Wednesday, September 16, 2020

Safe at home


Well, our fire evacuation orders are lifted, we are unpacked and settling in to Part Two of 2020's "Apocalypse: September Edition."  Part One was fire, and Part Two consists of air you can taste, smell and even grab handfuls of should you be brave enough to venture outside. It's thicker than Labor Day barbecue sauce, with the same smoky flavor. 

But of course I'm just grateful to have a house to come home to, after these fires. And really, saying we've come home is misleading, because we never left. Not even for milk or gluten-free crackers. We were that afraid that the fire might start moving again and we'd be locked out of our neighborhood, and we have pets and livestock to think of. So we stayed put and prayed. We were lucky this time; everything that belongs to us or is loved by us was spared. Many were not so lucky.

This year ... am I right? Just when you think you've gotten a handle on things, it throws you a wicked curveball in the shape of a conflagration fire, a hurricane, or a sharknado or two. We're just missing an earthquake to really wrap up the year properly, but we still have three months to go so don't lose hope yet. 

In the next century, anthropologists, historians and other scholars will spend entire careers studying this year's history and its impacts. There will probably be entire university departments of 2020 Studies. Professors will ask each other upon meeting, "So, which quarter do you specialize in?"

Really, I wonder how most of us will look back on this year.  For those of us 50 and above, it will hold little storytelling value, as almost everyone we know will have lived through it. But for those young people, say 30 and under, they will be the ones who tell the story of 2020 to their kids and grandkids, all of whom will have the good fortune of being too young to remember it. They will also (if they're old enough) be able to tell the story of 9/11, the Great Recession, Hurricane Katrina, and the tsunami that devastated the areas around Indonesia. That's a lot of disaster to have witnessed in to just 20 years. No wonder Millennials are a different sort, who value entrepreneurship above all. Gotta rely on yourself, because who knows what will happen with the rest of the world tomorrow. I get it.

Anyway, life marches on -- for us personally as well. My stepson got married on Saturday, so there was a Zoom occasion to celebrate. We came off evacuation status that same afternoon, so there was good news all around that day. And despite the smoke, I've still been able to can eight quarts of tomatoes. So life goes on, just in it's own weird 2020 way. Thanksgiving and Christmas should be interesting, filled with colorful holiday face masks and offbeat, roundabout travel itineraries, as people roadtrip it to grandma's house via car or maybe train. No holiday concerts or performances of The Nutcracker, but still plenty of eggnog to be spiked and prime rib to be roasted. 

Pretty soon our blue skies should return, too, hopefully not too late to silhouette all the autumn leaves on the trees. And until then, just remember we are almost 3/4ths of the way through this long, strange year. Hoping 2020 ends with a whimper instead of a bang but let's face it, we'd better not count on anything at this point. Stay sharp and be on the watch for sharknadoes on the horizon.

Wednesday, September 9, 2020


 Labor Day was a holiday that was unusual in the typical ways all 2020 holidays have been so far. We didn't have friends over, but did some barbecuing for ourselves, and stayed home. In the evening the winds came up, which was bad news because there was a fire in the wilderness east of us, but we went to bed without too much worrying.

By morning, everything had changed. Big Ag and I both slept in, thinking it was still night, but at 8:30 we realized the clocks were right had never gotten light.

We awoke to this apocalyptic scene:

Basically the sun never came up because the wildfires to the east of us exploded overnight, heading in our direction. We checked with Emergency Services for our county, who told us we were already at a Level Two evacuation request, meaning we needed to be packed and ready to go at any time. Level Three means GO NOW. So we spent the day packing our vehicles, making everything ready inside not only for our valuables and sentimentals, but also for our livestock. 

We had two things working in our favor. First and foremost was our background as Californians. Long ago, we'd put together three emergency checklists in case of fire -- what to take if we were given 5 minutes to evacuate, one hour to leave, or several hours to pack up. So we worked off the several hours list and got everything packed.

The second thing that helped was that we'd moved all the livestock from California to Oregon with us, so we knew how to configure the car to fit everyone in comfortably. It was just a matter of putting it all back together like we were moving again. 

As of right now, we are still sitting at a Level Two emergency, so we're waiting to see what happens and if/when we'll have to go. We actually plan on leaving once the town next to us goes to Level Three. We won't wait until we are. Until then, I'm trying to keep busy by grocery shopping, canning tomatoes, washing the smoke taint out of my hair, and praying.

If you are the praying sort, we could certainly use yours right now, as we wait to find out what we'll be asked to do.

