Simple pleasures of gardening – try some succulents and cactus!

The tomatoes are happy in their containers, we’re getting tiny fruit now.

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The other day I noticed about a dozen new tomatoes on our container plants.

Cactus and succulents also make a wonderful container garden.  This Summer we plan to spend more time at our little shack in the woods, so we loaded a bunch of our cactus pots and took them along. Of course they can survive without much attention, but look what happens when you throw a little water their way now and then.

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My patio is lit up with these tiny red blossoms.

I found this old gas heater in a house we bought. It looked great but our PG&E man told me it was not up to modern standards.  With the top grate intact, it made a good coffee table. When I found these adorable terra cotta pots in somebody’s FREE pile, I took out the grate and made it into a plant stand.

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The little furry nodules appear like warts and then one day they open into these fabulous little blossoms.

This is an old cream separator my gramps picked up from who knows where. Made by the Excelsior Separator Company!

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Forever functional.

He liked old machines, this might have been from my cousin’s big dairy in Glenn County. It sat next to our tank house and we kids played on it for years – it had all these moving parts, now rusted pretty solid. We pretended it was a car, a spaceship, a stove for baking mud pies, etc.  Now it makes a great plant stand.

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I never get tired of these delicate pink blossoms, growing off of a grouchy old cactus.

I began collecting succulents and cactus when my mom died and left me with her hoard of pots. Let me tell you, they reproduce like crazy, and I  try to pot every one. Every now and then, as if to say, “Thanks!”, they explode with flowers. 

 

 

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Trying something new – gardening in containers

One of the biggest lifestyle changes we’ve made lately is gardening in containers. After all those years having a big truck garden and so many tomatoes we needed to get an additional freezer for the sauce, we find water has become too expensive to garden in Chico anymore. So we potted them up and moved them to our camp site in the hills. 

They get noticeably bigger every day.

Here we share a well with neighbors, paying about $200 a year for our share of the electricity bill for the pump. Our summertime Cal Water bills in Chico were over $100 a month.

GFY Cal Water!

So far they are growing like crazy and getting good, fat blossoms.

These look healthy and viable – last year they were small and gray.

At this time last year, the heat had already hit the valley, and I learned that blossoms will not “set” in temperatures over 94 F. They just withered and fell off. Many of our gorgeous plants, which I’d started from seed, never had any fruit. They sat mummified in the heat.  We pulled many rather than waste the water.  We only got about three dozen tomatoes all summer.

I had used the last of our seed store. So this year we bought cheap plants at Home Depot. We got an interesting cherry tomato from a neighbor. We bought dirt in the bag at Walmart. And we gathered some old black plastic tree pots we’d saved for recycling bins. 

My son also found several of these “grow bags” around the corner in our neighbor’s “free” pile.

This is a Geopot. I’ve seen them online for about $6. We’ll see how it works. It could hold a lot more dirt but I ran out.

They’re light and have handles, so you can move your garden if you need to. 

I also brought my potted flowers – echinacea and selvia. While my echinacea is taking off nicely in the ground in Chico (as long as I run a sprinkler on it every few days), the selvia was getting pushed out by an outrageous crop of feverfew. So I potted up a few selvia and grabbed my collection of echinacea pots. My husband, bless his heart, heave-ho’d them into the F-150. 

Selvia is loving it here – the first day it was here, ants raided the pot and ate all the pill bugs.

In Chico I had to water these every day, here they only need a quick squirt every other morning, and they’re going to town. 

I know my husband wants me to spend more time up here, cause he loaded up over half my cactus pots and quite a few of my big rocks. We’ve arranged those around our little patio, just in time for blossoms.

I’ll keep you posted, next time, on “This Old Lady! with Juanita!”

 

 

 

Get out there – leaving the comfort zone behind, we tried a new grocery store

My husband and I were out running errands when we bumped into our old friend Jerry. Jerry’s always a guy to speak his mind – “you guys are crazy to shop at Safeway!” he opined. He suggested Winco and Food Maxx, assuring us all their stuff was high quality.

We realized we did need to shop around.  We’ve shopped at Safeway for years because it is an easy bike ride from our house, but we thought we were being smart, buying on sale, and supplementing our pantry with trips to discount stores like Cash and Carry and Walmart. We hadn’t tried another grocery store for years.

