2021

This was a year of milestones. Jessica turned 18; Jarrett turned 40; my blog turned 20; Megan turned 50; she and Rob celebrated their 30th wedding anniversary, and we mourned the 20th anniversary of our father’s death.

We also mourned the devastating loss of Megan and Rob’s beloved dog, Star. We knew she was sick, but the end was sudden. She has left a huge hole in their household, and we still miss her. But a new dog, Millie, brought joy to our lives in late summer, especially to Stella, who was missing Star much more than we expected. Stella and Millie love playing together, and it’s heart-warming to see how happy they are together.

I read 110 books this year, an improvement over last year’s paltry 86 (assuming my record-keeping was accurate that year), but falling short of the record high of 118 in 2010. I seem to have developed a love for Canadian graphic novels. I devoured all of “Clyde Fans” and every Michel Rabagliati book I could get my hands on.

This was also a year of successful culinary experimentation, in which I learned how to make my own Canelés de Bordeaux, Chinese BBQ pork, lemon chicken, har gao (shrimp dumplings), and pork and chive crystal dumplings.

Here’s all the news I saw fit to print this year:

January: The New Year begins. Come along on my commute. It’s a pretty one. I stepped down from my high office (or possibly my high horse) as the library board Chair, though I remain on the Board. High office is not for the likes of me. Also, it was completely perk-free, as far as I could see. I might be persuaded to try it again if a tiara and a limo were involved. Getting to work was an adventure. Swooning over Frank from afar, and remembering the inimitable Buddy, my first cat love. Frank is still doing well and is his fighty and adorable self. A magical encounter on my way to work. A friend told me that she thinks it was Dad checking in with me. I hope she’s right. And I hope he’s wrong and I see him again one day.

February: John’s rescued kittens. My proudest achievement. Thinking about love. Such an unusual thing to do around Valentine’s Day! A fun trip to the South Coast. I always love it there.

March: The heart-breaking news of our beloved Star’s terminal illness. Jonathan and Rio were off having adventures. When I heard how long they were going to be gone, I knew they would not be here to say goodbye to Star. Unfortunately, I was correct in this. Despite knowing she was ill, her death was sudden, merciful for our darling Star, but hard for those she left behind, including Stella. I still miss our beautiful Star. Megan’s place is not the same without her. I had not realized that she was the heart of their household until she was gone. Dad’s 90th birthday came on the heels of Star’s death.

April: Kitty updates. Getting my hair done and getting an Easter basket cheered me up. My blog turned 20! Can you believe it? And Jessica turned 18! Can you believe that, too? Remembering a wonderful visit with my beloved friend A at her home in Amsterdam in 1994. This month’s theme seems to be the swift passage of time and what we lose along the way.

May: Things were a little too exciting for Dodge. But it didn’t stop him from enjoying his 5th birthday. Making Tourtière from a friend’s family recipe. The joys of a beautiful spring. Megan turned 50, a reason to celebrate! A lot of milestones this year.

June: Enjoying some time off. An excellent birthday, including getting my hair cut and colored and a little trip to the beautiful South Coast. I looked around the small, but scenic, cemetery while I was in Anchor Bay. Summer crowds were out in force in the Village. An expensive flat tire. A lovely, but hot, trip to the beautiful Valley.

July: Orange is the new pink at my house. I love my house. The always amazing Flynn Creek Circus. Another milestone on this milestone-studded year: Megan and Rob’s 30th anniversary! A visit to the Valley, where you can taste cider under the very trees the cider apples grew on. A trip to Bodega Bay, to scope out locations from “The Birds” and remember family Christmases there with Dad. A glamorous stay at the Flamingo in Santa Rosa. The joy of a concert at the Music Festival.

August: My first attempt at making Canelés de Bordeaux was surprisingly successful. I fell i love with a giant ceramic apple (yes, you read that right!) and bought it for the garden. I love it. Some extreme (and extreemly delicious) take-out. Conventional wisdom seems to be wrong when it comes to my unconventional cats. A new deck and a new dog at Megan and Rob’s place! Remembering our much-loved father 20 years after his sudden and untimely death. I will never stop loving and missing him. Ever. Getting contact lenses again. Checking out some beautiful artwork around town.

