Hiking About

I periodically share my shots of sunsets from the back deck.  Grabbed my camera and hiked back into the undisturbed areas of the property.  This is what those trees look like from the ground.

I plan to play more with shutter speed and light.  Would prefer less glare from the setting sun, but like a bit of it. As the hiking expedition was also in impromptu seed scattering event, I hadn’t put enough thought into bug repellent or securing the bottom of my jeans against ticks to truly hike about. I’d just paused from repotting, grabbed the camera, grabbed the seeds and headed down. Once there, the “uh oh” hit me. Could not totally concentrate as I was wishing I’d looked up the dormancy habit of rattlesnakes and wondering if you stepped too close or into one of their dens through the leaves, they’d wake up and bite.  Didn’t have my phone on me – so, yes, was operating a tad distracted.

Without leaves to identify it, poison oak would be just more brush I’d be rubbing against. The pine needles and leaves are deep – you uncomfortably sink.

The wider open areas are where the plough originally fire cleared 5 years ago, then you come up to dense brush you can’t really hike through. Above lower left, the young pine, scrub oak and manzanita are more clearly visible – they’re so densely making a comeback that from a distance it appears to be grasses.

Although they lose all their lower limbs, these Douglas Fir (yes, your Christmas tree all grown up) do sport lovely green growth at the top. Did you know the shedding of lower limbs is an adaptation of some pines (Ponderosa as well) in fire prone areas? Nature never ceases to amaze.

This area was cleared, saving the oaks, and is also rampantly growing back. Another pass for fire safety will be needed soon.

Not sure what downed the Manzanita, but it affords you a glimpse into the denseness of growth beyond.

Do wish I’d done better on this one – watching where I was stepping and finding I couldn’t get as close as I’d like to the base.

My sister spent time as a florist in New England – she’s always telling me to cut Manzanita branches and go sell them to florists in the bay area. Those conservation minded needn’t worry – these things are springing up everywhere. Unfortunately, they’re an “oily tree” – the kind that explodes and makes brush fires much worse. You do need to thin their growth near property (if you’re smart, more than the 100’ required).

May have to call this my fairy tree as I see dancing figures in the branches of this one :-) .

Healthy manzanitas have fantastic red bark.

I know as I learn more, these shots might become stellar, for now you have a bit of a tour of California interior oak woodlands.

This post is participating in Unknown Mami’s Sundays in My City. There are many accomplished photographers and writers there sharing a glimpse from their neck of the woods.  And, remember Murphys Irish Days combined with Ironstone’s Daffodil Days is the weekend of the 17th – c’mon up if you can. Sonora’s Celtic Faire is the previous weekend, the 9th.

As I love a few photos in this post, I’ve resurrected it for The Gallery of Favorites hosted by April at The
21st Century Housewife
 and Alea of Premeditated Leftovers.

Warm and Wonderful

Like many others, we’ve been having unseasonably warm weather. Although below snow level, I’ve usually had at least three or four snowstorms by now – but not a one. We’ll be worried about the snow pack and spring water levels if the pattern doesn’t change very soon. Ever the optimist, I have to appreciate gifts of the warm weather. I’m still enjoying my sweet Pak Choi discussed in my pre-germinating seed post (and there’s more on winter sowing in that post as well). The daffodils are well on their way to blooming soon.

This mountain area is USDA gardening zone 7, and look at my lush Echeveria glauca. Spring and even warmer weather will be the perfect time to create more plants from all these lovely little rosettes.

I’ve been waiting on the cold before going gung-ho into winter sowing. For winter sowing, you use containers like milk jugs, put in dirt and seed, water and place somewhere that they will experience the cold and snow. This mimics the natural season while protecting the seeds from birds or being washed away. It also creates a mini green house environment where the seed will sprout and grow earlier than usual in your zone. The same system works for spring sowing, you just wait to put out your warm season seeds until later in the season. The Winter Solstice is the usual start for the cold season sowing. Yet here I am mid February deciding to “just do it”. The seed may germinate too early without the proper cold and late in the season cold spell could kill them. Taking my chances – have 24 jugs of flowers planted, just need to move them to a colder spot in the garden today.


All those pots are my spring bulbs.

The other unusual bit is that the cuttings I started in early fall are alive and growing on their protected shelf (they should be dormant).


I’ve even been able to harvest my garlic chives continuously all season.

The weather folks haven’t yet begun their doom and gloom predictions a.k.a. not enough snow pack  = drought, so for now I’ll remain optimistic and enjoy the gifts of the season.

This post is participating in Sundays in My City at Unknownmami.com. Stop in and see what others around the globe are up to.

