Plans

The Queen would want us to get on with it, and I have, but I continue to mourn her and wear mourning. My thoughts are with her. I will take the day off on September 19 to watch Her Majesty’s funeral and grieve along with the many millions who loved and admired her.

Even when a Queen dies, life goes on, and even in the darkness, there are bright spots. Jarrett and Kalli, grieving their own loss of their beloved dog Archimedes, came to visit and so some wedding planning. Did I tell you? I’m getting a wedding for my birthday next year.

I arranged with one of my coworkers to rent tables and chairs for 50-60 people. We will use the chairs for the ceremony and then bring them back to Megan and Rob’s place, where the tables will be set up. We need to look into getting a tent and a dance floor. There are so many things to think of, even for a small wedding.

Jonathan brought a bowl of garden-grown, home-made salsa to inspire us:

Also a bottle of garden-grown, home-made raspberry wine:

It was surprisingly not at all sweet, though it smells like summer. Really delicious. It took 5 pounds of raspberries to make that one bottle. That’s a lot of picking. We toasted The Queen and our gratitude for her long reign.

Jonathan said he was experimenting with plum brandy this year, and had also acquired a cider press that did not require cutting up the apples. Yay!

Jonathan grilled up some burgers for us:

Some were turkey, and some were local, grass-fed beef from right here in Hooterville. Jonathan had repaired a neighbor’s machinery and was paid in local beef. Gotta love that.

As the evening went on, the twinkle lights came on:

and the lanterns:

It was a happy time for all of us, especially knowing we have more to look forward to.

A YEAR AGO: Another happy family dinner.

FIVE YEARS AGO: When you have cats, you are not in charge.

TEN YEARS AGO: The loss of two much-loved dogs. And some naughtiness from my cats.

TWENTY YEARS AGO: Spending some time in Devon.

Fun

Have you been wondering how much fun one girl can pack into one summer Friday? Well, I’ll tell you: a lot.

My friend Richard picked me up in his fancy Tesla and chauffeured me to a lovely restaurant overlooking the river and harbor:

It was lovely to watch the boats come and go as we enjoyed our lunch and our conversation:

Richard is 77 years old, but he has not slowed down in the slightest. He is still working, but he lives to travel. Future plans include visits to Spain, Portugal, and South Africa. He is such a positive, life-affirming person.

And his car is so fancy. I can’t get over how quiet it is, not to mention delightful features like being able to set it to cool while we were still at the restaurant, to avoid having to get into an annoyingly hot car. Also, I love being chauffeured.

After work that day, I picked up a pizza from Cafe Beaujolais, discovering that you can get it half-baked to finish at home, and also some adult beverages. Megan and I had a craving for Appletinis, but alas, no apple schnapps were to be found, so we had to make do with vodka and raspberry lemonade, and a couple of cocktails at our favorite seaside bar:

We had the pizza with a side of Emily in Paris, which makes everything more delicious, and when it was time to go home, Rob drove me, so I was chauffeured for the second time in one day. Gotta love that.

A YEAR AGO: Acquiring a beautiful apple.

FIVE YEARS AGO: Finding a couple surprises on arriving home.

TEN YEARS AGO: A magical microclimate mystery tour.

TWENTY YEARS AGO: A surprise visit from Jonathan and Jed the Wonder Dog. Note: Squat and Gobble is right where I left it 20 years ago. Still open after all these years! And Clayton still lives in/above the Garage Mahal.

Cheers

When I last saw Angelika in May, we talked about getting together with Megan at Ledford House. It’s not easy to get our schedules to match, but one afternoon, the stars aligned, and we met up on the beautiful deck overlooking the ocean:

We had much to celebrate: Megan’s birthday, mine, and the successful purchase at last of the property where Angelika and Elijah live. Hurray! Elijah himself stopped by to say hello on the way home, so we could congratulate him, too. We had a wonderful time, and I hope we can do it again soon.

We headed over to Megan’s place, where I did some shopping in the family garden:

I got some arugula, raspberries (red and golden), and snap peas. I love shopping in the family garden.

After picking the produce, we settled in to watch the new Downton Abbey movie, and I am pleased to report that it was as good as the first one. As soon as I heard the opening notes of the theme music, I could feel myself relax.

All in all, it was a great day.

A YEAR AGO: Doing research can be fun.

FIVE YEARS AGO: A fabulous Junapalooza.

TEN YEARS AGO: Being subpoenaed is nerve-wracking.

TWENTY YEARS AGO: Megan started her ER career.

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.

Amsterdam


Alice and me at her home in Amsterdam, 1991

I recently came across a box full of my travel diaries, including one with an account of a visit to my best friend, Alice, at her home in Amsterdam in 1991. It is shocking to think that this was 30 years ago. On the other hand, it’s delightful to know that we are still best friends and email each other pretty much every day. In fact, an email notification from her just flashed across my screen as I typed this.

So hop in the time machine and let’s go to Amsterdam, circa 1991!

March 22, 1991

I arrived at Gatwick at 11:10 and thought that I would have a lot of time to kill until the 12:15 boarding time [those were the days!], but by the time I had lined up for a boarding pass, passport control, and security, I had about 10 minutes to wait.

It was worthwhile getting a window seat, because I got to see a lot of England as we flew over – an impossible green divided by roads, hedges, and rivers – the Channel, and some of the Dutch coast and brilliantly blooming tulip fields. Met by Alice at the airport and we were so happy to see each other that we held hands all the way to the train station.

Alice and Claudie’s house is close to the central station in the old (that’s what the “O.Z.” stands for in their address) part of Amsterdam. It is also in the heart of the famous Red Light District, so I got a good view of the girls sitting in the windows.

The house’s foundation is from 1490, but the part where Alice and Claudie live is only from the 18th century. There are heavy wooden beams and many windows. Because of the height of the houses and the narrowness of the staircases, each house has a tall, wide window in front with a hook for a pulley, to lift furniture in and out of the house.

