January 2007

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Idaho to Home

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Arizona 08'


Wednesday, January 31, 2007 - Well Repairs

5 AM - Two days in a row of wet weather but nothing serious in the way of rain. Under 1/2".

The other day when I was re-activating the south well, I noticed that water was running backwards down the pipe after the pump shut off.  A check valve 200' at the bottom of the well is supposed to prevent that from happening and obviously mine has failed. Besides the obvious problem of not being able to keep the pressure tank full, a bad check valve can also cause damage to the pump.  The water running back down the pipe causes the pump to spin backward and if the power should kick on when that is happening, the pump can snap a shaft and be ruined. So next week, Russ will be out here to pull the pump and replace the valve. $$$

In the mean time I've opened some valves that allow the south side to be fed from the north well.  And since that well runs a little gritty, I installed a filter to keep things clean.

2 PM - I'm dealing with a migraine today though I did manage a trip to a nursery and picked up 5 more trees to plant around the house.  Three cottonwoods and alder and a sycamore that will hopefully provide some shade to our upper entryway.

I'm also using them to block the view of our house from the adjoining properties.  Neighbors aren't always forthcoming on the subject but most will eventually admit that they aren't interested in looking at another persons house when they could be looking at a beautiful view.  It'll take a few years but eventually I'd like people to be able to drive by our property and not know anything is there.  Well, in the summer at least.  The trees are deciduous.


The power went out for a couple of hours this morning but since I've been preparing for operation "Get Back" that's happening on April 21, I took it in stride.  In fact, I may not even wait for the event. I think I'm ready to live my life at level 3 right now.

Get back, get back. Get back to where you once belonged. [thanks, mo! ...on behalf of the group I hope we passed the audition.]

Saturday, January, 26, 2007 - Computers

8 AM - More about the new computer. Though this computer is "state of the art" and has all the bells and whistles I'll need to run Vista when it comes out next week, that's not what I like best about it.

It's quiet. In fact, with the monitor off, you wouldn't know there was a computer running in the room.  My problem with the old computer was the noise it made while it adjusted fan speeds to compensate for how hard the processor was working. And it was constantly doing that to the point of distraction. In Spielberg's movie  War of the Worlds, you can hear the machinery gearing up when the Martian death machine crawls out of the earth and begins zapping the human race with its ray gun. That's the noise my old computer made and I kept waiting for it to sprout tripod legs and walk out of the room.

Even when I'm not sitting in front of the computer, I like to have it in the background doing useful things. With a full time internet connection I have it set up to display local news updates, monitor NPR with a window that tells me what stories they're covering at that moment (with one click, I can listen in), and I can have it running a slide show of the hundreds of photos I've taken. And now, all those functions can be going on at the same without the computer threatening to leave the room.

Friday, January 25, 2007 - Computers

7 AM - The new computer arrived yesterday and it only took about three hours to get it up and running with everything transferred over from the old computer. This has been the smoothest transition I've ever had and I owe it to the fact that I was able to move files back and forth over my wireless network. I was even able to move my Outlook contacts data which has always been problematic in the past.

MSOffice, FrontPage and Photoshop are my most used programs and they re-installed without a hitch. It's a Dell and the best thing is the quiet case that they use these days. Hardly a sound comes from this thing so Cath can now sleep without needing her earplugs.


In the news this morning is a story of a cougar attack that happened in Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park, north of San Francisco. I've mentioned this before and today's incident is reinforcement of my concern about walking alone on the ranch.  I'm undecided on what to do though. Carrying a gun seems ridiculous and it's a major hassle. Considering how rare attacks are, doing nothing is probably the reasonable course of action.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

6 AM - In 1977 I worked with a crew building  parks for the city of Chula Vista California. It was my introduction to large scale landscaping and that's when I developed a perspective on the size of an acre of land.

Everything is relative of course but our 20 acres on the ranch doesn't really add up to a lot of property. On my morning walk, using my meandering trail that zigzags back and forth, I can visit every section of our land in just under 20 minutes. To boost my time up to 30 minutes, I have to extend my walk out onto the road that enters the valley.

As recreation it's not bad and my walks help me keep track of what's happening around the place.  It's not like we have a lot going on around here though things do happen on a small scale.  Wood rats get into the equipment, pipes break, trees fall, yada yada.

