Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Neighborhood Color

We've seen the signs for the neighborhood association meetings for some time now. It seems they meet every other month, always on a Thursday. We often talk about going, but either forget or have something else going on. (We usually just forget.) We figured they talk about trees and sidewalks, sidewalks and trees. But the Thursdays come and go and we don't go.

Yesterday I was working out front trimming our adorable feather grass, my favorite part of our Kill the Lawn Project. They have such personality, I'm surprised I haven't named them. A nice car pulled up and a nicely dressed woman introduced herself. We had two not so nice cars out front and I was not very nicely dressed, but I introduced myself back. She was the head of the Neighborhood Association Group, which I'll refer to as NAG. She invited to me to the NAG meetings and told me a little about them. They discuss crime and the importance of reporting it. They have potlucks in the park. Then she brought up the crime issue again. She lamented about "the _______ man on the corner who has frequent garage sales" and that we should always put in our complaints to the Sheriff about him. (Insert a color of your choosing into the blank space.) She then said that he sells white and red T-shirts, "which are gang colors you know".

At that point I was so happy that our Thursday nights had always been busy and that we were forgetful on the nights they weren't. While digesting the hit-me-in-the-gut statement that this complete stranger had just shared with me, the woman told me that they just pulled out the mulch in their backyard and put in all grass. Finally recovering from her earlier comment, I knew I had my chance. "I hate grass" I told her, "Just hate it." She came back that she loves it, front and back yard, and that it is a must for her grandchildren to play on. I wanted to say sarcastically, "You allow your grandchildren to play in your front yard with ________ people in the neighborhood?" but I just said again how I detest grass and we are taking out as much as we can. She drove off in her nice car and I went back to my turf-less yard. (In reality, I think lawns are pretty, just not giant expanses in arid regions.)

In talking to my other neighbors today, they related a conversation they had with her, and she had told them she HATES bark. I was so tickled to think back on how our yard looked when we first killed the grass in front - a SEA OF BARK. It must have infuriated her, and now I wish I had left it barren just a few weeks longer just to get under her skin. Those Thursday NAG meetings? Not a chance, we'll be too busy preparing for our next garage sale. To do list: order some gang color T-shirts to sell.

Before and After shots of their spring haircuts.
Don't they look lovely against the bark?

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

I've become a bag lady

What costs a mere 59 cents, can be used for laundry, shopping, camping, organizing, transporting gross dirty things you don't want to touch but that need to move from one place to another, dog stuff, garage stuff, porch stuff, off-season shoes, off-season anything and everything? IKEA blue bags! Their official name is FRAKTA. (Would it be FRAKTI for plural? Wouldn't coming up with those weird names for IKEA items be the best job ever?)

What I did before these blue wonders came into my world, I honestly don't know. We are having a party next week with a gob of people, and it occurred to me: we don't need more ice chests just for drinks - we have IKEA bags. We don't need recycle bins - we have IKEA bags. We don't need new pool toys - OK, we need new pool toys.

I bought a large amount of these before our last move and used every last one and wished for more. A perfect gift for someone who is moving is about 20 50 of these things and some pizza. Done, move's over, time to unpack. At 59 cents each, that amounts to $29.50 (minus the pizza) and you'll have a very happy friend who can then pass on the bags of blue joy to others. Forget friendship cakes, those are so last century.

FRAKTA to the rescue!

Yesterday it was time to tackle the hall cabinet/medicine cupboard/scary place area. To really organize something, I need to haul every last thing out and start throwing stuff in piles. What we seem to have enough of is antacid and lady shavers. Before Ernst's heart attack six years ago, he was having really bad indigestion. We were trying everything, as seen from our OTC supplies. Turns out indigestion is not normal, it can be an indication of blocked heart arteries. Three stents later - voila - no more indigestion. Now with our very much expired collection of antacids, we're prepared for guests with heartburn, gas and bloating. And hairy legs, we have that covered too with enough lady shavers for a college dorm. Note to self - don't buy razors ever again forever.

