LANGUAGE IS A WAY TO DESCRIBE THE WORLD


Fish Designs
“SOMETHING FISHY” original watercolor painting by kayti sweetland Rasmussen

It depends on what the meaning of the word ‘is’ is.

Sheila is tall. Neil is tired. In English we use the same word “is” to describe the two conditions even though one is a permanent attribute while the other is temporary.

Or consider the statement: Joan is quiet. What does that mean? Is she quiet by nature, an introvert, or is she being quiet today?

In Spanish, there are two verbs to describe the idea of being. Ser and estar both mean “to be” but with a big difference. Ser describes something that’s inherent while estar is temporary.

If you want to say someone is tall, you’d go with ser, but if you want to say someone is tired, estar is the one to use.

Each language is a different way of describing the world.

With Cinco de Mayo” arriving next week, those of us who thrill at the thought of tortillas, beans and rice and a few hot peppers thrown in, are already planning our menu. I have been thinking of fish tacos for one thing, so the other day we stopped by a taco truck here in town to buy what I discovered last summer to be the best fish tacos around.

Since we had last stopped there, a “gentrification” of sorts had taken place, with the truck turned into a new position, and a pebbled area to wait in. The taker of orders stood in a small window about 50 feet above my head. I could barely see her head. I asked for a fish taco, and she said “no”. I began a friendly conversation with her and discovered that she did not speak English so I asked for a “pescado taco”. Still no.

A very nice Mexican boy standing behind me chatted with her a bit, and assured me that they no longer made fish tacos. I settled for pork.

This year’s Cinco de Mayo will be a mixed occasion for our family. Our son-in-law who passed away last year on the 5th of May, was especially fond the celebration, so we will lift a glass of Modelo beer to his memory.

EGGPLANT ENCHILADAS

I fling tradition to the wind by using eggplant leftover from grilling for enchilada filling. These enchiladas play the old Red Enchilada song with a few new instruments.

Eggplant filling:
1 medium eggplant, cut into 1/2″ slices crosswise
Brush with a mixture of garlicky pesto, olive oil and a little balsamic vinegar
Grill or broil till tender, about 10 min per side. Cool.
2 onions, chopped and sautéed in olive oil.
Cut cooled eggplant into 1/2″ cubes and mix with onions.
Add 3 tsp. oregano. 1/2 tsp. salt
Cook for 3 minutes more

Soften your tortillas by frying in 1 Tbs. oil. Stack on paper towel before filling.

Warm a can of Red chile sauce preferably Los Palmas. (Or you can make your own, but I won’t bother you with the recipe because the canned isn’t awful.)

Dip the softened tortilla in warmed chile sauce, Place about 3 Tbs. eggplant filling, and 3 Tbs. grated cheddar cheese down middle. Fold over sides of tortilla and place seam side down in a greased 9 x 13 baking pan. Drizzle on more chile sauce and more grated cheese. Put in 350 oven 12 to 15 min.

(If you have left over filling it’s also good made into turnovers using some pie crust, I do this if I get tired of filling tortillas and want to hurry up and eat!)

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BARN DRAMA


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MY BEAU” watercolor painting by kayti sweetland rasmussen

In a sport equated with beauty, ugliness often rears its head. In an ideal barn, owners must be “laid-back, happy and drama-free.” Horse people are sometimes a different breed of person however. Their horses on the other hand, are usually “laid-back, happy and drama-free”.

About 40% of the country’s 1.8 million horse owners keep their horses in group barns, where inappropriate behavior is common. “Barn Drama” is a catch–all phrase for all manner of unpleasantness. The sharing of facilities, both grooming areas and riding arenas, as well as the ‘borrowing” of other people’s stuff, can quickly escalate from petty back-biting to screaming matches. Riding, a solo activity, doesn’t attract team players as a rule.

At the barn where my daughter boards her horse, there are 128 horses managed by a competent and caring crew. It is situated in a lovely valley in Southern California and surrounded by mature pepper trees which rustle softly in the late afternoon breeze emitting a wonderful fragrance. It is a quiet and peaceful setting with an occasional whinny heard from a stall containing a horse telling someone he wants to get up and gallop.

The owner, a writer, keeps two horses there, but never rides them. She has taken over a small shack at the side of an arena, where she simply comes and watches her horses as they are turned out. She comes alone, sits on a small chair on the porch of the shack, and spends a peaceful afternoon reading, writing and watching her two horses.

Another young woman was given a horse by her father after begging for some time, and assuring him that it would be her pleasure to care for it. But after the “newness” wore off, she decided to forget the poor animal. She discovered that it is a labor of love to care for a horse. Her grandfather, a 91 year young non-rider, began coming to the barn daily where he made use of the arena for his daily walk. Riders became used to seeing an elderly gentleman in a checkered cap making his way around the track. One day he was seen taking the granddaughter’s mount out of his stall and taking him along on his walk. This continued for a month or two, and one day he approached the manager for a riding lesson. He had never been atop anything but a hobby-horse before. Now he is a familiar sight astride a happy and grateful horse sharing a lazy afternoon trot together. Horse lovers come in all sizes and in all ages.

