Milk Pail
Saturday March 23rd 2019, 10:42 pm
Filed under: Friends,Life

Milk Pail is closing. Forty-five years an institution in the community, a place where CEO types can find (or ask for) some exotic cheese no one’s ever heard of, where the family just scraping by can go to find produce for far less than anywhere else; I once noticed I’d been charged fifteen cents for my single zucchini. I did a double take once when I realized that the guy who’d just helped me reach something I’d dropped was the co-founder of Smugmug; he was the brother of my late and much-missed friend RobinM, but I’d recognized him a moment too late.

Steve was able to buy the land under the business all those years ago, and with the distortions from Proposition 13 across the decades, that meant his costs have been very low and he could pass that on. Which he didn’t have to do, but he did.

But his brother-in-law who’d helped manage it died, it’s hard to find retail workers at our local cost of living–although there is one who is, literally, a rock star who loves his day job. Steve’s daughter interrupted her college to help manage the place after her uncle’s death but in the end keeping tabs on a business that was open seven days a week for forty-five years, while the big developer was raising high-rises all around him and cutting off his customers’ parking, wanting his land too, it became just too much. They were tired.

Nobody sells vanilla extract like their vanilla extract and nobody sells it at that good a price. Michelle and I were going there anyway, so while we were at it we asked what a case of those bottles would cost.

Steve’s daughter laughed and said, Well actually we fill those from the gallon jars we buy.

So that would be…? It lasts, right?

She laughed again, envisioning All. That. Baking. It was four gallons to a case and she didn’t know how much they would charge, she would have to find out.

We gave her a phone number and she’ll get back to us. They’ll be open for several more months. But the land is sold and the deal is done. The city okayed an eight-story office building going in there.

As we headed out, there was Steve himself and he and I threw our arms around each other, remembering those hearings at city hall together. He’d been so gratified at the outpouring of community support, yet again–and the number of people who’d told him they were just glad he hadn’t died of overwork in his store. Yeah him too.

It was time.

There were so many people trying to get into his small parking lot that traffic was backed up into the next block as we left. Nobody sells the stuff Steve sells. Nobody. You want newly-picked Violette de Bordeaux figs? In their season he has them. Locavore heaven. The place is a treasure.

Michelle and I each came home with an 8 oz bottle of that double-strength vanilla, just because.

She’ll need warm things there
Friday March 22nd 2019, 10:38 pm
Filed under: Friends,Garden,Knitting a Gift

My friend Laura is moving away so I headed over to Green Planet yarns to meet up with her. (And with Anne. Hi Anne!)

Which means I really need to get to work on that cowl I cast on because I needed a carry-around project; no particular planning went into it, whatever yarn would do. Cameleon, in Malabrigo Rios. Summer in a ball. Cheerful stuff.

It wasn’t in Anne’s colors, but Laura swooned.

Which means I made sure I have her forwarding address now. That worked out well.

Meantime, the blueberries are blooming.

Black Jack fig
Thursday March 21st 2019, 10:46 pm
Filed under: Garden

First leaves and first figs–or to be technical, the breba crop, ie, that which is produced on last year’s wood and ripens early on without the heat of the summer to increase its sweetness, although for this variety they’re not far off from the main crop that comes later on on the new wood. You can always roast them and drizzle a little honey on.

They’re just starting to show but there are already a lot more brebas than last year.

There’s some knitting going on, too, but right now I’m just reveling in watching everything coming back to life. We woke up to 36F again this morning, which is so not normal for March. The historical average is 47F. I like that spring is, at least by daytime, steadily upstaging the unusual cold, bit by bit.

Merry Christmas!
Wednesday March 20th 2019, 10:38 pm
Filed under: Amaryllis,Family

An amaryllis my dad gave me for Christmas, celebrating the first day of spring. Thank you, Dad, it’s gorgeous!

Done right at last
Tuesday March 19th 2019, 10:48 pm
Filed under: Friends,Garden

What last week’s trip to Santa Cruz to buy the Frost variety was about:

The effects of peach leaf curl disease are cumulative. It needs a combination of rain and cold and newly growing leaves to spread across a tree and we have had twelve atmospheric rivers this winter with another just starting to let loose as I type.

My Tropic Snow always bloomed in January with leafing starting as the petals fell right at the middle of our cold rain. It took the hit year after year, sprayed with copper or not. And you don’t want too much copper build-up in your soil or it kills the good organisms.

