Tuesday June 30th 2015, 10:42 pm
Filed under: Family,Garden,Life,Wildlife

The next-door neighbors had a good-sized garden for years and who knows who all else is planting what.

And not just the humans.

It’s become a game: once a week, when I water the plants, I look closely around the mango tree in particular to see what the squirrels have growing next to it this week and every Tuesday I find something new. I think it’s the proximity to the compost pile that I know is somewhere on the other side of the fence and am guessing that that’s where by the occasional–

–side conversation: What do you call those pictures of an atom where the electron goes zipping around the center (motioning like a toddler trying to wind a niddy noddy). I mean the path it takes.

You mean the orbit?

THAT’s the word!

And then he goes into a detailed description of what electrons really do, not what their mug shot looks like. Okay, thanks, got my word there.

So, anyway, that kind of motion of bugs as seen from my side of the fence orbiting around that one area. The squirrels take it from there and then dig over here.

First it was strawberries, or at least, those couldn’t be any plant but strawberries that I know of but I’ll know for sure when they flower. (Hoping.)

Then it was a fig tree.

Then a week later another fig tree, with neither of those existing the week before. Not even a day’s overlap. The first I dug out oh so carefully and potted and it has thrived; the second I just yanked out, stuck it in a pot and told it sink or swim. It sank down into the dirt, then just at the moment I thought it beyond hope it rallied and now the darn thing is coming along fine. Which means I have to water it because I can’t kill it after rescuing it. Anyone local want a random-seedling fig tree?

Today, a little farther from the mango than those two were and far enough that I don’t have to pot it up this time to keep the roots far enough away, the volunteer of the week was a tomato plant. It wasn’t one of my tomato plants and it was not there last Tuesday at all (I’ve gotten to where I really look now), but it’s grown fast despite not having been watered for a week. The fact that it’s at the end of where I mulched and in the direction the water flowed to surely helped.

There was also what appears to be a new lettuce plant over by the cherry tree. Not that I’d eat it to see.

Nature seems clearly determined to make a real gardener out of me whether I want to or not.


Fast forwarded
Tuesday June 30th 2015, 9:31 am
Filed under: Life

Backed up all the photos on my phone last night so I could free up space for the ones shortly to come and it took awhile. I didn’t mind; pictures of my grandchildren were going by, aging before my very eyes from new to four for Parker.

So no, I’m far from finished packing much less gone. Oh, chocolate, don’t forget the chocolate…

Five from my family
Sunday June 28th 2015, 10:37 pm
Filed under: Family,Life,Lupus

So I checked the weather there to see what to pack: summery, yes, but the cousins reunion is going to be way up in the mountains and it’s always cool up there. The cabin that our grandparents owned forever was to be sold when they passed away–and one of the grandkids bought it and kept it in the family and there you go.

A hundred and nineteen today?! That’s thirty-six hotter than here. Yow. Okay, so the rest of the week is only going to be 100. Yay for SPF 100, because that sun jacket layer just got a whole lot less appealing.

Airfare for a holiday week was as soaring as the temps so it’ll be just me going. It’ll be in the low 80s here, meantime, with AC should anyone faint in the sultry heat–I told my sweetie he would be the one in the resort vacation place. (And that I was very glad that this didn’t get scheduled on our anniversary, and thank you everybody for the kind words both on and off the blog re that milestone.)

Seventeen years ago all but one of the cousins made it to the last big reunion on what would have been our grandfather’s 100th birthday. So much has happened in that time. I can’t wait to start catching up.

So 1980s
Saturday June 27th 2015, 11:03 pm
Filed under: Family,Life

As I remember, the photographer had us staring straight into the solstice-bright summer sun. Photo courtesy of my sister-in-law, who saved this in I don’t know what file where.

True colors
Friday June 26th 2015, 10:27 pm
Filed under: Family,Knit,Life,Politics

I was waiting at the pharmacy at the clinic, knitting away, and found myself looking at the project in my hands and up at the harried clerk who has known me by name for a couple of years now. No not this one–not her color. But I do have a skein of that one she has on…

And with that it felt like I was reclaiming a part of myself that had been too quiet of late. Anticipating making someone happy with my needles–man that felt good already. Thank you Karin for jumpstarting my needles!

