Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Tiptoe Through The Tulips: Tropaeolum major (Nasturtium)

I ran across this flowering weed-vine in the yard, and decided that it was too pretty to call a weed, so I have accepted and embraced it into the HIAHS fold.

While this is commonly referred to as a nasturtium, that genus name is used to describe a type of watercress. The scientific name of this guy is one of those that I need to find a Latin expert to know how to pronounce, so I think I'll stick with the common name. It's an easy plant with lots of bright orange flowers. There's basically no scent, but that's okay. I like it anyway.

Earthquake Number Two

We've lived here for 15 months now, and we just had our second earthquake. This was a big one, but a lot farther away. It was a 5.4* magnitude just east of LA, probably 120 miles from where we live.

There was a long, low rumble, and I heard some moving of picture frames, maybe, and then it was done. Compared to the first one I was in, this was longer and lower and less generally thrilling. However, I knew what it was pretty quickly this time.

The first thing I did was to run down to check on the foundation that is currently in a state of limbo. More to come on that project, but for now just know that nothing shifted here, temporary foundation and all.

Post-posting edit. I was too quick on the draw with my post -- the quake was just downgraded from 5.8 to a 5.4.

Sunday, July 27, 2008


I am finding myself massively annoyed at everything around me lately. Maybe it started with the visit of the mother-in-law. But, then again, maybe I was already in annoyed-land before she came.

The week before she came, I think I must have been short on the phone with Blind Date #4, because now she won't return my calls. I'm not sure what I said, but I do know that when I'm in business mode I really shouldn't answer the personal call, unless things are really slow (which they were not). I didn't follow my own rule, and I must have messed that one up.

You already know how quickly (one weekend) I got to the point that everything that my mother-in-law said annoyed me. Some of you have already weighed in that I was out of line with that annoyance.

This week I was annoyed when I had set up appointments to meet with a few contractors after work, and then they either came early or called and wanted to chat for a while about it ahead of time, when I was in the middle of a busy work week, and couldn't really rush down and answer the door at 1pm or whenever it was. I found myself wanting to make a big sign that says "Working from home is not the same thing as not having a job."

We found out that the account we set up for our trash collection was, apparently, never set up. So I called to try and correct the issue, and the lady on the other end just kept using phrases like "Well, since you never called about this..." and "Since you didn't have it switched from the previous owner...", and I was quite unable to keep from being snippy at this person calling me a liar.

I don't want to be like this. I don't want to be a person that everyone avoids and is afraid of dealing with. I don't want to have a reputation as a loose cannon that you never know what you're walking into (though I'm pretty sure I already do). And I don't know why I'm feeling like this and acting like this.

Do you ever have days (or weeks) where you just can't keep your cool? What do you do to regain your composure? I need some ideas. The people around me will thank you for them.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Friday Random Ten

My next concert on the HIAHS tour is "Weird Al" Yankovic. I saw him at Fiesta Texas in San Antonio, and DUDE that guy is hyperactive. It was a great show, complete with massive numbers of costume changes and visual effects galore. While this doesn't give you the best idea of what a concert might be like, it's one of my favorite parodies of his. The video he put together is better, but embedding of that isn't allowed from the YouTube site.

Here's whatPandora did to me when I asked for a Weird Al station.

"Another One Rides The Bus" by "Weird Al" Yankovic* on Dr. Demento's 30th Anniversary Collection: Dementia 2000
"Kickapoo" by Tenacious D on The Pick of Destiny
"It's A Long Way To The Top" by School of Rock on School of Rock: Music From and Inspired By the Motion Picture
"Almost" by Bowling For Soup on A Hangover You Don't Deserve
"You Make Me" by "Weird Al" Yankovic* on Even Worse
"Almost" by Bowling For Soup on A Hangover You Don't Deserve
"Kyle Quit" by Tenacious D on Tenacious D
"It's A Long Way To The Top" by School of Rock on School of Rock: Music From and Inspired By the Motion Picture
"Summer '68" by Pink Floyd on Atom Heart Mother
"One Week" by Barenaked Ladies on Stunt

This is hideous. Really, really hideous. Not only do I only have 6 groups reflected in a 10-song space, I only have 8 songs! What kind of a station would I want to listen to that repeats the same song in a 10-minute period? Also, Pandora is clearly focused on the musical sound, and not on the lyrical content when it's looking for themes. I guess that's valuable, but I've always been drawn more to lyrics than the music. As such, I found this pile of music generally offensive and not what I was interested in hearing, even though I paid good money to go see Weird Al. I get that Weird Al parodies a lot of rock songs, but I just wouldn't put him in a rock category.

