Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Ghost in the Vineyard

Night in the harvest vineyard

So Big Ag and his crew are waist-deep in harvest right now, and a strange little issue has come up. What is it, you ask? Three of his vineyard workers have reported there is a ghost in the vineyard known as Five Hills, where harvesting is now taking place. 

A ghostly man, dressed in white from hat to shoes, has been seen leaning up against the fence posts which stand at the end of each row of vines, standing and silently watching the harvest until he vanishes.

We know it's not a real human, as access to the vineyard is extremely limited, especially in this area which is literally miles away from the nearest road. And these workers are not of the ilk that would spoof and play games with each other. They're much too serious about their night's work and heading home to their comfortable beds on time at this point.

But it certainly fits with all the ghostly goings-on this time of year. Spooky! 

Sunday, October 22, 2017

The Last Time


Yesterday I was working behind the tasting room bar at the winery, helping out during a very busy Harvest Weekend, when I had a poignant moment. It was crisp morning, very autumn-y, with a breeze coming through the door; the kind of morning when you want to pull your scarf a little closer to your neck and retreat into the shadows with some hot tea or something (maybe wine, although 10 am is a bit early for it, even if my world) because you know winter is coming.

And I flashed back to my first winter working at the winery. There were many cold winter weekdays when we'd be lucky to get five customers in a day. Of course I knew I'd make virtually nothing in tips that day, but it didn't matter. Those kinds of winter days were the best. Often Chef would make some off-menu item for us to nibble on, there was light cleaning to be done or just reading Wine Business Monthly and listening to some good music while the rain drummed down or the fog lingered, as I stood behind the bar simply enjoying both the ambiance and the quiet as the hours ticked by.

It really was heaven on earth.

And it will never happen again, for (mostly) good reasons.

In the four years since I've worked at the winery, it's been "discovered."  Our wines began winning some very deserved awards, and we also got a full restaurant license, enabling us to serve a full lunch menu for those passing through the countryside doing wine tastings. That's about when I morphed into being the Chef's Garden Manager, since at my age I just don't have either the desire, the stamina or the memory to wait tables. In the meantime, even more awards came in...word of mouth spread...and now our little winery is a definite hot star in the firmament of both wine tasting and food venues in the area.

And so my lovely little winter weekdays in the winery are no more, gone and never coming back. But it occurred to me that there has to have been ONE of those days in the past (probably sometime in Winter 2014) which was the LAST day the winery would be like that for me, and the last day I'd ever experience that particular slice of heaven. It was the moment before the change. And I simply had no idea. 

Big Ag and I are still contemplating, planning and attempting to execute some big changes in our life (good ones) and it occurs to me that I will never really know when a "last" will occur -- the last run-in with an old friend in town, the last perfect sunset on that particular stretch of coast -- and like the chiché goes, I really should live more like each experience of anything may be my last. 

The changes at my workplace are proof that it all can change. And in the larger world, this year we've certainly seen more disasters relating to climate change than I ever recall seeing before, which means there are people who literally had no idea that 2016 was the last Christmas they'd ever spend in that house, or October 6 was the last morning they'd ever walk the dog around that neighborhood. And don't even get me started on those who lost their lives, for whom there was a last time for every single thing they did.

It's just a reminder to all of us that no matter how tempting it is to focus on the future, we've got to stay in the present, especially the good parts of the present. Any moment could be the last one of its kind. And once it's gone, those moments, like the Passenger Pigeon or the Tasmanian Tiger, are gone forever, never to return. 

May we appreciate and acknowledge those things when they happen and live them to the fullest.

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Your Representative



I just finished reading the book "Love Warrior" by Glennon Doyle Melton. It's a thoughtful, sad, and funny memoir of her life, growing up (and then marrying) while being bulimic and alcoholic. Ultimately, it's a story of finding her voice and her strength through therapy and increased self-esteem, achieved through a variety of experiences. Even if you've never been bulimic, alcoholic or married, it's a great read.

What stuck with me the most was her assertion that at some point, while still quite young, her personality split in two. When put into stressful or socially difficult situations, she would summon forth a false self -- her "Representative" as she called it. 


Author John Bradshaw has another term for the persona we bring out when we don't feel safe enough to show who we really are. He called it "the false self," and maintained most of us create one by the time we're through primary school, through the process of learning and/or believing we are not desirable, wanted or appreciated for who we really are. We create a false self so that our sensitive, thoughtful and more vulnerable self can hide in the deep gardens of our soul when it needs to (or perceives it does), in what has to be the first and the original "safe space,"  that being the inside of our own skulls.

