Even the most wonderful stories can have a sad ending

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

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

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

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


And one morning it was gone.

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

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


All that remained of Mrs. Mantis’ little family.

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

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

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

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


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



Grill it!

Here’s a meal for two under $10.

Safeway has asparagus for $2.99 a pound – the skinny kind I like, instead of the big fat ones. You can grill the skinny ones. My husband wraps them with a piece of bacon to keep them from falling through the slats. Three or four spears grill well together, wrapped up and held tight with a toothpick. 

You can pick up a six-pack of big, juicy bell peppers at Cash and Carry for $2.99. Those grill very nicely, getting tender and mellow, also good cold the next day on a sandwich. 

And we’re still eating that boneless rib roast we bought and cut into steaks. That worked out to less than $6 a steak. One of these babies is big enough for the two of us, and we usually have a little chunk left over for breakfast. 

Shop ahead and these meals just fall together.  I got two big bunches of that asparagus and that lasted almost a week. We ate it almost every night and chopped up any leftovers and for our scrambled eggs – wow! 

The word for the day is “mmmmmmm!” 

Small comforts


Hello Sun

This morning I woke up to shirt-sleeve weather.  I wandered out to the deck to catch the sun rising over Oroville, Sawmill Peak bathed in red.


The long knee shaped ridge in the middle is Sawmill Peak

You know what I’ve said about the weather here – a drop in temps and a rainstorm prompted me to get out our Winter underwear and put flannels on the bed. But this past week we’ve had a streak in the low 90’s.

How soon we forget – Weatherman has been complaining about the heat! Shut Up!

Busy, busy, busy – we have to get things “buttoned up ” here for Winter. My husband and our friend worked hard to get the new shack sided and roofed, windows and doors installed, to keep out the weather.  Now my husband and I, with the help of our kids, are left to paint the outside, and then plumb, wire and wall the inside. That shouldn’t be too hard, it’s only 10 x 12.


It looks huge from this angle.

But it’s a palace compared to the old outhouse, which is only about 5 x 8, and so far from the septic tank the pipe freezes whenever the temps go below 30.

For now we sleep, cook, and eat in our old 10 x 12, which was always fine for me until I realized – when the weather gets really hopping up here – you know, sideways rain – I can sleep in the same shack as my toilet. The new shack will be big enough to have a separate room for a kitchen, with enough space for our old fold-out bed. I have to admit, that sounds pretty exciting, since I’ve become accustomed to picking my way across the yard in the middle of the night.

I’ll keep you posted.



The trials of Motherhood


My neighbor, Mrs. Mantis, with her new family.

When my husband and I arrived at our mountain shack early yesterday  morning, I found my little neighbor Mrs. Mantis standing over a new egg case.  It was white and foamy, and she seemed very weak.

I wasn’t surprised – when we left her the other day, she had left her station on the patio railing  and was trying to climb up the side of the shack. The cement board we sided the shack with seemed to be too slippery, so I again violated the prime directive – I hoisted her up on the top of the door frame, hoping she’d lay her eggs on the eaves of the shack.

As a child I enjoyed Nature, with my grandmother’s encouragement, we kids explored the world around us. Praying mantises always fascinated me. As soon as I found out what an egg case was, I started collecting them and keeping them in jars to watch them hatch. I found out – you have to be sure they have a lid with holes, and you have to watch them every day – when they hatch, they need to have food immediately.

I’ll never forget the day I came along just in time to watch them devouring each other, by the time I got the lid off the jar, about half of them were gone! They’re very fragile and weak when they hatch, and the first hatchlings fell upon the latecomers like piranhas.

But I’d never seen a mother lay her eggs. When I found Mrs. Mantis, the last bit of foamy casing was still stuck to the end of her abdomen. She hovered over the case, at one point, she fell onto the threshold of the door, but quickly righted herself and climbed back over the case. I realized, she was protecting it, at least until the foam hardened.

