Monday, April 29, 2013

Spring flowers

Spring is finally here. It’s starting to get light in the morning when I come in to work and the weather is warming up. Supposed to hit 99f (37c) today and be up above 90 from now on. I love Vegas spring and fall. Don’t like the cold of winter, and the heat of summer is OK as long as the pool is available and the air conditioners work, but spring is nice, with the forecast of warmth and flowers blooming.

We don’t have very many native plants that have impressive blooms. The yucca is about the only one, with towers of white flowers at the tips. But people plant a lot of things, and as long as they get water we get flowers. It’s pleasant driving around with the windows open driving through drifts of fragrance coming from the plantings. As long as plants are regularly watered most do well in the heat, but we have lost some plants due to excessive cold in the winter.

These are what’s blooming around our yard this week:

Orange mallow, we also have yellow and red, these have been in a few years, and grow as a low bush, under one foot tall and about a yard wide, spreading out over the driveway.

Mexican primrose are weeds that do have some nice pink flowers in the spring and summer, but the seeds blow everywhere.

Our two olive trees have been in for over fifty years, and are quite large. Blooming olives can no longer be planted in Las Vegas due to the tremendous amount of pollen then produce – our front patio turns yellow from all of the drop.

Pyracantha does well, with very fragrant blooms now and red berries all winter. These are only a few years old, but we expect mounds about a yard high and wide as they grow.

The red yucca does well, as does a very similar one with yellow blooms. These are under a foot high, but put out spikes over a yard tall which will open shortly.

Don’t know what these are, but the flowers are numerous and pretty. It’s very low growing, not more than six inches high but spreading out.

We put out some sweet peas, among some summer snap peas and sunflowers.

Over the front patio we put in a wisteria that we brought up from San Diego. It’s finally filling in and starting to bloom.

That's about it, tomatoes in the raised beds are doing well with a lot of blooms and some starting to set fruit. That all has to set before the high heat comes, when things ripen but a lot of the plants don't put out blooms to get new ones until the fall when it starts cooling off again. Our cherry tomatoes usually produce a lot all year long.

Friday, April 26, 2013

Pirates in the desert

This weekend we have a Pirate Fest to attend –

I guess to grab everything it’s a combination of pirates, steam punk and faeries. Sounds like fun, pirates in the desert. The pirate ships have wheels to get around, and after the daytime festivities with the family over at Lorenzi Park most of the pirates will change into more adult oriented garb and invade downtown Fremont Street at night, so whatever your taste is it seems something is happening.

I found their video amusing – I don’t think I’ve seen more crammed into a thirty second spot. And some pretty fast talkers too.

I’m more of a steampunk guy than a pirate –

Thursday, April 25, 2013


My normal day at work runs from 6 am until 4:30 pm Tuesday through Friday. This gives me a three day weekend every week, which I just love. I have no problem exchanging the extra two hours a day for an additional day off like this. The drive I have in is reasonably short, and does not require me to hit any of the freeways or big streets. There isn’t much morning traffic anyway, but afternoons in Vegas always have crowded roads. Hours like these mean that I’ll never run into Frankie G on one of his 2am food hunts, but I’d rather have a sunny day to play in.

The drive in to work has been in the dark, but now that Spring progresses the sun is coming up earlier. What used to be black (except for the glow from the Strip) is now brighter. The last part of my drive is due east, so I am anticipating that sun right between the mountains directly in front of me, making it a little challenging to see. For now I get a warm glow up there

But soon it will be a bright ball. Heading home I was getting the setting sun dead ahead, but the visor can hide it now. Looks like Spring is here, due to hit 90 on Friday for a high, then 99 (37c) on Monday, with warm temps from then on. Hopefully my pool will be warming up and we can start swimming – I like warm water, usually by Memorial Day (the last weekend in May) water temps are up to 33c where I like it and we can start getting wet.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Resort construction projects

Las Vegas has been awash in proposals to build a new large stadium. One group wanted to construct one near downtown, the proposal was to build it on city owned property using city money. Another proposal was to build a large stadium complex just to the west of the Strip across I-15. This was to be on private property, but was to be financed with a new area property tax, in essence being paid for by the residents of Clark County. One big stadium was proposed far south, behind the M resort. This was going to be on land purchased from the Federal Bureau of Land Management and funded by a new tax district in the city of Henderson. That one fell through when, a week before the BLM sale, it was found that the person proposing it was planning on building houses on the cheap BLM land instead of a stadium, and the city sued to prevent the sale. These all were to cost around $300,000,000 each and have around 60,000 seats.