Wednesday, August 19, 2020

Summertime, and the projects are....

...plentiful. The projects are plentiful. And that's OK, because once the rainy season comes it will be nice to have all this done. Basically we have about two more months before the rains really set in, which is enough time to finish the outdoor projects we need to before heading indoors to a nice cup of tea and a fire. 

It sounds strange, but one of the things I like best about Oregon is that there is little to no winter gardening. In California we grew our lettuces, carrots, broccoli and cauliflower in the cooler months. I used to plant onions in fall for a December/January harvest. Last year I did the same thing and the onions weren't ready until spring. So for me, that was Mother Nature's way of telling me that in winter, things rest here. Including people. Fine by me. 

For now though, the tomato and cucumber harvests have just started coming in, which means canning. With no working kitchen, this is a challenge, but luckily I have a hot plate inside and one gas burner on our outdoor barbecue, so between them I can get it done. My grandmother said "it's always good to know how to make do with what you've got" and as you probably already know, grandma was/is always right.

And we've had some other, fun projects to work on as well. Big Ag finished the garden fencing and gate leading to the vegetable garden. Eventually we will be putting a nice door on this, but are not sure of the design yet so we'll wait and see how the spirit moves us. 

I got some awesome mason jar solar lights from my son for my birthday, so we hung those, along with two lanterns I got on Amazon. They all make cheerful light at night without using any electricity, and they shut off at dawn. I won't keep them up year-round, but in summer it sure is nice to see them.

I also finished my first barn quilt here, which we'll hang on the tall side of Big Ag's shop once the shop itself is painted in a few weeks. I have a couple of smaller quilts planned for elsewhere around the property, including a compass rose for our pump house. They are so much fun to work on.

I guess if there's one upside to COVID it's that with people being home more, they are working on their homes more. Just doing their personal part of keeping America beautiful I guess. Happy to be a part of that.

Sunday, August 2, 2020

The Gift of the Saturn Return

In this past month, I celebrated a milestone birthday within the maelstrom of all that's going on in the world right now. It was weird, but ultimately, also meaningful. While I'm not a believer in astrology, it's still worth noting that I'm in the middle of the one astrological observance I do give some credence to: The Saturn Return.

The Saturn Return is so named because the planet Saturn returns to the same place in its orbit around the solar system approximately every 29 years or so.  So for each person, Saturn comes back to the same spot in the solar system it was in when you were born on the cusp of your turning 30, 60 and 90 years of age, respectively. 

To astrologers, when Saturn returns to the general region of the sky it was in at your birth, it's considered an auspicious time; a time of reflection and/or upheaval, a rite of passage -- of remembering the things you came into the world to do, and of assessing the progress you've made on the road through life. It can be a turning point, when people set off in different directions than the one they had been going in.  Saturn was the god of both old age and renewal. And from birth to age 30, then 30 - 60, and finally 60 - 90, every time Saturn returns to the position it was in at your birth, it heralds a new era of your human experience beginning. 

We humans spend about a third of our life as young people, the next third as mature adults, and a last third as elders and sometimes even ancients of the tribe. Of course some live longer than 90 years of age, while others do not even make it to the end of their third and final Saturn Return. But in general, for anyone who makes it to age 60 or so, the start of the final third of life is undeniable proof they're closer to the conclusion of their journey than to the start of it.

Ghost Tree

As sobering as that is, I actually like the idea of the Saturn Return because, just like with pregnancy, life really can be divided into trimesters -- first, second and third. In pregnancy, the end of the third trimester ends in birth. In life, the end of the third trimester ends with death, or maybe with our birth into the afterlife. 

Food for thought, indeed.

Back to how this year's birthday factors into all this, there's no question that being away from friends and family during this time of starting my last third of life has been very difficult. And so I decided if I couldn't see my family, the least I could do was see the other birthday constant in my life -- the ocean.

Ghost Forest

When times are challenging, the beach always helps bring back proper perspective for me. The ocean was here before I came, and will be here after I'm gone. Everything I see there -- trees, animals, aquatic life, people -- all come to earth awhile, spend some time, and then leave, just like I will. And ultimately, even the ocean will one day end, and so will our solar system, Saturn included. 

It's good at times like this to take note of the rhythms of nature, which occur regardless of what else is going on. I saw the tide going in and out. I saw the "ghost forest," which are the remnants of a forest of trees felled by a huge tsunami 200 years ago. I saw sand crabs and starfish and otters. In short, I saw lives present and past, all as temporary as my own. The living proceed on with life's business. The remnants of the dead stand to remind us we're not here forever.

