Epic year for mosquitoes, get your Deet!

Dogs don’t care about the days of the week. It’s Saturday morning, Dad wants to sleep in, but Biscuit is restless to go for a walk. Badges persistently nudges the bed, where my husband has made a little fort out of pillows around his head.

They like to hit the trails, and by 9 or 10 am the sun starts to get a little testy. But if you go too early, the mosquitoes come at you like a pack of Saturday night B-girls  – “Hello Sailor!”

So I  give them some breakfast and leave them outside long enough to relieve their bladders and then hustle them in, brushing off the bloodsuckers as they squeeze through the door.

When the sun breaches my husband’s pillow fort, he surrenders the bed and we spray ourselves down with Deet and hit the road. I don’t like Deet, especially after a news piece I watched the other day – they were very clear and repeated a few times, SHOWER well after you use it. THAT’S  not going to make me paranoid!

The skeeters are worse than I remember this year. I grew up in riceland, with a rice field right alongside our house, and I’m saying, they’re really bad this year. In Chico it’s easy to clean up the yard, clear rain gutters, mow back weeds, that really helps. But here in the woods we’re surrounded with brush and tree litter, stumps and hollow trees that trap waher where we can’t get to it, the perfect breeding ground.

The mosquito district is useless – several years ago they passes an assessment on property owners, but they only spray out in the ricefields. If we want service up here, we have to bring them onto our property, just to spray our property. They don’t spray the public roads or any of the ponds standing within sight of the road. The $85,000 (plus benefits) /year staffer who answered the phone told me they can’t spray anything without permission. When I  asked her how I could appeal the assessment they put on my property she laughed, a real belly laugh.

So much for the Butte County Mosquito and Vector District, which has over a million dollar pension deficit for a staff of 5 fulltime employees, all office workers. The director makes over $100,000/year, plus about a $30,000 toward his benefits, but only pays 3 % of his benefits.

I don’t feel too comfortable with them anyway, when they do spray, they seem to be indiscriminate. A vectors employee reported finding dead deer and birds in the spray sites, and they fired her, but not until she made quite a stink. So now, rather than taking the proactive approach (send crews in the winter to help clear brush and standing water, like the fire safety agencies), they just don’t do anything.

We work on clearing our own property – that’s when they really attack, when you disturb their resting places. I use Deet in the morning and evening, or when I’m raking the trails, but the rest of the time I find a solution of lemon eucalyptus oil in water makes a nice spray repellant. It actually feels good, you can spray it right on your face. It smells like lemon candy, which apparently throws the little bitches off scent.

The previous owners of the property planted ivy as ground cover – some counties recommend that for fire safety? I really don’t get that, it traps pine needles and other trash, a total fire hazard. And, it is a wonderful place for momma mosquitoes to rest. That’s our first task in clearing our yard, get rid of the ivy.

And now I’m off to feed the skeeters.

 

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Flu season is here – stock up your pantry and your reading table!

My husband and I have been doing more than than the usual amount of running around town lately, getting those last minute gifts, mailing packages, etc. Sunday morning we did a marathon food shopping trip, trying to stay ahead of the mobs. People were already out there, but it wasn’t hectic yet.

Monday morning I woke up feeling weird, my husband felt weird – we realized pretty quickly we had The Freaking Flu.

Sheesh I feel stupid when I get sick, I wonder – have I really been washing my hands? Didn’t I just rub my nose  and eyes while standing in the check out line? Oh, SHIT!

I immediately recalled the Big Flu of 2007. My older son was attending his second semester at Butte, it was February, and almost exactly on his birthday he got sick. Within a couple of days my younger son was sick, my husband was sick, and then I got it. Each of my family got sick for three or four days, and seemed to “sweat it out.” I got sick and I went down like an old Slinky – seven days in the sack, and seven more after that hanging onto furniture to get around the house.  I couldn’t get rid of the fever, it hung on like that last party guest.

I remember drawing a bead on a part of the room, and making it for that spot. It was like being drunk.

Laying in bed was no comfort – I couldn’t sleep, the body aches and the nausea didn’t let up even in a nice warm bed.  The worst thing – watching tv or reading made me nauseous too! So I laid there cursing and staring at the wall.

I had thought I was so smart – when I knew what was coming and still felt okay, I had gone grocery shopping and picked up two huge volumes at the library – “Cinderella Man”, by Jeremy Schaap, and “Boys of Summer” by Roger Kahn. My younger son was about 13 and has always been a sports fan, so I thought I’d be reading these books with him. “Cinderella Man” had just been a big hit at the box office, and “Boys of Summer” was one of those books I had heard of all my life but never read. Baseball was something my son and I could enjoy talking about – we’re both Giants fans. No matter what.