I assumed she would die within a few hours, and that made me sad – she’s been a very good neighbor, keeping the meat bees down to a dull roar. I wanted to know more about her, so I sat down at the computer and looked on wikipedia.

Mrs. Mantis is apparently a member of the “ground” or “bark” family of mantids.  There are many kinds of mantids – this variety sticks around to guard it’s egg case, eating any erstwhile predators.

Of course as soon as my husband saw her on the bottom of our door, he asked her why she would place her family in such a high traffic area. It was his suggestion she might like to build her case under the eaves, where we’ve found a lot of cases in past. I think she must have fallen, unfortunately, her bottom so big, and was too tired to make it more than a couple of inches off the doorstep.

She is very sensitive to movement, even though she was comfortable with me when she was hanging around my water spigot. She seemed alarmed yesterday as we came and went through the door. It was windy, and my sinuses started to ache, so me and the dogs set up in the cabin to watch tv while my husband and a friend of ours worked on the new outhouse.

Meanwhile, Mrs. Mantis took up a post on the underside of the door trim, with her head directly beneath the case.


Sorry for the grainy picture, but there is her egg case, and there she is, staring at the camera from under the door frame.

According to wikipedia, the case can be attacked by ants or parasitic wasps – and human mothers think they have a hard time!  Luckily, Mother Mantis is an awesome and hungry predator. Can you imagine, having to eat somebody to protect your child? I remember being a mom – I think I could have done it.

I wonder how long the eggs will take to hatch? It’s getting cold – I don’t imagine they’d hatch now. How long will she be able to hold her post? Maybe she won’t need to hold it that long, maybe just until all the other bugs go into hibernation.

We’ll just have to wait and see!

Way up here, they got a name, for rain and wind, and FIRE!

Ha ha – what a woos I am!  “Rain puts a kink in outdoor living…”

How about FIRE!

The other day we were headed up the hill, car loaded full of cement and dogs, when we spotted a little whippet of black smoke on the horizon.


My husband has a good sense of direction and distance – I thought this fire was closer to Mount Lassen!

My husband drove Hwy 32 for his job, for years, he knows the country better than I do. He knew the fire was along the road somewhere, and we started to worry about our place.  We have friends who were burned out of Concow, their places left like moonscapes. 


Just above the Peregrine Point disc golf course we could see the fire was right along the highway.

At this point we felt safe the fire was not on our side of the road, but thought it must have caught the little housing subdivision above Fourteen Mile House, the smoke was so black.


As we got closer we wondered if the road would be passable.

At this point we had not seen any emergency vehicles, and wondered if we might make it through before they had to shut down the road for a staging area.


I wondered if these people were worried about their home, or just gawkers.

Traffic ahead of us kept moving, so we followed along. Then we came to the road block.


Up ahead, we see a couple of fire trucks have arrived. At least it’s not the subdivision, but the smoke told us the fire was trying to get across the road.

We thought we’d made it when we passed the firetrucks, but around the corner we were turned back by a very annoyed CHP officer, along with about half dozen other folks.  

I thought we’d done all that packing up for nothing, but my husband was unperturbed – back in Chico, we swung around on Skyway and took a sweet tour of Paradise, before we headed back down Powellton, up Doe Mill, across Butte Creek and up Garner, which catches Hwy 32 up past the store.  It took about 45 minutes from the road block, and we got some pretty damn good tacos at the truck there on Skyway. 

This was another wake-up call. What if we were at the shack and fire came up that canyon? 

What puts a kink in outdoor living? Rain!

We were tucked into our snuggy loft bed this morning, when my husband jolted up – Rain! The patio chairs! The hammock! We just hung the hammock in a new spot, and I was really enjoying it.

The clock showed 4 am, and outside we could hear the patter picking up. We jumped out of the bed and down the ladder and out we went to gather up.  

I usually have to hit the outhouse by that time, anyway, but I have to admit – as much as I’ve reminded myself, wet weather is coming, I wasn’t ready for a run to the outhouse in the rain, right through the construction site.

