Not just parroting her speech
Tuesday January 22nd 2019, 11:00 pm
Filed under: Friends,Life

My late friend RobinM told me of a book she’d loved and thought I would, too.

I finally did. “Alex and Me,” by Irene Pepperberg, a researcher who has studied the intellectual capabilities of birds, most notably one named Alex.

To quote from page 68: “My proposal was simple: I said I wanted to replicate the linguistic and cognitive skills that had previously been achieved in chimps in a Gray parrot, an animal with a brain the size of a shelled walnut, but one that could talk.”

Grays flock in the wild and are highly social, and the typical animal research of the day was to isolate the animal when you weren’t running experiments. Her take was that socializing was the point of communication–and that previous failures in research could be attributed to a failure to meet that part of the parrots’ needs. They need interaction. They need stimulation. They demand attention.

So she does it her way, and boy does she succeed. Like the time she was trying to demonstrate to a visitor that he could count small numbers. She wanted him to say two, but he kept switching between one and four. She knew full well he could do this. Without giving away the answer she tried again.

One four!


He gave her that insouciant look she knew so well when he was going to do things his way right now, thankyouverymuch. He liked being the boss of the lab. It wasn’t till she told him he needed a timeout and started to take him out of the room and away from this brand new interesting person to people-watch that he pleaded, Two! Two two two two…! to their great amusement. He was a character.

I’d say skip the first chapter, which gets a bit maudlin re his death when the reader hasn’t even met him yet, and get on with the story. But I found the story was well worth the read. Alex kept me laughing.

And hey, Constance? Your dad’s name’s in that book. Who knew?! You get my copy.

Pattern matching
Monday January 21st 2019, 11:33 pm
Filed under: Food,Life

You know you’re doing this a lot when…

So there’s this office building that part of me has idly wondered in passing for thirty-some years now why it was plunked where it was, surrounded by strip malls and a shopping center and zero other offices. I don’t recall ever seeing an identifying sign, it’s just there. Most of what was around it has since been redeveloped or renamed (the Trader Joe’s was once a Crown Books and the mall behind it was bulldozed) but the anonymous office building lives on.

Today it hit me. It’s the chocolate bar molds building.

A monument to greatness.

Potty like there’s no tomorrow
Thursday January 17th 2019, 11:20 pm
Filed under: Family,History,Life

And on a completely random note, I have a question: did any of you grow up with a Pittsburgh Potty? I didn’t even know there was a name for such a thing, much less that anybody else had one. The house I grew up in had one and it was the weirdest thing. How could you have that and not a sink for washing your hands afterwards? Did the builder’s mother know they got away with that? I think each of us kids clandestinely used it at least once just to prove it really worked (I remember asking Mom first if it did, but I didn’t tell her why I was asking. BYOTP.)

It was inside a built-in bomb shelter in the basement, and I always figured it was part of that particular Cold War trend. Since there were no walls around it, just that big empty room with cinder block walls built into the hillside and always cold in there, it was a good place for storing food and Mom and Dad put shelving in front of the thing and cans and jars to give it everything but a door behind there.

That room had its own part-walled-off hallway to get in, a faint attempt at a maze, to help protect you from, I dunno, nuclear fallout?

Here’s the link to what I’m talking about.

The potty part, anyway. There was actually a reason for them. Who knew?

Malabrigo to the rescue
Saturday January 12th 2019, 11:36 pm
Filed under: Friends,Knitting a Gift,Life,LYS

Today we picked our daughter up on the way and discovered for ourselves why she loves Dandelion Chocolates in San Francisco so much. Wonderful, wonderful place: happy people, great pastries, and you can watch the chocolate coming to be, right there, while they offer you samples. Yum.

More on that later.

And then because my husband and daughter really love me they humored me in letting me spend a few minutes at Imagiknit nearby.

Before we left for the City, having read the weather reports, I grabbed a Malabrigo hat that matched my outfit just in case. The coldest winter Mark Twain supposedly spent was a summer in San Francisco, but the winters right by the ocean can be pretty brisk, too.

It came home again and got put back away unworn with the feeling that that just wasn’t quite it yet–but, something…

This evening we were heading out again and I found myself going back to that ziplock of recently-knit Malabrigo Mecha hats that were still here. I looked at the two teal ones and went no… They’re close, but not the one from this morning; this one instead. And stuck it in my purse.

We went to our Saturday evening stake conference (ie a semi-annual multi-ward meeting) and offered a ride home to a friend whose car had broken down.

