Chopped Liver

Strike three, four, five and six.


Or maybe it’s seven. I’ve lost track of how many part-time jobs I’ve applied for since we moved here. All I know is twice in the last week or so, I was turned down yet again. Neither rejection was my fault (that’s my story and I’m sticking to it) but it still doesn’t do much for the ol’ ego.

The stinkiest part of it is that I really, honestly thought I had this last one. After a part-time professional organizer position fell apart — the owner of the company decided not to expand to this part of Washington after all (or so she said) — I emailed the folks who own an organic apple orchard just down the street from us to see if they’d be needing someone to work their hard cider tasting room come April. The wife replied quickly explaining they were “crazy busy” right that second, but she definitely wanted to talk with me.

Hopeful, wouldn’t you say?

In a subsequent email, she explained that while they already have plenty of help for the tasting room, they do have a large empty hoop house inside which they’d like to plant vegetables but don’t have the time to do it themselves. They wondered if I’d be interested in helping them plan a season or three and manage the crew.

Wow, how perfect does that sound for a former organic vegetable farmer such as myself, right? Wrong. See, I wasn’t the crop planner at the farm I co-owned. My husband John did all that. I, on the other hand, concentrated more on harvests and how much of this and that we needed for our bi-weekly markets, which I also worked. I did the bookkeeping, too, and payroll. I did them poorly (and I have a stack of correction notices from the IRS to prove it), but I did them.

First and foremost, however, my main role at the farm was as Princess. That job, I had down to an art. And oddly enough, I’ve yet to run across a want ad looking for one.

Nope, it appears what everyone wants is…John. For one thing, he’d be perfect for the apple orchard gig. He’s busy with his part-time job assistant managering the produce department at the groovy local foods store, though, and has no desire to give that up for a seasonal position, even one that seems almost custom-made for him.

Come to think of it, his produce department job was custom-made for him. He fell into it by answering an ad for part-time cashier and when the owners saw his resume, they created this altogether new position specifically for him.

Know what happened with my resume after I took it to a different local food store in response to their ad for part-time cashier? Nothing, that’s what. A big, fat nada. Not only did the owners not offer an even better, more streamlined job for me like John’s store did for him…they didn’t even call me to interview for the cashier job.

It doesn’t end there. John and I started playing pickleball at the same time yet not surprisingly, he’s much, much better at it than I. John’s a natural at sports, see. I’m, well, not. That’s not to say I’m lousy at the game — I can hold my own — but John has far surpassed my skill level. So much so that on a recent afternoon, a call came in on my phone from one of the Pros from Dover (as we refer to the most experienced players in the neighborhood) that went something like this:

Pro: Hi Jo. Is John at work today?

Me: No, he’s home.

Pro: He’s home? Right now?

Me: Yes.

Pro: Um, we’re up here at the court and need another player.

Me: Okay, I’ll tell him. It’ll only be John coming, though, because I’m not…

Pro: Great! Thanks! Bye!

I can’t say I was tickled pink at the implied insult, but I’ve never thought of myself as an athletic equal to my husband so it didn’t hurt my feelings really. I’m pretty much a klutz through and through, and am able to live with that.

The same Pro from Dover called again a day or two later, only this time it was about something other than pickleball. This time, she was calling to ask a question of me. Turns out, she’s on the neighborhood Nominating Committee and wanted to know if I’d be willing to run for a seat on the Board of Directors.

Well well well! How about that? Never mind that I have no desire to be on the Board — all those boring meetings — it still felt pretty good to think my name came up as a possibility. After all, in this community there are around 600 households from which to choose a nominee. Puffed with pride and feeling self-confident, I decided honesty was the best policy and told the Pro straight out that, while I was flattered, I was going to decline.

Apparently her policy is honesty too, as she immediately admitted it was John’s name, not mine, that originally came up in the Nominating Committee meeting. They just figured he probably wouldn’t have the time — being employed and all — making me, the unemployed one, a logical second choice.

So much for pride. And self-confidence. I’ll tell you what, though: one of these days, somebody, somewhere, is going to be in need of a princess.


And chances are, when that happens they’ll offer John the job first.


A Little Help from St. Joseph

When our friend Roxie — a former Austin farm stand customer who now lives in Washington state — found out John and I were attempting to sell our farm in order to move up there, she and her husband Kim emailed us a load of valuable information. That, of course, opened the floodgates for me to pester them relentlessly with additional questions, the answers to which were always graciously forthcoming. They’re fine folks.

Roxie even went so far as to offer me her plastic statue of St. Joseph.

St. Joseph kit

This photo is a reenactment from the site, not her actual statue. While I appreciated the gesture, I saw no need for her to put the thing in the mail. I didn’t know we’d soon be visiting her in person.

You know what a St. Joseph statue is supposed to do, right? If you’re trying to sell your home, you bury the little Saint in the ground — upside down — facing your house and he gets you a buyer. According to legend (and the internet) this tradition goes back to what is called ‘the degradation of the saints.’ They threatened the saints by burying them while saying, “I will keep you with your head down in the dirt until you sell my house for me.”

