I’ve been at our little house in the California desert for almost a week now, enjoying the warmth and blue skies and the color of our personal oasis.
The snow was falling softly as Bob drove me to the airport early last Wednesday morning, and our takeoff was delayed a few minutes to let the de-icing truck spray the plane. Some fellow passengers, a little too tired of winter, were already dressed for their destination in shorts, t-shirts and sandals – lucky they hadn’t had to push the truck out of a snowbank on their way to the airport!
In Seattle it was overcast, and a light drizzle greeted us as I made my way down the steps and into the terminal, retrieving my carry-on from the à la carte as I did so. The layover gave me enough time to have breakfast and check in with home before making my way to the gate for my flight to Palm Springs.
A little over two hours later I was trundling my suitcase along the shaded walkway to my rental car. Although the desert had been hit with a cool snap, the 60 degree sunshine felt plenty warm to me! When I pulled up to our house my eyes were almost dazzled with the riot of color from the pansies, petunias and bougainvillea planted and lovingly cared for by our gardener. As it happened, I arrived on the day he visits our house, and he chuckled as I exclaimed at the green grass, explaining that I hadn’t seen the lawn in Montana since around Thanksgiving.
I ran inside the house and opened the blinds to let the sunlight stream in, then I kicked off my shoes, pulled off my socks and slipped into the pair of sandals I’d left here when we departed last summer. I stepped out onto the patio and held my face up to the warm sun. On the air was the scent of citrus blossom. It was good to be back.
Our sweet Shadow’s ancestry is uncertain – she adopted us – but one thing is for sure, she most definitely has in her mixed lineage a breed that is adapted for winter survival. As the weather gets colder she develops a thick warm undercoat which enables her to do what she loves to do in winter – lie out in the snow. The first snow of winter she will rush outside as excited as either of the children and delight in rolling in the snow making doggie snow angels. As winter progresses she will adopt a snow bank and make it her sentry post, keeping a wary eye open for foxes, mountain lions, and other interlopers who would dare to step onto her turf. She has been known to lie all day on her snow bank waiting for Bob to return from a trip, ignoring all invitations and pleas to come back inside.
She also develops what the children delight in calling “Hobbit feet”. As the days shorten, the fur between her toes begins to lengthen, until by around Christmas time it sits in long tufts on the front of her paws, reminiscent of Tolkein’s description of Hobbits’ feet “clad in a thick curling hair”.
In the summer everything changes, she sheds her undercoat in voluminous amounts, making me wish either she had a paler coat or I had darker carpets, and when we return from spring break the place where we board her has usually trimmed her Hobbit feet back to regular doggie paws as part of her pre-pickup wash and blow-dry. Summer gives her other areas of the property to patrol, and the deck to lie on with the breeze catching her fur to cool her as she keeps a watchful eye over her domain. But I truly think she is happiest in winter.
I am not the world’s greatest cook. My family will assure you of that. But once in a while I do break out the mixing bowls and give it a whirl, and with Valentine’s Day last Thursday, what better way to show my children that I love them than to bake something special just for them?
Tuesday found me happily up to my eyes in flour as I baked my son’s favorite Oatmeal Raisin Cookies. One little trick I learned several years ago is to toast the oatmeal first – it brings out the nuttiness (yes I know – as if I needed any more nuttiness in my kitchen!) I’ve also discovered that golden raisins (we call them sultanas in England) give a different sweetness to the cookies, and that was what I used this week (mainly, I’ll admit, because I’d forgotten that I used up all the raisins at Christmas). The cookies were a success, and I packed them carefully into the containers, padding them with parchment and paper towel, hoping that some of them would actually arrive intact, before heading down to the post office and mailing them. I kept back the ones that didn’t fit in the boxes – they disappeared before I got a chance to photograph them.
Then it was Em’s turn. She had decided on a Red Velvet Cake for her birthday, but circumstances conspired against her, and I promised her one for Valentine’s Day instead. I’d never baked one before, but we looked up recipes and came up with two or three that looked promising. Wednesday evening she put on her baking apron (a birthday baking gift from a year or so back) and we set to work. We made a pretty good team! It was the first sponge cake I’d made in years, and although it wasn’t up to Grandma Saunders’ standards (she was a wonderful baker) it turned out well, and must be a success as it is disappearing quite rapidly! It’s more of a brownish red than a bright red, but Em decided that the chocolateyness (is that even a word?) of it was more important than the color. We also tried our hand at a yummy buttercream frosting.
Now I’m feeling inspired! I’m heading out of town this week and I think maybe I should bake cookies to leave behind for Bob and Em. Chocolate chip, maybe even mocha chocolate chip!
We’ve been sick. All of us. Even the dog. Even our son away at college.
We all had something different: cough, cold, sore throat, upset tummy.
As for the dog – well, she had a cough; but what she had after she got some left-overs is better forgotten. Let us just say one of us who shall be nameless (i.e. me) found ourselves walking her several times a night (I must admit that, although it was cold, it was strangely peaceful and beautiful, with the full moon on the snow giving enough illumination to not need a flashlight), and some carpets had to be cleaned.
But now life is better. Daughter has not asked for “anudder bokd of tisdudes, de oneds wid lotun”, son is spluttering less on the phone, husband has returned to the land of the living, my throat no longer feels like I’m swallowing broken glass, and the dog, now firmly limited to doggie food only, hasn’t coughed for several days.
Sometimes you have to get sick just to realize how good it feels to be healthy!