Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Spring winds -- we will survive.

Windstorm 2016: We will survive.

Spring is the time for strong winds in our area, always and forever. I learned this the hard way the first spring we lived here, when I had an entire batch of home-sprouted heirloom tomatoes snapped off their little stems during one particularly blustery afternoon. We will survive to endure summer's heat, of that I am almost certain. We always do.

I now wait until May to plant most things and use a variety of wind shields to protect them -- cut up milk cartons and gallon jugs, Solo cups with the bottoms cut out, placed around the plants like a growing sleeve. Live and learn I guess.

When the weather folks give the forecast for this area, they always say something like, "30 - 40 mile per hour winds, with higher gusts on inland hills and mountain peaks." We live on such a peak. Sure, we have a spectacular view, but there's a price to pay and it's the fact that the wind plays havoc with everything that is alive and is purview to the awesome scenery we get to enjoy.

Yesterday we almost lost the fig tree in our yard and an apple tree down in the orchard due to the winds. (I'd just been bragging to someone about how awesome my fig tree was looking, so the term "pride goeth before the fall" has been lurking in my consciousness today). About mid-afternoon, I had to call Big Ag to come home and stake the trees before we lost them. While they've certainly sustained wind damage, we've secured them so that they will not die from falling over. 

Apple tree: will survive.

Wind damage on fig leaf.
Of course the white iceberg roses lost about 25 percent of their petals in this wind event, so between the turned over chairs, strewn petals everywhere and solo cups over the plants the whole yard looks like we had a wedding reception that turned into an Animal House frat party, which if you knew us (or our friends) you'd know could totally happen.

I may also have to thin the fig tree in the future, as its size gets larger than these stakes can protect -- something I'm hating the idea of, because the shade the tree gives is so lovely. The apple tree will be fine, but as it started getting uprooted just as it was blossoming and leafing out, will bear little fruit and have very few leaves this year. But at least it will live to produce next year.

Funny how when you farm or grow anything, next year becomes the repository for so many of your hopes and dreams. We don't imagine next year will be any less windy (or cold or hot or wet or dry or insect-infested, etc.), but we have at least the belief that whatever got us this year is something we'll be prepared for next time around.

Big Ag had rough winds all over his vineyards, too. Sadly, he told me about an old cottonwood that blew down with a hawk's nest in it. There were no young ones, but all the eggs were broken in the fall. Luckily it's early in the season and the hawks have plenty of time to hatch another clutch of eggs, but it's a reminder that everything suffers in these winds.

And now after yet another Big Blow, we're hoping for still air and sunshine, or even rain very soon. Really, anything but wind would be fine at this point.

Gloria Gaynor: will also survive.

Saturday, April 23, 2016

Zelda Sayre Fitzgerald

Dancer, writer, artist.

So I was reading yesterday that actress Scarlett Johannsen will be tackling the role of Zelda Fitzgerald when F. Scott Fitzgerald's novel, "The Beautiful and The Damned" comes to life in the movies soon.

I've always felt a certain huge, protective instinct where Zelda is concerned because she is a fairly close relative of mine (she is a cousin, as many times removed as our generations are) and I've always felt she got the short end of the stick where her marriage and career were concerned. Oh yes, and also where her mental health was concerned. Many people know her as "crazy Zelda," the woman who "tormented" F. Scott Fitzgerald through his most productive years. And this is simply not the case.

Zelda was a writer, an artist and a dancer in her own right and dealt not only with issues of depression, but also the unspeakable anger at having her work stolen by her husband, who regularly plagiarized her journals for fodder in his own writing. As a strong woman living in the early part of the 20th century, there was also a societally-ingrained, gender-based handicap which denied her the ability to live her own life on her own terms, due to the rampant sexism of the age. 

