Fun

On a lovely spring day, I left work early and headed for the Village, where my first stop was the Brickery at Cafe Beaujolais:

where I ordered pizza and waited in the beautiful garden until it was ready:

This is the spicy salami pizza, with capers, olives, red onion, and Calabrian chilis. It is delicious.

Next, I headed to Angelika’s little studio in the big woods, to get my hair and my outlook brightened:

I hadn’t seen her since December, so it was great to catch up with each other’s news. I love spending the afternoon with Angelika, talking about everything under the sun. It’s almost like getting the amazing highlights and haircut are incidental to the fun of hanging out. Almost. We are hoping to meet up with Megan for a drink at Ledford House soon.

I took my newly shiny hair to Chez Megan, where there were magical cocktails in beautiful glasses awaiting:

They were basically Cosmos, but made with limoncello instead of triple sec. Yum!

We had the pizza, the cocktails, and watched our favorite movie, “Legally Blonde”. It was the perfect end to a really fun day. And the beginning of a summer of fun.

A YEAR AGO: Dodge’s secret nocturnal adventure shook us both up, at least temporarily.

FIVE YEARS AGO: Remembering the houses of my childhood. The house I grew up in now only exists in my memories.

TEN YEARS AGO: Getting a new couch. Well, new to me, anyway. I still like it.

FIFTEEN YEARS AGO: My beloved stepmother’s 80th birthday. She was a class act. I will always miss her.

Garden

I was glad to be back in Hooterville, where I was enthusiastically greeted by the cats. The thrill of me wore off pretty quickly, though, and was almost immediately replaced by the wish to go outside and play, which they did.

I stayed inside, to unpack my things and stuff before tackling the litter box and feeding and watering the cats. The litter box looked like the Andes after my two day absence.

Once everything was restored to order, I headed over to the family estate to say hi to Megan and Rob (Jonathan was off on an adventure). Things are rocking and rolling over there. There are new fruit trees, including a second cherry tree now sharing the net palace with the original cherry tree:

You can see the original cherry tree in the background here, behind the rows of raspberries:

Strawberries are on the way:

It was a beautiful day to wander around the growing orchard:

admiring the blossoms on the trees:

Megan picked a bouquet for me of my favorite lilacs and the sweet peas we grow every year for Dad. These are called April in Paris:

April in Hooterville is pretty good, too.

FIVE YEARS AGO: Some bad habits.

TEN YEARS AGO: The office cat at the jobette.

TWENTY YEARS AGO: The eternal debate of time vs. money.

90


Mom

Today is my mother’s 90th birthday.

I think it’s still your birthday, even if you aren’t here to celebrate it. Looking back over these pages, I see that Mom was not here to see most of my entries about her birthday, since she died after a mere 73 years on the planet, after a long and courageous battle against breast cancer.

She was tough, and she was a survivor. Life dealt her a pretty rough hand from the get go. Her birth mother abandoned her on the orphanage steps as a newborn. She suffered from mental health issues her entire life and never got it under control. I think she had serious post-partum after my sister Megan was born. She spent the whole summer in bed, which at the time (I was 9 years old), I thought was what happened when you had a baby. Dad left her* after 25 or so years of marriage, and her second husband, a complete jerk who was about half her age, also left her after he spent all her money. She ended up on welfare, living in a trailer on my sister’s property.

I see a pattern of abandonment in her life which must have been really painful for her. I wonder if she had been born later if there would be better psych drugs and treatment available to her to make her life happier and healthier. Maybe she shouldn’t have had children or gotten married. Maybe she should have had more freedom in her life and her life choices.

We always had a complicated relationship. I don’t think she was that crazy about me, and I am OK with that. Like John always says, if you have one good parent, you’ll be OK. Now that I’m older, I understand that this was about her, not me. She always seemed kind of distant to me. If she was awake when we went to school, she was having black coffee and a cigarette. It was never suggested that she drive us to school or even to the school bus stop, a good half mile away, a long walk in the snow, when we would follow the path we had made the day before. Dad did the cooking, read to us, and took us grocery shopping and to the library on Saturdays. Mom was kind of a ghost in our house.

I wish she had experienced more joy in her life. I wish her death had not been so long and painful and terrible. I’m glad I took care of her at the end and did everything I could do for her. I do love her, and I do remember her smile, her love of music and appreciation for beauty. We share our green eyes. There are good memories, too.

Happy birthday, Mom. I wish you were here to celebrate with us.

*Fun, Jerry Springer style fact: he left my mother for my boyfriend’s mother. Extra credit: boyfriend’s mother is still alive and well at 90 years of age and we are good friends. We email each other often.

A YEAR AGO: My brother Jonathan’s road trip adventure.

FIVE YEARS AGO: Mom’s 85th birthday.

TEN YEARS AGO: Mom’s 80th birthday.

TWENTY YEARS AGO: I still hate the heat. Pretty sure I always will.

Remembering


Dad and Me

Dad’s birthday this year found me feeling sad. Some years, I remember all the happy times, and others, I feel sad or even angry at how long he’s been gone and how senseless his death was. Sometimes I think that he was spared the indignities of getting old and losing his intellectual abilities, which he prized so highly, or his physical abilities, and having to be vulnerable and helpless in front of others, whether they were us or paid help. That’s about the only positive thing I have been able to come up with in the nearly 21 years he has been gone, and it’s not much.

I soon learned after Dad died that most fathers were not like mine, and that most people were not close to their fathers. It made me feel even more alienated and alone in my grief, since nearly everyone I knew still had their fathers and most of them didn’t really want to hang out with them. Whereas for me, my trips to England to visit Dad were the high point of my life, and no one has ever known me or loved me like him. We knew all the worst things about each other and we loved each other anyway. That is a rare gift, and one I am grateful for when I am not mourning the loss of it. I don’t know if it’s worse to have it and lose it, or never have it at all.

I do know that I love my father as much now as when he was alive, and that I will miss him until I follow him into the darkness. I hope he’s wrong and he is there to greet me, reaching out to hug me on arrival, like he used to do at the airport.

A YEAR AGO: Dad’s 90th birthday.

TEN YEARS AGO: Dad’s 81st birthday.

