Tag Archive | friends and neighbors

The Best Neighbors

It’s been a loooong time since I’ve hosted a dinner here. Pre-Covid, there were dinners almost every week in our neighborhood, sometimes just a few people, often a crowd. Holidays, we took turns hosting potluck feasts for a dozen or more. It was lovely. It was exhausting. It’s been nice to have a break from the social whirl, but I wanted to show my gratitude for my closest neighbors, who contribute to my life in ongoing ways, as well as always being there if I need something: a tree diagnosed or pruned, a few teaspoons of cinnamon, a drain snake… I’ve been trying to make this dinner happen since spring, but between all of our schedules, some of their travels, my hand injuries, and other impediments, it took all summer for us to plan on this one evening.

Of all the Saturdays in this summer of drought for it to rain, it had to be this one! But we did get a break just long enough to sit outside and enjoy hors d’oeuvres and cocktails, wine and dinner. My preparations began shortly after sunup, when I dug some Yukon gold potatoes, picked a couple of peppers and the second (and last) zucchini of the season, and snipped the only cilantro left along with some parsley. The rest of the day I spent in the kitchen.

Not only was there dinner to prepare, but I was a day behind on canning, so made a batch of salsa verde this morning.

I roasted the tomatillos, onions, garlic, and pepper. The recipe called for two Serranos, but I couldn’t find those I’m sure are deep in the freezer, so I looked up heat equivalency, and used a single Thai dragon instead. I’m grateful to have figured out that it’s easier to shuck the tomatillos after they’ve sat in a bowl of water for five or ten minutes because it’s a tedious process anyway.

Then I prepped the Tex Mex pot roast, with onion, tomatillos, tomatoes, garlic, and a couple of chopped Chimayo peppers, all but the onion from the garden. I’m grateful for a beautiful cast-iron Dutch oven, just what was called for to slow cook the meat for the afternoon. While the meat braised, I made dessert.

Whoever heard of black cocoa? These Faux-reos from King Arthur Baking were such fun to make, and a big hit after dinner. The filling called for vegetable shortening, but that also has been disappeared from the pantry by gremlins, or perhaps house elves, so I was forced to use butter. This required extra confectioners’ sugar to make the filling stiff enough not to squish out, so I ended up with a tennis ball size of leftover icing. I’m sure I’ll think of something to do with that!

And then it was time to turn my attention to the Sonoran-style potato, tomato, and cheese soup. Using potatoes, cherry tomatoes and herbs from the garden, Queso Blanco cheese and a couple of other ingredients from Farm Runners, I bubbled up a tasty and unusual soup; adding groups of ingredients at carefully timed intervals, and then ladling the final soup over cheese cubes in the bottom of each bowl.

I’m grateful for a full and meaningful Saturday, grateful for the rain that gave us the perfect window to sup together before coming down again; grateful for the bounty of the garden, and for exciting recipes a few clicks away in any moment. I’m grateful that when I served the Faux-reos, Fred called up the Oz monkey song and the rest of us all joined in–grateful for that harmonious moment of shared culture spontaneously expressed, even though it took some discussion to come to consensus that it was from Oz, and not Snow White or Lord of the Rings. I’m grateful for easy laughter and connection with beloveds. Stellar was beside himself with excitement to have dinner guests, including his little pal Rocky. We’re both grateful for the best neighbors in the world, and the opportunity to show a small measure of our gratitude through preparing and sharing food.

Stellar’s Last Days: a Stroke?

It was a beautiful morning. I’m grateful that Stellar and I got to enjoy a half-hour ramble off our usual trails, just for a change of pace. He’s doing really well considering he suffered some sort of neurological incident last weekend. You can tell by looking at his left eye, how both lids droop. It was just my best guess, until Karen asked Dr. Dave to check out this and a couple other pictures. His response was:

“The issue would appear to be a neurological one. The two most likely causes are stroke and a viral infection of the nerve supplying the eyelid. Other possibilities are a tumor near the nerve, or a traumatic incident to the nerve. Similar lesions in the brain can cause  signs as seen here. In any case palliative care is probably the treatment of choice as there are possibilities of recovery with no treatment.”

I am so grateful for the support and input from these friends, who despite such busy lives of their own took time to consider my concerns for my dear dog. I’m grateful for the bonds of community and friendship, that can lay dormant for a long time and wake when needed at a moment’s notice.

Meanwhile, we’re still contending with the hindquarter weakness, notably in his right leg, which tends to turn out and is often unable to straighten under him. But he’s a stoic, noble animal, and he keeps dragging himself up and out whenever I ask if he wants to go for a walk. Once he’s out the gate his nose takes over, and he joyfully sniffs his way through the woods, intermittently looking back for me and adjusting his course to mine. I’m grateful for his perseverance, his devoted companionship, and his unconditional love and acceptance.

