Sow There! Sowing alternatives to the perils of the grocery store, 4-24-2020

As soon as the poppies are done with their spring show, the mulched area in my yard will be prime real estate for edible plants. (Heather Hacking — Contributed)
April 24, 2020 

Has it been two or three weeks since I ventured to a local supermarket? Frankly, I can’t remember. At some point I decided grocery shopping made me feel uncomfortable. It was hard to breathe when my mind raced to avoid touching my face, watch for the proximity of strangers, and double-check whether I wiped off the credit card.

Nope, if it doesn’t come from my cupboards or mail delivery, I can probably live without.

Each day I walk at least three miles in my neighborhood. You would think I would be in fairly great shape after a month. Yet, my otherwise toned body is surrounded by this shelter-in-place pudge. The last time I shopped in hoarding mode, I nervously stocked up on my favorite foods.

Soon, I devoured all those barbecue potato chips and chocolate-covered almonds.

Indeed. I needed a variety pack of novelty ice cream bars.

“That should last you for a month,” he said as he dropped off a box of 40.

“You underestimate me,” I replied.

The empty boxes were soon delivered to the green waste can under cover of darkness.

Love in a box. One of the recent surprises from my step-mom included this box of chocolate-covered, cream filled cookies. (Heather Hacking — Contributed)

Even if I foraged the cupboards for two months, I certainly wouldn’t starve.

Last fall my friend Thor came to visit and he must have been really bored. He rearranged my pantry items.

“Why do you have so many cans of water chestnuts, baby corn and cream of mushroom soup?” he asked, placing a can of jackfruit near the pyramid of pink salmon.

“Zombie apocalypse,” I explained.

In the past, many of us only wildly speculated about the possibility of a pandemic. Now is the time to eat those canned beets and kidney beans. Otherwise those emergency foods will be so old we could kill zombies via canned food botulism.

It’s my birthday next week, so I’m certain I won’t need to wait much longer before restocking my supply of sweets. If the pattern continues, my folks will manage to send brown cardboard boxes to my doorstep, filled with chocolate in the shape of dragonflies and Frito’s jalapeno bean dip. My frequent walking buddy, LaDona, has offered to host a socially-distanced birthday party in her cul-de-sac, but that would only be fun if we all wore surgical gloves and tossed around a beach ball. I’ll probably gain five additional pounds that day, looking wistfully out the window.

Seed scramble

Someone told me that garden seeds are among the items stores have had difficulty keeping in stock.

Thank goodness my mother delivered all those seed packets on the eve of the Great Seclusion. Many of us are hopeful for a bountiful vegetable garden in lieu of washing store-bought produce in soap and water.

So far, my radishes and miscellaneous squash are in the sprout stage. This week I filled a 25-gallon plastic half-wine barrel with soil and planted spring greens.

LaDona has an enviable edible garden. She covered her scraggly turf with layers of cardboard, which was covered in wood chips. Clumps of perennial herbs grow undisturbed by weeds and she allows her veggies go to seed. When I visit her backyard through the side gate, I keep a safe distance from her while nibbling on volunteer arugula. Recently, she sent me home with two small artichokes, which I soaked in a bowl of water. I had so much time on my hands, I counted 15 earwigs, some in the pupal state, that emerged from the buds.

I’m hopeful that before I shrivel from a Vitamin K deficiency, the seeds planted in my 25-gallon barrel will be bursting with spinach and red leaf lettuce. Beans have also been planted along the cyclone fence and zucchini seedlings are gasping for sunlight in the black plastic truck bed liner.

I have time on my hands, and if my neighbor keeps delivering ice cream novelty bars, I should have plenty of cardboard. I’m shamelessly planning to copy LaDona’s edible garden lead.

Ah, all those months when I was too busy working to visit friends, too dramatically swamped to pull weeds, too frazzled to catch up with my parents and my toenails were never painted. How many times did I wish that I just had time to watch the grass grow?

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Sow There! Easter surprises triumph over pity party, April 17, 2020

| Sow There!

Easter lilies, the perfect poor-me pick-me-up. (Heather Hacking-Contributed)
April 17, 2020 at 2:30 a.m.

