Sow There!, Nov. 8 was anything but a normal day at school, Nov. 8, 2019

November 8, 2019 at 4:19 am

Autumn mornings are crisp and children on the playground aren’t necessarily noticing the beauty of the amber and golden leaves. In those few moments before school, kids are chasing each other around in small circles or giggling in even smaller circles.

A year ago, the bell rang and my third-grade students at a school in Chico created a somewhat disorderly line facing the glass doorway. My mind was not in the sky, but going over details of lessons-to-be.

In passing, I heard chatter in the hallway about a “fire near Oroville.” We could smell smoke in the air, but my focus was on teaching how to tell time on an analog clock. I checked my phone when children were working in small groups. Pulga. The fire was near Pulga. That was very far away.

Before teaching, I was a newspaper reporter. Every fire we heard on the police scanner was a potential call for action, but most fires are stamped out quickly. When you’ve worked the news beat for a few years, you begin to build your list of devastating fires – The Poe, Musty Buck, Swedes … As a writer, I helped share slices of those big stories, including interviews with people staying in shelters, folks searching for their pets and those fighting the fires. Over the years, we’ve watched in disbelief as the big news of local fires became huge news, including whole communities displaced in Clear Lake and Santa Rosa.

Yet, last year, Nov. 8, the first morning of the Camp Fire, I was a teacher. It wasn’t my job to race toward the flames. My children were safe in their seats, the fire was far away, and we were learning about the big hand and the little hand.

The children raced around outside during snack break. I met them at the blue line on the blacktop, where they gathered, somewhat orderly. Their cheeks were flush from the chill. As I faced them, my back to the south, I saw their wide eyes and frightened expressions. They saw the sky over my shoulder.

The sky! Gray and a deep orange, a monstrous mound of color that simply should not be in the sky.

When we reached our classroom, and settled into chairs, I gave an update with cool teacher-authority.

“I checked the news earlier today,” I said calmly. “That fire is far, far away from us.

I believed those words.

Yet, nothing was OK, and would not be for a long time.

“We need to focus on our work today, but let’s take a moment and think good thoughts for all of the people who might be really scared right now, those people who are close to the fire, and the animals as well.”

We did not know that right then, people were trapped in their cars with fire on both sides of the road.

Just a few hours later, we were working on multiple digit subtraction when a parent arrived at the door. She was there to take her son early — not home, but somewhere else. She lived in the fire zone and evacuations had begun. We didn’t know yet, but her house was one of the thousands that would be lost. Her family would live for months in an RV, parked in front of another classmate’s home.

It would be weeks before we returned to school. By then, the children knew that everything was not OK.

I can’t begin to share the many vignettes that occurred over the remainder of the school year. On the first day back, we gathered in a circle on the carpet near the bookshelves. We talked for more than an hour. There were times, months later, when children drew pictures of their homes, with relatives staying on couches or parked in trailers in the driveway. Some children needed quiet time at school, because there were few quiet spaces at home. And little by little, we learned triple digit addition and the difference between an adverb and an adjective.

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Sow There! Cleaning out the gutters, an unwelcome season, 11-1-19

The time to crunch leaves is when they are crunchy, not when they are a soggy mess. And yet, I hoped my students last fall would think smashing slimy leaves was an enjoyable garden task. (Heather Hacking — Contributed)

November 1, 2019 at 3:14 am

Autumn has a certain smell. I’d need to create a new word to describe it succinctly. Bits of dying or recently dead plants are churned in the air. Wind mixes up the dust and the you can smell the grass that is covered with morning dew. What ends up at your nostrils is the general smell of decay, in a good way.

Somewhere in that scent soup, an olfactory genius might track down the stench from the gunk stuck in the rain gutters.

If you’re looking for a job this weekend, cleaning out the rain gutters is a good bet. The worst time to clean out the gutters is when there is a river flowing over your windowsill and you need to don a Gorton’s Fisherman’s yellow jacket and climb up a slippery ladder.

Gloves are key for the rain gutter ordeal, because you never know what you’ll find in that thin, folded metal — rodent remnants, walnuts or small plastic balls tossed by the neighborhood children, for example. I’m sure the organic material is suitable for compost, but I’ve actually never added the gunk to my pile.

