Thursday, March 15, 2018

Another day, another drunk, another drill

The star of the show this morning.

The stars of the show last night.

So last night yet another drunk hit yet another power pole in our neighborhood. That's one thing that's predictable about wine country: When you live in an area that produces something alcoholic as its primary crop, you will attract people who like to consume alcohol as their primary nutritional crop. With expected results: Knock down a power pole. Flee the scene. Rinse and repeat.

But these 10 - 14 hour power outages provide a great opportunity to see how my disaster relief skills work, especially if I'm on my own. Big Ag was on a business trip yesterday in Oregon, so when the drunk hit the power pole, it was about 7:30 pm and I was here by myself. 

And I soon realized that I did not have enough familiarity with 1) manually opening the automatic garage door while also (more importantly) re-engaging it so it was locked afterwards, so I could 2) drag the generator out and start it with no light and no one to hold a flashlight for me so I could see.  And let's not even start with trying to find all the flashlights, candles, hurricane lamps and lighters after the power had already left me in darkness. 

It turns out, the battery-operated candles I keep next to my bathtub for ambient lighting were my best friend in the first few minutes after the outage, since they just needed just the flick of a switch to light up and were out in the open and easy to find. They allowed me to search for and find all my other emergency equipment. 

And did I mention they are vanilla scented candles? No reason to ride out the apocalypse without aromatherapy.

So looking back on the 14 hours with no power, I got some things right and some things definitely need improving.

First, props to me for:

1) having enough oil in the hurricane lamps, and having them in an easy-to-locate space, plus knowing exactly where the battery-operated candles were.

2) I had all the wax candles in one area.

3)  I easily found the lighters.

4)  I knew enough about the generator that I could at least start it once daylight came around.

5) I was also able to bring in numerous solar lights from outside, as well as having tea lights, to light up the less important areas of the home.

So all that was good. But a scowl and wag of the finger at me for:

1) not being familiar enough with the generator to start it in the darkness.

2) not knowing how to re-secure the automatic garage door after opening it manually.

3)  not having candles, lighters, lamps and oil in ONE place, so there was only one place I needed to go in the house to find everything I needed. And also for not having lighters with the candles, and another with the hurricane lamps.

4) not knowing where the gas can was for the generator (luckily it had a fair amount of fuel already in it so I did not need to add more).

5) not keeping my devices fully charged. A 100 percent charge on my phone and Kindle would have been nice, not just for emergency calls and messages, but also for entertainment while I waited for the power to come back on. I DID have a mobile charger, which was great, but instead of having to use it on 50 percent charged devices it would have saved power on that to have everything on a full charge to begin with.

6) not having other things I'd need in a real emergency, like tools, conveniently located and close by. A true disaster is no time to have to head to the barn to look for the right wrench to shut the gas off.

On sale at Walmart, this looks like a good idea....
But these might be symbolically more correct. Wine Light, anyone?

My biggest plan for the future going forward is to invest in things that will light up the house immediately -- namely, battery-operated, "flick of a switch" lighting like small lamps, plus more good, LED flashlights, placed in EVERY ROOM of the house, including spare bedrooms and bathrooms.  And better organization so that all those things are close to each other and easy to find. But the lighting especially needs to be present and easily located in the first few minutes of any emergency so you can then see what you're doing, whether it's placing candles around the house, shutting off water or gas (in a true emergency) or starting the generator! 

Obviously, if disaster hits in the daytime, you hopefully have several hours before darkness comes. But I've noticed that disasters, like drunks, tend to want to show up at night, so it's best to be ready for that probability.

I learned a lot from this little preparatory drill and will be making some improvements in the next few days. 

How ready are you for a real disaster?

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Postcards from the edge

So here we are, our last full month here in California, and there's so much going on it makes the head spin.

As we are getting ready to move, we're enjoying some last amazing salad greens from the garden, the end of the crops we'll be growing here. It feels strange to not be planting anything right now. But I am conscious of the raised beds at our new place and how weedy they are probably getting since spring has also sprung in the Pacific Northwest!

Big Ag's job up there is also not as stable as we'd like, the company is going through a huge transition at this time, so there is some element of risk in pulling up stakes and moving. However, we've committed to leaving this area, so we'll deal with whatever comes from a vantage point closer to where we want to be spending the rest of our lives. Plus, renting a place has definite advantages over owning if you're not sure what's going on, so we'll be mobile in case something falls through and we need to relocate again (which hopefully will not happen, but which we need to be prepared for in case it does). But relocating twice in a year? With a bunch of chickens, other birds, a cat and a dog? Yup, makes the head spin.

Our eldest son just started a new full-time, career job (his first since graduating college) and simultaneously went through a break-up with his long-time girlfriend, so that's been difficult for everyone, since we were fairly sure she was going to be "the one" for him. Head continuing to spin, as I know his is as well. It's funny, but when you're young you don't think about the impact your breakups have on your family; parents get attached to their kids' significant others, and it's more difficult to say goodbye than you'd think (although we try not to put that on our kids; their lives are their own and I never want them to feel any pressure from us in regards to their relationships). 

