Sunday, February 28, 2016


When I sum up my philosophy of this life with acreage as well as having a garden, my invented and hybridized word for what we do is this one: "Edenized," meaning returning the earth to an ideal state of looking and behaving something like the biblical Garden of Eden.  

Whether you are an avowed atheist or a believer of any faith, I think everyone can probably get behind the general idea of being a good steward and making each place you touch the absolute best it can be. 

The idea of a Garden of Eden has become a symbolic representation of a place where nature was perfectly balanced with the needs of all who lived within it, and where everything coexisted in harmony. To me it means cultivating the land you need while also leaving some uncultivated land in its best but also most natural state, for the creatures who were here before you came and will continue to inhabit the land long after you're gone.

If there ever truly was a Garden of Eden, it happened long before mankind showed up en masse and took over. But I believe the story is important (whether you believe it in reality or not) because it puts forth as good the idea of letting nature just be nature and seeing that as a kind of perfection, in and of itself.

To that end, when this house was built 11 years before we moved here, the top of the hill was scraped off in order to build on level ground. But not all the land that was leveled was built on. There is a large area which our back yard overlooks where nothing happened except our leach field was run across it, but the scars left from scraping the hill are still apparent. 

If you walk around on it, the ground gradually gets more fertile as the slope of the hill increases, while there is an almost scorched quality to what's flat. That, of course, is because of topsoil. The place where the land literally had its skin scraped off is incapable of growing very much.

Until now.

I recently got the idea of using the yard waste plus waste shavings and poop from the chicken coop and distributing it along the hilltop -- along with some wildflower seeds. The fecal matter and shavings should provide a little nutrition and protection, and with just a bit more rain (which we are supposed to get next week) it might be possible to get a first generation of flowers started here.

From now on I intend to scatter the shavings and chicken poo, along with lawn clippings and anything else that will biodegrade nicely out there, in order to start building back topsoil that was lost 11 years ago and never replaced.

No reason The Garden of Eden shouldn't be here, too. Gonna Edenize this hilltop.

Friday, February 26, 2016

Where your eyes rest

One of the most immensely satisfying things about homesteading is the constant cycle of creation it offers. But the same can also be said of home remodeling, backyard landscaping, and other things which make where you live a better place. Except of course, that those projects generally require a significant outlay of cash, so they're done sparingly unless you're a lottery winner.

The thing that always amazes me is when I've completed some project -- from making bars of soap or a homemade pie all the way up to completing the back yard landscape or remodeling our kitchen is how much I look at what I've accomplished. Or rather, I realize how much I averted my gaze to something else back when it was un-lovely or not made by me.

I never realized, for instance, that before I remodeled my kitchen I not only avoided going in there as much as possible (if I had free time I would never find myself loitering in the kitchen, odd because I love to cook). Once it was completed, with colors more soothing to the eye and decor in harmony with the rest of the house, I found myself looking at it all the time...standing around in it...just letting my gaze fall on it when I was thinking about something else. It was a pleasing sight.

Before: #kitchensowhite

After: A lot easier on the eyes.

It's no different for small stuff. A beautiful crop of carrots will entice me outdoors to look at their green loveliness; I'll actually give myself time to sit among the raised beds and enjoy what's going on. Now that the backyard landscape is done I stare out the window a lot more than I used to. In summer, when the endless lawn that had been planted back there turned dry and ugly, I looked beyond the yard out to the mountains in the distance, subconsciously avoiding looking at the struggling grass. Now my focus is on the colors of the flagstone patio, or our large brick bed, or the salvia which is just starting to bloom. I still love our view, but now our close-up view is almost as good as our far-range one.

I guess it's human nature to rest our gaze on what is lovely and attractive, whether it's perfect bars of soap all in a row or something of architectural beauty. I believe we are hired wired for beauty -- to create it, gaze upon it, soak it in -- because even when we are not conscious of doing so, that is what we do. 

