Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Quote of the Day

This is not likely to be a regular feature, but I just had to share this one. You know, in time for Thanksgiving and all.

So here it is, courtesy of a media relations tool at AIG.

"Let me know if you are interested in engaging. If so, we can establish some rules that are amenable for both of us."

This one has a delicious back story. Read it if you dare! And then bear in mind that this was sent by someone hired to do media relations for this appalling excuse of an insurance company.

Read it? Good. My comment: No wonder the place is a federal disaster area*. It's idiots all the way down!

How is AIG exempt from ridicule when the company as a whole has failed so spectacularly? I'd say some armchair management tips are par for the course when you've just begged and received $150 BILLION in handouts. After all, you've got all the money any of us might ever collectively hope to have, and all we have left is our snark. Leave us our snark. Or at the very least rob us of that too by hiring a mildly clueful media relations doobie.

But by all means keep sending vague messages of strong-armishness to Wonkette. Because I am amenable to more entertainment value for my $150billion.


*Well, almost. AIG only gets half of the money that we're spending to get Katrina's victims sort of back to some semblance of normal.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Strange Maps

One of my regular reads is a blog called Strange Maps. All kinds of interesting ways of presenting information. A recent one caught my eye and I thought I'd share it here.

So, head on over and check out an interesting comparison between cotton production and presidential voting. And then have a gander at some of the other interesting (and strange) maps.

***Update***
The link to the map has been fixed to direct you to, er, the map. For those wishing to read about a whale smacking a kite surfer, you can find that story right here.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Evidence


Alright, neighborhood kitties. 'Fess up! Who did this?! Was it a pigeon or a mourning dove?

Either way, I want to give you a reward.

Where We Sleep

I'd like to think that I'm good at homemaking, but my ability to arrange furniture, hang pictures and organize stuff is largely limited to the utilitarian. Someday, I tell myself, I will actually design something that looks fantastic while still being functional.

Well, that day may have arrived for our bedroom! An attempt to keep a street light from shining in our eyes at night resulted in creative curtain placement. A trip to Ikea resulted in the purchase of two slick looking light fixtures. Put 'em all together, and you get the following:


And when they're on, the lights look a little like this, but without the glare.


My next project, to finish the room, will be to make a coordinating bedskirt and duvet cover. As I get pieces of the house put together "just right" I'll post more pictures.

Compost


With all of this beautiful lawn and garden, I've been itching to compost. It seems so silly to throw away stuff that could easily be used to keep things healthy and gorgeous.

Happily, the City of San Jose runs a compost education program with the help of lots of volunteers. I got to attend a free class last weekend, and learned the basic ins and outs of getting stuff to rot. Being new to this, I'd like to share what I learned and also get recommendations from more experienced composters.

It is important to note that it's hard to fail at compost. Stuff eventually rots all by itself, but a clever person can speed that up and produce great stuff in as little as 2 weeks. Stuff chopped into smaller pieces rots faster. In the city, with neighbors and such, a nice person keeps the rotting stuff in bins and keeps it in balance so it's not all stinky. Compost done right doesn't smell bad.

For optimal rotting, you need a good mix of carbon, nitrogen, water and air. (At the class, I peeked at the notes of the elderly lady next to me and was thrilled to see C + N + O2 + H2O. We grow 'em good here in big city America.) All of this stuff lets microbes do their work. The instructor simplified it to browns and greens. I thought that confused the issue a bit, but it helps with the general idea.

Brown=Carbon=dead stuff like leaves and woody kinds of stuff like twigs, paper
Green=Nitrogen=things collected live like kitchen scraps, grass clippings

Interestingly, coffee grounds and tea leaves count as "green" since they're initially harvested from living plants. As the COG points out, you can toss in coffee grounds complete with paper filter. And hey, that gives you a somewhat balanced addition!

A quick note about stuff that does NOT go in your compost. Add this stuff and it either doesn't break down or it smells horrid.

Animal stuff-meat, cheese, milk, eggs
Grease/fat
Grains, beans, or breads
Carnivore poop (parasite risk-herbivore poo okay, apparently)
Diseased plants (I also add weeds gone to seed, but I'm not confident I can cook 'em hot enough)

The booklet that came with my bin says to keep fruit an veg scraps in enclosed, rodent resistent bins. I think if you're keeping up with it you won't have rodent nests, and rats are not interested in stuff that's not fatty. I'm seeing ants discovering my bin, but they don't get comfy because I turn it regularly. If pests are an issue, sticking to yard waste (instead of food stuff), turn regularly, and you should be fine.

