Sunday, November 29

OPEC’s revenge

More and more, stories are appearing about the use of biofuels by airlines, the latest being a Boeing 747 flight by KLM over the Netherlands with one engine powered by a mixture of kerosene and oil derived from the camelina plant. Richard Branson demonstrated the use of biofuel in one of his Virgin Atlantic planes last year. The use of agricultural land for fuel is expanding, and in retaliation I expect OPEC countries will promote the production of food made from petroleum. Their challenge is to fool the fussy palates of people who are accustomed to eating “real” food.

To help OPEC’s petrofood project get started in America, I suggest that nobody will notice the difference if petroleum is used to produce—
American Cheese
Vienna sausage
Wonder Bread
Beyond the “foods” suggested here, it could become a challenge. Perhaps this blog’s readers can help to expand the list.

Photo: KLM/Allard de Witte

Now THAT looks interesting!

A must-stop in Morro Bay is Crill’s Salt-Water Taffy store. Karla eyes the selection as a gaggle of customers lines up at the window. This store is like so many others where you place your order at a low window; you have to bend over to speak to the order-taker because the window is at about waist level. From a distance, an onlooker would think everyone comes to the window and bows, as if paying homage to the emperor. I suppose that would be an appropriate gesture if you were being helped by Buddha or maybe Charlton Heston, but a candy-seller?

Where on Earth…?

Fire up your Google Earth and try to find where this is located and you’ll be frustrated. Mainly because it’s on Mars! Click the image for a larger version and marvel at the earthlike features. Thanks once more to Astronomy Picture of the Day!

Credit: Malin Space Science Systems, MOC, MGS, JPL, NASA

Saturday, November 28

The world according to a fisherman

While in Morro Bay, we wandered onto the waterfront piers, looking at fishing boats. A really small one was being provisioned by a man and a woman, getting it ready to head to sea. I asked the man if fishing was still a significant part of the Morro Bay economy, and got an education in response. First off, those darned sea lions are eating all the near-surface fish, and probably some deeper ones too. As if on cue, what had looked to us like a black rubber bladder floating in the harbor disappeared lazily underwater. And those darned otters are eating all the shellfish. Not only that, we (Americans) taught those darned Russians how to catch all the sea urchins. Our own government took down the towers at the World Trade Center (an airplane can’t do that by itself), and our Navy doesn’t even own its ships; they belong to the United Arabian Empire or something, he couldn’t remember. Then he said one thing I could agree with—the bankers are ruining everything else. They had let his ex-wife get ahold of 14 credit cards and charge everything to him. Now they wanted their money. “What do they expect me to do? Sell my boat?”

His boat was a bit rundown, kind of like his life. It had all the charm of a way-overused then vandalized outhouse. Painted dull black with hand-scrawled ID number on the side, it hardly looked too seaworthy. Weathered duct tape held the navigation lights and antennas to the rusty crossarm sagging from the mast. If lucky, he thought he and his crew woman could catch some black cod, the only fish left that’s worthwhile. “You’d have to go farther north to get anything good like tuna,” he muttered between puffs on his cigarette. That would be too expensive in a boat that had all the streamlined grace of a wrinkled cube.

It took some back stepping to slowly get away from him and his diatribe. We were probably the first people ever to listen past his first loony pronouncements and he didn’t want to lose such a receptive audience. We walked around to the creaking pier across from his boat and watched as he used his mouth to start the siphon flowing from a 5-gallon plastic diesel can into the boat’s fuel tank. He was probably silently cursing the oil companies and the United Arabian Empire for the high cost of fuel. As we departed the pier, I saw him enter the cabin to don his tinfoil hat and try to start the engine.

Hello again…

…it’s been awhile! Before leaving the area, we just had to check to see if the Pacific Ocean was still there. We left Paso Robles and took Highway 46 to Cambria. The first time I had driven on that road, it was a narrow two-lane that wound through the coastal hills and was the kind of road you wanted to use to test your new sports car. I had just bought a 1960 Austin Healey Sprite, and before it was six months old I tore through the mountains toward the coast on 46. There was a lot of downhill driving, and before too long the engine stalled! I was mystified. It wouldn’t restart, even though I had plenty of fuel. I lifted the hood (bonnet, in this case) and saw that both carburetors were covered with frost! They had iced up from the moist air and the lack of heat from the engine. Small airplanes have the same problem, so when you’re not using power you pull the knob labeled “Carb Heat,” a knob that was absent from the Sprite’s dash. That was my first taste of the ghastly engineering that was a hallmark of British cars.