I believe this is how so many of us who rate higher on the "sensitivity scale" survive the the ups and downs of adolescence, the working world and especially relationships. We don't send our real selves into the trenches of interpersonal relationships and society when we don't feel safe. We send our Representative instead.

How I visualize "my Representative"

How many times do I send my Representative to deal with things instead of my authentic self? I've been thinking about that. At work, I do occasionally, of course. There are just some customers who aren't given the access code for The Real Me, and so I have a bright, cheery persona who deals with people while my inner self ponders deeper things. Ditto with certain coworkers, especially if they have beed hurtful or insensitive in the past. 


But she's probably more like this.

My Representative comes out to banter and smile whenever I need her to. And on thinking about it, I realized I even have a couple of friendships where it is not so much two people being friends but our Representatives who are there, having lunch and talking over current events.


I spent the day with a good friend today -- a real friend -- and part of the fun of our afternoon spent together was the complete and utter spontaneity we had just being ourselves. We laughed, we guffawed and we complained about the sheer absurdity and ridiculousness of life and buoyed each other up with our common thoughts and feelings on everything from work to husbands to where we live.


But in thinking about it, my mind shifted to yet another "friend" who I see once in awhile but who I don't think I've ever actually, really, met. Early on her Representative indicated she wished to meet with my Representative for lunch, and so they did.  There were a few laughs and polite conversation, but any attempt to go deeper on my part was met with a wall on her part, and so our relationship has remained shallow...and ultimately without meaning. Representatives are great at keeping things smooth but if it's meaning you seek you must first drop your facade and be known and seen.


How often do you send in your "Representative" to deal with things in your life? I suspect the measure of a person's happiness is how often they feel safe enough to hang their Representative up on a coat hanger behind the door, come sit down, and be their real selves. The more unhappy among us must don their Representative on a daily basis, keeping things pleasant but ultimately meaningless. 


Perhaps that's one of the draws of homesteading life...the chance to be oneself, all day, every day, no Representatives necessary.





Friday, August 25, 2017

Shakin' the dust off


Florence Oregon lighthouse (courtesy shutterstock)

The eclipse trip Big Ag and I took recently was good in many ways, but one of the biggest reasons is that it shook the dust off me. When you are comfortable and happy in your routines, it's easy for them to become a rut, and taking a trip of any length (farther than the grocery store, anyway) enlarges your perspective again to where you not only appreciate where you've traveled to, but you also appreciate home more, once you get back.

In short, sometimes you have to be someplace else in order to re-learn how to be here. "Here" as in the present, wherever that takes place.

When I was in my 20's, I was seized with a chronic restlessness that caused me to travel all the time. I backpacked through Europe for months. I traveled cross country for several weeks on an Amtrak pass, did 10 day back country trips up Mt. Whitney and the high Sierras. If bigger trips failed to materialize I got in my car, alone, and drove to Santa Barbara, Joshua Tree, or Palm Springs for the weekend. 

In truth, I was driven to travel because I lived in shitty places I usually could not wait to get away from, in that grand wasteland known as 1980's Los Angeles.

Of course I could not wait to get away from my dingy apartment, with the view of the parking lot and the neighbors with the loud television. When we're young we may not know much, but we recognize when we're in a place we need to escape from.

But the thing about growing up is that eventually, you hopefully become successful and end up living in a home and a place you love -- one the younger you would have loved to vacation in. Big soaking tub? Check. Marvelous view? Check. Pretty bathroom, sans mold and cockroaches? Double check. And so you stay put more. You put down roots because you're finally in good soil. But like any house plant, it's possible to get root bound and dusty and need to be freed from your pot and shaken up a bit once in awhile.

This trip to see the eclipse and the Oregon coast reminded me that yes, I do live in paradise compared to where I came from. But there are other paradises that need to be explored, too. The Oregon paradise we drove through had pine forests, lighthouses, wide open beaches and random beach towns with great breweries. And I remembered that paradise is found all over the planet, if we're willing to travel to meet it where it lives. 

And sure enough, I returned from our vacation calmer, more in the moment, and happier. Sometimes you just need to shake the dust loose and move around a bit to realize that deep roots are advantageous in some ways, yes, but not if they make you incapable of being anyplace else.


Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Epic

The eye of God looked at me....and I looked back.


That's the only word that can even begin to describe the total solar eclipse we saw on Monday from Corvallis, Oregon -- epic. Yes, we got off the homestead and took a road trip! We got a trusted friend to live-in house sit for us and took off on Saturday, despite hearing doom-and-gloom predictions of a "Carmageddon" type auto apocalypse in Oregon as a million people streamed north.

