Spring is busting out – God Bless You!

Yesterday I noticed the tree next to our garage is getting tiny buds – oh oh! Lately I’ve been sneezing for no particular reason.

I love this little tree because it creates a shady spot over our driveway, and it’s very pretty. But it gets these little tassel flowers that seem to produce more pollen than your average tree flower.  They dump green, shiny pollen all over our pick-up truck, and if I leave the upstairs windows open, the window sills and my desk get coated with the stuff.

My husband used to get sick at this time of year – I remember how his eyelids would puff up like tiny blow fish, his eyelashes sticking out like spines. Now my older son gets similar symptoms.  I don’t get it as bad, but once in a while it sneaks up on me and I get a sinus infection that won’t go away, and that can turn into an ear infection if the North Wind has anything to say about it.

The worst offenders are the tassel flowers and privet flowers. Privet pollen looks like ground glass, and that’s what it feels like in your nose, throat and eyes. Have you ever watched a mulberry flower? The little tassels look like smoking cigarettes – close the windows! 

I not only close my windows over the week or so that this little tree flowers, I go out and spray it with the hose, almost daily. I see the new flowers, and I hit them with  the water, and the pollen just explodes in a big green puff ball, washes to the  ground. Of course I am covered head-to-toe with old clothes that I deposit in the garage. 

I don’t mind wearing a little bandana over my face either, I get used to it. They sell those in all kinds of pretty colors at Walmart, a dollar or two a piece.  Paper masks are nice, but they get dirty and have to be thrown away. They’re expensive. Last year we bought a few boxes for $1 each at a garage sale, but they’re almost gone. 

We also wash our cars regularly at this time of year, and clean the inside out as good as we can. And the dogs – they got a bath yesterday.  Don’t talk to Biscuit, she’s still mad. We go to a lot of trouble to please that old bitch – we bring a bucket of hot water down from the apartment, dump it into a five gallon bucket of cold water, and give her a nice warm bath. She don’t care – she’ll take your finger off if she gets a chance, she gets so mad. Badges is almost worse – he stands there, tail between his legs, looking like he’s being punished. After they’re dry, they get frisky again, but Biscuit runs and hides, and won’t even come out for a treat for a good half-hour. 

My son complains his cats bring it in the house – that’s a problem. My husband suffered a lot more when we had cats, that’s for sure. I loved them but it was a 24 hour job keeping the house clean. I sure as hell ain’t going to suggest you wash your cat – train them to take a good brushing, and do it outside in a jacket you can leave outside.  We had a female that would actually be vacuumed, she’d arch her back and me-owwwww!

Get ready, we’re about to be pollinated!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Anger management

I am sitting here today being really pissed off at a couple of people. I ‘ll keep that under my hat. But I’ll say, if they ever cross my radar again, they’re going to think they’re in a RAID commercial.

How do you deal with anger? After several coffee-and-chats with various “city insiders” last week – including a couple of people who just like to think they’re important –  I was so mad, I laid awake for hours one night. Sometimes this stuff just gets in my guts like a bad cannolo and won’t go away!

When I get this mad, I have to remind myself, “Innnn-hale, yeah, that’s right, eeeeexxxxx-haaaaale…thatta girl!”   My body gets so tense, I get cramps. I think about the “Sit and Be Fit” lady – I concentrate on every part of my body, from the top of my head on down, and I tell that part of my body, “everything’s okay, no reason to get our panties in a knot…”

Since Chico has grown, the number of ugly, nasty, greedy, selfish people has grown, I guess I can say that. Over the years I’ve retreated to my home, going out for quick trips to various shopping centers – GET-IN-GET-OUT is what I always say. Lately my husband and I have made a pact not to talk to checkers we don’t know well, not to bite on those stupid little quips they’ve been trained to make – don’t even say Hi unless they say it first. I try to be sure to say Thank You but many times they’ve already turned their attention to the bag of bones and flesh behind me.

