Thursday, February 28, 2013

Western Meadowlark

Finally managed to get a shot of this boy as he was perched atop our spruce tree.  He hangs out all day long and sings me his beautiful song as I work.  

He reminds me that I do indeed live in paradise.

Pour Some Sugar On It

Fine, indeed!

A old and very good friend of mine, who I am now Facebook friends with, posts regularly about the dangers of sugar.  Her posts are usually dotted with liberal  heapings of exclamation points and capital letters. It will usually say something like:  SUGAR IS TOXIC!!!!!.  IT WILL AGE YOU!!!  IT WILL KILL YOUR ORGANS!!!  And it will then link to some study which backs up these findings.

It is no coincidence that my dear, sugarless friend lives in the city and is, officially, a Lady Who Lunches.  She's a lovely person, inside and out.  And as for her sedentary lifestyle, I'm sure adding too much sugar would have negative health consequences, since she doesn't do much to burn it off, except tote shopping bags around town.  But the Hot Flash Homestead runs on sugar, let me tell you.  And I'm not ashamed to admit it.

Yesterday, for instance, during my 4,000 pound rock-moving exercise, I took a break about halfway through the morning, utterly fatigued and hungry.  I wasn't craving protein or carbs -- those would come later, at lunch.  I wanted something sweet.  And as my oldest son just happened to bring me some Ghiradelli chocolates during his whistle-stop visit, I dove into a bar of caramel/dark chocolate and demolished about 3/4ths of it, before returning to moving rocks.

The calories in that bar were consumed so quickly I'm pretty sure my organs did not even get the chance to recognize they were being provided by sugar.

My motivator, my muse and my love

I used to be the same way when I would backpack through the Sierras when I was younger.  Most backpackers carry Trail Mix with them, to munch on as they walk, because hefting a 50-pound pack up 2,000 feet to steep switchbacks pretty much requires a constant fuel source if you want to do it and still feel good enough to enjoy the scenery.  But I am allergic to nuts, so Trail Mix was never an option for me.  I chose things like M&M's and beef jerky instead. They didn't replace meals, they were eaten all day in addition to meals.  And since I would regularly return from those weeklong trips 10 pounds lighter than when I left, I don't think the M&M's had any lasting ill-effects.

Just like any medication, food or environment, I think different people's individual metabolism handles things different ways. Antibiotics that I can't tolerate, you may be able to take with no trouble.  Food that I love may do wonky things to your intestines, or give you a rash, or a migraine.  

No, indeed, I think while there are some general guidelines you could post on your Facebook wall that would hold true for everyone (DRINKING ANTIFREEZE IS TOXIC!!!!) I would say that generalizations about sugar, gluten, carbs, caffeine or protein are probably individual matters, best left to the judgement of you and you and your individual body.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013


I'm not quite ready to do the big reveal yet, but we are getting very close on finishing our big front yard project.  Today, in one of the final stages of the project, I moved 4,000 pounds of flagstones, by myself.  If this sounds impossible to you, it is not.  It basically consists of picking up a couple of pieces of flagstone at a time and placing them where they need to go.....several hundred times in a row.  

It's not back-breaking labor by any stretch of the imagination, but does entail a lot of carrying and walking -- something I happen to be good at.  These are skills I honed as a mother.  But today, instead of a walking with a fussy baby, I was carrying a couple of flagstones each time (which are much quieter than a fussy baby, by the way, who knew?), and instead of pacing the house, I was walking from our driveway to the pathway in our front yard and back again.

But despite the fact that it wasn't all that hard (just repetitive) I still intend to tell people I moved 4,000 pounds of rocks by myself as much as possible in the days to come, because it makes me sound like a total badass.

