Monday, March 31, 2008

Pictures of the Garden

I love the digital camera, and some day I will figure out how to work it. J took these pictures because I'd set the exposure too high and all of my garden shots came out overexposed. So he showed me how to check the exposure to make sure it wasn't set for candlelight when I was outside on a sunny day. The pictures above, which refuse to lay out correctly, no matter what I do, are of the pot collection on the south-east wall and the Plum Crazy azalea.

At left is a fringe flower that we brought with us from Oakland. It's about ten years old now. Fringe flower has traditionally been grown as a hedge, but this one has lived its life in a pot. In recent years more people have begun using it as an accent plant. It blooms sporadically throughout the year and the reddish foliage provides a good contrast to the green leaves of other plants. I now have three of these. And yes, I did take this picture and it is somewhat overexposed.

This somewhat overexposed picture is of one of my Japanese maples, just as it was beginning to leaf out. All of the Japanese maples are now in full leaf. I acquire these a twigs, raising them from infancy. When I brought home my first one, a Burgandy Laceleaf, J said, "You paid $20 for a stick?!" That one is now four years old and sits just outside our living room window. The others have been moved to sunnier locations, as their leaves need more sun to show off their colors well.

Because the left side of my yard is in shade most of the time, that territory has lots of ferns. But I've found that helleborus also likes it shady. For most of the year it's just foliage, but it blooms for six weeks to two months (from the middle/end of February through the end of April), and so provides a welcome contrast to the various greens of the ferns nearby. Flowers come in several colors--from white to pink and red. They seem to be fairly long-lived, even in pots, although I do have to cut back some of the blackened foliage at the end of winter. And they require regular water. They wilt badly if the don't have enough moisture.

At left is my Chilean flowering maple just before it bloomed. It bloomed nicely for about a week and then wilted completely. I don't know what's wrong with it; we planted it in the ground and are hoping that it survives. At least I am. J saw it and asked me why I'd planted a weed in a pot.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Earth Hour

J and I will be observing Earth Hour tonight, which means we'll be going powerless for the hour between 8:00 and 9:00 P.M. Our plan is to eat dinner by candlelight and then to play gin rummy. We're not going to cheat and just turn out the lights. No stereo, no television, no computer, no appliances. I wasn't planning to vacuum or run the washing machine anyway.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

The Cat Tax

I rarely agree with Daniel Weintraub of the Bee, as he's one of those who believes that any monies given the rich cannot help but ennoble them, while the smallest sum given the impoverished encourages moral turpitude on the part of said poor (yes, I'm stealing here from Lewis Lapham). But his piece in Sunday's paper on Sacramento's cat tax was on the mark. The cat tax is a $10 a year fee for keeping a cat in Sacramento. That's if the feline is spayed or neutered; the fee is much higher if a resident's companion cat is not fixed. The money is collected to support the city's animal control system.

Weintraub's undocumented cat was caught the same way our cat, Dash, was trapped. As part of a check-up at the veterinarian, Dash was given a rabies vaccination. Our veterinarian is required to turn in any cat receiving a rabies vaccination to Animal Control. If the cat doesn't show up as licensed, the human caretakers are mailed a bill. (It should be noted that many people who have cats don't have them vaccinated for rabies. A strictly indoor cat doesn't need the vaccination, so for most cat staff, it's an unnecessary expense. Since our cats go outside and we have squirrels in residence and other wild creatures who visit the yard, our cats are vaccinated against rabies.) Failure to pay can result in escalating fees and, eventually, calls from a collection agency.

When we received the bill for Dash, we were irritated, but paid the bill. (Since Dash's rabies vaccination is good for three years, we paid $25 for a three-year license.) We were irritated because the people who are going to be caught in the rabies trap are those least likely to cost Animal Control money. We're the people who spoil our cats, who have hundreds of pictures of them, who get them rabies vaccinations ferhevensake.

