Entries in smaug (8)


smaug, 07.??.96 -- 06.22.16

After twenty years, our little dragon has flown away. Rest in peace, sweet Mei Mei.

Many, many more pictures here.


my unintentional year in review

It's both coincidental and not that the last post on this here website (7(!) months ago) was a reflection about how blessed we are. It would've been a good stand-in for the obligatory end-of-the-old-start-of-the-new year post, and I suppose still is, since everything I wrote about then is still true. But on the whole, 2013 was a hard year, and by the end, I wanted nothing more than to see it in my rearview mirror. Hence the dearth of posting.

I've had a lot to share. I have drafts of posts I never got the time to finish, loads and loads of pictures to upload, bentos pics to update, and of course Hall House projects to finish writing about. But things were busy, like they always are, and as the amount of things to post about built up, it started to become A Thing.

And then November happened. Well technically, the end of October to the end of November, but I'm getting ahead of myself.

I was apprehensive about 2013 from the beginning, and as soon as I returned to work from the holidays, found out I had good reason to be.  From the first day back, we were faced with some big challenges at the office that ended up taking months to resolve, a friend received terrible news, and it was looking increasingly likely that the plans I'd made for my milestone birthday would have to be cancelled. By the end of the first month, I had fired January altogether and put 2013 on notice.

at Manzanita, looking toward Neahkahnie MountainThankfully, my birthday plans didn't have to be cancelled, after all. I celebrated my 40th in several ways, with family and with Sal and with my own quiet little sojourn. And later, with the Albino, whose birthday is just a month after mine, and our mutual friend, Twinklebugs. A year in the making, we celebrated the entry into our fifth decade with a Girls' Weekend in Manzanita. We rented a house on the beach and when we weren't just staring out the windows, we were out on the sand and shopping and eating ridiculously good food and staying up very late talking.

the rapiers are the prettiest, but the longswords are the most funSigns continued that 2013 might not be so bad after all. In April, I attended the first ever Swords for Scribes workshop put on by my friend Kim and her partner. I got to handle swords and machetes and rapiers, oh my, and practice three different sequences and learn all the awesomely gruesome physics of blades in battle. We then vanquished a melon army and watched a live duelling session between people who know what they're doing. I also learned that I am madly in love with the two-handed long sword.

Lake Quinault LodgeOur summer technically kicked off in May, when we spent a long weekend at Lake Quinault Lodge on the Olympic Peninsula, which I planned to post about in yet another brilliantly-written-only-in my-head post. We lucked out with temps in the 80s all weekend and a cabin room with an unparalleled view. We dangled our feet in the water and snapped pics of an otter swimming around the dock and climbed the roots of an ancient Sitka spruce. We took an epic 5 mile trail hike, up ravines, past waterfalls, and through a wetland.

My mom and grandmother came out for a visit for five days at the end of May, and we ran them (gently) ragged, to rose gardens and the forestry museum, Powell's and a plant nursery. We enjoyed dinner at the OCI restaurant so Grandmother could eat the food Sal teaches his students to make, and we enjoyed dinner at our own humble kitchen so Grandmother could eat the food Sal masterfully creates. We made a trip down to my office, so she could see where I work at my "very grownup job". And we spent a significant time doing my Grandmother's favorite thing of all: Visiting. (My family doesn't just talk. We visit, which is talking taken to the level of an Olympic sport, because my family are world-class caliber visitors.) We started a list of the things we'll do during her next visit.

summer vacation in OceansideAt the end of June, we took our summer vacation to Oceanside and enjoyed a nice bit of time off together. We celebrated our 17th anniversary in mid-July with a driveabout, something we hadn't done in a long time. Our destination? The Arctic Circle in Prineville so we could have a Bounty Burger and fry sauce like the ones we had at the Arctic Circle in our hometown back in the day.

Crooked River Canyon, looking eerily similar to our Wyoming homeOur driveabout led us to the Crooked River Canyon and we had the best, best day of adventure, windows rolled down and singing to our favorite road music at the top of our lungs and making it to a gas station juuuuuust in time on the way home. We capped off our wonderful day with a romantic dinner of takeout pizza by candlelight and talking until late into the night, hands held and maybe tears of gratitude a time or two.

it's been more than 13 years since we'd last had a Taco Johns softshell, and it tasted just like we remembered(We made a similar nostalgic fast food daytrip on Labor Day weekend, this time to TriCities, which we'd never been to before but happens to be the nearest location of a Taco John's. Because sometimes, you just gotta drive three and a half hours for six pack and a pound.)

rain, rain, glorious rainThe beautiful weather that started in May continued almost unbroken through the first half of September, which is how I found out there really is such a thing as Summer SAD and wow, do I have every single symptom. If there ever was any doubt that the PNW is my homeland, this summer cleared that up definitively. I actually like summer okay, and Oregon summers are pleasant and mild for the most part. But I do battle insomnia and loss of appetite when the weather turns warmer and this year, they came with a low burn anxiety that had me agitated and restless by mid-August. But the rains finally came in mid-September and we crossed into blessedly cool and wonderful autumn at last. It took a few weeks, but I started to feel like my old self again.

