Thursday, December 16, 2010

Something I Will Never Need to Make

At least not as long as I live in Long Beach.

This photo comes courtesy of one of my old favorite blogs,

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Steal This Trashy Idea

We usually give homemade jelly to neighbors and teachers for Christmas, packaged nicely with a box of crackers. It's personal, and the recipient doesn't have to eat it right away, so they can spread the holiday caloric orgy out a bit. I don't know exactly how much this jelly-giving costs. Pectin runs about $3 per batch (of around 2-3 quarts of finished product); sugar may cost me about a dollar per batch; the fruit is homegrown, the cost is minor; the lids and rings are another $4 or $5. We only just barely finished using up the jelly jars that came with the house, so that will add a bit to the cost next year. So maybe a dollar or two of cash cost per jar? (The time involved is much more significant, but that's not what I'm accounting for today.)

I do, however, know how much it costs to make the jelly jars presentable as gifts. Gift bags are absurdly expensive. From $1.99 to 4.99 for an 8" x 6" x 3" bag (plus tissue), for a container that may very well be thrown out after one use, and almost certainly can't be recycled. My little green heart just can't quite fathom it.

I used to look for once-used bags at yard sales, but I haven't done much of that this year (my kids are too big for most of the wares one finds at yard sales around here). White paper craft bags are one way to go, but they were sold out when I last needed them. I've tried just tying the jelly jar and box of crackers together with pretty ribbon. No joy. Maybe it's just me, but it looks like a 6-year-old did it. So I've been looking for other options.

Coincidentally, I've also been looking for ways to recycle my kids' juice pouches. Yes, I know, I should be sending them to school with reuseable beverage containers. You do that with an ADHD kid for a year and see how many reuseable beverage containers you go through. We're sticking with the juice pouches.

Last year I realized that mylar juice pouches could be sewn together when I saw bags like this one from online "green" retailers. They really aren't my style, so I never bought one. But I did collect a few of my kids' empty juice pouches, run them through the washing machine and play around with sewing them together. Nothing came of it until this week, however, when it finally occurred to me that I didn't have to use the printed side as the outside.

This is a week's worth of juice pouches. the flat sections are zigzagged together, then joined at the corners with a straight stitch. No sewing with the right sides together and turning them right-side out, however. Mylar juice pouches are too stiff for that. (Now that I think about it, though, maybe I could try a leathercrafting technique and hammer the seams flat...)
The finished product is still a little rough. But don't be surprised if next year's holiday goodies go out in handcrafted recycled mylar bags. Shall we start a trend?

Saturday, November 6, 2010

The Bucket Bike

I wish I looked this good when I haul kids in my Madsen Bike.

Madsen Cycles Cargo Bikes

I don't, of course, but we do have just as much fun as it looks like they are having. My nephew Josh particularly loves it when I need to make a run to the library or the grocery store and really don't want to pull the gas-guzzling minivan out of the garage. And of course, as we are temporarily a one-car-family, the bucket bike serves as our "other family vehicle". I delivered a half-dozen pizzas on it for our scout fundraiser this week. Jonathan regularly uses it to pick up the kids (four of them, over 200 pounds worth of kid-flesh and backpacks combined) from school when he is in town. I'm too much of a wimp to handle more than 100 lbs. in the bucket myself, but the bike sure can!

Madsen Cycles Cargo Bikes

I don't know if we are making the world a better, less polluted place with our Madsen, but we are definitely making people smile.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Sweet Potato Surprise

All the rain this week reminded me that I wanted to grow more winter wheat this year. The point of the crop is to utilize the free water and spare growing space- there's only so much cabbage and beets I can convince my kids to eat- to at least produce some kind of crop, even if all I use it for is to amuse the chickens. (While I could thresh and winnow the grain and use it for breadmaking, it is much easier to just give the matured stalks to the chickens and let them do their thing with it. It's funny to watch, and it's that much less feed I need to give them.)

