Sometimes you don't blog because instead of doing house projects, you attend blending trials. Other times, it's because you come home, open the curtains, and say, "Charles, there is a HUGE woodpecker right outside the window." And then the former wildlife major walks over, gets super excited, and says, "That's a pileated woodpecker. I've never seen one so close! They're usually so wary of people. What is it doing here?" Then you both enthusiastically gaze at a giant woodpecker doing its thing for the next hour and are reminded of how awesome it is to live in the woods.
As many of you know, I love the ocean and desperately miss it now that we live inland. What better way to celebrate my 38th birthday this past week then to take a long weekend at the coast? We feasted on wine, cheese, and crackers, filled our lungs with the salt air, and were lulled to sleep each night by the constant crashing of waves on the shore. It was wonderful, and I was home.
My Charles and I went to Anderson Valley and the Pacific Coast this weekend, specifically Little River and the Jug Handle State Reserve. As we pulled into the valley, and even more so as we arrived at the ocean, I felt my bones settle and my entire body relax. Do you know what I mean? It was glorious. As we drove away, I felt the tension return, slowly tightening as we traveled until I was back, stuck in my usual, wound-up self. But for the short bit while we were there, it was wonderful, beautiful, and right.
My Charles and I just returned from a trip to England. What a beautiful country! The weather was what we would have expected, and wasn't any different from what we used to experience during December on the North Coast. We visited my sister's heart-home, Winchester, as well as checking out London, Stonehenge, and Avebury. I'm still suffering from jet lag, so for now, here's a photo dump of our wonderful holiday.
Living in Nevada County can be difficult at times. It's the oldest county in California. Seriously -- I'm the youngest person at every event my Charles and I go to. I still have a couple of years left in my thirties. I don't want to be discussing my sciatica. Plus, I desperately miss the ocean -- that wild and cold ocean of the North Coast, and it's not a college town. I miss that too. Oh for the days of overhearing others' existential crises over breakfast! All of which to say that, come autumn and the glorious display of colors, living in Nevada County becomes lovely -- glorious even. For a month's time, all of that angst is forgotten in an amazing wash of colors.
The sun gifts us with the first light of day.
As it climbs higher in the sky, I will experience a slight ache in my back, an amazing sense of satisfaction, and a very minor buzzing in my head – the ache from harvesting grapes grown in the traditional, Italian way (tight rows and low-hanging fruit), the satisfaction from working as hard and as quickly as possible among the vines, and the buzz from the amazing champagne brunch that is our payment for a job well done.
For the past three seasons, my Charles and I have helped in Montoliva’s harvest of its estate-grown Sangiovese grapes. Each year, it’s gotten easier. In part, this is because we’re getting a bit better, but more of the success has come from nicer weather.
The harvest in 2010 was on Halloween. It was cold and stormy. It had rained the night before, so even though I was wearing a sweater underneath my raincoat, I was drenched and shivering within five minutes. 2011 was warmer and more pleasant, though there had been some moisture, so we dealt with a small amount of rot. Plus, I forgot to bring our gloves, so my Charles and I both managed to nick ourselves with our clippers. 2012 was hot and dry. The bunches were big and beautiful and dusty – no moisture, and therefore no rot, to be found.
This year’s crew was also outstanding. For the first time, the entire estate was harvested on the same day, and not only that, it was harvested in a few hours. Everyone kicked some major ass and took some major names. My Charles and I were home by noon, feeling good, though tired, and cheered by a beautiful, warm morning spent out amongst the vines.
2012 is going to be an amazing year for California wines.
This last weekend, we decided to extend our time off a couple of extra days and travel to the Ruby Mountains in Nevada. We had been working so much on the house, we hadn't even had time to take our new camper on its maiden voyage. At the end of the trip, I wrote down snippets from the most memorable aspects of our mini vacation.
For the first time in our lives, my Charles and I purchased something big and new -- something to make our camping easier. We ordered a camper from Four Wheel Campers, and we love it. They built it on site in Woodland, California, right outside of Sacramento. Not only was it great to be able to get everything to our specifications, it was terrific to know that it was being built just down the hill from us -- made in the USA and close to us as well.
