Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Sometimes You've Just Got to Say, What the Cluck

One of the goals of living in this house is to produce as much of our own food as possible. There's enough space--really more than enough space--for an expansive vegetable garden. (My husband is a canning fiend-how many men do you know who have their own pressure canners and love to use them?) We've planted four citrus trees and four pomegranate bushes already, and have tomatoes, peppers, strawberries and corn going in some temporary raised beds we put in so we could feel like we were making progress while waiting for the permits. Once we move in this weekend, I'm going to clear out the bed that runs along the cinderblock wall separating us from the funeral home next door (yeah, funeral home next door. They held services for John Steinbeck there before his ashes were interred at a local cemetery) and start planting the berry bushes that eventually will cover the wall. I'll start the herbs going as well--I've gotten some good advice from the folks at Rocket Farms. The water department is coming next week to install the new water main, and once that's done we'll start working on the drip irrigation system for the beds that eventually will cover the entire front yard.

And we want chickens. Urban chickens. We got fairly spoiled living around the block from Fred Dodsworth, who along with his wife Linda has a very active egg operation going in their backyard. But urban chickens were no big deal in Berkeley; it wasn't unusual to see one that had escaped from its yard and gone wandering down the street. There were far weirder things to see in Berkeley.

Originally uploaded by Dave-F

(Photo used with permission under a Creative Commons' license.)

Fresh eggs are out of this world. Nothing compares, at least nothing you can buy in a store. And so it is with a heavy heart that I make the following proclamation: I am about to become an urban chicken outlaw. Because in the city of Salinas, there are no chickens allowed--at least not in my mixed-use neighborhood. (Meth labs? No worries. Illegal car repair shops? They turn a blind eye. Urban chickens? You're a scofflaw.)

I understand completely that noise and smell are concerns. We only have one living neighbor, Mike the Sprinkler guy, with whom we share a fence on the north side of the house. The three houses next to his are all empty and in foreclosure. On our other side is the funeral home, behind us is an alley, and across the alley is one restaurant and a bunch of shops. We're not planning on roosters, and fewer than a half dozen laying hens for eggs, with the coop positioned in the rear yard adjacent to the alley.

It's not a matter of "if you do it right, you can have them" as far as the city is concerned. We're going to seek out a conditional use permit, because I believe in following the process just to amuse myself. We'll lobby the city council, we'll seek the CUP, but in the end, we're probably going to become illegal chicken ranchers.

They're lucky Chuck won't actually let me get a goat.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

El Grupo, FMLN and You

This morning my husband and I drove our eldest son Bobby to San Francisco International Airport for a flight that will eventually land him in El Salvador. To the question, "Why is your son going to El Salvador," my standard answer is officially, "Because I am an idiot."

I guess the real answer is somewhat more difficult to figure out. My son has parents who are overeducated overachievers who way the hell oversheltered him for the first 14 years of his life. And then we moved to Berkeley two years ago and it all went to hell. Sort of. I think the best thing about Berkeley is that it's a great place to raise free-range children. Our youngest, Sam, started taking BART by himself when he was 11 because his best friend moved to the other side of the Caldecott Tunnel. We would drop him at our end, they would pick him up on their end. We armed both of them with bus passes and let them head off to Eudamonia in downtown Berkeley. Or to the ledges outside of Berkeley High where the skate punks gather. And every time they walked out the door, my heart would seize until they came home.

And then I moved them back to Salinas and pissed them both off.

I think I'm hoping Bobby will figure out his life during a few weeks in Central America. He's a low-ambition kid, a smart as hell, exceedingly eloquent 16-year-old kid who has no interest in performing for his parents or for his teachers. He always has a few books going, he loves theater and music and baseball. He thinks he wants to join the Peace Corps, but that could change by tomorrow.

Our friend Max has been planning this trip to El Salvador, Guatemala and Belize for months. His wife, Feliciana, needs to be in Guatemala for the next nine days to ... celebrate? mourn? the first year anniversary of her father's death. Max is going to take his boys, Bobby and a fourth teenager--the son of another set of friends--surfing and hiking and for Spanish lessions in El Salvador before they head to Guatemala on Thursday, where they will work at a clinic sponsored by Max's congregation and hopefully help out with any work that needs to be done at Feliciana's house. She was raised in the mountains, three hours away from electricity, and with both of her parents gone, the small farm and the house now are hers.