One of the sections of garden I wanted to plant was used over the summer to grow a sweet potato vine. I had planted it meaning to grow sweet potatoes, of course. I was told that the vine would put down roots along the length of the vine, and form new tubers at these locations. Well, mine never did. It produced plenty of foliage, which the rabbits really enjoyed eating when I finally got tired of it spreading everywhere, but it never rooted anywhere but where I had planted the original chunk of rooted tuber. So when the weather turned, I ripped up the vine, turned it over to the rabbits, and made a mental note that sweet potatoes had not been a success, at least not in a mild-summered year.

I didn't think about it again until Wednesday. That was when I started pulling the accumulated weeds out of the plot to get it ready for seeds. Pulling out a large patch of spotted spurge, I spotted a flash of orange in the dirt.

Hmm. I'd never seen a weed with an orange root, at least, not a BIG one. I got a hand trowel, dug in, and turned up a sweet potato, paler and pinker than the ones I buy in the store, but definitely a sweet potato. I kept digging, moving a little farther out to try not to damage. More sweets! I finally got my pitchfork and probed the several square feet where the vine had been.

By the time I was done, I had edited my mental note. Sweet potatoes may not do as well here as they do down south, but they do just fine. When you take into account the fact that both their roots and their foliage are useful (roots for us, vines for the rabbits), they are downright wonderfully productive.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Erector Sets for Big Girls

This is the new trampoline we put together last week, after the old one started shedding springs like a trees sheds leaves in autumn. The kids even did a fair bit of helping, much more so than 6 (?) years ago when we last had to replace this particular piece of backyard recreational equipment.

And this is what I did with most of the frame from the old trampoline.

Have I mentioned that I love my Makita cordless power drill? (Not to mention the joys of brand new drill bits and self-tapping metal screws.)

I'm pretty sure this will become a trellis for a kiwi vine next spring. It may also do some time as a hammock stand, although the structure is only 4 feet deep, so it wouldn't be for big swingers. Sorry, kids!

I also have a hankering to build a platform under it and set a few benches there so people could sit and observe the occasional wonders of the wildlife in the brackish channel on the other side of that wall. It's pretty scruffy out there, but being only a mile from a wetlands, we do see a nice variety of sea birds and jumping fish. Anybody have a dumpster full of broken concrete?

Sunday, September 19, 2010

You've heard of Christmas in July?

How about Easter in September?

While harvesting sugarcane the other day, I found this.

You can just make out a white chicken behind the canes, next to the old soda bottle. Fluffy didn't want to move, so I left her alone for an hour. When I came back later, found this.

THAT's where the chicks have been laying! I was getting rather annoyed at them for being fully 5 months old and not pulling their weight in the egg department.

A Buff Orpington hen
There was a second surprise in the discovery, though. All of those eggs are blue-green, even though fluffy is supposed to be a cream-colored egg-layer, a Buff Orpington. Well, she never did look like the Buff Orp pictures, or like her Buff Orp year-mate (whose eggs I have yet to find).
An Ameraucana hen

I checked the charts on what other breeds lay blue egs. Only Araucanas, their cross-bred cousin the ameraucana (we have two of these this year, which look just like the picture at right), and some other rare breed that basically looks like an ameraucana have blue eggs. But there is such a thing as a white araucana, and fluffy is a dead ringer for the photos I found of those.

A White Araucana hen

 Fluffy must have gotten mixed in with the Buff orps as a chick because she was pale yellow, rather than brown-and-tan striped like all of the other araucana chicks the feed store had. It's our own little family ugly duckling story.

Friday, September 17, 2010

But When Life Hands You Sugarcane...

SOL, buddy. If you search the internet for "sugarcane recipe," Google will just keep trying to give you recipes for candy cane sugar cookies. Oh, and sugarcane shrimp, which I expect I will eventually try to make. 
Yes, I know, I actually planted these things on purpose. I guess I didn't realize I would have to cut them with branch loppers. Or at least that once I got the outer foliage off I would need loppers to chop them into pieces small enough to peel. 
Or that even once they were peeled, I would STILL need loppers to cut the stalks into pieces small enough to boil. 

