Friday, November 27, 2015


I might have mentioned that due to the kids' schedules in transit, we are not celebrating Thanksgiving until today. As a blended family, this is nothing new to us. Depending on the kids' (my son, Big Ag's son and daughter) time with their "other" parents (our ex-spouses) this is something we know how to roll with.

Who knew there was an advantage to getting divorced! Well, there is. It teaches you to allow your children time away from you at an early age, and it's good practice for later on.

Yes, we divorced families know we have to be flexible regarding time with our children. I remember having a full Christmas, including fancy dinner, presents, carols, etc. with my son on December 22, because he was going to be at his Dad's house on "real" Christmas. Of course Christmas was difficult for me that year because I knew it was Christmas Day and my son was not with me. I think I went hiking with a friend or something. 

But for me the most important thing was that my son was happy, and having two Christmases at that young age seemed to fit the bill nicely.  Plus since you can also throw Chanukah into the mix at my house (all eight nights of it), winters are a good time to be here at our homestead -- if you like receiving presents and eating good food.

Within a couple of years after the divorce, my ex-husband and I were managing to work out Christmas so that we both got to spend time with our son on the actual day itself, and could even put our differences aside long enough to let him have Christmas with both his parents -- we'd generally either do breakfast or dinner together. That too, required patience and flexibility, but we made it work and I think our son is the better for having seen us do it. Eventually, my ex and I became good friends, and he is also good friends with Big Ag. I like to think it was that mixing together during the holidays that helped bring all that about. Call it a Holiday Miracle if you like.

But my point is, eventually, ALL parents have to learn to be flexible, as their children grow up. It's not just you. There will surely come a time when everyone's son or daughter wants to spend Christmas at their boyfriend's/girlfriend's home, with his or her parents (potential in-laws) instead of you. 

Sometimes it's because of geography -- if your son falls in love with a girl from St. Louis, her parent will be expecting their daughter to come home for the holiday as much as you're expecting your son to come home for the same.

And unless you're planning on being a territorial asshole about it, you will graciously share your children (and someday, grandchildren) with the parents of the one they love. So maybe you have full Christmas dinner on the 22nd. Or the 28th. Who knows.

But here's the cool thing -- and I think it's safe to say it is just about the only cool thing about going through divorce, but it's there, regardless:  We divorced parents already know how to share our kids -- we've been doing it literally for years. We learned the skill early on, and now that the kids are grown we already know how to let go, knowing losing a holiday is not losing a child forever. 

And so, with the turkey preparations underway and the house preparing to fill with our grown kids (2 out of 3 anyway) and possibly even an ex-husband on the way, may I wish all those in unusual circumstances, all those in non-nuclear families, a wonderful holiday season, whatever day you happen to be celebrating. 

Three's no reason to confine the celebrating to just one day, anyway  Some of us learned that a long time ago. After all, no one ever says, "'tis the day." The expression is "tis the season."

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Big Bird Day

As I get ready for Thanksgiving dinner on Friday (kids will be in transit on Thursday so we'll do the sit-down thing Friday afternoon), I can't help but remember all the happy Thanksgivings at my godmother's house.

As so many artists do, she kind of created her own loosely-knit colony of "family" members, including her kids, several ex-lovers, friends of her kids, and anyone else who was kind of at loose ends on Turkey Day. After my father died and my mom left the country I spent many happy Thanksgivings at her place, a grateful "orphan" to whom she was a second mother. 

Awkward moment as I decide I need to begin drinking. However, note that I am ROCKIN' those 1980's suspenders!

 My boyfriend and I used to spend the day at her place before heading up to Big Sur for the long weekend. One time she invited one of my ex-boyfriends who was at loose ends for a place to go, and somehow I ended up sitting with them both (pictured, ex on the far right). Can anyone say, "awkward?"

These are the kinds of things that happened all the time at her place.

She's now in a memory care facility and I'm sure will be spending the big day with one of her kids. I'm sad that she no longer remembers the crazy Thanksgivings where we never knew who was going to come through her door, but it's a memory I'm still happy to have.

So often in life there's more to be thankful for than resentful against. No one's life is perfect, and none of these Thanksgivings were either, but I treasure their memory more than if they were made of diamonds and gold.

This is one of the last paintings my Godmother did before losing her ability to paint, and I'm especially thankful to have it hanging in my house this year. 

