Friday, December 31, 2010

New Year's Eve

New Year's Eve -- the night we party until 2011!


One of the families involved came down with some sickness; one has car trouble and can't get the whole family into the cab of a little pickup truck. The other family decided that they were also too old, after all, to party late.

Yesterday I had prepared my meat and cheese noshes, and scrubbed down the kitchen counters; this morning we all pitched in and cleaned the house. We were juuussst finishing up when we got the call about cancelling guests.

Now we could have been angry, and we could have been disappointed, but in fact, we were all relieved. (I really hate staying up late any more.) Bernie and I flung ourselves into the car and went to the store for sauerkraut for tomorrow (we will still be having guests for din tomorrow) and on the way back, got to see spectacular sundogs in the sky.

When I was a kid we called them "cloudbows," but I've been taught that "sundog" is the name for these iridescent bands of light in the sky around the sun. Most of the time in this sighting, we saw two, one on either side of the sun, and then, shortly after we zoomed into the driveway and I roused the household to come see, not only were the two side sundogs, but a colorful arc above the sun as well.

Had the guests not canceled, I would probably still have been dusting furniture and shoving laundry in the dryer, and not looking outside much at all.

All's well that ends well, I say.

Happiness and peace in this brand new year, 2011.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Almost 2011

A few weeks ago we were at a pot luck with the people we call the "Haverim." The Haverim are our Seder buddies each year, and we try to get together once a month or so. They're more like family than just friends ... in fact they're more like family than my family ever was. Anyway, it was time to broach the subject of New Year's Eve.

For many years, we invited all of the Haverim over to ring in the New Year. The menu was always the same: bring some nosh/appetizer and whatever is to be drunk. We'd play marathon sessions of dice, talk, dance to swing music at midnight, and then trash the house with confetti and pop the hundred balloons. When the kids were little, we'd run out in the middle of the street with them and toss confetti and whoop.

Last year I begged out; I was still tired from the illnesses that had beat me up earlier in the year. I'm feeling pretty good these days, so I was willing to do something. Most of us fall asleep by about nine o'clock, what with our kids being grown and grandkids not requiring late night vigils, so I thought instead of New Year's Eve, why not invite the Haverim over for New Year's Day, to dine on pork and sauerkraut for the New Year's luck? (I have no idea why pork and sauerkraut are supposed to bring luck in the new year, but we all like it, so it's a good excuse to have it.)

So there we were at the potluck, and I was sitting at the table. I put on my "official" voice, rapped on the table, and told the happy group that we had business to discuss. "Since most of us fall asleep early," I said, "do you think it would be better to have New Year's Day dinner together, or do you really want to do the New Year's Eve thing?"

I have been accustomed to moderating if not controlling meetings much of my adult life, so I was really, really surprised when the rest of the group, like a thundering herd of maniacs, suddenly came to consensus: "LET'S DO BOTH!!!"

As we headed to our car that night, Bernie said out of the corner of his mouth, "How was that negotiation supposed to go again?"

Ah well. It will be fun, I'm sure. However, you can be certain that I am going to show no mercy when it comes to kicking ass at dice.

***Photo credit Bernie Pilarski

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Fierce December!

 Now that's what you  call a Christmas Eve.

The sun was so delicious, and the air so clement, that we opted to have our late afternoon supper on the front lawn. The air was cool enough that Bernie wanted his hat and jacket ( I had a flannel shirt and my long-loved polar fleece vest) but warm enough to sit out until sundown.

The dogs were with us, and Howie crawled into Bernie's lap for a prolonged pet and cuddle.

Bernie had sandwiches, and I had a platter of sliced summer sausage, fresh veggies, and French bread with cream cheese. Perfect dinner!

And while the sun warmed us, I saw a hummingbird sipping in the eucalyptus tree, whipped out my camera, aimed, and fired. He's quite handsome, isn't he?

Happy holidays, all.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Glorious Gift

Not a real picture. I used a public domain photo of the moon and tried to show what we saw last night.

Weather here has been thickly overcast with rain for days; the forecast called for drizzles and clouds and rain pretty continuously until Christmas.

I did ask God for a little favor, though, that the clouds would break enough for us to see the lunar eclipse.

