Sunday, August 30, 2015

I'm Here, and It's Raining Cats and Dogs...and Roosters!

It's 2:52 pm in Austin right now, but here in Nepal it is 1:37 am. Austin is 10:45 behind Kathmandu.

At this hour, I should be sleeping, but my body clock is way out of whack. First of all, I have been getting very little sleep over the past several nights because of excited anticipation and last-minute packing, as well as trying to sort through as many unfinished household tasks as I could to ease the way for my family a bit. Most of the tasks involved putting away my own projects anyway. As a result, I slept a lot on the plane. I usually find it difficult to rest on an airplane, but I think sheer exhaustion made it possible for me to get several hours of good rest on each leg of my trip. Unfortunately, that is probably one reason why I cannot sleep now. Secondly, It's raining. Hard. It sounds nice, but it doesn't exactly facilitate sleep when it's coming down in torrents. Thirdly (and fourthly and fifthly and...), there are, it seems, a million other reasons, and I believe they are  stationed right outside my room. They are the dogs of Nepal. Every last one of them, barking gleefully away with no regard for my need to sleep. The canine serenade and the sound of heavy rainfall, coupled with my state of alertness, likely means that there'll be no sleep for me tonight, so I can spend some time writing for my blog.

The flight here was reasonably pleasant. Everything went smoothly and I have no complaints, except for the fact that my feet and ankles swelled up like I've never seen them do before. I can only surmise that it was all the sitting. I don't tend to sit still for very long generally, so my body isn't used to doing so.  (An aside: I just looked it up and sure enough, it's no big deal, as verified by this Mayo Clinic article about Foot Swelling during flight ) But no matter, because all is well now. The situation remedied itself very quickly once I was able to move around a bit. Oh, and one more thing...the condition of the airplane bathroom on the final leg of my flight. 

During my flight from Abu Dhabi, I was seated at the back of the plane and noticed something peculiar: many of the men were absolutely slovenly when it comes to urinating. What gives? Numerous times I noticed the flight attendants reminding men to flush when they emerged without doing so. I also noted the frequency with which those poor gals had to wipe the floors. Indeed, twice I used the restroom only to find urine splattered on the bowl, seat, and floor despite the flight attendants' frequent efforts to maintain cleanliness. And I'm not talking about a dribble here and there; the place was a MESS!

Is this a cultural thing? I've seen many a gas station in the USA, owned and/or operated by Arab men, in which the lavatories are filthy too. But to make such a mess after ONE use??? It seems as though these fellows are not even trying to aim!

Please note that I do not mean to sound racist, but it does seem that such exceedingly poor bathroom habits are disproportionately high among certain cultures. Note that I said "culture," not race. Such behavior is learned, not inherent to one's race. So what is it about certain cultures that they think this is acceptable? 

I do have a very positive observation about Nepalese men: those I have encountered are absolute gentlemen. I got in line for the restroom in the airplane behind four fellows, and all of them absolutely insisted that I go to the head of the line, despite my protests. And after the flight from Abu Dhabi to Kathmandu, we disembarked on the tarmac and took a bus to the terminal. The men on the bus insisted that all the ladies sit while they stood. There were only about five seats; the rest of the shuttle was standing-room only. Chivalry is alive and well here in Nepal.

Tomorrow---I mean today--- I wake bright and early (that is, if I ever fall asleep): 5:00. My hotel, the Hotel Mandela  (absolutely no frills whatsoever, but clean and comfortable, with a serviceable shower, which is all I could ask for) is near a temple called the Boudhanath Stupa, and there will be throngs of people making a pilgrimage tomorrow, according to my guide, Kalyan. I'd like to see them. Like these pilgrims, I will circumnavigate the stupa. Later, Kalyan and a driver will be picking me up at 6:15 to take me to the bus station, where I will board a bus destined for Pokhara, the nearest city to where the yoga retreat is. I believe that we will have time for me to exchange currency before I board the bus. I hope so, as I have no Nepal currency as yet. Kalyan told me not to exchange in the airport as the fees are too high, so that is tops on my to-do list for tomorrow. In addition, I've hit a couple of minor bumps which should be easily remedied in Pokhara tomorrow:

Hotel Mandala

Boudhanath Stupa

1. Money exchange

2. Bought the wrong electric plug adapter, even though I spent time researching this!
3. Cell phone charging cable isn't working so I will need a new one.
4. Hoping there'll be a camera store in Pokhara where I can get a 67 mm polarizing filter and another memory card for GoPro. (Yes, I should have done it in Austin but by the time it occurred to me it was too late.)
5. Mosquito spray!!! They are devouring me!

The dogs have finally stopped and the rain has diminished to a pleasant pattering, so I will try to let the rhythm of the rain thrumming on the roof lull me to sleep...if I am lucky. 5:00 am is only  two hours away!

ONE HOUR LATER: The dogs have resumed their serenade, and what's more, several roosters have joined in the cacophony, as well as the sounds of what was surely a very dramatic cat fight. I have given up on sleep for tonight. I will just enjoy the sound of the rain...and dogs and roosters and cats... for a while, until the pilgrims begin to arrive at the temple across the street.

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Countdown to Nepal Adventure 2015: 8 days to Go and Feeling Jazzed...