For weeks now, I have been wishing I had stocked up on a few things that can’t be delivered in a cardboard box from Amazon. The big-ticket item was 10 bags of topsoil to fill four plastic faux-wine barrels begging for some filling.

In particular, there is a Daphne odora that deserves some space to roam.

Daphne ordora has a much better chance in a huge pot.

Sure, I could dig a huge hole in my yard and harvest some of this prime Chico backyard soil, but then I’d have a gaping eyesore on my hands.

On a few occasions, I had that particular itch and drove by the big-box home improvement store. The idea was if the store looked mostly vacant, I would make a mad dash through the garden section, quick as a 1970s streaker at a college bowl game.

Yet, every time I saw the wall-to-wall pickup trucks in the parking lot, I chickened out and drove home.

For a while in late March, the town looked more like a home-improvement holiday than a time for shelter in place. Was I the only person who was heeding the warning to stay at home, lonely, and binging on a dwindling supply of emergency chocolate?

Of course, everything changed. There’s no reason for folks to go to home improvement stores. People are now busy rebuilding their gazebos and putting 10 bags of topsoil to good use.

Last weekend, LaDona and I went for a socially-distant walk in our neighborhood and decided to venture into the parking lot of Ace Hardware on East Avenue. It was near closing time and we gaped through the iron gate at the fresh shipment of colorful flowers, neatly arranged on the long, outdoor tables.

The view from just outside the barrier.

I wouldn’t say I was salivating, but I’m certain my blood pressure increased by a point or two.

The only folks walking under the shade cloth were two ladies wearing garden smocks and a few shoppers with smiles on their faces.

LaDona and I were too far apart to hear each other gasp, but we were both thinking the same thing. This would be the perfect time for a dash-and-grab plant purchase. I could have spent half my anticipated government stimulus check in 15 minutes.

Alas, we were walking and neither of us had thought to bring money.

We lingered longer than necessary. I checked out the prices for the bags of topsoil, overflowing the wooden pallet in the hot sun. We schlepped home feeling like that girl who is always longing for that doggie in the window.

The next day, LaDonna sent me a text to ask if I was home.

Duh. Where else would I be?

A few minutes later she rolled down the gravel driveway in her new (to her) pickup truck and offloaded 10 bags of topsoil. Just to further cement our sure-to-be-lasting friendship, she deposited two tomato plants on my outdoor table and refused to accept my money.

This is what people mean when they say members of the community are looking out for one another.

Soon, it was Easter, and I was back into one of those funks. My morning routine of scrolling through other people’s lives on Facebook became a pity party. I live alone and people were enjoying Easter. Families posted their pantry-item Easter brunches and pics of children frolicking as they gathered plastic eggs. I love to play board games like Settlers of Catan and Skip-Bo. There were my niece and nephews, gathered around tables with dice in their hands. Other people’s children were developing fine motor skills and mastering shape recognition by working on puzzles.

Harrumph. The computer was clicked off and I worked out my frustration by pulling weeds.

My Totally Cool Neighbor was gone, but I glanced over to the weathered wooden fence. He sometimes sits on his side of the barricade, and we chat about everything and nothing.

That’s when I spotted my surprise.

There, in an indentation where the wood has rotted at the top of the fence post, TNC had placed a one-gallon container overflowing with white Easter lilies. It’s in soil, so I can plant it!

I snatched them quickly because I didn’t want some guy on a bicycle to grab them on the way to visit his mother and work on puzzles. When I saw TNC later, he confirmed they were intended for me.

This story gets just a little bit better. Recently I ordered a bunch of stuff on Amazon. The shipments arrive bit-by-bit. To allow the boxes to detoxify, I place them in the middle of the kitchen for several days.

On Easter, I opened a small box that I expected contained either coffee filters or an oral thermometer.

Instead, it contained a big chunk of chocolate with a magnet on the back. Everyone knows you aren’t living large unless you have chocolate hanging on your fridge. Thank you Lynda, my ever-gracious step-mom, the timing turned out to be my chocolate Easter surprise.

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Sow There! How did it get so late so soon? 4-10-20

Sometimes we are in the right place at exactly the right time. (Heather Hacking — Contributed)
April 10, 2020


Now it passes slowly, when once I could not find enough. This time we are in.


Waiting, not knowing for how long, not knowing what may be.

