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Friday was scheduled to be my last day at work before being laid off, but on Friday I accepted a new job, so I headed to Barry's house in a very good mood to spend my four-day Fourth of July weekend with Barry. My lodger was also spending the four-day weekend out of town, at her boyfriend's house, so I didn't have a pet-sitter handy; therefore, I taped some pee pads into the back seat of my car for Boston (she's incontinent on most car rides these days) and brought her along with me to Barry's house. I also brought three loaves of frozen bread dough (we made two loaves over the course of the weekend, although one of the loaves we made was from the remains of an identical package already at Barry's house), a bag of barbecue potato chips, a loaf of pumpernickel bread, two bags of Muenster cheese, and a big package of thinly sliced turkey sandwich meat. The last three items, I brought simply because I happened to have recently made a sandwich out of them and mentioned it to Barry via instant message, and Barry had said it sounded good, and he did not have the ingredients on hand to make an identical sandwich, so I decided I would bring them with me and make him an identical sandwich.

Upon arrival at Barry's house, I found Barry's pickup truck parked diagonally across two spaces of his three-car driveway, and the back of his truck filled with a mix of 50% dirt/50% compost to fill up the third planter box that Barry recently built. He had parked the truck diagonally for easier wheelbarrow access. I put Boston in Barry's back yard and went inside to eat a delicious dinner of Pasta-Roni and some side dish that we both seem to have forgotten the precise identity of. We also watched some Battlestar Galactica.

On Saturday morning, Barry made waffles, and then we tied Boston to the roof rack of Barry's truck while we filled up the planter box with the soil mixture from Barry's truck. Barry did all the wheeling of the wheelbarrow over to the planter box and dumping its contents into the planter box; I stayed at the truck, where we had two shovels, and we both shoveled the soil into the wheelbarrow until we got the truck emptied out. When the truck was fully emptied out, the planter box still wasn't as full as I wanted, so I drove to Home Depot and bought a big bag of some more dirt, plus a bag of mulch to spread on top of it, and some plants to put in the new planter. I bought a variety pack of six eggplants, a variety pack of six bell peppers, one prostrate rosemary plant, and two chili peppers. After I got them planted, I showed Barry the labels from the plants. He was freaked out by the ghost pepper and showed me a YouTube video of some guy eating a tiny piece of a ghost pepper and moaning a bunch and then deciding he needed to go to the hospital. I agreed to unplant the ghost pepper. We both were kind of disturbed to discover that Home Depot would sell such things without some sort of biohazard warning label.

I chatted with Mikie for a bit, updating him on my new job, while Mikie was attending the World Pride celebration in Madrid and while I was watching Barry shoot zombies in a PlayStation game called Killing Floor 2. I also set out a loaf of frozen bread dough to thaw and rise.

Then Barry got a call from the Yolo County animal shelter about a new pair of foster kittens, and we went to pick them up together. They are about eight weeks old - old enough to be adopted - but they've contracted the cat flu and need to be in foster care until they recover. One is a medium-haired calico girl, and the other is a short-haired grey tabby boy. We immediately started calling them Fluffy and Not Fluffy, respectively, but it soon became clear that they had such starkly obvious personality differences that it seemed a shame to name them only by their appearances. Fluffy looks far sicker, appearance-wise, because the nictitating membrane on one of her eyes is constantly closed and protruding slightly (which tends to happen in response to any eye injury; it can be the feline equivalent of a black eye). However, she is very active, like any healthy kitten, and she starts purring instantly at the slightest petting. Not Fluffy, on the other hand, looks pretty healthy (he had a visibly runny nose for the first day but looks fine now), but he is the most sedate and immobile kitten I've ever seen; he spends pretty nearly 100% of his time sitting, usually in kitty loaf position, with all four paws hidden underneath him. The only movement I've seen from him has been just walking a few steps between his food dish and his cat bed, not running around pouncing on things like kittens normally do (and like his sister does). Also, we couldn't get any purr out of him for days! It took until Monday (the third day we had him) before I finally managed to coax him into purring. After that I was able to get him to purr fairly reliably; however, it always took several minutes of petting to coax him into purring, whereas his sister would always purr instantly at the first touch. So we decided that Fluffy's full name is Fluffy Active Purr Paws, and Not Fluffy's full name is Not Fluffy Not Active No Purr No Paws (because usually none of his paws are visible). I suggested just calling him Not for short.

Both of them wanted nothing to do with food for the first 24 hours or so. The animal shelter staff had told us that the kittens didn't seem to be eating, and that it might be because their noses were so stuffed up that they probably had trouble smelling the food. Barry gave them a dish full of canned food, a dish full of dry food, and some treats, in hopes that they might find something to their liking.

Click for kitten closeups! )

Here they both are on my lap on Saturday, the day we got them. They are in characteristic positions here, with Fluffy standing up and responding to petting, and Not sitting down, largely ignoring his surroundings.

me with Fluffy and Not

For dinner Saturday night, Barry made cacio e pepe, which he proudly assured me was authentically Italian. It was delightful. We ate it with homemade bread, while we finished watching Season 1 of Battlestar Galactica. Barry says there are board games for each season of Battlestar Galactica, and we are now at the right point to play the first of them.

On Sunday morning, we found that the kittens didn't seem to have touched any of their food. Barry placed Fluffy in front of the dish of canned food and managed to induce her to start eating some of it. Not continued to refuse food for a while longer. We had seen Fluffy drinking water even before we coaxed her into eating food, but we weren't certain whether Not had drunk any water. I started to worry that his motionlessness might mean he was more seriously ill than Fluffy and maybe even at risk of dying. I put him on my lap and started petting him, and got him to start leaning his face to one side as I petted his cheek. Then I asked Barry to pass me the water dish, and I held the water dish in front of his face and petted his cheek so that he leaned his face practically right into the water. His whiskers got wet, and then he finally started drinking. Hooray! A little later, I did the same thing with the canned food and got him to eat some of that. After that they both started eating and drinking much more regularly. Here is Not on my lap on Sunday.

me with Not

On Sunday afternoon, Barry took me out for a hot date at the grand opening of the new makerspace in Barry's local library. I had told him I wanted to do something to celebrate my new job, and my narrow escape from the previously looming threat of unemployment, and we had tentatively settled upon the idea of getting some soft-serve ice cream from a food truck. But we arrived earlier than we probably should have and had time to kill before the makerspace opened, and the food trucks weren't there yet either. And it was hot! It was definitely a hot date, but not entirely the kind of hot that I was hoping for. And when we wandered around looking for somewhere to eat, all the restaurants that were open at all on Sundays had closed before 1:00.

