There ended up being a lot of people jammed into my bijou residence for dinner, but I’m pleased to report that the evening didn’t involve stitches, handcuffs, Narcan or the Fire Department. Surveying the wreckage this morning, though, I now understand why they call it Black Friday. And wonder why I bothered cleaning at all yesterday. I probably wonder this every year.

The cats and I are sitting in bed together, procrastinating. It’s all about teamwork, my friends.

The turkey turned out great, despite sort of overflowing from its capacious roasting pan:


I am not convinced that the two day dry brining extravaganza was notably more delicious than my American grandmother’s simpler technique of rubbing the bird with butter, salt, and sage and then throwing it in the oven, but I’m glad I tried the fancy. Certainly the meat was moist, even the next day.

Here you see Jonathan making gravy while Jessica supervises:


The honey and harissa roasted Brussels sprouts with their piquant relish were a hit, even among the sprout agnostics and atheists. They vanished pretty fast, along with the cranberry-bourbon relish.

Erica and Jessica brought an exquisite version of Tarte Antoinette with them:


I think this is the fourth version of this delight: last year’s original, then the Bûche de Noël version, then the Junapalooza tartlet version, and now something that looks like a sheet cake, but is actually a pie. Sheet pie! Note that it is decorated with rose geranium leaves, which smelled divine, and sprinkles for festivity and cuteness. You can never have too much.

Jonathan brought tarts he made from huckleberries picked last summer. They tasted like a summer day:


I took a stealth photo of Jessica in her lovely thrift store dress:


Now that she is grown-up sized, I feel weird about making her pose in front of other people. She noted that it is a relief now that she can buy grown up clothes, since clothes designers seem to feel that kids have no taste.

Jarrett and Kalli joined us. It had been too long since we saw them, and it was great to catch up. They brought the irrepressible Archimedes with them, the artist formerly known as the World’s Cutest Puppy, on the fourth anniversary of his adoption.

The cats were not impressed with this canine visitor. Clyde hid in the studio, his desire for petting and admiration for the crowd warring with his dog terror, and Audrey sat on the stairs, gazing at everyone, but especially Archi, with utter disdain and disgust. It’s how she rolls.

Lichen was missing, on this, his birthday evening, but you know how he is about his birthday in particular and the holidays in general. We missed him, but we did have Clayton with us, our intrepid partner in cider making, who had ridden up here on his motorcycle from San Francisco on Thanksgiving Day. I love it that we are seeing him more often these days.

Jonathan expertly tapped the keg of our home-made cider, and we, the cider makers, toasted each other, the orchard, and the day we made that dream come true. I will always remember that day as a particularly special one.

Because everyone is always welcome at these celebrations (or any time, really – my door is literally open), some of my brother’s ham radio buddies joined us, bearing an odd selection of jumbo-sized gifts: a huge jar of marinated artichokes; a jug of cheap red wine; and a chocolate cheesecake the size of a wagon wheel, which has cornered the market on the valuable real estate in my refrigerator.

The rain held off so that the outdoor living room could be used, and after the guests left, Megan and I sat by the fire, drinking Cointreau and discussing the party. As Jessica sighed happily that evening looking around her with a plate of food on her lap, “I love my life!”

A YEAR AGO: It was T-Day eve. And things were not going according to plan.

Ready or Not

Ready to Go

I was planning to sleep in until it was light(ish) outside on this T-Day, but the ever-willful Audrey had other ideas, as she often does. She woke me up at 4:30 to start my doorman duties. I tried to go back to sleep, but at 5:00 am I gave up, got up, and made coffee. Since I was up anyway, I texted Megan, who was still at work, to wish her a happy Thanksgiving and she responded “Calling cops to ER! Yeah! Happy Thanksgiving!” so I guess I should not complain about wayward cats.

It’s just as well that the Audrometer went off as early as it did, though, because it’s about 1:00 pm now and I have finally had time to sit down after running around all day. As usual, I have no idea when people will show up or who will be here, but the house and I are as ready as we’re going to be. For some reason, this year I was finally able to let go of worrying about how the house looks and accept Megan’s always sage advice that the visitors are coming to see me, not the house.

I had the bright idea of dragging the wicker chairs from outside and putting them in front of the heater to dry off from the nearly 13 inches of rain we have received season to date (versus last year’s 3.5 at this time). I cleaned up a bit outside and collected cushions and blankets for those who will brave the chill to sit by the outside fireplace.

I was listening to Curtis Mayfield and working on the dressing when my brother appeared with a bucket of ice, in which he embedded the keg containing the cider we made from our apples. Then he headed home to make tarts from huckleberries he picked during the summer, while I finished off the dressing prep, scrubbed the potatoes we grew and put them in a pot, and prepped for this recipe for honey and harissa roasted Brussels sprouts with lemon relish.

