Friday, August 31, 2012

A park grows in Brooklyn

Because my brother moved to New York City thirty years ago, I know that city more than I know any other. Sad but true, I've spent tons more time in the Big Apple than I have in San Francisco, which is a mere 100 miles away. Now that my brother and his wife live in upstate NY, I get down to the city less often. But it still draws me.

Brooklyn Heights is the charming neighborhood nestled just south of the Brooklyn Bridge. Its calm, quaint tree-lined streets of brownstones are a welcome respite from the taller more gritty parts of the city. We have spent many nights sitting on the Promenade, a walkway overlooking the cityscape - a fabulous place to relax with gorgeous views. Unless you looked down. Down on the piers and docks and abandoned warehouses lining the East River. The kind of place where people named Vinny fitted guys with concrete shoes for a swim in the river.
View from Brooklyn Heights looking west

On our last trip there, things were changing big time. The old buildings were getting demolished and we saw loads and loads of trees in buckets ready for planting. Huh? How were they going to make a park out of all that mess? You can't just put a park in a former concrete jungle, can you? They can and they did.

Brooklyn Bridge Park is not finished yet, but there is enough done to see this is going to be a cool place. A large landscaped area with a big lawn puts a park right where the docks were. They show free movies in summer after the sun goes down. There's a pool with a beach and sand and sun umbrellas. People are swimming with a view of the skyline - without the concrete shoes. There are places to view the city right at water level, a ferry service, the restored Jane's Carousel, walking and biking paths, with shops and restaurants to come. And the best part is they got rid of Vinny and the warehouses.

View to the east
Freedom Tower is the tallest one in the middle

Thursday, August 30, 2012

What's eating the grapes, Gilbert?

Coming home from the lush green landscape of Connecticut and upstate New York is always a shock to the senses. This time we didn't land in the daylight, so the reality of We Live in a DESERT didn't hit at the airport. But a look outside our first morning back confirmed it - California is dry. I watered my sad little plants, got the sprinkler going on the parched spots on the lawn and tried to revive things one last time before autumn.

Then the good things about our weather became abundantly clear. Tomatoes - lots and lots of them were just begging to be picked. Zucchini - lots and lots of them were pleading to be plucked before becoming baseball bats. Ahh - gardening in California - the pure joy of it all. I made a zucchini and tomato pasta sauce, served it on a bed of brown rice and all was forgiven.

On to the grapes, that was the next chore. When I last saw our grape vines, they were sagging with loads of purple sweet grapes. The first tastings were yummy, but since most were still on the young side, we decided to let them mellow on the vine a few more weeks.

I prefer a full bodied red
You've heard the urban legend that dogs are allergic to grapes and raisins? We heard that too. That's why we had a vet bill of $WayTooMuch two years ago when our new pup Molly ate my sister's oatmeal muffin studded with about 30 raisins. (We knew that because Joanne broke apart the one the dog didn't eat and counted the raisins. Leave it to the bakery to be so generous.) The word from the vet was that some dogs are allergic to some grapes and sometimes it is lethal.

Either we have a dog with some kind of cast iron stomach or she is not doing her job in chasing away grape stealing creatures from our fenced-in mini vineyard. But seeing as the vermin kill count now stands at:
1 skunk
1 rat
1 squirrel
2 possums
it is unlikely the Mollinator was willing to share the bounty of our harvest with the neighborhood critters. We should have become suspicious when she joined the Whine of the Month Club.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Romanians in Jersey? Sure!

The promise of a room full of Romanians from across the country lured us to the historic Stanley Theater in Jersey City, NJ this past weekend. We were not disappointed; it was a lovely weekend spent with friends both new and old. Delegates came from California, Oregon, Washington, Illinois, Texas, Georgia, New York as well as from Romania and Moldova. Of course the star attraction for me was my little buddy who moved last year to Georgia with her parents. She is a doll and puts up with my "can't get enough hugs" fussing over her. If travel is so stinking inconvenient and uncomfortable (plane delays, missed flights etc.) why can't it be cheaper so we can get to see our far flung friends more often?

