Suzy Says

Textbook Ephemeral

   Nov 07

Pressing Issues

Sunday dawned clear and cold. A glance at the propane heater in the living room told me that it was 46 degrees inside the house, and the thermometer outside was just at the freezing point of 32. I fed the cats, turned on the heater, and took my coffee back to bed, where the cats eventually joined me. Really, is there anything cozier looking than a sleeping cat? Especially with a paw over the eyes to shield them from the early morning light.

Being the first day of the time change, it was actually light-ish out when I got up at 6:30. It’s been nice dispensing with high beams on the way to work, and being able to exchange waves with Megan when our cars pass each other in the morning, she on her way home and me on my way to work. Today was a particularly lovely morning, with the pink sky glowing through waving plumes of pampas grass and a couple of whales playing in the slate blue ocean.

I still wish they would just pick a time and go with it, though. I don’t care which one it is. I just don’t want to have to change back and forth twice a year.

Eventually I did grudgingly get out of bed on Sunday to join my siblings in cider making prep at Rio’s compound. It took much less time than it did last year, despite having fewer helpers. We hardly had any apples this year, and what we had would not have won any beauty contests. An informal survey of fellow coastal residents revealed that this was the common experience this year: no apples at all in many cases, or just a few. It seems that the deluge of rain we got last year knocked off many of the blossoms.

Since it was a chilly morning, we moved the prep inside Rio’s house, where a fire was merrily burning. While there were not as many apples to chop, I did spend quite a lot of time chopping off rotten bits, which I did not have to do last year. Sometimes what appeared to just be a bad spot was revealed to be an entire bad neighborhood, but I salvaged whatever I could since the apples were in such short supply.

While I emptied the rejected apples and excised bits into the compost, swept up the leaves and other debris that fell to the floor, and washed the bowls that held the cut up apples, the others started milling the cider through the hand-cranked old press. We ended up with a scant 10 gallons, as opposed to last year’s 30. There’s always next year.

A YEAR AGO: A fun and scary Halloween.


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   Nov 03


Jessica has not yet aged out of trick or treating with her auntourage. I have to say I am surprised that we have not yet become embarrassing, I would have thought that once the double digits raised their ugly head that our auntourage days would be numbered in single digits, but as always, Jessica surprised me. She has yet to turn into a surly teenager. Maybe she will skip those unlovely phases and segue straight into lovely young womanhood. So far, so good.

Megan and I met up with Erica, Julie, and Darius at the Gro, where the new owners have apparently taken over. Erica was delighted to learn that they are Punjabi and that we can expect Punjabi delicacies in the near future. Jessica and her BFF Bella were decanted into Megan’s car, while their elegantly costumed parents returned to the Hagmobile from whence they came to go and have a civilized dinner together.

I was unable to recognize what the girls’ costumes represented:

Jessica (left) is Bill Cipher from the TV show Gravity Falls. In my defense, I have never seen it, it’s a Disney show, and on researching the matter later I discovered that he is essentially a villainous yellow triangle with a penchant for top hats. Bella (right) is Quicksilver, apparently an X Men or something. Jessica may not have aged out of Halloween, but her auntourage has aged out of understanding the costumes.

We headed to the haunted house first. Bella and I decided that it was too scary for us (perhaps it is not a coincidence that Bella and I also find everything to be too spicy for us) and waited outside for the intrepid Megan and Jessica. The haunted house has both security staff outside and actors who scare the waiting hordes. Since we were early, there was no line to speak of and one of the security guards made the mistake of telling Bella that her goggles were steampunk instead of New Wave, rashly opining that Bella did not know the difference.

She was in the midst of setting the misguided security guard straight when the scarer attempted to scare her. Without even looking at him, she said, “Go away, I’m talking” in such an authoritative tone that he did. He didn’t give up on the scaring attempts, but Bella ended up scaring him by suddenly looming up from behind a pillar, making him jump a mile. He sheepishly admitted that she had gotten him and gave up after that.

Our brave adventurers enjoyed the haunted house, and we all piled into Megan’s car to start the trick or treating portion of the evening. Megan and I had asked around for the best trick or treating locales in the Big Town, and armed with that knowledge, we set out for the most desirable areas first.

Police cars closed off the street, which was awash in trick or treaters and their escorts. I loved these ghost lights (strings of little Caspers!):

and this creative use of a garage basketball hoop:

One of the houses had their own little haunted house to go through to get the candy. When the girls emerged, I asked them if it was scary. Jessica said that the owners had clearly seen “It”, and that there were clowns. I asked, “What could be scarier than clowns?” and Bella replied matter-of-factly, “Crippling debt,” before scampering off to get more candy. She is 12, right?

