Monday, December 16, 2013

Highlights and Low Blows: Trying to Stay Securely Fastened to the Roller Coaster Car

Peak, meet Valley.

A few weeks ago, I led a free coaching call all about overcoming overwhelm and pulling yourself out of a funk. Although I felt like I'd pretty well navigated my way out of the slump I'd been in after moving, I've been reminded over the last week and a half that—like with flying—it's best to keep your seat belt buckled because you never know when turbulence will hit.

Low: Having both of our flights cancelled to visit Mr. W's mom and stepdad in Tampa.
High: Getting rebooked, free of charge, on a different airline and a direct flight!

Low: Accidentally throw-spilling my glass of chardonnay all over the table the first night at dinner with Mr. W's parents, drenching Mr. W.
High: Grabbing the glass before it went into Mr. W's stepdad's lap. And, of course, being thankful it wasn't my very first time meeting them. Mr. W would have probably never taken me back.

I was hoping the frost might freeze the gophers who have destroyed our lawn.
Unfortunately, that's not how Mama Nature works...

Low: Getting hit by very unexpected frost and having most of our nice winter veggie garden decimated. Fingers crossed that the young avocado tree will recover...
High: Salvaging a handful of beets and watermelon turnips and eating them in a lovely salad last night.

Veggies in this picture are much smaller than they appear. Poor little winter runts.

Low: Having a sick cat who thinks the whole house is his litterbox.
Lower: Finding out sick cat is actually in the beginning stages of kidney failure.
High: Getting some unexpected monetary love in the mail to help cover some of the vet bills. (And allow for some post-Christmas shopping at Banana Republic, perhaps.)

Low: Driving to the pet store and having to invest in more paraphernalia to try to help the sick cat.
High: Running into a live and very boisterous rooster at the checkout counter.

I heard him long before I saw him...

High: Finally getting the Christmas tree set up!
Low: Finding that half of our lights didn't work... Thank goodness Rite Aid stays open late...

Wrapping presents while watching White Christmas Friday
was also a high for sure.

Low: Discovering the Christmas tree stand is leaking this year.
High: The dryer got hooked up today! I lay thyself at the altar of Maytag.

Tomorrow I shall officially induct the dryer into the family with
some smelly clothes and dirty sheets.

Low: The new checks for our joint account finally arrived...with the wrong address on them.
High: We got to go check out our sweet next door neighbors' house and spend some time with other people from the area. Our first party invite in town!

Like anyone else, I totally dig the highs and try to maintain a sense of humor through the lows (sometimes I fail miserably). I suppose the trick is just continuing to try to stay focused on the ups. And maybe hope for some more flat patches on the roller coaster track.


Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Taking the Next Step: Semi-Combining Finances

I vividly remember the first time Mr. W told me that his "future wife" would have to sign a pre-nup. We were on our first trip to Napa together after a year of dating and I'm sure I was fishing around for information to see if there was ever going to be a ring in my future. He said nothing about a ring but made sure to mention that pre-nup.

Fast forward two and a half years, and there we were exchanging vows with no official pre-nup to be found. Instead, we have a verbal agreement that goes something like this, "Don't ever cheat on me or I'll take you for everything you're worth!"

In addition to the absence of any sort of written financial agreement, we newlyweds also chose to forgo setting up a joint account.

This was mostly my decision, as I thought it would be very easy to split all the bills down the middle. And for awhile everything was pretty simple. But the past year and a half has been an interesting real estate ride, and with it has come an increasingly convoluted financial management system (i.e. a wicked Excel spreadsheet that I've taken over and can't ever seem to get balanced quite right).

With multiple mortgages and a slew of utilities bills—and far too many dinners out that have ended up split on two credit cards—we finally decided it was beyond high time to open a joint bank account.

So Friday we went to one of the local banks and consummated our financial relationship.

And it was beautiful.

Afterwards, we drove straight to a tasting room to drink wine.

We don't have our debit cards yet and neither of us has set up an online banking account, so it doesn't totally feel real. But very soon we'll be putting deposits into that puppy and paying shared bills out of it. Just in time for all the big scary expenses that will be coming our way when we start renovating the house next spring.

And speaking of renovation, we are *this* close to getting the gas line installed which means I'll be able to unsheathe this powerful beast from her plastic and bring her in the house where she belongs. And all will be right and properly dried in my world again.

As part of the prep, Mr. W had to do more work on the gas line trench this weekend.