Another miracle in my life are the box photo holders from Michaels.
Boxes, bags and burps, we have it all under control.

*a zillion plus some

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Sour news about Gummi Bears

It is rare that I let my paid writing and my for fun writing overlap, but this will be an exception. I just finished an article about the effects of sour candies, chews, powders and breath mints on tooth enamel and I just had to share. What I won't share are the photos I saw, because this is mostly a fun blog and the pictures were anything but jolly.

The news on sour candy is anything but sweet.
What a bitter pill to swallow.

Speaking of Jolly Ranchers and Skittles and Warheads and Sweet Tarts, they are powerful little enemies of tooth enamel, especially for young kids with soft dental enamel. What at first seems way too sour to endure can become quite addictive and soon flavor cravers graduate to atomic levels of sourness. What creates all this super sour flavor that makes the ears almost explode? Citric acid - reaching close to the pH level of battery acid in the case of some candies! This power of citric acid and sugar doesn't just cause cavities, it eats away at the enamel and is really destructive. You can't do much to replace enamel once it gets to the Yikes! Stage (not a dental term) except capping or tooth replacement. Not only can these candies, powders, sprays, gels and breath mints (and yes even Vitamin C tablets) damage tooth enamel, they do a number on the soft tissue of the mouth - the inner cheeks and tongue.

So the solution is to brush really well after eating sour stuff, right? Wrong! When the enamel is weakened by eating or drinking citric acid or lemon juice, brushing is the worst thing to do. Any abrasion at that point is going to wear away more enamel. The only thing to do is swish with plain water, which has neutral pH. Or, just give up the sour habit and switch to the flavors of cinnamon, mint or real fruit flavors. If your favorite candy is on the following list, compare the pH in it to water (neutral) and battery acid (!). I don't want to be a sour puss, but when it comes to keeping our dental enamel, we don't want to be X-treme Airheads. 

Acid Levels in Popular Sour Candies 
 Acid (pH) 
 Low = Bad 
Water (neutral) 7.0 
Loss of tooth enamel 4.0 
Spree® 3.0 
Sweetarts® 3.0 
Big Stuff Pacifier® Sucker 3.0 
Sour Gummi Bears® 3.0 
X-treme Airheads® 3.0 
Sour Punch Straws® 2.5 
Shockers® 2.5 
Skittles® 2.5 
Baby Bottle Pop® Powder 2.5 
Brach’s Gummi Bears® 2.5 
Sqwigglies Gummi Worms® 2.5 
Wonka Laffy Taffy® 2.5 
Starburst® 2.4 
Sweet Tarts Shock® 2.4 
Lemon Heads® 2.4 
Mentos® Fruit Chew 2.4 
WarHeads® Sour Rips Roll 2.3 
Lollipop Paint Shop® 2.2 
Zours® 2.2 
Sour Skittles® 2.2 
Airheads® Cherry Chew 2.0 
Wonka Nerds® Grape 2.0 
Now and Later® Cherry Chew 1.9 
Too Tart Extra Sour Goo® 1.9 
Wonka Pixy Stix® Powder 1.9 
Altoids Mango Sours® 1.9 
Wonka Fun Dip® Powder 1.8 
WarHeads Sour Spray® 1.6 
Battery acid 1.0 

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Attack of the Weird Dog Vomit Mold

That title needs a bit of clarification. This is not a post about vomit from a weird dog. It is about mold that looks like dog vomit. It is weird. And it attacked me.

This has been a very odd winter for California. It rained early. Then it didn't rain at all. For a very long time. In the time it was not raining, it was really cold. For a very long time. Then it got warm, then it rained and rained. It got cold and hailed. Now we're back to unusually warm.

