Wednesday, September 2, 2015


I am 4th from the left, last row back.

So this last weekend I went down to Los Angeles for a reunion of the cast of "American Bandstand," which was a television show I was a regular dancer on from about 1977 - 1979, when I was a teen/young adult. For me, those were the height of my "city" years. We clubbed until dawn, grabbed expresso at all-night coffeehouses, taped the show, and somehow dragged ourselves off to work and college when we weren't doing that....crawling through traffic, living in crappy apartments, eating and drinking in dive bistros and chic eateries and, generally, living life in the fast lane (within which there was usually a traffic jam, so not so fast, really). 

It's familiar...

So how does someone born and raised in the city, well-versed in city life and activities, end up working a homestead in a rural part of the state? That answer was simple: I became who I was supposed to be. Anyone who lives a fundamentally different lifestyle than the one they grew up with knows exactly what I'm talking about. 

Sometimes you just get mailed to the wrong address at birth. It happens.

Yet for those who are raised in those "foreign" environments, we can often learn to be a pretty good mimic where the outside world is concerned. Just like any place you live long enough, you learn the lingo and adopt activities that allow you to fit in. In short, you become the guy in Rome who did as the Romans did. He blended in, in order to survive.

But at some point, your deeper nature will surface, as it did with me at about age 28. I say deeper nature because deep down, I have always belonged in nature or out in the country much more than on on some nightclub floor or 4 a.m. coffeehouse. As a really small child I vividly remember driving out of Los Angeles, over the Grapevine (Interstate 5) into the rolling farmlands of the Central Valley to visit relatives, and feeling like I was coming home. Which, it turns out, was exactly what I was doing -- just 20 years too early. 

but this is Home.

Yet, thankfully, there is no time limit on coming home and no reason why the first place you live should be "home" for you if you don't really feel at home there. Home is where your soul comes to rest. You might find it at birth or age 70, but the later age does not invalidate the fact that its true. Every soul has a compass that points true north (or south, east or west in reality), and until you heed the pull and go to where it's telling you, you will always feel a little out of place, deep down inside you. You may look like the rest of them, but you're not really one of them, and you know it.

And yet, by being born in a land foreign to your soul, you do learn to be a citizen of two worlds. So when I went down to Los Angeles for my reunion weekend, on the outside I fit right in. I like that, and hope I can always do that. To be a citizen of two places surely cannot be anything but a privilege.  But to know which one is home is the true gift. And for me, to head back, out of the city and to a place where I can see the Milky Way at night and there's no hum of the freeway off in the distance is both a tremendous comfort and something that makes me realize how lucky I was to seek -- and to finally find -- Home. 

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

My September Resolution

My resolution is, of course, to blog more. Summer is a hard time to be a homestead blogger. There are crops to water, harvest and preserve, every day. Throw into the mix a reunion party out of town, increased hours at the winery, Big Ag being in the midst of harvest and me taking over some of his tasks around the property and you have the perfect storm for not writing much down.

But it's all continuing if not completely according to plan, at least well enough to get things done.

 We've even been bidding work on an expanded patio and pergola out back, so we can enjoy the warm temperatures more by dining al fresco. There will be pics when that starts happening. 

But for now, it's just the eternal question we ask in warm climes such as ours, which is, "when is it finally going to cool off?"  Sadly, the answer is probably not for another two months.

And if we get the monster El Nino that is predicted, we will be warm -- but wet at least -- all winter long. That should present some interesting challenges.

So stay tuned, I'll be around again soon. I aim to keep that September resolution.

Sunday, August 16, 2015


Summer is filled with bounty from the garden and the property is teeming with life. Especially eight-legged life. Last night I came home from a very long (but fun) day at the winery to find a large grass spider sitting in the center of the bathroom on the tile.  In case you've never seen a grass spider, they look like this (photo courtesy Google). If you can imagine this guy staring you down as you came in to grab a nice shower after a long day's work, you can probably also understand why I elected to remain stinky and vacate the master bath immediately. 

