Ma and Pa Kettle go to the appliance store

Spring Cleaning continues at my house, interrupted briefly by a death in the family – my old washing machine finally started to make the hideous noise that signals a bearing out in the drum. I’m no mechanic, but I know – that’s like a car without a tire.

I realized, it was old, and probably a few years beyond a healthy retirement age. We had bought the old front loader almost 17 years ago, when they were the newest fad, and priced pretty hefty. We paid about $1,000 for it – OUCH! – so I was determined to get my money’s worth out of it. We had a kid in diapers, and my husband was a construction worker, so I did laundry almost every day. 

The first PG&E bill showed  a dramatic savings when compared to the same period the previous year. We had a well, so I couldn’t measure water usage, but just watching the machine, I could see it used a lot less water. And it just worked a lot better, extracting a lot more water in the spin cycle, so the clothes dried faster whether I hung the on the line or used the dryer. 

The relationship was swell for about the first 10 or 12 years – wow! Then we moved into this little apartment with the laundry closet right in the middle of the house – we immediately noticed this moldy odor. I looked online and found lots of similar complaints from other owners. Something the manufacturers were just admitting, was that the front-loaders build up more lint and scum in the drum, and they get disgusting after a while. They’d come up with a few different brands of machine cleaner – including some stuff from Clorox that looks like napalm. The manufacturer recommended monthly usage. I’d already had my machine for over 10 years, but Refresh really seemed to help, I started using it at least  every other month. It’s supposed to be septic tank safe, but I’m always cautious.

Even though the drum smelled better, our socks and towels started to seem less than clean. I tried vinegar and baking soda, and I started “topping them off” in the dryer after I got them off the line, but our socks oftentimes didn’t even look like they’d been washed, and the towels would stink as soon as they got wet. I wondered about our colored clothes – they always seemed soft and fresh, but I was paranoid that we smelled like a dirty laundry hamper to other people. 

I still stuck with the old machine. They were still expensive, and there wasn’t much variety, even with several different appliance chains in town. Then recently, the sump pump started to act up constantly, the machine would quit in mid-load and refuse to drain, and my husband would have to come in and use our old shop vac to suck the drain free of bad smelling water. About every other month, he had to take the front off and dig out the sump pump, and suck that out too. It was usually just full of scum and skank water – the pump was dying, it couldn’t get all the water out anymore.  We had been seeing a lot of different machines at Lowe’s lately, with a lower price range, so we decided to take advantage of the President’s Day sale. We found an LG HE washer for $728, about $100 off the regular price. 

And here’s the cherry on top – this machine qualifies for a $150 rebate from Cal Water. My cup runneth over.

The delivery guy gave me the run-down on the machine, then suggested I do a load of laundry and see how it worked. I had lost confidence in my old machine almost a week previous when it plugged up on me with a load of wet sheets! So the laundry was stacking up, our closet was full of empty hangars and the smell of dirty socks could be had from the front door. I threw in the first load – just about every t-shirt we owned. 

This machine is kind of Star Trek-y. The old machine had a physical knob, which was so hard to turn I had to use both hands. I had gotten used to that over the years, missing the cycle I wanted and having to turn the knob around again. This machine has a much nicer knob, and easy touch buttons, with a dashboard for choosing special features. Luckily our laundry isn’t fancy, it usually only requires the “on” and “start” buttons, and the knob to choose a cycle. 

Of course, after the way the old machine has treated me lately, I was afraid to leave the apartment while the new one was running. It was so quiet I almost forgot it was there. The old machine had sounded like a jet taking off every time it went into spin. 

And, this new machine is actually quite attractive, sitting there in it’s own little closet.

Ooooo, shiny!

Ooooo, shiny!

Get this – it plays a little song when it’s done, how civil!

I felt some guilt in this purchase, like always. My husband and I are empty-nesters, I wondered if we need something like this. But yeah, we like clean clothes, clean towels, and clean bedding, we need a washer. OMG – I can’t wait to wash that hamper full of socks.



Let me get out my little violin for the public workers who can’t do their job cause they’re not getting paid enough…

I got so sick the other day – my husband and I were doing a drywall repair and I forgot to wear a mask. Just a few minutes in that plaster dust made my sinuses so irritated I woke up in the middle of the night, couldn’t breathe. Two days of holding my head over a pot of boiling water,  walking around making the Felix noises from Odd Couple, I think it’s almost over. Sheesh I’ll admit, I wanted to get my nose amputated, I thought it was trying to kill me.

