Hand Made

I saw a dream come true.

Years ago, my siblings scratched and clawed an epic 80 foot by 80 garden out of the pygmy and the scrub. The next year, they added an orchard, bringing the whole thing up to a palatial 13,000 square feet.

The orchard includes peaches, which is how you make the world’s most expensive peach pie, plums, cherries, Asian pears, and many different kinds of apples, which is how you make the world’s most expensive cider.

After years of pruning and care, the trees finally produced enough apples to be ciderized. There was some debate about when to pick them. Too early, and there wouldn’t be enough sugar. Too late, and they’d be falling off the trees and/or breaking branches because of the weight of the fruit. Eventually, the day came, and crates and crates were picked by hand.

Then our good friend Clayton came up with his trusty, theft-proofed van, which was loaded up with freshly-picked apples:


and driven over to Rio’s new estate, which she could not have bought at a better time. Not only did it provide mountain lion free lodging for Clayton, it also provided the perfect venue for cider making.

We took over the studio building with the car port, setting up tables with cutting boards and knives off to the side, and the press itself in the place of honor in the middle.

We had a tub of water just outside. First you wash the apples in the water, then put them in buckets to bring them to the chopping block:


It was sort of gourmet apple filling!

There the apples were chopped in half and put in bowls:


eventually being tipped into the wooden hopper of the cider press and milled by hand:


As a storm gathered its strength and started howling outside the carport, Jonathan observed that even if the power went out, no electricity was required, since every step of the process was done by hand, even wheeling the pomace to the compost pile:


After the bucket was full of crushed apple, a wooden lid was fitted into it and it was pressed down to extract the rest of the juice:


It took all day, but we pressed nearly 40 gallons. It was nice to think that we were doing it the same way it had been done for hundreds of years.

Jonathan saw it as a tribute to our English ancestry, since cider is such a tradition in our father’s homeland. I often used to drink cider with him at the pub with his old dog Jesse sleeping peacefully at our feet.

When we planted the orchard, we hoped that one day we would be able to make our own cider from our own apples, and that dream came true on a stormy Saturday, with all of us together, celebrating the past, the present, and the future, all together.

A YEAR AGO: Our good friend Paul was here. And I got up close and personal with my buddy, the Moon.

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Roadside America

Waking up when it’s light outside with cats sleeping peacefully on the bed and not (I’m looking at you, Queen Audrey) demanding to be let out: priceless.

It’s good to be home after my mini road trip north, and it’s a delightful coincidence that I am home on the anniversary of the day I moved to Hooterville, aided and abetted by family, as I am in most things. I’m so glad I moved here seven years ago!

As for the trip home, I concluded my Roadside America adventure with a visit to the One Log House near Piercy. It is, as its name suggests, a huge redwood log which someone had the bright idea of hollowing out to make into a bijou residence back in the 1940s. The tree it came from was over 2,000 years old and the house is 32 feet long. It is adorable inside, comprising a kitchen:


and a bedroom:


and a living room:


Looking back at the front door from the living room:


It’s pretty cozy, and other than being totally windowless (presumably, the builder was chipped out and couldn’t bear to chip out windows after creating the house), pretty livable. Maybe I’m just used to really small and eccentric houses. Whoever made this was way ahead of the Tiny House movement!

Back on the road, I took 101 (relatively) straight to Willits, where traffic slowed down dramatically. I picked up a delicious dinner at El Mexicano, completing the take-out/delivery theme on my roadside America trip. I turned onto 20, and drove through the sun-dappled redwoods to the summit with its spectacular view . As usual when driving this road, I marveled that it was the original covered wagon route to the coast. How did they do it?

Arriving home, I found kitties who missed me as much as I missed them. It’s good to be home.

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Hello from the redwoods!

You’re right, there are redwoods in Hooterville, too. But it’s just one of those California things that you can drive for hours and still be in your own county (or just over the county line) and still be in the same area code.

As usual, my travel plans did not exactly go as planned*, so I didn’t end up in either the tropical Trinidad or the California one. I did make it to the drive thru tree:


but I couldn’t drive thru it. It soon became clear that Wednesday would not fit through it. I guess cars were smaller when the tree was hollowed out in the 1920s. So I drove around, not thru, and was more disappointed than this warranted. I noticed that mine was the smallest car in the lot, so I asked a merry Asian family who were busily taking photos of each other if they had driven through the tree. Yes, they had, they said. They had folded up their side mirrors to make their car flapper era slim.

Filled with hope, I checked Wednesday’s ears and then the manual, only to learn that she was not equipped with this convenience. I got a postcard to commemorate the occasion and hit the road again, feeling sad out of all proportion. I was not too dejected to stop for lunch at the Peg House, since you never don’t stop at the Peg House. They even have an actual phone booth:


‘Memba them?

They also have a nice, sunny patio where I had a sandwich and freshly squeezed lemonade and considered whether I really wanted to drive all the way to Trinidad, and decided I didn’t. So I looked for somewhere to stop and found a quite nice motel room somewhere north of the drive thru (or drive around) tree:


I am pleased to say that there is a bathtub for wallowing in and that I am equipped with a bottle of wine and a Chinese restaurant delivery menu.

