Monday, April 07, 2014

Springtime - trip to Tucson

Getting to be more like Springtime around here – weather report shows highs in the mid 80’s all week (that’s around 31-32c for you metrically inclined). We were on our way out to Home Depot for some fertilizer and sprinkler parts when we stopped at our local Sonic for burgers.


The carhops still use skates, this one was on rollerblades but still got around pretty fast. The burgers aren’t great, but we get what we expect and it’s fast and easy just to drive up and push the button to order.

Last weekend we drove down to Tucson to visit relatives. It’s about a seven hour drive (700k – 415 miles) through the mountains and desert. I’ve driven to Phoenix quite often, but this was my first time from Phoenix to Tucson – it’s about 90 minutes, and the desert along this stretch is not very impressive. Just miles and miles of flat nothing with mountains off in the distance (probably 40 or so miles off)


The part from Kingman to Phoenix is nice, through the mountains and Joshua trees and into the big Saguaro cactus areas. Our first time to see these relatives in almost a dozen years, now that I know the ride isn’t bad we’ll probably be seeing them more often.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Warm winter

I was driving up the street to my house the other day and looked up at the hills and realized how nice they look. Las Vegas is a big city aligned along the bottom of a big valley. There are mountains all around us, our streets are wide, and there aren’t many big imposing trees to block the views. California and Nevada have some of the best wide vistas anywhere, with open blue sky and mountains in the distance.

We live about ten miles from Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area . You can see the striped red hills from anywhere in the Vegas Valley, with the colors appearing to be quite bright at certain angles of the sun. The other morning the red strip down the road between the trees was just brilliant, but faded out for the photograph.


We’ve had a very warm winter; I think there was only one day when nighttime temps dropped below freezing. Living in the high desert we usually have twenty to thirty degree swings (Fahrenheit) between nightly lows and afternoon highs, even in the winter. So a freezing night still leads to a sixty degree afternoon. Well, most of this winter it’s been around 45 at night and 65 in the daytime (5 – 19c), with some days over 80 most of February and March. This has led to a lot of our flowering trees and bushes to get confused and bloom early. The big yellow ones around town are now all bright and full off bees, the ones in our yard give off a marvelous fragrance.


It just makes me wonder how hot a summer we will be having to compensate for this.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Progress on the Linq

A few weeks ago we went down to Paris to have lunch out on the patio overlooking the Bellagio fountains. After having a very pleasant lunch out in the warm sunshine we joined the tourists on the Strip and walked up to have a look at what new progress is being made on the Linq project. This is a new remake of the Imperial Palace into the Quad and a meandering street next to it leading to ‘the world’s tallest observation wheel’. The Quad makeover is completed, and next door is the old Bill’s Gamblin’ Hall which is also being upgraded.

Walking north from Paris we come upon Bill’s, at the corner of Las Vegas Boulevard and Flamingo. The whole wall is down along Flamingo, and a new parking garage is going up on the north side.


Next to this the alley which will soon house a lot of new restaurants and bars leads east to the observation wheel, which is taller than the one in London.


The Quad has been revised, with new colors and machines, but one long wall is still boarded up, which will soon face the Linq (or whatever they name that street)


Walking back to Paris we can see the work at the rear of Bill’s and the wheel. All of the construction struts are replaced with the final cables, and last week they started hanging the observation pods onto the outside.


You can get a nice view of the progress on a live webcame over at the Linq web site.


Rather than walk past the front again, where the sidewalk was full of street performers, we wandered into Bally’s where the casino connects to the Paris casino via a long shopping walkway. Bally’s still has its old retro entryway, with moving belts (well, not moving belts) and circles.


It was a pleasant afternoon, and always nice to pretend we are tourists without having to fly anywhere.

Friday, November 08, 2013

E Friday - school vs home

There is a difference between going to school and staying home. Going to school involves intense concentration on selection of the correct outfit for the day.


While staying home involves lounging around in your pajamas, playing with the cat and reading fun books.

