Saturday, July 27, 2013

Camping out

So life without indoor appliances or a kitchen sink is a bit like camping out.  In the last week we've seen 80 percent of the cabinets get installed, which means I've put most of our kitchen goods back into the kitchen where they belong.  But there were snags with both the microwave cabinet and the sink cabinet, which means for the time being, those cabinets remain empty and our countertops cannot be installed until the issues are resolved.


When this whole renovation started, I had grand illusions of cooking in my solar oven, washing dishes outside, and playing pilgrim as we made do with no inside kitchen water and cooking appliances.  In theory that was a good idea; the truth is I do use my solar oven a lot in summertime, and while we may not have a kitchen sink, we do have running water elsewhere in the house.

But that's not how things shook out, due to a failure to plan on my part.  You see, everyone who lives in this house is on different meal schedules, with me eating around 5 pm, Big Ag eating whenever he comes home (usually 6:30 - 7 pm), and then Groceries usually eating last and loading the dishwasher, usually at about 9 pm.  But you can't do dishes outside at 9 pm.  And using the bathroom for dishes got gross really fast.  After all, who wants to leave dishes in a room where you perform, well, other tasks, shall we say?

So what it's come down to is having food around that can be easily prepared and cleaned up after, like sandwiches, salads, bbq, and pre-prepared food.  Oh, and eating out.  That part actually makes me feel quite European, as we head into town for supper and then walk around, looking in shop windows and stopping in for some post-dinner gelato at my favorite gelato place.

And even with the dining out, I've still lost 3 pounds since we started, and Big Ag is down a few as well.  Not a bad thing at all.  Apparently all my home cooking really was too much of a good thing.

I can see it now...the next diet sensation:  The Kitchen Renovation Diet, or How to Lose a Pound a Week -- just by destroying your kitchen!

I may not have a working kitchen, but I DO have a pantry now!

It's a work in progress.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

The Authentic Memory

I'm turning 52 next week, and I have to say I'm completely happy that I got to live my 20-something years during the 1980's.  Especially because the 1980's were the ending years of the unplugged life, right before hand-held electronics made their way into our moment-by-moment lives.

Of course it was a pain in the ass to have to locate a pay phone if you wanted to make a call, or to miss an important message because you were away from your phone, or to be unable to share good (or bad) news or a funny picture until you got home from a concert or a vacation.  But I can honestly say that during those wild, romantic, youthful years of my 20's, I was completely present where I was, doing whatever I was doing at the time, with no distractions --  no screens, no feeds and no statuses to check.

Think peak moments.  In my 20's, I had many, often in the presence with great friends or romantic partners.  We might be standing on the edge of a continent in Greece, enjoying a cup of coffee and scones at a tiny coffee shop on the foggy California coast, or witnessing a spectacular lightning storm perched on a hill in our car on a stormy late summer night in the midwest.

I experienced those moments in their totality, with whomever I was with and the gestalt of everything; the sights, the smells, the sounds and the emotions.  And even now, 30 years later, sometimes I catch a scent of jasmine, the sound of the ocean or the boom of distant thunder, and all those memories come flooding back to me, unbidden.  And they are welcome.  They bring back long-lost friends, places that no longer exist, and a time when life was a lot simpler and more innocent.

Fast forward to today, where every important moment is captured, pixelated and immediately shared. It's a huge loss, because in order to capture that moment, you must, by necessity, step away from it -- leave the real-time sights, sounds and sweeping feelings of that exact moment, in order to turn your cell phone on to camera setting, frame your shot, click away for a minute, and then get on the internet, log into Facebook or your address book and post it for everyone to see.  

It's like the time I agreed to photograph the Space Shuttle landing at Edwards Air Force Base in California.  I did my job, but ended up seeing the whole landing not simply looking up at the sky, but by squinting, one-eyed, through the viewfinder of my camera.  And I felt the loss when it was all over, because although I had the images captured on film, I missed watching the landing with my own two eyes.  I was so busy fiddling with focus, f-stop and aperture I missed the thrill of watching a spaceship come down from the sky and land.

