September 2013 Archives

Stalking the wily Punica granatum
September 28, 2013 9:51 AM | Posted in: ,

We're a little late for Rosh Hashanah, but we harvested the first pomegranate this morning.

Photo

We may still be a bit early for optimum ripeness; we never know for sure until we break one apart and try it out, but most conventional wisdom says to wait until October to harvest them.

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The seed pulp on this one is sweetly tart (or is it tartly sweet? I never can remember), but it wouldn't hurt to wait a few days for the rest of the harvest. And we still have plenty to harvest. This is just a portion of what this tree is offering; our second tree also has a few, but it's younger and not yet as prolific.

Photo

One thing we seem to forget each year is how many tiny insects hitch a ride inside the crown of the fruit. (Can you spot the one in the above photo of the fruit on the countertop?) We recommend soaking them in water outside to drive the insects out before bring them inside to "process."
We're going to have some remodeling work done on the house, meaning that we'll have a crew of people we don't know in our home for a week. And while they work for a reputable local contractor, there's something a little unsettling about having strangers in your house while you're not there.

While we could burn some vacation and babysit the crew all week, that seems to be a bit of overkill. It seems more reasonable to take some simple steps to "help honest people stay honest." To that end, I've installed key-locking doorknobs on the master bedroom and closet, since access to those rooms won't be required for the work.

However, our bedroom door opens outward, with the hinges exposed, so that a lock can be thwarted by popping out the hinge pins. Again, it's highly improbable that anyone is going to try that - but there's a simple solution that will remove even that little bit of insecurity. I've installed a couple of secure hinge plate studs. As a public service, because step-by-step instructions are lacking on the web, I've documented the process in case you're interested in doing the same thing at your house.

The concept is simple. The stud is installed into one side of the hinge plate, and it protrudes a quarter inch or so. A hole is drilled into the other side of the hinge plate, directly offsetting the stud, and when the door is closed, the stud fits snugly into the hole. Even if the hinge pins are removed the door can't be lifted or pulled off the hinges.

Following is a step-by-step overview of the process. [Tools needed: electric drill and bit, 1 1/2" cabinet screw, Dremel tool with a carbide cut-off blade or small hacksaw, masking tape]

First, pick a drill bit just slightly larger in diameter than the body of the screw. Drill a hole into the side of the hinge plate mounted on the door frame. Be careful to drill only through the metal of the hinge plate and not all the way into the wood. You'll want the screw to fit tightly into the door frame.

Photo
Yes, our door hinges are dusty. Don't judge.

Insert the screw leaving about 3/4" sticking out.

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You'll transform this lowly screw into a rugged stud.

Using a Dremel or other rotary tool with a cut-off blade (or a small hacksaw if you have room to use it), slice the head off the screw so that about 1/2" protrudes from the hinge plate.

Photo
It doesn't look like much, but appearances are deceiving.

Next, you'll drill the hole into the other side of the hinge plate, into which the stud will fit when the door is closed. But, you ask, how can I make sure I'm drilling in just the right spot? That's where the masking tape comes in. Apply a piece of tape across the hinge plate where the hole will be drilled, and close the door gently but firmly so that the stud leaves an impression in the tape. Voila! That's where you drill.

Photo
It's hard to make out, but the indentation is definitely there.

Drill a hole using the same bit as before, but this time, drill all the way through the metal and into the wood far enough to accommodate the stud.

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Pretty simple, huh?

And that's it. You'll want to repeat this at least once more for maximum benefit - studs on the top and bottom hinge plates will be the most effective placement.

If this seems like too much work, you can always order security studs, but even then you'll have to do some drilling.

Fall Fredericksburg Fandango
September 25, 2013 9:50 PM | Posted in: ,

We've just returned from a long weekend in Fredericksburg, where we were able to do many of the things we like to do best, including bicycling, dancing, and eating.

We stayed at a bed and breakfast on North Cherry Street, in a quiet neighborhood close to the western edge of town. It's one of the few B&Bs in the area that gives off a distinct Santa Fe vibe, both from an architecture and a landscape perspective. It also has the distinct advantage of being roomy enough to park a 10-foot-long bicycle inside without disrupting the flow of the space. I'd give you the name of it, but I don't want anyone else staying there so it will always be available for us. Well, that and the fact that I can't remember. That seems to happen a lot nowadays. What were we discussing?

