Thursday, February 28, 2013

Estate Sale

It's finally up for sale: Estate Sale - see if you can guess who's house it is (hint: check the monograms on the plane)


I drive in to work rather early in the morning, having to get in by 6am. We live on the West side of the Strip, so most, well, all now that I think about it, of my jobs have been to the east of us. All of the roads in Vegas are laid out on a grid, with streets running nice and straight from north to south and east to west. This means that in the mornings I drive right into the sunrise and at night driving home I stare into the sunset. Sunrise is at 6:12, so it’s not in my eyes in the morning yet.

Looking at the local weather (in order to get that sunrise time), humidity is 9% (yes, it is dry in the desert), it was cold at my house this morning, only 28f but it is due to get up to the mid 60’s, and high 70’s predicted for this weekend. I’m ready for Spring, even without having had any snow.

Anyway, back to my drive. The sun is starting to come up (OK, I know, it’s not coming up the horizon is really rotating down) behind the Sunrise Mountains to the east. It’s black overhead with stars, changing to a lovely dark blue then a bright orange streak right at the horizon. In a week or so it will be the sun right there, straight ahead down the road, but for now it’s pretty. My camera doesn't capture the full range of colors.

Nice looking out at the mountains, coming down a little rise to the valley and seeing all of the lights of North Las Vegas spread out in front of me. And no trees to obstruct the views, no clouds to fill the sky.

Driving home the other day I had to stop and take a picture of what was going on in front of my house.

When we moved to Las Vegas my first instruction to the realtor when looking for houses was that I did not want a neighborhood that had a homeowners association. Most builders out west buy large tracts of land and put up several hundred houses, which are built in phases over several years. In order to keep the area looking nice they establish homeowners associations, with the builder keeping the voting rights to all of the unbuilt houses, which means that they set the rules. Rules that usually limit the colors you can paint your house, how clean and neat you must keep your front yard, and rules that prevent you from putting out anything in the front yard and sometimes not even letting you park your car in front of your house or in your driveway. Then a homeowners board gets elected, and it seems always to be filled with retired people with nothing better to do than to walk around and enforce the rules by handing out tickets to people they don’t like and places that don’t conform. We have a relative that keeps getting tickets for unraked leaves when he has no trees (the leaves blow in from his neighbors). No thanks, I’ll take the chance of my next door neighbor painting his house purple (we had one in San Diego that did that) rather than keeping to the southwest pallet of dull sand colors and perhaps filling their front yard with old Cadillacs (like one house a few blocks away from here).

The second request was for an older home with a large yard. Most new construction in Vegas is in the big developments, many of them gated and guarded. It seems that people don’t care about what is outside of their homes, most houses are built with ten per acre, meaning that houses are about six feet apart (or less) and only have a ten foot deep back yard. A lot of developments have even smaller front yards, with some not having driveways deep enough to park a car out in front of your garage. (all have attached garages – helpful with our hot summers and strong sunshine) Our area is zoned RR – Rural Residential. The lots are a half acre minimum, with some an acre or larger. Most people coming to Vegas want a brand new place, so our old home (built in the '60s which is old for Vegas) was bigger and less expensive than a small new one with no yard. I still think about when we were talking to our friend in Sweden about Paul Revere's house back east being a hundred years old when Paul lived in it. Our friend laughed at new America and said his college dorm was built several hundred years before that.

We can have animals, and many people do. There are a few homes left with stables and horses, our neighbor has chickens and turkeys. There are no sidewalks, curbs, or street lights, which does make it seem like we really aren’t in the middle of a big city. Fewer people do the animal thing now, I guess with all of the activity and things to do people would rather not have to care for animals, especially big ones like horses. So it’s rare when we see any going by.

I say we live in Las Vegas but that’s not really true. We live in the township of Spring Valley, which is a suburb just to the southwest of the City of Las Vegas. Like with most cities the city map is rather strange, with fingers reaching out to encompass new housing tracts all over the valley. But the city limits stop at Sahara, which is the very northern edge of our famous Strip with all of the big casinos and resorts. The tall Stratosphere tower is the last casino within the Vegas city limits, with the Sahara across the street being out in Paradise. That’s what started the Las Vegas Strip – businessmen wanting to get out of city imposed taxes and regulations by opening their new casinos just outside of town. So if you come to Vegas and spend time on the Strip you really are just in the township of Paradise, Nevada. I've said it before, and it still sounds funny to me; when we drive down to the Strip (we’re about two miles west) I pass that little green sign that says ‘Entering Paradise’ and look up at the bright colorful lights. Someone in the past had a good sense of humor.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013


We had a busy weekend, getting to more detailed work on our kitchen remodel. We finished creating the pantry: deciding on what kind of shelving to put up, and what type and spacing, then actually putting it all together. At least now we can clear the plastic bins out of the TV room where all of that stuff has been stored during the work. I also put up all of the door trim and finished up the island, getting all of the cabinets properly spaced and bolted together and clad in stainless side panels. Now it just comes to picking out tile, countertops, flooring and colors. It seems the detail stuff takes longer than the big pieces.

