Certain Worthwhile Skills On Mars

Being angry on a crowded spaceship would be fatal. Ethan maintained a placid posture and kept his monitored heart rate and body temperature midline. He thought about how his life of writing, home brewing and riding his bike miles and miles each day among the green parks and byways was usurped by corporate New Yorkers. Options: Work on the massive sea wall for the East Coasters or help settle the American sector on Mars. Not everyone got the option for Mars, so all could have been worse.

How’s this for a journal entry: There is no sci-fi looking dome you can see leafy trees and happy folks inside while riding their personal dune buggy outside. Instead, our new home is a series of weird steel-like huge multi-story warehouses that were interconnected for services and transit but able to be cut out of the system easily if damaged, too bad for inhabitants. Arranged in an immense circle to simplify the connections to each neighbor and the central hub, the scene reminded him of a fallen Ferris wheel as seen from a couple miles up. On arrival, I was assigned to Building 8.

The Building 8 Administrator had requested him specifically, worrisome that. Turns out Colonel Bredagnian had difficulty wording his dispatches and announcements right. Being a ‘count my blessings’ person, I made subtle changes in his documents, nothing to show he had assistance. Actually his missive weren’t that bad. After a month, I learned the real reason he requested me. His list:

  • Interview technicians, scientists and others to create textbooks
  • Create a library of all available books, documents and the textbooks
  • Write Mars-based children’s stories, upbeat and fun
  • Get the skilled folks to work on things together
  • Teach writing in the Hub school, get other teachers going
  • Learn to use the available materials to make new items

He said the buildings had the ambience of a prison, and that absolutely had to change. Such change was not generally an Army specialty. Perhaps I actually could make some inroads!

This really invigorated me, to think I would be in on the ground level creating an education system, my part of it anyway. The stories would be a real service to the kids, they needed real help in their formative years. I’d done some teaching in St. Louis and enjoyed it. Making new items? Well, I’d worry about that later. If everyone had done as I did and loaded their laptops with eBooks, I should be able to accumulate a fine library in no time!

There were already several shared book and manual sites and most were easily incorporated into a site-side free library. A couple graphic designers made the library look really cool and a couple geeks worked out the borrow or whatever part. One of the people I interviewed for textbooks was a children’s book illustrator! How serendipitous! She’s very sharp witted and nice looking too. She said she needs paints or markers as the markers she brought with her have dried up. Perhaps I get to make a new item!

There was one older scientist who knew about pigments, glory! This chemist determined a way to make pigments a new way. I’ve got Dr. Chu and Jenny working together to see what works and what might with a tweak. This could be big, paints and dyes could brighten up everything! If Earth won’t send us anything but the barest basics and weapons we’ll make our own!

As I thought hard about proposing to Jenny, I noted how much weight I’d gained. The gravity is less so it wasn’t so apparent but the feeling of being out of shape had been bothering me. Bike riding! I know several folks who can help me but tires are a problem and sharing with the other few thousand folks here is too. One helpful thing, a track was made in the circle for the utility connections between buildings; it was for the train or at least a trolley Earth kept promising us. Right.

Now we keep bike stations at every Building and folks are crazy about them! They’ve put bushes and flowers all around the track, what a grand change! I found my wife loves to ride but didn’t want to talk about what she couldn’t have. Ha! There’s a couple medical doctors who’ve requested a stationary bike. No problem!  An Engineer I’m working with whipped a stand up that can be used with any bike! I’ll just cycle right on over to Building 4 and let them try the stand out! Then get Lucas to make a hundred more! We’re definitely keeping the miners busy.

Jenny is due any day. We have only about 50 names picked out. One of the groups I’ve been meeting with about innovations wanted to celebrate.  I told them about the musical instruments being made. They kept insisting on something else. That’s when I found out they have somehow acquired yeast.  You don’t have to use hops to brew something good. We have more apples than we need here…Wow!

Long Legged, Geeky Girl

“What are you all red-eyed about?”

“High waters. All I got is high waters.”

“Prissy girls.” Mama went back to her crossword puzzle and I stomped back to my room to take off those durn blue jeans that showed my ankles as soon as possible. Tossing my book bag and shedding my shame, the treasure spread across my bed stole my attention.

