Tuesday, March 31

Call Me a Liar

Today I did some power system maintenance. It cost some money too, so my touting our solar system as providing free power isn’t actually true. The 40-cell battery uses water which it boils off gently over time. Today each of the cells took a liter of distilled water to top off, which, times 40, is roughly ten gallons. The water costs about $1.20 per gallon which comes to $12.00. We have to repeat this maybe four times a year, so that’s just shy of $50.00 annually.

Oh, wait. There’s my time to figure into the cost. [figure…figure…]

Hm-m-m. It still comes to under $50.00.

Monday, March 30

Free Miles

I am watching the fort while Karla is in Fresno getting our Plug-In Prius through its first service since we got it. I say “got it” rather than “bought it” because we are, for the first time, leasing a car. Why? Because evolution in the car industry these days is on steroids. A three-year-old car is like a forty-year-old horse—practically on its last legs when it comes to what’s new.
Just plug in for free miles

 We want to see what’s new in battery development for one thing. I keep reading about breakthrough technology being “just around the corner!!” and hold out hope for the corner being rounded by the time our lease is up. In another two years there may be a less-expensive Tesla that we can buy (I don’t think Tesla leases their stuff). A Tesla would be perfect for us since it would probably have all the range we need for our routine travels.

Our usual round trip from home is roughly 100 miles. The Prius takes us around ten miles on a three-hour plug-in charge before its gas engine comes on. Then we pick up a few extra free miles after some downhill driving and/or braking, enough to go a few more free miles. Overall, we’re very pleased with the car’s great mileage. From our house to Fresno, for instance, we almost always get over 70 MPG, then we get around 40-45 MPG coming back uphill to the house. Not too shabby. Plus the handling is outstanding, reminding me of my Porsche’s crisp responses. It weighs more than twice the Porsche, holding it to the road in strong crosswinds. The steering and braking are awesome. Accelerating is another story, but I expected that. I can merge onto a freeway with no problem, but I can hear the little gas engine howling and sucking up whole droplets of gasoline doing it.

A Tesla or other battery-only car would be ideal because we have gobs of electricity that doesn’t cost a thing as long as the sun keeps shining (we’re totally independent—“Off Grid,” it’s called). And the last I heard the sun is expected to keep going at least as long as me. I plan to take advantage of that.

Not to Brag, But…

Almost exactly seven years ago I bought a Timex watch on the Amazon Web site. Since then the watch has performed admirably. It was still running with its original battery which amazes me since that little thing is about the size of a dime! Unfortunately the watch incurred some damage that allowed water to get in. Seven years of flawless performance was coming to an end.

Knowing a good thing when I see it, I went back to Amazon and ordered another one. While on the site, I scrolled down to see if they still showed the review I wrote seven years ago. There it was right on top! Wow! It got me to thinking about the time I applied for a job at an advertising agency which was a member of the 4A’s, the American Association of Advertising Agencies, an elite club of the nation’s (supposedly) best advertising shops. Part of the job application process included taking a written test which measures the applicant’s skill at writing, such as using the proper terms, persuasiveness, and all the stuff you should know to make a good ad. When he finished checking the result, my boss-to-be called the 4A’s in New York and said, “I have an applicant here who got a perfect test score.”

“Don’t let him get away! Nobody’s done that ever!” was the reply. Tens of thousands of people had taken that test, including all the advertising superstars at the biggest New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles agencies. These are people with the skills necessary to persuade millions of Americans to choose such favorites as Cheerios, Pampers, and Preparation H over competing brands.

So I guess what I’m saying is since Amazon has kept my review at the top of the list for seven years so far, I still retain the gift of gab. Wanna see for yourself? Look up Timex Men’s Brown Watch With White Dial on Amazon, scroll down to the Most Helpful Customer Reviews and see how I kin still rite reel good.

Sunday, March 29

Perplexing predicament

One thing I like about IKEA is their accuracy. Things fit together beautifully and you always get the right amount of parts—screws, nuts, washers—the stuff that would be so easy to mis-count when packaging the kits. For instance among the most recent pieces I’ve built are two file cabinets. The packs of small parts include a heap of small wood screws, sixty-eight of them. Both kits had exactly sixty-eight screws!