Which of course, I am.  A badass baby-holding, flagstone-carrying-and-placing mama.  That's me.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Powerful Words

Today I was cleaning out a drawer, searching for some paperwork, when I stumbled upon a piece of paper where these words were written.  It's part of the forward to Gene Logsdon's book, "The Contrary Farmer," written by none other than Wendell Berry.
Sometimes, when I forget why I'm here on this earth, in this lifetime, these words help me remember.
"Maybe we continue to need to think of Paradise, and of making Paradise, because the earth as it was given to us (as we realize from time to time) was so nearly paradisal, and we are so talented at making a Hell of it.
On the contrary, surely there is something wondrous and redemptive about a mind that can confront this definitive work of Hell on Earth Enterprises, Inc., and imagine the opposite story: How a member of the same species, out of his own horror at what has been done and his mere personal refusal to accept Hell as an acceptable human product, might begin the restoration of what has been destroyed; and how this singular effort might inspire the efforts of others to do the same thing; and how finally a whole community of people might ally themselves with the inherent goodwill of any place to heal itself and become the Paradise it once was.
                                                           -- Wendell Berry

Monday, February 25, 2013

James Taylor's "My Traveling Star"

It always makes me cry when I hear it, but sometimes, that is OK:

My Very Own Traveling Star

I took a break from the farm routine today and went into town, to run some errands and catch a whistle-stop at the local train station where my son was expected to pass through on a private car.  He arrived, right on time, and we had about five minutes together before he had to re-join his co-workers on the train and keep heading south.  They run a train which takes a gorgeous run, through the vineyards and down the sunny central coast of California.  It's probably one of the most beautiful train journeys in the world.

During the time my son's train was stopped and he had stepped out to visit, I had to fight off the temptation to toss him over my shoulder and throw him into to the back seat of my car, driving home quickly, before anyone noticed what I'd done. Once there, we would have had some hot chocolate and watched Thomas The Train videos until his bedtime at 7:30 pm., at which point I would have tucked him in, kissed him goodnight, and looked forward to seeing his sleepy little face in the morning

This, of course, is in complete denial of the nasty fact that my son is now almost 20 years old, is over 6 feet tall, and is therefore too big for me to pick up.  Plus he has a job on the train and goes to college, which is also known as Having A Life, something he is totally supposed to be doing at this age.  I should be proud of him.  I am proud of him.

But in my minds eye, sometimes he still looks like this to me:

Not this:

Let me tell you, the worst part about getting old is not getting old yourself -- it's them getting old.  The kids.  In my mind's eye, he's still my sweet baby boy and I just want to pick him up and carry him around on my shoulders. Or keep him safe at home with me. It's an urge I fight daily, more so when he's around, which might make his being away at college a blessing (for him, anyway).

But I don't let it get me.  I try and respect his new maturity and don't cry when his train pulls away and he looks at me, a little wistful, and waves, leaving me behind.  As I suppose he's done ever since he was first able to walk.

That first step they take is the first step they take towards eventually walking off into the world.  Sigh.  

Crisis or Opportunity?

Interesting story off the Associated Press this morning, about the "crisis" of large feedlots closing due to a lack of cattle:

Too Few Cattle Left To Feed

This crisis has been brewing for some time, as the price of corn skyrocketed (due to its use as a fuel component), followed by a midwest drought, which depleted much of the corn produced for all purposes.  Because of this, many ranchers sold their herds for pennies on the dollar and stopped breeding the cattle they had left, because it had simply become too expensive and difficult to feed them. The article reminds everyone that less cattle in the surviving feedlots will mean higher prices for beef at the grocery store and in restaurants.

And they make it sound like it's a bad thing.

It's just my opinion, but I firmly believe if most Americans ate less industrially-produced beef, it would not harm their health at all.  In fact, it might even improve it.

Humans do not need beef, especially not fattened up, corn-fed beef.  Corn-fed beef tastes better in the way a Twinkie tastes better than a chewy piece of homemade bread with butter and jam.  It's more bland, easier to digest, and filled with a lot more chemicals and unnecessary ingredients that make it easy on the palate.  Maybe we like that better because it's easier to forget that a living creature died in order for us to have it on our plate.  We are uncomfortable thinking about things like that.

Grass-fed beef can taste "gamey" (or perhaps "beefy" would be a better word).  You can't mass-produce grass-fed beef like you can corn-fed, feedlot beef, because grazing requirements are high.  Because 100% grass-fed beef is more difficult to produce, it's more expensive, meaning you will probably eat less of it than other things, like pork or chicken.

We had steak last night, the first we've had in several months.  It was really good -- grass-fed, locally raised and processed beef -- but it is expensive and, because of that, is an occasional treat for us.  Ditto for hamburger meat.  
Perhaps one unforeseen up-side to climate change ruining our vast fields of mono-crops is that we'll all be healthier, eating more home-grown and home-raised vegetables, or even small livestock that could be raised and butchered in a backyard.  Maybe more people would even choose to become vegetarian, once they were faced with the prospect of butchering their own backyard farm animals and meeting their meat on an up close and personal basis.