I first came to understand that I was related to Zelda when I got compared to her regularly when I was younger, especially in my wilder days. The "Zelda gene" was something that was of some concern to my family. When I danced (in full formal wear) into the fountains at the Music Center after a classical music concert in Los Angeles I was called Zelda. When I led the conga line into the swimming pool at a friend's wedding, I was called Zelda. When I climbed out a bathroom window at a fancy restaurant in Las Vegas and walked into the desert after getting an unexpected marriage proposal from a man I did not want to marry, I was called Zelda. So I guess it made sense that I felt like she was almost a secret sister of mine, genetically similar, creative, untamed and the wild child my father's family line somehow tends to produce on a semi-regular basis. Zelda was the one for her generation. I was for mine.

Unhappily married.

But Zelda was also diagnosed as a schizophrenic and sent into numerous, tortuous treatments that made whatever condition she really suffered from even worse. When ancestry tools first became available, I started researching both her maternal and paternal family, concerned that there really was a schizophrenic (and not just a wild child) gene in our family. 

Upon further research I learned that there was a history of mental health issues on her mother's side of the family, not her father's (through which we are related), and that today Zelda might be more accurately diagnosed as bi-polar or possibly just unhappily married and artistically frustrated to the point of clinical depression and suicidal tendencies. Think Vincent Van Gogh or Sylvia Plath, not Charles Manson.

And so I find myself in some ways wondering if Zelda's life might have turned out as happily as my own if she'd simply had a better (or no) husband, gotten treatment or just wised up early on about the hazards of binge drinking, and lived her life not quite so in the limelight. Perhaps she would have established her own limelight as a dancer, a novelist, a poet or an artist, on her own terms.

The one thing I know is that Zelda is one of us, my paternal tribe, and therefore I hope for everyone's sake that Ms. Johannsen portrays her not just as the quintessential, two dimensional drunken southern belle stereotype actresses usually tap into when portraying her, but instead attempts to portray her as the artist, -- the offbeat, smart, creative, courageous and wild thinker she was. 

I would hope for no less, if it was me and my life up there on that screen.

"Great Smoky Mountains" by Zelda Sayre Fitzgerald

Friday, April 22, 2016

Wild roses (couldn't drag me away)

Since the gazebo is about 12 foot tall, I'm guessing the rose bush is...9 feet?

Last spring when we had our first contractor come in to give us a bid on remodeling the backyard, he could not get over our taller-than-us iceberg roses. He snapped pictures to send to his wife and kept telling us, "I had no idea roses could get this big -- I love them!"

Our iceberg roses stand about nine feet tall, and when they bloom the white-on-green color is amazing. It's especially beautiful by moonlight.  In our last home, we had a Mojave rose we allowed to do the same thing, and every spring it was a profusion of sunrise colors in our back yard.
Big bushes.

I believe in letting things take their natural shape and size whenever possible. These roses had been kept to about a two-foot height by the gardening company that kept the yard tidy for the lady who lived here before. And yet, apparently they always wanted to be larger. So when I realized how many of the neighbors' lights were blocked out by having larger rose bushes (giving us a darker sky and better view of the stars), I decided to let them become what they wanted to be. I prune them in January every year, taking a couple of feet off, and I dead-head after each bloom, but they recover quickly.

I also have a Bay Laurel "tree" that seems quite committed to becoming a bush, so I'm allowing it to do that. I had a tomato plant last year that wanted to sprout in November, so I let that happen and it's overwintered and is now ready to produce fruit.

Over-wintered tomato in January. It's twice this size now.
Some plants you can't allow to run wild. I have coyote brush outside and if I let it go it would crowd space that's designated for other plants, so I have to keep it within bounds. Other plants I will allow to blossom before cutting them back to where they should be. 

But where you can, why not let gardening be a little bit fun and see what natural shape and size some plants will grow into? Not knocking the well manicured hedge or the symmetrical 2-foot rose bushes that are pruned down to their canes every year, but it almost seems that plants can and should reflect their owners, so I guess it's no surprise that my garden will be a little unorthodox and rebellious. 

I like my roses wild, thank you. Like my life.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Thirtysomething, revisited

The Horror!!
Isn't it amazing what does and does not hold up over time? Certain fashions never go out of style. Fresh, homegrown food never tastes passé. Good manners, gorgeous flowers, hiking boots and Chippendale chairs are all timeless things that are, in the words of The Desiderata, "as perennial as the grass."

