Thursday, September 27, 2012

Disaster! - and Hotel Impossible Show 9/22/12

Hi Everyone

The risks and perils of owning a home, especially one you don't live in full-time became vividly evident this past weekend. I got to the house late on Friday the 21st, and it was the first time I had been there since my vacation. When I left the house on Weds 9/5, there was a wicked lightning storm going on literally above and around the house. It was so close and huge that the house would rumble and shake from the thunder. My dog, who is deaf now actually figured out something was going on. When I left everything was fine except for that storm. When I came back on Friday, my first inclination that something was wrong was the garage door opener wasn't working. Power outage. We have them all the time and it is why I have frozen bottles of water in my freezer. It can stay cool for several days if need be... 

But as I enter the house something hits me... a horrific, overwhelming smell. Seriously, it is getting dark, the house has no power, my emergency lighting is drained and I am facing a serious disaster in the refrigerator. 
Here is what happened - the house or the power pole to my house was struck by lightning that day I left on the 5th. I was without power for over 2 weeks... do you know what food does sitting inside a frig when it is 100 degrees for 2 weeks? You don't want to know. PG&E came out Friday night and got the power back on and I spent the weekend cleaning. The only pictures I can show you are off the floor damage, the rest would be just too gross. If you are wondering how the floor got damaged, when everything melts it has to go somewhere... and it seeps out around the door. Or in the case of the "in-door" ice maker, out the front.
The water and "stuff" drained out of the freezer onto the floor.
You can see the water line on the rug where the liquid mess reached. It is a good 8 feet from the freezer.

Most serious damage

Wow - there are about 10 floor planks that have to be replaced.
 I am going to try and replace the floor planks and hope the moisture damage is not to the sub-flooring. If it is I will need to get the insurance company involved.

In some good news - the Hotel Leger was selected for the Travel Channel show "Hotel Impossible". The show will air in the spring, but here is the link to the newspaper article about the work that was done. It seems that the show host and crew were impressed with all the townspeople and what they were will to do for the hotel. 
Hotel Leger Article


Sunday, September 16, 2012

My Container Garden - Moraga 9/16/12


It is my last day of my vacation.... I have to go back to work tomorrow and I am trying to "psych" myself up. I have been in Moraga this week mainly due to issues with my hips and back and not being able to sit that long to drive to the other house. Two massages and the jacuzzi seem to be fixing it but sitting all day at work is going to hurt!

My house in Moraga is a townhouse that actually has a small yard. (It is pretty large for a townhouse where there is usually just a patio or deck. But compared to my other yard, it is small!) It is heavily shaded so I can't grow a lot of vegetables. I am container gardening though, and really it works well for things like herbs, leafy greens and surprisingly, root vegetables. I have 2 containers with root vegetables, one has carrots and the other chioggia beets. These beets are super sweet with a candy-cane stripe on them. You can see a picture of them here at Territorial Seed - which is my favorite place to buy seeds.
 You have to have a deep enough pot - these are plastic and about 18 inches across the top and 12 inches deep. (For root veggies, 12 inches is the minimum.) You will also need to water them a lot more since pots dry out and fertilize more than something planted in the ground. Use an organic vegetable fertilizer like root-tone so that you get a slow release of nutrients.

Beets - I put new seeds in about every 6 weeks. So you see baby and older ones. The other sad plants are french green beans. They didn't do well in a pot.
Carrots - they actually get sweeter when it gets cold. So you can plant them in the summer and keep harvesting through the winter. They will not sprout in the cold weather so you have to have them started before it gets too cold.
Swiss chard in back and Arugula in front - These are cooler season plants that I sowed in mid-August. Too hot and they will not grow at all. This is shaded 1/2 the day as well so they get some sun protection.

Chives! These things just grow and grow... my Basil hates the yard but I keep trying. Not enough sun for it. I have harvested Chives and frozen them to use over the winter.

Pineapple Sage - this is NOT a container plant as it gets 4 feet tall before I cut it down. But it is an edible herb and the hummingbirds just love the flowers!

