Dozer, the bulldog

Dozer, the bulldog
Dozer: Spring training is upon us!

Rockin' and rollin'

Rockin' and rollin'
The author of Mark's Work

Coleus flowers

Coleus flowers
Why I grow flowers

HappyDay Farms bees are happy bees.

HappyDay Farms bees are happy bees.
Air-borne bees

HeadSodBuster and BossLady at the coast

HeadSodBuster and BossLady at the coast
Love is the greatest power.

Beauty abounds!

Beauty abounds!
Heinz tomatoes, used for catsup

If you've seen one butterfly, you've seen 'em all, said no one ever.

If you've seen one butterfly,  you've seen 'em all, said no one ever.
Painted Lady

Fall Jewels

Fall Jewels
Praying mantis, attending services on a zinnia...

My souvenir from Reggae on the River, 2017

My souvenir from Reggae on the River, 2017
Something I have always wanted...

Mahlon Masling Blue

Mahlon Masling Blue
My friend and brother.

Mark's E-mail address

bellspringsmark@gmail.com

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Pay As You Exit

In this carnival called life, there are attractions that allow you to sample the goods for free, and pay as you exit the ride. Such is the defining moment of owning a pet. By owning I do not mean whose name is on the tags, but rather, whose heart is imprinted on the mind of your pet.

Every single dog lover on the planet, over the age of 14 or so, has had to suffer the pangs of that final separation. Says so in the manual-you can’t have one without the other. The more intense the friendship between human and dog, the more intense the separation.

We knew Dozer was past his seven-year shelf life, approaching his tenth birthday, and we knew that he had an enlarged heart. His panting in the middle of the night, his inverted sneezing and his throat-clearing “barks,” as raspy as any fox I have ever heard, were all indications that there was trouble in the attic.
The Doze

Our vet had been keeping us informed on what to expect for some time now, but honestly, when we ran the Doze down to Willits eight days ago, I was still only thinking that we would up the ante, and hook a brother up with some better drugs, and he would be good to go for another spell.

Why were we running him down to Willits? He had been having some “doody” issues, and when I followed him outside last Wednesday morning, the issues had not abated. Furthermore, as he headed back to the house, he was lurching in a most un-bulldog manner, alarming me that something was not right.

If it’s not right, then it must be wrong, but never could it have been more wrong than what the X-rays presented to us, when we looked at the images of Dozer’s heart and lungs. I’m no vet but it all looked bad and it was. Always big-hearted, Dozer’s heart was now almost double its original size.

Logistics aside, Dozer never returned to his mountain, except for his ashes, which will be placed in an appropriate spot. I say he never returned, but the reality is that he never left. He is in our minds and our hearts and he will never leave.

I’m not going to bore you with tales of woe and grief-not while folks all around us lost not only pets, but everything they owned. Besides, exactly how much empathy should one old fart expect, when the reality is that the dog was old, he was in poor health and he had to be released.

I would not have allowed the old boy to remain alive for my enjoyment even one minute longer, if he were really in distress. Dr. Jacobs could only assure us that he was in distress.
  
“I can make him ‘comfortable’ for a couple of weeks, but that’s it,” Dr. Jacobs said, but we were having none of it. I was not about to bring my cherished dog home, only to see him suffer side effects from the drugs, while I followed him around, trying not to weep.

[Editor’s note: Ahem.]

Right. 

Moving along, The thing I am trying to say is that it was worth every iota of pain I am feeling right now. Everything that makes me weepy in this moment, is the stuff that will make me smile for as long as I live. Why it makes me sad now is obvious. 

I am paying that price of admission, as I exit the ride but it was worth every nickel, and I will be gladly paying it for a long time to come.

At least as long as it takes for Gluten-Free Mama and I to hook up with Maggie; my guess is that there are hundreds of dogs who were displaced from the fires, looking for a good home.

We have an OK home, right now, but another dog would make it a good one. 

Dozer, Bowzer, Boo-Boo, Fat-Chaw, Biggie Fats, Biggie, Fatty, or just plain old Double D for Dozer Dawg. I miss you but I would do it again in a nano-second. 

Much love.









Sunday, October 8, 2017

A Snort of Good Bourbon

Mine is a simple existence: I get up early, I work all day and I retire to bed while the sun is still shining, at least in the summer time. I do not clock in, I have no boss and I am on-salary, which means I get paid the same each month, whether I spend my time pitch-forking soil, manicuring cannabis or processing tomatoes.
Processing marinara sauce
I work until I can work no longer; sometimes that is at five in the afternoon, and sometimes it is at noon. No one is keeping track and no one especially cares. I spent somewhere in the neighborhood of forty hours building SmallBoy’s power shed recently, spread out over three weeks.

I spent probably the same length of time processing four different kinds of after-market tomato products. Of the two jobs, surprisingly, processing tomatoes is the harder, physically, because of discomfort that sets in whenever I work at the kitchen counter.

In either case it’s all part of the master plan. For someone who professes to live in the moment, I did a good job of looking towards the future, when I first got out of the army at age 21, when I pursued the goal of obtaining a parcel of land.

I had a dream back then, one which saw me getting out of the Los Angeles Basin, and up to Northern California. My dream was not one which took place while I was asleep, but slowly grew and took form as I corresponded with various siblings about a shared vision, from 7,000 miles away.

We saw ourselves acquiring land after migrating up north, once we had finished school. I was attending San Jose State University, after relocating to San Jose to help facilitate the search, while investigating available tracts of land all over NorCal.

I recall one such venture, when I and a couple of my brothers, with their respective significant others, responded to an ad for a ten-acre parcel somewhere in Marin County. It was autumn, the ground was parched and we had to pass through three different locked gates to get to the prospective piece.

This tract of land was uninspiring, being not only dry, but rocky as well. Everywhere we walked, there were areas covered with outcroppings of rocks pushing their way up from the depths below. There were oak trees scattered sparsely, but not much in the way of vegetation. 

