Thursday, August 28, 2014
Anything But Old-School
Yellow pencils and watches are old-school, you know. Most people eschew both in favor of mechanical writing devices and cell phones, because, you know, pencils need to be sharpened, and watches are so limited. All watches do is keep one informed of the time.
But what happens to those folks out there who still have the audacity to not want a pencil that clicks, or who wants to be able to see instantly how much time remains before the start of a baseball game, without having to fish through one’s pocket for a phone, which must then be turned on and consulted, only to find out it is anywhere but in one's pocket? Thank-you, I’ll pass.
I know you will tell me that watches are still available and that one can still find pencils, even if the erasers on said pencils are as effective as rubbing a penny across something you would like erased, because they are as hard as granite.
The problem isn’t that I can’t find a watch, the problem is I cannot find a watch that does not also have the day of the month feature included on the face of the watch. And I have found pencils also, but only in bins of merchandise clearly marked “discontinued.” How long is that going to go on?
There are countless other practical items that have faded from the landscape, but a watch with a plain face and a pencil with a planed tip seemed like they would be available forever. Why does someone who is retired have to worry about what day of the month it is? And what about the classroom pencil sharpener for the kids? No longer necessary? Is nothing sacred?
I would tend to lump these sorts of trivial concerns under the category of suck it up, except that it bugs me that no one ever asks the public’s opinion. OK, so I would still come out on the short end of the stick and I appreciate that, but how about a small compromise?
Can we just still manufacture a few of these old-school items, at least until these same old-school folks have sauntered off into the sunset, the sunset that can never be anything but old-school?
Saturday, August 23, 2014
All About the Tomatoes
I first canned tomatoes in the fall of 1974, when I was living in San Jose, going to San Jose State, the year after I got out of the military. We planted six things in our back yard, one of them being tomatoes, and the tomatoes went ballistic, producing enough fruit for me to can six cases of quart jars, half cold-pack, the other half, hot-pack.
I didn’t know anything about making sauce or puree or ketchup, just the tomatoes. With quarts of tomatoes, I could do anything. We were a vegetarian household, not because of philosophy or religious reasons, but purely from an economical perspective. We could not afford to eat meat.
The only time we ate meat the summer of 1974 was on the Fourth of July, when we walked the couple of miles to the local grocery store and bought steaks for everyone in the household. I’m sure they were sirloin-tipped at best, on our budget, but when barbecued up properly, and served with salad and corn, it was the bomb.
With jars of tomatoes, I knew what I was doing. Somewhere in this time period, I developed and perfected my lifelong ability to cook a mean chicken cacciatore, beginning with the onions, peppers, mushrooms, garlic, seasonings and tomatoes, and then adding it all to the browned chicken, and simmering it on top of the stove until everything was tender. It was all about the tomatoes.
We added tomatoes to our home-made soups, and then started making soups by adding things to the tomatoes. We never got tired of trying new recipes and to do so, we needed lots of tomatoes.
Now I live on a farm where we have planted fields of every variety of tomato imaginable, with emphasis on specific varieties being used for specific purposes. We don’t can the Heirlooms as a rule, because they are for market, and we don’t take the Heinz tomatoes in to town to sell because they are for the ketchup.
Annie takes the little drying tomatoes with her when she is in Willits, to take advantage of the electricity to use her dehydrator. We can do them up on the mountain, but it is a strain on the solar system because it has to go 24/7.
What I spend a lot of time doing with tomatoes these days is washing, coring, cutting up, heating up, and grinding them through the mill to remove all seeds and skins. Then I cook them down to thicken the sauce.
It’s an art, especially if you do not have the large saucepans needed, at least ten-gallon, fifteen being better. The sauce needs to cook at a low heat for at least thirty-six hours, which just means that if you can combine four smaller saucepans into one huge one, it’s just that much more efficient, even if I still need two burners to heat the big dude. It’s better than four burners to keep four smaller pans going.
For puree, or what we call pizza sauce, it’s another twelve hours or so. It’s very thick and works for pizza, meatball sandwiches, and to thicken up regular sauce if it’s too watery. We usually can it in half-pints.
For ketchup it’s three days of cooking down and then you add the spices and whatever you are going to use to sweeten it with. Everyone has different tastes when it comes to ketchup, and everyone has an opinion on what should be used to sweeten it with. You just have to figure out what works best and go with it. All I know is that any recipe we have ever looked at requires way more sweetener than what we end up adding.
