A Sense of Place

Margaret: It makes one feel so unstable, impermanent, with all the houses being torn down on all sides. Including, in the foreseeable future, ours.

Ruth: Are you having to leave Wickham Place?

Margaret: Yes. In 18 months when the lease expires.

Ruth: Have you been there long?

Margaret: All our lives. We were born there.

Ruth: That is monstrous! I pity you from the bottom of my heart…

Margaret: Of course, we are fond of the house. But it is an ordinary London house. We shall easily find another.

Ruth: No, not in this world. Not the house you were born in. You’ll never find that again.

Howards End, 1992

A friend of mine recently learned that her childhood home is slated for demolition. Although she no longer lives in the house, she and her sister are devastated at the thought of its being devastated. She wrote a very eloquent and emotional letter in protest, which you can read here. It is probably a vain hope, since not one home has been saved from destruction in the name of Progress in that area, no matter how many people objected, but at least she was able to express her feelings. She makes some wonderful points about how heritage buildings should not survive in a vacuum, museum pieces to be looked at and forgotten about, but rather be part of the fabric of our everyday lives, a connection to the past that lives on.

It made me think about how the places we live shape us and become part of who we are, even after we leave them.

The house I grew up in predates the Civil War, and its stone foundations are much older than that. The cellar used to flood every spring as the snow melted, so Dad built a sort of raised walkway so we could avoid being soaked while walking around down there. The cellar still had the slanted doors where coal was delivered long ago.

The house was called Fox Hill, named for the foxes who lived in the wooded hills around our house. Legend had it that the five acre parcel our house was set in was payment to a Revolutionary War soldier for his service. I don’t know if that’s true, but I have many happy memories of growing up in that old house, and although I have not been there for decades, I can still walk through it in my mind, from the red front door to the fireplace in the living room, the stairs where our dog Ginger slept on the landing when Dad was home (and across the front door when he wasn’t), to my room under the eaves with the window seat Dad built.

I have equally treasured memories of my grandparents’ house, about an hour and a half’s drive from Fox Hill. It was a grand home, built by the town sheriff for his daughter when she married. The windows on the ground floor were seven feet high and the ceilings twelve feet. I made the mistake of stalking the house online and was appalled by how it was changed. The barn is unrecognizable inside, and a hideous deck has been added off the kitchen, which is as unrecognizable and ugly as the barn is now. The stained glass windows are missing, though thankfully the built-ins, fireplaces, and wraparound porch remain. Maybe it’s better not to go back.

My current house is quirky to say the least, and its faults, like my own, are neither small nor few, but I never want to leave it or this area. I have grown to love our little community and how we look out for one another. At Fox Hill, our driveway was unpaved and about a quarter of a mile long. We were often snowed in during the winter, and our nearest neighbors were farmers and their homes could not be seen from our house. I still can’t see my closest neighbors, my driveway is still long and unpaved, and we are often cut off from civilization when the road to the city floods. So in a way, I have come full circle, from one side of the country to the other. I have come home.

A YEAR AGO: Finding beauty in the Village.

FIVE YEARS AGO: Miscellaneous.

Surprise

I came home one day to find that I had a new refrigerator.

The appliance fairy had apparently come by while I was at work, leaving a gift that kept on giving.

The new refrigerator is bigger and blockier than the old one. It is unfortunately too tall to fit under the (admittedly makeshift) shelf on which I used to store frequently used items like salt, olive oil, and soy sauce:

So the shelf had to go, and I had to find alternative locations for its former residents. Some I consigned to the wilds of the pantry/laundry room/salle de bains des chats/flood zone, and some I squeezed in next to the bowls, etc. under the counter.

With the shelf went the (admittedly ugly) stove hood. I never used the fan, but I am surprised to note how much I miss the light over the stove, and not just for cooking. It had a friendly yellow light, and I had it on most winter evenings.

I am sorry to say that James’s (admittedly eccentric) electrical whimsy meant that Rob got zapped a couple of times during the stove hood removal process. Also that it disabled the outlet which formerly powered the microwave, so I now have a large orange extension cord leading to the bathroom outlet which takes up about 75% of the hallway/foyer and is almost guaranteed to precipitate an unfortunate Calamity Suzy episode in the middle of the night.

Having a giant, Giants orange extension cord sprawling all over is not a charming decorative motif, and neither is the shelfless kitchen at this stage:

Notice how the giant, Stalinesque lines of the new refrigerator dwarf the much more attractive, vintage Wedgewood stove. Oddly, the freezer capacity seems much less than the old refrigerator. And the manual which came with it warns that the new refrigerator may be “nosier” than the old one. So far, it seems to be as uninterested in my daily activities as the old one, but perhaps it is secretly taking notes or reading my emails after I go to sleep.

Rob is planning to make a new and prettier shelf. I believe he is planning to make it match the lovely shelving units he recently made. He also says that the hole you see above the stove can and will be made into an outlet for the microwave, so the extension cord will be banished. I am hoping it will be sooner rather than later.

A YEAR AGO: At the very fine (though very crowded) woodworking show.

FIVE YEARS AGO: Adventures in law enforcement.

Rained In

Megan and I had grand plans to see the Bolshoi Ballet performing “Sleeping Beauty”, but Mother Nature had other plans.

The appointed day dawned dark and dreary, and as the day went on, it got rainier and rainier. We already knew that the Road to Civilization was flooded and closed:

and that it was very likely that the river over which the Road to the South Coast passes would flood, too, effectively stranding us on the South Coast if we made it that far. We speculated on how we might possibly get home if we were marooned, and decided that we’d have to keep going south to Jenner until we could find a road to take us to 101, then to 20, then from the Big Town back to Hooterville.