However, in one of the kits there was an extra flat washer. They show four. I got five. So now the dilemma presents itself—do I just toss the leftover washer into my can of screws and nuts, hoping to find a use for it later? Or should I mail it back to Sweden or wherever the kit came from? Or should I put it in a special place where I’m sure to find it in the unlikely event that, while assembling another IKEA kit, I find it short one washer? Yeah, that’s probably the best solution since all their parts are metric and I almost always build with non-metric American stuff.

But there’s a problem—which washer don’t I use? Which is the odd one, the one that shouldn’t be in the package? They all look the same. Oh dear me.

Saturday, March 28

Pipe Tree

Years ago, Karla’s dad stacked a bunch of pipes under this tree, hence its name. Now there are only two or three 4-inch pipes buried in the weeds, and you’d have to search to find them. It used to be that you couldn’t miss seeing the 12-inch diameter 20-foot long relics from an oil patch somewhere in the Bakersfield area. Karla’s cousin Ken hauled them up for her dad to use as culvert pipes along our road.

Pipe Tree is now just a rest spot we use on our daily hikes. We put a couple of lawn chairs under the tree to make resting easier. Used to be we had to stand there, or risk picking up some awful thing if we dared to sit on the ground. Like stickers, or chiggers, or spider bites, or horse poop, or wet butts if it’s wintertime. Now it’s so nice to act like we’re civilized. Our pants are cleaner longer, too.

We haven’t prepared anyplace special for the dogs to sit, so now they get the stickers, chiggers, spider bites, horse poop, and wet butts. Oh, well.

Friday, March 27

Weed Eater Times 36

In a few weeks we’ll round up all of our horses. Mike, our longtime vet, will give them their annual shots, do any necessary dental work, and get them ready to go up to the high ranch for the summer. Frank the farrier will trim their hooves. Then, if things go according to plan, all thirty-six or so horses and mules will be led down to the forty acres where our house is located:

1. To trim the weeds
2. And, of course, being equines—to break things.

Currently we have only three horses on our place and just yesterday we had to repair their watering trough after one of them broke off the drain pipe. Twelve times as many equines will give us enough work to keep busy for several weeks before they leave.

Oh well, it beats having to trim weeds with a noisy gas-powered machine.

Is it just me…?

…or does everyone get excited
when their kitchen gets a
brand new sponge?

Thursday, March 26

Pray for Rain

Summer’s heat is coming. Dread accompanies its arrival.

Articles in the local papers warn of a possibly devastating summer due to California’s continuing drought. Wildfires of unprecedented intensity are possible. This means more to me than it does to most people since I experienced what is called the most devastating wildfire in California’s history.

The Harlow Fire happened in 1961 and was described by the Sierra Star, our local paper, as “the fastest burning fire in California history.…” It destroyed 18,000 acres in two hours and raced up the back of the mountain we lived on at almost fifty miles per hour. When it was finished, it had burned 43,000 acres.
Browning has already started

At the time I worked at TV channel 47 and was living in an apartment in Fresno. From there I could see the huge pall of smoke topped by an enormous cumulous cloud. At night the sky glowed. My parents showed up at my apartment after dark in their old 1940 Ford flatbed truck which carried the few things they could grab from the house before flames chased them away.

The following morning Dad and I headed up the hill, got through the roadblock south of Coarsegold, and drove down the little dirt road to where we expected to see the ruins of our house. Miraculously, the house survived because a neighbor had used a garden hoe to clear away a few weeds nearby. Apparently he had run through the neighborhood right after my parents left. We were eternally grateful to him, for sure! Dad and I then turned our attention to putting out the many small spots that were still burning. I was wearing shoes that had a loose fit at the top (they were called Desert Boots, I think—very stylish at the time) and stepped onto a spot that sank, plunging my foot down into smoldering embers. I pulled my foot up, filling the shoe with hot stuff. That really hurt and took awhile to heal.

The air was barely breathable. Noise from fire trucks, airplanes, helicopters and chainsaws added to the hellishness of the scene. Not a stick had escaped the inferno that had been raging only hours earlier.

That was over fifty years ago. Now we are preparing for a repeat of that awful time by clearing ground cover for at least a hundred feet around our buildings. We have few vulnerable trees close by, being widely spaced and trimmed of any low branches. But there’s always more to do, which we will get done as soon as we can.

Adding to our protection is a large-diameter pipe coming down the hill from our two 5,000-gallon water tanks. Our hundred-foot fire hose will provide some protection, or at least can refill the tank of any fire truck that happens by. Current policy of Cal Fire is to protect any houses whose owners have obviously prepared for fire; if owners neglected to do so, the firefighters will move on.