I grow more and more excited about my upcoming trip with each passing day! This will be unlike anything I have ever done before and my anticipation is off the charts! I'm nervous, because I feel certain that I will forget something crucial, but I have Sherpas and they will ensure my survival and when all is said and done, survival is really the bottom line. But having the best time possible and being comfortable are pretty high ranking priorities too. I hope I remember to bring everything I will need to have the marvelous time I anticipate, and to stay warm and hydrated, and to record my memories with my beloved camera. If I can remember everything I need to achieve these objectives, then I will have succeeded.

I'm a project girl and as a result there are projects scattered in far more numerous rooms of my home than I care to admit. One room (actually our entire guest house as of this weekend---I turned the guesthouse into a glass studio ) has glass-fusing supplies, another has encaustic painting. Still another has ceramic and mosaic. Sewing takes up a significant portion of my small bedroom-sized walk-in closet. My easel with my acrylics and my oils is set up in my bedroom. Drawing supplies are sprinkled throughout the house. Paper crafts such as scrapbooking and miscellaneous projects involving handmade papers find their home upstairs in the den. And as far as mess-making potential, nothing compares to my new-found passion of woodworking! Pat had already established himself a very nice workshop, probably about the size of a three car garage, but I have utterly taken over! Over the last two years I have done far more woodworking than he probably ever has (not really, but I certainly have done more in the last two years and he has probably done in 15.) But he has helped me to learn a lot, and I am grateful.

At any rate, my stuff is everywhere. And because of the scope of some of my projects, I have sort of crept into family living areas in our home. For instance, the motor court is filled with wood being stained for one of my projects. And our formal dining room is covered with tiles. The loggia is scattered with beekeeping and chicken-keeping equipment. Chaos follows in my wake everywhere I go. I can't help it – I'm a maker, and it's in my blood and I can't help myself. I have to make! And sometimes I make so much that I just give it away because I have no room for it. 

All of my making has left the house in somewhat of a disarray. I try my best to keep it orderly, but so many projects result in clutter, no matter what one does. Pat's one request of me prior to my departure is to try to organize some of this madness, and since the only way I know how to clean it up is to finish it up, I am working like a mad woman on projects, hoping to finish one or two, or at least to get them in a state where they can be stored prior to my departure.

So that's what's happening this weekend: sorting through the stuff I have scattered around and putting it in order, and maybe knocking out a project or two while I'm at it. Also, making arrangements for my sweet little hens.

Yep, the chicken-fight I posted about some weeks back turned out to be a bust for me. I received a certified letter from my HOA yesterday, informing me that I had until December 1 to get rid of my chickens. Since I know I have to get rid of them anyway, I feel that I might as well  try to do so now before I go rather than waiting until my return. Nobody here wants to take care of my chickens in my absence anyway, so that's another big project that I am trying to figure out. And I certainly don't have a lot of time! My mom once expressed an interest in keeping chickens, but there is a very strong possibility that my coop won't even fit in her tiny backyard! And even if it does, it will involve taking out portions of the fence, including posts, to get it in there. But we'll see...

Two months is a long time, but not even half what I have been gone in the past during my attempts on the Appalachian Trail. I know from experience that it goes by quickly when one is adventuring. But I also know that my absence will mean that the rest of the family will have to step it up a bit to make up for some of the things that I do. I know from past adventures that they will not be eating anywhere near as well as they do when I am here to prepare home-cooked meals. There will be a great many convenience foods and pizza night involved. And then there are the every day tasks that I do that go unnoticed, dusting here and tidying there---just unheralded stuff that needs to be done. My family are going to be on their own for a bit, but they know the routine. They've been here before with no problem. Besides, there are four of them here (well five, really, but I don't think that John is going to be able to help around here much), and they will pull together and do what needs to be done. And chances are, the house will be tidier than it ever was with me here!

I keep mentioning my messy house. I feel compelled to tell you that it is clutter from projects; the house itself is reasonably clean. Floors are swept and dishes are done, shelves are dusted and groceries magically appear. I just happen to also have tiles that need to be glazed in the formal dining room and wood in the driveway. Boards are drying on the kitchen countertops and travel related lists, documents, memos, etc., are scattered on the kitchen table. No horizontal surface is safe in my wake. While we were in the woodworking shop today, I apologized to Pat for taking over his space. Previously, the woodworking shop have been his own, although it off and sat for months on used. Now I'm in there several times a week or more, so I apologized to him for taking over his space. He made a friendly jab to the effect that taking over spaces is one of my areas of expertise. But yeah, that's true, so I do want to tackle some of my myriad  projects before I go. Especially since shortly after my return we will be celebrating my mothers birthday, followed by Thanksgiving. After that comes the monumental occasion of John's very first birthday celebration! And then of course the rest of the winter holidays. So for my family sake, I need to get stuff tidied up before I go so that I can come home to a clean house and face all of the lovely autumn and winter celebrations without worrying about clutter.

Friday, August 21, 2015

Countdown to Nepal Adventure 2015: 9 days to Go and the Last-minute Jitters Begin!

Oh my goodness, can it really be only nine days to go now? I think I'm beginning to go into a mild state of anxiety, hoping with all my heart that I don't forget anything because I don't think I will be able to just scoot off to a nearby town to pick up some crucial piece of equipment, like I would have been able to on virtually any trail I am likely to hike here in the US. Here there is always a town reasonably nearby, but I suspect that won't be the case where I am going.

