Monday, June 23, 2008

Adding Insult to Injury

Life is definitely not fair.

It's not bad enough that I was recovering from massive spinal surgery after battling back problems for years; I had to get breast cancer too.

It's not bad enough that I got breast cancer. Everyone I spoke with said they were only sick a couple of days on chemo. I was sick continuously. Everyone else said they lost weight on chemo. I gained 20 pounds. Everyone else's hair grew back curly. Mine is coming back in straight as a poker.

So I guess I shouldn't have been surprised when I fished out my bathing suit from storage.

Now, in Morro Bay it is a rare day that one puts on a bathing suit for any reason. We only have them at all in case we go on a trip to a warm climate where the hotel has a pool. Generally the temperature in Morro Bay during the summer months is about 68 to 70 degrees with gobs of fog. For those of us who literally loathe the heat and think it is overwhelmingly hot when the thermometer hits 75, this is the ideal place to live.

Every now and then we do get a heat wave and we sit around in front of the fan moaning while the temperature goes up to 85 degrees. Fortunately it only lasts for a few days, so while we hate this, we put up with these aberrant occasions.

But on June 20th the world turned on us. We shared the plight of the arctic polar bear and the Antarctic penguin. Global warming came to Morro Bay with a blast.

It had been hot inland the day before, but it is always hotter several miles east of us every summer. In what we call North County, some of the hottest temperatures in the state often occur. It would be unthinkable to pose a scenario where the coastal towns would beat out the north county town of Paso Robles, or for that matter, the valley city of Fresno, as far as high temperatures go. Morro Bay's population increases by about ten thousand every summer with people escaping the heat of those places. So to say that we were unprepared for the events of the summer solstice would be an understatement. It came upon its full bloom of the longest day of sunlight with a hoary heat blast never before recorded in this town by the Rock.

At 11:30 A. M. a friend from San Luis Obispo arrived at my house for lunch trying to escape from the excessive heat of that city where it had been over 100 degrees the day before.

"My car's thermometer must be broken," she said, "It says it's 108 degrees here in Morro Bay."

Well, I knew it was hot that's for sure. At 3 A.M. that day I awoke in a sweat, leaped out of bed and raced around to close all the windows and vents because blasts of hot air were pouring in. By 8 A.M. I knew we were in for a horrible day.

Turns out my friend's car thermometer was not broken. It did reach 108 degrees in Morro Bay. It is undoubtedly a record but since no data has been kept for a 30 year period for comparison, we can only assume so. But those of us who have lived here for a long time know that we have never experienced anything like the first day of summer of 2008.

The evening news weatherman gave a dire prediction. We would have to endure at least one more day of just about the same before any cooling down would start to occur. I nearly fainted hearing that. I could not endure another day like this. I made note to find my bathing suit.

Now, I wasn't thinking about dousing myself in the ocean, which of course is what you might think since it is right here practically at my doorstep. No, not with a water temperature of 58 degrees. Around here one wears a three millimeter wet suit to go into that. My plan was to use my wonderful new water nozzle and my 50-foot anaconda hose just purchased this week for my garden. Since every time I use it I get a good soaking anyway, I couldn't think of a better solution other than to go out and buy a kiddy pool for the backyard. That was my plan. At least until I fished out the bathing suit and started to put it on.

HA! Remember those 20 chemo pounds? Well, they stood between me and relief from impending heat stroke. I pulled and tugged and forced the suit onto my pudgy body but there was no way it would zip up. It was 11 A.M. and already near 90 degrees in the house. I finally said the heck with it and with it half-zipped and stretched tightly over all my protuberances, I raced out the back door, grabbed the anaconda hose and let the soothing spray of Gentle-Shower splash over me. I could see my neighbors peering at me out of their windows. I didn't care. What a relief! Why hadn't I done that the day before?

All I can say is the entire episode is certainly adding insult to injury. Because now I am sitting on the front porch in a dripping wet bathing suit and a stiff breeze has come up and, you know what? It's cold! The weatherman was wrong. Looks like we're heading back to 68 degrees. Global warming be damned!

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Wrestling an Anaconda

I heard the phone ringing through the window but there was no way I was going to get to it. The answering machine picked up and I could hear that it was my friend Barb calling. As soon as I could, I got back in the house and dialed her number.

"Sorry," I said when she answered, "I was wrestling with an anaconda when you called."

It's heartening for me that science and technology have made life easier for us here in our modern society. I take advantage of new inventions that are made to help me with my day to day upkeep of my home. Naturally I like a bargain when I can get one, but I've come to realize after many years of living that the old saying, "you get what you pay for" is true.

