Saturday Update: Suburban Nirvana?

Coffee is a wonderful thing: had a couple cups at about 6:00, got some work in before 8:30 Mass, was starting to drag a bit, then had a quad-shot latte around 10:00, came home and worked until about 2:00, hit the wall and napped until 5 (good thing, too, as it was about 100F at that point) and then laid bricks until dinner. Yay, caffeine!

So, stressful week, still have a number of less than pleasant things to do, so, guy that I am, spent the day working around the house. Some trivial stuff like raked and watered the back lawn, watered the orchard I’ve put in in the front yard (front yards are useless – so mine’s got 13 fruit trees in it now, arranged in adorable planters of one kind or another) and a bit of tidying up.

(Now in Year 2 of what will most likely be a 4 year front yard project: got the trees and most of bricks along the walk in; need a wall, walk and fence along the street, a brick planter along the south side, and an expanded front porch. And a ton of clean-up. Among other things.)

But mostly worked on the brick oven. When we last left this insane project, I was trying to add about 12″ of shelf along the front, so that one would have a little space to use to get pizzas and bread in and out of the oven. Concocted an insanely complicated plan to bolt on an oak and Douglas fir butcher block shelf. Eventually realized it had too many ways to go wrong to leave much of a chance to go right. Soooo – poured a little slab using the threaded rod I’d already epoxied into the oven slab as rebar, added some cross pieces and – well, it looks OK:

Got some 6″ and 2″ square Mexican tiles to add a colorful surface, which is why it’s down 1/2″ from the oven floor.

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Some 6″ square Mexican tile for the shelf. 

After finally deciding the shelf issue, was ready to start building the oven! Got almost two courses in:

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Tomorrow, with any luck, I can get the walls up and start building the framework for the barrel vault. The ceramic insulation pads I ordered got here – it’s not enough! Need to order some more. The 11″  square Guadalupana tile arrived for the arch on the side. Need to get done Current state:

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Imagine a little Our Lady of Guadalupe shrine under the arch, with plants in front. 

It’s going to be really cute when I get it done.

And we had dinner out back in perfect California weather: low humidity, nice temperature, light breeze, no bugs.

And then got the killer sunset:

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Looking west across the street. Yay, God! Much brighter and more colorful in real life. 

All in all, a very nice day. For a change.  If I can gt a couple hours of writing in before bed, it will be darn near perfect!

Weekend Update/Pointless Post

Unless you like pretty pictures of food and second thoughts on Guardians of the Galaxy, there’s no excuse for this post, and no reason for you to read it. Just being upfront.

A. Did get a bunch of reading in last week, will do a couple more book reviews soon. I could get used to this. In addition to the client visit/long plane flights/boring evenings in hotels providing opportunity to read, I felt well, which reinforced how not well I have been feeling since about November. Nothing in particular, just draggy, sleepy, unfocused. Might be blood pressure meds – but those have been the same for years. Will be seeing the doctor soon, but, as usual, I always feel better after making an appointment. (If only this worked for dentists – chipped teeth and decaying fillings just heal themselves once you’ve got a date to get them fixed. No?)

B. Saw Guardians of the Galaxy II a second time because it’s Father’s Day, it’s 105F outside, and my younger daughter had not yet seen it. Gotta say: as goofy as the action is, as unnecessary 90% of the (slight, I’ll admit) potty talk is, this movie works so well on an emotional level it’s shocking. Yondu steals most scenes he’s in, manages to convince you you’ve misunderstood him all along, and gets you crying (well, I, at least, had something in my eye) near the end – and then they ratchet it up from there – and it works. One of the reasons I wanted to see it again was exactly that: had I just fallen for cynical manipulation the first time? I kind of think not – I think they really understood that the only stakes worth raising were emotional stakes, and they went at it with everything they had, and it worked.

C. Speaking of pretty pictures of food: this year, my basil crop has been and continues to be outstanding. If you’ve got basil, make pesto; if you have fresh homemade pesto, make pasta; if you have homemade pesto pasta, you must bake fresh bread. I do understand that wasting people’s time with pictures of food is lame. I’m making an exception this once (well, except for my daughters’ cakes – but those are art) because my family kept going on about how beautiful this particular loaf of bread was:

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So, yea, it’s a picturesque loaf, I’ll grant. It’s the simplest loaf of yeast bread I know how to make – this one just came out particularly beautiful after the manner of its kind.  Tasty, too.