I find ways to pass the time, wonder what I did with all that time, and find nothing more but time ahead.

Other times, I remember that the pace of my life is seldom in my control.

This social distancing thing has sent my psyche into a whirlwind. Sometimes I feel all boo-hoo, alone and reaching for another individually-wrapped bag of barbecue potato chips, which were conveniently delivered in a cardboard box by a hurried stranger. Other times, I see clearly that we’re all in this — separately and together.

The pale blue light of late day reached through the window this week and found me sitting on the couch in a slump. I could hear the rain had returned, just a patter on the thick plastic that hangs over my picnic table.

A rainbow. That would make me happy. I wagered this was the right time to find one outside.

My friend Chere taught me that anyone can find a four-leaf clover. You just need to take the time to find them.

Rainbows are the same. Once you know the signs, listen and watch, all you need to do is get off the couch and chase them.

I was not disappointed. The colors stretched across the eastern sky, surely touching down north near the airport and soaring south to the Midway. As I took the time to document the moment, the hint of a double rainbow appeared. In this light, the color of the trees transformed to the yellow of Gingkos we see in the fall.

I proudly posted this joy-filled moment to share with anyone and everyone. If I needed a boost about this time, others would as well.

Within minutes, more than a dozen other rainbow pictures were posted. Suddenly, “my rainbow” was trending.

“I saw it too,” Erin gloated online, and I could feel her smile from halfway across town. “Socially distanced rainbow sharing,” she said.


Our politicians keep saying our virulent circumstances should be considered a war. This week our rainbow won the battle.

Weeds await

Another war is the battle of the weeds. With time standing still, many of us are paying closer attention to the slow changes in our gardens.

If you consider gardening to be exercise, I did about 1,000 squats in my yard yanking coarse grass that had just gone to seed. I could have sworn I pulled all the tall invaders from the poppies just the day before. Yet, each time I looked, more had taken their place.

Someday, scientists may discover that plants talk to each other. The moment one weed disappears, three that remain form a committee and decide now is the time to produce seeds as quickly as possible.

I have already documented that Velcro weeds can don a Harry Potter cloak. I’ll stare directly at Velcro weeds, certain that all I see is periwinkle.

However, these days I am looking at things more closely. You see, I planted seeds. I don’t plant in neat rows, and I certainly don’t have a labeling system. I put things in the ground, then try to generally remember where I need to add water. In this way, I am frequently surprised.

I can’t remember how much time has passed since my Totally Cool Neighbor and I pushed beans into the ground. Was it a week? 12 days? Last time I looked, I saw sprouts, which may be our beans or might merely be last year’s morning glories, coming back one more time. My quick crop of radishes are on their way, and I likely planted the squash too soon. No worries, the squash seeds may simply be taking their own sweet time.

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Sow There! I’m not OK with this, April 2, 2020

If this is your hidden back yard in the Avenues, thank you. (Heather Hacking — Contributed)
April 3, 2020 at 11:58 a.m.

Ugh. Shuffle. Embrace the inner sloth. As much as I’m trying to distract my mind, be gentle with myself and avoid stress-eating, it’s tough to shake off these barricade blues.

Think happy thoughts. That’s the advice I would give others.

When it rained last weekend, I went to my “happy place” at the edge of the Sacramento River. Sunshine, even cloud-filtered sunshine, can increase serotonin. I felt a little better at that moment, and for an hour I did not consume chocolate.

The folks within my social media circles are doing their best to share words of comfort — videos of children singing separately but in unison, photos of cats curled at the edge of the couch, landscape photo challenges, drone-delivered toilet paper.

During this time of coronavirus cheerfulness, the sarcastic political rants seem to have gone silent.

We are the world — trying to keep our sanity: Virtual house concerts, zooming with my friends, group texts, reading classic books, binge-watching — Yet, it’s not the same as the life I once lived (and will live again).

Clap your hands

Years ago, I formed a habit about happiness, which I’m certain has been annoying to close friends. If I find myself in one of those glorious and fleeting moments, I’ll say “I’m happy right at this moment.”

It’s the adult equivalent of “If you’re happy and you know it, clap your hands.”

When I’m alone and happen to be happy, I don’t say the words out loud (nor do I clap), but I’ll smile to myself, knowingly.

