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KathrynMcKenzie.com is the website of Kathryn McKenzie (that's me), a writer on the Central Coast of California specializing in articles about home and garden topics. I'm available for newspaper, magazine and website work; please contact me at kathynic@sbcglobal.net for more information.

The new new column

By Kathy | June 24, 2012

Just as I was settling into my “Pardon My Garden” column, the powers that be decreed that I do something different. My column as of February 2012 is “Living Green” and deals with green living and sustainability.

Look for it every Saturday in the Monterey Herald (www.montereyherald.com); I will repost columns on this website under the “Green Living” tab. You can also follow me on Twitter  for daily tips, twitter.com/livinggreen2.

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Check out my new column!

By Kathy | November 28, 2011

My new column, Pardon My Garden, is now appearing each Saturday in the Monterey County Herald newspaper. Check it out at www.montereyherald.com; click on “Living” and then on “Home and Garden.” I’ll also include some of the columns in this blog.

Each week, I answer a burning question concerning plants and gardening from readers in the Monterey, California, area. Not only do I include useful information, I try to make it entertaining as well. Because, well, gardening should be fun … right?

You can also get links to columns, gardening tips, photos and observations on the Facebook page for Pardon My Garden. Go to Facebook and search for “Pardon My Garden.” Do me a favor and click “Like” … thanks!

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What would I do without the Helpful Men?

By Kathy | February 20, 2011

The tile guys invaded my home today. It wasn’t entirely unexpected, although a little earlier than what I had imagined.

I had talked to the lead guy, John, last Friday, and his exact words were: “We’ll come by on Monday morning to do some measurements.”

Well, they were here, but not to do measurements. Somehow it had morphed into, “We’re starting the job RIGHT NOW.”

And that would have been fine, except that they were tearing apart my bathroom and I hadn’t taken a shower yet.

John is a good guy, and so is his friend Julio. The pair of them had already completed tile work in another bathroom in the house, and had done a wonderful job. So I shrugged it off and thought, “Well, tile work bright and early on a Monday morning. How bad can this be?”

After all, I had already made up my mind to get it done, and that John and Julio were the guys who would be doing it. It was just a little bit sooner than I’d planned.

John and Julio are two of the group of Helpful Men in my life. I have appropriated this term from Dominique Browning, an author who wrote about renovating her garden in a book called “Paths of Desire.”

Browning wrote about how, when you are a single woman, you develop a network of Helpful Men who can fix plumbing, replace windows, trim trees and install tile, among other things.

I have Helpful Men too. Not that I am not handy, because I am, to a certain extent. It’s just that sometimes it’s easier to hire someone than to try to do it myself — I could do it, sure, but it would take three times as long and wouldn’t come out half as well.

So that’s where the Helpful Men come in. I have Jim, my doors and windows expert; Carl the tree guy; and others who have dug, lifted, toted, hammered and painted over the years.

I depend upon them greatly, and am grateful for their help.

So when John and Julio arrived and began setting up their saws, there wasn’t much I could say. After all, I needed them to do the job, and didn’t want to turn them away when they were ready to get it done.

There was just one other little problem. Whenever you have someone working on your home, it’s difficult to get much of anything accomplished. And since I work at home, that is definitely a problem.

Since the upstairs bathroom was being renovated, and I work downstairs — almost directly underneath said bathroom — I was subject to all kinds of ripping, grinding, tearing and chiseling uproar today as they took up the old flooring and prepared for the new tile.

And that wasn’t all. Then they had to cut. First a layer of board to go underneath the tile, then the tile itself. The saw was directly outside my window. Noisy … very noisy. And the dog didn’t like it either.

Of course, this is all part and parcel of home renovation. There is noise, dust, trash, commotion, upheaval and so forth. There must be chaos before there can be order. Only in my case, the chaos was extremely inconvenient to me completing an article that was due that day.

John and Julio are such nice guys, and there wasn’t much I could say. They had to do their jobs. And I had to let them.

Luckily, laying tile in a small bathroom really doesn’t take all that long. Although it seemed like forever, it took just a few hours. They’ll be back tomorrow to do the grout and to finish up.

And that will be much, much quieter.

