Saturday, December 3, 2016

End of the Shemitah


So with the holidays approaching, I am also approaching the close of my shemitah year in the vegetable garden...a year I took off not so much because the land needed a rest, but because the farmer did. Oh, I grew a few things here and there, but nothing like I normally do. I grew flowers and decorative corn for fun, put in a couple of no maintenance squash plants and some cucumbers in and around the corn (since they required little care and I needed to can relish). Since I was growing vegetables at work, I still got to get my hands dirty, but it was nice to come home and not have to worry about what was going on in my own plot of land.

But I'm looking forward to a full planting here on the homestead this spring and summer. I have to admit, the down time seems to have been good for the soil, it's healthy, it's been amended with plenty of compost from the chicken and yard waste and is just waiting for spring crops. 

But now is not the time for that. Now is the time to decorate around the house for the holidays. I'm not sure, but I think I've taken a shemitah year or two away from holiday decorating too, from time to time. There have been a few years recently when I just wanted to minimize the hassle, and I was afraid it was the start of a new, downsized trend.

The great thing about taking a shemitah year in anything is that it comes and you get a rest. Then it ends and you get to start up again. It's funny how the chores that seem onerous when you have to do them year after year become pleasurable to think about once you've taken a year away from them.  

Anyway, this year, thanks to watching too many Hallmark movies and having some cold seasonal weather (low last night of 26 degrees!), I've been on a bit of a decorating binge. I bought a new, thin "pencil" tree for use in our dining room and did the big tree in the library in red and green, which is much harder to do than just stringing normal lights but is definitely worth the effort. I even put some garland over the range hood.

And outside we have Bruce the Blue Spruce, who is decorated in his Chanukah finest. We're nothing if not holiday-confused around here, but it works. I always say I celebrate all gift-giving holidays, so why not? 

Enjoy the pics.









Saturday, November 26, 2016

Post-Holiday Quiet


So the dishes and serving platters are put away, the orange and brown decorations are coming down and we're onto the green and red (and blue and white) baubles, tableware and tchotchkes.  The kids and other family have headed home, and the house is quiet again. Our Thanksgiving was one of the best ever, and I hope yours was, too.


Here are a few highlights from our day:


Thanksgiving mornings begin with a game of frisbee at the beach. Since I pre-cook everything but the turkey, I have a lot of free time during the day to spend with my assembled tribe, which definitely makes for a better day for the hostess, I think. Universal Law: Happy hostess, happy guests.


The two times you can see me running are these: if someone is chasing me with a knife or if I am at the beach with a frisbee. Thankfully, this is the latter event.


Table is set and ready.



Sputnik appreciated the many laps and arms that wanted to hold him throughout the time we had a full house of guests.


I've said before that holidays are like people; each one in each year has its own distinct personality. Some are tense, some are sleepy, some are frantic. If I had to choose a personality for this year, I'd say mellow. We wrapped up the day (after a few bottles of wine) with a rousing game of Card Against Humanity, where we older folks surprised and impressed our kids with how outrageous we could actually become once lubricated with enough alcohol.  

Yup. It was a good day on the homestead.



Monday, November 14, 2016

If you lived here, you'd be....home?



When I'm working at the winery, I'm often asked by customers what it's like to live here, amidst the vine-covered hillsides, the wineries and the tasting rooms. Mostly the question comes from folks visiting on weekend jaunts from Los Angeles or the Bay Area. They find a winery, sit under an oak tree surrounded by colorful vines and just take a breath and relax. They talk about how they long to get out of the city and find a slower and more peaceful existence.

There's certainly some good geographic public relations that goes on in the longing for wine country, since some of the most beautiful places on earth are also ones where wine is grown. And it's been that way for at least a couple of thousand years.  Wine culture is rooted in the histories of some of the most sublime, temperate places on the planet. And I'm not sure people would be dreaming of being here quite as much if kumquats were our chief product. Something about being around all this wine makes people think their lives will be just one long pour, smooth on the palate with a lovely aftertaste.


They're kind of right in most of their assumptions. It is amazing living here. There is wine everywhere, and even the most backwater resident, with no interest in wine whatsoever, generally still manages to acquire some wine knowledge and usually more bottles of it than they know what to do with. It's currency here. 


Business meetings generally feature wine. Grocery stores offer wine tasting. And most public events, like concerts in the park, allow -- no, expect -- you to be bringing wine to them. You could walk down the street with a bottle of wine (open or not) and no one would interfere with you, because we see it every day.

But because of the wine industry, we are also a tourist town, and there are negatives that come with that.


We have traffic, for instance. Traffic made worse by wine tasters clearing out the tasting rooms (all 250 of them) late in the afternoons, especially on weekends. My dad was a cop, and always told me that you can tell drunk drivers not by their speed, but by the fact that they drive badly at very slow speeds. Dad was right. I've seen the most bone-headed driving decisions in my life since living here. Probably made by people who were either drunk or hung over.