 So long as I am sufficiently warm, and can operate my camera, I'll be golden. That's all I ask. For the most part, the Sherpas will tend to most of the "housekeeping" tasks involved in backpacking. They will carry the gear we need and even provide much of it, such as all our food plus the implements to cook it; hydration (I think there will be no shortage of water sources where we are, but I am not sure how they treat it for drinking), and tents. We will, of course, provide our own change of clothing (just one: wear one, have a spare so if necessity requires it or serendipity allows for doing fresh laundry, I have a spare. Wear one, pack one--- it's the backpacker's way. 

As it will be cold at night but considerably warmer during the day, I will be wearing several layers of additional clothing, I'll also be bringing  a sleeping bag, headlamp, rain gear, and the very basics of personal hygiene such as  toothbrush and toothpaste and biodegradable soap. That will be my beauty routine. And for convenience I will bring Elmer FUD. Remind me to tell you about my friend Elmer.

The beauty part of the packing list which I have described above is that I don't have to carry most of it. The only things that I intend to carry with me in my day pack each day are water, sunglasses, sunscreen, sufficient layers of clothing to maintain comfort throughout the day, maybe a little snack if the guides provide it, sunglasses, and whatever camera equipment I can reasonably hope to carry in relative comfort. Oh, and Elmer. The things I will be obliged to carry are as nothi compared to what I carried on the Appalachian Trail, which was everything I needed for survival in the wilderness. This time I get Sherpas!!!!!! Sherpas, sherpas, sherpas! Wooohooo!

Things to tend to today: extended prescription refills, base layer and raingear inventory, SPOT and replacement batteries, readying laptop for email and FaceTime, play with John. Ask Kalyan about clothing quota.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Countdown to Nepal Adventure 2015: 11 Days!!!!!

Wow. Only 11 days to go and I feel that there's probably so much that I am forgetting! Two situations that occur to me that I need to add to my to do list include my prescription medication and a far warmer sleeping bag.

Naturally, my anticipation grows with each passing day. At the same time, however, so does my apprehension. I will miss my beautiful grandson immensely and I know that he will be going through so many major changes in my absence! I hate that I will miss some of his incredibly significant milestones, but at the same time I have an intense yearning---a need, really---to just...go. To stretch my legs, surely, but even more so, to stretch my imagination and stretch my spirit. To see new places and things I have never seen before, and meet new people---especially people of an unfamiliar culture---whom  I have never met before. Most of all, to experience the majesty of nature in what I fully anticipate will be one of the most beautiful places I have ever seen!

Still, John. This beautiful, magnificent, amazing little boy is speeding through his milestones at a dizzying pace. It seems that every day he has a new skill. It is such a joy and a treasure to be able to watch a child grow up once again. I loved my own children's baby years. The baby and elementary school years were my favorite, and it is so fun to get to begin that adventure once again with a precious little darling so very near and dear to my heart.

My first grandchild, Aiden, didn't get to grow up. He was tragically lost in 2010 to a horrible accident involving his crib bumper pad. He would have started kindergarten next week. His would-be 6th birthday anniversary was less than a week ago. I don't mean to wax melancholy, but of course we miss Aiden. And two months ago I took mental note of the day that John had outdistanced his own brother's lifespan and it made me profoundly sad. But it also made me all the more grateful for John and for all of the wonderful aspects of his life now and in his days, weeks, and years to come. And that I get to play a small part in all of that. I am so immensely glad that he is!

Rhiannon and John have moved back home. Sadly, Rhiannon had the misfortune of marrying a man who doesn't understand the meaning of quite a number of marital vows. It has been a painful chapter, but at least it has been a chapter involving the tale of a dark cloud with a silver lining, the silver lining obviously being John! And for me, personally, it is an absolute joy and pleasure to have both my daughter and my grandson home. I will certainly enjoy as many moments as I can while it lasts... except for this two-month-long trip, hence my aforementioned apprehension. 

My apprehension stems from the fact that I hate to miss any moment, particularly a significant moment, but at the same time I also have such a strong yearning to travel that it is almost a need. I know that probably does not make sense to many of you but to me it is much-needed nourishment for the soul. Still, in these two months there is much that I know I will miss, and here are my predictions: first, John will get a tooth or two, maybe more. Second, John will be able to stand up on his own and begin cruising around on the furniture. For those without kids and those who don't know current parent-speak, cruising refers to a kid holding onto furniture to steady himself as he toddles around. Third, John is going to learn how to hold a bottle or sippy cup. Fourth, John may actually begin walking, he is progressing so quickly! Far too quickly. The boy needs to slow down!

I hate the possibility of missing all of the above. I also hate the time that I will miss being a help to Rhiannon, who is just about to complete her internship for her certificate program to become a nursing assistant. She has worked so hard these past years and she has come such a long way, and she will finish in my absence. I am extremely proud of her for accomplishing what she has in a time of such duress.

I will miss my sons too, of course, but my sons are young men now, and they are unlikely to hit a huge milestone in the two months that I will be gone. Sure, college classes are coming up, but I know they will be fine and do well and as for our mutual relationships, two months is nothing.

SO...going. Sleeping bag. Meds. Travel from Kathmandu to Pokhara, where the yoga retreat is. Should I take the thirty-minute shuttle flight or should I board the bus for six hours with the locals? Especially as my very first taste of Nepal? That would definitely be a case of instant cultural submersion, and I am indeed tempted. Any world travelers out there have any advice? This will be my very first international solo trip, and it is to a country and culture vastly different from my own. I would welcome any advice if you have it to give.

