Tuesday, June 30, 2015

ADVENTURES CLOSE TO HOME: Battle of the Drug Store Loyalty Programs

Here in sunny, Southern California, we have three major drug store chains...CVS, Rite Aid, and Walgreen's.  We used to have a couple of more, like SavOn (miss them) and Long's, but they were swallowed up by the CVS behemoth.

There was also Thrifty, but they were bought out and became Rite Aid.  Nothing special about the new store, or it's service, but they did keep the Thrifty ice cream counters and still serve Thrifty ice cream in most of our local stores. That is very special to the natives here.

CVS, really kind of a chore to shop here especially since SavOn was so easy and all the SavOn locations became the three letter wonder.  The only thing good I can say about them is that they have a branch located across the street from my office, making it easy to step across the street to get my occasional 12 pack of diet soda.

Walgreen's is usally a fairly pleasant place to shop. They also have little mini stores where you can pop in and out, or go through the drive through to get your prescriptions. There's one across the street from our doctor's office so we go there for our medicines.

Each of these also has their own loyalty program and, while I would normally skip them, you don't get the sale prices if you're not a member. The result is we're members of all three.  Here's how they rate:

RITE AID - Other than sale prices, haven't gotten anything from this one. Recently, they changed it to be part of Plenti.com. This allows you to earn points at a bunch of other places that I hardly shop at such as Exxon/Mobil, Macy's, and Hulu. Last time I was in Rite Aid and punched in my phone number, the cashier gave me a new Plenti card, told me my old account is no longer valid, and to go to plenti.com and just enter my e-mail address to activate. 

Went to Plenti.com to do this and it asks for a bunch of other information from the card, which I didn't have handy.  Since I don't go to Rite Aid all that much anymore, I don't know if or when I'll ever get around to this step.  Feel a bit like I've been sold down the river but since it never did that much for me in the first place, I'm a bit ambivalent about the whole thing.

CVS - Another one I signed up for just because you can't get the sale prices without it. Occasionally, coupons will print out on my receipt for discounts on items I rareley buy at CVS. Lately, they've upped the ante saying if I bring my card in (usually, I just enter the number in the keypad), scan it in a little machine, I'll get even more coupons .


Walgreen's - Since we go here the most, I signed up for this one, too. It's pretty straightforward.  Earn points on each purchase.  When your balance goes over 5,000 points, you can use it to pay for things.  Each 5,000 points equals $5 but you can't cash in more that $10 at a time.  You even earn points on the copays for your prescriptions.

You only need your phone number to earn and redeem points and they send you a balance sheet each month.  Super easy...I think you know which loyalty program keeps me loyal.

Copyright 2015 - Darryl Musick
All Rights Reserved

Mid Season Adjustments to the Team

Like a baseball team, we make adjustments to our lineup and batting order in our garden. Luckily, this year seems like it will just take a little shuffling around with our players and not a fire sale like last year's growing season.

This weekend is one of those weekends where the chores are gloriously few. Yeah, I had to mow the lawn but this sun-scorched patch of drought plagued grass does not have much left to cut.

It only took five minutes.

Time freed up, I decided to try a couple of things I've been wanting to experiment with.

First, I got a little volunteer zucchini plant that must have sprouted from one of last year's seeds.  This gives me an opportunity to move it across the path to the sunny side to see if I get more production on that side rather than the shady spot it's in now.

There it is, put in the ground. It'll now sink or swim in between our tomatoes.

Second, I have an old piece of an onion that I've been holding in the fridge for an appropriate time like today.

It's starting to sprout, so I'm putting it in the whiskey barrel to see if I can turn it into a crop.

Both plants drenched in B1 and water, it's time to let them go and see what happens.

Copyright 2015 - Darryl Musick
All Right Reserve

Thursday, June 25, 2015

A Painful Crown for a King

My wife has a collection of Euphorbia, specifically, the Crown of Thorns plant.  As you can see, it really lives up to it's name.

Legend has it that this is the plant that the crown of thorns placed on Jesus' head at his crucifixion was made of.