I'm pretty sure I have never had my loppers in the kitchen before.

By the way, granulated white sugar is waaaay under-priced. 

The chunks of sugarcane are boiling in water now, the house smells like brown sugar, and I think we will be having some unusual lemonade this weekend. That's the only pragmatic way to use this stuff that I can think of. Got any other ideas?

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

When Life Hands you Quinces

You turn to Google. Because somebody out there must know what to do with a fruit that looks like this.

This isn't actually one of mine. I cut mine up before realizing I really should get a picture. This is the first year I have gotten a crop (we'll use that term very loosely) of quinces from my young quince tree. But these are mine, stewing in a pot with water and lemon peel. 

I used an organic spray on the tree early in the season (Surround tm, a kaolin clay that is supposed to repulse hungry insects), but I guess I should have repeated it around the beginning of August. I lost a lot of fruit flesh to what looked like apple maggots (quinces are cousins to apples and pears, as well as roses). But hey, using up blemished fruit is what making preserves is all about.

So this is what my preserves looked like after I pureed the above mixture, added an equal volume of sugar, simmered it for an hour and a half, and then let is set up in a warm oven (however warm it is when I leave the light on) overnight.

I give you- membrillo! Well, my pathetic version of it anyway. It's apparently the national snack of Spain, and I must say, it is tasty. I don't happen to have any manchego cheese, which is traditionally eaten with it, but cream cheese and toast seem to go well with it.

I would describe the flavor as "floral honey"- very much like the wild honey I got from my bees before the neighbors made me get rid of them. The texture was a bit gritty, but that may be because I picked the fruit while it was still green. Hey, I had to pick it before the maggots got it all!

Tonight's adventure: convincing my children to eat it. 

Friday, September 10, 2010

When Life Hands You Prickly Pears

You make prickly pear puree. I have no idea why various websites give elaborate directions for removing prickly pear spines (which are called glochids, and are not to be sneezed at- and heaven help you if you do sneeze at then, you'll never get the pokey little buggers out of your nose) before slicing the fruit and steaming it to get out the juice. All I do is pick the fruit with a pair of tongs, then cut them in chunks (holding them on the cutting board with tongs) and run them through my KitchenAid juicer. It takes care of the skin, seeds, and spines all at once, and gives a nice thick puree with a scent reminiscent of melon.

From the puree you make prickly pear punch (made with puree, sugar, lemon juice and carbonated water, it tastes a bit like a citrus soda punch), and prickly pear syrup (strained puree boiled with sugar).

Also prickly pear muffins, and prickly pear gelatin. The muffins are quite good, but I should have strained the puree before making it into gelatin. The texture of the puree doesn't bother me, the kids find it a bit off-putting.

I still have puree left, and more pears on the cactus that aren't ripe yet. What shall I try next?

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Polygyny is sooooo last century!

In the past, Jillian has told me that she wants to grow up and have children "and just be a Mom." So of course I've had the discussion with her that she should get an education first, and then prepare for a career, because things may not work out that way. She may decide she wants to work (I keep telling her she should be a doctor, as she is bright and completely unfazed by chicken blood/innards), or she may not find a spouse whose income would allow her to stay at home with their kids. It takes quite a bit of money to support a family, I have explained. (And yes, she knows that staying at home with your kids still means you work.)

Jillian told me this morning that I wanted her and her brothers to grow up and have children so that I could have grandchildren when I was old. I told her that I hoped she would have a few children, because I enjoyed having children and I thought she would, too. "But it's not like I expect you to have a dozen." Her reply was "Yeah, you'd have to marry a LOT of husbands to have that many kids!"

Polyandry. It's the new dual income family.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

I Ain't Greened Nuthin' Yet!

I am in awe of the people who built this.

Here is a video describing their successful experiment turning a crappy, disused swimming pool into an urban permaculture site.

