Sunday, August 31, 2014

Pumpkin Photo Sunday

These little darlings are ripening nicely in one of my raised beds. I was quite skeptical about being able to raise decent pumpkins in a raised bed, but it appears to be working out nicely.  As long as you keep the water coming regularly and give them regular fertilizing, they will do fine.  

This of course flies in the face of traditional pumpkin growing, which states that they need to be hilled.  Not so.  In the heat of summer, it is very nice to be able to water these gourds while I'm close to the house and even able to stand in the shade, something I'm not yet able to do down in the pasture.

If you notice, in these pics you will sometimes see some old, broken kitchen tiles sitting under each pumpkin.  This is to keep them looking good, even on the side that is facing the ground. (I may use some for decoration before cooking them for soups and pies). The tile is smooth and will not make a groove in the pumpkin's skin or allow it to sit on the moist ground and become discolored or rotted.

Overflowing into the shade.
Almost there!

Coming along.

Little Green.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Should have done better (with update!)

So tonight I was coming home from work and there was a small, black dog running in the middle of the road, alternating between standing still in the center of the road and dodging cars, which were at least slowing down for him.  I pulled over, got out of my car and picked him up, just trying to get him into a more safe situation off the main road.

I got him home and examined him; he was underfed, had some  weird kind of skin nodules and was sneezing.  Also old and vision-impaired, judging by his milky eyes and the condition of his teeth.  But he was friendly, allowing me to pick him up and wagging his tail at me once I put him down.

We checked the "lost" ads on Craigslist. No one reported him lost. He had no tags, so we couldn't call his owners.  I made a post on our community bulletin board and then pondered what to do next.

Part of me wanted to keep him for a few days, post some flyers, and see if anyone responded. But with his skin condition, putting him in with our dog would not be possible and we don't have a yard we can separate into two parts.  So instead I had Groceries put him in the truck and drop him off at County Animal Control, where they can at least see if he's microchipped and get him any medical attention he needs.

But of course immediately after this I started beating myself up and telling myself I should have done better.  Maybe kept him in the garage, or getting Big Ag to fence off part of the yard, or at least ameliorating whatever was done to him that led him to be running in the road, obviously neglected and/or abandoned. Maybe I should have waited and sent him to a rescue organization.  Maybe maybe maybe.

Yet if my own dog went missing, I would want him to end up at Animal Control, where they could read his microchip and call us....and where, if they didn't call, I would look for him the minute they opened up after the three day weekend.  

But for some reason I hold myself to impossibly high standards when it comes to our four-legged friends. And other things as well.  I'm amazed how many times I catch myself saying, "you should have done x or y," to myself when at times no other action than the one I took was even possible.

I'm very forgiving with other people, so I'm not sure why I expect superhuman behavior from myself.  I'm sure it's what gives me drive and motivation and keeps my life running, but I also suspect it sometimes sabotages my self-esteem and brings me down.

I'm thinking the phrase, "should have done better," is one I should use on myself sparingly and very occasionally.  The fact is, we all do our best and some situations are a choice between two relatively crappy solutions.  We can't beat ourselves up for choosing one of them if they're all that's available.

I know our goal as moral humans is to treat others the way we treat ourselves, but for some of us, the opposite might be a better thing -- to treat ourselves with the kindness and respect we usually treat other people. Maybe "should have done better" should be replaced with "did the best I could," and we should feel good about that.

But I still hope my dog story has a happy ending, and that even if I can't do anything else, somehow he'll end up in the right place.  And I just hope that's enough.

P.S. This story has a very happy ending.  Today we saw a sign with a description of the dog on a neighborhood bulletin board ... he has been missing and his owners thought he had probably been hit by a car.  They will be going to pick him up at the animal shelter and bringing him home again.  A great end to the tale (or tail lol).

Friday, August 29, 2014

Do you garden by the moon?

I should start out by defining what I am talking about when I bring up "gardening by the moon." Gardening by the moon is not the same thing as gardening by moonlight.  Although now that I've thought about it, this could be a fun or romantic way to spend an evening, with the right company. But in this case, we are talking about gardening by the moon phase, meaning that whether the moon is full, new, or somewhere in between will determine when you plant, when you kill pests and when you till ground.

