Friday, June 30, 2006

Mojitos, and E Friday

Oh, Deana (I’ve been referring to her a lot lately) has had a discussion on Mojitos. Last weekend we had some friends over who like to drink gin & tonic, which prompted me to purchase some gin, and a bottle of vodka ‘cause someone wanted a g&v instead. I noticed that I had a bottle of good tequila in the cabinet, now it seems I’m going to get some rum to go with it. Not much drinking goes on in our house – I too had a g&t, which thinking back has been my first ‘hard’ drink in probably a year, when we went to their house. So I usually buy the good booze, because it ends up lasting so long I might as well.

OK, from the BACARDI web site (all caps, all the time on their site) (that is a very nicely done site, nice action), here’s the recipe for a mojito (using Bacardi products, of course:

1 part BACARDI rum
3 parts club soda
12 mint leaves
½ lime
½ part sugar

Place 2 mint leaves, sugar and lime in a glass. Muddle well with a pestle. Add BACARDI, top off with club soda, stir well and garnish with springs of mint or a lime wheel.

We’ve got mint a-plenty growing in the front bed. Limes left over from last weekend, and sugar hanging around. So I guess it’s club soda and BACARDI rum at the store on the way home. Might as well find out if it’s as good as Deana says.

A few weeks ago we had some other friends over, new homeowners in the Vegas valley, and we went out to some plant places to show them assorted things that they might put into their naked back yard. One of our favorite places is Plant World, just a short way from our house. It is not part of a chain, as are most of the plant places around, but is owned by one guy that really likes to be a little different. He does have some things that the chain stores do not, but consequently his normal prices are a little higher.

A large portion of the store is under partial shade, which should be an indicator to purchasers that these items probably should NOT be placed right into a naked unprotected Las Vegas 110f sunny back yard. (not to knock stupid people who wonder why their plants die). The bigger trees are out back, and there is usually a good selection of trees that survive in our desert clime

The desert trees in fifteen gallon containers are usually around $60. You usually cannot buy them smaller in smaller containers. As you can see, most trees this price are about ten feet tall and have trunks around an inch and a half in diameter.

One of the interesting features of this place is the bird decorations. There are lots of birds scatter around.

Most are just on open perches, with signs informing you that they will eat your fingers if presented. Again, there seem to be a lot of stupid people around, the ones with bandages on their fingers that somehow always seem to say ‘aw, look at the pretty bird, can I scratch your head?’ and then end up screaming.

We also went down to the Gardens at the Springs, a teaching garden installed at the water department. They give classes in desert gardening, how to select plants, design your yard, and put in low volume watering systems. It is a pleasant place to wander.

Most plants have identification signs. There is an area with alternatives to grass, and emphasis placed on low watering levels. We were inspired by this place to change our yard from the massive amounts of grass present when we moved here to our current low water landscape.

I particularly liked their patio area.

which is why I put in so many Chilean mesquite trees. Yes, it’s still 110f out, even if there is shade.

We ended up going to the final free concert for this year. It was with the New Orleans Night Crawlers.

I have a short video, if I can figure out how to post it. They were pretty jumpin’.

And I do have to give Virginia Gal her weekly E fix. It is Friday after all.

Can you join Ernie in singing ‘Rubber duckie’? If you don’t know what I’m talking about, borrow some kids soon.

Another of her current favorite items are some small frogs we have. I bought them to make fan pulls out of – we have ceiling fans in almost every room, they help us keep the air conditioner off on not-so-hot days and nights. Rather than use the clunky metal pulls, since B likes frogs, I purchased a tube at the local Toys-R-Us (sorry, no backward R here), drilled some holes in butts, and superglued frogs to chains. Anyway, E likes the ones I didn’t use.

And they are a good size for inserting into the mouth and chewing on with gums where teeth are about to come out. Which is why I don’t chew on them, as I probably have teeth that are about to come out a different way.

Oh, had to add some more links over on the right. Seems like there are even more sites I am starting to visit on a regular basis. I’m not listing them all, but have a try at these:
Rachie (South Africa), she describes times in Namibia, a place that I have never been.
Udge (Germany), another computer guy (sorry Rob) but this one in Germany.
Fug (comments on fashion), not really a blog, but somebody that likes to comment on the fashion trends of celebrities. She says some of the things that I often think when seeing people on TV. And I do have to admit that I enjoy the posts of people like Jordan Marsh. (go ahead, click on it)(hey, I am an American male after all, I can look) and some of the Eurovision contestants, at least the ones in red dresses.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

More flowers (sick of them yet?)

Back to my local flower pics – it seems like it’s easier to wander around the yard clicking than to go out and do it. I want to go see the Bellagio conservatory, perhaps we can pull some time this weekend.

These aren’t native flowers. Last year we put in some raised beds, which we filled in with tomato and basil plants. We filled the front one with carrots and beets, but put some gladiola bulbs in back, and moved some glads we found planted up front.

Starting to bloom now. You can see a lot of spears with buds behind the one blooming. Our apple tree is in back.

A volunteer popped up in one of the tomato beds – we have a compost bin that we throw all our veggie waste into, and it looks like those seedless watermelons wasn’t so seedless.

We scattered low growing plants down under the higher bushes and trees, something that spreads out and covers the rocks. Lantana seems to do quite well. It’s usually covered with flowers, and blooms all summer, dying back in the winter. We've got serveral colors of lantana, purple and orange and red and bright yellow.

This is another non native that B likes. It’s a trumpet vine, but we had to look a long time before finding one with the big flowers – these flowers are about an inch long. It’s a vine that we had in SD, and put this one at the corner near our breakfast table, to cover an open area at the end of the walk. After one year it’s gotten up to the overhead, and has some blooms on it all the time.

The hummingbirds like it.

We found some small native plants that always have flowers on them. These two are about six inches high.

They stay as small bushes, so again we’ve scattered them around the yard.

There is a low wall (about a foot high) across the back yard. Our patio is on the lower side, and the grassy area with trees is above. We planted lots of rosemary along the wall to hide the blocks. This is prostrate rosemary, not the tall growing kind. After two years the bushes seem to be doing well. The wall runs all the way across the yard, about a hundred feet long. Our son framed some steps when we had the patio poured, and we planted about fifty of these rosemary bushes.