My Bookmobile treasure: Pollinators. Geology and the Inland Sea, The Science of Fire. Storm Dynamics. With a fluffed pillow at my back and my giraffe legs stretched out before me, I reached for the nearest tome. The 8th grade science fair was only 27 days away. Hmmm, weather instruments.

I had a jelly jar in my hand wondering what to use as a membrane when I saw the fancy syrup bottle with the plastic handle and spout in the trash. The jelly jar went back to Mama’s canning supplies. The smaller opening would mean the little balloon would fit lots easier and still be big enough for a pointer. A needle would poke the balloon. Dootdootdoot…what the hoot? Epiphany! A toothpick! Glue, where’s the glue?

The two poster boards were a breeze to do. One had a wild tornado in the center with a spotted cow and a couple trees in it. Labels and arrows artfully drawn noted the details. The other had a description of my EXPERIMENT. The harder part turned out to be affixing the index card to the narrow bottle neck. Scissors! Tape! Where’s the durn tape?

I added another reading from the weather report; the toothpick had a great range against the card which gave me pretty good room to record the data. The weather guys said a band of storms were on the way. Great! I might get a few data points in the low ranges right before the science fair!

Me, the biggest idiot in the room. The guy to the left of me had put an Apollo capsule model together. On the right, the guy with a hamster in a cage kept trying to make the critter run in the wheel. Across from me the guy had a printed, full color diorama of the Grand Canyon. Several boys had volcanoes. Except for me they were all boys.

Seeing the strange high school teachers quizzing the Apollo fellow reminded me of a warthog, me, realizing lions approached. Could I still run Where were the exits?” I blinked at hearing someone knock on the table and there they stood, directly in front of me. Holy bovines.

“Miss, please explain why you brought this mess here.”

Mess? By golly, warthogs had tusks. “Sirs, Ma’am, I made this barometer from ordinary items and calibrated the device using the National Weather Association certified reports that are televised each evening.” Here I pointed at the data on the card. “There are 23 data points taken before last Tuesday. On that day, the barometric pressure got so low, the balloon busted. This mess is the evidence that my barometer worked.” I did not add that the sight of that balloon getting sucked into that bottle and popping will amaze me to the end of my days, all the while Mama clutched my little sisters under the kitchen table and screamed at me to join them.

Well, 1st place won me $50. The April 3, 1974 swarm of ravaging tornadoes allowed me to proceed directly to the Woolco Department Store where I purchased a brand new Brother sewing machine. I figured out how to use it. From then through now, I choose the material for my clothes, I select the patterns and alter as needed. And my pants have always been the right length.

Tiana, Searching for Something Good

Tiana bent over low to peer under the orange pick-up truck, aha! She skittered away fast when the fat bearded guy walked up, slung his groceries in the back and yanked the driver’s door open. She kept a keen eye on anyone coming and going in the parking lot as the noisy thing finally left. The she went over and picked up the can of Cherry Pie Filling where he’d been, no dents or nothing.

Safely in her backpack, she patrolled the IGA lot for more dropped goodies, more stuff not recovered from busted bags, dropped money (seldom). Too bad they took away the Salvation Army donation box that used to be on the far corner of the lot, too bad. She wore a nice warm coat from there until she had to give it to her little sister.  They had a church pretty close but she was afraid they’d chase her away like the church on the other side of the lot did. They’d called her ‘filth’.

‘Sheesh, one good thing all morning.’ Her thoughts darted between vigilance and wondering if her mother’s asshole boyfriend was gone yet. He was mean and evil and she hoped her puppy he killed would haunt him. She loved her pup, but put him under the seat of his car anyway because Star Baby would really haunt him with stink pretty soon.

The sound of a busting grocery bag arrested her attention. She raced over to the elderly lady and picked up everything that fell for her. Yes she honestly did, everything. The lady did not want the jar of bread and butter pickles with the crack down the side. Tiana did, and thanked her for it. She went over to the ditch to get a spare bag out of her backpack. She tied the bag tight with the jar securely inside. She had a pickle jar saved at home to transfer the pickles into. Win!

The old lady hadn’t driven away. Why not? She went over to check on her. The driver door was open.

“Hi there, young lady.”

“Hi, I thought maybe something was wrong cuz’ you didn’t leave. Are you okay?”

“I was thinking about you, child. Why you out here scroungin’ like this?”

Just as Tiana started feeling self-conscious, she noticed the woman had a Salvation Army jacket across the passenger seat. “I gotta be gone while Mama’s boyfriend is there, he’s very mean.”

