Archive for the 'Country Life' Category

Jan 16 2018

More Cats & Dogs

Published by under Cats,Country Life,Dogs

I think I can safely say that I survived The Plague. I was laughing at myself when I was running around cleaning my bathroom before getting ready for work on Friday. I figured I must be feeling better if I actually cared what the house looked like. When I was sick, I could not care less and anything and everything seemed like a giant effort, from getting dressed to breathing. For some reason, I had a fervent fantasy that day of coming home to a tidy house. I love it when my fantasies come true.

The next day I had a cooking marathon, including Ottolenghi’s mejadra and All’Amatriciana sauce for pasta, so you know I’m back.

Mark’s dogs were back in force yesterday. I was too slow getting out of the car for Kovu’s taste, and he leaped in joyfully. Fortunately for the health and welfare of my work wardrobe, the muddy paw damage was confined to my winter coat.

Usually, they trot off homewards after telling me how glad they are that I have returned, but yesterday, they decided to hang around. They apparently wanted to come in the house, since the whole herd hung out on the back porch, some of them barking, which drew Audrey’s irate attention. She was incandescent with rage that they dared to be on her turf, and she was growling louder than they were barking. She puffed herself up and kept flinging her small but furious body against the sliding glass doors, making them shake. Here she is preparing for another assault:

Note the puffy tail and air of fury.

Clyde withdrew to the stairs, his eyes huge, where he could watch Audrey take on the interlopers while yet being safe. He is a lover, not a fighter*, and of course he is an excellent supervisor. I decided to close the rarely used drapes, thinking that out of sight might be out of mind. This ploy eventually worked, and Audrey depuffed after stalking around the house and looking carefully out of all the windows and doors before going huffily off to take a nap.

*Having said that, I recently noticed that his left ear is slightly shredded. Audrey strikes again? I didn’t mind Roscoe’s torn ear – it seemed in keeping with his wildness – but I don’t love seeing the baby boy with a battle scarred ear. I hope he doesn’t secretly have a tattoo under his fur.

A YEAR AGO: A civilized break in the work week.

FIVE YEARS AGO: The glories of my favorite San Francisco museum.

TEN YEARS AGO: Hockey and Devo. It’s how I roll.

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Jan 01 2018

Happy New Year

Published by under Country Life,Special Occasions

Happy New Year!

It dawned sunny and beautiful here in Hooterville, though I’m sorry to say I am still suffering from the plague. At this point it appears that I will spend all the time I took off from work being sick. Come to think of it, the last time I took time off was the Worst Long Weekend Ever. Maybe taking time off is not a good idea for me.

Despite the Malady’s inexorable presence, I celebrated the departure of 2017 with champagne. It’s medicinal, you know. Vogue even touted its champagne diet back in the 1960s, in which the dieter had a glass of champagne with each meal. If only the pictured Harry Winston diamonds came with the sparkle in the glass!

And I managed to stay up to see the new year in on each coast. I have to admit that I consider the New York ball drop the “real” new year, despite having spent most of my adult life on the west coast. The fireworks over the Ferry Building just aren’t as impressive to me as the ball dropping in a frigid, thronged Times Square as the immortal Frank sings “New York, New York”.

And it wouldn’t be New Year’s Day without the Winter Classic. I am curled up on the couch under my grandmother’s quilt, watching the Rangers play the Sabres. The Rangers won in overtime, keeping their unblemished record of winning every outdoor game they have played. I love watching outdoor hockey, and enjoy the gentlemanly tradition of the teams forming a line to shake hands – or hug – with their opponents after a hard-fought game.

A YEAR AGO: I managed to see in the new year on both coasts last year, too. I did not manage to replace the ornament Clyde accidentally broke and still regret it.

FIVE YEARS AGO: I started the year in San Francisco. My old apartment had just sold for half a million dollars. A month ago, it sold for $1.2 million. There’s a slightly bigger regret.

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Dec 31 2017

2017

Surveying the hellscape of 2017, I can’t say I’m sorry to see it end. Including a nightmarish government, a seemingly endless plague of disasters, natural and otherwise, and the deaths of those too young to die, it was just one bad thing after another. The word “apocalypse” crossed my mind more than once.

In the midst of all this despair, there were bright spots, like a visit from our beloved Ben.

I failed to note it in these pages, but this October marked the 8th anniversary of my move to Hooterville. It’s one of the few good decisions I have ever made.

I read 114 books, surpassing last year’s 103. Standouts included Richard Russo’s Trajectory, a collection of short stories set in a small town, where Russo’s gifts for language and storytelling shine; The Girl Who Was Saturday Night, about a dysfunctional family in Montreal which manages to be funny, heart-breaking, gritty, and poetic all at once; The Man from the Train: The Solving of a Century-Old Serial Killer Mystery, which uses a combination of old and new technology and logic to unveil the identity of a man who murdered his way across America in the early years of the 20th century; Little Fires Everywhere, an engrossing and beautiful novel about families and how choices we make can have far-reaching and unforeseen effects; Sargent’s Women: Four Lives Behind the Canvas, showcasing the fascinating and sometimes tragic lives of the women who inspired some of his great work; Ghost of the Innocent Man: A True Story of Trial and Redemption, a haunting book about a wrongly convicted man who never gave up trying to prove his innocence from the depths of prison; and the truly astonishing Blood In the Water: The Attica Prison Riot of 1971 and Its Aftermath. I couldn’t put it down, and it haunted me for weeks afterwards. I will just say this: the riot was the least of what happened there.

Standouts in TV shows ranged from the regal (Victoria and The Crown) to the retro (The Deuce and Feud) and the truly excellent Ozark.

Power outages: I lost track. One of them lasted for days, and we were still having them in May. May, my friends! The same goes for rain, though it was around 70 inches. Or more than 6 feet. I thought we had the drought on the run until this season’s paltry 10 inches so far. If only we could get the hideous heat waves on the (permanent) run. I don’t think I will ever really recover from The Worst Long Weekend Ever. I may be one heat wave away from moving to Alaska. Look out, Tim! And keep your bail money handy.