FIFTEEN YEARS AGO: Remembering Dad on his birthday.

Anniversary


Our Beloved Star

A year ago, we lost our shining Star. The photo above was one of the last ever taken of her, just four days before her death. Doesn’t she look beautiful, shiny, and healthy? She always looked beautiful on the outside, whatever was happening on the inside.

Her death was expected, but unexpected, sudden, but a process. We knew she had cancer (though we did not know exactly where, and we will never know), and we knew her days were numbered, but we were still surprised when the day came. Maybe that’s the nature of death and how we humans deal with it.

On the last night of her life, Star seemed a little tired, but she was as overjoyed to see me as ever, and walked me to my car with Megan, where I watched them in my side mirror until they were out of sight, and they watched me.

Star died in the garden around 1:00 in the afternoon on the next day. It was swift and merciful for her. I don’t think she knew what happened. She was lying peacefully on the grass and in the sun, in a place she loved, with Stella close by and Rob working near her. She felt safe and happy and I bet the sun felt good on her fur. Stella started barking, Rob took a look at Star, saw the blood coming from her mouth, and ran for Megan, who was sleeping after her third 12 hour night shift of the week. By the time they returned to the garden, Star was gone.

Losing her was the most significant event of 2021 for me. A year after losing her, I am still a little surprised by how huge a hole she has left in our lives. I never realized quite how much she meant to me until she was gone. I took her beauty and love and joy in seeing me for granted. She was part of the fabric of my life, woven into the heart of it. I regret not appreciating her meaning in my life more while she was still here. She was the heart of Megan and Rob’s household, and it will never be the same. I think we will always miss Star’s presence. I still look for her to come running up to me joyfully when I visit. We were lucky to have her as long as we did.

Thankfully, we still have Stella, with her adorable goofiness, and Stella is very happy with her companion Millie, the playmate she always dreamed of. Millie is still nervous around humans other than Megan and Rob, but she has no reticence at all about playing with Stella or climbing all over her or sleeping with her, all of which Stella loves. Stella was so sad without Star that it was utterly heart-breaking to see, so it’s wonderful to see her so happy with Millie. They are a very cute matched set:

It’s so sweet to see them together and see them so happy.

FIVE YEARS AGO: Weather was variable.

TEN YEARS AGO: Miscellaneous news.

FIFTEEN YEARS AGO: Escape from New York was not easy.

TWENTY YEARS AGO: A day in my life in San Francisco.

Soup

Our good friend Lu mentioned to Megan the other day that she was going to make “snowflake soup”. This delighted us both more than you would expect for such a simple phrase. It’s because it reminded us both of Dad, and also that Lu knew and loved Dad, too. She even wore his sweetpeas at her wedding, so he was there in a way.

Growing up in WWII London and living with rationed food from the age of 9 to the age of 23, Dad had a horror of wasting food, which he passed on to his children. It’s alive and well in us. One of his habits – and ours – was to use up vegetables and miscellaneous food in the refrigerator by making it into soup. Since the leftovers varied and two soups were ever the same, we called it “snowflake soup”. So it was fun to hear someone outside our family use that expression. As time goes by, I realize there are very few people left who remember my parents, so I really treasure it when I can share those memories.

As for me, I recently made an appropriately spring green, though non-snowflake, soup:

It’s chickpeas, spinach, shallots, garlic, and ginger whirled together with vegetable broth and garnished with a squeeze of fresh lime, a drizzle of curry oil, and a shower of fresh mint. Springtime in a bowl!

A YEAR AGO: The beginning of the end for our beloved Star. Her loss is a great one.

FIVE YEARS AGO: More news about cats and dogs.

TWENTY YEARS AGO: A clean bill of health for our cats.

Cheers

You know how sometimes we get Junuary, when the weather is more like summer than winter even though it’s January? We had that in February, though I can’t come up with a clever portmanteau for that one. There were record highs in southern California that weekend, and possibly here, too. Certainly, it was warm enough to venture out without a sweater or jacket of any kind, and that is a rare thing here any time of year. You get kind of programmed to have a sweater or jacket with you at all times. The last time I went to LA, I brought my sweater with me everywhere and I never needed it. Not once.

Not only was it suddenly (though temporarily) summer, Megan actually had a Saturday off for once. Pressing Rob into service, we headed to our favorite seaside bar, where we sat at a little table in the garden at a comfortable distance from the madd(en)ing crowds:

We enjoyed the always excellent company of a Mandarin Blossom Cosmo (me) and a Buddha’s Hand Lemon Drop (Megan), as well as the beautiful view:

As the sun set into the Pacific, the moon rose over restaurant:

and the lights began to twinkle on the deck:

It was a beautiful end to a beautiful day.

A YEAR AGO: Some thoughts on love.

FIVE YEARS AGO: It was raining water outside and love inside.

TEN YEARS AGO: Remembering my much-loved American grandfather. I will miss him 45 years after his death. I think I always will.

TWENTY YEARS AGO: Farewell to the glamorous Princess Margaret.

2021

This was a year of milestones. Jessica turned 18; Jarrett turned 40; my blog turned 20; Megan turned 50; she and Rob celebrated their 30th wedding anniversary, and we mourned the 20th anniversary of our father’s death.

We also mourned the devastating loss of Megan and Rob’s beloved dog, Star. We knew she was sick, but the end was sudden. She has left a huge hole in their household, and we still miss her. But a new dog, Millie, brought joy to our lives in late summer, especially to Stella, who was missing Star much more than we expected. Stella and Millie love playing together, and it’s heart-warming to see how happy they are together.

I read 110 books this year, an improvement over last year’s paltry 86 (assuming my record-keeping was accurate that year), but falling short of the record high of 118 in 2010. I seem to have developed a love for Canadian graphic novels. I devoured all of “Clyde Fans” and every Michel Rabagliati book I could get my hands on.

This was also a year of successful culinary experimentation, in which I learned how to make my own Canelés de Bordeaux, Chinese BBQ pork, lemon chicken, har gao (shrimp dumplings), and pork and chive crystal dumplings.