Seems to me that wouldn’t make ol’ St. Joe all that fond of you. It might in fact cause him to be a little cranky and less eager to assist, which is probably why in more recent history the part about threats has changed instead to praying to Joseph’s good will for help with a fast, smooth and profitable sale. You know what they say: you catch more flies with honey.

As it happened, when John and I traveled to Washington at the end of January we did get the opportunity to visit Roxie and Kim. We spent a lovely day with them as we toured their corner of that beautiful state, and ended up at their home overlooking the Strait of Juan de Fuca. While there, Roxie brought out her St. Joseph statue for us.

Despite our good intentions, we didn’t bury the statue immediately upon our return. I left it out on the counter as a reminder for a short while, but when people started coming to look at the house I tucked it in a drawer, out of sight from any potential buyers.

closed Altoids

I mean, we didn’t know any of these people. A particularly pragmatic couple might have noticed the little statue and thought we were superstitious weirdos. It’s best to keep things as nondescript as possible when selling a home anyway. Already, our real estate broker had told us to take down any knick-knacks, family photos, etc., that might distract the buyer. We wanted people to see it as their house, not ours.

Poor St. Joseph remained sequestered in that drawer through four or five house showings. (Though I can’t imagine he was wishing he was buried upside down instead.) Every time I reached for an Altoid, I was reminded of him. And every time, I’d close the drawer and promise myself we’d perform a decent burial soon. Very soon.

Then we were presented with a contract. A young family who have been searching for a farm for nearly a year loved this place. They even wanted to keep it as Angel Valley Farm, which thrilled us to no end. After only minor negotiations, we accepted their offer. St. Joseph had been drawer-bound barely over two weeks.

This brings up what I see as an extremely valid query: Is it truly necessary to bury the poor fella in the dirt — upside down, at that — in order for him to want to help with the house sale? Or could it be that he was so enjoying his cozy gig in the Altoids drawer that he expedited the sale process to avoid entombment?

I’m wondering, too, whether the number of Altoids left inside the tin made a difference.

open Altoids

When we signed off on the contract, there were nine.

We still have the house inspection results to agree upon, a flood zone survey to complete and a septic tank inspection to pass. We’re optimistic about all those things, but until they’re behind us, we won’t know for sure that the sale will go as scheduled.

To be safe, I’m not changing the number of Altoids in that tin. Until we sign on the dotted line at the title company, we’ll simply have to forego minty fresh breath. It seems a small sacrifice (and our apologies in advance to anyone who gets too close).

There’s nothing weird or superstitious about that, right?

Highs and Lows

Not many things scare me, with the exception of…

Hoo hoo! That’s rich. Sorry, but I’m so lying, I simply can’t go on. I thought maybe I could pull it off, but no. As anyone who’s been around me much can attest, I’m afraid of just about everything. One of my birthday presents earlier this year from Dana was a journal entitled “I’m Going to Die,” where I could record various symptoms and scenarios that will surely kill me. It was the perfect gift.

My greatest fear — which was originally the only one I’d planned to admit here — is heights. When I was a child, my father had to carry me up and down stairs. To this day, I’m unable to step onto an escalator without John’s arm wrapped around my waist. And that’s only as a last resort. I’ll first search high and low for the elevator, no matter how inconvenient. (I’m fun to travel with.)

Don’t even talk to me about ladders. I mean, I’ll go up on them, just not very far. And considering I’m the primary housepainter in the family, that can be a bit of a problem. In preparation for showing our house to prospective buyers, a carpenter replaced some weathered boards which subsequently needed paint. Most of them were down low within my comfort zone, yet I did reach an impasse with the wall into which John had bashed the front-end loader of his tractor a few years ago.

Research on tractor accidents is pretty conclusive: 50% of all farm fatalities involve tractors, according to my internet search. I’m unable, however, to find statistics on what percentage of exterior wall damage to farmhouses is due to tractor mishaps. Weird.

Immediately after John’s little tractor oopsy, he patched the resulting hole with a short length of exterior siding which I, of course, painted. The repair job stuck out like a sore thumb. A sore thumb covered up with a bright blue bandaid. But like everything one gets used to, it became invisible to us — until we started looking at the house through the eyes of a potential buyer.

We had the carpenter replace the lower two boards of that elevation of the house and after I painted them, the repair was even more glaring than before. The rest of the wall had faded over 14 years, making these freshly painted boards stick out like a…well, you know. Consequently, we decided the entire wall had to be re-blued, to match.

I took it as far — read: as high — as I could. John finished the tippy-top portion for me.

John painting

Were it not for the fact that we’re recently semi-retired, he might have never found the time to do this. While in the past, I could indeed squeeze in projects outside the realm of farming during the month of February, John could not. But now that we’re growing only for a couple restaurants — “miniature farming,” I’m calling it — spring planting isn’t all-consuming like it once was.

