Celebrations

People are beginning to return to their homes if they still have them, and the long cleaning process is starting. Much of what remains is toxic and will have to be removed by CalFire. Rain is expected later this week and the fires may be out by Friday. I used to love the smell of woodsmoke, but now it horrifies me. People always think earthquakes are the dangerous thing about living in California, but it’s really wildfires.

My friends in Redwood Valley all survived, though one lost her house and everything in it. They are beginning the lengthy clean up and recovery process. The one person I know who lived in Santa Rosa until last month would have been evacuated. He and his family are in Anaheim for a year, since he is working on a project for Disney. And they were evacuated in the Anaheim fires. They are all OK, though.

After such a terrible week, it seemed like a good time to do some celebrating. And what better way to start than a party for a cat at a bookstore?

The Great Catsby arrived 5 years ago and has been ruling the bookstore with a disdainful paw ever since. He is a very handsome cat:

And perhaps being the guest of honor had a good effect on his usual grumpiness, since he tolerated the attention and mingled with his guests, waving his tail and accepting pets and compliments.

There was a wheel to spin for prizes:

I won some notecards and Megan won a cat sticker. Someone had already won the grand prize of feeding Catsby a can of tuna by the time we got there (as you can see to the left of the wheel), but we could still color in Catsby ears to wear on our heads, decorate cupcakes, and buy books.

After the party, we stopped by a local inn for a drink. We parked next to a beautiful, shiny, vintage black El Camino, and I mentioned to Megan how much I love those cars, despite their lack of practicality. I will almost always choose form over function. We also noticed that the lights were on, so we notified the hostess and she started asking the bar’s patrons if the car was there. A well-dressed gentleman sitting next to us turned out to be the owner, and he ran out to turn off the lights and then toasted us with his martini on his return.

We had blackberry martinis:

They were made of vodka, fresh blackberries, lemon juice, and Chambord, garnished with three fresh blackberries. It was a nice end to a crazy week. You can imagine how busy Megan was at work this past week with the fires, and she worked an extra shift.

The next day, I went to a friend’s 70th birthday party on the beach at Big River. Big River is just south of the Village and the beach is where the river empties into the ocean. Big River’s name refers to the size of the redwoods that grow on its shores rather than the river itself. And yes, there is a Little River, the next town south of Mendocino. There the soil is acidic and hard, as it is at our house, and there the redwoods are much smaller, hence Little River and the Pygmy Forest.

I expected it to be cold and windy, but was pleasantly surprised to find it warm and sunny. Some of the kids were even swimming in the river! There were lots of people and lots of food, and it was nice to be together and celebrate after this dark week.

A YEAR AGO: Storms and Halloween décor, at work and at home. ‘Tis the season.

FIVE YEARS AGO: Lots of unexpected gifts.

Fun Fair

I left work early on Friday. I went home, got changed, and hopped into Megan’s little red car to go to the County Fair.

This year’s Fair had a special guest star: Ben, whose visit last year was one of its greatest joys. And this time, he had brought his girlfriend Erica along. They had spent the week in San Francisco, their first visit there, but I think not their last, since they were both smitten with my former hometown. Here they are enjoying their very first Giants game:

We met up at the funnel cake stand and exchanged hugs. Then we set off to the livestock area, where we watched the 4-H kids showing their goats and winning their ribbons. I love seeing those little kids in their impractical white outfits and jaunty green scarves. They are remarkably poised for their youth.

We meandered in the barn with the cows, goats, and snack-size sheep before checking out the more exotic animals. Unfortunately for my ever-enquiring mind, the labels on the exotica were extremely information deficient, merely noting the sex and age of the birds without disclosing what the heck they were, which is what sprung to mind when seeing this:

Chicken on stilts? And this:

Some kind of pigeon? Note the feathered feet!

Replete with weirdness, we headed to the Agriculture building, where we met up with our Erica and the beautiful Jessica, who was wearing a modish, mod outfit:

We apple tasted:

The apples were all so different and all so delicious, all of them grown in the same valley where the Fair is held. I was underwhelmed by this year’s biggest pumpkin, though:

The Great Pumpkin is not all that great up close. At least Charlie Brown was spared that disappointment.

