Sunday, June 21, 2020

Solstice



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. 












Thursday, June 4, 2020

The boys are back in town

The workers may all be in masks, but they are here, as we deal with the kitchen gutting/renovation after our flood. Craftsmen are generally a pleasure to deal with, in every situation. They're almost always pleasantly conversational, have the rockstar confidence that comes from having one great skill they've well and truly mastered, and as an added bonus, they always laugh at Big Ag's jokes, no matter how lame. I should put them on the permanent payroll just for that.

Having them around is almost like having a house full of sons again, this cadre of plumbers, electricians, general contractors and remediation specialists who are all working to save what they can in our kitchen and dining room.  They all know each other from other jobs, and are part of a group that socializes in their off hours. 

The remediation guy brought a 16 year-old boy with him yesterday -- his daughter's boyfriend -- a lanky kid who would probably be playing baseball if not for it being the Summer of COVID. Anyway, there he was, trying to impress his girlfriend's dad and make some extra spending money by folding himself into an accordian and going down into crawlspaces of all kinds of homes to check for water damage. He'll have stories of fist-size spiders, dead rats with maggots in them and who knows what else when he goes back to school, whenever that is. 

The plumber called us at 9:30 last night and told us he'd just finished a job, was still awake with plenty of energy, and was wondering if we'd like him to pop by and fix our hot water so we could have showers in the morning. He's in his late 20's, unmarried, and as an in-demand essential worker, the world is his oyster right now. 

The space formerly known as "the kitchen."



One little thing, capable of creating a whole load of havoc.

It's always fun to ask these guys about the worst they've ever seen. The plumber told us about a family who went on a long vacation and had asked an adult relative to check the house weekly. One day the relative came in and used the upstairs bathroom before they left, clogging the toilet. The toilet overflowed and kept running for the next seven days. "It would have been better if there had been a fire, probably," the plumber told us with the thoughtful pauses and colorful language all good war stories have. You could almost see the sagging and collapsed ceilings and ruined furniture in every room after he was done with his tale. 

Once they start telling me their horror stories, I always feel better. After all, there are no rats with maggots in my crawlspace, and no collapsed ceilings. But the day is young, you know? These days anything seems possible. Next month could be dead rats, or we could be fighting space aliens. It's been that kind of year.







Friday, May 29, 2020

Waterworks

Do you ever feel like, just when you have everything under control and are the master of your fate, fate pulls the rug out from under you? Of course you do, because that is a hallmark of living on planet earth. It actually makes me believe in an evil force -- a devil if you will -- because the timing of it is always just so freaking perfect. A professional spy couldn't plan sabotage any better.

So as you may recall, a few days ago I was waxing purple on the new peace I'd found amid COVID? It was lovely. And then this happened:



Yes, we have a serious leak somewhere in between the kitchen and formal dining room.  It started when I went over to that corner of the room for something and noticed the carpet was wet under my feet. Really wet. We moved the furniture, pulled up the carpet and pad, and found a soaked area about two feet by three feet.

(In a completely unrelated but kind of cool anecdote, I once had a friend with this issue who noticed the problem when mushrooms started growing out of her carpet in a little-used guest room.)

The good news? It's water, not sewage or grey water from the sink. The bad news? It's still slowly leaking, and the one plumber we've had in just said he had no idea where the leak was coming from, and just suggested a mold remediation company to clean up. Which would be great if, in fact, the leak had been stopped.

We called the insurance company (our insurance company is USAA, and can I just say we have left a phone message AND filled out a claim, and have heard nothing in 48 hours. Guess you never know who your friends really are until you need them). 

We called a second plumber, who will come on Monday morning, and in the meantime, we live with it and keep fans on it to help it stay dry. We may end up having to hire a contractor to tear into the area, bit by bit, until he finds what it is. 

And so here I am breathing and trying to stay at peace through another challenge. It's surely going to be the Murphy's Law of the next year or so...."if the COVID don't get you, the (fill in the black) will." 

In our case, the water leak will. Ah well. This too shall pass. 

Wednesday, May 27, 2020

Peace, uncovered

So Big Ag and I are officially in our 12th week of Confinement In The Time of COVID (which would be a great title for a novel if I didn't think 120,000 people were already working on their own novel under the same working title, since so many of us are now home and have the time to pen their Great American Novel).

We've got enough miles in the rearview mirror now that I feel like I can look back, in retrospective fashion, on the evolution of this whole weird, endtimes-ish experience, and see my progress from the beginning until now. Not to imply that it's over. Oh, not by a longshot. At best, we're at the end of Act One of a play of unknown length (and genre). 


