It’s a Wrap

November 30, 2014

Nothing in the whole wide world like a dark, rainy day on which to enjoy a calm and quiet house post a five-day visit with a gaggle of Petersons, reflecting on a smooth, drama-free and most of all fun and delicious Thanksgiving holiday. Amiright?

Holy transition between Thanksgiving and Christmas, batwoman. A little quiet before yet another holiday storm.

I’ve written plenty about it these past few days, but let me just revel in the richness of family (in all its quirky, frustrating, funny glory), a well-planned-and-executed bunch of meals, a setting I was pleased to share and show off (thanks Northern California for fall beauty and some dramatic weather for our Southern California beach town dwellers) and a comfy, cozy home to host them in. I enjoyed our conversations, our times of easy non-conversation, our comings and goings that suited our respective needs, our collective reflections on the elders and others in our family on their various paths–meandering, bumpy, uphill, downhill alike (some might call it family gossip). It was all good, even when it wasn’t perfect. Which is good. Maybe perfect.

A few pictures on the day:

A walk in the rain to a later-than-usual brunch:


Capturing Peter studying the chords on a Pink Floyd song (nice look):


The views out various windows at seasonally-transitioning yards front and back, conducive to reflecting while standing and drinking a cup of tea:



Some parting shots of family, taken yesterday, that fit no where else:

Chris dozing by the fire, Jay showing Jim pictures on iPad…


Matt taking on wall phone to Aunt Ellie (“wall phone,” isn’t that quaint?)….


Jim and Aunt Joy at Aunt Joy & Uncle Vic’s house last night:


Matt, Conner and Celia (Conner’s Pepperdine classmate, sand volleyball star, and not-sure-what-kind-of-friend-at-the-moment)….


And finally, a rearranged living room to move into the final chapter of 2014, because it seemed like a good idea (raise your hand if you’re getting tired of my interior shots):


Yes, I’ll Take You Hiking

November 29, 2014

Home after a long visit with family in Pleasanton.. a visit that was both wonderful and difficult. Difficult because my beloved Uncle Vic (92) is not doing well and was not able to sit up and enjoy the evening.. instead we visited with him bedside as he drifted in and out of sleep. Wonderful because when he was awake, he was 100% there, if tired, and we shared lots of great stories and memories. Throughout the evening we all got lots of time with him, sometimes alone, sometime in pairs, sometimes there were five of us around his bed laughing and talking.

Outside his room, he heard a festive holiday gathering, piano music, lots of talking. I’m sure it was all familiar and comfortable, even if he wasn’t in the thick of it. He’s in his home and staying there. He was surrounded by people who love him. That is the best.

Nobody really knows what to expect here; he’s definitely slowing down, having fewer good days than bad days. But most of the time he’s up and managing–as recently as earlier today–not walking so much anymore, not always feeling great, but sitting up, reading, going to dialysis. He’s got each and every one of his many marbles which is of course a blessing, but it also means he’s totally aware of what’s happening to him which may make his situation and limitations harder to bear.

I think, for the most part, I deal rationally with matters of aging. I’ve felt pretty resolved about growing older and about people passing away when their time comes. I feel like, at nearly 59, I’ve learned a thing or two and have a certain kind of wisdom about a lot of things, including death. On the other hand, It could be that I am just totally removed and out of touch, that certain things are just so far out of my realm of experience, it’s easy to be detached and brave. I’m not entirely sure because I also know that my emotional self is sometimes buried beneath so many layers of protection that I’m not really sure what I’m feeling.

And… I really don’t want to go into all that right now.


Except to say that driving home, sitting in the backseat looking at the moon behind storm clouds, and thinking of the countless trips to the mountains with my uncle, I lost it. I haven’t cried like that for many people in my life and it caught me by surprise.