Thyme and Oregano - planted in a shallower galvanized tub.
Container gardening is something that anyone with a little space and sun can do... the trickiest part is keeping it watered without over-watering. For years I insisted on trying to grow "hot" veggies like peppers and tomatoes but I just don't have enough sun or heat where I live. Now that I have come to peace with that reality and found things that do well, it is working out great. The other night Nick and I had a potato from mokehill along with a salad made with arugula and beets picked 10 mins before dinner.(And steak and polenta too..)  I am not saving money doing this, but it sure is nice to eat something you grew and you can't find at a store. These are mainly heirlooms I am growing and they don't "retail" well.
I hope this inspires any of you who have just a little space or are not sure how to start gardening. Get a pot, some soil and a packet of seeds and see what happens! It is a great way to start learning about plants and what you like to grow. Flowers are fine too... we need them for the pollinators... give it a try!


Thursday, September 13, 2012

Oregon Trip 9/8/12 - Football and Family

During my vacation I took the time to go to Cottage Grove, Oregon to see my aunts and uncles... and to go to the Fresno State football game. Fresno was playing Oregon and my parents and I bought tickets to go... and my Aunt Vickii went as well as her son John and his son Eli. Nick was supposed to go but Casey has been up and down health wise lately and I didn't want to leave her with his friends. I would have worried too much about her and if something serious had happened I wouldn't want his friends to be upset. 

Here are the pictures, some are of my Aunt Vickii and Uncle Don's house and the others are from the game. We had no illusions about winning the game because Oregon is so tough.. but we played well. In fact in the 3rd quarter we held the ducks scoreless and caused them to turn over the ball 3 times! The other big thing is that they left their starters in the game the whole time which says they were worried about the way it was going. After the game, we talked to a bunch of the Oregon fans and they were really nice and had good things to say about the Bulldogs.

Uncle Don's Western Village

Horse looking for snacks

Don and Vickii's Horses

Before the game - Mom, Vickii on Don and Dad
Flag at the game

Lunch Pavilion - It was the size of an airplane hangar

Food Area

Dad, Mom and Vickii - waiting for the game to start
We were a bit early... like 90 minutes
During the game, we had 1 section with 55,000 people in yellow
Mom and Dad at the start of the 3rd quarter before FSU went on a run and stopped the ducks!

My cousin John and his son Eli and my dad before the game
Beautiful sunset as we left the game
 It was a great time and while it would have been phenomenal to win, we played hard and had fun. My voice was hoarse by the time we were done.... 


Tuesday, September 11, 2012

9/11/12 - Ed Felt and Flight 93 Remembered

It always amazes me how I can push this date out of my mind, and avoid thinking about 9/11 approaching. This is an old wound for the USA and I admit the pain is not as strong as it was that first anniversary. However - I will not let this go as long as I am alive.  My friend and co-worker died on Flight 93... his name was Ed Felt.

Here is the standard picture of him that is on the website for the passengers of that plane.
I have often said to people who asked me about him, he was one of the smartest people I have ever met in my life. He had a bit of quirky personality but once you got to know him he was fun. We went to Washington DC together the year before this happened to talk to the Bureau of Export Administration about the software encryption technology BEA was using. I was the one nominated to "do the talking" to the government folks and Ed was there to just answer questions.(This nomination was by Ed, not me!)  It was a funny day and the appointment lasted only about 15mins because the Department of Defense team didn't show up, so we won by default. A win is a win...
Ed loved his family and I saw pictures where he took his daughter to see polar bears in Canada and thought that he was a pretty cool dad for doing that.
The fact that I am not crying my eyes out says a lot today... that I am getting over the pain just as the nation is healing as well. But these people need to be remembered and I will post this every year.

We have the national flight 93 monument going up, and when it is done I would like to go there.


