Monday, November 30, 2015


Not enough here for the Zombie Apocalypse (aka Trump Presidency). Makes me nervous.

So one of the first things I learned at the winery was the concept of FIFO, or first in, first out. It's important with wine because wine that's sitting in a 75-degree tasting room is not being kept in its optimal conditions, so it's important to move through the stock in a way that has the wine sitting inside the winery itself, behind the bar, for the minimum number of days.

It's also important when you can and preserve, which is why most of us date all our canned goods and go to the oldest ones first when using supplies.
But at least there will be food and wine....

But Big Ag and I are not always successful in doing this with everything here at the homestead. We are currently are using pellets for the pellet stove that are two seasons old...basically when we got a new pallet each fall we just stuck the new bags on top of the old ones, and used those first. 

So right now we're burning wood from the bottom of the pile, or fall of 2013. And we're going to take our stores down to nothing before buying a new pallet. Our wood pellet use is clearly anti-FIFO. It's FOFO, so we're fixing that, because FOFO may be F-U if the pellets don't hold up well with age. 

with various canned accoutrements.

But every time I look at that dwindling pile I get nervous. I love to be stocked up on supplies and goods, especially in wintertime.  Basically, I want to be the family dining on delicious foods, staying warm and enjoying fine wine whilst shooting zombies off the back porch.

 What about you? Are you a stock-up kind of person, or do you have enough faith to know if you're low on something the stores are just a short drive away?

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Best. Turkey. Ever.

So I think I mentioned in a posts several months ago that my blogging friend Stephen Andrew Jones ( ) wrote a post that sold me on buying a sous vide system for cooking, due to his gorgeous, magazine-worthy pictures of his perfect Thanksgiving turkey. The other option was to show up at his house for the big day and just enjoy all his hard work, but since that's technically stalking (but is it still stalking if you bring really good wine?), instead I bought a sous vide system for myself. Stephen Andrew has several good posts on making a perfect Thanksgiving turkey on his blog, so if you've suffered through the curse of dry meat this year please check out his holidays posts from years past, as well as a couple of links I'll post below. It will change your life.

The sous vide uses vacuum sealed bags with the food inside, cooked at very precise temperatures, to cook meats and poultry to perfection. They cook at a lower temperature, for a longer time, making them safe to eat. I will never, for the record, knowingly eat a dry, briny, 165 degree bird again. 

Here at the homestead we've seen more than our fair share of dried up breast meat and under-done prime rib around the holidays and the stress of not knowing if we'd have another disaster every year was making restaurant reservations in town look extremely attractive.

Ollalieberry mimosas using my favorite sparkling Marsanne!

And so it's especially nice to be able to report that our home-cooked Thanksgiving turkey was, by far, the best any of us had ever had, whether at home or dining out. And for me, it was, by far, the easiest Thanksgiving prep I'd ever had. Thank you Stephen Andrew!

There were several factors working towards making this -- bar none -- the most delicious but also the easiest Thanksgiving ever.  The vacuum seal system I bought alongside the sous vide allowed me to vacuum seal anything, and so I used that opportunity to pre-make ALL the side dishes in advance and hold them in the fridge without fear of spoilage or flavor changes (including stuffing, which stayed moist and delicious despite not being cooked in the bird).  So all the side dishes were done by Wednesday.

Behold the stuffing cooker.

Thursday was Pie Day (we celebrated dinner on Friday, so Thursday was a prep day), using pumpkins I'd harvested a couple of months ago and Olallieberries harvested and fast-frozen in spring.  All I had to do was make two pie crusts and cook it all up, which wasn't hard.

Then our Friday Turkey Day arrived, and it was time to cut the raw bird up into pieces. I decided to only cook the breasts in the sous vide system and sear and then braise the legs in the oven, in a red wine reduction sauce (I got 99 problems, but lack of wine ain't one of them). I also pulled all the breast skin off (sous vide cooking means no crispy skin sadly, but there are alternatives for making this happen!). I slathered the peeled-off skin in bacon fat and a little salt  and popped it into the oven on a sheet of parchment to roast by itself. I roasted up nicely, but shrunk a lot, so next year I will be covering it with another baking sheet to hold it flat and help keep it's shape and size.

I then seasoned the two breasts and trussed them together to make a kind of "turchetta," popped it into a vacuum bag and dumped it into a stock pot with the sous vide cooker. Both the breasts and the legs were scheduled for exactly 2 1/2 hours of cooking. With about an hour left in the cook time, I took out all the side dishes out of the fridge and stuck them in the oven too. The stuffing I cooked outside in the solar oven to help keep it moist.

