Sunday, August 16, 2015


Summer is filled with bounty from the garden and the property is teeming with life. Especially eight-legged life. Last night I came home from a very long (but fun) day at the winery to find a large grass spider sitting in the center of the bathroom on the tile.  In case you've never seen a grass spider, they look like this (photo courtesy Google). If you can imagine this guy staring you down as you came in to grab a nice shower after a long day's work, you can probably also understand why I elected to remain stinky and vacate the master bath immediately. 

I don't mind spiders, but in their place. Which is not taking an aggressive stance on my bathroom tile.

Grass Spider

I used to put these guys back outside until I realized they LIKE being indoors and would usually make their way back in within 24 hours (I know this because one was missing one leg and I had to put him out twice before finally deciding to kill him so he didn't make any more attempts. I make no apologies.  Find one of these guys on your pillow as you're getting ready for bed and you will totally understand). 

So Big Ag did the manly man thing and dispatched the latest trespasser for me.

A little rattled after my close encounter, I decided to waste yet another evening of my life by browsing Facebook, when I noticed a large black sock on the carpet next to me. And right as I was about to scold Big Ag about 1) leaving his socks around and 2) wearing black socks in summer, the sock moved...slowly. 

I took a closer look and realized it was a massive tarantula.  Here he is attempting to hide from the camera, which I grabbed in between screaming fits.

Of course my screams brought Big Ag running into the room just as I was running out of it. Entering Hero Mode once again, he gently scooped the big tarantula into a mixing bowl and we took it down into the pasture and set it free. But not before it scurried around a lot as he was trying to get it into the bowl, sending me out of the room with more screams.

At that point I should have just taken a xanax and called it a night. A fright night.

Instead, I took a peek on the patio, and on the outside of the screen noticed an extremely large beetle hanging a couple of feet up. Again, I called Big Ag and he tapped on the screen and the "beetle" fell, only it was not a beetle but rather another tarantula -- a baby this time -- which began walking away. 

Obviously at this point I've realized it's going to be a banner year for the tarantulas, and within a couple of months I'm sure they will taking over my house, garden and blog, so look forward to future episodes from the Hot Tarantula Homestead.

Anyway, this sordid tale continues. As I'm checking to make sure Baby Tarantula is making his way away from the house, I notice a massive black widow building a web around the entrance to the dog house. Now you may hang out on my library carpet or in my master bathroom, dear spider, but if you are a poisonous spider, if you fuck with anything near my dog, I will become your merciless and swift Angel of Death -- no more screaming at this point; we're done with that shit -- I will spray, step or swat you into the Kingdom of Wherever Spiders Go After Death (hopefully not the same place we're going).

After that, I'd had enough. Even Big Ag's previously-recorded Deadliest Catch episodes couldn't convince me to stay up.  Besides, crabs look an awful lot like.....well, you know. Spiders. There's no way I was going to watch that after my evening. I checked myself into bed (after inspecting the carpet, bid skirt, sheets, pillows and duvet carefully for interlopers) and called it a night. 

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Just country livin'

One of the best things about living in the country is being able to use the phrase, "well, that's country livin." It's kind of an all-encompassing excuse for when things don't look:

 1) clean, 
2) tidy,
and even 
3) sanitary

Example: The floor is dirty?  Just country livin'. There's chicken poop on the back patio? Just country livin'. Starting to get the hang of it?

When your clean glasses have strange residue in their bottoms , it's the hard well water. Country livin'. When there are small sticks or pieces of grass between the sheets, it's because hay really does get everywhere once you break the bale. Definitely country livin'. If there's an odd smell in the house that indicates country livin', most folks will immediately check bottom of their shoes for animal feces and then their sweaty farming clothes stuffed in the clothes hamper.  And after awhile they learn...when others don't like the smells, sights or sounds around their place, they offer the reason: It's just country livin'.

And of course once you've become fluent at offering this as the reason anything happens, you then can move onto more far-fetched, yet still in the realm of possibility scenarios that can also be blamed on country life:

Dead animal on your property
Dead person on your property
Unidentifiable body part on your property
Welding burn
Indian burn
Bits of canning vegetables stuck to the kitchen wall
Bits of canning vegetables stuck to the kitchen ceiling
Bits of canning vegetables that somehow made it into the dining room
gardening by moonlight
zip lining by moonlight
fixing fence by moonlight
getting old
feeling young
mortgage burn
muscle aches
muscle building
plantar fasciitis
back pain (always)
tan arms
white belly
general insanity
specific happiness

All of the above.....Just country livin'.

(If you live in the city, never fear. In your case, just feel free to make your own list and add the excuse, "well that's life in the big city." This rationale works well for all those city-oriented things you know and love, like meat-hurling street performers, homeless encampments under your parking garage and 2 a.m. restaurant runs to the Thai place 'round the corner. I lived that life,too. Not better, not worse, just different.)