I’m grateful for the beauty around me, whenever I take time to turn my attention to it. This evening, sun lighting the sprinkler caught my eye. Though the camera couldn’t quite capture the glitter of it.
I’m grateful for this and all the other trees I live among. I’m grateful for trees in general, and for all the new scientific insights and understandings currently arising about just how sentient and interconnected they are. As my heart breaks for all beings in the path of wildfires, I feel especially concerned for and attached to the idea of the giant sequoias now threatened by the Paradise Fire in Sequoia National Park. I’m grateful, though, that this little patch of trees where I live survived another day without burning up.

A New Camera

Grateful for this beautiful boy, and the new camera that made this lovely portrait.

It arrived yesterday, just an hour too late to capture the newly fledged phoebes. After a busy day, I took it out to play this evening, just fooling around with the zoom, without even learning the thousand and one functions and settings. I’m grateful for the means to purchase this amazing camera, grateful for the technology that allows me to have far more ‘film’ than time so I can shoot to my heart’s content and throw away a thousand images to save one good one. I’m grateful for B&H Photo in NYC for their help and expertise whenever I need new camera gear, and grateful to JT for turning me on to them. Following the gratitude trail, I’m grateful for the countless individuals who designed, experimented, and constructed for many decades to create this camera, and for the materials, and for the countless people who mined and melted and melded those raw materials into this astounding piece of equipment; and for the FedEx lady who delivered it a scant 27 hours after I ordered it, and for all the human ingenuity and labor, and the transportation and infrastructure, that allowed that. It’s an amazing world, despite the tragedies perpetrated by our species.

I bought the camera with a 24-240mm zoom, not the best lens available but at a price I could afford: a pretty decent shot of the mountains at 240, so I’m optimistic about shooting hummingbirds with it tomorrow.
I’m grateful for the rainbow tonight and the rain it followed, though none landed here; grateful for the beautiful apricot tree and for neighbor Fred who manages its pruning and overall health; grateful for the last apricot shining in last light.
And finally, I’m grateful for the successful fledging yesterday of all four phoebe chicks in the second clutch. The first couple left the nest Thursday and went back in overnight. When I went out Friday morning, all four were snuggled together on the ladder, and by mid-afternoon (an hour before the camera arrived) they had all flown into the woods with their parents. This evening, I heard an adult back out on the east side of the house. I dursn’t hope…

Reliability

Stellar has been the most reliable friend a girl could hope to have. I’m grateful for another good day with him, another long walk along the canyon rim, another day of dependable trust and companionship.
Is every town as grateful for their UPS man as we are? I’m grateful for the town’s sign, and for Tom’s cheerful reliability over the past twenty years. I intend to show my gratitude, when he delivers his last package to my house tomorrow, with a few farewell gifts: a box of Milk Bones, a big hunk of cake, and a fifth of Crown Royal. I hope everyone will shower him with their own gratitude. Since he probably won’t be stopping at everyone’s house tomorrow, I’ll happily include your name on my ‘thank you-best wishes’ card if you let me know by noon, or pass along a little something as a couple of people have already asked me to do.
It’s hard to say for how many thousands of years Say’s phoebes have been reliably reproducing in this area. I’ve spent half an hour trying to find out online. I can say, though, I’m grateful that the species has been reliably nesting under my deck for the past three years. Today, three chicks took their first flights, not going far, and I think they all returned to the nest at nightfall. More on their fledging tomorrow.

Resilience

The rain shower overnight resulted in .17 inches of measurable precipitation, leaving all the thirsty growing things refreshed.
In particular, mosses that were grey and crusty miraculously greened up by morning.
Mosses and lichens glowed in early morning light.
Dog and cat enjoyed a companionable ramble with me.
Tiny piñon trees climb from the duff while their parents die in shocking numbers from drought and beetles.
Even faded sagebrush is reinvigorated with just a bit of rain.
The notch-eared doe that has been mowing down my patio garden finally brought her twins to the edge of the yard. They’re too small to jump the fence, but she parked them outside and came on in to continue her feast, which will ultimately nourish them, so how can I possibly mind? I was so grateful to see the twins with their mother, after we spooked them in different directions the other evening.
And then, this afternoon, a veritable downpour from the east washed mud off the adobe walls…
…and made actual puddles. The ferocity of the storm, which dumped almost half an inch in half an hour, made me anxious for the phoebe nest under the deck, so after it was all over, I went outside to check the chicks.
I was delighted to find that their new nest location was the only dry space under the deck. The torrential rain must have stirred up terrestrial insects: for at least an hour, as I ‘napped’ on the couch inside just under the nest, an adult brought food every four to twenty seconds. This frequency, well beyond the normal four to five minute span, must have made up for that horrible day when twenty minutes elapsed between feedings and the chicks screamed the whole day. That was an anomaly for sure, and since that awful day (awful for me and for the chicks), feeding frequency has increased daily, reaching its peak in the hours after today’s rain. The babies have doubled in size.

