Part of their whole childhood now
Saturday October 31st 2015, 10:52 pm
Filed under: Family,Friends,Life

A four-year-old and her two-year-old brother: one single doorbell ring tonight. But oh so cute. Clearly coached to take just one, and they did, but then subversive me I told them to have some more and that little boy’s hand moved faster in response than his daddy could possibly say anything to. And then hey, you can’t penalize the older one for obeying the rules, so, to her, (remembering my late grandmother and her candy bowl), “Have some more.”

I’ve probably told this one before, but when our own were little, there was one Halloween where they all woke up with a stomach bug and that was that.

Our neighbor, then not yet a grandmother but hoping, had, it turned out, gone out and bought a gift for each of our kids: a delightful gingerbread-house-looking paper box with See’s chocolates and candies inside. We had the only small children on the block and she’d gone all out for them.

And then they didn’t come and it got later and they didn’t come and they still didn’t come. She’d so been looking forward to them ringing her doorbell and all of us being so surprised.

Finally, she walked over and rang *our* doorbell. And immediately on hearing the news cried, Oh, poor kids–to be sick on Halloween of all days! She was very sorry they couldn’t eat any of this yet, sorry they hadn’t gotten their chance to dress up silly.

But now after a bad day they had something to look forward to.

It hadn’t gone the way she’d planned, but the way it worked out, her generosity and empathy would never be forgotten.

Box to the future
Friday October 30th 2015, 10:49 pm
Filed under: Food,Friends,Life

(Found a second flamingo!)

I hadn’t made a chocolate hazelnut torte in awhile, and I forgot to add the layer of parchment paper to the bottom of the pan before greasing it. Then after the minimal allotted baking time, I kept doing the toothpick test to past the maximum minutes and finally just pulled it out–a little overdone. I should have trusted my nose when it proclaimed perfection.

And without that parchment paper, the cake stuck to the pan despite my best efforts to gradually ease it away from there. Lopsided, and I mean truly lopsided, but including dishwasher time it would have taken me five hours to make another one.

I confessed that I’d considered scraping the pan part off and mushing the thing back together and pretending it hadn’t fallen apart, but, um, that’s harder to do when you’ve been munching on the strays. (And leaving some for Richard. Sometimes with all that heavenly smell in the kitchen all you need is just a taste.)

So. Off to deliver it to a mom with a new baby because we could all use such a thing at such a time. Delivered in an Andy’s Orchard box with a paper bag over the top to camouflage it out of her toddler’s sight, deflecting the little one with persimmons bought yesterday at said orchard.

Yay! Persimmons!

She was amazingly well behaved: I went through my purse and found a pink flamingo finger puppet that matched her dress and offered it to her. I mentioned that there’d been a green snake, too, but nah, I didn’t think so.

She was curious and wanted to see the snake.

It had gone to some far corner and I pulled finger puppet after finger puppet to the top of my bag looking for it, and finally, there it was.

She peeked in and admired them all as I held the bag open so she could–but never once did she ask for any of them or try to reach for them. Looking was all she wanted and she had already fallen in love with her flamingo and it was enough, and I thought, that is one well-parented, well-loved little girl.

I told her mom I have to do this again so she can see what that (don’t say the word torte out loud now that the kid is awake from her nap) was really supposed to have been like.

Bees, part two
Thursday October 29th 2015, 10:20 pm
Filed under: Family,Life,Wildlife

Found a Department of Agriculture page on Africanized honeybees, a ‘contact us’ link, and fired off a note about what I saw the other day.

And here’s what came back to me:

Good Afternoon Alison,


Thank you for your concern and for sharing your experience. African honey bees are present in California, and from what I have read, have continued to move north from Southern California. Behaviorally, African honey bees differ from European honey bees in that they are more defensive of their hive, and will exhibit this defensive behavior further away from the location of their hive than European honey bees would.