Former Sacramentans - now Southern Girls

How I miss my fun Daniella!

The Little Squirt DVD was released in Romanian

It was a three kleenex goodbye

Monday, August 27, 2012

So long to the Bossert Hotel

Soon the Hotel Bossert will be sold and we'll lose our great place to stay in Brooklyn Heights. It's my favorite place in my favorite neighborhood in my favorite city. So one last night at the Bossert was in order for this trip to New York. It was a great good-bye - the weather stayed fabulous and all was great - except that the Big E was stuck in the airport in Philly and missed the fun.

A chandelier at the Bossert

We picked up Thai food and went to the roof of another historic building, The Towers Hotel, also in Brooklyn Heights. We've been going up there for years, long before it was transformed into a classy rooftop garden with flowers and actual furniture to sit on. We used to go there when the corner towers were dripping with stalactite formations. The whole thing has been gorgeously restored to match the million dollar views. Possibly our last visit here too -  it was all very nostalgic and bittersweet.

The roof of the Towers Hotel

photo credit

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

A most civilized beach

Compo Beach - August 2012
The beaches in Northern California are awesome and beautiful. I love to sit and watch the crashing waves, the sea otters and other adorable critters. I love the fog and the mist, especially when it's baking hot back in the Sacramento Valley. But for swimming? Brrrr cold tides...crashing waves...sea weed wrapping around the legs...the threat of a navigationally challenged Great White nibbling on one's's all a bit stressful.

No Riff and no Raff Allowed!

Compo Beach in Westport, Connecticut is not technically even the ocean, but it is salty enough to feel like it when I got a mouthful. It's on Long Island Sound and is an easy stroll from the very civilized parking, near the very civilized bathrooms and showers. The most uncivilized price of $30 for parking keeps out the riff-raff, but we managed to sneak in anyway - with Debbie sort of sitting on the floor of the van and our extra car parked at a real estate office. Thank you so much Coldwell Banker, we owe you one. Actually we owe you the $30 we saved by only arriving in one car. When Ernst writes the Great American Novel, we promise to buy a beach house from you.

The weather is still unseasonably crazy good. The water was so refreshing. We could really swim, not just fight the waves. Jo and I had a swim race. I think our Olympic chances are really slim, but we probably gave the lifeguard a good laugh. I went in again just as we were about to leave. It was heaven. Some higher waves were coming off the Sound. I was all alone. The clouds were overhead. It was so wonderful. A tune was in my head. The soundtrack to Jaws. I swam my civilized Californian self back to the beach and quit while I was ahead. And while I still had my head.



1. people, or a group of people, regarded as disreputable or worthless: a pack of riffraff.
2. trash; rubbish.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Cute things at my Mom's house

What do you know, it is not humid here in New England. I just love how green and lush it is here - love love love it. But with summer greenery comes rain and humidity. I don't do well in hot humidity. It brings out the beast in me. So although I was looking forward to seeing the family, I was questioning my sanity about visiting here in August.

I've hit a week of perfectly lovely weather. The only downside, and I can certainly live with this one, is that the fire flies are thinking it's not hot and humid enough to do their amazing miracle dance. As cute as they are, I'll take the cool dry weather.

Shed Happens, New England style

My brother and sister-in-law built my mom this adorable little shed. They aren't finished yet, trim and window boxes with flowers are to come. I'm having serious shed envy.

My mom's backyard

We went fabric shopping for my little buddy's rag quilt

Just a random Connecticut house. Man it's pretty here.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

On finding bugs in my hair

This has been a busy week for Team E and J. Getting ready for my trip back East has us running, or rather driving, all over hin and yon. E went to hin and I went to yon, and together we covered some of our funky car dealership inspection jobs.

That's what brought me into a store in Placerville - the store where some of the employees were looking at me a little funny. One of them just came out and said "You have something in your hair." Bird poop, that was my first guess. "It looks like a piece of tape of some sort." He helped me locate it. It was a tape flag covered with bugs, insects of all kinds. Romanian insects. And all I did was laugh.