When I pray like that, I don't expect results. The world does not need to be ordered for my pleasure. Nevertheless, when night rolled around, and incredibly, the heavy clouds parted, we kept a watch on the moon as it shone down on our back patio, and I was giggling with delight.

Suddenly John shouted, "It's started!" and he and Alex and Lil and I grabbed folding chairs and heavy jackets, hats, gloves, and blankets and scrambled.

We watched the moon being eaten up, bit by bit, until it was all red and orange and mysterious. Lil fell asleep for most of the last half, but readily awakened to see the red moon.

There are many people who don't believe in God, who would say that my prayer and the astounding vision of a lunar eclipse in a week that Man promised would be all cloud and rain are merely coincidence. What an impoverished life those people must lead -- I couldn't live like that, with my hands over my eyes, refusing to see wonder and mystery and such stunning beauty, and such mercy and indulgence.

Thank you, God, for such a gift. I hope that I will never forget it. It was one of the most beautiful things I have ever seen in my life.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Don't Stand Behind Them

A winter treat for a little girl and her family dogs: digging for gophers.                                                      

Sebastian found a gopher run, and was inflamed; determined to dig the vermin out, he rapidly went down nearly a foot with great sweeps of his long toes and claws. Lillian was thrilled to see her dog act as an earth mover, and laughing in delight, urged him on.

Howie, seeing the dirt fly, got right in there and helped, even though he was not really interested in the burrow. He dug as though the hole needed an add-on patio.

The earth was soft and loamy with the wet weather, the ticks are dormant due to the cold, and what fun to see such an enthusiastic excavation!

The dogs thought so, too.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Happy Dog

The fierce beast pictured here thinks that a long walk by the river and racing through the long green winter grass makes for the best December afternoon ever.

He's still really fit for his age; he'll be 10 in a few months. It does my heart good to see him galloping effortlessly across the meadow, or easily leaping onto a four-foot shelf by the river.

It hasn't taken long at all for him to figure out that Daddee is the Human who initiates the idea of going for a walk, either. He knows his Muvver is a couch potato these days, so he follows The Man around, poking him with his nose, asking, "Are you ready to go yet?"

I say this all the time: Howie is the best dog I've ever known.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

A Mailing Label

After some months of having my desk out in the kitchen (trying to resolve issues with my new monitor), we moved my desk back to our bedroom again.

[The monitor that came (for free) with my desktop computer kept jiggling the display, and dimming from time to time (most annoying when I was trying to work). Moving to the kitchen and a more stable power outlet seemed to help ... for a while. Finally, I switched out my new monitor for my old monitor (a 2003 Sony) that Lillian had been using. My new monitor works perfectly with her computer, and my old monitor is just fine. Not as glitzy, but I don't need glitz.]

As I was moving the stuff from the desk, a mailing label fell out from under the Plexiglas protector. It was a Priority Mail label that I had printed out last spring, so that I could send stuff to my mother. I remember when I addressed it. I'd been sending Mom a dozen freshly baked oatmeal cookies, and when I got to the Post Office, I could not find the label. I filled out another, and sent the cookies. After I got home I found the original label on the floor by my desk where it had fallen. "I'll just use this the next time," I thought, and stuffed it under the Plexiglas.

There was no next time.

Finding the label, and watching it drop into the waste basket ... well, it hurts still, and I miss her. I miss the woman who was always game for a fishing expedition, who taught me how to make the foods she learned from Dad's family, who sewed me beautiful clothes for school.

I hope she has all kinds of fun things to get into in Heaven.

Thursday, December 09, 2010

Walking in a Winter Wonderland

Bernie lured me out for a walk by the river with the dogs this morning after the rain stopped.

Since my gimpy knee episode earlier in the year, I've been reluctant to walk. And even now, with the knee seeming to work well again, I dragged my feet (so to speak) about walking on the uneven paths down in the woods.

No worries, it all worked well; the temperature was a balmy 60 degrees and everything looked washed clean by the rain. The dogs went crazy, racing through the green winter grass at top speed back and forth across the path ahead of us. Howie's striped coat seemed to glow a deeper orangey-brown in the wintry light, and I loved seeing him leaping along effortlessly.

