Wednesday, April 28, 2004

More politics

I've heard about this site for a few days, but our local paper ran a story that included the web site address of The memory Hole, a web site that used the freedom of information act to obtain photos taken of our returning Iraq soldiers, such as this one.

Not much more that I can say, other than asking why we don't see these pictures daily on the network news? As mentioned previously, on our local PBS station the Nightly News Hour has an almost daily closing feature where they show the photos and names of the recently announced casualties.
Perhaps Mr. Bush should watch this show, or at least the closing five minutes.

Simple thoughts

Just for Schmo:
I recently received the May issue of Scuba Diving magazine. I took classes in diving a few years ago, and subscribed to this. Not much diving here in Nevada, but the pictures are real pretty.
One short article discusses a recent study on sounds produced by herrings. Dubbed 'Fast Repetitive Tick sounds, or FRTs’ (no, it’s not the April 1 issue, but sounds like it should be), these are sounds produced when they 'pass gas'. The sounds supposedly increase at night, and could be either communications in the dark, or they could just be dealing with their buoyancy. Even the National Geographic Magazine had an article on the Fast Repetitive Tick (FRT).
So ‘next time you hear a distinctive raspberry underwater, it could be a herring or just your dive buddy “dealing with his buoyancy”.’ I figured that’s one that Schmo could use, including this low joke. (don’t click if you have any taste).

So, the new challenge is to use this phrase in everyday speech, such as saying to your daughter when she makes funny noises "excuse me, were you communicating with herrings or were you adjusting your buoyancy?"

Tuesday, April 27, 2004

Warming up

The weather is starting to warm up – it’s 94 here right now, should be a little higher the next few days, then cooling slightly. But it seems that we’ve reached the ‘every day above 80’ point for this spring.’
Here’s a group of my neighbors that probably are not looking forward to the summer:

A house a few blocks away has five identical white dogs, nice and fuzzy, that probably would do better in Alaska than in Las Vegas. I couldn't catch all five of them together in the same shot. At least they have a yard full of olive trees for shade. I know how hot my two look, and they have nowhere near the fuzz that these guys do.
I was driving to the industrial area just south of the airport a few days ago, and came across this sight

Not often that I come across a train in the road.
The Union Pacific railroad moves most of it’s LA bound traffic from Salt Lake City through Vegas, but that’s on tracks parallel to I-15 and usually above the traffic. This train is from the industrial area, probably out in Henderson where there is a lot of rail based businesses. This is the first time I’ve been stopped for a train since moving here. Not many places where there is even track across the road.
Our son was feeling like crayfish yesterday, so we went to the buffet at the Orleans Casino last night.

This is west of the strip, another ‘locals’ oriented place. We usually go there for movies – they have a twelve screen theatre. On Monday they have their ‘ocean feast’ for $15, with all you can eat (usual buffet stuff) and crab legs, oysters, clams, mussels, and other seafood items.

He was in the mood for crayfish, and finished off three big plates full, in addition to lots of other stuff.
Today we took my mother out for her birthday, and went to Joe's Crab Shack for lunch. It’s a chain found all across the country.

They have a kind of beach shack atmosphere, and at different times of the year have an all you can eat crab month. Not this month, but still their big crab plate is about more than most people can eat.

Our son was still looking for more.

Thursday, April 22, 2004

Windy Day

Not much going on here today – it’s another windy day. I should have added that to my Vegas Specialties yesterday, but couldn’t figure out how to take a picture of the wind (shots of flags fluttering, birds blown off course, papers swirling in a corner). We knew it would be warm here compared to San Diego, but were not aware of how windy it was. Today the wind is around 30mph, gusting to 50. This is not unusual here, but very different from SD. Not as windy as the tornados in the Midwest, but more frequent.
A big local problem here is rat infestations. An area called the Scotch 80’s is inundated. That’s a section I wrote about before, pretty nice area but too close to the freeway. San Diego, with it’s nice weather and abundance of fruit, always has roof rats around. My neighbor’s orange tree was always filled with strange fruit, oranges with nice round holes in the side and no filling, just a round peel. But our desert landscaping here should keep them away.
Not many pictures today – but in our yard the olives are in bloom

