Friday, June 28, 2013

Our garden is blooming, and we've picked a lot of tomatoes over the past few weeks, but it looks like that's the end of those for a few months. Tomatoes don't set fruit when it's too hot, and it looks like this weekend will be the start of our hot period, which usually comes the last two weeks of July, but 118f (48c) is predicted for tomorrow. We also put a few of these back there, which seem to be a good symbol of Las Vegas, especially this weekend.

Along with some of our clear blue sky.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Dogs in the Park

We have been going out for walks in the evening to get some exercise. We leave the house right around sunset and walk over to a park a few blocks from our house and then walk around the perimeter a few times before coming back. The park covers a full block, which in Vegas is about ten acres. The center is open grass with trees and a concrete walk around the outside, with picnic tables, grills and shade structures scattered near the streets, and a big children’s play structure in one corner. The grassy area is not flat, but there are usually people practicing soccer anyway.

Depending on when we go we sometimes see assorted people walking their dogs. Since we’ve been doing this for a while we are recognizing most of them and talking a while. Last night quite a few of them showed up together. This is what the park looks like

And zooming in you can see the assortment of dogs there.

A few minutes later we were treated to some color in the sky. Because of our low humidity and usually no clouds sunsets are not usually very spectacular.

This might be our last sunset walk for a while – right now it’s 102 (40c), with 117 (48c) predicted for this weekend. That usually peaks at around 5pm, but it doesn’t cool off very much until after midnight. I think we’ll go back to floating in the pool at sunset instead.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Quiet evenings

We’ve got a big swimming pool out in our back yard. Well, not back but alongside the house. This is our first house with a pool. Didn’t have one in San Diego – our lot there was alongside a canyon and not really wide enough, and the weather was a little cool anyway. When we looked at houses in Vegas in anticipation of our move we had several requests: first was no homeowners association, I’ve discussed that concept before and I do not plan on ever living in a place where someone else can decide what I should do with my house and yard.

Our second request was for an older house with a big yard. Down in San Diego we were fairly close to downtown. The house was built in 1929, and the lot was a little over a half acre (1675 sq meters), with a portion of that rambling down a hillside into a canyon. We had a large garden and liked doing outside stuff. Las Vegas is filled with new housing developments, and we looked at many. Drawbacks were that all of them had homeowner associations, and it seems people buying new houses in Vegas didn’t do much outside, as the lots were barely larger than the houses; usually less than a meter between homes and around a three meter deep back yard. I guess it’s the heat here, people just stay inside with air conditioning and don’t do things outside. We ended up with a house built in 1969 (old for Vegas) with 0.6 acres (2,000 sq. meters).

Las Vegas started out with the train station and train yard over a hundred years ago and grew out from there. Then in the 50’s casinos started growing southward along Las Vegas Boulevard, just outside the city limits (to avoid city taxes). Apartments were built just east of the casinos to house workers, and then the valley started filling up in all directions from these central areas. The Las Vegas area now has almost 2,000,000 people living here. The Las Vegas valley is relatively flat, so development built outward fairly consistently, with no big open areas left unfilled. Most housing is single family homes, with no large central concentration of apartments or condos, so we are really spread out. The valley is about 20 miles wide (32km) with mountains down both side, and developments now spread out east and west right up to the mountains. Most new construction is southeast to expand the city of Henderson or towards the north.

Some people built homes away from the city core, and you can drive around the valley and recognize these little pockets of older places by the groupings of larger trees. We live in a desert, so far this year we have had around .6 inches (2cm) of rainfall. Native vegetation is just low bushes scattered around, with no trees, so anything over a meter high has been planted and watered fairly recently. Older homes usually have mulberry, pine or salt cedar (tamarisk) trees. These types of trees require a lot of water, and with recent water restrictions are not planted anymore, but were popular plantings in the 60’s. Many homes around us have tall (20 meter) pine trees, while our house has two large olives out front and a big peach tree and an ash out back. Some type of beetle is attacking the pines, and quite a few big trees in the neighborhood have succumbed and are standing all brown and dead.

Most older homes have gone through several owners since construction, and with the heat and sunshine usually one of the owners put in a pool along the way. Ours is a rather large rectangle, about 6 x 12 meters. It’s not heated but there is a cover that rolls up at one end and is pulled across by a motor to close. We usually keep it covered, to keep out the dirt and slow evaporation. With the bright sunshine and warm days the water temperature is now up to 34c (94f) which makes it rather pleasant to float around in. Last night we were out there at sunset, enjoying the warm water and darkening skies. While we have converted most of the yard from grass to low water desert landscaping we did keep a large section of lawn out back, where the peach tree is planted. Being one of the few lawns in the area this attracts a lot of birds, so our yard is usually quite noisy with all of the comings and goings and arguments. A large group of sparrows like a big bush (3 meters high, 2 wide) on the side and quite a few spend the night in it. This leads to a lot of chirping at sunset which dies down as it gets dark. We imagine them all saying good night to each other, over and over. A small group of bats nest somewhere in our neighborhood, and they fly over the grassy area catching insects.

