Archive for the ‘Family’ Category.

Thanksgiving Comes Early to Murray Creek

From my perch on the steep slopes of Mt. Zion, as the Elliott family has named the peak above our home at Murray Creek, I have the luxury (so far) of watching the American economic fracas from a distance–literally and figuratively.

Our home is paid for. We live modestly, our freedom more than making up for any lack of shiny toys. We don’t own a car, sharing a fuel-efficient 2000 Honda Civic and the old ranch Blazer with Conal’s mom. We carry no debt, though we came within a whisker of borrowing money to do some major home improvements last year. Knowledgeable people advised us that using someone else’s money rather than our own was good financial sense. Thank heavens we got the willies about letting go of our debt-free status and went against that advice. We pulled money out of stocks to build our deck (now one of if not the best feature of our house). As Conal pointed out to me the other day, those stocks were worth a lot more then than they are now. We would have to fry up a much bigger hunk of nest egg to pull that off today.

My mom and I sold our big house in Seattle back in 2007 just as the market there was having a final peak of excitement. I don’t think we could have timed that sale much better if we had traveled into the future and then gone back, armed with the knowledge of what was to come. I still shake my head in amazement, wondering at our incredible good fortune. Ours was one of the very last bidding wars in our area, and a very merry, profitable war it was for us.

Though we value our life of freedom very highly, Conal and I are relatively young and can go back to work if we need to. Conal’s skills are highly marketable, and interest in his research is building around the world. His knowledge and expertise allow him to get paid well to pursue his passion. My professional skills are not nearly so unique or highly valued, but are broad-based and widely transferable. If it came down to it, I would not be worried about finding some sort of at least mildly enjoyable job. And that honestly would be the lazy way to go, ironically. We’re resourceful enough to figure out interesting, alternative ways to make a living, if we really put our minds to it.

My heart goes out to those who are losing their homes, or staging garage sales, taking on second jobs, cutting back on doing the things that give them joy, or all of the above in desperation to pay the mortgage on a house that may be worth less than they owe. I’m troubled and saddened to think also of those whose retirement plans have gone sideways, dreams evaporating along with the worth of their 401k’s. I can’t even imagine the stress and pain folks these situations must be going through. I have, however, had the experience of being laid off from a job that I depended on, and thus can viscerally relate to those many thousands who’ve lost their jobs. I wonder how bad it will get and how many people will sucked into calamity.

Even if things get a lot worse before they get better, Conal and I will be okay. If things were to get really weird, our property has an excellent well, tillable soil, and plenty of sunshine that could be harnessed to create electricity. With a big garden, some fruit trees (there are already a few growing down in the meadow) and perhaps some goats and chickens we could go “off the grid,” as the saying goes. Conal’s mom’s expertise in the area of animal husbandry and self-sufficiency would give us an invaluable resource of knowhow should the worst happen. Surviving and even thriving will be possible for us even if civilization as we know it ceases to function.

Here on my perch overlooking our private slice of paradise, you’d never know that anything was amiss. Conal is heading off into the cool of evening to gather kindling from the ample supply of downed wood that’s lying around, taking a break from working on his research projects. The evening sun is slanting streams of warm honey through the rich green boughs of the forest, while squirrels chatter and chase each other merrily about. The deep, gentle hiss of the breeze through the valley sounds like a far off, powerful river. Birds zip hither and thither among the craggy oaks doing their fall chores, and furry bees bumble about the rosemary hedge below the front porch. So much to enjoy and be thankful for.

I’m swept by a wave of gratitude for my life, my beloved cuddle buddy Conal, my family, the warm sun, clean water to drink, healthy food to eat, and a snug nest on a mountain to call home.

Autism Service Dog for James

My friend Kate in Seattle has a young nephew, James, who is coping with autism. Today, I received an email Kate forwarded from her sister-in-law requesting financial help in obtaining an autism service dog for James.

The family is seeking 1350 people to donate ten bucks in order to raise the funds needed by June 6th.