Which meant I got to take on the extremely important job of hanging the Christmas lights. I only know one other woman who hangs her Christmas lights. I feel that I've entered a new class of cool.

I also took the opportunity to do a little Christmas decorating...which mostly amounted to placing shiny balls all around the house. Yep, it was a weekend for balls. Christmas balls, dirt balls, and my wannabe financially independent balls finally getting neatly tucked into Mr. W's purse where they belong.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Gas Lines and Butt Massages

Did the title throw you? Considering that gas and butts do in fact go together, it seemed appropriate to just couple two recent stories together under the umbrella of body parts and bodily functions.

The first story involves some fun weekend activities over here on the Maris Ranch. You might remember that I mentioned us not being connected to the street's main gas line—which means we've been without a dryer for nearly 3 months now.

But I'm happy to announce that progress has been made on the gas front.

Friday a plumber came and ran all the interior pipes so that once the gas company does its thing and hooks us to the main, we'll be ready immediately to connect the hot water heater and (blessed be thy) dryer. We'll also be connecting the gas range after we remodel the kitchen, and eventually we'll get central heat. But first things first...

Although the gas company will happily come dig the trench for the gas pipe they install, they will also charge you an arm and at least half of your lower leg. So, being the frugal and highly capable guy he is, Mr. W decided to dig the ditch himself.

I'm fairly certain it's just because he wanted to play with a piece of heavy machinery.

If I had rented a ditch witch, she would have come with a broom and cauldron.

At the crack of dawn Saturday morning, he rented a "ditch witch" and went to town burrowing out the trench for our future pipe.

He seemed to be having a grand old time—particularly because he didn't have to break his back and use a shovel. Until the thing went catawampus (yes I looked up the spelling for that) and ended up laying on its side.

Is your ditch witch pointing north or are you just happy to see me?

All the king's horses and all the king's men (that is, one wife) couldn't get the ditch witch back upright again. So we called in the big guns.

I love our next door neighbor so much. He took me off-roading in his golf cart Saturday morning so that I could pick persimmons in his backyard. And he always "knows a guy" for everything. Need a pizza oven installed? Tom knows a guy. Need a vineyard consultation? Tom knows a guy. Think you're the only one in town who moved from Hollywood? Tom knows a guy who knows a guy. He's the best.

So Mr. W hot-footed it over to Tom's and came back with the tractor trailing behind him. In minutes, the ditch witch was in the tractor's grips and upright again.

We're going to develop a Bat Signal for Tom so he knows when to come.

Tom saved the day. And Mr. W finished his trench. Which means all we need is the gas company to come work their magic and I can start drying my bath towels so they no longer feel like astroturf.

For those of you who don't want to hear the butt massage story, stop reading here. And I hope you have a lovely day.

For those of you who remember some of Mr. W's greatest hits from the past, you may enjoy this (Big Sister, I'm thinking of you...) The last time I was visiting LA, I had worked out and my gluteus was feeling maximuscally sore. So I asked Mr. W if he would give me a little cheek massage.

As he went to work, I laughed and said, "Do you feel like you're kneading dough?"

"Well I've never kneaded this much dough before," he replied.

And we have a new entry on the things-not-to-ever-say-to-your-wife list.

It's a good thing he's so handy with power tools and heavy machinery!

Monday, November 4, 2013

Pumpkins and Bumpkins

Autumn in the country is a lot of fun, doggone it. The pumpkin patches are going full-tilt, hay bales and corn husk decorations are adorning winery and shop entrances, there was even a scarecrow contest in the town next door to us. Life just feels more festive out in these parts.  


A couple weeks ago, Mr. W and I checked out another fall festivity in the area—the 33rd annual Los Olivos Day in the Country. There weren't pumpkins, but there were tractors. Truthfully, the tractors were the main reason we went. We kind of dream of being able to drive one around in the lower portion of our backyard. I'm now having a lovely vision of Mr. W doing some sort of number from Footloose that involves high kicks off the tractor and a sprig of wheat between his teeth...


Anyway... There we were admiring John Deere's fine craftsmanship when I told Mr. W to take my picture. I posed with a cheesecake grin, careful not to touch any of the machinery.

"You can sit on one if you like," a voice came from behind me. 

I think what he really wanted to say was, "Little girl, you can pretend to drive one of these if you want." So of course, I leaped aboard and made Mr. W take more pictures of me fake-driving.

Totally fueled the tractor-owning fire. 

