Upgraded Transportation

4. March 2014 20:04

A few weeks ago we decided it was time to trade in our 2005 Toyota Matrix on a new vehicle. The Matrix had been a good car and was relatively problem free.  However, it had over 97,000 miles. The odds of being inconvenienced by a major repair were not getting better. As I liked the style of the Matrix. The combination of the hatchback with fold down seats, allowed for carrying a lot more cargo with ease than could have been done with a sedan. The back seat had enough leg room for normal human adults and the front seat was at a comfortable level for entry and exit. We when out looking for something similar.

We were not planning on looking at hybrid models, but the Ford CMAX caught my eye. It was the most comfortable of the cars we took out for a test drive. And compared to some of the others, had a more open feeling -- it did not seem to have too much in the way of blind spots. We are still learning the features of the CMAX and getting used to the experience of driving the hybrid. The options in the dash for display provide second by second feedback on fuel and battery use as well as hints to improve efficiency. At times adjusting one's driving to improve the score can turn into a game. Plus there are all the improvements that have become standard since our Matrix was new, such as voice activated controls and Bluetooth connections for the cell phone use while driving.

And the most amazing thing -- we got the garage cleaned out so we actually can park the car inside for the first time ever!

Bare Root Planting Season

9. February 2014 20:29

Planting phase two of the orchard was not nearly as big a chore as was the initial row planting last year. Primarily because the ground had been prepared and holes dug out (and refilled loosely) during the summer months.

The plan for what was to be planted changed several times between last January and when the orders were placed in late October / early November. The first change was the decision to make the orchard two terraced rows instead of a hillside. It started with leveling out some of the ground around the initial row. But it became pretty clear in a short time that walking back and forth across a hill was a lot harder than walking on a level surface. Thinking about the odds of a misstep in the future, a lot more shovel work went into the preparation and a terraced plan emerged.

Then there was the huge chunk of sandstone discovered just below the surface in the center of the second row of the orchard. There was no way a self-respecting fruit tree could exist with that where the roots should go, so it was excavated, the soil added to the terrace and perhaps it will eventually seem decorative.

The bench graft apple trees ordered in March were yet another change to the plan. They filled most of the terrace to one side of the rock outcropping. A trip to the local demonstration orchard created another influence on what was to be planted this winter. There was a grouping of peach and nectarine trees in full bloom. It was lovely, and there were also daffodils planted in the orchard under the trees. The daffodil part was a simple addition. I would have been looking for a place to plant those. The flowering trees turned out to be varieties I had not seriously considered, yet they seemed to have good reviews for taste and had other good qualities.

So the Asian pears, quince and persimmon were preempted in favor of more peaches, nectarines, plums and apricots. It was supposed to be a three to four year plan. I will probably find spots for the ones that got bumped off this year's list before I am done.


(See photos of the orchard progress at http://gallery.vistagrande.com/album.aspx?aid=125.)

Wild winter weather

3. February 2014 22:10

Yesterday we received .51 inches of rain according to our weather station. That brings the total for 2014 up to .54" -- the additional amount having arrived mid-last week. Normally in this area January is wet and dreary. This year the January weather was more like summer. Actually, it was better than that since it lacked the fog and the nighttime temperatures did not drop as much as they had in August. As show in the photo, we had daytime temperatures into the 80's in January.

Typically the local hillsides turn green in December. As of the beginning of February they are still brown due to the lack of rain. If one looks around, many trees, both landscape and native, are in serious condition as a result of the drought and may not survive.

The lack of cooler temperatures also has a lot of the garden plants confused. Blackberries are blooming and some of the blueberries have fruit. The 4-in-1 apple tree that was planted last winter is blooming but never dropped its leaves from the past season. Likewise, three out of the four low chill pears are essentially evergreens this year. Most of the stone fruit trees had dropped some percentage of their leaves. However, the retained leaves were anything but pretty, so I finally started removing the stragglers. We only have two more weeks according to the calendar for the fruit trees to get in their "chill hours" and from the looks of things, most will have bloomed before then.

Technology Troubles - Part 2

31. October 2013 01:12

The laptop wasn't the only item giving us technical trouble over the past few months. The car decided it had some issue with its emission control system.  Of course, that is about all one can get out of the manual that came with the car.  But my spouse had the code reader which provided a little more information indicating that it was a minor issue.  The most likely problem was a gas cap seal that had failed.  It did appear that was not functioning, so we replaced it.  Unfortunately that did not result in the warning light going off. Logistical issues during the summer kept us from taking the car to the local repair shop until a couple weeks ago.  We were concerned it would be a major expense to fix whatever the mystery problem turned out to be, however, we were lucky.  It was only a hose in the system which was leaking.