This is a gross job, and that is precisely why many of us avoid the task until spring.

The equivalent of rain gutter goo is the hairball that accumulates in the sink. Every so often, I’ll notice the sink is draining slowly. I know hair is down there  and will dig around in the drain with the tweezers until I find something I can grab. What comes up often looks like a partially decayed gerbil covered in gray slime. The smell is atrocious, but I’m lucky to have a delayed gag reflex.

Cleaning out rain gutters can be nearly as frightening as the sink.

Somewhere in my shed, I have a plastic scooper with a rectangular edge that is made specifically for rain gutter cleaning. Of course, I can never find the tool when it is needed, and end up using gloved hands or a gardening trowel. Then there’s the bucket problem. It’s tough to balance on the ladder, dig around with the trowel, fight the urge to gag and aim accurately at the bucket.

I’m thinking our city is fairly forward-thinking. I appreciate that we have a leaf pickup service during the fall. Couldn’t the city simply add a rain gutter cleaning service, timed just a few weeks before the first rain? Or better yet, we could create a ChicoCorps, with young people paid to provide community services, including rain gutter cleaning, compost turning and perhaps a timely fall rose pruning.

More to do

If you’re avoiding a really big task, like cleaning out the shed or rain gutter detail, now is a good time to put fallen leaves to good use.

A gal named Kim created a video that gives some tips on how to compost leaves in black plastic bags, I found the video last year and thought my students would have a great time crunching the leaves.

However, the fires raged through Northern California, and many good plans were delayed. By the time our class made it to the leaf detail in January, it had rained and the leaves were no longer crunchy. The students thought handling the soggy leaves was gross.

They were right, and I hope I haven’t ruined them for future tasks like cleaning out rain gutters.

We did manage to mash up about a quarter of a bag, which sat near the greenhouse until it was thrown away months later when I wasn’t looking.

In the video, Kim advises filling black plastic bags when the leaves are dry. Crunch the leaves, either with your hands or by rolling on the bag like a bean bag chair.

Poke holes in the bag with a stick and then soak the leaves with the hose. Set the bag in a sunny spot to create compost over time. When it’s time to spread the decayed leaves, they’ll be contained within the bag.

Of course, you can also rake leaves onto your compost pile, and turn the pile a few times over the winter. You can also simply let the leaves lay on the ground and deal with them next spring, about the time you get around to cleaning out the rain gutters.

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Sow There! The Great Shedding, Oct. 25, 2019

The tower of teacher treasures fills up a corner of the kitchen. (Heather Hacking — Contributed)
October 25, 2019

One day when I look back on my personal history, I will remember this month as the time of the Great Shedding.

I’m grateful to have a shed, but I also know the great mess that a storage place can become. I’ve shoved so many things into that space, I’m surprised the fire marshal has not arrived to issue some sort of messy-shed citation. My 6’x8′ shabby shack contains enough accumulated junk to stock the future Sow There! Historical Museum.

Every so often, I need to actually retrieve something that has disappeared into the darkness.

Last spring, my class went camping. I needed my tent and sleeping bag, located somewhere in the abyss. Retrieval involved removal of umpteen plastic crates labeled with vague clues such as “childhood keepsakes,” “love letters” or “skinny clothes.” I think I may even have some Barbie dolls from third grade, buried so deeply, I’ll only find them when I move.

During the quest for the tent, I dragged most of the contents of the shed into the hot sun, shimmied past the ice chests and the aluminum ladder, and found the camp gear near the back.

When you need to find a tent, you never have time to actually re-organize the shed like a rational person. In my case, I replaced the contents as randomly as they had been removed, and slammed the door.

Of course, my main problem is lack of shed initiative. Yet, I’ll give myself a break.

Clearing out the unwanted goodies from the shed has been on my to-do list for two years.

There have been days when I have donned grubby clothes and turned the key in the sturdy lock. Yet, good intentions turned to mush with that first smell of grease. Before the Handsome Woodsman died, he stored his manly things in the shed. More than a few times, I have opened the door planning to “shed” some of the accumulated stuff but merely stood in the doorway and sobbed.