And at the other end of the day, I probably should have picked that round zucchini: it was big enough and I was watering it, which would make it a more likely target even if the squirrels hadn’t chewed on it yet. But dinner was already cooking and I knew that there was no way I was serving zucchini in any way shape or form for tomorrow’s dinner. No matter how homegrown. Nuh uh.

It was the hottest June 27 on record in Washington DC, as many people let us know that day. The year ended in zero. The President was someone whose grandson would later talk a reluctant waiter into making the number 47 famous. (Political families and political junkies, both of us.)

The Grand Old Okra-y
Thursday June 25th 2015, 10:30 pm
Filed under: Family,Food,Recipes

My dad is someone who loves a good meal. He loves that Mom loves to cook a great meal.

And if you ever wanted to find that place where you discovered at sixteen what gumbo was, he’d be able to tell you not only the name of the restaurant you ordered it in but he would find the place forty years later. The seafood joint with the wavy floors on the wharf in Seattle, the barbecue joint in Florida where they’d sanded down picnic tables till they felt like velvet (and then trusted people with kids with barbecue sauce to sit at them!) I’ve seen him do it.

This one was somewhere in the deep South, a humble spot with fabulous food (there was an old jukebox, too, right, Dad? Or was that a different spot?) I remember blinking when he said traditional gumbo was made with squirrel meat as I looked at the chicken in mine, shrimp having been the other choice.

I confess to the occasional moment when my fruit has been stolen off my trees where I’ve thought at the bushytails, Just don’t you tempt me. I’ve always been curious to know.

My CSA delivered straight-off-the-farm okra today.

Now there are two responses to okra: there’s my Mom, serving it battered and fried and telling her squeamish kids, “It tastes just like” (or as my older sister would tease her later with a grin, Just! Like!) “popcorn!”

Maybe a better take on it might have been, This imposter thinks it’s just like popcorn but we know better–popcorn doesn’t taste better with ketchup, here, pass the Heinz, wouldja? (Then she would have had six kids asking for maple syrup instead and who knows, it might have won us over.)

Actually, my daughter reminded me that we had an okra dish in an Indian restaurant we took her to in Ann Arbor when she graduated with her Master’s there, and that it was very good. Alright, then, three.

So. Okra. It came. And me somehow fresh out of file’ (fee-LAY) powder. But all week I’d been remembering marveling over that gumbo soup of long ago, so I went over to Penzey’s spices where I absolutely knew I could find file’ powder. Gumbo File’, said the label for those not from the South; their Seafood Base, I already had that.

And I have finally, after all these years, actually made a gumbo. Bacon drippings, andouille sausage–there are a lot of variations out there; this one’s mine.


8 oz fresh okra, chopped

1 large chopped bell pepper (mine was orange)

1 small head of celery, chopped

1 large onion, chopped (mine was purple)

the corn from one fresh cob but more would have been fine

32 oz chicken broth and 1 c water

1 tsp file’ (sassafras) powder (yes they make root beer out of sassafras. No this doesn’t taste like root beer.)

1 tbl Penzeys Seafood Base

chopped chicken and/or shrimp

about 1/3 c flour, and

about 1/3 c California organic extra virgin olive oil.

Note that all other types of EVOO are suspect: Federal law allows lesser varieties to be so named and even other oils to be in the bottle without their being labeled. Yes it’s a scandal. California’s law precedes the Federal one, has been challenged and has stood, so, only by buying EVOO labeled California organic EVOO can you know that it actually is extra virgin olive oil. Which is great if you’re a California grower, and I buy from these guys. Good stuff.

So. You put the flour and olive oil in your pot, stir hard, get it up to bubbling and keep bubbling stirring hard for fifteen minutes: you want it to turn brown, really brown, without letting it burn. Then the recipe I started from said to cook the veggies a few minutes in that but at that point my arms said no, so, I just threw everything in all at once–except for the chicken or shrimp.

