Monday, August 7, 2017

Mañana


I will can them...mañana.

Don't know if I've mentioned it, but when my family had our DNA analyzed, it revealed my mother's side of the family comes from Northern Europe and my father's side from the Mediterranean/Middle East. 

While it's kind of a cool combination, I also think it means I have a constant war going on inside me, between my Scots work ethic and my Mediterranean "mañana mentality." The latter phrase, while it has a Spanish-sounding name, is actually an attitude which occurs not just in sunny Spain, but throughout Southern Europe and the Middle East. (You can tell this because if you visit someplace in the region, like the Acropolis in Greece and they have scaffolds up and are working on restoring it, when your friends visit the same spot 30 years later, the same scaffolding is still up and the place looks exactly the same. True story. I'm sure they're getting to it soon. Really.)  

Who knows, maybe it took the Israelites 40 years to get to the Promised Land because they figured they could always "just go tomorrow." Makes sense to me.

To that slack-y end, I've decided my summers spent slaving over a hot water bath canner are over. This year I'm experimenting with freezing my tomatoes first, then canning them once autumn and cooler temperatures set in and it doesn't feel like my entire being is on fire if I stand in front of the canner.

I'm not sure why I didn't try this years ago. Probably because my Scots ancestors were nagging inside my head to be productive and task-oriented and hard-working. What do they know? The other half of my DNA decided this was, in fact, torture, and that while canning is all well and good, it should not be done if you have any hope of trying to keep the house cool. Which the inner Scots, not surprisingly,  agreed with, since it involved saving money and being thrifty with electricity and all that.

And so into the freezer goes the tomato bounty of summer. And onto the sofa goes me and my 46 chromosomes, with a cold beer and an authorized permission slip of sorts from both sides of my ancestry to put tomato canning off for now. 

It's nice when we can all agree on something.




Friday, August 4, 2017

24 years ago...


24 years ago, probably on a lark, God decided I could be entrusted with the raising of another soul. If you'd seen my yuppie, over-scheduled life, you would have asked, what were you thinking, Supreme Being?

 Thankfully, it worked out. My son not only turned into a wonderful, caring, intelligent adult, but made me a far better person than I might have otherwise have been.  

It turned out I was better at the care and feeding of small human beings than I (and maybe anyone else) had thought possible. Happy birthday, son!


Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Midday In the Garden of Good and Evil



This year was a banner one for milkweed around the property. It's in the raised beds, cropping up through the bark, and growing in all the places you might and might not expect something to grow. Up until now I've let it stay everywhere it's started, because of my understanding that it is essential to Monarch butterflies, who use it for food and to lay their eggs on (although since we freeze hard in winter, the latter does not happen here, since our milkweed is not freeze tolerant).

So I've been going about my business in the garden, convinced of my virtual sainthood for allowing the milkweed to flourish for the beautiful Monarchs. Then a friend told me that while the Monarch butterflies use milkweed, so do Tarantula Hawks. Which is not good business at all, especially if you happen to be either a human or a tarantula.

I do this kind of thing all the time, to be honest, playing God in my personal garden kingdom of good and evil, and it probably does no good. I've judged Tarantula Hawks to be evil because they land on tarantulas, injecting a paralyzing venom into them, and then proceed to lay their eggs on the still very much alive tarantula. When the eggs hatch, their first meal is the paralyzed tarantula. 

I happen to like tarantulas. They are gentle creatures who will almost never attack people and can actually be kept as pets, unlike Tarantula Hawks, who are capable of inflicting one of the most painful bites in the world on humans who piss them off (probably right after capturing, restraining and torturing some poor tarantula, which will later be eaten alive by its offspring). Therefore in my universe, Monarch Butterfly: Good. Tarantula: Good. Tarantula Hawk: Evil. Evil like serial killer evil. My garden, my call.

But by attempting to encourage the endangered Monarchs by allowing plenty of their food source to survive, I also unintentionally created a garden of bounty for the tarantula hawks and thereby possibly upset a delicate balance of tarantulas versus tarantula hawks. 

Which basically means I suck at being God.

So often, in the garden as in life, we just need to leave things the fuck alone and let nature balance it all out. But we like to play God and cast creatures as angels and demons in our kingdom, and try and manage everything going on. But even God couldn't do that. Look what happened in the Garden of Eden. That too turned into something of a failure.

Humans do this all the time. We remove a predator we deem evil or a threat (such as wolves) only to find that with the predator gone, something else gets out of control, like deer and rodents. Then we try to step in and manage that, only to fail again. "Look, we poisoned all the rodents! But now the poison is killing all the owls. Shit." 

I am now going around and removing the milkweed that is growing in places supported by irrigation, and leaving the plants which are surviving on naturally dry ground, to try and restore some balance. A little less food for the Monarchs, but a little less for the Tarantula Hawks as well.

And I'll be thinking twice from now on about playing God in the Garden of Good and Evil. Because even God had a hard time with that.





Wednesday, July 19, 2017

The Sad and Lonely Horse

So I occasionally browse a website comprised of people from our neighborhood who post inquiries, complaints and comments on a kind of message board, and someone posted this a few days ago.




