Knitting weather
Tuesday September 15th 2015, 10:48 pm
Filed under: Life

Last week it was over a hundred degrees most of the week.

Today I wore a sweater for the first time and there was a yellow leaf from one of my baby peach trees on the ground. I guess it decided to be September after all. Cool.

Last Chances
Monday September 14th 2015, 10:37 pm
Filed under: Family,Food,Friends

Finally seem to be over that bug and have my energy back. Time to really get out and go somewhere.

So I texted Michelle, having looked forward to the thought all month long: Want to go to Mariani’s?

She called back with a YES! so fast I didn’t even have time to see if they were still open for the season. Turned out she’d taken her car in for routine maintenance and they’d told her they wouldn’t be done for four hours and she was stuck with no wheels and nothing to do. (Prime knitting time, to a knitter, but…) She’d just wandered to the grocery store a few blocks down to buy a snack.

“I’ll be out the door in five minutes.” I hadn’t eaten yet. Yay for leftovers–I didn’t even bother to warm them up, let’s go!

And so we were on our way. She checked on her phone and yes, open.

We got to Morgan Hill, turned onto the street, and a small tractor was pulling up to the mailbox near the entrance sign. I came up alongside and hesitated before turning into the driveway: my car is a Prius and people don’t hear me coming. I didn’t want him to pull forward without knowing I was there.

It was Andy himself under that hat as he glanced up from his mail and the instant deep warmth in his face as he recognized us and waved us on in made my day. Sometimes on this planet earth of ours we allow each other to see how much we matter to each other even when we don’t know each other very well. I do passionately want his farm to keep providing the best of the best despite the pressures of encroaching city and drought.

On display were the last six peaches of the year. Most were huge, a pound and a quarter. I didn’t see it, so I asked, “What’s the name of the variety?”

The lady grinned. “Last Chance!”

We bought them all. I filled the rest of the crate with plums. We added strawberries, green veggies, honey, and a chocolate/apricot/marzipan candy that definitely warrants coming back for. Not too sweet. They got it exactly right.

There were also the very last of some green figs with a deep red center, and knowing they wouldn’t have a long shelf life, I only took seven or eight and left the other half for the next person coming along.

We’ll definitely go back to try out the monster Mutsu apples. Soon.

Greeting the new
Sunday September 13th 2015, 9:53 pm
Filed under: Friends,Life,Wildlife

Someone fairly new to the area gave a talk in church today and introduced herself a bit. She mentioned her love of knitting chemo caps and how knitting for others in need had centered her when she was struggling.

Then she starting having aches and pains herself but shrugged them off–until she couldn’t: it was uterine cancer.

And that’s how they found out she had ovarian cancer too. The uterine had saved her life because it had given her symptoms.

And there were her friends from her knitting group, keeping her company during the long days in the hospital.

I’d wondered if her hair meant… It’s growing back in nicely.

Richard and I came home and shortly after we found ourselves exclaiming, Oh look!

He stayed a good fifteen minutes and I thought in my friend’s direction, Honey, someone’s looking out for you too now.

Richard, looking for his camera quickly (no luck) and wishing for a better shot than my iPhone could do at that distance wondered if it were a new hawk; I said, could be but could be the lighting. The fact that it let me pick up and point my phone at him says to me it’s my old friend Coopernicus back.

Equinox cometh and territories must be reclaimed. And so we are here.

He’s the master of the Lego-verse
Saturday September 12th 2015, 9:31 pm
Filed under: Family,Life

Looking forward to seeing the little ones soon. It’s been too long.


Shirley C
Friday September 11th 2015, 10:31 pm
Filed under: Friends,Life

This morning started with 9/11 memories.

And then the day changed.

Last time I sat on this side of the church during a funeral, the pew suddenly lurched hard upwards then down again as the other end rose, a single-use seesaw as the wave passed through. I looked up to see a chandelier swinging wildly right over the head of the oblivious guy just across the aisle and instantly gauged whether, if I leaped across to knock him out of the way, could I do it in time. Stay…stay…!

It held.

This time the earth held still while heaven was happy to move us. Shirley C’s children spoke. Did I hear that right? That her childhood nickname was Squirrel? Too funny!

My grandmother, who lived to be 96, told my mother years ago, Make friends with people younger than you; pretty soon they’re all you have left.

Shirley wasn’t about to wait–when she was in her 50’s she was already throwing parties to meet new young families moving into the area and I know because we were one of them. Games and homemade trifle, get to know each other: come, and know that you belong.

Always cheerful. Always helpful. Always welcoming. One friend who’d known her 39 years said that smile of hers that lit up the whole church every week said to him, I know you: and (he grinned) I like you anyway.