Since this winding route would take several hours and Megan was scheduled to work that night, we decided to stay home, missing both the glories of a beautiful ballet and the joys of Thai food.

We aren’t imagining that we’ve gotten a lot of rain this winter. Our friends at PG&E, those fearless repairers of power outages, say it’s been the wettest January in 20 years ’round these parts. The local message boards say we have received 16 inches of rain in January so far. I well remember the winter of 1996-1997, when it rained every single day in January and February. I worked in an old building in downtown San Francisco with exposed brick walls, and the rain ran down the walls – inside. I had clear plastic draped over my computer to cover it from the inside rainfall.

I still have inside rainfall. The laundry room has flooded as per usual, and the usual leaks have sprung to life. On the bright side, though, the drought is definitely on the run for now.

With no Thai food on the menu for dinner, I started rummaging around the freezer for a Plan B. While in the midst of this icy exploration, Rob came by to hang up a picture for me. Hanging up pictures on curved walls takes expertise and patience that are far beyond my mortal abilities, but are no problem for Super Rob:

After he hung up the picture, Rob also investigated why my vacuum cleaner’s performance had been suboptimal lately, and discovered a clog in the hose, which he removed, allowing me to vacuum up cat hair and pine needles with abandon.

With the house in order and the rain falling outside (and in), I curled up on the couch with a Patricia Highsmith novel under my grandmother’s ancient quilt, a cozy way to spend a winter afternoon.

A YEAR AGO: Adventures in cooking. It takes a special talent to need three takes in making mashed potatoes.

FIVE YEARS AGO: Rob was fixing things up around here then, too. I wonder how often he regrets his ridiculous sister-in-law moving to Hooterville.

Festive

Going to the craft fair to admire Lichen’s beautiful work had a sort of reverse domino effect, with me doing things earlier in the week that I would normally have done on that Saturday.

On Thursday, I came home, started chicken broth bubbling on the stove, ready for Friday’s after work cooking fiesta, and then hauled the old white faux tree and its accessories out of the storage loft. I set it up with minimal fuss and shedding. It has not become less Charlie Brown-ish over the years (I showed a photo of it to a co-worker, who pronounced it the saddest tree she had ever seen), but I would like to think we both have a certain vintage charm:

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This year, its vintage charm was enhanced with mercury glass bells, which actually ring, mercury glass pinecones, clear glass icicles, and clear plastic snowflakes, as well as a few glittery silver balls. And the new bird ornament, in honor of Dad:

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Surprisingly, the cats seem to be uninterested in the tree. They are more interested in sitting on or by the heater or on my lap, all of which are fine with me. Last night, Clyde was sleeping on the heater and snoring peacefully. I find his snore both adorable and hilarious, much like Clyde himself.

I wound colored lights up the driftwood banister:

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and added another string of white lights outside, this time in the honeysuckle bush by the back porch, so it’s extra festive outside:

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The weather forecast for Christmas Eve, when we will be celebrating, looks hopeful for sitting outside by the fire, so hopefully we can enjoy the extra sparkle. You can never have too much.

On the bookshelves, I have a cute reindeer and a growing collection of Christmas cards:

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To top it all off, there is mistletoe from a young admirer hanging over the sliding doors. You never know…

A YEAR AGO: A little staycation.

Bad Omen

There hasn’t been much time for anything but work this week.

I have been leaving the house at 6:00 am in a mostly vain attempt to get everything done in time, blasting down the Ridge with Weezer to wake me up. I was amused to pull up to the clinic one day as they were singing Do You Wanna Get High?, a cheery little tune about the joys of opiate addiction.

I should have known that it was going to be a crazy week. The weekend that preceded it foretold doom to come, at least in my ever-superstitious opinion.

A Steller’s Jay got in the house and flew up to the skylight. All of the doors were open, so I hoped that my feathered visitor would escape unscathed, but unfortunately it thought that the highest window in the house was the way to go and made for it at full speed. It smashed into the glass with a horrifying thud and fell to the floor. I ran downstairs, but it was clearly an ex Jay.

Oddly, the cats were totally uninterested. Maybe if it doesn’t move, it’s not fun. I told a friend about the Incident of the Jay in the House:

Me: I think it’s a bad omen.
Him: Maybe if you live in a teepee.
Me, looking at the pointy ceiling: I kind of do.

I was less than thrilled to come home from work and discover that a friend of mine had stopped by my house with another friend. The house was not in my opinion visitor ready. Admittedly it rarely is now that I am out of it (in more ways than one) for 12 hours a day, but I would have appreciated the opportunity to pretend to be more civilized than I really am. And of course, the friend in question has made a pile of money in real estate in the Bay Area*.

I later learned that they claimed to love the house and thought it was really cool. As Erica observed, the house is basically a man cave, so maybe they did. And it was all over before I could do anything about it anyway.

The bad omen really kicked in a couple of days later, when my back went out on strike, making getting dressed and in and out of the car more of an adventure than I’d like. Ever since, I have been unwilling to risk the stairs so I have been sleeping on the couch with my grandmother’s restored quilt over me and Clyde beside me.

A YEAR AGO: My fairy godmother stopped by. One of these days, I should try being home when I have company. Though maybe it’s better this way.

*The few people I still know from long-ago high school days are all annoyingly successful. Richard and his pile of real estate money; my ex boyfriend Andrew, who is a vice president at NBC-Universal in London; and my dear friend Alice, who got a PhD in pure math in her 4th language after she finished her modeling career. She is now a vice president at Barclay’s Capital in London. Call me underachieving…

Spring Staycation

It’s 9:00 am and I have already done two loads of laundry and put them away; made pizza dough; washed a load of dishes; swept the stairs and floor; and finally filed paperwork on my desk and put the files in Rob’s amazing cabinet.