Thursday, September 6, 2012

Other pictures from my vacation - Long Labor Day 2012

Here are some random pictures from my time up at the house - the garden was destroyed by critters and heat this summer. Only thing surviving is the zucchini and a few figs, that were pretty tasteless. The raccoons ate the green persimmons! I hope they get a stomach ache! One pumpkin ripened too early so I brought it home with me. Hopefully it will keep until Halloween but I doubt it.

At least the Zucchini didn't fold under the pressure. The figs were pretty bland this year and the tree is not looking so great.

One Pumpkin - my success rate is not improving!

These are pictures of something I saw on a tomato plant... a large green spider guarding an egg sac, eating a wasp. I know I am bit crazy to find this interesting but I do.

See the white ball in the middle of that leaf? There is a green spider sitting there eating a wasp.

No web or anything, she just caught him and is having a snack.
Other angle

Front Outside
One other thing I worked on is the hoop house - we have PVC installed over re bar driven into the ground. We get so much wind it frequently lifts it off the re bar and moves it around. I want to try and use it this winter to experiment with growing things so we can't have it blowing away. What I did was really low tech. I have empty paint cans from the painting that just got done. I filled them with rocks and tied a rope to the handle and then to the PVC bars on the top. 

I put two at the front where the most wind hits it, one in the middle and one in the rear. I hope it works or we will need to move it somewhere else.

Inside with 1 can attached

Inside with 2 cans attached

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Hotel Leger Get-Away Special!

Well this was a shock! Hotel Leger is using Living Social to promote the hotel by offering 2 nights stay for the price of one. The hotel is an authentic gold rush hotel and is supposed to be haunted. It is also for sale if you are creative or crazy enough to buy it ! 
If you are interested, here is the link to the Living Social promotion. You might have to create an account to access it but it is free. 

Escape Kit

  • A Two-Night Stay for Two, Sundays through Wednesdays ($110) or Thursdays through Saturdays ($199), in Room 1, 2, 7, 8, 10, 11, 13 or The Lafayette or Fischer Suite
  • Bottle of Wine and Bag of Nuts from The Nut House
  • Wine Tasting for Two at Renegade Winery
  • $30 Dining Credit
  • Combine Unlimited Vouchers for an Extended Stay
If things that go bump in the night have always been as thrilling as they are bone-chilling, then Escape to The Leger, one of the oldest operating hotels in California. The 161-year-old property, originally built to house big-money-seeking miners, sits in the tiny town of Mokelumne Hill, deep in the heart of the state's Gold Rush region.
Stay for two nights ($110 on Sundays through Wednesdays; $199 on Thursdays through Saturdays) and choose from a variety of rooms: There's the antique-filled Garamendi Suite (Room 2), which boasts a marble fireplace and pillow-top bed as well as reported sightings of a lady in white, rumored to be hotel founder George Leger's wife—who died over a century ago. Then there's George's Room (Room 7), where you might find an empty but moving rocking chair along with the flower wallpaper and feather-down comforters. Feeling less adventurous? Check out the lavender-hued Fischer Suite or the plush Peek Room (Room 13), which likely won't come with any ethereal roommates.
Once you've scared up an appetite, nibble on a complimentary bag of snacks from The Nut House and then head down to the Leger's stone-wall dining room. Put a $30 dining credit to good use by grazing on artichoke bruschetta with basil, a burger topped with smoky-sweet barbecue sauce, bacon, and cheddar, or crisp, beer-battered fish n' chips. Later, pay a visit to the nearby Renegade Winery and enjoy a tasting of their wines, which include American-oak-aged sangiovese, berry-scented petite syrah, and a smooth cabernet. Then, wander to the Petroglyphe Gallery, which showcases the oil paintings, ceramic works, and bronze sculptures of many California artists. If something strikes your fancy, you'll receive a $5 credit for each $50 you spend.
When you return to the butter-yellow hotel, take a dip in the pool shaded by leafy trees, grab a cue in the billiards room, or unwind over a drink in the bar, which has the feel of an Old West saloon.
Whether or not you do encounter that storied lady in white, this Escape will lift your spirits.