I used to have a job, and I got six days a year of sick leave. I remember once asking my boss if I could take a sick day to go sailing with friends after I’d been with the company almost a year. The office manager said yes, because I was about to lose my sick days! Use ‘em or lose ‘em, she said, she was a real stickler about that, Good Old Mary Cullen.

I went to Folsom Lake all day, and the resulting sunburn used up four more days. I lost the sixth day, and Mary actually scolded me about not managing my sick days better. Ah, the good life of full employment in a quasi-public agency. We weren’t a public agency, but we served various city, county, and state agencies, so we operated in the same manner. I got good benefits, there was even a “profit-sharing” program. When I left that job, I actually got my “share” – almost $1,000, I was shocked. No pension, but I never would have expected one

We were expected to work, especially if there was a big job that needed to go out, nobody was allowed to get sick. I remember working with excema rash – a side-effect of handling ammonia coated film all day – up to my arm pits, wearing rubber gloves over it, sweating and itching.  I did all aspects of the job by the time I left, because nobody was allowed to be idle. If your supervisor didn’t have enough work for you, you went to another department, no slackers. We filmed records, we processed the film into rolls, fiche, or paper copies. I learned everything from handling, production, finishing, inspection, labeling and shipping. I learned to use a paper cutter that had buttons on either side – you had to have your hands on those buttons to operate the machine with a foot pedal, or the blade wouldn’t move, because that blade could take your hand off like you were made out of butter. I drove deliveries at 4am in Downtown Sacramento – a young woman, alone, scuttling around the loading docks of big buildings in the middle of the night. I’ll never forget the janitor who came around the corner with a mop bucket one night, or the hooker who offered to show my co-worker her tit for $5. 

I have lived, don’t let this boring shit fool you. Like Roy Baty, I’ve seen stuff, that even I have forgotten, thank goodness. 

I just want people to know, when I criticize somebody for the job they do, or don’t do, I have worked myself, and I’ve been a good employee. I just don’t understand people who get paid to do a job and then complain they can’t do the job, or they’re not getting enough money. 






Art imitates life, but doesn’t get it quite right: “On the Waterfront” still a great movie, but needs a new ending

Today I had a lot of work to do in the house, so I turned on the tv for company. Usually I can find a movie I like, preferably one I’ve seen 800 million times, so I don’t have to pay attention the entire time. I was shocked to find “On The Waterfront” playing on THIS! Somehow, I have managed to live my entire life without ever seeing this movie. I didn’t get all my work done, but I’m glad I got to watch this film.

I already knew all about this movie. I had a friend in college who was fascinated with Marlon Brando, so I know the Brando movies pretty well. I’ve seen all the bits and outtakes – especially the “I could have been a contender” speech.  But I had to see this movie to understand not only why it is considered one of the best movies ever made, but also one of the most important movies in American history.

And wow, talk about pertinent. Our community would benefit greatly from a serious and thorough discussion about unions. Unions have never been much more than groups of people who work together for their own gain – without any delusions about what’s good for the public or the community.

My parents were Teamsters because they worked for “closed shops.” My dad complained about the money the union took, for nothing. They had nothing to do with his daily life, his job, his boss, or the numerous and onerous state regulations that governed his work. What, for example, has Teamsters done about the new CARB requirements? A lot of people see what’s really going on – the big closed shops are happy that CARB is putting the owner-operator out of business. 

My mom worked for a big highway builder. She had Teamsters health insurance, but nobody wanted it.  She was always told she’d have to pay for our dental or medical visits and then go about getting the money back from Teamsters herself. She never did, she just went on paying the dues and getting absolutely nothing. 

Wow, can you believe, in America, we have such a notion as a “closed shop”? 

At the end of “On The Waterfront,” the workmen fantasize about getting “The Mob” out of the longshoreman’s union – what a laugh. The unions we have today ARE “The Mob”, don’t kid yourself. Unions exclude people, they take people’s rights away instead of securing them. We need “right to work” legislation, not more protection for these racketeers. 







It’s already time for Fruhling Putz!

I am sitting in my living room, watching the pink sky out my windows. The smell of pizza hangs heavy in the room, especially the shrimp pizza.

