Thursday, September 9, 2021

Sand Mandalas


Well, it's been a slow close on a very long summer which only seems to be halted by the spectre of COVID shutting everything down once again. In a familiar repeat of 2020, people are gradually retreating from the big summer concerts and county fairs in favor of smaller gatherings and dinners with family. 

The temperatures have stayed in the 80's to low 90's for months, and if the traffic was worse and the drivers 596% more insane, I'd swear I was still in California. It's hot, it's dry, and when the wind comes off the desert of Eastern Oregon the smell makes you want to hum "Hotel California."

There have been other years here in Oregon when we've had a fire in the fireplace by this time, but 2021 is officially The Year of The Air Conditioner, and we need cooling much more than heating at this point.

We have a few trees starting to turn color, stubborn specimens who insist the old ways are really better, which includes autumn starting in September. I'm with them; more and more as I grow older I realize I liked things the way they were "before," whenever "before" happened to be. 

Of course nostalgia always wears blinders. I miss the restaurants I frequented in my 20's, as well as the pencil skirts and shoulder pads I used to wear when dining out. I miss baseball games where the only music was the organ, played by some kind, old lady from the valley who couldn't play Sunday afternoon games because she was also the organist at her church. 

I miss a world where we all loved science and Saturday Night Live, and when Hostess Fruit pies (the real pies, not what you get today) had a lard-flavored crust which always left a grease stain on the napkin if you left it there too long.

There are things I don't miss though, and if we've had to give up a few things for the sake of progress, I'm OK with that. Imagine, if you will, a world without cell phones, voicemail or email. Or where you needed your husband's signature and permission to have a credit card of your own.

I'll take this century over the last one, thanks.

Like ex-lovers and husbands though, you can miss a few minor things while not missing other more important parts at all. That goes for eras and epochs as well as men. Ambivalence rules all the days anyway, after about age 50 or so. Do we love or hate something? Often at my current age, it feels like a little of both.

I've recently learned to understand the meaning of sand mandalas because of this. You know, those intricate sand "paintings" Buddhist monks create using tiny straws with colored sand in them? They make them, then display them for everyone to admire for a few days, then almost violently sweep them away one morning and move on to a new place and a new mandala.

 I understand them now because sometimes it seems like my entire life is one big sand mandala. At times it's
 hard to not feel like all my best efforts in parenting, gardening or housework go from works of art into colored piles of grit in very short order. 

Larger questions loom even larger, as they always do. How did the internet go from a library that could make everyone smarter to instead being a trove of cat videos, porn, and scientific misinformation? How is it that I think I'm probably smarter than about three-quarters of the politicians directing the course of the planet? Why can't I keep my kitchen floor clean for more than a half-hour some days? None of it makes any sense. 

Maybe this is what the buddhists are talking about when they say in order to have peace you must first let go of outcomes.

Each few days the sand mandala needs to be rebuilt, everyone knowing it will get swept away once it's complete and "perfect." At home, each day the floor will be cleaned only to have something new spilled on it (today it was watermelon juice).

These days I'm more and more into letting go of outcomes. I can't fix climate change on my own. I can't make people more science-literate. I can't even keep the watermelon juice off a clean floor. But I can learn to be happy in spite of all those things, because destruction and renewal are both part of life, repeating itself over and over. 

I guess the moral of this story is to enjoy today, because tomorrow the monks and their brooms are coming to sweep it all away and start something new. So go ahead: watch more Netflix, take more walks and don't mop the floor expecting it to stay clean.

That's the advice I'm giving to myself right now.

Friday, August 13, 2021

Let it snow


You know, it's around this time of year that I start singing my favorite Christmas song, "Let It Snow." It's the one that opens with the line, "Oh, the weather outside is frightful." (Apologies for giving you ear-worm for the rest of the day.) Old Blue-Eyes had no idea the song would work not just in winter, but also in these long, drawn-out end-of-summer days, which is where we find ourselves right now. It's frightful out there, no?

And let's not even talk about the next line regarding how delightful the fire is. The fires are not delightful. But you know what is? The fact that autumn is on its way!

Late summer gives way to...

Early fall.

In an effort to give summer the bum's rush out the door, I've been doing a little decorating for fall, even if it's a bit early. Since I don't need ANY new furniture (A fact that Big Ag points out several times a week) I've instead gotten into doing little tablescapes. And this week, autumn fell hard and fast around the interior of our home here, as we hit triple digits and the smoke rolled in outside from the fires down south. 

