Monday, July 11, 2011

Springing into Summer

It's been a long long time since I last updated my blog, so I'm going to attempt to cover many, many months all at once.

As you will know from my previous ramblings we composted all of our food scraps and then in spring we opened up our compostor which revealed this lovley heap of compost!

We sifted through it since a lot of stuff we thought could be composted turned out to be layered with waxy plastic. Also we were looking to see what happened to the biodegrable chip packet and bio-degradeable wine glass we put in there after our wedding in September.

As you can see the Sun chip packet had hardly broken down at all, so their claim of greening the world one packet at a time seemed a bit far fetched.

We didn't find any evidence of the wine cup though.. which surprised me since it was made of a more rigid material... go figure.

Armed with a new seed tray heating pad, our glorious home made compost and a cold frame that Gay bought me for my 40th birthday, I went about planting lots of seeds, and hardening them off in the cold frame before setting them out in the garden.

In this plot are some Waltham Butter Squash, Roma zuccinhi, a mystery squash that grew from the compost, and some bell peppers.. well as some sweet potato plants that I had grew from slips in a jam jar filled with water. The sweet potato is the plant with the triangular shaped leaves in the photo above, enclosed by an old yoghurt pot that helps keeps pets away from it.

In our other plot we have basil, and beets and radishes ...

as well as some serrano and thai dragon peppers as well as our tomato plants.

Those pictures above were taken in April/May when I first planted them out and the next two pictures were taken in early July...

showing how much space the Butternut Squash has taken up...

and how well the beets, basil etc are growing.

We have strawberry patches in both of these plots that have proved to be very fruitful and yummy too.

Going back to the butternut squash, I was so excited when I saw little butternut squash babies growing on the vines...

but was then most perplexed when they just rotted and fell off!

A little bit of research on t'internet lead me to discover that the vines have both female flowers (the one at the end of the baby butternut squash shown above) and male flowers seen below...

so armed with a cotton bud or a Q-Tip as they call them over here, I collected the male pollen ......

and dabbled that inside the female flowers and voila...

.. the butternut squash began to grow just fine.

Here's a bigger one that is beginning to take on the characteristic butternut squash colour. Really excited that they are doing so well!

One of my other tasks was to try and cut down on the amount of damage done to our gala apple tree by the codling apple moth, so I set about making a home made trap for them.

I want to suspend the trap high in the canopy, so firstly I had to make a stand...

... that I could attach to the support post for the tree.

Then armed with two empty plastic milk bottles (see practising the "re-use before recycle" mantra I try to encourage ;-)), I took some household ingredients to make the contents of the trap.

Basically it is apple cider vinegar, mollasses, water and a teeny bit of ammonium sulphate. Mix it all up (I can send you the ratios if you want it) and then hang them in the tree.

A couple of weeks later I took it down to refill it and found I had caught quite a few moths....

so it seems to be working and the apples seem to have less damage on them :

I try and inspect the tree as often as I can and remove the apples that look infested. They are getting to the size where I will just let them all grow now and at harvest just cut out the bad bits and then make apple pies and crumbles with them!!

I'm also delighted to announce that our orange tree has started to bear fruit, after the sweet smelling blossoms..

were pollinated by some lovely bees, and the fruit began to grow.

I know to a lot of you lucky Americans that have lived in a warm climate all your life, seeing an orange grow is old hat. But for a Geordie boy like myself to see a real life orange growing on a real life tree in my own back yard is a big thing to me!

The only ones that grow in England are grown in a Terry's factory and made of chocolate. Still yummy though!

As a result of my squirrel "relocation" programme last year, we've seen fruits growing that we did not know we had, such as wild plums in the trees...

.. but although they look nice they don't taste too delicious, although Rusty, our dog would go nuts for them, although he's not suppossed to eat them

We also had these things growing in a bush, so if you can identify them drop me a line.

I'm not sure they are edible though. Our neighbours pear tree is also full of fruit, compared to the one single fruit we saw in it last year, which just shows how much destruction the squirrels really did.

So all summer long we've had a pretty good harvest of strawberries..


...radishes, basil, chard...

... with many thing such as zuccinhi and peppers not being shown here.

Onto more miscellaneous stuff now. Spotted this lovely yellow butterfly in our garden.

..and this cuddly rusty coloured dog keeps following us around in the garden, occassionally barking tat the butternut squash, but mostly hiding in the shade in the corner!