Stay tuned for tomorrow’s road trip home adventures!

*For someone who worked at a visitors’ center for years, you’d think I’d be better at this.

A YEAR AGO:Vertigo reared its ugly head, but I worked through it.

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It’s 9:00 am. Do you know where your Suzy is?

She is lounging in bed with coffee, cats, and the sun streaming through the skylight.

You may be wondering how this is possible in the middle of the week. My boss gave me the rest of the week off, and after working a 14 hour day yesterday, I was thrilled to wake up when it was actually daylight out and just take it easy instead of getting up 8 hours after I got home (in the dark) and heading back to work (in the dark).

Later, after reading my fan mail, I headed to beautiful downtown Hooterville, where I discovered that my mailbox was overflowing with fashion magazines and voting materials*, making me wonder how long it had been since I ventured to the post office. I stopped in at the Gro, got a hello shoulder hug from the owner, Doug, and a freshly baked croissant. When I got home, I put the croissant in the oven to heat up while I started scrambled eggs Dad style. You finely chop some bell pepper and onions and saute them in butter. When they are softened, whisk together eggs with a half shell of milk and some salt and pepper. Add a little more butter to the pan, then pour in the eggs and scramble. It is a magically delicious breakfast, especially when served with a warm croissant with five days of freedom ahead of you.

Tomorrow, I’m planning to head north to the Drive Thru Tree. I’ll take storied Highway One beside the mighty Pacific until it meets 101. After driving thru the Chandelier Tree, I will head to Trinidad. Not that Trinidad! This one is one of the smallest and oldest cities in California. It’s supposed to have nice beaches and a little lighthouse.

Mostly I just wanted to get away for an overnight trip that wasn’t too much of a hassle or too much driving but would be fun. It appears that I am now priced out of San Francisco and even Santa Rosa. My original plan was to stay in Santa Rosa and make a foray to Bodega Bay on a Hitchcock pilgrimage, but hotels were $200 a night. So I decided to head north instead of south.

Stay tuned for postcards from the road!

*All those propositions break my brain. They are not the kind of propositions I enjoy. However, my strong-minded American grandmother impressed on me how important it is for women to vote, and I have never missed voting in an election since I came of age, even when I had to vote absentee. I still wish all that reading was more amusing, though.

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‘Tis the Season


My old friend the moon was blasting this morning, looking suitably Halloween-y and illuminating the road and the ocean the whole way to work in the early morning darkness. It was a welcome change from the conditions I faced last week.

The first storm of the season made an early and dramatic appearance, rocking and rolling all night and leaving a frat party sized mess in its wake. The Ridge was covered with fallen red needles from redwood trees, which are very slippery, and they completely hid both the center line of the road and the edge of it, not to mention the car-eating ditches on each side.

It was still raining and windy, and fog ghosts threw themselves suicidally in front of my car as I drove at a grandmotherly rate through the dark and stormy morning. I blasted KISS and AC DC full tilt to distract me from the horror. I guess it’s not exactly a spoiler to tell you that I survived the drive.

At work, I discovered that my office had become festive overnight:


I couldn’t help wondering if it was a compliment or an insult to find a witch on my office door. Are you trying to tell me something?

Meanwhile, back at my house, things were also festive:


All it needs to complete the Halloween effect is a black cat. You can’t tell from the photo, but in fact there was a black cat loitering in the hallway and peering through the glass in the blue door when I took the picture. Clyde has been spending a lot more time inside lately. A couple of weeks ago, he was not there when I came home, and repeatedly calling him did not result in his appearance.

Panicking as the sky began to darken, I drove out to the Ridge, where I left the car to see if he had been hit by a car and to check the haul road behind the house where he likes to play and roll in the dust. I made the unpleasant discovery that the gate is now locked, making unauthorized human entrance impossible.

I went back to the house and kept looking and calling until it was dark. I was completely sure that my adored and adorable Clyde had joined his beloved brother Roscoe in oblivion and that Audrey was truly the winner of Survivor: Hooterville. Imagine my surprise and delight when he magically appeared at the sliding glass doors around 9:30 as if nothing had happened.

He was undoubtedly mystified when I picked him up and cried into his fur, kissing and hugging him and generally making a complete fool of myself. Clyde was far more interested in the traditional welcome home treats and dinner than he was in being fussed over. You could practically see a thought balloon over his head saying, “What the hell, lady?”

I’m sorry to say that I kept him inside for the next two days, though he undoubtedly didn’t make the connection between his night on the town and his sudden incarceration any more than dogs understand that playing with skunks inevitably leads to a bath. Fortunately, Clyde would make a pretty good house cat and doesn’t seem to mind that there’s been less recess these days.

A YEAR AGO: A long and daunting week came to a happy end.

