Saturday, May 6, 2017

The View From Here



Was I dreaming?
It's been a long spell since my last post; something that generally happens when there are either things I can't talk about or don't want to. In this case it's both. The ground may be shifting under our feet soon on a personal level -- or not -- and writing from that limbo state of "maybe" is very difficult. It would be bad to put any of it in writing, since it effects other stakeholders (how's that for obtuse?). It's nothing negative for us, though, so no worries there. If it happens it will be a huge and very positive thing. Just a potential big change.

I think the other half of my silence is still being dumbstruck at the time travel back to 1964 our current administration seems committed to doing, environmtenally speaking. I catch the Current Occupant of the While House on television giving himself and his cronies high-fives at press conferences and feel a stab of unbelief that this is all real...that those rollbacks of environmental regulations, clean energy mandates, health care protections, climate change acknowledgement, and animal welfare safeguards is all actually happening.

Sometimes we want someone to pinch us to assure us that we're awake. If only someone could pinch us and we could "come to" and find it's still 11:30 pm on the night of November 7, and that we just dropped off for a little nap when the blue and red board behind the news anchors shifted and changed. "Whew! I had the strangest dream, guys....."

And yet, like any loss, I've processed my five stages of grief, mostly, and have come to that state of acceptance. It doesn't mean some days I'm not back to Stage One (denial) or Stage Three (depression), but I do bounce back. Maybe someday I'll be able to put my finger on what died last November, on a national basis.




On a personal level, things around the homestead are good. There's plenty of spinach, potatoes, carrots. lettuce, asparagus, onions and herbs in the ground and since we had a great water year, everything is growing quite happily. All the trees in the pasture are loaded with fruit, green now but ripening into the shape of a bountiful summer.



Our two new chickens Daisy and Delilah will be integrated into the flock this weekend, which means lots of temporary drama. And we're planning another trip to WA State this summer, because through the good and the bad, life goes on, and heading to cooler climes in July feels like a good idea no matter what the political climate is.



Hope you're well and happy on your own pieces of ground, and living the sweet reality of hands in your garden dirt in this seeming age of magical, crazy thinking everywhere else. Sometimes all you can count on are those you love, the sun rising at roughly the same time each day, and music on the radio. And your land and what it produces for you. 

Not bad things to have in this Very Strange Age.




Monday, April 10, 2017

Life and Lifestyle



The great thing about a blog is that you can write about anything you want. In the town we used to live in, I wrote a opinion/local talk newspaper column for nine years, and thankfully was granted that same privilege -- within limits. I got into trouble once for writing a negative column on the city turning our local farmers' market into "Thursday Night Marketplace," complete with drinking, loud music and flea market style booths.

That piece, I took flak for. Not from my editors, but from the readers and the organization who had come up with or agreed to the concept of a Farmers Market where you could get drunk, urinate on the side streets and get arrested for disorderly conduct on the asphalt, all when it's 115 degrees on Main Street in July.

To each his own, I guess.  The Thursday Night Marketplace still exists, I'd bet, but we're here, in the midst of a better life. Yet we won't be retiring here. And what I'm about to say could provoke the ire of people in this town the way my Farmers' Market piece once did in the old town, if I published it in the paper. It's the dirty little secret about living here no one talks about.

We are going to retire elsewhere because of the exorbitant, ridiculous cost of living here. If you're making this town a weekend destination -- a treat for you and your significant person -- it's a great place to come. There are exciting restaurants to be dined in, a couple of hundred tasting rooms, boutiques, and everything else you'd want to fulfill your "weekend destination lifestyle."

But pay attention to what I just said. It's perfect for lifestyle. And a lifestyle is very different than a life. 

Lifestyle towns are the places you go to on vacation and dream of living in someday ... Catalina Island. Banff. Provence. Key West. You see yourself in some imaginary future, meandering through scenic vistas to your favorite quaint little breakfast place each morning, where they know your name and where you'll linger over coffee as the colorful storefronts open up to sell their wares. In the evenings, you will sit out on your patio with a night sky full of stars and a glass of wine in your hand as gentle breezes caress you. 

After having these  visions, you will pick up the real estate section, and begin your quest for what you think will be a better life than the one you're living. And yes, all those lovely images will happen for you if you move here. They really will. But they come at a price. Literally.