In my quest to learn Romanian, I often make a List of the Week of Romanian words I'm learning and put it on my dashboard. My last list was of common household bugs - on a tiny Post-it tape flag.

gândac de bucătărie    cockroach (beetle of the kitchen)
furnică                        ant
păianjen                     spider
melc                          snail

And the little list went on and on, covering that little tape flag with all kinds of creepy crawlies. How it got from the dashboard into my hair is a mystery. How I think that learning the word for spider will help in my endeavors to learn Romanian is also beyond me. It's just so much easier learning the word for mosquito than learning the ins and outs of dative verb cases. And you never know when you may have to yell SNAIL really quickly, correctly conjugated or not.

Just at that point, when I was explaining to the guy what it was and then wondering why I didn't just lie and say I was memorizing famous Romanian poets, my friend Lana came up and hugged me. It was so good to see an old friend who knows me and can vouch for the fact that I normally don't go around with Romanian insects in my hair. But Lana, after that hug, you might want to check carefully - Got Melc?

Sew hard to make quilts in summer

According to the people who make lots of money on Etsy, now is the time to get busy for the fall and winter buying season. Especially for what I sell, rag quilts, it's a good idea to build up the inventory so that when the cooler weather hits, there will be lots of choices in my shop.

Tell that to my lazy summer attitude which is big on avoiding anything hot, such as quilt batting. The thought of working with a large square of fabric across my lap is just not appealing. Even if I crank up the AC, it's no time to even cook, let alone sew blankets. So my last project is sitting around, all cut out and nowhere to go but in the box I shoved it in. I may be lazy, but I'm a neat lazy person who must hide the Procrastination Projects under beds and other dark places.

So it was a nice surprise to sell the Sandy Beach Quilt to a woman who volunteers at my favorite thrift store. The Assistance League Thrift Store is one of my go-to places to find cute project fabric - the kind I love for themed rag quilts. I have worked with this person at the Bar Exam and she kept saying she wanted to buy one of my quilts. So we made the transaction Tuesday with the temperature soaring and the skies filled with smoke. Not exactly quilt season, but I'll take the sale.

I'm off to visit family back East and attend a Romanian convention, so my sad little menagerie of inventory on Etsy will now go into vacation mode. (Or maybe I can bribe the Big E to sew some quilts while I'm gone?) But come September, at the first sign of a cool morning or evening, I'm back on track. I've got lots of quilts to make and so little time before true quilt season hits.

My next project, hiding quietly under the guest bed.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Happy Campers - Part Two

You would think being a Camp Fire Girl when I was a kid would mean I camped a lot. Not so. I think my whole stint with CFGs involved only two camping trips, one which left me with a big tick in the back of my head. On the other trip, my CFG buddy and I decided to rough it by only eating pine nuts we collected. We gave up that bright idea once we smelled the spaghetti. My other memories involved earning merit beads that we sewed on our vests and selling Camp Fire Girl Mints door-to-door. I always wished they were Girl Scout Cookies, but the two organizations never shared goodies.

My dad would have been a totally great camper. He even had all the stuff: a tent, a cook stove and sleeping bags. There was just one problem - my mom. She was/is a lady through and through, never even wore pants the whole time I was growing up and just was not the camping type. They were both from Chicago, but my mom got more of the city in her. I don't think my dad minded too much. I'm sure he gladly gave up the great outdoors for his sweet, lovely, well-dressed wife who was/is Kindness in Heels. Sometimes he would set up the tent in our backyard in Arden Park and cook breakfast for us kids when we woke up from our big adventure.

My family once borrowed a trailer and went down to San Clemente. That was roughing it for my mom because there was a big spider in the trailer when we picked it up. All I remember is that I got a new pair of seersucker pajamas for the trip and that my two brothers got to sleep in the back of the Dodge station wagon. I was jealous, new pjs and all. That was the extent of my camping as a kid.