If I can’t part with my Barbies, how could I decide which of his fishing poles to donate? Buckets of abalone we gathered in Fort Bragg? Tubs labeled “Dave’s clothes?”

And then there is the “box of pain.” One day, I bravely gathered up things that hurt too much to view, but I couldn’t imagine throwing away. That box is my time capsule, which I will sort through when I am able.

Yet, life has a way of pushing you toward things you’ve avoided.

My teaching job was eliminated and I need to hang onto an entire classroom of teaching tools. Thirty boxes would not be an exaggeration. Ten of these contain children’s books.

I’m also holding onto two oak bookshelves from the classroom. When I hauled all the classroom tools home, my living room soon looked like the interior of the shed.

Samantha and Jeff lent me a corner of their storage unit, and two pillars of boxes now make less-than-decorative additions to my kitchen and living room.

If I could just make room in my shed …

I’m proud to say that I have not yet reached perfection, but I’ve made progress.

I won’t be unemployed long. In a few weeks, I begin a series of temporary jobs at the college. My goal is to land another teaching job for next year, when I’ll need those boxes of children’s books and dry erase pens.

Progress so far:

  • • Two dump runs.
  • • Three carloads of donations to the thrift store.

I even ventured into the tubs of Dave’s clothes, and “shed” a few of those physical reminders that can remain merely as memories.

There are more things to part with, but for now the progress feels good.

As a bonus, I discovered I own a power drill and a hedge trimmer.

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Sow There! One more run on tomatoes, Oct. 11, 2019

It should be time to say, “out with the old.” However, I’m banking on one more batch of tomatoes this year. (Heather Hacking — Contributed)
October 11, 2019 

I’m doing that thing that I do – holding onto things for longer than they are useful. Refusing to accept change. Cluttering my life.

The time of the ripe tomato has come and gone. It’s time to improve my soil and gear up to plant something new.

Many of my most recent columns have included a lengthy brag about the volume of cherry tomatoes gathered from the raised bed. Over the past two months, I have plucked and dehydrated so much fruit that I was willing to share with others. This spirit of plenty has created an urge to keep the plants past their prime of production.

Already, the wire cages have plopped over. I’ve killed two fat tomato hornworms, the presence of which is a sign of the end of the season. I could have yanked the plants last week when I filled a colander with round deliciousness.

Just a tickle or two and this blossom could provide “just one more” tomato before the old settles in. (Heather Hacking — Contributed)


I’m holding on, trying to get one more batch for my food dehydrator, or maybe even a bowl of green tomatoes that I can ripen indoors.

Even without the daily buzz of bees, gardeners can help a tomato plant with pollination by tickling the stem a few inches below fresh flowers. These days, I find the wire cage under the tangle of vines and give the entire plant a fast-paced shake.

Gardeners who have a huge growing area have the luxury of letting plants die of natural causes. The leaves will become blackened once the nights turn very old.

However, I have a small growing area and could and should replace the tomatoes with a quick crop of lettuce, or plant spinach and kale for harvest in early spring.

The Chico Valley Area Planting Guide from the University of California,, also advises planting fava beans and peas in October.

Time for lime

About this time, I also add dolomite lime to the growing area. Years ago, Jerry Mendon recommended this extra step to prevent blossom end rot next summer. He urged me to add the lime in the fall, so the mineral can provide calcium and magnesium to the soil.

The Gardening Know How website,, notes that the benefits of adding lime may take place as little as four weeks. However, it can take six to 12 months for the full impact on soil quality.

As for measurement, Jerry had recommended adding about one cup per 10 square feet in my garden bed.

Of course, this means taking out the tomato plants, tilling the soil, then raking the lime into the top two inches. Now.

Hold on

Maybe I’ll wait one more week. The extended weather forecast ( whispers of a bit of rain Oct. 17. This gives me time to harvest some mostly-red or green tomatoes to ripen indoors.