Maybe I want to solidify that moment, hold onto it for one second longer, to file it away.

That’s important because we all know that pretty soon something cruddy will come along to crumple our collection of happy thoughts.

These days I’m doing a good job of walking at least three miles a day, sometimes with my own thoughts, sometimes with a friend and often while gabbing on the phone. Most of the alleys that lead toward the nearby liquor store are strewn with single-shot booze garbage, drive-thru coffee cups and dog droppings. Yet, the alleys on the east side of The Esplanade have some amazing hidden gardens.

My friend Michael called this week and said he was willing to stretch his legs. We couldn’t help but pause and gasp (at a safe 6-foot distance from one another) at meticulously manicured raised beds hidden behind houses, visible only from the seldom-used, gravel-covered alley. Redbud trees are in bloom. We saw garden walkways meticulously covered with shredded leaves. Secret bungalows (perfect for an art studio or writer’s cottage) overlooked soil ready for planting. The colors included lilac and purple bearded iris. All were hidden from the front yard, to be enjoyed only by the homeowner or strangers who happen to walk through alleys.

When each of us is long-gone, flowers will continue to bloom.

It wasn’t until I got home that I realized I normally would have said, “I’m happy at this moment.” Michael’s a good friend, so I would have said this several times.

Funny, those words had not occurred to me.

That’s when I realized this thing outside of my firmly-closed front door is really getting to me. Silent. Scentless. Ubiquitous. Scary.

I won’t say I have low-level depression, because I refuse to solidify that thought. However, I just haven’t felt like saying “I’m happy right at this moment.”

When the Handsome Woodsman died in a car accident, I ambled about in brain fog. This lasted a long, long time. I dropped things. I searched for my keys and would find them in the front door the next morning. I really had no business behind the wheel of a car. The one thing that helped the most, back then, was that I had three friends who were also experiencing recent grief.

It was a great comfort to know they also lost track of thoughts, dropped things, and left their keys in the front door.

This week my friend Emily posted a rather revealing photo of a body part she had burned while baking. She said she had also sliced herself with a knife.

Brain fog.

I apologize to each and every Girl Scout to whom I lied “I’ll buy some next time.” (Heather Hacking — Contributed)

I saw a friend on the street, and we talked ever-so-briefly. He texted later and said it just feels weird to stand in public and talk, even with a good friend. I knew exactly how he felt.

An acquaintance posted on Twitter that if he had a time machine, he would go back three weeks and buy every box of Girl Scout cookies he could find. I feel the same way.

I’m glad to have the social media distractions — updates on sewing projects or recipes made from common pantry items. Another comfort is knowing other people are also feeling at wit’s end, and not particularly happy right now.

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Sow There! Coronavirus coping means more time with friends, March 27, 2020

Thanks to a friend, chard has been both a source of nourishment and inspiration. (Heather Hacking — Contributed)

March 27, 2020 at 11:42 a.m

There have been countless times when gardening helped me overcome restlessness and discontent. While toiling in soil I was able to hear my inner voice, smooth relationship woes or notice previously overlooked gifts from Mother Nature. Many times, spade in hand, I handed my worries to God.

Nowadays, gardening is more important than ever.

By the time this column appears in print, it will be two weeks since I traveled through three airports from the East Coast to California. When I first got home, I stayed indoors to ensure I did not unwittingly harm others. Now, I’m staying safely away from other people’s dirty hands.

That first week I tried not to let my mind wander. I’d feel an itch at the back of my throat and consciously push away thoughts of dying in my prime.

Then the governor strongly urged everyone to stay indoors. Now we’re all in this together — cloistered under the curse of coronavirus. Sometimes it has felt fairly lonely.

Thank goodness for good friends. Jim stated the obvious — “This too shall pass.”

Another chum reminded me that she also lives alone, which made me feel not so alone. Often, I worried about friends who are trapped in places where they would rather not be, and this makes me feel guilty for having it so good.

To shake off the wiggles, I have found friends willing to chat via phone as I walk in circles around my neighborhood. In just five days, I logged 18 miles on the pedometer and regained traction on some important friendships.