So now it is August, my back needs frequent breaks on the recliner, and the root cellar has twenty-five cases of different processed goods, waiting to be sold at market or placed into CSA shares. It is a remarkable development here at Happy Day Farms, and it’s only August. We have two more months of processing to go.
Thursday, August 7, 2014
Another Chapter in the Book of Life
The deed is done and done well-gallantly even. They came, we worked, we laughed, we tried not to cry and we spent a fair amount of time running various scenarios through our collective memories. We shook our heads in amazement, occasionally, but not with any disrespect, only with an ever-expanding wonder at the depth and breadth of all that we found.
We were cleaning the big house up here on Bell Springs Road, three of my siblings, a bro-law and a sweet-niece, working industriously for much of one day and a long second day, trying to get a handle on a lifetime’s possessions. I might say accessories because Pauline has already taken those things most precious with her, first to Willits and then on to Windsor, but again, the last thing I-or any of us-wanted to do was trivialize either her possessions or her request.
By getting a handle on a lifetime’s possessions, I simply mean to take everything of any personal value to Pauline, box it up, and make it available to her over time, for her to peruse and decide what she would like to have done with it. We have consistently refused to express spoken blame or criticism of our matriarch at her lack of foresight to this inevitable step that we are taking. For those who would criticize her for failing to deal more realistically with her things earlier in life, I would respond that she never saw the time coming when she would no longer have access to her home on the mountain.
Mama is ninety-one and very frail, physically. Intellectually, she can still function very well, thank you very much, but any excursion outside of the assisted-living facility in which she dwells, is very challenging for all involved. It’s one of the reasons we are all so pleased that she has adapted to her surroundings so well, and the people within those walls.
The idea that she would be able to make the long trek up here again is just unthinkable-there are too many issues which arise every day, that would make the whole venture not only unsafe, but downright hazardous. We were dealing with a home that has not been lived in for going on three years. The results were predictable, but not insurmountable.
The house has been the scene of a rodent-fest, with the little varmints invading every part of the dwelling, searching out food and material with which to build their nests. They found an abundance of both. Again, this is not a criticism, only an observation; I have no desire to offend anyone, in any way.
Our job was to sort, analyze each item for emotional connections to Herself, classify and distribute to a number of potential destinations. I won’t go through all of the minutiae of the process, but just ponder the books for a moment, if you will. Vast, unlimited quantities of action-packed thrillers, dramas, classics, who-done-its, and an endless list of other topics and genres.
Both Robert and Pauline were already lifetime readers, and moving up on a mountain, where the winters are long and cold, only fostered this occupation. Pauline dabbled in exchanging books with The Book Juggler in Willits and a few other used bookstores, but she always brought more home than she took back.
But brother Eric has taken on the mantle of going through the books, keeping the ones he wants, making available others to family members, and finding homes for the rest. For quite a while there, books were being boxed up and relocated, but it was such a time-consuming endeavor, that it was deemed appropriate that Eric take care of the business of the books himself.
But there were countless other instances of specific items that would have no value to Pauline, being distributed to any one of many piles. Of course, much of the contents are slated for the local Goodwill in Willits, along with the Senior Center in the old complex where Pauline lived for a bit over two years. Many household items, such as the dishes, pans, silverware and cleaning utensils were simply left as is. Pauline doesn’t need any more dishes, and the next person to live in the house just may.
So what we accomplished is the complete removal and close examination of the contents of the house. The women spent much of their time going through the office and Pauline’s room, packing up correspondence, photo albums, keepsakes and personal papers. They went through Pauline’s wardrobe and gathered a selection of items to supplement what was already in Windsor, and they boxed everything up for her to look at.
Kevin kept the pace lively and even took the first selection of goodwill items down to Willits to get the ball rolling. Isabel never stopped packing, hauling, moving, maneuvering and just plain putting the pedal to the metal. Michael was everywhere, moving mountains of valuables to their respective spots. We got a huge boost from Nathanielito who showed up the first day to help with the moving and brought a trailer with him, hooked up to his truck. It was inevitable that there would be unusable items and items damaged by rodents, so it nice to have the means to dispose of these things. Casey and Amber got into the act, loading up their truck with recycling and agreeing to facilitate the removal of the rest of the items going to Goodwill.
There was a great deal of humor, simply because it is far more acceptable to conceal deeper feelings through humor than through pathos. It was harder for those of us who spent a lot of time over the years up at the big house.
Laura and I reminisced that we used to pack up the families and head over to the big house whenever we would get those three dayers in, snowstorms that would go non-stop for three days. We’d watch films, play bridge, the boys and their cousin, Erin Rose, would play with the Leggos and read books, and we’d eat and drink. Those are the times that I think back most fondly on the big house.
