If you don’t like the weather…

Here we are, last day of May, and I woke at 4 am to a dumping downpour. Welcome to Northern California. Here, if you don’t like the weather, come back next week. Or leave, cause it’s not going to suit you.

A little over two weeks ago, we had flannel sheets and heavy comforters on the beds. My younger son came home from University of Reno to report there was still a snow blanket on Mt. Rose. A few days after he arrived, temps shot up to over 100 for two days, the old Kist thermometer registering 102 at one point. The air conditioners buzzed all around our house, and we wondered what kind of jump our PG&E bill would take.

This week it’s been in the low 90’s, not quite hot enough to stick more than a toe in the snow melt. It’s been uncomfortable to work in the direct sun at noon, but very nice the rest of the day, windows open most of the time.

My son drove back to Reno Sunday and spent Monday boarding Mt. Rose. He said “It didn’t suck,” which is his way of saying it was pretty good.

And now this dumper, which just started to get heavier as I’ve been typing. Haven’t I told you 100 times about that June we had a week straight of dumping rain? Our neighbor’s huge old oak tree was so overburdened with ivy and the roots so rotten, we actually watched it do a slow-motion tilt right onto our house, it took the entire week. 

Another year the temperatures were so mild and we had so many cloudy days, right into Summer, that we didn’t get our first ripe tomato until August.

Pobept had real tornadoes back in OK the other day –

https://survivalfarm.wordpress.com/2017/05/19/rain-storms-in-oklahoma/

Here we have little whips that come down from the sky to take chimneys and treetops. Now and then they “explode” an old barn, barn wood  scattering for miles.  Some years they’ve ripped out entire orchards – about 10 years ago there was so much orchard damage that  ranchers were selling downed trees for $5 each, come and cut your own firewood. Almond wood is the best, my husband and his friends brought in three big trailer loads of fuel for our wood stove.

Just a couple of years ago a Glenn County rancher lost an entire pistachio orchard! Noooooooo, not the pistachios!

We’re kinda nuts around here.  I don’t know what this “late” rain will do to the nuts, or the prunes. We like prunes around here too – although, some snobs like to call them “dried plums.” Hopefully this storm will just save the ranchers on their irrigation bill.

I know my yard is going to be very happy, I’m pretty stingy with water. If I’d known, I wouldn’t have watered Monday, but oh well.  My grapes are looking good this year, so burdened down, we had to take some wire and tie the branches up off the ground. The fruit is smaller than a pea right now, but growing fast. I’m not getting any “eating” grapes – I don’t know what’s the deal with  that old vine – but I am looking forward to plenty of juice to put in the freezer for next winter. My juice grapes have always been very generous.

Still dumping! I’m so glad my husband went out to take in our old patio chair. It’s not really an outdoor chair. It’s a “score” – we were going to the dump, and offered to take some of our neighbor’s stuff. She toted out this oak rocker – I envy this woman’s farm girl strength. It’s one of those new kind that works on tracks with a big heavy base, so you don’t squash your dog’s foot all the time. She said her “monkey boys” had it over, and it was all falling apart. My husband asked her if she’d like him to take a look at it, probably fix it. She said no, it caused too much trouble. So we headed right back down our driveway and left it.  

Later, my husband  put two screws in it, and it was good as new – except the cushion was pretty trashed. So it sat in the garage a while – it is too heavy to tote up the stairs into our apartment, where there’s very little room, anyway.  It sat in the garage, I waited until the Fall sale at Lowes and picked up a new cushion for about $9 – reverse-able! Get the hell out! New chair! We leave it in the garage during Winter and as soon as the weather dries out in Spring we put it on the front porch. We don’t fight over it as we immediately adapted to a take-turns system.

Still dumping. I’ve sat here for about 40 minutes. Thanks for keeping me company.  Things have been chaotic around my house, I’ve been so stressed out – new weight loss plan Girls! Worry! I’ve lost six pounds, and my hair line is headed due North, but I think I see a light at the end  of the tunnel. 