Anyway, back to the road, Highway 46 has been upgraded and it’s like sailing on a calm sea through gentle swells. No longer fun for a sports car, but just perfect for a diesel pickup.

Oo! Doo-doo!

Poor gull! Just found a really good landing spot and stepped in it. Not even his own, as if that would be better. I wouldn’t know myself, not having done so—I mostly wade through the stuff made by horses around here.

On the way home from a terrific Thanksgiving fest at Karla’s cousins’ place in Paso Robles, we cruised by Morro Bay for a glimpse of the ocean. More on that in another post. The gulls along the waterfront are so tame you can practically hug them. But don’t touch their feet!

Wednesday, November 25

T’was the night before Thanksgiving

And all through the kitchen
Happiness reigned
There was no…complaining

Karla and I are going to one of California’s coastal-close cities for the holiday. Her family will be there, cousin-wise. Mine won’t. So I’m taking lots of wine and will sit in a corner and study my navel.

Our contribution to the gargantuan feast is Pies. Karla’s pie crust should be enshrined—there is nothing like it. Light, flaky, crisp, elegant. It makes the pie regardless of the filling. Filling was my department. Pumpkin, apple, and pecan were my duties. I hope I have risen to the level of crust.

Friday, November 20

Horse numbers

Here’s a math problem: 27 + 44 + 46 = 117. Divide that by three and you have 39. Subtract 30 and divide the remainder by nine and you have one. Or, divide the 39 by itself and you also get one. Either way, you can reduce all these numbers to one. Don’t ask me how, it just comes out that way. Math was never my strong suit.

This number, for instance—27. A number that can be arrived at several ways. Three times nine, nine times three, 25 plus 2, and so on.

Here’s 44. What a number! Two 4s next to each other. Why? Who knows? Positively palindromic.

And that brings us to the last number, 46. What an even number! As the entire number or each numeral by itself.

Looked at separately, there are five even numbers, one odd. But if you add five and one, you get six—an even number! What happened to the odd number? It gets absorbed or something. Odd.

As you can see, I am in awe of the mathematical wonders presented by the numerals carved in the new foals. When springtime comes, these numbers will disappear when their winter coats are shed. For awhile, the horses will look really scroungy as loose tufts of hair mar the shiny new coats emerging beneath. No more numbers! Just names, that won’t be carved in their sides either, but exist only in the minds of the humans who give them out. The names will be written in log books we keep about each horse. They will appear on the bills we get from veterinarians as we take care of them throughout their lives. But the numbers? They’ll be forgotten. The math magic will disappear with them. So commit them to memory now, or forever regret your slothful behavior. I know I will.

I’m confused…

On a recent San Francisco Chronicle Web page, this introduction to an article appeared. The story is about Obama, but the picture is of Osama, who is not on trial in this case. Are they confused, or is there a hidden message?

Wednesday, November 18

Becoming independent

The “kids” came in for feed this morning without their adopted Mom, Gypsy. This is a first. Until now, they stuck by Gypsy’s side all the time. It’s a good sign that they decided that even if Gypsy wasn’t interested in some supplemental feed, they were and took action on their own behalf.

One thing they keep doing, however, is sticking with each other. They’re inseparable!

Tuesday, November 17

Living up to its name

House wrens are engaged in a continual quest for something to eat. When I’m outside, I see them running along the walls chasing bugs. This little bird must have found an entry hole to the house (surprise!), and for at least a week has come in early every morning, fluttering and chirping from room to room. Today it seemed to like where I was sitting at the computer amidst plenty of house flies (do I need another shower? I already took one this month).

It must be getting ready to rain since that’s when flies take shelter in the house. This bird ignores all danger when in pursuit of them, coming as close as a foot away from me. A couple of days ago I trapped the bird against a window, grabbed it, and was showing it to Karla when it tore free and flew off. Karla opened one of the roof windows to let it out. Seems the wren forgot that incident since now I’m about as much of a threat as a piece of furniture.

He’d be welcome if he were housebroken.

“Tom, you’re a Winner!”

