Sunday, November 30

Getting high on grass

Or is it getting grass on high?

The horses are finally heading up to the high country parts of the place where the grass is probably more lush, if you can call three fingers high lush. Only two came in for their supplemental feed today, and they will probably keep that up throughout the winter since they’re spoiled and one of them is running out of teeth. At least the herd will not be attacking the strawberry plants for a long time; it will take all winter for them to come back from the roots.

Saturday, November 29

This one is really a stretch

The photo shows the fall colors of dead grape leaves in a vineyard, and among the leaves are some barely visible sparkles of light. It should really be a movie; a still photo doesn’t show the effect very well.

Motoring home from Paso Robles on Friday after a family Thanksgiving feast the day before, we passed by a vineyard that had thousands of little shiny plastic foil strips among the vines. I asked Karla if she knew what they were for. “To frighten birds away,” was her response. “Wrong,” I said. “Those twinkling blinking shiny strips are there because they used those grapes to make sparkling wine.”

Friday, November 28

Another puzzle

For those of you who didn’t get the meaning of my post about J. Jason, here’s a chance to redeem your esteem. This puzzle should be easier. When she was a young kid, Hilary and I made it up over a period of a few evenings, and would use it almost every night before bedtime. As time went on, we made it into a game that I, unfortunately, never really figured out how to win. I’ll explain that as soon as someone comes up with the correct answer to the challenge. Good luck! (Hint: Two languages)

Thursday, November 27

Horse proof

A horse would probably have to be starving in order to eat this orange, even if it were ripe. Raccoons won’t eat them, nor will pigs, squirrels, rats, or vegan rattlesnakes. Even humans won’t eat a Seville orange without at least some sweetening, which makes them perfect for that wonderful sweet-tart taste of marmalade. Come January, we will be braving the nasty thorns on this small tree, picking as many of the diminutive fruits as we can, then going into slave mode to slice, squeeze, parboil, scrape, shred and cook up a big batch of marmalade to die for.

Meanwhile, we’ll wait and watch as they all approach the perfect ripeness, secure in the knowledge that nothing will steal them from us.

Wednesday, November 26

At least they left us a couple…

It was a dark and stormy night, which provided perfect cover for a midnight raid by equines that decimated our two half-barrels of strawberry plants. But they were kind enough to leave one berry for each of us, for which we are very thankful.

About four days ago we were ready to harvest the dozen or so rock-hard little pears off the tree that I have nursed since spring. Karla went to the tree and came back with the accusation that I had already picked them. Nope. The raccoons had picked them. I guess we could make the area around the house into a fortress to keep the horses, raccoons, pigs, rats, and those horrible little leaf-eating finches at bay.

Give me vegan rattlesnakes any day!

Tuesday, November 25


What a workout! We towed the splitter to the wood this time, and tipped it up so we didn’t have to lift the log rounds onto it. Even placing the huge chunks of very wet heavy oak onto the base of the splitter was daunting. The machine moaned and grunted as it reduced it all to nice pieces for stacking in the wood shed. Several times water almost sprayed from the log rounds as the wedge was forced in, splitting them regardless of their having any ideas to the contrary.

All the chain sawing over these past weeks of intermittent work took a little less than one gallon (3.8 litres) of fuel. Splitting probably took a bit more, so the efficiency was very high.

Just putting this full truckbed of wood away in the shed took over an hour. We are going to take a break for a while!

Monday, November 24

The end is near!

The final cut! And we still have all our fingers, our jeans aren’t torn, we’re not bleeding, no bruises, no scrapes — but one finger of one glove has been worn through from handling the rough rounds of oak for lo these many days. We’re not going to lift these last log pieces onto the splitter either. Instead we’re going to tow it over, stand it up, and do some vertical ground-level work for a change.

Overall we’re pleased. This one tree will fill the wood shed with probably a winter’s worth of good solid oak.

Sunday, November 23

Unemployment spreads to foothills

Karla stares longingly at the remaining 50 feet (15 metres) of tree to be parted out for firewood, wishing that we could keep cutting forever. We’ve been working intermittently on this beast for three weeks now, and when it’s done…well…what’s there to do?

Ha ha.

