Thursday, September 17, 2020

Tahoe Wildlife

This title could be a little misleading. It's not about the wild life that we lead here at  South Lake Tahoe. No, we're actually pretty calm and predictable. The story is just about the critters that we come across right outside our front door.

There's been talk of a big bear that comes around many times a week, that folks are starting to call "Bob". We haven't seen Bob ourselves, but we hear he's pretty large, and lumbers along. He seems to know when garbage day is, since he makes sure to check out the garbage enclosures the night before, opens the gate with the handle and then lifts the heavy lid on the bin with ease.

Our most exciting story, was when a black bear probably drank all the water from a bowl we have outside our front door two nights in a row. The missing water was first noted one morning when our neighbor's fence had been knocked down the night before, and the next day, it was reported that a bear had torn off a plank from the garbage enclosure. He must have worked up a thirst after all that work, and knew he could come by for a drink afterward. When I told my husband about all this, he said, "What?? I've been coming in and sitting in my recliner chair right by the door the last few nights. He was about 6 feet from my head! I think you'd better get rid of that water bowl, or at least move it!"

I opted for moving it, since I've been providing water for all the smaller critters for the last 5 or 6 years, and I think they depend on me.
Brewer's Blackbirds

The blue glass bowl was repositioned farther away, over behind a bush, and I placed a stone next to it so that the birds and chipmunks would have something to hop up on to get a drink. I watched and worried every day to see if anyone noticed the change. I sat and read quietly in my zero-gravity chair, looking around the edge of my book to see if I had any takers. I even put extra bird seed close by, which would get eaten, but there were no takers for a drink afterward. For a few days, the water level never went down, and finally Doug told me it would be okay if I put the bowl a little more out in the open. Soon after, it was discovered again, not only for refreshment, but for lovely baths!

The bathers, are the occasional American Robin, but two or three Brewer's Blackbirds from the flock that frequents our yard are appreciating a dip at the same time. One gets in and flaps around while the other two politely sit on the edge awaiting their turn.

Every morning, I go out with a copper cup that's meant for a Moscow Mule cocktail, filled 2/3 full with birdseed, and then topped off with shelled sunflower seeds and peanuts. I don't want a bunch of shells littering our forest floor, and I think the little animals appreciate the little effort they have to put out to get a nice buffet. Later on, I'll add a few grapes that have past their prime or some crusts of bread. I think they'll all be missing me when we go back down to Palm Springs in the end of October. A neighbor says that she fills the water bowl during the winter if she sees it getting low.

The squirrels are knocking down an abundant amount of pine cones from the Ponderosa pines lately. Someone told us that this means that we'll have an early winter or a big one. One of the two. They chew them off from way up high, and the immature cones drop down like bombs, with a big "thud" making you wonder if you should be wearing a bicycle helmet along with your mask. Then, the squirrel runs down the tree and very conscientiously chews off bits that are called scales, leaving them in a mess all over the ground, and eating up the seeds that are underneath. Only something like a corn cob is left on the ground. The more mature pine cones, that are all opened up, with their scales all flailed out,  are left alone by the squirrels. I just noticed the difference this year, since I have so much time on my hands, I suppose. 

I used to think that the smaller brown squirrels were the younger grey squirrels.

Doug laughs that I identify the squirrels as babies, teenagers, and adults. But I keep watching. These brown squirrels, called Douglas, or Chickarees, seem to first appear as small as chipmunks, squealing like birds, and mostly brown, with golden bellies. As they age, to the "teenage" years, they start getting darker strips on their sides, and grow larger. The babies are fearless, and don't mind coming close to me, but the teenagers seem to grow more skittish, undoubtedly having had some experiences with danger. 

I used to think that the smaller brown squirrels were the younger grey squirrels, but no.

The Grey Squirrels are much larger, with deer-like faces, longer ears, and have huge, fluffy tails. As they grow older, they grow more salt and pepper grey. They climb down the trees in the morning to see what I've provided for breakfast. 

Right now, in the beginning of September, I'm starting to think that both of the species don't appreciate my thoughtfulness so much, since they have been digging around many of the plants that I have planted recently. I always say that they think that there's a new squirrel in town that has hidden a nut, but a friend told me that they just like to chew on the roots of my plants. Still though, I'm just glad that they aren't voles, like we had a few years ago, tunneling around and killing the plants. Some may hate them, but I still love watching my squirrels.

The chipmunks have been just darling lately, baby ones I'm sure, coming around in pairs of two, just like "Chip and Dale" from the old cartoons. They skitter around so quickly, from a bush, across the path, and under the steps, that I can hardly point them out to Doug in time, before they are gone again. Even the older ones, with their striped backs, (they all have them from birth), are so quick and wary, jump up to take a drink from my blue bowl. I'm delighted to provide for them.

The species of birds are many, from the big flock of Brewer's Blackbirds that I mentioned, to the Stellar Jays and their cacophony that we hear telling their friends that breakfast is served each morning. Later on in the day, a couple of mourning doves will show themselves, sometimes defending what they believe is their territory, making us think that their reputation for being so peaceful is in jeopardy. A few American Robins hang around, not necessarily interested in my bird seeds, but I think more concentrating on the worms that might be attracted to our automatic watering system. Most of them have red breasts, and some have speckled ones. I thought those were maybe the females, not being as flashy, but I've read that they are the juveniles.

Notably louder, we have huge crows, that swoop over our heads near the pool so that we can hear their wings flap. Then they go up high in the pines and caw to each other or make a strange gurgling sound, we think is to attract a mate. There are even a few even larger ravens, that march around on the ground, almost as big as turkeys.

Another special bird is the Northern Flicker. My ears are getting so attuned to the calls of the birds, that I joke that I may have been one once. The other day I was inside, and heard a different birdcall, and looked out to see a big bird on the side of a tree, pecking at it. It didn't have a red head like some of the woodpeckers up here do,  just a little bit on it's cheeks, and it was tan and kind of speckled. When it took off flying it had a beautiful salmon color under it's wings. I ran for my trusty bird book, and found it! A Flicker! Today, I found that online I could hear samples of this bird's call, so I did a funny thing and brought my computer outside and played a couple of them loudly. The other birds looked shocked and took off, but on about the third try, a Flicker swooped over to land on the side of one of the Ponderosa pines! Then he hopped down to the ground and pecked awhile. He didn't seem very interested in hearing any more of my calls, so maybe it was just a coincidence. 

For the last two years, a pair of Chickadees have made their nest in a knot hole in the trim above our condo. They're winning the award for my favorite flock of birds. They fly down to a small pine tree out front, and sometimes come close to me when I'm walking by, or they hop around near by while I'm gardening, seeming rather curious and friendly. Their chirp sounds like a sort of smooching, kissing sound. I try to make that sound when I come out in the morning and every so often one flies down to me.

Their heads look like they're wearing little bicycle helmets, and sometimes the peanuts they try to pick up and fly away with, look half the size of their little round body.

A couple of months some of the neighbors were delighted that a mallard duck had made a nest, but were worried that she made her nest full of feathers in a precarious place, down low in a juniper bush. There were three eggs in there, and we all looked forward to when the little ducklings would be following their mother around the condo complex. Our hopes were dashed one day, when it looked like a coyote had found the nest. All that was left were the shells amongst her soft feathers, and Mama was walking around quacking, looking forlorn.

A few days later, Mama duck had taken to swimming in the pool, which seemed okay, since it was closed to us due to the pandemic. We were entertained by her dramatic landings in the water, and were happy that she had a spa, (or pond), to recover from her loss. She'd hang out at the edge, and eventually surprised us by depositing a large egg right there on the cement.... and leaving it. The neighbors all talked about how to help her, all wearing our masks and socially distancing, of course. We worried that the abandoned egg would get too cold, since the temps were going to drop that night. Finally, the maintenance guy checked it out closer and found it to be cracked. The poor thing was unceremoniously deposited in the garbage bin. Mama never showed up again.

