Category Archives: what we’ve learned

Visiting Chileno Valley Ranch

IMG_8023 IMG_8026 IMG_8027 IMG_8028 IMG_8030 IMG_8032 IMG_8034 IMG_8037 IMG_8040 IMG_8041 IMG_8042 IMG_8054As you might well remember, for about five years now we’ve been buying a fourth of a grass fed cow every summer. For many years we bought from Beltane Ranch which is just a few miles away from us. Unfortunately due to new regulations they aren’t able to sell directly to customers anymore, so we’ve switched to buying from Chileno Valley Ranch over in Petaluma. You can read a bit about why we eat grass fed beef from this older post and even more from this older post.

On Sunday they hosted a u-pick day for their apples. Our poor apple trees are in a serious state of decline, so we headed over there to meet the rancher couple and to get some apples. This ranch is deep down Chileno Valley Road, past curving roads, filled with hillsides, ponds and large ranches. It was a beautiful drive. As we approached our destined ranch I was pretty awed by the amazing house you can see from a distance. The house had been in the wife, Sally’s, family since the Civil War! Sally and her husband Mike took ownership of the property in the early ’90’s and set about rehabilitating the house (check out the original structure) and the land.

Everything was gorgeous. We came for the apples, but I left inspired by the gardens. While Scott chatted with Mike about the beef order we recently placed, I talked with Sally about her roses. Strangely enough I didn’t get any pictures of her dozens upon dozens (maybe a hundred +) of roses, but they were unbelievably beautiful. All with bright green leaves and in full flower. My roses at home have been in a sad state ever since their initial spring bloom and I’ve given serious consideration to taking a good majority out. Everything Sally grew was bountiful and lush. As we talked she mentioned how when she cleans out the chicken coop she sprinkles a little of their manure around the roses. She also has sheep and cows that she collects manure from and also has a local dairy deliver manure to her. Ah-ha! Yes, of course. Manure!

As soon as we got home I found my Felco’s and got to work tidying up around the roses and then promptly cleaned out the chicken coop and spread what I scooped all round the roses and watered it in well. Within easy walking distance I can access cow, horse, sheep and chicken manure. I need to collect my wheelbarrow and shovel, head down the street and put these neighboring friendships to work.

If you are local, Chileno Valley Ranch holds these u-pick weekends all the way until October, it’s worth the trip, if you can make it!


Filed under chickens, Life in Sonoma, what we've learned

Sometimes I get it right

It’s not often though. Me getting things right, that is. We learn and grow and become better people through our mistakes. At least that’s what I hold high hope to. But every once in a while, I get things right. When we first moved into this house our life got topsy-turvy & chaotic. Our lives were stuffed in boxes, our regular routines were thrown to the wind. There was little to feel in control of. And this front planting bed used to reflect just that. It’s right in front of our house, the first thing you see when you step out of your car and it was growing as chaotic and rag tag as my mental stability was at the time. So I ripped it all out. Cleaned this bed down to dirt and did something I’ve never done before. I bought plants in mass quantity and planted in clean orderly, symmetrical lines.
I’ve watched these plants grow in over the last two years and I’m so happy with them. In terms of garden design my virgo brain and my artist brain battle it out. One part of me likes things crisp and clean and tidy and the other likes things wild, overgrown and secret-garden feeling. I’m learning as I go, that if you start with a clean, crisp, tidy layout at the beginning, that things will eventually start to grow to take on a wild abundance. But in an orderly way. Orderly wildness, if you will. As I go about reorganizing other parts of the garden I’m keeping this in mind. Thinking of repetition & clean lines to begin with, which will hopefully grow to mystery and abundance in the future.
And always, I think of how to get the most color in autumn.