THE PLUM BEAR OF RANCHO SAN JULIAN


THE ROAD HOME
rancho san julian

On the rancho, grizzly bears were considered the outlaws of the animal world. They lived in the nearby foothills, too close for anyone’s comfort, especially since it was easy for them to pay a call at the back door or saunter down the main street of the then pueblo, looking for snacks. When they were hungry, almost nothing stopped them from plundering. Grizzlies were frightening and scary, but no one had been eye to eye with one until the Plum Bear came along.

A plum tree right next to the kitchen adobe was so heavy with fruit its boughs were hanging near the ground, where the bear could have picked all the plums he wanted. But no, our bear climbed the tree, not an easy task for a bear. The Plum Bear decided that he wanted the plums on the end of the bough on top of the roof. Anyone who knew anything about fruit knew that the ripest ones were at the top. Our bear was a fruit expert, and his only choice was to climb the tree and climb onto the roof of the adobe so he could get the best plum. The roof of the old adobe was not made to support bears.

sN JULIAN

HOUSE TODAY

Some women were busy cooking when the bear fell through the roof. His descent into the adobe must have surprised him as much as it surprised the women making tortillas. They ran screaming out of the little house, leaving it to the perplexed bear.

Horses were always kept ready, with riatas coiled at the saddle bow. Upon hearing the screams of the women, several men jumped on their waiting steeds and surrounded the Plum Bear, who had made his way out of the house. He was swiftly lassoed and tied up to a nearby sycamore tree, the best kind of tree for securing bears.

Whenever I heard this story as a child, I felt immensely sorry for the bear who had only wanted to get the perfect plum at the top of the tree. I wondered then, and still do today, if he ever got the plum.

sanjulian

CATTLE GRAZING IN PEACE

Today, instead of Grizzlies, the rancho is home to wild boar, wild turkeys, and white tailed deer. My grandson, a wildlife biologist, takes care of the wild boars, and takes paying customers to cull the deer population when necessary.

DON’T CALL THEM DUMMIES


mannikin3 Have you ever tried to slip a long silk stocking onto the unwieldy plastic leg of a department store mannequin? Take it from me it isn’t easy.

Straight out of my high school art class, I was hired by the local department store in my hometown of Alameda to not only hand paint the signs which advertised the clearance and sale items. From there it was an easy jump to being the resident window dresser.

The mannequin’s view from the inside of the window is of course quite different from yours looking inward. Their job is to show off the clothing, and do it in such an appealing manner that the passing “window shoppers” can’t bear to stand outside another minute without that particular outfit. It is a proven fact that mannequins are a spur to helping customers buy more clothes.

These are stressful times to be a mannequin. She’s under pressure to do it all—she needs to show off the latest beach wear, be more athletic, glamorous, businesslike, and even ready to rope a calf. Fortunately today’s mannequins come ready to be rearranged into more believable positions. Arms and legs are detachable, head and neck positions can be screwed into different positions.

For decades store mannequins were eerily headless, then bald and featureless. Now certain companies have magnetic lips, eyelashes and nails which are changeable to reflect the latest in makeup colors.

An artist friend working freelance, used to draw the figures for the newspapers for a number of years. The earliest use of mannequins in a retail setting dates back to the 1800’s with some being made of papier mache, wicker or having wax heads and glass eyes. Their use climbed with the rise of store windows in the 1900’s. In the late 1940’s more durable fiberglass began to replace plastic and allowed for more realistic features.

In the 1980’s and 1990’s faceless and headless mannequins became more prevalent. They didn’t require professional makeup artists and hairdressers. One factor was cost; mannequins sell for $750 to $900 each, and even an average size store is now using them throughout the stores various departments. A large store like Nordstrom may use 2,000 mannequins throughout the store. Clothing today doesn’t have much hanger appeal; you need a body inside to give it shape and show off the cut. Even a table full of folded colorful sweaters benefits from having a mannequin wearing an outfit featuring one of the sweaters.

My life as a window dresser picked up again later in life with a successful display business begun with one other woman. The lure of the shop window has never left me, and today I sometimes become more entranced with how the window is displayed than with the merchandise inside it! The holiday windows were by far the most fun and creative. Macy’s in San Francisco, in conjunction with the animal shelters, for several years showed puppies and kittens for adoption in the windows. Remember that the window display, whatever it may be, just gets people into the store. After that they’re on their own!

TIMELESS WORDS


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JONAH AND THE WHALE” STONEWARE SCULPTURE BY KAYTI SWEEETLAND RASMUSSEN

A word is intangible. We can’t buy it in a store, hold it in our arms, or lock it in a safe. Yet, it’s infinitely shareable–we can send it to thousands and still use it ourselves.

A word is a link to history, a bridge to the future. The word ‘wisdom’, for instance, is the same word that was once spoken by the author of Beowulf, those same letters appeared in Shakespeare’s plays, Emerson wrote with the same syllables, and the reporter in today’s newspaper makes use of the very same word.

We might well wonder what words Jonah uttered as he was being slowly introduced to the interior of the whale. I’m sure the Bible has him sending up a plea to the Almighty to save him from almost certain familiarity with the digestive process soon to come. But what did he really say?