Carmageddon did not happen. If there were crowds, we didn't see them in our two day, 10 hour drive. But we did see a spectacle the likes of which I will never forget.  I have seen two annular eclipses before this, where over 99 percent of the sun was covered up, and while they were impressive, they were not anything like this. I repeat: If you have seen anything from a 10 percent partial up to a 99 percent-covered annular eclipse, you cannot compare it. So start making plans for 2024, and you WILL thank me for it then. Trust me on this one.

Here are some shots of the enormous crowds we had to contend with: 
All the cars on eclipse morning.

All the eclipse watchers.

Going partial.

Am I the only one who fancies some crescent rolls right now?

So what exactly happens during a total solar eclipse? What surprised me the most was how just one percent of sun makes for a fairly bright day, although it's a softer light than we are used to. But at the moment of totality....actual, sudden darkness. Too dark to see the controls on my camera, in fact. Stars came out. There was a 360 degrees late, late kind of sunset. And it got cold immediately. 


I didn't know quite how I'd react to it when it happened, but the darkness came so quickly my jaw literally dropped. We heard whoops and cheers from everyone in town who was out watching it, which made it almost a tribal experience. And I looked up and saw a black sun. 

It was one of those moments I will remember for the rest of my life, unless I get dementia, in which case I won't even remember what cereal is, but that's life for you. Next post will be extolling the fine state of Oregon, which as a native Californian, I must say kicks our ass in just so many ways, including their coastal highway.

Some moments in life literally take your breath away and make you stand in awe, and this was one of them. So glad I pressed forward to see it, and that's my advice to anyone considering seeing it. No matter what you go through, no matter the crowds, the prices or the traffic, it WILL be worth it. And you may not have problems with any of those things...some things, like those, are typically over-estimated. But the majesty of an event like this, you just cannot understate the magnificence of.



Monday, August 7, 2017

Mañana


I will can them...mañana.

Don't know if I've mentioned it, but when my family had our DNA analyzed, it revealed my mother's side of the family comes from Northern Europe and my father's side from the Mediterranean/Middle East. 

While it's kind of a cool combination, I also think it means I have a constant war going on inside me, between my Scots work ethic and my Mediterranean "mañana mentality." The latter phrase, while it has a Spanish-sounding name, is actually an attitude which occurs not just in sunny Spain, but throughout Southern Europe and the Middle East. (You can tell this because if you visit someplace in the region, like the Acropolis in Greece and they have scaffolds up and are working on restoring it, when your friends visit the same spot 30 years later, the same scaffolding is still up and the place looks exactly the same. True story. I'm sure they're getting to it soon. Really.)  

Who knows, maybe it took the Israelites 40 years to get to the Promised Land because they figured they could always "just go tomorrow." Makes sense to me.

To that slack-y end, I've decided my summers spent slaving over a hot water bath canner are over. This year I'm experimenting with freezing my tomatoes first, then canning them once autumn and cooler temperatures set in and it doesn't feel like my entire being is on fire if I stand in front of the canner.

I'm not sure why I didn't try this years ago. Probably because my Scots ancestors were nagging inside my head to be productive and task-oriented and hard-working. What do they know? The other half of my DNA decided this was, in fact, torture, and that while canning is all well and good, it should not be done if you have any hope of trying to keep the house cool. Which the inner Scots, not surprisingly,  agreed with, since it involved saving money and being thrifty with electricity and all that.

And so into the freezer goes the tomato bounty of summer. And onto the sofa goes me and my 46 chromosomes, with a cold beer and an authorized permission slip of sorts from both sides of my ancestry to put tomato canning off for now. 

It's nice when we can all agree on something.




Friday, August 4, 2017

24 years ago...


24 years ago, probably on a lark, God decided I could be entrusted with the raising of another soul. If you'd seen my yuppie, over-scheduled life, you would have asked, what were you thinking, Supreme Being?

 Thankfully, it worked out. My son not only turned into a wonderful, caring, intelligent adult, but made me a far better person than I might have otherwise have been.  

It turned out I was better at the care and feeding of small human beings than I (and maybe anyone else) had thought possible. Happy birthday, son!


Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Midday In the Garden of Good and Evil



This year was a banner one for milkweed around the property. It's in the raised beds, cropping up through the bark, and growing in all the places you might and might not expect something to grow. Up until now I've let it stay everywhere it's started, because of my understanding that it is essential to Monarch butterflies, who use it for food and to lay their eggs on (although since we freeze hard in winter, the latter does not happen here, since our milkweed is not freeze tolerant).