Filed under what we've learned

Daffodils as Gopher Prevention


This past weekend we stayed home. I even wrote it very large on the calender, “busy on the homestead” across both Saturday and Sunday. Starting with September our calender and going through to December now our calender is full, full, full! It’s a great thing, but our poor garden is getting neglected. This weekend we set our sights on harvesting the last of the walnuts (6 grocery bags full!), tearing out old plants, turning the enormous compost pile and getting this above bed ready for next years bounty. Just a few months ago it looked like this below:

This past weekend we tore it all out. We had had a problem with gophers in this bed after trying an experiment of laying down black plastic for weed control. The black plastic seemed to attract the gophers even more. Having read that narcissus bulbs are toxic to gophers and seeing that our narcissus needed dividing I set it upon myself to outline each of our beds with bulbs. We have an area at the top of our property that has about four or five 15 foot long rows of various daffodils and narcissus. They are just gorgeous when in bloom but I noticed this last year their performance had dwindled. They badly needed dividing. In fact just 10 shovels worth yielded me a bucketful of bulbs.

It’s such a huge bed, I didn’t think I’d actually make it around the entire thing in one day, but I did! I have the sore muscles and calluses to prove it too. In addition to being toxic to gophers, narcissus bulbs make a good weed barrier (like the naked ladies). They come up in late winter and form a wall of sorts which make it hard for that early round of weeds to break through. In the spot where this garden bed is, we need all the help we can get in that area!

Ever since reading Gaia’s Garden, I’ve opened up even more to the idea of where and how I plant our plants. For instance I’ve lined my flower bed with amaryllis bulbs to prevent weeds from encroaching. Then in front of the bulbs I planted thick growing yarrow as extra protection against the wild field behind them moving in. Favas are growing in the middle of the beds to prepare the soil for next years flowers. And now our largest veggie bed is lined with a wall to prevent gophers and will also soon be filled in with cover crop.

Though we don’t have a robust winter garden planted this year, we are doing extra homework in getting the garden ready for next year. It’s making me already look forward to next spring.


Filed under Flowers, notes for next year, what we've learned

flowers & going wheat free


It has been brought to my attention that there are other things that need addressing besides dreamily walking around the yard with your felco’s cutting flowers. I have been told there is laundry to do and bathrooms to clean and meals to prep and a wage to be earned. But who wants any part of that at this time of year?

In other news our whole family has given up wheat for the month of May. This is the third time I’ve done this. I did give up wheat for week in ’08 and then Scott and I gave it up last summer for a few weeks. We found some interesting discoveries last summer when we gave it up, like how Scott’s allergies completely went away and how we both felt lighter. This time we gave it up to see if it could clear up our daughters eternal eczema and help my son’s asthma. We are 14 days into it and while it hasn’t helped her eczema yet, it does seem to have helped with the asthma. And my usual spring time allergy induced sore throat has disappeared. It’s hard though, for us bread eaters to be off of wheat. I haven’t felt as much sacrifice as our kids, especially our 8-year-old (the one with asthma), who thinks this whole giving up wheat is a bunch of hooey. He wants pizza and pasta and bakery pastries and that’s all there is to it.

We’ll give it another couple of weeks and if this doesn’t clear up the eczema we’ll try a dairy free month (oh that somehow sounds even more tortuous than a wheat free month! Especially during hot ice cream season!). Knowing now that wheat really tends to ease our allergies and asthma during the heavy season is a great bit of knowledge going forward. Maybe every spring will become a wheat free time for our family.

Have you ever given up something? Did you see noticeable changes in your body because of it?


Filed under Flowers, what we've learned

gardening in a dry year


It’s been a dry year here in California. One of the driest winters on record. To us, even though we had a very wet fall, it seemed like after the holidays the faucet was shut off. There was really almost no rain whatsoever after the holidays. Such a strange winter. And this spring we are certainly seeing the signs. Sure, if you squint your eyes and turn your head a little to the left, things look pretty good. Flowers are blooming, trees are leafing out. But if you look closely you’ll notice that the lawn is almost dead already, spring flowers are getting torched by this early heat (supposed to be in the 90’s tomorrow!), and we are relying heavily on irrigation…already. This is going to be a long summer.

A few years ago I wrote a post on drought friendly vegetable gardening, (wow, I used to write such different posts back then!) which is worth a read if you are struggling with water issues too. In regards to that post, we outfitted two more beds with in-line drip irrigation. We ordered 15 yards of mulch to heavily cover the irrigation and our tender crops. We are also focusing heavily on three beds this growing year instead of last years four beds. And I’m heavily mulching the flower gardens to help retain every last ounce of water in the soil. We need, however to get these beds on a timer, so that they can be watered in the evening or early morning hours. That is an easy step, we just need to put it higher on our priority list.

