Friday, May 24, 2013

E's eight!

We recently went up to Portland to visit our daughter and granddaughter. Usually just my wife goes there, but this time I also went along. The reason to go in May is supposedly the chance of having nice weather up there as well as it being granddaughter E’s birthday. This year she turned eight and was very excited. She originally asked for a company cheese cake like the one her mom made before, but then changed her mind and asked for a carrot cake. Dad was up late the night before grating carrots and making one from scratch, ending up with a pretty good cream cheese frosting the next morning. Somebody really liked it.

Yes, she was very excited to be turning eight. Everybody in her second grade class made her birthday cards (the teacher gives them class time and materials to do it) and several of them were of wombats – her topic for a class project and now her favorite animal.

E reads a lot, I’m impressed with her level and her understanding. We try to send her several books every month, and she is moving far past what we thought. She finished the Hobbit (and complained about what was different in the movie) and is on to the Lord of the Rings series. She finished the first Harry Potter book, we watched the first movie when I was there and she pointed out things that were different than the book, things I hadn’t noticed. So in order to skip all of those postage costs we decided to give her a Kindle, so that we could just pick out books for her remotely. The last time B was up there E kept taking her Kindle so B had to resort to paper books (oh my). Her mom is opposed to her getting a web device so we figured a Kindle that just let her go into the cloud and grab new books we purchased would work fine (though we did get complaints).

I think she liked it, especially the backlight so she can read under the covers without mom seeing her room light on. (we also did an Ikea stop while up there, and E ended up with one of their mice)

What is she reading? Well, I had on our Kindle last time The Butterfly Dress by Miranda which E read twice back then, and she wanted to read it again so that is the book she picked. What else is on there? Miranda’s new book the Blue Mermaid, Mieville’s Un Lun Dun, Pullman’s His Dark Materials (she started on the hardcover Golden Compass on her last visit), Heinlein’s Door Into Summer (one of my fav old sci fi books) and I had to include a horse story for a little girl Bryant’s Horse Crazy. We gave her paper copies of the first three Diskworld stories a few weeks ago, and will probably upload some more as she reads up what she already has.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Steve Wynn

We just got back from a trip up to Portland, celebrating our granddaughter E’s eighth birthday. Now I’ve got another camera full of photos to extract. We had a good time – which is really nice age for a pleasant kid. She was a joy to be around and we had a lot of fun, tons of giggles with Grammy. We also made both the Blond Duck’s peanut butter oatmeal cookies and the below pretzel butterscotch ones. E did a great job in smashing the peanuts and pretzels, and had a great time doing it. She is also great at mixing.

Warning: Rant ahead. The last time I went up to Portland we drove, which is basically a two day trip from Las Vegas. Well, it’s right on a thousand miles (1600km) which is a sixteen hour drive (plus stops), that’s a little too much for an old guy like me to handle in one go so we break it into two parts. There are a few routes up there, but we drove straight north through most of Nevada up to Twin Falls Idaho, spent a night in a hotel then turned left and drove west through most of Oregon over to Portland. I like driving, so the journey was part of the vacation as well as the destination. But this trip we didn’t have as much available time so we flew. I haven’t been on a commercial flight for several years and the experience is just as bad now as it was before. I really am offended by all of the security crap that the United States government makes everybody go through in order to fly. Come on, why the heck do I have to stand in line for an hour (or more), take off half my clothes and subject myself to all of the searches? Is it all just to make that stupid woman I was standing next to say ‘I feel so safe now’?

Back to this post – we tried something new this time and called a cab to take us from our house to the airport. The trip out went quickly; our cab driver was really friendly and talkative. On the return trip I was very impressed at how cab loading was handled at the airport. There is a line to get cabs with thirty marked spots on the curb in front of each terminal. A security person directs you to a spot, then calls enough cabs from the waiting group line to fill all of the spots; they load up and all leave at the same time as the next round of people are directed out. Then a new line of cabs pulls in to load. It went rather quickly, we arrived on a Monday afternoon which was relatively light and so only ten spots were used at a time. I imagine that Friday and Sunday afternoons are rather busy, hence the thirty spot marking out in front of terminal three.
The cab driver for our return was different than the earlier one; he did not talk, and did not appreciate my suggested route. Note for visitors: around 30% of cab rides in Las Vegas involve ‘long hauling’ or taking you on a route that causes a higher total charge. The favorite one from the airport is to take you via the freeway to your Strip hotel. This will add an additional $7 to your fair – instead of a $5 ride to the MGM it becomes a $13 ride. Anyway, our driver did take the route I wanted, and did not talk at all for the whole ride. This cab had a little drop down screen for the back seat, and played a continuous advertisement for the Wynn resort. Steve Wynn himself was doing the vocal pitch, so for twenty minutes I heard his loop about fifteen times. I know, it was made for the five minute ride between casinos, not for something longer, but I am sure glad it’s over (you can go hear him on the Wynn Resort website). And for some reason I want to have dinner at Andrea’s.