I’ll keep you posted!

 

 

 

 

 

Motherhood is a good gig!

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Here’s Old Mother Cactus and her children and grandchildren.   Those furry nodules to the upper right will hopefully bust into striking pink flowers before too long.

My succulents took a beating this past Winter, but my spiny flowering cactus seem to be happier than ever. They are reproducing so fast I can’t find pots for all their offspring, and most of them have two or more flower buds swelling with promise.

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This is a variety of aloe vera known as “Alligator” – I get it! Not only do the leaves remind me of snapping jaws but the flower spears resemble baby gators.

I’ve got sap from these alligator aloe before, they’re just not as juicy as their cousin. They are more hardy, taking to the bright open sun. I’ve been spreading these along my rock walls, in out of the way spots – they make a good ground cover, treated with the proper respect.

Speaking of the garden.

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Here’s our tomato nursery – the bigger plants are from the box store. I’ve transplanted them from their original sixpack containers and they are ready to go in the ground now. I planted the smaller ones from seeds we got from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds, and I’ve started to put them into the sixpack containers left from the box store plants.

Last year my kids got me this cute little plastic tray with teeny tiny cups for planting seeds. It sits in another tray, and came with a lid, which I did not need.  It was supposed to be disposable, but I’m careful with it and I will  use it again next year. 

Baker Creek is a very reliable source of seeds – almost every one I planted sprouted.  Of course we love the Best Boys and Early Girls we get a Home Depot – they produce a lot, all Summer. Some of the heirloom varieties – like the beautiful Indigo Apple – produce a lot of fruit. Others produce small quantities of really good, big fruit.

https://worldofjuanita.com/2016/07/17/think-i-can-fill-my-empty-nest-with-tomatoes/

The Hungarian Heart  and the Carbon produced big, sweet, meaty tomatoes, weighing in at over a pound each. I don’t know if I got a dozen fruit between the two of them, so this year I’ve made sure to plant about a dozen seeds each, and the little plants are growing really well. 

Of course our tractor is on the fritz – we bought a used Kuboda tractor, a tiny backyard model, from a friend of ours about 10 years ago. It’s been great, but the last couple of Springs we’ve held our breath as my husband has jimmied the ignition switch. This year it won’t start, so we’re digging beds by hand and waiting to borrow our friend Wooton’s little rototiller. 

Luckily we still have about a dozen pints of tomato sauce in the freezer. Last night my younger son came home from college and we sat down to homemade pasta, meatballs, and sauce from last year’s garden. 

It’s good to be a mother. 

 

 

Life is full of surprises

My husband wandered into the garden with a cup of coffee this morning and came back with a cup of tomatoes.

My husband wandered into the garden with a cup of coffee this morning and came back with a cup of tomatoes.

Just when we had stopped looking, the garden provided us with a sweet surprise.  These little maters will be delicious in a salad or on some tacos this week. 

It’s good to take a stroll out about 6:50 am, the sky puts on an incredible color and light exhibition. I can’t really catch that with my digi-cam, it moves so fast – like a river of melted crayons. 

The sun comes up quickly in the morning, moving across the sky and starting to sink by early afternoon. I feel the days getting shorter – it’s like a friend is getting ready to go on a long trip.  By 6 o’clock I’ve lit my candles around the camp stove, my husband has lit the bbq, and we sit watching the flames. The dogs draw so close up to the stove I have to constantly pull one tail or another out of the ashes.

When it’s raining and we’re stuck in the apartment, I really miss that stove. I try to cook more, get the house warmed up and get food.  Sometimes I make a good meal, other times I give in to whimsy. 

My sister had a boyfriend named Roy who worked at a restaurant called Ricky’s Rib Cage.  It was  very popular, not just for Ricky’s ribs, but for Roy’s sweet potato pie. One night we had dinner at their house and Roy made the pie – I never forgot it.  It wasn’t the standard sweet potato pie, which is really  a pumpkin pie filled with sweet potato. No, it was different – more of a cake in a pie pan.  