Much like a couple of years ago, I experienced some turkey trauma this year. I was foiled in my attempt to try the splaying technique allowing for braised turkey legs with caramelized onions, though I carried through with the dry brining attempt. The recipe said to roast the bird at 450 degrees for half an hour, but after about 15 minutes it was alarmingly brown. I covered it with foil and managed to jam it back in the oven, though it pretty much touches the top of the oven. I turned it down dramatically and am currently hoping for the best.

After that, I preened and am wearing pearls and a Murano glass necklace bought in Venice ~mumble~ years ago. It goes perfectly with my pink blouse. I’m hoping that the rain holds off and that I will have time to put my unusually elegantly shod feet up and read about Victorian murderesses before the company arrives.

Thanksgiving Eve

Hello star dish, my old friend

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This Is Halloween

It was a dark and stormy Halloween, but we did not let that deter us from the determined hunt for candy.

Jessica was dressed as Hel, the Norse goddess of the dishonorable dead:


Apparently the Norse afterlife is extremely complicated, with miscellaneous gods and goddesses in charge of various afterworlds. Jessica’s make-up, created by her ever-crafty mother, was suitably complex:


It was made of latex and items from Erica’s toolbox of make-up. Pretty impressive!

Our first stop on our All Hallows Mystery Tour was the Village. Jessica really wanted to go there, even though Megan expressed her doubts that much would be happening there, given the inclement weather, our late start, and light population of potential candy dispensers, but Jessica’s childhood nostalgia won out.

As Megan had predicted, there were few houses with occupants willing to give out treats, even those with lights on which turned out to be duds. After my umbrella turned inside out and my lower half got soaked, I repaired to the car to wait it out, leaving the braver souls to battle the elements. I later learned that Megan had predicted my ignominious retreat to Erica. When I said that she knows me well, she responded that she has been managing me for 45 years.

Eventually, even the intrepid duo admitted defeat, and we made our way damply to the Big Town, where we hit the candy jackpot. Look at this haul:


We also hit the decorating jackpot. Many of the houses had gone all out, with little graveyards, eyes blinking from the bushes, as well as more traditional themes. I loved these happy pumpkins:


And this walkway:


It seems Martha Stewart may have a little pied-à-terre here:


As always, I was amused at Jessica’s authoritative police style knock. It consists of five or six firm raps, often with a crescendo. I’m sure the people on the other side of the door wonder what they have done and expect someone to roar, “Open up! Police!”, only to find a svelte young girl standing daintily on their doorstep. The Police Knock is rendered even more delightful by the courtesy chaser. Once Jessica has successfully scored her swag, she thanks the donor warmly and wishes him or her a happy Halloween in a cheerful chirp.

When we could barely carry Jessica’s giant bag of candy, we made our way to the Haunted Hall of Horrors. After a long wait in the rain, we were welcomed by the infamous Madame LaLaurie*, since the theme was haunted New Orleans. The sets were just magnificent. Two of my coworkers were actors in the show, and they told me that they spend 6 weeks preparing the sets.

We wended our way through various rooms, encountering voodoo priestess Madame Laveau, going through bayous with moving bridges (where I was squirted with water by a swamp monster), through disorienting strobe lights, and a cemetery with ghouls rising from coffins. Jessica and I ran out of the door squealing, only to be greeted by someone with a chainsaw who chased us down the alley. Just when you think you’re safe…

Megan had again correctly predicted that I would scream within five minutes of going in, and I later learned that while Jessica and I were running and squeaking, Megan was calmly walking through it, observing everything with a detached eye. I guess it’s not surprising that the person who is unafraid of real life blood and guts and having actual brains in her hair is unperturbed by fake gore.

It was a great Halloween. I hope this is the beginning of a new tradition!

*Played by none other than Cinderella Wallace from our cemetery tour. She is a friend of one of my coworkers, so I was able to tell her how much we enjoyed both of her performances.

A YEAR AGO: A foggy Halloween without Jessica. Halloween is much better with Jessica!

Weekend Excursion

South Coast View

During a break between storms, Megan and I once again wended our way to the south coast. Coming around a corner, we found the view above to be so lovely that we stopped to take a picture. As we got back in the car, Megan observed that it looked like something out of “The Hobbit”, especially as we drove through a wind-snarled tunnel of witchy trees, bending to meet over the road. Not for the first time, I thought that I wouldn’t be surprised if a mythical creature emerged from the tulgy wood.

Arriving in Point Arena, we headed straight for Franny’s Cup & Saucer, as any right-thinking person would. Usually our forays to Point Arena are on Sundays, when Franny is resting up from her culinary endeavors, so we were happy to be there on a day when we could indulge in deliciousness and cuteness. It seems that ballets are scheduled for Sunday and plays for Saturday, though not on the same week.

Besides being a place where you can (and should) buy exquisite confections:


Franny’s is also a place where you can (and should) buy things of great cuteness:


for stocking stuffers, or just because, always the best reason for doing anything. Franny’s is where I bought the sparkly skull ring which I valiantly put in Erica’s Christmas stocking a couple of years ago, and picked up a couple of things for the Fab Girls’ stockings this year.