Really, 2013 could've been an okay year, my struggles with the summer notwithstanding. But there had been one particular shadow casting a long silhouette across everything all year, and in the back of my mind, I knew something very hard was coming.

Back in January amidst all the work stuff, my dear friend and colleague and mentor, Geri, received terrible health news. The kind of news that measures time in weeks and not years. The kind of news that brings everything else to a stop. Two months, they said. Maybe three.

She leaped into a battle for more time. Not time for the sake of it, nor time increasingly occupied by specialists and last-ditch treatments. She was determined to have good, quality, make-the-most-of-it, leave-no-regrets time. And warrior that she was, she wrested eight extra months of time from that initial diagnosis and in true Geri fashion, she packed a whole lot of living into it.

I was one of many incredibly fortunate beneficiaries of that extra time so fiercely fought for. We met for lunch regularly and I visited her at home when treatments left her tired. We texted all the time. We played epic rounds of Word Feud and Draw Something until well past either of our bed times. She regaled me with tales of a life well-lived, of a fearless woman who blazed trails and kicked asses left, right, and center while wearing very fashionable footwear. I showed her whatever artwork I'd recently finished and told her all my funniest stories and caught her up on the latest goings on at the office. I got to visit with her and laugh with her and hug her and hold her hand. I got to make sure she knew, every time, how important she was to me.

Her partner very kindly notified me the morning she died, and my colleagues very kindly shouldered the responsibility of figuring out how best to notify our staff, and my husband very kindly asked me what did I need. It was a pretty fall day, season of my heart, all blue sky and autumn colors ablaze in technicolor intensity, the kind of day that's so brilliant your soul feels too small to contain it all, and as I sat looking out our kitchen window, I knew it was a day to be outside, breathing that air and digging in the earth, connecting to life in a profoundly simple way.

the lilac my mom bought for my new homeIt's a tradition in my family to plant something to mark events and occasions and to remember those we love. A lilac for a mother's day, perhaps, maybe a pretty clematis for a birthday. A favorite rose bush to mark a great grandmother's passing, a silver leafed tree to mark a daughter's graduation, a willow for a significant anniversary. Geri was a gardener -- she would appreciate such a tradition. A tree would honor her well.

At the nursery, as we wandered among maples and oaks and birch and ash, I thought a lot about her, touching each trunk -- was this Geri's tree? This one? Maples are my favorite, but the birches kept drawing our attention. The birch is a symbol of renewal and strength, the first to leaf when spring hasn't yet taken firm hold, quick to repopulate after the ravages of fire. Resilient in times of adversity, spreading beauty and comfort where they're most needed, a symbol of hope and a reminder that the dark days will brighten. Yes, that was Geri.

Geri's treeWe decided on a birch variety called 'royal frost', which has red and burgundy leaves in spring and summer, turning gold in fall, and striking salmon-colored bark until it matures. We made a prominent place for it in our back yard near the stump of the old apple tree we had to take down last year, tucked in among ferns and bleeding hearts and snowberries and heuchera. That pretty salmon bark stood out beautifully, the last few leaves burning dark burgundy against the late October sky. Damp dark earth, sharp scented bark mulch, a hummingbird hovering nearby as if to oversee our informal little ritual.

The serenity of that day became a touchpoint of calm in the weeks that followed. There was the office remodel that became both a logistical and scheduling headache, the abrupt demise of my laptop a week before my clients' websites needed their monthly updates, the scramble to get the house ready for an appraisal for a refinance that moved faster than expected. There was my granddad in the hospital, and a week later, my dad. My granddad's surgery went well, thankfully. Dad's surgery did, too, but there were complications and days of worry and frequent check-ins, waiting to hear if everything was going to be okay.

There was Geri's memorial. There were the hard days that followed.

There was a health scare for Smaug that saw us at Dove Lewis (emergency veterinary hospital) at 1 AM on a Monday night, where we waited for nearly five hours through a series of tests and scans, ending in inconclusive results and us returning home long enough for an hour nap before our regular vet opened for more tests.

There was me forgetting the disk with the scans from the hospital in the rush to get out the door, which meant Sal had to bring them to me instead of getting a couple of hours sleep before work, and all of that complicated by a financial snafu that threatened to derail the refinance, which Sal heroically straightened out while we waited for the vet. Afterward, there was a mad dash to the office for a meeting, still in my clothes from the night before and barely able to keep my eyes open. There was a text from Sal when I got out of my meeting that his laptop stopped working because of course it had.

the day Smaug returned from her ordeal at the hospital and the vetSmaug's recovered, thankfully, from what turned out to be an e.coli infection. But she and Hobbes will be 18 in a few months, and she doesn't bounce back like she used to. They've been slowing down a bit this last year, but she seems to be aging quicker since this last incident. I have a feeling that this was probably our last Christmas with her, and as close as she and Hobbes are, wouldn't be surprised if he follows her soon after. They both seem okay, but something seems to have changed, and I feel like she's giving us little signs to prepare ourselves. Maybe for months, maybe for longer. Maybe not.


