Musings over a bowl of rooster chili

This time last year I started this blog with a post about rooster chili. Last night I had some serious déjà vu – Carson brought home a rooster that had started getting frisky, and I ended up following the chili recipe I used last March to a T. It’s rainy and wintry just like it was last year (a very welcome week of rain!) and it left me reflecting on what’s changed – and what’ stayed the same – in the last year.

Carson moved into our house last March, and it’s somewhat surreal to think that we’ll have been together two years in June. This time last year, I was head over heels in love with him. Today I love him even more, in deeper and more complex ways. We’ve definitely settled in; I trust him with my dirty laundry and I don’t feel like he’s going to break up with me if I throw a tantrum. I’ve finally learned what people mean when they say relationships take “work.” I always imagined it was a structured, scheduled kind of work, like having a discussion after a fight. Naive, right? Now I know it’s more of a moving target, a vague series of lessons about trust and patience and compromise. Luckily Carson doesn’t need the patience lesson as much as I do; one impatient person is enough.

This time last year I worked from home; now I go into an office 30 hours a week. It has definitely taken a toll on our domestic bliss, since last year I was cooking 90% of our meals from scratch (plus canning like crazy) and the floors were so clean we could eat off them. But I’m not working until 2 am like I was during my self-employed days, and when I get home, I’m home. I also have a reliable income, which can’t be beat, and it means we can afford to eat out when I don’t feel like cooking. I know some people will scoff at 30 hours like it’s nothing, but I came to Ukiah for a different kind of life. I have grown to hate the word “busy” – we have too much on our plates, but it’s because as a society we are so obsessed with our busy-ness. I’m trying to avoid a frenetic lifestyle, and for me 30 hours a week offers a reasonable balance between work and home. I wish more people would get on that bandwagon.

This time last year we were a two-person family; now we have our adorable dog Bee. Bee has become quite popular; sometimes people pick her up for a run, a trip to the park, or just to hang out. (It takes a village to raise a dog?) I’m working on a collage of pictures of her snuggling with all of our friends; Lauren says  she should be a therapy dog because she makes everyone feel loved.

Carson and Bee  Lauren and BeephotoSteph and Bee

There have been lots of changes, but in many ways things are the same – and I love it. Ukiah is the same quaint country town, we have great friends, the weather is idyllic (albeit drought-y), and we drink a lot of local, affordable, delectable wine. There’s part of a local cow and some chickens in our freezer, and the bees are abuzz with all the spring blossoms. And Carson and I are the same, too – in fact, we’re better. We’ve seen what’s behind our picture-perfect smiles, and we like each other even more.



A new Bee in our hive

Waaay back in June, Carson and I decided to get a dog. After months of going to the pound and the Humane Society, we finally found the perfect pooch. Meet Beatrice, aka “Bee”:

Meeting Bee

She’s about 10 months old but close to fully grown at 40 lbs. She’s definitely black lab but beyond that is anyone’s guess; possibly boxer? She has short, soft hair, great teeth, and a happy-go-lucky attitude that is beyond endearing. She’s smart and eager to please. She sleeps in her kennel all night long without barking or even whining. She loves the car, and everyone is a friend (humans and dogs alike).

She also loves:

Bee persimmon

Persimmons (luckily we have the seedless kind because apparently the seeds make dogs sick)

Bee staredown

Playing (and only stares at you sadly for a few moments if you aren’t in a playful mood)

Bee lounging

Being on the couch (but she has to be invited)

nap time

Being on the couch with a friend (she will contort into any position if it means more snuggle time)

I promise I won’t be one of those people who is constantly writing about and posting pictures and videos of our dog, but she is pretty darn cute so it might slip in occasionally. If you are interested in seeing her in action, check out two of her “firsts,” both at Lake Mendocino: first time off-leash and first time in the water. (So glad she is a water dog!) The video doesn’t really show how funny she was in the water – she ran laps back and forth, back and forth in the shallow end, and didn’t want to leave when I finally pulled her out, dripping wet and grinning.

Many thanks to the Ukiah Animal Shelter for connecting us with our ideal dog, who was found “wandering on the streets.” Also thanks to whoever loved her for the first 10 months of her life (the pound guessed she was a “travelling dog” aka the pet of a homeless person). She shows no signs of trauma so we don’t think she was abused, and she also wasn’t significantly underfed or in bad shape in any way, truly a blessing for her and for us.

If you’re in the area and you haven’t already, come and meet Bee – she’ll be your best friend!


A romantic gesture

In the long list of things I never blogged about, I realized that I didn’t tell the story of the best thing Carson has ever brought home.