The guy who coined the phrase "the road to hell is paved with good intentions," was not too far off. It turns out the person who wrote this post just moved here from the city, and knows nothing about horses. He admitted as much in the comments section a little further down the page, once people started questioning whether or not he should be urging people to stop and handle/feed someone else's animal, who clearly was not hungry or neglected in any way whatsoever.

For the record, I'm a big fan of kindness, especially towards animals. But ascribing human emotions to animals is not generally a good thing, unless you are an expert in that particular animal or species, enough to know how they emote their moods.

I drive past this horse myself several times a week and can tell you that this big gelding is not sad, but rather....zen. He's chilling in his favorite corner, lazing in the sun, and meditating on nothing in particular. Or who knows, perhaps he's planning final details regarding the destruction of western civilization/mankind in a very slow and methodical way.  We won't know until it's too late.

He's well fed, in great condition, and just doing what horses do in the heat of summer, which is stand in one place for several hours, pondering, studying...zoning out. All horses do this. But I'm guessing he's not sad.

What really gets me is the guy floating the idea that everyone start feeding the "sad and lonely horse" carrots. Can you imagine the amount of carrots this horse would be ingesting if 75 people stopped to feed him every day? It kind of boggles the mind and could actually be damaging to the horse, since carrots are pretty high in sugar and are supposed to be a treat, not a staple. 

Some people move here to our area for the option to keep livestock, and others move here for the wine. And as long as the livestock people don't start trying to tell the wine people what makes a good Cabernet and the wine people don't start trying to cheer up the livestock people's animals who are pastured near common roads, life can be good here. It's all about mutual respect.

What we all need to focus on is the passive aggressive and insecure goats on the next street over, anyway. Now they need some serious help, I'm telling you. Perhaps we can find them a good therapist.



Monday, July 17, 2017

Summer colors

I wish I knew exactly where the "equinox" of summer occurs for us. By that I mean the exact day when we are halfway through the summer and can safely and confidently celebrate that fact. I have a feeling it's somewhere around today, at least for this area, although we can stay hot all the way from May through September. (and 100 degree October days are not unheard of, either.)

Summers are brutal here, but at least we are not without an escape hatch, which is our extremely close proximity to the beach. The strangest thing about our area is that you can drive a mere 30 minutes west or so to the shore and be in a completely different climate -- 30 to 40 degrees cooler, often foggy, sometimes downright chilly. When the heat begins to get to us here on the homestead, we generally head to the beach town of Cambria, uncrowded and quiet on Sunday evenings, since most of the tourists have returned home by then. We have dinner at an outdoor cafe (sometimes wearing jackets) and spend some "toes in the sand time" while we cool off for a few hours. It helps, no question, psychologically as much as anything else. See the cool, be the cool.


But as a more permanent solution I hope someday, maybe someday soon, to live in a climate with a more gentle summer. As I grow older, my heat tolerance diminishes (as it seems to with almost every other middle-aged woman I know) and so it would make sense to spend the last third of my hopefully long life in a climate more suited for me. Of course it will probably not be close to the ocean, but a mountain vista can surely heal your soul as much as an ocean vista can. At least that's what I'm hoping.


It's ironic, but most of the people I meet here who claim to "love" our summers are  transplants from places with snow. Evidently for them, they are happy making the trade of winter snow for summer heat. 

But for some of us, "Winter is coming" is not a veiled threat or foreshadowing of disaster, torn from a television show script. It's a promise to look forward to...a time when you are free to go outside again and not burn up -- to enjoy and to savor the afternoon breeze, even if you do need a jacket sometimes. A time when it's temperate right outside your back door. It's coming. We just have to be patient. And while I'd take snow in a heartbeat if it showed up on my doorstep, I may have to chase it down since it's not likely to come here. "Winter is coming?" Indeed. And maybe I'm coming for winter.


But in the meantime, I am here, as are you, at the height of summer. And so I bring you a couple of shots of seasonal color. 



Our new hens are laying and one is producing the most gorgeous copper-colored eggs!

Pink potatoes, fresh out of the ground, on an old vintage Welsh dish towel the neighbors bought me while on vacation there.

Monday, July 10, 2017

This and That

It's been a couple of months since the last post, and in that time we've had abundant harvests of carrots, potatoes, olallieberries and apricots, the lettuce has gone away with the heat, and we've faced smoke from several close-but-not-too-close brush fires.

So why the void in communication? Nothing earth-shattering. I noticed the comments dwindling on each blog post and so more and more it felt like I was shouting into the void, the same issue I had when writing my weekly newspaper column. People rarely write in to tell you when they enjoy a newspaper column or have a thought about it. Letters to the editor pretty much come in after you've said something that's gotten readers riled up, and so it's probably the same thing with blogging. 

Spring is also the busiest time of year around here. It's not only around the homestead, it's socially, financially, and work-wise as well. And so writing about living tends to take a back seat to just living. Someday I will find a way to manage the period from about April 15 to May 31 but this year, it once again became a time of trying to find time for things.

In the meantime, here are some pics of what we've been up to.


It was an abundant spring.


Mother Nature graced us with her beauty.

Planting, harvesting and preserving.
As usual, too many one one crop. Luckily my friends like carrots.


The row covers worked out nicely, kept a lot of insect and wind problems at bay.

Now we have smoky sunrises.....

and sunsets.



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.