So I've been going about my business in the garden, convinced of my virtual sainthood for allowing the milkweed to flourish for the beautiful Monarchs. Then a friend told me that while the Monarch butterflies use milkweed, so do Tarantula Hawks. Which is not good business at all, especially if you happen to be either a human or a tarantula.

I do this kind of thing all the time, to be honest, playing God in my personal garden kingdom of good and evil, and it probably does no good. I've judged Tarantula Hawks to be evil because they land on tarantulas, injecting a paralyzing venom into them, and then proceed to lay their eggs on the still very much alive tarantula. When the eggs hatch, their first meal is the paralyzed tarantula. 

I happen to like tarantulas. They are gentle creatures who will almost never attack people and can actually be kept as pets, unlike Tarantula Hawks, who are capable of inflicting one of the most painful bites in the world on humans who piss them off (probably right after capturing, restraining and torturing some poor tarantula, which will later be eaten alive by its offspring). Therefore in my universe, Monarch Butterfly: Good. Tarantula: Good. Tarantula Hawk: Evil. Evil like serial killer evil. My garden, my call.

But by attempting to encourage the endangered Monarchs by allowing plenty of their food source to survive, I also unintentionally created a garden of bounty for the tarantula hawks and thereby possibly upset a delicate balance of tarantulas versus tarantula hawks. 

Which basically means I suck at being God.

So often, in the garden as in life, we just need to leave things the fuck alone and let nature balance it all out. But we like to play God and cast creatures as angels and demons in our kingdom, and try and manage everything going on. But even God couldn't do that. Look what happened in the Garden of Eden. That too turned into something of a failure.

Humans do this all the time. We remove a predator we deem evil or a threat (such as wolves) only to find that with the predator gone, something else gets out of control, like deer and rodents. Then we try to step in and manage that, only to fail again. "Look, we poisoned all the rodents! But now the poison is killing all the owls. Shit." 

I am now going around and removing the milkweed that is growing in places supported by irrigation, and leaving the plants which are surviving on naturally dry ground, to try and restore some balance. A little less food for the Monarchs, but a little less for the Tarantula Hawks as well.

And I'll be thinking twice from now on about playing God in the Garden of Good and Evil. Because even God had a hard time with that.





Wednesday, July 19, 2017

The Sad and Lonely Horse

So I occasionally browse a website comprised of people from our neighborhood who post inquiries, complaints and comments on a kind of message board, and someone posted this a few days ago.




The guy who coined the phrase "the road to hell is paved with good intentions," was not too far off. It turns out the person who wrote this post just moved here from the city, and knows nothing about horses. He admitted as much in the comments section a little further down the page, once people started questioning whether or not he should be urging people to stop and handle/feed someone else's animal, who clearly was not hungry or neglected in any way whatsoever.

For the record, I'm a big fan of kindness, especially towards animals. But ascribing human emotions to animals is not generally a good thing, unless you are an expert in that particular animal or species, enough to know how they emote their moods.

I drive past this horse myself several times a week and can tell you that this big gelding is not sad, but rather....zen. He's chilling in his favorite corner, lazing in the sun, and meditating on nothing in particular. Or who knows, perhaps he's planning final details regarding the destruction of western civilization/mankind in a very slow and methodical way.  We won't know until it's too late.

He's well fed, in great condition, and just doing what horses do in the heat of summer, which is stand in one place for several hours, pondering, studying...zoning out. All horses do this. But I'm guessing he's not sad.

What really gets me is the guy floating the idea that everyone start feeding the "sad and lonely horse" carrots. Can you imagine the amount of carrots this horse would be ingesting if 75 people stopped to feed him every day? It kind of boggles the mind and could actually be damaging to the horse, since carrots are pretty high in sugar and are supposed to be a treat, not a staple. 

Some people move here to our area for the option to keep livestock, and others move here for the wine. And as long as the livestock people don't start trying to tell the wine people what makes a good Cabernet and the wine people don't start trying to cheer up the livestock people's animals who are pastured near common roads, life can be good here. It's all about mutual respect.

What we all need to focus on is the passive aggressive and insecure goats on the next street over, anyway. Now they need some serious help, I'm telling you. Perhaps we can find them a good therapist.



Monday, July 17, 2017

Summer colors

I wish I knew exactly where the "equinox" of summer occurs for us. By that I mean the exact day when we are halfway through the summer and can safely and confidently celebrate that fact. I have a feeling it's somewhere around today, at least for this area, although we can stay hot all the way from May through September. (and 100 degree October days are not unheard of, either.)

