Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Happy Birthday to me -- a little late

I kept it low key this year.  I'm 67 now.  I feel ambivalent about the number.  But I find my life rather unrecognizable after this tumultuous year, and I feel like I've lost some continuity somewhere.  I've made the usual lists and resolutions and am moving with positivity and hope toward 2015.  But also with some wistfulness.  Would things be different if I had an anchor?  A rock?  A shoulder?

“When You Are Old"

WHEN you are old and grey and full of sleep,
And nodding by the fire, take down this book,
And slowly read, and dream of the soft look
Your eyes had once, and of their shadows deep;

How many loved your moments of glad grace,
And loved your beauty with love false or true,
But one man loved the pilgrim soul in you,
And loved the sorrows of your changing face;

And bending down beside the glowing bars,
Murmur, a little sadly, how Love fled
And paced upon the mountains overhead
And hid his face amid a crowd of stars.”
W.B. Yeats

Friday, December 12, 2014

Seldom-seen son pops in for a visit

It wasn't exactly a happy occasion.  My first ex-husband's wife, step-mother to my sons, died after a long illness.  My son who lives in Delaware made some fast arrangements and showed up to spend five days with us.  I'm sorry for the family's loss, but I was so happy to see my son.

With just 24 hours notice, I pulled together a Christmas dinner.  And for the first time in almost six years, I had all of my kids together at once.  It was fun.  Food was good.  Yes, we had our vegan guest again, and no problem.  I know how to handle that.  I actually did a little less cooking this time and bought more prepared items just for lack of prep time. 

My kids are having a great time spending lot of time with their younger brother.  He lives in Delaware, but his own two kids live in Virginia. Consequently, all of his time off is spent getting his kids for visits and he just hasn't been able to squeeze in a visit for years.  But we're hoping this summer we'll have him and the kids out here.

But for now, just basking in the love and joy of the season and a rare visit with my son.

Friday, November 28, 2014

Thanksgiving 2014 - Going Vegan

Preparing all the food for Thanksgiving is a lot of work, from the planning and shopping, to the prep, cooking and serving.  This year my daughter, who is vegetarian, invited some friends, one of whom who is vegan.   No problem.  I've had a couple of vegetarians for quite a few years now, so I'm already used to either converting dishes to vegetarian or making alternative dishes.

My daughter and friends brought a vegan entre and dessert.  I adjusted my recipes to make as many of my traditional dishes vegan as possible.  I substituted vegan margarine for butter, substituted coconut milk for cow's milk, and in the case of the stuffing, also omitted the egg.  I made a hearty mushroom gravy that included vegetable stock, vegan margarine, and wine.  I also made the traditional turkey gravy.  I whipped up the mashed potatoes with a can of coconut milk and no butter or margarine at all.  They came out so delicious and creamy, I think that may become my permanent way of preparing them. I cooked salmon as well as turkey since a couple of my vegetarians will eat fish. The salmon has become a tradition, and now I cook small turkey and large salmon, because even the meat eaters enjoy it, too.  Of course, I used no meat drippings or giblets or sausage for the stuffing and did not stuff the turkey.  The advantage to this, of course, is that you can make the stuffing the day before and then just warm it up before dinner. This year I used coconut milk and vegetable broth in the stuffing, and it came out possibly better than ever.

When I mentioned to a friend I would be preparing vegan dishes for our dinner, she was flabbergasted and wondered how I would be able to do all that. But really, you can see it wasn't that much more to do. Simply by substituting a few ingredients and omitting some, many of my traditional recipes were converted to vegan.  Our vegan guest had many delicious dishes to fill his plate and he appreciated it so much, saying that often when invited for dinner, he gets served a salad because people just can't figure out what to make.

There were 12 for dinner this year. The food was so good.  The guests lingered for hours.  We all had dessert and coffee later.  And when everyone left, they loaded up the leftovers and took every last bit except green beans (which will be my leftover fare).  Seldom has a Thanksgiving dinner gone so well.

If you have vegan or vegetarian guests for dinner, don't panic.  It's not as hard to accommodate as you might think.   You don't have to sacrifice flavor.  You don't have to make those dishes that require 15 ingredients--some you've never heard of.  Make simple adjustments to your favorite side dishes, and pick up a main dish option at Whole Foods, if you need to.

Happy Thanksgiving!   The 2014 holidays are officially launched.

I served buffet style as my table is so narrow and we were a bit crowded.
Once again, switching the living room and dining room furniture allowed room for adding all the leaves to the table and giving us some walking space around the table.