No matter where you live or whether you believe yourself to be a "creative" type of person, a part of you recognizes the lovely and the pleasing and responds to it. And with that being said, surely it makes sense that we would invest either money or sweat equity in making our surroundings, and all we see in our homes and yards as "gaze worthy" as possible. Just keeping America beautiful, right? So where do your eyes come to rest around your home and property when you're not paying attention?

Thursday, February 25, 2016

The Bane of My Freaking Existence

It's this stuff. This is the plastic netting which is used to hold sod together when it's professionally grown and shipped to landscapers, in order to quickly and efficiently put in a lawn. I always wondered how they could grow grass and then cut it into neat little rectangles to be shipped and laid down in yards, and this is how it's held together, at the root level. With plastic.

This is all well and good until you decide to remove your lawn, in which case you will have to deal with it, as you're killing the grass which keeps it underground and out of sight. In the areas where we killed the lawn, I've had no less than two chickens get their feet caught in this mesh while trying to scratch around, and found one dead snake wrapped in the deadly plastic snare.

I'm afraid I'm going to have to dig down several inches every place the chickens have access to which once had lawn covering it, and pull out the plastic netting to ensure their safety. Yesterday, Cleo (our Aracauna hen) got a toenail caught in some and was probably there for an hour before I noticed her. I also found Valentina with some wrapped around a leg a couple of months ago. Luckily both hens had the brains to just sit down and not struggle, but this could easily have resulted in a broken toe or dislocated leg, both of which might have proven difficult to treat.

In the rest of the yard, we killed the grass and threw down four inches of bark on top of the dead grass and plastic netting, which means that while the grass will decompose, the plastic is still there, hanging out and not decomposing for 500 years. Should it ever become un-buried in the decades to come, it could easily trap wild birds, toads, snakes and even larger mammals such as foxes or coyotes. Once wrapped around a foot or toe, it quickly cuts off circulation, so even for a good sized animal it could quickly become a problematic and possibly even fatal issue.

I predict (and fervently hope) that as more and more folks start taking our their lawns in these parts, the outcry over this eco-hostile netting will cause someone to come up with a biodegradable version, which won't last beyond the lifetimes of our great-great grandchildren, as this plastic will.  In the meantime, we will always be sure there are several good inches of bark covering ours, and pray any future homeowners will do the same.

This is one of those cases where you say, "there has GOT to be a better way."

Rant over. Carry on. 

Wednesday, February 24, 2016


There are several humorous online tests you can take for OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder) and more than a few funny memes to test yourself and see how bad you are, like this one:

If this irritates you, you may have a few (or a lot) of OCD tendencies. But here on the homestead another good gauge of OCD is how (and what) you do with your property's volunteer population -- those plants you had nothing to do with buying or seeding -- which just show up one day, usually in a funky place where they do not belong or fit in.

This gaillardia, for example is so stunning I am dying to move it to a place where it can be shown off, rather than where it currently sits in our pasture. But since it looks like this with absolutely no supplemental water and has been here for as long as we have, I am afraid if I try and move it I'll sever the tap root that's probably keeping it alive. I'm sure if we ever get livestock I will fence it in or borrow a tractor to dip deep and bring it up, but for now I get to enjoy it every once in awhile when I am down pruning berries or weeding.

These coyote bushes showed up in the exact spot you see them in, when we killed the front lawn (intentionally) the first summer we moved in, as we prepared to plant some drought tolerant plants. I decided to leave them in and they are now two massive, oval-shaped shrubs, which do require shaping but little else (including water). And both the birds and bees absolutely love them, so I'm happy to allow them to stay. True, I had to do my landscape design around them, but to have two such mature-looking plants in the yard after only three years was worth some revision.

These baby coyote brush plants (above) will be transplanted up to the top fence line of our property, where we plan on having a privacy hedge. One thing I can say about coyote brush is that while many of our neighbors remove it as soon as they see it, we use it.  Free native plants, right?

