Get Together

On my way home from work on Saturday, I stopped at the Gro for cracksicles. They are delicious pomegranate and cherry popsicles, made of fruit and juice with chunks of fruit in them, and around here, the only place to get them is the Gro.

At the Gro, I discovered that they were out of cracksicles, the supply being down to undesirable flavors like banana. I also ran into yet another co-worker, who was buying beer. And beer. Also, beer. Who am I to judge? After all, I was trying (and failing) to buy cracksicles.

On the bright side, I did get a late-breaking birthday present, so it wasn’t a total loss. I seem to be having a birth month this year, and Junapalooza hasn’t even happened yet.

Arriving at the family estate, I noticed that Rob had replaced his original gate ornament, a modest, but charming pinecone, with one of his amazing sculptures:

Those are skillful casts of Rob’s skillful hands. He’s got the whole world (or at least the whole gate) in his hands.

The garden had sprouted a nice crop of tents:

Must be all that rain and all the relentless sun! Jarrett and Kalli had brought a group of their friends. They have done this camping party for the past few years, usually around Kalli’s birthday in July (which she shares with Audrey). It’s a nice tradition. It seemed like a long time since we had seen them, so it was good to sit under the shade of the canopy from Rio’s daughter’s wedding and catch up over some home-made cider.

We had a taco bar for dinner, with Megan trying her hand at al pastor in her instant pot. It was really good, but the star of the show was dessert. Jonathan made two different sorbets from fruit picked in the garden that day: strawberry and raspberry. They were both delicious, though I’d have to say the raspberry was my favorite. Jonathan thinks he can vacuum seal batches over the summer and store it stacked up in the freezer.

We were having so much fun that I forgot to take pictures, except the ones in my head. And my heart.

A YEAR AGO: The most amazing gift ever!

FIVE YEARS AGO: The many joys of the jobette. Those were the days!

Birthday Week


Good mail day

So far, I’m favorably impressed with the lead up to my birthday this year.

I’ve enough bad birthdays lately ($400 vet bill; 12 hour work day followed by fire-induced traffic stoppage on the way home from said 12 hour work day; power outage) to really appreciate a good one. Or even a good prequel.

A couple of days ago, I picked up the mail and was delighted to find that I had paid off Wednesday 7 months early! Not only that, I had overpaid, so a cashier’s check was included along with the beautiful pink title document. Mine, all mine!

As if that weren’t enough, there was also a check for website work and two early birthday cards from dear friends, one alerting me that a gift was on its way. I have the best friends ever!

I am coming to you from my bed at the outrageous hour of 8:00 am, with sunshine valiantly fighting its way through the fog to peer in the skylight and both kitties curled up and sleeping cutely. Is there anything cozier looking than a sleeping cat?

While still in my kitty PJs, I look pretty good, because I stopped by Angelika’s little salon in the big woods:

on my way home from work yesterday. She cut a couple of inches off my hair while we chatted and caught up. Being around Angelika is always inspiring, and I think she is as good for my spirit as she is for my hair. She also gave me a gift (unopened as yet), and a friend observed that there probably aren’t too many people who get presents from their hairdressers. But there also aren’t too many people like Angelika.

I had picked up dinner from Mayan Fusion on my way out of town last night, so dinner was ready when I got home. I have taken today and Monday off, so let the long birthday weekend begin!

A YEAR AGO: Playing post office.

FIVE YEARS AGO: A wonderful trip to the City. Chinese food, a new handbag, and the Beach Boys! What’s not to love?

Going In Style

I was chauffeured to the latest Predicta Party in the latest style. Erica and Jessica picked me up in their brand-new Hagmobile.

It was quite wonderful to relax in style in the new car smelling interior. Erica and Jessica later noted that I seemed to be enjoying myself, and also that being chauffeured (or chauffeused) seemed quite natural to me. I’m telling you, I should never have abandoned my original career aspiration of Idle Rich.

I can’t remember being in a brand new car before, unless it was my grandfather’s red Dodge Dart Swinger. I remember it was the last car he ever bought and he said he had always wanted a red car*. I was more interested in the candy he kept in his glove compartment than in the car itself, and some things never change.

Others do, though, and the Hagmobile is quite wonderful in its ability to keep you going at the same speed you were before you started driving downhill, somehow defying the laws of physics so you don’t accelerate as you go. And it has a way of lighting what is behind you on the screen in the console so you can back up in country darkness and see what you are backing into.