I also unpacked a box of books, including classics like The Poky Little Puppy, which used to be my favorite book as a child. My Dad read it to me so often that he used to read it with the pages facing me, his eyes closed. I never got tired of it. Other discoveries included a book on Queen Mary’s Dollhouse (as fascinating to me now as it was then) and a story John wrote about our cat Jack when she was still a kitten. She is the only surviving cat we had together and I don’t want to think about how old she is now.

While unpacking the books, I discovered a fairly sizable scorpion. Its claws freaked me out, but I swept it into the dustpan and then into the woods, where I hope it stays.

I rewarded this industriousness by going with Megan to the farmers’ market in the Village. I picked up some rhubarb and a fresh baguette:

baguette

Later, we took the dogs for a stroll in the Village. As usual, Megan took Star and I took Stella, or Stella took me. I discovered that we had many shared interests in common, since she bounded joyfully into a bar as if she were Norm on “Cheers” and went there every day, then into the ocean view bookstore, and then a jewelry store. It was challenging to remove her from these places, and the attention she got from total strangers didn’t help. Stella clearly preferred running a tab, shopping, and petting to walking on the boring sidewalk, and I can’t say I blamed her.

A YEAR AGO: Megan’s giant birthday BBQ, and Erica’s best prank ever!

The Artist

Not content to create the beautiful shelving unit/cabinet (shouldn’t there be a better word for this?):

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as well as the original shelving unit (aka the project that started it all):

shelves1

Rob also felt that the masterpiece needed lighting, so I could see what was on the shelves and in the cabinet. He found an old light fixture dating from about 1920 among the legacy piles of James’s things and stuff (Mark has done a mighty job of getting rid of a lot of it, and organizing the remainder), and made a base to hold it:

light

He also found a switch of a similar vintage and repaired it. The inside is very complicated, with a sort of two part spring thing, which makes a very satisfying snap when it is turned on and off. Notice that it actually says “ON” when it’s on, rather than “NO”, like all the other switches in my house:

switch

He even braided the wire so it looks pretty as it wends its way up the wall and to the light fixture:

wire

No detail is too small for Rob. I wonder what he is going to make next?

A YEAR AGO: A glamorous Derby Day weekend.

Unexpected Beauty

This morning, as I emerged from the dark woods on the Ridge for my first view of the Pacific, there was a lone fishing boat with all its lights on, alone on the wide ocean in the early morning greyness, looking like a fallen star. There can be unexpected beauty in the world.

I planted the tulips too late last year, around Christmas (or maybe even New Year’s) instead of before Thanksgiving, so they bloomed in March instead of February, and bloomed long after lilacs, daffodils and magnolias, which just seemed wrong. And when they started to poke their green shoots up in their containers, I felt that I had planted them wrong, because one of the containers housed a single bloom:

tulips

But when it flowered, it was so beautiful that I realized it was perfect, just as it was, all on its own:

tulip

And speaking of perfect, Rob has done it again, creating a companion piece to his original shelves:

shelves

The cornices at the top match the original piece, as do the beveled edges of the shelves. I love how he used the speckly pieces of wood for the center of the sliding doors in the cabinet at the bottom. The whole thing has been sanded to a silky finish and waxed by hand. It may be the nicest thing in the house after the 250 year old grandfather clock.

I would stack up Rob’s work against any of the artists at the fine woodworking show we attended a couple of months ago (and which may have inspired him). He is a true artist.

I may be the world’s leading collector of his work. On my desk at work is a little ceramic purple box he made, which holds paperclips, and the dish in which I put my car keys and iPod when I come home from work is also a Rob original, as is the lovely fluted tray in the bathroom which holds the lotions and potions a girl needs to put her best face forward. Come to think of it, the entire bathroom, from its black and white tiled floor to its copper shower curtain is a Rob original, too.

A YEAR AGO A peek into Hooterville’s past.

Unhappy Feet

It was a dark and stormy morning. I started it off on the wrong foot by putting my bare one into an alarmingly big (and remarkably cold) puddle by the table in the kitchen. That’s what I get for running around barefoot. My late, lamented stepmother found this habit deplorable. To her, only poor people went around with no shoes and it was utterly shameful.

Unfortunately for all of us, she was not around to see me get my comeuppance, or to notice the other big puddle near the sliding glass doors. Feeling like my house was falling apart around me, I went to feed the kitties, only to discover a large and slimy banana slug* in Clyde’s dish. I’m not sure which of us was more concerned. Clyde looked at it in horror (maybe it had bare feet) while I threw caution and the slug to the winds by grabbing it in my bare hands and chucking it into the woods. Why should my feet have all the fun?

The fun was just beginning. When I turned on the water in the shower, the water stayed persistently cold. It normally takes a while to warm up, and in the winter, I don’t have to add cold water to the hot, but it soon became clear that the pilot light in the flash heater was out.

As you would only expect in a house as eccentric as mine, where the light switches say “NO” when they’re on and you turn them off by flipping them up, the flash heater is located outside. Yes, where they keep the wind and the rain.

I pulled my coat, hat and flowered rain boots on over my PJs and deplorably bare feet and went out to investigate with a flashlight. It’s at moments like this when you realize that no matter how faux, you are in fact a grown up, and no one else is going to fix your flash heater in the early morning rainy darkness. I thought longingly of my brother-in-law Rob, sleeping innocently just yards away, and his ability to fix everything**. He could take care of this in less time than it took me to put on my coat and hat.