Here’s all the news I saw fit to print this year:

January: The New Year begins. Come along on my commute. It’s a pretty one. I stepped down from my high office (or possibly my high horse) as the library board Chair, though I remain on the Board. High office is not for the likes of me. Also, it was completely perk-free, as far as I could see. I might be persuaded to try it again if a tiara and a limo were involved. Getting to work was an adventure. Swooning over Frank from afar, and remembering the inimitable Buddy, my first cat love. Frank is still doing well and is his fighty and adorable self. A magical encounter on my way to work. A friend told me that she thinks it was Dad checking in with me. I hope she’s right. And I hope he’s wrong and I see him again one day.

February: John’s rescued kittens. My proudest achievement. Thinking about love. Such an unusual thing to do around Valentine’s Day! A fun trip to the South Coast. I always love it there.

March: The heart-breaking news of our beloved Star’s terminal illness. Jonathan and Rio were off having adventures. When I heard how long they were going to be gone, I knew they would not be here to say goodbye to Star. Unfortunately, I was correct in this. Despite knowing she was ill, her death was sudden, merciful for our darling Star, but hard for those she left behind, including Stella. I still miss our beautiful Star. Megan’s place is not the same without her. I had not realized that she was the heart of their household until she was gone. Dad’s 90th birthday came on the heels of Star’s death.

April: Kitty updates. Getting my hair done and getting an Easter basket cheered me up. My blog turned 20! Can you believe it? And Jessica turned 18! Can you believe that, too? Remembering a wonderful visit with my beloved friend A at her home in Amsterdam in 1994. This month’s theme seems to be the swift passage of time and what we lose along the way.

May: Things were a little too exciting for Dodge. But it didn’t stop him from enjoying his 5th birthday. Making Tourtière from a friend’s family recipe. The joys of a beautiful spring. Megan turned 50, a reason to celebrate! A lot of milestones this year.

June: Enjoying some time off. An excellent birthday, including getting my hair cut and colored and a little trip to the beautiful South Coast. I looked around the small, but scenic, cemetery while I was in Anchor Bay. Summer crowds were out in force in the Village. An expensive flat tire. A lovely, but hot, trip to the beautiful Valley.

July: Orange is the new pink at my house. I love my house. The always amazing Flynn Creek Circus. Another milestone on this milestone-studded year: Megan and Rob’s 30th anniversary! A visit to the Valley, where you can taste cider under the very trees the cider apples grew on. A trip to Bodega Bay, to scope out locations from “The Birds” and remember family Christmases there with Dad. A glamorous stay at the Flamingo in Santa Rosa. The joy of a concert at the Music Festival.

August: My first attempt at making Canelés de Bordeaux was surprisingly successful. I fell i love with a giant ceramic apple (yes, you read that right!) and bought it for the garden. I love it. Some extreme (and extreemly delicious) take-out. Conventional wisdom seems to be wrong when it comes to my unconventional cats. A new deck and a new dog at Megan and Rob’s place! Remembering our much-loved father 20 years after his sudden and untimely death. I will never stop loving and missing him. Ever. Getting contact lenses again. Checking out some beautiful artwork around town.

September: Another successful cooking experiment: Chinese BBQ pork. Meet Millie, Megan and Rob’s new dog! She and Stella are so happy together! I seem to have been out of control with the make your own delicacies. This time: dim sum! A really fun family dinner in the garden. A horrifying (and horrifying expensive) root canal. Just one little thing can make a big difference in a room.

October: I admit it. I’m a scented candle addict. Rainy day baking. Some mid-week sparkles with a friend, and end of week Eggs Benedict at the amazing Queenie’s. Some small-town crimes, a little too close to home for comfort. And in the miscellaneous department…

November: John stepped up his rescue activities with caring for a batch of abandoned, newborn kittens. He had to get up every two hours to feed them for weeks. I am pleased to say they all made it and were safely given to a local rescue for adoption. Yay, John! He’s my hero. Redbeard was finally caught! And Suzy’s Dim Sum Palace was open for business. Yet another crown for my collection, and not the fun, sparkly kind, either. A drink with a side of view. A quietly thankful Thanksgiving.

December: A quiet, but delicious Thanksgiving dinner. The incredible sparkly beauty of the Festival of Lights. In which I learn to make my own lemon chicken while the Chinese restaurant is closed, and enjoy a drink or two with my sister at our local bar. Finally tackling the Closet of Doom. Putting up the Christmas tree. An unnerving earthquake on Solstice Eve. A pretty Christmas Eve and a quiet Christmas Day. Having fun watching Emily in Paris with my sister.

I have no idea what next year will bring, but as this year ends, I am grateful for my family, my friends, my cats, my health, my lovely house, my meaningful work, the beautiful place I live, and the small, special moments in life that are there every day.

A YEAR AGO: A look back at 2020.

FIVE YEARS AGO: Reviewing 2016.

TEN YEARS AGO: What happened in 2011.

FIFTEEN YEARS AGO: The year of the dog.

TWENTY YEARS AGO: The last day of the last year of my father’s life.

Emily

Megan I had long been awaiting the return of the delightful and delightfully frivolous Emily in Paris. It is escapism at its finest, and we were ready to escape.

I took an extra day off over the holidays so we could watch all the Emilys at one sitting, and it was so worth it!

Arriving at Megan and Rob’s place, I was greeted by Stella and Millie. Millie is still horrified by humanity other than Megan, and occasionally Rob, but she feels better when she is cuddled up with Stella:

Stella has not lost her Mom skills, and clearly loves taking care of Millie.

The deck is now complete, and there is a gravel path leading to it, to cut down on the dust and mud:

Here’s another look at the path, leading away from their place:

Once inside, I discovered that our friend Monica had left me a gorgeous Christmas gift, wrapped in vintage ribbon and including a clear glass ornament with a feather in it, and a sparkly mushroom ornament:

Megan was well-prepared for our Emily Day. She invested in a cocktail shaker so she could make Midori Illusions, and it was worth it:

They are magical concoctions of Midori melon liqueur, vodka, Cointreau, lemon juice, and pineapple juice.

Rob imported pizzas from the Big Town. It was surprisingly difficult to acquire a pizza that day, both of the pizza places in the Village being chiuso in the Italian manner. We were lucky that he was willing to not only drive the pizzas home, but also me, and it was after midnight by the time I left. Season Two of Emily may have been even more delightful than Season One. We had such a great time!