Arriving at Rio’s compound, we gave the girls a tour since they have never been there before. We ended at the studio/garage where we made the cider last fall, and Erica and Jessica promised to join us in cider making this fall.

Clayton arrived from San Francisco on his red motorcyle, his hair tangled by the ride and feeling chilled despite the heavy leather outerwear he (wisely) wears on the trek from the city. He settled by the fire and I poured him a glass of cider in the sun glass, the largest and warmest-looking one in the set of planet glasses I gave Jonathan for Christmas. I have to admit my favorite is the tiny (and now demoted) Pluto.

To go with our home-made cider, Erica brought home-made spice straws:

I later learned that they are pastry cut in strips and then rolled in seeds and spices. Whatever they are, they are delicious!

She also brought the pièce de résistance, pineapple upside down cake, a retro dessert for a retro evening:

It was, as you would expect, also delicious. I am looking forward to Megan’s birthday BBQ on Memorial Day weekend and Junapalooza in late June.

Jessica was thrilled with her Bookstore Day haul, and delighted by watching an ad for a 1959 Predicta on a 1959 Predicta (“TV Today from the World of Tomorrow!”). Also by Honey West and Bewitched, which she had never seen before. It’s so nice to share things you love with people you love.

*I’m glad he finally got his red car. Red was his favorite color, and I wore a red dress to his funeral just for him, despite the consternation of onlookers.

A YEAR AGO: It was hot and the power was out. What’s not to hate?

FIVE YEARS AGO: This Calamity Suzy thing is not new.

Farewell

Blake

It’s been a difficult couple of weeks. I don’t usually write here about dark things, since this place is my refuge and I can banish the unpleasantness of the outside world from here, but as you know, from time to time, these things have to be faced. Fortunately, I have my brother and sister to face things with me, and we faced the memorial service for Blake together.

Blake and his father have been guests at our family gatherings, and we were all shocked and saddened to learn that Blake had died at the age of 20.

The day of the memorial service dawned bright and beautiful, a spring day when everything is coming back to life, with flowers blooming and birds singing as they build their nests and their families, fresh leaves bursting forth from the trees. It seemed so wrong to be commemorating the terrible loss of someone so young, who was himself only in the spring of his short life.

Blake’s parents belong to an evangelical religion which was started the same year my brother was born. I have to admit I was hoping that at least there would be tradition and ceremony to bring us some comfort, as there was at the long-ago and very moving bar mitzvah I attended. However, that was not the case. This particular religion is pretty adamant that if you don’t belong to it, you are going to hell, and that is that. I have never heard the word “wretch” so often in such a short time, and I am sorry to tell y’all that those of us who are not born again are “down in the mud with the pigs.” The service – for this lovely boy who died so young – concluded with the preacher trying to get extra converts to their religion and inviting us to consult with him about joining their cult after the service. Maybe it’s being brought up by atheist parents, but I found this unseemly, especially after being berated about my sinfulness. Weren’t we supposed to be remembering Blake?

Despite these religious oddities, there were some really nice moments. There was a montage of photos of Blake’s life, and a charming video of his catching a fish almost as large as he was when he was a young boy (and then releasing it). His two best friends, who had known Blake all his life, gave touching speeches. The chapel was full, with hundreds of people in attendance. I wonder if he would have been surprised to know how loved he is. I hope he knows he is.

Freedom Friday


A beautiful day on the coast

One good thing about my current inability to sleep is that it gave me an extra long Freedom Friday last week. I had time to cook, do laundry, vacuum, wash the sheets and hang them out in the sunshine. Sheets that have been washed in Caldrea’s neroli and sea salt laundry soap and dried in the some of the cleanest air in the nation smell fantastic. Maybe that will help me sleep. One of these nights.

With the house in order, I hopped into Wednesday’s gangsta dark interior, put on some Tito Puente (including my favorite Ran Kan Kan), and set off for the beautiful South Coast, stopping at the Hooterville post office on the way. I was rewarded by a surprise magazine and card from a dear friend in Alabama, a sweet card from Lu*, and a brand new driver’s license.

The ocean was at its prettiest, turquoise and active, and the hills and trees are still lushly green. They are so green it’s almost loud. Not the slightest hint of the “golden”, and there are carpets of wildflowers everywhere, our very own super bloom. The river is full, and I saw a couple of young whales playing where the river meets the ocean. It was so nice to finally see the sun after all the rain we’ve been having.

