Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Grey, Part Two

Today I'm dealing with a completely different kind of grey than the one I spoke about yesterday, yet it's no less frustrating.  It's the grey in my hair.  I'm 50 now, and one of the things I have to show for it is a mane of hair that would, if left to its own devices, look like the first light snowfall of the season -- half white, half slushy mud -- that is, if I let my natural color show.

Yes, I am a homesteader, and yes, I'm all about eco-friendly back-to-basics.  But the one area where I am most definitely not green is in the hair department.  If you could strip off the color and see my real hair color right now, you would see almost completely white hair on the right side of my head, while the left side still is mainly the light brown color it's always been.  Let it all grow out and not only would I not have the white or even the salt-and-pepper coloring I think really does look good on a woman my age, but I would (gasp!) start to look a lot like my mother, who had the exact same greying pattern.  So at this point I have two options:

1.  Use harsh chemicals to restore my hair to what looks like the normal color of my youth.

2.  Become Mom.

The bane of my existence
The thing is, I remember looking at my mother when she was in her early 50's and wishing she'd do something about her hair.  Coloring her hair would have taken ten years off her apparent age, improved her skin tone and made her look healthier and more vibrant, and, frankly, added a little more pep to her look.  (Did I just totally date myself by saying the word, "pep?")

So it was one of those things I told myself I would do:  If my hair needed some color to perk me up a bit once I got to middle age, I'd go for it.  And now I'm here, having to put goop on my hair about once every month or so, and sometimes I consider just stopping.  But then my inner 12 year-old cocks her head and snarks, "but you SAID you wouldn't do that."  And she's right.  I said I'd never let my hair get like my mom's. 

So as much as I'd love to go all Earth Mother and let my hair change color naturally, I just can't bring myself to adopt a look which I know won't make me feel good when I look in the mirror. So nasty-smelling, chemical-ridden hair color it is, for now.

My friend Hal has told me that even the greenest among us has at least one area where they are decidedly un-green.  And this is mine.  Sign me up for the 12-step program. My name is Diane, and my current hair color is Loreal 8.  Help me.

Monday, January 30, 2012


Cheerful, no?
Here in the Central Valley of California, it's not unusual to have a sky this color from November to about March, from dawn until dusk.  It's a grey bowl that hangs over the entire valley, covering it in a thick blanket that doesn't go away. Get enough days of it in a row, and you will slowly begin to lose your mind, longing for visible sunrises, sunsets, or even an actual storm ... anything, other than slate grey low clouds that never lift or change.

I'm not at the point of madness yet; we've had a fair amount of sunny days but today was a classic winter day for this area.  But I can't honestly say I'm OK with it.  We were actually going to take pictures of the house today for the real estate listing and both my agent and I decided this was not a good day to take an inviting picture.  The sun was almost out this morning (a temporary, freak occurrence), but it was a watery, anemic-looking sunshine which did nothing to enhance whatever it shone on.  Blech.

Here is my greatest problem with The Valley... it's like this a lot in winter, forcing you, out of sheer tedium if nothing else, to seek a different kind of weather -- at the coast or the mountains.  In the summer, it's hot every day and night, from May through October, and so you again flee for the coast or mountains, seeking some relief from the 24/7 heat.

I won't even talk about the bad air that builds up when clouds like this hang around, never letting any pollutants out.  It's worse in summer, when a clear bowl of inversion layer does the same thing. And we have the asthma rates to prove it.  

So all that being said, the bragging rights to this area center mainly around the fact that it has such good proximity to places of beauty, like those I just spoke of -- the lovely Central California coastline (2 hours away) or the snow-capped Sierras (also about 2 hours away). Yet, I've come to believe that living in proximity to a beautiful place without ever being able to pick up your mail and have your morning coffee there may not be hell, but it has got to be a kind of purgatory.  You can visit paradise on a day pass, but you must always pack up and go back home to your purgatorial haze or fog at some point.

Luckily, no one spends their eternity in purgatory.  According to the faith tradition which believes in purgatory, it's the temporary place you reside in before moving on to heaven.  And so, we pray, it will be the same for us here, those whose current address of residence is under the Grey Bowl of Winter.  

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Time of Life

I'm sitting at the computer, digesting a lovely dinner, when I get a blinding, intense burst of heat all over my body.  I strip off my sweatshirt, down to my t-shirt and yoga pants.  Not good enough.  I step outside into the darkness of the back porch in my short sleeves and stand there, waving my arms.  It's about 45 degrees and feels great.  I sit down in a lounge chair, still fending off the heat, totally comfortable in my insufficient clothes despite the cold.  I'm surprised steam, or those heat-mirage waves are not emanating from my body.  

I sit in the darkness for about 2 minutes.  Suddenly I realize it's cold.  I ask myself what in the hell I'm doing in the backyard when it's 45 degrees, wearing only a t-shirt and some pants.  

And I go back inside until then next time it happens.