During the Autumn months, there tends to be less for honey bees to forage, which can lead to a phenomenon that we call “robbing.” This is essentially the invasion of one hive by one or several other hives, but their intent is just to consume the food stores of the invaded hive. If an African honey bee colony is being robbed, defenders of that colony may pursue robbers from other colonies for extended distances, and this pursuit could end in the defending bee stinging the robber. 


I’m not saying that this is what happened or that African honey bees are involved in this situation; I am just offering an explanation about what you have seen. Regarding the abduction of one honey bee by another, I have no explanation. Perhaps what you saw picking up the assailed honey bee was not a honey bee, but an insect of similar appearance. Nature is variable and often times things occur in nature that are inexplicable.


Lastly, if you are concerned about the dead honey bees at your back door, you should make sure not to leave anything outside that could attract honey bees, for instance cans and bottles of any kind, jars, any receptacle that could have a sugary residue. These things will attract honey bees, especially if there is no natural forage to be found. There is also the possibility that there is a honey bee somewhere around your home. If you see signs of this, please do not look around for it. It would be best to contact a professional to inspect around your home if you suspect that you have some unknown neighbors.



(And then he signed his name)


On a different note, my sweetie tripped over the cord to the charger to my laptop last week and pulled it out of the socket. I plugged it back in, made sure he was okay, didn’t think much of it.

Today I picked up that laptop and noticed for the first time that right where it snaps into the Air it was bent tightly–and not only bent but the plastic coating was actually pulled open so that the wires inside were exposed.

And they were sparking. Tiny little–ongoing–sparks. Smallest fireworks show I ever did see.

The laptop still works, the charger is out of here, and the house didn’t burn down starting in our bedroom. We are really, really, really, say it again, really, lucky.

Well that’s the way I’ve always heard it should be
Wednesday October 28th 2015, 10:26 pm
Filed under: History,Life

As an antidote for a moment to all the bad cop stories that have been out there: this one. Two groups of teens fighting, and the Washington, DC officer offers a dance-off. If she wins, they have to disperse, if they win, they get to stay.

She’s dancing with 40 pounds of equipment on her but look at her go.

Everybody has a good time, everybody laughs, and both women declare themselves the winner with a hug.

Soccer to me soccer to me soccer to me soccer to me
Tuesday October 27th 2015, 10:53 pm
Filed under: Family,Food,Friends,Life

Trying to write a blog post after getting home late from Convocation at Stanford and then chocolate afterwards with friends…

While here’s my husband sitting down at the computer next to me and exclaiming over a new batch of grandkid pictures that came in while we were out. Sorry, this post is hosed, I gotta go look over his shoulder with him.

But I gotta say, four year olds playing soccer? Swarmball. Totally swarmball. And totally adorable.

To bee or not to bee
Monday October 26th 2015, 9:43 pm
Filed under: Friends,Life,Wildlife

I have Googled, I have read a ton, I have learned that Africanized honeybees were found in Lafayette, the other side of the San Francisco Bay from here, for the first time just last month. Oh joy.

But I still didn’t find anything explaining this, and the beekeeper friend who happened to drop by tonight hadn’t ever heard of such a thing either. So here goes.

The last few days I’ve found dead honeybees outside my door to the patio, eight or ten or so. When most of them disappeared I figured the Bewick’s wrens had hit the jackpot–I’ve seen them eat spiders.

This afternoon I saw a single honeybee fly in to where the others had died and, curious, I stopped what I was doing and walked over to my side of the glass to watch.

It looked like it was attacking another honeybee! I missed the first part so I don’t know when the other got there but the aggressive one was not letting it up, it clearly seemed to be trying to subdue it till finally the other one seemed to lie still, but the aggressive one was still at it. Finally–and this is what is really weird–it *picked it up and flew off with it*! I saw its feet holding onto the other’s dangling abdomen, and if he left any parts behind I missed it.

Now, a ready queen will fly up in the air once to a waiting congregation of drones prepared to mate with her for her to collect a lifetime supply of sperm, but this was on the ground and a one-on-one fight.