In fact, it’s verging on comical. For instance, earlier this week it was time to start what we’ve always referred to as our main crop of tomatoes — the ones that will be ready for harvest in June, our biggest tomato month. Normally, that would mean seeding out 18 or so flats of soil blocks. This year, John did only five.

tomato flats

Five. They look almost ridiculous in the greenhouse.

Even our early-early tomato crop is barely a crop at all. Granted, we have a whole lot more planted than the average gardener would tackle, but still. While our farm was never a large one to begin (or end) with, we did used to fill 1-1/2 hoop houses, each 200-feet long, with early tomatoes.

two hoop houses

Now we have just one, and a meager 96-footer at that.

single greenhouse

So it goes with everything else we’re growing for spring. Where a 200-foot bed used to hold only one single crop (often, two or three of those beds were required), we now fit four — sometimes five — different things into the one row.

Earlier in the season I caught John sitting at the island in the kitchen, pouring through last year’s planting records trying to figure out how to pare them down. Flummoxed, he threw his hands up and exclaimed, “I don’t know how to do this!”

His despair didn’t last long, thank goodness. Knowing how much to plant for two restaurants remains a guessing game, but one that John’s taking much more lightly. It’s a good thing, in many ways. Now that he has more time, he’s a calmer man. And more available, as well, which is coming in especially handy for me.

above greenhouse

See, that top trim board needs a fresh coat of white paint…and I’m sure as heck not going up there.

Me and Sacagawea

Like Lewis and Clark before us, we recently journeyed to the northernmost reaches of the Pacific Northwest on a quest of exploration. While John and I reached our destination much faster than Meriwether Lewis and William Clark did, I’m not certain our trek was all that more comfortable. I’d like to see either of those men stuck in the middle seat of a packed 737 for four hours. Judging from the illustrations on Wikipedia, these guys looked more like First Class passengers to me. And I’m not talking free First Class tickets redeemed with frequent flyer miles. No, no. These fellas appear to have been the real deal.


I mean, look. Isn’t that an ascot around William’s neck? Neither John nor I even own an ascot.

Though the method in which we traveled to Washington differed slightly from that of Meriwether and William, our reasons for checking out the area were similar. We all desired a closer look at the region. In our case, however, the ultimate goal is to move out there permanently. Lewis and Clark merely visited.

As it happened with our predecessors, we learned a great deal on our expedition. For one thing, we’d been fairly certain our future homestead would be on Orcas Island. But as we scoped out several areas along the Strait of Juan de Fuca, we began changing our minds. Orcas Island is indeed spectacular — in our humble opinions, nowhere else we’ve been in Washington trumps the sheer beauty of it — yet the island is a tad more remote than we’re comfortable with. To get anywhere else, you must take the ferry. In the summer months that means at least a two-hour wait in line; in the winter months, there’s the risk of ferry cancellation due to bad weather (they can get some crazy winds up there).

Still, Orcas Island was the only place we met with a real estate agent. It was pre-planned, and although we’d already pretty much decided we’re more interested in Port Townsend, say, or one of the more accessible islands, we chose to go ahead and look at properties. If the perfect place was awaiting us on Orcas, we didn’t want to miss out.

And the first place the agent showed us nailed it.

Orcas house

The main house was slightly smaller than our home here (perfect); there was another structure being built that could have been turned into a guesthouse (perfect); it was on five beautiful acres (perfect); and oh my, the view.

Orcas view

Once inside the house I turned to John and said, “Write a check.”

Which brings up the one problem with the place: the price. This property costs almost as much as we’re asking for our farm, and that’s not part of our game plan. We need to walk away with cash in our pockets when all is said and done. The purpose of this whole exercise is not only to move to the Northwest, but also to retire. From what I understand, you need to set aside enough money in order to do that.

Details can be so annoying.

So after bidding a reluctant adieu to my dream home, the agent took us to two other properties that, while meeting the criteria of costing less, simply didn’t do it for us. Our last and final stop then was to see a property the agent referred to as “the farm.” It was only two acres, which is fine with us, and years ago was indeed a small working farm. The agent cautioned us, however, that the current owner had let it get rather run down and that we needed to recognize it as a diamond in the rough.

“Squint when you look it,” she warned me, in particular.


I can’t squint that hard.

pile of wood

Turns out, neither can John.


Finally, after traipsing around two acres of what looked to us like a toxic waste dump (all the while listening to the agent wax nostalgic about the lovely little farm that used to be there 20 years ago) John finally said, “This might be fine for a younger man to tackle, but not for me.”

The neighbors looked a little disappointed,


yet we were actually kind of relieved. The day’s outing had served us well in cementing our prior decision that Orcas Island isn’t going to be our final destination after all.

We’ll Lewis and Clark up to the Pacific Northwest again in a few months or so. Maybe to Oregon this time, or if we find a serious buyer for our farm, it might mean another sojourn in Washington to real estate shop around Port Townsend. I’m telling the agent up front, though, that I have no intention of squinting.