It's funny, but most days I'm very content to sit in one place and read or putter around the house, getting it ready for showings, which is very unlike me, as I generally tend to enjoy being busy. But stress does that; you need extra time for sleep as well as just sitting in one place and absorbing change. So I'm granting myself that little privilege for now.

From a quiet and well-rested place, hope your spring is going well, too and your changes are all good ones!

Monday, February 19, 2018

I know that I don't know

I've noticed as people go through immense life changes that they tend to tell themselves they are more prepared for it than they ever, ever are in actuality. We're in the process of beginning to pack for our move to Oregon, and I'm currently feeling, like, "Oh, yeah. I've got this." I'm making some victory laps around town, joining friends for that one last lunch we'll have as co-residents in this county and I'm pretty cheerful about the whole prospect of leaving this place and starting over in a completely different part of the country. After all, spring is coming, which is a time of new beginnings, so it feels right. 

But at least at my age I have one advantage, and it's that I know how much I don't know. In other words, I already understand that no matter how many webcams I visit, pre-moving trips I take to my new home, or stuff I read online about where I'm going, it's not going to matter. I have no idea how much I will grieve leaving this place -- or not. And I have no idea what I'll embrace -- or not, in our new home in Oregon. 

That's because there is really no way to completely get our human brains around certain large changes in our lives. Moving, birth, death, gain or loss of employment, anything that rocks our world. Just like asteroids circling the solar system, we can study the few we're able to see coming our way, we can try and predict their impact, but usually once they hit, we find they were not only bigger than we'd initially realized, but also full of hidden surprises -- like chunks of gold or poisonous gasses.

I do feel it's safe to anticipate the need for a big, waterproof down coat. Everything else, we'll wait and see on. 

My stepdaughter just went through a similar experience. She was admitted to a prestigious university last fall and I watched her trying to anticipate what was coming. In the months before she moved up there, she was  constantly emailing her newly assigned roommates (swapping recipes they were going to try and bouncing home decor ideas off one another), checking the online site where she could view the layout of her campus apartment and re-decorating it 20 times a day, and buying what she thought she'd need both for her new school and new home. To say it consumed her off-hours during summer was an understatement.

Yet, once the asteroid hit and she actually arrived at school, most of the planning and dreaming did not matter. She was in tears during her first month over the culture shock. (And the word "shock" should be in capital letters) It turned out, the roommates were nice but not best friend material so the dreams of cozy meals together never happened. The campus apartment complex was loud (and the freshman building across the courtyard was even worse) and the classes moved at the speed of light compared to her experience at junior college.

Over time she reconciled the actual reality of college life with the virtual one she'd dreamed of and is now doing great, but it took time. As it does for us all. Because as much as we try and leave a clean slate for the future to write what it will on our lives, we also have a very real need to imagine how we think it's going to go; to create a travel guide for ourselves as we head into uncharted waters. 

But at least with age we know, deep down, that the waters are uncharted, and can leave a wide berth between what we imagine and how different we know the actual reality of our new world will be. 

Pack the boxes but keep an open mind, friends.

Monday, February 12, 2018

A what-a-tarian?

It seems like everyone I know is on a different kind of diet these days, to a point where I always make sure I ask each guest who is invited to my house for dinner what they can and cannot have. 

I cook for a variety of friends who can't have shellfish, are vegans, are gluten-free, or who are vegetarians. But often, what I get when I ask the "is there any food you cannot have" what I get are a list of food preferences, which I then have to honor because now it's been put on the table (literally).

What we rarely talk about is the hassle this is to those who host gatherings on a regular basis, especially since everyone seems into not having something or other these days. Please keep in mind I'm not talking about the person with actual food allergies, like to nuts or seafood. What I'm talking about is more of a food preference, which in these times is often presented as more of a demand, on the same level as the food allergy.

We have one friend, for example, who is gluten-free because her adult daughter has a legitimate gluten intolerance. But mom has never had a problem with gluten, and only wants to be gluten-free in case she was the one carrying the intolerant gene. Yes, that's right. She's never had a problem with gluten in her life but now feels she must be completely gluten-free. And so we all have to dance to that tune anytime we have her over for a totally gluten-free evening. (second helping of potato flour, anyone?) If you serve a gluten-filled side dish or dessert she'll fix you with snake eyes and say something like, "you know I can't have that." Well, number one: yes you probably can, and number two, you just don't want to. But we do.

I personally was a vegetarian throughout most of my 20s, because I dated a man who was. At Thanksgiving dinner, I'd have everything on my plate but the turkey. So the stuffing was made with broth? Big deal. Instead of announcing to everyone I wasn't having any (or worse, asking in a loud voice, "WHAT KIND OF BROTH DID YOU MAKE THIS STUFFING WITH?", I compromised and had the stuffing, a heap of potatoes, cranberry sauce, green beans and plenty of dessert. Skipping the turkey itself wasn't a big deal with that kind of spread, and I didn't make anyone feel uncomfortable. And I ate a wonderful meal. No tofu-turkey demands here. 