When I planted it, there was a patch of lily of the nile and a stump (correction 3/20/19: it was still a small tree at that point) that kept me from centering it between the lemon tree and the fence and it ended up right by the lemon, a very lopsided look, not even close to centered. But there was no way I could tackle those. It frankly looked terrible and I always regretted that.

Now, nearly every leaf on the thing was shriveled and brown and unable to produce food for the tree; the single peach that set from all its flowers was diseased and would never be edible. I didn’t even have to prune it this winter–it spent all its energy last year growing a second set of leaves, and after it rained again, a few more. It had been in sheer survival mode for some time now.

Given that it was one of my earliest learning experiences in fruit tree growing, I didn’t do a good job pruning and shaping it its first year or two and too much of it had grown above picking reach–which is one of the reasons I chose the tree last week that had the lowest branches. I’ve learned how to envision what these will grow to look like if I prune them right, and that you start from as close to the ground as you can.

My Indian Free does not get curl disease but it was the only resistant peach I had and the only one that needed a pollinator. Timing-wise, the also-resistant Frost variety could be that pollinator. And it is on Lovell rootstock, too, meaning it will grow strong and it will grow fast. (It will take some work to keep it to a reasonable height.)

Their production time is staggered. Perfect.

That’s the Frost in bloom above and the Indian Free below.

Today was one of Elio the gardener’s Tuesdays. I asked him if he could do this extra project for me, not sure he had the tools nor the time for it. Of course he did. He dove right in.

The stump that has defied me and kept growing back for five years now (never ever let a eucalyptus sprout in your yard) has much less to it now.

The lily of the nile cluster has been dug out to two feet deep and transplanted to the bare spot beyond the mango tree that really called out for it and it makes my heart sing to be able to, for the first time, see it out the windows. Beautiful plants. I can’t wait to see them bloom.

But the Tropic Snow.

Was I sure? Elio asked.

I was. We looked at that poor sad peach tree together for a moment as if in eulogy. It had tried so hard.

He not only took it out, he went below ground level working away at the stump, which I didn’t expect at all.

A large gopher-proofing wire cage highly recommended by the Garden Company went into the new hole.

I wanted to plant the new tree myself.

And now it’s in there, near the Indian Free, right in the spot where that lily of the nile was this morning. I will buy new and sharp shears in its honor and get that done.

I got the help I should have asked for the first time around, but I’m rather glad I didn’t–this is much better.

This will be a healthy tree. And now Adele will have peaches reaching over the fence towards her in July as well as September and I can’t tell you how happy that makes me.



But is it woolly edible?
Monday March 18th 2019, 10:38 pm
Filed under: Family,Food,Knit

When my sister Anne was an art major, there was a semester where she had to choose one article and render it in many mediums. I remember the watercolor the best of all her lobsters.

With thanks to Margo Lynn for the heads-up, now someone has crocheted one: along with a knitted squid, shrimp, smelt, mussels, oysters, scallops, a beaded crab and a side of French fries wearing French berets and sporting the perfect little mustaches. Red i-cord for the tabasco sauce dribbling out. Atlas Obscura had fun with this one.

The long-awaited day
Sunday March 17th 2019, 10:26 pm
Filed under: Friends,Life,Mango tree

I had pushed leaves aside to see how yellow it was and it had fallen into my hand a little early, as that variety apparently does, but it was ripe now. I found a good box for it. I put small-bubble bubble wrap inside, then a paper towel, then nestled the homegrown Alphonso mango there, nicely cushioned for the short trip.

Eli’s mom and big sister were outside as I pulled in, along with their neighbor, who seemed to be helping with the daughter’s bicycle.

I told them what I’d brought.

“It IS?!” His mom and the neighbor both sniffed its fragrance and the neighbor did a little swoon. I explained to her that Eli had helped keep my tree alive while I was traveling when it was small and I’d promised him the second mango ever and this was it.

His big sister pedaled her bike in great excitement around my car and towards the front door to go tell him.

Chez Suzi
Saturday March 16th 2019, 10:41 pm
Filed under: Food,Friends

She’s someone else’s daughter, but I know how much it means to my own when someone takes her dairy allergy seriously: is chocolate made on equipment shared with milk, etc, okay to use in the ganache? She said yes, grateful at my asking her first without her having to say anything. Alright then, coconut cream for the cream, Earth Balance for the butter, and the chocolate torte just kind of melted in your mouth.

I sent her home with the leftovers.

And our mutual friend Suzi is a fabulous cook. If she ever opens a restaurant I’ll be first in line.

