Saturday, June 29, 2013


More posterizing à la Photoshop, which makes this windmill I photographed in Bruges look
vaguely sinister. Cue the townsfolk with torches and pitchforks. ©Nancy E. Banks

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Cue the Madness

          We'll be moving soon, and past experience (far, far too much past experience) tells me that I will be too exhausted to string together words that make much sense. So the next few posts are some images from my art files. Enjoy.

I do like Photoshop's "Posterize" function. It allows you to make some nice illustrations
from photographs. ©Nancy E. Banks

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

The Bees Are All Right

          K opened his and Dad's hives the other day. The bees are doing well. There is capped brood and honey and a working queen, and none of the drones are sitting around watching ESPN and drinking beer instead of gathering pollen and nectar.

Bees doing what bees do. The bee with the red spot on her back is the queen.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

I Love my Dad

©Nancy E. Banks
          One of my earliest and fondest memories is of sitting on the floor of my dad's workshop, behind the table saw, nailing together two-by-four scraps. Dad had given me the lumber, hammer (adult size), and nails, showed me how to hammer a nail, and left me to it. I was not yet five years old, and I hit my thumb about seven times for every time I hit the nail head. It was extremely painful, but I didn't cry. I suspected that if I did, Dad would take away the hammer and nails, and no way was I going to give up the bliss of being allowed to hammer nails into wood.

          Dad has always done me the honor of seeing my abilities first, rather than my gender. He showed me how to use tools, rather than preventing me from learning important life skills because "girls don't do that." When I demonstrated an ability to read diagrams and assemble objects, he pointed me to the unassembled bandsaw he'd just ordered, handed me the assembly instructions, showed me how to use a socket wrench,  and left me to it. And then, when I'd finished the assembly, he plugged it in and started sawing, trusting completely that I had put the thing together correctly.

          Dad has given me lots of gifts over the years, but this has been perhaps the most precious. He believes I can do anything. And over the years, I have done a lot of things—successfully—that I personally knew for a fact I couldn't do when I undertook to do them. Why did I succeed? because Dad believed in me and he'd taught me how to use tools and tackle problems and I didn't want to disappoint him.

          Thanks, Dad.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Public Enemy Number One

          God love the TSA. They never fail to provide excellent material for a rant.

          I thought I wouldn't have anything to post today, but I went to the airport a few days ago and tried to clear Security. With a—gasp!—pocket knife in my purse.

          Now, I had read earlier in the spring that TSA, in its infinite wisdom, had finally decided that pocket knives are as innocuous as those of us who carry them know they are, and that you could now carry them on a plane.

          "Great!" I thought. I always carry a pocket knife, and I hate that airport travel restrictions have made it necessary for me to leave it home any time I got on a plane. It's excellent useful, is a pocket knife, for opening cartons, deadheading flowers, sharpening pencils, cutting string, harvesting rhubarb, and whatnot. The one I carry is called, amusingly, a Peanut. It is less than three inches long. It has a blue bone handle. 

          It's kind of girly, to be completely honest. Were I a terrorist, it would most certainly not be my weapon of first choice for a hijacking (too small; too lacking in scariness; not hardly big and manly enough). So I popped it in my purse (because TSA agents won't even let you carry a Chapstick* in your pocket through their X-ray machines. I've had to take my handkerchief out, too. Apparently a really accomplished terrorist can build a fully-functional, mayhem-ready, shrapnel-infested IED out of nothing more than a tube of Chapstick and a slightly tired hanky. Or possibly TSA agents have elevated flat-crazy paranoia to a new art form.)

My knife. If you'd like one like it, go here to shop.
But lordy, don't take it on a plane.
          When I stepped out of the X-ray machine and began collecting my belongings off the conveyor belt, an agent asked me if the purse he was holding was mine. With a sinking feeling, I said that it was. He informed me that there was a knife in my purse, which I already knew, having put it there, and I said, hey, wait a minute, I read in the newspaper that pocket knives were okay on planes now.

          (Before I start my rant in earnest and forget all about it, I just want to say that this TSA agent was both helpful and non-hostile, surprising the heck out of me. I am not accustomed to decent treatment by the grimly jack-booted minions of TSA. I will also admit that it was entirely my own fault I tried to carry a newly-again-contraband knife through security. I should've checked the airline's website. Because who knows what terrorists will use next to further their nefarious ends—although I'm betting it's Chapstick.)

          Well, yes, he said. They were allowed. But then there was the Boston bombings, so pocket knives are not allowed any more again.

          Oh right, I had the good sense not to say. Because the Boston bombings happened in an airport, and consisted entirely of pocket knives.

          Does TSA have trouble distinguishing stabby-type weapons from explode-and-maim and bullet-stuffed types of weapons? Are they unclear on what exactly a marathon consists of, and why no one holds them at airports? Because no one confiscates my pocket knife because of recent terrorist bombing activity when I walk around on city streets, even though that was where the recent terrorist activity recently happened.

          But let me walk into an airport with a pocket knife in my purse that can't be used for anything more bloody than a little bad whittling, and suddenly I am toting Terrorist Contraband and must surrender it (or TSA will also thoughtfully provide me a mailer and charge me $12 so that I can mail my Forbidden Item home**).

          So because a terrorist stuffed a pressure cooker full of hardware (which is not the same thing as a pocket knife), attached a timer thingy (also not a pocket knife), and then detonated it (no pocket knives involved) and subsequently got into a firefight with police officers (which was an entirely pocket knife-free undertaking), every pocket knife in the country is suddenly seen to be A Major Threat?

          Well, I suppose it's possible, in a Highly Unlikely sort of way. But if I were the TSA, trying to identify The Next Terrorist Threat, I'd be looking pretty hard at the Chapstick.