Alice and I went to the famous flower market and bought 40 beautiful tulips for about $9, lipstick pink at the ends and white near the stem. We went for dinner at a local bar and then drank and walked our way through downtown, a real walk on the wild side. We stayed up talking until 2 am. We are so very glad to see each other again!

March 23, 1991

Alice and I spent the day shopping and window shopping. We bought dinner ingredients and for the first time in our long friendship, we made dinner together. Alice was always so unapologetically undomestic when we were younger that it was odd to see her cook. [Now we are constantly exchanging recipes and she is an amazing cook and one of the top restaurant reviewers on London’s Zomato.] We made pasta with pesto and Thai beef salad.

Amsterdam is like a toy town, with narrow streets, sidewalks that are mere suggestions, tall, narrow buildings leaning at odd angles due to extreme age, canals everywhere.

March 24, 1991

Time to head back to London. At about 6:30, Alice suggested we check to see if my flight was on time. It was; I wasn’t. I was convinced for some reason that my flight was at 8:45 pm when it was actually at 7:45 pm. Panic!

We rushed to Central Station and caught the train for Schiphol [The name of the airport; it means “ship’s hold”. The airport is below sea level, at about the level of a sailing ship’s hold.]. Thankful for Dutch efficiency; imagine being in that situation in Italy!

So I did make my plane. I went through the “nothing to declare” line at Gatwick and was stopped. This guy looked through everything. He looked inside each blossom of my light up tulips, shredded a tampon, and noticed that my coat lining had been resewn (by Margaret [my stepmother], mending a tear in my coat before I left), asked where I stayed, how I met Alice, and examined my ticket. It was a really embarrassing experience and I actually felt guilty.

Margaret and Dad think it was because I was coming alone with just a carry on back from a weekend in the drug capital of Europe, but it was hard not to take it personally. I guess it’s all part of the experience.

A YEAR AGO: Weekend cooking.

FIVE YEARS AGO: Jessica became a teenager. It happens to the best of us. Still can’t believe she is now 18!

TEN YEARS AGO: An update on the kitties.

FIFTEEN YEARS AGO: A little culinary showing off.

TWENTY YEARS AGO: Sunday morning coffee on the roof deck of my building in San Francisco, overlooking the Bay and the Golden Gate Bridge.

Brighter

At our non-existent Christmas, Megan gave me a gift certificate to get my hair highlighted, and I finally got around to cashing it in.

It was a glorious spring day as Wednesday and I headed Angelika-ward. Lately, I seem to be enjoying spring more than usual, even though it means that summer and its attendant heat are on the way. The trees on the curves in Little River are sporting their new spring leaves, an almost achingly beautiful shade of transparent green they only have this time of year. I don’t know what these trees are, but I look forward to their showing off their spring finery every year. It’s our version of Fashion Week.

Cherry blossoms, camellias, daffodils and calla lilies are gone, replaced by bright flags of California poppies and the heady fragrance and exquisite blossoms of my favorite flowers, lilacs. The ocean was a deep, postcard blue, accented by lacy white caps as the water dashed eternally against the dark rocks of the shore. A raven’s dark wings glinted in the sun as he swooped over the Big River bridge, that mystical post where the river meets the sea.

Angelika greeted me with a hug, and we spent the next few hours with the door to her little salon:

open to her beautiful garden:

I brought Angelika a little succulent in a pink egg planter with a little silver bunny for Easter. It just looked so her. I am pleased to say she loved it, and it looked right at home right away:

Her neighbor’s dog Cookie came in for pets. She is white, but has the cutest light brown freckles on her ultra soft ears. It was fun to have her company while Angelika made my hair blonder and better. Maybe I always say this, but I think this was the best color ever. I always feel happier when my hair is brighter. And I always love spending time with Angelika. We have such great conversations, and being around her positive energy is healing to my soul. I will go back soon to get my hair cut.

I went on my way new and improved. My boss asked me to stop by work, and she admired my hair as soon as she saw me. She also gifted me with an adorable Easter basket. Haven’t I always said that grown ups should be the ones to get Easter baskets? It was so thoughtful of her. I am so lucky to have such an amazing boss and such good friends in my life.

A YEAR AGO: Enjoying the beauty around me.

FIVE YEARS AGO: And still more beauty, inside and out.

TEN YEARS AGO: The arrival of spring.

FIFTEEN YEARS AGO: Even errands were more fun with the Lovely Rita by my side.

2020

Looking back on the year with 2020 vision…or 2020 hindsight.

I made a decision to keep this space free of politics and other unpleasantness. As usual, with any decision I have ever made, I am not sure I made the right one. I work at a medical clinic and could have written about what it was/is like to work in a medical clinic during a pandemic, but I don’t want to write about work and I am too frivolous for such serious topics. Also, I like keeping everything ugly at bay. This is my safe (and sparkly) space, for better or for worse, for shallower or shallower.

Despite enjoying escapist fare such as children’s books (the wonderful E.L. Konigsberg and E. Nesbit) and Agatha Christies, as well as re-reading classics like The Catcher in the Rye and the works of the divine Jane when there was no library access, the total of books read by the local library chairperson was a paltry 86, not much of an improvement over the embarrassing 82 recorded in 2019. I greatly enjoyed Elton John’s memoir, Peter Swanson’s Eight Perfect Murders, Ruth Ware’s One by One, Connie Schultz’s The Daughters of Erietown, and Alex North’s The Whisper Man. As usual, Stephen King with If It Bleeds and Michael Connelly with Fair Warning and The Law of Innocence did not disappoint.