Perhaps there's a bright side to these harrowing times...if we choose to change how we do things.  We're two generations (at least) out from where most Americans did some farming, which means it's not too late yet to get back to a more agrarian lifestyle, even in urban backyards and vacant lots.  

Our grandparents and great-grandparents can light the way for us, if we'll let them.  And we'd better let them, before those micro-farming skills die with them and are gone forever.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Horsing Around With Your Topsoil

One of the things I have noticed about the area we live in is the number of horse properties around us.  It seems like at least half the homeowners in this neighborhood use their acreage for equines -- with most folks pasturing their horses 365 days a year, or close to it.  

I like horses, and used to own one myself, before we moved here.  But that was back when we lived in the suburbs and I boarded my horse with some friends who lived in the country.  

Even there, I couldn't help but notice the place where the horses spent most of their time (which happened to be the riding arena at that establishment) was completely devoid of green growth of any kind.  That's because horses, more than almost any other farm animal, are hard on the land.  This was illustrated to me recently, when we got a flyer from our community services district reminding homeowners to place wattles (kind of like long sandbags filled with tightly-packed straw) at the bottom of their hills, where the exposed and loose dirt could be expected to run into the road when it rained.  

Keep the wrong size animal on the wrong amount of acreage, and, if it's a hillside, you can pretty much say goodbye to your hill, one gully-washer at a time.

We have a healthy crop of ground cover on our hillside right now, and no grazing animals, and therefore have no problems with erosion at this time. Wattles are unnecessary.  Our topsoil and native grasses seem to hold our downslope pasture together nicely. But when we do get some livestock, we will need to use a rotational grazing method much of the year and be really, really judicious in adding four-legged critters to our farm, because topsoil is black gold and I'm not going to lose ours.

And while I'd like to own horses, donkeys, goats, sheep, llamas, and pigs, unfortunately we don't have enough room to graze that many animals and keep our soil in one place when winter rains and summer winds come.  To keep that many animals we'd probably need at least 20 acres or more. 

So I'm guessing maybe one donkey or a couple of goats would be manageable for us, because the menagerie I often dream about having would strip every living piece of plant material off our hillside and eventually, even strip the very dirt from it.

Guess even paradise comes with some limitations.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Front Yard Progress

Every week we get a little bit farther on our front yard a point where our neighbors now stop and tell us it's starting to look great.  This was a far cry from a couple of months or so ago when people drove by our house and thought the house was bank-owned because it all looked so unloved.  But killing a lawn without using herbicides takes dry weather and plenty of time.

So with that done, now real work can begin on it. Big Ag and Groceries did the hole digging for the plants (not easy in this part of the property, as the soil is quite rocky), and are currently putting in our log border on our pathway.  I did the design work, layed down all the landscape fabric and bark and also put in the drip system.

Probably the most satisfying thing for me has been running that drip system and noticing how much less water it uses than the lawn we inherited did.  When you pay for electricity to run your well pump, anything you can do to have that pump come on less is a good thing.  

So now we've got most of the bark, landscape fabric and plants in.

Bark is about 80 percent done

And we've moved on to making our pathway to the flagpole.  We'll be installing flagstones and gravel next week, finishing up on the bark laying, and then sitting back and enjoying watching it grow.

Starting the pathway border

OK, that was not honest. We will not be sitting back and watching it grow.  We will simply move on to the 9,999 other projects around here that need doing.

Anything else might get boring!

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Semi-solar cooking

It was sunny this morning, so I decided to bring out the solar oven and make some homemade cookie bars for my oldest son, who will be passing through town tomorrow.  I wanted something that will travel well, so I chose a chocolate/graham cracker/coconut cookie bar recipe.

It was all going well, until..

A pop-up thunderstorm, um, popped up.

So back into the house I came, and into the conventional oven went the cookie bars, to finish cooking.

After the change in cooking venue, I knew I'd better sample one or two pieces once it came out of the oven and was cut up, you know, just to make sure they came out.  I'm devoted to my kids that way, don't you know.

They came out perfect.