Roy was pretty tight with his recipes,  being in the restaurant business, so my sister waited until he left the room to hiss the secret into my ear – “number 7 yellow cake mix and a can of 7-Up…” That was all she had time to tell me because Roy came back into the room. Boy did he look suspicious. I never told, and I never figured  out how to make the pie either. I was afraid to ask Roy for help cause he’d know my  sister gave him up.

They broke up over a dog – Roy’s rottweiler turned on him one day and let him know he was not allowed in my sister’s house anymore.  A sad ending to a gourmet relationship, but I have to admit – my sister was getting way too fat living with that guy.

30 years later, I was still thinking about that damned pie, but until recently, I just didn’t have the confidence to try it. This Thanksgiving something came over me and I picked up an average size sweet potato, a box of yellow cake mix (they don’t number them anymore) and a bottle of 7-Up –

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Hecho en Mexico?

my husband convinced me that can  or bottle wouldn’t matter, even though my sister insisted that it did. Some people are real superstitious about cooking.

The dough boy looks so coquettish.

The dough boy looks so coquettish, this just has to be fun!

So, I just guessed – prepare the cake as instructed on the box,  then add the pureed sweet potato and 7-Up.  See what happens. Holidays  are good for experiments, there’s always the store if you screw up.

Ever cook a sweet potato? Takes for-ev-er.  I thought steaming would be quicker, so I cut it into pieces and put it in the pot. It took almost an hour, and I kept having to add water to the steam pan, but I got it.

Sweet potato is really good, very mild taste, creamy texture. I almost feel guilt for what I'm about to do to it.

Sweet potato is really good, very mild taste, creamy texture. I almost feel guilt for what I’m about to do to it.

Mash the crap out of it, then mash it some more.

Mash the crap out of it, then mash it some more.

And then dump it into a bowl of yellow cake batter. I’m sorry – probably a great way to hand diabetes down through the family! Be sure to add that bottle of 7-Up nice and easy – it’s like NITRO! 

I couldn’t get pictures, too much action, only so many hands.

Then you put it in a pie pan and bake it according to the cake mix instructions - 350 for about 40 minutes.

Then you put it in a pie pan and bake it according to the cake mix instructions – 350 for about 40 minutes.

Something that didn’t occur to me is a batch of yellow cake mix is a two-layer cake, or 24 cupcakes, and that translated into two sweet potato pies. Luckily it was very good, and my husband and  I sat down immediately to eat a quarter of a pie each. We work hard, we get hungry. A friend who stopped by polished off another quarter and took a slice for his bgf.  I told him he should just staple it to her ass, cause that’s where it was going to end up. He said he liked a little sweet potato pie on his woman’s bones!

Who cares, I’m old, if I want to eat stuff like this, I will do it. But yeah, not every day, that’s for sure. Don’t forget the whip cream. 

Thanks Roy-Boy, wherever you are.

 

 

 

As the skies darken, keep reminding yourself – la primavera esta a la vuelta a la esquina!

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Super Moon was at my window this morning.

Last night my husband and I built a fire in our camp stove and sat out under the Super Moon for a few hours. It was an enchanting evening, the nopalitos glowing around the stove, Screech Owl calling as he and his mate feasted on  bats over our back acre.

This morning I am not too surprised to find Super Moon still brightening all the windows and setting an eerie light over the yard.  Clouds have moved in to form a Super Rainbow.

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And Super Moon sinks into the Western sky.

Whipple gave me some celery starts – a  couple of his celery plants had gone to seed and he dutifully dug the little plants up and set them in an old container. I wasn’t too enthusiastic about a winter garden – I’d rather wait out the drought. Last Winter I had to water everything, and I still lost plants, so you know, I hate to make the emotional investment.  But these little celery plants were so vibrant in that old pot, they would wilt every now and then, but a splash  of water would bring them back singing, so I finally set them out in my lined wooden boxes a couple of weeks ago. They just wanted to live so bad.   And yeah, I like celery  – it’s a “Super Food”, full of vitamins and minerals, complex carbohydrates that don’t irritate my system, and it’s the King of Fiber.