I don't mind spiders, but in their place. Which is not taking an aggressive stance on my bathroom tile.

Grass Spider

I used to put these guys back outside until I realized they LIKE being indoors and would usually make their way back in within 24 hours (I know this because one was missing one leg and I had to put him out twice before finally deciding to kill him so he didn't make any more attempts. I make no apologies.  Find one of these guys on your pillow as you're getting ready for bed and you will totally understand). 

So Big Ag did the manly man thing and dispatched the latest trespasser for me.

A little rattled after my close encounter, I decided to waste yet another evening of my life by browsing Facebook, when I noticed a large black sock on the carpet next to me. And right as I was about to scold Big Ag about 1) leaving his socks around and 2) wearing black socks in summer, the sock moved...slowly. 

I took a closer look and realized it was a massive tarantula.  Here he is attempting to hide from the camera, which I grabbed in between screaming fits.

Of course my screams brought Big Ag running into the room just as I was running out of it. Entering Hero Mode once again, he gently scooped the big tarantula into a mixing bowl and we took it down into the pasture and set it free. But not before it scurried around a lot as he was trying to get it into the bowl, sending me out of the room with more screams.

At that point I should have just taken a xanax and called it a night. A fright night.

Instead, I took a peek on the patio, and on the outside of the screen noticed an extremely large beetle hanging a couple of feet up. Again, I called Big Ag and he tapped on the screen and the "beetle" fell, only it was not a beetle but rather another tarantula -- a baby this time -- which began walking away. 

Obviously at this point I've realized it's going to be a banner year for the tarantulas, and within a couple of months I'm sure they will taking over my house, garden and blog, so look forward to future episodes from the Hot Tarantula Homestead.

Anyway, this sordid tale continues. As I'm checking to make sure Baby Tarantula is making his way away from the house, I notice a massive black widow building a web around the entrance to the dog house. Now you may hang out on my library carpet or in my master bathroom, dear spider, but if you are a poisonous spider, if you fuck with anything near my dog, I will become your merciless and swift Angel of Death -- no more screaming at this point; we're done with that shit -- I will spray, step or swat you into the Kingdom of Wherever Spiders Go After Death (hopefully not the same place we're going).

After that, I'd had enough. Even Big Ag's previously-recorded Deadliest Catch episodes couldn't convince me to stay up.  Besides, crabs look an awful lot like.....well, you know. Spiders. There's no way I was going to watch that after my evening. I checked myself into bed (after inspecting the carpet, bid skirt, sheets, pillows and duvet carefully for interlopers) and called it a night. 

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Just country livin'

One of the best things about living in the country is being able to use the phrase, "well, that's country livin." It's kind of an all-encompassing excuse for when things don't look:

 1) clean, 
2) tidy,
and even 
3) sanitary

Example: The floor is dirty?  Just country livin'. There's chicken poop on the back patio? Just country livin'. Starting to get the hang of it?

When your clean glasses have strange residue in their bottoms , it's the hard well water. Country livin'. When there are small sticks or pieces of grass between the sheets, it's because hay really does get everywhere once you break the bale. Definitely country livin'. If there's an odd smell in the house that indicates country livin', most folks will immediately check bottom of their shoes for animal feces and then their sweaty farming clothes stuffed in the clothes hamper.  And after awhile they learn...when others don't like the smells, sights or sounds around their place, they offer the reason: It's just country livin'.

And of course once you've become fluent at offering this as the reason anything happens, you then can move onto more far-fetched, yet still in the realm of possibility scenarios that can also be blamed on country life:

Dead animal on your property
Dead person on your property
Unidentifiable body part on your property
Welding burn
Indian burn
Bits of canning vegetables stuck to the kitchen wall
Bits of canning vegetables stuck to the kitchen ceiling
Bits of canning vegetables that somehow made it into the dining room
gardening by moonlight
zip lining by moonlight
fixing fence by moonlight
getting old
feeling young
mortgage burn
muscle aches
muscle building
plantar fasciitis
back pain (always)
tan arms
white belly
general insanity
specific happiness

All of the above.....Just country livin'.