I wonder what appropriate mark of recognition could be awarded to someone who wins 3,000 games of solitaire. The Nobel Peace Prize would be inappropriate even though playing solitaire certainly is peaceful, but that prize has been tarnished by being awarded several years ago to a terrorist and most recently to a national leader whose sole achievement so far is being able to fog a mirror. Oscars are given to some who endure and manage to be in hundreds of movies, which I guess is a lifetime achievement. A winning gambler makes his/her own reward by winning consistently, something that just doesn’t happen in solitaire. Each win is torn from the jaws of defeat against disheartening odds. Some might say winning is its own reward, and I can agree to that intellectually, but emotionally I think I really deserve some tangible mark of recognition. After all, Three Thousand is a big number and fourteen percent means one game out of every seven ended in a smashing victory, demolishing the insidious “you can never win” threat implicit in this hopeless game. Wow, I need some counseling. Someone needs to pat my shoulder and say, “Tom, you’re a Winner! (Fourteen percent of the time.)”

Thursday, November 12

A Fall Story

When I took this picture, it reminded me of a story told by Frank Thomas, who with his family had been a guest at our high ranch for many years. Karla and I were invited to their house in Flintridge. He had just retired, and as one of Walt Disney’s original animators had so many stories to tell. One story concerned Walt wanting him to animate a scene in Fantasia (or maybe it was Bambi) that was about the last two leaves remaining on a tree. One of the leaves was fearful of dying and falling to the ground, while the other tried to console her. Frank felt in his heart that there was no way to animate the scene without it being just plain corny. “I couldn’t figure out how to do it in a way that the audience wouldn’t either groan or crack up,” Frank said, so he kept putting it off till finally Walt got the hint and quit his pursuit.

Wednesday, November 11

Oh No!

I couldn’t resist using this mud dauber’s nest in a blog. While loading wood in the shed, it stared down in surprise at us. We promised not to hit it with a piece of firewood, and even stacked the wood in a way that it couldn’t fall against it. The nest’s purpose has been served, and there is a story to be told. When the wasp makes the little tubes for its babies to grow in, fills them with paralyzed spiders for food, lays an egg in each and seals the entrance, it then smooths out the entire surface into a nice blob. You can’t see the individual tubes nested against each other.

An unused tube makes up the mouth of our startled face; the mother must have perished before completing her task. The eyes are openings made by the freed babies once they matured and gnawed their way out of the nursery. The bump that makes up the nose marks where there is a baby that didn’t emerge, while the forehead and skull must contain more young’ns that won’t be seeing the light of day.

I have never seen a mud dauber re-use one of these nests, probably because there is the debris left by the baby, consisting of its pupal shell and the skeletons of its eight-legged snacks. After all, who’d want to make a nursery out of a catacomb/dumpster anyway?

Tuesday, November 10

A chair is reborn (I hope)

The closer I looked, the more daunting the task seemed to become. Not only was the fabric shot, which was very obvious even at a glance, and the foam cushion totally rotten, but for some odd reason there was a lot of rust. The chair has never been exposed to the elements, so it simply must have gotten nostalgic for its freezing-rain home in Denmark and pulled in some moisture. As the hundreds of upholstery staples were pulled, some were so rusty they broke and had to be removed a piece at a time with pliers.

There is plastic trim that encircles both the seat and backrest, and it’s still in good condition. Now comes the search for appropriate foam for the seat. It has to be firm yet not harsh to sit on. The fabric is already decided on, and is whimsical compared to the original very conservative gray. If I can pull this off, I will have a very comfortable little secretary chair, one that was useful for about five years when we bought it new in Hollywood.

Monday, November 9

Musical stairs

Do you like musical chairs stairs?

Thanks for the lead, Susan!

Wish list

Starbucks has the bucks to hire competent copywriters.

So here’s my wish: Hire some cup slogan writers who know the language.
It’s it’s, not its.

Saturday, November 7

Comin’ down the home stretch…

Still a bit wet, the final finish is looking good so far. Sometimes when it completely dries, dull areas appear. I don’t know what causes that, so I carefully “sand” them out with superfine steel wool, then re-do the entire top again.

The color is unbelievably rich. It’s hard to remember the rough nasty old wood I started with. There are some lumpy areas where the wood simply refused to lay down and die, no matter how much sanding, gluing and cajoling I applied. They give the top character. (Isn’t that the perfect justification for sloppy workmanship?)