In addition to comfort viewing (The Rockford Files and Columbo), there were some amazing TV shows brightening my screen on these dark days: City on a Hill, Succession, Escape at Dannemora, Russian Doll, Unbelievable, Perry Mason (the new one; not the classic, which is also wonderful, but very different), The Morning Show, Dead to Me, Dash & Lily, Ozark, Bad Blood, Little Fires Everywhere, Better Call Saul, Emily in Paris, and Get Shorty. If you haven’t seen any of these, check them out. You’ll thank me later.

Other than that, here’s all the news I saw fit to print:

January: A quiet beginning to the new year, with no hangover and no particular plans. My beautiful commute. It still amazes me and reveals new joys. A seemingly endless supply of meetings.

February: The gift of a new cell phone from my sister, who was tired of not being able to text me at home. It took three visits to the Verizon Store to sort of get my data transferred. The nightmare of the kitties. A long story which was entirely my fault, and you know how much I love that. The kitchen sink was full of sewage again, and the power was out. Good times. Sunny days outside and pretty inside. A lovely day. And a lovely dinner.

March: An update on my bosses, the cats. Ignoring the ignominious time change with a look around the family garden. Close encounters with wildlife. In my case, the hare (thankfully) won the race. Remembering my beloved father on his birthday. A night in town. Of tires and take-out. Michelin-starred, no less. the take-out, not the tires (though they could have been Michelins). I was shocked and saddened to hear of my former brother-in-law Mike’s death, but thankful it was a peaceful one at home. Rest in peace, dear Mike. You were a wonderful man and will always be loved and remembered with joy.

April: Michelin starred take-out 2.0. Is it conceited that I prefer my own cooking? Maybe the starriness doesn’t translate well to the take-out genre. Mom? Is that you? The tale of the grandfather clock, more than 250 years and counting (the hours and minutes). Beauty is all around me. My blog turned 19! The differences between my weekday and weekend routines. Adventures in cooking.

May: Welcoming spring. I really enjoyed spring this year. It was so beautiful. The beauty of the season was darkened by the sudden and shocking death of a dear and long-time friend. Randy, I will never forget you or your smile that lit up a room. Some reflections on Mother’s Day from someone who will never be one and who had a complicated relationship with her own. There may be a connection here. Celebrating Dodge’s fourth (or so) birthday. He is such a beautiful, affectionate little guy. Never a dull moment for Megan, at work in the ER. The month ended with the end of the Beautiful Harriet, Megan and Rob’s much-loved 19 year old cat, just two days after Megan’s birthday. Harriet (then called Olivia) made her first appearance on my blog in December, 2001. She was part of our family for a long time and will always be missed.

June: Things were flourishing in the family garden. Of haircuts and hardware stores. A happy birthday for me…and for my beloved Clyde, who turned 10. A nice addition to the bedroom. Remembering the unforgettable Ginger, our childhood dog.

July: Celebrating the Fourth of July and both sides of my heritage. Also Megan and Rob’s 29th anniversary. Here’s to the next 29! Things were shady over at the family estate. Adjusting to a Kindle. I’m still a paper book girl at heart. Rob’s beautiful garden art. A delightful breakfast at the delightful Queenie’s. Some kitty adventures.

August: Things were rocking and rolling in the family garden. I think I did a better job of using produce this year. An unexpected operation for Stella. I’m glad to report she is fine. A lot of sadness in a short period of time in our little town. Time to start cooking with all that produce. The Evil Eighteenth rolled around for the nineteenth time. I was angry this year. I will never get over losing Dad like that. A heatwave, and remembering past summers. Trying to cool down with some icy adult beverages beside the ocean. Hello, darkness, my old enemy.

September: Rearranging the kitchen after my microwave gave up the ghost, as my appliances tend to do. Audrey being Audrey. Rob: always there to make my life better. Happy birthday to my amazing brother, Jonathan. The horror of wildfires. Getting my MacBook fixed, with all the fun that entails. And getting Wednesday repaired. Attacking the Closet of Doom, with Rob’s help.

October: Rob was working hard on the Closet of Doom. It’s still a work in progress. Summer seemed to be endless. A delightful visit with a friend. I hope we can do that again soon. Yet another crown for our princess. My ex John adopted a pregnant stray cat. Meet Willow, Peach, and Daisy (I named Daisy)! Doing some project cooking.

November: A road trip to beautiful Anderson Valley. Problems with the heater. Megan started an exciting new side gig at prestigious Stanford University! An update on Willow and her kittens. Getting my third crown was about as fun as you’d expect. I hope it’s the last one, but fear it won’t be. What would I be like if I had a different name? Trying to find the right blanket was harder than you’d expect.

December: The Christmas tree went up a little early this year. And the kitchen sink needed a minor procedure. Some lights in the darkness. Best friends. Memories of Christmas past. A quiet Christmas.

Thank you for coming along with me on this journey for another year, or staying with me for another year. Here’s to a brighter New Year for all of us!

Visit

One good thing about seemingly endless summer – not, I hasten to add, the upcoming forecast* – and keep in mind, these are coastal temperatures, so add 15 degrees for my house:

– is that it does make it possible to sit outside, even with only two months of the year left and the current month being well past the autumn solstice. Trees are not bursting into color here, though the vines that escaped the fires are, and apples are ripe in the family orchard. That woodsmoke smell is more likely to be wildfires than keeping the home fires burning. We aren’t embracing the woolen wear and pumpkin spice that much of the country is. I personally am dreading yet another heat wave, with ominous threats of record-breaking heat. “Sweater weather” has a whole different meaning here.

But the unseasonable temperatures do mean that I could join my friend for a drink at her lovely little house. I hadn’t been there since she first moved in, so we were overdue for a visit. It is a charming home, probably built in the 1920s, with a sort of Craftsman cottage feel. It is likely all redwood, and old redwood at that, though much of it is painted, making everything lighter and brighter. The dining room still has the redwood paneling and built ins. There is an actual mud room, something that is common back east (like window screens and insulation), but not so common here in California. It makes sense to take off our muddy boots in the winter, especially when, as at my friend’s house, the washer and dryer are right there.