Everything costs more -- a lot more -- when you live in a destination versus just a place.  Whether it's groceries, the services of a plumber, a contractor, or a nanny, you're going to pay a huge premium.

Shopping for cute, touristy gifts is a breeze here, but staples are often hard to come by. And don't even start on medical care. The best doctor in town is a boutique doc who charges $1,800/year for his services, on top of your regular co-pay. The other choices are frankly, frightening, and I've heard more than one story of bad medical care that borders on malpractice from other, nameless docs around. I am guessing this is because doctors don't move here to publish, do research, or advance their names in the medical industry. They move here for the same reasons most do...to go wine tasting and maybe buy a boat or something.

But the saddest thing is that for native residents, they can no longer offer their children a place in the city's future, because their kids will probably never be able to afford a home or even rent a place on their own here.  

So it comes down to two things: Are you awake enough to see this, or have you willed yourself into a sort of dream consciousness, where you accept the gouging, the inflation and the growth as the cost of living here -- the necessary price for the scenic vistas, quaint breakfast place and night sky full of stars? 

I will be honest with you. We moved here for a life -- cleaner air, lower unemployment, better weather -- but instead have found lifestyle, which we always thought was just a small part of living here as a resident. It turns out Lifestyle has taken the wheel and is driving this town towards whatever its ultimate destination is.

With less water to go around, more development going in at every turn, and the weekend visitors believing this is the place to be more than ever, I'm guessing that destination is a dead end. For us, anyway. 

Turns out, all we wanted was a life. Which sounds easy enough, until you have to contend with the fact that a life is a very different thing than a lifestyle.

You know what they say about lifestyle destinations: a nice place to visit, but...

Friday, April 7, 2017

The birds

How I used to feel in my spring garden.

This spring has been different in one very substantive way...I have not had to fight either the wind, the birds, or the insects in my garden. Right now there are potatoes, carrots, lots of lettuce and some spinach growing, which will mean a bountiful harvest until about June I would guess.


It's been so lovely to pass by the lettuce section of the produce department every time I visit the grocery store without needing to purchase any, after a couple of years of frustration in trying to grow it.


This year, it's different.

The trick, it turns out, is shade cloth. I will fully admit stealing my inspiration for this new addition from my friend Beth, who showed me her garden last year nestled under its white canopy of shade cloth. Seemingly free of insects and certainly not damaged by wind or birds, all her crops looked beautiful and I got a serious case of crop envy.


And so this year, I installed the row cover supports and put everything except the potatoes and onions under wraps. And it worked. 


Munched! A lapse of judgement -- no shade cloth -- quickly rectified.

I know all this made a difference because this morning, with a rainstorm coming in, I put in some spinach transplants, and figured a couple of hours without a cloth cover wouldn't make much difference in bad weather. The birds wouldn't be out and about, right? I was wrong. When I went back out the winged criminals were fleeing the scene, after picking apart one spinach transplant completely, and probably getting ready to move onto the others. And so, in the middle of the rain, I covered the rest of the spinach and left the birds to find forage in our pasture.


It may have taken me five years to figure out, but I think I finally understand the rules to growing here: grow it under wraps.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Spring project

Experimenting with color.

So even on a budget, there are some things that still need to happen around here. Like building a sturdy outdoor table. We've had glass/metal ones in the past, and it always seems like they start looking terrible in a very short time. 


But the fact is, we entertain a fair amount and would like to be able to dine outside, especially in spring and summer. A couple of years ago, I re-purposed 12 folding chairs from an events company in town, but what's a bunch of chairs without a table?

So this time around I decided to DIY a table that we could use with our chairs. A few months ago when I was working at the winery, a piece of equipment for the barrel room was shipped to us on a wood pallet, with four legs at each corner. I walked out to where my coworker was taking it apart, and not knowing what it was, said, "great idea for a table!" It actually turned out that there was no intention for a table going on, the manufacturers had just affixed four two-by-four "legs" to the pallet to give it more stability.  But it gave me an idea.

So I went home and asked Big Ag to be on the lookout over in his vineyard's workshop for a new-ish pallet in great shape, and sure enough, last month he found one that was eight feet long and in mint condition -- definitely ample enough length for a nice dining table!

Today we went to the lumber place and bought a bunch of beautiful (and very inexpensive) Douglas Fir slats. I am going to be using a combination of staining and painting, hopefully to get this finished result, which I stole from Pinterest.

The general idea of the project.

