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Sunday, November 30, 2008

Thanksgiving in Grass Valley

I've had Thanksgiving with the same group of friends now more than 20 years - yes, 20 freakn' years! We called ourselves the Thanksgiving Orphans because we were all, for the most part, some distance from our families. So we decided we would be our own voluntary family. In the twenty years that have passed most of us magically became families of our own.

Getting the meal started; 2 tables, no waiting

Adan, Mark and Diego (who is eating a green bean, not a green worm)

This year we gathered in Grass Valley, and damn me if I didn't forget to take a group shot. So I only have the odd shot. Our feast was a collaborative effort.

Mark : juicy, brine-soaked style Tom Turkey (brined by Mark, baked by G.H.) & loads of great wine, all made or gathered by Mark (the little not-so-old winemaker). Of interest, at one point after the turkey had been in the oven for two hours, it was noticed that the oven wasn't turned on, but that was quickly rectified & the day saved;

Fran: Delish cranberry/orange relish and her world renowned 'Yammies': pineapple ring, topped with mashed yam, cranberries and a mini-marshmallow. How did I miss the opportunity to photograph the yammies???

Rick & Nancy: yummy, buttery mashed potatoes, fresh sauteed green beans with almonds, and Italian style salad made with loads of lettuces (butter lettuce, romaine, etc), mozzarella balls, black olives, tomato and tender hearts of artichoke. *drool*

Adan (son of R & N): It was stunning how rapidly he whipped up tasty veggie fare on the spur of the moment, using what bits and bobs he could nick on the fly; vegetarian apple/mushroom gravy and stuffing (for those mindful of not eating our furry/feathered brethren).

Me: stuffing and mushroom laden gravy, (chock full of our furry/feathered brethren)

So we ate all of the above, and frankly, more pies, in more variety than our waistlines will admit to.

Dinner was a wonderful, and sort of a medieval feast, not because we threw the bones over our shoulders (naw, but I did think about it) but because we had three happy dogs and one puppy romping around during the meal; Spencer (big-arse Newfoundland type), Tippy (bassenji/sighthound cross, sort of, maybe, who-the-hell-knows), Landau (beautiful blue merle Aussie Shepard) and the puppy Rebel, also an Aussie. the other, less delightful highlight was the toaster oven bursting into flames when MY bagel was toasting - bugger.

Rebel, just rescued after falling into the puddle pond

Rebel's batteries went dead rather abruptly

Everyone, save for Crystal and her hubby, stayed the night. Next day we were sort of pie-laden and slow so the day was spent playing Bananagram (free range Scrabble). So much for our usual window shopping in downtown Grass Valley.

Rick (center) with his boys, Adan (L) and Diego (R)

All in all it was a lovely Thanksgiving. Hope all of my friends/family enjoyed one every bit as cosy as mine.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Must Mention

For years my house has had the nickname of Chez Claire, in the manner of an elegant Bed & Breakfast, as run by 'moi', a less-than-elegant harpy. In that light, when company is feared - I mean, expected -I normally ask for their preference in beverages, snacks,etc. I don't ask because I fear their needs might not be met otherwise. I ask because it makes my life easier; I get to buy one item instead of five because I'm second guessing preferences. Anyway! Last week when Barbara was here at Chez Claire, she referred to my house as 'Chez Claire Asylum'. We thought that was quite the knee slapper.

So, skip to last weekend. Don was here, and as I stated in my last post, my home was not in tip-top condition for company. When I woke Sunday morning, Don was in the dining room reading the Sunday paper, sipping freshly brewed coffee and eating a freshly toasted bagel - none of which had been supplied by 'moi'!

Don had risen early and sallying forth, he fetched his own breakfast & newspaper. So much for the sterling reputation of Chez Claire as an A class establishment.

Mon Dieu! Take-out repast at Le elegant Chez Claire?

Plopping down at my dining room table, I muscled in on my share of Don's breakfast - a pumpernickel bagel - my favorite - and store-bought coffee. I was a bit repentant. I sheepishly commented that Chez Claire failed Don on two visits in a row, and my elegant establishment is in danger of losing that elusive Michelin star we haven't quite gotten hold of yet, an unfortunate oversight, I assure you.... I promised Don, if he ever to visit again, Chez Claire would do better.