D. On the flight back from Atlanta, got to see lots of snow. There was plenty in the Rockies near the New Mexico-Colorado border, on  into Utah (especially considering I was on the right side of the plane heading west, meaning I was mostly looking at south-facing and thus less snowy slopes) .

The real snow action was the Sierra:

 

We seemed to be flying right over Yosemite, so my view was of Mono Lake (too low for snow, just north and east if Mt. Whitney and just north of the Long Valley Caldera), Hetch Hetchy, which is the valley on the western slopes just north of Yosemite and which contains San Francisco’s main reservoir, and the high granite domes which make up the bulk of the high southern Sierra.

Lots of snow, even in mid-June. Several ski areas have announced that they will be open through August! The pictures are too small to see this, I suppose, but even from the air you could see areas above 8,000 or 9,000 feet just buried in snow. Along the western side, I could see white-water waterfalls coming off those high granite domes down into the valleys, and all the rivers were likewise white until well into the foothills. Spectacular.

E. My son asked long ago for me to make him a shield. After googling around, I decided to try fiberglass. Just because I’ve never done it before. So I made a hardboard form, if you will, gave it three coats of varnish to seal it, had my son apply 4 coats of wax to it. I’d attached some 3X2 boards along the sides, screwed in a couple big hooks, had my son lean on it in the middle, them wired between the hooks to get the curve:

 

Then we applied the world’s sloppiest gel coat – hey, it was our first time! As soon as we can get 2 uninterrupted hours, we will put on 4 layers – 2 mat, 2 cloth – and epoxy in a handle and adjustable strap. Then let cure over night.

And pray we can get it off the form!

Graduation: Cakes

My beloved younger daughter made cakes for the Diablo Valley School graduation and 20th anniversary party. First the graduation cake:

Raspberry cream filling and frosting on a vanilla cake. Even more delicious than it looks!

And my lovely daughter.

The theme for the 20th anniversary party was disco tea party. My daughter responded:


On one side and she put silhouettes of disco dancers:


She also handed detailed the flowers:


All I can say is that I hope somebody at school ask for a death Star cake some year, because I’d really like to see that!

We had fun. People were duly impressed.

Calla Lilies

On the north side of our house is a little concreted in area where we keep our trashcans (or, more accurately, this being California and all, our recycling bin, our yard waste bin and our landfill bin). There are a couple small areas up against the house, no more than a couple square feet each, where the soil is exposed. Why those little areas were not paved I have no idea.

We’ve lived here for over 20 years. In an exhibition of hope triumphing over reason, one of previous owners planted calla lilies in those areas. Somehow, they are still there. To recap: no sun, no care, poor clay soil. The only way they ever get watered is by rain or maybe when I wash off the patio in the back and the water accidentally makes into the beds. Note that I don’t wash off the the patio often, pretty much never when we’re having a ‘drought’, so called. So, for the past 5 years, those flowers have gotten by on only a tiny amount of water at highly irregular intervals. Yet, they will not die.

As you may have heard, it has rained a freaking lot (technical term, that) this year out here in California. It’s raining now. We’ve received well over a foot more rain than is typical, almost 200% of average.

The calla lilies liked it:

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Mrs Yardsale of the Mind cut a bunch for Easter and put them on the table, where I snapped these pictures. Over the spring so far, there have been maybe a couple dozen beautiful flowers, totally unearned and unexpected.

Sometimes, life is like that.

Happy Easter! All week!

Happy Easter! Χριστός ἀνέστη!

He is truly risen!

Blessed Fra Angelico has got what you need.  First, we have the women at the tomb greeted by an angel:

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The Risen Christ hovers in the background, as it simply would not do to show merely an empty tomb. This fresco is in cell 8 upstairs at San Marco’s Dominican Convent in Florence, so Fra Angelico paints St. Dominic kneeling to the left – in the brother’s cell, he (almost) always puts a Dominican in the scene, to remind the viewer that he is not just looking at a pretty fresco, but is to see himself in the events portrayed.