The slat in the first picture that I posted is the one I've used as a practice board, trying different methods of staining and painting. The one I like best so far is drib-drabbing paint onto the board, smearing the paint, and then going over it with the stain, several coats' worth.

I've just started working on the tabletop part of the project, but I'll be posting pics as I go along.  If you look at the first photo above, the white Adirondack patio set which the slat is resting on will be my next project. They were saved from the trash at a friend's house, and will complete our sitting area on our back patio.

With spring comes projects, always, but at least these will be fun to work on and finish, before the heat sets in, which won't be much longer now. 

Monday, March 13, 2017

Three months

Mound of rosemary

I've long thought that it takes about three months for behaviors, moods, and patterns to change. We're in about the third month of temperate weather now, and I can tell by my general mood that I've been out of the heat long enough to recover from the five months or so of torture it inflicts on me.

Of course it's been in the high 70's this week, but somehow spring warmth seems different than fall warmth. 78 degree autumn days seem like a horrible post-script to summer, yet they are delightful in March. That's because by now we've had three months of not baking in the heat, so once again the warmth is welcome.

Speaking of welcome, we've welcomed two new chicks into our home, Daisy and Delilah. Daisy is a Welsummer, Delilah a Cuckoo Maran. Both will lay dark brown eggs once they are mature. And they have their own personalities, even at this early age.  Daisy is a mellow, calm chick and Delilah is full of drama and quite noisy. The day I brought them home Delilah regaled me with shrill peeping that let me know she was NOT happy about riding in the car, and even now, if she can't locate Daisy or feels a little chilled, she sings out. 

Delilah (L) and Daisy (R)

It makes me wonder what her personality is going to be like as a full-grown chicken...we've already had one psycho hen who attacked people, a psycho rooster who attacked other hens, and so we're just hoping Delilah ends up relatively well-adjusted and calm.

In this household there is not much chance of that, but hope springs eternal.

I also got hit with the dreaded spring creeping crud, which laid me out flat in bed for two days and severely sapped my energy for about another five. They say you don't miss your health until it's gone and that's certainly true. Same goes for energy. So of course now it looks as if someone has set off a dust bomb in the house, since when I am sick the house keeper (me) is also. The advantage to that is that I will never be woken from my sickbed by the vacuum. The drawback is that the dust is right there waiting for me, doubled in thickness, once I recover.

Glorious mulch. And a shout out to the trees that lost their lives to provide it. It's nature's cycle.

Another tidbit is that the trees which were uprooted in the storm last month were chipped by our neighbors and so everyone got as much mulch as they wanted. What a bounty! We covered our raised bed area with it and really like how it looks now. Plus it will keep the weeds down. That was my first task upon feeling better and it really felt great to be out in the sunshine with the wheelbarrow. Plus it gave one more legal excuse to procrastinate cleaning house.

In the garden there are blossoms, potatoes sprouting, lettuce and a brand new irrigation system. In the house there is soon-to-be-restored order and cleanliness. 



All things pass away eventually...sickness gives way to health, winter gives way to spring, and dust gives way to clean surfaces.

The counterbalance is, of course that health does eventually give way to sickness once again, spring ushers in hot summer, and dust always returns (sometimes within just a few hours, it seems).

So enjoy it all while you can, because tomorrow will be different. As I said, if you get three months of something, it's enough to change your attitude or life, so I hope all your changes are good ones from now from now 'till summer, and beyond.


Thursday, February 23, 2017

This is a drill



So after last week's power outage I've been taking stock of areas where we succeeded in staying comfortable and areas where we failed. In a way, a 12-hour power outage is a blessing, because it's a sort of practice drill for something that could take much longer to resolve. As you know, I'm not a tin-foil hat kind of lady, but having lived through a couple of major earthquakes I do know what it's like to not have electricity and gas for several days. If you've lived through a hurricane, tornado or blizzard, you probably know it too.

Right now our neighbors have three or four eucalyptus trees that are leaning significantly towards the power lines that keep our house and about 20 other properties in the area lit up. It's kind of a foregone assumption that they'll come down sometime in the next few weeks or months, but at least we now have a mindset of preparing for that eventuality. It's gonna happen ... it's just a question of when.

