Am I Falling Apart?

Hmm, haven’t whined about things that aren’t really earth-shattering lately. I’ll fix that. And I’ll share random photos, because I don’t have a theme.

Distraction! These darling little guys are Inca doves. They hang out near our carport at the Hermit Haus.

Generally, I’m a pretty healthy person. I have the occasional ache or pain, thanks to having been alive for so many trips around the sun, but really, I’m pretty good. Even the doctor said I was healthy “for someone your age.”

Unhappy left hand.

I’m wondering, though, if perhaps dealing with the undercurrent of stress for the past couple of months is starting to take its toll on my physically. It’s nothing major, but a lot of my former stress-related physical symptoms have been quietly manifesting themselves.

For example, I have started to get these very itchy little fluid-filled bumps all over my hands and arms. I used to get them a LOT when I was in college, especially during the summers when I spent 8 hours a day sanding pieces of fiberglass (printed circuit boards) by hand, or breathing chemicals that plated metal to said pieces of fiberglass. Guess who had no mask or gloves? Me.

Unhappy right hand. Also with dewberry scratches.

I thought it was bits of fiberglass getting under my skin, but as I got older, I realized I broke out when dealing with long-term stress (bad relationships, bad jobs, deaths in the family, divorces). Here they are today, itching like mad.

And I suddenly can’t walk right! Out of the blue, when I was walking home from feeding the horses, my left foot began to hurt with every step. It feels like I strained a tendon or something. I kept waiting for it to go away all evening, but nope, it’s still hurting. This is NOT the foot upon which the large light fixture landed earlier in the week. That bruise is not bad. But, what the heck, I didn’t trip, fall, drop something…nothing.

Perhaps it’s the non-matching shoe/sock combo? But these shoes are the kindest ones to my feet.

And then there’s the twitching. My eye has been twitching since February, so I guess it’s not a virus issue. I think it has been the underlying stress from starting a new company and worrying about the company I already work for (I was really worried my boss would lose his job, with good reason). Eye twitches are so annoying. It feels like everyone on earth can SEE them, even though as far as I can tell, they can’t.

Distraction! this cool lizard lives in the wildflower bed.

One symptom I’m not having, thanks to my friends the anti-anxiety meds, is what used to be constant for me, which was a really strong tingling going down the back of my neck. It used to be worse when dealing with certain friends and family members, but hardly went away at all during the 80s and early 90s. Yay, I’m cured. Now my neck just stays tense. I miss the chiropractor!

Look who’s fitting right into our household! Gracie Lou is not intimidated by Penney.

I guess I should be glad I don’t have the symptom so many of my family have had, which is horrible digestive issues. (I only have MILD ones, thanks to all my probiotics, I guess.) And I’m not getting bad headaches, which is good. And of course I’d rather have annoying stress symptoms than get put on a ventilator or have a stroke, like people with COVID-19 have.

Distraction! Light fixtures I sorta helped Chris put together while we wait for the electricians to show up.

What’s going on with you? Any weird symptoms out of nowhere? Do you also have dozens of mosquito bites on your feet, because you were helping someone put together light fixtures while wearing sandals? (That’s another reason why I am wearing shoes and socks: scratching prevention.)

TMI? Hey, that’s how I roll.

Book Report: A Hundred Suns

I gobbled up this novel, which I found via my usual method of discovering books, an interview on NPR (National Public Radio in the US). I figure anything Scott Simon likes, I’ll like. I encourage you to read or listen to the interview about A Hundred Suns, with the author, Karin Tanabe.

Nice font on that title, huh?

Tanabe is known for writing historical novels, and this one’s about Vietnam before it was Vietnam, in the 1930s when it was still French Indochina. It’s a period and place I’m interested in and wanted to learn more about, so why not learn history through a novel (it’s how I learned when I was young; those novels about Queen Elizabeth I sure were more interesting than history books, even if they weren’t 100% accurate; after all, neither are history books).