He’d said something to me tonight that was really touching. He said that he’d love me to take a little part of him with me when I hike. He loves that I hike, that Jim, Peter and I spend so much of our time in the Sierra, that I share his passion for the mountains. He loves the idea that on some spiritual level, he can keep hiking. I just love this idea, it gives me the greatest peace. I will most definitely carry him along as I hike, because he loved it too, because he and grandpa are the exact reasons I developed a love for the mountains. He had tears streaming down his face when he said that, and so did I.

Feeling sad.

Here’s a picture of him tonight:


Matty on one side, mom on the other. That’s a big smile on his face.

You know, my uncle was with my parents when they eloped to Las Vegas. My mom tells a story about him walking her around and around outside, nervous, as she began to have second thoughts about marrying my dad. (With good reason. Subject for another time.) He lived with my parents during their first few months (or year) of marriage. I’ll dig out and post one of my favorite pictures of my uncle holding me when I was about two.. I have so many great memories of him.

But it’s 1:00am, I’m wiped out. Will come back with more stories and pictures later. Here’s one of his books. He’s the junior.

Native Trees

About Town

November 28, 2014

Day after Thanksgiving…turkey sandwiches, turkey soup, pies. As it should be. Before the rains came, we managed a few outings:

Paid a visit to Dad’s memorial bench:


Shopped downtown (including a trip to mom’s favorite store):


Do you love those expressions?

And saw a terrible movie, Interstellar, though this is a cool picture of one of the scenes.


We all went, minus Peter, who, ironically, was probably the only one who might have appreciated it. Whatever cleverness it had was lost in triteness and overacting. Oh well. It was sci-fi…whattaya want? I think Peter will like, when he eventually sees it, the wormhole and the ideas around the 5th dimension and time warps.

Kitchen Kaboodle

November 27, 2014

Peter: What smells so good in here?

Me: The whole kitchen kaboodle.

A bit lame, but that was my best pun of the day, so there it is.

Today was excellent. On Thanksgiving, the main attraction is the food, and in my humble opinion, dinner was exceptional. The breakfast spread was lovely and the appetizers were great, especially that cranberry salsa (thanks, Carrie!).  More on food in the photos.

But truly what I most enjoyed was the vibe. It has just been a really long time since hanging with all three brothers was as pleasant. Even just being in the same space for an entire day. Nothing out of the ordinary, but easy and light. My mom was solid the whole day, Peter drifted in and out and spent some good time with Jay over guitars and some (unnecessary) shopping (but who doesn’t enjoy three different kinds of eggnog?).

We did a non-Peterson thing–went around the table, each of us saying what we were grateful for. It’s one of those lessons in life: you never know what is in a person’s heart. Sometimes just asking opens a person up in unexpected ways. For me, it was a highlight. I got to genuinely thank everyone for making the trip, for our whole family–minus dad–being together, for my mom being healthy enough to celebrate a Northern California Thanksgiving, and to share with them my deep gratitude for my sick, but ordinarily wonderful, husband and light-of-my-life son. All of that felt good.  And everyone else shared heartfelt thanks and gratitudes. Peter’s had to do with appreciating all we have when others around the planet are not so fortunate.

The big disappointment of the day was Jim’s sudden illness. He tried to sit with the group in the morning, but soon realized he was too sick, retreated to the bedroom and spent most of the day asleep. Maybe food poisoning, maybe a flu bug, maybe a resurgence of the cold that hit us all over the past few weeks, maybe Petersonitis. It was a loss for him: completely missing out on Thanksgiving. It was a loss for me: not getting to share the fruits of a few days of serious labor. And it was a loss for my family: not getting to spend time with him.

But even without him, the day was wonderful. Here are a few random shots… with minimal food shots:

This is Jay stirring Matt’s gravy. With Jim out of the picture, Matt filled in and consulted on the turkey, and made the potatoes and gravy (both super heavy on the butter, but wow).


Here’s Chris doing some yoga or tai chi (about the last thing I expected to see):


Here’s Matt looking at some of Jay’s photos from Thailand:


This is the dish I was most excited about… it sounds and looks exotically wonderful–rainbow carrots tossed with maple syrup, harissa paste, garlic, olive oil and cumin seeds, roasted with lemon–right?


