And now for the pollen!

 

I was walking in the back yard with my dogs yesterday and my shoulder brushed against a low-hanging oak branch.

These are oak flowers. Pretty poison!

Out of the corner of my eye I could see a puff of green powder. There was pollen all over my shirt sleeve, my neck and one side of my head. We have oak trees all over our property, but this was the first time I’d had a  really good look at oak flowers. I realized that’s what’s all over our car right now, our patio furniture, our dogs, and US!

You can wear a mask outside, but when you come into the house you’re carrying pollen all over yourself. I try to remember to wear a hat too, and brush myself off when I come inside, but it’s just impossible not to be affected by a regular pollen storm. 

This morning I was awakened by this weird whistle – it was my left nostril!

At times it makes me light-headed, nauseous, and just TIRED.  I find washing my face with Noxema cold creme is helpful, and yeah, the nose wash bottle is very nice, I always try to remember to use that.

And DRINK WATER, it’s a must.  Sometimes my mouth is so dry it’s stuck to itself.  My dentist told me a lot of dental problems are caused by dry mouth.  I saw actress Carmen Diaz chugging water on Dr. Oz one day, I thought she was so cool – I tried it! Had acid reflux all day, so I haven’t tried that again. I just pour myself about 8 ounces at a time, leave it by the kitchen sink, take a whack at it every time I pass by.  

Of course, right now, I’m drinking a stinking hot cup of coffee – when I hold my nose over that cup in the morning, I can feel it cracking and popping inside, and suddenly I can breathe. A cup of coffee is nice.

The weatherman and the news lady were going on and on about how great it is to have your windows open at night – not if there’s a pollenator out there. Be aware of what’s going on in your yard before you pop those windows.

I love flowers, I love  trees, I love Spring, but just one year I wish I could beat the pollen!

 

 

 

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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. 

Mow, burn, pull that weed!

Yesterday I stood in my yard, sun shining warm on my head, rain drops sprinkling across my face.   This is absolutely fantastic weather for growing just about every variety of weed.

Just what is a “weed”? For some people, it’s a plant they didn’t put in, or plants that grow where they don’t want them to grow. 

Oh yeah, I got weeds.

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Whenever the weather dries out a little my husband is behind the mower.

The pollen coming off this yard is a health hazard.

So my husband mows and whacks, and I pull and burn. But Nature is having a big laugh on us – we can only work so many hours a day,  the weeds grow and grow, 24-7.

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Here’s where I dump the weeds I pull from along fence lines and flower beds.

Part of my solution is philosophical – I have learned to accept some weeds as harmless, even pretty.   They don’t make stickers or copious amounts of pollen, and they thrive with nothing but sun and rain water.

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This is “dock” – my grandpa showed me how to squeeze the sap from these plants to soothe the welts from stinging nettles.

Dock is really invasive, if you don’t want it to take over your yard, you need to look for it when it’s small and either pull it out by the roots or burn it out with the torch. This plant was in a nice spot, so I let it go. It stands over my head now, it’s very pretty. In Fall it will turn purple-red. It is actually a popular herb for skin solutions, shampoos, and other natural products. This blogger says it has the same dietary benefits as spinach, kale, and other leafy greens.

http://returntonature.us/stalking-the-curly-dock-rumex-crispus/

Another of my favorite weeds is mullein. There are two kinds that grow in my yard, this big furry leaf variety, and a smaller variety with shiny leaves and bigger flowers. 

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This plant has shot up to over a foot during these rain showers we’ve been enjoying.

These furry leaf mullein get to be very big – our biggest was over 9 feet, and Whipple claims he has had bigger ones. They get a tall stalk with lots of tiny yellow flowers, as the stalk grows taller, more flowers. Mullein is believed to have fairly strong antiseptic properties and you’ll find it in tinctures and salves down at Chico Natural or S&S. 

The bees love it. When the flowers are done, they turn into hard little seed balls. The tiny Downy woodpeckers come over and peck them open, eat the teeny tiny seeds.  They look so elegant, we don’t pull or cut them until late Fall.  Sometimes you can cut the dead stalk and the plant will grow another in Spring.

