Saturday, January 24, 2015


The picture above is taken off my back patio of two neighbors' property.  The neighbor on the left has never kept any livestock, and now has a good amount of green growing on his part of their shared hillside.  The neighbor to the right keeps one full-size Boer goat and one Scottish Blackface sheep on about two acres, with no rotational grazing practices in place; the two have the run of the property, roaming where they will.

While my goat-and-sheep keeping neighbor will never have to worry about practicing brush control to help with fire danger, he also has almost no forage at all growing on his property anymore, as his animals have bitten off every blade and leaf that was growing to a point where nothing has gone to seed, therefore not much is re-growing. There is also no chance for any natural creatures to take sustenance from his ground -- no bees visit, no spiders, moths, butterflies, etc. grace his property because there is no food or shelter to be found. And of course, if there's no food growing by January (our early spring), there will not be any more growing in June when it's much hotter and drier. So he's also facing a much higher feed bill for his two friends, as he will be forced to drive into town to buy alfalfa or some other hay.

Yet my neighbor on the right will also face his own issues.  He will at some point have to mow all that brush growing around his property before it gets too high.  His choice will be to mow it (I saw him out there last year with a regular lawnmower, and it looked to be a painful exercise, hauling the mower up and down the steep hill), or to disc it down with a tractor once it gets high, disturbing the topsoil and increasing the runoff of that precious, nutrient-rich resource next rainy season.

These two pieces of property are a lesson for us as we begin to contemplate livestock.  If just two animals can make our pasture look like the neighbor on the right, we are going to have to be very careful how we rotate our animals, and be cognizant of what size animals we want to have.  While I wanted full-size animals, I am starting to think a couple of pygmy goats could keep our brush down nicely, and not eat as much as these two four-footed neighbors do.

While the neighbor on the left faces a high brush fire danger come next summer if he doesn't deal with his brush, the neighbor on the right will be dealing with nothing but a brown and baked hillside, devoid of life.  And I think to myself, surely there can be a compromise between the two.  

We shall see I guess.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

I Love Me Day

Flowers blooming on the bluffs.

I Love Me Day is an occasional holiday when I treat myself to whatever it is I am in the mood for -- usually some time in nature.  Big Ag would probably argue that for me, every day is I Love Me Day, but that's not really true.  While I love the work I do around the property, and I love my job at the winery, it's not quite the same thing as spending a day doing exactly what I want.  

Today's agenda called for a hike along the coastal bluffs a.k.a. the western edge of the North American continent. The flowers are just starting to bloom and the sun was warm and welcoming. I decided to have lunch at the Smokehouse in Cayucos, which makes the BEST smoked abalone tacos ever.

Picture courtesy Trip Advisor

Best abalone tacos ever.

 After that, another hike a few miles north of where I started and then a quick trip to Soto's and Linn's in Cambria for some dinner ingredients, followed by a wonderful meal at home of lobster, shrimp, onions and cucumber salad with lime and cilantro.  And olallieberry pie for dessert. 
Grocery shopping time.

Another hike.
It's January in California, and I spent the day doing the perfect activities for this time of year. I even met a new friend!

New friend.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Blown ACL

So Sputnik went back in to the veterinarian's this week to check on his lame hind quarter. X-rays were taken and it's been confirmed (a process of elimination, since his x-rays are normal) that he has a ruptured ACL. Treatment for this can vary, but there is a case to be made for letting it heal with time and controlled, gentle exercise.  

But one thing that has been hampering his recovery has been our hardwood floors. Ever since his injury he's become more scared of being on the wood, and has seemed much more likely to slip and have his bad leg splay out from under him, injuring him all over again. It's happened several times, and each time it scares me to death and puts him back in a significant amount of pain.  

Ramping up.

Outdoors, he is fine unless he has to jump up on anything, but our back patio has a one-step rise (which we have decided to get rid of, because we've all tripped or fell off it in the last year).  For now, the best solution for that is a ramp, which Big Ag built for his best buddy this weekend (the dog not me lol).  It took awhile, but Sputnik is now using it and seems comfortable on it. We placed a towel over it to provide even more traction, which helps.

But so in order to find him some relief indoors, I did an internet in search for things that could make his life easier.  So often we use the world inside of our computer to watch funny videos or chuckle over clever sports memes, but the fact is, the internet has changed our lives in terms of the education it can provide when an immediate need presents itself, as it did here.

I finally found some dog booties  called "Grippers," which provide dogs with indoor traction on wood or tile floors, which are made by a company in Canada.  
Sputnik sunbathes in his new fashion footwear.

Yesterday the Grippers arrived, I put them on Sputnik's rear feet, and ... he immediately started running across the floor again, without any difficulty.  I couldn't believe it.  Now he's moving all over the house once again with no limits as to where he can and can't go because of his slipping issues. It's too early to tell, but his new shoes may save him from more re-injury and even future surgeries. We shall see.

I was frankly stunned that he accepted them so quickly, but I think dogs are a lot more intelligent than we give them credit for.  Once he felt the shoes gripping the floor in a way his feet couldn't, he realized they were a good thing.  There's been no chewing on them or taking them off; he just acts as if they are an extension of his own little paws. If he's going to be outdoors for an extended period of time, I take them off, but inside they are a mandatory-wear item.

Needless to say, I will be ordering another pair of these little socks/booties, in case he ever needs a spare set.

I'm all for living the simple life, but if an internet company can come up with a high-tech solution to a problem I'm having for a decent price, I will happily come into the 21st Century and enjoy the benefits.  For Sputnik's health and well-being its definitely worth it  as well as my own peace of mind.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Ginger-Carrot Soup

Maybe should have added a dollop of sour cream for embellishment -- but why mess with perfection?

