Thursday, June 30

It rained!

I filled in a long gash of a gully in this part of the road

Record-breaking rainfall fell yesterday. It’s almost July, and we got 1.4 inches (35mm) of precipitation in under 24 hours, which is very rare. Several weeks ago I had promised neighbor Bill that I would bring the road grader down and work on getting some bumps out of his driveway. He’s an accomplished tractor operator, but some things can only be done with the really broad blade on a grader.

In a couple of hours I was finished with his driveway, then got in some licks on a piece of the road that was neglected because it was always too hard and dry to work with whenever I was in the area. This morning it was just perfectly moist, so I filled in a very long gully that ran along about a third of the way in from the road’s edge.

Some of these rocks turned out to be a lot bigger than I thought. Several hundred pounds anyway. Glad I had the grader to push them out of the way.

Then, on the way back home, I thought I’d pluck a rock out of the driveway-to-be at our new house site. Of course, there wasn’t just one rock; I found a whole nest of them. So I dug them all up then had their empty nest to fill. The dirt was just perfectly moist, so the rocks got tossed off to the side and the nest was filled with soil. To top it off, I also plucked the stump and roots of a long-dead manzanita tree that was right under where Babe will be in the new house.

Regarding the house, we got a quote from the builder, and it turned out to be much more costly than we had anticipated, and that’s even without a whole bunch of needed stuff. We thought it would be cheaper since we already own the land. But the power company wants $40 per foot to run lines in, which comes to $70K, so forget the power company. Besides the power in our area is at the end of their lines and isn’t the best. Then there’s the septic system, the water lines, well pump (we already have a good well), and multi-thousand-gallon water tank. Solar electricity with storage batteries and propane-powered backup generator will come to a pretty penny. Ground-source heating and cooling adds who knows what. We have no idea what it will cost to put up our clay tile on the roof (we already have over 8,000 handmade barrel tiles). And on and on.

We’ll think about it. So far at least we got rid of some nasty rocks and a manzanita stump.

Tuesday, June 28

Come on up—the weather’s fine!

Ben is enjoying his summer home in the high Sierra. Sure beats Furnace Creek in Death Valley at this time of year!

Saturday, June 25

I am not kidding…

Headline at Web site The Register:
Woman dies of heart attack at own funeral
Shock of resurrection proves fatal

It can only happen in Russia. Read the article here.

I am not kidding…

Headline at Web site The Register:
Woman dies of heart attack at own funeral
Shock of resurrection proves fatal
It can only happen in Russia.

Read the article here.

And why this blog appears twice? I dunno, and it won't delete, either.

Scary email

Darn! I guess I lose all my Halifax Bank money because as the email says, failure can “result to account suspension.” Darn!

So THAT’s what all the croaking was about!

It seems that we heard croaking frogs all winter. Today I spotted some new life in the middle barrel of our fish fountain. Last year maybe two tadpoles came to life, but that’s all, and they disappeared soon after I first spotted them. This year there is more food for them since I don’t clean that part of the fountain anymore. There’s plenty of algae and who knows what else in there, along with (presumably) lots of invertebrate life. Somehow little pollywogs manage to grow into frogs in really grungy natural places, so maybe that’s what they need.

We’ve all heard Kermit the Frog complaining that “it’s not easy being green.” I figure it’s very green to not scrape and scoop up grungy crud from a slimy wooden barrel. So wrong, Kermie. Being green is the easiest.

Friday, June 24

Plum lonesome…

I visited the Scharffen Berger Chocolate Maker works in Berkeley a few years back. They had free tours of the factory and gave quite a comprehensive demonstration of how chocolate was processed. One of the oddities they showed was how the cacao bean pod grew—many of them simply stuck out of the trunk of the tree, looking like a small purplish-yellow football that was glued pointy-end to the tree. This lonesome plum reminded me of the cacao pod.

Unlike its siblings higher up, this little thing was only a few inches off the ground. It has been green for a very long time, much longer than the higher plums. Does it need more sunlight? Should it be closer to the fresh nutrients being made by the leaves? Is it anti-social? Do plums have souls? So many questions.

I can’t wait to eat it and put an end to the rumination.

Wednesday, June 22

We love you, Babe

There’s probably a term that describes a person who fiddles away on a keyboard without formal training or inherent skill. I don’t know the term, but I’m in that category. Late this afternoon I went out to the studio to see how the temperature was inside since Babe, our Steinway grand, should be kept cool or at least not hot. The studio is hooked up to our older solar power system, one we put in twenty years ago. It’s good for maybe 1,000 watts nowadays, and should provide enough power to keep a small window air conditioner going in Babe’s room.