Indoor tomatoes won’t be as beautiful as those you pick and eat from the vine. However, my plan it to dry them, wrinkles and all. Place clean, less-than-ripe fruit in a shallow bowl or cardboard box top. Ruffle up a bunch of newspaper at the bottom, so each fruit is resting separately, with room for air. After a week or more, the fruit should ripen.

Some folks also delight in green tomato recipes.

Moving on

One more week, maybe 10 days … Soon the first real rains will arrive. If I hurry, I can grab fruit, yank the plants, add good soil to the raised bed, add lime and plant seeds for those fall and winter greens. Maybe I’ll plan a vacation – I’m unemployed these days. If I plant seed before I leave, I can hope for rain and return to seedlings when I return.

Job search

I’m holding my breath, but I think I have a line on some work to keep me busy until I apply for another full-time teaching position in the fall. Wish me luck and look expect good news soon.

Garden enthusiast Heather Hacking loves when you share what’s growing on. Reach out at, and snail mail, P.O. Box 5166, Chico CA 95927.

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Sow There! In search of the next good thing, Oct. 4, 2019

One afternoon last week, I sat in the wooden rocking chair in my classroom. It’s rare that I sit down at school. Once the weight is off my feet and I take a few deep breaths, it’s hard to regain momentum.

I could hear the muffled sounds of students on the playground. The shelves were bare. My collection of children’s books created a pillar of boxes near the chalkboard. Only dust bunnies remained in my desk drawers.

Yep. I am a teacher without a job.

I learned mid-summer that the classrooms at my grade level would be combined due to lower enrollment. The school tried to keep me on board, with a nice gig as a reading teacher. However, this job didn’t last after another round of budget cuts.

I’m thankful. I learned so much. They said I did a good job, but I can’t pretend my heart isn’t broken.

Some of those final moments were rough. Instead of good-morning greetings in the hallway, I saw the sad smiles.

I sometimes hid in my room during lunch, feeling awkward.

Yet, overall, the departure was joy-filled.

I was busy and determined to provide a few good lessons with the time I had left. Then came the grand finale.

We arranged a special lunch with the students from my class last year. “My kids” wanted to sing some of our favorite songs, and Sarah discovered the album of photos from our adventures last year. Just like old times, one child spilled his bowl of rice on the carpet.

Normally I helped with fourth-grade reading groups in the afternoon. One day, I was asked to stay away – in a nice way. The lovely teacher asked students to draw going-away pictures, which she arranged as a book.

Dayton’s drawing included a giant wall covered with books and the two of us standing at the bottom of the grand library. Other students drew rocks and feathers (reminiscent of my nature table), and some depicted me in a flowing purple gown. Lyla wrote, “I will never forget you,” on a page covered with hearts. Several children from my reading groups gave me rocks and crystals, to add to my collection.

Yes, I cried when I leafed through the pages in the quiet of my mostly-empty classroom.

It’s sad to leave a place. Heartache comes when you leave a place filled with so much love and kindness.

On my very last day, I was asked to be the substitute teacher for kindergarten. There’s no better way to finish a gig than by playing with 5-year-olds.

What will I do? Most people have asked me this question.

What’s surprising is that I do not feel wackadoodle. I think there’s another teacher desk and more than two dozen children waiting for a bespectacled, book-lover who may or may not occasionally wear purple gowns.

And for now, the big question is how to fit all of those boxes into my house – pillars of boxed books, dry-erase pens, glue and a myriad of other miscellanea.

I’ll just stare at them for a while until they find a new home.

My plan this year was to buy one indoor plant for my classroom each week. I hoped to be known as the “plant lady.” Good thing I did not follow through. Currently, there are 10 houseplants outside on my picnic table.

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Sow There! Waiting list for a monster of a plant, Sept. 27, 2019

You can’t miss the Monstera deliciosa in the window. Look for the broad, glossy green, notched leaves. (Heather Hacking — contributed)
September 27, 2019 

Yes, I have an amazing Monstera deliciosa plant, and if you on the verge of asking me for a cutting, there is a waiting list.

When I set up my first classroom last year, I brought in three vases filled with overly large, deep-green leaves. Sometimes the leaves have interesting holes in them, as if a child began to make a paper snowflake with scissors.