EXACTLY two and a half hours later, I had a perfect Thanksgiving dinner -- no stress whatsoever. What a cooking revolution. So nice to be able to tell people you're going to eat at 2 pm and MEAN IT. Commitment kept! There was literally no guesswork at all, which was so helpful to me as I started heating up side dishes and getting the table ready.

Generation Two, minus our son Groceries who is stationed in South Carolina.

We had two of our three kids home and I'm happy to say they absolutely loved the meal! So did Big Ag, even though he's not in this pic because he's off in the kitchen somewhere getting himself a drink.

Here is a link to the two recipes I used for this year's feast:

Friday, November 27, 2015


I might have mentioned that due to the kids' schedules in transit, we are not celebrating Thanksgiving until today. As a blended family, this is nothing new to us. Depending on the kids' (my son, Big Ag's son and daughter) time with their "other" parents (our ex-spouses) this is something we know how to roll with.

Who knew there was an advantage to getting divorced! Well, there is. It teaches you to allow your children time away from you at an early age, and it's good practice for later on.

Yes, we divorced families know we have to be flexible regarding time with our children. I remember having a full Christmas, including fancy dinner, presents, carols, etc. with my son on December 22, because he was going to be at his Dad's house on "real" Christmas. Of course Christmas was difficult for me that year because I knew it was Christmas Day and my son was not with me. I think I went hiking with a friend or something. 

But for me the most important thing was that my son was happy, and having two Christmases at that young age seemed to fit the bill nicely.  Plus since you can also throw Chanukah into the mix at my house (all eight nights of it), winters are a good time to be here at our homestead -- if you like receiving presents and eating good food.

Within a couple of years after the divorce, my ex-husband and I were managing to work out Christmas so that we both got to spend time with our son on the actual day itself, and could even put our differences aside long enough to let him have Christmas with both his parents -- we'd generally either do breakfast or dinner together. That too, required patience and flexibility, but we made it work and I think our son is the better for having seen us do it. Eventually, my ex and I became good friends, and he is also good friends with Big Ag. I like to think it was that mixing together during the holidays that helped bring all that about. Call it a Holiday Miracle if you like.

But my point is, eventually, ALL parents have to learn to be flexible, as their children grow up. It's not just you. There will surely come a time when everyone's son or daughter wants to spend Christmas at their boyfriend's/girlfriend's home, with his or her parents (potential in-laws) instead of you. 

Sometimes it's because of geography -- if your son falls in love with a girl from St. Louis, her parent will be expecting their daughter to come home for the holiday as much as you're expecting your son to come home for the same.

And unless you're planning on being a territorial asshole about it, you will graciously share your children (and someday, grandchildren) with the parents of the one they love. So maybe you have full Christmas dinner on the 22nd. Or the 28th. Who knows.

But here's the cool thing -- and I think it's safe to say it is just about the only cool thing about going through divorce, but it's there, regardless:  We divorced parents already know how to share our kids -- we've been doing it literally for years. We learned the skill early on, and now that the kids are grown we already know how to let go, knowing losing a holiday is not losing a child forever. 

And so, with the turkey preparations underway and the house preparing to fill with our grown kids (2 out of 3 anyway) and possibly even an ex-husband on the way, may I wish all those in unusual circumstances, all those in non-nuclear families, a wonderful holiday season, whatever day you happen to be celebrating. 

Three's no reason to confine the celebrating to just one day, anyway  Some of us learned that a long time ago. After all, no one ever says, "'tis the day." The expression is "tis the season."

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Big Bird Day

As I get ready for Thanksgiving dinner on Friday (kids will be in transit on Thursday so we'll do the sit-down thing Friday afternoon), I can't help but remember all the happy Thanksgivings at my godmother's house.

As so many artists do, she kind of created her own loosely-knit colony of "family" members, including her kids, several ex-lovers, friends of her kids, and anyone else who was kind of at loose ends on Turkey Day. After my father died and my mom left the country I spent many happy Thanksgivings at her place, a grateful "orphan" to whom she was a second mother. 

Awkward moment as I decide I need to begin drinking. However, note that I am ROCKIN' those 1980's suspenders!

 My boyfriend and I used to spend the day at her place before heading up to Big Sur for the long weekend. One time she invited one of my ex-boyfriends who was at loose ends for a place to go, and somehow I ended up sitting with them both (pictured, ex on the far right). Can anyone say, "awkward?"

These are the kinds of things that happened all the time at her place.

