Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Not So Rosy Roses

We have seven rose bushes. They are always a work in progress. I don’t know whether it is because my thumb never turned green from those childhood years on the Indiana farm, seven is an unlucky number, or our soil sucks.

I’m going with the soil.

I’d transplant them but there really isn’t another appropriate space on our small hillside parcel. PJ has become a rose bush groupie so I toil regularly with all manner of nurturing. She can be such a nudge.

At dinner the other night with friends whose green thumbs stick out like neon, they mentioned the magic word—manure.

Manure and I go way back. That is where I attained my spreading-manure skills. It took me several years to wash it off me when I left that farm. I’m pretty sure that is why I was so dating-challenged.

It seems an anathema that manure and sweet smelling roses would be a match, but apparently manure qualifies as aromatherapy for rose bushes. Still, I worried that using it would bring petitions from the neighborhood.

Yesterday, while the soil was still moist from last week’s El Nino temper tantrums, I mulched* the manure in and around the rose bushes. I dug out enough dirt so I could bury most of the manure and minimize the stench. I’ll get back to you on that.

If this doesn’t work I’m going to gird them with sand bags. I try to stay one step ahead of PJ. See previous two posts.

While I was at it I replanted a stunted lemon tree to a more soil-friendly area, and dug out a sickly shrub near out front door and replaced it with a dwarf palm. There was enough manure left over to treat (manure is a treat?) our lime tree and three under-performing bougainvilleas.

When I planted our lime tree several years ago I did not know they had such prickly personalities. Anytime I get within five feet it draws blood from somewhere on my body, even if wearing gloves. Yesterday it was my torso.

I burnt the manure-stained clothes.

*Yes I know; I made a verb out of a noun. I’ll do anything for alliteration.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Muddy and Morose

For the record, six days of rain is enough. One-two, fine. Six, no.

Yes, we are spoiled in SoCal. This week of deluges brings our season total to a sopping sum of ten inches, more than double the norm. I believe they issued a high surf advisory for downtown Los Angeles. The season is officially July 1 to June 30, but most years ninety-plus percent moisturizes us January-March.

But here's the rub, PJ wants to retire in the Northwest, you know that part of the country where residents have to grow webfeet. (Can you surf the web better with webfeet?) In doing some city-by-city research on Google, the lowest annual rainfall I have found is thirty-five inches. Thirty-five inches is the one-year record rainfall for SoCal since I moved here forty years ago. I remember that year, a massive El Nino temper tantrum. Cranky was my middle name.

Move inland, you say? Not an option. PJ's first criteria is to live within an hour of the water, and that doesn't mean a river.

After this week I don't need a flu shot, I need a shot of Norman Vincent Peale. That, or watching the entire collection of Victor Borge tapes.

Score near the end of the fourth quarter, Storms 5, Sun 1.

The sump pump did its duty. Oh yes, despite wallowing in the mud securing trashcan liners on the vulnerable side of the house, PJ bought twenty sand bags anyway. Twenty! Our Honda Hybrid's butt was dragging when she pulled into the driveway. So guess who got to wallow some more in the mud? She says she'll sleep better at night. I'm still trying to work the wrench out of my back. I could probably use someone with webfeet.

Today is foodstuffs procurement day, assuming I can make my runs without a boat. Trying a new recipe tonight found at www.thepioneerwoman.com/cooks. It is called Italian Meatball Soup. This is one of my favorite cooking websites. Seems like the perfect way to end a soggy, dreary week. I'll be speaking to PJ again by Sunday.

Raining again.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

El Nino Temper Tantrums

Storm Watch is more than what Southern California TV stations call Breaking News when it begins to drizzle in Ventura. Every 4-5 years we actually have major storms. Then they switch their coverage to 24/7.

I am always flummoxed to understand why the weather gods feel they have to make up for four-plus years of way-below-average rainfall in one week. But, this is the week that was. It is somewhat akin to planes in the landing pattern for LAX, storms lined up offshore waiting for their turn to make land and wreck havoc.

As of this morning, though still in the first half, the score is Storms 2, Sun 1.