Summers are brutal here, but at least we are not without an escape hatch, which is our extremely close proximity to the beach. The strangest thing about our area is that you can drive a mere 30 minutes west or so to the shore and be in a completely different climate -- 30 to 40 degrees cooler, often foggy, sometimes downright chilly. When the heat begins to get to us here on the homestead, we generally head to the beach town of Cambria, uncrowded and quiet on Sunday evenings, since most of the tourists have returned home by then. We have dinner at an outdoor cafe (sometimes wearing jackets) and spend some "toes in the sand time" while we cool off for a few hours. It helps, no question, psychologically as much as anything else. See the cool, be the cool.


But as a more permanent solution I hope someday, maybe someday soon, to live in a climate with a more gentle summer. As I grow older, my heat tolerance diminishes (as it seems to with almost every other middle-aged woman I know) and so it would make sense to spend the last third of my hopefully long life in a climate more suited for me. Of course it will probably not be close to the ocean, but a mountain vista can surely heal your soul as much as an ocean vista can. At least that's what I'm hoping.


It's ironic, but most of the people I meet here who claim to "love" our summers are  transplants from places with snow. Evidently for them, they are happy making the trade of winter snow for summer heat. 

But for some of us, "Winter is coming" is not a veiled threat or foreshadowing of disaster, torn from a television show script. It's a promise to look forward to...a time when you are free to go outside again and not burn up -- to enjoy and to savor the afternoon breeze, even if you do need a jacket sometimes. A time when it's temperate right outside your back door. It's coming. We just have to be patient. And while I'd take snow in a heartbeat if it showed up on my doorstep, I may have to chase it down since it's not likely to come here. "Winter is coming?" Indeed. And maybe I'm coming for winter.


But in the meantime, I am here, as are you, at the height of summer. And so I bring you a couple of shots of seasonal color. 



Our new hens are laying and one is producing the most gorgeous copper-colored eggs!

Pink potatoes, fresh out of the ground, on an old vintage Welsh dish towel the neighbors bought me while on vacation there.

Monday, July 10, 2017

This and That

It's been a couple of months since the last post, and in that time we've had abundant harvests of carrots, potatoes, olallieberries and apricots, the lettuce has gone away with the heat, and we've faced smoke from several close-but-not-too-close brush fires.

So why the void in communication? Nothing earth-shattering. I noticed the comments dwindling on each blog post and so more and more it felt like I was shouting into the void, the same issue I had when writing my weekly newspaper column. People rarely write in to tell you when they enjoy a newspaper column or have a thought about it. Letters to the editor pretty much come in after you've said something that's gotten readers riled up, and so it's probably the same thing with blogging. 

Spring is also the busiest time of year around here. It's not only around the homestead, it's socially, financially, and work-wise as well. And so writing about living tends to take a back seat to just living. Someday I will find a way to manage the period from about April 15 to May 31 but this year, it once again became a time of trying to find time for things.

In the meantime, here are some pics of what we've been up to.


It was an abundant spring.


Mother Nature graced us with her beauty.

Planting, harvesting and preserving.
As usual, too many one one crop. Luckily my friends like carrots.


The row covers worked out nicely, kept a lot of insect and wind problems at bay.

Now we have smoky sunrises.....

and sunsets.



Saturday, May 6, 2017

The View From Here



Was I dreaming?
It's been a long spell since my last post; something that generally happens when there are either things I can't talk about or don't want to. In this case it's both. The ground may be shifting under our feet soon on a personal level -- or not -- and writing from that limbo state of "maybe" is very difficult. It would be bad to put any of it in writing, since it effects other stakeholders (how's that for obtuse?). It's nothing negative for us, though, so no worries there. If it happens it will be a huge and very positive thing. Just a potential big change.

I think the other half of my silence is still being dumbstruck at the time travel back to 1964 our current administration seems committed to doing, environmtenally speaking. I catch the Current Occupant of the While House on television giving himself and his cronies high-fives at press conferences and feel a stab of unbelief that this is all real...that those rollbacks of environmental regulations, clean energy mandates, health care protections, climate change acknowledgement, and animal welfare safeguards is all actually happening.

Sometimes we want someone to pinch us to assure us that we're awake. If only someone could pinch us and we could "come to" and find it's still 11:30 pm on the night of November 7, and that we just dropped off for a little nap when the blue and red board behind the news anchors shifted and changed. "Whew! I had the strangest dream, guys....."

And yet, like any loss, I've processed my five stages of grief, mostly, and have come to that state of acceptance. It doesn't mean some days I'm not back to Stage One (denial) or Stage Three (depression), but I do bounce back. Maybe someday I'll be able to put my finger on what died last November, on a national basis.




