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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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!