“Mean to you, your Mama or both y’all?”

“Both, and he killed my puppy too.”

“Why does your Mama let him in?”

“I promised I’d never ever tell.”

“He sells her dope so she has no money for groceries or clothes or anything else.”

Tiana said nothing but nodded slowly.

“We can help you child. I got this here food to supplement an open picnic we’re having today. You are welcome to be there. You know where our church is? Good. Be there early and put some shoes on if you can. Okay?”

Tiana felt a bright light of love shining into her heart! “Yes ma’am! Can I bring my little sister?”

Flyin’ Low

He bought a one way ticket

On and airplane made of snow

Flyin’ low

Dyin’ slow

Out Of Rehab. Again. Pong opened the trunk to get his duffle of a thousand patches out. He’d sold his house and most everything in it for his addiction to Happy Herry. His and Lili’s house, with little Po. Yeah, little Po had lived with his brother for a few years, since the rehab before last. Now he’d live here at Pete’s too, or under a bridge with the other cracked up vets. They’d flown him to Laos while the new love of his life went on to Saigon. Oh Lili.

Pong realized he stared at Lili’s patch from Afghanistan, the official one from the Hagibi Hospital where she worked putting people’s faces back together. She used to work there as she’d stayed in after he was discharged.  She’d sent Po to him with a note saying they were a real family now, with this little boy. He yanked on the duffle strap and dragged it to his brother’s front door.

“I got the tea straight from Singapore. Great isn’t it” Pete grinned and topped off Pong’s mug.

The kitchen table was supposed to be a cozy, comforting family place to ease anxieties. Crap. “Yeah, great.” Pete had set him up in the rec room, too much room. Pong had nearly collapsed to see a new drawing table, paints, markers and a stack of poster boards. Not anymore, no more cutesy art, not without Lili. He walked outside the room and leaned against the wall in the hallway.

Po burst into the front door singing out “I’m home!” The kid stopped cold when he saw Pong. “Hi Pong.”

Jeez, the kid had grown! “Hey sport. What did you learn in school today?” God forbid if the kid wanted a hug – that was Lili’s  job.

In a much subdued tone, Po said, “I have to do a report on a pet. But I don’t have a pet.”

The kid stood as if in the choir, in church.  At least the single time Pong had attended church. He’d seen the boy trail up to stand on the stage with a dozen other kids and belt out some hymn. He remembered the grand days where he and Pete had belted out harmonies at some of the big shows. Jimi Hendrix got top billing but there were instant venues all throughout the milling crowds. He’d met Lili at the Pixly Farm show, where it rained the whole time. They let her sleep in their tent.

Pong jerked. “What?”

Pete patiently said, “I told Po that we could go to the Dog Pound and get a pet.”

Pong saw Po’s eyes dart from his nominal daddy to his own mug of tea. He’d had missed the kid sitting down. Annoyed, he blurted, “You could make up a pet.”

Po took a deep breath. “I read that the Dog Pound mostly kills the big dogs and the black cats.” His eyes lifted toward Pete. “If you don’t want a big dog maybe we could get a black kitten.”

The hope in the boy’s plea would have broken Pong’s heart if the still had one. But he gazed at Pete. Apparently, he’d lost his adopted son as well as his wife, each gone quite a while before he ever knew it for certain. He sipped his tea and remembered how he and Lili talked about getting a dog right before her unit sent her over to Afghanistan.

A jacket thrust into his face made him jump. Automatically standing to put his jacket on, he asked, “Where to?”

“You stay in outer space most of the time, dude. The Dog Pound. That’s what we’ve been jawing about, right? They close at five so we’d best be movin’ along.”

In the back seat Pong vividly recalled his favorite poster, ‘Movin’ Along!’, the one he’d got prints made of, the one that had people coming up to get their copies autographed. The cool air in his face and opened door clued him they’d arrived.

At the counter Po explained that they needed to see the process from the end to the beginning. The woman in charge frowned, saying the public was not allowed in the euthanasia area. Struggling to pay attention, Pong asked, “Can we see Death Row?”

The woman screwed her mouth up for another access denial, but Pete saved the day by asking, “He’s troubled. Can we visit the pets that have been here the longest?”

Pete stopped at the Cat Room that was indeed populated with a preponderance of black kitties. Pong went on to the last chance Dog Room, Po at his heels. Huh. He glanced back again, not a hallucination.

