Wednesday, December 30, 2015

The time travelers

Time traveling.

They say that on Einstein's space/time continuum all reality is technically happening at once. The only reason you discern time passing is because you are moving along the line and are only consciously in one moment at a time. But the point (both the "you" and the surrounding reality) you are experiencing exists in its own right and has always, in fact, been there. It was there before your consciousness showed up and still exists after it passes through and the moment becomes a memory. Interesting, no?

Your birth, life and death are all simultaneously taking place, which makes it pretty hard to erect a good argument either against pre-destination or in favor of free will. If it gives you the heebeejeebees to think about it, don't argue with me about its existence -- it's Einstein's theory, so if you have issues, take it up with him. (although you will have to teleport back into the past to do it, since he's dead.)

Anyway, social media is, to me, becoming the new space time continuum. Through it, we can go through a kind of wormhole back into the realities of our past. The only question is whether or not you want to go back to that place you once inhabited, and whether the person you are now can still interact with all the people who knew you then.

Recently I was asked to join a group on Facebook from a job I had back in the 1980's. To call it a job is too small of a word -- it was my work, my life, my social calendar, my everything. Sometimes you are lucky and just find a place where you just effortlessly fit in completely, and coworkers become best friends to a point where you feel like you've known them in 56 past lives (which are also somewhere on the space-time continuum, I'd guess) and are just picking up where you all left off last time around.

I am here.

It's also a place you subconsciously know you'll knew never be able to come back to once you move on. Those things happen but once in a lifetime, and that's if you're really lucky.

Our ancestors were tethered to the land and therefore knew their neighbors and family members for their entire lives, for the most part, generation upon generation. Our modern society broke the mold on this, moving from place to place by jet, train and car.

But while our parents and grandparents left others behind and started fresh in new locales, thanks to social media, all the people you knew now go with you, inside your computer screen.  We are again becoming our own grandparents in terms of social ties, only now they are virtual ones.  We peer into the screen and see faces we once knew, hear jokes we know the punchlines to, but it all exists in a virtual reality, not our regular one.

 It's possible we've created a completely new kind of continuum and a new reality, for better or worse, where we exist in the present, yet also the past -- and just like in the real space-time continuum, all at the same time.

But I am also still here (front and center, fists raised, 1985)

But there's a kind of time travel fatigue that sets in when you spend to much time "back there" -- back in your shared pasts -- while at the same time a part of you doesn't want to be anywhere else but with these people, the ones who really get you. Or got you, back in the day.

It's a little like dragging yourself out of a good novel to face your regular life, except in this case the novel was your life

Maybe someone will come up with a better name for it, but for now I'm calling it virtual time travel sickness. It's not necessarily an unpleasant malady, but it's a mighty strange one. It seems fitting that in the final days of the year I'd be traveling back through time, as this is typically a time of reflection and pondering past and future.

If you're time traveling or even doing actual traveling in these days between the years, I hope that, like me, you're going back to good places.

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

At the Vet's

When I was at the veterinarian's this morning getting Sputnik his rabies shot the receptionist let me know that it had been almost a year since he'd been in (he'd torn his ACL ligament last year and was in a couple of times for that) and wanted to know if I was ready to schedule his "annual wellness exam."

Say what?

I dread going to the vet's because of this stuff. There is always something more they try to sell you. Flea control. Science Diet dog food. Heartworm meds...and now a "wellness examination." The vets I used to see in the San Joaquin Valley were even worse. Wellness exams always included extensive bloodwork and urinalysis, which cost hundreds of dollars in addition to the regular office visit cost. And of course, if you refused, there was always a not-so-subtle guilt trip, even if it was just a slight shake of the head as the doctor or receptionist took notes in your pet's file -- CHEAP ASS OWNER is probably what it said.

Vaccinations are another way animals get way over-treated and their owners get overcharged at the vet's office. If you search online, you can find many reputable veterinary resources with research which indicates that once your dog or cat has received his first set of booster vaccinations, at about two years of age, further vaccinations are completely unnecessary and can even be detrimental to your pet's health. They have total immunity at that point, or at least as much as they will ever have. Yet there the veterinary industry is, scaring you with stories about dogs who have gotten Parvo or Corona virus at an advanced age. Yes, it happens. But not with vaccinated dogs. Vaccinations provide lifetime immunity with dogs just as they do with us humans.

In the end, I was actually the one who suggested a basic blood panel (liver and kidney function, plus red and white blood counts) before Sputnik went under anesthesia for his teeth cleaning in a couple of weeks, because he's five years old and it's just the prudent thing to do since he's never had a blood draw before. And once I told them I was not interested in any vaccinations other than what was required by law (rabies) and could do my own flea control, they backed off and we had a pleasant visit.