Nancy, a science major at San Jose State, was bothered by the telltale green streaks in the soil she kept seeing. “Serpentine soil,” was her assessment, a term I had never heard before, but one which would bode ill for growing gardens, at any point down the line.
Serpentine soil

As we drove out of the maze, following the real estate agent who had escorted us to the site, we conferred briefly, agreeing unanimously that we had not found that which we were seeking. As I remember, we continued our search that same day, circling around to East Bay, where we checked out one more piece of land, before returning home.

Though not discouraged, we also recognized that we needed to expand our horizons, which included a trip up to Brook Trails, in Willits, to look over a ridiculous piece, which went straight down one steep hillside, and back up the other side.

Clearly dismayed, we surveyed the impossible terrain and inquired, “Exactly where are we supposed to build a house?”

The real estate agent looked at us and said with a perfectly straight face, “You know, they’re doing a lot of stuff with pole-construction.”

This time we did not try to hide our disappointment. “We’re talking about building homes here, growing our own food and raising kids. Where are you coming from?”

It was not until years down the line that we understood where the dude was coming from: He thought we were looking for land to grow cannabis on. From that vantage point, he may very well have been accurate.

As fate would have it, we were only minutes away from a San Francisco Chronicle ad, which told of a ranch in Northern Mendocino County, being broken up into twenty and forty-acre parcels. We contacted the real estate office to set up a time, piled into Noel's VW van (named Molly) and made the five-hour trek from San Jose to Bell Springs Road for the first time. This was in the fall of 1975.

We made several more trips up to the Bell, one of them in December, when we were inundated with one of those classic blowers, coming in on the Pineapple Express from the South Pacific. Drenched, we made our way up to the rancher’s sprawling home, about three more parcels up the road. The rancher had been born in that house, back in the 1920's.

He was more than just neighborly. Inviting us to gather around his glowing wood stove, while we thawed out, he also offered libation, of a most warming nature. This happened to be a trip when my father came with us, after flying from La Puente in SoCal, to San Jose, where we had picked him up on our way out of Dodge.

Papa and Jerry, the rancher, were more or less the same age, and got along famously, in that first of many times they would share a snort or two of good bourbon.

Jerry did warn us, however, not to be fooled by all of the running water, which coursed along every possible avenue in the downpour. “Next August, this land will be all brown and there will be no running water, anywhere.”

He was right, of course, but we weren’t skeered and inked our names shortly afterward on three 20-acre parcels. Considering there was no water source on two of the three parcels, you might feel we got somewhat ripped off.

What do you think? Was four hundred dollars an acre too much?








Friday, October 6, 2017

"On Vacation"

Papa, on vacation, 1972

“A-a-aye, I’m on vacation
Every single day cause I love my occupation…” Dirty Heads

How many folks go off to work everyday, lunch pail in hand, with a smile on their faces? How many employed people actually enjoy their work? Conversely, how many people, do you suppose, hate their jobs with a passion, and if it weren’t for the rent, they’d chuck it all and go fishing?

More of the latter than the former, I fear, though I have nothing other than a gut feeling to back it up. By gut feeling I mean, as I go through the check-out line, or am served in my favorite restaurant, it’s pretty easy to see from attitude and body language, how happy-or otherwise-people are with their jobs.

I used to emphasize to my middle school students that money was not the most important component to being employed. It’s all about the clock, I suggested, and why you look at it. As my father used to intone, "Let us be happy in our work." As a teacher, I fought the clock because there was never enough time in the day (or an individual class period), to get everything done.

In five of my six careers, time has always flashed by because I was too busy to have time to look and see what time it was. Let’s face it: Checking the clock is not to see what time it is, but rather, how much time is left before you get to leave. Not much of a life.
Playing touch-football down in Baja,
California, 1975ish...

The one career I had where the time dragged was Uncle Sugar’s all-expenses-paid military merry-go-round, where I worked in a personnel service company. My job was to file stuff, lots of stuff, so I had to know the alphabet real good. 

In the beginning, I handled about twelve-and-a-half percent of South Korea’s 50,000 troops, in terms of getting them home from The Land of the Morning Calm. Not too long after I arrived, I suggested to the nice colonel, that I take over the filing for all 50,000 soldiers, and leave the grunt work to the rest of the crew. All I did was handle all the records…

Getting these troops home did not apply if you were a lifer; then you were reassigned, somewhere StateSide. The 199th Personnel Service Company was second only to Finance, in Korea, in terms of status, and we wore our insignias proudly.

I used my lofty position exactly once, in my sixteen months overseas, to weasel out of a sticky wicket. I was already out of the office and in Project Transition, which loosely translated, meant I worked on officers’ cars under the guise of being trained to be an auto mechanic.

I let discipline get a little lax, as hard as that is to believe, and I let my beard relocate, from a clean-shaven Specialist IV, to a red-bearded savage, over a five-week period of time. With only days remaining before I caught a red-tail homeward, ** I was accosted by the most “stract” MP I had ever seen, while I was dressed in civvies.
The author of Mark's Work, 1977,
on vacation...

Long story short, as he was writing out the citation which would have resulted in an Article-15, and would have immediately yanked my records from the about-to-ETS, to the world-of-hurt file, I asked him one simple question:

“Sergeant Smith (probably not his real name), where would you like to be reassigned, when you leave this Vacation Paradise?” I asked the question innocently enough, holding his gaze meaningfully in mine, with an iron grip.

I mean, how hard was it to look up this by-the-book clown’s records, since he wore his insignia on his shoulder, and his name over his shirt pocket, to find out where he called home. How hard was it to make sure he ended up on the opposite side of the country, in a pit like Fort Polk, Louisiana, or the granddaddy of them all, as far as fear tactics, Fort Hood, Texas?

Not hard at all, though Ft. Hood was a scary thought for a California lad.

