Best laid plans of mice and moms – squeakin’ by!

Wednesday my husband and I got the check for the sale of our old rental, and we spent the morning paying down various bills. My husband was gleeful as he phoned in a payoff of the credit card he’d taken out just for the repairs and other expenses for the house. It’s one of those cards that carries zero interest for six months, so we actually got a good deal out of it.

Just in time to pay our son’s college tuition., woo-eeeee, that was a close one. We were down to putting every day expenses on the card, we were so cash poor. 

Yesterday we went shopping for purchases we’d been putting off – for example, we needed to replace a toilet that’s been broken since about March. We’ve  been flushing it with a bucket of water so long I had got into the habit of setting the bucket in the shower to keep it full. 

We owed our son some money for work he’d done when we hadn’t any money to pay him. His girlfriend has a birthday coming up, aside from their household bills, he was getting anxious about having some money to spend.  He’s feeling pretty good about his new job, but won’t get paid for two more weeks.

And yeah, the other boy was working away at his part-time job, worried about being laid off when school started – his boss announced he would be kept on, no longer a “student” worker, but now a “permanent part-time” worker.  Out of a crew of three or four kids, he’s the only one they kept.  

You can’t see me right now, but I’m doing my Snoopy dance.

Yeah, life is a bumpy road. You better dance when you get a chance.

So we went out and stocked up on groceries. Our chest freezer was sitting dark and empty in the garage, long enough for us to notice, it hadn’t affected the PG&E bill very much, just sitting down there frozen. We turned it back  on and packed it full of meat. 

I’ve spent the summer having a giant anxiety attack. Even after the house sold, we had to wait for the money because we’d done a “tax exchange”. We bought a house for our older son with some of the proceeds of the sale, which saved us paying taxes on that amount. So the money had to go through a “stakeholder”, and that whole process seemed sketchy. For one thing, our title officer, who we are supposed to trust, was very confused, didn’t know anything about exchanges, and we and our realtor (who didn’t know much either) had to walk her through it.

And even while they treated us like a pest every time we contacted the exchange company, toward the end, we found out there were forms we were supposed to submit to get the money, and nobody had told us. We had to stay on top of the exchange company, e-mail them about once a week, ask if there was anything else we needed to do. “Oh, yeah, you guys again…”  We felt like we  were in a “Repo Man Grab”  situation, but we finally got our money.

I’ll say, buying and selling real estate these days is like a trip to the old carnival! Step right up!   We’ve bought and sold before, so we were somewhat ready, and we studied up about other stuff before we even talked to the realtors. We took our time choosing a realtor – I was shocked when the guy we chose immediately offered us a 5 percent commission instead of the standard 6.  

He turned out to be  worth the money – we had  a buyer at the Open House, it just took a while for them to work through the sale of their own house, get all the inspections, make needed repairs, etc.  He stuck with us through all the ups and downs, he urged us to be tough, and we got the money we wanted, and was happy with his share.

I will still feel anxious – I don’t ever not feel anxious about the future. My husband and I are moving out of our little apartment the next few months so we can rent it, pay off the mortgage on this property. We’re downsizing into a smaller house, with fewer conveniences, and I’m looking forward to simplifying my life. 

We’ll see.

 

 

 

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July 28, and we’ve just got our first tomato

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At this point we’ll take anything.

As I told you previously, the only red tomatoes we’ve seen in the garden this year have had blossom rot. My husband applied some calcium to the soil and we’ve been waiting and watching.  This one grew out of the rot, pretty much, so we brought it in and cut it. The end was rotten, but most of the mater was still good!

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When I opened the container this morning, it smelled like SUMMER!

We cut off a thick slice and diced it over our salad. Today I will have a tomato sandwich. I wish I could say I had my own bread to eat it on, but it’s been too hot to take Bob out of the bucket, we’ve been subsisting on Alvarado Bread.