Horses acting natural

See the horses eat! Real, natural food. Food that doesn’t cost anything!

Food that’s far better for them than anything we could buy and pay lots of money for!

Cheap! Doesn’t have to be loaded onto a truck and hauled around and tossed out as we try to out-run ravenous beasts!

Way to go, four-leggers! Live long and thrive!

Horse feed report

The grass is flourishing, and we’re just about to the end of tossing out hay daily for the hungry horse herd. Shown above, with a genuine porcelain Chairman Mao lapel pin for scale, is a sampling of the grasses and forbs now available to the four-leggers. Yesterday morning only three showed up for feed in addition to the usual three we feed supplementarily with the expensive stuff. We tossed out only one bale of grass hay. This morning most of that hay was still uneaten. As we arrived at the corral, a bunch of horses wandered in, sniffed at the hay, and gathered around the pen area to beg for the goodies we were passing out to the old and infirm.

Our hay stack, once 200 bales strong, is wrapped in a huge tarp to protect the remaining 50 or 60 bales from weather. If we get through to springtime without having to buy more hay, it will be terrific!

Saturday, November 22

Meteor over Edmonton, Alberta

Above from police car dashboard camera.

Above is another view.

Just thought you’d be one of the twenty or so people on earth who haven’t seen these videos.

Friday, November 21

Planet coughs up hairball

I’m proud of that headline — it’s positively Onionesque. This morning at the Horsie Restaurant, open daily for breakfast only, I noticed an odd wad of grass and shredded baling twine lying next to Reginald’s third entrance. Obviously, due to the close proximity of Reggie’s house, it’s a discarded bed. Has his wife evicted him? Or are things just hunky-dory and they splurged on a California king and tossed out the old double? Or maybe the thing is infested with vermin. Oh, wait. Squirrels are themselves vermin, at least to people who have great big stacks of hay nearby with tunnels through them made by Reggie’s kind.

This calls for further, in-depth investigation. Stay tuned.

Thursday, November 20

Pesky porcines plunder plants

Our meticulously manicured lawn, until recently the nicest in the near neighborhood, has been pillaged by pigs. Using their super sensitive snouts to acquire accumulated acorns that have fallen from the oak trees, little pods of piggies poke pink snouts into the soil, making many messy mounds.

Shown to the left is an area under a particularly prolific provider of plunder, a live oak. Every night the avaricious acorn aficionados return to wreak ravage repeatedly.

It seems the soil suffers severely, but maybe this choosey churning aids aeration, assisting ample areas after all.

I just wish they’d do their dastardly deeds in the daytime; we willing witnesses would watch with wonder. (And maybe bonk one of the buggers for its bacon.)

Tuesday, November 18

Getting around pretty well for a blind dog

Monday Karla and I fed the horses early and went to Fresno for our occasional shopping trip to buy things we can’t find locally. But the main motivator for Karla was to visit the Whole Foods Market store in Fig Garden Village to buy some Blind Dog Coffee Roasters’ fine brew. That’s as close as this brand of coffee has gotten to us, but maybe it will show up at our local Raley’s sometime in the future.

What’s so special about Blind Dog coffee? Two things: One, part of the profits go to fight childhood cancers, and two, the logo and labels are designed by First Daughter Hilary. How’d she land such a gig? Well, her parents-in-law own the joint, and like Hilary’s work. Whole Foods didn’t have the entire range of roasts, so we settled for the two (out of six or so) shown above. A new label is being designed for their Mexican roast, and looks really good so far.

The mascot, the dog with sunglasses, is Hilary’s dog Sioux. So she always has a model to work from, which is handy. Several years ago Karla and I were invited to the home of Walt Disney’s lead animator, Frank Thomas. In his den stood the original wooden puppet model for Pinocchio, which he referred to many times as he drew the character for the movie. So a live model should actually be better, don’cha think?

Sunday, November 16

Big fan in high places

Looking into Google Analytics a bit further, I see that my biggest reader in California is in Sacramento. Using all the tools available to me, I find that this person usually reads the blog in his Gulfstream jet first thing every evening while being flown to the Santa Monica Airport and home in Brentwood. He spells California Caleefornia and apparently has some kind of government job for which he refuses to be paid. Wish I could find out more; he sounds interesting.