Why I sabbath

It's Sunday morning and I'm on my first cup of coffee on a chilly morning.  Today I have planned ... absolutely nothing.  It's Sunday, and on Sundays, more often than not, I sabbath.  

Some people use the word Sabbath as a proper noun, meaning a specific time when certain activities are abstained from and others are performed.  What is performed might be a ritual dinner or attending a religious service, and for some, what is abstained from might be things like turning on lights, cooking the family meals, or driving their car.  But I use the word as a verb, meaning it's something I do on a personal level -- as an activity -- kind of like walking or breathing. 

I don't always have an activity planned.  Sometimes I do nothing.  But I do always use my sabbath time to draw closer to God.  I can draw closer to God by reading His holy book or by prayer and meditation.  But I can also draw close to God by spending a day walking the beach or hiking.  Maybe some people would find that sacrilegious, but I can tell you it's anything but.  It keeps the tradition alive and real.  Too often people observe the letter of the law and miss the spirit of it.  And any rabbi will tell you this well-known biblical phrase:  That man was not made for the sabbath, but the sabbath was made for man.  It's a gift, to be used and most of all, enjoyed.  A time of rest and reflection.   A time to slow down and ponder one's life in the larger scheme of things.

Like all living things, we require a time of rest.  The day requires sleep. And the week requires a sabbath of some kind, even if you don't hold to an entire 24-hour period of doing nothing.  Maybe you only sabbath for a morning or afternoon.  Maybe it's on a Tuesday instead of Saturday or Sunday.  I believe those things are okay.  After all, when do the priests, pastors and rabbis sabbath?  Surely not while they're conducting three services and meeting newcomers for coffee and doughnuts after each service.  That's WORK.  So anytime you sabbath is a good one.  The idea of sabbath was sanctioned (so you don't have to feel guilty about observing it) and created for us, and even God rested on the "7th Day," not because he needed to, but as an example.  So who are we to think we don't require rest?

I do.  Happy sabbath, y'all. 

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Our visitor, part one

The other night, I went outside to cover up our lettuce crop, as it was expected to freeze.  About the time I'd just stepped outside I saw what looked like a gerbil, walking along the top of the raised bed.  He was sauntering, actually.  When he saw me, he casually hopped off the bed and disappeared into the darkness.

My only questions were 1) what in the hell was a gerbil doing in our back yard, and 2) how much sparkling blackberry wine HAD I actually enjoyed that evening -- enough to see imaginary gerbils? Were my adventures in winemaking finally catching up to me?  Or was the gerbil an escapee from some child's cage in the neighborhood?  Did someone release him after they figured out, hey, these creatures smell and need their cages cleaned often?  It happens.  I once ended a friendship with someone when she told me she'd taken her son's pet gerbil down to the slough and released him because he ran on his wheel at night and it made noise.  Crazy, huh?  A nocturnal creature exercising on the wheel that had been provided to him by his owners.  When I protested that there was NO way a tiny, tame creature could survive in the slough on his own, she told me I was wrong because she had taken great pains to bring his little see-through plastic gerbil igloo down to the slough as well -- see, his house was there, so he'd be fine.  I got the check, left, and never spoke to her again lest I throttle her.

But back to our current, 2012 gerbil tale. I saw him again last night.  And this time I got a better look.  Last night I went outside cover the raised lettuce beds again, and I saw him coming across the yard.  He ran AT me this time, completely unafraid.  But again, I lost sight of him in one of the darker corners of our yard, where our lights don't shine.

But I know more than I did before. First, I know he's not afraid of me.  Not one little bit.  Second, I now know he has a tail, because I saw it.  Whether he's a huge mouse, a small rat or even a young possum, I don't know.  But they've been doing some brush removal from a nearby field, so I'm guessing he's a fugitive rodent from over there.  

I saw another fugitive from the same removal project yesterday. It was an old raccoon, laying by the side of the road after being killed by a car.  It was, and I kid you not, the size of a border collie.  It was so large, people were stopping their cars to get out and have a look. I didn't stop, because this kind of thing distresses me.  This big old raccoon had been living peaceably in the trees and brush, probably for years, until the developers decided they needed to clear the trees, which have probably been there for 50 years themselves. And so the lovely trees died, Mr. Raccoon lost his habitat and, soon after, his life.  I grieve for any creature who loses his habitat -- even raccoons.  Or gerbils-rats-possums.  

And I wonder if the people who took out all those trees had any idea he was living around there.  If they did, they missed an opportunity many of us don't take when we are presented with a problem like stray possums or raccoons.  They missed an opportunity for trapping and relocation.

So here's the plan.  I bought a lovely live animal trap on Amazon today, which should be here in a few days.  I will bait it, and I will wait patiently.  And when we catch our rogue rodent friend, Big Ag and I will take him away, find a nice spot at the ranch where there's a good supply of water, trees, food, and lots of places to hide from predators, and we will release him there.