lots of pollen, lots of allergies. The blooms are dropping off, and it looks like snow on the ground underneath. My mother asked what wood I was cutting in the yard - the accumulation of brown/off white flowers on the front courtyard looked like sawdust to her.
And at the side of the yard our neighbor’s pyrocantha

is covered with flowers – on to having a load of red berries in the fall.
Images of Spring.
For something completely different – I thought the photos here were interesting, shots of this year’s Chinese Ice Festival. Not something I’d ever go to.
I’m a fan of many things British – some links to the right. Bouncing to some sites this morning I came across a list of favorite British sitcoms. They all have short clips – nice to see shows I used to watch on PBS and enjoy.

Tuesday, April 20, 2004

Vegas specialties

I drove over to a friend’s house this weekend. He lived on the northwest side of town, in Summerlin. He lives in a tract of homes that are all about three years old. There are probably 200 houses, with three or four basic models, each with three different elevations. I don’t know if tracts like this are unique to the southwest, but most of the new homes in California are like this. It helps the builder, he only has a few floor plans to construct, with minor changes to the way the front looks. And then they just build a model of each floor plan and people can walk through each house and know exactly what they will be getting.
We moved into a brand new house in Temecula about twenty-five years ago that was similar. (Temecula is about an hour north of San Diego on I-15). At least there the streets were curved around a few hills, and it was easy to find your way home. Some of the new developments are all build on a grid, so that you have to look at the street signs and house numbers in order to find your house. If you go down the wrong street there are still all of the same houses and it is probably easy to stop at one that you think is yours but isn’t.
His development has an additional feature that I find unique to Las Vegas.

It’s a gate keeping you out. In order to visit him you’ve got to stop at a little kiosk and press his code, then talk to him on an intercom requesting admission. If the electronics is working he then presses a button and the gate opens. If it’s not working right then you have to phone him, and he drives down and opens the gate with a remote (like a garage remote) so that you can drive in.
There are hundreds of these little private areas in Las Vegas. From the classy ones like Spanish Trail (sorry, there is no direct web site for it), which has guarded gates, and where Dick Chaney spoke when he came to LV. Some areas of Spanish Trail are so exclusive that after going through a guarded gate to get into the area you go through another gate to get into an even more exclusive area. That’s where Siegfried (of Siegfried & Roy has his own home, besides the one he shares with Roy. He is selling his house for 2.9 million in order to move in with Roy and take care of his recovery. The house looks pretty impressive – but I digress.
I was talking about gated communities. You can go from fancy ones like Spanish Trail to large ones like my friend’s down to little cul-de-sacs with only four houses and a gate keeping you off the block. There are hundreds of these little gated communities around. For some reason people in Las Vegas feel safer when locked behind gates. Doesn’t always work, as in 1993 Steve Wynn’s daughter (Wynn built most of the fancy casinos in Vegas, including the new Wynn Resort) was kidnapped from their house in Spanish Trail.
Something else unique to Vegas is this:

The world’s largest Harley-Davidson dealership. I don’t know how many bikes they have on the floor, but there are over three hundred available for rental. That’s a lot of bikes. If you stop in during the week all of the rentals are parked there, along with the inventory of models for sale, and all of the bikes in for servicing. I’m sure there were over a thousand Harley’s visible in the place when we stopped by. This coming weekend is the annual Laughlin River Run - hundreds of bikes from all over the country, famous a few years ago for the 2002 river run riot. Not to say that the 2004 River Run will be as wild. I don't know how many thousands of bikes will be there, but they are expecting over 50,000 people to attend. Laughlin is just just an hour's drive from here on the river below the dam.
After seeing all of those Harleys yesterday I was surprised today to come across a bunch of wild riders in the Star Nursery parking lot.

Sunday, April 18, 2004

Valley of Fire

We thought we’d play tourist yesterday and drove up to the Valley of Fire. That’s a state park located about 40 miles north of LV. It borders the north end of Lake Mead.
First comes a drive up Interstate 15, then sixteen miles down a two lane road to the park. This is a pleasant drive, after the spring rains there are many wild flowers and cactus in bloom.