Friday, November 01, 2013

high winds

Last night was a rather uneventful Halloween. Here in Vegas it was a typical fall evening, dark but calm with clear skies and a temperature of around 65f. We live in a neighborhood without sidewalks or streetlights, and the houses are rather far apart compared to newer areas. Consequently we usually don’t get many trick or treaters coming by. Yesterday the doorbell rang about four times to groups of five or six, and as usual I bought several bags of candy (knowing full well that we would end up eating most of it) so we would drop a handful of ‘snack size’ candies into each bag or plastic pumpkin. So today we do have a big bowl of candy left over, along with a few unopened bags.

Last Monday was another typical day – a storm front was moving through, and we dropped from a Sunday high of around 93f (34c) to a Monday high of 65f (19c). It was windy – steady winds of 40-50 mph with gusts of 80, so as usual our patio furniture and trash cans were blowing around the yard and the bells were ringing. Over the years we have made several trips down to Phoenix, where I met B, and we’ve purchased eight or nine Soleri bells – these are cast bronze artistic bells that vary from about an inch to over eight inches high, with big triangular copper pieces attached to the clapper to make them rather noisy. We’ve got them hanging from the back cover and out by the pool, but have learned not to put them near the guest bedrooms because people staying over (read: our daughter) complain about the noise. Down in San Diego they were more decorative rather than sound producing, but here in Vegas we hear them all the time, and with the winds we had on Monday those bells were very evident.

We moved right from hot summer into cool fall with not much of a transition between. We have air conditioners that we use in summer to cool the house, and several ‘swamp coolers’ that we use when it’s only in the 90’s. There are two big coolers on the roof, and we haven’t turned them on since sometime in June. Last weekend I drained them and put canvas covers over them for the winter, a good indication that our heat is gone.

It hasn’t gotten cold at night, which means that our trees aren’t turning colors yet, though some leaves on the peach tree are yellow, and falling off. The tree itself still looks green, as does the big ash in front of it.


The ash sometimes turns a bright bronze colour, it seems to have a little of that in the photo. The only yellow leaves are under the peach. The grape vines on the wall are just starting to turn colors.

Around the side of the house we have some hummingbird feeders, one is right outside our big new kitchen window so we can watch those little guys fighting all the time. One usually hangs out nearby and guards it, chasing off any others that come by.


But every once in a while they actually go over and drink some of the sugar water.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Around town this week

This weekend the Life is Beautiful Festival is taking over downtown. Vegas already hosts several other major events including the Electric Daisy Carnival, but that takes place up at the racetrack. This event takes over Fremont Street and several surrounding blocks. Tickets have been sold out for a while now, but we have been seeing articles in the local paper about road closures and the best ways to get downtown because several streets are being closed. There are several outdoor stages, and multiple food court areas, with music being part of what your ticket covers. Groups appearing include Imagine Dragons, Empire of the Sun, Beck, The Killers and a few dozen more. It sounds like an interesting event. There is a nice little video that announces it (looks like they took over Fremont Street at around 3am):


Circus Vargas is setting up a big top tent over at the Rio for people that like a ‘real’ circus, as opposed to all of the Cirque du Soleil shows around.

We already have several inches of snow up on Mt. Charleston, an hour north of town. I don’t know their schedule, but the ski and snowboarding resort up there should start up the snow machines soon and open their season, usually around late November. Though not nearly as big as the resorts in more northern climes they have eleven trails, three chair lifts and a freestyle park and provide an alternative to our gambling resorts. The mountain is over 14,000 feet high and the snow provides a contrast to the 85f Fall temperatures we are having down here. For now people can drive up and play in the short stuff, unless it’s melted with the recent temperature increases.

On the Strip Caesars Entertainment is still building the big wheel at the Linq where the circle is complete and they are installing the central cables and hanging cars, but their rebuild of Bill’s Gamblin’ Hall into the Gansevoort Hotel has hit a snag. Evidently the Massachusetts Gaming Board has found that one of the Gansevoort officials has ties to the Russian mob, and asked Caesars to withdraw their proposal for a casino in that state because of it. So they cancelled contracts with Gansevoort, and we are waiting to see what the new hotel name will be. Caesars is putting $185,000,000 into the remodel to convert the small property into a 188 room luxury hotel, with a multi-story Drai’s Nightclub on the roof and Gaida’s restaurant on the overpass level.