He does not belong in my yard, that much is certain.  But every one of God's creatures belongs somewhere.  If The Lord cares for the sparrows, why wouldn't he also care for the field rats and the raccoons?  My only regret is that the raccoon found himself under the wheels of a car before he found his way into my yard and into a live animal trap, which would have been his ticket to a new, wild home.  Because creatures like raccoons and rats are only "nuisance pests" when their paths intersect with ours.  Left to their own devices in the wild, they are no problem for anyone.  

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

My life is now complete

Just found this on another website, and it appears my beloved mason jars can now begin leaving home with me, doubling as travel mugs -- holding water, juice, or even a latte!  Now how cool is that?   


The Crone in White

Not the exact quilt, but you get the idea.
It's soft, the color of snow, and incredibly cozy to snuggle into.  That's a candid review of my new shabby-chic quilt, purchased at Tar-jay last week.  I lucked out.  At Christmas I couldn't think of a dang thing I wanted, and so I waited and told everyone when the right thing came along, I'd grab it myself and call it a belated gift from the family.  And when I saw this amazing, soft and comfortable quilt in the bedding section, I bought it and two matching pillow shams before you could turn around twice. 

But this is not going to be a post about quilting, or even shopping for quilts.  No, this post is about the topic of menopause. Because unless I was officially in it, I never would have bought snow-white bedding, for reasons obvious to any woman under 50....it's just too risky, especially when you're in the time of peri-menopause, when your monthly cycle is anything but regular, and often checks in more than once a month (with absolutely no notice -- how rude).

Too much information?  Sorry.  Anyway, it turns out the only real cure for the issues of menopause is the oldest home remedy in history:  Time.  And now I'm happy to say I'm on the far side of all the female inconveniences I've had to deal with most of my life, and can own a white quilt if I so wish.  It feels good, friends.  No one will ever ask me again if I'm crying, irritable, or snappy because of a "female problem."  Now they know the truth.  If I'm snappy or irritable, my problem is probably with THEM, not my hormones.

But I digress.  It was this lovely, indulgent purchase which made me realize that, despite its bad rap, menopause gives back double for anything it takes away.  True, we lose the ability to grow a baby inside us, and we may sometimes feel like Mount Vesuvius is erupting in our solar plexus and spreading up to our faces and extremities several times a day.  But we can buy white comforters and wear white pants whenever we choose.  And if we lived in a small village somewhere more primitive and less youth-fixated than our present day society, we'd be considered a crone, a.k.a a WISE WOMAN.  Younger women would come to our huts and ask our advice about their colicky babies, their grumpy husband, or their inability to get their stews to thicken properly. I would love that. My advice would not be based on being immune to any of those things, but the fact that I've learned how to live with them, and have gotten beyond all the drama most of life is made up of. And because I'm past all that, I would finally be considered an "elder" of the tribe, who is steady and trusted and a source of good advice and sound ideas. 

And I could wear white.  I would sleep in it, decorate every surface of my hut in it every day of the year, just because I could.  Hooray for white.  Hooray for being a post-menopausal wise-woman.  Hooray for the crone in white.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Not for Martinis

I don't care for martinis, but that has not stopped me from acquiring an interesting and unique collection of thrift-store martini glasses, a portion of which you see here.  I have re-purposed them and use them for desserts -- chocolate mousse, mini-lemon cream pies, puddings of all sorts, even trifle.  They serve a perfect-sized portion, and certainly add a little pizazz to any dessert.  

Bottoms up.

In recovery

Yesterday was exhausting, but was a valuable lesson in how we must merge a handmade life with today's technological advances, if we are to survive.  On Saturday, my son was working for the day in a friend's almond orchard, when he accidentally got whacked in the face with a tree branch, hitting one of his eyes.  The next day, he had a black eye and the eyeball itself was extremely sore.  Never one to rush to the docs, we treated it with saline solution washes, and waited to see if whatever had gotten into his eye would wash out.  

By Monday morning, it was apparent the eye would not respond to simple home treatment, and so off we went to, first the family doctor, and next, to an opthamologist we were referred to.  Looking into my son's eye with her super-duper microscope binoculars, the opthamologist was able to see an embedded splinter of almond bark inside my son's eye, completely invisible to the naked eye.  She showed me her view through the binoculars, and it looked like a pristine and clear car windshield with a pit in it, and a small brown piece of wood in the middle of the "pit." She numbed his eye up with drops, and went in with a needle-like tool and removed it -- voila!  It was all over within an hour.

But it drove the point home that Woody Allen so beautifully made in his movie, "Midnight in Paris."  One of the characters is talking about the wisdom of being able to go back in time (it's a time travel movie) and basically says it's all well and good until you need to go the the dentist and want novocaine, or need a good antibiotic, say, zithromax, and find you're living 100 years before those things were invented.

We homesteaders love the simple life.  We love our home remedies and we love our food home grown and baked from scratch.  We love our lamplight and our strawberry preserves. Yet we also need this modern era as well.  Without it, there would be no microscope binoculars, no opthamologists, and no antibiotics.  And that's when losing an eye would not be an uncommon thing anymore, much as it was not uncommon for our ancestors, who lived the homesteading life without the benefit of today's medical advances.