You can see how green the desert is in the above picture, everything is really brown in the summer when it gets hot – really makes you glad to live in tree country, doesn’t it? A lot different than upstate New York where I went to school.
The park is full of odd rock formations, many of them are red sandstone, put down when a big lake covered the western US. Near the west entrance where we drove in are the beehive formations.
These are about forty feet high, and make nice backgrounds for photographs.
A short while later there are more rock formations – except for the desert vegetation that’s all that’s out here. Really, except for Las Vegas that’s about all there is in Nevada. OK – don’t get mad, Lake Tahoe has some great ski slopes and tall trees, but it still is no tropical oasis.

You really have to like rocks and big vistas to like it here.
I could put in lots more photos of rocks, but you get the picture – lots of red rocks.
Driving back the same roads, I stopped in the middle of the road, blocking all kinds of traffic, to get this picture.

You can see all of the disturbed drivers whizzing past in the above shot. This is what most of the back roads of Nevada look like – flat nothing with mountains in the background. Again, the desert is really green, or at least that’s what I’m told. I’ll try some photos in the summertime for comparison, when it gets hot and everything gets brown. You can’t read the signs at this resolution, but the speed limit is 45. That is the standard back road speed – and Nevada police do have radar and laser guns, speeding tickets now cost several hundred dollars for the simple ones, more if you are going really fast. Just ‘cause you don’t see him, doesn’t mean you are not being measured – planes are used to measure your speed also, so having a radar/laser detector doesn’t mean much if it’s just a visual observation.
No political thoughts today, at least none I want to put down. Let’s just pretend this is a blog on Nevada, and how pretty it is around here.

Friday, April 16, 2004

Tax day come and gone

Yesterday was tax day, another big event in the US. We finished up our taxes on Tuesday and so did file early this year.
No major things happening here – I haven’t sat down at the computer all week, worked on things around the house. Figured I’d put up some pictures and some links that I was passed.
First one of my two favorite places around town.

Yes, the place I seem to visit most is Home Depot, but Lowe’s comes in second. They have almost the same stuff, but just different enough that we need to stop there. We pick up most of our lumber at HD, but when we need to special order a door or something we usually do that at Lowe’s. They at least have employees that you can find, and are willing to help. It usually is difficult to find help at Home Depot. Lowe’s has little buttons scattered around the store, and if you press one then an announcement is automatically started, and keeps going until someone shows up to reset the button. You can then ask your question and get some help.
Here’s a question – can you guess where this is?

Right, it’s inside one of the places I also visit a lot – one of the local Starbuck’s. They all look about the same inside, in fact most of the ones that I’ve seen across the country all look about the same. Kind of like MacDonald’s – all built and decorated to the same standards. Well, I hit this one to buy some ground coffee, not some brewed stuff. We’ve gotten hooked having Starbuck’s Breakfast Blend every morning, used to use Folger’s or something similar, and about a quarter the cost of Starbucks. But the taste comparison makes buying the better stuff worthwhile. My attitude has changed – I used to thing that things were better kept as treats, now I feel that if I can afford it, why not have the good stuff all of the time.
Here’s a common site around town this week –

The olive trees are starting to bloom. Anyone with allergies is guaranteed to be affected, as the amount of pollen that olives produce is tremendous.
So, on to the links.
One of the blogs I read every day is I visited England a few years ago, and seem to like things over there – they are similar, but different enough to be interesting. The author is looking for a new flat (apartment to us Americans) and came across the listing for this London estate agent. The listings included several interesting places, including “A funky two bedroom flat which has a lot of really cool design features. This flat will suit those hip young things out there who wish too impress their friends and / or potential suitors. You probably need to have an interesting dress sense & a trendy haircut to live here. The second bedroom has a raised bed area, which is quite fun. If I were 10 years younger & a bit trendy I would live here.” Seems like an interesting agent. I liked the same listings that red.boat did. Another was “A newly refurbished 2 bedroom 2 bathroom maisonette, which would suit anybody who wishes to impressive their friends or potential dates. imagine yourself being witty & charming serving martinis to a selection of your beautiful friends this flat will give you the right backdrop for that.”
And a third place was so nice that “Use of wood floor, windows, ceilings & walls all included in the rent. Good value.” Nice of the owners to let you use the floor.
My recent political rant is still hanging around – The Nightly NewsHour last night listed another TWENTY EIGHT names of servicemen recently killed. Tonight there were ONLY SEVEN. I don’t know what is sadder, the soldiers that are 46 and 48, thinking of their families and children back here, or the soldiers 19 and 21 that haven’t started a family of their own yet, haven’t even done much after high school except the military. The total so far this month is only EIGHTY NINE, but we are only halfway through the month, more chances to come. Passed on by Brenda at SideEffects is a site that also notes these things: Veterans for Common Sense.
But, to leave you on a happy note, here’s a nice review of a film that is just being released on DVD, evidently just in the theatres in England, Cat in the Hat courtesy of