If I was a better me, I would have started a novel or re-organized my closet. However, most of my quiet time has been spent following state, national and world news. I’m still worried about the 22 teachers, from 22 countries, who left the United States in a hurry.

I have consumed information double-fisted, watching the PBS News Hour while reading CNN and Reuters. The Chico Enterprise-Record has been my source for a sense of community and updates on local coronavirus cases. I also scanned for stores that offer drive-up shopping options.

We all have ways that we cope with life. In my case, I have noticed that my consumption of emergency chocolate is in direct correlation to my consumption of dismal news.

Sometimes my friends remind me to refer to my list of things for which I am grateful:

We don’t live in New York City. My retirement-age parents are staying at home. I have a garden. I no longer have cancer. I have excellent credit and cherished friends.

Make new friends

Over the past year or so I’ve had several short but meaningful conversations with my totally cool neighbor. He’s always working on something in his shed. Previously, we only had snippets of time to chat, but he would invite me into his man cave to check on the progress of his projects.

When I returned home from my work trip to Washington, D.C. and began my self-quarantine, I naturally vented my frustration by pulling weeds.

He must have heard me grunting and soon we began to swap bits of life history and long-considered personal philosophies. As I gathered up piles of unwanted foliage, he leaned against the fence that separates his gravel from my compost pile. After I while I learned to holler through his slightly-open door if I saw his ride parked in his driveway. We both agreed, spending time with a new friend is a great tool against the coronavirus blahs.

As we talked and talked, with occasional breaks to reapply sunscreen, we also agreed growing vegetables wouldn’t be a bad idea. It still feels too early to plant seeds, but it was something to do, given the circumstances. You never know. A bumper crop of zucchini could come in handy if access to grocery stores becomes more of a hassle. My totally cool neighbor even put some beans in the ground on his side of the fence, and I pledged to water them, since I may have time.

Lovely LaDona invited me to her house one afternoon. She wiped dust from a lawn chair that had sat vacant since January. We talked and talked in the sunshine, 10 feet away. I can’t think of the last time she and I had time to talk and talk because we’re usually both working and working.

She gets her dose of sunshine working in her back yard and has an enviable edible garden. When I went home I took a fistful of fresh chard, which I grilled in a cast iron pan with olive oil and garlic salt. That afternoon, as my T.C. Neighbor sat in a chair at the fence line, I planted seeds for quick-growing spring greens and radishes. Thanks to my mom, I have a stay-in-place supply of seeds.

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Sow There! The view from another side of the sanitizing hand-wipe, 3-20-2020

March 20, 2020

My mom delivered an amazing array of seed packets this week – spinach, stringless beans, peas and other cool-season dandies that are ready to be poked into damp soil.

She made the delivery to my doorstep, then promptly back-stepped 20 feet toward her car.

Coronavirus care package.

I am confident I do not have the virus, but you never know. I recently traveled through three airports from Washington, D.C.

I’m that person who should not be out in public, at least for 4-14 days.

Inside the mombox I found protein shakes, steel-cut oats, toilet paper, tuna, soup and Indian food packaged in mylar.

This was unnecessary, I insisted before she made the 1 ¼-hour trip. Even without a proper inventory of my cupboards, I knew I had four rolls of toilet paper, eight cauliflower pizzas and enough chocolate to maintain my current weight from now until Halloween.

Yet, we all know how moms can be. They can be pushy. They often surprise us with a flood of love.

Back when it was early March, our group of 22 international Fulbright participants* left Chico for the nation’s capital. My main concern was packing my bags, not the pantry. I knew I was going to miss these new friends, and the ache felt like the beat of a Mongolian drum.

Our group flew east on Southwest, armed with hand-sanitizer and what may have been the last shipment of anti-bacterial wipes. We practiced greeting others by touching toes and tapping heels. Of course, the virus was a big problem in other countries, but it still seemed far away from Butte County.

In D.C. we lingered, holding tight to the end of our summer camp friendships. The cherries along the Potomac were at the earliest stages of bloom. One night we skipped across the green parkway toward the Washington Monument, the landmark aglow with floodlights, American flags fwapping in a light breeze. We saw many other small and large groups, seeing the night sights.

During the day, we attended educational seminars and began to say a drawn-out series of tear-filled goodbyes. There was zero time for museums.