He remained in character for one more, brief moment, retorting, “I know you’re in the 199th,” flashing my ID, “and that doesn’t worry me one bit. You’ll be long gone before I leave.”

I let fly my best chortle, glancing almost shyly at him, in obvious amusement. “No doubt, Sarge, no doubt.” I added a few chuckles and allowed a snicker or two escape. As if I did not have any brothers remaining in Korea, after I made my break.

He got it, before I even finished my little act, and closed up his neat metal file-folder. “Fine,” was all he said.

I wasn’t quite finished though. “May I have that document, please? The one you were just filling out?” I smiled benevolently at him as he reopened and tore out the ticket, both copies and the carbon too. I would still have it today, except that I tore it up myself right on the spot, and threw it in the nearest garbage can.

True story.
Noel, Papa and Matt, on the trip to La Paz, 1972.

I hated my time in the service because it was not my choice to be there in the first place. I was drafted. I have never worked anywhere since, that I did not want to, including my current profession as farmer. Maybe it’s because of the many hats I have to wear, but it’s more about that clock, and how there is never enough time.

“My life may be crazy
My lack of the lazy has let me do shit that I love on the daily
Daily, daily
Get to do this shit I love upon the daily
Daily, daily
Everybody go and live your daydreams up… 

If you don’t like your life, then you should go and change it…”

https://video.search.yahoo.com/yhs/search?fr=sfp&hsimp=yhs-001&hspart=rotz&p=I%27m+on+Vacation+Dirty+heads#id=1&vid=b17c1be2cbed7f66e42efd593e141e2e&action=click

** Unlike today, when a red-tail designates a bird of prey seen frequently here on the mountain, a red-tail was a freedom flight “back to the world.” 



Monday, October 2, 2017

Who's Your Sawyer?


I wrote a piece recently entitled “Outside My Door,” a chronicle of the different careers I have pursued in my lifetime, including a grocery store clerk, war monger, auto parts clerk, carpenter, teacher and farmer. I concluded that the greatest of these is my current profession: that of a farmer.
There is nothing wrong with any of the first five professions; it’s just that being a farmer requires far more variation from what constitutes a day’s work, than any of the others. I like routine as much as the next hippie, but I prefer to break up a work day into as many variations on a theme as possible. This keeps me happy in my work.

Take one recent Sunday, for instance, a day in which I had to switch hats so often, it made my head spin. Try doing that as a teacher with 37 eighth grade students, and you’ll wish you hadn’t.

On this particular Sunday, I stumbled out the back door just after four in the A of M, to do a half-hour’s worth of hand-watering on some problem areas. This was only after having already removed my writer’s hat, having written something trivial for posting on Mark’s Work, and donned my farmer’s hat.
"Official" farmer's hat


Included in my hand-watering are two beds of ornamentals, the peppers in the green house, my hollyhocks, the basil and about a dozen problem children. These are cannabis plants that just need an extra allowance of water every day to help them with their trials and tribulations.  
I then proceeded to flip a series of on/off valves, allowing twelve little areas of ornamentals to get their five minutes of bliss for the day. I have to stay focused during this hour’s time because water is precious, and there is none to spare for gratuitous flapdoodles.

Just as it was getting light, I switched to cleaning the ten water filters in my system, so as to ensure that there is maximum water flow. Water flows through each filter at increasingly reduced rates, if more than a day or two goes by without cleaning. I perform this chore every other day and it takes about a half-hour. 

Pausing long enough to quaff a homegrown latte, while I throw some potatoes and eggs together and eat a quick breakfast, I head over to the Pepper Pot. Here I am wrapping up the construction of a power shed, a project that Jason and I have reduced to only the installation of the Hardy Board exterior siding and the painting. Because Jay is on-assignment this week, and not on-farm, I am finishing the siding by my lonesome.
All finished except for installing a door.
 


Being on salary with no boss and no time-clock, this has been a fun project. The nature of the task is a perfect example of the way that I am utilized on-farm these days. Whether the task is part of the cannabis-regulatory process, or whether it is simply farm-related, I am available to plug in where needed.

I don’t work as part of a crew anymore, and I rarely spend more than four hours on jobs like the building of the power shed, but I can also say that like the turtle, slow and steady gets the job done. If I am part of a crew, then I function as the sawyer. 

Also, occasionally, I am able to sift through the sawdust in my brain, and provide a key pointer to facilitate a given endeavor. Take the just-completed kitchen roofing project, for instance; I was able to assure HeadSodBuster that cutting through the metal roofing, to accommodate the kitchen stove-pipe, was a piece of cake. The pitch is reasonably extreme, and HeadSodBuster copped to letting it get under his skin, in the time leading up to the start of the project.

When it comes to geometry, I am the pro from Dover: algebra and trigonometry, not so much. There was just too much done orally, for me to have a chance of keeping up. Geometry was all about shapes and angles, something that I am good at.

Pepper Pot
Coming back from the Pepper Pot in late morning, I put away my tape measure, and took monster-colander in hand, and went to roust up some Heinz tomatoes, for a batch of catsup. I was only in the harvesting stage because Jay was expected back on-farm soon, and I wanted him to be in on the processing part.

Still, I allowed ample time for the task because I don’t bend as well as I used to.

About a million pounds of smallish tomatoes later, I stopped, figuring I would finish when I had some assistance in the form of Jason. No sense in killing the job, I am sure you will agree.

Besides, I had a six-pound organic chicken I wanted to roast up for SmallBoy and Dancing Girl. Knowing they were making some logistical moves as far as relocating Dancing Girl to the mountain, I had invited them to Sunday night dinner, the time being affixed at 5:30.

Because my chicken was almost as big as the smallest of our meat birds we raise, I wanted to roast it slowly, at 325 degrees, instead of a more robust pace. I scrubbed up some potatoes, poked a bunch of holes in them to preserve the somewhat tenuous integrity of the inside of the oven, and put them in on the bottom rack.