Tuesday, April 13, 2004

Political thoughts

Warning – warning – warning - this part is not about Las Vegas, but contains some inane ramblings about politics and politicians. If you are here to read about my time in Las Vegas then please skip this section. If you are a Republican, then I do not apologize. Feel free to go elsewhere for your own rhetoric. I just felt I had to say something, even if it doesn’t fit here.

I missed our president’s speech this evening (yes, on purpose) and instead watched the French news. We are Cox cable subscribers, and in order to get their high speed internet access they require that you purchase their digital TV services. When we signed up we had the option to get two special groupings, or ‘tiers’; we signed up for the Variety and Movie tiers. As part of this we get BBC America, which we watch quite often as I am taken by the accent and attitude (yes, a Monty Python and Benny Hill fanatic from way back) as well as the International Channel. Part of the International Channel are music videos from India and Japan – these are quite interesting to watch and quite different than ‘my’ MTV. India seems to enjoy having large masses of background singers and dancers all moving in coordinated syncopation, unseen since the days of Busby Berkeley and his Gold Diggers of 1933. The Japanese girl bands appear to be filled with young women all about twelve years old, holding guitars larger than they are.
Anyway, some shows on the International Channel are news shows from around the world. I do not watch the Italian, Spanish or Chinese shows, as I do not understand these languages and they are not subtitled in English. The BBC news is in English, well at least in English not in American. I do not speak French either, but really enjoyed the country when we visited a few years ago. I did take French back in junior high school, and can still remember some phrases from the little skits they had us memorize (Bonjour John, como va tu?). But the French news does have English subtitles, so I can read my way through somewhat. The BBC news, coming from a country that agrees with us on Iraq tends to carry stories that are very similar to those on American networks. The French however disagree with America on many things (hey, I still eat French Fries, not Freedom Fries) and so their news tends to present a different side to stories.
But I did catch the Nightly NewsHour with Jim Lehrer, formerly known as the McNeil/Lehrer report. They came on after the Presidential Press Conference and did an analysis of it. It was an abbreviated News Hour, actually a News Half-Hour, and so missed some regular segments.
One of the segments that was not shown is an item that I consider to be the most disgusting segment on television today. This is their almost nightly list of American soldiers killed in Iraq. I find it rather horrifying to sit in silence and watch that list of names and photographs flow by – ‘age 18, age 22, age 19, age 19, age 35, …’ Two days ago it was sixteen (SIXTEEN – SIXTEEN say it again, Joe, SIXTEEN) individuals that died recently. We were outside and I did not catch the number yesterday, but came in in time to see the faces again. I do not see this on any other TV show and wonder why things like this do not fall under the FCC guidelines of indecency, which should require censure. If Howard Stern can be shut off the air for bad words, shouldn’t other shows be shut down because of bad news? Their web site lists combat injuries and has a scoreboard with the number that have died, currently sitting at 671 before and after May 1, 2003 which is I guess some magical day that all hostilities ceased and everything became roses and butterflies. Not to mention the 3,269 wounded that did not die (yet). Those are American numbers, not covering our ‘allies’ or Iraqis.
But I guess if anyone should be shut down by the FCC for indecency it should be our (not my, don’t accuse me of voting for him) president George W. Bush.
I find it really hard to sit and watch those names and faces scroll by and realize that there is little I can do to change things. Evidently at his press conference tonight he discussed having a long hard road in Iraq, and we will be there for a long time. WHY? If we went to relieve the world from a vicious brutal dictator then Sadam is gone, let us give the country over to it’s people and let them decide how to live and let our soldiers come home and die in auto accidents like they are supposed to. (It’s my blog, I can say anything I want to – go ahead and put your comments in, I’ll ignore or agree as I wish.) I just don’t feel that is our duty as Americans to bring Democracy (big D Democracy) to the world. ‘You do as I want you to do or I’ll bomb you until you do’. How many must die on both sides because our politicians feel it is The American Way to lead the world? They finally stopped saying we were being saved from ‘Weapons of Mass Destruction’ and moved on to ‘bringing Democracy to the middle East’. Please. Millions more were killed in African uprisings, but there is no oil in Africa, hence no American soldiers to be killed there. A whole continent given up.
I stopped believing politicians a long time ago. I was in the Navy during Viet Nam. I got to float around on an aircraft carrier (the USS Ranger in this instance) and repair the weapons systems on A7 aircraft. The A7 had a pretty sophisticated computer for the time, you could program in multiple fly over spots, aim points, and targets and a map display would guide you right there. Since all of the targets were secret the pilots would program in their points after getting in the plane, then erase them when they came back. I got to test the systems and insured that they would work, and watch the ammunition guys load the guns and bombs. One day I remember seeing our president Nixon on TV, emphatically stating that WE WERE NOT BOMBING NORTH VIET NAM. An hour later I was testing out returning airplanes and found that some pilots had failed to clear the computers and delete their targeting information. I pressed the first target, and what popped up on the map but Haiphong harbor, right in that NORTH VIET NAM that our president (didn't vote for that one either, wasn't old enough to) said we were not bombing. LIAR, LIAR, PANTS ON FIRE. I know the plane left with 16,000 pounds of bombs, and didn't come back with them, so I think they were left behind someplace. I don't think our pilots, and their briefers, were doing this on their own without official guidance. Haven't believed a politician since.
The least the Nightly NewsHour with Jim Lehrer can do is stop showing us this list of names so that we can support the war in ignorance.