Coincidentally we got a coupon from Food Maxx, offering not only cheap prices but free items – a 5 lb bag of russet potatoes, a case of bottled water, and a ROTISSERIE CHICKEN! Get the heck out! So we drove over to check it out.

The first thing I noticed was the strip mall it’s located in has seen better days, but the front of the store was no dirtier than Safeway has been the last year or so, and no bums standing around the entrance. The carts were clean, that’s a plus. But I was kind of intimidated by the unfamiliar surroundings.

That’s why I need to get out more. I get in a rut, and when unexpected changes come up I feel a thousand years old and suddenly senile. I couldn’t help but notice my husband and I were clinging to each other like a couple of baby bats. 

We came out of it immediately in the produce section – lots of nice fruits and vegies, very fresh, and a lot cheaper than Safeway. We came for a free bag of potatoes, but I noticed bulk potatoes were half as much as Safeway. Some things were not that much cheaper, but really nice, like the spinach. It’s hard finding spinach that’s not all bruised and rotten in the center of the bunch. You can understand why a lot of people don’t like spinach. But Food Maxx had nice, firm, crisp green spinach for about $1.99 a bunch, I wish I had got two. 

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Here’s what you can do with spinach – spinach tacos!

We’d had chicken tacos the night before, and there was plenty of meat and beans left over. As I opened the bunch of spinach and handled those nice crispy leaves I immediately came up with an idea for lunch – we heated up the leftover taco filling, washed some big spinach leaves and lined them with strips of cheese and avocado slices. Look at those spinach tacos! Delicioso!

Of course for dinner that night we had half of our FREE ROTISSERIE CHICKEN. Pardon the caps, but it was exciting – we got two meals out of that bird, at a time when we are busy and tired in the evening and too broke to eat at a restaurant. 

We spent $40 and got almost as much in free stuff. We were so happy with the little russets we got, we’ve had potatoes in one form or another at almost every meal. I always cook two extras for breakfast.

So, yeah, it does pay to change your habits and try something new once in a while. Get out there! 

A year that starts with a Super Moon can’t be all bad

I went outside this morning just as Super Moon was sliding into the Northwest – it was huge!  The clouds are moving in – chances of rain are looking good.

My husband made me a nifty table for my Dutch oven out of some old junk.

My husband and son were working outside yesterday, so I decided to take my baking outside.  I loaded my old camp stove full of tree trash and got it going hot, then set my Dutch oven on top to  get good and warm while I went inside to knead the bread.

We’ve been cleaning out our garage and shop, thinning out old junk, and my husband came across an old metal frame and a metal tray he’d found in the shop at our old property. We have no idea what they were originally used for, but he set them up to make a great table for my Dutch oven. It’s not junk anymore if you find a good use for it!  It’s the perfect height, no more stooping.

Looks like Super Moon!

The bread cooks fast in the Dutch oven, and it gets a really nice crispy crust.

Perfect!

An hour on the kitchen counter, cooled off just in time for lunch. 

Sourdough Bob – he’s a popular guy, people just want to eat him up.

 

I noticed a few people had read last year’s post about the Himalayan salt stone my older son got us last Christmas – we haven’t used it for a couple of months, thanks for reminding me! 

My husband just scrapes the stone with a spatula each time he uses it, it’s got a nice smooth “patina”.

We sliced a whole boneless chicken breast as thin as possible – that’s dinner and a couple of days of sandwiches. We don’t spice them at all.  They cook very quickly on the stone, and come off juicy and tender, with just the right amount of salt. Now that my younger son has got a chance to use it we’ll probably get him one for his next birthday. 

Wow Christmas went fast, and now it’s 2018.  I haven’t thought much about resolutions, but here’s one – more outdoor cooking!

Flak catchers beware! I found the can crusher!

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Sunrise over Oroville

We had a few nice days camping before the rain came back. Check out that sunrise – and people ask me why I would want to live up there.

Back in Chico, me and the dogs are holed up in the house again. When the rain let up for an hour or so around noon, we went out to see what there was to see.  I notice the grass I’d planted outside my front door is finally coming in,  on a dead heat with the weedlings.

In this weather grass actually has a chance.

 

Good thing my husband hauled out the rain barrels.

 

My cactus garden loves this weather. 