I hope each and every one of you has an absolutely wonderful day, and may your friends and family (and whoever else is in your particular "colony") have a perfectly imperfect day. 

Painted perfection....moonlight on the water.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Just a little white life

Temporary perfection.

So did I mention that I snagged two Chippendale chairs when I got the dining room set a couple of weeks ago at auction? Well, I did. They were gorgeous mahogany and at $20 each just too nice to not drag home, with the idea being to find other similar chairs and re-cover them all to match each other.

The re-covering was necessary because the seats of these two lovely matching chairs are white.

I brought them home and, as I knew I would, absolutely fell in love with those white seats. So elegant, yet simple. So clean and pretty.

You see, in in the deep-down recesses of my brain I have a Fantasy of White. In it, I am able to live a gorgeous, pristine Little White Life.

In my fantasy, I find myself on a comfortable sofa with white denim slipcover fabric over it, and similar covers over the arm chairs. The room doesn't look TOO white, because I've chosen some bright colored pillows offset the blinding perfection of the white sofa. In this fantasy my kitchen is white marble with pale gray cabinets. In the dining room there are white linens, with eight of those gorgeous white Chippendale chairs and their lovely, contrasting mahogany wood accenting the whiteness of the whole vignette.

In this life we have no pets and my husband always comes home in a pair of clean dress slacks and carefully folds his napkin over his lap before eating (perhaps my husband is George Clooney in this scenario, since it is, after all, MY fantasy.) Did I also mention I have white floor-to-ceiling bookshelves filled with literati and tchotchkes which never need dusting?

The utter cleanliness of the place should be the first cue this is a fantasy. My Little White Life does not exist. But I think we all have a fantasy like mine somewhere deep in our unconscious -- a fantasy that tells us things could be a certain way, if only we were just a little more perfect ourselves. We imagine in our best circumstances that we could somehow make it work. That the Little White Life would always stay clean, fresh and snow-driven perfect.

I know that because last night, while sitting on my white Chippendale chair in the dining room I spilled refried beans on the seat, because I'd set my napkin down while going to the kitchen to get something for a guest and forgot to put it back on my lap once I returned.

Refried beans. It could have least been an expensive red wine. But no, my royal fantasy ran head-first into my Tex-Mex-flavored country peasant life.

And even more surprisingly it was not Big Ag, the resident bull in the china shop around here. It was me who screwed it all up. I outed my Little White Life for the fantasy it was.

And for the record, Big Ag has never come home in a pair of jeans that did not have half the vineyard's dirt on it, or mystery oil of some kind, so that's why I always imagined him to be the one to ruin my fantasy. But second to him, there are the hordes of pets. (The fact that I currently have a pooping indoor chicken should be the first clue, right?). And then of course there's the canning -- when I can tomatoes I am fully capable of launching pieces from the kitchen all the way into the dining room and within striking range of those beautiful Chippendale chairs.

So really, it was only a matter of time. About two weeks, to be exact.

There is no such thing as a Little White Life, at least not at this homestead. And so I will re-cover those chairs as soon as I find their mates and have a complete set. I'm looking at a brown floral pattern to do them in. And this will make me sad, because somewhere deep down I believe in the myth of the Little White Life -- the slipcovers that always wash to snowy perfection, the chair covers that stay clean, and the bookshelves that never need dusting.

The truth of my life, and life in general, is a lot more colorful...

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Bucket List

I have two items on my so-called "Bucket List" of things I want to do before I die. I've been blessed to lead an incredibly varied life, working in several different professions and living through some interesting times. So thankfully, my list is not long. I think everyone should have a bucket list though, and everyone should have some kind of a plan in place to git 'er done, as they say, before kicking said bucket. 

Mine is as follows:

1.  I'd like to live in a climate with four true seasons, including some (but hopefully not a huge amount of) snow. Washington State or northern Idaho is in, Wisconsin and Minnesota are out. 

It should have a true fall, starting sometime in September.  Spring can start later than here, maybe April or even May. Mild summer, relatively speaking.

You may surmise from this that I am tired of only being able to wear sweaters four months out of the year, and not every day at that. That's true. I am also tired of, and increasingly unable to deal physically with, heat. Today, for example, it's 80 degrees. Not a bad temperature to be outdoors in at all, but kind of kills the mood for decorating the house or baking holiday cookies, believe me.

