Wednesday, November 2, 2016

A Couple of Midcentury Makeovers

It occurred to me while typing the title of this post that Mr. W and I aren't all that far off from being "midcentury" ourselves. Eesh. Where does the time go? It seems like just yesterday we were dreaming up our ideal midcentury-style house in the wine country and now we've owned this place for four years.

Speaking of which—when we first purchased it and were coming up to work on it on the weekends, we bought a $20 IKEA coffee table to tide us over until we moved our real furniture. That terrible little laminate table survived even after we brought our Hollywood belongings, and in the corner it sat for three whole years, bowing slightly under the weight of the TV, stereo, and various other media components.

Sometimes I would catch myself sneering at it in disgust. It was never anything but faithful to me, and yet, I loathed that cheapie coffee table.

Mr. W promised to build me a custom media console...but he had about 850,000 other projects ahead of it. And then we got a kitten. And the kitten took to climbing behind Ugly IKEA Coffee Table and chewing on all the cords to our various viewing system boxes.

Thus began my renewed crusade to get something else in the corner of my living room.

Mr. W went to work in Sketchup as he likes to do, and drafted some plans...

Execution proved a smidge difficult, as after he applied walnut wood veneer to one side of the actual construction wood, it warped a bit. So I was called into the garage to stand on the wood while he screwed it together. Ah, the life of a DIYer's wife...

Thankfully, he was able to get everything together right and after a couple short weeks, we had an amazing, very authentic-looking midcentury-esque piece of furniture to take the place of Sad, Sad IKEA Coffee Table.

Of course, once the TV was mounted to the wall, I had a funny empty spot next to it that felt like it needed a something sparkly. Not like glitter on a stripper sparkly, but like 1960s starburst clock sparkly—only, without the $100+ price tag. Instead, for a mere $15 at Target I was able to construct my own makeshift burst mirror.

Not wanting to be shown up by Mr. W's redecorating skills, I decided I would also recover the cushions on the cute midcentury chair that sits across from the TV stand. The cover it came with was in ok shape when we first bought it last year...

But after many tooshes smooshing its surface, the fabric finally began to split. So I headed to Joann's, watched some videos on YouTube, and undertook my very first reupholstering project with piping.

I got the job done, but there was an inordinate amount of cursing involved. I may have also punched the sewing machine a few times. Not in like a Fonzie "Eeeeyyy this'll make it start working for me" way but like an "I hate you and want to smash you until you're dead" kind of way... It took a lot of stamina and a lot of wine to get the project done. But I did it and although it's not perfect, it looks just fine. At least that's what the cats keep telling me...


Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Hardly Roughing It: Our Second Annual Camping Trip

Quintessential camp beverages

When Mr. W and I first started talking about camping a few years ago, I immediately mounted my high horse and regaled him with stories of my extreme outdoorsiness. I could survive in the desert with barely more than a canteen and a bandana. I could go days without a shower. I'd practically earned a PhD in s'more making. I certainly wasn't Cheryl Strayed, but I had backpacked in Angeles Crest, Joshua Tree (multiple times) and even the Sierras—where it unexpectedly snowed on us in the middle of the night. I pretty much considered myself a camping pro.

So when Mr. W insisted we bring aerobeds and pillows to sleep on last year in Big Sur, my eyes almost rolled out of my head in judgmental disgust. That was way too luxurious for camping. We needed to rough it!

One night in Big Sur, and I decided I'd pack my pillow (like he had been smart enough to do) on our next trip...

Just another spectacular California beach

Fast forward to this week and we had the car loaded for Montaña de Oro State Park with everything from the aerobeds to my silk pillowcase-covered pillow, to a down comforter for extra cushion. He had turned me.

When we stopped off at Target in San Luis Obispo on our way, it was only supposed to be for some drinking water to last us during our two-night stay. But the next thing we knew, we were loading a bottle of wine, some extra cheese, and a few random necessities, like vitamin D and cat food, into our cart.

Camp Maris

As we set up our tent, Mr. W used a bluetooth speaker to broadcast Coldplay from our picnic table so we had a work soundtrack. Our aerobeds were inflated courtesy of a power adapter plugged into the Prius. We used a firestarter packet to get our campfire raring for bratwurst cooking. 

Note to other campers: Potatoes on skewers take about 3.5 hours to cook...

We were cheating up a storm. And it only got worse.

I couldn't have Photoshopped this better than it was. Nature. Sigh.

In the morning, we decided to drive into town for a coffee...except the car wouldn't start because we had drained the battery blowing up inflatable beds and charging our iPhones! After a jumpstart from a neighboring camper, we not only headed for a coffee but went BACK to Target to buy a brighter lantern, some more paper plates, aluminum foil, gloves for Mr. W...and a birthday gift for my niece.

People, that is not camping. Camping should not involve two trips to Target and a superfluous bag of candy corn.