Don pushed aside my feeble, bagel fueled apologies. He said, "That's all right, I really needed a break from all the stress of work and home. I'm I'm enjoying myself at your little 'B&B'. I'm having a good time here - at Chez Claire's Home for the Mentally Weary.'


Ok, those weren't Don's exact words, but what he said closely echoed those from Barbara last week. So, it's official; need some recooperative R&R? Have a bit too much stress in your life and need some quiet R & R for your brittle nerves? Then put in for your visit to Les Chez Claire Assylum. We come highly recommended.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Mini-retirement Flying By

Blast! How can two weeks fly by that fast, without me getting neck whiplash?

Oh well. Got nothing done this weekend, but it was fun anyway. Birder buddy Don came in late Friday night. I was totally unprepared for company - La Chez Claire at its worse. The unassembled cabinet sprawled across the living room, cardboard everywhere, dishes piled high in the sink and me - unsure how things went to hell so fast without even a hand basket to show for it.

Still, we had fun. Saturday morning we headed east to Ice House Road to look for Mountain Quail and found none. Bugger. Then we headed for Markleeville in search of Pinion Jays, and found even less than none - but had a lovely little lunch at one of the tiny town's cafes. The big birder highlight was finding an American Dipper, bobbing it's bum along a Sierra Mountain stream. The bird was so far away it was like watching a ping-pong ball out for a swim - still, I was tickled that Don had managed to find the bird - only the second Dipper I've ever seen. This is astounding when one considers how often I've searched Sierra Streams without finding any Dippers. In future when visiting Sierra streams will just look for grey ping-pong balls & hope for the best.

Yes, I know, the bird is not much to look at, but
Dippers 'walk' under waterNow how cool is that? photo by Robin

We did hit one hot spot for birds, near a high mountain meadow where Mountain Chickadees, Clark's Nutcrackers (score!), Nuthatches and Brown Creepers & every jay, save for the ones we looked for, shot through fir & pine trees. Lastly, we drove into Nevada state, looking for Black-billed Magpies - suspiciously absent.

The day came to a splendid end when we returned to my house, then darted out again to Davis. We saw Man of La Mancha, the third of the Davis Musical Theater Company's season productions. I think it may have been their best yet. The staging was impressive - the Spanish Inquisition Jail with a humongous staircase that lowered periodically so evil guards could access their terrified prisoners.

In the lobby, before the play began I noticed the lead's photo on the list of cast members. He was Asian, and when a young Asian man is cast as an elderly Spanish man, you know, like Smucker's, he's got to be good! And yes, he was wonderful, his voice was rich. Also great was Quixote's adorable & fat squire Sancho and of course, Dulcinea was bedraggled and sweet. Damn. I wish my description of musicals could match my bird descriptions, but there you go. If the musicals want my full praise, singing is not enough, they had better sprout feathers too.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Oh gaw-%$^*!

One of the zillion reasons I took time off for a mini-retirement was to work on my kitchen. My kitchen looked great a few years ago, when the cabinets were painted baby-blue, and shelving was put in over the stove. But several years passed, and the shelves, & every other horizontal surface in the kitchen, are cluttered & dusty, and the baby-blue cabinets are as streaked with dollops of gravy & egg yolk as a baby's chin.

Yes, I know I painted a pretty picture there.

In a revelation, I realized the kitchen's main fault is not enough cabinet space. So, while Barbara was here last week, we had a one day on-line shopping fest. Barbara bought S.A.D. Lights, undies & x-mas gifts. I bought myself a big-arse, free standing kitchen cabinet that ought to fit right in.

The cabinet arrived in a box labeled 'Made in Brazil', but had loads of literature swearing that in the production of my shelf, no Brazilian Howler Monkeys, Tapirs or headhunters were hurt, no primordial forests were denuded, and all was obtained via renewable agricultural forests. Strange, because the cabinet - in about 100 pieces - arrived in enough cardboard to have denuded 1/2 of the rainforests of Brazil, and enough Styrofoam to keep afloat any ice-deprived Polar Bears in the arctic.

