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Dad’s birthday dawned sunny and beautiful, but it was a sad one for me this year. Some years I am filled with how lucky I was to have such a wonderful father and friend, and other years it just makes me so sad he is gone. This was one of those years.

To make things worse, I ran over a dead deer on my way to work in the evil darkness that morning. I had no choice, since there was too much oncoming traffic for me to go around it by driving in the other lane of the two lane highway, and there was no shoulder of the road, either. I felt like a monster, since humans had already killed the poor creature and now I was desecrating its body.

I was relieved to notice that someone had removed the evidence of my callousness on my way home from work that day. I got changed and ready to go out again, since Megan and I had plans, but I was not feeling festive. I went out one door as she came in another, but we found each other and laughed. We jumped in her little red car and set off for the Village, passing the eternal Christmas tree where Dad’s bird ornament winked in the sun.

Unlike me, Megan was having a good Dad’s birthday. She had worked in the garden that day, honoring Dad’s legacy as an excellent gardener, restoring the sweetpeas we plant for him every year as well as fertilizing the fruit trees and caring for the lavender. And she was looking forward to our plans to celebrate Dad that evening.

The bookstore in the Village was having a sale, and that seemed like a perfect way to honor the man who read to us and gave us our love of reading. You can see the Great Catsby in his favorite spot:

Megan bought two instant pot cookbooks, even though she did not actually have an instant pot (she rectified this later by ordering one on her phone at my house, since she does not have internet at hers). I weirdly ended up getting deeply discounted but sparkly Christmas cards as well as some stocking stuffers. I got something for Erica’s stocking last month. I am unable to explain this extremely premature holiday shopping.

We then headed to the beautiful Ledford House, where the view was wonderful:

We toasted Dad with Red Queens, a divine concoction made of gin, St. Germain elderflower liqueur, and cranberry, garnished with a sugar rim with hibiscus and dark chocolate:

and swapped some of our favorite Dad stories over dinner. I think he would have liked that, and also approved of our choices, both of us ordering according to his rule of getting something you would not (or could not) make at home. Megan had incredibly light gnocchi with Gorgonzola and walnuts:

and I had petrale sole with passionfruit beurre blanc, served with mashed potatoes and asparagus with infused herb oil:

It was a good way to celebrate our father, and by the time we headed back home, I just felt glad we had him in our lives. He will always be in our hearts. We love you, Dad.

A YEAR AGO: Not a great start to the day.

FIVE YEARS AGO: A date with my family.

Chilly

I missed the Polar Plunge last year since I was in Monterey, being dazzled by the amazing Aquarium and delighting in the sandy beaches and farmstands. So I made sure to be there this year.

It was a cold and windy day as Megan and I pulled up behind the ambulance. Our good friend Lu was standing next to the ambulance with her work partner. I had never met him before, so I’m pretty sure the enthusiastic hug he gave me was mostly due to the fact that I had just gotten out of Megan’s toasty car.

Lu usually works on the beautiful South Coast, but she fills in on the ambulance in the Big Town from time to time, and this was one of those times. She was in good company with the whole emergency team:

including some in wetsuits with jet skis waiting in case something untoward happened. Spoiler alert: it didn’t. But it’s always good to know that EMS is on hand and ready. There were so many emergency workers at Lu and Rik’s wedding that they outnumbered the potential patients. I had to laugh when I arrived that summer day last year, seeing all the EMS stickers on the guests’ cars.

Every year, my brother’s team comes up with a concept and a song to sing before leaping into the frigid waters. One year it was the Soggy Bottom Boys from “Oh Brother, Where Are Thou?” and another year it was dressing as rubber duckies while singing the Rubber Duckie song from Sesame Street. This year, it was Yellow Submarine:

I am amazed to report that Rio drew the submarine freehand on three different pieces of cardboard before coloring it in. This is probably a talent that comes in useful when you have four children and a growing collection of grandchildren. I think it looks great. Their singing the song was a hoot. Jonathan was a ham as usual. I love my brother.

He was coming down with a cold, which made his jumping into the freezing water inadvisable, but Rio had no such qualms as she bravely dashed into the chilly river’s embrace:

She even ducked her head under and swam a little. She is my hero. I didn’t even want to take my coat off, let alone my clothes! I held her towel as is our Polar Plunge tradition, and Megan and I both hugged her to help her dry off and warm up when she was back on soggy land.

Lu had never been to a Polar Plunge before, but she had so much fun that she will join us next year, whether she is on the ambulance or not. It’s nice to know all the money raised is going to support Special Olympics, right here on the Coast.

A YEAR AGO: The eccentricities of the local message boards.

FIVE YEARS AGO: I was sick, the house was a mess, and Rob was fixing things. You know, the usual.

Old & New

Twelfth Night fell on a Friday. I left work early that day to go to Angelika’s little salon in the big woods. Among my Christmas gifts this year was a gift certificate to get my hair highlighted, so off I went to get both my hair and my spirit refreshed.

Not only does Angelika do an amazing job, applying utterly natural looking highlights and cutting my hair so well that it never loses its shape, even after months, but she is an inspiring person to be around. She is always so positive that I kind of bask in the glow of her presence.

Even though she only colored in the front part of my hair, the whole process took about three and a half hours. She is a perfectionist. And I actually had somewhere to go and show off my new and improved ‘do.

I went home, fed the kitties, turned on some lights, and headed out to Rio’s place in the rainy darkness. The traditional Twelfth Night Christmas ornament removal would have to wait.