This weekend I am enjoying a “Staycation”.   I have finally got my husband to take some time and just sit around and enjoy.  We set up our tiny Intex pool on the patio, and put our old tv on the patio table, the antenna strung up on the umbrella.  

I can mix work with relaxation. This morning I watched “King of the Hill” while I mowed the lawn, when my eyebrows were heavy with sweat, I jumped in the pool! 

The other day they played the episode in which Mega lo Mart moves to town and forces Strickland Propane, where Hank works, out of business. Hank has  to go to work at Mega lo Mart. One day he’s trying to tell his co-worker, Buckley, to be more careful with the propane cans, when Buckley drops a can and blows up the entire store. Hank escapes but his niece Luann’s longtime annoying boyfriend Buckley is killed. 

At the funeral, Hank’s neighbor Kahn tells about his strange friendship with Buckley, explaining that Buckley taught him to “live in the moment” – a nice way of saying Buckley was completely careless and irresponsible, without any consideration for the future or those around him. 

Kahn tells a story to illustrate – a story about a man who is hunting a tiger, when the tiger charges and knocks him off a cliff. As he grasps at a root, pondering his fate, the hunter notices a strawberry growing along the cliff’s edge. Instead of being hysterical, he reaches up and picks the strawberry, eats it, and declares, as he falls to his death, that it was the best strawberry he’d ever eaten. 

So, whenever I see a strawberry, I pick it and eat it. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Another crazy Summer in NorCal – no tomatoes yet?!

Back in July, as we were watching the blossoms on our tomatoes dry up and fall off, I read this post from Pobept:

https://survivalfarm.wordpress.com/2017/07/06/summer-weather-pattern-settling-in-for-a-long-hot-dry-period/

“Tomato’s and Peppers stop pollinating and blooms drop occur when:
Daytime temperatures greater than 32° C (90° ) Pollen sterility occurs, flowers may drop.
35° C (95° F) Much reduced fruit set .
Night time temperatures less than 15.5° C (60° F) or greater than 24° C (75° F) will result in poor fruit set.”

Well, crap! Our daytime temps have been well over 95 for months now, with night time temperatures in the high 60’s, even 70’s.

We’ve seen some fruit on our tomato vines, but it’s just sitting there.

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This will be a nice tomato…some day…

Beautiful green round tomatoes. The only ones that started to ripen turned out to have blossom rot.

But, we have been getting my favorite beans, the asparagus and long red beans. We get enough of those for dinner about every other night.

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These asparagus beans will be ready tomorrow.

I have to look hard, they like to hide in the Johnson grass. 

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It only takes a few of these beans to make a meal. You have to pick them regularly or they go to seed, like the bean at left. Of course we’ll save those for next Summer.

Peaches don’t do well in this weather either. They don’t get very big, they get burned, they don’t ripen evenly. And the blue jays are waiting. Every day I go out and pick a small box and leave it to ripen in the garage for a couple of days.

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These are small but smell good.

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Next January I will be damned glad to have them!

Today I have enough to fill a freezer bag.  They aren’t as nice as tree-ripened fruit, but it’s better than paying $2.50 a pound at the store.

 

My husband planted the usual melons, different kinds – in past we’ve done well enough to freeze a bag of mixed melon.

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The future looks bright in the melon patch.

The last months have been tough. We spent our “discretionary” money fixing up our old rental to sell, and with no tenants to pay rent, that got pretty hairy. I worried and worried as my husband and son scraped paint and replaced rotten wood, replaced old fixtures, spent a couple thousand bucks just doing required testing and repairs. Luckily the buyer was anxious and willing, and very cooperative, or I think my husband would still be on top of that house scraping and hammering. 

He had to replace the hail-damaged shingles himself, but it was worth the savings.

Plus, my son was going through a lot of angst over the last year, marginally employed, girlfriend marginally employed, our town turning to crap all around their heads. Even in the worst neighborhoods, housing  is incredibly expensive here, whether you buy or rent. They wanted a house with a yard – in their price range, that would mean “Chapmantown.” Poor Mr. Chapman, getting that albatross hung round his neck.

