Monday, October 20, 2014

Tables and Things

Growing up I had a table that was made entirely of wood.  About eight thin planks cut at different length made up the table top, rounded at the edges both from years of use and the original cut work.  The legs form a big X supporting the table when opened, standing up flat when folded so we can put it away between the bunk bed and the wardrobe (also made of wood).

Dad made these in the hours after work (as a scientist).  If you asked anyone in the family they would tell you he is a slow and meticulous carpenter, painter and finisher.  Mom would tell you he is a slow and meticulous potato peeler, cabbage washer and dumpling wrapper.  I would tell you he is a slow and meticulous shoe lace tier, jacket button-er and my brother would tell you he is a slow chess player.  He massaged objects that came into his hands, planks of wood, vegetables or our hands that needs washing.  He scrubbed until every last piece of dirt was out and the surface in question was shiny and beaming with pride like his face.

We made dumplings then though only once in several months or a year.  Dad would always wipe the table top with our kitchen rag.  We didn't have things like polish or wax, so water and soap was all we used. But years of food serving must have seasoned the varnish somehow, giving it a shine whenever dad was done scrubbing it.  He even scrapped out the gummy gray build up found only in the groves between the planks.  Mom would not start spreading out the dumpling wrappers and pots and saucers until he was done.  We prayed for him to speed things up but he would bite his lower lips, eyes fixed on the table, pulling a clean rag top to bottom plank by plank, slowly but surely.   Sometimes we put on his favorite Beethoven concertos, he would match his wipes with the beat of the music, humming or whistling until every surface is clean enough for either open heart surgery or dumpling making.  As primary schoolers we got cranky quickly while they carried on with the many steps of dumpling preparations in such a manner.   Dad would not rush but taught us how to sing and whistle with him so hunger would not boil over to frustrations and meltdowns.

I spotted this table one day recently at a local restaurant, the scab on it reminded me of a carpentry project on which dad and I collaborated.   He had found a pile of discarded wood so he asked around and a friend sketched out a simple wardrobe plan.   Mom had been asking for one for ages, but we never were able to save up enough to buy one from the stores.   So for months dad sawed, sanded, cut and banged nails together in the courtyard, while I ran behind him playing with wood shavings and carried paint buckets back and forth.   He needed me otherwise occupied so he asked if I would mind drawing some butterflies and flowers; or maybe I somehow proposed the garden theme when hearing his mention of a drawing.  The details escaped me now as I could hardly contain myself, neither sleep nor ate much for days.

Off I went to draw some rather fancy butterflies during the midday siesta hours next to mom's bed as she lay napping.   She woke up day after day dreaming about little pops of something burst next to her ears, as my drawing pens had created that sound whenever I uncapped them.  No matter.  I was determined to finish the project at hand so disrupting mom's naps was but a small price to pay.   The flower theme stumped me a bit as I was still at the stage where five round pedals with a dot in the middle represented all flowers,  so mom pointed out her prized roses and walked away.  For days then after I had to sit by the window sill and sketch out my flowers.  The wooden bench hurt my bums and squatting made my knees sore.  I must have been in third grade by them, so art was still an adventure full of new discoveries.   Finally I presented my work to dad and his lips stretched ear to ear and thin lines appeared around his curved eyes.  He sat down for hours and transferred my drawings to a piece of wood as thin as paper.   Together we painted them subtle colors we could afford and scrounged from nearby building sites.  He affixed these to the wardrobe surface where there used to be large scabs and my drawing covered them perfectly, transferring the imperfect old wood planks to something unique and beautiful (according to mom and dad).  All the neighbors said so too.  For a week a line formed outside our door to admire the result.  My chest had never stuck out so high, and that wardrobe remained my favorite furniture for years.

Inevitably some years I grew sophisticated tastes in art and saw how childish my drawings were.  But eventually I learned to see imperfections and scabs as special, trendy and chic again.   I stared at my silly drawings and understood its innocent kind of beauty, cried over it because I missed those days of family closeness.  The four people in the family were scattered onto three different continents then, busy making money and building quite a collection of perfectly imperfect objects.   More years went by before we all gathered again, celebrating more and working less.  My eyes grow moist as I write this, as dad is no longer here for me to tell him "thank you" for making my butterflies and flowers into a piece of family history and heirloom, despite of the silliness of it all.