January:

The new year arrived with a bang. Day One of a lengthy power outage. Overcoming the annual bummer of Twelfth Night with a new hairdo and an old fashioned party. A civilized break in the work week. Enjoying the beauty at the fine woodworking show. It was too floody to go and see the Bolshoi’s “Sleeping Beauty”, to my everlasting regret. I once more survived the horror of the annual fundraiser.

February: I came home from work to find a new refrigerator had taken up residence. Meeting the girls at the bookstore. A delightful (though rainy) Valentine’s Day. Guess what? Yes, the power was out again. A strange, but memorable baptism.

March: Time for the Polar Plunge! Feeling under the weather in still more bad weather. Possibly the world’s cutest new neighbor. A hail storm. Why not? Celebrating Dad’s 86th birthday. A delightful surprise encounter with Erica and Jessica.

April: A fun evening at the theater with Megan and Lu. Remembering Mom on her birthday. Family dinner with Clayton. Buying tires again for Wednesday. Jessica’s birthday, and my blog’s. I actually remembered this year! The joys of taking a day off.

May: A very sad, and upsetting memorial service. A sense of place. Yet another power outage made it impossible for me to revel in the glamorous joys of the Kentucky Derby. A fun outing on Bookstore Day. The adventure of the flat tire. Going in style and in good company to family dinner. The adventure of the dog in the night.

June: A good start to my birthday week. A completely perfect birthday, part one and part two. A peek into the past, my favorite place. It was hard to tell one job from the other one Saturday. A wonderful visit with Jarrett and Kalli. It’s Rob to the rescue yet again, adding a new shelf to the kitchen when the old one is displaced by the sudden appearance of a new and unimproved refrigerator. The month ended with a perfect Junapalooza.

July: There was much to celebrate. At last! A sleepover with Jessica! An unexpected visitor after a long day at work. Rob the artist. A less than stellar week. A summer Saturday. The annual horrorshow. But hey, I survived!

August: My Junapalooza gift appears, along with a former Jay (hint: Not Alex Rios). A lovely visit with our friend Carrie, her daughter, and her oldies- singin’ posse. The sudden loss of a coworker. I still miss her smile. Plumbing problems. The anniversary of Dad’s death rolls around again. I will never stop loving and missing him. A lovely sunset drink. My brother’s eclipse adventure. The beginning of the hellish heat wave.

September Celebrating my last working Saturday with a delicious dinner at Rio’s place. The Worst Long Weekend Ever will live on infamy. My brother’s birthday party. A visit from our beloved Ben. At the County Fair, no less! Playing tour guide. We all enjoyed seeing Ben again. I hope this becomes an annual tradition.

October: The eternal trenching project rears its interminable head again. The local message boards are as eccentric as ever. Awakening to find the worst wildfire in California history was raging, in our County and our neighboring counties. Devastating and heartbreaking. As always, our community reached to help the evacuees, but it’s going to be a long recovery. A couple of reasons to celebrate in these dark days. A look at some lovely gardens. The ballet season begins.

November: Halloween with our favorite kidlet and her precocious BFF. A chilly day for cider pressing. You can’t go home again. Or at least you shouldn’t. Car problems, which preoccupy my limited brain space when I should be worrying about Thanksgiving prep. An unexpected Thanksgiving without Erica and Jessica. Thanksgiving II: the sequel. Christmas – or at least Christmas decorations – arrived a little early.

December: Enjoying the always spectacular (though not very Christmassy) Festival of Lights. File under miscellaneous: lingering car malaise; the endless project; and hanging out with friends. Another delightful annual tradition: Candlelight Shopping Night. A successful office party. And a little mini-break was the perfect thing after all the party work. A very odd version of Peter Pan. And a very happy Christmas. A trip north to Eureka did not turn out exactly as planned. But it was still fun.

No resolutions have sprung to my shallow, sparkly mind for the new year, which I hope will be kinder to all of us. Thanks for coming along on the ride this year!

A YEAR AGO: A look back at 2016.

FIVE YEARS AGO: Reviewing 2012.

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Dec 22 2017

Frosty Solstice

Published by under Country Life,Weather,Work

I’m sitting in bed with the heater and Audrey purring away (Clyde has been Adventure Boy lately, spending more time in the woods than I personally enjoy). I got up when it was actually light out, turned the heater on, made coffee, and took it back to bed. I love doing that.

It’s been pretty chilly lately. The house is about 42F when I get up, and it’s been hovering around the 32F or lower outside overnight. On solstice morning, I discovered that Wednesday’s windows were iced up hard. The door creaked when I opened it. I left the car running for about 10 minutes before heading out to the Ridge, which was a winter wonderland, sparkling with frost. That’s about the closest I have ever gotten to driving on snow*, and I’m happy to keep it that way.

The shortest and darkest day of the year also happens to be my boss’s birthday, much to her displeasure. Besides those two disadvantages, her birthday has historically resulted in the dreaded combo gift, and when she was in school, everyone was always on break, so she never got the little school parties with her classmates, either.

We tried to make it up to her by taking her out to lunch at a restaurant overlooking the harbor. It was a sunny, postcard day, and fishing boats chugged in and out while seals played in the frigid water. I am pleased to report that she was showered with gifts by coworkers (including me). One came in to drop off flowers on his way to a hunting trip, and her husband sent an arrangement that was so beautiful that another colleague took one look and called the florist to order the exact same arrangement to be delivered that day to his own wife.

I left work after lunch, stopped by Monica’s shop to exchange gifts, dropped off library books (sadly, there were none to pick up, though I am observing my own sort of advent by re-reading “The Box of Delights”, timing its 12 chapters to end on Christmas Day. Dad used to read it out loud to us in that manner), and made one last stop at the post office, where I was overwhelmed by a tide of cards and presents to the point that Darlene helped me to carry it all to the car.