We also got mini vegetarian pizzas for lunch and decadent chocolate, raspberry and pistachio confections for later.

With a little time before the play began, we went to the garden and pet supply emporium across the street, where we discovered one of Dr. Karen’s vet techs at her Saturday job, along with her adorable dog Rex. It was so nice to catch up with her while shopping for food and treats for our bosses, and a welcome surprise.

The play itself, The Deep Blue Sea, was not my favorite, though the acting was good and I liked the set. The story is set in post WWII London and concerns a very neurotic woman who is married to one man while living with another who is total jerk. I couldn’t understand why she would put up with the boyfriend. I have never had a high tolerance for people who indulge their neuroses and self-destructive behavior, so I just wanted to smack the leading lady and order her to wake up and smell the coffee.

Still, it was interesting, and I am glad that we have access to the National Theater of London out here in the middle of nowhere.

After the play, we decided to go to Libby’s in Anderson Valley to pick up dinner, much like Ben figuring that if he was in Albuquerque, he might as well hit Hooterville. We were extra motivated to go to Libby’s, since we recently received the tragic news that Libby’s is closing forever on December 10. No more al pastor for us! We seriously discussed asking Libby for her recipe now that she is closing the restaurant, and whether we could get 20 orders and freeze them in the body freezer over at Jonathan’s place. These are important matters.

Unfortunately, the culinary gods were once again scowling on us, and Libby’s was defiantly closed at a time when it should have been open. We were not the only ones to drive happily into the restaurant parking lot and dejectedly out again. We added two hours to our drive time home, but it was a beautiful drive through the Valley, with the grape vines flaunting their fall foliage in gold, crimson, and ochre. The hills are already changing from summer gold to winter green, with all the early season rainfall we’ve been getting. All in all, a fun outing, if not an entirely successful one. No matter what, I always have a good time with my sister.


Dining & Dancing

Megan and I headed for the beautiful south coast in her little red car on a rainy Sunday morning.

The ocean was showing off, as it does when stormy weather is afoot, and a few valiant Naked Ladies flaunted their spiky pink blossoms by the roadside. Orange nasturtiums climbed ruined wooden fences, and bright California poppies starred the rolling hills, still summer golden.

We made our usual pilgrimage to Anchor Bay Thai Kitchen:


and picked up dinner to go. Later I would discover that it was not up to the usual high standard, including shocking oversights like no dressing on the cucumber salad or peanuts in the Massaman curry. I emailed the restaurant and the owner apologized, saying that she was out of town for a couple of days so the kitchen was in less experienced hands. She also refunded the cost of dinner, which I thought was a generous gesture. I hope I didn’t get anyone in trouble, but I thought she should know. I’m sure next time it will be as wonderful as usual.

Our arrival at the theater was perfectly timed, since we were taking our seats in the balcony just as Katerina Novikova started her introduction to the ballet, “The Golden Age”. Katerina gives explanations and interviews in Russian, French, and English for broadcasts of the Bolshoi Ballet, and it must be a tough job. It appears that she is not reading from a TelePrompter, which makes it all the more impressive. She looked particularly lovely in a bronze satin gown.

The ballet is set in the 1920s, and somehow the costumes managed to convey the flapper look:


The costumes were quite magnificent, multi textured and dramatic. The story is about a young fisherman who falls in love with a beautiful dancer at the cabaret called The Golden Age. The dancer is a friend, or possibly more, of a gangster who owns the club. Drama ensues amid the stunning sets, with the dancing set to music by Shostakovich.

During the intermission, Katerina interviewed the lead ballerina, who was dancing this wonderful role on her birthday. She seemed surprised that Katerina knew this and wished her happy birthday. I enjoy the interviews during the intermission and seeing the dancers practice, warm up, and kid around with each other. It’s endearing to see them acting like kids when in full make-up and costume. We also got a behind-the-scenes look at the costume making, which is so intricate and beautiful. And yet it has to be strong enough to stand up to the strenuous performances.

Before we knew it, the magic was over and the cast was taking their bows, with arms full of red roses. Back in reality, we headed for home. About halfway there, we had to pull over under some wind-gnarled trees to wait for the storm’s fury to abate, since it was like driving through a waterfall, and even with the windshield wipers on high, we could barely see the road.

Eventually the rain slowed down enough to let us get on our way, talking about how much we enjoyed the ballet and how lucky we are to have access to world-class ballet. We are looking forward to the rest of the season.

A YEAR AGO: The Food Fairy stopped by with an armload of gardeny goodness.

Hand Made

I saw a dream come true.

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

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

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

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


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

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

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


It was sort of gourmet apple filling!