I sit here in the morning trying to plan my day – I can hear them growing out there right now.

 

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Mow me down!

 

 

 

 

 

 

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!

 

 

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. 

 

 

 

Down time

I woke up early, wandering around in the apartment, I couldn’t find my glasses. I remembered, my husband and I had been out late in our back yard, burning a bunch of “sensitive” paperwork in our old camp stove.   I roused the dogs and we went outside to look for my glasses.

The moon was so bright, it lit up the cotton ball clouds like a lava lamp. I strolled right out and found my glasses sitting on the old oil can we use for an end table, next to the wooden bench we found standing along the street with a FREE sign on it.  Our outdoor living room set!  

I had spent a couple of hours yesterday, still routing out old paperwork from my filing cabinets, and  I had a stack a couple of inches thick – old bank statements and other personal records, just “sensitive” enough to make me too paranoid to chuck it in the trash. We have a good pile of wood from our big trees – those late Winter storms really cleaned the dead  stuff out of our sycamore trees. It’s mostly sticks, but we have a few branches as big around as my leg, my husband had to cut them up with the chain saw. 

So I set up a little fire yesterday afternoon, and last night we got our tea and set out there for about two hours, rolling 8 x 11 sheets into little logs, stuffing them in among the sycamore scraps. Every now and then we added some dried rosemary to kill that burning paper smell.

We’ve had a long week. It is that time of year when the yard demands attention. I finally waded into my lemon trees and cleaned off all the old rotting lemons. I never had such a bumper crop, can’t get over it. I picked and picked, as soon as they started turning yellow. I squeezed about a dozen pints of juice, and we used lemons for drinks and meals for a  couple of months.  Still I have buckets of rotten lemons.  

So this year I’m pruning the daylights out of those trees, try to get rid of some of the lemons before they are made. What a job – did you know,  lemon trees have nasty spines, all over the branches?  I don’t know how many times I’ve climbed in to one of my lemon trees and gotten stuck in there, trying to figure out how to get out again without getting poked. I really cut into them this time, I made a little space inside so I can climb in there next Winter and get those lemons. 

The biggest ones are always on top and hard to get at. I found one up there yesterday as big as a grapefruit. It had grown wedged in between two little branches, I had a heck of a time getting it out of there.  Of course it suddenly rolled right out of it’s little cradle and smacked me right in the head.  It was sad to throw all those lemons away. I hope I made some progress in thinning them out, but the trees are still covered with those incredible smelling blossoms.

I can’t stop pulling weeds. My husband keeps scolding me, reminding me that Arthur will surely kick my ass, probably about 4 am, but I can’t help it.  Sticker heads wave at me from every corner of the yard, taunting!  In some neglected spots they’ve crowded out long standing flowers, even some of my pink valerian has drowned  in the weeds. As I walk out to the laundry line, I can’t help but bend over and yank out a few handfuls. The dogs get impatient – I stop playing ball to rout weeds around the gates. Can’t help it, I feel they will rise up and swallow the house if I don’t do  something.

Of course, other stuff is growing good too – there are more apples on our trees than I have ever seen before. I have  to thin them too. I already thinned the peach trees, it was hard, but I did it. Last year there were too many, and they didn’t get very big, or very sweet. 

I put out the bug traps a week ago, and within a couple of days they were swarming with fruit flies. I think I’ve seen a few coddling moths too. The wind messes up the traps, dries out the molasses and vinegar bait, so I today I have to go out and dump them, wash out the dead  bugs, refill. I think these traps help, I got a lot of fruit last year, although it was small, it was not as bug-infested as years past.

I need more traps, I need to figure out some other plastic containers besides soda bottles.  I might try the celophane ziplock bags I get with my coffee and other foods like rice. They are made of tough material and have a flat bottom, I think I can make the type of  trap you buy at the store for bees and flies. I’ll keep you posted.

Yeah, Arthur is in a horrific mood this morning. I think he’s trying to break my neck. On  mornings like this, I have to get out the old heating pad and prop my head with a pillow.  