But I'm sad that I always have to be the one to play gatekeeper on my pocketbook during a medical appointment such as this. I worked briefly as a vet assistant one summer and once I tell the doctor that, they usually switch from salesperson to medical professional once again, but I shouldn't always have to play that card, and I feel sorry for the people who can't.

Winter's rest

These next couple of weeks I'm completing the chore list I made when I decided to take an extended vacation from working at the winery back in November. The break turned out to be a great idea, and I've gotten more done in the last six weeks than I did the entire year before that. I plan on doing the same thing at this time next year. It just wraps up the year's end nicely to be able to make a significant dent on the list, giving space and room for whatever shows up in 2016.

But of course the items still left on my list are the ones I least enjoy doing, which is how they ended up at the bottom of the list -- isn't that always the way? If you hate sweeping, you'll do almost anything to avoid it, including a bunch of other chores you tell yourself need to get done more. 

Anyway, one of those bottom-of-the-list things which I'm finally getting to today is taking Sputnik into the vet's office for his rabies shot. The last time he got one he developed an allergic reaction in the form of a HUGE knot on his back, so this time I'm making sure the shot is done by the vet in a medical environment, where he can receive immediate treatment if he has a reaction. But as Sputnik does not ride in the car very frequently, a trip to the vet is stressful for both of us.

I have a few more things on my list before I return to work about mid-month, but when you have property, the list never really gets completed. New things and seasonal chores show up on the horizon just as old chores get marked off. 

But the break has been good for me in other ways as well, more than just getting stuff done. It's allowed me to return to living a little more in the moment -- to have several days in a row when there's nothing mandatory on the schedule to be done that day, which seems to be something necessary to really get stuff done around here. Creativity flows when time is in abundance, there's a creativity in scheduling things as well, so you can flow well from A to B to C, etc.

They only thing around the homestead that's new is that we are getting two Yuzu trees in a few weeks; they were my Christmas present from Big Ag and I couldn't be more thrilled. The Yuzu is a Chinese citrus which tastes like a cross between a tangerine and a lemon, which is quite cold-hardy and therefore a possibility for us to grow here, where temps regularly dip into the 20s in winter. 

I've picked out the most temperate place in our yard -- the south side by the house -- to place them, and will look forward to seeing how they do once they show up. They also love poor soil, so the rocky dirt that makes up our hilltop may be perfect for them.

I'm hopeful, anyway. And I start my Master Gardener classes in a few more weeks, too, so now the trick will be to not end up over-scheduled and burned out again, but to still leave myself enough time to work, enjoy life and get things done around the property. 

Same thing everyone else is probably striving for, right?

Sunday, December 27, 2015

The dollhouse

My friend's dollhouse looks a lot like this one.

This Christmas a friend's little daughter got a dollhouse. It's actually a pretty cool DIY invention, made from a bookcase with holes cut into the shelves for stairs, running from one story to another. So maybe a five-story dollhouse is not realistic, but she absolutely adores it.

I also had a dollhouse as a child, the style of which was not quite realistic for little me, but which I also absolutely adored. It was a one-story, ranch style 1960's house with a big kitchen, fireplace, and large bedrooms. It was totally beyond my 5-year old realm of comprehension because I grew up in a city-style, compact apartment building in the heart of Los Angeles.

The dollhouse of my dreams...and eventual home of my reality.

The dollhouse had beautiful wood credenzas and sideboards and hutches (furniture designed to evoke permanence -- not very moveable, as most apartment furniture must be). There was a large sofa floated in the middle of the living room facing the fireplace, plus a breakfast nook table in addition to the formal dining room. Since we lived in a such a small, shared space we had none of these things, but it spoke of a home I badly wanted. 

Even at a young age sometimes you are conscious of the things you don't have and feel like you were supposed to get, as part of some pre-birth deal with The Creator. But often the contract with said Creator is, in fact correct. You will get the thing(s) you feel like you should have received...but you may have to work to get it for it yourself, much later in life than you'd ever imagined.

I'm not knocking my childhood, indeed I have many happy memories from that neighborhood, which was mostly comprised of houses with stable, long-term families residing in them, unlike our apartments, which had a constantly rotating group of tenants. 

It's interesting to note that my parents could actually well have afforded a house in that same neighborhood, but chose not to live in one, because they thought it was just too much work -- a roof that would eventually need replacing, the carpet and paint they'd have to pay for themselves, a back garden and front yard to mow and tend to, etc. And of course they somehow managed to bring home from the hospital that one kid who felt these things were essential for a happy life. MoĆ­.

My dream come true, in its early form.

