Friday, March 27, 2015


Getting old sucks, there is no question about it. I am never one to mince words here, and so I'm telling this to you today in the spirit of 100 percent honesty.

One of the biggest problems is that older Americans are less relevant, in general, than ever before. I don't know how it is for other middle-aged folks but for me it's the single hardest thing to deal with about growing older.  Our culture is not one that venerates the wise elders as leaders and advice-givers. Instead, we smile indulgently at them and talk about how nice they are. Seniors, have, truly, becomes a second type of child in our society.

I can see it in how my best friend and I talk about our 80-something mothers. At their age, they are often opinionated without knowledge, stubborn without reason, and difficult because they will not listen to modern ideas that could make their lives better.  They can be hard to manage, and hard to help. In many ways, they remind us of our children when they were little.  And so the idea that they are really just big children emerges, not without reason.

But if you're in middle age, eventually you come to the realization that, like it or not, you are on the same road that your parents are.  And your ultimate destiny is either to be a pain the ass or become cute.  Maybe both.

For instance, there was an older gentleman (probably late seventies/early eighties) in the winery the other day, dropping off a product he was selling.  He had his own, homemade receipts, and kind of fumbled around trying to get his materials and invoice together. We were very busy, and so while he was poking around in his box looking for his paperwork, I was glancing anxiously back to the bar and the customers seated outside.

And after he left, we were talking about him behind the bar. "Did you see that old man today, dropping off his stuff and giving us his little invoice?  He was just so sweet."

"I know," the other gal behind the bar with me said, "so cute."

Yes, the older you get, the more you get relegated to The Cute Zone, along with toddlers, kittens and internet videos of goats climbing on stuff. A lifetime of bruising experience, real world crisis management and raising the next generation to responsible adulthood, and the result is becoming just ... darling!

It's maddening, except of course that to some extent, it is absolutely appropriate and correct.  

And here's why it makes sense: When you are in your 30's, you are absolutely essential to your children's lives, and probably equally as essential in the workplace.  Were you to depart at this time, the ripples in your part of the world would be significant and long-lasting. There are many people who would, literally, never get over it. Should you die before your parents or while your children are little, that is absolutely 1000 percent true.

That kind of importance declines on a kind of slow, sliding scale until, let's say, you are 70.  At age 70 our children may love us, but odds are we are no longer essential in their lives.  We are probably no longer essential in the workplace either, having either already retired or getting ready to.  So our true career days are over. Our grandchildren probably love us, but they don't really need us the way they need their parents.

And this is exactly the way Mother Nature designed it.  About the time you are at an age to sign out and move on to Whatever's Next, your presence is no longer essential here. It kind of works.

And so from now (sometime between 50 and 70, depending on your stage of life) until the time they call your name to cross the river between the worlds, well, now you are in the process of becoming cute. And sweet, and stubborn, in the same way a toddler can be sometimes. And a little behind the times, but charmingly so.  In short, irrelevant.

I guess what I never knew when I was younger is that the people in the process of becoming irrelevant are acutely aware of it.  I'm 53 and I can see it quite clearly. Not all of us can.  There's a guy (quite a bit older than me) in our local paper, who writes a weekly opinion column that usually has something to do with "the way things were," never realizing that the next generation tires of this kind of talk quite easily. Oh sure, we might enjoy hearing about the heyday of Hollywood or the price of gas in 1955 -- for about five minutes.  But what was an interesting, fascinating and memorable era in his life is just a story for us. The past is a place we like to take a quick peek at, but have no interest in hearing a play-by-play repeat of (unlike, often, the person telling the story).

I used to lament that my generation had little access to our great-grandmother's homesteading skills, but I was wrong.  With the advent of the internet, a whole new generation is becoming competent in canning, farming with horses, growing food from seeds and making medicinals from wild plants and herbs.  Those skills may not be common in society, but those skills will carry on thanks to a few young people who've mastered them. That's good news, because someday, they may all become essential skills again, and it's nice to know they will abide over time. The human race, may literally, depend on it someday if things continue along the path they are.