That's because my food choices should not induce guilt in my dining partners. When in Rome, have the Roma tomatoes, you know? Unless you have a legit Roma tomato allergy, in which case I'll eat your portion for you (because I'm a giver that way).

Nowadays we stick to chicken, fish and dairy in our house, but if we dine with friends at their home and they serve meat, I have no problem either eating it, or eating around it by having extra large portions of side dishes. (Big Ag eats plenty of meat at business lunches and dinners, so doesn't mind the chicken/fish options at home at all, btw).  

I've heard people with my diet are called "flexitarians" although that label seems more smoke and mirrors than anything else. And the fact is, I don't eat mammals anymore because eating something with a higher consciousness level began bothering me more and more, but I don't bring that up to the average friend or food server. It's just something I now try and live by whenever possible, which is about 95 percent of the time. 

The other five percent of the time, I can be flexible, for the sake of my hosts. We should all do the same. If you have a food preference, remember, it's just that -- a preference. And if you have a legitimate allergy, by all means let your host or hostess know. Dinner parties that end with the paramedics arriving are not the kinds of memories those of us who host parties what are generally striving for, you know?

Sunday, February 11, 2018

A Year at The Vineyard House

View from the vineyard house, looking over the dormant vines to Mt. Jefferson.

How, exactly, do people buy homes in far-flung areas they are not familiar with? I see it every day on "House Hunters International," but still don't really understand it. There are so many subtle nuances to different neighborhoods, and for me the fear would be buying a home in Neighborhood A, moving in, and then discovering over the next several months that the best fit for us would have actually been across town, in Neighborhood B.

So Big Ag and I have been mulling this dilemma in looking at Oregon properties. The fact is, we just really don't know exactly what area we want to settle down in, and we have about a 60 mile radius we can choose from. But the answer to a prayer came this week, in the form of a lovely, 2400 square foot house sitting in the middle of a vineyard owned by Big Ag's employer, just a few minutes from the town on Independence, Oregon. It's a nice four bedroom house with raised beds and a big barn, with plenty of room for all the animals.

We've decided to rent the vineyard house for several months while we familiarize ourselves with this new life, explore neighborhoods and see what areas work best for us and where our hearts want to be. I'm guessing if it works out well, we may be there a full year, so 2018 - 2019 will be our year at The Vineyard House. Stay tuned, as I'm planning to keep up here with all the triumphs and travails in the vineyard, along with each season, from bud break to harvest, along with our "forever" house hunt. 

Living room with a view.

Big Ag has already claimed the barn.

Yes, for one year you may refer to me as The Queen of Manufactured Housing!

My plan is to run a full tub every day with no guilt about wasting water. Plenty of water here in Oregon.

The raised beds need work but I'm bringing my shovel. I'm definitely not used to this much greenery.

Now that the house issue is settled and we can move in anytime, I find I have tremendous peace and a happy excitement about this move. There are still lots of logistics to coordinate, but knowing there is a home waiting for us which we can move into anytime definitely takes a lot of the pressure off. And of course our next move, from the vineyard house to the forever house, will be a simple crosstown move, so we'll probably leave about half our stuff packed up and stored away.

Sometimes you catch a life-changing break in a stressful situation, and I feel like that's what's happened here. So stay tuned as we pack up and move this homestead north this coming April, from one wine country to another. It's gonna be a grand adventure!

Thursday, February 1, 2018


You know, we could talk about the State Of The Union address today, if we wanted to pick something divisive which would guarantee to ruffle a few feathers, so to speak. There would be questions...did you turn it into a drinking game, where you had to drink every time The President said a particular word? If you chose the word "millions," then you are probably reading this from your hospital bed where you're recovering from alcohol poisoning.

But instead, let's talk about another divisive topic: artificial lighting in your hens' coop. I've always been of the opinion that hens' bodies need a rest from reproductive activities, the same way our own do. The fact that nature builds this into their programming adds to the credibility of this. There are always a few months, usually in the autumn, when you won't get any eggs from your flock (usually when they are molting).

But in general, this issue usually resolves in time for you to have eggs on Christmas morning. Except if you live here, and except if you've had our psychotic weather (time and temperature check: February 1, 1:32 pm and about 80 freaking degrees...yet still heading down into a hard-ish freeze at night)  I stopped getting eggs last September and while I did pick up a dozen or so between Thanksgiving and Christmas (still not a lot) by about mid-December there were no eggs again, any day, from anyone. And all five girls were healthy and two are less than a year old, so in their laying prime. But for those of you keeping track: Four months produced 12 eggs.

And so about two weeks ago I broke down and put a light inside the henhouse, which comes on at 4:00 am every morning and stays on until it's daylight. This simulates the longer days that makes hens start laying once again. I wasn't sure if it would help, but this was my take this morning...four beautiful eggs, on top of getting at least one a day for the last week or so. I'm back to having a dozen in the fridge, and it feels wonderful to be able to count on having them on hand for omelettes at dinner and other recipes which require them.

As for the bio-ethics of fooling my girls into laying again, I'm still not sure if it's the right thing to do, but it's been a strange year and strange years sometimes require we adopt practices we wouldn't have approved of before. I hope this is the only year I'll have to do it.

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.