OK, you can start reading again. Rant over. Back to Las Vegas –

Here’s a shot looking east down Desert Inn towards the strip. You can’t see it very well, but dead center (don’t bring it up again) is the ‘cloud’ in front of Fashion Show Mall. (Don’t get mad at me for the music if you click on the link, it’s not my page.) Behind it is the new Wynn Las Vegas still under construction. There is no page for Wynn, but here are Las Vegas webcams so you can see around town, if they are working.
This is the view I have when I come back from my local Von’s. It’s about four miles from here down to the strip – straight down as you can see. The ‘cloud’ is a big silver disk (it looks like a flying saucer) that is right on Las Vegas Boulevard (the Strip) in front of the Fashion Show Mall. Advertisements are projected on the bottom and across the face of the center. When I leave Von’s there is a big sports park on the right (photos in some future column) and this view straight ahead.


We spent a quiet Easter here in Las Vegas. It was warm and sunny (how unexpected). We had a small group over, and just had an afternoon in the back yard. Nothing strenuous – the pool was a little too cool for swimming – water temp was only 72F, warmer than the ocean in San Diego, but not as good as it will be getting here. bocce was the game of choice (actually the only game) and we all played slowly.

As we didn’t have an ‘official’ playground, we just rolled the balls on the grass. This provides for an interesting game, as our grass is typical, which means it is not really perfectly flat. There are clumps of grass, and sprinkler heads, and bare spots. This makes the balls roll rather strangely instead of nice and straight. It reminds me of a pool table we had in the basement when we were kids. It was cheap, and warped from the damp. This meant that when you hit the cue ball it kind of rolled in directions other than where you were aiming. After playing for a while we were used to the way balls rolled, and could shoot in a slightly different direction than was expected and have the balls end up where we wanted. It was an advantage we had over our friends, who would come over and find their shots going all over the place while ours started out strange but ended up hitting the balls we wanted.
Our dogs also had a good day. We’ve got two dogs – I don’t think I’ve written about them before. They are ‘pound puppies’ that we got from the animal shelter in San Diego about ten years ago. They are both about eight inches tall and weigh ten pounds, or at least they did, I think Buster has put on a little weight in his old age.
Buster is brown, which you ‘oldsters’ will recognize as a familiar phrase, which is how he got his name. He is friendly to everyone. He likes to just sit in the sun and sleep.