I've lived in my house for 20 years now and all that time I never did anything with the narrow strips of dirt outside of my back door. When I first moved here an assortment of lilies would sprout every spring and brighten the barren area for a month or so before dying back and ultimately lie in heap of yellow leaves and brown decaying blossoms. I let nature take its course and after many months the unsightly mess dissolved into the soil.

At one point in a moment of insanity I dumped a litter box full of used Tidy Cat into the brown dust thinking it would meld into the dirt. While the animal matter may or may not have enriched the soil, the Tidy Cat definitely did not. After the first rain of the season the entire section solidified and became like cement. After that, the lilies stopped blooming.

A few years passed and one spring morning as I hauled a pile of laundry out the back door on my way to the washing machine in the garage I was startled to find the entire area aglow with bright yellow flowers. "Well," I thought, "something likes the cat litter after all." I would have continued to be delighted with this outcome except that I found out my lovely yellow blooms were Oxalis, a noxious invasive plant that spreads like wildfire and once done blooming, the entire area is littered with dead brownish-yellow plant matter that eventually dries out and looks really crappy.

Such was the condition of my back garden throughout the ensuing years. Until now.

Don't ask me why but for some reason I have taken to doing a bunch of things to the house that I never even considered doing for the past 20 years. Maybe it's because after enduring a five-vertebra spinal fusion and a 10 month bout with breast cancer, I finally feel like a whole human being for a change. Aside from getting rid of things and buying new furniture and curtains and bedding, I decided to tackle the ugly weed ridden dirt patch out the back door. Spinal fusion doesn't afford me the pleasure of digging in the soil and putting in plants so I hired a gardener to do that. After warning him that he would have to remove the cement-like dirt section where the Tidy Cat still reigned, he agreed to take on the job and ultimately planted a small tree type plant with stringbean hanging foliage, a flowering vine, Mexican sage, and an assortment of yellow day lilies and purple bottle-brush type plants. A nice bark mulch completed the job. "Now, don't forget to water this," he warned me.

I heeded his word and tried using the old hose that had been lying around the side of the house for all the same years that I have lived here, and while it did work, it was worn and patched and apparently the washer in the hose where it connected to the outside faucet had worn away. This produced a huge fountain of water spewing out all over that side of the house, which then also shot inside the house through an adjacent ventilation opening. Since the hose connection was on another side of the house from the garden, this was not discovered until after watering with the hose for a half hour. The next half hour was spent mopping up the flood inside the house.

The old hose had to go.

A trip to Miner's Hardware was in order. I wheeled my cart down the aisle with the sprinklers and the hoses and the wheely things to store hoses on. A vast assortment of hoses greeted me, all in various shades of green and all at various price levels. "You get what you pay for" rang in my head, so I passed up the $9.99 and $14.99 ones and lay my hand on the "Only 8 ply, Flexogen, 50 foot, ¾-inch diameter, with Lifetime Replacement Policy " hose for $39.99. "The Last Hose You'll Ever Buy!" was emblazoned across its packaging. This was the hose for me!

Now, if you've ever purchased a hose you know that they are coiled up in a circle reminiscent of a Cobra in a basket. Held together with three pieces of twine, they are secure in their packaging. When you get them home and snip off the twine the beast stays tightly wound.

I attached one end to the faucet. It had a new washer inserted so I hoped I would no longer have the fountain of youth blasting away when I turned on the water. I then attached the spraying nozzle, a new one, of course, with five different types of spray – Mist, Gentle Shower, Stream, Flood, and Cone-Jet-Full. These were reminiscent of my bathroom shower head with three settings, regular flow, piercing flow, and pulsating massage. If these are good for my body, I figured they would also be good for my plants.

The time had come to turn on the water. I twisted the knob on the faucet and immediately the hose leapt to life, it's ¾-inch diameter swelling measurably but still remaining tightly coiled – all 50 feet of it. I tugged at it and moved a few feet of coil forward and then pressed the lever on my new nozzle. Whammo! Flood came bursting forth. The Mexican sage ducked. The stringbean tree bent over halfway. Flood would not do! I feverishly twisted the dial on the nozzle to Gentle Shower. Ah, yes, this brought forth a nice wide soft flow just like "regular" on my bathroom shower head. Now all I had to do was get the hose to uncoil more so I could water all the way down the length of the garden. Easier said than done.

Flexogen was a misleading brand name for sure. There was no flex and it certainly wasn't gentle. I tugged and pulled and the hose moved forward still in rounded coil mode. I managed to move it about 10 feet so I could aim the Gentle Shower down the length of the garden. The flow didn't reach all the way. I decided to try Stream.