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


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


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


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


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

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

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

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


The Stage Is Set

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

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

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


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

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


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

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

Fair Thee Well

At the Fair

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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


I also loved this glamorous use of twigs and mirrors:


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


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


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


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


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


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

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

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

Circus, Circus

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

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

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

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


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

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


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


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

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

Garden Girls

Enjoying the View

Saturday was a postcard day, one to gladden the hearts of tourists from anywhere – and they are from anywhere and everywhere. On my way to work that day, I saw plates from Alaska, Utah, Texas, Maine and Wisconsin, as well as the usual Oregon, Washington, and Nevada. There was even a lumbering RV from Ontario, which, my (un)usually polite Canadian friends, I’m sorry to tell you failed to pull over.

Megan picked me up from the jobette, and together we locked up the shop and then jumped into her little red car, where I was instantly swarmed by Star and Stella. Stella never gets too excited about anything, except food, glorious food, but she has seen Star go crazy over me so many times that she has decided that she should, too. There must be a reason for it if Star does it*. Just like if Star smells something carefully, Stella must also investigate it. And since no one is ever as happy to see me as Star is, there was a lot of wagging and petting and trying to climb into the front seat before we could set off to the beautiful Botanical Gardens.

I happened to have two free tickets, so we went right in and headed for the café, where they very kindly give canine visitors a spoonful of locally made ice cream. This policy was greeted with an enthusiastic two paws up from both dogs. When they had finished their ice cream – it’s always treats first in my world – we started down the path, admiring the dahlias:


And the gate that Rob would love:


We crossed a little stream:


which wends past my late friend Joel’s memorial bench. Among his many talents, Joel was a Master Gardener and spent a lot of time in these Gardens. I helped his widower Jim choose the site for the bench after Joel’s sudden death, and I intended to take a picture of it, but we found that an older couple was resting on it with their dog at their feet, so I didn’t. But this is exactly what Jim and I hoped would happen, and I am looking forward to telling him about it when I see him next.

We meandered through the woods:


and arrived at the ocean, which was looking its best that day:


At the jobette, I was always told that our Gardens were one of two in the entire country that had ocean access. I don’t know what the other one is, but I am glad this one is here. One of the nice things about the jobette is that the visitors remind me of what a beautiful and magical place I live in. Why, it even has a dragon:

There's even a dragon.

Though you aren’t allowed to sit on the dragon, you can pet him:


As we made our way back to the car, we promised each other that we would visit again soon. The dogs agreed.


*I was charmed to see that at one point when Stella was sniffing something, she lifted her right paw daintily and held it there, just like Schatzi used to. Star copied Schatzi and Stella copied her, and it’s nice to see that Schatzi still lives on in that way, at least.

Wonderful Wedding

Lu & Rik’s Wedding Invitation

The invitation definitely set the tone for Lu and Rik’s wedding. Drawn by Rik’s daughter Rachel, it invited us to a “BBQ bash and wedding celebration” and “a glorious time with family and friends”. It was all that and more.

When I arrived at Rik and Lu’s home after work on Saturday, it was a perfect sunny summer day. You could tell it was Rik and Lu’s wedding from all the EMS and search and rescue stickers on the guests’ cars. They have been EMTs for many years, so naturally most of their friends are in the same line of work. As I observed to Megan, the guests could not have been in better hands in case of any possible emergency.

The carport was transformed into a buffet, decorated with flowers, where there would later be a taco bar and cake. The outdoor clawfoot tub was the bar, filled with ice holding beer, wine, soda, and water. Next to that was spiked strawberry lemonade and mojitos in big glass jars.

Friends were playing music:


as we gathered on the lawn (you can glimpse the groom and bride at the bar behind the musicians in the photo). Kids and dogs, including Rik and Lu’s dogs Harlow and Sweetpea (seen under the hammock on the wedding invitation with their ever-present ball) were running around and playing together. There were hay bales arranged in front of the deck where the ceremony would take place, covered with colorful cloths. The deck was beautifully decorated:


Rik built it himself over 36 hours. It must be very satisfying to build the place where you will be married with your own hands.

Lu carried flowers from our family garden in her bouquet and in her hair, including some of the sweetpeas we plant every year in Dad’s memory. She had cut her dress, but not as much as Megan and I had feared, and Lu thought it was still too long in the back, though I said it was like a train. She wore sparkly red sandals and no make up. She looked like our beautiful Lu, only more radiant and joyful than I had ever seen her before.

When it was time for the ceremony, the bride and groom came out of their front door hand in hand, accompanied by the Justice of the Peace who officiated. Rik jumped the gun a little by kissing his bride before the vows, to the crowd’s laughter. He looked like had won the lottery during their simple, yet deeply moving vows:


They exchanged rings made of gold they had panned themselves on trips to California’s gold country. They love to travel, and have had many adventures over the seventeen years they have spent together, with many more to come.

At last Rik was allowed to kiss his new wife:


as the crowd went wild, including Jonathan, Megan, Rio, Rob and me. I love how the whole wedding was so them: warm, unpretentious, loving. I can’t tell you how wonderful it was to share the love and joy of these two beloved friends with my beloved family. It was a day I will never forget.