Finally we discovered that Steve's Pizza was still open, so Barry bought us a small pizza there. Then we went on to the makerspace when it opened at 2:00. It has one laser (much smaller than both of Barry's two lasers), a woodshop with a bunch of other wood-cutting tools, some 3D printers, some metal-soldering devices, a button press, an iron-on design maker, a sewing machine, and some knitting/crocheting classes. Barry had brought a flash drive with him on which he'd designed a product in advance that he wanted to print out on one of the 3D printers, but the makerspace requires people to take classes on how to use each type of equipment before being allowed to use the equipment independently, so he just signed up for the 3D printing class. He also used the button press to make a button advertising the makerspace, and then used the sewing machine to sew a design onto a paper card and matching envelope.

Using the makerspace is free, except that people have to pay for the materials they use there. Users must have a library card, and the costs are charged to their library card account.

There was also a garden outside the makerspace, planted with tomatoes, squash, and strawberries. I may have been somewhat more interested in the garden than in the makerspace. But I can imagine that some of the makerspace might eventually be useful to me someday.

We left the library at 3:00, when the food trucks were being set up, but we found out that the food trucks wouldn't actually start serving until 4:00. We didn't want to wait that long, so instead we went to a grocery store and bought a big tub of "double chocolate" frozen yogurt, a big tub of "orange-vanilla swirl" sherbet, a smaller tub of "peanut butter chocolate chip" "healthy" alternative ice cream, a coconut-flavored non-dairy whipped cream, a "healthy" alternative chocolate sauce, and a jar of maraschino cherries. We brought this pile of loot back to Barry's house and assembled a banana split for each of us (using the three flavors we had bought rather than the traditional chocolate, vanilla, and strawberry), with a cherry on top of each. It was fantastic.

Then we took Boston for a walk to a different grocery store, where Barry bought more celebratory foods - this time for dinner rather than for our pre-dinner dessert. I stayed with Boston in the parking lot while Barry went inside and did the shopping. As soon as we finished walking back home, I put on fluorescent yellow and teal running clothes and went out for a run, leaving Boston and Barry behind this time. (Boston would be able to keep up with me, but I didn't want to have to worry about encountering off-leash dogs - although this is significantly less common in Barry's neighborhood than in mine.) I ran in various loops through Barry's neighborhood for 20 minutes; attempts to retrace my route on MapQuest later suggest that I went about two miles.

I came home just as the last of the daylight was fading away, and took a shower, and then Barry started barbecuing steaks and chicken and also pineapple on his back patio. Barry's neighbors kept setting off early fireworks, though, and Boston is terrified of fireworks, so Boston kept trying to shove her way into Barry's house anytime we opened the door a crack. We did not want her in the house, because she is incontinent and because she was dirty from being in the yard and because she is unlikely to get along well with Barry's cats. So I stationed myself in a chair on the inside of the sliding glass door with a book (To Be or Not to Be: A Chooseable-Path Adventure by Ryan North, the cartoonist of Dinosaur Comics fame) while Barry was outside with the barbecue, and by coordinating, we were able to hand things through the door to one another while keeping a free hand available to wrangle Boston as needed. We made a good team.

Dinner was amazing! And over dinner, we continued our progress through the new Mystery Science Theater 3000 by starting to watch Wizards of the Lost Kingdom II. Also, Barry made a point of congratulating me several times on my new job during our celebratory dinner, and my need for a sense of celebration was fully and properly sated.

Monday was our designated day for staying in and not doing much. I did some gardening, made another loaf of homemade bread, and also made Barry a sandwich with the sandwich materials I had brought from home. We finished watching Wizards of the Lost Kingdom II (Internet connection problems had interrupted us halfway through it on Sunday night) and started watching Season 2 of Battlestar Galactica. Barry made deviled eggs in preparation for the Fourth of July party we were planning to attend the following day, and we ate leftover barbecued amazingness from the day before.

Tuesday was the party! First we stopped in at Barry's parents' house for half an hour and watched an annual hot-dog eating contest with them. Then we went a few blocks away to the house of one of Barry's friends who was throwing a party. The party was not really Fourth of July-themed in anything other than the date it took place. It was really a board-game party, and more specifically, a party for a particular group of friends (including Barry and the host) to play the next couple of installments of their ongoing game of Seafall.

We arrived at the same moment as the car containing all five of the other guests, so we all went to the front door at once. We were greeted by the host cursing and exclaiming that he and his girlfriend were still in their pajamas and had thought they had invited us for four hours later. Uh . . . the Facebook invitation said 10:00 a.m., not 2:00 p.m.? They let us in and quickly changed clothes and scrambled to do the minor grocery shopping and cleanup tasks they had planned to get done before we arrived. The party got started in earnest at about 11:00 a.m. Four of us girlfriends weren't part of the ongoing Seafall legacy game. The host's girlfriend largely vanished and removed herself from the party, but the other three of us - me, my lodger, A, and her co-worker S from the local air force base - gathered at a second table to play board games of our own. (Side note: S also could have become a lodger in my house; when I told A I was scheduled to be laid off at the end of the month, A told me that S was interested in renting another room in my house. It might have been quite financially helpful if I were to be unemployed for a very long time, but I had a feeling I wouldn't be unemployed long enough to suffer any major financial straits, and I plan to continue living in my house myself for a while longer, so I said that I thought having two lodgers at once would make my house feel excessively crowded. To me, anyway! Apparently both of them would have been fine with it. Anyway, it was kind of nice to know I had the option, even though I was also relieved to have the freedom to decline that option.)

Although the host's girlfriend did not join us for board games, she did join us for lunch. Since she hadn't originally planned to join us for that either, the host had gotten it in his head that there were only eight people at the party, rather than nine, and so he only barbecued 8 steaks for lunch at first, rather than 9. Then he discovered his mistake and went back out to barbecue the ninth. He was having a bad day with numbers. It worked out all right, though.

At our table of three, we started off by playing the storytelling game "Once Upon a Time" that Barry bought me in Fort Bragg. I was the only one of us who had played the game before. We played it twice; I won the first game by concluding our collaborative story with my designated sentence, "Although his wound healed, his heart remained broken forever." (The story was about a king who fell in love with a princess and wanted to marry her, but he was caught in a forest fire and unable to escape because of an injury he had received earlier in the story. The king's son heroically rescued the king from the fire, and the princess fell in love with the heroic prince rather than with the king.) S won the second round of "Once Upon a Time," but I don't remember what her ending sentence was. I remember that our collaborative story that time involved a witch queen who had kidnapped the child of a king in a neighboring kingdom, and my designated ending was supposed to be "Her courage had made her rich," but the witch queen's behavior did not lend itself very well to claims of either courage or becoming newly wealthy (she was presumably already wealthy to begin with, being a queen), so I could not gain enough control over the story to direct it toward my ending.

Next we played Five Tribes, which A and S had played before but I hadn't. I found their attempts at explaining the rules to me hopelessly confusing, and no one seemed to want to hand over the rules and just let me read them for myself, so I resigned myself to just trying to learn by observation as we went along. I soon figured it out, and I actually ended up winning the game by a thoroughly decisive margin. I did not like the game, though. I thought the mechanics were boring and stupid. I won it mainly because A and S kept bidding a bunch of money to get to go first in each new round of play, whereas I saved up huge stacks of money just by bidding nothing on every turn except for one single time when I saw an exceptionally good move available and bid quite a lot of money to get the first chance at it. But by simply not spending any money unless I could see a clear, guaranteed profit resulting from my expense, I became vastly wealthier than A and S, and my wealth translated at the end of the game to enough score points that I won the game quite handily.