So we make extra extra sure to enjoy our time with them each day, and continue to be grateful for the many years of joy and immeasurable love they have brought into our lives. We will let them go gracefully and painlessly when their time comes, whenever it does. I don't know how I will face those days, or a home without their delightfully demented and crazed little selves. This is the price we pay for love.

But if the month of November was heavy with grief, it was not unrelenting. ProcrastiGirl got engaged and her obvious happiness is an infectious sort of joy. The appraisal exceeded our hopes, the refinance closed successfully, and we'll be able to start some long overdue projects soon. The laptops were replaced (after a not insignificant amount of sturm und drang, but compared to everything else, it's hardly worth a mention), and I was fortunate enough to borrow one from work in the meantime, managing through two months of client website updates without a hitch despite the disarray of our technology while we waited for our new laptops. Family and friends provided support and encouragement throughout the chaos. We squeezed in time for little diversions to relieve the stress. We enjoyed our annual Hall-Smiley Thanksgiving Extravaganza of laughter and fun and food and love.

And even after she was gone, Geri was still working her special magic. It was thanks in part to her that reconciliation came from an unexpected quarter, renewing a lost relationship. That loss was an old wound, deep, but long since moved past. But she healed it just the same, as if to remind me that she's still got her eye on me. On all of us. That was the kind of person she was, to have an impact on all the lives that surrounded hers. Renewal and strength, spreading beauty and comfort where they're most needed. Yes indeed, that's Geri.

Christmas Eve fogHeading into December, I think 2013 decided we'd had enough. December came with spectacular bouts of fog and downright frigid temperatures, conjuring something akin to the winters we grew up with -- as close as you can get in the PNW, anyway --which it made it feel more festive somehow. We had some much-needed time off together, in which we baked cookies and listened to Christmas music and watched every single one of our Christmas movies. A few days before Christmas, we dressed up for a nice night out -- dinner at Veritable Quandary followed by the tree all lit up at Pioneer Courthouse Square and enjoying being out and about in our city all dressed up for the holiday. We went to all the movies we wanted to see and took walks through the neighborhood and brewed beer and spent time in the studio making glorious artistic messes.

winter vacation in OceansideBetween Christmas and New Years', we made our winter pilgrimage to Oceanside, enjoying unusually warm days, a bit of sunshine, and the sounds of the waves soothing us to sleep at night. Sal found four intact sand dollars, the first time we've ever found one intact, let alone four, and that seems like a good omen. And we ended the year the same way we started it, with our Smiley family and all the little traditions we've created together for the last day and the first.

That's by no means all of our highlights -- nor all of our lowlights -- of the complicated year we've just put behind us, but they're the parts I wanted to share here, to memorialize. I won't remember 2013 fondly, but I do want to remember that so many good memories happened this year, too, and maybe 2013 was a lesson in taking comfort in those things amidst the difficult ones. To remember the symbolism of Geri's tree: of renewal and strength, spreading beauty and comfort where they're most needed.




this charming life

fairy house the Fabulous Miss M and I built yesterdayA coworker friend once told me, "You have a charming life." On days like today, I believe that's true.

She was saying it from the vantage of acquaintanceship, looking into my life from the outside, seeing the picture I showed her, of the old house lovingly remodeled, the dear husband who is talented and kind and hilarious and so very thoughtful, the two cats with more personality than their little bodies can hold. And surely to someone with two little kids at home and free time a far distant memory, my life of writing and artwork and frequent trips and neighborhood adventures must surely seem romantic and enchanting. She does not see the dishes that pile up more often than I'm comfortable admitting, or the tumbling tumbleweeds of cat hair that roll across our dusty floors, or the week-long dash of work and responsibilities and mismatched schedules that mean Sal and I only see each other for a couple of hours each day Monday through Friday.

Nonetheless, she was right. I had fresh strawberries and cream on waffles my husband made for breakfast this morning. The weather has been unbelievably perfect, all temperate air and sunny brightness and brilliant blue sky and we spent yesterday on the patio reading before family arrived for an overnight visit.

We made our dinner as a family and blew bubbles and built a fairy house in the backyard and stayed up late playing board games. After they left this morning, Sal and I spent our day on the back porch, surrounded by the oasis of our little patch of earth, doing artwork and being affectionately exasperated by the kitties, feeling awash with contentment. Dinner was easy-going, something on the grill and the rest pulled together from odds and ends, so that we sat down to a meal that could have featured in any magazine. There was a table with view and star lights for ambiance and pretty little dishes to eat from and a bouquet of flowers, and none of it required any sort of fuss, it just all happened, like magic.

Today and yesterday, I walked barefoot through my house, my sweet little cottage of a house, windows thrown open to let the outside in, and just took a moment to be in each room. To be and to be grateful.

Here is the front porch: view of steep forests and the green arc of a man-made sculpture, a rocking chair and a lazy swing as front row seats to a tiny little paradise.

Here is the living room: full of bold color and cozy seating, built-in book cases full of found treasures and a leaded glass window to ensure there are always rainbows.

Here is the dining room: all rich wood turned deep dark by age, anchored by tables customized with our own artwork, and in the wide window alcove, two kitties curled into one furry ball on the cushions put there just for them.

