Thursday, September 30, 2010

Walking the Dogs...

What a simple delight it was, this morning, to stumble out to our front door, leash up the three field spaniels, and then wander outside with all four dogs (Race, our border collie, was loose).  I've missed my little four-pawed friends, and I think they may have missed me.

The field spaniels acted as always; nothing special about this morning as far as they were concerned.  Nope, just important work to do, smelling every possible thing that could be smelled.  Race, on the other hand, acted as though he'd just received the very best present that any dog, ever, could possibly receive – he bounded at fantastic speeds all around the yard, the very image of pure canine joy.  Eventually he found a stick – perfectly sized and shaped for throwing – and brought it to me.  After that, the rest of our walk was punctuated regularly by the clatter of the stick as he threw it on the ground right in front of me, followed by the “whoosh” as I threw it for him to chase yet again.  In the distant north, regular (and big) lightning flashes played across big cumulus clouds – an odd sight in the early morning.  Overhead it was quite clear, and I could see a half-moon just above Orion's head, high in the eastern sky.  Jupiter still shines brightly, but now lower down in the southern sky. 

After finishing with the dogs, I decided to see if my truck would start.  It's been unused for two and a half weeks, the longest in its three year life.  Hopped in, turned the key, and the engine instantly roared to life, as though I'd just shut it off a few minutes before.  I'm still amazed by how reliable modern automobiles are, and such feats still catch me by surprise.  Actually, our whole house survived two-and-a-half weeks without trouble.  Generally after such a trip I'd come home to a short list of deficiencies that needed to be rectified.  Not this time.  Everything worked just fine while I was gone, and continues to work now.  Amazing!

I came back into the house to find all four dogs arrayed just inside the door, waiting for me, tails wagging and tongues dragging.  Much sloppy wet greeting and dogly happiness ensued.  Human happiness, too...

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Now That's a Fungus!

Via Botany Photo of the Day, a site and email newsletter worthy of your support...

Hummer Feeding Refinement...

Longtime readers know that we feed lots of hummingbirds out here in the chaparral.  During the height of the season (July through September), we'll go through as much as 3 to 4 gallons of hummer juice (a 4::1 water::sugar mixture by volume) every day.  For several years now I've been making the hummer juice in 5 gallon batches, storing it inside a potable water container designed for camping.  This has worked great, especially for me – but for Debbie, lifting close to 50 lbs of hummer juice plus container is more of a challenge.

I had another idea, which we've just proved out.  It's superior in several ways to the 5 gallon batch approach.  The basic idea is to make a gallon of “hummer juice concentrate”, and mix that as needed.  Here's what I did:
  1. Found a nice, sturdy, tightly-closing gallon pitcher, rectangular in cross-section for efficient storage in the refrigerator.
  2. Filled the pitcher to the brim with sugar.
  3. Put in food coloring (orange to attract the orioles), the same amount as for a five gallon batch of hummer juice.
  4. Fill the pitcher with hot water, stirring.  The sugar will all dissolve nicely; you'll be surprised how much water you have to add.
  5. Refrigerate.
To use, I measure out 13 ounces of concentrate into a two-quart pitcher, then fill the pitcher with water and stir briefly (the concentrate mixes almost instantly).  Voila!  For a small investment of work on the gallon of concentrate, we've got five gallons of hummer juice, slightly compressed, stored in the refrigerator.  The cold slows down the inevitable mold and fungus.  The pitcher when completely full weighs less than 10 pounds.  Filling the hummer feeders is a snap.  Win win!

I'm going to try one more thing: measuring the concentrate directly into the feeders and simply filling them with hot water.  That just might be even easier...

Back Home...

I'm back from my trip to the U.K. and Virginia.  What little remains of today is a “day of rest”, and then it's back to the salt mines for me...

There are so many things that are nice about coming home, especially for a gray-bearded introvert like me.  My wife's smile and kiss.  My dogs, each with their individually-styled, but equally frantic, greeting.  Little Maka Lea, who came trotting in to see me when I called him from the door.  My bed.  The comfort of surroundings and things being where you expect them to be.  Quiet, calm.  The delight of favorite and familiar foods.  Ah, so very nice...

Book Review of the Day...

From one of my favorite bloggers, TJIC (aka Travis J. I. Corcoran), who just read a book and really didn't like it all that much.  His review's conclusion:
I demand that this man (Editor: i.e., the author) be dragged to my quarters, be stripped to his shorts, and be staked out over an ant hive…

…at which point I will kick him in the balls over and over and over until I’m so tired that I’ve forgotten that this book exists.
But you'll definitely want to read the whole thing (if only so that you don't accidentally read the book being reviewed!)...

Monday, September 27, 2010

Did You Vote for Obama?

Photo taken in Dallas, Texas, via my mom:


The Comedians are Homing In...