Luckily we have the option of putting our laundry on grey water. We’ve had this since we moved in, but it only drains out to one spot. Though I shouldn’t complain, the snowball hydrangea looks quite happy about the situation. However, my hope for the near future is that I can hook it up to a pipe that has multiple perforations in it, so that it can water a larger area along our foundation plantings.

How is the rain/water situation where you garden? Do you have any drought gardening tricks?


Filed under Mulch, Soil, State of the Garden, Water, what we've learned

A Peek at The National Heirloom Expo


What a great time we had at The Nation Heirloom Expo on Thursday! As their website says, “The National Heirloom Exposition is a not-for-profit event centered around the pure food movement, heirloom vegetables, and anti-GMO activism.”  We really didn’t know what to expect, but we walked into this hall first and were blown away at how much there was to look at and how inspiring it would be.

It was so hard to not pick one of these apples up and take a bite! We might have to join the California Rare Fruit Growers so we can get access to some of the more rare apples trees.


This picture doesn’t do this tower justice, this was about a 10 foot tower of winter squash!

13oo lb pumpkins!

Mindblowingly beautiful beehives by Gaia’s Bees.

Must buy some goldenrod for the bees!

I regret not buying one of these self watering, hand made terracotta seed trays. Anne, the designer and maker said they’d have them for sale on their website soon. I have a feeling they’ll be selling like hotcakes, they are so beautiful!

This birthday girl, in all her rainbow regalia, caught the eye of the Gettles and she ended up having a little photo session with Sasha with a Baker Creek photographer. Very cute!

Great music to listen to at lunchtime by Poor Old Shine.

Other highlights:

: : Running into our neighbor and her aunt

: :  Then running into our uncle and his partner Jane, who runs a farm & CSA in the foothills

: : The amazing vendor hall that I could have spent another hour in had I not had a tired two year old on my hands

: : But I did manage to buy a hand thrown serving bowl and pitcher

: : Great food was served there. We had a delicious BLT and strawberry/rhubarb pie for dessert

: : Talking to Rebecca Burgess and telling her how she inspired me on my naturally dyed fair isle sweater

: : Looking forward to next year when hopefully I can hear some speakers as well!


Filed under beekeeping, Life in Sonoma, what we've learned

We went to a Naturopathic Dr., and then we made cookies

My poor baby has asthma!
Our oldest son was diagnosed with asthma when he was just two and a half. That was four years ago and every doctor that we’ve gone to see about it has given us the same two medicines as treatment. One is a daily inhaler, flovent, to take during the times of the year when he has the hardest time with the asthma, which for him is winter and late summer. The second medicine is albuterol, which is an inhaled medicine to be taken as needed to ease his attacks. Both medicines help tremendously but I’ve always wondered if there was a better way to ease his breathing. Maybe there was a way to get rid of the asthma, rather than just live with it and treat it with these medications. This winter he needed to use his inhaler a great deal, which concerned me. That fact, combined with meeting our town’s naturopathic doctors (the wife is in my mother/baby group) gave me the push to make an appointment to see if they could offer some help.

The first visit was a long and thoughtful one. The office was very warm and inviting, unlike most doctor’s offices and Dr. Porrino really listened to what I was saying and asked good questions about my son’s symptoms and health history. He explained that asthma is like a cup. That your body is built with a ‘cup’ in it that fills up full of irritations and inflammation. Seasonal allergies fill the cup, daily stress, food allergies and sensitivities, colds, sicknesses, all go in the cup. And when your cup overflows you begin to have asthmatic symptoms. The difference between all of us is that some of us have been given large beer stein sized cups at birth and others, like our son, were given small shot glass sized cups. So the idea is to keep that cup as empty as possible.
Given that we already know what environmental allergies our son has (dust, cats, grasses) we focused on food sensitivities. Apparently sensitivities are different than food allergies. The doctor gathered five drops of my sons blood onto a special card and sent it to the lab for testing. When the results came back (and on this very nice, colorful chart, I might add) his charts looked pretty good, but it did show a high sensitivity to eggs. The recommendation was to cut eggs out of his diet for about four months to see if this makes a difference. Really bad news when you have six laying hens, I’ll tell you! That trial along with adding in a daily dose of a good probiotic and a teaspoon of Cod Liver Oil"" to boost his digestion and immune system and hopefully we should see some improvement.