In the midst of it, I've also started sun-drying tomatoes, which is something I thought I'd have to give up once I left California. But with the hot weather following me, turns out I'm in possession of a good skill set for the New Normal of climate change, as are most California-born, current Oregonians.

I've also been making soap, and still have a big wave of tomato canning coming, which will hit in another month or so. One thing I love about Oregon is that by the time it's cool enough to fire up the canner, the weather is cooler. 

Last year's tomatoes coated with ash, under a firey sky. 

Last year I did all this in the middle of a terrible fire season, with no kitchen, and dealing with contractors coming in and out of the house in the midst of a major pandemic. So almost anything will be an improvement over that. Just like Ginger Rodgers having to dance the same dances Fred Astaire did, but backwards and in high heels; that's me with homesteading this summer. I've done all this stuff backwards in heels and can now just move forward, doing the same thing but in a MUCH easier way. I have a kitchen, I'm vaccinated and there are no fires near us. Much better.

We also had some bark blown in to finish our raised bed area and keep the weeds away. That's another lesson learned: save your money and pay someone else to move the 11 yards of whatever instead of breaking your own back as well as your wheelbarrow and doing it yourself. Sure you lose bragging rights, but you can also skip the post-event visit to the chiropractor.They were done in about 45 minutes and it all looks fantastic. 



I think I'll continue to add a little autumn around the house here and there until most of the decor finds it's way from their storage containers in the garage into the house. In these troubling times, if rushing the season a bit helps your mood, I'd say go for it. I'm still working on talking the trees into turning, but so far I've only convinced a couple.

Hope everyone's late summer is seasonally warm (not hot) and enjoyable. I have a feeling true autumn and winter will bring with it the Lambda COVID variant, which is vaccine-resistant, so get out and see people while you can. 

This white birch tree is convinced it's autumn

The box elder, older and wiser, knows better. 

Saturday, July 31, 2021

My Sincere Apologies

 So for the most part, I like the "new and improved" Blogger, which I've gotten the hang of (or so I thought) and use regularly. 

Except for one thing: Apparently not all the comments people have made have ended up reaching the blog itself. I found a sidebar file labeled "comments" tonight and checked it out just to see what was in it. Inside I found many, many comments from readers that got held up in a limbo called "awaiting moderation," even though they were from registered users and clearly NOT spam (although to be fair, there was also quite a bit of spam that had been held up as well -- a good thing).

So what I wanted to say tonight is this: If you've commented on any posts in the past and I haven't responded or seen your comments appear on the blog, THIS is why. I feel like a bad hostess, and I will now be checking this sidebar file with regularity to ensure it doesn't happen again. I am truly grateful to anyone who reads my writings or looks at my pics and cares enough to leave a comment. 

After all, writing is nothing if there's no one to read it. And that goes for comments as well as posts! 

Again, my sincere apologies. There are people I've missed hearing from. And if you are a blogger, be sure and check the "comments" sidebar on your main page, so the same thing doesn't happen to you, too! 

Wednesday, July 21, 2021

That time of year


Heat Dome.

I like summer, but can honestly say it's not my FAVORITE time of year, unlike many Oregonians. This is because 1) I don't always appreciate the heat, even if it's just for a brief time, and 2) I adore autumn, so that's in my number one slot. But summer is my busiest time of year, for sure. We're out working on the property first thing in the morning, and back at again in the evening, until the sun sets at about 9 pm.

This is the third summer for my garden at this address, so it's the year when perennial plants really hit full steam, like when your kids turn 18 and seem to grow more lovely or handsome every day. This year it's the olallieberries that have really hit their stride. I grew these plants back in Paso Robles and I thought they did well there, getting a bit bigger than when I planted them and producing enough berries that I was able to sell a few pounds to the winery where I worked over a seven year period. What did I know? Bupkis, as my grandmother would say. My Olallieberry plants here in Oregon are three times the size of my plants in CA, and they are half their age. I have HUGE berries (larger than my thumb) here, too. By the time they're as old as my plants in Paso we'll be getting lost inside the tangle of vines and calling 911 for help to come get us out.