2. I really, really, really want to see the Aurora Borealis, or Northern Lights. I am hoping to combine #1 and #2, even if it only happens from my back porch once or twice in my lifetime. That's all I need to check off the box.

As Big Ag and I head into our mid-50s, these two items play large in my mind, although I am happy where we are currently living...for the present. Which means the next 10 years. We're close to our kids and close to family. Sometimes things are fine for the present, but you know there's not going to work, long-term in your future, though. Some men are like that. So are some states.

One thing Big Ag and I both agree on that helps this decision a lot is that we know we cannot afford to continue living here once we retire. California is one expensive state to live in, mostly because real estate is so pricey. (Even if you own your own home outright, you will still be paying a huge property tax bill based on the estimated worth of your home.) Add to that some of the most expensive gasoline in the nation, sky-high utility bills, and just the general cost of doing business, and this is a tough town to stay in once you aren't earning anything and are living off your social security and savings.

My idea is to go where you can save the most money if you want to last to the end of life's competition in good shape. And sell high and buy low whenever possible. If you're leaving California, that's easy, because real estate values are so incredibly over-inflated in the first place.

A dear friend relocated to Idaho recently and called me, so excited to tell me about paying her vehicle registration renewal fees. Here in California it was costing her about $400 a year to do this. In Idaho it cost her $35, every other year. It turns out not only do they give a discount to seniors on their auto registration, they will also cut your property tax bill if you earn less than a certain amount each year. 

Our other big concern is water. There is not enough of it here. And as has been true for eons of human and prehistoric history, everything (including creatures on two and four legs) has to follow the water. So we'll be looking for a place that gets a lot more rainfall, with additional water in the form of snowfall, to make survival a little easier. 

People from out of state are always shocked when I tell them our well lies 600 feet below the surface of our land and that water costs us at least $100 a month in electricity to bring it up from that depth. I tell them, "you ain't seen nothin' yet." The aquifer we're drawing out of is currently in decline, and people are having to drill deeper and deeper. And once you get to about 1,000 feet, there are huge amounts or boron or worse, the possibility of going "artesian" which means suffer-flavored, extremely mineral water that isn't always drinkable without filtration and settling. Is that sustainable long term? I don't know. I won't be here to see it.

So in springtime we plan on taking a trip, a scouting trip, up to the Northwest to look at neighborhoods and visit with friends who have already relocated there. Who knows, in another 500 years people like us may be known as the first of the  Great Northern Migration, following the water to more northern latitudes as climate change takes hold for real. 

One thing that's for sure is that when your bucket list is also your retirement plan, if you live long enough the odds are good you will get to live out your list as well. So while I'm not buying sweaters or snow throwers yet, it's a safe bet to say both are in my future.

Gonna get some water in that "Bucket List" bucket.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Cooking for Two


One of the odd things about my job is the conversations I am privy to as I visit each table with their flight of wines. Sometimes I hear funny things that make me laugh. Other times I hear something which resonates with me.  The other day there were three or four gentlemen tasting wine together and as I stepped up to pour for them, one said to the other, "Ever since the kids have gone off to college, she says she's not motivated to cook anymore. She heats up frozen meals in the evenings." 

Of course he said this with a sad, resigned air, which I kind of get, but on the other hand, if it's bothering you, dude, step up and grab the apron. Man can cook, after all.

But I do have a lot of sympathy for the wife in question. It's taken me a long time to get out of the habit for buying enough food to feed an army on its feet, which is what our family was for the longest time. It's almost a grieving process you go through, once there is no longer a full family to cook for. You spend years learning recipes that will keep kids full and will re-heat well, since kids are so busy you're often feeding in shifts. It's all about big casseroles and other one-dish meal wonders.

When they leave home, all that changes. Immediately.

So one of my greatest challenges has been re-learning how to cook -- for two adults, not five people of various sizes ranging in age from 10 - 40. Harder still was learning to BUY for two and not five. 

Ifyou're single, I would imagine it's even harder to get up the motivation to cook for yourself than it is for couples, when you could just graze out of the fridge instead. Not that there's anything wrong with grazing. But it still should probably not replace meals 100 percent of the time.

But I also saw a study recently that many older adults who live alone are eating more and more processed food (both frozen and take-out), because they don't want to cook for one, and that is creating health challenges in the form of high blood pressure from high sodium levels, and diabetes from high sugar levels.