For a long time I thought this was kind of a "vegetable astrology," fun to read about, but not really having an actual impact on much.  But then Big Ag told me that in professional farming, he and his fellow farmers do schedule pest control according to the phase of the moon, as certain pests (tomato worms, cabbage worms, etc.) hatch at the full or new moon and if you spray at the wrong time, you will miss killing them.

So that lent at least a little credence to our great-grandparents' tendency to consult the Farmer's Almanac  in search of a lunar planting guide, which I did online this afternoon.  Here is how the month of September is shaping up, but you can check out any upcoming dates at:

So judging by how next month looks, the first of September appears to be one of the best days for me to plant my fall seedcrops of lettuce and carrots, which strikes me as a light and pleasant way to spend Labor Day even if it is doing labor. It's a labor of love, right?. As no onion bulbs are in our stores yet, I will have to wait to get those in the ground, but you can rest assured they will go in when "Old Grandma" -- the Farmer's Almanac -- says it's a good day.

It's hard to believe it is already time to get back to those beds I fallowed last May to put in a new crop that will take us into the colder months. It's also a very welcome reminder that autumn is on its way, even if it is still at least 6 weeks away for us here on the Central Coast. The important thing is, it's coming, and the anticipation is half the fun.

In the meantime, the moon will wax and wane as she dances in synchronicity with earth in their monthly rumba. Honestly, I'm not positive the moon phase affects seed sprout or bulb growth, but since it affects the tides, worm hatch, our female reproductive cycles and even our mood and sleep patterns, I can't rule its influence out.  So why not give yourself the best shot at getting things to grow and give at least a passing nod to the phase of the moon? 

 It might even inspire you to get out there with the one you love (or maybe would just like to know better) for some crazy, moonlight gardening.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Concierge health care

One of the things homesteaders ( a self-sufficient and independent lot) cannot do  is their own DIY healthcare -- at least not for everything.  Sure, we can mend cuts with superglue and drink echinacea-laced tea when we are getting a head cold.  But between rising health insurance rates and the not-inexpensive cost of government-sponsored health care, higher-level care something we all worry about. 

The fact is, I can take care of most things at home, but I can't  give myself a blood analysis, a steroid shot, or prescribe myself antibiotics and a tetanus shot when I scrape my foot on a rusty nail.

So the question becomes what to do about medical-level health care? If you feel like a helpless victim strolling through the prepackaged food sections of your supermarket, try sitting in a doctor's office with 15 coughing, hacking people ahead of you, where you know you're going to get relatively impersonal, immediate-need medical advice, while the clock ticks and your doctor struggles to meet his daily quota of patients.

In light of all that, I recently elected to sign up with a "concierge" physician's practice. It's small, it's personal, and it doesn't have to follow the rules of giant healthcare corporations. It's different than any health care I've seen before. I can't really give a good review yet, but from what I've experienced so far, I'm impressed.

 In case you're not familiar with concierge physicians, they charge a specific dollar amount per year for you to join their patient list (in my case it was $1800, and it took a great leap of faith for me to write out that check, believe me), with the aim being to have a small practice with patient-centered care.  Insurance companies do not enter the mix.  Government does not enter the mix. Just you and your doctor.

But here's why I am willing to pay that amount, up front, for a year's worth of care:  All my blood work was included in the price (a huge panel of tests, measuring everything from red blood counts to Vitamin D levels -- a comprehensive analysis I've not had done in many years, if ever) as well as a hearing test, and any other in-office tests that are necessary throughout the year.  It's all covered. The blood panel alone costs about $1,000 if done through insurance, and I paid nothing. The hearing test, another couple of hundred. So far, it seems a good value. 

And of course office visits are now free of charge for a year -- as many times as I need or want to come in.  With regular docs' office visit fees now running about $100 a pop (or more), it's easy to see how this won't actually cost me any more than it did before, and will encourage me to seek better health care, since I no longer have to worry about the office-visit cost, the time spent in the waiting room (fewer patients means almost NO wait time, plus same-day appointments whenever I need them) or my doctor not having time to listen to me and rushing in and out of the exam room in pursuit of the next 10 patients lined up behind me.

The $1800 fee also allows me to occasionally send in my children and husband in if needed and he will charge only a minimal office visit charge (about $40), further stretching that $1800. I have his cell phone, his email, and if I contact him he will get back to me within the same day.  He can renew prescriptions or recommend home treatments on the phone if he wishes, because he doesn't have answer to anyone's insurance company. How many of us can say that about our doctors anymore? When is the last time your doctor emailed or called you at home?

