Evening

We left the Fair as the sun began to set, casting a rosy golden glow over the Valley:

I love the look of the rolling golden hills, dotted with the deep pools of shade from gnarled live oaks, and the vines, still heavy with grapes at this time of year:

Soon the vine leaves will begin to turn scarlet and gold, which is our version of fall colors. There are almost a hundred vineyards in the beautiful Valley, most of them family owned and operated.

We wended our way through the redwoods to the ocean. We met up with Ben and Erica at the Gro* so we could guide them up and down the twisty roads to Rio’s compound.

Rio and Jonathan had just finished working on the interior of her guest cabin:

So Ben and Erica were the first guests to stay there in its finished state. Rio and Jonathan still have to build a little roof over the front door for the rainy season, and are planning to paint the outside, but it is more or less finished and it is just charming, so pretty and cozy inside. They could not have had a nicer place to stay while exploring our little corner of the world.

Rio had everything set up so we could make our own sandwiches after we arrived at her house, sliced chicken, cheese, and everything else you could think of to put on a variety of breads, including peach habanero jam, which was delicious. We ate our sandwiches while listening to vinyl records with covers designed by Rio’s father. He was a very well-known illustrator, and his work is in the Met and the Smithsonian, among others. He designed record covers for everyone from Miles Davis to Billie Holiday to Harry Belafonte, as well as Time magazine covers and Broadway posters.

Rio’s stepfather was an actor, starring in the Donna Reed Show and acting in many others, like Perry Mason and Mission Impossible. Rio said that her parents tried to keep her from being one of “those Hollywood kids” by not letting her go on set very often. On one of those rare occasions, her stepfather was shot with a blank and was injured, and that was the last time she went to a movie set. Her parents were close friends of Carroll O’Connor and his wife. You will be relieved to hear that he was nothing like Archie Bunker in real life, though he did have a big personality and tended to be the center of attention.

Dessert was a big bowl of strawberries from the family estate, which were something of a revelation to our visitors. There is nothing like strawberries you grow yourself. It was the perfect ending to a wonderful day.

*Big local news: Doug has sold the Gro! I am sad to see him go, but glad for him and his wife. They have been working 12-14 hours a day, 7 days a week, for way too long. Time for them to relax and enjoy themselves. I hope the new owners keep up their legacy and that the Gro remains the heart of our quirky little town.

A YEAR AGO: I may have lost the jobette, but I had a nice Saturday. And I did get the jobette back in the end, at least for the summer. You never know…

FIVE YEARS AGO: Thinking about the past and what might have been.

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Fun Fair

I left work early on Friday. I went home, got changed, and hopped into Megan’s little red car to go to the County Fair.

This year’s Fair had a special guest star: Ben, whose visit last year was one of its greatest joys. And this time, he had brought his girlfriend Erica along. They had spent the week in San Francisco, their first visit there, but I think not their last, since they were both smitten with my former hometown. Here they are enjoying their very first Giants game:

We met up at the funnel cake stand and exchanged hugs. Then we set off to the livestock area, where we watched the 4-H kids showing their goats and winning their ribbons. I love seeing those little kids in their impractical white outfits and jaunty green scarves. They are remarkably poised for their youth.

We meandered in the barn with the cows, goats, and snack-size sheep before checking out the more exotic animals. Unfortunately for my ever-enquiring mind, the labels on the exotica were extremely information deficient, merely noting the sex and age of the birds without disclosing what the heck they were, which is what sprung to mind when seeing this:

Chicken on stilts? And this:

Some kind of pigeon? Note the feathered feet!

Replete with weirdness, we headed to the Agriculture building, where we met up with our Erica and the beautiful Jessica, who was wearing a modish, mod outfit:

We apple tasted:

The apples were all so different and all so delicious, all of them grown in the same valley where the Fair is held. I was underwhelmed by this year’s biggest pumpkin, though:

The Great Pumpkin is not all that great up close. At least Charlie Brown was spared that disappointment.

The quilts, however, did not disappoint. I was very taken with this one:

While admiring it with Ben and his Erica, who were also fans, a gentleman told us that he was the maker’s husband and that his very talented wife had made it for their nephew. Lucky kid! We also loved this very different quilt:

Our Erica observed that none of the panels were the same. The colors are just lovely. It deserved to win first place.

This was my favorite flower arrangement:

And appropriately enough since our two visitors had just crossed the Golden Gate Bridge, there was this charming arrangement:

There was even water beneath the bridge!

We all had such a great time. I always love the Fair. Especially with family and friends.

A YEAR AGO: At the Fair, of course!

FIVE YEARS AGO: Stop me if you’ve heard this before.

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The Wayward Ways of Cats


Stately Suzy Manor

I really don’t know why we call ourselves cats’ owners. Clearly, it’s the other way around. At least at Stately Suzy Manor, Audrey is Lady Violet and I am the humble Anna. Or possibly Daisy.
Recently, I have been making the laughable attempt to change which door Audrey uses to enter and exit her domain. During the heat tsunami and its unpleasant aftermath (Thursday night was the first night this month I was able to sleep under the covers and without a fan blasting in the sleeping loft), I decided I had to find a way to keep the downstairs sliding door open at night, to create a mythical cross breeze with the balcony door upstairs.

Both doors are equipped with screens, thanks to the resourceful Rob, but the one downstairs slides and the resourceful Audrey has figured out how to open it with her clever paws. That girl is nothing if not persistent. I came up with the genius idea of putting a piece of wood between the sliding screen and the door frame to stop the sliding, though of course I needed Rob to actually find the wood and cut it down to size.

