Friday, August 26, 2011

The ER and the Crock Pot

I have tons of great stories and photos for you, but this one takes precendence.


This morning I tried something fairly foreign to me. I decided to make dinner in the crock pot before leaving for work. Let me preface this story with the fact that I am not the most domestic mom out there.  My repertoire of homemade meals is small, while our list of restaurants frequented is long. Now that we live out in the back 40 (and are the very definition of "house poor"), we want to turn over a new leaf and make eating at home a priority. This brings me to this morning's "crock pot incident." Which is really more of a "chicken incident."Which, okay let's be honest, is really more of a "Beck's misuse of a steak knife incident."

I knew better. I really did. My history with knives isn't a good one. A professor from college still remembers that, more than 10 years ago, she asked me to chop vegetables at an end-of-year party in her home. I gave it my best effort, but she took one look at me and knew I didn't have the faintest idea how to chop vegetables or use a knife properly. Fast forward to this morning. I am a little better at chopping vegetables, but I am notorious for holding the knife wrong or getting my fingers to close to the blade. As I was carelessly trying to pry the packaging off the backside of the frozen chicken with a steak knife and my mom looked on with the words "be careful not to cut yourself" on her lips, my hand slipped and I took a pretty good chunk out of my left thumb.

It hurt. I may have used a bad swear.

The worst part - I left a message at work to tell them I'd be late due to slicing my thumb while preparing dinner. Apparently this generated several questions. The most important was not whether I would be maimed for life, but rather a) What was I doing making dinner in the morning? and b) what was I doing making dinner at all? - "She doesn't cook!"

Clearly I have a reputation. Pioneer Woman I am not.

Crock pot = 1 Beck = 0

For the record, the chicken came out of the incident unscathed and mom came to the rescue and finished the preparations for tonight's meal while JP and I went to the hospital to make sure my thumb would remain intact. Our first visit was unsuccessful as our local medical office does not provide emergency care. We decided it was fine; cleaned and bandaged it and went our separate ways to work. After several people told me I should be concerned with the fact that I couldn't straighten out my thumb, I decided to call the advice nurse for further instruction. An afternoon at the ER being splinted, glued and poked with a tetanus shot followed. The jury's still out on whether or not I nicked a tendon or a nerve and follow up with my regular doctor, as well as a visit with the plastic surgery department, was prescribed.

All in the name of being domestic. Should have gone ahead and picked up a pizza like mom suggested.

Happy weekend! I have a full slate of events for work on the schedule. Wish me luck that I can do them all with a bum thumb!

-Beck :)

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Our New Grapes

It's funny how life happens. Both Beck and I are not big drinkers. In fact, you maybe surprised that we truthfully have never been drunk before. I give Beck a hard time that she was drunk the night before our wedding in the hotel with the girls, but I don't think even one fruity liquor could get a light weight like Beck drunk. Anyways despite our tastes we now own a vineyard of Petite Sirah grapes. We own a 5 acre parcel and we have 4.5 acres of grape vines. We have entered harvest season and they are absolutely beautiful.

Here are some fun facts about Petite Sirah. Petite Sirah makes a red wine that goes well with dinner. It is really good if you're having BBQ pork ribs (my fave), brisket, chicken or steak. I've learned that the flavor of the grape is locked and emerges out of the skin and unlocks a fruity berry tasting wine with a hint of bacon. Now when I read in a wine description that this wine has a hint of bacon I immediately thought of how the comedian Jim Gaffigan said, "Bacon is like meat candy for men!" Pretty much as long as the word bacon is used in any food description you know that it is going to be good. The Petite Sirah is a grape that is high yielding, which means the vines produce a lot of fruit. The Petite Sirah is only grown in four parts of the world:  France, California, Israel and Australia. Over 90% of all grapes grown in Israel are in fact Petite Sirah. Some Zinfandel wine makers add Petite Sirah to their creations to create the perfect blend of Zin. A man with the last name of Foppiano came from France in the 1850's and planted Petite Sirah in California.

Petite Sirah is a unique grape because it is "Mildew Resistant." Many farmers battle "mildew" which is kind of a fungus that grows on grapes (and in showers). If you have ever had strawberries or raspberries and left them in the fridge too long, they grow a fungus on them. This is the same fungus that can grow on grapes. Thus when you have this fungus you cannot convert this disease-infested fruit into wine. So farmers spend a lot of time spraying their grapes with sulfur which stops this fungus from growing. Well the Petite Sirah is the only grape in the world that is Mildew Resistant which means that, although my new grapes were neglected for 2 years when the house went into foreclosure, the Petite Sirah grapes are in great shape and ready to sell because they cannot get this disease. It is one of the most organic grapes you can get because their are no pesticides that are sprayed on the grapes.

