Archive for June, 2008

Jun 27 2008

State of Emergency

Published by under Uncategorized

The red sun against the smoky Oakland sky, Thursday evening

My brother and sister’s Summer Solstice party was suddenly ended by an unexpected and wildly out of season rain-free lightning storm. There were thousands of lightning strikes, setting the dry trees and shrubs on fire. California usually only gets rain in the winter, so wildfires are a real danger every summer.

I am proud to say that my brother has been a member of the local volunteer fire department for many years. He sleeps with his boots beside his bed, and never leaves home without his pager. He and his fellow fire fighters leapt into action. My sister went down to the firehouse to make food and wash the tired men’s sweaty, sooty clothes as they cycled in and out of the relentless flames.

She called me with updates, and for a while each was scarier than the last. At one point, my brother called from the front lines and told her to pack up all the essentials from both houses and get ready to evacuate. Fortunately, the wind shifted and spared them, leaving their houses and gardens coated in ash, like a light snowfall. I have rarely been so frightened or felt so helpless, 150 miles away from where my siblings could be losing their houses – and in my brother’s case, his life.

I am so incredibly thankful that they are safe and sound, though the fires rage on. One hundred and twenty one fires have burned 42 acres and threatened 900 homes in their county. Fellow firemen from Nevada and Oregon have come to help. The skies here are still hazy with smoke.

Volunteer fire departments aren’t limited to small rural communities like the one where my brother and sister live. According to the US Fire Administration, 87% of fire departments are volunteer or mostly volunteer, and protect 38% of the population.

Have you thanked your fire department today?


When my brother came off a 24 hour shift this week, he found a thank you note in his car – along with $50, a bag of cherries, and some chocolate. All along the roads, there are signs telling the fire department “We love you!” “Thank you!” – and the amounts of water available on that particular property, with directions for the fire department to take what they need. And the lone grocery store is taking donations. Nothing like a small town, especially one with such heart.

Comments Off on State of Emergency

Jun 21 2008

Farewell to a Lady

Published by under Uncategorized

I was deeply shocked and saddened to learn today of my beloved stepmother’s death.

Margaret was a beautiful, stylish, courageous, witty, and generous person. She was a wonderful friend to me, a frequent travelling companion, and an inspiration. I have so many happy memories of her, and will always be grateful to her for giving my father the happiest years of his life. I’m not a big believer in the whole “soulmate” thing, but I truly believe they were meant for each other. As Margaret put it, they had a ten year honeymoon together.

She was a remarkable woman. She started flipping houses after World War II, long before it became the fashion it is now. She built up what we laughingly, but with some accuracy, called “The Empire”, renting out houses she owned in Wimbledon to tourists. She ran the business herself until just a few years ago, when she handed the reins over to her son.

She learned to drive in her forties, bought a car, and drove it home – a surprise to her first husband! Anything she set her mind to do, she did. She had more energy in her seventies than I have in my forties.

They both loved travelling, and Margaret was the ideal companion for Dad. If he was travelling on business, which was often the case, she amused herself until they met up at the end of his working day. Egypt, East Africa, even Uganda! India, Italy, Russia, France, the Czech Republic – they went everywhere together. Dad told me once they were on a bus somewhere in Africa, with the livestock and the heat and overcrowding you’d expect in this mode of travel, when the bus broke down. Margaret calmly went to sit in the shade and read her book until it was repaired – many hours later. Dad couldn’t resist pointing out that Margaret was a much better candidate than I would have been in such circumstances.

We travelled together on my annual or twice annual visits to London when Dad was still alive. Our last adventure was going to Italy in 1999, where Margaret had rented a palazzo in San Gimignano, appropriately named Villa Margherita. We went together and had a spa day at the famous Montecatini Spa, merrily getting lost on the winding mountain roads.

Margaret was the most tireless shopper I have ever met. We cut a swathe through Harrods and boot sales, Rigby & Peller and second hand shops in the King’s Road. I still use the bag she bought me in the King’s Road – it has been with me as far as Russia and as close as my sister’s house. It holds enough clothes for two weeks in Europe, but still fits in the overhead bin. Just one of Margaret’s many bargains.

She was always beautifully dressed, and had great personal style. My father always appreciated her elegance and beauty. They used to change for dinner every night, ready to spend the evening together after a busy day working.

Margaret welcomed Dad’s children and his aging dog with open arms and open heart. We were all lucky to know her and love her, and to be loved by her. I hope there really is an afterlife and Dad, Margaret and Jesse James the Outlaw Dog are united once again.

Comments Off on Farewell to a Lady

Jun 19 2008

Past & Presents

Published by under Uncategorized

And speaking of the past, I have it on local authority that my former home is now being used for storage by one of the film set companies in the building. It seems kind of a waste of a perfectly good kitchen and bath (both of which are much bigger than the ones I have now). Also, it makes me sad to think that no-one is watching the stars from the skylights, or passing the time of day with friends and neighbors who pass through the courtyard. They tell me it’s sad to walk on by, especially at night, and see the windows dark, the window boxes empty, the shiny black door closed.


