Monday, October 31, 2011

Bug Catchers and Fly Ribbon

My dear friend A and her boys came to visit us back in September. She grew up in the country and put together a sweet little care package to help us understand and acclimate to a more rural lifestyle. She included loads of helpful items with cute little explanations about each one. A bug catcher, a shovel,a bucket, bandaids, flashlight, mouse traps, e-z fuse tape, etc. were just a few of the perfect items she brought us.

One thing she included came in mighty handy for us during this weekend's harvest party. (More on that later this week.)  I recall her saying something to the effect of, "it's a little bit tacky, but great for parties." I wasn't exactly sure how to use it, but learned really quickly when hundreds of flies descended upon the house by way of our heavy sliding glass door (with no screen) which was left open for the better part of 5 hours.

I honestly have never seen so many flies in my entire life. And those little black dots you see on the strips? That's only a fraction of what was in our house. The ceilings were covered in flies. Pretty gross. And I now have the blood of dozens of tiny and disgusting little lives on my hands. I'm afraid the remaining contingent is going to attack me in my sleep for murdering their loved ones.

Along with the incredibly effective fly ribbon, A also included this wonderful explanation of why the country is so great. I love it!

Why the country is the BEST place to grow up

  • Stars at night
  • Open space to run and play
  • People wave when they drive by
  • You eat meals outside more often
  • You work together
  • Friends love to visit!
  • We get to get dirty and explore everyday
  • People help because that' s what you are supposed to do
  • Kids see where food really comes from
  • Chores are a must and teach so much responsibility
  • And a million other reasons!

Harvest Bonus Feature:

 As JP told you last week, they harvested our grapes last week! Hooray! The verdict was a total of 8.1 tons. A bit shy of our 10 ton goal, but considering that a few weeks ago we weren't sure we'd be harvesting at all, we'll take whatever we can get! To give you some perspective, in a normal year with a vineyard that is flourshing and well taken care of, we will most likely yield an average of 16 tons. That's approximately 4 tons or 8,000 pounds of grapes per acre. Crazy, no? 

 A couple of days before they were set to harvest, I looked out the window and three tractors towing bins were driving onto our property. They ended up leaving one of the tractors in preparation for their return the next week. LJ got a huge kick out of sitting on the "big" tractor. These smiles rapidly turned into something much less adorable when we tried to take him off and bring him back inside.

Let's face it. I'm really not sure who loved having it here more - the daddy or the toddler.

Typing two-handed again!

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Our First Harvest

It's the night before harvest and I am a nervous wreck. I was feeling pretty good until the neighbor from next door called and told me the people I hired left their forklift on their property.

The neighbors began venting their problems and concerns with the past harvesters. As I was talking to them on the phone, I was doing my best calm banker voice to settle the situation down as they were re-living bad experiences. All night I could barely sleep as I laid in bed anxious for the morning to come, so that I could get the fork lift off the neighbors' property and try to direct these pickers. The problem is, I have never harvested before and really have no idea how this is going to work.  Three months ago I was a city slicker and now I am a farmer who is supposed to direct a harvest. What am I doing? What was I thinking? I don't have any farmer training or experience. As I direct them, I am at the same time praying and believing that God has blessed me with this land, so I am going to do the best I can. I may fail, but if I do then I am going to get right back on that horse and give it another try.

It's morning time and dark. The alarm has gone off at o'dark a clock. I look outside and the pickers are here in my driveway ready to work.

I walk outside and can barely see people's faces. I am asking these strangers if they know where the foreman is and they replied back by pointing in his direction. Finally a guy said "he is in the white truck." The first thing I said to the foreman was, "Thank you for coming, but we need to get that forklift off my neighbors' property ASAP." The foreman apologized for the mistake. We then began to talk about how we have to change plans on how were are going to pick the grapes. The neighbors' property was off limits, so we needed to come up with a new plan. 

See in the past, the neighbors were best friends with the lady that lived here, so they built a road that went towards their private road. It made it convenient for the semi-truck to pull up in the back and haul the grapes out on the side of the road. The forklift takes the grapes from the tractors and bins and pours the grapes into the back of the semi-truck. So, since the neighbors didn't want us on their property we came up with a new plan. Park the semi-truck on the narrow two lane road that we live on. Yeah we would be blocking the street, but we really had no other choice.

I hear the rooster crowing in the distance and it's so cold I can barely feel my toes. (Insert Beck laughing as she reads this because it was probably like 54 degrees outside.)

The sun is rising and I see these amazing people who work so hard so early in the morning. The tractor moves forward as the pickers fill their buckets full of grapes. When the bucket is full they dump the bucket of grapes into bins.