Stream wasn't exactly my idea of what stream should be, but would do well if I was washing caked-on mud off of my car. It was death for the mounds of bark encasing my new plants. Mulch went everywhere. I quickly switched back to Gentle Shower and began to tug at the coiled hose again.

This time the swollen green beast wrapped its coils around my legs and I was sure at any moment I was going to be dragged under water and consumed. The hose was not a hose. It was an anaconda.

"No wonder this is "the last hose I'll ever buy," I mumbled out loud, "it's going to kill me!"

I disentangled my legs and loosened my grip on the nozzle and let the hose swell up from the flow that was no longer being released either by Gentle Shower, Flood, or Stream. It hit me that I better check the hose connection to the faucet to assure that there was no water bursting out. It was holding fine with just a bit of a dribble around the connection. "Good," I thought, "at least that's working out well."

I went back to wrestling with the anaconda and finally managed to pull the coils out as far as they would go and even though they remained basically coiled, I was able to take advantage of the so-called 50-feet of hose. With Gentle Shower working well, I completed my watering chore for the day.

Now it was time to get the hose back to a spot to store it. HA! Before doing that I just had to know what "Cone-Jet-Full" would be like and so switched the dial on the nozzle. Well, use your imagination – at least one side of my house has had 20 years of grime removed.

I switched to Mist and held the nozzle over my head. Ahhhh!

Once again I tugged and pulled and slowly the anaconda moved back into a modified coiled up snake. After shutting off the flow, the beast was a bit easier to handle, still I was thoroughly beat and any idea of coiling it up so it would store neatly by the faucet was out! I lumped the miserable creature in a tangled mess by the side of the walkway. "Oh God," I thought, "I have to do this every day!"

I didn't water the garden yesterday. Today the temperature is 90 degrees in the sun. The stringbean tree has turned yellow and looks limp. The cats have dug holes in the mulch still using it as kitty litter.

The anaconda lies in wait for me, eyeing me each time I look out the window.

Ruth Ann Angus

The Candid Cow

Friday, June 6, 2008

Day Trip to Lopez Lake
Ruth Ann Angus

The hills are green and the days are gradually getting warmer. It is spring and the perfect time to visit one of our county’s best attractions – Lopez Lake. The frenetic pace of the summer months when the lake is busting with boaters and water skiers is not yet upon us and there is a peaceful mood for you to enjoy the natural surroundings.

Pack a picnic and head out through Arroyo Grande Village into the countryside. Soon you will approach the beginning of the lake. Lopez came into being in 1969 flooding farmland, strawberry fields, and all, to become the water supply for the growing Five Cities area. Two Chumash villages located near the present dam are now under 160 feet of water as is the original ranch belonging to Juan and Jesus Lopez. Trees and buildings were removed in preparation for the flood. It wasn’t long though before area residents recognized that this was a great recreation spot and Lopez Lake became a popular county park.

There are 22 miles of shoreline and afternoon winds make the lake a perfect place for sailing or windsurfing. The lake is also a great place for a canoe or kayak trip. Good boat launching facilities are located adjacent to the marina and store and there are boat and equipment rentals here too. Waterskiing is especially popular.

Fishing is great at Lopez Lake, which is stocked with rainbow trout, bass, crappie, catfish, and bluegill. You will find fishermen quietly angling in the backwaters of the lakes many arms.
If you love nature then this is the place for you. More than 150 species of birds have been noted and 30 mammal species. Among these are mule deer that are easily seen browsing the oak studded hillsides. Coast live oaks with their acorn abundance attract the colorful and industrious acorn woodpecker. Masters at saving up for a rainy day, this bird goes about in a serious manner drilling numerous holes in the trees. Then they collect acorns and one by one stuff them into the prepared receptacles storing them for future consumption.

Many migratory birds find Lopez Lake a great stopping-off point. A flock of American white pelicans often resides at one end and eared grebes, cormorants, mergansers, and other waterfowl dot the surface of the lake. One of the best ways to see this is to take a ranger guided nature boat tour. Park rangers will take you out on a comfortable, stable pontoon boat that can get back into all the twists and arms of the lake. If you’re really lucky, you may spot a bald eagle perched in a tree or an osprey hunting.

Turkeys also love the acorn rich habitat at Lopez. They even have their own special trail named for them – Turkey Ridge Trail. This is their favorite roosting and feeding area and they are so accustomed to people that you can get pretty close to them. During mating season the big males strut their stuff, puffing up their feathers and fanning their tails. Turkeys aren’t aerodynamic experts, but it may surprise you to see them well up into the trees. Their large wings make flying between trees difficult and they’ll never do long distance trips. They roost in trees at night and make crazy, careening flights from the trees to the ground.