Steve Wynn is really the guy that created the current Vegas – he built (and sold) the Mirage, Treasure Island, and the Bellagio before building the Wynn. Most people admit that without him there would not be the huge resorts and casinos that we have now. I like his progression, gradually building up in class and style. The Bellagio to me is one of the prettiest properties (I do like the Palazzo a bit better though). The glass ceiling in their lobby is impressive, here’s B walking through it last Christmas.

Thursday, May 09, 2013


High allergy season here in Vegas, with all of the flowers and local vegetation blooming. Our yard is a major contributor, with the variety of things we have. The biggest producer of pollen around here are the mulberry trees, which are not native but used to be planted everywhere because of the great shade they provide. But now standard mulberries are banned and only fruitless (non blooming) varieties can be sold in the valley.

The same is true of olive trees, which we do have. Out front are two big olives that were probably planted back when the house is built. We don't eat the fruit, but there is a little old couple that comes around in the late fall and asks if they can pick from the trees. We don't keep the trees cut to a nice picking size but just let them grow, which has resulted in some rather large plants. We do hose them down now, to knock off some of the blossoms and reduce the number of olives produced because they are a mess just falling off of the tree. I was surprised at how fragrant the flowers are.

Here is B hosing down one of them - something she does every other day for the two weeks the blooms are opening.

Tuesday, May 07, 2013

Cooking with Joe - no bake butterscotch/pretzel thingies

Back from a quick trip to San Francisco – youngest son got married (finally!). Made an appointment for the countertop fabricators to come out, can’t do it for a few weeks but hopefully we should have the kitchen done soon, still on the details. We put some crown molding up in the front room, and B wants to continue that around into the kitchen, so it’s off to Lowe’s with the hope that our style is still sold and buy a bunch more. It’s the exact fitting that takes so long – with all the long runs cutting something a few millimeters short results in an unusable piece, so it takes time to get it all cut properly and installed.

I told Blond Duck that I would put up something to match her no bake peanut butter oatmeal cookies, these are a little sweeter but still pretty good.

Before we went I made some treats, recipe found at Mamamia who puts up a lot of easy things to make. The description sounded OK – pretzels, peanuts and butterscotch.

1 1/2 cups powdered sugar
1 cup creamy peanut butter
6 tablespoons butter, melted
2 cups crushed pretzels (about 6-1/2 ounces)
1 (11 ounce package--about 2 cups) butterscotch-flavored pieces
1/4 cup whipping cream
1/2 cup coarsely crushed pretzels
1/2 cup chopped peanuts

1. Line a 13x9x2-inch pan with foil. Lightly coat the foil with cooking spray; set aside. In a large mixing bowl, stir together powdered sugar, peanut butter, and melted butter. Stir in 2 cups crushed pretzels. Press mixture firmly into the bottom of prepared pan.

2. In a heavy medium saucepan, combine butterscotch pieces and whipping cream. Stir over low heat until pieces are just melted. – I used a microwave safe bowl, on for 30 seconds and stirred, when it was all soft enough to mix up smooth I stopped heating and spread it.

3. Carefully spoon and spread butterscotch mixture over crumb mixture in pan. Sprinkle 1/2 cup coarsely crushed pretzels and the peanuts evenly over butterscotch mixture; press gently. I just used peanuts, figured there were enough pretzels in the bottom.

4. Cover and chill for at least 2 hours. Cut into bars to serve. Store in refrigerator for up to 1 week.
They came out pretty good, fast, and easy enough to show my granddaughter how to make, so I think this will be on my list for the next time we get together with her. Now on to the Duck’s peanut butter things.

Thursday, May 02, 2013

Yellow birds

Not much going on, but for some reason I seem to have no free time to sit and do fun things. Still working on the kitchen, all of the end finishes seem to take a long time – I guess it’s that way with construction, doing the core work goes quickly but then to make it pretty it takes a lot of details and time at the end. We have the stainless island top in, and picked out the countertop (quartz from DuPont that looks like marble) and installer, so that will be coming soon. B already picked out the tile for the backsplash (mix of small glass, marble and tile strips) and picked up that, waiting in the garage to install after the countertop. Just have the flooring to select; we need a floating floor because of cracks in the concrete slab, thinking of some type of cork to be softer underfoot than tile.

We have three hummingbird feeders scattered around the house. They take a cup of liquid, and this time of year I’m filling them up every three or four days. Besides the local hummers that are here year ‘round we have some migrating ones passing through and there are a lot of nesting ones. I don’t think the first round of hummer babies are out yet, but the nesting finches out front have their first batch of babies already flying around. But the feeders also attract other birds, there is a pair of pretty yellow ones that we first saw last summer and are back again. These guys must have long tongues, as they do spend a bit of time on the feeder and keep coming back. So they are getting something.