When I went out at odd times last week for various meetings to talk to some folks about city business, I could not believe what a traffic mess Chico has become. Of course I’ve seen it coming with every new subdivision approved by our development-happy city councils, but seeing it is still shocking. Try getting your bike across First Avenue without a light these days, try being a pedestrian out  there. Make sure your will is in order. The conga line is never ending, and yeah, they speed up with they see that yellow light, and red just doesn’t have the respect it used to get. 

Cars have become the dominant life force in Chico, get over it. 

I watched that happen, as first conservative and  then liberal council majorities approved every subdivision that came around the pike.  I kicked and screamed, but nobody cared. People told me to mind my own business. So now I see what’s going on Downtown under our current “fiscal conservative” council, and I feel the same way. They’re giving way too much money in compensation to public employees, especially the cops and fire employees. Mark Sorensen calls himself a “fiscal conservative” – Hah! That’s a very subjective phrase People, you can read it however you want. How I read it is, he conserves our public money for himself (Mark, as city manager of Biggs, gets a public salary, pension and benefits too) and his friends. That’s his idea of “fiscal conservative” – a dog in the manger. 

Our city manager and assistant city manager, Mark Orme and Chris Constantin, have come here to make sure the city of Chico keeps salaries in line with all the other entities and keeps paying the lion’s share of retirement funding for them and all their public worker cronies. Constantin is a consummate carpet bagger – he’s actually working simultaneously for the city of Chico and the city of Hayward. That used to be a contractual no-no, but you don’t see that clause anymore. These people can work out of a suitcase, and do. I was just told recently that Constantin’s wife is peeved that they have to live in a rental – well she can comfort herself with 90 percent of his $180,000/year plus salary when he turns 50 – as a former cop, that’s his “entitlement.”  I’m not sure on that salary figure –  he may be getting over $200,000 a year now.

Constantin actually told the Tea Party gathering, he never intended to stay in Chico, remarking he hoped that we could find a cheaper replacement when he left. That’s comical – he’s done everything he can to raise salaries, including gutting staff to get the money for his and other management salaries. Now he says the cops “are not overpaid,” and he’s made comments about a sales tax for public safety. 

The people that really piss me off are people who meet with staff and council members behind closed doors, then tease me with snippets they won’t be quoted on later. I hate people who try to use the issues to get attention for themselves. I know a lot of people think I just want to be the center of attention – they couldn’t be more wrong. I feel like a topless waitress – when will people pay attention to what I say instead of picking at me? 

They don’t know how I’d really like to forget all this political stuff, and hide in my private life, but the public stuff just keeps digging it’s way in. Now they want more sales tax – as if I’m just supposed to roll over and give these insatiable leeches more money! 

Visualization is also a good tool for relaxation. I visualize Chris Constantin putting his hand in my purse, and there’s a big rat trap in there, and he gets it stuck on his hand…

This one is worth a repeat – lasagna warms up your house and keeps your tummy full too!

Winter seems to be in hasty retreat these days, but  the temperatures still dip as the sun goes down. I’ve actually had my windows open during the day, but about 3pm, I hurry around and shut everything before it sets off the heater.

A friend of mine complained the most recent bill for her 1800 sf house was just over $700. She asked me if I thought that was crazy. Yes, I do, but I didn’t have the nerve to ask her what her usage, or even her habits were. I know, if I turn my heater up past 65, even with all the dual pane windows and insulation, it will run almost non-stop. Just those few extra degrees make a huge difference. After 9am our heater is OFF. This and still our bills are almost $200 a month in Winter. I didn’t know what to tell her – get more sweaters?

I know one good way to warm up your house – cook casseroles during the day.  Recently my husband and I put together a pan of lasagna, one of the easiest pan meals you can make.

We do things from scratch around here. We started last Summer when we had a big tomato garden and the maters were rolling at me like a little red army.  I had to get up early and get them on the stove before it got hot – what a funny thought now! I ran them through my vegetable press and put pint after pint in our little chest freezer. Now I can enjoy the fruits of my labor – I just reach in there and pull out a couple whenever I want to make a pasta dish. But, I tell my son – he can go to the store and buy a can of sauce, don’t be a food snob.