Unfortunately these projects all depended on public money, in addition to having to attract some type of permanent resident for the facility. There have been announcements of getting a new franchise for a national football team, but the two big football leagues both said they want nothing to do with Las Vegas, supposedly not supporting all of the gambling. This attitude has been show during broadcast football games, with advertisements for Las Vegas being forbidden, even the mention of the city not being allowed. So unless there is a big change in professional sports it looks like hosting a national team of any sort is not really a possibility.

The proposal that looks to be the closest to happening is for a large complex to be built on the University of Nevada campus near the airport and next to their existing Thomas & Mack Center, which is currently the largest facility in town and hosts the winter Nationals Final Rodeo, which has threatened to move to Texas because it wants a bigger place. The University has plans for a whole complex, with parking garages, new campus housing and a shopping area besides the stadium. Unfortunately the land currently houses several other sports fields and buildings which would have to be relocated elsewhere. The University had a private partner willing to put up a third of the money required in exchange for some control, but they were shut out just a few weeks ago as the University again tried to get a new tax district in conjunction with donations from the larger casino corporations, including Caesar’s and MGM, which did not want to participate if a private company was involved. Cost for this one is around $600,000,000 because of the complexity of the whole project.

One that looks like it will happen is being pushed by MGM. They want to build a smaller 20,000 seat stadium on land behind the New York New York casino, where the City Center construction management building now stands. MGM currently has the largest private venue, the 8,000 seat Grand Garden Arena located inside of the MGM Casino. This one has the biggest chance of being built, mainly because MGM would privately finance it, they already own the land, and they have the cash to proceed. They are not looking to put in a sports team, but would probably use it for conventions and big concerts. We are one of the few cities that are on the Rolling Stones tour; I know that in the past they appeared in the San Diego Stadium, which holds over 60,000 and usually sells out for them. So MGM putting the Stones in a new 20,000 seat should be better than in the existing 8,000 seat place.

In conjunction with the stadium MGM is also going to work on the exterior street between the New York New York and Mirage resorts. It will be turned into an outdoor thoroughfare, with new restaurants, bars and entertainment and lead from the Strip back to the stadium. This will involve major modifications to both casinos, with estimated costs between $100,000,000 and $140,000,000 will be starting now and be done within a year. This is a similar concept to what Caesar’s Entertainment is doing with the Linq project, which is across from Caesar’s Palace. It creates an outdoor area leading from the Strip to the east ending at their big wheel project, along the way providing outdoor restaurants and bars and new entrances to the casinos on either side.

There is a grand opening this week in another MGM property. The MGM Grand resort has completed construction on the Hakkasan nightclub. This will be one of the largest clubs in the world, at over 80,000 square feet in five stories with two restaurants, four nightclub areas and dayclub with pool. The reported cost for this varies from $100,000,000 to $400,000,000, with another $70,000,000 going to pay for celebrity DJs for the first year alone. Rumour around town is that a high roller at a different property dot mad when he was denied his regular table at a nightclub. He said he was disrespected and would teach them a lesson, so he bankrolled Hakassan, throwing whatever it took to be the biggest and best. I’m assuming he will get a booth with his name on it at the MGM facility. So if you’re in town and want to party big, bring your money and hit H.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

5 Guys

We have a lot of hamburger restaurants around Vegas. I’ve talked about two of my favorites; The Burger Bar in Mandalay Place is probably first, followed by Bacci Burger for an oriental slant. I have noticed that a number of the big chain places have closed; a Carl’s Junior near my house is no more, as is a Wendy’s near work.

We recently started going to a new chain, one that I hadn’t noticed before – 5 Guys Burgers . Either it wasn’t around or we just flashed by them. The burgers are pretty good, not the small frozen patties like the big chains do, but more fresh hand smashed things. The fries are also good – when you walk in the place there are bags of potatoes along the ordering line, which are washed and sliced fresh with skin, a single order is about four times the size of a Mackie’s large fry. When you order burgers or hot dogs you also select what toppings you want from a dozen options.

There is one near work that the guys go to regularly which is always filled with Air Force guys in khaki, and several reasonably close to our house. They all look the same, the size of two spaces in small strip malls with white and red walls and open seating.

One of the fun things is the soda machines – large refrigerator sized devices with touch screens. You can get hundreds of drink variations with flavorings. I usually get Coke, and you can add vanilla, cherry, orange, lime, raspberry and a few other syrups to the mix. Pretty cool.