Saturday, November 15

The time we waste

In the past 31-day period, an average of 15 people per day viewed this blog. The smallest number, two viewers, was on November 1, the day of the memorial we put on for Karla’s mom; the largest number occurred November 11, when 69 viewers looked in.

The average time on site is 1 minute 7 seconds. That means on the slowest day, 2 minutes 15 seconds were wasted and on November 11, an hour and seventeen minutes of people’s productive time vanished. This is in addition to the time it takes me to put a blog entry together, which varies between 15 minutes and an hour or so daily.

I get a surprising amount of information from the Google folks via their Analytics Dashboard. For example, 41.40% of visits are from new people. People view 1.35 pages per visit. And for the reader in Newport Beach, people are avoiding you not because you changed your hair color, but because it’s time to change out of those stinky socks.

Friday, November 14

Why it’s called “live oak”

Live oak trees are evergreen, while their non-live-oak cousins drop their leaves every autumn. But perhaps another reason they have the title live is they never seem to really die. The bushy green shrubbery at the base of the tree shown above is the re-birth of the fallen tree. Dozens of shoots are coming off the still-living roots, and will eventually thin out to maybe two to six new trees. In places north of the house where a wildfire went through about 40 years ago are clusters of live oaks that came back from being burned to the ground. A whole ring of trees covers a spot on the ground maybe ten feet (3 m) in diameter, all connected, all growing off the same root system.

A few miles from where we live sits the largest live oak tree in California, a monster with a crown that spreads about 200 feet (60 m) and a base that is simply awesome. Its lowest branch is over eight feet (2.5 m) in diameter. Years ago we got some acorns from it, planted them in pots, and one has survived. Before we stick it in the ground, we should take it over to meet “Mom.”

Thursday, November 13

Changing season

It’s end of season for strawberries, which runs from January through November. There are maybe ten berries left in our two half-barrels. Earlier this summer a hoard of hearses — I mean herd of horses came by and munched the dozen or so strawberry plants clear to the ground. It has taken a few months for them to recover and get back to berry-making.

The next sign of season changing is the poinsettia plant I bought at The Home Depot last Christmastime. I managed to keep it alive (that’s a first!) through the summer and it is starting to develop its characteristic red leaves now. It is one of the thirstiest plants I have around here, taking maybe three or four times the water of anything else. Maybe that’s why all its predecessors tanked; I just didn’t satisfy their thirst. We’ll see how it reds-up for Xmas.

Grass in 3D

(Stale muffins in foreground for scale)

Fake 3D, for sure. Look at the picture and slowly cross your eyes as you keep it in focus and you’ll see what seems to be real 3D. Or maybe not. Cut the picture out and put it in your Stereopticon (if you can find it, that is).

Why grass? I got a request from faithful reader hhhorses who was curious about how the recent rain and the recent warm weather were affecting our grass crop for the horses. Karla reports seeing some of the horses attempting to eat what’s popping up all over the place. Horses can peel their lips back, kind of like chimpanzees do when they’re trying to look cute right before they rip your face off and eat it (chimpanzees do that; not horses). But they can’t peel their lips back quite far enough for their teeth to grab the stubby grass and forbs. Perhaps we should feed them Acme Horse-Lip Hardener and sharpen their lips so they can eat short grass without using their front teeth. If I can find the lip files, that is. I know they’re around here somewhere.

Wednesday, November 12

Maybe one-third done

Our lightning-struck tree is a veritable wood mine. So far we have nearly completed cutting about one-third of it. There are other live oak trees that need to be removed because they’re fire hazards, but they’re downhill and the rounds will roll into a dry (right now, anyway) creekbed. About six trees are way too close to buildings and need to be removed before the next fire season starts. Oh, and there’s yet another dead tree whose branches will fall into cactus plants. Already one major limb has been removed, and there are at least ten others. It too is a downhill tree.

So for now, we are enjoying our uphill tree that is surrounded by nothing but open space. Gravity is our friend.

