Saturday, January 31, 2015

More carrot soup and an accident

Using the last of the carrot harvest for another batch of that delicious carrot-ginger soup I made a couple of weeks ago.  But in the midst of pureeing the carrots, the blender caught fire and had to be placed outside. Now the house smells like an odd combination of ginger and burning small motor.

I feel it's often the best meals that set off the smoke detector, so I'm hoping the same applies to appliance demolition.

 RIP, Oster Blender, and may a choir of angels sing thee to thy rest.

Friday, January 30, 2015

Out and About -- Photo "Phriday"

An errand day around town today, and so I thought I'd post some pictures of our very early, but nonetheless lovely, spring.

Bradford pears outside the local sports club.

Mustard in bloom on the road home.

Vineyards are still sleeping.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Winter's List

My chore list for winter is now about halfway done, which is good because I saw the first Bradford pears in bloom a couple of days ago outside the local supermarket, meaning spring is just around the corner.

I don't remember spring coming in January; by my accounts that's about three weeks earlier than in my childhood, but considering the impacts of climate change I don't doubt the change.

It does, however, make me want to speed the plow a bit where my winter list is concerned.  The barn quilts are almost done (I'll post pics once I'm finished!), the raised beds are almost ready for spring planting, I do already have some nice lettuce in the ground and the carrots are all harvested.

We have a couple of landscape projects to start, which will entail removing even more lawn than we already have.  In this drought, I just can't tolerate putting fresh drinking water on a pleasure lawn, and so we may end up with a bigger patio area (which means more room to entertain and lounge outdoors!). Plus we'll be adding some nice, drought-tolerant landscape shrubs, to provide some pretty color. 

If we can make it through this list, I will feel a great sense of satisfaction as the days grow longer and warmer.

How are your winter projects coming?  

Saturday, January 24, 2015


The picture above is taken off my back patio of two neighbors' property.  The neighbor on the left has never kept any livestock, and now has a good amount of green growing on his part of their shared hillside.  The neighbor to the right keeps one full-size Boer goat and one Scottish Blackface sheep on about two acres, with no rotational grazing practices in place; the two have the run of the property, roaming where they will.

While my goat-and-sheep keeping neighbor will never have to worry about practicing brush control to help with fire danger, he also has almost no forage at all growing on his property anymore, as his animals have bitten off every blade and leaf that was growing to a point where nothing has gone to seed, therefore not much is re-growing. There is also no chance for any natural creatures to take sustenance from his ground -- no bees visit, no spiders, moths, butterflies, etc. grace his property because there is no food or shelter to be found. And of course, if there's no food growing by January (our early spring), there will not be any more growing in June when it's much hotter and drier. So he's also facing a much higher feed bill for his two friends, as he will be forced to drive into town to buy alfalfa or some other hay.

Yet my neighbor on the right will also face his own issues.  He will at some point have to mow all that brush growing around his property before it gets too high.  His choice will be to mow it (I saw him out there last year with a regular lawnmower, and it looked to be a painful exercise, hauling the mower up and down the steep hill), or to disc it down with a tractor once it gets high, disturbing the topsoil and increasing the runoff of that precious, nutrient-rich resource next rainy season.

These two pieces of property are a lesson for us as we begin to contemplate livestock.  If just two animals can make our pasture look like the neighbor on the right, we are going to have to be very careful how we rotate our animals, and be cognizant of what size animals we want to have.  While I wanted full-size animals, I am starting to think a couple of pygmy goats could keep our brush down nicely, and not eat as much as these two four-footed neighbors do.

While the neighbor on the left faces a high brush fire danger come next summer if he doesn't deal with his brush, the neighbor on the right will be dealing with nothing but a brown and baked hillside, devoid of life.  And I think to myself, surely there can be a compromise between the two.  

We shall see I guess.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

I Love Me Day

Flowers blooming on the bluffs.

I Love Me Day is an occasional holiday when I treat myself to whatever it is I am in the mood for -- usually some time in nature.  Big Ag would probably argue that for me, every day is I Love Me Day, but that's not really true.  While I love the work I do around the property, and I love my job at the winery, it's not quite the same thing as spending a day doing exactly what I want.  

Today's agenda called for a hike along the coastal bluffs a.k.a. the western edge of the North American continent. The flowers are just starting to bloom and the sun was warm and welcoming. I decided to have lunch at the Smokehouse in Cayucos, which makes the BEST smoked abalone tacos ever.

