Blog Archive

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Prayers for Uncle Walter

I just found out that my Great Uncle Walter is now under hospice care at his home in please keep your thoughts and prayers with his family. The picture above is of him and me at my Grandma's house back in 1984.

We love you, Uncle Walter!

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Retaining Wall

This past weekend we built a retaining wall around the perimeter of the garden bed my dad and I made on Easter weekend. It makes our front yard look so organized and neat! I looooooooooove it.

We used those wedge-shaped concrete blocks you see everywhere in recent subdivisions. A few weekends ago we tried to buy some at Home Depot--the sales person checked the inventory system and it indicated that there were over 800 of them in stock. The lady wandered around the garden area, then radioed someone in the back to check, but to no avail. All we could find were a few chipped blocks on a broken pallet. But we wanted to buy a whole pallet (about 120 blocks). Apparently their inventory system needs some work. Since Home Depot doesn't offer a whole-pallet discount, charges a fortune for residential delivery, and couldn't even guarantee us an exact delivery date if we special ordered a full pallet, we just gave up and left.

On a whim this Saturday before the matinee showing of Burn After Reading, we drove Clifford the Big Red Truck downtown to the Ace Hardware rock yard to see how much similar retaining blocks cost. No more than 10 minutes later we were driving very low and very slow with a whole pallet of tan blocks in the bed of the truck. After the pallet discount, the Ace blocks were only $40 more than what they would have cost at Home Depot. We're always happy to pay a little more to buy something here in town, especially from a store with such good customer service.

After the movie we dug out the edge of the bed, put down a layer of sand, then placed the blocks. Leveling each block was time consuming, back-breaking work. We were hunkered down in an Asian squat for a couple of hours hoisting those 23-pound blocks in and out of the trench as we adjusted the bed of sand until it was level. Dave thought the blocks were light--I thought Dave was crazy (and much, much stronger than me).

During:Last night after work I tilled-in about 80 gallons of compost (two garbage cans full) and some inorganic N-P-K fertilizer. Then I wired up another sprinkler valve and laid out 150 feet of black soaker hose. I can't find the user's manual for the irrigation timer so I didn't program the new set-up yet. Hopefully I can get that done before leaving for Gualala this weekend.

My plan is to plant some bushes and ground cover along the edges and then fill in the middle with winter veggies. I think multi-color quinoa and rainbow Swiss chard will look pretty out there, along with little rows of carrots and radishes--all plants that will suffer no ill effects if the dogs pee on them or plow through them occasionally.

After all that work I was starving so I made corned beef hash using potatoes we harvested from our garden:
We'd never grown potatoes before, and chose to try red and purple ones. The "seed" potatoes were from the Seed Savers Exchange but I've since been told that we can just use organic new potatoes (or big baking varieties like Russets, I suppose) instead. According to my dad, once the plants start growing you're supposed to pile the soil up over the base of the plant continuously throughout the season so that you end up with a really deep root system (and thus tons of potatoes). My dad tells me that hippies often grew potatoes in stacks of old tires; they'd just stack up additional tires and fill them with soil as the plant grew--sort of like a tower of potatoes. (Ok, I added the "hippies" part--but growing potatoes in a stack of old tires sounds like something hippies would do, right?)

Or you can just plant the seed potatoes, water regularly, and forget about it. That's what we did and it was quite successful:

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Field Trip

Yesterday Rebecca (my labmate) and I ventured out into the field to download some data loggers we installed last year. Admittedly, we're just slave labor for this experiment so I don't actually do anything with the data, other than email it off to another labmate. Matt is our lab's plant-available-water guru. Last spring he and his family moved to Tajikistan for a 2-year mission. Because that country doesn't allow Christian missionaries, he's also working there as a hydrologist. So that's where I email these data sets off to--Tajikistan of all places.

Going to these field sites is sorta fun--except that the Alturas site is about 5 hours from Davis. And downloading the loggers only takes about 5 minutes. So we spend all that time in the car just to hop out, plug in the laptop, and just jump back into the car. It's a little bit of a kill-joy, honestly.

But we make the most of these road trips. Like all regular outtings, we have our little rituals.

I get the rental car from fleet services at the butt-crack of dawn then pick Rebecca up at her house. We drive up I-5 to Redding to download the loggers near the airport. This site is COVERED is unnaturally-dense manzanita bushes (there was a recent fire and the bushes haven't gotten to the point of crowding each other out yet.) I'm always a little skeptical that we'll even find the logger.

We litterally have to plow through the bushes, then hunker down to look for the logger box through the trunks. We come out with manzanita leaves and bits of red bark in our hair, down our pants, in our pockets--everywhere.