As I went home I started to lament the idea of keeping eggs out of his diet – no ice cream, mayonnaise, and baked goods! As it works in a small community, as soon as I shared this news with one friend, she told me of a mutual acquaintance who’s son has an egg allergy. I contacted her and she told me that in baking you can substitute 1 T. vinegar + 1 T. liquid + 1 t. baking powder for each egg.
As soon as I learned this I pulled out our very favorite oatmeal, chocolate chip cookie recipe and gave it a go. Would you know, they came out perfectly delicious? The only change I noticed was that the cookie was slightly crisper than normal, which was just fine.

Hopefully all this sacrifice of irritants and the addition of good supplements will help our little guy out. Nothing is harder than watching your child struggle with taking breath. And hey, now we know we can at least eat cookies along this journey.


Filed under what we've learned

Eating Local Beef & Dairy in Sonoma County

This summer we took another step towards eating more local, organic and grass fed. Produce has always been easy for us to eat locally and organically because if we don’t grow it ourselves we have endless choices here in Sonoma County for finding what we do want. We can get local milk by buying Clover Stornetta in the grocery store, but what about beef, specifically grass fed beef and butter?
Earlier this summer a good friend of mine, who is a journalist, was asked to write a story on local cheese. One of the cheese makers told her that our cheeses are so good because of the great dairies the milk comes from and that she should go check out McClelland’s Dairy. She took a tour and raved about it, which of course I signed up for in about half a second. So on one Saturday afternoon I rallied the troops and we headed west of Petaluma.
What a great afternoon we had walking around, petting calves, admiring the beaucolic scenery, learning about the organic dairy business, and even milking a cow!
McClelland’s is a family run organic dairy which sells most of their milk to Clover Stornetta. It was really interesting to learn about how a diary runs. And the entire family was so nice, I highly recommend that you take a tour if you can. At the end of the tour you get the option to buy their butter, which is made from organic grassfed milk. I sent Scott up to the counter to buy a 5lb brick of it. ‘Really, do we need SO much?’ he asked. Yes, yes we do! We cut it up into bar sized chunks and have been enjoying it on toast and homemade jam all summer long.

The other thing we began to research was how to buy grassfed beef. After watching Food Inc. and reading beef recall after beef recall, we did our best to eliminate all beef from our diet that wasn’t grass fed and somewhat local (from California). But that gets to be expensive, especially when your little boys are growing to be bigger eaters every day! So we did some research on but ended up buying from a local source here in Sonoma, Beltane Ranch. I had seen their sign as I’ve driven up Highway 12 for a while now that they had grassfed beef but they recently added a sign down by the square to advertise too. So we called and now we have a quarter of a cow in our freezer!

We happened to call just in time, they had just slaughtered the cows by using a local, traveling butcher, and sent the beef down to Broadway Market for them to dry age for 20+ days, butcher down and wrap up. We eagerly awaited our order and went to pick up our 187 lbs late in July. Each package came neatly wrapped and marked with the cut, which includes at least one cut of everything imaginable and about 40lbs of ground beef and stew bones.

We’ve had hamburgers several times now and I have to say that we are eating the best hamburgers I’ve ever had! The butchers got the fat/meat ratio just right and the deepened flavor from dry aging and grass feeding really comes through. The bigger cuts of meat we are getting better at cooking as they are much, much leaner and cook faster that your typical beef. However I think we’ve gotten the hang of it and had an incredible London Broil the other night.

All in all, I believe we paid around $4.50 per pound for this meat, which for dry aged, grass fed beef is a steal!

You can read more about Beltane Ranch’s grass fed beef and also check out the Sonoma County Meat Buying Club if you are interested in getting a wider range of meats on a monthly basis.