Storms are problematic for our household. I dust off the sump pump and retrench one side of the house. We live in a cul de sac on a hillside (no mudslide worries). The property’s drainage system flows down our driveway to a run-off line in the cul de sac, and not via the shortest route, down the hillside twelve yards from the back of our house.

The root system from the bushes lining our thirty-yard's long driveway invaded our drainage system requiring me (during major storms) to sink a sump pump into the backyard drain culvert and extend a garden hose to the head of the driveway. Replacing that drainage system is currently #6 on a long list of expensive repairs and upgrades. After this week it may climb up the chart to #2.

The east side of the house is a bigger issue, mostly because our living room floor is the only part of the house below ground level. The property next door sits on a slightly higher elevation and is separated by a five-foot brick wall. The land between that wall and our house slopes down to a narrow passageway that is not paved but has stepping-stones.

Five years ago while on vacation in Europe (during the time of the tsunami) we had another El Nino outburst. There was so much rainfall over a short period that the water sat stagnant beside our house for several days. Upon returning home our living room rug was sopping. Cha-ching.

Now I trench every fall. Plus I piled dirt against the outside wall so that any water flows down, and away in the trench.

Bride PJ has a PhD in worrying. Watching the water flowing past the outside wall isn’t enough. She has determined that we need sandbags, something on the magnitude of what beachfront homes erect to fend off crashing waves during El Nino-like storms. Finding sandbags is pretty easy. The City of Anaheim offers each homeowner ten free ones. Finding sand isn’t as simple. I’m pretty sure local law enforcement frowns on pilfering sand from the beaches.

Police officer, “Excuse me, sir, but what are you doing?

Me, “My civic duty and piling up sand bags to prevent beach erosion.”

Police officer, “Okay, as you were.”

Just to rub it in, once a year PJ reminds me that on family camping trips in waterlogged Oregon her dad dutifully got up at night in middle of downpours to trench all around the tent so that his charges could stay all snugly cozy. How chivalrous.

Brain fart time. This morning (not last night) I spread six large trashcan liners over the dirt piled against the house. No rest for domestic engineer guys. Now even more water will flow away. The ground under the bags may not soon resemble a desert but no El Nino temper tantrums will seep inside the house. I think.

PJ will probably still insist on sand bags. But when I tell her I’d have to buy a Ford F-150 just to truck them in, I think she’ll back off. I’d borrow the neighbor’s truck but they only drive theirs for the image. I have never seen them actually put anything in the truck bed.

Paving the side of the house, with a culvert, and building a retaining wall at the base of the eroding slope also moves up the to-do list—maybe to #1. Cha-ching.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Buyer Beware

The meat department at my local Vons suckered me last week.

I had a new tri-tip recipe I wanted to give a whirl. I usually buy tri-tip at Costco but wasn’t willing to drive the 12-mile round trip just for one item. I had made my monthly Costco run the first week of January.

Vons (owned by Safeway) is one of those supermarket chains that bypassed USDA labeling to create their own unbranded brand—in this case Ranchers Reserve. Cute.

When they introduced this “brand” a few years ago I cornered one of the meat cutters wearing a bloodstained white apron. He was evasive about the grade of beef as it related to the USDA grades of prime, choice, select, standard, and road kill.

So I drastically cut back my Vons’ beef purchases unless I needed chuck for my pot roast recipe. With a pot roast the braising process renders beef so tender you don’t even need teeth.

Last Friday I bit on three-pound-plus tri-tip cut on sale. Big mistake.

During my Saturday night prep time I took the cut out of the package only to discover a large slab of fat hidden under the cut. By the time I finished trimming the hidden slab and some other fat, my three-pound-plus cut weighed a little less than two pounds. I had trimmed off one and one quarter pounds of fat!

I will be having a chat with another Vons’ person when I do my weekly shopping this week, only this time the manager.