That's because if there's ever a kid who belonged in a house rather than an apartment, and indeed in the country rather than the city, it was me. I've known it from the time I was born, which is probably why I glommed onto that ranch dollhouse the way I did. Isn't it funny how sometimes we have to spend the first 30 years of our lives finding our way home? 

Perhaps the dollhouse was a premonition of the future, or maybe just a deep longing brought to life in miniature, but I spent many, many hours creating garden space outside the little doll/ranch house, moving furniture around inside, and dreaming I was actually living within its brick and wood-siding walls.

And so, seeing the little Christmas dollhouse my friend got her daughter made me realize many times you're born knowing where you belong, and you might find it first visualized in a gift, or an afternoon or vacation spent someplace memorable, or even just a picture in a magazine that calls to you and says, "someday."

Check out the rooster on the chimney! 

Who knows, maybe there's a high-rise, multi-story house in my friend's daughter's future. Only time will tell what she gravitates towards and what she sees in her early life that speaks to her. But when those things do speak, both children and parents need to listen and let the little ones walk the path towards their destiny, whether it's a profession, a hobby...or just a nice house with a garden and a sofa by the fireplace.

Friday, December 25, 2015

Happy White Christmas from Wine Country!

Is it a super heavy frost? A light snow? All I know is that we woke up to a thin white powdery layer on everything this morning. The weather station we have installed DID record a few hundredths of precipitation between midnight last night and this morning, so it either fell as rain and froze or fell as light snow and stuck.

Either way, it was a lovely Christmas surprise to peek out the windows and find. Last year we were all in shorts, but this feels quite seasonal.

Happy Christmas, everyone!

Thursday, December 24, 2015

The long shadows, one-third in

The thing I love most about being outdoors at this time of year is the low sun and long shadows, pointing north, which seems to make the sky and ocean both a deeper shade of blue and which illuminates the tops of the dormant grasses on the hills, giving them an otherwordly sheen.

It's honestly my favorite time of year, in no small part because of the cooler temperatures. It's always possible to warm up if you're in a cold climate -- hot drinks, heat, fires, or warm bath. But it's not always possible to cool off in the worst of summer's heat, for some reason. The decks are loaded against us cool-weather lovers. But that doesn't matter. We have our elysium in the here and now of this solstice month.

The solstices are, respectively, usually on or close to December 21st and June 21st. This week I've seen a lot of posts celebrating that from now on, the days will be getting longer. I tend be happy on the summer solstice because I know that at that point the days will be getting shorter.

But of course we all know that the summer and winter solstices appear nowhere near at the end of the respective seasons they reside in. In fact, they actually occur about one-third into each season they appear in. 

On June 21st, for instance, we in the south still have the bulk of summer ahead of us. We'll be hot until October, so even the Autumnal Equinox in September is no harbinger of any seasonal change. And I'm sure my friends east of here will attest to the fact that some of winter's harshest days come after Christmas, in the months of January, February and March when there are no presents, lights and decorated trees to cheer you.

Nonetheless, perhaps like the Christmas holiday itself, the sun's travels through it's appointed dates -- solstices and equinoxes, are symbolic of things to come, and very simple reasons to have hope. In June, some part of me understands that now we will begin the slide that will ultimately end in winter. And that all I have to do is wait.  For those of you in snowy areas, surely the days growing longer is a cause for hope, even if an acutal change in temperatures is months away.

And so, for those of you celebrating Christmas, it's a holiday all about hope, right? And so we all have that in common this time of year. I wish all of you a happy solstice, happy Christmas, and happy New Year. Enjoy both the reality of the season and the hope of what's still to come. The present holds our joy, but it's hope for the future that holds our dreams. And so with life, so with the solstices of our sun.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Dig In

Item of Holiday Death #1

So most of us who are the designated cooks for our family have requests we must honor during this season of food -- time-honored recipes we've served to our family as long as we've had one -- and sometimes before. 

I have a Heath Bar/chocolate chip cookie bar recipe that I've been making since the 1980s (college for me, which means I ate them at least once and chased them down with tequila) that I must make at least once during the season if I want to stay in everyone's good graces.

 The other food item that is more or less demanded of me is Yorkshire puddings at Christmas Dinner or Thanksgiving, which means from November - January 1, my kitchen menu features hearty portions of 1) sweets, 2) processed candy, and 3) lard. It's like the homestead kitchen I'm so proud of temporarily relocates to a trailer park somewhere and all I need is a bag of Doritos and Velveeta on the counter to make the transition complete.

It just always seems like it sends the wrong message to those I love most. It's like, "I love you yet I will nonetheless try and kill you with unhealthy food over these next few weeks." But in my defense, I only acquiesce to these requests at this time of year. The other 11 months of the year  I tend to make quinoa and flax-inspired food which makes Big Ag and the kids go "blech." Victory for me. Eat bland and enjoy the healthy blood values now, people. December's comin'.