So we float in the water listening to the decreasing chirping and watch the bats flit back and forth overhead as the stars appear. Usually cold drinks are on the edge of the pool to provide refreshment. We can just see the tips of the taller casinos down on the strip over the eastern wall, but some trees we planted out there are getting big and that view has decreased. It’s just a very pleasant way to quiet down and end the day.

Friday, June 14, 2013

Kinky Boots

I’m sitting here reading other blogs, and looking at an old post on tourists over at Frankie G’s (over there on the lower right) where he is discussing tourists in Vegas. I liked one paragraph that is fairly descriptive of what happens when people get here for the first time: “I have a theory about why the Las Vegas tourist is generally less tolerable than others. Resentment can build up fast in this town for a tourist. The first step off the plane is a kick in the head. Las Vegas looks nothing like you imagined. Then you find out that every single step of Las Vegas Boulevard is designed to leave you with less money, the restaurants are twice as expensive as they need to be, the bus system sucks, the cabbies suck, the cops are cowboys, and your proven blackjack system didn’t work. All of your expectations, delusions of grandeur, and preconceived notions are shot down one by one.” Sounds pretty much like Vegas to me.

Locals however know what to expect, and there are a lot of things for us to do that don’t involve the Strip, though we do like to go down and walk around once in a while. Kind of like people that live in southern Florida; how many times do they go to DisneyWorld?

The Union Pacific Railroad had a big hand in starting Las Vegas. This was a convenient place to stop for water for their engines a long time ago, and they quickly put in a big engine yard, station and switching yard. A few years ago the UP gave the city over sixty acres that they didn’t need anymore (and were being taxed on) right across the freeway from downtown. It took the city a while to figure out what to do with this property, and they are still discussing things to put on it. But one of the things that was built is the The Smith Center for the Performing Arts which opened a few years ago. It’s the home to the Las Vegas Philharmonic and the Nevada Ballet Theatre, has several stages and quite a few interesting things come through there. We saw Wicked when it came by, as well as several other events. They just announced that the musical version of Kinky Boots will move from Broadway in New York and start touring next year, and this will be their first stop, probably sometime in September 2014. They did a number from the show at the recent Tony Awards, where the show won several awards.

We have seen the movie it is based on several times, and look forward to catching this adaptation when it comes here. It looks like a road show will travel well.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

California trips

We lived down in Southern California for twenty five years before moving here to Las Vegas, and liked California a lot. People have a different attitude in California than in the rest of the country, more adventuresome and accepting, and the weather is marvelous. We fixed up our last house in San Diego, adding a second floor and really making the yard nice. About ten years ago we decided we needed a change; Interstate 15 was completed behind our house and the traffic was becoming very obtrusive, everything was becoming too crowded and it was just too cool at night to really enjoy our yard.

San Diego has a beautiful Mediterranean type climate – the summer forecast (for about five months) was easy to anticipate: “night and morning low clouds, high of 72 low of 65” (22c, 18c). Winter was not much different, just a bit cooler. We lived about five miles in from the coast, very close to the football stadium and just a short ride to downtown. In the fifteen years we lived there it never got down to freezing. We were able to grow just about any kind of plant we wanted – out front were large giant Bird of Paradise bushes and a bougainvillea that had been growing over the driveway arch for seventy years. Out back we had an assortment of bananas (with fruit), citrus trees, lots of flowers and a large garden. At one point we had over two hundred rose bushes, and one year I went wild for heirloom tomato seeds and planted over thirty varieties (from purple to yellow to striped, even some plain red ones). Very lovely, except when the sun went down the fog came in from the ocean (not thick at our place, just as low clouds that made the sky light and clammy) and a breeze came up. 18c (65f) may sound nice but it was just a bit too cool and damp for us to sit out back comfortably. It was dry – under 300mm (12 inches) per year, but as long as we watered the yard we could grow anything.