* Acts I've seen live

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

I Survived the Mother-In-Law's Tongue

My mother-in-law came to visit almost ten days ago. I am finally, now, recovered enough to write a post about the fun that was. I'm convinced this must be what it's like for women who talk about how they "forgot" the pain of childbirth when it was over and they saw their child (which must be the reason they tend to have additional offspring). The only excuse I have for allowing her to come visit this time? I must have forgotten what the last visit was like.

So that I don't forget these things for the future potential visits, I will write them down here. These are the lessons I've learned from the visit of the MIL, this time around.

1. Don't let her stay at the house with us. In Austin, we had a very small house with just one bathroom, and used that as the reason that people who came to visit needed to stay in a hotel. We had one just down the street that we put people up in -- nothing fancy, but just enough so that we had a little respite from the visitors, and as a bonus -- no need to cook breakfast. The corollary to this (learned from a previous visit by the MIL) is not to allow them to pick the hotel. When she came to visit for Thanksgiving that year, she stayed at a place 45 minutes away. And expected us to go over there and spend time with her there.

2. Keep the schedule packed. If there is even a moment of downtime, it seems the world implodes. Don't let that happen, as the cleanup of a world implosion is unsurprisingly long and painful.

3. Pray for extra patience for the duration of her visit. I don't know how to avoid the condescension and the self-pitying (yes, she's better than me and the worst person in the world all at the same time -- hmm, where is that supposed to put me?). Since it can't be avoided, one must steel themselves for the onslaught, using all tools available.

4. Try to keep GB from talking to his mom too much. He gets more fed up with her, even than I do, but when he finally stands up to her, she gets mad and stomps off to her room to stew. Yes, she's six years old.

I'm sure there are more lessons that I should have learned, but this is what I remember, and what I don't want to forget for next time. Otherwise, I'd just like to leave you with a couple of choice MIL quotes from the weekend.

"If I'd known what having kids would have entailed, I wouldn't have had them." Thanks for wishing GB off the face of the planet.

MIL: "Do you see a trash can?"
HIAHS: "There's one right there."
MIL: "Oh, I'll just give this to you and look at this over here."
At least three permutations of this through the weekend. Geez, lady. Am I your personal lady-in-waiting or something?

"Heather, did you make this?" When a phrase like this is followed by a yes and then the crickets chirping, it makes one think you don't appreciate their sorbet/blanket/etc.

"I'm bored. I'm bored with myself. I'm bored just listening to what's coming out of my mouth." You're not the only one, lady.

"I would love to live out here. I'm moving out here. Well, not really, because I don't want to cramp your style. But how far is Solvang/Summerland/Paso Robles/San Luis Obispo/Ojai/Ventura?" Too close to us for you to consider.

"Can I help in the kitchen? You know, I hate to cook." I think this ranks up there with another offer-and-then-take-it-back sort of thing I heard recently.

I know we had some nice times too, but I have to say I was so emotionally drained when she left that I needed to take a couple of days just to recover to feeling normal again. Oh, and she'll be back with her husband in October. They will be staying in a hotel that time around, though. At least that's one lesson I hope I've learned.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Tiptoe Through The Tulips: Cacti Opuntia (Prickly Pear)

The prickly pears are in full bloom and are amazingly beautiful. The number of flowers on the plants just blows me away.

The flowers, up close and personal, are suprisingly complex and detailed. They are also bee magnets, and I sure hope they are making phenomenal honey off these types of buggers. I didn't manage to catch a pollen dude in action, but I've seen plenty out in the yard enjoying themselves. These cacti appear to be spineless, but they actually have very small spines that will get a person pretty good if you get too close. Mostly, the spines are just supposed to spontaneously fall off as a mutation that was performed to try and make a desert plant that could be used to feed livestock. I prefer bees in my backyard to cattle, though.