We do have to be very careful when handling it. When pulling this palm tree seedling out of the pot, I got a little poke.

I put on some gloves, though, and got the rest.

These sentries guard our front door.

They have bright, red, spectacular flowers.

In the back, this salmon color variety lives.

The colors we have are mostly in the red range of colors but I do believe she has a yellow one somewhere.

They're very drought tolerant plants and many people confuse them with cacti but these are just very prickly, normal plants.

Copyright 2015 - Darryl Musick
All Rights Reserved

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Hotel Hunters: Bakersfield

The Musick family frequently visits Bakersfield, California. Their usual hotel has been the Springhill Suites, where they'd get a roomy, wheelchair accessible studio suite but they're looking for something new.

"It's starting to show its age," Letty says, "and the air conditioner blows right on my side of the bed."

"Lately, they've been catering to kids sports teams and it is crowded with loud kids," Darryl adds, "and they eat all the food in the breakfast bar."

Now, the family is looking for someplace new for their weekend getaways.

Their wish list has hotel managers digging deep for that perfect room. The family gathers at Mexicali, a favorite bar, and discusses their options over a margarita.

"I'd like a suite so that we can be in one room and Tim can be in another," Darryl replies, "and it'd be nice to be close to the things we'd like to see like the Springhill Suites is."

Letty adds "the bed shouldn't be too hard and it should be relaxing."

With Tim in a wheelchair, the room needs to be accessible but doesn't necessarily need a roll in shower.

"I'd like my own TV with sports networks on it," Tim chimes in.

The budget is $100 per night.

Hotel number one is the Hilton Garden Inn. This property is right next door to the Springhill Suites so the location is perfect.  There are no accessible suites, however, only standard rooms with a king size bed and available rollaway. The room includes a roll in shower.

"Why no accessible suites?" Darryl asks.

The suites are not technically accessible but they are large and have step-free access.  

"The air conditioning system is nice," Letty notes, "it does not blow right on the bed."

The price is $135 per night.

"Whoa...that's over budget," Darryl notes, "it also doesn't include breakfast. At least at Springhill Suites, the price was lower and it included a hot, full breakfast. It's nice but we'll keep on looking."

Hotel number two is a more budget friendly property in the older part of town, east of downtown on Union. The Residence Hotel with Courtyard (formerly the Tropicana) is a recently renovated, older inn. It has accessible rooms but does not serve breakfast but with a budget friendly price of $60 per night and being next door to the family's all-time favorite restaurant, they could easily afford to buy breakfast.

"Look, hon, Los Tacos de Huicho is next door! And Mexicali [their favorite watering hole] is just two blocks away," Letty observes.

"Yeah is does fit the budget and is close to things we like but what is that guy selling out of his car?" Darryl asks, "and is that a hooker?"

Taking a chance on a property that is a bit out of their wish list, hotel number three is farther out away from downtown in the west end of Bakersfield by the California State University there.

Homewood Suites offers a full, two bedroom suite, with a bathtub, a pool with a lift, full breakfast, an in-room kitchen, and an outdoor lounge area with barbecues.  It's still a bit above budget at $120 per night but does hit a lot of of items on their list.

"I like the air conditioning and the bed is comfortable,"Letty says.

"The pool looks like fun and the in-room kitchen is nice," notes her husband, "it is kind of far from the heart of town, though."

"That's true and it's still a bit above budget," Letty replies, "but it's also a quiet area."

"They've got two TVs and sports networks," a quiet-until-now Tim adds.

With three hotels under consideration, the Musick's look at their options.

"The Hilton Garden is in the perfect location," Letty notes.

"Yes but the price is way over budget and we'd also have to add buying breakfast to that," Darryl says.

"The Residence with Courtyard is right by two of our favorite places and the price is very good," Letty says of property number two.

"Drug dealers and hookers," Darryl replies.

"Yes, why don't we cross that one off of our list."


"How about the Homewood Suites?" Letty asks.

