Family Album: The Great 98

Life took a small turn towards normal last week when Phyllis was granted a get-out-of-jail-free card to celebrate her 98th birthday. After nearly SEVEN months in captivity at her retirement community, she got the go-ahead for socially-distant socializing during her big birthday week.

It all kicked off with Gail’s arrival. After braving masks and airports from Missoula to Santa Barbara, and toting a few mysterious parcels that caused TSA just a bit of consternation, she unpacked her bags to reveal her home-grown, homemade pesto and peach crisp. What a first-night feast we had!


Granny was a little uncertain about being back out in the world but she was a good sport about it and had Lily by her side for moral support.IMG_7496

She looks pretty great for 98, doesn’t she?

Think of all the changes she has seen in her life! 

Frozen food was invented when she was 2; penicillin discovered when she was 6 and scotch tape when she was 8. Phyllis was 14 when sun tan lotion and electric blankets were introduced and 16 when the first ballpoint pens hit the market. She has many memories of life during World War II, when she and Lyle were first married and then started their family after the war. Lucky for them disposable diapers were invented in 1947! The television was actually created in 1926 but did not become a consumer craze until the 1950’s – just when she needed those Saturday morning cartoons for Steve, Mark and Gail.

Transistor radios debuted in 1953, satellites in 1957 and in 1963, lava lamps and, of course, the hula hoop!

She mastered ATM’s, computers and cell phones. Nothing fazes her, so no wonder she has sailed through the age of COVID with nary a complaint.

We gathered, along with dear friends Dave and Karen, to celebrate the big day:





Not sure what she wished for when she blew out the candles – maybe for a lot less pandemic and a lot more normal. Here’s hoping everything is truly back to normal next year when she celebrates her 99th!


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Reports of its demise?

Sorry. I can’t stop thinking about it. Because it seems everyone is talking about it.

“LAND OF THE FLEE” screamed the New York Post last week. I guess their earlier and more staid headline “New Yorkers flee in droves” wasn’t quite the clickbait they were looking for. They needed a chaser to that “NEW YORK IS DEAD FOREVER” op-ed that even brought Jerry Seinfeld out of his Hamptons hideout to object.


We hosted a small, socially-distanced cocktail gathering last weekend and a gentleman I had just met, gazing out over our California lawn and groping for a conversation starter, led with “Have you been reading about what’s going on in New York City?”

Um. Yeah. As a matter of fact, I have.

The headlines are a little hard to take. Especially when they come from the mouths of babes, as in our youngest, who told us somberly “You don’t want to come here right now.”

Okay, that might be partially because he (and his two cats!!) are lolling about the apartment these days. But I think what he really meant is that we don’t want to see NYC the way it is just now. Down at its heels. In déshabillé.

I console myself with history. Turns out they’ve been ringing New York’s death knell since the seventeenth century.


The city was a mess back in 1647 when Petrus Stuyvesant became director of New Netherland. Flight to the “suburbs” occurred during the recession of the 1730’s, but by 1750 New York was thriving again. Those pesky Irish immigrants were littering the streets by the end of the 18th century, camped out in hovels and “expiring from the want of sustenance”.image-placeholder-title

Still, it was the fastest-growing city in the United States, with swamps giving way to development of now-iconic sites like Washington Square and Bryant Park. Even Brooklyn began to thrive in the 1830’s when they began “installing street lights, clearing pigs from the streets and cleaning up grogshops.” Yes, there was cholera. And there were gangs. Pestilence and violence? Sound familiar?


In 1849 the city was “drowning in garbage” (and worse).

And that, actually, is pretty much how I remembered my first visit there in 1975 when garbage strikes were more the rule than the exception.  Still, I couldn’t wait to return, which took many, many years but was worth the wait. Mayor Giuliani had managed to spruce the city up during his 1994-2001 tenure and it positively gleamed.


For a long time.

And I know it can shine again. With apologies to Mr. Twain, the reports of the city’s demise have been greatly exaggerated now for centuries, and it has outlasted all those detractors. Can a little plague and some shocking mismanagement bring down my city? Say it ain’t so!

Counting the days weeks months til we can return…

“There is something in the New York air that makes sleep useless.”

– Simone de Beauvoir

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Family Album: Two Dog Nights

I’m Ace and I have a perfect life in the OC.

So why did we have to go anywhere?


Something about an “endless lockdown”. What exactly could be wrong with that? I love being with my family all the time!

I don’t know what the big deal was. They said it was a “getaway”. Who needs one of those?

Well, we gotaway on our getaway and the first thing I saw was this really big dog!

She seemed like kind of a show-off at first.

But Caleigh seemed to like her.

There was a lot of food.

And reading, since I guess that’s what the old people like to do.

But there were also REALLY SCARY CATS! Yikes!!!!

I have to admit, though, everything was going just fine. Especially when Dad showed up!