Being a tourist town also means we cater to, curry favor with and try and impress the outsider -- not the resident. So we have incredible restaurants but horrible, understocked and overcrowded grocery stores. We have charming boutiques, but the nearest Macy's is over an hour from home. Large furniture store? Forget it. And if you want your roof fixed, better get on a four month waiting list, because the few contractors who work in this area are loathe to take on small jobs. It's just too expensive to live here to make charging less than a fortune a worthwhile thing. Why patch a residential roof when you can help put one on a new tasting room?


The roads around town also reflect this attitude. Since I've lived here (we arrived in 2012) they have re-done all the roads around the downtown City Park twice (for tourism) but the road in front of the local baseball fields (for residents) is so pothole-filled and old I figure damage must have come from wagon wheels back in the 1800s.


In other words, we put our best face on for those coming to see us from elsewhere. And once you decide to live here, that's when you see the other side.


It just goes to show that everything, and I mean everything, has problems.  Trade spouses, careers, homes or locales and you will find positives and negatives. 
Most of the time, unless things are really bad, the trick is to learn to live with the good and accept the bad. Or take a risk and change things up, move, break out of a relationship or start a new job and basically turn your Scrabble letters in for a whole new set.

It's a personal decision, and one which is not to be made lightly. Because, just like the Scrabble game, while life's problematic "z's" and the "q's" are hard to manage, there is always a chance that in turning in your letters you'll end up with far worse --  maybe five vowels, an "x" and a "w." 

And you can't do much with that once it happens.
















Friday, November 11, 2016

A Little Color in the Vineyard

Was driving around the vineyard at work this afternoon and grabbed a couple of shots of the color. Other vineyards around town are much more spectacular, hopefully I can get some pics of them in the next week or two.

Until then, enjoy the Supermoon, the holiday today and the rest of the weekend.





Watermelon



I liken these last few weeks of the election and election night to a group of people standing on the roof of a high-rise skyscraper, looking at a watermelon perched on the edge of the railing. 

The inevitable temptation arises to push the watermelon over the side to see what happens. It's an almost irresistible urge, in fact, even though we logically know that anyone who happens to be underneath as much as a penny thrown from an 80-story building can die, due to the velocity a falling object picks up on its descent back to earth.

But because we've never seen a watermelon fall 80 stories to the ground before, it promises to be a good show, filled with excitement, fear, exuberance or maybe horror. Maybe all those things at once. And so on Tuesday night, we pushed that watermelon off its perch on the railing of the skyscraper, and now we're committed to seeing it plunge towards...whatever happens when a watermelon collides with a planet. It might be interesting and educational. People might be harmed. Or not. No one really knows.

But the collective "we" wanted to see what would happen, and so now the watermelon is in flight -- or free fall -- depending on your perspective.




This is why I write a blog dedicated to homesteading and living locally. It's because of falling-watermelon times such as these.

So what can you do while the cucurbit is airborne? Plant your garden. Make some soap. Focus on your local government and hang out with like-minded friends.

Protesting the watermelon-pushing is futile. So is hating the people who pushed it. They had their reasons, I suppose, some noble, some silly and self-serving, just like anything else.

If you're having trouble with the national elections results, my advice is to unplug from things at the national level and prepare for change by seeing to the things you can control at the local one. You can't always control your garden or home but you can focus on them, as areas you have the ultimate decision-making power in. Set a gopher trap or destroy the burrow? Castile or shea butter soap? The choice is yours and only yours in matters such as these. 

Focus on the things that will not change as a result of what happened this week. Since those are the only things you can truly manage as one individual, in many ways they're the only things that really matter. Focus on that scrap of earth you call your own, and those people and animals you share space with. Be astonished at their beauty, be dismayed at Mother Nature's fickle nature, and be humbled that you are the steward, if not the actual landlord, of the ground you call home. But see it directly, not through the filter of the media or the internet. Focus on those things you can see with your own eyes, in a one-to-one relationship. 

The seeds will sprout, new animals will be born in spring, the rains will fall and the sun will rise at its appointed time no matter who is sitting in the Big Chair in Washington DC. And that can certainly be a comfort if you're willing to live in your own actual, local reality and not the national one. 

Tune out the whooshing background noise of the watermelon in flight for the sounds of birdsong, the neighbor's lawnmower, or even the local blues band. The good news -- and the bad -- is that the watermelon is now in flight and there's not much any of us regular folks can do about it except the same things we've always done...plant our gardens, make our soap, and try and be as self-sufficient as possible. Not trivial things by any measure.



Thursday, November 3, 2016

Today, it worked


Chinaberry tree attempting some autumn color.

Ever have days when you realize you never should have gotten out of bed or left your house? Of course; we all do, right? But sometimes we don't appreciate the corollary to those days, which are the days when everything just magically works. I had one of those days today.


Another attempt.