As a single girl, camping meant bumming along with people who had all the gear. I remember once sleeping in a not-rated-nearly-high-enough sleeping bag in Wyoming. As a rookie camper, I had taken a shower at night and went to sleep with wet hair. It was so cold, I seriously thought, "OK, this is what it's like to die young. They are going to find our frozen bodies here in a few days, mine with icicles on my head." To make matters even worse, all my near death thrashing in the night caused my long wet hair to get tangled in a pile of twigs that my friend's little boy had piled in the tent. When I woke up, lo and behold, everyone else had properly rated sleeping bags or were smart enough to move to the car in the middle of the night. They never taught me to move to the car in Camp Fire Girls.

I sensed things were looking way up when some friends of my husband's family gave us an ice chest as a wedding present. Soon to follow was Augustine, the family VW camper bus that came equipped with a really neat tent that hooked up to the door. And to top it off, or to bottom it out, we were the recipients of the family port-a-potty. Now you may not view a port-a-potty as a proper gift among family or friends, but that thing served us well. We camped all over Northern California with our vintage white camper bus with the funky yellow and blue tent that so discreetly hid the ol' port-a-pot.

Augustine in Yosemite

As time went on, that bus seemed to get a little smaller and smaller each time we went. We were getting bigger and bigger, but of course we blamed it on the VW. Our backs would ache in the morning after sleeping on the cushions that were designed to sit on, not sleep on. We decided it was time to upgrade and started looking for a used little trailer. Some absolutely incredibly kind and crazy-generous friends offered to sell us their Casita Travel Trailer for a rock-bottom price. When we went to pick it up, they tore up our check and they gave it to us!!! Gave us a Casita trailer. Five years later this still shocks me. But there it is in our yard in all its Casita cuteness. Not only it is so fun to camp in, it acts like a great overflow guest room when we have lots of company. So from frozen hair tangled with sticks to cozy Casita comfort, this former Camp Fire Girl is now camping in style!

 photo credit:

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Happy Campers - Part One

A very good sign.

Now that we bring our dog camping, the packing list has grown to include:
lots of old towels
bowls that don't tip
doggie bed
doggie bed for the trailer
Gentle Leader
chew toys
dog brush
plastic bags for picking up Doggie Number Two
and of course, don't forget the dog

Our first dog Kodie had a special camping bark. When he saw us loading the car and hooking up the trailer, he began his special high pitched yelp that said: "Please, please, please don't forget me - that back space in the car has my name on it!"
Although bringing a 100-pound dog with hip issues on a camping trip is not easy, he did enjoy some good trips with us after we adopted him. He loved every single thing about the whole process, which could be seen from his travel smile.
The Subaru seats had to be drool-proofed.

The Boy was just too big and stinky to sleep in our little trailer, so we were super happy that he was OK with sleeping in his own (pup) tent. The first time Ernst set up our garage sale special dog tent, Kodie got in before the tent poles lifted it off the ground. Even while held back by only a thin layer of nylon, Mr. Wanderer seemed to respect the walls of his tent.
Camping and dogs - a win win situation

The all important decapitated stuffed toy collection.

Trying out the new pup tent he never got to use.
Our first trip with our dog Molly let us know - in no uncertain terms - that she was having nothing to do with sleeping in a pup tent. "The dog's in the trailer with the humans, let's get that straight right now people." But she has mellowed into a really great little camping dog, even if one walk had her pulling me through the bushes after a squirrel. So much to sniff, so little leash.

Aaah, the Camping Nap.
Perfect dog beach - no sand, just little pebbles

Not the Little Surfer Girl

One thing we hoped with both our dogs is that they would love the ocean. Not happening. We took both to the same beach, and they wanted nothing to do with the water that didn't stay put. I think it's a control freak thing. Both our dogs had/have Alpha Dog issues, and what is the ocean but one big beast that is not respecting their personal doggie space? How dare the waves chase them, they are the chasers. So our dream of having a cute dog that chases balls into the ocean is not to be. Molly did get the last word in the end; we'll just say our happy camper knows how to count to Number Two.

(The impressionist style of this video is due to our camera being on the fritz.)