We looked around the west for a place to move to. We investigated and visited several cities, including Tucson (we had both lived in Phoenix and didn’t want that again), Portland and Las Vegas among others. We wanted more sunshine – B grew up in Phoenix and liked the desert climate, which eliminated Portland and most of the northwest. B wanted a big airport to make it easy to travel, which cut out Tucson. At that time our daughter was living in Vegas, which was a plus for here. There was a big airport with flights everywhere, along with lots of entertainment, a great many nice restaurants, and lots of sunshine. We knew that we would lose our garden – it’s a desert here, with horrible alkali soil and freezing temperatures in the winter. Most plants have no problem with the heat, as long as they get sufficient water.

Two things we didn’t really notice before moving: the wind (lots of wind) and the summer bugs (called water bugs, but really big cockroaches). The wind is impressive – in the summer when it’s 39c (100f) and the wind blows (32kph/20mph steady with gusts double that) when you step out of a cold air conditioned casino it’s like walking into a blast furnace. Coupled with the low humidity, usually around 3%, you really feel dry. The bugs come out at night; they like water and spend the hot days out under the grass, wandering around the yard after dark. We don’t get them in the house, but it is strange when we go to throw something in the compost bin at night and the surface of that is just covered with hundreds of black and brown crawling things about 5cm (2”) long.

In the past few weeks we’ve made several trips back to California. One trip was to the San Francisco bay area where our youngest son got married. This was a nine hour drive through the central valley of California, which was very pleasant in itself. I like driving, and the freeways in California are nice to drive on. Everybody is going fast, and there are off ramps with places to stop and eat every twenty miles or so. I-5 runs along the west side of the central valley up on the start of the coastal mountains, so that you have a nice long view to the east over the farmland and orchards. The weather was fine – sunny skies and warm without the typical Spring bay fog. Last week we went down to Los Angeles for a train show. That’s a four hour drive through the desert and mountains, different than the greens of farmland. We did notice all of the flowers and greenery in the LA area, similar to what we had in San Diego. B misses the ability to have lovely gardens like that and would like to move back to California. I’m not sure I could take all of the crowds and traffic, and the loss of sunshine.

I’m listening to Penn Jillett's Sunday School podcast. Penn is the bigger, more talkative half of Penn and Teller, some pretty good magicians with a permanent show here at the Rio. We’ve seen their show several times, and it is very enjoyable experience – go see it if you come here. Penn is pushing his annual party, Penn Jillette’s Private Bacon and Doughnut Rock and Roll Dance Party , this year being held at the South Point Casino starting at 11pm on Friday July 12. It sounds like an interesting experience which I will try to attend this year. (Free bacon and donuts and live music – wow).

Wednesday, June 05, 2013

Warm spring

Wow, another blog about the weather. Well, it’s something we all do well, and my original purpose in starting this blog was to share photos and happenings around Las Vegas. We had a cooler May, our swimming pool has a cover but no heater, so it does warm up as the temperature goes up and the sun shines on it longer. Usually by Memorial Day (in the US that’s the last Monday in May) water temp is up to where we like it, a nice warm 33c (92f) but this year it only made it up to 32c (90f), but it still felt good jumping in yesterday. June is starting out hot – 44c predicted for this weekend (111f or so) so July, which is traditionally our hottest month, should have some pretty nice days. Usually it doesn’t get above 44c (110f) and then July has most days over that, so hitting that mark early might indicate something.

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We drove down to the Los Angeles area this last weekend to attend the Great American Train Show. My model train group set up a layout, and I had fun playing with trains for two days and looking at some of the amazing things people can come up with and accomplish. We run N scale trains, where the individual cars are about seven cm (three inches) long. We were next to a garden railroad group which plays with larger trains – each of their cars is over forty cm (sixteen inches) . At that scale it’s easy to see and make things, and they had a lot of animation with moving fans and fountains and things and accompanying sound effects, all very pretty, except for having to listen to it all over and over again for two days.

The place where I work is having an ‘exercise’ today. It’s a big government owned compound that takes security very seriously, the guards on our gate wear very worn guns that I am sure work very well. We had some practice last week by building, but today is a full blown campus wide thing, involving local police, fire and rescue organizations. It’s supposed to be an ‘active shooter’ scenario, with (according to the handouts the guards gave us today) simulated weapons fire, response by outside fire/law enforcement and role-players in stage makeup simulating wounded parties. We’re supposed to go lock ourselves in the offices when it starts (almost everyone is in cubes, very few offices so it will be rather crowded for a few hours) and then eventually be evacuated. We’re planning on two hours or so being locked up in those small windowless rooms, then getting to run outside into the 39c (103f) sunshine and stand around for a while. Quite a few people took the day off rather than participate, and many others are working up at our site north of town just to get away from it. It will be a rather unproductive day, expensive too tying up a thousand people and all of those outside agencies. But I guess with what we see in the news it’s better to practice this stuff than to have something really happen and not know how to react.