These little celery plants look so delicate but are actually pretty tough.

These little celery plants look so delicate but are actually pretty tough.

You know that old saying – “the best laid plans of mice and moms…” I set my little plants out and I watered them and they seemed to be taking off well.  Within a week the blue jays moved in to cause trouble – they just love that soft dirt to hide their nuts, those little bastards.  I went out one morning to find they’d dug holes all over my celery bed.  They didn’t seem to have upset any of the plants, just scooted the dirt around, so I raked it out again and put some water on it. They did it again, and I fixed it again, and the plants are actually growing.

When I was cleaning the beds I found some garlic from last year that had sprouted into new cloves, so I separated those and planted them in neat rows in the other half of the garden box.

If I can get the jays to leave these alone, I should get some Super Foods.dfs

If I can get the jays to leave these alone, I should get some Super Foods.

I don’t like to put a lot of effort into Winter gardening, and garlic is one of those things that doesn’t take much  effort, just a clean bed and regular watering.  The biggest trick is keeping the crab grass from getting it.

I know – celery and garlic are two of  the cheapest vegetables at the store. It’s just this compulsion I have to garden, just for that confidence you get when you grow your own food.

Another plant I’ve learned to grow is aloe vera – I started with a couple of pots and now I have so many I can’t find room for all of them. Some of them are suffering

This aloe pot had become so crowded the plants were withering.

This aloe pot had become so crowded the plants were withering.

while others are growing big, fat leaves, which I pick every morning to get sap for my smoothie. I also rub the sap on my skin, and my psoriasis and eczema are on the run.

The other day I was cleaning an empty rental, and I stuck my hand  way back in an old cabinet to wash it out. Suddenly I felt something ripping my fingers – my index and middle finger were slashed and bloody. It was a staple that had worked it’s way out of the wood, and it was sharp as heck. My husband reached in and fixed it, saying, “Don’t worry, those things are coated with zinc, that’s a clean wound.”  I trust my husband on these matters, he’s had a million injuries like this, but it still hurt like the dickens. My fingers swelled up,  throbbed all night, and the next day, I  couldn’t do anything with that hand, it drove me nuts. But all day, I smeared aloe vera on it, the miracle cure – by the next day the middle finger was healing. The index finger has taken a little bit longer, but today it feels good again.

So I hoard my little army of aloe vera pots, giving one away once in a while to a true believer.  I planted some in one of my box beds to see how they grow outside – I saw a picture of an aloe vera farm in Mexico,  and I figured, what the heck. I’ll  have to cover them from frost, they will probably not survive a real freeze, but let’s see what happens.

They look a little sad now, but I think it's just the shock of transplanting. There's already new growth.

They look a little sad now, but I think it’s just the shock of transplanting. There’s already new growth.

Gardening gives a person Hope. Hope is essential to a person’s mental health. As Winter darkens the skies, we all fight with SAD – Seasonal Affective Disorder. It is natural to want to slow down when it’s cold and dark,  but our modern lifestyles are contrary to Nature, so we have this conflict. It’s good to stay positive, have activities that help you look forward, don’t spend too much time dwelling over bad things – like Election 2016! Time to look forward, not backward. Get a project that will actually amount to something without draining too much of your energy.

And remember, always, la primavera esta a la vuelta a la esquina…Spring is right around the corner!

Star gazing, eating apples, squeezing melons, and mau-mauing the flakcatchers – Juanita’s been busy

When I went outside this morning I saw Orion finally pulling himself up over my neighbor’s trees, like a giant peering into my windows. Betelgeuse was bright red and blinking. The Sisters were sparkling like a little tiara, and Taurus’ red eye glowered down on Orion. A crowd of celebrities tinkled all around them, the moon having business elsewhere.

