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!

Hand Made

I saw a dream come true.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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It was sort of gourmet apple filling!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

For Real (Estate)

It’s been a banner year for real estate among my circle of friends.

My friend Richard and his wife bought the house they rented for several years. The owner passed away and his or her heirs did not want the house, so they sold it to the existing tenants, making everyone happy.

Jonathan’s girlfriend Rio, an only child, inherited her mother’s house in Santa Barbara when she passed away. It is the only house overlooking the Santa Barbara Bowl, and I am sure that even the simplest shack in Santa Barbara is worth a pile of cash. Rio did well on the sale, and wanted to put the proceeds back into real estate rather than in the notoriously volatile stock market (especially in an election year).

She looked around for a while, a little daunted by the offerings on the market (infested with rats! Needs thousands of dollars of work!) before lucking into a place that hadn’t gone on the market yet.

It’s in the next town north of Hooterville, and boasts a main house, a cottage, a studio/garage combo, a greenhouse, and a potting shed, all on more than an acre. Here’s the main house:

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And the cottage:

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The cottage and studio/garage still need fixing up, but the greenhouse is full of plants, including a giant one that reminds me of Little Shop of Horrors. Amazingly, the former owner had just fixed up the main house when she fell madly in love and decamped to San Miguel de Allende, selling her property and leaving everything behind. Quite the story! The plan is that Rio will live in the house while she fixes up the other one(s). Eventually, she will rent one or more of them out while still keeping a room (or cottage) of her own.

At the opposite end of the scale is my dear friend A’s struggles to buy an apartment in London. Her landlord raised the rent an unaffordable amount, so she set about looking to buy a place, aided by a down payment from her mother, who is secretly a stock picking genius. She was also aided by a drop in London property values following BREXIT, so it seems the timing was right.

Unlike the US, where you find out how much a bank will lend you for a mortgage and then find a place it will buy, the UK system is convoluted and frustrating. I don’t understand all the plot convolutions, but lawyers are involved, and an ensemble cast of surveyors and inspectors. Also people can swoop ahead of you in line, and the apartment can suddenly be taken off the market with no notice after an offer has been accepted. You decide what you want to buy, and then try to persuade banks to lend on it. Oh, and if you happen to be over 50, it is much, much harder to get a mortgage and the term is dramatically shorter.

It’s been a wild rollercoaster ride for A and her husband, and I wouldn’t be surprised if, like a real rollercoaster, there was some screaming. However, they finally found an apartment which they liked, could afford, and wasn’t secretly falling apart, and it looks like they may have a new home soon. I am so happy for my friends and their new homes!

A YEAR AGO: More house news with Lichen’s new kitchen!

Playful

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The Stage Is Set

I ended my sunny Saturday by meeting Megan and Lu in the Village for dinner and a play.

Megan and Lu were already at the table by the time I arrived. We had a simple, salad-y dinner while we caught up on each other’s news. Lu was just back from a wonderful trip to Alaska, full of its breathtaking beauty and wildness.

After dinner, we stopped by the oceanfront bookstore, where we were greeted by this beautiful sunset:

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Inside the bookstore, we were greeted by the Great Catsby, strolling majestically through his empire and making sure that all was as it should be and that no mice had somehow sneaked in on his watch.

After the bookstore, we headed to the theater, where the mixologist’s special cocktail for that night’s performance was a delicious libation called a Purple Finch:

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It was a winning combination of vodka, Chambord, triple sec, and lemon. As we exclaimed over its deliciousness, I felt a tap on my shoulder. It was my dear friend Erin, stunning in a red dress and heels. Her handsome husband Jaime had surprised her with dinner and a play for their 12th wedding anniversary that evening. They both looked gorgeous and happy. It was so nice to run into them!

The play was called “The Dining Room”. As you might guess, it is set in a room of the same name, and re-enacts scenes that had taken place in the room over the years, in the past and the present, and sometimes at the same time. A grandmother at Thanksgiving doesn’t recognize her own children seated at the table with her; a father details his funeral plans to his shocked son; a daughter asks to come home after her marriage broke up; a great-aunt proudly displays her family china, crystal and silver to be photographed at the table until she learns that the article is about obscure eating habits of the past. It was moving and funny and we all enjoyed it.