Even though much of the Texas Hill Country enjoyed torrential downpours - and Fredericksburg got its share - we were still able to get in bike rides every day of our stay. I don't believe in karma, but one might make a convincing case that this was payback for our Memorial Day trip where we hauled the bike 300 miles only to watch it sit forlornly in the steady rain that kept us off it for the entire weekend. Anyway, we rode a total of 62 miles - a metric century, if you care about such things - and nothing fell off the bike, including us. That's always A Very Good Thing.

As an aside, we can remember when we rode that far plus a hundred miles on long weekend trips to the Hill Country. It would be nice to think that we could still do that, but as we get more miles on ourselves, getting more miles on the road no longer holds a great attraction. We just need to ride enough to justify eating well.

Following are a few photos from around the B&B. By the way, in the interest of accuracy in advertising, they should change the name of these facilities to "B&C," where the "C" stands for "coupons." Almost no one still offers breakfast. Instead, you get a coupon to apply towards a meal (generally breakfast or lunch) at a few choices of restaurants. Our hosts provided us with $7 coupons (per person), which we chose to use each morning at the Java Ranch Espresso Bar & Cafe where the kolaches, cinnamon rolls, and pecan coffee are highly recommended.

Photo - Passionflower
This passionflower was blooming in front of our B&B.

Photo - Green Anole
The geckos and green anoles (like this one) were busy
keeping the insect population in check.


Photo - Bugs on Cactus
Well, some insects were spared. These were getting ready to rumble.

Photo - Snails
Conspiratorial gastropods creep me out. They're talking about me, I just know it.

For those who are familiar with the Fredericksburg dining scene, we had dinner at Pasta Bella, Navajo Grill, and Crossroads Steakhouse, and lunch at the Peach Tree Tea Room, Bejas Grill, and Cranky Frank's. Yeah, that's right...not a German restaurant in the bunch. Oh, and we enjoyed fine al fresco dining at Luckenbach on Saturday evening; more about that later. I have to say that the lunches were uniformly superior to the dinners, although Pasta Bella never disappoints.

We made the obligatory side trip to the Wildseed Farms. It was nice to be there in double-digit temperatures. Seems like the last few times we've visited, it's been 100ยบ+. And while it's no longer peak wildflower season, the grounds were in excellent shape, especially the butterfly garden.

Photo - Butterfly Garden
The Wildseed Farms butterfly garden was resplendent.

Photo - Butterfly Garden
We're getting toward the end of butterfly season in Texas,
but that just makes us appreciate those that are left that much more.


As I mentioned above, we played tag with the rainshowers during the entire weekend. We got in a two hour ride Thursday morning without getting out of the city limits (we were checking out real estate), and got back to home base about an hour before the rain started.

On Friday morning - the day that the forecast called for a 100% chance of rain - we contemplated taking a rest, but then decided to try to get in a brief ride. We had a very pleasant 45 minutes on the bike, and returned just as a light sprinkle was beginning. But within 20 minutes after pulling the bike into the house, here's what kicked in:



That's an awfully purty sound to a Texan's ears, especially if you're not hearing it from the soggy seat of a bicycle ten miles from home.

Saturday was clear and cool, if a little breezy, and we did a 30-mile ride into the country, where we enjoyed a number of pleasant and/or provocative sights.

Photo - Rushing river waters
It was good to see water in the Guadalupe and Pedernales Rivers.

Photo - Road sign
It was also good to know that we could squeak by on the weight limit.

Photo - Mushrooms sprouting in a cow pattie
You know that saying about blooming where you're planting?
Is this what they had in mind?


Photo - Turtle in road
This turtle was obviously disoriented by the rain, as he left the safety
of the mud for the danger of the road. (We rescued him.)


Photo - Rough green snake
This guy (gal?) picked a dangerous spot to catch some rays.