Same with the pasta – before we learned to make our own, the store stuff was fine. But, once you get good at making your own, that becomes almost as easy as getting in the car and going to the store.

As I've gotten older, the making of the food has become as important as the eating. It's really not that hard to make your own pasta, it's actually fun after you get the hang of it.

As I’ve gotten older, the making of the food has become as important as the eating. It’s really not that hard to make your own pasta, it’s actually fun after you get the hang of it.

Pasta dough is simple, and you can roll it out with a rolling pin if you don’t have the machine. I paid about $50 for this machine, I’ve had it for about 10 years, just seems to work better every time I use it.

We are still working through the meat Grandpa gave us last fall – we got a lot of ground beef. I am shocked how different it is from store bought. For one thing, when I used to form burgers or meat balls with the store bought, it would leave a coating of, well, not sure what, on my hands. It was so thick and slimy, I would scrape it off with a butter knife before I washed my hands – with straight dish soap, probably twice. I thought that was fat – no, that’s that SLURRY! Apparently, when they butcher your cow and grind your meat for you, they don’t re-add the slop that gets into the works of the machine. I will probably never be able to go back to store bought ground beef.

Ground beef makes such a rich tomato sauce, we just brown it and add it to a portion of the sauce. We layer it in with the noodles, cottage cheese, and shredded Parmigiano, Romano, or Asiago cheese. We quit using Mozzarella because it gives us indigestion. We put in a good dollup of plain sauce between each layer, spread it on the noodles.

Something we've learned lately - you don't have to pre-cook the pasta, just lay it right in there and be sure to use plenty of sauce.

Something we’ve learned lately – you don’t have to pre-cook the pasta, just lay it right in there and be sure to use plenty of sauce.  That saves a lot of time, with dry noodles too.

This takes a lot of sauce, especially if it’s thick. We don’t thicken the sauce at all before we add it, leave it a little watery. This soaks into those noodles.

Just dump that sauce in, it should cover the top noodles. Put a pan under it, or some tin foil, to keep the sauce from bubbling out onto the bottom of your oven.

Just dump that sauce in, it should cover the top noodles. Put a pan under it, or some tin foil, to keep the sauce from bubbling out onto the bottom of your oven.

 

Don't be afraid to dump all that sauce right in there.

Don’t be afraid to dump all that sauce right in there.

This we cover with foil and put it into a 350 oven for about half an hour, until the sauce is bubbling away. Then we take the foil off and put more dry cheese on top, set it back in there until it’s all brown and bubbly on top.

I could have used more sauce...

I could have used more sauce…

but who am I to turn my nose up at  this?

but who am I to turn my nose up at this?

Now that the kids are out of the house, this meal will last us four or five days. It gets better in the fridge. But next time I’ll use more sauce!

 

 

 

This is the best time of the year for bird watching – I had an interesting bird watcher in my back yard yesterday!

Biscuit found a visitor in the garden yesterday - a big red hawk was sitting in a young oak tree just beyond the garden.

Biscuit found a visitor in the back yard yesterday – a big red hawk was sitting in a young oak tree just beyond the garden.  If you click on the picture it should enlarge somewhat.  Look for a tiny, faint silhouette just left and above of the peak of the roof.

This is the best time of year for bird watching. Right here in my yard I’ve been enjoying a flock of Western Bluebirds that whisk in every morning and fill the trees with chatter for a few minutes. They are so pretty, the blue on their backs a perfect match for the pink on their breasts. Even tinier and more numerous are the Bush Tits – they look like a bunch of leaves, blowing haphazard in the wind, swarming trees to eat tiny insects. Every day I get a long visit from Phoebe, who perches lightly on a phone wire outside my window, flittering out to SNAP some unlucky bug in her powerful little beak. 

Our blue jay family is big this year, and loud. They’re having a pretty comical turf war with one very assertive Mockingbird, who likes to sit on the fence eating poke berries – getting his drink on!  He gets pretty loud when he juices up on those berries.  He hops around snooping into everybody’s business, and every now and then he gets a snootful and sits up on the phone pole singing his weird little medley of other bird noises. And crickets, I swear to God, this bird can do crickets.