Fair Thee Well

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At the Fair

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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I also loved this glamorous use of twigs and mirrors:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Goodbye, and Good Luck

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

BBQ Party

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The Orchard

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Circus, Circus

I am pleased to announce that Ben was able to stay!

We met up after I finished work on Saturday and headed for the inimitable Flynn Creek Circus, its distinctive red and white tent flapping in the evening breeze.

Inside, we perched on ornate, wrought iron benches and watched the antics of a very determined gopher, who was completely unperturbed by the humans in his territory. He kept popping out of his hole, shoveling more and more dirt as more and more people watched him. Once the show started, I forgot about the industrious little rodent, and I’m sure everyone else did, too.

As always, the show was filled with breathtaking aerial acts:

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and astonishing acrobatics, including a lovely young lady who was able to spin six hula hoops on her svelte figure, including her neck, arms, and legs, and a man who was able to do amazing things in a giant hula hoop, spinning around inside it, jumping, and otherwise defying gravity and the evidence of our own eyes.

The hula hoop girl was also able to spin objects with her feet:

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and she could even juggle five or six aqua basketballs with her hands and feet. If I hadn’t seen it with my own eyes, I wouldn’t have believed it. Add in a knife-throwing act, and you have yourself a circus:

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Ben was equally entranced, and it was so nice to share this experience with him.

A YEAR AGO: Cars, past and present. I see I still haven’t removed Wednesday’s tinting. Let’s guess I never will!

A Visitor

You guys, there is a young man sleeping in my house!

Two, if you count Clyde, cuddled up next to me on this foggy morning.

Ben, the first one, is sleeping peacefully on the couch under Nana’s restored quilt. I have to say that quilt has been getting a lot of use since Erica and Megan restored it.

Long time readers may remember an incredibly beautiful and moving Bar Mitzvah I attended several years ago. Ben is the older brother of the boy from that Bar Mitzvah. I hadn’t seen him since then, so in my head – always an odd place – he remained the same age. Time being the inexorable thing it is, though, he grew up in that time and is now an engineer for an oil company in the wilds of Manitoba (and I do mean wilds – it’s an eight hour drive from Winnipeg). He is quite a delightful grown-up.

Ben has been on an epic road trip in a car he bought for $500. The main event of the journey was to attend the wedding of a college friend in New Mexico. The groom is of Afghani heritage and the bride’s family is from India, so it was a wonderful, days-long extravaganza. Ben said it was a very beautiful ceremony and he loved being part of it.

On his way out of town, his car broke down, which is only to be expected on an epic road trip. It was fixed well enough to get him to Las Vegas, where the car needed a little more attention. By Thursday night, he was in Oakland, and I confidently expected him to be here before I got home from work on Friday.

However, I got a text late in the afternoon saying he was in Jenner, which is on the Sonoma coast, which meant he somehow took legendary Highway One instead of 101. I later learned that the traffic on 101 near Petaluma was so horrible that he bailed out and headed for One. It took longer, but it is a spectacular drive, so he got here via the magical South Coast.

I hit traffic of my own coming home late after an eleven hour day, waiting for six cars to turn off the highway onto the Ridge. I have never experienced that before. It’s a traffic jam, Hooterville style!

Passing the farm across from the Gro, I saw a car pulled over, and a closer look showed Manitoba plates. I pulled over myself and sure enough, it was Ben, consulting my directions on his phone. After we finished hugging and being excited, we convoyed home, where we made Dad’s paella for dinner and caught up on the last few years. It was a great evening.

He may have to hit the road again today in order to get home in time. I hope not, since today is my brother’s birthday and there is a BBQ planned at the family estate after work. And I would like to spend more time with Ben and introduce him to my family.

A YEAR AGO: A dinner and a play with Megan and Lu. I notice in the post that I refer to Lu’s then boyfriend Rik, who became her husband at their beautiful and moving wedding this summer, another memory I will always treasure.

Back in Black

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Updates

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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