I stand in awe of these people and my appreciation grows. Being a banker I have opened up many accounts for laborers and have heard their stories. To see them out here knowing that they have come all the way from another country to pick my grapes is amazing. They live these simple lives and many live together under one roof, sharing finances and administering real community. I see them picking our grapes and imagine how they made a dangerous journey from Mexico to experience the American dream. An American dream where for every dollar they make they can support their family in Mexico with 13.5 pesos because the the exchange rate is 13.5 to $1. I watch them and I see how they work as a unit and it is like they are members of a sports team, eaching performing their roles.

I was thinking about how I would have harvested if I did not have them to hire. I would probably have gotten a group together and assigned them a row of grapes, promoting that they work alone. But these people who truly understand teamwork and community, understand that it is more productive to work as a unit rather than individually.

Us Americans sometimes think that to be successful we need to make it on our own and that community is what happens when you go to church, watch the forth of July fireworks or keep in contact on facebook. In my opinion, as I sit and watch these workers eat their breakfast together in my backyard, I see that those examples are not real community.

Their foreman takes care of them and provides a food truck that feeds them breakfast and lunch.  I sit and observe and think about how these interactions can teach me how I can establish better community with my family, my church and my friends.

I can't explain it, but it is so awesome to see how in today's struggling economic times, while large corporations are laying off thousands of employees so they can make more profit and the top 5 people in the orgainization can make bigger raises and bonuses. And here we are, a simple middle class family who doesn't make a lot, has just employed 30 people for a day to pick our grapes. To me that is kind of a nice thought! We risked so much and have worked so hard the last few months with little return, but because of what we did and gave up, we can provide these people a day's wages and in return they are helping us harvest our grapes. I believe that is what America should really be about!

I asked a friend this week what she thought about our new home and lifestyle. She said, "I think you have guts, but I think your wife has more guts than you because she is going along with this crazy idea." I could not agree more! I believe the life we choose is in the risks we take. Sometimes you just have jump! There are dreamers and there are movers and shakers. I have always been a dreamer and have learned how to be a mover and shaker. It also helps to have a wife who sometimes is a voice of reason, but also wants to go along for the adventure.


Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Barely in Time for Harvest

We have been so busy with our house and the vineyard that it has been hard to find time for the blog.

Many things have happened since the last update and I wanted to briefly catch you up.

Beck went back to work on Monday. She also had her first physical therapy session with her thumb and she can move it about a centimeter down. Her physical therapist has started her on a thumb exercise routine. I remember as a kid I use to do thumb push-ups to be funny. Turns out that actually exists along with other exercises. Who knew?

If you have been reading our blog, I've mentioned that we have had some problems with our grapes. They were supposed to be picked in the first week of October, but that had to be pushed back because the sugar content was not high enough. Then we had a fruit fly that was eating the leaves of the grapes and then the rain came. How we have managed to keep these things alive is beyond me. They're now ready and their brix (sugar content) is at 22 to 23, which to you non-vineyard people like me, this is a good thing. So I called and left a message for the guy who told me he was going to pick and deliver my grapes to my buyer. The guy calls me back and tells me, "You know Justin, I hate to be the bearer of bad news...your grapes are ready, but we don't want to pick them." Here I have kept in contact with this guy since August and he has led me to believe this whole time that he was going to pick and deliver my grapes. Now he tells me in the 11th hour that he doesn't want to pick my grapes afterall? Many non-Jesus thoughts were popping through my mind, so I called my buyer right after I spoke with the guy who now refuses to pick my grapes. No response back from my buyer. So this morning before work I prayed, "Lord provide me a person who can pick and deliver my grapes today." I called my buyer again and again no answer. Finally this afternoon my buyer's son gets back to me and I share my story with him. He tells me to call his friend and get them delivered on Tuesday. I called his friend and it turns out this guy knows all about my vineyard and will harvest my grapes on Tuesday. Thank you Lord! So Tuesday we will have our first harvest and Beck and I are asking for a miracle as we are hoping and praying for 10 tons of Petite Sirah.

Life is full of little miracles everyday and days like today tell me that there is a big guy in the sky who is smiling down on us and it shows me how powerful a little prayer can be.


Wednesday, October 12, 2011

DIY Starbucks Vases and Other Loveliness

We're back! JP was on vacation last week, so I really thought we'd blog more. It wasn't for lack of material, that's for sure. We'll post about our "stay-cation" adventures soon, but in the meantime here is a fun little project I've been thinking about doing for awhile.

Since I am without the use of my left hand for a few more days (Don't know what I'm talking about? Go here) this will be light on verbiage, heavy on pictures.

Earlier this summer I got hooked on Starbucks 100-calorie frappuccinos in the bottle. I'm usually an iced chai kinda gal, but I figured I would save on time and money if I went this route.

One day at work I had an epiphany! The tiny bottles would make perfect little vases. Much to the annoyance of everyone in my family, the bottles started accumulating on the counters and eventually had to be packed and moved to our new house where I finally stowed about 8-10 in various kitchen cabinets. I originally planned to spray paint them white based on our first pass at a breakfast nook wall color (light aqua), but after changing the paint color twice since then (now it is, and will remain, pale warm beige), I finally decided that a darker color would look better. JP and I are really into chalkboard paint right now, so I peeled off the labels and had him spray six of the bottles with black chalkboard spray paint we had in the garage.