Let the holidays – and the celebrating – begin!

*I learned to drive in San Francisco, in the beautiful Presidio.

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Dec 13 2017

Candlelight

Another annual tradition this time of year is the Candlelight Shopping Night in the Village:

It looks so magical!

As we headed down the Ridge, we noticed Rob at the (closed) dump. Unlike most people, Rob finds going to the dump to be a two way experience. He not only drops things off, he also picks things up, which is why we call it “the mall”. Megan stopped to find out if he had fed the dogs, who were waiting patiently at home*.

It turned out that he was actually in the market for a jumpstart rather than projects to take home and fix, so Megan hooked him up and soon he was ready to head home and take care of the girls.

As we arrived at the Village, the sun was setting beautifully:

And the one bar in town was looking festive:

Nothing like seeing a glowing martini glass against a dark sky!

Outside the shops, candles flickered in mason jars:

And inside, all was merry and bright and everything was on sale. Megan picked up a couple of books for Jessica in the bookstore. She always knows just the right books to get Jessica, and it will be nice for her to have something to unwrap.

After shopping, we headed back to Ledford House, which is conveniently on the way home. It was long after sunset, when the view is the most spectacular, but it was cozy and charming, and we were warmly greeted as always by the wonderful bartender.

The special of the day was a seasonal cranberry margarita:

Which was delicious and about the size of a swimming pool. It was served with tiny spoons, like a grown-up slushie.

As we were enjoying our adult beverages, I was surprised by a hug from my friend Alison. It was the first time I had seen her since the wildfires. Her house survived, so she and her husband are renting it to a displaced neighbor and staying at their house in Hooterville for now. We made plans to catch up for a drink later this month.

As we left, we petted one of the resident kitties, the handsome black one seen here, and overheard a couple saying how they couldn’t believe how many stars there were and how bright they are. Megan and I smiled at each other and when we got in the car, we both said how lucky we are to live here. And we are.

*I got to Megan’s house before she did that evening. The dogs were thrilled to see me, and were climbing all over me with joy until they heard Megan’s car arrive. They jumped off me instantly and raced to the door. Auntie’s OK to kill time, but Mama’s the best!

A YEAR AGO: You have to love a day that starts at the beach and ends in the ancient redwoods.

FIVE YEARS AGO: An evening of seasonal song.

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Dec 05 2017

Sparkling

Megan and I enjoyed our annual tradition of the Festival of Lights at the Botanical Gardens. As usual, the parking gods smiled on Megan, and we got a parking space right out front. This year, we could buy tickets on line, and I added a small donation in honor of my late friend Joel, who was a Master Gardener there. And instead of waiting in line, we could breeze right in.

The Gardens are one of the loveliest places on the coast, and they are particularly magical when they are all dressed up in sparkling lights. Megan pointed out that they are not particularly Christmassy, with dragons and swans:

Somehow I had never noticed that before, though there is a star or two. The elephant was new, peering cutely out of the bushes:

He was a safe distance away from the erupting volcano:

I always love the jellyfish, floating magically in the air:

And the sailing ship, accessorized with a whale:

It makes me feel like a kid again, with the wonder of the holidays, delighted by the lights in the darkness.

And what better way to follow up sparkling lights than a sparkling drink?

We toasted our lovely evening and the holidays past, present, and future. Cheers!

A YEAR AGO: Some random notes.

FIVE YEARS AGO: It was stormin’ up a storm!

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Nov 26 2017

Thanksgiving

It was a quieter than usual Thanksgiving at stately Suzy Manor. I had the house ready well before noon:

and the outdoor livingroom was ready as well:

Rob brought some firewood over, but we didn’t need it. It has been oddly warm all week. I have even been sleeping with the balcony door open.

Erica and Jessica could not join us for Thanksgiving after all. Megan said it was the first time in Jessica’s life that she wasn’t with our family at Thanksgiving. We really missed them. Without them, it was more like an elaborate family dinner than anything else, though there’s nothing wrong with that!

Everything turned out well, from the turkey, roasted Nana-style:

to the maple and harissa roasted carrots, potatoes expertly whipped by Jonathan, who also made a wonderful gravy, and the stuffing/dressing, which as usual I forgot about, but which happened to be perfectly done when I did remember. Jonathan and Rio brought a wild huckleberry pie (in a pie dish made by Rob), and a pie from the cherries we grew. It was quite a spread:

Jonathan brought some of last year’s cider, and we toasted Thanksgiving and the many things we are grateful for with the cider in Nana’s wine glasses.

A YEAR AGO: A much busier Thanksgiving.

FIVE YEARS AGO: A fun and festive Thanksgiving.

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Nov 23 2017

Getting Ready

Published by under Cooking,Country Life

Well, today was Thanksgiving Eve for us. Despite an unwise consumption of adult beverages the night before, while listening to music and watching “The Partridge Family” in honor of my childhood crush, the spectacular David Cassidy, I managed to wake up before the 6 am alarm call.

Why so early on the Eve, you ask? Erica texted me saying that she was ill and may not be able to grace us with her presence, Jessica’s, and the many dishes she was planning to bring. I conferred with Megan, who opined that the best thing to do was for her to stop by the store on her way home from work and pick up the ingredients we would need to make up for the possibly missing dishes.

I wanted to be caffeinated and ready before Meg texted me at 6:30, and I was ready. She got two different kinds of bread, some apples, and some pecans for stuffing/dressing (I couldn’t deal with chestnuts this year, much as I love them), and some mixed greens for salad. She dropped them off on her way home from night shift three out of four, the last one of the week being tonight.

I put the Jack Daniel’s on to simmer with tangerine zest, sugar, and shallots while I started chopping up bread to stalenize during the day and overnight. I tossed in some chopped up pecans and then made salad dressing with honey, shallots, olive oil, and cider vinegar. By then, it was time to put the cranberries into the simmering sauce and unearth potatoes from their buckets of sand:

.