I also had a fresh head of farm cabbage, that I quartered, steamed and served along with the chicken, baked potatoes and homemade gravy. The gravy could have been thicker (I added a couple of tablespoons of tapioca flour), but it was pretty tasty.

Both SmallBoy and Dancing Girl were effusive in their appreciation, and I was happy to be a part of their day, so it was a win/win situation. Cleaning up was easy-peasy and I knew there was another dinner in the chicken for the next day, regardless of how it was repurposed. 

Besides, as many dudes have discovered on their own, what could be easier than the meal I just described?

Go to de fridge, get de chicken and poot it in de oven…

Go to de pantry, get de taters, and poot dem in de oven…

Finally, the most difficult job of all because it involves handling a knife: go to de fridge and get de cabbage. Cut it in half and then into quarters. Be veddy careful.

Voila!

For dessert there was farm-grown watermelon, the crispiest, sweetest melon I have ever tasted. Being one who refuses to eat store-bought melons, I am in paradise right now. 

I wandered around after the kids had left, picking up my hats from wherever I had strewn them, making sure to get my author’s hat, farmer’s hat, my constructo hat and my chef’s hat, before trading them all in for my night cap, one which obviously does not fit properly.

I know it doesn’t fit because if it did, I would get more than four hours of sleep every night, but I’m not complaining. I always have the option of going back to my health care provider at the VA, and obtaining Big Pharma’s answer to a mood spectrum disorder. Can you say chemical sh*t storm? Try it. I know you can. 

On the other hand, I can just keep wearing that night cap that doesn’t fit, and call it a day.

http://markyswrite.blogspot.com/2017/07/outside-my-door.html

Friday, September 29, 2017

Gobsmack

For going on forty years I felt nothing but anger and bitterness as a result of the twenty-one months I spent in the military, having been drafted off of a college campus. Then a funny thing happened: I found out that folks have much respect for veterans, and all of the sudden I no longer feel the anger.

Honestly, there are times when I still find it hard to believe that I served, for the simple fact that anyone who has ever known me, recognizes that placing me in the context of the army is laughable. I am opposed to violence in every form, with the possible exception of my mouth, which refuses to be censored.

Of course, that may be the result of spending sixteen years in the classroom, during which time I am pleased to note, I never once let fly an F-bomb. Out loud. Hell, I wouldn’t even allow the phrase “shut-up!” to be used within my hearing. 
Sitting on the steps of the hootch...
The irony is that I was drafted in the last year the draft existed, after having won the only lottery I will ever win. I drew lucky number 33 for the grand event, and found myself inextricably ensnared. My first thought was to flee to Canada, but alas, that took too much courage for me, and I took the course of least resistance.

I was never more terrified than the morning I was dropped off at the Los Angeles entrance station. I was not afraid of calisthenics; I was not frightened of the drill instructors; and finally, I was not skeered of M-16’s, even though I’d never fired a weapon in my life.

What I was petrified of was leaving home and my eight siblings. Furthermore, I was overwhelmed by the thought of sleeping in an open bay with 40 dudes in it. Every snore, every fart, every sigh was magnified in the tiled, antiseptic room, and I hated it. 

I hated the food, I hated being ordered around by dudes with the IQ of a ferret, and I hated having to wear a uniform. I despised what the US Army stood for, and I was stupefied by the thought that there was a strong likelihood, that I would end up in the ‘Nam.

I never once allowed my thoughts to drift in that direction during basic training. When the question appeared in writing in front of me one day, “Would I prefer an assignment in South Korea, or one in Viet Nam?” I almost chortled. As far as I knew, they were not blowing people up in Korea, and that was the box I checked.

I hated being 7,000 miles away from home. During my sixteen months in Korea, I made one phone call home. It boggles my pea brain to think of how much different it would be now, with the ‘Net to help facilitate communication. In 1972, there was a minimum of a two week delay for a response to a letter going home. 

I lived for mail-call.

I also wrote a ton of letters home, to keep that flow uninterrupted. I still have much of the correspondence I received, and even some of that which I sent home, my mom having saved what I sent her, along with my sister JT. 

It was from these letters that I was able to post more than a hundred thousand words, based on my military exploits. In an effort to soften that anger/bitterness, when I first started writing again in 2011, I tried to infuse humor into almost every step of the way.

And now I arrive at the crux of this jaunt down a most unwelcome memory lane: Is my opinion on matters of etiquette, when it comes to paying respect to our country and its flag, worth more than that of someone who did not serve? Does it matter that I earned an Army Commendation Medal for my service, one of only two given out in the 199th Personnel Service Company, during the sixteen months I served?

Whether I served voluntarily or not, whether I hated the experience or not, or whether I did a good job or a mediocre job, does the close-to-two-years that I spent serving the United States, give my opinion on patriotism more weight, than one who did not serve?

I don’t know. 

What I do know is that as long as one understands the difference between nationalism and patriotism, we will not have an issue. Nationalism is taking excessive pride in one’s country and its symbols, including the belief that it is superior to all others. A nationalist will refuse to acknowledge that his country is flawed. A nationalist believes it should be mandatory to stand for the flag.
A patriot loves his country, but recognizes that it has problems; a patriot also recognizes that freedom of speech is more important, than sentimental gobsmack about how real ‘Mericans stand for the flag.

I used to be far more patriotic than I am now. As long as business interests dictate that Puerto Ricans continue to starve to death, and thieves and bigots continue to run the government, I have no country and will stand for no flag.

Love is the greatest power, not money; therefore, I am not very patriotic. I am, however, a veteran, and no one can take that away from me. I never-ever-thought I would come to the conclusion that being in the army was worth it, but for this one reason alone, I may have been wrong, all of these years.


It feels pretty damn good to kneel beside Colin Kaepernick, and many others, in support of raising awareness of racism and police brutality, without having to get into any political dialogue, from folks who have, well, just an opinion.