At the south end THEhotel at Mandalay Bay will change over to be controlled by the Morgans Hotel Group and be renamed to Delano Las Vegas. All 1100 suites in the 43 story tower, along with the common areas and all other areas of the hotel are being redesigned and renovated. It will be interesting to see how they change those big letters up on the top floor to the new name. The Morgan Group also owns the Light Group which runs multiple restaurants and nightclubs around town, including several in Mandalay that are also being remodeled. I hope this one comes out well, as we stayed at THEhotel last year and really liked the facility. Breakfast down at the coffee shop was equally nice. I enjoy hitting different hotel coffee shops, and hope the remodel just makes it better. I was really disappointed with the Palms coffee shop redesigned; we used to go there quite often for breakfast but stopped a few years ago when things seemed to go downhill.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Aria

It’s Fall here in Las Vegas, as it is many other places. As usual we still have a lot of things going on. Last week the D downtown had its one year anniversary celebration, for which they gave three free concerts down on Fremont Street out under the canopy in front of the hotel. For groups they had Uncle Kracker, Stone Temple Pilots and Kid Rock. Pretty good for free.

I remember Uncle K from his Follow Me song a few years ago. Still like it


Upcoming, events include the Ultimate Bacon Experience down on Fremont Street next month – with bacon cocktails and dozens of creations made with bacon. Yum (who doesn’t like bacon?)

A few weeks ago we went down to City Center. We had lunch in the Aria coffee shop, which is a pleasant place to eat. Food is OK, typical prices and good variety, and nice atmosphere. You don’t look towards the Strip but westward at one of the City Center traffic circles.


The Aria check in lobby is filled with butterflies. These make for a pleasant view while standing in line to check in to the hotel.


Meanwhile here at work we just received our notices of furlough, to start tomorrow. I work for a company that is a contractor to the Department of Energy, and we had enough carry over funds to keep going for a few weeks but that’s now up. Hopefully congress will get their act together and fund the government, otherwise here are another few thousand people taking undefined unpaid vacations.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Cooking with Joe - jam cookies

Last month when E was out I wanted to prepare some things that she could help with because she likes to help out in the kitchen. I came across this recipe for jam filled mini butter tarts and it seemed simple enough – just flour, cream cheese and some simple things for the crust and jam. It’s a good recipe for kids to help as you can just get them to do the jam filling. These things were tasty and easy to make, just remember to make the dough in advance – it keeps in the refrigerator for several days. But that in itself is a positive, you can do all of the hard work ahead of time, and when the kids show up just form, fill and bake and have tasty treats pretty quickly.

I used to make the standard Betty Crocker jam thumbprints (from that cookbook on my shelf with the red and white checked cover). These are softer and bigger and really easy for kids to fill.

I have these silicone mini cupcake baking trays that are just the right size for these. As you can see we weren't perfect in the press the dough into the cups part, but dropping assorted jams in was fun. I also sprinkled a little cinnamon on top as everything sweet seems to go better with cinnamon.




After baking they had puffed up very nicely – these are soft and crumbly, best eaten over a plate as they are liable to come apart if you try to take small bites. But the dough was very flavorful and these will remain in the list of cookies to make during the Christmas cookie baking marathon. (as well as anytime)


Tuesday, October 08, 2013

Random videos

Bouncing around the internet, Dooce
pointed to this site Colossal Art that shows how to make giant bubbles. Very nicely done, and looks simple enough. The recipe is given in the video, only three ingredients for the bubble mix. One of which is J-lube, a product I had never heard of so I went looking on Amazon . It seems like this is not the intended use of this powdered product, but what I found amusing was the items listed under ‘Customers who bought this item also bought’ and there are the rest of the items needed for the giant bubble making, including rope, poles and dishwasher liquid. It looks like fun


I am tempted to get all the items and make giant bubbles for the kids in the neighborhood (me included).