The television show Thirtysomething? Not so much.

For the record, I used to LOVE Thirtysomething back when I was a twentysomething in the late 1980's. I thought it was an honest, realistic look at the lives of young marrieds and singles of the time.  There was Ellyn, the career gal with intimacy issues. Nancy, the artist trapped in a bad marriage with a cheating husband. And Hope and Michael, the shows anchors and the perfectly perfect married couple. 

In a way, I either identified with aspects of each character, envied them, or knew someone they reminded me of -- a sure fire indicator that the shows developers had hit the jackpot in terms of cultural relevancy for my age group.

So you can imagine how excited I was when I discovered that after 30 years the show's four seasons had been put onto DVD and were now available to see again. I headed down to the library and immediately checked out Season One, came home and started watching right away. I had told Big Ag (who'd never seen the show) how great it was and was looking forward to binge watching some episodes with him (fun factoid: there was no such thing as "binge-watching" in the late 1980's, for better or worse).

So I'm couch-surfing into my past, and a few episodes in, I have a revelation: Thirtysomething sucks now. It's an hour-long drama-fest filled with...nothing. Desperate concerns about finding the right babysitter, the right man and remodeling the kitchen. Or having a workplace relationship. Or finding oneself. Oh yes, lots and lots and lots about finding oneself.

And watching it as a fifty-something, I can't help but ask myself...were we Yuppies that self-centered? Were we that unaware of how different life was for those not in our socio-economic demographic (and therefore how lucky we were)? Did we really talk everything to death and overanalyze ourselves to the point of being repulsive?

Of course the answer to that is yes. Yes we did.

And yet, for all the terrible things that have gone on in the 30-something years since Thirtysomething occupied our Tuesday nights, those same terrible things have caused everyone who identified with the characters in that show to grow up and look at the damn world outside themselves (me included).

Four years after Thirtysomething debuted, the United States entered the Gulf War, and in one way or another, we've been sending the next generation of 20 and 30-somethings over there to fight ever since then. We've seen 9/11 change our nation's landscape forever. Plus race riots, Katrina, the Banda Aceh tsunami, computers, the internet, The Crash of 2008 and a resurgence in the Back To The Land movement, prompted by food safety concerns and the need to feel self-sufficient in a less than secure world.

It turns out, Thirtysomething is so appallingly self-centered because it's also incredibly innocent -- the grown-up, childish place where a blessed generation found themselves after growing up in the 50s and 60s. 

In case you weren't there, it was a place where you listened to Joni Mitchell while pondering Neitzche and wondering if you were living at the top of Maslow's hierarchy of needs. It was a short breath in time before the rest of the world and their concerns came crashing in through the window and took up permanent residence in the breakfast room were, just last week, all we were worried about was whether paisley or stripes would be a better choice for the walls.

It's funny how the lens of popular culture at the time -- the television shows we watched -- can allow us to take an honest look back through the things we thought were important. And it's even more interesting when you find yourself alternately cringing and hitting the fast forward button through another discussion about finding out "what you're all about," "confronting your past" and other hobbies of the well-off, well-educated and well-fed.

We may be hoisting our sails in a global shit storm nowadays, but at least we're awake and aware, with the ground we stand on listing back and forth and the cold spray hitting our face, conscious on a basic, survival-oriented level we just weren't back then. 

No, in many, many ways I'd never go back to Thirtysomething and 1987, either in real life or for an afternoon of couch surfing. You really can't go home again, once your world expands past the issues of your own innocent, delayed childhood. And just like real childhood, Thirtysomething is filled not so much with nostalgia, but rather marked embarrassment and a head-shaking disbelief that, yes, that really was us.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Spinach and Spinozad

Bountiful harvest.
After a slow start, I'm happy to report that I had the best spinach harvest since moving here, which I blanched and put up yesterday. It feels good to know we'll have enough for frittatas, dips, omelettes, and whatever else we need a little green in.