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Is the world ready for Squinkies?

By Kathy | December 5, 2010

Let the Christmas shopping madness begin.

Actually, it already has, but I’m just getting around to writing about it now. It has taken me a couple of days to drag my turkey-stuffed body away from the Thanksgiving leftovers, even though there was one last piece of pie just begging to be eaten.

That’s what I’ve been doing, rather than shopping. Pigging out — and proud of it.

At any rate, all good things must end, and so do leftovers, eventually. Or someone gives them to the dog. Whatever. At any rate, I’m proud of the fact that I did very little in the days following National Turkey Day, and didn’t set foot even remotely near a department store.

Black Friday came and went without me participating; so did Cyber Monday. I will get around to Christmas shopping at some point, but I’m just not emotionally ready yet.

However, I did spend some times gazing at the computer screen and catching up on news tidbits (also known as celebrity gossip) when I ran across a few articles on what trendsetters say is the hot toy of the 2010 Christmas shopping season.

In a word: Squinkies.

Thank goodness I don’t have to buy toys for little kids anymore.

I have been through many cycles of the must-have Christmas toy epidemics — from Power Rangers to Furbies to Pokemon stuff.

I ran across a rather sad-looking Furby in a pile of stuff around the house the other day, its batteries finally kaput. I had to go through a lot to acquire that Furby some Christmases ago, and now it’s just another thing in the dust heap. Well, it was fun while it lasted.

At any rate, every holiday season, it’s always something. And now it’s Squinkies.

I had never even heard of a Squinkie before this year, so as any intrepid reporter would do, I looked for the Squinkies website, which of course is Squinkies.com. The website is very pink, very cute, and plays annoying music whenever you open the home page.

Squinkies, I have found, are tiny collectible toys in the shapes of pets and babies. They come in numbered series and for whatever reason, are all the rage this year. Each pack of Squinkies comes with a “surprize” (their spelling) inside.

Of course you can buy accessories of various sorts, like the Cupcake Surprize Bake Shop, the Gumball Surprize Playhouse, and so forth.

It reminds me an awful lot of the Littlest Pet Shop toys, which are also small, cute, and come with carrying cases that can be used as playsets. I’m not sure why Squinkies are such a big deal, although they are “squashy, squooshy and squishy,” according to the website.

Maybe there is something about the squashiness that makes them desirable. Who knows.

All I know is I won’t have to stand in line to get any of them, which is fine by me. It’s possible I have some nieces who will want them, but I’m afraid they are out of luck. I’ll give them gift cards and they can buy their own Squinkies.

My boys have long since outgrown Power Rangers and Pokemon, and are now more intent on getting the latest computer or cellphone gadget. Not as adorable as Squinkies, but certainly more practical.

After all, in a few years, no one will be fighting over those “collectible” Squinkies any more. They’ll be resigned to some forgotten cardboard box in the closet. And the Christmas shopping world will be going on to whatever the next new thing is.

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Tupperware and Thanksgiving

By Kathy | November 20, 2010

Thanksgiving is fast approaching, and it was with that in mind that I undertook a monumental task recently: cleaning out my Tupperware cupboard.

Now you may ask yourself, “What in the world does Tupperware (or insert other plastic container name here) have to do with Thanksgiving?”

For the typical Thanksgiving feast … everything.

You must have plasticware on hand, and copious amounts of it, for several reasons. First of all, some things are just easier to prepare ahead of time, and often you will want to store them in a plastic container rather than your fancy china. Fancy china has a way of getting chipped and Tupperware doesn’t.

Secondly, you need plenty of containers wherein to store your leftovers, come Thanksgiving day. Let’s face it, as good as a turkey dinner is, the leftovers are even better.

And it’s not like you have one or two things to store, but more like 10 or 11 — turkey, stuffing, gravy, mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, whatever vegetable everyone in the family can stand, cranberry sauce, salad, and so on and so forth, ad infinitum. (Not to mention the three kinds of dessert.)

Last but not least, inevitably there will be someone (or someones) who want to take home a few slices or turkey, or pie, or what have you, so that they can have a little leftover delight themselves. So you’ll want to send them home with their leftovers in a plastic container.