Sing a song of sixpence; of birds and pies

Kinda a “here’s looking at you kid” glance (perfect shot for a bit of anthropomorphic captioning). While not what I would consider “frame-able” quality (egads that light), I’m happy to finally capture a few shots of the local chubby Western bluebird – a rather skittish gent who takes off at the slightest whisper of sound.

The sweet tooth has been demanding attention lately. Antidote? Easy as 1 2 3.

One: Crème fraîche.

Easily make your own Crème fraîche from buttermilk and heavy cream. To 1 cup heavy cream add one tablespoon buttermilk and allow to sit out for 24 hours. I like to cover the bowl with a damp piece of muslin for the overnight; then wrap it tightly with plastic. If you don’t use plastic – expect a very thick skin on top.

Once it’s as thick as you like, place it in the refrigerator – it will continue to thicken a tad. Some folks make it with yogurt, although buttermilk will deliver a more authentic crème fraîche flavor. I’ve seen recommendations that ultra pasteurized heavy cream takes longer to make. Ultra pasteurized is all that’s available in my local market without a special health food store excursion.

Mine do seem to stay thin for quite a while before gelling (but I do keep the house pretty cool overnight, which is when I usually make it). You can leave it out for an additional 8 to 24 hours if needed. The nifty bacteria in the buttermilk are what keeps it from going bad. Some recipes have you warm the cream first – this isn’t necessary unless you’re in a rush. You can also whip it if, once done, you’d like it a tad lighter.

Two: Place a pie crust in your baking dish. Mix a pack of frozen peaches (16 oz) with 1 tablespoon of sugar, 1 tablespoon of flour, and an optional dash of cinnamon. Place in crust, fold back pie crust edges and sprinkle a little white sugar over the top. I generally let the peaches defrost about half way. The resulting tart has a very fresh peach flavor with still firm peaches in its filling.

Three: Bake about 45 minutes (start checking at 40) at 375 degrees.

This post is participating in Sunday’s in my city. C’mon by and see what others around the globe are doing.

Wiki: Song of Sixpence

Sundays in My City – January

Sharing just a few snapshots today, so that I can hustle out to the garden. Unlike earlier in the week aka Mists of Avalon (read dense fog), we’re having beautiful sunny weather today.

The winter migration brings birds that I don’t see as often. Here’s a spotted towhee (you can post a picture to http://www.gardenweb.com’s birding forum and they’ll ID it for you).

This black chinned hummingbird has been driving away my population of Anna’s while he hogs the feeder.

The oh so cute fluffy mountain bluebird has been elusive for me. I have sharp, crisp pictures from the back, edges of the tail on a corner of the frame or slightly fuzzy, but otherwise gorgeous shots. Wish me luck.

Love gorgeous cloudy sunsets.

Changing topic on you – a favorite thing over on Pinterest.com is cleaning hints. I love tea, but often let it sit in the pot or the cup to the point where they’re badly stained. Normally, a scrub with baking soda will lift the stain. But, I’d let them get to a point where this didn’t work. A friend of mine uses Barkeeper’s Friend to remove water stains from her stainless flatware. I also noticed someone on Pinterest used it to remove the hazing lines that appear on some China as it ages. So, I gave it a go.



Success. (I use the stronger powdered version).

This post is participating in Sundays in My City @Unknownmami.com; c’mon by and see what folks around the globe are up to on their weekend.

Growing Things

Woo hoo, wouldn’t have thought I’d be so excited, but it’s going to get into the 20s tonight and tomorrow and we may see rain before the end of the week. :-) Brr, it’s even pretty chilly now. Like many, we’ve had unseasonable weather – amazingly warm and dry. Last season we had some beautiful weather in January and February as well, but we’d started with our requisite rain, snow and followed up with more rain and heavy snow into April. This season we’re getting concerned when we drive past the cows nibbling  itty bitty tufts of brown grass in their un-irrigated pastures that haven’t seen rain for months or think about our plethora of fruit trees that only do well with a certain number of chill hours. So, our growing things schedule is off, the ski resorts are praying for snow, and the rest of us hope for at least some rain and a drought free summer.

Although some do it earlier, January is high season for scanning the plant and seed catalogs, planning next year’s garden, and ordering seeds and supplies. Also, time to make sure you get the last of your bulbs planted if you haven’t already (and I am so into bulb planting right now; above photos were previous season). I’m sticking with the optimism route and plowing forward (he, he) with my garden. I’d mentioned here, that I grow many things from seed and enjoy winter sowing (and more links to winter sowing are in that post). It’s been too warm and sunny to put the seed jugs out, but looks like this week will rectify that. Time to dig in the dirt.