Amazing how little comes from so much once it's blanched!
The insects almost completely killed this crop. The only reason it survived was due to the thick nature of the leaves and the fact that they couldn't demolish the leaves completely, thereby allowing the plants to grow despite damage. Insects did kill all my spring lettuce, and after planting a new Globe basil plant yesterday I went outside only to find it reduced to nothing but stems. Completely killed in less than 24 hours! I was just dismayed when I saw the little basil skeleton this morning, and it strengthened a resolve in me to not let this be the end of my spring gardening. I also have two Ichiban eggplants that are getting attacked, but they will probably survive if I can take care of things quickly.

Eggplant damage

And so I will be stepping up my insect control game, starting now. No more traps with oil, soy sauce and salt. No more diatomaceous earth. I'm moving up to Spinozad. Unfortunately, Spinozad is toxic to bees within the first three hours of application, so I will be putting it on at sunset to make sure everyone's safe. Our evenings are projected to be down into the 30's, so I figure it will be sitting for about 12 hours before there are any bees about. That should make it safe for them.
RIP little basil.
I just can't keep losing entire crops to the earwigs, and this year there has been a banner hatch of them, probably due to having a decent amount of rain.

In the meantime, I'll just celebrate my spinach win and call it at that.

Monday, April 11, 2016

Monday Funday

Yoshi is ready for his Monday Funday...as soon as he recovers from the weekend.

So I must admit that one thing the winery job spoiled me for is Mondays. For three years I worked most Saturdays, and so at some point I just decided that Sunday and Monday were going to be what I considered my "weekend" days off.

In a way, it's nice to create your own weekend (if your job allows). One of the best things about having  your week-end on a weekday is that you get at least one day off during the week while the rest of the world works. Most folks I know who work in the tasting rooms around here have that option. For many, it's Tuesday/Wednesday.

But if working weekends and being off on traditional weekdays sounds difficult, consider this: If you need to shop on your "weekend," the stores are uncrowded. If you want to catch a movie, you'll get in without waiting in line. The beach is almost deserted. And let's not even start on how easy it is to get a table if you're going out to dinner in the evening. 

Mondays are definitely fun days for me, even when I'm busy catching up on house chores.

Most Mondays I do work here, just like most people do in their homes on their weekends. Mondays are a day of no paid work, but it's the day I clean house, because I know that way it will look pretty good until next weekend. Luckily I don't mind cleaning, so it's not a burdensome activity. 

One of the main problems I had back when we had our housekeeper was that she could only come on Fridays (with the idea that this way we'd have a beautiful, clean house for the weekend). She did a great job, but with Big Ag home on normal weekends (tracking half the dirt and grass from the property inside) and me home all day on Sunday after working a long Saturday shift (where I'd cleaned all day, meaning I didn't want to do any cleaning at home), guess how the house looked Sunday night? Right. Like it needed a good housecleaning. Or a small nuclear bomb, detonated in the general vicinity of the kitchen.

And so I've learned that it's better to clean it right before we're gone to our day jobs for several days, because that's what it takes to keep things clean around here...us not being around. Turns out, we are the reason we can't have nice things...or a clean house.

This morning it's chilly and foggy outside and so I'm enjoying the fire and the quiet of the house. Now that I have a more flexible schedule with my new job, I do have the option of going down to the winery garden and working on a Monday if I want or need to, and I don't even have to work Saturdays to make up for it. But I've decided I am going to keep at least some of these Mondays for myself, as I've just come to enjoy having a weekday "weekend."

How about your schedule? Are you a Saturday/Sunday kind of weekend person, or is your weekend a time period of your own creation?

Saturday, April 9, 2016

Pretty Little Challah

All ready for tonight. A day late, sure, but my chances of getting my husband home by sundown on a Friday night are about the same as actually getting Elijah to come in the front door. 

It tastes just as good on a Saturday, anyway and a rest is just as pleasant on Sunday. I don't believe in being dogmatic about it. In this society, if you can rest every seven days or so, I don't think what day you rest particularly matters.

Hope you are all having a restful weekend.