On a personal level, things around the homestead are good. There's plenty of spinach, potatoes, carrots. lettuce, asparagus, onions and herbs in the ground and since we had a great water year, everything is growing quite happily. All the trees in the pasture are loaded with fruit, green now but ripening into the shape of a bountiful summer.



Our two new chickens Daisy and Delilah will be integrated into the flock this weekend, which means lots of temporary drama. And we're planning another trip to WA State this summer, because through the good and the bad, life goes on, and heading to cooler climes in July feels like a good idea no matter what the political climate is.



Hope you're well and happy on your own pieces of ground, and living the sweet reality of hands in your garden dirt in this seeming age of magical, crazy thinking everywhere else. Sometimes all you can count on are those you love, the sun rising at roughly the same time each day, and music on the radio. And your land and what it produces for you. 

Not bad things to have in this Very Strange Age.




Monday, April 10, 2017

Life and Lifestyle



The great thing about a blog is that you can write about anything you want. In the town we used to live in, I wrote a opinion/local talk newspaper column for nine years, and thankfully was granted that same privilege -- within limits. I got into trouble once for writing a negative column on the city turning our local farmers' market into "Thursday Night Marketplace," complete with drinking, loud music and flea market style booths.

That piece, I took flak for. Not from my editors, but from the readers and the organization who had come up with or agreed to the concept of a Farmers Market where you could get drunk, urinate on the side streets and get arrested for disorderly conduct on the asphalt, all when it's 115 degrees on Main Street in July.

To each his own, I guess.  The Thursday Night Marketplace still exists, I'd bet, but we're here, in the midst of a better life. Yet we won't be retiring here. And what I'm about to say could provoke the ire of people in this town the way my Farmers' Market piece once did in the old town, if I published it in the paper. It's the dirty little secret about living here no one talks about.

We are going to retire elsewhere because of the exorbitant, ridiculous cost of living here. If you're making this town a weekend destination -- a treat for you and your significant person -- it's a great place to come. There are exciting restaurants to be dined in, a couple of hundred tasting rooms, boutiques, and everything else you'd want to fulfill your "weekend destination lifestyle."

But pay attention to what I just said. It's perfect for lifestyle. And a lifestyle is very different than a life. 

Lifestyle towns are the places you go to on vacation and dream of living in someday ... Catalina Island. Banff. Provence. Key West. You see yourself in some imaginary future, meandering through scenic vistas to your favorite quaint little breakfast place each morning, where they know your name and where you'll linger over coffee as the colorful storefronts open up to sell their wares. In the evenings, you will sit out on your patio with a night sky full of stars and a glass of wine in your hand as gentle breezes caress you. 

After having these  visions, you will pick up the real estate section, and begin your quest for what you think will be a better life than the one you're living. And yes, all those lovely images will happen for you if you move here. They really will. But they come at a price. Literally.

Everything costs more -- a lot more -- when you live in a destination versus just a place.  Whether it's groceries, the services of a plumber, a contractor, or a nanny, you're going to pay a huge premium.

Shopping for cute, touristy gifts is a breeze here, but staples are often hard to come by. And don't even start on medical care. The best doctor in town is a boutique doc who charges $1,800/year for his services, on top of your regular co-pay. The other choices are frankly, frightening, and I've heard more than one story of bad medical care that borders on malpractice from other, nameless docs around. I am guessing this is because doctors don't move here to publish, do research, or advance their names in the medical industry. They move here for the same reasons most do...to go wine tasting and maybe buy a boat or something.

But the saddest thing is that for native residents, they can no longer offer their children a place in the city's future, because their kids will probably never be able to afford a home or even rent a place on their own here.  

So it comes down to two things: Are you awake enough to see this, or have you willed yourself into a sort of dream consciousness, where you accept the gouging, the inflation and the growth as the cost of living here -- the necessary price for the scenic vistas, quaint breakfast place and night sky full of stars? 

I will be honest with you. We moved here for a life -- cleaner air, lower unemployment, better weather -- but instead have found lifestyle, which we always thought was just a small part of living here as a resident. It turns out Lifestyle has taken the wheel and is driving this town towards whatever its ultimate destination is.

With less water to go around, more development going in at every turn, and the weekend visitors believing this is the place to be more than ever, I'm guessing that destination is a dead end. For us, anyway. 

Turns out, all we wanted was a life. Which sounds easy enough, until you have to contend with the fact that a life is a very different thing than a lifestyle.

You know what they say about lifestyle destinations: a nice place to visit, but...

Friday, April 7, 2017

The birds

How I used to feel in my spring garden.