I must admit that I found the whole cleansing process much easier than I might have thought. The only time I struggled with my emotions was the first time I wandered out to the gate to the orchard to indulge in a quick dose of my medication. While thus engaged, I glanced out over the orchard and was stunned to see that it had completely returned to the jungle that existed, before we reurrected it a few years ago, and fired up Robert’s old garden.
Now the blackberries have once more stormed the walls and retaken the orchard, and it made me want to break down and cry. Not the house, not the contents of the house, but the orchard. All of the weed-eating I did, and all of the effort to keep the trees watered and nurtured, and it would all have to be done again. Someday.
We all agreed when the work was done that Pauline’s wishes had been carried out to the max, and that everything that could have been done to protect the integrity of the process, had indeed, been accomplished.
Pauline now has the knowledge that the chapter of her life up here on Bell Springs Road is over. It may be over but it is not forgotten. She spent the last thirty-five years up on the mountain that she did not want to live on in the first place, and I have to believe they were good years.
We packed up a lot of good memories in those boxes but we couldn’t pack up the memories we hold in our minds and that’s a good thing. We’ll carry those memories around with us and they will be one thing that we won’t have to worry about packing up when we go.
Sunday, August 3, 2014
A few of my siblings and I are going to gather in a couple of days to clean up the big house, so as to possibly rent it out as a source of income. The big house was the term given to the folks’ cinder-block home, up here on the ridge, back in the day when there were mostly little houses.
Pauline is ninety-one years old and residing in an assisted-living situation in Windsor, a site that allows her to thrive in an environment surrounded by others who can do most things, but need a little help with a few details along the way.
However, it is a fairly costly venture. In an effort to accomplish several goals simultaneously, it was deemed appropriate that some care and attention be given to the original homestead up here on Bell Springs Road, if for no other reason than the house will deteriorate quickly without such maintenance.
However, there are several other reasons for undertaking this endeavor and one is that Pauline still has most of her possessions up at this house. Now it’s not practical for her to import them to her studio apartment in Windsor, because she has already filled that one to capacity, but she would still like to see some flexibility, so that she might be delivered a box or two of possessions from Bell Springs, in exchange for a comparable amount of goods being exported.
If it sounds kind of complicated, it beats the alternative of transporting her up to the house. First of all, she is a very frail individual. The ride would be uncomfortable and interminable. Second, the house itself is not a healthy environment for a person of her fragile nature. There are steps, stairs and unconventional features to the big house that make it impractical.
I do understand that she may have need of information, documentation, books, videos, etc. so we are happy to make those arrangements. So the main goal for this upcoming venture is to sort, classify, clean and relocate, so as to make the place available for rent, and to present to Pauline a list of the contents so that she can determine if there is something she is in need of.
I think our crew is up for the task. Kevin is joining us and his presence will be valuable. As an eleven-something year old, Kevin moved with Robert and Pauline from the San Gabriel Valley in SoCal, to this mountain ridge in northern Mendocino County, where he lived until after he had graduated from Laytonville High School and traipsed off to Santa Clara university.
J.T. is coming from Sebasketball to lend a hand and she’s such a good organizer that I am sure we are miles ahead before we even start. If we are lucky enough to have Mikey here too, we will be that much further ahead of the game.
Laura and Isabel are coming from Redding and are key to the whole process. Laura will be sifting through sheet music for one thing and the two of them always bring their own inner music to any venue, even if it’s a house-cleaning, three-day event.
We are assembling a shop vacuum cleaner, latex gloves, masks, garbage sacks, new empty boxes, mops, buckets, cleansers, scrubbers and vast unlimited quantities of good booze and drugs. OK, the last sentence is just my imagination running amok. Sounds inviting, though.
The folks doing the cleaning are not making any decisions, believe me. I am in no position to be doling out the possessions of my parents, nor am I interested in preventing anyone else from acquiring a beloved memento from his or her childhood.
All I am interested in accomplishing is putting the past behind us and moving forward in a direction that works for everyone. I am also taking notes and paying close attention.
One thing I can assure you is that when it comes time for me to join in the Eternal Bleachers in the sky, there will be minimal detritus remaining from my time here on the earth. Life’s complicated enough when you have to keep track of your own stuff, let alone someone else’s.
That being said, rest assured, Pauline, that your possessions are in good hands, and we will look after your things.