Wish us luck. Oh, and pray for rain!

Wednesday, March 25


We were in some heavy traffic in north Fresno, and had plenty of time to look around as we crept along behind a bus. I noticed a sign on the back of the bus that said, “This vehicle stops at all railway crossings.” What got my attention was the period at the end of the statement. When’s the last time you encountered a public warning or notice that ended with a period? Is there a new guy or gal who’s writing this stuff? Someone who actually went to complete-sentence school?

What if this were applied to other signs, for instance STOP. Whoa—a period after the word STOP adds much more emphasis to the command. A period would also help when a traffic sign should be broken into two sentences, like LANE ENDS. MERGE LEFT. That would simplify things for me, since while driving I need things to be as clear as possible to save time processing the information while simultaneously piloting a speeding vehicle, sipping a cuppa, listening to Karla, and scooting around in the seat trying to relieve that nagging back pain.

And as long as I am ranting about traffic signs, here’s one that is off the subject, but needs changing. Last week while zipping along on Highway 50 heading eastward from the IKEA store near Sacramento, I was looking for the off ramp to Highways 99 and 5 south. A sign said “99 5 Redding.” To me that meant it was leading to the northbound lanes of the highways, since Redding was in that direction; the southbound lanes off ramp must be coming up soon. But it turned out the sign was for both directions, north and south. They could have said “99 5 Redding Los Angeles” which would indicate both directions. Or simply said 99 5. Or 99. 5. since it was leading to two different roads.

Oh, well. I guess I should start writing letters to those in charge of all this stuff. Period.

Tuesday, March 24

Get an Early Start

I think the only way I am going to get a blog or two in is to do it in the morning. The past few days Karla and I spent heading north to Sacramento, shopping at the IKEA store. We used to go to their Palo Alto store, but thought we’d try something different. The mileage is about the same either way.

We had spotted a very nice kitchen island at Palo Alto, but they didn’t have any in stock. We went to the Sacramento store on Friday but they were out of the tables also. Being a little smarter this time, I checked IKEA’s Web site for both stores, and it showed that neither had any available. Bummer, since it is a very nice item. We found out that whenever these islands come in, they practically vanish immediately they’re so popular. One of the store’s employees told us we’d better arrive early on the day the islands go into the warehouse to be sure of getting one.

So I found out that six of the islands would be at the Sacramento store on Sunday. We got up at five and left the house at six sharp, arriving in East Sacramento at five minutes to ten. It was a very nice drive since this time we took the Prius Plug-In, not the three-quarter-ton Dodge pickup. That car, by the way, is an invitation to a speeding ticket since on a smooth road it can creep up to 85 MPH or more without my noticing! So I activate cruise control and keep my foot off the accelerator.

We were the very first customers at the check stand and loaded the packages into the car. Whew! Mission accomplished! Then we headed back inside to do more shopping for us and Hilary and Luke. (Any time either of our families goes to town, we check with the other to see what they need. Saves gas.)

Another four hours on the road and we were back home. The sun still shone so Karla took the dogs for a walk while I tried to figure out where to put a carload of stuff. By nightfall, we had unloaded everything and were ready to eat and go to bed. No more getting up at five for a few days!

On Monday I assembled the table. The quality of the parts is outstanding, especially the top. Solid oak, heavy as all get out, and just simply flawless. The instructions said to sand it lightly, then spend the next month giving it plenty of oil, so we won't be using the table as it's intended for at least a week. Then it's going to be the main meal-assembly spot. We already had about sixty square feet of built-in countertop, but it's all ceramic tile. This table is just shy of ten square feet, but we can use a knife on it anywhere.

It's also a nice place to sit and have breakfast as we did for the first time this morning, enjoying poached eggs on cornmeal patties, Canadian bacon, and a bowl of creamy yogurt topped with fresh raspberries, blackberries, and dried cranberries. Now I can get back to my usual duty, assembling the IKEA office furniture for Karla's space. I figure I have at least another two days' work doing that. Wish me luck. And stamina.

Monday, March 23

Busy Busy

I haven't posted any new stuff in quite awhile. It isn't because I've died or anything; it's because I am both busy and having trouble getting a photo out of my phone onto the computer. Also for a couple of years now I have memory problems. Like remembering to post something.