Other videos – I found this one of a rebel rocket attack interesting. I’ve not seen the war (pick one) from the other side.


And something to do for Halloween


Friday, October 04, 2013

E Friday and cats

Looks like it’s cat day here today. Up in Portland our granddaughter E picked out a kitten a few weeks ago. I understand it is a very friendly cat, wanting to hang around its people all the time.


Evidently Portland is a city known to be animal friendly. They had to fill out all kids of forms and have an interview before being deemed good enough to adopt an animal from one of the shelters. This kitty was not from a shelter but from an individual that had several kittens available, all raised inside with people contact so they were rather friendly.

At our house we have been having interactions with a number of feral cats lately. One female that has been coming by for years had a new litter of four back in the Spring and kept bringing them through the yard. They may have been living in the back corner behind our shed since we saw them so often (prompting B to try and schedule a cleanup of that corner of the yard). At one point she seemed to take off with three of them, leaving the smallest behind. B started feeding it, bringing the dish closer to the house, and sitting outside when the kitten came around. Eventually she moved it inside and we now have a new cat ourselves. As for the rest, we borrowed some capture cages from the local ASPCA chapter and ended up catching five feral cats including momma, her three kittens and one big male we had never seen before. A local agency offers free neutering/spaying for feral cats, so they all went through the procedure and were released back in the yard.

Ours is not nearly as friendly as E’s, being a feral cat for the first few weeks of its life. But it has gotten fairly acceptable to us, but still runs away when you move on it too fast. B is home all day with the cat, so it has gotten more friendly with her than with me, the stranger that comes in at night. Last week when B was touching up the trim paint in the kitchen and found that she had a supervisor. This cat is part Siamese, with the crossed blue eyes and love of jumping and being on high places. So of course she wanted the top step. B had a problem when painting the baseboard, the cat was very helpful and kept making sure the paint was drying properly, resulting in little painted kitty paw prints around the house. When painting up high she is content to just insure the job is being done properly.


And the name? Granddaughter picked out the name for our kitten, Puck, from a book she was reading. Her cat is named Myrhh, because it goes so well with purr.

Wednesday, October 02, 2013

Cooking with Joe - Blueberry bars

I’ve been using our new kitchen and really enjoying the enhanced environment. However, I’ve been looking at the photos I’ve been taking of my activities and realized that I better start spending more time setting up my photo shoots.

A few weeks ago Valerie posted about making some blueberry crumb bars with rosemary crust . I’ve tried a bunch of her recipes and they all are pretty darn tasty. Stopping at the supermarket a few days later I found a big box of blueberries on sale, and knew that a recipe just floated by that used them so I picked it up.

The recipe didn’t require much work, and the bars were very good – something I’d recommend next time blueberries roll around your market. We had already eaten a fair amount of what I baked before I thought of taking a picture, and looking at the photo does not do the bars (or photography in general) justice. If you want to see how pretty they should be then go up to her blog and look at Valerie’s photographs. Then you probably will want to make some.


The recipe called for rosemary in the crust – I followed the recipe as I usually do, and thought that the next time I made them I would put in more rosemary than it called for, to really amp up that flavor component against the background lemon and the sweet blueberries. I guess I was a little fuzzy when thinking this as I was trying to picture how the rosemary was packaged in my supermarket, yes, in nice little plastic boxes with other herbs. Then came the moment when I said to myself “what are you thinking of, store bought rosemary?” because that is one item that we are able to grow quite well here in Vegas – in fact I’ve got a row that’s over thirty meters long and over a meter high and wide, plants we put in along a low wall back when we converted from grass:


Yup, probably enough rosemary to make quite a few bars. I just have to avoid the bees that also love those little blue flowers (which themselves go well as ornamentation in a lot of soups and other dishes).