After that we played Gloom, another storytelling game, one that only A and S had played before. We each got assigned a family of five, with cards describing the five people in the family. Our job was to make our own assigned family members die more miserable deaths than the other two families, by drawing cards describing good and bad events and assigning the bad events to our own assigned family and the good events to the other players' assigned families. I took an early lead by a small margin, but then A and S both ganged up on me and started using all their turns to make my assigned family happy all the time, rather than ever making each other's assigned families happy, and I couldn't fend them both off at once. S kept complaining through much of this game that she thought we were ganging up on her instead and this did cause me to occasionally aim my happiness cards at S rather than at A, and pretty much as a direct result of that, S won this game.

Finally, we played Tokkaido, a game that I had played once before with Barry and his parents. A and S had never played it before. The idea of the game is to compete for who can have the most fun on a vacation in Japan. The primary obstacle to having fun is a shortage of money, and although there are places to earn some money along the way, you can't get a job at those places if someone else has gotten there first and taken the job before you could. I took an early opportunity to earn money that put A at a major disadvantage, because she was particularly in need of money then and had to skip a bunch of fun tourist attractions to find somewhere else to earn money. I'm not as sure how S ended up at any disadvantage, but somehow A and S both finished the game with dramatically fewer points than me.

So in the final count, I won three games that day, and S won two, and A won none at all. (Or at least, that was the final count at the point when I left the party. A and S stayed longer than I did, so hopefully A got a chance to win a game or two at some point.) Before I left, people were joking that I am a board game shark and that being a board game shark is a requirement for dating Barry. Someone asked me whether that was a stated requirement in Barry's OKCupid profile. I said no, and if it had been, I would have assumed I didn't qualify. Someone else said that this is the definition of a shark, that they don't seem like a gaming afficionado but they somehow keep winning even when you didn't expect them to be good at the games.

Barry won the second of the two installments of the ongoing Seafall game that they played that day, and he is now ahead by one point (90 to 89) in the ongoing Seafall campaign. He says he would rather be behind by one point, though, because being behind confers advantages.

Barry and I had agreed in advance that I would leave the party before he did. I left at 5:00 and went back to Barry's house so I could defend Boston from fireworks. Barry stayed until around 8:00 or so, I think, and then went back to his parents' house. He had planned in advance to spend the night at his parents' house and have them drive him home the next morning. Alone at Barry's house, I mostly finished the job of pruning away all the dead brown remains of the spring annuals in Barry's front yard. All my efforts in the past month have left his yard still covered with dry straw, but at least now it's horizontal straw rather than vertical straw, and this makes it easier to see the remaining live green plants that were previously being blocked from view by dead annuals.

I also gave the foster kittens their eye drops and started packing to leave, but then Barry messaged me that his mother was driving him home that night rather than the following morning, so I decided to stick around for an extra half hour or so to see him again. We had some more of those celebratory dessert foods we'd bought at the grocery store two days earlier, and they were fantastic all over again. Then I loaded Boston back into my car and drove her home to Marysville, seeing some fireworks along the way (although not all that many in the middle section of the drive, because not all that many people live in most of the area between Barry's house and mine).

This morning, Barry brought the foster kittens to the animal shelter for a checkup. I was kind of expecting that Not would be put up for adoption immediately, because although he's inactive, he looks very healthy now, visually. I knew Fluffy was not in adoptable shape yet because of her eye, but the vet's diagnosis was much worse than I expected: the vet has scheduled Fluffy to have her eye removed next week. She will be a one-eyed cat forever! Unless her eye unexpectedly recovers somehow within the next week, anyway. We are wishing Fluffy's eye the best possible health outcomes, but apparently the odds are not good for her eye. Anyone within traveling distance of Yolo County, California, want an adorable one-eyed kitten? She is a very high-quality kitten, as fluffy and purry and playful as you could ever wish for. Having only one eye will damage her chances of being adopted. Hopefully she'll be okay. Anyway, she has a week to try for a miraculous recovery, and also her brother Not will remain with her for this week to keep her company.
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As I mentioned in passing before, Barry recently fostered four tiny, four-week-old foster kittens. The animal shelter did not loan out this batch for very long (they were at Barry's house for less than a week), so we did not even really get around to naming them. We did toss around some potential names, though, and for the sake of having something to remember them by and to distinguish them from other, future foster kittens by, I suppose those will now be their names, from our perspective: Flour, Sugar, Grill, and Smoke. There were two white ones (Flour and Sugar, a boy and a girl), a black girl (Grill), and a grey boy (Smoke). This was the first batch of foster kittens that I helped pick up from the animal shelter myself. Here I am with the two white ones.

And here are all four of them in my lap together.

Now, it should be obvious that one thing you need more of in your life right now is more pictures of tiny, adorable kittens. I am here to provide for your needs.

Kittens! Tiny, adorable kittens! )
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Barry and I spent June 10-13 at Howard Creek Ranch Inn in Westport, California. We also stopped at Jackson Demonstration State Forest on the way there and back, and while there, we made side trips to Jug Handle State Natural Preserve, MacKerricher State Park, Seaside Beach, and Russian Gulch State Park. And now I'm going to show you pictures of all of it!

First, on our drive there on Saturday, we stopped in Jackson Demonstration State Forest. This is the largest of eight demonstration state forests maintained by the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, which uses them "for experimentation to determine the economic feasibility of artificial reforestation, and to demonstrate the productive and economic possibilities of good forest practices toward maintaining forest crop land in a productive condition." (Source.) We were trying to follow these directions that I had printed out in advance so we could go hiking on the "Chamberlain Creek Trail and Camellia Trail," which turned out when we got there to have yet a third name, the "Waterfall Grove Trail." I'm not sure why one three-mile trail needs three different names. Anyway, I had neglected to alert Barry to put the specific trailhead turnoff into his cellphone to give us directions to the trailhead rather than just to the forest as a whole, so we ended up having to double back for a few miles before we managed to find the turnoff. Then the directions neglected to mention that we needed to drive the last 5.5 miles on poor-quality dirt road, which was not entirely fun in my two-wheel-drive Nissan Sentra. And then when we finally made it, the sign seemed to indicate a different trail than the one we were looking for!

Waterfall Grove trailhead

Click for much more! )
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I'm several days late for May Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day, but here I am at last. Let's just say I was somewhat delayed by the fact that I set my boyfriend's front yard on fire . . . with hot pink flames made out of flowers. Specifically, mountain garland (Clarkia unguiculata) - a species known for putting on a big show in late spring, much like its cousins whose common name is farewell-to-spring.