This is a leap of faith to be sure, but with an $8,000 deductible for Big Ag's current Aetna health care plan, I figure we don't have much to lose. The other option is the one I've been practicing for the last three years, which is not going to the doctor unless absolutely necessary.  But preventative care can save you a lot of heartache and physical trouble, and for this year, anyway, I will get plenty of it.

Besides, I'm getting tired of super-gluing those cuts that actually need stitches, begging leftover antibiotics from friends and relatives, and attempting to diagnose aches and pains through internet research.  Our grandparents paid for most of their medical care through family doctors, so I see this as a natural turning back to a simpler time.

I know my body better than anyone, but sometimes it takes more than that to make you well.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Hen Strategy

Ginger (left) and Callie (right)

In the ongoing saga of the Mean Girls hens and the two new youngsters I am integrating into the flock, I have now made a tactical switch-up and have decided to isolate the two biggest bullies, Ellen and Chloe, instead of removing the younger hens and putting them into isolation to keep them safe.

My hope is that removing the bullies will shuffle the deck on the old "pecking order" of the flock just enough that Callie and Ginger can begin to gain the confidence they will need to move about the flock and go about their business.  

The fact is, if they stood their ground, they would not get chased. I saw this happen with Chloe herself, once the object of Ellen's bullying.  Once she stopped running and began ignoring Ellen, Ellen lost interest in chasing her.  Basically if you are a chicken it works like this:  If you run, you will be chased. If you stop running, you will be left alone.

But how to get the young girls to not run?  That is the question.  We will see if my latest strategy works, in the meantime, Ellen and Chloe are enjoying their time in the chicken condo while the other four hens (the always-gentle and unflappable Portia, Cleopatra, and new girls Ginger and Callie) move about the mansion and larger run area.

Always drama with these ladies, that's for sure.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Scenes from the disaster

From an industry standpoint, this is a huge loss for each winery affected. And I can't help but think that if this had just been on a fault nearby us instead of them, we'd be the ones cleaning up today. Again, the injuries and loss of human and animal life is so much more important than this, but it's terrible to see this kind of destruction.

It also makes me very conscious of exactly where I do and do not want to be in an earthquake.

Napa earthquake

Thinking of our friends and fellow wine industry folks in Napa this morning, as news of the 6.0 earthquake that jolted them awake early this morning is coming through.

Right now it doesn't sound as though there have been fatalities, which is a blessing. There have been injuries, however, which is never good. But I also hope the wineries around the area are not too damaged and have not lost valuable wines and other stock. And of course hoping that clean up is relatively easy and not too expensive for everyone, whether in the tasting room, the barrel room, or at home.

Thoughts going out to everyone involved today.

Friday, August 22, 2014


So last week the large fruit bins began rolling across town and into the vineyards, meaning Harvest Season 2014 has begun.  This means, officially, the lazy lull that is late summer is over, and the busy season is beginning for the wine industry.

We're still in a lull as far as tourist season goes, which is nice after all the busy days of May, June and July. Traditionally, August and February are our slowest months for tourism in this area, which is always nice because we can spend a bit more time visiting with our customers and even heading into the barrel room ourselves to see how the wines already in production are coming along. (The '13 Grenache -- already CRAZY good!) But as harvest rolls along, things will pick up. October will be crazy busy in the tasting room, and so will the holidays.

But for the crew back in the barrel room and out in the vineyards, the next couple of months are when it all happens, and by the time we get busy, they will be mostly done in the vineyard.  There are grapes to be harvested, several times daily pump-overs to do in the holding tanks, and other tasks too numerous to mention. So all the winemaking staff that had been hanging out in the tasting room helping out because they didn't have much work elsewhere seems to have vanished overnight.  We'll probably see them again at the employee Christmas party.

Barrel room goings-on

Harvest begins with Chardonnay and Pinot Noir grapes, and then progresses through the other assorted red and white grapes, finishing with Rousanne, which has a reputation for being slow on the vine.  Sometimes it's kept folks out in the vineyards until the holidays, but this year we will probably finish up with our harvest by mid-to-late October.

Yet no post about Harvest would be complete without mentioning how early it's been recently....historically early.  With the earlier springs (and therefore earlier bud breaks on the grape vines) we've been seeing, the season then is shortened on the other end, which means mid-August -- not October -- harvests.  It's something of an alarming trend if you're sensitive to climate-change issues, but of course the wine industry is not alone in experiencing this. You probably have as well, in your own vegetable gardens.