Simmer for at least an hour, stirring often. Add whichever meat you want till it’s cooked. Serve.

It doesn’t taste like popcorn. But maybe kids would eat more bites if they were still looking for that root beer flavor in there somewhere.

Long time coming
Wednesday June 24th 2015, 10:31 pm
Filed under: Friends,Life

Yesterday, my old college roommate posted a one-last-time get-together invite on Facebook before her moving van’s arrival today. At a time I couldn’t go.

I’d had no idea she was leaving the Bay area.

And so I drove down to her place this morning and helped clean up after the movers for several hours until it was time for her and her daughter to finally hit the road to their new life.

We did ten years’ worth of catching up as we worked, wondering what had been keeping us all this time. Actually, her husband, though I didn’t say that and I can’t put all the blame on him; I definitely could have done better by her. But he had not been someone I had felt at ease around, though there had never seemed anything quite overtly wrong enough to make me worry about her; she’d seemed happy enough last I saw her.

It had been nagging at me ever so gently, too gently or maybe I wasn’t listening hard enough, that I needed to go beyond the Facebook posts and go see her in person and I’m so glad that at least on the last day I finally did.

What I’d had no idea about…

She was struggling with Comcast, trying (again) to get them to cancel service that was in her almost-ex’s name months after he’d ditched his family, but she was trying to do right by the guy. I finally told her, after they’d told her they would not could not help her, It’s just not your problem.

Yeah, you’re right, she answered, and I thought, Sticking it to him even when he deserves it is just not your style. Good for you.

I admitted to her for the first time that I had run into her grandmother about fifteen years ago and had been given an earful about the guy her granddaughter had recently married–then I quickly changed the subject to, Is she still alive? (Knowing that had to be exceedingly unlikely.)

No, but she’d made it to 93, though.

I said to the daughter, nodding towards my friend, But she got you out of the deal! And she turned around and said to her mom with a grin, Yeah but you got me out of the deal! And her mom told her how very very grateful she was for that, and I thought, you were always a good mom. And it shows in her and you both. You’ve got a great daughter. Whom I wished I had gotten to know more in the time between her being a little kid and high school, and I will do my best to keep up with both of you as best I can now and not let things slip too far away again.

My friend’s was one of the contacts I lost when I got a new phone several years ago. That’s all taken care of now.

And thank heavens for Facebook.

Little green nuggets
Tuesday June 23rd 2015, 11:10 pm
Filed under: Family,Garden

It’s Tuesday, our allowed-watering day, so once again I moved the hose from tree to tree and from one side to the other, checking often while uprooting weeds most of the hour and a half, coming inside again when it was nearly completely dark: done at last.

Richard said, and not for the first time, how good it was to see me doing that. Seeing me being able to do that. He knew how much I enjoyed working outside; I knew what he also meant, with a good autoimmune scare having just eased away in the last few weeks. We know how lucky we are.

The fig tree is really taking off and I’m still holding out hopes of seeing a fruit or two this fall, which probably isn’t realistic, but hey. I want a taste.

I mentioned buying a pop tent for the Gold Nugget mandarin after seeing a squirrel combing through its leaves, sniffing and searching. But with that thing in place, having pingponged themselves off its birdnetting twice now they simply aren’t getting too near it at all.

Tonight for the first time in awhile I leaned over that tent and took a close look again at that mandarin. The new leaves are curled, pointing straight up, bitten and I’ve wondered how long it’s going to take for it to actually get established and thrive like our old lemon tree. At least it looks a whole lot better than the Page.

We actually have twenty-three growing little green mandarins (and one yellow one that will soon fall off) on that tiny bush for next spring and I had no idea. That tent came just in time.

Home grown mandarins. For real. I can’t wait!

Sooner than we thought
Monday June 22nd 2015, 10:18 pm
Filed under: Garden

And then there were peaches. Babcock, homegrown, and ours.