The quilts, however, did not disappoint. I was very taken with this one:

While admiring it with Ben and his Erica, who were also fans, a gentleman told us that he was the maker’s husband and that his very talented wife had made it for their nephew. Lucky kid! We also loved this very different quilt:

Our Erica observed that none of the panels were the same. The colors are just lovely. It deserved to win first place.

This was my favorite flower arrangement:

And appropriately enough since our two visitors had just crossed the Golden Gate Bridge, there was this charming arrangement:

There was even water beneath the bridge!

We all had such a great time. I always love the Fair. Especially with family and friends.

A YEAR AGO: At the Fair, of course!

FIVE YEARS AGO: Stop me if you’ve heard this before.

Grilled

My (now older) brother’s birthday fell during the Worst Long Weekend Ever. His birthday, near or on Labor Day, (allegedly) ends the summer, and my sister’s, on or near Memorial Day, starts it, their birthdays bracketing the tourist season.

It was still about a zillion degrees as I headed to the family estate, driving really slowly so I could bask in Wednesday’s blasting air conditioning during the quarter mile drive. The canopies were up, but they were no match for the Evil Death Star. I packed my county fair straw hat with ice and put it on my head, but really, nothing could help.

As I write, it’s foggy but still not cool. Like 100+ degree temperatures, I have never experienced this before. I may have been scarred for life. I am still obsessively checking the weather forecast and am appalled to see that they are calling for highs of 76 on Sunday, which is probably code for 96. Why does it always have to be hot as hell on the weekends? And when is this heat going to go back to hell, where it belongs?

As for the party, it was well-attended, with its many guests spanning several generations. Even though it was his birthday, my brother still manned the grill, turning out turkey burgers, hamburgers, and sausages to go with garden salad:

Jessica and I took our plates to a shady spot, where we were joined by Scout, Jonathan’s mini cat:

You can gauge something of her diminutive size by comparing her to the folded napkin beside her. Here you see Jessica feeding Scout hamburger morsels, which may have had something to do with the world’s most skittish cat hanging out with us:

I also convinced Jessica to pose for a picture, wearing my ice-less hat:

I’m sure these days are rapidly coming to an end since she is 14, so we will have to enjoy them while we can.

While Jessica was visiting over the weekend, we hid in the relative cool of Megan’s house (it is so shaded by trees that it is always cool; nice during a heatwave, not so nice in the winter) and had a mini 80s movie festival, watching “Working Girl” and “Desperately Seeking Susan”. Jessica found the 80s fashions hilarious, though she loved Madonna’s style in “Susan” and pronounced her “super pretty”. I agree – that is my favorite era of Madonna’s looks. Jessica coveted the pyramid jacket while I still covet the skull hatbox/suitcase and the glittery boots. And we all sighed over Harrison Ford and Aidan Quinn.

All in all, it was a fun evening. Now if the weather would start behaving itself…

A YEAR AGO: At the circus.

FIVE YEARS AGO: The jobette moved uptown, among other things.

Eyewitness

I’m sorry to report that high beams* season is already upon us, as the encroaching darkness starts its long slide into winter, when I will be driving in darkness both ways, instead of just one. Months without driving in darkness (two?) are as short as a Canadian summer and just as welcome.

In addition to the unwelcome return of my perennial enemy, we have been experiencing a true Fogust this year. This is fine with me, but it did make viewing of the eclipse of the century impossible. We should have seen about 80% in the Big Town, but all I saw was a darker shade of pale.

Jonathan and Rio, on the other hand, left the Wednesday before to road trip to a secret spot where there was totality. I mentioned this to my friend C, who is a professional photographer, and this was his reply:

I just hope they are not going to spend those 2 or 3 minutes just to make photos or videos only and not experience the event really. The next day there will be a zillion of that stuff available online anyway. Copy and paste.

My advice: be somewhere where you can see it coming, this is very important, you have to be high up, facing the right direction, have your high quality glasses, and filters for binoculars/telescopes etc. Lie on your back and enjoy.

Make sure just to enjoy the event I would say, unless you work for the National Geographic or so.