(If you live in the city, never fear. In your case, just feel free to make your own list and add the excuse, "well that's life in the big city." This rationale works well for all those city-oriented things you know and love, like meat-hurling street performers, homeless encampments under your parking garage and 2 a.m. restaurant runs to the Thai place 'round the corner. I lived that life,too. Not better, not worse, just different.)

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Survival of the cutest

Two of Ellen's boys.

So our final sexing of Ellen's four eggs/chicks is done, now that they are morphing into adults more and more with each passing turns out, Ellen's eggs produced three roosters and a hen.  I won't pretend I'm not disappointed at this end result. Three hens and a rooster would have been a lot more manageable. 

That's because while one rooster can add character and charm to a homestead, more than one can sound like bedlam at 5 a.m. Even with one rooster, there is sometimes a risk of it being a bad fit for your operation. I could tell you tales of roosters that would keep you up at night...the one who would wait to attack until you were standing with one of your horse's hooves between your knees, and would jump on you, peck you and rake its nails across your back.  The one who would jump from the bushes when you were least expecting it with spurs at the ready...roosters can be tough to raise and even tougher to give away, because everyone with property has dealt with at least one mean one in their lifetime and many people who keep hens have absolutely zero desire to have a 'roo.

In a way, I've gotten lucky, because two out of the three boys already have homes to go to. One will go down to head up a flock at the winery, another to some neighbors who lost their rooster recently, and I guess I will keep one.

But while these little guys were so very cute when they were small (just like most baby animals), now they are getting some serious adolescent behavior going on and challenge each other at every turn. Not so cute.

I believe this growing up thing is the only reason why most of us are able to live with eating animals. That pig who was so cute as a piglet (and therefore inedible for many of us) is a lot more belligerent and bossy once she's a sow. Even calves and sheep lose their adorableness once they hit adulthood and push you around, charge you or just run from you because they've decided they don't like you anymore. Some remain pets and will be friendly forever, but most grow into their natural natures and are just not as friendly, which is probably what historically has made it easier to dispatch them. 

Taste is another thing, but I am not sure that, even if dog meat tasted like bacon, that we could slaughter dogs in our culture. That's because unlike livestock, dogs remain friendly and loyal long into adulthood.  And it's not only dogs, many farms have at least one "sacred cow," wandering around; some critter that endeared itself to the farmer so much it was spared the knife or bullet for life.

We will see how we do with one rooster.  My only advice to him is this:  Stay cute, my friend.  Stay cute.

Monday, August 3, 2015

Too much or not enough?

I thought it would be like this all the time.

It's been a busy summer here on the homestead, both with homestead-related activities and off-homestead fun and events.  Since moving to Wine Country, every summer I usually feel, guiltily, that I'm doing too much partying and too little homesteading, and have felt that way ever since we moved here three years ago.

But we've had out-of-town guests visiting from New Jersey for the last three days, and their last comment upon leaving us and heading to the Bay Area was something about how they were so impressed with everything we do for energy conservation -- water, electricity and propane. So there's me, feeling like we're slacking and not doing nearly what we should, and then there's our extended family relatives, who live more or less like comfortable urban folks on the East Coast do, in a planned development, who see how we live as something quite unusual and almost extreme -- but, surprisingly, in a positive way.

It's all in how it looks from where you're sitting, I guess.

When I started homesteading, I was committed with an almost religious fervor to live as lightly on the planet as possible, knowing it wouldn't change the big picture, but at least feeling like there would be an impact on the small one. And so I became conscious of every little thing we needed to do to cut back on the things we were wasting energy on (and also spending money on, not-coincidentally). I did as little driving as I could get away with, watched the thermostat in the house like a hawk, and made the family learn to live with crispy line-dried clothes.