They almost always have these little blue flowers, but put on a dramatic show in early spring. Even though the flowers are small the hummingbirds like these also. It smells nice when we brush against them, and also have lots of leaves available for cooking. The blue flowers make a nice counterpoint when scattered on top of cold soups.

There is a small walled courtyard at the front of our house. We are working on fixing the courtyard, putting up a cover, laying down pavers and installing a fountain. We also want to replace the big front window (about ten feet long) with French doors so that we can walk out to this area from our front room when it’s cooler. There is a planter between a sidewalk and the wall, which we have filled with mint and rosemary and yellow lantana and whatever else is in there.

As long as the soil is amended (compost is good for that) and watered lots of plants seem to do well. More plants are affected by the winter frost than the summer heat.

That’s it for my flower photos. I had to respond to the gorgeous photos that Deana takes around her place.

We usually take our shoes off before walking around the house. We found our friends in Sweden do that all the time too. So we have flip-flop sandals outside every door, to slip into as we go outside. We now have concrete all around, which is warm and OK to walk on compared to the gravel, but at times it’s too hot, so the sandals are available. A few days ago a new pair appeared next to the standards.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Harry Potter update

The Associated Press reported on a recent interview with JK Rowling in London. JK is in the middle of writing the seventh and final book in the Harry Potter series. She said she wrote the final chapter back in 1990, before any of the books were published, and it has survived with only minor changes. She said that she will be killing off two of the major characters; after all ‘A price has to be paid. We are dealing with pure evil here. They don’t target extras, do they?’ She also hinted that Harry might not survive either. But she declined detailed information, saying she doesn't want to receive hate mail (at least before the book comes out).

A 'typical' Vegas convention?

I just finished reading an interesting article in today’s paper about the third annual ‘Modern Drunkard Magazine Convention’ recently held here in Las Vegas. It doesn’t sound like something I would attend, but it did sound interesting. Most of the events seemed to revolve around drinking and then trying to do things.

Events at the convention included ‘Interactive Drunken Jenga Poetry’, ‘Liquor Olympics’ which included chugging beer, hitting on a floozy and dragging a drunk guy across stage, and ‘Tipsy Trivia’. Highlights included a burlesque show featuring a gal churning butter with her breasts (among other impressive feats), convention host Titsa Galore, and the most frequently overheard quote ‘What happened last night?’.

Would this be held in any other city?

Our mayor

Oscar Goodman is the mayor of Las Vegas. I would say that he is my mayor, but I actually live in the township of Spring Valley and work in the township of Paradise. All of the Strip south of the tower is really in the county and outside of the Las Vegas city limits, so most of what people call Las Vegas is really outside of Oscar’s control.

He is about the most interesting political figure I have come across. Mr. Goodman is a lawyer, and back in the 60’s he represented members of what the newspapers call the ‘mob’. That’s right, Oscar is proud of being a past mob lawyer, I think he listed himself as such in the last election. He always speaks his mind and is not shy about it. He also has appeared in several movies and TV shows as himself. He’s been on both CSI (a few times) and Vegas. The Palms Casino is a popular place (again, located in the county, not the city) that is a favorite of Hugh Hefner and Playboy centerfolds – about to open a new Playboy Club on top of their new tower. Mr. Goodman worked as guest photographer for a Playmate shoot at the Palms last year.

He is a great representative for the city of Las Vegas. Whenever he attends a big public event, such conventions held out of town, he usually enters with a feather bedecked showgirl on each arm and an Elvis or two in tow. When he was in Washington DC last year for some event that’s the way he showed up. Last month the periodic conference of mayors from across the country was held here, at a strip hotel in the county, but Oscar still called it Las Vegas. He was always with his ‘girls’ and Elvis, pushing LV as a destination.

In a famous incident a few months ago he was talking to a group of grammar school kids, I think fourth graders. After his talk he took questions from the kids. One asked; if were marooned on a desert island, what one thing would you like to have? Never one to not speak his mind, our Mayor replied ‘a bottle of gin’. He once had a job as the spokesperson for Bombay Gin, something he has said he frequently drinks. I think that response got onto the national news; discussing alcohol as an object of desire in front of kids. After a lot of negative publicity, he never apologized. He said he was truthful, and there was no reason to apologize. Here’s the local news story.

Sitting at work I listen to a local radio station. I used to listen to the BBC on the internet, but our ever vigilant security officer installed some new software that blocks that access (thanks Gary). Mr. Goodman likes to phone the two morning DJs, and usually makes a bet with them on the outcome of the super bowl. He lost for three years in a row, and always made good on the bets. As a result, one year he spent the day wearing the striped uniform of the Hot Dog on a Stick counter people, and gave out hot dogs and lemonade. Another year he dressed in costume and joined Mr. Happiness on a street corner entertaining people that drove by. (Mr. Happiness is famous for his costumes and dancing on the corner every morning). Last super bowl he won the bet, so the DJs dressed in drag and entertained, but Oscar was willing to do it.

He does seem to know his mayor stuff too. The local papers rate him as doing a good job as head of the city. He is frequently mentioned in articles as ‘former mob lawyer Oscar Goodman’, and jokes about that too. The City of Las Vegas site has a good bio of him. State leaders want him to run for the Senate, but he says he is having too much fun being mayor, listing himself as the “Happiest Mayor in the World”.

Here he is, from a newspaper photo, enjoying a piece of the birthday cake created for Las Vegas’ 100 birthday earlier this year. They're trying to get it in the Guiness Book of Records as the largest birthday cake ever. That's the rest of the cake behind him.

(that's him on the right)

If you go to Google and look for ‘oscar Goodman las vegas’ you’ll find lots of listings. I've tried to find one of him with the showgirls, but can't take enough time right now to locate one. I'll try later and link, I'm sure there are some out there.

Thanks, Google Images! - Now isn't that the way a mayor should show up? I don't think he'll be mistaken as the mayor from Hoboken. Nothing against Hoboken now, I lived near there, but for some reason I doubt if their mayor has as nice a suit.