Because I make these two items, everyone loves me more during the holidays, no question. And I'm -- obviously -- willing to buy their love with deliciously bad food. If I lived in the trailer park, I'd no doubt be the most loved 500-pound woman there. Loved by my 700-pound family, that is.

Anyway, I found the cookie bar recipe where all cookie bar recipes are all invented -- some trashy women's magazine -- long before I became a convert to the natural foods movement. The Yorkshire puddings are a carryover tradition from my godmother's house. They are unhealthy but at least contain all natural ingredients -- bacon fat, flour and milk.  And they both have historical significance to those I love, and so I will continue making them for as long as they request them, even though I feel guilty about it.

So the cookie bars are done, I have all the ingredients on hand for Yorkshires tomorrow, and all we need are the Doritos and Velveeta to really knock everyone's trans-fat, salt and sugar intake out of the park. 

Merry Christmas from Yours Truly, known better by my other name this time of year, which is The Angel of Dietary Death.  

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Star Wars Premiere

This is my tribe, consisting of both family and friends, after seven hours of standing in line for the "Star Wars" premiere last Thursday. (Big Ag, not pictured, is inside buying himself some popcorn in advance) You know you're with the right group of people when you can do something like this and have it turn into serious quality time. You don't need a Caribbean or Alaskan cruise or trip to Hawaii to bring the family together if you have the right kind of family.

In my universe, "Star Wars" is all you need, plus maybe some pizzas delivered and Cards Against Humanity to help pass the time and increase the laughter factor, already usually off the charts with this group. We set up our lawn chairs, set up our food and drink, and settled in for the long wait in the morning, and then saw the 7 pm premiere with the absolute best seats possible (although we were second in line -- there is actually another family in the area more Star Wars crazy than us -- who knew?) 

There were also assorted fan geeks roaming about with lightsabers and robes, but that's to be expected for an "event sociologique" such as this.

Oh, and the movie was great, BTW. 

Sunday, December 20, 2015

A plate of joy with a side of grief, please. (said no one, ever)

The Girls are in the north end of the property, cleaning things up and enjoying a fine buffet of weeds, new grasses and some pomegranate seeds thrown in for good measure. We human types are inside, watching Big Crosby and Danny Kaye hoof it up in "White Christmas." Yup, it's wintertime at the homestead.

We've found ourselves collaterally shocked by two events in the last week. One was a friend's sibling, critically injured in a car accident last week that was the result of a DUI. The other was a divorce between a couple I see on a very regular basis at the winery. 

Both these sorts of things make you realize how fragile the holiday season is. We spend so much time working up towards the perfect Thanksgiving, Hanukah, or Christmas. And occasionally, all that work and all those expectations end up marred by a tragedy. It makes you realize in many ways, it's just another day on earth and it might be silly to expect so much from it, what with life happening all around us ... and sometimes to us.

My own father went into hospice around the holidays 32 years ago and although I've certainly found my joy again, it took awhile before my Christmases were no longer saddened by that memory. And so it is for many of us this year, including the two families mentioned above.

So if you're having a joyous season, celebrate it with all your heart, all your happiness, and all your family or friends you bring close to you this time of year. Keep your expectations low so you can be impressed by how well it all actually turns out. Even the Grade C+ holidays should be celebrated for the wonderful, less-than-perfect normalcy they are. That's because things could have been (or may someday be) much less cheerful and bright than they are right now, even though right now probably comes with its own side plate of annoyances and petty grievances.

Take your joy anywhere you find it, imperfect as it is, and hold on for dear life, friends.

Saturday, December 19, 2015

The Decline of Western Card-Sending Civilization

Here's a thought for today (which is rainy and cold here on the coast of Central California, for anyone keeping track).

Big Ag and I sent Christmas cards out for years, always with a family photo enclosed. We stopped sending them several years ago, when we realized the only people sending them to us were people who had received one from us and felt the need to reciprocate.  

We did an experiment the next year where we only sent to those we received from, and once we did that our "received card" count plummeted. Obviously the general interest in sending holiday cards was in deep decline. At one time, back in the day, I used to hang a sheet of wrapping paper on the inside portion of our front door and affix the cards to them, as they were received. The door would be filled with cards by the end of the season. But by the time we received less than 10 cards, I stopped. 

Of course with Facebook and Instagram, it's now possible to keep track of what's going on with the Smiths and Jones families (as well as the Al Habibs, Goldsteins, Valdezs and Hongs), without needing to read their cloying, braggy and artificially flavored sweet newsletter many sent out, or look at the happy family photo. 