Despite this climate-chaos induced exceptional drought, the indomitable will to live that permeates all plants and animals keeps us living to our utmost. I am grateful for the resilience of Life.

Grateful, too, for the love and laughter, the joie de vivre and resilience of dear friends, who gathered to celebrate some happy milestones; grateful for the elegant setting, and delicious local food so thoughtfully prepared and offered. Grateful, no matter what happens next, for these good times. Grateful above all for the gift of another exceptional day alive.

Lichens

I saw this strange-colored tree on our walk this morning, that I had never noticed before.
I stepped closer to investigate and found it frosted with this crustose lichen.
Then I made a point to observe other lichens along the trail.

I’m grateful for the color and diversity of lichens along Buck Canyon, and for the time in my day to be able to walk where I can see them. I’m grateful to live among this pioneering, composite life form, and its ancient mystery, in the old growth forest. Lichens not only are the first type of life to colonize bare rock when it’s been exposed by some shift in the earth, a mudslide or a road cut, any earthly upheaval, they also break down that bare rock eventually, turning it into fertile soil. They are slow replenishers of earth. I suppose when the Sixth Great Extinction consumes humans as well as other animate lifeforms, lichens will remain and life will start again. I’m grateful to be acquainted, ever so slightly, with these sedate, essential neighbors. Someday soon, I will turn my attention to understanding them more deeply, becoming their friends.

Resilience

I went to a lovely brunch at the home of some new friends this morning, with some old friends who were in town for the weekend: I’m grateful for that, for old friends, for new friends, for vaccinated friends, for fellowship and good food. On the drive home a small badger crossed the road in front of the car and darted into a culvert. Jojo slowed the car and I leaned out the window, surprised that the badger was still visible. It ducked in and out a couple of times as we watched. Strange it keeps coming back out, I thought. Only when I got home and uploaded the pictures did I realize the badger had lost an eye.

A one-eyed badger crossed the road, and watched us with its one eye as we peered and jockeyed for a better view. Now I feel kind of bad that we…badgered it like paparazzi. My heart hurts for a little wild animal who’s lost an eye, but my spirit rejoices in its resilience. What could have caused it? What predator could have cost this badger an eye, what unfortunate occurrence or condition? Was it hit by a car? Did it get an infection? Run into barbed wire? I’m grateful for the rare sighting of this tough little mesopredator, and inspired by its resilience, though something about it leaves my mind restless as I head to bed tonight. May it be well. May it be happy.

Open Heart

The Solitary One. This juniper grows unusually separate from others in a clearing in the woods. Right now it’s surrounded by a carpet of laughing yellow flowers, which don’t show up well in a color photo so I might as well share the more emotional black&white.

I’m grateful for so much today: for sunshine, green growing things, a breakfast burrito for dinner; a meaningful zoom with a talented, compassionate writer friend whose book I can’t wait to see published; new glasses, Stellar doing a little better today, the fragrance of white irises, letting go of my need to control everything; half a dozen hummingbirds zipping around the feeder outside the living room window while the phoebes tag team feeding their chicklets right above the hummingbird fray, and a Bullock’s oriole pops in brightly for a moment… and the list goes on. I started the day participating in a meditation on an open heart, welcoming the richness in each moment of this life, and managed to carry that feeling through a busy morning and a productive afternoon, with moments of grounded relaxation throughout the day. I’m so grateful for the practice of mindfulness, and the joy and contentment it’s brought to my life.

Quail Eggs

I stopped into Farm Runners last Saturday to pick up some mushrooms, they have lovely fresh shiitake and oyster mushrooms. Nearby in the cooler were a few packs of quail eggs. Quail eggs! Never have I ever. So I grabbed (carefully) a package, knowing I’d come up with something to do with them for Boyz Lunch.

A dear friend ended up coming by on Monday so I made her a burrito with smoked salmon, scrambled eggs and mushrooms, with fresh wild asparagus on the side, and tested the timing for a soft-boiled quail egg. I’m grateful that Farm Runners also offers these 12-inch tortillas (a foot wide!), that I had Bad Dog Ranch happy-chicken eggs, homemade hot sauce, and that neighbor Mary gave me a big bunch of wild asparagus when I passed her out picking on my way to town. I’m grateful that Nancy came for lunch and a walk and a heartfelt talk, and let me experiment on her palate.

Quail egg perfectly soft-boiled, but very hard to peel! And different from chicken eggs, even the best: they taste so rich and buttery.