It works fine, but the problem is that it is also Audrey’s favored entrance and egress, and opening it once the stick is installed entails going outside. I have tried to convince her to come in through the door that leads to the bathroom from the back porch, but she stubbornly refuses – most of the time. Yesterday she ran away twice when I tried to get her inside through that door before heading to work to keep them both in fancy cat food and Pretty Litter. I finally went outside, removed the stick, went back inside, closed the sliding glass door, picked up Clyde, and then let Audrey in.

Part of Audrey’s hesitation in coming inside through any door now is Clyde, whose new hobby is pouncing on Audrey and annoying her, ending in hisses and claws all around. She much prefers to make her majestic entrance when she can see that Clyde is out of the way, preferably by me holding him until she can get in and make a getaway from her annoying little brother before he can start something.

I can sympathize with this viewpoint, having a formerly annoying formerly little brother of my own, but it makes being a cat servant even more challenging. And the pay is just terrible. Fortunately, the benefits are pretty good.

A YEAR AGO: Farewell to dear Ben. Glad to say he is back again as I write this!

FIVE YEARS AGO: More farewells.

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Near and Far

I met up with my former boss and a mutual friend at the bar of a historic oceanfront inn for a drink and to catch up on their traveling adventures. They had been as far away as New Zealand and Portugal, so it was nice to travel vicariously. No baggage fees or cramped seats for me!

The bar used to be the living room of the current innkeeper’s grandparents’ home, back in the days when there were no keys to any of the rooms and the inn had not yet expanded to its current size. The grandfather, Ole, eventually persuaded his wife to make the living room a bar, which has a spectacular view of the ocean and is a lovely place to perch at the bar with a glass of wine and watch the whales go by in season, which is why it is now called Ole’s Whale Watch Bar.

This isn’t whale watching season (that’s winter), but the current innkeeper was there with a hug and a smile. She is the fifth generation of her family to own and operate this historic inn. Now there are keys to all the rooms, a spa, restaurant, and golf course, but you can imagine that James Dean would still feel at home here, as he was during the filming of “East of Eden”.

He stayed at the inn during filming, and horrified Ole by wearing a t-shirt with no shirt over it, putting his boots up on the bar, and swearing. It was Dean’s first major film role, and the only one completed in his brief, bright lifetime, as well as the only one he ever saw in its entirety.

This time, our County stood in for Monterey rather than New England, as it usually does. Having been to Monterey again recently, I have to say that they do not look very much alike. But that’s Hollywood for you!

A YEAR AGO: A BBQ party at the property with Ben. We’re planning a repeat on Saturday!

FIVE YEARS AGO: Jobs of the present and the past.

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Grilled

My (now older) brother’s birthday fell during the Worst Long Weekend Ever. His birthday, near or on Labor Day, (allegedly) ends the summer, and my sister’s, on or near Memorial Day, starts it, their birthdays bracketing the tourist season.

It was still about a zillion degrees as I headed to the family estate, driving really slowly so I could bask in Wednesday’s blasting air conditioning during the quarter mile drive. The canopies were up, but they were no match for the Evil Death Star. I packed my county fair straw hat with ice and put it on my head, but really, nothing could help.

As I write, it’s foggy but still not cool. Like 100+ degree temperatures, I have never experienced this before. I may have been scarred for life. I am still obsessively checking the weather forecast and am appalled to see that they are calling for highs of 76 on Sunday, which is probably code for 96. Why does it always have to be hot as hell on the weekends? And when is this heat going to go back to hell, where it belongs?

As for the party, it was well-attended, with its many guests spanning several generations. Even though it was his birthday, my brother still manned the grill, turning out turkey burgers, hamburgers, and sausages to go with garden salad:

Jessica and I took our plates to a shady spot, where we were joined by Scout, Jonathan’s mini cat:

You can gauge something of her diminutive size by comparing her to the folded napkin beside her. Here you see Jessica feeding Scout hamburger morsels, which may have had something to do with the world’s most skittish cat hanging out with us:

I also convinced Jessica to pose for a picture, wearing my ice-less hat:

I’m sure these days are rapidly coming to an end since she is 14, so we will have to enjoy them while we can.

While Jessica was visiting over the weekend, we hid in the relative cool of Megan’s house (it is so shaded by trees that it is always cool; nice during a heatwave, not so nice in the winter) and had a mini 80s movie festival, watching “Working Girl” and “Desperately Seeking Susan”. Jessica found the 80s fashions hilarious, though she loved Madonna’s style in “Susan” and pronounced her “super pretty”. I agree – that is my favorite era of Madonna’s looks. Jessica coveted the pyramid jacket while I still covet the skull hatbox/suitcase and the glittery boots. And we all sighed over Harrison Ford and Aidan Quinn.

All in all, it was a fun evening. Now if the weather would start behaving itself…

A YEAR AGO: At the circus.

FIVE YEARS AGO: The jobette moved uptown, among other things.

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Worst Long Weekend Ever


Welcome to hell! You’ll hate it here!

I was rewarded for having the temerity to take two days off after working six days a week all summer by a heat tsunami. Nothing as benign as a heat wave – this is a heat tsunami, crushing everything in its path, including me.