On the other hand, the glitch in the kitchen was a major hit to the finances.  Our wall oven had gotten progressively cranky.  Every so often while cooking, the upper oven which had a convection feature would decide that there was a problem and start beeping and blinking "F1". Of course, the troubleshooting section of the owner's guide said little more than turn off the oven, let it cool and if it happens again, call for service.  At first this meant we would end up having our dinner a bit later than planned since the lower oven still worked.  However, in the past few months it became apparent that the convection was not working correctly (for instance, a fan stayed on that should have gone off).  And then there were the mornings where we found it beeping F1 when we got up.

It was becoming a safety concern and we decided it was time to replace the oven. Given that the oven was by then 21 years old, there was no hope of having the electronics involved replaced.  Our local appliance store was having a customer only special sale, and we went in to see what would work. At first glance, there were lots of choices.  But then reality set in. White was not a favored color.  And the options available in white and only 27" wide were even fewer.  That still provided several acceptable choices.  However, when we checked the installation information, the situation started looking grim.  Most of the ovens needed 1/4" more width than was available.  The newer version of what we had would fit the width -- but it was over an inch taller on the exposed surfaces and would block the doors above and/or drawer below.  So we got down to one manufacturer  which had an oven that might fit without a complete re-do of the kitchen cabinetry. 

This past weekend we had the new oven installed. It was very, very close. Actually, some of the trim is a smidgen too wide and the drawer in the cabinet to the one side rubs against it as it opens. Other than that, it seems like a nice product.  It has some features that were not available twenty years ago such as a proofing option for allowing bread to rise.  I had to try that out and it worked beautifully.  Now I won't be limited to the odd shaped loafs that come out of the bread machine. It also has convection in both upper and lower ovens, so in theory I can speed cook in both.  Of course, I doubt if I would have a need to do so.  Hopefully we are good for another twenty years of baking, broiling and roasting.

Windows Woes

22. October 2013 23:19

Technology troubles were at the root of why summer came and went without any posts here.  One morning in mid-May, shortly before I was heading to the other coast for a visit with family, my HP Windows 7 laptop refused to wake up.  Some of the LEDs blinked, but the screen stayed black.  The diagnosis tured out to be a failed mother board, so it was not going to be a simple fix.   Because the family visit was triggered by my father having been very seriously ill, repairing the computer simply went to the back burner for several weeks.   I limped along with my old XP laptop for email and web browsing and my spouse's Kindle for Skype. 

While repairing an older laptop seemed of dubious economic value, I hoped that it would be possible since it had a very nice docking station and migrating to Windows 8 was not remotely something I wanted to do.  Besides, it was summer and playing out in the garden was prefereable to spending hours in front of a computer re-installing and tweaking programs and dealing with a brand new, bigger than any previous set of "windows annoyances".  So I told the tech to try for a replacement motherboard.

Unfortunately, his usual supplier did not have the required board.  He did find another vendor who claimed to have a brand new (not used or refurbished) board.  It was a little more expensive than the initial estimate, but still in the same ball park.  He was very slow to ship.  Finally, around the July 4th holiday, the board came, was installed and I got my laptop back.  Things were back to normal at last!

The next morning, the laptop was back to non-functional, much like the initial failure.   We suspect, that it was a refurbished board, not new.  And he was even slower in refunding the purchase price when the failed board was returned.  I hope that vendor has some bad reviews now.

After some research, the tech found a company that would repair the mother board.  It would replace defective or know to the troubled parts and return an improved working board that was guarenteed to work.  This would cost more than a replacement board, but it was supposed to be including upgrades.  This one also turned out to be a very slow vendor.  And then when the board finally arrived and was installed in the laptop, the result was a big nothing.  The machine would not even power on.

At that point it was Labor Day weekend, the end of summer and it was time to give up on the repair and start dealing getting a new laptop set up.  I am still baffled how Microsoft thought that removing features from Windows in version 8 was a good idea for customers who actual do use "windows" and want something more than is available on a smart phone. 

Little Boxes on the Hillside

6. April 2013 16:16

Maybe not little boxes, but definitely on the hillside, the raised bed area for our vegetable garden has been more than tripled.  Our next door neighbor Charlie and his son were a huge help in getting the boxes from the driveway to their designated spots.  They are built from a composite material instead of plain lumber and thus should be a perfect solution for the garden.  However, they also seem to weigh a lot. 