Max is black, and a vicious little fellow with a loud bark and sharp teeth.

Max also likes to sit in the sun, but at our front gate, and keep a watchful eye on activities in the neighborhood. This way he can bark at anything unusual, and keep all of those other dogs away from our house. He is very successful at this, and very noisy, and no other dog has succeeded in making it to our front door. Of course no dog has ever tried, but this does not stop Max from informing them that they should stay away.
Both guys would much rather smell like dogs than the nice shampoo we use on them. Their preferred method of perfuming is to find a good smelling spot on the lawn and then roll around in it.

This usually involves places where worms have died and left a really noticeable odor – well, noticeable to them and not us. But I guess it does work as eventually they stop smelling good to us and start smelling good to them, which means that it’s time for a bath.

Friday, April 09, 2004

Trip to the blood bank

Yesterday I made my periodic trip to the local blood bank to make a donation. No, I do not alternately go to make withdrawals, as George Hamilton did in Love at First Bite.
For some reason I like to help people, and since I am not rich enough to do things monetarily I feel that I can offer my time, and also give other things that I have and can easily replace. One of these is my blood. Sounds gruesome, but I fell into the idea that ‘blood is life’ as pushed by the American Red Cross. Working at home as a computer consultant I was free to set my own schedule, and thus could sign up frequently and on days when business at the blood bank was slow. I used to donate every two weeks down in San Diego, and was up to over thirteen gallons in donations.
The San Diego Blood Bank called us ‘super donors’. Instead of being able to donate every two months we could go every two weeks. The process involves being hooked up to a machine that could process your blood, just remove certain components, and return the rest back to you. The most frequently removed component was platelets, which your body replenishes rather quickly. I also donated plasma and red blood cells. The super donors page has a good explanation of the process. It involves laying there for two hours hooked up to a machine that process your blood. I read a book and listen to CDs. But there are TVs available at every chair, so you can watch or they will put on a video if desired.
I don’t know why I feel that I have to do something. My wife wonders why I go lay there so often. But I think that we should all do something to make the world a little better. Some join the military to help our country, some give time at church organizations, some just tithe to their church, some serve the homeless and serve free meals, others just drop a coin into the Salvation Army kettles at Christmas. I donate blood (and already served four years in the Navy, but that’s another story).
So, not having been in a while, yesterday I went down to my local blood bank – here in Las Vegas it’s United Blood Services. They call you a 'Blood Hero' for making a donation.
Taking this picture from the parking lot I just happened to catch the blood bank’s technical director on screen; he’s the guy in the yellow shirt. We ended up having an interesting discussion on what I didn’t like about the place, and as usual he ended up making the corporate excuses I expected. In San Diego I went every two weeks. The place was pleasant; the super donors had their own area, with windows all around and a nice quiet environment. When done there was a resting area, with fresh donuts and coffee and juice and a big screen TV to keep you amused. You were supposed to sit for fifteen minutes and have some sugar stuff to make sure the process didn’t affect you. LV has two tables behind the chairs as a coffee area, with snacks packed in little plastic bags, bad coffee, and juice boxes, NO DONUTS. In Las Vegas space is very limited, the donation center I go to is crowded, with two dozen chairs in two rows facing each other. There are storage boxes between the rows, and lots of people and things going on. It seems more like the medical facility it is, rather than the pleasant environment San Diego makes it. So, in San Diego I went every two weeks, here I go every two months.
After signing in you sit and read the warning literature of the day. I try to sign up for the slow times, when chairs are empty. After being called you are taken into a small room by the friendly nurse

and asked a series of standard questions about your health and if you’ve been in contact with any sick person and if you’ve traveled to a country that has problems. They just want to be sure that your blood is not contaminated and is safe to give to a sick person. They do test your blood after you donate, but by eliminating people up front it reduces the risk. Your blood pressure is measured, and you sign a consent form.
You are then taken to a chair that reclines.