I actually left the County on Thursday for the first time in ages, going to Santa Rosa, which involves one of my least favorite things: driving on freeways. However, the traffic was better than I expected and I completed my errands quickly despite (or because of) the bone-crushing 106 degree heat. I was home again about six hours after I left, making the unpleasant discovery that the hideous heat had hitched a ride with me.

Now, it’s not unusual for Santa Rosa to be 100 degrees or more. But when that happens, it is typically 75 to 80 on the coast. Not 100. And unlike Santa Rosans, our bodies and houses are not equipped to handle the heat. My house in particular. It’s uninsulated wood, covered with tar paper, and basically it’s like living in a tent. The upside down rowboat shape traps all the heat, and none of the windows open. As Jessica puts it, “Megan’s house is stupid, but your house is really stupid.”

Its deficiencies and stupidities became glaringly obvious as the glaring heat wore on and wore me out. Day after day of 100+ outside and 90+ inside. Even with all the curtains drawn and fans blasting, along with the swamp cooler, it only brought the indoor temperature down to 90F downstairs. I can’t imagine what it is upstairs, even with a box fan facing out to allegedly pull out the hot air, according to my former fire fighter brother. I wished I was in my air conditioned office instead of my overheated hippie hut as I took cold showers and repeatedly threw cold water on my face, arms and poitrine.

Megan persuaded me to go to the Village with her and Jessica, reasoning that it would be cooler at the coast. It was 90 or more. A scantily clad visitor was staring aghast at her phone and saying, “It say’s it 64! No way it’s 64!” I told her it always says it’s 64. It’s remarkably hard to get an accurate weather forecast for this part of the world*. Even though it never got any better, I kept obsessively checking the forecast over the past few days.

I feel like I’m under siege, hiding from the Evil Death Star. I am nauseous and drinking as much ice water as I can while feeling light-headed and weird. It’s too hot to do anything inside or outside of the house, though I did water the garden in the early morning hours the past two days. The fuchsias, those Suziest of flowers, being both shade-loving and flashy, looked like I felt, being wilted and perhaps partly dead. I fear that both of us may never completely recover. I actually wept with despair at one point during the hell of the last few days. If there was someone I could surrender to in order to make it stop, I would. I freely admit I can’t take it anymore. You win, Evil Death Star!

Guess when temperatures are going to return to normal? Yeah, you guessed it: my first day back at work after the Worst Long Weekend Ever.

*As Robin Williams put it in “Good Morning Vietnam”: “You got a window? Open it!” In fact, his entire weather report is sadly accurate. It is hotter than a snake’s ass in a wagon rut.

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Delicious

I worked my last Saturday last week. It was nice to share the magic of this place with the visitors and make a little extra money, but I am glad to only have to drive to the Big Town for five days a week instead of 6.

I celebrated by heading over to Rio’s place with Megan for dinner. We were joined by a few other people, including Blake’s father Chris, who is still coming to terms with the tragic loss of his son just a few short months ago. He was in the mood to talk about Blake, so I just went along with it. I figure if he brings it up and wants to talk about it, then we should follow his lead. It seemed to help, though we all know it is a lengthy, day by day process. At least Chris knows we are there for him and he has the support of his friends.

On a brighter note, I heard all about the eclipse of the century from Jonathan and Rio, who actually saw it. They followed my friend C’s advice and just took along telescopes and binoculars and did not try to take photos. It sounds like it was an incredible experience. Rio did take this wonderful photo of Jonathan at the cedar creek near their campsite:

Does he look happy, or what?

We sat out on the deck and drank wine while the kids ran around. Dinner was made almost entirely from the family garden. Pasta with pesto made from garlic and basil we grew; a salad of garden goodness; and garlic bread made with our garlic:

It was delicious, and there is something satisfying about eating food you grew. Or that your siblings grew.

The pièce de la résistance was dessert, a flight of sorbets made from fruit either picked wild or grown on the family estate (Megan recently told me that the fenced in garden and orchard is now an entire acre). Clockwise from upper left: huckleberry, blackberry, raspberry, and peach:

I can recommend estate grown dessert, though I can’t tell you which sorbet was the best. The sorbet process seems to really intensify the fruit flavors. A perfect way to end the evening!

A YEAR AGO: A delightful visitor. I am pleased to say that he is making a return appearance later this month, and this time, he is bringing his girlfriend!

FIVE YEARS AGO: The money fairy stopped by. Much better than the tooth fairy!

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Melting

Come back, Fogust!

Both of my brain cells may have melted yesterday. I didn’t dare to consult the thermometer outside, but it was still 86 in my house when I went to bed last night. My house is so unreasonable. Rob came by to correctly position my Junapalooza swamp cooler gift and attempt to explain the laws of physics to me. It sort of sounded like the Charlie Brown grownups to my non-sciency mind, though.

He turned off all the fans, closed up the house other than the screen door to the balcony in the sleeping loft, and placed the swamp cooler in the open door between the studio and the house, reasoning that blowing air from the coolest part of the house with a concrete floor would help to cool the rest of it. He added in stuff about air layers and other things I couldn’t get, but I was not put here on earth to get it.

I’m sorry to say that it is supposed to be hot’n’heinous™ for the rest of the week, so Rob is going to add attempted climate control duties to cat doorman duties, it now being too dark to leave the doors open for them when I go to work, with the arrival of high beams season. Somehow it seems spectacularly unfair that it’s both hot and dark.

Hope he is successful, especially since this heat wave is slated to go until Saturday or so.

