Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Embracing change

Oh, I know I sound like a broken record -- "Change change chaaaannngeeee......change of foo-ools"
(Yes, I know it's "chain." I'm taking literary license.)

We're back from 10 days visiting our pasts and our present, and, potentially, our future. And change looms large today. It's technically our last day in real estate, as Tony starts a new opportunity tomorrow, and we're shutting down our little firm. The cheese moved, and we're finding new cheese.

So we've done lots of looking back over the last couple of weeks, and I'm sure you haven't read the last of it. As for the new opportunity, it means the end of our working across the room from each other and the relative freedom to control our time, but it also means positive cash flow, a chance to do work he's very good at and enjoys doing, and time off that will actually BE time off (every time -- save this last 10 days -- we'd go out of town, we'd inevitably get an offer or request to show or some real estate concern, which meant we'd have to take time to deal with it remotely while we were "on vacation.") It's a good thing.

I'll still be working from our home office -- cleaning up the remnants of our time in real estate, doing various freelance writing gigs that are coming my way, eventually working to grow that business a bit. I've freelanced at various times in past lives and always enjoy it. It's familiar ground, and will keep me as busy as I want to be.

So that's the biggest change I've talked around in the past several posts. A door opened; we walked through it.

I rather like change. It keeps the mind fresh, thinking of possibilities, of consequences, of ways to grow and learn and become. In every instance, change in my life has brought me good things, even when it's been hard. I believe that this new opportunity will do the same.

I am grateful for all the friends we've made in real estate and the learning experiences it's provided. It's been an interesting ride, and one that's allowed us to add some good skills, to learn about ones we didn't know we had, and to transition between who we were into who we are now. And now it's on to the next life lessons.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Unseasonably wonderful weather

Today was simply amazing, weather-wise. I woke very early to the sound and earthy scent of RAIN -- this is practically unheard of in Red Bluff in the summer! And to top it off, it was cool outside. In fact, it's been cool enough to have open windows at night for many days -- we've had to remind ourselves that this is July, not October or April.

While I think that points north and west got a lot more rain, we had enough that there were big puddles and moist ground, and most of the day was overcast and cool. No air conditioning or swamp cooler today! Just open windows, savoring breezes. Thunder rumbled in the distance for several hours this afternoon, and enormous dark clouds loomed to the west and north, but nothing got close enough to make me turn off the computer.

Right now, it appears that we won't see 100 for another week. It makes me wonder a little if winter is going to be very cold and long -- but hey. I'll take it if it means a cooler summer, and certainly we've had that lately, although parts of June and early July were scorchers.

I'm sure someone will link this to global warming somehow. Yeah, I'm one of the skeptics...I've heard and read enough that I'm simply not convinced that the sky is falling. While I believe it is our responsibility to be careful and conservative about our disposables, our resources, and our consumption, I think much of what is ballyhooed as global warming is a cyclical event.

But I stray into political waters, where my intent is simply to express gratitude for a wonderful respite from crispy summer weather.

On a sadder note, we are down to two outside kitties: Weasley and Harry. Muggle finally succumbed to whatever illness it was that started a year ago, and we had to put down little grey Hermione about two months ago because she had the same thing. We believe genetics were at work here -- both kitties were small, from the same litter, and both had had problems. Their momma Lulu, a very placid porch kitty, disappeared for days, then showed up clearly sick, but before I could get her to a vet, she disappeared again -- we think under the shed to die. She hasn't shown up since.

Outside kitties are subject to so many perils -- and yet, their hunting skills have kept rattlesnakes at bay on our property since we've lived her. We're good to our kitties: they have plenty of good food to eat, they get their shots, they have dry, safe, warm places to sleep and hang out, and they get plenty of petting. And we've lost six in the last four years to illness (4), one to a predator, and one just disappeared. It makes us sad -- we consider them pets -- but they're pets with a job.

After we return from a trip back east, we'll probably get two or three young ones to keep the boys company. Weasley will take 'em to raise. Harry would prefer to be the only cat, but he'll come around. Hopefully the new ones will be healthier.

I'm going to go climb into a nice soft bed, pull the covers up, savor the cool air floating through the open windows, curl up next to my honey, and sleep. You too.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

You get out of life what you put into it

"Life may not be the party we hoped for. But while we're here, we should dance."

That's my quote for the season, at least, if not the year. It was at the bottom of one of those e-mails reflecting on treasuring every moment you have -- one of my constant themes, and one I need to be reminded of over and over, lest I get so caught up in deadlines and to-dos that I forget there are more important things.

If you don't like what you're doing, change something: your attitude, your situation, your job. Another one of my favorites: If you do what you've always done, you'll get what you've always gotten.

Yeah. So. We're doing that...changing...more to come on that, but it's a good thing.