This town being as small as it is, we naturally came across Jonathan and Rio handing out candy. I think we were more surprised than they were!

The drawbacks of the popular spot was that there were crowds of people, and the kids had to line up at some houses to get the candy. There was also no opportunity for Jessica to show off her signature police knock until we ventured off the beaten path. It still makes me laugh to hear it, especially combined with her girlish and dainty, “Thank you! Happy Halloween!”

Eventually the bags got so heavy that the girls began to complain about toting their weight around the darkened streets, so we headed back to the Village to return our charges to their rightful owners. A good time was had by all.

A YEAR AGO: a trip to the South Coast to see a play and pick up a few delicacies.

FIVE YEARS AGO: Trick or treating with Jessica when she was truly a kidlet.

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   Oct 30

Season Openers

On Sunday morning, I went over to Megan’s house. I was pleased to see a big pile of wood in the driveway:

Jonathan and I had ordered a cord of wood for Megan and Rob for Christmas, and it had been delivered just a couple of days earlier. It wouldn’t fit in their stockings, and it couldn’t be a surprise, but I think they were glad to get it. They suffered through last winter without wood, so I wanted to make sure they would be comfortable this winter. And you can’t wait until Christmas to order wood – it should be ordered in August. I ordered in September and they were already backordered.

It’s been unseasonably warm this week, so they haven’t needed the wood just yet and it has given Rob time to stack it in the shed. I had put away the fans in a fit of optimism last week, and had to haul them out again when I discovered it was 80 degrees in my house when I got home from work. I may be one heat wave away from moving to Alaska.

I hadn’t gone over there to inspect the wood, though. Megan and I were off to see the first ballet of the new season, Le Corsaire. Based on a poem by Lord Byron, it featured pirates, a harem, a pasha, anda dramatic shipwreck. The costumes and sets were beautiful:

and of course the dancing was wonderful.

We are glad that the ballet was saved after last season’s alarming announcement that the theater might not be able to afford showing the ballets this year. Some generous donors stepped forward to underwrite the expense, and the season was saved. I was able to assist in choosing the program for this year, which I enjoyed very much. We will see Romeo & Juliet, The Flames of Paris, and Coppelia. Still no Sleeping Beauty, but maybe next season.

A YEAR AGO: What do you know? We were at the ballet.

FIVE YEARS AGO: On the other hand, the Giants had won the World Series, whereas this season they were terrible. Rebuilding mode, right?

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   Oct 26


Sometimes I wonder how many people actually live in Hooterville. The official population is 168, due to the lack of enthusiasm for responding to the last census. Many people move to Hooterville to escape the World and the Man, and are displeased when either or both trespass in their place of refuge.

This reluctance to participate led an unwise and unwary census worker to knock on my sister’s door before noon, which is like knocking on most people’s door at 2 am. Megan greeted this intrusion into her few hours of sleep with a lack of enthusiasm that made the census avoiders look like rabid fans. The census taker soon saw the error of her ways in trying to strongarm Megan into anything and fled whence she came. I doubt if she’ll ever be back.

In the meantime, our actual population remains a mystery, and even Hootervillians like myself don’t know how many houses and people live down the dirt roads that branch off the Ridge. Mine alone has five houses. But I do know that Hooterville is full of hidden wonders, like the collection of doors and accessories just down the Ridge, and also a hidden garden.

The hidden garden is also a nursery, laid out in lovely “rooms” among the redwoods. I was delighted to see an actual lawn:

I immediately wanted to take off my shoes and walk on it in my bare feet. I can’t remember the last time I walked barefoot on grass, though it was probably at Dad’s house in Wimbledon. My stepmother was always horrified at this behavior, since she associated bare feet with being poverty-stricken instead of lawn-loving. I always wore shoes in their house, even though I never do at home, even in winter.

I loved the look of this industrial metal fountain in the midst of a structured looking, almost formal garden:

And the little archways giving way to sunny vistas:

I don’t know what this plant is, but it’s interesting looking:

I like outer space looking plants. There were banks of natural looking plants and flowers, too:

Plenty of inspiration to be found there, even for an underachieving gardener like Self. I have not done much with my garden this year, though things have done pretty well with my more or less benign neglect.