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Ghost Stories


You all know how I love a good cemetery walk, whether it’s in Sleepy Hollow, the final resting place of Brom Bones and Katrina Van Tassel, or the small, but scenic local one with the secret path to the ocean. So it’s not surprising that I found myself with Megan in the old cemetery which faces onto Main Street in the Village. The Village also features another cemetery which is perched on a hill with ocean views. It’s interesting to me that such prime real estate is still dedicated to the dead. All cemeteries in San Francisco were emptied out and relocated to much less desirable locations decades ago.

We were greeted by JD Johnson, who had the distinction of both building homes for the living and final homes for the dead, being the town undertaker and coffin builder as well as a builder of houses, including the Blair House, also known as Jessica Fletcher’s house on “Murder She Wrote”.

Shovel in hand, he walked us through the old burial ground. Along the way, we met Jerome Ford, one of the first settlers, and Captain David Lansing:


who built his house on Main Street just steps from the cemetery with lumber from San Francisco rather than local wood, which he felt was not good enough for his wife and children, despite the fact that local wood rebuilt San Francisco after the 1906 earthquake and that logging was the main industry here at the time. I hope he approved of the job JD did on his final home:


Hattie Blair, of Blair House, came from Maine at the spinsterly age of 27. Unable to find a suitor on the east coast, she came to California where there was less competition, and soon married. Alas, she was widowed following a carriage accident, though she soon married Mr. Blair, who commissioned JD to build a fine house for Hattie at the impressive price of $10,000. Hattie gently chided JD that her present residence was not as accommodating, as she placed a white flower in the undertaker’s buttonhole.

Our cast of characters was completed by Cinderella Wallace, a former lady of the evening in the mid-west who came here to find respectability and a husband, not necessarily in that order. She did find a husband, but respectability eluded her, though it seems she didn’t really mind. She used to watch the townspeople go by from her little yellow house across from the cemetery, and pretty much knew everything about everybody.

She once played a memorable trick on a Swedish gentleman, who used to get drunk and then stagger past Cinderella’s house, singing and yodeling. One night, Cinderella hid in a newly-dug grave with a white sheet over her dress. When the night’s show began, Cinderella leaped from the grave, scaring the Swede so badly that his screams could be heard all over town. He took a different route home at night after that.

We enjoyed the stories and the actors’ performances so much! As we turned to head home, the sun was setting over the Village and its inhabitants, past and present:


On our way back to the car, we thanked JD for the tour, and talked about possibly volunteering at the Kelley House, whose staff and volunteers were the actors and guide that evening. It might be a fun thing for Megan and me to do together.

A YEAR AGO: I got by with a little help from my friends.

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For Real (Estate)

It’s been a banner year for real estate among my circle of friends.

My friend Richard and his wife bought the house they rented for several years. The owner passed away and his or her heirs did not want the house, so they sold it to the existing tenants, making everyone happy.

Jonathan’s girlfriend Rio, an only child, inherited her mother’s house in Santa Barbara when she passed away. It is the only house overlooking the Santa Barbara Bowl, and I am sure that even the simplest shack in Santa Barbara is worth a pile of cash. Rio did well on the sale, and wanted to put the proceeds back into real estate rather than in the notoriously volatile stock market (especially in an election year).

She looked around for a while, a little daunted by the offerings on the market (infested with rats! Needs thousands of dollars of work!) before lucking into a place that hadn’t gone on the market yet.

It’s in the next town north of Hooterville, and boasts a main house, a cottage, a studio/garage combo, a greenhouse, and a potting shed, all on more than an acre. Here’s the main house:


And the cottage:


The cottage and studio/garage still need fixing up, but the greenhouse is full of plants, including a giant one that reminds me of Little Shop of Horrors. Amazingly, the former owner had just fixed up the main house when she fell madly in love and decamped to San Miguel de Allende, selling her property and leaving everything behind. Quite the story! The plan is that Rio will live in the house while she fixes up the other one(s). Evetntually, she will rent one or more of them out while still keeping a room (or cottage) of her own.

At the opposite end of the scale is my dear friend A’s struggles to buy an apartment in London. Her landlord raised the rent an unaffordable amount, so she set about looking to buy a place, aided by a down payment from her mother, who is secretly a stock picking genius. She was also aided by a drop in London property values following BREXIT, so it seems the timing was right.

Unlike the US, where you find out how much a bank will lend you for a mortgage and then find a place it will buy, the UK system is convoluted and frustrating. I don’t understand all the plot convolutions, but lawyers are involved, and an ensemble cast of surveyors and inspectors. Also people can swoop ahead of you in line, and the apartment can suddenly be taken off the market with no notice after an offer has been accepted. You decide what you want to buy, and then try to persuade banks to lend on it. Oh, and if you happen to be over 50, it is much, much harder to get a mortgage and the term is dramatically shorter.

It’s been a wild rollercoaster ride for A and her husband, and I wouldn’t be surprised if, like a real rollercoaster, there was some screaming. However, they finally found an apartment which they liked, could afford, and wasn’t secretly falling apart, and it looks like they may have a new home soon. I am so happy for my friends and their new homes!

A YEAR AGO: More house news with Lichen’s new kitchen!