I'm not about to do what they did with their pool. My pool is in good shape and used often. Beside, I'm a little too gentrified to live with a yard that looks like that, and I think Jon might leave me if I tried. But still, I am amazed by their ability to think outside the box. Or perhaps, inside the pool.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

My Thinking Place?

On the advice of a few friends, I read The Happiness Project, a best-selling book about one woman's efforts to make her life more fulfilling. Although the author goes out of her way to say that the book is not meant to be prescriptive, and is not an exact road map for others to follow, it's hard not to consider how some of her methods would apply to me. For example, a friend of hers, taking the "follow your bliss" concept to an unusual place, asked her "What do you think about when you're on the toilet?" the point was that if your thoughts drift in one particular direction whenever you have a quiet private moment, you should probably spend more than your toilet time on that subject.

I wasn't aware that I thought of much of anything while on the toilet. So I checked. In the week since I have finished the book, I have consistently had only two classes of thoughts while using the facilities.

1. Geez, I really need to sweep this floor.
2. Aaaah, that's better.

I don't really see a life path there. Maybe I am doing it wrong?

Saturday, July 31, 2010

R.I.P. D.B.

A few weeks ago, our diving board bit the dust. Well, actually, it broke off it's rusted footing bolts (the switch to saltwater had been just too much for the ageing hardware) and followed its final diver into the deep end of our pool like some silly skit version of the sinking of the titanic. Luckily for all, no one was hurt, and the aforementioned diver was a fully-grown but not overweight adult. No, it wasn't me. Or Jon. No, I'm not going to tell you who it was, you'll just have to live with that.

We got all the rusted particles out of the water quickly, and the board and hardware have gone to the dump and recycling. But the bolts are still standing up out of the pool deck, corroded and unsturdy like a miniature ruined pier, menacing enough to demand that we all stay clear. Usually we just put a chair over them. I have been toying with the idea of not replacing the diving board. New ones made for saltwater pools would need different bolts and a different configuration, anyway, so we'd have to do some concrete work. I really should and just grind the old bolts down. "Maybe the kids would forget we ever had a board," I find myself thinking.

Today we hosted a birthday party for a friend's 7-year-old and had a dozen or so kids in the pool. There were plenty of balls and water toys to play with, but eventually some of the kids started competing for the best canonball and belly flop. It was during this activity that I learned something. If you don't give kids a path on which to run and from which to jump, they will make their own. And it may not be in a good place. It may be in a very bad place, or at least, a place that has high potential for harm, not only to themselves, but to those with whom they are sharing the pool.

Somewhere in there is a general lesson for parenting.

And I am going to buy a good quality, smallish, non-skid diving board as soon as we come home from Family Reunion.

Friday, July 30, 2010

No Picture- 'Cause We Ate It All

I am learning to appreciate the capacity of the solar oven to make something good out of partial failures. A tray of freezer-burned round steak, some out-of-date mushrooms that were on sale at the grocery store, a bunch of nearly-gone-to-seed onions from the garden, and a can of generic cream-of-chicken soup, sliced up and stewed together in the solar cooker for most of the day, made some darn good stroganoff today. It was even good over the food-storage noodles I used, which really were getting a bit stale. If I were the sort of person to have a few ounces of red wine lying around to have added to it, I think it would have been nearly fantastic.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Pomegranate Espalier. Gesundheit.

When we remodelled back in 2005, we had to cut down a lovely if somewhat overgrown old pomegranate tree. I missed the fruit, so when a neighbor up the street offered us a cutting from his abundantly fruitful pomegranate tree, I happily looked forward to the return of homemade pomegranate jelly.

Five years later, I am still looking forward to it. The cutting grew quite nicely into a small (so far) tree. I planted it against a south-facing wall where it stays nice and warm, and gives some sun protection to the house in return. It even flowered this spring. But that was as far as it got. The flowers all dropped and there is narry a fruit to be found.