The "pears" are also are pretty nifty looking. Sometimes called "cactus figs", I would suggest being extra careful with the peeling of these before munching down.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Friday Random Ten

The real reason I went to that GMD concert that I talked about last week was to see Rich Mullins. He was there with his Ragamuffin Band, and I have to tell you I was completely entranced. He came out on stage in a very unassuming demeanor with bare feet (which I especially noticed because I tended to walk similarly on campus -- it was actually how GB noticed me at first), and talked about the importance of living in peace and humility. It was obvious that was how he lived, clearly more at home in a small acoustic set where he could interact with the people that had come, than in a large, heavily-produced show.

I remember being so impressed with the wide variety of musical instruments that he played, especially when he sat down, cross-legged, on the stage and played the lap dulcimer. I would still love to learn how to play one. Stores that sell dulcimers should probably pay royalties to his charity, in recognition of his contribution to interest in the instrument. As such, I really wanted to give you a video of Rich playing one of these, and this is just such a video. Enjoy Rich Mullins on the hammered dulcimer in his take on the Apostle's Creed.

I found, however, that I couldn't give you just the one song. With the beautiful poetic metaphors he set to music and the additional instrumental mastery of the guitar and piano, I had to also give you my long-time favorite of his songs. Plus, I can't do a reprise of this feature -- I won't be seeing him in concert again, as he was killed in a car accident about eighteen months after I saw him in college. So, I hope you'll also listen to this one -- it gives me goosebumps every time I hear it.

Oh, and it appears I've found the reason for my previously unexplainable love of Kevin Spacey. Hmmm.

When I asked Pandora to make a station for me that captured the essence of the Rich Mullins sound, they did alright.

"Heaven In His Eyes" by Rich Mullins and a Ragamuffin Band* on The Jesus Record
"Kiss The Cheek Of The Moon" by Wayne Kirkpatrick on The Maple Room
"Captured" by Chris Tomlin* on The Early Years
"I'll Be Free" by Kent Bottenfield on Back In The Game
"God Of Wonders" by Caedmon's Call on In The Company Of Angels - A Call To Worship
"Stand Up" by Everyday Sunday on Stand Up
"Kindness" by Chris Tomlin* on The Early Years
"I Am" by Bebo Norman on Big Blue Sky
"I Wanna Be Clean" by Nick Gonzales Of Salvador on Acquire The Fire: Unshakeable
"A Place On The Earth" by Fernando Ortega on Storm

I generally think of Rich Mullins a little more folksy than this list turned out, but it was an interesting set of songs, anyway.

* Acts I've seen live

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Beginnings of the Fun

There is a whole team of guys working on my house while I work. It's rather surreal, sitting in my office while the noise below make the house shake like a minor earthquake is in the area.

Our first project has kicked off today. We are starting with a new foundation, since, well, that's seems like the base of all of it. And as part of that kickoff, I wanted to show you the "before" pictures of what it looks like now.

This is a very nice specimen of how the foundation was designed to be when it was originally done. On the dirt, we have this layer of stones from the site, cemented together. On top of that is a nice 2x4 that the wood planks of the walls come out of. This little section of the foundation is in very good condition. We will still be replacing it, as a partial foundation repair would not really do any good.

Here you can see some of the worst of the foundation. The 2x4 that is supposed to be on the rock base is no longer there, and the plants from the outside are growing into the remaining space. As such, the walls that the whole house is supported on are water-damaged and rotting away. Yikes! In other parts of the foundation, the 2x4 board is warped or rotted or otherwise not structurally sound.

Here you can see how the outside wall of the kitchen is just balanced precariously on some rocks that were set there. No cement holding the stones together, no 2x4 board that the walls are nailed into for support. Nice stuff.