Well, it looks like from my ramblings that I still have a lot of time on my hands. I've told you about everything wild here so far. Guess I'd better go outside again to see what's up.

Thursday, July 16, 2020

The Little Creep!

We've been up at South Lake Tahoe since the beginning of May, and I've been having a grand time gardening for the whole condo complex, with the larger stipend of $750. they've given me for plants. I DO like to find the best deals I can, and it's even better when I'm spending someone else's money.
My new saying is "I work for compliments", since I don't get paid for the digging, but I consider gardening my main form of exercise. Besides, one of the owners said that whenever she spots a new flower, she says to herself, "The gardening fairy must have been here!" That's my new moniker, and I like it.

My routine in the morning, after we do a short meditation and prayer, is to go out and feed the birds, squirrels and chipmunks. I fill their water bowl and toss a mixture of birdseed, and peanuts and sunflower seeds without the shell on the ground like I'm feeding chickens. It's delightful for me to watch their movements out the window, but for the last two mornings, I've gone out to find the two most recent plants I've planted in our own little plot, with holes dug next to them. Whenever that happens, I just figure that one of the critters must think that there's a new squirrel in town that has buried a nice juicy nut, so I use the toe of my slipper to fill in the hole, forgiving them.

Once again, right next to the Milkweed I planted to provide Monarch butterflies a place to set up housekeeping, and my nice, red Coral Bells plant that I got for Doug for Father's Day, big holes, and the red-leafed one had had it's roots chewed on! Now this morning, everything was fine, until after I fed the little darlings their treats. We dished up breakfast, and then I glanced out the window to find the Coral Bells completely uprooted and lying on its side! Oh no!
"What the.....! Don't you guys know that I'm the one that provides for you every day?" This means war!

Leaving my coffee and turkey bacon and toast with honey and peanut butter on it to get cold, I ran back in to the kitchen to rummage through the spice cupboard to find my stash of hot red peppers like you put on pizza. These were left over from the arsenal I had used to fight off the voles 2 years ago. Doug watched as I whizzed by him to defend my territory. I plopped the poor plant back in to it's hole, filled it in, and sprinkled the hot peppers thickly around it. Take that, you little creep! Then I went in to eat my breakfast.

About an hour later, we were dressed up to finally go to mass, (we had to make reservations), and Doug saw through the window that there was a big fat squirrel standing up holding the Coral Bells and chewing on the roots! Perhaps he enjoyed the extra spicy seasoning! I opened the door and he ran off, leaving the plant looking wilted and missing half of it's roots. I only had time to toss it back in it's hole and give it some water and wish it well.

When we came home, it looked like it needed artificial respiration. I decided to give it more water and then cover it with a big glass bowl, sort of like a terrarium. Then it got overheated in the sun, and the glass was coated in moisture, so I set two ice cubes on top of the bowl. Desperate measures.....

That worked for a little while, but then when I took off the bowl, even though it looked a little perkier, I worried about the plant being attacked again over night, so I put the bowl on again.
After being exposed again in the morning though, some of the leaves were feeling as crispy as potato chips, and I decided to dig it up and put it in a pot, (no less, a ceramic pot I made myself back in the 80's).
The next day, I sat in my zero-gravity lounge chair and read a book, while glancing up intermittently to gaze lovingly at my group of critters as they grazed on their morning buffet. One of the chipmunks, not realizing I was there sat near me on the ground chewing on seeds. A robin skitters to and fro, and I notice that she keeps her head down and forward as she runs along, and then stops, more upright, and looks and listens.

But then I notice a big squirrel that is sniffing around and pawing at the ground across the way, digging little holes, and then stopping to scratch himself. Maybe he has a flea. "This is the guy!", I'm thinking. He repeats the process a few times, and by now I'm calling him "Itchy". Then he comes right over to where the red plant had been, and sniffed around. "Aha!" I wish I had a squirt gun to surprise him with.

Oh well. At least my little plant is safe up on the table. Hmm. Perhaps I should bring it in to the dining room at night.
I know there are other folks who might get out a BB gun at this point....and I AM considering a trip to the Dollar Store later to shop for a Super Soaker, but in this time of self isolating, at least I have some cheap entertainment.

Saturday, May 23, 2020

The Snowbirds Have Landed

We've stayed longer in Palm Springs than we usually do, thinking that if we put off returning to Lake Tahoe until May 13th or so, perhaps the fears over Coronavirus would dwindle. We forgot the fact that the temperature would be rising in the south. As it continued rising into the 100's, my husband suggested that we leave the next day. Unfortunately, I had ordered a few things online, and worried whether they would be properly forwarded to us without a huge charge. So we waited, continuing to be lazy about decluttering and organizing and packing for our six months up north. Finally! The most important items were delivered and the departure date was set for two days later. The temp had risen to 104 degrees, and even though it was hard to do any work outside, most of our packing and straightening was done indoors and we put all three of our little air conditioners to work along with the swamp cooler! It became mandatory that we get our act together.

The morning we left, April 30th, friends dropped by, all donning their masks, and standing the prescribed 6 feet away, to say good-bye, give us pretend hugs from a distance, and snacks to eat on the way. I kept bringing out bags and small boxes, and our suitcases, as everyone marveled at how it might all fit in to the Prius. "Doug always makes it work. He's the Master Packer!", I said, "And besides, this year we've sort of added on a room!" I pointed to the top of the car where sat our new Roof Bag, a roof-top carrier that zips open and is made of something like raft material.
"This is one reason I wasn't worried about fitting in her old guitar this time", he said. "And all my craft supplies that I insist on traveling back and forth with us", I added. Doug rolled his eyes and shrugged. "It'll all fit fine", he said.

By 10:15, we entered our destination into MapQuest on the iPhone, and we left town, already munching on some yummy oatmeal cookies that our friend had baked for us the night before. We vowed that we would make the 9 hour trip in one day, and not dawdle, taking turns with the driving. Bagels and cream cheese, turkey sandwiches, and fruit had been packed for meals on the way, and lots of water that was in refillable bottles, would make it so we wouldn't have to stop except to pee.

The quickest route is to go right up Hwy. 395. The beginning of the route would be on I-10, past the windmills and of course heavy winds. It was the first test of our roof-top carrier, and it endured it okay, except for scooting back a little closer to the antenna. Doug tightened the straps a little more, and there was no more problem. I still tried to not drive like a speed demon, just to make sure.

About 3 hours later, for a bathroom break, we stopped at a kind of funky truck-stop, and we wore our gloves and masks, and felt we should buy a bottle of iced tea and some Cornnuts, just to pay for the use of the bathroom. Our bottle of hand sanitizer was used liberally when we got back out to the car. It's so strange to have to always be thinking about ways of being careful!

Our radio wasn't picking up much of anything, so we listened to a Trevor Noah podcast, and a little bit of a book on Audible and then some of Blossom Dearie radio station on Pandora, as we glided by old lava flows and snow-covered mountains on our left in the Sierras. Near Mammoth Lakes, we hit a rest stop that was thankfully open. The air was crisp and cool, and I took the chance to stick my nose near the bark of a Ponderosa pine to smell the aroma of butterscotch. "We're almost there", Doug said, "It'll only be another hour and a half!" That sounded pretty long to me, since it was my turn to drive again, but once we turned up Kingsbury Grade, I knew we only had another half hour.

As we drove through town, in Stateline, Nevada, the casinos were closed, and our favorite little one, Lakeside Inn, that we like for their food, gave up the ghost last month and shut down for good. So sad. Everyone's wondering if businesses can make a comeback. It'll be in a different way for sure.