I love the way the angel sits rather casually and seems to be caught mid-lecture: He is risen as he said!

The wonderful hymn O filii and filiae captures the moment thus:

 Alleluia, Alleluia, Alleluia.

Ye sons and daughters of the Lord,
the King of glory, King adored,
this day Himself from death restored.

R. Alleluia

All in the early morning gray
went holy women on their way,
to see the tomb where Jesus lay.

R. Alleluia

Of spices pure a precious store
in their pure hands these women bore,
to anoint the sacred Body o’er.

R. Alleluia

The straightaway one in white they see,
who saith, “seek the Lord: but He
is risen and gone to Galilee.”

R. Alleluia

Next, from cell #1, is the “Do not cling to Me” scene from the Gospel of John:

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The lack of a Dominican is a little unusual – a quick skim spotted only 3 or 4 others cell frescoes out of 36(?) or so cells that do not feature one. I could make up a story about how the text being illustrated – Mary Magdalene, confused and desperate, looking for her Lord, is enough of an Every Person for the artist’s purpose. But I don’t know.

Love the hoe on Christ’s shoulder – mistaken for the gardener, indeed. Here and in his Annunciations, where man’s fall and salvation are front and center, Fra Angelico sets them in a garden and adds much details to the plants and trees. Man’s proper place is, after all, in a garden, a place restored and then some by Christ’s Resurrection.  Ave fit ex Eva, after all.

We’ll end for this year with Piero della Francesca’s awesome Resurrection:

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Aldous Huxley, of all people, describes this fresco thus: “It stands there before us in entire and actual splendour, the greatest picture in the world.” Like most masterpieces, photos do it no justice. Piero captured the grandeur of the Risen Lord, and his realistic portrayal of the guards as contemporary Italian men at arms who dropped asleep where they sat is wonderful.

One last distraction: count the guards’ legs. Piero was painting the Resurrection, not guards’ legs, so if he needed to leave out a few…

 

Good Friday: Bouguereau

Bishop Barron says, in one of his wonderful videos, that happiness lies in surrendering completely to God’s will. He then points at Christ on the Cross, and says: there is a happy man.

With that in mind, praying that you and yours, all the visitors to this humble blog, have a happy, holy and blessed Good Friday.

Since it’s Good Friday and we’ve been discussing Bouguereau:

File:William-Adolphe Bouguereau (1825-1905) - The Flagellation of Our Lord Jesus Christ (1880).jpg

 

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Bouguereau


A possibly amusing story involving Twitter:

Got some Bouguereau lined up for tomorrow. He’s a pretty good cautionary tale against accepting the opinions of your age, one with, possibly, a happy ending. During his lifetime, he was considered the greatest painter in the world, for very good reason:

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One may reasonably dispute about choice of subject matter, for example, or simply prefer other great artists. I’m partial to Fra Angelico and Botticelli, personally. But as far as skill and technique goes, he’s one of the very greatest painters ever, and he used all those painting chops to create always beautiful and often profound art. The accusations made against him and other Academic painters – that they were dull, lifeless, and cared only about technique – are disproven by a glance at just the 3 examples above.

But Bouguereau, who died in 1905, was forcibly consigned to the dustbin of history, and stayed there, his painting put into storage and dismissed in art schools for over 80 years. Only the work of some dedicated people has brought him back to life over the last couple decades.

When hung in museums, these are the painting the young and old alike linger over. It’s not because of bad taste. Preferring modern art to Bouguereau is a willful act of insanity. It is to choose ugly and shallow over beautiful and deep.

Anyway, yesterday, was wasting time on Twitter – but I repeat myself – when Daddy Warpig, self-proclaimed geek and trenchant social critic, tweeted:

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To which I replied:

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And, 10,000 or so impressions (whatever they are), dozens of retweets and likes and replies later – I’ve introduced Bouguereau to Mr. Warpig’s Twitterverse. You know, gamer geeks and Odds and all that. I do not understand Twitter at all. In about 12 hours, there was more Twitter activity around this tweet than the total from inception to that point. People thanked me for introducing them to Bouguereau, who (of course) they’d never heard of.

This is strangely and deeply satisfying.