Great Article on Sustainable Ranching from CSM


Check out this article on sustainable cattle ranching in the American West from the Christian Science Monitor.  Heartening in light of the drought and the impact the damage to the corn crop is going to do food prices.  If we can wean off our dependence on corn to feed cattle, that is a step in the right direction for oh so many reasons. The fact that managed grazing is actually increasing the productivity of the land, particularly in arid regions with little summer rainfall, is a big takeway: this is not just hippy/hobby ranching, it’s good business and good stewardship at the same time. I like good news.

Forty Years On, Thanking the Elders (A Guest Post)

My godfather commented on my party post and it was so touching I decided it needed to be a post of its own. Thank you, Bueno!


Wayne (aka “Bueno”) in the middle, just about 40 years ago, when my house was being built.

Dear sweet Sara-

Just a reminder from your godfather….This is the fortieth anniversary of the founding of the Ranch in its current configuration….That is to say, the year your father and I agreed to stay, build homes together and raise our families here. We were  perched on the hill where your dome sits now, looking out on nothing but the black oak forest that surrounds us.  We were invited by his father, John, to come settle here. John represents the earlier generation, and of course it all goes back to his father…..The fact that you have taken on the mantle of not only throwing parties in the tradition we started (although ours of course usually lasted 5 days) but you have chosen to move back and have reinvigorated the Ranch with your energy and enthusiasm all makes my heart want to smile and explode at the same time….I look forward to this weekend, to the re-gathering of new and old friends, and I am reminded of when father John used to wander into our parties, have a beer. look out on the assembled folks and simply say, ” This is a good thing.”  I am excited about opening the festivities with geezer orientation and some visual slide show history for us to remember and reflect on.

Good show dahling!!!!


Bees of Summer

Summer isn’t a happy time for bees out here in California. It’s dry. Flowers are hard to find. Just keeping the hive cool can be a lot of work. The last time I checked in on them they had lots of honey and brood and passed the mite inspection with flying colors. I felt we were in good enough shape to put a honey super and queen excluder on and see if I couldn’t get some honey this year. That was at the beginning of June.

Today when I got up it was in my mind to check the bees. Donning a pair of coveralls, a hat, and carrying a hot smoker is not terribly appealing in high summer, but it had to be done. Whereas I’d been able to easily approach my happy beehive in spring wearing nothing but a pair of short pants and a t-shirt, I knew I needed to suit up to face a potentially defensive hoarde this late in the summer. So, on it went. Ugh.

What I found was a not terrifically happy colony.  They haven’t done anything with the honey super, so that’s a drag, but c’est la vie. It would have been exceptional to get honey this first year. So okay. The two deeps were full of bees and honey and quite heavy, although I was alarmed at first because I didn’t see any brood. Yikes! Lots of capped brood cells, I even saw an emerging bee, but it took me several frames before I saw any brood.  When I did see the little larvae, there weren’t that many.  I didn’t ever spot any eggs, although the bees were getting defensive so I was moving as fast-slow as I could. So I am not sure what all that means. I didn’t see the queen, but I am god awful at spotting the queen. I have to go by the other signs to know whether she’s around. I saw brood and I saw bees bringing back pollen, which are signs that they’re still reproducing, but they weren’t very strong signs. Meh!

So I took off the queen excluder, and I’m going to start feeding them. I’ll check them after a few weeks of feeding and hopefully I’ll see brood in the super and feel okay about them heading into winter. What I don’t want to find out is that I’ve lost my queen because that will be the end of the colony. Meh!

Sorry to post without pics, it’s hard to take photos and handle frames and mind a smoker all at the same time. I didn’t want to burn the place down trying to do too much at once.

California (Knows How to Party)


Friends, something special going to happen in a few short days. Parties here at the Ranch go way back. I learned my party-throwing skills from my parents and godparents, who taught me about kegs of beer, pit barbeques, live music, and straw-bale lawn furniture when I was but a wee thing. Granted, the kegs of beer were fun when I was little mainly because of the cans of Hansen’s soda floating in the icy tub, but I was known to beg a glug of beer off a grown-up now and then as well. I would even pitch in by giving pony rides to the little kids with my feisty Welsh pony, who miraculously put up with it for hours on end. Not normally known for his patience, was he.

Year later, my sister and I took up the mantle, throwing a series of annual summer “Ho-Downs” here at the Ranch with another close friend. These epic parties were more like raves, with two fulls days of camping and DJs and lots of people. Porta-potties, multiple kegs, generators. Big time. Unfortunately, those parties took a turn to the dark side when they got too big, and people who didn’t know me or my sister acted disrespectfully towards us and our home. There always some yahoo gotta ruin it for the rest of us.

But lesson learned and moving on, after a few years off to regroup, my sister and I resurrected the Ranch Party. This time around the guest list is scrupulously managed, and much smaller than before. It’s not to be snobby, but rather because, after years of practice, we know what works. People from various walks of life, but similar sensibilities about generosity, cooperation, and, of course, shenanigans, just make for a better party. As a rule, you don’t get an invite unless you’ve been here before, and we know you can play well with others. No drama, no fuss, and no one getting stuck doing more than her fair share of work. Once this party gets going, it runs itself.

I thought a lot about whether to write about Ranch Party, because it is very personal and it almost belongs to a part of my life that is separate from this blog. On the other hand, the hard work, planning, and creativity that goes into preparing for the party is something that fits right in with the kind of stuff I talk about here. In the end, I am finding that I just can’t help it! I’m so excited!