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The Inconstant Gardener

The Garden Says Hello
With the luxury of an extra (unpaid) day off, I decided to do a couple of things in the neglected garden.

Fortunately, it’s done pretty well without much attention other than watering, and probably not enough of that. The rust garden, for example, looks just fine:

I snipped a couple of dead fans off the palms:

I also cut back the hostas, so they will bloom again in the spring. I am still promising myself that I will put the special fertilizer on the camellias so they will bloom this winter.

In the meantime, the Egyptian lilies:


and the geraniums are picking up their slack:


The Japanese maples are still providing a splash of color:


though I noticed the big green one is changing color and will soon be shedding its leaves. It’s hard to believe that winter is coming when it’s 90 degrees in your house, but when it get here, the 90 degrees will seem equally unreal.

A YEAR AGO: The times were a-changin’.

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The Stage Is Set

I ended my sunny Saturday by meeting Megan and Lu in the Village for dinner and a play.

Megan and Lu were already at the table by the time I arrived. We had a simple, salad-y dinner while we caught up on each other’s news. Lu was just back from a wonderful trip to Alaska, full of its breathtaking beauty and wildness.

After dinner, we stopped by the oceanfront bookstore, where we were greeted by this beautiful sunset:


Inside the bookstore, we were greeted by the Great Catsby, strolling majestically through his empire and making sure that all was as it should be and that no mice had somehow sneaked in on his watch.

After the bookstore, we headed to the theater, where the mixologist’s special cocktail for that night’s performance was a delicious libation called a Purple Finch:


It was a winning combination of vodka, Chambord, triple sec, and lemon. As we exclaimed over its deliciousness, I felt a tap on my shoulder. It was my dear friend Erin, stunning in a red dress and heels. Her handsome husband Jaime had surprised her with dinner and a play for their 12th wedding anniversary that evening. They both looked gorgeous and happy. It was so nice to run into them!

The play was called “The Dining Room”. As you might guess, it is set in a room of the same name, and re-enacts scenes that had taken place in the room over the years, in the past and the present, and sometimes at the same time. A grandmother at Thanksgiving doesn’t recognize her own children seated at the table with her; a father details his funeral plans to his shocked son; a daughter asks to come home after her marriage broke up; a great-aunt proudly displays her family china, crystal and silver to be photographed at the table until she learns that the article is about obscure eating habits of the past. It was moving and funny and we all enjoyed it.

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Now & Then

Saturday Morning

Alert the media, y’all! I slept in until it was sunny out on Saturday morning!

It is amazing how a good night’s sleep can improve a girl’s outlook. I slept badly during the recent audit ordeals, despite logging long hours under a lot of pressure, and I think it all finally caught up with me. Hopefully I am now back to new, or new-ish. There’s still a lot of clean-up to do in the wake of the audits, but there’s more time, too.

It was a successful morning of drinking coffee, cuddling with Clyde, and doing a little on line Christmas stocking shopping, because it’s never too early for that. Eventually, I faced the inevitable and did some cooking and laundry to prepare for the week that now looms ahead, but it was nice to enjoy cats, caffeine, and the sun in the garden.

Enquiring minds may wonder why I was not doing my modest preparations for the jobette, which do not include putting on make-up or dressy clothes. The answer is that I lost the jobette recently in an overthrow change of leadership.

The CEO who hired me years ago moved on to greener pastures, and a New Guy was recently hired. In his infinite wisdom, the New Guy has decided to close the office on Saturdays, which is when visitors are here and need information, and stop participating in First Friday, when shops are open late, art is displayed, and wine and nibbles are enjoyed by locals and visitors alike. He also wants to eliminate selling souvenirs of any kind.

Both of the people hired since I left have also left, including one who quit with no notice on the day a new person was supposed to start. The golden days of the jobette are definitely over, when I used to feel like I was being paid to hang out with my friends and share my love of this beautiful corner of the world with the visitors.

My only regret is the money, which I currently have no way of replacing.

I see that a year ago, I thought that I was truly finished working at the jobette, though it turned out I was wrong about that, as I am about so many things. The person who was supposed to work Tuesday to Saturday never did, so I ended up filling in again this year. I wonder why I am the only person who doesn’t find working on Saturdays to be unconscionable?

It will be nice to have a little more time, even if it means less money.

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Fair Thee Well

At the Fair

If it’s the middle of September, it’s time for the County Fair!

It was a Magical Microclimate Tour as Megan and I drove from the chilly, foggy Coast through the redwood forests to the golden Valley, where it was about a million degrees and achingly sunny. Megan’s parking karma held true as she parked about a block from the the Fair – in the shade! – and as we stepped out of her little red car, she asked me if I was wearing sunscreen. I was, but only on my face, so she gave me some for my hands and suddenly exposed arms. I thanked her later.

The first thing we did upon admittance was buy a hat for me:


It is so pink and so Suzy, while also actually being useful, a rare combination indeed. Then we looked unsuccessfully for the slushie vendor. It seems that my blue raspberry slushie dreams are as doomed to unfulfillment as my dreams of being Idle Rich. We settled for frozen lemonade and went in search of Erica.