A YEAR AGO: Christmas at the beach.

FIVE YEARS AGO: Happy Hannukah!

TEN YEARS AGO: Christmas aftermath.

FIFTEEN YEARS AGO: Christmas nightmare.

Updates

Cooking:

I did follow my plan of making har gao, chive and pork dumplings, and lumpia Shanghai. They turned out amazing. These are the pork and chive dumplings (triangle) and har gao (little bundles):

Here are the lumpia Shanghai:

When I sent these pictures to A, she responded, “Totally impressed by your dim sum spread. Suzy’s Dim Sum Palace.” I love thinking of my house as Suzy’s Dim Sum Palace.

I have already had to order more of the tapioca flour and wheat starch so I can make them again. They were definitely a big success. The pork and chive dumplings are easier to shape than the har gao, and they are both delicious. Cooking win!

Crime:

I am pleased to announce that Redbeard has finally been caught! I am less pleased to announce that he was caught in the environs of the family estate, which is the first driveway after the “doughnut shop” referred to in the press. For fans of Krispy Kremes and Dunkin’ Donuts, don’t get too excited. Rather than a pastry emporium, the Doughnut Shop in Hooterville is actually a big pull out where kids do doughnuts in their cars. It’s also a favored place for miscreants to deposit their heavily-used RVs and furniture, instead of taking said objects to the dump*. So maybe it makes sense that he was caught at or near such a hotbed of local crime. I’m just glad that he was not caught on the family property itself, and that no one was hurt. I hope we can go back to our sleepy, low-to-no-crime existence again.

*Speaking of the dump, the guy who works there posts some hilarious stuff about his job there on Facebook. You’re welcome.

A YEAR AGO: Heater problems. Appliances hate me. I am pleased to announce that the heater is still working. So far.

FIVE YEARS AGO: A happy Halloween with Jessica. I miss those days, and I miss her.

TEN YEARS AGO: A country Saturday.

FIFTEEN YEARS AGO: City scenes.

TWENTY YEARS AGO: I have never been a fan of this twice yearly time change nonsense.

Stolen

Our little corner of the world, while not crime-free, is pretty close to it. At the old house, I used to leave the doors open when I went to work, and none of the doors had locks. My current house does have locks, but they are unused. We leave the keys in the car at home (though not in town). Generally, it’s not something I worry about day to day. So it was big news that there was someone breaking into empty vacation rentals around here* and stealing food, booze, and miscellaneous items.

The miscreant was identified, and generally referred to as the “Red-Bearded Burglar” or “Redbeard”. There were sightings and incidents from Elk (home of Queenie’s and the fabulous Eggs Benedict) to Albion (home of Self and entire family). Redbeard shot at law enforcement, and was caught on camera entering houses with a camera in one hand and a flashlight in the other. Although he started his one-man crime spree in May, and has been within sight (and shooting distance) of law enforcement, he remains uncaught.

Not long ago, my sister told me that someone had gone through all the mail in their mailbox, but had left it there. She suggested that I ask on the message boards if anyone else had experienced that problem. It appeared that no one had. A couple of people unhelpfully (and somewhat snottily) suggested that we get a post office box, which we have had for decades, but no one admitted to any malfeasance in their mailbox.

Soon after that, our brother noticed that there were odd arrangements of stones and twigs on the pathway that goes between the property driveway and the haul road, like crazy art installations.

And a little later after the discovery of the impromptu al fresco art exhibit, Redbeard hit.

He took cigarettes and candy from the cars, and canned and preserved food from our brother’s van, which Jonathan was readying for a road trip. He also took Jonathan’s silk long underwear, Smartwool socks, and nearly all of the pesto, chicken, and garlic butter from the body freezer in the carport where the mechanic’s pit and washer and dryer are.

So it seems that he started by digging through the mailbox, then presumably watched for a while, and then struck. It’s scary to think of him spying on my family, especially knowing that he is armed and has used a weapon against the sheriff’s office. It seems that he is very comfortable in the woods, and gets around on a bike. So I guess he had quite a feast in the woods with all our food. The pesto is irreplaceable at this time of year. No more until next year.

My siblings called the sheriff’s office, and they responded in force, an unusual sight:

This is probably half the law enforcement on the coast. They put up cameras, but didn’t catch him. So far, he has yet to return, and I hope he never does. I’m beginning to wonder if they will ever catch him. I would feel a lot better if he were behind bars.

*Of which there are many. There has been a debate raging on the local message boards lately about how there are so many vacation homes here but so few rentals available to locals.

A YEAR AGO: The weather said summer, even if the calendar said fall.

FIVE YEARS AGO: Road Trip!

TEN YEARS AGO: Celebrating my second anniversary in Hootervile with my sister and our beloved Schatzi. I miss her and Star so much.

FIFTEEN YEARS AGO: The Lovely Rita was busy charming all and sundry. It was her superpower. I miss her, too. Side note: I notice all my past dogs are girls.

TWENTY YEARS AGO: Missing my Sunday morning emails from Dad.

Dinner

We were overdue for a family dinner, so on a sunny Saturday afternoon, we assembled in Megan’s garden, where things were looking lovely and welcoming:

Rob is nearly finished staining the deck and installing a fancy handrail, so I’ll share photos with you when it’s done. It’s darker than they expected, but that just gives it a luxe, mahogany look. Next up before the rains start is to lay down some pea gravel to go between the deck and the garden gate, to cut down on the summer’s dust and the winter’s mud.

Millie has no problem getting in and out of the house using the deck, and it’s definitely a huge improvement over the old metal stairs.

Megan had acquired a box of pre-made watermelon-tinis and a bottle of Midori melon liqueur on the way home from her night shift. What with our opposite schedules, we both find ourselves buying booze in the early morning hours, me on my way to work and Megan on her way home. There does seem to be something semi-disgraceful about buying liquor at 6:30 am.

It didn’t seem all disgraceful at 6:30 pm, however, and we added some Midori to the previously pink ‘tinis, turning them into a strange sort of green. They were delicious no matter what they looked like, and it was nice to sit in the garden and sip our drinks and chatted.