Toward the end of Summer, when it was just DRY, my nopal cactus had started to wither, it was shocking – the leaves began to wrinkle up like raisins. As soon as the weather turned wet they started to swell up, so much a few leaves actually broke off from their own weight – see the leaf laying on the ground there next to the strawberry pot. I notice they can rip very badly if they fall off by themselves, so I’ve been watching, and when they start to sag I cut them off with the loppers. I save them in an old planter pot and plant them elsewhere when I find a spot. They last forever, just sitting there in the pot, looking sad, and then you put them in the ground and look what happens! 

No it’s not pleasant working outside in a dumper, but I got plenty of other stuff to occupy my time. Back to The Hoard. 

Last Spring we sold an old rental, and my older son, who was living in the “mother-in-law” unit with his girlfriend, had less than a week after the new place was available to  get their stuff out of the old place. They tried to save time by moving a bunch of stuff into our garage. I have to laugh – moving is so frantic – they took everything.  Once the panic had settled down, they looked at their mish mash of boxes and realized, a lot of it should go either to the thrift store or the trash. Since they both have real jobs now, I’ve finally decided to take on the job of sorting through their stuff. I found out – a lot of it belongs to my husband and I, junk we’d left behind in the garage at their apartment when we moved off the property. 

I’m always asking my husband, “what is this and is it usable?” 

Sometimes he laughs and thumbs toward the trash pile, other times he says, “wow, I forgot that…”  The other day we found my mom’s old can crusher.

Score!

My mother was a consummate hoarder, where do you think I got  half my junk? She also drank Pepsi out of the can, it was like her oxygen tank. “Where the hell is my Pepsi?!”  A child of the Great Depression, she never threw away any type of metal. She saved her Pepsi cans for the neighbors kids, and sometimes she’d even drive the whole pile of kids in my gramps’  ’66 Chevy pick-up to the scrap yard to turn the hoard into cash.

I’ll never forget how shocked the neighbors were when she died – one said, “she just took the kids to the dump last week…gave ’em all $5…”  Yep, that was my mom!

Mom’s garage would get cluttered with cans sometimes, and the neighbor kids weren’t always around to help, so her boyfriend got her a can crusher – what a romantic!  My mom loved stuff like that. Screw it to the fence, drop in the can, pull that lever and VOILA!  That’s French for “Holy Shit!”   Can comes out looking like it’s been had-over by an 18-wheeler.

They don’t call it The Crusher for nothing.

When my mother died I saved everything – including a Post It note I found on the refrigerator – “call the kids”  The can crusher went in my husband’s shop, along with  other relics – tools and farm junk. My husband is also a hoarder, that’s why it’s so tough to throw anything away around here.   I was pretty excited to find it again, because my husband has recently switched to canned beer. I like the cans better, they aren’t as heavy, they don’t break, and they don’t seem to hold as much residue – so they don’t stink as bad as bottles. And now I can crush them to roughly one-tenth their original size – they take up almost no space, and we can take them to the recycling center in old dog food bags. We don’t have to go as often either, and the trips are more lucrative.

And I can’t tell you how fun it is smacking down those cans – listen, an old bitch like me has got to let off a little steam once in a while. It’s fun imagining that I am putting one or another government flak catcher in there and SMASH! 

 

 

 

Rainy day is a good day to whittle down the hoard

I rolled over in bed at about 4 am and hollered, “Stop it!” I yelled so loud I woke myself up.

My husband rolled over to answer, “It’s not me, it’s the rain gutter…”

We realized, when we cleaned our gutters, we forgot to put the board back. There’s a downspout that takes run-off from a big section of roof, and when the rain really gets going, the stream hits the gutter below like a hammer. It’s right out side my son’s bedroom, so he noticed it the first rainstorm. He and his dad climbed up on a ladder and fitted a piece of scrap wood into the gutter, and that seemed to be the ticket. It dulled the persistent wham! wham! wham! to a livable thumpthumpthumpthump.

So today we’re going to get up there and take care of that – it’s one of those things you can’t ignore, sounds like somebody’s trying to tear the house down.

In the meantime, I couldn’t sleep anymore, having woke up enough to feel all the aches and pains, I had to get up. I stumbled into the kitchen, led by the glow of the little light on my coffee pot. Badges follows me out every morning, bumping at my elbow with his nose – he likes me to move his bed to the spot next to my computer chair when I get up, so he can lay next to me while I clatter at the keys.