Month One I was afraid. It was that feeling of going up that long, first climb on a rollercoaster and knowing you're on the ride -- the steep downhill drop coming up -- for the duration. I stayed up too late (too keyed up to sleep), drank too much wine and was subject to trap-door depressions that were very hard to get out of. 


In the midst of that first month, my eldest son got a probable case of COVID and we had to watch from afar while he rallied and relapsed over about a month's time. 

Month Two I was angry. Angry at the deniers, the "open up" protestors, and angry at the President and almost everything that came out of his piehole during his so called press briefings on the crisis. Also, I fell slightly in love with Andrew Cuomo during this time. But mostly I was just irritable. Andrew would not have been impressed.


So here we are in Week 12 of a global pandemic where we've lost a quarter of a million souls who were all alive on New Year's Day. And I'm not sure how, but lately I find myself going about my days and into my nights with a strange new, weird kind of peace. Not feeling at peace with the lives lost or damaged, of course. But at peace with my place in the world, and the knowledge of my own personal limits to change the course of this virus, or others' behavior. 


The trap-door depressions are gone, as are the feelings of helplessness and frustration. 


But where is all this peace coming from? 


I think it's a combination of adjustment and acceptance. And also, a forced scaling-down of my life to a very easy and undemanding place. To use a cliche, I've noticed I do "stop and smell the roses" more. Without regular lunches out on the town with new friends, I have living room zoom cocktail hours more with friends and family. Bit Ag and I sit and have breakfast, lunch and dinner together almost every day now, which we've literally never done except on vacations. And it's all been great. 

The garden is producing plenty of great, fresh food right now -- onions, broccoli, strawberries, spinach and peas, so there's more on the menu. I've also gotten better at just living without whatever the store seems to be out of on any given day.  I do plenty of home improvement projects, but on a more relaxed timeframe than I used to hold myself to. I guess I've realized there's no point in the projects if you don't stop and enjoy what progress you've made already.

Somewhere through all this, the house was able to become less of an ongoing makeover and more of a home, to just be relaxed in and enjoyed.

And, somehow, the repetition of the days, instead of being a source of frustration, is now a comfort. Tomorrow I will rise, I will work and then I will rest. All without artificial deadlines -- without a calendar or a clock to take me to task. The calendar and clock don't means as much as they used to anymore.

And what doesn't get done this week will get done next week, because there's nothing on next week's calendar either. It's a strange time to be sure, but within the strangeness, what a sense of quiet and peace, if I only remember to seek that out instead of my to-do list.

Gabriel Garcia Lorca may have found Love in the Time of Cholera, but I seem to have found Peace in the Time of Pandemic. Hope you have, too.  But if you haven't I wouldn't worry, because the playbook for what we're going through is literally being written as we live it. There's no correct or incorrect response to it all.













Friday, May 8, 2020

Mother's Day



Well, I'm guessing this is probably going to be the most...uh...different Mother's Day any of us have experienced en masse, ever. Oh sure, we've all had Mother's Days that were a bit off. Maybe you had a sick kid, or were sick yourself, or you had that first strange Mother's Day after your own mother had passed.

But these days whenever they say, "we're all in this together,"(which is pretty much all the time now; somehow this became the official hashtag of 2020) on this weekend that fact holds especially true. We're all in this strange, new, slightly uncomfortable place -- together. But also apart.

Including some moms and kids.

I haven't always had all my kids (two steps, one bio) with me on Mother's Day since they all grew up and spread their wings; but I often had the option to travel to see one or more of them. Or sometimes they came to me. Getting to celebrate Mother's Day with your adult kids is a pleasure not to be missed, in my opinion. All the pleasure and none of the secret work. 

Secret work, you say? Oh yes. Secret work involves eating the undercooked eggs and overcooked toast your nine-year old brings you, smiling like it's the best thing you've ever had. And then cleaning the scalded egg pan afterwards, because no one gets it clean quite like you do, including your husband. Secret work is finding the right gift to suggest to them (usually homemade) because you know just how much they can actually afford to spend and don't want them to exceed that and deprive themselves of anything. 

But once they're grown, it's all up to them. I flew down to see my oldest son last year and we went to brunch at The Sagebrush Cantina in Calabasas, a place I spent many, many nights when I was younger and have absolutely no memories of. (That's how good those days were.) 