As always, Mr. and Mrs. Towhee have taken up residence in the shrubbery just outside the fence. In fact, I think we have two pair of Towhee, and I’ve seen a lot of them in the park this year. They are a neat little bird that scratches on the ground like a little chicken. They throw the leaf clutter all around, making a lot of noise, looking for bugs. 

Hummer is lording over my flowering rosemary bushes, he loves the tiny little flowers. The other day he came to say Hi to me on the porch – do you ever notice, the way a hummingbird will check you out? As if he is looking for flowers to be growing out of your head. I always worry he will try to stick that little straw into one of my eyes.

Yesterday as the dogs and I were wandering in the fog with the compost bucket, Biscuit spotted something in the garden – a big red breasted hawk, one of the biggest I’ve ever seen. We get a lot of hawks here, but usually only spot them in the high tree tops. I know they hunt our back acre – we find bits and piece of their meals – a spray of feathers, a gopher head hanging from a tree branch, etc. A couple of times we’ve come upon them with their prey, but they’re very shy, and it doesn’t take much to startle them away.

So I was very careful when I turned on my heel to go back and get the camera. This guy has been hanging around the garden, and he’s so beautiful, I wanted a picture.  If you look hard in the picture above, right about the center, you’ll see a faint tiny profile – start at the neighbor’s roof, and look just above. That is as close as I could get to this fellow, before he lifted himself up and hopped over the fence into the neighbor’s tree.

There he is, almost dead center, sitting on a 'y' branch of my neighbor's ash tree. Shy fellow.

There he is, almost dead center, sitting on a ‘y’ branch of my neighbor’s ash tree. Shy fellow.

It’s frustrating – from where I was standing, I could get a good look at him, but I just couldn’t get a good picture with my little digi-cam. He had a thick red breast, but as soon as he saw us looking up at him, he turned, as if modest. Then we could see his spotted coat. He was just gorgeous. I didn’t want to harass him any further, I want him to keep hunting my back acre. This neighborhood is lousy with rats and pigeons, and the gophers just overrun us every year. 

 

Turning yard trash into “black gold”

Yesterday I woke to the unfamiliar sound of raindrops beating on the roof outside my window. It wasn’t much of a storm, but I was glad to get a couple of feet of water in my rain barrels, and I’d been worrying about having to water the trees and lawn. 

Just the day before I put in those onions my husband bought me at Walmart. The old wood box beds were about to fall apart, we’ve had those for many years. My husband went to the trouble to put metal “cloth” on the bottoms to keep out the gophers, so we’ve toted those beds every time we’ve moved from one house to the other. Just set them on the ground in the sun and fill them up with dirt. The other day he gave them a good mending with some metal strip around the corners – good to go another few years.

These redwood boxes are so old they are falling apart. My husband mended them with some metal strip.

My husband built  these redwood boxes for our first home, made  them “gopher proof” with metal fabric. We’ve toted them from house to house for many years, using them mostly for onions and garlic.

This metal strip is the handiest stuff. Someday I realize the wood will be so rotten, we won't be able to patch it, but in this way we've got over 20 years out of this bed.

This metal strip is the handiest stuff. Someday, I realize, the wood will be so rotten, we won’t be able to patch it, but in this way we’ve got over 20 years out of this bed.

After I cleaned and turned over the dirt, I laid in the little red onion starts, then covered the bed with a couple of inches of mulch. I get my mulch from our trees, we have a lot of young oaks, a couple of nice sycamores, and plenty of scrubby brush around the edges of the yard. My son started building himself a leaf pile  several years ago, he intended to make a bike jump out of it.  When he came home for Christmas break recently, I asked him to turn it over – it was covered with foot-high weeds. Weeds know good dirt – the leaves had turned into a giant mound of “black gold.” 

This pile is made almost entirely of oak leaves, with some old stumps and weeds.

This pile is made almost entirely of oak leaves, with some old stumps and weeds.

Nature is slowly turning this mound into dirt. My son speeded the process along by turning the whole thing over with a shovel one morning.