Here is the kitchen: inviting and warm, filled with layer upon layer upon infinite layer of every meal and treat made with loving care for four generations of families.

Here is the back porch: a view to rival the front with a table for two and a reading chair tucked in the corner alongside the flower pots full of cheerful daisies.

Here is the studio: a room of creative energy, meant for paint and clay and stories of imaginary places, a room that turns briefly to magnificent gold at a very specific time of day and magic becomes very, very real.

Here is the library: a refuge for books and long days of nothing but escaping into them from the comfort of an overstuffed chair, the place to be when it's cold and rainy outside, when the only things that can warm me up on the inside are a cup of hot chocolate and sleeping cat and a well-worn copy of my favorite book.

Here is the attic: a nook for reading and a nook for leisurely Sunday breakfasts, a bed dressed in luxurious sheets and a pile of pillows and a blanket made of feathers, set beneath the stars, where we fall asleep to the sound of foghorns when the mist sits so thick on the river that ships the size of small villages call to each other in the damp dark.

Here is the yard: filled with plants and trees and shrubs planted before us and others we planted ourselves, transformed to a little patch of forest, with beds of vegetables to one side and moss-covered walls we built by hand, and silvery bells tucked amongst the ferns chiming at the passage of a breeze or a raccoon or a hummingbird.

Yesterday marked 11 years since Hall House officially became ours. Today marked 23 years since Sal and I officially became a couple. Without even planning to, we celebrated both anniversaries with this, our charming life.


taking this circus on the road

It looks like we'll be taking the cats to the coast with us next month. ProcrastiGirl, our usual go-to superwoman in all things petsitting, is unavailable this go-round, and we haven't yet found a suitable replacement. And since cancelling our winter coast getaway is out of the question, it's becoming increasingly likely that the cats are about to get a vacation out of the deal.

On the one hand, we know from experience that they can travel with us successfully. Or at least, travel to the coast successfully. On the other hand, "can" and "will" are two entirely different things. It could be that they were so well-behaved because the windows of the cabin stayed open the entire time and they got a good dose of that temperate sea air, or because the cabin we were in was particularly to their liking, or because Mercury was in retrograde.

And even though they did great when we were actually there, carting them to and from the coast was an exercise in insanity. Smaug's ceaseless mow-mow-mow-ing on the hour and a half drive had us both twitching like prisoners of war in the first twenty minutes, and when she switched to the blood-curdling "aroo, aroo, AROOOO" halfway through, I was fairly sure Sal was going to yank the steering wheel to the right and just plunge us all over the side of the nearest bridge. I'm not sure I would've stopped him.

But barring some miraculous solution that presents itself in the next few weeks, we're just going to have to take our chances.

lunch, Ms. Bento:

  • beef stir fry (tip steak, peppers, onions, carrots, green beans, kale, secret sauce)
  • brown rice and peas with a carrot flower for garnish
  • carrot sticks and Bosc pear slices
  • FIRST SATSUMA OF THE SEASON OMG (although I love that they get increasingly wee as the season progresses...)

furry little terrorists

Our cats are going to be the death of us.

They're now 15 years old with no signs of slowing down. The only sign that they're getting older is that they've gotten increasingly needy and demanding, particularly in the last couple of years. Since Hobbes' earlier troubles with urinary tract infections a few years ago, he's learned the power of peeing ouside the box and now wields it like a weapon. Smaug has decided to become assertive in her later years, and has developed a particularly evil one-two punch of strategic peeing (heating vents) and yowling at just the right frequency to curdle both blood and milk. For hours.

Like good parents, we thought perhaps they're trying to tell us something is wrong. But vet visits thus far have yielded little. They're both ridiculously healthy -- which...I mean, obviously we're happy since neither of us can contemplate life without them...okay, one of us can't contemplate life without them -- and with the exception of the usual signs of geriatric(!) cats, tests come up clean. They eat fine and as long as they are the center of attention for the full length of time they deem necessary, are perfectly behaved.

Any change in routine or schedule is likely to result in a destruction of property of some kind, the severity depending on the length of time we're gone, how close it is to feeding time, and probably whether or not Mercury is in retrograde. For example: anything made of paper left out where Hobbes can get to it is inevitably going to suffer shredding when he's displeased about whatever. The morning I came downstairs a half hour later than usual, I was greeted by Smaug's last vet bill in a million itty bitty pieces all over the dining room floor. When I refused to let them into the studio while I was writing, I came out to find the stack of user manuals for appliances that had been temporarily stacked on the credenza now pushed on the floor, their corners systematically chewed and mangled. When Smaug decided that the canned food she'd been eating for four years suddenly wasn't up to snuff, suddenly peeing along the living room baseboard became the the new fun activity of the moment.

And the list of things that cannot be left out unattended continues to grow: blankets, pillows, clothing, shoes, fabric of any kind, loose rugs, plastic bags, dish rags/towels, loose papers, plants, glasses with any liquid, food of any kind (including dishes not completely clean of any food residue), bags, purses, anything that rolls, or magnets. And probably something else I'm forgetting.