The bird spikes, the cinnamon-covered clamshells that made the whole thing smell like peach pie, the squeaky styrofoam to scare inquiring claws, the bubble wrap are all put away till next time. I had to unthread a handful of leaves that had grown through one slit in a clamshell.

All totally worth it.

On the day with the most light of the year
Sunday June 21st 2015, 10:21 pm
Filed under: Family

Dinner at Michelle’s, phone calls up and down the generations, Skype, baby smiles in response to ours.

It was a happy Father’s Day here and I hope it was for all of you.

Solace at solstice
Saturday June 20th 2015, 11:12 pm
Filed under: Family,Food,Life

A family get-together over the mountains in Santa Cruz this evening. There are millions of people in the Bay Area on the other side of the coastal range from the beach areas and three narrow, windy routes through those mountains and it was the longest Saturday of the year. So we gave ourselves an extra two hours to be on the safe side because we didn’t want to miss the cousin’s son’s celebration.

By taking some back routes somehow we found ourselves right there with those two hours to kill.

I pointed out San Lorenzo Nursery to Michelle as we drove past, where our fig, sour cherry, mandarin and the last peach tree had come from, making me very fond of the place.

She got to show off her favorite spot in town, named, simply, Chocolate.

Hammered copper around the truffle display, really, really good hot chocolate that came with a cookie to hold the cream to stir in as you desire, a mermare, that antique register with the sea star–quirky, fun, and very Santa Cruz.

And the food! A chicken bacon sandwich sounds humble but even the refrigerated leftovers were achingly good hours later. Those people know how to cook.

The family time: the young man we were celebrating had just turned eight, a big deal when you’re a Mormon, the age when you’re considered beginning to be able to understand right or wrong and to actively make choices as to how you’re going to respond to what life brings you.

And when we humans make choices we sometimes make wrong ones, and so the need for faith, repentance and renewal, with baptism to start the process. And he had chosen to be baptized.

He’s also a fairly shy kid. When we got there, he was seated by himself a moment so I sat down on the floor so as to be looking up at him. This was his day and I wanted him to have that viewpoint of being the tall one–a rare thing when you’re a kid.

Just then his three-year-old cousin and her parents came in at the other end of the long room, and as her daddy told me later, she cried in delight, “That’s my FRIEND!” as she bolted towards me, jumped into my lap and flung herself into my arms and wrapped her own as far around me as she could reach in the biggest hug you could ever hope for.

I felt about ten feet tall. That moment will carry me through a whole lot to come.

It’s all about being there for each another.

And a little child led the way.

The families at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church
Friday June 19th 2015, 10:47 pm
Filed under: History,Life,Politics

Jon Stewart, and then Malala.

Those who forgave. So soon and so freely, even in their anger and their pain beyond comprehension: they are the ones with the power to change how we all talk to each other about that which wounds and divides us, they are changing the world by their loving, by their actually being what the rest of us could only hope we might. But that we never want to have to know if we could.

Alison Kraus‘s “I’ll Fly Away” with The New Yorker’s cover.

While over here, I want to rage at that stupid, stupid state law that keeps a wretched symbol endlessly at full height and to tell the South Carolina legislators, Take that Confederate battle flag down. NOW. Your shame is flapping in the wind for all the world to see in front of the statue of a man who represented the worst of what the Civil War was fought over. Stop with the willful blindness. Gov. Nikki Haley claims CEOs in her state don’t care but I do and I will boycott South Carolina and every business in it till it’s down. BMW, Denny’s, are you listening?

And then there are the families at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, not shaming but offering understanding so that we can all become better than this, so that our children’s future might have greater light. Reclaiming their church as a haven of safety offered to all who seek it.

I aspire to be like them when I grow up.

Fruit of the vine
Thursday June 18th 2015, 10:37 pm
Filed under: Garden,Lupus,Wildlife

Three of the seven peaches gone overnight, of course all the ripest ones. The remainders are even more barricaded in now.

There were some Costco grapes in the fridge we hadn’t quite finished off in time. Most looked mostly okay but it only took one mistake in that last smoothie to doom the rest. Putting them out in the bin though meant risking the sun time or waiting for evening–so they were still in the fridge.