He would approve of their methods, I think. They headed out to a secret spot in Oregon on the Wednesday before the eclipse. Not surprisingly for someone who restored a 1958 Predicta and hooked up a DVD player to it, he figured out a way to send emails through his ham radio to keep us apprised of what was happening:

August 19

Another lovely day here in the Aldrich Mountains. By watching the sun during the critical times here at camp we determined that we can see the entire eclipse right here from camp.

We took a hike through the Cedar Grove Botanical Area and found (you guessed it!) a small grove of cedars amidst all the fir and pine. At the center of the grove is a brook with cold, clear water cascading over small rocks, with a baby cedar tree growing right in the middle. We will be returning to that idyllic spot tomorrow with a picnic lunch, our water filter, and bathing items and we still have our sweet little spot to ourselves.

August 20

Well, just another day in paradise here. We hiked back to the creek we found yesterday to bathe and have lunch along the way. Yikes was it fuhreeeeezing! But it sure felt great to clean up after four days on the rough. Such a perfect little stream, with cedars and ferns growing in it and all sort of other wildflowers. Sadly, most of them are long done for the year but must be quite a sight in spring.

We have selected a spot to watch from and will be heading out early in the AM. There were some clouds today that were worrisome but the weather report is still promising clear skies and the smoke has cleared up completely.

So wish us clear skies! I can’t wait for the moment we can take OFF our eclipse glasses and gaze up into the dark skies during daytime. They say it will be a little darker than a bright full moonlight night. We can’t wait!

August 21

Well, the long awaited day and time finally arrived. The day was clear and the spot we were in was perfect. It is a cliché, but words truly do fail me to describe totality. Up until over 80% coverage very little change could be seen. One was sort of asking oneself “is it really getting dimmer or am I imagining it?”. Even at 95% it seemed to still be pretty bright out and it was dimming very slowly.

Then suddenly, in a rush, it got dark. The stars came out, we could see Jupiter and the summer triangle. There was a 360 degree sunset all around us. Light seemed to rise up from the horizon un-refracted. Above this band of brightness was a band of sunset color, and above that the sky was deep blue and purple.

We were in the moon’s shadow, but with a view so wide that we could see beyond the darkness.And the corona around the moon was spectacular! We were with a small group of folks and we were all whooping and exclaiming and pointing things out to each other. Then, as suddenly as it had darkened, day returned.

Wowser, truly amazing and I must say that if you saw even a 98% eclipse you still haven’t seen one. I can understand why some chase them around the globe and am already thinking about 2024!

I am so glad they had such an amazing experience and got to share it together. I am looking forward to hearing about at our next family dinner – maybe on Saturday!

*High beams, which are of limited help in inky black country darkness, are a major disappointment in my adult life, along with painkillers, which do not, as the name suggests, actually kill the pain. Why am I surprised? Adult life itself has been a major disappointment. While it’s true there is no homework, when you’ve said that, you’ve said it all.

A YEAR AGO: Friends, camping, pie. And yes, early morning darkness.

FIVE YEARS AGO: Sigh. You can see the white heart on my beloved Roscoe’s chest. I miss you, my little wild one.

Jubilee


The One and Only

Today marks the 10th anniversary of Audrey’s less than benevolent reign over my household. An entire decade of being bossed around by a fuzzy, seven pound Force of Nature! Despite her diminutive size, Audrey has an outsized personality of extreme bossiness, and what she says goes.

Her hobbies include terrorizing the neighborhood dogs, sometimes accomplished by standing up on her back feet like a grizzly bear and swatting at their appalled faces, sometimes by drive by swats of disgust, and other times by the power of her Glare of Death, which is intimidating to most mortals.

She still demands to be let out in the early morning darkness, having earned the right long ago as the undisputed winner of Survivor: Hooterville, but she doesn’t stay out as long as she used to and spends more time on beauty sleep these days:

which is why she is so beautiful, of course.

