates to follow. 


*When we found our current dentist, I told him that I would allow no fluoride in my mouth.  He needed to know this in regard to cleanings and other proposed treatments.  He reacted with astonishment and ridicule.  “Don’t you know it’s good for you?” he asked.  No sir, I don’t.  What I do know (and so should you, Mr. Tooth Man, because it’s well within your field of supposed expertise) is most other developed nations, including all of the EU, have banned fluoride in their water because it is a poison.  In addition, no study has ever shown fluoride to be of the least use in preventing cavities.  In air and in the soil, fluoride is identified as a toxic substance.  Anyone who wants more information can find it quite easily online.  Anyone but my dentist, that is. 

FOLLOWUP, April 28, 2014

The rain barrels will not be installed.  I waited over a week for Rainboy to answer some routine followup questions I’d sent via email.  When he finally answered me he was unapologetic and his answers were nonsensical.  I’d wondered if he’d allowed for enough soaker hose to cover a certain section of garden.  He asked whether I wanted to water every part of the garden!  He also said he had assumed all the plants that would be there eventually were visible.  This in the beginning of April.  Clearly he is a moron, and I try to not do business with morons.  So that’s off the table.  On to the next thing.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Free Vera


This is my latest piece.  When I first saw this photo I was struck by the intensity of Vera’s focus and her incredible beauty.  I want her hair.  See more in the art gallery (top right of this page). 



Title: Mug shot of Vera Crichton, 21 February 1924, probably Central Police Station, Sydney.

New South Wales. Police Dept.

February 1924

Special Photograph no. 1094. Vera Crichton, 23, and Nancy Cowman, 19, are listed in the NSW Police Gazette 24 March 1924 as charged, along with three others, with "conspiring together to procure a miscarriage" on a third woman. Crichton was "bound over to appear for sentence if called upon within three years.”

Whatever “conspiring together to procure a miscarriage” means in real terms (and why did it require five people?), Vera was released on probation.  She certainly doesn’t look like someone who has been mishandled in any way.  What I see in Vera’s eyes is her determination to keep doing what she feels to be right.

What happened to Vera?  I haven’t been able to find out.  Maybe she walked out of court and was kicked in the head by a horse.  Perhaps she went home to her husband and had five children in quick succession, ending up fat and content, or mean and bitter.  Or she went to school to become a train conductor.  The only thing we know for certain is that in those few moments when the photo was developing, Vera became immortal.


This piece needed a lot of working to get it right.  I went over the cradled birch substrate with a glaze of burnt umber paint until I was satisfied with the tone.  Then I glued down some pieces of muslin that had remnants of plaster and other substances on them.  I tie-died one piece of the muslin (lower left) with undiluted walnut ink.  I wrote a word under the muslin at top left, leaving part of it uncovered.  Later I rubbed on another word (middle left) and then sanded it most of the way off.  Throughout I used walnut ink in various dilutions to add to the patina. 

Vera had to be the star of the show.  I emphasized her photo with underlay (thin corrugated scrap) and overlay (wire mesh).  Her photo was sealed with a high gloss application to give her more emphasis.  I gave her a prison number. 

The challenge for me was to keep this simple, to keep Vera in focus.  At various times I auditioned other items in the relatively empty spaces – a key, a tag, a phrase from an old journal.  I left these items on for hours, sometimes overnight, so I could examine the piece from all angles.  What I found was that with each addition the piece immediately became jangly and disoriented.  I needed to reflect the certainty and serenity I saw in Vera, so in the end the only other item was a narrow raw wooden dowel at the bottom of the frame. 

To further enclose Vera and point to her face, I applied estrips of black-and-tan paper (from a striped Designer Shoe Warehouse bag) around the front edges of the substrate.  The spacing of the stripes didn’t work out exactly on the frame, but the end result is fine.  I found this to be too glaring, so I toned it down by covering it with the brown deli tissue paper I liberate from Whole Foods with every muffin purchase (their inflated prices more than cover this tiny loss).  This tissue paper tears well, and yet dries to near transparency.  Of course matte Mod-Podge was the medium. 

On the sides of the frame I finally used some vintage twill tape I’d been hoarding.  I cut it exactly to length, but when it dried (Mod-Podge again) it shrunk, leaving a tiny gap at the top.  That’s fine with me. 

I’m very pleased with Free Vera.  It ended up saying exactly what I wanted it to.  I am intent on simplification.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Welcome to the New Sprockets Inside

sign aSprockets International is gone.  I worked for them for many years, and I’m not sorry to see them go.  I am sad about the massive loss of life, but it was their own fault. 

We’ve all seen the photos.  What optimists used to call “Green City” is now a radioactive wasteland that can only be photographed from space.  The explosion of view from space aSI headquarters opened fifteen new volcanoes, caused many earthquakes and tsunamis, and flipped the Earth’s axis.  Those idiots never did follow basic safety precautions, despite all their finicky little rules.  I suffered second-degree radiation burns myself, but I’m mending pretty well and my childbearing years are far behind me, anyway. 

me aThis is me, if I were a few decades younger and brunette with a twisted neck.  As you know, I worked as SI’s chief artist.  Actually their only artist.  Since SI is gone, finis, caput, toast, from today on this blog has nothing to do with their maniacal soul-destroying plans to conquer the known universe.  I’m in charge now, and if history teaches us anything it is that I’m occasionally harsh but always fair.  Or is it the other way around?  You will also find some of my old friends here.  I’ll reintroduce them in a future post.

I’m cleaning up this site.  It’s always been a dreary place, and I’m putting an end to that.  You’ll notice the banner has changed.  I’ll be making other adjustments to reflect my point of view.  I hope to be upbeat, but I may whine from time to time. 

Please bear with me during the adjustment period.  And if you are a former employee of SI who survived the explosion, good luck with that job search!  Someone out there must need five thousand capillary zygote refill technicians. 

               out with the old a