That's because, thanks to social media, I've watched the Jones' kid play soccer all year, seen the Al Habib girl graduate from high school, and seen enough shots of the Goldstein kid's bar mitzvah that I felt like I should send a gift.

So now we (pretty much as a nation) no longer do the holiday card thing, and even the way our society shops is changing. No longer are we held hostage to standing in line at the department store, surrounded by other holiday shoppers. Now we buy our gifts while sitting in front of a computer screen, in our jammies, with just a mouse click. Then all we need do is wait for the UPS man to drop them on our porch. 

I thought about this the other day when I had to stand in line at the post office to pick up a package that was too big to fit into our mailbox, and which for some reason wasn't delegated to the UPS or FedEx man to deliver.  For a fleeting moment I thought about how much easier life must be now for the workers in the USPS now that they no longer have to deliver all those Christmas cards. 

That lasted about one second. Then I thought about how much of a Devil's Trade this was, because as the hard working USPS workers' lives were relieved from the drudgery of having to sort endless holiday cards, that was just replaced with the endless drudgery of having to sort holiday packages for home delivery. Big, bulky ones. Not much of a trade-up there.

I also wondered how this affects the carbon footprint of the whole holiday. Is it more efficient to order from one big warehouse, like Amazon, and then have one truck drive around and deliver everything, compared to each individual driving to a store and buying all that stuff themselves...a whole family of people, in separate cars, all shopping for each other? 

Do we now use more paper because of packaging boxes and what not instead of all the paper cards, sent only to be thrown away at the New Year? Or less? Some of those holiday newsletters were at least two pages, after all.

Yes, on cold, rainy days like this, these are the kinds of things I ponder when it's too wet to work the ground and the inside I sit here in my jammies, screen up of course, and finish my last minute gift-shopping.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

The Old People's Bus Stop

Carrie Fisher, then and now.

With "Star Wars" about to hit the theaters just in time for the holidays, I can't help but to have noticed a cry that's gone 'round the world. "What in the hell happened to Carrie Fisher?"

Most of these posts and articles feature side-by-side comparisons of Ms. Fisher -- one taken in her 20's, when she was absolutely, breathtakingly beautiful, and the other taken on the current press junket for the new Star Wars movie  (almost 40 years after the first set of pics), where she....doesn't look as good. Big surprise.

There's not a lot of name calling, just a lot of speculation. Was it "life in the fast lane" that faded her beauty so dramatically? Bad plastic surgery? The cocktail of medications she's taken over the years for her mental health difficulties? The speculation goes on and on.

But lest you think this is unique, the same thing has happened to Meg Ryan in recent years. You remember Meg, with her peaches-and-cream complexion and curly blonde locks. At 60, she looks very different now. Meg Ryan is not known quite so much for her hard-living lifestyle, and so bad plastic surgery and too many lip injections are blamed for her rather odd look these days. Ditto for Melanie Griffith and Donna Mills.

In a way, these images of my former girl-crushes are very validating, because these were women I compared myself to and tried to look like throughout most of my teens and 20's. When I found out Carrie Fisher was just an inch shorter than I was but weighed only 103 pounds, I went on a diet. I was 5'4" and weighed 115 at the time. (!) I got down to 109 before my doctor told me to stop -- he said that if I continued, I would be forcing my body to eat its own muscle mass, just to hit a target number on the scale. 

I was a dancer at the time, and was pretty much all muscle, which I see now was a great thing to have going for you. But the doctor's orders did stop my diet, despite the fact that I was dancing on a national television show at the time and thought I looked too fat every single time I saw myself on camera.

Meg Ryan, then and now.

Anyway, here we are at the door of 2016, and we've all seemingly arrived at the same bus-stop now -- Me, Melanie, Carrie and Meg -- the stop where you can no longer go back. The stop where you step off and realize, as the bus pulls away, that you somehow left your good looks on the seat next to you. It's a vulnerable, naked feeling, when you look in the mirror and occasionally see an old lady you don't recognize. Department store mirrors are no longer your friends. Neither is fluorescent lighting.

And so, for some, the search for what you left behind on that bus begins. Carrie, Meg and Melanie all, I believe, have done their share of cosmetic surgeries, yet the final result was ultimately for naught. Full lips on a 50-something face looks ridiculous. So does skin pulled tight and pulled back to someplace behind the ears. (Is it tied into a kind of ponytail somewhere back there, hidden beneath the hair extensions?)

