Pretty please with a cherry up on top?
Thursday April 30th 2015, 10:44 pm
Filed under: Garden,Wildlife

There’s a clamshell, it’s intact, it’s right where I put it…

…And all the cherries that were growing inside it have vanished. Just from that one. But the uncovered single cherry below that box is still there–go figure. The branches haven’t broken, so I figure a squirrel may have learned how to pry it apart just enough (while snapping on its paw) but I haven’t seen them so much as touch that tree. Clearly that fruit would have to be really ripe before they’d get over their dislike of the cinnamon I sprinkled around it.

Maybe the raccoon simply sat on the fence and pulled it to him? It’s at the top of the tree and right at that height. Time to tape the clamshells shut.

Anyway, so, the outside faucet has been failing gradually for some time and had gotten to the point that it just spins without catching on its stem while dripping crazily from around the stem and out the top. So not cool in a drought. You could only turn it on by pushing down hard on the screw as you twist–and then where the hose connected, it was stripped enough there too that we put plumber’s tape but still, that part dripped, too.

The big guys didn’t have a replacement. The little guy, at Barron Park Plumbing Supply, who really knows his stuff and would rather help you than oversell to you, said to me, “Wow–that’s a tiny one.” He thought a moment and said not only did he not have it, he couldn’t think of anyone that would. Here though is what I could buy and do and, as he continued to muse thoughtfully, here’s why I wouldn’t want to do it–I would have five, maybe six uses before it would do damage, completing the stripping. It was my choice, if I really needed it working right now.

I needed a better idea. He wrote out four names and numbers of people he personally recommended, and I knew if he said so I couldn’t go wrong. It would probably run me in the ballpark of $100, $150, he said. (Better than wasting all that water!)

And we will need to call one of them. But for now Richard kluged it with a piece he thought would help. To my great relief the faucet still drips but only a very little and not where the hose connects because that’s at the new piece. I propped a small dyepot underneath and while watering the cherries, the apples, the pear, the peaches, and the mango, I didn’t catch enough to water the potted fig tree with–that’s a huge change.

So tonight, after two weeks of not being able to turn that thing on (and of being really really glad it rained a week ago), and after it was 91 withering degrees today, I finally watered my trees.

Next step. Buy mulch.

Melanoma the easy way
Wednesday April 29th 2015, 10:47 pm
Filed under: Family,Life

“Can I write about it on my blog?”

She told me sure, anything that raises awareness. Get checked.

My oldest was 27 when her melanoma was diagnosed. It was a highly aggressive type. She had had to go to the doctor twice in two weeks for something utterly unrelated when he surprised her by saying he thought that that mole had changed since her earlier appointment and he wanted to check it.

Mole? Who was talking about the mole?

He had actually biopsied it several years earlier but he didn’t let that stop him from doing so again–it just felt to him that something was wrong there.

They took out four inches to quite some depth from her arm. She didn’t have to do chemo and she didn’t have to do radiation because he’d caught it so very early, possibly in its first two weeks. She did have to have frequent checks thereafter; melanoma can recur anywhere.

Her experience got me to stop ignoring the spot my husband had been saying he saw on the top of my head. Mine was basal cell and at least eight months old by that point, and I’d just shrugged and written it off as another manifestation of lupus. Which it was not. By that point they had to take out over an inch of hair permanently from the center of my scalp, leaving a thumbprint indentation in my head and a cowlick that are there still. I was lucky.

She is past the five year mark and heading towards six. No return of her cancer. It just dawned on me, writing this, that wait–so so am I. Although, basal-cell, paid attention to, is not a big deal. Melanoma is very much a big deal.

A doctor had a bad feeling about it, trusted his instincts, and insisted on checking again.

And so my daughter is alive.

Do a little dance
Tuesday April 28th 2015, 10:37 pm
Filed under: Garden,Life,Wildlife

The mango with a dab of unsweetened grape Koolaid solution to keep the birds away. The ants were starting to be a problem on the flowers; I sprinkled cinnamon around the base of the trunk and over one flower cluster where one was being obstinate about not letting go and they all disappeared and have not come back.