But I didn’t like them very much… too much variation in the done-ness of the carrots, and actually?, I don’t like cumin. How could I forget that? Others said they liked them. Could’ve just been politeness.

Here are mom and Jay at the table:


And across the table, Matt, Chris and Peter:


I could get everyone in a group shot, and took a few, but there wasn’t a single one where everyone looked okay.. so cropped up a couple.

So… it was a day of hanging out, talking, playing gin rummy, reading, napping, walks, cooking of course, and lots of eating. I am very, very proud of the whole day’s fare… dinner especially all came together perfectly. It even took us 45 minutes to enjoy it all. Lots of seconds and thirds. Maybe I should say what we had?  Okay, here’s the menu:

-Turkey, brined overnight, rubbed with herbed butter (p, s, r and t): it was great!

-Mashed potatoes, made with butter and half and half (yikes).

-Gravy from the drippings, of course.

-Dressing with sausage, chestnuts, celery, onions, herbs (the best ever).

-Green beans with maple, mustard and pecans (the usual and excellent)

-Aforementioned maple, harissa rainbow carrots.

-Cranberry sauce with orange and rosemary (insanely good)

-Cranberry relish with jalapenos, scallions, cilantro and lime (will repeat)

-Harvard beets (a Peterson family thing)

-Wine, sparkling apple cider, pies

We played a couple hours of Apples to Apples (really, and it was fun) had five pies to work through.. (though nobody even touched my pecan pie)…and then…. THIS happened:


The refrigerator crapped out. All day it looked and sounded fatigued and gave me a bit of worry. When Jim finally came to, when whatever it was passed (at about 10pm), he investigated and reported that something froze up in the freezer (not in a good way) and was compromising the cooling capacity of the refrigerator. Or some such. So he and Matt went to work: pulled out unit, removed all the food from the freezer, put as much as would fit into the refrigerator (like we have room on Thanksgiving, what with dozens of containers of food and leftovers and whatnot.. remember FIVE pies.

Looking on the bright side, I got the freezer cleaned out (threw away tons of food) we cleaned all around the thing–something that had never happened.  Bonus.

Two more days of family time.. hoping it remains as positive.

Chris’ Double Nickels

November 26, 2014

It’s not so bad having the whole family here in Davis. I can’t remember the last time, if ever there even was one, when my entire family was here in Davis. (They would call this my family of origin, and I’d have to amend to say it’s missing my dad.) Well, wait, now that I think about it, the last time everyone was here was Jim’s and my wedding back in 1996.. and that time did include my dad.

Anyway.. not important. But it is kind of fun to host and entertain and take care of everyone. Liking that a lot.

Some selected shots from today:

Remember the botched birthday cake? In case you don’t, look at yesterday’s post for a description, but here’s another picture of it (that is a memorable frosting job, Jim!):


After a Facebook query, Jim got some suggestions and commenced to repair the damage this morning. First, he removed all the frosting, then shaved off enough of the cake to make the top and bottom layers flat. In the meantime, he’d made a batch of thin butter cream frosting to use as both mortar and a primer coat of sorts. He smeared a layer onto the bottom and re-stacked the second sheet, then covered the whole thing in a thin layer of his thinned-down frosting. He then stirred the old frosting together with all the bits of chocolate cake that had adhered to it during its removal, and created a new batch of coffee-colored frosting with cake bits embedded. This he spread all over the re-formed cake.

And this is what he ended up with:

fixed cake

Quite an improvement, right? Even looks edible.

So, that was the cake incident.

Here is another picture, any guesses what it is?


What if I zoom out?


Exactly… that is a head of garlic cut in half.  Which we used for the brine into which we dunked the turkey:


Which is now sealed up and sitting outside, hopefully getting all infused with flavor and moistening right up.