We spent Friday night with a group doing a scavenger hunt downtown. It’s been years since we did anything like this, and this one was very interesting. We had lists of things to photograph, and things to collect. Fremont Street is rather busy on a Friday night – there were three or four bands playing, there was a sign twirling competition (those street corner guys with the big arrows and for sale signs that dance and throw them around to get your attention) and a lot of street performers and people in costumes waiting for tourists to get their photos taken with them. Overhead is the big video screen that stretches across the street and is three blocks long. Several years ago Fremont was changed to a walking street, and it was filled with thousands of people.

Most of our scavenger hunt was spent in taking photos, after figuring out some of the clues. Simple things like a photo of Elvis, showgirls posing with tourists, a bartender making a fancy drink, a tourist in flip flops – that kind of stuff. Other items were for collections – collect napkins from four different casinos, get a keno ticket from one place, a sports betting ticket from another, that kind of thing that made us run all over the area. We had a great time, it’s been a while since we went downtown, usually we hit the big casinos on the Strip. Several of the old casinos on Fremont have changed hands and redecorated. It really is a fun place to spend an evening. We are getting to be old farts and get to bed early (coupled with my having to get up at 4:30 each morning to get into work).

That’s unlike Frankie over there on the right – he’s a bartender that doesn’t get off until the wee hours of the morning, then goes out looking for good cheap eats around town. We’ve never hit the big clubs here in Vegas, most of them don’t open their doors until 10pm, and the beautiful people don’t go there until after midnight. We sometimes see them leaving in the morning when the bright summer sun is up and they are tired out from drinking and dancing all night and are out looking for breakfast along with us.

Our local paper had several big articles this weekend on the club scene in Vegas. Seven of the top ten biggest nightclubs are here in town, do if you are a party type person then this is the place to be. Just be sure to bring plenty of money.

The top club is XS at Encore, bringing in over $80,000,000 in revenue last year. It tied with Marquee at the Cosmopolitan which has only been open for two years, being at the top spot both of those. Marquee, as most of the clubs, has costumed dancers, world famous DJs and ’hip’ d├ęcor. It’s over 60,000 square feet (5500 square meters) and entertains thousands every night. These are followed by Tao at the Venetian, LIV in Miami, Surrender at Wynn, Pure at Caesars, Lavo New York, Tryst at Wynn, Lavo at the Palazzo here in town and Mango’s in Miami. So Vegas for seven, New York for one and Miami Beach for two. Guess there is not much party going on in Omaha (some good steaks though).

So, come to Vegas to party, gamble, see the sights, eat great food, enjoy the warm weather and hot pool, visit the nearby parks or just get away from home. We have over 180,000 hotel rooms and get 30,000,000 tourists a year. Bring plenty of money – how do you think all of those fancy casinos and resorts keep the lights on?

Friday, February 22, 2013


When driving home last week I stopped at a red light. I looked up at the far corner to see these two gentlemen in the fading daylight waiting to cross the street.

Guys like this are a common sight in the southwest, especially here in Las Vegas. The standard uniform is black pants, short sleeved white shirt and skinny black tie. If the feel adventuresome you might find a striped tie. They travel in pairs, usually each have a small black backpack and usually are on bicycles. Seeing them on foot like this is unusual.

Back in New Jersey we frequently had Jehovah’s Witnesses knocking on our door trying to save our souls; here it’s the Mormon missionaries (members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints). They are usually students from Brigham Young University serving a year in service as a break from classes, sometimes posted overseas, sometimes sent to somewhere in the US. We have a friend that went to Sicily, another that went to the Philippines, others just to San Diego. Carrying the Bible and the Book of Mormon, they knock on your door and offer to discuss their religion with you. Always in pairs, the bike riders are a common site around town.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

A new observation wheel in Vegas

Well it’s been a quiet week in Las Vegas, we’ve been working on our kitchen remodel mostly. Almost all of the cabinets are in, and last weekend I concentrated on the new pantry. We used to have just a small area off the laundry room that we used as a pantry, when we moved in the water heater was in that closet. When built our house was all electric, but right after we moved here ten years ago the gas company started running lines in the neighborhood, so I signed up to get gas service. I knew that I wanted a gas range, so was planning ahead on that. The gas company ran a line right up to the house and installed a meter at no charge, but we did have to have at least one gas appliance to attach to, so I decided to take out the electric water heater and install a gas one out in the garage, freeing up the closet space inside. I had a plumber come out and run the lines and install the heater, and the gas company attached everything. Now, years later, I finally have my gas cooktop, it was hooked up last weekend as well so now I can say I’m cooking with gas. (old joke there somewhere).