There is so much to like about the book, and I especially liked how each and every character in the book (French people, Americans, and Annamites (what Vietnamese people were called then)) had a fully developed personality. Like real people, each of them had admirable aspects and made plenty of mistakes. Each had prejudices but learned not to be so confident. You end up empathizing with each major character, even though they do some pretty icky things.

Ah, let us pause to enjoy some sedge seeds with curly tendrils. Also enjoy my lack of nails. I miss certain Vietnamese friends, who happen to also do my nails, a lot.

Tanabe, of course, weaves a lot of history into the narrative. You get to see the country from the eyes of the French colonists (ooh, la la, they were fancy), local people who tried to assimilate into French society, wealthy communist sympathizers, grass-roots communists, and of course, random mercenaries. I found it easier to understand the Vietnamese point of view on communism from this book than I did in books I read when I was younger, which all took the capitalist viewpoint exclusively (one character in the book was like me, neither colonial nor communist nor really capitalist…just wanting the best for everyone).

One thing I really liked about the book is how Tanabe portrays relationships between people of different cultures and races. As someone who’s enjoyed being close to Asians in the past and remembers how people STILL looked askance at it in the 1980s, I appreciated how the relationship between the characters Marcelle and Khoi in the 1930s was depicted. I’m so glad that people are much freer to love whoever they want to now.

I actually liked how she portrayed all relationships. She made arranged marriages make more sense, yet showed that both friendship and true love that can grow and change as people mature, as well. Here’s my favorite quote, from Khoi, the rich and handsome silk merchant, talking about two friends:

“We are not perfect people, you and I,” he said, “No one is. Even Anne-Marie and Sinh. I know we hold him up on a pedestal now, but he wasn’t perfect. We all have moments of weakness, of strength, of stupidity. But if we’re lucky, we’ll have even more moments of love.”

A Hundred Suns, page 340.

There were a couple of things that bugged me about the writing style of Tanabe. Sometimes she gets a little didactic and seems to be giving a history lesson rather than letting it come out through the characters. But, there IS a lot of historical context about rubber plantations and such to get through.

And she has a writing style that sometimes bothers me, where at the end of any utterance she inserts some bit of physical description of the character’s eyes, or skin, or something. I have no idea why that style annoys me, but it always seems like the author couldn’t find any other way to add these details, so they get stuck into the dialogue. And I always wonder if whether someone’s skin is tanned or not matters to the story (in this case, I’ll assume the main character’s deepening tan symbolizes her growing understanding of the Asian culture she finds herself immersed in).

Shoot, I’ve totally forgotten to say what the book’s plot has to do with. You see, there’s a nice social-climbing American woman named Jessie who gets her wealthy family sent to Indochine to escape her past. They are a part of the Michelin family, and the husband wanted to do more with tires and rubber and less with writing tour guides. Jessie meets up with locals, both French and Annamite, deals with her servants (fascinating in their own right), travels through the country, and gets drawn into intrigue as she begins to doubt her sanity. Mayhem ensues.

Wow, can I summarize a book, or what? Anyway, I’d say A Hundred Suns is worth getting a hold of. It will take your mind off the present, and you’ll get to meet a lot of fascinating people in an interesting historical context. You might as well learn something!

Look Up! Shiny Stuff!

A real highlight of the Pope project is finally getting to install the tin ceiling tiles. They are pretty awe-inspiring, if you ask me, and I guess I matter on this topic!

It should be less shiny when the light fixtures are up.

The main hallway is complete and ready for the light fixtures to get installed tomorrow and the final crowning touch (literally) the crown molding to go up.

That’s the sample crown molding.

This is gonna be one fancy hallway, that’s for sure.

Going down to Lee’s office.

We ended up not having enough tin to do the bathrooms, which was a disappointment. The consensus is that we will order another box of the tiles to finish off the bathroom in my office, while we will to the main bathroom in the beadboard we used in the second-floor ceiling.

The bathroom has all the important parts done, where the light and vent will be. The rest will wait until more in arrives.

I think Chris just secretly wants to put more of that light blue color on surfaces.