If stopping by my website, click on videos and watch the one entitled “Where’s the Beef? Here’s Your Beef,”—a bit long, but lots of good meat in it about meat. The tri-tip I used in that video was purchased at Costco and didn’t need any fat trimming. So even though it was not on sale at Costco, I still paid less, pound for pound, than the Vons tri-tip cut on sale. Plus, the Costco cut was USDA Choice, not Ranchers Reverse Obese.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Book Puffery

As I have written here and in a published column, self-publishing is a lot like life, one long forced march into enemy territory. I am regularly more optimistic than that, but there are days when it seems that way. It is its own slog into the unknown, especially for the uninitiated, and the odds are daunting.

So, I slog on. Call it rogue marketing. The often disheartening task is to get outside my circle (albeit it a large one) of family and friends, especially with a limited budget.

For those who are clicking on my website or blog for the first time, whether via my Facebook ad or a friend’s recommendation, welcome. I hope you take your curiosity a step further, check out the book, and buy it.

To that end I am sharing here some comments received from friends. Yes, I know, friends won’t likely pan my book. And at times, the silence can be deafening. Conversely, there are some chest-expanders. What is said often says more than something like, “I’m enjoying your book,” as much as I still savor that.

To wit:

“Hilarious but oh-so-helpful.”

“Donna (spouse) kept asking me what I was laughing about so I would stop and read her a section I had just read.”

“Keith, your book is a hoot. I hope my hubby doesn’t notice the chocolate smudges on the pages Christmas morning.”

“The wedding for dummies and ‘Mr. Fix It’ situations were just great comedy.”

Your book… “has a niche, is funny and serious, thought-provoking and more, but just enough to let me beg, write a sequel! Become the macho male Erma Bombeck.”

There is no male version of Erma, IMO. It is a label I aspire to—another daunting task.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Consumer Push-backs

I was just hit with another late fee, this time by our Chevron/Texaco credit card. Suddenly it hit me—not a knockout punch, more like a whack up side my head.

Duh, dude, why do you need them? (I talk to myself a lot.)

Fair question. Gas companies take all manner of cards, Visa, Mastercard, American Express…all of which we have.

Since I still live in the Dark Ages and pay our bills with checks, I am prime meat for late fees, just one of the new credit card “gotchas.” I used to pay bills once a month. Now I pay four times a month. Whatever can go wrong, will—whether a bill mysteriously disappears (regardless of your foolproof system), or the post office suddenly takes five days to deliver instead of the usual 2-3 days.

Gas credit cards still charge gouge interest rates but we have been paying them off every month for over ten years.

Last month I missed the Chevron deadline by one day. Our thirty-five year relationship meant nothing. Gotcha! They tacked on $25.00 to the bill.

Hence the “duh” moment.

We had already cancelled our Exxon account several years ago over a similar incident. Now we are canceling Chevron/Texaco. But just to add an exclamation point we are cutting up the cards and returning them with the final payment.

We still have Shell cards. It may take a bit longer to wean our son off that last card, even though he now has a Visa card, and a debit card.

We are buying most of our gas now at Costco—routinely ten cents lower per gallon. They take American Express, as does every other pimping station.

And no, I did not misspell pumping.

We have also been Wells Fargo Bank customers for over thirty years. In yet another “push-back” move we are seriously looking into moving our checking account to a smaller, community-centered bank that loans money to small businesses.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Licking Privileges

This weekend is PJ’s birthday weekend. I won’t disclose her age, especially since it is so close to mine.

Her birthday is actually on the 13th but as is our rule we celebrate on the weekend closest to the birthday when it falls on a weekday. Since our daughter is still with us from her extended holiday visit PJ naturally chose this weekend.

This morning she asked if she could also include next weekend, and even though she is the family ATM, I held my ground and said “no.” I’ll keep you posted on how that turns out.

The birthday girl gets her pick for tonight’s menu plus lots of weekend bennies. In her case that doesn’t add up to much because I routinely handle most of the to-do lists. Remember that ATM part.

PJ chose avocado, smoked salmon, sprouts, and pesto on toasted wheat bread for the appetizer, filet-of-beef with béarnaise sauce for the main course, roasted vegetables (fingerlings, haricot verts, carrots, red onion) with pesto (in this case without the basil, and butter in addition to olive oil), and for the closer, Jack Daniels & chocolate pecan pie*. The Jack Daniels is in the pie, not the beverage you serve with it. But for you Jack lovers, got for it.