This spring has been different in one very substantive way...I have not had to fight either the wind, the birds, or the insects in my garden. Right now there are potatoes, carrots, lots of lettuce and some spinach growing, which will mean a bountiful harvest until about June I would guess.


It's been so lovely to pass by the lettuce section of the produce department every time I visit the grocery store without needing to purchase any, after a couple of years of frustration in trying to grow it.


This year, it's different.

The trick, it turns out, is shade cloth. I will fully admit stealing my inspiration for this new addition from my friend Beth, who showed me her garden last year nestled under its white canopy of shade cloth. Seemingly free of insects and certainly not damaged by wind or birds, all her crops looked beautiful and I got a serious case of crop envy.


And so this year, I installed the row cover supports and put everything except the potatoes and onions under wraps. And it worked. 


Munched! A lapse of judgement -- no shade cloth -- quickly rectified.

I know all this made a difference because this morning, with a rainstorm coming in, I put in some spinach transplants, and figured a couple of hours without a cloth cover wouldn't make much difference in bad weather. The birds wouldn't be out and about, right? I was wrong. When I went back out the winged criminals were fleeing the scene, after picking apart one spinach transplant completely, and probably getting ready to move onto the others. And so, in the middle of the rain, I covered the rest of the spinach and left the birds to find forage in our pasture.


It may have taken me five years to figure out, but I think I finally understand the rules to growing here: grow it under wraps.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Spring project

Experimenting with color.

So even on a budget, there are some things that still need to happen around here. Like building a sturdy outdoor table. We've had glass/metal ones in the past, and it always seems like they start looking terrible in a very short time. 


But the fact is, we entertain a fair amount and would like to be able to dine outside, especially in spring and summer. A couple of years ago, I re-purposed 12 folding chairs from an events company in town, but what's a bunch of chairs without a table?

So this time around I decided to DIY a table that we could use with our chairs. A few months ago when I was working at the winery, a piece of equipment for the barrel room was shipped to us on a wood pallet, with four legs at each corner. I walked out to where my coworker was taking it apart, and not knowing what it was, said, "great idea for a table!" It actually turned out that there was no intention for a table going on, the manufacturers had just affixed four two-by-four "legs" to the pallet to give it more stability.  But it gave me an idea.

So I went home and asked Big Ag to be on the lookout over in his vineyard's workshop for a new-ish pallet in great shape, and sure enough, last month he found one that was eight feet long and in mint condition -- definitely ample enough length for a nice dining table!

Today we went to the lumber place and bought a bunch of beautiful (and very inexpensive) Douglas Fir slats. I am going to be using a combination of staining and painting, hopefully to get this finished result, which I stole from Pinterest.

The general idea of the project.

The slat in the first picture that I posted is the one I've used as a practice board, trying different methods of staining and painting. The one I like best so far is drib-drabbing paint onto the board, smearing the paint, and then going over it with the stain, several coats' worth.

I've just started working on the tabletop part of the project, but I'll be posting pics as I go along.  If you look at the first photo above, the white Adirondack patio set which the slat is resting on will be my next project. They were saved from the trash at a friend's house, and will complete our sitting area on our back patio.

With spring comes projects, always, but at least these will be fun to work on and finish, before the heat sets in, which won't be much longer now. 

Monday, March 13, 2017

Three months

Mound of rosemary

I've long thought that it takes about three months for behaviors, moods, and patterns to change. We're in about the third month of temperate weather now, and I can tell by my general mood that I've been out of the heat long enough to recover from the five months or so of torture it inflicts on me.

Of course it's been in the high 70's this week, but somehow spring warmth seems different than fall warmth. 78 degree autumn days seem like a horrible post-script to summer, yet they are delightful in March. That's because by now we've had three months of not baking in the heat, so once again the warmth is welcome.

Speaking of welcome, we've welcomed two new chicks into our home, Daisy and Delilah. Daisy is a Welsummer, Delilah a Cuckoo Maran. Both will lay dark brown eggs once they are mature. And they have their own personalities, even at this early age.  Daisy is a mellow, calm chick and Delilah is full of drama and quite noisy. The day I brought them home Delilah regaled me with shrill peeping that let me know she was NOT happy about riding in the car, and even now, if she can't locate Daisy or feels a little chilled, she sings out. 

Delilah (L) and Daisy (R)

It makes me wonder what her personality is going to be like as a full-grown chicken...we've already had one psycho hen who attacked people, a psycho rooster who attacked other hens, and so we're just hoping Delilah ends up relatively well-adjusted and calm.

In this household there is not much chance of that, but hope springs eternal.