A few weeks ago he pulled into the driveway. I was sitting at the kitchen table looking out, but I couldn’t see the back of his truck. His face appeared in the window with the biggest, goofiest grin I’d ever seen. I smiled back and kept working. He looked disappointed. I got up to greet him as he walked in the back door. “Did you see??” he asked expectantly. “See what?” I asked. “Come look.”

I rounded the corner to the driveway and stopped dead in my tracks.  There, in the back of his truck, was something I had been seeking for MONTHS.

photo 1photo 2

It was perfect: a used upright (most of what I’d found were chest freezers),  great brand (Kenmore), and looked and smelled BRAND NEW. Even better, he got a great deal on it.


I was able to undo the 3D puzzle that was our existing freezer and spread out in this roomy new addition to our home. We immediately bought 25 lbs of beef from Mendocino Organics to celebrate, and since then I’ve been freezing with abandon.

I have asked for a vacuum sealer for Christmas. If 2013 was the year of canning, then 2014 will be the year of freezing.

It was the most romantic thing Carson has ever done.

How to remember the good

Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. is one of my favorite authors; I could read Cat’s Cradle once a year. A lot of what he wrote sticks with me, popping into my head on a near-daily basis. (If you’re the same, maybe we belong to the same karass?)

In 1997,  a truly beautiful graduation speech was falsely attributed to Vonnegut. It was actually a newspaper column written by Mary Schmich of the Chicago Tribune, in which she wrote the dream speech she would give if invited to do so.

Even though Vonnegut didn’t write it or say it, it’s a lovely urban legend. Plus, Schmich gives excellent advice; advice that pops into my head even more often than Vonnegut.

You can read the speech here.

In my life, I have magically been able to follow one particular piece of that advice: “Remember compliments you receive. Forget the insults. If you succeed in doing this, tell me how.” Here’s how I do it, Ms. Schmich.

First, I have a terrible memory and – more importantly – I forgive easily, so forgetting insults is (fairly) easy. I also realized from a young age that remembering the bad is a useless and depressing use of memory space.

To remember the compliments, I keep a journal. Every time someone says something that I want to remember, I write it down. I started it when someone said, “Everyone needs an Elizabeth.” I was so touched by it that I wanted to make sure I didn’t forget.

Here are some of my other favorites:

  • “It is difficult to adequately express, in an email, how impressed I am with your efficiency, professionalism, and positive attitude.”
  • “You are at the core of sisterhood, and everything it represents.”
  • “You’re smart and bold and generous. Most people who are smart and bold aren’t generous. It’s a rare combination.”
  • “I’m so grateful for you help, and the dignity with which you helped me. Nothing is worse than needing help and being humiliated by it.”
  • “Your thoughts are kind and your words eloquent, as usual.”
  • “Has anyone ever told you that you’re a domestic goddess?”
  • “You’ve been such a guiding light for me… you bring me so much joy, and I think you’re the cats meow, or pajamas, or whatever else gets blamed on the cat.”

Each entry includes what was said, who said it, and the context (where we were, whether it was written or verbal, etc). Reading this journal is like taking a therapeutic walk through the past – it instantly transports me to that moment in time, with the compliment representing some larger event that also makes me feel good about myself.

I don’t have it all figured out. I screw up all the time. I yell at my incredible boyfriend for using too much water when he washes the dishes. I’m bossy. Sometimes I’m lazy. But my compliment journal reminds me, in my darkest moments, how worthy I am.

And guess what? You are, too.


Life throws a curveball, or: When your boyfriend says he has internal bleeding, don’t roll your eyes

**Warning: for those of you familiar with my old blog, the length of this post is very much a throwback. Feel free to skim.**

The boy who didn’t cry wolf

When Carson got home from his fire shift on Monday morning, he was looking a little pale and said he didn’t feel well, which he attributed to having spent so many hours in a bumpy engine (Humboldt to Fresno and back in 36 hours – yeesh). He spent the rest of Monday and most of Tuesday in a flu-like state with a decent fever. He was lightheaded and his lower abdomen really hurt, but he had a vigorous appetite and managed to change a flat tire (his, not mine – I told him to call AAA!) so I figured it was a flu/sore-muscles-from-bumpy-ride combo. “Maybe I have internal bleeding,” he weakly suggested all day on Tuesday, followed by bouts of gentle moaning. “You’re fine,” I kept telling him, possibly with a few eye rolls. “It’s the flu.”