The big sighting of the walk was a lone coyote, who was crossing the path far ahead of us. The wild creature stopped to watch Sebastian thundering through the woods after Howie, and then quietly, oh, so quietly, slunk away on the northern branch of the trail. When we got to where the coyote had been, both Howie and Sebastian sniffed around, but they weren't particularly interested. For them the call of the wild is mouthfuls of juicy green grass and the heady hurtling up and down the gullies and hills.

Bernie said it best as we walked along on the carpet of oak and cottonwood leaves: "Yep, this is my idea of a winter wonderland."


Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Little Things

This morning we went to Mass, it being the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, a holy day of obligation for practicing Catholics.

I like this holy day, as it draws me to contemplate what life must have been like for Mary, conceived a sinless human being, just as Adam and Eve were created. (Non-believers, go ahead and find something else to think about.) Without the veil of Original Sin, did Mary then have a better understanding of what God's will for her was? Gabriel the angel speaks to her, "Hail, full of grace!" Obviously this messenger of God knows that she is something different ...

There I was at Mass, contemplating this wonder, fat and focused. It was a good start to the day.

We came home, and began making a list of stuff we had to do: drop off books at the library, check the Post Office box for new contracts, go to Staples and buy office supplies and make copies of the latest contract, go to Target for various odds and ends. "See what Shrek 4 costs while you're there," John requested.

"No problem. I'll call you when I find out." However, my phone, when I went to get it, was not on my desk.

"I think your phone is dead," he told me. "I tried to call you and Bernie a while ago and it just went to voice mail."

I rummaged around a while for my phone, checking pants pockets and rooms. Aha! I remembered I'd had it with me when I went riding yesterday. But it should have rung when he called, as I hadn't turned it off. I had put the phone in the deep front flap of my purse when I left the ranch. Sure enough, there it was ... and it was turned off.

I swear, I didn't turn that phone off. I didn't even know it was in my purse this morning. Now how embarrassing would it have been to me, and how annoying to all the other people in the congregation, not to mention the priest, had that phone rung during Mass? We weren't even sitting in the back of the church, but right a few pews away from the sanctuary.

No, I didn't turn that phone off.

Somebody did it for me. Thank you, Lord.

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Again With the Potatoes

So yesterday, I made a meatloaf, and gravy, and to go with this, I thought I'd use some of the potatoes I mentioned in the last post.

Half an hour before the meatloaf was to be done, I cut up the crispy, juicy home grown potatoes (the darker brown ones) and put them on to boil.

The meatloaf was done. The gravy was done. The salad (with home grown romaine lettuce among its ingredients) was dressed and tossed. The potatoes, however, were not done.

Another twenty minutes passed, with the meatloaf and gravy being kept warm. We tested the potatoes. Still crunchy.

We were starving, so we turned off the potatoes and ate meatloaf and salad. I put a few of the crunchy potatoes in a bowl with a dab of butter and ate them ... they were good, but they were as crunchy as raw jicama.

I wasn't worried about it, and figured I'd fry some of the semi-cooked potatoes this morning with eggs.

Worst taters and eggs ever. Crunchy hash browns? NOOOOO.

Maybe I'll try roasting them in the oven sometime today. Or maybe I'll just eat them raw. They were great raw.

Saturday, December 04, 2010

One Potato, Two Potato

This morning Alex decided to re-dig her garden and plant turnip seeds.

The spot she was going to use was the site of potato failure this past spring. She got lush green plants, but they just kind of cooked in the summer sun, without blossoming. And if they didn't blossom and wither, they don't make potatoes, do they?


At least a couple of the plants made potatoes, because around the end of warm weather, some more green potato plants came up. The freezes last week turned them black, ahh, poor potatoes.

But when Alex began digging over there, well, what do you know? POTATOES!!! A couple of them look a bit gnarly, but those light-colored ones -- "new potatoes"  -- have skin so tender it rubs off with a thumb, and when freshly sliced, with a hint of salt, were THE best potatoes I have ever crunched down raw in my life. They were even better than the ones I raised back East, and that's saying a lot.

Now Alex has got her bearings with the potato growing. She has a plan.

Friday, December 03, 2010


It's 52 degrees and fogged in after a little rain last night.

In spite of the chill, I'm ensconced in the unheated garage, wearing fingerless gloves made for me by Cheryl, and a heavy zipped sweatshirt over my t-shirt and flannel shirt. (Pants, too, of course, and socks and shoes, but I'd be wearing those indoors as well.)

