2008 Recap

In which our heroine attempts to adjust to life in exile.

January: Cool Cornell. Sharks and Energy Domes. Film Noir Fabulosity.

February: Water bill weirdness.

March: Long-awaited license plates.

April: Bad day. Great week. Blog birthday (7!). Breaking and entering. The beginning of the Florida Fiasco.

May: Middle and end of the Florida fiasco.

June: Hello, Henry. Adieu, Margaret. Wildfires.

July: Kittens’ first birthday. Stevie Wonder. Steely Dan. Ant invasion. The mystery fire.

August: Birth of the Cool. Trip to the country.

September: Mr. Wilson. County Fair. Car Trouble.

October: Pretty Pasadena. Political Pumpkin.

November: No Neil Young. Elating Election.

December: Christmas tree carnage. Hail storm. Happy holidays!

And as the old year passes, it takes some beauty and style with it: Paul Newman, Bettie Page, Cyd Charisse, Charlton Heston, Eartha Kitt. Evelyn Keyes, whose performance I enjoyed so much during the Noir Festival (and in that little flick, Gone with the Wind). Dorian Leigh, sister of the glamorous Suzy Parker – the original supermodels back in the 1940s. The tragically young and tremendously talented Heath Ledger. Yves St-Laurent, who left the world a chicer place (and an exhibit of whose clothes I’m hoping to see soon at the De Young Museum). Isaac Hayes, Odetta, Levi Stubbs of the Four Tops, and Miriam Makeba. Bill Melendez, who animated all those classic Charlie Brown cartoons we love so much, especially at the holidays. George Carlin and Bernie Mac. They will all be missed. And Mr. Blackwell is now up there to critique them (and us!) all!

Home Again

My brother came over to my sister’s house before I left and took the helm at the stove, making pancakes with the huckleberries that didn’t fit into the Christmas pie. Just add pure maple syrup and leftover apple wood smoked ham, and you have the real breakfast of champions!

While we ate, he told us that he had just returned from a call to a chimney fire. The directions weren’t very useful, so dispatch called the guy to ask for clarification – do you live on Road A or Road B? – and the guy couldn’t, or wouldn’t, answer. When the firemen finally found him and the remains of the fire (apparently, about 90% of chimney fires are contained by the time firemen get there, but they still have to go), he actually yelled at them for taking so long. Can you believe it? I think I know someone who got some coal in his stocking this year.

The sun was sunny, and the trip home uneventful, other than a disagreement between my car’s side mirror and a tree (which the tree won, necessitating an immediate trip to Kragen to avoid a ticket for driving while mirrorless) and a mysterious slowdown on the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge, which allowed me to admire the San Francisco skyline for quite a long time. When the cars finally speeded up again, it was for no particular reason: no visible construction, accidents, or anything like that. Still, it was much better than the trip out. Note to Self: do not attempt to go anywhere on Christmas Eve unless you’re Santa.

When I got home, the kittens came running to the door. I was as happy to see them as they were to see me. It’s embarrassing how much I miss them when I’m away, no matter how much fun I’m having. The tree, on the other hand, looked quite dejected, leaning against the window as if sobbing quietly, with one of its branches amputated and halfway across the room.

Henry also seemed to be glad I was home, even though he had lots of food and water left. He even let me pet him before settling back onto the couch.

It’s good to be home, and to have happy new Christmas memories.

The Civilized Christmas

There was a power outage during the transition from Christmas Eve to Christmas Day. I’m secretly convinced it was Santa, protesting the total lack of cookies and milk and carrots for the reindeer. He did drop off Jessica’s gift on the front porch, though. I guess by the time he gets to Albion, he’s too tired to mess around with chimneys and things like that.

I feared the worst, since I know Albion is low priority for power restoration (which is why my brother has a generator), but it came back on in less than two hours and – thankfully – in time for coffee. After coffee, my sister and I took Schatzi for a muddy walk during a sunny break in the rainy day. Just minutes after we returned, it started raining and hailing and looking a lot like Christmas.