Sunday, June 25, 2006


Sunday afternoon around 4 - , it’s 110f (42c) outside. I always say ‘well, it’s a dry heat’, but let me tell you, when you walk outside from the air conditioned inside it’s like being hit by something. You walk outside and feel the heat on your face and wonder why the heck you’re here. But I take my iced coffee and sit under the patio cover and watch the birds on the feeder and drinking at the fountain and just enjoy it. It is a dry heat, and a heck of a lot better than that 83f with 98% humidity I remember from New Jersey summers, where you would just lie awake all night with the window open hoping for some kind of breeze.

The temp of the pool water is 93f (34c), so it’s cooler, but still really nice for swimming. That's the temp I like. It was up to 98f on thursday, which is a little too warm, kind of like a giant hot tub without the bubbles - we don't have a pool heater, but just keeping the cover on uses the passive solar heating to warm it up. I had to leave it open for two days to cool off. Left the cover on for two weeks last year and the water temp was up to 105f. We usually go swimming around 5, when we start getting some shade from the little pool house on the water. It’s just too hot to be floating around in full sunshine.

I wandered around the yard yesterday and took some more flower pics, these of things in bloom right now. The earlier two posts were flower pics taken over the past few months, and a lot of those are gone now. But we do have some plants blooming all year ‘round.

Our palm trees are in bloom. These flowers are a little high to be very noticeable, but there are lots of bees up there, and the small flowers fall into the pool.

Another flower that is popular here and in Arizona is the Mexican Bird of Paradise. These are available in either bright yellow or these mixed red and yellow.

The bushes grow up to eight feet tall, and are covered with small green leaves and these flower clusters all summer. In the background are two shades of lantana, which also blooms all summer.

Our pomegranate is also in bloom.

Not many flowers left, these are big orange things. It’s time for the pomegranates to start showing up, I think we can start picking those around late November.

For an off garden shot, we went out for hamburgers last week. Our favorite spot for burgers in San Diego was the Cotton Patch chain, a local San Diego family owned chain with four or five places. Here in Vegas we hit the Red Robin. These are all over the US, and a little upgrade from the fast food Burger King patties. Most Red Robins have varied decorating schemes, the one near us uses merry-go-round animals. There was a tiger close to us.

We usually get the Hawaiian burger, a burger with teriyaki sauce and a slice of pineapple. Fries and onion rings on the side, and they make good malts and a really cool orange creamsicle drink. I think I'm going to create another blog to list restaurants around town, if I remember to take photos.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Flowers in the yard, part 2

OK, back to my tour of flowers in my yard. Again, these have been in bloom sometimes in the past few weeks.

These aren’t natives, they are bulbs that we brought with us from SD and keep in this pot.

Pretty, though.
For Deana, we also have some iris plants around the yard. These are volunteers that came up after we converted from grass over to desert landscaping. They are not located where the drip puts out water, so are just getting by on the little rain that we do get.

I don’t know what these are, it’s a fifteen foot high bush we have out back that blooms each spring.

Nice white flowers, and smell real sweet.

These purple ones are out front. I think they are western lilacs, but not sure on that.

Again, blooms for quite a while, I’ve seen bushes ten feet high covered in purple, and fragrant.

These are low growing Mexican primrose. We’ve got them in several locations, they reseed every year and have flowers for most of the summer.

Our biggest bloomers are the oleanders. We’ve got red, white and two shades of pink. Oleanders are used all over southern California on the freeway dividers, looking nice and green, blooming almost all year long, and put up with all of the cars and exhaust.

Some of our bushes are fifteen feet high, full bloom in spring and with some flowers on all summer long. We’ve put in a few more, to fill in this wall that we see from our kitchen window.

Finally one of the native plants that symbolizes the west, it’s the sagebrush.

There are quite a few varieties, in various shades of purple. I believe this one is the Texas Ranger variety. We have about two dozen sage bushes around, a nice long stretch up front along the front fence, and out in back in a row along the sidewalk. We also have some just scattered about.

There are other things in bloom – I’ll have to check on what I’ve got pictures of and repost.

So that’s our desert landscaping. As you can see, it’s not all dirt and browns. We have quite a variety of blooming plants, and quite a spread of shades of green. It’s much more interesting than the half acre of grass we started with, and I have no problem in buying plants we see in the nursery and just plunking them down someplace in the yard.

Monday, June 19, 2006

National Security

Various writers on the editorial page of our local paper have been having an ongoing discourse on how tightened security restrictions after 9/11 have affected people. It started with one letter writer asking anyone to point to a single restriction that has affected his or her life. A number of people responded with ways in which their lives have been changed. Most were abstract points, but then one editorial writer pointed out an item that I’ve seen discussed but not really emphasized. This discussion was on the enhanced ‘national security’ restrictions placed upon our court system.

One example was a recent lawsuit by somebody stating he was illegally incarcerated because the government thought he was a terrorist. After hearing secret testimony by the NSA and CIA the judge dismissed the lawsuit and refused to let it come to trial. The stated reason was that testimony in court would severely compromise national security. This individual was arrested overseas and tortured in one of those prisons run by governments that permit torture, if they even knew about it. Oh, right, we don’t support torture or ship people off to those places. Any reports of secret CIA flights or ‘renditioning’ are strictly false. This guy must have been dreaming, wandering around in a daze for the two years he was supposedly locked up, perhaps off having a romp with a girlfriend and not wanting to admit it to his wife.

I find this interesting, that our government can basically declare you a threat to national security, lock you up, perhaps ship you off to Guantanamo or a secret prison overseas, and do whatever they want to you. Oh, excuse me, our president says that the countries we ship people off to promise not to torture them, so he is sure that all these reports of torture are false and designed to embarrass the US. If you then get out (if you get out) and attempt to hold the government responsible for what they did you cannot get a court hearing because it would affect national security. Nice circle going there.

The author also cited several other court cases against people charged with terrorism, or supporting terrorism. In these trials the judge went into chambers with the prosecuting attorneys and NSA operatives, excluding the court reporter and defense attorneys. After returning to court in one case the judge found the defendant guilty based on this secret testimony, which was so sensitive to national security that the defense attorney was not even permitted to hear it. I find this fairly amazing, that somebody can be convicted on secret testimony that is impossible to refute, discuss, or even be available to the defense.