Details from James’ mom Raven are as follows:

Hey All:

James and his dream dogWe need your help. For about the third year in a row, James has had a very difficult April and May which ultimately resulted in increasing his anti-anxiety medication. He is finally doing better, but he has lost a lot of his skills. Apparently, May is a very difficult time for many Autistic children in this area as the seasons change and things get a bit more frenetic at school.

After talking to James’ Neurologist, teachers and therapists, Mark and I have decided to apply for an Autism Service Dog for James. The Neurologist, Dr. Stobbe, has seven other Autistic clients with service dogs and says that James is a perfect candidate. These dogs help relieve anxiety, keep kids from running away, help keep the children focused at school, and provide a constant in the child’s life as the dog goes everywhere with the child. Dr. Stobbe is even hopeful that we can wean James off his medication once he is used to working with the service dog.

Even though there is usually a one to two-year waiting list for programs, we have found a highly-recommended program that has room in its February graduating class for James IF we can raise the necessary money ($13,500) by June 6th, 2008 (TWO WEEKS FROM NOW). (This covers less than half of the cost that the organization puts into the dog and includes two weeks of training - one week at the facility and one week at our home!) Here is the link to their website:

Our hope is to get 1,350 people to each donate $10.

We’re asking YOU to do TWO things for James:
1) If you are able, please donate $10.
2) Please forward this email to anyone whom you think might be willing and able to also donate $10.

Checks should be made out to ASDA (for Autism Service Dogs of America, a 501(C)(3) organization). GIFTS ARE TAX DEDUCTIBLE TO THOSE WHO ITEMIZE.

If you are OFF-ISLAND (or prefer the mail), here is the address.
James McCrackyn
PO Box 1451
Vashon, WA 98070

If you are ON-ISLAND, you can drop off your donation at any of the following locations:

R. Peter Lake, CPA, Bank of America, Beachcomber, Bob’s Bakery, Cafe Luna, Fair Isle Animal Clinic, Green Ginger, John L Scott Realty, Little House, Minglement, Monkey Tree, Pandora’s Box, Thriftway, True Value, Vashon Book Shop, Vashon Print and Design, Vashon Tea Shop, Windermere Realty, Zoomies

I have also attached a flyer.

Thanks so much!


I did not know there even was such a thing as an autism service dog and I think it’s totally awesome! I hope you’ll be inspired to contribute, too.

Tess, the Lolcat-Wannabe

Tess lolcat picEver since she heard about lolcats, Tessa Leone Croydon has been wanting to get in on the fun. So she convinced my daughter, Tasha, to help her out with her plan for lolfame and posed for this picture. Now all she needs is some help coming up with the lol part. Here are the ideas so far:

  • Haaaay! who puts teh vodka up too hai for meez?! (Holly)
  • I iz cobra kitteh no mess wif me! (Holly)
  • Vampyr kitteh sez I WANTS UR BLUD! (Tasha’s buddy, Kellie)
  • Me did it maaaaaaaaaaaiii waaaaaaaaaaaaii! (Holly)
  • Hey u kidz! Get off mah lawn! (Tasha’s friend freewaydiva)
  • Fangz of Doom, I has dem (Holly)
  • Figaro, Figaro, Fiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiigaro!!!!! (BB/Mom)

Btw, I just got off the phone with Tasha, who was calling me from the vet’s office. She had taken the kitteh to the vet because we were worried about Tess’s recent weight loss and also about some flaky, itchy skin issues. I could not be happier or more relieved to report that the vet found Tess to be in excellent health. He said that if he’d seen her on the street he’d guess she was about ten years old, a considerable compliment to a grand old diva of fifteen. Apparently, she (Tess not Tasha) growled and hissed at him a bit, to which he commented, “Well, she’s a tortoiseshell, so…” referring to her coloring (a racial remark!). Hmm, I had not heard that torties were reputed grouches. I guess when you have golden laser beams for eyes, you gotta act the part.

Dr. Joe told Tasha that the little monster is at a good weight for her size (she was a bit of a porker in the past, apparently), and simply suffering from an allergic reaction to fleas. He gave Tess a cortisone shot to quickly alleviate any discomfort, and for long-term protection from the rotten little biters she’ll get some of that wonderful back-of-the-neck flea treatment.

