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.

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Meanwhile, East of Eden



"The water came in a 30 year cycle. There would be five to six wet and wonderful years when there might be 19- 25 inches of rain, and the land would shout with grass. Then there would come six to seven pretty good years, with 12 - 16 inches of rain. And then the dry years would come..."

                                       John Steinbeck, "East of Eden"

Steinbeck summed it up pretty accurately, and so here we are in the midst of one wet and wonderful year, with the only detractor being that with so many dry years in a row before this, the land is scarcely capable of holding all this water.

Dry creeks filled with drought-killed trees are flooding for the first time in years and carrying the debris downstream. Sinkholes of formerly parched earth are opening up underneath the streets in southern California and swallowing cars whole, and 40 year-old trees are finding that even harder than surviving the droughts, surviving the deluge that comes after the drought is even more impossible.

And so it is in my neighborhood. Yesterday we had an astonishing 15 inches of rain on our hilltop, thanks to three micro-bursts which caused literal walls of water to fall around us. 50 mph wind gusts took out five of the neighbor's trees, narrowly missing our property.


The community effort which occurred immediately after these tree falls was nothing short of amazing; in less than 15 minutes there were at least 10 neighbors, half with chainsaws, hacking off branches, stacking logs and clearing the road. It was heartening to see, and made me realize what a wonderful neighborhood we live in.

But as a result of so many trees in the area coming down, we also lost power for about 12 hours on a very chilly and windy day. I sent Big Ag a text with one word:  GENERATOR. We've been bickering over the last several years about whether or not we needed one, and thankfully (or not) Mother Nature saw to it that a combination of necessity and comfort won this argument.  


So that night, we cooked dinner indoors, had a lamp on and ran our pellet stove until we were warm and our bellies full. I am as proud of that new generator as I would be of a Mercedes -- prouder even, because it's much more practical for where we live and we'll probably have it longer than we have any car we currently own. 

Today the power is back on and the cleanup has begun all over the state as we slog our way through this "wet and wonderful" year, ever mindful that too much water is still preferable over not enough. We'll take the downed trees, flooding and power outages over endless sunshine any day of the year. Because just like Steinbeck points out, the dry years are always coming.

Just not today.






Thursday, February 16, 2017

Rearranging Deck Chairs and Chopping Wood




Sometimes it feels absolutely surreal to go from the morning news to outside, around our property. With so much turmoil, how can there be such peace within nature?  Do you ever feel that way?

The spring grass is getting tall, the birds are starting to seek out nesting materials, and they're perfectly content in their lives -- quite unlike what I see when I turn on the news. Most days that feels we're all just stacking up the deck chairs at the non-sinking end of the Titanic. The band still hasn't played "Nearer My God To Thee" yet, so we still have a long ways to go, however. I just hope Jack and Rose are okay.

Living on the west coast that's actually how it feels sometimes...like the rest of the country is tilting and we're sitting on a little island of dryness and safety...for now, anyway. 

Of course the tilting country analogy is not really the case; there are plenty of other places in the country that feel like we do here, but after years of planning my exit from California, for once it feels good to be knee-deep amidst all the "silly" environmental regulations, generous state health care, and at times ridiculous seeming touchy-feeliness. It doesn't feel so ridiculous anymore. It's actually quite comforting to know I live in a state that embraces the voiceless, the downtrodden, and the dreamers. And the environment. Even if sometimes it's at a semi-ridiculous opposite end of the spectrum, I'd rather be here than more "red" parts of the country, let's just say that.

I don't have to worry about my representatives voicing my opinions in Congress, because as one of the most liberal areas in one of the most liberal states, I know that's going to happen. So we have that going for us. 

So what's a resistance fighter to do? Chop wood, carry water, as the Buddhist saying goes. In other words, the usual routine -- so comforting when things seem crazy elsewhere. So in light of that, I realized that I was overdue for two improvements in my home garden. One was an automatic irrigation system in the raised vegetable beds, and the other was floating row covers, so in the last week or so, Big Ag and I have been busy installing both.