This beautiful creature is a rough green snake (some might refer to it as a grass snake). I had to look it up, because we don't have them in our neck of the woods, unless they're brought in with loads of non-native trees or shrubs. It was laying motionless in the middle of a rural road, one that was fortunately not well-traveled.

He didn't move a scale while I took a series of photos, and, in fact, I finally had to grab his tail to convince him to move off the road and into the pasture.

Photo - Rough green snake
She (he?) was wary but unmoving.

Photo - Rough green snake
Is this a threatening countenance? I think not.
(I've taken a lot of snake photos in my time, but this might be my favorite.)

One of the main reasons we like visiting the Hill Country are the plentiful and diverse choices of live music. There's no lack of dancing opportunities either, although claiming a spot on the dance floor is often a contact sport. (We're not averse to cutting the legs out from under our fellow dancers, provided they're older and slower than us. Which, come to think of it, never happens.)

On Friday night, we moved from the restaurant to the saloon at Crossroads, where a band out of Austin called the Debonaires performed a surprising variety of modern country and classic rock. Seriously guys, the ironic name is fine for those who know you, but we almost skipped it thinking you were a Fifties do-wop group. Not that there's anything wrong with Fifties do-wop, mind you. Crossroads has the world's tiniest dance floor, and some of the most inebriated young-women-whose-dates-won't-dance-with-them-so-they-"dance"-with-each-other. I'd insert air quotes around "dance" if I knew how, but I trust you know what I mean. Nevertheless, we weren't deterred.

Saturday had more opportunities than we could handle. Almost Patsy Cline was performing in Harper at 8:00 p.m., while Chris Story's CD release concert and dance was scheduled at Luckenbach at 9:00. Then, back at Crossroads, Del Castillo was also set for a 9:00 show. We've seen, heard, and danced to all of them, and they're each outstanding in their own way, but we decided to head out to Luckenbach.

We got to Luckenbach early enough to grab something to eat at the walk-up diner, and then got some prime seats inside the dance hall. It was eventually standing room only, and once again we had to fight for space on the dance floor. But that's sorta part of the fun of Luckenbach...it really is a family-friendly venue, and there were kids in strollers and octogenarians, and everything in between.

The band was even more awesome than usual. Chris has brought his band to Midland several times over the past few years, so we knew what to expect. But he's got a new guitar player (who also produced the new CD and wrote many of the songs) and he's absolutely amazing.

If you've been to Luckenbach, you know that the seating is at rows of picnic tables lined up perpendicular to the stage. The bench seating and limited space means that you'll likely be joined by strangers, and we eventually found ourselves surrounded by a group of folks who seemed to know each other, even though they were from different cities. As it turned out, one group was from Big Spring (just a few miles down the road from Midland, for you readers who aren't from our part of the state), and they were so excited to find some other West Texans that we were apparently made honorary family members (right down to the farewell hugs at the end of the night). In addition, one of the men in the group - Bryan Maynard - wrote one of the songs on the CD, which was pretty cool. And, on top of everything else, he gave us a copy of the new CD (entitled Chapter One...you can buy it here, but it's not available for download yet).

By the way, Chris Story and his band will be in Midland - along with Almost Patsy Cline - for the Wine and Music Festival in early October. 

So, that about wraps up our trip report, and...uh...what's that? Shopping? Well, yes, shopping did take place, and I even captured some photographic evidence. Sort of.

If you're a regular visitor to Fredericksburg, you probably know about Madlyn's, a women's clothing and accessories store that's well away for the main shopping area. It's been there forever, and I have no idea how they stay in business - we were there for an hour on Saturday afternoon and were the only customers during that time. But they do manage to stock some good stuff; Debbie seems to always find something and this trip was no exception. But here's what caught my attention:

Photo - Ceiling tiles

Recognize it? Well, sure, it's a section of ceiling tiles, but it's also apparently a part of the store's sound system. As far as I can tell, they've scattered their speakers around the store behind the tiles, so as you walk around the sound sort of fades in and out without an apparent source. It's really not a bad idea. However, it was sort of jarring to hear Texas rock from an Austin radio station coming from the ceiling of a store that caters to women who cut their musical teeth on the Lawrence Welk Show.