And this little tomato somehow withstood all our winter freezes and is planning on blossoming soon. This is perhaps our most important volunteer, because through its survival, I now know we have a significant warm microclimate in this spot in the yard where it may be possible to grow citrus. So thank you persistent tomato plant. 

Sunday, February 21, 2016


Stern look from a sweet girl.

The old adage that only the good die young holds true not just for humanity, but sometimes for poultry as well. I lost my beloved hen Ginger this morning from uterine prolapse. We basically found her in bad shape, with a sudden, advanced case of prolapse we were unable to treat. As I carried her onto the lawn and sent Big Ag inside to grab the shotgun, she passed peacefully in my arms, with a prayer and a kiss from me to carry her home to greener pastures.

Ginger was a ticking time bomb, reproductively speaking, and her death is not as much of a shock as one would think. I pretty much guessed it would end either like this -- with a prolapsed uterus from hatching an egg -- or from infection due to a broken egg inside her. 

Ginger was a BIG girl, but her eggs were even bigger -- thin-shelled, duck egg-sized monster eggs which no amount of supplemental calcium could harden up. Due to her oversized eggs, she also occasionally would develop a sore on her bottom from where the sheer weight of those eggs had caused her skin to crack and split, something which I successfully was able to doctor for most of her two-year life.

But if Ginger was a big girl, she was one of those hens who had an even bigger personality -- curious, friendly, and loving interaction with people and being held. She was always the first out of the coop to say hello, and always the first to come running when called, with her big, crazy, velociraptor gait.

There is always life and death on the homestead, and opposite the joy of seeing new life, there is also the sting of losing a beloved animal, a guaranteed producer, and a distinct personality.  

The words I whispered to Ginger this morning are the same prayer I say to all my animals when their time comes, as well as those I sometimes see on my morning drive into town who who were hit by a car the night before and are laying dead by the roadside: 

"Through the gates of Paradise may the angels lead you." 

Whether animal or human, I believe all creatures move on to something better, hopefully with the memory of either being loved and cared for, or of being wild and free. And when our own time comes, I hope we're led by those angels through the gates and into the same peaceful pastures and hillsides. Graze on in those pastures, Ginger, 'till we meet again.

Saturday, February 20, 2016

Master (Gardener) Class

Yesterday was the first day of school for the Master Gardener certification course I am taking this spring. Although we learned a lot about botany in this first class, it was also a chance for people to do the typical round-robin style introductions to the group so we could all get to know each other.

I was surprised how many people talked about their beginning attempts at gardening, and, like me, most began digging in the dirt well before the age of 10. It seems the urge to grow things is pretty much a pre-existing condition for a certain segment of the population. I also noticed that for every person who started gardening in childhood, the urge to plant and grow hit them regardless of where they lived -- whether that was in New York City or the wilds of Montana. 

Stories of attempts to grow everything from corn to pansies in city yards were discussed laughingly by the urban-born folks, and those born in similar circumstances nodded their heads vigorously in understanding as these stories were shared. Alongside the gardening stories were also tales of career successes in places like the Silicon Valley, San Francisco, and Phoenix, and the flight from them as acreage was purchased and lifelong dreams were chased down and caught (for some reason, dreams always have to be chased to some extent, they are never handed freely to us). People talked about what ultimately mattered most to them: To farm. To grow. To become what they always knew they were supposed to be.

It's interesting the many bends and turns that the road to our destiny takes us, and what we sometimes have to do first in order to eventually get to where we know we need to be. And I can't help but wonder how many others were "called" to this life, but for whatever reason, where unable to make it here. Are they still in the city, unable to leave because of costs, burdens and responsibilities? Or just fear of the unfamiliar? It's a poignant thing to look at where you are now and realize others may have tried and failed to find their way to where you stand, losing the trail of breadcrumbs only to end up back where they started, in an unending circle.

I'm sure there is another corollary to this; a tale of a rural-born "out in the sticks" kind of kid who, from birth, longed for the city -- the art museums, symphony halls, late night jazz clubs, and hustle and bustle on the sidewalk. I hope those folks eventually "home" as well, in all the great cities of the world. 