Everything from the garden always seems extra dirty*. I also had a bucket of rainbow carrots to scrub and prep for maple and harissa roasted carrots:

They are resting comfortably in my American grandmother’s glass platter which reads “In Remembrance”, ready for tomorrow. After that, I decanted the cranberries into my English grandmother’s star dish:

I wish I knew what happened to the little dishes that matched it. They are lost in the mists of time.

Rio stopped by with the turkey, a relatively modest 14 pounds compared to last year’s monster. She had started defrosting it on Monday, which we had actually feared was too early, but it was still partly frozen. I may have to just cook it a little longer.

After Rio left, I cleaned up the house and then settled down on the couch with the cats to watch the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade, which I had thoughtfully taped so I could fast forward through the boring parts and enjoy the delights of the Rockettes, the giant balloons, and the floats, along with the appearance of Santa and memories of being in New York for Thanksgiving years ago.

*I was telling one of my co-workers that we were going to have carrots and potatoes we had grown ourselves. She said, “Wouldn’t it be easier to just grab it off the grocery store shelves?” I said, “Yes. Yes, it would.” I didn’t add that it would probably be cheaper too.

A YEAR AGO: It was Thanksgiving Eve.

FIVE YEARS AGO: Getting ready for T-Day!

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Nov 15 2017

Advent

Published by under Bullshit,Country Life,Weather

I seem to be reluctant to accept the inevitable advent of the winter/rainy season, even though it is spectacularly muddy at my house*, the Ridge is adorned with giant puddles and a whole new crop of potholes, and I saw my first robins and whales this week, always signs of winter. All we need is the chirp of frogs and the buzz of chainsaws to complete the hibernal symphony.

I also had the propane tank filled, and as usual the bill was wrong, necessitating a lengthy and annoying conversation with the propane purveyors as per usual. They overcharged me by about 50%, so the bill was a million billion dollars instead of just a billion dollars. As I alternately waited on hold and argued with them, I alternately thought of the long ago days in San Francisco when gas was the least part of my PG&E bill (maybe $10 a month) and the fact that I agreed to get my brake pads changed this week (maybe $200).

All these winter preparations are pricy. Yet I can’t seem to bring myself to do the free prep, which is filling buckets with water against the inevitable power outages. We already had one at work last week** – people differ on the cause of it, but it appears that a transformer blew, possibly because a bird flew into it – and we are slated to get a storm today with heavy rains and gusts of wind up to 50 miles an hour. There is a wind advisory for the entire county, which might as well be a power outage advisory.

Usually the bucket filling is the first thing I do. It’s so simple! But I seem to be suffering from some kind of psychic malaise that makes it impossible for me to deal with winter, the endless darkness, the horrors of the annual fundraiser and holiday party with my usual equanimity. A wise friend thinks it can all be traced back to the darkness which descended upon us a year ago and battle fatigue from getting through the past year, with a long road ahead. He could be right.

A YEAR AGO: My place of work includes some culinary surprises.

FIVE YEARS AGO: Some additions to the garden.

*Yep, the trench project has ground to a halt yet again. The extra muddiness makes my daily greeting by Mark’s herd of dogs extra messy. Kovu, the puppy, while adorable, likes to jump up on me and my formerly clean work clothes. He has recently expanded his repertoire to jumping inside the car to muddy up the seats. It’s a good thing he is so cute.

**You know how the shortest measurable amount of time is not, as you might think, between a light turning green and someone honking their horn, but the time between the power going out and Mark firing up his generator? At work, it’s between the power going out and people asking me if they can go home.

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Nov 07 2017

Pressing Issues

Published by under Country Life

Sunday dawned clear and cold. A glance at the propane heater in the living room told me that it was 46 degrees inside the house, and the thermometer outside was just at the freezing point of 32. I fed the cats, turned on the heater, and took my coffee back to bed, where the cats eventually joined me. Really, is there anything cozier looking than a sleeping cat? Especially with a paw over the eyes to shield them from the early morning light.

Being the first day of the time change, it was actually light-ish out when I got up at 6:30. It’s been nice dispensing with high beams on the way to work, and being able to exchange waves with Megan when our cars pass each other in the morning, she on her way home and me on my way to work. Today was a particularly lovely morning, with the pink sky glowing through waving plumes of pampas grass and a couple of whales playing in the slate blue ocean.

I still wish they would just pick a time and go with it, though. I don’t care which one it is. I just don’t want to have to change back and forth twice a year.

Eventually I did grudgingly get out of bed on Sunday to join my siblings in cider making prep at Rio’s compound. It took much less time than it did last year, despite having fewer helpers. We hardly had any apples this year, and what we had would not have won any beauty contests. An informal survey of fellow coastal residents revealed that this was the common experience this year: no apples at all in many cases, or just a few. It seems that the deluge of rain we got last year knocked off many of the blossoms.

Since it was a chilly morning, we moved the prep inside Rio’s house, where a fire was merrily burning. While there were not as many apples to chop, I did spend quite a lot of time chopping off rotten bits, which I did not have to do last year. Sometimes what appeared to just be a bad spot was revealed to be an entire bad neighborhood, but I salvaged whatever I could since the apples were in such short supply.

While I emptied the rejected apples and excised bits into the compost, swept up the leaves and other debris that fell to the floor, and washed the bowls that held the cut up apples, the others started milling the cider through the hand-cranked old press. We ended up with a scant 10 gallons, as opposed to last year’s 30. There’s always next year.

A YEAR AGO: A fun and scary Halloween.

FIVE YEARS AGO: Sigh.

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Nov 03 2017

Boo!

Jessica has not yet aged out of trick or treating with her auntourage. I have to say I am surprised that we have not yet become embarrassing, I would have thought that once the double digits raised their ugly head that our auntourage days would be numbered in single digits, but as always, Jessica surprised me. She has yet to turn into a surly teenager. Maybe she will skip those unlovely phases and segue straight into lovely young womanhood. So far, so good.