At my home, I like to put the plants on a high shelf, with a lamp below. In the evenings, interesting shadow patterns are cast on the ceiling.

I said three vases, but another teacher quickly asked if I had more to spare. She has a lovely heart and was instrumental in my decision to teach at the charter school. I decided I could live with just two eye-catching Monstera plants in my partially shaded classroom window.

Fairly soon, another teacher became enamored by the plant, and kindly asked if I had additional cast-offs.

I said I would put her on “the list.”

I understand the admiration. It’s a stellar specimen.

The plant sat mostly disregarded for many years. It lived in a 10-gallon, black plastic pot along the west-facing side of the house, in the shade of the loquat tree. I knew it was fussy because at least twice it melted to a stub during a hard freeze.

The plant was among those from the Handsome Woodsman’s house in Paradise. When he moved to Chico about six years ago, he added it to our shared potted plant collection. After he died, everything he had once touched became vital, and I brought the plant indoors on cold nights.

A close-up of a Monstera deliciosa near the window. (Heather Hacking — contributed)

With the pent-up demand for the plant, I took a few more sprouts and began letting the plant grow roots in water, then transplanted to soil. In water, the roots are robust, and twirl around the bottom of the glass containers. However, in containers, they will die inside my house.

Now that all of the trees have been chopped down on my property, maybe there is enough light indoors for Monstera to multiply with increased indoor sunlight.

My “mother Monstera” is currently on the picnic table, under the outdoor canopy.

When school started this year, there were more requests for “spare plants.” I shared two more, but I needed to think about self-plant preservation. This week, I received news that my job was among those to get the axe due to budget cuts. (Huge bummer at a time when teaching positions have already been filled). Yet, I know myself. If I master the ability to make Monstera babies, I’ll visit my former coworkers and share the wealth.

More on Monstera

With all the hub-bub about this plant, I wanted to learn more.

The Apartment Therapy website,, notes that the plant likes the shade because it is native to the rain forests of southern Mexico and Central America. Monstera is a pretty cool name to begin with, but it is also known as the Swiss cheese plant, Mexican breadfruit or hurricane plant (also very cool names). For simplicity, we can just call it a split-leaf philodendron.

In the wild, it flowers, and produces fruit that tastes like “fruit salad,” the above-mentioned website mentions. The remainder of the plant is poisonous if eaten by people or pets.

The plant is a lot like me, and prefers temperatures between 68 and 86. Too much sun? Also, bad news for the plant.

When these ideal conditions are met, the plant will grow so large it needs a trellis. In a rain forest, the roots will reach out and climb trees.

When I visited the Butterfly Garden in Victoria, British Colombia, this summer, there were Monstera plants that reached to the top of the butterfly habitat. The leaves reminded me of taro plants, only more remarkable because of the notches in the leaves.

Chico certainly isn’t the rain forest, and my backyard isn’t balmy. I might start misting the leaves and placing empty pots near my 10-gallon container. For now, I occasionally yank a new shoot and pull gently so I get a nice chunk of roots, which is about the width of a thick twine.

My research also tells me I should consider transferring my beauty to a larger container.

In the meantime, I’ll hoard the plants and consider trading plants for lunch dates with the nice gals at school.

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Sow There! One shot wonders get all the attention, Sept. 20, 2019


September 20, 2019 at 3:30 am

Cactus are not among my favorite garden plants. Boring. Prickly. Basically idle. Despite my view of them as mediocre, I have a cactus collection of more than two dozen. The plants have an advantage over the more fussy plants in my yard because they can live without me.

Most of my cacti include the night-bloomers that were a gift from the late Suzi Draper. Suzi invited me to her backyard many years ago when her backyard was filled with flowers from the mostly-dormant plants. By mostly, I mean these plants bloom for only one day, and then they have the audacity to put on their show at night.

Last year, I was too busy to notice the fuzzy protrusions that inched their way skyward from the prickly cactus cone. I came home one day and found the flaccid remains of what may have been an amazing, and brief show. The flowers smell like nothing else on this earth and attract night critters including pollinating moths.