Boy, if you want to talk about a government that can do anything it wants, with absolutely no checks or balances, no control, no oversight, no exposure, this is it. Somebody can be arrested, and even found guilty of a crime without having evidence presented in open court all because of ‘NATIONAL SECURITY’. I can understand preventing testimony in open court, but not even letting a defense attorney hear what is being said, and convicting somebody on secret testimony? That sounds more like the secret police in old Russia or something out of a horror movie. Wow!

Now that's for people that come to trial. Should we even talk about the governments ability to declare a US citizen a terrorist, and lock them up without access to counsel, for as long as it wants to? Preventing an attorney from even speaking to the detainee, unable to present any kind of defense? What kind of constitution do we have, if even basic rights to counsel and court are denied?

Morning sunrise

Some pictures I was going to put in last week, but for some reason did not upload –

I took the bird sitting on the fountain for Deana, turning a little to the right from that pic there is this interesting scene.

Looks like I caught Buster as he was traveling the yard. But the colorful plastics looked very pretty against the dark background. The tree that the swing is hanging from is our peach. It’s really big, and full of nice pink flowers in the spring. Just to the right of this tree is the ash the hummer was working.

My alarm usually goes off a little after five in the morning. One morning last week when going out for the paper I caught a nice sunrise from my front yard.

We usually don’t have enough humidity in the air to give us colorful sunrises or sunsets, but I guess with all the clouds, and thunderstorms predicted, it was damp enough high up to make the morning colorful. We never did get any rain, the clouds went away by mid morning and we again had a bright sunny day.

Friday, June 16, 2006

Local Questions (twofer Friday, Wow)

OK, no pictures, lots of words in this one.

I received an email from Tess with some locals questions. It took a while to answer, so I figured that I might as well post part of it for the rest of you.

1) Where do Vegas residents go when they want to have traditional Vegas type events, ie: stags, girls weekends, etc.

1. People that live here still take advantage of the tourist things, though we don't have to. When we want to party there are some of the best spots in the world right on the Strip. Of course we can pick any casino we want. The girls seem to like the guy shows - the Thunder from Down Under, or other male 'stripper' places. These are ‘have a few drinks and laugh at the hunks on stage’ type places where you can have fun. When guys go out they usually avoid the female strippers, for some reason that's more of a solitary experience than a group thing for guys. Guys would hit the sports bars or perhaps the crap tables at a locals casino.

Besides the big Strip and downtown casinos there are quite a few places scattered around town that cater more to local residents than the fly-in-for-a-few-day tourists. These places also have hotels, and that's where we put up guests that come to visit us. Unfortunately most of them are older, and usually have big bingo halls and gather more old people than pull in the young crowd. But there are some new ones - a new Station casino at Silverton Casino to the south, Red Rock on the west side, or the Green Valley Resort in Henderson on the east side are popular places, with rock concerts and lounges and other areas to do things besides gamble. (Green Valley was recently used for a TV series on goings-on inside of casinos)

2) Do Vegas residents visit the rest of Nevada? (ie people from Omaha tend to check out the rest of Nebraska, but people from NYC don't tend to check out the rest of NYstate even though i know that Albany is the capital).

2. There isn't much in the rest of Nevada. The only other big city is Reno, and that's more casinos like Vegas but smaller. The rest of the state is open area; mountains and deserts and sand dunes and parks. If you are into concerts or bars or casinos or fancy restaurants there is no place more swinging in the country than Vegas, so no reason to go out of town.

But locals do get out of town a lot. Motor homes, dune buggies and three wheel off road vehicles are very popular. There are quite a few people that take off on weekends in motor homes hauling the toy trailer going around the state to campgrounds and areas that are designed for that type of fun. Others have boats and hit the lake. In the winter there is skiing at Mt. Charleston (an hour drive away) and great trails at Lake Tahoe, or the Utah snow resorts. There are a lot of national parks within a day's drive - the Grand Canyon, Death Valley, Yosemite, Zion, Bryce Canyon, Lake Mead, Lake Tahoe . . .. If you are an outdoor person there are lots of places to go. Even within the area, for hikers and bikers and walkers there's Red Rock, Lake Mead, and a dozen other parks within an hour's drive. Los Angeles and the southern California beach areas are only a five hour drive.

I say 'only a five hour drive' as if that's normal. Well, in the Western US it is quite normal. Everyone has cars, and people do not hesitate to drive for five or six hours to a weekend getaway. Half the visitors to Vegas are here on the weekend, driving up from LA.

3) What are typical concerns for municipal politicians? environment? safety? tax dollars wisely spent? responsible development?

3. Local politicians? Typically it's 'how do I make the most money'. Right now about a quarter of locally elected officials are either under investigation, indictment, convicted or on trial for bribery, corruption, or similar charges. Vegas might have a reputation for corruption and the mob from the fifties, but it still seems to be a problem right now.

I know, not a very good answer, but reading the papers it feels like the truth. Good politicians are concentrating on police and schools. Nevada is having a very hard time in attracting and keeping teachers. Next school year the Las Vegas school district, the third largest in the country, will be over 1,000 teachers short. And lots of new schools are under construction, to accommodate the incoming population. The Las Vegas area has a growth rate of seven thousand people a month. My daughter teaches third grade, being a teacher here for over seven years now, so I get stories from her too.

The population is growing faster than new police hiring, so our ratio of officer to resident is becoming quite high. We just passed a special sales tax last year directed at new officer hiring. Areas of LV are having big problems with street gangs, there are shootings almost every week. Traffic laws are a joke - there are so few traffic enforcement officers that almost no one obeys speed limits or traffic lights. I try to drive the speed limit, which on most of the streets between home and work is 35mph, with two traffic lanes in each direction. I usually am the slowest car on the road - it seems that 50mph is the average speed on these streets. On bigger streets the limit is 45mph, with three or four lanes each direction. There is a grid layout, with major streets every mile, semi major between every half mile. The average speed on those streets is probably close to 60, with some guys flying by at 70. If a traffic light turns red there are usually two or three cars that are going too fast to stop and fly through, so if you are the first car at a red light you learn to count to five after it turns green, in order to watch the cross traffic fly by, before driving on. At times we read of traffic crackdowns in high accident areas, but these are publicized, so people know to go slow then. But as soon as the cops leave the speed goes up. I drive twelve miles to work on the surface streets, and go past accidents several times each week, and almost never see anyone getting a ticket.

