Friday, January 27, 2017

Three hens, no rooster


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 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


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!

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Give to yourself in 2017 (because 2016 sucked)

The magical place where comfort and fashion intersect in 2017.

So by now we are well into the new year and most likely at the point where most people's resolutions have begun to fail. Did you make any? How is your resolve going? I think I read a study once that said by about January 21st, your resolutions are either a regular part of your life or have already fallen by the wayside, for better or worse. With most of us, it's the latter.

My resolutions this year are pure pleasure and therefore have a high probability of success, which it seems to me is the way to go. You can always set new rules for yourself, but for your resolutions (which stems from the word resolve, which means to settle and put to rest) , why not resolve to be a better friend to yourself in one way or another? A royal edict coming down from the Throne of You, towards your most loyal subject, also You.

My first new resolution is to only wear comfortable clothes...starting now...for the rest of my life. I'm heading into my golden years and 55 years of scratchy, snug or constricting clothing is enough for one lifetime, thank you. I'm over those items that look great but feel like CIA-sponsored torture -- snug jeans, pointy toes, scratchy blouses, or high heels that look great

but make you want to hurl them at someone after you've been standing in them for more than 30 minutes.

As we get older I suppose we can expect some times when we feel shitty physically, so why should our clothing inflict it on us now, while we still feel relatively good? Go for those new jeans with the elastic band that smooths out muffin tops and eliminates zipper flaps and buttons. Dance the night away in some nice sandals.

Zen begins in the waistband.

I suspect there will be much better reasons to be bitchy up the road so let's be kind to ourselves now. Choose the fleece, choose life. Choose the flats, choose joy. So very zen.

My other resolution is to be less busy. We've talked about busy-ness here before -- how it runs in cycles and creates balance as we cycle through busy-ness to our seasons of "down time." And all that's true, but if my busy seasons were a nine on the scale before, this year I want them to be a six. 

My new motto is that anything worth putting off until tomorrow is even more worth putting off until next week. Underachieving rules the day.

I've also resolved to get back into my own garden more. With taking several months off, all the beds are now free of pests and I'm hoping to have a honeymoon year with my vegetables. I miss it, and I miss the independence and sustainability I feel when I'm growing a good portion of our food. I'm also hooking up an automatic watering system (which I've resisted for years, mainly because being out in the garden daily doing watering also gives you time to check plants for pests/diseases). But an automatic watering system will allow me freedom from being tethered to the garden in the hottest summer days. Again, it's all about comfort.

I don't know what the official Chinese New Year animal is, but for me this year is going to be soft, fuzzy and slow-moving. The year of the Panda? Sloth? If 2016 took things from us (everything from our sense of justice to an orderly and civilized government), I think 2017 should be all about giving back. 

For me, giving begins in the waistband, moves to the feet, and is made of a soft fabric that doesn't constrict your torso or your mood. So here's to a giving, peaceful 2017. Can't say much about the government's chances, but at least my waistband's not going to annoy me any more.

Friday, January 13, 2017

A blind squirrel finds the nut

Big Ag has a saying...."even a blind squirrel sometimes finds a nut."

Yesterday that saying was about me and photography. I make no attempts to be a photographer, but sometimes I see something and know I need a picture of it.

Yesterday we had some crazy weather and I got this shot of the vineyard near our home. I used my old point and shoot because I didn't want to get my nice camera wet since I wasn't sure what I was going to get in terms of lighting, etc. Of course now I wish I'd had my Canon, but at least I got something.

I'm pretty happy with how it came out.

Monday, January 9, 2017


A couple of nights ago I finally got around to making a recipe shared by another blogger online a couple of weeks ago. It was a rice, vegetable and salmon dish, and I was really excited about making it. The only problem was, I must have done something wrong because my end result was a very bland-tasting entree. 

To add some zest and pizzaz to it, I brought out a concoction guaranteed to make any chicken or fish dish sit up and smile: 1/2 cup sour cream, 1/2 cup plain yogurt, garlic, lemon juice, salt and pepper. I mixed it into the salmon and rice and voilá. Instant deliciousness.

The fact that I know this trick is owed to nothing more than living 55 years on the planet and picking up a few tricks in the kitchen. I also know a few tricks for the garden and around the house, and some in dealing with people.

But here's the deal: What if the Buddhists are right and we reincarnate over and over? Do all those tricks I've learned over 55 years of trial and error (emphasis on error) vanish into the ether when I'm born again and I have to learn it all over again....over and over?

Oh, you say, but it's the spiritual lessons that count, really. All the other stuff is inconsequential. Well, that's easy to say until you taste a bland salmon and rice dish, or have to deal with an idiot contractor, police officer, boss or doctor, or can't figure out how to fix a busted irrigation line in your pasture.

I'll tell you what. Being able to turn a bland meal into a stunning one, use a life hack to restore a kitchen sink, or deal with demagogues and difficult people are not small and inconsequential skills. They're what makes life better all the way around and are therefore important.