All this wacky weather did some strange stuff to our yard. We started noticing large blobs of bright yellow goo in the front yard. It looked like dog vomit. Or diarrhea. Something bright yellow, from a dog, and not good. We should have shoveled it up and thrown it out. But it was cold, then it rained, then it hailed. So we left the dog vomit slime/mold/spores/alien creatures where they lay and hoped they went away. They dried up, yet still we did not remove them. We are very optimistic people.

Last night I was planting some Rhaphiolepis to replace the gardenias that were wilting at the sight of the dog vomit mold. After I got them in the ground (I must say that our sheet mulching is creating some killer dirt, killer in a good way) it was time to water them. The spray hit the dried up dog vomit mold and a plume of reddish brown powder arose from the earth like a mushroom cloud. I should have ran for my life. Instead I stood there in awe, and then sprayed it again because my only weapon was water. Since spraying it was what started the dust bomb of atomic proportions in the first place, water was the last thing it needed. When the water didn't work, I continued to spray. We are very optimistic people.

Last night I developed a scratchy throat and was sure I was getting sick. This morning, still a scratchy throat but added in was a weird heavy feeling in my lungs. Then the fun began. Being plagued with spring allergies my whole life, I am no stranger to pollen induced allergies. But I would have to say today was easily in the top five worst allergy days of my life. Not as bad as the worst pollen day ever - spent outside in Reno while the sage brush was blooming. But it was close.

Way too much allergy medication later, and after a shower and a dose of the Nettie Pot, I've dropped down to one of the top ten worst allergy evenings of my life. So if you see something in your yard that looks like a dried up pile of dog vomit, run and don't look back. Don't investigate, and whatever you do, don't spray water on it. This pile of dog barf bites back.

The bright yellow color faded to the color of bark.
Kind of creepy when mold knows to use camouflage.

On a much brighter note, I planted this new variety of Lamb's Ears.
They are big and soft and adorable.
Hmmm, maybe that's what I'm allergic to?

Monday, March 31, 2014

Painting starts with pain

It's just paint.
It is only paint.
Just paint it.

Personally? I think the world would be much better off if there was one color paint. Dreamy Creamy White. Done. On with life. Think of the labor saved. Imagine how much smaller Home Depot would be. Count up the saved marriages, the money not squandered, the positive impact on the environment. If you needed some touch-up paint, you would just go to your neighbor with a little cup in hand and say pretty please. Since all the walls on the planet would be the same gorgeous creamy luscious white, think how easy moving would be. No purple walls to cover, no gasps when confronted with a Whisper Pink that came out Shouting Fuchsia.

When every single surface of our new house had to be painted, we decided to do it ourselves. That turned out to be quite the little painting project. Every wall, ceiling, baseboard, door, inside closet, outside everything, plus the kitchen cabinets needed to be prepped and painted. I had paint in my hair and fingernails for weeks, and ruined a good purse with an errant bump against the wall. The guys at the paint store started calling me kiddo. The worst moment of all was when I came ever so close to toppling a five gallon bucket of paint onto the hardwood floors. That moment of watching the paint bucket tip and then resettle with the contents making tsunami waves of latex across the top was quite the thriller. So although I detested hated  really disliked the wall color I painted the fireplace wall, we put away all the paint stuff last year and said Done. Time to tackle the yard.

Our fireplace wall was supposed to be a soft cocoa-like color, like my regular order of Grande Half Caf Soy Latte No Foam. What it did on the funky original 1949 paneling is turn into a Tall Kale Green Smoothie with a shot of Algae. Paint - it's so hilariously funny that way. I am so done with living with the Fenway Park Green Monster, but just not up to finding a new color. A friend suggested just painting the trim the wonderful Gardenia color we painted the other trim. (Yes, in order to make the wall seem to "go away" I painted the whole wall including trim and bookcases the Kale Smoothie color. Chalk it up to my life list of What was I thinking?)

When we packed away all the paint in 2012, I was so smugly proud of myself, because I had labeled everything really well for future touch-up projects. This Saturday evening, I confidently searched the paint area of our garage, looking for the nice clean can of Gardenia that I labeled so clearly. I found it. It was empty.