So far my only complaint is that this wood dulls saw chains quickly. It must have a lot of silica in it, because I have to re-sharpen them daily. And today the sliding base of the wedge on our log splitter broke from being twisted too hard going through some of the nastier parts of the log rounds. The splitter will still work, but I’ll have to keep an eye on the wedge to keep it from getting twisted and possibly bending the shaft on the ram. With 27 tons of force, that could happen pretty quickly.

Tuesday, November 11

The parting-out of the Immense Tree

We are still working on a live oak tree blasted to smithereens (don’t we wish!) by a springtime 2007 lightning stroke. Shown above is approximately one-third of the tree. For scale, there are two yellow wedges used to keep the saw cut from closing on the chainsaw (lower yellow arrow). They are approximately the size of a human hand. The human in the background, Karla (upper yellow arrow), can also be used for scale. She is approximately the size of a human. Multiply all you see by three and you get an idea of what we are facing.

I wanted to get an action shot of me holding my chain saw with one hand while taking a picture with my camera. Lo and behold, as I was focusing, the following warning appeared in the viewfinder:

What a smart camera!

We will soon be reaching an important decision point: The base of the tree, even though broken into three pieces, is still huge. It contains about as much wood as the average three-story McMansion. Except it’s solid. We would need a chain saw with a 10-foot cutting bar, or a log splitter of some 12,000 tons of crushing force. I suppose we could raid the local National Guard Armory and steal 50 tons of high explosives and turn the base into wood pellets, but we would have to vacuum them up from a 300-acre area around the tree and spend the next two months rounding up the horses after the blast goes off. (What would we do with 24 deaf horses?)

And then there’s the whole 30-foot-deep crater and explaining-the-blast thing we would have to do with the Sheriff’s Department and the National Security Agency and the…well, you get the idea. I think we’ll just let the large parts rot.

Monday, November 10

The Russian problem

For quite a long time after the collapse of the Soviet Union, I have watched what was happening in the new Russia. It isn’t heartening to see the theft of the country’s natural wealth by the former communist leaders. The population is declining, alcoholism is increasing, and the entire country seems to be gripped by criminality. After seven decades of near-starvation in every area: housing, transportation, medical care and even basic foodstuffs, people had to resort to lying, cheating and stealing just to survive. With the thug-in-chief, Vladimir Putin running things, it can only get worse for the common citizen as he increases his power and personal wealth. I think the country will eventually implode and become very dangerous.

An article in a recent Forbes Magazine by British historian Paul Johnson agrees with my assessment except for the part about the country becoming dangerous. It’s a very good read.

How’d the cat…get so fat?

Certainly not from drinking the diet sodas that came in these cartons!

It was a dorm and nike start…

Since I used “dark and stormy night” in the previous post, I couldn’t re-use it, thus the above headline. We had a dramatic sunset, as I tried to depict above. The reality was much better, but this is approximately what we saw, and gives me the excuse to use the corny headline above.

Sunday, November 9

It was a dark and stormy night…

Actually it was a drizzly afternoon around 3 o’clock, when Karla was digging through yet another box of old stuff of her mother’s and ran across dozens of pieces of sheet music, some going back to 1910. It was very interesting looking at how it was presented — some of the covers had pictures of singers or pianists and words describing the music as something they had performed, as if when you were playing or singing, you might sound like those performers. Also came stern warnings; should you ever dare reproduce the music you’d be in violation of copyright law. Reminds me of the FBI warnings at the start of every movie DVD. The price of sheet music was surprisingly high — 50¢ in the 1930s would buy ten cups of coffee or an entire lunch, not cheap!

The ad on the back of one issue of Etude, “The Journal of the Musical Home Everywhere,” presented the Victor Micro-Synchronous Radio, which achieves “acoustic symmetry” and is the “climax of thirty years of unchallenged leadership in acoustical reproduction — the supreme product of the most painstaking and specialized craftsmanship!” Not cheap, either. The price in 1929 “Only $155* for the Victor-Radio Console; only $275* for the Victor-Radio-Electrola.”

*Less Radiotrons

And what are Radiotrons? Vacuum tubes! You had to pay extra for the critical parts that made this marvelous radio work! That’s like selling an engineless car! If you click on the link above, you’ll see an ad for RCA Radiotrons where they suggest that you pull and replace all of them in your radio once a year.