Millie was still nervous, but not shaking. She stuck pretty close to Megan – like Star, she seems to be a mama’s girl – but, as I pointed out to Megan, Millie could easily have hidden, but she chose to stay with the people. She had open crates inside and out, and could have stayed on the bed or the sofa, which are the safe spots for her. She even sort of napped a bit, so I think she is adjusting. It was nice to have her there, and Stella is definitely happy to have another dog around the place.

Lately, I have been watching “The Streets of San Francisco”, and enjoying it very much. It’s really fun to see the City, which is basically the third co-star of the show, along with Karl Malden and Michael Douglas (four, if you count Michael Douglas’ hair). I told Rio that I saw her stepfather, Carl Betz, in an episode just the other day, and he was great in it. She said that it was one of his favorite roles and that he was really proud of his performance. She added that she had met Karl Malden and that he was a really nice guy, or as she put it, “a mensch and a half”. I was extra glad that I had sent him that fan letter years ago.

Megan made chicken tacos using her trusty Insta Pot for the filling, and I think it also used some salsa verde from the garden. With it, we had salsa made from mostly garden ingredients, and home-grown black beans. It was an easy and festive dinner.

As the sun left the stage to make way for its co-star, the moon, the solar lights on the shade palace winked into view:

These were left over from Megan and Rob’s 30th anniversary celebration this year, and they are a lovely addition to the garden. It was a delightful end to a delightful evening.

A YEAR AGO: Scary, scarily near-by fires.

FIVE YEARS AGO: Farewell to our dear Ben.

TEN YEARS AGO: Planting the twin palms. I cried when I had to leave them behind when I moved.

FIFTEEN YEARS AGO: A fun visit with Dad in London, circa 1991.

TWENTY YEARS AGO: Aftermath.

Millie


Millie

Faithful readers may remember how depressed the usually irrepressible Stella was after Star’s sudden death back in March. She kept returning to the spot where Star died for days afterwards, and she lost her bounce.

The unbouncedness of Stella caused Megan and Rob to start looking for a companion for Stella long before they were really ready to do so. Stella’s sadness just added to the hole in the household left by Star. I have to admit that until she was gone, I didn’t realize that she was so very much the heart of their home.

It’s just as well that they started the search when they did, because it took a very long time to find the right dog and then to get through the lengthy adoption process. The winner was a 2 year old mini Stella named Millie. Millie was staying with a foster family in distant and sweltering Sacramento, so Rob, Megan, and Stella all made the trek to meet Millie in the 110 degree heat.

Despite the journey and the unreasonable weather, everyone decided that Millie was the perfect addition to the family. There were just a few (dozen) formalities and hoops to jump through, ranging from paperwork to insurance to home improvements, but finally the day arrived when Millie was to arrive at her new home. Mille’s chauffeur was supposed to inspect the premises and make sure they were up to standards before finalizing the adoption, so Megan made snacks, tidied up, and had fresh flowers and a sign ready to greet the new arrival:

However, the chauffeur made the mistake that people often do by underestimating the drive and relying on technology that does not work out here in what my stepmother used to call “the back of beyond”, where cellphones often don’t work and GPS sends you on strange routes that go everywhere except where you actually want to go.

They were supposed to arrive at 4:00, but at 7:30 they had not arrived. They finally contacted Megan from Navarro, and she met them at the Hooterville store after dark. So much for the grand tour of the property, the garden, the snacks, and everything else.

But Millie had arrived!

Millie was/is a super shy dog, and so far, Stella’s dreams of playing with her have gone unfulfilled, at least for now. But they both sleep in the bed, and if Millie isn’t ready to play with Stella yet, she is happy to lounge on her new sister:

Millie is adjusting to her new life. She enjoys the dog beds in the garden and is beginning to explore a little. I really think she has made a lot of progress in the short time they have had her. Stella’s calm and affectionate nature made Star feel much happier and safer, and I think she will have the same effect on Millie.

Welcome to the family, Millie!

A YEAR AGO: Audrey: 1. Suzy: 0.

FIVE YEARS AGO At the circus with our beloved ben. Guess what? Ben is set to become a father around Christmas!

TEN YEARS AGO A midnight call.

FIFTEEN YEARS AGO: Newsflash: detox is not fun! Bet you’re surprised.

TWENTY YEARS AGO: The Rufus Report.

20


Dad

It’s been 20 years since we lost Dad.

I look at that statement on the page and it shocks me almost as much as hearing the words from my sister on that early morning phone call.

Two decades.

I knew this would be a hard day to face, but I was even more sad than I expected. It didn’t help that the sky was hazy and the light was eerie and creepy from the Dixie Fire, 200 miles away near Chico. It felt doomy and apocalyptic. Maybe that was appropriate.

On Tuesday, I found a single perfect raven feather in the courtyard at work. I picked it up and wondered if it was a sign from him, even though I know he would laugh at that. I hope he was wrong and there is an afterlife. If there is, he is probably laughing at his daughter’s superstition.

On the morning of the Evil Eighteenth, I started reading “The New Yorker”, and the article I picked up happened to be about how a bird seen only in Australia somehow appeared in an Italian Renaissance painting from the 15th century. I thought how Dad would have enjoyed that article, combining his love of birds, art, and a good mystery, and that if he were still alive, I would have shared it with him. Again, this felt like a sign from him or about him. I admit it, I’m superstitious! He would have laughed at my silliness. I miss that, too.

That evening, Megan and I went to Ledford House. Our favorite bartender was working that night, and it seemed like the perfect place to toast Dad as he had suggested: “The old man wasn’t so bad.”

A YEAR AGO: Thinking of Dad.

FIVE YEARS AGO Dad’s favorite flowers.

TEN YEARS AGO The tenth anniversary of the Evil Eighteenth.

FIFTEEN YEARS AGO: Miscellaneous thoughts.

TWENTY YEARS AGO: Dad’s sudden and untimely death.

Deck

Things are changing over at Megan and Rob’s place.

They always wanted to change out the stairs they had, which were metal and hard for Megan’s reconstructed knee to deal with, as well as being slippery when wet, but they hadn’t gotten around to it until recently. They had extra motivation to get it done now – more about that later.