We turned in to our condo area, and carried a couple of things in with us. The condo is rented out usually in the summer, so when we walk in the door, it's all nice and clean, as if we are renters ourselves. We turned on the heater and our electric fireplace, and after getting a few of the more valuable things from the car, Doug poured us each a nice drink and we sat, marveling happily that we had the opportunity to live in two such wonderful places.

Still giddy in the morning, I fed my squirrels and birds their usual seeds and nuts and filled their blue glass water bowl. They seemed really happy that we had returned. Our paper had been delivered out near the car. Everything was falling back in to place and we had breakfast from things we had brought up.

Then it was time for a walk around our condo property. We've been planting bulbs all over the place, about 1000 in the last 3 years, and we were anxious to see all the tulips and daffodils that have sprouted up.
 While we were strolling around, our phone rang in my pocket, and I saw that it was our dentist's office calling. I thought, this is really strange, since they had already canceled Doug's appointment for cleaning, and I didn't think they would be opening their office yet.
I handed the phone to Doug, and the secretary told him that she had just received a call from someone who had found his wallet in the men's room at the rest stop we had stopped at near Mammoth Lakes! They tried different ways to figure out how to contact us, finally calling the number on the dental appointment card that Doug had saved in his wallet. She gave us their phone number to call them so it could be sent to us.

Oh my gosh! Doug had had trouble finding it this morning, and his next plan was to look under the bed when we went back home! Right away, we called and got Dan and Teresa, the people who Doug said, "restored my faith in human nature!" They said Dan had found it right on the floor of the bathroom, with lots of money and checks in it. "We figured someone might be missing it," he said, so they went around asking folks in cars and trucks, to no avail.

It's funny. Doug had read somewhere, that we should keep some cash on hand, should the economy take a big downturn. I had asked him where he was going to keep it while we were traveling. He said, "I think my wallet is the safest place, don't you think?" I agreed, since our track record of putting things "in a really good place", hasn't panned out very well. We can't find most of those things.

So Dan and Teresa told us they were going to send the wallet to us, and call us with the tracking number, which they did the next day. It didn't come as soon as it was supposed to, so Dan called another time to tell us that he had been tracking the package too, and hoped it would be delivered soon. A couple of days later, the USPS website said it had been delivered, and we ran over to the post office. There was the missing wallet, all intact, accompanied by a nice card. We sent them one back, thanking them and enclosed a just reward for their honesty. Another few days later, Dan and Teresa called, thanking us back, and suggested that next time we are on our way back to Palm Springs, we should stop to see them. We both thought, "now these are some folks that we would like to meet!"

That was a nice, positive way to start our Tahoe summer. This season won't be the same though. Just as everywhere else, the pandemic has the hot tub empty and the pool closed. Most restaurants are only open for pick up, and there won't be the usual amount of tourists, since the hotels are closed, and if anyone rents out their place by AIRBNB, there will be a $1000. fine.

A guy was selling used bicycles out in front of his home the other day though, and I bought one for myself to toodle around the area. Not on roads though. I'm afraid of traffic.

The lake is looking beautiful, and will no doubt be less polluted this year, without all the people boating and going to the beach. Not that Lake Tahoe is very polluted. It's always been noted that one can see an object dropped to 70 feet. I guess this is an opportunity to keep it that way. The corona virus may be a terrible hit for human beings, but at the same time it should be a nice breather for the environment.

Monday, April 20, 2020

Corona Virus Ramblings....

Guess it's time to cut my own bangs. It'll make me feel better. There really is something to the phrase, "bad hair day". I've trimmed them before, and I've learned from past mistakes, of not holding my eyebrows up like I'm very interested. When you relax your brows your bangs are much shorter than you were hoping they'd be. A friend who has given me haircuts before, once asked me how short I'd like them. I said, "Not too short. Not like my eighth grade picture!" "Oh", he said, "so you don't want to go for the Mamie Eisenhower look?"

Perhaps I've had too much time on my hands and have been looking in the mirror too much, but now I see a few hairs sticking out of my chin. Where are tweezers when you need them? It turns out that toenail clippers don't do an efficient job, not pulling out the root, and then an even stronger looking hair continues to grow. Tweezers went on to my list for when we went shopping and I am now "whisker" free. Well, maybe until I go into the bathroom again and look in the mirror.

Also, in this time of self-isolating, I'm overdue for a pedicure. I've been treating myself to one for years, since as time goes by, I'm not as flexible, and I usually get a cramp trying to get in to the position to trim my own nails. Besides, I like to get pampered a little bit, except for when they think they have to buff all the callouses off the bottom of your feet. They seem to think it's funny, as I grab the arms of the chair and try not to squeal, at the same time trying to explain to the pedicurist to go easy on me. Then they're forgiven when a hot towel is put over my legs, and lotion is applied with a nice massage.
I trimmed the nails on one foot the other night, and today I'll do the other one, and maybe another day I'll remove the old green polish that I chose for St. Patrick's Day. The toes were never shown off, because we had to cancel our annual party because the virus was just getting under way. I'm not sure if I'll try to put nail polish on again myself, because I don't have any. I looked for some the last time we went to the drug store and each bottle was amazingly about 9 or 10 dollars! I thought the price would be about $3.00, so I guess you can tell how long it's been since I've done my own toes. Oh well, it'll probably be healthier for my toenails to be able to breathe for a while.

There are a few things I've been appreciating during this time though. We've done a lot more cooking at home. My husband and I usually go out to lunch every day, which I really loved, since I used to be a waitress who wished that she could be the one who was being served each day. So now, we've bought a bunch of food, and have been putting together fine meals, which produce leftovers and we've been making soups, especially since the weather in Palm Springs has been unusually chilly  so far this year. Doug is the sous chef and I sauté a lot of the ingredients before adding them to the pot or crockpot, and then I season it. When you think about it, it's wonderful how all those raw ingredients meld together, softening, and take on each others' flavors.

Another thing I've noticed lately, is about eggs. I'm becoming an expert at making over medium eggs. The neat thing about them is that eggs kinda like to keep to themselves. I put four eggs in a fry pan with a little spray oil, and let them start cooking for a while on medium heat. then I let them sit off to the side while toast is made, and the coffee is almost ready. When I come back to them, ready to flip them over, they come apart, even though one has crept on top of the edge of another. I gently separate them, and their little cells know whose is whose. I think that is pretty fascinating. I'm sure there's a scientific explanation for that, but as you might have noticed, I'm not a scientist.

Lately I'm always looking for things to wash. I have my eyes on all the throw rugs next. This is because we bought a stackable washer and dryer last year, and they're big and shiny and they sing to me when I turn them on. In the evening, Doug and I fold things together. I prefer to do my own things, because I have my ways...., folding my jeans a certain way, and making sure that shirts are hanging on the hangers in one direction.....but it's a nice, companionable thing to do. Besides, he does all of his own socks and underwear.

Since we live in California, and I'm programmed in to thinking "water shortage!" all the time. I've had a big bowl in my kitchen sink to catch water if we rinse off vegetables, etc. We faithfully, (well, I), take that bowl, when it's full, out to water some plants, so it won't be wasted. Now that we're all washing our hands to the tune of "Happy Birthday", that bowl gets filled up many times a day. It was really rainy here for awhile, so I used the water for putting things down the garbage disposal instead. Now that the weather is going to rise up to 94 on Wednesday, and then 98 the rest of the week, we'll be glad to be pouring that water that would have been going down the drain onto our plants.

There's talk right now that we might leave and go to Tahoe earlier just to get out of the heat. If we do, we'll do a very quick transition, not stopping for the night anywhere, or visiting family, and "skedaddling", as Doug says, driving for maybe 12 hours, taking turns driving, and packing a lunch and dinner.