For me, after so many years of feeling passionate about growing things both edible and admirable, it felt good to be in a roomful of about 40 others who felt exactly like I did -- the lucky ones who made it out of what we thought of as a kind of Egypt, into the Land of Milk and Honey.  That's the find your people, find your environment, and run down that dream, capture it and lock it down in a half-Nelson, whatever it is and whatever its locale.

I am looking forward to learning not only more about farming and gardening, but also about these people, as new lives take shape and new skills are mastered. Because once the dream is captured you start a whole new chapter, with its own challenges, changes and problems. The dream come true is not the ending of the story book, but rather the beginning.

Friday, February 19, 2016


I think I have learned the definition of karma: In life, some people have the experience and some people are the experience. And the rest of us, at various times in our lives, are both. One blogger I know but do not follow much makes her living by falling behind on the mortgage and reporting, in sad and slightly panicked tones on her blog, the imminent potential loss of her farm -- the heart and soul of her life (although you'd think that if it was her real heart and soul she'd spend less time tweeting about television shows and more time working to ensure she has a roof over her head). 

The thing is, people donate to bail her ass out of trouble; they always have, I have seen her run this scenario many times since she first bought her farm.

And there's a couple of ways to look at it. You can get angry at the irresponsibility, the half-truths, the outright scams and the veiled threats. Or you can view it from more of a universal perspective, which is that she is providing an experience for people, karmically speaking. 

Some are learning that it feels good to help others, no matter who those people may be. Others are learning that you can't always believe what you read. Others are learning that you can give to people who you ultimately come to believe do not deserve it, tuck that little life lesson into your pocket and move on. But no matter what, everyone is learning from how she lives her life.

Look at Mother Theresa, for a more positive example. She went around saving people and therefore was a kind of direct experience with Good for many of them. But she also served as a worldwide example of generosity and selflessness. And so she caused people to have experiences with those values she so aspired to live -- spirituality, charity, and love.

I guess karma truly comes in the form of what people learn from you. Do they learn generosity, suspicion, disappointment, or hope? 

Monday, February 15, 2016

Spring blues

Vinca, foreground, with Wooly Blue and Rosemary in background. Spring blues.

This is the time of year when everything blue and purple seems to bloom. Rosemary, of course, is in total crazy abundance, which the bees are thrilled about. Our rosemary bushes literally hum this time of year. But also Vinca and Wooly Blue.

This 10 year old rosemary is magnificent this time of year and hums with bees.
Our large planter bed in the back yard now has finished brickwork (except for the capstones for low seating, which we'll install once the planting is done) and is filled with soil. We hauled the last five yards of soil using our neighbor's tractor, which made it so much easier. 
Just starting to plant this bed, got the Irises and Agapanthus in place so far. Watch this space!
And we have the first wildflowers coming up in the pasture. Actually it's amazing how green everything is right now, although there are still plenty of trees that are dormant and bare. 
Vines are sleeping but wildflowers are up and at 'em.

Vinca loves spring but hates summer around here.

Our El Nino seems to have pooped out as far as rain goes. Thus far we've had average rain. Since we've only lived here since 2012, when this drought really got started, we've literally never seen a normal rain year here...and if February and spring are as dry as everyone is predicting, we'll go another year without seeing the rain that is "normal." 

I like Wooly Blue and Yarrow together.

Unless, of course, this is the new normal. Let's try not to believe that until we absolutely have to.

Saturday, February 13, 2016

Rockin' and Rollin'

Apparently there was a 5.1 earthquake in North-Central Oklahoma today. Having lived through several earthquakes measuring about 5 on the Richter Scale, that's a significant roller. Plates can get broken. Masonry and windows can crack. If it happens in a 3rd World country you would expect to see people buried under shabbily-constructed buildings.