Picture courtesy Trip Advisor

Best abalone tacos ever.

 After that, another hike a few miles north of where I started and then a quick trip to Soto's and Linn's in Cambria for some dinner ingredients, followed by a wonderful meal at home of lobster, shrimp, onions and cucumber salad with lime and cilantro.  And olallieberry pie for dessert. 
Grocery shopping time.

Another hike.
It's January in California, and I spent the day doing the perfect activities for this time of year. I even met a new friend!

New friend.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Blown ACL

So Sputnik went back in to the veterinarian's this week to check on his lame hind quarter. X-rays were taken and it's been confirmed (a process of elimination, since his x-rays are normal) that he has a ruptured ACL. Treatment for this can vary, but there is a case to be made for letting it heal with time and controlled, gentle exercise.  

But one thing that has been hampering his recovery has been our hardwood floors. Ever since his injury he's become more scared of being on the wood, and has seemed much more likely to slip and have his bad leg splay out from under him, injuring him all over again. It's happened several times, and each time it scares me to death and puts him back in a significant amount of pain.  

Ramping up.

Outdoors, he is fine unless he has to jump up on anything, but our back patio has a one-step rise (which we have decided to get rid of, because we've all tripped or fell off it in the last year).  For now, the best solution for that is a ramp, which Big Ag built for his best buddy this weekend (the dog not me lol).  It took awhile, but Sputnik is now using it and seems comfortable on it. We placed a towel over it to provide even more traction, which helps.

But so in order to find him some relief indoors, I did an internet in search for things that could make his life easier.  So often we use the world inside of our computer to watch funny videos or chuckle over clever sports memes, but the fact is, the internet has changed our lives in terms of the education it can provide when an immediate need presents itself, as it did here.

I finally found some dog booties  called "Grippers," which provide dogs with indoor traction on wood or tile floors, which are made by a company in Canada.  
Sputnik sunbathes in his new fashion footwear.

Yesterday the Grippers arrived, I put them on Sputnik's rear feet, and ... he immediately started running across the floor again, without any difficulty.  I couldn't believe it.  Now he's moving all over the house once again with no limits as to where he can and can't go because of his slipping issues. It's too early to tell, but his new shoes may save him from more re-injury and even future surgeries. We shall see.

I was frankly stunned that he accepted them so quickly, but I think dogs are a lot more intelligent than we give them credit for.  Once he felt the shoes gripping the floor in a way his feet couldn't, he realized they were a good thing.  There's been no chewing on them or taking them off; he just acts as if they are an extension of his own little paws. If he's going to be outdoors for an extended period of time, I take them off, but inside they are a mandatory-wear item.

Needless to say, I will be ordering another pair of these little socks/booties, in case he ever needs a spare set.

I'm all for living the simple life, but if an internet company can come up with a high-tech solution to a problem I'm having for a decent price, I will happily come into the 21st Century and enjoy the benefits.  For Sputnik's health and well-being its definitely worth it  as well as my own peace of mind.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Ginger-Carrot Soup

Maybe should have added a dollop of sour cream for embellishment -- but why mess with perfection?

Ah, the simple pleasures of one's own carrot harvest.  Some to freeze, some to eat now.  On the menu this last week we've had roasted carrots with broccoli and chicken, carrot cake, and this new recipe for ginger-carrot soup I found online.

It was so good I ate a bowl, poured Big Ag a bowl for later (he was still working around the property  at dinnertime) and then used a rubber spatula to consume every last drop from the saucepan I'd made it in. It was that good.

Combine it with some fresh sourdough bread, some mellow jazz, a nice sunset, and you have a perfect recipe for a great Sunday night in Central Coast Wine Country. The Tijuana Mule I had earlier (I was on a ginger kick -- what can I say?) didn't hurt the mood either.

Here's a link to the recipe -- for the soup.  The rest you'll have to provide for yourself.

Holes and greens

Down in the pasture I've been noticing a a carpet of green and a lot of holes in the ground which have both taken over the uncultivated space at the bottom of our hill.

The greens, of course, are natural grasses and shrubs, a.k.a. weeds, which grow enthusiastically on our property with a tenacity and success that I have yet to match with the trees and vines I plant down there. They're not much of a worry to me, except where they are growing around my berry and grape vines and trees. 

Not willing to apply chemical sprays, I've spent the better part of two days hand weeding around the bases of the trees and shrubs, and have the bleeding arms to prove it. Berries are thorny and very well-defended plants, even when you are trying to help them by removing competitive plants around their bases.

