Saturday, September 26, 2009

Wallpaper and Nails

One of the joys of rehabbing an old house is uncovering what was done by those who came before. In painting a small bedroom we found three different papers on the wall. Actually all of these were hidden under a fourth wall paper -- a solid rattan kind of paper. That paper had been painted over in green and then tan.

I think there should be a rule that prohibits more than three layers of wallpaper. Kind of like a roof. If you get to three layers of wallpaper, you have to tear it all off and start new.

We also found some square cut nails. Very cool stuff. These old nails didn't have the pointy ends of newer wire nails. Can't imagine hammering these blunt metal things into wood all day.

Thursday, September 24, 2009


Every morning around day-break I take the dog out. It is a great time to see stuff.

Like this spider. I see it every morning. Same spot. Just hanging out seemingly in mid-air.

We have a little game going -- the spider and I. Spider sits motionless in the center of its web. I watch the spider from a distance. It makes not one move. Probably sleeping, I think, or tired from a long night at work. So, I try to sneak up for a picture, a really good one. I don't make a sound and carefully move to within a few feet. Somehow spider hasn't yet noticed a couple hundred pounds of human creeping toward it. I'm gonna get a great shot. I slowly raise my camera, focus, and just before the click -- BAM -- the spider is gone scampering over its web and out of sight. Spider wins. I lose. One more blurry picture to delete.

If not great with the camera; I am persistent. This morning I finally got a passable shot. I couldn't get the spider in mid-web, but did get an interesting shot of it working away at the edge of its web. I'll take it.

I'm not a big spider guy. But they are fascinating to look at close up.

I don't know what kind of spider this is. It is big. The body is about the size of a quarter. The web is well constructed and about three to four feet across. Above is a side view of the web. Not something I'd like to run into at night. Fun stuff first thing in the morning.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Alligator Pears

I've been watching our avocado tree for many many moons. Going on six years to be exact. No production. Not a single avocado. Nada.

So this year we decided to do something dramatically different. We watered the tree. And ta-da. We have avocados! Lots of them.

I'm so excited to have avocados actually growing on our tree that I've gone a little overboard with documenting the tree -- from flowers to little fruit and now larger fruit. The photo above was taken a few months ago when the Jacarandas were in full flower and the moon happened to be out. If you look carefully you'll see baby avocados hanging toward the bottom of the photo.

This picture kind of shows why some call avocados "alligator pears." A nice descriptive name for a fruit I think.

I grew up with avocados. My grandfather grew them (and watered them I bet). He grew both Hass and Fuerte so we had avocados most of the year -- boxes of them.

To help them ripen up, my mom used to stuff avocados in the towel drawers. The towels were soft and warm and protected the fruit while it ripened. It was a common thing in our house to go to the towel drawers and dig around for a ripe avocado.

Then, of course, if you found a ripe avocado, you'd need some fresh lemon to go with it. And some toast. Salt and pepper. My mouth is watering just thinking about it.

I'm told we have a couple of months before it is time to pick. I can't wait.

Saturday, September 12, 2009


Since our Coyote Encounter, I've been trying to get a good picture of one of these sneaky varmints. I see a lot of coyotes around here, but for a myriad of reasons have never taken a decent picture of one -- it is too early for good light, or I can't get the camera out in time, or I get the photo, but it is of the coyote's hind end as he escapes into the bush. Never a decent shot.

But, early this morning turning a corner, I caught this guy by surprise. He froze and we froze. The camera worked and I got this shot.

When we lived more toward central Pasadena, we occasionally saw coyotes who would roam the street early in the morning. They are very good at what they do, which is sneak around and scavenge any food they can find. And they are not picky eaters. So, with more people there is more food around to scavenge, which allows for more coyotes.

Since moving to NE Pas, near the foothills, we regularly see coyotes. Mostly they're out in the early morning. I've seen them at night eyeing our chickens through the chicken wire. We also hear their hyena-like yelps. Here's sample of what a pack of coyotes sounds like courtesy of the LA County Agricultural Dept.

Our big Coyote Encounter was a year and a half ago. We had just started keeping chickens and were introducing our young hens to their newly built outdoor coop. Well, the gate to our otherwise super-secure coop was apparently left open. I made it outside just in time to see a coyote grab a hen in his mouth and run away. It was a sad day.