But earthquakes in Oklahoma were not a regular thing until recently. They began in earnest after old oil wells were revived by fracking, starting in 2008 and really picking up steam (get it?) in 2012. Now Oklahoma actually has more significant shakers than California does.

There's a lot of controversy about fracking, but there's very little question that it does cause earthquakes. And here in earthquake country that would be making a bad situation worse. Nonetheless, we regularly have to fight off oil companies who want to frack in areas here in California where there was once easy oil, but now it's harder to get to and process. Unless, of course, you frack.

When you see things like this happen often enough you become convinced that most corporate entities care little about environmental or even socio-economic damage done when increased profit margins are tantalizingly close.

But you don't have to be Einstein to figure out that some things must be opposed, even when it's going to 1) bring in more jobs, 2) bring more revenue into state coffers, or 3) "stimulate" the economy. Those are often listed as good reasons to do damaging things, which is all well and good....until your walls begin to crack and your windows break. Or Grandma gets buried under the rubble that was once the back porch.

And even if you live in a well-made building that only suffers "minor" damage -- meaning Grandma is OK and so is most of your porch -- earthquake insurance (if you have it; many choose not to) typically comes with a hefty deductible -- usually 10 to 20 percent of the total cost of your property, so for most, it won't help with actual damage, just complete destruction, should that happen.

I wonder how Oklahomans are feeling about their decision to frack in light of the ground under their feet literally rebelling against the intrusion.

Mother Nature always, I repeat, always, gets the last word. You would think that in 160 million years of living on this planet, our species would have figured that out by now.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

It's all about water

The first week in March, residents of my area will have the chance to vote either for or against formation of a new water district to manage the dwindling groundwater levels in our basin. All over the county there are "Yes on Water District" and of course "No on Water District" signs.

The conflict has been civil thus far, with both sides respectfully disagreeing with the other. My boss, for instance, is a "vote yes" kind of guy, as most vineyard owners are. We, owning just under two acres, are a "no" family.  It's not so much the idea of a water district we're against -- a different district make-up and we probably would have voted yes for it -- it's just that we're uncomfortable with the make-up of members and how they are chosen. 

If no water district is chosen, the County will end up managing the basin, something they've said they are prepared and ready to do.

Anyway, the proposed district's make-up goes like this: Three members are homeowners, voted in by other homeowners. The other nine seats are chosen via vote for slots representing the size of the acreage you own. So there are three slots for large landowners, three for medium landowners, and three for small landowners.

Wherein lies the problem. Because a "small" landowner is defined as owning 30 acres or less. Unfortunately most of the real "small" landowners here -- the ones whose wells have been going dry -- own 5 acres or less. 

Everyone I personally know who owns over 20 acres is growing something on it -- either alfalfa, wine grapes, or olive trees. And members will be chosen by voters being allowed one vote per acre. Meaning that the business people growing wine grapes on their 30 acres will have 30 votes, versus our two votes for our small holding of just two acres. Thus, the category that should be fighting for the little guy probably will not be, as they're not so little after all.

One morning at work about six months ago I met a very lovely older gentleman who owns a small winery and 30 acres of land not far from where we are. We had a very respectful discussion about water and water rights. His position is identical to that of most of the larger landowners who are growing something on their land -- they consider the water under their property to be theirs, to use as they wish. 

In his words, "The day someone comes to my gate with a meter they want to put on my well -- so they can know how much water I'm using -- is the day I meet them at the gate with a shotgun. It's my water and I'll use it as I please." This is an exact quote.

I tried mentioning to him that the aquifer under our feet was more like the air we breathe -- his air does not stay directly on his property for his use, as air flows. The water flowing underground onto his property comes from somewhere and (if there's any left) goes somewhere else -- probably to his neighbor's. It didn't matter. I think since all he could see from his back patio was his land and his vineyard, he also believes it all must be his water underground, too. And so we elected to disagree on the topic of water rights.