Bear with me. I shall come back!

Friday, March 13

G'bye, Old Friends

It happens in everyone’s life when you have to say goodbye to things that have served you so well it would be hard to toss them aside. That day has come with my trusty old pair of New Balance 409 sneakers. They still fit, they’re still comfortable, and as you can see from the photograph they still look mighty good—there’s lots of life remaining.

So why do I have to abandon them? Well, they’re getting slippery afoot; the soles are smooth. I sometimes slip on our tile floors and I don’t want to risk life-ending concussion from a full-on flying fall or from crashing into a wall or falling against the kitchen counter and launching a whole rack of dinner plates into the air and having them come flying at me edge-on, carving a deep gash in my neck and splashing blood all over the place and—well, you get my point.

Bet you never thought old shoes could engender such havoc.

Thursday, March 12

Needs Salt

Every spring we’re treated to huge fields of white blossoms. Around here they’re called popcorn flowers. They’re edible, but to my taste they need salt. Maybe I should sprinkle a few bags of salt on the ground for next year’s crop. The flowers could suck up the salt and be perfectly seasoned.

Makes perfect sense to me.

Rain Dance, Anyone?

The word meniscus means “the curved upper surface of a liquid in a tube.” In the case of rainwater in a rain gauge, the edge of the water curves up while the surface is at the bottom of that curve. So when I first glanced at the level in our gauge, anxious to see how much rain we got yesterday, I was heartened to see that we got an enormous three hundredths of an inch. But then the real reading is a third less—two hundredths. Fooled once again by the meniscus!

Either way it’s a piddling amount of rain. California’s drought is getting to be something that will take an awful lot of precipitation to overcome. Today I checked a satellite picture of California and saw the disappointing snowpack in the Sierra. Here in the foothills we’ve had, since July 1 this year, a measly 9.96” of rain (25.3cm for my Australian readers). That’s ahead of last year, but still piddling.

Time to start dancing methinks.

Wednesday, March 11

New Trees

We got some new trees. So I had to buy a new camera. I've been illustrating my blog using pix from my iPhone. It has a nice camera but a very limited range of options such as focus and zoom. The camera I bought is a Nikon Coolpix L830, a very moderately-priced (under $200) yet capable shooter. It has an astonishing 34X zoom lens! I haven't given its results a close examination yet, but it brings back memories of the first Nikon 35mm film camera zoom lens I bought way back in the 1970s. It had a range of 43-86mm, a whole 2X! But it stunk as a lens since it had gross amounts of what's called pincushion distortion. It spent most of its life tucked away in my camera accessory bag while I kept on using "prime" lenses.

Back to the trees. They're all dwarf citrus and most are either in bloom or already have fruit. They'll live on our south-facing deck along with a whole bunch of flowering plants and herbs.  This afternoon Karla will be planting several strawberry plants in the citrus pots.

It's raining right now. I hope we get more and more as spring approaches. The grasses and forbs are doing well and will keep our three dozen or so horses fat and happy. And keep us happy as long as we don't have to toss out bales of hay.

Monday, March 9

Apple Blossom Time

Apple Inc, I mean, not the edible kind. I had two appointments in Fresno at the eye doctors’ place,* so I missed out on either listening to or watching Apple’s big event. Apple further explained the choices you can get with their new watch, introduced a newly-redesigned laptop computer that’s ridiculously thin, and some other stuff. I haven’t checked it all out yet, but will tonight. I am absolutely certain their stock will blossom once again as it has in the past. They are on course to be the world’s first trillion dollar entity. Holy cow.

After the doctor stuff, Karla and I went shopping for some edible plants. Over the weekend we had planted five dwarf citrus trees in big pots that will sit on our south deck. “Let’s surround the trees with strawberries,” Karla said. So we got about twenty of them along with some herbs that we will plant separately.

Tomorrow is planting day. If anything interesting comes up, I’ll write about it. If not, well….

*(Eye doctor-wise, no big deal. A new prescription and a follow-up on a retinal bump that appeared in my last exam. No change, so no sweat; I go back in May.)

Saturday, March 7

Get the Point?

Corny headline I admit, but sometimes I just can’t resist. Shown here are seven syringes that Karla has had the pleasure of poking into my tender loving butt once a week every Saturday morning. I don’t know how long this process will go on, but I’m guessing that it’ll be done when I am once again faster than a speeding bullet, more powerful than a locomotive, and able to leap tall buildings in a single bound.