But then…wait a minute! They packed up their car and didn’t pack me along with it! They squeezed me really tight and said goodbye to me! What was going on here?

Even Lily was confused. He’s staying????

And those CATS. He’s staying????

At first I thought this was going to be TERRIBLE. But then Lily was nice. She made me feel better about everything.

She plays with me now!

The old people aren’t good for much. But at least they walk…

And I’m still not sure about those cats…

But I’m going to ask my family when they return if we can take Lily home with us! She’s my bestest friend now!

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Family Album: Change of Scenery!

Lest life in the cocoon be too cozy, we headed down the road last weekend for the first time in a very long time. We’ve barely left our neighborhood in five months, and we hadn’t seen the SoCal family contingent since January. Way overdue for a meetup!

First stop: Santa Monica, where newlyweds Angie and Randy have some new digs happening. They’re currently kicking back in an ocean view aerie while they build their dream house. Poor them. They have to stare at this all day:



When they aren’t checking up on the construction site:


Moo is not complaining about the view.

IMG_7026Even though he now has to share his place in the sun with James’ new buddy, Rio.


Stand-up guys: Randy, James and the CE


After an amazing lunch at Wally’s (always, always order the Steak Frites!!),


we were back on the road where, for the first time in this century there wasn’t even a slowdown where the 101 meets the 405. Who says there’s nothing good about a pandemic?

We made it to Newport Beach in a flash and stepped into a hotel lobby for what seemed like the first time in forever.


We loved our little bungalow at Pelican Hill:IMG_6898

If you squint, it almost looks like Tuscany:



Only one restaurant currently open and the menu is limited but we weren’t complaining and neither was Tina – Chilean Sea Bass with Forbidden Rice every single night…


And the pool!

IMG_6896John and the girls made the most of it:


And these two had at least one moment of relative peace for the first time in who knows how long:


The CE had plenty of special grandpa time with the girls

IMG_0138And Ace joined us all for a ride on the Duffy. He’s not naughty, he’s nautical!

IMG_6977Oh how we love those rides in Newport Bay:

The girls made the most of their pool time again on Sunday, where they had it almost all to themselves.



Another stop in Santa Monica on our Monday return trip, this one extra special for a brief sighting of Daniel.


Last time we saw him was March 8 in NYC just before the COVID19 storm hit. Feels like we’ve gone full-circle plague by now. But hey, let’s keep our masks on, just in case…


And if there are more waves to come, we’ll just have to cross that Rio when we come to it:


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Summer ends; new beginnings.

Is there anything more fleeting than summer?

Question for God: Why, the very moment summer begins, do you begin stealing a minute of its light at each end of the day?

Good thing Lily pounced on it from the get-go in June:


I don’t know if we’ve ever spent an entire summer at home before. Actually, it has been lovely. We came to realize (apologies to Graham Nash) that our house is a very, very, very fine house.

With two cats (not) in the yard.


Life used to be so hard (March especially!!!)

But everything’s been (relatively) easy since we just went with it.

We baked. (Which, in our life is truly newsworthy). And when the recipe called for eggs at room temperature, all I had to do was walk out to the coop and collect two that had just been laid.


Gluten free banana bread for my husband


who so kindly gave me a summer garden:


Our lettuce is starting to look good!


The hens have recalibrated since their loss and seem to have rallied around Ava.


All is peaceful, but I’ve been feeling a bit uneasy about those minutes of light dropping off from dawn and dusk each day. We have to begin our bookish cocktail hour earlier and earlier to keep Lily’s postprandial frolic on schedule.

Pretty soon my little white polar bear and I will have to start sipping and reading dangerously early…



But just when it seemed that fall was about to close in and another season be lost to lockdown, there are glimmers of hope. Turns out you can’t keep Granny down! Her retirement community is allowing family visits for the first time in five months and what a wonderful treat that has been. Masks required for everyone but Lily but hey, we can make that work. It feels like an early gift for Phyllis’ upcoming 98th birthday.


So we are feeling ever so slightly hopeful.

And I have a feeling we will look back fondly on our “lost summer”. I know Lily will!



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Unpopular opinion.

I’m just gonna say it: I still love NYC.

I know, I know, everyone is leaving. In droves.

And I can’t wait to go back. Every day I have a twinge or two of homesickness for the greatest city in the world.

I know, I know, between COVID and Cuomo and DeBlasio our beautiful city (and our favorite neighborhood!) is in shambles.

Little did I know when I snapped this at MOMA in 2013 it would define NYC in 2020:


I will have to be patient, because I am afflicted with a condition called topophilia, meaning an attachment to place. Nothing in my childhood or anywhere in my past would have suggested that NYC would ever feel like home, yet somehow it does. There’s a little jolt of excitement every time I see the tip of the Chrysler building in the distance on the way in from JFK. Can’t explain it.