Maybe it doesn't like being irrigated with laundry graywater. I don't think this is really the issue, though - pomegranate trees are adapted to desert and saline soils. Maybe it doesn't like all the trimming I do to keep it fairly flat against the wall. The main family entrance to the house is just to the left of this photo, after all, and Jon usually parks here at night, so the tree has to be well-behaved. Or maybe I just haven't given it enough time. Having invested this much effort into its well-being I am not likely to give up in the next few years. But Jillian, who by virtue of her gap-toothed smile and big blue eyes gets a few pomegranates from the neighbor up the street every year, is getting impatient.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Pretty Sure Everyone is Gone By Now

I don't actually expect anyone to read this. I'm pretty sure everyone has stopped following this blog by now. Even if you are reading, this is a cheater re-post so I don't blame you if you skip it. But if you do read it, and can get through the massive list of comments at the end, I'd like to hear your take. This is as close as I have seen anyone come to expressing my own sense of my place within the Mormon church.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Still Here

I have not dropped off the face of the earth, I just don't have a camera right now. I loaned mine to Ben so he could take a kid's digital photography class. Technically he only needs it during the a.m., but he fills up the memory card, and I don't want to get in the way of whatever he is working on. So to keep y'all interested, here are some of the things I have every intention of blogging about once I get my picture-maker back:

Wall planter update
Solar oven update
Madsen Bucketbike: don't hate me just because I'm green.
Plums, Nectarines, and enough Jam to bathe in
Pomegranate Espalier: Fail? Succeed? Meh.

I hope to avoid posting anything like "How Green was my Swimming Pool," but we'll see about that. It occurred to me this morning that the Cub Scout Pack Meeting/Swim party here on Thursday will be for not just the cubs, but their whole durn families. Not sure how that escaped me before. I think I need to go tidy up the back yard. And padlock the greenhouse.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Salad Days

Now that the kids are out of school, I really don't have enough to do with myself. So I did this.

I was going for a sculptural look.

One week later, the lettuce transplants are growing quite well. I am hoping that the sunbrella fabric I used to make my wall planters will hold the moisture away from the stucco. So far it seems to be working. The planters get morning sun, and light to deep shade the rest of the day. Being up a stucco wall should make the planters essentially impervious to slugs.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

More Than Just a Book Stand

Yesterday I figured out I could do this with my recumbent exercise bike's book stand and my laptop computer.

Between that little trick and the videotaped lectures available on (which I heartily recommend to anyone, not just those trying to entertain themselves while they pedal in place for half an hour), I think I may have figured out how to get all that exercise the Doctor ordered.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Craziest Cluckin' Thing I've Ever Seen

I found this in the nest box the other day.

For reference, this is what a normal egg looks like. We haven't been getting any eggs from the two barred rocks (Mac and PC) for weeks now, maybe months, so it could have been from either of them. I'm pretty sure PC laid an ordinary egg today, however, so I guess she has saved herself from the soup pot for now.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Doctor's Orders

My physician has strongly recommended that I get more endorphin-producing aerobic exercise. Like, as much as an hour per day. That's way more than my knees can handle on my elliptical, so it is time for me to get a bike. Not a stationary bike, a real live get-out-in-the-sunshine-with-the-wind-in-your-hair bike.

I know what I want, something I can use to haul kids or goods, something that might substitute for a car during my routine weekly errands. In other words, I want this.

Yes, I know, I bought the rickshaw/pedicab more than a year ago thinking I could use it for all those things. Turns out I am a wimp, and my knees are bad, so the pedicab is too heavy to work for me, either for transportation or simply for exercise. Live and learn, and keep trying until something works. At least, that's what I keep telling myself.

Anybody wanna buy a used pedicab?

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Gonna Be a Bright, Sunshiny Day

I put off buying a solar oven for two years. Yes, I know, you can build them. I tried that. But either my concept or my skills were deficient. The cardboard box cookers that boy scouts make for camp do work, but if you accidentally leave them outside over night and a heavy mist falls on them, they are toast (no pun intended). I wanted a really sturdy solar oven that would stand up to occasional negligence, and that was gonna cost upwards of $200. No way I was going to save enough money on cooking to make up for that kind of cash outlay. So I waited until the opportune moment.