For your own planning, Johnny’s Selected Seeds has a great calendar where you key in your average last frost date and it auto fills your specific planting out dates and seed starting dates. With row covers or any season extenders you can go a tad earlier. If you don’t know your last frost date – just pick any “by zipcode” sites on this Google search.


One of the tricks I learned that I find invaluable is pre-germinating seed in paper towel and baggies.

Label your baggie with a sharpie marker with the date and type of seed, cut your paper towel into quarters, dampen and ring out the towel and arrange your seeds on the damp towel.

Roll up (note this towel is a little too damp. I squish it out before I put it in the baggie).

Place in baggie and leave in a warm spot to germinate.

With large seed like cat grass, I might dump a bunch in the piece of towel. Here you can see it started to sprout and is ready to plant.

Above is sprouting scallion.


I get a pot ready with dirt, put the seeds down, spread them out a tad, cover with dirt and water. You don’t have to remove the paper towel as it’s biodegradable. This is the sprouted cat grass.


With warm weather, or in a protected spot, they’ll be poking through the soil in no time. The cats keep it “trimmed”.



Pak Choi  – from sprouting in Oct to now harvesting young leaves. Pre-germinating is great as you don’t waste space (and time) wondering if your seed is good and going to sprout. It shaves about a week off your seed growing time (see the calendar to figure your seed starting time).


I do sometimes let them sprout a bit longer in the towels than I should, but  am able to get healthy plants. If (with work and life) you can plant them as soon as they sprout, you’ll have nice strong plants and even better survival rates. If you let them go – still plant out and you may be pleasantly surprised at how resilient they are. Above is my Swiss chard. Pre-sprouting is not necessary with winter sowing; I was simply using the milk jug is a mini greenhouse to grow before transplanting to my row covered bed.


If you order seed, don’t forget to throw some sprouting seeds into your order. Park Seed, Johnny’s Selected Seeds, and Territorial all have sprouting seed at a good price (and my links will land you on their sprouting pages). Love the larger seed like mung beans in stir fries; smaller sprouts – mustards, broccoli or alfalfa – in sandwiches and salads. Not into any fancy sprouting systems here, I just grab an empty jar, put some boiling water into it for a few moments to sterilize, cut some cheese cloth to cover the top, add seeds and away you go. Generally soak the seeds for half a day or overnight, then rinse in the morning and evening (leave the cheesecloth on, fill the jar with water, tip it over to dump the water out, do a second time). Easiest if you just leave your jars by the kitchen sink. Once they approach readiness, you can move to the refrigerator to slow down growth (and yes, I did let the pictured batch of mungs get pretty green, but they were great). When I harvest a jar, I’ll rinse the cheesecloth in a bleach / water mixture as it gets greenish from the seed covers and, of course, clean and sterilize the jar between batches. You can place your sprouts in a bowl of water to skim off the seed coatings if you don’t care for them. I use either a strong rubber band or the rim of the canning lid to keep the cheesecloth in place. It’s so nice and easy to have fresh greens readily on hand any time.

Well I’m off to “get dirty” while we have some sun and warmth. This post is participating in Sundays in My City – be sure to pop over and see what others around the globe are doing on their weekend.

Chasing clouds

Have been playing with capturing clouds and sunsets – no Photoshopping, straight from camera.

The above was camera in “sunset” mode – most of those come out too dark, I’m not a fan of the “pre-sets”.

I do well when I have an anchor in the composition (the hummingbird or telephone pole) but hope to make inroads in composition where I don’t (they’re interesting but you feel something missing). Photography class on the “to do” list for someday.

Have also been about town – next weekend is our town Christmas party, Dec 2nd from 5 to 8pm all the shops offer appetizers and snacks, there’s music throughout, a Santa parade, a roasted chestnut cart and more. Then, additional events on Saturday and Sunday to keep the spirit rolling.  I wrote about last year’s Holiday event here. Really folks – that beautiful handcrafted felted wool bag is only $40.00 at The Independent. I added a few other shots from her shop. She started on Etsy as the first one selling kits for making toddler clothes with designer fabrics and patterns within, she also creates jewelry (Linda Trent Jewelry). Her local shop comprises work from many artisan crafters in the area. It’s worth a stop.


This post is participating in Unknown Mami’s Sundays in My City – be sure to stop by to see what others around the globe are up to.

Girls’ Night Out

Egads  – I’ve been working, crafting and awash in inspiration and ideas over at Pinterest; all the while neglecting my blog. I’ve a slew of pictures to post over the next few weeks, so let me begin.