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Winter Rapture

Having completed my batch of marinara sauce and paid tribute to the hour, 4:20 in the AM, I take pen in hand, metaphorically speaking, to share the word. The word today is tomatoes.
Of all the produce grown here on-farm, nothing compares to tomatoes, for the simple reason that so much can be-and is-done with tomatoes, to stretch their value all-year-round. So far this summer, I have put up tomato paste, cold-pack tomatoes (33 quarts), catsup (4 1/2 gallons) and now marinara sauce, a paltry twelve pints.

I say paltry on the marinara sauce, because before the season is over, barring torrential rains, I will do at least another three or four batches of the king of all sauces. Oh yes, the pantry will be well-stocked for all of us here on-farm.

Because we almost never get a frost up here on our ridge-top until December, the tomatoes keep on rocking and rolling. Heavy rains would end things because the ‘maters split, but I will have harvested many lugs of not-completely ripened Aces, prior to any rain that would cause splitting. Therefore, as these ripen, I will continue to make smaller batches of sauce until I reach the end of the line. 

Because I am not working in a properly approved kitchen, we can’t sell our after-market products, the way we might sell fresh tomatoes. The truth is, rarely are there still tomato products on the pantry shelf, when the new season rolls around, so if we were actually selling our catsup and sauces, we would be in a world of hurt ourselves.

I have seen the meme that pokes fun at back-yard gardeners, for spending a fortune to gain a few tomatoes for the dinner salad. I save my best chuckling for when I am rearranging matters in the pantry for yet another infusion of winter rapture, in the form of any of the above commodities.

Add dried tomatoes, salsa, and pizza sauce to the paste, cold-pack tomatoes, catsup and marinara sauce, and that about completes the winter lineup.
Fresh basil

I have been assisted in my endeavors this summer by Jason, who is working on-farm and most enthusiastic in his approach. He and I have harvesting and doing the processing together, getting the resulting tomato sauce into huge saucepans, where it can cook down to an appropriate thickness. 

Simply because of timing, I have done the final step of putting them through either a water bath or the pressure cooker, in the wee hours. That being said, Jay will catch up with me one of these batches, because it will be at the proper thickness, right in the middle of the day.

All Jay has to do is participate in the process one time and he is good to go. Once you have worked through it, you can always google the specifics: the amount of lemon juice/salt added to each jar, processing time for the size of your jar and finally, for us at at higher elevation, how much extra time is needed to compensate for the difference from sea level.

I labeled my work with tomatoes a chore in an earlier post, but quickly amended it to a summer activity. There is something so rewarding about opening a quart of cold-packed tomatoes in the dead of winter, with snow falling, that the act of processing them could never be thought of as a chore.

I might label it a labor of love, possibly, with the delivery of explosive summer flavors, especially if we are talking about a roasted veggie pizza, using our pizza sauce.

There. I’ve done it again. I have left you hanging with a savory image. Then I guess I may as well complete it: fresh eggplant, onions, summer squash, mushrooms, bell peppers, basil and garlic, drizzled with Basalmic vinegar, slow-roasted and placed on a gluten-free crust. A base of our pizza sauce, along with some mozzarella and parmesan cheese, completes the picture, and why do I do this to myself?

Some folks settle for scrambled eggs and hash browns, but I am a man on a mission. Were there, or were there not, still some of those Baby Bella mushrooms left in the refrigerator? 


I can make do if not, but hey, if you’re going to dream, dream big.

Monday, September 25, 2017

Locked and Loaded (Mostly Loaded)

I am aching all over today, the result of overdoing things Sunday, but it’s a happy kind of ache. OK, maybe rewarding is more like it. Considering I could have chosen to take the day off and just vedged in front of the television, reveling in the mass protests throughout NFL Land, I am in good shape for the shape I’m in.

I stumbled out the back door in pitch darkness Sunday morning to clean filters, before I got it together enough to flip on my headlamp. 45 minutes later [Editor: Can we make that 44 minutes? 46 minutes? Anything?] I came back into the house, almost forgetting of course to turn off my headlamp. I really do need to pursue the idea of picking up a little stock in Duracell…

My big plan for the day was an epic voyage off the mountain all the way to Laytonville. OK, so not so epic, but necessary nonetheless, to both give and take: I was making a recycling/trash run, and we were going grocery shopping.

My truck currently-and permanently-lodged at the wrecker’s, I am dependent on the generosity of my sons, as far as borrowing a truck. I put it to them like this: Either lend me a truck, or come and haul away my garbage. Just like magic.

Later, while waiting for SmallBoy to complete an identical mission, except that he had a stuffed trailer attached, I filled in the time by donning my best Mendo-Maids attitude, and running a mop around the house.

Afterwards, I also applied the mop to the floors, and the net result was a general spiffing-up of our domicile, a responsibility I take most seriously. Gluten-Free Mama has a lot on her plate these days, without having to worry about tripping over dust bunnies.

I had also begun doing laundry, an operation the requires about twelve steps before clothes can actually be laundered. We needed bath towels washed and I am just the guy for the job. I also did a couple of loads for GF Mama, just to show her that my heart is on the right side. She protested she was feeling strong enough to do a load of laundry.

I suggested that if she had enough energy to do laundry, then maybe she should go for a little walk with me, and let me do the laundry when we got back. We did so, and saw a small flock of turkeys in the field. We don't see them as much as we once used to.


In between mopping floors and doing laundry, I was also gathering all of the recycling and trash out in front, conveniently located for speedy load-up and departure. Mind you, I would have been perfectly happy if SmallBoy never brought the truck, and I never had to drive to the ‘Ville, but hey, such is the good life.

I separated the glass meticulously, having learned that skill back in kindergarten, and got all the paper and free-flow recycling all bagged up. As I had said to SmallBoy earlier, “The trash is the only thing that really has to go; the recycling not so much. I had two contractor bags of trash and five bags of recycling. I also had three tuppies of glass.

I was ready for action, ready for danger-ready for a trip to town.

