Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Back in the groove

Lately I've been experiencing a certain cognitive dissonance from my life revolving around moving.  To some extent, it was unavoidable -- the house needed a major clean out and spruce up, including painting, scrubbing, sweeping and even scheduling and babysitting some contractors who came in to fix some tile and a slightly cracked window. 

There has been loan paperwork to fill out and realtor agreements to sign.  Silly things need to be done before we can show the house -- replacing all our energy efficient CFL bulbs with regular ones in our bathrooms because they look better, taking our clothesline down so the yard looks more "normal," and keeping the kitchen in a constant state of counters-cleared-and-spotless in order to make the house more appealing to the average buyer.  It's been necessary, but removing the soul of who you are from the place you live is not fun.

And living the pristine, clean, model-home life left me feeling ill-at-ease and restless.  And I couldn't figure out why, except that moving is stressful and I was a victim of the stress.  Then I realized all the preparing the house, plus driving west to look at properties had, to some extent, taken me away from the things I love most -- homesteading activities.

So this morning I hauled out the coconut oil, olive oil and lye and cooked up a big batch of soap, and I will make some more laundry soap a bit later on.  I will bake some cookies for the kids in the solar oven this afternoon.  These are the things that define who I am, wherever I happen to be living.  Take me away from them and I feel somehow un-rooted.  To some, they may seem pathetically simple, but living simply is how I define my happiness.

I also have to exercise patience, which is faith put into practice. I believe that not only is this move supposed to happen, but that God has his fingers in the details, which assures all will be well for me and my family.

So God is doing his job, but I need to get back to mine.  By keeping up with the things that define who I am and what's important to me helps me keep busy, which in turn helps keep me patient.  

Motto:  When all else fails, have some faith and make some soap.

Monday, February 20, 2012


I am like this video in more ways than three.  Quite a few bleeped f-bombs, so if implied bad language offends you, feel free to skip. 

A kind of love or madness

I've discovered I don't like selling a house as much as buying a new one.  Buying is a fun outing; you go on a date with a house and check out the views, the land, the kitchen and imagine what life would be like if you were living there.  It's probably the only kind of first date where the meeting ends in either a proposal or a dumping.  But that's the real estate world.  We make the most expensive purchase we're ever going to make based on a 20 minute walk-through (or two or three) and some good inspection reports. Buy a car (easily 10 times cheaper than a house) and you peruse websites and go on test drives for months before making a decision.  It's silly, how quickly we choose our homes.  But I digress.

This won't sell....
If buying a house is a fun outing, then selling, on the other hand, is kind of a forced death march, even if you're anxious to sell it and move on with your life.  If you want your potential homebuyers to be able to envision themselves living in your home, it has to look not only immaculate, but also wiped fairly clean of your own family's individual tastes and quirks.  As "vanilla" as possible, is what I've heard.  

as well as this will.
Before putting the house on the market, for instance, I had to remove my totally awesome hot sauce collection from its space on a kitchen wall, take down numerous things off the plant shelves, and dis-assemble the clothesline outside.  I'll be honest; I hated doing it, because all those things represent me and my family in one way or another.  Yet I understand.  Last weekend we went to see a house where the owners had done absolutely nothing to get their home ready to show.  Papers were littered everywhere, the cat litter boxes were full, and there was dirty laundry strewn about.  I couldn't wait to get out of the house -- it could have been the Taj Mahal and it would have seemed unappetizing due to all the living that appeared to be going on in it.  It smelled of cat piss, too.  Just sayin'.

It's the kind of thing that puts a menopausal woman in the state of mind where she collapses into bed at 8 pm, exhausted, but wakes up at 3 am, thinking of ways to fix that house, or something that needs to be hidden away in this one to make the counters more sparse and therefore appealing.

No sleep, rollercoaster emotions, lots of primping and eyeballing the potential mate to see if they've got what it takes for the long haul.  Yup, it's an awful lot like dating.  

And as of today, we've proposed to one house and shown ours to several.  It's all up in the air at this point, and in my head The Late Zone of the pre-down hours of each new day.