So what is life's business, exactly? I think for us, it means that if we are better and wiser people by the time we hit our second Saturn return at 58-60 years of age, then we've done OK. It's easy to judge yourself more harshly than that and to focus on all your past mistakes and wrong turns, but look at the world. To improve amidst the decay and disorder of the industrial, man-made world is no easy task. 

And so I'm starting my third Saturn cycle trying to keep it simple: Less anger, more love. Less impatience, more wisdom. Eventually, more family and more friends back in the mix again, once we're through this strange time. 

And until that happens, I will continue my walk on this earth, under the night sky where Saturn hangs along the plane of the ecliptic in a familiar place, and alongside the vast ocean which always seems to be there for me, no matter what. 

Saturday, July 11, 2020

Things that cheer me up (and why they don't have to)

OK, so  let's be honest here. These are some of the toughest times most of us have ever experienced (on a collective level). If you lived through WWII, I guess you get a pass, since that was certainly extremely difficult as well (I think of my mom as a ten year-old, sitting in her family's backyard bomb shelter in Central London, hearing the buzz bombs take out every house on the block across the street from hers). 

But these times are difficult too, both because of the difficulties themselves, as well as what they've brought to the forefront of our national consciousness.

I do fear our current 2020 version of America would never survive a world war and the sacrifices something like that would demand from us. When merely wearing a mask or acknowledging an established medical emergency becomes an opportunity for individuals to express deep personal offense and outrage, I think we need to admit we're in trouble as a nation. 

But maybe we've known that for awhile already, and this is all just shining a brighter light on it.

But here's an odd thing:  During the darkest of times, if your personal situation is relatively OK it can become tempting to scold yourself for feeling bad about The State of Everything. Instead of feeling bad, you may try and insist to yourself how lucky you are -- that you have steady income, or a comfortable place to live, etc. I think that's sometimes a mistake, and trivializes some very legitimate negative feelings you may have during such a time as this. 

Every one of us is grieving losses at this point -- even if it's just the loss of companionship/friendship, celebrating milestones with others, gathering with friends and loved ones, and participating in hobbies we used to enjoy. Or just getting a hug from a someone we don't live with. 

I take great pleasure in the good things around me, but it isn't always enough lately. Sometimes I feel helpless and hopeless and can fall into a hole of depression for several days at a time, It's like a sense of sadness blooming out from my solar plexus and creating a cloud around me, changing how I see everything. 

Part of it is isolation, part is having former activities no longer an option to enjoy, and part is probably boredom.

The kitchen apocalypse has not helped any of this; as of this moment we're still down to drywall and floor only, which means the soonest we will have a working kitchen again will be the end of September, and that's optimistic. In a normal year, this is something I'd just roll with, but in a year which already feels difficult it feels a little like an additional insult to injury kind of thing. After all, if you have to live in your house almost 24/7, it's really not too much to ask to have a working kitchen, is it?

And the future looks as if it will be even tougher, with COVID cases exploding everywhere, including here in Oregon. So today I'm going to post some things that seem to chase the storm clouds away a little, and give me a little comfort during this time, without demanding anything from me. Hope you enjoy them and they brighten your spirits a bit.

Thursday Big Ag and I took a trip to the Oregon Gardens to check out their summer flowers, and snapped a couple of shots of these fields on the way. Sometimes just seeing something different makes things seem better, and the fact that 99 percent of nature has no clue or concern about COVID is kind of nice to remember.

My family makes me happy, especially my beautiful mermaid of a daughter. How can you not be happy looking at this smile? We may only speak by phone right now, but knowing the people you love are still out there is deeply comforting.

Whatever give you hope and comfort from a faith perspective is definitely something to hang on to at this particular time. I've enjoyed reading books from the Theosophical Society since I was a teenager, and digging out these old books out, dusting them off, and re-learning things I'd forgotten has been very good. 

It's also a reminder that while hoarding books is a curse and something your children will be extremely annoyed with when they have to clean out all your stuff someday, saving those books you consider essential is a gift to yourself in the future.

A new tablecloth courtesy of Amazon, and some fresh flowers from the garden make the world seem a little more OK. So does refreshing some yard furniture in some blue and green hues to match the Oregon trees and sky. 