The photo is of the fishing net float that I placed in the rocks at the upper edge of the property.  I'm not sure why I put it there but its become one of the waypoints that I pass on my walk. It has survived the elements for three years and it marks the halfway point in my 30 minute hike.

Monday, January 22, 2007 - Wildlife

6 AM - From the photo you can see that this area of ground was scraped to bare dirt when they leveled the area for the new house. I've been trying to encourage native grasses to return but after a year, the area is still dusty and dead. Of course having 40 turkeys pecking around everyday doesn't give the new growth much of a chance to sprout. Last spring I spent a lot of time sowing native wildflower seeds but not a single one came up.

I have no one to blame but myself because I've been throwing out chicken scratch to feed the birds and turkeys. You reap what you sow and in this case it�s not going to be wildflowers.

Actually I�ve been backing off on the bird feeding. Though the turkeys aren�t native, they are wild and I don�t want them to become dependent on my handouts.  With the drought, it's tempting to start handing out food to the struggling wildlife but I'll limit my generosity to just providing water.

4 PM - Another quiet day on the ranch and in the valley. This morning I crawled around under the house looking for mouse entryways. I found a couple of holes under the back porch that I plugged even though the access to under the back porch is tightly sealed. Mice can squeeze through holes as small as a dime so I know what I'm looking for and I'm taking my time to do it right.  I can't deny that one got in so I'll keep looking.

And I finished my repair at the south well. Pretty simple and nothing unexpected.

Saturday, January 20, 2007 - Internet

8 AM - It's still in the low 30's so before I head out for my chores, I've been fooling around with screen resolutions and aspect ratio settings. At one time when I was seriously interested in building web pages, I was told to design my pages for the most commonly used screen resolution. At that time it was 800 x 600 and you wanted to make sure that your WebPages viewed properly in that resolution. If you designed your pages at a higher resolution, they would most likely display poorly when viewed at the more used lower resolution.

Not a subject that is of much interest to the average computer user and most just use the default setting that came with their computer.  For what it's worth, the pie graph shows the screen resolution percentages used by the people who visit this website.

These days, most entry level computers come with hardware that can handle the higher resolutions. The most common monitor size is 17" though 19" is quickly becoming the standard. Of course, trying to keep up with current technology is a losing battle but, if you have the hardware, you might want to experiment with some of the higher resolution settings. Many websites post photos that won't even fit on a single screen at a lower resolution.

Friday, January 19, 2007 - Well Repairs

5 AM - By Tuesday I had the pump repaired and the the house was again being supplied with water at 60 PSI. But in all the excitement, I completely forgot that our pressure tank on the south side of the property had also suffered from the freeze and had burst a pipe. It supplies water to the old house and one of Catherine's small orchards. This was the well that was supplying our water right after the fire and in my rush to get it going, I used pvc pipe instead of steel. Today I'll be doing it right.

On Wednesday I bought a new computer monitor and I've been fussing with it ever since. It's a 19", wide screen model with features that are much better than the computer I have it connected to.  My video card is short on memory but since it's in a laptop, I have no way to upgrade. Because the laptop is so noisy, my plan was to put it under my desk and use the new monitor with a wireless keyboard. 

The plan is flawed. The computer still sounds like a 747 (it can be heard throughout the house) and the monitor doesn't really mesh well when being run from a laptop. And I'm having trouble finding a screen resolution that isn't distorted.

7 PM - Kind of an odd weather day. Started off sunny until the tail end of a storm swept in from the northeast. Mostly just clouds, a few flakes of snow and a bit of drizzle.  I did manage to get a new GFI outlet installed at the well before the drizzle cancelled my repair of the broken pipe.  It's not a high priority and tomorrow will be a sunnier day.

After reading Mayflower, a book about the pilgrims at Plymouth, I order a couple of books about the settlement of Jamestown. Jamestown - The Buried Truth and A Land as God Made It.  Good reading for a drizzly day.

Monday, January 15, 2007 - Well Repairs

8 AM - Right after yesterdays entry, the phone rang and someone started knocking on the back door. Two of my neighbors were contacting me to let me know that the pump at my well had cracked and was throwing water 15 feet into the air.  The pump had frozen and the suction flange had split.

The repair isn't terribly complicated but the hard part is getting a new flange. So, the water was off to the house and I had to run a hose from the water tank to back feed the house through one of the side hose faucets. On my trip to the hardware store, I could see that I wasn't the only one with similar problems.  In Descanso, water was spraying over the road from a ruptured hydrant and the hardware store was packed with people buying parts to repair their frozen pipes.  Many of the people were dealing with frozen & ruptured pipes inside their houses. I consider myself lucky.