We need the gifts of today as much as the gifts of yesterday. Homesteaders are asking for the best of both worlds, and it's something that's reasonable to ask for.  But it will only happen if the world allocates its resources wisely.

Recovering nicely

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Candle Hour

In the energy saving era of CFL bulbs, we've lost a certain warm light which used to emanate from our homes.  Incandescent bulbs were energy hogs, but they did cast a lovely light.  CFLs tend to cast a brighter, but colder light, which I frankly don't care for unless I'm looking for a lost button on the carpet or some similar task. And of course then there's the similarly cold light which comes from computer screens and television sets.  But there's still a way to light a room with a very primitive and comforting warmth and light, and that is with candles, hurricane lanterns and other flame-giving sources.  For the last two nights at around sunset, I've eschewed turning on lamps and overhead lights in favor of a half-hour or so of using only candles and lanterns.  It's amazing how simply making that shift can change the quality of an otherwise hectic time of day.  

I still keep the overhead light on the stove hood on so I can cook, but otherwise the house is bathed in a quiet orange glow.  The living and dining rooms look more inviting and cozy.  The shadows on the wall dance in a friendly rhythm.  And everything seems to slow down just a bit, as we enter into the evening hours.  

The television and computer will be on for sure later in the evening, but taking that half-hour or so to quietly reflect on the day while bathed in the warm glow of 10 or 12 little fires is a soul-restoring experience.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Workin' it

This has been a productive day.  Had a nice breakfast with Big Ag (husband) and then came home to start on some pleasant and necessary chores.  I harvested and blanched a bunch of carrots (our fall harvest seems to have turned into a winter harvest this year, but as long as it's some kind of harvest I'm good with it).  I also started a batch of marmalade, and used up two quarts of apple pie filling I put up last year to make the delicious pie you see here:

This is only the second time I've made a crust from scratch, and I must say it came out flaky and delicious.  Not for those dieting among us, however -- each crust has one stick of butter in it, so while this is a great crust, I think I'll probably keep the recipe for just an occasional treat.

All this kitchen work is going on right now because it's the time of year when you want to clean out last year's stores of preserved goods, use them up, and replace them with new jars of the same. The apple pie filling I used today was about a year old, and while I've heard preserved goods can easily last two years, I prefer to use them in one, whenever possible.  (A great excuse to have apple pie, no?) I also needed to add to my stash of marmalade jars.  This is citrus season, so it's the best time to make things like lemon curd and marmalade for the upcoming year.  

In addition to the citrus preserves, since it's currently the end of apple season, I'll also put up another few quarts of apple pie filling soon, although perhaps not quite as much as last year, since I obviously had leftovers.  That's the trick, isn't it?  To put up enough without overstocking.  Well, either way, on winter days like this, having the oven going and something simmering on the stovetop is not a bad thing, as it warms the entire house.  preserving is much easier in winter than summer.

On a completely different note, we watched "Contagion," last night, and it made me think even more about food preservation.  Could one good pandemic quarantine us and force us to live out of our pantry for a few months?  Could we do it?  I'd like to think the answer is yes, however, I think we would need more dry staples, like beans and rice on hand.  But it's nice to know we could still have luxury items like apple pie and marmalade and live comfortably out of what's been put up in our mason jars instead of scrambling (along with everyone else) for crappy BPA-filled canned goods from the supermarket.  

With a good garden, a filled pantry and enough water, I'd like to think one could make it through just about anything.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Murphy's Law

Murphy's Law seems to work so well I'm surprised most of us don't put it to better use.  The other day, for instance, I finished mopping the floor about 5 minutes before someone with muddy feet happened to walk in there and mess it all up.  A few years ago, I had my carpets professionally cleaned, and not 24 hours afterwards my daughter spilled an entire bottle of Tempra paint on the newly-cleaned carpet in her room.  

It's not just flooring where Murphy's Law happens, either.  Make an extravagant purchase for $300 because you're sure you're all caught up on your bills, and just watch when a $300 bill for something you'd forgotten about shows up in the mail a day or so later.  Ugh.  It's so predictable it's not even funny. 

Murphy's Law never fails, so it seems to me we might as well all start using it for our benefit instead of only to our annoyance and/or dismay.

 I'm about to go outside and water my raised beds, for instance, and if I do this I am pretty sure it will begin raining right after I finish up.  I could wash my car and park it outside and the same thing would probably happen.  This would be good, because our state is in a pretty severe state of drought right now, so it might actually be worth all my wasted time and effort.  I'm just taking one for the team.  

And there's a concert in town at the Fox Theatre I'd really like to see this May, and I was thinking that if I buy tickets now, it pretty much guarantees we'll have sold our house and no longer be living in the area by the time The Big Night comes along. The small price of the tickets would surely be offset by making the real estate sale on our ideal timeline, right? Murphy's Law seems to be a kind of universal law dictating outcomes, so in my genius I have figured all I need to do is start using it to my advantage.  I'll let you know how things turn out.