But over time, the Sagebrush, like everything else in Los Angeles, has gentrified. Now the sawdust on the floor is gone and the Sagebrush does an amazing brunch, so my son and I ate our fill of waffles, shrimp and crab's legs, and perfectly done eggs benedict, then moseyed up to the special tequila bar they'd set up just for Mom (a.k.a. me!). And my son and I shared a celebratory shot of tequila sweetened with something delicious and watermelon-y. New memories, and ones that I will actually remember.

And I thought, "this is the day I was waiting for, all those years ago." That's right, that day when he grabbed all the cat turds out of the litter box and drew little brown cat-turd portraits all over the laundry room wall while I wasn't looking. The day he took a magic market to my favorite quilt while I was grading papers. The days he came home from first grade crying and I realized the best thing would be to hold him back another year to reduce his stress levels and let him catch up academically. 

Those days, I dreamed of some future day I could raise a glass, smile at him and think, "well, we made it." Ditto for my stepkids. Stepmoms usually need to earn the right to be called "Mom," and that's not always an easy road. You're the third or fourth wheel the poor kids got in the divorce game of Parent Roulette, and you not only have to worry about instilling discipline and order, you also have to worry about being liked. That's a tough road to travel, and the day your stepkids start spontaneously telling you they love you is a day of honor, believe me. 

So to the parents of adult kids, moms, and anyone who is like-a-mom to someone, let's look forward to future brunches and a time when the family can all be together. And to the moms of little ones, your day is coming, too. Smile and throw those undercooked eggs in the microwave for 30 seconds, scrape the soot off the toast, and just know that you're loved. 

It won't always be cat turd pictures and magic marker-ed quilts, luckily. Time will fly, and before you know it, it will be all about the watermelon tequila shots and eggs benedict. And if they're well into their 20's, you won't even have to worry whether they have enough dough to pick up the tab. 

Happy Mother's Day, all!









Wednesday, April 29, 2020

Endless Summer


So for some of us lucky ones who aren't struggling with unemployment or home schooling, 2020 has turned into the year of Endless Summer. (Note: This is also the title of my all-time favorite Beach Boy's album, dealing with the same archetypical idea). 

We always used to dream of this back when we were kids; no getting up and going to school or work, weekdays running into weekends then back into weekdays again without skipping a beat, and long, long days when anything you didn't finish today just got moved to tomorrow's agenda.  

Even the revolution of the planet is cooperating at this point, yesterday I woke up at 4:30 a.m. to find it was already getting light, and last night it was still dusky after 9 p.m. So the White Nights of summer are on their way, too.



I have to admit that in my childhood dreams of Endless Summer there were more hamburger stands and beaches open. There were parties to attend, clothes to be bought, and new haircuts to try out, too.

But other than that, yes, this is Endless Summer. Sure, it's actually still spring, but I'm hoping we can get away with just renaming it Early, Early Summer. It seems appropriate that once the weeks start blending into one we may as well just throw in the seasons along with it and call it our endless summer vacation. 

So Early, Early Summer is currently in all its glory in our parts, and once again I'm stunned by the vibrancy of color that comes out of my garden. I didn't plant all of these plants, but I'm willing to take credit for the difference proper fertilizing, pruning and mulching can make in a landscape. 

As I mentioned, we planted a tree out back the other day, a Dogwood called "Cherokee Brave." And while it is something of a commemorative tree for this current time, it's also a practical planting, because a good shade tree is key to Endless Summer, too: A place to sit with some iced tea and a garden journal on a hot afternoon, or maybe even a strong Cosmopolitan and a bad novel a little later on in the day. Or reverse the order and have your cosmo at 10:00 am. Because Endless Summer, you know?




The vegetables are all up and growing madly, the way they do in Oregon once it stops raining every day. Honestly, I've never grown plants in a place so amenable to the plants themselves. Stand still long enough and some mystery vine or grass will begin covering your feet. It's inspiring and also scary at times, how well things grow here. 

I'm currently having way too many virtual Happy Hours with friends. But in Endless Summer, if you're over 21, there must be libations and friendships both new and old. There's a lot of things I'm going to worry about "once this whole thing is over" (favorite phrase of Planet Earth right now). Things like my waistline, my alcohol consumption, and my master-level ability to put things off until another day. 

But I think, for now, I'm just going to be thankful I'm here to enjoy Endless Summer. I don't know what the future holds, but for now it's good in our home, where there is more boredom than worry, and more anxiousness to get out and about than fear of going out and getting sick.

Gotta take your Endless Summer wins where you find them.