Like organized people, it was to be in a can I bought just for saving it.

What I found was this.

Lid ajar, with a foam brush stuck in the bottom.
With the instructions on top to transfer to the small clean can.
Next, on to the prep work. I love taping with miles of blue tape. It never quite works and there are always bleeds, but the Hope of the Blue Tape keeps me happy through the all-important prepping period.

Our fireplace insert got the draping treatment of an operating room.

Kale Smoothie with a shot of Green Algae.

So much better with foam.
While sitting down waiting for the paint to dry, I picked up the Sacramento Bee. There were two articles that intrigued me. One was of a young Rio Americano graduate who lived in Arden Park and graduated a year before my brother Jim did. The article was about how this young man died in Vietnam and why one of his school buddies has paid for a memorial obituary every year on the anniversary of his death. For 45 years. It was a reminder to me how scared I was as a kid watching the draft numbers on TV hoping my brother's number would not come up. The paint dilemma was bothering me a little less.

The next article was a full page photo spread on Living On One, a documentary on the people who are struggling to live with nothing - the people who are not worried that the color of their wall changed from one over-priced coffee drink to another. There was a picture of a little Roma girl in Bucharest, which of course made me think of the children we saw in Romania. I still wonder how Princess is doing. Did her father ever manage to find a horse to get their wagon out of that field they were stuck in? How can they survive a winter in Romania in a covered wagon?  Did she know that I was viewing her with love and not shock?

Yet even in those poor villages where food growing is a necessity and not a hobby, the people are impelled to grow beautiful flowers along with the vegetables and fruit. You can't eat flowers, but they are given an important part of the landscape. Do any of them wish they had the Whisper Pink roses instead of the Screaming Pink dahlias? Maybe.

Where does this put me and my Fenway Park Green Monster wall? It doesn't matter and yet it does. If and when other important stuff gets done, maybe I'll finally find the perfect color for that crazy paneling. Maybe I'll whip out the Blue Tape of Hope and prep it, tarp it and paint it. If not, that's OK too. It's just paint.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Shabby Chic Gardening

shabby chic - cottage chic - wormy chic

A while back (OK, years ago) I found some old shutters in someone's trash. With a bit of maneuvering, I fit them in the back of my car and brought them home. I figured they would look so cool used in the yard as a funky object d'art. They sat in the yard for a wee bit. Then they got packed off to the new house, where they sat a wee bit longer. The sewer worker asked me if he could have them, he thought they were stinking cool too. What - the fact that they were leaning up against the fence behind the pool shed gave him the impression I didn't have plans for those vintage shutters?

Drum roll on five gallon buckets, please...

The first Shabby Chic Worm Composting Bin in the history of forever!

Since the Molly Pup just won't leave the compost pile alone, we (read I) decided to try worm composting. It's supposed to be much faster, more efficient and produce wonderful compost and compost tea for the garden. There are lots of videos online to learn how it's done. The what-to-do and what-not-to-do list is longer than you would think, seeing that they are just worms

First you need a big container. Check.

Then you need worms. Check.
The photos show the correct order that a thinking person would proceed. I switched it and bought the worms before we had properly prepared the old bathtub. They are worms, yet apparently they like things just so. Rather than buying the critters online, I bought them at Green Acres. The nice man there assured me they would be OK for a couple days in the fridge because the cold keeps them dormant. Then why, pray tell, was dirt mysteriously spilling out the top of the dormant worm container?

After creating worm heaven in the old tub, we dumped them in. It looked like a pile of dead worms to me, but Ernst saw a few live ones. He assured me that the live ones would eat the dead ones and all would be just fine. Exactly what I wanted to hear, I froze half the worms and turned the rest into cannibals. Oh, the guilt. I keep checking on them, but I don't know how to tell if they lived. Or if they need anything from me. 