[Later]

Hm. It was 78 in the house and about 80 outside when I got home, despite Rob’s ministrations. Yesterday it was about 90 outside and 86 in. Maybe the eccentricities of my house make the swamp cooler of limited effectiveness. It feels cooler outside than in, so I think I’ll turn off the swamp cooler, open the doors, and put on a couple of fans. Old school.

A YEAR AGO: Well, at least melting in the heat is better than an obnoxious mountain lion. Isn’t it?

FIVE YEARS AGO: Yet another car misadventure that ended up being more life-affirming than disastrous.

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Eyewitness

I’m sorry to report that high beams* season is already upon us, as the encroaching darkness starts its long slide into winter, when I will be driving in darkness both ways, instead of just one. Months without driving in darkness (two?) are as short as a Canadian summer and just as welcome.

In addition to the unwelcome return of my perennial enemy, we have been experiencing a true Fogust this year. This is fine with me, but it did make viewing of the eclipse of the century impossible. We should have seen about 80% in the Big Town, but all I saw was a darker shade of pale.

Jonathan and Rio, on the other hand, left the Wednesday before to road trip to a secret spot where there was totality. I mentioned this to my friend C, who is a professional photographer, and this was his reply:

I just hope they are not going to spend those 2 or 3 minutes just to make photos or videos only and not experience the event really. The next day there will be a zillion of that stuff available online anyway. Copy and paste.

My advice: be somewhere where you can see it coming, this is very important, you have to be high up, facing the right direction, have your high quality glasses, and filters for binoculars/telescopes etc. Lie on your back and enjoy.

Make sure just to enjoy the event I would say, unless you work for the National Geographic or so.

He would approve of their methods, I think. They headed out to a secret spot in Oregon on the Wednesday before the eclipse. Not surprisingly for someone who restored a 1958 Predicta and hooked up a DVD player to it, he figured out a way to send emails through his ham radio to keep us apprised of what was happening:

August 19

Another lovely day here in the Aldrich Mountains. By watching the sun during the critical times here at camp we determined that we can see the entire eclipse right here from camp.

We took a hike through the Cedar Grove Botanical Area and found (you guessed it!) a small grove of cedars amidst all the fir and pine. At the center of the grove is a brook with cold, clear water cascading over small rocks, with a baby cedar tree growing right in the middle. We will be returning to that idyllic spot tomorrow with a picnic lunch, our water filter, and bathing items and we still have our sweet little spot to ourselves.

August 20

Well, just another day in paradise here. We hiked back to the creek we found yesterday to bathe and have lunch along the way. Yikes was it fuhreeeeezing! But it sure felt great to clean up after four days on the rough. Such a perfect little stream, with cedars and ferns growing in it and all sort of other wildflowers. Sadly, most of them are long done for the year but must be quite a sight in spring.

We have selected a spot to watch from and will be heading out early in the AM. There were some clouds today that were worrisome but the weather report is still promising clear skies and the smoke has cleared up completely.

So wish us clear skies! I can’t wait for the moment we can take OFF our eclipse glasses and gaze up into the dark skies during daytime. They say it will be a little darker than a bright full moonlight night. We can’t wait!

August 21

Well, the long awaited day and time finally arrived. The day was clear and the spot we were in was perfect. It is a cliché, but words truly do fail me to describe totality. Up until over 80% coverage very little change could be seen. One was sort of asking oneself “is it really getting dimmer or am I imagining it?”. Even at 95% it seemed to still be pretty bright out and it was dimming very slowly.

Then suddenly, in a rush, it got dark. The stars came out, we could see Jupiter and the summer triangle. There was a 360 degree sunset all around us. Light seemed to rise up from the horizon un-refracted. Above this band of brightness was a band of sunset color, and above that the sky was deep blue and purple.

We were in the moon’s shadow, but with a view so wide that we could see beyond the darkness.And the corona around the moon was spectacular! We were with a small group of folks and we were all whooping and exclaiming and pointing things out to each other. Then, as suddenly as it had darkened, day returned.

Wowser, truly amazing and I must say that if you saw even a 98% eclipse you still haven’t seen one. I can understand why some chase them around the globe and am already thinking about 2024!

I am so glad they had such an amazing experience and got to share it together. I am looking forward to hearing about at our next family dinner – maybe on Saturday!

*High beams, which are of limited help in inky black country darkness, are a major disappointment in my adult life, along with painkillers, which do not, as the name suggests, actually kill the pain. Why am I surprised? Adult life itself has been a major disappointment. While it’s true there is no homework, when you’ve said that, you’ve said it all.

A YEAR AGO: Friends, camping, pie. And yes, early morning darkness.

FIVE YEARS AGO: Sigh. You can see the white heart on my beloved Roscoe’s chest. I miss you, my little wild one.

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Sunset Slipper

A week of fog lifted, and Megan and I decided it was a good time to go to the Ledford House again. Although it is conveniently located right across the highway from beautiful downtown Hooterville, we don’t go as often as we should (or as we’d like).

We were warmly greeted by the beautiful and accomplished bartender, who made us each a beautiful and delicious drink:

Megan’s (left) was a nameless but delightful concoction of fresh raspberries, Limoncello, and sparkling wine, and mine was the charmingly named Sunset Slipper, made of Campari, fresh lemon and lime juice, and sparkling wine, finished with a twist of orange, its oils released into the rosy drink. Unlike me, Megan doesn’t like Campari, but she loved the Sunset Slipper. So did I.