Not that we've been thinking too hard about it. We'll see. I suppose it's almost time for these snowbirds to fly home.

But, "Oh-oh! We have some things we've ordered from Amazon that haven't arrived yet. I find that I do love ordering things online. I'll have to put myself on restriction, and hold back on shopping till we get back north. There's suffering everywhere. Mine is very small.

Sunday, March 22, 2020

Our Personal Retreat: The Corona Virus

We just listened to Eckhart Tolle speak on YouTube about being present and breathing, of course, especially in these strange times of uncertainty and unusual fear. The phrase that stuck in my mind, though, was to consider this time when we are self-isolating as a time for a "personal retreat". We may think that we have to schedule such a time, like a vacation, but here it is, thrust upon us. It's a gift of time to consider our life, and to appreciate what we have.

My husband and I are in a pretty special place here in our mobile park in Palm Springs. We see the news like everyone else, and it looks like the US is on the same track as poor Italy. We almost got freaked out 2 days ago, and were making sudden plans to head north to Tahoe just in case the government started not allowing folks to travel in their cars. Then, we thought, we could be stranded down here in the heat of the summer. Canadians are leaving by the droves, since they have restrictions on how long they can stay away, and their health coverage isn't as good here as at home.

So that night we ordered a rooftop carrier on Amazon for our Prius, to hold all the extra supplies we've bought. The next morning, I couldn't sleep for worrying about all the packing and cleaning we had to do,

so I got up early and went outside to garden at 7 am, just as the sun was coming up. I chopped and yanked at and pulled out what we call "devil grass" from between the stones outside our door, in order to plant some Canna Lilies that my friend gave me the day before.
Some little crickets scurried from under the rocks, and a little daddy long legs hobbled away. I smiled, since I had never appreciated their unusual gait before.

When I straightened up, and walked over to our vegetable garden to water, our lettuce was finally growing like crazy along with the Swiss chard.

The flower seeds I planted in November have taken off too, sprouting yellow daisies and the cosmos plant was just blooming. The snapdragons are showing off rather psychedelically in the morning sun. Tomato plants are finally sporting some fair-sized green tomatoes. If we leave now, someone else will eat them. If we stay, we'll still share them. I don't want to go.

I came in the house and told Doug how much better off we'd be here than in the snow. He agreed, since he had been having second thoughts too. We ordered a new, bigger air conditioner, in case we do get stuck here in the 120 degree summer, and then made plans to go to the pool. The weather in Palm Springs has been so cold and different this season, so we were happy to walk, on the sunniest day that we had seen, over to the nice pool that had just had a new heater installed. There was only one other person there, so no problem with keeping away from her. As we were doing our exercises in the deep end, two mallards swooped right in and landed close by to delight us. The female seemed more interested in bathing and scrubbing and scratching and ducking down to rinse. The teal-headed male washed himself some, but mostly stayed close to her. ("Just like a man", I thought.) They performed for us for about 20 minutes, and then hopped out on to the side to preen themselves and flap their wings dry. Sufficiently refreshed, they took off just as suddenly as they had arrived. We were sorry to see them go. They were like a gift.

Listening to Eckhart's message today made me sit down to write right away, something I've been meaning to do more of. So many people are complaining about being home, but maybe they can use this odd time to be creative in ways that they don't usually have time for. It's sort of like a forced retirement. I'm thinking of taking up painting again, and playing my ancient guitar once more. Perhaps I'll make some more pots on my wheel, or just paint the wall that's full of holes from having the wall tree on it at Christmas. It's about time. I already bought the paint.

Or you can go for a walk, or a hike, or ride your bike. It's good to be outside, breathing in the fresh air, just as long as you don't share that air with others. Concentrate on that breath, and be thankful that you can breathe. Wherever you are, be present and appreciative. Perhaps a hummingbird will come and hover over you as you walk along, or you'll catch a glint of sunlight coming through the window and making a rainbow prism on the wall. How does it make you feel? Good, I think.

Enjoy your "personal retreat".

Tuesday, January 14, 2020

There's Porridge, and then There's Porridge

When at home, on a chilly morning, I'll choose to cook up some nice, steel-cut oats, rather than have cold cereal with lots of fruit. Sometimes it'll be eggs and toast, but many times, oatmeal.
I call my version of oatmeal, "Elf Oatmeal", since it contains quite a few sweet things like Will Ferrell would have in the movie, "Elf". I even include maple syrup, as he is partial to, although ours is sugar-free.

My recipe, enough for two, is made to start with only one serving of Trader Joe's Steel-cut Oats, and water and and then I heat it while the pot is covered. As it cooks, I cut up a banana and some strawberries, leaving the pan uncovered as I stir them in. I continue to add a few red seedless grapes, blueberries, raisins, tart dried Montmorency cherries, and as it bubbles and needs more liquid, I add almond milk or low-fat milk, so no worries about being lumpy or thick. For a little special flavor, I add a couple of squirts of sugar-free maple syrup. After it's all placed in the bowls that have been warmed in the microwave, I stir in chunky peanut butter, a little brown sugar, or perhaps Splenda, some sort of berry jam, like boysenberry, and more of that sugar-free maple syrup. I heat a cup of low-fat milk in the microwave, adding 1/2 to each bowl, so nothing gets cooled down by adding it cold. My husband used to turn up his nose at the idea of oatmeal for breakfast, but after he tasted my concoction, he even requests it some mornings.

Sometimes when we go out for breakfast, I hesitate to order the oatmeal that most restaurants serve, since they usually only offer raisins, brown sugar, and milk. Only one time was I pleased with what was offered. It was at a diner in Massachusetts, and we were served by a waitress that reminded me of "Flo", in the old TV show, "Alice". I knew I could get jam and syrup from her, but when I asked if she had peanut butter, she came back with, "Creamy or chunky?"
"God bless you!", I said.  I could have kissed her.

On a recent trip to Ireland, we stayed at a B&B in Kinsale, on the Southern coast, for an entire week. We were served such an assortment for breakfast, by our host, Jimmie Conran, each morning. He always remembered what our favorite things were, and he encouraged us to have porridge, as if it was a tonic for the soul. "Is porridge a type of oatmeal, or is it cream of wheat?" I asked. "Oh, it's oatmeal, but I make it over night and I like to know who will be having it so I'm sure to prepare enough," he explained in his melodic Irish accent. I succumbed, but said, "Only a half portion, if that's all right," since he had already brought out a half pink grapefruit, already sectioned for me. It was a grapefruit from Spain, and unbelievable sweet and juicy. My mouth is watering now, just thinking about it.

Then, along with the French Press coffee pot, which we were instructed to wait a few moments before pressing down, he brought me my half bowl of porridge. He pointed out the ingredients on the table to ad: honey, cinnamon, tiny bowls of raisins and blueberries, butter, and milk and sugar. He didn't balk at all when I asked for maple syrup. Amazingly, this new recipe became a new, if not favorite concoction that I looked forward to each breakfast. I mixed it all in to my bowl every morning as if it was a ritual.

Jimmie's breakfast didn't stop there. He always offered eggs cooked to order, sausage or bacon, (which had no fat to speak of), and white or black pudding. We shied away from the black pudding, since we knew it was usually called blood pudding. The white pudding, he said contains some oatmeal, and I think it tastes like a sausage patty, which I'm partial to. There's always the basket of bread on the table, and we both loved the fruit bread, spread with his soft butter, and brought a few slices of the wheat bread up to our room wrapped in a napkin to save for sandwiches we'd make for lunch. After a couple of days, we figured out that we didn't have to order everything that Jimmie offered us, as if we were eating an entire buffet. Some of the folks at the other tables, we noticed, had smaller breakfasts of eggs and sausage and bread and coffee. It didn't take us too long to learn our lesson.
We left the care of Jimmie, at his B&B called San Antonio,
almost tearfully, in a cab that he go generously called for us, and headed for the train station.