Around 8 PM I finally got in touch with Russ Seevers, our well guy. He was on his way to Campo to do his 15th repair of the day but he said he had the part I need and he will drop it off today.

By 9 PM the temporary hose I have supplying the house was frozen solid. Not a big problem and we saw it coming so we had set aside some water jugs to get us through the night.  And this morning I'm just waiting for the sun to clear the horizon so I can start taking the pump apart.

10 PM - Man!! It's still freezing out there! And the wind has picked up to 45 mph which has brought the wind chill down to 28. Working on cold metal parts with the wind blowing around my ears is something I'm not used to. I got the pump apart and I'm waiting for Russ to bring the flange by.

Amazingly, the weather service has declared a red flag fire warning in our area. Freezing temperatures but the wind is blowing and the humidity is 16%.

3 PM - Still waiting on the flange. Not looking good for getting it installed today but at least I have running water (but very little pressure). And the propane guy came today to fill our tank. $380. Groan!

Sunday, January 14, 2007

10 AM - Dang it got cold last night!  20 degrees. When the temps get into the low 20's for a sustained period of time, we run into trouble. Pipes freeze, the water stops flowing and that's what we're experiencing this morning. At least it's clear so as soon as the sun cleared the horizon, the temp jumped to 40. I've uncovered the pressure tanks to allow them to thaw and hopefully we'll get the water moving soon. Of course for you people in the Midwest, this would be nothing.

And we had a mouse again last night. Actually it was the same mouse from the night before and we could tell because he's missing half of his tail. I know, I know! We were soft hearted so we let him out too close to the house and he found his secrete entryway again.  This time we took him far away so I don't expect him back.

I thought we had this place sealed up tight as a drum but obviously I missed something.  I'll be in the crawl space today looking again.

Saturday, January 13, 2007  Mice!

6 AM - A mouse is in the house and Blackie the cat is having the time of his life. Involvement in group activities is one of his favorite things and he and Catherine spent a good part of the night bonding during a cooperative mouse hunt. From the clamor I knew something was up but my cold medication had kicked in and I slept through most of the event.

This morning when I groped my way to the kitchen to get my coffee I saw the results of last night�s activities. Chairs were overturned, cabinets had been pulled away from the walls and the contents of several closets had been moved out into the center of the room. Wow, that Tylenol cough syrup really is strong stuff.

I know, I know, that isn�t the way to catch a mouse but once you get drawn into the action, you become caught up in the thrill of the hunt and the next thing you know, you and the cat have morphed into a mouse hunting tag team.

Blackie had no trouble catching the mouse but rather than dispatch it on the spot, he�s under the impression that his human hunting partner is supposed to step in for the final blow. With the mouse pinned by the cat, the human approaches with an upturned waste basket and the intention of placing it over the mouse. Brief flurries of commotion ensue while the human, mouse, and cat tumble around the room. Of course the mouse escapes and runs under another piece of furniture and I swear that once I saw Blackie roll his eyes at Catherine. Variations of that process went on into the night.

9 AM - Success! The mouse has been evicted to the wild outdoors and today I'll be looking for mouse entryways that I can seal up.

We're having a cold snap and on my walk this morning I noticed light flakes of snow blowing in the wind.  I'm not used to hiking in 30 degree weather but it's nice for a change.  After 6 weeks I'm down about 8 pounds and it looks like I'll reach my 10 pound goal by February 2. But, according to the health charts, at the very most my max weight should be 185 so that leaves another 10 pounds to go. Weight charts!!!  I suspect they're put out by companies trying to sell diet products and even my doctor scoffed at their figures.

Monday, January 8, 2007 - Weather

10 AM - After 3 days we're still being pounded by Santa Ana winds.  They're relentless and after a while, kind of nerve racking.  57 MPH is the highest gust we've had from this storm and the ceaseless racket makes it difficult to sleep.  Our house was chosen with these winds in mind so we don't have any concerns about damage.  Our hurricane shutters and low profile  protect us from the type of damage that some of our neighbors sustain.

But the noise doesn't stop and sometimes in the darkness of night it rises to such a high pitch that I wonder if any trees will be left in the morning.  At this point though, the weaker trees have  been eliminated and the wind is now busy removing layers of top soil.  In some spots the ground is scoured down to decomposed granite in a fashion reminiscent of the 1930's dust bowl.