In a 1940 issue of Etude, Philco “brings you a new kind of Radio-Phonograph!” You never have to change needles, because there aren’t any! The “Philco Photo-Electric Radio-Phonograph [has] a rounded jewel [that] floats over the records and reflects the music on a beam of light from a tiny mirror to a photo-electric cell.” Sounds to me like the precursor to the Compact Disk. So what else is new?

My kind of vintner

At the memorial service we held November 1, we featured wines from Quady, vintners here in Madera County. Andrew Quady has a sense of humor I admire. When he tried to get his port wine exported to Europe, he was told that port only comes from Portugal. So he played with the word Port and called his wine Starboard. Above is a cork from one of their wines, Viognier, which is produced by their branch, Quady North, in southern Oregon. Or, as the cork says, in the State of Jefferson.

In 1941 seven counties in southern Oregon collaborated with twelve counties in northern California to form a new state called Jefferson. The reason was that those counties were so far in the boonies they had no real representation in either of the states’ capitols. The movement is still alive, though its success is doubtful. Still, acknowledging the rebel individualist nature of such endeavors appeals to me at a fundamental level, and I applaud those who keep such dreams alive.

Saturday, November 8

Getting back to normal

It’s that time again. Actually, we are very late for putting away wood for the winter. Fortunately we had a lightning storm last spring that knocked down a very large live oak tree, splitting it in two and laying a substantial amount of premium firewood-to-be on the ground. Another stroke of luck is that it fell near to and uphill from the road. It is only a matter of cutting the wood, then kicking it over the edge to the waiting truck. Then of course we lift the log rounds into the truck, drive the truck to the waiting log splitter, lift the heavy rounds onto the splitter, pull the handle to do the splitting, and throw the pieces in the cart to be rolled to the wood shed to be stacked. Then pick up the pieces to take them to the house and put them in the stove which has to be cleaned of ashes daily which have to be spread evenly on the ground so as not to cause a big alkaline stain on the soil. We are so blessed with the modernity of our lifestyle!

We can burn wood in our stove without being bashed by the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District because we are far beyond the reach of natural gas service. Our stove has a catalytic converter that reduces the amount of crud spewed into the air, and most of the time we never even see smoke coming out of the chimney. Besides, cutting firewood results in your being warmed twice, and it keeps you young.

Yeah, right.

Friday, November 7


As I write this my trusty Mac is burning DVDs and running the printer to put the labels on. Talk about walk and chew gum! Each of the DVDs takes exactly four minutes to burn, and the printer finishes off labeling them in a little under two.

I had to plow my way through a ton of nonsensical software to figure out how to make the printer work. The teensy booklet that came with it suggested that I turn to the Help menu for additional information on printing on a CD or DVD disk. Help turned out to be completely useless. In the Search box, typing in CD or DVD produced no results. So it was time to plow through every possible way to get the recalcitrant beast to perform. Somehow I finally found the secret.

Here’s the difference between an Apple product and an HP product: To make a DVD on a Mac, insert blank disk. Period. No buttons, no commands—just insert the disk at the prompt. The computer burns the disk and ejects it. Then it says if you want another, just insert a blank disk.

The HP printer says to load the disk in its holder and insert it into the printer’s slot. Then it says to use the Print command. Then it sits there and does nothing–no acknowledgment that you have done anything. Then it MAY start printing after moving the tray in and out several times. Or sometimes it starts issuing commands hinting that you’re probably dumber than a sponge with mildew on it. In the meantime little messages appear on the computer screen that you have to click on to accept or dismiss. Very annoying.

But finally you get a disk that is pretty neat, assuming the artwork you created is pretty neat.

Another thing about the HP Photosmart C5550, it is smarter than the Epson Perfection V200 Photo scanner I used to make the slide show. For one thing, it doesn’t have to be restarted if it isn’t used within a few minutes of turning it on. When I scanned those hundreds of photos and documents into Photoshop, I had to do them one after another very quickly with the Epson or it would not respond. This morning I scanned a photo with the HP to put in an email, waited ten or so minutes, then scanned another. No problem. So HP makes a good scanner.