I couldn’t make it light by pushing the igniting button, so I went back inside and got one of those barbecue lighters. Then I pressed the gas button with one hand and, leaning back as far as possible, applied the lighter through the hole in the front and hoped for the best. I am pleased to report that nothing exploded and I lived to tell the tale. Also that the flash heater lit and stayed lit, much like F. Scott Fitzgerald.

On the other hand, my bare feet also discovered that Clyde had thrown up on the bathmat. At least it was on the way into the shower.

*When I still lived in the city, I came up here to visit my sister. Her bathroom is off the front porch, and when I went to use it late one night, I discovered a banana slug had wrapped itself around the doorknob by wrapping my hand around the banana slug. I shrieked with horror and I still think I could hear my brother-in-law snickering.

**He’s building more shelves for me! Stay tuned!

A YEAR AGO: Remembering my beloved father on his birthday.

Road Trip

You guys! I actually left the County after a year and a half. Alert the media!

I’m coming to you from Monterey, where it’s warm enough to have the door of my motel room open at 7:30 pm as I await the delivery of Chinese food.

While I love food delivery as much as – well, probably more than – the next girl, and suffer from slothitude in about the same way, in my defense, I left the house at 10:00 am and got here at 4:30.

Granted, it’s 260 miles, including a long stretch of winding, narrow country roads, and I stopped for lunch in San Francisco, but still. Traffic was pretty bad in some parts, especially for a for a girl whose idea of “traffic” is waiting for two trucks to turn onto the highway or being stuck behind tourists driving 15 miles below the speed limit. I amused myself by watching people desperately switching between the two available lanes on this highway, as if this would make any difference whatsoever. Glacially paced traffic is glacially paced traffic, my friend, especially when it stretches as far as the eye can see. It was that mystery traffic, too, where there’s no accident and no particular reason for the slowness, or for it picking up the pace again.

It was a little daunting to see the arrival time on the GPS keeping getting later and later, and I mentally revised my plan of doing some shopping on arrival to having an adult beverage and calling for delivery food after unpacking.

At least I know everything is fine back home. Rob came by before I left this morning, so I could give him last minute instructions and he could tell me about his latest woodworking endeavor which he will be working on in my absence, ingeniously combining cat sitting and home improvement.

The shelves he recently built for me were such a success:

shelves

that he is going to build more for me. Maybe with a cabinet underneath with sliding doors. We’ll see! I am looking forward to it.

It was also good that he came by when he did, because Clyde had thrown up on the quilt, so I had to wash it. I did not want to leave it wet, or leave it in the propane dryer with its scary open flame, so it was good knowing Rob was there to keep an eye on it. Also to pet the kitties. Clyde has never been without both Roscoe and me at the same time, and Audrey is not exactly cuddly, so I know he will need pets and fussing from Rob. Even Audrey likes it when Rob pets her, so I imagine they will all keep each other company.

Dinner’s ready, and tomorrow is another day. I am planning to visit the famous Aquarium. I believe I can walk my traffic free way there. Stay tuned…

A YEAR AGO: I seem to be living my very own Groundhog Day. A year ago Rob was working on my house, and I was battling Audrey’s fleas a year ago, just like I am now. Hmmm…

2015

It was a year of change for me. Maybe too much in too short a time. I lost my job at the end of 2014 and jumped into the hell job in February, jumping ship for a less hellish job in March, and interviewing for a job I was lucky not to get in late summer. I have interviewed more over the past year than in the previous 20 years. I still kept up with the jobette, though, working Saturdays over the summer. Working six days a week was an interesting experience, and taught me a lot about time management.

The year ended on a tragic note, with the staggering loss of my beloved Roscoe. I can’t believe I will never see him again, hear his mournful meow, pet his rough, yet soft fur or his rakish torn ear. His loss leaves a hole in my heart and home which will never be filled.

Trips to San Francisco: 0! For the first time since moving to Hooterville, not one single trip to civilization. That’s what happens when you lose the job that paid for the trips.

Season rainfall (late 2014 through May 2015): 40.43 inches. Better than 2014’s 32.75 inches, but not enough to make a dent in the drought. Let’s hope the El Niño forecast for the 2015-16 winter is accurate, though not too floody.

Power Outages: Three, but they were epic, each time.

All that working made the merest dent in my reading, though, coming in at a count of 93 versus 2014’s 100. Favorite books read this year were all true stories. What Stands in a Storm was both inspiring and harrowing. It follows the lives of several Alabamans during a “superstorm” in 2011. I was so caught up in the lives and experiences of those who survived and those who didn’t that I was reading it with tears pouring down my face and my hands shaking. The Residence tells the fascinating story of the White House servants from the Kennedys to the Obamas. Many of the staff continue to serve the First Families well into their 70s and 80s, and become almost part of the family. Life After Murder follows the lives of men who were paroled after serving long prison sentences, the joys and challenges of adapting to life outside prison walls after decades inside. I learned a lot about California’s alarmingly arbitrary parole system, as well as human nature.

As for my little corner of the world:

January: My New Year’s clean up unearthed some treasures. A great celebration of Jarrett’s birthday. The Covered California madness continues. The many joys of Erica and Jessica. And visiting the dynamic duo in their Batcave/Palace.

February: A dream sparks a childhood memory. It’s nice to meander down memory lane sometimes. Stormageddon blasts into town, taking the power with it. And the weather just keeps getting scarier. I say farewell to my dear co-workers at the jobette. ~Sob~ The beginning of my new job. I love my handyman and my pen pal.

