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. 

 

 

Chicken soup still good medicine

Tuesday I finally succumbed to the pollen – I couldn’t lay down in bed, or my sinuses would close up like Tupperware. My dog Badges was also having some sort of breathing problem – same as a couple of weeks ago, he was coughing and gagging, as if he had something stuck in his throat. 

So, having laid awake since 1 am, I finally gave up the bed about 2:30, pulled up my little ottoman and settled into my cushy Walmart office chair to see what was on the late show. Oh, my God, all kinds of crap.

I like NBTV, out of Santa Rosa. It’s a small privately owned station that has lots of different shows. The other afternoon I watched a half hour documentary about a century run called  “The Barkley”.  Very interesting – the kind of stuff you used to see on PBS before they went all cooking and home improvement.  

They produce their own shows too.  At about 4 am the owner hosts his own show – “Creature Feature”.  Tuesday night he was playing one of my all time faves – The Head That Wouldn’t Die!  So I turned on the coffee pot and decided it was too late to try to sleep.

Last time this happened he was playing “Little Shop of Horrors,” the original from 1960.  I had never seen that, always felt left out – wow, it was great!  What Schlock!

But yeah, the party was over when the sun came up and I realized I’d pulled an all-nighter.  My eyes were so dried out I couldn’t decide which was worse, closing them or holding them open. My neck and head hurt from sitting in a chair all night. 

I had wanted to go to a “Local Government Committee” meeting at 3:30 that afternoon. I realized that was out. I knew I would not be able to take a nap, and by 3:30 I’d be a piece of walking toast. The North wind was already picking up outside, and at 3 am the weatherman had told me – there would be a pollen “advisory”.  

Nothing beats the pollen like a bowl of chicken miso soup.

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Comfort food.

My husband had just bbq’d an enormous boneless chicken breast. We get those in a 40 pound box at Cash and Carry. They are frozen in a big wad – I usually leave them in the sink overnight, they soften up, and I can separate them, wrap each one in plastic wrap and put them in Ziplock bags for the freezer. They are full breasts and probably twice as big as the chicken breasts they have at Safeway. I fillet them for the grill and we get at least two dinners and sandwiches for a couple of days. 

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We got four fillets out of one double breast, here are two of them. Each fillet is almost as big as the single breasts they sell in the pack at Safeway.

I usually make soup with a raw chicken thigh, but it’s certainly easier to use the cooked chicken. I saute the onion and celery tops as usual, then add the chicken, cut into bite size pieces.  I try to keep chicken broth on hand, it’s good for cooking rice and other dishes.  I added about two cups and then another two cups water, with a teaspoon of salt for each cup of water.

Once this is simmering along, I ladle out a little of of the broth into a cup and mix it with a couple of tablespoons of miso paste, then put it back.

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Miso is getting so available now.

I’ve just started using miso paste again since my son gave me a little container. It used to be hard to find and expensive, the packaging was such that I could never use the whole thing before it went bad. Nowadays there are lots of different brands, and good old Westbrae has it in these neat little plastic containers. There is a plastic film inside to keep the remainder fresh. I’ve been using it for a couple of weeks now, and it’s hanging in there fine.

To that I add chopped carrots and more celery. When the whole thing is really cooking I add noodles. This time I had the rest of a pack of dry udon noodles – we use these for stirfry alot.

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You can keep these dry Westpac noodles around the house forever. Since I made this pot of soup we found Safeway again carries the “fresh pac” noodles, in the produce department, near the mushrooms. But these were good in a pinch.

The dry noodles have to be boiled for about 8 minutes to attain that fat, slippery udon texture. The fresh ones just need to be heated – you can dump them in and turn off the pot, leave it setting on the stove. The great thing about udon noodles is they just keep getting fatter and yummier. 

I call this “instant soup” – it took less than half an hour to put together. We ate it for three days – the first night we had soup and salad for dinner.  After that we ate it gladly for lunch and anytime we needed a pick-me up.  It really made us feel good to come in from the pollen storm to a pot of soup. 

North Wind sucks the moisture out of everything – a little bit of aloe vera can bring it back!