Our lives changed, and the first place I saw it was in our bank account, which started growing almost as fast as the crops in our back yard, because we were no longer spending on a bunch of stuff we could grow/make ourselves, or using electricity without thinking about it. 

 But not everything we started doing became habits that stayed around.  While it's true that I still feel the same way about the importance of living sustainably, my world changed and grew bigger over the last three years and some things, like eating at home 100 percent of the time, have simply fallen off the map for us as our social life expanded. Not a good thing, but it is what it is.  Other things we started back then have stood the test of time: watching the thermostat, canning, hanging wash, making soaps and cleaners, growing some of our food.  

But once those things became ordinary for me, somehow I ceased to see them as making a difference.  They were just one more chore to add to the list each day or week. Until the other day, when I was reminded just how different those chores are by my urban relatives who don't/can't do them.

The reality is more of a balance.

We live in an area, thank God, where I've finally found a community of friends we love, and being active and attending gatherings is one of the best things about it. But I also love the quiet, relative isolation, and rural lifestyle we have here. It's truly a balance, but like the average temperature in any given month, is not so much a single line but rather a series of plusses and minuses that average out to a certain number.  Sometimes we're out too much, sometimes we're home a lot, but the average carbon and financial output of our lifestyle is probably still much less than the average American.

And so instead of focusing on my homesteading lapses and feeling guilty over all I'm not doing, from now on I'm going to allow myself to feel positive and proud for the things we have managed to do, and just enjoy that. 

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Livin' La Sous Vide Loca

So I probably haven't mentioned this, but I keep a quarter jar in our living room, where I save my shiny $.25 pieces for a couple of years, and then roll them once the jar is filled and go buy myself something frivolous, sinful and fun, something I might not purchase otherwise.  I give myself permission to blow my quarter money on anything I want. I generally get about $200 from the jar, so it allows me to gift myself with absolutely no guilt whatsoever.  It's a little "I Love Me" present. One time I bought a great pair of boots, another time I actually brought the quarters with me on a cruise and used them to have fun gambling (I won all my money back!) ... and this time I bought a sous vide system.

I first heard about this wonderful appliance on my friend Stephen Andrew's blog (here's a link if you are interested: Stephen Andrew's Sous Vide blog post ) and was insanely jealous at the ease with which he appeared to put together his holiday feasts.  With the sous vide system, it appeared as if he actually had enough time to decorate beautifully AND enjoy the company of friends and family. I have a feeling he could probably do this anyway, but anything I can do to give myself a leg up I will take. Of course for me one immediate benefit presented itself in my mind, which is that I could start drinking champagne at noon without worrying I was going to forget my expensive free-range bird or cut of meat. (like last time) That decided it. I started thinking about buying a sous vide system after that, but waited until Quarter Jar Day to do it.

And so here it is, the Anova sous vide system hooked up to my spaghetti pot, gently cooking a cheap chuck roast for 36 hours as an experiment. (According to the instructions, you can cook a cheap cut of meat in the sous vide system for a long time -- like 36 hours or so, and it will emerge as soft and malleable as a more expensive cut of meat, only needing to be browned up a bit before serving.)

I will be out of the house for at least half the day tomorrow, and so the thought of coming home to a home-cooked meal is tantalizing. It's even more appealing to know that it will happen without 1) the mess and occasional overcooked quality the crock pot's meals sometimes have or 2) dining with a grumpy husband who has accidentally overcooked a meal because he was trying to cook whilst simultaneously talking to one of his vineyard workers who needs instructions on irrigation, and playing a rousing game of solitaire on his iPad -- all at the same time. It happens.

But not with the sous vide, baby. It has one task, and one task make a silk purse (tender steak) out of a sows's ear (cheap chuck) and I'm believing it's gonna happen.  I'll let you know how it goes.

And as a final note, how grand is it that it will cook dinner without either heating up the house via the oven or needing to physically go outside and turn the solar cooker every half hour or so to follow the sun while I'm cooking out there?