But lastly, I think the greatest gift you can give to yourself in depression times is not to judge yourself too harshly for whatever you are feeling. If you are getting out of bed every morning, feeding yourself, and paying your electric bill, you are doing fine. All feelings during this time are OK and par for the course, so be gentle with your soul and allow it to feel whatever it happens to be feeling at the moment. 

And don't judge yourself or feel guilty about not being constantly grateful for what you do have. No one is without loss in all of this, and those losses need acknowledgement. In other words, it's OK to feel shitty sometimes, and it's OK to feel good, too. 

Sunday, June 21, 2020


Through the troubling times in this country, the one bright spot here on the homestead has been the vegetable garden. Whether it's food on your plate or in the ground, the sight of that kind of goodness always warms the heart, strengthens the spirit and reminds us that no matter what, we all must still eat. 

June has been filled with showers and summer-type thunderstorms. It has not been unusual to see pouring rain with thunder and lightning at 10 am followed by bright sunshine and blue skies by 10:30, or by bright sunshine with simultaneous rain, but it hasn't deterred (and may even have helped) all the desired growth and abundance out in the garden.

We're up to our ears in snap peas, lettuce and onions, all of which performed beautifully in the cool weather. Surprisingly though, even the tomato plants are happy and have been growing like gangbusters. I started everything from seed this year due to March being filled with COVID concerns, so I feel especially proud of this garden, as I usually rely on at least a few (and sometimes more than just a few) transplants to provide a quick turnaround from planting to eating. But not this year.

And last night we sampled the first of our potato crop. My mom told me once that there is nothing more wonderful than a freshly dug potato, cooked and served with some butter and sour cream, and she is absolutely right. Fresh potatoes have a stronger flavor, are creamier and much lighter on the palate than older potatoes are. 

So here's a little photo summary of all the green goodness.

The California Olallieberries are very happy living in Oregon. Plenty of berries on the vines. I'm thinking we could give Linn's in Cambria a run for their money!

We have more snap peas than we know what to do with.

Baby pumpkins, which haven't even blossomed yet.

Some of our tomatoes -- Roma at the rear and 4th of July in foreground. Plus the irrigation system I just finished installing. We'll use it in July and August, mainly.

Some of the onions are going to seed, but we have more than enough so that's OK. I like their cool, spiky alien-ness. 

Wildflowers in one of the beds over the septic system.

Spiderwort with blue hydrangeas in background

I planted five rhubarb plants, and two have really taken off (far right). No cutting any the first year, but 2021 is looking hopeful.

My Yuzu tree, brought from California, is doing great!
And no photo-heavy post would be complete without an image of a deer peeing in the yard.

Tuesday, June 9, 2020

New Times

So every morning I have breakfast in my new dining room, also known as "the garage." I'm not alone, even if Big Ag isn't up yet -- my car is there. I actually think it's been good for our relationship to have some quality time together each day, especially since I'm not driving much anymore. 

I wonder sometimes if my car sits in the garage wondering what it did to cause our relationship to sour. I'll bet most of my shoes and clothes are thinking the same thing. My car and I went from spending five days a week together to maybe a half hour every couple of weeks, which is roughly my drive time to and from the nearest grocery store. 

At the rate we're going it actually may outlive me, or at least outlive my driving years. 

Our kitchen has also moved to the garage. If I could give any advice to prospective home buyers, it would be to always buy a home with an attached garage -- preferably one large enough that it can pinch hit for a kitchen, extra living space, gym (that you'll never use), or greenhouse/potting shed, when/if necessary. 

Tomorrow I'm going to attempt to blanch a bumper crop of spinach in a big pot on the outdoor burner of our barbecue, which should be interesting since it is probably going to be raining all day. This is the best spinach harvest I've ever had, so I'm not going to let a little kitchen apocalypse get in the way of getting it all put up. I'm already dreaming of yummy winter meals when (hear oh Lord our prayer) all this disorganization, social unrest and global weirdness is in the process of healing and I can take in all the new hope, comfort and warmth from a working kitchen once again. 

It's like what I've been reminding myself most of 2020: The adaptable not only survive, but thrive. It's what I tell myself when I wake up each morning, have coffee and chat with my car, and also before I go to bed and try and fall asleep to the sound of the six industrial fans and three de-humidifiers running downstairs, which is kind of like living next to a C-17 transport plane that's warming up but never goes anywhere. 

We're all just kind of finding our way around the new times. So take some time today to let your friends and your car know you're thinking about them. I recommend a virtual coffee or happy hour for your friends and a new air freshener or a wash for your car. 

But coffee with your car works, too.