Filed under dairy, Life in Sonoma, what we've learned

A More Natural Pregnancy


I can’t believe that there are only about five more weeks left in my pregnancy! How quickly time flies! I am so anxious to welcome this little girl into our home full of boys. So far this pregnancy has been quite easy and very enjoyable, which has been a lifesaver having two busy little boys already. I know it will most likely be my last so I’ve been trying to enjoy it best I can. Even with these last trimester aches and pains and low energy. I’ll be back to my old self before I know it.

Although I’m far from an expert, I thought I’d share with you what I’ve been doing during this pregnancy to ensure that it is a little more natural. I know some of you know many more tips than I do and I’d love for you to share them in the comments, but here is what I’ve been doing so far.

  1. Prenatal Vitamin – I heard once that you get your money’s worth when you buy cheap vitamins. I don’t know how true it is, but I heard that the cheap one-a-day vitamins just pass right through you whole. So for this pregnancy I decided to splurge a little on vitamins and bought these Super Nutrition vitamins. They are green-food based tablets which help for quick digestion (about 15 minutes). I take them after dinner, because taking them any other time of day made me completely nasceous during the first and second trimester. This vitamin combined with Prenatal DHA sample tablets that a kind Whole Foods worker handed to me (a huge stack of them – so sweet of her) have been keeping me feeling good.
  2. Easing Morning Sickness with Milk Thistle – For my two previous pregnancies I had awful morning sickness. Luckily it really was just limited to the morning, but it was full of throwing up and just awful none the less. So when I first found out I was pregnant for the third time I did some research on how to lessen morning sickness and found this post on The basis of the info says that the liver is what takes it the hardest during the early parts of pregnancy and what helps out the liver is milk thistle. Ideally you want to start taking this before you become pregnant. Since this pregnancy was a surprise, I didn’t have time to do that, but I started taking it as soon as I could and although it didn’t get rid of my morning sickness, this was the easiest first trimester I have had, which was a blessing. Was it due to the milk thistle? I don’t know, but it can’t hurt to take it, so give it a try.
  3. Red Raspberry Leaf Tea – Since my last pregnancy I had read up on how good drinking red raspberry leaf tea was for you during pregnancy. It supposedly, when drank regularly, can aid in shorter, less complicated labors. Red raspberry leaf tea is said to strengthen and tone the uterus too. I, unfortunately in the name of natural living, have to have a planned c-section with this pregnancy due to a very thin uterian wall. But I have been drinking red raspberry leaf both hot and iced anyway to at least strengthen my uterus. It is also high in iron, which is good for my pregnancy induced anemia. More reading can be found here.
  4. Nettle Tea – Stinging nettle is also another good pregnancy herb to have on hand. Luckily about a year ago I won a contest where I was sent a huge bag full of dried nettle leaves from Mountain Rose Herbs and have enjoyed drinking regular infusions. Nowadays I mix it with the raspberry leaf tea I have to make my own pregnancy tea. Nettles are chalk full of nutrition, especially folic acid which is important during pregnancy. It also, along with red raspberry leaf tea increases breast milk which will be helpful next month!
  5. Preventing Stretch Marks – I already have my fill of stretch marks from my first two pregnancies, but I thought it couldn’t hurt to take preventative measures to avoid any more. So through some research I found that coconut oil is great for skin and for preventing stretch marks. I rub coconut oil directly onto my stomach in the evenings and I use my homemade hand lotion on my belly every morning, but instead use half olive oil and half coconut oil when I make it. So far, even though I’m as big as I’ve ever been there haven’t been any new stretch marks! Yahoo!
  6. Easing my Mind – As you know, I have energetic 6 year old and soon to be 4 year old boys which can be exhausting to follow through the day even when not pregnant! I know how important keeping your stress levels low are during pregnancy, but between the boys and my business, staying calm constantly seemed impossible. Luckily as the good world turns, I met the founder of the Hearth Foundation and encouraged her to teach a non denominational meditation class to myself and a few other moms here in town. Learning this practice, which I try to do daily has been an incredible live saver both in parenting my two growing children and for keeping my stress levels low while growing a new little bean.

What have you found helpful during your pregnancies?