She also deigns to sit on my lap when I am reading in bed at night, though she makes her displeasure known (and sometimes felt) when I relocate her in order to get my own beauty sleep. I love my grumpy Audrey, who is so perfectly balanced by my cuddly Clyde:

Today also marks the birthday of the beautiful Kalli, seen here with the handsome Jarrett:

Such a gorgeous couple! And speaking of gorgeous, today also marks the first anniversary of Rik and Lu’s glorious wedding. After 18 years together, they can finally wish each other “happy anniversary.” Here’s to many, many more!

Yesterday was Canada’s 150th anniversary and Megan and Rob’s 26th anniversary, so all in all, there’s a lot to celebrate these days.

A YEAR AGO: The kitty report.

FIVE YEARS AGO: Brightening up.

Junapalooza III

Junapalooza arrived on the heels of a week-long heat wave. I was glad that the temperature for our outdoor celebration was relatively humane, though I also wore my County Fair straw hat and hid under the canopy.

It was too hot to make future food on Friday, so I made my contribution to Junapalooza on Saturday morning before I headed off to the jobette. Our theme this year was bubbles, so I made spicy Korean meatballs with apricot-sriracha glaze. I used ground turkey instead of beef, and they were delicious. Erica suggested that we bring a couple of bags of Hawaiian rolls to transform the meatballs into sliders, which was a great idea. Erica’s meatballs were bathed in delectable barbecue sauce.

In addition to meat bubbles, we had various charcuterie and cheeses with blackberry-habanero preserves, made by Julie, who was there with her husband Darius and daughter Bella, who doubles as Jessica’s BFF. Julie also brought home-made bubble tea and home-made limoncello, along with Clyde May, the official whisky of Alabama.

Erica brought pink champagne, which I felt needed a pink straw:

and funfetti cupcakes topped with swirled caramel buttercream icing and sprinkles:

Because you always need sprinkles.

While the grown-ups chatted and drank various libations, the girls took a ride on the golf cart:

Erica took this photo and we all laughed so hard at their beautiful Addams Family faces. This is how they look when they are having fun!

Even Scout the mini cat ventured to the edges of the party:

Even though I always say Junapalooza is not about presents, somehow I still seem to get them, and very impressive ones at that. This year, my complaining about the undearly departed heatwave was rewarded by my siblings buying me a swamp cooler, which is supposed to arrive this week. It should make the sleeping loft bearable, or at least less crappy, when the next heat wave arrives. Less crappy is our goal!

As if this weren’t thoughtful enough, I was alerted to the gift via a card made by Rio:

Now, when I say “made by Rio”, I mean that she MADE THE PAPER and printed the picture on the front and her monogram on the back:

I asked her how she made the paper, completely stunned by the whole thing, and she was nonchalant but also cagy, not revealing the paper ingredients but admitting that the color of my card came from flower petals. How about that?

After dinner, we gathered around the fire pit to nibble our cupcakes and be serenaded by the girls:

who, like the rest of America, are addicted to Hamilton and are not afraid to share its joys with those of us who haven’t seen it.

Jessica once again escorted Fair Suzy to her car, and we agreed that next weekend would be the perfect time for our long-delayed sleepover. As I drove home in the gathering summer darkness, I had to agree with Erica when she leaned back on her hay bale and sighed, “This is perfection.”

Perfect Day (Part II)

We hopped back into Megan’s little red car and continued south on Highway One, past meadows of wildflowers dotted with cows, sheep, and horses, tall, rolling hills, tunnels of windswept cypresses, and always, the blue Pacific, its waves crashing against the rocky shore.

We drove through Point Arena, where we will hopefully be seeing more ballets and plays this winter, and as we approached the little campground at Anchor Bay, Megan suggested that we stop in and check it out. Every time we drive by it, we think of doing this, and today was the day!

It’s a charming little campground, with some permanent residents:

And other spaces for RVs and tents. There is a little store, showers, and even a fish/abalone cleaning station. The very helpful gentleman in the office told us that it has been there since 1925. He also let us go and look at the beach without paying for a day pass, and it turned out to the most beautiful beach in the county:

It looks like a southern California beach! Beaches here tend to be rocky rather than sandy. It was a delightful discovery and we will definitely go back.

Just down the road, we picked up Thai food at the ever-delicious Thai Kitchen, now with extra sparkle:

After stowing our dinners in the trunk, we picked up sandwiches and ate them at a little picnic table. Then we headed back north to Manchester State Beach.

