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. 

 

 

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!  

 

Reminiscing – Summer was better when I was a kid!

Yesterday the mercury hit about 94 – the news lady complained about the heat,  and  the weatherman gave her the appropriate “what you talkin’ about Willis!” kinda look.

Last Summer we had  stretches of over 105, for days at a  time – that’s hot.  When I was a kid we got up to 112 one week – the rice fields boil at that temperature, the air is like flaming grease, it sticks to you.

My grandparents didn’t have air conditioning – most people didn’t – but they had this old fan hooked up on the back porch. It looked like an airplane propeller, mounted on a post outside the window.  We would line up like little airplanes and stand in front of it – our arms stretched out to catch that cool-ish air. One by one we’d jam to the front of the line, taking turns standing in front. 

If Gramma wasn’t paying attention, we’d open the old refrigerator door, and stand there lollygagging for a minute. We knew we weren’t supposed to have a Pepsi without asking, but we could look.

Pat McCollup, the milk man, was like our ice cream man – sometimes we’d spot his truck coming down the levee road, and we’d be waiting for him at the end of the driveway, that used to freak him out a little bit. We lived too far from town to get home with ice cream, unmelted, milk, unspoiled, or even cottage cheese, which would mold the next day  if you got it too warm, so my gramma ordered all her dairy products from Pat. He was like a rock star to us kids,  we liked calling him “ just Pat.”   He had Shasta Cola – remember Shasta Cola?

Of course we lived down the road from the Four Corners Store, run by Harrison Smitten. He always had ice cream bars and cold  sodas too. The Sacramento Bee was delivered to the store, and Harrison had numbered boxes – ours was 54, I learned that number before I could read. We felt pretty big when we waddled into the store, passing the butts of every farmer around, to get Gramma’s paper, which was very important. My grandparents used to read in silence in their arm chairs while we kids sat in front of Gunsmoke.  

When we got the paper, we’d have to agree on one treat to share among us, that was usually a candy bar, or maybe a big cold bottle of Pepsi.

You know, some families are Ford and Coke families, we were a Chevy and Pepsi family.

We’d walk home along the ditch bank, my sisters and I, sharing that Pepsi and taking turns carrying the paper. My gramma was usually standing on our bridge, watching us the entire way,  but we still felt pretty big.

Big enough for a swim in the irrigation ditch that ran across our driveway. Gram would be posted in the living room or kitchen window. She didn’t like us out of her sight, especially in water.  We’d swim in that moss and mud and come out smelling like the creatures from the Black Lagoon – we could smell ourselves at the dinner table,  but nobody cared.  Nothing cooled you off like a good dunking. 

Sitting here now feeling the cool breeze from my windows, I think of the nights we spent trying to fall asleep in the heat, all piled into one bed, sleeping sideways in the bed to catch the breeze. My uncle, who had to get up early, was usually in charge of getting all us kids to bed. We’d hear my gramma washing pots and pans in the kitchen, sitting down to do her crossword puzzle and talk about who died lately with my gramps. If my mom was up for the weekend (she went to college in the city) they would tell her all the latest gossip.  Uncle Boo would come in finally, offer to play us a game of “Mud Turtle” if we’d go to sleep. That meant, anybody who makes a noise is a “mud turtle”, and they’d get thonked on the back of the head with a big knuckle. 

The next thing we’d know, we’d wake up to the sound of my gramma shuffling down the hallway on her bad foot to make a cup of coffee and finish her crossword puzzle.  We were allowed to sleep as late as we wanted in Summertime, but we knew we better get up if we wanted to enjoy the sweet morning air. And that’s where I’ll leave you, as I get out to enjoy that sweet morning air!

 

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. 

Opting out of junk mail really does work – keep trying

Whenever I look at the statistics for the blog I see  – always – the Number One search is something like “how to get rid of those pre-screened credit offers” or “how to get rid of  junk mail,” etc.  Lately Geico opt-out information seems to be the most searched.

Well here’s what worked for me – for Geico mailings anyway:

http://optout.geico.com/marketing/

When I was a young housewife with two tiny kids, it used to drive me crazy the amount of time I spent trying to figure out how to get rid of junk mail. Our mailbox was routinely stuffed full to the point of choking. In those days, before the internet and online shopping became so comfortable, there were offers by mail, for everything from children’s book clubs to vitamins – anybody remember catalogs? 

Yes I bit on some of them – we bought Christmas cards from the National Wildlife Foundation, books from Scholastic, and gave small amounts of money to various charities. 

But most of it was just garbage, and then there were the credit offers. In those days credit offers that fell into the wrong hands could be used to fraud the recipient, or so we were told, and it made me ultra paranoid to just  throw those in the trash. We were told by law enforcement agencies that creeps would actually go through your trash to get those, that they should be completely destroyed. So, no  kidding – I was spending at least 15 minutes a day tearing stuff up, putting it in our composter, burning it in our chimenea, whatever I could think of. 

My mom gave me a cheap shredder, and then it became sport! It was really fun, running crap through my little shredder. I still put it in the compost or burned it, but it was a lot easier than tearing it with my hands.

As I recall, Chase Bank was the biggest offender, and I still find searches specifically looking for Chase Bank opt out info.  Searching online for their opt-out, I find the link I had used before is no longer good.  I also found many complaints from people – the main complaint is identical mailings, coming as often as twice a week. I found this interesting page on the Chase website, where they admit people can steal your “identity” through “dumpster diving.”

https://www.chase.com/digital/resources/privacy-security/questions/identity-theft

But I couldn’t find any link to opt-out of unwanted ad mailings. Frankly I don’t get these anymore – I actually printed out a letter from their website, signed, and mailed it, and they sent me a letter saying I would not receive mailings for five years.  And get a load of this – five years later, they sent me another letter, which I filled out and signed, and that opted me out for another five years. Every now and then we get a postcard addressed to our post office box – “occupant” – but it’s just an ad, not an application for credit with our name and other personal information on it, like we used to get. 

So, if you want these out of your box, write a letter stating you no longer want to receive any mailings from Chase – cc our local postmaster,  Talisyn Hodson – whether you actually send her a copy or not – and mail it to the address on the mailing you received.

If there is no return address on a mailing, please take it to the post office and ask to speak to Hodson about it. The law says these mailings have to have a return address. 

No kidding, I sent letters like that, I made phone calls, I complained to then-postmaster Greg Smith. And it worked. You have to be dogged about it, but guess what – there’s days at a time now, I don’t get anything in my mail box. 

Most of the junk I get now comes from my bank and other entities I deal with. I still treat them like poison, ripping them to shreds and stuffing them into my stove or my composter, but it’s not a daily activity that requires paranoid scrutiny. Opting out does work.

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! 

 

 

 

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!