Archive for October, 2016

Oct 30 2016

Dining & Dancing

Published by under Country Life,Special Occasions

Megan and I headed for the beautiful south coast in her little red car on a rainy Sunday morning.

The ocean was showing off, as it does when stormy weather is afoot, and a few valiant Naked Ladies flaunted their spiky pink blossoms by the roadside. Orange nasturtiums climbed ruined wooden fences, and bright California poppies starred the rolling hills, still summer golden.

We made our usual pilgrimage to Anchor Bay Thai Kitchen:


and picked up dinner to go. Later I would discover that it was not up to the usual high standard, including shocking oversights like no dressing on the cucumber salad or peanuts in the Massaman curry. I emailed the restaurant and the owner apologized, saying that she was out of town for a couple of days so the kitchen was in less experienced hands. She also refunded the cost of dinner, which I thought was a generous gesture. I hope I didn’t get anyone in trouble, but I thought she should know. I’m sure next time it will be as wonderful as usual.

Our arrival at the theater was perfectly timed, since we were taking our seats in the balcony just as Katerina Novikova started her introduction to the ballet, “The Golden Age”. Katerina gives explanations and interviews in Russian, French, and English for broadcasts of the Bolshoi Ballet, and it must be a tough job. It appears that she is not reading from a TelePrompter, which makes it all the more impressive. She looked particularly lovely in a bronze satin gown.

The ballet is set in the 1920s, and somehow the costumes managed to convey the flapper look:


The costumes were quite magnificent, multi textured and dramatic. The story is about a young fisherman who falls in love with a beautiful dancer at the cabaret called The Golden Age. The dancer is a friend, or possibly more, of a gangster who owns the club. Drama ensues amid the stunning sets, with the dancing set to music by Shostakovich.

During the intermission, Katerina interviewed the lead ballerina, who was dancing this wonderful role on her birthday. She seemed surprised that Katerina knew this and wished her happy birthday. I enjoy the interviews during the intermission and seeing the dancers practice, warm up, and kid around with each other. It’s endearing to see them acting like kids when in full make-up and costume. We also got a behind-the-scenes look at the costume making, which is so intricate and beautiful. And yet it has to be strong enough to stand up to the strenuous performances.

Before we knew it, the magic was over and the cast was taking their bows, with arms full of red roses. Back in reality, we headed for home. About halfway there, we had to pull over under some wind-gnarled trees to wait for the storm’s fury to abate, since it was like driving through a waterfall, and even with the windshield wipers on high, we could barely see the road.

Eventually the rain slowed down enough to let us get on our way, talking about how much we enjoyed the ballet and how lucky we are to have access to world-class ballet. We are looking forward to the rest of the season.

A YEAR AGO: The Food Fairy stopped by with an armload of gardeny goodness.

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Oct 26 2016

Hand Made

I saw a dream come true.

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

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

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

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


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

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

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


It was sort of gourmet apple filling!

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


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


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


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


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

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

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

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

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Oct 22 2016

Roadside America

Published by under Travel

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

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

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


and a bedroom:


and a living room:


Looking back at the front door from the living room:


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

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

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

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Oct 20 2016


Published by under Travel


Hello from the redwoods!

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

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


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

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


‘Memba them?

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


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

Stay tuned for tomorrow’s road trip home adventures!

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

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

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Oct 19 2016


Published by under Country Life

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stay tuned for postcards from the road!

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

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Oct 17 2016

‘Tis the Season

Published by under Cats,Country Life,Weather


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

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

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

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


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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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Oct 11 2016

Ghost Stories

Published by under Country Life


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

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

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


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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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Oct 07 2016

For Real (Estate)

Published by under Country Life,Friends

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

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

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

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

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


And the cottage:


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

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

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

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

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

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Oct 03 2016

The Inconstant Gardener

Published by under Country Life,Garden

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

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

I snipped a couple of dead fans off the palms:

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

In the meantime, the Egyptian lilies:


and the geraniums are picking up their slack:


The Japanese maples are still providing a splash of color:


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

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

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