Clarkia unguiculata (mountain garland) and Eschscholzia californica (California poppies)

But I will show you more of that later. Right now, three different versions of my gardening self are having an argument about their vastly different gardening skill levels. It is clear to all of them that the me who gardens in Barry's front yard is the most talented gardener, and the me who gardens in Barry's back yard is the least talented gardener, while the me who gardens at my own house is somewhere in between. But they are arguing over the finer details of that. They all have different advantages: Barry's Front Yard Me (BFYM) and Barry's Back Yard Me (BBYM) have an ever-so-slightly milder climate than My House Me (MHM) . . . not so much that you'd really notice, if you're a human, but if you're a plant who spends all day long and all year round outdoors, you might. The two houses are less than 40 miles apart as the crow flies, and they are both in the Sacramento Valley, and they both see similar levels of frost in winter and similar levels of heat in summer. But the summer heat cools off slightly more at nighttime at Barry's house. On the other hand, MHM generally has a somewhat shadier garden than BFYM or BBYM. And then there's the soil. BFYM has several inches of pure compost on top of the native soil and a couple of inches of storebought cedar woodchip mulch on top of that. MHM has basically no compost but an inch or so of fairly dense mulch in most areas, made from a mix of storebought cedar woodchips and the naturally occurring detritus of the garden plants. BBYM has basically no compost and also very little mulch - just a very thin scattering of some sort of black-dyed woodchips and some twigs dropped from nearby redwood trees.

And they are going to hash out the results of their different garden conditions in photographs here. )
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This is my boyfriend with what I have done to his yard. His life used to lack flowers. Now he is completely inundated with flowers.

He does not know yet, as I do, how much the mass of his garden will shrink back down, by June or July, to a tamer and more traditional-looking garden. But there are enough perennials under the mass of annuals that there will still be a decent garden here in summer and winter and fall. It just won't be like this anymore. Until next spring, that is. Each spring we can do this all again.

Like last month, I'm going to cover both his yard and my own yard in this Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day post, because I'm the primary gardener at both. (Almost the only gardener, for most of this year - but lately, Barry has been starting to help me out pretty regularly with the weeding and learning to recognize more and more plants, so I may have to give him a lot more credit next year!)

I'll start with Barry's yard. It turns out that I actually took more photos of his yard than I did of my own yard this month. I can't get enough of it lately.

Barry in his front yard, April 2017

Click for tons more! )
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This is my first time cross-posting between LiveJournal and Dreamwidth. I have the same username on both sites. I'm not sure yet which one will be my primary account in the short-term future, but LiveJournal is no longer feeling to me like it can be relied upon to have much a long-term future. I do not think LiveJournal's Russian management is likely to attempt to impose significant free-speech restrictions on English-language accounts, because Vladimir Putin has little reason to care about what Americans writing in English think of him. However, I think LiveJournal's business decisions lately seem designed to drive the company into the ground. As I understand it, the main reason LiveJournal acquired such a large userbase in Russia in the first place was precisely because Russian users wanted to host their journals somewhere that wasn't in Russia or subject to Russian law, so the decision to move LiveJournal's Russian free accounts to servers in Russia can only scare Russian users away. LiveJournal's Russian paid accounts are apparently not being moved to servers in Russia, which I guess might be some incentive for Russian users to pay for their accounts, except that those users are still forced to accept LiveJournal's new terms of service that apply Russian restrictions on political (and LGBTQ+) speech. Between that and the fact that their friends with free accounts must be leaving in droves, I can't imagine that this is a sustainable way to run a business in Russia. I can only infer that Putin and his underlings must have offered LiveJournal's Russian management a large enough bribe for suppressing free speech to make it wothwhile to them to utterly destroy LiveJournal's profitability. Meanwhile, we English-speaking users are relatively fewer in number, and furthermore, LiveJournal's management has now also destroyed the main remaining incentive for English speakers to pay for their accounts, because LiveJournal is now displaying ads on all journals, whether paid or not, to users who aren't logged in to a paid acount. Sure, paying for your account will still spare you personally from seeing ads on LiveJournal, but come on - if that's all you want, you can achieve that goal just by installing a free adblocker. The real motivation to pay was to have a journal that didn't look like trash to anyone else who visited it. Now, whether you pay or not, anyone who visits your journal will see giant banner ads on it. This is a stupid way to run a business. If paid accounts weren't profitable for LiveJournal, management could have raised the prices. By making paid accounts no longer worth paying for, management is making themselves wholly dependent on ad revenue alone, while simultaneously driving away users, which means they will receive fewer hits on their ads. This cannot possibly be a sustainable business model.

I've been on LiveJournal for almost 16 years, and I have a permanent account here. I have a big stake in the site's survival, because as long as it survives, I get to continue benefitting from all the perks of a permanent account (including a considerable amount of photo hosting, which Dreamwidth doesn't provide). But I have no actual ability to stop the site's management from making suicidal business decisions, and that is what they appear to be making lately. Therefore, I am not expecting the site to survive very much longer, and I'm trying, regretfully, to prepare for its demise as best I can.

Anyway, let's get on with this.

This past weekend, while Barry spent most of his time playing and/or running board games at ConQuest Sacramento, I went on a portion of the Gardens Gone Native Tour. I just went to the two gardens in Woodland and the six gardens in Davis, out of the total of 28 gardens. I don't think it's actually possible to see all the gardens in one day unless you really hurry through them. I might have made a gardening friend at the second garden I visited; I struck up a conversation with the homeowner/gardener and gave her Barry's address and invited her to see the native garden I've planted in her yard, and gave her my own email address so we can talk native plant gardening. We agreed that it's nice to know someone else who has a native plant garden nearby. The next garden I visited after that was the only other one that made a strong impression on me; in that garden the homeowners weren't home, but the woman showing people around the garden explained that the homeowners had been ripping out California golden poppies (the state flower) and purple needlegrass (the state grass) because they didn't like the look of them. I remove a few purple needlegrass seedlings myself when they show up where I don't want them - or I transplant them to Barry's house - but I thought it was rather hilarious that anyone with a native plant garden would be ripping out California golden poppies because they don't like the look of them.

Anyway, after I finished the portion of the tour I wanted to see, Barry wasn't home yet, so I decided to go back out in search of native plants in a different location: Mavis Henson Field. This is a local park of sorts that I found out about via the LocalWiki entry for Mavis Henson Field, which makes it sound like a great place for seeing wildflowers. But I had tried to find the field once before, with Barry, and we had failed to find it. This time, when I tried again, I realized that the directions on LocalWiki were inorrect; the field is on the opposite side of County Road 25 from where the directions claimed it was. But I figured out where it was because it was supposed to contain a lake, so I looked for a lake. The field still did not turn out to be a good place to see wildflowers, though, except maybe for the select few wildflower experts who are allowed into the fenced area where the meadow and vernal pool habitat are. For the rest of us, it is a pretty good birdwatching park and a decent place to see some native shrubbery, but it's the wrong place to go to see annual wildflowers.