Via reader Doug W., from his wife Dee W.:

You know the honeymoon is over when the comedians start....

The liberals are asking us to give Obama time. We agree . . . and think 25 to life would be appropriate.
--Jay Leno

America needs Obama-care like Nancy Pelosi needs a Halloween mask.
--Jay Leno

Q: Have you heard about McDonald's' new Obama Value Meal?
A: Order anything you like and the guy behind you has to pay for it.
--Conan O'Brien

Q: What does Barack Obama call lunch with a convicted felon?
A: A fund raiser.
--Jay Leno

Q: What's the difference between Obama's cabinet and a penitentiary?
A: One is filled with tax evaders, blackmailers, and threats to society. The other is for housing prisoners.
--David Letterman

Q: If Nancy Pelosi and Obama were on a boat in the middle of the ocean and it started to sink, who would be saved?
A: America!
--Jimmy Fallon

Q: What's the difference between Obama and his dog, Bo?
A: Bo has papers.
--Jimmy Kimmel

Q: What was the most positive result of the "Cash for Clunkers" program?
A: It took 95% of the Obama bumper stickers off the road.
--David Letterman

Top 20...

...socialist sound bites from Team Obama.

When You've got a Hammer...

I'm no Country & Western fan (Debbie is, though). But despite that, this is one Country & Western song I rather like...

Back in the U.S.A...

...but not yet in California.  I'm visiting for a few days with my parents, near Charlottesville, Virginia.  It's pouring rain here, and they need it badly.  I picked up a bit of a cold on the flight back, and the first few days I was home I was pretty badly under the weather.  I'm much better today!

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Kew Gardens...

Then I entered Kew Gardens, grumbling a bit to myself about the price of the ticket (£13.50, or about $21).  At the end of the day, I was feeling that the ticket was a bargain, and I didn't mind a bit paying it again tomorrow – as I've decided not to go to the British Museum, as originally planned, but to instead spend a second day at the Kew Gardens.  They are just too beautiful to miss.

I spent a little over 6 hours today wandering around about a third of the Kew Gardens' area (though I did hit most of the “highlights” called out on the map).  It was simply awesome.  In almost every case, for any individual collection on display, it's the equal or better of any arborteum or garden I've ever seen.   Just about the only exceptions I can think of are Wrigley's succulent collection and Quail Gardens South African collection.  Now I certainly haven't been to every arboretum and garden in America, so I could be missing some other great ones.  But I also haven't seen all of the Kew Gardens collection on display – and that's just the collection on display.  They have much more, their literature says, in their propagation and nursery facilities.  But here's the real point to consider: every collection I've seen at Kew is world class.  They're not just specializing, like the Wrigley Gardens on Catalina Island.  They do this across the board.

And in some cases, what they do I'm pretty sure isn't equalled anywhere else.  For example, they have an awesome collection of arctic and sub-arctic dwarf plants.  How do they manage to do that in London, which is about 10 inches above sea level?  Why, they build a refrigerated and dehumidified glasshouse!  I'm not kidding, they really did!  Another example: they have a collection of tree ferns (Australian and Pacific) that makes you think you're walking around in one of the tree fern forests of Hawai'i.  Some of the tree ferns are 30 feet high.  How'd they do that in London?  You guessed it – a glasshouse that is heated and humidified to make the tree ferns happy.  I've visited three glasshouses so far.  One of them is a collection of glasshouses all adjacent to one another, each with a different climate inside.  In the space of a few minutes, you walk from tropical rainforest to temperate desert.

My favorite part so far is their rock garden.  Saying it like that evokes an image of a wall or two, nicely planted.  Uh, no.  Try two to three acres of immaculately laid out rock gardens, planted and labeled in loving detail, complete with lovely paths, water features, etc.  I could easily spend an entire day in that rock garden (and I may just do so tomorrow!).  It is simply gorgeous; a magnificent feat of horticultural art and a display of science at the same time.  A not-to-be-missed tour de force.

And there's so much more, too much to describe in detail here.  Some highlights, though.  There are benches and picnic tables located in attractive spots all over the grounds.  There is an elevated walkway in a patch of forest; you climb a spiral staircase and then you're in the treetops – and you can walk around amongst them.  Two of the glasshouses have an elevated walk high up.  Again, you take a spiral staircase to get up there, then you're walking around in the canopy of a tropical rainforest.  There's a beautiful small lake, landscaped all round, surrounded by an expansive park with beautiful large tree specimens and grassy prospects.  Birds are abundant throughout the park, including geese, swans, many songbirds, and (most unexpectedly) green parrots.  Oh, I could go on and on, but I'll stop.  Here's the photos.  Please forgive the technical crappiness – I don't have my real camera with me; these were all taken with a crackberry's primitive claims-to-be-camera.  Click to enlarge, as usual...