The holes are a bit of a mystery to me, except for the largest ones which are from ground squirrels. There are small ones and medium ones, which could host anything from tarantulas to snakes to field mice.

While the greenery is a simple fix -- pull what's competing with the plants for nutrients and leave the rest -- the holes are a dilemma, because if we are going to have livestock, the holes will have to go.  They are just too much of a hazard to sheep, who could injure or even break a leg by stepping into one.

But one of the basic cornerstones of permaculture is leaving a certain amount of your property to nature and her critters, to do with what they please (within reason). And so I'd prefer to leave the bottom of the pasture to the hole-dwellers, if possible.

This will take some creative fence design, but I think having a balance of cultivated property and wild property is worth it.  As for how to do it, I'm not sure yet...but in the hours I will be spending down in the pasture weeding, perhaps that will give me more than enough time to think about it.

Of course with enough holes and enough greens, I guess I could always open a permacultural golf course, and with the general pathetic-ness of my golf game, the hole-dwellers are probably safe.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Some thoughts on shopping

If there is one area where I differ from hard-line homesteaders, it's in shopping.  Not essentials/supplies shopping, but fun shopping. You see, I love to shop, and I will never pretend I don't or lie about it.

I grew up in urban Los Angeles during the 1960's era, back when Downtown was glamorous and shopping was an acceptable hobby for a young housewife with a daughter to clothe, which is what my mother was.  And so my mother took me shopping.  Shopping on Brand Blvd. in Glendale, where we hit everything from the big JC Penney store (which had an escalator in the center of it!) to the myriad of locally-owned clothing and shoe stores, where she bought most of what we wore.  

Mecca for Los Angeles shoppers -- Bullocks Downtown

Downtown Los Angeles was what my mother hit during what were called the "month end sales."  At the end of each calendar month, the BIG stores -- Macy's, Bullocks, etc., which had elevator operators and helpful salesladies strolling the floors in gorgeous ensembles -- put clothes on sale that would be expected to age off the floor soon, due to the changing seasons. Never mind that Los Angeles had zero seasons.  The fall and spring collections didn't care, and neither did we.

And then there was lunch, which always came after shopping.  If my mother was feeling rich, she splurged at one of the cafeterias in town -- Clifton's downtown, or The Hollander in Glendale.  If money was tight, it was a grilled cheese sandwich at the Woolworth's luncheonette, in back of the store. Then a bus ride home, toting our shopping bags.

Clifton's Cafeteria, Downtown Los Angeles
So my own memories of shopping are extremely pleasant ones, as you can probably tell. 

I do have another memory which greatly influenced my life today.  This one is of my grandfather and his employee Helen, who had a daughter about my own age.  One day we all took a little jaunt, after school, to what Helen called the "Specialty Shop."  On the racks were clothes my mother normally could never have afforded, but on this day I was allowed to bring home a couple of gorgeous wool jumpers and three sweaters.  

Because the Specialty Shop, you see, was an upscale thrift store.  And thus began my lifelong love affair with thrift store shopping.

And so, yesterday when I got the "shopping bug" I drove down into town, to the local Goodwill and did some browsing.  I found two summer blouses for three bucks each (I always shop off-season, as the selection tends to be more plentiful) and these three vases. Vases are 66 cents each at the Goodwill, and so these beauties cost me a grand total of $2.00.  And the fluted one to the far right is pure leaded crystal.

I love giving the gift of fresh cut flowers from my garden to coworkers when they have birthdays, and adding a nice vase makes the gift even more special.  So a small collection of 66-cent vases is in order here.

And it's only you and I who know the vases only cost 66 cents, so keep that on the QT, okay? And if anyone asks where my blouses were bought, I will just smile and tell them I got them at the Specialty Shop...where a girl who loves to shop can indulge herself without breaking the bank or her beloved homesteading rules about re-using and re-purposing as much as possible in this world.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Winter is finished!

Well, maybe not the season, but the winter barn quilt is finished.  One down, three to go.  And they are actually much easier and more enjoyable to do than I'd anticipated. Each one is 4 feet by 4 feet, so it's not an overwhelming size to paint.

 I'm ready to see some bright, new colors since winter is a bit drab, except for the dash of evergreen and the deep blue of a winter's sky.  Plus grey and white for clouds and fog, of course.  So starting with spring's quilt next week, COLOR will be the word of the day!