Why did it take me so long to put both these things in? I guess sometimes life is like that...you get into a rut ( also known as "a routine") you don't even realize you're in until you're out of it. Most of our industrially-focused civilization we live in is like this, all the time...we don't know how much we need something until we have it. The cell phone. The laptop. The food processor. That can cut both ways; it's always important to know how to do most things by hand, but there's nothing wrong with shortcuts if you're proficient and just need to save either time or energy.


That's certainly the case for our country as well. Those of us who have assumed the environment would always be protected, that the highest levels of government would be run in an orderly fashion, and that if our leaders did not always welcome the inquiries of the press that they would still honor them, have had a wake-up call about just how quickly all that can change. 

And so vigilance all around appears to be the call of the day. The nice thing is, at least we still have the birds, the wildlife, and nature to enjoy while we're going about our business. But no small effort of vigilance is important there, too, if we value what we currently enjoy.

So pick your metaphor. Chop wood and carry water. Move those deck chairs. Either way, stay vigilant, but also stay in touch with those things you're most invested in protecting. Those are the things that will keep you sane through times like this.



Monday, February 6, 2017

The Elephant in the Room


I haven't said anything about politics recently, mainly because when I work around my property, or when I come here to write, I'm actually trying to get away from it. I watch the news daily, and occasionally check the latest happenings on my computer throughout my work day, so safe to say I'm pretty much knee-deep in the minutiae of what's happening right now.

And the thing is, everyone who pays any attention to politics has what the experts call "hot button issues." They are the things that matter the most to us -- the things we'd turn out to protest for or against, write letters to Washington in regards to, etc. For me, it is and always has been The Environment. It's a big, garish, nail-polish red button to me.

You can probably throw in Science along with The Environment as well (the two hold hands on a pretty regular basis anyway, so it's not really a stretch). People are entitled to their own opinions, but not their own science. Science just IS. Now, that doesn't stop some loud voices from attempting to come up with their own spin on scientific facts, but you get the point.

So as you can imagine, my world has seemed a bit darker and more tense in the last month or so. 

But I'm also an optimist. I've donated good amounts of money to the Sierra Club, the National Resources Defense Council, and various coastal environmental groups over the years. This was done to help protect the environmental laws and regulations that keep our wild areas and our animals safe and with decent protections in place. And now it's time for them to use that money like never before. So I'll send more.

And here's something happy to think about: In two years, I can almost guarantee there will be a surge of Democrats voted into various congressional seats, but until then I'm relying on those groups to help keep the things I value most about our country safe, by keeping new and stupid laws, or relaxation or old and reasonable ones, tied up in court for the foreseeable future, until saner heads again prevail.



I am also relying on individuals within and outside the government system like Alt. NationalParkService ( https://www.facebook.com/AltUSNationalParkService/) to keep speaking up, to refuse to silence the dispassionate and objective voice of science, and to help them whenever and wherever I can.

March for Science? I'm there. March for The Environment? Count me in. You can argue that protesting does not actually accomplish anything, but where would the Civil Rights Movement be now without the protests that happened 40 years ago? Do you really think women would have just magically been granted the right to vote if the Suffragette Movement had not taken it to the streets (and to their dinner tables) and demanded it -- and not nicely or in a pretty, lady-like way? 

While this blog focuses on a microcosm of daily life in my own little universe, please don't ever think that I live in that microcosm because the big issues are too hard for me to deal with. I recognize that many of your hot button issues may not be my own, so I leave it out of my writings, most of the time. It's more to keep the peace than anything else. But it occurred to me recently that I should at least state my opinions so you know where I'm coming from.

And remaining politically quiet here doesn't mean I'm not taking action in my own personal ways. Far from it. Who knows, this may be the season of my life when I actually end up getting arrested for blocking a street, refusing to move from one spot on a piece of hallowed ground, or something equally inconvenient yet necessary.

Until then, it's going to be all about spring planting, used-item upcycling and pursuing peace, balance and free time. But that's not all there is to life. Now more than ever, it may be time to be a presence in the world. 

Kind of ironic that the Old Boss who supposedly was going to bring in change did not bring about nearly as much as the New Boss who wants to take us back to 1962 is bringing, and that it's change we're actually going to be fighting against, not for. But there it is.

So my advice is this: Grow onions. Install row covers. Write your Congressperson. And knit your brain hat for the Science March, donate to the Sierra Club like never before, and if the White House Switchboard is no longer taking comments, find another opening to register your comments on. The last I heard, Twitter and Snail Mail were still working.