No boots or mud were to be seen that day. My friend M is an excellent hostess, bringing a tray of nibbles along with a bottle of chilled rosé out to her porch, where we spent a delightful couple of hours together. She lives in the Big Town, so there was the novelty of sidewalks, people walking down the street, and even street lights. Imagine!

On the way home. I stopped in at Luna Trattoria, where I was greeted by a very friendly young cat:

He was soft and even allowed me to pick him up after twining himself around my legs. He clearly lives nearby, since he looks quite healthy and well cared for.

I got some of their wonderful penne alla vodka to take home. I have tried unsuccessfully to reproduce it at home. I think part of this is due to the high quality, chunky pancetta and some of it because they make their own pasta. Sometimes it’s good to just stand back and let the experts take over.

All in all, it was a lovely evening, and one I hope to repeat soon.

*There seems to be as little accountability as a weather prognosticator as there is in the highest office in the land. When I was a kid, I thought the weather reporters ordered the weather, like food off a menu. “I’ll have some partly sunny skies with a side of early morning fog”. Maybe I was right about that, after all. And while I note that they are often incorrect when calling for rain, they are never, ever wrong when calling for excessive heat. Why is that?

A YEAR AGO: Adventures at the gas station. I’m sorry to say that the Bear is still around and making his/her presence known in a most unsanitary fashion.

FIVE YEARS AGO: Spending an evening in town.

TEN YEARS AGO: The elusive Audrey.

FIFTEEN YEARS AGO: More songs about buildings and boobs.

Books

I tend to be technology resistant.

The polar opposite of the people who wait in line overnight for the latest iPhone, I tend to use things until they no longer work. I view software updates with suspicion, knowing that good rarely (if ever) comes of them. I used my old iPhone 5S until it no longer held a charge and exasperated my sister so much that she bought me a refurbished 7, along with screen protector and case. I am writing this on a MacBook Pro hailing from 2012, and the iPod I listen to during my daily commute is more than 10 years old:

I think it’s really cute, and I dread the day it gives up the iGhost and I have to buy a new one, since they are so hideous and giant now. It seems all you can get is the “Touch” ones. I just want the tiny, sparkly, jewel-like one I have, which only plays music and looks cute doing it. Is that too much to ask?

So you probably won’t be surprised that I didn’t embrace the Kindle’s appearance in my life. I named it Ethel, a nice, old-fashioned name for a 21st century device, and wasted no time in getting rid of the obnoxious and ubiquitous ads, which were not less annoying because they were in black and white.

Over time, I began to appreciate Ethel’s good qualities, like her lightness in my handbag so I could read at lunch time, and her lit screen so I could read in bed without the light on. A lot of the books I wanted from the library were not available in Ethel format, though.

One day this week, one of the receptionists at work called me to say someone had dropped something off for me. I was delighted by this mini mystery, especially since it arrived in a plain brown bag. Inside, I found two library books, including the excellent Eight Perfect Mysteries, delivered by the kind-hearted local librarian. Finally: a perk of being the library board president!

Just a couple of days later, My good friend Erin dropped off a couple of books for me which she had really enjoyed. Desk side book delivery, twice in one week! You have to love that.

FIVE YEARS AGO: A South Coast adventure.

TEN YEARS AGO: Knee surgery for my brave little sis.

Happy

I gave myself a lovely gift for my birthday: a couple of days off. Really two and half, since I left early on my birthday eve to spend some time with Angelika.

It was a flawless late spring day, the kind of day when even someone as grumpy and jaded as Audrey* feels glad to be alive. The sky was the deep blue that you only see in California, the ocean looked tropical, and the sides of the road were alive with multicolored wildflowers and fluttering butterflies. It was a beautiful drive to Angelika’s place. The sign outside her little salon sums up Angelika’s philosophy:

It was blissful indeed to sit in her chair and catch up on each other’s news. I didn’t have enough cut off when I had the color done in March, so I decided to cut three inches off. Daring! It is still about an inch below my collarbone, but it feels much thicker and healthier. Angelika cut some long layers into my hair for movement. Megan got the good Mom hair** and I got the less glorious Dad hair.

While Angelika worked, she had the door to her salon open. It’s a converted pump house, just the right size for one sink and one chair and two friends. Through the door, we could see birds taking baths and getting refreshing sips of water in the fountain:

When I left, Angelika gave me a beautiful card, a succulent in a pretty pot, and a tube of conditioner to keep my hair pretty. She is such a wonderful friend!

There is no cell reception at Angelika’s house, so when I got to where there was reception, I pulled over to check my texts. I was expecting some time sensitive info about a work thing (which I got and took care of), but also had a text from Megan saying that Rob’s car had broken down at one of the hardware and lumber stores in town.
I suggested that I pick him up, and she was thrilled, since it was the only day that week she didn’t have to go town herself. I was really happy to finally do something for them; they do so much for me.

Arriving at the store, I failed to find Rob. I texted and called him with no result. I texted Megan and she suggested he might be at the car parts store. I headed there, but partway there, Megan texted me to say he was in the lumber part of the first store. I started back to Point A, but had reckoned without the weekly farmers’ market, blocking off the street I needed. Fortunately, I know secret alleys and byways, so I took that way, noting this unexpected piece of art along the way:

This time, I was successful in finding Rob. He showed me the defective part, which looked like some kind of hose contraption to my untutored eye. He had arranged with the store to leave his car there overnight. We went to order a new part, and it was set to arrive by 8:00 the following morning. We had a nice drive home together. I was so glad I could help him out. It was a great beginning to my birthday celebrations.

*My friend Patrisha is Staff to Audrey’s mother, Quince, and describes her in her rich Scots accent as “a huffy miss”. Though mother and daughter may be far apart in miles, they are close in age and temperament.
**Despite her many cancer treatments, Mom never lost all her hair. She just got regular person hair. When she died of breast cancer at the age of 73, she still had very little grey in her hair.