Sadly, there are cultures and environments in which I would never travel as a lone female. But I know that Nepal is not such a place.

As I read my own words above, it occurs to me that, like John, I have a milestone of my own! First extensive solo trip internationally. Yes, I was solo on the Appalachian Trail, but this is different and exciting and I am so eager!

Monday, August 17, 2015

Countdown to Nepal Adventure 2015: 12 Days!!!!!

As I've said, I head to Nepal on August 29th, travelling for 25 hours and 3 minutes to arrive in Kathmandu, Nepal, at 8: 20 pm on August 30th.  Two layovers, both less than two hours each (maybe just enough to get from one gate to the next and to stretch my legs a bit): one at JFK and one in Abu Dhabi. I really am not looking forward to such a long trip! I've never been in a plane for so many consecutive hours, and I know that it will be rather difficult to sit for so long. If any of you adventurers have any tips on making long flights more bearable, by all means share them! I'm flying Economy/coach, so no frills for me. The price difference to fly first-class was more than I could stomach, on principle. This girl has slept in the woods for months on end...I don't need no stinkin' first class! Waste of money. I can put that toward the next adventure!

Anyway, I need to make arrangements for the night that I arrive, so that will be added to the To Do List for today. On the following day (or perhaps upon arrival), I will head to Saghana Yoga Meditation Retreat for a 32-day program of intense yoga. If you are interested, here is the website of the yoga retreat:

Sadhana Yoga Retreat

The above link will give you a thorough overview of the program I am undertaking. Looks like my days will be very full, but very pleasant!  I am so looking forward to this. My hope is that it will serve as a recharge for a spirit that is still reeling after the deaths of my grandson in 2010 and my son in 2013. Additionally, the yoga aspect to the trip represents several bucket-list items that I am looking forward to experiencing: truly learning and embracing hatha yoga; making meditation a part of my daily routine; giving vegetarianism (and maybe veganism) a try; and yes, going on a 3-day silent fast (I have tried, but never managed to stick to, a fast; the silence thing was never a bucket-list item, but it should be an interesting experience. I'll probably want to use that time to write, either in my blog or to my loved ones, but maybe both of those are like internal dialogues, so doing to may not be in the spirit of the undertaking. I'll know more when the time comes.

After my yoga recharge, I will be joined by a dear hiking buddy from here in Austin, Sue H. (I don't know if she'll want me to use her name in my blog). We have hired the services of Nepali native and professional guide Kalyan Gurung, who will be heading a team of Sherpas to provide Sue and I a fully-supported mountain hiking experience in the Himalayan Mountains. Here is an approximate itinerary of our trek:

Kalyan's Manaslu Circuit Itinerary

Note that unlike the trip outlined above, Sue and I have opted to skip the lodges and sleep in tents and eat in the outdoors, which is what is meant by the term "fully-supported hike": we hike and the Sherpas carry all of the camping and cooking gear. Such a hike is about twice as much as sleeping in lodges, because there will by necessity be about 10-12 Sherpas necessary to carry 17+ days of gear, food, and water; set up camp each night and break it down each morning; and prepare our meals.

Here is the article which inspired the hike and brought me together with Kalyan:

Backpacker Magazine article about the Manaslu Circuit

Finally, I will end my hike with a period of volunteer-work extending from the date the hike ends (no earlier than October 20) until I depart Nepal on November 1. At this point I have no idea what I will be doing or where, but my love of children finds me hoping to help rebuild a school damaged (or devastated) by the recent earthquakes and mudslides.

I arrive home on November 2nd.

SO....there is my trip. I have so much to do to prepare, so I'm off and running!  I'll be checking in frequently with updates, as updating you also serves as an organizational tool for me!

I wish I could put you all in my pockets and bring you with me. You'll just have to check in here to see my updates!

Just for my hiking partner, Sue: Here is a survival video, just in case: Please note that I intend to outlive you, even though I am older.

1. AT&T: Global Plan: .50 per minute to speak plus 300 MB of data per month; unlimited texting. For troubleshooting or changes in plan phone 0 (plus sign will appear) 1 916 843 4685. To call home just enter 0 and when the plus-sign appears enter area-code and phone-number. DONE

2.Get ticket info for our Broadway Across America seats and see what shows happen in my absence. Find folks to give those tickets to.

3. SPOT Customer Care 1 (888) 651-7768; outside of America: 1 (408) 933-4518;
Username: sunshinetamijo; Password: same as always; device name: pokey
Ask Pat to help me get the map posted to my blog.

4: Expected weather conditions in Nepal in September and October at altitudes from 2,000 feet to 17,000 feet" Kalyan says, "temperature in Kathmandu will be fine. but the temperature in Trek will be 32 degree C. to minus 15. starting point in trek is form 600 meters where is very hot in a day. in the final high pass called Larkaey pass is 5150 meter here will be minus 15 at night but day will be fine." Translation to Fahrenheit scale: About 90 degrees at lower altitudes to about 5 degrees at the highest peaks. In other words, layers, layers, layers for any sort of weather condition. Damn, I have to pack for any type of weather possibility.  Sounds like the Appalachian Trail. No problem! DONE

5. Contact Saldhana Yoga Retreat to arrange airport pick-up on the night of August 30, and to ask whether there are any last-minute considerations.