But keep the faith and keep going. None of this will last forever.

Friday, February 3, 2017

Thinning the herd and matchmaking

Loving the raindrops.

Well, it's the time of year when an old lady's fancy turns to....her garden. And to her garden list.

My garden list gets going in earnest during fall, when I'm too burned out from the heat to do much outside. In September I basically sit inside with a cocktail complaining about the heat and writing down things for Future Me to do....later. Much, much later.


If it's true that everyone hates themselves sometimes, I definitely hate Autumn Me. That witch is a slave driver.


But here we are in the midst of "list season," and so here I am completing it. Thinning my torch flowers was first. With limited water, these plants can only be allowed to grow so big, and so dividing them down to size was the order of the day. One advantage is that in every garden, you want plants of varying sizes, and these just look better smaller (although not right now, as they're a little shocky from the dividing process). 


I won't have as many flowers this year because of the thinning, but that's the price you pay for healthy and not-as-thristy plants sometimes, especially with corms and bulbs. Thin the herd, my friend. They'll drink less if there's fewer of them.

Divide and conquer

I also planted two apple trees I grafted in Master Gardener class last spring. One of the most important things I learned in Master Gardener class was that I really, really suck at grafting, and so these grafts were completed for me by a kind old man who felt I was still young enough to flirt with, and who stepped in and completed my assignment for me. I figure my chatting up Chivalrous Man may well be
 the last time I'll be able to use my looks for anything other than getting a good senior discount, so, you know. One last hurrah.

So I planted the two grafted apple trees, plus a Golden Delicious bare-root tree I bought last weekend, to help my Grimes Golden pollinate better. Supposedly Mr. Grimes is self-pollinating, but having another similarly pollinating friend never hurts, so this will help my heirloom tree produce some fruit. I also played yenta a little more by buying a Black Tartarian cherry tree for my Royal Anne cherry, who is having no luck producing her own cherries. I plan on keeping these pollinators small enough that they don't use a lot of water either; I just want them for their flowers.


And so I work my way down on the list until I'm caught up and can report back to Past Me that her damn list is finished, and hey, nice job on the apple tree grafting, which I happen to know she didn't do herself. Turns out cheaters never prosper, but sometimes they do get apple trees.

Friday, January 27, 2017

Three hens, no rooster

Otis

So our experiment with having a rooster is over...tonight Otis went to that grand chicken coop in the sky, culled by us after fighting with Callie, the largest yet most submissive of our hens. 


Otis' story began a couple of years ago when, we made a big, sentimental mistake and acquired some eggs from a friend so our brooding hen Ellen could hatch them out and become a mother. We found good homes for three out of the four of Ellen's chicks. Otis we kept, mainly because roosters are hard to place and we figured we'd try having one and see if he'd end up a good addition to our flock.


Otis and Ellen

 Otis ended up causing us no problems.... while his mother Ellen was alive. We realize now it was her influence that kept him in line. After Ellen died (she was put down several months ago after suffering a debilitating tumor) his personality became less cooperative, and more typically rooster-ish.


The attack this afternoon was not Otis' first infraction. A few weeks ago he attacked Chloe, our lovely barred rock, and opened up a sizable gash on her comb, which bled profusely. Chloe spent Christmas morning in our bathroom getting doctored up, and when she was ready to go back out Otis was put in a separate pen for a few days so that both would forget their altercation, which chickens often do. Brain the size of a peanut and all that.  

But if we thought the temporary time-out/isolation worked, we were wrong. As I mentioned earlier, today I found Otis full-on fighting with Callie, our young Silver-Laced Wyandotte. And so, before another hen was injured, we decided Otis had to be culled. 

And while it's never easy to put a bird down, as I was carrying Otis out into the garden and Big Ag was loading the shotgun, I thought about how many chickens grace my dinner plate every single year, and how each one of those chicken dinners represents a bird that died just like Otis was about to. 

That's one thing that keeping animals has made me thankful for -- I never take for granted the meat or poultry I eat. I know something that once lived and breathed lost its life in order to be consumed by me, and I don't consume it as mindlessly as I once did.