Friday March 15th 2019, 10:38 pm
Filed under: Family,Life

So here’s what happened: I walked out of the room to get ready for bed two nights ago, expecting him to follow in a moment or two; instead, he called out for me to come back about five minutes later, and as I turned from the hallway into the family room it hit me, too. The sharp smell of burning plastic. It happened that fast.

We unplugged everything around and including the computers, since it seemed to come from that part of the room, and stayed up way late sniffing and looking and touching and trying to track down the source, with fans blowing to clear it out. Which two things kind of defeated each other but. We would step out of the room or outside to refresh our noses and try again. I wished out loud for a trained dog, and we kind of laughed over what our lovable but not overly bright St. Bernard/Mastiff granddog would do. I wondered if we were supposed to call the fire department–but there was no fire for them to come to, yet, anyway, and nothing had a power source anymore.

Last night we plugged in the surge protector and the computers again and gave them a try. Seemed okay. We did not leave them on for the night but at least I got my blog post done in that short time.

With slightly more confidence in those, my computer came back on in the morning, and the idea was that we would plug one new thing at a time back in to try to figure out what was going bad.

I think we’ve found it. The smell was faint but the heat from the thing was not. I’ll feel better when we’ve tested everything but I think that ACDC adaptor was it. If anyone has any words of wisdom on the subject please fill me in.

That whole thing was just really, really close. The smoke alarms (Wikipedia link) did not go off. What if he’d left the room when I did.

Check your smoke detectors
Thursday March 14th 2019, 10:39 pm
Filed under: Life

Monday night the door of the big freezer bounced open. We found it in time.

Tuesday night the door of the fridge bounced and we did not find it in time–not till morning.

Wednesday night…

It was a nearer thing than we would have liked. We’re okay. The house is okay.

Suddenly spoiled food didn’t seem like all that much at all.

Ear doctoring
Wednesday March 13th 2019, 9:43 pm
Filed under: Food,Friends,Knitting a Gift

Sometimes a blueberry clafoutis just demands to be made and that’s that.

Meantime, I went to go see my ENT today. His wife got a handknit from me years ago but I’d never knit him his own something; it was time.

A Malabrigo Mecha hat, thick, densely knit, warm, and soft. He quite liked the dark teal green. He tried it on for size, very pleased.

Turns out he’s taking a week off starting tomorrow to visit his daughter’s family, and where she lives it’s been snowing a lot.

A man who loves what he helps put into the world
Tuesday March 12th 2019, 10:42 pm
Filed under: Garden,Life

One new Frost peach tree with one flower and more to come.

Yesterday, Garden Company in Santa Cruz had five of them. Today there were only three, so I was glad they’d offered to reserve me one.

He knew who I was the instant I said Frost peach and he brought me over to the biggest and best-formed one, tagged with my name, just a beautiful baby tree in a pot. He warned me that the peaches on these were very large and could break limbs, and I felt as he said that how much what he sells and the people he sells to matter a great deal to him. I said I’d have to be careful on thinning them to one each, implicitly promising him that I would, that I would take good care of it; he nodded yes. I told him the great Loring peach of my youth on the east coast doesn’t need thinning.

But is it peach leaf curl resistant?

Oh no, I shook my head ruefully. No it is not. And we both knew that disease was why I was here.

There were two Frosts lined up behind that one.

He pointed out that the one at the back, however, did have lower branching than the others. One of the side effects of our longer, warmer season is that things grow a lot and it can be hard to find a fruit tree whip that isn’t tall between the ground and the bottom limbs when you plant it.

He wanted to make sure I knew I had that choice.

I knew it would be easier to pick the fruit. And somewhat easier to keep the tree to a manageable size. Which was going to be an issue, because the variety was only available on semi-dwarfing, not dwarfing rootstock, and I’d seen how my Indian Free had taken off like a rocket on that Lovell.

He pulled out the two in front so I could see it. Rather than limbs spread widely like the one with my name on it, most of them went pretty much straight up as if they’d been squeezed for sunshine. Not great angles.

I was quite pleased that he had been saving me the best.

And yet I took the smaller, thinner-trunked, slightly funky-leaning Charlie Brown tree after all. It won’t stay small long. It needs a little pruning to widen that out and definitely some limb spacers to push them apart. Someone else will get the perfectly shaped tree perfectly ready to go.

Hopefully I’ll be glad for a long time to come that I chose this one.

But I know that I’m really, really glad I bought it from these guys. What a wonderful place.