September: Another successful cooking experiment: Chinese BBQ pork. Meet Millie, Megan and Rob’s new dog! She and Stella are so happy together! I seem to have been out of control with the make your own delicacies. This time: dim sum! A really fun family dinner in the garden. A horrifying (and horrifying expensive) root canal. Just one little thing can make a big difference in a room.

October: I admit it. I’m a scented candle addict. Rainy day baking. Some mid-week sparkles with a friend, and end of week Eggs Benedict at the amazing Queenie’s. Some small-town crimes, a little too close to home for comfort. And in the miscellaneous department…

November: John stepped up his rescue activities with caring for a batch of abandoned, newborn kittens. He had to get up every two hours to feed them for weeks. I am pleased to say they all made it and were safely given to a local rescue for adoption. Yay, John! He’s my hero. Redbeard was finally caught! And Suzy’s Dim Sum Palace was open for business. Yet another crown for my collection, and not the fun, sparkly kind, either. A drink with a side of view. A quietly thankful Thanksgiving.

December: A quiet, but delicious Thanksgiving dinner. The incredible sparkly beauty of the Festival of Lights. In which I learn to make my own lemon chicken while the Chinese restaurant is closed, and enjoy a drink or two with my sister at our local bar. Finally tackling the Closet of Doom. Putting up the Christmas tree. An unnerving earthquake on Solstice Eve. A pretty Christmas Eve and a quiet Christmas Day. Having fun watching Emily in Paris with my sister.

I have no idea what next year will bring, but as this year ends, I am grateful for my family, my friends, my cats, my health, my lovely house, my meaningful work, the beautiful place I live, and the small, special moments in life that are there every day.

A YEAR AGO: A look back at 2020.

FIVE YEARS AGO: Reviewing 2016.

TEN YEARS AGO: What happened in 2011.

FIFTEEN YEARS AGO: The year of the dog.

TWENTY YEARS AGO: The last day of the last year of my father’s life.

Emily

Megan I had long been awaiting the return of the delightful and delightfully frivolous Emily in Paris. It is escapism at its finest, and we were ready to escape.

I took an extra day off over the holidays so we could watch all the Emilys at one sitting, and it was so worth it!

Arriving at Megan and Rob’s place, I was greeted by Stella and Millie. Millie is still horrified by humanity other than Megan, and occasionally Rob, but she feels better when she is cuddled up with Stella:

Stella has not lost her Mom skills, and clearly loves taking care of Millie.

The deck is now complete, and there is a gravel path leading to it, to cut down on the dust and mud:

Here’s another look at the path, leading away from their place:

Once inside, I discovered that our friend Monica had left me a gorgeous Christmas gift, wrapped in vintage ribbon and including a clear glass ornament with a feather in it, and a sparkly mushroom ornament:

Megan was well-prepared for our Emily Day. She invested in a cocktail shaker so she could make Midori Illusions, and it was worth it:

They are magical concoctions of Midori melon liqueur, vodka, Cointreau, lemon juice, and pineapple juice.

Rob imported pizzas from the Big Town. It was surprisingly difficult to acquire a pizza that day, both of the pizza places in the Village being chiuso in the Italian manner. We were lucky that he was willing to not only drive the pizzas home, but also me, and it was after midnight by the time I left. Season Two of Emily may have been even more delightful than Season One. We had such a great time!

A YEAR AGO: Christmas at the beach.

FIVE YEARS AGO: Happy Hannukah!

TEN YEARS AGO: Christmas aftermath.

FIFTEEN YEARS AGO: Christmas nightmare.

Christmas


Happy holidays to you!

There was no company on Christmas Day, but it was still festive at Chez Suzy. The Christmas tree sparkled, and outside it was raining, with the frogs peeping merrily. It was the perfect weather for making cheese biscuits:

and for glazing ham:

While not up to my brother’s very high standards, it was delicious. I quartered a clementine and squeezed the juice over the ham before glazing it, and then left the orange quarters in the pan. The glaze I made was simple, just maple syrup, brown sugar, and Dijon mustard, but I glazed it every 15 minutes or so, and it was worth the effort.