I am going to make new legs. The sapling wood has far too much “figuring” and is very distracting to the final piece. There is one more piece of old red fir up there leaning on the side of the building that I will try to use if it isn’t too split and ragged. Otherwise, it’s off to the fine woods store.

Friday, November 6

A winter’s firewood

We decided to get out to our woodpile and put some of it in the shed before the rain comes. Here Karla loads piece number 289 into the truck from the stack, which is four feet high by about 80 by 90 feet. That’s a whole lot of work to cut and split, 225 cords, and we are bushed!

All right, for real we didn’t cut this wood. This year we got too late a start on cutting and splitting our own firewood. Even when a tree has been dead for a couple of years, cutting it down then cutting it up will reveal that the wood is still very wet. So we have to split it to speed drying, then wait. And wait. We should cut firewood in the spring so it has a chance to dry during the hot summer. But in the spring we are doing too many other things to take the time for that. The wood we bought works out to about 28¢ per chunk, and that ain’t bad. Besides, the location of this wood is high on a mountain where we had great views of Deadwood Mountain, where I lived from when I was 12, and clear down to the town of Coarsegold, and further on down to the Chukchansi Gold Resort and Casino with its 11-story hotel tower, and far beyond down to the San Joaquin Valley. Quite an amazing view.

Wednesday, November 4

The end is near

Like the guy in the cartoons wearing a robe and a long beard warns passersby with his sign, “The end is near,” sometimes I get to feeling that way myself. This table project has been quite a learning experience. It won’t be finished till I get it exactly the way I envisioned at the start. It was going to be a simple project where I could use some old red fir boards that had been leaning up against the outside wall of our storage building for several years. Then I tossed in some pine saplings I had cut years ago at the high ranch, and a wide pine board that I had cut on our sawmill over a decade ago. In the meantime, I did some research on finishes, and the project took on a whole ’nother dimension.

The picture shows how the finish is coming. There must be ten or twelve applications of a witch’s brew of oils, and there is one more to go (with two applications): Tung oil and linseed oil with shredded beeswax. Then, finally, I am finished with this task!

Next: Re-upholstering some old chairs. (Another thing I have never done. Wish me luck!)

Tuesday, November 3

Getting better all the time

I have a tendency to keep wearing something till it falls apart. It’s not that I’m cheap, I just like the feel of something that keeps getting better. Take this shirt for example—I’ve had it for ten or fifteen years. It used to be presentable in the best of company; I could even wear it without self-consciousness to high-end hardware stores. As time went on the sleeves wore through to the point where it was difficult getting my arms to go through them without poking out at the elbows, so I hacked them off and it became a summer shirt. The rest of the holes don’t interfere with putting it on, and have the added advantage of letting in a welcome breeze on occasion. If you were to ask what this shirt is made of, it started out as 100% cotton. Now it’s a blend—95% cotton, 5% air.

Sunday, November 1

Just my luck!

Isn’t it typical—here I just paid for a one-month Muni Pass so I could tool around San Francisco on any bus I choose and along comes this money-saving offer on private jets. Dang. Missed again!

Give me your tired, your poor,

Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.…
—Emma Lazarus

But first, get me outta this snowstorm! Here Hilary braves the elements on her quest to acquire more horseflesh. She and Karla and our neighbor Candy drove to Holbrook, Arizona on a mission to rescue some of the last batch of Premarin foals to come in from Canada. They got four of them: Hilary bought a bay filly, Karla got a palomino colt, Candy picked out a buckskin colt, and Patt, the ranch’s hiker helper contributed the money for the last one, a roan colt. All are quarter horses, with no mix of shire or percheron as many of our previous Premarins are.

After just being weaned and suffering the effects of a near-non-stop trip from the north, these little guys are wondering what’s next! They were delivered to a feedlot, taken out of the trailer, and gathered up to get into another trailer for the trip to Furnace Creek in Death Valley. What a contrast to go from the snowy chill of the north to the balmy warmth almost 200 feet below sea level.

Their manes and tails were matted with cockle burs. It must feel odd to have a big number shaved into their sides for identification—certainly cold when the blast of wind through the trailer hits it. But now they will finally have a chance to calm down and be showered with tons of love from their new human buddies. Next—naming. Karla has already rejected my suggestions of Bottomless Money Pit and Fang. Oh, well. I guess naming’s just not my thing.