Here in Vegas there are rows of chairs that are filled on weekends and evenings. You pick an arm, they look for the vein and scrub the area clean. A needle is then inserted

and you are attached to the machine. The needle and associated tubing is only used for one person, and discarded after you donate. The chance of somebody donating having problems or catching any kind of disease from the donation is pretty low. I’ve never heard of anyone getting sick.
The computer running the machine then measures your blood, the operator looks at your history, and decides what blood components can be given. I usually am good at platelets, and they usually take two units of platelets and one of plasma. The body produces red cells more slowly than other components, and these are donated only once every two months. The components taken and your condition determine how long it will take. Usually from 80 minutes to two hours.
You lay in the chair and squeeze a rubber ball. Small TV sets are above each chair

you can see them hanging from the ceiling. I read a book and listen to music. There isn’t much pain, only the stick when the needle is inserted. My lips tingle from the chemicals put back into returned blood. The only problem is lying there for two hours – the machine puts a saline water solution back into your blood to replace what is removed, and my kidneys seem to process that stuff pretty quickly. In other words, I end up having to go to the bathroom really bad before I’m finished.
When done I sit and have a box of juice and some stale cookies (complained about above) and read my magazine.

That’s how I spent my morning yesterday. I feel better for having done something good for society. At least I hope it helps.
I’m trying to make this a better blog, and inserting more links. One of the benefits of the internet is being able to consolidate information, and throw people over to other related pages. I always enjoy reading other people’s stories and flowing to places they recommend in order to amplify the discussion or get more information.
Since it’s Easter, let’s also offer an Easter greeting.

Thursday, April 08, 2004

Lawn Conversion and plantings

We’ve been in the process of converting our yard from grass to xeriscape (low water plantings). My wife and I were Master Gardeners in San Diego, and really enjoyed working in the yard. Our last version had a courtyard full of tropical plants, bananas, bouganvilla and stuff.

But moving here we are adapting to very low water desert landscaping. Here is a picture of the side of our house before the conversion. Looks a lot different than San Diego, huh???

It was taken last winter, when the Bermuda grass was brown. Bermuda goes dormant in the winter but greens up when the weather gets warm. You can see the large bushes right along the house.
We sprayed the grass last summer in order to kill it – Bermuda has to be sprayed during the hot season when it is actively growing. Just after Thanksgiving we moved in over 100 tons of small gravel and ‘fines’, really just matching dirt. We picked a color called ‘Mojave Gold’, which is a fair match to the dirt around here, since we are in the Mojave desert it should match.

Afterwards, the groundcover pretty well matches the brown of the dormant Bermuda. I removed the lawn sprinklers and put in low water drip irrigation, which just slowly drips water directly to the plant roots where desired. Plants we put in include:
8 Chilean mesquite
2 lacebark elms
2 shoestring acacias
2 palo verdes
trees already here
2 big olives
1 apple
1 peach
2 ash
1 almond
2 pomegranate
20 Texas Ranger sage
25 prostrate Rosemary
6 cassia
2 desert morning glory (white)
5 large oleander, already here
and lots of others – we wander the low water areas of the nurseries and pick up individual pots when something looks nice. There are probably another dozen flowering shrubs. The last owner also had put in flowering bulbs – iris and paperwhites. These are popping up around the yard, the recent rains helping them along as they are coming up away from where I put in the water.
We also added a raised bed garden in the back corner. I put in four planters each 4 x 8 feet for flowers and veggies. Some radish and carrot seeds went in a few weeks ago, and are doing well.

These are also watered by drip irrigation hose. We will be trying to grow tomatoes in this Vegas heat. The Tomato Lady says that if we follow her suggestions we can get tons of tomatoes. Five plants are in, flats of seeds are started, and I’ll keep you posted on this.