You know—like in the old days.

Friday, March 6

Vanishing Dust

I put together a desk in the “man room” of the new house from parts we got at the Sacramento IKEA, a terrific place to buy nice design for cheap. The desk top was in a carton labelled “White,” when it fact it was black. So here I am, at home over a hundred miles from the store, with the wrong color. I used it anyway and have grown to like it. For most of the day, the desktop looks really nice.

Believe it or not, there is a ton of dust gleaming in the above photo, but it barely shows here because Blogger spits out all the tiny stuff in order to reduce the size of the photo file.

But early in the morning when the sun angle is low, dust and lint and stray dog hair glistens in the bright light. It always surprises me how little dust it takes to show up given the right light angle. An hour after first light, the dust disappears completely and doesn’t reappear till the next dawning. I like to have a clean space (after all, I was in the US Navy for four pristine spotless years on the world’s biggest, newest, cleanest ship), but I’m not going to go out of my way to recreate it at all times.

(I do have to confess, right here and right now, that when I click Publish to post this blog, I’m going to get a damp cloth and wipe the now-invisible crud off the desktop. Oh well….)

Wednesday, March 4

Use Whatcha Got

It’s always frugal and wise to use things you already have for a project. For example, instead of spending, what? maybe fifty bucks for a shiny brass toilet paper holder, why not use this century-old solid wrought iron anchor cable guide from our old floating dock at Florence Lake—it’s perfect in every way!

It's sitting on the floor now, but will be mounted higher up on the wall. It has a nice round hole in the middle, is nearly an inch thick, and weighs over fifty pounds. This thing could hold maybe millions of rolls of toilet paper in its useful lifetime. Not only that, we still have another four of them in our iron pile in case this one wears out.

About twenty years ago we bought over eight thousand ceramic roof tiles. When we were applying for the building permit for our new house, we were told that since we couldn’t provide all the certified vital statistics regarding strength, hardness, resistance to meteor strikes and attacks by as-yet-undiscovered tile-eating bacteria, we couldn’t use them! Our architect/builder weighed some of them and designed the walls and roof understructure to hold the weight. But we ended up using much lighter metal tiles instead since the county could certify reams of evidence that they were perfectly safe to use. Oh well, at least now our roof structure is too strong!

So what do we do with these now-unusable tiles? We offered them for sale on Craigslist and got a single order for a hundred bucks’ worth. Right now I am using some of them as rain catchers below the drip edge of the garage roof.

Works like a charm; no erosion, no mud splashing on the walls. And if one of our horses stomps on them, we have over seven thousand nine hundred and fifty free replacements!

Karla had a favorite pebble she picked up somewhere around here. As we were building the house, it was always lying around on our kitchen counter. When I started setting tile on the countertop, one of the tiles had a little flaw that I took advantage of—I turned its flaw into a perfectly-sized hole for her pebble.

Now we have a nice tile countertop and her pebble is free to play with whenever we want.

There’s more. For example we turned a fallen oak tree into—gasp—firewood! I could go on but you’re probably already exhausted by this unfettered-genius brilliance.

Tuesday, March 3

Start with an empty dog food can

Then add white paint, a piece of red cardboard, a sliver of a beer can and a battery-powered clock motor. Voilà! A wall clock. It seemed so obvious I wondered why I hadn’t thought of it before!

Monday, March 2

After the Storm

It rained Sunday. When the storm passed, Karla took in the gorgeous view from our north balcony.

The rain amount was piddling, only about a tenth of an inch, but with the current years-long drought as context, we welcome every bit we can get.

Sunday, March 1

The Rectilinear Species

This picture brought home an aspect of how we humans make our mark. Here we are, on a spherical planet surrounded by spherical objects moving in round or elliptical orbits. Whole galaxies tend to be round; nary a straight line to be found.

So why do we build our cities on square grids, using straight-line roads and building sides? Square windows, doorways, even whole rooms. Sitting at square tables, we think of moving in a straight line toward our goals. One of the rare spherical things that we tend to do is gain weight so our bellies come to resemble the moon.

Sure, we make things round when that’s the only way they’ll work. A car with square tires might look nice, but it’ll just sit there looking nice, not taking us places. We describe a trip to a destination and return as a round trip even though the roads may be straight.

I'll see if I can sort through this stuff and come straight to an answer. That is if I get around to it.