And it's time for my walk.  Hold on to your hats!!

Wind Gust Yearly High
From my Weather Station Site

4 PM - I'm reading 8 Weeks to Optimum Health by Dr Andrew Weil.  What is it about chunky fat guys (Dr Phil) that makes them want to write diet books?  It's because food is the most important thing in their life and they've been obsessing about it since they were a child.  They turn their food fetish into a ritualized ceremony that allows them to eat while enjoying their second favorite activity; pontificating to the rest of us about our poor diets.

I don't see Dr Weils' 8 week program being a big success with the average person. It requires that all your interests take a back seat to his proposed new lifestyle that necessitates prowling out of the way health food stores in search of obscure spices and teas.  If you have a Felix Unger type of personality and you really REALLY care whether your braised salmon is seasoned with paprika instead of oregano, then his book might be for you.

Saturday, January 6, 2007

8 AM - The Santa Ana winds are back and we are getting gusts up to 52 mph.  Not the best conditions for sleep and throughout the night I was listening to debris being blown around the house.  At one point I had to go out and crank down the hurricane shutters.  Of course the weather service has declared  a "red flag warning" in our area which means there is an extreme fire danger.

El Ni�o or not, we've been having lots of high winds and no useful rain this season.  The property is parched and every year it seems to get more desert like. Water is of course our big concern and during droughts like this, I'm never able to relax. The watershed that supplies our well is not that big and we can only endure so many dry years till something goes wrong.

12 PM - Continuing my efforts to restore our property to its native state, yesterday I removed 300 feet of chicken wire that fenced in my defunct garden.  Frankly, the battle required to cultivate a serious garden on this property isn't worth the trouble. So the pasture is now fence free and a little less cluttered than before.

I've also joined the RetroScape Society which is a group of people dedicated to preserving and restoring rural land to its original appearance.  Besides trying to reduce the impact of out of control development, these people have specific ideas on how to manage property so that the focus is on nature rather than infrastructure. They try to modify landscape in ways that will camouflage power lines, hide well houses and conceal unused farm equipment.  These are the same tactics used by the managers of our national parks.

OK, ok, there's no such society, but there should be. In fact, I'll form it right now and declare myself president.  If you'd like to join, raise your right hand and say, "I join the society".  Thanks, meeting adjourned.

Thursday, January 4, 2007

10 AM - Samoan Tapa Cloths are made from the bark of the Paper Mulberry tree and originally they were used for clothing, blankets and rugs. They are made by pounding the bark into layered sheets, then soaked, dried and decorated with paintings that usually illustrate floral patterns. They are often given as gifts and some cloths are highly prized depending on the status of the person presenting the gift. Of course modern fabrics have replaced them for clothing but the cloths are still used for decorations and souvenirs.

In 1949, when my father was the legal officer in Pago Pago Samoa, (pronounced Pango Pango) he often received them as gifts from visiting Samoan chiefs and dignitaries. Because I was born in Samoa, the cloths ended up with me and I have them in the barn stored in a mouse proof suitcase. They�re still being made throughout the South Pacific and aren�t considered extraordinarily rare so I don�t feel like I�m hording a fortune in Samoan relics. On the other hand, mine are close to 60 years old and of course they come attached with sentimental memories. While I was growing up they were always hanging somewhere on the walls of our home.

Yesterday I picked out a couple to hang on the walls of my computer room though I�m a little concerned about how they�ll hold up in our dry desert heat. As it is, they�re a little tattered and thread bare though it seems pointless to keep them stashed out of site.

12 PM -Speaking of computer rooms, as far as current technological trends go, I'm way behind the times. In the 80's and 90's when it came to the internet and computer technology, I was on the bleeding edge. At work I was an early adopter and people came to me for advice and recommendations. These days I�m out of touch but who can possibly keep up with the latest trends that evolve at warp speed.

According to the computer pundit John C. Dvorak, my website & journal should be seamlessly integrated into the latest Web 2.0 technology. (Web 2.0 ???)  It should have YouTube imbedded videos and I should be using open-sourced programming to help it mesh with the latest Wikipedia/My-Space/eBay/iPod environments.

I guess I�m just an old fart who wears checkered shorts and doesn�t get out much. �Hey you kids, get off of my lawn!