Monday, December 22, 2014

Driving Nevada

Last month we drove from Vegas up to Sacramento, California. It was about a ten hour drive and rather pleasant. I like to drive, and the Nevada landscape is rather open and visible. We drove on a new road for us, I-95 north from Vegas to Reno, a rather empty road. Just thought I’d share a few traveling photos.

Last August we had some rain – yes, we count months when it rains as we usually get less than 3” (8 cm) a year total rainfall. August and December are our wet months, with most August rains coming in quick thunderstorms. Local plants have adapted, with a lot of flowers blooming right after rains. We planted a row of sage out front and they do look nice with their purple blooms.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

A week at the Smith Center

A few weeks ago we visited the Smith Center several times. There were a few performances that we wanted to see, and they all fell in the same week which provided us with three nights out.

The first night we saw Diana Krall in the large hall. Diana is one of the women singers that my wife really likes, so we hit the big hall. There are small balconies along the side, and we were able to get seats in one of the ones up close to the stage, which Bobbie really seemed to like, so with enough advanced notice I was able to get two seats there. Pretty close, but you are looking right down on stage so it is a different perspective than out in the regular audience. She does have a nice voice

She’s married to Elvis Costello, another songwriter.

A few nights later we got to see one of my favorite groups, the Preservation Hall Jazz Band. I first saw them in the early 70’s, back when most of the band members were in their 70’s and 80’s. We’ve seen them a few times since, most recently about fifteen years ago in San Diego. This time they were in the cabaret, which is a performance space that we like. This is a smaller room, filled with tables for four, with food and drink service. There is a balcony that runs around the room, and after having tried a floor table we have now started getting seats up there. These are small tables each with two high chairs right on the rail, and again when we get a seat up front we can look right down on the stage.

Most of the band members were newer, but there were still a few that might have been with the group for a very long time. They were pretty good as usual, more of the original New Orleans jazz.

This is about the group we saw, except for only having one tuba player (the one with less hair) – he danced around the whole time the band played, a lot of energy for a big guy wearing a big instrument. And they had a piano player.

It is a nice size room, with seating on the main level and upstairs.

We had a good view of the action from up above.

Finally on Saturday afternoon we got to see the Tempest, one of the latest versions of the Shakespeare play. I can’t write as good a review as Lisa does for the plays she sees, but we were very impressed. Teller, from the Penn and Teller magic duo was one of the producers, and helped create the magic for the show. It was performed in a tent set up in front of the Smith Center. The stage was three stories high, with the top level being used as the ship that initiates the story when it is caught up in a magician’s storm (the Tempest) and runs ashore. The middle level was where the band was – quite a diverse group with two women singers performing music written for the show by Tom Waits and Kathleen Brennan. Most impressive was the monster Caliban, since it’s a speaking part it was usually played by a large actor painted with spot and stripes to make him look like a monster, but here played by two actors as a two headed monster, they performed some pretty impressive configurations during their performance.

It was a big tent, with air conditioning. We went on a very windy day but even though we could see the roof moving in the wind there was no noise from it.

Inside were about 400 seats set on risers, we were down front on the floor level.

The stage was taller than it was wide, the actors coming and going up and down the stairs and entering through the audience as well.

These guys were very athletic (images taken from our newspaper the Sun)playing the monster Caliban. They spoke in sync, so the voice ended up sounding as strange as the vision.

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


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?