Sunday, November 07, 2010

The Big Move, part 2

Um. So, I kind of decided to move to WordPress. You can see my new blog, designed by my awesome husband, at Woo! Plus, all my photos, posts, and comments made the switch as well. Yay! So update your RSS feeds, your blogrolls, and all other assorted stuff, because after 5 full years here at blogger I'm closing up shop.

Saturday, November 06, 2010

Extended Massive Organism

One of the tasks we're tackling, living in this house, is the scourge of the violet.

Wild violets grow in this yard like...well, like weeds. Which is what they are. I think there was a little patch of them in one of the beds when we first moved into this house in 1989, and I think my mom has been fighting the spread of the dread violet ever since. And they're not even the pretty kind of violet; they don't even get nice flowers or anything. As you can see, the violets are a formidable enemy. They propagate by sending runners above the ground or below the ground via a connected root system, and they turn up just about everywhere.

The violets are also a bit creepy because every new plant that comes up puts up the new leaves as weird crumpled pod-like things before they unfurl into leaves. I'd already pulled most of the violets in one of the beds before I took the photos, but you can get an idea of what they look like here. (Also, you can get an idea of the amount of insect life in this yard. Each of these beds is full of earthworms, snails, slugs, and sow bugs, not to mention ants, spiders, and all sorts of other things. It's a good thing I'm not wigged out by multiple-legged, wiggly, or single-footed organisms.)

Violets come up in every nook, cranny, crack, and crevice in just about every part of the yard here. They even split the railing of the bed, as you can see in this photo, and because the root systems come up from inside the wood I can't even get a good enough grasp on them to pull them out. I'm convinced that all of these violets are clones of each other and there's some sort of extended root system that exists all over the yard, the sentient creature putting up babies everywhere to see where they might catch hold next.

It's not enough to pull up a violet by the root, because there are so many runners under the ground in addition to the ones above the soil. I'm practically going to have to completely replace the soil in one of the beds in order to get rid of the violets in it, and I have no idea how I'll get rid of the ones that grow between the stepping stones along the pathways. Maybe it will be a losing battle, and the Borg Violet Collective will win this match.

The violets are not the only things attempting to take over the yard. The blackberry brambles, which have likewise tried to take root on our property for over twenty years now, have been sneaking in underneath the back fence from a neighbor's yard. Blackberries are prickly and painful, so you have to wear thick gloves when trying to remove them, and they send out surface and root runners as well. We pulled some out of the back lawn this afternoon, in addition to catching the latest runner on the move, complete with multiple root clumps every few feet.

We had a few days of rain last week, and afterward, mushrooms popped up all over the place.

You know what else pops up after a rain? Sour grass.

It looks like clover, but it isn't clover. I can pull it out by the roots multiple times, and it just. keeps. growing. I've weeded the same bed six times in the last two weeks, and every day there are more sour grass shoots to be yanked. I think this is a losing battle, but for now I'm going to do my best to at least keep the weeds at a few inches tall rather than a foot or more.

(Not pictured: the morning glory that has been making a valiant effort to grow over everything in one part of the yard, including up every tree, fence, along every railing, and across every flower bed, since it was planted back in 1990. At least the morning glory is easy to pull out and pull up, and some times of the year it puts out pretty flowers. I am starting to think that maybe we should just let the violets, the blackberry, the sour grass and the morning glory duke it out for King of the Yard. When the winner meets the mint plant in the front yard, watch out, world!)

Fantasy vs Reality: The Dinner Party

At about five o'clock this afternoon, I got out the ingredients to make a pumpkin pie from scratch. I processed the pumpkin last night, and was excited to bake the first pumpkin pie of the season. I mixed up the crust ingredients, rolled them out, filled a pie pan. I mixed fresh pumpkin with egg, evaporated milk, spices, and brown sugar, and popped my pie in the oven to bake.

Meanwhile, Dan prepped the seafood gumbo and got it to cooking while he mixed biscuits, and baked the biscuits as soon as my pie was out of the oven. Our friends arrived around 6 PM, and we had a leisurely evening of drinks, food, and socializing.