Cacti aren’t kept because of their bloom. The flowers are a delightful surprise, as if beauty managed to sneak up on us. If you shop for a cactus at the downtown farmers market, you might think the plants are blooming all the time. Geffray’s Gardens — — manages to display some of the best and the brightest. Why not sell them at the height of their beauty, when the buyer can enjoy the brief and beautiful color for a few days or more? However, the new cactus owner shouldn’t expect to see that again any time soon.

 Does the fact that the bloom of a cactus comes only every so often make it more beautiful?

I think so.

We tend to appreciate things when they’re experienced only rarely, such as exorbitantly-priced tickets to a Pink concert, shooting stars, weddings, first kisses and Bigfoot sightings.

I think gardeners, and perhaps bird watchers, get to experience these fleeting “aha!” moments more often. We’re out there with our eyes open. We’re waiting for magic.

Last week, I was doing a routine once-through of the yard, hose in hand, mind appropriately somewhere else, when I came nose to needle with a rare-to-me cactus bloom. This was an entirely different plant than the descendants of the gift plant from Suzi Draper.

This particular cactus was a acquired from another reader, who invited me to see his cactus garden in the Chapman Neighborhood about 15 years ago. Once upon a time I plopped those cacti in a wheelbarrow filled with mostly sand and a bit of dirt.

The plant is certainly attractive, in its rugged way. Yet, this day it was glorious. The creamy, waxy petals were perfectly arranged, with a slightly different hue of petals creating the back row. In the center, tiny tentacles reached out, like the intense (yet fleeting) sparks of fireworks. The pattern of the interior seemed to invite me in, as if to say “Hey, I’m here. Now. Devour me.”

I did.

I was in a hurry that day, but I lingered. I grabbed my camera. I zoomed in to experience all this flower had to offer. As expected, the next day it was gone.

Ho hum. Nearby, the Vinca Rosea has been blooming all summer. The flowers keep fading and renewing. Every day I walk by. I nod, perhaps with appreciation, but not really.

That’s the way life is, I suppose. Something that will be gone tomorrow will receive more dedicated attention than a million roses on a faithful production schedule.

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Sow There! Too much of a good thing — tomato hoarding, Sept. 13, 2019

Great-grandma’s cookie jar was the perfect keepsake for holding this year’s stash of dried tomatoes. (Heather Hacking — Contributed)
September 13, 2019

Any visitor to my small house can quickly assess that I have trouble with clutter. I’m lucky enough to have lived half a century and each of my collected treasures is important: Books, rocks, seldom-played board games and enough furniture to fill a much larger house. Yet, when you add them all together, you get a busy mess.

My grandmother traveled extensively. Could I get rid of her trinket from India – an inlaid mother-of-pearl image of the Taj Mahal? Could I part with my music box from childhood? A jar of ocean-smoothed glass from multiple visits to Fort Bragg? Have you been to glass beach lately? Tourists, like me, have picked it almost bare.

Did I mention my house is small? And yet, I still have the customary collection of “things” we keep in hidden proximity, such as Christmas ornaments, sentimental brick-a-brack and bad poetry from my teen years.

One night I came across the Netflix show “Tidying Up,” ( with Marie Kondo. I must admit, I resented this woman from the start. She’s so sweet as she walks around other people’s homes, kindly pointing out how simple life would be if one would wear the same pink cardigan sweater four days a week, thus making room under the bed for neatly-arranged shoes.

At my house, I bought plastic risers to hoist my bed up 6 inches. This is where I store my winter wardrobe in plastic bins.

Sweet Marie goes into a solemn place as she suggests holding an item in your hands. If the miscellaneous belonging does not bring you joy, give it away, she urges. Maybe it will bring someone else joy. I’m guessing Marie tossed out all sense of sentimentality when she made her first million.

How many racks of dried tomatoes is too much? Apparently 15 is not too many. (Heather Hacking — Contributed)

I’m easily pleased. Most things, especially my things, bring me joy.

Another helpful source recommends cleaning one section of a room at a time. You can’t stop cleaning until you have decided to give away at least five items. Paperclips and old copies of Via magazine don’t count.

I’ve tried this as well. The problem is, once I decide to toss five things, I stop cleaning.