The last couple of nights have been tough – Arthur’s been sleeping over with us, Arthur Itis.  He’s literally a pain in the neck. When he can’t sleep, he sits next to my bed and whines and complains until I get up to keep him company. He actually makes a pretty good cuppa java, I’ll give him that.

I been working on the usual things – I write myself a note – “pick _______ today.” The tomatoes are coming around again, and we have green apples getting ripe now too. This is the time of year I have a hard time deciding, should I work inside or outside today? The temperatures have been so nice, we’ve been outside almost all day lately, coming in to lay under the fans when we need a break, eating chips and salsa, watching “A-Team” on the boob tube.

At this time of year, we have given up weeding, and the garden is a mystery patch. 

Look what we found in the crabgrass that has overtaken the melon beds.

Look what we found in the crabgrass that has overtaken the melon beds. Welcome to the Melon Nation.

 

Look what was hiding in the crabgrass that has overtaken the melon beds.

So ripe and sweet – I’m sorry I don’t have “Smellaround” on the camera.

Yesterday my husband brought in a payload of melons. We ate one, put another in the fridge, and then I cut the others into pieces and put them in a ziplock bag in the freezer.

I always try to shove these waaaay back in the freezer, forget about them, give myself a little surprise in January.

I always try to shove these waaaay back in the freezer, forget about them, give myself a little surprise in January.

We stripped our tiny Fuji apple tree, a good enough crop of sweet little apples.

Here's some nice Fuji's - I have about the same amount stowed away in the refrigerator drawer.

Here’s some nice Fuji’s – I have about the same amount stowed away in the refrigerator drawer.

Those will get eaten pretty fast, but I couldn’t resist throwing a few in the juicer.

I juiced  some Fuji's with a some "baby carrots".

I juiced some Fuji’s with  some “baby carrots”.

I found a 2 lb bag of “baby carrots” (which my husband reminds me are just big carrots put through a peeling machine) at Cash and Carry for the same price Safeway sells the 1 lb bag, so took a chance and bought them. It seemed like an awfully big bag, I was afraid they would go bad before I could use them.  Nope, we polished off the whole bag without any losses. They’re just too damned convenient!  We ate them on salads, juiced them, and chopped them up for the dogs’ food, so the bag went fast. I’ll have to pick up another bag next time, carrot juice is the nectar of the gods.

So, I told you I was going to get out there and do something different – yesterday I went up to O-ville and turned in an “argument against” a bond the school district has put on the ballot. I know, people think I’m nuts to consider that kind of stuff fun and interesting, but I’ll have to tell you all about it over at Chico Taxpayers. 

 

Those last lazy days

This morning as I poured myself a cup of coffee I noticed a very bright and wildly  sparkling red star out my window. Wandering out into the yard for a better look, I could see it was Aldebaran. I squeezed my old eyes together, and there was Taurus bearing down on Orion, who was cowering behind my neighbor’s ash trees. 

The Naked Ladies are blooming all over my yard while everything else is drying up and dying.

These narcissus pop up in the funniest places in my yard.

These narcissus pop up in the funniest places in my yard, so out of place among the dried up leaves and frowsy spider webs.

But there are other nice surprises.

These are very sweet and smooth.

The crab grass had overgrown the vines so badly my husband was actually surprised when he found all these lovely Charentais melons.

My husband planted several varieties of melons from seeds he bought out of the Baker Creek heirlooms catalog.  He put a lot of time into making good beds for them and now it’s paid off. It’s great to see my family stand around the kitchen counter slurping up melons.  If we can’t eat them fast enough I’ll be sure to cube one up and put it in a freezer bag. The melons I froze last year tasted incredible in January when the garden was dead and buried.

Another lazy afternoon treat is a big bowl of salsa.

These peppers are sweet and add some crunch.

These peppers are sweet and add some crunch.