The edge of the hill comes a bit too close on a couple of the new beds.  That will have to be addressed over the next month or so as the hill gets sculpted around the garden and orchard.  Meanwhile we need to get the drip system from the ground into each of the new boxes and fill them with the planter mix that will be delivered in a couple days.

(See additional photos of the progress with the garden expansion at http://gallery.vistagrande.com/album.aspx?moid=2669 and following.)

Snake in the Grass

5. April 2013 04:54

Actually, it was snake in the weeds today.  The mail had just been delivered so I was on my way to get it from the mailbox when I saw a snake just off the driveway in the weeds.  This is by no means the first time we have found a snake in that particular area. But it was the first time for finding a snake featuring the rattles at the tip of its tail.  My spouse kept watch on it while I went in for the camera.  The rattler seemed in no hurry and allowed me to take pictures from several places.  I guess it figured we were no threat and was happy to soak up the sun.

Even more unusual was the fact that while I was getting the camera, my husband noticed a second snake just a few feet away.  But that one was a gopher snake, the kind we have encountered frequently.  The sunlight caught its scales just right -- it almost sparkled.  It moved off and when I checked again some minutes later, it was doing what a good gopher snake should do -- heading down a gopher hole.

You can see some additional photos of the snakes at http://gallery.vistagrande.com/album.aspx?moid=2663

Spring has Sprung

25. March 2013 03:30

And we have a bumper crop of weeds to show for it. Much more diverse and robust than the weeds covering the hill last spring.

Winter was busy with holidays, birthdays, other seasonal events along with transitioning into retirement. Things have been happening, but not with any pattern that would make for a decent paragraph or two.

The garden area has been greatly expanded with permanent fencing on three sides. The first row of the orchard was planted and blackberries and raspberries were planted along the new fence. The dwarf citrus trees were moved from pots to the space between the fence and the driveway side. Additional raised beds have been built and are ready to be installed in the garden area.

The parakeet flock has been active as well. A pair of bourkes produced two clutches of four. Unfortunately they skipped a critical step and it was just eggs. On the other hand, Jade and Jasper, the red rump pair, finally settled down to raising a family. Unlike their behavior the past two years, this time Jade brooded the eggs and chicks and Jasper behaved properly - at least until the three chicks fledged. Jade started a new clutch as soon as the first batch started venturing out from the nest box. Expecting more chicks any day now.

Pomegranate Jelly

20. November 2012 18:55

We returned from a trip visiting family in the Fresno area with half a dozen very large pomegranates. Pomegranate jelly seemed like the logical thing to do with them.  Actually, that was about the only thing I could imagine.  With something like apples I might have a lot more options.  With pomegranates, my experience is pretty limited.  Almost nonexistent, actually. 

As far as I recall, the first time I encountered a pomegranate, I was a freshman in college.  Right before we went home for the holidays, the dinner was a fancy buffet which included ice sculptures and decorative fruit arrangements.  I remember that one of the my group for dinner grabbed a pomegranate and made a fuss about it.  Like a lot of other things that year, it was a new experience.  Since then I have seen a lot more pomegranates - in the produce department in the fall or hanging on someone's tree, but never actually had one in hand. 

So besides instructions for making jelly and a recipe for the pomegranate variety, I needed to find out how to get the seeds out and extract the juice.  The process went well for a first try and we ended up with four and a half jars of jelly as a result.

Rain, Rain

29. October 2012 20:48

Shortly the arrival of fall came the weather.  Summers on the central coast have so little variation in the weather that if the local forecasters didn't go out and report from various community events, it would be hard to prove we weren't seeing reruns. 

In the past few weeks we have had some rather hot days, a couple warm and humid ones, and even a few cool days that actually felt like an autumn day.  And then we had our first real rain.  Since I was planning to water so the ground would be soft enough to weed and plant some groundcover seeds, I was happy to be spared the effort of dragging the hose around and adjusting the sprinkler to get at the needed spots.  A week later, the weather was very hot again and all of a sudden there were thousands of baby weeds popping up.  What had been looking like an hour or so with the hula hoe turned into a project for Roundup.  It cooled again after the area was sprayed, but then got hot again. 

As the weather cools once more, it looks like the weedlings are dying off.  As there is no rain in the forecast, I probably should water the area to confirm it is ready for the clover seeds to be planted.





Month List