Jessica and her mother arrived sometime after noon in a flurry of hugs and kisses. It’s so great having a rental kid for Christmas: getting to sleep in and getting the wide-eyed wonder. Naturally, Jessica was the exception to the stockings only rule, and it was fun watching her open her gifts, which included no fewer than ten books. She is already reading the “Little House” books, and has written a letter herself to Neil Gaiman – and received a response, handwritten in fountain pen. Look out, world!

After the presents, we all pitched in to make dinner. The boys cut apple wood, put it in the barbecue, and set the ham to smoke with a maple-bourbon glaze for a couple of hours, while my sister made pie from the huckleberries she picked this summer and I made my world-famous cheese biscuits. Oven-roasted vegetables and mashed potatoes rounded out the meal (and us)!

After dinner, my brother read some of Jessica’s new books aloud, and I have to say, he really inherited Dad’s gift for reading stories to an audience. We were all mesmerized as he did all the voices. I think we may have a new Christmas tradition on our hands.

Christmas Eve

My sister’s Christmas tree

Seems the weather was terrible nearly everywhere in the country on Christmas Eve, and here was no exception. It was rainy and cold as I set off for my brother’s and sister’s. The traffic rivaled the weather for unrivaled awfulness. It took more than half an hour just to get to Berkeley, which should have been a ten-minute drive. If the cars weren’t sitting nearly still and gossiping about each other’s paint choices, they were merrily speeding by me, sending jets of temporarily blinding water over the windshield.

It took five and a half hours to go 150 miles. When I passed those normally irritating signs that tell you how much faster you’re going than the speed limit, they just reached out and patted my head as I went slowly by. Good girl!

I have never been so glad to see my sister’s little house in the pygmy woods.

My car crabbiness rapidly evaporated under the spell of the twinkling tree* and an open bottle of wine. By the time my sister got home from work, I was positively cheerful.

We had drawn names at Thanksgiving for stockings, and I had gotten my sister. You can imagine how much fun I had filling it. Because the tree is outside, we leaned all the stockings against the antique (yet working!) spinning wheel to await the big day.

While we arranged the stockings, my brother-in-law kept vanishing and reappearing. My sister finally asked him what he was up to, and he said something about a project he and my brother were working on. I smiled to myself, knowing full well what the “project” was.

Brother-in-Law had asked me to buy a replacement bathrobe for him to give my sister. Not because of the usual male inability to shop and shop on time, but because there’s nowhere to shop there and if he bought it online, my sister would see the package when she collected the mail. So I headed into the city on Tuesday with my mission firmly in mind.

All I can say is, if people are cutting back these days, they’re not cutting back on trips to San Francisco, or cable car rides when they get here ($5 one way). The line for the cable cars stretched around the block, tourists presumably blissfully unaware of all the cable car accidents this year.

So I fought my way through the maddening crowds and into the shop, where I discovered that the robes only came in white (impractical when your house is surrounded by dirt and doesn’t know enough to stay outside where it belongs), pale pink (ditto; also, she hates pink), baby blue (ick) and red. I figured red was the best choice, but it was sold out in her size. So I got the baby blue.

I told BIL, and he decided to get high quality dye and dye it a beautiful, rich blue. But he had to wait until I got there, much later than expected, on Christmas Eve, then wash it to remove the sizing, etc., then dye it, then wash it, then dry it. And the washer and dryer are at our brother’s place at the other end of the property, so it was quite a performance.

It was all worth it in the end, and she was delighted – even more when she knew the story. It made it more special, she said, to know it was a family project.

*The tree is a living one, and is now too big and heavy to drag into the house. Fortunately, it can be seen from most of the house through the sliding glass doors in the living room. I think it will be planted and a new tree chosen for next year.

Happy Holidays!

My tree through the window

Usually, I close the blinds once the afternoon darkness sets in, but now the tree is up, I’ve been leaving them open enough that passers-by can enjoy my minimalist tree. And now you can, too, without ever setting your well-shod foot in Oakland. You’re welcome again!