If Animal Control wants to go after the people who cause animals to be turned in, they should look at their own statistics. The most common reason animals are turned in is that landlords won't allow tenants to bring their pets with them when they move. If Animal Control wanted to go after the people responsible for pets being turned in, maybe a tax on landlords who don't permit pets would be more appropriate.

Emma is still unlicensed. She'll get caught when she gets her next rabies vaccination in October.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Spring Spring Spring

Spring has really arrived! There are blooms everywhere, new fern fronds, leaves on the trees, and general greening and cheeriness registered by the flora. The plants have requested regular water and I am providing same as regularly as I ever do. I have also been weeding the front yard and am going to encourage the ivy to regrow in the sections I won't plant until next year.

I had to put my ficus out of its misery. I'd put the ficus outside a year ago and it let me know right away that it preferred living outdoors. It promptly grew about a foot, bushed out and cheered me every time I came out the door. The cold weather this winter was a bit worrying, but the ficus seemed fine until recently. Dead branches, dead leaves. And the cause: fungus. There was no hope. Poor ficus.

I'll post some pictures tomorrow. I have to move them from the camera to the computer.

Saturday, March 8, 2008

Happy International Women's Day

I'm going to celebrate by working in the yard and getting J to dig planting holes for me. Enjoy our day.

Friday, March 7, 2008

Fargo v. Johnson

Who would want to be Mayor of Sacramento at this point? The housing market has crashed, with commercial real estate and retail sure to follow. Given that so much of the city's cash comes from development fees and sales taxes, Sacramento is heading for some hard times.

That may explain why so few people have expressed interest in turning Mayor Fargo out of office. But now Kevin Johnson, most famous to the rest of the world for playing basketball professionally, has determined to challenge her for the position. Were I Mayor Fargo, I have to say that my reaction might well be something like, it's all yours, sweetie. But having the ego of a politician, I guess she thinks that she has to defend her position.

But why does Johnson want it? Who is he working for? From what little I've read thus far, it seems that some of the local corporate interests are unhappy with Fargo--blaming her for the failure to raise the sales tax for the new arena for the Kings (they play basketball), the collapse of John Saca's overblown condo project, the Westfield decision to allow Sacramento's downtown mall to deteriorate while expanding the Roseville Galleria, and other sins against business interests here. I guess they believe that Kevin Johnson can stand against the collapse of the housing bubble, convince Sacramentans to tax ourselves to subsidize the construction of a new entertainment arena (mostly for the Kings to play basketball), make John Saca's projects pencil out, and convince Westfield that they really want to reconstruct the downtown mall instead of the brand new mall located where there are richer, whiter people.

Heather Fargo must feel that the local business interests have abandoned someone who's worked hard to defend their interests. It's hard to imagine a more embarrassing moment than the Mayor and other elected officials condemning the Army Corps of Engineers for prohibiting more building on a flood plain that has a one in thirty chance of flooding every year. She did what she could to convince the citizenry to spend huge amounts of money to build an arena and turn its profits over to the Maloofs, the owners of the Kings (they play basketball). And unfortunately Sacramento didn't have the money to step in when it turned out that the Saca project didn't have the funding it needed to proceed. But Mayor Fargo didn't do it.

Our local paper, the Sacramento Bee has been promoting, uh, reporting a Johnson candidacy for several months. Aside from the paper's connections to (dependence on) the real estate interests, the Bee has, for some years, been promoting the creation of Sacramento as a "world class city." Yeah, right up there with London, Paris, New York, San Francisco and Tokyo. It's okay to snicker; I do every time I hear that and I live here. Sacramento is the center of the state government of California with a few outposts of Silicon Valley corporations and a couple of call centers on their way to India. It's no more than that. It may be something else someday, but it will never, ever be a world class city.

And a world class city needs a celebrity mayor. New York has Michael Bloomberg, San Francisco had Willie Brown, London has Red (actually Shell Pink) Ken. Sacramento has Kevin Johnson. He's the only celebrity we've got. We have celebrities who were raised here, or lived here at some point, but they moved on to world class cities. Kevin Johnson came back. So you go with what you've got. In addition, Johnson also has the kind of anti-union credentials that have made him the darling of the Bee's editorial board.