It was a long travel day, with a train to Tralee,  and then a bus that took us the rest of the way to Dingle. Mistakenly, we dragged our rolling bags and backpacks all over town trying to find our next B&B, thinking it was just around the bend. Probably, we should have tried to call a cab, since the walking became too much for Doug. We found a pub on a corner and asked directions. "It's just up that hill," the bartender said. After looking out the door and up the hill, it was decided that it would be best to take the load off our feet and stop for a Guinness.

Reinvigorated, we tackled the hill, stopping to look at the charming rock walls along the way.

We finally found Highfield House, on up the hill, and were thankfully greeted by Stephan. He took took our bags off our hands and manfully carried them upstairs for us.
His Mum, Mary, served us breakfast in the breakfast room,  each day. At first I didn't dare try the "porridge".
On our last day, she said, "But you must try it with a shot of  Bailey's, dear!"
Bailey's Irish Cream, Hmm.... a liqueur that I've avoided, with no reason that I can think of. So I tried it.
Hmm.... Now That was yummy! It wasn't thick, but I added some milk, then raisins, and butter and the liqueur added a savory coffee flavor to it.

They also had a sideboard full of lovely bowls of grapefruit, and stewed prunes, and a platter of cheeses. Then, out comes what we actually ordered....scrambled cheesy eggs for me and scrambled eggs with onions and lox for Doug....and of course lots of bread and butter. Once again, we'll have to learn the lesson that it's not up to us to order everything on the menu.

After we came back to California, we had one night to stay in a hotel. It was a Days Inn, a pretty reasonable price, and it included what they called a "continental breakfast". We could tell we were back in America, by the usual offerings of do-it-yourself waffles, bagels, toast, yogurt, coffee and tea. ...except the waffle machine was broken.
 We almost left to go to a restaurant for breakfast, and then I spotted a big electric pot that said "Quaker Oats" on it's side, and the usual cheery face that I've seen on the side of the cardboard canister all my life. I decided to give it a try.

It was surprisingly good! I found some jam, peanut butter, and raisins, and heated up some milk in the microwave. I even added just a little touch of coffee to try to bring back a hint of the Bailey's. It may have had to be eaten from a styrofoam cup, but it was passable.
No worries. Soon we would be home again and have access to all my usual ingredients. In the meantime, I've found that I don't have to be so nose-in-the-air about my oatmeal, oh er, porridge.

Wednesday, December 11, 2019

Another Different Kind of Christmas: Thanksmas

We've had my husband's kids and our grandkids come down to visit us in Palm Springs for 4 of the 5 years we've been here. It's always been surprisingly chilly. The kids, being kids, still swam in the pool, just because it was there, and considered the big draw.

So we decided last year to change things up a little bit. Thanksgiving in Palm Springs is usually pretty warm, so why not celebrate Christmas early? We'd still have a nice turkey dinner, which we would all contribute to at the community hall in our mobile park. It would be Thanksgiving to everyone else, but to us..... it would be Christmas dinner.

So Doug and I started to prepare for the great event. To get in the mood, we put on our Amy Grant Christmas album in the car, and sang along, belting out, "It's lovely weather for a sleigh ride together with you!" And we took off to the stores to shop. We were happier than most, discovering that stores were decorated early and sold supplies for Christmas way before Halloween.

I worked on things in stages, making lists and crossing accomplishments off.....being rather proud of my obsessiveness. For days, I fussed over the calendar I make for the family every year. Each person has a photo of themself on and around their birthday, and a few are added in the blank spaces at the beginning and ending of each month. The top page of each month displays an array of photos of our travels, or places we visit near where we live. I must admit, it's a nice way to get people to look at photos of "what I did on my vacation" without tying them to the sofa with a big album on their lap. I imagine folks standing and brushing their teeth while gazing at the photos. Well, I do that some times....
My concentration gets so focused on the computer, for so long, that just as Doug is about to complain he's being neglected, Ta-Daa!! It's done! It's sent by computer to Shutterfly, and the hard copies are delivered in a nice orange box in just a few days.

I wonder if anyone will get the meaning of the print?
The next task is the family Christmas ornament, with each person's name written on it. Usually, I can find these at the last minute, at Cost Plus, or Michael's, when everything for Christmas is half off, since  I have to buy over 20 of them. But no. All the ornaments that were available were beautiful, but at full
price, they were over my budget. But then, in Michael's, a huge craft store, they had wood cut "DIY" ornaments, Do It Yourself. Hmm. And.... they were only $1... And they were Half Off! I figured that I could get away with painting a red nose on the reindeer, and just minimal highlights on all the others. I bought a couple of colorful indelible markers, knowing that I had some acrylic paint and brushes at home. I decided to get up early in the morning and work on them. So at 6:30, I sat at the kitchen table with a nice cup of tea, sorting all the types of ornaments according to families, and sparsely painting something on each one. Well, THAT doesn't look very festive! I'll have to add more paint. But THAT should be sparkly, to reflect light from the tree! Another trip to the craft store was made to decide from their grand array of glitter paint, (which I didn't even know had been invented)! Only 2 more early mornings, and I finished, rather proud of myself.

Christmas presents hadn't even been thought of yet. Mainly they're for the grandkids, but so many of them are tweens and teens now, that it was suggested that they might like "cold, hard cash". So checks were in order, but we decided on an amount for each one including a smaller, more personal gift that was more fun to open up. Michael's proved once again to come through with creative things like special pens and journals for the older ones, and there were other arty projects, scientific discovery games and beads to string for the younger ones.

Doug offered to help me to wrap them all when I was ready. I had done a few, and was happy for the offer. He tackled the first box, and was wrestling with the paper and scissors at the same table as me. I quickly realized that he didn't have the gift wrapping gene. As I grimaced and squirmed in my chair, he caught it that I wasn't approving. He said, "I'm sure glad you're not my manager! I'm not meant for this menial type of job!". Grinning, he announced, "I need more of an executive position! I went to Yale, you know!"
Laughing, I came back with, " Well, I'm your manager, and we're shorthanded, so I'm working in the trenches with you.... but, (wanting to save my reputation as a pretty neat wrapper), "I think I'll promote you to the job of unpacking the gift bags, writing names on the tags, and then writing out the checks."
"Oh now that would be fine!", he said, "That's right up my alley!"
After that, manager and employee worked well together, giggling and bantering back and forth all evening.

Now that the gifts were pretty much done, the "Wall Tree" had to be tackled. I've hammered nails in to a wall in the shape of a Christmas tree for the last 4 years, and I've strung lights and green foil garlands around them, and then arranged the ornaments from them.
Last year, we came up with the idea to use a long string of solar Christmas lights for the tree. The small solar panel is parked outside our door, and goes along the floor a bit till it can be included in the tree. We anticipate each evening the exact moment that the sun will go down and the tree lights will come on. Every night they turn on a minute or so sooner.
I really wasn't looking forward to putting it up this year, since arranging the in and out formation of the "branches" is so difficult to plan out. By now, I have made so many nail holes in the wall, I can't copy from last year. (I vow to fill the holes and paint this wall in January. It's getting embarrassing, and no amount of framed paintings that hang there the rest of the year can hide them all.) The new idea is to put a string, like a plumb line, or guide line, hanging from a top nail, and coming down and out to the side, making a nice, crisp, sort of modernistic tree shape. Once again, I was happy, and once again, the lights all came out even, crisscrossing back and forth on the Thanksmas tree.
Here it was, only November 22, and we were ready for Christmas! Oh, er, Thanksmas! Family started arriving a couple of days before Thanksgiving, and it was cold and fiercely raining. There were complaints that it was supposed to be warm in Palm Springs. Then we saw that it was not only raining elsewhere, but snow storms, and something called a "bomb cyclone" was expected to happen along the northern California coast! That appeased everyone somewhat, and the kids ran off to the pool through the rain, accompanied by a couple of adults that watched from the nearby hot tub.