As part of the kitchen work we closed off a door to the dining room and moved the door to the laundry room over a bit. This freed up a corner for more cabinets and a place for the refrigerator. Reconfiguring the laundry room door also gave us a small walk in pantry area, about four feet wide by six feet deep. Last weekend I installed shelving rails and bought some plywood, which I cut into shelves. B is painting them, and they will then be put in to hold all of our canned goods, small appliances and all that other junk that Americans use in the kitchen but don’t use very often, like cupcake pans and mixing bowls and such. I also got some good quality plywood and screwed it down on the bar area, to be a base for the soon to come quartz counter tops. Still have to work on the cooking island, I can’t get some of the cabinets to go together correctly and will put in more time this coming Saturday to get that straightened out. I’ve got plywood to cut for the island top, which we’ll then take down to a fabricator and have covered with stainless steel, so the cooktop will have a nice work area around it.

And now for something completely different: back at Christmas we spent a few nights at THE hotel in Mandalay Bay on the south end of the Strip. Unfortunately we didn’t get a room up high, but had a nice suite on the tenth floor that looked northeast up the Strip. This picture shows a sunrise on Christmas day.

To the right is the Mandalay Bay tower. Next to that are two structures that kind of look like palm trees. They are the base for a new ‘viewing wheel’ kind of like the Eye in London but bigger. They are about fifty feet high so far; at the base will be a shopping center and tourist area. An article in last week’s paper said the promoter for that project just ran out of money, construction has stopped, and there are pending lawsuits from sub-contractors who didn’t get paid. That seems to be a fairly common occurrence here in Vegas, where people start big projects with the hope that money will start flowing in, then their business plan does not hold up to intense scrutiny so investors decline to buy in, the project stops with some work done, and lawsuits start up from contractors and suppliers who put in time, effort and products and were not paid.

If you had hopes of riding a wheel in Vegas don’t despair, Caesar’s is building a larger one a little further up the Strip as part of a project called the Link. Harrah’s Entertainment has changed their name to Caesar’s since that article was written, and they also changed the project name to the Linq. It sounds interesting, and they have progressed along with the project which is supposed to be open by this summer, and is estimated to cost $500,000,000. The observation wheel will be 30 meters taller than the London Eye. Another place to go and spend your money.

Friday, February 15, 2013

E Friday - outfits

Haven't posted anything about my granddaughter E recently, she will be turning eight in May, and is really changing fast. She reads very well - is in the middle of the Hobbit right now.

She picks out her own outfits, and has to dress warm for the cold wet winters

But she looked good for Valentines Day

Thursday, February 14, 2013

more kitchen - cabinets in

More kitchen stuff – this was taken prior to those window photos, the first thing we did was take down the ceiling, mainly to get rid of those big fluorescent light panels. We tore it down and then put up new panels rather quickly, as it’s cold in December and we needed to keep the heat in the house instead of escaping up into the attic and out the vents.

I moved the tv room wall back four feet to give us more room and plan on putting in a large counter that we can sit at. New ovens went in along with a matching microwave. The cabinets are from Ikea – we had originally planned on a raised panel birch cabinet, but when down there we walked through all of the kitchen displays and B liked the glossy white ones, which we ended up getting. This is just a test fit, to be sure it looked OK.

We are also putting in a center island with a gas cooktop. This is a test of the cabinets, to make sure that we have enough room to walk around them.

After a month and a half of work we finally have most of the cabinets in, and a lot of detail work ahead of us

We took out the door to the dining room, which is next to the ovens in the upper picture, and moved the door to the laundry room over to the right, shifting the refrigerator from its old place over to the left. The door to the laundry room shifted to a pocket door, to take up less room, as did the new door to the bathroom (down in front of the dryer). The cooktop is in but not yet hooked up, but the exhaust hood is up and working.

