Do Yourself A Favor — Read This Before Cocktail Hour


By Elizabeth Speth

This won’t take long.

I was at the grocery store today, wandering listlessly through the produce aisle.  I saw masses of dusky purple winter grapes.  On sale.


My first thought:  Make jewelry out of them.  They are that beautiful.

My second, more practical thought:  Cocktails.

I adopted a bunch — the sweetest, darkest, most mysterious and sexy cluster in the whole store — and brought it home. I chilled it within an inch of its life, and I coaxed every gorgeous, ripe, ruby orb off the stem (they did not require much convincing) and plopped them into the blender.

I added a thick, amber rope of local honey.  Made by rosemary- and lavender-obsessed bees in my neighborhood.  Pouring, it flirted shamelessly with the afternoon sun coming through the French doors in the kitchen.  Fair enough, I thought, dazzled by the slow-flowing chemistry between sweet and light.  It’s cocktail hour.  There can be some flirting.

grapes 4

I poured in enough vodka to cover the grapes and the honey.  I am protective that way.


I flicked on the blender and whirled it around.  It made a joyous pink froth with purple flecks of tannic confetti.

At this point, I was confronted with a choice.  I could strain the vodka grape juice and remove the pulverized skins.  It would have made my cocktail clear, pristine — prettier.

I didn’t.  I think those little bits of skin are the cocktail equivalent of caviar.  I poured it into a champagne glass until the glass was half full.   (I’m an optimist!)

I filled the glass the rest of the way with (very) cold champagne.

grapes 2

And then I shared it with you.  Immediately.  This is me, virtually pouring you a drink.  A lovely one.  You’ve likely had a tedious week.  You deserve it.

Happy Friday.


What Fresh Hole Is This?

hole By Elizabeth Speth 

Every time Angus, the Jack Russell Terrorist, digs a new hole, I think to myself:  “What fresh hell is visited upon us now?”

Lest you think I am melodramatic, let me explain.  Have the stomach to hear me out, and then ye can judge.

Angus digs several holes — about 36 — a day.  In the nine or so years he’s been with us, that makes… let’s see…. multiply by… carry the four… factor in two leap years… seventy billion holes.

It’s not his fault.  He’s a Jack Russell.  They are known for their frantic energy, their non-stop drive to go, chase, chew, jump, yip, run, bark, dig.  I don’t hold these things against him, although my husband swears he is football-shaped for a reason.

My objection to the holes is based solely on three factors.  Location, location, and location.

I’m talking about the holes in the flower beds.  And the dirt sprayed over the walkways.  I’m talking about the holes in the garden, and the subsequent mass slaughter of innocent herbs and tender radishes.  Holes among the rose bushes.  Holes around the propane tank.  Holes in my neighbor’s yard.  Holes in my neighbor’s garden.

Holes in my indoor plant pots.

There are the holes in the riding arena, where my horses will someday snap a leg if I don’t constantly re-fill them, only to turn around and see that little white tail going mad in a new flurry of flying soil.

We have a lot of pasture, and many are the nights I have heard the horrific clack of my teeth as I suddenly step in one, arms full of hay, because Angus has strategically dug right in my walking path between the gate and the feeders.  Between the gate and the barn.  Between the faucet and the water troughs.  Our pastures are so hole-y they ought to be consecrated.  Filling those holes is about as vain an exercise as picking up horse manure every day, but it still must be done.  One does these things.  One keeps up appearances.

You might be tempted to suggest a dog trainer, or a canine psychotherapist, or a strong sedative.  What we need here, gentle reader, is an exorcist.  I am withholding Angus’ allowance until we can afford one, but in the meantime there are the holes, multitudes of them, each one bringing us several inches closer to hell.

This morning, I caught my wheelbarrow on a new one.  It was hidden under the gate, right where I always pass through, often pushing or pulling a loaded cart, to deliver the horse poop to the compost pile.


The wheel of the cart plopped right in, my forward momentum was abruptly arrested, and over the cart went, road apples tumbling everywhere, a warm and fragrant bed upon which I landed after several long seconds of undignified struggling against the inevitable fall.

Angus had the grace to look guilty, although he did not offer to help me re-gather my manure.