Megan and I met up with Erica, Julie, and Darius at the Gro, where the new owners have apparently taken over. Erica was delighted to learn that they are Punjabi and that we can expect Punjabi delicacies in the near future. Jessica and her BFF Bella were decanted into Megan’s car, while their elegantly costumed parents returned to the Hagmobile from whence they came to go and have a civilized dinner together.

I was unable to recognize what the girls’ costumes represented:

Jessica (left) is Bill Cipher from the TV show Gravity Falls. In my defense, I have never seen it, it’s a Disney show, and on researching the matter later I discovered that he is essentially a villainous yellow triangle with a penchant for top hats. Bella (right) is Quicksilver, apparently an X Men or something. Jessica may not have aged out of Halloween, but her auntourage has aged out of understanding the costumes.

We headed to the haunted house first. Bella and I decided that it was too scary for us (perhaps it is not a coincidence that Bella and I also find everything to be too spicy for us) and waited outside for the intrepid Megan and Jessica. The haunted house has both security staff outside and actors who scare the waiting hordes. Since we were early, there was no line to speak of and one of the security guards made the mistake of telling Bella that her goggles were steampunk instead of New Wave, rashly opining that Bella did not know the difference.

She was in the midst of setting the misguided security guard straight when the scarer attempted to scare her. Without even looking at him, she said, “Go away, I’m talking” in such an authoritative tone that he did. He didn’t give up on the scaring attempts, but Bella ended up scaring him by suddenly looming up from behind a pillar, making him jump a mile. He sheepishly admitted that she had gotten him and gave up after that.

Our brave adventurers enjoyed the haunted house, and we all piled into Megan’s car to start the trick or treating portion of the evening. Megan and I had asked around for the best trick or treating locales in the Big Town, and armed with that knowledge, we set out for the most desirable areas first.

Police cars closed off the street, which was awash in trick or treaters and their escorts. I loved these ghost lights (strings of little Caspers!):

and this creative use of a garage basketball hoop:

One of the houses had their own little haunted house to go through to get the candy. When the girls emerged, I asked them if it was scary. Jessica said that the owners had clearly seen “It”, and that there were clowns. I asked, “What could be scarier than clowns?” and Bella replied matter-of-factly, “Crippling debt,” before scampering off to get more candy. She is 12, right?

This town being as small as it is, we naturally came across Jonathan and Rio handing out candy. I think we were more surprised than they were!

The drawbacks of the popular spot was that there were crowds of people, and the kids had to line up at some houses to get the candy. There was also no opportunity for Jessica to show off her signature police knock until we ventured off the beaten path. It still makes me laugh to hear it, especially combined with her girlish and dainty, “Thank you! Happy Halloween!”

Eventually the bags got so heavy that the girls began to complain about toting their weight around the darkened streets, so we headed back to the Village to return our charges to their rightful owners. A good time was had by all.

A YEAR AGO: a trip to the South Coast to see a play and pick up a few delicacies.

FIVE YEARS AGO: Trick or treating with Jessica when she was truly a kidlet.

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Oct 30 2017

Season Openers

Published by under Country Life,Special Occasions

On Sunday morning, I went over to Megan’s house. I was pleased to see a big pile of wood in the driveway:

Jonathan and I had ordered a cord of wood for Megan and Rob for Christmas, and it had been delivered just a couple of days earlier. It wouldn’t fit in their stockings, and it couldn’t be a surprise, but I think they were glad to get it. They suffered through last winter without wood, so I wanted to make sure they would be comfortable this winter. And you can’t wait until Christmas to order wood – it should be ordered in August. I ordered in September and they were already backordered.

It’s been unseasonably warm this week, so they haven’t needed the wood just yet and it has given Rob time to stack it in the shed. I had put away the fans in a fit of optimism last week, and had to haul them out again when I discovered it was 80 degrees in my house when I got home from work. I may be one heat wave away from moving to Alaska.

I hadn’t gone over there to inspect the wood, though. Megan and I were off to see the first ballet of the new season, Le Corsaire. Based on a poem by Lord Byron, it featured pirates, a harem, a pasha, anda dramatic shipwreck. The costumes and sets were beautiful:

and of course the dancing was wonderful.

We are glad that the ballet was saved after last season’s alarming announcement that the theater might not be able to afford showing the ballets this year. Some generous donors stepped forward to underwrite the expense, and the season was saved. I was able to assist in choosing the program for this year, which I enjoyed very much. We will see Romeo & Juliet, The Flames of Paris, and Coppelia. Still no Sleeping Beauty, but maybe next season.

A YEAR AGO: What do you know? We were at the ballet.

FIVE YEARS AGO: On the other hand, the Giants had won the World Series, whereas this season they were terrible. Rebuilding mode, right?

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Oct 26 2017

Gardens

Published by under Country Life,Garden

Sometimes I wonder how many people actually live in Hooterville. The official population is 168, due to the lack of enthusiasm for responding to the last census. Many people move to Hooterville to escape the World and the Man, and are displeased when either or both trespass in their place of refuge.

This reluctance to participate led an unwise and unwary census worker to knock on my sister’s door before noon, which is like knocking on most people’s door at 2 am. Megan greeted this intrusion into her few hours of sleep with a lack of enthusiasm that made the census avoiders look like rabid fans. The census taker soon saw the error of her ways in trying to strongarm Megan into anything and fled whence she came. I doubt if she’ll ever be back.

In the meantime, our actual population remains a mystery, and even Hootervillians like myself don’t know how many houses and people live down the dirt roads that branch off the Ridge. Mine alone has five houses. But I do know that Hooterville is full of hidden wonders, like the collection of doors and accessories just down the Ridge, and also a hidden garden.

The hidden garden is also a nursery, laid out in lovely “rooms” among the redwoods. I was delighted to see an actual lawn:

I immediately wanted to take off my shoes and walk on it in my bare feet. I can’t remember the last time I walked barefoot on grass, though it was probably at Dad’s house in Wimbledon. My stepmother was always horrified at this behavior, since she associated bare feet with being poverty-stricken instead of lawn-loving. I always wore shoes in their house, even though I never do at home, even in winter.