Friday, September 27, 2013

E Friday - pizza and swinging

When granddaughter E was visiting with us in August we went down to Circus Circus to hit the rides in the Adventure Dome. We stopped for lunch, and somebody liked her pizza


But in our back yard she probably spent as much time on the swing as in the pool


Boy, that picture makes Vegas look pretty green, doesn't it?

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Kitchen's done!

We finally finished up in the kitchen. Well, almost, B still has to decide what to do with that big blank wall next to the window. It’s a tossup between open shelves or a big painting, still undecided. Our original design was with birch cabinets with a small square detail. But when we drove down to Ikea to look around B noticed a kitchen setup with glossy white cabinets, and she thought about how easy it would be to clean them – I do most of the cooking and she does most of the cleaning, so for her the idea of a smooth finish with no details to catch dirt was very appealing. So we changed our style and decided to do a more modern look, with shiny white cabinets, long stainless steel handles and an all stainless steel island.

Anyway, here are some ‘before’ shots. I didn’t really think ahead and take good photographs of what it looked like before we started, sorry. Our house was built in the late ‘60’s and the kitchen is original. The cabinets were all custom built, probably pretty good quality when they went in but after forty years they were kind of worn out, with the drawers starting to come apart. When we moved in it was the original dark wood stain. B painted the cabinets white because she just couldn’t take how dark it was. After a few years I took down some overhead cabinets that were separating the kitchen area from the small seating area.


To the left of the refrigerator is a door that leads to the laundry room, a small bathroom and the garage. The cabinets I took down were over the small peninsula right in front, so with them in place you would not be able to see the window from this angle. There was an open foot or so below the cabinets, I guess so that you could pass things back and forth, but it was just too confining. Overhead were two long fluorescent fixtures, each with one bulb so it was never very bright in there.


Behind where the camera is in the above photo is an outside wall which had a small window which we replaced with big French doors out to an eating area on the patio.

To the left of the above shots is the cooking area. Only two burners of the electric cooktop still worked. Just to the right was a small wall oven that would not keep an accurate temperature. B painted the wall behind the cooktop, and eventually stuck up some glass tiles. The walls behind and to the left are what we took down and we pushed this area back three feet to make the kitchen wider.


After seven months of slow work this is what we ended up with. It’s a major change from our old ‘60s kitchen. We took down the wall between the kitchen and our family room, extended the kitchen three feet and put in the large countertop bar. I moved the stove and installed a gas cooktop in a new island with exhaust hood. The sink was there in front of a small window which I replaced with an 8’ window which brightens things up considerably. We used to have the old style ceiling fluorescents with plastic panels which we pulled out and raised the ceiling and installed all led and fluorescent lights in ceiling cans. The bar is about a meter deep and two long, plenty of room for working on my cakes and cookies. There are now cabinets along the entire outside wall, over six meters worth. Again, a lot of room to lay out whatever I’m preparing.


All of the cabinets are from Ikea, with pull out drawers. We’ve got so much more storage now that we didn’t need any overhead cabinets, and with the drawers we don’t have to kneel down to dig things out of lower cabinets. That’s a small cabinet to the left of the window with a roll up door in which we keep the coffee maker.


In the above picture you can see the microwave with two big convection ovens below. They are in about the same place as the old oven, but pushed back three feet. To the left of them is where the old cooktop and wall was. Pushing that back made the area pretty large, and instead of the peninsula that was original there we put in an island with a new gas cooktop. When built the house was all electric, but shortly after we moved in the gas company started laying lines in our neighborhood and we had gas brought to the house, originally for a water heater but in anticipation of a gas stove. I now have five burners that all work, one of which is big enough to cook just about anything. The only overhead cabinets are above the ovens and the refrigerator. There is room in the island for all of my pots and pans. Cookie sheets are in a roll out next to the ovens. We could have made the island bigger, but there is enough countertop space and we wanted room for a small table to sit at in there.


