Thursday, January 23, 2014

Random Pictures from the weekend


Sometimes I come back from the house and I have a mixed up set of pictures that don't form a whole post... but I like them! Or I thought there was going to be a story with them but it didn't completely fill out. It happens!

Here are the ones that I took and liked too much to let them stay in my computer.

I want to document the effect of the drought that is going on right now.. but just showing you a brown patch of grass or a dead tree is not very descriptive. So I am going to take the same picture of the front yard over the coming weeks and you can see what is happening. 

Front Yard - Mid January 2014
And of course I can't resist a sunset picture... it is just so peaceful and pretty...
And as you know, I love my birds! They keep the bugs down and while most are pretty plain, the Western Mountain Bluebird is absolutely gorgeous. The photo software I use is always trying to turn the blue into a gray, like it can't believe it is real!
This guy was outside my window almost like he was posing to have his picture taken! And when I was walking in the afternoon, I just loved the sun coming through the trees in the lower pasture.

Sunlight and brown grass
 If you notice, there is brown grass everywhere... last year I posted pictures of mushrooms and the water in the creek. This year, I am running around in shorts and tee shirts and praying for rain. 


Sunday, January 19, 2014

My Favorite Tools - Cordless Drill

(This is the second post in my series of common household tools that everyone should own.)

Cordless Drill

My first post in this series showed you a tool that was under $10 and could do so much it was like the Swiss army knife of tools, the Kobalt ratcheting screwdriver.If you could only have 1 tool that was the one to get.This time I am reviewing my second essential tool that every homeowner should own, the cordless drill. This tool can cost you some big money if you want to spend it, or you can buy a cheap one that will last for a year or two. I prefer one that is somewhere in the middle.
I have had about 4 of these so far (that I can remember!) and frankly, most are not worth the money. I am pretty tight with a dollar so I always tend to go with the cheaper tool and that is usually the Black and Decker model that you could get for less than $40 on sale. But in 2010 when I was remodeling the master bedroom/office/hallway my drill burned out and I needed to get another one right away. So I drove to my "toy" store (Lowes) and stood there in front of the dozen or so models they had on their wall display. I was going to go for the cheapest one again when the Lowe's guy handed me the one I own now, by Porter Cable. (They still sell it too!)

I have to say that I could feel the difference in the balance and weight of it. It had substance but wasn't so heavy that it would wear me out after using it for an hour or so. It also had 2 batteries and I have to tell you, that is just so awesome! I get so much crap from my dad because my tools aren't charged when you need them to be and this way, you can always have a battery charging.
Two batteries and very nicely balanced. Notice the grip how it is ergonomically shaped and not just straight?

It came with this set of drill bits and screw heads - bonus!
When I brought it home and let my contractor use it, he didn't want to give it back. He kept commenting on what a nice "machine" it was so I told him where I bought it and he went and bought one for himself. That is a huge compliment when you consider this was a retired contractor with 40 plus years in business and he liked it enough to go buy one.

Here are the points to look for when buying a drill:

1. Price - Let's face it, if you can't afford it you don't need it. Get the best value you can afford which may or may not be the cheapest.
2. Battery - at least a 18 volt battery and if you can get it with 2 batteries, that is even better.
3. Weight - Since I am a girl, I need something that is heavy enough to do the job without wearing me out too soon. Lift it and hold it in the store and see how long it is comfortable in that working position.
4. Balance - This is critical. Does it feel like the weight is distributed evenly top to bottom and back to front? Does it stand on it's own when you put it down?

I still have a cheap drill as well as this one. I keep the cheap one in my weekday house in case I need it and this good one at the hill house.


Hotel Leger - Valentine's Day Specials 2014


For those of you in the bay area or central valley who are looking for something new and exciting to do for Valentine's Day take a look at the Hotel Leger's specials.

You could just come for the dinner, because it looks really good - 

Please call 209-286-1401 for available seating times.