And so I say farewell to Otis and to roosters in general. We're planning on getting another couple of hens this spring and I'm sure there will be plenty of pecking-order drama when we integrate them into our flock of (now) only three birds. But while it may be difficult to watch the pecking order re-shuffle itself, it will settle down in time, which probably would not have happened with Otis. 

Sometimes it's survival of the fittest, but in Otis' case it was a different rule, no less valid or important: Survival of the congenial.





Wednesday, January 25, 2017

The Real LaLa Land


Don't pay attention to the dancing beauties; your first clue this is a fantasy is the idea of available street parking. 

Do I ever review films? Do I even see them on a regular basis? Well, no, but I have a few things I'd like to say about "LaLa Land" as I think it's becoming a sort of lighthouse beacon, inspiring aspiring actors and actresses from all over the world to move to Los Angeles and try and become the kind of person that TMZ is interested in following,  no, of course I mean that hones their artistic craft and becomes admired for it.

The City of The Angels is singing its siren song again, something it does every few years when some lucky soul who did come to LA and strike it rich decides to make everyone else think they can, too.


First of all, I want to start by saying that, as a native Angeleno, I did actually really like "LaLa Land," mainly because it was such an affectionate send-up of my hometown -- restaurants, architecture, neighborhoods, all of which are familiar icons of my childhood. My one complaint about the movie was its completely and utterly unrealistic view of show business, and of course, Los Angeles itself. 

In the movie, both the hero and heroine become successful entertainers, cashing in on their talents to the fullest by the time the film ends. The only problem is that this isn't how things usually happen in the real LaLa Land. So in reality, what might more realistically have happened to our romantic pair?  


Second clue: lack of traffic (and jumpers) on Suicide Bridge in Pasadena at rush hour.

Sebastian, our jazz piano player hero (portrayed by Ryan Gosling), might possibly have found good work...as a studio musician, providing he kept up with his union dues and his industry connections, which he seemed to have. He would have been supplying piano riffs in things like McDonald's commercials, industrial videos and recordings of all kinds. A regularly paying gig is a coveted nirvana for most LA musicians who have been around for any length of time, and they tend to count their blessings if they're working regularly, no matter what kind of music it is they are playing. Work is work.


 Mia, our actress heroine (played by Emma Stone), might have ended up working in administration for Warner Brothers, or maybe just managing the coffee kiosk where she had been working. She would have done secretarial temping, waitressing, and catering to pay her bills until a combination of age and burnout sent her into more regular employment, as audition opportunities dwindled. 

Don't believe me? Watch Turner Classic Movies sometime and pay close attention to the closing credits, for any film. Every single person in a supporting role in a film ("girl on street corner," or "Mr. Smith's driver"  was once convinced this was their big break, and that they were finally headed for stardom. Once in a blue moon it actually happened (kind of like winning the lottery). But 99.9 percent of the names you see are unfamiliar strangers to you now because that minor role -- that "big break" -- turned out not to be the start of something great. Six months after their "film debut," it was probably back to that second job and more rounds of auditions. 10 years later, it was probably over and they either got out of the business entirely, or took a job backstage or in studio administration. Or departed Los Angeles, back to whatever town they had come from, becoming someone the neighbors might point to in the hardware store and whisper, "well, he was once a successful Hollywood actor, you know! He appeared with Charlton Heston in 'Ben Hur' as a chariot driver!")


I write this not to throw a wet blanket on the film -- in fact I recommend it highly. Take it in, enjoy it and tap your feet along with the excellent soundtrack while a completely fantastical Los Angeles rolls by visually.



Third clue: believing that young, struggling newcomers in town get invited to parties in places like this.

But don't let your friends, your children or your family become starstruck and think LA is the place to make it. Don't think the streets are that safe, that clean, or that final-read auditions, invitations to swank parties and earning enough to make one's car payment are easy achievements to come by. Thousands will tell you just the opposite.


The film is a lovely fantasy, and nothing more. Enjoy it for that. If you want to move to LA, do it for realistic reasons, such as the epic freeway car chases, occasional earthquakes and fantastic Mexican restaurants...not for show biz, and not because of anything you saw in LaLa Land.