Then we usually stop at the Sundial Bridge for a grilled panini (yummy!) and a stroll across the hot glass.

We always forget how to get onto the 299 highway so we have to drive around a bit. This next part of the drive is beautiful but frustrating. The scenery is amazing along the windy road, but there is inevitably road construction that forces all traffic to stop for about 15 minutes to let the opposite-direction vehicles pass.

Finally we reach Alturas mid-afternoon, turn onto highway 395 (also the main drag through this sleepy, dilapitated town), and head south to the unmarked turnoff. We always forget where to turn (notice a trend?) and have to whip-out my handheld GPS to remind us. Then it is another few miles on a horrendously bumpy/rocky/dusty dirt road. We navigate our standard-issue exempt-plated sedan ever so slowly on this road, lest a rock rip off some vital part of the undercarriage.

We wander around the field for a while, looking in vain for the plastic irrigation box containing the logger (I usually use the GPS again for this since the annual grasses that have sprouted between the sage bushes make it very hard to find unless you're standing right on top of it). Last time we went, we stacked a bunch of rocks on the side of the dirt road so we'd know where to stop. We're not supposed to alter the landscape at all, so we're hesitant to use flags or a post or anything to mark the logger boxes. But this time I just strapped a Ziploc baggie to one of the sage bushes--sacraficing a hairband to secure it. With the rocks, the 3 sets of GPS coordinates, and the baggie we should be able to find it next time without too much wandering. I've marked that site three times now with the GPS but all of them mark it about 20 feet apart so I don't want to rely on only on that information.

After all is said and done, we make a pit stop at the gas station in Alturas for gas and scrumptious artery-clogging, blood pressure-rising snacks. Rebecca's usual is a mug of the flavored coffee from those little espresso-looking machines. Yesterday she tried toffee. Last time it was a mix of vanilla, creme brulee, and toffee. I always get a bag of chips--usually nacho Dorritos--and a chocolate candy bar. I almost never eat this type of crap, but treat myself on road trips.

Monday we have to venture over to a reservoir in Marin to do the same thing, plus take some vegetation measurements. I love going to this particular site because we pass the Marin French Cheese Company, where we always stop for a quick taste. (You didn't think being a graduate student means all work and no fun, right? Being a grad student in the environmental sciences sure does have it's perks. Especially when your field sites are located next to cheese factories!)


Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Seeds Are Sown

Whew...the wind is really picking up. And it is getting dark. But I feel good because I just planted the first set of seeds in the empty beds for our winter garden. (I planned-out the whole layout in my gardening diary. Yes, I know that's dorky.)

I just pulled my third trial-loaf of gluten-free bread out of the oven. I'm experimenting with this type of bread for my friend John, whose girlfriend thinks be might be gluten-intolerant. For years he thought he was lactose-intolerant but after some research, she thinks it might just be a wheat allergy. Hopefully she's wrong because most of the non-gluten breads I've had have been nasty and chewy. I already made 2 loaves last week using different flours and gluten alternatives (xanthum gum and guar gum) combinations but they were so dense and gooey that I tossed them into the garbage:
This third loaf looks much better; it rose up just like real wheat bread. Once it is cool I will taste it and will report back on the texture and flavor.

Third time's a charm, I hope:

Our Weekend

Like most weekends, this one was fun but too short. At least Dave gets 3 day weekends these days. Friday we met at a downtown Italian deli for lunch, then wandered through the heat to the hardware store to make a key for my friend who is staying at our house. Then it was back to lab for me, while Dave applied for jobs online and hung out with his brother.

Saturday we worked in the garden, tilling the already-harvested empty beds and then created a new garden bed next to the shed. After work yesterday I stopped at Ace Hardware for seeds for our winter garden. I can't believe it is already time to plant! I bought the usual (greens, radishes, carrots, broccoli, onions, baby pak choi, etc.) but in strange colors if possible. This winter we'll have red mustard greens, purple carrots, "watermelon" radishes, a rainbow quinoa grain, and orange beets. Hopefully I will get the seeds sown directly into the garden and/or into six-pack containers tonight after my meeting.

Sunday we went to Lake Berryessa for some dog and human swimming. It was sooooooo hot and the water was nice and cool. We picnicked on grilled pork loin sandwiches slathered with my latest batch of chutney (which is honestly a little vinegary, but still scrumptious) and a veggie/pasta salad I made using whatever we had on hand. It turned out pretty good. My favorite part of picnicking at Berryessa is that I always treat myself to a "fun soda" from Nugget Market--this time I had a ginger soda which was spicy and refreshing. We would have made some soda at home, but don't have any more empty 2L soda bottles. If you have any, please keep them for me!