So, a little history: Olallieberries were created right here in this part of Oregon in the 1950's, hybridized as a cross between the Blackberry and the Youngberry. After field testing them here, they were sold mostly to growers in CA, as they didn't produce well in the cool Oregon summers. But with climate change, the Willamette Valley has become an ideal place for these guys. So I guess there's an upside to everything. During the recent "heat dome" event my Oregon Marionberries wilted and died back to the ground, killing all their fruit in the process. The Olallieberries basically chuckled, shrugged their shoulders and stayed green and productive, with no plant stress at all -- even at 117 degrees. 

Wine + vodka + berries + sugar = delicious!

But what to do with all the berries? For us, they went into jam first, and then into an alcoholic berry cordial called Cremé de Mure. I made enough to give as gifts, and enough to get us through the cold winter nights coming. Cremé du Mure by the fire, anyone? Or over ice cream? Such possibilities!

I also am getting an over-abundance of cucumbers, which I'm turning into relish and these cucumber ice cubes, to add a little cucumber flavor into cocktails and mineral water throughout the year. Pop these into a cocktail at Christmastime and it will be like a little bit of July in a glass.

But as with most over-productive years, there's a dark side to nature's abundance, too. We've been over-run by gophers and voles like never before, although the raised beds and berries are all protected with underground wire, a trick I learned in CA to keep the ground squirrels out. But the holes these critters make can injure lots of animals who step in them, like my son's dogs, one of whom pulled a muscle after tripping on a hole while running back there. For a deer, horse or other hoofed animal, an injury like this can be fatal. And for us, it could mean a trip to the emergency room and a cast for six weeks.

But trapping is my least favorite activity on our little farm. It's obviously cruel to the animal (yet ironically, also more environmentally responsible than poison, which can cross species if a poisoned carcass is eaten). It's emotionally painful to anyone who has a heart, and it also has its own set of risks. After whacking my thumb last week on the lever of a rather large vole trap, I asked Big Ag to take a more active role in this task. And by "asked" I mean yelled, sniveled, and threw a temper tantrum with all nine of my working fingers, which he was quite forgiving about. I guess the first part about having a good farm is having a good marriage.

And so here we are in high summer. I'd guess we've got about a couple more months to go and then the rain will start back up and the garden will die down. But for now I'm going enjoy our abundance of vegetables and fruit and savor it all. Hope you are doing the same with your summer.


Friday, June 25, 2021

Is life just too hard now?

 So in my former career as a newspaper columnist, it was more or less my job to  ponder The Big Things -- you know, the things that people think about at three o'clock in the morning, or when they watch the evening news, or when they're sharing a bottle of wine with friends and modern issues come up. That stuff was my bread and butter.

Probably what makes me different than the Average Jane or Joe is that the journalist in me is always on the lookout for something that connects seemingly random stories together. You have to be careful with this, because it can lead you down conspiracy rabbit holes if you're not careful. But sometimes,   a + b +c = d does in fact work. Other times, not so much. 

What I've been thinking about recently are things like the homeless crisis, mass shootings, people becoming more extremist in their political views and opinions, and the Trump Presidency. So what's my over-arching theory on why all these things are connected? It's this: Life has gotten too difficult now, on some level. And everything I listed above, whether triggered by rage, frustration, or a nostalgic longing for an America that no longer exists, is how people are dealing with it. 

While there's no question we live in a time where certain things have never been more convenient, we are more disconnected from society than ever in other ways. Sure, online banking is fast and convenient...until you have an issue which requires you speak to a live customer service representative, in which case you will need to mow through layers of computerized voice technology before you can find a true, live human voice to speak with. 

As for our phones and computers, there is no question how many more things we are able to keep track of now, whether it's our kids' whereabouts, the current location of a package we ordered, or whether or not we paid the electric bill last month.

But take away those devices, just for a few days, and we're no longer able to function in the world. This naturally leaves us feeling vulnerable and even anxious -- our entire lives are maintained by machines now, with breakable parts and limited lifespans.

I'm sure many of us have seen someone have a meltdown over a dropped phone, and we all get it. Because a phone is SO much more than a phone now. It's your life in there. 

Let's face it, ours is the first generation that has not had other live humans as their first line of defense to help us out during difficult times. We have machines. Heck, if you call your pastor in on a crisis nowadays you'll probably have to go through his voicemail first. That's just the way it is.

Look at our parents' lives as an example of how much simpler it used to be: They paid their rent or mortgage and the gas/water/electric bill all by US mail or in person, and shopped for groceries at the local grocery store. They didn't pay for cable, because it didn't exist, and regular TV was free. Not everyone had a car, often a couple of limited means shared one and just lived close enough to conveniences that it didn't matter. Married couples could generally get by on one income. Medical bills didn't bankrupt anyone because insurance was better AND both hospitals and medical insurance companies operated as non-profit entities, generally run by religious denominations. 

