Tuesday, June 19, 2018


             When leaves turn amber and the sun swings across the sky in a late autumn arc, when the children leave for school or for lives of their own and the nests become too quiet and so very empty, that's when the loopies' thoughts turn to CovenCon. Who are the loopies? What is CovenCon? Why I'm glad you asked. I shall try to explain.
            The loopies are just an informal group of ladies who met on the internet and through mutual interest formed a private email loop. My wife was formally accepted, mind you, after much internal scrutiny, to this fine group, in 1999. There are no rules. The glue of their existence is their compatibility of interests and problems. Everyone brings their laundry basket of domestic issues as well as national news items of interest for discussion and group support, be it horny hubbies, recalcitrant offspring, or the latest mayhem of the day. No issue is taboo. Motorized dildos and cock rings have been discussed, as well as Andrea Yates and her murdered children. What shifts topic is waning interest or a new crisis.
            Fourteen ladies, give or take, make up the group. There's Jennifer the nurse, Bonnie the librarian, Ruby the programmer. Also there's Diane the writer, Jean the psychic dabbler, Martha the school scheduler, Penny the Air Force wife, Charlotte the Nascar fan, Kristen the grown-up hippie from Jersey, Priscilla the Adult-Ed teacher, Julie the psychologist, Tammy the flying phobic, Kelly the lunch lady, and Norma, my wife, and also the group's travel specialist.
            I first became involved with the group when I retired to join Norma at our new home. Now on a fixed income I intended to make every penny count. I inherited my son's old Geo Storm when he moved to Cleveland and took my shiny, near-new Toyota Corolla with him. The Storm was serviceable enough for my limited needs, but at ninety thousand miles it needed a few repairs. I work on cars. I like old cars. They are simple to repair for the most part.
          Things were going well until the Storm developed a small coolant leak. I tackled it. It persisted. Every time I thought I had it fixed in a few days it surfaced anew. I even got into the water pump buried deep between the radiator and the engine block and driven by an intimidating timing chain.
          Throughout all this Norma was relaying my misfortunes to the loopies. Norma, you see, wanted me to get a new car. I wanted to keep the old car. So she asked the loopies to cast a collective hex on the poor old Storm. It worked. The leak never stopped. Finally and reluctantly I traded it in. But I named them all witches and called their group a coven out of sheer frustration.
         Then in 2001 Penny's husband was deployed and she was involved in a major automobile accident. Penny was having a hard time of it and the coven decided to get on their brooms and fly out to her home to aid and comfort her. Witch Bonnie tacked on "Con" and CovenCon was born. Eight of them met in Virginia, succored Penny, and had a swell time to boot. No one drew a sober breath for a week. No one slept much for fear of missing some good conversation. Such a grand time was had by all they vowed to meet again in 2003.
         Sure enough two years later Norma instigated another CovenCon, this time at our home in California. I was not about to stay. The place was theirs. I do not party with witches. Instead I spent the week at my mother-in-law's who, incidentally, I get along with very well, keeping the elderly lady company at dinner time and going out to paint by myself during the day. Though I must say she is painfully fond of Rush Limbaugh, to whom she listens faithfully each day at jet engine decibel volume.
         As for the CovenCon, I did get talked into coming back a day early. I sat up, rolled over, spoke, and did other tricks for their amusement. Later we all ate a sumptuous meal of pork loin with all the trimmings. Tiring of me quickly they gang tackled the cleanup chores as women are wont to do and retired to the upstairs poolroom. To the sound of striking pool balls, ribald tales, and uproarious laughter I spent the rest of the evening downstairs unpacking my paintings and cleaning my painting gear, watching basketball, and dumping empties in the trash cans outside. The sound of bottles clinking went on for a long time. What did the neighbors think? Probably nothing. Hey this is California, wine country USA. Did I also hear a soft-shoe on my pool table felt? If it happened I really don't want to know.
          So now it's time again. Already with the countrywide clatter of keyboards, emails signal the need for another CovenCon. The rules are simple. Girls only. No kids. No husbands. Just bring yourself, some spending money if you have it, and the fresh wounds and scars from the intervening two years of life. Come have a group catharsis; come have a temporary ablution of your cares. Soothe those wounds with shared experiences. Soften those scars with group laughter. Take respite from a week of multitasking. Rejuvenate with female company where "Hey Mom" and "Hey Hon" will not be heard for seven days.
         This year plans are gelling to meet in Colorado. It will be a mountain high in more ways than one. Sleeping arrangements will be by random ballot. There's plenty of room. It's a big house. Will I be there? Are you kidding? I plan to be at least a thousand miles away on the central coast of California, painting, writing, sunning. Maybe I'll listen to some Rush with Grandma. Maybe I'll visit my daughter in Sacramento. Then I'll be back to clean up the empties. Hope the new neighbors are not offended.
         So now it's 2018 and time again for another CovenCon. Hard to believe seventeen years have passed since the very first one. The rules are simple. Girls only. No kids. No husbands. Just bring yourself, some spending money if you have it, and the fresh wounds and scars from the intervening two years . . .

Friday, May 25, 2018

Martha Scroggin's ranch on a sunny day in May.