If and when we get any good compost from these guys, we'll need a place to grow the monster vegetables promised on the worm.com sites. Raised planter beds would be grand, but...since this yard used to have a giant deck out back, there are about 4,785 old deck pilings scattered around. I had the grand idea to take the deck pilings and snuggle them up against one another. It turned out a bit more shabby and a bit less chic, but it is raised and it is a planter bed. 

A collection of deck pilings and life jackets.
It can happen.

All snuggled up together and ready for planting.
As soon as I get back from the chiropractor.

While it may look like I position my dog in many of our garden pictures, it is purely her doing. She is very interested in all our garden projects and loves when we spend time in the yard. Just as long as she stays out of the worm bin, things will be just dandy

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Lots of barking in our yard

Molly waiting for the Naked Ladies
 to throw the ball back.
Our dog thinks we're crazy and she told me so. Molly had loads of grass to run on when we moved here. It was a tennis ball addicted canine's paradise. We could throw the ball pretty much anywhere and she would make a bee line at break neck speed to catch it. She gets quite a thrill catching it on the first or second bounce. Then came the Giant Pile of Mulch (GPOM), but she learned to run around it. Then we put in the fence around the pool, which really cramped her style. But she made new pathways to fetch her beloved ball, and after a while she got used to the obstacles. Then came the dance floor. Our little pup lost more of her playing fields, but she took it in stride.

Yesterday was the last straw and she let me know it. It was the day we finally tackled the GPOM and the Enormous Lizard Producing Stash of Cardboard (both the stash and the lizards were enormous). By laying out the cardboard on the last patch of grass we plan to kill, and then piling on the GPOM, we managed to tick off our dog. She was lying on the sidewalk between the grass that stays and the grass that went. She was watching me pile on the mulch that blocked off her smooth path around the pool fence to the east. If a dog can watch in horror, that is what she did. Then she barked. An unusually loud, pathetic and whiny bark that I interpreted to mean "Now this is going too far, I'm calling the SPCA." Pathways through the mulch are planned, but for now her ball chasing route changes once again. 

Me and Molly in the future veggie garden.

Ernst planted five fruit trees!
Apple, plum, cherry and two more I can't remember.
I need to eat more fruit to improve my memory.

The maples out front are leafing out.
These trees are for growing shade.

More work ahead - irises from Myra and family.
The colors will be a surprise.

Our other GPOM. Our neighbor calls this Mount Mulch.
We plan on conquering it soon.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

A salad recipe the wind blew in

Salads are great, salads are healthy, salads are easy. But how could I make a salad when I had no lettuce. Or vegetables. Or anything that was ever alive in any way in my veggie bins?

The day did not unfold as planned. It was windy, a north wind. My least favorite weather event from my least favorite direction. A north wind in the Sacramento Valley is never good. Molly and I were in the house after a morning out, and we heard a big crash against the house. To me it sounded like someone kicked our metal screen door. Nope, no bad guys at the front door. The action was all at the back of the house.

Hang gliding, anyone?

We had done the concrete pour last weekend, which meant moving our trailer, which meant moving our trailer cover, which meant it wasn't tied down, which meant it took off like a sail and slammed into the house, which meant our poor little pathetic Charlie Brown camellia bush is that much uglier looking. But the camellia bush saved the bathroom window from breaking, thank you so much poor pathetic little bush. And to think I was about to rip you out only last week.

Now that we had a teetering contraption with protruding objects flopping up against the house, my trip to the store to buy some fresh produce was cancelled. I was not about to leave the dog out in the yard while the Tarp of Destruction was still loose and the wind was still howling.

But I still really wanted to make a salad. So I Googled "What to make with surplus oranges." This is what I came up with, and it was really good. It came from The Food Charlatan who I also credit with the lovely photo. Mine tasted really delicious, but did not look quite as gorgeous. Imagine what I could make if it snowed.

