Monday, November 23, 2015

Foolish Kitty

I recently have been experimenting with new art techniques and, with the help of an interesting prompt I found on one of my favorite art sites (how will you deal with the chills of November?), came up with this foolish kitty and his "ice-kold" lemonade stand. I wouldn't count on making too much money, but them again, his tips jar is half full...

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Albino redwoods

Over the weekend, Nim and I had the opportunity to take a short hike into a normally closed part of La Honda Creek Open Space Preserve to go see some albino redwoods.

Albino redwoods, you ask?  They are redwoods that have a genetic mutation that means they don't have any chlorophyll.  What they do have are roots that can grab onto a neighboring redwood and parasitically absorb nutrients that way.  Not a very efficient feeding mechanism, so they don't usually get very big, but it is interesting to see a mass of white redwood sprouts growing near the base of another tree.

The needle shape and habit are different too -- wide flat needles that sometimes curl up on themselves.

Almost a snowflake!

Sometimes there are normal sprouts mixed in with the white ones.

It was raining slightly, and Nim decided to be a small woodland creature.

Spiderwebs accumulated not only water droplets, but entire water films.

On our way out, we wandered around in the mud to find a second albino redwood mass; this one sprouted out of a normal redwood partway up the trunk.  Apparently there is some sort of virus that leads to the mid-trunk sprouting.  It's gotta be pretty rare to get this combination of the virus and the genetic mutation together!

Tuesday, November 10, 2015


Halloween came and went.

 Once again, my pumpkin was the only marginally disturbing one.

 Nim slaved over her graveyard cake.

Sack of Potatoes and Mouse were really too old for trick-or-treating,

but fortunately, they *needed* to escort little brother Explosives around the neighborhood.

Explosives had entertaining LED animations.  He just couldn't reach to hold his candy bag out.  Sack of Potatoes and Mouse tried to help, but people still kept trying to throw the candy in the big box.  Not such a good strategy, given that the bottom was open so he could walk...

Happy late Halloween.

Friday, October 23, 2015

Espresso Monster

Chad's cheery red espresso machine is pretty long in the tooth.

The drip tray and the bottom started to rust out.  No problem -- it's not that bad, and one has to wipe the counter anyway.

A thermocouple burned out.  No problem -- Chad replaced it, and added arduino PID control at the same time.  Now it's a Frankenmachine with too many brains.

Steamer won't work.  Broken/gunked up part underneath immovable bolt.

Third time's the anticharm.  No way to get stuck bolt off without destroying machine.


If it were just me, I would get an small inexpensive easy-to-use replacement machine.  However, Chad has Standards, with a capital S.  He researched, and it was clear that it would be best for me to just specify that it needed to fit in the existing spot without taking over more kitchen space and then stay out of the way, averting my eyes from the price.

Of course the machine he wanted is picky, and necessitated a new grinder too.   Even the old tamper won't work (wrong size), so one also needed to order a new one of those.

Just avert one's eyes...

I eventually mumbled something to the effect of "I guess that's our anniversary present a bit early -- this year is brass, and surely there is brass in the espresso maker somewhere."

We thought the machine would take about a week to show up, putting it on our doorstep after we got back from Downieville.  It came early -- in the brief 1-day window between when we went to the rocket launch and when we went up to the mountains.  Needless to say Chad was compelled to fire it up that night, despite the sleep deprivation.

First one must measure the beans.  With a scale. (Note dead espresso machine behind Chad's arm.)

Grind beans and put them in cup.  Stare at machine.

Carefully tamp ground espresso.


Study tamped beans.

Decide tamping is inadequate and do it again.  Harder, this time.

Once more for good measure.   (Note I have been leaving out the part about spouse cackling in the background during every step.)

Study the whole thing again.

Oooh -- put beans in machine and press the button.  Carefully count "One potato, two potato, three potato..."

"...fourteen potato, fifteen potato, Darn!  It stopped."  Supposed to take twenty-five seconds.

Repeat entire process about fifteen more times, altering degree of grind, amount of tamping, and magical incantations.  Proudly display large volume of "reject" espresso.

Tasting has occurred throughout the process.  To my plebeian palate and eye, reject espresso is just fine.  Tastes good and has crema on top.  Still wrong to Chad.  Supposed to take twenty-five seconds.

One more try.

Twenty-five seconds.  Mmmm.

This one was finally deemed good, and mornings are no longer sad.

That is, except for the part that he has to remember to go turn the machine on before taking a shower, lest it not have time to warm up to the proper temperature before use.