Thursday, February 16, 2012


Taking a back seat to your man
I'm not much of a Whitney Houston fan, but the news of her death was troubling to me.  An woman artist with a true gift, gone too soon due to the excesses and indulgence that often comes from living a super-successful lifestyle, where you are admired, adored and emulated.  Oh, and there's the man in the mix, of course.  A man less talented but with a dominant personality.  Even more prone to the excesses which may or may not have led her into deterioration.  A source of competition and perhaps a font of envy and jealousy.

It's a tale as old as time, yet no less tragic each time it happens.  I have such a tale in my own family history.  It's my great-aunt Zelda (biologically a cousin, but always referred to as an aunt by my family) and her husband F. Scott Fitzgerald.

Zelda Sayre's talent as a writer was unmistakeable, and her penchant for outrageousness was well-known, even before she met Scott.  After they met, they created a perfect storm of chaos, destructive to both.  Not many people know that my Aunt Zelda was an incredible writer herself, and that many of Scott's novels had sections lifted almost verbatim from Zelda's journals.  When she tried to get published, he often stood in her way, and when she did publish, it was often on the condition that she include her husband's name in her byline, as it was simply too difficult to think that two brilliant writers could exist in a marriage.  Publishers were convinced he must be ghost-writing for her, and ironically often it was the other way around.

Eventually, Zelda's excesses (as well as the pressures of always being known as the writer's wife and never the writer and artist she was in her own right) led to numerous breakdowns and an early demise.  I've always wondered how well Aunt Zelda would have fared on her own, unmarried, or perhaps married to a non-writer, publishing and existing as an artist on her own, much the way Gertrude Stein did in the same era.

And I wonder if Whitney Houston would have done better without Bobby Brown, if perhaps some of the roads they traveled down were due to his jealousy of her tremendous gift, just as Scott envied the liquid, stream-of-consciousness prose that was Zelda's hallmark.

Two brilliant women, gone to soon, with massive potential left un-lived.  A true marriage between artists is difficult and fraught with the potential for disaster.  Perhaps the artist or writer is better suited to marriage with someone not in the same business. Perhaps writers and artists need  spouses in more hands-on, methodical professions to keep them balanced and sane. 

I married a farmer, and I'm very happy about that.  I think Aunt Zelda might have been happier with a farmer, too -- less legendary, perhaps, but happier.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012


So the For Sale sign is now up in the front yard, and we're looking in earnest at other houses with signs in front of them -- ones in the city we're moving to. We're also looking for other signs; indications things will work out in the intricate dance of selling and buying.  After all, if you buy a new home too fast, you could end up paying two mortgages.  If you sell your current home too fast, you could end up homeless with no place to live.  What are all the signs pointing to?  Unknown right now, except for change.  A sign pointing to change is not necessarily a bad thing; it's just a difficult thing to wait on. Someday soon there will be a sign pointing home, and we'll follow it in and close the door behind us. Until then, there are only signs to get ready, travel light and hang on while it all works its way through.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Happy Valentine's Day

Hope there's a heart-shaped something in your plans this evening, even if it's just a mini-meatloaf.

Sunday, February 12, 2012


In my former life in Los Angeles, I was a public relations executive. It was the Era of The Yuppie, and I was pretty much the quintessential yuppie.  I took my job terrifically seriously, and was one of those PR types who wakes up at 3 am and jots down ideas, sketches out campaigns, and creates events to help increase their clients' positive profiles.  I attending meetings, mixers, networking and community events until late in the evening many nights, and there was rarely a Saturday I didn't go into work for at least a few hours.

In short, I was obsessively dedicated.  And I'm finding that trait, which served me so well in my professional life, is somewhat problematic in my personal one.  Take our house hunt, for instance. Did you know that if you check the MLS listings 50 times a day, it does not actually change much?  Who knew? Did you know that it's a pretty useless use of energy to wake up at 3 am jotting down ideas about a house you only made a backup offer on, which won't even be considered for at least 60 days? And lastly, that all those things interfere with your faith?