Coming home from knit night I thought, well wait, we could use those after all. Going out by flashlight long after the diurnals out there had turned in for the night, they’re now a decoy in the center of the yard away from the fruit trees: no clamshells, no hassles, come and get’em. Eat your fill. Leave my peaches alone. (Go where the Great Horned owls can see you.)

You know they won’t still be there when the squirrels start to stir.

Suddenly thinking…hopefully that was not a mistake…we haven’t had midnight fights between the raccoon and the skunk so far this year like so many times last year. But if it works, hey, anything to save my Babcocks. Murphy’s law of course is surely rubbing its paws with glee.

Meantime, Sunday is solstice (not to mention Father’s Day), which means we usually see the hawk a lot and in the best years, his mate. It felt like it had been awhile. The ravens seem pretty much gone after fledging, with one lone caaah caaah overhead last night just to make sure I didn’t get too sure of myself on that one.

You called? This afternoon I looked up just in time to see the Cooper’s do a magnificent wide-wing swoop around the hanging suet cake right on the other side of the window from me, in no great hurry and with no one around to pursue, simply a statement that this territory was his and his alone.

A minute later I saw the scrub jay dart into a tree at the neighbor’s and the hawk diving in after.

A jay did show up awhile later but it had the sense to keep its distance.

Don’t lose its temper
Wednesday June 17th 2015, 9:48 pm
Filed under: Food,Life,Recipes,Wildlife

Post-it note in the most strategic spot: it worked. That and all I have to do is reach for the supersoaker and the scrub jay scrams.

Clerk at Trader Joe’s: “So–you making pies?”

“Got one in the oven right now. Cherry. Cherry with almond.”

He was clearly so wishing for a slice of that as he rang up the box of two pie crusts. I like making pies but I’m lazy when it comes to that part of the process–and theirs are good, only, I fingerpress each of them to cover two pie tins because really, to me a crust at its best is a bit of crunch on the side and just enough there to hold it all in long enough to get it onto your plate.

So if you ever need to know, one of those big bags of tart cherries from Costco makes two cherry pies. Mix 2/3 c flour, 1 to 1 1/2 c sugar depending on your sweet tooth, a tsp cinnamon, a tsp almond extract and 2 or 3 tbl butter, whirled till butter is cut in finely; mix in the cherries and fill the two pies. Bake till done. (425, 350, 35 min, 45 min, recipes vary all over the map, still working that part out. Some say start high and turn lower.)

On the drive home it hit me that the first pie I’d made this afternoon I’d used a glass pie pan with an oven that, per my 1952 Better Crocker, was at 425. I don’t think you’re supposed to use glass above 375. Oh well, it hasn’t broken yet.

And I was home again with a dozen minutes to spare. Bzzzzzzz!

(p.s. A hatchling rescue, a chipping sparrow–photo essay here.)

Alright, that’s enough
Tuesday June 16th 2015, 9:40 pm
Filed under: Wildlife

Mockingbirds listen and copy songs, scrub jays watch and copy behaviors.

I haven’t been feeding the jays who’ve been tentatively trying to take over the newly vacant territory–I like seeing more varieties of birds around so I’ve been actively discouraging the little marauders.

Well. Let’s just see about that, says they. Three times in three days now a jay has swooped in to herd (edit: actively chase) the finches into the windows the way the Cooper’s hawk does. Today for the first time one got up the courage to come right in close to the window near me to grab a finch that had hit and this time was still quite alive and struggling to get away, the jay stabbing it and flapping away in long hops across the yard, trying not to let go of the struggling finch, trying to do this hunter kill thing without the speed, the finesse nor the mercifulness of the hawk, which uses its feet to simply squeeze. It’s taking advantage of the newly fledged that haven’t yet learned that glass is glass. I know it’s not needing the protein to rear babies, it’s a juvenile itself. Go eat a bug.

I think I’m going to put post-it notes on the outside of the windows closest to the birdfeeders for a few days.