Reading, it seems the flight patterns of Africanized bees are more like yellow jackets than European honeybees, jerky and faster, not the slow, gentle whistling-a-tune stroll of our familiar honeybee. Yup. But this was no yellow jacket.

I may be wrong (and please tell me if I am!), but I think I just saw my first Africanized one. Right at my back door.

A bit of wool
Sunday October 25th 2015, 9:09 pm
Filed under: Friends,Knitting a Gift,Life

He was gobsmacked.

A week ago, as a middle-aged widower himself, he grieved with me at the sudden passing of my friend Robin the day before. He had never met her, but deep and personal loss, that he knew even better than I.

Today I told him I had had this machine-washable wool and I’d wondered…and then, as I’ve said here, it had just felt like she’d settled my question re a plain watch cap vs something cabled, how to know what he might prefer: that instant feeling of her laughing and the words, “You have the skills, what do you think they’re for?!” How I’d laughed, too.

How it had come to be like this, then. And I thought, Robin’s still blessing people.

I thanked him again for helping us out Friday a week ago and explained that it was a honeycomb pattern for the bees that make all of life better–for, well, everything and everyone. Truly, nothing else would do.

The man is a master gardener. He looked at the hat and at me and held it close to him and exclaimed, “I will treasure it for the rest of my life!”

Treasure hunt
Saturday October 24th 2015, 9:49 pm
Filed under: Garden,Knitting a Gift,Life

I ran in the ends after I took the picture: the hat (after frogging and redoing the decreasing at the top), it is done. Tomorrow I get to give it to the friend who so much earned it and who has no idea it’s coming and I can’t wait.

Yarn: Cascade Longwood, a soft, superwash merino. If it matters to you, note that the Peruvian-milled and more recent Chinese-milled stock have different gauges, with the Chinese being thinner last I bought any. Their 220 yarn, too.

Meantime, I’m trying to figure out how to safely snap clamshells over the figs. When they go from being held straight up to stem up and fruit downward it’s a good thing, and mine are starting to get there.

And if you’re curious, NPR has a story here of how cultivated blueberries came to be. It took one determined woman a hundred years ago with just enough information, a little land, luck, help, and a whole lot of determination.

And neighbors willing to take walks through the woods.




What comes around and around
Friday October 23rd 2015, 10:29 pm
Filed under: Family,Knit,Life

You slip the next (two, in this case) stitches coming at you onto a short double-pointed needle (aka a dpn, the light-colored one here) and stab it into the knitting, either in back or in front according to the pattern, to hold it out of the way. You knit the next ones on the regular needle, then bring that short needle back up and knit those delayed stitches. Voila: your cable.

When we moved to California it was several years before I knew anybody besides me who knit. It wasn’t till some time after that that I finally learned, after knitting since age ten, why those dpns were sold in sets of four or five.

To me they had always been, and had only been, cable needles. That was their name. I know because that’s what my mom called them. A memorable part of my childhood had involved watching her use them while knitting Aran sweaters for my dad and my next-older sister and an all-over-diamonds one for my grandfather.

On size 2 needles. In endless tiny hanks of tapestry yarn, because that was the only thing available back then if you wanted wool yarn at that fine a gauge. For her father, who treasured it the rest of his life.

Socks? They’re called dpns and they’re for knitting socks? Or even hats? On a kind of a scaffolding arrangement, and that’s why so many, and not because the manufacturers know you’re going to drop one somewhere down the cushions of the doctor’s waiting-area chair and never find it again and they’re just being helpful?

And none of the manufacturers even call them cable needles? Who knew?

A little knitting bzzzness
Thursday October 22nd 2015, 10:51 pm
Filed under: Friends,Knitting a Gift,Life

A side note for the non-knitters: when you’re making most cabled patterns, you cross the cables while working from the right side, not the purl side. This limits your crossings to every second, fourth, six, eighth etc row.