Valentine’s Day was nice, my husband bought me a bunch of presents, that guy. I didn’t buy him anything! I made him and the kids a batch of S’mores, you know, with Golden Grahams cereal, mini-marshmallows and chocolate chips. It’s always a mess, I never think it’s going to fly, but the secret is, smash it down good with your hands, and then leave it in the fridge for at least a day. It gets good and stuck together, so you can cut it into little crispy squares.

A couple of years ago a friend gave us his old food wrapper machine – you know, the little machine that sucks the air out of the bag and heat seals it. He had bought it and only tried it a few times, so decided to get rid of it – smart thinking. I try to follow that rule – if I haven’t used something for a year, it goes. And, I also try to be careful about what I take in, I wasn’t so anxious to get it. I never thought I’d find a use for it – was I wrong! You shrink stuff and it slides into your freezer like an envelope! So, I packed a couple dozen little S’mores in a bag and shrunk it and it went right into one of those medium yellow envelopes, and into the mail for my son down south. 

I don’t like to give my father-in-law sweets, it’s just mean at his age, to tempt him like that. It makes him sick to eat too much of that crap, so I send him dog biscuits for his two dogs instead. I make them myself with cooked brown rice, cooked oatmeal, enough whole wheat flour to bind them together (I mix it in until I get a dough), a tsp of baking soda, a teaspoon of salt, a little bacon grease, and about a third of a pint of chicken liver. Oh yeah, it’s a mess, I get my hands right in there. It used to make me gag, but I’m over it. Normally I don’t use as much liver, and I get a little dry cracker type of snack. This time I got something resembling oatmeal cookies. I put frozen peas in for looks, and my dogs love frozen peas. I shrunk a couple dozen in the machine, loaded them into an envelope and sent them off. Grandpa and his dogs and his jackasses live in the middle of nowhere, I know they like to get a package.  Gives the mail man something to talk about too.

I think I spent about $5 between the two packages, worth every penny to send a little lovin’ in the mail. 

Right now  I am enjoying Fruhling Putz – that’s German for Spring Cleaning. You live in your house, but you don’t really see stuff until you start taking the furniture apart and going through the old books and junk. I have the horrible habit of saving magazines – for maybe one article I want to read over and over, I don’t know. I finally tossed a whole stack. There was the Sunset mag from 1988 – fun to look at.

It's so funny to think about a time when people had to reach for ways to use a computer. Now they own us.

It’s so funny to think about a time when people had to reach for ways to use a computer. Now they own us. Can you believe floppy disks?

All the stuff we take for granted today.

All the stuff we take for granted today.

Lessons taught and taught but never learned.

Lessons taught and taught but never learned. Looks like the answer to this question is “Hell No!” 

I had saved that old mag for four pages – an article about making sourdough bread, which now I do so routinely I haven’t even looked at the recipe for a year. I had picked it up in a laundromat back in 1988, when it was fairly new. People like to dump their old mags at laundromats, I also got a pile of Smithsonian that my kids and I perused for years before throwing them out. Old magazines are fun to look at, but they start to deteriorate, smell bad, and then they’re just junk. So, I tore out the four pages and folded them into my best recipe book for future reference, then tossed the mag into the recycling bin. 

I went through an entire bookcase that way, found a lot of mags I had not looked at again since I put them in there. Out! Then I went through the books – all keepers, but wow, were they dusty. A quick wipe with a damp rag or one of those microfiber rags makes that whole side of the room look better. And as I dust, I read.

Here's a keeper - I always enjoy reading over books when I'm cleaning the house. I got a few of these Calvin and Hobbes collections at The Book Store years ago. They never fail to bust me up.

Here’s a keeper – I always enjoy reading over books when I’m cleaning the house. I got a few of these Calvin and Hobbes collections at The Book Store years ago. They never fail to bust me up.  Calvin for Mayor, Hobbes for Vice Mayor. 

Today I will carry on with re-arranging the furniture, throwing stuff out. The last few days the trees have been swelling up with flowers, our F-150 is coated already with a thin layer of shiny green pollen.  Yesterday the neighbor mowed her sideyard weeds for a few minutes before she dissolved into sneezes and disappeared into her house. We’ve been keeping our windows shut, despite the temptation to let in some of that fine warm air.  It’s just a couple of weeks of discomfort, a good time to do some Fruhling Putz.