To say that they dictate in our household would be an understatement so large it would have its own gravitational field.

lunch, lunchbot duo:

  • maple rosemary chicken breast
  • glazed sweet potatoes
  • steamed broccoli
  • orange sections

snack, matryoshka:

  • molded egg
  • carrots with peanut butter for dipping
  • orange sections
  • dark chocolate-covered raisins

from a distance, we look like paragons of efficiency

Smaug and Hobbes, being their usual productive selves, which is to say IN ABSOLUTELY NO WAY WHATSOEVERProductive weekend, I'm happy to report. Which is a relief because I feel like there's a countdown clock hanging just over my shoulder -- as previously mentioned, I'm taking off the second half of December to coincide with Sal's winter break from school but there is much to be done in the next week and a half. Nonetheless, I feel like a kid looking forward to Christmas, or perhaps the way I did in college: excited to have a breather from the stress and homework and tests, but a shitload of difficult finals to get through first.

It started off on the right foot: not with work, but with fun. Friday, I met up with my friend Kim for coffee (well, hot chocolate, actually) and we spent a few hours catching up and trading info on cool creative things, tools, and new places to spend way more money than we should shop for all the things that make an artist's heart go pitter pat. So it's thanks to her that I was feeling energized enough to focus on website updates when I got home.

So I've completed a few more updates on the guest room and library projects from a few years ago. We're getting into the exciting stuff now, like neato decorative window films and painting the walls at last:

Library, Part 4: Fixing the Window & Wall

Guest & Creative Room, Part 4: Fixing the Windows & Ceiling

Guest & Creative Room, Part 5: Painting the Room

Note that the text is not the same for these posts, nor will they be from here on out.

I hope to have the painting in the library posted tonight; that was a far more dramatic change. It was fun to look through the pictures for these phases of the projects and remember all the little snags and interruptions we had to overcome, but to look at them knowing about the end result and how much we love the outcome. Or to relive the sense of accomplishment when we'd successfully completed a particularly challenging part (wall patch ftw!). One of the reasons I've been documenting all our home improvement (mis)adventures is to be able to go back and see how far we've come and to remember what it took to get to this point. As I've gone back through these pictures to get caught up on these two projects, but with a few years' distance, I'm reminded of all the hard work that went into them and each time I go into those rooms now, I have a renewed sense of pride in them. Also, how thankful I am that we got rid of that heinous pink.

Saturday, we got the paint for the creative room and I did the preliminary work on the aforementioned sooper sekrit project in preparation for (probably) painting this coming weekend. Sal had to do the transfer to secondary fermentation of his latest batch of beer (brewed last weekend). He also fixed the dripping faucets in the kitchen and bathroom, the broken handle on the toilet, and put in much-easier-to-use faucet handles in the utility sink in the basement. His trip to Home Depot for the hardware also included the purchase of nine(!) smoke/fire detectors and two carbon monoxide detectors so that we don't literally die in a fire. So yay, no house-induced death for us!

AND! We spent Saturday evening going through several boxes of papers and mementos that had accumulated in the eave closets, the product of needing to clean in a hurry -- for company, more often than not -- and throwing stuff we didn't have time for into a box "to go through later". Well "later" came Saturday night since I had to drag out some mementos boxes anyway to put away the things from the guest room that had been on display and stored in my old desk. We're not done, but we put a respectable dent in it.

Despite our weekend of industry (or perhaps because of it), the house looks like a wreck, but I should have time this weekend to instill some order. Nothing too catastrophic, thankfully. I do have to wrap up my website clients for the month (statistics analysis, final report, and invoicing), and I expect I'll be working some late nights right up until vacation starts in order to get the end-of-year programming done on the billing program, but at this point, I'm not in freakout mode. The fact that I'm still thinking I can fit in housework in the evenings indicates that I'm in not-yet-overwhelmed-but-possibly-a-tad-optimistic mode. Don't try this at home, kids.

And just to round out the list of accomplishments for the weekend, I got a breakfast AND lunch packed for today. I've been away from bento for a couple of weeks and I'm feeling it. There was the week of the holiday, of course, and I worked from home in the days leading up to it so no bento. Last week was occupied by visits from Corporate (the COO on Tuesday and one of the members of the Corporate IT Team at another division on Thursday) so I either was too busy in preparation to even get a drink of water (Monday) or joining them for lunch (Tuesday and Thursday). So again, no bento.

It's a testament to how little I go out for lunch, how infrequently I eat at chain restaurants, and how accustomed I am to my bentos that I didn't feel well at all last week. The restaurants were decent as chain restaurants go, but nothing about the meal felt good. Way too much food (I ended up leaving most of it on the plate, unfortunately, and I absolutely hate waste), much too heavy (even though I ordered a salad!), and the fruit and veggies didn't have as much flavor as I'm used to. Yes, I fear the worst has happened: I've become a food snob. :) I think in the future when I inevitably have to go for these Corporate lunches, I'll plan to pack a bento anyway to eat before/after and just order a small side of something for lunch.