'Controlled growth' is a supposed concern, but there really is no control. The federal government owns the majority of Nevada; I think the last figure I saw said 87% of the state is federal land. In order for the LV area to grow the federal Bureau of Land Management (BLM) auctions off land every year, as there are no large tracts of private land in the valley. These auctions usually open up several hundred (or thousand) acres of land a year, and prices for large tracts last year were close to a million dollars an acre for the raw land. The winning bidders then split up the parcels and sell big pieces to housing developers. They have to put in streets and utilities and grade down to individual lots. The area is growing in three corners - the northeast corner has a big air force base, which restricts that direction, but now there are some tracts past that further up I-15. These areas then need schools, and fire stations, and police stations, and all of the interfaces that a city has to provide. Developers usually set aside land for these things as part of the permit process, but do not build them. Since most of these areas are now beyond city limits it falls on Clark County to do the work, and county government is even slower. Major roads are owned by the state, so now we have the state division of highways responsible for widening the connecting roads, further slowing things down. So there is no control, but lots of complaints and public hearings, but houses still go in.

There are always complaints about taxes. Nevada does not have an income tax, so all monies have to come from property taxes, sales tax or other use taxes. The casinos have so much power that their tax rates have not increased in years, and it is rather low, which is why they are here. Our state legislature meets only every other year, most of their time is spent either figuring out how to raise more money or how to spend the overflow they got from raising taxes the last time. This is an off year, so our governor is trying to figure out what to do with a half billion dollar surplus; while the highway department is calling for an additional billion a year for road projects, schools are calling for more to increase teacher pay, police departments are looking for more to hire more cops. Teacher pay is covered by school districts, which may cover several city limits and county areas; police are by city; and road projects are a different state group. When the legislature meets next year they probably will have to figure out how to take in more money for the projects demanded.

Boy, that last section makes it sound like an unpleasant place to live, but in reality most of the rest of the US faces the same problems. I came from San Diego, and it all sounded the same there. Unfortunately the rural areas, and several older cities are suffering from job and population declines, which lead to different problems.

And I do like living here. I enjoy the heat, and even though we didn’t want the pool we do float around in it quite a lot. If we want to go out to eat there are great restaurants around town, and if we feel really rich we can hit fancy places on the Strip, some of them are three star or better. If we want to get out for a day we can drive to one of the big places, or just walk the strip and watch people and see changes in the casinos (we don’t gamble, no time wasted there). If we want music there is always a lounge with live entertainment, or big name acts are always coming through town. Every big resort on the Strip has a show (or two or three) so we can spend big bucks for fancy entertainment any time. If we have a few days we can go to the north rim of the Grand Canyon (which we have done) and wander in the trees, or go down to San Diego or over to San Francisco. It is a nice place to be, not a big city like Hong Kong or NYC, but there are a lot of things here.

Bagels and E Friday

Payday Friday – here at the bank we get paid every other Friday. I bring in bagels for the group on payday – stopping at an Einstein Bagels for a dozen with cream cheese on the way. Right next door to E is a Starbucks, and sorry to say I am a Starbucks addict. But the only time I get it is this day, so I am sitting next to my everything bagel with cream cheese and medium sized (OK, whatever fancy name they put to a medium) caramel macchiato with an extra shot. Yes, three shots to start my morning off. It’s usually needed on a Friday. So I am about as happy as I can be at work – in early, not too many people in yet (especially not my boss).

Rather than get back to flowers in my yard here are some other things around town. I’ve been trying to get some bird shots for Deana.

I don’t have as fancy a camera as hers, no nice zoom lens, so this is about as good as I can get. It’s one a plain brown house finch; they fill our yard with bright chirps and fluttering motion. I fill up a small feeder just to keep them coming by. This is a small fountain we built right next to our table out on the patio, you can see the glass table top in the lower right corner. That’s Buster up at the top, wandering around in the grass. Max chases the birds, but Buster ignores them, and so the birds have learned to ignore him. The birds are almost used to us too, which is why I can sit at the table drinking my coffee and have them come by for a drink, or a quick bath.

Besides the finches and sparrows we also have mocking birds and a lot of hummingbirds around the yard. I counted at least three birds nests in each of the olive trees out front, while the mocking birds usually have their nests up in the palm trees. I keep a hummingbird feeder out front, and in the summer have to fill it up every few days, it lasts longer in the winter. Right now we have a lot of young hummers out there, in spring and fall there are large numbers that migrate through, coming up from Mexico headed towards the mountains (or back in the fall). Yesterday I watched a hummer working one of the ash trees out back. I wondered why he kept picking at the leaves, thinking there were no flowers there to get nectar from. Closer examination showed that he was picking off bugs. Frequently the bugs would drop off and try to fly away, but the hummer dropped down and followed them, picking them out of the air. The sunlight was just at the right angle to highlight the small bugs as they fluttered around, so I could see what the humming bird was bouncing around chasing. It was interesting.

We hit a shopping mall in Henderson a few days ago. Out in the parking lot was one of the new style cell phone towers.

It was all by itself, guess the palm tree look would be more appropriate if mixed in with trees.

Coming in to work every morning I drive up Frank Sinatra Drive, which runs along side I-15 behind the strip casinos. A new complex is being constructed, the seven billion dollar city center, casinos and hotels and condos and shopping. Right now the first thing going up is an employee parking garage for the Bellagio employees. Employees right now park in a big flat lot that will soon become buildings, so to make room their cars will be moving into this.

It’s a pretty big garage – ten stories with over six thousand spaces, just for employees. This side is almost done, there are some brown pebble panels being mounted in front of the big concrete areas, and the rest of the structure is being painted white.

Just past the parking garage the street is being torn up to install sewer and water pipes. Different lanes are being closed each week. Right now the northbound two lanes are closed off (the road has two lanes in each direction, with trees in the narrow center divider).

There is a long dump truck just past the crane turning into our lane, and in front of the car is a concrete truck. Off in the distance are the golden towers of Mandalay Bay, and the white Monte Carlo on the left. It’s interesting to go by each morning and see all of the construction things going on. I work inside all day, so this outside work is interesting to me mainly because I’m not doing it.