We repaired to the sunny and deserted deck:

with its breathtaking view of the sunset:

where we enjoyed our libations with the attentions of the handsome restaurant cat:

He and his tortoiseshell sister just showed up one day, and the owners took them in. They appear to be quite well-fed on gourmet leftovers from the restaurant’s wonderful kitchen, and to be replete with attentions of the restaurant’s patrons. Of course, he spotted a sucker as soon as he saw one, and wasted no time ensconcing himself by my chair and graciously accepting my petting and compliments. Clearly he accurately assessed Megan as being a dog-lover.

Swallows had built a nest in the eaves of the building, and the parents fluttered back and forth, bringing food to the peeping young in the nest. An occasional raven swooped over the ocean. It was so nice to sit on the lovely deck, as the twinkle lights glowed brighter and the sun slipped into the sea. It is amazing how quickly it vanishes once it gets started. It was a lovely evening.

A YEAR AGO: An unexpected gift, and an unexpected curse.

FIVE YEARS AGO: Farewell to Digit, the adorable office cat. She is still being adored by her (no longer) new family. All’s well that ends well.

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Sixteen

It’s been 16 years since that fateful early morning phone call when my sister told me our father was gone and our lives changed forever.

It was 6 am in San Francisco, which is 2 in the afternoon in London, so my sister had already lived with the knowledge that he was gone for almost an entire day. Her gift to me was those last few hours of not knowing, when she already knew.

I will never forget the overwhelming grief when I finally grasped what she was telling me; or the stricken look on my brother’s face as he seized my hand in his strong, work-roughened one and said, “Let’s do it” as we walked together to the plane that would carry us to London; or the undertakers in full morning dress who handled our father’s coffin with such respect and tenderness, doffing their black silk top hats and bowing to him on his last journey.

I think of my father every day, and when I do, it’s more often the happy memories than the sad ones. Similarly, when I dream of him, he is always alive. Sometimes he tells me it was all a mistake, but mostly, it’s as if nothing ever happened and of course we are cooking together or having adventures, as we did so often in real life.

When I look back over the years, I think of Dad coming home from work in his white lab coat, smelling of chemicals when he was a young scientist and I was a young girl, and how he’d roll around on the floor with us before dinner. I think of climbing Mount Cadillac in Maine, to be the first on the eastern seaboard to see the sun rise that day, his blazing blue eyes gazing out over the Atlantic. I think of him reading stories to us as children – and adults. I think of him walking his beloved dog Jesse on Wimbledon Common, just a handful of miles from where Dad used to walk with own beloved father. Dad and Jesse were not parted for long, since their ashes are scattered together on the Common. Somewhere, a boy and his dog will always be playing.

A YEAR AGO: Missing Dad.

FIVE YEARS AGO: Remembering Dad.

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Drip Drip Drip

Meanwhile, back at stately Suzy Manor, our heroine was being annoyed by a persistently dripping tap in the kitchen. It’s hard to ignore the repetitive and irritating sound when your house is basically one room and where you live is really, really quiet.

I resorted to leaving the sponge in the sink to catch the drips, which is not a long-term solution for the sponge, or for me. Rob took a look at the faucet, and opined that it was a job for my landlord rather than my brother-in-law. To be fair, this line is often blurred, with Rob doing things at my house which should be done by Mark. But Mark is very busy running the property single-handed, along with his thriving business selling succulents and cacti on the interwebs.

I ran into Mark and Citlali at the post office and helped them to decant dozens of boxes from their truck onto the loading dock at the post office, reminding me of the good old days at the jobette, when I used to wrangle small, yet surprisingly heavy, boxes of visitor guides for a living. My box wrestling abilities are yet another of my (mostly) useless talents. While we box wrestled together, I mentioned the faucet drip to Mark. He said he’d look at it.

He did come by and look at it, and decided that he needed a certain type of screwdriver, either to fix it or to investigate what was ailing my kitchen waterworks. It must have been hard to find, since it took more than a week for him to find it and come back to work on it.

In the way of such projects, things went wrong and parts were needed, so it went on for a few weeks. Finally, Mark said it was fixed. I was pretty excited, especially since he also went up on the roof, cleaned out the gutters, swept away the accumulation of pine and redwood needles, and caulked the roof so I should not have the puddle by the Christmas tree, or the mini lake at the foot of the stairs, or the pool on top of the bureau when the rain comes back, which I hope is not for, say, 3 months.

While it’s true that the new faucet did not drip, it was not without its own set of drawbacks.

I went to wash the dishes and turning the control to the left did not produce hot water, no matter how long I let it run. I went out and checked the flash heater, and it was lit, so I was mystified. It turned out that Mark had installed the new faucet set backwards, so that left is cold and hot is right, unlike every other faucet in the house, and probably in North America.

I thought all I wanted was a faucet that didn’t drip. Clearly I was not specific enough, though that particular wish did come true. On the other hand, what else do you expect in a house where the light switches say “no” when you turn them on, and you turn them on by turning them down?

A YEAR AGO: Family dinner with those I love best.

FIVE YEARS AGO: Some parting gifts from Mark and his family. So glad the departure was temporary and they are back home, next door.

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A Loss

The official month of death kicked off with the unexpected loss of a coworker, Carol, on August 1. She had been fighting lymphoma, but we all – including, I think, her – expected her to return to work.

She was admitted to intensive care on Tuesday, and because this is not just a small world but a small town, my sister was the one called in to try to revive Carol that night, and she died under my sister’s hands.