Operation Re-Capture

I am one of those people who believes when you take an animal into your home, it is a lifetime commitment for as long as the animal survives.  A few years back, we had a stray (but tame) dove make its way into our yard.  A couple of months later, someone else gave us a white dove.  Voila.  Pair of doves as pets.

Well, long story short, one of the doves escaped, and now lives happily in our backyard and around the neighborhood (that's him in the photo above).  We put food and water out for him and he's not only survived, but thrived, in this limited "wild" experience.  However, in about six months --- maybe less -- we will no longer live on this property, and so the task has become to re-capture the dove and put him back into our aviary, so he can move with us and the other birds.

So I've set a trap.  A small cage with his lady love inside, and one below, open, with a bowl of food.  I am hoping he will enter the bottom cage, I can slam the door shut, and then place both doves, together, back into the big aviary we have at the other end of the yard.  

I hate to re-cage him, as he's enjoying his freedom so much.  But there's every possibility that, once we move, there will no longer be a food source here, and I don't want to see him starve.  Even though he's been "wild" for about three years now, he still feels like my responsibility.  And so Operation Re-Capture begins. 

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Going back to Rethymnon

Ocean Girl, always
Whether on the Mediterranean back in '86
Or the Pacific in '12
 For 20 years, I've had recurring dreams about returning to the village of Rethymnon, a small town on the island of Crete, nestled on the shores of the Mediterranean . I lived there for several months in 1986 and loved it.  But until recently, I didn't realize I've only had these dreams since moving inland to the Central Valley.  I grew up a beach baby, on the shores of another ocean -- The Pacific -- down in Southern California, so this is literally the farthest I've ever lived from the beach.  But I never thought much about it until recently.

And that's because of the dreams of Rethymnon.  The dreams have been heartbreaking, frustrating, and tormenting, and I never could understand what they meant.  In the dreams, I  am always trying to get back to that little Greek seaside village of Rethymnon, where the sand runs up into the hills, and the hills are covered with scrub oaks, cactus, grape vines and olive trees.  

In some dreams, I'm in London and realize all I have to do is get to the airport and hop a plane in order to be there.  More recently, I've dreamed I've actually been in Iraklion -- the largest city on Crete -- and know if I can just get on a bus or rent a car I can be in Rethymnon in less than two hours.  But I'm never able to make it happen, and I always wake up like Orson Welles in Citizen Kane, only I'm whispering "Rethymnon," not "Rosebud." 

And I know the dream is not about Rethymnon, either.  I loved Rethymnon, to be sure, but have never wanted to return there in real life -- it's been built up into a major tourist destination, so the Rethymnon I knew is gone forever.  So finally I started asking myself what the concept of "Rethymnon" represented.  Maybe it was a symbol for something else, some un-lived or under-lived part of my life that was crying out for attention.  Or was it something else?  Did it remind me of the beaches in Southern California, where I spent my first 30 years of life? I had no idea.

Yet oddly enough, with us drawing close to our move to the Central Coast, I've recently had two dreams where I was actually IN Rethymnon, jubilant at finally making it (especially after 20 years of trying to find a way there), and showing the family around the lovely streets, the seaside cafes, and along the steep hills covered with olive trees and grape vines.

Olive trees and grape vines.....ocean breezes...seaside cafes.  Yes, it makes sense now.  So often our souls are telling us they need to go home, and soon, but we don't realize that it doesn't necessarily mean our childhood home, or even the place we think it's telling us to go.

Home for me is a place near the ocean, where the sandy beach runs up towards the brown hills, covered with scrub oaks and cactus.  Inland, there are olive trees, grapevines and steep hillsides.  I never saw the connection between Rethymnon and Paso Robles and the Central Coast, but I do now. Sometimes it's more than handwriting on the wall.  Sometimes it's freakin' spray paint.

Memo to my soul:  Thanks for all those messages, which took me so long to understand.  I get it now though.  We're going home soon. Efaristo.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Diabetes, y'all!

Well, the cat's out of the bag.  Yesterday Food Network host Paula Deen went public in announcing she has type 2 diabetes.  I doubt anyone who has ever watched her show was surprised at this; the only thing less surprising would have been if she'd been hospitalized with some kind of cardiac issue.  Sad to say, but true.  Her food is to your circulatory system what the Exxon Valdez was to the Prince William Sound.

That being said, I love the idea of Paula Deen.  Paula Deen is like the grandmother most of us had -- or wished we had.  She spoils the people she loves with her rich, decadent food.  She always displays a lovely, lively sense of humor in the kitchen -- cooking never seems like a chore when she does it, much more like an act of love.  And with the sun coming through the windows of the country kitchen they use as her set (or used to), you can just imagine yourself sitting there, with a cup of coffee, somehow feeling better about whatever is going on in your life because you're sitting there with her, watching her cook and listening to her gentle folk wisdom.  That's the image, anyway.