Yes, sometimes we are simply called to stand.  We are called on to trust in The Lord and let him bring our destiny to us in good time.  Yes, you have to stay awake and aware so as not to miss what He may bring you, but to obsess on the issue is actually the opposite of having faith, and leads you away from the peace and joy that is in the present.  You also have to replace all the energy you'd put into obsessively worrying and instead stay in His word and stand on the promises you find there.  Just stand.

So every day, I now remind myself that I need to rest in hope, peace and joy, knowing that God knows my needs and will supply them abundantly.  My obsessive dedication may be a plus in certain situations, but it's simply not needed here.  I could ramrod a future down everyone's throat and then discover that if I'd only trusted a little bit more, God would have delivered the perfect future in his own time and season.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Just thinking

I really, really miss watching "Lost."  Every network has taken a stab at replacing this iconic series, none with any success.

The clip below pretty much captures its originality and genius.  The awesome musical scoring doesn't hurt, either.

Lived it through

The older I get, the more life repeats itself.  There's the drama of the boy with the faithful girlfriend, who spends too much time with another, more sparkly girl, idealizing both her and family to a point where he neglects his always-there-for-him girlfriend.  She sits at home alone, bored, while he socializes with Sparkly Girl, her friends and her family.  But there's a comeuppance coming, and a hard fall from grace soon after that.  It's as inevitable as the spring grass

 There's another boy, this one in love with a girl who is somebody else's girlfriend.  She meets the boy in secret, complaining about how unhappy she is and how she's going to leave the boy she's currently with, which gives the first boy a kind of vapor-like, desperate hope that she will turn to him next, as she's done in the past.  But time and again, it goes nowhere.  It's a secret meeting, promises, and then nothing.

Two situations, repeated in various ways throughout time.  200 years ago, these situations were happening somewhere on the planet, and 200 years in the future (assuming our species is still here) it will still be happening somewhere.  I can give advice, but some things you just have to live through to really understand.

I'm just glad I'm finally old enough to understand now.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012


There's a ponding basin at the end of our development which is completely over-managed, and because of that is basically a massive dirt/mud hole which occasionally gets a little bit of water in it...but never for long. Not pretty. 

And so I must rant.

This ponding basin is, to put it mildly, grossly over-managed by The Powers That Be in our city adminstration , who insist on 1) draining the water out anytime a significant amount (i.e, more than a few inches) is present, and 2) discing and scraping the bottom and sides of the basin on a regular basis so nothing green can grow down there.  Hence the mud hole appearance.

Where else in the country can you find people so afraid of approx. 10 annual inches of rainwater?

We had three Canada geese who showed up last week, but they only stayed a couple of days, which tells me there was either not enough water to their liking, or not enough food.  When the geese come to Fresno-area ponding basins (about an hour north of here), they tend to stay for a few months, often hatching their young there.  But Fresno is different because they not only have more ponding basins than we do, but they actually use them as recharge basins.  This means they allow the water to stand and soak into the ground, thereby replenishing the water table.  A smart decision for any city that uses well water for its municipal water supply. Hanford does not do this in all of their basins.  Often, they drain the water out regularly (sending it flowing down a canal to nowhere), then disc down the basins so they are useless for recharge purposes and butt-ugly to boot.

Who knows, maybe it's one guy in the City, trying desperately to make it look like there's enough work around to justify his job.  Or maybe it's fear of litigation over someone falling into the foot or two of water (even though it's already behind a 6 ft. tall chain link fence with barbed wire around the top, furthering the ugly factor).  Or maybe most residents just don't give a shit if they have a pond surrounded by greenery or a mud hole at the end of their block. Either/or.  Doesn't matter. Perhaps the aesthetics aren't important to anyone but me and a few other like-minded souls. As long as the cable still works and they can take their giant 5th wheels to the coast every weekend, some of my fellow residents probably figure, what does it matter anyway? 

It's just one more way I realize I don't fit in well here.  Because what we do with God's earth (see, I was going to say 'God's Green Earth', but I can't even do that because it's not even green down there!) matters.  

A ponding basin is a chance to provide a place for children to play and the ducks and geese to frolic and raise their young.  It's a place for people to relax in the cooler air a body of water provides and for us all to walk or drive by each day and feel the lightening of our souls as we gaze on something lovely.

In short:  it matters a heck of a lot. Okay.  Rant over.