The fuchsias are flourishing (say that three times fast):

Whatever this plant is, it’s doing nicely in its wine barrel:

I managed to save the orchard cactus, which looked like it was dying, but is now almost outgrowing its basket:

Rob moved the purple honeysuckle from the side of the house to the front, where I am training it to cover the lattice which is supposed to hide the garbage and recycling cans (at left):

I may finally get my fantasy of vines covering the lattice with flowers. The jasmine I planted for that purpose grew up instead of across, so I’m hoping the honeysuckle will fill in that part. Time will tell.

A YEAR AGO: Making cider by hand from our own apples. A dream come true!

FIVE YEARS AGO: Audrey and I get check-ups.

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   Oct 22

Playing in the Dirt

There has not been as much progress on the trenching project as I personally would enjoy.

Every day when I get home from work, I hope that there will be new developments, but alas, the trenches remain as trenchy as ever. On the bright side, the giant machinery has been located, making parking easier, but there are giant holes and trenches all around my house, making backing up, especially with gangsta dark tinted windows, a little on the perilous side. The whole thing has way too much Calamity Suzy potential for my comfort.

Though it was also the perfect venue for storing the potatoes my siblings grew this summer for future eating over the winter. We assembled everything we needed:

and Megan and I brought a couple of chairs outside to get to work. First, you have to sort through the potatoes: store, use now, or compost. One of the down sides of the fingerling potatoes is their habit of growing into balloon animals, as you can see above. Some of the balloons break off and can lead to rot. Also, it’s harder to store them, since they stick up quite a bit and need to have a full layer of sand above and below them in order to stave off eyes and wrinkliness.

I sorted, while Megan layered them with sand. Clyde supervised, and as you know, he really excels at that. Any project he is involved in comes out really well, like the bathroom remodel.

When we were done, we schlepped the heavy buckets into the studio and stashed them for future meals. It will be nice to go and dig out our own potatoes for Thanksgiving dinner.

A YEAR AGO: A little Roadside America.

FIVE YEARS AGO: Hello, winter!

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   Oct 18


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.

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   Oct 14


It’s been hard to think of anything but the fires.

I listened to the radio at work for updates all week, and actually started reading the news again for the first time in 11 months. Interestingly, my displaced friend Alison was the best source of local fire news with her Facebook posts. I watched in horror as more and more people were evacuated, my heart aching for those who lost everything, some even their lives.

Firefighters have come from Nevada, Oregon, Washington, and southern California to join our local forces in fighting this disaster. I saw the Oakland hills fires when I lived in San Francisco and never thought I’d see anything worse than that, but these fires are officially the worst in California’s recorded history.

Our community swung into action to assist evacuees, donating money, collecting food and necessities, and setting up emergency shelters for humans, pets, and livestock. My boss negotiated with pharmacies to replace evacuees’ medications lost in the fires and donated medical supplies. Our sheriff was outstanding as always. We faced this together and did our best to help our neighbors. Our strong and caring community is one of the things I love most about living here. As others put it, “The love in the air is thicker than the smoke”.

Fortunately for us on the coast, the air has been clear for the past three days, as the wind came in from the ocean and cleared out the smoke. It remains a heavy pall inland and in the Bay Area, which is getting smoke from fires in all three counties. The usually clean (by city standards) air in San Francisco is now as bad as Beijing’s, again a record for the worst ever recorded.

To cap it all off, there was a 4.0 earthquake on Friday afternoon. Guess where the epicenter was? Yes, Redwood Valley, also the epicenter for our County’s fires. Alison was at her house surveying the damage and said it felt like it was right in her backyard. Why not?

When I came home that evening, I was greeted by Mark’s herd of dogs and clucking chickens outside the house, and by my two beloved cats inside. I felt so incredibly lucky to be alive, breathing clean air, with food for dinner and my friends and family safe and sound.

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   Oct 10


When I stumbled out of bed in the early morning darkness, I could smell wood smoke through the screen door on the balcony. I thought it was too early and too warm for Megan or Mark to be having a fire in their houses, but I remembered how warm they both like their houses and thought no more about it until I went out to the car.

Wednesday was covered in ash and soot. The moon was a bright, eerie orange. I began to feel nervous. It took a while to get enough ash off the windshield to see enough to drive, and I saw soot and ash dancing in the headlights. This was not good.

Arriving at work, I put on the radio as I always do, and learned that fires had broken out overnight in Santa Rosa and inland Mendocino County, as close as Willits, which is only 32 miles from Fort Bragg, where I work. My friend Alison had to evacuate her house inland with just her dog, her husband, and a couple of his favorite guitars (he is an award-winning guitarist) in the middle of the night. It appears that these blazes were caused by power lines blown over in the high winds, causing sparks, which caught in the tinder dry grass and brush, and was then spread by the same high winds that caused them.