Congratulations, Mr. and Mrs. Davis! Here’s to the new chapter in the story of your love.

A YEAR AGO: Erica’s brilliance. Do I have amazing friends, or what?

The Kitty Report

Birthday Girl

It’s the ninth anniversary of Audrey arriving on the planet and showing it who’s boss this Saturday. She shows no signs of slowing down or becoming less obnoxious with age. She still terrorizes Mark’s dogs and bosses Clyde and me around. Clyde and I are equal recipients of Audrey’s patented stink eye and passing swipes.

She continues to have her special privileges, such as going out first thing in the morning, when it’s dark and scary out. Possibly the Monsters are also afraid of her. When she comes back in, which is pretty soon these days, she hops up on the table for her welcome home treats. Clyde gets his on the floor, and Audrey will not eat hers if she is on the same level as Clyde. Nor will she come in a door if he is there. I usually have to pick him up so she will come in when she returns in the mornings, even though Clyde squirms like crazy for fear of missing the impending welcome home treats.

Lately, Audrey has been usurping Clyde’s favored spots. I have found her sitting on my desk and looking outside, and also sleeping on the armoire, usually Clyde’s favored napping spot:


unless it’s too hot, in which case he dozes on the stairs in the pathway of the fan’s breeze.

It’s been a pretty warm summer so far, so it’s good that Clyde has successfully overcome his fear of ice cubes:


because there is ice in my drinks more often than not these days. At least he avoids the adult beverages.

It’s a particularly festive weekend for Audrey’s birthday this year. It’s a holiday weekend, which of course it should be, but it also marks Megan and Rob’s 25th anniversary (today!) and Lu and Rik’s wedding (tomorrow!).

All you need is love. And cats.

A YEAR AGO: Things were on the stinky side at Suzy Manor. Much, much later – and not reported in these pages – the true source of the Smell was discovered. It was the remains of an extremely dead rat housed in the grandfather clock. Still don’t know how it got in there and closed the door behind itself, or why it didn’t just push the door open and get out. Yet another mystery for Nancy Drew! This one will remain unsolved, though. ~shudder~

Quilt Show

Our quilt theme continued with a visit to the annual quilting show.

Megan met me after work on Saturday. She and the dogs had taken a lovely walk on the bluffs overlooking the ocean in the Big Town. You can see that both Stella (left) and Star gave it two paws up:


I think Stella looks hilarious in that picture. Those girls are so happy together.

Megan had brought the fragile old quilt that inspired my birthday gift with her, hoping that some of the quilters might know who to repair it. Fortunately for us, Cindi Jo was there. She examined the quilt and agreed it was made in the 1930s and that she could repair it for a reasonable price. Not only that, she told us that her friend has vintage fabric for sale at her shop, including some from the 1930s which Cindi Jo thought would be a perfect match. We will buy the fabric and then bring it and the quilt to Cindi Jo to work her magic.

Mission accomplished, we went on to admire more than 100 quilts, some of which had wonderful stories.

This one was made by a woman on her covered wagon journey in the 1860s from Indiana to the Big Town, where she and her family settled on the site of our friend Monica’s flooring shop!


They say that parts of the original home still remain there.

This one is an “opportunity” quilt, made as a fundraising raffle prize in Colorado in the 1930s. The winner was a bachelor who left the quilt to his landlady’s family after many years of boarding with them. I love the scalloped edges.


Both of these quilts look as good as new. And what stories they could tell!

This one was made by a local woman who started a tradition of making a quilt for each grandchild at a milestone in their lives. When her granddaughter’s younger sister received a quilt as a wedding gift, she said, “I’m 27, I don’t have a boyfriend, I dropped out of college…I’ll never be able to afford a house. And I’ll never get a Grandma quilt!” So her Grandma made this for her. According to Grandma, “In no time at all, she got married, had a baby daughter, and bought a house. I call this Grandma Magic!”


There’s something about grandmothers and quilts.

This one was Megan’s favorite. It’s called “Circle of Life”.


I love the colors and how dynamic the design is. It almost seems to move.

This one is called “Flutterbye”, the maker’s granddaughter’s name for butterflies. It is oh so Suzy!


Once again, I was amazed by the talent and artistry in our little corner of the world.

A YEAR AGO: I was also hanging out with my sis.

How to Make an American Quilt

Gifts are not a big part of Junapalooza, but the gifts this year were definitely sentimental in nature.

Rio, whose birthday it was, asked Megan, Erica, and me to each choose a number from a little bag. Then she produced a basket lined with greenery and filled with delightful, locally produced things: candles, cider vinegar, jam, and chocolates. Rio gave the basket to Megan, who chose number 1, and she chose something from the basket. Then it was Erica’s turn, and then it was mine. We kept passing the basket around until all of the goodies were gone. So fun!