Tomato hoarder

For several weeks now, I’ve been bragging about my amazing season of cherry tomatoes. I’ll credit my third-graders from last year, who undoubtedly planted those tomato seeds with love. So far, I’ve harvested enough cherry tomatoes to fill my food dehydrator (with five trays), three times. Children? What is 5 x 3? Yes, that’s 15 trays of dried tomatoes.

Of course, I’ve found it in my heart to be generous. I’ve decided a little jar of home-dried tomatoes is the best hostess gift. (This is indeed a hint that I would love to be invited to more end-of-the-summer barbecues). My largess has extended to my close family members, who may or may not appreciate the amazing goodness that dried cherry tomatoes can be.

I eat them like candy, one after another, from the jar.

Here are more ideas from the University of California Master Food Preservers of Orange County: (

  • Add to deviled egg filling
  • With scrambled eggs
  • Garnish for any meal
  • In batter of biscuits, cornbread or any other grain dough
  • Puree the dried fruit and store as a powder, then mix with water when you need tomato paste. Sprinkle the dried goodness on tasteless tomatoes purchased in winter.
  • I wonder how this would taste on popcorn!
  • Tomato pesto. The recipe is basically the same as green pesto, but leave out the basil and add tomatoes.

All this, and you can see why I have come to become a tomato hoarder. With so many dried tomatoes on hand, I am really glad I did not give away great-grandmother’s cookie jar. When I found it in the back of the cupboard, it was the perfect vessel for this year’s ruby red, dried crop.

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Sow There! Dusting off the vacation goggles, Sept. 6, 2019

The mural of Robin Hood is almost hidden now along the northern perimeter of City Plaza. Scott Teeple painted the mural, using Greg Taylor as a muse. Both men are gone now but remain as part of Chico’s artistic history. (Heather Hacking — Contributed)

September 6, 2019 

When I return home from traveling, it usually takes a week or two until the “vacation lens” disappears. As a tourist, even the fire hydrants are beautiful if they are painted a different color in a different town.

When I land my feet on familiar soil, my eyes stay at this same aperture, at least for a while, and I appreciate my own town all the more.

Another way to broaden your perspective in your own backyard is to cruise around with someone walking these steps for the first time.

This month, my friend Patrick asked me to play tour guide for his daughter, who is a recent resident of the Chico State University dorms. I met Patrick a million years ago when we both lived in a cheap-rent apartment complex. Back then, we were young, our world was new, and we had much better eyesight.

I dined with the whole family at a downtown restaurant. My college chum had already unfurled most of his Chico tips from 25 years ago, some of them still applicable. Now it was my turn to download the “old lady tips” I have gathered as a multi-decades resident of the Sacramento Valley.

His kid is on her own when it comes to navigating the hallways of Holt Hall and making friends in the residence hall. I was (somewhat helpful) as I showed her a tree-lined route to the grocery store and to help browse bargains at thrift stores. I know I helped, at least a little. We rode bikes around town for 2 ½ hours. I stopped about 50 times to point out yet another thing that I love about my selected surroundings.

She was 10 feet behind the rear tire of my bike, so if she protested, I didn’t notice.

I’m sure she could use Google to know all that she will need to know. She’s also welcome to call or text to ask “what’s that thing you said about that thing,” when she has idle time.

As a preparation for the tour, my friend Richard and I met up Friday night to watch the band “Hot Flash” downtown. The night was young, and my house was boiling hot. Rather than end the lovely night, we walked and talked. Lucky for him, I worked at the newspaper for 25 years and I know just a bit about a lot of things.

Richard had never really toured the campus, and at least pretended to take interest in all of those wonders I showed him that night. We touched the statue of the three sisters ( near the university Rose Garden. I disliked those solemn gals when I wrote about them for the university newspaper. Yet, now they’re part of my own history.

The landscaping at the campus is always inspiring, but easy to overlook when you’re on a schedule. With bright lighting on campus, we noted plumbago near Colusa Hall and the well-kept oleander bushes. Richard appreciated the creek that runs through campus, and I was a bit shocked he had never been there before. “Catalpa trees,” I pointed out, although by this time I think his brain was full.