I hope I don't have to come back and re-learn all this stuff. I used to think the concept of reincarnation had so much merit -- it seemed so egalitarian --  but now that I've amassed a sizable body of life hacks and knowledge, I'm wont to give up my Life Skills Toolbox and start over again.

Perhaps Heaven is the place where we show up with all our learned knowledge and find we're the same age we were when we made all the mistakes that taught us those things -- but we know everything we do now. 

Now that would be another lifetime worth living again. To arrive with one's mental toolbag intact, stuffed with all of the good knowledge and none of the neuroses that generally goes along with it all. 

Now that's a lifetime I'd love to live for sure. Groundhog Day, Version 2.0.

Friday, January 6, 2017

23 from 55

This morning I was enjoying my morning ritual of coffee in front of the fire when, after thinking of my dad for a moment, I briefly did some mental calculations and realized that by the time Dad was my age (55), he'd already been dead for five months. 

Not that you continue aging after your death, but you get the point.  I realized I had outlived the lifespan of one of my parents. (Mom's alive and kicking at 85, so I guess that's the next milestone to beat.)

My dad has been gone now for 32 years, which is more years than I was old when he died (I was 23). The significant thing about that is that as of the time of this writing, he's been out of my life for far longer than he was ever in it. 

With that kind of time and distance comes a certain acceptance of how things went down, which in turn allows you to pick up the whole tragic situation like a long-carried talisman, turning it over and examining exactly how it was made and what exactly it's made of

With some people in our lives, especially our parents, it's only with the passage of time that we can really understand what their life has meant to ours -- how it shaped, conformed or deformed it, and how that's played out over the decades. And you sure as hell can't learn or know that at 23.

That's because 23 is far too young to lose a parent, even though on paper it looks OK because legally you're an adult. It's too young to lose a parent even if that parent was not a particularly good one. But in our society, adulthood is probably more accurately measured in terms of life experiences rather than our actual years, so as the saying goes, at 23, you ain't seen nothin' yet, kiddo.

The other thing that makes it complicated is that my dad died in no small part due to his own actions. He was an intelligent, complex and depressed man, a diabetic who became an alcoholic (basicially an engraved invitation to Mr. Death to come on in). He was also a chain smoker, and it was that which got him in the end. A cough that had been with him so long it was how I used to locate him in a crowd or in the grocery store turned out to be a harbinger of lung cancer. It was diagnosed in the summer of 1983, and the doctors gave him six months to a year to live. 

They offered him chemo; he tried it once and gave up, saying it made him feel too sick to want to live that way. And then he spent his last few months visiting the bars he so loved, laying on the sofa, and telling me he had nothing to live for and therefore had no regrets about dying. 

At 23 I may not have had a lot of life experience, but by the time 24 rolled around, I was mentally 40.

But of course I was not, really. And in the years after my father's early departure, I made one impulsive, stupid life choice after another. Sometimes a death close to you kick starts your survival instinct, and sometimes the ways in which that instinct plays out looks like a years-long manic episode, filled with partying, traveling, screwing around and making/breaking vows to everything and everyone, including yourself. 

Of course I wasn't completely dysfunctional; I'd finished my college degree and had a career, an apartment, and paid all my bills on time. But my personal life is where the chaos was, and that's what part looks certifiably insane when viewed from the rear-view mirror of the calm present.

Somewhere around age 30, or seven years after my father's death, I settled down and had my son. And straightening up and flying right became more than about fixing me; it was about being fixed for somebody else, someone who totally depended on me. Having a child was a good enough reason for me to want to live well and live long.

And now here I am at roughly the age my own father died, with a son roughly the age I was when I was left fatherless. Seeing him at that age has made me more forgiving of myself for The Crazy Years, because 23 is just too young to be on your own completely, no matter how you think you feel about your parents and what you think you know about life. I see that in my son in a way I was never able to see it in myself at the time.

I'm more forgiving of my father, too, but still sad that he didn't stick around long enough to see how it all turned out. Perhaps I'll never know all the reasons why he gave up. But likewise, he'll also never know all the reasons I won't, or experience all the wonderful things he could have lived to see, but chose not to.

 At 55 years old, I feel like I've just started the third act of a four-act play. So much can still be started, be seen, and be felt. There's just so much more to life than what my father couldn't see when he was my age. 

That is, more than anything else, the talisman I've kept with me, even in the crazy years, but especially now. The secret is this: sometimes you live on not only because of the value you see in yourself and in the world around you, but most importantly, in the value others see in you.

Your heart beats for more than just you. 

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Sputnik January 1

Dog Diary: Got up January 1, ate breakfast and put coat on to head outside in order to begin fitness resolution for 2017....Fell asleep on sofa instead. 

It happens. Hope your 2017 is exceeding all your expectations so far!