But that gentleman could very well end up representing us "small" landowners on the new water district board, should it go through. He's got 30 votes after all. If he decides to run, he'll get lots of help with election costs from his business friends, who are larger grape-growers he's chummy with who would probably love to see him on the board, due to his sympathies towards large landowner water usage. And that scares me. 

So I will be voting "no" on the new water district, because, although County control is not ideal, I'm more confident they will take our needs into account than a grape grower whose livelihood relies on them being able to use water, at will, to keep their tonnage weights up and their profits good. If there were endless water, that would not be an issue, but until we have a permanent solution in hand for our water woes, conservation is the order of the day -- for everyone, whether you own 2 acres or 2,500. 

I'm not confident that a "fox guarding the hen house" situation is what's needed here.

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

To kill a virus

So yesterday had me laid out flat with something like a cold. At least I think it was a cold. I had crushing fatigue and a snuffly nose and felt like I was living in a sub-Arctic climate, even though it was 80 degrees outside and just lovely.

 If you're living a life of average health and average activity, colds are pretty easy to figure out. Their intrusion into your life usually goes something like this: Three days coming on. Three days with you. And three days of heading for the exit door. That's what I've always told my family, and it's pretty much held to be true.

Unless, of course, you catch it early enough.

Early intervention is, I am convinced, the easiest way to shave a week or more off that old adage. I have found that if I really take good care of myself at the first sign of symptoms, I can lose or reduce symptoms drastically, about 90 percent of the time.

But we Americans are a "get up and go" bunch, so getting people to "sit down and stay" is damn near impossible a lot of the time. But when you consider the lost wages, money spent on sick pay, plus the inevitable trips to the doctors for antibiotics once the creeping crud settles into your lungs or sinuses and causes infection, staying home for one day at the start of an illness is a pretty fiscally sound idea.

So yesterday I woke up feeling puny, and decided everything would have to go on hold for 24 hours.  I spent the morning on the sofa watching TV, ate some chicken soup for lunch, and took a two-hour nap in the afternoon. That's usually my best indicator, for me, that I'm really sick -- napping. In general I have an extremely hard time sitting on the sofa for a couple of hours, much less falling asleep in the daytime. But yesterday it felt so good to do just that. In between naps and rests I sterilized my toothbrush by putting it in near-boiling water for 10 minutes, used echinacea drops every couple of hours, and stayed under the blankets to keep warm.

Or not.
Today I am about 85 percent better and certainly feeling well enough to rejoin the human race. My guess is that I'm not contagious anymore either, but will still hedge that bet by keeping my hands clean and not getting close to anyone (I'll just blow kisses to Big Ag as we pass each other in the kitchen).

People always say that prevention is the best cure, but true prevention not always possible if you have children at home, deal with the general public at your job, or just have regular contact with people. But the one thing that is possible is catching symptoms early on and allowing your body to do what it does best, which is heal. 

That crushing fatigue is your body's way of slowing you down so it can better mount a defense against an unfamiliar virus. Your fever is another defense, as few viruses can survive in a body warmer than 98.6. Our bodies have a huge store of biological wisdom stored inside our cells, from millions of years of evolution. Even your doctor can't claim that kind of healing knowledge.

So the next time you feel like you're coming down with something, listen to your body's wisdom and do what it's telling you. Sit down and stay. It's hard for us to do, but ultimately will put us back in the game much faster than if we try and hobble (and sneeze and cough) our way along, infecting others as we go and prolonging our own misery.

From the Land of the Living, I salute all you fighting the Creeping Crud or Mystery Sniffles today.

Saturday, February 6, 2016

The changing of the light

There is nothing better than the feeling of returning indoors after a productive day of working outside. This morning I managed to dig up two good-sized blueberry bushes from the pasture that have been struggling down there for three years. I dragged them topside into our backyard and re-planted them in pots, adding them to some nice acidic potting mix which I hope they will love. 