And so it is today.  If you're standing on the edge of a volcano and have to start fiddling with your cell phone to capture and post an image, you've just diminished the primitive thrill of the volcano experience for yourself, while attempting to preserve it.

I see it at the winery all the time.  People ask me to take their picture, then spend the next 10 minutes trying to get a decent cell signal out of the winery so they can "check in" and post their photo.  And in those minutes they lose, they also lose the flow of the moment and the magic of the experience with their friends, a summer breeze and a glass of wine.

It's something I can't stress enough; if you want to feel those all-encompassing moments -- the ones that will still be capable of sweeping you over and under with their raw beauty and their emotions a quarter century or more after they've happened, put down the screen for God's sake, and just experience them with all your human senses, and nothing more. 

Take a picture in your brain, another in your heart, and another on your skin as the moment wraps you up and envelopes you. 

It's the only way to really keep a memory for all its worth.  An Instagram or Facebook post will never do it justice.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Getting to me

My cabinet of solace

So I found myself in the wine library while working at the winery this afternoon, polishing glassware and carefully placing it all back on the shelves after a busy afternoon.  I love the wine library; it's my favorite place on the property to be even if I don't get in there often.  It's dimly lit, has lots of warm wood cabinets and built-in wine racks, and is a nice even temperature of about 65 degrees all the time.  Perfect on a day when outside temps are in the 90's.

But it's become a favorite place even more since I've been doing this remodel at our house.  You see, my kitchen is empty and its contents are scattered throughout the house, which makes everything at home seem messy and unorganized.  I am not one of those people who deals well with disorganization; it makes me feel scattered, distracted and ill at ease.  

Hopefully this will be the last week when the contents of my kitchen are laying all over the floors of our own den, living room, dining room and guest bedroom, but until it feels back to normal, I will seek solace in the comfort of the wine library at work on quiet, late afternoons, where everything seems to have a place, and there is no clutter nor even a bottle or glass out of place.

Library ready for an event

Friday, July 19, 2013

General Update

This has been a crazy week, between getting the kitchen ready for new cabinets and harvesting a bounty of vegetables which I can't use, since I have no kitchen to prepare or preserve food in.  I'm giving most of it away, to the girls at the winery, to my neighbors David and Ray, and really, anyone who shows an interest.  Success is not a problem here, and hopefully by the time my kitchen is functional again I will still get some garden goodies put aside for ourselves.

We're also coated in a thick layer of concrete dust as we speak, because the kid who came to do the tile removal used a grinder on the entire floor and dust got into everything, all over the house -- into drawers, electronics, the ceiling and walls and of course all the furniture and flooring.  We were wearing respirator masks until about yesterday. 

The construction company has pledged to make this mistake right, and next Wednesday a team of four professional housekeepers will be arriving to clean our living areas from top to bottom. That's a good thing! Monday and Tuesday will be cabinet installation days, but as the countertops will not be installed until about mid-August, we'll be minus a working kitchen sink and food prep area until then.  But at least some of what belongs in the kitchen cabinets can be put away (after the concrete dust is washed off, of course).

In the garden, there is an abundance of cukes, zukes, eggplant and my first ripe tomatoes.  I keep up with the watering and the harvesting, but that's about it at this point.  Life's not allowing for much else.

But the best news of all is that I just found out that my two dear friends Hal and Peter are getting married -- finally -- after 21 years together.  Perhaps I'll even be able to host the happy couple for dinner soon using our new kitchen!  Keep calm and marry on, California!

Monday, July 15, 2013

A Lesson in The Law -- California Style

Today, Big Ag was outside working on the property when he spotted a family looking at the lot next to us.  We didn't know it was for sale, and while we were walking around on it, we realized our septic leach lines run across the top of the property, on the same hill our house is on, but definitely on the other property, not ours.

I can't believe we never noticed it before, nor did anyone else who helped us buy our home, including the previous owner.  So we did what anyone does when they realize there's a potentially huge and complicated legal issue relating to their land, which was 1) panic, and 2) begin research in earnest.