Today is the day that all the permits are in place for the "Earthquake Retrofit" work that we're having done. I don't know why they call it a retrofit -- they will be completely replacing the foundation all the way around the house. But, whatever. I'll take it if it means that the house is ready for its next 100 years when it's all over. Regardless, today the 5-man crew is working to support the house on these 4x4 posts -- shoring up the perimeter, they say. What I understand is that this is the first step towards demolishing the existing foundation. It's sort of exciting, not because I like the idea of having a temporary foundation for a couple of week, but because I know what the next projects are once this is done, and those are the fun and exciting ones.

I'll have to publish posts chronicling the progress through our construction/remodeling phase of life. Any lessons you learned that you would like to share would be of great interest to me.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Tiptoe Through The Tulips: Echeveria setosa (Hens and Chicks)

This groundcover exists in several places throughout the yard.

It's fuzzy and has these clumps of reddish-orange flowers. The flower stems are about 6-8 inches long, but the flowers are quite small. I had asked my mom when I last visited her if she knew what that was, and she said it looked like Chicken and Hen, but it turns out she had the name backward.

This is a closeup of some of the flowers. Echeveria setosa is a succulent, so I don't have to water it a lot -- just a bit if it starts to get really warm. It's really nice that this plant flowers for a long time -- just adds to the general appeal of the latest entry in the HIAHS yard.

The primary distinguishing feature I've noticed on this plant is that the leaves are all fuzzy, like it's trying to be your favorite stuffed animal plant. Most of the other succulents in the yard have smooth, almost plastic-like leaves.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Friday Random Ten

My next concert in the pile was one at the Texas A&M campus, where Geoff Moore & The Distance were the opening act. These guys had a couple of good songs and a bunch of embarrassingly bad ones. I've decided to give you the video of a cover of The Who's "I'm Free" which they released just about when I saw them.

My mother-in-law comes later this afternoon for a long-weekend visit, so rather than go into too much detail about this part of the concert, which wasn't that great, I'll just tell you what Pandora gave me when I gave them this band's name.

"Change" by Waking Ashland on The Well
"Cry Me A River" by Pride & Glory on Pride & Glory
"Everybody Is Easy" by Burden Brothers on Mercy
"Please Take Her" by The Rave-Ups on Book of Your Regrets
"Ten Pins" by The Connells on Fun & Games
"Let's Go" by Tim Miller on Adelaide
"Down" by Austin Collins on Something Better
"Roses" by Woody Lissauer on Woody Lissauer
"Fun And Games" by The Connells on Fun & Games
"Drought of 2001" by Waking Ashlandon The Well

I got two duplicate groups, and no GMD (I think that means Pandora doesn't have an agreement with them to play their music and subsequently pay the royalties). As a result, I have an entire Random Ten without a song I've ever heard from from groups I've never heard of. These songs mostly sounded better than GMD, too, so I'm not sure what that means, but I generally approve of the items provided.

* Acts I've seen live

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Tiptoe Through The Tulips: Hibiscus rosa-sinensis (Tropical Hibiscus)

This showy bush is currently covered with big fluffy blooms. It has clearly been in the yard a while, and is large and established -- just like I like my plants -- harder to kill that way.

It's a large bush, about eight feet tall, and I've seen up to 15 of these six-inch blooms on it, and that is a glorious sight. There are several types of hibiscus, but this one falls in the tropical group, which is good because it turns out to be in a south-facing part of the yard, where it gets as much sun as it wants, and more.

I do like this one. For a tropical plant, it needs very little extra water in our part of the desert, which is surprising. There are other tropical plants in the yard that need a decent amount of extra water, so it's nice that this one doesn't have that requirement. Woohoo! Go hibiscus!

Sunday, July 06, 2008

What Was That?

If some well-intentioned person says to you, "If you have to evacuate because of the fires, you're welcome to come stay with us," and then follows it up with "We know you won't, but you're welcome to," does that officially negate the invitation?

Friday, July 04, 2008

Friday Random Ten

In honor of today's holiday, I decided to skip a week in my concert reviews to put together a suite of songs suitable to such a patriotic day. Instead, I decided to go with a Christmas in July theme. Have you got any idea how lame most of the available patriotic songs really are? On the other hand, I love a good pile of odd Christmas songs, so that's what you'll be getting instead for this week.