It’s not the flu

About 4 pm, he was doubled over in pain and his face was screwed up in what seemed to be a permanent grimace. I called the local urgent care center. “What’s his pain on a scale of 1-10?” asked the nurse I spoke with. “Four…” he mumbled. “Four?!?” I replied, not kindly. “We’re calling urgent care for a FOUR? Look at you. You’re like an eight.” The nurse advised we go to the ER, so I packed some snacks and a book and sweatshirts – knowing the hospital would be highly air conditioned – and away we went.

The triage nurse saw us at 4:30. By 5:00, he’d had blood drawn and an IV put in for fluids due to his high fever.

first IV

Carson’s first-ever IV

By 5:30, we knew his white cell count was high and he needed a CAT scan. By 6:30, we knew the results. The ER doctor was nice but spoke important things in a rushed way that made it hard to grasp, so when he walked in the words were already out of his mouth and we had to ask him to repeat himself. “You have acute appendicitis,” he said again. “You’re having surgery tonight.”

“What??” I exclaimed, raising my eyebrows and giggling in Carson’s direction, who was having a similar reaction. “That’s crazy!” I blurted out. “Way to keep calm for the patient,” the doctor scolded me. “Huh?” I replied, taken aback and embarrassed. “Oh, I mean, he’s… it’s fine. He knows what I mean.” And he did, of course, because it’s Carson and it’s hard to get him whipped up about anything. We’d been calm all day and we were still calm… we were just both so surprised! One of his first reactions was to say, “Well, at least it’s not a problem I’ll ever have again.” Then a much more ridiculous thing came out of my mouth: “It’s our first medical emergency as a couple!” It was Carson’s turn to roll his eyes.

Within 10 minutes the surgeon came in, then the anesthesiologist,  and 30 minutes later he was being wheeled away, so that a mere four hours after stepping foot into the ER Carson had his appendix removed. Later, the surgeon told me his appendix was twice the size of what they consider acute, and it had probably burst days ago. The operation didn’t take more than an hour, and they let me in to see him in recovery. From there I drove to Mary Anne and Howie’s to drop off a gluten-free peach cobbler I’d made for them earlier that day, the irony being that the glutenous one I made was special for Carson and now he wouldn’t get to eat any of it. I went back to the hospital an hour later to drop off some things. He was in his room and alert but sleepy, so I left him to rest.

Day Two: Under Pressure

The next day I spent 12 hours in his hospital room. Luckily the hospital has internet so I was able to work (because naturally this happened during my busiest work week yet as a freelancer). “Sorry I’m not paying much attention to you,” I told him after a few hours. “It’s okay, I’m not paying much attention to you, either,” he replied. We laughed. He was just happy to have me there, and I was happy to be there for him.

Unfortunately, his pain worsened throughout the day. As is common with most surgeries (or so I’m told), the air they fill the body cavity with builds in pressure until it finds some way to escape. Nothing we or the doctors or nurses did would relieve the pressure. When I finally left after 10 pm he was still trying desperately to work it out of his system.

Up Until the Wee Hours

When we’d left for the hospital on Tuesday I was in the middle of processing eight quarts of whole tomatoes. I had them all stewed, peeled, and packed, so I put them in the fridge until I could waterbath them. Wednesday night seemed like the time to do it (yes, at 10:30 pm), except I forgot that tomatoes take 45 minutes to process and I had to do it in two batches. It was a pain, but I always think preserving food is worth it, even when it keeps you up until 2:00 am. Turns out Carson was up most of the night, too. Hospital rest isn’t easy.

late night canning

I did at least use the waterbath time wisely, taking the opportunity to cook the chicken we had marinated for Tuesday’s dinner, make three quarts of pickles from our cucumber bounty (since, hell, the water bath was already going), write most of this and two other blogs, clean the kitchen, and take an oatmeal bath. Why the bath? Oh, didn’t I  mention that part? I’m covered in hives from head to toe.


Unfortunately they got worse from here.

When we went to the ER on Tuesday we both agreed it was ironic that we were there for him and not me. I really am a pathetic sight – the hives have grown so that many of them look like superhives, and the one on my face is especially attractive. (Note to self: SHOWER IMMEDIATELY after a long day of hiking in hot weather, sweating, swimming in lakes and rivers, and repeatedly applying sunscreen. This is not the first time I’ve done this to myself.)

Day 3: On the Mend

I spent 15 hours by Carson’s side on Thursday, watching TV and working. It was a strange time vacuum, but it’s always nice to be there for the ones you love when they need you. Plus it was a good excuse to avoid social interaction and give my hives time to heal. When I got there in the morning he looked a thousand times better, and he got up frequently to wander the hospital halls in the hopes of relieving some of that ever-present pressure, occasionally joking that he was “plotting his escape.” They wanted to keep him one more night, though, so I went home around midnight and told him to call me when they were ready to release him the next day.