We learned about honeybees when I was a kid, complete with a field trip to a building that had an active hive going and a bee tunnel to outside at the back of the place so as to keep kids who have no sense and might have allergies and any possibility of stingers as far from each other as possible.

I learned that insects, of all things, dance to talk. Honeybees, anyway.

And so here I was Sunday night, flashlight in hand, looking for the center of the frost cover to get it up and positioned over the Alphonso mango tree just so when movement below caught my eye.

I got down on my knees to see.

There was a honeybee on the ground, looking, frankly, dead. Or maybe it was just too cold. But there was another one walking in rapid ovals or figure eights, I’m not sure, and wiggling just so at intervals while another honeybee circled in the air a little above. I remembered that the longer from one end of the dance to the other, the farther away from the hive the coveted flowers that had been found.

I watched. It was a very short back and forth, back and forth. Here be food (or maybe a good place to swarm to, I’m not sure). Come.

And I noticed that it was doing its dance right next to a clear white Christmas light resting against the ground looking brighter than I had noticed before. But then how often do I stare at the filament part in the dark. It offered concentrated warmth as the temperature dropped around it.

I shined my flashlight at the dancer and seemed to distract it a split second but it went back to its important work. I wondered if my tree lights flicking on automatically had confused the bees as to when the sun was supposed to set.

That morning I’d found I think four honeybees in a tight faces-in-together cluster on that cover with another coming in to join them and another over thataway. Whether I interrupted the early stages of a swarm or not I don’t know, but they didn’t mind my sending them away by, as always, patting the back of the fabric as gently as I could to help free their legs from it.

I continued covering the mango for the night and at the commotion of the movements above the ones that had missed nighttime roll call at the hive moved along to places unseen.

They say that honeybees are placid and not inclined to sting. Finally, having seen it again and again right in front of me (not to mention my hand hitting where those stingers are), I believe it. And I feel privileged to have been the wallflower watching the dance in the night.

Don’t call us we won’t call you
Monday April 27th 2015, 10:06 pm
Filed under: Life

I’m reading the news from Baltimore, where my daughter lived two years ago, recognizing some of the local spots and dealing with the small stuff here as a way to cope.

Phone spammers. I know, this was supposed to stop with the Do Not Call registry but there seem to be more and more of these of late.

If they say, “Press 1 to be taken off our list,” do NOT press 1. If you do, you’ve engaged with them and they then claim they have a business relationship with you, ergo, they have permission to call. I usually simply leave the phone off the hook till they’re gone.

But when I actually heard a human rather than a recording a few days ago, I broke in to tell the guy flat out, “Why would I hire you when the only thing I know about you is you’re willing to break the law? Y’know, the Do Not Call…”

But he had hung up before I could finish that second sentence. Wait, wait, I wasn’t done with my spiel!

No tipping
Sunday April 26th 2015, 10:42 pm
Filed under: Food,Friends,Life

I cornered the person in charge of the sign-up for taking soup and cookies to the Ronald McDonald House at church this morning and asked when the next time around was going to be.

I didn’t say that the last time I took a pot of soup there I’d made it in my stewpot, which spilled all over the car. I did say what I now had to cook the stuff in. It makes it a lot easier.

Heather (yesterday’s post) was delighted when I told her what I immediately planned to do with her old crockpot. And it was so much better than my old one…

…Which, when I described it to her, the bright orange and brown and flaking teflon interior, she grinned in recognition, Oh! My mom has one like that!

I had to laugh at my inner surprise–of course she did. From the ’70’s. Hadn’t I noticed I was getting older?

It’s all a crock
Saturday April 25th 2015, 10:27 pm
Filed under: Family,Food,Friends,Life

We’re selling everything, she said, we’re not taking anything with us. We’ll start over after we get there.

When she told me their travel plans, that made more sense. Her husband’s about to start his medical residency in Boston. They aren’t going straight there, though; they’re going to Massachusetts from California by way of Alaska, driving, so as to let the grandparents see their little ones. Road trip!