Either way, ready or not, here we go.  Another year, another vintage, and hopefully another great group of wines.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Vegetables, re-animated?

My Monsters?

Well, my cucumbers and squash are basically spent at this point, but taking a tip from our chef at the winery I decided to add some organic fertilizer into my raised beds yesterday, in order to see if I could kick-start my crops back to life for a few more weeks of "re-animation" production. (I watched "Young Frankenstein" on TV last night, and so basically today I feel like Gene Wilder playing scientist to Peter Boyle's monster, which in this case is my cucurbits. They're alive I tell you!  Alive!)

I'm not sure how I feel about this; on the one hand, a vegetable has a natural lifespan wherein it produces abundantly for awhile, then tapers off until there are no more blossoms to be fertilized and plants to be grown.  But if I can, through a natural fertilizer, push a little more fruition out of my plants, then I'm all for it. After all, it's only August and I'm not quite willing to let go of those fresh summer veggies just yet.  

In some ways, this is the hardest time of year -- we're at the clear end of summer, but here in the west the heat will be with us for at least another two months and the leaves won't turn in abundance until early December.  But everything has been moved up here because of our early spring; we will have grape harvest in the vineyards earlier than ever before, and some vines are already turning brown, defying the usual December leaf-change date.

It seems like most of the plants in this region have already given their best, produced their crop, and are now readying themselves to settle down for a nice period of dormancy.  If only we could all do the same.  But as long as we're in a protracted end of summer, at least I want some summer veggies, so I'm hoping Chef's fertilizer tip does the trick and gets my veggies started again.

After all, what's summer without zukes and cukes?

And at this rate, it's looking likely that I may have some tomatoes by Christmastime.

Still extremely green. Hoping for some Christmas red.

Friday, August 15, 2014


My son turned 21 this month, so today we took him out for his first wine-tasting adventure.  

Just a tad overserved by the time all was said and done. Kid's gotta learn to pace himself and not be afraid to use the dump bucket on the bar once he's tasted something.  

I kept trying to tell him he didn't need to drink everything that was put in his glass, but since we had a designated driver that was his own lesson to learn I suppose.

Vegetarian update

So a friend asked me the other day how my commitment to eat less meat has been going.  If you remember, several months ago the price of meat (especially beef) rose dramatically out here, due to the drought, and I decided to put the family on a pretty restrictive non-meat diet, eating more vegetarian and pescatarian foods most nights each week for dinner. 

(And for me, this also translated to eating no meat at other meals as well. I eat almost all my breakfasts and lunches at home, since I work less than five minutes away from my job and can therefore "dine-in" almost all the time.)

The answer to how our new diet is going is this:  It's been a pretty fabulous success.  It's been far easier than I thought, and certainly has lifted a huge weight off the ol' checkbook to not be purchasing meat.  As we all know, grass-fed, local-raised meat can be quite a bit more expensive than what you'd get at the local supermarket, but what you get at the local supermarket is a huge mystery as far as how the animals are treated, what they are fed, and what kind of conditions the meat is processed in. In my opinion, if you can afford to pass on supermarket meat, do so. 

And of course our new diet is certainly rich in eggs, provided by our beautiful hens.  Hard to pass those up, although I do toy sometimes with going completely vegetarian, as I was one for several years.  But in addition to eggs, I'm just not sure I'm ready to give up salmon and other locally-caught seafood.  So we're sticking with this present diet, at least for awhile.

I will say that I thought giving up eating my fellow mammals would be more difficult, but especially now that it's summer, there is such a wide variety of other foods available, it's easy -- provided you're just willing to look outside the meat/starch/vegetable triad so many of us grew up with on our dinner plates each night.

And I'd like to think we're living a little lighter on the land by not contributing to the cycle of uisng gallons and gallons of water in order to grow the tons of grain needed to feed the animals we're going to eat.  But I don't live in a glass house on this, and I should be honest here:  my own pets still eat commercial pet food, the chickens get layer feed in addition to kitchen scraps, and we do still drink milk and eat butter, so it's a small victory at best. 

But a small change is still better than none at all, I figure. Small steps.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Have I Mentioned These Blogs?