Here are some fun facts about wine making: Approximately 600 to 800 grapes make a bottle of wine. You can get that many grapes from 8 to 10 grape clusters. Each vine when in production can produce 8 to 10 clusters of grapes each. Each acre of Petite Sirah makes about 4.5 tons of grapes on average. This means our property could produce 16 to 20 tons of grapes. Each ton of grapes produce two barrels of wine. Each barrel of wine makes about 300 bottles of wine. This means my little vineyard could produce 11 to 12 thousand bottles of wine each year. To me that's kind of amazing.

Since we first went into escrow in May up until now, I have been able to see the different stages of the grape growth during it's fruiting process.  I remember back in early June I called my Dad and said, "Dad, this property is going to have a lot of grapes!"because I saw the buds blooming on the vines. Now that those blooms are now grapes I can tell you that despite their neglect they are doing well and we should have a good harvest this year.

This short picture chronicle has been over the last 8 to 9 weeks or so and we are entering into harvest season. Only one problem I have now:  What am I going to do with all of these grapes?!


Thursday, August 18, 2011

The Journey to "This Vine Life" - Part 2

I'm skipping around a little bit in the story of how we found ourselves on the journey to "This Vine Life." Consider this one a bit of an origin story and where I'm at emotionally with our move. More to come later on how we are actually adjusting to our new home and what the first few days have been like. Here's a hint:  boxes, spiders, more boxes.

Our First Home - "The Cottage"

We bought our first home almost 6 years ago in 2005; right as the "housing bubble" neared its popping point. (Isn't it adorable?) JP, my husband - the smart, savvy forward-thinker that he is, talked me into it. We had looked at the house a few months earlier and JP loved it. I thought it was okay, but also really small and that the asking price was too high, so I refused to discuss it further. We both forgot about it. The owners, who had completely redone the 1927 brick cottage, including converting and expanding a garage into an in-laws quarters complete with a private bathroom, kitchen and stackable washer and dryer, had a hard time unloading it so it sat on the market for several months. Eventually I rediscovered it online and then it was my turn to convince JP that it was the right home for us. The price had dropped and, with the in-laws quarters as a cash flow opportunity, it was the perfect way for us to get into the market (which was still rising at the time).We figured being in a desirable neighborhood, just a short walking distance from the local private University surely couldn't hurt us either. The plan was to live there 3 to 5 years and then move on to something bigger. When the market tanked and our home lost more than half it's value, I figured we were here indefinitely. (If you recall the point of this blog, you'll know that all changed recently.)

We loved our time in this house. As we moved out the last few pieces of furniture on Sunday I looked around and the memories of the last 6 years hit me like a freight train. I remembered the first few weeks of ownership spent painstakingly painting the kitchen a vibrant cherry red color (that required 7 coats and peeled off in places when we removed the painters tape - rookie mistakes) and the way I agonized over any white spots showing through the living room and bedroom walls. I remembered converting the spare bedroom into LJ's nursery and how proud we were of the space we created for him. I remembered the afternoon naps on the sofa in front of the gas insert fireplace with a new baby on my chest. I remembered creeping into LJ's room to confirm his slow and steady breathing when we moved him into his crib just a week after he was born. I remembered the easy walk down the front porch steps and through the tree-lined neighborhood to our favorite Starbucks and to the place where we met and fell in love. I remembered the year we put Christmas lights on all the windows and how excited JP was with the Snoopy blowups he bought for the front yard (and how mad I was when our electric bill was over $500 because of said decorations). I remembered how beautiful it was to have so many friends and family members in this home for LJ's 1st Birthday Party and another time when several faithful friends drove from out of town in a thunder storm to attend a dinner party we hosted. Basically, I remembered all of the memories we poured into this house over the last six years and how fleeting they all seemed as I surveyed the empty rooms. How could all of that time and all of those memories be gone with just a few hours, some manual labor and a moving truck? Even now as I type this my eyes are filled with tears and my heart is filled with a kind of melancholy that I don't quite understand. (Especially since our new home has so many conveniences we were lacking over the past 6 more than one bathroom and a walk-in closet!!!)

I mean, as much as I loved our first home, the place was ridiculously too small for us to live comfortable, organized lives. We were in a constant state of clutter and could never put all of our laundry away when it was clean. It was awkward to have people visit because you couldn't really spread out and to get to the bathroom you had to walk through the kitchen, which was never clean. (Unless it was a Monday or Tuesday and my mother-in-law had been in town for babysitting duty.) But, this cramped little house was ours and we had some great fun and made great memories here!

My friend Randi likened it to the plot of a TV show she just watched and says I have my "graduation goggles" on. You know, as times passes after graduation and you look back and can only remember how much fun you had and how great your friends were and the good times you shared - not how lame it was when you and your best friend were the only seniors who went all out for decades day and spent hours putting together the perfect 80's ensembles only to have her change into regular clothes during 2nd period...or the time your drama teacher went crazy and cancelled practice and made you stand outside during a torrential downpour because you couldn't get a hold of your mom because cell phones didn't exist yet.