She sent out a note last night of a few things that hadn’t sold at their garage sale, saying, please, come, take, free now, it’s all going to charity in the morning, if you want it it’s yours.

I told her I’d bought my crockpot at eighteen–nineteen, though, come to think of it, it was after I’d moved out of the dorms. Crockpots were a new thing and a huge fad and not cheap and given that I was paying my college tuition for the year out of my summer job money, it was quite the splurge.

It has, though, one can definitely say at this point, seen better days. It had a teflon surface and if you ever want to see what those look like this many years later, well, as Richard finalized it this morning, “We’re not cooking in that” (this would not be a change) and I said it needs to no longer be taking up space in our house. An easy agreement.

Sentimental value object upstaged by actually useful sentimental value object: I am badly going to miss Heather and Jared when they’re gone and I will think of them when I slow-cook apple butter. Or take a pot of soup to the Ronald McDonald House at Children’s Hospital (and not have to borrow a safe crockpot for it. They then have you transfer the food from yours to theirs when you get there.)

Heather’s little cooker will help take care of patients and their families here while Jared’s taking care of patients there. I like that.

She almost didn’t tell me what the price tag had been at the yard sale and she almost didn’t let me pay it but she relented.

And so I finally have a big crockpot again that I would actually be willing to put food into. My late ’70’s sunflower-orange-and-brown one (I kid you not) is hereby utterly evicted.

I love most that I now have a memento of a young couple I adore and whose kids I hope someday will go to Stanford so I can get to see who they grow up to be. Because I know they’ll be adults to look forward to.

Meantime, got any favorite recipes?

The food of the food
Friday April 24th 2015, 9:17 pm
Filed under: Family,Life,Wildlife

He banked left, then quickly right, twirling around at the last like an Olympic ice skater’s grand finale just outside the window. Seeing that he’d gotten our attention, (me: Did you see that? Husband: Yeah I saw that) he nodded, hesitated a moment, and then went back out in the manner he’d come in.

Oh. Right. The birdfeeder’s gone empty–I’ll get right to it, thanks.

So yes, the Cooper’s hawk is fine after being attacked by that raven yesterday. One can only marvel at his timing with the thought, as if it were a wild creature’s intention, that it was nice of Coopernicus to let us know.

Gimme that!
Thursday April 23rd 2015, 10:31 pm
Filed under: Family,Wildlife

We were just sitting down to dinner when the phone rang with a spammer and we heard the thwack against the window in the other room. Interrupted anyway, I got up to check.

No sign of a downed bird but there was our male Cooper’s hawk perched on the netted cage that covers the blueberries. He was very nonchalant about my approaching across the room from my side of the glass: just an old familiar sight.

No sign of a dove in his talons, though; it must have gotten away. A few times a finch has managed to tuck wings in tight and zoom into that cage and need rescuing (must have hit just the right, most stretched-out portion of the netting) so as he looked down and around under there I wondered if that’s where some little escapee had gotten off to. (Nope.)

A large winged shadow passed by from somewhere I couldn’t see overhead. The ravens know that if they land in my backyard I will go after them with a squirt gun, and so they don’t. He looked up but seemed to ignore it.

And then he didn’t. And suddenly there was our Cooper’s hawk flying off and bam! There was a raven attacking him from behind!

Get OFF me you doofus there’s NO prey to steal! as they zoomed together towards the neighbor’s trees and out of sight all too fast for me to see if there was any harm done. Flying strongly, at least, and he’s a good deal more muscular and equipped for hunting than they.

I think he’ll be just fine.

Thank you Antonio and crew in Uruguay
Wednesday April 22nd 2015, 10:31 pm
Filed under: Friends,Knitting a Gift,Life

I had what I hoped was just the yarn.

I asked my knitting friend Kevin at Purlescence for advice on how long to make it, having never been a teenage boy (and having never actually met that particular teenage boy). Short beanie? Brim? He laughed and said make it as long as that skein will let you take it. (I only had the one.)