We cooked our turkey for the dinner at the hall, made gravy, and Doug prepared his traditional Danish red cabbage dish. Each of the "kids" prepared something to share, since there were 14 of us. After dinner, we decided that our Thanksmas celebration and gift opening would be the next morning, since we were all so full of pie and good cheer already. And the kids wanted to go to the pool again.

Next morning, we all gathered at our little place after breakfast, and the excitement of the grandkids deepened as we found seats for all 14 of us in what we call the "parlour", (where we parle). Presents were arranged in front of the tree by Sinjin, who appointed himself to be Santa's helper, handing them out to everyone.

The only trouble was, that the tree lights weren't on, since it wasn't dark outside..... It didn't look very festive at all. Suddenly, Doug's daughter, Grace, suggested "What if you cover over the solar panel so it thinks the sun has gone down?" Whoa! What a good idea!  Sinjin ran around looking for something to cover it with, and came up with a tile I had on the stove top to set spoons on. No sooner had he placed it, halleujah! The tree lit up!

Of course, Doug wanted us to do the other Danish tradition of dancing around the tree while singing carols. That was impossible, since we'd bump in to the wall, but we all sat in our places in the little room and sang a few songs, holding hands. It did the trick.
The "Nut Prize" was next on the agenda. That's another family tradition, where everyone gets a cup of chocolate pudding, and only 1 has a pecan secretly placed in it. Quickly, I cover the tops of all of them with whipped cream to disguise the winning cup, and they're served to everyone on a tray. There is quiet, while everyone carefully eats their way through the pudding, and then, Ava, 10 years old, happily announced, "I got it!" She had waited years for this. The prize this year was a fancy, rather adult coloring book about sea life and creatures, and she was pleased.

The kids stayed a couple of more days, occupying themselves with crafts, like these cute reindeer made from Palm tree bark that fell down during the storm. They now live happily on the side of our Palm tree out on the patio, and the birds like to sit on their antlers.
Rainy days kept everyone painting too.

One day, many of us went to the Living Desert, a local zoo that focuses on animals from desert climates. It was pretty cold that day too, but we bundled up  and braved the brisk 45 degree F. temps. Well, That's pretty brisk for Palm Springs!

 The next day, most of the family had long, tiring drives back to the Bay Area, through some snow over the Grapevine and then stalled traffic. The trip that would normally take about 8 hours, added up to 11 or 12. We're thinking they might be too discouraged to come back again next year. Maybe it will be our turn to go to them next Christmas.

Now it's back to just the two of us. It's such a relaxing feeling to know that we have Christmas done already, except for sending out gifts and cards to those who didn't celebrate early, as we did. When we were in CVS yesterday, I saw a woman grabbing about a dozen pairs of warm fuzzy socks and throwing them in her cart. She had kind of a frantic look on her face and a long list in her hand. Phew! Been there, done that.

So we still sit in the room with the tree in the evening and bet when the lights will come on. Only one night they didn't!  I thought, "Oh no! They're broken! I'll have to start the tree all over again!" It turns out though, that Doug had strung a few more lights over the front of the house, and he figured that it was so bright that the solar panel didn't know that the sun had gone down. He had an idea, and out came the little tile from the stove again to save the day. 

As soon as the tile was placed, on came the lights! Voila!

Hmm. but now we'll have to find something else to occupy ourselves with, instead of the betting-when-the-lights-will come-on game.

(Retirement concerns.....)

Oh wait! It's still almost Jesus' birthday! We can still wait in anticipation for the gift he continues to give us every year.

    Happy Christmas Everyone! Here's to a very calm New Year.

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

Traffic Stop

This story has been brewing in my mind, and I feel enough time has passed now, that the cop that stopped me may have forgotten all about it.

The day started out with breakfast at IHOP in Palm Springs. We had our usual, sharing a vegetarian omelet, and fruit instead of pancakes. Always watching the waistline, you know. We read the paper, Doug did the Jumble, and I, part of the crossword.

Coming out to the car, everything seemed fine, until we got in. It REEKED of skunk.....not the animal, but the scent that we've been smelling more and more around here since marijuana has been legalized in  California. We looked at each other, shocked. Our Prius' windows were all rolled up, and the car had been locked. Could someone have left a burning joint under our car? We immediately opened all the windows, turned the air conditioner on full blast, and drove along Hi-way 111 trying to air it out.
We were on our way anyway, to Trader Joe's in Cathedral City, and thought that would do the trick. Almost there, we noticed that the light on the dashboard that tells you it's time to get gas, was blinking. It actually started blinking yesterday. It's pretty embarrassing to think of running out of gas in a plug-in Prius, so we drove a little past Trader Joe's, and I pulled into an Arco station. After Doug finished pumping, washing the windows, and paying, I pulled over to a driveway to exit the gas station.

Hi-way 111 is a pretty busy street, and folks drive along at quite a clip, so after waiting awhile to turn left to go shopping, I gave up and turned right, so I could make a u-turn at the next corner. I scooted across the 3 lanes, and got into the left turn lane. When I looked up, I noticed a "No U-Turn" sign. While sitting waiting for the light to change, I noticed that there was a 7/11 on the corner. Thinking fast, as I turned, I decided to do something, that some of you may have done before..... Doug may have been surprised, as I turned left in to the 7/11 parking lot, since it wasn't in the plan. As I turned in, I said out loud, "Oh, let's go to 7/11", but I was about to then say, kind of laughing, "Oh never mind! We don't need anything here", and then I was going to go out the other end of the parking lot, thus performing a U-turn.

But actually, as I made the left turn in to the 7/11 parking lot, I saw lights on a patrol car following right behind me! I thought, what I consider now, to be quickly, and skidded in to a parking spot, bumping into the cement berm in front, making quite a loud noise. I then, conspiratorially looked at Doug, and said, "You really need a Coke Zero now, right?"
I saw the officer get out of his cruiser, and as I casually got out of my Prius and closed the door, I looked back toward the officer. He was walking toward me saying, "Are you feeling alright Ma'am?"
"Yes, I am officer," I said, "What's going on?"
"Well, I think you were driving rather erratically."
"You do?"
"Yes, well, you made an illegal turn in to this driveway."
I looked past him, over his shoulder to see what was so illegal about my turn. "Hmm, well, there's a double line out there, not a double-double line, right? I think it's okay to turn in to a driveway if it's only a double yellow line", I explained, looking straight into his eyes.
"Well not at this intersection, Ma'am, it's very busy".
"Well, that shouldn't make a difference though, should it?", I asked.
"Um, uh, I had to check to make sure you were okay, as I said before."
"I'm fine, sir. Thanks."
"Okay then", he said. "Drive carefully."
He turned to get back in his police car, and to turn off the red lights that were still flashing. I walked in to the 7/11 to get the planned can of Coke Zero.
As I entered the store, I noticed that the checker's back was facing a big window and I could see our car right outside. The people in her line were all chatting together and then smiled over at me as I walked toward the soda fridge. When it was my turn at the register, I commented to the girl, "I guess everyone saw me outside with the police officer. You must not get much business coming from Hi-way 111, if people can't turn left into your driveway."
She looked at me quizzically, and said, "Oh, no. They turn in that way all the time."
"Hmm", I thought.
When I went back out to the car, Doug said, "Do you know how lucky you are?"
"That did turn out pretty well, didn't it?", I said, proud of the way I had talked to the officer.
"No", he explained, "You were lucky you got out of the car, and didn't just roll down your window! Can you imagine what would have happened if he had leaned his head down and smelled this skunk?"
Eyes wide and feeling my face turn red, I very carefully backed out of the parking space, the low front bumper on the Prius, scraping once more on the berm, reminding me to "drive safely".

