Thursday, January 18, 2018

The Year Without a Winter

Today I am canning some strawberry jam, because canning is one of my favorite things to do in winter and the first local strawberries are just hitting the market. But I'm also doing it early in the morning, because later today it's expected to be about 70 degrees. Gotta grab winter when you can find it, and this year winter has pretty much been restricted to the hours between midnight and 6 a.m. We've had scant rain, except for one colossal two-inch storm that buried a lot of fire-ravaged Montecito (about two hours south of us) in mud, after the Thomas Fire of December burned away all the underbrush holding the hills down there in place.

To say it's been a weird winter is the understatement of the year. But it seems like they've all been weird in recent memory. Do you know anyone, honestly, in any part of the country who would say the last five years have been about average, normal, etc.? I don't. The times, they are a changin'. And quickly.

If you remember from my earlier blog posts, we were dining al fresco for Thanksgiving, and wearing t-shirts at Christmas, which certainly was pleasant enough, yet weird. Nonetheless, I am mindful of the future. I keep looking at those puffy, waterproof winter coats on clearance at Land's End and wondering if I should buy one. Since we're moving to Oregon in a few months, I logically know I should, but sitting in the middle of a 75 degree day it's pretty hard to get my head around it, and so I keep browsing instead of buying.

I also am starting to try and decide what plants will come with me and what ones I will give to friends here in CA, where the weather will be kinder to them. I have several citrus trees in pots that will possibly stay here, or if we have a sunroom or greenhouse in our new digs I may try and bring them along.

But one little plant is definitely coming with us...this little Scotch Pine. I bought it when a coworker's son was having a Boy Scout fundraiser, and ever since I planted it, it's been suffering in the summer heat. One entire side (the one you can't see in this pic) is scorched brown, yet it has survived and has actually grown a little bit. Last weekend, Big Ag and I dug it up and potted it so we can take it to cooler, wetter Oregon, where I think it will grow more and be happier in general. Isn't that just what we all want out of life, when it comes down to it? Anyway, I just can't take off for cooler climes myself and leave it behind here to burn, when it would rather be where we are going. So it's about to move states, along with us.

I've been around thrift stores less that usual, mainly because I have no idea what to buy -- except flannel. Flannel seems to be the unofficial tartan of The Clan Of The PNW, so I'm keeping an eye out for that anytime I see it. But I also snagged this lovely tablecloth on a trip to Goodwill recently. When I got it home, however and examined the label on it, it said the size was Full/Double. Yes, I am currently using a sheet as a tablecloth. Oh well. It's gorgeous, and perfect for this no-winter, early spring we appear to be having, so why not. And if you should happen to fall asleep at the table, I guess it can do double duty.

Hope whatever season you're in, it's going well, too.

Saturday, December 23, 2017

Celebrating the solstice moments -- finally!

The summer here was long and brutal, and a strange kind of aprés summer stuck around until well after Thanksgiving. When we did our family "frisbee at the beach" morning on Thanksgiving, we stopped running around in the sand after about half an hour or so because it was just too damn hot to play. It was even too hot and humid just sitting in the sand, doing nothing. Not typical beach weather for this area, to be sure. Thankfully, I suppose.

The chickens also had ill effects from the warmer weather, in that they had a longer and more severe molt than I've ever seen them have before. The worst part about that is not the coop, which looks like there's been a massive down pillow fight inside it, but the fact that while chickens are molting, they lay NO eggs. So from about the end of September until last week, we had to resort to buying eggs at the store.

And then it cooled off -- finally -- and winter's magic began to happen.

Chickens once again gave us eggs.

The garden started producing lettuce, enough for salads every single night!

And when it froze hard a couple of nights ago, I was able to begin digging my fall potatoes and they are AMAZING. If you've never had newly dug potatoes with some butter, sour cream and chives on them, you have not lived. Really. 

Our eggplants were harvested just before the frost too, which means eggplant parmesan soon!

In between all that we've been getting ready for holidays and doing a little clean up before we put the house on the market early next spring (probably February, which is spring for us). And dreaming of what next year will look like in our first Oregon holiday season. Not many houses on the market up there right now, but I still look, we talk about what we're looking for, and we dream.