Still, I took some pictures while I was there. I didn't feel comfortable taking a lot of photographs during the garden tour, but taking photographs of Mavis Henson Field was unlikely to bother anyone. So now I'm going to take you on a photographic tour of Mavis Henson Field in Woodland, California. Here are a silver bush lupine (Lupinus albifrons) and a Western redbud (Cercis occidentalis) among miscellaneous grasses alongside the parking lot. In the background, a family is riding bikes on the gravel path around the lake.

Lupinus albifrons (silver bush lupine)

Pictures! )
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It's time again for Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day! I haven't participated for nearly a full year . . . the last time I managed a Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day post was in April 2016. After that, posting about the beautiful new boyfriend I acquired early that April took precedence over posting about the plants I was acquiring. But the plants have also been beautiful, and I've planted about half of them at the beautiful new boyfriend's house, so today I bring you Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day from both our houses.

I have a backlog of garden from the past 11 months that I haven't posted yet, and in the past, whenever I've missed a few months of Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day, I've included my backlogged photos in the new month's post. This time, though, I've missed more consecutive months than ever before, and I simply can't possibly catch up with the backlog. Instead, for now I'm just going to try to keep up with the current blooms. Maybe when the current bloom season winds down, I might have time to go through the backlog and post some 2016 photos in the appropriate months of 2017 (June photos in June, July photos in July, and so on).

I will post about Barry's house first. And for this first picture, I do have a couple of comparisons from earlier in the year!

Here is my beautiful boyfriend's front yard, as of a few days ago. In the lower right, you can see the "Native Plants live here!" sign I received during the Fall 2016 California Native Plant Society sales. They were selling these signs but also giving them away to people who spent a certain minimum amount of money on plants. I always spend a lot of money on plants at these sales, so I got a free sign. I may get another one this spring or next fall for my own house. I gave the first one to Barry because his front yard is more nearly pure native than mine. It is all California native, and almost all locally native, except for two crepe myrtles (Lagerstroemia indica) and a Chinese pistache (Pistacia chinensis), which were the only plants in the front yard when I first went to Barry's house. The crepe myrtles (located on either side of the driveway, not visible from this angle) were planted by previous homeowners, coppiced (chopped down to ground level) before Barry bought the house, and covered with lawn. They resprouted after Barry bought the house and are now chest-high shrubs. I might try to kill them in the future. The Chinese pistache tree (visible below, currently leafless) was chosen by Barry and planted before he met me, and I plan to leave it alone, because it is a reasonably well-behaved and ornamental tree that is plausibly more marketable than a lot of the native options - and besides, if I tried to replace it now, it would take some years for a replacement to achieve comparable size (not that this tree is very big yet, but it is not fresh out of a pot, either) - so leaving it there could be a meaningful selling point for the house.

The plants currently blooming in Barry's yard are baby blue eyes (Nemophila menziesii), the only flowers you can see in this picture; Cedros Island vervain (Verbena lilacina 'De La Mina'), behind the Chinese pistache; cream cups (Platystemon californicus), on the other side of the driveway; and California buttercups (Ranunculus californicus), in the back yard. Well, and the deergrass (Muhlenbergia rigens) in the foreground of this picture. Also present in abundance, but not blooming yet, are Douglas' meadowfoam (Limnanthes douglasii), white meadowfoam (Limnanthes alba), California poppies (Eschscholzia californica), bird's eyes (Gilia tricolor), blue globe gilyflower (Gilia capitata), mountain garland (Clarkia unguiculata), and farewell-to-spring (Clarkia amoena). There's also plenty of other stuff that's less abundant, but those species are the ones I expect to make the biggest showing in the next few months. The Douglas' meadowfoam and California poppies at my house have already started blooming, but the ones at Barry's house were seeded later in the season because I was trying to beat back the weeds to make room for them, so their bloom season is being delayed due to their delayed planting time. Otherwise, they should start blooming sooner at Barry's house, because it is (as the crow flies) nearly 35 miles south of mine, and bloom season moves progressively northward over the course of the spring. None of the baby blue eyes at my own house have started blooming yet, but the ones at Barry's house are at peak bloom now.

Barry's house, March 2017

Click for more! )
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Barry and I went camping! At Silver Lake Campground (near the town of Quincy), which I also camped at last year. Last year I was camping alone except for Boston. This year I brought Barry and also Boston. I think, though, that this was Boston's last camping trip. She seems to be getting too old to handle camping anymore. After our six-mile hike on our second day there, Boston was hobbling and limping so that I was afraid to attempt any further hiking, and on our third day there, Barry noticed she had peed in the back seat of my car, and during our third night there, she peed all over the foot of the sleeping bags, while we were sleeping in them. It's common for older female dogs to lose bladder control, so I'm assuming that's what's going on. Her legs seemed to be fine when I got her back home, so I'm assuming that was just temporary sore muscles or sore foot pads or some such thing. The discomfort while walking might have contributed to her failure to ask to be let out of the car or the tent to go pee somewhere else, but I had also noticed a suspicious stain in the back seat of my car when I was packing for the camping trip, so I think she also peed in my car when I took her to and from the vet's office a couple of weeks ago.

Anyway, we had originally planned to stay four nights and five days, but we decided to go home one day early because Boston had peed on the sleeping bags and we didn't want to sleep in dog-pee-soaked sleeping bags. And I would like to avoid encountering that problem on any future camping trips.

We encountered several other problems as well, including running out of drinking water and getting stuck on a dirt road with speed bumps on it that were so high that they were completely impassable at any speed in my Nissan Sentra. But solving problems together is an important relationship-building experience, right? So, we solved our problems and emerged just fine, and also had a wonderful time. We hiked to Rock Lake and Gold Lake, went swimming in Gold Lake, drove to Snake Lake, and drove to the town of Quincy to buy more drinking water. And we took lots and lots and lots of pictures.

Running out of drinking water was actually semi-planned. It isn't easy to pack two adult humans, one medium-sized dog, and five days' worth of camping gear into a Nissan Sentra, and my Nissan Sentra doesn't even have a roof rack for extra space. Barry has a pickup truck that might have fit our stuff much better, but it has no back seat for Boston, so we squeezed everything into my Sentra instead. But we scrimped a bit on drinking-water space because the campground is not far at all from the town of Quincy, so I knew we could easily buy more water there if we ran out.

Anyway, we packed everything into my car and set out early Wednesday, September 7, with a bunch of Barry's and my CDs to listen to along the way, and we arrived at the campground in early afternoon. We parked in campsite 1 and got out and walked through the rest of the campground on foot to decide which campsite we wanted. There are 8 campsites in the campground, with sites 6 to 8 closest to the lake shore, and a large gap between sites 5 and 6. Last year I stayed in campsite 2 because sites 1 to 5 were all empty, and I wanted to be far away from the numerous people who were at the other end of the campground. This year there was only one other person there when we arrived, and that person was in campsite 7. We selected campsite 6 for ourselves, because there was an adequate distance between campsites 6 and 7 for us to still feel isolated, and there was no other campsite any nearer that anyone could move into later.