Then, everything changed. The borders were closing. Flights were rerouted, some within 20 minutes of a bus ride to the airport. The president made a speech, my 401K dropped by 17 percent and everyone back home was hoarding toilet paper.

When I arrived in Chico, I sat in the dim light of my living room, suitcase still packed, checking for updates from my international friends, who are all teachers. One woman was sad she decided not to sleep next to her young son, who had missed her for six weeks. She wanted to protect him from all unknowns. In some towns, city streets were empty, except for military vehicles. A few travelers are still trying to reach home.

Back in Chico, I read about “flattening the curve,”, virus surge and closing of international borders.

I read about seemingly-healthy people in our country who could be witless spreaders of disease. People like me.

The news reports varied, but the shortage of medial respirators clanked around in my mind. My parents are in their early 70s. I shut my front door and made sure I had enough clean pajamas to wear for two weeks.

Now what?

In the computer age, a lot of us can work from home. My mom had delivered toilet paper, needed or not. My remaining dilemma was solved when Richard ventured to the store for supplies, and delivered chocolate chip ice cream to my driveway.

Living alone has its drawbacks, but staying alone means I don’t have to worry about infecting someone I love.

And then, there are the seeds. I owe my mother many apologies, and she may even have a list.

On a dormant winter night, my mother and I had made a pact to buy exotic seeds and swap. I made fun of her when she delayed her purchase.

When I opened the precautionary coronavirus care package, I found the seeds. She had carefully transferred the name and planting instructions onto small plastic bags containing treasures.

Mom: I love you and I should have known that you always come through.

Wednesday, wearing my pajamas and hiking boots, I pulled weeds and planted purple beans, Delicata squash and cool-season peas. Some of these grow quickly, and I might need fresh veggies if some worst-case scenarios arise.

I hope all of the traveling teachers will also have time to unwind before they plant seeds in the minds of their students.

In the meantime, I’m having trouble keeping track of my blessings.

  •  The Fulbright program at Chico State is funded through the Bureau of Education and Cultural Affairs, U.S. Department of State and International Research & Exchanges, administered by Chico State.
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Sow There! Common ground through fresh eyes, March 6, 2020


March 6, 2020 

My current job with International Education and Global Engagement has included several weekends out of town with 22 teachers from 22 different countries. I know, I know, you’ve been reading about this for weeks. However, even my most loyal readers must admit this repetition is more interesting than column-after-column about green tomatoes.

After weekends to Northern California attractions, our group learned that a stay-cation can be as satisfying as traveling to and fro.

I won’t claim that Chico is as postcard picture-perfect as San Francisco or the steep, snow-covered peaks of Lassen Peak, but I can certainly tell you I’ve had some amazing weekends in my common stomping ground. If you want to give your old town some new sparkle, try showing it off to someone new.

The plastic wheelbarrow transformed into a portable salad garden. These aren’t weeds, but arugula. Some seeds may have been dumped last year, or the plants scattered seeds all on their own. (Heather Hacking — Contributed)

The first week the visitors were in town, our Chico State campus tour came to a long pause at the footbridge near Holt Hall. Half a dozen visitors stopped to take photographs of squirrels. Normally, I call squirrels “tree rats,” but when someone else is fascinated by that bushy tail and the wiggle of a cute, furry nose, it’s easy to see squirrels in a new way.

Self-check at the grocery store — using credit cards at the gas pump — free perfume samples at Sephora — these are all delights many locals have grown to overlook. Spending an ordinary day in my long-trodden town suddenly felt like the Madison Avenue scene in the movie “Splash,” only without the quirky love interest.

A mural on the side of the parking structure! Wow!

In some ways, being a hometown tour guide provides the same joy we receive from spending time with children. A child sees something for the first time, and loves it, and so should we.

Hello Patrick Ranch Museum, pinball at Woodstock’s Pizza, the second visit to Shubert’s Ice Cream, the overwhelming feeling of wandering through Winco — suddenly new and amazing.

Alas, my new, international friends will soon be packing their bags. I regret they’ll miss the wildflowers at Table Mountain, concerts in the park and the hush of the town in summer. I’ll try to remember to experience all these things as if I had a traveler by my side.

Something new

With all of these busy details, I found some time to unwind in my yard.