We’ve been having the worst North wind, dry and irritating, tearing new branches and buds off shrubs and trees, and sucking the moisture out of the ground. All that rain we had – you’d never know it now.

Yesterday I noticed, it had torn several branches of new grapes off the vines, and an entire branch of pretty orange blossoms off the flowering vine my friend gave us.

And it’s blowing all that grass pollen around – eek! My neighbor threw up her hands and quit mowing her back acre – it waves at me from outside my windows. I call it, “The Pollen Nation.”

My grandma used to suffer this time of year, a Kleenex tucked into the band of her watch, her hair sticking out like a fright wig.  We kids didn’t get it – now I get it. Every time I do chores outside I feel like my brains have been sandblasted. I wander into the house feeling completely disoriented – I do exactly what my grandma did, I make a cup of steaming coffee, and I hold it under my nose.

My husband has been working on our house for sale. He found out stucco is really easy to use, so he’s been patching cracks and holes in the old siding. He and my son also went around checking for rot, removing and repairing trim and window sills that were getting crappy. That, of course, required re-painting, and when the repainted items didn’t match the rest of the trim, they went around and painted everything. I thought it would never end. While they were painting, my husband noticed the hail storms had damaged a section of shingles on the roof, so he dug the leftover shingles out of the shop and went about replacing the damaged ones.

He’s been out in the North Wind and the sun, and he’s looking pretty beat up, despite long sleeves, a hat, and plenty of sunscreen.

So we’ve both been using a lot of aloe vera. It’s been tough – my plants took a hit during a couple of prolonged cold streaks last Winter, and then a good pummeling from a couple of hail storms later in Spring.

This pot was just outside the protection of the patio cover during that last hail storm.

I kept them wrapped in the green house during the cold snaps, but the green house doesn’t get any sun in Winter, and I’m too cheap to get lights in there, so I finally moved most of them back to the front porch.  They didn’t like the rain, and the hail storms left the plants around the edge of the porch  bruised and broken. They tend to mold  when they get too wet, so I’ve had to trim them extensively. It looked like there wasn’t much left of them a month ago, but we pinch away at them anyway, looking for relief from itchy skin.

This is my “nursery” where I put the babies I’ve thinned out of the bigger pots.  See where I’ve trimmed off leaves, the remaining leaf gets big and fat and keeps growing.

Somehow they keep growing, the warming weather is good for them, they are getting new leaves.  They don’t like direct, hot sun, but they like bright indirect light. The sun moves a little farther that way every day, they seem to be responding.

I used a stick to loosen up the soaking wet dirt in the pots, and that really seemed to help.

Trimming them actually seems to help. I leave a couple of inches at the bottom of the leaf, and that seems to fatten up and keep growing.

Both my kids took plants and are glad to get them. My older son got a sunburn from painting the old house, and had trimmed his plant so extensively he had to ask me for more, but reports the trimming he gave it has made it grow bigger and fatter.  My younger son took a plant off to college, he says he and his girlfriend take leaves regularly for chapped hands and face, and the plant is flourishing. So, today I am going to take a paring knife and cut back all the wilty leaves, thin small  plants out of the bigger pots, etc.

It’s a cluttered little rag tag garden, most of the plants in old plastic  pots from various plants we’ve bought at the nursery. They seem to like plastic pots the best, they don’t do so good in terracotta.

Have you noticed how expensive the bottled sap is at the store? And plants are getting pretty expensive too – a big aloe vera will sell for $50 to $100 at the big box stores. It’s better to look for small plants at the grocery store or farmer’s market, and start your own garden. 

Organic, hand filleted, these small leaves will yield about a teaspoon of sap. I just scrape it out with the back of the knife, right into my smoothie.

Or, I rub the split leaf on my skin.  It provides immediate relief, and dries without leaving any sticky feeling. I don’t like hand lotion because it only works if you leave it on for prolonged periods, and reapply every time you wash your hands. Aloe works immediately – you can wash it off five minutes later but you still got the benefit of using it. And there’s no smell, you can eat with those hands and not taste perfume.