To make a long story short, it turns out we have a legal right to have our leach lines running across the neighboring property due to something called a "prescriptive easement."  It's a strange thing, good for us but not for absent land owners.

Basically it goes like this:  If someone encroaches on your property by putting something like a sewer line or septic system on it, or if they just walk across it every day to get to the grocery store, if you haven't put a stop to it within 5 years of it happening regularly, you're out of luck.  That's right, if its been done for 5 years, innocently, with no push-back from you, it's a done deal that it can legally continue to happen into perpetuity, without you being able to do a thing to stop it.  In fact, if you try to stop it the courts will rule against you, and you may be liable for damages.

Hard to believe, but true.  It's true in other states as well as California, but the number of years it takes for the encroachment to become legal can differ.  In Tennessee, for example, you have 9 years to complain before its too late for you to do anything.

I'm not sure how this is possible or if its even a law that I like, but in this case it works in our favor.  Our house was built in 2005, with the leach lines being put in place in that time.  That's 8 years ago, meaning it's now been legal for 3 years.

I'm thankful, but also a little perplexed as to how and why this law exists.  But mostly thankful.  It also means that our lovely 180 degree view of the Coast Range will probably remain the same, as it would be impossible to build on the other side of the hilltop without disturbing our leach lines or violating the laws that demand leach lines stay a certain number of feet away from any residences.

A victory for us, albeit a strange one.  

And it turned out the real estate shoppers were on the wrong lot, anyway.  The lot next to us isn't even for sale, and possibly never will be.

And so panic turns to relief as we watch another sunset from the back patio.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Deconstructing the kitchen

There's now real progress happening on the kitchen front.  Today Big Ag and Groceries spent the day de-constructing the  old kitchen.  There's construction dust everywhere and the entire house seems littered with kitchen items we had to remove from the drawers and cupboards, but it at least feels like we're making good progress towards a new and more functional kitchen.

Here's a couple of pics of the demolition so far:

Of course this just had to happen at the height of summer, when I have a bounty of fresh vegetables ready to be cooked, but luckily I can still grill things, cook in the solar oven, and when all else fails, give any produce we're not using to our neighbors and coworkers, most of whom don't have vegetables in their gardens.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Preoccupied with the vanishing celluloid crowds

I see dead people

OK, some people might feel like this post is a downer, but I have to be honest about where I'm at, which is somewhat reflective right now.

For those of you not there yet, I will tell you something:  Your 40th birthday is no big deal.  You're still good-looking, fit, and if you've taken care of yourself, still part of the "young" half of the planet.  You're a little (or a lot) wiser than you were at 20, and maybe you have a few gray hairs or a permanent slight mini-pouch from your pregnancies, but all in all, things still look pretty good.

50 is another story.

50 is different not because you necessarily feel any differently than you did at, say, 49, but because the number is significant.  It's half a freaking century, for heaven's sake.  And unless you are someone special (like my Uncle Earl, who passed peacefully in his sleep at the ripe old age of 104) there is every chance in the world that you are well past the halfway point of your life by the time the big 5-0 comes to call.

Your fifties are also the age when the generation that came right before you is on its way out.  My mother is still with us and still healthy, but she's 80 years old and is losing siblings and friends right, left and center.  My godmother has dementia and can no longer remember her grandchildren or what she had for breakfast today. My father's ashes were scattered at sea 25 years ago, and my grandparents are also long gone, relics from the bronze age at this point.

It's a sobering thing.

So here's how it hits me:  I watch old movies on television, and they get to me because, lets face it, if it's from the 1940's or even 1950's, almost everyone in them is dead.  That's right, while others see crowd scenes filled with hundreds of costumed extras and crowds of background performers, I see a crowd of....well....dead people.  Plus, depending on the film, dead horses, long dead dogs, and a way of life that is completely changed.  

Now lest you think I'm a total downer, I'm not.  In some ways, it's kind of fun seeing the phones that plug into the wall, the old automobiles, the bullet bras and the odd kitchen gadgets.  But the faces haunt me, because I know they're either gone or so old as to be unrecognizable. And I'm conscious that the things I remember from my own childhood are getting to the same obsolete place -- fast.