* * * * * * *

At about five o'clock this afternoon, about half an hour after Dan had gotten out of a cold shower, I got out the ingredients to make a pumpkin pie from scratch. We'd already determined after looking at the hot water heater that it wasn't an issue with that, so with a sinking feeling I went out to check on the propane tank, only to find that the dial on the top of the tank read zero. Back inside, after doing a load of dishes in cold water, I began to mix the crust ingredients, only to realize that hey, not only were our hot water and our heat tied to the propane, but the stove and oven were as well. There was no way we were going to have pie, or seafood gumbo, and after a minute of trying to think of what we could make using only the microwave or the toaster oven on such short notice, we gave up.

I called my mom to tell her about the issue, and she suggested calling the energy company. They had a dedicated emergency line for after hours issues, and I spoke to someone who told me she'd have a driver call me back shortly. Meanwhile, Dan mixed up some guacamole so we'd have SOMETHING to feed our guests, and Sara and Ron arrived while I was still trying to figure out exactly what was going on with the gas situation. After speaking further with the driver, I had to call my mom back to relay our options ($150 for a weekend delivery, plus the cost of the gas vs. waiting 'til Monday and only paying $50 because of some new law that requires certain testing done any time the gas runs out.) After we got all that figured out and squared away, we went across the street to the diner and we all ate moderately tasty food.

After dinner, we came back to the house and had some chocolate, listened to Simon's band's album, and watched the cats play with toys. But I spent the entire evening mortified that the promised home-cooked meal and pumpkin pie from scratch became roast beef sandwiches and fish&chips at the diner. On the bright side, the guy from the energy company called again to tell me that because of a paperwork error on their part, they'd waive the $100 part of the $150 fee and we will have hot water, heat, a functional dryer, and a functional stove/oven at again at 9 AM tomorrow.

Thursday, November 04, 2010

Robin, Miss Robin the Brave

Princess Robin now lives on the fridge, the kitchen counter, the stereo piece next to Dan's computer, in the hall bathroom (where her litterbox is), and in our bedroom (but only when we are in there, and she won't go in or out by herself, which means every morning at 7:30 AM ON THE DOT she's jumping on our heads, pawing at the blankets, and purring, letting us know it's time for her morning constitutional and her breakfast.) She's spending more and more time exploring and voluntarily walking or running on the floor from one place to another, and has had a slap-bang time exploring the back bedroom, walk-in closet, and bathroom, where she will go if one of us brings her back there.

Yesterday, Loki was napping on the chair in the living room and Dan was at his computer and Robin just up and went on the floor. She spent quite a while there, and by quite a while I mean at least two or three minutes. She sat; she sphinx'd; she kept a close eye on Loki to make sure he wasn't going to eat her, and as soon as she saw him twitch a whisker, she was right back up on the table in a safe spot. That was about twenty seconds after I snapped this photo. But she's getting bolder every day, and maybe by the time we leave she'll be going into rooms on her own and not just leaving them.

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

Day of the dead

Oddly, one of my favorite things about this little piece of the county is the Olive Hill Cemetery, just outside of Geyserville. Next to (what else?) a vineyard, it's a pretty neat place to learn a bit more about the history of the area, as the oldest and most prominent monuments are for the long-time Italian-Swiss colony families. I went to preschool or elementary school or ballet class with kids who had some of these same names, and their many-generations-removed ancestors are buried on Olive Hill.

The hill is full of ancient oak trees, and when it rains, the moss and lichen growing all over everything adds to the spooky atmosphere. If I had were filming a low-budget horror movie, I know exactly where I'd choose to set up my camera.

Walking through a cemetery, for me, is mostly a reminder of how nothing ever stays the same. Entropy, if nothing else, breaks everything down into component parts, and even marble and granite can be eaten by lichen and crumbled to dust. The oldest graves we saw dated back to the 1870s, and a few that might have been older were no longer readable, their markers worn by rain and earthquakes and sun and dirt and squirrel poop and time.

It's interesting to walk through a cemetery and see how the fashions and styles of even something like a grave marker can change through the decades. I saw monuments made of stone, flat markers made of metal, family tombs and individualized sites, with benches, wind chimes, and other personal elements. Also, different cultural symbols. And a kitty.

Finally, there's nothing like finding the headstone of someone one's own age to make one feel mortal. This was the saddest marker in the whole graveyard. "Beloved grandson" was 5 weeks old. "Beloved son" was younger than me, and died only a few months after his newborn son.

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

A one sentence review, after viewing The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

Why did we need another Forrest Gump in which Brad Pitt reprised his character from Meet Joe Black?

