Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Deep House

I got a lot of holiday shopping done yesterday, almost all of it in Downtown Paso Robles, which truly has something for everyone on your list.  Today the wind is absolutely howling and rain is on the way, so I'm in the depths of the house doing inside stuff.  It's a good day to be indoors.  While there are few remaining advantages to being a homemaker, I can say without a doubt that being able to schedule your errand days around the weather is one of them.  When it's sunny, I wash clothes, farm, and cook in our solar oven, and when it's like this I deep clean a bathroom or two and make a nice hot dinner when the men come home from work and school.

There are things to do every day of the year around here, but to be able to watch a storm blow in from the south and not have to worry about going out in it is a blessing indeed.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

A Long Awaited Harvest

I was finally able to harvest some lettuce yesterday and let me tell you, it felt great.  No more wilty, slimy lettuce from the supermarket for us!  The one thing that's truly disappointed me about this area is the crappy selection of organic produce for sale in the area markets.  It's obvious they're not top-selling items by the expiration dates on them; gallons of milk and containers of lettuce don't last long in the fridge, because by the time they get home they're already past their prime, which tells me no one is buying them.  Items are never sold out, either, unlike the Hanford supermarkets, where they would sell out of organic milk and other organic items on a more or less regular basis.

I wonder if people's ignorance or lack of concern about the food they eat over here comes from the fact that they haven't seen how it's grown over in the valley.  Maybe they've never driven past a Tulare dairy and seen the condition the cows live in, or had to speed up on a Lemoore country road to avoid getting crop-dusted with pesticides by an airplane or spray truck.

Either way, it's become even more important that we grow our own food here, and this delicious, crisp lettuce is a fantastic start to what I hope will be a super-productive home garden.

Monday, November 26, 2012

We've traced the problem, and it's coming from inside your house, ma'am

I've been having trouble sleeping recently.  Some of the cause is allergies and some is the heat.  Heat in November?  You bet.  My room may be a cool 65 degrees, but I sleep better in an even cooler room.  And realizing that, I've started opening the window at night and resting a box fan on the sill again, in order to keep more cool air coming in.  

Last night it was a brisk 32 degrees outdoors.  I am guessing it was somewhere in the 40's in my room.  Yet I slept like a baby.  At no time did I wake up thrashing and kicking all the blankets off while simultaneously breaking a sweat.  I was cool and happy all night long.

The other odd thing was the allergies, though.  I'd been plagued by waking up at 4 am with sneezing and a runny nose.  And I was afraid if I opened the windows, my symptoms would get worse.  Instead, it's quite the opposite....the open window seems to provide clean, moist air that I have no problems breathing, without sneezes or nose-blowing.

51 years after birth, my body is still a mystery to me.  I know it and its little foibles well, but it's workings -- the genesis of why it does what it does -- are still a mystery to me.

But like the best horror films, sometimes the source of the problems comes not from ourselves or some outside influence, from literally from something inside the house.  Literally.  My body appears better able to cope with the natural, outdoor ambient air quality and temperature in this area far better than the artificial temperature and air quality inside my home.  Go figure. 

Saturday, November 24, 2012

I stand corrected

Sometime on this blog and in my column, I stated that I did not see a problem with keeping hens in the city, because they were so quiet.  This was before I made the acquaintance of Miss Red.
Miss Red is the equivilent of a rooster.  She fusses.  She attacks people.  Her beak draws blood.  She is also my best layer.  But the thing is, she is LOUD.  When she doesn't get her way (and "her way," unfortunately usually means someone is going away wounded, usually a human) she screeches like a banshee.  If we had neighbors close by, we'd already have been visited by the sheriff and Animal Control because a) they'd want to know she's OK, and b) we'd have noise complaints.

Most hens are quiet.  Not this one, however.  She's Hell dressed in red feathers.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Off the Grid?

Today the propane truck pulled up and filled our reservoir tank, so we're at full capacity and ready for whatever may come in terms of cold weather.  Back when I lived in the suburbs, I used to imagine what life would be like "off the grid" and how nice it would be to have energy efficiency that would remain uninterrupted should the shit hit the fan and our nation's or just our area's power grid went down.

A great many people put a lot of time, energy and money into assuring they are self-sufficient in case of a disaster.  Any episode of "Doomsday Preppers" will bear that out. While I think it's a good thing for everyone to be prepared to survive independently for a few weeks in case of a disaster, I think people who fantasize they are independent enough to last longer than a few months are fooling themselves.

That's because some infrastructure is necessary, even for those who consider themselves "off the grid." We're off the grid in terms of propane for a few months, but eventually we would need a refill, and it would take a truck to bring it up here to where we are. If you have solar panels and battery storage, you're only independent until the day something breaks and you need a replacement part.  Because ee're on propane here, we will always have hot water, but in order to have heat we need the electric blower that runs the furnace.  We have a solar oven and it works great, but it's our second one -- our dog broke the glass cover on the first one, rendering it inoperable.  You can run things for a long time if you have, say, a generator, but eventually you will need to go out and find fuel to run it.  Almost no one is completely independent, and even those who are can only be that way as long as they are fairly young and manage to live the rugged life without sustaining any serious injury or illness.You get the point.  

