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.

 

 

 

 

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly ... Bugs

9. October 2012 18:14

Aphids attacked one patch of corn and the sunflowers growing nearby. They didn't seem to really do much damage other than cosmetic. So when I went to check how the corn was ripening, the first thing I noticed were the ugly black spots of the aphids. Then I saw some other much bigger and ugly looking bugs sitting on the growing ears. So back to the house for the camera and bug jar. I didn't know what it was, but I was afraid it might be something nasty and wanted to get an identification. After paging through a number of references, I finally found a picture that matched. It was only bad if one was an aphid. It was the larval form of the multicolored Asian ladybeetle. Although ugly, it turns out to be one of the good guys.

Hall Lizard

9. October 2012 18:12

Yesterday afternoon, I found this little critter lounging in the sunlight streaming though the panes of the front door.  He was way too comfortable to run off right away, so I had time to get the camera and take a few photos before going to find a container to use for the capture and release effort that followed.  He was about three inches long, most of that being tail.  When I got him outside in full sun, the colors of the scales on his back were apparent - yellow and blue - at least for a second or two before he dashed away.

The Scorpion and the Spider

9. October 2012 17:00

A couple weeks ago I was in the kitchen and whatever it was in the corner next to the desk did not look right for just a bit of the debris that has been following me in from the garden.  So I looked closer.  Then went for the camera and the bug jar.  It was a scorpion that had managed to get its tail tangled in a spider web.  Since it was still alive, I got it into the bug jar after I got its photo and then took it out to the front hill for release.  The scorpion looked a little worse for the experience, but maybe was the winner of the battle.  Some time later  I went to sweep up and found a dead spider in that same corner.  Perhaps the scorpion managed to sting his opponent before he was snagged in the web.

We seem to find one of these somewhere in the house every few years.  One prior visitor had gotten its sting hooked in the family room carpet and the threads needed to be cut to free the critter.  A couple others just appeared in the middle of the hallway or even an upstairs bedroom.  How they get to where we find them remains a mystery. 

Ring Neck Snake

9. October 2012 16:56

Last week as we went to put the trash and recycle out by the street, my husband found a small snake outside the front steps.  It was pencil thin and perhaps 15 inches long.  The sun was already past the hill, so in the poor light it looked mostly like a plain gray color with not much in the way of markings.  Of course, we had to get a camera to take photos of this visitor, since we did not recognize him.   Apparently that was a bit threatening from the snake's perspective and he responded by coiling his tail into a cone and pointing the underside at us.  That was how we found out that the bottom of the snake was a dark orange red color and finally noticed that there was a band of the same color around his body behind his head.   So we were then able to identify this one as Diadophis punctatus, the ring necked snake. 

You can find more information about this species at http://www.californiaherps.com/snakes/pages/d.p.pulchellus.html

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