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Why I love the Man Cave

The space for all things Man
So I will admit it was a big decision to build our shop, both for financial and sanity considerations.  To go through our County's extensive permit process, the concrete pouring, building, wiring, etc. in order for Big Ag to have his Man Space was a huge commitment, and represented a significant change to our property. 

There were times, such as when the county told him he'd have to set back the building another 8 feet  --right into the middle of my vegetable garden -- when I thought I'd come unglued from it all. Thankfully that particular kerfuffle turned out to be an error, and so the building was constructed as originally planned.

And this fall, Big Ag finally removed about 90 percent of his tools from the main garage and into the man cave, freeing up some garage space for me.  This, in turn, freed up almost all of what we'd come to call our "homestead room," which is actually a glass-walled conservatory on the northwest side of the house. 

Empty now, but good things are coming.
It's always been a mystery as to its original purpose.  When we toured the home before buying it, it was a home for several of the many cats the owner had.  It's the size of a small bedroom, so not huge but still a useful space. And so we, in turn, used it for what we needed -- keeping All Things Homestead there -- and stuff like Mason jars and lids, beer and wine-making supplies, animal feed, and assorted empty feeders and waterers got to live in a glass-walled space with spectacular views.

But now that all the tools are in the Man Space, my homesteading supplies have been able to come home to the garage, which frankly is a much better place in terms of convenience.  The conservatory is not accessible from inside the main house and it is therefore required that one walk around the outside of the house (through whatever the temperature extreme or weather) to get to what you need. It was not so bad most of the time, but on extremely dark nights or in the pouring rain, it was less than fun. Now I just open the door to our attached garage and walk in when I need a Mason jar or empty wine bottle.

And so, finally, the conservatory can be what I'd always hoped it could be - a place to grow things out of season and not suitable for our outdoor climate, and maybe a place to relax among the tropical and tender plants.  Right now I have lettuce seeds starting there, and in March two five-gallon containers with a Meyer Lemon dwarf tree and a Bears Lime dwarf tree will arrive from the nursery to live in the climate-controlled conditions it provides. I'd like a dwarf orange tree, too. We get far too cold in this section of California to be able to grow citrus outside, and I truly miss having it available, whether it's for ceviche, key lime pie, or just an orange fresh off the tree.

I'm also thinking I may install a comfy chair and rug and make it the place I go to read in the afternoons.  If the chair pulled out into a single bed it could also be used as a way to sleep outside without actually being outside, although with just a single bed it would have to be a solo experience I guess. It gets wonderful sun in winter and has lots of screened windows to let in the breeze in summer, which is great. Who knows, maybe I'll even take up painting and use it as my studio.  

Any way you look at it, repurposed spaces are exciting and it's always nice to be able to put  part of your home to a new use and see where it takes you.   

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

No, we're not all just like you.

I will never forget the block party we had at a neighborhood I lived in about 20 years ago.  We had cordoned off the entrance of our cul-de-sac so the kids could safely play in the street, and had arranged chairs and placed a myriad of pot-luck dishes (one from each household) on a table in the driveway of one of the houses.

As we gathered around to grab some food and sit down, my next door neighbor, a big, strapping 20 something young man who'd grown up and spent his entire life so far probably no more than 50 miles from where we were standing suddenly said,"Let's start with a prayer."

And so I did what I'd been taught to do in such circumstances, which is bow my head in respect, although I will admit to being quizzical as to what this particular form of saying grace might take.  What followed was a highly Christian, Jesus-oriented monologue, and when it was over I felt extremely uncomfortable.  Not with Jesus himself but with my neighbor bringing him out and asking everyone assembled to pray in his name.  One couple were avowed atheists, I knew, another was a Hindu doctor and his neuro-biologist wife, and of course me and my son, who come from a Jewish background but who are not anti-Jesus by any stretch of the imagination but who do have our own style and manner of prayer.

How does the saying go? Religion is like a penis.  It's great if you have one, but if you start taking it out and waving it around in public, you are probably going to annoy or offend someone.

My young neighbor made a mistake which I see often in our society, which is to assume that everyone is just like you, simply because you belong to the dominant culture of the area. And the more endogamous your upbringing was -- the more you only associated with folks of your own tribe -- the more you will have trouble seeing the shades of grey in between the black and white of your own upbringing.