In my thrifty way,  I've been using the reject espresso in a variety of ways: in chocolate desserts, mixed with milk and poured over ice, and as a flavoring agent in sauces and marinades.  Because, well, I'm creative, not picky, and hate wasting things.  It's perfectly good reject espresso, after all.  And, I have to admit, even better non-reject espresso.

Friday, October 16, 2015

Downieville: Celebratory Mountain

After coming back from the launch last week, we turned around and headed up to Downieville after work the next day.  Our goal: to celebrate Linda's birthday (early) by hiking here:

Mt. Lola is the highest peak in Nevada County.  We chose to approach it from the north, taking the gentler route, but didn't want the full 10.5-mile round trip from the standard trailhead.  Fortuately, our trusty truckster was up to the task of following the overgrown lumpy forest road up to a cheater entrance further up (and our trusty driver was up to wandering around a bit to find unmarked Forest Road 301-75 as it wound its way through the maze of logging roads...)

We eventually hit a bridge that looked iffy, so parked the truck and started hiking.  Fortunately the trail was right on the other side of it :)

The trail wound its way through a lovely meadow,

into the trees,

and up the mountain.  We stopped just past the (non-existent) waterfall for a snack -- the kiddo enjoyed her Pocky, even though the package had been to Utah and back, and was somewhat the worse for wear.

At some point, I realized that no one had grabbed the cheese and salami that we were going to eat at the top of the peak out of the fridge that morning.  Doh.  Fortunately, we did have other tidbits of food with us, and the celebratory chocolate was still in the pack.

Attractive tree snags.

The trail to Mt Lola from this side is one of those trails that starts out gently, and then gets exponentially steeper the further up you go.  Linda found a nice spot to rest before the final push to the summit

while the three of us kept going.  Happy kiddo at the top:

360-degree views from the top:

About 1/4 mile back down from the top, we met Linda carefully working her way towards us.  Chad headed back up to the summit with her while Nim and I stopped for a snack. I sent the celebratory chocolate with Chad and Linda.

Pre-birthday summit shot!

After the hike, we got to go back to the house and enjoy the forgotten salami and cheese for dinner.  Not such a bad fate after all!

Despite the fact that the weather was good, we didn't bring bikes this trip, as Chad wanted some time to go fishing.  I think the new tenkara rod he got for his birthday had something to do with that.  I took a book.

Nim fished a bit with one of Chad's old rods, but mostly goofed around.  The rivers up there are awfully nice spots, and I think everyone came back home refreshed after the previous crazy week.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Playing Hooky

Last week, we had the opportunity to go down to Vandenberg Air Force Base to watch an Atlas 5 launch.  It was a school day, but we were all allowed to sign up, so we let Nim skip school. Educational, right?  Fortunately, the secretary in the school office who I talked to ahead of time agreed.

The launch was set for early Thursday morning, so we drove down to Solvang Wednesday night.  Upon arrival, we got instructions for the next morning:  "Be at the bus at 2:30am."  Ouch.  They needed to get us all through security and over to the site in time.

After boarding the bus, we drove towards the base, and then stopped and waited for our security check.  Zzzzzz for some, poking at devices with glowing screens for others.

One of Chad's coworkers brought his two teenaged daughters (slightly older than Nim).  I was amused to see that one of them slept while the other compulsively posted things to instagram. (The two most common states of the local teenager, for those of you who don't currently have one.)

After the security process was complete and everyone had been issued their pass stamped with the official Space Command stamp, the bus then took off with a police escort through Lompoc and over to our viewing site.  It is hard to tell from the picture below, but we got the VIP treatment with a cop car with lights flashing to follow over to the site.

Needless to say, it was still dark when we got there -- but the launch pad was well-lit and easy to see.

The pictures really don't do it justice -- things seemed more present (and more focussed!) in real life.

We ate our picnic breakfast (muffins and fancy Blue Bottle cold brew), and waited about 10 minutes for the launch, which happened pretty much right on schedule.  Again, the pictures don't do it justice, both in terms of the sheer amount of light the burning fuel put out, and also in terms of the sheer volume of the noise.  Because sound travels so much more slowly than the light, we saw the rocket take off, and then got to listen and feel the sound catch up, starting from silence and working up to a roar that I could feel make my jacket vibrate.  Impressive, given that the rocket was a few miles away.

After the launch, we watched the sun rise on the bus on the way back to the hotel.  Then we promptly went back to bed and slept for an hour or two.  At that point, we still had all day left.

Aha -- the hotel was right next door to Mission Santa Ines, which conveniently was the mission that Nim had to do a project about way back in fourth grade.  Naturally, we took the opportunity to visit.

Lucky kiddo got to sleep on the way home.  Adults did not.  Kid thought it was way more fun than a normal school day...