I'm sure there will be more entertaining comments to report from the campaign trail, but the best one so far is Kevin Johnson's statement, when asked what his platform was, that he would find out what Sacramentans wanted and then formulate his proposals. Uh, Kevin, you're supposed to have those conversations before you announce your candidacy.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

On the Couch

Every so often I develop an enthusiasm for respectability. I think I should do something like owning a house. Luckily the enthusiasm for house-buying passed when I realized that I'd have to spend a bunch more money every month and that it would be in Sacramento. And given the present situation, I've obviously dodged a bullet.

But when we received the shocking news that buying new sofa foam would cost us $200, I decided that we should investigate purchasing a real sofa, you know, the kind with stuffing and leather. So I dragged J to Scandinavian Designs to try out sofas. We sat on all of them. J, who is very organized, made notes. We went home. We talked about it. I changed my mind three times. Then I decided that we should keep the old futon. J had built it in 1985. It was part of what made us who we are. After all, we'd long since switched from black and white to color TV and gotten rid of the brick-and-board bookcases. If we move much more in this direction, we'll be nothing more than, than suburbanites.

No More Healthy Crunchies

Emma really didn't like the Natural Iams crunchies. Most of you will remember the pet deaths that were attributed to adulterated wheat gluten imported from China. Cats were particularly susceptible, as the melamine contamination caused kidney failure, the primary killer of household cats. The Iams that we'd been feeding our cats wasn't affected, but we'd been thinking about switching them to some kind of organic cat food. (Yes, I know they are "just" cats.)

So J returned from the store one day with Iams Natural. It didn't claim to be organic and, on reading the label, it seemed to contain the very same ingredients as the regular Iams. Well, we tried it on the cats. At least they didn't have the same reaction as our very first cat, Alexis, to our attempt the upgrade her food in, I think, 1984. She waited until we were at the dinner table, walked over to her food bowl, scooped the offending crunchies from her bowl and flung them across the kitchen floor. We got the message.

Emma, though, has never been that interested in food. She rejected human food treats from kittenhood, indicating her preference for crunchies--just crunchies. So we were surprised that she didn't adapt to the new regimen; we figured that she would eat what was set before her. Foolish us.

She didn't make any direct complaint. She just didn't eat very much. Her visits to her food bowl were shorter and less frequent. She dawdled, ate only a few crunchies and then left. Dash, of course, didn't have the same reaction. Maintaining his embarrassing 14 pounds requires regular communion with his food, and so he did what needed to be done.

The real evidence of her disdain for the so-called "natural" cat food was her obvious joy at the return of her regular food. We've mixed the food together in an attempt to trick them into eating the rest of the offending crunchies, but Emma seems to have mastered picking through them to find the food she likes on her more frequent trips to her food bowl. She's making up for the lean weeks.

Someday she will forgive us.

Kucinich Wins!

I was less interested in the Clinton/Obama fights in Texas and Ohio than I was in Dennis Kucinich's fight to retain his seat in Congress. He had five opponents, most notably Joe Cimperman, who seems to have been supported by every developer and corporate interest in Cleveland, as well as the major newspaper. Of particular interest was the banking interests' support for Cimperman, as Kucinich has proposed a foreclosure rescue plan that would cost the banks and investor groups pots. (That the banks and investor groups deserve to take responsibility for and be accountable for their perfidiousness and incompetence goes without saying, but that they would also seek to avoid this responsibility and accountability is also obvious.)

One interesting note: in his piece in the NY Times on Sunday (sorry, I haven't figured out how to do links yet), Kucinich suggests that the federal government buy up properties in foreclosure and rent them to the foreclosed owners. I'd like to suggest that the government fund an affordable housing program that would buy up foreclosed properties that would then remain permanent affordable housing. That would increase the supply of affordable housing with relatively little effort and, at the same time, protect neighborhoods where foreclosures threaten the stability of the community.

Although maybe we should concentrate on the impeachment of the Vice-President.