See what I mean? Plastic ware is instrumental to the modern American Thanksgiving.

Yet there I was with a cupboard jammed full of Tupperware (and similar items from other manufacturers) and I needed to sort it out.

For day-to-day use, I don’t need a ton of plastic containers. There’s only me and one son left at home, and I use a container or two a week for this and that. So it really seemed silly to have 70 or 80 pieces of plastic rattling around in the cupboard without a purpose.

In addition, my older son at college needed a few containers, so it was a perfect opportunity to downsize my own supply and give Son No. 1 what he needed.

Why is there so much plasticware, you ask? Honestly … I dunno.

Despite my best efforts, plastic ware seems to multiply when kept in dark places. At the same time, lids apparently disappear, grow, or shrink strangely. It’s a mystery akin to what happens to missing socks in the dryer. Maybe, somehow, they somehow transform themselves into Tupperware.

Yet I knew that I also needed to keep enough items on hand to satisfy the many requirements of the upcoming holiday season. It is a delicate balancing act.

You would think the process could be made considerably easier by simply throwing away the items that don’t have matching lids. Well, certainly, a logical mind would come to that conclusion.

But in my case, it didn’t quite work.

Much of the plasticware — mostly well used but serviceable — just seemed, well, too good to throw away. Even without lids.

In the end, I managed to recycle some, throw away a few cheapies, and put the actual excess lidless Tupperware in my donation box. A nice thing about Tupperware is you can always buy lids for it, if you want to, through your friendly neighborhood Tupperware dealer.

Now I have what I think is a sufficient amount with which to greet the holiday season and still fit where it’s supposed to fit, without spilling out when I open the cupboard door.

Will it be enough? I won’t really know until we get to Thanksgiving.

Lack of Tupperware is not a tragedy, but it could make storing leftovers a little problematic. Wish me luck.

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The ants come marching, one by one …

By Kathy | October 22, 2010

I often write newspaper and magazine articles about what to do, and what not to do, in your home and garden. Topics like how to keep away gophers, how to fix bad soil, how to create a drought-resistant garden and so forth.

Recently I wrote about ants. Specifically, how to keep them away, and what to do if they should invade your happy home. Now there’s nothing in the rule book that says I automatically become an expert merely by writing an article about something, but when I’m done with it I often I feel like I do know a lot about the topic.

I have to admit I was feeling pretty smug about the ant thing. I felt I had a pretty good handle on the whole keeping-ants-out-of-the-house thing since I haven’t had an ant invasion at my house in a few years.

So I wrote things like, “Don’t leave food lying around,” and “Clean up your kitchen right away after eating,” and “Keep things clean, clean, clean.” There was other stuff too, but that was the gist of it. Ants like food; get rid of the food and you discourage the ants. It’s simple enough.

Like I said, I was feeling smug. And then it happened.

The ants came marching, one by one. Into my house. Hurrah.

Actually, they came marching by the hundreds and seemed pretty intent on making an ant superhighway straight through my kitchen.

This was disconcerting, to say the least. Plus I had set myself up as some kind of ant expert (at least in my own mind) and now stood by staring, dumbfounded, as the insects skittered along my linoleum.

The conventional wisdom is that you must find out what the ants are going after, and then remove the offending item. Also, interrupt their trail with something that has a strong smell; this disrupts the scent messages they lay down for the other ants to follow. Putting out ant bait also will kill them after a few days because they take the poison bait back to the nest.

But I couldn’t for the life of me figure out what they were going for. They seemed to just be passing through. I wiped up their path several times; they just kept coming back.

This past weekend, I decided to get serious about the ants. I found the ant bait traps and put them around when the ants would run across them. I wiped up the trail yet again. Still the parade of six-legged critters went on. And on.

I was having breakfast Sunday morning when I began thinking about this little honey jar I have. It’s kind of a cute little thing to store honey in and I keep it handy beside the dining room table, just in case someone wants to have honey on their toast.

As I was thinking about it, my eye went to it — and sure enough, that’s what the ants were after.

So there was one mystery solved. The other — why it took me the better part of a week to notice this — will never be satisfactorily explained.