Of course, I also made our traditional Christmas salad, with roasted pears, honey-shallot dressing, and fresh pomegranate seeds:

I had sparkling, pink, local-ish (made in neighboring Sonoma County) wine with dinner, and enjoyed the candlelight, the peace, and the purring presence of my three beloved cats, Audrey, Clyde, and Dodge.

After dinner, I watched Charlie Brown and the Grinch and opened my presents. It was a really nice Christmas.

FIVE YEARS AGO: A merry Christmas.

TEN YEARS AGO: A happy Christmas

TWENTY YEARS AGO: Not surprisingly, we were not celebrating.

Eve

On Christmas Eve, I stopped by the Village to pick up a few things. It was pouring as I headed down the Ridge, and I wondered whether I really needed the things I was planning to buy. By the time I reached the grocery store in the Village, it had stopped raining.

I ran into my friend Erin in the store. She, too, was shopping for last minute groceries. It was nice to take a couple of minutes to catch up and enjoy each other’s company. I like living in a place where I can randomly run into friends and neighbors, even if I am not wearing make-up and/or am oddly attired, as sometimes happens on last-minute store runs.

As I headed back to the car, the weather reminded me that in any situation, it’s all in how you look at things, whether you look on the stormy side:

or the bright side:

I took these photos at the same place, the cloudy ones looking west toward the sea and the Village photos looking east. It makes me happy to know that the Village looks much as it did 100 years ago, and to think of the generations that have celebrated together in this beautiful place.

A YEAR AGO: Christmas memories.

FIVE YEARS AGO: Getting ready.

TEN YEARS AGO: Unexpected Christmas guests.

FIFTEEN YEARS AGO: Christmas sparkle never goes out of style.

TWENTY YEARS AGO: Our 11th anniversary. Nice to see Dad’s notes and those photos. And to know that 20 years later, John and I are still there for each other and always will be.

Rumble


Solstice on the Ridge

I took the photo above on my way home on the winter solstice. It was the shortest day of the year, but it was also beautiful.

It’s nice to think that we are moving back into the light, even though I know perfectly well that as soon as I get a glimmer of hope light in the mornings, it will be cruelly snatched away from me by the Powers That Be, condemning me to weeks more of completely unnecessary darkness, driving in Danger of Deer.

But I won’t think about that now. I won’t even think about it tomorrow, no matter what Scarlett O’Hara says. I’ll think about it in a couple of months. In the meantime, I’ll be thankful to be alive and breathing after the earthquake we had on Solstice Eve.

Megan and my work friend Michelle happened to be in my office around noon that day when I got an alert on my phone saying, “Earthquake activity has been detected in your area”. I had barely finished reading it before I heard the rumble and felt the strong roll beneath me. The clinic ceiling creaked, and the rocking and rolling seemed to go on for a long time.

I usually sleep through earthquakes or fail to notice them, but this one was impossible for even the most oblivious (Me!) to ignore, registering an extremely healthy 6.2 on the Richter scale, and located about 45 miles off the coast of Eureka in Humboldt, our neighboring county. It was unnerving. It was the strongest one I had felt in years. Maybe Santa was feeling a little Grinchy this year and sent us a Christmas earthquake?

A YEAR AGO: My boys.

FIVE YEARS AGO: Things were sparkly.

TEN YEARS AGO: Kittens + Christmas Tree = mess.

FIFTEEN YEARS AGO: Enough with the crazies already!

TWENTY YEARS AGO: All the kitty news that’s fit to print.

Tree

I didn’t wait for the first Saturday in December to put up my Christmas tree. I did it the first Friday in December as soon as I got home. I didn’t remove any of the faux adult armor or anything first. I excavated the tree and the lone box of ornaments and got to work.

I was sorry to discover that the colored lights no longer worked and were destined for the dump, where they are undoubtedly being entertained by the comic stylings of the attendant there. My Plan B was a string of clear lights, which work well with the glass icicles and clear plastic snowflakes. Not to mention the glittery white glass birds in honor of Dad:

and the mercury glass acorns, including the giant one displayed in the middle of the tree:

and a beautiful apple:

I also have sparkly glass mushrooms clipped to the ersatz branches, and a glittery star at the top of the tree:

It looks really pretty:

Somewhat surprisingly, the cats, who never agree on anything else other than the fact that feeding times are too late too far between, and there is a distressingly permanent treat drought, are united in ignoring the tree so far. The only post-tree change in their behavior is that Dodge has taken up his winter position on the dining room chair in front of the heater:

In this location, he’s in the direct line of any warmth coming out of the heater. He certainly looks cozy. The rest of the year, he lounges on top of the heater, where he can enjoy the warmth of the pilot light. He’s not just handsome, he’s smart, too.

