Archive for the 'Country Life' Category

Nov 03 2017


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


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


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


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


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


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


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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Sep 24 2017


Published by under Country Life,Family,Friends

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.

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Sep 12 2017

Near and Far

Published by under Country Life,Friends

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.

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Sep 07 2017


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.

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Sep 01 2017


Published by under Country Life,Family,Friends

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!

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Aug 28 2017


Published by under Country Life,Family,Weather

Come back, Fogust!

Both of my brain cells may have melted yesterday. I didn’t dare to consult the thermometer outside, but it was still 86 in my house when I went to bed last night. My house is so unreasonable. Rob came by to correctly position my Junapalooza swamp cooler gift and attempt to explain the laws of physics to me. It sort of sounded like the Charlie Brown grownups to my non-sciency mind, though.

He turned off all the fans, closed up the house other than the screen door to the balcony in the sleeping loft, and placed the swamp cooler in the open door between the studio and the house, reasoning that blowing air from the coolest part of the house with a concrete floor would help to cool the rest of it. He added in stuff about air layers and other things I couldn’t get, but I was not put here on earth to get it.

I’m sorry to say that it is supposed to be hot’n’heinous™ for the rest of the week, so Rob is going to add attempted climate control duties to cat doorman duties, it now being too dark to leave the doors open for them when I go to work, with the arrival of high beams season. Somehow it seems spectacularly unfair that it’s both hot and dark.

Hope he is successful, especially since this heat wave is slated to go until Saturday or so.


Hm. It was 78 in the house and about 80 outside when I got home, despite Rob’s ministrations. Yesterday it was about 90 outside and 86 in. Maybe the eccentricities of my house make the swamp cooler of limited effectiveness. It feels cooler outside than in, so I think I’ll turn off the swamp cooler, open the doors, and put on a couple of fans. Old school.

A YEAR AGO: Well, at least melting in the heat is better than an obnoxious mountain lion. Isn’t it?

FIVE YEARS AGO: Yet another car misadventure that ended up being more life-affirming than disastrous.

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Aug 24 2017


I’m sorry to report that high beams* season is already upon us, as the encroaching darkness starts its long slide into winter, when I will be driving in darkness both ways, instead of just one. Months without driving in darkness (two?) are as short as a Canadian summer and just as welcome.

In addition to the unwelcome return of my perennial enemy, we have been experiencing a true Fogust this year. This is fine with me, but it did make viewing of the eclipse of the century impossible. We should have seen about 80% in the Big Town, but all I saw was a darker shade of pale.

Jonathan and Rio, on the other hand, left the Wednesday before to road trip to a secret spot where there was totality. I mentioned this to my friend C, who is a professional photographer, and this was his reply:

I just hope they are not going to spend those 2 or 3 minutes just to make photos or videos only and not experience the event really. The next day there will be a zillion of that stuff available online anyway. Copy and paste.

My advice: be somewhere where you can see it coming, this is very important, you have to be high up, facing the right direction, have your high quality glasses, and filters for binoculars/telescopes etc. Lie on your back and enjoy.

Make sure just to enjoy the event I would say, unless you work for the National Geographic or so.

He would approve of their methods, I think. They headed out to a secret spot in Oregon on the Wednesday before the eclipse. Not surprisingly for someone who restored a 1958 Predicta and hooked up a DVD player to it, he figured out a way to send emails through his ham radio to keep us apprised of what was happening:

August 19

Another lovely day here in the Aldrich Mountains. By watching the sun during the critical times here at camp we determined that we can see the entire eclipse right here from camp.

We took a hike through the Cedar Grove Botanical Area and found (you guessed it!) a small grove of cedars amidst all the fir and pine. At the center of the grove is a brook with cold, clear water cascading over small rocks, with a baby cedar tree growing right in the middle. We will be returning to that idyllic spot tomorrow with a picnic lunch, our water filter, and bathing items and we still have our sweet little spot to ourselves.

August 20

Well, just another day in paradise here. We hiked back to the creek we found yesterday to bathe and have lunch along the way. Yikes was it fuhreeeeezing! But it sure felt great to clean up after four days on the rough. Such a perfect little stream, with cedars and ferns growing in it and all sort of other wildflowers. Sadly, most of them are long done for the year but must be quite a sight in spring.

We have selected a spot to watch from and will be heading out early in the AM. There were some clouds today that were worrisome but the weather report is still promising clear skies and the smoke has cleared up completely.

So wish us clear skies! I can’t wait for the moment we can take OFF our eclipse glasses and gaze up into the dark skies during daytime. They say it will be a little darker than a bright full moonlight night. We can’t wait!

August 21

Well, the long awaited day and time finally arrived. The day was clear and the spot we were in was perfect. It is a cliché, but words truly do fail me to describe totality. Up until over 80% coverage very little change could be seen. One was sort of asking oneself “is it really getting dimmer or am I imagining it?”. Even at 95% it seemed to still be pretty bright out and it was dimming very slowly.

Then suddenly, in a rush, it got dark. The stars came out, we could see Jupiter and the summer triangle. There was a 360 degree sunset all around us. Light seemed to rise up from the horizon un-refracted. Above this band of brightness was a band of sunset color, and above that the sky was deep blue and purple.