Unsurprisingly, we found her in the Fiber building. Surprisingly, she had not entered a single thing this year. I imagine there was much rejoicing in the Valley over that one, since her absence would allow someone else to win a prize or two for a change.

Erica said that Jessica was hanging out with her friends on the Midway, and suggested that we go and surprise her there, adding that Jessica now has her own phone and giving us the number*. Erica stayed in the Fiber building to covet spindles and wool and we went to find Jessica.

She greeted us with hugging and excitement despite the presence of her friends, and I felt a spark of hope that her auntourage would not become entirely obsolete. I took this stealth photo of her so as not to embarrass her in front of her crew:


That’s her equally precocious BFF Bella at her side.

We watched the kids ride the rides – I was pleased that Jessica waved at us from the giddy heights – and went to reclaim Erica and meander through the rest of the Fair.

The theme in the Garden building was “Fairy Tales”, and my favorite was this Cinderella themed exhibit:


I also loved this glamorous use of twigs and mirrors:


The goat who loved me! He kept bumping his head against me and kissing my nose:


I love this beautiful bunny’s attitude. It’s like he’s saying, “You lookin’ at me?”


Mu favorite quilt was this one, showing fog through the redwoods, a sight I love:


I also liked this kind of op art piece. So unusual:


And this one, which looks like washing on a line:


When it was time to go, we hugged our girls goodbye with a promise to get together soon. I am still plotting a sleepover where we will share movies and giggles. Stay tuned!

*I thought that was a horrifying sign of Jessica’s hurtling into adulthood until I learned that she has friends with driver’s licenses. How did this happen?

A YEAR AGO: Hello, darkness, my old enemy.

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Birthday, Barfing, and Bureaucracy

First things first: it’s Rob’s birthday! As soon as it’s a reasonable hour by Rob standards, I will wish him happy birthday and remind him of how happy I am he was born. His Rob-ness never ceases to delight me, from his view that the dump is a two way street to his wry sense of humor to the way he puts his head to one side when he’s listening to you. And he really listens.

Not to mention that my entire house is Brought to Me by Rob(TM) and that he makes all our lives better and happier. I love you, little big brother!

As for me, the full moon is blasting like a spotlight outside and I am attempting to improve my own outside after a grueling week. I have GlamGlow applied to my eyes and Fresh Vitamin Nectar mask on the rest of my face. Radiance, y’all! Clyde, however, has other ideas and has chosen to barf on the carpet, ruining the relaxing mood. Why do cats always throw up on the carpet instead of the wood floor?

It’s all in keeping with this week, though, which featured the second of back to back audits. Like most sequels, Part 2 was worse than Part 1.

The first one was the audit which is done every year. I thought that was a hassle until the Feds descended on us in all their glory. I had prepared (I thought) for this by creating a nearly 1,000 page binder and putting it on a flash drive for their inquisition convenience. Like the great Iggy Pop, however, they needed more, so I was running around collecting the required documents every day this week.

Perhaps this is a special skill honed by the Feds, but they also had an unerring ability to request supposedly random files that were incomplete, including the file of a doctor who works for the clinic as a contractor. Repeated phone calls and emails to him of increasing desperation were unreturned, so our new Operations Director went to beard him in his lair. They must have just missed each other, because a few minutes after she departed on her mission, he arrived, slouching Spicoli-like into my office in sweats, clutching a Starbucks cup, wearing shades, and saying, “What the fuck, dude?”

I explained that the fuck in this particular case was that his contract expired last year and the Feds looked askance at his treating our patients with no contract. He signed a new one while grumbling that he needed a raise, and headed off to catch a wave. I clearly harshed his buzz.

This was a joy compared to the complexities of providing lunch. At first they asked for sandwiches, so I got Deli A to fax me a menu. Then they wanted salads, and very customized ones at that. I called the deli and was told that it was prêt-à-porter or nothing, since two people had called in sick that day, making bespoke salads impossible. Back to the drawing board. I got the menu from Deli B, printed it, and presented it for consideration. They wanted to know what the soup du jour was, so I called and asked (the winning answer: vegetable beef). Needless to say, none of them got the soup.

Also, for fear of bribery with soup and salads, they paid for their own lunches, meaning three separate checks and lot of change. Why not?

The Feds judge every health center in America on 19 elements. They told us that the average across the country is 5-7 “not met”, or fails. They further clarified that they do not round up, and 98% is still “not met”, aka a fail. Our report card was 6 “not mets”, making us entirely average, while yet feeling that we had been called to the principal’s office and/or were getting detention.

When they finally left on Thursday afternoon, my boss sent me home, a welcome gesture since the shortest day I have logged in the past two weeks was 11 hours and the longest 14. I was just settling down to read Kate Summerscale’s “The Wicked Boy”, a relaxing read about a 19th century boy murderer, when my 21st century phone buzzed with a text from my boss. There had been some attempted fraudulent use of her company credit card, so the bank canceled it, and now all of the travel booked on it has to be re-done with the new card. By me. My estimate is something like 20 reservations. You know what I’ll be doing this week. At least the federal government isn’t involved.