Camping is about unplugging from civilization! Communing with nature! Problem-solving instead of running for the easy fix!

The tidepools were like little ocean forests.

The funny thing is, now that we live in the country (yeah, I know, we're 3 years in here) it feels like we're unplugged from civilization and communing with nature and problem-solving A LOT. So maybe it's ok for our camping trips to involve a little luxury and ease.

Or maybe our next trip will involve backpacks and dehydrated dinners instead of down comforters and 3-course meals to make up for our sissiness.

Either way, we'll be sure and document the entire thing on our iPhones so we don't lose any of our technological prowess to actual creative thinking...

I bet that water is about 45°.

Sunsets are for lovers.

I like how the rocks look like stacks of capsized crackers.

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Sneaking a New Cat into the Kitten Coop

According to the rules of country living, when a farmer is ready to add new hens to a flock, that farmer is supposed to sneak the new chickens into the coop in the middle of the night while the rest of the girls are asleep—or at least groggy—and the next morning, the old chickens won't even realize there are new members in their gang. Though we haven't yet tried this with our girls, the premise sounds pretty simple. A little sneakeroo and you're done.

Adding a new cat the flock...not so simple.

After our beloved, billion-dollar Monty had to be put to sleep in May, we knew we'd eventually be in the market for another kitty. The trick was knowing how and when to introduce one to our snappy, sixteen-year-old crabcake, Zöe. Her anxiety seemed to skyrocket after Monty's passing, so we wanted to make sure we had her calmed down before trying to sneak in a new flock-mate.

Sitting on Mr. W's lap is a good coping mechanism...

A couple weeks ago, I decided it was time. Mr. W complied with my request to begin the shopping process, likely because he just bought a bunch of parts to build a freaking airplane (YES an actual airplane that he plans to fly). You get a plane, I get a kitten.

We agreed that we wanted to try to find a Monty version 2.0, so our goal was to adopt an all-black, male short-hair that was somewhere between 8 and 12 weeks old. Although there appeared to be lots of contenders online, our first stops at a shelter and a cat rescue facility didn't turn up exactly what we were looking for (but there are tons of cute kitties out there and you should totally go adopt one...)

I was pretty depressed to come home empty-handed after hauling off to the humane society with my cat carrier in hand and a fresh bag of kitten food in my pantry. So last Monday, I talked Mr. W into driving to San Luis Obispo with me to check out some more options.

When we got to the front desk of the Animal Services office, the lady asked us what we were looking for. I told her our criteria and she said, "We have THE cutest black and white kitten in room one. He is absolutely adorable." I blew her off, determined to stick to my shopping list.

And then we went to Cat Room One and this little face pranced back and forth in his cage batting his eyelashes at us and being 10x more lovable than any of the other cats in the running.

He wasn't all black. He wasn't short-haired. But he was a boy and he was only 3 months old. With that face and that charm, he would do just fine.

Mr. W took some convincing, but shortly after meeting him, we were packing up Oliver Montrose Maris and taking him back to his forever home.

His favorite spot is on top of the wine fridges. Boy after my own heart.

The introduction process with Zöe has been a very slow, calculated one with lots of back and forth solitary confinement, some supervised visits, and a fair amount of hissing. I'm hoping one day she'll wake up like a clueless chicken and just think Ollie has been here all along.

In the grand tradition of being a panicked pet parent, I've already worried about Oliver not eating enough, accidentally getting stepped on when he camouflages with the black kitchen rug, swallowing a poisonous spider, and strangling himself with his fishing pole toy (he's not allowed to have it in the middle of the night when we're not there to save him). Needless to say, it is better for the entire world that Mr. W and I did not produce any human children together.

We are happy enough with our little furry flock. Especially this guy whose purr motor runs at high speed every day and turns my heart to a puddle of mush.  

Saturday, July 30, 2016

This Is Not the Life I Ordered

For about the last 8 months, Mr. W has been commuting to LA two days a week for a film project. During the last 5 or 6 weeks, he's only been able to come home on weekends. Though we're no strangers to living apart, after awhile his absence starts to wear on me. Big time. Especially since we've moved, just because the responsibility list is longer in Santa Ynez than it was in Hollywood.

So Monday, when I went to let the chickens out to free range and saw our little Wellsummer hen, Miranda, looking under the weather, my already weakened husbandless constitution began to crumble.

At first, I thought maybe our girl was just overheated. She was panting. Her comb was pale. Her usually perky tail was pointed toward the ground. I led her to a container of water and of course couldn't get her to drink (the saying's not just for horses...). Though it was the middle of my workday, there was no way I was going to leave my ailing chick. So I took to Google and read every blog post and chat thread I could find about her symptoms.

The thing about chickens is that they're really hard to diagnose. Or maybe, when you're a total avian novice like me, they are. I needed Mr. W here to tell me what to do! In between my frantic visits to hen-devoted websites, I was IMing him like mad.