We needed a few things on the way and so did Karen so that was easy; we stopped by Safeway.

She got a little ahead of me–there’s always something to be distracted by in a grocery store–and she stepped into a line behind a couple Richard and I recognized but don’t really know. She did, though. They had been at that meeting, too, and the wife turned to us and said she’d shivered through that whole thing and was still cold and wondered if we were as well? She was clearly seriously uncomfortable.

I was already silently noting how the hat in my purse matched her outfit.

How often do you get a chance to actually rescue someone from being cold in California? I told her happy birthday as I handed it to Karen to hand to her.

She tried to turn it down but when she saw I really and freely meant it she let me give it to her, gobsmacked and thrilled. It went right on her head and it was going to stay there. Her husband exclaimed over what a beautiful color it was.

Who else could it possibly have been for?

Besides, Karen (who had such a big grin on her face while being happy for her friend) already has hers.

Here try this tell me what you think I’m experimenting
Friday January 11th 2019, 11:29 pm
Filed under: Food,Life

The hearing aids needed cleaning and Los Gatos Birdwatcher where I buy my seed is less than a mile from there. So I combined the two trips, as I often do.

When the tech handed me back my ears I asked her, Do you like dark chocolate? Like, really dark chocolate?

She laughed at the highly unexpected question and said, I guess so, not knowing how dark we were talking here nor why on earth I was asking.

Well, we’ve been experimenting with our new toy… And I offered her one of the squares from our bars.

She laughed, she ate it, she was delighted at the idea of it and at my sharing. I’m not convinced she was entirely enamored of the actual chocolate, but she definitely went home that day with a story to tell.

On to the birdseed store.

Where there was a clerk I’d never seen before. She was warm, helpful, approachable, just a gem of a woman and after she loaded my twenty pound bag up for me I asked her the same question and got the same startled, laughing response–only this time with, I LOVE dark chocolate! Love it!

And oh she did.

She had no idea you could make your own. She sure does now, though.

I rather imagine soon she’ll have a story to tell me about her own.

Thursday January 10th 2019, 11:06 pm
Filed under: Friends,Garden,Life

Details in the mouseovers.

What it looked like from my driveway at the start of the day. I did not know yet how much it had wrapped around the fence; I knew it was pushing through it.

That photo with lots of small trunk pieces? That’s where the tree had split into multiple weak areas at bad angles.

Around 8 a.m. the crane arrived. There was no other way to take on such a giant. I tried not to get in the way, but I did get some pictures to document the redwood’s passing. The neighbor behind us walked over, saying he could see the top of it go from his house and had come to see, too, for awhile.

Section by section it came down, and the workers on the ground would trim the branches off so it could fit in the chipper, which looked very small by comparison. When they finally got to that monster section at the bottom hours later, there was no way; another truck showed up to haul that part off and the crane lifted it in.

I asked the worker nearest me if they were going to put the lumber to good use on that one, or?

The guy’s face conveyed, “I wish,” but he said no, it would just be chippered like the rest.

I went inside for awhile and when I came back out to check on the latest, another neighbor from down the street the other way was talking to Jim next door. The truck with the bottom section was gone, and when I regretted that out loud they went no, no–and she told me that she had asked them to drop it off in front of her house. Her husband would love to work with that wood.


I have no idea how they got those huge pieces off the truck and in place–the crane hadn’t moved yet I don’t think. But they’re there now.

I’d been looking at that tree for nearly 32 years and yet the size of its footprint surprised me just the same in the end. They went at that, too, cutting away and down and through, trying to prepare it for the stump grinder people, but in the process removed this small fairly flat piece that, with the neighbors nodding yes, I took home.

If only I were a woodworker. But I couldn’t let all of it just be gone forever. Maybe I’ll get to learn something new. (Hey, I know whose door to knock on now.)

Alright, here are the highlights.

What the guy is cutting in the last picture is around where what I took home came from. 

Oh I can definitely do that, too
Wednesday January 09th 2019, 11:35 pm
Filed under: Friends,Life

I was at my lupus group meeting today for the first time in months. I don’t go when I’m contagious: it’s too dangerous to the others. Which means I missed September, October, November, and December. Been awhile, and I’ve been missing my friends.

There is someone there whose story is not mine to tell, but let’s just say that the hat I knit her awhile ago was both quite needed and, it turns out, better received than I had any idea: she told me how warm it kept her, how much she’d loved it all winter, that she wore it practically every day.