So what's to be done about the home cooking conundrum for singles and couples?

I think we need a revolution in small-portion cooking. I think there ought to be cooking TV shows that feature small dishes and limited portions, cookbooks and online resources that offer the same. With the Boomer and even Gen X'ers aging out, this becomes even more important. 

You can add a homesteading angle to it as well. How do you grow for just one or two people? How much do you preserve, freeze and put by? Having just gone through this with a whole bunch of canned tomatoes I put up in 2013 and need to use NOW, I really could have used some tips on knowing how much to grow when my kids left home. In 2013 (the year after they left) I grew waaaaay too much, bought waaaaay too many groceries, and didn't eat enough of any of it. 

And  I have the expired food in the bottom of my trash can to prove it. That shouldn't be the learning process. 

It's all well and good to be able to feed the small army that a houseful of kids is, but if you're an army of two or even one, it's no less important. It's something I plan on spending some time exploring in life and here as well, in the hopes of finding a new way of cooking, growing and eating.

Because there's more to growing old than throwing a "Lean Cuisine" meal in the oven (or even an Amy's Organic Kitchen meal) and calling it healthy eating. 

It's not. But I'm convinced that there is a better way out there, and that it can not only be delicious, but also be easy and save money in the long rung. Not to mention stop you from filling your trash can or composter with expired foods.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Movin' On

Fuzzy Feet has found a permanent home, with a coworker's parent, who is retired and would love to have an inside hen. 

Sigh. I guess deep down I always knew she was just much too "all that" to live the simple life with my farm girls and rooster. Clearly what this chicken needs is a stylist, an agent, a photographer and some papparazzi and her Hollywood career will be launched.

And I can say I knew her when. Remember me once you hit the Big Time, Fuzzy Feet. We'll have her probably through Thanksgiving, after which she'll be moving on to her new digs.

P.S. We also found out from her previous owner that her name was not (surprise!) Fuzzy Feet. It is VALENTINA. Yes, a truly glamorous name for a glamorous girl.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Pumpkin Day

Next week may be Turkey Day, but here at the homestead today was Pumpkin Day.  Pumpkin Day is when all the pumpkins (the ones I grew over the summer and harvested back in September) become pumpkin puree, so they can go into all kinds of delicious seasonal dishes.

Pumpkin Day is very different from Pumpkin Spice Day, which happens in the stores and shops around August and has absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with real pumpkins. It's now possible to have pumpkin bagels, pumpkin coffee, and pumpkin fabric softener, all of which contain NO pumpkins whatsoever (maybe a good thing in the case of the last item).

Just roast.... (two of about 15 total)

If you've ever grown pumpkins before, you know that not only do all pumpkins not look alike, they don't taste alike either, despite sharing pasture/garden space and being the same type of seed (in this case, Sugar Pie). You can even harvest them all on the same day, after all the vines have died back, only to discover some are more ripe than others.

They are damn individualists. A little like people, no?

Anyway, regardless of their shape and size, today is the day when I grant them equal rights to be delicious and cook them all to where they are discolored and droopy, nice and soft, and scoop out the seeds for the chickens, then puree the rest of the meat. Some puree is for now, some for next week, some for the bleak midwinter, when there's nothing more comforting than a nice batch of pumpkin bread or pumpkin soup.

One important thing to remember about cooking whole pumpkins is that the less-ripe ones will need more oven time than more-ripened ones. And you can tell more ripe from less ripe by the inside color. A deep, bright orange means it is ripe. A more pale orange means less. But if you cook the less-ripe ones enough, they are just as edible as their more attractive and ripe siblings (as long as they are fairly ripe -- no green should be present). I do recommend mixing them all together before pureeing however, so you hit a nice middle note between the ripe and not-as-ripe. 

The other thing to note regarding cooking whole pumpkins is that, unfortunately, real pumpkins cooking in your oven do not smell nearly as inviting as pumpkin spice goodies do, so my advice is to burn a candle or enjoy a pumpkin-flavored latté while your gourds cook.

Once you are done, your pureéd pumpkin can be stored in the freezer for several months, if you can make it last that long. I have yet to get to Valentine's Day with any left. And since it's not exactly something you crave in summer, my advice is to wallow in its real, natural deliciousness while you can.

There's always plenty of the artificially-flavored stuff to tide you over 'till the season rolls around next year.

And puree.