My boss was slated to fly to LA for a conference that day. Highways were closed and flights, including hers, were cancelled. All the phone circuits were busy, so I had to somehow change her hotel reservation and rebook her flight for later in the week. I got her the last seat on the Wednesday flight and we are hoping for the best*.

Even inside the clinic, my mouth was gritty and my eyes were sore from the smoke. Megan arrived to tell me that the hospital’s ambulances had been out all night helping to evacuate hospitals in the affected areas, and saying that she brought two days’ worth of clothes in case she is needed to work longer shifts. Every single fire fighter in our County is out there fighting the fires, whether in our own county or in our neighbors’, and I am proud of every single one of them.

Heading home, the sun cast a rosy pink glow over the ocean hours before it was due to set. It should have been beautiful, but it was horrifying. It reminded me of the sun in Oakhampton during the wildfires my brother fought so bravely, and I have to admit to being thankful that he had left the fire department a couple of years ago and was out of harm’s way for this one.

I left the cats in that day, and greeted them even more affectionately than usual. Living in a wood house in the middle of the woods gives a girl a healthy respect for, and fear of, fires. I looked around and thought, what would I save if I had 5 minutes, besides the kitties?

I feel nervous, scared, sad, and guilty all at once. My thoughts are with all of those affected by and fighting the fires.

*Update: It was cancelled. Maybe Thursday? Maybe the whole trip should be cancelled.

[Later:] The whole trip was cancelled.

A YEAR AGO: A walk in the cemetery with some notable ghosts.

FIVE YEARS AGO: Power outages, dragging furniture around, and no water. You know, the usual.

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   Oct 06

More from the Message Boards

Here’s the latest from the ever-eccentric local message boards:

Are you, or someone you know, comfortable around parrots with an attitude? We are looking for someone to care for Lucy, our Blue Front Amazon, while we travel. We’ll be gone weeks at a time, too long for her to be confined to her cage. Her wings are clipped so she doesn’t fly but she has been known to jump off her cage when startled. Because of the cage’s seed guards she can’t climb back up and needs to be rescued from the floor.

If she senses your fear she will bite, but if you know birds and are confident she’ll let you handle her. If this sounds like a job for you let me know and we’ll set up a meet and greet to see how it goes. We’ll be traveling a lot in the future so we’d like to find her a real birdy buddy if possible.

Is there an avian Tinder?

My friend has lots of blooms on her kiwi plants, but she says the male seems to be impotent. Does anyone have a male plant that she could get a branch from to use for pollinating, so she can fool her females?

Or maybe kiwi Viagra?

Any Goat Sitters Out There? We’re looking for someone to take care of our two goats, one cat and several chickens for times when we’ll be gone. We would appreciate recommendations from anyone out there.

Goat Butcher: Looking for one – thanks for replying directly to my email.

Maybe they gave up on finding a goat sitter.

Is anyone missing their horses? some arrived in my yard today

Apparently good horse sitters are also hard to find.

In search of worms. Yes, worms. Looking for red wiggler (Eisenia fetida) for a worm composter.

This post immediately reminded me of the immortal jingle from WKRP in Cincinnati.

A YEAR AGO: Rio bought her compound. You will be glad to hear that A and her husband finally moved into the apartment they were attempting to buy – about 7 months after this post. Whew!

FIVE YEARS AGO: Our beloved friend Paul was visiting and our beloved Schatzi was still with us.

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   Oct 02


‘Memba Mark’s winter trenching project? It has reared its ugly head again.

It was a sunny Sunday, and I was watching hummingbirds buzzing around the garden and two yellow butterflies chasing each other while I drank coffee out of my delightful kitty mug:

when the peace of the morning was shattered by Audrey bringing a protesting chipmunk into the house by its tail. I chased after her, yelling at her to drop it, which she did, to the surprise of all involved. The chipmunk wasted no time in racing up a nearby tree, where he was chased by a surprisingly athletic Clyde. The chipmunk eluded him, however, and leaped from branch to branch, mocking the cats as he made his escape. It made me wonder what happens around the house when I am not there to see it.

I had hardly had a chance to get back in the house and resume reading Postsecret before the quiet was shattered yet again by large machinery, alarming both cats and Self.