"Bob and Bob" by Trout Fishing in America* -- A song about the unlikely identical snowflake brothers.
"The Night Santa Went Crazy" by Weird Al Yankovic* -- A ballad chronicling Santa destruction of the North Pole.
"Santa Brought Me Clothes" by Trout Fishing in America* -- The kid just wanted one toy. But, "it's better than nothin', I suppose."
"I Want a Hippopatamus for Christmas" by Gayla Peevey -- There's just nothing like the desire for the odd gift.
"The Eleven Cats of Christmas" by Trout Fishing in America* -- This is what happens when people think you like cats. All I can say is that I'm glad there weren't twelve.
"You Gotta Get Up" by Rich Mullins* -- Don't you dare sleep in and miss all the fun!
"My Birthday Comes On Christmas" by Trout Fishing in America* -- What a gyp.
"A Christmas Carol" by Tom Lehrer -- There's so much you have to do on Christmas, there's no time for any normal daily stuff.
"It's Christmas Time Pretty Baby" by Elvis Presley -- Ooh! Ooh! I'm pretty! Where's my present?
"Christmas At Ground Zero" by Weird Al Yankovic* -- This is what happens when an atomic blast is crossed with the big December holiday. I can't even tell you how much I love this song. How can you dislike a song that contains the line "we can dodge debris while we trim the tree"?

Bonus Christmas in July pick -- "God Bless the USA" by Lee Greenwood

Okay, so I cheated and threw in a single patriotic song. That's all I could manage, but it seemed an appropriate token. Happy birthday, United States of America! Here's to a better year for the next one.

* Acts I've seen live

Fire in the Hole

Well, not exactly in the hole, but relatively nearby. So far, the biggest problem we've seen in our part of Santa Barbara from the Gap Fire is intermittent power issues. While that makes it particularly difficult to blog, it is otherwise just a nuissance in our current power-crazed lives. You like power, I like power. It's normal American stuff.

Last night, power went out about 7:15 and was out at our house until 11:30, according to the clocks that kicked in somewhere in the night. The problem was all linked to a big power line that was brought down by the fire. To restore power to all of us crazy light-loving fools, they switched us to a smaller power line. They are describing the current situation to be similar to having 12 strings of Christmas lights plugged into the same outlet. AKA, we're in for more electricity fun....sans electricity. Tonight, power was only out for about 2 hours, so here I am posting.

In case any of you are worried about me, don't be -- we're fine. We're not in the path of the Big Sur fire that you've seen in the news -- that's quite a ways north from us. We're looking out our backdoor at a fire that just started Tuesday night, and has grown quickly, but no structures have been damaged as a result yet, and there are no casualties so far. GB got back from a work conference in France last night...during the power outage...and is currently sleeping off his jet lag. We're still probably 7-10 miles from the fire, so while we can see it, with little-to-no wind, that's a long way away.

This is a picture of the smoke line as seen from our house near sunset this evening. The smoke is so thick that it makes the whole sky look gray. The sun was been bright red during sunset the last two nights. It's stunningly beautiful, until you remember why the colors are so fierce.

We'll definitely continue to watch this one. I'll keep you posted on what we see from here.

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Tiptoe Through The Tulips: Aeonium davidbramwellii

The larger aeoniums in the yard were harder to identify, for some reason. I'm starting to think that most of the time that's because it's a hybrid. Here's one of the mature rosettes in the yard:

While this one is on a 2-foot-tall stem, many of them in the yard stay at ground level. It has also been blooming in some of the plants, and that's been a treat. While there is no smell, here is a close-up of one of the flowers (they are quite small):

Even though I didn't completely settle into a species, I picked davidbramwellii (anyone think that might have been named after the guy who first classified them??), mostly because as the leaves age, the edges turn reddish, which seems to be a distiguishing characteristic of this one.

This plant, unlike other succulents, does like extra water. Without it, some of the bottom leaves start to die, so it gives you a signal that it's ready for water. As an idiot gardener, I'm all for a plant with a big, flashing, WATER ME! sign.