She's now in a memory care facility and I'm sure will be spending the big day with one of her kids. I'm sad that she no longer remembers the crazy Thanksgivings where we never knew who was going to come through her door, but it's a memory I'm still happy to have.

So often in life there's more to be thankful for than resentful against. No one's life is perfect, and none of these Thanksgivings were either, but I treasure their memory more than if they were made of diamonds and gold.

This is one of the last paintings my Godmother did before losing her ability to paint, and I'm especially thankful to have it hanging in my house this year. 

I hope each and every one of you has an absolutely wonderful day, and may your friends and family (and whoever else is in your particular "colony") have a perfectly imperfect day. 

Painted perfection....moonlight on the water.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Just a little white life

Temporary perfection.

So did I mention that I snagged two Chippendale chairs when I got the dining room set a couple of weeks ago at auction? Well, I did. They were gorgeous mahogany and at $20 each just too nice to not drag home, with the idea being to find other similar chairs and re-cover them all to match each other.

The re-covering was necessary because the seats of these two lovely matching chairs are white.

I brought them home and, as I knew I would, absolutely fell in love with those white seats. So elegant, yet simple. So clean and pretty.

You see, in in the deep-down recesses of my brain I have a Fantasy of White. In it, I am able to live a gorgeous, pristine Little White Life.

In my fantasy, I find myself on a comfortable sofa with white denim slipcover fabric over it, and similar covers over the arm chairs. The room doesn't look TOO white, because I've chosen some bright colored pillows offset the blinding perfection of the white sofa. In this fantasy my kitchen is white marble with pale gray cabinets. In the dining room there are white linens, with eight of those gorgeous white Chippendale chairs and their lovely, contrasting mahogany wood accenting the whiteness of the whole vignette.

In this life we have no pets and my husband always comes home in a pair of clean dress slacks and carefully folds his napkin over his lap before eating (perhaps my husband is George Clooney in this scenario, since it is, after all, MY fantasy.) Did I also mention I have white floor-to-ceiling bookshelves filled with literati and tchotchkes which never need dusting?

The utter cleanliness of the place should be the first cue this is a fantasy. My Little White Life does not exist. But I think we all have a fantasy like mine somewhere deep in our unconscious -- a fantasy that tells us things could be a certain way, if only we were just a little more perfect ourselves. We imagine in our best circumstances that we could somehow make it work. That the Little White Life would always stay clean, fresh and snow-driven perfect.

I know that because last night, while sitting on my white Chippendale chair in the dining room I spilled refried beans on the seat, because I'd set my napkin down while going to the kitchen to get something for a guest and forgot to put it back on my lap once I returned.

Refried beans. It could have least been an expensive red wine. But no, my royal fantasy ran head-first into my Tex-Mex-flavored country peasant life.

And even more surprisingly it was not Big Ag, the resident bull in the china shop around here. It was me who screwed it all up. I outed my Little White Life for the fantasy it was.

And for the record, Big Ag has never come home in a pair of jeans that did not have half the vineyard's dirt on it, or mystery oil of some kind, so that's why I always imagined him to be the one to ruin my fantasy. But second to him, there are the hordes of pets. (The fact that I currently have a pooping indoor chicken should be the first clue, right?). And then of course there's the canning -- when I can tomatoes I am fully capable of launching pieces from the kitchen all the way into the dining room and within striking range of those beautiful Chippendale chairs.

So really, it was only a matter of time. About two weeks, to be exact.

There is no such thing as a Little White Life, at least not at this homestead. And so I will re-cover those chairs as soon as I find their mates and have a complete set. I'm looking at a brown floral pattern to do them in. And this will make me sad, because somewhere deep down I believe in the myth of the Little White Life -- the slipcovers that always wash to snowy perfection, the chair covers that stay clean, and the bookshelves that never need dusting.

The truth of my life, and life in general, is a lot more colorful...

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Bucket List

I have two items on my so-called "Bucket List" of things I want to do before I die. I've been blessed to lead an incredibly varied life, working in several different professions and living through some interesting times. So thankfully, my list is not long. I think everyone should have a bucket list though, and everyone should have some kind of a plan in place to git 'er done, as they say, before kicking said bucket. 

Mine is as follows:

1.  I'd like to live in a climate with four true seasons, including some (but hopefully not a huge amount of) snow. Washington State or northern Idaho is in, Wisconsin and Minnesota are out. 

It should have a true fall, starting sometime in September.  Spring can start later than here, maybe April or even May. Mild summer, relatively speaking.