March: It’s Erin to the rescue when a propane leak stops me from getting home after a long day at work. I have such great friends! Why go jump in a lake when you can jump in an icy cold river? For charity? My brother is always my hero. And I have the best ex-husband ever. I also have a new job. Again. Remembering my father and best friend on his birthday. He was the best Dad ever. And speaking of family: it’s always fun to meet more! A trip to the South Coast to revel in a theater production all the way from London. And some spring cleaning at home.

April: A peek at the past, starring Me. In which my veins are found wanting. An evening at the theater. Learning about Hooterville’s past. My blog’s 14th birthday, and a very memorable 12th birthday for a very memorable girl. Saying goodbye
to Lu’s dog Marco, a gentle giant and a gentleman. Sleep well, sweet boy.

May: The Derby and a new ‘do – what’s not to love? It’s official! Stella joins the family. Trying to adjust to my new lot in life. More successfully on some days than others. A lovely evening at the theater. Megan’s wonderful birthday barbecue.

June: The extremeness of Audrey knows no bounds. She really is the Audreyest Audrey ever, from stripy head to expensive toe. A less than stellar birthday for our heroine this year. This was entirely made up for by the utter awesomeness of Junapalooza. Midnight adventures. Remembering a long ago Paris vacation. Megan and I take a day off together.

July: The midnight intruder left quite an impression. A wonderful time at the circus. Erica’s cleverness and creativity know no bounds. The unexpected leads to some unexpected road incidents. Dinner and a movie. The wonderful Kalli’s wonderful annual birthday party. Working six days a week presents some challenges. The retro balcony garden.

August: Fierce wildfires burn in neighboring Lake County, which was brutally hit again a month later by the even worse Valley Fire, whose burn scars could be seen from space. The fourteenth anniversary of Dad’s death. I will never stop missing and loving him. As time passes, I find I think more about how lucky I was to have him than how sad I am at losing him, though the sorrow is always there in my heart and my blood, like the bassline to a song. Of dentists, dogs, and James Dean. An an encounter with a deer. I hope I never have a close(r) encounter, though part of me fears that hitting a deer is pretty much inevitable.

September: Started the month out right with dinner and a play. Musings on cars. My younger, I mean, older brother is now 50! He is one of the most amazing people I know, and one of the best things in my life. Health insurance of any kind is just plain ridiculous, at least in this country. The pleasures of the County Fair. And the displeasure of the time change (even though it hasn’t happened yet. I’m pre-complaining here. It’s all about time management!).

October: Just another Manic Monday. A wonderful visit with a wonderful friend. And my friends can pretty much get me through anything. Taking a little break from it all. Vertigo suddenly rears its ugly head in my pretty one, and refuses to leave. Getting up close and personal with my old friend the moon.

November: Roscoe the hunter (and cuddler). A Jessica-free, but not fun-free Halloween. Our good friend Paul stops by while on a cross-country road trip with his 90 year father. A magical trip to the South Coast (is there any other kind?) to see Benedict Cumberbatch in “Hamlet”. And pick up some Thai food, of course. In which our heroine attempts to become less of a dizzy blonde. Thanksgiving preparations do not go as planned. But a good time was had by all.

December: The joy of the Festival of Lights at the Botanical Gardens. And the agony of losing my beloved cat Roscoe. Oh, Roscoe…

Let there be lights in the darkness. And a soul-soothing mini break, right here in town. And the beauty of the Bolshoi Ballet. A slightly neurotic and busy Christmas Eve, followed by a wonderful Christmas.

I did an OK-ish job of keeping my new year’s resolution to spend more time with friends and family. There’s room for improvement, though in my defense, I do work between 50 and 60 hours a week, which severely cuts into fun time. I would still like to spend more time hanging out with my brother when it’s not related to my car.

As for you, Dear Reader: I wish you health and happiness in this coming new year, and always. Thank you for always being there for me and sharing your wit and wisdom.

A YEAR AGO: A look back at 2014.

Let There Be Lights

You’d think being heartbroken over losing Roscoe would mean no Christmas decorations, but you’d be wrong. Part of my survival strategy is squeezing every little bit of joy out of every little thing, whether it’s Fred the hummingbird hovering like a jewel outside my office window or cuddling with Clyde before the alarm goes off in the morning darkness.

I decided more light and sparkle were needed, so I hauled out the aged Christmas tree:

tree

and twined lights up the driftwood banister:

stairs

I put the wreath on the door:

wreath

The mistletoe in the middle is a gift from an 8 year old admirer, “So you’ll get lots of Christmas kisses.”

I realize I never did show you the lights on the tree in the outdoor living room:

lights

So the house is cheerful and sparkly on the rare occasions when the power stays on. It’s been a wild and stormy couple of weeks, in more ways than one.

A YEAR AGO: The horror of interviewing for what would turn out to be the hell job. Ignorance can be bliss, and interviews can be better than the actual jobs.

Silly Rabbit

Megan stopped by my house, saying, “Rob sent you a bunny,” which is not something you hear every day. I came downstairs to find a wonderful ceramic rabbit made in 1955 (the date is etched on the base):

rabbit1

He got it for $2 at a thrift store, knowing that it would both delight me and look perfect with the kitschy vintage animal planters on my balcony, and so it does:

rabbit2

Rob and I share a certain aesthetic appreciation. 🙂

I didn’t plan it, but somehow I ended up with all these cute old planters up there:

planter

The top one is a little squirrel in a log, and underneath is another log with a saw, perfect for this area where logging is one of the biggest (legal) industries.

Here’s a look at the rest of the balcony:

balcony

It’s the perfect place to read and drink wine.