Hiking is a great way to experience the flora and fauna of the park. Just walking beneath the stately live oaks is a treat. In spring lupine, buttercups, popcorn flowers bloom among the hummingbird sage, swordfern and maidenhair. There are numerous trails available and most are relatively easy. Some bring you to views of the lake and others offer panoramic vistas. Along the way you may see evidence of prehistoric times in the shell fossils embedded in the Santa Margarita limestone. This was an inland sea some 26 million years ago and the remains of scallops and oysters stick out of the crumbly soil.

You can enjoy your picnic at one of the lakeside tables. You might even want to stay overnight at one of the tent or RV campgrounds rated among the best in the county.
For more information see or call 788-2381.

Road Trip - San Juan Bautista

Road Trip—San Juan Bautista
Text and Photos by Ruth Ann Angus

One wouldn’t expect California, our most populous state, to have some of the country’s smallest towns, but scattered throughout the golden state are many places with fewer than 2,000 people. One of those spots is not far from the Central Coast, and it is a pleasant drive to reach there. Take Highway 101 north and turn right onto route 198. You will ride past green rolling hills for a short while until meeting up with route 25— one of the most forgotten, but beautiful, side roads around. Farms and ranches dot the landscape, and as you amble along, all your cares will drift away. A jog through the town of Hollister eventually will bring you to route 156. Head west and you will soon arrive at your destination—San Juan Bautista.
This small town named after Saint John the Baptist is packed with history. The town was founded in the late 1700s along with one of the grandest of the California missions. A state park adjacent to the mission contains restorations of structures that were built in the 1800s. The buildings that are open to the public include the Plaza Hotel, hall and stables, a blacksmith shop, a livery stable with antique carriages, a granary, a jail and the C a s t r o - B r e e n Adobe. Rooms are furnished with antiques and period furniture and artifacts.
The Castro-Breen house was the original home of the Patrick Breen family, who survived coming to California with the ill-fated Donner party. Living History Days are celebrated on the first Saturday of each month with docents from the Plaza History Association in period outfits carrying out tasks such as basket weaving and candle making. San Juan Bautista was once the largest town in Central California, and its mission is considered the grandest of all 21 California missions. Founded in 1797 by Father Fermin de Lausen, who succeeded Blessed Junipero Serra, it is the15th in the chain and the largest. As with all of the missions, it was built with Native American labor. Members of the Mutsun, Ohlone Yokuts, Tulare and other tribe from the San Joaquin Valley constructed the grand edifice of bricks made from mud and straw. Approximately 4,000 of them are buried in the graveyard behind the church.
The mission originally had a nine-bell tower, but the church met with misfortune in the earthquakes of 1800 and 1906. It was restored first in 1884 and again in 1949, and now has three bells. This mission is the only one that has a three-aisle entrance to the altar. It is still an active parish, with daily masses. Many weddings are held here as well as the Quinceanera, a young Latina woman’s celebration of her 15th birthday.
The historic walking tour will take you to 48 sites within the five downtown blocks. Highlights are the Glad Tidings Church, built in Greek Revival style; the Crane house, which reflects a Cape Cod influence; the Masonic Hall; Honeymoon House; and the John Anderson House, a real Victorian structure.
The town retains a decidedly Hispanic flavor, with Spanish-style architecture and old adobes, and a smattering of ethnic eateries. Free roaming chickens will sometimes cross your path. There are antique stores to browse, as well as art galleries and tasting rooms featuring the wines of San Benito County.
Eating in San Juan Bautista will offer you a variety of world specialties. Stop in at La Casa Rosa for some fine food, and sample their array of fruit chutneys in the Victorian tearoom. There’s also the Mission CafĂ© for a sandwich and a look at a Mutsun clapper stick, which was carved from cured blue elderberry. The Cutting Horse restaurant for Angus steaks served in what was a 19th-century brothel, or yummy strudel at Joan & Peter’s German restaurant, or a cold margarita in the garden at Jardines de San Juan.
After a great day touring this historic old town, stay the night and sleep in peace and quiet to awake to a new adventure—perhaps hiking the Juan Bautista de Anza National Historic Trail on the Old Stage Road. A three-mile portion of this trail, which runs from the Mexican border in Arizona, passes through San Juan and is a marked trail for foot or horseback. Or you might wind up your weekend trip with a tour of nearby Fremont Peak State Park and Observatory. At 3,169 feet, the peak affords a 360-degree view of the surrounding area, and at night a wonderful stargazing adventure. The observatory is open to the public and offers group tours.