Much laughter.

I learned something I had not known: she had wanted to go to medical school and she had worked hard to attain that, but her grade in organic chemistry–my biologist daughters can tell you how hard that class is–was not quite perfect, and at the time only two women in the entire country were allowed into medical school per year and she was not one of them. So she put that degree to other uses, and thus many students got to have Mrs C in their lives who would never have met her otherwise. They lucked out.

She was here and healthy three weeks ago, how could it be…

An infection and a reaction. It all happened in two weeks. Her children had time to come and they were with her at the end. Her granddaughter in Argentina got to talk to her on the phone. Love, all that had centered her in her life, she centered them with one more time and they her.

Her Paul had wanted bagpipes playing Amazing Grace at his funeral thirteen years ago and his cousin had flown into town and done just that.

I could just picture those notes sounding again as her beloved welcomed her home.

One for you one for me
Friday September 11th 2015, 8:02 am
Filed under: Garden,Knit,Wildlife

Because, hey, they’re zucchinis, there was a new one this morning and a second by evening.

I scattered chili-oil suet crumbles all around the two: squirrel beware. (Edited to add in the morning, they got one anyway. The second was already 10 oz and it’s in my fridge now.)

Merino/silk, coming right up, meantime.

How to get rid of zucchinis
Wednesday September 09th 2015, 10:25 pm
Filed under: Garden,Non-Knitting,Wildlife

Tuesday was, as usual, watering day, as we hope hard for an end to the drought soon.

Wednesday, with the plants nice and plump and me away at my lupus group meeting, turned into steal-the-zucchinis day. And not just that: the squirrels tore open the stems of several leaves to get at any fluids they could. It’s been three days above 100 degrees in a row and I guess they’re desperate but I won’t have a plant if they keep that up. They did miss one last zucchini, and I would have given it one more day but I knew they wouldn’t so it’s safely in the fridge now.

I wasn’t letting them walk near my caged tomatoes after that. Which meant chasing them away a few times rather than letting them test my setup.

Probably because I hadn’t used the squirt gun, one large gray running down the fencetop highway this evening got to the edge of the property, turned around, walked quite deliberately back to its favorite spot up there and yelled at me.

Wait. That’s a squirrel sound? That’s way too low pitched. Can squirrels get hoarse? Seriously, can they?

The door was open and Richard was home and he opined that it had been a bird he’d heard. Too low for a squirrel.

Well, the sound was with it looking at me and stopped when I chased it away a second time and started up again when it came back to that same claimed spot and tried to give me what-all once again for interfering with its meal. Squirrel. Curious.

Oh and on a completely different note? I found myself driving behind a Tesla X today: DeLorean-type Gull wing doors, seven-seater SUV, and it seemed to actually have headroom enough for tall people. (Yo! Elon Musk! We need 6’8″ and 6’9″ers to be able to fit into your cars.) I didn’t even know these existed yet! Total fantasyland for us but that is one cool car. We got one of the first Priuses but we’ll have to pass on early-adopter status on this one.

Okay, do the click-and-drag on those doors. Do you see what I see? Wallace and Gromit? I’m dog-earing that page.

(Update 9/30: Turns out the X was actually released yesterday. What I saw must have been a company-owned car in pre-release.)

Knock knock
Tuesday September 08th 2015, 9:45 pm
Filed under: Family,Food,Garden,Wildlife

Michelle stopped by a bit, reporting that there had been a baby squirrel pawing at the window next to the door trying to figure out why it couldn’t just walk through that solid nothingness and go on in. She said it was very cute and it wasn’t afraid of her.

Right, you have to teach a city squirrel to be afraid.

She was telling me this just as a mama black squirrel and her slightly grayer baby were walking carefully, slowly down the fence line next to the kitchen, looking like it was its first exploration out into the world. I went from feeling like, you can’t humor those things! to, oh, that little one was just so cute. Even if I wish the squirrels didn’t produce a second crop of babies in August, I have enough of them to thwart. Adorable!

Two days ago I was telling Richard the squirrels had taken a deep bite out of a zucchini and left the rest–apparently they didn’t like it either. He chuckled. Today that zucchini was bigger and they actually somehow picked the thing and tried to haul it up the fence.

Good luck with that.

As far as I can tell they touched just the one and left the rest alone rather than taking a single bite out of everything and ruining the others to sit and rot. Given that they used to strip my underripe Fujis in a day–pick, bite, toss, repeat till gone–this was kind of amazing.

I think it means they’re hungry out there.

So far my now-clamshelled apples are still safe. Little fruity windows. No you can’t come in.