The outside temperature today got to just over 100°F (38°C) but inside the studio it was a nice 78°F (25°C). I sat on the comfy leather-upholstered piano bench and turned back the first foot of Babe’s velvet cover, enough to open the keyboard for playing. I hit a few chords that I remembered from my early piano lessons and was rewarded by the rich sound that Babe gave back. This is a truly remarkable instrument—it’s like there is a vibrant soul inside that wants to please. I played around, pressing one key at a time and delighting in the sound that was produced. No matter what key I pressed, there was a beautiful response. Wow. This thing is pure magic—even beyond magic; it’s like immersing yourself in what makes life worthwhile. We took on a considerable obligation to acquire this magical instrument. It may be the smartest investment we ever made.

Tuesday, June 21

More fish stuff…

After losing a batch of goldfish to marauding raccoons awhile back, I was so shocked and stunned that I swore off fish forever.

Forever is so darned long to swear off of anything, so I agreed when Hilary suggested getting more of the delightful critters to liven up the waters. We had a piece of expanded metal left over from another project and I bent a piece of electrical conduit into a circle, welded everything together and painted it kind of Navy Ship Gray to remind me of my nautical years spent on the Enterprise.

The sun-battered funnel has a dual purpose: It reduces the splash that eventually would soak through the paint and rust the metal, and it cuts the noise of splashing water, allowing the fish to get some shut-eye so they’re not all grouchy in the morning which can really spoil your day when you’re seeking peace and serenity.

Monday, June 20

Companion goldfish

Since I am on the subject of fish (previous post) I should address some of the questions that I’m sure are on the minds of my readers. Many of you know that I have a fountain/fish bowl made of three half-barrels. In the bottom half-barrel there are ten fine goldfish that Hilary bought from the local feed store about a year ago. Imagine—the feed store stocks and sells hundreds of tiny barely weaned goldfish every week. People buy them to use as food for other creatures! A secondary use is to keep livestock water troughs free of mosquito larvae. But Hilary’s intent was to provide a clutch of soothing companions to enrich our lives.

Over time I’ve learned to recognize the needs and desires of these adorable golden creatures. I discovered little behavioral clues, and would like to share my knowledge with my readers so you might consider acquiring these quiet companions that don’t scratch or bite or stink.

To start with, how do you know if your fish are unhappy? Simple—look for tears. Is the water they’re living in too hot? Watch for sweating. How do you know they’re hungry? When they see you approaching, they start salivating.

It takes a little practice to detect these subtle cues, but the rewards are gratifying. If having goldfish as loving companions doesn’t work out for you, remember—they cost only a dime apiece in quantity, they grow rapidly, and they can become a colorful ingredient in a yummy stir-fry.

Saturday, June 18

About the gopher and the fishes

For a very long time I have featured the cute little gopher (hamster?) at the top right-hand side of my blog page. A. Bowman is the developer (click on the aBowman on the top right of the animation to see his Web site) and has done a really good job of creating a very entertaining feature that bloggers can use for no charge.

One problem I have with the gopher’s water bottle is that when he drinks, no bubbles appear and rise to the top. Every water bottle I have ever seen has bubbles rising when drunk from (and I’ve seen a gazillion of them, having fed tons of chinchillas in my adolescent years). Maybe it isn’t water in that bottle. Maybe it’s helium. Inhaling a lungful of helium gives you a very high-pitched squeaky voice. Maybe that’s why we can’t hear gophers talk.

As an aside, you can buy helium for inflating party balloons. Do you know how to tell when a canister of helium is empty? It gets heavier.

Think about it.

Down the page a bit is the little blue pool with a bunch of fish swimming around. Click and you deposit some fish food, and they go for it. What I like to do is click ten times rapidly in one spot to get the fish to converge on it. My hope is that with such frenzied activity one or more of the fish will inadvertently get bitten and start to bleed. That will really pump up the frenzied behavior and we’ll get some real entertainment. But somehow they avoid biting each other, so we just see the dull pseudo-frenzy of semi-ravenous fish. Mr. Bowman has disappointed me.

I’ll have to write to him with my complaints. I hope he’s not a pacifist vegan but a red-blooded comedian.