I still threaten sometimes to have a facelift when I'm 60, but the closer I get to it, the less dedicated I am about actually going through with it. I do admit to having some "fat packets" (as my doctor called them) scraped off my lower eyelids about 15 years ago to stop my lower lids from drooping after I started getting chronic dry eyes from the lids not being quite where they should have been to protect my eyes. After speaking to my mom, I discovered several women on her side of the family had ended up doing the same thing, either for cosmetic or medical reasons. So, in a sense, I've already had work and as a result, my eyes do look slightly different than they used to. But a full facelift or lip injections? Probably not for me.

No, the more I think about it, I'm going to sit here at this bus stop and not do anything short of coloring my hair for awhile longer. At least it's somewhat comforting to have so much company at this bus stop, including the "girls" (now women) I once tried to emulate, but no more. Sometimes fighting the aging process with injections, fillers and scalpels ends up making you look stranger than natural old age would. It's not pretty, either. But at least it's real, you'll still somewhat continue looking like yourself, and it's certainly a lot cheaper in the long run. 

There are no hot 80 year-olds out there, after all. We're all going to look like old women sooner or later.

Yours truly, then (1985) and now. Hanging' in there, which just means it's all hangin' a bit lower than it used to.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Let it snow? No....

What kind of day is it?  Fierce winds have made it highly desirable to be indoors, although the clear skies are gorgeous. But no amount of beauty is worth being out in a wind chill down into the 20's.  Even sunshine can't help you there. Better to stay inside with a fire and some hot tea or Bailey's Irish Cream (we make our own and it's delicious).

It doesn't have to be raining or snowing outside for the weather to qualify as frightful, and so the song seems quite apropos on this very short and cold day. And it's very comforting to know that the apple trees and other fruit trees which need them are getting their "chill hours," thereby giving me hope for a lovely crop next year.

In other news, I got into the Master Gardener program. Hopefully when we start in February it won't be as cold as it was today!

Monday, December 14, 2015

Life on Earth

I love to learn and read, but this means that sometimes I get presented, in a short period of time, with an odd assortment grab-bag of facts which come together into a synthesis of perspective I might not otherwise have had. I recently watched the National Geographic Channel's series on the continent of North America, and along with a few other factoids I came across, it got me thinking about things.


1. Dinosaurs roamed the earth for 165 million years. That's 165 million years of generations upon generations of creatures, being born, eating, growing, living, giving birth to the next generation, and dying. They did this over a timespan long enough for entire landforms and continents to change. Enough time for the species themselves to evolve, along with the habitats they spent their lives in.

2. Humanoid creatures have roamed the earth for approximately two and a half (2.5) million years, or just a little over one percent of the time the dinosaurs were the main characters in the saga of Mother Earth. (And, of course, not at the same time.)

3. A climate accord was signed in Paris last week, which may or may not have any teeth to it, and may or may not do any good in reducing greenhouse gasses.

4. The "back to the land" and urban homesteading movement appears to have peaked in popularity in this country, along with all the associated activities related to it. People will still find and learn how to do those activities, but the "trend" has hit its peak and is on the downslope, losing traction as the mainstream economy has gained it back from the Crash of '08.

5. Human beings are still killing each other. Some of the killing is (in the killers' minds) purposeful, and some is completely random -- innocent people chosen to bear the brunt of someone's rage and anger.

Here's my takeaway idea from all these snippets of information:  We are, for all the damage we've done and all the magnificence we've built, still very much the new kids on the block as far as Life on Earth has developed. Great hierarchies of ecosystems, plants and animals existed before us for a hundred times longer than we have survived, thus far. 

Earth and some of its many and varied inhabitants will survive whatever we do to the planet. Oh, sure, we will certainly change the players though our actions, but we will not, no matter how terrible we are, extinguish all life on earth. 

The homo sapiens and polar bear and butterfly may all go the way of the pterodactyl and brontosaurus, but long after the tectonic plate which the coastline of Los Angeles sits on has shifted north to being next to San Francisco, something will still be roaming around or at least growing on this planet. Evolution will still continue over time. And the earth itself will still move under the feet of whatever's living here.

But might we be one of the lucky species to survive? Might my genes live on in my descendants for another 160 million years?  Perhaps -- but I would guess not. As a species, we can't seem to recognize the importance of solving long-term problems (at least not enough to override short-term convenience). Plus, too many of our ilk have murderous impulses they are unable to control and if that doesn't kill us entirely, it will certainly knock down our numbers at some point. 

But if any interstellar travelers from the Oort Cloud are watching us, it's no surprise they haven't made contact...we're newborn babies, in terms of geologic time. We've barely shown up on the radar screen of legitimate life, and seem hell-bent on destroying each other to a point where our odds of survival may be so low no one's taking any notice of us. Why should they?