Still I would smile at the memory, and think he must be too.  So I went on wiping my simple wooden dining table for the seventh time until it shined and almost ready for surgery.

Friday, October 17, 2014


A group of yellow and red finches are having a proper fight on my porch, they remind me of church ladies in colorful dresses, all worked up about the impending bake sale.

Food is definitely the source of dispute.  The yellow pair can't get the red male and his lady love (gray female) to move their bums off of the feeder, top of which is empty you see.  The gang has been feeding themselves silly since last week as autumn hits and trees grow bare.   So we have a musical chair situation, with half a dozen or more diners but only three seats that reach the food any more (with remaining food).

But the contenders aren't giving up. They circle the site, yellow wings of opportunists that they are.  Adorable too, with their slightly smaller and thinner frame, like the kinder gardeners of the group if you will.  They land themselves on the top perches, looking down at the happy diners below, wings slack, chirps inaudible and eyes droopy.  The very image of puppy faces - of the birdy kind.

But peace is not so easy, as the reds are an aggressive sort.  They stretch their necks and poke the yellow babies with their beak, as if shouting: "you wanna a piece of This?"

"Nay, it's okay, "  would probably be the replies.  The golden ones back off, first onto a higher spot on the roof, then lower to the ground to pick off the discard pile.  Eventually they surprise me by shooting themselves straight up onto the spot, bumping the reds away.  The hard won success was so precious they don't dive into the food right away, but look about themselves like a champion waiting for their medal and thanking their audience for support.

All too often (occasionally) the doves fly by and join (spoil) the fun, causing a sudden flutter of wings, a chorus of chirps rising to code yellow (high anxiety volume).  Finally a human walks near, and the flutters, the commotion and the chorus volume immediately upgrades to defcon red,  and everyone disappears in a flash.  All that's left then are tiny black seeds on the ground beneath, and and an occasional puddle of white splat.

I don't mind the clean up. Honestly, their songs, sights and company are so worth it.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Fall Day

It finally feels like fall and I'm glad.  The morning air is crisp and the trees rustle when I step out.    Leaves have turned as wind shifts, announcing familiar yet refreshing changes.

The air is so soothing I sigh with relief.  Sky is a clear blue, rinsed free of clouds.  I sweep my tiny porch and clip the roses, following the lead of the neighbor's gardener.  He has come around and clipped all their perennials down to their roots, getting them ready for the winter and ultimately new growth in the spring. 

 We don't have much of a winter here, yet the seasonal rituals are important.  Already I'm looking forward to more rain as that is typical of our winters.  My many succulents would take advantage of of the rain by soaking them up and storing them into their thirsty tubers.  Only then can they thrive under my neglectful watering practices under the drawn out desert summer heat. 

We haven't had much rain last winter, and the summer months was prolonged and especially scorching.  Yet only one or two of my smaller saplings have died but the majority survived the fiery weather.  I don't know how they do it.   My personal overheated season of  has worn me out, having me wondering when would we come out of this global recession and our personal depressions, praying for cooling weather, winning economics and changing winds.   But who can know but that we shall persist at a time like this?

Perhaps the only thing to wish and pray for then are tubers that stored up and roots that dug deep.


Thursday, October 9, 2014

Blood Moon

There was a blood moon tonight. 

It crawled over the hills just as I was driving by, and surprised me with a gorgeous round face.  The orange red color reminded me of a lingering sunset, not so many moons ago.  Silvery light splashed onto the highway, wrapping me in a robe of sparkling splendors. 

The ocean to the west lay restless, turning itself over in darkness and sandy irritation.   It is the fall of 2014.  We have the Ebola virus in Africa,  the war in middle east and Russia, and an economic crisis spreading through Europe.  Here at home,  jobs seem to be growing scarce, air growing warmer, and prices simply growing.

Yet I'm grateful.  For the moon, the ocean, the highway and where it leads me -- home.  Light came on as I pulled into the garage, not nearly as pretty as the moon lit outside, but welcoming all the same.  More so when the door to the house opened, and he stepped out, smiling and ready to share my load.


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