Possibly the best birthday present I got this year was the seemingly interminable primaries finally terminating. Michelle Obama looked fabulous in her violet dress. Wouldn’t it be great to have a stylish First Lady again?


The next best was seeing the Sex and the City movie with my long-serving friend, Richard, he who lures me out for lunch from time to time. We’ve known each other since high school, and there’s nothing like friends who have known you since you were in your teens and still love you.

Having a straight man take a girl to see SATC in San Francisco may well be the ultimate in accessorizing.

It’s a good thing the theater was nearly empty, since we giggled and whispered our way through it, having a wonderful time. The movie does a great job of summarizing the series, so if you haven’t seen it, you could still enjoy the movie. Needless to say, everything looked fabulous and it was a sparkly confection, just the way you’d want it.

If only life were really like the movies. Well, that movie, anyway!

Comments Off on Past & Presents

Jun 15 2008

Heart of the Matter

Published by under Dogs,Rita

With all this kitten talk, I realize I have never filled you in on what became of the Lovely Rita.

In preparation for the long trip from There to Here, I took her to the vet. Dr. Jill said she wouldn’t recommend putting a dog of Rita’s vintage and dignity through the horrors of being packed up and treated like baggage, but she wouldn’t refuse me the certificate saying Rita was healthy enough to travel, either. Because Rita is in excellent shape, even for a dog far junior to her.

This put some doubts in my mind, but I went to tell Actual Owner that Rita and I were off on a new adventure together. He was visibly shaken, and asked if I would consider leaving her with him. Even a heart as stony as mine melted when he said, “I was there at the beginning of her life, and I’d like to be there at the end, too.” Because we both knew that he’d never see her again if she left with me.

The truth is, she is his dog. She spent the first ten years of her life with him, and only three with me. He’s home, I’m the summer camp.

I won the battle, but I lost the war.

So I did the right and painful thing. Actual Owner came over one evening, and I loaded him up with all her accessories, things I had acquired for her over the years, ranging from her travel water bottle (she was the best travel companion: always happy to go anywhere, never bored) to her beloved bed to her hip treats (prevention!). I also gave him all her vet records. He thanked me for taking such good care of her, and put on her leash.

I hugged her good-bye, burying my face in her thick fur once last time. She walked off with her guy, tail wagging, looking up at him with love I’ve never seen on her face for anyone else.

It was the right thing to do, but it was one of the hardest I’ve ever done.

Now that I’ve been in Oakland for six months, I am completely sure I did the right thing. She would not have been happy here with the constantly barking dogs next door, the complete lack of parks, having to walk on a leash on cement sidewalks with shopping cart people instead of being Queen of the Dog Park, running free with the sun on her fur.

And her extended vacation at Camp Suzy was not in vain. Her Actual Owner definitely appreciates her more now. He takes her everywhere, from the store to the Tai Chi classes he teaches, and she is happy and healthy. I will always miss her, but I’m happy she’s happy. And I’ll always have the memory of my Dog Days with the Lovely Rita.

Comments Off on Heart of the Matter

Jun 13 2008

This Week in Cats

Published by under Uncategorized

Henry awaits his breakfast*

It turns out Grey Cat’s name is Henry. Every morning, he’s waiting for me to appear with food, water, and sparkling monologue, our conversation being rather one-sided.

He used to run away. Then he started watching carefully from a distance. Then one day, he answered my remarks with a few observations of his own. He has the manly sort of voice you’d expect. A few days later, not only did he keep up his end of the conversation, but he walked toward me, slipped past to get to his dishes under the porch, and started eating while I was still there.

I was incredibly excited.

Lately, he’s been spending more time in the backyard, lounging or napping with his back against the fence like a Mafioso (and probably for the same reason). Somehow, he manages to look alert even when he’s asleep.

The girls are jealous and on constant Henry watch, even though I have assured them he’s never coming in the house. When I hear their paws hit the floor and scurry from window to window, I know there’s been a Henry sighting. He, of course, is supremely indifferent to them.

I asked my former neighbor if she has a 365 day return policy on the kittens (they will be a year old on July 2). Audrey has been most unsatisfactory recently:

  • She stole proscuitto off the kitchen counter and ran through the house eating it;
  • Went up the chimney and had to be coaxed/insisted down with a broom (fireplace now temporarily blocked with a large painting):
  • Has made a habit of opening the cupboard with the cat food in it and spilling it all over the floor;
  • Repeatedly raced through the house and leaped onto the screen door, clinging there and yowling.

She’s now sleeping off the effects of overindulging in overnaughtiness, and I’m wondering if it’s too early for a drink.

*It’s a pretty bad picture, being taken through my window, but it’s all I have. So far.

Comments Off on This Week in Cats

Jun 11 2008


Published by under Uncategorized

Ah, the perils of new handbags.