I had someone for whom I’d been thinking a hat would be just the thing, so two days ago I was debating with myself: a plain watch cap? After all, ribbing is very stretchy and it would be guaranteed to fit without my having to worry about it.

Or do something fancier, like, cabled? I was well aware that cabling requires a third more both stitches and yarn and at least that much more time: cabling is a bit slow and the work condenses in on itself so you have to have more of it to create a wide enough fabric. Which also makes for a warmer hat–more wool in the same space and with some of it doubled over itself.

But most men like their clothing pretty plain.

At the question it felt as if Robin were immediately there and laughing, telling me, Fancier! C’mon, you have the skills, what do you think they’re for?!

Still makes me grin to think about it. Both because the thought made her feel so close by and because it somehow evaporated any doubt on my part as to whether or not the thing would be appreciated or whether doing it this way would be worth the extra effort.

Now the thing about knitting a hat is that, using two open-circle pairs of needles to work at the venn diagram where they intersect, you always have a right side row facing you, you’re not going back and forth but rather you’re simply going round and round and round. There’s no having to wait for that sixth row to start the cabling: you can do it on the fifth one and break all the rules.

And I’m doing honeycomb stitch.

Real honeycombs have five sides. Five rows. Fives rule.

Somehow that just delights me beyond all reason. And the fit is coming out right, too.

How to thwart Japanese beetles
Wednesday October 21st 2015, 10:32 pm
Filed under: Family,Garden,Life

It got down to the 40s last night and it will tonight, too; it was time. I restrung the Christmas lights on the mango tree (I’ll clearly need another strand this year) and had to remember how to program Richard’s homemade thermostat. 13C is a little low–I changed it to trigger on at 14C, not sure if the line was connected all the way given the tomatoes growing over it.

They clicked on about 9:00 pm. Okay, that works. No cover quite yet.

Meantime, the Meyer lemon leaves were showing a bit of yellow and needed some micronutrients; I stopped by Yamagami’s Nursery.

Where I found myself in a conversation with one of their people and he was an avid fruit tree enthusiast so of course we hit it right off.

I described the bugs that had utterly devoured my sour cherry’s first attempt at leafing out, that I had caught in the act on the second round, just a giant horde of black beetles, so many that they were climbing all over each other in their attempts to get at those leaves and I asked if they were Japanese beetles?

“Sure sounds like it. They only come out at night.”


(I had read that traps just attract more to your yard, so I wasn’t surprised when he said) “And nothing kills them. There’s really nothing you can do.”

In happy anticipation of being able to help, I grinned, “Oh yes there is”–and I told him what I’d done. Having found a suggestion online, I’d asked around for the ashes from anyone’s barbecue grill, was given about a half gallon’s worth, and I went out that night and doused those beetles with that powder.

They struggled and fell off immediately and died, and according to what I’d read, it breaks their joints. Very satisfying. As was watching the doves pecking around near the base of the tree later. Git’em!

And then, what I didn’t say to him but should have, was, I then scattered those ashes across those leaves every night and rinsed them off in the mornings so that they could get their sunlight. Back on at night as a protective layer. And it worked.

He had this excited ‘Wait till I tell Nancy…!’ look in his eyes. And I came away feeling like I had just solved a big problem for a whole lot of people. Spread the word. Grill baby grill! I wish I could put the real credit where it belongs but I don’t remember where I found it; I do remember I spent a fair amount of time trying to look up an answer to that very vexatious problem, so afraid I was going to lose that tree, so I’m hoping this post will help the next person find the idea a little faster.

Ashes for crashes, grill dust is a must.

Cropped out of the picture
Tuesday October 20th 2015, 10:38 pm
Filed under: Friends,Garden

An elderly friend needed a ride today and so I got to spend some time with Gail.