Me telling Dave I love him:
Water dogs:

Monday, September 8, 2008

Update on Dave

Dave pronounced July 3rd to be the New Independence Day--it was his last day as a senior auditor at his Big Four accounting firm. After 18 months of being terribly overworked, putting in hellish hours, traveling constantly, and doing repetitive work he just couldn't take it anymore.

As a courtesy, he notified his bosses about 2 months in advance--to their dismay. Apparently he was a great employee. So great, in fact, that his immediate boss emailed him to ask what she do for him to get him to stay. She told him to "name his price" because she was so desperate to keep him. I asked him if he considered demanding a 40% raise or something ludicrous like that, and just sticking it out until Christmas. He said "heck no, I want out now." I was actually happier he said that than agreeing to keep working for this monster of a corporation. Happiness > money. Yes, working for a Big Four accounting firm is that bad.

He began the grueling process of job-searching back in May. He's been working with a recruiter who specializes in placing accountants ever since then. Sigh...but as we all know, the job market isn't good right now. He's applied to many, many jobs, interviewed at several, but has been offered none. It appears that he is either vastly over-qualified or a little under-qualified for every job. Phooey. He wants to go into no-travel tax accounting or staff accounting.

But we're not broke because he's been working up in Gualala for his dad Monday through Thursday. With his overtime hours--an essential part of working with his job-addicted father--he's actually making more than as an auditor. (Plus his parents are feeding him!) He's really enjoying his work up there--doing some timber harvest, paving roads, fixing broken water lines, and whatever else a "general engineering" company does. Lucky for us, this job can be as long-term as we need it to be. And he likes it...too bad we don't live in the same place as his parents so he could actually live with me.

Following in his dad's footsteps, he's also started getting involved in the town politics. Since the family owns so much commercial property in town, he's getting familiar with all the issues associated with ownership. For instance, the town is in the planning stages of installing a "street scape" all along Highway 1. It will have street lights and a wide paved path with benches and plants. Of course, when you own commercial property along Highway 1--as the Bowers do--then you will lose a lot of your property to this "public space." No one is sure how to compensate someone like my dad-in-law for his lost parking spaces in front of his grocery store, say, or the street parking in front of the movie rental place. Or how to mitigate losing delivery truck turn-around space. The super-advocates of this plan don't seem to understand that without parking spaces a grocery store will not be viable. Parking spaces = customers = income. Another issue is who exactly will pay for the on-going maintenance of a street scape landscaping or nightly electricity bill for those old-fashioned lamp posts along the walkway. We're all interested in spiffing-up downtown Gualala, but people need to be reasonable. Anyway, Dave is going to all the business owner and municipal planning meetings--and he tells me he's really into it.

Having Dave away during the week isn't as bad as I thought it would be. I've been keeping busy with canning food, eating dinner with friends, going to the dog park every night (our fur-babies and I have made some friends there), etc. I guess I don't mind Dave continuing to work up north and coming home to Davis for only 3 days a week...BUT I'm concerned that this ever-widening gap in accounting work on his resume will pose a problem when applying for jobs down here. Many people have commented that Dave shouldn't have quit his job in the middle of an economic slow-down. But those people weren't stuck with "busy season" 10 months of the year, working 15 hour days, traveling out of town every 2 weeks, and overall sacrificing their personal well-being for a generally boring and specifically hellish job. And yes, being a tax accountant does mean long hours and busy season--but only 3 months of the year, not 10!

He had a tax internship during his last semester of college and he loved it. The work was always different--he did personal income tax preparation like you'd expect, but also did forensic work for divorce cases (you have no idea how many people try to hide their money from their estranged spouses!), and tax work for small non-profit groups. He's hoping to find another position like that one.

So for now he'll be traveling back and forth (but spending less on gas driving only once a week instead of every day--crazy how that worked out!) and applying for jobs after work. We drafted a cover letter to attach to his resume that we will take to each of the tax firms here in town (there are many). Not all firms advertise open positions on Craigslist, Monster, or JobSearch. When I went job-hunting after college I contacted all the environmental firms I could find in our area and simply asked if they were hiring. It totally worked! I figure it is worth a shot for Dave, too--the worse-case scenario is that they say "no, we have no openings."