As soon as I pulled them out of the ground I saw what the problem was -- heavy, wet clay soil -- exactly the opposite of what they need. Poor blueberries. I'm amazed they did as well as they did, but they won't have to work so hard anymore. Now that I've learned you can grow blueberries in containers, I'm going to control their environment and give them the nice cushy life they deserve. I just hope they repay me with abundant fruit. They'd better.

And the irony of dragging something out of the pasture to put into a pot was not lost on me. It's ironic in the sense that you can own a couple of acres and still need to do some container gardening after all. It's not just for apartment balconies. Learning to grow things in containers is a skill I'm convinced all gardeners and homesteaders should have in their toolbox. 

I also dragged my citrus plants outside for some fresh air and sunshine, since the temperatures are going to be in the 70s all week. Everyone should be playing outdoors in that kind of weather, including lemons and limes.

Anyway, after a good day's work, at about 4 p.m. I came back inside to find the "changing of the light" happening; it's that time of day when everything takes on a golden hue and you feel yourself satisfied with a day's work done. It's a time for settling in as the light becomes warm and soft and you instinctively feel yourself winding down in preparation for night, like a dove into the nest at day's end.

It's far too often I fail to realize the perfection of these moments. If only I could grab them, every single day, and realize they are enough. There is nothing more to want. There is nothing more to crave, purchase, achieve or discuss. The moment is enough. Or should be.

Dinner consisted of an asparagus, mushroom and black olive frittata (thank you, hens) and some homemade biscuits, along with a very big, dark beer called a Velvet Merlin, produced locally. And then there were store-bought blueberries with some homemade creme anglaise topping them for dessert. Yum.

Days like this I realize I am blessed beyond all imagining, and that the blessing does not change -- only my perception of it does. 

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Taking back the house (cleaning)

So last summer, between working two jobs, farm chores, and traveling out of town for doctor's appointments (bad hip), I found that housecleaning had fallen way down the page on my list of to-do's. Most weeks I just didn't have the time or the energy after those long, sweaty shifts at the winery or two-and-a half-hour drives to the orthopedist's office. 

And so for the last four months, I've had a lady coming in once every two weeks and doing the heavier cleaning for me. That's always how it is when you're busy. Over the years I have found that the more hours I've worked, the more stuff I've had the tendency to hire out for others to do. I'm not sure if this is a strictly American middle-class phenomenon, but it can include everything from having the house cleaned, to eating out because you have no time to cook, to paying someone else to raise your kids, pay your bills, do your taxes, mow your lawn or prune your hedges.

A few years ago I even heard there was a service starting that would build your raised beds, then tend, care for and ultimately harvest your backyard crops for you. It's true.

I can make no judgements on people who have "satellite staff" to do the stuff they can't, because I've obviously done the same when I needed to. When I worked full-time as a teacher I had a gardener (who mowed the lawn), an after-school day care provider, and every Thursday the pizza joint downtown delivered a Large Pepperoni With Extra Sauce to my home because I just didn't feel like cooking. 

Anyway, here in the present day, after a third of a year not doing much housework, I've realized I not only miss the money I've been spending on a housekeeper but -- get this -- I actually miss cleaning my own home. Who knew? The time you clean your home is actually a close-up time to tenderly preserve and care for your property investments -- your home and furnishings.  I feel the same when working in the garden, which celebrates and cares for our land. House cleaning celebrates and cares for our home.

Tools of the trade.

Plus when you hire out, there's also the issue of the cleaning you do before the cleaners show up. No underwear under the bed, used kleenex on the sofa or personal bills left on the counter for all to see. We have some pride, after all. When I was doing it myself, this was a non-issue.

But watching the folks who did our housecleaning the last few months has given me a new appreciation for the work itself, and how we tend to under-value it when we're the ones doing it. When I resume these duties, I will definitely be doing it in a more mindful fashion And so, here are a few rules I think are essential to respecting the important task housekeeping is:

1.  From now on, I'm putting house cleaning on the schedule rather than playing catch up, or doing it in fits and starts that I try and squeeze in here and there. I've spent some time figuring out how much time it takes to clean every room and I'm going to schedule it the same way I schedule work. After all, if you hire someone to do it for you, they come in at an appointed time and go off a checklist until everything is done. Why shouldn't I do the same?