We talked gardening and trees a bit and she laughed as she remembered what her father had planted when she was a kid: a bitter almond tree and a sweet almond tree. She told me, The squirrels never touched the sweet almonds. Because of the bitter!

If they only knew, right?

Scent with love
Monday October 19th 2015, 10:36 pm
Filed under: Food,Friends,Garden,Knitting a Gift,Life

I remember once when Robin discovered a chocolatier who did the most exquisite work. Reading her description was a good way to go on a chocolate torte baking binge if nothing else, and it was before Timothy Adams was available as a local remedy for such a keen oh-I-(quietly)-wish.

And then, you guessed it, a little while later there was a surprise box in the mail: they came in a delightful little hinged wooden box, so perfect in presentation in every way and then, oh wow! Definitely lived up to their descriptions.

She hadn’t wanted me to miss out.

There were two last plastic produce clamshells for the season on the Fuji tree last week guarding the goods from the squirrels, one at the upper right inside the fork in the dark branch here, you can see right where I picked, and one at the lower left corner. I opened the upper one Friday after a friend of ours did me a big favor with a physical task beyond my abilities. (I’ve started him a hat. He doesn’t know that yet.) He loves a good apple and to him it was the perfect thank you.

So I was standing where I took this photo from looking up right there into that part of the tree the day before Robin passed and there was no sign whatsoever that these blossoms were coming to be.

But I think I know now why I felt I needed to go back out there today and pick that very last apple of the year. Not tomorrow. Go see now. I did, staring in disbelief, and than ran for the camera.

Someone had sent me the most heavenly bouquet of apple flowers. In October.

After yesterday
Sunday October 18th 2015, 10:48 pm
Filed under: Family,Food,Friends,Life

I smiled at a shy, fussy baby at church today, playing peek-a-boo and I’m shyer than you are–no, I am! with him till he grinned. At last, he even let me hold him for a minute before almost-walking back to his mom.

He can manage two careful steps and hover unsteadily a moment and if he moves fast enough even three before going splat but that third, hurried one was always just too much to readjust his balance to in time. The arms go up, the bottom goes down.

Today. Such a brief snapshot of time. Tomorrow he’ll make it halfway across the room and fall into his daddy’s arms giggling, the next day he’ll really be walking and right after that he’ll be running, and then he’ll be off to college and his folks will suddenly have to learn not to buy Costco-sized bunches of bananas and to chop fewer onions. It took a lot of calories to get my older son to 6’9″.

But for today, this one was simply a tired baby boy who needed someone to smile at him, who needed a snuggle and who crowed in delight a little louder–okay, a lot louder–in church than his mommy quite wanted. (Oops. Sorry.) The whole room smiled around them both.

He was the gift my day had needed, and I am grateful.

Saturday October 17th 2015, 10:17 pm
Filed under: Family,Friends,Life

This picture is of her face puckered up just before the laughter.

How do I do justice to all the love and all the memories. RobinM was not often in the comments because so often our conversation was already happening, and many a time she put up with my day’s blog post being a second draft of what she and I had already talked about.

We met through a knitting list long ago and occasionally emailed, and then more and more as we discovered more connections. She lived so close to where I grew up that when I said the name of the street in Maryland, she went, Oh! Which house?

And when she found out where I live now, she exclaimed that she’d once lived within view of my street here, in a home she would later point out to me. Small world.

Then her husband became ill and our conversations became a daily, ongoing thing.

The night he died in hospice care at home, she sat down at the computer to let me know the news. She has missed him deeply ever since, and from time to time has mentioned how she felt guided by him still, that whenever she wanted to know the right thing to do she thought about what he would say–and that when she did, he never steered her wrong.

I tried to be a comfort and a friend and so many times now she has been a better one to me and she grew into a very dear part of my life. With her brother living here and my family (for a time) still back there, we were able to get together in person every year or two.

She marveled, my first time at her house, that her dog, a Westie rescue and a shy dog at the time whom she said had never warmed up to any strangers immediately, he took to me as if we’d been best friends forever and I felt the same, sweet puppy, appreciative of his compliment; at the last he put his head down in my lap with a happy sigh and fell asleep.