I arrived at Queenie’s, a former garage turned deliciousness emporium:

It’s “open daily”, other than Tuesday and Wednesday. I found the dining room lightly populated, and settled in with the New York Times to await brunch, which arrived much more quickly than I anticipated, especially since it took about 40 minutes to get breakfast on my last visit. I had freshly squeezed orange juice and an omelette with broccoli, caramelized balsamic onions, chicken-apple sausage, and sharp white Cheddar. It was delicious!

Arriving home, I found Audrey relaxing in the sun on the back “porch”:

Nothing looks cozier than a cat in the sun. Clyde came running out to meet me, as he often does, and it was good to be home, especially on a week day. Ah, the joys of a day off!

*I love how she sends cards for no reason. This one said, Thank you for including me in sister nights at the theater. ♥ I love hanging out with you and enjoying fun times. ♥ Love you very much my friend. ♥

A YEAR AGO: Jessica’s 13th birthday. Our kidlet is a teenager!

FIVE YEARS AGO: Sob!

Jessica’s Birthday


Birthday Girl

In keeping with our Endless Winter theme* (always winter and never Christmas!), Jessica’s 14th birthday dawned chilly. A committee of my siblings decided that it was too cold to celebrate at the family estate, instead relocating the festivities to stately Suzy Manor.

I was less than delighted by the implementation of Plan B, partly because I had had a pretty bad week at work and did not feel very hostessy, and partly because my desire to clean up the house was why they invented negative numbers. In the end, I didn’t bother cleaning up the house and I don’t think anyone noticed or cared. Sorry, Martha Stewart!

Erica and Jessica turned up in a fancy new car:


It’s not just new to them, it is utterly new. It has new car smell and is luxurious inside. It is like Wednesday’s more glamorous cousin:


You can’t tell from the picture, but Erica’s car has secret plum sparkles in the black paint which are revealed on the rare occasions when the sun shines. She wants to get personalized plates that read HAGMOBILE. Ha!

Of course Erica had made a spectacular cake:

The buttercream icing is vanilla and both flavored and colored with raspberries. I love the ombre effect. But wait, there’s more! The icing on the inside has chopped up dark chocolate with dried raspberries in it:

Jessica blew out all her candles with one mighty breath, and we decided to have dinner backwards, starting with dessert. After the cake, Jessica opened her gifts, delighting in each one. She is such a wonderful kid.

While all this was going on, Megan was making pulled pork in her instant pot. She is obsessed with the instant pot. We had the pulled pork with fresh tortillas which Megan cooked on her cast iron griddle, along with black beans, salsa, cheese, and fresh lime wedges. It was delicious!

We invited Erica and Jessica to the next Predicta Party, which will be in mid May. We will let Jessica choose the shows for that night, though we also want to introduce her to the joys of Honey West, which we are sure she will love.

And I sure love that kidlet.

*At this point, I’m pretty sure we are just going to go from rain and cold to 80 degrees, transforming my hippie hovel into an oven. I’m sure I will miss winter then.

A YEAR AGO: Audrey the alarm clock. All part of the service!

FIVE YEARS AGO: The kidlet turned nine. I was thinking pink.

Family Dinner

This month marked what is probably the last inside family dinner for a few months. We had it at Rio’s compound, and the weather was nice enough for us to sit on the front deck in the sunshine with a keg of the cider we made last fall, laughing and talking. Appropriately enough, we were joined by our fellow cider maker and good friend Clayton:

who had ridden his red motorcycle up from San Francisco to join us, across the Golden Gate Bridge, through the wine country and redwoods and beside the ocean. Over the ocean and through the woods to Rio’s house we go!

Rio had the door open so we could enjoy vinyl records played on her turntable inside the house. Some of the records had album covers designed by Rio’s father*, who was a quite celebrated album cover artist, designing for greats like Miles Davis and Billie Holiday.

We had lasagna for dinner, followed by chocolate ice cream with a warm cherry sauce made by my brother:

he also threw in a handful of M&Ms. Why not?

After dinner, we gathered around the Predicta:

to enjoy vintage television together. This evening’s entertainment had a beautiful blonde theme, starting off with an episode of “Bewitched”, starring the bewitchingly lovely Elizabeth Montgomery, followed by “Honey West”, with the equally lovely Anne Francis. Honey West featured an early cameo by Maureen McCormick, later and better known as Marcia Brady.

It was a delightful evening.