Let me make a big confession: I am a girl who thinks about her wedding even though a groom is nowhere on the horizon. But before you groan, wait! Listen! It’s not because I collect unicorns and watch princess movies, it’s because I LOVE THROWING PARTIES. I love it! It truly is an art form, as years of practice have taught me. I love thinking about the music, the lights, the flowers, the food, and making everything just right. There’s something very deeply gratifying about creating a wonderful experience for people you love and then getting to watch it all unfold. And, when done right, that’s how throwing a good party is. Sitting back with a cold beer and taking in the spontaneous combustion that occurs when you take a beautiful setting and mix in great people, flowing drinks, bumping speakers, and a whole bunch of twinkly lights.

So, of course, this isn’t a wedding, but Ranch Party is an opportunity to create something way beyond your typical summer barbeque. Because I live here now, I have plenty of time to realize a vision for it that we were never able to pull off in the few short days we had to get ready in the past (especially when my crazy job prevented me from fully participating in the set-up, leaving my sister to do a lot on her own – which she did an awesome job at, mind you). It’s going to be magical and unforgettable. Thanks to a ton of help from Paul, the incredible cache of party-supplies we have amassed over the years, and of course the awesome rabble-rousers who will be bringing it this year, this is going to be a spectacular event.

Nothing like Dre’s party. But then, that’s okay with me.

Oh, Padron Me


Do you know about padron peppers? I mean, do you really know about them?  The first time I had padron peppers was at the Eat Real Festival in Oakland a few years ago. One of the many vendors was selling little baskets of small green peppers that looked sort of like jalapenos, that had been quickly cooked in a superhot cast iron skillet, then tossed with a little olive oil and salt.  The line was very long.  My friend wanted to keep moving to find who was selling the goat’s milk ice cream.  I said hold on.

Padrons look like jalapenos, but they aren’t spicy. They are tender little baby peppers with the smoky flavor of a pasilla or poblano, but you can eat the whole thing, seeds and all.  Pick them up by the stem and bite off the whole pepper.  They are so delicious, you can’t even believe it.

I knew I had to grow them for myself, but I didn’t yet have the means. The next year my neighbor Gina grew them but she wasn’t really a fan.  Hers were very spicy and she didn’t use them that much.  Turns out she’d been letting them grow too big and turn into real chili peppers. She’d never had them pan-roasted with salt and olive oil like I’d had, and she didn’t see what the big deal was. I happily relieved her plants of a bumper crop and had myself a pepper feast one night.

This year I searched high and low, at all the good nurseries with the weird stuff that only your real hardcore gardening nerds like. Some places had no idea what I was talking about. Others knew but were having a hard time tracking them down themselves. I had spots in my garden where they were supposed to go, and well after all my other veggies were in, the spots for the padrons sat empty.

But I didn’t give up, and finally, after my third trip to the most promising nursery, I struck gold! The plants they had were tiny and a little misshapen, but I didn’t care.  I bought the last three.

The plants are huge and healthy and cranking out peppers and I am just in ecstasy.  Last night Paul and I shared a plate full of them, pan roasted with salt and olive oil of course, as an appetizer.  So good.  So good that even though the plants are very prolific for peppers, it’s way too easy to finish off all the ripe ones in one go and then have to wait anxiously until another bunch are ready to pick.

Next year I’m buying six plants. No. Ten.

Rain and Sweat and Scary Spiders

So what we in hot, dry Northern California miss out on in terms of the lush green summers and the wonders of fireflies enjoyed on the East Coast, we make up for by never having to deal with muggy, sticky, gross weather that gives you swamp-ass and makes you feel like you have to take a shower ALL THE TIME.

Or, at least that’s the way it’s supposed to be. That was the deal.

And yet here I sit, in the swamp that is my ass, feeling like I have an inch of slime all over my body, and let me tell you, the novelty is not that awesome. Sure, I was glad when the insane lightning show last night, and the inevitable wafts of wildfire smoke that accompanied it, were then thoroughly doused by a freak and quite substantive rainstorm.  But it’s gotta be in the 90s right now and I’m pretty sure that’s steam I see rising off the ground.  And I just think if my armpits are going to stick together like this for the rest of the day, I should get to see some lightning bugs, goddammit!

We did get this real nice sunset out of it though:



But then we went inside (which was pretty pointless, given that the humidity makes inside feel exactly the same as outside) and we found this behind the couch:


Ignore the dust bunnies, focus on the terror.

We have A LOT of spiders in our house, including infinity number of daddy-long-legses, a buttload of wolf spiders and even the occasional black widow, but I have never seen one of these bad boys here, so it was quite an event. Not a good event. More of a screamy one. I dare you to google images for “brown recluse” if you have even the slightest shred of doubt that is what you’re looking at. Because we did. Which was about the time the screaming started. Some of the photos on the interwebs looked like they had been taken of the exact spider that was in our house. I don’t mean the same species of spider, I mean like the EXACT SAME SPIDER.


And it was big. It was big enough to put a leash on it and call it Rex, but Paul squished it with his shoe instead. Now we call it Dead, which is catchy enough. I just hope there isn’t another one out there who called it Junior, but hoping so doesn’t seem to have any effect on my now absolute certainty that in every dark cranny of my house (and there are oh, so, many) is an enormous fangy deadly spider waiting to come out and play.

Did I mention :(  ?