The economy has been really tough on the small businesses in the area, just in the past month 2 local restaurants have closed. One was open for just 6 months or so and my aunt and uncle loved it so much they bought me a gift card to it. The other is across the street from Hotel Leger and is an old brick building with this great patio seating area. 

Here in the bay area, the economy is picking up with lots of larger companies hiring. I am hopeful that the interior areas of the state start seeing some relief soon. I don't think it will be this year but maybe by next year, people will start spending money again. 


How to Build a Raised Garden Bed (in gopher country)


I have a couple weeks off from work (maxed out my vacation time again!) and I went up to the house for an extra-long Labor Day weekend. While there my dad and I built 2 raised bed gardens for me. I really need them because I want to grow garlic and onions and other "below ground" crops and it is almost impossible with the gophers there. We built 2 each, 8ft x 4ft beds but you could just build one if that is all the room you have. You could also go smaller, 6ft x 3ft would work as well.

Here is what you need for materials:
Redwood Boards (2x8) - 2 each 8 foot pieces and 2 each 4 foot pieces.
Redwood  Post (4x4) - 4 feet long, cut into 4 each 1 foot lengths.
(The lumber yard will cut these for you if you need them too. I find it is helpful for them to do it because 8 foot boards fit in the car or truck better than 12 foot boards.)

- 1/4 inch or 1/2 inch galvanized hardware cloth. I bought a 25 foot roll that was 24 inches wide for each bed.

- 3" exterior or deck screws

- Staple gun and 1/4" staples

- At least 32 bags of filler material such as top soil, compost and manure, if you don't have enough "good dirt" from your yard.

- Shovel and gloves

- Level (optional unless you are working with my dad, then it is required.)

This is really simple! You are building a box and using the post pieces to attach the boards together. But you need to keep everything lined up. We started with laying the long boards on top of 2 of the cut posts and lining them up to the top of the post and the side. Then we used 2 screws to drill through the boards into the posts. When you finish this step you will have one long side with a post at both ends.
The next part is a little tricky because you need to attach the short sides to the post now. Having 2 people makes this easier. One person lines up the short side on the post so that the top is level with the other side, while the other person screws it into place. Do this with the other short piece and you will have a rectangular box with about 4 inches of the post sticking down.
Corner where the sides meet on the post.
 Next dig hole to sink the posts into the dirt and use a level to get the sides level. This can be a challenge on a sloped garden like mine. One side was so much lower than the other that we used a broken cement block under the leg to make up the difference.

Dig holes for the posts and level the sides
Gopher Gaurd - After you have it level, dig out about 6 inches of dirt below the bottom of the pieces for the whole box. You need to do this because you are going to attach the gopher wire to the sides of the box and lay it on top of the dirt. You attach it with a staple gun and 1/4" staples.

Stapling the gopher wire - cut around the corner and fold it up like wrapping a present before stapling.

This is enough dirt for 1 box - 32 bags (1 cubic ft each bag) (8 x 4 x 1 = 32 cf)
Start filling up the box! I used a mixture of top soil, composted planting mix, chicken and steer manure. I also put a layer of newspapers in the bottom of each box to get the worms started.
Starting to fill the box
 Keep filling the box with the mix and then water it down to settle the dirt.
View of the finished boxes from my deck
Box with netting over the top and the bags around the side for weed protection
What do you do with 64 empty plastic bags when you don't have a garbage pickup? I use them as weed block around my garden where I will not be planting anything and it is just a walk way. I put some around the boxes themselves and the rest on the landing area at the bottom of the stairs going to the yard. I did this a bit last year over the winter and the spring and it really helped me out. Not to say they are good looking at all - if you have a flat pathway you can put bark or straw over them to cover them up and hold it down. I have very little flat area so I will just have to live with them.

Landing area into the garden.

My boxes will be uses for garlic, shallots, broccoli, turnips, parsnips and rutabaga for the winter. I will use them next spring for onions and potatoes. Hopefully, this will deter the gophers! I am forever an optimist.