An SPF 100 day
Monday September 07th 2015, 11:09 pm
Filed under: Friends,Life

I got to see Mel and Kris! At Kings Mountain Art Fair today.

I totally lucked out: I found a parking space right across the street from where the shuttle picks up and drops off for the outer-darkness cars. Couldn’t ask for better.

Got there and they offered me a seat, come sit awhile. We tried to remember just how far back we go; our kids were a lot younger and so were we. We swapped stories and laughed while I tried to stay out of the way of interactions with other customers. I related having recently had dinner guests where each had two of Mel and Kris’s little rice bowls: sour cream in this one, brown sugar in the other one, a big bowl full of strawberries each: dip, dip, eat.

I needed more of those little bowls, then, and while I’m at it I broke one of the bigger ones this past year and it was a favorite. Fortunately they had just fired a run that looked very much like it–I bought two.

At last it was time to note the height of the sun and be on my way.

Mel insisted on carrying my bag not only to the waiting area for the bus that is a former trolley car, he boarded it with me and took my new pottery all the way to my car. Thankfully he got back on in time to ride it right back to Kris, it being one of the busier times of day for them.

I went home and halved Ghirardelli chocolate raspberry squares to make spikes on a cake dragon…

At the block party, we got the great surprise that a mom and her daughters were there (but not her son) who had grown up friends with our kids. I hadn’t seen any of them since their middle-school days and now the parents live right around the corner.  We had about sixteen years’–how did that happen!–worth of catching up to do between us all.

The daughter remembered that I was always knitting while waiting to pick up my kids back at the elementary school; did I still do that? The mom asked if I still did the, did the, (and she motioned a spinning wheel turning).

Oh yes!

They said that with all the unpacking going on they almost hadn’t made it and they were so glad they’d just dropped everything and come. Me too, oh, me too.

Dragon cake
Monday September 07th 2015, 1:49 pm
Filed under: Food,Life

And on a lighter note, I decided to try out my new cake pan.

A bundt type and a dragon guarding its three eggs. Block party, enough people to eat such a thing, little kids around, when would be a better time, I figure.

I know, I bring a chocolate torte every year and someone’s going to be disappointed and if I totally mess this one up there just might be one of those after all. If I have time. Which I won’t. Tomorrow’s Kings Mountain, too, and I’ve been waiting all year to see Mel and Kris.

I could pour a ganache over the pound cake but I’m picturing more a caramel sauce. I don’t have the skill set yet to frost something so detailed and fragile.

About one more hour before I get to see if it comes out looking remotely right. I did thump the pan down hard several times on the counter to shift batter bubbles away from the pan surface before I put it in the oven.

If this comes out well, then I need a big enough crowd to do a castle cake and a dragon cake together. Suddenly thinking, y’know, candy corn would make great teeth and spikes on that thing…

Update: I used Martha Stewart’s Classic Pound Cake (it had more eggs and less flour and sugar than other recipes I found but the salt is a bit high, thus begging for that homemade caramel sauce) and baked it at 325 for 66 minutes. Could have taken it out a minute or two earlier. When it’s cool I’ll dare to turn it over and see how the design came out.

Second update: Nope, the center needed another ten minutes.

The Peanuts gallery
Saturday September 05th 2015, 10:17 pm
Filed under: Friends,Garden,Life

It shouldn’t bother me that much. I told myself that for fifteen years. I should just let it go. I’ve tried to talk to her, she’s blown me off every time, how much does it really matter, I should just let it go. Let it go.

I was almost good at that, too. For a long time. If only the problem weren’t quite so big and bright in my face every single day.

I tried to think through how it would feel if I got what I wanted–would it have been worth it? The answer was a clear, if I do it in any degree of anger whatsoever on my part or, and this is the hard part, theirs, the answer was definitely no, and so I stalemated myself.

We have an annual block party every Labor Day and it’s a wonderful tradition where everybody gets to know each other. When there was a city issue needing discussion, we widened it to several blocks and found the more really was the merrier.

At last year’s, though, when I tried again, wanting to discuss at least a possible change of placement with M, she cut me off with, “I don’t want to be a bad neighbor” and walked briskly away as if that fixed that.

I recently tried running tape–shipping tape so it would hold–from my side of the fence to the belly of her tall Snoopy perched on the fence shading my peach so the tree could get a little more sunlight. The thing had long since ceased being a fixed object; here, point this way.

Someone yanked my tape off my side of the fence and set it back the way they wanted. Full shade.

After all the… But I knew they didn’t know just where my fruit trees were. Still, I was afraid the whole thing would at long last trip me up on Monday. I needed to finally deal with this, and better I do in time for both sides to think and come to an agreement before we see each other.