Rob and Jonathan made a design, measured, and acquired the wood and other essential building materials, like cement. Stain and sealant are yet to arrive, and Rob is still plotting the handrail, but all in all, it is basically done:

It makes such a huge difference! It is beautiful, for one thing, and it makes it much easier to get in and out of their place. There are plans to put a little bench to the left of the door, where one can put down groceries or one’s handbag, or even put on or take off shoes. As you can see, that part is under an awning, and will stay dry during the winter rains (hopefully we will get our share and more this upcoming season).

They would also like to add a little path to the gate, to minimize the mud/dust being tracked inside. Maybe gravel, maybe paving stones.

It is an exciting development, as is the reason for the acceleration of the project. Megan and Rob are getting a new dog!

Her name is Millie. She is two years old, and Megan, Rob, and Stella all went to meet her in distant Sacramento recently. Sacramento is about 4 hours’ drive and 40 degrees hotter than it is on the coast. During their get acquainted visit, the temperature was consistently over 100 degrees, which is pretty much intolerable to us coastal dwellers. It’s not surprising that we get heat refugees from Sacramento and environs every summer.

The purpose of the trip was to make sure that Stella and Millie got along and that Megan and Rob felt that Millie was the right dog to join their family. Stella has been very sad since Star’s sudden and untimely death. While she no longer goes back every day to the spot where Star died, she has definitely lost her bounce and joyfulness. It’s very clear that she needs a friend and companion.

Every time I’m over there, I realize how huge Star’s absence is. She was truly the heart of their household. And if I feel that way, it must be really hard for Stella. Star was already there when Stella arrived, and they spent every day and night together for many years. That’s a huge loss.

It’s probably just as well that it took so long to find Millie. Megan and Rob weren’t really ready for a new dog when they started looking, but they felt so bad for Stella that they did it anyway. They finally came across Millie, and after a rigorous adoption process, they have almost officially adopted her!

Millie will arrive the last week of August. The adoption team will bring her and take a look around to make sure everything looks good before Millie officially joins the family.

Millie was born without one of her leg bones, as you can see in this photo:

So she could not have managed the old steps, or at least, it would not have been easy. This way, she will easily be able to go in and out. And as you can see, she is a mini Stella, so they will be an adorable matched set.

We are all looking forward to Millie’s arrival!

A YEAR AGO: ‘Tis the season. For naked ladies and peaches.

FIVE YEARS AGO Enjoying family dinner together. And the fruit of the season.

TEN YEARS AGO File under miscellaneous.

TWENTY YEARS AGO: An unusual reunion

30


30 Years!

Megan and Rob tend not to make a fuss about things like birthdays and anniversaries, but this year marked not only Megan’s 50th birthday, but Megan and Rob’s 30th wedding anniversary. Our schedules didn’t match up to have a celebration of Megan’s first birthday in the 50s and mine, the last of the 50s, but we made sure to celebrate Megan and Rob’s milestone anniversary.

I’m sure this is a common experience for those of us barely hanging onto our 50s, but it amazes me that someone whose diapers I used to change (sorry, Megan!*) is now half a century old. And married for three decades of those 5 decades.

Even the most math-challenged among us can see that Megan married young. She had only been 20 for a few weeks when she took the leap to marry Rob, who at that point was not in a happy place in his life. I will be honest and tell y’all that I was not happy about it. But I will also add here that Rob won me over pretty quickly and I have stayed that way ever since. And whatever my misgivings were in July of 1991, Megan and Rob have proved me wrong. I am long divorced, and they have gone the distance. Megan always says that whatever life throws at them, they just take each other’s hands and walk through it. I think all of the joys and challenges they have faced together over the years have brought them closer together, and that they love each other more deeply and truly now than they did on their wedding day.

Being Megan, she ended up planning and making most of the dinner, though Jonathan and I did help where we could. Jonathan is always the grill master, and you can see why:

After the chicken was barbecued to perfection, it was sliced up and dressed with lemon slices that had also been grilled, and a mix of fresh lemon juice, garlic, and olive oil, as well as green olives. It was delicious. There was also a couscous salad, made with mint and arugula from the property and Parmesan instead of the feat the recipe called for (none of us are feta fans). For dessert, we had the first cherries of the season from Jonathan’s Awesome Cherry Tree**:

With dinner, we had some sparkling local wine to go with our sparkling conversation. After Jonathan headed back to his place, just a short walk away, Megan and I shared some limoncello, so I was lucky that Rob had volunteered to be my chauffeur, especially now that it’s a 20 minute drive to my place, instead of 2 minute drive. It was a happy celebration of a very happy occasion. Here’s to the next 30 years!

*Megan hates it when I talk about her babyhood and childhood. Interestingly, Jessica always enjoyed those stories about herself.

**When Megan finally nagged convinced Jonathan that they should add a cherry tree to the orchard, it was decided that if the cherry tree worked out (apparently cherry trees do not play well with other trees and have to be netted to keep the birds at bay, so they are a lot of work – ours lives in its own little netted cathedral in the corner of the garden), it would be Jonathan’s Awesome Cherry Tree, but if not, it would be Megan’s Stupid Idea. So far, it has been all Awesome, all the time.

A YEAR AGO: Getting shady.

FIVE YEARS AGO: Lu and Rik’s wonderful wedding.

FIFTEEN YEARS AGO: An interesting weekend.

TWENTY YEARS AGO: Visiting the farmers’ market at the Ferry Building. I’d love to do that again one of these days.

Celebrate

A milestone birthday like 50 deserves some recognition! Fortunately, Megan’s one Saturday off in May was the one right before her big day. So she picked me up that sunny Saturday afternoon and we headed to our favorite seaside bar.

It was the perfect day for a cocktail by the ocean:

The restaurant’s garden was looking lovely:

and the beautiful, long-haired black cat who lives at the restaurant wasted no time in allowing us to pet and admire him. He is a very handsome boy, and he must have a great life, living on fabulous fine dining leftovers and being admired by locals and tourists alike. He basked in the sun, blinking his big green eyes and keeping us company as we enjoyed our drinks and chatted.