Sunday, June 29, 2014
My Drug of Choice; Hint: It's Not Alcohol
I’m taking Sunday off from Kate Wolf and her festival. I enjoyed Friday immensely, but had some hard times Saturday, some of them completely unnecessary. I do understand how logistically cumbersome the whole arrangement must be, and that certain formalities must be in place, but the reality is, individuals control various components of the fair, and there lies the rub.
Give a person a position of authority or control, and watch him or her go to town. Even if there are three people involved in the process, the one with the need for power and control will assert his or her influence over the situation.
Take the two “checkpoints” at the entrances to the main stage area. Please. The purpose would appear to be to prevent alcohol from being transported into the venue, for obvious reasons. All well and good. The organizers are not interested in inebriation abounding.
So in achieving egress and ingress from the main area for entertainment and food, one must clear the “checkpoint,” over and over again. There are three persons of both genders controlling the entry-points, and there is generally a steady current of festival attendees flowing through the checkpoints.
Thousands of people attend this event and one of the most challenging of logistical elements deals with the banks of porta-potties, which are clean, well-maintained and sufficient in number to handle the numbers. But you must leave the main stage area to get to them, and then return once again. So every time you need to use the restroom, you must pass through the checkpoint(s).
It was in the nineties yesterday; Annie and I hydrated ourselves with water brought from home in twelve-ounce bottles, and we brought a lot. Most remained in the truck, but we always had from a few, to as many as a half-dozen water bottles with us at all times. Annie’s issues with cancer require that she drink vast amounts of water every day. I personally drink three liters a day.
Consequently, we needed to make that jaunt to the bathrooms pretty regularly. Of course, we had our chairs set up in the main stage area, so they could remain there when we left the area, but we did not want to leave the backpack behind, for obvious reasons.
In addition to the the water, we had our food. Annie being a Celiac, cannot eat the cuisine featured at the festival, despite efforts in past years. She found that the food sickens her. No problem. We bring our own.
I have no food allergies, but still find the food offered at the festival to be unappealing to me. I mean, hey. Who’s going to argue with Indian, Greek, Ghanian, and an assortment of vegan and gluten-free food, from which to choose?
I mean, anyone besides me. I do not apologize for my lack of adventure when it comes to food. I do not care for curry; I do not care for lamb, and I detest the smell of garlic fries. Garlic permeated the area.
There was a booth selling sandwiches, but the only thing I found to be conventional [to me] was the BLT. There was also a pizza booth featuring gluten-free pizza, but what about something as bizarre as organic hamburgers, with cheese, or a turkey on sourdough bread sandwich, with tomatoes and lettuce? Just asking. Political correctness need not spill over into food.
The point is we chose to bring in our own grub, along with water and whatever else we crammed into the backpack. I even informed the over-zealous guards that I did indeed have my drug of choice with me, but that it was not alcohol-it was reefer.
I do not like to think that I was singled out because of my somewhat unorthodox appearance ( I rock a prominent mustache), but I have little other recourse. I watched countless people stream through, unmolested, and then Annie and I get accosted. We are interrogated, and I have people I do not know, rummaging through my personal belongings. And I certainly do not feel it’s anyone’s business, why we choose to bring our own food with us. I owe no medical explanation to anyone but my doctor.
I did not have a drop of alcohol to drink all day, so they could not have smelled it on my breath. I was walking by Annie’s side, holding her hand, and I was quiet and obliging.
What purpose is served by me having to repeatedly subject my personal belongings to the gropings of strangers? Call off the dogs and let us pee in peace.
Saturday, June 14, 2014
This is the seventeenth in a series of posts on Happyday Farms, the CSA (Community Sponsored Agriculture) located up here on Bell Springs Road, run by Casey, Amber, Lito and Courtney.
All Year Round
One of the goals from the beginning, back in the early seventies, when we first came up to Bell Springs from the south, was to ultimately find a way of making a living, all year round, on the property upon which we were dwelling. It was one thing to be able to work steadily from May though October, doing carpentry, concrete and any other outdoor work we could get our hands on, but what about when the rain-and snow-set in? How were we supposed to make a living then?
The first May when Casey and Amber began selling shares of produce, the plan called for them to go as far into the fall/winter as they could, and then call it macaroni when they just couldn’t come up with enough produce for the requisite number of shares. But a funny thing happened on the way to autumn, and the time never came when they actually pulled the plug.
So how does an organic farm manage to keep growing fresh produce, especially the tender greens used both for green salads and for cooking, all year round? Think greenhouses and you are halfway there. Now when you think about the average, run-of-the-mill greenhouse, you’re probably talking twenty-thirty feet long, by ten or twelve feet wide.