The featured menu includes the following courses -

Crab Stuffed Mushrooms

Rustique Chicken Salad

Scallops on the Half Shell

Jerusalem Artichoke Soup

Entree Choice of: Pork & Mussel Picatta over Dill Herb Angel Hair Pasta


Thin-Sliced Filet Mignon with Bacon-Wrapped Prawns

Served with Thyme Mashed Potatoes

Dessert for Two

Or if you want to make a weekend out of it look at their web page for special 1 to 3 night packages. This will be something that you and your sweetheart will remember for a long time.. I mean it is an authentic gold-rush era hotel in a town with some really unique features. Plus, it is supposedly haunted although I haven't seen any proof of that. If you do go please email me and let me know how it was... since I don't have a "valentine" I will not be there so will have to live vicariously through you! Julie

valentines day

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Building A Greenhouse - Post 2

Putting the outside skin on the Greenhouse

Update 1/19/2014 - I got more staples and finished putting up the last corner of the film. Dad and I are going to work on the roof in 2 weeks.

This weekend was the second step in the greenhouse, stapling up the poly film to the outside of the structure. (Actually, I was hoping the roof would be the second but my dad and I haven't been able to connect yet.) The sheeting that I used is 6 mil thick, and is construction grade. In the sun and weather it will hold up for about 2 years and while that isn't great it is fine for now. I finished almost the whole thing in about 5 hours of work and only left a corner section unfinished. (I ran out of staples!)

Getting Started
One section down..

Front section is complete - and yes those are rain clouds!

Corner section
Back - if you are wondering why the ATV keeps moving, I used it as the ladder. Too lazy to drag one up from the garage!

On the front door I used this tarp zipper that you stick on to the poly.

Then you unzip it and cut it open

Somehow Casey always gets in the middle of things!
Trying out the door

Done except that right corner there... sigh.. next weekend!

Other items for the weekend - orange and grapefruit is ready! And man the oranges that didn't get frozen are just awesome. The grapefruit I did try and they are not super sour yet.. really good.
Pile of citrus
Daffodils coming again - they are so tough!

Sunrise this morning

And finally - when I was leaving a herd of deer were in the pasture by the gate. One of them is the doe that thinks that I live on HER property so none of them were very worried by me. 

Doesn't she look like she is wondering what I am staring at?


What does a drought mean to you?

What does a drought emergency mean?

For those of you who are new to California or maybe under the age of 30, and have not lived through a drought emergency declaration before, here is what the impact will be to you.
First, the logical items are that you will be asked to conserve water. The people in the city of Folsom have been told to cut back by 20% and to not use water outdoors. In other words, you will need to stop watering your garden, don’t wash your windows or your car and for pete’s sake, don’t use the hose to clean off your walks and driveway. These are really obvious areas and the ones that can make a difference right off the bat.
Second, you need to conserve water inside the house as well. Right now the instructions are to run only full loads in your dishwasher and clothes washer, and to take shorter showers. During the mid-1970’s we had a severe drought and we were asked to do things like put bricks in our toilet tanks. (That was before the current water efficient toilets.) Other things we were asked to do is to recycle “gray water”, which is the water that is left over when you take a bath or wash your clothes. In perennially drought stricken areas such as the deserts, some people have a permanent gray water recycling system that will take the rinse water from your washer and empty it out on an orchard area. As long as you are using chemical and sulfate free detergent this works. We don’t have this in California and I am not sure it is legal actually. It is kind of strange the rules we have here to protect the environment are also hurting the environment.

What happens if the drought continues?