Their website says dogs are allowed on leash, but when we got there, we discovered signs showing that they are not allowed at all. Being the only people there, we decided to ignore the signs and plead ignorance if a park ranger turned up and yelled at us.

We took a sandy path:

Past wild lupines and California poppies, to find the sea:

And a huge, unpopulated beach:

It is supposed to be four miles long, and I can believe it. Continuing our scofflaw ways, we let the dogs off their leashes, and it was a pleasure to watch them racing joyfully around the beach in the sunshine, their coats gleaming and ears flying. I love seeing them so happy.

We made our way back to the car through the tall wildflowers and headed home for Thai food and champagne. It was a perfect day, and the perfect way to spend my birthday.

A YEAR AGO: My little guy turned six.

FIVE YEARS AGO: A surprise trip to Willits!

Perfect Day (Part 1)

The great lead up to the great day culminated in a perfect birthday.

It dawned bright and shiny, as seen from my balcony:

I Marilyned* my morning by lounging in bed with the kitties, drinking coffee, reading birthday emails, and feeling blonde all over. Eventually, I got up and headed over to Megan’s house, where Rob presented me with a hanging planter he had made for me. He is looking for a drapy kind of plant to put in it and copper wire to hang it by, so stay tuned.

No one is ever as happy to see me as Star, and Stella has decided that if Star is excited to see me, she should be, too, so I felt pretty special as they jumped around me for joy.

Star always wants to drive, but Megan never lets her.

We headed for the beautiful south coast, and it was a postcard day. The sky and ocean were dazzling blue, and it was warm, but not hot. The rolling hillsides were just beginning to turn from winter’s green to summer’s “gold”, and the wildflowers have reached new depths and heights from all the rain we got this season.

On our many south coast excursions, we have always wanted to check out the cemetery in Elk, where Druids mingle with Catholics:

I suggested that it should be our first stop, which Megan found humorous. “You want to go to a cemetery? On your birthday?” To which I replied, “I’m not there yet.” Those who are there have a stunning view for all eternity:

No matter which way you looked:

We noticed that many of the gravestones noted the owner’s origins, from England, Ireland, Italy, as far away as Australia (imagine getting here in the 1800s from Australia!) and as relatively close as New York:

Many of them also commemorated the months and days of the occupant’s life span, which we didn’t remember seeing before for adults. There were beautiful stones that still looked new after more than a century’s weather:

Hands were a recurring motif:

It is just a beautiful place, almost certainly the loveliest cemetery I have ever seen. It is still in use, with some recent burials, and I noticed that someone had placed flags on all the veterans’ graves for Memorial Day, which was nice to see.

On the way back to the car, I noticed this valiant little flower growing in a gnarled old cypress tree:

There is unexpected beauty everywhere.

Up next: Beaches and Thai food!

A YEAR AGO: A happily uneventful birthday with a surprising détente.

FIVE YEARS AGO: A wonderful milestone birthday with my friends at the jobette. Those were the days!

*Marilyn once confided her daily routine, including this: “I hate to do things in a hurried, tense atmosphere, and it is virtually impossible for me to spring out of bed in the morning. On Sunday, which is my one day of total leisure, I sometimes take two hours to wake up, luxuriating in every last moment of drowsiness.”

Jessica’s Birthday


Birthday Girl

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

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

Erica and Jessica turned up in a fancy new car:


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


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

Of course Erica had made a spectacular cake:

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

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

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

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

And I sure love that kidlet.

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

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

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

Sisters and Friends

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


The stage is set

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

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


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

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

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

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

The Arts

As winter (allegedly) comes to a close and (allegedly) makes way for spring*, so does the ballet season. Megan and I headed to the beautiful South Coast on a grey and overcast day. At least it wasn’t raining and none of the roads were closed or had closing potential, as they did the weekend we couldn’t get to see Sleeping Beauty, a regret that continues to haunt both of us.