Ah the end of Summer, the old panic sets in. In my mind I am still 8 years old and dreading the first day of school – now because I am left behind instead of going off alone. The world  seems dreary and repetitive, the chores neverending, the days too short. A week ago I wondered how I would make it through another 3-digit day, now I wish I could have put one of those days in a jar, save it for January.

This lazy week will pass and the chores will pile up pretty soon –  get the boy off to school, the flurry of Fall clean-up, and then, battening down for Winter. 

For now, I like to sit and watch tv with the family, eat a bowl of salsa, talk about swimming.

 

 

Summer – get it while it’s hot!

This is where a lot of my mornings begin.

This is where a lot of my mornings begin.

You might have noticed, the days are incrementally cooler. The sun is sliding away, Summer is making her slow exit. 

I know, because our tiny bathroom window faces East. In July when the sun is at it’s apex, it hits that window really hard for a couple of hours in the early morning. It gets very uncomfortable in there about 6:30, that bright light hitting the toilet like a spotlight. I’m glad I quit drinking, cause I can’t even imagine having to sit on that crapper with a hangover, the sun slapping you in the face like a cheap detective. That room gets so hot I hang a dark towel over the curtain rod, and shut the door to keep the heat ( and the ambiance) out of the rest of the apartment. 

Scuse me for sharing, but our little bathroom is my almanac. The subtle changes of season are very apparent in that little east-facing room, brutal almost. So, I noticed a couple of weeks ago, the sun has slipped back over behind our neighbor’s tree, and does not shine so bright in that room anymore. I had mixed feelings – sure, it’s nice to not break out in a sweat as soon as you step out of the shower, but yeah, I miss Summer already. 

This week my husband stripped the tomato vines in our garden of all the ripe fruit. There is new green fruit, but it’s not coming nearly as fast as it was a month ago.  I don’t have to make tomato sauce every other day anymore.  Good thing, cause my feet were about to walk out on strike.

This is what my feet look like most of the day.

This is where my feet spend a lot of the day.

This Hungarian Heart set my scale off balance. The last numbers I saw were 28 (ounces).

This Hungarian Heart set my scale off balance. The last numbers I saw were 28 (ounces).

All meat too.

All meat too.

Getting potted before noon - what will the neighbors say?

Getting potted before noon – what will the neighbors say?

The tomatoes had me so busy I forgot my raggedy old grape vines. They don’t look like much, but one day I looked under there and found a bonanza.

This is the last batch of grapes off our beat up old vines. Some of them are a little withered but I'll take whatever juice I can get.

This is the last batch of grapes off our beat up old vines. Some of them are a little withered but I’ll take whatever juice I can get.

The grapes are good this year, the juice is really sweet. So far I have got two pints and I think I’ll get at least two more out of this last bowl.  My family likes to drink it straight, I use it in my smoothies. 

I label these, because in the dark garage freezer they look like tomato sauce.

I label these, because in the dark garage freezer they look like tomato sauce.

I think the heat and drought make the grapes sweeter. 

Was it Nietzsche or Conan who said, “That which does not kill you will only make you stronger” ?  Whoever it was must have spent a Summer in Northern California. This past heat wave, I’ll tell you what – that was Hot. Almost a week over 100 degrees, every day, that’s Hot. Three days in a row, the mercury on the old KIST! thermometer hit SMACK-dab on 110.  The heat accumulates in the ground, the nighttime lows get up around 70 and higher, and we find ourselves putting our pillowcases in the freezer (great idea, btw). Now that it seems to be passing, wow, do those 90’s look really good or what?!

This is what total relaxation looks like.

This is what total relaxation looks like.

We’ve been spending more time outside the last couple of days. I’ve rediscovered my “relaxation station”. 

I like to watch the sun set as reflected in our oaks trees, it's like a symphony of color.

I like to watch the sunset as reflected in our oaks trees, it’s like a symphony of color.

Every year at this time I suddenly feel desperate to wring the last bit of Summer out of every day.