These are two of my favorite homesteading-type blogs.  The first is the Matron of Husbandry, who has a fantastic farm blog. It is exactly what it appears to be, which is a journal of daily farm life on what appears to be an extremely self-sufficient homestead and working farm. Lots of beautiful pics and great ideas for canning, farming, livestock and planting.

The second is RootSimple.  This is a great blog for urban and suburban homesteaders to enjoy.  These folks live in the heart of Los Angeles and are not afraid to experiment to discover how to live a simpler, more eco-friendly and economical life. They are also extremely honest about the areas where they live a more typical urban existence, and where they've tried things and failed.  But they have far more success than failures, and are just so inventive it's a consistent pleasure to read their posts.

So why am I recommending these blogs to anyone who is reading this post? Because it's very easy to get wrapped around the axle of frustration when we discover a particular farm or homesteading blog is are not what it appears to be, or which deliberately tries to lead us to think they are something they are not.  I know a few years ago one of my favorite blogging families filed a lawsuit to trademark the term "urban homestead" and, honestly, it was incredibly disappointing to find these people were not who I thought they were.  I looked for my inspiration elsewhere and found it, in part on these two other blogs. So it only makes sense to share them with you.

I hope the Hot Flash Homestead never misleads anyone, we are far from completely self-sufficient but just try to do our part wherever we can. I enjoy writing about our efforts and also about the wonderful area we live in, and if it makes just one person put up a clothesline, cook in a solar oven or grow some of their food, I'm happy.

But both these other blogs are also wonderful resources, written with intelligence and wit, and will give you lots of ideas to try.  So read and enjoy!

Life in Middle School, or Life with Hens


So a couple of months ago, when young Cleo and Chloe were put in with golden girls Ellen and Portia, Ellen and Portia bullied the two young hens mercilessly, especially my sweet Chloe.  Not to worry, no blood was drawn, but there was plenty of pecking and chasing that went on, as E & P asserted their dominance over C & C.

The rules were fairly simple:

1. When I approach, you will get out of the way.

2.  Your food is mine.

3.  If I am bored, I will pick on you for entertainment.

If you were bullied in school (like I was in fifth grade) these rules will be very familiar to you. All through my fifth grade school year, I ran home to avoid getting beat up by Peggy Reed and her friends. My lunch was not safe to eat in the cafeteria, and I had to hide in different areas around the playground at recess and lunch.  Luckily, Peggy Reed left at the end of the year and my life went back to normal. But I've never forgotten the experience.

But back here in this henhouse, the bullying of Cleo and Chloe went on until two days ago, when I introduced the newest young hens, Callie and Ginger, to the flock.  Now Cleo and Chloe are suddenly accepted into the clique, and poor Callie and Ginger are getting chased around and generally made miserable by the "older" girls, including the two who were the class outcasts just before this. Chloe-- the former bullying victim -- seems to be especially mean to the new girls. And so the victims have become the predators. Isn't there some general rule of thumb that abused children have a greater-than-normal chance of becoming abusers themselves?  Apparently this this a planet-wide thing here on Earth, crossing many different species?

Human middle school students are generally difficult, and almost always overly concerned with social status and pecking order. Sometimes those awful traits even extend into adulthood. But believe me, these tendencies do not begin or end with young human females.  Hens are even worse. The meanest girls of all.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014


So with the tomato harvest so late (we now have lots of fruit on the vines, but it's all still very green) I found myself in the unusual situation of sitting around on an August morning with nothing to can.  And then I remembered all my cucumbers.

If my tomatoes have been a disappointment so far, my cucumbers have been the opposite. They have far exceeded every other vegetable harvest this year, including zucchini (and that's saying something).  So now that we've had our fill of tsatsiki and cucumber salads, I decided to use the rest of this harvest for relish.

Why not pickles? I hear you cry.  The answer is simple.  My family is very picky where pickles are concerned. They go in these bursts of pickle-love, where they consume massive amounts of them, and then for a couple of years it seems like the eat none.  So canning pickles becomes an exercise in frustration, as the pickle boom becomes a bust and I'm left with jars and jars of them in the pantry.

But not relish.  After all, relish is a staple in tuna salads, on hot dogs, and in potato salad.  If the family does not always have a yen for relish, I can always use it in my own creations.

And so today was all about relish.

We begin our story with relish mix and a hot canner.

Cukezilla, you are a seedy sort and are not welcome at this party.

Into the bath for everyone!
Some relish and leftover cucumber juice for cocktails or smoothies! (Who am I fooling.  Cocktails for sure.)