Friday, June 17

Best before…

Take a look at the date code on this bag of tortilla strips. To me anyway, R 08 10 11 C 3 6 05:24 doesn’t exactly communicate a “Best Before” date very well. What’s the R for? And the last four digits must mean you should eat them before 5:30 in the morning? Who eats tortilla strips at 5:30 in the morning? Only those who want to eat them before the final fleeting moment of freshness expires?

Good grief.

Tuesday, June 14

The big seasonal shift

Today Karla and Hilary headed for the hills. Ben decided to go along too, as did dogs Sioux and Sallie. Oh, and so did Florence, if you count cats. Luke had already flown in to the ranch by helicopter a couple of weeks ago.

I phoned this evening and they all had arrived safe and sound at Florence Lake. Luke was there to greet them, and to delight Karla by having cleaned out the cabin of the winter’s rat shenanigans. The way the cabin at the lake is built makes it near impossible to keep those rodents out. But I am certain Luke will come up with a way to do it, even if it involves encasing the entire structure in reinforced concrete. Not too attractive, but hey.…

Every year we go through this whole routine. It’s been done for over 60 years and involves taking the stuff you need with you to the lake like clothes, food, and toiletries, and stuff like records of boat rental agreements, and extra blankets to replace the ones the rats decided to live in. Speaking of rats, I’m sure we have more of them than anyplace on earth. At least when you look at the destruction they can wreak. You never see one, but you can count on finding their toilets everywhere. Big cats can help control them, but we’re not so sure kitty Florence is up to the task. Sallie, the little black dog, can probably outperform Florence at the task.

Meanwhile, back at the (lower) ranch, my duties increase. Answering phone calls and responding to emails fills my day. I get up early, before the onset of oppressive heat, and get all the irrigation of plants and trees done. Old horses need feed supplements. When noontime comes and we have enough solar power, I turn on the well pump so I have enough water to keep everything alive and maintain a tankful of water to help fight the inevitable wildfire that so far hasn’t happened. It’s coming. We haven’t had a big fire since 1961. We are very overdue since the normal cycle is a wildfire every eight years to keep things in check. Nature’s way of lots of small frequent fires keeps our wild lands healthy. But humans have messed with nature’s plan to detrimental results.

In my next post, I’ll speak of policies that make fires more destructive than they need be.

Update: Not next post, another post. What I wrote for my next post was really too angry to put up.

Saturday, June 11

Babe gets snuggy

In spite of ghastly lighting conditions, I went ahead and took pictures of Babe’s new blanky. We have waited almost a month for it to arrive, custom-made by an outfit in Arizona that makes nice protective covers for pianos. It’s maroon crushed velvet, underlain with a Naugahyde-like waterproof layer, with a non-marring soft felt that will touch Babe’s delicate ebony skin. Who could ask for more? Her gold-embroidered name and Steinway’s lyre logo make it extra special. Are we to be accused of pampering?

Guilty as charged.

Wednesday, June 8

Pencils need a major re-design

I ran across the stub of a pencil today. It was just about an inch long and for all practical purposes, useless. We have an electric pencil sharpener that we’ve used for about 30 years. Poke a pencil in and it’s made good to go. But when a pencil gets too short, you can only grip it with fingertips. What you end up with is only usable with fingertips.

I have a proposal: Eliminate the top one inch of all pencils. The manufacturer could save a ton of “lead” and a whole forest of trees if this simple action is adopted. Here is a picture of my proposed no-waste pencil.

Sun blows itself up yesterday…again

It’s a wonder the sun still exists. Here is a five-second movie of an explosion that seems to be blowing an enormous chunk of the sun away. Most of the matter falls back, but still.…

How long can this irrational behavior go on? Read more at

Tuesday, June 7

Some people regard us as odd

Saturday we took another look at the wood-paneled wall in the piano store. The store owner told us he paid $35,000 to have it installed. The question now is: Does the owner of the building want to tear out the wall and sell it to us? We are waiting for a response.

Meanwhile, we purchased one of the store’s chandeliers and put in a bid on another chandelier that someone else had already bid on. If they don’t buy the second chandelier, we get it. Being very strange people, we told the store owner (not the building owner) that the first chandelier will go in the piano room in our house, and the second chandelier will go in the new two-room outhouse that was built last year at the high ranch. The wall separating the rooms doesn’t go all the way to the ceiling, and the ceiling itself was built extra high to accommodate a chandelier which can be admired from either room.

Waiting, waiting.…

Wednesday, June 1