I love how they turned out!

I think I want to use twigs instead of flowers to make them a bit more fall/winterish. Maybe tie some twine around the top? So many possibilities! I will probably spray the remaining bottles with regular spray paint in fun colors at some point. Until then, I should probably just learn to recycle my frappuccino bottles the old-fashioned way.

What else do I love this week?

The beautiful way the fall weather has enveloped my landscape. Today I woke up to a romantic misty layer over the vines.

And don't even get me started on the wistful grayish-purple clouds in the background. Sigh.

I have been trying to get a good picture of the corn across the street for weeks. Today I couldn't miss the opportunity to capture my favorite type of cloud, the cumulus, as they hung comfortably over the corn fields.

Full disclosure? As pretty as the corn scene was, it was anything but peaceful as I dragged LJ across the street with my good hand to get more up close and personal with the corn. I tried to reason with him to stay dutifully by my side as an "assistant photographer," instead of running into the road or rolling into a drainage ditch. I finally had to wrap my legs around him like a vice to get him to stay put for two seconds while I composed the shot and released the shutter with my working thumb and forefinger. Needless to say, those pictures were not blogworthy. Did I mention it also smelled like someone dropped a methane gas bomb in our general vicinity? I prayed we were just downwind of the local cattle ranch. We weren't. Eesh.

I'm linking up with Lollipops for What I Love Wednesday.


Monday, October 3, 2011

8 Seconds

On the car ride to the rodeo Beck and I felt like we needed to pump LJ up for the PBR (Professional Bull Riders) event we went to in Stockton on Saturday night. 

So in the car, with no music on, just our fair to not good voices, we sang LJ an old Garth Brooks song called "Rodeo;" Remember that one? "Well it's bulls and blood, It's dust and mud, It's the roar of a Sunday crowd. It's the white in his knuckles, The gold in the buckle He'll win the next go 'round. It's boots and chaps, It's cowboy hats, It's spurs and latigo. It's the ropes and the reins, And the joy and the pain, And they call the thing rodeo." LJ responded back with a big smile, a couple giggles and a look that said my parents are crazy! 

The PBR had LJ's full attention. 

The only thing he did not like was the clown. But who could blame him?

 LJ was in his full cowboy get-up showing off his first pair of wranglers.

Now you know your kid is skinny when you buy size 1T wranglers and still have to pull the draw strings as tight as they will go, strap on his cowboy belt and they still barely stay on him. Don't tell mom, but he needs to eat less carrots and more donuts. I on the other hand could use more carrots and less donuts!

Now there are two things you don't see a lot in Stockton and that is boots and cowboy hats! 

Here are a couple of action shots! 

The PBR...where little boys dream, big boys covet, and mamma's nightmares come true! -JP

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Garage Sale Hunting

Well "this vine life" lately hasn't been going our way. Our grapes are not doing well for two reasons; the white fly is eating the leaves on the vines and there is rain in our forecast this week. The rain is not a good thing for Petite Sirah because that's what could cause the grapes to rot. I can't pick them yet because they don't have enough sugar, so.... I am what you call up a creek without a paddle. Also the chicken eggs have not hatched yet and I think they were supposed to hatch about 2 days ago. Not sure what we are going to do there. So I am farming, but I am learning that I don't know much about farming. I am what you call a wannabe farmer who has a farm.

In other news, this Saturday I became inspired by my sister and brother-in-law in Colorado as they have become all about garage sale hunting and selling. They have turned a nice profit on their ventures as they buy things on the cheap and they refurbish & re-sell furniture. Have you seen that show "Flip That House?" Well my sis and bro are "Flipping That Furniture." Mike, my brother-in-law calls himself "the American Picker." I thought I would give it a stab, so I set off on Saturday to find a treasure that was going to make me my next buck.

Out in Lockeford in front of Young's Market I found a rummage sale. It was for some school fundraiser, so I stopped by and found this:

Now the price for this chair was $10, but I was able to talk them down to $8. I know I should have given them $10 because it was for a good cause, but the fun part of garage sale-ing is bartering. I took the glider home and painted it with some leftover paint we had. First I sanded it down and stripped off the excess material. I found two extra cushions in the garage that we bought last year for some lawn chairs. Then I went to JoAnn's and bought some material to recover the cushions. Came home, took out the staple gun and went to town. This is what I created:

Yeah you guessed it, that is what you call a John Deere Chair!

I wish I could tell you that I took my $28 investment ($20 went to the John Deere fabric) and made $150 on craigslist...but it instead found its way into LJ's room where he and his mom can read stories before bed.
My $28 John Deere investment turned into something priceless! -JP