In addition to the rabbit, Megan also brought a plant called an anthurium. Lu bought it for my office, and said the heart-shaped flowers are to remind me that I’m loved. I wasted no time in bringing it to work, where it looks perfect with my filing cabinet garden:

plants

I bought the sea urchin planter when Megan and I took that Saturday off together a couple of weeks ago. I love it! I brought the old vase on the right from home. I like my office garden. I have a real garden outside my window, where the courtyard is beautifully landscaped and Fred the hummingbird visits me every day.

A YEAR AGO: Things were pretty much the same, with me working all the time and Megan at Reggae on the River.

The Beast

Jerry Seinfeld gets his car back from the valet, and something is amiss.

Jerry: Boy, do you smell something?
Elaine: Do I smell something? What am I, hard of smelling? Of course I smell something.
Jerry: What is it?
Elaine: I think it’s B.O.!
Jerry: What?
Elaine: It’s B.O. The valet must have had B.O.
Jerry: It can’t be. Nobody has B.O. like this.
Elaine: Jerry. It’s B.O.
Jerry: But the whole car smells.
Elaine: So?
Jerry: So when somebody has B.O., the “O” usually stays with the “B”. Once the “B” leaves, the “O” goes with it.

— Seinfeld, “The Smelly Car”

I may have solved the Mystery of the Cat at Midnight, without any help from Nancy Drew (though I still envy her blue convertible and general efficiency). It seems that Roscoe may in fact have been amusing himself with a late bird behind the box of my late father’s letters.

Working all the time has not improved my general domestic disability, but the strange smell that made its odoriferous appearance lately was above and beyond my lack of housekeeping skills. I pulled out the couch, but there was only a crop of unscented dust bunnies back there. I virtuously vacuumed them up and replaced the couch. The smell was still there, so I kept hunting. Oh Nancy, where art thou?

My house is small, and basically one room, so the places to look in this game of stink hide and seek were limited. Eventually, I thought to remove the box of letters, revealing a very dead Steller’s Jay. I swept the deceased onto a dustpan and removed it to the woods, but even though the “B” was gone, the “O” remained, and it seemed that the removal made the O worse.

I mopped the entire area under the stairs with Clorox and water, which I had previously believed had omnipotent cleaning powers. But it was powerless against the O. As Jerry said, “This is not just an odor – you need a priest to get rid of this thing! It’s a presence! It’s The Beast!” I borrowed Nature’s Miracle from my sister, thinking that if it gets rid of skunk smell, it can get rid of dead bird smell, but The Beast just laughed at it and turned up the stink. I applied more Clorox and prayed. Rob came by and applied Pine Sol, crawling around under the stairs with a sponge which went straight into the trash, but the cure was temporary. At this point, I have to hope it fades with time, or move. Any cleaning or exorcism tips gratefully accepted.

A YEAR AGO: Birthdays and anniversaries. Unscented.

Inside & Out

Megan stopped by yesterday with a bouquet of lilacs and flowering white heather she had picked in her garden to surprise me. I was delighted, and my house smells fantastic and nostalgic. Lilacs are my favorite flowers, and always remind me of my grandmother, who grew them in New York state. In fact, her part of the world has hosted a lilac festival every May for more than 115 years.

I’ve been enjoying my week off before starting the new job on Monday, including little pleasures like savoring coffee with the purring cats on a sunny morning and the feel of a new wool carpet on bare feet. Time has gone alarmingly fast, though, and I did not accomplish the spring cleaning I was considering doing. As I write, the cobwebs on the doors are glowing in the sunshine. Maybe I’ll clean them off today. Maybe not…

I did (sort of) spring clean the pantry/laundry room/etc. room, though. Inspired by the Vertigo poster I hung there years ago, I ordered some striped orange canvas bins from Target and stored all my cleaning products in them:

laundry

It’s definitely easier to find things like silver polish, and it looks much nicer – at least on that side of the room.

I unintentionally updated the living room as well. How, you ask? Well, Monica had a big area rug sale at her shop and I went mostly to support her and say hi, not meaning to buy anything. However, I fell in love with a rug which was 75% off. Practically free! I can always justify shopping. And it looks marvelous:

rug

I finally got around to hanging up the lovely artwork that was given to me on my last day at the jobette:

IMG_1517

I think it looks great with the little painting of the Embarcadero at twilight perched on the bookshelf. It’s by Keith Wicks, who also made the big painting of Russian Hill which hangs over the couch (you can see a peek of it above).

I also took the opportunity to meet a friend for lunch and run a few errands in town, including picking up some books at the library. On my way back to Hooverville, I picked up Michael, Lichen’s former neighbor, who is now settled in his new place just a few miles down the Ridge from his old place. He was very happy to get a ride from the Big Town to the Village, and is also happy with his new place and its unaccustomed indoor plumbing which flushes. I was glad to hear that and to have some company on my journey.

Inside the library book, I found a bright pink Post It from the woman who helps set up the artwork at the jobette each month. Her library books and mine are usually next to each other on the holds shelf, and she often remarked on how interesting my choices were. Her note asked me to get in touch – she misses me! You have to love a small town. And a few days off.

A YEAR AGO: A beloved John Hughes movie is converted into a delightful play. By a sixteen year old! Also, being around actual teenagers reminds me that I no longer am one, except inside.