Polar Bear carrying Styrofoam packaging, you know, in case ice gets sparse

So I got busy stuffing cardboard into my recycle bin, and burning offerings to the Brazilian forest gods for the offense of the Styrofoam packaging. I started assembling the cabinet where I do all such projects, on the living room fugly rug.

Aha! Yes. Of course, I might have guessed. One of the shelves - not an adjustable shelf, but a permanent lynch-pin shelf, arrived split down the middle; 2 pieces. ARRRRRGGGGGHHHHH!

I am literally speechle

Saturday, November 15, 2008

The Toilet Adventure

This week my buddy Barbara is in residence at 'Chez Claire', where we pride ourselves on providing guests with a nice wholesome breakfast. One morning our breakfast fare was hot spinach omelets, other days it's freshly baked waffles or French toast with real maple syrup. This morning we had freshly baked banana bran muffins washed down with loads of coffee. Then, being Saturday, we headed out to the local Farmer's market for farm fresh veggies & fruit.
The Farmer's Market

One of the Fruit Vendor Boothes

Alien Life Form disquised as a Chestnut Husk
Barbara treated herself - and her Monterey Garden - with some Native California bull rushes for her little backyard pond. I opted for a tiny White Sage shrub, to take the place of one of the many beautiful White Sages, I and my not-very-green thumb, have murdered over the years.

Barbara buying a Bull rushes From the Native Plant Seller

By the time we returned from the Farmer's Market, the morning coffee had filtered through our intestinal plumbing. I took care of business and then goofed around on the computer, I noticed Barbara - normally a bubbly, talkative person, had disappeared. She was locked away in the guest room and I could hear watery, splashing noises. Hum...

My guest room has a bathroom, in miniature. It's a bathroom so minuscule, so infinitesimally eensie, just closing the door behind you and gyrating your bum onto the toilet requires the sort of acrobatics that made Cirque De Soile famous. Below is a photo of it taken from inside the shower.

The Ensie Wiensie Guest Bathroom

Eventually Barbara came into the living room, looking sheepish.

"Something really, really BAD happened," she said.


Yes, the toilet had overflowed and stalwart Barbara - figuratively only - dove right in, taking up the ancient plunger that hasn't seen service in ten years, and plunged for all she was worth, but the water poured out the guest toilet.

Unfortunately, as already mentioned, we'd drunk our body weights in coffee. So, I encouraged Barbara to give the hall bathroom a go and off she went.

Several minutes later Barb raced into the living room. "Something ELSE bad has happened!"

EEEEEEEEKKKKK again! When she flushed the hall toilet, the pee-laden water ran out of the base of the toilet.

Shortly thereafter we were off to the Home Depot for a new, uncracked plunger. It was a beaut - curved flanges, space-age design but damn it, it made no difference, the toilets remained plugged.

So calls were made and a couple of hours later a plumber showed up. My mind made mental calculations on costs that would, on the bad side, ruin me, but on the plus side would allow the plumber's children to attend Cambridge. And lo! A miracle happened. After checking around outside the house, the plumber made a proclamation.

The sewer plug up was not in my house's plumbing - it was instead, the County's sewer lines that were gummed up and the county would come out and fix it all - for FREE!

Still, the toilet adventure had screwed up the hall bathroom and after an hour or so, the plumber had repositioned the hall toilet on its wax seal to the tune of $229. Expensive beyond any possible logical explanation (are wax toilet seals comprised of platinum? Does repairing toilets require a Yale Degree?), but I will not lose the house after all.

Meanwhile a County Crew came out & plunged the County Sewer lines that lead to my home's plumbing. Of course, when the County guys scratched their heads and mentioned a shite load of bananas and bran running freely out of the County sewer lines, Barbara and I had the uncommonly good sense to shut-the-eff up.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Rock Wrangling in the Gold Country


That is the sound of two fat ladies, preparing for an auto trip.