"It is still over budget but we do get breakfast and it's a really nice room and hotel," Darryl adds, "we could make up for it by using the in-room kitchen to prepare some of our food and drink."

"It's a bit far from the action though," Letty sighs.

"Maybe but it's not a long drive to get where we'd want to go," Darryl says.

"Well, I know where I want to stay," Letty concludes.

"Me too!" Darryl adds

"The Homewood Suites!" they say in unison.

Later, the Musick's are checked in to their new hotel location in Bakersfield.

"I thought I'd be bummed at being so far from downtown but the quiet location makes up for it and the new Westside Parkway makes the drive just five minutes," Darryl says.

"Yes, and I sleep really well on the bed and the air conditioner doesn't bother me here," Letty wraps up, "the pool is also one of the best I've enjoyed, too."

"Will you two shut up?" Tim complains, "I'm trying to watch baseball!"

Copyright 2015 - Darryl Musick
All Rights Reserved

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Water and Food...Well, Food, Anyway

My son asked how we were supposed to reduce our water usage 25% to meet our new rationing targets. I pointed to the lawn (pictured above) and told him that was our sacrificial lamb for the drought.

A robo call from the water company informed us that we are only allowed to water two times a week now. No word on how much we can water on those days, plus my timer doesn't go on 7 day cycles so the best I can do it set is do only go off every three days. That's what I'm doing, at 25 minutes per watering.  

That cycle also waters our roses and some potted plants that are on drippers.

Since we have a drip irrigation system on the rest of our garden, we're exempt on most water laws so we can concentrate on that while the lawn slowly goes to brown.

This week is the week for feeding.  I've been using this fertilizer but it's not as good as the Schultz fertilizer I used a few years ago but it's way better than the chicken droppings I used a couple of years ago.

The tomato seems to be happy with it but as soon as it runs out, it's back to Schultz.

Copyright - Darryl Musick
All Rights Reserved

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Organic Gardening on a Cloven Hoof

Branching out a bit from my little patch of paradise to about a mile away. Here, under the high voltage transmission towers of our local utility, Southern California Edison, a tree nursery has some fallow land.

Being hot and dry summer conditions here in Southern California, the brush builds up only to dry out and cause a high fire danger.

The nursery hires a local goatherd for about $3,000. He brings his flock in and dozens of hungry lawnmowers get to work.

While dry grass and brush might not be a complete, nutritional meal for the goats, they have a feeding pen (at the top of their range in the above picture) that has supplemental feed and water

It also makes quite an attraction in our neighborhood.

Copyright 2015 - Darryl Musick
All Rights Reserved

Monday, June 15, 2015

Keeping up Appearances

Checking into the status of the garden. First, in this era a megadroughts, how about a look at water usage? It's raining today, that's good, but we're still under rationing.

Last month's bill was $17 and change. this compared to the same time last year when we paid, well, more (the water company's website is down and I can't look up last year's bill right now). There is also a strange credit on the bill of a couple of bucks, called the "CA: LA Payment Assistance" credit, that I don't know what it's for but in water usage, we used 6,732 gallons this May and 7,480 gallons last May.

My next door neighbor, who has a large green lawn that she only waters once a week, has a bill over $180 for the same period. Yikes!

The tomatoes are busting out all over. Many fruit on our hybrid plant and cherry tomato plant. The heirloom plant is showing lots of flowers but no fruit yet.

Our chiles are doing better this year. I used this Anaheim chile in our eggs this weekend and there's some gorgeous pasilla chiles on another plant. I'll maked stuffed peppers out of them someday.

Got six ears of corn showing so far. 

The grapes are showing slight signs of smut so I hit them with some sulfur dust on Sunday.

My wife made me take the cage off of our zucchini, now it's showing signs of animal damage and I still haven't gotten any fruit. I put the cage back on, let's see how it does.

It's June. The vendor at the farmers market who sold us the dragon fruit plants told me to cut back by a third and we should see flowers by May. I did. Got lot's of new growth but no flowers or fruit yet.

Copyright 2015 - Darryl Musick
All Rights Reserved