Day 4: Home Again, Home Again

The doctor decided to release him at 6:30 am – love that early morning wake-up call! – and he’s now in his own bed, semi-comfortably resting. I took a picture of him as he was leaving the hospital but he wasn’t very happy about that, so I’m not going to post it here. (I guess some memories don’t need to be cataloged?)

I’m having to dig down deep to find my nurturing side (my family is not comprised of the most patient caregivers [no offense, Mom]) but he’s an easy and grateful ward, and when he’s sleeping I can steal his narcotics so it’s not without recompense. (Kidding!!) He’ll have to take a few weeks off work but it’s nothing compared to what would have happened if we’d waited much longer to get it checked out; I shudder to think how quickly he would have turned septic. Here’s to a healthy and speedy recovery!

Shout Out to Ukiah’s Awesome Hospital

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the quality of service and treatment Carson received at the Ukiah Valley Medical Center. It really is a wonderful hospital. I was amazed at how quickly everything happened in the ER, and the doctors and nurses were all extremely helpful and accommodating (though the doctors tended to talk too fast). Also, all the rooms are private, with private bathrooms and windows that open onto a grassy courtyard. The cafeteria serves pretty amazing food – dinner on Wednesday was a variety of Asian-inspired dishes, and Thursday offered authentic Mexican food including an incredible pozole – and I’m told the chef sources as many ingredients locally as possible. (Oh, Mendocino. Never change.) Also, the total bill seemed relatively affordable compared to what I think a CAT scan, surgery, and three-night hospital stay would be in San Francisco, for instance. Over the course of my life I haven’t had to spend much time in hospitals – happily – but I’m relieved to know that my local hospital is such a good one.

If you’re around and want to stop by, Carson will be a captive audience for a few days!

Showing my favorite people my favorite places

I haven’t blogged in a while, but I have a good excuse: out of town visitors! My dear friend Katie and her son Jacob were in town. I  lived with Katie and her partner Martin when she was pregnant, and I had the privilege of being like a second mom to Jacob during his infancy and for most of his young life.

I was worried that going from seeing me daily to seeing me twice a year would affect our relationship, but Jacob was so excited to see me (and I him, of course!) and our bond was none the worse for wear.

Katie brings the rain everywhere she goes, and a freak three-day June gloom settled over us. We enjoyed ourselves despite Mother Nature, braving the weather for a wet walk through downtown and an hour at Todd Grove playground. Carson and Jacob had so much fun together.

Rainy playground

On the third day the sun decided to shine in the afternoon and we headed back to Todd Grove to hit the playground and swim in the public pool. The weather had kept most people away so we had it largely to ourselves, which was nice.  We also picked plums at Caitlin and Addison’s house.

Plum pickin

The sun finally came out in the morning on their last day here, and we took full advantage by going swimming at Cow Mountain as well as Lake Mendocino. We also ran through the sprinkler in my backyard.

Cow mountain


From here Katie and Jacob went to Lake Tahoe to visit more friends, and then came back a few days later to Mendocino to camp in Hendy Woods for the 4th of July. Her brother and sister-in-law and their 2-year-old met us, as well as some friends of hers and their 6-year-old, all from the Bay area. Yes- I was the only one without a kid. A few years ago that would have been torture, but I’ve cultivated patience and a slow lifestyle so it was actually pretty fun.

Campground hand holding

Jacob was so sweet with his little cousin!

Speaking of rain – a freak thunderstorm came out of NOWHERE on Wednesday night! We’d been seeing flashes of light in the trees and speculated on its origin – flash photography? fireworks? aliens?? Finally we heard some low rumbles and realized it was heat lightning (it was 111 degrees when I left Ukiah that afternoon, and still about 100 in Anderson Valley 45 minutes away). “There’s no way it’ll rain,” I assured them. Except, it did. Bright lightning and ground-shaking thunder was accompanied by a veritable DUMP of rain that lasted from 11 pm to about 6 the next morning. Yeesh. A woman told Katie that in 21 years of camping at Hendy on the 4th, it had never once rained.

Thursday morning was the 4th and we headed north to the town of Mendocino to catch the quirky parade and spend some time on the beach. Unfortunately it’s hard to wrangle three young kids so we missed most of the parade, but the weather was perfect and we spent a lot of time relaxing on the beach. Caitlin drove from Ukiah and spent the day with us.