I am hoping these clouds will turn into something – the last rains only made MORE POLLEN. The black  walnut trees outside my windows are glittering with tassels. My nostrils burn into my brain, the front of my head feels like an old house with the wind blowing through. The other night my husband rolled over in bed and  asked, “what’s that irritating squeak?” It was me, breathing.

A nice shower would go a long way toward cleaning all this pollen out of the  air, off  trees, cars, etc.  But of course will also bring more weeds. 

Sheesh!

Okay Arthur, I promise, no pulling weeds today. 

 

 

First you’ve got to get mad

All the little birdies on Jaybird Street just love to hear the Robin goin' "tweet tweet tweet"...

All the little birdies on Jaybird Street just love to hear the Robin goin’ “tweet tweet tweet”

Robins have been swarming my lawn and the neighbor’s yard twice a day to gorge themselves on bugs. I’ve watched one after another wrestle big night crawlers out of the ground. As my husband mowed our lawns yesterday afternoon they gathered in our oak trees, waiting to swoop down on displaced grubs and pill bugs.

The pollen tree over my driveway has popped out with lots of dusty flowers. I watched a green cloud burst across the window pictured above – which has been shut tight the last two days – and then the wind caught it and it seemed to dance like a green ghost as it disappeared.  The shiny green dust is all over my patio. I can’t wait for RAIN!

Biscuit continues to thumb her nose at  the skeptics. She likes to play, but she’s so emaciated and weak, it’s going to take her a while to get up to speed. Meanwhile, Badges is constantly offering her a ball or a rope or a bit of stick. 

I try to keep to my routine, it helps me to stay busy. My husband found me some cheap strawberry plants at Home Depot, about 50 cents a plant. This time I am skipping my strawberry pots – too hard to water – and putting my little plants in individual plastic pots in the green house. They’re doing great, I’ll have to get more. They will produce new plants at the end of the season, so it’s a good investment.

Drought again, I know. I’ll be careful what I plant this year. I put garlic in one of my raised beds a couple of months ago, and now it needs water. Every time I turn on the hose I feel Cal Water fascists staring down over my shoulder.

I realized the other day, we’ve got more people living on our property than we did in 2011 – a family replaced the childless couple in the house, and we replaced the single guy in the apartment. So I am appealing our water “budget,” I’ll let you know how that goes. They have a form here,

https://www.calwater.com/conservation/drought/appeal/

We’ve done everything they asked, and we still go over budget at least a ccf or two. I’m tired of living like this, Chico has water. They just want money for their unfunded pension and health insurance liabilities.

I found their Securities Exchange reports here

 

https://www.sec.gov/Archives/edgar/data/1035201/000103520116000009/0001035201-16-000009-index.htm

In a report from 2015 I found a note about Cal Water’s pension liability, and a warning that it could negatively affect their investment returns:

Adverse investment returns and other factors may increase our pension liability and pension funding requirements.

        A substantial number of our employees are covered by a defined benefit pension plan. At present, the pension plan is underfunded because our projected pension benefit obligation exceeds the aggregate fair value of plan assets. Under applicable law, we are required to make cash contributions to the extent necessary to comply with minimum funding levels imposed by regulatory requirements. The amount of such required cash contribution is based on an actuarial valuation of the plan. The funded status of the plan can be affected by investment returns on plan assets, discount rates, mortality rates of plan participants, pension reform legislation and a number of other factors. There can be no assurance that the value of our pension plan assets will be sufficient to cover future liabilities. Although we have made contributions to our pension plan in recent years, it is possible that we could incur a pension liability adjustment, or could be required to make additional cash contributions to our pension plan, which would reduce the cash available for business and other needs.

Furthermore, the report predicted employees might even walk off the job if they were asked to either prune their benefits or pay their own benefits. Cal Water management currently pay nothing, and I’m guessing the lesser ranks pay less than 10 percent.  Like most public workers, Cal Water employees retire at age 55 with 70 percent of their highest year’s salary.

And they just expect us to pay for it. 

I always think of the old movie, Network, at times like this.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZwMVMbmQBug

“First you’ve got to get mad…”