Some of the immediate effects you will because of the drought seem positive at first. You won’t have as many allergies because nothing is blooming.. but you will also miss the beauty of the flowering trees that are staying dormant now.
Meat prices will drop, because ranchers have to feed and water those herds. In extreme periods they will slaughter all the animals they have before they are even market weight, except for a few to rebuild their herds when the rain returns. Look for beef prices to drop especially in the beginning because cows are very resource intensive. During this price drop, stock your freezer as much as you can. Because you know what happens in a couple of months when the excess supply is gone? You got it, then meat prices will boomerang up to be very expensive. So much so that you will be cutting meat out of your daily diet as much as possible. This effect will happen in all livestock groups, cattle, pork, sheep and yes chickens. Be aware of it happening and take advantage of it.
Produce prices will rise starting now. Sorry there isn’t going to be a dip like there will be for meat. Those farmers who should be looking to start planting their crops for spring such as lettuce, broccoli and other seasonal produce will skip it. These large farm corporations will not spend the money to water these crops so the only ones producing them will be the home gardener or the small family farm. You will see the produce is still available in the supermarket but it will be costly because it has to be trucked in from out-of-state or it is greenhouse grown. The economic impact on farmers and those who work in the fields, drive the trucks or work in the packing houses will be enormous as well. All the people will be out of work and looking for assistance.
Electricity prices will go up. This won't make sense to people until you look at the energy generation methods in California. We create a lot of our electricity via hydro-electric dams. We use the force of the water to turn the turbines to create electricity cheaply and efficiently, as long as there is water to move the turbines we have stable electricity prices. Without the flow of water through the turbines, they will need to use more expensive and “dirty” ways to create electricity, including coal powered plants. You know how you have been thinking of going solar but can't make the economic argument to do so? You might be able to do that now.

What does the drought mean for the homeowner?

For me it means I will be turning the water off to everything outside except my perennial fruit trees and asparagus. My front meadow has been seeded for 4 years now with wildflowers and we will see if that idea to make it self-sustaining works. I will not be planting my enormous garden as in past years. This means that I will not be eating any corn or squash, and neither will the deer and raccoons. (Wildlife is going to get desperate without food and water and they will be moving into the neighborhoods. Anything green will be eaten.)
I have some small vegetable plantings in pots in Walnut Creek and my plants in the greenhouse. Growing in a greenhouse uses very little water when compared to growing outside. Also, with the fish tank and aquaponics system I will be very energy and water efficient. You might say, how is that possible when you will be growing plants in water? Look at it this way – in my garden I have about 500 square feet of dirt. When I plant things, even though they are intensively planted, I am still watering dirt. In the valley where temperatures hitting and staying above 100 degrees for months in the summer is the norm, and watering everyday (before sunrise), I am losing about 70% of that water either to evaporation or to watering dirt. In a greenhouse environment I am only watering the plants. It is extremely efficient and I should be able to increase the yield over the garden by at least 100%.

What are you going to do?

Pay attention to everything you are doing that uses water. Where can you cut back the use of water or even eliminate it? Start with the easy changes… shorter showers, less loads of dishes or clothes. Are you watering perennial shrubs using sprinklers? Can you change them out to drip lines? Anything you do will have a two-fold effective, it will save you water now and money in the future. Because the water companies will raise the rates, that you can be sure. The more you save now the less you will have to pay.

Pray for rain!

I don’t care what you believe or don’t believe – pray for rain in whatever way that means to you. Traditional praying to God or native American rain dances or smearing mud on your face while howling at the moon. I am not saying any of these will work but right now we need to do everything we can!


Saturday, January 4, 2014

How I eat - Prepping for the week!

Hello and Happy New Year!

January 4th, 2014 and I am trying to come to grips with the coming year and what I would like to see happen during it. That seems too overwhelming right now, so I thought I would take a little detour. Since Sept 2013 I have been working hard at eating right and taking care of myself again. For a few years now, I have been treating myself pretty poorly. I was under stress from work and had chronic pain from my scoliosis. I "self-medicated" using food and alcohol to get some respite from the pain and sometimes to just get to sleep. 
In September, after getting some disastrous blood test results and a stern lecture from my doctor, I decided to give this my attention. 
By the way, I hear all the time about how doctors will not tell patients they are overweight and need to lose weight. Really? Mine refused to discuss any symptoms I had related to joint pain, hot flashes, fatigue etc until I lost weight. She flat out said, "You are overweight and all your issues will lessen and most likely go away, when you loose the weight. She printed out the diabetic diet which has no carbohydrates or sugar whatsoever and said follow this... so I did.
After researching everything I found a great book called "Its Starts With Food" and decided to give it a try. It is a "paleo" diet which means you eat as if you were living in a pre-agricultural era. No grains of any kind, no dairy, no sugar and no alcohol. But to eat this way requires work... so here is how I manage  to keep on track with my busy schedule.
Every weekend, usually Sunday afternoon I spend a couple of hours cooking for the whole week. That way building my lunches is fast and I don't have to worry about dinner or snacks. 