Thursday, April 7, 2016

The View from The Other Side

Another day at the office.
These last couple of days I've felt an immense sense of satisfaction with my life. My surgery is over and the hip/back problem I went into hospital to have fixed does, in fact, appear to be repaired. My scheduled tasting room shifts are done with and I am pretty much setting my own schedule at the garden at the winery, planting squash, herbs and tomatoes and enjoying the cool mornings down there where the California quail, jackrabbits and lizards are my company in the quiet of the early day.

(And the grapevines of course, which are budded out and growing happily. I have nothing if not a beautiful "office" to work in.)

And last weekend, for the first time in I don't know how long, I took a Sabbath day and rested. Well, what passes as rest for me, anyway. I hung a couple of loads of laundry out on the line in the sunshine, puttered in the garden, and observed some God time in study and conversation. But I enjoyed it all -- my pace was slow, the work was easy, and there was lots of down time in between what little work I did.

Plus the house was quiet. The television was not going on all day, the computer did not beckon, and we received no invitations which took us out of the house. 

I guess that's one good thing about recovering from surgery...folks assume you're down for the count and leave you off the guest list. 

My garden sent me this beautiful get well bouquet. Thanks Mother Nature!

And the result is peace and quiet. I think there's an emotional dividend that pays off big when we prioritize our life where we put peace first. For me, it's a sweet spot I can feel -- putting the things that give me peace at the top of the priority list and removing things that distract/stress/hyper-activate me. You can't do it forever, those bills need paying, those phone calls need to be made and decisions need to happen -- but maybe for just one day, sundown to sundown, we can leave those things be.

Why do I only do this when something takes me out of the game enough that I have to call a time out? Why did it take a surgery for me to unhook myself from the yoke of scheduled socializing and work and just sit still for awhile?

Today I was back to work, and when I went into the winery my favorite chef was there, experimenting and making fruit chutneys with our late harvest wine. Since the chef's garden I manage is not a customer-service oriented position where I need to be johnny-on-the-spot, I can now be in a position to spend a few moments in the kitchen or behind the bar talking to the coworkers I love to be around. Anyway, Chef let me sample the chutney and it was absolutely divine. So this afternoon I'm making a small batch here at the house, which I'll use as a sauce for some barbecued meat I'm grilling for dinner.   

Steak with grilled fruit chutney -- yum.

Cooking is a signpost for me, I have noticed; if it's happening, life is proceeding at a decent pace -- when it stops, I've become too busy. I think for many of us, we stop cooking when we lack the time and  motivation to create good food.  It's kind of like being in a rowboat in a survival situation...it's interesting to see what gets thrown overboard when we're just paddling to save ourselves. Hobbies, rest, household chores, or even family? Interesting to think about what we get rid of and what we keep "on board."

And so, with the craziness of traveling out of town for surgery behind me, healing in the works, and a job change in progress, I've decided this is a great time to do some rearranging; perhaps pulling some things back into the lifeboat that I left to dog-paddle in the water for awhile.  

Peace will come first, followed by work of course. But peace first.

It occurs to me that if you place peace and quiet last on your priority list, by the time you get to enjoy it you will probably be asleep. Work will always be there (in some form or another) but peace is fleeting and best captured through planning and foresight. 

So my advice is this: Take a look in your lifeboat and pull those things you threw into the water back into the boat with you while they're still floating beside you, whether that's time to converse with people you enjoy, cooking, prayer time, or even just hanging some wash in the sunshine. 

What good is a lifeboat if your life isn't even in it? 

Friday, April 1, 2016


So I am home from the hospital after having surgery on my hip. The surgery itself was pretty much a walk in the park, other than the usual crappy feelings when coming out of anesthesia (that uncomfortable place of wanting to wake up and being unable to do so completely, strangely the feeling I also have when watching this year's political debates).