Mostly, this was required because it hasn’t rained and if I did not water, things would die.

I like walking around my yard with a hose in hand, or my rusted red watering can. Maybe it’s my utilitarian version of yoga. If I stand still, remember to breathe, and have a task to do, my mind goes quiet for long enough to remember what quiet feels like.

When I remember the quiet, I remember that I’m not that important and that my problems are as trivial as dryer lint.

Thank you Mark Carlson for finishing the job of pruning my Thompson seedless grapevine. I started the job mid-winter. It was several weeks before I noticed Mark had stopped by to hack the vine into fine shape. He may have even hauled away the twisted clippings. Yet if the gnarled branches are in a pile somewhere near the tree stumps, I’ll find them later.

When I remembered to breathe and look around the yard, I noticed the poppies have sprouted in the cracks of the pavement in the alley. It only took a few more minutes to yank the common groundsel, a weed that was just about to spread seeds.

The big surprise was the transformation of my plastic wheelbarrow into a portable salad garden. Apparently, I had harvested some compost and put the good soil into the green resin garden cart. Was that in November?

When I noticed the garden cart this week, it was filled with greenery. Nope, they aren’t weeds, but arugula. I may have accidentally dumped some seeds when I planted arugula last year. However, I’m betting the plants grew, and bloomed and scattered seeds all on their own.

Imagine that. This all happened while I was looking somewhere else.

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Sow There! Yes, its time to water the yard, 2-28-20

February 28, 2020 at 3:30 a.m.

CHICO — Life is full of mixed blessings. Some that easily come to mind include food – too much chocolate or the second basket of cheesy muffins at Red Lobster.

Over the past month, our group of 22 visiting Fulbright* teachers from 22 countries has taken three weekend trips, each during nearly perfect weather. Sunday, we clomped across compacted snow in inappropriate footwear. Several of the travelers had never touched snow, and had no problem with the one-mile walk to the Sulfur Works near Lassen National Park’s visitor center.

“I can’t wait to feel what snow feels like,” one bus rider said.

“Does it hurt when you get hit by a ball?” another wondered aloud.

On the way home, almond bloom in the valley was about as bright as it gets. This was even better than a week ago, when we returned from San Francisco with horizon soft with pink petals. I noticed, however, that this week the farmers had turned on their irrigation.

Perfect weekend weather. Days that make you itch for a hike in the park. Sunshine that stirs up the serotonin and makes washing your car in the driveway seem like a better use of time than a matinee.

Yet, before you share that infectious smile with too many people in line for Schubert’s ice cream, consider that this could be too much of a good thing.

Dave Kasler in the Sacramento Bee notes that the ridiculously resilient ridge of high pressure is parked ominously over the Pacific, blocking the rain from making its way to my back yard. This happened five years ago, and we all learned about tiered water pricing.

The good news, of sorts, is that there isn’t much alive in my yard right now that would die in a drought.

Yes, we need to water our yards in February. If my lawn wasn’t already mostly dead, I would be watering it right now. If I had planted winter vegetables, I would be watering them right now. I do have about 82 plants in pots, and I’m watering them right now.

Life has been good lately, so I’ll choose not to dwell on distant dismal ideas about summer. It could be bad. Let us enjoy this beautimous spring while we can, with daffodils, hyacinth, flowering quince and just about every flowering tree in full bloom.

We can even celebrate by visiting Lassen Peak — in shorts.

Prep now

Another upside to the lack of rain is that giving the soil a good workup should be an easy task. Digging in moist garden plots can cause clumps that need another work-up later in the season. This time of year, every weed known to the north valley sprouts before most big-box stores can restock seeds for the season. If you water your bare soil, the weeds will sprout and you can kill them with a hoe. That’ll stop one generation of new weeds in the yard, if you time it right.

It’s tempting to feel the glow of the sun on your shoulders and get a jump on spring planting. However, it’s still too early. Chances are we’ll have a few nights that will leave some frost on the windshield of your car, which you washed on the lawn because it was such a nice day.