After I got my fill, we wandered down the street to one of our favorite garden shops. Our main motivation wasn't just to check out their cute merchandise—but to steal see their chickens. 

The girls didn't disappoint. They were quite social with each other and with us. 

Some people dream of naming their future children. I dream of naming my future chickens. Are Farrah, Kate, and Jaclyn too weird for chicken names? Farmie's Angels?

As you can tell, the country air is having a spectacular effect on my brain. 

Whilst we wait for the right time to buy chickens, we'll keep doing our best to grow other goodies in the garden. Since my last post on our miniature plot, the greens have gone crazy. We ate kale salads twice over the weekend and I accidentally picked some immature radishes while I was weeding, so I'm going to eat them this week. Beets and Brussels sprouts should be coming soon.

It's really exciting to think that someday in the not too distant future, we'll have planter boxes filled with all kinds of goodies. We won't even have to drive to the grocery store anymore. 

Or maybe if we do, we'll just take the tractor. 

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

The Difference Between Male and Female Home Updates

I guess it shouldn't be a surprise that "small" home updates vary greatly based on the sex executing them. Men and women are wired so differently. Even when we're toddlers, there seems to be an innate tendency among girls to nurture their dolls and play house, while the boys go down a sort of destructo-derby path, crashing toy cars and toppling building block towers. These varying inclinations were very evident this past week in our house as Mr. W and I each took on update projects.

Exhibit A
My update was as simple as working with an existing fixture and giving it a mini facelift. After my traumatic bird episode last week, I was totally in coping-through-creativity mode and decided it would be fun to repaint a planter so it coordinated better with a picture hanging in our living room.

Here's what our mantel looked like before:

Can you tell turquoise is my favorite color?

If you gaze down the mantel, you'll see this picture hanging on an adjacent wall:


Although there's some aqua in it, the deeper blues really pop. So I wanted to bring something into the living room that would tie into the cobalt and navy hues. After picking up some spray paint at the hardware store, and realizing straight bright blue was a bit too much, I settled on sort of an ombre treatment that used cobalt and oil-rubbed bronze—which I applied afterward with a stenciling brush. I also replaced the jade plant in it with a shorter, stouter clipping.

I think it turned out pretty cool. And now the dark blues in the painting aren't so lonely on the nearby wall.

Exhibit B
The "small" update Mr. W chose to make involved removing cabinet doors, reorganizing the cabinet's contents, finding a new place for the trashcan and recycling, and rewiring electrical so that it powers a new oven instead of the old one that came with the house. You know, just a minor tweak to the surroundings...

Here he is disassembling the old oven:

I didn't want a gaping hole in the middle of the kitchen, so after he disconnected the old oven, he put it back in its spot to serve as a cookie sheet storage facility.

And here he is connecting wires and making me nervous that he'd somehow electrocute himself even though the breaker was off...

Viola. Our new oven is installed. Too bad we don't have the new kitchen to match yet.

I think the best part of Mr. W's way-more-complicated project was that he was trying to beat the mother-in-law clock while he was doing it. My parents were on their way to our house after camping in Morro Bay and Mr. W wanted to have the oven situation completely figured out before my mom could arrive and give him a hard time.

He didn't make it, but my mom was impressed and didn't harass him too much. With all the commotion, I don't think she even noticed the new succulent pot on the mantel... Well played, Mr. W. Well played.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Coping When Death Comes to the Sliding Glass Door

I recently read a book called Sheepish about a lesbian couple who runs a sheep farm. One of the things the author made sure to cover was how prevalent death is when you're raising animals and living in the country. No matter how many lambs she and her lover lost, it never really got easier. So one of the ways she learned to cope with the stress of farming was to learn to knit. She had her flock's own wool spun into yarn and she turned to her needles whenever she needed to decompress.

Yesterday a bird crashed into our sliding glass door and despite my efforts, it died. When I found it flapping on the lawn, I scooped it up and put it in a shoebox on our back porch, with water and some soft grass. I messaged Mr. W for advice and then called my dad (a frequent bird rescuer). He told me there wasn't much I could do other than keep it somewhere where predators wouldn't get it and just wait and see.

When it got dark, I noticed the little bird was starting to shiver. He'd been toppling over and seeming to go in and out of sleep for awhile, but I wasn't ready to give up my fight. I asked Mr. W again what he thought my next move should be and he suggested putting a heating pad under the box. Unfortunately, I think the heating pad is in his apartment in Hollwyood. I searched the house and couldn't find it, so I decided instead to shred up some pillow stuffing from my sewing kit and tuck that around the little guy to keep him warm.