“He never does that!” She was both astonished and admiring.

And I found I adored her in person as well.

That was about ten years ago.

She caught pneumonia recently, and in someone fifteen years older than me this is not a good thing. When things didn’t seem to be going well, I urged her to call her doctor, but instead she went to the ER, probably a better idea. They sent her home, and she seemed to feel like been there settled that. But from there on out she was suddenly sounding very different, just short notes, a sentence or two, and it felt from my end as if she could barely get the breath to sit up and type.

Then came a note asking if purple swollen feet were normal. For her not to be able to think clearly, or at least that’s how it sounded, was a huge change, and with a symptom like that, I tried not to sound as alarmed as I felt as I told her that congestive heart failure or kidney failure can cause those. (She knew I had gone through temporary bouts of both and could speak to the subject.)

I wondered whether to call her brother. She called her daughter and son-in-law. They had quite the drive but they came right away.

I got up this morning and ran to the computer first thing, highly aware of our three-hour time difference, to see if there were any news. The last message had been from Robin in the ER several days ago, waiting for a room to be checked into. Cardiac, tests were being run, was all she said.

And then nothing. I hoped it was that she simply didn’t have a device with her that she could respond from and I knew the hospital wouldn’t give me her room number to put a call through.

There it was, waiting: a mixture of grieving and wistfulness and love and one last bit of hope. And so her daughter had my email address.

Within the hour she was sending a second note and the news was different this time. But the love, it felt only stronger.

She told me a little of what it had been like to be at her mother’s side in her last few moments, a story that is hers to tell, and I can only hope I do right by my own mother like that come the day.

And just like her mother: she had sat down shortly after her unfathomable loss to let me of all people know her family’s news. I cannot begin to say how much that means to me.


My own daughter drove over briefly to give me a big hug.

At the last, opening the fridge at 5:00, one of us simply had to go do the grocery shopping. It felt just too strange. Richard wasn’t feeling well so I said I would.

I hadn’t been to Costco in weeks. I wondered whether I would run into someone I knew and how I would do when it was all just so soon.

Turns out I did, though, and it was a couple my kids knew well when they were teens. They were in the middle of selling their house and moving away and were glad to get to let me know and since they had enough on their plate it was easy to smile and cheer them on and just be glad we’d gotten to see each other. Serendipity.

And so I almost made it through.

I found myself turning and turning and threading my way down aisles I don’t normally go through to get towards the front and was quite surprised to find myself behind a line with only two people ahead. On a Saturday near closing? How does that happen?

The clerk turned my direction a moment and suddenly I saw who it was. Oh cool: he’s such a nice guy. I really had lucked out.

When I was up, he looked me in the eye and told me it was good to see me and that it had been awhile. (He noticed?!) “And how is your day today?”

It wasn’t a throwaway line; he clearly meant it, and as his hands passed the groceries across the scanner, that word ‘today’ and the complete caring in his demeanor just did me in.

“It’s been fine…” was all I meant to say, and then, “except that one of my best friends died this morning.”

A long, quiet, Oooh escaped him. He grieved.

She had had pneumonia, I explained quickly, not wanting to hold up the line behind me but not wanting to leave this good man unhappy, And she hadn’t been sounding like herself. Her daughter drove four hours with her husband to be by her mother’s side and took her to the hospital. Her heart gave out this morning. Her daughter was right there with her. She was not alone.

That mattered to him. I thanked him and hoped out loud for him to have a good day.

He handed me my receipt just so such that three of his large fingers closed gently over mine for one, two heartbeats, as we saw each other eye to eye. Those thanks went both ways.

And I left feeling like, I don’t need to write to Robin to tell her that or to miss being able to. She already knows, right now. She might even have steered me to that man’s line where he was all ready to truly hear.

And to be fully present.