My sister takes these things better than I do. She believes that by the time the code team is called in, the patient is no longer really “there”, though she adds that maybe she just tells herself that in order to be able to do what she does.

It’s been quiet at work in the days since, as we all try to come to terms with the loss of someone who always had a smile and a cheerful word, a bright presence who had worked at the clinic for a decade and who left the world too soon.

One thing I have learned the hard way is that you can’t tell grieving people “let me know if you need anything”. They don’t know what they need and they can’t tell you. So you do something useful, like walk the dog, mow, the lawn, or pick up groceries. We have set up a calendar at work so people can sign up to bring the family food, and an account at the local credit union to raise money to get Carol’s youngest daughter here from Alaska and to defray final expenses.

Today was my turn to bring food to the family. I made chicken enchiladas using salsa verde my siblings made from tomatillos, garlic, and onions grown at the property, and Megan picked a fresh onion for it from the garden. Somehow, using food we grew ourselves seemed to make it more meaningful. And I found the process of cooking itself to be healing.

Carol and her husband were an extremely devoted couple, and he is devastated. He did say that these gifts of food from Carol’s coworkers mean a lot to him and to the family, especially since they involve a visit and the opportunity to talk about Carol and share memories. Nothing can really help except time, but in the meantime, they are not alone and our community, as it always does, has wrapped its arms around the family.

Hold close those you love.

A YEAR AGO: More death, with the loss of Jack, the last cat John and I had together. Maybe my friend who told me I should start getting used to these departures was right.

FIVE YEARS AGO: Uh, well…the anniversary of my mother’s death, and other assorted bad news. August, man. I’m telling you.

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Teen Time

Our long-time friend Carrie came up to visit from Oakhampton, with her 15 year old daughter Miranda and Miranda’s posse of besties. I was pleased to learn that Carrie asked the kids where they wanted to go within driving distance, and they chose Hooterville.

They were rewarded with the kind of freedom we experienced as kids and which is no longer available to those growing up in cities. They swam at the swimming hole in the river, where there is a rope swing, and in the secret pond known only to locals. They helped Jonathan make adobe bricks from clay dug up on the family estate, destined to make an outdoor pizza oven. There is already water and power in the giant, fenced in garden, and the plan is to make an outdoor kitchen there one of these faraway days.

They hiked in the majestic redwoods and rode our friends David and Jennifer’s (my siblings’ land partners) horses Bella and Charlie, and got in some driving practice, since getting their licenses is not as far off on the horizon as making our outdoor kitchen. They were thrilled to pick berries, just as we had during those long-ago summers in Maine. I have never again had blueberries that tasted anything like those small, dark berries, warm from the sun. They learned to make huckleberry pie under Jonathan’s tutelage, in the pie pan Rob made for Rio’s birthday.

On the Friday night, we had dinner at Rio’s place, which has acquired the name of The Marches. Rio said it’s an old word for wilderness, though I think her compound is quite civilized. As Rio and Jonathan made dinner (Rio’s special deconstructed chile relleno casserole and chicken enchiladas made with onions and salsa grown at the property), my brother put on a record, observing that the young ones would not know what it was. He was wrong about this, since one of them correctly recognized it as Herb Alpert’s classic “Whipped Cream” after the first two notes, adding that she herself owned it, also on vinyl.

I thought that was surprising until these 21st century girls started singing as they did the dinner dishes. They sang John Denver’s “Country Roads” and Neil Diamond’s “Sweet Caroline” perfectly. Clearly they have retro leanings. They were completely enthralled with the Predicta and with “Honey West”, with its glamorous costumes, cool cars, and beautiful, kickass heroine. I have to wonder why “Honey West” is not a cultural touchstone like “Bewitched” or “The Avengers”. Also, 1965, the year of my brother’s birth, was a pretty good one, since both “Honey West” and “Whipped Cream” made their debuts along with him.

On Saturday night, we had a BBQ over at the property, and on Sunday, our guests headed back to the city after a breakfast of huckleberry pancakes made on the outdoor gas hob. It was a good visit.

A YEAR AGO: A bad omen?

FIVE YEARS AGO: A good day at the pool.

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Welcome Home

I may have spoken too soon about finding no unexpected appliances or bird intruders in my house. I came home from work one day this week to find a very dead Steller’s Jay lying on the floor and a huge box nearby.

The events did not seem to be related. I also don’t suspect the cats of avian murder this time. My theory is that he flew in through the balcony door and thought the window above the sliding glass doors was open when it wasn’t. I have seen this happen before, though I will never get used to seeing dead birds or disposing of their bodies. The only wound I could see on him was the side of his head, and he must have been lying where I found him for quite a while, since the floor still holds a print of his head and beak. It may be there forever. Lady Macbeth and I have similar cleaning results.

As for the box, it did not contain a phantom tollbooth, but it did contain a swamp cooler, my long-ago birthday/Junapalooza gift which had finally arrived.

I plugged it in and used the hose for the straggly balcony roses to fill its water tank. The instructions said to put it by an open window or door, but due to the oddities of my house, this is not possible. I tried it one evening, but didn’t notice it was really more efficacious than the box fan I usually have perched on a little stool by my bed. I turned it off and wondered if perhaps my house’s eccentricity will make it impossible for it to work properly. I will see if Rob can come up with some clever solution to make it work better.

A YEAR AGO: More from the local message boards.

FIVE YEARS AGO: A little trip to San Francisco.