And that she’d lost it.

She was wearing a purple jacket as she was saying this and I knew in that instant that what I had would match it perfectly. The hat that had bugged me to finish it, that my elbow had yelled over, that had already taken three days when normally it would have been done in one, that I finally made myself just sit down and do after Anne’s box came so that it would be finished and I could be done with it and go on to Anne’s yarns (which I did). I cast off with both satisfaction and frustration: why had this commanded so much of my attention, at a gauge that’s painful right now, when I didn’t even have a recipient in mind.


“I just finished a purple one,” I told her, and her face lit up and she sat up a little straighter right then and there.

I handed her my phone at the Add Contact page so that I would know where to mail it and she wouldn’t have to wait till mid-February for the next meeting to get it. We do not live close to each other.

I got home from that meeting with just enough time to run in the yarn ends (oops–hadn’t done that yet, it was just a stash FO), drive to the post office, and get it in the mail before it was time to go get Richard.

Knowing some of the things she’s gone through, and knowing now how much what I’d made had meant to her, you bet she was getting another hat. And in a different color in case she ever finds the first one.

Man, that felt good.

The other thing she asked me?

To teach her how to knit.

They’ll have to use a crane (but not a heron)
Monday January 07th 2019, 11:42 pm
Filed under: Life,Wildlife

The toyon berries, which were orange for a long time, are ripe and red and the robins are going to town–there was a large flock of them dashing back and forth past the window all day. They didn’t like my moving towards them with a camera but there were at least three still hiding as I snapped.

Occasionally there will be stories in the news about birds getting drunk on fermented berries. From what I’ve read, that’s an urban myth: they’re not drunk, they simply eat too many in the sudden abundance to the point of the weight of their food making it hard to fly, much less gracefully.

The toyon is an understory to the big redwood which is coming down on Thursday (and thankfully did not do so on our house in the big windstorm Saturday–it is not a healthy tree.) It may be flawed, but it’s beautiful, its trunk intricate and 53″ wide, and we will all miss it. How big a change it will be I don’t know yet.

Hopefully the toyon will be fine with its shade suddenly gone.

But that redwood has to go before the hawks start nesting in it. And before it does any more damage to ours.

Birthday girl
Monday January 07th 2019, 12:04 am
Filed under: Food,Friends,Life

For Christmas a year ago, our chocolate-enthusiast youngest (wonder where he got that from?) gave his sister some cocoa butter in powder form that had been crystallized so as to properly temper chocolate. She wasn’t sure what to do with it at the time, but it still seemed fine yesterday as far as we could tell and would be a shortcut method to getting a proper temper, so we tried vigorously stirring 1% worth into the new chocolate as we poured it out of the melanger.

Which has to be where the speckles came from? But the swirls on just the one…?

Our bars came out of those molds not looking like anything we’d seen before nor expected but that chocolate definitely had the shine and snap of a good tempering, no matter what they looked like. I think the marbling pattern on the one is pretty. Just don’t ask me to reproduce it–I have no idea how we did that.

Wrapping them in aluminum foil was a bit of a comedown, but hey.

Tonight we were celebrating our friend Betty’s 94th birthday at church: a choral group sang for her, Russ and Jim played Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue as a duet on the pipe organ and grand piano, and Phyllis told stories on the life of the woman she thinks of as her adopted aunt. (She works near Betty’s nursing home and drops by often.)

Betty’s been blind since birth. We noted that Phyllis did not tell the story of the time Betty decided her late husband was too drunk to drive them home so she was going to do it, and did. Betty loves music, and tried learning the piano as a kid but found the accordion easier to find where her fingers should go and so that was her instrument. The lady is a kick, and she is fearless.

She had guide dogs for 71 years till old age caught up with her and she misses them.

She is mostly bedridden now but she made it through the evening in a wheelchair.

Richard had tucked one of our brand newly made bars of chocolate in his pocket on the way out our door.

Betty did like dark chocolate, she said, but couldn’t eat any more tonight. So the ironic thing is that it got shared in small pieces with just about everybody but her, but she and they had a fine time and that was the point.

One person had gotten her a birthday present: a long soft stuffed dog to hold across her lap in memory of all the dogs she’d loved, like a lap blanket to keep her warm on this cold and rainy day. She stroked it and then rested her hands on it and loved that her beloved dogs were thought of, too.

It had a face with the colors of a Saint Bernard but in the shape more of a German Shepherd.