Here's the recipe:

Chocolate/Graham Cracker/Coconut Cookie bars

9 graham crackers
Two Tbs. Butter
1 cup chocolate chips
1 cup sweetened coconut
One standard-sized can of sweetened condensed milk

Grind up graham crackers in the food processor, then add the two Tbs. of butter, melted.  Mix with a fork until graham crackers are moistened slightly.

Press mixture gently into a small 9 inch casserole dish -- do not tamp down.

Sprinkle onto cracker mixture the chocolate chips and the coconut.  Pour condensed milk over the top, coating the entire surface.

Place in a 350 degree oven for about 20 minutes until slightly browned and bubbly.

Cool slightly then cut into squares.  Do not let them get cold before cutting, or they will be very difficult to remove and the pan will be quite hard to clean.


More good books on their way, thanks to the "request" feature at our public library, which allows patrons to request books from any library in the system (which spans 10 libraries, over a couple hundred miles apart) and they will ship them to your local library and let you check them out for the scant fee of $1.  

"We Took To The Woods," by Louise Dickinson Rich (thank you Stephen Andrew for the recommendation!) and "The Dirty Life -- A Memoir of Farming, Food and Love," by Kristin Kimball are both on their way.  Can't wait!

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Jonesing For Some Books

I love writing, but in general I am a lot more passionate about reading than writing. I love reading good books, of all kinds.  I get several bi-monthly farming/homesteading magazines delivered and love reading them and letting other people's homesteads spark my imagination.  The only problem is that once I've read them, I'm out of reading material.  

It's not pretty when that happens.  My name is Diane, and yes, I am a read-a-holic.

Blatant escapism from a perfectly decent life

When I was first married and wanted reading material, I simply ordered books from Amazon and sat at the window, waiting for the UPS truck to drive down the street and deliver my package the way my kids would wait for the ice cream man.  Sure, the kids were embarrassed those times when the truck didn't stop and I'd run down the street after it, crying and screaming that I wanted my books already. But then I'd remind them about the time they threw up in Denny's and embarrassed me and their Dad, and that was that.

But I digress. All those Amazon books eventually added up to a lot of dough, which I learned about Month 3 after I started buying them. Plus I try not to keep a book unless I really, really love it -- otherwise we'd start having a space and storage issue (I mean, more than we do already).  So I was ending up with a lot of enjoyed, but ultimately unwanted books. 

And that's when I discovered my public library system, which I've used religiously ever since.  I read it, I hand it back, and someone else enjoys it.  If I truly love it, then I will buy it and put it on my bookshelf.

Today's haul from our small library in town includes a memoir from Carole King (singer from the 1970's), a fictional tale of a teenage girl and the afterlife, Mark Helprin's new book, and a collection of funny travel stories.

I will read all of these, once my chores are done, or if I'm doing something (like watering trees) where I can easily free up enough brain power to read while doing it.  So I may be running water while laying out in our pasture among the new grasses, but in my mind I will be adventuring in the Troubadour nightclub in Los Angeles, in Heaven, in New York, or maybe in Tangiers, in that order.

It's going to be a great four-part trip, I'm telling you.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Crazy Comes in Small and Medium

One of these dogs is inside today because she tried to scale our fence during the storm and got caught before running off into the underbrush.  Perhaps there was a single clap of thunder that scared her. Or maybe someone just rolled their garbage can down their driveway to the road.  Or there could have been a supernova, in a distant galaxy somewhere. Sigh.  I admit it.  We have a neurotic dog.

Yes, our rugged outdoor "working" border collie -- bred to be hardy and stalwart, but in reality a big bundle of over-bred crazy who probably needs a daily doggie xanax prescription --  is the crazy half of this canine dynamic duo.  Look at the expressions on their faces.  

Hers: "Oh pleeeeeze don't put me outside where there are loud noises, strange people and mysterious scents I don't understand!  Oh gosh, I know you're gonna put me out!  Nooooo!"

His: "Oh.  You're here. Did you bring treats?" 

The differences in their two distinct personalities just proves that no matter how strange your personality, whatever your quirks and odd habits you may have, when you come here, you're accepted, as is.  

At least that's what I like to tell myself anyway, as I'm running down the road in the rain with my leash, in search of an inbred purebred dog with a clear case of post-traumatic stress disorder.  Or when I'm doling out treats to a football-shaped Jack Russell Terrier, who has elevated sleeping on the sofa for hours to a kind of high art. 