A YEAR AGO: I got internet for my birthday! The best birthday present ever!

FIVE YEARS AGO: A bad birthday.

TEN YEARS AGO: A really bad birthday, losing my beautiful cat June on my birthday night. I still miss her. She was so beautiful.

Randy

My happiness at seeing an email from Cammy, a friend of many years, quickly turned to sadness when I saw that she was alerting me to the untimely and unexpected death of a mutual friend, Randy. I literally gasped out loud when I read the news.

Randy wasn’t much older than I am, and we were just joking around together on Facebook a couple of weeks earlier about the unseasonable, and to Randy’s mind, unreasonable, snow he was still getting where he lived in Chicago. I have noticed over the years as my expertise in the field of death has unfortunately grown* that people always say, “But I just saw him” as if that made the fact of their being gone forever impossible. It does make it more surreal and unbelievable.

When I wished him happy birthday at the end of March, I had no idea it would be his last, and from what he said, it doesn’t sound like he did, either: “Thanks for the birthday wishes. The best present would be for all to be around for many more. Let’s hope this craziness passes quickly and we can all celebrate together.”

I learned from his wife that Randy had died within ten days of being diagnosed with mesothelioma. Like my former brother-in-law, Mike, it seems that Randy died quickly (and hopefully peacefully) of something that can be a lingering and horrible, suffocating end. His family was with him and I hope he slipped away easily and without fear.

For those of us left behind, it’s hard to imagine that we will never again see those blazing blue, twinkling blue eyes, ask him for advice, hear his infectious laugh, or get one of his comforting hugs. Randy loved his family with all of his heart, and in our friendship, there was something fatherly as well.

I am lucky to have known and loved him, and to have had Randy touch my life. He will always be in my heart and my memories.

*People always unhelpfully inform me that you have to expect increasing visits from the Reaper as time goes on, but a) I’m not that old, still in my 50s; and 2) This Reaper bullshit started with me when I was 15. I lost all my grandparents within one year, and both of my grandfathers within three weeks. I was barely 16 when they were gone.

A YEAR AGO: I may have missed the Derby (gasp), but I did make it to a fabulous BBQ at Rio’s place.

FIVE YEARS AGO: A new Royal Princess, a new ‘do, and the Derby – what more could a girl want?

TEN YEARS AGO: Dad’s amazing Honey-Mustard Chicken. Try it, you’ll like it!

FIFTEEN YEARS AGO: Plumbing problems

Mike

I was shocked and saddened to receive an email from my ex-husband John saying that his brother Mike had died an hour earlier that day. He had pulmonary fibrosis and had not shared this news with John until last week, when they did a FaceTime call. Apparently, this is a family trait, since John’s Dad also kept from him that he had various ailments that John felt he should have known about.

Despite Mike’s terrible semi-secret illness, he died peacefully at home, surrounded by his family. I’m not sure how this happened, considering that deaths from that illness are generally gruesome, but am so thankful that this was the case. John said that Mike knew the house was paid off, so his wife of more than 40 years (they married at 18 and were grandparents before they were 40) would be OK, and that his three boys were all fine, so he had no fears or regrets.

And you may remember that John’s Dad dropped dead on his way to the car with his wife Marj, as they were going on a routine shopping trip, at the same time I was watching a lunar eclipse and a shooting star that I still think was his farewell to us. In both cases I am glad it was swift and they were not scared or in pain, and that they had their loved ones with them.

The last time I saw Mike was long ago, when John and I were still married and we had dinner at Mike and Charmaine’s house. We laughed a lot and had a great evening together. They were a very caring couple. During the bad ice storm in Ottawa back in the 1990s, they had power for some reason when their neighbors didn’t, and they had everyone at their house, eating and staying and keeping warm until their power came back on. That’s the kind of people they were.

Losing Mike hit John pretty hard, and I’m trying to be there for him as best I can. I am thankful that when John and I broke up, his family continued to care for me, and that John and I found our way – or perhaps are still finding our way – to be supportive and caring for each other. We have helped each other through a lot of things over the past few years and I am glad he is part of my life.

A YEAR AGO: A last supper with Erica and Jessica before they moved away, apparently forever.

FIVE YEARS AGO: A busy week before I started my new job. A lot has happened there in the past five years.

TEN YEARS AGO: A hell of a hailstorm!

FIFTEEN YEARS AGO: Farewell to Florida!

Change

Well, this was the Mondayest Monday ever – the day after the dreaded time change. You know, the one where they steal an hour of our weekend and then expect us to get up extra early the next day, merrily adding insult to injury. You know a week that starts with a full (super) moon right after the hour theft and ends with Friday the 13th is going to be a weird one. There was also an earthquake on Sunday night, a long, slow one that was a little alarming, but didn’t damage anything.

Oddly enough, I felt just fine the morning after, despite being a robbery victim. I actually got up 15 minutes before the alarm went off, just as I usually do. Go figure. I was trying not to think about the purloined time, much like I used to do when I went to London all the time. I just adapted to the time zone I was in and didn’t think about how it was midnight or yesterday or whatever back in San Francisco.

Whatever it was, it didn’t really bother me this year.

Back in the olden times, on Saturday, I went over to the property for a Girl Night™ with Megan and Lu. I had a peek in the greenhouse and the garden. Here’s how it looked:

The peach trees were in bloom. So were the plum trees:

The plum trees are very popular with the bees. The trees just hum with them.

Inside the greenhouse, things are rocking and rolling. There’s lettuce, bok choy, and green onions*. Also Megan’s Meyer lemon tree:

Outside, the strawberry plants are beginning to leaf out and there are still some hardy herbs, like rosemary and thyme. Most of the garden is still asleep, but spring has definitely arrived.

When Rob drove me home, the moon was so bright that I didn’t need my flashlight. It was amazing to see it beaming over the ocean.