Incidentally, you might wonder how I dared have no rug under the table to protect my new floor.  Actually, I carefully applied felt pads to the legs of all the furniture. Not only does that protect the floor, it makes it so much easier to move the furniture. And sliding your chair in and out from the table is so easy, too.  (You know how awkward it is when chairs won't slide.)

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Happy Birthday, Frankie

One year ago today Frankie came to live with me.  Since we don't know his exact birthdate (or even his age), the grandkids and I decided today would be his birthday and that he is now four years old.  What happiness he has given all of us. Such a sweet little guy, loving to everyone, and no naughty little dog faults.  How lucky we are to have him!  Happy Birthday, Frankie.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Autumn 2014

Life these days is so much about caring for other people.  But at the same time, I'm managing to continue to tackle projects.  Yes, there are still projects on my list.  This weekend I managed to clear out all the boxes of Christmas decorations from under the stairs, and throw away or give away everything except the few I still use.  The nice thing is that now everything will fit on easiily-accessible shelves in the garage instead of under the dark, scary stairs where spiders and who-knows-what-else lurks. 

And I took a few pictures of the autumn around my yard yesterday and today.  Leaves are halfway finished falling.  I'm not raking just yet.  Wait a week or so until most are down.  And then I'll probably phone Alberto anyway.  Today, I'm taking a much-needed day off for some downtime with my little Frankie.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Blood Moon, October 8, 2014

Full moon, Hunter's Moon, Blood Moon, all the same moon today.  I was up early and enjoyed watching all the phases as it progressed.  The red color was thrilling to see.  I tried taking photos, but had forgotten to find the tripod and my efforts looked more like timelapse with a string of moons captured during the long open lens.  Blurry, too, since I skipped the autofocus for manual and did not have contacts in the eyes to really tell when I had a good focus.  So all in all, it was fun getting up to see the event, and I came away with a shot decent enough that I could crop and "shop" to make a decent illustration here.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014


Reposting this from a few years ago.  Love the change of seasons.  It's a beautiful autumn here so far, if rainy and wet.  Leaves a changing a falling, just as they are supposed to.


From my open window
This mild October morning
A breeze
With musky, ripe scent
Swirls through my space and me.

The giant elm across the way
Soughs, bends, straightens
With age-stiffened limbs
Not unlike my own.

Silhouetted against a still-dark sky,
Its leafy fullness
Shows no hint of changes
Soon to come.

Neighbor houses closed up tight
In their man-made coolness
Do not share this pleasure
I enjoy—a treat
For all the senses.

I sit by open window
My house fragrant
With the new season.
I breathe of it deeply
And feel a kinship.
I, too, am autumn.

My day ahead is busy,
Duties tug,
Pulling me away

But the breeze persuades me
To stay a bit longer.
To feel this coolness
And taste a delicious ripeness
And receive the subtle messages
Of change.

Copyright 2011 Becky Stauffer

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Fall Cleanup 2014 -- Some nice updates

I had Alberto's crew in here for a major cleanup and some revisions to my yard.  A crew of 8 for three days, including a backhoe for one day.  They completely tore down and rebuilt my rock retaining wall in the front.  And they built some sturdy access steps, retaining walls and pathway on the west of the house to replace a very dangerous stair I had built myself out of concrete blocks.  I had them cut down some perennials but leave others that were still blooming or offering texture and color in the yard.

The yard has truly never looked more beautiful.  And, in fact, I realized this is the first time in the 35 years I've lived here that every corner of this large, steep yard was completely cleaned up and landscaped.  What a great feeling it was to see it.  Here are some pics.

The rock wall was completely torn down and rebuilt adding about a ton of dirt to the support base.  They used only the large and medium boulders and not the smaller rocks.  Grass was removed from between the wall and sidewalk and replaced with some nice grasses and other water-tolerant plants.  At the top, new ground cover vines.  The wall looks lovely.  And the gopher infestation is gone, too.