6. See if I can get hold of some sparklers. (Will they be detected and considered explosives in my luggage? I have a fun idea but maybe it's not such a good idea. I'll have to check into this.)

7. Kalyan recommends a small solar panel for my backpack because there'll be few to no places to charge during most of our hike. Need to ask backpacking buddies/forums the best solar panel.

Countdown to Nepal Adventure 2015: 13 Days!!!

In only 13 days I'll be departing for a new adventure that I have been planning, anticipating, and looking forward to for probably close to a year.

In actuality, as somewhat of a "bucket-list item," this trip has been on my mind for longer than a year, so in essence the planning process goes back quite a while. But the reality only began to truly take shape about a year ago, give or take a month or two.

I am very happy to report that I am going adventuring in Nepal! I fly out on the morning of the 29th of this month so it's time to get cracking on the packing! This will be a new sort of packing for me. I don't have to carry my own gear like I did on the Appalachian Trail. I will only be carrying a day pack and my camera. In my day pack I will carry water, of course, but also wet-weather-gear, extra outer layers in case it gets colder, headlamp...and that's IT!!!

No tent or hammock. No mattress pad or sleeping bag. No top-quilt or under-quilt. No water purification system, no-cook stoves, no food, no this that and the other. Sherpas will carry all of that. Compared to the Appalachian Trail, the load on my back is going to be next to nothing! It is going to be absolutely wonderful!

But what is equally as wonderful is how I will prepare for my hike (which will be in the Himalayas and last about 17 days, by the way). I am preparing by going to a yoga retreat in the mountains near Kathmandu. I am going to spend 31 days doing yoga and other healthful pursuits prior to my hike. At least five hours of day of yoga; vegetarian eating; meditating; and hopefully, time permitting, some significant walks in the nearby mountains. There'll be novel new experiences, too--- like fasting and extended periods of silence---no talking-- involved in there too, but those particular novelties will only last a couple of days. I am really looking forward to stretching myself in myriad ways-- physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually.

After the preparatory yoga retreat, a dear friend and I will be hiking with the assistance of a primary guide and his team of sherpas for about 17 days.  This, of course, is what I expect will be the highlight of my trip, but who knows? Maybe the highlight will turn out to be the yoga retreat itself. Or maybe the highlight will be the week of volunteer work I intend to do following the hike. No matter what ends up being the stand-out the part of my trip, I have every confidence that this trip is going to be an amazing experience in many ways.

Tomorrow's to do list:
1. Call AT&T and let them know I will be traveling to Nepal for two months and ask them what I need to do about phone service. DONE

2. Get SPOT service activated. DONE

3. Check expected weather conditions in Nepal for an October hike. DONE 

4. Start inventorying old hiking gear and figuring out what I'll need. Yep, this one is going to take a a while! That's what I will be doing over the next several days. ONGOING

5. Update will.

Monday, July 6, 2015

It's a Chicken Fight...No Harm, No Fowl!

I received a letter from my neighborhood association informing me I have 30 days to get rid of my chickens or request a hearing. I requested a hearing, and then I sent this letter requesting that my neighborhood association give consideration to my points prior to the hearing.

I am so nervous and upset about this. I really do love my hens! I want very much to keep them.

"July 4th, 2015

To The Costa Bella Waterfront Community Board of Directors,

In anticipation of my upcoming hearing, there are several things I would ask you to give consideration to before we proceed. Firstly is a PDF file prepared by an acquaintance, Mike C--------, who successfully petitioned to change his neighborhood association’s outdated ordinance against backyard poultry-keeping. I had thought to prepare just such a document myself, but a friend and resident of the Barton Creek West community forwarded Mr. C--------’s informative essay to me to aid in my own effort to be able to keep my chickens. Although the neighborhoods differ, the issue at hand is the same. And as Mr. C-------- has already  aptly addressed the issues, I see no need to repeat his work. Please take a few moments to read his excellent essay.

Additionally, I would ask you to consider the following:
1.  My chickens make virtually no noise (I have no rooster thus no crowing, and the hens' coos are soft and pleasant).

2.  They are contained in a coop and not roaming freely about our yard; they are housed in a clean and well-maintained environment.

3.  Has someone complained? I find that difficult to believe as they are quieter than the average household's air conditioning unit. My neighbor across the street, Carla M----, has told me that I may explicitly tell you that she supports our keeping the chickens and that their household has not been disturbed in the least by their presence. If necessary, I also intend to ask my neighbors on either side of me if they have found the chickens offensive in any way. My suspicion is no because, as I have stated, they are so quiet that I believe they hardly know they are even present. I can only surmise that the only reason the neighborhood association has become aware of their presence is because I have shared my joy of them on social media.

4.  What are your reasons for enforcing a policy that perhaps it is time to re-examine? If my hens present no problems to the neighborhood, perhaps this policy is outdated. Are you enforcing this policy because it benefits the neighborhood to do so? If so I would very much like to know in what way this policy serves the neighborhood of Costa Bella. Otherwise, then to what end? If this policy does not serve the neighborhood perhaps it is time to eliminate it. Perhaps it is time to progress forward and away from outmoded regulations that serve no one.