My friend Rod's mother, for instance, was a dancer on the stage and in film.  She was in the first stage company of "Oklahoma," was featured on the cover of "Life" magazine, and was a principal dancer in both the film of "Oklahoma" and the movie "Carousel."
My friend's mom, roof dancer on the far right
 I saw her on TCM last weekend and there she was, fresh, young and lovely, dancing her way across the locations and movie set of the Rogers and Hammerstein classic film.  In today's world, she is very old and stricken with dementia if I remember correctly.  But on my television screen she is young and vibrant, once again and forever.

And that's the thing about those of us who were born in the 20th century.  We are among the first generations who have ever been archived, documented and preserved so well for posterity -- on celluloid, on Kodak, and on readable disc.  But while the images of us that flicker across our screens will never change, we most certainly will.  And seeing the generation before mine begin to pass out of existence is a hugely sobering thing.

I try not to dwell on it in a depressed way, but rather to take note of it in a way that gives my life more meaning and makes the days more important.  When I realize that my entire generation is going to pass away along with me, I feel better, because I realize I have comrades in arms as we get ready to shoot the rapids into whatever comes next.  But to realize that we're next generation into the boats, it certainly gives me pause to reflect.  I see it in the mirror.  I see it in the faces of the crowds in the films, the crowds of people who are all gone now.  

And I see it in the world around me, which is now centered around the young adults of the next generation, as it should be.  As it was when I was their age.  And I turn my face towards those rapids, those most certain and unavoidable rapids where the generation before me is passing, and where we're headed next.  

And sometimes I look backward to what was with a little nostalgia, some sadness, and the realization that someday, my generation will be just like the crowds in the old movies I watch now -- long gone, us and our horses and our dogs and our gadgets. And it's a strange feeling, a feeling I wish someone would coin a term for, but they won't, ever, because we never coin terms for things we're too uncomfortable to acknowledge, however universal and inevitable they may be.

Monday, July 8, 2013

Cabinets and Cukes

In a few minutes, a truck will pull up and deliver our new kitchen cabinets.  Even though it's only the first step in the remodel, I can't wait to see those boxes.  I've been steadily emptying out the shelves in the old kitchen cabinets and stashing things in the spare room and our library, but as its been a slow burn I've had time to keep items stacked against the walls instead of underfoot.  But I still would not want anyone to visit our house right now, as it looks like we're moving or just auditioning for an episode of "Hoarders -- Buried Alive." My kitchen does not contain much junk, but with all the cooking, baking, canning and wine and soapmaking I do, I have managed to accumulate an impressive amount of equipment and supplies.

The vegetable garden is going like gangbusters, and this year its the cucumbers that have gone wild, to a point where I have many more times what I need (pickle and relish-making included!).  Luckily my friend Annette at the winery has offered to take my surplus, as she cans roughly 100 jars of pickles a year.  Sometime when we're not running around pouring wine I'm going to have to ask her what she uses that many pickles for.  Gifts? Potato salad? A giant decorative wall of pickle jars?  Those all sound good to me.

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Now that's really hot

Apparently Paso Robles will be relocating to the surface of the sun on Saturday...just for the day, though.

Independence Day

I give you this today, a great and short article on the agrarian nature of our nation and its founders.  We'd be doing ourselves a huge favor if we all endeavored to get back to this kind of life, to either a large or small extent.

A Nation Founded By Farmers:

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Routine Day

I love having a varied life where I do many different things, because the fact is, I crave routine.  That's right, it's the various and sundry things in life that make my regular routine special.  Tomorrow I will have a plain old regular day.  I don't have to come down off the hill, so I have plenty of time to cook, to harvest, to clean and to organize around here.  I can put the laundry away that's been sitting in the basket for two days.  I can de-clutter the kitchen counters.  I can sweep the patio. 

It's the kind of day I love most, but the kind of day that quickly becomes boring or tedious if I get too many of them in a row.  