This is Silver Lake. We camped alongside it - across a dirt road from the shore at the far right.

Silver Lake

Click for much more! )
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On Sunday my wonderful boyfriend and I went to Lake Berryessa. I don't remember ever having been to Lake Berryessa before, and it seems ridiculous for me not to have been there before, because I've always lived within a 1.5-hour drive of it, all my life, and for much of my life I lived within a 1-hour drive of it, and it's a pretty big and readily accessible lake to just randomly never go to. But now I've been to it. It was Barry's first visit there also, but his previous neglect of the place was more excusable than mine since he grew up in Arizona and only gradually worked his way north from there toward this end of the state.

I researched the trail options the night before the hike and quickly settled on two: the Smittle Creek trail, which is a fairly flat, 5-mile round-trip, out-and-back trail between Oak Shores Day Use Area and Smittle Creek Day Use Area, and the Stebbins Cold Canyon trail, which is a rather steep, 4-mile loop trail at the far southeast end of the lake (the nearest end to us). I decided on the Stebbins Cold Canyon trail, because it was nearer to us. However, when we arrived, we found that the trail was closed , shut off behind a chain-link fence for repairs.

So we decided to look for the Smittle Creek trail instead. However, we were already out of range of cellphone signals, and we remained out of range for the rest of the drive, so Barry's cellphone would not give us directions. What it did do was show where we were going (using GPS) and where our intended destination was. It just didn't tells us where any of the streets were between us and our intended destination. But we set out to find our own way, using tried-and-true methods such as "Look for a right turn somewhere. If you see a right turn, take it." Barry was driving, and I was watching our GPS dot move around on his cellphone. Eventually we found the correct turnoff - actually, we found our way all the way from Stebbins Cold Canyon trail to Smittle Creek trail without taking a single wrong turn at any point, and with no particular stress at all over getting lost. Barry even said he likes getting a little lost now and then. This is a very desirable attitude to have when lost. I feel that I have now confirmed that Barry is a good person to get lost with.

This is a basic view of the lake from along the trail, before I get into the chronology of the pictures I took.

Lake Berryessa from the Smittle Creek trail

Click for more pictures. )
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So, last Sunday my lovely and adorable boyfriend and I celebrated our then-impending one-month mark by wandering Table Mountain in search of waterfalls. Okay, it wasn't specifically planned as a celebration of the one-month mark, but it served the purpose anyway. One of the many great things about this new boyfriend of mine is that he takes excellent photographs of me, such as this one he took on Table Mountain. It probably helps that he's just very good at giving me reason to smile.

me on Table Mountain, May 2016

But I took a lot of pictures there too, and mostly I'm going to be showing you the ones I took.

Pictures from Table Mountain )
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Spring may be more than a month away by our human calendars, but my plants have already begun their celebration of its arrival. Daffodils everywhere! Even several of my shrubs are blooming. And the first of my California native annuals! I have far more to show you for Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day this month than last month.

This is in my front yard. The blue flowers are a non-native hybrid larkspur (Delphinium belladonna 'Bellamosum') that I'm trying out this year for the first time, and the yellow daffodils in the background came with the house.

Delphinium belladonna 'Bellamosum' (hybrid larkspur) with Narcissus sp. (daffodil)

Click for more pictures! )
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I bought plants today!

I arrived before the doors even opened. I've never done that before. It was interesting to stand around for five minutes with 30 to 40 native plant enthusiasts. I noticed that I was far from the only one carrying a shopping list. Usually I do seem to be the only one carrying a shopping list, but I guess the crowd that arrives before the doors open is more obsessive than the crowd that arrives later.

As I was leaving, one of the cashiers asked me whether I would have any help planting everything I bought. I said no. She said, "Remember to pace yourself!"

That isn't something I need to remember; it's inevitable. Since I never know ahead of time what will be available at the plant sales, I can't plan ahead of time where each plant ought to go, so I have to take time to decide that as I plant each plant.


These are all the native plants I need to plant. The seed packets on the top step are ones I already owned before the plant sale, mostly leftovers from a year ago. The items on the next step down are ones I bought at the plant sale - three seed packets in tiny manila envelopes, two ziplock bags containing three plugs each (potless plants with tiny rootballs holding a bit of soil between the roots), and six ziplock bags containing three bulbs each. And then, of course, all the potted plants.

The bulbs I bought are crown cluster-lily, harvest cluster-lily, yellow mariposa lily, blue dicks, forktooth ookow, and roundtooth ookow. The plugs are deergrass and dwarf silver bush lupine. The seeds are yellow-ray goldfields, miniature lupine, and sky lupine.

The potted plants are common deerweed, yerba mansa, mugwort, woolly Indian paintbrush (potted with a bush monkeyflower), 'Joyce Coulter' California lilac, sticky cinquefoil, canyon liveforever, rubber rabbitbrush, yerba santa, Eastern Mojave buckwheat, Wright's buckwheat, spider yarrow, Great Valley gumplant, twinberry honeysuckle, silver bush lupine, scarlet bugler beardtongue, hollyleaf redberry, skunkbush sumac, white sage, blue elderberry, California skullcap, alkali sacaton, and common snowberry.

I'm most excited about the Indian paintbrush. I would so much like to have Indian paintbrush in my yard, but it's an incredibly difficult plant to establish. It's hemiparasitic; to grow well, it needs to get its parasitic roots into an appropriate host plant. That's why the one I bought is potted with a bush monkeyflower: it's parasitizing the bush monkeyflower. (It doesn't seriously damage the host plant.) In the past I've only been able to find seeds of Indian paintbrush, and I haven't been able to get any of the seeds to sprout. It's not clear what all the potential host plants are or which host plants are its favorites, so although I tried to put the seeds next to appropriate host plants, I may not have picked the best possible hosts. Or maybe I just didn't get the seeds close enough to major roots. Or something. I don't know. But now I have Indian paintbrush! Now I just have to manage to keep it alive.

There are two more nearby fall plant sales left: one next weekend, and one the weekend after that. I want to get the majority of today's haul planted before I bring home the second haul next weekend. And then repeat the process for the weekend after that. And then plant that third batch and whatever unplanted backlog I have from the first and second batches. I'll be busy for a while!
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My garden has been less than spectacular this summer. I skipped July Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day because I had so little to show, and I have equally little to show this month. But at least now I have a backlog of pictures from July to add to the ones from August, and I guess it adds up to enough to merit making a post.

The big excitement in August has been that my tiny pomegranate tree (Punica granatum 'Wonderful') is blooming for the very first time ever. This "tree" is about three years old but still only about one foot tall. I was surprised to find a flower bud on it.

Punica granatum 'Wonderful' (pomegranate)

That bud has now turned into the flower you see below.