One of PJ’s regular bennies is bowl licking after I have poured or spooned out the dessert concoction just prior to baking. This pie filling includes: butter, unsweetened chocolate, eggs, sugar, corn syrup, vanilla extract, and Jack Daniels. So her first birthday treat was the bowl. Even though I made the mixture with my largest bowl she still could not put her face into the bowl. Lord knows she tried. This is one of the times when a tongue extender would come in handy**. As it was, after scooping out as much as she could with a spoon, she fell in love with her right index finger. I almost didn’t have to wash the bowl.

*If interested in any of these recipes, contact me via my website, www.domesticengineerguy.com

**I know what you’re thinking.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Pink Workout Towels

I suppose it was inevitable—something going into the washer white and coming out pinkish—in this case two of my gym towels.

I had been pretty proud of my spotless record, even though all spots are not created equal (think blueberries), and some stick around forever.

I was wrapping up the holidays, unraveling the lights and décor inside and out, waltzing the tree to the driveway (the tree led), and laundering the colorful placemats and napkins. In my calorie-laden fog I failed to notice two workout towels mixed in with the colors of Benetton. Those table settings are still new enough that they were not done sharing themselves with all they bathe with, especially vulnerable whiteys.

So now I have two pinkish workout towels to go with the six other mostly white ones.

Just to prove that I’m a guy comfortable in my skin, even when it is sweating, I grabbed a pinkish towel today as I left for the gym. I didn’t notice any of the guys approach the recliner bikes next to mine and retreat quickly.

Here’s a conversation never likely to be held by two guys in a gym:

Guy #1, “I see that you are using a pinkish towel. Are you trying to send a message, or did you screw up the laundry?”

Guy #2, “Yup, I just blotched the Laundry 101 yearend exam. But fortunately I didn’t mar anything of my wife’s.”

Guy #1, “No worries. I’d show you my pink underwear but one of my bro-friends might notice.”

Guy #2, I appreciate that, but just in case, would you mind sitting two bikes over?”

Just then, a lady in pink tights paraded by, noticed the pink towel and stopped to chat. For your available guys, pink towels could be a babe magnet. If so, maybe you should rethink pink underwear. I can show you how to make some.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

2010 Christmas Wish List

I’ve decided to put in my Christmas wish list early this year. That way maybe I will get more of what I want. Hey, a guy can try.

  1. Another year of heating, air conditioning, refrigerator, dishwasher, and washer and dryer units functioning without any failures or replacement.
  2. A full year of no credit card percentage hikes.
  3. Another year of periodic plumbing flushing without major system surgery, or re-routing.
  4. Another year without having to rewire the house.
  5. With the last payment on our hybrid in April, at least a full year without the expensive battery replacement. I know, a bit greedy—dipping into the 2011 wish list.
  6. At least one of our three lost ships using its GPS to find a dock, even if still not docking.
  7. Ten pounds less than today.
  8. A full year without any viruses eating my hard drive.
  9. A full year without any viruses, or some obscure incurable disease, eating me, or PJ.
  10. Our son’s employment status stable enough so he stays moved out.
  11. A successful partial knee replacement for PJ, and a short recovery.
  12. Another year of not living in paranoia, or fearing change.
  13. Solving at least half of the Los Angeles Times’ Sunday Crosswords, and thereby reducing my cross words.
  14. Guy’s Guide to Domestic Engineering book sales beyond expectations.
  15. A robust start on another book.
  16. Twenty-five new recipes to salivate over. I’ll try many more, but would love twenty-five keepers.
  17. Learning to swear in French while watching UCLA sports. The neighbors will be grateful.
  18. At least five new life-long friends.
  19. Safe travels to multiple reunions—five.
  20. Another year of earning the friendship of my friends.
  21. A stress-free accommodation to PJ’s retirement and presence in our accommodations 24/7. Merde!
  22. Another year of expansive novels with my book club.
  23. Another year of thinking outside the box, stretching the envelope, and contributing new clichés.
  24. Another year of giving more than I get, despite this lengthy wish list. Are twenty-four too greedy?
  25. Peace on earth. Now I am being greedy.