I wonder if the tree will be standing when I get back. I’m pretty much betting that it will be sagging sadly against the wall or on the floor, and that June will have chewed it. If I hear scratching somewhere, I know it’s Audrey; if it’s chewing, it’s June. If I hear my water glass being knocked over and/or broken, its contents spilling all over valuable paperwork, it’s June again. Given how many times I say “no” during the day, I’m not giving the tree much of a chance.

Henry has no visible bad habits other than occasionally clawing the hand that feeds him, but I think he works his naughtiness out by running around outside, and the girls are trapped in a small house with less outlet for their energy. Sometimes I think you’re born with all the energy you’re ever going to have and just use it up as you go.

Speaking of going, I should. Wishing all of you the happiest of holiday seasons! May all your Christmas dreams come true!

Christmas Card

It’s definitely the best time of year for mail, what with cards, letters, and presents stuffing my mailbox. Every day, there’s something new and fun, instead of just bills. Today’s mail was best of all, with a brand new shiny gold check card!

Before you think that’s nothing to get excited about, especially considering that today’s mail did include presents and a totally gorgeous handmade card, complete with red ribbon, I’ll tell you a story.

Last week, I ventured to downtown Oakland to return a couple of things a friend had left behind. She works at the venerable Ratto’s International Market, which has been in the same family and same location since 1897, so I figured I’d drop her things off, pick up one of their famous sandwiches, and get some stocking stuffers while I was at it.

I turned the wrong way off Broadway and saw a branch of my bank. I decided to deposit my paycheck and get some money before going to the deli. I tried twice to deposit my check, and the card was rejected. I went into the bank, and was told that my card had – gasp! – been cancelled.

Now, I had called a couple of weeks ago to ask when I’d get my new card, since the old one expires in January. I was told it was on its way. When it didn’t show up, I called again and they said I should have received it, so they’d cancel the replacement card and issue a new one, which I may or may not get by Christmas Eve. Apparently, they also cancelled my current card.

The teller actually cut my card into little shiny pieces. I can’t tell you how horrifying this is. Not only do you feel totally embarrassed (and convinced that everyone is staring at you and wondering what you’ve done to lose all card privileges), but you realize the convenience vanishes along with the card. I’ll have to actually go into the bank and fill out one of those slips of paper and show them ID before I can get money – and I can’t get money on Sundays! I’ll have to give the gas station guy money and then go out and put the gas in the car! What about Christmas shopping?

The horror, the horror!

Good thing I went the wrong way. It would have been mortifying to be unable to pay for my sandwich. Almost as bad as having my card cut up in front of me.

So I took out a bunch of cash and hoped for the best, which actually happened for once. And just in time to head out of town tomorrow.

Maybe I’m going to get that Barbie after all!

12 Step 2

Hello, my name is Suzy, and I’m an Etsy addict.

Not a day goes by that I’m not checking them out, adding items to my favorites, and sometimes even buying one or two. It’s online window shopping – all the fun and none of the crowds. With the new austerity, it’s nice to know that a girl can buy herself something cheap and cheerful for under $10. And it’s even better knowing that the item is handmade and/or unique. By the time it arrives in the mail (along with the usual batch-o-bills), it’s like a present!

My morning fix is the daily Etsy email newsletter. I try and guess which item might be sold out, and I’m ridiculously pleased with myself if I guess correctly. It’s a variation on the game I play with the estate jewelry ads in the “New Yorker”. I pick the item I would buy if money was no object (an even more unlikely scenario than usual under the new austerity regime), and it is almost invariably the most expensive* one.

A variation on these games is the one my sister and I play when there is a particularly ugly window display. “If you had to pick one, what would you pick?” Never mind the fact that no-one has ever forced me to shop, and the possibility of this happening is remote. It’s still fun. Then we compare and decide whose choice is the least hideous.

It’s the little things in life. And the ones that make you laugh. Or imagine an alternative existence. Or just make you happy.

*A friend once observed that of all the people she knows, I’m the one that should be rich. I have to agree.


This morning’s arrest…

…was right outside my window. I was getting ready to go and visit Henry in his new and improved quarters on the back porch when I heard the siren. It stopped right outside my house, as you can see from the photo above.