A YEAR AGO: At the fabulous Fair with my fabulous sister and our equally fabulous friend.

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Goodbye, and Good Luck

I woke up early on Sunday and crept downstairs to make coffee (and more importantly, let Her Majesty outside). It made my heart smile to see Ben sleeping peacefully under Nana’s quilt. I really grew to love that kid in the short time he spent here.

After we had coffee together, he packed up his few belongings, to which I added jars of peach preserves with lemon thyme; blackberry jam made from the wild berries my siblings picked; salsa verde; and relish, so he will have a little taste of Hooterville when he is back home.

We headed back to the property so my brother could give Ben’s car a quick once over before he started home. You may remember that my brother installed a nice cement mechanic’s pit in the carport which houses the washer, dryer, and body size freezer. Definitely a step up from groveling under cars in muddy ditches. He topped up the fluids and opined that the car needs an oil change. Also that whatever is going on with the engine (beyond my limited ability to understand) may cause the head gasket to blow. I do know that blown head gasket = having to buy another car. I’d say Ben has gotten his $500 out of this car, though. He put more than 6,000 miles on it on this trip alone.

One of Rio’s children lives in Portland, so she drives there fairly often. She pulled out some maps and showed Ben the best route to take and warned of a tricky intersection.

After our unpaid mechanic finished working on his car, Ben picked a few apples to take with him. Then, with hugs all around, he drove off as we waved and watched him out of sight, our family tradition. I have to say, his visit was a real joy, all the more for being unexpected, and I will treasure those memories as I do those of his brother’s Bar Mitzvah.

Ben has been texting me from the road, which has been fun. He made it to Portland in about 12 hours and was glad for Rio’s advice, especially at that tricky intersection. His route took him through the magical Lost Coast, then to Portland, then Seattle. After that, it was Vancouver, then Calgary, and then Saskatoon, where he took a break from his 12-14 hour days to rest up before the final push to Manitoba. So far the car is holding up, but Ben thinks that Jonathan is right and its days may be numbered.

He is already talking about coming back next year with his girlfriend, a fellow engineer who has wanted to visit San Francisco her whole life. Here’s to Ben’s safe return home, and his return to Hooterville!

A YEAR AGO: The absurdity of dental insurance. You can’t make this up!

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BBQ Party

The Orchard

After the delights of the circus, we headed over to show Ben the delights of the family estate.

As an engineer, he was fascinated with the solar arrays, batteries to store the power, and all the other intricacies of the system as well as the fact that the entire place is powered only by solar, entirely off the grid. My brother is exempt from the power outages that plague his sisters.

Megan gave Ben a tour of the garden and the orchard. The garden is beginning to wind down for the season, but there is a plot afoot to plant a winter garden of garlic and other hardy crops. There is also a plan to make hard cider this year. I think this plan is likely to become a reality, because they already have the cider press and have staked out space in the studio for it to ferment. It might even be ready to drink at Christmas!

There were chips and two different kinds of salsa made from garden produce: salsa verde made from tomatillos, and regular tomato salsa:


We had a simple, but delicious dinner of burgers made from beef for red meat eaters and turkey for the rest of us, topped with pepper jack cheese. Even though it was my brother’s birthday, he still manned the grill as always, noting that he never finds cooking to be a chore.

I reminded him that he was promoted to being my big brother last year, when he turned 50. Megan asked if she would ever be my big sister (she is nine years and nine days younger than I am), and I said, yes, when she turns 50. It might be hard for me to pass myself off as her younger sister when I am 60, but hope springs eternal. Maybe I need to consider botox.

We toasted my big brother’s birthday and Ben’s epic journey with fizzy local-ish wine (from neighboring Sonoma County). His road trip from the wilds of Manitoba included New Mexico, the Grand Canyon, Yellowstone National Park, Mount Rushmore and the Black Hills of South Dakota, Death Valley (where he pulled over with an overheating engine to find the coolant bubbling in the 112 F degree heat), and Las Vegas. It was the trip of a lifetime.

As we ate tarts my brother made from raspberries he picked that day, we sat by the fire and watched the stars come out. The Milky Way was so intense that it blurred over some of the other stars in the clear, black sky. It was such a joy to be there with people I love.

A YEAR AGO: My big brother’s 50th birthday.

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Circus, Circus

I am pleased to announce that Ben was able to stay!

We met up after I finished work on Saturday and headed for the inimitable Flynn Creek Circus, its distinctive red and white tent flapping in the evening breeze.

Inside, we perched on ornate, wrought iron benches and watched the antics of a very determined gopher, who was completely unperturbed by the humans in his territory. He kept popping out of his hole, shoveling more and more dirt as more and more people watched him. Once the show started, I forgot about the industrious little rodent, and I’m sure everyone else did, too.