Filed under what we've learned

Tips for going No-Shampoo – a 16 month update

Can you believe that it’s been 16 months since I’ve ditched the shampoo? Okay, well, I haven’t ditched the shampoo entirely, but I’ll get to that later. I have however made rinsing my hair with watered down baking soda my norm though and I have no regrets! I originally tried this whole baking soda gig out back in October ’08 because I wasn’t happy with how my hair looked using shampoo everyday. It was just kind of limp and if I ever dared go a day without shampooing it would look oily and horrid. Plus I’m always curious about how to make things myself and liberate myself from having to buy more (like with my lotion and deodorant, even with our jams and canned goods).

I did go through some awkward weeks at first, but I realize in retrospect it was because I was experimenting with how to apply this baking soda to my hair. There are oodles of folks out there who have tried this and everyone gives different advise based on what works for them, so of course I had to try them all before I found out what worked best for me. Want to hear about it all? Oh sure you do!

First there is just pouring a tablespoon of dry baking soda on my wet hair in the shower and massaging it in, then washing it off. This method gave me the worst results and had I tried only this method I would have given up in a day. My hair gets really funky doing this. Kinda dry, kinda gunked up feeling. It doesn’t brush through well. It was awful! However I attributed this all to the ‘adjustment’ period everyone talks about. The kind of shampoo detox that your hair has to go through until it looks shiny and lustrous again. But there was no shine nor luster.

Second I tried putting a tablespoon of baking soda in a little ramakin, taking it into the shower and adding about a cup of water and stirring until dissolved. Then I put that onto my hair. Also didn’t work well. Better than the first method, but also, no good.

At this point, after a couple of weeks of bad hair, a normal person would probably just turn back to shampoo, however I have never been one to make life easier for myself, so I kept on going. This time I took an empty, large Dr. Bronner Peppermint Soap bottle and filled it with a more diluted version of baking soda to water. 4 Tablespoons baking soda in 5 cups of water (all which fit into the big sized bottle). I shook it until it dissolved and just put it in the shower to use whenever I needed to. At hair washing time, I’d just squirt a bunch onto the top of my head, massage around, flip my head upside down and do the same to the underneath section of hair. Then I’d rinse it all out and I was good to go.

This big bottle full lasts me about a month to 6 weeks, washing every two to three days, and I was noticing that halfway into the month, my hair would look really good after rinsing. Really good. Soft and with plenty of volume. Much nicer than it was with regular shampooing and yet free of that oily, dry gunky look I was sporting with that first method of baking soda washing. Hmmmm….. which is when I hit upon my baking soda hair rinsing secret! You need to let the baking soda and water combo sit for a week or two before using!

Now I’m no chemist, I have no idea what chemical process goes on while that baking soda sits and rests in the water. All I know is that it does a world of good for my hair. So now I keep two bottles going, which I fill every two or three weeks alternately. So I always have two week old diluted baking soda to rinse with.

A lot of people suggest rinsing with a diluted amount of apple cider vinegar but I haven’t seen any sort of advantage to doing this myself. There are all sorts of fancy hair rinses you can do after the baking soda wash, however I guess I’m just not creative enough to have tried them yet. Have you tried any that work wonders? The only drawback I’ve found is that the ends of my hair do feel a bit dry. Maybe that could be remedied with one of these rinses.

So back to the shampoo, it is okay (at least for my hair) to use shampoo/conditioner every once in a while. Some days I just want that lather and shampoo smell, so I go for it. Those end up being really, extra good hair days too. And I can go back to my baking soda rinse without any bad repercussions. Some days when I do the baking soda rinse, I’ll follow with a little conditioner just to help with any dryness I may be feeling that day.

One of the things I’ve missed about ditching the shampoo is the smell and lather, it is kind of a luxurious feeling. So to compensate, I’ve been buying lots of beautiful handmade soaps. Oakmoss‘s soaps have been my most recent indulgence. I love her scents (especially Caravan) because they appeal to both men and woman. I share my bathroom with three other guys (one big, two tiny) and being that we only have one soap dish, I can’t get too floral with the soap smells without complaints. Her scents seem to keep us all happy.

I try to ‘wash’ my hair every three days, but sometimes I need to go to every other day depending. Other days I push it off for another day and learn a new cute braid or call it hat day.

Have you tried alternative hair washing techniques? What’s worked for you?


Filed under what we've learned