And finally for those concerned about the health of my fuscia that was attacked by a mould infestation over the winter, well it seems to be making a good recovery..

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Earth Day - the end of Our Rubbish Challenge, Rusty, Red and Good Friday

Okay let's get to the final weigh in as part of our Earth Day Challenge we set ourself a year ago. I know Bruce is dying to hear about it! If you remember we wanted to send less than 100lbs of rubbish to land fill so let's see how we did after our final weigh ins :

Weigh in #30 - 11.5oz

Weigh in #31 - 5oz

Weigh in #32 - 12oz.

So our final total, after a year of weighing all our rubbish is :

591oz or 36 lbs and 15oz

So we came in 63lbs and 1oz under our target! So about 66% below what we set ourselves! If the US could cut their deficit by that in one year well..... well.... they probably wouldn't be at war in three countries!

All in all it was an interesting challenge, and one we will continue to live by. I don't mean that I will weigh all our rubbish again, just that we will shop in a way that we buy products that don't include any waste, or it can be truly recycled, so glass instead of plastic, as plastic gets down-cycled.

All our food waste is either going to the worms, our rotating compost bin, or into the city green composting bins, which is a great move for San Mateo county.

Composting is certainly catching on, with Whole Foods now selling compost made from their veggie products that they discard once bruised or past their sell by dates!

"Where's there's muck, there's brass" as they say in Yorkshire.

I'm hoping to try and get work to put compost bins in more places too. All those paper hands towel we dry our hands on can be composted, and all those dirty pastry bags too. They've already transitioned to filtered water stations instead of the coolers with the big plastic bottles.

Remember bottled water is much less regulated than the good old stuff that comes from your taps, sorry fawcet.

Talking of water I got a good tip from John my baseball buddy. So now in the morning when we start to run the water to get it warm for the shower it goes into a bucket which we then use on our plants in the garden. We'd been saving all the water from rinsing vegetables for about a year now, but the water you would normally waste EVERY TIME YOU SHOWER is being put to good use.

I've also finally dismantled our down pipes from the guttering and collecting rain water that way. Even when it drizzles we get about 5 gallons in 30 minutes! Just don't tell the landlord! :-)

Anyway, I digress.....

I think we can feel rightly proud of ourselves with out Earth Day Challenge, and it wasn't really that hard. Hardest thing has been taking the pictures and writing them up!

On a different note I did have to "Break Glass in Case of Emergency" to free up my Plexxi-gone stock certificate :

But it all added up to a Very Good Friday indeed. As well as our windfall from the shares we also bought a wee little MX-5!!!!

It's from 1999 but only has 51K miles on it and was nice and clean inside. Listed price at the dealer was $9665, but I got it for $6800. In truth they had already dropped the list price to $7995 by the time I went to see it, but it's good to feel that you got those car salesman buggers to give you a good deal.

I found some excellent haggling tips at this Art of Manliness website, so check it out. They give a pretty good explanation of how car dealers make their profits.

In some respects I feel a bit silly having two cars now, BUT, we all have summer clothes and winter clothes, so I now have a summer car and a winter car. :-)

Plus my sister in law Nellie sent me an email about a list of regrets people who are dying have. One of them was, and I'm paraphrasing here, was to not have done things you really wanted to, so since I've always wanted a little convertible, I decided to go for it and not regret it!

And on an Earth Day note it get's 32mpg so much better than my SUV!

The final good thing that came into our lives on Good Friday was Eeyore, who we have re-named Rusty:

He's about 8 years old and a cross between a golden retriever and an Austrailan Shepherd. First night was a bit rough with some barking and whining around 1am for half and hour, but Ananda and I held firm and did not respond. He also had two wet accidents in the kitchen but since then he's not made another sound at night and been completely house trained.

He's definitely relaxing a bit now and is happy to go in to his bed in his pen even when the door is open. We just need to get him to eat properly and we'll all be happy.

He was badly treated in the past, so we're hoping to make up for that with a safe and secure home for him. Of course the shelter still need to neuter him, so he might not be our friend for a few days after that. I think I'll let Ananda take him in for that one. It's too much for one male creature to do to another one!

Training him is coming along quite well, especially with his new name. He'll come to you on command now and go to his bed on command as well. Working on sit, which is a bit difficult for him since he has bad hips but we are getting there.