The first thing he told me was that I was forbidden from calling the vet. He was not going to shell out $100 to save a $4 chicken. He told me that if she died, I should just put her in a garbage bag in the garage freezer and he'd deal with her when he got home. Um, not the scenario I hoped would play out. 

Sad chicken soup
I decided to do the only thing I knew how to do: give her the "spa treatment" we'd given Samantha when she got sick. I drew her an Epsom salt bath in a Rubbermaid container, put the container in the master bathtub, then loaded her into the chicken ambulance and brought her in the house.

Desperate to do whatever I could to make Miranda feel better, I decided to try a second step in the "spa treatment" that I hadn't done before. I decided to give her some clean Epsom salt water by mouth. The article I read clearly warned to administer the liquid very slowly so as not to make the chicken aspirate any of it into her lungs. Armed with my syringe, I dripped dots of water along the sides of Miranda's beak and she tiredly gobbled them up. I thought we were making good progress until I noticed a low wheeze starting to build with her breathing.

Thinking she might just have a little chicken phlegm, I gave her some more water. The wheeze turned into a gurgle.


I was sure of it. I'd gotten water into her lungs and that was the nail in the freezer-garbage-bag coffin. My mind ripped back to a familiar place it likes to visit when Mr. W is gone and things feel tough.

"This is NOT the life I ordered," it screamed.

The life I signed up for was one where my husband and I were under one roof, throwing our heads back in synchronized laughter as we expertly remodeled our home. One where we spent warm summer evenings harvesting ripe tomatoes and admiring how tall the corn stalks had grown. One where we grew grapes in our backyard and turned them into delicious vintages which we served to friends at dinner parties.

Nursing a half-dying hen in my master bathtub was never a line item on the order sheet.

I IMed Mr. W and told him I thought I'd just sealed Miranda's fate. He told me to put her out with the rest of the flock and hope for the best.

So, fighting back tears, I did.

About an hour later, I took some apple slices out to the girls and Miranda appeared to have a little more life in her eyes. She pecked at the apples. She drank water from the pan I'd tried to cool her feet in earlier. Her tail was no longer pointing toward the ground.

As my fight-or-flight response began to dissipate, I realized how incredibly stupid it is to even think "This is not the life I ordered." I thought of Elizabeth Gilbert's line from Eat, Pray, Love about how she "had actively participated in every moment" of the creation of her life.

Duh. This was totally the life I had "ordered." Um and by the way—like any of us even have the power to command or control life (okay, well I do believe in The Secret and manifesting and all that jazz so I guess I still). Anyone's life can suck at any point—it's all about where you choose to rest your attention.

Telling myself this sad story on top of my already dismal poultry predicament just made the entire situation feel that much worse. Ah, the pity party. I'm really good at throwing them, but they're sure no fun to attend.

I'm happy to say that Miranda is still with us. Her comb is still a smidge pale, but her gurgle is gone and her neurotic nervous cluck is back. I'm also glad to report that Mr. W has returned to town full-time. Having my right-hand guy here always makes me feel better. Though I'm eternally grateful for both of those things, I'm also thankful for the reminder that lopping a sad story onto a stressful situation only makes everything feel 10x worse. Or as a wise farmer somewhere once said, "A resistant, defeatist attitude never kept any chickens out of the freezer." 

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

One-Acre Angst

There's nothing quite like having loaded fruit trees in your backyard—where you can just pluck a plum off a branch, polish it on your shirt, and eat it right there at its very freshest. So juicy and delicious. It makes me wish I'd met Mr. W in his 20s when he was all ripe for the pickin'. But I digress...

My point is, I love summertime in our yard. I love that we can harvest peaches and plop them into our caprese salads. (If you haven't done this, you MUST try it. Trust me.) I love that we made fajitas this weekend with an onion we grew. I love that Mr. W and the chickens worked together (he dug the hole and they kicked dirt back into it...) to plant zucchini on Sunday. And I love that the shoulder-high weedfest we had going in our back 40 got mowed down and tilled.


But that also brings me to something that doesn't feel so lovey: having so much freaking land it's like we're Tom Hanks and Wilson the volleyball adrift in an infinite sea. Every time I look at that big swath of acreage in our backyard, I get a little touch of vertigo. It's. Just. Too. Much.

See what I'm sayin'?

Our house is like a child's-sized shoebox up there.

As a registered control freak, it completely stresses me out to have that area growing wild and looking so unkempt. And after Mr. W and I went to a birthday party on a beautifully manicured piece of property recently (think freshly mowed grass and white lights draped from the canopy of a beautiful oak) we're both antsy to get this part of the yard into better shape. So he has put his Sketchup skills to work once again, and has begun drafting ideas for our open space. Behold:

Of course I have grand visions of hosting outdoor yoga and coaching classes down there, followed by micro-farm-to-table dinners. And of course we'll be drinking wine made from our yard's own grapes. While Mr. W plays the fiddle and I sing folk songs. It shall be dreamy.