When I put on my professional persona and go to the City, I usually carry a quite splendid bag which, rumor has it, was featured in Elle this past spring. I got it from the fabulous handbag store in my fabulous friend K’s beautiful, historic town. You have to love a town that has a hangbag store. It’s faux crocodile (why not? I’m a faux adult) with a patent leather finish and wonderful, heavy pewter fittings. It was a little on the cher side, but the Creepy Handbag Guy gave me a great deal, as he usually does, and I carry it so often that it was worth every dollar.

However, I got a new one for my birthday, so I couldn’t wait to use it, along with the new lipstick from, appropriately enough*, my friend, The Lipstick Gardener.

Off I went, with my new lipstick on and my new bag in hand. BART was uneventful, other than a passel of unruly schoolchildren who vastly outnumbered their keepers. I got to the office and realized I didn’t have my photo ID, which allows me to pass through to the elevators. So I had to sign in and show the security guy my driver’s license.

Once on our floor, I asked the receptionist which conference room I had for my meetings that day. Well, I had neglected to mention the meetings to him, so all but the smallest room were booked. Going to drop off the handbag that caused all the trouble in the first place, I discovered that I had also forgotten the key to my office door.

It’s a wonder I remembered to transfer my wallet to the new bag.

The receptionist opened the door for me, smiling handsomely and keeping his thoughts to himself.

At the first meeting, the guy gently reminded me that we had planned to conference in two others at his office in Boston, but there was no phone in the littlest conference room. The receptionist kindly remedied this, and undoubtedly regaled his friends with tales of Suzy later that evening. At this point, I noticed that I didn’t have a pen…

It was that kind of day.

*Even more appropriately, it’s called “Party On”. I love it when make-up has names – I’m always slightly disappointed if it only has a number. I think it would be a great job for a frivolous girl like I to come up with make-up names.

Comments Off on Forgettable

Jun 03 2008

Suzy and the Curse of the Coffeemaker

Published by under Calamity Suzy,Life in Oaktown

Much less fun (and harder to solve) than a Nancy Drew mystery. Though, like her, I have had a cute blue convertible and noticed that boys never do anything, so if there’s something to be done or a mystery to be solved, you’d better do it yourself. Stylishly.

You know how some people have something wrong with their magnetic field or something (those of you who are scientifically minded can let me know what I’m talking about here) and can’t wear watches? I think I’m like that with coffeemakers.

The curse started, as curses tend to do, long ago, and continues to this day. Those who are cursed (Me) have no warning, and it is sprung upon them in the early, uncaffeinated hours when they are least equipped to deal with it.

I thought the curse would go along with that coffeemaker, as I merrily tossed it into the trash, but no. It was passed onto its successor, a coffeemaker version of Fallen. The second one lulled me into a false sense of security for some time before going suddenly and stubbornly on strike in the French manner. Also ? la fran?aise, it would mysteriously start again, only to stop with no warning later on, sometimes while in the middle of working.

I hauled out my old French press, the one with the plastic ~shudder~ carafe because the cats’ romping keep breaking the glass one, making for some extremely hazardous waste.

I will just say here that I used to use one of these all the time, but my love has turned to hate.

I hate:

  • Having to wait for the kettle to boil, then attempt to pour said water onto grounds without spilling or scalding Self (no easy task when you’re Calamity Suzy);
  • Having to wait again for the coffee to strengthen sufficiently to jumpstart a cold and Grinch-sized heart;
  • How there’s always a certain amount of sludge in the bottom of my coffee cup; and
  • Having to scrape* out the grounds, but yet have enough left over to get into everything I wash and leave a sad ring-around-the sink in its wake.

I think I hate that most of all.

So I ordered another coffeemaker, a pretty red one, one that I could just throw in the coffee and water and the coffee would appear like magic. I took it out of its package, admired its cuteness, plugged it in, turned it on, and – nothing. The warming burner was cold to the touch, always a sign of deadosity, whether in people or appliances.

I called the company and they agreed to send me one that works and to have UPS pick up the body, which is waiting on the front porch and dreaming of speeding hearses.

In the meantime, I had to resort to the French press again. Although it worked this morning, the grounds-trapping screen holder was cracked, so when I pushed it down, it exploded all over Self and the kitchen floor and anything else that was in its way.

When I took out the screen part to rinse everything out, the plastic holding the screen onto the stem fell apart in my hands. So it’s yet another Oakland homicide**, though a purely involuntary one.

If the replacement coffeemaker doesn’t arrive today, I face a coffee-less birthday morning tomorrow. What could be more cursed than that?

*Sometimes this procedure gives me heretical thoughts about the bad old days when we were all unenlightened and just threw everything in the garbage. Things were so much easier and less stinky then. It really isn’t easy (or pretty) being green, which is why, you guessed it, I don’t enjoy it.

**Oakland: its not just for homicides anymore! Apparently, we also specialize in carjackings!

Comments Off on Suzy and the Curse of the Coffeemaker