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Encore

I (barely) survived the ordeal of the annual Hell Day Staff Day.

This year Staff Day Eve was very nearly as bad as Staff Day itself. It was certainly a longer one, clocking in at 13 fun-filled hours as technology rebelled and I honed my non-existent catering skills.

The Powers That Be decided that this year we would serve fruit for breakfast instead of the traditional bagels and cream cheese. Sounds like a good idea, right? Until you have to spend nearly three hours washing and cutting it up and finding things to store it in overnight and places in the refrigerators to jam it into. While I was slicing, dicing, and hating the Whos*, they drifted through the kitchen saying how great it smelled and snitching pieces of watermelon. To a (wo)man, they failed to offer to help. As you would expect.

Right before I started my fruit dissection, I was told that we would need 50 copies each of two different 60 page documents. I set them to print and headed to the kitchen in the naïve belief that they would be printing while I was chopping. Instead, my printer chose this exact moment to run out of toner and stop working completely. When I came to check on its progress, there was none.

I changed all of the toner cartridges and brought the dead ones to the junk room Facilities Guy’s office with a note asking him to order more (which has not happened – yet another detail to keep track of) and went to copy the finally printed documents.

The copier is of a snail-like slowness, yet equipped with a touch screen which gives you the gloomy prognostication of when the job will be finished. Its original estimate was 55 minutes for one of the double-sided 60 page documents. I left it unattended to attend to other matters, and was rewarded by the discovery that it, too, had stopped working, claiming that a part needed to be replaced.

I called the Facilities Guy, who said that you just have to take it out and put it back in. This turned out to be true. So I started the job again and went to copy the other 60 page document on the Medical Records copier. The deplorable quality of the copies was the least of my concerns, since it too stopped after making a couple of the 50 required copies, and it was so late that there was no-one around with superior copier experience to fix it.

On to Plan C, the Behavioral Health copier. I discovered after a couple of copies that it does not collate, instead presenting the hapless user with 50 copies of page 1. I might have expected that the copier there would have a personality disorder. So I cancelled that one and went back to the original copier, which was still slowly churning out the copies of Document One.

When I finally got home about 14 hours after I left it, I couldn’t even have an adult beverage, since I had to be at Starbucks at 6:30 am on the following day, which I was. Don’t even ask me about writing cheap dime store poetry and cutting out puzzle pieces.

The day itself flowed by in a nightmare of prep, clean-up, and running around as it always does. As per usual, the staff all took off around 3:00 or 3:30, leaving me to clean up the FEMA-worthy aftermath and contemplate the seemingly endless vista of these meetings, the annual fundraiser, and Board meetings for what remains of my life. But hey, it was only a 10 hour day!

You can see why working at the jobette on Saturdays doesn’t even seem like work!

*I was delighted, yet saddened, to learn that the same voice artist was Cindy Lou Who and Natasha Fatale after she passed away just short of her 100th birthday.

A YEAR AGO: You guessed it!

FIVE YEARS AGO: Those crazy kitties.

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Summer Saturday

Megan drove me to work on Saturday. As you know, I love being chauffeured or chauffeused, and it was nice to relax in Megan’s little red car while she steered us toward the Big Town in the summer traffic. As we drove, she told me that one of her coworkers was stuck in a long line of cars driving 25 mph behind someone who refused to pull over for most of the duration of Highway 20. The drivers stranded behind him were honking, flashing their lights, and throwing garbage at the miscreant, who blithely ignored these signs of his fellow motorists’ displeasure.

Fortunately, no honking or trash throwing was involved in our commute, though there may have been a little trash talking. As Megan dropped me off at the jobette, I noticed a guy standing in the street singing, and I thought, I hope he isn’t crazy and he leaves me alone. This wish was granted.

Megan headed off to the clinic to work on her second job, while I unlocked the doors to start on my own second job.

Our plan was that she would pick me up and we’d go to the library, stop by Monica’s shop, and then meet Rob in the Village to see a woodworking exhibit and walk the dogs on the headlands, but we were only partially successful.

We did make it to the library, where my haul included the sequel to the book Jessica lent me at our sleepover. I was reminded of going to the library on Saturdays when I was a girl, with Miss Opal the librarian telling us tales of the past, and in the splendid library in Maine, the librarians always let us take out extra book since we were lab kids. Library expeditions were usually followed by a trip to the Victory Market (New York) or the Shop’n’Save (Maine). I now wonder why Dad dragged us all along on these Saturday expeditions, but years later, Megan and I are keeping up the tradition.

We had so much fun talking with Monica that we lost track of the time, and before we knew it, it was time for her to close the shop and we had missed the woodworking show. Megan texted Rob to let him know, and we headed home, where we took a bottle of wine outside in my garden and chatted some more, watching Clyde and Audrey play. It was a good day. Sometimes it’s nice when things don’t go according to plan.

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You Win Some, You Lose Some

It’s been a less than stellar week in SuzyWorld™. To be fair, I did bring some of it on myself*, like scheduling the masochistic extravaganza of a dental cleaning and a TB test performed on my unsuspecting skin by a needle novice on the same day. The dental cleaning was as unpleasant and make-up destroying as you would expect, and the disfigurement theme continued as the needle novice caused bleeding, followed by bruising which made reading the test results challenging. For some reason, we have to have these TB tests every year**, though TB seems like a malady of the past, like smallpox. Erica tells me that they have squirrels in her ‘hood who carry the bubonic plague, so maybe it’s just as well. Come to Mendocino County! We know how to party like it’s 1299!