I digress...I definitely have my "house nostalgia glasses" on this week. I'm hoping that by the time I finish cleaning the final boxes out of "the cottage" basement and finally get my kitchen unpacked and photos on the wall at the new house that I can move on and start to feel good about making new memories in a new space - remembering how fleeting time is and how important it is to live in every spider-filled, cluttered, too many laundry piles moment and enjoy all life has to offer.

Happy Thursday friends!

-Beck :)

Saturday, August 13, 2011

I heard a coyote out at the new house tonight. It sounded pretty far away, and I know people live with this kind of thing all the time, but it still kind of has me spooked. My emotional state is a bit tenuous right now as it is. Tomorrow is moving day and I'm filled with both adrenaline and fear. We've been living out of boxes for almost a month, so while I am MORE than ready to get moved into our new home, I'm nervous for the lifestyle changes this will bring and a bit melancholy that the current chapter of our lives is coming to a close. (I'm also slightly delirious from lack of sleep and noxious paint fumes.)

I'm not going to dwell on all my conflicting emotions tonight though. Instead, let's talk about dusk in the country.

Why did the chickens cross the road? So I could take a picture as I waited patiently for them to waddle in front of my car. (I say "chicken," but I really have no idea what kind of birds these are. Guinea fowl? Small turkeys? Any guesses?)

Now that the high grass and weeds are under control and I don't have to high step through the vineyard squealing like an heiress on a reality show, JP and I decided to take a nice little stroll around our property.

JP stopped to check out some of the grapes.

Our trek was waylaid several times by crazy looking spiders who had woven intricate webs between the vines. (Insert me squealing like the aforementioned reality show heiress about both the spiders and the fear that stopping might incite any number of creepy crawlies to emerge from their underground crevices and crawl up my legs.)

When we got to the end of our property we saw this cool glow illuminating the owl perch. (Not sure why we have an owl perch, but I'm sure I'll find out someday and then I can tell you.)

On our walk back to the house we soaked in the view of the picturesque full moon over the vineyard.

JP stopped and tried to woo the horses next door with some hay, but they were tucked in for the night and refused his bidding. We were planning to stay and work a bit longer, but took a cue from our four-legged friends and decided to call it a day too.

Here's a glimpse at some of the work we've been doing. Mostly new paint and carpet to make the place feel cleaner and more home-y. I love this color we used on the dining room/living room. It's a Valspar color from Lowes called "Saffron Ivory," but I had it color matched at Home Depot in Behr for convenience. I think it makes the room cheery without being overpowering.

One more day left in the weekend friends! Make it count! (And if you'd like to spend your Sunday helping a lovely family move, we're accepting any and all assistance.)

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

The Journey to "This Vine Life" - Part 1

If you'd asked me 4 months ago if I thought we'd be moving anytime soon, I would have emphatically said no. At the time, my husband JP who is pretty savvy when it comes to finance, was doing some fancy money manuevering to solve some of our debt issues and it looked like our little two-bedroom cottage was going to have to suffice for the forseeable future. Then I had an encounter (to be described later) that gave me hope that some new blessings were going to come our way, specifically related to our home. I came home and told JP about it and his response was that earlier that very week he and his parents had been discussing us beginning the search for a new home. Not even realizing that this was a possibility, I was taken aback. We started looking for properties, expecting that the search for our perfectly priced and suitably sized future home would take months. To our surprise, it didn't...

We began our new home search casually. JP was already getting several listings mailed to his inbox and I would peruse a local realtor's website once in a while. I knew finding the right house for the right price would be tricky. We have a unique situation in our household where both sets of grandparents take turns watching our one-year-old son during the week. They drive from out of town to make this work, which involves overnight stays. (This has been a special blessing to all of us - although I can't deny that there was a very long adjustment period.) They currently stay in a great little in-laws quarters our property - a sweet little space that has been the key to our childcare situation over the past year and a half. For things to remain status quo it would be important for us to find a house big enough to accommodate our situation. I figured finding the right house to fit these needs (as well as our budget) would take awhile, so I settled in to the process with cautious optimism.

To be continued...

Friday, August 5, 2011

We're Going Country!

Well, we went and did something a little nutty.

We bought a vineyard!  Five acres of beautiful Petite Sirah grapes in Lodi, CA. A "boutique vineyard" some would say.


It's crazy, we know! But, our house is almost packed, we've been painting up a storm and we're ready for the big move! We're excited to share this journey with YOU - our family, friends and a few hitchhikers we may pick up along the way. We can't promise we'll be good at any of this country living stuff, but we at least hope to be entertaining.

More later on the huhs, whys and wows of how this all came to be!