Except, when I went back to the box, he had stopped moving.

I cried for about 45 minutes. 

This morning, I dug a hole under our apricot tree and buried him. And then I did what the author of Sheepish did—I decided to cope by creating. One thing had died, so I wanted to give birth to another.

I spent the afternoon putting together our new outdoor dining set from IKEA. After assembling each chair, I sat in it for a minute, taking in the view, enjoying the warm autumn air.

I was just twisting the last of the screws in the last chair when I noticed a little flock of birds coming to play in the sprinkler on our lawn. They perched on our fence and ruffled their feathers in delight as the water fell on them. And of course, I imagined them coming to tell me that they knew I had tried and that I was forgiven.

Not sure if it was the visiting birds or the sense of accomplishment, but I felt much better after that.

And next time death comes knocking, I'll give it my best effort to keep the door closed, but if I can't win at least I'll have an effective way to cope.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Not Exactly What I Had in Mind When I Pictured Living the Dream

When we were in Naples, I found clotheslines in the city so romantic. Not quite
the same when it's in my backyard in California.

I remember that when I started my job at Yahoo! back in 2005, everything felt slightly uncomfortable. It was strange being in an office all day after having freelanced for 3 months. It was hard to write ads about new products I didn't fully understand. My coworkers weren't old friends. Everything felt a little stiff like it needed to be broken in. It took about 6-9 months before I started to finally feel at ease.

I try to remind myself of this in change situations.

It takes time. It's always hard in the beginning.

People keep asking me how things are going with the new house and the new life. Their eyes light up with hope and excitement like they're cheering for us from the inside. And I find myself wanting to fake it for their sake. So I try to focus on how beautiful the surroundings are. How lucky we are to have nice neighbors.

But the truth is that it's just plain hard. All of it.

When Mr. W and I imagined this wonderful wine country life, we thought we'd be here together. Not the case yet. Instead, he gets to struggle in a 330-square foot basement apartment while I try to manage the demands of a bigger house and giant yard.

Nothing is easy right now. Dishes have to be washed by hand. The oven burns everything if you're not careful. We don't have a proper sprinkler system, so every day I have to go outside and water. We're constantly playing bug police, trying to contain the wayward wildlife that continually crawls and flies through invisible holes in screen doors and windows. We've had an ongoing summer flea infestation that has required multiple cat baths and more vacuuming than I've done in months. And until this weekend, we've been without a washer and dryer here. Unfortunately, the dryer can't even be hooked up until we get connected the central gas line on the street, which could take months.

I don't even want to use this lovely machine because it doesn't
have a dryer to go with it. Good thing I work from home. I
can just stay in my pjs all day and not wash my clothes.

Every time I feel like we start to get a handle on things, or make progress in some area, something goes wrong. Primarily when it comes to the cats. In the nearly 6 weeks I've been here, we've had 2 bladder infections, fleas (even though the cats stay indoors full-time), one scary reaction to flea medication, and now a delightful case of the runs. I've never purchased so many supposed cat remedies in my life. (Did you know canned pumpkin is good for cats with upset stomachs?) I don't know how people with kids survive...

That little brass cat on my shelf is my favorite cat in the house. He only cost
$3 at a yard sale and he never has to go to the vet.

When I post pictures of the sunset or wine tasting on Facebook or Instagram, I think part of it is just to remind myself that it's not all hard work all the time here. Because that's largely what it's been feeling like. And that is so not what I had in mind.

The key to feeling better may lie in Mr. W and I being back on common ground. Which should be about another 6 months away. Perfectly aligned with the usual time period it takes me to truly settle in to a new situation. It'll be just in time for us to start tearing the house apart for renovations and putting everything in turmoil once again. Good thing we didn't choose to move to orange juice country. It would be much harder to cope.

Monday, September 30, 2013

Mastering Adaptability

I've become slightly obsessed with our hummingbird feeder. Maybe it's because those little crack addicts come back to eat about every ten minutes throughout the day. Or maybe it's because they're such a contrast to my other daily companions—the two fur-covered giant slugs that pretend to be cats.