But, fortunately it was still spring and we were undeterred. We went right out and got six more day old chicks and started over. Since then, we make sure the gate is latched. We also have a dog, who barks like crazy whenever predators are near.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Earthside Story Continues -- California Wild Grapes

These are California wild grapes growing at the Earthside Nature Center across the wash from Eaton Blanche Park. I've been watching these for months now, waiting for them to ripen up. And here they are. They are surprisingly tasty little things. They have a small seed in the middle, not much pulp, and resemble (to this connoisseur -pronounced with a long "e") a very light sweet concord grape.

The vines plainly had been loaded. Many grapes, however, have already turned into raisins. Others have been eaten by birds. But, plenty ripe purple fruit remains. We had alot of fun sampling the wild grapes and even some wild grape raisins.

Earthside was a nationally known native plant garden, but has not been tended since about 1996. That means these grapes have not been irrigated for a long long time. No matter. These have flourished on their own.

I took this picture last May and it shows how the vines sprawl over the fence at the northern edge of Earthside. Reportedly California wild grapes aren't good wine grapes. We may test that out. However, the wild grape is strong and disease resistant and is used as rootstock for wine grapes.

Bonus picture of Mt. Wilson from the nature center kiosk. Two dead redwood trees have been removed opening up this vista. As you can see, the transmission towers high atop Mt. Wilson still stand.

Extra bonus shot. Here's a bench under a sycamore where you can eat your wild grapes. As you can see, a tractor has turned under much of the brush that took over the garden this summer.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Bear Signs - bear on the patio

This seems to be our year for bears. At 2 am a couple of nights ago we got up to see what the dog was barking about. We stood on one side of sliding glass doors leading to a patio and watched as a bear ambled by just on the other side of the doors. Unlike the bear that climbed our tree last July, this was a very very large bear -- several hundred pounds I'd say. And unlike the "teenage bear" we saw in July, this animal was not the least concerned about our madly barking dog. It was amazing to be less than five feet away from such a large wild animal.

The fires may have chased the bear down the mountain. But, I think he was around even before the fires. Someone has been throwing around our trash cans. One morning I went out to find our large city-issued green waste barrel completely flipped over and standing on its lid. I have a hard time standing that barrel up when it falls. It took something really big, like that bear, to turn the barrel completely over.


Stronger than expected smell of smoke this morning. So much that I've closed the windows and started the air (which I hate to do). The Mt. Wilson cam still shows burning and smoke to the east. Hopefully nothing has erupted closer than that.


Incredible photos of some of the fire's devastation over at Altadena Hiker.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Our Feathered Guests

The Station Fire displaced animals as well as people. We opened up our little chicken coop to take in some hens that normally reside in the evacuated area of NW Altadena. Including our hens, last week we housed 18 chickens -- almost triple our normal number.

In general things went well. From our standpoint, there really was little additional work in caring for the extra chickens. Got extra eggs (and extra poop) for a little extra food and water. Not bad.

We did, however, learn about a thing called the pecking order. There is definitely a hierarchy among hens and they sort our their ranking by pecking each other. When we put the two flocks together, the natural pecking order of our flock (and the guest flock) was disrupted. Dominant hens pecked at the heads of those who are beneath them to the point of plucking feathers and opening skin. There's a wonderful article on chicken pecking order here.

I talked to my dad (an old chicken and everything else farmer) about the pecking. He recommended mixing hot red pepper in Karo syrup and spreading it on the heads of the chickens getting pecked. The theory is that the pecking will stop once the bird gets a load of pepper. A quick Internet search turned up lots of home remedies for pecking mostly involving spreading some horrible substance over the head and neck of the chicken getting pecked. In commercial flocks they trim the chickens' beaks to prevent pecking.

All guests have safely returned to their home roost. The situation here is back to normal.


The Mt. Wilson cam today is pointed east and shows a pretty healthy fire still burning.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Station Fire -- Friday Status - In Praise of Fire Bloggers

All signs are good. Only the faintest smell of smoke this morning at home. Smoke is light in downtown Pas as well. Red squares on the modis active fire map (indidcating fire activity within 24 hours) continue to dwindle and remain concentrated north-east of Mt. Wilson. I saw no activity on the southern front of the mountains. Accuweather still projects a cooling trend starting tomorrow with a high of 87. They forcast mid 90's today.