Looking out my window, I think that North wind has finally passed. May is looking good! 

 

 

 

May is National Bike Month

May is National Bike Month. 

http://www.chicovelo.org/bike-month.html

I like to use my bike to get around.  I do not have a demanding schedule, and in the event of bad weather or the occasional flat tire, I can call my husband to come and get me in the F-150.  Or I can walk – Chico isn’t so big you can’t just walk.

I call my bike “Myrtle the Turtle” because she is green and slow but she always gets me where I want to go. She is a 1956 Raleigh Superbe, I picked her up at a Deseret Industries thrift store back in the 1980’s. She has been my commute bike ever since. 

I took Myrtle to work today.  The morning was bright and cheerful, I figured I’d be home before the rain set in. I didn’t count on the wind, which started to pick up about 11 am. 

Sheesh!  Did you ever notice, when you ride a bike on a windy day, the wind seems to be coming right into your face no matter what direction you’re traveling. When I got home I looked like Little Richard.  Wooooo-oooo-ooo Bay-beeee!

Cycling isn’t always the practical way, but I work it in whenever possible.  It’s free compared to the costs associated with a car, and it’s a good work out. The best thing is, there are routes available to bikes that are not available to cars.  I’ll say, Chico has a lot of nice bicycle amenities, bridges, trails, etc.

Frankly, you are the only one who can guarantee your own safety – be careful out there.

If you are new to cycling or new to Chico, Chico Velo is a good resource for route information. They have lots of socials where you can meet other riders and learn the ropes of getting around town.

Of course their big event is the Wildflower, coming up at the end of April.  My husband rode in the century as a high school kid, and we participated with our kids in the “Child Flower,” a shorter ride over to Durham Park, which I would recommend. You don’t need a fancy bike to do that route, just good brakes and tires, water and a snack. Child Flower registration is only $20 per rider and I believe you still get the official bandanna with the route map printed on it. 

http://www.chicovelo.org/store/c11/Bags%2C_Bandanas%2C_Bottles%2C….html

Get out there and enjoy your wheels! 

Where the bees are

I found some working girls in my yard this morning.

These days of downpour have brought good and bad  – flowers and weeds. And bees, humming busily, too busy to bother with us puny humans. 

They like blue flowers.

If you want bees, plant Rosemary, they love this stuff. She was moving so fast I could hardly get her in the shot.

As I pulled sticker grass around our fruit trees I found lots of surprises.

In a shaggy stand of oat grass I came across this Tiger Swallowtail.

He, or She, did not seem to mind being photographed.

 

And the good news is, Apple-ooza!

Oooo,  think of all the apple juice!

Those red bud trees Whipple gave us have spread PINK! around the yard.

I put some of these tiny blossoms on my printer and covered them with a sheet of blue construction paper and made some ginchee note paper.

And here comes the valerian, more PINK!

Pink broccoli.

The hyacinth flowers along the driveway add the complimentary blue.

Dainty little fairy bells, they push their way through the gravel every year.

I wonder what the April showers have in store for us!

 

 

Here we go again!

A little over a year ago, my nine year old Queensland Heeler Biscuit came down with an illness that left her emaciated and weak. She had some infection that attacked her pancreas, liver and kidneys and left her with diabetes.  For over a month we nursed her as if she was our child, sleeping on  the living room floor so we could get up throughout the night to take her out, hoping she wouldn’t barf up the food and medicine we’d plied into her over the course of the day.

She got so skinny her collar and harness just hung on her, she got so weak my husband had to carry her up and down the stairs of our apartment, and set her in the car to go to the vet. We racked up a $1300 vet bill within a few days.

The important thing was, she got well, back to her old self, even a little stronger. The diabetes had  been sneaking up on her for a while, but with the insulin and a strict diet, she really got strong again.  She just had a check up two weeks ago and the doc said she was doing great. They really like her down there, because she likes them. When she goes in the front door she always barks really loud until one of the staff acknowledges her, and her tail swings back and  forth across the magazine stand, wop-wop-wop.

Yeah, everything was just great, until Sunday, when it seemed to be starting all over again. She barfed her breakfast, didn’t want dinner, ate it anyway, and barfed in the middle of the night. Like five times.