5.  My hens are more than just “livestock” to me. They are my pets. And yes, they are domestic, as you will verify for yourself if you agree to come over and meet my hens and see their coop. They rush out to greet me like any pet would, eagerly looking for treats. They like to be petted, and they even purr!

6.  My physician and my psychiatrist have both expressed agreement that my hens are very therapeutic for me. I have letters from both, which I will happily provide upon request.
I’d like you to have a look at my coop for yourselves, so that you can see that it is attractive and well-maintained, and that my hens are not merely “livestock” to me but rather, are my pets. In the interim, here are some photographs of my coop and my “girls” (Sophia LorHen, Omelette, Florentine and Henny Penny):

7.  My hens and I are causing no harm nor inconvenience to anyone. Unless you were to look through my fence you wouldn't even know that they are here. I implore you to let me enjoy my tiny flock in peace. "

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Making...A Totally Groovy Bathroom!

DISCLAIMER: The following post goes into far greater detail about a project I am currently undertaking. If you aren't interested in the details and the thought processes that occur to me as I work, you might want to just skim through and focus on the photographs. One of my pleasures is in writing and chronicling my undertakings, and I may perhaps drone on in more detail than what interests you. But if you want to know, read on!

I’m tackling one of the biggest projects of my life: a bathroom in our pool house. This is a project that has been 13 years in the making (ever since we moved in and I originally conceived of the project). I've no doubt that I could have finished it in a matter of months had I devoted myself fully and frantically to it, but to do so was an impossibility for a person such as me for a number of reasons. Firstly, I honestly think I’m ADHD. I can’t seem to stay with any single project---especially lengthy, repetitive ones--- from beginning to end, hence I have myriad projects scattered throughout my house here in Austin, my house in Colorado, and my ranch house in Boerne, Texas. Granted, I think I get more done than a lot of people, but any given project, except the simplest of undertakings, takes me a loooong time to complete. I tend to burn out and lose interest, moving on to something else, only to return to it days, weeks. months, or even years later, until the process repeats itself. Eventually things do get done (MOM!)…eventually being the key word here. I've often thought of trying medication for ADHD to see how it affects me, but I’m so afraid it will dull my drive that I haven’t done so. I should try it just to see what happens. Maybe it will help me to focus on one thing at a time, but if it dulls me in any way it will be an unacceptable result. I intend to discuss this with a physician soon and just see what happens, but that is a topic for another day.

In addition to my presumed ADHD, I've had four children to raise, and they've been my primary focus for 25 years. They still are, but they’re adults now and don’t need me (as much) anymore, so I have more time to devote to my almost innumerable undertakings. Now I am able to spend more time on my projects, but not (I hope) at the expense of my family.

One big reason that I don’t have the time to devote to my projects is that I happen to live in an 11,500 square-foot house (when you include the pool house, which is where this project is happening) and for some reason, a certain someone in this house doesn't believe in hiring a maid. He believes a maid is a frivolity and that we should be able to handle the housekeeping tasks ourselves. Hence, the house is never as clean as I’d like, though I try. Good lord, this house has eight bathrooms alone! This is a bone of contention between us to say the least, and one day soon I will have my way about it. I’d rather get a job that I like and hire a maid with my own money than undertake these mundane and tedious housekeeping tasks that overwhelm me. Would that I could market my creative skills! I would be in heaven creating something that people would actually purchase, giving me more autonomy in this matter. How I envy those who have found a way to get paid for doing what they truly love!

Pool House Bath Window #1: Didn't fabricate it myself, but I did design it and oversaw its execution

Next, as many of you know, I experienced a sort of fracturing of my psyche when I lost my beloved grandson and then, three years later, my beloved son. Those consecutive tragedies brought my life to a screeching halt for these past five years and I simply wasn't motivated to do much of this sort of thing. I’m making a conscious effort to change that because I have discovered that in forcing myself to do the things I once loved, even when my heart isn't in it at the moment, I am rediscovering myself and my passion and what gives me purpose and direction. The creative urge defines me. It’s who I am and it’s a drive that is more than a hobby---it’s a compulsion. I HAVE to create! I simply have to. This is the reason I changed the name of my blog to “Making It.” I’m making it, literally and figuratively: by making it (as in creating or doing something creative), I’m making it (as in surviving the tragedies I referred to previously), and rediscovering the person I once was.

Pool House Bath Window #2: Again, didn't make it, but the design is mine

SO…now that I've bored you with that long, drawn-out prelude, let’s get back to the pool house.

Our pool house (guest house) is a charming little house with a bedroom, kitchenette, living room, and loft. My vision for the pool house was to create a space filled with a sense of fun and whimsy. I’ll give you a pictorial tour one day soon but in the meantime, the focus now is on my bathroom project. Oddly enough, the bathroom has actually become the pièce de résistance of the little abode. I wanted a bathroom that was fun, whimsical, and a riot of color, like the rest of the little house! But the bathroom, when finished, is a room that will take one’s breath away: most, I hope, with joy and wonder; others, perhaps, with bafflement that I might do such a thing.

The sink is wholly my own creation. I found a company that sold raw, unglazed sinks and tried to
decorate it myself. F&*%ed it up royally so I mosaicked it instead.