Going outside, I discovered that Mark and his friends had resumed the trenching project right outside my house. While pleased with the prospect of having the wires that currently drape my house in a non picturesque style which also leaves them vulnerable to winter power outages, I was less delighted with the Dreadful Rauw and the fact that the water was off all day. Megan was, if anything, even less delighted about the water outage than I was, given that she was making pesto from the garden’s jungle of basil and had no way to wash it unless she packed it all up again and went back over there, which is what she ended up doing.

When the water came back on, I discovered that it was once again brown, and I once again found Mark’s assurance that it was clean dirt unreassuring. I had to wonder if showering or washing dishes in brown water resulted in actual cleanliness.

When they had knocked off for the day, I went out to inspect the results, beside the house:

and across from it:

The giant machine was left right outside my house:

making it more challenging than usual to get Wednesday in and out of there, and making me wonder how long it’s going to stay. I hope that Trenching Project 2.0 doesn’t get stalled for months the way the beta version did. Stay tuned for continuing trenching adventures!

A YEAR AGO: A look around the garden. It might be time for another one.

FIVE YEARS AGO: A loveley evening.

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   Sep 28


I put on my tour guide hat the next day and took our visitors to the Village.

The entire village is on the National Register of Historic Places, and appears like a dream, its white Victorian houses and distinctive church steeple spilling over the rocky headland which juts into the ocean like something out of a fairytale:

All power lines and other signs of modernity (other than cars) have been buried or banned, to allow for the illusion of a beautiful village untouched by time. As we went through the village, I gave them a little history lesson how this area was settled by those seeking the rich cargo of the sunken ship “Frolic”, but who found their riches in the redwoods instead, starting a lumber industry that flourished here for many years. Our local redwood rebuilt San Francisco after the Great Quake and Fire of 1906.

The village was built by settlers from New England and the Maritimes, which is why it shares the architectural style of those places and so often stands in for those places in television shows and movies, being much closer to Hollywood than the real thing. The Kelley House, which still has a commanding view in the center of town, was built to entice a young bride from Nova Scotia to brave the perilous journey around the Horn and live in this remote, newly settled place. It is still isolated now, and I can’t imagine how isolated it would have been when it was first settled in 1852, long before the Golden Gate Bridge, highways, and cars.

We took a walk along the edge of the headlands, watching the sea birds and the abalone divers. The Pacific was living up to its name that day, being calm and clear:

In the distance, we could see the winking of the Point Cabrillo Lighthouse’s great Fresnel lens, and that was our next stop:

Movie fans may recognize this as a location in the Jim Carrey movie “The Majestic”, which also filmed at the Skunk Train Depot and Big River Beach here. The path to the lighthouse is bordered by three houses for the head lighthouse keeper and two assistant keepers, who had to keep the oil lamp lit by hand night and day, always watching over the light to keep the ships at sea safe.

Two of the houses are vacation rentals, and the third is a museum, giving a glimpse into the lives of the keepers and their families. The houses are quite modest on the inside, though they have lovely redwood paneling. It seems that it would have been a tough life for both the keepers and their families, with lots of hard physical labor in a remote (though beautiful) area.

We headed back to the Village for lunch at Frankie’s, the place we favor for pre-theater dinners and any time ice cream. I snagged a table in the garden while Ben and Erica went inside and ordered. Of course I ran into my former boss at the jobette while waiting for them, since this is nothing if not a small town.

We enjoyed our lunch in the sunshine among the flowers, watching the people walk by. After lunch, I stopped in at the coffee shop to get a gift card for Rob’s birthday. He just wouldn’t be Rob if he didn’t have a cup of coffee in his hand, and it might as well be a good one. My fellow Rob fans will be happy to hear that he is taking another ceramics class, so there will be more wonderful creations coming our way.

Later in the afternoon, we headed to the family estate. Since it was Erica’s first visit, Jonathan took her and Ben on the grand tour. They are both engineers, and they were impressed by the solar panels and storage battery set up in the shipping container, and the fact that the entire place is off the grid, everything from the satellite internet to the body freezer running on sun power. Not to mention exempt from the perpetual winter power outages that plague his (now) younger sisters.

The bees were quiet that evening, but Jonathan explained how during the Worst Long Weekend Ever there were double rows of bees at the entrance to each hive, beating their wings to create a breeze to cool the colonies within. Bees are amazing.