Arriving at her house, I found my siblings, Rob, and our dear friend Lu, back from her adventures fighting the good fight at Standing Rock. I also found a pot of my brother’s split pea soup on the stove. It is almost as famous as my cheese biscuits, and rightly so. To make it, he had to cut the Hamzilla bone in half with a hacksaw before making the broth. Like my hair, it is a lengthy but worthwhile process in the hands of a true artist.

With the soup, we had our hard cider, now approaching a perfect balance of apple-ness and dryness, and garlic bread. There was a fire burning merrily in the Franklin stove as we ate dinner together.

After dinner, we gathered around the 1950 Philco Predicta. You may remember that my brother got it in non working condition, but a guy who also made a non working NASA worthy telescope work had no doubts that he could also make a nearly 60 year old TV set work. And he did:

Somehow, he also managed to hook up a modern DVD player to the antique TV set, so we were able to watch a delightful retro program of Honey West, The Outer Limits:



and a chaser of Peter Gunn while we ate ice cream topped with strawberries from the garden that Jonathan had made into a sauce. It was nice to have a taste of summer in the depths of winter. And it was a wonderful evening.

A YEAR AGO: Consulting the experts.

FIVE YEARS AGO: You just never know where you’ll find Rob’s artwork!

2016

The sadness of losing my much-loved Roscoe at the end of the old year carried into the new year. A year later, I still can’t believe that his remarkable presence has been extinguished and that I will never have the joy of sharing my life with him again. I have yet to wash or dispose of his dish. I just can’t. A little spark of hope deep in my heart will never truly be doused, no matter what Logic decrees. I have never been a fan of Logic.

But there was light as well as shadow this year. I attended a beautiful wedding, some of my friends bought homes, and an unexpected visitor brought a lot of happiness with him on his epic road trip. I made a couple of little road trips myself, one south and one north.

Rainfall for the 2015-16 season was 55 inches. Rain started early for the 2016-17 season, beginning in September with a storm that dropped two inches in four days. Maybe this is a good sign for a wet winter. We can use every drop, a fact I must remind myself of when driving through it, especially in the ubiquitous winter darkness. So far for the 2016-17 season, we have received 23.4 inches, a good start.

Somehow, I managed to read more books than I did last year (103 vs. 85), despite working six days a week for most of it. Standouts included Sweetbitter, Dodgers, The Curse of Beauty, Everybody’s Fool, The Wicked Boy, The Wrong Side of Goodbye, and The Harder They Come.

Power Outages: I think we had three, which seems to be par for the course, but they seemed to occur more in the summer than the winter. What’s up with that?

Other than that, here’s what happened to our heroine this year:

January: I started the year off on a tidy note. It didn’t take long for the first power outage of the year to rear its ugly head. Same goes for Wednesday’s engine light. Some delightful coincidences. And some (mis)adventures in cooking. Trying (mostly unsuccessfully) to get everything done at work.

February: The wonderful woodworking show. A little preview of spring. A delightful day on the South Coast, with ballet and other pleasures. The first theater reading I have ever attended, though hopefully not the last. Our heroine finally leaves the County after a year and a half, heading to beautiful Monterey, where I visited the breathtaking Aquarium. Also beaches and farm stands.

March: A peek at our (eccentric) little corner of the world. And a delightful peek into its past. Not the most enjoyable morning ever. Family dinner to celebrate Dad’s birthday. The boys get the old grandfather clock running. Saturdays past and present.

April: Wednesday’s successful surgery. Road trips for everyone! Beauty inside and out. An early wake up call. Having the internet out for over a week is not the most festive way of celebrating my blogs 15th anniversary. Especially since the technician failed to show up. Our beloved Jessica turns 13! The kidlet is now a teenager. How did that happen?

May: Quilts, books, cats and dogs – just a perfect day in the Village. Rob’s incredible masterpiece. The last family dinner at Suzy Manor before they move to the family estate for the summer. The mystery of the cat in the night. A busy, but delightful, weekend. Out of season power outage. Celebrating Megan’s birthday in style.

June: An uneventful birthday for our heroine. Better than an eventful one! And the baby boy turns six, all by himself. Memorial Day BBQ with a side of bees. The joys of Junapalooza, showcasing the talents of the amazing Erica.

July: The ninth anniversary of Audrey’s reign. Lu and Rik’s beautiful, moving, wonderful wedding. It was such a joy to share that day with them and my family. I will always treasure that memory. A BBQ at the family estate with our extended family. A magical visit to the Botanical Gardens.

August: A bad omen, perhaps? Farewell to Jack, who first appeared in these pages as a dollar bill sized kitten. She was almost 17 and the last of the cats John and I had together. Much like when we lost Schatzi, it felt like Mom was really gone, losing Jack made me feel like our marriage was really over. Told you Logic and I don’t see eye to eye. Celebrating summer’s bounty with jam and a BBQ. Marking the 15th anniversary of losing my father and best friend. I will always love you, Dad. Thank you for always loving me, no matter what. A visit from our dear friend Clayton, garnished with a power outage. The two events were not connected. An obnoxious mountain lion made things a little scary for a while. He has since moved on – permanently, we hope.

September: September kicked off with a surprise visit that turned out to be utterly delightful. We had a great time going to the circus together, and having a BBQ at my brother’s place on his birthday. We sent our visitor on his way after giving his car a quick check up. Here’s to many happy returns! An exhausting visit from the Feds at work was followed by a delightful day at the Fair. As the month drew to an end, so did my jobette, for real-real this time. Lu, Megan, and I enjoyed dinner and a play together.