A YEAR AGO: How Dodge won Clyde’s heart. They are still the best of friends.

FIVE YEARS AGO: Decorating for the season at the old house.

TEN YEARS AGO: You guessed it.

FIFTEEN YEARS AGO: A little less than jolly.

TWENTY YEARS AGO: The pros and cons of buying a carport. Fun fact: the carport I bought then is still in use over at the family estate, where it houses a mechanic’s pit, the washer and dryer, the body freezer, and other essentials of life. It turned out to be a good investment.

Organizing

I was surprised that the drink consumption, especially merrily mixing varieties of alcohol, did not result in a head-crushing hangover the next day. In fact, I actually felt well enough to tackle the Closet of Doom! Alert the media!

It’s a little embarrassing to admit that more than a year after Rob installed shelves in the Closet of Doom, it remained a chaotic and overwhelming mess. You know how it is. You look at the mess, it’s horrifying, and you think, “I’ll just deal with it later.”

Later finally arrived, though in the mysterious way of all huge cleaning projects, it caused more mess on the way to cleaning up. I hauled a lot of stuff out of the Closet of Doom, leading to that coveted “just moved in” look for the rest of the house. I threw some stuff out, and grouped things together: teas; canned goods; baking supplies; Asian cooking ingredients; pasta; cat supplies, etc.

At least I can actually walk in there now:

There is more work to do, of course. I still need to haul stuff out from under the stair part of the closet and assess what’s there and will end up being stored there. I’m thinking things like my Dad’s letters and the box of family photos could go near the back, since I don’t need to access them all the time. I need to find good places for things like the vacuum cleaner and the power outage box, which I (sadly) need to access more often. I’m planning to group things like cleaning supplies, automotive supplies, laundry supplies, etc., and put them in trays on the floor under the bottom shelves. Hopefully it won’t take me another year to get those things done!

A YEAR AGO: Lights in the darkness.

FIVE YEARS AGO: The delights of Candlelight Shopping.

TEN YEARS AGO: Roadside assistance.

TWENTY YEARS AGO: Glimpses of city life.

Necessity

I was planning to pick up Chinese food after the Festival of Lights, but was saddened to discover that the restaurant is closed until the end of January. I came up with a Plan B* for dinner that night (you know I always have one), and faithful readers will not be surprised to learn that this resulted in my making it my own self.

My intended menu was char siu, aka Chinese BBQ pork, lemon chicken (which I consider to be comfort food), and fried wontons. So that weekend, I set the char siu to marinating, red food coloring and all, and consulted with my long-serving friend A, who is Chinese, about producing my own lemon chicken. She sent me a simple, yet delicious recipe, which I only modified by adding lemon zest to the sauce:

Lemon Chicken

3 chicken breasts, boneless and skinless
1 egg
1 1/2 tsp kosher salt
1 pinch black pepper
1 tablespoon canola oil
1/2 cup + 1 tablespoon cornstarch, divided
1/4 cup flour
1/2 cup lemon juice
1/4 cup sugar
2/3 cup water

Slice the chicken breasts in half butterflied into two thinner pieces each.
To coat the chicken add the egg, salt, pepper and oil into a bowl and whisk together in a large bowl.
In a separate bowl, add ½ cup corn starch and ¼ cup flour and mix well.
In a large frying pan or a wok, heat more canola oil in a wok 375 degrees (medium high heat).
Dip chicken pieces in the egg mixture, then dredge in the flour mixture.
Fry the chicken for 3 to 4 minutes or until golden and crisp.
Remove the chicken from the pan, then drain the oil.
Add the lemon juice, sugar, water and remaining 1 tablespoon cornstarch to the pan and whisk to combine.
Cook until thickened and smooth.
Slice the chicken into thin strips then serve with lemon sauce poured over.

So I was able to successfully reproduce the meal at home. Unfortunately for my sloth-like tendencies, I’m sorry to say that it was probably better than I would have gotten in the restaurant had it been open.

