Saturday, July 20, 2002

Pool Clean Up

We finally made it to the 'clean up' phase of pool construction. The results pale in comparison with my heightened anticipation. I envisioned a more thorough clearing of the loose concrete and I certainly did not anticipate that they would leave behind hunks of dry board, especially not attached to the exterior pool walls. But there are 2 points that are truly sub par: They were foiled in their attempt to bury concrete and trash in the trenches they came to back fill, and they only minimally back filled, without compacting the soil. Both of these points reflect poor work ethic and very bad grading practices. Bone heads. Shall we specify that this is "Mission Pools" we have hired? No doubt they are 'better' than other companies, but they are consistently only as good as they have to be or as they are forced to be. This means that come Monday morning, I will have to call them on these points and then hear that 'it's standard practice,' or 'don't worry...we've built thousands of pools.' As though thousands of bad jobs justifies one more substandard accomplishment. Argghhh.

Deep breath...and release.

Landscaping is no less messy, but far more productive and skillfully executed. And all accomplished without baby sitting the workers. Excellent. Our home is large, and it is single story, so the footprint occupies significant area. Therefore the area surrounding the house that requires, drainage, irrigation, grading and green things that grow, is quite huge. Hugemongous, even. The network of plumbing and wires, valves and conduit is even huger. More huger. We are talking about a lot of work, and orchestration, and materials, and cold Pepsi.

The other night, as I was chatting with the 2 Leon brothers, the drainage pipes on either side of me reverberated, with laughter and banter bouncing through the pipes across the yard. The drainage system is a poor man's intercom, with connections throughout the yard, and even in to the neighbor's property, where it meets with their ditch. Advancements in telecommunications abound; they are all around us. But our 'home internet' provided more hours of entertainment, for young and old, than anything we've checked out in a long time. Max's stunned delight, when a pipe 'talked' to him, was perfect. He declared, happily, that "It's magi-coal!" We played a game of haunted "pipe-aphone," and John and Ann, the neighbors, gave us a call from their place. We can talk from any place in the yard, even down to the street. Very fun.

Wednesday, July 17, 2002

Fiesta Update #4

Fiesta Update #1
Fiesta Update #2
Fiesta Update #3

Actually there is nothing to update. No one has called or emailed, with questions or suggestions. Nothing in the plans have changed. The dates, locations and cause remain the same. We are in a static state; bodies at rest, in equilibrium.

I hadn't started a party count down, but it has occurred to me that we are a mere 3 weeks from the day in question. Boy, did my stomach lurch. I suppose a hostess shouldn't confess panic, but I am proven unconvential and have come to terms with it, so 'no shame.' Also, I was not alone in my sudden fear. Grandma and I looked around, assessing damage, and estimating work load. It was the birthday woman herself who suggested we call it off! We laughed and surmised that it isn't too late to send off pretty little post cards that simply read "Never mind," or "Eunice is 80, and wiser. The party is canceled." All in jest.

We want you to come. Honest. We are looking forward to laughing and talking, dancing, and being surrounded by people we love. We want to eat cake and serve wine, and take pictures, and point out the unfinished pool. Max says he wants to play Loteria at Grandma's party. Alex is concerned that we haven't chosen a 'theme,' or picked up a pinata. I guess we all have our visions for what the day will hold.

My thought is that we'll gather, everyone traveling safely, and in joy we will celebrate the life a woman most cherished. Eunice is my ideal of a Christian woman, a sincere woman, mother, and dedicated wife. She is appreciative and kind. She nurtures every stem, and each bud in her garden. She is wise, but never a condescending or harsh judge. She reads. She reads a lot. She has the ability to reveal the little girl that still breathes in her soul; the imaginative, hopeful, expectant child. Grandmother is humble, modest and yet with the strength to persevere and make the best of any situation. I think we have all been touched, at one time or another, by her steadfast kindness, her generosity, her delicious cooking, or by the depth of her emotions, the sincerity of her being, the warmth of her smile. We will celebrate her life and we can celebrate the gathering of people whose lives are blessed and enhanced by her presence.

Tuesday, July 16, 2002

Telling The Truth

My revelational confession about our garage was somewhat censored. My mother read most of it in an email, and delicately pointed out that my anonymity was compromised, since we were using Chicken Blog for party updates. "What will the family think when they read this?" I did somewhat implicate someone in one part. She wondered if I wanted to air such personal stuff, and I guess it's really only okay to admit 'awful' things if they are about yourself...or if you give the guilty person a large floppy hat and a new name. So, I deleted a few lines, and moved on. No stepping on toes, unless they are my own. I will strive to respect everyone's dignity, except perhaps my own...