I removed the offending honey jar, ran hot water over it for a while, and watched the ants come boiling out. Scary.

The ant extravaganza is finally over. They’ve left, discouraged by the sudden lack of honey and the presence of ant bait. I can’t say I’m sorry they’re gone.

However, I do have to deal with the feeling of my own inadequacy, because obviously I am no kind of expert at all, in ants or anything else.

Pride goeth before a fall, or in my case, in the fall. When the ants came marching in.

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Between a rock and a hard place

By Kathy | May 1, 2010

For the past 10 months, I have had no front yard.

Well, there is a front yard. It just hasn’t had anything in it other than dirt.

When I moved into this house more than 20 years ago, there was a patch of scraggly lawn out front, which despite my best efforts over the years, never became lush or green. Add to that the weeds and the gophers and the moles, and it was just a problem through and through.

I even got new sod put in at one point, which looked nice for about a year, and then deteriorated to its thin weedy self once more.

The problem is that my house sits on terrible adobe clay, which is so thick that you can’t even call it soil. No one had ever bothered to explain to me how to improve it, and by the time I found out how to do it, I was done with lawns.

California isn’t a place where lawns grow naturally anyway. They take too much water, care, and fuss. So I decided last year that the lawn’s time had come and gone. It had to go.

I had some guys come and dig up the lawn, and I wasn’t sorry, not even for a second. I dug a narrow, twisting channel though the dirt, which took forever because it’s really clay. Then a friend with a landscaping business brought me rocks and dirt and gravel.

The rocks and stuff have been sitting out there for a while. Christmas came and went. So did New Year’s. Then came the rain.

Then, on a day when it was supposed to rain, it didn’t. I took it as a sign that I should go out and start moving rocks around.

My grand design is to create a dry riverbed through the space that used to be a lawn. That’s what the channel was for. I piled small river rocks in the channel, then started placing larger rocks around the edges to create a river kind of effect.

That’s when I realized that my project was going to take a long, long time.

I had never done any rock work before, but I had had other people describe it “like doing a jigsaw puzzle.” I would liken it more to doing a collage — you are putting pieces of something together and attempting to make it look artistic.

For me, it meant putting rocks in one place, looking at them for a while, then moving them somewhere else. And then sometimes moving them again.

Three hours of moving rocks gets a little tiring.

And when I looked at what I’d accomplished in three hours, it was disheartening, to say the least.

There is nothing like realizing, after a lot of work and effort, that not really very much had gotten accomplished.

I still have a lot of weed cloth to put down and a lot of rock to move. And then there will be decomposed granite to tamp down, and a few drought-resistant plants to plant.

I am trying to be patient with the process, but it’s hard.

Of course, as the saying goes, anything worth doing takes time. And that’s what I have to keep telling myself. There will be a lot of hours that will have to be put in on my little anti-lawn experiment, but when it’s done, I will no longer have to worry about watering, fertilizing or mowing — just a little leaf-blowing every so often.

The effort, in the end, will be worth it. I hope.

In the meantime, I will continue putting my rock collage together, one stone at a time.

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Who needs an iPad? Not me

By Kathy | April 19, 2010

Last week’s big news, at least where technology is concerned, was the first day of sales of the iPad. Did I run right out and get one? No.

Aside from the unfortunate name and the fact that I have no money after paying various kinds of taxes this month, I’m just not convinced that anyone really needs an iPad.

Getting the latest gadget has become such a rat race, and frankly, I really can’t imagine trying to master yet another device. My brain is just not up to it.

I am not a technophobe at all, and I can definitely acknowledge the joy of playing with new gadgets. It’s fun, no doubt about it. But even though I don’t have a lot of fear about technology, I also don’t have a burning desire to figure it all out.

I got a new laptop last year, and although I have no problem with it most of the time, occasionally I am forced to call my son and ask him how to do something, or why some function or other doesn’t seem to work.

This, however, can be fraught with potential conflict. His typical answer is that I should download something that he insists I need, and I insist I don’t.

Mainly because that would be yet another new thing to learn.