But Paula Deen is NOT your grandma, and in real life maybe that's a good thing, because I believe she has learned to sell her particular brand of folksiness in a way your grandma never could or would have.  She only revealed her status as a diabetic once she had inked a deal with a Big Pharm company to sell their medicine and diabetes regime.  She's created an empire out her ability to create (and market) the enticing and homey image of gentle, southern living.  In other words, she appears to be your dear grandma but she's actually more like Donald Trump in reality -- a shrewd businessperson who is, no doubt, using her public revelation as a diabetic as a tool to promote something she's being paid to endorse.

And the thing is, I've realized what the attraction is with Paula Deen.  The fact is, many of us wish we could go back to some sunny kitchen somewhere and sit on a stool watching and learning as our own grandmother performs all the tasks she was skilled at -- canning and preserving, roasting, and making delicious foods from scratch .. often using what was just outside her back door, in the chicken coop and in the kitchen garden.

We'd love to spend a simple afternoon with her learning to knit or crochet or do embroidery.  We'd follow her upstairs and take a deep breath of comfort in as we watched her throw freshly sun-dried sheets and handmade quilts over the beds and open up all the curtains and windows to take in the breezes on a sunny afternoon.  We'd marvel as she cleaned a stubborn bathroom sink using only an old lemon rind and some baking soda, and breath deep the lemony smell left over after the sink was clean.

We could probably all use that kind of grandmother at this point in time.  Heaven knows we'll need to relearn those skills if oil ever goes to 20 bucks a gallon and our electronic/manufactured/mass produced world becomes more difficult (or just expensive) to access. Unfortunately, most of the women who knew the home arts well have either passed on, are in assisted living quarters, or are actually from the next generation down, who eschewed that made-from-scratch life in favor of whatever came out of a box from the supermarket.  

And in real life, Paula Deen probably is not a true representative of this life anyway.  She probably eats out more than you and I ever will, because she travels around the country so much promoting her brand.  There are, most likely, hired staff who do the washing and the opening up of bedroom windows and cleaning of sinks.  And there's the little matter of diabetes.  In our great-grandmother's time, scratch-made food with lots of bacon grease and butter was eaten, to be sure, but only after people spent 12 or more hours or so in hard labor around the house or in the fields.  This is the only thing which allowed them to consume this kind of diet without consequence.  They were literally burning off every calorie they ate with simple, but pulse-rate-raising chores which were probably the equivalent of an all-day cardio class at today's gym.  So it balanced out.  Not so much in today's world.

Paula Deen says she's always advocated people eat her food but in "moderation."  I'd go a bit further, and say if you eat her food, do so very, very rarely, unless you plan on picking cotton or harvesting potatoes out in your back 40 -- by hand.  And beware when someone is selling a brand that looks like your grandma.  Grandma wasn't a brand, she was a whole way of life.  

Thursday, January 12, 2012


It seemed unfair somehow to be going through all this downsizing in our home and not give the same benefit to our fish.  We had an aging 10-gallon tank which recently started growing stalagmites all over, meaning the aquarium seals seal were in the early stages of failure.  Since we're down to only two guppies and a ghost shrimp, from the time when we had 40 fish swimming in the tank, it made sense to go smaller.  I call this the fish condo.  Just Mom, Dad, and one little shrimp.  Everyone seems to be enjoying their new abode, especially me, now that I don't have to look at the aging giant tank anymore with its algae, its crusty sides, and it's stained, tide-marked glass.  

Once these fish are gone, we will hopefully end the Aquarium Era in our lives.  All the kids enjoyed having fish when they were little, but now that they're grown it doesn't make much sense to keep on anymore.  Fish are relatively easy to take care of, but their tank does occasionally need scrubbing out, and this is not a pleasant chore.  But these fish of ours, which are now several years old, are welcome to live out their lives in their condo until they're called to return home to that great ocean in the sky (or wherever fish go in the afterlife).  

Lean and streamlined.  The abundance found in having less stuff cluttering our lives.  That's the theme for 2012.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Cloth vs. plastic vs. America

Saw an article in the San Luis Tribune this morning which mentioned the opposition of the plastics industry to cities and counties banning plastic bags being given out in grocery stores. One would think that with all the uses we have for plastics -- everything from bottles to medical equipment to furniture -- that they could give a little on this one for the sake of the environment.  

The scoops from your cat litter box which you remove and place in a paper bag in the trash will decompose over a few months in a landfill.  The same waste product, placed in a plastic bag and put into the same landfill, will still be intact (mummified, yes, but intact) in 1,000 years because the bag will not decompose.  There's good, solid common sense behind banning plastic bags.  Far too often, they are not recycled and are used to wrap up and dispose of waste which could otherwise decompose quite easily.