I am a ceramic artist (among other media---jack of all trades, master of none), and I am fascinated with architectural ceramics. I have friends whose skills in architectural ceramics are just phenomenal and they are an inspiration to me (Xinia, Peter, Patrick: a respectful nod to you!), but I am limited by time, studio space, equipment, and ability at this time so the best I can do are tiles or perhaps the occasional ceramic table. Still, I think I make the most of my abilities, and I’d like to show you what I've done.

This bathroom is (or soon will be) decorated with literally thousands of handmade ceramic tiles---handmade by none other than yours truly! And now without further adieu, here’s how an idea becomes a reality:

A good start
I buy my clay in bags from a local supplier, Armadillo Clay. I have hauled probably hundreds of pounds of clay home for this project. The clay must first be rolled into approximately ½” slabs, which I score on the back to give them a better “tooth” to grip the wall when it comes time for installation. Next, the slab is cut into circles of assorted sizes using an assortment of biscuit and cookie cutters I bought from a baking supply.


These tiles are allowed to dry slowly in the metal cutter forms, because to try to push the wet clay out of the forms would be to distort the tiles. Hence, I have dozens of the cutters so that I can make tiles in reasonably large batches.

After each tile dries, it must be sanded. Again, this is done one tile at a time, a long and somewhat tedious undertaking.  I sand using a piece of window screen and a green scrubbing pad in a cookie sheet. Yes I'm doing it in my kitchen here, which is not typical---but my studio space is overrun currently so I have to do things in any way that I can right now. I tend pass the time by listening to music or to a favorite movie as I work. (I never put on a movie I’ve never seen, because I wouldn’t see it; I’d only hear it. My eyes are on my task, so I just listen to oft-watched favorites like The Sound of Music, Phantom of the Opera, Chorus Line, Fiddler on the Roof, etc. Yes, musicals are among my favorites---but my number one favorite is The Full Monty, a British comedy. If you haven’t seen it you should, but I digress…)

When the tiles are fully dried and sanded, they are loaded into the kiln, again a somewhat time-consuming task (remember I said THOUSANDS of tiles?) The kiln-firing process takes about two days. The kiln must reach  nearly 2000 degrees, which takes about 10 hours or so, then it must cool to about 100 degrees, which takes about another 10 hours or so, before I’ll take my pieces out to avoid thermal shock. Probably overly cautious, but that’s what I do.

After the fired tiles are cooled, they are ready to glaze. Again, this is a long, slow process, as I usually apply three coats to each tile by hand. Lots of music to enjoy during this step! Thank goodness for Pandora! My station of choice is Adult Alternative. Gooooood stuff!


After glazing, those tiny little tiles are once again loaded into my kiln to be fired for a second time. Again, this is a two-day process. After they are fired and cooled for the second time, they are ready for installation.

Previously I have been handling the installation myself. What you see in these photos is my work up until this point. One tile at a time, I’d butter the back with adhesive and attach it to the wall. Long and slow. I installed them as I made them. But recently I decided that this project has become a burden on my spirit---not because I’m not having fun, but because it is simply taking too long and it weighs heavily on me that I haven’t finished it in (gulp) thirteen years! How on earth has the time passed so????? So I have decided to hire a professional to help with installation. He arrives on Monday. And, since I fear I may not have enough tiles stockpiled to finish the job, I have also enlisted the help of a friend who, under my guidance, will help me to make the last of the tiles necessary to complete this project.

You have to imagine this with black grout. You think the colors pop now? Just wait...
Between my assistant Kelly and me, the house has become a veritable tile factory. There are tiles in the kitchen. Tiles in my studio. Tiles in the driveway. Tiles in the loggia. Tiles on the deck. Tiles tiles tiles! We have a somewhat frantic work-flow going and I am trying to rush the job as fast as I can by drying tiles in the sun and in the oven (a risk, as breakage or warping can occur), because I have to be ready for my installer! But the deadline forces me to focus, and the prospect of completion is exciting. I look forward to giving you a photographic tour when all is completed.

There is a great deal of work yet to be done even before the tile-setter arrives, and in fact I've put out a plea for my friends to join me for a Glazing Party on Sunday and Monday after Easter. I need help in applying glaze to the final kiln loads, and I'm hoping to have a little army of friends show up to help apply glazes in exchange for a fun evening of wine and cheese and, later, a thank-you pool party PLUS an art lesson in mosaic at my home.

Come hell or high water, in two weeks' time I'm putting this baby to bed!


Monday, November 3, 2014

Making...a Vertical Garden!

It’s been a long while since I’ve posted. I’ve been trying to keep busy but sometimes I slip into periods of low-motivation. I’m coming out of such a period right now, and tackling a project I started a couple of months ago.

One day my mother and I drove by a Whole Foods market and I was intrigued by a cinder-block planter I saw in front. I’d never seen such a thing and I found the concept quite appealing. Although I found the Whole Foods project rather plain, I could envision its potential, so I photographed it for future reference.

When I felt ready to give further consideration to the project, I began to do Internet searches to see what others had done. I was surprised at how much I found. This was an idea that had been explored by others far more extensively than I’d imagined, because until the Whole Foods project, I'd never seen one before. Clearly this was something others found appealing too, and for good reason, as far as I’m concerned. It’s versatile, attractive, relatively easy to do, and offers infinite possibilities for composition. Here are some of the ideas I saw that I found most appealing:

When I finally decided to tackle my own version, I bought about 50 cinder blocks and began stacking them experimentally.