I used to think it was possible for many of us to be independent for any "long emergency" that might come down the pike, but after living country life for a few months, I've become more of a realist.  If we can last a few weeks without infrastructure, I'll be happy and consider us a success in the prepping department.  Any more than that and we would need support.  Which probably goes for any of us.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

A party and a toy story

We attended a cocktail party last night, where the wine flowed, the food was good and the company interesting.  It was actually a fund-raiser for the Toy Bank in the area, which donates toys to needy children during the holidays.

I've been impressed by the amount of charitable giving that occurs in this area during the holiday season so far, and we're just at the start of it.  Giving to others in need is one of the hallmarks of a sustainable society.  But it also needs order for it to work, the amount of needy people must be in a small enough minority that the majority can help ease them through their hard patch, whether they are there due to old age, unemployment, or whatever.  And it also requires people be ethical and honest about their need, in order to make sure the truly needy are served and taken care of.

Where we lived before there were more people in need than there were people to help them, as well as a high number of people who were probably not so much needy as lazy, but willing to take from the mouths of those truly in need in order to satisfy themselves.  Didn't work.  Truly needy people fell through the cracks and people who were NOT in need got served, while they stood around wearing gold jewelry, texting on smartphones and climbing into new trucks with chrome wheels and driving off with their free toys, or groceries, or whatever, probably laughing that they'd suckered the do-gooder types out of some nifty swag.  If those in need severely outnumber those who are not,  if donors too trusting, or if regular people too greedy, charitable giving doesn't fix anything.

Seeing that occur is enough to turn even the kindest soul into a Scrooge.  I don't delude myself into thinking that everyone in this area who takes a free Thanksgiving dinner or toys for their children needs them, but because the numbers are more manageable, it's easier to screen people to assess their neediness, and someone who clearly does not need it would stick out like a sore thumb, because there are less who would take advantage of the system.  Not sure why that is.  

Either way, when you truly know you're giving to someone who needs it, it makes giving much more pleasurable and makes you want to open your wallet that much more in order to help.  

Friday, November 16, 2012

What I do

All of these things are true, except that I'm a rural homesteader, not an urban one.  The other day, when I met the drunk in the ravine, she was dressed in fashionable slacks, a nice sweater, some killer sunglasses and a fair amount of bling.  I, on the other hand, was dressed in flannel-lined overalls, an old t-shirt, and I don't think I'd combed my hair, much less put on any make-up that particular day.  I'm sure I looked like somebody's inbred country cousin.  She was probably figuring she'd be hearing banjo music any moment. 

As far as today goes, I keep dodging in and out of the house as little breaks in the rain happen to install drip lines on the cottonwood trees I planted last week.  It's just not home unless there's the lovely strand of cottonwood trees somewhere on your property, in my opinion.  These trees are the grand-trees of some I planted in the first home I owned (I pulled striplings off those, which grew into trees at our new house, then pulled striplings off them before we moved last spring, which I'm hoping will grow here).  To say I'm sentimental about them is an understatement.  I'm hoping with regular water and a few months of winter dormancy they will roar to life in spring and start growing.

And THAT is what I do.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

The drunk in the ravine

I was outside cutting some roses at about 3 pm yesterday when I heard the sound of an engine racing, followed by some scraping, bumping sounds.  I looked across the yard just in time to see a Toyota Prius flying across our neighbors' yard and then bumping down an undeveloped easement between our property and theirs.  At first I thought it was teenagers, testing the limits of their car to see if they could make it to the bottom of the hollow and back up the other side, and my second thought was that this was a Prius, and that no one in their right mind would do that.

Once the car came to a stop at the bottom of the hollow, I ran over to make sure no one had been seriously injured.  A lone driver, a woman about my age, got out of the car and introduced herself.  She was completely unflustered, which flustered me, but she was unhurt and said she was just going to call her husband if she was unable to drive back out the way she'd  careened in.  She attempted to turn the car around (that's when I snapped this pic) but without 4WD could not do much more than spin her wheels in the dirt and brush.

So while she waited for her husband, we stood around and chatted, and that was when I smelled the alcohol on her breath.  She explained she'd been at a canasta party at the Newcomer's Club, which was being hosted by a resident up the street, and had not been paying attention when she missed the turn and went off-road down the canyon.  

And it was here I faced my dilemma of whether to let her and her husband solve the problem or involve the CHP.  Eventually I opted to call CHP and let them take down an accident report, in case our neighbors' property had been damaged in any way.  I also did not like the thought of them successfully getting her car back on the road and her driving home, as she lived about 30 miles away and had, after all, been drinking.  I figured the CHP could better ascertain her sobriety than I could.

Living in wine country, we see buzzed driving all the time, although not usually in our specific neighborhood.  There's no question that wine tasting is to this area what slot machines are to Vegas -- a ubiquitous, regular part of life.  And I can imagine how tempting it would be to attend an afternoon event and, without a designated driver in tow, give in to the temptation to kick back and have a couple of glasses of vino.

