Friday, September 9, 2022

The Monarch Butterfly's Complete Metamorphosis


My sister texted me a photo of this monarch caterpillar posing on a leaf in her CT garden. How lucky for her. I've never come across one of these colorful creatures and wouldn't have known how to identify it.

   Another view from another garden. Monarch butterflies lay their eggs exclusively on milkweed plants.

Here is  a diagram of the monarch's lifecycle which takes about 30 days. (The adult butterflies live from 2 to 6 weeks.)

 The completion of the four life-stage process - the egg , the larvae (caterpillar), the pupa (chrysalis) and the adult butterfly - is called complete metamorphosis.

These beautiful butterflies, found all across N. America, were officially designated as endangered in July, '22.  Details of their plight can be found on this LINK from PBS.

Friday, August 12, 2022

Fire Season Preparations in the Berkeley Hills

Piles of boards and branches down hill from our house

 Fire season cleanup is in high gear in my North Berkeley hills neighborhood. Piles of dead branches can be seen in the front and back of many houses and every day we hear the loud whine of chainsaws and the whir of chippers in our neck of the woods. Because fires can sweep in from forested Tilden Park up the hill from us, this area is especially vulnerable and cleanup efforts are taken seriously.

Our back slope was littered with old wood discarded when Dean tore down an old retaining wall he rebuilt in 1991. Our downhill neighbors' complaints spurred us into action. Everyone's nervous!

It took 7 hours for Carlos Meza's yard cleanup and hauling service to clear out the piles of wood. Three workers filled their trucks twice. and here's the result- a barren hill.

Last year we had two trees cut down which were dangerously near the house - a no-no in a fire zone. Tree services are in high demand and all over Berkeley efforts to comply with fire safety regulations have left dismayingly bare yards. These businesses cut down trees and haul them away after they feed the trunks and branches into a chipper.

Complete Tree Service sent a skilled crew

                           This is how they did it!   We watched the whole scary event from our deck. 

Two doors down, our neighbor's yard exemplifies the clear-cut look. A few weeks ago the house was hidden by green trees and bushes, now look at it!

The city has a fire fuel chipper program, so many home owners clean up their property and leave piles of debris just off the road, awaiting their designated pickup day.

Piles line Keeler, a few blocks above us

                                                       Our next door neighbor's collection

This one's on Shasta Road

All these piles start to look alike. This one was hauled away a few days ago in a big truck. They didn't wait tor the city to come

We participate in a close knit neighborhood group called Shake and Bake which was formed to oversee emergency earthquake and fire preparedness. We communicate frequently by email and every September we meet in person to discuss group business and enjoy a yummy potluck. For the last few years these meetings have taken place on someone's deck for obvious reasons

Jill, our next door neighbor, designed this banner which should be displayed outside one's house in an emergency, to signify that the inhabitants are safe and have no need to be rescued.

Our Westinghouse generator in it's wooden sound insulating box

Like many of our neighbors, we installed a generator to prepare for preemptive PG&E  power outages which could leave us without power for long (or short) periods. After experiencing some of these, we decided to find a generator.  In 2020 during the Pandemic, it wasn't easy to find generators, much less parts to install them, but we persevered. Dean even built a sound deadening box to shield our household from the machine's excessive noise; he also converted the generator from gas to propane. Both of these were major projects which will pay off if the power goes out.

It's still cool and foggy up here, but we're not fooled. Sooner of later there will be heat waves with dangerously high winds and the smell of smoke from fires near and far. So we're checking items off our to-do list and making every effort to prepare for any emergency Mother Nature throws our way

Wednesday, July 6, 2022

Happy 4th of July Table decorated by Ricki 2022


Ricki's house in San Francisco's Richmond district

            Here's the festive balloon decoration that greeted us at Ricki's front door on The 4th of July

                                     And here's another of her fabulous holiday table settings

More fun details from the table with an admirer standing by

 All the guests brought steak to grill and I made this macaroni salad with dill, capers, celery and lemon to go alongside Ricki's coleslaw and grilled veggies. Dessert was gelato with strawberries & blueberries!
The typical July fog came in to obscure the fireworks, so we happily celebrated indoors with more wine 

Tuesday, June 14, 2022

My Swedish Piggy Bank and a few Surprises


      Here's the Swedish handmālat (hand painted)  Piggy Bank my mother gave me many years ago. Unfortunately I can't remember the specific occasion or year of her gift but I'd love to find out. Often she would give a duplicate present to my sister, but in this case she didn't, so I'll never know.

I mentioned my mother's Swedish ancestry a few Christmases ago when I wrote about decorating her four-sided Swedish TREE with mini ornaments she had accumulated.

She loved her set of 6 hand painted Norwegian bowls

She collected all sorts of Scandinavian objects, baked Scandinavian treats and was thoroughly Swedish in appearance, temperament and traditions. So imagine our surprise when my sister started digging around on the internet and discovered that her mother was actually from an island in the Baltic Sea between Sweden and Germany called Rügen, and that it's part of Germany, NOT Sweden! The area had been a dominion under the Swedish crown until 1815 but was eventually annexed to Germany.  Her father Karl was from Stockholm, so no surprises there. His family name was Silvfer which he changed to Silver when he came to the US.