That moment was my most recent birthday. I refuse to celebrate my birthdays anymore (because really, what's good about getting older once you are past your prime?) But I will use them as an excuse to purchase myself something I reeeeeally want but can't justify in any other way. So this year I bought myself a Global Sun Oven. The price was over $250, but I comfort myself in knowing that this company uses some of its profits to send solar ovens to refugee camps. Google it if you want to know more.

So far I have made zucchini bread (twice), minestrone soup, a small loaf of wheat bread, and cannellini beans. Yes, I am loving my new toy. On a really sunny day it can do 300 degrees for as many hours as the sun is bright, but with patchy clouds it does about 250. Due to our "June Gloom" morning cloud cover, I can't start cooking until about 11:00 a.m., as thick cloud cover reduces temperatures to 100-150 degrees, but even then I can still get a main dish cooked by dinner time. Near as I can tell, if something can be cooked in a crock pot, it can be cooked in a solar oven. The main disadvantage to the solar oven is that I have to keep repositioning it throughout the day to follow the sun, so I can't just "plug it in and forget it" the way I can with an electric slow-cooker. And I am having trouble remembering  that 200 degrees is quite hot enough to burn my fingers. I've done it twice now, maybe that will be enough to learn my lesson.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

A Bad Case of Five-Finger Blight

I have four Boysenberry/blackberry vines. Two are new this year and I knew I wouldn't get any fruit from them. But the two I planted last year showed great promise this Spring, with plenty of blossoms. I was sooo excited to get fresh, homegrown berries. I guess I gloated a bit too much to the kids about how good they were, though, as they started picking the berries before they were even fully ripe. Must be the current mania for sour candies that made them palatable.

This here vine should have been covered with fruit, but the only fruit I found was waaay up at the top of the vine, out of reach of the kids. Guess if I want to get any fruit for myself or for jam I will need to train next year's vines up on the top of the wall.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

The Worst Way to Use a Dozen Eggs

So we got Egged sometime early Saturday morning.

It wasn't just us. The neighbors two doors down, who have kids the same age as mine, also got a few eggs thrown at their house, but only in their driveway. They got one rolls' worth of toilet paper scattered on their lawn, but there was almost no toilet paper at our house.

I did manage to get most of the egg off the house, and Jon got it off his car. No real damage there, considering the already dilapidated state of the paint job on his ancient Honda.

The oddest thing was that whoever did it apparently also brought along a bottle of dish soap and squirted it around some of the impact sites. That made for quite the foamy mess when I was cleaning up with my beloved pressure washer. It also left apparently permanent marks on my front porch. Maybe they felt bad after the fact and were trying to help with cleanup? If they were, it didn't really work. I tried to keep the soapy wash water on the concrete and get it out to the street, but a lot of that detergent made it onto my plants. I expect one of them to die of the exposure, but I think most of them will be fine.

Ben and Michael both say they have no idea who might have done it, and I am inclined to believe them. Thanks to the lack of serious damage, I am mostly thinking that this is just a horrible way to use eggs.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

More evidence my religion might be green

Ohmigosh, ohmigolly! Yet another sign my religion might be green. A group of Elders (Mormon missionaries) were featured in a photo for Treehugger.

Once again I am inclined to think this merely demonstrates that we are cheap, not green (and apparently lack a little taste in ties). But of course, I'll take what I can get.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

For my next trick, I will transform myself from a misanthrope to an humanitarian!

So whenever I am desperate enough to post on Facebook about my despair of ever having a fulfilling life, my friends inevitably suggest that I get involved in volunteer work. They are correct, of course, in thinking that getting outside of oneself will natural lead to greater happiness. It has been proven to do just that. And I have, in fact, been trying to volunteer my time and effort. Here's what I have tried in the recent past.