On a day like today, I have to sit in the dark and think, “What day is it? Am I supposed to be dragging my garbage cans out to the curb?”   No, which is always a relief.  But this morning I realized, it’s Monday, and Thanksgiving is less than two weeks away. My son is coming home for an extended weekend, and I have to clean out his room. We have a really bad habit of putting stuff in there.

For example, two old people don’t need six dining chairs, so there they go into the boy’s room. And so on. The bed is covered with boxes of junk I been sorting to throw out or whatever. The shelves are all disheveled from my attempts at reorganizing. Opening the door is always a shock – I don’t go in there too often. I thought I would make my “office” in there, but found, it’s kind of a sad room without a boy living in it. 

I’ll tell you what else – having an empty room in your house makes it way too easy to HOARD!  Too easy to put off throwing stuff away – hide it in there, decide later…

There’s a difference between storing something you have regular but not constant use for – like dining chairs – and stuff you just can’t throw away, “because it’s still perfectly good…” even though you have no use for it, now or in the foreseeable future.  I know – take it to Good Will!

Would you believe, the thrift stores in our town suffer periods of glut? Especially at the end of the school year, when college students vacate our town by the carload. My husband and I tried to take in a load of stuff in July, and were turned away from two stores. Salvation Army no longer takes donations at their stores located around town, we are expected to drive to their facility at the airport. 

I’ll tell you the truth – half of it went into the garbage can when we came home. I took a hard look at it – old linens, old clothes – who wants those? Those went into the trash.  I looked again – a lot of stuff we’ve been left with by tenants who never came back to get it. A perfectly good cast iron pan with lid – I already have the identical pan. Kitchen gadgets. A stack of paperback books. 

Today I will stack it in the garage, and this week I will load it into the  car. I find the holidays are a good time to take stuff to the thrift stores.  It will feel good, it always feels good. Probably not for the reasons it should feel good, but it will feel good. 

 

 

Even the most wonderful stories can have a sad ending

I’ve always loved watching bugs, ever since I was a kid. One day in third grade, while my  teacher was going on at length about contractions, I was watching a new butterfly break it’s way out of a chrysalis on the outside sill of the classroom window. 

So I was pretty excited when I met my insect neighbor, Mrs. Mantis, and she didn’t seem to have any problem with my presence, even crawling up onto the water spigot while I was using it, waving her little forearm as if in greeting. I watched her gorge herself on meat bees that would otherwise have been mobbing my dogs, and I enjoyed watching as she daintily cleaned her face and hands after every meal. 

I worried as I watched her struggle to lay her eggs, the weather turned mean almost overnight, and she couldn’t crawl up the slippery cement siding on our shack. So she laid her eggs at the bottom of the door. I’d seen them in stranger places, and I was glad she didn’t set her case in the door frame where it would get squashed.

And every time I approached our little shack, I’d look for that egg case. 

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And one morning it was gone.

Life is full of trials and tribulations, it’s funny which ones will set you off. This made me very sad. 

And as I was wondering what might have happened, I noticed a little pile of mouse turds and some ground up junk.

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All that remained of Mrs. Mantis’ little family.

Mice are something we’ve had to deal with ever since we bought this place. The trailer that was set up on the property seemed full of them, we’d clean it out and next time we’d come they’d be in it again. They loved the oven, which they stuffed with fiberglass insulation from the walls, a big pink nest.

Finally we sold that little trailer to an aficionado who tore it apart and restored it. We bought a newer trailer that had been properly maintained. The mice worked furiously to get in that trailer too, and when I found turds in the kitchen cabinets we realized – trailers are a sitting duck for mice.

So we sold that trailer and began work on our our shacks – the first was a tiny shed for the toilet, then a 10 x 12 for sleeping and cooking. It’s been easier to keep the mice out, but they’re always there, waiting. Whenever we aren’t there for more than a few days, somebody sets up housekeeping on the threshold of the cabin door, I always find a pile of turds there. 

So I shouldn’t have been shocked – nature is so violent! Mice have to eat. I don’t know why I don’t feel the same empathy for the mice or the meat bees – maybe because they’ve been a nuisance.  We’ve trapped mice and thrown them in the garbage without  a whimper, and I have stood over the dog dishes with a flyswatter and racked up meat bees like trophies. 

 

But sometimes you meet a bug or an animal or a human that seems to look right into your mind and touch something familiar. I’ll keep looking for that.