Before it warmed up I was taking a walk at lunchtime each day. Part of the landscaping at one office building are some large artichoke plants. I’ve seen small ones in pots in the nurseries, so I guess they do well in the landscape here, but this is the only place I’ve seen them. The plants are really thorny, and about three feet across. The texture is different than other desert plants, and this spring there were little artichokes on them. After a few weeks I was surprised to see the artichokes turn into flowers.

You can see some of the small chokes to the upper leftand in the center. They turn into purple fuzzy things. Interesting. So I did get a flower picture in today.

And on to my E Friday pics.

She doesn’t seem to like having doors closed. I guess she always wants to get into things and does not like to be denied.

Not tall enough to reach the doorknobs yet. She is quite proud of her walking ability. She’s getting better every day. Still can’t bend over to pick something up without falling over, but that’s coming.

Added some more pics over to the right - of course we need a Vegas showgirl, I haven't been to a feather show yet, only two still left, better hit one before they are all gone - and thanks to one of Deana's friends I found the No W (thought it was at Mayberry but can't find it there now). You all know how much of a W fan I am. D, if you remember who had it please let me know so I can give credit.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Some email

Recently received this message, it sounded interesting.

or grandfather it's dickcissel ! adiabatic be rotund in hubert a mane may frankel be fluorine , smokehouse it's fedora but khrushchev or carolinian , lump it's knack

It makes about as much sense to me as Rob's question. (sorry Rob, I have no idea who any of those people are.)

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Spring flowers

I know most of you figure we live in the middle of a desert, which is all brown and dry and stuff (well, it is), but we have some green stuff too. So here are some things that have been blooming in our yard over the past few weeks. Usually there is something always in bloom, all year long.

The biggest bloomers are the two large olive trees in the front yard.

They are covered with lots of little white flowers, which turn into thousands and thousands of black olives unless we spray some magic stuff onto the trees. Since we don’t eat the olives I’ve been spraying them, to keep the purple spots off the driveway and the flocks of olive eating pigeons somewhat in check. It also looks like snow underneath, from all of the blooms falling.

The next most noticeable bloomer is our Desert Museum Palo Verde. We put it right at the front corner, and when fully yellow it is magnificent. It’s only been in for two years, and seems to like it here.

It looks bigger than the olive behind it, but that’s ‘cause I’m standing closer. Here’s a closer shot,

with the yellow carpet underneath from falling blooms, and a small yucca with flower spikes in front of it. Keeping in the front yard, we have one yucca left over from the previous owners.

These were blooming all over town, with their towering spikes of flowers. This one is about five feet high, with the flower spikes adding another four feet or so to the top.

Our neighbor has a row of pyrocantha planted up against our wall.

The flowers turn to nice bright red berries. The fragrance of these flowers are about as close to honey as you can get – our whole front yard just smelled like a honey factory when this was in bloom. The plant has some nasty thorns, but perhaps I can put one in back just for the scent.

Up near the front door we have some small bushes, which turn bright and cheery.

Don’t know what they are, but you can’t even see any of the green leaves. This bunch is only about a foot high.

And more yellow over on the other side. This is a yellow broom.

We have about three varieties, all bloom a little differently, to spread out the yellow season. These are about four foot balls.

Yes, lots of yellows. That does seem to be a popular desert color, I also like it so we might be selecting more plants with that color too.

To finish up today with a thinking idea,
Rob asks, “what would a musical battle between Charles Ives and Steve Reich refereed by Peter Schickele sound like?”

(don’t ask me, I have absolutely no idea)

Monday, June 12, 2006

Model homes

Thought we would spend some time out yesterday, and we drove down to a new housing area and visited some model homes. Yes, this is a popular thing to do out west. We used to hit model homes down in San Diego too. But that’s why builders put them up, so people can walk through them and get interested.

For those of you that are unfamiliar with this phenomenon, it’s standard practice here for a large home building company to purchase a large plot, sometimes up to several hundred acres, and lay out a ‘planned community’. To entice buyers the builder usually gets plans for four or five different size houses and builds one of each at the entrance to the area. These houses are professionally decorated, one of the garages becomes a sales area, flags are put up to indicate where to come, and anybody driving by can walk through.

There are several areas around Las Vegas where new homes are being built. We looked through the Sunday paper real estate section looking at the ads and selected the Montain’s Edge, this area is at the southwest corner of the valley. One developer bid on and purchased several thousand acres from the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) at one of their annual auctions – the federal government owns 85% of Nevada, so to get land to build homes it must be purchased from the BLM. This major developer drew up basically a small town, with area for schools and churches and shopping centers. A number of homebuilders then purchased sections from them in which to build houses. There are over a dozen different sections with different style houses now available. With each builder having four or five different styles this results in over a hundred model homes to wander through.

If a builder is putting up three hundred homes all of them look about the same. The four or five different models are basically just different size houses. There is usually a small one story three bedroom house, working up to two stories and four, five or six bedrooms. Each builder picks a price range and style for their section. We like walking through periodically just to see what new houses cost, and what decorators think that people want.

I was most disappointed by the prices – the least expensive houses we looked at were in the ‘low cost’ section, all were what I would call duplexes – a long house with garages in the middle and separate units on each side. These varied from 1,000 two bedrooms to 1,200 to 1,400 square feet three bedroom units. The least expensive was $235,000. Banks used to require 10% to 20% down, but now with house prices so high most will accept 5%, some even let you move in with no money down, even adding closing costs to the mortgage. So if you come up with $15,000 down that would still leave a mortgage payment of $1,800 a month. I don’t know what apartment rents are going for, but to get two bedrooms for $1,800 a month still seems like a lot to me, along with utility costs, and homeowner fees.

Oh, yes, that’s something else you have to figure on – homeowner fees. It’s standard practice now in new housing developments to have a homeowner association. This is a group that collects fees from all the houses each month, pays for maintenance and upkeep of the common areas – such as parks, entrance gates and landscaping or whatever. They also set rules for what you can do with your home. This includes such things as what color you can paint your house, landscaping, car parking, and how long you can leave your trash cans out on pickup day. Fees at sections we looked at varied from $30 per month to $450 per month.