*Coincidentally, both of our fathers were named David.

A YEAR AGO: A road trip to Willits for us and one to Oregon for Rio and Jonathan.

FIVE YEARS AGO: Spring planting in the garden.

Sisters and Friends

The ballet season has ended, but the play season is just beginning.


The stage is set

Megan, our good friend Lu and I went to see a play at the local theater in the village on Saturday night. It was called “Morning’s at Seven”, and even knowing that the title comes from Robert Browning’s “Pippa Passes” doesn’t make the punctuation look any better to me. The play was written in the 1930s and is about four elderly sisters living in the mid west. This doesn’t sound like a lot of fun, but we spent the whole production either laughing or gasping in shock. It was very entertaining indeed.

The theater has a little bar in the lobby, and the bartender makes a special drink for each production. This one was called the Four Sisters, and was made of Four Roses bourbon, ginger ale, a dash of bitters, and a twist of lemon:


I’m not much of a bourbon drinker, but it was quite refreshing. The bartender confided that the four ingredients in the drink were inspired by the four sisters in the play, and invited me to guess which sister inspired which ingredient at the intermission. I only got half of them right, but it was still fun to guess.

After the play, we made our way to our cars and stood there chatting for a few minutes under a glittering blanket of stars. It was a great evening, and I’m looking forward to the rest of the season.

A YEAR AGO: My brother to Wednesday’s rescue. This year, she needs new tires. Sadly, none of these are April Fool’s Day jokes.

FIVE YEARS AGO: A late season storm. And a new (to Megan) car!

Serendipity

All in all, it was a pretty good day.

‘Memba the giant bottle of cheap red wine that appeared at Thanksgiving? I used some of it to make black bean soup, but that barely put a dent in the ocean of inferior oenological product. I decided to leave it at the Gro, where I imagine some of the habitués (the kind Star doesn’t like) would greet it with enthusiasm, like an Easter bunny for winos. My good deed was rewarded by a snack-size bottle of good sparkling wine appearing on my desk that same morning, a reward from my wonderful boss for doing what I thought was just my job but was apparently a little above and beyond.

Also bringing some sparkle to my day was taking a break to meet Monica at the coastal trail for a walk and chat. She was accompanied by Stella’s son Joey, who has the most expressive ears. The only thing Stella about him is his joie de vivre and his enthusiasm for greeting me. Otherwise he looks like a German Shepherd with really long legs and goofy ears. If I didn’t know for a fact that Stella was his mother, I would never believe it. He doesn’t look a thing like her.

While Joey bounded around and sniffed things on his leash, Monica and I talked about my writing a blog for her store and working on a website for it, which I think will be a fun project. She wants to pay me for it, which makes me feel a little weird, but she says my time is valuable. We’ll see how it goes. It will be fun to start something new.

On my way home, a car pulled out from the Main Street exit of the village. I was pretty sure it was Erica, and closer inspection (of her One Bad Apple bumper sticker) showed that it was. I waved, but she was too busy driving, so as we approached the steep descent to the state beach, I honked and waved. She pulled over in the capacious turnout which is sadly underutilized by visitors who happen to be in my way, and I parked behind her.

Erica and Jessica (wearing, I was pleased to note, the Totoro shirt we gave her for her birthday last year) jumped out of their car and much hugging and squee-ing ensued. They were on their way to visit the yarn store, which apparently now resides in the quaint, family-owned inn where I have been known to enjoy the view and an adult beverage. Who knew?

They had been to Glass Beach that day and were taken aback by the number of tourists there, especially mid week. It seems a little early for the annual influx. As Jessica wondered, “If it’s tourist season, why can’t I shoot them?” I have often thought the same thing while creeping along behind the dreaded out of state plate.

Jessica’s birthday* – every April 15, as you know – falls conveniently on a Saturday, so she requested to spend it over at the family estate. We are still trying to come up with a theme for this year’s Junapalooza. We have had a cocktail party and a high tea. Jessica suggested that we set up a group board in Pinterest to find awesome party ideas. If nothing else, it will be fun. I think Erica is hoping to sneak in some Jell-O somewhere, probably spiked. And we are also plotting for another girl movie night this summer. So there’s a lot to look forward to.