Punica granatum 'Wonderful' (pomegranate)

A few more flowers. )
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I hadn't slept well on Saturday night because the air mattress was uncomfortable. On Sunday night I added more air to it, and I slept much better after that. Well, at least until some bizarre bird landed high up in a nearby tree at sunrise and spent about half an hour making very loud, extremely bizarre nonstop bird calls that sounded like nothing I've ever heard before. It had two separate types of calls: when it first landed, it cawed several times like a crow, and after that it spent the next half hour making a bizarre, repetitive sound that was something like bubbling water. It was a sequence of clear musical notes repeated identically over and over. The bird did the same thing at the same time on both Monday morning and Tuesday morning. I haven't been able to figure out what kind of bird it was. Later on Monday I saw a large black bird that I think was a raven and wondered whether that was what had made the noises - I imagine the bird making noises to have been very large because of how loud it was - and upon looking up recordings of raven calls I've found some degree of resemblance, but not enough resemblance to make me think the bird I heard was actually a raven.

I eventually resorted to getting up and making myself visible just to get the bird to go away. (I first tried just letting Boston out of the tent, but this was not sufficient to scare the bird away. Only I was sufficiently frightening.) Once the bird finally left, I went back to sleep for several more hours and then got up at around 11:00 a.m. When I got up, I immediately started preparing to hike to Gold Lake. I spent half an hour shelling some homegrown pecans and adding the shelled pecans to a bag of home-dehydrated banana chips to create a homemade trail mix, then checked the water level in my hydration pack, put Boston's harness and leash on her, and set out for the trailhead that I'd noticed the day before.

As noted in my previous entry, the landscape on this hiking trail was chaparral - mostly manzanitas varying from less than one to occasionally as much as four feet in height - so there was very little shade, and I was forced to place great faith in the power of my sunscreen.

I didn't visit Bucks Lake, but the wilderness area in the entire Lakes Basin region is named after Bucks Lake because that's the largest lake in the area. Bucks Lake is vastly larger than Silver Lake, which in turn is several times larger than Gold Lake.

Gold Lake Trail 2.jpg

Let me tell you about the hike. )
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I went camping! Alone except for Boston. I'd never been camping without another human being before, but I was tired of waiting for an acceptable other human being to agree to join me, so I decided to go it alone. It was fairly successful!

Silver Lake campsite 4.jpg

When I was trying to pick a place to camp, I fairly quickly narrowed the choices to two places: Silver Lake Campground in Plumas National Forest and Camino Cove Campground in El Dorado National Forest. (They are both small, free campgrounds with no running water.) Then the area near Camino Cove caught on fire, forcing the closure of the nearby highway, so that settled my decision in favor of Silver Lake.

I left home Saturday evening and returned Tuesday evening. I had originally hoped to leave Friday evening, but I knew this was a long shot that depended heavily upon my being able to finish all my packing and preparations during the work week. There are some weeks when I can get a fair amount done on short breaks in the middle of my workday and in the evenings, but on this particular week, the work I was doing required intense concentration to a degree that made it very difficult to switch back and forth between work and camping preparation tasks. No matter: I'd taken Monday and Tuesday off work, so leaving on Saturday evening still allowed me enough time to camp for three nights.

There are two main routes of traveling from here to there. The larger, more traveled route is Highway 70, which follows the north fork of the Feather River for the majority of the distance between here and there, and therefore offers spectacular views of the river and the rocky cliffs sloping down to it on each side. The smaller, less traveled, and slightly shorter route is Highway 162, which offers the compensatory advantage of traveling through dense forest for the majority of the distance between here and there, and also allows you to travel for miles and miles without ever seeing a single other car. Basically, both highways are spectacularly scenic, but on Highway 162 you're enclosed and shaded by tall trees all around you to the point that you can hardly see any sky, whereas on Highway 70 the view is mostly of rocks and water and is more open to the sky, less closed in by trees. I took the forest route on my way there and the river route on my way back. I liked the fact that the forest route made me feel that I'd already arrived in wilderness extremely quickly after leaving my house.

The California Camping book I consulted when choosing a campground sometimes notes the poor quality of roads to and from campgrounds, but it failed to warn me that the last seven miles of the route to this one were on a dirt and gravel road carved into the side of a steep cliff, with no guardrails. I actually quite like driving on winding mountain roads carved into the sides of cliffs - the quality of concentration required for it is pleasingly meditative - but I could have done without combining this with a dirt and gravel road. My little Nissan Sentra does not have four-wheel drive, but I felt a need to put it all the way into first gear to try to get a decent grip on the road. Also, I happened to be arriving at the exact time of the evening when the angle of the sun lights up every speck of dirt on the windshield to the point of turning the entire windshield opaque - because dirt roads do not waste any time getting car windshields dirty - so I had to drive the road practically blind. I came to a complete stop very regularly while straining to figure out where the road in front of me was located and where the sheer cliffs without any guardrails were located.

But I survived! And I have lots of pictures! )
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Since I'd already celebrated my birthday with my family on the day before my actual birthday, I decided to find something else fun to do for my actual birthday. I decided to hike to Fairy Falls in Spenceville State Wildlife Area, because I had never been to the falls before and had heard a lot about them. And I decided to bring Boston with me, because the trail allows dogs, and we needed some human-doggie bonding time.

Well, we found the falls! And went swimming at the top of them! And I couldn't seem to tear myself away from them until after sunset, so we ended up hiking the 2.5 mile return trip in darkness, with a hundred thousand stars shining overhead and a tiny flashlight in my hand. But it was a delightful birthday trip!

me at Fairy Falls

But let me tell you the whole story. )
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I'm a little late for Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day this month, but here I am - though slightly the worse for wear because of the heat, and the same can be said of my garden. Last week brought our first 100-degree weather of this spring: it reached 104° F (40° C) on Monday and 106° F (41° C) on Friday. Several of my plants transformed, over the course of one day, from looking perfectly alive and healthy to looking entirely dead. Some of them resumed looking alive, though somewhat less healthy, after I watered them. Others of them might actually be dead, but I'm not completely sure yet. Also, the suet in my suet bird feeder is melting! Suet is a mixture of birdseed (and sometimes nuts or fruit) and beef fat (to provide the kinds of nutrients that insect-eating birds need). The beef fat is melting out of my suet and creating a grease spot on my cement patio under the suet feeder. This is the first summer I've had a suet feeder, so I didn't know this was going to happen.