We were hoping to go back in September. Sadly, it looks like that won’t be happening. There’s no place like Manhattan in the fall, and, oh, how we will miss it.




But I’m compiling a list of the top five “haven’t done” “must-do’s” for when we do return. You think everything will always be there so you put it off til next time or the time after. No more of that!

I hereby decree that we will finally pop for dinner at Restaurant Daniel:


We will finally take that boat to Ellis Island:


We will finally make that reservation for high tea at the Baccarat Hotel:


We’ll finally take that historic walking tour of Lower Manhattan:


And maybe that will give me some perspective. If you start from the beginning of “New Netherland” on Governor’s Island in 1624, you’ll find plenty of high and low points for NYC along the way. And still so much of that grand city to explore.

Hang on, NYC – we’ll be back as soon as well can!





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Lockdown, Lily-style.

The rest of us would welcome a change at this point.

“But why?” wonders Lily. “Things couldn’t be better!”

Every day begins with new adventures just beyond the gate: an endless array of bunnies, lizards, gophers and squirrels to hunt (and never catch).



Inside, there’s endless fun with her feline friends.


As for the compulsory paw-washing, she’ll just take an occasional dip in the fountain.


She sees no need for social distancing from her buddies.

IMG_6308 2

Or from humans, for that matter. She had out of town visitors this week, who pretended they were coming to see us, but it was all about Lily.

Chadd learned to love dogs from Chloe way back when.


Wow! Time flies!


Lily even had a family reunion this week! We broke protocol and ventured out for dinner one evening and lo and behold, we met Elvis, who turns out to be one of Lily’s littermates!


If it all gets to be too much, just take a nap.


Lockdown life is a little easier if you’re living in Lily’s world. Bring on the dog days of summer – she’s loving it!








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I’m not good at many things, but – and yes, I’m just going to brag a little bit here – I believe I could win a medal if they held an Olympics for Avoidance and Denial. No one is better at pretending nothing is happening here when what is really happening is something I don’t want to acknowledge. I can stick my fingers in my ears and shout la-la-la-la-la like nobody’s business.

Which is what I’ve been doing for at least some number of months, four or maybe even five, until the CE said it out loud a few days ago.

“I think something is wrong with Nugget.”

I knew this. I’ve known it ever since the first time I noticed that when I opened the gate of the chicken pen, Nugget didn’t run down the rest of the flock to be first in line for the treats. But I didn’t want to hear it because as soon as the CE said it, it became real. We are losing Nugget.

nugget june 2019

To be honest, Nugget has never been our favorite hen. In fact, I think the CE and I would both put her at the very top of the “unfavorite” list. From the get-go she has been brash and bossy. Evie and Viv had accompanied us on the baby chick adoption expedition back in 2016, and within just a few minutes of commencing the drive home from the poultry farm, they were reporting from the back seat that one of the chicks was pecking the others. In the eyes. With what appeared to be murderous intent.

By the way, the girls named the other two chicks, our lovely Buff Orpington, Bella, and the stately Australorp, Ava.

Nugget got her name since that’s what the girls ate for lunch the day we picked out the chicks.


And we would have immediately volunteered that diabolical chick for the assembly line at Burger King because Nugget didn’t stop pecking the others when we got her home. It just got worse and worse, to the point where we feared for the safety of the other two.


We finally isolated her from the others for two or three days and things calmed down a bit. But Nugget was never nice. She beat up on all the hens and woe to those at the bottom of the pecking order. She was merciless. And honestly, not all that lovely to look at:


Nugget is a classic Rhode Island Red. They are popular because they are hardy and excellent layers. Five eggs a week, easy. And that might be the problem.  It is the hens bred for high production that seem to be the most susceptible to an early demise. Since she’s only four and a half years old I’m guessing she has either a reproductive cancer or equally deadly internal laying issue. Neither can be addressed – we’ve been here before.


Nugget was the flock’s cross to bear. The rest of the hens either avoided her or ran away from her, squawking in fear. But in the past few months Nugget has slowed down, literally. Instead of being first in line for everything, she’s been the last to appear for roll call. And she hasn’t bullied any of the other hens for a long time. In the past few weeks she has been disinterested in treats, a sure sign that something’s wrong.


Last night she wasn’t able to make it up to her spot on the roost and spent the night on the counter top. I tried to entice her this morning with some mealworms but even that was a no-go.

It’s very hard to imagine the flock without her – even the saltiest soul is missed when they depart. But even a champion of denial like me has to face reality at some point. We are losing her and at this point it will probably be a matter of days. We’ll stand vigil with her, try to keep her hydrated and offer what comfort we can. Wishing her a safe journey to chicken paradise, where she’ll be able to eat all the mealworms she wants and be first in line for everything.


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The never-ending lockdown.