We were in the moon’s shadow, but with a view so wide that we could see beyond the darkness.And the corona around the moon was spectacular! We were with a small group of folks and we were all whooping and exclaiming and pointing things out to each other. Then, as suddenly as it had darkened, day returned.

Wowser, truly amazing and I must say that if you saw even a 98% eclipse you still haven’t seen one. I can understand why some chase them around the globe and am already thinking about 2024!

I am so glad they had such an amazing experience and got to share it together. I am looking forward to hearing about at our next family dinner – maybe on Saturday!

*High beams, which are of limited help in inky black country darkness, are a major disappointment in my adult life, along with painkillers, which do not, as the name suggests, actually kill the pain. Why am I surprised? Adult life itself has been a major disappointment. While it’s true there is no homework, when you’ve said that, you’ve said it all.

A YEAR AGO: Friends, camping, pie. And yes, early morning darkness.

FIVE YEARS AGO: Sigh. You can see the white heart on my beloved Roscoe’s chest. I miss you, my little wild one.

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Aug 21 2017

Sunset Slipper

Published by under Country Life,Family

A week of fog lifted, and Megan and I decided it was a good time to go to the Ledford House again. Although it is conveniently located right across the highway from beautiful downtown Hooterville, we don’t go as often as we should (or as we’d like).

We were warmly greeted by the beautiful and accomplished bartender, who made us each a beautiful and delicious drink:

Megan’s (left) was a nameless but delightful concoction of fresh raspberries, Limoncello, and sparkling wine, and mine was the charmingly named Sunset Slipper, made of Campari, fresh lemon and lime juice, and sparkling wine, finished with a twist of orange, its oils released into the rosy drink. Unlike me, Megan doesn’t like Campari, but she loved the Sunset Slipper. So did I.

We repaired to the sunny and deserted deck:

with its breathtaking view of the sunset:

where we enjoyed our libations with the attentions of the handsome restaurant cat:

He and his tortoiseshell sister just showed up one day, and the owners took them in. They appear to be quite well-fed on gourmet leftovers from the restaurant’s wonderful kitchen, and to be replete with attentions of the restaurant’s patrons. Of course, he spotted a sucker as soon as he saw one, and wasted no time ensconcing himself by my chair and graciously accepting my petting and compliments. Clearly he accurately assessed Megan as being a dog-lover.

Swallows had built a nest in the eaves of the building, and the parents fluttered back and forth, bringing food to the peeping young in the nest. An occasional raven swooped over the ocean. It was so nice to sit on the lovely deck, as the twinkle lights glowed brighter and the sun slipped into the sea. It is amazing how quickly it vanishes once it gets started. It was a lovely evening.

A YEAR AGO: An unexpected gift, and an unexpected curse.

FIVE YEARS AGO: Farewell to Digit, the adorable office cat. She is still being adored by her (no longer) new family. All’s well that ends well.

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Aug 07 2017

Teen Time

Published by under Country Life,Family,Friends

Our long-time friend Carrie came up to visit from Oakhampton, with her 15 year old daughter Miranda and Miranda’s posse of besties. I was pleased to learn that Carrie asked the kids where they wanted to go within driving distance, and they chose Hooterville.

They were rewarded with the kind of freedom we experienced as kids and which is no longer available to those growing up in cities. They swam at the swimming hole in the river, where there is a rope swing, and in the secret pond known only to locals. They helped Jonathan make adobe bricks from clay dug up on the family estate, destined to make an outdoor pizza oven. There is already water and power in the giant, fenced in garden, and the plan is to make an outdoor kitchen there one of these faraway days.

They hiked in the majestic redwoods and rode our friends David and Jennifer’s (my siblings’ land partners) horses Bella and Charlie, and got in some driving practice, since getting their licenses is not as far off on the horizon as making our outdoor kitchen. They were thrilled to pick berries, just as we had during those long-ago summers in Maine. I have never again had blueberries that tasted anything like those small, dark berries, warm from the sun. They learned to make huckleberry pie under Jonathan’s tutelage, in the pie pan Rob made for Rio’s birthday.

On the Friday night, we had dinner at Rio’s place, which has acquired the name of The Marches. Rio said it’s an old word for wilderness, though I think her compound is quite civilized. As Rio and Jonathan made dinner (Rio’s special deconstructed chile relleno casserole and chicken enchiladas made with onions and salsa grown at the property), my brother put on a record, observing that the young ones would not know what it was. He was wrong about this, since one of them correctly recognized it as Herb Alpert’s classic “Whipped Cream” after the first two notes, adding that she herself owned it, also on vinyl.

I thought that was surprising until these 21st century girls started singing as they did the dinner dishes. They sang John Denver’s “Country Roads” and Neil Diamond’s “Sweet Caroline” perfectly. Clearly they have retro leanings. They were completely enthralled with the Predicta and with “Honey West”, with its glamorous costumes, cool cars, and beautiful, kickass heroine. I have to wonder why “Honey West” is not a cultural touchstone like “Bewitched” or “The Avengers”. Also, 1965, the year of my brother’s birth, was a pretty good one, since both “Honey West” and “Whipped Cream” made their debuts along with him.