To begin with, autumn has finally started to show her colors, along with cooler temperatures (if you consider 80 degrees to be cooler, that is), which is generally a huge help in helping revive my general mood after our endless, brown summer. We have color in the vineyard (I'm going to do a whole post on that in a few days with pics) and color around the property.


These Gazanias definitely have the right idea!

This is also the time of year when spring comes, meaning the hillsides start to green up again. Think I'm kidding?  Check it out.

So yes, this is how things generally go. Things green up in fall, once we get a little rain. Autumn colors set in, peaking between Thanksgiving and Christmas (while the hills are simultaneously greening up, go figure). Then in late January, the trees all start to blossom. 
Autumn: time to green up. These seedlings will be three feet tall by April.

I know; it's extremely weird and only a shade stranger than Australians and Argentinians having Christmas dinner in the heat of summer and spending the "summer" solstice bundled up in front of the fire. We get an autumn-spring and then a full-on spring a couple of months later. And then 8 months of summer. Some people love it, some hate it, but it is what it is.


Most of the time I have severe autumn and winter envy towards those in colder climes, but maybe it's more productive to just be grateful that I'm not covered in sweat and flies by 10 a.m. anymore. It's the little things.
Stephen Andrew even knows how to make packaging beautiful.

But today was great for other reasons as well. I caught the mail lady in the nick of time and managed to snag a package I've been trying to get for a couple of days, from my dear friend Stephen Andrew. It was some amazing artisanal honey from his home state! And it was AMAZING, that is not a gratuitous exaggeration. I even thought about taking some out to the beehive to let my bees see what kind of quality they should be aiming for in terms of flavor. Thank you Stephen Andrew! 

Speaking of the bees, "my" hive finally vacated the fountain and got into the bee box. This was a torturous, long process which consisted of me donning a beekeeper's suit every day and blocking off all their newly created avenues into the fountain until they finally gave up and just moved next door to the box.  Major win for me. 
Bees in the box.

So I got honey in the mail, I got bees where bees are supposed to be, and our land deal closed, so we now own 2.5 more acres next door to us. And stinking daylight savings time ends Sunday, so mornings will be light again! 


All good reasons to get out of bed.




Sunday, October 30, 2016

In The Meantime

Back in the 1990's, one of Oprah Winfrey's friends (also known as a FOO, or Friend Of Oprah) wrote a book titled "In The Meantime." It was a book for women about relationships, and was good in a New-Age-y, self-esteem-y kind of way. It talked a lot about being "in the meantime" until you found your soulmate. People talked about soulmates a lot in the 80's and 90's. I blame Ronald and Nancy Reagan, as well as every crappy book ever written by either Richard Bach or a FOO.

Anyway, that phrase, "in the meantime," has been sticking in my head a lot recently, and it's not about my chakras aligning so perfectly that I attract the perfect mate into my life. He's here already, thank goodness, a little grumpy on occasion but Eastern European DNA and a stressful job will do that to you. And perhaps he's also grumpy because we are both smack dab in the middle of what I'm calling our Meantime Experience.

A Meantime Experience happens when you are between places, jobs, or anything else; it's a point in your life which you will look back on someday and see a big line in the sand between "before" and "after." But you can't see the line right now because you don't have the perspective, so it's a little like trying to see those giant south American Nazca Lines from ground level. You could be on a line and not even know it. 

 A Meantime Experience can be bad -- people go through divorce or health concerns in The Meantime, and I feel it's important right away to state those things are NOT the case with us. We're blessed, certainly, to not be facing them.

But we have seen some possible signs that our life here is going to be changing soon. And unfortunately, because the internet is a very public place, I can't say more than that. Which is why blog postings have been a little sparse recently. Sometimes when you can't say anything, you say nothing.



But I can talk about what it's like to be in the meantime.  You basically stop investing in your current life (beyond the minimums) because you don't want to throw time, energy and money into something that isn't going to be in your life forever. You don't know exactly for sure where you are going to end up, which is a strange feeling in and of itself. 

In the 40 years the Israelites wandered around the Middle East, they were having one whopper of a meantime experience, whether you believe the actual story or that it's a metaphor for Life. By day, a cloud shaded them and kept them cool, and by night a pillar of fire kept them warm. But God indicated to them it was time to move by moving the cloud and the pillar. In other words, they had to pack up and follow their comfort if they wanted to survive. They'd get a little overheated, and realize it was time to go. The cloud of shade had moved on and was calling them onward with it.

I know that feeling. The cloud could stay here a week, or another decade, but we're definitely getting the impression that it's moving, and so we have to be ready to go, too. 

In the meantime, and I do really mean that phrase, we are making our best attempt to enjoy the present. A nice dinner out, a day working in the garden at the winery, a beautiful sunset and the changing colors in the vineyards are things I'm savoring and will probably be sharing more of in the weeks to come.

But serious plantings? Renovations? No, probably not. Because "in the meantime" days are not the ones where you nest, dig in and pull up the drawbridge. They are where you eye the horizon and pack lightly. And watch the clouds.

Welcome to my meantime, friends.