As usual, our first stop was Anchor Bay Thai, where we were served by the charming owner. After the one disappointing dinner we had there, the owners have been especially solicitous when we come in, which is nice. I don’t know if I ever told you that the person who was responsible for the disappointing dinner was fired. I hasten to add that it wasn’t just because of my complaint. There has been several, and he also apparently had anger issues to the point that he fought with the owners about being fired. Ever since his departure, the food has been up to its exquisite standard, and I am pleased to report that this dinner was no exception.

With dinner stowed in the car, we headed to the Surf Market to pick up lunch. First things first. I always forget how to get into the market’s parking lot, and also how long it takes to get a sandwich there. This time, I noticed that you can text your order ahead, so assuming I can get service, I will try it next time.

After lunch, we went back to Point Arena, home of the historic Arena Theater which shows the ballets, and Franny’s Cup & Saucer, which is resolutely closed on Sundays, when the ballet is shown. We noticed that Franny produces a monthly brunch and dinner at the restaurant next door, so we will keep an eye open for those.

We were horrified to read in the program that the ballets are losing money and there may not be another season. Before the ballet started, a gentleman spoke to the audience and said they need help to keep the program going. The financial shortfall is a relatively modest $200-300, and they also need someone to choose the ballets! After I got home, I exchanged emails with the person in charge, offering to help. So Megan and I may be choosing the ballets later this year. Sleeping Beauty, here we come!

As for this last ballet of the season, it was too modern for our tastes. One of them was about insects and the other about the seasons, but I couldn’t tell what was going on or what they were supposed to be. We still enjoyed the artistry and strength of the dancers, though. It will be interesting to see what the next season brings – especially if it’s produced by us!

I still say March is the secret winter month no-one talks about. It may have the first day of spring in it, but it still looks (and feels) like winter, whatever coast you’re on.

A YEAR AGO: A day in town, featuring CPR, a bride, and a new (to Megan) stove. I see I have been at my “new” job for two years this week.

FIVE YEARS AGO: Screwing up in ways major and minor.

86

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

FIVE YEARS AGO: A date with my family.

Ceremonial

I’m not known for my church-going. Having atheist parents will do that to you (and make you wish you had something to rebel against). I can’t remember the last time I was in a church, but it was likely a great cathedral in England with my father. For an atheist, he loved to visit cathedrals and churches in his native land, regarding them as part of his heritage and history. He also had an amazing ability to sing hymns without hymn books, since his school days started with hymns as mine did with the Pledge of Allegiance. Do kids still do that*?

I will, however, remember my most recent visit to a religious establishment.

One of the receptionists invited me to her baby’s baptism at St. Anthony’s in Mendocino. It is the oldest parish in the county, and the church is small, but charming:

I expected that the ceremony would be part of a Mass on Sunday, but unsurprisingly for one uneducated in the ways of organized religion, I was wrong about this. The baptism was held on a Saturday, in a stand-alone event.

I arrived a few minutes before the appointed hour, and was bemused to note that I seemed to be the only one there. I peeked into the church, and it was empty, as was the hall. I texted my boss, who was also invited, and she confirmed the place and time and added that she was on her way.

Eventually people started showing up, including the guest of honor in a long white dress and fetching bonnet. We took our places in the pews, where I admired the striking ocean mural behind the altar:

and the pretty stained glass windows:

The family of the baby to be baptized was also at the altar in all their finery, but the godparents were nowhere to be seen. The priest called out, “Where are the godparents?” When he got no response, he stormed down the aisle, robes flapping, fuming, “I’ll find them myself!”

He did, and the tone was set for the ceremony. He raced through it, not allowing anyone to answer presumably important questions like “Do you reject Satan?” before barreling on to the next rhetorical question. It was the same with the “pray for us” call and response with the audience. It was like the whole thing was choreographed by the Ramones.

At the end of the ceremony, he vanished out a side door, never to be seen again. I didn’t realize it was over at first.

I expected him to thank us for witnessing such a momentous occasion, and possibly shake our hands on the way out the door, but he was off to be grumpy somewhere else.

All in all, it was not the beautiful, spiritual event I had expected. But it was memorable.

A YEAR AGO: I was in beautiful Monterey, enjoying the Aquarium, the warmth, and the sandy beaches.