Last week our friends shared gold fish with us. Linda's favorite fish was about to give birth, and she wanted her to have some peace from all the other fish. So guests to her pool gathering were offered Ziplock baggies with 2 or 3 healthy, bright gold fish. Max was so enamored, he insisted they were his exclusive fish and told anyone who would listen, "I'll take the fish, but I won't eat them." Linda was so sweet, and repeated several times "I just know they're going to a good home. I'm so glad." Like an omen.

The road home is winding, long. Max hugged the cereal bowl (Next week: "Dirty Truck-A Mother's Helper") that held his bag of fish. We talked about the aquarium, somewhere in the garage, and how happy the fish would be in their new home. Max squeezed the bowl tighter, "No. My fish will live here. You'll never, ever take them from me." Somewhere between his last statement and the next curve in the road, the bag popped out of the bowl and slid between his seat and the rear passenger door. "Oh my God!" screamed William. "Poor fishies," sighed Alex. "Uh-oh," said Max. I pulled over, clicked on the hazard lights, and slowly opened Max's door. The bag slid down and into my hands. Max agreed that Alex should hold the fish the rest of the way, reminding him, harshly, "They're still mine though. Okay Alex?!" The fish looked shaken.

By the time we pulled into our driveway, Max was asleep, all 50 pounds of him. I carried him in, and then some bags. I called the boys back to bring in their wet towels, and reminded them to hang them on the shower stall. "Spread the towel out, don't bunch it all soggy and stinky." I went back to Max and changed his diaper. I checked messages on the phone and chatted with Grandma. I looked down, on the kitchen counter was the bowl, and in the bowl was a deflated, sad bag of listless fish.

I ran to the garage and found our 'just in case water' and hurried back to the kitchen. I poured the fish into a large glass bowl and began to stream cool, distilled water over their heated little fishy heads. Fish number 1 swam, a real oxygen hog, I supposed. Fish number 2 tilted side to side and only swam in slow circles. Not good. Fish number 3 was dead. It was on its side and had glazed fish market eyes. William stood behind me, "Oh, boy," he sympathized. I asked him if Alex was 'in the playroom,' and he said 'yes.' I thought this was good, and asked William to keep this morbid scene to himself.

Then #3 gaped. Not dead, but very nearly dead. I thought about mouth to mouth; gag. Then I considered CGR-cardio-gill-resuscitation. I grabbed him between my two fingers and gently squeezed. 1-2, 1-2, 1-2, just like ER! I do not pray for things. I pray in thanks, but rarely for favors and I didn't think I should break this habit pleading for a gold fish. So I talked the little guy through it: "Breathe. Breathe! 1-2, 1-2, 1-2!" I swirled the bowl and encouraged the fish's body to be stimulated by the motion of the water. #2 seemed to appreciate all the fresh water and he swam more intently than before. I was still hearing Linda's remarks about the 'good home, and how glad she was.' And I thought about the ridiculous lengths I was willing to go for a fish. At this point it seemed as merciful to just plant him in the zucchini patch as to go another round of swimming lessons and rehabilitative therapy. But now William was hopeful, and encouraging, and laughing. We were both laughing.

It may have been a sorry start, and I felt really bad about subjecting Linda's fish to so much peril and trauma. But maybe this is a good home. All three fish are swimming vigorously in their aquarium, on the counter, in the kitchen. They have lovely eastern views of the hills and orchards across the valley. There has been no lasting damage to any of the fish; full recovery for all. They eat heartily, and Max is still deciding on names. And the whole family can read about this; the dirty truck, the carelessness, the panic, the tense moments. In the end, it is a story about hope and recovery, and sometimes these things can be won at an embarrassing price.

William's favorite quote, he reminds me, is "A little nonsense now and then is relished by the wisest men." And by moms too, I might add.

When the Workers Leave...