I was enthusiastic about what I came up with, but I felt that the blocks lacked a certain rustic warmth I was after. I think brand new blocks would be ideally suited to to the sleek lines of industrial-inspired modern architecture, but they didn’t suit the warmth of my Tuscan environment.  I wanted something that looked old and well-weathered, so I dismantled my stacked composition of new cinder blocks and set to work making them something more akin to my personal tastes. I was particularly inspired by this particular version I'd seen online:

I got out my hammers, chisels, a protective drop-cloth, and just set out to beat those cinder-blocks into submission. I beat them until I’d raised blisters on my hands and I'd even bloodied my hands and feet and bruised my legs. I dropped the blocks on my feet a couple of times---and it being summer, combined with the fact that I typically wear shoes only when absolutely necessary, naturally I was bare foot. I guess you could say that I literally put my blood, sweat, and tears into this project. Jeremy and Toby helped me with some of the distressing process, but I took the lion's share of the job upon myself.

After the blocks were distressed, I restacked them. I was fairly pleased with the look, but there was still something not quite right. It occurred to me that the blocks needed more than just a distressed texture. They needed a patina that would lend them a believable illusion of age. So I dismantled my stack once again, and set to work giving those cinder blocks the patina I felt they needed. I bought three colors of cement stain and, using a sea sponge, set about applying the colors in such a way as to simulate moss, lichen, mildew, and age. I went overboard on the first few cinder blocks, then discovered that a light touch went a long way.

I was finally ready to stack the blocks for what I thought would be the last time. And believe me, I was tired of stacking and dismantling time and again. Cinder blocks are heavy, and they have a very rough exterior. Each time was a workout, and I was growing weary of the repeated exercise. But upon stacking them once again, I decided that I thought they would look best if they were permanently placed with mortar. So I deconstructed the composition one last time and sought the help of a professional for the actual masonry work, which I knew was beyond my skill levels.

Each deconstruction and reassembly produced a composition different from the previous, and the final assembly proved likewise. I directed the bricklayer as to the placement of each cinder-block, making adjustments here and there until I’d created a structure that I found appealing. In fact, I am happy to say that I do believe the last design was the best of all.

As you can see below, I decided to add a finishing touch: a sort of "drip tray" to minimize the look of runoff water. I think it adds a nice touch. It's made from 2 x 6 cedar planks filled with river rocks.

This project was completed in August and I've really been enjoying it since then. I'm happy with how it looks, and I've received numerous compliments on it. And I think that it will only improve as I continue to fill the openings with assorted plants, and those plants begin to grow and mature.

My plants are currently being held in place by pots I fashioned out of landscape wire lined with landscape fabric. I couldn't find anything ready-made that fit the openings satisfactorily. Unfortunately, these makeshift "pots" are fragile and have the unfortunate side effect of causing my plants to dry out far too quickly in the incessant heat of Texas summer. I knew this would likely be the case, so those wire pots were only a temporary measure, which brings me to the newest phase of this project: making custom clay pots for my vertical garden.

There are 27 openings in my little cement garden, so I need to make 27 pots, plus a few extra in case of breakage down the road. After much trial and error, I decided simplicity was the best approach, so here is the design I came up with:

It's made of a locally manufactured low-fire terra cotta clay. I think that the rough gray cinder-blocks, combined with smooth red clay pots filled with plants of assorted greens of varying textures and accented with flowers in a variety of colors, will make for a nice final composition. But these pots are really time-consuming to make, so I'll make a few then move on to something else; make a few more then move on...

(I honestly think I might be somewhat ADD; it's hard for me to complete a task start to finish. If you were to watch me in action you'd see me bouncing around between tasks because I am so easily bored. Thankfully I tend to bounce back and finish a task most of the time, but more on that another time.)

Soon I'll show you, in more detail than you probably ever wanted to see, how these pots are constructed.


And now, on a personal level, I am excited to share some photographs from Rhiannon's baby shower which took place this past Saturday. Rhiannon's mother-in-law Pam, sisters-in-law Allison and Heather, and Aunt-in-law Liz put together a really nice celebration with a tea-party theme. A good time was had by all, and Rhiannon received some lovely gifts in preparation for John James' late-December arrival.

Thanks for stopping by...

Following the deaths of my grandson in 2010 and my eldest son in 2013, my life went into a dramatic tailspin and I felt a sense of hopelessness and despair such as I'd never known. Frankly, I was fully ready to check out. After reaching the lowest depths of despair, however, I resolved to pull myself up and move forward. Happily, I am recovering slowly but surely by grasping life by the horns and not only holding on for the ride, but relishing it every step of the way.

In an effort to recover the sense of joy I'd once known, I have found that through pushing myself to live fully I am rediscovering the wonder that can be found by simply moving forward. I'm "making it" by, in part, making it! In other words, unleashing my creativity through myriad project has proven to be cathartic and healing to me. Included in this creative drive is a passion to write, so while I don't consider myself to be an especially gifted writer, I have been known to evoke emotion in my readers now and then. Thus, I offer you a glimpse into my world by sharing my journey. I hope you'll find something in my musings to move you, amuse you, inspire you, or intrigue you as I post the occasional missive about my mission to move forward from tragedy through the healing powers of creativity, adventure, and living life to the fullest.

Fun in New Orleans

My best friend

Mom and Tami During our Alaskan Cruise

Flycatcher (Tessa), a good hiking buddy and real trooper.