My husband is building a new outhouse, and of course, the ground is torn up, and now muddy, where he’s been digging for the piers.

So, this changes things. In past, we stayed away during wet weather because, well, there’s nowhere to go except our tiny shack or our outhouse. When we have the patio furniture shoved in, we have to move stuff just to make our way from the table to the door. It’s cozy, but we’re not old enough to sit all day yet. 

We had to tear down the outhouse that came with the place, it was 30 years old, a tree branch had set it a little askew, and the rats and squirrels would not be kept out. We had another sturdier shed, so we just ran the plumbing over and fixed up a toilet and sink and that’s had to suffice for the last few years. It’s too far from the tank, and the line isn’t deep enough, so it has  frozen on occasion – a late freeze last Spring actually broke the toilet.  We’ve been wanting to set the whole operation back in place but haven’t had the extra money until now.

So, we’re building another 10 x 10 for a new bathroom, with space for a kitchen, since all the plumbing is there at the septic tank already. Right now I carry the dirty dishes all the way across the yard, to what I’ve been calling, “the interim bathroom”, and accidents happen.

Accidents can also happen when you’re hop-skip-jumping through a muddy mess in the dark, too! 

And thank goodness for the Enterprise Record Sunday edition somebody lobbed into our driveway last week – we lay those on the floor to catch muddy foot prints.  We always pick up a few copies of the News and Review when they flop a new edition.

I knew Winter was going to be a challenge to our plans to move up here, we’ll have to see how the next few weeks pan out. I’ll keep you posted!

Get ready for Winter – and Election 2018!

When my husband took our propane tank to the gas station for a fill-up the other day, the attendant refused to fill it – we had got it second-hand, and it was looking pretty beat-up. Good call – we decided to get a new one, and The Tractor Store is having quite a sale. Saved $20 on the new tank and got me a new pair of “barn” boots for about $5 off.

I love my barn boots, I wear them all Winter, and the old ones had sprouted holes in the heels – that’s a deal breaker.  As broke as we’ve been, I was afraid to ask for a new pair, sure the price had gone up – nope, only $25, which works out to about .001 cents a day over their lifespan.  

I noticed Summer had taken a powder the other morning, when I went onto my front porch here in Chico and found the KIST! thermometer at 59.  Whoa, that’s a new one – a week previous I had a hard time catching it below 70.  

So are you ready for Winter? I’m almost afraid to find out what kind of Winter we have ahead. I guess I’ll hope for rain, and hope it doesn’t come down too hard or too fast.

I’d also like some snow at the appropriate elevations, and I’d like it to stick, unlike last year, when Spring rains brought it melting down into the valley – almost lost O-ville, for Heaven’s Sake!

Of course it’s still so dry now you can hear the ground crunching under your feet, so while we’re making the rounds of the gutters and siding we have to keep the water running on the landscaping.  Everything is covered with dust and spiderwebs, and the leaves are turning – our yard looks like a widow at a funeral.  I would like to spray things down, including the siding on the house, but given our last water bill, I don’t dare. 

That’s right, I was going to write a letter to the editor about Cal Water rates again – our bills show that while we’ve cut usage drastically, we still spend more.  I’ll keep you posted on that.

I’ve got my feet firmly planted in two worlds right now – the future and the past. My husband and I are trying to change our lifestyle to suit the times, but we have to move carefully, not cut ourselves off. I want to get out of Chico, but the fact remains, we’ll have  rentals here, we have to deal with issues like utility bills, property tax bonds, and local ordinances. So, Landlady has to stay alert, stay awake, keep both feet awake.

We’ve already heard candidates announcing campaigns for 2018 – which starts in June, where some races will actually be determined. So, while you get your house ready for Winter, you might want to be thinking about arming your town for the pension apocalypse.

That, by the way, is the name of my neighbor’s kid’s band – wow, I see they are doing pretty good, I’m just glad they don’t live at home anymore!