My buddy Barbara decided to come for a long visit in order to escape house projects at her home. On day two of her visit, I bundled her into the Honda and we headed southeast through the California historic gold rush lands. I LOVE the drive and it changed since my last visit to the area. There are now 'Historic' bypasses that veer off the main route, that wind though historic houses in quaint, old-timie neighborhoods.

A ruin that reminded me of Ireland's roadside castle ruins

The real purpose of the drive was not sight-seeing, it was THEFT! Yes. I admit. I'm a thief. And just below is a photo of my booty - Calaveras County Marble!

Ill Gotten Gain, or Free Landscaping?

There is a HUMONGOUS vein of marble rock that pops out of the ground in Calaveras County. Not the fanciest marble rock on the planet, but it is nice, whitish grey with streaks of darker gray, and heck, it looks great in my garden. We drove down side streets looking for outcroppings of the rock.

We found one likely spot, and lady-like Auntie Barbara strolled up the incline and began lobbing great chunks of rock down to the road. She has the strength of 37 grizzly bears (piss her off and the grizzly number rises exponentially).

Barbara washing her delicate hands after lobbing boulders downhill.

We stopped briefly for a nice lunch at a Mexican restaurant in Columbia State Park.

Columbia State Park: Photo by Robert Holmes / Cal Tours

On our drive back to Fair Oaks we detoured to an old restored cabin. Mark Twain sort-of-very-nearly-kind-of lived in when he wrote The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County. Actually, only the stone chimney and fireplace remain from the original cabin that burned down.

Mark Twain Cabin

Site Marker

The hill Mark Twain's cabin is found on is called Jackass Hill. And by dingies, there was a large jackass in the pasture. No, maybe this month I should call it a donkey, a dignified Democratic donkey at that. Stand proud little donkey! You done good.

Jackass... Dignified Democratic Donkey, on Jackass Hill

Saturday, November 08, 2008

I'm RETIRED! Sort of...

This past week I attended a work Conference in the Napa Valley. When you work for CalEPA's Waste Board, as seen below, you shoot photos from a hill at the world's loveliest landfill.

Looking Straight Down the Napa Valley

View on Opposite Side

Happy Napa Valley - the Morning After the Election

My bud Barbie drove up from Monterey & we had loads of fun. Barbara's Aunt Judy lives in Napa and we visited her. We spent at least one evening laughing until our fat belly muscles ached. Really a fun & cheap holiday this vacation paid for by Ah-nee & your hard working state tax dollars.

Oh... had to include this photo, taken at the Napa Marriot. I kept expecting the creepy little twin girls from 'The Shining' to appear and ask me to 'come play' with them.

Spooky long hallway at the Marriott

Now I'm back in Fair Oaks. This morning I thought of when my buddies hardly able to contain our girly enthusiasm over our future, post-graduation jobs. We gushed at the idea of working a 40 hour work week and 'doing better' than our mothers had. Working, striving and achieving were our fondist wishes. Ok, years have past and now I wonder - what the EFF were we thinking????

We - and in this I include my boy buddies too - we now long to get the eff out of town and retire. We dream of lounging on our REI lounge chairs, sipping dark ales and maybe getting in a little traveling. Lovely dream that is.

So, this month, still unable to retire, I'm giving myself three weeks off to do nothing. Nada. Zip. If I accomplish anything at all - and I admit, I have a 'To Do' list that I wish I could turn into the traditional 'Honey Do' list, but tough b'jingos - then I'm cool & down wit' that. My time off begins today and lasts until December 1st. HURRAH for me!

could NOT resist

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Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Knock on Wood!

I can remember when I was a child in the stone age (that'd be the 1950s to you) my father and his brothers, sat around our Bronx kitchen table at Sunday dinner. They loudly argued their pessimistic view "This Country will never have a Negro president." I’m happy to announce they were right. Instead this country elected as our president a wonderful man. And oh yes, he is an African-American.

I ended my father and his brothers' bitchin' by bursting into v. loud tears, which caused my mother to shut the men up, telling them they were "upsetting the child". that was a great move on my part, don't 'cha think?

Heh, heh, heh