*These always make me think of my mother’s father, who grew them and loved them. Sometimes he’d walk back to the house humming and eating a green onion, somehow looking like a little farm boy instead of a grown man.

A YEAR AGO: If there’s anything more fun than pizza in the present and gowns from the past, I don’t know what it is!

FIVE YEARS AGO: We all got plunged into darkness again. But my brother also plunged into the icy river. For a good cause.

TEN YEARS AGO: Winter was making a comeback.

FIFTEEN YEARS AGO: It may have been winter everywhere else, but it was spring training in Florida.

Selfcare

I was long overdue for a visit to Angelika, both inside and out. I left work early one day and made my way to her little studio in the big woods. It was yet another eerily beautiful day, where you wouldn’t know it was February except for the daffodils and calla lilies everywhere. I don’t think we have had any rain since February 3. I hope there isn’t another drought and/or fierce fire season heading our way.

Angelika greeted me with a big hug and we went into the salon together. Her records revealed that I had not had my lovely locks attended to since August 23! I think it’s a credit to her artistry that they still looked pretty good. She cut two inches off and highlighted what was left, and we enjoyed chatting and catching up in the four hours it took to restore me to a better and blonder self.

Angelika is always so inspiring. She is an amazing artiste with scissors and dye, which needs some practicality, but she is also very philosophical and spiritual. Being with her really does refresh my inner being as well as my outer husk. I am hoping that she, Megan, and I can meet up outside of the salon soon.

Speaking of meeting up, Megan and I had a plan to meet Monica at our favorite seaside bar. The parking lot was oddly empty for a Saturday night, and there was a small sign on the door saying that they were closed until March 11. Megan texted Monica that we were relocating our evening out to the other bar in Hooterville (really, it’s somewhat surprising that there are two).

Also surprising was the fact that Bar Two does not have a cocktail menu. Megan and I couldn’t decide what to have, so we threw ourselves on the mercy of the bartender, who came up with a libation of gin, pineapple, triple sec, and a dash of lemon-lime shaken with ice:

It was quite delicious and not at all sweet. When Monica joined us, she opted for a classic gin and tonic with Bombay Sapphire, so we were all drinking gin. I read an article recently about how hand crafted gin is having a moment. It certainly was in that bar that night!

It was good to spend time with my sister and our friend, relaxing among neighbors and visitors as the sun slipped into the ocean.

A YEAR AGO: Feeling better led to a housework extravaganza.

FIVE YEARS AGO: Home repairs brought to me by Rob, as most of them are. And the best fan letter ever!

TEN YEARS AGO: Country mysteries.

FIFTEEN YEARS AGO: Weathering the storms in the Sunshine State.

Play

It was a busy week. All those library meetings! And then I had an 8 am call on Saturday morning with my former boss/partner and long-time friend Adrian to discuss his latest venture, a tax preparation service. We’ll see if anything comes of it. If there’s one thing I could use, it’s a jobette. Or a wealthy benefactor. I didn’t have much time to get dressed and out the door to meet Megan.

It may seem odd that I left the house at 10 am to go to a play that started at 1 pm, but a) it’s a long drive to the theater; and 2) we had important errands to run. The first of these was stopping in at Franny’s, conveniently located across from the theater. For once, there was no line until we created one. Megan got the last bacon slipper for lunch, and I got a croque monsieur. We both got canelés, too. It was a successful mission.

Next up was Anchor Bay Thai, where we discovered that the beautiful peacock mural which had been started at an earlier visit was now complete, and just gorgeous:

Peacocks and peonies – what’s not to love? It reminded me of a long-ago visit to Isola Bella in the Italian Lakes, and seeing the beautiful white peacocks there. I almost want to dig out my diaries from that visit and read about it again.

We stowed our dinners in the car and headed back to the theater, where we bagged the last space in the parking lot and our traditional balcony seats. The play was Noel Coward’s “Present Laughter”, and despite being written in the 1930s, it was still as fresh and funny today as the day it was written. The sets were lovely and Art Deco looking, and the cast was wonderful. We thoroughly enjoyed it.

It was still light out when we left the theater and headed to our favorite seaside bar. It was too cloudy for a sunset, but no matter what the weather is, it’s the best view on the coast. The new bartender Miriam (our beloved long-serving bartender Aiyana is still there on Wednesdays) made us fabulous appletinis:

as we waited for Monica to join us. The bar was full, and as the sun slipped into the ocean behind the clouds, it just felt cozier. One of the things I love about that place is you can come there for a special occasion, or from a day of gardening, and feel special and taken care of. Whether you’re a local or a tourist, you’ll feel right at home.

It was nice to catch up with Monica. She has been busy rescuing a dog and taking kick boxing classes. She is stronger and happier, and that’s what you want to see in your friends. If it’s not too late to make a resolution, mine is to spend more moments like this.

A YEAR AGO: A lengthy and unenjoyable power outage. Welcome to winter!

FIVE YEARS AGO: A very enjoyable family dinner.

TEN YEARS AGO: Lots of rain. But not lots of enthusiasm for the rain.

FIFTEEN YEARS AGO: Deciding on a road trip to Florida. It was quite the adventure.

Sparkle

It’s the most sparkly time of the year! Time for the Festival of Lights at the Botanical Gardens, our annual tradition. Friday the thirteenth was the day (or night) we chose, and it was far from unlucky.

For one thing, the parking goddess smiled on Megan as she usually does, and we parked right in front of the entrance. For another thing, we met up with our friends Lu and Rik, together with Rik’s daughter Rachel, her boyfriend David, and their adorable baby Dean, who you may recall made his charming debut on this blog not long after he made his world debut. He will be two in April, which is somewhat amazing. He is a very sweet kid, though a little bewildered by all the attention from all these strange grown ups, so I didn’t take his picture. I am still kind of amazed that Lu and Rik are grandparents. Also that I myself, the Suzy, is old enough for that stature, and not in a tragic, teenage way, either.