As mentioned above, a good compost pile doesn't smell. Nice and earthy, yes. Stinky, no. I thought my instructor gave helpful sniff-test advice. If compost is stinky, it's out of balance. The variety of stink provides clues.

Cat pee or other urine-like smell=too much nitrogen. Add "browns" (leaves, woody stuff)
Baby spit-up/vomit=too much carbon. Add "greens" (grass clippings, coffee grounds)

Clearly, motherhood has been excellent training for compost pile maintenance.

Then, we have the air and water. Compost should say as moist as a wrung-out sponge. Too dry and the microbes don't survive, too wet and you'll get flies. Keep the hose handy!

Air is important. Not only is it necessary, but it keeps those stinky anaerobic bacteria from taking over. Piles need regular turning to keep stuff mixed up and to keep the little decomposers happy. The middle of the pile gets hottest, so a regular stir lets all of the stuff get in on the rotting. My instructor recommends every other day or so until you get sick of it, my bin's instruction book advocates once a week. I'm having so much fun watching the steam coming out of mine that I'm turning it daily. That will undoubtedly change over time. Regardless, a manure fork is your friend because it is great for tossing stuff around, and pokes great holes if you're aerating instead of turning.

Good composting really does seem to come down to personal preference. If you want to really cook stuff, it takes a cubic yard of stuff to generate temperatures above 140°F, and you have to do it in batches. A "cold" compost pile is one that you add to continuously, and it will "only" get up to around 120°F. I'm giving this "hot" compost thing a try for my first batch, but will switch to "cold" composting after this in an effort to cut down what we send to the landfill. Come spring, I'll probably make a worm bin for the fun of it. Worms don't eat much when they're cold, so I figure I'll wait to start with them until we can all be successful. Look forward to an exciting description of worm composting sometime soon.

I hope this was interesting and informative! And for those of you who have more experience with this compost stuff, please feel free to chime in with advice in the comments.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

The Grand Tour (Outdoor Edition)

The event you've all been waiting for! Or something like that. Here is the outdoor portion of the Steingruebl World Enterprises headquarters.


Please, step up to the front door-


Or the back door, or the sliding back door. The front door is the only one with a buzzer, though.



This is pretty much my favorite view of all. When we look out of the sliding back door, this is what we see. Not a huge surprise that I spend a lot of time in this sunny little room!

Following the path of stepping stones, you can see the part of the yard that isn't visible from the back room due to garage-based interference.

From left to right, we have our prickly pear, nectarine tree, tall tree with little blue berries that the birdies all seem to like, plum tree, and swing.


Here is a better look at the prickly pear. It's huge! I need to look up some recipes for the fruits, because I understand they're pretty tasty. Observant readers will notice an ugly sign protruding from the plant. It says "No Trespassing" because shortly after our arrival a bunch of fruits were taken and parts of the plant hacked at. (Including a letter sliced into one paddle.) I have no problem sharing, but dude, ask first. We haven't had any problems since adding the sign.


And now, we turn back toward the house. In the foreground is the bed where I'm intending to do most of my veggie gardening. It will need expanding, though, so I'll be asking for the landlady's okay. Given that this is where she used to have a chicken coop, I'm looking forward to some lovely gardening. This picture doesn't show it, but the peas and lettuce I planted for a winter crop are coming up nicely. The gophers and squirrels will be very happy!
Ah yes-back toward the house. The yellow house you see here? That's where the pigeons like to sit. And poop. And then fly over to our house and sit. And poop. Doggone pigeons anyway. Under this little overhang is our lemon tree. Seems like a silly place for a lemon tree to me, but some of the fruits are starting to ripen so I can't argue too much. The big round bed here was the home of our old english walnut tree. It was looking pretty sickly when we moved in. A lot of dead branches on top and a classic case of walnut blight evident on the leaves. I had hoped that the dead stuff could be trimmed off and the tree given a few more years, but it was not to be. Rotten to the core, it was.These are the remains of the tree, waiting to be picked up and hauled off. I'm pretty glad this didn't fall down on our heads.



Living here is like living in a park, truth to tell. With all of the plants, birds, bugs, cats, squirrels and, apparently, gophers, I could pretty much just exist in the back yard.

One last peek to send you smiling on your way:


And, a big happy birthday to Grandma Char!

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Toeses?