2. I am starting to purchase the correct products for what I'm cleaning. There is no reason to be on my hands and knees scrubbing the shower if I can buy a perfectly good shower brush with telescoping handle and save myself a lot of pain (think of the money I'll save on Aleve!) not to mention time. Ditto for floors. If the floor cleaner (whether that's a vacuum, broom, microfiber mop or something else) is not up to scratch, it's me who will end up working harder. I'm going to give myself the gift of good tools and products. If they're not in the local store, I'm getting them online. My cleaning lady would.

3. Recognize my limits. There is no shame in hiring out what you cannot do. I still intend to have our housekeeper come in on a quarterly basis and do a deep cleaning, which I might find difficult to do physically. I'm getting older. My new motto is this: if it's painful for you to do, bring in reinforcements, even if it's only a couple of times a year.

I'm looking forward to getting back into the routine of cleaning my house, but with a new perspective, having watched how the pros do it for a few months. Hopefully I will be able to do at least as good a job as them, perhaps even more so now after learning some of their techniques and learning to respect it for the important job it is.

I may never love housecleaning the way I love my job, but I do love my home, and that makes any work I put into it totally worth the effort.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

100 year apple pie

In general, it's safe to say that I love all things vintage. Especially vintage cooking and dining ware --plates, pots, pans, napkins, etc.  But you can't help but notice that 100 years ago, everything in the kitchen and dining room was much much smaller. As were we.

People drank tea all day, for instance, but out of tiny, delicate tea cups. One good-sized coffee mug today can easily hold double an older one's volume of a hot beverage, because we live in a culture that's become super-sized. 

Today's large wine glasses are even worse (or better depending on how much you like large quantities of wine) Today's red wine glasses are actually capable of holding a full BOTTLE of wine in them, as opposed to more old-style glasses, which hold the standard 6-ounce glass' worth. Not hard to imagine why we have people becoming inebriated after having "just one glass" of wine these days. Look at the glass.

Plates are the same way...the older, usually the smaller. I have a friend who acquired some early 20th century charger ironwood serving platters and actually uses them as plates. And when you have dinner at his house, you notice nothing awry, because those platters (which your average Victorian cook used to serve the entire entree for four on) is now just about the right size for ONE hearty portion of dinner.

But if you are trying to keep your weight off, that late 1800/early 1900's cooking and dining ware is your best friend.

The other day I used up the last of our apple harvest in some nice pie filling, but did not want a standard, 21st Century deep-dish apple pie hanging around going bad. It's just too much for two people. Heck, it was too much at Thanksgiving for five people! 

So I used a couple of 1940s pie/cake tins and split the recipe in half. I cooked both crusts in the oven, then added my pie filling to each, cooked one and froze the other for some later time. We enjoyed the first pie over two or three days, but there was no pressure to eat it all up before it spoiled because there just wasn't that much of it. What a nice change.

It was so nice to have pie -- delicious, wonderful pie -- in manageable portions we did not have to feel guilty about. Because in addition to the circumference of the pie shell being much smaller, the older pie plate was also not as tall, and therefore held much less filling.  Call it a slim pie. 

As I've bought more vintage wares, I've found smaller plates also work well if you're interesting in serving smaller portions. And for side dishes, 75 year-old muffin, cupcake and popover tins serve lovely half-sized (to us) portions of the stuff you probably shouldn't be over-indulging in, without having to actually cut portions in half. Half for us was normal for those living 75 years ago.

I do wonder about the future of a culture that has spent their years of abundance turning healthy portions into gorging ones, though. It seems as though our 100 year ancestors understood a lot more about how much food we actually need to be healthy and survive than we do.

And so I look to the wares in the vintage kitchen more and more as I try and rein in how much food we consume. Very few of us had obese grandparents or great-grandparents, and perhaps this was the reason.