But this new generation's competence in the "old" ways also proves, more than anything, that the former generation is somewhat disposable, and that can life go on successfully without your grandparents, then without your parents, and eventually, without you. But before you go, if you are relatively healthy, your life does go on awhile -- in cuteness rather than importance; at a charmingly (or annoyingly) slower pace than the rest of society, and in memories more in the distant past than the recent one.

So stay tuned, folks, because in the next 20 years, I have a feeling this blog is going to damned...CUTE! But one thing I promise you ... while I may still offer tips on canning and growing food, I will try and refrain from waxing nostalgic over the price of gas in the 1970's. (Which was $.65 a gallon, in case anyone cares.  Which they really don't.)

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Sleep, creep, leap

The front yard has never looked better, and so I thought I'd take a little "after" picture and compare it to the "before" pic, taken after we'd first finished landscaping.  The first pic was taken Spring 2013, and the most recent one was taken today, almost exactly two years later.

It's amazing how fast shrubs grow.  The trees are still on the small side, but now that they have spent a couple of years putting down roots, will probably start growing in height very soon.  How does the saying about tree growth go?  "Year One, trees sleep. Year Two, they creep.  Year Three, they leap."  This next year should be a "Leap Year," I hope so anyway. But no matter what, it is nice to see some greenery and growth when we look out our front windows.

Friday, March 20, 2015

Dali Butterfly

For some reason this butterfly I saw today reminded me a little of Salvador Dali's "Persistence of Memory."  Maybe it was just the similarity of color tone or the little circular shapes on the wings and their blue-ish tinge sort of resembling the watches in the Dali piece, but I thought he was beautiful. And since the Dali piece is one of my favorites, I was suitably impressed with his rendition.

Buddha in the land, crops in the ground.

It's been a weird weather year; I think most of us citizens of Planet Earth can agree on that much, if nothing else.  Here on the Central Coast, it feels almost like the end of spring already.  We had our first 90 degree day last week and the hills are still green but have a brownish cast to them now, as no rain and hot weather has put an end to new growth. It's sad,  but there's not much I can do about it so it's just something to accept.  Very Buddhist of me, I know.

But with this very warm weather, I'm wondering whether to push up the schedule for spring planting. The lesson I learned the hard way in years past is to never plant much outside before Mother's Day, as both crazy late freezes and punishing winds can destroy tender plants before that date.  

But things seem to be very mild, and so I'm mulling over what to do...take a risk and plant, or wait?

Right now I have a lovely crop of spring lettuce, green onions, and red onions in the ground -- typical winter/spring crops that don't mind the cold or wind.  But I also have cukes and zukes sprouting in the conservatory, and will sprout my tomato seeds tonight. And pumpkins will need planting next week as well.  

And so the endless dilemma....when to plant all these lovelies once they're ready to go outside?

In other news, Big Ag has a week off between jobs and will probably be putting in fence posts in the pasture so we can keep livestock on a rotational-grazing basis.  My only dilemma is that I absolutely love the spring wildflowers, and want to make absolutely sure that we don't graze the land to a point where these beautiful flowers don't come up in spring anymore.  

There is, literally, no property around here that has the wildflowers we do, and so it's a serious concern. I am torn between cute sheep and beautiful wildflowers, and I know which one is native and belongs here.  So the livestock question is still that -- a question -- but fencing is a good investment that does nothing to destroy the seasonal meadow, so we'll get that far and see how we feel.

This stewardship thing sometimes feels like a heavy burden, and I am sure others don't worry about it like I do.  But I feel a deep sense of responsibility to pass this land on, someday, in at least as good condition as we got it in.  Which means spring grasses and wildflowers.  

So I will say what I say about all the potential projects around here we could jump into, which is....we shall see, my friends. But I have to err on the side of compassion, which means having compassion for the natural landscape as much as any animals we could care for. So in my very best Dalai Lama voice, I say, we shall see. 

P.S. We have a landscape designer coming this morning to help us with extending our patio area and removing another good swath of grass, all in the name of water conservation.  I'm excited to see what we can imagine together! 