Erica had asked for a Spirograph. Apparently she had always wanted one. When it arrived, the giant box (why?) it came in was badly dented, and so was the tin the Spirograph was housed in. I brought this to the seller’s attention, and they shipped me a new one and said to keep the damaged one. Rob was delighted to get the dented one (needless to say, he has already undented the tin). Two for one Spirographs: what’s not to love?

Megan made Rio her very own Mouse. You may recall that Megan started making Mice when she was a very small child for our father to keep him safe on his many travels. Later she made Mice for Jonathan and for me. I carry mine every day I drive to the Big Town, and I only recently learned that Jonathan does, too. Our Mice have never failed any of us.

Rio is a native southern Californian, and most of her family lives there. The rest lives in Oregon, so she travels a lot. Megan thought Rio needed her own Mouse, both to keep her safe on her many journeys but also to let her know she is part of the family and that we love her very much.

It’s safe to say that mission was accomplished on all counts. She was delighted.

As for my gift…

A few months ago, Megan was cleaning out her bedroom and came across a fragile old quilt that our mother’s mother, Nana, had made. She showed it to me excitedly, and I’m sorry to say that I burst into tears, surprising both of us. Nearly 40 years after Nana’s death, seeing something of hers so unexpectedly affected me more strongly than I would have thought.

While this was not exactly the reaction Megan anticipated*, it gave her an idea.

She also found a quilt Nana had made but never backed. So Megan, Erica, and Jessica all worked together to find fabric, quilt it, and bind it to the nearly 80 year old quilt. They chose a black and white backing to be neutral:


compared to the bright pink quilt and its colorful pieces. I know that some of the fabric Nana used in it came from Mom’s baby/child clothes, some from Nana’s aprons, and some from Hoho’s (our grandfather’s) ties:


It took a superhuman effort not to cry in front of all of those people, but it was one of the most wonderful gifts I have ever received. I like to think of subsequent generations working on my grandmother’s quilt, and of her never-still hands stitching it, choosing which pieces to use in her pattern. I’m glad that it has finally been finished and restored and can be used again.
Thank you, Nana. And thank you to my sister, my chosen sister, and the daughter she had for me. I love you all.

*A few years after my grandparents died, I came home from college for Thanksgiving and took my grandmother’s hand crocheted tablecloth out of the sideboard to use for dinner. I was sobbing over it when Megan, who was about 12 at the time, walked by and snapped, “At least you have something to cry about.” She was 6 when they died and knows she missed out on something pretty great. Also? I did stop crying. Even at that early age, she had the skills that would stand her in good stead in the ER and on the ambulance.

A YEAR AGO: Remembering vacations past. Is there any other kind?

Junapalooza II

Jessica’s birthday card to Erica

Well, this year’s Junapalooza was awesome.

Erica decided long ago that she wanted it to be a fancy high tea. I had my doubts, because fanciness and high tea are not what you usually think about when you think about the family estate. But being Erica, she made it happen. When will I ever stop having doubts? Always trust the Erica.

Erica arrived dressed in a sassy little flowered dress, with a flowered clip in her hair and red Fluevogs on her feet. She wasted no time in covering the Waltons-sized picnic table with a length of sage green (washable) fabric and setting it with teapots, a wide variety of teas, and cake stands/plates. It was bring your own mug.

For those of us (like Self) who are not so tea inclined, Jonathan made some limeade (seen at the end of the panoply of delicacies):


Erica invited her friends Julie and Darius, who own the delightful café where we plotted Junapalooza over lunch, and whose daughter Bella is Jessica’s best friend. Being professional deliciousness purveyors, they brought little pasties filled with sausages, peas and potatoes, accompanied by a little pot of mustard, as well as tiny cucumber sandwiches (crustless, of course) and perfect little rhubarb and strawberry galettes:


Erica had made: miniature palmiers; asiago and scallion scones; lemon bars; sausage rolls sliced to look like spirals; mini chocolate bundt cakes brushed with coffee-rum syrup; and tartes Antoinette, which you may remember was the hit of Thanksgiving dinner last year. They are tarts filled with quince paste Erica made from her own fruit, topped with vanilla cream and then whipped cream. So Marie! And so delicious.

Add in my brother’s home-made cherry tarts and you have the high tea to ends all high teas on your hands.

Dave and Jennifer, my siblings’ land partners and our partners in ballet, were there, and Lichen also made an appearance with his sweet dog Keeper, who found a perfect spot in the wildflowers where she could rest and observe:


Jessica looked adorable:


An outfit of Jack Skellington t-shirt and a flowered bonnet pretty much sums Jessica up. I am hoping that she and Erica can join Megan and me for a sleepover/movie marathon this summer. I want Jessica to learn the joys of John Hughes movies and she wants me to learn the joys of Full Metal Alchemist. We’ll see how that works out!

As for Junapalooza, it was the best one ever. I’m already looking forward to next year!

A YEAR AGO: Doing wild, wild life.