This is the real masterpiece of craftsmanship, where the ceiling takes a job at the stairway.

Today Chris went to Temple and bought a LOT of light bulbs, so that when the electricians come tomorrow, all the fancy lighting can get installed and look pretty. That will be another milestone! We’re going to get all-new LED ones for the recycled fixtures going in the stairway, because we think changing them will be a pain.

These fixtures were originally right in the room where they are now, but we’ll have them lighting the stairs. We are going to add covers over the exposed bulb holders, which we will recycle from another fixture. We don’t know where the ones that SHOULD be here went.

Actually, cleaning them was a pain, literally, because as I was cleaning one of them, the rope that was holding it so it would hang from the carport gave way and the big ole hunk of glass and metal whacked into my left hand and right foot.

Before and after. The dirty one is the one that attacked me.

But I saved the fixture! Nothing broke on me, either. I just have some bruising and scratches, to go with my dewberry and dog scratches. I think they make me look tough, and I’m sticking with that story!

Crawling Away from Negativity: The Positivity Challenge

This topic did not come from me; rather it came from a very enjoyable email newsletter I read every day, which you might also like. It’s called The Well-Tended Life, and it’s by Kerri Wilt, a motivational speaker-type person.

I don’t wanna!

Kerri talks about how much the current times have been weighing everyone down, herself included. I know my friends and family are weighed down.

For example, my Cameron Breakfast Club friends, who now meet on Zoom, spent a lot of time today trying to figure out some way to see each other in person without it making any of us uncomfortable. We all have slightly different levels of comfort with social distancing and staying safe, it became clear. After talking about what the library will do, what restaurants may do, and where germs lurk in public spaces, the best we could come up with is sitting around a fire circle on private land, with our chairs at least 10 feet apart. I guess some yelling might be involved?

I truly want this thing. And it can be social-distancing compatible, right?

Now, this came from a pretty darned positive bunch of intelligent women who are lucky enough to be able to shelter in place and stay safe that way. I can only imagine the frustrations of people who don’t have the options to isolate (large families, cramped houses, people who work in essential places like groceries and drug stores, health-care workers)…the negativity seems pretty justified.

These ARE hard times and we DO all have a variety of responses and a variety of feelings about the best way forward. It is simply a complicated issue from a an practically unimaginable number of totally legitimate perspectives.

Gratuitous cute dog picture to help you feel better.

Nonetheless, I firmly believe that it can help us deal with our own stress and frustration by some positive reframing. Rather than rephrase, I’d like to share what Kerri Wilt said in her email (here’s a link to the whole message).

Some Ideas To Combat the Negative Narrative Virus:

-Challenge yourself to begin ALL conversations with a positive statement. Chat first about the good things that are happening all around you. 

-Try to curb your use of words like: crazy, hate, sucks, and ridiculous. Having trouble breaking the habit? Then take it a step further and create a “corona curse” jar that collects a dollar from anyone who uses these negative words. 

-Consider even renaming this time we are in, by calling it a time of high adventure, excitement, exploration, reflection, or reinvention. Or begin referring to it instead as an awesome opportunity for community, for family, for fresh starts, and even for fun.

-And for goodness sakes…SMILE when you come in contact with people. Your face may be the only positive thing they see all day, so make it count! 

smiling suna in a mask
Hmm, maybe you can’t tell people are smiling while wearing masks, after all.

And on that last one, you CAN tell people are smiling when they are wearing masks, so don’t let that stop you!

My favorite idea is to call this a time for reinvention. It certainly IS that. Finding creative solutions to meet our needs, like the Breakfast Club friends did today, is one kind of reinvention. Our newfound drive to tell people we love how we feel NOW, as my friend Nancy did with me on the phone earlier today, that’s another “awesome opportunity” we can all engage in. My letters I’ve been writing to random friends and family (slowly but surely) are another way to build community that I wouldn’t have done otherwise.

This stationery is just waiting for me to write a note on it. Dang work meetings keep slowing me down.