So doing a quick inventory of what worked and what did not last weekend, here's where we failed:

1.  We were woefully short on batteries. 

2. We had not stored extra lamp oil for our kerosene lamps. 

3. Most of our candles are either battery operated votives or highly-scented decorative candles, both inappropriate for long term use in a power outage. No one wants to live in a house that smells like a combination of Christmas Pine, Pumpkin Spice, something called "Sea Breeze," and the odd floral-scented aromatherapy candle. If Martha Stewart ever opens a funeral home, it will probably smell like our house did that day.

4. We needed a generator, as we have no woodstove or wood-burning fireplace to heat the house with when the grid is down. We do have a pellet stove, which can operate off-grid if necessary though, and that proved to be a huge plus once the generator was up and running and the stove was plugged into it. 

Having a generator will also allow us to do a dirty re-wiring of our well pump so we can get water if we need it. (We have a 4,000 gallon storage tank, but if it were damaged we could effectively be out of water in a disaster).

5. The main emergency wind-up weather radio I had in the house was broken.

6. None of our devices -- phones, Kindles, etc. were charged.

On the positive side, we had enough food and propane. Plus plenty of wine -- essential during times of natural disaster (in my universe). And both vehicles had full tanks of gas, something we always try to have going for us in case we're forced to pack up and leave quickly. 

And we had lots of pet food on hand, just like the disaster prep sites advise, so our cat and dog were going to be fine.

So what's next? Stock-up trips, both online and in person. I already bought lamp oil and batteries, plus our new generator will allow us to charge our devices, run our heat, and keep the food in our fridge and freezer from spoiling. We'll overnight-charge our devices a little more religiously from now on, too.

But another important thing is knowing what you already have on hand. We have both a percolator and a café press, but the day of the power outage we forgot we had them and so went without our caffeine fix for the day. Not a major disaster by any means, but if it's important to stock up on emergency supplies, surely it's even more important to remember what you've put by so you can use it when the time comes. I had several friends who forgot they had things they looked back on and wished they'd used. First World Problem.

So this has been an important wake-up call as to how quickly disasters occur and how quickly you may have to rely on what you have on hand, right her and right now.

This time it was more like a drill, but next time it may be more serious. So like having flood/earthquake/hazard insurance, having a generator and emergency supplies on hand are something you hopefully will only rarely need. But the day you need them, you'll be thankful to yourself for purchasing them.

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Meanwhile, East of Eden



"The water came in a 30 year cycle. There would be five to six wet and wonderful years when there might be 19- 25 inches of rain, and the land would shout with grass. Then there would come six to seven pretty good years, with 12 - 16 inches of rain. And then the dry years would come..."

                                       John Steinbeck, "East of Eden"

Steinbeck summed it up pretty accurately, and so here we are in the midst of one wet and wonderful year, with the only detractor being that with so many dry years in a row before this, the land is scarcely capable of holding all this water.

Dry creeks filled with drought-killed trees are flooding for the first time in years and carrying the debris downstream. Sinkholes of formerly parched earth are opening up underneath the streets in southern California and swallowing cars whole, and 40 year-old trees are finding that even harder than surviving the droughts, surviving the deluge that comes after the drought is even more impossible.

And so it is in my neighborhood. Yesterday we had an astonishing 15 inches of rain on our hilltop, thanks to three micro-bursts which caused literal walls of water to fall around us. 50 mph wind gusts took out five of the neighbor's trees, narrowly missing our property.


The community effort which occurred immediately after these tree falls was nothing short of amazing; in less than 15 minutes there were at least 10 neighbors, half with chainsaws, hacking off branches, stacking logs and clearing the road. It was heartening to see, and made me realize what a wonderful neighborhood we live in.

But as a result of so many trees in the area coming down, we also lost power for about 12 hours on a very chilly and windy day. I sent Big Ag a text with one word:  GENERATOR. We've been bickering over the last several years about whether or not we needed one, and thankfully (or not) Mother Nature saw to it that a combination of necessity and comfort won this argument.  


So that night, we cooked dinner indoors, had a lamp on and ran our pellet stove until we were warm and our bellies full. I am as proud of that new generator as I would be of a Mercedes -- prouder even, because it's much more practical for where we live and we'll probably have it longer than we have any car we currently own. 

Today the power is back on and the cleanup has begun all over the state as we slog our way through this "wet and wonderful" year, ever mindful that too much water is still preferable over not enough. We'll take the downed trees, flooding and power outages over endless sunshine any day of the year. Because just like Steinbeck points out, the dry years are always coming.

Just not today.