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Survival of the cutest

Two of Ellen's boys.

So our final sexing of Ellen's four eggs/chicks is done, now that they are morphing into adults more and more with each passing turns out, Ellen's eggs produced three roosters and a hen.  I won't pretend I'm not disappointed at this end result. Three hens and a rooster would have been a lot more manageable. 

That's because while one rooster can add character and charm to a homestead, more than one can sound like bedlam at 5 a.m. Even with one rooster, there is sometimes a risk of it being a bad fit for your operation. I could tell you tales of roosters that would keep you up at night...the one who would wait to attack until you were standing with one of your horse's hooves between your knees, and would jump on you, peck you and rake its nails across your back.  The one who would jump from the bushes when you were least expecting it with spurs at the ready...roosters can be tough to raise and even tougher to give away, because everyone with property has dealt with at least one mean one in their lifetime and many people who keep hens have absolutely zero desire to have a 'roo.

In a way, I've gotten lucky, because two out of the three boys already have homes to go to. One will go down to head up a flock at the winery, another to some neighbors who lost their rooster recently, and I guess I will keep one.

But while these little guys were so very cute when they were small (just like most baby animals), now they are getting some serious adolescent behavior going on and challenge each other at every turn. Not so cute.

I believe this growing up thing is the only reason why most of us are able to live with eating animals. That pig who was so cute as a piglet (and therefore inedible for many of us) is a lot more belligerent and bossy once she's a sow. Even calves and sheep lose their adorableness once they hit adulthood and push you around, charge you or just run from you because they've decided they don't like you anymore. Some remain pets and will be friendly forever, but most grow into their natural natures and are just not as friendly, which is probably what historically has made it easier to dispatch them. 

Taste is another thing, but I am not sure that, even if dog meat tasted like bacon, that we could slaughter dogs in our culture. That's because unlike livestock, dogs remain friendly and loyal long into adulthood.  And it's not only dogs, many farms have at least one "sacred cow," wandering around; some critter that endeared itself to the farmer so much it was spared the knife or bullet for life.

We will see how we do with one rooster.  My only advice to him is this:  Stay cute, my friend.  Stay cute.

Monday, August 3, 2015

Too much or not enough?

I thought it would be like this all the time.

It's been a busy summer here on the homestead, both with homestead-related activities and off-homestead fun and events.  Since moving to Wine Country, every summer I usually feel, guiltily, that I'm doing too much partying and too little homesteading, and have felt that way ever since we moved here three years ago.

But we've had out-of-town guests visiting from New Jersey for the last three days, and their last comment upon leaving us and heading to the Bay Area was something about how they were so impressed with everything we do for energy conservation -- water, electricity and propane. So there's me, feeling like we're slacking and not doing nearly what we should, and then there's our extended family relatives, who live more or less like comfortable urban folks on the East Coast do, in a planned development, who see how we live as something quite unusual and almost extreme -- but, surprisingly, in a positive way.

It's all in how it looks from where you're sitting, I guess.

When I started homesteading, I was committed with an almost religious fervor to live as lightly on the planet as possible, knowing it wouldn't change the big picture, but at least feeling like there would be an impact on the small one. And so I became conscious of every little thing we needed to do to cut back on the things we were wasting energy on (and also spending money on, not-coincidentally). I did as little driving as I could get away with, watched the thermostat in the house like a hawk, and made the family learn to live with crispy line-dried clothes.

Our lives changed, and the first place I saw it was in our bank account, which started growing almost as fast as the crops in our back yard, because we were no longer spending on a bunch of stuff we could grow/make ourselves, or using electricity without thinking about it. 

 But not everything we started doing became habits that stayed around.  While it's true that I still feel the same way about the importance of living sustainably, my world changed and grew bigger over the last three years and some things, like eating at home 100 percent of the time, have simply fallen off the map for us as our social life expanded. Not a good thing, but it is what it is.  Other things we started back then have stood the test of time: watching the thermostat, canning, hanging wash, making soaps and cleaners, growing some of our food.  

But once those things became ordinary for me, somehow I ceased to see them as making a difference.  They were just one more chore to add to the list each day or week. Until the other day, when I was reminded just how different those chores are by my urban relatives who don't/can't do them.

The reality is more of a balance.

We live in an area, thank God, where I've finally found a community of friends we love, and being active and attending gatherings is one of the best things about it. But I also love the quiet, relative isolation, and rural lifestyle we have here. It's truly a balance, but like the average temperature in any given month, is not so much a single line but rather a series of plusses and minuses that average out to a certain number.  Sometimes we're out too much, sometimes we're home a lot, but the average carbon and financial output of our lifestyle is probably still much less than the average American.

And so instead of focusing on my homesteading lapses and feeling guilty over all I'm not doing, from now on I'm going to allow myself to feel positive and proud for the things we have managed to do, and just enjoy that.