Monday, August 11, 2014

I love these people

Wine Country Alliance dinner with my coworkers.  I am third from left. Love these people. Love my job.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

The Renter and other tales of woe, enabling and laziness

So a few years ago, back when we lived in our last home, we had another house in addition to the one we lived in. The other house was the one I had purchased by myself before Big Ag and I met and married, back when I was working as a public school teacher. 

It was a beautiful, small cottage with a huge garden, where I had spent some of the happiest years of my life as a working, single mom to a beautiful son. But it was too small for the blended family Big Ag and I created when we married. And so we moved into a new house and put mine up for rent.

And so I felt it was somehow appropriate that we rented to a young professional woman, just getting back on her feet after leaving her husband -- a single, working mom just like I had been once.  She was intelligent, well-spoken and we both liked her immediately.  We checked references, checked her current job status and when everything came back in the clear, allowed her to move in.

I could easily fill the next several pages with the stories of what happened after that, but in a nutshell, she quit her job two weeks after moving into our house, and actually paid the rent for the next few years from living off her divorce settlement, her life savings, and finally loans from friends and parents (never repaid). She rarely left the house, and even seemed to resent when we'd come over to fix things (at her request) or do the twice-yearly adjustment to the sprinkler system.  She was a hermit with children.

We no longer own the house and she no longer lives there, but I still hear her name once in awhile, and apparently she's living off a boyfriend, still getting handouts from her parents and friends, and still refusing to work or leave the house much, a decade later.

My point in all this is that there are some people who cannot, for whatever reason, deal with the normal world you and I live in.  I've known several women who seem to have picked up different versions of this mental health virus, one even being honest enough to tell me once, "I just cannot seem to deal with the external world."

I got that, totally. After all, which of us has NOT felt like that at one time or another.  But it's what you do about it that matters.

Most adults can't collapse their lives into homes or onto their property long term, (unless they have a partner wealthy enough to support them).  Temporarily, I think sometimes it's necessary, but as a long-term lifestyle it's not a sign of good mental health when that happens. 

You can't expect friends and family to fund your life.  But me saying "you can't" does not mean there aren't people doing exactly that, right at this moment.

And what I've learned from my experience with our renter and a couple of other friends is that there is nothing you or I can do to change it. You can watch their lives unravel one thread at a time, as they continually attempt to find new "donors" to support them.  But trying to talk to them about how to fix their lives is a wasted effort, because they don't want to change.  

Yes their children will suffer, their families will suffer, and even the plants and animals that live with them will suffer, but the fact remains: You cannot change it, and you cannot stop those who would enable them to keep doing it -- those who believe that if they just throw some more money at whatever current disaster is happening that the larger issues that caused it will go away.

All you can do is step away, and not enable them youreself. And I will say this:  Those people who claim they cannot deal with the external world are masters at manipulating said world so that they can be supported while doing little or nothing to provide for themselves.  Don't ask me why, or how, because I don't really understand how it can happen. But I've seen it time and again.  

My renter lived for years on the donations of friends and family.  Two other friends lived off divorce settlements from husbands they'd snagged and then became tired of, never intending become employed while there was still a retirement account to gut and and an alimony check in the mail every two weeks.

My advice is to save your breath. Because while I don't know what name this disease has, it is clearly a mental health issue:  Symptoms: laziness, unwillingness to work, a feeling that the world owes you a living, and the belief that you are different than all other working adults.  Treatment:  None known.  Outcome: Terminal unhappiness.

Happy Sun Day!

Today's a great day to let Mr. Sun do for free what the electric company used to charge you for:

Cook a fabulous dinner....

or just dry some clothes (with addtl. help from Mr. Wind)

Hope everyone is having a very happy Sun Day!

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Let's Talk Tequila

The other night Big Ag and I drove into town to try a new Mexican seafood restaurant we'd heard rave reviews about. Since I'm not doing restaurant reviews anymore, I will just tell you that the food was amazing.  But on this particular night, I decided to change things up a bit and instead of getting some beer or wine to go with our meal, I ordered a cocktail, something I almost never do.

I ordered a Tijuana Mule.

A simple drink -- some good Agave tequila, fresh lime juice, agave nectar and some ginger beer all mixed together in a kind of tart, biting deliciousness, with just a touch of "sweet" right on the tip of your tongue.  