On our way to Megan’s place, we stopped for a moment to admire the ocean. Megan said how lucky we are that this is our backyard, and that this wonderful, beautiful place is our local bar. I have to agree.
I took a quick look around the garden at the family estate, picking some arugula and admiring the future pies:

We celebrated with some local sparkling wine and some fabulous pizza from Café Beaujolais, thoughtfully picked up by Rob, who was also my designated driver and tolerant of the girl movie fiesta that went with the pizza. He is the best.

Monica took Megan out for dinner on her actual birthday, so all in all, she had a great 50th birthday. I’m hoping that we can figure out a day to have a family party as well. It’s challenging with our schedules being so different, but it’s a pretty special occasion and deserves to be celebrated. The more celebration, the better!

A YEAR AGO: We lost The Beautiful Harriet. She is still missed.

FIVE YEARS AGO: Some enjoyable time off.

TEN YEARS AGO: A little on the grumpy side.

FIFTEEN YEARS AGO: Enjoying The Brain That Wouldn’t Die. It’s one of my all-time favorite bad movies.

TWENTY YEARS AGO: Thinking of my grandfathers on Memorial Day.

50


Birthday Girl

Today is my sister Megan’s 50th birthday.

It’s hard for me to believe that the little baby who came home from the hospital on my 9th birthday is half a century old on this day. I still remember being called to the office on that bright spring day. I felt so small as I walked down the empty, echoing school hallways*, reviewing my recent crimes in my head and then sorting them by the ones I thought I could have been caught at. I had reached no conclusion by the time I reached the principal’s office.

My criminal musings were ended by the school secretary cheerfully informing me that I had a baby sister. I skipped back to my classroom, slammed the door open, and announced the happy news, which was greeted by “Yay!” from the girls and “Boo!” from the boys.

My first glimpse of my sister was when our parents brought her home from the hospital on my birthday. She was wrapped in white blankets, and was so small! It seemed I had to dig around in the blankets for a while before I found the baby. We were excited that she was a brunette after the rest of us were blonde.

Despite my youth, I took care of Megan as a baby, giving her bottles (she was allergic to formula, and drank soy milk) and changing her and doing the laundry. I was surprised that the smallest person in the family had the most laundry. All those cloth diapers and onesies! I remember the first time she laughed. She was in her playpen, watching the snowball bush outside the window dancing in the breeze.

Megan lived with me during high school, and I had to make decisions about her boyfriend** staying over, how late she could be out, birth control, and minor things of that nature. Don’t forget that I was a mere 9 years older and in my early 20s at the time. There’s a reason that Nature generally does not allow parents to be so young. Looking back, I think I did a pretty good job of fake parenting, and I like to think that I had a little something to do with Megan becoming the amazing person she is today***.

I am so proud of her for living her life with integrity, humor, and love. She has worked in emergency medical services for almost 20 years, and if the shit is hitting the fan, if you have been in a car accident or your loved one is dying or you are giving birth, she is the one you want to have there. She is the best person to be there on your worst day. She is calm, decisive, and commanding, whether driving the ambulance or working in the ER. She takes no nonsense, but she treats patients with respect and compassion. She is beloved by her team at work, where they are like a family. Facing the drama and the long, dark nights together, when things tend to happen, brings you close, like being in battle. And in a way, they are.

She has been married to Rob, our brother’s best friend, for 30 of her 50 years****, and they have grown and supported each other together over the years. The good times and the bad times have just made them closer. As Megan says, whatever life throws at them, they just hold each other’s hands and walk through it together.

With our brother, Megan and Rob have homesteaded their property, living off the grid, digging their own wells, and creating a beautiful vegetable garden, flower garden, and orchard out of inhospitable pygmy. My sister has achieved a lot in her half century on this planet, and I for one can’t wait to see what the next 50 years bring. I am so proud of you, baby sis! And I love you with all my heart.

*Years later, when Megan was in high school and living with me, I would find going to her “parent”-teacher conferences equally intimidating. I always felt like they were going to make me go back to school, since I was clearly impersonating a responsible adult.

**Still my friend!

**When asked in job interviews what my greatest achievement is, I always think, “Megan”. Though I never say that. Now you know the truth!

****And without our beloved father for 20 of her 50 years. She was out of parents before she was 35. Have you called yours lately?

A YEAR AGO: I know a lot of secrets.

FIVE YEARS AGO: Celebrating Megan’s birthday in style.

TEN YEARS AGO: A rainy birthday for Megan. I see I did not not note it was her 40th.

FIFTEEN YEARS AGO: The joys of almost dog ownership. I still miss the Lovely (and dignified) Rita.

TWENTY YEARS AGO: Feeling proud of Megan on her 30th birthday.

Ancient

A final entry in Jonathan’s epic road trip diary. I hope you have enjoyed his adventures as much as I do.

Dateline: Near Angel’s Peak, NM, coordinates 36.546576 / 107.863026, elevation 6,591′.

After our refreshing stay in a hotel we were ready to get back on the road. We stopped for fuel and groceries and then headed towards Chaco Canyon. I have heard so much about it that I hoped it would not disappoint.

The first bit of of a drive was quite easy, but as we got closer the road went to dirt. Not long afterwards it started in with washboard, the kind that will rattle the fillings out of your teeth and shake your vehicle to death. When confronted with washboard like that you have two choices: You can either crawl along very slowly or you can go faster and float over the top. I think you can guess which option I chose. The reason is that the average speed of a vehicle on the road determines how far apart the washboards are. If you go faster than average you go from the top of one washboard to the top of the next, skipping the trough. If you go slower you give your suspension a chance to react. But if you travel the average speed you will be visiting the dentist to get your fillings replaced.

Sadly, the visitors’ center was closed. Luckily, they had maps outside so Rio didn’t have to suffer from map deprivation. We scoped out the map and decided a plan of action to see as much as we could while we were there. We headed out for our first hike, which was close to the visitors center. A short walk and there were ruins right in front of us. I paused as I was about to duck through the doorway. There was something special and humbling to be the next in a long line of people to have passed through that doorway. I could imagine the pride and satisfaction with which the builder of this doorway must have felt when they went through it for the first time. I could image how grateful people felt going through that doorway when the weather was bad, so happy to be sheltered. And then how ordinary it became to do so over the centuries that followed.