Nature is slowly transforming this mound into dirt. My son sped the process along by turning the whole thing over with a shovel one morning.

My husband made me a dirt sifter with a piece of plywood and some wire screen, and I put that across the top of my wheel barrow – dirt farmer! 

This simple contraption works great - just set it on a wood box or a wheelbarrow and pout in your compost. The screen catches all the rocks and sticks and undigested stuff and lets the nice fluffy "black magic" fall through.

This simple contraption works great – just set it on a wood box or a wheelbarrow and put in your compost. The screen catches all the rocks and sticks and undigested stuff and lets the nice fluffy “black magic” fall through.

Onions all planted, mulched and watered. I use that piece of fencing over the top to keep the squirrels from planting nuts in there.

Onions all planted, mulched and watered. I use that piece of fencing over the top to keep the squirrels from planting nuts in there.

The finished product - soaks up water like a sponge.

The finished product – soaks up water like a sponge.

Trees are interesting – they make their own food. Not only do leaves serve as tiny food factories when they are alive, on the tree, but when they die they decompose at the foot of the tree and leach their leafy goodness back into the soil, for the tree to turn into food.   Of course, the trees don’t need all those leaves, and over build up causes rot and disease, so we can round up a lot of those leaves to make “food” for other plants in the form of mulch.

For years I have  removed leaves from areas such as lawns and pathways, where they kill the grass and make a mess, to areas where I want to discourage weeds. Wherever I have a lot of shady trees gathered together and lawn won’t grow, I dump leaves from all around the property, about a foot deep. I keep them away from the base of the trees so it doesn’t damage the bark. In this way I have turned several weedy areas, where I used to spend hours every Spring yanking foxtails and  other “fuel” weeds, into pretty little shade zones. I don’t have to mow in those areas or pull weeds anymore, and the trees are happy and lush.

I used to look at this place as some kind of work farm – in Fall the leaves and in Spring the weeds. Over the years I’ve learned how to turn them on each other, and also to my advantage, giving me more time and energy for other stuff. 

 

 

Everything’s a dirt clod fight in California

I’ve been reading up on Jerry Brown’s renewable energy plan. Several years ago Brown mandated that 30 percent of our electricity come from “renewable sources” like wind and sun, even manure (MasterBlaster!). Critics predicted  energy costs for the residential and commercial consumer would go up rapidly under this plan, and they were right. Look at your bills over the last several years. We just got another rate increase earlier this month, and the “change” we protested in August will come up in 2016 – lower users will get higher rates, and higher users will get lower rates, remember that?)

Jerry Brown has taken 10’s of thousands from the utility companies in campaign contributions over the years, only returning the latest contributions from PG&E when it was revealed members of his personal staff were involved in the CPUC scandal relating to inappropriate e-mails between CPUC members and utility employees.  The governor’s office was involved in choosing utility-friendly judges for rate increase hearings. Utility-friendly – most of the CPUC employees are ex-utility company staffers, including the commissioners and judges.  They were appointed by the governor, who took all that money from the utility companies, are you getting all this?

Now Brown is upping the ante – he wants 50 percent of all California energy to be generated through “renewable” sources.  If 30 percent was going to cost us, we better get ready for 50 percent. See, the taxpayers will have to provide the infrastructure, there is not much of a grid to transfer all this renewable energy around the state. Brown will have to twist the utility companies’ arms to get the infrastructure set up, and he’ll have to pay for it with our money. Like one lady said at that hearing last year – we’re still paying for the sagging poles and lines they put up 30 years ago, our rates have never “adjusted” down, only up, up, up. Infrastructure is supposed to be a huge factor in cost – no, it’s pensions and benefits, wake up.

A man who owns a solar installation company came  to the PG&E hearing to explain why people aren’t jumping on solar – the initial set-up is expensive, and then the system never pays for itself because PG&E buys private electricity at 4 cents a kwh and re-sells it at 35 cents plus (see your bill). So, you put up a couple of little panels, you get enough kwh to what, run your fridge? Then you’re back to paying 35 cents plus. One of the big lies about solar is that it makes you “energy independent.” No.  It takes ALOT of panels to run the average size house.