Tuesday, January 24, 2017

A leak and a party

If you look at the mid-right hand section of our weather station, it indicates over 13 inches of rain just since last October! That is close to our yearly average and it's only 4 months into the season.

This last week has been one for the books as far as rainfall goes. We've basically received our yearly allotment of rain for the entire rain season already -- and historically February through March are also usually quite rainy, so it looks to be a banner year for this part of California as far as the wet stuff is concerned.


Greening up nicely.

Of course this does not really get us out of our drought since it's so entrenched and has gone on for so long, but it does help on a short-term basis. It will be nice to see our spring wildflowers in moist-enough soil to thrive, and there is standing water everywhere right now and creeks running that we've never even seen before. So I expect everything to stay greener than usual if we keep getting regular installments like we've just had. Fingers crossed.

So last week we had a leak, caused by a loose vent on the roof, which put a little spot in our bedroom closet ceiling and led me into the attic with a flashlight, a bucket and a tarp. Big Ag is having shoulder issues and can't climb up there but I wanted to make sure all my clothes and shoes stayed dry during the deluge. Luckily the leak was easy to find and fix, so now everything just has to dry out -- and our clothes are safe. 


Since our geographic area tends to relocate to the damn surface of the sun in the summertime I have no doubt that the drywall will air out with no mold issues, so that's good. And we already removed all the wet insulation.


Winter Table.
Dig in.

So the middle of the storms and leak, I did the logical thing one does in the face of terrible weather and decided to have a big dinner party at our house (on a night when we only had showers expected instead of a downpour).  We called it "The Essentials" and asked all our friends to bring a bottle of either red or white that they adored, and always made sure to have on hand when they were having wine at home. I made ribs and sous vide turkey breast, so you could sample appropriate food with your wine, as well as roasted potatoes, a pot of beans, and garlic bread. It was sort of barbecue meets elegant, or whatever passes for elegant at this homestead. I thought the brown and white table decor came out rather well.

I am also learning to not be afraid to use shortcuts in some areas when entertaining, in order to make myself more accessible to guests and so I don't need to start drinking at 4 pm to take the edge off my stress. I try not to fix things that need a lot of babysitting, instead doing some store bought things (like the garlic bread) but giving the main courses my full attention. 



Need to call the sommerlier to choose a winner from this bunch.
But even Yoshi the Somm is undecided.

So a lot of wine was drank, massive amounts of food consumed (so glad I don't have self-conscious friends who merely graze on stuff, this group really digs in) and a homemade apple pie, brought by one of my guests, for dessert. A spontaneous after-party ensued at my neighbors' house and featured slot machines, cards, beer drinking, popcorn and karaoke. 

No one even discussed politics, despite the inauguration being held the day before and the marches taking place that same day. Which just goes to prove good wine really does make everything (seem) better.

As you can imagine, Sunday was enormously quiet due to small but significant hangovers for both Big Ag and myself. Oh well. We watched a shameful amount of television, ate what we pleased, and expected nothing productive to occur.  It's been too long since we spent a day doing nothing. And unless you are sick or hung over, doing nothing is harder than it looks. Chores sing the siren song of the Puritan Work Ethic, but sometimes you just need to resist for the sake of resisting.

Without making a resolution of it, I've sort of decided I want to entertain a lot more in 2017 and think the enjoyment of friends, good food and wine may be what it takes to have a great year. Between my garden, my home and those people I most enjoy being around, I'm thinking "Make The Homestead Great Again" will be a mandate we follow through on.

Of course we all know the homestead is already great. But you gotta have a good catch-phrase.








Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Mutant



So yesterday I was cleaning up the vegetable beds, getting ready for spring planting when I finally pulled this baby out of the ground.

It has been growing for at least a year, probably more like 16 months if I'm remembering correctly when I planted fall carrots (August of 2015).

Giant Mutant Carrot, as I am calling it, was as long as my forearm and thicker than my wrist. It was left to its own devices in a bed of onions I watered but only harvested a few of, and for some reason it never went to seed and just kept growing.  So yesterday I decided it's time had come. 

It was flavorful and delicious, despite the scary appearance. But since it was so old, I decided to use it in a carrot cake instead of serving it straight up as a vegetable.

It was pure mutant deliciousness!