You might, however, plant some vegetable or flower seeds indoors. For seeds like tomatoes and peppers, plant the seeds in a small container cover with plastic, and put in the warmth of the windowsill. Bring them in at night, because that windowsill sill will get cold as well. Check every few days, and mist with a squirt bottle if the top of the soil feels dry. Once seedlings emerge, uncover and rotate the pot so you don’t get a plant that grows at a 45-degree angle.

Or maybe we can all have some afternoon springtime barbecues. The weather is nice enough and could lead to a rain dance or two.

  •  The Fulbright program at Chico State is funded through the Bureau of Education and Cultural Affairs, U.S. Department of State and International Research & Exchanges, administered by Chico State.
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Sow There! The gifts of the wide-open spaces 2-21-20

  • Flowers in San Francisco.


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Sow There! Small tasks and big rewards, Feb. 14, 2020

Small tasks and big rewards | Sow There!

February 14, 2020 at 3:00 a.m.

Sometimes, but not always, the hard work we put into an outcome can greatly increase the resulting joy of our efforts. Other times, the waiting also brings magnified joy.

Gardening is an excellent real life example. We hoe and dig, plant and water — we also wait and wait. If you love gardening, each step is filled with anticipation. That’s why it’s such a bummer when you lose your young lettuce to frost or blossom end rot shrivels your squash.

Right now, my time for gardening is minimal, which means I’ll stick with the winners.

I can’t remember when I put hyacinth bulbs into my nifty bulb vases. However, at the time I was thinking clearly. One week I popped a single bulb into place. The next week another.

A hyacinth bulb placed in a vase bloomed after weeks of weeks waiting. (Heather Hacking — Contributed)

For weeks and weeks, I watched the semi-translucent roots reach into the water. The bulbs began to show color, and I waited some more. One day I opened the door to the cubby-hole office I share with Terri McFarland, and the room was filled with sweet hyacinth scent, made more profound by the small quarters.


I’d need to do some soul-searching to decide which smell I savor the most – Daphne odoro outdoors or hyacinth trapped in a room. It’s been a while since I have sniffed fresh plumeria in bloom, but I’d wager this would add another contender to most-favored scented plant list.

Forcing bulbs in vases makes me feel almost-forward thinking, when the fact is I simply never got around to putting the bulbs in the ground.

This week I was fortunate to experience other delayed moments of joy. In early November I began working for the Office of International Training at Chico State.

I was thrilled to bump into people on campus, and to work in a place surrounded by trees. My coworkers work well (and laugh) together, and frankly I was really glad to have a paycheck.

Yet, every moment was not a joy. We planned and planned, pushed papers around in a circle and my brain was blurred by Excel spreadsheets. If I loved crunching numbers, I might have had an entirely different career path, one that involved numbers and possibly a bigger paycheck.

Let’s face it. I’m that “people person,” destined to be a reporter, teacher or Girl Scout leader.

For months and months, my new coworkers sat in our offices and talked and planned.

There was one particular week when I was cranky and frazzled. If I juggled one more task I was certain I would forget to brush my teeth or tie my shoes.

“Just wait,” my hallway companions said with knowing expectation. “As soon as the scholars arrived, it will all change. You’ll be on cloud nine.”

The scholars are here, as in Fulbright participants, *22 of them from 22 countries. I’m floating. Who cares about sleep when there are 22 people to show around campus, and Chico, and Northern California. They’re interested in the crops we pass while riding in a Chico State bus to places beyond. They snap photos as we cruise by a field covered in sandhill cranes. They want to know my opinion about the best, reasonably-priced restaurants and aren’t shy about buying American-name brands at thrift stores. My 32 years of local knowledge now seems like a big deal.

Plus, they’re teachers. In all of the small ways I can be helpful, I’m helping them to learn new things that will help in classrooms throughout the world. Just as my coworkers had predicted, I can see clearly how all of those small tasks are adding up for some real good.

Having visitors is not the same as traveling the world. Yet, it does help to brighten the paths that we travel on a regular basis. I’ve been to Sacramento dozens of times. Yet, it’s all new when you’re with people walking down the steps of the Delta King for the first time, or hearing the clomp-clomp of horse hooves on cobblestone.

Delayed gratification has, indeed, become a gift.

  •  The Fulbright program at Chico State is funded through the Bureau of Education and Cultural Affairs, U.S. Department of State and International Research & Exchanges, administered by Chico State.
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