Many stops were made to pose the rubber chicken in front of artistic landmarks.

On a roll, we meandered our way back to my bicycle, and I slipped in a mini-tour of the downtown murals (, at least those murals that remain. It’s been years since I ran my fingers across Dayton Claudio’s ( mural on Salem Street or thoroughly inspected the art benches downtown. We pretended to open the mock door on John Pugh’s mural “Academe” ( and sought in vain to see the glass blowers in the window of Taylor Hall.

A few days later, when I rode around town with Patrick’s youngest daughter, I was ready to re-explore even more.

She plans to study biology. I rattled off a long list of things we could do – Llano Seco Wildlife Refuge, Dry Creek Preserve and several locales along the river. My guess is that she’ll make friends in the dorm. Her gift to me is that now I’m inspired to continue being a traveler right here and now.

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Sow There! Give your tree a big hug, Aug. 30, 2019

Lasting love. Did the maple tree grow for the 20-plus years it has been in my life? Did I grow? What I do know is that it has been looking down on me all this time. (Heather Hacking — Contributed)
August 30, 2019

I was 2 ½ years old when my family moved from our first home in Hayward. It was here I learned to crawl and squawk, and apparently learned to love trees.

On the day we moved, our family had a caravan of pickup trucks to haul our treasures to our new house. My parents tried to stuff me into the black Volkswagen Bug with the oval window in the back, but I grabbed onto the tree in the front yard. I’m betting my parents laughed when they took the photograph of their youngest child, squalling like a wounded hyena. I was young, and pre-verbal, but making my first big stand for something I believed in.

“I hate change,” I would have wailed, if I was at an age where I could speak in complete sentences.

We visited the house once or twice before we left the town forever. The new residents cut down “my tree.”

I’ve had other tree loves over the years, including the weeping willow in Auntie Jeanne’s backyard in Benicia. A single rope dangled from the strongest limb. It was here I learned to “fly” on the plank swing.

My aunt and uncle also loved that tree, and tried to keep it as part of the family. However, the tree sent roots in every direction, which repeatedly ruined the plumbing.

In college, I loved many a tree. I liked the gnarled, bush-like tree outside of Laxson, which seemed like it would gladly hug you if you lingered long enough. At One-Mile, I grew fond of a tree near Sycamore Pool, where I wrote poetry and watched strangers from a distance.

Maple leaves, currently green, soon to turn to lovely yellow. (Heather Hacking — Contributed)

Why a tree? I think it’s because when we spend time quietly, we spend time with our most intimate thoughts, and the tree is there as an open-minded witness.

Today, I adore a nearby maple tree. It’s so tall you can’t see to the top clearly without a pair of binoculars. If there was a tree that “knew me,” this would be it. Most of my most embarrassing and triumphant moments have been in the grace of this tree’s shade, and it even wears a few scars of my making.

I do not know if I ever actually “talked to this tree,” but there have been times when I felt it was listening.

Shadeless summer

The older we get, the more we should come to expect things to change. This summer was another big loss. All of the trees in my yard were chopped down. I can’t say that I had any deep-rooted love for these trees, but I sure do miss the shade. I don’t leave the air conditioner on while I’m away. The sun beats down on the roof like an angry hammer of Thor. I now keep my chocolate in the refrigerator and have moved dozens of plants under a sun shade.

When I take walks in my neighborhood, I want to talk to strangers and remind them to give a few minutes of appreciation for the trees in their yard.

“Look at that tree! Look at your shaded porch. Can you imagine life without these trees?”

I would say all of that and more, but I suspect those strangers would think I was a wacko.

Sure, some trees make a mess in the fall or require expensive trimming every decade. However, life without shade is dismal indeed.

And here is the lesson learned, the hard way as usual. Before the trees were lost to the chainsaw, I took them for granted, disparaged them, resented them. The lowly loquat, the garbage-dumping silk tree, the most-hated privet … The mulberry tree alone escaped my scorn. Had I known what 103 degrees would feel like without those trees, I would have talked to them more often. In retrospect, I should have given them more praise.

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