What I do for a living–and a Harvest Monday

Harvest Monday has rolled around once again and all I’ve done is work and watch TV.  This new flat screen HDTV with home theater sound really has me spoiled. Can’t tear myself away from it.

You may wonder what I do for a living (such as it is). In addition to writing a weekly column on the environment for our local newspaper (Huntington Beach Independent), I work very parttime for the Orange County Conservation Corps.

Thanks to statewide budget cutbacks in California, I didn’t have much work from the corps in 2010. I only work with the new crews and they didn’t hire a lot of new workers last year. Things are picking up here at the first of the year and I had two orientation crews back to back last week and the week before.

I take the “kids” on some sort of nature adventure and then we do classroom work. Last week I took the crew to Crystal Cove State Park and the week before we went to Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve.

This was a record large orientation crew, with 23 new corps members.

I about died when I saw how large a crew they brought to Bolsa Chica, 23 corps members. My normal class size is 8-12. These kids are 18-24, almost all are high school dropouts, many have behavioral issues (ADD, etc.), many have been in trouble with the law and many have gang affiliations. In my past experience, class sizes of 17-18 have been impossible to handle. I was not looking forward to a group this large, but they were angels. Most were engaged in the learning activities and no one gave me even a spec of trouble.

One of the female corps members hands the king snake to another CM.

One of the corps members shows a bat star to his fellow corps member.

As you can see, we do hands-on learning. I’ve found that corps members are more engaged and learn better if they have things to touch and handle. This was a great class.

The next week (last Thursday), I had only six corps members. We went to Crystal Cove State Park. Of the six, three had never been to a beach. They tend to stay in their own neighborhoods close to home. I expose them to as much biology and nature as I can in the short time that I’m with them. But I swear I have more fun than they do.

Crystal Cove State Park

Four of the guys held hermit crab races. Put two crabs at the edge of the water and see which one gets to a certain point first. Unfortunately, the crabs weren't aware of the location of the finish line or the purpose of the "sport." They pretty much did their own thing.

After the corps members went back to the corps for their afternoon classes, I hung out at the beach for a while taking photos. Here are the results.

Can you see the mossy chiton? It's about an inch long, oblong, and has some pink coraline algae at its upper right side.

Pretty patterns in the sand

Crystal Cove has great rock formations. Here's just one.



Black-bellied plover in winter plumage

Marbled godwit

Confused ladybug crawling in the wet sand.

California thrasher

American Kestrel male

Coast bush sunflower

Bermuda sorrel

OK, that’s enough nature. And enough making all you northerners feel bad. Yes, it’s beach weather here in southern California in January.

Meyer lemons

On to the week’s harvest.


19 oz. Lemons, Meyer


0.5 oz. herbs (thyme, parsley)

2 oz. onion, red

TOTAL 1 lb 5.5 oz. produce plus 5 eggs

I used a lemon, an orange from a neighbor, the herbs and onion in a French (whole) chicken recipe with a cup of chardonnay, carrots, and a bunch of the yams that I harvested last week. At the end, I thickened the gravy with sour cream and cornstarch and served it with rice-a-roni. Tonight we’re having the leftover chicken and vegetables with egg noodles.

I used some home-made watermelon pickles in some tuna salad when I ran out of pickles. It made a nice substitution. And I’ve used frozen spaghetti sauce for chicken caccitore (is that how it’s spelled? I doubt it.) and had some of my homemade canned tomato soup. Slowly my larder is going down, which is good, because one of these days I’m going to get out of my rocking chair and back to the garden.

About Lou Murray, Ph.D.

I'm a retired medical researcher, retired professional writer/photographer, avid gardener, and active environmentalist living in southern California. I wrote a weekly newspaper column on environmental topics in the Huntington Beach Independent for many years. I also supervised environmental restoration projects and taught at the Orange County Conservation Corps before retiring in the summer of 2016. This blog chronicles my efforts to live a green life growing as much food as possible for my husband and myself on a 4,500 sq ft yard that is covered mainly by house, garage, driveway, and sidewalks. I am also dedicated to combatting global climate change.
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16 Responses to What I do for a living–and a Harvest Monday

  1. It looks to me like your corps students were having a lot of fun! I’m a huge proponent of hands on learning, but then I’ve always been a visual learner myself, and always remember things better if I can interact with them. Don’t worry, you’re not making this northerner feel bad…it’s been gloriously sunny and 70F the past week or so up here, with more on the way! Perfect gardening weather!


    • Hmm, Clare, I’m not sure living in Monterey qualifies you as a northerner. Yes, they did have a lot of fun. It’s been perfect gardening weather here too, but so far that hasn’t been enough to motivate me to dig in the dirt.


  2. Brenda K says:

    Very nice! Thanks for doing the work you do. As difficult as I imagine it is much of the time, you’re having a great impact on those young people. Your post reminded me of how much I enjoyed the marine biology classes I took as electives in college even though they had nothing to do with any of my degrees. It was well worth the painfully early routing for the class trips to the tide pools too (we musicians tend not to like early mornings much).


  3. kitsapfg says:

    What a great opportunity your profession provides – to make an impact on someone’s life. And to do it in such a beautiful location too! Now that is something truly wonderful. 😀


  4. Turling says:

    Looks like a great day, and that’s a very noble thing that you do for the corps. Also, don’t worry, nobody knows how to spell “caccitore” or “catch-a-tory” or however it goes.


  5. Barbara says:

    Hi Lou, good to see you back. Thanks for introducing us to your work, which looks both rewarding AND enjoyable. I’m one northerner you can’t make too jealous, as I love the winter. That sparkling snow, pristine landscapes, bundling up in cozy winter jackets, ice skating – aren’t you feeling envious now?


  6. HelenB says:

    The ladybug picture is totally wonderful. One wonders why she started going in circles, and why she finally stopped.


  7. Daphne Gould says:

    Your last few photos are just too sunny. I’ve forgotten what sun is like. Snow yes, sun not so much. Maybe I need some lemons.


  8. mac says:

    Thanks for the beautiful photos, I miss CA weather, it’s the only place where one can enjoy the beach and snow in the winter.


  9. Ara says:

    Great post! I love your photos. I hope we can save these beautiful creatures, wonders of the world. Let’s be more into eco-friendly stuffthan use plastic materials because it can damage our environment and harm our health.


  10. Cathie says:

    Loved the ladybug photo. I need to get back to Crystal Cove soon.


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