We got a few extra features because we knew they'd come in handy in the long run. One was a pull-out awning for those sunny days in the desert. The other was something that I insisted on -- an outdoor shower. I paid for it with my freelancing funds, and I think it will save us money in the long run, as we'll no longer need to stop at motels to clean ourselves of all of the desert dust and sweat.
The best part may just be that now not only can we easily take the pup camping, we can go wherever the truck can take us. We can make camp on BLM land far from anyone else and enjoy the solitude that we're constantly seeking. I'm so excited for our first trip! All we need is a weekend where we're not working on the house or my Charles isn't working extra. Yep, it might be a while, but I'm really looking forward to it.
*We didn't get anything from the dealers. We just really love our camper and thought we'd share.
Since buying our house, one of my goals has been to create a garden. It's taken some time, assessing potential deer damage, figuring out how to work it into the space, and watching for the best light.
Finally, almost three years later, I came up with a way of incorporating planter boxes into the hillside, and using some other spaces, too.
The wine barrel we got from a local winery last year got cut in half. My Charles and I used the circular saw. We snapped off a straight line around the middle of the barrel. Then he held the saw as I slowly rolled it, on its side, toward him. The method worked pretty well.
The boxes were constructed from the leftover wood from our old stairs. I salvaged pieces that weren't too damaged.
Then I screwed in small pieces at the inside corners for stability. Next, I attached the the corners of the wood together. (Did I mention I used salvaged screws from the old stairs, too?) Finally, I attached corner brackets to make sure everything stayed strong and connected.
The hardest part of the whole project was actually getting the open-backed boxes to fit on the hillside properly. It required a lot of digging, positioning, and more digging until I was finally able to get the box level.
Once the boxes were level, I drove some rebar into the ground at the front of each planter, further stabilizing the box since I knew the earth was going to be HEAVY, and since I was incorporating the boxes into the hillside, gravity was not going to act as a friend.
Originally, I had planned for three planters, but due to the shape of the hillside, I ended up only creating two. The planter shown above is huge, so I think it will be the main, large vegetable box.
The second planter will hold lettuce and herbs -- all of those awesome leafy greens. Yesterday morning was spent shoveling a special veggie-mix compost into the boxes, and some starts were planted. I'm planning on finishing the planting today and stretching netting over the boxes to keep the deer out.
The front yard is starting to come together. Where the stairs used to be are now graduated planting areas sporting daffodils and the sprouts of wildflowers. Half of the wine barrel is going to be a planter for a small chaste tree. The other half will be a solar powered fountain. My veggie garden is finally underway, and the whole area should be mulched soon. Now I just need to get that clothesline built...
Spring means a trip to Death Valley. We travel down 395 because it’s a beautiful trip, much better than blasting down the valley. After getting south of Topaz Lake, the same thing happens each year – all of my cares seem to evaporate, and I’m calm. Driving by Mono Lake always brings us joy, and visiting The Barn for some good, old-fashioned burgers in Bridgeport has become tradition.
Then we point the car towards Death Valley, nearing one of our favorite places in the world. The first Joshua tree sighting still makes me giddy. They’re like old buddies that I’ve been missing. I have to keep myself from throwing an arm around their trunks and pressing my face into their spiny bark.
After setting up the tent and getting the campsite organized, it’s time to hike. This year, we hiked up a couple of different washes, following the water-carved paths up to the top of hills as well as wandering along Mable Canyon. The way to the canyon required four wheel drive, but the washboards, rocks, and gullies were worth it for the hike.
Since it was a very dry winter, there weren’t any wildflowers this year. The vistas and geology were as impressive as usual, though, and the lack of flowers meant that we didn’t have to deal with as many people. Since one of the things we love about vacations is finding solitude, we ended up not missing the bloom that much.
This may be our last camping trip using the tent. We’re beginning to have trouble sleeping on the ground and are missing some creature comforts, like shelter from the high winds. We’ve been seriously considering a cabover camper. It will give us shelter and a bed but still allow us the freedom we enjoy.
As always, vacation wasn’t nearly as long as we wanted it to be, but it was lovely while