As always, the show was filled with breathtaking aerial acts:


and astonishing acrobatics, including a lovely young lady who was able to spin six hula hoops on her svelte figure, including her neck, arms, and legs, and a man who was able to do amazing things in a giant hula hoop, spinning around inside it, jumping, and otherwise defying gravity and the evidence of our own eyes.

The hula hoop girl was also able to spin objects with her feet:


and she could even juggle five or six aqua basketballs with her hands and feet. If I hadn’t seen it with my own eyes, I wouldn’t have believed it. Add in a knife-throwing act, and you have yourself a circus:


Ben was equally entranced, and it was so nice to share this experience with him.

A YEAR AGO: Cars, past and present. I see I still haven’t removed Wednesday’s tinting. Let’s guess I never will!

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A Visitor

You guys, there is a young man sleeping in my house!

Two, if you count Clyde, cuddled up next to me on this foggy morning.

Ben, the first one, is sleeping peacefully on the couch under Nana’s restored quilt. I have to say that quilt has been getting a lot of use since Erica and Megan restored it.

Long time readers may remember an incredibly beautiful and moving Bar Mitzvah I attended several years ago. Ben is the older brother of the boy from that Bar Mitzvah. I hadn’t seen him since then, so in my head – always an odd place – he remained the same age. Time being the inexorable thing it is, though, he grew up in that time and is now an engineer for an oil company in the wilds of Manitoba (and I do mean wilds – it’s an eight hour drive from Winnipeg). He is quite a delightful grown-up.

Ben has been on an epic road trip in a car he bought for $500. The main event of the journey was to attend the wedding of a college friend in New Mexico. The groom is of Afghani heritage and the bride’s family is from India, so it was a wonderful, days-long extravaganza. Ben said it was a very beautiful ceremony and he loved being part of it.

On his way out of town, his car broke down, which is only to be expected on an epic road trip. It was fixed well enough to get him to Las Vegas, where the car needed a little more attention. By Thursday night, he was in Oakland, and I confidently expected him to be here before I got home from work on Friday.

However, I got a text late in the afternoon saying he was in Jenner, which is on the Sonoma coast, which meant he somehow took legendary Highway One instead of 101. I later learned that the traffic on 101 near Petaluma was so horrible that he bailed out and headed for One. It took longer, but it is a spectacular drive, so he got here via the magical South Coast.

I hit traffic of my own coming home late after an eleven hour day, waiting for six cars to turn off the highway onto the Ridge. I have never experienced that before. It’s a traffic jam, Hooterville style!

Passing the farm across from the Gro, I saw a car pulled over, and a closer look showed Manitoba plates. I pulled over myself and sure enough, it was Ben, consulting my directions on his phone. After we finished hugging and being excited, we convoyed home, where we made Dad’s paella for dinner and caught up on the last few years. It was a great evening.

He may have to hit the road again today in order to get home in time. I hope not, since today is my brother’s birthday and there is a BBQ planned at the family estate after work. And I would like to spend more time with Ben and introduce him to my family.

A YEAR AGO: A dinner and a play with Megan and Lu. I notice in the post that I refer to Lu’s then boyfriend Rik, who became her husband at their beautiful and moving wedding this summer, another memory I will always treasure.

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Danger, Will Robinson!

I dropped by my brother’s place on my way home on Friday night. I found the path from the parking area to his place littered with spent shell casings, not a usual occurrence. I picked up about half a dozen of them.

I was greeted by Rio, who was making dinner, and my brother, who was sitting with his hands resting on our grandfather’s cane, much as Hoho used to do. The cane has a brass plate from his American Legion. It was nice to see it and know that Jonathan could use it, but not so nice to know that he had messed up his knee trying to shoot a particularly obnoxious mountain lion.

Apparently this lion has been making a nuisance of himself lately. He makes a peculiar screaming noise, and is completely unconcerned by light and human habitation. Jonathan shone the flashlight right in his eyes and the beast didn’t flinch. My brother fired a couple of rounds over the lion’s head, and he didn’t retreat.

This was the scariest part to me. This creature was deliberately hanging around human habitation instead of avoiding it, and not fleeing from bright lights or loud noises. Rio thinks there might be something wrong with this particular intruder. Jonathan finally shot right at the animal, which is always a last resort, but it’s hard to shoot with any accuracy in the dark, since you need both hands for the rifle and don’t have an extra one for the flashlight.

Eventually the monster retreated into the bushes, but I am horrified by the fact that he is skulking around and also that Clayton and Rio’s daughter Paloma camped out in the garden lately with the monster loitering with intent.

Jonathan did something to his knee pivoting the wrong way in his haste to chase the mountain lion, so he is still crutching around, cursing the mountain lion. Jonathan and Rio were planning to go for a hike on his birthday, which is this Saturday, but unless he has a miraculous recovery, it looks like he will still be caning and crutching around for now.

I contacted a dear friend who is wise in the ways of the wilderness, and he shared some tips for ridding your property of unwanted wildlife, which I passed on to my appreciative brother. Jonathan has contacted Fish and Game to see if they would be willing to do some mountain lion removal, but we don’t know what their criteria are to do this, or how long it will take them to respond.