A neighbor and I hit Girls Night Out at Ironstone Vineyards – a fundraising event for Santa’s Express. Santa’s Express in Calaveras County provides food, clothing and toys for the disadvantaged; their funding relies entirely on donations. Entry was a new unwrapped toy or $10 (they partner with Toys for Tots). Entry included tickets for six tastes of Ironstone wine or one glass plus hors d’ouvres of cheeses, vegetables and perfectly spiced hummus. In the past, Girls Night Out has benefited the local abused women services – it’s always a truly enjoyable low cost night that benefits a good cause.

We began our evening with an “always fantastic” meal at Grounds (I’ve mentioned before this is one of my favorite restaurants – I start to crave it if I haven’t been there often enough). Terry went for superb mussels with a huge side of sweet potato fries and I their “always to die for” pasta (this mushrooms, pesto and more). We skipped wine with dinner and opted for the glass at the fundraiser so we wouldn’t be tethered to the tasing bar. Sipping the Viogner while perusing the silent auction and vendor tables is the way to shop.


Wines from Newsome Harlow and Twisted Oak (their River of Skulls – 3 consecutive years) were some of the more popular items in the silent auction. In the top photo, you can see the beautiful Christmas quilt that was raffled off – the quilt effectively hiding the crowd at the tasting bar.

Home party consultants from the County comprised a good number the vendor tables – even the sex toy folks were nestled into a corner (“Slumber Party”). Although I’ve been dragged off duty-bound to many friends’ home parties (always purchasing the polite requisite of at least one item – I’m really not a home party kind gal) had not been to a chocolate tasting party.


Our local Dove Chocolate party consultant Kim hosted a fantastic table (locals- I saved her card, leave a comment if you need her phone number and I’ll e-mail it to you). I had to keep an eye on it to be able to get a shot when it wasn’t mobbed. The chocolate was truly luscious.

I’d also not heard of home tea parties – a fun idea where they sell flavored tea, scone mixes and such. Mary of Tealightful has both a web and a Facebook page. You could also indulge in a hand treatment, shoulder massage, mulled wine or sangria, more shopping from local jewelry creators, cosmetic lines, clothing vendors, a wonderful heat/cold pack vendor, custom hair accessories, cottage-y memo boards or a fine handcrafted soap, sugar scrub, lip balm vendor. There was so much creativity in that holiday space.

As Terry works at a winery, we had to check out the wine sayings on the T-shirts. She and another friend enjoy the shopping/shoe sayings (the last time I wore cute maryjane slip-ons for a walk about our town of dirt paths robust with full bumpy tree roots – gawking with the camera and not paying attention – I took a truly spectacular flying nosedive, never was a shoe person, now even less so). Given my locale and my penchant for machine embroidery, the phrases are something I collect. Know of the age/wine ones, skip the rude drunk ones, our Bodega Del Sur winery had Bears around a campfire along the lines of “Is it deer Hunter with red and fishermen with white?” If you have any, please share them in the comments. I just might have to stitch them up.

 Ironstone has decorated for the holidays with spectacular outside lighting this year; sorry no shots – it was raining and we made a mad dash for cover. They have indoor woodland and wine themed ornaments and decorations for sale as well.

They reported that 195 ladies and 30 vendors attended and they collected 250 toys and just under $3,000 cash for Santa’s Express.

This post is participating in Unknown Mami’s Sundays in my City. I’d thought I might pop in a few new sunset shots for the photographers in that crowd, but this post is long enough – so later. Hop on over to Unknown Mami if you want to see what other folks around the globe are doing in their neck of the woods.

Meager Progress – the Turtle wins, right?

I’ve finally made some progress, however meager, towards a garden. Mike at Murphy’s nursery is happy to make and sell redwood garden beds. If you’re local and wouldn’t get around to building them yourself, give him a call.  I was getting a few and live close by, so he threw in delivery. The above photo shows my splurge of four 8′ x 4′ ready-made raised beds.

Critters of every shape and size are a natural part of living in the mountains. If you hope to harvest any vegetables, then screen on the bottom of your beds is a necessity. Voles – burrowing Meadow mice –  are pretty small as are the burrow holes in my on my property. I went with hardware cloth; chicken wire, although less expensive, won’t last long and I for one would not want to have to dig up the beds to replace the wire after only a year. As I want these to last as long as humanly possible, I painted them with Thompson’s water seal.

The hardware cloth comes in 4 foot rolls so you need to add a strip to the edge for full coverage and then twist wire to connect the pieces (or use rings/connectors made for dear/animal fence). Leaving a space the animals could get through defeats the whole purpose of installing the wire.