Neither rain nor hail nor policemen can keep me from my appointed task, so I put on my coat and went out the front door. I no longer go out the back door when feeding Henry, since it scares him and he runs away. When I approach from the porch door, he either comes to meet me or stays on his couch and mews while I fill his dishes and talk to him about nothing.

Going out the front door also gave me an opportunity to see what all the fuss was about. One cop was handcuffing the guy, who seemed to be perched on a kid’s bike, and the other was doing something in the car. The cold morning air was full of incomprehensible radio sounds. I can’t imagine what kind of law you can be breaking, or trying to escape from, on a kiddie bike, but there you have it.

When my sister was briefly here last week, she said that she pretty much expected to see Henry in the house one of these days. I laughed this off, but she pointed out that first he was roaming around in the backyard, then he was under the porch, then he was on the porch. Clearly he was moving closer all the time. And that’s not even mentioning the bed and tent I have acquired for him, and accessorizing the couch on the porch with a fleece blanket. This morning, I attempted to cover him up and was rewarded with a couple of impressive scratches. Ah, gratitude!

I have to admit that the other day I had the back door open and he was peering through the screen door and talking away. I couldn’t help thinking about opening the door and letting him in, though I imagine carnage would ensue and The Beautiful June Bug’s little pink nose would be put severely out of joint. And I don’t see how I could let him out while keeping the girls inside…

My sister may, as usual, be right.

Waving Goodbye

Hello, my name is Suzy, and I’m an addict.

Like many of my fellow afflicted, I didn’t realize I was one until my drug of choice was taken away from me with no warning.

The microwave died a sudden and inexplicable death. One moment, it’s merrily reheating coffee, and the next, it’s a giant useless metal box, taking up valuable real estate on my kitchen counter. My brother-in-law happened to be visiting, and he took a look at it. He’s one of those guys who not only understands how things work, he understands why they don’t and how to fix it.

He diagnosed the problem as being a blown fuse (too much coffee will do that to you). The next day, I took the dead fuse to the hardware store* and threw myself on their mercy. They found the correct replacement among the countless shelves of mystery wares, and when I got home, I tried to resuscitate the microwave.


I dumped the body in the tiny garbage can (the green bin, for lawn clippings and compost, is huge and expansive, far too palatial for a girl who mows her lawn twice a year; whereas the garbage bin is a size zero), and noticed that it was now completely full, just one day after the trash had been collected. I’ll have to ask B if I can use hers for the rest of the week.

Faithful readers will not be surprised that yet another appliance has died in my care. I’m getting to be a serial killer.

The funny thing is, I didn’t even have a microwave until a couple of years ago, and now I can hardly function without it. I had no idea how much I depended on it for reheating coffee and rice and things like that. It’s a little embarrassing.

If Santa Claus is bringing me a Barbie for Christmas, I’d better buy my own microwave.

*I also made the mistake of going to the (un)Lucky afterwards. In my slightly hung over state, it was even more surreal than usual. All those buzzing fluorescent lights! All that bologna, or things that look like bologna! The smell of discount seafood! Note to Self: Safeway or no way.

Birds and Barbies

Now, that’s free-range!

It also has nothing to do with this post. But I was so fascinated by seeing a chicken wandering around this urban wasteland (less than a block from my house) that I just had to share it with you.

You are so welcome.

Now that you’re all taken care of, here’s what I want for Christmas.

I haven’t been particularly good this year (or ever), but I’ve also never had a Barbie, and after nearly half a century of deprivation, I think I’m entitled to just one. And if so, this is the one for me!

Coming up next: why I need a 12 step program. Or two.

A Christmas Memory

The cold weather does make it seem more like Christmas than usual. I know that those of you who live where there’s real weather are shaking your heads as I whimper and whine, but it’s a frosty 40 degrees out there (or 4 degrees, for the metrically inclined) as I shiver at my drafty desk this afternoon. California houses, besides not having basements, don’t seem to have insulation, either, or at least not adequate insulation. It’s like no-one wants to admit that it actually gets cold here in sunny California.