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Ground Squirrel deterrent

So I think I have mentioned our problems with holes in the lower pasture.  None were worse than the ground squirrel holes, and ground squirrels are the one thing that makes holes which I will not tolerate on the property.  Their holes are large enough to fall into and break an ankle (or leg if you are some kind of livestock). Ground squirrel fleas have also been known to carry both Hanta virus as well as bubonic plague in this state, and since we generally like to avoid both those things, the ground squirrels cannot stay on our property.

But as native and very cute creatures, I have nothing personal against ground squirrels, and so removing them from our property created a conundrum.  I did not want to kill them if at all possible, I just wanted them to relocate.  But since it's spring, I was afraid the squirrels would be breeding soon, and so I needed a solution sooner rather than later.

Squirrel trapping is a rather intense activity, if you are trying to keep the squirrel alive.  You need to check the trap several times daily and prepare to relocate the animal to a good area as soon as you find one inside your trap. So for awhile instead of trapping them and being tied down to Squirrel Watch for several days, I instead just tried filling in their holes as they created them, but they just dug them out again the minute I went back up to the house.

Until I filled the holes with used kitty litter.

I am not sure how I came up with this idea, but my general thought is that perhaps the waste product of a predator might cause the squirrels to avoid the holes they'd dug, if I filled them with enough litter.  Plus the clumping clay is highly scented, and forms a pretty gooey ball once moisture hits it.  And there's no question that when it's been used, it smells pretty bad.

And so I tried it.  Within a week the eight holes I had went down to two...then one....and now they are completely gone.

Meet solution.
If you have good drinking water close to the surface, you might not want to do this due to the possible spread of toxoplasmosis, which cats are sometimes known to carry, but with our own water table several hundred feet below the surface, I feel safe in doing this.

The nicest thing is that I have not harmed the squirrels in any way, just pooped up their home, and redirected them to the unfenced and unowned land across the street to do their squirrely business.

And if they come back, as long as I have an indoor cat, I have a solution.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Proposition Two: Bucks for Clucks

I've recently had several friends inquire about buying my eggs.  I use most of my eggs but am happy to give them away whenever I have a spare dozen, which does happen occasionally.

But I found out that the recent rash of inquiries has come about due to the fact that the price of eggs has skyrocketed, due to the implementation of California's Proposition Two.  In case you are not familiar with the jist of Proposition Two, here is a brief description I pulled from a political website:

Proposition 2 created a new state statute that prohibits the confinement of farm animals in a manner that does not allow them to turn around freely, lie down, stand up, and fully extend their limbs. The law is set to go into full effect on January 1, 2015.

 So apparently the cost of eggs went up dramatically as California began to implement the conditions set forth in Proposition Two, specifically as it refers to chickens.  With out-of-state chicken farms no longer allowed to sell eggs in California unless they adhere to Prop Two's standards, and with California-based egg producers having to create larger cage areas for their own hens, egg prices rose accordingly.

But for me, if I didn't own a single hen and had to pay for all my eggs, I think the price would be worth it.  After watching my chickens in their roost, their coop and their run, I have to say that chickens are social creatures who are happier (I know, value judgement) with room to move.

This morning, for instance, I noticed all the hens grouped together in one corner of their run, watching something intently.  When I went outside to see what all the fuss was, they were all out there gawking at a California Quail, who was sitting on a fence nearby and issuing a loud mating call to the lady quails in the brush.  

At other times, if I am working in my garden while they are free-ranging, they will inevitably find their way over to where I am to see what I am doing. When allowed to do so, they will range over our entire property, scratching, eating greens and digging for insects.  In short, hens are creatures that like to inquire, explore and roam. 

And so it would make sense that Proposition Two is an important first step in assuring the creatures we keep for food are given at least the bare essentials that would make them comfortable.

It also goes without saying that the less confined the quarters for chickens, the less diseases can spread. Which is good for us as well as the hens.