Monday, November 01, 2010

Should I take this job or not?

I'm thinking of doing this again, but I'm not sure of a theme or anything. Right now I'm pretty focused on trying to find a job, so maybe my dilemma du jour will entertain.

Here's the thing.

A friend has offered me a short-term, part-time job at his company doing stuff I'm about 10 years and a degree overqualified to do, for $15/hour. He thinks it will be about 20 hours a week but could be more hours. The company is located in Berkeley, which is about 90 miles and at least a 2 hour morning/evening commute each way. They are also expanding, though honestly they don't really do anything I'm interested in professionally.

Here is my pros/cons list. Please read and tell me what you think I should do in this situation.

* It's a job. It's money coming in, though granted, not a whole lot of money
* I've been told that I can consolidate it into two weekdays and so I can just stay at a friend's house or my sister's house for the in-between night, saving myself 2 commutes. Or I could drive down on a Monday evening, work Tues/Wed, and drive back up Wed evening.
* There's a possibility of somehow finagling it into a full-time job for the company
* My friend is going out of his way to help me find work

* It's 90 miles and 2 hours each way. Even with an overnight stay or two during the week, that's still 180 miles or nearly half a tank of gas plus bridge toll and wear/tear on the car a week.
* An overnight stay or two means I'm away from home, Dan, and kitties for one or two nights a week for a job that's probably a dead end
* That's two fewer days a week I can spend looking for a full-time job that I want to be doing
* If I do get offered a full-time job, especially if soon, that means I'd be kind of screwing my friend over

Our ultimate plan is to move down to the Bay Area as soon as one of us gets a full-time job, but there's no way we could swing a move, let alone rent and everything else on $300/week, so the option of us moving for this job is not on the table.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Bread basket

When I lived in Colorado, and people asked me what part of California I was from, the easiest thing to tell them was "Bay Area" or "San Francisco." If they pushed further, I said I was from "wine country in Northern California" or "Sonoma County." Occasionally, I'd someone who would say, "Oh, Sonoma! It's like Napa!" and I would grit my teeth, nod, and smile. And secretly, I'd seethe.

Wine grapes, just before harvest. These ones were on really old vines next to the Catholic Church in Asti.

Sure, Sonoma County is known as "wine country." It's an area that grows a lot of grapes, has a lot of wineries, produces internationally award-winning wines. But it's SO MUCH MORE than just wine and grapes, and I wish there was a way to get that across in an easy shorthand.

For example, olive trees grow everywhere.

So many years of describing my home turf as "wine country" had me sort of forgetting what all else Sonoma County grows. Wine is such a convenient description, when the reality is far more complex. My years of coming all the way up here only for holiday visits didn't help matters, as I'd not had occasion to be in the area during the fall months in many years. It wasn't until I moved back here and started looking at the northern end of the county with fresh eyes that I remembered the cornucopia available just in my mom's yard.

Innards of ripe green fig, not saarlac pit.

We've had crisp and juicy yellow delicious apples, raked up tiny wrinkled past-their-prime jam plums, and I gave Dan his first-ever fresh-off-the-tree fig. There's also a peach tree, several citrus trees, and a black walnut tree next door, although those walnuts aren't really edible for anyone but the giant teasing gray squirrels that live in the yard. Walking through Healdsburg a few weeks ago while waiting for our alternator to be replaced AGAIN, we saw more apple trees, fig trees, and ancient English walnut trees, which are the kind of walnuts you buy in the baking aisle or the bulk section at the grocery store. The neighbors down the street have a pomegranate tree, as do some friends of mine with whom we visited last week, and, along with a bunch of tomatoes, they gave us one to savor. It was the best pomegranate I'd had in at least a decade.


Working on a photo project recently, Dan and I have come across quite a few typical examples of Sonoma County's bounty. Just one winery had pomegranate, persimmon, walnut, and, below, artichokes.

Persimmon, not quite ripe.

An artichoke...

is really just

a great big


I suppose it's a combination of the mild climate, with warm summers and cool, wet winters that don't really get snow, that makes this area ideal for growing food crops. When I was little, much of the land that is now given to grape vines was fruit trees or nut trees, but I guess grapes are more lucrative and so that's what everyone plants instead. I'm just glad that there are still yards and small farms and pockets of non-grape things here and there.