Last night Marcia attended the community meeting at Paznaz. I was playing soccer dad and couldn't make it. Her most vivid recollection of the meeting (aside from the crowd) were the comments from the Forest Service supervisor who emphasized that the size and devastation of this fire is unprecedented in LA County. Scrolling around the modis active fire map you get a sense for the ground this fire covered -- stretching from Santa Clarita to Acton to Altadena to Mt. Wilson and still heading east.

An overflow attended last night's meeting in Lee Chapel on the Paznaz campus. Plainly many people in the foothill communities of Altadena, Pasadena, Arcadia and Sierra Madre are interested in getting more information about the fire. Seems that officials who organized the meeting underestimated the level of interest.

Which brings me to the subject of fire blogging. It's important. And so are neighbohood email lists. When the air is thick with smoke, ash is falling and the helicopters are flying overhead, you want to know what's going on. And when your neighborhood is threatened by fire, you want information focused to where you live.

During last year's Chantry Flat Fire, local blogs were simply the best source of information about where the fire was burning and about threats to SM, NE Pas and East Altadena neighborhoods. The Foothill Cities Blog stepped up to serve as a kind of clearing house with clips and links to local blogs and traditional news sources. Bloggers in Sierra Madre tracked the fire's movements seemingly street by street. I posted photos and narrative from a NE Pas perspective. When we could see the fire from our neighbor's back yard and scrambled around for information, it was the local blogs that were most helpful.

The altadenablog has just been incredible in covering the Station Fire. The material they have posted and the many comments left by readers and other bloggers have been the best source of fire news for our area.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Station Fire -- What's in a motto?

Motto on Pasadena Fire Department truck.
Powerful stuff.


Station Fire -- Thursday Morning

I just got back from walking the dog. It is definitely smoky out there this morning in our NE Pas neighborhood. It is kind of a dissapointment because last night I did not smell the smoke and hoped this thing was over.

The modis active fire map on google shows a vastly reduced level of recent fire activity. The red squares (indicating fire activity within the last 24 hours) are now concentrated on the west flank of the fire which has moved well north and east of Mt. Wilson (due north from Montrovia and Duarte). There are red squares on the west flank too (heading toward Santa Clarita) but most of the remainging recent activity is on the west side.

The Times reports that the Mt. Wilson towers and observatory is going to be saved after a five day battle. That is a complete turnaround from the start of the week when reports were that the fire was going to overtake the towers.

Meanwhile, the heat wave continues. Accuweather projects a high today of 96. That's well off record heat, but up from the normal high of 89. Their prediction for Saturday is a high of 87, which would be a welcome change.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Station Fire -- Wednesday Morning

This morning, for the first time in several days, I awoke to relatively clear air. There was no smoky smell and no ash at my home in East Pasadena. As I drove into work with my car windows down, I did notice the smell of smoke by the time I reached downtown Pas. But, I don't see any flames this morning and the news, for seemingly the first time in ages, is reporting positive signs.

The google modis fire detection map (which depicts recent major fire activity) shows a spot of fire southwest of Mt. Wilson that looks near the very top of Eaton Canyon. According to the map, fire in this area occurred 12-24 hours ago. I hope that means the fire is on its way out. I don't see any other active fire spots on the map on the south face of the mountains. The fire seems headed north-east behind Mt. Wilson.

I have the press of work this morning. But I hope to later post some thoughts about last year's Chantry Flats Fire, the current Station Fire and fire blogging.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Station Fire -- Tuesday Morning

Seems we're settling into a routine of sorts -- very smoky mornings with clearing air and visibility in the afternoon. This morning we awoke again to lots of smoke and some ash falling.

According to the modis fire detection map on google, the fire has now moved south of the Mt. Wilson towers and observatory. The map shows fire to the north and south, kind of sandwiching the towers. Movement of the fire south of the towers is a new development. I have been watching for movement of the fire to the south slope of Mt.Wilson, which is due north of East Pasadena. So far, I haven't actually seen fire on the south slope of the mountains, but the map certainly shows that it has moved this way.

The Star News and others report that the fire won't be under control for two weeks. I look at the map and wonder where the fire will go in that time.

The pyrocummulus cloud caused by the heat of the fire has been spectacular and chilling at the same time. The photo above was taken yesterday afternoon from my office in downtown Pasadena. Petrea has a great photo out today.

Accuweather says we'll hit 104 today. That's off record heat (111 in 1955) but well above the normal high of 89.