That's why errand days in town, relatives and friends visiting, a little winery work on the weekends and days at the beach are so important.  Because once they're done, the blessed routine resumes, and I see it with new eyes, and appreciate it, each and every time.

Add and Subtract

The homesteader's dilemma

One of the basic tenants of homesteading is to turn one's home from a zone of consumption into a zone of production.  But it also means that if you use x amount of energy, you try to either reduce or at least maintain that amount as you go along in life.  Meaning you don't add appliances without thinking about their impact on your household bills and the environment.

Sometimes this is a challenge.  Right now, for instance, I have realized I am accumulating a pretty nice collection of wines, some of which are new and could do with a nice laying down for several years.

A laying down, you ask?  Yes.  If you know wines, you already know that this means.  Get a bottle of, say, 2010 Cabernet, and while its drinkable now, it will be even better in a few more years.  Laying it down means just that:  Setting it aside and, just as important, storing it properly, so you can hang onto it until it comes to the peak of its deliciousness, when it's truly ready to be opened and enjoyed.

Laying down on the job

The other day at the winery, for example, the staff sampled a 2009 Cabernet, which everyone thought was delicious, until the manager opened a bottle of the 2005 Cabernet, which had been stored in the temperature controlled wine library to age for four years longer than the 2009.  The change was remarkable; the "laying down" truly took a good wine and made it great.

Wine is an investment.  I have a coworker who collects new wines, allows them to age, then checks on a wine brokers website to see when it's selling for the most money. That's when the wine is at its peak, so that's when he opens his bottle.  He said usually a good wine will double in price by the time it reaches its peak, and some become more expensive even after that.  

So as I'm working for wine now and amassing a pretty nice collection of wines, I need something to store them properly in, i.e., a decent wine refrigerator (rather than the 8 bottle one we currently have), so I can do the same thing as my coworker and open no wine before its time.
Investment receptacle

But we're homesteaders, and so begins the homesteading thing of adding and subtracting  as far as our power usage goes.  When we get rid of the inefficient 8-bottle cooler we have now, that will save some wattage.  Moving the chest freezer indoors has saved us a lot of wattage also.  So now I can justify buying the wine fridge as we've created energy savings elsewhere.

These are not hard and fast rules; we're not energy-use zealots, but we do believe in not wasting finite resources, like those that bring us our power.  So we check and we balance, and we find a way to preserve our new and delicious investments.

Monday, July 1, 2013


We've been in the midst of suffering through a massive heatwave, which I have heard is affecting the entire southwest United States, so most of our energy has been directed towards keeping ourselves and our livestock cool.

And our appliances.

One of the things I managed to cajole Big Ag and Groceries to do this weekend (early one morning, before it got hot) was move our chest freezer from our sweltering garage into the cool, air conditioned spare room.  It does not look great; there is no way to make a white Kenmore chest freezer stuck in a spare bedroom look chic, but I can at least say that since moving it, it runs far less often and probably with a lot more ease than it did in our 110 degree garage.  Plus, since no one us currently using that bedroom, there's really no reason not to do this.  We actually had a power outage for several hours on Friday night and that got me thinking about the year's worth of frozen veggies, plus the half-hog we bought from my sister-in-law.  To have all that go bad would be not only a huge loss for us financially, but also a waste in terms of time, effort, and in the case of the hog, a life.  

The freezer can go back into the garage in a couple of months, once we are clear of the possibilities of triple-digits, but I think I'm going to leave it there for now.  

In other news, we've been putting gallon Mason jars filled with ice water into the hens coop to give them something cool to lean up against, and they are using them.  Yesterday we fled to the beach, where it was only in the high 50's and I had to pull on a sweatshirt for our walk alongside the water.  It felt good.

Triple digits are in the forecast until at least Thursday here, so we'll be doing all our chores before 9 am and hunkering down in the house for the rest of the day.

One of the best things about working at the winery is that on hot days, they open the barrel room up and serve in there, where it's always a brisk 65 degrees.  Doesn't get better than that in heat like this.  I worked Saturday, and will again next weekend, so it makes for a good choice on weekends:  The beach or the barrel room ... your choice of where to stay cool.