That's where it all begins. But to forget the colorful bounty in the present seems ungrateful, so this year especially, we celebrate the now while looking forward to the "then." Hope you're doing the same!

Monday, December 18, 2017

Heading North

Follow the water, baby.

My blog postings have been scant for the last several months because there was some big news I was unable to share publicly until it was official, and it's very hard to write about small news when there's a proverbial Big, Life Changing News Elephant taking up major square footage in the living room.

The big story is that in three to six months, we will be leaving California for Corvallis, Oregon, so Big Ag can take a new job where his main task will be planning and development in converting conventional farmland to organic acreage.

We've been working towards the goal of moving north for awhile now, and it was either odd or serendipitous that we somehow ended up in Corvallis, Oregon for the total eclipse of the sun last August 21. We've had plenty of friends and family move to that area, but had never visited. It was a totally unplanned detour on eclipse day (a good one!), and after we visited we couldn't understand how it had escaped getting on our radar before now. 

Did I also mention that my former mother-in-law lived in Corvallis for years and could never get me up there for a visit? Truly, God gnashes his teeth at the hints we don't take even when he spray paints them on our wall. Anyway, the hint was finally taken when, about a month after we'd returned from Corvallis in August, a head hunter contacted Big Ag about a position there. No coincidence, I believe. God can begin his teeth-restoration program now. We finally got the hint.

We've been talking about leaving California for awhile now, as we begin setting ourselves up for retirement. As in most places, the nicest, most temperate parts of California are also the least affordable. And as far as unaffordable goes, this is already one of the most unaffordable parts of the country to live in, so you do the math. You get squeezed from just about every angle.

The other thing is the climate here. Let's be honest, a lot of people come to this area and fall in love with the warm "seasonal triumvirate" -- our mediterranean/desert-like springs, summers, and autumns. They are combined with mild winters (so mild that out-of-control winter wildfires are still possible in December, apparently). 

People who hail from places like Pennsylvania and Wisconsin come here and see heaven in a lifetime of never having to shovel snow again or don a parka in daytime, drinking wine,and sitting on their patios in January. I will stand and confess it now: I am not one of those people. Probably from being a native and having too many 80-degree Christmases growing up in Los Angeles.

Do you sit inside and watch the fire at Christmas time? We do in California, too.

And, as you see above, there's a price to pay for all that hot weather. I believe this geographic region is the canary in the coal mine as far as climate change goes -- we are seeing the hot temperature extremes first. Last summer we had our first 115 degree day, which was bookended by 110 degree days for a few weeks solid.  So, to me, that canary is singing loud and strong at this juncture in time, trying to warn us, although others might disagree. Being in agriculture -- but not as large landowners with established vineyards and fields -- we are lucky in that we can respond to climate change by moving closer to where the rainy weather and water has retreated to. Corvallis receives about 46 inches of rain and four inches of snow a year, it's a definite four-season climate, and there are abundant rivers, streams and creeks. And where there is water, there is agriculture and viticulture, and therefore, to me, life.

Vineyard and winery near Corvallis, in Philomath, Oregon.

Crossing the Cascades by train last week.

And so hopefully now that the cat is out of the bag I can come back here and talk a little more about what's going on. We'll be looking to establish a home in Oregon with our chickens, our vegetable garden, still making soap and preserves and enjoying the home arts. Moving a homestead is not easy, but as so many pioneers have done before us, it is certainly possible (and unlike them, we have professional movers!).

So stick around as we hitch our wagons and head north.

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Ghost in the Vineyard

Night in the harvest vineyard

So Big Ag and his crew are waist-deep in harvest right now, and a strange little issue has come up. What is it, you ask? Three of his vineyard workers have reported there is a ghost in the vineyard known as Five Hills, where harvesting is now taking place. 

A ghostly man, dressed in white from hat to shoes, has been seen leaning up against the fence posts which stand at the end of each row of vines, standing and silently watching the harvest until he vanishes.