Yay! Our kitteh be da picshur of health. Now, all she needs is your help to achieve lolcat greatness, so let’s hear your best lols!


The Unbearable Cuteness of Being

Audrey Pout


*replied Tasha when I emailed her this picture of me and Conal

Audrey Snacks

Conal’s granddaughter, Audrey, is visiting us at Murray Creek this week with her mom, Charlotte. Audrey is two. Audrey likes rice. A lot.

Audrey Michelle

When you’re really chowing down hard on the rice, like, straight from the pan with your fingers, it’s important to protect your eyes.

Audrey in goggles

Lolcats, Meow-tzart, and Tessa Leone Croydon

Cats have been on my mind lately. Firstly, I’m completely addicted to lolcats. Srsly. I mean, come on! Also, people keep sending me pointers to assorted ridiculously adorable cats online. Check out this delightful video of Nora, the piano playing cat.

Tess at Tasha's

All this inescapable feline cuteness has me missing our family kitteh, Tess. Full name, Tessa Leone Croydon. I didn’t think she’d long survive country life. There are plenty of predators in these foothills who might make a quick snack of a city cat. So Tess went to live with my daughter, Tasha, when I moved to California. This picture was taken by Tasha in the spring of 2007 just after Tess had moved in with her.

Tess came unexpectedly into our family as a teensy kitten. It was an accident, on my part. A coworker brought her into the office to find a home for her. I had already been asked if I wanted a kitten and declined. However, when I opened the door to the office where she was visiting with a crowd of admirers (hey, I was trying to get work done!), Tess immediately dashed over to me and climbed me like a tree in about a half a second. I didn’t even have time to squeak. Once she’d made it to my shoulder, she proceeded to purr loudly while nosing around my ear with her cold wet nose. There was a general chorus of “Ooooh, she’s found her new mama!” and “Sold!” and things like that. I was pretty much sunk. She’d claimed me. Needless to say, she came home with me that day and became a full-fledged family member, growing up side-by-side with Tasha. My memory is filled with moments of excruciating cuteness between them, the little monsters.

Now she’s getting to be an elderly lady (Tess, not Tasha), hanging out with the kids and having a relaxing life free of cougars and rattlesnakes, lounging around on pillows or warm laundry, getting underfoot in the kitchen, and begging to be swept.

I enjoy the freedom that comes with not having responsibility for a pet. Heck, we don’t even have a houseplant. We can decide to hit the road anytime, lock the house behind us, and have no worries about leaving the place uninhabited.

But le sigh. I sure miss having a purr-baby around.

Big Freaking Trees

Calaveras Big Trees State Park is about an hour’s drive from our place further up into the Sierra Nevada mountains. Where the snow is, this time of year. When my mom visited earlier this month, we took a trek on up to see the “vegetable monsters,” as the early 1800’s advertisers of the park called these living giants. Words and pictures certainly can’t do them the slightest justice, but here’s a couple of pictures anyway.

Here’s me with one of the little ones:

Holly and a Big Tree

And my mom with a truly ginormous one:

Mom and some Big Trees

The Meeting of the Moms

Mom came to stay with us at Murray Creek earlier this month. I enjoyed her visit very much. Among the highlights were a labyrinth walk (including playing and toning with the family temple bowl when we reached the center), a trip to Angels Camp and Big Trees, Christmas tree decorating, and general merriment. From here, Mom flew to San Diego to visit her new grandboy, Graham. Mom is the first of my family to visit.

Here’s me, my mom, Conal’s mom, and Conal:

Us and our Mommas

Labyrinth walkers:

Labyrinth Walkers

Mom and Ann walking along Murraydale Lane near the labyrinth:

Mom and Ann walking

Celebrating New Life

Graham ScottMy brother and sister-in-law, Scott and Kimberly, had their first child on December 4th. I’m an Auntie, for reals! Baby Croydon’s name is Graham Scott, and he weighed 6 lb, 14 oz, at birth. All is well with Graham and his adoring parents.New Family