I also got hit with the dreaded spring creeping crud, which laid me out flat in bed for two days and severely sapped my energy for about another five. They say you don't miss your health until it's gone and that's certainly true. Same goes for energy. So of course now it looks as if someone has set off a dust bomb in the house, since when I am sick the house keeper (me) is also. The advantage to that is that I will never be woken from my sickbed by the vacuum. The drawback is that the dust is right there waiting for me, doubled in thickness, once I recover.

Glorious mulch. And a shout out to the trees that lost their lives to provide it. It's nature's cycle.

Another tidbit is that the trees which were uprooted in the storm last month were chipped by our neighbors and so everyone got as much mulch as they wanted. What a bounty! We covered our raised bed area with it and really like how it looks now. Plus it will keep the weeds down. That was my first task upon feeling better and it really felt great to be out in the sunshine with the wheelbarrow. Plus it gave one more legal excuse to procrastinate cleaning house.

In the garden there are blossoms, potatoes sprouting, lettuce and a brand new irrigation system. In the house there is soon-to-be-restored order and cleanliness. 



All things pass away eventually...sickness gives way to health, winter gives way to spring, and dust gives way to clean surfaces.

The counterbalance is, of course that health does eventually give way to sickness once again, spring ushers in hot summer, and dust always returns (sometimes within just a few hours, it seems).

So enjoy it all while you can, because tomorrow will be different. As I said, if you get three months of something, it's enough to change your attitude or life, so I hope all your changes are good ones from now from now 'till summer, and beyond.


Thursday, February 23, 2017

This is a drill



So after last week's power outage I've been taking stock of areas where we succeeded in staying comfortable and areas where we failed. In a way, a 12-hour power outage is a blessing, because it's a sort of practice drill for something that could take much longer to resolve. As you know, I'm not a tin-foil hat kind of lady, but having lived through a couple of major earthquakes I do know what it's like to not have electricity and gas for several days. If you've lived through a hurricane, tornado or blizzard, you probably know it too.

Right now our neighbors have three or four eucalyptus trees that are leaning significantly towards the power lines that keep our house and about 20 other properties in the area lit up. It's kind of a foregone assumption that they'll come down sometime in the next few weeks or months, but at least we now have a mindset of preparing for that eventuality. It's gonna happen ... it's just a question of when.

So doing a quick inventory of what worked and what did not last weekend, here's where we failed:

1.  We were woefully short on batteries. 

2. We had not stored extra lamp oil for our kerosene lamps. 

3. Most of our candles are either battery operated votives or highly-scented decorative candles, both inappropriate for long term use in a power outage. No one wants to live in a house that smells like a combination of Christmas Pine, Pumpkin Spice, something called "Sea Breeze," and the odd floral-scented aromatherapy candle. If Martha Stewart ever opens a funeral home, it will probably smell like our house did that day.

4. We needed a generator, as we have no woodstove or wood-burning fireplace to heat the house with when the grid is down. We do have a pellet stove, which can operate off-grid if necessary though, and that proved to be a huge plus once the generator was up and running and the stove was plugged into it. 

Having a generator will also allow us to do a dirty re-wiring of our well pump so we can get water if we need it. (We have a 4,000 gallon storage tank, but if it were damaged we could effectively be out of water in a disaster).

5. The main emergency wind-up weather radio I had in the house was broken.

6. None of our devices -- phones, Kindles, etc. were charged.

On the positive side, we had enough food and propane. Plus plenty of wine -- essential during times of natural disaster (in my universe). And both vehicles had full tanks of gas, something we always try to have going for us in case we're forced to pack up and leave quickly. 

And we had lots of pet food on hand, just like the disaster prep sites advise, so our cat and dog were going to be fine.

So what's next? Stock-up trips, both online and in person. I already bought lamp oil and batteries, plus our new generator will allow us to charge our devices, run our heat, and keep the food in our fridge and freezer from spoiling. We'll overnight-charge our devices a little more religiously from now on, too.

But another important thing is knowing what you already have on hand. We have both a percolator and a café press, but the day of the power outage we forgot we had them and so went without our caffeine fix for the day. Not a major disaster by any means, but if it's important to stock up on emergency supplies, surely it's even more important to remember what you've put by so you can use it when the time comes. I had several friends who forgot they had things they looked back on and wished they'd used. First World Problem.

So this has been an important wake-up call as to how quickly disasters occur and how quickly you may have to rely on what you have on hand, right her and right now.

This time it was more like a drill, but next time it may be more serious. So like having flood/earthquake/hazard insurance, having a generator and emergency supplies on hand are something you hopefully will only rarely need. But the day you need them, you'll be thankful to yourself for purchasing them.