The door that was originally to the left of the refrigerator was covered up and moved to the right of it, making room for a large walk in pantry (which is behind the refrigerator). I changed the door to be a sliding pocket door, so it doesn’t take up any room when open. Countertops are bright white quartz with a grey marbling, much nicer that that yellow laminate we started with, with stainless steel on the island. We put down a cork floating floor as the concrete slab developed a long crack which limited what we could do. Didn’t want tile, we felt it was too hard and cold to stand on. The cork is soft and warmer to walk on. B picked a glass/marble mosaic tile for the backsplash, which was also put up vertically next to the bar to provide some color.

That's it - the cabinets and appliances have been in for a while, so I've gotten to try everything out. The countertops went in and finally the flooring. Crown molding finished things up, so now it's on to our next project.

Friday, September 20, 2013

View from the Mandarin Oriental Hotel

A lot of photos today – still bunches on my camera to take off and edit but it seems other things come around. These are from our recent trip to City Center a few weeks ago to have lunch at Mozen. First is the check in desk for the Mandarin Oriental Hotel. It’s up on the 23rd floor, which seemed a little strange, but it does provide a bit of security, and all hotel guests have to go past the check in desk to get to the room elevators, so kind of planned. There is a nice view out of the big windows behind the desk, so as you wait to check in you have something to look at. The staff can also turn around at slow times and look down on City Center and the Strip to keep amused.


Back down on the first floor there is access to the Mandarin Oriental meeting rooms. The carpet was rather dull, but the halls were lined with wood paneling and I liked all of the glass balls hanging from the ceilings.


Back on the 23rd floor near the tea room are some public restrooms. Everything inside was black, something seen at a few other ‘modern’ hotels (such as at Mix at Mandalay Bay). The sink was interesting, a long trough with those hand sensing faucets you don’t have to touch. This was one of the few open restrooms that had cloth hand towels instead of paper – you can see them nicely rolled and stacked at the end of the sink.


In the other direction were little frosted glass doors leading to the toilets – a trend in some of the better hotels, instead of a row of dividers everyone gets their own little room.


Back to the windows of the tea room, which is next to the check in desk above, you get a nice view of the Strip, looking down on the roof of Crystals shopping center, one of the few in town that doesn’t have a roof full of air conditioners and exhaust vents. You can still see the world’s most expensive billboard, which used to advertise the Cirque Elvis show but now advertises Zarkana, its replacement. I said most expensive because the building, which was supposed to be a 60 story hotel and condo tower, had construction halted in the middle so now it just sits empty awaiting court hearings. So it’s basically a $230,000,000 billboard. The construction company and MGM are in litigation over construction defects, it seems the steel rebar reinforcing stuff was put in wrong and the place could fall down at any time. After two years in court a local judge just gave MGM permission to tear down the building. Engineers are trying to figure out how to do that, as it’s in the middle of other buildings which are really close. And it was put up as a LEED certified green building, so there are restrictions on recycling of the entire structure as it comes down. The court case on who will pay for everything is about to come to trial, with a two year trial expected. I wonder who they will find to sit on the jury for two years just to stay awake much less remember it all to make a judgment. The court case will take longer than the construction took.


Looking to the right and down you can see Las Vegas Boulevard (the Strip). There are the Polo Towers condos and in front an old three story motel. I’m impressed that it is still there, with on-Strip property at one time going for $23,000,000 an acre the land alone is worth a fortune. There should be a fifty story tower and casino there, not a low motel. Yes, it’s open for business and you can stay there probably pretty cheaply compared to this place. The brown roofs to the left cover the Miracle Mile shops, a very large shopping center that is part of Planet Hollywood.


Down at the restaurant Mozen, which is on the third floor, the view is about the same, looking north towards the Eiffel Tower in front of Paris. The Aria vertical electronic sign is rated one of the nicest in the city, with some pretty impressive graphics. It’s two hundred feet high and all electronic display, a pretty massive TV set.


Close by is the main entrance to City Center, with the roofs of Crystals above. If you couldn’t tell, there is a big Gucci store up front. All of the stores in there are rather high end, I’m impressed that they can stay in business with as few customers as I see in them. But there are always people with store shopping bags around, so someone is purchasing $30,000 handbags and $50,000 watches.