I told her about my grand-dog the (mostly) Saint Bernard. She answered that German Shepherds in her experience were smarter and she liked those; I laughed and agreed and said that our Ludo is very sweet to our oblivious toddler grandson whose parents are working to teach him how to be nice to the dog, but she is emphatically not overly bright. (As I pictured Mathias’s gleeful, “PupPY?”) She’s good with him, and that’s what they need.

I hope someone brings a real dog by sometime for her to pet. I do know we need to stop by with some chocolate for when she can eat it. Maybe not quite so dark on that batch.

Pulling rank
Monday December 31st 2018, 9:16 pm
Filed under: Family,Life

“Grandma, how old are you?” It sounds like such an innocent question in the moment.

“Well, I just turned 60 a few weeks ago.” (And am trying hard to get used to that. I know in 20 years it’ll sound young but it sure doesn’t right now.)

He invites me to play checkers with him. I find I’m not sure we have the same concept of said game. You jump the other guy’s piece by going over it, you don’t smash it and everything in its path out of your way, I explain, but he is eager to show me that this is how we were going to do it.

“Bumper car checkers?”

“Well, my 69-year-old grandma plays it that way. My other grandma,” he explains.

(I know who Ann is just fine and yeah buddy I don’t think so.) I give him a look that is both skeptical and trying not to burst out laughing at his imagining that he can pull my leg like that, thinking, okay, I had to set your little brother straight on some of the finer points–like how both sides play from the same color squares, not shooting past each other on opposite ones; he picked up on strategy quickly, too, even surprising me with a double jump. King me? I get to be king? Cool! But at eight you are old enough to know better, unless this new Christmas toy is one you haven’t actually played yet, ever, and you don’t want to admit that you don’t know how to do what your brother now knows how to.

He persists. I laugh and tell him I’d been playing checkers a long long time and I’d never heard of playing it that way.

But he’d so clearly been looking forward to his Hulk! Smash! version.

We were going to have jammed fingers, pieces flying into faces or unwitting siblings nearby… Nope. I tell him with a smile, “I don’t play bumper car checkers,” while cheerfully offering to start the game (Alright! You want to go first or you want me to?) without belaboring the right way/my way.

With a baby to coo at and finger food to chomp on, he wanders off to something better.

Seems so
Thursday December 27th 2018, 11:49 pm
Filed under: Life

And the doctor said:

“The elbow XR is unclear but may show possible small fracture. As mentioned during the visit, our management at this time will be conservative with rest and activity as tolerated as well as tylenol for any pain. Let’s see if it improves in 2 weeks or so.”

Two weeks. Yeah, I can do two weeks. Cool.

The hat that elbowed its way past me
Wednesday December 26th 2018, 10:46 pm
Filed under: Family,Knit,Life

Saturday night I was taking something out of the cupboard and hit my elbow hard on the big wooden cutting board leaning against the side of the fridge there.

At least it wasn’t the one dedicated to chopping chocolate. That would have just been too cruel.

After a bit of Google, I was in no hurry to get it seen. It’s too late tonight. If it’s broken it’ll be worse tomorrow and that’ll tell us. No, no, it’s Sunday–let people have their day of rest. Who wants to bother anybody on Christmas Eve? C’monnn, on Christmas? It’ll get better.

Or not.

Which is why I finally went in today.

A splint *will* happen, said the search results. Period. The new doctor? Not so much. He was willing to have it x-rayed but if it was just a hairline then all they would do is tell me to be careful. Otherwise, he was talking surgery (suddenly a splint didn’t sound so bad.) But he didn’t think so.

There was that rib he didn’t think was broken a few months ago that turned out to actually be displaced. I’m the one who doesn’t always feel pain as much as I should, remember?


He may have called us afterwards while we we were still out, running errands; we came home to the answering machine having been bumped into the no messages position, so we’ll just have to wait till tomorrow, again. But at least we’ll know.

Meantime, having started this hat something like an hour before all this began, a few minutes before we left for the appointment I finally finished it–just in case I wouldn’t be able to afterwards. Remembering the six weeks of not being allowed to knit after I broke my hand (um, I made it to four) and after the frustration of this taking me too many days because it did not feel great to work on, I was going to get it finished before they could tell me I couldn’t. And I did. (Minus weaving in the ends.) So there.

At the returning of the light
Tuesday December 25th 2018, 11:31 pm
Filed under: Family,Food,Friends,Life

Dinner chez Nina, then home and FaceTime with kids and grandkids. Books and chocolate, lots of chocolate, and some very good yarn. Who knew the Japanese knitting stitches book was in English now?