The only drawback is the noise – none of the ones I’ve been to put in a drop ceiling, and with all of the hard surfaces it gets really loud when crowded. Don’t bring anyone with peanut allergies as the fries are all cooked in peanut oil and you get free peanuts while waiting – there are boxes of peanuts along the waiting line, you just scoop yourself a tray full and munch. All of the places we’ve been to are very clean, with a lot of employees; there are usually five or six in the open kitchen cooking and prepping away, and a few wandering around sweeping up and wiping tables. Very nice compared to the standard chain fast burger places which have been decreasing staff.

I would recommend them; they are all around the country with over 1500 outlets. Besides burgers and fries you can get hot dogs, cheese sandwiches and veggie burgers. Burgers, fries and drinks for two usually run us around $18, a lot different than Honey Salt, but then the food isn’t the same. I think I’d rather hit 5 Guys five or six times that HS once though.

I like to compete with Frankie G (over there on the right) for restaurant reviews around town. He’s a bartender and usually does after work cheap places on or near the Strip. I assume he gets off around 2am from his shift and hits places then from the way he writes. I don’t see any 5 Guys on the Strip, so it’s more of a locals place to go than a tourist destination.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Around the Strip

This past weekend was another kitchen work weekend – we drove down to the LA Ikea store last week and picked up some more cabinets, which were put together and in place this weekend. I still have to drill out the drawer fronts for handles and get those on. We decided to extend the cabinets along the whole outside wall instead of stopping where the older cabinets did. This intrudes onto the space where we have a small table, but since we widened the kitchen by three feet putting in two feet deep cabinets would still result in a wider area here. It’s an additional eight feet of cabinets and countertop, so we will have a lot of counter area for prep and working surface.

But before the cabinets went in I had to open the wall (cutting up the newly installed drywall) to install outlets above the newly expanded counter and put in some more ceiling lights to light up the new workspace. I had put in can lights with fluorescents around the kitchen for background light and can lights with led spotlights over the working surfaces. When you turn them all on it’s really bright in there! It’s much better than the old kitchen, with the large area plastic panels with long fluorescent tubes behind, which never quite seemed to light things up very well. But that big window really makes it different, with all of the light that brings in. B wants some kind of covering to close it up for privacy at night, blinds probably, but hasn’t figured out what yet.

There is a lot of construction down on the Strip, with the old Sahara being converted into a new SLS, the camels, big entrance and roller coaster are all gone. Next door the Riviera is undergoing a small (relative to the rest of the Strip) $20,000,000 renovation. The Linq project is proceeding and the FitzGerald, sorry, Bill’s Gambling Hall is now the Gansevoort. The big wheel down across from Mandalay Bay is semi officially dead with just two big posts sticking up out of the ground, more big dreams and no money. With all of the projects under way it’s about a $1,000,000,000 (one billion) dollar change to the Strip. Not as much as City Center cost, but spread around.

The Rolling Stones will be in town at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in May, with tickets going on sale on Friday at noon. Prices range from $150 to $750 plus taxes and fees. If you have bucks to burn you can get a $2100 hospitality package with merchandise and buffet before the show.

Over at Vegas Chatter they’ve declared the new sign at the Aria to be the winner in the Strip sign wars:

250 feet tall, 65 feet wide and 11 million pixels. (the tall red one is the sign). And the world’s most expensive billboard next to it has changed from advertising Elvis to advertising Zarkana, the new Cirque show at Aria. Yes, that hotel is still under litigation, with the owners wanting to blow it up and replace it while the contractor wants to be paid to fix it. Probably years more of court time and lawyers’ fees on that one.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Honey Salt restaurant

There are a lot of good restaurants in Las Vegas. I usually break them into several groupings, the first being the division between off-Strip and on-Strip, the second being price. Both groupings kind of fit together, as no matter where you eat on Strip you will probably be spending at least twice what you will off. And on Strip dining is an adventure in that all of the restaurants are in casinos, so you have the added experience of the traffic, the big parking garage, wandering through the casinos, entertainment that might be showing off as you pass and the large crowds whenever you go. But then it is an evening of diverse entertainment rather than going out for dinner.