And, I thought, he lives in California now but the whole of your life is ahead of you where he is. Look at my oldest now. Alaska! He might need it. And so I think it came out long enough for a good brim. (I cast off with–here let me go look at this strand a moment–a single yard left over.)

I sent off the hat: Malabrigo, because only the best would do.

There are pages and pages of story here and most of it I don’t know and never will but this I do know: that it was one of the most important things I’d ever knit.

His father later exclaimed to my husband, And it’s so soft!

And it all started because I forgot my phone…

Tuesday April 21st 2015, 9:36 pm
Filed under: Garden

The Yellow Transparent is supposed to go from this stage–in April–to apples ready to pick in June. That’s as fast as cherries. It’s a kind of an odd duck of a shape because the upper left is where it used to be shaded by weed trees. That other tree behind and to its right years ago sent a long, successful runner sideways, which has now been ground out along with its six or seven offspring. The parent was my kids’ climbing tree for years but nostalgia will only keep it away from the chainsaws for so long. (One single new sucker and you are so out of here.) They ran the good race but only won runner-up and then were overturned by the judges.

And this actual, for-real mango (you see that green dot? You should have seen me when I saw that green dot!) is supposed to be ready to eat some time in June or July–and the tree just sprouted a whole new bottlescrubber of buds over the past week.

I’ve been trying not to knock flowers off as I put the nightly frost cover on and, with some difficulty, off again in the mornings (they grab at it like velcro) and I guess I’m doing alright after all.

Edited to add–A week ago, the hopeful but later revised forecast was that it would rain today. It looked this morning like it definitely wanted to, and as we headed out the door together one large, single drop landed smack dab in the middle of my head. And that was our entire rain storm as far as we could tell.

I had to have Richard inspect my scalp to make sure it wasn’t bird poop. You never know.


Cover me, I’m going in
Monday April 20th 2015, 11:16 pm
Filed under: Mango tree,Wildlife

Still throwing the frost cover over the mango tree at night to keep in the gentle heat from the Christmas lights. I always set several rocks around the bottom edge to help hold it in place.

But several times of late I’ve gone to take the cover off first thing in the morning…and all the smaller rocks are no longer there. Just the bigger heavier ones. We get very little wind around here and particularly not in that spot.

I think something’s gotten acclimated to the lack of nighttime dark in that area, especially given the sweetness of all those enticing blossom clusters. I can just picture a long possum nose pushing under there to check things out or a raccoon casting the first stone.

I put more rocks down tonight. In pairs, too.

Quick glimpses
Sunday April 19th 2015, 10:37 pm
Filed under: Family,Life

Skype. Three grandchildren four and under.

Daddy, holding the baby, hands the iPad to the two-as-of-this-month as they walk down the hall together so that Hudson can show us something.

Remember Etch-a-Sketches? How you shook them up and down really hard to erase the picture?

He was so proud of being trusted with that thing and he really carried it off: the ceiling, his face, the floor (and I couldn’t tell what-all else) at race track speed as he pumped his arms up and down, while on our side of the screens we were absolutely helpless with laughter.

Still giggling.

Clamshell day
Saturday April 18th 2015, 10:38 pm
Filed under: Garden,Wildlife

February. I planted the Indian Free two months ago. That was then. (This first picture is when it was just starting to sprout.)

This is now. I wasn’t going to let it fruit this first year but after shedding the others it was determined to grow that one peach, already bigger than the ones on the Babcock (which had started flowering a week earlier and will be ripe two months earlier), so I let it be.

Note to the squirrels: don’t even think about it.

Friday April 17th 2015, 10:45 pm
Filed under: Family,Friends,Life

Twenty-eight years. It took twenty-eight unfathomably long years.

Debbie married someone who grew up here, and I grew up with her and her brothers. She stayed in Maryland while my husband and I moved to her husband’s hometown when we were at the baby-and-toddlers stage of parenthood.

So from time to time I would be back visiting my folks (before they moved away in retirement) and from time to time she would be visiting her in-laws.

But every single time she came to town, I would be out of town. Or sick, memorably, pneumonia one time and I forget what the other times. And every single time I was back home, she was out of town. Again and again and again.