In the meantime, we'll just have to enjoy what we've accomplished so far—like the fire pit Mr. W installed. It's made of cortex steel like the edging in our front yard planters, so it'll get a cool, rusted patina over time. Mr. W sort of built it himself (someone else bent the metal but he riveted it) so no one else has one exactly like this. Pretty sure if it went up on auction it'd fetch like a mil.

We also got the chicken yard fence all completed. Now those little buggars can't escape and poop all over our back patio. 

Anyway, that's where we are with the yard accomplishments and growing angst. I'm sure I'll be cursing and shoveling gravel back there again at some point in the not too distant future...

Friday, May 13, 2016

There's a Cat-Shaped Hole in My Heart: In Memoriam of Monty

I'm not sure whether it's fitting or macabre that we chose Friday the 13th to put a black cat to sleep. I recently read online that black cats are the hardest for shelters to find homes for, and they have the highest euthanasia rate. Truth be told, 17 years and 3 months ago when I headed to the pet store in search of a kitten, I wasn't looking for a black cat either. Superstition would have swayed me to another option.

But I had only three black kittens to choose from and when one clung to me like his life depended on me, I had to take him home.

It seems silly that a housecat could turn out to be a pillar of my existence for nearly half my life, but that's exactly what happened.

I bought Monty when I was trudging through my fifth year of college, and had just reconciled with my boyfriend after a breakup. Knowing that another breakup was probably inevitable, I decided it would be wise for me to get a pet.

Cats were easy. Low maintenance. And familiar because I'd grown up with them. So I brought Monty into my 450-square-foot studio and never looked back.

I had no idea at the time that I'd end up spending tens of thousands of dollars on him throughout his life. And I had no idea he'd end up repaying me in tens of thousands of hours of joy.

He was a funny baby—I remember him running up the back of my jeans and perching himself on my butt like I was his chauffeur. He used to steal q-tips from me and flip and twirl them around on the carpet like a miniature baton thrower. At night, he'd curl up on my pillow and nuzzle in my hair then ever so gently close his little kitten teeth around my earlobe—chomp.

Cuteness aside, he quickly became my companion and the one dependable man in my life (other than family) throughout my single years. He cuddled with me when I lay crying on the floor after ending love affair after love affair in my 20s. He napped on the couch with me when I was home sick with the flu. He rested against me when I'd camp out in front of my wall heater on cold days, reading the latest Harry Potter book.

No matter what was going on in my life—how bad work was, how sad I was about being single, how little money I had in my bank account—I knew I could always come home to him and find comfort and unconditional love.

We also worked out a great deal when it came to my dating life. Monty was an alpha and he put each and every one of my prospects through an aggressive vetting process. Even after Mr. W and I moved in together, there were occasional challenges about who was in charge and who would take up the most room on the couch. He knew he was my main man and he wasn't just going to step aside for anyone.

Initially, Mr. W was suspect of my chubby little bodyguard. He was allergic to Monty and not very eager to spark up a friendship. But Monty won him over.

Pretty much everyone he met, he won over. One of my girlfriends once said, "It's like you own a living version of Garfield." He was fat. He was funny. He was smart. He was kind of irresistible.

He would snuggle his face in your leather shoes and talk back when you talked to him. You couldn't help but find him charming.

Two and a half years ago, he was diagnosed with chronic renal failure, and not being able to let him suffer or leave me yet, I took on the painful task of administering subcutaneous fluids to him every other day to keep him hydrated as his kidney function slowly shut down. His needs quickly shifted to every day treatment, and eventually to fluids twice a day—IV bag, needle, the whole shebang. On top of it, he developed diabetes, so he had to get insulin shots with breakfast and dinner as well.

But he was used to fighting. He'd almost died from a liver condition and something that seemed to be pancreatitis in his younger years—even had to be syringe-fed through a feeding tube in his neck twice.

The cat had about 90 lives to the usual nine.

We are so fortunate that he decided to stay with us as long as he did, particularly because we really wanted him to enjoy his golden years in Santa Ynez. And I think he did enjoy them. He loved laying in the sun patches that would come in through the sliding glass doors. On cold days when we used the oven, he would stretch out on the tile in front of it, soaking up the heat. He loved hanging out in the kitchen when we were making dinner. He'd listen to whatever was cranking on the iPod and beg for scraps of food.  

Despite being in not so great physical shape, I think these last few years were pretty good for him. And although it's awesome he survived so through so much and lived such a long, fat, happy life, it was completely heartbreaking to say goodbye to him today.

There will never be another like my Montrose P. Maris.

He was the kitty king.