The chilly weather and the holiday season are definitely making me nostalgic.

I grew up near Ithaca in upstate New York, also known as Snow Central. Isn’t it funny that when you’re a kid, you’re never too hot or too cold? You can play in the snow and frolic in the icy Atlantic until your lips turn blue, and your parents have to literally drag you into the house.

Our house was on a hill, and we had five acres of land, with our own grove of pine trees. Legend had it that the land was given to a Revolutionary War soldier as payment for his services. I’m not sure if that was true, but it’s a nice story, and certainly the foundation of our house was very old indeed.

Around the first Saturday in December, Dad would get his red-handled axe from the garage, and we’d all tramp through the snow to choose our Christmas tree. I don’t remember who got to decide, but I do remember the sound of the axe ringing through the cold winter air, the thrill of the tree crashing down, sending waves of glittering snow into the air, the sharp scent of pine resin, the long, violet shadows as we dragged the tree home in triumph, as if we had somehow captured it.

It’s beginning to feel a lot like winter

My street in today’s hailstorm

I may have jinxed the weather by posting those sunny pictures, because it’s been cold and rainy ever since. Some of you may think that it’s always warm and sunny here, but that’s the southern part of the state. The northern part can be (and is), as the late, great Frank Sinatra once said “cold and damp”, which is probably why his house was in Palm Springs.

So I’ve been bundled up like a Dickens waif, since the house is drafty and I’m too cheap to turn the heat up. Fingerless gloves are a definite possibility if the overnight lows really do reach the freezing mark (32F/0C) they’re predicting.

Yesterday, I propped the porch door open in case Henry wanted to shelter from the storm. It turns out he did, since he was curled up on the couch* there within minutes. The girls and I could keep an eye on him from my desk, though it makes it a little crowded with two cats, my iBook, and filing system** (precarious piles of things & stuff). Not to mention essential items like the paperweight with a reproduction of Marilyn Monroe’s driver’s license in it.

As the day grew darker and colder, it occurred to me to bring Henry a blanket. I figured I might as well bring some food and water while I was at it, so I did. He took one look at me and fled in horror. Though this is not an uncommon reaction, I would have thought that the months of taking care of him would have given me some extra credit, but apparently not.

Peeking through the window a few minutes later, I saw him snuggled peacefully in the blanket. I hope he was there all night. Every night when I lock the doors, I always think of him out there in the cold and dark, and it’s nice to think he’s closer and warmer.

Update, 1 pm: It’s hailing like crazy out there. I can’t remember this happening here before. I risked life and limb for you, dear readers, to take that picture. I slid around on my wet and icy front porch and peeked around the storm-tossed camellia to get photographic evidence. Just for you! My hair is still full of melting hail!

*When I was camping here a year ago, my boss took pity on me and lent me a futon couch which had been rejected by his youngest daughter. I’m guessing they don’t want it back. It’s nice to have on the porch, though.

**I could really use Miss Lemon’s invaluable services.

Tree or Treat

The calm before the storm

It turns out that getting tree and Self out of the creepy crawlspace relatively undamaged was the easy part of the process.

In addition to forgetting how challenging it is for the challenged to put the branches in the slots, I had also forgotten that I don’t have a tree stand. The tree is about half a century old (it was originally priced at $2.88, according to the sticker on the box), and is too thin (if not too rich) for modern tree stands. So every year, I prop it up with bricks, and promptly forget about it until the next year.

Not only was I trying to hold it up and together (the trunk has two pieces, top and bottom, which screw together), I was trying to hold out against the kittens, who were trying to help.

They were only five months old last Christmas, and I was too traumatized by the move to bother decorating, so this is the first Christmas tree they have ever seen. Naturally, they assumed that I had put it up for their amusement, which is the only reason I do anything. Imagine their delight when the fabulous peacock ornaments, bought way back in August*, made their stunning d├ębut. Now, there’s a toy they could really enjoy!