Accepting. Oh, ya. That's one word for it, anyway.


It's raining right now up here on the hill, but it's a slushy rain/snow mix...margarita snow, I like to call it.  Right now it's much more rain than snow, but tonight we may have a better shot at seeing some of the white stuff, especially since we tend to be colder than the temperatures in town, which you can see above.  

Snow rarely sticks around here, but it's still fun to anticipate and occasionally see.  It looks beautiful on the ground, around the dormant vineyards. We battened down the hatches last night, preparing for stormy weather, so there's nothing we need to go out for at this point.  We can just light our pellet stove, keep warm and enjoy the show.

On tap for tonight, homemade pizza with sausage,mushrooms and olives, some beer, and a salad I picked before it started raining this afternoon.  Then watching out the window and waiting.

Snow?  Maybe.  I hope so. 

Monday, February 18, 2013

A Well-Buttered, Slippery Slope

Last weekend I made my weekly trip to the local natural foods store to pick up a few items.  I have a few favorites that are on my list whenever I visit them; their oranges are wonderful, they stock a brand of vanilla extract I particularly like, they have some awesome home-grown veggies, and I will usually stroll around and see if anything else catches my eye.

This week, I remembered I needed some organic butter while I was there, so I popped some into my basket before heading to the counter.  The gal rang up $6.99 for the butter, but then paused and said, "Wait.  That can't be right."  She went into the back room and sure enough, had found there was a mistake.  The butter I'd picked, it turns out, was $9.98...almost $10 -- for four sticks of butter.  Nothing special, nothing fancy, just four sticks of organic unsalted butter, made by a national manufacturer.

I told her I was sorry, but I wasn't going to buy it at that price, and put it back in the freezer case.  She gave me a look that was either pitying or withering; I'm not sure which.

The next week, at Von's, I also found organic, unsalted butter....four sticks for $5.49.  And I won't lie, I snatched it up and took it home.  And I'm a little bit perplexed and disturbed that my local natural foods store would place such an outrageous price tag on a product considered a staple, when its actual price is so much lower.

When I looked on the internet, for example, I could have had a case of this same health-food store butter delivered to my house for what would work out to about $5.80 a box (we have a chest freezer, so this would actually be pretty do-able).  So I assume the little natural foods store could do the same and maybe a $6.99 price tag would allow them a decent profit.  But I think the $10 price tag comes based on the fact that most of their patrons are well-heeled enough to pay that much for it, and snooty enough to not want to be seen as questioning the price (as if they couldn't pay for it).

Sometimes I think the worst thing that's ever happened to the "shop local" movement is when it became a status symbol of the well-to-do -- the people who never need to ask "how much is this?" before buying something.

I always think of the local foods movement as being run by a group of people who have each others' best interests at heart, and for the most part, it is.  But there are still some who will charge whatever the traffic will bear, and will prey on a population that's too lazy to do their homework regarding the actual cost of something, factoring in a reasonable mark-up in order to stay in business.  

I have no objection to somebody making a profit.  But a 50% markup on something is going above and beyond the need to make a profit on the items you stock.  It's price gouging, and it's no less offensive in the natural foods marketplace than at the supermarket.  Maybe it's more, because the local foods movement is all about having a sense of community and a "we're all in this together" mentality.

It's not just here on the Central Coast where things like this happen.  I have friends back east who regularly find the produce at their local farmer's market has been bought at the local supermarket and re-sold as organic, with the price suitably marked-up.  Some farmer's markets police their vendors better than others.

But I have to say, it's disappointing to find those wolves among the sheep.  And my only hope is that, when it comes to asking for reasonable prices, we don't throw common sense out the window just because someone is local and looks like The Little Guy to us.

Little Guys are sometimes crooks, too, just like their big counterparts.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Working Weekend

I can't remember what we used to do on weekends, back when we lived in the suburbs of the San Joaquin Valley and were dreaming about moving to the country.  I guess we spent a lot of time driving over here and exploring, once we'd decided to start looking for houses over here, but before then it's a blur.  I suppose I read farm blogs and magazines and imagined what life would be like if we had some acreage and weren't surrounded by houses everywhere.