It was amazing, and it made me remember a relationship I'd had long ago, which I thought was over, but which obviously is not.

That relationship is the one I have with tequila.

Sooo different, the effect that wine has on a person versus tequila.  Wine makes me silly, tequila makes me mellow.  Wine gives me a hangover, tequila never has.  How had I forgotten these things for so long?  How had I ever left tequila behind? The truth of the matter was, I actually drank tequila during one long-term romantic relationship, but once it ended, so did my tequila habit.  For the last couple of decades, other than the occasional margarita, tequila and I had become strangers again. Until my Tijuana Mule.

When we came home, instead of being tired, my battery was charged.  The next morning, in place of sore joints I felt quite spry.  It turns out that tequila breaks down differently than many other alcohols do -- it easily turns into a simple sugar inside your body which is easier for your body to digest. It has no sulfites, no tannins and therefore has a completely different effect on you than wine does.

Don't get me wrong; I love wine and as long as I work in a tasting room in wine country, I will always have a passion for it. 

But from now on, if I'm out and about, I'm going to consider the tequila option if I'm having a drink with dinner.  And I may even attempt to make one of these "Mules" at home sometime. 

Because, as most homesteaders understand, you never know when a Mule will come in handy around the farm.

In case you are interested in doing the same, here is the recipe:

Tijuana Mule

 One ounce of good, agave tequila
1 tsp of organic agave nectar
one half cup of ginger beer
fresh lime juice

1.  Pour your tequila over some ice

2.  Add agave nectar, lime juice and stir

3.  top with ginger beer and mix everything up

4.  Enjoy!

P.S. For you budget conscious, tequila drinkin' homestead types out there, making this at home -- using good tequila -- costs approximately $2.64 per drink.  At the restaurant where we dined, it cost $9.50 a pop. Better to have it at home and watch the "chicken show" while you sip away! 

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Country Clean

Monday nights can sometimes be a little bit rough around here, because Monday morning is the time I clean each week.  I  sweep the floor, then go over it with a microfiber cloth stuck on a Swiffer.  Then I mop. I vacuum the rest of the house and clean the bathrooms most of the time, too. So by the end of the day, the house looks pretty darn good.

Then at approximately 6 pm, the men come home. And it's on, baby.

Fist, they try and walk in with their shoes on. Ain't gonna happen.

The they decide to have something like watermelon with dinner, so now the kitchen counter, the floor beside the counter, and the coffee table in the living room has sticky pink watermelon juice on it (just a few hours after I CLEANED ALL OF IT). There was a reason our parents made us eat watermelon outside when we were kids, and I get that now.

So basically, by about 8 p.m. I end up somewhere between pitching a fit and having a meltdown. And once I've dried my tears and put down the shotgun or cast iron skillet I've been waving around in a threatening manner (joking, but it's close sometimes), I always hear the same comment:  "But we live in the country!  What do you expect?"

So what do you think?  Is living in the country a decent excuse for having a dirtier than average home?  
I'm pretty mellow on the weekend, when most of our "country" things are happening -- when fences are being strung, trees pruned, and compost turned.  That's when dust, mud, hay, and other things too gross to mention get tracked in -- no surprise there.  

The weekend is also when Big Ag and Groceries will make snacks throughout the day, which means my granite counters feel exactly like the food prep area of the greasy spoon diner in town by about mid-afternoon on Sunday.  

The weekends are also when even the dog seems to bring in the majority of the pieces of bark, fruit mummies, and bits of straw attached to himself, and then plunk himself down on the sofa without a second thought.  Kind of sad that he's in on the whole thing too. But that's OK. I get it. It's the weekend and everyone's outdoors a lot. And some of the outside gets in when that's going on.

That's why Monday is Cleaning Day.

I've had girlfriends around here tell me their farmer husbands use the "but we live in the country" gambit whenever they request their mates kindly remove their shoes before tracking horse manure on the carpets, or throwing a straw-covered jacket down on a clean comforter on the bed. 

But I don't know, is it country living?  Is the standard of cleanliness and hygiene different if you live on acreage?  Or is it just an excuse for some folks to act like slobs or have a dirty home?

For me personally, I'm all for dirtiness outside, but I want the inside of my house to be clean(ish).  I don't want to stumble on mystery clods of brown material (hmmm, is that dirt or poop?  And how can I determine which one without reaching down to touch or smell it...).  I don't see why a kitchen counter that's been messed up with strawberry jam that's just been canned or dirty onion tops  shouldn't be cleaned well afterwards.