Back at the Waltons-sized picnic table under the canopy left over from Rio’s daughter’s wedding (best leftover ever!), we had corn chips and salsa made with tomatoes, onions, garlic, Asian pears, cilantro, and jalapenos grown in the garden:

Dinner was chicken tacos, made in Megan’s magical instant pot and served with corn tortillas, garden salsa, guacamole made by Rio (one of her specialties), shredded cheese, and lettuce. We happily ate while hearing about the kids’ plans for the rest of their California visit, including Yosemite and Monterey, where I had such a lovely visit last year.

Dessert was pie made from wild huckleberries picked that day:

The next morning, I stopped by early to say goodbye to our visitors, who were heading to Yosemite with a stop in Oakland for a football game. I’m always sad to see Ben leave, but glad that he is already talking about coming back next year. I hope this becomes a tradition!

A YEAR AGO: Dinner and a play with Megan and Lu.

FIVE YEARS AGO: Oh, my Roscoe. I will never stop loving and missing him. He was extraordinary.

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   Sep 24


We left the Fair as the sun began to set, casting a rosy golden glow over the Valley:

I love the look of the rolling golden hills, dotted with the deep pools of shade from gnarled live oaks, and the vines, still heavy with grapes at this time of year:

Soon the vine leaves will begin to turn scarlet and gold, which is our version of fall colors. There are almost a hundred vineyards in the beautiful Valley, most of them family owned and operated.

We wended our way through the redwoods to the ocean. We met up with Ben and Erica at the Gro* so we could guide them up and down the twisty roads to Rio’s compound.

Rio and Jonathan had just finished working on the interior of her guest cabin:

So Ben and Erica were the first guests to stay there in its finished state. Rio and Jonathan still have to build a little roof over the front door for the rainy season, and are planning to paint the outside, but it is more or less finished and it is just charming, so pretty and cozy inside. They could not have had a nicer place to stay while exploring our little corner of the world.

Rio had everything set up so we could make our own sandwiches after we arrived at her house, sliced chicken, cheese, and everything else you could think of to put on a variety of breads, including peach habanero jam, which was delicious. We ate our sandwiches while listening to vinyl records with covers designed by Rio’s father. He was a very well-known illustrator, and his work is in the Met and the Smithsonian, among others. He designed record covers for everyone from Miles Davis to Billie Holiday to Harry Belafonte, as well as Time magazine covers and Broadway posters.

Rio’s stepfather was an actor, starring in the Donna Reed Show and acting in many others, like Perry Mason and Mission Impossible. Rio said that her parents tried to keep her from being one of “those Hollywood kids” by not letting her go on set very often. On one of those rare occasions, her stepfather was shot with a blank and was injured, and that was the last time she went to a movie set. Her parents were close friends of Carroll O’Connor and his wife. You will be relieved to hear that he was nothing like Archie Bunker in real life, though he did have a big personality and tended to be the center of attention.

Dessert was a big bowl of strawberries from the family estate, which were something of a revelation to our visitors. There is nothing like strawberries you grow yourself. It was the perfect ending to a wonderful day.

*Big local news: Doug has sold the Gro! I am sad to see him go, but glad for him and his wife. They have been working 12-14 hours a day, 7 days a week, for way too long. Time for them to relax and enjoy themselves. I hope the new owners keep up their legacy and that the Gro remains the heart of our quirky little town.

A YEAR AGO: I may have lost the jobette, but I had a nice Saturday. And I did get the jobette back in the end, at least for the summer. You never know…

FIVE YEARS AGO: Thinking about the past and what might have been.

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   Sep 20

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.

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   Sep 16

The Wayward Ways of Cats

Stately Suzy Manor

I really don’t know why we call ourselves cats’ owners. Clearly, it’s the other way around. At least at Stately Suzy Manor, Audrey is Lady Violet and I am the humble Anna. Or possibly Daisy.
Recently, I have been making the laughable attempt to change which door Audrey uses to enter and exit her domain. During the heat tsunami and its unpleasant aftermath (Thursday night was the first night this month I was able to sleep under the covers and without a fan blasting in the sleeping loft), I decided I had to find a way to keep the downstairs sliding door open at night, to create a mythical cross breeze with the balcony door upstairs.

Both doors are equipped with screens, thanks to the resourceful Rob, but the one downstairs slides and the resourceful Audrey has figured out how to open it with her clever paws. That girl is nothing if not persistent. I came up with the genius idea of putting a piece of wood between the sliding screen and the door frame to stop the sliding, though of course I needed Rob to actually find the wood and cut it down to size.