But the cries of unfairness from the plastics industry have already started...they're working hard to convince people that banning plastic grocery bags will put people out of work, and that the masses will become sick from food-borne ailments because they won't wash their cloth bags and will use them again and again, putting raw meat and produce into them repeatedly until the bags are a veritable petri dish of bacteria.

In other words, they're just trying to help America jobs and keep us all healthy.  

You know, it's one thing to be selfish and protectionist of one's profits, but quite another to elevate one's bullshit to the current level of snow in Nome, Alaska.  A similar thing happened last year in Tulare, CA, when a nice family who'd decided to keep a couple of egg-laying chickens went before the city council to have the zoning designation of their neighborhood amended, to allow a few hens to be kept in residents' backyards, within city limits.  The zoning change was opposed, not by the city council itself, but by representatives from the egg industry, who explained that ordinary people keeping their own hens was simply too dangerous due to the possibility of egg-borne food illness. 

The Tulare city council caved and refused to let the family keep hens.  I hope the residents of San Luis Obispo county smell the bullshit (which smells suspiciously like plastics) a mile away and keep it there.  These are just two more examples of how we know corporate America will never, never, NEVER look out for our best interests, only their own.  The days of the honorable corporation passed as the greatest generation handed off the reins to their spoiled, selfish children.  I am one of that second generation, and I just hope I can behave more responsibly than some of my peers.

Friday, January 6, 2012

I am disgusted

A little bit.  Yesterday, I was extremely disgusted.  But with any luck, by tomorrow I'll feel better.  In no particular order, I am disgusted with myself, with my household, and with western society in general.  And it's over such a stupid little thing:  fake plastic greenery. But I'll tell you, if seen the right way, fake plastic greenery is the canary in the coal mine in the collapse of western civilization.

Let me explain. As part of our de-cluttering operation here on the old homestead, one of the things I needed to do was to bring a ladder into the house, climb up, and remove all the decorative stuff from our plant shelves, which sit about 12 feet up.  They run across our living room and bedroom, as they do in most of the tract houses built after 1980 in the United States.  These shelves are ridiculous and have gotten more so with the advent of so-called "cathedral" ceilings popular in houses being built today.  You'll spend hundreds, if not thousands of dollars heating up the extra 2,000 square feet of living space, which in any other house would comprise a SECOND FLOOR, where people could live.  Instead we heat and cool the air near 15 feet up just because...we can?  That's disgusting too, but I digress.   Today's rant is about the fake plastic greenery which inhabits the space no one lives in, 12 feet up. 

My personal and household disgust comes from what I found up there when I climbed up to retrieve and remove everything.  It was absolutely filthy.  And the worst filth (which I was actually forced to move, blowing up huge clouds of dust whenever I did it) was on the stupid plastic plants I had up there, in their decorative wicker baskets.  

Let me tell you something I realized at that moment:  Good design never includes plastic plants.  Carrying those plants down and hosing the dirt and dust off them out in the backyard made me realize that.  They don't look real, in fact they look tacky.  But when someone's built your house with approximately 60 square feet of flat space 12 feet up, you have little choice than to find things to fill in that space, if only that there's not an echo in your house when you speak.

And so I'm disgusted with myself for letting things get that bad up there (especially the plastic plants), and disgusted with my family because I also found about 40 rubber bands up there in various stages of decomposition. (Did you know rubber bands actually do decompose?  I do now!)  Of course they were shot up there by the kids, and were never retrieved because who in the hell is going to climb up to do that?

But I'm also disgusted with western civilization, because we have so much excess that we've actually constructed high-up shelving -- not to store goods or even make a sleeping space which is warm in winter -- but simply to hold useless objects we don't love, don't use, and don't ever need to retrieve.  And if there was ever a useless object no one loves, no one uses, and no one wants to retrieve and clean, it's fake plastic greenery.

A fake plant or two in a spot where you'd like a houseplant but know the light's not good enough for growth and health?  OK.  I get that.  But  a wasted 60 square feet of space up against the ceiling which needs filling in with something that looks alive, but isn't, just is not for me anymore.

Give me lower ceilings and bare shelves, if necessary.  The green plastic is heading to the thrift store.  I feel freer already, and as soon as my lungs clear out from all the plastic-plant spore dust I inhaled, I'm sure I'll stop coughing, too. 

Thursday, January 5, 2012

All snug in their beds

The raised beds simply are not growing at a rate I'm happy with.  I'm all for nature setting its course, but the fact is last year we were knee-deep in salads by this time, and this year the freezing nights have kept that from happening.  So from now on, come evening, my lettuce will be tucked into their beds to keep them from hitting the freezing mark, and then uncovered as soon as the sun touches the edge of the yard each morning.

Sleep tight, little lettuces!