Is it just me?  Are my standards too high, or are my men trying to get away with being slobs with no accountability? 

I ask myself these questions almost every Tuesday. Because on Mondays I clean, and on Monday nights, my beloved family attempts to undo everything I've been working on all day long.

Because we live in the country, dontcha know.

Monday, August 4, 2014

Hen Update: Chicken Shuffle

Moxie is a juvenile Black Australorp like this one. (photo from

Back in May, I succumbed to second round of 2014 chick-buying and bought three new chicks:  One Silver Wyandotte, one New Hampshire Red, and one Black Australorp.  This weekend I gave the Black Australorp away to a friend who had been raising two hens within San Luis Obispo city limits and discovered an awful truth:  One of her hens, "Tammy," was actually Mr. Tammy.  And Mr. Tammy had begun crowing.

And so began a chicken shuffle of sorts.  She managed to find Mr. Tammy a home at a nearby nursery, with a nice but eccentric lady who loves having hens and roos around her plants to perform insect control and just to liven the place up a little more. (There is nothing better than shopping for landscape plants and getting followed around the place by a gang of roosters and a giant turkey, believe me.)

Once that was done, I gave my friend our Black Australorp, Moxie, since I had three new youngsters and could therefore part with one and still have two to keep each other company.  It is never wise to introduce just one young hen into an entire flock -- there is safety in numbers for youngsters when it comes to the pecking order.  And they do form close relationships with their "siblings" even if they are different breeds who've just grown up together. Cleo and Chloe are quite close, as are Portia and Ellen. And soon Callie and Ginger will join the flock and take their place on the roost with the other girls.

The real Moxie and her new friend Loretta.

The first night, Callie and Ginger were peeping a bit pitifully and looking for their friend, but by morning they seemed to have resumed business as usual. I noticed the same thing when I gave Evil Red to the winery.  Ellen and Portia seemed to notice her absence and it upset them.  So it's interesting to note the relationships that form, even between animals we don't credit for being the most intelligent of creatures.

So Moxie will now get to be Loretta's new friend.  I hope it all works out, I'm glad to have reduced my flock by one and I know Loretta will be happy with another hen to keep her company.  And hopefully my friend will be relieved she no longer has to worry about violating the city's ordinance banning roosters from within city limits, plus she'll get to sleep in a little more without Mr. Tammy greeting the dawn, too.

And since happy hens lay happy eggs, it's a win all the way around. I love happy endings.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

You're Not The Only One

Ah, that title sounds like the start to a beautiful love song, doesn't it?  And love is like that .. the wondrous feeling that you'll never be alone, and that you're not the only one who may be going through challenges and tough times.

But the beauty to that sentiment is never more true than on the farm.

As I've discussed in many a blog post these last few months, everything growing (or attempting to grow) on this hill has been affected by a summer of weather-weirdness.  Our tomatoes have been especially hard hit.  They have arms but the blossoms have blown off. The ones that have stayed have produced tiny tomatoes that are incredibly slow to ripen.

But what I never realized was that maybe it was just not our little hilltop outpost that's suffering.  

We had some contractors here the other day, working on an outbuilding Big Ag is constructing, and it turns out the foreman is something of a hobby farmer himself. "So how are your tomatoes doing?" he asked me as we visited the other day.  When I informed him of the weather-related maladies we were having (due mainly to the winds we face up here, I thought), he told me that he didn't know a person in the entire county who wasn't having the same problem. 

That's right, he said the entire county was having the same problem.  I could have hugged him.

The next day, I worked at the winery, where there is also a vegetable garden which grows tomatoes.  And just to check the validity of this "entire county" thing, I took a break from pouring and went outside to check on our winery tomatoes.  They too all looked like crap.

And for some reason, this made me feel a whole lot better. In part because of a kind of "we're all in this together" camaraderie -- we can all lament the loss of our tomatoes, which is a lot better than when you have a crappy crop, but your neighbor's crop is absolutely perfect and you don't understand why.

The other part is because at least you know you didn't do anything wrong. It wasn't your soil, not staying on top of insect or bacterial pressures, or too much/not enough watering.

Sometimes you're not the only one, and there's nothing you can do about it. Except take comfort from your neighbors, who are in the same boat with you.

You don't want to wish anyone harm, but in tough times sometimes it's nice to have company.