I am a reader, always have been – I can even read speeches by Ralph Nader, I’ll read anything. So those books laid next to my bed and I’d reach out and open one and read a few pages at a time before I had to put an ice bag back on my head. Both were almost impossible to put down. “Cinderella Man” is the story of James Braddock – a guy who is portrayed as a sort of Depression Era Super Hero. I didn’t watch the movie, so I was able to see it in my head the way Jeremy Schaap (son of Dick Schaap) wrote it. My family was working class, so I knew guys like Braddock – grown up in a working family, during the Great Depression (in  my case, a crapped out town), couldn’t stay in school because of a hot temper and quick fists – in those days, boys like him were kicked out of school and expected to go to work. It was when he ran away from home at 15, arrested and returned to his angry and worried parents, that his older brother tried to give him a whipping and found out – Braddock actually had a talent for fighting.  His brother, already an amateur boxer, became his first  trainer and manager.

I am not a boxing fan. I remember the old fights between Ali and Frazier, it was on tv, but it didn’t appeal to me. Ali was a colorful character, but I couldn’t care less about the fights. It was Braddock himself that appealed to me, his stubborn determination – he didn’t really want to fight, but once he got a little money, and got a wife and kids, he found himself forced again and again by the economy to go into the ring. When his over anxious manager hatched an idea to toughen him up for an important fight by hiring some big guys to spar with him, Braddock ended up with broken ribs. But he was so desperate to fight, they shut down his training camp to outsiders and kept the injury a secret lest the officials should call off the fight while he nursed himself back to shape.

The other character I learned about was Max Baer Sr., an  important opponent of Braddock, who was a hugely popular figure of the 1930’s. My dad was a boy then, and used to tell us stories about Max Baer Sr as we watched his son Max Baer Jr cut it up on “The Beverly Hillbillies”. My dad never mentioned Braddock, I suppose because Braddock was a working guy who also happened to fight, compared to the almost pimp-like character of Baer, a guy who loved flashy suits and dated Hollywood  starlets before his retirement, marriage, and children.

“Cinderella Man” is what most people would consider voluminous, a regular door stop of a book, but I was caught up so much in the story of this man I only put it down when my head started to swim with nausea.

I hate finishing a book like that, you feel you know these people, and now they’re gone. So I immediately picked up “Boys of Summer”. Starting with sketches of Kahn’s childhood in 1930’s New York, this book is also fascinating. Kahn’s life growing up in an apartment house is completely foreign to me, his dad taking afternoons off to ride the bus to Ebbet’s and the Polo Grounds to watch the New York Giants and Brooklyn Dodgers. Later Kahn tracks down former players and follows up on their lives since those days – including his friend Jackie Robinson.

The best part of this book is Kahn’s childhood, but he also presents us with the golden era of baseball and players who were only legends to me until I read this book.

By the time I finished these books, I had my family interested, coming in for updates.  I was up and tottering around the house, eating better meals, feeling like myself again.

This time around, I, like my husband, was able to “sweat it out” over about three days. I didn’t take anything, I just tried to rest with my feet up and drink a lot of water.  I wrapped myself up like a mummy and slept in front of the tv set.   Although I was tired, I was still hungry. The worst part of eating was having to make something to eat.  Luckily we had just gone out and bought food, I was afraid to call our older kid over and pass it along to him and his wife.

After staying inside most of Monday and Tuesday, walking out to the mail box and back to entertain the dogs,  I woke up in the middle of the night, soaking wet, my pillow and hair were wet, my pajamas were wet, and my feet were slimy with sweat and colder than a pair of mackerels. I was shivering, so changed my pajamas, toweled my hair, and dug out a fresh pillow case and an extra blanket. My husband had a similar experience Monday night. By Wednesday morning I was feeling a lot better, able to go to the post office, and my husband set some pork ribs in the smoker for dinner. 

I hope that was the end of flu season in our house, but it’s out there people – take care of yourselves! Get a good book or two!

 

 

Blogging is great!

Well, I’m glad I complained about my back injury here, I got the nicest note.

“Try ice.”

Yes, that’s the ticket, acute injuries respond to cold. I had been using a heating pad, and wondered why my back would go into spasms every time I took it off. It wasn’t helping – it felt better while it was on, and then as soon as I took it off, my back hurt again.

Ice – actually, a two pound bag of frozen peas – worked almost immediately. I put it on for about 15 minutes of every hour all day yesterday, and by late afternoon, I had a lot of flexibility back, and the pain was almost gone. 

Today I’m still stiff, rolling over in bed was slightly painful – the past few nights, it’s been awful, I’ve had to have my husband help me a few times.  Once I got caught in the sheets and almost got hysterical.

My arms had started to spasm and my hands kept going numb, I was really worried I’d have to go to the doctor. 