Back to the afternoon… here are Matt and Chris hanging out on the couch. Chris wears Hanes.


So, yeah, it was Chris’ 55th birthday. Here’s a shot of the cake Peter just lit and carried out (so nice to have a capable teen):


So.. good evening, good day. The dinner was excellent (the meatloaf is definitely a keeper recipe). Jay brought some wonderful wines. The cake made a total comeback. We had a few good rounds of Balderdash. No catastrophes, minor, major or otherwise.

A pretty nice time was had by all.

Kitchen Zen

November 25, 2014

Those days when you have to crank out a whole bunch of dishes for multiple meals, serving multiple guests over multiple days, one day being a holiday, another day being a birthday?  That was today. Surprisingly fun and relaxing. Spent the day alone in the kitchen, in a zone.

I had spent a few hours yesterday finalizing the recipes and making the shopping list.  Then nearly two hours at the Coop last night shopping. Ninety percent is stuff I’ve made for past Thanksgivings, but that doesn’t seem to make any of these tasks go faster.

Here’s part of the food haul and Jim trying to figure out where it’s all going to go:


Got it all stashed.  Talk about a clean slate… all ready to start cooking first thing in the morning (today). Calm before the storm.


So, today. Jim took off, Peter was overnight at a friend’s. I made coffee, turned on NPR, put my hair up and put on an apron. Excited.

Got the pecan pie out of the way first thing.

I’ve made this so many times, but it’s still a wild card. The crust-making remains a challenge–though this time it was uneventful–and it’s always anyone’s guess if the pie will set up. I panicked and left it in a little long, forgetting to tent it toward the end to prevent burning.. So a bit over-baked. And it’s definitely set.


Then Frances’ cranberry sauce; this was a huge hit last year. Here’s a shot of the ingredients…it’s the orange zest and rosemary that make this so amazing:


And I like the way it looks in the pan; it is the easiest thing in the world to make and just explodes with flavor:


Next, a new thing–Carrie’s cranberry salsa, which will be an appetizer on Thursday. Ingredients include jalapenos, scallions, lime, cilantro, sugar…. it’s totally addicting.


Looked like this when done:


Let’s see…. next was a marinade for the green beans… this one I’ve made for about twelve years?  It’s got maple syrup, mustard, balsamic and olive oil. Just before serving I toss on roasted pecans and scallions.


Then my grandma’s favorite (and we thought everyone ate these things, but I’ve never run into anyone else who does), Harvard Beets… sugar, vinegar, cornstarch… that’s it. Very zingy.


Then the best of all… another new one that I picked from the guys who do the Bitten Word blog. The recipe is from the current Bon Appetit and it looks wild. First you start with rainbow carrots:


They and some thinly sliced lemon will get tossed with a marinade of grated garlic, olive oil, maple syrup, harissa (super hot chile paste), cumin seeds, s&p.


On Thursday, the carrots will go in the oven until they are deeply roasted. If it works, I think it will be insane.. the marinade is so unusual.. hot, sweet and exotic.

I also did a bunch of prep for Wednesday night’s birthday dinner and Thursday’s feast… washed and cut vegetables, organized ingredients and supplies… oh and made a cake and a frosting. As I ran out the door to get my mom settled into her hotel, I suggested to Jim that he frost the cake. Poor guy, as accomplished as he is in the kitchen, he has very little experience frosting a cake. I won’t say he ruined this thing, but I will say it’s gross looking:

my cake jim's frosting

I left him with a single layer chocolate cake and a bowl of vanilla frosting. He opted to cut the cake in two and layer it. That is what you are looking at….  don’t ask me what happened, but it’s falling. He describes it as calving. At press time, the cake is being held together with toothpicks and there is now a full-on fissure down the middle.

Sure it will taste okay.

With all that stuff done, we can focus tomorrow on Chris’ birthday and Jay’s USA homecoming (they arrive tomorrow). Biba’s meatloaf on the menu, since that was such a hit a few weeks ago. And weirdo cake. We’ll also start the brining.