I loved the look of this industrial metal fountain in the midst of a structured looking, almost formal garden:

And the little archways giving way to sunny vistas:

I don’t know what this plant is, but it’s interesting looking:

I like outer space looking plants. There were banks of natural looking plants and flowers, too:

Plenty of inspiration to be found there, even for an underachieving gardener like Self. I have not done much with my garden this year, though things have done pretty well with my more or less benign neglect.

The fuchsias are flourishing (say that three times fast):

Whatever this plant is, it’s doing nicely in its wine barrel:

I managed to save the orchard cactus, which looked like it was dying, but is now almost outgrowing its basket:

Rob moved the purple honeysuckle from the side of the house to the front, where I am training it to cover the lattice which is supposed to hide the garbage and recycling cans (at left):

I may finally get my fantasy of vines covering the lattice with flowers. The jasmine I planted for that purpose grew up instead of across, so I’m hoping the honeysuckle will fill in that part. Time will tell.

A YEAR AGO: Making cider by hand from our own apples. A dream come true!

FIVE YEARS AGO: Audrey and I get check-ups.

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Oct 22 2017

Playing in the Dirt

Published by under Country Life

There has not been as much progress on the trenching project as I personally would enjoy.

Every day when I get home from work, I hope that there will be new developments, but alas, the trenches remain as trenchy as ever. On the bright side, the giant machinery has been located, making parking easier, but there are giant holes and trenches all around my house, making backing up, especially with gangsta dark tinted windows, a little on the perilous side. The whole thing has way too much Calamity Suzy potential for my comfort.

Though it was also the perfect venue for storing the potatoes my siblings grew this summer for future eating over the winter. We assembled everything we needed:

and Megan and I brought a couple of chairs outside to get to work. First, you have to sort through the potatoes: store, use now, or compost. One of the down sides of the fingerling potatoes is their habit of growing into balloon animals, as you can see above. Some of the balloons break off and can lead to rot. Also, it’s harder to store them, since they stick up quite a bit and need to have a full layer of sand above and below them in order to stave off eyes and wrinkliness.

I sorted, while Megan layered them with sand. Clyde supervised, and as you know, he really excels at that. Any project he is involved in comes out really well, like the bathroom remodel.

When we were done, we schlepped the heavy buckets into the studio and stashed them for future meals. It will be nice to go and dig out our own potatoes for Thanksgiving dinner.

A YEAR AGO: A little Roadside America.

FIVE YEARS AGO: Hello, winter!

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Oct 18 2017

Celebrations

People are beginning to return to their homes if they still have them, and the long cleaning process is starting. Much of what remains is toxic and will have to be removed by CalFire. Rain is expected later this week and the fires may be out by Friday. I used to love the smell of woodsmoke, but now it horrifies me. People always think earthquakes are the dangerous thing about living in California, but it’s really wildfires.

My friends in Redwood Valley all survived, though one lost her house and everything in it. They are beginning the lengthy clean up and recovery process. The one person I know who lived in Santa Rosa until last month would have been evacuated. He and his family are in Anaheim for a year, since he is working on a project for Disney. And they were evacuated in the Anaheim fires. They are all OK, though.

After such a terrible week, it seemed like a good time to do some celebrating. And what better way to start than a party for a cat at a bookstore?

The Great Catsby arrived 5 years ago and has been ruling the bookstore with a disdainful paw ever since. He is a very handsome cat:

And perhaps being the guest of honor had a good effect on his usual grumpiness, since he tolerated the attention and mingled with his guests, waving his tail and accepting pets and compliments.

There was a wheel to spin for prizes:

I won some notecards and Megan won a cat sticker. Someone had already won the grand prize of feeding Catsby a can of tuna by the time we got there (as you can see to the left of the wheel), but we could still color in Catsby ears to wear on our heads, decorate cupcakes, and buy books.

After the party, we stopped by a local inn for a drink. We parked next to a beautiful, shiny, vintage black El Camino, and I mentioned to Megan how much I love those cars, despite their lack of practicality. I will almost always choose form over function. We also noticed that the lights were on, so we notified the hostess and she started asking the bar’s patrons if the car was there. A well-dressed gentleman sitting next to us turned out to be the owner, and he ran out to turn off the lights and then toasted us with his martini on his return.

We had blackberry martinis:

They were made of vodka, fresh blackberries, lemon juice, and Chambord, garnished with three fresh blackberries. It was a nice end to a crazy week. You can imagine how busy Megan was at work this past week with the fires, and she worked an extra shift.

The next day, I went to a friend’s 70th birthday party on the beach at Big River. Big River is just south of the Village and the beach is where the river empties into the ocean. Big River’s name refers to the size of the redwoods that grow on its shores rather than the river itself. And yes, there is a Little River, the next town south of Mendocino. There the soil is acidic and hard, as it is at our house, and there the redwoods are much smaller, hence Little River and the Pygmy Forest.

I expected it to be cold and windy, but was pleasantly surprised to find it warm and sunny. Some of the kids were even swimming in the river! There were lots of people and lots of food, and it was nice to be together and celebrate after this dark week.

A YEAR AGO: Storms and Halloween décor, at work and at home. ‘Tis the season.

FIVE YEARS AGO: Lots of unexpected gifts.

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Oct 14 2017

Aftermath

Published by under Country Life

It’s been hard to think of anything but the fires.

I listened to the radio at work for updates all week, and actually started reading the news again for the first time in 11 months. Interestingly, my displaced friend Alison was the best source of local fire news with her Facebook posts. I watched in horror as more and more people were evacuated, my heart aching for those who lost everything, some even their lives.

Firefighters have come from Nevada, Oregon, Washington, and southern California to join our local forces in fighting this disaster. I saw the Oakland hills fires when I lived in San Francisco and never thought I’d see anything worse than that, but these fires are officially the worst in California’s recorded history.