Moses supposes his toeses are roses
But Moses supposes erroneously.
Moses he knowses his toeses aren't roses
As Moses supposes his toeses to be.
-Singin' in the Rain


Here in San Jose, "winter" has arrived, and we know that because jackets are necessary in the morning and it has started raining sometimes. Our huge new yard is full of all kinds of treasures, and the ones we've discovered most recently are the roses. Scads of them. Lots of variety. Some very smelly, some hardly at all. Every last one of them, though, is gorgeous. I have been bringing a few inside. Well, maybe not a few. Lots! Some on the mantle, some on an end table, one in Elise's bedroom, one on the dining table. They make things so cheery!

We've been eating breakfast in the company of this one-


And Elise wanted to pose by these beauties.

This is the sight that greets us just outside our back door. Birds are a little skittish about the birdbath when we're right next to it, but stand back and wait awhile and little finches land on the rosebushes and on the bath. There is something to be said for being surrounded by beauty!

40 Ounces


This is how we do it here at Steingruebl World Enterprises. Kick back, relax, and enjoy some liquid sunshine. These 40 ounces were hand squeezed (by Elise and Heather) from oranges picked from the tree in our back yard. Enjoy!

Monday, November 10, 2008

Shiny!

We've done it, faithful readers. We've officially become Californians. How did we manage to do that after all of this time? Allow me to introduce:


Our new car!

That's right. We here at Steingruebl World Enterprises now own one vehicle per licensed driver. I think that is a requirement for California citizenship.

The new car is a Honda Fit (sport model) in a fetching "blackberry pearl." It is primarily Andy's commuting vehicle. So far, the gas mileage has been impressive. Elise likes riding in it because the door handles work for her small hands (unlike the ones on our Subaru, which she can't seem to open) and it has an awesome cup holder in the door.


While the realities of car payments again aren't our favorites, we're enjoying some of the ease of living that a second car provides. I can get dinner ready while Andy drives himself home, which means getting the kiddo bathed and in bed before that too-tired point of no return. We can also scurry about with different purposes of a weekend, which has already proven handy. Plus, the new little car is just so doggone cute!

Of course, neither horse fits in the stable at this point as it is plumb full of junkola that we have yet to unpack/organize from the move. For the moment, though, it's kinda nice to see them both in the driveway.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Birds, Birds, Birds

I'm going to continue the streak of raving about our back yard and boast about the wildlife. If you really couldn't care less about birds and the weird stuff they do, you may want to skip this one.

After two years of not being allowed bird feeders, we (I mean "I", really, but "we" sounds so much less crazy) got our collection of feeders out before just about anything else. At this point, we're offering seed (a mix without millet due to the neighbor's pigeon infestation), niger thistle, suet and sugar water at various places. It didn't take long for the neighborhood birds to find their free lunch, and it took even less time for them to decide we're mostly harmless.

The thistle attracts a giant mess of American Goldfinches. Mixed in among them are some Lesser Goldfinches, House Finches, and maybe even an odd Pine Siskin or two. At most times of the day, the feeder looks like a giant, feathered tube that wiggles a lot.

The seed has been attracting some other characters. The Chestnut-backed Chickadees are hilarious and bold. They sort of like the suet we put out for them, but I think they'd rather annoy the finches. Our other surprise seed-eaters are of the Oak Titmouse variety. (What's the plural of "titmouse," anyway? Titmice? Titmouses?" They have a brilliant scolding call that sounds like the roar of a distant crowd. They are much more skittish and shy than the others, but we for sure have a pair of them.

As far as ground feeders go, we have been host to a pair of California Towhees. They do this funny little dance when they look for food, and I've noticed that they are spending a lot more time in our yard and trees lately. They like to sit on the neighbor's garage and watch all of the silly little birds. I think these kind of plain birds are fascinating, and I'm looking forward to seeing more of them. Since putting a birdbath near the back door, we've seen a Dark-eyed Junco hanging about.

Then, there is the huge variety of birds attracted by the clever landscaping in the yard, courtesy of the owner and probably a previous tenant or two. We have a lot of bug-eaters. The Bushtits swarm in on a fairly regular basis, gobble bugs from the orange tree and the various bushes near our back door, and then swarm off again. My favorites are the Phoebes. They really like to make themselves at home. I'm always catching them sitting on the swing or the patio chairs. They like to sit on tree branches near me when I'm in the yard and just watch what I'm up to. It would be creepy if they weren't so doggone cute. Apparently, they can be a little territorial, though. One of them found the birdbath for the first time the other day, and decided it was his. When the finches weren't buying it, he hopped down and proceeded to chase them all over the ground with much wild flapping and squawking. When he returned to the top of the bath, it was to spit out a goodly number of feathers.