Either way, our weekends now are filled with hard work and well-deserved pleasures after that work is done for the day (even if it's only soaking in a hot bath and getting clean).  This weekend was a mix of work outside -- laying bark, watering orchards and berry patches, building fence, and occasionally stopping to bask in the fresh air and blue skies.  

Last night we treated ourselves to a special Valentine's dinner at the local winery.  There was a six course meal with wine parings for each one.  On the menu were things like oysters, wild local mushroom soup, and pork osso bucco which was absolutely amazing.  After a day spent outside working, it felt wonderful to get dressed up and meet up with a great group of people for some amazing local food and wine.   This morning we got up, refreshed from the break, and hit it hard again out in the pasture and yard.

While I've been out there this weekend, I can't help but notice that spring has sprung, or is in the process of doing so:

Raspberries have leafed out

Bing Cherries are budding 

Blueberries are almost ready to blossom

People talk about the holiday season as being a "blessed" season, but I think spring's blessings are just as sweet, as the soil and all that grows in it wake from winter's slumber and start sending shoots towards hopeful, happy blue skies.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Around The Vegetable Garden


OK, I shouldn't even have called this post "around the vegetable garden," because I grow crops, people.  Real crops.  To call them a "garden" brings to mind something flowery and fluffy, like this:

Pretend crops (with pretend gardener)

Not really how it works out for me when I'm busting my hump in the South 40 (okay the South 1.5 or so).  But this first cool season has been a learning experience for me as far as my veggies go.  Here's how we're doing:

Carrots are showing signs of life, and I will patch some bare spots with new carrot seeds this week.  It's so cold they are growing slowly though, so I will either have to plant much earlier (for a December harvest) or much later (for a spring harvest) next year.

Lettuce is a clear success, we have delicious salads every night, and I may even put in a spring bed to replace the current plants, which have been growing strong since about December.

Broccoli was not bad after it matured, but blue aphids were a problem and, after washing out as many as I could, I figured any I ingested were OK, as they are basically plant juice with legs.  Yum.

Cauliflower, same as for broccoli -- the aphids love sucking on the leaves, and I have no idea if the heads will be decent or not as they're still growing.

Onions could have been better.  They grew but look like large leeks or green onions instead of round, red onions as they are supposed to be.  Nonetheless, they taste pretty good, but are on the small side.

Radishes came and went and were lovely.  I'll replant again in spring.

I'm going to fallow two beds this spring and fortify them with compost, instead of trying to use all beds in an ongoing crop rotation.  It just takes too much out of the soil to do this, so I'm going to rotationally fallow a couple of beds each season, and build them up with plenty of compost and mulch during their break....and maybe even grow a green cover crop in them.

I'm thinking about all this because I noticed the other day that squash and even tomatoes are already in the nurseries.  It's a sweet sign of spring to see them, for sure, but I'm not fooled.  Winter is not done with us yet.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Valentine's Have's and Have-Nots

It's Valentine's Day, which around our homestead is really no big deal.  We bought tickets to a romantic dinner at the winery we belong to, which will take place this weekend, but since today is Thursday it's pretty much going to be a normal kind of day.  Laundry.  Sweeping.  Attempting to gently stretch the 40 or so muscles I imposed on  yesterday while I was setting up a drip system in our yard.

I was thinking about this the other day in terms of life.  So often when we are in the group that could be qualified as a "have," we don't think much about it.  It's a need that's met and that's all there is to it. Valentine's became a not-so-big deal once I was married.  When I was single, especially if I was in a new relationship or, worse, NOT in a relationship, Valentine's Day, or the lack of a person to celebrate it with, was huge.  Epic. Tragic.

It illustrates what I think is a basic component of human nature:  we all focus, to some extent, on what we do not have.  And the more we do it, the more unhappy we are guaranteed to make ourselves.

When I was in my early 20's, I had a small cosmetic procedure to fix what I can only call a genetic issue with my eyes, specifically, pouchy-looking bags of fat under them.  Nearly every woman on my mother's side of the family had this fixed, and for good reason.  It was unattractive, and eventually would have caused a medical problem, as all that fat tended to pull your eyelids down, with time and gravity figured in.  