I was just hanging up the fourth and final load of laundry on the clothesline out front, when SmallBoy rolled in with the truck, HeadSodBuster’s black ‘Yoda. I love this truck because it makes me feel like a real hill person. You know?

Locked and loaded, metaphorically speaking if not literally, GF Mama and I were off on our great adventure. Luckily there was no road construction so I did not have to commit hari-kari on the spot, and lived to tell about it another day.

The sign out in front of the dump said, “No trash!” I looked at GF Mama and said, “No problem. We have two bags full.”

Oh, bummer. We still have those two bags of garbage, because the dump was all filled up, but at least we got rid of the eight bags/tuppies of recycling, so we came out on top. Imagine my surprise though to be told that I could just dump my glass in the giant free-flow dumpster. "You mean you don't need it separated?" My world shifted just a tiny bit.

Having trash did mean, however, that GF Mama ended up doing raven duty while I went into Geiger’s and bought some grub. Otherwise the birds do their best Alfred Hitchcock impression, and make our lives a nightmare cleaning up the mess. It's part of the country experience provided free of charge. 

You can say what you want about our local grocery store; I am quite enamored. I am also pleased as punch to spend my dollars locally when I can get organic produce. Great success.

Arriving home, imagine my surprise to see HeadSodBuster up on the roof with Jesse, longtime friend, here on a visit. The way it was explained to me is that Jesse has to take it easy because of some hurt ribs. Therefore, he had spent time earlier in the day chainsawing wood, and was now up on my roof, helping to install new metal roofing. 

Where was I? Down on the ground, watching, as I unloaded an put away the groceries. I have much appreciation for roofing. I can still get up on a roof, but it scares GF Mama so badly that I have agreed to cease and desist. Huh, I wonder why it scares her to see me on a roof.

Before we strolled up to a scrumptious farm meal prepared by BossLady herself, I paused fifteen minutes to watch the opening of the football game between the Oakland Raiders and the Washington Redskins, a game the Raiders lost, 27-10. 

The camera panned over players from both teams protesting in various ways, the despicable comments made by 45. It seemed as though the entire Raiders team was involved in the protest. Quarterback Derek Carr chose to remain standing, while praying. He said afterwards that he loves all of his fellow players, and that it did not matter to the team whether he stood or sat.

I don’t know too much about that. I made my own statement on social media, which I manage to refrain from doing most of the time. I posted, “This veteran will take a knee with Colin any day of the week and twice on Sundays.”

I was gratified to see that much of the NFL agrees with Colin-and me.





Saturday, September 23, 2017

Extra Catsup, Please!

Who ever heard of dipping French fries in anything but catsup? Sure, I’ve tried ranch dressing and it’s all well and good, but catsup on fries and a burger is what it’s all about. And what could be better than homegrown, homemade tomato catsup? Four-and-a-half gallons, to be precise.

Over the past half-dozen or so summers, I have endeavored to produce palatable catsup, with Gluten-Free Mama applying her talents in the form of a recipe. This set of directions has undergone revision numerous times resulting in what everyone has concluded is a great success, but what must be considered first is what kind of tomatoes work best.

There was a time when I was of the opinion that if you cooked tomato sauce down long enough, it would eventually thicken to the correct consistency, and you would be good to go. Sadly, such proved not to be the case, with two primary factors affecting matters: Any remote instance of scorching on the bottom of the saucepan will taint the entire batch, no matter how small or how big.

Additionally, the juicier the tomatoes, the more liquid there is that needs to evaporate, so strains like Ace or beefsteak, as much as the tomatoes are huge, are not good candidates. Gluten-Free Mama did her homework, and determined that the tomato that gave us the best shot at successfully making catsup, is the Heinz variety.

She ordered the seeds, we started them in the greenhouse in a timely manner, and I planted them out in early June. I had been hoping for 120 altogether, but this spring was the wettest in California history, and we ended up with a paltry seventy or so which I duly planted.

The Heinz variety is not a big tomato, relying on quantity to make up for its smallish size. They are also practically devoid of juice, being incredibly dense, meaty fruit, and therefore best suited for the ultimate goal of creating catsup with the proper thickness.

Gluten-Free Mama also provided me with a diffuser, a device which sits on the burner, between that and the saucepan itself, and helps prevent scorching. In a perfect world I would have had two diffusers, because the saucepan I used was so mammoth it easily could have fully encompassed two burners. As it was, I used only the one, with the only minor consequence being that the process took longer: 44 hours altogether. I started with six and a half gallons of sauce, added more than a gallon of vinegar, and brought the mixture to a low, rolling boil, before adjusting the heat downwards. 

I never allowed the burner past about one-third of the way up, from this point onward, so a medium fire at most, and I stirred it every time I was in the vicinity, as did GF Mama. The house smelled intoxicatingly good as the spices kicked in, both those blended directly into the sauce, as well as the cheesecloth bag containing spices that had more substance, like cinnamon sticks and cloves.

It goes without saying that I guard this recipe with my very life, and with good reason. Developed by GF Mama through trial and error, it represents much research, including a couple of early batches that relied on reputation alone, as homemade, to make it to the point where they were actually consumed. 

Nonetheless, the end result of this most recent batch are the sixty half-pints that SmallBoy picked up at Geiger’s the other day, plus another half-dozen pints, a grand total of 18 quarts, or four-and-a-half gallons. From the first taste I took after adding all the ingredients, to the final one just prior to filling the jars, my taste buds have been thrilled.

Despite all of the adversity the orchard has provided for me this summer, with gophers, water issues and those insidious little ground squirrels, who swoop down on the just-ripening tomatoes, and ravage them, this homemade catsup is as good as it gets.

Farming has numerous benefits to be gained but none as rewarding as this kind of successful outcome to a direct challenge. Organic, homemade catsup on piping hot, homemade French fries from organic potatoes, and I am sorry to leave you with this savory image. Before you leave, though, could you pass the salt, please?