It works fine, but the problem is that it is also Audrey’s favored entrance and egress, and opening it once the stick is installed entails going outside. I have tried to convince her to come in through the door that leads to the bathroom from the back porch, but she stubbornly refuses – most of the time. Yesterday she ran away twice when I tried to get her inside through that door before heading to work to keep them both in fancy cat food and Pretty Litter. I finally went outside, removed the stick, went back inside, closed the sliding glass door, picked up Clyde, and then let Audrey in.

Part of Audrey’s hesitation in coming inside through any door now is Clyde, whose new hobby is pouncing on Audrey and annoying her, ending in hisses and claws all around. She much prefers to make her majestic entrance when she can see that Clyde is out of the way, preferably by me holding him until she can get in and make a getaway from her annoying little brother before he can start something.

I can sympathize with this viewpoint, having a formerly annoying formerly little brother of my own, but it makes being a cat servant even more challenging. And the pay is just terrible. Fortunately, the benefits are pretty good.

A YEAR AGO: Farewell to dear Ben. Glad to say he is back again as I write this!

FIVE YEARS AGO: More farewells.

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   Sep 12

Near and Far

I met up with my former boss and a mutual friend at the bar of a historic oceanfront inn for a drink and to catch up on their traveling adventures. They had been as far away as New Zealand and Portugal, so it was nice to travel vicariously. No baggage fees or cramped seats for me!

The bar used to be the living room of the current innkeeper’s grandparents’ home, back in the days when there were no keys to any of the rooms and the inn had not yet expanded to its current size. The grandfather, Ole, eventually persuaded his wife to make the living room a bar, which has a spectacular view of the ocean and is a lovely place to perch at the bar with a glass of wine and watch the whales go by in season, which is why it is now called Ole’s Whale Watch Bar.

This isn’t whale watching season (that’s winter), but the current innkeeper was there with a hug and a smile. She is the fifth generation of her family to own and operate this historic inn. Now there are keys to all the rooms, a spa, restaurant, and golf course, but you can imagine that James Dean would still feel at home here, as he was during the filming of “East of Eden”.

He stayed at the inn during filming, and horrified Ole by wearing a t-shirt with no shirt over it, putting his boots up on the bar, and swearing. It was Dean’s first major film role, and the only one completed in his brief, bright lifetime, as well as the only one he ever saw in its entirety.

This time, our County stood in for Monterey rather than New England, as it usually does. Having been to Monterey again recently, I have to say that they do not look very much alike. But that’s Hollywood for you!

A YEAR AGO: A BBQ party at the property with Ben. We’re planning a repeat on Saturday!

FIVE YEARS AGO: Jobs of the present and the past.

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   Sep 07


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.

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   Sep 04

Worst Long Weekend Ever

Welcome to hell! You’ll hate it here!

I was rewarded for having the temerity to take two days off after working six days a week all summer by a heat tsunami. Nothing as benign as a heat wave – this is a heat tsunami, crushing everything in its path, including me.

I actually left the County on Thursday for the first time in ages, going to Santa Rosa, which involves one of my least favorite things: driving on freeways. However, the traffic was better than I expected and I completed my errands quickly despite (or because of) the bone-crushing 106 degree heat. I was home again about six hours after I left, making the unpleasant discovery that the hideous heat had hitched a ride with me.

Now, it’s not unusual for Santa Rosa to be 100 degrees or more. But when that happens, it is typically 75 to 80 on the coast. Not 100. And unlike Santa Rosans, our bodies and houses are not equipped to handle the heat. My house in particular. It’s uninsulated wood, covered with tar paper, and basically it’s like living in a tent. The upside down rowboat shape traps all the heat, and none of the windows open. As Jessica puts it, “Megan’s house is stupid, but your house is really stupid.”

Its deficiencies and stupidities became glaringly obvious as the glaring heat wore on and wore me out. Day after day of 100+ outside and 90+ inside. Even with all the curtains drawn and fans blasting, along with the swamp cooler, it only brought the indoor temperature down to 90F downstairs. I can’t imagine what it is upstairs, even with a box fan facing out to allegedly pull out the hot air, according to my former fire fighter brother. I wished I was in my air conditioned office instead of my overheated hippie hut as I took cold showers and repeatedly threw cold water on my face, arms and poitrine.

Megan persuaded me to go to the Village with her and Jessica, reasoning that it would be cooler at the coast. It was 90 or more. A scantily clad visitor was staring aghast at her phone and saying, “It say’s it 64! No way it’s 64!” I told her it always says it’s 64. It’s remarkably hard to get an accurate weather forecast for this part of the world*. Even though it never got any better, I kept obsessively checking the forecast over the past few days.