My original plan was to add some clear and frosted white balls to the tree, but after the constant assaults on the peacocks, I gave up, even while regretting resisting buying that iridescent garland at the peacock ornament shop and thinking about those really small candy canes I saw at Safeway. Hey, a girl can dream!

After an evening spent squirting the cats with water, yelling, and swearing instead of sitting glamorously by my beautifully decorated tree, I shut the cats in the laundry room and removed the peacocks from the tree. Unfortunately, I had had some kind of efficiency psychotic episode after decorating the tree and had already returned both the tree box and the peacock box to the depths under the house. There was no way I was going to drag up the dusty boards on the porch and crawl under the house again. So I put the ornaments in a different box and put it in the closet.

I reckoned without the kittens’ ingeniousness when it comes to naughtiness and the fact that few doors in this house close properly, since I found them merrily batting around the elegant toy birds in the morning. The box of birds has now been moved to the top of a closet with a door that actually closes (and stays closed), and the tree has a certain minimalist chic with just white LED lights on its white branches. Which June thinks are chew toys.

Of course.

*Though I only just started writing Christmas cards!

Christmas Present

I could use an elf or two. Any volunteers?

I thought today would be a good day to put up the Christmas tree. I ventured into the creepy crawl space* under the house, found the battered old Gimbels box, and hastened up the stairs, convinced that mice and spiders were pursuing me. Since the crawl space was apparently made for midgets, I managed to bump my head on the way out, probably losing valuable brain cells in the process.

I could have used them, because setting the tree up was more challenging than I remembered. It’s an artificial one, painted white with branches that are inserted/screwed into the trunk. It’s harder than you’d think to hold it up and put the branches in, especially with the kittens “helping”. You can hardly blame them, since it’s the first Christmas tree they’ve ever seen (and maybe their last). I had envisioned the tree twinkling and the candles in the fireplace shining while I sipped wine and listened to the soundtrack from “A Charlie Brown Christmas”, but so far, it looks like only the wine part is going to come true tonight.

On the other hand, I do have my coordinating wreath up.

*California houses rarely, if ever, have basements.

Once Is Not Enough

Joy asked for more Schatzi photos, so here they are. Again, I apologize for the complete lack of skill on the part of the photographer. You can see the adorable star on her chest, her French manicure with the white tips on her paws, and the affectionate look in her eyes. She’s a brindled pit bull, though they come in many colors and sizes. She’s a ladylike 34 pounds!


Schatzi, with the sun on her fur and love in her eyes.

My sister pointed out that there have been, to date, no pictures of her beloved dog, Schatzi, on my blog. I endeavored to redress this egregious wrong by taking some pictures at Thanksgiving, but, alas, the sun was too sunny and the photographer too inept to give Schatzi her considerable due.

In this picture, she is looking up at my sister, and I think it’s pretty clear that there is love in those big brown eyes. The whitish thing in the background is either the glare of the sun or a ghost passing through in a hurry – you decide. I wish I had taken a better picture, since she really is a beautiful dog.

Those who are not Germanically inclined may wonder about her name. It’s only fair to say that our mother had the worst taste in pet names (and men, but that’s another story). Her cat L’il Bit and dog Baroness von Hershee (known by the slightly less embarrassing diminutive “Bear”) spring to mind. Anyway, Schatzi means “treasure” or “sweetheart”, and she is both.

Mom was walking the unfortunately named Bear one fine day, when she heard a noise coming from inside a Dumpster. Peering inside, she saw an emaciated young pit bull, whimpering for help. Mom flagged down a couple of passing guys, who hauled her treasure out of the trash. Mom cleaned her up and brought her to the local shelter. On being told that the dog would be euthanized immediately for the capital crime of being born a pit bull, Mom of course turned around and took her home.

Although Schatzi had been through things far too terrible to relate here, she is, true to her name, a total sweetheart. I can tell you this from personal experience, when I had her stay with me for a month while Mom was away. Eventually, Mom and her dogs moved in with my sister, and time has now left Schatzi in charge. She and my sister are devoted to each other, and there could be no happier ending for the little dog who went from being one man’s trash to one girl’s treasure.