I did say please…






Tuesday, September 19, 2017

To Each His Quiche

“If you can’t stand the heat, stay out of the kitchen,” the old adage intones. Being a SoCal kid growing up, heat doesn’t particularly bother me. It wasn’t REALLY hot until it got over 110 degrees. The day my brother Tom was born, on October 3rd, it was 114 degrees outside.

Therefore, Monday morning, long before the sun would show its pointy little head, Gluten-Free Mama and I hashed over my plan to prepare lunch for the HappyDay Farm crew. We had to have this discussion early because she and HeadSodBuster were sallying forth to Sacramento reasonably early Monday morning.
The thrust of the conversation was her educating me that a frittata was not the same as a quiche. Whereas I did not want to make a crust, I did want to make a substantial amount of grub for a hungry crew of farming personnel. So she educated me in the art of blending eggs and cream without using a beater, and she convinced me that this was all going to work out just dandy. 

I do have an infinite amount of respect for GF Mama’s kitchen-expertise.

I could have been satisfied to harvest my cherry tomatoes (forty plants) and my Aces (80 plants), and then go on to either processing tomatoes, or prepping the cannabis for the upcoming inclement weather. However, I wanted to cook because Monday is market day, and no one has time- hardly-to even eat, let alone cook.

I am not part of the market day preparations, except for the aforementioned harvesting, so I have the freedom to don my chef’s hat and whip up lunch. Because we have so many seasonal vegetables, I wanted to prepare something that centered on them.

A soup would have been just fine but I also tend the chickens, and they had been clamoring to get into the act. Willing to do anything to keep the girls quiet, I acquiesced, and had therefore settled on quiche. I still had onions from Irene, and bell peppers, zucchini (three varieties), garlic, cabbage, and green beans from the farm; I had some bacon from Lito’s pig and some organic whipping cream that I could spare; and most importantly, I had vast quantities of tomatoes.

The irony here is that the gorgeous, just-picked Ace tomatoes that I prepared and served for our lunch, were the very ones that I had culled out of this morning’s harvest, as being a tad TOO home-grown for sale at market.

There may have been some mild splitting, due to irregular watering, or there may have been a blossom-end-rot blemish. There were also a few that were sun-burned, those kids turning a bright white/yellow on the side facing the sun, due to over-exposure. The change in color is purely aesthetics; there is nothing wrong with the taste.

Once the blemishes were removed, I sliced a dozen or so for inclusion in the quiche, and for serving on-the-side. Almost every meal I consume these days includes tomatoes on-the-side.

Monday’s plan called for me to start gathering materials and preparing the workplace for action by ten o’clock, so as to have lunch on the table precisely at noon. I was especially pleased to know that BossLady herself would be gracing my table with her presence.

Imagine my surprise when, just as I was wrapping up the Ace harvest out back, I heard SmallBoy hollering from the back door, inquiring if I would like some breakfast which he was about to whip up. Instinctively, I thanked him but said I had already eaten, but didn’t really have time to say anything more.

He returned to the kitchen, and as I was getting ready to join him, I realized my plan would have to include a little room for adjustment. I am too much like Gluten-Free Mama, after watching her in action for 35 years: I like a pristine work station before I can begin to work.

Ohhhh. Kayyyyyy. That was not going to happen until after SmallBoy had first cooked, and then cleaned up the counter. I absolutely did not want to discourage him, because he is in the state of flux, rearranging his personal living space, so he has been frequenting our kitchen.

GF Mama and I are always happy to have this happen, so I decided I could amend my plan to include working down on the far left of the counter, on the far side of the dish rack and sink. Huh, working on the far left should not pose a problem for this old hippie, so I went happily to work.

I diced two onions, one for each deep-dish, ten-inch quiche, and then the bell peppers, green beans, zucchini and garlic. I had some cabbage left over from Sunday night’s roasted chicken extravaganza, so I absconded with a one-fourth chunk to be shredded and divided between the two pies.

Just about now, as it was pushing 10:30, Small Boy wrapped up operations and headed off to town, leaving the arena ready for me to blast off. Once I had finished grabbing said bong rip, and feeling sufficiently blasted, I launched into frying the bacon, sautéing all the crunchy veggies, and preparing fifteen eggs and the whipping cream.

I used a marginal amount of the bacon grease to line the pyrex dishes, as opposed to the spray that GF Mama had suggested, taking advantage of a better way to guarantee there would be no stickage. I then grated up a mound of extra-sharp cheddar cheese, the white kind.

It was past eleven by now, the original time that I had slated to put the two pies in the oven, but I was not worried. I was flying, in more ways than one, and enjoying myself immensely. I lined both dished with the sautéed veggies, placed a layer of sliced tomatoes on top, covered the ensemble with cheese and divided the eggs/cream mixture between the two.

I dusted a little more cheese on top of it all, popped both into the oven, and promptly forgot about them for 37 minutes. GF Mama had told me about 45 minutes should do the trick, but I had tweaked the original directions a bit to include a few more eggs, so I figured more like fifty minutes.

The second I had closed the oven door, I was running water in the sink to clean up my mess, before I started frying the potatoes. I had baked a dozen small-to-medium russet potatoes in the wee hours, so they would be cold by now, and I diced them and fried them in avocado oil to make them crisp. 

Since they were already thoroughly cooked from baking them, heating them on top of the stove took only minutes. I was so absorbed in cleaning and then prepping the taters, that I totally spaced the quiches for 37 minutes. 

Bounding over to the stove, I pulled out the rack and was amazed to see they looked just fine. I stuck a butter knife in the center of one, and determined I still had ten or so minutes to go, closed the door and promptly forgot about them for another fifteen minutes. 

I was frantically slicing the tomatoes to serve on the side, getting fresh water for the pitcher and making sure there were silverware, plates and napkins. Once again, just about 11:55, I cautiously opened the oven door one more time to see the most perfect quiches imaginable. 