Life may have been more limited in some ways, sure. But it was simpler. Much simpler. 

I think a lot of Donald Trump's win in 2016 and the fact that about 65 million Americans voted for him again in 2020 is tied into just that. Trump personified the values of 1960's America, and that appealed (and still appeals) to a lot of people troubled by life today. (never mind the issues faced by minorities and women in the 60's, nostalgia generally focuses on the best of an era, not its issues).

I think some homelessness may be tied to the same root problem. At a certain point, life became too hard for many of these people, and they opted for the simpler life of tent dwelling rather than trying to deal with the complexities of 21st century America. Because, contrary to what many think, your average homeless encampment is filled with more than just the drug addicts and mentally ill. There are many people, not unlike ourselves, now choosing to remain houseless, car-less, bill-less, and tax-less. They have less comfort, but more peace. And we need to ask that is possible?

As for the mass shootings, I can tell you this, shared with me by a zoologist friend. When you cage up a few primates in a zoo enclosure, they generally establish a pecking order fairly quickly and do very well together for as long as the group remains stable. But if you keep adding additional primates to a point where the enclosure becomes overcrowded, behavior changes. Eventually a significant portion of the members (mostly males) will begin waging war on the others, often in explosive anger. They're still being fed, and they still have shelter. They are just over-stimulated. They're not picky when they choose their victims, but usually choose other members of the group too old, small, or vulnerable to fight back. And they will kill if allowed to do so, as their way of coping with the stress of their situation. Sound familiar?

Perhaps we just have too many monkeys in this cage, and we're asking too much of them -- us. Would a life that is simpler, with more personal contact, make a difference in our society? Would less technology and more person-to-person interaction help relieve some frustration and anger? I don't know, but I do know that these shootings were almost non-existent 50 years ago, and I think we need to ask ourselves why. 

We also need to ask ourselves whether the conveniences a contactless life outweigh the disadvantages, especially after this pandemic. It's a discussion we need to have. But more than you and I, it needs to be discussed as a society, so we can see if there's a way to re-engage with our neighbors and those we do business with in real life,  rather than via message boards, phone menu systems, and text alerts. 

Our sociological survival may depend on us listening and speaking to each other -- as we've done for eons -- in person, live and in real time.

Saturday, June 5, 2021

Freshly Washed

So here we are smack in the middle of 2021, the unofficial start to the Roading 20's -- 21st Century Edition. I don't know about you, but for me 2021 just feels...more, somehow. Like the world has been freshly-washed and hung out in the sunshine. All the good things seem magnified. Lunches, graduations, shopping trips and vacations feel more joyful than I remember them. Strolling around outside feels even better than I remember it did in 2019 and 2020. 

Perhaps taking a year off from normal life reset some kind of magic button and we're realizing the joy in things we once took for granted, or even resented, Exhibit A being close proximity to our fellow man. Or maybe it's finally casting off the fear of sickness and death now that we're all (mostly) vaccinated. This all being the case, this summer should be one for the books.

I took my first post-pandemic trip a couple weeks ago, from Oregon to California. Even the airplane ride was nicer than I remember; flight attendants noticeably less bitter and resentful, in-flight pretzels that seemed fresher and crunchier. Is that even possible? We flew direct from Portland to Santa Barbara, and I have to admit I felt a wave of joy wash through me when I stepped out that quaint little Spanish tiled air terminal and smelled that warm and windy air again. And bonus points to you, California, for not being on fire at the time. 

We spent a couple of days in Santa Barbara, a place where I spent a good deal of my weekends back when I lived in Los Angeles, and what amazed me was how little it changed -- well, the waterfront and beach, anyway.  I know the city has grown, but it's still quiet at the beach on weekdays, and still a magnet for the most physically fit and beautiful Californians who dwell among us, the water just as warm and the temperatures just as lovely. 

After a couple of days there we headed north to Paso Robles, where we spent the next five days reconnecting with old friends, enjoying the sunshine, and visiting all our old haunts. We ended in Cambria almost as much as Paso Robles, just because, well, Cambria is always a fun place to visit, and the hiking around that area can't be beat.