Take your mind off your worries, even for a little while, and think of things and people you love. Do something for someone or make your environment a little better. This way, we absolutely WILL have some fond memories of this time, along with the other stuff, which we can’t deny or make go away through forced perkiness. I’m not recommending forced perkiness, just noticing the opportunities as well as the challenges.

What the heck? It’s a green oak-slug moth! I would not have seen it if I hadn’t been sitting in the carport at work doing a phone call.
If it weren’t for the pandemic, Vlassic wouldn’t have met his new buddy, my brother-in-law, Jim, with the RV that’s safe from mean ole Penney.

One more thing, read inspiring content, not just doom, gloom, name-calling and arguing. Here’s where to sign up for Kerri’s newsletter, by the way. And don’t forget Nataly of Happier Now! Her emails have helped me, too.

Let me know what’s been uplifting for you, what’s helped you reframe this time to be something with both positive and negative aspects, or any other news you’d like to share. Staying in touch with our virtual friends counts as community building, doesn’t it?

Can I Go Home Yet? It’s Organized There.

Darn it.

Just a quick hello between emails. Today is really a Monday, with issues piling in from every which way at work. I’ve only been at my desk an hour and I’m ready to go back to the ranch.

Speaking of which, while we were all taking a day off yesterday and I was making things out of dewberries, we also did a bunch of organizing.

Our neighbors at Wild Type Ranch just delivered a quarter of a cow’s worth of meat (and it was one of the fancy neighbor cows, mmm). That meant it was time to re-arrange the freezers. We dug into that with gusto.

Ground beef, sausage, and staples.

Now there are separate areas for beef, pork, chicken, veal, and venison (all from around here except chicken). We should be able to find things!

Meat and meat products. All veggies are in the freezer in the refrigerator or the garage.

Since she was already in organizational mode, Kathleen then turned to the spice rack, which now can be used much better. She put all the big things of spices, especially the “Aw Shit” series that the guys love to smother every piece of meat we eat with, in a different cabinet. All can be seen now.

The Shit series, and many, many spray cans of PAM. Lee loves it.

And THEN she went ahead and rearranged all the pantry items as well. We didn’t lose as much stuff to bugs as I thought. I hate pantry moths with a passion. They are one of the few things I can honestly say I cannot stand.

But, now we can see everything, some old stuff is gone, and we founds some things that we think my sister will be able to enjoy, so we can share some of our freezer bounty.

I am gonna label the tops of these jars.

Mostly there were a lot of dewberries. More of that is to come!

Dewberry Time, 2020

We had tons of dewberries in 2018. We froze enough to make jam, which I’ve still not done. Luckily Kathleen knows how.

Dewberries are our native berry.

Last year, there weren’t any. I guess it’s cyclical. This is another good year, though. Kathleen and I picked enough for a cobbler last week. This week I picked a lot!

Just some of my haul.

My faithful companion, Vlassic, tried to help out, but the plants were way taller than him. I saw one mouse and one small snake, which isn’t bad, considering how deep in the wild area I went.

I can’t see any berries, Mom.

So, today is dewberry day. I first made dewberry walnut bread. It didn’t rise much.

Fresh berry bread.

However, it’s quite tasty, and Lee and Chris have already finished one loaf. That’s a good sign.

They ate it!

Next, while Kathleen rearranged the pantries, I made a pound cake for Chris’s birthday cake. That used up lots of our eggs, which is good. Nice eggs from Ginger and Berta Lee!

This should be good

To go with the cake, I made a dewberry sauce. Mmm. I tasted it. It’s quite bright!

It looks better in jars.

The rest will be jelly or jam. Kathleen has the equipment. That’s for later in the week. We still have two huge bags!

What could be better than sugar and berries?
The finished product, pound cake with dewberry sauce. It was good with ice cream!

Carlton the Dogman-niversay

My memories on Facebook told me that it was two years ago today that I brought a little white dog home to be my buddy and go back and forth to Austin with me.

I’m skinny and squinty.