October: A look around my rather neglected garden, which still looks surprisingly good despite my lack of attention. It was a banner year for real estate for several of my friends. Megan and I enjoyed a cemetery tour in the Village. ‘Tis the season for scariness, but thinking I had lost my beloved Clyde was a little too scary. Fortunately, I was wrong. I love being wrong sometimes. Enjoying the rare gift of a day off. And a road trip north to the Drive Thru Tree and the One Log House. It was short, but sweet.

November: A trip to the magical South Coast for a play and some delicacies. A happy (and terrifying) Halloween. Speaking of terrifying, I hit a dog with the car. For the rest of my life, I will be a dog maimer. At least I wasn’t a dog murderer. My victim is recovering well and due back home from rehab on January 1. Regrets. I’ve had a few. Let the countdown to T-Day begin! Thanksgiving started a little earlier than I would have liked, but it was wonderful.

December: The traditional post-Thanksgiving craft fair. Going from the beach to the redwoods in one day. A candlelight shopping trip. Time to put up the vintage faux tree again! Taking Jessica to the Festival of Lights at the Gardens for the first time, but not the last. Getting ready for the big day. A merry Christmas celebrated on Christmas Eve, followed by a quiet Christmas Day.

A YEAR AGO: Remembering 2015.

Christmas Day

The stockings were a great success this year. Megan and I may have set the standard too high for next year. But I’ll think about that later. Maybe a year from now?

Jonathan got a little extra this year. I couldn’t resist this set of planetary glasses for the guy with the NASA worthy telescope, and he was delighted with them, especially by the fact that the sun was a little bigger than the rest and Pluto much smaller.

He was even more delighted with Megan’s gift of a drill bit sharpener, which will come in handy over at the family estate. I could tell that Jonathan kind of wanted to test it out right away. It’s the gift that keeps on giving!

As for Jessica, she received a fabulous fabric bag patterned with cats which was full of delightful things, including a gift certificate from the local bookstore and her favorite Whoppers. She was wearing the bag everywhere before she and Erica went home.

Christmas Day itself was pretty quiet. Megan the Christmas elf* had done most of the dishes, so all I really had to do was put away the heirlooms without breaking any of them and put away the wicker chairs outside before it starts raining again. I could have vacuumed, but I didn’t.

Megan came by before her night shift and we attacked the remains of Hamzilla together, slicing off seemly endless slices and then dividing them into portions to eat now and freezing some for later. We also froze the ham bone to make into soup later. Dad would be proud. His inability to waste food and ability to make soup out of anything live on.

After dinner, I poured myself a glass of wine, using the one of the beautiful glasses Monica gave me last year:

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and opened the presents from my friends. I saved them all instead of opening them as I received them. I am really glad I waited until Christmas. I felt so loved and happy! I am so thankful for my friends and family.

*Maybe it’s her status as the youngest of the family, but she always gets to (has to?) be the elf and hand out the stockings. When she’s not doing that, though, she is the matriarch of the family. Go figure.

A YEAR AGO: Chilly Christmas to us!

Merry Christmas

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Christmas Jessica

Merry Christmas, y’all! Hope you are having a wonderful, festive day!

We had a wonderful, festive evening yesterday, though a much smaller gathering than at Thanksgiving. My brother’s girlfriend Rio was in Portland with her brand-new grandson; Clayton had to stay in the city to finish up a painting job; and Lichen scorned Christmas like an unreformed Grinch, as he had promised.

But Erica and Jessica swept in, bearing a silver platter of incredible truffles: dark chocolate with whipped white chocolate and peppermint filling, adorned with crushed candy cane:

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They were so good that I forgot to take a picture until they were nearly gone.

Jonathan arrived with Hamzilla, Turkzilla’s only slightly smaller cousin:

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He also brought a keg of our hard cider and a bottle of applejack, made by freeze distilling the hard cider. Jonathan reminded me that Hoho, our wonderful grandfather, used to make it using the plentifully available snow around his house in New York state. I had forgotten about that.

Along with Hamzilla, we had salad with roasted pears and fresh pomegranate, mashed potatoes from the garden, Erica’s refreshing salad of fennel and oranges, and of course, cheese biscuits:

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After dinner, we had the traditional reading of “Red Ranger Came Calling”, with Jonathan and Jessica alternating pages:

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I think Jessica would make an excellent actress. She is utterly poised and confident, and her reading is so expressive. She packs a lot of showmanship into her reading.

Jonathan had invited a couple of friends, and this posed something of a dilemma to us, since we did not have stockings for them. We had planned to open ours before they arrived, but this plan was foiled by their timing. We feared that we would have to be rude and open ours in front of them, but we procrastinated long enough that they left before we could open the stockings. As they left, they said to Jonathan, “You really undersold this evening!”

A YEAR AGO: A wonderful Christmas

Christmas Eve Eve

It’s 6:00 am. Do you know where your Suzy is?

She is sitting in bed with the cats in attendance, a cup of black coffee already drained to its silty lees sitting on the bedside table. The Christmas lights are on and the heater is doing its Sisyphean task in what Wilco calls the bible black pre-dawn.

My plans for sleeping in until it was light out on this day off were foiled not by the cats, as they usually are, but by a loud and mysterious crash. I went downstairs to investigate, and all of the things and stuff for the stocking stuffing remain on the table. The tininess of my house makes investigations like this extremely efficient, and within less than a minute it was pretty obvious that nothing was amiss, other than my being awake.