*Oh, don't even get me started on the Chapstick.

**Demonstrating rather neatly that the agency doesn't actually believe my knife is Terrorist Contraband; they simply want to demonstrate that they are doing something—however mindless and ineffective—to combat Bad Things, whatever they may be, and whether they involve pocket knives and Chapstick, or not. 

Saturday, June 8, 2013

In Search of Zen

          It has been a fraught few weeks chez BanksWrites. The most taxing thing I want to do this weekend is stare at a blank wall until I achieve a zen state.

          I suspect this egret, whom I photographed in Florida a couple of years ago looking out at the ocean, has achieved the sort of zen state I'm currently searching for. He has also achieved that effortlessly classic, yet edgy, fashion look that I've been scurrying after my entire life. Not everyone can make white-tie formal marry so beautifully with black stockings and chartreuse footwear.  

©Nancy E.Banks

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Tractor Love

          "Do you want to go to the John Deere store with me?" Dad asked the other morning. His tractor has been balky lately, and nobody in the shop could get it running right, so he decided he might as well get a new one.

          Well. I don't turn down chances to go tractor-shopping. Since I don't listen to any country music post-Johnny Cash, a walk through the John Deere dealership is just about my only chance to feel all patriotic and awash in Americana. Plus, I've thought tractors were cool ever since I was a small person.*

          My love of tractors, although I suspect I was born with it**, may also have something to do with one of the best toys I ever got: a toy tractor, from my babysitter.

          Nobody was really rich in the town where I grew up. Okay, one or two families, but it's a lot easier to be rich in a town of 5000 souls on the western side of nowhere in particular than it is to be rich in, say, Manhattan. Most people where I grew up counted their pennies. Twice. Children were not randomly showered with gifts.

          One day, our babysitter was running errands with my sister and me in tow.  We were old enough to be tempted by anything in a store, but not old enough to keep our hands to ourselves without being reminded. So, after she pulled up in front of the dime store, she turned to us and said, "Now what are you going to do?"

          "Look but don't touch!" we chorused. We did this Q & A every time we went into a store with her.

          "That's right," she said, and we got out of the truck and went inside.

          In my memory, this particular dime store was a veritable Aladdin's Cave of childhood delights: squirt guns, Barbies and their accessories, Matchbox cars, GI Joes, marbles, paddleballs, rubber snakes, rats, and spiders, kaleidoscopes, kid-sized purses, play jewelry, jacks, tiny plastic pinball games, yo-yos, harmonicas, kazoos, play doh. I wanted to touch it all—to plunge my hands in the open bins and fondle every last piece of merchandise.

          My sister, being younger, practically vibrated with her desire to run her hands over the goods. She tried so hard to be good, but it was not a state that came naturally to her, and she had to keep her hands clasped tightly behind her back so she wouldn't reach out just…one…little…finger to stroke a necklace of pretty pastel plastic beads.

          Oh, it was so tempting.

          But we were expected to behave, and so we did, even though behaving was not our natural state and we didn't enjoy it even one little bit.

          Our babysitter, unlike some adults, had once been a child. She knew what a horrible temptation the dime store was. She saw our longing stares at all those lovely toys. She noticed my sister's hands clenched tightly behind her back. She understood how hard-won our good behavior was.

          I know now that she didn't have any extra money to toss around, and at the time I certainly didn't expect any kind of reward for good behavior. Good behavior was one of those things that adults mysteriously expected you to exhibit, but which they did not generally reward.

          On this particular day, however, our babysitter knew that we had earned a reward. She bought us each a plastic tractor in recognition of our good behavior. Mine was red; my sister's was green.

        I loved that tractor. I had earned it by doing the one of the hardest things I had ever had to do in my young life, and it was more precious to me than diamonds and rubies. And every trip to the John Deere store reminds me of that tractor, and of the love of our babysitter, who didn't have to buy somebody else's children toys but who, one memorable day, did anyway.

*When you grow up in the rural west, these things can happen.
**Granddad was an ag teacher. Great granddad was a rancher. This little apple did not fall all that far from those particular trees.

Saturday, June 1, 2013

The Five Stages of House-buying

          •We have a nice-sized down payment; we're looking for a smaller house and yard—this will be a piece of cake.
          They want HOW MUCH per square foot?! Doesn't anyone in this stupid town know we're in a recession?
          •Our old house is WAY nicer than any of these houses.
          •Does no one in the modern world understand the actual function of a kitchen? IT DOES NOT BELONG IN THE LIVING ROOM!
          •It is PHYSICALLY IMPOSSIBLE for the lot size to be smaller than the square footage of the house, and I refuse to look at houses with negative lot sizes.
          •I don't do bidding wars.

What do you MEAN my piles of gold coins will only purchase a GARDEN SHED in this market?

          •Okay, we can look in the suburbs.
          •Fine, the yard is microscopic. We'll just send the dogs out in shifts.
          •Sigh. I guess we'll just use the kitchen in the way all modern people do and eat out every night.
          •If it has a sensible kitchen designed by someone who actually cooks, plus a yard that's at least as large as a spare bedroom, I'll pay over the asking price.

          •Oh dear; we looked in the suburbs.
          •"Denver is great!" I told K. "There are lots of houses in nice neighborhoods in our price range." Why did I ever open my big mouth? What happened to all those houses?
          •When did my modest requirements for shelter, storage, and a blankety-blank wall oven turn into The Impossible Dream?
          •Maybe we should just buy a condo.

          •We will be in the suburbs. In a 70s-era ranch house. I will have a permanent rash from exposure to hideous architectural design.
          •We will pay too much.
          •We will have to tear out the kitchen and do a complete remodel.
          •The dogs will have a yard the size of a bed sheet.