As her in-laws’ health slowly failed in old age, their kids would come to visit, and one time I looked at this guy in church who was the spitting image of Curt and went, You’re…and he, knowing my parents’ daughter was in his growing-up ward, went, You’re…? Yes. And so I shared with him what I’d written when her brother my age had died and he passed it gratefully along to Debbie and all her family.

His eighty-nine-year-old father passed away last week. With all of his children in town and one of them by his side in the middle of the night comforting him as he slipped away at home. We should all be so lucky.

The funeral was today, and the children were admiring, sober, funny, thoughtful, with a tear or three. Debbie’s husband recounted several of them going on a bike ride with their Dad setting the pace; he finally had had to say, Dad, we need a break a moment, would you mind slowing down a bit?

And then he asked, And guess how old Dad was then? Seventy-seven. He rode 250 miles a week. If the mountain went straight up he rode straight up, none of this zigzagging slowly because it’s too hard. Here to San Francisco and back, all the time.

The children addressed their mother directly with great love as she sat quietly in her wheelchair watching the proceedings. Her hair was perfect and her dress was beautiful. One child after another thanked each of their parents’ caregivers by name. It is hard to be a long-distance child in such circumstances and those good people had loved their folks and had made it possible for them to stay in their home as they’d tended to them.

Their mother’s Alzheimer’s had taken any semblance of recognition away from her long ago and yet they addressed her as if she were wholly here, knowing that someday she would be able to look back on her life and hear and know every word. This was for her. This was for them all. This was for all of us.

At the end, as people filed outside, I found myself gradually making my way towards that wheelchair, carefully, not wanting to get in the family’s way.

Debbie was tending to her mother-in-law. I waited.

She saw me and as my face lit up, waiting, waiting, she looked like doIknowOH IT’S YOU!!!! We threw our arms around each other, then held each other at arm’s length, taking each other in.

And in that moment I knew that over all those years and all those frustrating, missed opportunities, it wasn’t just me, she had wanted to connect like that, too. And finally, finally, there we were.

How ARE you?!!

I was sure I had seen familiar backs of the heads at the front of the chapel and so I had. The crowd parted enough right on cue then for me to see: her parents had come from Maryland, too, and she turned to them. Her mother had the same moment of wait, do I–OH!!! (Hugs!) And in excitement she turned to her husband to share the joy.

He wasn’t quite getting it. To be fair, I might well have been a teenager the last time he’d seen me. He wasn’t quite hearing the name in the noise or putting it together or knowing that face but I gave him a quick hug anyway and I knew they would fill him in later. I can just hear it: Wait, that was Lawrence and Frances’s daughter?!

His wife asked after me, after my parents; yes, they’re in good health, yes, Mom still walks a few miles every day, they’re doing great!

Someone from home. For the three of them and for me. Love, stretching all the way back to my birth and Debbie’s (and my father-in-law grew up with her dad!) and all our parents as newlyweds and young parents. All those memories suddenly come together in one chapel far away in California.

I miss Curt and I am sorry for his family’s loss. I do know that after all the hospice care, it’s a relief, too; they know their dad, grampa, and great-grampa is free to look down on them now with all earthly sorrows fallen away.

But what a deep sense of joy. So much love. It was always there. Loss let it be seen.

My fellow gardener
Thursday April 16th 2015, 10:11 pm
Filed under: Garden,Life,Wildlife

So I lamented that the hawk hadn’t come up to the picnic table to say hi up close since we’d cut down and replaced the trees on the side.

Well, why hadn’t I said I’d been missing him? And so suddenly there he was. Perched on the back of the chair, all but waving a talon hi on the other side of the window as we took in each other’s presence on this fine warm (91 degree) day. He fluffed out his feathers.

I loved how he was framed by five, soon to be six blooming amaryllises; he started craning his head around and–if I’d only had my camera!–looked straight up into a deep red one bowed down just above his face.

When he was ready to go, he turned and lightened the load as birds often do before lifting off.

And the Red Lion will bloom a little brighter next year for it.