Monday, February 6, 2012


Have you ever noticed how interior styles of homes have changed over the decades?  I've been thinking about it ever since we started looking at real estate.  Get a 1910 farmhouse, for instance, and you'll find a lovely, expansive porch to sit on (for when the house was too hot; some porches were even used as summer sleeping quarters), an extremely large kitchen (for all that canning, preserving and cooking Mom would have been doing all day long), and good sized bedrooms for everyone.  But Mom and Dad's bedroom wouldn't necessarily have been much bigger than the kid's rooms, and everyone probably shared just one bathroom.  There were even attics and cellars for storage.  Lovely.

That went along until we hit the late 1940's and 1950's.  That's when people began to move into areas called suburbs, where their houses would have been closer, and therefore smaller, and where those smaller houses were surrounded with good-sized yards.  Windows got smaller to provide more privacy, and porches were smaller (you couldn't really sleep on them anymore on a hot summer night, since your neighbors were so close by) and the houses had a definite community feel. But kitchens were still large, yet seemed smaller because of all the new appliances -- dishwashers, big refrigerators, and all things "modern."

The 60's and 70's hit and women began working in droves, no longer minding the home all day long. The thing about houses built in the 60's and 70's is that the kitchens are really small.   Galley kitchens were not unusual, but if you buy an un-renovated house from this era and you happen to enjoy cooking,  you will find those kitchens hard to move around and work in.  That's because they were designed so that you could come home from work, pop a Stouffer's entree into the microwave, and, voila -- dinner.

Then in the 1990's and aughts, we discovered the "great room," where kitchen, dining and living areas were all opened up and placed together.  Owner's master suites began being built, and were often as large as the Great Room.  Our current home, for instance, has more carpeting in our master suite than our living room, and all that bedroom space for just one bedroom seems somehow wasteful.  Children's bedrooms in these new houses are usually miniscule, sometimes less than 10 ft. by 10 ft.  Kitchen size can vary, with the only downside being that whatever you are cooking, your entire Great Room will smell of it because, well, the kitchen is part of the Great Room.  Great except the days you're serving fish.

Then the Crash of 2008 happened, and now, the latest trend is to build new homes with energy efficient solar panels, solar hot water heaters, enhanced insulation and the like.  They still look like houses from 10 years ago -- big and open -- but they use energy more like the houses from the 1950's. And you can plug your car into the power station in your garage if need be.

I'm thinking a renovated 1910 farmhouse with solar panels would be perfect.  Probably not affordable, but perfect.  I'm ready to ditch our master suite and Great Room for something more traditional, but want a big kitchen as well as 2nd and 3rd bedrooms of a decent size.  That's not asking too much, is it?  Just take me back a century, architecturally speaking, but with all the technological trappings and advantages of 2012.

That's how we roll

So Big Ag and I are walking through a nice property our real estate gal is showing us over at the coast.  As I walk through the house and garden, I notice the amount of light in the house, mentally try and fit our furniture into the space available, and see how much weeding and planting it will take to make the garden what I see it being.  I admire the expansive northern views, the rose garden and the chicken coop. Big Ag walks through and comments on the house's need for new carpet, new tile, the cruddy condition of the walls and the probability of rodents in the attic.

That's not a perfect generalization; there are times when he spots some amazing feature of a place that I've missed or I find something that is of genuine concern that he hasn't seen, but in general this is how we roll.  Sometimes his pessimism gets on my nerves, and I'm sure my proverbial, "I'm sure we could fix this!" approach drives him similarly nuts.

But here's the thing. We're different, but we do complement each other.  Between us, we've got all the bases covered.  If we were both nit-picky and negative, we'd never find a place we'd be willing to take a risk on and put our faith in.  If we were both Pollyannas, we'd most certainly end up in a place that would fall down around our heads within a year or two.

Sometimes I think about it in terms of past relationships.  I used to have a tendency to find "fixer" men, believing I could somehow make everything better.  Usually this ended badly for them and sadly for me, when I finally realized I should have taken off the rose colored glasses a looooong time before I finally before I ever got involved.  Big Ag tended to find women he thought were in mint condition, only to discover there's really no such thing and that sometimes the flaws that lie beneath are the ones that cause a house -- or a person -- to ultimately fail.  