We live on the west side of town, which means that most of the restaurants and stores we go to are also out west. The Strip and Interstate 15 just behind is a kind of dividing line running north/south, with people usually staying on their side. A new restaurant that just replaced an old one that didn’t make it is Honey Salt , which from the write-ups sounded like a family restaurant with reasonable prices. Vegas has about a half dozen weekly magazine style publications that all have restaurant reviews, in addition to our daily paper and a few monthly magazines. You can read their publicity blurb on the front of their web site, making it “a restaurant devoted to family, friends and community”, “farm-to-table inspired menu that balances the reality of living in the desert with amazing ingredients regionally available”. OK, thought we’d try.

It’s in the corner of a strip mall, not a majestic setting.

But on entering we found it to not be as budget friendly as I supposed. It looked nice, with an open kitchen in the back, and lots of smaller tables.

We started out with one of their salads – it was rather pretty, and tasty

I had the salmon for the main course, the flavor was great, but as with most ‘high end’ restaurants the portion size (for Americans) was rather small.

Overall the meal was enjoyable, the atmosphere a little ‘hard’ and fairly noisy, the food very good. Unfortunately the cost was a lot more than we anticipated – bill for the two of us ended up being slightly over $100. That is a little high for an off-Strip place, and not great enough for us to warrant a return visit. We’ll see how long they last.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013


We are planning on a trip next month up to Portland to visit granddaughter E and be up there for her eighth birthday. The trip is over a month away, in the window that several places suggest as the best time to make plane reservations so last night we went on line and spent some time and money to set up the trip. This will be my first flight up there – B has been going a few times a year and when I go along we usually drive so that we can take a car full of stuff up. She flies Alaska Air, the flights are convenient, cheaper than other airlines and she can check a bag and do a carry on without paying for it. (After one disaster with a really cheap airline last year that ended up costing more in the end)

I've read that airlines are cutting back flights in order to fill fewer planes and save money. Well, here we are almost two months ahead of the trip and it looks like most of the planes are already pretty booked. We get to sit together in the back row on the flight up but have to sit in different rows for the flight back. Guess I’ll check my bag instead of carrying it on and fighting for bin space. And hopefully get to see Portland when the weather is nice. And birthday number eight!

On Monday we drove down to Ikea in LA again, to pick up what will hopefully be the last of our kitchen cabinets. After putting the planned kitchen together and living with it for a while B has decided that it would be better to just fill up one whole wall with cabinets. We used to have a small kitchen table in the corner, but since we moved a wall back the table can now come out into the room a bit and we can do cabinets all the way to the corner. It’s a five hour drive down to LA pulling a trailer – California limits the speed of trucks and cars pulling trailers, so that added an hour on to what it would normally take. I knew just what to get – several more of the three foot drawer units and a bigger sink cabinet, but of course we still took five hours in there, wandering around through the displays, having lunch, and wandering some more through the marketplace before filling up the trailer with a pile of flat-packs and the trunk with odds and ends. I still am impressed with how well Ikea does their displays, and all of the wandering they force you to do in those huge stores to slow you down and get you to look at more stuff. Very well done guys.

The drive was interesting – we had a very impressive windstorm that extended through Nevada all of the way down to southern California. It was our first time driving on a Monday, usually we do Saturday in order to avoid the weekend drivers coming to Vegas from LA on Friday and returning on Sunday. The roads were almost empty, and the high winds forced almost all of the big trucks to stay parked. I think the winds were gusting up to 65mph during most of the drive, but we kept to the road just fine. One stretch south of Baker was interesting, it’s in an area with lots of sand, and the wind kept throwing it across the road. It looked like a snow storm, with very limited visibility and stringers of sand dancing on the asphalt. Then we hit some rain at the bottom of Cajon pass, and finally sunshine in LA. Coming back the wind was a little less, and so all of the trucks that were parked were moving again, trying to catch up the lost time. Still not many cars, I would much rather share the road with truckers that drive for a living than with people in cars just speeding trying to get somewhere.

So now I have a living room filled with boxes of things to put together. And some of that lovely drywall has to come down so that we can have electrical outlets all along the extended counter, plus more spotlights in the ceiling. But we will end up with some huge work areas and lots of shiny counters to put things on. We finally found some countertop material that we like; now we just have to find who in Vegas works with it and get some estimates. Yea! It looks like we are getting closer to finishing. But I’ve been enjoying the big cooktop and the ovens already.

Tuesday, April 02, 2013

E Tuesday

Usually done on Fridays, where I post some random photos of my lovely granddaughter E. These were taken last spring when B visited Portland. It looks like there was a trip to an ice cream parlor and the park near her house.

Still cute. Going to have the eight birthday next month.