I am wondering if it wasn’t a miscreant getting into the garbage cans outside, but not enough to go out into the pouring rain and darkness to find out.

Today’s plans include making mincemeat tarts, doing as little housework as I can get away with, bringing my brother some Jack Daniel’s for the ham glaze, and a stocking stuffing party with Megan, for tomorrow we party!

We intended to have StuffFest 2016 last night, but Fate, as it so often did, had other plans.

Megan woke up in the afternoon after the third of her night shifts. She had the last appointment of the day with Dr. Sue, which always means a long wait since all the other delays of the day have snowballed into one big delay. After her appointment, Megan went to buy the last few Christmas dinner and stocking items, and got home around 8:00 pm. Within minutes of arriving home, she learned that Rob’s car had given up the ghost and that he needed a ride home from the Big Town – where she had just come from.

She alerted me that our stocking party was postponed and got back in her car to return from whence she came and then drive home again. Hopefully today will go a little smoother and the stockings will be stuffed and laid by the tree with care, ready for tomorrow.

Sparkling

On Saturday, Megan and I went to pick up Jessica at the Navarro General Store for our long-awaited trip to the Festival of Lights. We got there first, giving us time to admire Santa in his huge (moving!) snow globe:

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I enjoyed watching Santa in the seasonably cold weather, though Jessica commented that “It’s not like the Navarro Store is a cultural cornerstone.” This is true. It is also a scary place to boy shop, being almost entirely populated by the dentally challenged and overalls enthusiasts. Megan and I have had many enjoyable games of “I’ll fight you for him” there.

On our way to the Gardens, we decided to put Dad’s ornament on the tree near Dark Gulch:

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Here’s a closer look at the ornaments:

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Jessica considered carefully where to locate the bird ornament:

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I wish Dad had known her. He would have loved her. Here’s the ornament in its new home:

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It’s nice to know it’s there. Somehow it makes me feel that Dad is part of Christmas this year.

Arriving at the Gardens, Megan’s parking karma held, as she pulled neatly into the last space available, which was also right out front. This year, there were parking attendants sending dejected cars to the “event parking” far, far away. I imagine that when we left, our spot was filled in about .000003 seconds.

The Gardens are always beautiful, but they are especially magical when they are dressed in holiday lights:

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I loved the smoking volcano:

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And the ship with a whale:

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We stopped to roast marshmallows and warm up a little by the fire:

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You will be unsurprised to hear that both my marshmallow toasting and eating techniques left much to be desired. They also left marshmallow in my hair.

When we got home, we had a fun movie extravaganza: Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, Legally Blonde, and The Devil Wears Prada. Clyde always loves company, and even Audrey was slightly less disdainful than usual. Jessica observed, “Cats are so easy to spoil. And there are no consequences.” This is true, unlike with kids and dogs. At some point in the evening, Audrey was meowing and I asked her what she wanted. Jessica said, “She’s not going to tell you. She’s a cat. And you’re an inferior human. It’s how cats think.”

Later, when I was writing out a shopping list for Megan – we split up the final Christmas shopping this week – Jessica remarked that “Handwriting is the written equivalent of the sound of someone’s voice. Isn’t it cool how we all learn to write the same letters and numbers, but we all do it in our own way?” Yes, and you are the most amazing kid ever.

It was so fun to hang out with her and finally have our sleepover. I hope there are more to come. It’s good to know we’ll be seeing her (and the inimitable Erica) this Saturday, too!

A YEAR AGO: Making Christmas.

Artistic

As is our post Thanksgiving tradition, Megan and I met Kalli and Jarrett at the annual craft fair in the Village.

The Village was packed, with sillier-than-usual visitors meandering all over the roads without looking for cars or even other pedestrians, and there was a theme of poorly trained kids and dogs with their utterly oblivious parents. Every time I encounter either of these breeds, my long-ago decision to keep them firmly out of my house is reaffirmed as being 100% correct, an unusual feeling for someone as decision-challenged as I am.

The crowds in the Arts Center were a little less madding. I loved the tomato sculpture:

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And this little mushroom sculpture:

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Note how the stem is patterned with little hands.

I loved how this was made simply, with sticks and pinecones, accented with a serendipitous Fall leaf:

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It was fun to wander through the rooms of lovely things, admiring the skill of the artists. For a lightly populated area, we certainly have a lot of wonderful artists. I think the beauty of the area both draws them and inspires them.

We parted ways afterwards, with Jarrett and Kalli heading to meet their friends and Megan and I to run a couple of errands and stop by Rio’s place on the way home to repo some turkey. Megan had missed the memo that Jonathan was planning to make the carcass into soup on Saturday, and since she had paid for the turkzilla, she wanted some pre-soup leftovers. It seems that no matter how big a turkey she buys, she somehow never gets the leftovers. This year, she did, though.

Clayton, Rio, and Jonathan were hard at work painting the guest cottage at her estate. Clayton is a professional house painter, and it’s always a pleasure to watch an expert at work. They had a system going, with Clayton applying the paint with a very long handled roller and Rio and Jonathan applying the brushwork. Henry Ford would have been almost as proud of us as he would have been on cider making day, when our assembly line was a model of efficiency.

We headed home with Megan’s hard-won leftovers, Star wedged between our seats looking like a ship’s figurehead. It had been a good day.

A YEAR AGO: Lights in the darkness.