I’m a weird woman with weird interests

Some people might say “strange”, “bizarre”, or “weird,” but I like to think of myself as an “interesting” person. I know it makes people wonder when they find me reading something like engineer’s reports for local landscaping and lighting districts, but, frankly, I think it’s weird, bizarre, and strange that more people aren’t interested in how a bunch of snout faces can land in your neighborhood like visitors from another planet and slap a tax on your house to pay their salaries and benefits.

To me, it’s like that episode of Simpson’s where Homer and Ned go to Las Vegas and wake up married to a couple of strange women.  Agencies like Chico Area Recreation District (CARD) and Butte County Mosquito and Vector Control District (BCMVCD) can determine the “need” for a district, determine the boundaries of the district, and determine the “expenses” of maintaining the district, based on “benefits” they dream up, and then determine the charge per household. This is how CARD can assess Chico residents to get money to pay their own salaries and benefits.

They are supposed to notice the residents, and then take a vote – both by mail and in an obscure ad in the newspaper. Oftentimes nobody even shows up at the hearings, and it doesn’t say how many ballots were sent or returned in the engineer’s report.  If you’re one of those people who thought  the assessment ballot was just another piece of crap mail (the CARD survey looked like junk mail, so did the Butte Vector’s assessment ballot), you just wake up one day with a strange bill added to your property taxes.

I wonder – how many of you pay your property taxes directly, and how many pay through their mortgage payment? I know you get a bill even if your mortgage holder pays it, and I’m wondering – how many people read their tax bills? I read mine, but I won’t profess to understanding all of it. For example, I know “Chico 2012 Refunding Bond” has something to do with the collapse of our Redevelopment Agency, but that’s it. I try to look these things up online and I find definitions that need defining.

I’ve been following CARD lately because a couple of years ago they sent out a survey asking property owners if they’d support an assessment to build an aquatic center. At the time CARD was rife with budget problems, they were cutting hours and laying off workers to save money, subsequently cutting programs and turning away paying customers. All the while their 33 or so management employees were enjoying pretty generous salaries by private sector standards, the General Manager making about $112,000/year, but paying nothing toward their own pensions or benefits. In 2012 they made a $300,000 “side fund payoff” to CalPERS, bottomed out their budget. I immediately realized, this proposed aquatic center was just a rainbow they were promising to get the public to give  them a general purpose bond that would be eaten before it hatched by management compensation.

That’s the major “expense” in the engineer’s reports on these parks – salaries and benefits, says it right there, in as many words. For example, Amber Grove Park, a big green rectangle located in the Amber Grove subdivision  north of town – total budget, $42,560, salary/benefits, $28,000. $8,500 goes to PG&E and Cal Water. About $3,700 goes to “agriculture,” “maintenance structure and grounds”, and “vandalism”.  Another $4,432 goes to “incidental expenses,” defined as “county collection charges and project management” – more salaries and benefits.

So, it’s really more like $32,000 in salaries and benefits, out of a $42,560 budget. And, I’ll remind you – fulltime CARD employees pay nothing toward their own pensions, and the part timers were cut to 28 hours or less last year so CARD would not have to pay them any benefits. That means we have to cover these people with public  health programs. These are the people who actually do the work that keeps the parks clean and usable (pick up garbage and dog doo, mow lawns, fix broken equipment), but most of the money goes to management employees (sit in air conditioned CARD center, drive around town in brand new air-conditioned SUV, sit in air-conditioned meetings like Butte County Association of Government, etc).

I don’t like being a sap for this stuff, so I try to read this junk. Apparently, your neighborhood can vote down these assessment districts, but that takes organization. Most of them seem to pass without a whimper from the public, judging from the reports I’ve read. I know these taxing entities really don’t go to any trouble to really inform the public, and in the case of CARD and BCMVCD, I felt they went out of their way to misinform the public, leaving out all that important stuff about salaries and pensions and CalPERS side fund pay-offs.

I don’t think CARD can assess for the aquatic center, I think they’ll have to get a bond. I don’t know for sure, I’ll have to check into it more. Right now I have to go outside and play with Biscuit, she gets pretty annoyed with these reading sessions.