In the meantime, we are being cautious. I guess this is the side of country life that you don’t read about in Martha Stewart.

A YEAR AGO: A run in (though fortunately not a run over) with a deer.

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Back in Black

And it’s back…darkness, my old friend.

Yesterday, I noticed that there were high beams conditions as I left for work at 6 am. Unfortunately for Me, it was also the foggiest it had been in some time, so using the high beams merely threw the glare back at me mockingly. Back to the anemic puddle of light, my friends. And driving slowly, hoping for a deer-free ride.

Human nature – or at least Suzy nature – being what it is, I was once more surprised by how speeds that seem decorous to the point of annoyance in the daylight seem alarmingly fast in the dark. Also how the familiar Ridge, which I drive nearly every day, can sudden seem a completely foreign and scary place.

Speaking of darkness, I was very disappointed to come home last Friday to a power outage. I am convinced that we have had more out of season power outages than we did all winter. It appeared that someone had misjudged the curve at my friend Jim’s road and plowed into a power pole, plunging us all into darkness.

My modest plans to watch “Feed the Beast” with a glass of wine after tossing in a load of laundry were foiled. I still had the glass of wine, but while reading Gay Talese’s creepily compulsive “The Voyeur’s Motel”, about a man who ran a motel in Colorado for 30 years, during which he “observed” his guests, unbeknownst to them. And while reading about his dirty laundry, I was unable to do anything about my own.

The power was still out when I went to bed, so of course when it came back on, it woke me up. All in all, not a great Friday.

On the other hand, our dear friend Clayton came up from the city, staying in palatial accommodations on the family estate:


He was there partly to visit us and partly to get his van theft-proofed with my brother’s help. Clayton is a painter of houses and buildings, and thieves in his neighborhood have enjoyed helping themselves to his tools in the van and sometimes the van itself. So the boys outfitted it with an epic series of locks, which will hopefully deter the would-be criminals.

Lichen joined us for dinner, with his sweet dog Keeper, and some of Jonathan’s ham radio buddies came too, so it was a busy and happy get together. We grilled up chicken and veggies and made them into fajitas, served with rice, black beans, salsa, cheese, and tortillas grilled by Megan. Ever since she started making grill bread, she has been the griller of all things bread, or bread-ish.

Jonathan’s girlfriend Rio made a gorgeous apple pie with apples from the property. It was almost too pretty to cut into:


But I’m glad we did, because it was magically delicious. And it was a great evening.

A YEAR AGO: Of Dentists, dogs, and James Dean.

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Hi! Here’s what’s been happening the past few days.

Work has been getting in the way of writing, and I expect this to continue for about another month. I am still working six days a week, leaving only one day to get ready for the next six and to accomplish miscellaneous Cinderella chores around the house as well as squeezing in a little time for R&R. And we are up against two audits at work, one the annual financial one and one from our friends at the Feds, who provide a lot of funding. As always, stakes are high when the Feds come to town, and so is the stress.

I must have been showing the pressure, because Megan turned up one day with a beautiful surprise for me:


She said it was to give me something beautiful, and to remind me that she is always there for me. She really is the best sister ever. And it’s like having a little sunset in my office. When things get crazy, I can look at it and think how beautiful it is and how lucky I am to have such an amazing sister.

I met Monica after work one day at a new restaurant in the harbor:


I wish there was an “unglare” feature in iPhoto, to deal with those overly sunny California days. Such a terrible problem.

The restaurant has a big, rustic wooden deck overlooking the harbor, where we watched the fishermen come in with that day’s catch on their boats as the sun began to set. We had a great time and promised each other to meet up more often. Monica is always so inspiring.

On a less delightful note, my Mac fell ill with a virus or TEN. I started getting pop up ads all over and new tabs resulted in something unpleasant called Chumsearch with Bing. Bing! I tried disk utility and restarting to no avail. I emailed a former co-worker at the jobette, who is a genius, and he recommended software with a free trial. It took almost four hours, but it found and ate nearly a dozen viruses and things are back to normal. I hope.

You expect this kind of thing with PCs, but not with Macs. I still have no idea how I got it, but as always, I am thankful for my family and my family of friends.

A YEAR AGO: It was a busy time of year in the garden.

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Dad’s Flowers

Every year, we plant sweetpeas in honor of our father. They were his favorite flowers.

We had a little bouquet of them at his memorial service, along with a photo of Dad and his beloved dog, Jesse. Our wonderful stepmother Margaret later scattered Dad’s ashes with Jesse’s on the Common where they loved to walk together. It comforts me to know that a boy and his dog are together always.

And it comforted me that our beloved Lu chose to carry some of Dad’s sweetpeas in her bouquet and her lovely hair when she married her best friend Rik this summer. It made me feel like Dad was there, and I was glad to think of him and his special flowers on a happy occasion.

No matter how long I am without him, I will always miss him. And I will forever cherish the treasure of his love and friendship.

A YEAR AGO: Brian Wilson said it best.

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