Aftermath

There ended up being a lot of people jammed into my bijou residence for dinner, but I’m pleased to report that the evening didn’t involve stitches, handcuffs, Narcan or the Fire Department. Surveying the wreckage this morning, though, I now understand why they call it Black Friday. And wonder why I bothered cleaning at all yesterday. I probably wonder this every year.

The cats and I are sitting in bed together, procrastinating. It’s all about teamwork, my friends.

The turkey turned out great, despite sort of overflowing from its capacious roasting pan:

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I am not convinced that the two day dry brining extravaganza was notably more delicious than my American grandmother’s simpler technique of rubbing the bird with butter, salt, and sage and then throwing it in the oven, but I’m glad I tried the fancy. Certainly the meat was moist, even the next day.

Here you see Jonathan making gravy while Jessica supervises:

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The honey and harissa roasted Brussels sprouts with their piquant relish were a hit, even among the sprout agnostics and atheists. They vanished pretty fast, along with the cranberry-bourbon relish.

Erica and Jessica brought an exquisite version of Tarte Antoinette with them:

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I think this is the fourth version of this delight: last year’s original, then the Bûche de Noël version, then the Junapalooza tartlet version, and now something that looks like a sheet cake, but is actually a pie. Sheet pie! Note that it is decorated with rose geranium leaves, which smelled divine, and sprinkles for festivity and cuteness. You can never have too much.

Jonathan brought tarts he made from huckleberries picked last summer. They tasted like a summer day:

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I took a stealth photo of Jessica in her lovely thrift store dress:

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Now that she is grown-up sized, I feel weird about making her pose in front of other people. She noted that it is a relief now that she can buy grown up clothes, since clothes designers seem to feel that kids have no taste.

Jarrett and Kalli joined us. It had been too long since we saw them, and it was great to catch up. They brought the irrepressible Archimedes with them, the artist formerly known as the World’s Cutest Puppy, on the fourth anniversary of his adoption.

The cats were not impressed with this canine visitor. Clyde hid in the studio, his desire for petting and admiration for the crowd warring with his dog terror, and Audrey sat on the stairs, gazing at everyone, but especially Archi, with utter disdain and disgust. It’s how she rolls.

Lichen was missing, on this, his birthday evening, but you know how he is about his birthday in particular and the holidays in general. We missed him, but we did have Clayton with us, our intrepid partner in cider making, who had ridden up here on his motorcycle from San Francisco on Thanksgiving Day. I love it that we are seeing him more often these days.

Jonathan expertly tapped the keg of our home-made cider, and we, the cider makers, toasted each other, the orchard, and the day we made that dream come true. I will always remember that day as a particularly special one.

Because everyone is always welcome at these celebrations (or any time, really – my door is literally open), some of my brother’s ham radio buddies joined us, bearing an odd selection of jumbo-sized gifts: a huge jar of marinated artichokes; a jug of cheap red wine; and a chocolate cheesecake the size of a wagon wheel, which has cornered the market on the valuable real estate in my refrigerator.

The rain held off so that the outdoor living room could be used, and after the guests left, Megan and I sat by the fire, drinking Cointreau and discussing the party. As Jessica sighed happily that evening looking around her with a plate of food on her lap, “I love my life!”

A YEAR AGO: It was T-Day eve. And things were not going according to plan.

Regrets

sunrise
Moon Set Morning

This spectacular sky greeted me as I arrived at work one morning last week. I stopped to take a picture as I marveled at its beauty. On Monday, the super moon had been so huge and close to the ocean that there was a shining pathway of light across the rippling waters. I kept being distracted by the breathtaking sight and sneaking peeks as much as I could as I drove to work.

I wish now that I had stopped to take a photo of it, much as I wish I had taken one of the double rainbow over the ocean on my mother’s birthday a couple of years ago. It has finally occurred to me that one really does regret things one hasn’t done much more than those one has done. So I think my new year’s resolution is going to be to stop and take photos when I see something amazing, and to try and have fewer regrets about things left undone.

My resolution of spending more time with friends and family has been pretty successful. My sister texted me to meet her at Ledford House after work on a Friday night, and even though we arrived after the sun had set so we couldn’t enjoy the view, we did enjoy kirs (local champagne dashed with framboise liqueur and a twist of lemon) and hanging out. We did some Thanksgiving and Christmas plotting, and laughed at memories of Christmases past, including the one where Megan had to stitch me up at home, leaving me with a rakish scar. Hopefully this year will be a little less eventful.

A YEAR AGO: Enjoying Benedict Cumberbatch’s amazing Hamlet.

Hand Made

I saw a dream come true.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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It was sort of gourmet apple filling!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fair Thee Well

fair
At the Fair

If it’s the middle of September, it’s time for the County Fair!

It was a Magical Microclimate Tour as Megan and I drove from the chilly, foggy Coast through the redwood forests to the golden Valley, where it was about a million degrees and achingly sunny. Megan’s parking karma held true as she parked about a block from the the Fair – in the shade! – and as we stepped out of her little red car, she asked me if I was wearing sunscreen. I was, but only on my face, so she gave me some for my hands and suddenly exposed arms. I thanked her later.

The first thing we did upon admittance was buy a hat for me:

hat

It is so pink and so Suzy, while also actually being useful, a rare combination indeed. Then we looked unsuccessfully for the slushie vendor. It seems that my blue raspberry slushie dreams are as doomed to unfulfillment as my dreams of being Idle Rich. We settled for frozen lemonade and went in search of Erica.