But I didn't meet Big Ag until I was 40, so at that point I had gotten over the urge to find someone who would be a "fixer" if they were a house, and I think when he married me, he deliberately married a real person with flaws, a true partner, and not an ideal.  And thank goodness we did.  Because between us, as different as we are, we actually do have all the angles covered to make our dream come true, even when it requires work and compromise. 

Saturday, February 4, 2012

An early spring

As I write this, the temperature is nearing the 70 degree mark, the sun is shining and it's a lovely spring day.  In the 20 or so years that I've lived here, I've seen the start of spring move up by at least a week or two.  It used to be that sometime after Valentine's Day, you would see a gradual warming, blossoms on the numerous fruit and nut trees, and less and less fog.  But now that process seems to start at the end of January....a small shift, but I believe a significant one.

I could go on a rant here about climate change, because you'd have to be either blind or completely ignorant not to see the shift, but instead I will only say that I do enjoy the longer spring. The longer summer that inevitably comes after it, not so much.

So just for today, I'm not going to stress over it.  Just for today, I will forego worrying globally in favor of enjoying locally -- the blossoms, the sun, and the life renewed in the earth, even if it has come early.  

Friday, February 3, 2012

Poor Demi Moore

Turns out, according to The Gospel Of "People" Magazine (which I read religiously, anytime I'm waiting in my dentist's office) that actress Demi Moore got together with Ashton Kutcher out of an intense fear of growing old.  I had always thought she was trying so hard to keep her youthful appearance and demeanor because she'd fallen for a younger man and the idea of being the "older woman" in the relationship was a torment to her.  Turns out it was the other way around.  The younger man was a symptom of her panic over getting old, not the cause.  At least if you believe what the "People" people are telling us.

For years, a lot of middle agers (especially women) have somewhat jealously thought of Demi Moore as a kind of got-her-shit-together cougar, a woman who produced films, raised a family, and could still rock a bikini whenever she wanted.  But it turns out all those twitter posts and self-filmed videos were a mask, hiding a terrible insecurity that came from knowing 1) if you're middle aged, the looks you have now are on their way out, and 2) you are living in a society where looks are king.  Double if you're a Hollywood type.

And while I feel bad for her and everything she's been going through, I think regular women can also breathe a sigh of relief and learn from her sad situation.  The quest for eternal youth rarely ends well or happily, and those of us who have chosen not to fight every wrinkle and roll have probably taken the more gentle, more kind path with ourselves, although some mornings when we get up and look at what's in the mirror we may not feel that way.  

Getting older is inevitable.  Looking older is also inevitable.  Cosmetic surgery can fix some things, but eventually it leaves you looking like a freak show, which nowadays also translates to old. And while you might vow to spend your life fighting the aging process with every bone in your body, do you really want to spend the next 40 years fighting an enemy who will eventually win out, no matter what?  I don't.  

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Salad Days

Finally, after a seeming eternity, the crops in the raised beds are producing what would normally have been their late fall crop. Carrots, scallions, spinach, onions and....lettuce.  Yes, here in this part of California, salad days are in fall, winter and spring.  But an unusually freeze-filled winter held up the lettuces until now.

As there's nothing better than fresh lettuce, we're now in a wonderful time of abundance for it, which will probably last until late spring.  It may be late this year, but it was worth waiting for.

As far as our house sale goes, the realtor is coming by to take some pictures now that we're almost finished sprucing up, and our lender in Paso has given us the pre-qual green light to start looking.  Yesterday we saw a lovely old farmhouse there that suited my needs nicely but Big Ag thought was too much of a fixer.  He was right, the house did have some issues, but it also had a panoramic view of the northern hills and an absolutely magical garden. Whether or not that trumps dry rot and a rodent issue is a matter of opinion.  But since I'm feeling patient and have plenty of faith, I'm going to agree with taking a pass on it and waiting to see what's further up around the bend.  Hopefully something with less mouse turds in the attic.  Funny how sometimes the smallest things in a house can sometimes signal the most trouble.