I don’t know about you, but at this point I am so far into the lockdown groove it’s starting to feel more like a trench. A trench that gets a little deeper every week. I know, I know, I have nothing to complain about. Just sayin’ there are moments here and there where I find myself stuck at the corner of those streets called Ennui and Inertia.

132 days since we’ve seen a family member face to face. Who knew that when we hugged Daniel goodbye that day in March that it was the last hug for – who knows how long?

Four trips canceled so far. No New Orleans and Nashville in April. No Hawaii in July. NYC in September looking like a no-go.  Even a proposed jaunt to Newport Beach nipped in the bud when our governor put the brakes on last week. Things have gotten to the point that I’ve almost been forced to contemplate cleaning out a closet. Luckily, crisis averted: we baked instead! 

I can’t remember the last time we were home for four months straight, so for the first time in forever I’ve been paying mind to what goes on in our little orchard. Our latest little stick of a peach tree did its valiant best to produce this year.


And with all this time on my hands, I decided to to try to outsmart the birds and the snails that usually pick off the peaches before they ripen. I managed to harvest just enough


for one awesome peach crisp:


The peaches are done now, though, so that potential closet clean is looming large. Thank goodness the plums are beginning to ripen – anyone have a recipe to share?








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Don’t Blame the Chickens.

These days, it’s all COVID all the time.

Except when it’s salmonella.


CNN reported it a few weeks back, tying a notable increase in salmonella cases to the pandemic-related uptick in backyard flock-keeping. A lot of people decided that if they’re staying home all day every day, they’d like to do it in the company of chickens. Seems reasonable to me. But some of them apparently failed to read up on the importance of biosecurity and simple hygiene, which is kind of hard to believe in our current pandemic life.

It’s well known that salmonella bacteria live in the digestive tracts of poultry. Even novice cooks know not to leave uncooked chicken sitting about, and the importance of thoroughly washing utensils and surfaces like cutting boards that come in contact with raw chicken.

And the rawest of chickens – the ones with feathers that go squawking around the coop – can excrete salmonella in their droppings. It is so rare for humans to contract salmonella from a backyard flock that it makes headlines when it happens. And after digging a little deeper into the topic, I have a suspicion that it is almost completely avoidable.


How to stay salmonella-safe?

Wash your hands! (Duh, right?)

First thing I do after being around the hens, whether I’ve handled them directly or not, is to thoroughly wash my hands. And, it turns out, this is even more important for children,  whose immune systems are still developing, and who might not be able to resist nuzzling a downy chick.

Keep a clean coop!

Our current flock of seven hens is the largest we’ve ever had. Back when we had three or four hens, daily clean up took about half an hour; now I spend closer to a full hour every morning cleaning the coop. It might be overkill – I don’t think most people generally take that much time – but I want the inside of our coop to be as pristine as possible. This means gathering all the droppings deposited overnight (hens’ ridiculously high rate of respiration means a LOT of poop) as well as wiping down all surfaces and freshening food, water and litter daily.

Keep a spacious coop!

Rule of thumb guidelines for keeping chickens: a minimum of about 2 to 3 square feet per chicken inside the coop, and 8 to 10 square feet per chicken in an outside run. More square footage is better. The tighter the space, the greater dysfunction in flock dynamics and the greater the likelihood of contamination and communicable illness within the flock.


Keep a ventilated coop!

In a 2016 article titled Poultry house ventilation part of Salmonella control , Dr. Edward Mallinson states that “high levels of Salmonella were repeatedly found on litter surfaces where air flow or ventilation was negligible or stagnant.” He is referencing large-scale farm or commercial facilities in the article but the same principles hold for small-scale operations. Keep it clean and keep it ventilated.

Practice good biosecurity!

Wear gloves!  Use a separate pair of shoes for working in the coop! Do not mingle birds from an off-site flock with your birds until they have undergone quarantine.

Keep a secure coop!

I found more than one reference to rodents as the source of salmonella in backyard flocks. Mice or rats that have access to poultry food can leave behind infected droppings that can cause a salmonella outbreak.


Oh, and about those eggs…

Some people refrigerate their eggs immediately. Some don’t. It’s a perennial debate. But one thing for sure is that IF you wash your eggs (and all eggs that come from the grocery or a farmers market will have been washed) they MUST be refrigerated, because washing removes the protective “bloom” from the egg that prevents bacteria from permeating the shell. If you wash eggs from your own backyard flock, use WARM water, not cold, as cold water causes the shell to contract and pulls in any bacteria.


Reports such as the recent one by CNN can unwittingly contribute to a misconception among many that chickens are inherently “unclean”. Not so! It all comes down to how tidily they are kept by their flock keepers. In eleven years of chicken-keeping, we’ve never had an instance of salmonella or any other communicable disease within or without the flock. Cleanliness is next to henliness – keep a clean space for them and you will have a happy flock of hens. Just resist the urge to kiss them!

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