We met all of them at the airport this morning, where Dr. P, the mom of the fourth teen, asked me how I was doing with the trip. Because her husband (we'll call him RFM, for Really Famous Musician) was freaking the hell out. Dr. P will be joining them on Thursday, when I will start freaking out a little less.

"I'm freaking out too," I said. "Do you have your prescription pad? Can I have some valium?"

She didn't and I couldn't. But we sat in a lounge area while the boys got their boarding passes and talked about our worries.

Chuck: Dengue Fever. You're on your back for eight days and you can't take care of your own basic needs.
RFM: Nodding. Yeah, that's a bad one.
Me: I'm worried about kidnapping, illegal organ harvesting and Central American jails.
Dr. P: You can't be worried about organ harvesting. That's not a legitimate fear.
Me: It's my fear and I'll worry if I want to.
RFM: Condoms. I forgot to tell him about condoms.
Me: Yeah, we went over that one last night.
Dr. P, eyes widening: Condoms? You don't think ... really? Condoms?
Me: They're teenage boys.
RFM, sighing: I'll go tell him.

We lingered on as the boys and Max wended their way through the security line. I wrapped myself around my baby's neck and hung on until it was embarrassing for both of us.

And then I let him go.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Almost Maybe

The apartment seems so much smaller now that it has walls.

Small is relative, of course. But with two adults, two men-children (a 16-year-old and a 12-year-old who is almost taller than me), plus a smelly little Jack Russell, the accommodations will be at the very least cozy, bordering on, "Oh for God's sake, go outside and play catch until it's too dark to see the ball" as we prepare to once again live together in the basement at House226.

We'll be moving in next weekend. We were hoping for this weekend, but Chuck won't be able to start tiling until Friday.

What's good: the together part. We've been living separately (me and the dog at our friend Todd's, Chuck and the boys at his mother's), for almost three months, and everyone is going a little crazy. Bobby is leaving this weekend for two weeks in Guatemala and El Salvador, and lately when I go to see everyone after work, I'm getting frantic communication from my mother-in-law. He's been sleeping all day, she says, he hasn't eaten or drank anything and she's worried that he will die in Guatemala because of his heart condition. (He's been sleeping all day because he stays up all night, he's a teenager and he's on vacation. How that translates to death in Guatemala, I don't know. I didn't say it made sense. Work with me here.)

What's hard: the together part. I thought we were cramped in Berkeley (1,200 square feet, plus the rat-to-human ratio was against us) but the basement at 226 is about 800 feet. It should only be for a month or two, and the boys will be gone for about a month of it at various camps, but it will still be tight. It will give us time, though, to work on the yard more, get everything planted that I want to plant and possibly keep the hookers from invading the yard on Sunday mornings.

Or at least that's the hope of Dawn, the nice woman who owns the restaurant across the alley from our back fence. I met her the other day when we were there talking to Al, arguing over the carpeting he wants to put in the basement bedrooms. (It'll be nice, he said, a change from the rest of the apartment. Yeah, I said, it will be like traveling to a new world -- ooh, I was in Tile Land here in the kitchen, but I think I'll go to Carpet Land here in the bedroom. He won that round, because the carpeting is less expensive than the laminate. But if he thinks of suggesting carpeting for the main house, I will cut him.)

Anyway, Dawn saw us outside and introduced herself. She's so happy people are moving in-if we need anything, please let her know. And maybe people living there will keep the hookers from climbing over the fence like they do on Sunday mornings.

Whadda what?

"Why Sunday mornings? Why do you think they choose Sunday morning?" I asked her. "I honestly don't know, but here's the part of the fence they've broken down trying to get into your yard," she said.

Speaking of the yard, there's a new group called Sustainable Salinas that wants to transform people's lawns into vegetable gardens. They're looking for a yard where they can run a pilot program, and they want to talk to us about using our yard as a test case. I'm excited about the possibility--it's what we want to do anyway, and we have a small budget for the raised beds and irrigation--but this could mean some free manual labor too.