On Saturday night, we had a BBQ over at the property, and on Sunday, our guests headed back to the city after a breakfast of huckleberry pancakes made on the outdoor gas hob. It was a good visit.

A YEAR AGO: A bad omen?

FIVE YEARS AGO: A good day at the pool.

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Jul 22 2017

You Win Some, You Lose Some

Published by under Bullshit,Country Life

It’s been a less than stellar week in SuzyWorld™. To be fair, I did bring some of it on myself*, like scheduling the masochistic extravaganza of a dental cleaning and a TB test performed on my unsuspecting skin by a needle novice on the same day. The dental cleaning was as unpleasant and make-up destroying as you would expect, and the disfigurement theme continued as the needle novice caused bleeding, followed by bruising which made reading the test results challenging. For some reason, we have to have these TB tests every year**, though TB seems like a malady of the past, like smallpox. Erica tells me that they have squirrels in her ‘hood who carry the bubonic plague, so maybe it’s just as well. Come to Mendocino County! We know how to party like it’s 1299!

Other unpleasant activities this week included triaging the shopping for the dreaded Staff Day, which will inflict its loathsome self on me on Tuesday. Let’s hope we don’t experience another terrible tragedy like last year’s running out of ranch dressing. You probably saw it on the cover of the New York Post and lists of lesser disasters like the Titanic and the Hindenburg. In their infinite wisdom, the Powers That Be have decided that having ice cream sundaes is the perfect end to the perfect day. Who am I to disagree? I am, however, the person shopping like a junkie at 6:30 am, getting flats of ice cream, cans of spray whipped cream, and family sized bottles of sprinkles. Other than the still shrink-wrapped ice cream, everything was nicely distributed on the immaculate Safeway parking lot when the bag holding them broke.

I hope it’s not a sign.

I ended the week with the delightful early morning discovery that the flash heater had suddenly gone on strike in the manner of a French public servant. I took a flashlight outside and tried to persuade it to wake up, even if I couldn’t, but it stubbornly refused. There may have been a couple of snores coming out of the box around the flash heater, which is located outside rather than inside, against all common sense and manufacturer’s specification. But why bother with such details?

I alerted Megan by text – she was still at work at 5:30 am – and she said she would get Rob to fix it at a more civilized hour. I packed up the car with faux adult attire and beautification equipment and headed to the Starr Center, oddly attired in my kitty pajamas, work shoes, and a sweater. There was no way I was getting dressed twice in one morning. It appears that the lack of hot water at my house is the only reason I ever go to the gym.

At least there were no birds or unexpected appliances in the house this week, so I’m still ahead of the game.

*I hate it when I have no-one to blame but myself.

**They always try to make us have flu shots every year, despite the fact that they have a less than 10% efficacy rate. They aren’t mandatory yet, though they are at the hospital where my sister works. I am mystified as to why they have chosen to take a stand on such an ineffective vaccine for a non-fatal illness. Ah, bureaucracy!

A YEAR AGO: A day of dates.

FIVE YEARS AGO: And an unexpected guest.

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Jul 14 2017

The Intruder

Published by under Country Life

When I go to work in the morning, I leave the doors open, since I am not available to be the cat doorperson while I’m out making money to keep my feline masters in fancy, grain-free cat food and Pretty Litter*. Where’s Carlton when you need him?

Sometimes this open door policy results in finding surprise presents on the kitchen table, and sometimes it has less delightful consequences, like the recent appearance of the giant, Stalinesque refrigerator which caused an impromptu kitchen redesign. My ideal refrigerator would look something like this:

To be fair, although I still hate the look and utility of the new and unimproved appliance, it did result in a much nicer shelf over the ugly refrigerator, thanks to my ever-resourceful brother-in-law. He must consider his wife’s overly adjacent sister the “for worse” part of the vows he took 26 years ago this month.

This week, I came home from a 13 hour day to find that my open door policy had once again resulted in something unexpected.

The kitties were waiting anxiously for treats, and then supper. At stately Suzy Manor, the cats get dessert before dinner. As I distributed the treats, I glanced up at the sleeping loft and saw a large bird clinging to the screen door.

I was surprised both by the avian intruder and the fact that the cats were uninterested in its presence. They trotted off to eat dinner as I went upstairs to deal with the uninvited guest.

I expected that it would fly away from me to a place where I couldn’t reach it, but it turned out that Mr. Woodpecker was stuck in the screen door to the balcony. I had never been so close to a woodpecker before. He seemed to be stunned or scared enough to let me detach him from the opened door, and once released, he rocketed away into the trees to the relief of all concerned.

After cleaning up the miscellaneous feathers and bird poop he left behind, I went back downstairs to start my own dinner and stepped in a mini mountain of ClydeBarf™.

Welcome home!

*I am a convert to this stuff. It’s very light, mailed right to your house, and makes your house scentless.

A YEAR AGO: Meeting Rio’s daughter and having a nice dinner at the family estate.

FIVE YEARS AGO: Home at last after surviving the horrible ordeal of the Grand Jury.

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