Earlier this year when our new neighbor John met the couple across the street (who happen to be gay) for the first time, he later told me he'd met them by saying, "well, I met Ray and his son today."  Clearly, he was using a reference point of his own to determine relationships, and in his universe, two men of slightly different ages who lived together must be father and son.  Of course, right? It should not have surprised me that he was from the same general area we spent 20 years residing in, back in the Valley, back where the cul-du-sac prayer had happened.

Homesteading, of all things, can also put you at odds with society at large, depending on where you live. If you're in a black and white place, people will look at you funny if you tell them you make your own butter and yogurt, use a solar oven, or hang your wash out to dry even though there is a perfectly intact clothes dryer in your laundry room.  

And if you live in a place like this, you have three choices.  1) You can decide to stay right where you are and continually swim against the tide, maybe just for the sake of educating those around you or because you like being different.  2) You can find a place equally endogamous, but where your culture is the dominant one. Or, 3) you can move someplace where no one will think you strange when you live your life because you are in a place where there are lots of different types of people -- different religions, different lifestyles, different sexual orientations.

The other day at the winery a gay couple came in and, after serving them their wine and chatting with them, they said, "we are so grateful to be in an area like this for vacation. We have never felt more accepted for who we are." When I asked where they were visiting from, they told me Oklahoma.  "It's very different there," they said sadly.

And so my advice to you today is the same as it was to them.  If you are living in an area of black and white and are a person somewhere on the gray color spectrum, pick up the real estate section and start looking elsewhere.  Maybe your lifestyle is so eccentric (say, if you are a Upscale Deist Vegetarian Bisexual or something like that) that no place will ever be filled with folks completely like you, but at least you can find a place where being different is welcomed and affirmed, where people will celebrate your differences with you and not ask you to pray, marry, shop, or live like them.

Some things are worth moving for, believe me.

Monday, January 5, 2015

Ban Quilt Update

So the Barn Quilt project is officially underway. Yesterday Big Ag cut four 4'x4' squares out of MDF board for me, and I sketched the pattern on the first one right after that.  Did I tell you I had decided to create four quilts, arranged together to make one large quilt? 

Yes, I have decided to have one quilt for each season of the growing year, with the following patterns:

And here is the first one with the gridlines and pattern sketched on it. Tomorrow I am buying paint for it:

It's going to be a huge project, between sketching, painting and mounting them, and so I may do one each season, starting with winter, appropriately.  Or maybe I will find myself super motivated to finish the project and do them all at once.  

But I'd rather do each one carefully, without any encroaching "project burn-out" to potentially screw things up, so we will see how it goes. I find I often make my worst craft mistakes when I am feeling tired of a project and just want to finish quickly, and I don't want to be making mistakes here if they can be avoided.  So slow and steady we go as we head into this project, I say. If it takes six months or even a year, that is OK.  It's a large undertaking that requires a high level of attention to detail.

But once it's done I think my seasonal year in quilts is going to be a magnificent addition to the back wall of the shop/barn, which faces our vegetable garden.  

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Did you make any? Resolutions, that is.

I don't usually, but for some reason this year I was in the mood.  They are:

Go to the beach more. 
This is an annual item on my list, and I have yet to make good on it. We live on the edge of a continent, and not to take advantage of standing on the point where the Great Land meets the Greater Ocean seems sad.

Weed the vineyard and orchard more more. 
This year I am going to do whatever it takes to keep the star thistle away from my berries, for the sake of my hands (and my legs when I wear shorts down there). It's not going to be fun, but hopefully with better vineyard management I won't have to step as carefully through the thorns to get to my food.

Keep the 20 pounds I lost this year away forever. Wine Country adds a lot of things to one's life, weight being one of them.  This year I finally found a diet that worked for me and, combined with a better exercise regimen, I lost the 20 pounds I'd been carrying around since the first year we lived here.  Yes, everything tastes good in this land, and there is wine with everything and lots and lots of social events featuring great food and wine.  But with excess comes a price, and it must be paid one way or another. I feel much better since taking off the weight and want to keep it that way.

Don't stress so much at Thanksgiving...buying a sous vide system which should solve that problem. Let's face it, hating your "job" by 4 p.m. and feeling like you are constantly behind should be a hallmark of corporate office life, not Thanksgiving dinner at the homestead.  And guests recognize the chaos. This needs to improve.

Get off the property for at least one vacation.
I know, duh, right? All work and no play makes me a resentful homesteader.

Write down and track what varieties of seeds I use so I know what works best.
Novel concept, no? It seems everyone but me does this faithfully. For years I have not done this except for tomatoes and lettuce, but now I'd really like to compare seed varieties for all my vegetable crops, especially pumpkins, squash and cucumbers. 