Another neighbor had their email. Score. If you loved the Anne of Green Gables books as a kid like I did, one of Anne’s lines stuck with me for life: “Paper is patient.” You can take the time to say what you want to say the way you want to say it without having emotional triggers trip you up. You can more easily be kind even when you’re bugged when nobody’s interrupting and it’s just you writing away.

You can delete, too.

And so I spent several days composing a letter to the Ms. I had to notify them anyway that they had several things sprouting up behind their hedge right against the fence where I could see them and they couldn’t and that they needed to do something about quickly before there was damage.

There was the fig tree on my side a few years earlier that, no matter how much I’d wanted one, I took it out as soon as she requested it; it was only right. It was their fence too. I had a new one now planted in a pot where it couldn’t intrude on anyone, and I thanked her for her common sense and said she had been right.

I rehearsed the story of the Snoopy and Woodstock figurines: how they’d suddenly appeared on top of the then-new fence right outside my living room windows and that for all the years since I had had an ongoing visual reminder that had made me sad for her that she’d felt more afraid of being told no than of the appearance of being rude: she’d asked no permission and allowed no input, even when I’d wanted to ask her to just move them down the fence a bit so as to be out of my direct sight.

One arm of the Snoopy snapped jaggedly years ago, ending its weathervane function.

And then someone on their side lifted it out, turned the broken side to face my windows and not theirs, and shortly after added the bright yellow Woodstock.

We were not strangers; I had been in their home back when we’d discussed the best way to replace our mutual fence and I’d invited them to mine, I knew she knew how to reach me. It was the ongoing struggle not to feel insulted that was the hardest. (I didn’t mention that.)

Over fifteen years those wooden figures continued to disintegrate.

That peach shading went on for as much as an hour and a half in the early afternoon in June–there has been no flowering under that direct shade line. I told them I certainly have no say regarding their trees in their yard and wouldn’t expect to, but on items on a fence that I own too? That, I do. I commit my water towards future fruit and I had a problem.

Now, while I was struggling to figure out how to say any of this in a way that might be kind and that might be heard, in a way that I hoped both they and I could be comfortable with after the fact, Stephanie Pearl-McPhee, bless her, wrote a blog post that totally saved me: she wrote about how when she and Joe are upset with each other they work on being extra kind to each other to help work themselves through that, fake it till you make it when you have to, she said.

Sheer genius. And boy had I needed that right then, thank you, Stephanie, and Joe, too. What I had been needing to do, both for the Ms and for me, was something nice, something positive, anything. (Well, duh! Sometimes I can be SO slow.)

The squirrels would have stolen any tomato before I’d even closed the door going back in–and so it was one of my cupcake zucchinis that got plunked up between Snoopy and his sidekick before I ever sent off a word. From my garden; have some!

Then, and only then, did I feel ready to start writing; I had the right attitude I’d been searching for and it was a relief.

I found myself checking again and again in happy anticipation: had they taken it yet? No? Now? After several days, at last they did. Bon appetit!

I wanted them to enjoy their figurines, I said, and I imagine there must be some happy story, some strong connection that’s kept them there all this time and that if I only knew what it was it would have been easier to deal with them; I’d like them to enjoy them on their side now.

Add no no no okay you got that out of your system but that’s way too self-righteous delete that try again okay getting better.

Paper is patient.

Finally tonight I had the right mixture of this is why this has bothered me. This is why it’s more of an issue now. You are someone I can count on to do the right thing, I am glad you’re my neighbors, and if you liked the zucchini please let me know because there are a ton more where that came from and I’d love the help using it up. Etc.

I prayed long and hard before sending it off–and felt no, not quite. I studied it, caught a phrase that wasn’t quite…, prayed again. Very close. What more could I…? Oh, I see it plain as day there, okay, thank you.

After repeating that process several times it finally felt right, really right, and taking a deep breath, hoping hard for the best neighborliness forever, I hit–there’s no going back, ready? You sure? Yes. Send.

I opened the sliding doors and walked outside after dinner to see if my baby fig in its pot needed any water and in the time it took me to check out the growth on the warned-about saplings at the far end of the yard and then over to the fig and back across towards the door, Snoopy and Woodstock vanished.

Only the long metal nails remained.

Y E S !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

And I came back in and wrote them a very grateful, Thank you, that was VERY kind of you!

Mystery solved
Friday September 04th 2015, 10:08 pm
Filed under: Friends,Wildlife

Got a note this morning from my next-door neighbor: she was taking some water saved from washing vegetables outside to pour on some of her plants and found the chewed-up bubble wrap in the farthest corner of her yard from our house. She had a good laugh and took care of it for me.