The Anasazi who built these vast ruins did so over about 300 years, from 850 AD to around 1250 AD. At that time they inexplicably abandoned this center of spirituality, government and commerce. No-one knows why they disappeared or where they went or what happened to them. It must have been something they didn’t anticipate as you don’t build such a remarkable city with the intention of abandoning it.

As we continued to explore the ruins my respect and awe continued to build. The elaborate buildings built with such skill and engineering are a testament to the people that built them. They have far outlasted the modern construction of Fort Bowie which was built with modern tools and methods. The natives here knew how to use the materials around them to build something that would stand the test of time.

While we could have spent more time here it was getting late and we needed to find a place to land for the night. Here I have to give credit to an app called iOverlander. It showed a place not too far called Angel Peak. So we decided to go and give it a look. We found it easily and it was a short drive out a good gravel road. We found a nice little spot and parked Moby and went for a walk to see where we were.

In these reports I feel like I am running out of superlatives. Outstanding, beautiful, awesome, amazing, breath-taking, I feel like I have over used all of them in these reports. I can’t help it though as we are going through some very special places. As we walked up towards a little point I looked over at Angel Peak and was once again stunned and literally stopped in my tracks, struck dumb by the view before me. Off in the distance slightly above us was Angel Peak and about 1,500 feet below us were the most amazing badlands. Angel Peak actually looks more like a medieval fortress to me. It has towers and walls, what looks like a pyramid on one end and a set of stairs that a giant could have used. The badlands are impossible to describe, rough, tortured ground with some many bands of color and hills and washes that you really do just have to see them.

Until we meet again,

Jonathan

Rocks


Dramatic vistas

Dateline: Indian Bread Rocks, coordinates 32.239136 / 109.50086, elevation 4,108

While we were happy to be on the road again, it was hard to leave the Kofa Wildlife refuge. Like the Mojave Preserve we have unfinished business there. We drove to Yuma to get groceries, water and fuel and got drive through at In and Out for the first time in well over a year! Fridge, gas tank and tummies filled, we headed out towards some petroglyphs called the Painted Rocks.

On the road out to the petroglyphs, there was a solar power plant with trough mirrors that super heat molten, liquid salts and them use them to make steam to run a turbine. They do it this way because they can put the molten salts in an insulated container to use when the sun is no longer shining. It is like a battery in a way with the energy stored as heat.

The petroglyphs were simply astounding:

By far the most I have seen in one place, the rocks here are covered in them. The rocks seem to have a fairly thin dark layer on the outside and are much lighter in color underneath this layer. This is why the ancients chose these rocks to put their art and messages on because if you chip or scratch through the dark layer you expose the lighter layer and the contrast makes the design easy to see. You cannot help but wonder what was going through their minds and what they meant the designs to mean. While it was a long time ago, people then were the same as they are now, so what were these intelligent artisans trying to say?

As it got dark and I was setting up the antenna there was a light sprinkle of rain. A funny thing about a light rain in the desert is that you can stay out in it and never get wet! The air is so dry that the wind is like a blow dryer. You can feel the rain evaporating as it hits you. We had dinner and then it began to rain a little more. A half inch or so must have fallen during the night and yet everything was still pretty much dry in the morning, the parched desert drinking it up as fast as it fell.

In the morning we packed up and moved out. We had decided to go check out the Saguaro National Park. It has the most varied and lush vegetation I have ever seen in the desert. Ironwood trees, palo verde, more types of cholla than I knew existed and of course and absolute forest of saguaro. Usually in the desert plants are placed pretty far apart as there just isn’t enough water and nutrients to support more. This is obviously not the case in this very special place as the vegetation is almost as dense as a forest.

Speaking of cholla cactus, holy cow are there a bunch of different types here, some of which we had never met before. There is the stag horn cholla, which does indeed resemble the horns of a stag. There is the chain fruit cholla which is kind of bumpy and apparently has little mini grape like fruits after it flowers. Then we saw the pencil cholla which as the name implies has very thin, pencil like growth. While their outward appearance is very different you can tell they are all cholla and the one thing they all have in common is their viscous stickers!

Going on a tip from a friend we decided to go to Indian Bread Rocks. This is just south of the town of Bowie, AZ. It is the kind of obscure place that only the true desert dogs tend to find. It is BLM land so dispersed camping is fine. When we arrived, we found that there were a few other people here. They are all desert dogs. As we were making dinner (delicious frittata) Rio suddenly cocked her ear and said that she thought she heard a cow! Indeed she had and a small herd of cows began wandering through. They were all around a trailer a little ways down the road so we walked down to check them out and in the process met another very nice couple and had a laugh over the cow invasion. We stayed and chatted for a few minutes about boondocking subjects, like trailer VS vans, 4WD vs AWD and agreed it is all about compromises with pros and cons to each.

This morning when we woke up and started coffee we heard a very soft clattering on the roof. We went outside for a moment and there was snow coming down! Very strange as it was sunny and about 45 degrees out, not very cold at all. Of course the snow was melting and evaporating instantly when it hit the ground. It is peculiar how any kind of moisture just disappears in the desert.

When we were climbing Teutonia Peak, I saw a hawk diving down at incredible speed, without a doubt going in to make some hapless critter dinner. How they don’t slam into the ground I just don’t know, they are incredible acrobatic fliers. We were at a gas station and there were some tropical sounding birds making all sorts of noises and calls, up in the palm trees. And just last night as dusk was giving way to night the small birds in the trees near us got very chatty with each other, twittering and calling and making silly noises. I think it is their way of saying goodnight to each other as they only kept it up for 15 minutes or so.

Today the plan is to head over to the Chiricahua monument because the rock formations there are so crazy and unique. Stay tuned for the next exciting episode!

Jonathan

A YEAR AGO: The sudden and tragic loss of my former brother-in-law Mike, one of the kindest men who ever lived. He was a good man a great father and grandfather. He will always be missed.

FIVE YEARS AGO: Some Saturday errands.

TEN YEARS AGO: A glorious spring day.

FIFTEEN YERAS AGO: A visit to Venice in 1984.