Anyway, it's a relief to be back to a bento schedule. As I was packing today's, I initially felt a little rusty, like I was getting back on a bike after being away for awhile. Once I was done, I felt the familiar sense of comfort and assurance that I have something to eat tomorrow that I know will be good for me, that won't make me feel like chugging a bottle of Pepto afterward, and that gives me enough energy to get through the day. I know I go on and on about the wonders of bento and the difference it's made to my well-being, but I just can't overstate it enough.

breakfast, cute animals sidecar:

  • satsuma mandarin
  • red grapes
  • plain yogurt with a dollop of marionberry preserves


lunch, deli club:

  • chicken that Sal made for dinner Sunday -- he tucked slices of lemon under the skin and roasted it
  • roasted potates (olive oil, salt, pepper)
  • kiwi slices and red grapes
  • satsuma mandarin and the last of the dark chocolate covered raisins

Oh how I love the satsumas. Sal came home from the grocery store Saturday night bearing an entire box of them for me. I'll probably give myself a rash of canker sores from eating as many as I possibly can while they're in season, but it'll be worth it.


each of us was created for it

No breakfast today so I was extra grateful to have such a pleasing and yummy lunch waiting for me.

lunch, blue bunny & moons:

  • hazelnut-crusted chicken breast
  • jasmine rice with peas, carrot flowers for garnish
  • Cortland apple with carrot pieces as gap fillers
  • walnuts and dark chocolate covered raisins

the view from the library to the back yard, through the back porch

I'm so in love with our home I can hardly contain myself some days. There's still a lot to be done, but we've reached a point where we can enjoy it as it is, even with the bathroom in its semi-demolished state and the kitchen looking like something right out of Good Housekeeping circa 1966. And in the fall, my favorite season, in my favorite city, it's like falling in love every day, this house. I took a few random pictures to remind me of that.

spider web on the front porch, with Sal's Japanese maple in the backgroundIt was another whirlwind of activity at Hall House this weekend, so it was nice to have the steadying comfort of home throughout. Saturday was another OCI graduation, which meant Chef Salvatore gave another graduation speech. He gives the same one each time so he's had time to refine it, but he changes it every time, too, so he stays fresh and funny when he gives it. I've decided I'm going to video it next time.

a close-up of the crape myrtle I posted about last weekThe ceremony takes place in the morning and then there's a reception for the students and family afterward, so it takes most of the day. Things finished up just in time for the arrival of our Smiley family, who were coming to spend the night. We had a roast and veggies going in the crockpot all day to keep dinner easy, they arrived bearing a loaf of sourdough and a pan full of chocolate chip bar cookies. This is the reason our family is awesome. Well, one of the many, anyway.

We spent some time with the Fabulous Miss M before her bedtime, then had a late dinner catching up with Sister and Guy. (Late, at least in part, because Miss M insisted there was a ghost in the guest room. We promised her it was friendly.)

Sal and the Fabulous Miss M watching a movie on the inflatable bedThey had come for a race in town they wanted to go to and we would watch Miss M while they were gone. It meant an early start Sunday, but Miss M and I snuggled under the blankets while we watched Finding Nemo and that's not such a bad way to start the day. The three of us played and colored and had a tea party and ate breakfast, and next thing we knew Sister and Guy were back and it was time to say goodbye. But it was okay...we have Thanksgiving to look forward to next month, and Christmas after that, and I'm sure some get togethers in between.

just looking at them makes you want to take a nap, doesn't it?After they left, Sunday was a lazy day to recharge before the week starts up. We spent the day on creative stuff and naps and not being as productive as we ought to be and taking ten million more pictures of the cats because we needed still more of those.

view from the front porchBut mostly, we spent the day watching all the ways the light turns Hall House into an illustration from a storybook and thinking there's magic in the world if you know where to look for it.


the corner of my desk (yes, the decoupaged table), which happened to be lighted very prettily; it's part of a map of the Oregon Coast, with an arrow pointed to Oceanside; the full Maya Angelou quote is here


this vacation brought to you by the letters h and s and the number 2

click to see full photo galleryGUESS WHAT YOU GUYS WE HAVE BEEN ON VACATION AHA. We were being all sneaky.

Actually, would've very much liked to be posting whilst on vacation, because welcome to the 21st century and all, but since scary internet predators love posts that basically say HELLO WE ARE GONE FROM THE HOUSE PLEASE ROB US NAO THX, this is why we can't have nice things. Scary internet predators ruin it for everybody, you guys. Haters be hatin', yo.

So instead, we have had to save up our many days of vacation squeeage for one ginormous post. (We actually returned yesterday -- TO THE SURFACE OF THE SUN I MIGHT ADD -- but this post is so ginormous that it took us a day and a half to get it posted.) Think you can handle it? I don't know, the squeeage here is pretty heart-explodey, you may want to consult with your physician first....

Okay, so now that all the legal clappity-trappity is out of the way -- HELLO INTERNETS WE ARE BACK FROM MANY DAYS OF VACATION AND FUN TIMES. This is actually quite an accomplishment, on many levels and for more than the obvious reason. (That reason being, of course, that the fact that we ever return from time spent at the Oregon coast is a testament to our superhuman skillz of being responsible adults.) The less obvious reason -- at least to most of you -- is that we took the cats with us.