Good to know it’s not waving to the world from the top of the redwood tree.

But don’t let it stop you
Thursday September 03rd 2015, 9:55 pm
Filed under: Wildlife

Today: saw a Downy woodpecker, for the first time ever here, and it came again and again and again to the birdfeeder. Testing, testing, one, two, three, and no, you don’t peck through the tube, you have to go to the feeding portals. It figured it out quickly and was quite happy hanging upside down and reaching in. They’re not usually seedeaters, but this one was interested. Curious.

And last night.

What was THAT? we looked at each other. Man, that was loud! I could picture claws ripping up the foam roof as the animals scrambled around each other up there.

I grabbed the squirt gun, stepped outside past the patio in the dark and aimed the weak but hopeful stream in the general direction. I figured they don’t jump, so no worries there. Going back inside, the raccoon fight or whatever it was had ended, probably at the sound of the door opening as much as anything.

It wasn’t till today that it occurred to me that actually, given that we’ve had a few within a mile or so of our house, if it had been a mountain lion, yes, it could have.


Byssus way
Wednesday September 02nd 2015, 10:13 pm
Filed under: History,To dye for,Wildlife

The bubble wrap has disappeared, whether upward or downward in those trees I do not know. Squirrelwork!

Silly stuff aside, I want to learn how she does this. I want to understand the chemistry of all of it. If you haven’t seen it yet, there’s a BBC article here about an Italian woman who is the last person keeping alive a tradition going back to, in her family’s tradition, the days of the Biblical King Herod’s great-granddaughter: she harvests byssus, the dried saliva of a clam, and adds a mix of spices that not only dye the clam silk but make it luminous.

The clam is a protected species but so is she–the Italian coastguard overseas her dives.

She is the Antonio Stradivari of fiber artistry. No one else can quite yet create what she does. She sells nothing and gives away everything according to the needs of those around her.

The reporter did not know enough to ask her how she changed the fibers into what she does, whether she works it still wet straight out of the sea or dried like her sample, whether she pulls it wide like a cocoon of terrestrial silk–is it all one long thread?–and spins it from there, or just how her yarn comes to be from its raw material. How is it done. I want to pull up a chair and learn (I’ll take my brother Bryan, he speaks Italian).

And I can only hope all the attention doesn’t cause poaching of her beloved clams.

On the hunt
Tuesday September 01st 2015, 10:22 pm
Filed under: Family,Food,Wildlife

Someone on the neighborhood listserv mentioned that SunGold kiwis were available at a certain Asian grocery store. Sun whats? Yellow kiwis? What–? I was intrigued, and I wasn’t the only one and so the thing happened.

They’re yellow on the inside, ready to eat when you get them, juicy, softer than the green types and a lot less acidic, have an essence of mango to them and they are really, really good. This specific variety was apparently new as of 2012 so there’s not a lot out there yet–if you can find some grab them. A lot get sent from New Zealand to Japan, so I guess that’s why the Asian grocer knew about them.

Dave Wilson Nursery sells a red variety. Who knew. One guess as to what I went looking there for, but, nope, not yet.

The other thing today, though, I did not get a photo of; the iPhone was right at hand but the moment had a great big Do Not Disturb sign all over it.

This past spring when I watched the ravens threatening and mobbing my Cooper’s hawks, stealing their prey and stealing their nest? I kept an eye out for a new big nest up high out there somewhere but it just never happened as far as I could tell.

A finch ricocheted off the window this afternoon, appearing unhurt but still I heard it as I looked up.

A few minutes later–clearly not in chase, then–a juvenile Cooper’s hawk flew in past the bird feeder following that same trajectory to that same spot. Only, he u-turned gracefully at the glass, brushing it ever so gently with the very tips of his wings as if to confirm for himself that it was indeed a solid surface: useful and a danger both, then. Alright.

He landed on the edge of the wooden box, right at his father’s favorite spot for people watching, and chose to observe me sitting quietly observing him.

In awe.

What a gorgeous bird. Deep chestnut marled with the brilliant white in the chest lit up in the sun, the back that would later be blue-gray a matching brown. This was not the baby hawk bouncing around in the amaryllises that I got to see a few years ago, this was a raptor who was well into learning how to command the skies on his own. Who knew his own power. And yet he came down to me.

We took each other in and I silently welcomed him to my home. Y’all come back now, y’hear?

Wings lifted high, tail widening–and rounded, confirming Cooper’s, not Sharp-shinned, as if there were any doubt, and he was off.

He swooped back the other way a few minutes later towards the redwood. I laughed in delight.

And so a new generation finds its path.