Carlton the Dogman is no longer little, and he stays at the ranch. Still, he’s my dear buddy. I love the way his little pink nose feels when he says hi, and the evenings we spend in my chair are real treasures.

I’m a genius! I come when I’m called. Usually.

He has hobbies. Mainly they are swimming in muddy water and playing with cows. The cows totally love him and pay him no heed. He just likes it when they all group together.

I’m disguised as a Dalmatian. See my spots?

He has finally stopped jumping on me, but he still has a barking issue. He barks to try to get the other dogs to play, mainly. He has way more energy than the others, which explains why he’s so skinny.

I love you, too, Mommy.

We’ve loved having Carlton as part of our pack. He seems to be able to see just fine, even with his weird eyes, so we think he’ll be around a long time.

Mad! Glad! Resourceful!

Why not cram three completely different stories in one blog post? Sure, I’m a wordy person, after all. Plus, I have stuff to do and it’s a beautiful day, so here goes.


So, we need to wear scrubs at the Hearts Homes and Hands office much of the time, and the first ones I ordered supposedly fit right, but were a bit form-fitting to me. I ordered some more, including some of the incredibly comfy scrub yoga pants in happy colors.

They arrived today. I excitedly opened the package. Hmm. This looks pretty somber. What the heck?

Pretty consistent.

In the delivery were five black scrub shirts. A couple are pretty cute and they ARE in my size (or at least the size I prefer). But, hey, I wanted DC Action Heroes, some sloths, and some paisley! And no lime green pants! Hmph.

Customer Support said to send an email with a photo of the delivery and the packing slip (which had the right stuff on it). I sure hope I see my actual order soon. According to Kathleen and Lee, they’ve messed up most of our orders. Maybe we should try another company?


There is more I am glad about than I am mad about today. First, I asked the Alexa thing to play “the Who” and instead it is playing WHO. Well, GEEZ, no one told me they had a new album in December! And it’s so Pete Townshend in its lyrics. I am one happy person. If this is their last album, it will be a great way to go. (Still missing the half of the band who are no longer with us, of course.)

Continue reading “Mad! Glad! Resourceful!”

Wilson to the Rescue

Chris is at the stage in the Pope renovation that he is putting up trim in high places. He’s also cutting lots of crazy angles.


I’d wondered how he was managing to hold the boards up while he nailed them, especially the long ones. That’s when he introduced me to his rather quiet new helper.

Hold it right there!

Meet Wilson. He holds the trim just right as Chris nails the other end down. How do I know his name?

Oh, I see.

He has a name tag. That’s very helpful, since he’s the tall and silent type. Very patient, too.

A little scruffy, isn’t he?

He looks a lot like Chris, too. I’m really glad that man has a sense of humor. It must make doing all this alone a lot easier.

These Are a Few of My Favorite Weeds (la la la)

The need to focus on things that aren’t related to pandemics and other stress-causing circumstances has continued to this morning, so I took a break and checked out what’s going on around the Hermit Haus offices. My main focus was my “wildflower garden,” but I branched out. That got me lots more entries in iNaturalist, too!

The “wildflower garden” next to the stairs. It is about to get pretty.
The seeds are shiny in the sun.

I have to say that I find it fascinating how varied the plants are in what looks from a distance like a lawn. Actually, there’s very little turfgrass, just a few sprigs of our nemesis the coastal Bermuda. The one other grass is what they call nutgrass around here, but is actually purple nutsedge, a nonnative plant that sure likes to grow here. I have pulled up many, many sprouts of it in the “wildflower garden,” and there are still more. However, I think the seed heads are quite beautiful.

The lantana bud is pretty in its own right. Nutsedge is coming up behind it.

The area I am using as a showcase for the “weeds” that grow up around our building has lots and lots of lantana in it. I noticed those trying to bloom last year before the weedeater got them, so I decided to ask that this one area be left alone. The lantana are now getting nice and big, and are just about ready to start their late spring blooming festival.

Continue reading “These Are a Few of My Favorite Weeds (la la la)”