So for Boyz Lunch today, I boiled the remaining quail eggs (for two minutes), then scooped them into ice water to stop the cooking. A couple of them floated on top, and I recalled that with chicken eggs that means they might be bad, so I pulled those out early, and later fed them to Stellar, shells and all, after cracking them open: they smelled fine, and he was almost as ecstatic as Philip and John were when I served them this starter plate.

Mary Berry’s quail egg-salmon-asparagus salad with tarragon dressing. I’m grateful that tarragon grows in the garden, and that Amy found me this recipe the other night when I couldn’t search the internet myself; grateful that we can find a recipe for any combination of ingredients on hand with a few taps of the fingers on the miraculous world wide web. Grateful that my geezers were ecstatic with this starter dish, and the sirloin tips in mushroom gravy over rice that followed it…
…and that they also loved the brownie-shortbread dessert. Grateful that Amy sent me this recipe too, with the note “You need this!” I’m telling you, whoever you are, if you love chocolate, shortbread, or butter, you also need this recipe.

Above and beyond the culinary delights of this day, I’m grateful for good friends old and new, for great neighbors, for all the opportunities, connections, and experiences in this singular day that will never come again; grateful to have waked up alive, made the most of the day, and be heading to my cozy, clean bed right now.

Okay maybe not so clean, at least on the outside, but that’s not entirely my fault. At least the sheets underneath the blankets are clean. I’m sure grateful for this cuddly little cat, no matter how much she sheds or how many weed seeds she carries inside.
And always, always grateful for my sweet old man Stellar, who had another rough day today, but hope lives.

Garden Buddy

At this new nursery, you can take a picture of the tag and it automatically opens a site that will tell you all you need to know about the plant to decide whether it will be a good fit for the zone and microclimate of your yarden. Or, it would if one had service, which is still grievously lacking for Boost Mobile customers in the valley, but there’s no room for that story on a gratitude blog.

I’m grateful for my Garden Buddy, who went on an adventure with me today. The word ebullient came to mind as I observed my sensations driving to pick her up. She was the first passenger in my car in well over a year, and that inspired me to clean it up a bit, which I was too lazy to do for myself, so I’m grateful for that. I was motivated to explore some local farms in search of strawberry starts, some culinary herbs, and a few flowers for my patio pots to feed the bees. We stopped by Zephros Farm, which had a good selection, as well as some unexpected succulents for the new drought rock garden I’m finally realizing into existence after a decade of dreaming. Then we tried a couple of stores that were closed on Sundays, an interestingly retro thing to be, hearkening back to the Blue Laws days of my childhood. But we struck gold at Oasis, a new nursery on the highway next to Big B’s.

But even before the big outing, I was grateful for a lovely morning walk among ancient trees with Stellar and Topaz.
Stellar at the edge of a patch of Laughing Yellow Flowers, aka Thrift-leaf Perky Sue, a lovely native wildflower. They bloom in profusion for a short season, and always make me smile.

After our delightful walk, Stellar didn’t want breakfast, which is unusual but not unheard of this time of year. It was all I could do to get some pills into him disguised in a turkey slice and some cream cheese. He’s been turning up his nose at his multiple daily cheese balls, which has caused me to get creative about pill delivery, trying out some pill pockets, pill paste, peanut butter, and sandwich meats. This finicky turn, and his refusal to eat again this evening, have set some distant alarm bells ringing in my head: But there’s not much I can do about it at this point, at his age and with his back end, and there’s no point in clinging. Either he’ll eat tomorrow when I offer rice and broth, or he won’t, and I’ll decide the next step then. Living with a beloved old dog, there’s less suffering for me in letting him do what he prefers than insisting on diagnosis and mitigation, and I think less suffering for him than in stuffing him with supplements he’s not eager to ingest. We’ll know more later. These unsettling ups and downs, which could be nerve-wracking if I let them.

I did want breakfast, however, and was grateful for yesterday’s cinnamon buns (I only ate two) and my weekly latté, which gave me strength and courage to leave home for the first pleasure outing since Covid. It felt mighty strange to drive somewhere I didn’t have to go, with someone else in the car, windows down despite the chill; it felt even stranger to meet and mingle with unmasked people everywhere we went, and encounter a downright crowd at Big B’s and Oasis. We may have been the only people wearing masks, but one thing I appreciate about my Garden Buddy is that we’re on the exact same page regarding risk and precautions. We were our own little travel bubble, and were both a little giddy in it. At the same time that it appeared as though many people have gone back to the usual-before, there seemed to be an aura of extra gentleness in the people we spoke with, some of whom mentioned the suffering of the past year. I’m grateful for at least one thing about suffering, and that is it’s potential to deepen even the slightest connection among people. It’s brought me and my Garden Buddy closer, and I also felt like hugging everyone I interacted with today. Maybe next outing.

At Oasis I was so grateful to find Mock Orange, a deliciously scented native shrub I’ve been trying to get for a decade, and I grabbed a couple more succulents for the rock garden.