Our community swung into action to assist evacuees, donating money, collecting food and necessities, and setting up emergency shelters for humans, pets, and livestock. My boss negotiated with pharmacies to replace evacuees’ medications lost in the fires and donated medical supplies. Our sheriff was outstanding as always. We faced this together and did our best to help our neighbors. Our strong and caring community is one of the things I love most about living here. As others put it, “The love in the air is thicker than the smoke”.

Fortunately for us on the coast, the air has been clear for the past three days, as the wind came in from the ocean and cleared out the smoke. It remains a heavy pall inland and in the Bay Area, which is getting smoke from fires in all three counties. The usually clean (by city standards) air in San Francisco is now as bad as Beijing’s, again a record for the worst ever recorded.

To cap it all off, there was a 4.0 earthquake on Friday afternoon. Guess where the epicenter was? Yes, Redwood Valley, also the epicenter for our County’s fires. Alison was at her house surveying the damage and said it felt like it was right in her backyard. Why not?

When I came home that evening, I was greeted by Mark’s herd of dogs and clucking chickens outside the house, and by my two beloved cats inside. I felt so incredibly lucky to be alive, breathing clean air, with food for dinner and my friends and family safe and sound.

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Oct 10 2017

Ablaze

Published by under Country Life

When I stumbled out of bed in the early morning darkness, I could smell wood smoke through the screen door on the balcony. I thought it was too early and too warm for Megan or Mark to be having a fire in their houses, but I remembered how warm they both like their houses and thought no more about it until I went out to the car.

Wednesday was covered in ash and soot. The moon was a bright, eerie orange. I began to feel nervous. It took a while to get enough ash off the windshield to see enough to drive, and I saw soot and ash dancing in the headlights. This was not good.

Arriving at work, I put on the radio as I always do, and learned that fires had broken out overnight in Santa Rosa and inland Mendocino County, as close as Willits, which is only 32 miles from Fort Bragg, where I work. My friend Alison had to evacuate her house inland with just her dog, her husband, and a couple of his favorite guitars (he is an award-winning guitarist) in the middle of the night. It appears that these blazes were caused by power lines blown over in the high winds, causing sparks, which caught in the tinder dry grass and brush, and was then spread by the same high winds that caused them.

My boss was slated to fly to LA for a conference that day. Highways were closed and flights, including hers, were cancelled. All the phone circuits were busy, so I had to somehow change her hotel reservation and rebook her flight for later in the week. I got her the last seat on the Wednesday flight and we are hoping for the best*.

Even inside the clinic, my mouth was gritty and my eyes were sore from the smoke. Megan arrived to tell me that the hospital’s ambulances had been out all night helping to evacuate hospitals in the affected areas, and saying that she brought two days’ worth of clothes in case she is needed to work longer shifts. Every single fire fighter in our County is out there fighting the fires, whether in our own county or in our neighbors’, and I am proud of every single one of them.

Heading home, the sun cast a rosy pink glow over the ocean hours before it was due to set. It should have been beautiful, but it was horrifying. It reminded me of the sun in Oakhampton during the wildfires my brother fought so bravely, and I have to admit to being thankful that he had left the fire department a couple of years ago and was out of harm’s way for this one.

I left the cats in that day, and greeted them even more affectionately than usual. Living in a wood house in the middle of the woods gives a girl a healthy respect for, and fear of, fires. I looked around and thought, what would I save if I had 5 minutes, besides the kitties?

I feel nervous, scared, sad, and guilty all at once. My thoughts are with all of those affected by and fighting the fires.

*Update: It was cancelled. Maybe Thursday? Maybe the whole trip should be cancelled.

[Later:] The whole trip was cancelled.

A YEAR AGO: A walk in the cemetery with some notable ghosts.

FIVE YEARS AGO: Power outages, dragging furniture around, and no water. You know, the usual.

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Oct 06 2017

More from the Message Boards

Published by under Country Life

Here’s the latest from the ever-eccentric local message boards:

Are you, or someone you know, comfortable around parrots with an attitude? We are looking for someone to care for Lucy, our Blue Front Amazon, while we travel. We’ll be gone weeks at a time, too long for her to be confined to her cage. Her wings are clipped so she doesn’t fly but she has been known to jump off her cage when startled. Because of the cage’s seed guards she can’t climb back up and needs to be rescued from the floor.

If she senses your fear she will bite, but if you know birds and are confident she’ll let you handle her. If this sounds like a job for you let me know and we’ll set up a meet and greet to see how it goes. We’ll be traveling a lot in the future so we’d like to find her a real birdy buddy if possible.

Is there an avian Tinder?

My friend has lots of blooms on her kiwi plants, but she says the male seems to be impotent. Does anyone have a male plant that she could get a branch from to use for pollinating, so she can fool her females?

Or maybe kiwi Viagra?

Any Goat Sitters Out There? We’re looking for someone to take care of our two goats, one cat and several chickens for times when we’ll be gone. We would appreciate recommendations from anyone out there.

Goat Butcher: Looking for one – thanks for replying directly to my email.

Maybe they gave up on finding a goat sitter.

Is anyone missing their horses? some arrived in my yard today

Apparently good horse sitters are also hard to find.

In search of worms. Yes, worms. Looking for red wiggler (Eisenia fetida) for a worm composter.

This post immediately reminded me of the immortal jingle from WKRP in Cincinnati.

A YEAR AGO: Rio bought her compound. You will be glad to hear that A and her husband finally moved into the apartment they were attempting to buy – about 7 months after this post. Whew!

FIVE YEARS AGO: Our beloved friend Paul was visiting and our beloved Schatzi was still with us.

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Oct 02 2017

Entrenched

Published by under Country Life

‘Memba Mark’s winter trenching project? It has reared its ugly head again.