A typical example – one cute house they looked at was on the news a few nights later. The neighbor, an elderly woman, had an old motor home parked in her side yard, and couldn’t keep the transients from breaking into it at night. One night it caught fire and nearly burned her house and the house next door. The news crews talked to other neighbors – older folks, many of whom kept little trailers on their property, or had sheds in their yards, and had the same problem – constant break-ins by transients.

Chico is having horrific problems right now, so we all had to wrap our heads around the concept of them moving to another town. That was hard for me, and later I realized, it was pretty traumatic for them too. 

They found a much nicer house and cheaper expenses, but we are physically separated for the first time, another town, a good half hour away. 

So, it was nice for the boy to spend a couple of months tagging along with Dad, scraping and painting and hammering, and talking about things that go bump in the night.

So now I got my husband and my dogs and my garden, and thank goodness for texting. 

 

 

 

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. 

 

 

I did it! Gluten-free birthday cake!

Thanks fellow bloggers for your support – I made the gluten-free birthday cake! 

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Well, giant cookie, really.

I got the recipe from my grandma.

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You can tell from the grease stains, this is one of my fave recipes.

Because my son is trying to cut gluten from his diet, I made some substitutions. 

 

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Here’s the usual suspects – oatmeal, Rice Krispies, and good old white sugar – I’ll work on a different sweetener next time, but Basil Rene is right – the world of sugar substitutes is fraught with peril. I used half and half brown and white like Gram says.

In lieu of a sugar substitute, I just cut the amount of sugar down to 2/3’s  cup. 

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Here’s the brown basmati I buy at Cash and Carry in 10 pound sacks, and here’s some coconut oil I found at Walmart for less than $4.

I wasn’t sure about buying the coconut oil at Walmart, but it was the cheapest. My son told me the more expensive oils are “refined” so that you can use them at higher temperatures, for stuff like sautes and stir-fries. I like it for baking – it’s very light, without any odor.

As for amount, I thought I better check, so I googled cookie recipes using coconut oil. I found one that matched my recipe – half a cup of liquid coconut oil for a half a cup butter.  

When I added the oil to the sugar, it didn’t seem right, too wet. But the egg mixed in well, and when I added the rice flour, oats and Krispies, it looked just like the dough I got using butter and wheat flour. It’s always kind of crumbly, when I make cookies, I mash it into spoonful-size balls and set them on the sheet, where they melt into thin, crispy wafers, just like  Gram used to make.  Or I just mash the whole pile of dough into a pan and make “cookie bars.” 

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I wanted a cake so I mashed it into a cake pan.

Baking time was the variable – for my usual size pan I bake them 20 – 25 minutes at 350, waiting for the top to turn brown. This pan was smaller and deeper so I had to bake it closer to 35 minutes. This made it more like a cake than a cookie, but the edges were still  crunchy.

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Here’s the topping – looks like a mess!

I got an idea for a “cookie tart” from Chef Pepin, it just didn’t turn out exactly the way he did it – we just dumped a couple of pints of blueberries and a cut pear into a sauce pan, without sugar or anything, and stirred it into this mess. It was delicious, the tart fruit made the perfect compliment for the sweet cookie-cake. 

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We sent most of the cake home with the birthday boy, but I saved a piece for my husband to eat for breakfast.

Like Chef Pepin would say – et voila! There it is, a gluten free birthday cake. 

 

 

 

Try new things – Juanita goes gluten-free

Did you know, you can make flour out of rice? Am I the last person to find out about this?

I try to avoid food fads, but I’ve heard for years that the gluten found in wheat flour will exacerbate pollen allergies. My husband and son are both extra sensitive to pollen – trees like almond and mulberry have made them really sick. Their eyelids puff up, their faces turn red, and they get instant headaches after being exposed to those type of trees. 