Megan’s Birthday

My former boss gave me a very generous gift certificate to the Ledford House, where I recently met my friend Jim for a drink in the bar, and taking Megan out to dinner on her birthday seemed like the perfect use for it.

It was also a perfect day to be at the restaurant, which has a stunning view of the ocean. It looked like a postcard as we took our seats by the window. The server overheard me saying it was Megan’s birthday, and brought us complimentary birthday champagne:


Are there lovelier words in the English language than “complimentary champagne”? Well, there’s always “taxi” and “doorman”…

We toasted Megan’s birthday and I couldn’t help remembering the day she was born. I was called down to the principal’s office, walking through the empty, echoing halls. My nine year old body was full of dread and my nine year old brain was paging through the things I had done wrong and the things I could have been caught doing wrong. Arriving at the office, the motherly secretary told me that I had a baby sister. I don’t know if I was more excited about that or the fact that I hadn’t been caught at whatever mischief I had recently been perpetrating.

I skipped merrily down the hall on my way back to my classroom, where I shared the news. The girls all choroused “Yay!” while the boys chimed in with “Boo!”

Meanwhile, back in the present, my now grown up sister and I received a little white ceramic tray with spiced olives, house-made bread which was crusty on the outside and springy on the inside, and a tiny white ceramic pitcher of fruity olive oil to nibble on while we considered the menu.

I considered that since local sparkling wine made by Roederer in Anderson Valley (Roederer’s French vineyards make Cristal) was only $4 more than ordinary still wine, we should stay bubbly, my friends. With that important decision made, we turned our attention to the menu.

We shared a head of garlic, roasted whole with fresh thyme and olive oil, the top cut off to expose the caramelized cloves. We spread the cloves on wafer thin crostini and topped it with fresh chèvre. Simple but delicious.

Megan had gnocchi, which she said was the lightest she had ever tasted:


and I had mussels, on Dad’s principle of getting a dish at a restaurant which you would not cook at home:


The gnocchi were the lightest I have ever ever tasted, and the mussels were served in a complex white wine broth, garnished with a nasturtium and served with a rich, spicy aioli on the side. There was a bowl thoughtfully provided for the discarded shells. The bill came to $16 after the gift certificate was applied, and it helpfully listed what 10, 15 and 20% tips would be so no after dinner math was required. I left a $40 tip. The service was great – there when you wanted it, not when you didn’t, not too chatty and not too unctuous. And the server was probably in high school. The owner does a great job of training his staff.

I honestly cannot remember the last time I had a fine dining experience. The food and the view were great, the atmosphere was casual but refined, but most of all I think I enjoyed the feeling of being cosseted and taken care of. It was a wonderful evening.

A YEAR AGO: File under miscellaneous.

Wonderful Weekend

Last weekend was wonderful, though it was also a busy one. Come along with me for a magical mystery tour of the county!

Friday: Met my friend Jim after work at the Ledford House. I was greeted outside by a very fluffy and friendly black cat, and inside by my friend, who had a local beer in front of him. I ordered a glass of local wine, and we settled in at the bar to admire the view and catch up with each other’s news. Even though it was overcast, the view was still spectacular. I never get tired of watching the ocean in all its moods.

The second anniversary of his husband Joel’s death is upon us, and we drank a toast to the dear departed. But we also laughed, thinking of how the royalty checks still come in from the “MacGyver” episodes Joel wrote, and remembering how he smoked pot with Allen Ginsberg when he was at Harvard. He lived a rich and wonderful life. I just wish it had been longer.

Saturday: Megan and I headed to Boonville in beautiful Anderson Valley. We were in search of tomato starts for the family garden, so we stopped at a nursery where chickens were merrily hatching:


And two yin and yang cats were playing (or was it fighting):


It turned out that the white cat in the background is the mother of the black one in the foreground. The white one was very friendly to me, but the black one needed some convincing before I could pet her.

At the farmers’ market in Boonville, we ran into Rose’s daughter Citlali, but we didn’t find the Holy Grail of tomato starts. We ended up getting Plan B tomatoes at a plant sale at the high school. As you do.

We met Erica and Jessica for lunch. We worked on plans for Junapalooza, which is basically going to be a dessert extravaganza, and entirely catered by Erica other than the cucumber sandwiches, which may be the only thing we are serving that doesn’t have sugar in it. There have to be some compensations for being a grown up, and having sugar in multifarious forms for your birthday dinner may be it.

We gave Jessica her belated birthday t-shirt, which she loved, and she gave us origami birds she had made, seen here gracing my sandwich:


I love those girls.

On our way home, we stopped at Libby’s, which was miraculously open, but which only had one order of al pastor left, because you can’t have everything, which seemed to be the theme of the day. I let Megan have the al pastor and I settled for carnitas, because that’s the kind of sister I am.

I got home in time for the Kentucky Derby. I had made simple syrup infused with mint, and bought all the other Julep necessities, including freezing the glass for it. It turns out that I am not a Julep fan, sadly. I love the idea of it and the name of it and everything but the actual taste. It is pretty intense for daytime drinking also.