Merry Christmas and every holiday celebrated and may the peace of goodwill be with us all.

Saturday December 22nd 2018, 11:29 pm
Filed under: Family,Food,Friends,Life

It is a recipe I will wish for forever and can never have.

Our daughter flew home from Europe via a stopover in Istanbul today. Or her yesterday but our today–“Is it Sunday here yet?”

No, still Saturday.

She was tired.

An older woman got on her flight at that airport who spoke maybe five words of English. She needed help. It took about five minutes of pantomiming between them and trying before it became clear: she needed to borrow a cable to recharge her phone.

Oh! Sure!

Turns out she needed help figuring out how to actually use it, too. No problem. Turns out her phone needed a new battery to take that charge better and faster, but at least they got it halfway there. You need it to work when you’re landing in a strange country trying to reach your family over at park and call.

And in profuse thanks the woman tried to shower her with good food.

She didn’t want to be rude but there was no way they could find enough words in common for her to be able to make sure that she wasn’t allergic to every bit of it–and so she accepted the tiny wrapped bites of good chocolate and the clearly freshly homemade biscotti inside that white napkin and brought it home to us for it to be properly appreciated.

Definitely butter in that, yes.

A nibble, one for him one for me, was the plan: the rest would go towards breakfast in the morning. But no, once we’d tried that perfect taste and texture we devoured it all. And I’m not usually someone who cares for biscotti–why break a tooth over something so dry and tasteless?

But THIS. Wow!

I’ve been trying to deconstruct it ever since. Probably superfine almond flour for most of the flour; the nuts were chopped fairly small and roasted to perfect crispness and flavor as if they’d just cooled from the oven. You had to have a hand under the result to catch what crumbled when you bit because you didn’t want to miss out on any of this. It might even have been made this morning–whatever day however many hours ago this morning started out as over there.

But then, you would expect a woman presumably from Turkey would know how to make this right. And boy did she. And I can’t even thank her.

I hope she gets her phone taken care of while she’s here.

Oh Christmas Tree
Friday December 21st 2018, 11:38 pm
Filed under: Family,Knit,Life

All those hats knit snug and warm in bulky Mecha, and a missing size-large yarn needle: it was stopping me. Well, that and the residual flu.

So I went to the local yarn store yesterday at long last (those hats have been waiting) and then Target and the drug store and found that that was pretty much all I was going to get done for one day.

Which meant that today, any pressure to get things to their recipients before Christmas was off: I was sending these because I was sending these and if it came the next day then all the more happy anticipation, right?

I sat down and ran all those ends in, now that it was a lot easier to do (thank you Uncommon Threads.) Eight hats. I got the tags sewn in. I got the ones going to my niece and her four boys boxed up, with an extra thrown in to keep in their glove box in case someone really needed just one more choice of color now that they were going to be seeing them in person. Or for them to warm a homeless person at random, give to my brother-in-law/ the kids’ grandpa, whatever they chose.

So, hats, done. The cowl for another niece, found a padded envelope after all, done. (Mumbletymumble) as an extra something going up to Alaska, done. Helped Richard move some stuff needing moving.

And suddenly my body was just done.

Nuh uh, you’re not doing that to me again–you’ve been doing that to me for three weeks and I’ve got me some catching up to do.

Yonder vacationing hubby (also recuperating from the same bug) to the rescue: between us we figured we could do it. He drove us to the post office and carried the boxes.

Pro tip: you can send five pounds to Alaska priority mail in your own box for $63 or you can send that same thing inside the post office’s official Flat Rate box for $18-something. And the stuff fit. Hey.

Shopping at Costco next and we actually somehow snagged a parking spot.

It took us a meal and a break and a rest, and then we had our annual conversation about, thank you for letting me get the lush full pre-lit Scotch pine I wanted and next time let’s just get a flip tree, okay? Unzip, twirl top over bottom, done. He agreed. (Storing them upside down helps preserve the bough structure in those, but we already splurged once; it’ll be awhile.)

The knitting is out of here and in the mail. The tree is skirted and decorated and the boxes are back in the garage. The stockings are hung, the Christmas quilt is out, and tomorrow after we go to the airport there’ll be more than the two of us here for a little while again.

In trying to take this picture a little later, I somehow managed to break the first glass ball ornament of the season. I have no idea why that makes it feel like it really is Christmas now but that totally did it.