I’ve got a basic dislike for homeowners associations. Builders like them, because they guarantee that a development will look nice while they are still building and selling homes. Usually a section that will hold two or three hundred houses is built a section of twenty or thirty houses at a time, over several years. So the builder might still be selling houses two years after the first ones are being lived in, and are thus interested in the area still looking nice. But this also places limits on the residents.

We lived in an area in southern California that had a homeowners association. There were about 250 houses in our grouping, but we had a small lake and a clubhouse with tennis courts, a swimming pool and a play area. Associations don’t do pools any more, too many lawsuits if a kid drowns. Back then we only paid $35 per month. But I didn’t like having a group tell me what color I could paint my house, sending warning letters if I didn’t mow my lawn often enough, or giving permission to put up a fence in your backyard. Yes, having an association does mean that you probably will not have that one neighbor’s house turning into a trash dump, or a purple polka dot paint job showing up, but at what cost? Most houses in Vegas are painted in ‘Southwest’ colors – dull browns and beige. Driving around yesterday I thought how hard it would be to find somebody’s place – the only thing different would be the street names and house numbers. Every house looked the same, about the same ‘desert’ landscaping out front, same colors, same shapes. I found it fairly depressing, but efficient.

Back to the model house tour – we drove down to the area, about a dozen miles from our home. There are some nice broad major streets, six lanes wide. These streets are lined with block walls, with some planting between the walls and the sidewalk, which usually ran right along the street curb. Since it’s a new area the trees were only about ten feet high. The block walls were usually six feet high. Periodically there would be a break in a wall, the entrance to the little subdivision inside. For the expensive sections there was an electronic gate, for the cheaper sections just a side road. This led into a maze of streets, with the models right by the entrance. Each section had lots of construction going on – being a newer area so far there are only about 3,000 houses built out of the total 20,000 projected. With each section having twenty or so under construction, this still means there were several hundred houses being built at the same time. Guess it is a good time to be a home builder.

The model homes are the same as homes already being lived in, but there is a low fence surrounding the group at the street, forcing you to walk in through the sales office to get in and to get out – giving a salesperson a chance to grab you each way and give their pitch. On the way in you pick up a pamphlet with a description of each model and the price range. The quality of the salespersons really differed – at one group there wasn’t even a salesperson there. At another we had to fill out a registration form to get in (for those follow up phone calls), some salespeople were really aggressive, others just used to hundreds of people tramping through each weekend.

Each grouping of homes were usually very similar – same size rooms, same basic layout, same interior designers selecting wallpaper and furniture. Most of the houses had large ‘owner bedroom suites’ with attached bathrooms, some with fireplaces and sitting areas, some not much larger than the bed. Most of the other bedrooms were small, none big enough for two kids beds side by side. Only one had bunkbeds in one of the rooms. But the common areas were where the space went to. One section had an architect that really liked ‘great rooms’ – a big central area, usually with a two story high ceiling and balcony for the second floor around the edges, containing the dining room and formal living rooms. Kitchens usually had counters where you could put two or three stools, and an attached family room where the kids could watch tv while mom cooked, some with a small kitchen table too.

Right, mom cooking. I don’t know what people’s salaries are, but if you’ve got a $5,000 a month mortgage, along with all your other family living expenses, I would guess that both parents are working long hours. I still like the image of June Cleaver (Beaver’s mom) with her dress and apron, always wearing pearls. I keep trying to get B to dress like that, even offering to buy her a pearl necklace (no, haven’t gotten her one yet) but for some reason she doesn’t quite get it. And I do most of the cooking anyway. Maybe I should get myself some pearls, hmmm, have to think on that one. Still think I wouldn’t do the dress thing anyway.

Except for the one area of the attached homes, every house had nine foot high ceilings downstairs. The most expensive group even had ten foot ceilings, and the great rooms. All advertised energy efficient houses with lots of insulation and fancy windows and multiple air conditioning units. But with temps over 100f now, and another four months of such heat to look forward to I imagine the electric bills for cooling such hugh rooms must be pretty high. Those houses had rather warm second floors, cold air dropping down into the great room. And winter heating, which for us result in higher bills, all the hot air gathering overhead – warming the bedrooms but keeping the living area cold. I don’t know, maybe all this energy efficiency works, but we don’t know anybody that has a house like that so I have no one to ask.

Most kitchens were nice – usually a lot of counter space, most with a closet that worked as a pantry. I like to cook, so spent time looking at those areas. This area was unusual in that the back yards were rather large. Some of the sections had yards big enough for a pool. The attached homes had walls about three feet from the back wall, with just a small shared patio. The average back yard was twenty feet deep, houses filling the lots with just six feet between them. All had garages up front, consuming most of the front of each house. Lots had three car garages. Without basements this would give you room to park two cars and fill the third area with storage. I’m sure all homeowner rules prevent you from parking cars in the driveways or on the streets. Well, having narrow lots and three car garages usually meant almost no place on the street to park anyway. The garages are so close to the street there is no room to park in the driveway without the back of your car sticking out into the street. Most of these places do not have sidewalks either.

Yes, you read it correctly; you are not allowed to park your cars at night outside of the garage. We have a friend in a homeowners association with rules like that. The group elected to run the association is usually composed of retired old biddies that have nothing better to do than drive around writing up complaint tickets. In his area they write up two tickets for parking on the street, and the third time they just call a tow company in the middle of the night. So imagine waking up in the morning, going out front to get in your car to drive to work, and finding the car gone. Then facing a two or three hundred dollar bill to get your car out of the impound lot, wherever that might be located. Usually in the far north reaches of the valley, cash only please. One guy here at work had his car towed, and was asked for his registration certificate before being allowed to bail out the car. As most people do, the registration certificate was kept in his car glove box (does anyone keep gloves in there anymore?). He was charged $45 admittance fee to go to his car and get the paperwork. Wow, what a way to make money.

B’ cousin lives on the east side of town. She talks about their neighbor that received a ticket for not keeping the pine needles swept up in her front yard. And she doesn’t even have pine trees – the needles blow in from several blocks away. Doesn’t matter, it’s your yard and you’ve got to keep it looking nice. And if a bush or tree dies, it must be replaced with a similar one. No originality there. Some of the associations are even preventing people from replacing grass with the recommended low water landscaping. Several lawsuits about that. We read stories in the paper frequently about the things that go on with homeowner association.