Today I will get something done

Ah, the early morning quiet. I live two blocks from Hwy 99, and you can hear the traffic get started in the morning. At 4:30 am, you can hear one car making it’s way across town, by 6:30, it’s picked up to a steady hum, by 7am, it’s a roar. It used to roar through rush hour, and then quiet down, now it’s just roars all day. 

I get up early so I  can wake up with the day. I don’t like waking up to bright sun, it’s like being left behind.  I feel this restlessness – Spring wants in, she’s banging on the door, and Winter is saying, “Five more minutes, give me five more minutes!”

And there’s the 6:20 train, a couple of minutes late this morning.  Wow, it’s a long-eee! They’re still yanking that horn as if the students just got back to town. 

The sky is overcast. The moon looks like a face, peeking out from behind a door. The sun waits just off the horizon, the color of the sky changing subtly with every minute.

It’s a good time of day to be standing in a window with a hot cup of java pressed up to your nose.   Oh yeah, there’s that purple, within a few minutes the sun will be up. Now I can hear the freeway through my closed windows. Time to get moving along. 

I hope your day is pleasant, and you accomplish something that you have wanted to get done for a long time. 






Aeroponics – trying something a little different with the lettuce garden this year

It's so exciting to have a mud puddle.

It’s so exciting to have a mud puddle.

What a whopper of a storm folks, just when I feared Winter had forgotten us. Nature seemed to be giving us a good pre-Spring cleaning, my trees got a good shaking out.

Some dead wood fell out of my sycamore trees this morning - I keep waiting for that to happen Downtown.

Some dead wood fell out of my sycamore trees this morning – I keep waiting for that to happen Downtown.

I buckled my shoes, I shut the door, and I went out to pick up sticks.

I buckled my shoes, I shut the door, and I went out to pick up sticks.

Rain was pouring from my gutters this morning, I'm glad to have the rain barrels.

Rain was pouring from my gutters this morning, I’m glad to have the rain barrels.

I use the hose to redirect water away from the house and out the driveway, toward the honeysuckle vines along the fence. I bet it will flower extra nice this year, the smell comes in through the windows on a warm night.

I use the hose to redirect water away from the house and out the driveway, toward the honeysuckle vines along the fence.

This hose from the gutters on the back of our house carries water to our little red bud tree.

This hose from the gutters on the back of our house carries water to our little red bud tree.

I had actually given in to the notion of drought. My husband and I have been scratching our heads to think of ways to use less water every year. This year we decided to go “aeroponic”, making a little lettuce garden in rain gutters. 

My husband has a couple of rows ready – little spray emitters inserted in the rain gutter on a length of drip hose, little “net” pots inserted into holes drilled with our handy doorknob attachment. We got a bag of these little rocks you use instead of dirt. We’re just waiting for the lettuce to get big enough to transplant out of the little tray we seeded it in.  He set it up in our little greenhouse, where I grew lettuce last year in a big tub. That was okay for awhile, but the plants didn’t get very big. This is supposed to be better, if you can believe anything you read on the internet. We’ll see!

Here's the rain gutters my husband has converted into aeroponic growing trays.  There are the lettuce seedlings there in the flat below.

Here’s the rain gutters my husband has converted into aeroponic growing trays. There are the lettuce seedlings there in the flat below.

In a perfect world, this system would re-circulate the water, with “nutrients” added, and you’d never have to add new water. I know this isn’t a perfect world, so I’m shooting for, very little water.

It’s been a learning experience so  far – my husband was sitting down at the computer every morning with coffee, looking at various set-ups, checking around town, pricing parts and equipment. Yesterday we went to Harbor Freight Tools to pick up a little submersible pump. 

With coupon, this pump was about $25 at Harbor Freight Tools. I got the old keeper from my mom, as it's deteriorated over the years it's been downgraded from household to greenhouse usage. It's perfect for our little pump set-up.

With coupon, this pump was about $25 at Harbor Freight Tools. I got the old keeper from my mom, as it’s deteriorated over the years it’s been downgraded from household to greenhouse usage. It’s perfect for our little pump set-up.

There was a lot of stuff to buy to start up, but I think we paid for most of it with the $50 I got selling some crap on Craigslist – cleaned my garage! We got a coupon for the pump, and when we went in, it was (Holy Cow!) priced down ten more bucks, so we are actually under budget. 

You will never hear that in the public sector.