The dog room felt so weird, almost electrically frizzy. Maybe because there were now a hundred eyes on him? A neon rainbow sprang from Po to a shaggy auburn Irish Setter-like mutt. Pong blinked and it disappeared yet the affect remained. The mutt looked intently his way. Pong thought about how long he’d tried to draw somebody making the “Tck-Tck” sound you make with one side of your face pulled back, like when you wanted a dog to come. He’d messed up too many poster boards trying, no luck. Luck? Really? He shook his head hard to keep in this time and space.

He stretched one side of his lips back and “Tck-Tck” erupted. The mutt bounded up and over until his paws on each shoulder nearly bowled him over.  Once he caught his breath, he knew this was HIS dog. Or maybe his and Po’s? ” Hey son, what you want to name this giant hairy creature?”

His son’s face lit bright. “Angel.”

“Down, Angel”. The dog sat obediently, tail wagging like a windshield wiper.  He remembered that leaving Pixly Farm he had to get new wiper blades before they got to the interstate. Angel brought his attention back to the here and now. He saw Po lean forward to check out Daddy’s demeanor. Pong flung his arms out. That hug felt better than he ever thought one could.

Stupid or Cupid?

The 60’s style flamboyance made his ‘Save a Pet’ posters a big hit, in the restaurants, in vet’s offices, grocery stores, lots of places. One of Pete’s cats, couldn’t tell Stupid from Cupid, had knocked over a bottle of black ink, stepped in it and walked across the top left corner of Pong’ s first effort. Now they all had black cat paw prints stamped there, like the seal of approval.

He shook his head and turned away from the framed posters on the wall. “Lemonade. I came in to get lemonade. He took a Minute Maid out of the freezer and stirred it with water. He heard Po shouting something and laughing. He walked to the screen door and watched Po try to toss the tennis ball again except the dog sat on this hind legs right in front of the boy, begging. Pong opened the door and aimed for his lounge chair. Po ran over and took the lemonade from him just a second before Angel knocked him over, licking his face and arms until he felt like a slobber doll. That Angel could wear a guy out! That Angel was a blessing.

The Delight in a Cup of TEA!

I used to drink 3 or 4 cups of strong black coffee over day. Then my work environment started getting rough and anxiety loomed. That much caffeine became a hazard. Thus, I went tea-crazy!

You can see a bit of the painting I did to hang over this shelf (there’s another shelf below with a teapot and stufff…). Below is the whole thing.

The lighting was not optimum, the green is actually uniformly applied.

And I’m not selfish with my tea, oh no! I have a few cups on hand to share with…should an army drop by!

A section of the shelf…

Someone Say CHICKEN?

I’ve always liked chicken cooked a dozen ways, I made a little fenced in chicken coop when the cabin was finished and always had fresh brown eggs, and worked at a chicken processing place for a decade!

My chicken fetish lasted for several years. It’s over now, but I can’t bear to get rid of any of this stuff.

Some aren’t in the kitchen…

“Chicken Run”, a movie favorite!
I Painted Several Stick-Chicken Scenes

And there are a few items collects overseas, a wooden rolling chicken the egg turns around inside I made, ceramics, even a chicken tea cup. No, I’m not obsessed. Am I?

A couple feet of the 10 foot array on the ledge between the 1st and 2nd floor

Go, Go Yogurt!

This year with more time, I restarted making my own yogurt. Golly, I’d missed it, and was delighted to get that first batch made. Since then, when there’s only one jar left I scoop a glob aside to make the new batch before gobbling the contents.

Fresh, Whole Milk is a MUST!

To start the fermentation I needed some new culture, the stuff I had in the freezer had been there WAY too long. The easiest way is to just add a glop of one from the store. They used to make the ‘fruit on the top’ kind so getting down to the plain yogurt was easy. To compensate, I used strawberry flavor as I put a spoonful of strawberry preserves in the finished jars anyway.

To begin, heat up half a gallon of fresh milk, 185 degrees F. I let mine set at that temp for 30 minutes because I like it thick. The let it cook to 115 degrees F and mix that reserved spoonful into it. Then put it in the clean jars to ferment!

Oh, the yummy-ness! Add a dab of of any preserves or such you like and enjoy something that’s actually GOOD for you at that afternoon snack time!