Thursday we’ll prep the usual Thanksgiving dishes–turkey, gravy, mashed potatoes, stuffing, but will have many hands on deck.

Welcome Little Maple

November 25, 2014

Redwood Barn called last week and said our maple had arrived. We didn’t expect to see it until January, so we were excited. It’s a coral bark maple and we picked it up today. The label says:

Vigorous, upright, deciduous tree with bright green leaves, turning golden yellow in fall. Bark is coral color. Grows 20-25 feet tall by 18-22 feet wide.

Wait, what? I actually thought it would be smaller. (Maybe I should have titled this Welcome Big Maple.)  We’ll see how this goes.. at least they’re slow growing.

For now, it’s a tiny little one gallon, planted near the front door (about 10 feet from the front door.. uh oh):


For scale, here’s Frances.


And that white stuff around the tree? Shells.. coral…and a few choice rocks:


The shells and coral were collected from beaches all over–Dillon, Brazil, Palos Verdes, Monterey, Mexico, Hawaii. The rocks, probably Sierra. Until two days ago, they sat on shelves in decorative ceramic bowls, trays, cups.. some little shells sat in bigger shells. It was getting a little out of hand. During the bookcase reorganization project last weekend, I’d gathered them all up, put them in a baggie, and wondered what I’d do with them.. until today when I decided they’d make a nice garden embellishment.

Think it works?

Getting Ready to Get Ready

November 23, 2014

I have this long but manageable list of stuff to get done before family shows up on Tuesday. I’d spread it out over a few days, which made it even more manageable. I had this one item–shelve books–because it was just flippin time to cull and organize our entire book inventory.. and to shelve those that were gathering in stacks all over the place.

That turned into a two-day project–I’m going to guess about 14 hours or so. It was one of those projects that had hidden tendrils, and so not only did books get dealt with, but so did a whole lot of other related things: artwork got hung, games and puzzles got sorted, a couple drawers got cleaned out. And I got ruthless on the knick knack stuff.  I also did an aggressive sweep through the video and music collections.

Packed up even more books today to donate, and a couple bags of shelf junk, too. And remind me why I ever, EVER save shells and rocks?  Good lord. Those are all getting scattered in the back yard somewhere, somehow. Maybe in an interesting way, maybe not.

Anyway, no more shelf and bookcase stories for a while.

Oh, but I will show you this one bookcase… it’s sorta the non-fiction portion of the program (though not the only non-fiction in the house)… mostly here we have: travel, hiking, mountain adventure stuff; books about California, the region and Davis; political books, social, cultural & economic commentaries; biographies; reference books; gardening books, and finally big giant coffee table books (because we don’t actually have a coffee table).


I thought this was interesting about the overall collection: the authors whose books we have the most of are:

– Neal Stephenson who writes science and historical fiction books, as well as books about math, philosophy and cryptography.. you know, among other things (10)

– John McPhee who writes all about geology (among other things, but it’s the geology books we have so many of) (8)

– Anne LaMott who’s just a great, funny and inspiring member of the human community (7)

You can probably figure out which of us reads which authors.

Anyway… that’s really it for books for awhile. And bric-a-brac.

The real photos of the day though are some default fall stuff… sky, leaves… and stunning at that. Sky on way to brunch this morning:


Central Park sycamore leaf drop on the way home:


Starting tomorrow, really getting ready for Thanksgiving.

Out With the Old

November 22, 2014

I love afternoons like this. I really love them. I understand that there is more to life than purging and organizing, i do…but give me a rainy day, some very messy bookcases in serious need of de-cluttering, and books stacked all over the house crying to be shelved, and oh my but the sorting section of my brain begins to convulse.

About noon, I took this before photo.


Then got to work.

The first thing I did was throw this out.