One Thing & Another

When the storms blew through here earlier this month, they not surprisingly wrenched the tarpaper off the former bathroom window:

window1

which was, as Mark puts it, “cancelled” when Rob fixed up the bathroom last year. I don’t think I ever showed you the toilet paper holder he made from copper pipe to match the shower curtain rod which he also made:

copper1

He also covered the outlet/light switch with copper to match:

copper2

It was Rob to the rescue as usual, just like Mighty Mouse. Come to think of it, he kind of is Mighty Mouse. Small in size, big on help. Only without the tights. He turned up one day to fix the window before the next storm gets here. He gathered some old wood planks from James’ collection of things and stuff, and voilà:

window2

So I’m all set in case it ever rains again. Which it doesn’t seem it ever will. It’s been in the 60s and sunny every day since the storm went away, while the rest of the country has been freezing its collective butt off.

penquill2

letters

Rob’s repair delivery wasn’t the only pleasant surprise I received over the past few days. The mail* contained a letter from Jessica! It read as follows:

Dear Suzy,

How are you? I am recovering from a cold, but other than that, I am doing fine. What’s new? Are you doing anything for valentine’s day? I am planning a valentine’s party! Might not happen though. 🙁

What’s the weather like over there? It’s raining over here. Yay! I hope that you get lots of rain.

Sincerely,

Jessica

XO XO

The “sincerely” part was my favorite. I wasted no time in writing her back, as you can see above, and also acquiring more stationery, so I can keep writing to her.

penquill2

So far, I’m doing a decent job in keeping my new year’s resolution to spend more time with family and friends. We’ve been having family dinners about once a month. This month’s was at my brother’s place, and we had barbecued chicken and salad by the fire. A friend of my siblings’ was there from the Bay Area. They have known each other since the long ago days when they lived on boats at Pier 39. Though I don’t remember meeting him back then, I probably did, and somewhat awkwardly, it turned out that he helped my siblings to move my stuff out of the apartment when John and I broke up.

Despite that slight weirdness, we had a great time and I really liked him a lot. He was completely wowed by the beauty of the area and the garden, and by the blanket of stars in the sky. Both Venus and Mars blazed beside the crescent moon. He’s planning to come back up with his son this summer, if not before. Old friends, new friends, your family, and old and new memories – what could be better?

*As Jerry Seinfeld put it, “Without bills, magazines and junk mail, there is no mail.” I’m always delighted when there’s an exception to this rule, which is followed far too strictly for my taste.

A YEAR AGO: Visiting Erica and Jessica. And a peek at the local museum.

Inside & Out

fern
Frosty Fern

Happy new year, y’all! It started out a frosty one here, -2C outside and +4 inside, which is not that much of a plus. Ever notice that everything is worse in metric? Temperatures are colder and distances are further (though bra sizes are stupendous).

My brother was working a 72 hour shift, so I went over to his place to make sure the pipes had not burst in the sub-freezing temperatures. Though it’s only about a quarter of a mile away, it’s also about 5 Fahrenheit degrees colder over there in the winter, so the entire garden was heavily frosted, sparkling in the sun.

No pipes were harmed during the cold night, but I left his tap dripping, just in case. And fed Scout, the mini cat whose tiny body contains the loudest meows known to catdom. Since we were inside, I could pet her silky fur – not even Jonathan can pet her outside. Her youth spent as a stray cat is too deeply imprinted, and she must be very clever to have escaped the many predators for as long as she did – she was at least a year old when she turned up on my brother’s doorstep one day.

Back at home, I continued my tidying up activities. I had the week off between Christmas and New Year’s Day, and I decided to use the gift of time to try and create a little order from chaos, especially in the studio/storage room. There’s still a long way to go, but I’ve made significant inroads. And there were a couple of unexpected rewards (in addition to unusual virtue). I found the lovely Rita’s ID tag:

ritatag

I have put it carefully away in my jewelry box, remembering the happy times I spent with that beautiful, wonderful girl, the star of the neighborhood.

I also came across an “At Home” card my maternal grandparents sent out after their wedding in 1924:

athome

The only wedding picture I have of them shows them in a field with a grumpy preacher and one attendant each, so I get the impression that this was not a conventional wedding, and might even have been an elopement, given that my grandmother left home in order to go to high school*. I always think my grandfather looks like he won the lottery:

nanahohowedding

The card still smelled faintly of my grandmother’s lily of the valley perfume, even though she’s been gone for almost 40 years. I am lucky to have so many wonderful memories.

My delightful co-worker Erin gifted me with a lovely red clock for Christmas. It was out of the box for less than two minutes before it found itself on the wall, looking perfect:

clock

I also organized the books by color:

books

Pretty, no? A good start to the new year so far, I’d say!

A YEAR AGO: Back home from the last trip of the year to San Francisco.

*She moved in with her scandalous Aunt Luella, who got married in a pink dress and wore the dress to parties afterwards, bobbed her hair, and went to teacher’s college. She taught at the same high school where my grandfather was the principal – and my mother was a student.

Nearly Done

We were gifted with another inch and a half of rain! It’s very early in the season, and it’s making me hopeful for a rainy winter.

During the rainfall, I realized that I did not have any sauce for the pasta I was planning to make for dinner. So I pulled on my little flowered rain boots and the hat I bought at the fair one year, and skipped through the puddles to my sister’s house, where she was getting ready for work.

The dogs were more excited than usual to see me, and that’s pretty excited. I don’t think anyone in the world is ever happier to see me than Star. Even my Dad made less fuss when I flew halfway around the world in coach to see him. The dogs were bored out of their minds in the way dogs are when it rains. They went out to pee, but couldn’t wait to get back in the house and out of the wetness. If possible, Stella actually hates the rain more than Star. So they are bored, but don’t want to go out and play. An appearance by Auntie Suzy just brightens up the dullness of their day.

Fortunately for me, Megan had some tomato sauce, and also tomatoes from the epic family garden which are due to be made into sauce any day. I also used onions, garlic and peppers from the family estate to make the sauce.