Ah, the simple pleasures of one's own carrot harvest.  Some to freeze, some to eat now.  On the menu this last week we've had roasted carrots with broccoli and chicken, carrot cake, and this new recipe for ginger-carrot soup I found online.

It was so good I ate a bowl, poured Big Ag a bowl for later (he was still working around the property  at dinnertime) and then used a rubber spatula to consume every last drop from the saucepan I'd made it in. It was that good.

Combine it with some fresh sourdough bread, some mellow jazz, a nice sunset, and you have a perfect recipe for a great Sunday night in Central Coast Wine Country. The Tijuana Mule I had earlier (I was on a ginger kick -- what can I say?) didn't hurt the mood either.

Here's a link to the recipe -- for the soup.  The rest you'll have to provide for yourself.

Holes and greens

Down in the pasture I've been noticing a a carpet of green and a lot of holes in the ground which have both taken over the uncultivated space at the bottom of our hill.

The greens, of course, are natural grasses and shrubs, a.k.a. weeds, which grow enthusiastically on our property with a tenacity and success that I have yet to match with the trees and vines I plant down there. They're not much of a worry to me, except where they are growing around my berry and grape vines and trees. 

Not willing to apply chemical sprays, I've spent the better part of two days hand weeding around the bases of the trees and shrubs, and have the bleeding arms to prove it. Berries are thorny and very well-defended plants, even when you are trying to help them by removing competitive plants around their bases.

The holes are a bit of a mystery to me, except for the largest ones which are from ground squirrels. There are small ones and medium ones, which could host anything from tarantulas to snakes to field mice.

While the greenery is a simple fix -- pull what's competing with the plants for nutrients and leave the rest -- the holes are a dilemma, because if we are going to have livestock, the holes will have to go.  They are just too much of a hazard to sheep, who could injure or even break a leg by stepping into one.

But one of the basic cornerstones of permaculture is leaving a certain amount of your property to nature and her critters, to do with what they please (within reason). And so I'd prefer to leave the bottom of the pasture to the hole-dwellers, if possible.

This will take some creative fence design, but I think having a balance of cultivated property and wild property is worth it.  As for how to do it, I'm not sure yet...but in the hours I will be spending down in the pasture weeding, perhaps that will give me more than enough time to think about it.

Of course with enough holes and enough greens, I guess I could always open a permacultural golf course, and with the general pathetic-ness of my golf game, the hole-dwellers are probably safe.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Some thoughts on shopping

If there is one area where I differ from hard-line homesteaders, it's in shopping.  Not essentials/supplies shopping, but fun shopping. You see, I love to shop, and I will never pretend I don't or lie about it.

I grew up in urban Los Angeles during the 1960's era, back when Downtown was glamorous and shopping was an acceptable hobby for a young housewife with a daughter to clothe, which is what my mother was.  And so my mother took me shopping.  Shopping on Brand Blvd. in Glendale, where we hit everything from the big JC Penney store (which had an escalator in the center of it!) to the myriad of locally-owned clothing and shoe stores, where she bought most of what we wore.  

Mecca for Los Angeles shoppers -- Bullocks Downtown

Downtown Los Angeles was what my mother hit during what were called the "month end sales."  At the end of each calendar month, the BIG stores -- Macy's, Bullocks, etc., which had elevator operators and helpful salesladies strolling the floors in gorgeous ensembles -- put clothes on sale that would be expected to age off the floor soon, due to the changing seasons. Never mind that Los Angeles had zero seasons.  The fall and spring collections didn't care, and neither did we.

And then there was lunch, which always came after shopping.  If my mother was feeling rich, she splurged at one of the cafeterias in town -- Clifton's downtown, or The Hollander in Glendale.  If money was tight, it was a grilled cheese sandwich at the Woolworth's luncheonette, in back of the store. Then a bus ride home, toting our shopping bags.

Clifton's Cafeteria, Downtown Los Angeles
So my own memories of shopping are extremely pleasant ones, as you can probably tell. 

I do have another memory which greatly influenced my life today.  This one is of my grandfather and his employee Helen, who had a daughter about my own age.  One day we all took a little jaunt, after school, to what Helen called the "Specialty Shop."  On the racks were clothes my mother normally could never have afforded, but on this day I was allowed to bring home a couple of gorgeous wool jumpers and three sweaters.  

Because the Specialty Shop, you see, was an upscale thrift store.  And thus began my lifelong love affair with thrift store shopping.

And so, yesterday when I got the "shopping bug" I drove down into town, to the local Goodwill and did some browsing.  I found two summer blouses for three bucks each (I always shop off-season, as the selection tends to be more plentiful) and these three vases. Vases are 66 cents each at the Goodwill, and so these beauties cost me a grand total of $2.00.  And the fluted one to the far right is pure leaded crystal.

I love giving the gift of fresh cut flowers from my garden to coworkers when they have birthdays, and adding a nice vase makes the gift even more special.  So a small collection of 66-cent vases is in order here.

And it's only you and I who know the vases only cost 66 cents, so keep that on the QT, okay? And if anyone asks where my blouses were bought, I will just smile and tell them I got them at the Specialty Shop...where a girl who loves to shop can indulge herself without breaking the bank or her beloved homesteading rules about re-using and re-purposing as much as possible in this world.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Winter is finished!

Well, maybe not the season, but the winter barn quilt is finished.  One down, three to go.  And they are actually much easier and more enjoyable to do than I'd anticipated. Each one is 4 feet by 4 feet, so it's not an overwhelming size to paint.

 I'm ready to see some bright, new colors since winter is a bit drab, except for the dash of evergreen and the deep blue of a winter's sky.  Plus grey and white for clouds and fog, of course.  So starting with spring's quilt next week, COLOR will be the word of the day!