Bleagh. Just, bleagh. Who knew parents were so political? Besides, all they want is people to do fundraising. You can't even pay me to do that job. I have done some informal volunteering at the school taking care of neglected trees and clearing weeds. I also volunteered (twice, once in writing and once in a direct conversation with the principal) to install a food garden next to the cafeteria. The project was not approved. The idea was floated at least once more by another individual (as a potential Eagle Scout project) and it was not approved that time either. Ben finds me too embarrassing to have me help out at his school. Helping in Michael's class makes me want to throttle him, an impulse I already spend a great deal of effort suppressing. And I am thinking maybe it would be best if I remained blissfully ignorant of Jillian's actual classroom behavior.

C.E.R.T. Team
I did Community Emergency Response Team training last year, thanks to my siblings being willing to watch my children during class time. The idea of CERT is that, in a large-scale event such as an earthquake or terrorist attack, emergency personnel will be overwhelmed by people needing aid. Trained members of the community can assist them by taking care of more basic functions like preliminary triage and basic first aid, small-scale fire suppression, and light-duty search and rescue. I enjoyed the training, but the mock-disaster event at the end of the course rather freaked me out. Some of the actors were pretty darn good at faking trauma. I would like to do more training eventually, but the training usually occurs at times when my children still need supervision. I am hoping for next year.

Atherton South Neighborhood Association
This is my local neighborhood association (not a homeowners association-we don't narc on the neighbors for leaving their recycling bin out overnight!) My neighborhood is a bit scruffy and most folks just want to be left alone. That's OK by me. My function on the association board is to be the CERT representative. To the best of my knowledge, I and the association president are the only folks in the neighborhood who are CERT trained, although I do have a HAM radio operator in the area as well. The association sponsored a tree planting last month. The five Brimleys all showed up, met our local city councilman, and helped plant a half dozen 8-foot saplings. Yipee!

Los Cerritos Wetlands Stewards
Many people don't realize that Long Beach used to have a sizable wetlands. All that is left of it, after years of both legal and illegal development, is a degraded, scruffy, weedy patch of land pockmarked with antique (but often still operating) oil wells. Despite its unappealing appearance, it still functions as a breeding ground for various species of native birds, fish, and other wildlife. Given what is happening to wetlands worldwide, I support preserving this one as best we can. I help with their mailings and store their tabling supplies (the information that volunteers hand out when they have a booth set up at fairs and farmer's markets) in my food storage closet. I would do tabling as well, but it usually happens on Sunday mornings, when I am teaching Sunday school lessons to 7-year-olds. But that is another category.

Church Calling
I teach a Primary class (that's basically Sunday school, for those non-LDS readers out there) of 6- and 7-year-olds. I am certain I could never be an elementary school teacher. I prefer being in Primary to being just about anywhere else at church. And I think I need to volunteer for nursery duty soon, so I get one more crack at it before my knees give out.

LDS humanitarian efforts
The LDS church has a long history of humanitarian activities. In recent years, they have made a more concerted effort to lend a helping hand to people not of their faith. I have participated in these efforts by making quilts and putting together school supplies and hygiene kits. I have done these things both on my own and as part of organized "service days", like last weekends' tree planting project at El Dorado Park. 350 people showed up to do about 150 people's worth of work. (Uh, yay? Maybe I shoulda gone rogue and headed over to the LA River cleanup instead.) In any case, I always participate in service projects sponsored by my local congregation/s unless I have a children's schedule conflict. More info on LDS humanitarian efforts can be found at, if you are inclined to see what kinds of things are being done in your area or how you can help. At present we are being asked to volunteer with charities in our own communities.

Which brings me to my next point. As the above haven't brought me much satisfaction yet, but well-meaning people (whom I generally consider to be intelligent enough to have some idea what they are talking about) keep telling me I should be doing service to feel better, I am going to try different service opportunities. It is possible I just haven't found the right one yet. The ground rules are that I must be able to do it weekday mornings (with my availability starting in the fall, after the kid's summer vacation), and I must be able to ride a bike to the location. I am determined to both incorporate physical activity into my daily life and reduce my dependence on pollution-generating modes of transportation. I'm an asthmatic trying to stay healthy and strong. So that means locations within about 5 miles from my house are best. These are the candidates I have found so far.