Or maybe they're just humans from an alternate, rubber-worshipping universe, or visitors from an algoresque future without tyres. Who knows? But whatever their origins, while we can't necessarily judge their motives for needing the wheels on one of our company trucks residing in our company parking lot, we are left with one niggling question: wasn't it enough to take our rims...why did they also have to prove their technological superiority?

Floating Pickup

Fox Mulder, we need you now, more than ever.

Note: Some of this actually happened. Really. Would I kid you?

A little of this, a bit of that...
September 7, 2013 11:05 PM | Posted in: ,

In the past, this would be a Random Thursday post, but posting has been so random lately that Thursday no longer wanted to be associated with it.

First, the obligatory back yard hummingbird photo. The little guys will soon be leaving for southern climes, so let's enjoy them while we can.

Photo - Hummingbird and shadow on wall



I've heard a lot of chatter today about the truck tailgate decal depicting a woman apparently being kidnapped. I agree that it's in poor taste, but there's poor taste and there's this:




There are some beautiful blogs out there that manage to get by without a word. But, then, a picture is worth...well, a bunch of them. Take this one, for example, created and maintained by Azerbaijani designer Samir Sadikhov. It's simple a series of photos and illustrations, without context, selected apparently because Mr. Sadikhov found them remarkable in some way. You'll have to click around a bit to find where the images originate and some additional information about them. Think of it as online exploring.



And what, you might ask, can we expect from a designer from Azerbaijan? Well, how about an Aston-Martin concept car?




Speaking of beautiful blogs, this tumblr has one of the best collections of photos, illustrations, and animations you'll find in one place...and, again, no words to get in the way. Navigation tip: click on an image to see it in isolation, then click on it again to pull up the next one. [Warning: Site contains occasional artful nudity]



I think this speaks for itself.




Photo - Sweet Potato Vine

Fort Stockton Photos
September 2, 2013 5:22 PM | Posted in: ,

We were in Fort Stockton over the weekend and I carved out some time to wander through a pasture to take some photos, and then snapped a few at the nursery owned by my brother and his wife.

Dead mesquite
Since the pasture was once part of the Permian Sea,
can we call this mesquite stump "driftwood"?


Meteorite?
No, this is not what you think. It's a rock,
and the pasture is littered with them. Growing up, we
thought they were pieces of meteorites but I now realize how silly that was.
They're obviously fragments from a crashed alien spacecraft.


Sulphur butterfly
I think this is a Cloudless Sulphur

Gulf Fritillary
I'm more certain that this is a Gulf Fritillary.

Gulf Fritillary
This is a different view of the Gulf Fritillary shown above.

The Civil Wars || The Civil Wars
September 1, 2013 6:30 PM | Posted in:

Here's what you do. Go buy the best pair of headphones you can find. Not earbuds - not even those fancy-schmancy Sennheisers - get a good set of over-the-ear cans, although noise-canceling on-the-ear phones will also work. Set aside a couple of hours, and find a comfortable chair. Then go to the iTunes Store and download The Civil Wars, the recently-released eponymous album by the duo of Joy Williams and John Paul White. Plug in the headphones to your music-generating device, set on album-repeat, and be ye transported.

I don't know what genre The Civil Wars belong in. The iTunes Store labels the duo as "alternative," meaning that they also don't know how to classify them. They performed at the Grand Old Opry; does that make them country? They won a Grammy for the Best Folk Album, so perhaps that's where they belong. They sang Michael Jackson's Billie Jean on a VH-1 TV special; perhaps they're a pop group.

Frankly, it doesn't matter. Their ethereal harmonies and understated arrangements (produced by the amazing Charlie Peacock) demand your undivided attention (hence the headphone recommendation) and reward the diligent listener with an emotional roller-coaster of beautiful melodies and grown-up lyrics. If this is indeed country music, it's the Anti-Nashville version at its best, with nary a hint of ripped jeans, party-on-a-tailgate-by-the-creek, hot-southern-girls-and-cold-Texas-beer. And that's an extremely soothing thing.



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