Here is what I did today as an example:
1. Shop - I usually shop at the grocery store but since I am in the city this weekend, I went to the farmers market. I buy produce but also, beefalo meat and eggs too... you can get almost everything there.
They set up in an office complex parking lot in Walnut Creek. 

Not Avocados - EMU eggs! Told you - you can find everything here.

My favorite - Mushrooms!

Pretty and tasty grape tomatoes

Citrus stand - I bought a cava cava orange there and man it was awesome!

cava cava

Colorful and tasty!
Back home - eggs, almonds, beef, bacon etc

Washing up

2. Prep - here is how I take everything you see and more and make my life easy. First wash off and dry all the produce. Yep even if you aren't cooking or eating it right now, wash it and get it ready to go.

3. Cook - Fire up the oven! I put as much as I can in the oven at one time. It saves time and energy.. so I will be cooking beets, meat and other root veggies at the same time. It takes a little bit of practice with the temp and timing but it saves time. I will usually crank it up to 425 and put the root vegetables in for about 20 mins before putting in the other items like chicken when I lower the heat.

First up - 1 package of chicken breasts - 5 total that I cooked for about 40 mins at 375 degrees. I season them really well because I use these for my lunch salads during the week so i like having the flavors.
Seasoned and ready to go in the oven


When cooled off - cut them up into bite size chunks.

I put one breast into a zip bag and this will be for my lunch salad

Stack them in the freezer - grab one and it will defrost just perfectly by lunch time.
My lunch is usually a salad with lots of fixings and always protein so these work really well.

Next up - cook those vegetables that you know you should eat but you don't have time to cook during the week. Beets (for my lunch again), sweet potatoes, butternut or other squash are great for this treatment. Cook them all at one time, store them in the refrigerator for the week to use with dinner or lunch.
Beets - these scare people because they are dirty and can stain. Here is how to cook them easy!

1. Cut the greens off but leave a bit attached to the beet.
2. Soak them in water and scrub lightly with a produce brush just to get the dirt off. (Best $1.50 you will spend, you don't need anything fancy.)
3. On a baking sheet put down enough foil to form a pouch over the beets.
4. Pour on some olive oil, salt and pepper.
5. Wrap up in the foil and put them in the oven...
Beets - olive oil and seasoning on them already to make a pouch.

Acorn squash works as well this way - this is before cooking.

After they are cooked (45 -60 mins at 425 degrees, depending on the size of the beets) leave them in the pouch for a while to steam.. at least 15 mins but 30 is fine too. Then open and let them cool to where you can touch them.
All done and unwrapping to let 
 How do you peel a beet? Well you don't use a knife or a vegetable peeler, just use a paper towel.
Rub the towel over the beet and the skin just falls off!

Done - fast and sweet and super healthy!
I also cut these up and portion them into containers for lunch and dinner. Remember the goal is at 6am you can pull everything out for your lunch without thinking!

i also boil a few eggs every weekend, they are a quick bite of protein and work on salads or as a snack. You want to know the secret to "hard-boiled" eggs? You barely boil them.. really.
Put the eggs in a pot and cover with water, put on high heat uncovered and bring to a boil. Time the boil for 2 mins, remove from the heat and cover with a lid for 10 mins. Run cold water into the pan after that to continue the cooling and when cool to the touch remove from the water. Let them sit out and finish drying so about 20 mins or so.. and then peel! Peel comes off super easy.. store in an airtight container in the fridge.

Boil for 2 mins
Let stand 10 mins and then run cold water over them to stop the cooking.

After air-drying, just peel and store
All this takes about 2-3 hours on the weekend but it saves me a ton of money since i don't have to buy lunch in San Francisco everyday. And it has really worked to keep me on track with just completing my 4 month of eating this way, guess what? I have lost enough weight to stop the joint pain, the fatigue, the hot flashes and my hair is growing back. My doctor knew what she was talking about and I want to thank her for telling me the truth and not giving me medicine for these things until I tried to fix things the right way.