But here's the thing:  Before I got it done, I obsessed with my fatty under-eye bags every time I looked in the mirror, every time I saw an advertisement for eye make-up in a magazine, or every time I passed a woman who had nice eyes.  I'm ashamed to admit it, but my eye bags were pretty much the center of my universe. I shudder to think how much precious brain power was used for thinking about this pretty minor issue.

I had the procedure done, and basically never thought of my eyes again.  All that brain-time and energy, freed up!  Perhaps it was because I finally felt "average" or "normal." So my obsession with eyes disappeared.  And it was only then that I lived as most other people did, where they looked in the mirror and saw their eyes as just another part of their face. 

When you are blessed to have certain needs and wants met, the odds are you don't think much about them.  Food, shelter and health are the big ones, of course, but on smaller issues it rings just as true, too.  The popular kids in high school never saw themselves as kings and queens, you only saw that if you were looking in, from outside that circle.  Models and actors we regular folks consider gorgeous fully believe they have serious flaws that make them less attractive than their other famous peers.  The rich see themselves as plain-old-average people, and often see themselves as that way because they compare themselves to people even richer than they are.

Homesteaders have a little of this going on.  The urban homesteader often thinks their life would be better if they just had more space to grow things and raise food.  The rural types envy the urban types their ability to visit the grocery store without having to drive 20 miles to do it. Western homesteads envy the east for their gushing water -- the thousands of rivers, springs and plentiful aquifers just 30 feet below the ground.  The east envies the west their long growing season and the ability to have fresh salads in January.

The Valentine wish I have for everyone today is that, just for a minute, they can see themselves, see their spouse, or see their life in the way someone who doesn't have that life would see understand that almost everyone in our culture has a life that would be enviable to someone.

May we all enjoy and truly appreciate those blessings we so often take for granted -- lack of eye bags included.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Front yard drip lines done

55 spaghetti drip lines run.  55 little one-g.p.h. emitters attached to them.  55 tiny holes punched into larger half-inch tubes which the emitters and drip lines attach to. A hundred yards of half-inch tubes run all over the front yard.  Four t-shaped risers made from former sprinklers, which watered a former lawn.

55 very happy and well-watered plants.  

One very, very very tired woman.   

Monday, February 11, 2013

They Did Come Out!

As you can see, the hot cross buns turned out beautifully.  We Americans don't make a lot of bread in our culture, therefore when we do we tend to believe it's a tricky process, fragile in nature, and can go wrong if you as much as breathe on your dough the wrong way.

These rolls tell you it's not true. I messed them up six ways from Sunday, and they still came out gorgeous and tasty. The ones that are missing are test pieces -- one from the edge and one from the middle...I chose, selflessly, to be the one to sample them to make sure they had cooked and risen properly.  I know, I know, I really am the Mother Theresa of our household. Sweet bun sampling is such an act of devotion and sacrifice....

Why I Love Mondays

If you are a homemaker or a homesteader, you probably love Mondays.  I know I do.  When you work in your home and on your home, making it clean, organized and fruitful, Mondays are the best day of the week.  You wake up in the morning, in your work place and ready to hit the ground running on your never-ending chore list....but without the distractions that are often present on Saturdays and Sundays (even though they are nice distractions).

I love our weekends and I love the activities my husband and I find ourselves involved in.  But I'm often glad once Sunday night comes around and I know tomorrow is Monday.  This is a bold contrast to how I felt when I worked outside the home.  I hated Mondays, because I knew I had to leave home the next five days in a row, for most of the hours I was awake. I can't think of a single job I held where that fact did not depress me just a little bit.  Some jobs were worse than others, but even the best ones left me longing, just a little, to be home enjoying the house I was working so hard to pay a mortgage on.  In truth, I'm probably the ideal personality type to work from home.

Today I am back to the blissful routine of cleaning, hanging wash, composting, cleaning chicken coops, and continuing to lay drip lines for the front yard landscaping.  It's quiet and the pace I set my work at is my own.  I will work hard, but I am working for myself, and that makes all the difference.  Perhaps people who own a shop or restaurant feel the same way...going to work on your own property is a sweet feeling, no question.

Mondays I always breathe a little bit easier.  I get organized, get clean, and enjoy the sweet routine of householding until Friday comes along again, when I'm ready for another break in the routine.