SHREEEEIIIIK!

Life is wonderful again, thankyouverymuch!

 

Bad air quality makes for pretty sunrise

We have a lot of fires burning in the North State, and you know, bad air quality makes for a magnificent sunrise.

Red sky at morning, everybody take warning.

We’ve been leaving the windows shut at night, with “lows” in the 70’s, it’s not worth taking in the crud too. 

In late Winter or early Spring I noticed some strange plants coming up along my driveway. They’re interesting looking, not the typical “weed”.

It grows a little every time I water the shrubs along the driveway.

I’ve asked my gardening guru, Belmont Rooster, to take a look, maybe he can tell me what these are.

Hey, we got another tomato!

No blossom rot!

We were so excited we rode our bikes to the store in 104 degrees to get a pack of bacon. We picked up an ear of corn for the side. 

Tried a different kind of bacon, this stuff is leaner than the old standard. And it fits the bread really good!

Nothing says Summertime! like a BLT.  

It’s 6:55 am and I already got sweaty eyebrows. It pays to get up early to beat more than the heat. Yesterday morning I went out to get some aloe vera for my smoothie and the GD squirrels had torn up several of my pots, looking for somewhere to hide their GD nuts! I had to act quick, they’ve been in them before, and they work fast – they throw the little plants and expensive potting soil everywhere.  My husband had some old 2×4’s, extra fencing and netting left over from the garden, so we went to work.

Look at this ginchee cage my husband built for my aloe vera plantation.

 

The net skirt folds up so I can get in there.

 

I pinch off a big leaf with my thumb nail.

 

I put two of these in my fruit smoothie every morning.

 

Quality, “hand filleted” organic aloe vera!

 

I use these plants not only for a dietary supplement but for dry skin, rashes, burns, etc. A couple of weeks ago, I was weeding my tenant’s yard and my gloves got so full of wild parsley stickers, I had to throw them away. A couple of hours later, my right hand, which of course is the chief weed puller, swelled up and turned red and itchy – I started putting aloe on immediately, but my hand continued to swell up so much my knuckles cracked and bled. This happens to me a lot – one day I was doing some scrubbing with baking soda and vinegar, and forgot to wear kitchen gloves, same result. Aloe vera is the only thing that soothes the pain and itching, I have to rub it on constantly. It soothes on contact, but with a rash like that, you have to put it on every time the rash starts to dry out, about every half an hour.  It helps if you can stop doing anything with your hand, let it rest – oh yeah, sure! Try to live without your dominant hand – my left hand was like “What?!”

It took over a week of constantly rubbing on aloe vera to get the swelling down enough to bend my fingers. I also took aspirin, but too much aspirin has it’s own consequences! The last huge crack on my index finger is just starting to scab over. When I saw the damage the squirrel did to my pots, I started wondering what squirrel meat tastes like.

But my husband saved the day, I can enjoy the squirrels running through the trees outside my windows without worrying what they’re up to.  

Peace Out! Juanita!

 

 

 

The cavalry arrives – with a little encouragement, flowers will push out the weeds

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Finally, the flowers are starting to outnumber the weeds in my dooryard.

Feverfew is a wonderful plant, drought tolerant, self-seeding, and very pretty with a bittersweet odor. It’s used in natural remedies for allergies, headaches and skin problems. If you cut a sprig just as the flowers are opening and put it in a big vase or jar with cold water, it makes very nice arrangements.

It’s a great weed block, and when you don’t want it anymore, it’s easy to yank out. It does start to look a little frowsy toward mid-Summer when the heat really starts to set in.  

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Lately I find echinacea is pretty good at self-seeding.

As I pulled weeds from my yard I left the feverfew and other little plants. I was really surprised to find a bunch of little echinacea plants.

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I thought echinacea were so delicious to every bug in the county – and you can see, this one’s been nibbled – that I would never have planted seeds directly in the ground.

Altogether I’ve found five little plants that sowed themselves, and I just sprinkle a little water on them as I water the trees,  and there they are. Of course the ones I have in pots are big and lush.

 

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My container echinacea are happy as hell, as long as they get water every day. I wash out my compost bucket from the dog’s dish and dump it in there. Nutrient rich!

I planted some bigger plants in the ground last year, they are nestled into the feverfew.  They are one of gopher’s favorites, I keep a sharp eye for his tunnels.

When we bought this place, we planted fruit trees. Most of them turned out well – some were duds!

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Did you know, some fruit trees are only ornamental? We didn’t realize – this pomegranate tree is only for looks, it will never bear fruit.

Oh well, the flowers look like Spanish dancers, and if I cut them as they are opening, they make incredible arrangements with the feverfew.

We got those weeds on the run!  

 

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!