Put the phone down -- you do not need to call the mental health professionals for information on how to have us involuntarily committed.

See, Sally gets two weeks of paid vacation per year and due to the school schedule, they're fixed by the school calendar, so it's a week around the holidays and a week sometime in late June/early July. We take the opportunity during both of these vacation periods to spend at least 4 days at Oceanside, longer if we can. This year, his summer vacation just happened to begin during the 4th of July weekend, and so we were all WOOT WOOT 4TH OF JULY AT THE OREGON COAST BITCHEZ.

What we failed to take into account was how the holiday weekend would affect the availability of our primary and backup pet & housesitters. Whoops. This was a problem entirely of our own making, since we didn't really realize it until a month before, when availability for later in the week was of course gone so we couldn't move our reservations, and cancelling would mean forfeiting our holiday weekend reservation deposit.

So by this point last month, it was looking increasingly grim for our heroes. But! When Sally called the place we usually stay to see about possibly moving our reserved days, Sherry (one of the owners of the place; they know us by name and give us priority reservations because we stay so often) reminded him that they're a pet-friendly place, and that the cabin we already had reserved was one of the "pets allowed" cabins. For a nominal fee and a refundable damage deposit, we could bring the cats with us. And thus, faced with bringing the cats with us or not going at all, we opted to bring them with us. See, I told you: it wasn't craziness, it was desperation. Not the same thing. Same zip code, though.

click to see full photo galleryWe did not choose this course without considerable trepidation, however. Hobbes' cystitis has increasingly become an issue in the last year, and any change in routine has resulted in many frustrating messes to deal with, not to mention the potential of expensive vet visits and medications. Neither of them travels well and the cabin, which is very small for two people, would be close quarters indeed for two people and two high strung cats. We figured we'd just prepare as best we could and make the best of it, no matter what happened. At least we'd still get to go to the coast. This is the "Everything's Better At The Beach" theory of problem-solving.

We brought extra linens and our own pillows, hoping that using familiar-smelling bedding would prevent them from wanting to mark it, and of course their food and cat box and all of that. We brought a few of their favorite toys, some catnip, the Feliway diffuser and some Feliway spray, and we got a prescription from the vet for a mild sedative to help with the car trip and transition to new surroundings.

Our plan was to leave as soon as we could after Sally got home Friday night. Friday night, however, saw both of us having worked an especially long day, ending an especially long work week, with little sleep. These are not ideal conditions for trekking to the coast with four days' worth of your own crap and two demon hellbeasts.

I'd given the kitties their sedative a few hours before, but rather than making it easier to gather everything and pack before Sally got home, it made it infinitely harder. They were both loopy within about 30 minutes of taking the sedative, and completely wobbly and disoriented, but while Hobbes was content to just lay on his cushion and mellow out (at first), Smaug wasn't having it. She kept wanting to jump up on things or suddenly dash off madly to no place in particular, but with the approximate agility of a dog on roller skates. She kept tripping over things, including her own feet, and missing whatever she was trying to jump onto and falling backwards, then skitter/wobbling into a nearby wall, doorjamb, table leg, etc., all the while pitifully crying, "Aroo? Aroo?" I felt simultaneously guilty, sympathetic, and exhaustedly amused -- c'mon, you wouldn't laugh at that? I call bullshit.

So I spent a great deal of time just trying to keep her from accidentally breaking her neck, and then Hobbes freaked out about an hour after she started and suddenly I couldn't keep him out of anything. When Sally called to see how it was going, I'm sure he could hear the hysteria in my voice; I'm still kind of astounded he came home at all, knowing what might be waiting for him there.

But come home he did, and we managed to get them crated (this is a two person job in the best of circumstances) so we could get on with the business of packing and getting out the door. Our plan had been that I would already have everything packed so we could leave as soon as he got home, but thanks to Stoned Cat Theater, we were a good two hours later than planned. We got out of town at a quarter to 1 AM and hoped to hell that neither of us would fall asleep. But Smaug helpfully yowled most of the way so we were in no danger.

We stumbled into our cabin at a little after 2 AM. Once we'd gotten everything put away (read: out of their reach) and appropriately Hobbes-proofed the cabin, we let them out of their crates. After an hour of loves and cuddles to help them feel safe about their new environs, and helping them onto and into the bed (the sedative lasts for 8 to 12 hours so they were still wobbly), we turned in for the night, exhausted. Hobbes proceeded to yowl for the next 2 hours, which is pretty much the only sound two exhausted adults are unable to sleep through. I assured Sally it was simply a reaction to the sedative, and that we did not in fact have nightly yowling to look forward to for the rest of the trip. I had no idea if it was or wasn't, but we were facing catricide here, so I had to think of something.

click to see full photo galleryThat inauspicious start notwithstanding, however, they were amazing the entire rest of the time. Mellow, loving, completely well-behaved. Not once did they pee anywhere other than the catbox. The normal craziness of mealtimes -- in which they go competely batshit at least an hour before feeding time, in which valuables are broken in an effort for attention and humans are heard to utter the phrase, "YOUR SISTER IS NOT A CHEW TOY!" -- was replaced with a calm, orderly manner. There wasn't a single, miniscule threat of a cystitis flare-up and it was nothing but peace, love, and harmony all the live long day. We were seriously freaked out at the change in these cats while were there. Could it be that cats need a vacation, too?