 The steps the crew added on the west side were a surprise.  This is a narrow and unusable strip that I haven't really done anything with in the past.  I had built my own stairway out of concrete blocks. But they slid and were unstable in the sandy soil.  But I wanted this access from front to back yard without having to go the long way around.  I never worried much about aesthetics as it's not seen from the street and borders unkempt neighbor yards.  But I love what the guys built for me this time.  It's not just functional, but also beautiful and blends with my rustic, park-like yard.
 Frankie gets ready to try out the new steps.
 My yard extends just to where the dark bark mulch is here.  The workers used my blocks and patio bricks along with some new railroad ties cut to make a nice wide and solid stairway.  I'll no longer need my hiking boots to get up this steep hill.
 A couple of new retaining walls and some staggered patio tiles made for a nice flat pathway along the base of the deck, above.
 With all the weeds and excess ground cover replaced by wonderfully fragrant bark mulch, the area is pretty to look at, too.  I will keep it this way, as the Virginia Creeper that used to be here was a big draw to rodents and pests like skunks and raccoons.
 Frankie practices his beam routine on the retaining wall.
 Russian Sage, hummingbird trumpet and other flowers are putting on one final color show.  Some of these plants will not get cut down until I have the crew back to rake up autumn leaves.
 The wisteria bush we are working on developing into a tree.  Alberto is going to build a metal arch for us to train the tree and allow the branches to drape down from higher up.
 The corner front flower bed gained some new space with the changes in the rock wall.  More plantings in the spring here.
 Gardens along the driveway.  Color, texture, height.  My haphazard method of planting somehow looks pretty to my eye.  Maybe not everyone's cup of tea, but it sure pleases me.
 Backyard all weeded and tidy.  I need to remove dead plants from the pots now.
 The shade garden's first year was a success.  A few more plants here next year.
 More shade garden.  I'll remove the remaining iris here and move them to a sunnier spot where they will bloom again.
 Some sedum puts on a late bloom.
 The upper corner garden had a serious gopher infestation.  I cut down day lilies and other plants some weeks ago to conduct all out war.  Sadly, I lost one of my trees to the gophers.  They ate the roots completely away and chewed through the irrigation drip tubing.  Two other trees appear to be compromised, but we think we saved them.  New plants were added here and I still have more plans for adding plantings in the spring.  Trying to get to the point where I have no annuals in these corner beds, but have color blooming from spring through fall.
 Recent new small plants added along the east sidewalk.  I hope they live and add some new variety next year.
 More new plants.  So far, so good.
 One of several patches of asters that are the last bloomers of the season.
 Front garden.  A little more sedate and tame than the rest of the yard.
The seldom-used upper level up the steep hill from my backyard.  A few years ago Alberto made this pretty round patio which has served as a nice overflow area for a couple of large gatherings.  But most of the time, I just want it to be weed-free and still attractive. Another steep hill from here goes up to the sidewalk and street at the very back of my property.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Much Better

That was one wicked virus that hit me on Sunday.  I ran a fever and was pretty much down flat for two days.  That's not long, I know.  But I always think of myself as having such great immunity, so two days of aches and congestion seemed hard to bear.  I took stupid Dayquil, which did nothing for me.  Last night I took two ibuprofen before bed.  Slept well, and sometime in the middle of the night the fever broke and I awoke feeling so much better.  Today I will finally be able to get back to my normal routine.

When I'm sick, I try to remember what it must be like for a friend of mine who has been living with stage 4 cancer for six years.  Yes, that's right, he has beat the odds in longevity.  But he has paid a terrible toll in the ravages both the treatments and the disease have had on his body.  He is a young husband and father of two children.  An amazingly strong, articulate and humorous person, he has devoted these years to not only documenting his experiences, but also speaking openly and honestly about it and about facing death.  He writes profound poetry and prose, sometimes ethereal and sometimes brutally real describing the suffering, pain and emotion he feels.  He provides much help and support for other patients.  Regularly organizes large events to entertain hospitalized patients bringing treats and hilarious costumed friends.  He has participated in various runs and athletic competitions, even right after chemo treatments.  He is a much sought after public speaker.  He recently told us new tumors had formed and were not responding to treatment. There is little chance he will survive this episode more than a few months, and he and his family are preparing.

I thought about my friend while I was sick and wondered how it would be to suffer like that day in and day out for the majority of the time over a period of years.  It puts my own little cold and fever in perspective.  I tried not to whine.  Not even to myself.  And when I felt that great relief after the fever broke, I again remembered my friend, and thousands of others, who never get that relief.  They learn to live with suffering. 

I am lucky, I know.  And grateful.  And I'm glad to be feeling much, much better.

Monday, September 15, 2014


At Bear River Bird Refuge.  Not a terribly birdy day at the refuge on Sunday. Saw pelicans, cormorants, coots, grebes (Western and Clark's), terns, gulls, Snowy Egrets, Great Blue Herons (a couple standing on the roadway), avocets, stilts, other shorebirds I can't name, hawks, but no ducks. Most of the birds were too far out to photograph, although I got a few good shots. The refuge was still and serene and I'm reminded that blam-blam season is not far off. Feeling under the weather with a cold coming on, I probably should have stayed home. But it was still nice to see a few birds out there.