Have you ever seen anything so weird? I’ve been holding onto this “tree” for about eight years and I guess today I reached my limit. It was an award presented to Davis Community Network for some work we’d done to benefit nonprofits. I honestly cannot remember the organization that gave us the award, nor exactly what it was for. I’d gone back to Washington, D.C. to receive it on DCN’s behalf, believe it or not, in conjunction with a conference that made sense to attend, and carefully carried it back with nary a scratch. It’s heavy, made of some kind of plaster, and quite fragile. And it is ugly as all get out. DCN no longer has an office in which to display such a thing and I think nobody will be the wiser.

I only regret tossing what is without a doubt the best White Elephant gift a person could ever hope to have… but can’t see holding onto it for that one chance to unload it.

Here’s another thing that was easy to unload:


No idea how or why I ended up with this book in the first place, but now, after all that’s come out about the once-lovable Bill Cosby, I certainly don’t want it. Creepy, huh?

Here are some other book oddities:

After pulling every book off every shelf in the house (not counting the shelves in Peter’s room, which I’d culled last year, nor Jim’s office shelves which I’d never dare touch), cleaning them all and sorting by genre, I found that I had:

– Three copies of Pema Chodren’s “When Things Fall Apart,” which seems kind of ironic.. or maybe desperate? Dunno, but it cracked me up.

– Two copies of Noam Chomsky’s “What Uncle Sam Really Wants,” which I find weird since I can’t remember even knowing about, much less acquiring, this book.

– Three copies of “Catcher in the Rye,” which is okay by me, but good as it is, I only need one.

– Two copies of “Three Cups of Tea,” which I know exactly how that happened because I remember buying my second copy while in an airport in Kathmandu, but now I have a great gift to give to somebody, except now I also want to get Jon Krakauer’s rebuttal to that whole story (“Three Cups of Deceit”), because it sounds like he’s got a bone to pick with the way the story was represented and I’d like to hear his version, and would like to add that to the other great Jon Krakauer books I have. Which are all now together in a section that includes other adventure mountain books. We all have a dedicated shelf for that, right? I am so organized.

By 6:30 I was done with most of the project and had re-loaded this bookcase:


Looks great! I can’t take my eyes off it.

Jim helped me hang three of the pictures that had just been gathering dust on the bookshelves for years. This is a big deal because Jim absolutely despairs of this picture-hanging process. I sure don’t know why, I’m a total team player, non demanding, non critical (I swear), but man, black cloud over his head the whole time. Still, I’m thrilled to get those up at long last.


I still have stacks of books to dust and load into another three cases (two in the living room, one in my office), but the hard part’s over– deciding which genres go where and making sure there is enough room for them all.  I will finish that tomorrow.

And.. after all this, there were about a hundred books that didn’t make the cut… so we’ll donate them to the Davis Food Coop which is coordinating a book drive for STEAC.

Win win.

Breakfast with Elliot

November 21, 2014

I’ve come to love these semi-annual breakfasts with Elliot–once a colleague, now a treasured buddy. We meet in Berkeley, more or less in the middle between Palo Alto and Davis. (That is quite the trio of Northern California college towns.) We’ve found ourselves in something of a rut, but it’s a wonderful rut. Breakfast is always here, Rick and Ann’s over by the Claremont Hotel:


Followed typically by a walk, either through the Berkeley campus, the Berkeley neighborhoods, Tilden park or sometimes the Rose Garden. Lots of shop talk, which is still interesting, and lots of family catch up. More news these days of exercise routines and health issues. And today, a little sharing on a recent AARP article. Gack.

Here are a few shots of campus and surrounds:

South side of campus, entering from Telegraph Ave. This I believe is Sather Rd:


Sproul Hall:


Sather Gate:


Along Euclid, north of campus.


And this was a drive by, along College Avenue, may now be in Oakland:


After Elliot, I was so close to Piedmont Gardens, I’d decided to stop in and visit for a few minutes with Annita. She woke up a little and talked, but she was very hard to understand. Even so, it was nice to see her.