Let me know if you happen to be a nice tax accountant here in Davis looking to hire a handsome, hardworking CPA-to-be! If you're looking for an ugly, hardworking CPA-to-be then look elsewhere...'cause my hubby is one handsome fellow. =)

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Prayers for my Daddy

My daddy is at the hospital today having his skip-a-beat heart examined. The doctors are injecting it with dye so they can view the blood flow and beating muscle via MRI (I think that's what he said). The fix-it options so far are inserting a Chinese finger trap gizmo to open-up a constricted artery (if that is the problem), controlling the errant nerves with medicine, installing a pacemaker, or purposefully scarring the heart tissue to prevent the malfunctioning nerves from misfiring.

I hope hope hope it all goes okay and that whatever the problem is it can be fixed without major surgery. (And yes, Daddy, I know that "all surgery is major surgery.") But you know what I mean.

Please keep him in your prayers that everything goes okay this afternoon!

UPDATE: The dye procedure went just fine and took almost no time at all. In his words: "Well, I don't have a plumbing problem--what I have is an electrical problem." Leave it to my dad to diagnose himself as if he were a car. He said the doctor gave him a CD with pictures of his heart. I can't wait to see them! How cool is that? If he'll let me, I'll post one.

He'll go to an electrophysiologist in a few weeks to determine the problem. For now he's enjoying his hospital lunch and watching the wall-mounted TV.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Redneck Canning

Dave and I had a hot, steamy weekend together in the kitchen. Don't worry, we were canning so get your mind out of the gutter!

We made two batches of Daddy's Marinara Sauce and then I made a triple batch of chutney last night. Whew, our stove was definitely doing over time.

Chutney (upside down because I was letting them dry after I washed them off. We have really hard water here in Davis and I didn't want to have crusty white junk on the lids as they dried):
In such sugary concoctions you have to stir very, very often to prevent scorching. Since I was tired from working all day, I didn't want to stand in front of the stove for 5 hours cooking. So I set up a little "camp" for myself in the kitchen with a lawn chair, my little TV, and a beer. It was canning, redneck style. On Sunday afternoon I was in the backyard cooking on my outdoor propane cooker. Now that's ghetto.
The chutney recipe is from the wonderful book Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver. It is a three-part recipe where you remove portions during the cooking process and then add additional ingredients so you end up with three types of sauce. I made all three types last year but decided that the last part, the chutney, was best so I made just that this time. I highly recommend this stuff with grilled lamb and pork loin.

'Tis the season for canning, but it is coming to a close. My heirloom tomatoes didn't really produce enough fruit for canning this year but there's a chance I'll get to can some tomatoes after all. My friend's family grows industrial-scale acres of tomatoes for the Campbell Soup company just up the highway in Dixon. She said that a few hundred pounds of tomatoes is nothing for them--hopefully she'll be able to get some so we can can them up for all of us.

We will also make some apple cider with a press that my dad made for us. Dave's parents have about 30 apple trees and I hate seeing all the excess fruit just fall to the ground every season. Last year my schoolmate used her juicer and made us some hard cider with the Bower apples. It was so, so good. It was also quite potent, but you couldn't tell until you tried to stand up after drinking a cup of it. Haha!

Whew...that'll probably do it for canning and food preservation for this year. Unless Dave brings home a few apple-boxes full of grapes or blackberries this weekend...

In a Pickle

As a general rule I hate pickles. I think of them as innocent, murdered cucumbers. They are slimey, slippery, sour disks. Ew, I hate pickles...sigh...but I love my daddy and he loves pickles. Especially bread-and-butter pickles.

So I spent a good part of Sunday making a huge batch of these strangely-named pickles. Eleven pints, to be exact. He claims that they are good as a side condiment to a variety of dishes, including black eyed peas. That sounds really weird to me (why ruin yummy peas with gross pickles?!), but I'll be adventurous give it a try. As long as I have a huge glass of milk on hand as a chaser.

Anyway, I used the recipe in Keeping the Harvest. My dad gave me his copy when I started my own garden (and quite honestly, became obsessed/fascinated with preserving food).

Bread and Butter Pickles
  • 6 pounds cucumbers
  • 1 pound onions
  • 2 large, peeled garlic cloves
  • 1/3 cup canning salt
  • 2 trays ice cubes
  • 4 1/2 cups sugar
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons turmeric
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons celery seed
  • 2 tablespoons mustard seed
  • 3 cups cider vinegar
Soak the cucumbers, onions, and garlic with canning salt and ice cubes for 3 hours:
Remove garlic, drain, rinse, and mix into a hot pot of vinegar, spices, and sugar. I actually doubled the vinegar, sugar, and spices once I realized just how big a volume SIX whole pounds of cucumbers really is.
Pack into jars and process in boiling water for 10 minutes.
Then, I guess, you're supposed to enjoy them. I'm skeptical about this last step.