My friend spent about $40,000 on a roof set-up for his Butte Creek Canyon home. How long will it take him to pay for that? He’s had to call for maintenance, that’s also expensive, that is added to the cost, not subtracted. So, I’m guessing, my friend’s set-up will NEVER pay for itself, he will just have to be satisfied at being the woo-woo green neighbor on the street. 

Brown is not going to change this. He has said nothing about controlling costs in his plan. He won’t even  talk about what this is going to mean to the consumer. 

Of course I’ve been enjoying lower bills due to this incredible weather. But I’m worried, and that means I clutch my purse, and the local businesses will suffer. 

It’s weird to live in California – it’s a great place, every body wants to live here, so it’s a dirt clod fight over everything. 

 

 

 

Short ribs – OMG! good!

It's nice to start a cold day with a slow-cooker.

It’s nice to start a cold day with a slow-cooker.

My husband and I are still digging through the freezer, pulling out the neat little paper-wrapped meat packages my father-in-law gave us for Christmas. The other day we pulled out a pack of short ribs – perfect for cold weather, something you can keep on the stove all day.

The packages are labelled and we have a book to tell us how to cook what. My husband also looks at recipes online, reading over comments from other people. Finally he makes his own plan.  We almost never do the same thing, the same way, twice. Unless it’s “Tim’s Too Much Garlic Chicken,” but that’s another blog.

The short ribs start out in a skillet on the stove top, floured and browned crispy on the outside, still rare on the inside. Meanwhile I’m peeling carrots and potatoes, and my husband is making this sauce – we had to go to the store to buy the right beer.

My husband stood in the beer aisle at Safeway for a few minutes, hemming and hawing, until he picked out this beer - oatmeal beer? Hmmmm...

My husband stood in the beer aisle at Safeway for a few minutes, hemming and hawing, until he picked out this beer - oatmeal beer? Hmmmm…

Leave it to the English, to make alcohol out of hot cereal! My grandpa George came from Derbyshire, not far from where this beer is made. They talk funny there, you need a translator. It may be the beer.

Here's the rest of the cast of characters.

Here’s the rest of the cast of characters.

Amid all this I was trying to get a loaf of bread in the oven, our kitchen counter was a mess of various ingredients. In Winter, it’s nice to start your cooking in the morning, gets the apartment warm and smelling good. 

Here's where the "slow cooking" begins - everything goes in the pot, topped with that crazy sauce, and sits on the stove for the rest of the day, driving everybody including the dogs completely insane with hunger.

Here’s where the “slow cooking” begins – the meat and hard vegies (carrots) go in the pot, topped with that crazy sauce, and sit on the stove for the rest of the day, driving everybody including the dogs completely insane with hunger.

This is what it looked like, just sitting there, trying to act nonchalant.

This is what it looked like, just sitting there, trying to act nonchalant.

The carrots went right in, they are hard and tend to stay in one piece, soaking up all that juicy goodness. The carrots alone would be quite a fancy feast. But later we added russet and sweet potatoes.

Looks so good, smells better!

Looks so good, smells better!

Ooooo, the short ribs are going to be fabulous - I can tell you that, because this already happened, and I ate them.

Ooooo, the short ribs are going to be fabulous – I can tell you that, because this already happened, and I ate them.

It was a long day of trying, really hard, not to look in the pot.  Every now and then a sneak peak, and then back to work – it was nice to know dinner was already taken care of.

Here's what we waited for all day - the pic does not do justice. For one thing, you can't smell it. For another, you can't see how tender the meat was, or how sweet the potatoes and carrots turned out. It was all melt-in-your-mouth delicious!

Here’s what we waited for all day – the pic does not do justice. For one thing, you can’t smell it. For another, you can’t see how tender the meat was, or how sweet the potatoes and carrots turned out. It was all melt-in-your-mouth delicious!

We had that fresh loaf of bread for the brothy juice, it was so good. These are the kind of meals that get us through January. My husband is a great cook – like the Pointer Sisters, I like a man with a slow hand.