I had planned to work in the yard, of course, with two or three tasks I wanted to accomplish, but I just felt so unmotivated.  And I asked myself why I am always driving myself so hard and forgetting to take a break for some fun now and then.  Well, that sounds a little more pathetic than it should.  After all, I had a family dinner party on Friday at my house.  I had my monthly movie club and luncheon on Saturday.  So, Sunday should certainly have been a back-to-the-yard day.  But honestly, the sore throat and developing head cold discouraged me and I felt more like driving than digging in the dirt. 

And good thing, too.  As it turned out, I developed a full-blown cold like I haven't had in a couple of years. The self-indulgence continued into today.  I still needed to get the kids off to school as usual.  But when I arrived back home at 9, I immediately had a nap and then watched a movie with a late breakfast.  Well, why not?  I can't remember when I last was able to really rest and take care of myself when under the weather.  Now this is a real advantage of retirement!

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Fall Planting

What is more predictable than me buying more flowers and sticking them in the ground.  I have found the most wonderful nursery in Salt Lake that sells only perennials and only those that are proven to be drought-tolerant and hardy for our area.  On top of that, the prices are much less than nurseries closer to home, and the plants are so healthy.  It is located quite far west of the city actually, but is an easy drive by freeway about 20 minutes each way.  Well worth going out of your way for such bargains and beauty.  I got a little crazy yesterday and bought 31 plants.  So now I must get to planting.  Plus, I have a number of things I want to transplant -- something is too tall here or too short there, or not thriving in this heat or shade, or encroaching on other plants, that sort of thing.  This is not a one day project.  I have to pace myself.  If I work too hard, I'm crippled up the next day with pain.  Slow and steady.  It may take me all week to get the planting done, but I'm excited to start.  Just as soon as this little rain flurry passes over.

31 pots ready for planting.
My late summer yard this year.

And a little popup rainstorm this morning with a surprise rainbow and hint of a double rainbow, accompanied by thunder and lightning which is serving to keep me indoors for awhile until it passes.  And giving me a moment to blog.

This will soon pass.  Showers are predicted off and on today.  It will keep temperatures comfortable and will force me to come inside and rest periodically.  A very lovely day, really.

Friday, August 29, 2014

Special Enough

I have a bottle of wine I've been saving for a special occasion.  It was given to me a few years ago by a friend when he moved away far from here.  I always thought it would be nice to bring this out to celebrate some big event, some milestone, some really special occasion.  I even imagined opening it when he returned sometime for a visit, when we could share a glass or two and catch up.  But that never happened.  Well, nothing celebratory enough for that bottle has happened.  Oh, I know, I finished the remodel -- that might have been the moment.  But it overlapped with my dad getting sick and it didn't feel like a celebration time.

The other day I saw a quote from someone that said, "Don't save anything for a special occasion."  I immediately thought of the Erma Bombeck quote entitled "If I Had My Life To Live Over."  I won't quote the whole thing here; it's long.  But the point is well made in a single statement:
I would have burned the pink candle sculpted like a rose
before it melted in storage.
Sometimes we imagine something really momentous is just ahead.  Something we've been waiting a long time for.  We put things in cupboards and drawers just awaiting that day.  We'll really celebrate when that day comes, won't we?  And when we look in the cupboard for something else and see that bottle of wine still there that we've been saving for a special occasion, we feel a little sad.  Nothing big enough or important enough has come along to warrant opening that bottle.  How dismal life feels at that moment.

How easily we set ourselves up for disappointment through vague expectations.  Jeez, we could at least have a concrete goal with a definite finish line.  It must be a problem with a lot of women because the Bombeck quote has been ruefully shared over and over again since it was first written in 1979.

So last night I thought to myself, "This is as good as it's going to get, and you'd better drink that wine now while it's good."  And I opened the wine.  A lovely red.  And let it breathe for awhile before pouring a glass.  And then I toasted myself and my friend who gave me the wine, and slowly sipped and savored its loveliness.  Just one glass.  I'll have another tonight and each night until the bottle is finished.

And thus I acknowledge that it's time for me to begin living more in the moment.  The past few years have held more lows than highs.  It's a time of life when things don't necessarily balance out.  So, if I'm alive today, it's a good day.  That's a special enough occasion to open a saved bottle of wine and light that sculpted candle.  Special enough.