Sunday, January 13, 2019

Irene Good Night

My husband just played the old song "Irene Good Night" on his keyboard, and it brought back a flood of memories.
I probably first heard it on the Lawrence Welk Show, or maybe my Grandma Cuneo or my Mom played it on the piano. My kids and I learned the first few lines when we had our cherry-headed Conure, Polly. We covered her cage with a king-sized pillowcase and wanted her to go to sleep, thinking there was a chance that she might get past her repertoire of "Hello" if we sang her a song. We made it a habit of singing "Irene Good Night" to her. She never did one "peep" of the song.

While working at the eye clinic at Kaiser Richmond, there was a favorite patient of mine who came in with her daughter every couple of months. Irene, with her metal cane clicking away, was pretty spry for about 92 years. She had a twinkle in her Irish eyes, and was probably pretty spunky back in her day, but now she was a little forgetful, and her mind wandered from her tasks, like reading the eye chart in the hall. Of course, she couldn't see it very well, so she probably got bored trying.

Since my mind connects words and phrases often to songs in my memory, when I first met Irene, I thought of that song. After finishing with the eye chart, she kept stopping on our walk to the exam room, to say something, or just to wonder what we were doing. When I said, "You know, Irene, your name reminds me of a song. Do you know which one?"
She said "Maybe".
"Well", I said winking, "sing it with me if you know it, and we can continue walking down the hall".
"Okay", she said.
I started in singing "Irene Good Night", as she smiled up at me. I shifted her chart into my left hand, offered her my right elbow, and we shuffled along together, arm-in-arm, without stopping, singing to each other,

 "Irene, good night. Irene, good night.
 Good night Irene, good night Irene,
 I'll see you in my dreams".

That was all of the song I ever knew, and Irene didn't seem to mind. She stepped up onto the blue exam chair and was ready to see her corneal specialist. He came in smiling, knowing this patient, and her attitude would give him joy, as usual.
Over the years, it was the habit of Irene's and mine, to happily sing our song down the aisle to her eye appointment.

Too soon, Irene's daughter came asking to see me in the eye clinic. She had tears in her eyes, and told me of her mom's passing. She wanted to ask me if I would consider coming to Irene's memorial service, which would be at her home.
I had never communicated with patients outside of the clinic, but told her I'd be happy to.

The next Saturday, I drove up to the address in the Bay Area hills, and made my way to what was Irene's house. Family was gathered there, and I was introduced over and over again to sons, daughters, cousins......not many aunts or uncles, since Irene was the oldest of all of them. She had been sitting in what is called, "the front row" for some time.
We all partook of the array of spare ribs, chicken, potato salad, baked beans, desserts..... whatever is included in a potluck to honor the dead. Heartfelt toasts, with beer and wine, were made to her in her kitchen, in her dining room, and living room by all her family and friends.
But, when it came to the actual memorial service, I'm not sure what happened. We were all in the living room, which looked out at the San Francisco Bay. As many of us that could, fit in there, and I happened to be among them.
There were a few relatives that stood to speak some words of memories of their auntie, or sister, or friend, but it seemed that the remembrances were falling short.
Someone stood up and started to say, "Thank you all for coming.", but I couldn't help myself, and thought maybe I should speak up.
I raised my hand, asking for attention, and stood. I told of my relationship with Irene in the Eye Clinic, and how we had sung our song. "So, do you think? Maybe? Before we end up this special memorial for her, that we could sing the song together that I sang with her?"
Everyone nodded, or said yes.

"So", I said, "Let's sing....."

And we all sang.......  "Irene, good night. Irene, good night.
                                     Good night, Irene, good night Irene,
                                     I'll see you in my dreams."

There wasn't a dry eye in Irene's house.

Friday, December 28, 2018

Another Different Kind of Christmas, Palm Springs Style

We've adapted pretty well to living in a smaller space, going from a 5 bedroom, 3 bath home in the San Francisco Bay Area with plenty of room for a 7 foot Christmas tree, to a trailer in a mobile home park in Palm Springs, California. Well, as I like to say, ours isn't your average trailer, and just get the thought out of your mind about "trailer trash".

Ours may have been one of the first trailers to be installed here. We think so, because we have our own mailbox. Nobody else does. Our lot butts up to the city street, and we propose that it was one of the first "mobiles" to be installed in the park. It's a 1955 Columbia, and the first owners cleverly added on a big room with a vaulted ceiling and wood-framed windows that make it look more like a beach cottage. One friend enthused that it reminded him of cabins in Maine. Another room was added on to the other side of the trailer probably years later, and now folks have a hard time even realizing that there's a mobile home smack dab in the middle of it.
Still, our first Christmas here, I knew, wouldn't be a big Douglas Fir tree in the living room.

It worried me.
I would have to be creative.

Then came an inspiration. Actually it was in a dream. I figure out a lot of things in my dreams. There's a nice, tall wall in one of the added-on rooms, where we had installed a sconce light on the wall. I decided to use that as the top of a Wall Tree (my new invention).  I made the outline of a simple Christmas tree with strands of holiday lights.

So, I don't suppose we will be doing the traditional Danish singing and dancing in a circle around This tree. After all, someone might bump in to the wall....  I knew it was a good idea, when someone mentioned to us that he had walked by our place one night and saw our tree through the window and he thought, "How did they get that Huge tree into their place?"

The coolest thing about this tree is that we've figured out how to use solar lights to illuminate it! The tiny solar panel sits outside the door. We waited like "Johnny at the rat hole"*  to see when they came on in the evening. At first it was at 4:46pm, and then gradually got a couple of minutes later each night as the days got longer. If you blink or turn away, you miss it. So frustrating!

Along with the cherished ornaments, I brought down the, what I call "antique" snowflake ornaments that we used to hang on our ivy covered wall back in the Bay Area.
Our Ficus hedge was just the place for it here in Palm Springs, so there it twinkles proudly after sundown.

I regretted not bringing down more of the historical ornaments, since my idea of decorating a tree involves not having any uncovered spaces. Never fear though. The entire Coachella Valley is known for wonderful thrift shops, chock full of Christmas cheer for me to pick through.

We have a theory about why there are so many. Palm Springs has been a mecca for retirees for years, and you know, ahem, when they finally go to their final reward, their collection of ornaments are liable to end up in a thrift shop, for all of us to pour over. I have a friend who returns most of her decorations every year and starts from scratch. I would never do that.
I'm too sentimental....but this little guy was chosen to come home with us, and he seems happy hanging on our front door.

So, family traveled down from the Bay Area for our first Christmas here. While I was going through stuff in our Richmond garage I ran across some marionettes my family had made in what seems like another lifetime.
 After a trip to a craft store for some missing parts, I had enough supplies to make 8 puppets and, once again delighted a new generation with our "Boogie Birds", a toy that had been manufactured back in the 70's and 80's......long before any of the grandkids were born.

As dinner time approached, everyone helped out in our tiny trailer kitchen, taking turns with the mixer and the cutting boards and the oven, happily bumping in to each other. The assorted tables were being set out on the patio, but then it was realized we were short by 7 forks!

"How about some plastic ones?", someone suggested?

"Nooo!", said I, since I've been campaigning against plastic for years. I stood there, sweat forming on my forehead both from the oven and the outside temp of 82 degrees. And then it dawned on me.  "Oh gosh", I said, "I remember when Doug and I got together, I bought some new silverware to accommodate his big family, AND, I thought ahead and bought another set of forks" (as, I thought, most assuredly this family would be growing.)