Saturday, May 5, 2018

TRAVELING WITH LITTLE CHILDREN                                    

What is the absolutely worst thing you can think of doing?  Something you shudder to recall, repressing it to the deepest recesses of your memory banks?  The stuff of nightmares and cold sweats? Is it Christmas shopping?  Maybe hitting up coworkers to buy your cub scout’s raffle tickets?  How about going to the DMV on a Monday without an appointment?  Or maybe setting up a new piece of techie equipment that you were too cheap to pay an installation fee on?  To all these horror memories I say, “Nah, not even close!”  For me the height of masochism are trips.  Not just any trips (actually I like to travel), but trips to family in the company of tiny children, my own tiny children, specifically.
It came back to me on a recent flight to Colorado over  Easter break  at Denver International Airport.  This airport is super high tech, massive, and challenging. I got lost, by the way. I saw hordes of people and convoys of strollers laden with every  baby item found in baby stores and pushed by tired women herding crabby kids.  It was a migration from one part of the country to the other, crammed into a few days of free time, arranged most likely for the lowest internet fare, planned months in advance, to finally culminate in a desperate attempt at rebonding, at showing off the cute kids to other family members, be they grandparents, brothers, sisters, whoever, so the kids could be smooched , hugged, carried, weighed , and measured, and adored for a few precious days.
My wife and I also took part in this ritual once.  When our first two babies were one and two we realized they were not christened.  Although we were both given a faith neither of us were regular church goers.  Nancy is Lutheran.  I am Catholic.  Having seen the potential conflicts religious differences can cause in marriage, neither of us stressed a particular faith.  But now being good parents, wanting the best for our children, we certainly did not want them to go to hell, either, should, God forbid, anything happen to them.  So, we tried to get the little heathens baptized.  Well, now, it soon became apparent after trying several churches that baptism was not just for anyone.  It was only for members of a parish.  I’m not sure how a one and two year old could become a member since neither one of them drove or knew how to fill out a form or put money in the basket.  Actually little Mark could drop money in but Nicki liked to put it in her mouth.  Joining a church  seemed even less attractive than ever for us just so the kids could be baptized, given the Christian spirit displayed by our local parishes.  I began to rationalize.  So we raise little savages.  God likes everyone, even savages.  God would not practice segregation, would he?  And if he did, so what.  It would probably be just as nice as for Christians, probably more fun, too.
My wife did not see the levity in this.  She was determined to get them christened.
Then, in a moment of insanity, I thought of a solution.  Why not visit my parents?  They were churchgoing, contributing, practicing Catholics and members in good standing of St Mary’s Parish in Denver.  We could, so to speak, christen two birds with one stone.  My parents, who did not like traveling, could see the grandkids and get them baptized at the same time. 
Now Nancy was not  fond of my parents.  My parents were not fond of Nancy.  For one thing, they thought she was far too pretty for me.  For another she was not Ukrainian but English Welsh.  On top of that Nancy is Modern American.  They were Old World European. Any innocent slight or innocuous remark was scrutinized, dissected and analyzed by them for any sign of affront or lack of hospitality. It goes on and on, but you get the idea.  But Nancy was desperate.  After all, her children’s spiritual well being was at stake.  She thought.  She agonized.  She consented.
Nancy is a very sensible mother.  Even with little children we travel light.  We don’t take strollers; we hold our babies.  We carry a minimum of baggage, a small supply of diapers, clothes , bottles and snacks.  What we don’t have we can always buy in this wonderful country.  We have learned that little children travel well when they are fed, changed, and given a nap after two hours.  That’s been the rule whenever we went to Disneyland:  two hours, no matter how much you paid to get in and how much you’d like to see the Electric Light Parade or the midnight fireworks.  Sea World: two hours.  San Diego Zoo: lunch, diaper change, two hours of sights, then back in the  station wagon for the ride home.  Longer, they get crabby not because they are bad kids but because they are exhausted.
The trip from Los Angeles to Denver is two hours long on “Ideal Airlines.”  On United it’s a different story.  Add travel time to the airport, parking and  check in and you are getting seriously past two hours.  Then throw in ear pain from unequal pressure on the tympanic membranes ( try explaining to a two year old how to equalize his ear pressure), a full flight with no vacant seats, full diapers and you are on your way to miserable kids and uncomfortable parents.  Throw in other families with similar situations and pretty soon one of the tiny passengers starts to complain and loudly.  The wail is picked up from other regions of the airplane.  Kids get the evil eye from people traveling alone.  Snide comments follow. I can’t have a martini because my  kid would want to have a sip.  Oh what fun.
We make the trip.  My Mom and Dad are delighted to see the grandkids.  The kids are smooched, hugged, weighed, and measured, and recorded.  It’s an old Ukrainian custom; don’t ask, OK.  Baptism for our out of staters  has been approved and scheduled for Sunday after Mass.  We meet with the priest and promise to give our children a Catholic education.  After 12 o’clock Mass we bring the kids to church.  My son Mark is baptized first.  While we are holding our daughter Nicki by the baptismal font, Mark gets away from my mother.  Happy to be free he heads for the votive candles.  The priest reassures us it’s OK.  Mark learned how to blow out candles on his second birthday and he proceeds to show us how by blowing out as many votive candles as he can.  The priest is baptizing Nicki.  Mark runs around looking for more candles.  The activity stimulates his gastrocolonic reflex.  The church  begins to reek.  Thank goodness only our little party is present. I do not think I  can stand more evil stares from strangers.  The priest gamely concludes the ceremony.  We thank.  We contribute.  We leave with our little Catholics. 
That evening both kids start to get sick.  Nancy wants an early flight home to be near their doctor if they should get worse.  I reschedule.  The trip back is even more onerous because both kids have diarrhea and diaper rashes.  I take a week off  to recuperate and help out.  Nancy gets sick and takes to her bed for that week .  In spite of all that it is wonderful to be back home.  We will not do this trip by air again until they are older.  We have two more children.  Next time we travel by camper, but that is another story.

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

This young woman from central Ukraine welcomed our diaspora with traditional bread and salt. Afterwards she graciously posed for us.

Thursday, January 25, 2018

Misty morning in Morro Bay.

Monday, January 8, 2018

Low Tide Ride

Thursday, November 23, 2017

Tiburon Ranch