Dino face

Free face painting at the parade.


Beach kite


Sandy Jacob

That night everyone left but Katie, Jacob, and me, and the next day they headed north to Bend, the last stop on their road trip before heading home to Seattle. I followed them to Fort Bragg so we could stop at Glass Beach, a famous landmark that I love to visit. I will never visit the coast on the 4th weekend again! It was overrun with tourists, and what is usually a private activity was jam-packed with people filling bags of glass to take home and likely shove in a closet, which is sad because eventually Glass beach won’t have any glass left. Alas…

They managed to make it the 10 hours to Bend in one day (a feat for anyone, let alone a 4-year-old). I miss them already but we all had a wonderful time and we plan to make this an annual trip. Luckily I’ll be in Seattle for a few days in August, so I’ll get to see them again soon!

Group shot

Friends and wildflowers in Fort Bragg

This weekend’s 50 degree swing

Welcome to the North Coast, where temperatures can swing a full 40 degrees in a single day, and where you can drive 45 minutes to escape sweltering heat and arrive at a foggy coast.

Saturday: Ukiah, 109 degrees

When I woke up at 8:00 it was 70 degrees, and it shot up to 100 by noon. The only real option on a day like this is to wallow in water, and luckily we had been invited for a dip at the Magruder ranch in Potter Valley. After buttoning up the house (I drew blinds I didn’t even know we had) we poured ourselves into Carson’s sweltering truck and headed out to Potter Valley. This is the site that greeted us:


Game on! A 10 minute walk through bull-inhabited fields brought us to this sweet spot next to a small dam. After a few minutes in the water it was easy to forget how hot it was, but getting out of the water reminded you right quick.

dam swimming

After a few hours we loaded our goods back onto the ATV and then had the idyllic experience of floating rather than walking back to the house. Regal oaks framed the sky above us, and swallows dipped around us as we slowly floated by. There were a few “butts up!” sections and Susan’s tube was sacrificed to a shallow rocky outcrop. We had to convince some cows to let us pass; lots of laughter and a few wipeouts. I could have floated down that river forever.

Sunday: Mendocino Coast, 60 degrees

Although it dropped down to a manageable 90 degrees in Ukiah, we decided to spend the day on the coast. We took the 253 to the 128, stopping briefly in Boonville and driving through the campsites at Hendy Woods (I want to go back and hike!) before hitting Husch winery for a tasting and a walk through the vines. It was pretty sunny even a tiny bit inland, but as soon as we hit the coast the grey sky melted into the grey sea.

We started in the town of Mendocino, a gorgeous Stepford-esque town geared toward tourism. After a somewhat frustrating meal we rewarded ourselves with fudge from the Mendocino Chocolate Company (yum) and then fulfilled a classic coastal stereotype: we bought Mendocino sweatshirts. It was cold, ok? Our new sweatshirts happily donned, we took a short drive and then walked the 1/2 mile path to Point Cabrillo lighthouse in all our matching glory. (Carson: “You know we can never wear these at the same time again, right?”)

Point Cabrillo

This is a lovely little spot. Carson told me that east coasters like seeing west coast light houses because they’re so short. We have high cliffs so there’s no need to build a tall lighthouse, unlike the low, flat Atlantic beaches that require high structures. I’d never thought about it before but realized he was right after thinking about the lighthouses I’d seen back east.

Us Point CabrilloFor some reason Carson loves white/light colors, and somehow I let him talk me into a white sweatshirt. Rather than letting it sit untouched in the back of my closet for fear of stains, I fully plan on dyeing it once it turns grey from use.

Point Cabrillo landscapeFrom there we went to Caspar beach and watched the surfers while eating a little snack I’d packed for us – farmer’s market tomato and cucumber slices with cheese and salami (plus a beer for Carson). Then we drove home via the 20 and barbecued a flank steak I’d marinated that morning. Topped off with a garden/market salad, it was the perfect meal to end a lovely day.

Monday: Thunder and a chill

Rumbling thunder woke us at 5 am, and it was still going at 7:30. I wish it had kept up all day! Alas, I’m happy for a little rain and overcast skies since I thought we’d seen the last of days like this until the fall. I lit my new Mandarin Lavender soy candle (part of Carson’s anniversary gift to me) and I’m bundled up in my new sweatshirt, drinking coffee and procrastinating on the work I have to do before heading to San Francisco later today. I’m on the planning committee for Taste of Mendocino which is tomorrow at the Golden Gate club in the Presidio. More on that later I’m sure. And hey, if you’re in the Bay area, join us.

I hope you all had a great weekend!