Next up was installing hoops to extend the season I can grow in the raised beds. Floating row cover, greenhouse plastic or shade cloth can go over the hoops as needed. My plan is for floating row cover as I’ve used it before and really like the stuff. The Winter Harvest Handbook discusses more on extending your season with row covers or check out About.com.  I may also cover one bed’s hoops with chicken wire as I don’t know if I’ll be able to get the deer fencing up before winter and I’m hoping to get a few winter crops (kale is a-ok with snow) from one bed this season. The others will be prepped (with lovely things like cow manure) and left to rest over the winter with the row cover placed on towards the end of winter. In my previous warmer zone, I used the overwintering bed to start cuttings – fig trees and roses were so easy to start there. I may give a few hardwood cuttings a go here as well. It’s so easy – just snip some branches and stick them in the bed (without the manure or have the rich manured soil at the bottom of the bed).  If they sprout in spring you have plants – if not, no harm no foul. There are oodles of You Tube videos on starting plants – here’s one on easy hardwood cuttings.


When living in the bay area, I was one of those avid gardeners constantly starting cuttings and trading plants, swapping seeds and hitting the plant sales and garden tours (can you say obsessive? Case in point – my seed collection; these photos not showing the jars or shopping bags in the garage that also have seed. A friend was giving my seed away for free on her website, she’s moved and the garden clubs here are only for ladies of leisure who can meet on a weekday morning. That leaves me out and my collection grows). But hey – buying some seed is $4.95 for 5 or 10 seeds (eek if you do a lot, and if the snails get it or damping off if you grow inside – so sad. I can be relaxed and cavalier – if it doesn’t work it’s just food for the compost. When you get thousands of seed from one snapdragon, it’s ok if the birds get a few of your seedlings). A lot of my seed is multiple years old – most seed is fine if kept out of sun and kept dry. Every now and then there are plants that need fresh seed. You can test your seed by pre-sprouting – roll some in a piece of damp paper towel and place in a sealed baggie – then see if it sprouts (you can plant that sprout if you don’t let it dry out at all in the transplanting). Now that I’m making progress, my optimism and enthusiasm is back as I plan for offspring of favored plants from my previous home – even with the awareness that I may just be creating a lovely salad bar for the local wildlife as they are truly persistent.

With the beds,  thought I’d need to pre-drill the holes to mount the pipe, but the 8 x 1 wood screws went in easily. They attach ½ inch two hole pipe straps that hold the ½ inch PVC pipe in place. My plan had been for two pipe straps at each end of PVC, but I found that one anchors them pretty securely so I’ll start with that. Eight-foot long PVC gives the rise you see here. I’m debating about doing some beds lower.

I’m planning now for winter sowing. There is so much material out there – I prefer photos (good shot to get the idea) and suggest you scan this Flickr Search. The bottom line is “no stress seed starting”.  My preferred method is the milk jug method – forget all those plastic bags, cheap coolers and plastic boxes.

Most folks time this around the winter solstice; now’s the time to start saving and prepping your milk jugs. Cut most of the way around a milk jug and get some holes in the bottom. Add soil, water thoroughly, seeds, water lightly, label, close (I use a small piece of duck tape), leave the cap off and place outside – a spot with morning sun works best for me so if I get an occasional scorcher day in the winter, they’ll survive.


I get busy (notice how consistently I post :-) ) so pretty much completely ignore the jugs until spring. If I had weeks of dry warm weather – I’d check if they need water. These hold more soil and if I can’t get to planting them out right away, I can just cut off the lids and let them grow on a tad. If you use food trays, you don’t have as much space for soil and they can overheat more easily, you’ll have to be fast at transplanting once they get going. I have used food containers successfully, just find the milk to be easier. Also, one row of milk jugs along the driveway or portion of the yard is not horrid for the neighbors to view. The idea is, if it’s not a tropical/warm climate seed, it will enjoy the winter chill, sprout earlier given the small hothouse environment and be a pretty hardy seedling as opposed to something nurtured with warmth and lights that must be carefully hardened off to survive. People do warm climate seeds – just set those out in early spring.  I’ve done this multiple times, in both my previous zone 9/sunset 14 (no snow) and my current zone 7 – it works well, takes very little effort or expense and yields volumes of plants. If you check out the Gardenweb board, you’ll notice folks have an acronym – HOS (hunk o’ seedling as many folks just transplant hunks and don’t bother with thinning). They also swap seed there and have a FAQ with decent instructions.

Time to get back to work!

Consider subscribing to the blog so you’ll be pinged when I post.  This post is participating in unknown mami’s Sundays in my City.