We parted with hugs and I smiled the rest of the way home. I passed Megan as I neared our driveway, and we exchanged waves, which always makes me happy. Reaching the driveway, I was delighted to find that Mark had applied a layer of gravel over the enormous potholes and gigantic mud swamp the driveway had become this winter. Jonathan, who has 25 years’ worth of experience with this particular driveway, said he has never seen it in worse shape. Driving it at literally 2 miles an hour, I was still tossed around my car. So I was thrilled to whiz along serenely at a speedy 5 miles an hour.

*Megan and I were equally horrified to realize that Jessica is turning 14 this year. How is this possible?

A YEAR AGO: Getting the old grandfather clock running again.

FIVE YEARS AGO: A look around the garden. I see I was tired of the rain then, too. March really is the secret winter month no one talks about.

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.

Flooded

Guess what? It’s raining! Y’all can stop your rain dances or waltzes or twerking, we’re good for now, especially in Oroville, wherever that is. I was touched at the international concern for my safety following the news of the Oroville Dam overflow. I still don’t know where it is, but I do know that the only flooding around here is the usual suspects (the Road to Civilization and the car eating ditches that border the Ridge). Cheerful yellow “Flooded” signs are popping up, along with their cousins, “Slide”. It’s late winter in California!

Calla lilies are also popping up by the side of the road, along with drifts of sunshiny daffodils in the rain. Cherry trees are hazed with pink blossoms, always a sure sign of February. This morning, I noticed that the air smells different, more like spring and less like winter, and this week I realized that it was no longer night dark at 5:30 pm. 5:30 am should take its cue from 5:30 pm instead of doing such an excellent impersonation of 12:00 am.

Valentine’s Day saw my desk flooded with love:

Inside the bag is home-made salsa and sugar facial scrub, among other delights. More cupcakes and even orchids arrived after the photo opp, making up for the fact that it was an extremely unromantic 12 hour Valentine’s Day. When I finally got home, I had some of the delicious salsa on a take-out burrito and watched an episode of “Victoria” before collapsing into bed surrounded by kitties.

It wasn’t all work this week, though. I made time to meet a friend at the charming seaside bar where Megan and I first made the delightful acquaintance of the cerise noir. The lovely bartender remembered that was what I had last time and set about making another for me, since she had already made an impeccable Negroni for my friend.

She hails from England, near where my father grew up, and we enjoyed talking about some of our favo(u)rite places there. The bar’s owner chimed in about a recent visit there. He and his wife found it an enchanting place. I have to say that there are few things more beautiful than a perfect summer day in England.

Of course, sitting in a pretty room with your friends, drink in hand, watching the sun set over the ocean isn’t bad, either. Despite the week of rain and the slate grey skies and sea, the clouds thinned just enough to allow us a peek of radiant pink sky as the sun slipped away, a wonderful parting gift.

A YEAR AGO: Enjoying being chauffeured.

FIVE YEARS AGO: Remembering my grandfather. Love you and miss you, Hoho.

Saturday

For some reason, I decided that this weekend was the perfect time to attempt this unnecessarily elaborate dish for Sunday dinner*. Despite my lack of religious upbringing**, and the fact that I try to dedicate as much of Sunday as I can to my personal favorite sin of sloth, I usually make something nicer than usual for Sunday dinner.

So I set it to marinate on Friday night, while I threw in a load of laundry*** and made an adult beverage, and on Saturday morning, I was at stage two of frying the garlic chips when someone walked into the house.

I fully expected it to be Rob, but it turned out to be an unknown teenage girl:

Girl: Is everyone asleep?
Me: Who are you?

She was a friend of one of Mark’s daughters, and had mistaken my house for theirs. This is the kind of thing that happens when you have five doors, none of which lock. That, and surprise appliances. She was more embarrassed than necessary, but that’s all part of the joy of being a teenager.

I put the roast into the slow cooker for stage three, and Megan and I headed to the Village to meet Erica and our favorite teenager at the bookstore overlooking the stormy ocean.
The Great Catsby looked down disdainfully from his perch, enjoying the distance from those ridiculous humans and their grubby paws:

not to mention their tiresome adulation. Jessica was cashing in her Christmas gift certificate, and Erica was torn between Advanced Style and do it yourself taxidermy. It was great to catch up with our favorite girls as we strolled the aisles. We are already planning this year’s Junapalooza celebration. Erica and I had considered Jellopalooza, using her collection of vintage Jell-O molds, but we decided that not even a coconut water and fresh blackberry gelatin confection would win over the picky eaters in our family, so Plan B is Pizzapalooza.