If you are part of the homesteading movement, or attempt in any way to live lightly on the earth we all share, your actions are important on a moral level but will ultimately have very little actual impact on whatever it is that's going on on this earth. So the decline of the homesteading movement really won't change anything. Nor will your actions. If you choose to live a certain way, it should be done with the knowledge that you're primarily doing it to live according to a moral cause you find noble and the right thing to do, or for some other reason. But you're not going to change much.

And that is OK, because no one who is here -- not the cockroach, not the meercat, and not the whale, will probably still be around for the same amount of time it took the dinosaurs to die off. And that thought is either comforting or depressing. It's the former to me. The continents shift and the species change, but to Mother Earth, for better or worse, we are temporary dwellers on her surface. 

So do what you feel morally compelled to do, yes, but don't spend a lot of time worrying about the planet or what happened in Paris last week, or whether or not the next generation knows how to grow food. On the grand and geologic time clock which this planet marks her hours on, we've only been here a second or two. 

And she will survive and move on, into the future, from whatever our angry little bi-pedaled, opposable-thumbed species does to it. That is a certainty.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Land those airplanes!

My chores, in a holding pattern.

Last month my tasting room manager was telling me that she was going to be cutting staff hours now that it was wintertime and not nearly as busy. Since I know several of the young people there rely on their income from the winery to survive and pay their bills,  I volunteered (Selflessly! No work -- what a sacrifice!)) to help by taking the month off. 

But as I've said before on this blog, you know, there is no real altruism. Of course I had an ulterior motive in not working for a full month, and it was to get caught up around here. Every fall I feel like I'm the sole air traffic controller at O'Hare airport, with my chores being the airplanes put into an endless holding pattern, circling and circling until I find time to attend to them.

It's probably a hold over from being a teacher, but I basically seem to have trained myself to need some kind of "summer vacation" in order to knock out big chores, which demand several days of attention. Teachers get about eight weeks off in summer, which for me was always time to do major projects around the house and get caught up on stuff I'd let slide throughout the school year. So I still seem to need the same amount of time each year -- just a few weeks, all in a row, when the stuff I've perpetually put off until "tomorrow" actually get done tomorrow. 

And so I have been and will be off until the New Year, and I have to say while I've missed my friends and coworkers at the winery, I've never been more caught up on my chores -- all those "airplanes" which were crowding my skies in September and October are being managed quite well right now, and everything is coming in for a landing more or less on schedule.

Landed some soap!

A couple of days ago, for instance, I finally made some more soap. This is a task I only do about once a year, as I make enough to last a long time, but it's something I always enjoy doing. This time around I'd managed to get my hands on some lemon essential oil, so my soap has a lovely scent, and I used a slightly different formula than usual (more shea and cocoa butter, less olive oil and lye) to make it extra creamy and sudsy. 

And I can't tell you how nice it is to see the far side of the back yard project. Although I'm in no way tired of the chores of planting, arranging and designing at all, my aching back says otherwise.

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Beach Day

High Tide.

Today Big Ag and I took a day off the homestead to go and see the big tides at the coast. We've had some storms recently, plus this time of year we can get very high tides, which can combine with the storm action to make some absolutely huge waves. We were not disappointed. It was a typical perfect beach day, but with a lot more excitement off-shore than we normally see.

Against the wind.
I probably should not be telling you this (because I am inherently selfish and want to keep all this beauty and gorgeousness for myself), but if you live elsewhere and ever decide to come and visit our lovely Central California Coast, this is the time to come --  winter. No crowds, nice weather, and the ocean never looks more beautiful than when the sun rides low in the sky. It actually makes the water appear to sparkle even more than it does in summer. Plus usually there's a good chance you'll see some kind of sea life, either dolphins, seals or whales migrating. Except on a day like today of course, when the ocean itself is the star of the show.

A little ocean spray for ya.
We usually enjoy strolling along the sand when we visit this area, but today we stuck to the boardwalk as there was, literally, no sand to be seen along the coast -- it was all underwater!

Yes, we still have fences to fix, chicken coops to clean and leaves to rake, but just for this morning....we didn't. And I'm glad.

Meet my new boardwalk friend.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Nanny State

Around here, there are a lot of rural folk who resent being part of a Nanny State, where the government puts restrictions on how much water you use, what kind of weapons you can own, how you have to maintain your car, when to license a pet, get a permit to build a barbecue, and other assorted rules and regulations which California is more or less famous for. San Luis Obispo County is, I think, even more restrictive than the rest of the state. We need a permit to install a new water heater or patio cover, and plastic bags are illegal to give out in the supermarkets.

While I agree that something like the water heater permit is ridiculous and definitely a money-grab from our local government, most Nanny Laws don't exist because of government greed -- they exist because of dumb people -- you are just the unfortunate, responsible and intelligent person who gets dragged along for the ride. 