“Words are the only things that last forever; they are more durable than the eternal hills. William Hazlitt, essayist (1778-1830)”

There are so-called “good” words and “bad” words, and these sometimes change with the vernacular of the generations. Many of the words our parents thought of as bad words are in common use today. Bill Bryson says “More than 350 million people in the world speak English and the rest, it sometimes seems, try to”. No other language has achieved such eminence, overcome such odds, inspired such majesty of thought, or caused such confusion as English.

New words come into existence every day, with the birth of new industries. Each profession and business has it’s own language peculiar to them. For instance the terms I might use as an artist would not be useful to a dog catcher or a Paramedic.

Scholars have divided the history of the English language into three periods. Old English (from the middle of the 5th to the beginning of the 12th century). Middle English (12th century through the 15th), and Modern English (16th century onwards.

To confuse things further, we have British English and American English, and we all fall under the designation as speaking the “Mother Tongue”. Erroneous words are sometimes introduced by respected users of the language who simply make a mistake. Shakespeare thought illustrious was the opposite of lustrous and for a time gave it a sense that wasn’t called for. More alarmingly, the poet Robert Browning caused considerable consternation by including the word twat in one of his poems, thinking it an innocent term. The work was Pippa Passes written in 1841 and now remembered for the line “God’s in His Heaven, all’s right with the world”. But it also contains this disconcerting passage: Then owls and bats, Cowls and twats, Monks and nuns in a cloister’s moods, Adjourn to the oak-stump pantry!

Browning had apparently come across the word twat —which meant precisely the same then as it does now—and somehow took it to mean a piece of headgear for the nuns. Though it caused much hilarity among generations of schoolboys, it was never called to Browning’s attention, because no one could think of a suitably delicate way to explain it to him.

VISION SEEKERS


Vision Seeker
“The Vision Seeker” Molded Plastic, leather, fur, feathers and beadwork by KSR

We are all vision seekers. We seek knowledge of the past; hope for the future. The Native American may have gone into a secret place to commune with the unknown. We go into the world of books.

My passion for books came into being at such an early age that I presumed that it was an intrinsic quality, much like having brown hair. There were no books to read at my grandmother’s house, save her Bible and church literature. When my father was not at sea, his reading matter was far more interesting to me. He was an inveterate reader of fast-paced detective stories, as well as complicated naval manuals.

On the occasions in which I lived with Auntie and Uncle Phil, I headed immediately into their small library, which held all the old books from their daughter’s childhood, as well as reading material of interest to themselves. A small sunroom led off from the library, which formed a secret hiding place for me to sit with a book or two. The two of them had two comfortable chairs in the middle of the living room with table and lamp in between, where they spent their evenings reading before retiring at eight p.m. sharp.

My favorite places in the world are book stores, both new and used. As an only child I lost myself in the life and times of other people and places. Since we moved frequently at the Navy’s behest, books were a familiar and loved escape. The direction to the local library always came shortly after we settled into the new place, and a library card of your own was a treasured possession.

The delight of used bookstores came much later. Sadly there aren’t a lot of them around anymore, and the large chain bookstores seem to have disappeared with the advent of e-books. Fortunately internet shopping and the Half Price Book chain give us access to the world of books both old and new. There is something quite special about rummaging about in an old book store. There is always the possibility of finding something rare, or of finding a long-searched for book you can’t live without.

Both San Francisco and Seattle once had large old bookstores which carried not only books but old maps and prints. Dr. Advice once felt terribly proud to bring me a complete set of Dickens as a birthday gift. My granddaughter, an inveterate reader, shares my love of books, and I know I can always find something in an old bookstore she will love as well as I do.

There are so many people reading on their Kindle or computer these days, and Amazon and other companies make it simple for them to download a book immediately. Personally I would miss the feel and the smell of a book, plus the pleasure of passing it along to someone else. Browsing through friend’s homes to see what they keep on their bookshelves becomes another way to know them. I have one friend who scours thrift stores for old cookbooks. My home bookshelves are crowded with all sorts of books and we have shelves in every room in the house including bookshelves in the garage. A friend of my daughter looked around once and asked shat we did with all of them. “We read them of course”, I said, and them read the very good ones over again.

Dr. Advice had a knee replacement a decade ago, and since he only read the newspaper sports news up until that time, I wondered what he would do with all the long hours long during his recovery. The TV offerings can’t keep people fascinated for very long. I suggested he take up reading, and now he is never without a book in his hand. Louie Lamour, the author of many Western style books, was self-educated, and it is said he always had a book in his pocket. I have a number of friends I know to be great readers, and a normal greeting would be “What are you reading?”

Part of the excitement of an old bookstore is the smell which seems to have been absorbed into the woodwork. A combination of old paper, ink, and probably a lot of dust. A friend once stood in the doorway of my living room and announced that she “loved the smell” of it. It is a room we seldom use, and has the usual wall overflowing bookshelves. I asked her if she thought it might be like the smell of an old bookstore, and she went through a “Eureka!” moment before saying “That’s it!”