Erica thinks we can make a cobb pizza oven at Megan’s birthday celebration, which is conveniently located on the Memorial Day weekend, when we should have maximum free labor and time. Then we can use it for the Junapalooza celebration. If not, I am pretty sure that the evil geniuses of my brothers can come up with a grill-related solution so we can make our own pizzas.

After the bookstore, we browsed around the toy store, where I was charmed by felted whales and stuffed hedgehogs, though I resisted buying them. You are never too old to look through kaleidoscopes and try on Halloween hats, especially out of season.

Eventually, we parted ways, the girls to see “Hidden Figures” and Megan and I to run a few errands. It was great to see them. I love those girls!

*It was delicious, though labor-intensive.

**Being brought up by atheists can have its drawbacks.

***I’m addicted to this sea salt and neroli laundry soap thanks to Monica, who gave me a sample. The first one’s free…

A YEAR AGO: A look around the storm-tossed garden.

FIVE YEARS AGO: Darkness descended.

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!

Christmas Eve Day

Merry Christmas to us!

And Merry Christmas Eve to everyone else!

I am pleased to say that yesterday’s pouring rain is just so yesterday. Today dawned bright and clear, so we will be able to use the outdoor living room during, and more importantly, after the party, when Megan and I like to sit by the fire and talk about the evening after everyone else has gone home.

I was spectacularly unmotivated yesterday, and it took a while for me to leave the comforts of my cat-strewn bed to start Christmas-related chores. I first went over to my brother’s place with the remains of the Jack Daniel’s left over from Thanksgiving’s cranberries. JD will be using the JD to glaze the Christmas ham, combining it with huckleberries we picked this summer and honey from our bees, then smoking it all day over apple wood from our trees.

Arriving back at the house, I lit the oven and started making pastry for the mincemeat tarts. I was up to my elbows in flour when there was a knock at the door. It was Jennifer, one of my siblings’ land partners, bearing an enormous bag of mandarins:

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They were the last of the harvest from her former neighbor’s farm in Grass Valley. They are organic, though not certified so (it’s a huge hassle getting certified). Jennifer also brought a little gift for me and one for the cats: a hand-knit, organic (certified) wool catnip toy*. She is so thoughtful! She went on her way with a hug and a kiss. I love my friends.

While the tarts were baking, I figured I might as well prep the pears for the salad and roast them in the oven after the tarts were done, which I did. And since I already had the cutting board out, why not mince up the shallots and make the dressing?

While I was slicing and dicing, Megan and Rob were retrieving his car from the Big Town and bringing it to our brother’s place for repairs. Good thing they built that mechanic’s pit over there!

Last night, Megan came over and we put the stockings together:

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We think we did a creditable job this year. Our brother is getting the large gifts you see under the tree. Someone always gets something extra each year, and this year, it’s his turn. We left a couple of empty boxes out for the cats to sit in.

After the stockings were done, we watched the Sex & the City movies and drank wine until 1:00 am, even though I knew I had to get up and get the house and Self ready for tonight’s party, not to mention making cheese biscuits. It was so fun!

*Audrey went insane with the catnip toy. She came to sit on my lap and was soaking wet from drool, all over her neck and head. Gross! Everything she does is extreme. Clyde, on the other hand, ignored the catnip toy in favor of climbing on Megan’s shoulder and lying there as he does with me. He has never done this before. He purred and slept his way through the movies.

A YEAR AGO: Getting ready!

From the Beach…

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It was a beautiful day in Elk

Here it is this weekend, and I still haven’t written about last weekend!

In my defense, though, I had to stage the giant office Christmas End of Year Celebration and clean it up, along with myriad other meetings and drama. The week ended with a birthday party for my boss and a scary drive home in the stormy late night darkness, but I survived it all!

It is still raining hard this morning, making me feel that we are going to have to cancel or at least postpone our plans for going to the Festival of Lights at the Botanical Gardens, followed by the Candlelight Shopping Night in the Village with Erica and Jessica. It is not good weather for strolling around outside, though it seems to be good weather for Clyde to lounge on my shoulder and impede my typing to the best of his fuzzy ability.

Last weekend was a completely different story, though. It was sunny and beautiful. Megan and I hopped in her little red car along with Star and Stella and headed for the little town of Elk. Our first stop was the ever-delicious Queenie’s:

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It had been years since I was there – a search of the dusty archives shows my last visit was three years ago! – so it was long overdue. We sat at a table by the window and ordered. The fact that there were only about 6 other patrons gave us hope that the wait for delicacies would not be as long as usual, but this hope turned out to be in vain. It took about 40 minutes to get our lovely breakfast, prompting Megan to wonder whether they were growing the potatoes.

