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.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017


The eye of God looked at me....and I looked back.

That's the only word that can even begin to describe the total solar eclipse we saw on Monday from Corvallis, Oregon -- epic. Yes, we got off the homestead and took a road trip! We got a trusted friend to live-in house sit for us and took off on Saturday, despite hearing doom-and-gloom predictions of a "Carmageddon" type auto apocalypse in Oregon as a million people streamed north.

Carmageddon did not happen. If there were crowds, we didn't see them in our two day, 10 hour drive. But we did see a spectacle the likes of which I will never forget.  I have seen two annular eclipses before this, where over 99 percent of the sun was covered up, and while they were impressive, they were not anything like this. I repeat: If you have seen anything from a 10 percent partial up to a 99 percent-covered annular eclipse, you cannot compare it. So start making plans for 2024, and you WILL thank me for it then. Trust me on this one.

Here are some shots of the enormous crowds we had to contend with: 
All the cars on eclipse morning.

All the eclipse watchers.

Going partial.

Am I the only one who fancies some crescent rolls right now?

So what exactly happens during a total solar eclipse? What surprised me the most was how just one percent of sun makes for a fairly bright day, although it's a softer light than we are used to. But at the moment of totality....actual, sudden darkness. Too dark to see the controls on my camera, in fact. Stars came out. There was a 360 degrees late, late kind of sunset. And it got cold immediately. 

I didn't know quite how I'd react to it when it happened, but the darkness came so quickly my jaw literally dropped. We heard whoops and cheers from everyone in town who was out watching it, which made it almost a tribal experience. And I looked up and saw a black sun. 

It was one of those moments I will remember for the rest of my life, unless I get dementia, in which case I won't even remember what cereal is, but that's life for you. Next post will be extolling the fine state of Oregon, which as a native Californian, I must say kicks our ass in just so many ways, including their coastal highway.

Some moments in life literally take your breath away and make you stand in awe, and this was one of them. So glad I pressed forward to see it, and that's my advice to anyone considering seeing it. No matter what you go through, no matter the crowds, the prices or the traffic, it WILL be worth it. And you may not have problems with any of those things...some things, like those, are typically over-estimated. But the majesty of an event like this, you just cannot understate the magnificence of.

Monday, August 7, 2017


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!