One of the guests at Adeline’s memorial is an old friend who used to work for HP. She designed circuit boards that were eight layers deep! This is rocket science! Without the explosive parts. She is smarter than a whip and a terrific golfer and a lot of fun to be with. When she left HP I bet the company suffered a real loss.

Thursday, November 6


It is disgusting to see how much computer hardware and software is designed to work with Windows first, anything else second. I bought a Hewlett-Packard Photosmart C5550 All-in-One printer scanner copier in the hopes that it would print labels on DVDs of the slide presentation we used at Adeline’s memorial. I had hoped that I could design a nice label and put it on the disks, rather than scrawling something with a Sharpie pen. Or using stick-on paper labels, which usually mess up your DVD player.

Alas, the usual putrid vile odious repugnant nauseating disgusting awful ugliness of Windows intervened. After loading what seemed to be way too much software into my Mac, I tried to find the part I could use to design the label. After scrolling through a very long list with names like HP Photosmart Create, HP Photosmart Share, HP Photosmart Stitch (!?!), HP Photosmart Studio, I finally found a little symbol that looked like a blank CD/DVD disk. I clicked on it and discovered that it had a rectangle top and bottom, and two squares left and right where I could put words. Pictures? No clue. Doing a design that covered the entire disk? No clue. I vainly typed a few words in the available spaces, but they didn’t show up on the label. Unless I pressed and held a symbol that seemed to show what the label might look like. Whatever—I was looking for anything by this time.

I put a disk in the special holder and inserted it into the printer as instructed and clicked Print. The machine spat out the holder, then drew it back in and moved it all the way to the inside of the printer, then spat it out, then groaned and grunted and clicked and made a fart noise then spat it out then messed around and finally spelled out on the video screen that there was a paper jam. There was no paper in the machine. And no jam in the machine. I started to feel like jelly.

Another disaster when trying to make anything designed for Windows work.

Bill Gates will probably increase the incidence of malaria, AIDS, and anything else his stinking apologies-to-the-world-for-being-such-a-destructive-influence Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation tries to cure.

Wine nut and bottle tube

We bought a couple of engine stands for handling the motors on our ferry boat. They were ordered from what we thought was a reputable Web site, Yamaha Motors dot com. The biggest selling outboard motors in the entire world are made by Yamaha. The two kits arrived, and above are the instructions for assembly. The funny thing about Chinese instructions, besides the instructions themselves, is that the Chinese don’t have any qualms about making a mish-mosh of their English language skills. During the 2008 Olympic Games, their atrocious billboard English was met with a shrug, as if making the goofiest errors didn’t matter at all.

We were disappointed when we actually put the motors on the stands and watched as they quickly started to distort under the weight. One of the bolts had the threads cut so shallowly the nut popped off and the stand nearly collapsed before we stopped the electric hoist we were using from putting the full weight on it.

I especially liked instruction number 6. I didn’t have to do that one. Oh, and the tool called hammer was used only once when all the holes didn’t line up and the soft bolts got ruined by application of hammer forcefully. On the bottle tube or wine nut, I think.

Brings back memories of the term, “Chinese junk.”

Wednesday, November 5

Cheap stamps

Karla and I always vote absentee. We live too far from any polling place to make it in time if it’s stormy. The above notice came in our voting materials. Wouldn’t it be nice if we could buy stamps for less than half a cent! The Bureau of Voting and Stuff must have a special “in” with the Post Office to get that kind of discount.

Tuesday, November 4

I’ll be back soon

I haven’t forgotten blogging; it’s just that the workload is only now lifting. After the November 1 event, we had to take down all the decorations, pick up the wine that didn’t get served, pack up all the stuff and take it home then unpack all the stuff and try to find places to put it. That was Sunday and Monday. Today we went to Fresno with our newly-assembled outboard motor stands to pick up the two engines that power the Sierra Queen, pick up some groceries, pick up a hand-held two-way radio at the repair shop, and pay the final bills for the Saturday event. We got home mere moments ago in the dark and have to unload the very heavy outboard motors from the truck so it will be free to use for feeding the horses in the morning. We bought 100 DVD disks and a disk printer so we can spread the slide show around. If you want one, just ask.

And I also had to feed the cat.