Unsurprisingly, we found her in the Fiber building. Surprisingly, she had not entered a single thing this year. I imagine there was much rejoicing in the Valley over that one, since her absence would allow someone else to win a prize or two for a change.

Erica said that Jessica was hanging out with her friends on the Midway, and suggested that we go and surprise her there, adding that Jessica now has her own phone and giving us the number*. Erica stayed in the Fiber building to covet spindles and wool and we went to find Jessica.

She greeted us with hugging and excitement despite the presence of her friends, and I felt a spark of hope that her auntourage would not become entirely obsolete. I took this stealth photo of her so as not to embarrass her in front of her crew:

jessicafair

That’s her equally precocious BFF Bella at her side.

We watched the kids ride the rides – I was pleased that Jessica waved at us from the giddy heights – and went to reclaim Erica and meander through the rest of the Fair.

The theme in the Garden building was “Fairy Tales”, and my favorite was this Cinderella themed exhibit:

cinderella

I also loved this glamorous use of twigs and mirrors:

mirrors

The goat who loved me! He kept bumping his head against me and kissing my nose:

goat

I love this beautiful bunny’s attitude. It’s like he’s saying, “You lookin’ at me?”

bunny

My favorite quilt was this one, showing fog through the redwoods, a sight I love:

quilt

I also liked this kind of op art piece. So unusual:

quilt2

And this one, which looks like washing on a line:

quilt3

When it was time to go, we hugged our girls goodbye with a promise to get together soon. I am still plotting a sleepover where we will share movies and giggles. Stay tuned!

*I thought that was a horrifying sign of Jessica’s hurtling into adulthood until I learned that she has friends with driver’s licenses. How did this happen?

A YEAR AGO: Hello, darkness, my old enemy.

Birthday, Barfing, and Bureaucracy

First things first: it’s Rob’s birthday! As soon as it’s a reasonable hour by Rob standards, I will wish him happy birthday and remind him of how happy I am he was born. His Rob-ness never ceases to delight me, from his view that the dump is a two way street to his wry sense of humor to the way he puts his head to one side when he’s listening to you. And he really listens.

Not to mention that my entire house is Brought to Me by Rob(TM) and that he makes all our lives better and happier. I love you, little big brother!

As for me, the full moon is blasting like a spotlight outside and I am attempting to improve my own outside after a grueling week. I have GlamGlow applied to my eyes and Fresh Vitamin Nectar mask on the rest of my face. Radiance, y’all! Clyde, however, has other ideas and has chosen to barf on the carpet, ruining the relaxing mood. Why do cats always throw up on the carpet instead of the wood floor?

It’s all in keeping with this week, though, which featured the second of back to back audits. Like most sequels, Part 2 was worse than Part 1.

The first one was the audit which is done every year. I thought that was a hassle until the Feds descended on us in all their glory. I had prepared (I thought) for this by creating a nearly 1,000 page binder and putting it on a flash drive for their inquisition convenience. Like the great Iggy Pop, however, they needed more, so I was running around collecting the required documents every day this week.

Perhaps this is a special skill honed by the Feds, but they also had an unerring ability to request supposedly random files that were incomplete, including the file of a doctor who works for the clinic as a contractor. Repeated phone calls and emails to him of increasing desperation were unreturned, so our new Operations Director went to beard him in his lair. They must have just missed each other, because a few minutes after she departed on her mission, he arrived, slouching Spicoli-like into my office in sweats, clutching a Starbucks cup, wearing shades, and saying, “What the fuck, dude?”

I explained that the fuck in this particular case was that his contract expired last year and the Feds looked askance at his treating our patients with no contract. He signed a new one while grumbling that he needed a raise, and headed off to catch a wave. I clearly harshed his buzz.

This was a joy compared to the complexities of providing lunch. At first they asked for sandwiches, so I got Deli A to fax me a menu. Then they wanted salads, and very customized ones at that. I called the deli and was told that it was prêt-à-porter or nothing, since two people had called in sick that day, making bespoke salads impossible. Back to the drawing board. I got the menu from Deli B, printed it, and presented it for consideration. They wanted to know what the soup du jour was, so I called and asked (the winning answer: vegetable beef). Needless to say, none of them got the soup.

Also, for fear of bribery with soup and salads, they paid for their own lunches, meaning three separate checks and lot of change. Why not?

The Feds judge every health center in America on 19 elements. They told us that the average across the country is 5-7 “not met”, or fails. They further clarified that they do not round up, and 98% is still “not met”, aka a fail. Our report card was 6 “not mets”, making us entirely average, while yet feeling that we had been called to the principal’s office and/or were getting detention.

When they finally left on Thursday afternoon, my boss sent me home, a welcome gesture since the shortest day I have logged in the past two weeks was 11 hours and the longest 14. I was just settling down to read Kate Summerscale’s “The Wicked Boy”, a relaxing read about a 19th century boy murderer, when my 21st century phone buzzed with a text from my boss. There had been some attempted fraudulent use of her company credit card, so the bank canceled it, and now all of the travel booked on it has to be re-done with the new card. By me. My estimate is something like 20 reservations. You know what I’ll be doing this week. At least the federal government isn’t involved.

A YEAR AGO: At the fabulous Fair with my fabulous sister and our equally fabulous friend.

Goodbye, and Good Luck

I woke up early on Sunday and crept downstairs to make coffee (and more importantly, let Her Majesty outside). It made my heart smile to see Ben sleeping peacefully under Nana’s quilt. I really grew to love that kid in the short time he spent here.