Inserting the butter knife again, it came out perfectly clean and I knew I did not have to check the second one. 

Lunch was an unqualified great success as we made with the palaver and enjoyed the quiche and taters. Tobias asked me if I liked the San Fernando Valley Ogre Berry and I asked him if that was what we were trimming. When he said yes, I told him I liked it a lot.

“Just this morning,” I added, “I loaded up a bowl, took a rip and went about my way. A while later I took a second rip from the same bowl, and the planets must have been aligned just right, because I had to grab onto the washing machine to keep from spinning off the map.” 


Every so often I get complete lift-off and it reminds me to keep my seatbelt fastened until the ride has come to a complete standstill. As long as I am still hanging on to the washing machine, I guess I am good to go.

Saturday, September 16, 2017

I Wave; Therefore I Am

With more than forty years of experience driving on Bell Springs Road, and with more than thirty years under my belt of walking it on an almost daily basis, I know The Bell well. If you have never experienced this once-upon-a-time-stagecoach-route, then you may not be aware that we are a friendly group of dirt roaders.

We wave at one another as we pass, though in maneuvering in tight quarters, one doesn’t always see the wave. Some flash the peace sign, others the thumb/pinkie ensemble while still others toss out a salute. The gesture, regardless of its form, is merely an acknowledgment that you exist, and have come into incidental contact with another.

Obviously, this also serves as a mechanism for determining whether or not the vehicle approaching you is local or not. My peace sign has been returned in countless manners; it has also been ignored a Brazilian times. What I had never experienced, until Thursday, anyway, is the brush-off wave.  

You know, the dismissive, yawn, I’m-willing-to-write-you-off kind of thing. Is nothing sacred? Ignore me, wave, flip me the bird, whatever, but don’t give me one of these, “Good. Lord. Now. I. Suppose. I. Have. To. Wave. Back. arrangements, especially if you are driving what could possibly double as a Sherman tank, except that Sherman tanks do not generally rock chrome. So much.
Like this...
No wave frequently means that the person being waved at is not a local, and therefore assumes he was taken for someone else. Why else would someone wave, right? No wave could also mean that in navigating the road, both hands were needed, but that would probably mean no wave from either party.

Or if you are some sort of curmudgeon, and you don’t wave period, then your vehicle becomes readily identifiable as exactly that: the unfriendly dude. But I can’t think of anyone like that, you know?

Maybe the guy who brushed me off is some sort of celebrity, and is accustomed to giving people the brush-off, in which case he probably would have ignored me.
Hey, I have a pair of pants just like these...
and a yellow polo shirt. 

No, this is comparable to the “constructo wave,” but with none of the personality. The constructo wave is the one where you recognize the individual coming at you, but you dread having to stop and actually make with the palaver, so you gun the engine, plaster the biggest grin you can muster up on your face, and thrust your non-driving arm forward as though saluting the Fuhrer himself.

In essence you are saying, “Hey there good buddy, great to see you, had a hard-ass day, got to get home to some ice cold beer-and my woman-and get the barbecue started!”

All in that one gesture.

But the brush-off? 

Ach tung, Chucko. Get it together if you want to call yourself a local in good standing. 

Otherwise, you’re just a loco.



Friday, September 15, 2017

Schadenfreude

“Five Videos of the Worst Intentional Hits By the Pitch” read the meme, as I scrolled along, Thursday morning. The teaser read, “Which pitch was the worst?” 

Fascinated, not by the idea of going to the link, but by the very idea itself of compiling this list of intentional mayhem, I scrolled onward, shaking my head in disbelief. “Why would I ever want to see that?” was the only thought my little cabbage head could wrap itself around.

I paused in my finger play for a moment, and it occurred to me that I might just want to voice that idea in the form of a comment. So I did. My good friend Wayne, even if he is a Dodger fan, provided some insight. In response to my query, “Why, why, why would I ever want to view this?” he wrote, “For the same reason people watch car races.”

Huh? What does baseball have to do with men in race cars, circling the track? I used to make fun of grown men going in circles, until someone pointed out to me that it was not much different from grown men trying to hit a ball with a stick.

Point well taken.

However, I still had the dilemma of figuring out the complex logic Wayne was employing. Why DO people watch car races? To see the winner cross the finish line? Nah, only a small percentage will see that. To breathe in noxious exhaust fumes, while guzzling beer? Well, sure, that’s part of it, but not enough. You can do that in your garage, with the truck idling…

Oh. Cars going really fast around curves, occasionally go out of control. On a particularly well-played disaster, a car will cart-wheel a few hundred feet, thus providing a whole section of the stadium with first-hand, graphic visuals, of someone about to go to the great pit stop in the sky.

OK, I get it; watching the five professional ballplayers get intentionally beaned, provided that vicarious entry into the world of pain-someone else’s. Better him, than me, is all they can think. I am prone to think-nothing, because I scrolled on.

I do not like to see others suffer, especially if there was intent to hurt. I can watch that every evening of my life on Channels 2, 4, 5, 7 and 11. Such the invitation but I have managed to resist it for more than 60 years so far, and see no change in that regard.

Nick then added to the conversation, “A bit of schadenfreude.” Ah ha! That certainly clarified that. Hustling to Google, a primary source of exercise for me, I discovered it meant to feel pleasure at the expense of others’ pain. Oh, the same as watching a car race in hopes of a crash.

Finally, David chimed in with, "Part of the game-since about 1750.” Managing to restrain myself from responding that Abner Doubleday was not alive in 1750, I settled for commenting that as the game is played live, yes, getting hit in the head is part of the game. 
Buster goes down.

As for viewing a replay of five different players being intentionally beaned-not part of the game. 

I am not a fan of violence. Buster Posey, at the top of my list when it comes to favorite players, was beaned on Opening Day this season, setting the stage for a disastrous season. Any reminder of that, I can do without.


Just as I can do without schadenfreude.