Here are some facts my sister unearthed about our mother's mother: She was born on June 3rd 1875 and christened  Gustava Fredrika Wilhelmina Kabeller. Her birthplace was Putbus, Rügen, Germany and a passenger list card certifies  that she arrived in Baltimore, MD in 1893, which would make her 18 years old! 

Pictured above are the rose gold earrings she was wearing when she came to America. She immediately took them off since pierced ears would mark her as an immigrant from the old country.  Fortunately she kept them and passed them on to my mother. Quickly she enrolled in night school to learn English in order to shed her Scandinavian roots and learned to speak fluently without a trace of an accent.

She married Karl Nicolaus Silver and inherited his two children from a previous marriage.  We don't know when our grandmother came to Milwaukee, but we do know that my mother Isabelle was born there in 1906. Like my mother, her brother Ted and youngest brother Bill lived in Milwaukee all their lives. I remember Ted living with my grandmother until she died in 1957; only then did he feel free to marry. I was only 12 when she died but I remember her quite well. 

Though we were disappointed that she was German rather than Swedish, I see that her birthplace is  beautiful and a popular tourist destination. The French travel blog Memoirepleine describes it below:

"Rügen Island is a small paradise of white sandy beaches and turquoise water near the Baltic Sea, in northeast Germany. Mixing old-fashioned seaside resorts atmosphere and Scandinavian influences, Rügen is the perfect getaway for a weekend or more." HERE is the link for a full travelog. 

Rügen's spectacular coastline 

Villas south of the pier on Rügen as photographed by Élodie in her blog Memoirepleine

Sassnitz Harbor on Rügen.   It would be fun to visit her birthplace

In lieu of a photograph of my grandmother, I offer a nostalgic rendition of my mother Isabelle, age 10, with her brother Ted and little brother Bill near their home in Milwaukee.

Monday, May 30, 2022


Here's the new Lomi Kitchen Composter

Finally another blog on composting, but instead of my green bin I'm featuring a new, high-tech kitchen composter. An impressive Canadian company called Pela, known for their bio-degradable phone cases, has recently introduced a countertop machine that actually "minimizes food waste at the press of a button." Pela's goal is to create a waste-free future, so for a start they've created this futuristic, high-tech version of a green bin with many fewer steps.  You simply fill it with food scraps, press the button and in a few hours you've turned your leftovers into nutrient-rich dirt. If you don't have your own compost pile and garden, or you live in a place that doesn't have a city-wide recycling program, this sounds like a great solution (all you need is $499.) 

Here's my green bin 10 years ago . It still stands in the same place on my kitchen counter

Though Lomi's  kitchen composter is awesome, I'm not planning on retiring my green bin any time soon.  I praised it ten years ago when I started this blog  and I'm still as enamored as ever. In the first "Me and My Green Bin" post on May 7th 2012, I described "MONDAY MORNING"---  the time when Berkeley recycle trucks pick up green waste in our neighborhood. 

               Exactly10 years later I still collect veggie and meat scraps in my green bin...

...then dump them into the large curbside receptacle provided by the city, which gets  COLLECTED early Monday morning. The previous link describes what happens to the contents of the bins after they are collected.

There are also other solutions: Every week or so my sister takes her food scraps from the freezer in her apartment in Manhattan to her home in CT where she composts it for her garden. Strangely enough, New York City does not have city wide curbside pickups. Instead they have bins near some community gardens and green markets where locals can take their compostable items. I took the photo below in 2015 when I visited the 92nd street greenmarket near my sister's apartment. 

92nd Street Greenmarket vegetation collection

More recentlythe city has instituted voluntary green waste collection in selected neighborhoods and the NYC Dept. of Sanitation has issued brown bins like the one below. Despite these minor improvements, my sister Lucia continues to schlep her kitchen scraps to the country for her garden compost pile.

New York CIty's handsome brown bins

With Lomi, the transformation from food waste to compost happens in your kitchen; and it happens lickety split.  Pela has a great Website  with all the details and their weekly newsletter contains fascinating information about their zero waste philosophy.  Lomi News is so useful that I've started saving the emails in a file on my desktop for future reference. Why delete info on topics like the garbage problem or 15 steps to a zero-waste kitchen or can you cook with compost?

I admit I'm impressed with Lomi, but not enough to abandon my green bin and all the low-tech steps that involves. Never fear, "Me and My Green Bin" will continue!