Not that I’m saying that the lack of Chinese food – or at least, Chinese food made by someone other than Me – drove me to drink, but I did find myself perching on the stool at the foot of the bar near the door to the deck not too long afterwards. Megan and I had both had a trying week, and decided that we needed a drink:


Mandarin Blossom Cosmo

Or possibly two:


Cranberry Margarita

I thought the Cranberry Margarita sounded festive, and as you can see, it is about the size of a young swimming pool. It came with a spoon to aid in imbibing this adult slushie.

It was too cloudy to watch the sun set, but it was nice to be there. Megan pointed out how lucky we are to live in this beautiful place, and how lucky we are to have this beautiful, comfortable place as our local watering hole. Attitudes adjusted, we headed home, kindly chauffeured by the ever-tolerant Rob.

*Plan B was leftover penne alla vodka, which I had made myself when I learned that Luna no longer does take out. This seems to be my go-to when foiled by local restaurants, or the lack of them.

A YEAR AGO: A different kind of online dating.

FIVE YEARS AGO: A day at the beach.

TEN YEARS AGO: Shock and awe at the incredibly beautiful lunar eclipse, shot through with a single shooting star. I later learned that my beloved former father-in-law left us at about the same moment. I like to think the star was him, saying goodbye. Love you and miss you, dear Ed.

TWENTY YEARS AGO: Walking to work in San Francisco, despite teh temptations of cable cars.

Sparkle

Darkness is upon us, and I am trying to embrace it, with scented candles, herbal tea in my beautiful mug from Monica, and cozy evenings with the cats, and watching Ellery Queen, wondering if I will ever solve the mysteries (I got one out of 24!). Lately, I seem to have a taste for comfort TV. I loved Ellery Queen, and have recently discovered the joys of The Andy Griffith Show, which I amazingly had never seen before now. I find it incredibly charming.

A bright spot in the darkness of winter, both literally and figuratively, is the Festival of Lights at the Botanical Gardens. Every year, they fill the beautiful Gardens with amazing lights, and there is always something new to discover.

This year, the tickets were timed, and I arrived at 6:00 pm. I was greeted by a breathtaking array of light sculptures:

Illuminated tunnels led the way to even more wonders:

Like an erupting volcano:

And jellyfish, floating ethereally among the trees:

The sea monster:

fortunately didn’t get too close to the pirate ship and whale:

It is such a beautiful spectacle, and it gives me the gift of child-like wonder, an experience that happens all too rarely as an adult, even one as faux as I am.

A YEAR AGO: A quick fix for the kitchen sink.

FIVE YEARS AGO: File under miscellaneous.

FIFTEEN YEARS AGO: Dogs, drunks, and movies. You know, just a day in this girl’s life.

Dinner


Cheers to Thanksgiving!

Making Thanksgiving dinner is a fair amount of work, even when you don’t have company. This year, I didn’t bother with Grammie’s ivory-handled silver or Wedgwood or Nana’s wineglasses. I used the 1940s Ringware bowls I got from Monica’s store for the cranberry-bourbon relish:

and the orange-ginger glazed carrots:

Here you can see the bowls a bit better:

I really enjoy using them.

This year, I roasted the turkey Nana-style, rubbing it with butter and sage and sprinkling it with Maldon salt and freshly ground pepper. I have tried fancier and more time-consuming methods, brining and all that, but the fancy methods were not notably better than my American farm girl grandmother’s simple method, so back to the basics I went. And the turkey turned out perfect:

Even the leftovers were moist. I made gravy from the pan juices, and this year, I got a package of pre-roasted and pre-peeled chestnuts for the stuffing/dressing, thus relieving me of the worst Thanksgiving chore of all. It was a real process improvement.

So that was my simple dinner, along with the pink méthode champenoise seen above in my rhinestone-studded glass, by the light of the deliciously scented Hearth candle. I have so much to be thankful for: my family, my friends, my cats, my health, my job, all the love that surrounds me.

A YEAR AGO: It was beginning to look a lot like Christmas.

TEN YEARS AGO: Decorating for the holidays.

FIFTEEN YEARS AGO: Remembering the past.

TWENTY YEARS AGO: Things were sad inside and out.