My Apple Odyssey

Green Apple Bonanza!

I planted my apple trees a few years ago and became accustomed to them just being trees. Lo and behold! Two of the four dwarf trees were loaded with apples this year! I kept waiting for the apples to start turning red, but when they got bright yellow, they began falling off the limbs. Duh, yellow apples, not red ones!

Naturally I had not adequately planned what to do with them yet. Weren’t apples supposed to get ripe in the fall? Well, I use apples in muffins, pandowdy, crumbles and such so I peeled, cored and sliced about 40 of them and mixed them in a great big pot with a generous slop of cinnamon and nutmeg, a little milk and flour, and simmered them until they got to about 40% of their original volume. Ready for anything!

Freezer Bagged!
Seasons, Simmered and Stored!
Worry Not, I Have More Cinnamon!

Now they’re in the freezer, awaiting the next cobbler…pandowdy…pie..

Bear Necessities

I been in an all-out tumult this year! How about you? I had a ton of terrible anxiety at work last year that culminated in getting fired two days before Christmas – Ho-Ho-Ho! I can’t go into it, non-disclosure statement, but let’s just say it was both a magnificent relief to be away from there and also a new mega-anxiety. At my age, a woman has little chance to get a good job. I was at the old place 11 years and got bonuses every year but the last couple. No way can I hire in around here for even half of what I was making there. Where’s here?

Unpack: I bought a fixer-upper in the city to be nearer to work and not have to drive a couple hours to-from each day. Had to sell it this spring too cheap and try to move all my stuff out in my Subaru. Anything I could not stuff in, tie on or take apart stayed. Now all that plunder is piled in the cabin out here in the 100-acre forest. I’m trying to upgrade my online bookstore inventory from about 900 books to 3000. I have an account with ABE Books who harbors independent booksellers from all over and my monthly account is for 0-3000 books. As the Old Lady Who Bookstore, I have about 1500 books in the inventory now and strive onward, often with books I have collected over the last few decades. Some are even worth much more than I bought them for as they’re 1st editions and some have become rare! Speaking of books, I finally did get all my Elise t’Hoot Galactic Adventure series into print…took a while to get the covers right.

Enough! Here’s the edifice that keeps my spirits up!
Isn’t there a song about ‘the Bear Necessities, the Bear Necessities, the Bear Necessities of life’?

Elise’s Key Purpose

  • Elise is a crewmember who, as an aid to the exiled Agronomy scientist, is the only non-exile allowed out onto the planet surface. The others stay on the main ship in orbit or on the transport ship that delivered the exiles to do the studies.
  • Elise’s chip says she’s Marta from Germany but her management decided she’s just another ‘Soggy’ and shun her. This allies her with the exiles even more strongly. ‘Soggy’ is a likely phrase as humans have a history of making caricatures of ‘lesser’ folk with such derogatory language.
  • Elise’s plan was to make enough money to go home and pay tuition to finish her degree. She is flayed when she hears of the plan to destroy the trees planted and the horticultural bounty the wrecked Dutch ship carried. My mentor told me that such heartrending issues affect people now, the world over, and that it will doubtless occur more often when times get tougher. They really do care about us.
  • When Elise takes a walk though the planted trees, she finds one she does not recognize and is affronted, that was her major in college! She realizes this is not a tree but an alien. And there are more hiding among the trees. I was told life comes in trillions of forms, most that formed by evolution in their home environments. They have a wide span of development, some simple and some highly advanced.
  • Elise’s Paraguayan friend dubs the aliens Amigos. As life is in many forms, so are the attitudes and emotions of that life. Tehuti said peace and cooperation is most natural, and there is a strong tendency for civilized folk to recognize peace as beneficial. He’s from the Lyran area of the galaxy and there were folk like him there as well as a civilization that thought the weaker or more self-serving beings should be thinned out. For the Amigos I chose smart, peaceful and honest as attributes. Later, other aliens that threatened Earth for example, were more mechanical and unconcerned about others if there was a technical concern.
  • Elise convinces the other exiles to help her smuggle the aliens to the next Colony planet instead of allowing them to be destroyed with the trees. Tehuti’s major concern was that we show the poorly treated illegal with mental issues from trauma can lead and make pivotal changes for humanity. She sacrificed her future to save the Amigos and bravely introduced this alien species to the humans of Tenembras. This was my way of stating that real heroes don’t let anything stop them.