But a few minutes after I called the CHP (and was feeling guilty about it) a young mother and her two kids walked up the road to see what was happening.  It turned out her 10 year-old son had been just off the street when the woman blew by him, and said she was traveling at a high rate of speed. And I realized that this boy would have been in danger had he actually been in the street, instead of off to the side of the road.  And then I felt less guilty about calling the incident in.  

Because whether you are a resident or a tourist, and whether you fit a profile of what we normally think of as a buzzed driver, if you hit the road after any significant amount of wine tasting, you're breaking the law and endangering your friends and neighbors.  And if you're serving up that wine tasting, even if it's in the comfort of your home, you still have a responsibility to not allow buzzed people to hit the road after your little soiree.

There will thankfully be no permanent grief caused by this little incident; no one was injured (except the Prius, which got towed away) and in time the tire tracks and scrape marks down the hill will grow over.  But it was a powerful lesson for our household that the designated driver rule is always a good one, whether you're 21 or 51, especially here in wine country, where the good reds flow and you can't throw a rock without hitting a wine tasting party of some sort or other. 

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Too funny not to share

This is, quite simply, one of the funniest videos on farming I've ever seen.  


Tonight I have a full belly and am sitting in a warm house.  I will take a hot bath later on and then go to sleep in a soft bed.  

These are all things which are far too easy to take for granted.  And, as the season of Thanksgiving approaches, I want to remember to feel grateful for all of them.  They are simple, they are relatively inexpensive, and yet they mean so much.

Monday, November 12, 2012

So Excited!

About a week ago I left a voicemail with a local nature conservancy, offering to become a volunteer.  This afternoon they called me back, and I was thrilled to speak to the woman in the office, and excited to hear about the many opportunities they have for those who want to help.

This conservancy covers an area where I spent many happy hours over the last 20 years.  Sometimes, it was just a day trip, and other times, I'd come for longer.  I walked the ocean bluffs with my son and my mother, and later on,with my new husband and stepkids.  Over the years, we've brought friends along and shown them the magic of the place.  Being there has always provided me joy, solace, peace, hope and comfort, and the idea of giving something back to it, helping keep it great and even make it better, makes me so happy.

On Saturday I will go and help scatter native grass seeds in areas where it is sparse.  And I will see what else lies in store for me as I get more involved.  The one thing I know is that it is important to BE involved.  As I was brought out of the place we lived into this paradise, I realize how important it is to give back, as a way of saying thanks to God and as a way of keeping it beautiful and vital for generations to come.

You can throw money at causes like this, and that is, of course, appropriate, because some preservation can only happen when dollars get spent. But if you have the time, it's also important to give that as well.  For years I had young children at home and couldn't  commit to much, due to their needs and schedules, but at this point in my life, I can.  As much as it makes me sad sometimes that my kids have grown and gone on with their lives, knowing I can still contribute something important for the greater good makes me happy.

Today, I am thankful for being able to do that.  And I'm excited about Saturday.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Lemon state of mind

Sometimes I wonder how many negative experiences we draw to us due to our own negative mindset.  Last night I was a little ticked at my husband because he decided to go to a work dinner at the last minute and didn't make sure I knew about it.  This morning the auger stuck on our new pellet stove.  This pellet stove has had issues.  One time the mode light blinked for no reason (I unplugged it, then plugged it back in and it went away), another time it burned so hot the smoke detectors came on, and now it's blinking a code that tells me the auger is not feeding pellets into the stove.  Obviously, I'm going to report whats going on to the guy who sold it to us, but I am going to try and un-stick the auger myself before I talk to him.  It's going to be well below freezing this weekend and I'd like some heat that doesn't come from the expensive, propane-burning furnace.

Did we get a lemon of a pellet stove, or is life just handing out a few lemons in general to see if I make lemonade, or just put on my scrunchy sour face and pass on the sourness?

Friday, November 2, 2012

Chop wood, carry water.

The days when I come in the house mid-afternoon, hot and sweaty from working outside, and feel desperately ready for a warm shower are the best ones.   These days my time is spent between reading an incredible book on Kabbalah and performing chores and manual labor around the house.  It's all about balance, isn't it?  Feed your spirit, feed your body.  Become enlightened, think about it while you muck out the chicken coop.  I believe this is the natural balance of things, and that if the whole world ran like this it would be a better place.

Perhaps that was the idea behind the Kibbutz -- the farms in Israel so many of my friends sojourned to work on in the '70's and '80's.  Most went to make a pilgrimage to their ancestral lands and practice their Hebrew. But for many of them, their time working the land in The Holy Land was disappointing, because it was a mostly secular task.  Or nationalistic.  One friend was handed an Uzi on his first day in the field and told how to shoot in the direction of the hills where grenades were regularly launched from.  One has to defend oneself, it's true, but if its spiritual growth you're seeking, shooting at people probably doesn't help advance your understanding much.

But up here on our little hill, I can read the words of the sage rabbis and then go outside and prune a fruit tree or muck some chicken poop while I think about it.  It's a good way to really absorb what you're reading, and think about how it applies to your own life.

The buddhists have a phrase which sums it up nicely:  Before enlightenment, chop wood and carry water.  After enlightenment, chop wood and carry water.

That says it perfectly.