Why would a woman hole up in the garage with a laptop? Shouldn't she be at her desk working, or lying on the couch stuffing her face with potato chips?

The answer to this question is nearly ready to go home to her mother, a six-year-old in the screeching phase of little girlhood. Alex agreed to watch the little girl until her mother gets home today. It's a commendable thing to help out a neighbor like that, and I applaud Alex's charity.

That does not mean that I want to share the experience, however.

I am hugely grateful for my garage studio, even when it's chilly on a damp, dim day. My chair is comfortable, my laptop is deliciously warm, and the only children I can hear are the boys on the other side of the street, booting a football (and each other) around.

Also making me feel good were emails from two new authors, both accepting the contract. There's some fabulous writing coming to the Piker Press.

Thursday, December 02, 2010


Down town, in the Park and Ride parking lot, underneath a thick canopy of trees at one end is a picnic table. Earlier this year, while taking cardboard to the recycling center that also occupies part of the area, we noted a small pile of catfood on the cement, beside the picnic table, with about six kittens eating and lounging. Their mother slunk away as soon as she saw the car pulling into the lot, but the kittens scattered only when I got out of the car.

They were all feral.

I was angry to see the pile of cat food; I'm sure that someone thought they were being merciful and generous and kind to the darling little kitties. Maybe they even thought that the kittens would come to recognize the food-giver and look upon him/her with affection, maybe even save his/her life when he/she fell down a well and needed someone to run for help. Maybe the person with the cat food thought that if the beautiful kittens grew strong, they'd become great ratters and hunt mice and gophers.

Honestly, I don't know what they were thinking. I do know what I thought: Coyote fodder. Disease vector for rabies and feline distemper. Scavengers tearing into people's garbage. Catfights and their festering wounds.

Two blocks down the street from the Park and Ride lot is a deserted paper mill, with hundreds of trees planted on its property. I've seen coyotes there. Coyotes find cats delectable. This little town is near the river; seeing hawks and owls around town is not unusual. Hawks and owls also love little kitties. Perhaps the person who was feeding the kittens loves coyotes and hawks and owls and wanted them to have plenty of easy-to-catch prey.

I've seen close up an eyeball ripped and blinded, infected and oozing puncture wounds, lacerated ears from catfights. It's not pretty. Those adorable kittens start fighting seriously if they are still alive after about six months old. It's what they do when they establish territory and mate. Encouraging feral cats to stay around one area is just leading them into violent encounters.

More than a decade ago I had the opportunity to watch, over years, a family of semi-feral cats living in a barn on a ranch. The owner fed the mother cat and kittens, and they were adorable to see playing among the haybales in the barn. The kittens grew older, and mated; some years a passing tom would add his genes to the pool. But as they inbred, they started having problems. The kittens were not as healthy as the original batch. Pretty soon some stray cat brought distemper among them, and the owner of the ranch was quite unhappy seeing dying cats and kittens on the porch, in the hay, around the big yard. The ones that survived had long-term problems; after a while I saw none of them that didn't have hideously pus-filled eyes. I don't know what happened to the sick cats; I was away from that ranch for a few years. When I last visited, they had no cats, and no cats were ever mentioned.

In the case of the mother cat by the Park and Ride, and the mother cat in the ranch barn, maybe it would have been more merciful to live trap her and -- if euthanasia is too sad to contemplate, have the cat neutered, and then let her free to hunt.

All this unhappy thought comes to me because we had to go out and buy a trap. Last night we caught an unneutered male cat ... inside our garage. It was annoying enough to find evidence of a stray cat in one's garage, him having torn open bags of pretzels from the pantry out there, but this bold kitty didn't leave it at that. He actually came into the house looking for more food, and Fourmyle, (the cat in the picture above) left off sleeping in Alex and John's pillows and chased the stray out of the house.

The city's Animal Control came and took the cat away. If the owner, if he has one, goes to pick him up, the owner will be fined; if the cat isn't feral and the owner doesn't pick him up, there's at least a chance someone will adopt him ... and he'll be neutered before he can be adopted. And if he is feral ... well, he won't be for long.

Don't encourage feral cats to breed, please.