Not so with Happyday Farms. I mean there are a couple the size of which I just mentioned, but the greenhouse that I am specifically thinking of is closer to eighty feet long, by twelve feet wide. Though at first glance, it would appear to be a single unit, this greenhouse is actually not one, but two greenhouses simply melded together to form one.
Beginning with two parallel rows of metal stakes, twelve feet apart, twenty-foot lengths of inch-and-a-half white poly-pipe are inserted over one of the metal stakes, at one end of the line of stakes, and then bent with enough force, to place the opposite end of the white pipe over one of the matching metal stakes, twelve feet away. In this way, once twenty or so of these plastic pipes are similarly inserted, four feet apart, the arch is formed, over which the greenhouse cloth will be draped.
How does the greenhouse cloth get fastened to the base of the greenhouse? Once the twenty plastic arch pieces are in place, twenty-foot long hunks of two-by-four doug fir are fastened to the base of the arch-pieces, with plumber’s tape wrapped around the round plastic pipe and screwed into the fir. The two-by-fours stretch along the ground, the length of the greenhouse on both of the outside walls of poly-pipe.
Then lengths of metal railing are fastened to the outside of the twenty-foot-long two-by-fours, and the cloth is inlaid into the rails with wavy, wire fasteners that make it impossible for the cloth to pull out of the rails. It’s fairly complicated, with a little sophistication thrown in, but it’s a formula for success. It allows crops to be grown inside in the coldest of temperatures.
The compost used inside the greenhouse is very hot, and is constantly emitting heat and that helps when the cold sets in. That is how even the tenderest of greens will make it through the cold times.
Another technique for being able to fill the Happyday Farms shares is to obtain organic produce from another source and include that produce as a supplement to what is grown on the farm. Casey buys potatoes from Irene at the Hogfarm, for instance, and that is a help.
Ultimately, Casey wants to include such after-market products as tomato sauce, tomato ketchup, pizza sauce, and other products that can be put up using crops grown on the farm. I would love to be a part of that, because I always can cases and cases of tomatoes and the sauces I mentioned above.
I just think of it as job security, and I’m grateful I’m not handling a shovel.
Thursday, June 12, 2014
This is the sixteenth in a series of posts on Happyday Farms, the CSA (Community Sponsored Agriculture) located up here on Bell Springs Road, run by Casey, Amber, Lito and Courtney.
I am only an observer in the theater which constitutes Happyday Farms, someone who stays well out of the way, and who tries to lasso a few images with my camera that I can share with those who take an interest in the availability of fresh, healthy food options.
In an era where one can no longer trust the local grocery store to provide wholesome produce, it’s nice to know where you can turn, to guarantee that you and your family have access to a healthy alternative. So preparing for market in Laytonville on Mondays, presents organized frenzy as the theme of the day, and the fact that everyone knows his or her role, paves the way.
There are at least five individuals handling the harvesting, cleaning, prepping, packaging and final preparations for hooking up CSA members with their shares. CSA, or Community-Sponsored Agriculture, is a program that links consumers with the small, organic farmer, so that each week, a share of fresh produce awaits customers at market. Additionally, Courtney sets up tables for displaying fresh produce in town, for anyone who stops by to purchase.
I focus on snapshots of the harvesting and cleaning process, and I also takes pics of what is growing on the farm on that day. Each Monday, when I post from 15-20 pics on face-book, I include images of flowers, rows of greens or brassicas, and I post a lot of photos of tomatoes growing. I am convinced we will have red tomatoes in early July, if not late June with the heat we have been experiencing.
As far as the CSA goes, in a perfect world, the consumer pays in advance, so that the farmer not only does not have to wait for harvest, he also has the money in hand to continue the operation of the farm. In either case, the cost of the share is always going to be less than what it would have cost to go to the hippie store in Ukiah and buy the same produce. Plus, it’s fresher.
One facet of Market day includes the gathering together of everyone at noon for a big spread, prepared by Annie. There is always a green salad and fresh veggies from the farm, and there is always a main entree, most often than not, comprised of meat grown on the farm.
Considering how much there is to be done prior to lunch, there is always a collective sigh of relief when the pace returns to normal. And this is only for the market in Laytonville, on Mondays. There is the Wednesday market at the quarry, and in past years there was the Harris market on Fridays.
I think Harris may be left off the ticket this season, but there will certainly be a replacement, maybe Willits, which has been in the discussion for years, and maybe a different environment entirely. With such a bountiful and beautiful assortment of goods available, Happyday Farms would fit happily into any comparable venue.