Still, it was up to the usual high standard when it finally arrived at our table, and, as always, worth the wait. There are worse things than chatting with your sister while waiting for someone else to cook for you, not to mention clean it up afterwards.

Our next stop was the community center, where our dear friend Lichen was showing his beautiful cement casts of leaves. It was a Christmas craft fair, and to my (possibly biased) eye, Lichen’s work really stood out among the gnomes and tree decorations:

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He had already sold four of them by the time we got there! Despite the holiday atmosphere, Lichen was as undelighted by the prospect of Christmas as ever, so it’s unlikely that he will show up this year. You never know, though!

At this point, we decided that it was time that the dogs had some fun, having been marooned in the car all day so far. We took them to Greenwood State Beach.

It took us a while to climb down to it (and even longer to climb back up – there may have been some complaining by some of us), but the ocean was spectacular when we got there:

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Despite the wind, we didn’t really need our jackets. It was hard to believe it was December! The dogs played happily on the beach while we admired the scenery. Here you see the girls posing on the beach in their cheerful bandannas:

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Some of us think it’s an invasive weed, but I think pampas grass is pretty, with its lovely plumes:

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I also like dandelions, though, and most people think they’re an invasive weed, too.

After our arduous (to me) trek, we stopped in at the Elk Store for black cherry limeade to refresh us for Part Two of our day, which took us to Anderson Valley, the redwoods, and the river.

A YEAR AGO: Heartbreak.

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.

Thanksgiving Eve

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Hello star dish, my old friend

I always say that the secret to surviving Thanksgiving is to plan ahead and delegate. Despite following my own well-meant advice, this year’s Thanksgiving celebration has already been a little on the epic side, and it’s not even here yet.

It involved several pre-work shopping expeditions (another secret: grocery shopping is much less painful, and lines are significantly shorter, when it’s done at 6:30 am) and after work tasking. My original plan was to try this intriguing recipe, but when Rob delivered the 23 pound Turkzilla on Tuesday evening, it soon became clear that even Mom’s Cadillac roasting pan was insufficiently capacious for the bird to really spread out and make itself at home. And even if it were, my bijou oven could probably not accommodate it.

The monster is jammed into the roasting pan, and after work on Tuesday, I dry brined it by rubbing Maldon salt, the zest of two Meyer lemons, and some pepper onto its enormous carcass. Afterwards, I obediently “patted” sprigs of thyme and smashed garlic all over it and then put some fresh bay leaves in the cavity after removing the grossness that always lurks in there.

I can’t say I understand how the flavor will perambulate through Turkzilla, but I am hoping for the best. After putting it into the refrigerator, I roasted and peeled chestnuts. That was all I could do that night.

Today, when I came home from work, where my productivity was severely limited by the thousands of spam emails flooding into my inbox (last count: 29,858), I set to work on making the traditional cranberry bourbon relish. The smell of Jack Daniel’s is much less unpleasant in the afternoon than in the morning.

As it bubbled away with clementine zest (I seem to be quite zesty lately), I chopped up yesterday’s chestnuts and today’s pecans, correctly pronounced “puh-cahns” by those Southerly inclined, for dressing. My dear friend and Southern belle Janice will be pleased to know that I am planning to bake it in a dish “and not in a bird’s behind, which we in the South consider to be tacky.” Erica considers baking dressing in the turkey to be a salmonella fest waiting to happen, so not doing so is made of win.

Erica had a slight culinary setback. The squash she had set aside for her truffle luxurious not pumpkin pie had exploded with mold, so her delightful and delicious Plan B is Tarte Antoinette, which Erica first unleashed on our unsuspecting tastebuds last Thanksgiving. Maybe this should become a tradition.

As the day darkened, I cut up what seemed like an endless supply of bread for said dressing, a combo of Cafe Beaujolais sunflower bread, Costeaux Bakery’s multi-grain pain de levain, and some ciabatta, so it can sit in a bowl and stalenize overnight. Tomorrow I will add the apples, celery, onions, etc. Hopefully after all this, it will not taste like Subway.

The final task du jour was making the lemon relish for the honey and harissa roasted Brussels sprouts. Everything else can wait until tomorrow.

A YEAR AGO: You guessed it! Same Bat time, same Bat station!