Here's the gist: Nanny Laws are meant for the guy whose IQ is 40 points lower than you, who never graduated from high school, whose mother had a few too many margaritas in the first trimester of pregnancy with him and who sniffed waaaaay too much glue in junior high.

He'd happily hook up the water heater himself when he knows nothing about it, because it seemed like a good idea at the time. He doesn't neuter his animals because he's too lazy, and if he builds a barbecue which is next to the neighbor's fence and eventually catches their roof on fire, he'll just declare bankruptcy and move on before the neighbors can sue, since he's already three months behind the mortgage payment anyway and has a few bench warrants out for his arrest to boot.

In other words, there is someone out there who needs these laws to hold them in line and remind them to do the common sense thing. There is someone out there who would endanger you, themselves, and society at large if not reigned in by a, yes, obtrusive and meddling government. Sad but true.

Just's not for you. You don't need nannying, so you obviously resent the over-control. But it's for them. And they DO need it. By nannying them, Uncle Sam keeps you safer from rabid dogs, barbecue fires which spread to other structures than their owners', and cars that fall apart at 60 mph on the freeway and kill families in other cars.

Don't hate the Nanny Laws or the Nanny State. Hate that we have somehow managed to birth into our world a bunch of people who need such obtrusive laws in order to do the right thing.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Bringing home the color -- update!

So I've come to the most fun part of the back yard landscaping project, which is picking out the plants to adorn the growing space! For us, this is the perfect time of year to plant, as it's temperate and not hot enough for the plants to get shocky when placed in the ground. And since it's supposed to be 70 degrees this afternoon -- perfect planting weather both for me as well as the plants -- I think a trip to to the nursery is in order.

I already did a diagram of how I want this section of the yard to look, ran the drip lines, etc, and so it's just a question of finding the plants themselves. I've picked drought-tolerant, easy keepers which will be a pleasure to look at but don't need a lot of work, since my work efforts are mainly centered in the vegetable and fruit growing areas of the property. 

The only plant here which requires some vigilance is the Yellow Broom, which tends to get moths laying eggs in it and then hatching, thus destroying parts of the plant. I will have to be sure and put on some bacillus thuringeinsis (BT) spray on a regular basis in the summer months to ensure I get my yellow flowers...but I think yellow flowers are worth it.

I also bought four milkweeds about a month ago, with the idea of using them in this section of the yard -- but after seeing the constant problem they have with aphids (and you can't spray them with anything other than water if the Monarchs are going to use them) I've decided they will go in some side areas where their looks will not be so important. What with old age encroaching, perhaps I should probably find a space like that for myself as well. Just put me on the side where you can't see the imperfections unless you're really close up. Ah, with plants as with life, yes?

And I'm ordering two rose bushes as well -- after the holidays, so I don't have to go down to the post office and wait in a long line of Christmas package senders and pickers-up. I'm going for one "Barbara Streisand" hybrid tea rose, which is a gorgeous lavender (to complement the blue agapanthus and lavender plants, plus the purple crape myrtle tree) plus a "Good as Gold" yellow/gold rose for an accent color. 

Since I was five years old, I've known that there's nothing better than going to the nursery to buy plants. Talk about a gift that keeps on giving, especially appropriate during this time of year.

Update: Here it is all set out in the yard, waiting to be planted...Provence lavender, foreground, couple of yellow brooms, salvia, penstemon, agapanthus and one very nice Italian buckthorn, which was a whim kind of purchase. I think it adds some nice variance in color from the natives.

I feel like I'm in the home stretch, but that's because I'm ignoring the fact that there is 9 yards of bark I have to order and move into place. Denial is SO convenient sometimes!

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Happy Hanukah everyone!

My favorite time of year.

Winter Salads and Sunsets

Buttercrunch, with baby onions on left.

We can't grow much lettuce in summer here because it's so hot (although I try anyway), but autumn/winter lettuce is another story. We are currently enjoying lots of fresh-picked salads, even though we do have to provide some bird deterrents (they hate the black pots and green tape for some reason, perhaps because it gives that part of the garden a decidedly trailer trash look) and frost protection (white row covers, raised during day to allow sunshine in). So exciting to have some delicious and easy-to-prepare greens. Pop them into a bowl and eat. Like breakfast cereal, only healthier. Gotta love that.

Red Leaf.

The late afternoons also take on a more golden hue in winter. And the cottonwood branch we bought with us from our last home has turned into a six-foot tall, lovely tree, which will hopefully get even bigger and wipe out our view of the neighbors' ugly shed and RV. At that point we'll also lose our views of the northern hills, further proof that you can't have everything, at least not at the same time.

Golden afternoon.

Golden Cottonwood.

Even nicer at sunset.