I heard that
Monday March 11th 2019, 9:18 pm
Filed under: Friends,Garden

My Santa Rosa plum, a Mother’s Day gift planted by my kids maybe a dozen years ago.

The second Alphonso fell into my hands. It is ripening for a few days inside and then I’ll deliver it as promised to Eli, the young man who took such good care of my mango for several years whenever we were out of town. He’s earned it, by his enthusiasm for that tree as well as all the bicycle trips over here.

Already the aroma is starting to bloom.

I called around, and this late in the planting season, the place I love in Santa Cruz still has the peach variety I want: Frost produces when my others don’t, it blooms when my Indian Free needs a pollinator, and it’s a yellow peach with a worthy flavor by all reports.

There was just too much rain and cold this year for my earliest variety: the Tropic Snow’s greening-out starts too soon to dodge peach leaf curl disease, which thrives on growing leaves in those conditions, and sprayed or not it still always gets hit. The effect was cumulative. We’re losing that tree and I’d rather not lose a growing season, so, out it will go and in with the resistant Frost variety.

It’s too late for it, but I read last week on a gardening forum that the British a number of decades ago came up with a way of dealing with the problem. They plant susceptible varieties (and most peaches are) under the eaves of houses and espalier them there to keep them close, then cover the exposed side with wide rolls of plastic so the rain can’t touch them and the disease can’t make its way around the tree.

And the word for that method?

Eavesdropping. Yes it is.

The perfect blue
Sunday March 10th 2019, 9:30 pm
Filed under: Friends,Knitting a Gift,Life

The cowl was just the right color for her. Cashmere and 14-micron merino: soft, soft stuff.

It came out the wrong gauge. The last time I used that yarn I was trying to make a hat that was Alaska windproof and I guess my inner yarnmemory wanted to keep it that way. I thought, well, at least it will stretch out a lot when it hits the water.

It only did a little. Assessing it honestly, it was pretty but it was pretty small: it needed a petite person for it to be flattering on, which she is not. And it was very warm, again begging for someone who needs it that way.

So it’s been sitting around for a few weeks, a little lost. Last night I felt like, I need that done and I need it done now. I found it and ran the ends in and put it in my purse, along with a project in progress to make up for it that was partly that same blue.

Which my intended recipient totally fell in love with. Malabrigo in the Whales Road colorway for the win! Deep-water blue, a little purple, a little teal, perfectly blended, in a much lighter yarn. The gauge and size are coming out perfect and she is very happy about it.

Meantime, very much to my surprise, John E showed up from New England to visit his mother, introducing his wife to all his old friends who were still around.

When we moved here in the late ’80’s, I was asked to teach the twelve-year-olds. Of which there was, for the first six months, one. Him. I asked if there was a manual for the class? I think so, the person in charge answered, but never got back to me despite being pestered a few more times. Well alright then I’ll just have to make do.

So every Sunday I had about 35 minutes one on one with this kid, trying to teach him what it means to try to live by the light of the love that seeks to guide our steps toward blessing others. That we make mistakes. We own it and apologize. We learn. We improve. We go on.

It was hard, since the planning and delivering were ad-libbing, but it was easy; he was a great kid.

I remember one time when he came home from college, watching him interacting with others at the ward Christmas party I think it was, and with my own kids being young I said to his mom standing next to me and with quite a bit of pride of my own directed his way, How does it feel to know you’ve succeeded?

He heard that and turned to face us from several feet away in the crowd, overwhelmed. It was a moment for all of us to live up to forevermore.

His hair is starting to turn gray.

His wife is quite petite, and a lovely woman who made you instantly feel like you were in the presence of a friend. Clearly John found the right one.

She was busy talking to someone else, so I motioned towards his jacket and asked if she liked that color?

Yes, she does! His eyes suddenly wanted to know where this was going, hoping/not daring to hope…

The next thing you know, she was swooning over the most perfect soft blue cowl and he was telling her happily, You know that really big warm scarf I have? She made it!

She threw her arms around me. I was claimed.

Awhile later, as people cleared out and they were off to his mom’s, someone who grew up here took me aside and asked, Who was that guy everybody was swarming around?

Then, That was JOHN?!!! Man, she told me, after not seeing him for 30 years I just didn’t recognize him.

Well, but that’s the difference between 12 and 18. He was just a little kid to you back then.

Only in California
Saturday March 09th 2019, 11:35 pm
Filed under: Life

(The woman who grew up with east coast hurricanes looking out the window this afternoon in the San Francisco Bay area.)

You just can’t really quite call that rain. More like a liquidation sale at the fog factory.