It was a sunny Sunday, and I was watching hummingbirds buzzing around the garden and two yellow butterflies chasing each other while I drank coffee out of my delightful kitty mug:

when the peace of the morning was shattered by Audrey bringing a protesting chipmunk into the house by its tail. I chased after her, yelling at her to drop it, which she did, to the surprise of all involved. The chipmunk wasted no time in racing up a nearby tree, where he was chased by a surprisingly athletic Clyde. The chipmunk eluded him, however, and leaped from branch to branch, mocking the cats as he made his escape. It made me wonder what happens around the house when I am not there to see it.

I had hardly had a chance to get back in the house and resume reading Postsecret before the quiet was shattered yet again by large machinery, alarming both cats and Self.

Going outside, I discovered that Mark and his friends had resumed the trenching project right outside my house. While pleased with the prospect of having the wires that currently drape my house in a non picturesque style which also leaves them vulnerable to winter power outages, I was less delighted with the Dreadful Rauw and the fact that the water was off all day. Megan was, if anything, even less delighted about the water outage than I was, given that she was making pesto from the garden’s jungle of basil and had no way to wash it unless she packed it all up again and went back over there, which is what she ended up doing.

When the water came back on, I discovered that it was once again brown, and I once again found Mark’s assurance that it was clean dirt unreassuring. I had to wonder if showering or washing dishes in brown water resulted in actual cleanliness.

When they had knocked off for the day, I went out to inspect the results, beside the house:

and across from it:

The giant machine was left right outside my house:

making it more challenging than usual to get Wednesday in and out of there, and making me wonder how long it’s going to stay. I hope that Trenching Project 2.0 doesn’t get stalled for months the way the beta version did. Stay tuned for continuing trenching adventures!

A YEAR AGO: A look around the garden. It might be time for another one.

FIVE YEARS AGO: A loveley evening.

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Sep 28 2017

Touring

Published by under Country Life,Friends

I put on my tour guide hat the next day and took our visitors to the Village.

The entire village is on the National Register of Historic Places, and appears like a dream, its white Victorian houses and distinctive church steeple spilling over the rocky headland which juts into the ocean like something out of a fairytale:

All power lines and other signs of modernity (other than cars) have been buried or banned, to allow for the illusion of a beautiful village untouched by time. As we went through the village, I gave them a little history lesson how this area was settled by those seeking the rich cargo of the sunken ship “Frolic”, but who found their riches in the redwoods instead, starting a lumber industry that flourished here for many years. Our local redwood rebuilt San Francisco after the Great Quake and Fire of 1906.

The village was built by settlers from New England and the Maritimes, which is why it shares the architectural style of those places and so often stands in for those places in television shows and movies, being much closer to Hollywood than the real thing. The Kelley House, which still has a commanding view in the center of town, was built to entice a young bride from Nova Scotia to brave the perilous journey around the Horn and live in this remote, newly settled place. It is still isolated now, and I can’t imagine how isolated it would have been when it was first settled in 1852, long before the Golden Gate Bridge, highways, and cars.

We took a walk along the edge of the headlands, watching the sea birds and the abalone divers. The Pacific was living up to its name that day, being calm and clear:

In the distance, we could see the winking of the Point Cabrillo Lighthouse’s great Fresnel lens, and that was our next stop:

Movie fans may recognize this as a location in the Jim Carrey movie “The Majestic”, which also filmed at the Skunk Train Depot and Big River Beach here. The path to the lighthouse is bordered by three houses for the head lighthouse keeper and two assistant keepers, who had to keep the oil lamp lit by hand night and day, always watching over the light to keep the ships at sea safe.

Two of the houses are vacation rentals, and the third is a museum, giving a glimpse into the lives of the keepers and their families. The houses are quite modest on the inside, though they have lovely redwood paneling. It seems that it would have been a tough life for both the keepers and their families, with lots of hard physical labor in a remote (though beautiful) area.

We headed back to the Village for lunch at Frankie’s, the place we favor for pre-theater dinners and any time ice cream. I snagged a table in the garden while Ben and Erica went inside and ordered. Of course I ran into my former boss at the jobette while waiting for them, since this is nothing if not a small town.

We enjoyed our lunch in the sunshine among the flowers, watching the people walk by. After lunch, I stopped in at the coffee shop to get a gift card for Rob’s birthday. He just wouldn’t be Rob if he didn’t have a cup of coffee in his hand, and it might as well be a good one. My fellow Rob fans will be happy to hear that he is taking another ceramics class, so there will be more wonderful creations coming our way.

Later in the afternoon, we headed to the family estate. Since it was Erica’s first visit, Jonathan took her and Ben on the grand tour. They are both engineers, and they were impressed by the solar panels and storage battery set up in the shipping container, and the fact that the entire place is off the grid, everything from the satellite internet to the body freezer running on sun power. Not to mention exempt from the perpetual winter power outages that plague his (now) younger sisters.

The bees were quiet that evening, but Jonathan explained how during the Worst Long Weekend Ever there were double rows of bees at the entrance to each hive, beating their wings to create a breeze to cool the colonies within. Bees are amazing.

Back at the Waltons-sized picnic table under the canopy left over from Rio’s daughter’s wedding (best leftover ever!), we had corn chips and salsa made with tomatoes, onions, garlic, Asian pears, cilantro, and jalapenos grown in the garden:

Dinner was chicken tacos, made in Megan’s magical instant pot and served with corn tortillas, garden salsa, guacamole made by Rio (one of her specialties), shredded cheese, and lettuce. We happily ate while hearing about the kids’ plans for the rest of their California visit, including Yosemite and Monterey, where I had such a lovely visit last year.

Dessert was pie made from wild huckleberries picked that day:

The next morning, I stopped by early to say goodbye to our visitors, who were heading to Yosemite with a stop in Oakland for a football game. I’m always sad to see Ben leave, but glad that he is already talking about coming back next year. I hope this becomes a tradition!

A YEAR AGO: Dinner and a play with Megan and Lu.

FIVE YEARS AGO: Oh, my Roscoe. I will never stop loving and missing him. He was extraordinary.

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