WE make our own destiny. We get to choose how we get out of bed in the morning: unhappy because parts of the body hurt, or happy because parts of them don't hurt. I can love the gray hairs and aging skin -- because I'm alive to have them!

Bad things happen to everyone. The party isn't much fun sometimes, to be sure. But by golly, I'm going to dance anyway, because I can. Because this is all I have, this moment.

Hope you dance too.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Being in this moment

Deadlines loom everywhere, and I'm trying to very methodically chip away at them, one article or one task at a time. It's not working as well as I'd hoped...I feel like I'm behind the eight-ball with what I need to accomplish this next week, and I'm trying not to add anything else.

And yet I just spent 45 or so minutes swinging outside with Tony, enjoying a cool evening breeze (in July!!! in Red Bluff!!!) and watching the end of a lovely sunset. Weasley and Harry Potter both wanted on our laps and to be petted, which drove the indoor boys nuts, especially McMurphy. So we petted kitties -- a lovely way to spend a summer evening.

It's good to take time to appreciate where you are, what you have, who you are. It's good to give thanks for gifts of the earth and the spirit, and for new opportunities and beginnings. It's good to remember that despite our concerns (and frustrations) over the various life-issues that our children are going through, the Universe isn't done with them yet, and the choices they make are theirs, not ours, to live through.

Oh, we all make mistakes, don't we -- when we're young, when we're not so young -- and I sure hate to think of what would have happened to me if the Universe had been done with me at age 25 or 30! As we mature, I think our ability to look down the road at longer-range consequences improves, and then the challenge is not to get so bogged down in all the what-ifs that you can't make the choices!

I'm glad I'm not 25 or 30 anymore. I like where I am, mostly, and what I don't like I know how to improve (oh, will power, where DO you hide!)

Life can change forever in seconds, with an accident, an illness, a death, a birth, a word...I am reminded of that every day in some way, whether it is a phone call, an e-mail, a story in the paper, or simply remembering my own such life-changing seconds, many of them documented here.

It is a continuing challenge to cherish each moment, to be grateful for it, and to live in it. Each moment is all we really have. Watching the sunset and savoring the evening with my honey was the best thing I did today for me. May you savor your moments, too.

Sunday, July 08, 2007

The garden delivers...

The lettuce in the garden is bolting -- not surprising, after our recent 112+ degree temps, although the romaine still appears okay. Green onions are still okay, although with our rocky soil, you gotta get them when it's damp. I doubt any of them will stay good for much longer-- just too hot.

Sugar snap peas are about done, too, and this has been a nice, long season for them, with ample supplies for salads and stirfrys. The vines are browning, and the deer will get the last bits when I yank them up, probably this week.

Green beans have been slow, but we've had a few suppers with them. The plants didn't do as well as I'd hoped, and I may put a few more in the ground when it cools down a bit this week (to high 90s and low 100s -- )

Even though the tomato plants are runty and small, they're loaded with tomatoes, and I'm about to get the first big one. The grape tomatoes have given us a handful -- about enough for a salad. Zucchini, also runty, has a few small ones coming along and the plants are healthy and blooming....just small. I've picked a small eggplant and a green pepper, and we had a quick sauce with those and with fresh tomatoes from someone else's garden over pasta the other night. Very yummy. I don't know what happened with the pepper plants this year: I planted a dozen or so, and something ate all but two of them -- nothing else in the garden, just the pepper plants. Whatever it was hasn't touched the three I planted a few weeks ago.

Tonight we had our first mess of swiss chard, and -- also the first one -- a half a sliced Asian cucumber that I marinated in white wine vinegar, along with a boneless chicken breast that I used a dry rub on and sauteed, then cooked briefly in a little red wine. Love those cukes, and with just one plant this year, I hope we won't get overrun as we have in years past.

But the swiss chard was just exquisite. A neighbor gave me the ultimate recipe and I could just savor this as a whole meal. Here 'tis:

Sweet-and-sour Swiss Chard with Dried Currants

4 Servings
3 pounds green and/or red Swiss chard (about 3 large bunches), tough ends trimmed, cut into 2-inch pieces.
1 tablespoon olive oil (preferably extra-virgin)
2 large garlic cloves, crushed
3 Tablespoons dried currants
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
COOK Swiss chard in large pot of boiling salted water until tender, about 5 minutes. Drain well.
HEAT oil in large nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add garlic and stir 30 seconds. Add Swiss chard and currants; saute until heated through, about 3 minutes.
Drizzle vinegar over and toss to coat. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Transfer to bowl and serve.
Thank you, Deb!