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Homestead laundry detergent

About a year ago I decided to start making my own laundry detergent, after the eco-friendly one I'd been buying at the store became prohibitively expensive.  Homemade powdered detergent is extremely easy to make and is gentle to the environment in addition to being kind to the pocketbook.  I would guess $5 worth of this lasts about four months, and I do laundry for a family of 5 each week, which translates to 6 - 7 loads.  (And of course there's occasionally a mat or rug that gets soiled due to a pet accident, so some weeks it's 8 loads, easily.)  Bottom line:  This powdered detergent goes a long way, and costs only a few pennies per load. And gets the job done well.

Here is the recipe, courtesy of Planet Green:

Powdered Detergent
2 cups finely grated soap
1 cup washing soda
1 cup borax
1. Mix well and store in an airtight plastic container.
2. Use 2 tablespoons per full load.
I use Fels Naptha soap, which costs about a dollar a bar and is available at WalMart.  Washing soda is available there as well (I haven't found either item anywhere else around here) and borax is found in the detergent section of most supermarkets.  Note that washing soda is NOT the same as baking soda, despite the similarity in packaging.  Washing soda is much stronger.
I break the Fels Naptha bar into small pieces before putting them into the food processor to grate finely (you could do this by hand, but the food processor is faster and easier unless you are working on Popeye arms).  Then mix in the other ingredients and you're good to go.  It's smells nice and looks pretty good too, as you can see from the pic (the finished product is on the far right in the mason jar).  

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

It's not a house, it's an idea

Before we got ready to start showing our house, this was my office area.  It had a huge desk,  a swivel chair, a computer and a bookcase filled with homesteading books, records, and resources. There was also a bunch of empty shoeboxes, a swiffer mop, several throw pillows, a dog bed, and a dining room chair that I couldn't find any better place for.  The realtor took one look at it and wisely recommended it go back to being the sitting area the architect who designed this floor plan probably intended it to be.

And so we removed furniture, and this is what's left.

The fact is, we are homesteaders but we live among people who, for the most part, are not.  I doubt the people who buy this house will be, either. And so for the next few months we will be living in a sort of dollhouse that represents an imaginary image of how a family could live here, if they fancied serene sitting areas and empty expanses of kitchen counters (perhaps with a cheery bowl of fruit or bunch of flowers on the counter) better than a kitchen filled with fermenting wine, canned goods, baking bread, a big bowl of kombucha brewing, and some soap-making equipment.

But this is what home selling, and home buying is.  Your home, and the homes you see as you prepare to leave the space you're in, represent not so much a house as much as an idea.  This is what life could be like...we think as we stroll through the rooms and in the gardens and yards.  It's never about insulation ratings, rangetop efficiency, or tile versus granite, although all those things may factor into the mix.  Mostly, it's about seeing a life you desire within the walls you walk through.  

Sunday, January 1, 2012

An over-rated moment?

Well, New Years has come and gone, and I'm happy about that.  I think the December 31 annual gut-blowout is an over-rated one.  Perhaps that's because I have post-traumatic New Year's Eve syndrome from the years gone by.

About 30 years ago, I ran into an absurdly awful stream of bad New Year's Eve happenings.  I don't remember them all, and the ones I do remember are kind of funny now.  Thankfully none of them were truly tragic, but they were just disappointing because I totally bought into the hype that your New Year's plans must be fabulous, your company enthralling, and your locale breathtaking if you wanted to continue having any more of the same during the next calendar year.  

After one particularly crappy New Year's Eve where I attended a party where 30 people were expected, but only 3 showed up (counting me, who felt too bad to leave the hosts and depart for a better party), I decided working on New Years was the ticket.  The first year, I evacuated my workplace due to a bomb threat, and the year after that, I stood on the lawn in freezing rain with a walkie-talkie as the people who'd rented my place of employment for the night attempted to set off fireworks to no avail. I got pneumonia. After that, I spent a couple of New Year's Eves with truly awful dates, and after that, I just gave up.

But the last New Year I celebrated, back in 1990, found me at a beautiful mountain resort, in a glamorous evening gown, dancing the night away and drinking champagne.  At midnight, my date and I retired to the huge fireplace in the lobby and a bellman brought us two glasses of champagne.

New Year's was great that year.  Mission accomplished.  And right then, I decided to quit while I was ahead.  Ever since then, I have a nice dinner and am sound asleep at 10 p.m. and wake up refreshed and happy on January 1.  I think it's better this way.  

Besides, whose New Year is it anyway?  Jewish New Year is in September, and everyone from the Vikings to the Romans celebrated the Winter Solstice as the beginning of another year.  The government's own fiscal year runs from October to October, and some Neo-Pagans I know think the New Year starts November 1.  So perhaps it's all much ado about nothing.

But one thing I do know.  If you consider this first day of the calendar year to be an auspicious occasion, where what you do and feel will set the tone for the entire year to come (as many seem to superstitiously believe) I can tell you that hugging the toilet to unload your last load of alcohol, or grabbing the Tylenol to ward off a hangover headache, is probably not a good tone to set.  Not telling anyone what to do at all, I'm just sayin'. 

I'm not a superstitious person, but meeting January 1 with a clear head and hopeful heart can't hurt anything, you know?