After we had coffee together, he packed up his few belongings, to which I added jars of peach preserves with lemon thyme; blackberry jam made from the wild berries my siblings picked; salsa verde; and relish, so he will have a little taste of Hooterville when he is back home.

We headed back to the property so my brother could give Ben’s car a quick once over before he started home. You may remember that my brother installed a nice cement mechanic’s pit in the carport which houses the washer, dryer, and body size freezer. Definitely a step up from groveling under cars in muddy ditches. He topped up the fluids and opined that the car needs an oil change. Also that whatever is going on with the engine (beyond my limited ability to understand) may cause the head gasket to blow. I do know that blown head gasket = having to buy another car. I’d say Ben has gotten his $500 out of this car, though. He put more than 6,000 miles on it on this trip alone.

One of Rio’s children lives in Portland, so she drives there fairly often. She pulled out some maps and showed Ben the best route to take and warned of a tricky intersection.

After our unpaid mechanic finished working on his car, Ben picked a few apples to take with him. Then, with hugs all around, he drove off as we waved and watched him out of sight, our family tradition. I have to say, his visit was a real joy, all the more for being unexpected, and I will treasure those memories as I do those of his brother’s Bar Mitzvah.

Ben has been texting me from the road, which has been fun. He made it to Portland in about 12 hours and was glad for Rio’s advice, especially at that tricky intersection. His route took him through the magical Lost Coast, then to Portland, then Seattle. After that, it was Vancouver, then Calgary, and then Saskatoon, where he took a break from his 12-14 hour days to rest up before the final push to Manitoba. So far the car is holding up, but Ben thinks that Jonathan is right and its days may be numbered.

He is already talking about coming back next year with his girlfriend, a fellow engineer who has wanted to visit San Francisco her whole life. Here’s to Ben’s safe return home, and his return to Hooterville!

A YEAR AGO: The absurdity of dental insurance. You can’t make this up!

BBQ Party

garden
The Orchard

After the delights of the circus, we headed over to show Ben the delights of the family estate.

As an engineer, he was fascinated with the solar arrays, batteries to store the power, and all the other intricacies of the system as well as the fact that the entire place is powered only by solar, entirely off the grid. My brother is exempt from the power outages that plague his sisters.

Megan gave Ben a tour of the garden and the orchard. The garden is beginning to wind down for the season, but there is a plot afoot to plant a winter garden of garlic and other hardy crops. There is also a plan to make hard cider this year. I think this plan is likely to become a reality, because they already have the cider press and have staked out space in the studio for it to ferment. It might even be ready to drink at Christmas!

There were chips and two different kinds of salsa made from garden produce: salsa verde made from tomatillos, and regular tomato salsa:

salsa

We had a simple, but delicious dinner of burgers made from beef for red meat eaters and turkey for the rest of us, topped with pepper jack cheese. Even though it was my brother’s birthday, he still manned the grill as always, noting that he never finds cooking to be a chore.

I reminded him that he was promoted to being my big brother last year, when he turned 50. Megan asked if she would ever be my big sister (she is nine years and nine days younger than I am), and I said, yes, when she turns 50. It might be hard for me to pass myself off as her younger sister when I am 60, but hope springs eternal. Maybe I need to consider botox.

We toasted my big brother’s birthday and Ben’s epic journey with fizzy local-ish wine (from neighboring Sonoma County). His road trip from the wilds of Manitoba included New Mexico, the Grand Canyon, Yellowstone National Park, Mount Rushmore and the Black Hills of South Dakota, Death Valley (where he pulled over with an overheating engine to find the coolant bubbling in the 112 F degree heat), and Las Vegas. It was the trip of a lifetime.

As we ate tarts my brother made from raspberries he picked that day, we sat by the fire and watched the stars come out. The Milky Way was so intense that it blurred over some of the other stars in the clear, black sky. It was such a joy to be there with people I love.

A YEAR AGO: My big brother’s 50th birthday.

Danger, Will Robinson!

I dropped by my brother’s place on my way home on Friday night. I found the path from the parking area to his place littered with spent shell casings, not a usual occurrence. I picked up about half a dozen of them.

I was greeted by Rio, who was making dinner, and my brother, who was sitting with his hands resting on our grandfather’s cane, much as Hoho used to do. The cane has a brass plate from his American Legion. It was nice to see it and know that Jonathan could use it, but not so nice to know that he had messed up his knee trying to shoot a particularly obnoxious mountain lion.

Apparently this lion has been making a nuisance of himself lately. He makes a peculiar screaming noise, and is completely unconcerned by light and human habitation. Jonathan shone the flashlight right in his eyes and the beast didn’t flinch. My brother fired a couple of rounds over the lion’s head, and he didn’t retreat.

This was the scariest part to me. This creature was deliberately hanging around human habitation instead of avoiding it, and not fleeing from bright lights or loud noises. Rio thinks there might be something wrong with this particular intruder. Jonathan finally shot right at the animal, which is always a last resort, but it’s hard to shoot with any accuracy in the dark, since you need both hands for the rifle and don’t have an extra one for the flashlight.

Eventually the monster retreated into the bushes, but I am horrified by the fact that he is skulking around and also that Clayton and Rio’s daughter Paloma camped out in the garden lately with the monster loitering with intent.

Jonathan did something to his knee pivoting the wrong way in his haste to chase the mountain lion, so he is still crutching around, cursing the mountain lion. Jonathan and Rio were planning to go for a hike on his birthday, which is this Saturday, but unless he has a miraculous recovery, it looks like he will still be caning and crutching around for now.