Sadly, my favorite jockey, the legendary Calvin Borel, had retired just a couple of months before the Derby, and I missed him and his smile as the jockeys came out of their dressing room to mount the beautiful horses. I love the walk over and the call of “Riders, up!” and all the pageantry. The favorite, named for the legendary Detroit Red Wings player Gustav Nyquist brought a little reminder of hockey to the glamorous occasion, only appropriate during playoff season.

Sunday: It was up and at ‘em again, leaving the house by 9:00 am and not getting home until after 6. Megan and I headed over to Lichen’s house, where he cut her hair and we admired his garden and his new to him Rottweiler, Keeper. At nearly 9 years old, she isn’t very fresh, but she is very sweet, and they seem very happy together.

Our next stop was Anchor Bay Thai, where we got dinner to go at lunch time, ‘cause that’s how we roll. I always think I will try something different, but I couldn’t resist getting my favorite Massaman curry, fresh spring rolls, and cucumber salad.

With dinner taken care of, we headed to Point Arena for the last ballet of the season streamed from the historic Bolshoi Theater in Moscow. At three hours (partly because of two intermissions), it was long, but it was my favorite of the season. I loved the costumes and sets and the beauty of the dancing. Semyon Chudin, who memorably played the Mouse King in the Nutcracker, played the male lead, and he and Ekaterina Krysanova, who played his love interest, had wonderful chemistry and matched each other well. I still can’t believe they can jump so high and spin like that!

It was a wonderful experience. And it was wonderful to see something so beautiful and then drive home through such beautiful countryside.

It was a great weekend.

A YEAR AGO: I was having a lovely weekend then, too.

Jess at Thirteen

Birthday Girl

You guys! Jessica is a teenager!

Of course you know that Jessica’s birthday is every April 15, but this one was particularly momentous, since she turned 13. We were able to celebrate on her actual birthday, since it was conveniently located on a Friday. Above is the birthday girl, wearing a hat her mother made.

We all convened over at the family estate for the birthday party, which was also the first party there this year. Jessica and I perched on a hay bale while she showed me her sketchbook, full of wonderful drawings and ideas. She opined that my name did not suit me, being “far too practical”. She thought I was more of a Fleur than a Susan, and I have to agree. Sorry, Mom and Dad, but I have always felt that I deserved a more glamorous name.

We unintentionally ended up with something of a theme birthday. Jessica is into manga and anime these days, including one called Totoro. Erica made a fantastic Totoro themed cake:


which was deep, dark chocolate and somehow managed to be both rich and light. The filling was dulce de leche and the frosting was buttercream. The characters on the cake are Totoro (you may remember Jessica wearing her Totoro fleece PJs at Christmas a couple of years ago) and soot sprites, with rainbow sprinkles, since that is apparently what soot sprites eat.


Megan ordered a wonderful t-shirt for Jessica, which hadn’t arrived on time, so we gave her a picture of it:

tororo shirt

I’m pleased to say that she was wearing the “Four More Pages” shirt that I had made for her last Christmas. I gave her three pairs of socks from Pippi’s: math themed; Alice in Wonderland; and Japanese looking cherry blossoms:


She seemed very pleased with both the socks and the shirt to be. There was squealing involved. 🙂

Dinner was pulled pork made by Jonathan, grill bread with spiced dipping oil made by Megan, and mayonnaise-free* coleslaw made by Erica, all at the birthday girl’s request. We perched at the Waltons-sized picnic table and enjoyed eating and talking together, telling stories of when Jessica was a little kid, which seemed to amuse her more than embarrass her. I’m happy that she still wants to spend her birthday with us. Every year, I think it will be the last one. Maybe it never will be.

Happy birthday, kidlet. We love you.

*Because my sibs hate it. This was the basis of Erica’s best prank ever a couple of years ago.

A YEAR AGO: Farewell to a gentle giant.

Merry Anniversary

I’m celebrating my blog’s 15th(!) anniversary (birthday?) by hopefully getting internet service restored at my hippie hovel.

It’s been out for about a week – undoubtedly the ever-exorbitant bill will not be prorated, due to the ever-useful small print – and my blog’s birthday was the earliest the technician could get there. I’m hoping that he does in fact show up and is able to find my house. Also that he can both diagnose and correct the problem.

In the meantime, I’ve been taking my laptop to work so I can at least check my email when I’m on a break. My neighbor’s spotty and unsecured wifi has occasionally let me hitch a ride, but mostly it shows up as working while not allowing webpages to go or email to come and go. Cell phone service is so bad at my house that I am forced to have a landline, and needless to say, that also means no using your cell phone as a hot spot or getting email on it.

Thanks for your company on this long and bumpy ride. It’s been an adventure!

Update: As of 3:30, the technician hasn’t shown up. Maybe it’s a 420 thing. Or maybe just a Mendo thing.

A YEAR AGO: My blog was 14.