Local Library
This would only work the one weekday that my library branch is open in the morning. But one day is better than nothing.

Meals on Wheels
This would only work if they allowed me to help in the kitchen or in some other back-end function. I am not prepared to be a driver. My father volunteered in that capacity for some time and did an excellent job at it, but his experience is enough for me to judge myself not suited to cheer up the elderly and home-bound.

Arts and Services for the Disabled
Gardening with disabled individuals, various ages. I have very little information about this option, but as gardening is involved, it is on my list.

These ideas came from a search of Have any others?

On Becoming Legal

I'm gonna post a link to another blog today. It is from Feminist Mormon Housewives, but the post has nothing to do with feminism, and everything to do with becoming a citizen of the US legally. I knew it wasn't easy to do, but it's rather more difficult than I realized.

Did you know?

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Farewell my Grapefruit Tree

I have spent scores of hours each of the last seven summers trying to prune a 20-year-old pink grapefruit tree into a shade tree. I wanted a shade tree because it is next to the pool, where a shady spot to supervise swimming children is highly desirable. It was a pink grapefruit tree because that was what my parents planted there, many years ago. Unfortunately, our climate is only marginally suited to growing pink grapefruit. The tree produced prolifically, more grapefruits than we could use (and I tried many a recipe to try to raise our consumption). I did give some fruits away, but the tree was infested with so many sucking insects that the skins of the grapefruits were, shall we say, unappealing. The fruit itself was good if you left it on the tree long enough, but more often than not we would pick it too soon and it would be bitter. Sugaring helped, but never completely masked the bitter flavor. My efforts at insect control only got me covered in angry ants, which nurse along the scale and aphids for the "honeydew" they exhude. (The ants eat it. Ew.)

So it was with regret that I began to cut down the tree some weeks ago.

(This is actually our lemon tree, which is alive and well, but I neglected to get a photo of the grapefruit tree before I started taking it down, and I wanted to give a sense of scale.)

Cutting down a mature fruit tree is not a small undertaking. There is a remarkable amount of foliage to be dealt with, and I don't throw away good greenery, even if it is buggy. But I no longer have a chipper, so composting woody material is a slower process than it used to be.  And until a few days ago I was afraid of our electric chainsaw, so I was trying to cut down a 12-foot, branched tree with a handsaw. Yep, that was just as ridiculous a sight as you are now imagining it to have been.

This is the tree after I cut it in half. There had been two major branches/trunks. I hacked away at the left one until it gave way, leaving this funny popsicle shape.
I separated the small, leafy branches from the trunk and placed them in various places around the yard where the chickens have been making messes. It keeps the hens away for a little while, giving the grass a chance to grow. Then I just mow over the piles of dying leaves and twigs whenever I do the lawn, which makes a small, slow compost heap. These tend to get bugs, but then, the chickens tend to enjoy that aspect of the process. I only have so many places around the yard that can handle these piles, though, so it was just as well that the tree take-down was a gradual process. 

I cut the trunk into sections and placed them around the bases of young trees (of species unrelated to citrus.) I haven't noticed old citrus wood getting termites in the wood pile. I have noticed that citrus wood makes noxiously smoky firewoood. I'm not going to throw away good captured carbon, however. I intend to bury it in the garden, chunk by chunk, to become worm food. My clay dirt can always use more organic amendment, even if it takes a decade to get it. For now, the sticks and logs keep the chickens from doing too much digging around some of my younger trees.

And Saturday I finished the project. Well, this phase of it. I finally overcame my fear of the chainsaw, took the main trunk down, and distributed the debris around the yard. Grrlpower, and all that.

Next week I expect to buy a large patio umbrella. Then this summer I will spend my idle poolside moments drilling into the stump and roots, hastening their decomposition. I already have two candidates to replace the old grapefruit, but they're just seedlings and will need a few years to grow up before one of them can fill the spot. By that time, I should have a ratty old patio umbrella I want to be rid of. (Cue "The Circle of Life" playing in the background...)