While I was at Megan’s, Rob showed me that he had done some work in their bathroom, repainting and planning to replace their sink with a better one he found somewhere, as Rob does. So he’s been cheating on my bathroom with his own bathroom. 🙂

There’s really not much left to do in my bathroom. Rob came by last night and put on a coat of primer. There’s just the walls to be painted white and the door to be painted black, along with installing the new door knob set. Here’s how it looked before the primer went on:

And here’s how it looked before Rob made it beautiful:

Amazing difference, isn’t it? Rob suggested taking down that shelf and it makes the whole room look bigger. I love how Rob was so creative in finding and using things. It’s been so fun spending more time with him. And of course, Clyde did an excellent job of supervising.

Here & There

We ended up getting 3/4 inch of rain! My lazy side (is there any other?) was happy not to have to water the garden, though the rain did seem to revitalize the mosquitoes. Every silver lining has its cloud?

Wednesday required a follow up visit to the car spa in Santa Rosa. Apparently whatever they did last time needed a minor-ish adjustment, and since it was part of the warranty repair, all it cost was about five hours’ driving and a tank of gas. I can’t tell you how nice it is to be able to take the key out of the ignition on the first try, and to have the dashboard warning light- and beep-free. I’m hoping that this has finally solved all of Wednesday’s woes and that the car curse is broken.

A girl can dream.

The other day, I stopped on the Ridge on my way home and gave a lift to Michael. He is an older gentleman who can often be seen riding his bike around Hooterville. When Schatzi was missing, he was very helpful in searching for her, especially since he was not in a car but able to cover a good distance. As you know, we never did find our beloved girl, but it was comforting how our little community rallied around and did its best to help.

On this evening, he was on foot. I stopped and asked him if he would like a ride – he often says no when he is on his bike, but I keep asking anyway – and he was very happy to hop in. I asked where his bike was, and he said that he had hitchhiked to the Big Town that day and was on his way back.

I asked him where he lived, fairly confident that it wouldn’t be as far down the Ridge as I am, and it turned out that he lives on the same road as Lichen. Not just the same road, but on the same property! Not only that, but someone had just bought the property, which had been for sale for years, and he and Lichen have six weeks to find somewhere else.

As I was digesting this shocking news, Rob passed us and I waved and smiled. Michael said, “That’s Robert.” I said yes, he is married to my sister. Michael was surprised and pleased with this information, and spent a few minutes telling me that Rob is a good man, very smart and very funny. It was nice to hear that someone appreciates Rob as much as his family does.

I offered to drive Michael all the way home but he preferred to walk down his road. He said that he lives in a ten foot by ten foot cabin and wasn’t ready to be inside just yet. I told him I’d keep an eye open for a new place for him and went on my way.

I expect that whoever bought that property will tear down the little houses and build something new, and I don’t like the thought of people who would kick tenants out of their homes with inadequate time to find shelter moving into our little community. One of the nice things about living somewhere so isolated is that it tends not to attract people like this. I hope it’s not a harbinger of change. And it’s hard not to worry about it happening to me some day.

Yesterday, my little abode seemed more like Grand Central than a little hippie hovel deep in the woods.

Mark came by to borrow season two of “Dexter” – he and Citlali are both completely hooked on it, and while he was there, checked out the cupboard in the pantry/laundry room that came off about a year and a half ago and which he has been promising to fix since he got home from New Jersey last year. He thought he might have the right hinges somewhere, and went off to look.

He came back with them and they didn’t fit, so he made a note to look the next time he’s in town.

I started dinner – chili cashew chicken stir fry – and Rob knocked on the door. He was looking for Parmesan since the Gro was closed, and fortunately, I still had a piece left over from the pasta with pesto, chicken and artichokes which I had for dinner the night before.

I gave it to him along with a belated birthday hug – Rob turned 50 on Thursday and I hadn’t seen him to give him a birthday hug and kiss. We really need to get it together with our celebratory BBQs this year – I still haven’t had mine, nor has Jonathan. And note to Self: let Jonathan know that he has been promoted to my big brother. He and Megan are the only ones still hanging onto their 40s.

I had just sat down to dinner and “Murder In the First”, a very enjoyable policier set in San Francisco and actually filmed there, when Citlali came by to borrow some conditioner for her beautiful girls’ beautiful long hair. I gave her the rest of the bottle, knowing all too well what it’s like to try and detangle long hair without conditioner.

I love how we can all help each other out. We’re all in this together!

Update: Megan tells me that Lichen knows the guy who bought the property. Apparently the new owner’s vision is to make the little houses an “artists’ colony”, and since the new owner knows Lichen, has enlisted his services to find a contractor to renovate the houses. Lichen can stay in his house and be an on site caretaker, though everyone else has to move. They have sixty days to find new places, which is better than six weeks.

On & Off the Couch

Today I felt improved enough to venture a couple of miles down the Ridge to look for a new (to me) doorknob for the other door in the bathroom. You may recall that after buying the new door and accessories, it became painfully obvious that the cheapo knob on the cheapo hollow core door would have to go.

My back did not enjoy jouncing down the dirt driveway or the dirt road leading to my neighbor’s place:

I ignored it, though, and looked through boxes of vintage doorknobs and faceplates before narrowing it down to three finalists, and finally the winner:

I knew I wouldn’t find a match, but I did find one in the same kind of tone and with a taper, so I think they will work well together. The new knob got the Rob seal of approval, too. Currently we are planning to paint the now blue door shiny black, which should look great with the black and white floor tiles. I think Rob is also going to paint the bathroom white after mudding in the wall next to the new door. It’s going to look great.

When I got back home, I put on the heating pad and then applied Glam Glow’s Thirsty Mud mask and Bright Mud eye treatment while enjoying the soap operatic antics on Nashville. The best line of the season has to be Juliette Barnes saying, “I guess nice just ain’t my color.”