I feel like I’m under siege, hiding from the Evil Death Star. I am nauseous and drinking as much ice water as I can while feeling light-headed and weird. It’s too hot to do anything inside or outside of the house, though I did water the garden in the early morning hours the past two days. The fuchsias, those Suziest of flowers, being both shade-loving and flashy, looked like I felt, being wilted and perhaps partly dead. I fear that both of us may never completely recover. I actually wept with despair at one point during the hell of the last few days. If there was someone I could surrender to in order to make it stop, I would. I freely admit I can’t take it anymore. You win, Evil Death Star!

Guess when temperatures are going to return to normal? Yeah, you guessed it: my first day back at work after the Worst Long Weekend Ever.

*As Robin Williams put it in “Good Morning Vietnam”: “You got a window? Open it!” In fact, his entire weather report is sadly accurate. It is hotter than a snake’s ass in a wagon rut.

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   Sep 01


I worked my last Saturday last week. It was nice to share the magic of this place with the visitors and make a little extra money, but I am glad to only have to drive to the Big Town for five days a week instead of 6.

I celebrated by heading over to Rio’s place with Megan for dinner. We were joined by a few other people, including Blake’s father Chris, who is still coming to terms with the tragic loss of his son just a few short months ago. He was in the mood to talk about Blake, so I just went along with it. I figure if he brings it up and wants to talk about it, then we should follow his lead. It seemed to help, though we all know it is a lengthy, day by day process. At least Chris knows we are there for him and he has the support of his friends.

On a brighter note, I heard all about the eclipse of the century from Jonathan and Rio, who actually saw it. They followed my friend C’s advice and just took along telescopes and binoculars and did not try to take photos. It sounds like it was an incredible experience. Rio did take this wonderful photo of Jonathan at the cedar creek near their campsite:

Does he look happy, or what?

We sat out on the deck and drank wine while the kids ran around. Dinner was made almost entirely from the family garden. Pasta with pesto made from garlic and basil we grew; a salad of garden goodness; and garlic bread made with our garlic:

It was delicious, and there is something satisfying about eating food you grew. Or that your siblings grew.

The pièce de la résistance was dessert, a flight of sorbets made from fruit either picked wild or grown on the family estate (Megan recently told me that the fenced in garden and orchard is now an entire acre). Clockwise from upper left: huckleberry, blackberry, raspberry, and peach:

I can recommend estate grown dessert, though I can’t tell you which sorbet was the best. The sorbet process seems to really intensify the fruit flavors. A perfect way to end the evening!

A YEAR AGO: A delightful visitor. I am pleased to say that he is making a return appearance later this month, and this time, he is bringing his girlfriend!

FIVE YEARS AGO: The money fairy stopped by. Much better than the tooth fairy!

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   Aug 28


Come back, Fogust!

Both of my brain cells may have melted yesterday. I didn’t dare to consult the thermometer outside, but it was still 86 in my house when I went to bed last night. My house is so unreasonable. Rob came by to correctly position my Junapalooza swamp cooler gift and attempt to explain the laws of physics to me. It sort of sounded like the Charlie Brown grownups to my non-sciency mind, though.

He turned off all the fans, closed up the house other than the screen door to the balcony in the sleeping loft, and placed the swamp cooler in the open door between the studio and the house, reasoning that blowing air from the coolest part of the house with a concrete floor would help to cool the rest of it. He added in stuff about air layers and other things I couldn’t get, but I was not put here on earth to get it.

I’m sorry to say that it is supposed to be hot’n’heinous™ for the rest of the week, so Rob is going to add attempted climate control duties to cat doorman duties, it now being too dark to leave the doors open for them when I go to work, with the arrival of high beams season. Somehow it seems spectacularly unfair that it’s both hot and dark.

Hope he is successful, especially since this heat wave is slated to go until Saturday or so.


Hm. It was 78 in the house and about 80 outside when I got home, despite Rob’s ministrations. Yesterday it was about 90 outside and 86 in. Maybe the eccentricities of my house make the swamp cooler of limited effectiveness. It feels cooler outside than in, so I think I’ll turn off the swamp cooler, open the doors, and put on a couple of fans. Old school.

A YEAR AGO: Well, at least melting in the heat is better than an obnoxious mountain lion. Isn’t it?

FIVE YEARS AGO: Yet another car misadventure that ended up being more life-affirming than disastrous.

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   Aug 24


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.

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