Monday, May 16, 2022

Early Days at Sur La Table and a Souvenir from Ladakh

The rock that Deb brought me after her trip in 2000

My friend Deborah worked with me at the new Berkeley Sur La Table when it opened in 1996. Sur La Table was founded by Shirley Collins in 1972 and had a single retail location in Seattle's Pike Place Market until Seattle power COUPLE Renee and Carl Behnke bought it in 1995. We heard rumors that Ms. Collins had overextended the store's budget by buying too many pieces of French Copper and was forced to sell. In any case, the new owners wanted to expand and decided to open a second store in the developing 4th Street area of Berkeley. All the French copper cookware found its way to the Berkeley store, adding to its allure. I was hired to curate the extensive cookbook collection and Deb came along shortly after we opened. It was an exciting time to be working on booming 4th Street and in the energized Sur La Table spinoff. The company was later sold to an international corporation based in Bahrain and is no longer the fun store we opened. 

Four years years after the Berkeley store opened, Deb decided to travel to Ladakh, the mountainous region in Indian-administered Kashmir which borders on China. It's known as "little Tibet" and is home to thousands of Tibetan Buddhist refugees. I thought the trip was a crazy idea, but I did enjoy following her altitude training and itinerary, which had her arriving and departing from New Delhi.

Tibetan characters on a small rock that I keep on my dresser

 After she left  there were of course no emails, no instagram posts or cellphone photo exchanges, and we didn't hear about the trip until she got home. I remember Deb looking fit, thin and tan when she returned to work, and she had many stories to relate in her inimitable fashion. One included the story behind the souvenir she so kindly brought back for me:

    She had picked up several rocks in New Delhi en route to her trek in Ladakh and then when she arrived she told me,  "she paid a Tibetan monk personally to engrave the mantra 'keep moving' on one side and the date, 8/5/00, on the other."  Since the  Buddhist monk spoke no english, we were never sure of the exact translation. 

I have kept this prized possession on my dresser as she advised and have glanced at it now and then.  The other day I picked it up and was shocked to see that 22 years had passed. Then I wondered what that scrawled blue message actually said; I had always thought it was in Hindi. Luckily Sherab, a close friend of my sister's in CT, got his PhD in Sanskrit at Berkeley, lived on the subcontinent for many years and is fluent in a number of its languages. I sent him a picture of the rock and waited for his reply.

Sherab came up with all the information we could possibly want!  First, he confirmed the language as Tibetan.  He said that Tibetans are famous for writing on rocks. All over Tibet one sees prayer stones and other messages scrawled on rocks, so these small souvenirs made sense.

Now for the translation: Sherab pointed out that Tibetans were not likely to say "keep moving" and without even consulting his dictionary he pieced together a poetic rendition true to the Tibetan spirit and a fitting memento of my friend's trip to Ladakh.

                                        From the path, a beautiful way

Tuesday, April 19, 2022

A Seder Table fit for any Spring Celebration

My sister in law Ricki invited 8 friends to a Seder on Friday evening. Here's a detail with Haggadah from her always spectacular Passover table.


                                                             Or could it be an Easter table?

                      As usual she seamlessly blended the two Spring holidays in one riotous setting

  Before we left for San Francisco on April 15th, she texted me a preview of the table that awaited us, so I knew beforehand that this was another masterpiece

The last time we all met for this annual event was in 2019, before the pandemic forced us to cancel the next two. I recorded the details of that lovely party HERE.  You can observe the very different table  below set with French china and decorated with centerpieces of pastel roses and pink lilies

One of the blooming centerpieces on the 2019 Seder. table

  This year she mixed Italian plates from Deruta with Provencal Pierre Deux napkins, charming paper placemats with lemons and dyed egg 'place cards' with names written on each one. 

  The centerpieces consisted of vases of hyacinths, daffodils and hydrangeas among other spring flowers

Here's Ricki's seat marked by a dyed aqua egg in front of the traditional Seder Plate. The bowl on the right is filled with her dynamite charoset along with symbolic maror (horseradish),  a bitter herb (parsley,)  and a lamb shank .

                                                                 THE MENU

Our Seder meal was traditional but simplified to suit the guests' preferences. Our preference is to indulge in Ricki's awesome Matzo Ball Soup and her tasty apple and cinnamon Charoset spooned onto matzoh, and not have to save room for a main course that always follows. She makes her broth ahead of time with one chicken for every 2 people. This ratio results in a rich, tasty broth with plenty of chicken to add to the soup along with her masterful matzo balls. She learned the technique for light flavorful balls in her mother's kitchen in Walnut Creek.

Matzo ball soup isn't very photogenic, but boy is it good. This year we all ate our fill and then enjoyed side dishes that the hostess had assigned.

Sande prepared perfectly simmered asparagus that she bought at the Marin Farmers Market, from Fiddler's Green  situated in Yolo County.

I brought my first noodle kugel, since that's what she requested. Some years ago a guest ordered one from Zabar's, the well known Jewish Deli in New York, but kugels are simple to put together so I made one from a recipe in Bon Appetit. It turned out really well,  better than Zabar's, so  I plan to make another one next year.

Lots of good red and white wine spurred bursts of hilarity during the often solemn reading of the Haggadah.  We broke for dinner halfway through and thoroughly enjoyed our Passover meal. Then we finished the reading and drank more wine with Ricki's homemade Almond Macaroons and my  Lemon Bars.  We finally parted at midnight, looking forward, as always, to next years celebration at Ricki's.