While nothing will ever be as good as an egg from a free-range hen, with its bright white and deep orange yolk, at least consumers can now buy a dozen eggs knowing the hen who laid it at least has enough room to stand up, turn around, and stretch her legs.  That, in my opinion, is worth paying a little more for.

Saturday, March 14, 2015

No princesses here

Disney Princesses. Just shoot me now.

If you want to separate the princesses from the Cinderellas, or the girls from the women, the homestead is an excellent place to do it. For some reason, this week has had me thinking a lot about the women's liberation movement and whether or not it is DOA -- Dead On Arrival -- due to the persistence of princesses in our world.

This last week featured a lot of princesses in my life.  I have a friend whose 4 year-old daughter is positively obsessed with being a princess in every way (and she is encouraged by mom, believe me). I had a coworker give me a scene-by-scene description of the movie "Frozen," (featuring princesses, once again) because I asked him what it was about.  

And I saw Robin Thicke and Pharrell Williams' video for their "Blurred Lines"song.

You are probably asking 1) how the video, which features three naked women fawning over and being fawned over by Williams and Thicke, is about princesses, and 2) how in the hell all this relates to homesteading.

Just stay with me.

It all ties in, you see, because the idea behind the women's liberation movement is the concept of not being a princess -- not waiting and hoping your prince will notice you and deem you worthy to be with him.  Both the women's liberation and the homesteading movements are, believe it or not, about BEING CINDERELLA (not the princess, but the girl in dirty clothes tending the coal fire) and becoming empowered to be self-sufficient and using your skills to support yourself and/or care for your family.

Could you shoot me again, if you haven't already?

Cinderella was a homesteader, even though her sisters were wanna-be princesses -- the same kind that are in the "Blurred Lines" video -- pouting, strutting, preening, all in the hopes of being noticed by some important guy (except of course, that Cindi's sisters were allowed to have clothes). Cinderella was the one who made everything happen.  She was the one who kept the fire going, cooked dinner, cleaned up and probably took care of the vegetable garden and bartering for goods in the town square.

In short, Cinderella rocked.  Until she became a princess, of course, at which point I'm sure her days were filled with pedicures, pretty dresses and parties.  Or naked music videos. Who knows? 

When the women's liberation movement began in earnest, we were all pretty committed about the idea of not being princesses -- not waiting around for Prince Charming to complete us and take us off to his castle, where we'd be waited on hand and foot forever.  We wanted to do things ourselves. We toted the 5-gallon water bottle to the water cooler in the office ourselves, instead of asking one of the guys to do it for us.  We fixed our own plumbing.  We opened our own doors, unless we were carrying something heavy.

And when the back-to-the-land movement hit full stride, we got out there and planted, weeded and harvested along with the guys. (Plus then spent days in the kitchen preserving it all --usually sans guys.)

So you would think that this next generation of women would be even more bad-ass than we were.  But many, many aren't. Instead, they are shedding their clothes in music videos, hoping to be noticed by the Important Pop Stars.  Or they are living on their own, but they are crying crisis and drama at every turn, hoping someone will rescue them financially or in other ways.  Or they are teaching their daughters to dress in pink and never get dirty. It makes me angry, because all women -- especially those that will come after us -- pay the price when this becomes acceptable. We are not taken as seriously, not paid as well, and not respected as we should be.

And you can't blame an old crone like me for wondering what in the hell happened. Was being a princess just easier?  Is being a drama queen more profitable than pulling your own freight? 

Real woman, real work. A No-Princess Zone.
It's OK for any woman (or any man for that matter) to want to feel beautiful or glamorous sometimes.  And it's OK to sometimes accept that we may not be able to do some of the heavy lifting our male counterparts do. But maybe Cinderella would be wise to re-evaluate putting on that glass slipper because, let's face it, it's damn hard to work in the garden or the kitchen or be an asphalt laborer, a doctor, or anything else that makes a difference in the world  wearing that kind of footwear.

If before I reach Great Age, I could see a world with more empowered, active Cinderelles and less princesses, it would make me so happy.  Can we all just be the bad-ass women we are capable of, instead of drama-seeking, strutting, pink princesses? Please?