Orange Olive Salad with Balsamic Vinaigrette

3 Tbs olive oil (I omitted this)
3 Tbs orange juice ( I added more)
1/4 C balsamic vinegar
1 clove garlic, minced (I used Trader Joe's jarred garlic)
salt and pepper
dash crushed red pepper
Mix together

4 large oranges (I used about 6) peeled and sliced
1/2 red onion, thinly sliced
1 large can black olives, halved
chives, chopped as garnish (I omitted due to flying circus tents in the yard)

Do what you do to make a salad, then toss with the vinaigrette to your liking. Try this, it sounds weird but it was super yummy!

The Food Charlatan's Orange Salad

Monday, March 10, 2014

12 Steps to Building a Dance Floor

1. Find friends who love to dance.

The most important step in building a dance floor in your backyard is this: have a good reason to build a dance floor in your backyard. They take quite a bit of prep work and they don't come cheap.

Our reason is obvious. We are friends with lots of Moldovans. They love to dance. They need to dance. They dance in big circles. They need room to dance.
2. Find a nice big area in your yard.

The next important thing is having enough room. We got that covered. Our yard is big. Too big. We don't want to water all the grass. We especially don't want to mow all the grass. There is no better way to kill an expanse of grass than to kill it good with 16 yards of concrete.

3. Rent a roto-tiller and go at it.

4. Put the dog inside.
5. Pick up coffee and bagels from Panera Bread.
6. Invite your friends to come help.
7. Place border and add wire. Wait for two concrete trucks.

Set a day for the pour. If you time it right, you'll get a gorgeous spring day with no rain, no wind, no hot sun and no muddy ground. If you time it perfectly, it will be right in the middle of some big rain dumps in a drought year so the ground is moist but not too wet.

8. Get your dog's paw print.
9. Get your friends' hand prints.
10. Get your own prints.
11. Get your little friend's footprints.

12. Let it dry and learn some new dance moves.
Thanks to our friend Adrian's expertise and lots of heave-ho work from some great friends, we'll soon be Dancing Under the Stars on our new Moldovan dance floor. We plan to put some fruit trees around it like a proper Eastern European garden. Grass? Mowing? Watering? We'd rather cut the rug than the lawn.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

March springs upon us in California

Rain, glorious rain. Yes, I know, we are not out of the woods, we need like ten more inches and Folsom Dam still looks like a mud puddle. But it rained enough to put a spring in our step, green up the hills and remove the dread that the only life left here will be cockroaches and aliens from the planet Zodar. Even if it's a drop in the bucket, it was a very dry bucket that is now moist. Rain, glorious rain.

The best part is that instead of having to water the newish, not yet established plants out front, the most amazing thing happens when it rains. They water themselves. Like a drip system from heaven. Because of the crazy cold temperatures we had here, (for us it was cold) a lot of our plants were looking a bit iffy. But with the soil warming up and the rain doing its thing, the yard seems to be bouncing back. Except for a few replacements here and there and the stump removal by the front door (which by the way had a lovely clay pot of geraniums on it THAT SOMEONE STOLE, OF ALL THE NERVE), we are ready to call that project a wrap.

In the backyard, however, we have a whole new project going on. Our Moldovan dance floor/basketball court/four-square area/giant expanse of concrete gets poured this Saturday. Except if it rains. That would not be so glorious.

Our camellia bush thinks it's just capital living in Sacramento.

And the azaleas are happy here in the valley as well.

These irises sat for one year all dried up and abandoned in a plastic box.
They bounced back like troopers. 

The feather grasses are the stars of the yard, they said Phfff! to the cold winter.

Dan the Gardening Man said to not trim the lantana until we see signs of life.
Hmmm. I think that green thing in the middle is a weed.

And here we go with our Dancing Under the Stars area.
Nothing says Let It Rain like a planned concrete pour.

And certainly not least, Myra the Craigslist Princess found this free for us.
It has chubby babies riding fish, but free is free.