I also made a very small batch of fresh plum freezer jam with plums from another neighbor's tree. They're the tiny prune plums that are at least half seed, so I washed them and put them with a little water into a pan and cooked it down, then ran the results through a food mill -- had to manually pick out the stones, but it was easy. Got about 3 cups of pulpy plum, to which I added a cup of Splenda (they were very flavorful, but rather sour), and then used the no-sugar pectin to blend with the mixture. I'll put the jars in the freezer tomorrow -- I think it will be fairly soft, but it was really tasty.

I am so grateful for the luscious fresh veggies we get to enjoy from our garden, and the bounty of fresh fruit that we have in this area! It is such fun to cook with whatever is ripe today. The Wednesday farmer's markets begin this week, so there will be even more to choose from. I hope you enjoy this summer's harvest!

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Oh say, can you see... Independence Day 2007

As with most major holidays, this one has many memories wrapped around it, most involving food and fireworks -- well, isn't that the American tradition of this holiday?

Probably foremost is the one in 1976, the bicentennial of the U.S., and my first with a baby. Rachel was only five months old, and we took her photo with us and the family car just as my ex had had his taken for years when he was a child. We spent the fourth with friends in Fayette, MO., just 30 miles from where we lived at the time, but we'd lived and gone to school in Fayette much of the previous decade and a half.

I remember watching television coverage of the Tall Ships parade in New York -- how impressive that was! And we were guests at one of the lovely old restored homes with many friends, eating hamburgers and hotdogs and ice cream, and Rachel didn't even cry at the fireworks. It was a magical day, that one.

There were other fireworks, too -- years later in Zionsville, Ind., we'd see everybody in town at the city park where we all gathered to lay on our backs and watch sparkling tracers of light float through the (sometimes foggy) sky., batting mosquitos and either sweating or chilly in the humid Indiana summer... such is the nature of Midwest weather.

I remember another fourth in Birmingham, Ala., when Rach had gone off with her boyfriend and my ex -- on a deadline -- had gone back to work, and I found a spot on a hill where I could watch the fireworks on Red Mountain and listen to the Sky Concert on the radio by myself. It was a lonely night, that one.

More recently, we ventured to San Francisco's Fisherman's Wharf (when we lived in the Bay Area) for the afternoon, walking all the way from the Ferry Building to Ghirardelli Square and enjoying the sunshine, the strange and interesting people along the way, browsing through shops and street vendors, and food at a couple of different places. We settled ourselves on the broad lawn stretching to the amphitheater and listened to a band, and waited for dusk and fireworks.
And it got cool. And cooler. And then it was downright cold. While I'd brought a sweater, Tony had poo-poohed the notion that he might need a jacket, and was freezing.

So before the fireworks even got started, we got up, started walking, and finally hailed a cab to take us back to the BART station so we could go home. About an hour later we watched the fireworks on TV from the warmth of our living room. That was the last time that we went down to the Wharf for fireworks!

We're gathering with friends and neighbors to enjoy fellowship and feasting today, and likely will catch Red Bluff's show from afar, in air-conditioned comfort. I'm so grateful for our life and friends here, for the freedom of expression and thought and action that this country affords us, and for those who keep vigil over those freedoms. Thank you.

Monday, July 02, 2007

Foiled again...

The pesky raccoons are still enjoying a nightly snack of cat food, despite the fact that we've rigged a protective wire barrier around the food dish. It slows them down. But the brazen critters have gone so far as to use the water dish to wash their food/paws.

We've been stalking them for what -- two years? Three years? We bring the food in at dark most nights, bringing it back out and allowing the outside kitties a bedtime snack but under our watchful eyes. But if we're gone at dusk or forget, the masked bandit waste no time.

The latest one is smaller and younger than the huge old boar that was frequenting the Maxey diner last winter, and tonight I watched him stand up and look around, clearly unsettled. But his desire for easy chow overcame his caution, and he was behind the wire when Tony came charging out of the door, shotgun in hand.

Oh, he took off then and rounded the corner, Tony right behind him, and then just disappeared. We shined lights into all the nearby trees: nothing. It was breezeless and still; we heard zip. We don't know what happens when he goes around the corner, but if he was in a tree, he was high and hugging tight.

The wire barrier has deterred the deer from coming up on the porch, but not the others. I worry that one of the cats -- probably Weasley, the protector -- will confront a raccoon and get injured, although we have seen Weasley hustle one of them away from the house. Still, they can be so fierce.

I'm sure that in the raccoon den, the old boar tells the youngsters the story of the strange humans, and how funny they look when the man comes charging out of the front door carrying a flashlight and a shotgun. Or how it's a great laugh when the woman flies out of the door, barking like a giant Rottweiler while the man is waiting for a shot on the side stoop, and how the old 'coon foils them all by going around the OTHER side of the house, laughing all the way with a full tummy.

One of these days, Mr. Raccoon. One of these days....