We know it's not a real human, as access to the vineyard is extremely limited, especially in this area which is literally miles away from the nearest road. And these workers are not of the ilk that would spoof and play games with each other. They're much too serious about their night's work and heading home to their comfortable beds on time at this point.

But it certainly fits with all the ghostly goings-on this time of year. Spooky! 

Sunday, October 22, 2017

The Last Time

Yesterday I was working behind the tasting room bar at the winery, helping out during a very busy Harvest Weekend, when I had a poignant moment. It was crisp morning, very autumn-y, with a breeze coming through the door; the kind of morning when you want to pull your scarf a little closer to your neck and retreat into the shadows with some hot tea or something (maybe wine, although 10 am is a bit early for it, even if my world) because you know winter is coming.

And I flashed back to my first winter working at the winery. There were many cold winter weekdays when we'd be lucky to get five customers in a day. Of course I knew I'd make virtually nothing in tips that day, but it didn't matter. Those kinds of winter days were the best. Often Chef would make some off-menu item for us to nibble on, there was light cleaning to be done or just reading Wine Business Monthly and listening to some good music while the rain drummed down or the fog lingered, as I stood behind the bar simply enjoying both the ambiance and the quiet as the hours ticked by.

It really was heaven on earth.

And it will never happen again, for (mostly) good reasons.

In the four years since I've worked at the winery, it's been "discovered."  Our wines began winning some very deserved awards, and we also got a full restaurant license, enabling us to serve a full lunch menu for those passing through the countryside doing wine tastings. That's about when I morphed into being the Chef's Garden Manager, since at my age I just don't have either the desire, the stamina or the memory to wait tables. In the meantime, even more awards came in...word of mouth spread...and now our little winery is a definite hot star in the firmament of both wine tasting and food venues in the area.

And so my lovely little winter weekdays in the winery are no more, gone and never coming back. But it occurred to me that there has to have been ONE of those days in the past (probably sometime in Winter 2014) which was the LAST day the winery would be like that for me, and the last day I'd ever experience that particular slice of heaven. It was the moment before the change. And I simply had no idea. 

Big Ag and I are still contemplating, planning and attempting to execute some big changes in our life (good ones) and it occurs to me that I will never really know when a "last" will occur -- the last run-in with an old friend in town, the last perfect sunset on that particular stretch of coast -- and like the chiché goes, I really should live more like each experience of anything may be my last. 

The changes at my workplace are proof that it all can change. And in the larger world, this year we've certainly seen more disasters relating to climate change than I ever recall seeing before, which means there are people who literally had no idea that 2016 was the last Christmas they'd ever spend in that house, or October 6 was the last morning they'd ever walk the dog around that neighborhood. And don't even get me started on those who lost their lives, for whom there was a last time for every single thing they did.

It's just a reminder to all of us that no matter how tempting it is to focus on the future, we've got to stay in the present, especially the good parts of the present. Any moment could be the last one of its kind. And once it's gone, those moments, like the Passenger Pigeon or the Tasmanian Tiger, are gone forever, never to return. 

May we appreciate and acknowledge those things when they happen and live them to the fullest.

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Your Representative

I just finished reading the book "Love Warrior" by Glennon Doyle Melton. It's a thoughtful, sad, and funny memoir of her life, growing up (and then marrying) while being bulimic and alcoholic. Ultimately, it's a story of finding her voice and her strength through therapy and increased self-esteem, achieved through a variety of experiences. Even if you've never been bulimic, alcoholic or married, it's a great read.

What stuck with me the most was her assertion that at some point, while still quite young, her personality split in two. When put into stressful or socially difficult situations, she would summon forth a false self -- her "Representative" as she called it. 

Author John Bradshaw has another term for the persona we bring out when we don't feel safe enough to show who we really are. He called it "the false self," and maintained most of us create one by the time we're through primary school, through the process of learning and/or believing we are not desirable, wanted or appreciated for who we really are. We create a false self so that our sensitive, thoughtful and more vulnerable self can hide in the deep gardens of our soul when it needs to (or perceives it does), in what has to be the first and the original "safe space,"  that being the inside of our own skulls.