You may surmise from this that I am tired of only being able to wear sweaters four months out of the year, and not every day at that. That's true. I am also tired of, and increasingly unable to deal physically with, heat. Today, for example, it's 80 degrees. Not a bad temperature to be outdoors in at all, but kind of kills the mood for decorating the house or baking holiday cookies, believe me.

2. I really, really, really want to see the Aurora Borealis, or Northern Lights. I am hoping to combine #1 and #2, even if it only happens from my back porch once or twice in my lifetime. That's all I need to check off the box.

As Big Ag and I head into our mid-50s, these two items play large in my mind, although I am happy where we are currently living...for the present. Which means the next 10 years. We're close to our kids and close to family. Sometimes things are fine for the present, but you know there's not going to work, long-term in your future, though. Some men are like that. So are some states.

One thing Big Ag and I both agree on that helps this decision a lot is that we know we cannot afford to continue living here once we retire. California is one expensive state to live in, mostly because real estate is so pricey. (Even if you own your own home outright, you will still be paying a huge property tax bill based on the estimated worth of your home.) Add to that some of the most expensive gasoline in the nation, sky-high utility bills, and just the general cost of doing business, and this is a tough town to stay in once you aren't earning anything and are living off your social security and savings.

My idea is to go where you can save the most money if you want to last to the end of life's competition in good shape. And sell high and buy low whenever possible. If you're leaving California, that's easy, because real estate values are so incredibly over-inflated in the first place.

A dear friend relocated to Idaho recently and called me, so excited to tell me about paying her vehicle registration renewal fees. Here in California it was costing her about $400 a year to do this. In Idaho it cost her $35, every other year. It turns out not only do they give a discount to seniors on their auto registration, they will also cut your property tax bill if you earn less than a certain amount each year. 

Our other big concern is water. There is not enough of it here. And as has been true for eons of human and prehistoric history, everything (including creatures on two and four legs) has to follow the water. So we'll be looking for a place that gets a lot more rainfall, with additional water in the form of snowfall, to make survival a little easier. 

People from out of state are always shocked when I tell them our well lies 600 feet below the surface of our land and that water costs us at least $100 a month in electricity to bring it up from that depth. I tell them, "you ain't seen nothin' yet." The aquifer we're drawing out of is currently in decline, and people are having to drill deeper and deeper. And once you get to about 1,000 feet, there are huge amounts or boron or worse, the possibility of going "artesian" which means suffer-flavored, extremely mineral water that isn't always drinkable without filtration and settling. Is that sustainable long term? I don't know. I won't be here to see it.

So in springtime we plan on taking a trip, a scouting trip, up to the Northwest to look at neighborhoods and visit with friends who have already relocated there. Who knows, in another 500 years people like us may be known as the first of the  Great Northern Migration, following the water to more northern latitudes as climate change takes hold for real. 

One thing that's for sure is that when your bucket list is also your retirement plan, if you live long enough the odds are good you will get to live out your list as well. So while I'm not buying sweaters or snow throwers yet, it's a safe bet to say both are in my future.

Gonna get some water in that "Bucket List" bucket.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Cooking for Two


One of the odd things about my job is the conversations I am privy to as I visit each table with their flight of wines. Sometimes I hear funny things that make me laugh. Other times I hear something which resonates with me.  The other day there were three or four gentlemen tasting wine together and as I stepped up to pour for them, one said to the other, "Ever since the kids have gone off to college, she says she's not motivated to cook anymore. She heats up frozen meals in the evenings." 

Of course he said this with a sad, resigned air, which I kind of get, but on the other hand, if it's bothering you, dude, step up and grab the apron. Man can cook, after all.

But I do have a lot of sympathy for the wife in question. It's taken me a long time to get out of the habit for buying enough food to feed an army on its feet, which is what our family was for the longest time. It's almost a grieving process you go through, once there is no longer a full family to cook for. You spend years learning recipes that will keep kids full and will re-heat well, since kids are so busy you're often feeding in shifts. It's all about big casseroles and other one-dish meal wonders.

When they leave home, all that changes. Immediately.

So one of my greatest challenges has been re-learning how to cook -- for two adults, not five people of various sizes ranging in age from 10 - 40. Harder still was learning to BUY for two and not five. 

Ifyou're single, I would imagine it's even harder to get up the motivation to cook for yourself than it is for couples, when you could just graze out of the fridge instead. Not that there's anything wrong with grazing. But it still should probably not replace meals 100 percent of the time.

But I also saw a study recently that many older adults who live alone are eating more and more processed food (both frozen and take-out), because they don't want to cook for one, and that is creating health challenges in the form of high blood pressure from high sodium levels, and diabetes from high sugar levels.

So what's to be done about the home cooking conundrum for singles and couples?

I think we need a revolution in small-portion cooking. I think there ought to be cooking TV shows that feature small dishes and limited portions, cookbooks and online resources that offer the same. With the Boomer and even Gen X'ers aging out, this becomes even more important. 

You can add a homesteading angle to it as well. How do you grow for just one or two people? How much do you preserve, freeze and put by? Having just gone through this with a whole bunch of canned tomatoes I put up in 2013 and need to use NOW, I really could have used some tips on knowing how much to grow when my kids left home. In 2013 (the year after they left) I grew waaaaay too much, bought waaaaay too many groceries, and didn't eat enough of any of it. 

And  I have the expired food in the bottom of my trash can to prove it. That shouldn't be the learning process. 

It's all well and good to be able to feed the small army that a houseful of kids is, but if you're an army of two or even one, it's no less important. It's something I plan on spending some time exploring in life and here as well, in the hopes of finding a new way of cooking, growing and eating.

Because there's more to growing old than throwing a "Lean Cuisine" meal in the oven (or even an Amy's Organic Kitchen meal) and calling it healthy eating. 

It's not. But I'm convinced that there is a better way out there, and that it can not only be delicious, but also be easy and save money in the long rung. Not to mention stop you from filling your trash can or composter with expired foods.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Movin' On

Fuzzy Feet has found a permanent home, with a coworker's parent, who is retired and would love to have an inside hen. 

Sigh. I guess deep down I always knew she was just much too "all that" to live the simple life with my farm girls and rooster. Clearly what this chicken needs is a stylist, an agent, a photographer and some papparazzi and her Hollywood career will be launched.

And I can say I knew her when. Remember me once you hit the Big Time, Fuzzy Feet. We'll have her probably through Thanksgiving, after which she'll be moving on to her new digs.

P.S. We also found out from her previous owner that her name was not (surprise!) Fuzzy Feet. It is VALENTINA. Yes, a truly glamorous name for a glamorous girl.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Pumpkin Day

Next week may be Turkey Day, but here at the homestead today was Pumpkin Day.  Pumpkin Day is when all the pumpkins (the ones I grew over the summer and harvested back in September) become pumpkin puree, so they can go into all kinds of delicious seasonal dishes.

Pumpkin Day is very different from Pumpkin Spice Day, which happens in the stores and shops around August and has absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with real pumpkins. It's now possible to have pumpkin bagels, pumpkin coffee, and pumpkin fabric softener, all of which contain NO pumpkins whatsoever (maybe a good thing in the case of the last item).

Just roast.... (two of about 15 total)

If you've ever grown pumpkins before, you know that not only do all pumpkins not look alike, they don't taste alike either, despite sharing pasture/garden space and being the same type of seed (in this case, Sugar Pie). You can even harvest them all on the same day, after all the vines have died back, only to discover some are more ripe than others.

They are damn individualists. A little like people, no?

Anyway, regardless of their shape and size, today is the day when I grant them equal rights to be delicious and cook them all to where they are discolored and droopy, nice and soft, and scoop out the seeds for the chickens, then puree the rest of the meat. Some puree is for now, some for next week, some for the bleak midwinter, when there's nothing more comforting than a nice batch of pumpkin bread or pumpkin soup.

One important thing to remember about cooking whole pumpkins is that the less-ripe ones will need more oven time than more-ripened ones. And you can tell more ripe from less ripe by the inside color. A deep, bright orange means it is ripe. A more pale orange means less. But if you cook the less-ripe ones enough, they are just as edible as their more attractive and ripe siblings (as long as they are fairly ripe -- no green should be present). I do recommend mixing them all together before pureeing however, so you hit a nice middle note between the ripe and not-as-ripe. 

The other thing to note regarding cooking whole pumpkins is that, unfortunately, real pumpkins cooking in your oven do not smell nearly as inviting as pumpkin spice goodies do, so my advice is to burn a candle or enjoy a pumpkin-flavored latté while your gourds cook.

Once you are done, your pureéd pumpkin can be stored in the freezer for several months, if you can make it last that long. I have yet to get to Valentine's Day with any left. And since it's not exactly something you crave in summer, my advice is to wallow in its real, natural deliciousness while you can.

There's always plenty of the artificially-flavored stuff to tide you over 'till the season rolls around next year.

And puree.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Patio remodel: Next step completed!

So this weekend we finished the gravel section of the patio remodel. The idea was to make a tertiary, kind of funky fire pit area with an inner and outer core of gravel and flagstone. We'll add some chairs at a later date -- I'm thinking maybe some bright red adirondack chairs around the fire pit, plus a few colorful, large urns here and there? 

The rest of this section of the yard will now be filled in by bark and drought-tolerant plants, which will be the most fun phase of things to create, since I can coordinate colorful plantings that will add some softness and some bright spots to what would otherwise be a very earth-toned landscape. 

So the next stop will be the nursery. I will be buying the smallest plants possible, knowing they will jump in growth over the next few years. So many people want things to look mature right away in terms of their landscape, but I'm content to wait until little plants grow. 

And then this project will be finished! We really can see the light at the end of the tunnel.  I'm sure something new will pop up which we need to attend to sooner or later. But the major remodeling/landscaping phase of owning this home will be finished and we can finally put our feet up and enjoy it.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Keeping it simple, keeping it up.

Let's face it, blogs often end up going into dormancy because of the repetitive nature of people's lives. I can't tell you how many blogs I've discovered at the last post, where the author says, "well I've pretty much said all I can say about this, so I'm signing off." it's always frustrating, because just when I start to get interested in the story -- when I've scrolled back, reading it from its inspired beginning -- it slows down and then one day, it ends. Abruptly, as its author moves on to something else.

Routine "comes with the dinner," so to speak, in life, but especially in the homesteading one. It's the side dish to the main one of living from scratch. It's pretty much a given, for instance, that in summer you're going to grow tomatoes and can them. Once or twice a year you'll make soap. Pruning happens in fall. It's all novelty for the first year, and then you get to have the first year a second time, usually with minor curve balls thrown in...the early frost, the cracked mason jar, insect invasion, etc. Repeat and rinse.

And it's called The Simple Life because of that predictability.

Now maybe you've come up with a way to write in such a way that your readers are continually drawn into said life. Or likewise, perhaps you are such an awesome photographer that the reader wants to be in the room with you while you're completing your work (if you feel that way please come on over and bring your apron). Martha Stewart has always been good at this. Come for her 118th iteration of a pumpkin pie recipe, stay because you'd like to take up residence in her gorgeous kitchen, sit by her fireplace and dine while admiring her tablescapes.

Thanksgiving checklist item: Spray paint all chairs to match my blouse.
People like reading about the simple, homemade life because it's a state most of us are trying to achieve in one way or another, and we like seeing others on the same quest. We're a club of people trying to keep it old fashioned, or just longing for the perfect bucolic life, and trying to keep balance in a busy, busy world.

Today I canned the last of the tomatoes -- 10 quarts of delicious spaghetti sauce -- and made enough laundry detergent to last through winter. There are three loads of wash on the line as I write this, and I even have enough tomato sauce left over to make a great spaghetti dinner tonight.

This is my measure of a good day.

I prefer this kind of work to working outside the home (even though I do both), but have found I cannot live like a hermit all my days, or my social skills get rusty. I've seen the same in others too. Like any good story, I need new characters and situations to make my life more interesting, even though at the end of the day, I choose a warm fire, a hot meal and a big comfortable chair over many other things. 

And I realized the other day that if balance is a number between one and a hundred, there are about 99 numbers you can hit that will just be wrong, with about 10 of those being "close but not quite." The perfect balance is like the perfect temperature -- fleeting and difficult to maintain in a dynamic, changing environment. You'll hit it once in awhile, but most days you'll be adjusting up or down, depending.

Maybe it's not so much about the simple life these days as much as its about the "simpler" one. Not perfect, not exact, just a theoretical number we shoot for every day, with some days getting closer than others. 

After all, how many days is it a "perfect 75 degrees?" Not nearly enough, my friends. Not nearly enough. So I just try to get in range, most days, and keep writing about it. I hope you do the same.

Friday, November 13, 2015

Meet Fuzzy Feet

"Hey, you wanna watch a movie or something?"

So if you keep animals, there's about 999 ways you can screw them up in the head, and one of them is to make them your companion to a point where they can't interact with others of their own species.  I think the only creatures it's OK to do this with are dogs, cats and birds -- house animals -- who could be reasonably transferred to another human's home if you were to suddenly pass or become unable to care for your pet, thereby allowing their role in the world to continue.

That doesn't always keep one dog, and then have to give him away but the only place that will take him is a home with four other dogs. Same with cats. But sometimes people take inappropriate animals and tame them to a point where they forget what they are, too. Like barnyard animals. 

Like....Fuzzy Feet. Fuzzy Feet was apparently a pet at a convalescent home and acted as part therapy bird and part lap pet. Fuzzy Feet wants nothing more than to live in your house and sit on your lap watching television (preferably Golden Girls). But yes, Fuzzy Feet is all chicken. Every clucking, pooping inch of her.

So when the convalescent hospital could no longer keep Fuzzy Feet (not sure why perhaps the relatives of the residents didn't feel a chicken was sanitary, which of course it may not have been) she came to the chicken house at the winery. Suddenly she was thrown in with a bunch of chickens who'd spent their whole lives being, well, chickens. 

She didn't know how to eat out of the feeder. She didn't know she was supposed to come in at night to the coop where it's safe. She didn't understand you could get caught in wire fences. Within a few days, she was dehydrated, starving and dirty.

So I got the call yesterday from work asking if I could please come and foster this chicken until a home is found. Of course I said yes.

Right now the plan is this: Fuzzy Feet will spend her nights inside with us in a rabbit cage we already had, because that is what she is used to. She loves this already, because I imagine its similar to what she had in the rest home. During the day, she will go out into the chick "condo" we have set up next to the regular run, where she can safely spend the day outdoors, seeing the sun, feeling the wind, and interacting with the other chickens in the run from behind the safety of a wire door with a tight enough weave (stainless hardware cloth) she can't get caught in it -- so not being in a position where they can pick on her or she can hurt herself.

I'm hoping, in time, to train her to be a chicken again, unless someone finds a person who wants a lap chicken who lives (eats, poops, etc.) inside and doesn't know she's a chicken. Until then, she'll live in two worlds, chicken by day and lap pet by night. Sigh. This is my life.

At my next dinner party: "Vegetarian lasagna with chicken on the side -- literally, on your side, just to your left."

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Use/enjoy it. Nothing lasts forever.

Use it! Enjoy it! Because it's beautiful, and because...

This is the time of year when we all start breaking out our winter/holiday finery, including tablecloths, decorations and even special furniture.  This last weekend I bid in another online auction and got this gorgeous mahogany dining room table for $200. (Thanksgiving on my mind! It has TWO leaves and can expand to 120 inches!) 

I know many people who have dining room tables like this in their formal dining room, and rarely use them. Which seems like a shame to me. I think the things we buy should be used and enjoyed. That's why we don't have a breakfast area, and instead eat all our meals at the one dining room table, thereby visiting with it almost every day. It's gorgeous, so why not look at it every time we sit down to a meal?

I remember going to an antique store several years ago which featured toys for sale -- in their original boxes, unopened. Apparently that is the gold standard for buying these kinds of things -- toys like Barbie dolls and stuffed animals are highest priced in their original wrappings, unused.

How sad that we relegate such things to uselessness in order to keep their value. It's one thing to take care of what you own to make sure it lasts a long time, but entirely another to never enjoy it or never use it for the purpose for which it was intended...gee, and I thought formal dining rooms people rarely went into was sad.

About 18 years ago, my mother found an antique sideboard at a junk store, liked it and purchased it for me at the bargain basement price of $100. Upon doing a little online research, we discovered that it was a one-of-a-kind Brown-Saltman piece from the 1930's and was probably worth between $4,000 - $10,000. She was thrilled. I was dismayed. The insurance company was helpful in putting together a policy for it. Which meant, as a struggling single mom and beginning teacher, I was now in possession of a piece of furniture that needed its own insurance policy. I felt a little sick.

For months I worried about the piece, not putting anything on it, not allowing the kids within a mile of it. I was almost afraid of it, yet at the same time resentful -- how had I unluckily come into possession of something which clearly demanded so much respect as to not be touched or used?

And then my best friend visited and told me I needed to use it and enjoy it. She said that was what it was created for. And if an accident happened -- it got scuffed, dented or scratched -- well, nothing lasts for ever, she said.  


The message is the same, whether it's home furnishings or something even more intricate yet also temporary: the sand mandalas the Buddhist monks spend months creating, only to to pause for one moment at it's completion and behold its beauty before sweeping it away, forever gone. The message is clear: Use it!  Enjoy it! Because nothing lasts forever. And an unused toy wrapped in a box is worth nothing, because it's never fulfilled it's purpose of being played with and loved by a child. I don't care what the auction house says.  

The fact is, if it's a creation made by man or even in nature, it has a life expectancy. Give it a life worth living by using it, for heaven's sake.

Nothing lasts forever.

Monday, November 9, 2015

The days I dream of

What lies within....

These are the kinds of days I dream of. A cup of coffee with so much milk it's bordering on being latté, a fire in the pellet stove, and foggy, rainy and cold weather outside.

I dream of this in July, when I'm out in the garden covered in flies and sweat.

I dream of this in October, when I'm still out in the garden, covered in flies and sweat.

Everyone has a weather fantasy they play out in their minds time after time when they're far away from living it, either due to geography or due to the time of year it is. I have one friend who dreams of a perfect Hawaiian day, 75 degrees with puffy white clouds in the sky and the air smelling of flowers. She grew up in Honolulu and longs to return to the islands. I have another who dreams of being snowed in at his parents' Connecticut home, forced to the comfortable sofa in front of the fireplace because there's literally nowhere else to go and nothing that can be accomplished. Sure, the snow thrower is beckoning, but it can wait for a couple of hours, because it's a holy time for my friend. 

For me, my weather fantasy comes true between the months of November and February, but only if it's a day when I have nothing pressing to do, and only if it's cold enough to light the pellet stove. Then I can relax, watch the clouds or rain come in (we have a great view of storms coming in from our hilltop)  and huddle in front of the stove with a warm drink and just my thoughts to keep me company. 

I sometimes read, other times I pray a prayer of thanks for just making it to this time of year again, as if the other eight months is the penance I must partake in so I can have this piece of heaven. I usually have some specific music on, usually a "winter solstice" mix station on internet radio, which plays music appropriate to a stormy day somewhere in the latitudes of the mid-50's (where I, sadly, am not, but fantasize I am on dark days such as these).

What's your weather fantasy -- the place you return to again and again with anticipation and pleasure, year-round, in your mind? What does it thrill you to wake up, look out the window and see the sky, the trees and the landscape doing? Are you back in your parents' house tucked in safe and warm on a cold Christmas morning, or on an endless beach alone, or someplace else?

What lies beyond.

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Tales from Wine Country, Episode #996

Photo courtesy CNN.

So last night, on the way to a party at the winery (as guests -- not pouring!) we saw this amazing sight in the western sky. Having worked in both the aviation and astronomy fields when I was younger, my point of reference was that it looked not unlike the tail of a comet.

Big Ag and I discussed, seriously, the possibility of it being either a comet or asteroid which came in rapidly and was heading towards Earth as we were motoring along.

We decided that some pre-apocalypse sparkling wine and a nice dinner couldn't hurt and were, in fact, probably a good idea if, in fact the end was near.

You discover your priorities in times of crisis, people.

We later heard on the news that the strange sight in the sky was an unarmed Trident missile shot from a submarine and going airborne in the sky off the coast of Southern California. But, hey, better to be proactive in the case of something serious, right? 

In case of emergency, break out the bubbly. Plenty of time to load the weapons after dinner.

Friday, November 6, 2015

Procrastination and "Honey, What Were You Thinking?"

So I have 30 pounds of tomatoes in the freezer waiting to be canned. Back in September, when I told myself I needed to have them all processed by a couple of weeks before Thanksgiving, that seemed like an easy deadline to keep.

And now I'm up against it. So next week it is. Production happens around here sometimes only after procrastination has run its course. 

Tomatoes. Next week. Firm. You can't bump tasks into the future once the future arrives, which is always sooner than expected.

In other news, Big Ag promised a good friend that his daughter's boyfriend could park his 26-foot long RV on our land this weekend. The catch? We don't have land to park it on, nor an RV space...we live on a hill. Does the friend know this? I don't think so. So a 26-foot RV will be parked front and center in our driveway all weekend long, housing someone we don't even know -- a boyfriend of a friend's daughter. We don't even know his name.

These are the things which test a marriage, I'm tellin' ya. And that's all I'm saying about that.

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Next phase

Fire pit and surrounding area will have gravel/bark.
So our patio project has now reached the next phase, which is adding some gravel around the fire pit and next to the door of the chicken coop. After that it will be on to adding plants, drip lines and bark, but we don't expect this to be a lot of trouble since it's a relatively small area. We'll probably add 10 drought-tolerant plants, just to provide some color and sustenance for the bees and butterflies.

Speaking of which...four milkweed plants will go in, in order to help our friends the Monarch butterflies. 

Bark and decorative gravel will surround the chicken coop/run.

Another phase of my life may be starting soon as well, I have applied to train as a Master Gardener with the local University Extension office. If I get accepted I will begin taking classes next February - June, learning all about plants, pests and their management, and landscaping in our region. I will then be assigned a certain number of volunteer hours each month to help others with their garden ideas and issues. 

In the meantime, while the backyard project has become a lot more enjoyable now that winter weather is upon us, I'll be happy to look outside the back door and see it all done.