Other unpleasant activities this week included triaging the shopping for the dreaded Staff Day, which will inflict its loathsome self on me on Tuesday. Let’s hope we don’t experience another terrible tragedy like last year’s running out of ranch dressing. You probably saw it on the cover of the New York Post and lists of lesser disasters like the Titanic and the Hindenburg. In their infinite wisdom, the Powers That Be have decided that having ice cream sundaes is the perfect end to the perfect day. Who am I to disagree? I am, however, the person shopping like a junkie at 6:30 am, getting flats of ice cream, cans of spray whipped cream, and family sized bottles of sprinkles. Other than the still shrink-wrapped ice cream, everything was nicely distributed on the immaculate Safeway parking lot when the bag holding them broke.

I hope it’s not a sign.

I ended the week with the delightful early morning discovery that the flash heater had suddenly gone on strike in the manner of a French public servant. I took a flashlight outside and tried to persuade it to wake up, even if I couldn’t, but it stubbornly refused. There may have been a couple of snores coming out of the box around the flash heater, which is located outside rather than inside, against all common sense and manufacturer’s specification. But why bother with such details?

I alerted Megan by text – she was still at work at 5:30 am – and she said she would get Rob to fix it at a more civilized hour. I packed up the car with faux adult attire and beautification equipment and headed to the Starr Center, oddly attired in my kitty pajamas, work shoes, and a sweater. There was no way I was getting dressed twice in one morning. It appears that the lack of hot water at my house is the only reason I ever go to the gym.

At least there were no birds or unexpected appliances in the house this week, so I’m still ahead of the game.

*I hate it when I have no-one to blame but myself.

**They always try to make us have flu shots every year, despite the fact that they have a less than 10% efficacy rate. They aren’t mandatory yet, though they are at the hospital where my sister works. I am mystified as to why they have chosen to take a stand on such an ineffective vaccine for a non-fatal illness. Ah, bureaucracy!

A YEAR AGO: A day of dates.

FIVE YEARS AGO: And an unexpected guest.

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Rob the Artist

Rob has been taking a ceramics class lately, and I love his new creations.

He treats assignments creatively. For example, the assignment was to make a teapot. Here’s what Rob made:

It’s a man, with a bird and a tree. It’s kind of an abstract idea of a teapot.

He also made this wonderfully textured tile:

It reminds me of MC Escher*.

This might be my favorite: Rob’s hand rising out of leaves which remind me of an Elizabethan ruff:

I may well be the most influential collector of his work, which is as useful as it is beautiful. I keep my car keys and iPod in this dish, which he patterned with a cabbage leaf:

This scalloped dish holds necessary beautifiers in the bathroom:

And at work, this holds paperclips:

He recently stopped by with a ceramic copy of the license plate from his 1960 Ford Falcon**:

It has to be the best license plate ever. And words to live by!

A YEAR AGO: A beautiful day at the Gardens.

FIVE YEARS AGO: Whole lotta movin’ going on.

*My friend Alice mentioned recently that her husband hails from the same village as Escher, and his father bought four drawings from Escher for about $50 when Escher was still unknown. He sold the drawings before Escher reached his pinnacle of fame, and they would be worth a lot of money now. At least they still have a handwritten letter from the artist.

**I have noticed a deplorable trend lately of new cars with the old black California license plates on them. It just seems wrong. They don’t belong on new cars, and they haven’t earned the right to use a 50 year old plate. I think Mammy said it best.

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The Intruder

When I go to work in the morning, I leave the doors open, since I am not available to be the cat doorperson while I’m out making money to keep my feline masters in fancy, grain-free cat food and Pretty Litter*. Where’s Carlton when you need him?

Sometimes this open door policy results in finding surprise presents on the kitchen table, and sometimes it has less delightful consequences, like the recent appearance of the giant, Stalinesque refrigerator which caused an impromptu kitchen redesign. My ideal refrigerator would look something like this:

To be fair, although I still hate the look and utility of the new and unimproved appliance, it did result in a much nicer shelf over the ugly refrigerator, thanks to my ever-resourceful brother-in-law. He must consider his wife’s overly adjacent sister the “for worse” part of the vows he took 26 years ago this month.

This week, I came home from a 13 hour day to find that my open door policy had once again resulted in something unexpected.

The kitties were waiting anxiously for treats, and then supper. At stately Suzy Manor, the cats get dessert before dinner. As I distributed the treats, I glanced up at the sleeping loft and saw a large bird clinging to the screen door.

I was surprised both by the avian intruder and the fact that the cats were uninterested in its presence. They trotted off to eat dinner as I went upstairs to deal with the uninvited guest.

I expected that it would fly away from me to a place where I couldn’t reach it, but it turned out that Mr. Woodpecker was stuck in the screen door to the balcony. I had never been so close to a woodpecker before. He seemed to be stunned or scared enough to let me detach him from the opened door, and once released, he rocketed away into the trees to the relief of all concerned.

After cleaning up the miscellaneous feathers and bird poop he left behind, I went back downstairs to start my own dinner and stepped in a mini mountain of ClydeBarf™.

Welcome home!

*I am a convert to this stuff. It’s very light, mailed right to your house, and makes your house scentless.

A YEAR AGO: Meeting Rio’s daughter and having a nice dinner at the family estate.

FIVE YEARS AGO: Home at last after surviving the horrible ordeal of the Grand Jury.

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