FIVE YEARS AGO: A ceremony of a different kind: a surprise wedding!

*My knowledge of kids and what they do is almost as extensive as my knowledge about churches and what people do in them. I realized recently that none of the people I still keep in touch with from high school have kids, and with delightful exceptions like Erica, most of my friends don’t, either. Hmmm…

Happy Hannukah

Well, Christmas may be over, but Hannukah is just beginning.

A co-worker invited me and some of the other people we work with to her home on what is Boxing Day or St. Stephen’s Day in other parts of the world. Here there are no boxes or wrens (or, thankfully, the beating of female servants with a holly branch – between being the cat maid at home and the maid of all work at work, I would be in trouble), but there was a lovely spread of Jewish food, like latkes. Our hostess is Jewish, and it was fun to share her heritage food with her. She always says food is love.

It was also fun to hang out with my colleagues outside of work, talking about real life and laughing together. I was so pleased she asked me.

Her house probably dates from the 1920s. It has a lot of cute period details, like archways between rooms and crown molding. The kitchen cupboards look to me like they were original but have been painted and the handles replaced, as well as having the ubiquitous granite counter tops applied. Sometimes I think I am the only girl in the entire US of A who does not like granite countertops. I think they’re ugly and too prone to breaking wine glasses, but then, I have a wood countertop painted with chipping white paint, so I probably shouldn’t throw aspersions. There are French doors out to the nice little fenced yard, too. It’s a really cute place.

As I headed home in the brilliant sunlight, I felt so glad that I work with such great people and that we had such a good time outside of work, too.

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:

img_3780-1

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

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

A YEAR AGO: Chilly Christmas to us!

Merry Christmas

img_3768
Christmas Jessica

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

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

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

img_3774

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

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

img_3771

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

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

img_3763

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

img_3777

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

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

A YEAR AGO: A wonderful Christmas

Sparkling

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

img_3695

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

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

img_3697

Here’s a closer look at the ornaments:

img_3706

Jessica considered carefully where to locate the bird ornament:

img_3700

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

img_3703

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

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

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

img_3744

I loved the smoking volcano:

img_3719

And the ship with a whale:

img_3726

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

img_3729

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

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

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

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

A YEAR AGO: Making Christmas.

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:

img_3691

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:

img_3666

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:

img_3560

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

img_3689-1

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:

img_3682

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.

On the Town

Our plans to go to the Festival of Lights with Erica and Jessica went awry. It was pouring all day, so we postponed the sparkle to a less rainy day. A rain check!

Later in the afternoon, the rain let up and Megan persuaded me to go with her to the Village for the Candlelight Shopping Night. The Village looked festive and magical in its holiday finery:

candlelight

Shops stayed open late and were dressed in holiday lights, as well as having flickering candles in Mason jars at their doors, making a chain of winking lights along Main Street.

We picked up two little white, glittery bird ornaments, one to go on my ancient white Christmas tree, and the other to go on the permanent Christmas tree near Dark Gulch. Someone decided to put ornaments on this tree a couple of years ago, and the holiday look is there year round. We thought we’d like to add an ornament to this eternal Christmas tree in honor of our father. A bird ornament seemed just right for an ornithologist. Here’s mine on my vintage tree:

img_3666

Also I like the idea that we both have one. It makes me feel connected and like we are sharing something.

We also picked up a couple of little things for Jessica’s stocking. And of course, we stopped by the bookstore, where the Great Catsby sat atop the greeting card carousel looking down disdainfully at the throngs who had the temerity to crowd his territory. Don’t even think of petting me, his face said clearly.

No one shared Catsby’s annoyance, though, as the bookstore filled with the sound of carolers singing and booksellers passing homemade cookies and authors signing books. Replete with bookishness and holiday songs, we headed back to the car. As we neared the historic hotel in the middle of town, Megan proposed that we stop in for a drink. Why not? And what could be more festive than a holiday cocktail:

img_3662

I ordered the raspberry lemon drop martini and Megan got the pomegranate martini. Hers was definitely better, but they were both pretty and delicious. It was so nice to sit at a little table in the window, watching the people go by and the holiday lights shine.

A YEAR AGO: The holiday lights were shining.