Paso Robles has changed a lot since we left, and not necessarily for the better, but we did get to enjoy some ziplining in Santa Margarita and the Sensorio light show outside Paso. Downtown Paso is a bit worse for the wear, and so many old stores have been replaced with bougie piano bars, expensive rustic-looking restaurants and boutiques I couldn't even count them all. 

In a way, seeing all that gave me some closure with leaving, because sometime in the three years since I'd been gone I think I'd idealized it a bit, and seeing the reality of it reminded me that while 2012 Paso Robles WAS a town I loved living in, 2021 Paso is not. There's just too many inconveniences that come from living in a "wine country destination," so I'm happy we got out when we did. But it has become a true tourist destination now, which is probably great for the local economy.

Safe to say, we've just begun our traveling now that it's safe to move about the country. Our next excursion is heading to Walla Walla, WA for some touring around and wine tasting. It will be interesting to see how it compares to Paso Robles in terms of pricing and accommodations. But with our mid-week airfare to Santa Barbara just $89 bucks each way, I'm thinking my old escape destination of SB may live again as my new one. I could certainly see sticking my toes in the sand and warm water some mid-February morning and forgetting all the clouds and rain of the Willamette Valley. 

So stay tuned. Like many of you, I think we're going to have a fantastic 2021, doing all the old things but maybe in a new, and more appreciative way. 

Took the train back...beautiful scenery!

Friday, April 9, 2021


 I love the way the English language sometimes creates a link between two things that make sense...the word "season" being one of them. I think seasons are to the planet what seasonings are to food. You know, the way thyme, oregano, and parsley turn plain spaghetti sauce into your grandmother's secret recipe? That's what seasons do, here on earth. Your backyard becomes more than your backyard at the first sign of color, whether it's the pastels of spring, the rich greens of summer or the warm amber tones of autumn.

As far as planetary seasonings go, spring is one of my favorites. In this area, after a winter full of gray, it's nice to see these kind of outrageous pops of color everywhere. I don't know if it was pioneers planting along the old wagon trails and homesteads (that's the rumor among the locals), or ODOT, or guerrilla gardeners did it, but the medians of the highways, the fields, and dirt curbs are all exploding right now with bright yellow daffodils, scattered about here, there and everywhere, all blooming right now. 

It makes even the most mundane drive up Interstate 5 pleasant, especially when you throw in the blossoms from all the trees which adorn the sides of the roadways as well. The seasonings of the season indeed.

There's something innately hopeful about planting daffodils by the side of the road -- or planting anything, really --  trees, vegetables, or even the act of having kids. It's betting on the future; something that certainly isn't easy in these times of ours but probably has never been a 100 percent guaranteed success at any point in history, really.

 Planting is an act which says, "I believe there will be a future good enough for this plant to survive." Having kids is the same. I have no idea what kind of mindset or lives the babies being born today will have. But the fact that they exist says that, yes, there is still hope in the world. Hope for daffodils and hope that someone will be around to see them. I like that. 

We've added our own dash to hope to the mix recently, in planting a collection of mature trees in our property: five new sunset maples, five pines, two white birches, four dwarf Japanese maples, and a Kelly's Gold Maple out front, to replace the one that died in the ice storm in February. These trees were professionally rescued from a neighborhood vineyard using a giant tree spade. It was sad that wine grape expansion on the property meant they had to go. But the vineyard's loss is our gain. 

I'm not sure they'll all make it, or what their long term prognosis will look like, as it's early on and they must survive this summer, which may be difficult for a newly transplanted 15 year-old tree. If they do well they will likely outlive me, which is nice to know. They will require a HUGE amount of watering this summer due to their size of their rootballs (we needed a tractor with a backhoe to plant them) but like any other future-based activity, it's a prospect full of hopes, dreams and maybe just a little insanity.

Someday I hope to sit in their shade with a cool glass of something alcoholic at the end of a nice day and listen to their leaves in the wind. Will they make it? We don't know right now, but like all planting projects at their start, we're optimistic and a little dreamy about it. It was the same with our kids, and look how well that turned out. Sometimes optimism proves true, so let's hope it's the same here. 

Like anything in life, whether it's planting trees, a garden, or a family, it's the act of starting something new that creates the seasoning in our own lives -- a little kick of spice or a surprise burst of flavor which makes the mundane new again. The hillsides by the highway look sweet and inviting, and our back pasture beckons with the promise of future shade. That's how things look today, anyway. I'll take it. 

And so to all of you, may your spring be colorful, your food flavorful and your garden plentiful! Happy spring.