I believe this is how so many of us who rate higher on the "sensitivity scale" survive the the ups and downs of adolescence, the working world and especially relationships. We don't send our real selves into the trenches of interpersonal relationships and society when we don't feel safe. We send our Representative instead.

How I visualize "my Representative"

How many times do I send my Representative to deal with things instead of my authentic self? I've been thinking about that. At work, I do occasionally, of course. There are just some customers who aren't given the access code for The Real Me, and so I have a bright, cheery persona who deals with people while my inner self ponders deeper things. Ditto with certain coworkers, especially if they have beed hurtful or insensitive in the past. 

But she's probably more like this.

My Representative comes out to banter and smile whenever I need her to. And on thinking about it, I realized I even have a couple of friendships where it is not so much two people being friends but our Representatives who are there, having lunch and talking over current events.

I spent the day with a good friend today -- a real friend -- and part of the fun of our afternoon spent together was the complete and utter spontaneity we had just being ourselves. We laughed, we guffawed and we complained about the sheer absurdity and ridiculousness of life and buoyed each other up with our common thoughts and feelings on everything from work to husbands to where we live.

But in thinking about it, my mind shifted to yet another "friend" who I see once in awhile but who I don't think I've ever actually, really, met. Early on her Representative indicated she wished to meet with my Representative for lunch, and so they did.  There were a few laughs and polite conversation, but any attempt to go deeper on my part was met with a wall on her part, and so our relationship has remained shallow...and ultimately without meaning. Representatives are great at keeping things smooth but if it's meaning you seek you must first drop your facade and be known and seen.

How often do you send in your "Representative" to deal with things in your life? I suspect the measure of a person's happiness is how often they feel safe enough to hang their Representative up on a coat hanger behind the door, come sit down, and be their real selves. The more unhappy among us must don their Representative on a daily basis, keeping things pleasant but ultimately meaningless. 

Perhaps that's one of the draws of homesteading life...the chance to be oneself, all day, every day, no Representatives necessary.

Friday, August 25, 2017

Shakin' the dust off

Florence Oregon lighthouse (courtesy shutterstock)

The eclipse trip Big Ag and I took recently was good in many ways, but one of the biggest reasons is that it shook the dust off me. When you are comfortable and happy in your routines, it's easy for them to become a rut, and taking a trip of any length (farther than the grocery store, anyway) enlarges your perspective again to where you not only appreciate where you've traveled to, but you also appreciate home more, once you get back.

In short, sometimes you have to be someplace else in order to re-learn how to be here. "Here" as in the present, wherever that takes place.

When I was in my 20's, I was seized with a chronic restlessness that caused me to travel all the time. I backpacked through Europe for months. I traveled cross country for several weeks on an Amtrak pass, did 10 day back country trips up Mt. Whitney and the high Sierras. If bigger trips failed to materialize I got in my car, alone, and drove to Santa Barbara, Joshua Tree, or Palm Springs for the weekend. 

In truth, I was driven to travel because I lived in shitty places I usually could not wait to get away from, in that grand wasteland known as 1980's Los Angeles.

Of course I could not wait to get away from my dingy apartment, with the view of the parking lot and the neighbors with the loud television. When we're young we may not know much, but we recognize when we're in a place we need to escape from.

But the thing about growing up is that eventually, you hopefully become successful and end up living in a home and a place you love -- one the younger you would have loved to vacation in. Big soaking tub? Check. Marvelous view? Check. Pretty bathroom, sans mold and cockroaches? Double check. And so you stay put more. You put down roots because you're finally in good soil. But like any house plant, it's possible to get root bound and dusty and need to be freed from your pot and shaken up a bit once in awhile.

This trip to see the eclipse and the Oregon coast reminded me that yes, I do live in paradise compared to where I came from. But there are other paradises that need to be explored, too. The Oregon paradise we drove through had pine forests, lighthouses, wide open beaches and random beach towns with great breweries. And I remembered that paradise is found all over the planet, if we're willing to travel to meet it where it lives. 

And sure enough, I returned from our vacation calmer, more in the moment, and happier. Sometimes you just need to shake the dust loose and move around a bit to realize that deep roots are advantageous in some ways, yes, but not if they make you incapable of being anyplace else.