The hummingbirds here like to sit in the trees and scold us. Sometimes they make cute little squeaks, but mostly it's shrill "you get away from my purple flowers right now!" calls. We got lucky the other day and saw one catching a bug in midair!

Someone was very, very clever about the tree planting here. The old (declining, not necessarily diseased) walnut has holes all over and I suspect is home to many. Other trees have bark that is fun to pick at to find bugs, and one big one has berries that everyone seems to like. That is where I generally see the mockingbird. In the past two days, we've caught a scrub jay from across the street scoping things out. Almost like it's casing the joint. Should we worry? He sits on bushes, fences and trees and cocks his head to observe what's going on.

Beyond our yard, there is a neighborhood gang of crows. Their primary joy in life seems to be harassing hawks. We've seen them chasing hawks on a number of occasions, and it's been spectacular. I like them most when they chase the #$%&* pigeons on the neighbor's house. Don't get me wrong, pigeons have their place I'm sure. At our house, it is as entertainers. Because any time one lands on our roof while we're outside, they get the hose. And Elise gets the giggling fits. I want a Super Soaker for Christmas so that I can improve my aim and be more ruthless.

Now that I've got my "grab-and-go" telescope set up for terrestrial viewing through the sliding-glass door, I'll work on getting some pics of our little friends. I will probably have birds on the brain for quite awhile, so you may have to bear with me. Interestingly, this bird watching is a newfound hobby for the whole family. Andy and I get into identification and behavior, Elise is learning to tell which birds are which and also what they like to eat. Beaker is practicing talking like some of them, and has learned to hop from perch to perch-something he had never done before we moved here.

So, there you have it. Our list of San Jose backyard birds. We'll keep an eye out for new and exciting developments!

Our Big Backyard


Grandpa Karl has kept us well-subscribed to a magazine called "My Big Backyard." It's all stuff aimed at Elise's age group, and exploring the great outdoors. It's been such a treat to finally have a back yard of our own where we can do some exploring.

Priority #1 has been to figure out what's going on with the orange tree. It seems to be flowering and fruiting full-time. Most of these trees take a break at some point, but considering there was a lot of over-ripe fruit when we moved in and there is a lot of green fruit now, I think we're going to be in oranges for awhile. Last weekend, I decided to harvest some of what was up there, mostly to get the decaying fruits off of the tree so that the new ones have the tree's full attention.

I made many exciting discoveries. The worst by far was that you really do have to treat ripe, juicy oranges gently or they split right open. I now know much better for next time. Along the same lines was the realization that a prudent gardener would wear gloves to pluck fallen oranges out of a rosebush. (Yes, I know, not too bright here.) Third, our garage is taller than it looks and in spite of that we really do need one of those basket-on-pole things if we're going to be effective harvesters. Finally, I discovered an abandoned bird nest. It appears to be made out of a lot of sticks and unraveled industrial carpet. I assumed it was abandoned because some enterprising critter was using it for walnut storage.

At any rate, in spite of my imprudent orange handling, we enjoyed quite a feast. I don't think I've seen Elise up to her elbows in orange juice like this in a loooooong time. I have a bowl of oranges on the counter waiting to be made into juice tomorrow morning. Yum!

Our Halloween

One thing we've discovered:
Halloween is a lot more fun with a big kid.

First, there was the pumpkin carving. We got a little carried away and our jack o' lanterns were a rotten, bug-infested mess before the big day, but we had fun and Elise has the makings of a master carver.

Then, there was the carnival at our friend Rista's school. Elise was willing to sit very still (for a very long time I might add) to have this beautiful princess crown painted on her forehead.

After which she and Daddy sat down to enjoy a taste treat.



We also joined in the Halloween parade in our former stomping grounds. it was great fun to see all of our friends dressed up, and Elise even made friends with a fellow princess. Nothing like a vast expanse of grass for running around! The rain held off and Elise enjoyed taking her shot at the piƱata (Though she was worried that it was "cheating" if the bandanna fell off of her face.) Here's the video footage!


video

I cleverly managed to misplace our camera prior to the big day, so I will be relying on the kindness of friends for decent pics of our girl in her costume. But I do have a grainy cameraphone picture taken about 2/3rds of the way through the trick-or-treat marathon.

As you might guess, the crowning glory of the day was trick-or-treating with Rista. For those of you who have not seen these two beauties in action, it is a treat watching them together. The two little princesses held hands up and down the sidewalks and stairs. They informed us that they are "brave together" which kept even the spookiest of houses from being scary. Candy is a big motivator. ;) In the end, they each ended up relaxing at each other's house, and the hostess shared her favorite treats from her bag. What a treat.