Having jumped into the pool of all that is woo woo in recent years, I couldn't help but swim over to the deep end and Google what hummingbird spirits represent from an energetic standpoint. I loved what I found.
  • Hummingbirds represent enjoyment of life and lightness of being.
  • They symbolize adaptability, swiftness, and ability to respond quickly. 
  • They advocate bringing playfulness and joy into your everyday life.
  • They're resilient and can tirelessly travel long distances.
  • They are present and enjoy the sweet things.
  • As a spirit guide animal, their purpose is to lift up negativity. 
You guys, I totally want to be a hummingbird.

I want to be more adaptable and lighter. I don't want to let a flea problem in my house put me into a tailspin. I want to enjoy the sweet things and keep finding playfulness. And maybe learn to fly backwards...

Last week I was scanning TV channels and I found a show about these birds on National Geographic. Fascinating. Their little hearts beat 1200 times a minute when they're flying. About 8000 plant species depend on hummingbirds for reproduction. They expend so much energy flying that they have to perch and rest 80% of the time. And they have to eat every 15 minutes. Thus, the addiction-like behavior at our feeder.

I think these little guys are something to aspire to be like. Fast and active and playful when in flight. Then relaxed the rest of the time. Seems like the perfect balance.

My new mantra during harried work days has become, "Be adaptable like the hummingbird." I'm hoping that focusing on that attitude will help me keep my wings flapping to the beat of greater joy.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Fruits and Labors

I think this may be the first time since, oh, 2010 that I've written blog posts two days in a row. I just felt compelled to share some of our early farmy gardeny progress—particularly after seeing the sweet Chipoltle video that  seemed to be all over Facebook today.

This past weekend, Mr. W and I hit up a sale at our favorite local nursery and were able to get two varieties of fig trees and an avocado tree all for 50% off. Yes, we were psyched.

We hope this avocado tree does better than the one we planted
in Hollywood. That sucker only gave us 4 avocados in 2 years.

I wasn't super psyched, however, when I went to water the new fig trees yesterday afternoon. Mr. W told me I could just unstake one of our sprinklers (we haven't put in a proper sprinkler system yet) and aim it down the hillside where the trees are planted.

I can't remember what kind of figs these are but they stay greenish yellow. Hopefully
that'll help keep them camouflaged so the birds don't eat all of them.

Now, these are pivoting rainbird-ish sprinklers, so I thought for sure I was going to get wet. I was so careful, directing the arc of water away from myself, even as the sprinklerhead ticked back and forth. Victory.

But then I went to put the sprinkler back in its hole in the grass. And I'm not sure what exactly happened or where the water even came from—the spigot was off—but a huge blob of water bubbled up from nowhere and shot me square in the forehead. Right in the bangs. One eye lost its mascara. Thankfully none of the neighbors were outside to see me in my inept farmgirl glory.

At the nursery sale, we also bought lavender, curly kale, and brussels sprouts. Mr. W planted the veggies near a bunch of seeds he put down the week before. Unfortunately, the writing has disappeared from his markers so I have no idea what's sprouting up over there. Could be kinda fun. Mystery farming.

Drip line sprinklers are much more bangs-friendly than the other sprinklers...

Planting these was so relaxing. They smelled delicious!

Another purchase from the nursery that has my whistle whetter than a mad hen...or something like a cute little hops plant. After reading a couple different articles about people growing hops, we thought it would be fun to give it a try. Perhaps we'll be making beer before we make wine!

We're so brewing garage Guinness.

We're lucky because although all of our new plants are just babies, we have a pretty cool selection of stuff already on the property. Our neighbor planted an extensive garden on some of the land we've agreed to share. Though the tomatoes, melons, and squash have been great, the trees are what I find most exciting for fall. Apple cobbler and persimmon bread, here we come.

These are just asking to be thrown into a dutch oven with a bunch of sugar and butter.

Last Christmas I used persimmons to make bread for a few of the neighbors. Maybe
this year I'll just start a side business.

This is one of my other favorite neighbors. She's all about the neigh.

Our Meyer lemon tree is starting to bloom again, too. I need to find some good recipes for these kinds of lemons. Mr. W made some lemon oil with them but the bottle of yellow liquid looked a little disconcerting, so I haven't tried it on anything yet...

Not quite sure what to do with the pink peppercorns that are everywhere, either. We ate some off the tree recently and they were surprisingly sweet. I'll have to do some online searching. Maybe I can find some sort of Meyer lemon pepper recipe that combines both of our bounties.

It's definitely exciting to be able to walk into the backyard and find ingredients for dinner. The dirt that seems to be under my fingernails more regularly now is a small price to pay for so much good stuff.