One does not spend one's life in the Sacramento Valley without learning a few tricks for coping with heat. Here are mine:
  1. Douse your head in water regularly. A lot of people think it's better to have as little hair as possible during a hot summer, but this is only true if you don't have the good sense to keep your hair wet. Long, thick hair is an excellent tool for holding water; it is very useful if treated as such. Also, there's never any need to worry about drying it off before going out in public, because on a 100° day, all you have to do is step outside the house for ten seconds and your hair will be instantly dry. (Also, if you have curly hair like mine, the constant dousing with water will have the bonus effect of making it more intensely curly than ever.)
  2. Buy some stretchy fabric headbands, preferably four or five inches wide. Stuff ice cubes under them regularly. Make sure the dye in them is colorfast, though, because otherwise you'll end up looking like you just murdered one of the alien species from Star Trek who have oddly colored blood. (I speak from experience. Experience with non-colorfast headbands, I mean; not experience murdering Star Trek aliens.)
  3. Carry an insulated thermos of icewater at all times; drink fifty gallons of icewater per day from this thermos. It must be insulated because otherwise the icewater will cease to be icewater in about ten seconds.
  4. Freeze any and all other beverages and consume them as popsicles.
  5. When gardening, always water yourself just as much as you water the plants.
But on to the plants. Spring ended earlier than usual in my garden this year, and now it looks like August. Ordinarily this would mean that September was just around the corner, which would be a good thing, since the weather generally cools off a bit in September, and the plants start to perk up a little. In this case, though, I'm pretty sure I'm in for at least two more months of August.

Buckwheats are best known for blooming in the fall. Here's Eastern Mojave buckwheat (Eriogonum fasciculatum) blooming in my side yard right now. The smaller white clumps are the buckwheat flowers; the larger white clumps are yarrow (Achillea millefolium), which generally blooms in July but is already winding down this year.

Eriogonum fasciculatum (Eastern Mojave buckwheat) with Achillea millefolium (yarrow)

More pictures! )
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In my childhood, one of my favorite things about visiting wilderness areas was eating the licorice-flavored foliage of the fennel that grew in such places. It wasn't until my adulthood, when I became interested in native plants, that I discovered, with a shock, that fennel did not belong in California wilderness areas. It's an invasive weed, native to the Mediterranean region of Europe, and is classified by the California Invasive Plant Council as posing the highest possible level of risk to native ecosystems. Here's an excerpt from the official risk assessment:
Fennel will invade areas where the soil has been disturbed and can exclude or prevent reestablishment of native plant species. It can drastically alter the composition and structure of many plant communities, including grasslands, coastal scrub, riparian, and wetland communities. It appears to do this by outcompeting native species for light, nutrients, and water and perhaps by exuding allelopathic substances that inhibit growth of other plants (Granath 1992, Colvin 1996, Dash and Gliessman 1994). It develops dense, uniform stands. On Santa Cruz Island fennel can achieve 50 to 90 percent absolute cover and reach heights of ten feet (Brenton and Klinger 1994). Once established, fennel is tenacious and difficult to control. Because of its prolific seed production and seed viability, a long-lived seedbank can build up rapidly.
In short, this is a very bad plant to let loose in California. A sufficiently bad plant that I'm averse to growing it, despite having grown up loving it, because I would feel too guilty if I thought I might have accidentally contributed to letting any of it escape into the wild.

I do, however, subscribe to a monthly, door-to-door delivery of produce from local organic farms. One of the foods that gets delivered is fennel. I'm not entirely sure whether this puts me morally in the clear or not: probably the farms grow their fennel somewhere in the middle of a big cultivated field where it has no chance to escape, right? I hope so, but I have no definitive proof that they're controlling it adequately.

Anyway, from time to time, on a highly unpredictable schedule, I get some fennel included in my monthly produce delivery box. I'm always very excited when this happens, but not primarily, anymore, because of the licorice-flavored foliage that excited me when I was a kid. Rather, what I've learned as an adult is that the underground bulb that fennel grows from is the best part of all. And the best possible thing to do with these fennel bulbs is to make cream of fennel and pear soup. I got the recipe for it from Nicole Routhier's Fruit Cookbook, which is my favorite cookbook ever. (The link I provided to an online copy of the recipe fails to properly credit the author.) I vary the recipe a bit - I don't often have onions around, because I don't generally like onions, so I sometimes substitute a smaller amount of garlic for the onions, or just omit the onions entirely. I often don't buy real whipping cream, either; you can use yogurt or the non-dairy substitute of your choice, and I often experiment with this, because adulthood has somewhat damaged my lactose tolerance. Also, I've found that it isn't necessary to peel the pears; the peel can remain on them and will get pureed into invisibility anyway. But whatever the exact details, the combination of fennel, pears, onions/garlic/etc., and something resembling whipping cream is a very, very good combination.

And apparently fennel is in season right now, because I got a delivery of it this week. Guess what I made?

cream of fennel and pear soup

I highly recommend Nicole Routhier's Fruit Cookbook. It's basically a compilation of practically every great food that every culture from all over the world has ever created using fruit. It omits some common American recipes that you can assumed to already be familiar with; for example, it will not tell you how to make lemon meringue pie. But it will tell you all sorts of things to do with fruit that you've probably never heard of before. And every recipe I've tried from it has turned out to be delicious.

I also recommend that you do all your eating in front of a cat. Shooing the cat away from your food every other second may slow you down, but the adorableness is totally worth it.
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I'm a bit late for Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day this month, but I couldn't just skip it because spring is definitely starting to arrive. Spring seems to arrive earlier with each passing year. Ah, climate change. The flowers are nice, but the mosquitoes aren't, and the air conditioning bills won't be, either, when it warms up a little more. Also the warm weather creates the atmospheric ridging over the Pacific that blocks rainstorms from arriving and is causing the prolonged drought, which is not good for the flowers or the trees or the people or anything else.

Still, I may as well photograph the flowers while they're here. My daffodils are blooming!

Narcissus (daffodils)

And more! )
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I didn't actually take a single photograph this month that was of my garden plants themselves - only pictures of the wild animals inhabiting my garden. Almost exclusively birds, in fact. I guess I'll return to photographing plants for Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day when my plants get around to looking photogenic again. This month so far, here are the major events in my garden: my pecan tree dropped most of its leaves, water fell out of the sky (we Californians have ceased to regard this as being in any way an expected event), and a whole bunch of birds dropped by to visit. (And some of the birds are, I think, more than visiting; some of them spend more time in my yard than they spend anywhere else.)

My most interesting bird of the month was a northern flicker (Colaptes auratus), a member of the woodpecker family. I only saw it once, during a rainstorm - rainstorms often seem to bring out different birds than usual - but luckily I had my camera handy. It fluttered down from the pecan tree to the leaves that had fallen on the lawn beneath. It captured my attention instantly; it's a larger bird than most (certainly larger than my Nuttall's woodpecker, more the size of my Eurasian collared doves, or like a fatter version of a Western scrub-jay), and the undersides of its wings flash a brilliant red when it flies - the characteristic from which I assume it takes its common name. This particular northern flicker appears to be a male of the red-shafted race, based on its red "mustache." (Males of the yellow-shafted race have black mustaches; yellow-shafted females have no mustaches, and red-shafted females have pale tan mustaches.) Northern flickers will peck loudly on wood or metal to announce their claim to their territory, but they hunt for the insects they eat (primarily ants) mainly on the ground, not in the trees. They can live to be about eight or nine years old.

Colaptes auratus (Northern flicker)

Click for lots more birds and some squirrels! )
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