My husband has learned to wear a mask when he has to expose himself, he’s also lost a little of his sensitivity over the years. Meanwhile my son seems to be headed right into the worst of it – he’s still in his 20’s, when your body seems to fielding a new set of hormones.

So he and his girlfriend have decided to avoid gluten. My first thought was – what will you eat? I couldn’t wrap my head around the concept of life without wheat.  For Cripessake – I’ve spent years learning how to make my own bread, pasta, pizza, etc, why would I want to give up wheat?!

I just bought a 25 pound sack of hard red wheat berries. I had a hard time finding a reliable source of wheat berries here in town, so I went online and got a big bag. And of course it was about half the price per pound, so nya nya Raleys!   As you know, I have storage – it sits in jars and zipper bags on the little turnaround shelf under my counter. I’ve already polished off a big jar’s worth. 

But of course I buy rice in bulk too. So, when I noticed, on the box in which I store my wheat mill, it says all the things the mill will grind, including rice.  I read rice is gluten free. 

In fact, my son had sent me this picture of his rice pancakes one morning.

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My son wanted to assure me he and his bgf were eating right.

Well, you never learn if you don’t try new things. So I dumped a cup of rice into my mill and it ground up into the nicest flour, a little grainier than wheat flour, but usable. I made a batch of oatmeal cookies with it, having read that oatmeal is also gluten-free. They turned out really well. 

So, my son’s birthday is coming up, and instead of the usual gluten-rich angel food cake, I will make him a cookie tart covered with fruit. I got the idea from Jacque Pepin. He made a sugar cookie one day on his show and covered it with glazed raspberries heated in a frying pan. The other day they had blueberries on sale at Safeway, $3 for a big container. I will also get some peaches out of the freezer – I still have a gallon zipper bag full from last Summer. 

One thing I know is that my son is happy when his parents pay attention to what’s going on in his life. They grow up but they don’t stop being your kids,  thank goodness! 

Frog and Toad: not just for kids

The “atmospheric river” has run through our town, on it’s way to Nevada to wreak more havoc.

This morning I was surprised to see the moon shining in the bedroom window, bright and full. The only sound outside is a steady plop-plop from the rain spout.

We’ve been trying to stay busy during the rain, mitigate the outdoor damage when possible, clear the gutters and pick up storm debris. Things get moldy in this weather, the laundry won’t get dry, motivation gets wobbly. It is so tempting to crawl in between the flannels and go to sleep for a month or two. 

Reminds me of Frog and Toad Are Friends, a collection of buddy stories by Arnold Lobel.  I think “Spring” is my favorite story, because it’s so true. 

It’s Winter and Toad has been sleeping. Frog rushes to his door to wake him up, declaring,  “It’s Spring!”  But the only response from inside the door is “Blah!”

“The sun is shining! The snow is melting! Wake Up!” shouts Frog outside the door.  Toad answers, “I am not here…”

We’ve all had days like that, and friends like that.

Not one to be put off, Frog bursts into the house and actually pushes Toad out of bed, dragging him to the porch into the bright sunshine, where Toad complains he can’t see anything. “What you see is the clear warm light of April,” cajoles Frog, promising skipping in meadows, running through woods, swimming in the river, and counting stars on warm nights. 

This only drives Toad back into the bed, where he pulls the covers over his head. “You  can count them Frog, I will be too tired.”  

“You have been asleep since November,” complains  Frog.

“Well then,” says Toad, “a little more sleep will not hurt me…Come back and wake me up at about half past May…”

Frog is never flustered or put down, he always thinks of a solution. Standing in Toad’s house, realizing how lonely he will be over the next month, he sees the calendar on the wall is still on November, and begins tearing off the pages of Winter.  Arriving at May, he has a sudden flash of brilliance.

“Toad, Toad, wake up.  It is May now.”  

I don’t know if it’s okay to pull this type of prank on your friend, but I would say, it’s good to look out for each other. 

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I’ve been watching this daffodil bud, I think today’s the day.