I kept telling myself, she ate something weird, she drank creek water – I was secretly angry at my husband, wishing he would stop taking her to Bidwell Park every morning, where I believe(d?) she got laptospirosis, a virus that is prevalent in skank water.

So we waited out a very scary night and we called the vet first thing in the morning. She couldn’t see Biscuit until 11 am – I had been awake since 12 am, when she first cried to be let out, I couldn’t go back to sleep. My husband had slept fitfully, waking with a start at any noise. We both felt like an old plate of crap.

The doc gave her a shot that would help her eat – anti-nausea – and sent home a pack of anti-nausea pills. The shot helped her feel better, but we still had to spoon feed her and hold her mouth shut, rub her throat to get her to eat. It took us two hours to get a cup of food in her, and that meant we could give her a half a dose of insulin. Then she started to feel better. But, we still had to force feed her dinner.

And now, at 6:07 am, I am getting ready to shove that pill down her throat, so I can force feed her some more food. This is the routine that worked a year ago, so I am resolved to do it again.

The vet took some tests to find out the cause of Biscuit’s relapse, but told us, with diabetics, the major organs eventually go. Frankly, Doc didn’t seem to think it was Biscuit’s time to go, and neither do we, so here we go again.

This morning she actually seems stronger, pushing at the gate for a walk, she even nosed the baseball bat.

 

 

Camellia Time, Weed Time, Mosquito Time

Camellia time.

This is one of my favorite varieties because it cuts well and keeps a few days in a vase.

This past Winter was colder and wetter than the last five or so years of drought, and I notice a lot of stuff is blooming in my yard that has not bloomed for a long time. An old camellia bush that rests against the southern wall of one of my rentals really came out this year, covered with these perfect red “Winter roses.” I cut them whenever I get the chance – if you catch a bud at the right time, it will open in a glass of water.

I guess you noticed that over the course of the last storms the weeds been growing like crazy. I been trying to catch up with my  weed burner.

I let that patch get too lush.

I let that patch get too lush.

The torch takes out the little weeds – literally vaporizes ’em.  But once the grass gets a few inches long, it gets harder to burn, uses more propane.  So, I try to get out there whenever the rain lets up for a couple of days, spend a half hour or 45 minutes cleaning the gravel pathways before the sticker weeds get any thicker. I leave the mullein flowers – they’re hard to burn, and they do get quite spectacular over the course of Summer.

The other thing we can expect this year is a horde of blood sucking mosquitoes. My husband and I bat them off every evening as we sit on the porch to watch the sunset. They are big and furry this year, and seem very aggressive, but maybe that’s just my paranoid imagination. They don’t just breed in puddles, they like leaf piles and other composty places, so it’s time to clean up the yard, turn stuff over, get rid of those stands of weeds.

We noticed yesterday evening that they congregate around the patio ceiling and the edge of the roof, so today my husband will have to get up on a ladder and blow out the rain gutters with his leaf blower. 

Of course we’ve got our dogs on heart worm medicine – we get a good deal from Mike Seely, Butte County Mobile Vet.  He’s in the big motor home behind the Forest Ranch Store most Thursday afternoons, and up in Yankee Hill on Wednesday afternoons at the Hardware Store.  He’s available the rest of the week by appointment, but if you catch him at Forest Ranch or Yankee Hill it’s cheaper. 

So many things to remember, coming out of the fog of Winter.  Our orchard  is blooming, and the old soda bottles I collected to make bug traps are hanging ready in the greenhouse. By the time the fruit is as big as the end of my pinky-finger, I will have them full of molasses, vinegar and ammonia and strung across the trees.

I think this past cold Winter will produce a bumper crop of peaches this year, and I want as many as I can get.  I’ll have to thin them – last year that was hard, there weren’t very many, but we had to make sure those we got were not too crowded, so sacrificed quite a few. It worked – the peaches we got were spectacular, I just took the last bag of frozen halves out the other day.

Opening that zip lock bag, the smell  of peaches was all over the kitchen.

Things are popping up around here.