We are planning on a white quartz countertop, but haven’t picked it out yet. The island will get a stainless countertop along with the stainless sides and cabinet fronts as a contrast to the rest of the counters. Setting up the cabinets and moving our kitchen table back in made B realize that it would be nice to continue those outer cabinets the whole length of the wall rather than stopping at the end of the window, so it looks like another trip down to Ikea to get another seven feet of cabinets. We are planning on a cork floor, but again haven’t picked anything out. There is a crack in the concrete slab, so we can’t put down tile as it would just crack along with the slab, so need some kind of floating floor.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Kitchen remodel - window replacement

We’ve been working on remodeling our kitchen for several weeks now, don’t know if I posted these before, but this was part of the first phase of the work. We had an area of the ceiling that was lower than the rest with fluorescent lights up behind some frosted plastic panes, which was standard in a lot of kitchens built the same time as ours. We pulled that whole area down and installed can lights in the ceiling to get back that foot of height (you can see the area around the top of the wall in this photo). Pulled out some cabinets (the white areas) and are about to pull out the sink. The door on the far left leads to the dining room, and we just covered that over with drywall, and the opening was a door into the laundry area, with the door to the small bathroom visible. B never liked looking into the bathroom from the kitchen, so we moved that door around to another wall. The old window was four feet wide.

The new window is eight feet wide.

Last weekend we ended up putting in all the new cabinets, I’ll post photos of those later.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Kodo drummers at the Smith Center

Last week we went to see the Kodo drummers at the new Smith Center near downtown. This is a large entertainment complex with several entertainment spaces, but so far we have only been to the big hall. Several months ago we saw Wicked when it rolled through. Unfortunately it was a very popular event and I did not order tickets very quickly. So we ended up sitting way in back, which in Vegas means way up high. Like most of the spaces on the Strip the trend in big halls is to make the back seats run up high, presumably so everyone can see the stage. Unfortunately it also means that the stairs back there are almost ladders, and if you are in the top then you have a lot of climbing to do. But it was interesting watching the dressed up girls trying to go down those steep steps in their tall heals.

Along the sides are several levels of ‘box seats’ – for Kodo I wanted to sit close up in order to feel the drums, and was able to score a front box, which also gave us a very good view down onto the stage.

This is what the whole place looked like (with my fancy phone panorama)

As for the drummers – they were very good. It’s about 15 people (two girls in the group) that play drums, flutes, cymbals and dance at times. I was most impressed with the muscles on those dudes – when they first walked out it looked like a bunch of skinny little guys, but when they started swinging sticks as big as baseball bats over their heads for fifteen minute songs you could see how big their arms were. This video is a good representation of what they do

When they beat on those big drums you can really feel it.

You really don’t need to go to the gym for a workout after something like this

Friday, February 08, 2013

THE hotel entrance

We stayed at THE hotel at Mandalay Bay
for Christmas. This place follows a trend in Vegas, where a large company builds the main resort then leases out different spaces to other firms. The newest is Nobu at Caesar’s Palace (by Robert DiNiro and chef Nobu), just opened this week, and other resorts have different companies as well. Mandalay Bay is part of the MGM family; the main building is run by them, THE hotel (that’s the way they capitalize it) has a 43 story tower and the Four Seasons having the top floors of the main tower. I picked THE Hotel just to see what a specialized place was like, plus I was always impressed by the coffee shop whenever we walked by.

The entrance is not very impressive – just a small sign and a door off of the parking garage – no grand entrance here!

Walking to this tower from the Mandalay Bay casino is a little better. You first walk down a small hall past the sports book, then past the theater entrance (changing from the Lion King over to Michael Jackson right now) and the lobby up to Mix on top, then through a more interesting passage

To the side of that walkway is THE coffee shop. As I said, it always looked interesting but is only open for breakfast and lunch while we kept walking by in the evening.

We did get down to have breakfast there twice, and I would highly recommend it. Like most pretty coffee shops it is not inexpensive, I think it was around $50 for breakfast for the two of us, but being a short vacation out I wanted to do fancy a little bit.

Wednesday, February 06, 2013

Three early February things

1. It is a bright clear sunny day, and I can enjoy the sunrise behind the mountains as I drive towards the east on the way to work. It goes from black with all the valley lights twinkling ahead of me to a nice pink/orange coming from behind Sunrise Mountain. In a few weeks the sun will be peeking over during the morning drive, saying hello to me in its own way.
2. To be healthy and enjoy doing the work myself on my house. All of the heavy deconstruction is done and now it’s on to adding back and making a place where I can cook and bake and have fun.
3. To get a very nice letter from granddaughter, seeing how well she can write and how smart she is. Remembering her as I write back and answer her questions.