Dean was almost as delighted by the sparkling lights as the grown-ups who accompanied him. There’s always something new and delightful to look at, as well as old favorites.

I love seeing the jellyfish floating in the darkness:

And the ship and whale, reminding us of this area’s maritime history:

There was even a fire-breathing dragon swimming past:

It was delightful to wander the paths with our friends, and the predicted rain failed to appear. Lucky again!

We parted ways outside, partly because Dean was getting sleepy, and partly because his great aunts were headed to their favorite bar, and he’s a little too young for that right now.

At the bar, we met the new bartender, who we really like. Our beloved former bartender has moved, though she will (again, luckily!) be making a guest appearance every Wednesday. I am pleased to report that the new bartender made an excellent lemon drop for us, with special Buddha’s hand vodka:

Hand to Buddha, it was delicious! And a very lucky Friday the Thirteenth.

A YEAR AGO: Sneaky Dodge sneaked out of the house, horrifying Clyde and me. Audrey was pretty happy about it until he came back home.

FIVE YEARS AGO: Fortunately, stormageddon did not live up to the hype.

TEN YEARS AGO: Some of us think weeds (not to be confused with weed) can be quite lovable.

FIFTEEN YEARS AGO: The glamorous days of air travel.

Ten

Today marks a decade since I moved to Hooterville! Can you believe it? So much has happened since the day my brothers drove the truck full of my things and stuff up the highway and the curving roads while I followed with a howling and indignant Audrey. It was a long drive.

It was a big adjustment, going from city life to country life, and it was hard at first. But now I wouldn’t move back to San Francisco, even if I were the zillionaire such a move would require. I love living in the woods, with the loudest sound the wind in the trees and bird songs. And the San Francisco I knew and loved is gone.

A lot has changed in the past ten years. I lost no fewer than three beloved cats: the exquisite June (Audrey’s sister); ancient, scrappy little Henry Etta, who I brought with me from Oakhampton; and the irreplaceable Roscoe (Clyde’s brother). It’s no coincidence that my current feline line up of Audrey, Clyde, and Dodge are not allowed outside. That’s where the monsters are, and I am avoiding them like the plague they are.

During the time I have been here, my sister lost her beloved Schatzi, our last link to our mother, and her sweet cat Ramona. She still has Ramona’s sister, the beautiful Harriet, going strong at 18 years old. Along the way, we trekked to Colusa to rescue her dog Star, whom Megan ending up adopting, who was later joined by the inimitable Stella. Star is always so happy to see me that I am secretly convinced that she remembers I was there with Megan on the day she was saved and her perfect life began.

My sister moved away from the property we both lived on to the one where our brother lives. Things were never quite the same. My former landlord moved away without letting me know, and I moved a few months later. I love my new, beautiful, and let’s face it, improved house, but I will always have a soft spot in my heart for my quirky old place, despite all its eccentricities, even though I am much happier at the new place. It still seems like a dream after five months of living there.

My brother adopted his adorable and fierce mini cat, Scout, and fell in love with his lovely girlfriend Rio. He is happier with her than I have ever seen him. And she makes up for our lack of reproducing by having four adult kids and three small grandchildren.

Wells were dug at the family estate, and an epic garden and orchard, now an acre in size, were built and fenced (and then electrified to bear proof it) on the inhospitable pygmy soil. It is now a thing of beauty and a wonder to behold.

Erica and Jessica moved away following a family tragedy, and I miss them every day. The good news is that they are in the process of moving a little closer, to Portland, so I’m hoping to see them at least once a year. I miss them.

I finally got divorced after a long separation. I believe that now John and I have been apart longer than we were married. But he still means a great deal to me and I will always love him. We are in touch nearly every day. I am trying to support him as best I can through cancer treatments for one of his beloved cats. And if he called me at 2 am and needed bail, help burying a body, or a ride somewhere I’d grab my keys and be out the door. I don’t consider our relationship to be a failure.

I got a new (to me) car, which carries me to the Big Town nearly every day. I estimate I drive 250 miles a week, just to work and back. I also have a less new job, of nearly five years’ standing, which I acquired when the business my partner and I built and poured all our time, dedication, and money into disappeared, taking my livelihood and career with it. It was hard to recover from that devastation, and in some ways I am still working on it, but I am grateful I found this job when I needed it. Before the job, I had the jobette, which is sadly long gone now, but the friendships I made there remain.

I wonder what the next ten years will bring? Whatever it is, it will be unexpected. Some of it will be great, some of it will be horrible, and through it all, I will have my family and my friends.

A YEAR AGO: A sleepover with Jessica.

FIVE YEARS AGO: My fifth anniversary in beautiful Hooterville.

TEN YEARS AGO: I think you know.

FIFTEEN YEARS AGO: Getting a call from the dry cleaner. Now I live where there is no dry cleaner.

Drinks

After a week like that, it was time for an adult beverage or two. Or maybe more!

Our friend Monica joined Megan and me at our favorite seaside bar, where we were greeted by the amazing bartender. She had some fresh apricots on hand, so she invented a sort of apricot kamikaze, muddling fresh apricots with lime juice, vodka, and peach schnapps, and shaking it with ice. It tasted as good as it looked:

Having the drinks in hand softened the blow when she told us that she is moving inland. She will still be bartending here on the coast, but only on Wednesday nights, so we will have to adjust our schedules accordingly. I am really going to miss her. I think she makes that bar and is an integral part of how fun it is to go there.

As usual, it was very busy with a diverse crowd of people. Some clearly visitors, some dressed up for a special occasion dinner, some clearly locals. Everyone from the oldest to the youngest was having a good time.

After the apricot libations, we moved on to the classic cerise noire, where brandy soaked cherries meet black cherry vodka and sparkling wine:

What’s not to love?