As for us, we were in desperate need of this vacation, and wow, did we ever get it. On the first day, Sherry mentioned that our cabin had just opened up for the night of our departure date and would we want to stay an extra night. And you guys? That right there was proof of a benevolent universe after all, because there was no way we could've been all OMG YES PLEASE to such a thing if we didn't already have the cats with us.

click to see full photo galleryThe weather was a.maz.ing. We had nice but cool, cool and then cloudy, cloudy and then deliciously foggy, nice and a little bit warmer, really really nice and quite pleasanty temperate. Our last full day, we woke up to a perfectly cloudless blue sky that stayed that way the entire day. Most of the day was spent on the beach.

The day before had been mostly clear with a mild breeze, so we'd spent that day walking the length of the beach, in the water the whole way, stopping at tide pools and picking up shells and rocks and sand dollars. (We always bring home at least a rock or two when we go to the coast, so we have something from every visit, but this is the first time in a long time that we've brought home so many.) The first two days, we got to enjoy at least some beach time before it got too chilly, and then we cozied up in our little cabin with our fuzzy little kitties and good food, and marathoned our next new show. (Friday Night Lights, FINALLY! Cat: we must now squee because omg!!)

click to see full photo galleryGood food, of course, is a staple of our getaways. Our cabin this time was one of the ones with a mini fridge and hot plate instead of full fridge and stove/oven, so we have to plan our grocery list accordingly and make more things ahead of time, but still feast like Damn Hell Ass Kings. Tacos the first night, smorgasbord the second, crockpot chili the third (the night of the 4th). We'd intended to build a fire on the beach for the evening of the 4th, and to roast hot dogs and marshmallows and eat s'mores, but it got too cloudy and chilly for that, so we decided to try for Tuesday night and had smorgasbord. Yeah, feel so sorry for us and our awesomeness.

Unfortunately, Tuesday night was too windy for us to feel safe building a fire to roast hot dogs for dinner, but we had plenty to eat so we were in no danger of going hungry. Then near sunset, the winds calmed down and it got downright balmy (the temps all day had been in the 80s, but the wind throughout the day was enough to make it a tad chilly at times). We'd already eaten dinner so it was too late for hot dogs, but hey, we still had those marshmallows that needed a good roasting!

So we hightailed it back to the cabin, changed into some warmer clothes, stuffed a bag full of supplies (matches, newspaper, skewers, marshmallows, graham crackers, chocolate bars...oh, and a beer for Sally and jug of water for me :), and set out for the spot we'd marked for our clandestine beach fire a few days before.

click to see full photo galleryWe'd stockpiled some good dry driftwood and stashed it up in the rocks above the high tide line when we'd been out picking up rocks and seashells. We'd had our eye on a couple of nice firepits someone had built up (probably for the 4th), hoping that at least one of them would be unused once the holiday crowd was gone. They were quite a ways down from the beach entrance, a good mile and a half down the beach, and since most people tend to cluster right around the entrance (something I will never understand -- you have 3 miles of gorgeous beach, people, why the hell are you all concentrating within the same 100 yard radius???), we felt pretty confident we'd be able to use one of those pits.

A decent fog was rolling in by the time we were about halfway there and it well past sunset, so it was a bit dicey whether or not we'd find our stash. We ended up picking the closer of the two pits we'd staked out, which turned out to be the nicer of the two, with a huge log that was the perfect size for seating and a well stacked ring of rocks to give the fire a chance to take hold even with a decent wind.

In no time at all Sally had a good fire base going, and then got it built to a size that was strong and steady without being too big. And from there, we proceeded to roast half a package of giant marshmallows, eating one for every one that we used for a s'more. We watched the waves dwindle away behind the dark and the mist, and most everything around us turn hazy and distant. But it was clear overhead and the sound of the waves echoed back at us from the steep wooded slope behind us, and we could see swathes of stars above. We talked about how long it'd been since we'd sat at a campfire together, how long since we'd roasted marshmallows, how long since we'd seen so many stars, how long we'd been married. It'll be 14 years in a week, and that number seems both too big and too small in all the right ways.

We were done eating long before we were ready to leave, so we just sat and enjoyed the fire until it had mostly burned down, then doused it with sand and headed back in the dark, the waves at our left, the cliffs at our right, the stars overhead. And that ended the last full day of our summer beach vacation.

click to see full photo gallerySo basically, we did like we always do on these secret coast getaways. We read big books from our tottering To Read Pile and listened to iPods and dozed in the sun. We talked and we laughed. We started a new show and ate lots of good food. We waded in the water and got used to sand in and on everything. We took pictures. Lots and lots of pictures. We watched sunsets and listened to waves crashing and dreamed about the tiny little place we'll have on the coast someday.