I contacted a dear friend who is wise in the ways of the wilderness, and he shared some tips for ridding your property of unwanted wildlife, which I passed on to my appreciative brother. Jonathan has contacted Fish and Game to see if they would be willing to do some mountain lion removal, but we don’t know what their criteria are to do this, or how long it will take them to respond.

In the meantime, we are being cautious. I guess this is the side of country life that you don’t read about in Martha Stewart.

A YEAR AGO: A run in (though fortunately not a run over) with a deer.

Back in Black

And it’s back…darkness, my old friend.

Yesterday, I noticed that there were high beams conditions as I left for work at 6 am. Unfortunately for Me, it was also the foggiest it had been in some time, so using the high beams merely threw the glare back at me mockingly. Back to the anemic puddle of light, my friends. And driving slowly, hoping for a deer-free ride.

Human nature – or at least Suzy nature – being what it is, I was once more surprised by how speeds that seem decorous to the point of annoyance in the daylight seem alarmingly fast in the dark. Also how the familiar Ridge, which I drive nearly every day, can sudden seem a completely foreign and scary place.

Speaking of darkness, I was very disappointed to come home last Friday to a power outage. I am convinced that we have had more out of season power outages than we did all winter. It appeared that someone had misjudged the curve at my friend Jim’s road and plowed into a power pole, plunging us all into darkness.

My modest plans to watch “Feed the Beast” with a glass of wine after tossing in a load of laundry were foiled. I still had the glass of wine, but while reading Gay Talese’s creepily compulsive “The Voyeur’s Motel”, about a man who ran a motel in Colorado for 30 years, during which he “observed” his guests, unbeknownst to them. And while reading about his dirty laundry, I was unable to do anything about my own.

The power was still out when I went to bed, so of course when it came back on, it woke me up. All in all, not a great Friday.

On the other hand, our dear friend Clayton came up from the city, staying in palatial accommodations on the family estate:

IMG_3129

He was there partly to visit us and partly to get his van theft-proofed with my brother’s help. Clayton is a painter of houses and buildings, and thieves in his neighborhood have enjoyed helping themselves to his tools in the van and sometimes the van itself. So the boys outfitted it with an epic series of locks, which will hopefully deter the would-be criminals.

Lichen joined us for dinner, with his sweet dog Keeper, and some of Jonathan’s ham radio buddies came too, so it was a busy and happy get together. We grilled up chicken and veggies and made them into fajitas, served with rice, black beans, salsa, cheese, and tortillas grilled by Megan. Ever since she started making grill bread, she has been the griller of all things bread, or bread-ish.

Jonathan’s girlfriend Rio made a gorgeous apple pie with apples from the property. It was almost too pretty to cut into:

pie

But I’m glad we did, because it was magically delicious. And it was a great evening.

A YEAR AGO: Of Dentists, dogs, and James Dean.

Updates

Hi! Here’s what’s been happening the past few days.

Work has been getting in the way of writing, and I expect this to continue for about another month. I am still working six days a week, leaving only one day to get ready for the next six and to accomplish miscellaneous Cinderella chores around the house as well as squeezing in a little time for R&R. And we are up against two audits at work, one the annual financial one and one from our friends at the Feds, who provide a lot of funding. As always, stakes are high when the Feds come to town, and so is the stress.

I must have been showing the pressure, because Megan turned up one day with a beautiful surprise for me:

orchid

She said it was to give me something beautiful, and to remind me that she is always there for me. She really is the best sister ever. And it’s like having a little sunset in my office. When things get crazy, I can look at it and think how beautiful it is and how lucky I am to have such an amazing sister.

I met Monica after work one day at a new restaurant in the harbor:

harbor

I wish there was an “unglare” feature in iPhoto, to deal with those overly sunny California days. Such a terrible problem.

The restaurant has a big, rustic wooden deck overlooking the harbor, where we watched the fishermen come in with that day’s catch on their boats as the sun began to set. We had a great time and promised each other to meet up more often. Monica is always so inspiring.

On a less delightful note, my Mac fell ill with a virus or TEN. I started getting pop up ads all over and new tabs resulted in something unpleasant called Chumsearch with Bing. Bing! I tried disk utility and restarting to no avail. I emailed a former co-worker at the jobette, who is a genius, and he recommended software with a free trial. It took almost four hours, but it found and ate nearly a dozen viruses and things are back to normal. I hope.

You expect this kind of thing with PCs, but not with Macs. I still have no idea how I got it, but as always, I am thankful for my family and my family of friends.

A YEAR AGO: It was a busy time of year in the garden.

Fifteen

sweetpeas
Dad’s Flowers

Every year, we plant sweetpeas in honor of our father. They were his favorite flowers.

We had a little bouquet of them at his memorial service, along with a photo of Dad and his beloved dog, Jesse. Our wonderful stepmother Margaret later scattered Dad’s ashes with Jesse’s on the Common where they loved to walk together. It comforts me to know that a boy and his dog are together always.

And it comforted me that our beloved Lu chose to carry some of Dad’s sweetpeas in her bouquet and her lovely hair when she married her best friend Rik this summer. It made me feel like Dad was there, and I was glad to think of him and his special flowers on a happy occasion.

No matter how long I am without him, I will always miss him. And I will forever cherish the treasure of his love and friendship.

A YEAR AGO: Brian Wilson said it best.