"Now, what did I DO with them?!" We had moved and sorted through all of our possessions so much. Where were they??
Then I automatically started asking .... "St. Anthony, Please come around, the forks are missing, and can't be found."

My mother-in-law, Helen, used to swear by this, and now Doug and I find amazing parking places with St. Anthony's help. Catholics are just that way.

Well, what do you know? I marched right in to the little bedroom of the actual trailer and found a box that we hadn't yet unpacked, and there they were, all still wrapped in their original packaging!!

So....a good feast was had by all, and no one had to share a fork. This will hereafter be called "The Miracle of the Christmas Forks."

Hope everyone had a wonder filled Christmas. Here's to a new and improved 2019.

* What does "Johnny at the rat hole" mean? I believe it refers to an animal, such as a dog, waiting at the edge of a gopher hole, anticipating the emergence of the gopher. ....or someone who anticipates your needs.

Thursday, October 4, 2018

My Gardening Obsession: Seasonal Gardening at South Lake Tahoe

Some of you may have read a previous post about what I call my "stealth gardening" at our condo at South Lake Tahoe, California. When we first moved here for the summers in 2014, the landscape was pretty bare, but the watering system was regularly sprinkling the dirt at least twice a day......and this was during one of the worst droughts we've had!
I couldn't stand it, since I consider myself the Water Police when we're in Palm Springs, Even though the HOA (Homeowners Association) handbook said "Thou shall not change the landscaping", I decided I would disobey, and plant a few things in front of our place wherever I saw water being wasted. Our yard started looking pretty nice, so I expanded to the area around the pool.

After 3 years, I finally confessed to the board of the HOA, that it was I who have been beautifying the neighborhood, and they proclaimed that they thought it was great and proclaimed me "The Beautification Committee". They also gave me the dubious honor of being in charge of the sprinkler system, and told the residents to come to me if they wanted to add a little feeder to the existing water hose in their yard. I even got a special tool to attach them..... Little did they all know that I am learning as I go, and have only had success at gardening the last few years.

This year, I decided that I would open my mouth and ask if some of the residents would perhaps give me small gift certificates to the local garden center, since Doug and I had been purchasing all the plants and soil ourselves for the last three years. But our maintenance man, who appreciates the free help I give him, piped up and said, "How about we give Pat $250.00 this season from the budget, and we can address it again next year?" There was some discussion, and then to our surprise, after the maintenance guy pointed out that "She doesn't charge for  labor", they okay'd it. The only thing was, they said, "We'd like you to beautify the WHOLE complex." My jaw kind of dropped, since there are 72 units, but I'm figuring out that I can also plant some wildflower and poppy seeds and then more bulbs at the end of the season. Feeling kind of flush, I got a good deal on a couple of lilac trees...$20. each, since I've seen them making a splashy impression around town. Many of the perennials have come back from the years before, having hidden under the snow in the winter.

The GOOD news is, that the rodents, the "Name that shall not be said.", except in a whisper, "the voles AKA the Little Bastards", haven't shown their fuzzy little heads yet. (Shh!) They caused me such heartache last year, and I was glad to see them gone......I think they are.
I have great fun feeding the squirrels and chipmunks every morning, even though I know they are rodents too.
A squirrel, though, may dig a little hole next to a newly sown plant or bulb, probably thinking there's a new squirrel in town that has buried a nice nut that he wants to abscond with. But no, it was only me beautifying the place. At least he doesn't tunnel under it and eat it's roots.

The birds have great fun eating the nuts and seeds with the chipmunks and squirrels and drinking out of my blue glass bowl of water I provide for them. They've come to expect me to come out the front door in the morning to pick up the morning paper, and shaking my jar of seeds. Blue Jays fly to the tree above me and on the fence and squawk to the rest of their friends, announcing that it's feeding time. I'm discovering that one of them likes to collect the peanuts and set them on top of the fence post of the pool for a later snack.  A pair of Mourning Doves make noises with their wings as they soar to a different branch, but actually one of those doves has "attitude" and chases after the Stellar Jays, who squawk back at him. Quite the drama to behold as we sit on the porch or I peer from our front window.
Chipmunks sit near the steps or hide under a Lupine bush, venturing a little closer if I sit to watch, then run to the rock to get a drink out of the bowl, holding on to the edge of it with their little hands.

When we first arrived in May, there was a pesky bunny that chewed off the tops of most of the plants that I planted. He especially likes the Shasta daisies that I want to plant. He ate them even though I faithfully sprinkled hot pepper flakes on the dirt around the plants, and now, in July, he's been gone for so long, that I stopped doing even that. Guess he burned his tongue. One of the best native plants to plant around Tahoe is Lamb's Ear. I imagine the bunnies don't care for it because it's fuzzy grey leaves probably feel icky on their tongues.

When I finished spending my stipend for plants for the year early, I asked one of the board members if I could get a little extra so I could buy more plants while the season was still young. I was so hot to plant my vision of a bunch of hollyhocks and daffodils and Clarkias, and I was on a roll. He said that the board was trying to stay in a budget, so no. The next day however, his wife came over with a nice donation of quite a bit of cash and 3 plants!

Yellow Clarkias and Magenta Hollyhocks 
We immediately went down to this other  nursery and found plants that I hadn't seen lately, but were a bit more expensive....  hollyhocks that were two in a pot for $12 and close to blooming, and stargazer lilies which everyone had been missing by the pool, since the voles (shh!) ate up their roots last year.
Then, when our friends upstairs, who are becoming my co-gardeners, took us down to Costco in Carson City, we bought $100. worth of daffodils, tulips, and freesias. They went back the next week and bought 5 More bags. All four of us had the best time running around digging holes for a few days, and depositing an "uneven amount" (maybe a wives tale to guarantee success) of bulbs in each hole all over the complex. The effect should be glorious in the spring!

I saw a T-shirt advertised that I should probably have bought,(but I don't like T-shirts). It had a nice, colorful painting of several birds, and on top of that said "Easily distracted by birds". I really have been lately. It's become another obsession. Sometimes I'll be talking to someone, and notice a bird, and interrupt my own sentence, or theirs, to point it out. Well, the birds DO seem to like me.....
Recently I was planting a couple of yarrow plants over near this huge pine tree that looks like the most beautiful, perfect, 30-foot Christmas tree. I've always noticed that a flock of Chickadees likes to hang out in it. The whole time I was digging, they were nearby, making their cute little sounds that I liken to a squeak toy. I was, of course, squeaking back, as I do. I sometimes feel at one with St Francis and his love for animals as I am with the birds, digging holes, planting plants. I took my little watering can to pour some water in the hole, and one of the little birds flew down to get a drink as it came out of the spout! It fluttered mid-air as I kept pouring. Delighted, I poured a little more, and another one came flying to me! I ran to the house to get some birdseed to give them a little gift, and place some on a wooden post that they frequent. When I peeked later, they were busy eating the seeds.  Now, is it just me, or isn't that the cutest thing?

So now, as I finish writing this, at the beginning of October 2018, we've only got one more bag of freesias to plant, and it's scheduled to snow in about a week and a half in Tahoe. Just before then, the watering system will be shut off and my plants will be on their own. The bunny was spotted again the other day, and cute as he is, he was caught munching on a Hollyhock leaf. Humpf! We'll be leaving in about 2 weeks for Palm Springs, so I won't have too many days of watching my growing garden succumb to the cold weather. The good thing is, the bulbs will greet us when we come back in May, and it'll be exciting to see all the perennials popping their little heads out of the ground to have another go at it.
As my Grandma Diddo used to say...."Ain't Life Grand?"