It's hooray for Monday -- every Monday -- here at the Hot Flash Homestead.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

A little humor

When people ask me why I do not write professionally anymore (I had a newspaper column for nine years) I point out that there are so many good writers out there nowadays that being a paid writer is fast becoming a thing of the past.

Yet I have always admired fine literature, no matter what its form....novel, column, blog....or product review.

It appears a rogue band of writers has commandeered this Amazon page for Tuscan milk and bombed it with hilarious, clever reviews, comments and questions.  1500 of them so far. Enjoy!

All hail Tuscan milk!  All hail!!

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Hot Cross Buns -- Maybe

I am currently making a large batch of hot cross buns for a function we have to attend tomorrow.  Got all the way through the kneading and rise process before figuring out I'd forgotten to add the grated orange peel, raising and cinnamon.

Why is it these accidents only happen when I'm cooking for others...never when it's just family?  

Stay tuned to find out if I end up with light, airy buns, or dense, un-risen hockey pucks.  I added the forgotten ingredients as I pounded the loaf down, before dividing it into rolls. It's a gamble. We'll see what happens.

A Generational Issue

So this morning Groceries, our 19 year-old son, gets up and announced that he's going back to the Valley for the weekend to see his friends and hang out.  This was after he repeatedly asked these same friends what they were doing this weekend, and if they wanted him to drive the two hours it takes to see them.  They were non-responsive, all week long.  

It's so easy when the kids are this big.

But sometime last night, they apparently figured there was nothing better to do than invite our son out for the weekend, and so this morning he announced he would be leaving presently.

(Perhaps I will discuss the issue of why kids are so willing to jump through hoops for friends who don't appreciate them on another day, but all three of my kids exhibit this tendency when in the presence of the pretty, popular peers of their group, so it's a universal teen malady, I know.)

Anyway, this presented a problem.  Groceries had already agreed to help my husband Big Ag put in some fencing at the bottom of the property today, a project we desperately need to finish if we hope to keep the deer from consuming several hundred dollars' worth of orchard and vineyard plantings.  I pointed this out to him and said that, under similar circumstances, his Dad would never, ever leave him in the lurch like that.  Nothing like dose of good, old-fashioned Jewish guilt, dealt out by a good, old-fashioned Jewish Mother.  

And so both men are now at the bottom of the property installing fencing.  One happy, the other not so much.  And the not-so-happy one will leave this evening to see his friends instead of jumping in his truck this morning and leaving his Dad one man short for a two-man job.

Gosh, were we adults ever so flighty, so inconsistent, so self-centered when we were that age?

The answer doesn't even require any thought, does it? Of course we were.  

Friday, February 8, 2013

Wet and wild afternoon

Dark skies at noon

It's been a dry year so far, but today the rain poured down for about an hour or so.  It probably won't do much to improve our precipitation stats, but it was a welcome change from our un-seasonably sunny and warm winter so far.  

I was happy to see it, because we water our vegetable garden with well water. And our well water is extremely high in mineral content, as you can see by residue on the Mason jar I use to heat the water for our coffee every morning.  It's delicious water, but needless to say, we won't be needing any calcium supplements anytime soon.

Mineral Build-up
The cure

So this afternoon, even though it was a cool 46 degrees when it started raining, I ran outside to catch some roof runoff so I could water our raised vegetable beds.  Mineral-rich water is not harmful to drink or even to water your plants with, but if you water with it often enough (as we do through the dry seasons and in winter if there's no rain) those minerals will build-up in the soil and can affect plant growth and production.  Out in the fields, there's not much you can do about this but pray for heavy rains, but with raised garden or vegetable beds you can give them a good wash-out by collecting rainwater and soaking your beds with it.

While I was out there, though, the sky grew extremely dark and the temperature dropped at least 10 degrees...and the rain went from pelting to slushy.  Nonetheless, I stayed at my post, doing bucket duty until all the beds (and I) were thoroughly soaked and my fingers were numb and aching from the cold.  It may seem silly to cry cold when much of the nation is experiencing a blizzard as I write this, but standing outside in the wind and rain, soaking wet, when it's only in the high '30's is cold, believe me. 

But then I had the privilege of coming indoors for my farmer's reward....some hot spiced tea, a good read, and the pellet stove warming me from head to toe and drying my wet clothes. 

All for some rain water.  Precious rain water. Totally worth it.