Even my cell phone — which is not particularly fancy or complicated — baffles me at times. And I’m embarrassed to say that it takes me forever to figure things out. I’ve had it about a year, and only recently discovered that if I want to send a new text message, I don’t have to look up the person’s phone number — I can merely type in their name if it’s already in my contacts.

That really made me feel stupid, after all the time I’d spent looking up those numbers.

I actually looked into getting an iPad, mainly because I was intrigued with being able to download and read books on it. The major features of the iPad include music and video (like an iPod Touch or iPhone), wireless internet access, photos, those incredible apps that have gotten such a lot of press, maps, contacts and calendar functions.

So it’s kind of like a big iPhone with a few more things thrown in.

I like the fact that it’s small enough to slip into a purse or a big pocket, and I have no quarrel with what it can do. But it all seems a bit redundant when you consider that its functions are similar to what a lot of our devices already do. I’m sure it does them better, but still … do I really need one? And if not me, then who?

A friend told me it’s hard to type on, since it doesn’t have a regular keyboard, but a touch-screen one. Strike one.

I was further dismayed (at least for myself) to find that the book function isn’t all that great compared to other e-readers, such as the Kindle. Only a limited number of book titles are available to download, and the reviewers say it’s hard to read in bright sunlight — again, falling short of what the Kindle delivers.

So … I’m probably going to get a Kindle. Eventually. Because I love to read and I like the convenience of the thing. I don’t care if it doesn’t run 40-million other kinds of apps — I just want to get books on it, and the occasional newspaper or magazine.

But I’m not in a huge rush to get one. First, I must figure out what else my cell phone can do.

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Facebook is my friend

By Kathy | January 23, 2009

I’ve become mildly obsessed with Facebook. I really didn’t see the point to it when I first heard about it — it seemed like a supreme time-waster for teens to indulge in. But a few of my friends kept sending me those annoying e-mails that say, “I joined Facebook! Why don’t you?”

So I finally gave in to the peer pressure and signed up.

Now I’m checking a few times a day to see who’s on (out of my current 31 friends), what everyone’s doing, and to see if there are messages or updates. And there almost always are.

The great thing about Facebook is that it gives you a quick ‘n’ easy way to see what your friends are up to. It is also very simple to show people you’re thinking about them.

For instance, last week my friend Ernie lost his job. He made note of it on his page, and immediately started getting an outpouring of support from his online friends. I added mine to about 15 others. It was a small thing, but I know if I lost my job, it would be a little bit of consolation to have all those people reaching out to me.

Likewise, my friend Kathy broke up with her significant other, and wrote about it. I sent her a “hug” through something called SuperPoke (you can send people all kinds of virtual things — hot cocoa, cake, whatever — or throw things at them, from sheep to kisses). She appreciated the hug. Several other of her friends wrote encouraging notes on her Facebook “wall.”

These are people who I’ve been close to in the past, and now feel close to again because of Facebook and how they share parts of their lives with me through this medium. What a fabulous invention.

Of course, there are hazards as well. There’s the danger of sharing too much. You do have to be cautious about what you put out there and who you invite in as friends.But there is the potential for it to be a wonderful link with the people who matter. I am really enjoying it.

Being on Facebook has also led to some nice phone calls and re-establishing ties that had been neglected for a while. And it’s great fun seeking out people that I used to work with or knew in some other way.

Facebook. It’s not just for teenagers anymore.

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My New Year’s resolution

By Kathy | January 11, 2009

So: It’s a new year, and that means it’s time for a new start. I hereby resolve to write a new post at least once a week. I’d really like to do it twice a week, but I’m afraid to make that much of a commitment. So I will aim lower.

In other news, it’s been a bad week for newspapers. Now it’s the Seattle Post-Intelligencer that’s in dire straits, and could possibly shut down for good. It’s depressing. However, I read something interesting in Atlantic Monthly on how the New York Times can stay in business. Of course this could apply to any newspaper in today’s world.

Michael Hirschorn’s column, “End Times,” even sees a Web-only New York Times as possibly providing better journalism than the current print version. I just hope there is a Web version.

I am sad to think that someday there will no longer be printed newspapers to read, but I have come to terms with the inevitable. As long as they survive in some form, I’ll be content.

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