“Damn you, Angus,” I said, because no one was around to hear it.

I finished my chores, circumnavigating the hole, and then I went to fetch my shovel to fill it.  Angus ran circles around me as I worked, joyful and energetic, assuming I was having as glorious a time as he so obviously was.  This is why it’s hard to stay mad at Angus.  He is a gleeful dog.

Shovel poised, I approached the gate.  Angus scurried underneath it, as he’s been doing for years, because he’s too impatient to wait for it to open.  I watched him crawl through using the hole like an open tunnel.

I rested the shovel on the ground.  “Come here, Angus,” I said, and he slipped back under, through that perfectly-placed, perfectly-sized hole like a breeze.  He came and sat at my feet.

I took a good, long look at him.  In my mind’s eye, he is still a puppy.  That is because my actual eyes, which will be fifty soon, blur the edges of the everything now.  They still see Angus as a youngster because of his energy and attitude, I guess.  But I did the math right there, and realized he is a middle-aged gent, maybe even a little older than that.

Also, he has gotten stocky, put on a few, as the saying goes.  I hadn’t really seen that before.  I asked him to lie down, then roll over, which he did happily, but was that a little stiffness he struggled against there, getting back up?

“Angus, go back the garden,” I said, and he obliged, flowing like a creamy white rivulet, right back through the hole and under the gate.  I put the shovel away, marveling at the fact that it was entirely possible Angus is taking stock of himself, and coming to some of the same realizations that I must face.

I’m approaching middle age too, and damned if things aren’t starting to widen and stiffen.  Most of my clothing has elastic now.  I need reading glasses.  I use a mounting block to get on a horse, but I don’t intend to stop riding.  Angus needs a hole under the gate, because he does not intend to start waiting for it to open.  We are both trying to maintain a certain standard of living here.


I have to admire the fact that he assessed a need to adjust his environment to his changing needs, and took care of it.  It made me feel better about myself.  And also a little sad for both of us.

So that one hole can stay.  All future holes will be evaluated in light of this Angus epiphany, but I think it is a safe bet that most will be re-filled.

The horses remained unimpressed when I shared my new insights about our tiny, rough-coated, high-pitched and frenzied friend.  They still find him irritating.  They assure me it will be ever thus.


Tuesday and the Blue Chair — An Argument Between What We Are and What We Do


By Elizabeth Speth

“Come and sit with me,” said the bright blue adirondack chair under the eucalyptus trees. “Listen to the horses crunching breakfast, and later you can go for a ride.”

“No. No, Elizabeth,” said Tuesday firmly. “I am a working day. I am not a sit-in-a-chair and go-for-a-ride day.”

“Bring a cup of coffee,” urged the chair. “And that good book you are reading. There is plenty of time to pack some wine, some bread for your ride. For now stretch your legs. Breathe out.”

“I am about work!” Tuesday insisted. “I am for scrawling on paper. And click-clacking keyboards. Go to work! On Tuesdays we squint at screens and mutter about numbers.”

“The geese are scouting out nesting places by the river,” said the chair. “I think it will rain soon. Maybe tomorrow. Look at the sun shining now, though.”

“Selfish!” yelled Tuesday.

“I want to embrace you,” said the chair, holding out two sturdy arms.

“You will be unemployed!” screamed Tuesday. “You will be lazy and irresponsible and poor!”

“A slug of whiskey in your coffee would be nice,” said the chair. “Oooh. Feel how warm the sun is rising over these trees.”

“There is no time for this!” Tuesday agonized. “You will be late. You have deadlines. You are behind schedule, and falling short of expectations!”

“Tuesday sure likes exclamation points,” observed the blue chair to a passing breeze, and the branches sighed in agreement. With a gentle effort, the grass stretched, deepened its green. In grass-speak, this means: “Tuesday is loud.”

“Shut up!” commanded Tuesday, shoving my computer bag at me and slamming the car door. “You are a regular person. Regular people go to work! I am a regular day for regular people who work!”

Tuesday pushed my car all the way down the long driveway, grunting and huffing and scolding.

“I’ll see you tomorrow,” called the blue chair softly, shrinking in my rear view. Sunlight winked through the back slats. “I’m here all week.”