I haven't documented much about my hip pain because it was tedious enough to be living through without having to write about it. My homesteading activities, garden and job were the places I went to avoid the pain. But suffice to say, it's been going on for two years with no less than six doctors attempting to find out what the issue is. And so while I haven't written about it, it's definitely been a constant companion, with me more than even my husband has been. Pain is there when you're in the shower, sleeping, driving and shopping. It really is the bad relative you can't get rid of, because it lives inside you.

Anyway, my first doctor (local orthopedist) took two x-rays, declared me arthritis-free and sent me to five months of physical therapy, which in hindsight was not only unnecessary, but probably made things worse.

My second doctor was heading the physical therapy department; she helped me a LOT with pain management, but unfortunately could do nothing about the original pain, which she termed "sacrolitic dysfunction." This term is what a more recent doctor (Orthopedist #2) angrily called a "magic box," where no real diagnostics happens and people just learn to live with pain they should be seeking the origin of.

So the next doctor was my primary care doc, who really did care, but could not diagnose the problem either (more x-rays though). His solution was a prescription NSAID which helped the pain somewhat, but did nothing to alleviate the origin of it.

And here's the funniest thing: One of the main symptoms ( which to me was the elephant in the room) was a large, moveable knot at the base of one of my "back dimples" that everyone insisted was "just inflammation." More on that next.

By this time a year had gone by, and I was unable to do many things I used to be able to do -- carry a case of wine to a customer's car, hike up any trail with hills (99 percent of trails around here have hills), sleep well, or do any serious gardening tasks, like shoveling. Oh, I'd do them, but I'd pay dearly in terms of pain for the next day (or six).

And so I finally got fed up and drove two and a half-hours to an orthopedist in Fresno I'd seen who had fixed a torn meniscus in my knee about 10 years ago. He took one look at the lump on my back dimple and said, "well this is most likely a benign growth that will need to come off." Not inflammation, not "sacrolitic dysfunction"...a physical growth. A tumor of some kind, pressing on the nerve that runs through your hip and down your leg. That was the ultimate origin of the hip pain.

I had an MRI, then another one, and then was referred to a cohort of my ortho-guy (who, due to his kick-ass expertise and can-do attitude I now look at the way some young girls look at Justin Beiber -- sheer, unadulterated idol worship) to rule out the tumor itself being caused by a spine issue. The spinal surgeon recommended a general surgeon. And so on the appointments went. By this time I was coming up on two years of pain, but at least 1) they knew what it was and 2) there was a plan in the works to fix it.

So my general surgeon operated on me this morning. Already I can tell there is a huge difference. He removed two benign growths (one hiding and not visible to either man or machine), each one the size of a golf ball. For two years, those two tumors had been altering my gait, my mobility, my joy in life, you name it.

I'm home and resting now, two "golf balls"  lighter and feeling 100 percent better. It's been a long road in getting here, and I'm incredibly thankful to have finally arrived at a healing point. 

But the moral of the story is this: Never be afraid to get a second, or third, or forth opinion if you feel you're possibly being marginalized, your symptoms dismissed, or patronized to based on your age, your sex, or anything else. I will say this without any doubt: Doctor #1 treated me like an old person who has to "learn to live" with a certain amount of pain. Doctor #2 did care, but I sometimes got the impression that he felt some woman-sensitivity might be the cause of my pain, and was therefore not aggressive so much about finding its source, instead attempting to just alleviate the symptoms. Physical Therapy Doc was lovely, but, same problem -- manage the pain, don't worry about the cause. 

All three of those doctors are good people who, ultimately might have crippled me by not treating what was actually wrong.

If you live in a small city, find a doctor in a big city who 1) sees more unusual cases, and 2) has medicine as the center of their life. Many of our doctors here on the coast do NOT move here to practice medicine -- they move here to paddle board, sail, wine taste and live the easy life. These are not the doctors you want. You want the ambitious, driven, curious and caring doctors who publish papers, want to establish good practices, and gain respect and importance in their respective medical communities. Occasionally they can be brusque, arrogant and opinionated. But they have a passion for medicine and problem solving, and will not give up until they find what is wrong with you and fix it, whether you are 18 to 88.

From a healing place, I hope you're well. I'm happy to say I am!