The sun slipped toward the ocean as we chatted and caught up. Monica recently won an award for her store window designs, and also has adopted a new dog called Sugar, so there was happy news to toast along with our annual toast to Dad on the eve of the day we lost him, eighteen years ago. Sometimes it seems like it was just yesterday, and sometimes it seems like a million years ago. One thing that never changes is how much I love him and miss him.

ONE YEAR AGO: Much to celebrate on the Evil Eighteenth. And Dad would have enjoyed all of it.

FIVE YEARS AGO: Fate might truly be inescapable.

TEN YEARS AGO: Considering moving to the country. One of the best decisions I ever made. I still love my old house, flaws and all. Isn’t that what love is all about?

FIFTEEN YEARS AGO: Brought to you by the letter O.

Neighborly

I had a fun Sunday without ever leaving Hooterville. I drove down my current Ridge a few miles to the Grange, where there is a pancake breakfast once a month. It was a beautiful day, and a beautiful setting:

Inside, it was packed with neighbors, some known to me (Doug from the good old days at the Gro – he does not miss the store – and the lady who does wildlife rescue) and others unknown (pretty much everyone else). I noticed that all ages were well represented at the long tables in the hall, though the servers and cooks were definitely what the French call “of a certain age”. I have to wonder if succeeding generations will be as interested in community service as this generation is, and if this kind of community event will eventually become a thing of the past.

I pulled up a chair and was served with a Dixie cup (They still make Dixie cups! Who knew?) of orange juice and gave my order to the genial, aproned waitress. I could have had coffee, but as you all know, I only have my one cup a day and always before I leave the house. I am mystified by people who can get themselves together and dressed and actually drive to their workplace without benefit of caffeine.

I had fluffy pancakes with homemade berry syrup:

And they were delicious! I could also have had ham and eggs with it, and all of it was all you can eat. For $8! The proceeds go to help the local volunteer fire department, which was another plus in a series of pluses. It was like stepping back in time there, and I really enjoyed that feeling. It may have been my first visit to the Grange, but it won’t be the last.

Back at home, I was watching the Blue Jays game when I got a text from Dave and Jennifer, inviting me to a BBQ that evening. Even though it was a school night, I was happy to say yes and head over to the family estate.

This time, I kept going, all the way down to Dave and Jennifer’s place at the very end, making sure to close the gate behind me so the horses and ponies could not escape. It had been a while since I was there, and there were improvements to see, such as solar panels and an outdoor shower. Now that Dave has retired from his job working for the City of San Francisco, they are going to start building their house. They are also planning to sell their house in Grass Valley, so they have a lot on their plates.

We all had a lot on our plates: Dave barbecued marinated pork and salmon he and Jennifer had just caught, and served it up with salad, garlic bread, grilled vegetables, and wild rice. All this was topped off with tarts my brother made from raspberries he had picked that day. Joining us for dinner were our good friend Lu, Megan, Rob, Jonathan, Rio, and Dave and Jennifer’s former neighbors from Grass Valley, Stephanie and Peter. Stephanie and Peter originally hailed from Manchester, but have lived in many places. Peter was in television engineering and holds several patents, while Stephanie was a nurse, mostly in the ER, giving her lots in common with Lu and Megan. We had such a good time talking that I got to bed much later than I intended, but it was a day full of happiness.

A YEAR AGO: Megan and Rob moved onto the property. It was never the same without them, and eventually I moved too.

FIVE YEARS AGO: A day full of surprises.

TEN YEARS AGO: No matter who the kitties are, they are always naughty. Audrey’s fondness for chicken has no diminished over the past decade. I found her nibbling on a cooked chicken breast cooling on the counter this week.

BBQ

I was so busy packing and throwing things out on Saturday that I completely forgot about the Kentucky Derby. Can you believe it? Proof, if any were needed, that the stress and manual labor of moving prep has completely taken over both of my brain cells. It’s the first time I have missed it in years. Not only did I miss seeing what Dannielynn was wearing in her tenth year on the red carpet, I also missed the first time the first horse to cross the finish line was disqualified, apparently due to “interference” on the home stretch. This historic decision cleared the way for the winner Country House, whose odds of winning were 65 to 1. Some nice payoffs there*.

By the time I emerged from my dusty and depressing moving frenzy, it was time to head over to Rio’s place for the first BBQ of the season. It seemed a bit overdue, considering it was already May.

Arriving at Rio’s place, I found our dear friend Clayton, painter at large and fellow cider presser, along with our dear Lu, my siblings and Jonathan’s buddy Rich with his wife and daughter. Clayton was lending an expert hand converting part of the cider making shed into a guest room. Rio has four children and three grandchildren so far, so company is definitely a consideration.

Jonathan manned the grill expertly, while grousing humorously about those of us who preferred turkey burgers to “real” burgers. His view is that it should be real burgers or nothing. Fortunately he decided to overlook our unreasonableness this time.

The burgers were accompanied by a lovely salad:

And followed by angel food cake with sliced strawberries, accompanied by pacheco berry and strawberry sorbets:

Both sorbets were made by my brother from fruit we picked and froze last summer. Pacheco berries are also called ground cherries and are a member of the tomatillo family. They taste something like cantaloupe, but with a vegetal undertone. We all loved it.

Lu said that she has a big truck and a big cart like the one my brother has, which is five feet by 7 feet. She also has a hand truck to help haul things. Having two carts and an extra set of hands will be a real help. I am so lucky to have such wonderful family and friends!

The longest odds winner was Donerail, ridden by the delightfully named jockey Roscoe Goose in 1913 at 91 to 1 odds. Of course I have a soft spot for all Roscoes.

A YEAR AGO: Dinner with the girls. One of us is a grandmother now! (Hint: It’s not Me.)

FIVE YEARS AGO: Shopping for the garden, accompanied by the very popular Stella.

TEN YEARS AGO: Adventures in making dinner.