A rather perplexing thought has been dawning on me; our lives will be quiet, even dull, perhaps, when all the work is done. No more heavy equipment rolling up the driveway, no more speculation about dynamite versus Butanimite, or jack hammers splitting the airwaves. The trenches will be backfilled and carpeted with green grass, and the aluminum cans, pvc cuts, duct tape scraps and other refuse that has been accumulating will be swept up and hauled away with all the empty cement sacks, irrigation cases, and doughnut boxes. There won't be any more trucks, radios playing, sitting in the driveway. No more whistling, singing or smoking men walking by the bedroom windows at 6:00 a.m..

I have grown accustomed to looking out any window and finding activity, progress, work. We watch from the breakfast table, and peek from the laundry room. We know the rumble and grind from the Ditch Witch, the steady pounding of pick axes knocking at the still hardpacked ground. We mark each by day by the regular progress made by the landscaping crew, or by anticipating the arrival of the new crew that will come to add their part to the pool.

The day the gunite team worked was particularly fascinating. Antonio, quiet and modest, was the nozzle man. He managed and tamed the powerful hose and nozzle that jet forth the cement formula that gave our pool its shape and form. The force from the pump and the weight of the hose full of concrete was explosive and everyone would pause to watch Antonio leaning forward, steadily, with every blast of gunite. He laid the gunite on like frosting on cake, calm and confident. The other men followed closely behind and fine tuned his work. They cut away, measured, leveled and cut again, until stairs took shape and walls were defined. They smoothed the gunite, and laughed, occasionally, and called for more water or exchanged remarks about the heat, the cure time, the dance in Tijuana. And now they're gone. They left in their trucks. Some were picked up, by family or friends, at the bottem of the driveway. They left without glancing back. It was just another day, another job.

Soon, they'll all leave for the last time. The trees will be standing, taking root. The feijoa guava shrubs will be around the house, with cape mallow between them. The pool will reflect the clear blue sky, and billowy white clouds, in the shape of a Lego, as we've described it for Max. The driveway will be lined with grapes on the fence and fruit trees in the side strip, and the only sounds at 6:00a.m. will be the soft click and whirr of the sprinklers on the slope, birds calling, the cats purring drowsily. It's hard to imagine, even somewhat unsettling. It will be something to grow accustomed to.

Sunday, July 14, 2002


Beans are for breakfast. And lunch. A bowl of pintos, hot and seasoned with garlic, salt and black pepper, sitting in their own broth, and sprinkled with queso seco, is good. A toasted, fresh tortilla makes the beans better. Good beans are good any time.

A clean home, with Pine Sol scrubbed floors, and rain pouring outside, is inviting. A home with a pot of beans, simmering, and steaming the window, while rain spatters the porch and cleans the garden, is nurturing and good. When someone is there, in the clean home and waiting to love you, then the world is a safe place. The curtains are pushed aside, so the water streaming down the windows and the trees dripping on the grass can be appreciated.

Sort the beans. Each handful of beans may include small stones, sand or seeds, or a moth deceased and dusty. Keep the smooth, hard, plump pinto beans and discard the rest. Rinse the beans. Pour water over the beans and swirl them, and move your hands through them. They are little bumps, beads. Throw out the clouded water. Repeat.

In your best pot, the heavy one, put your beans and cover them with water, and let them simmer, simmer, soften and simmer. Watch the steam, the condensation, the gentle bubbles, the beans rolling. Add water. Keep the beans dancing and rolling.

Mop the floor with hot water and Pine Sol. Clear the table, and make the beds. Change the litter box. Bring in flowers from the garden. Put on music; Tino Rossi, Libertad Lamarque, Nat King Cole. Open all the curtains and wait for the rain.

Chop a white onion, water streaming from the faucet, keeping tears at bay. And garlic. Crush the garlic between your fingers. Absorb the garlic. Prepare a lot of garlic, and maybe a little chile, a green pepper. Heat olive oil, and saute the onions. Breath deeply, then add the garlic and peppers. Be barefooted and dance, while you cook. Dance on the clean floors. Add the peppers, onions and garlic to the pot of bubbling, soft beans.

Salt, black pepper, a few oregano leaves, very few, rubbed between your palms, sprinkled in to the pot of beans. Taste and season. Wait. Repeat. More salt. Or fresh cilantro, or crushed red pepper seeds or nothing.

Remember the beans you've had before. Remember the cooks who have loved you before. And listen to the rain, and remember the people who waited to love you, when you were a child, coming home in the rain, to a home that was clean, and a bowl full of beans, sprinkled with cheese and served with a tortilla.

Prepare with love. Serve hot.