Monday, April 05, 2004

more rain delays back yard work

As told, we have been in LV for almost a year now - April 6 marks the one year aniversary of being in this house. We have been doing a lot of things here. One of the most obvious has been to change most of the grass over to 'low water landscape' usually referred to as Xeriscape. There are three main reasons for this.
When we initially were looking to buy houses we looked at this one over Thanksgiving weekend a year and a half ago. It was a nice house, with a huge yard (.62 acres - big for Las Vegas). Our house in SD had over a half acre also, but mostly in varied landscaping and partway down a canyon. This house here had a flat yard that was all grass. It looked like a football field out back. That intimidated us. But when we finally sold our house in February and the one we wanted here was already sold we came back looking. After thirty or so houses, we looked at this one again, and decided it was the best of the bunch - and we were used to changing yards. My wife and I are both UCSD Master Gardeners, and so we usually have dirt under our fingernails. (yes, we wash, but it's the reference not the literal interpretation). Well, on to the 3 reasons:
1. It is a hugh yard to push a lawn mower around. And with watering grass in LV grows during the summer (actually, all year) and must be mowed weekly. Lots of non productive work.
2. We got our water bill for last June (the first hot month) - over $400!!!!! Needless to say, that was when the grass stopped being watered.
3. The water authority has a conversion program, pull out grass and put in Xeriscape, according to their directions, and they pay you $1 per square foot.
Well, reducing our water bill (July's was $130) and being reimbursed sounded great. The $1 per foot payment usually amounts to half of what it costs to converty your yard, if you have a landscape company do it. Doing it ourselves would result in a lot lower cost.
So, we proceeded to spray the yard with Roundup in order to kill the Bermuda - which grows in hot weather and thus must be killed in hot weather. We filled out the Water Department forms, and had our yard inspected prior to conversion (to prove that we had grass 'before'). Waiting until it cooled off after Thanksgiving, we proceeded to dig out the high water trees and shrubs, and cover the dead grass with mulch. Most people use gravel, which is available here in over twenty colors just for this purpose. We wanted more of a desert look, and so went for small crushed rock and 'fines', which looks like dirt but is the same color as the other stuff and costs about the same. 100 tons of this stuff later, two days of a backhoe for digging and a Bobcat for spreading the stuff, and we had a desert in our yard. We put in thirty trees and about fifty shrubs, all on the low water approved plant list. We then had an 'official' after inspection, and they measured what we did. It came out to over 10,000 square feet of grass removed. Having spent about $3500 so far, the rebate (paid in cash) showed up and we then planned a concrete patio for the back, just behind the house. Considered 'hardscape', patios and walks can be part of the conversion, as long as at least 50% of converted area is shade covered by plants on the approved list. Our 30 trees will give about 120% coverage when fully grown, so we are OK here.
Our journey through contractors to put up the patio has been interesting. We had three bid eventually. We picked one. Told (after we signed the contract, of course) that they were tremendously overloaded with work and it would be a few weeks. Two days later we awoke to find a tractor and six guys tearing up our back yard. Unanounced, they showed up as they pleased and didn't show up when promised.
Concrete was supposed to go down last Friday, but we woke to an unexpected event,

It was raining, and water dripping off the roof onto the patio location was splashing up a new ditch. It rained all day, and no one showed up or called.
Hoping that the crew would show up this morning at 6:45, the scheduled start time Friday, we set alarm clocks for 6:30. Again, lots of noise out back at 6:15, of course it was the concrete crew preparing the yard. So today was spent watching them pour 18 yards of concrete, and finish it up. It looks pretty good - but a 1200 sq foot concrete patio and walk really looks big - like room for a tennis court. We are planning on a shade cover, more measurements for that to come.
Not putting up anything for a few days - here's some random images.
We went to Costco last week. There is a Sam's Club right near our house, and Costco is a ways away from us. But I have an aversion to Wall Mart, and how it reduces small town businesses and strangles all of their employees, so I refuse to go there and go to Costco instead.
Right across from Costco is the local Cox Cable office. They are the television cable supplier in the valley, and I use them for my internet access also. But their building looks like this:

I call it the mushroom building. At least it looks like the roof is full of mushrooms to me.
And we had a beautiful sunny day last Thursday - before the weekend of rain.

I like to look at the sky full of stripes - planes going from LA to wherever back east. The laft/right ones are to LA, the two from the top are San Francisco towards Phoenix and Texas.