So, those reasons, and many others, we looked for an area without a homeowner’s association. That meant an older home, as all of the new developments have them. I don’t care if my neighbor paints his house in stripes instead of the dull desert pallet, or keeps a broken down car in his driveway. But we are in a ‘better’ area anyway, and no one does that. There is one house down the street with a lot of dune buggies and trailers in the driveway, but big deal, at least they’re going out and having fun. And no homeowner police. So I am able to pull out my grass and put in sagebrush and trees with nobody to complain.

Back to the start. We looked at the new decorating schemes. Seems like almost every house had wallpaper – we stripped that stuff out of our place. Homes went through a period of just paint, not designers are back to patterns and leaves and dull colors. The kids rooms usually had a wide horizontal stripe around the room. Still standard beige colors with a darker stripe, but at least something was done. Several ‘owner’ bedrooms had baths with both tubs and shower stalls, and all had walk in closets (except for the bottom of the line ones).

And prices – there was the one section with prices starting at $235,000. We wandered through six sections or so, none of the others had houses under $360,000. The biggest had price ranges from $565,000 to $680,000. I would agree with published figures, that the average new home price in Vegas is around $380,000. If you don’t have money then don’t plan on buying a new house. Pretty depressing, most families will never be able to buy a house. What does it take to save up $20,000 for a low wage family, then requiring over $2,000 a month just for a mortgage? If you earn $20 an hour, after taxes that is almost your entire take home pay. And I doubt if the average LV worker even makes that much. Most work here is in casinos and hotels – making beds, cooking food, doing maintenance. Lots of people not making lots of money.

OK, on to some unrelated pictures, just to give you something other than words.

Last week we went to the free concert at the county center again. It was Craig Chaquico and his band. We are not familiar with him, but he was sponsored by the smooth jazz station here, and evidently their listeners are. It was the largest crowd at one of the spring concerts we’ve seen so far. The grass was packed.

After listening to the music I did recognize some of the tunes. Most are currently number one on the smooth jazz stations around the west. But Craig also played with Jefferson Starship for twenty years, so he is able to rock. Some of the songs recorded as smooth easy listening jazz for the radio stations turn into really rocking numbers in person. Lots of people were up dancing. Craig used a wireless transmitter on his electric guitars, so he wandered around the audience dancing with people as he played. It was a pretty good performance. Next week it’s the New Orleans Night Crawlers, so that should be a pretty jumping time as well.

Friday, June 09, 2006

Mandalay and E Friday

Last week we wandered over to Mandalay Bay to meet some of B’s relatives.

We didn’t eat there, even though some of the best restaurants in town are there, because these relatives are basically cheap, but don’t tell them I said so. Also because we don’t eat there very often because we too are cheap, but not as much as some others. A good meal at one of the good Mandalay restaurants will usually run at least a hundred dollars for two, or much more depending on which place you pick, and what you eat, and if you have wine or dessert too.

It’s a nice building, the casino is OK, and you can walk across the bridge over to the Luxor pyramid and shop along the way, or take the tram to the Luxor or the Excalibur, all being owned by the same organization. I pass by the side of this place every day going to/from work, and depending on the time of year might have a golden sun reflected into my face while waiting at the corner traffic light.

If you are here and doing well you can hit one of the really expensive places,

The wedding chapel. It’s not expensive up front, but probably will result in the flow of many $$$$. (or pounds, or Euros, or whatever). Yes, OK, might be much happiness too. I didn’t go in, so I don’t know if Elvis was in attendance.

There are nice places to sit and have a drink and look at the action on the casino floor.

The Bellagio also has a few bars that open right onto the casino, so you can sit and talk and relax and watch others spending their money. And a few winning the money of others.

The Mandalay was about the first to come up with a cool summer concert venue

the Beach. Where you can sit in the water and watch a concert up on stage. The stage is over to the right. This is one of those pools that is rather shallow, and has a wave making machine so you can sit on the sand and have waves roll over you. Well, not over unless you sit really low, but roll by. I don’t know if they turn off the wave machine while concerts are going on. But it probably would be really nice to have a warm night concert while standing in the water, cool breezes blowing by, and a cocktail waitress in a skimpy bikini (never having been there, I just imagine based on the typical cocktail waitresses in the casinos) bring you expensive drinks. Sorry Deanna, no pool boys here unless you bring your own. It’s Vegas; it’s pool girls. Looks like a nice pool to just sit at in the afternoon too. I like those sloping entrance pools, so you can walk in and stop at whatever water depth pleases you. If it wasn’t so expensive I’d consider changing mine over to that style. Now if I can just get B to wear those little Brazilian string things, and bring me drinks, instead of her sitting in the water asking me to bring her one. Deanna, I'm expecting you in a little Brazilian number when you hit Vegas, you can sit in one of the Casino pools and play blackjack while cooling off.

And for earlier questions, yes, lots of people in Vegas have pools. Especially in the area we are in, the older a home is the higher chance that you will have a pool inserted at some point in the house’s life. But even in the brand new housing tracts, quite a few people put pools into those tiny little yards. I’ll try to get some pictures of a newer pool. If you fly into or out of Vegas in the daytime you can see all of the little blue spots in backyards down below.

OK, on to E Friday.

Back to her birthday party. Mom made some cupcakes – organic of course, with healthy stuff and cream cheese icing. Little fingers enjoyed the icing almost as much as little mouth (or cheeks or chin).

And to show Dana that there is a Princess around

No competition yet for Queen of the Universe, so don’t worry.

Just want to point thank Brighton for pointing to Miss Doxie, wherein you will find a nice treatment of how to give dogs a bath. It’s an adventure trying it with our two, must be interesting when there are four.

Oh, our guys came from the pound in SD about eleven years ago. The vet back then thought Max was a year or so old, half a puppy, and probably a small terrier breed. Buster was felt to be about four, and a lot Chihuahua and something else. Buster weighs in at ten pounds, Max at nine. Buster has the typical Chihuahua buggy eyes, and a pronounced under bite that makes him look really vicious. Max has the terrier sharp teeth and barky bouncy nature.