Make more green manure in the form of cover crops.
This is happening next week, when I plant a cover crop of rye grass in my raised beds.

Sheep?  Alpacas?  Mini-donkeys? Goats?  
This year I hope we can settle this dilemma, get fencing done and get some critters out there for weed control and fertilizer. Plus, isn't half the fun of owning country property having some larger-type livestock?

Saturday, January 3, 2015

January Laundry

As I mentioned in the previous post, our mornings here have been clear and cold -- not cold by east coast or midwest standards, but cold for us.  I have been noticing that anytime we have cooler weather (even if it is sunny outside), the marine air makes the day's laundry much more difficult to dry, and when it does come in it develops a slight musty odor in the closet within a few days. This is probably from the clothes not being completely dry at the time they were brought in -- even though they felt dry (but cold) in my hands. 

It's hard to measure the dryness of clothes in 55 degree, 70 percent humid weather -- unlike summer when it's easy because it's 100 degrees with no humidity and everything has no choice but to turn to a crisp after a few hours in the sun (including me).  In hot weather, if your clothes are cool they are also inevitably damp.  In cold weather, all the wash is cold, making it harder to tell if it's actually dry as well.
My solution has been to use the inside dryer to "finish off" the line-dried clothes, and to place smaller items like socks and t-shirts in front of the pellet stove, which puts out a very dry heat.  This serves a double purpose of not only drying the clothes nicely but also adding some humidity indoors, which we lack anytime the pellet stove runs.

or extra-crispy?

It's a strange dichotomy -- too humid outdoors, too dry indoors, but I'm sure anyone who lives in a coastal climate in winter can relate.  Sometimes it can take awhile to fashion some new techniques to accommodate a new climate.  In this case, we are entering our third year here, there are still some things I am figuring out.  

Friday, January 2, 2015

New Year's Day

I am much more a New Year's Day person than a New Year's Eve person.  Sure, New Year's Eve is as good a day as any to party, but spending the first day of the new year with an ice pack on your head and ibuprofen by your bedside does not bode well for a healthy and prosperous next 364 days, in my opinion.

I love watching the ball drop on television with Anderson and Kathy in Times Square, but when that's over (and I mean real-time, which is 9 p.m. Pacific Standard Time) I'm ready to pack it in for bed, sleeping through my own local midnight and the ensuing madness and excess that comes with it.

Since moving to the coast, we've established some nice New Year's traditions that fit my own beliefs about the holiday nicely.  For New Year's Eve, for instance, we go to a very nice Italian restaurant in town and have an early 6 p.m. dinner.  This year it was angel hair pasta with olive oil and tomatoes, paired with a lovely August Ridge Sangiovese.  I like the idea of knowing (as much as anyone really can I guess) that next year, I will hopefully be sitting in the same restaurant having a lovely  and romantic meal with Big Ag, just like we always do.

 Italian Varietals. Mmm, Mmm, Good!

New Year's Day has its own traditions. The dawn usually breaks very cold and we get up early, clear-headed and chipper (mostly), and head to the beach for the Cayucos Polar Bear Plunge.  This year we had our sons Groceries and TrainMan with us, which made it a family affair, although only Groceries and I were bad-ass enough to brave the cold Pacific waters when they counted down at noon and everyone made a run for the surf. 

Next year both Train Man and Big Ag say they're in for the plunge; I would guess there is a moment of regret (and, dare I say -- envy) amongst those left on land once the countdown is done and there is much celebrating and frolicking in the waves, giving the participants a year's worth of bragging rights for having successfully made the plunge.

I am a bit philosophical about it: Life is like the New Year's Polar Bear Plunge.  You can sit on the safety and comfort of dry land and watch, or run into the surf, for better or worse.  And every minute of every year, you make a choice about which you are going to do. Sometimes it is better to stay on the safety of land, no question....but when the sun is shining and the beach is warm and the water is clean and beckoning, then to stay on land seems a mistake.  But that's just me.

And so, we begin anew.  And like my elegant New Year's Eve Italian dinner, I like to think that next year will offer my family the opportunity to repeat our New Year's Day tradition -- to start the fresh new year by taking a cleansing, invigorating plunge into Mother Sea to wash away the sins of the past year and emerge shivering and happy into the new one.

Happy 2015, everyone! 

Post-plunge thumbs-up!