Ananda in her clever-techi-ness set up a live video web stream so we can listen and watch him whilst we are at work to see if he kicks up a fuss when we leave (separation anxiety). So far we see about a minute or two of whining and a little half hearted barking before he settles down and sleeps until we come home at lunch time to walk him.

Okay, time for me to say goodbye for now. This blog will transition to being about the vegetable garden, the fight against the squirrels and Rusty updates and Card family updates from now on.

I hope our Earth Day Challenge has inspired you to at least try something different. When out shopping next, see if you can put your produce (veggies) loose in the cart without using plastic bags for everything, or buying your dry goods in cardboard boxes instead of plastic, milk in glass instead of tetra-packs. And of course I think most people use re-useable bags to bag their groceries in now. A return to old fashioned values eh? Every little will help.

As always thanks for reading!

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Weigh ins #25-29, Honeymoons, Newcastle United and the FBI and Plex Success!

Time to take a quick dive through our accumulation of rubbish in the last few months from January until now!

Weigh in #25 was 15oz

Weigh in #26 was 18oz

Weigh in #27 was 11.5oz

Weigh in #28 was 22oz

Weigh in #29 was 12oz.

With these five weigh ins we're standing at a grand total of 562.5oz or 35lbs and 2.5oz after 48 weeks so well inside our target. The next earth day is only 4 weeks away so the experiment is coming to an end, but not the practice of buying wisely, recycling, and composting, so our amount of waste going to land fill will be kept as low as we can.

This next year I think I'm going to try and cut out all of my junk mail. I've tried mailing back those business reply envelopes, but that is just petty!

I've signed up with Catalog Choice to see if I can get rid of those blasted "redplum" coupon things the postman delivers once a week. I'll let you know how successful I have been.

On a similar note to opt out of all those annoying pre-screening credit offers you can call 1--888-5-OPT-OUT (1-888-567-8688) or visit OPTOUT

That should remove your name for 5 years. I think you can remove it permanently as well if you chose. Remember the next time you legitimately apply for credit it will put your name back on their mailing list so you'll have to re-register to opt out.

Talking of credit, you may or may not know that I walked away from my condo in what's called a "strategic default". In lay mans terms I stopped paying my $400,000 mortgage on a place that was then worth $170,000, and let the bank carry the can.

I heard many horror stories of what would happen to my credit, so I got my credit scores just before I stopped paying my mortgage in April 2009, and then I recently did the same thing in January 2011, some 6 months after the foreclosure.

So here are my pre and post-foreclosure scores

April 2009 :

Transunion = 737
Experian = 734
Equifax = 756

January 2011

Transunion = 721 (a drop of 16 points!)
Experian = 684 (a drop of 50 points)
Equifax = 716 (a drop of 40 points)

So not the whole doom and gloom the financial sector predicted, but then again they were trying to pray on my fear!

There is one slight catch however. They'd started adding grades to the scores so as well as my score I am graded C by Transunion, a lowly D by Experian and a C by Equifax.

So would I rather still have my good scores and grades or $380,000 of debt? I'll let you figure that one out!

Just after I got my new credit scores Ananda and I headed out on our Honeymoon; a few days in Tahiti and then almost 4 weeks in New Zealand. Here's a few pictures just to wet your appetites for when we get round to some serious editing!

This is the swim up horizon pool bar at our resort in Tahiti. The weather was superb for the three days we were there and snorkeling in the lagoon was so fun...... until I spotted a massive moray eel on the last day! Only drawback about Tahiti is it is very, very expensive for food! We got a sweet deal on the resort though, only $120 for three nights!

Next up was New Zealand and an amazing time in my most favourite place in the world!

This is Ananda kayaking in the beautiful Able Tasman National park. Truly beautiful in itself but throw in a pod of dolphins swimming around us, sting rays and beautiful song birds and you begin to get a better idea!

Most of you might recognise Mt Ngauruhoe as Mt Doom in LOTR. We had a great one day trek up amongst the volcanoes. If New Zealand is my most favourite country in the world then the Tongariro National Park, a double World Heritage Site is my favourite place, ANYWHERE. It truly is a magnificent and sacred place to be.

When I moved to New Zealand back in 2000 it was the best thing I had ever done in my life. I was so lucky to land on my two feet sharing a house with some amazing room-mates. