Friday, December 30, 2016

This Year


Well, the holidays are almost over and it's back to regular life for now. I received many lovely prezzies but one of my favorites is this tablecloth, which I asked my son for. I have no summer tablecloths and I thought this one would fit the bill well.  Only it was so pretty I had to use it right away. So it's July in December here at the homestead. Put on a t-shirt and have some lemonade.

Death of a Princess.

One of the reasons I was looking for cheerful decor was a bit of sadness over the too-early loss of Carrie Fisher.  "Who'll be my role model now that my role model is gone?" sang her ex-husband Paul Simon on a song called "Call Me Al." Indeed. Carrie Fisher was, in fact my role model when I was a teenager and I saw her in "Star Wars." She inspired a generation of girls to be more than just someone's husband or daughter. Be a senator. Be a freaking star pilot. And be a princess, but not the kind of pastel pink, glittered, pouting and preening model we hold up to girls today...once again, sadly. (Feminism is one step forward and a couple back, it seems sometimes.) Perhaps her death will spurn a revival in being more of a kick-ass kind of princess, who wears a dress she doesn't mind getting covered in dung when she hops into the garbage chute to escape The Evil Empire. I hope so, anyway.

Anyway, 2016 certainly seems to have generated a lot of hostility from the world. I know people who are staying up late this year just to watch it die. In many ways, on a personal level, for me it was good. But in others, it was more like that Facebook friend you have no intimate disagreements with but realize from their posts that they have some serious, off the wall cray-cray going on inside their cray-cray craniums. I don't think many would argue that 2016 was a rollercoaster in many ways.

Tide's coming in to wash another year out to sea.

Maybe in some ways I kept 2016's craziness at a distance. But I will miss Carrie Fisher's wit, guts and humor. I'll miss David Bowie's and Prince's music. And I'll miss having a President who did not make me quite so nervous as this incoming one does. We will see. That's all any of us can say at the year's end, and it's no different this year.

Because either way, it's over and we're marching into 2017. Big Ag and I will be at our favorite Italian restaurant -- early -- where we have a standing New Year's Eve reservation. And we'll sleep through midnight like children who didn't manage to stay up late enough. Nothing wrong with Second Childhood if it lets you sleep well. By the time we wake up we'll have at least seven hours of a successful New Year already behind us.

Happy New Year one and all. Hope you are exactly where you want to be at midnight, even if it's just tucked in and dreaming in your own comfortable bed.

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Have a peaceful "Quiet Winter"

Every year about mid-November I begin decorating the house and starting my holiday planning and wonder how I'll ever find myself feeling sick of it all by about December 26th. It seems like I've waited so long for the season and it's such a joy to celebrate. 

After all, I am the woman who will spend two hours in front of the television on a 100-degree, busy July day watching a Hallmark Channel "Christmas in July" movie, should I happen to come across one. And please don't lose respect for me when I tell you that during the same summer season, if I happen to be channel surfing and land on QVC somehow (Totally by accident! Honestly!) and discover they are selling holiday candles and lights, I will stare at all those LED lights and fake snow like a drunk ogling a bottle of Smirnoff. 

It's everything I can do to keep myself from calling their 1-800 number or going online to buy it all, because I have a persistent, subconscious and irrational belief that doing so will somehow signal winter to come even earlier than usual. 

Yet I can only take about a month of full-on, actual true-life holiday merriment. I could never live in one of those "Christmas-all-year-long" villages that are always the settings of the Hallmark movies, for instance, because I'd end up in the town's silver and gold, garland festooned jail for killing the local Santa once it all became too much to look at and listen to and I snapped. And I'd probably go scott free with a not guilty verdict too, because I know there are others who feel the same as I do.

For people like us, December 27 rolls around and we begin the deconstruction of All Things Holiday, happily trading all the glitter in for the next season, which I call Quiet Winter.

Quiet Winter is the time when it's still cold outside but your home and social life are in a kind of winter dormancy rather than a holiday frenzy. Dinner is at the same time every night, with the usual meals, and with the same people. Your house is relatively organized. And after a month or more of merrymaking, overeating and rushing around, there is nothing left to do but sink back into your schedule and little routines of your life as the snow falls, the rains pelts or the sun shines, depending on where you are.

Quiet Winter is lovely here because it breaks and gives way to spring relatively early. In the east and midwest, you have "mud season," which probably lacks the delight of either the holidays or Quiet Winter. For us, it will be the end of next month when the pear blossoms will begin to turn the trees white and the vineyards start to bud break. The roses will begin coming out of dormancy soon after. But without any major holidays sandwiched over a month or two, things will still feel slow and manageable. Time to organize the house, lose the five pounds you gained over the holidays and just enjoy the fact that nothing much is pressing in on you. You're not obligated to be anywhere beyond your normal day-to-day responsibilities.

Like the holidays, we don't always get the chance to celebrate Quiet Winter due to shifting circumstances in our personal lives, but if you can and are able to, I wish you a long, lovely, and peaceful Quiet Winter. 

We say "Peace on Earth" in December, but sometimes it's not really until January and Quiet Winter that we're able to feel that manifesting in our lives.

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Bases Covered

Chanukah and Christmas coinciding and all is proceeding smoothly. Have a wonderful holiday, whatever you're celebrating, from our homestead to yours! 

Friday, December 23, 2016

To free range or not?

Le poulet fermier?

Right now it's 4:17 in the afternoon and our four chickens, Chloe, Callie, Cleo, and Otis the Rooster, are free-ranging out in their big deer-fenced area on the side of the house. They're dust bathing and sun bathing, since it's a balmy 58 degrees. 

Free ranging is a big deal these days. You get free range eggs and egg dishes in the kinds of restaurants that have all the menu descriptors in French, because the image of lovely roaming poulets laying healthy oeufs is one which we foodies dearly love and is the reason a lot of us actually start keeping chickens in the first place. But is free ranging the best thing for them?

Mid to late afternoon is generally the time of day when I allow my chickens to roam their side of the property...when it's a busy time in our rural neighborhood. The dog next door has taken to barking at random air molecules (something he often does), there's a bit more commuter traffic on the road by our house than other times of day, and I'm generally nearby, doing this and that around the property.

While I love the idea of hens free-ranging 100 percent of the time and laying those coveted 100 percent free-range eggs, I don't allow my chickens to free range it all day long. It's an idea that sounds great, but I don't want to risk the loss of life and my investment. In other words, if my chickens is going to get eaten, it better be by me. 

In our area, we have foxes, coyotes, occasional loose dogs, plus eagles and hawks of all kinds. We have raccoons and skunks. All these critters will happily kill a chicken -- or entire flock, given the chance. And my job, as the chief chicken steward, is to keep those chances as low as possible.

Le Coop.

I've had two friends lose chickens in the last month. One was letting hers free-range in her yard 24/7 and roost in the trees at night, which was, as she said, "the way God intended it." Unfortunately, apparently God also gave raccoons a taste for blood and sport killing, so she's one chicken down now. Another friend let her hens out to free range and went into town for an hour, only to come home and find her entire flock murdered by either a stray dog or coyote.

There's a lot of talk around about just letting "chickens be chickens," meaning letting them find their own food, shelter and protection as they would "in the wild." I don't buy into this because the chickens we raise today are nothing like the chickens your ancestors had in their yard. 

Most of our hens are purebred birds, born in an incubator, raised in a brooder, and dependent on us for food, just as we're dependent on them for our omelettes and meringues. They are about as much able to be "natural" chickens as a pug is able to behave like a wolf. Traits like common sense and smaller size have sadly been gradually bred out of them as better laying was bred in. 

Today's hens are super layers, and are also plump, tall in height and not terribly bright. That's the down side of selective breeding  -- we have super layers who are super stupid. And so it stands to reason that our chickens today need more supervision than cross-bred, half-wild birds. You can't just turn them loose in the yard and expect a good outcome - for them or you.  

Le Run.

Le Sécurité.

I also don't want any area predators to realize this is where the lunch wagon is, and once you lose one bird to a predator it stands to reason they'll return right back to your property the next time they're hungry.  And so, while I am in no way a chicken expert, in keeping them for several years I have learned a few things, a few of which I touched on above, and a couple of other things:

1.  Limit the amount of time you let your hens completely out to range on your property. Let them roam when there's activity going on that will deter coyotes and raptors. Sometimes just your presence is enough, but so is your neighbor pruning his trees or running his tractor.

2. Train your birds to come to you at a recall signal of some kind. It's as simple as offering a treat when they come, and they learn pretty quickly. This allows you to get your birds in quickly should there be a predator be in the area.

3.  If you can have a rooster, do so. I was so reluctant to do this because I'd experienced a couple of nightmare roosters at friends' houses. But my bantam rooster Otis is lovely. He's gentle yet brave, and not so much a grand protector as much as a great alarm system. If there is a hawk in the area, I can hear his distress crows from inside the house. He's much louder than the hens and therefore lets me know there is trouble well before I would spot it for myself.

4.  Have a secure, smaller run, a decent sized hen house and a good, solid door to keep everyone safe at night. Chickens are their most vulnerable at night, so that last point is the most important.

5.  Don't accept attrition by predator killing to be just part of doing business. I've kept chickens for five years now and have yet to lose one to a predator. I'm sure it will happen at some point, but going a half-decade without it happening is encouraging.

6.  Think like a predator. If you see gaping holes which would allow predators in, seal it immediately. Buy the best and strongest fencing you can afford. And go out at night regularly and make sure everything is completely secure and locked down. Finding your flock murdered would be a terrible way to discover your security door was not working like you thought it was.

In short, there is no good reason for losing birds to become a regular thing, if you're willing to do the work to help keep everyone safe outside and in. 

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Time of Darkness....and Light


It always seems kind of strange to me that the winter solstice is nowhere near the middle of winter...for most of the country, it's more a harbinger of weather to come rather than a mid-point in the season. In my latitude, the summer solstice is the same way. We know on June 21 that summer is just getting started and that the worst (for us) is yet to come. Yet both events mark the extremes in our days -- they will begin getting longer after today, and on June 22 the days will begin to shorten. 

Perhaps more than anything, a solstice celebration is a reason to hope. Oh sure, we know the worst weather is still ahead of us, but also have tangible proof that it isn't going to last forever. In another month or so it will be lighter -- a full half-hour later than it is right now. 

I am not a summer or long day kind of person; my favorite time is this, when days are short but nights are long. Perhaps it's because I worked nights at an Observatory for several years when I was in my 20's, but I think dark nights are the best times to be doing things, especially during this month, when we light them up with colorful decorations and candles. It's actually the one time of year when, to me, there's no such thing as light pollution -- as long as they are cheeful and colorful, the more lights the merrier.

The dark mornings also provide a wonderful, quiet setting to contemplate the close of the year. Such a cliche to talk about how fast the time flies, but our lives move so quickly nowadays that it's sometimes helpful to set aside an hour or three and just think about what's happened in the last 365 days. What was the general mood of your year? Was it frantic, exciting, slow-paced, angry,  blissful or gentle-paced? What milestones did you see pass in 2016?

As we watch the sun set tonight at what would be mid-afternoon for many if it were summer, may we understand where we've just come from and where we want to go, so that once the light returns it will find us with a plan and a purpose, doing what we need to do to get where we want to go. Or if you've arrived at your best destination in life and there is nowhere you want to go, may you find yourself still right here next year, with all bits and pieces intact.

My year personally has been fruitful, and less hectic than 2015 was, although with a decidedly strange autumn due to election madness, which I kind of watched from a distance (and still do). How was your year, in total? One for the books or one for the shredder?

I hope your solstice brings enlightenment and purpose no matter what you've just gone through in this last trip around the sun, and I hope your dark night is spent in a warm place, filled with cheerful warmth and contentment as we officially head into True Winter.

Saturday, December 10, 2016

Day in the Life

As most of my long-time readers know, this is my favorite time of year at work. The days are short, so when we leave work it's dark. Things have slowed down both inside the tasting room and in the vineyard and Chef's Garden, and it's the time of year when you can plan projects, catch up with that to-do list you made in August, and just hang out. Pretty much an ideal work day for me.

I decided to try a winter chef's garden at work this year, and so far the results are mixed. Beets, carrots and turnips have sprouted from seed...slowly... but the parsnip seeds I put in (twice!) yielded bupkis....also known as Nothing, Zip or Nada, depending on your cultural leanings. The transplants of broccoli, cauliflower, chard, kale, and brussel sprouts are doing fairly well except for the ones being murdered by a mystery insect or mammal. But as it's an experiment, I'm keeping my hands off, mostly, and watching to see what happens. Sometimes science and inattention intersect and when they do it's a beautiful thing. Especially in December.

What I love most about working this time of year is that it's such a pleasure being outside. It's cold enough that you can work hard without breaking much of a sweat,  and there's usually a cold breeze to make things feel brisk -- pleasantly so. Ever since I took an Alaskan cruise to the glaciers and stood on the sundeck in a sleeveless dress, sipping an iced tea while everyone else was in parkas and drinking hot chocolate, I've realized that between my father's Middle Eastern heritage and my mother's northern European background, Mom's DNA dominates, the older I get. Cold weather agrees with me more and more as time goes by. 

But the other thing that agrees with me is having a job with a lot of physical activity. I absolutely love coming home from work tired -- muscles complaining slightly, cheeks stinging a little from being outdoors all day, and a most pleasant feeling of fatigue taking over as I sit down and put my feet up. Really, what point is there in working if you don't feel like you've worked by the end of the day? I spent a good portion of time in my 20's living the office cubicle life, and finally get why that was so depressing. We were never meant to spend eight hours a day inside. 

Yet sometimes the nicest part about working outside is, in fact, returning inside once your chores are complete. The other day I headed into the tasting room at about 2:30, famished after working in the chef's garden for several hours, and asked the chefs in the kitchen to make me up a special vegetarian burger with horseradish aoli, pickled onions and bacon (yes, a veggie burger pattie, but one with real, oink-oink bacon on it. I'm an freaking iconoclast, aren't I?).  I absolutely devoured it, knowing it's totally acceptable to gorge yourself once you've already burned off enough calories earlier to balance it out. And I spent a little time behind the bar chatting with folks and generally just watching the day fade and the sun go down.  Finished up my shift with a little red wine and some good conversation. How many people end their work day like this?

Of all the days in our life, one of the things that matters most is how you spend your ordinary days. I'm happy to spend mine the way I do. 

Saturday, December 3, 2016

End of the Shemitah

So with the holidays approaching, I am also approaching the close of my shemitah year in the vegetable garden...a year I took off not so much because the land needed a rest, but because the farmer did. Oh, I grew a few things here and there, but nothing like I normally do. I grew flowers and decorative corn for fun, put in a couple of no maintenance squash plants and some cucumbers in and around the corn (since they required little care and I needed to can relish). Since I was growing vegetables at work, I still got to get my hands dirty, but it was nice to come home and not have to worry about what was going on in my own plot of land.

But I'm looking forward to a full planting here on the homestead this spring and summer. I have to admit, the down time seems to have been good for the soil, it's healthy, it's been amended with plenty of compost from the chicken and yard waste and is just waiting for spring crops. 

But now is not the time for that. Now is the time to decorate around the house for the holidays. I'm not sure, but I think I've taken a shemitah year or two away from holiday decorating too, from time to time. There have been a few years recently when I just wanted to minimize the hassle, and I was afraid it was the start of a new, downsized trend.

The great thing about taking a shemitah year in anything is that it comes and you get a rest. Then it ends and you get to start up again. It's funny how the chores that seem onerous when you have to do them year after year become pleasurable to think about once you've taken a year away from them.  

Anyway, this year, thanks to watching too many Hallmark movies and having some cold seasonal weather (low last night of 26 degrees!), I've been on a bit of a decorating binge. I bought a new, thin "pencil" tree for use in our dining room and did the big tree in the library in red and green, which is much harder to do than just stringing normal lights but is definitely worth the effort. I even put some garland over the range hood.

And outside we have Bruce the Blue Spruce, who is decorated in his Chanukah finest. We're nothing if not holiday-confused around here, but it works. I always say I celebrate all gift-giving holidays, so why not? 

Enjoy the pics.

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Post-Holiday Quiet

So the dishes and serving platters are put away, the orange and brown decorations are coming down and we're onto the green and red (and blue and white) baubles, tableware and tchotchkes.  The kids and other family have headed home, and the house is quiet again. Our Thanksgiving was one of the best ever, and I hope yours was, too.

Here are a few highlights from our day:

Thanksgiving mornings begin with a game of frisbee at the beach. Since I pre-cook everything but the turkey, I have a lot of free time during the day to spend with my assembled tribe, which definitely makes for a better day for the hostess, I think. Universal Law: Happy hostess, happy guests.

The two times you can see me running are these: if someone is chasing me with a knife or if I am at the beach with a frisbee. Thankfully, this is the latter event.

Table is set and ready.

Sputnik appreciated the many laps and arms that wanted to hold him throughout the time we had a full house of guests.

I've said before that holidays are like people; each one in each year has its own distinct personality. Some are tense, some are sleepy, some are frantic. If I had to choose a personality for this year, I'd say mellow. We wrapped up the day (after a few bottles of wine) with a rousing game of Card Against Humanity, where we older folks surprised and impressed our kids with how outrageous we could actually become once lubricated with enough alcohol.  

Yup. It was a good day on the homestead.

Monday, November 14, 2016

If you lived here, you'd be....home?

When I'm working at the winery, I'm often asked by customers what it's like to live here, amidst the vine-covered hillsides, the wineries and the tasting rooms. Mostly the question comes from folks visiting on weekend jaunts from Los Angeles or the Bay Area. They find a winery, sit under an oak tree surrounded by colorful vines and just take a breath and relax. They talk about how they long to get out of the city and find a slower and more peaceful existence.

There's certainly some good geographic public relations that goes on in the longing for wine country, since some of the most beautiful places on earth are also ones where wine is grown. And it's been that way for at least a couple of thousand years.  Wine culture is rooted in the histories of some of the most sublime, temperate places on the planet. And I'm not sure people would be dreaming of being here quite as much if kumquats were our chief product. Something about being around all this wine makes people think their lives will be just one long pour, smooth on the palate with a lovely finish.

They're kind of right in most of their assumptions. It is amazing living here. There is wine everywhere, and even the most backwater resident, with no interest in wine whatsoever, generally still manages to acquire some wine knowledge and usually more bottles of it than they know what to do with. It's currency here. 

Business meetings generally feature wine. Grocery stores offer wine tasting. And most public events, like concerts in the park, allow -- no, expect -- you to be bringing wine to them. You could walk down the street with a bottle of wine (open or not) and no one would interfere with you, because we see it every day.

But because of the wine industry, we are also a tourist town, and there are negatives that come with that.

We have traffic, for instance. Traffic made worse by wine tasters clearing out the tasting rooms (all 250 of them) late in the afternoons, especially on weekends. My dad was a cop, and always told me that you can tell drunk drivers not by their speed, but by the fact that they drive badly at very slow speeds. Dad was right. I've seen the most bone-headed driving decisions in my life since living here. Probably made by people who were either drunk or hung over.

Being a tourist town also means we cater to, curry favor with and try and impress the outsider -- not the resident. So we have incredible restaurants but horrible, understocked and overcrowded grocery stores. We have charming boutiques, but the nearest Macy's is over an hour from home. Large furniture store? Forget it. And if you want your roof fixed, better get on a four month waiting list, because the few contractors who work in this area are loathe to take on small jobs. It's just too expensive to live here to make charging less than a fortune a worthwhile thing. Why patch a residential roof when you can help put one on a new tasting room?

The roads around town also reflect this attitude. Since I've lived here (we arrived in 2012) they have re-done all the roads around the downtown City Park twice (for tourism) but the road in front of the local baseball fields (for residents) is so pothole-filled and old I figure damage must have come from wagon wheels back in the 1800s.

In other words, we put our best face on for those coming to see us from elsewhere. And once you decide to live here, that's when you see the other side.

It just goes to show that everything, and I mean everything, has problems.  Trade spouses, careers, homes or locales and you will find positives and negatives. 
Most of the time, unless things are really bad, the trick is to learn to live with the good and accept the bad. Or take a risk and change things up, move, break out of a relationship or start a new job and basically turn your Scrabble letters in for a whole new set.

It's a personal decision, and one which is not to be made lightly. Because, just like the Scrabble game, while life's problematic "z's" and the "q's" are hard to manage, there is always a chance that in turning in your letters you'll end up with far worse --  maybe five vowels, an "x" and a "w." 

And you can't do much with that once it happens.

Friday, November 11, 2016

A Little Color in the Vineyard

Was driving around the vineyard at work this afternoon and grabbed a couple of shots of the color. Other vineyards around town are much more spectacular, hopefully I can get some pics of them in the next week or two.

Until then, enjoy the Supermoon, the holiday today and the rest of the weekend.


I liken these last few weeks of the election and election night to a group of people standing on the roof of a high-rise skyscraper, looking at a watermelon perched on the edge of the railing. 

The inevitable temptation arises to push the watermelon over the side to see what happens. It's an almost irresistible urge, in fact, even though we logically know that anyone who happens to be underneath as much as a penny thrown from an 80-story building can die, due to the velocity a falling object picks up on its descent back to earth.

But because we've never seen a watermelon fall 80 stories to the ground before, it promises to be a good show, filled with excitement, fear, exuberance or maybe horror. Maybe all those things at once. And so on Tuesday night, we pushed that watermelon off its perch on the railing of the skyscraper, and now we're committed to seeing it plunge towards...whatever happens when a watermelon collides with a planet. It might be interesting and educational. People might be harmed. Or not. No one really knows.

But the collective "we" wanted to see what would happen, and so now the watermelon is in flight -- or free fall -- depending on your perspective.

This is why I write a blog dedicated to homesteading and living locally. It's because of falling-watermelon times such as these.

So what can you do while the cucurbit is airborne? Plant your garden. Make some soap. Focus on your local government and hang out with like-minded friends.

Protesting the watermelon-pushing is futile. So is hating the people who pushed it. They had their reasons, I suppose, some noble, some silly and self-serving, just like anything else.

If you're having trouble with the national elections results, my advice is to unplug from things at the national level and prepare for change by seeing to the things you can control at the local one. You can't always control your garden or home but you can focus on them, as areas you have the ultimate decision-making power in. Set a gopher trap or destroy the burrow? Castile or shea butter soap? The choice is yours and only yours in matters such as these. 

Focus on the things that will not change as a result of what happened this week. Since those are the only things you can truly manage as one individual, in many ways they're the only things that really matter. Focus on that scrap of earth you call your own, and those people and animals you share space with. Be astonished at their beauty, be dismayed at Mother Nature's fickle nature, and be humbled that you are the steward, if not the actual landlord, of the ground you call home. But see it directly, not through the filter of the media or the internet. Focus on those things you can see with your own eyes, in a one-to-one relationship. 

The seeds will sprout, new animals will be born in spring, the rains will fall and the sun will rise at its appointed time no matter who is sitting in the Big Chair in Washington DC. And that can certainly be a comfort if you're willing to live in your own actual, local reality and not the national one. 

Tune out the whooshing background noise of the watermelon in flight for the sounds of birdsong, the neighbor's lawnmower, or even the local blues band. The good news -- and the bad -- is that the watermelon is now in flight and there's not much any of us regular folks can do about it except the same things we've always done...plant our gardens, make our soap, and try and be as self-sufficient as possible. Not trivial things by any measure.

Thursday, November 3, 2016

Today, it worked

Chinaberry tree attempting some autumn color.

Ever have days when you realize you never should have gotten out of bed or left your house? Of course; we all do, right? But sometimes we don't appreciate the corollary to those days, which are the days when everything just magically works. I had one of those days today.

Another attempt.

To begin with, autumn has finally started to show her colors, along with cooler temperatures (if you consider 80 degrees to be cooler, that is), which is generally a huge help in helping revive my general mood after our endless, brown summer. We have color in the vineyard (I'm going to do a whole post on that in a few days with pics) and color around the property.

These Gazanias definitely have the right idea!

This is also the time of year when spring comes, meaning the hillsides start to green up again. Think I'm kidding?  Check it out.

So yes, this is how things generally go. Things green up in fall, once we get a little rain. Autumn colors set in, peaking between Thanksgiving and Christmas (while the hills are simultaneously greening up, go figure). Then in late January, the trees all start to blossom. 
Autumn: time to green up. These seedlings will be three feet tall by April.

I know; it's extremely weird and only a shade stranger than Australians and Argentinians having Christmas dinner in the heat of summer and spending the "summer" solstice bundled up in front of the fire. We get an autumn-spring and then a full-on spring a couple of months later. And then 8 months of summer. Some people love it, some hate it, but it is what it is.

Most of the time I have severe autumn and winter envy towards those in colder climes, but maybe it's more productive to just be grateful that I'm not covered in sweat and flies by 10 a.m. anymore. It's the little things.
Stephen Andrew even knows how to make packaging beautiful.

But today was great for other reasons as well. I caught the mail lady in the nick of time and managed to snag a package I've been trying to get for a couple of days, from my dear friend Stephen Andrew. It was some amazing artisanal honey from his home state! And it was AMAZING, that is not a gratuitous exaggeration. I even thought about taking some out to the beehive to let my bees see what kind of quality they should be aiming for in terms of flavor. Thank you Stephen Andrew! 

Speaking of the bees, "my" hive finally vacated the fountain and got into the bee box. This was a torturous, long process which consisted of me donning a beekeeper's suit every day and blocking off all their newly created avenues into the fountain until they finally gave up and just moved next door to the box.  Major win for me. 
Bees in the box.

So I got honey in the mail, I got bees where bees are supposed to be, and our land deal closed, so we now own 2.5 more acres next door to us. And stinking daylight savings time ends Sunday, so mornings will be light again! 

All good reasons to get out of bed.

Sunday, October 30, 2016

In The Meantime

Back in the 1990's, one of Oprah Winfrey's friends (also known as a FOO, or Friend Of Oprah) wrote a book titled "In The Meantime." It was a book for women about relationships, and was good in a New-Age-y, self-esteem-y kind of way. It talked a lot about being "in the meantime" until you found your soulmate. People talked about soulmates a lot in the 80's and 90's. I blame Ronald and Nancy Reagan, as well as every crappy book ever written by either Richard Bach or a FOO.

Anyway, that phrase, "in the meantime," has been sticking in my head a lot recently, and it's not about my chakras aligning so perfectly that I attract the perfect mate into my life. He's here already, thank goodness, a little grumpy on occasion but Eastern European DNA and a stressful job will do that to you. And perhaps he's also grumpy because we are both smack dab in the middle of what I'm calling our Meantime Experience.

A Meantime Experience happens when you are between places, jobs, or anything else; it's a point in your life which you will look back on someday and see a big line in the sand between "before" and "after." But you can't see the line right now because you don't have the perspective, so it's a little like trying to see those giant south American Nazca Lines from ground level. You could be on a line and not even know it. 

 A Meantime Experience can be bad -- people go through divorce or health concerns in The Meantime, and I feel it's important right away to state those things are NOT the case with us. We're blessed, certainly, to not be facing them.

But we have seen some possible signs that our life here is going to be changing soon. And unfortunately, because the internet is a very public place, I can't say more than that. Which is why blog postings have been a little sparse recently. Sometimes when you can't say anything, you say nothing.

But I can talk about what it's like to be in the meantime.  You basically stop investing in your current life (beyond the minimums) because you don't want to throw time, energy and money into something that isn't going to be in your life forever. You don't know exactly for sure where you are going to end up, which is a strange feeling in and of itself. 

In the 40 years the Israelites wandered around the Middle East, they were having one whopper of a meantime experience, whether you believe the actual story or that it's a metaphor for Life. By day, a cloud shaded them and kept them cool, and by night a pillar of fire kept them warm. But God indicated to them it was time to move by moving the cloud and the pillar. In other words, they had to pack up and follow their comfort if they wanted to survive. They'd get a little overheated, and realize it was time to go. The cloud of shade had moved on and was calling them onward with it.

I know that feeling. The cloud could stay here a week, or another decade, but we're definitely getting the impression that it's moving, and so we have to be ready to go, too. 

In the meantime, and I do really mean that phrase, we are making our best attempt to enjoy the present. A nice dinner out, a day working in the garden at the winery, a beautiful sunset and the changing colors in the vineyards are things I'm savoring and will probably be sharing more of in the weeks to come.

But serious plantings? Renovations? No, probably not. Because "in the meantime" days are not the ones where you nest, dig in and pull up the drawbridge. They are where you eye the horizon and pack lightly. And watch the clouds.

Welcome to my meantime, friends. 

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Way to be, bees!

Yesterday the Bee Lady came to take care of moving our hive. And I got to don a beekeepers outfit, long gloves, and help out!  I have always believed I was somehow meant to live in a society where I could wear an elegant hat with a veil, and I think perhaps I've found a way to do that now. Plus with all the velcro tabs and elastic on the suit, at no time did I ever feel my bee allergy would become an issue. I felt very safe.

The first thing she did was start cutting comb from the hive, which was more well-formed (and had therefore been there longer) than we thought. She placed the combs into the bee box my boss owns and began moving the hive over. She allowed me to have a small piece of honeycomb, which I took inside. It was, hands down, the best honey I've ever had in my life. And since it came from the plants and flowers in my garden, it meant far more to me than any store-bought honey could.

As you can see (above), they were well ensconced in the base of the water fountain. They certainly made a pretty hive, didn't they? It was a shame we had to cut it up and move it. But obviously this was not a good long term place for them, for many reasons, the biggest of which is that they had no protection from ants, being so close to the ground. Silly bees.

Eventually she moved a lot of the comb over but was unable to get the queen without more specialized equipment. So we decided to leave it as is and wait until tomorrow.

Then last night at sunset, all the bees flew off, back to their original hive (the one this offshoot hive came from), someplace west of here. I stood next to the bee box as one by one, they all took off to the west and did not come back.  I was crushed.

But this morning they returned! I guess overnight sleepovers at other hives are permitted. And now I'm just waiting for the Bee Lady to arrive again and get our queen moved over. I still have no idea if this will be a successful move or not, but I'm keeping my fingers crossed.

And yes, as you can probably guess, I am now hooked on bees. Look for bees to find a permanent place on our property as soon as it can reasonably be done!

Friday, October 14, 2016

About a Hive

The hive's within.
So we now have a the base of our backyard decorative fountain. This is the thing about living in the country -- you never know what you're going to get. You might have deer, a fox or even a mountain lion roaming your property. Or you might go outside one day and find a hive of bees has decided your yard is the address where they want to make their home.

Which I think is kind of an honor, actually. Talk about creating a bee-friendly habitat -- that moment when 500 or so of them arrive and let you know you've done it right is a great feeling.

Point of entry.

Our bees arrived en masse a few days ago, and unfortunately, set up shop in what (of course) is a totally inconvenient and unsafe place for them to stay. Being that it's inside the base of the fountain, it's highly susceptible to an ant invasion, and of course is impossible to manage the honey production safely.

But the thing is, I love these bees.  I'm also allergic to their sting, to the point where I keep an epi-pen on hand when I'm in the garden, so most of my bee enjoyment tends to be in small doses, and from a safe distance. I will never be a beekeeper for this reason, and the hive cannot remain where it is for that reason as well. But I'm still happy the bees chose us.

But what to do with them was a conundrum.

It didn't take me long to come up with a solution. Because you know who else loves bees, to a point where he actually has a beekeeper's outfit and beekeping equipment? My boss at the winery, that's who. He had a hive until last year, when the queen died and the minions deserted the bee box, and he's been looking for a replacement hive ever since.  And now he has one. Mine. 

Better Homes for bees.

It turns out this hive is an offshoot -- excess product if you will -- from a much larger hive which exists someplace on this property (I don't know where, but it's certainly not in the way of anything and therefore no danger to me). So this new hive can be moved and we will still have plenty of bees here.

So next week, we have an apiarist coming to remove the hive from the fountain and put it into the winery bee box. Then we will move it away from here, down the road to the winery, where they can hopefully live out their days and make lots of honey.

Ready for occupancy!

It's not a done deal yet, and it may be trickier than we've all imagined (isn't it always?) but I'll keep you up to date as we go and let you know what happens to these awesome little guys. They are a mellow bunch, not even minding when I get close to take pics of them, so I think they'll make a great addition to the winery. And, you know, if they ever do get a little grumpy, there's plenty of Cabernet on hand to settle them down again. Hey, it works for people.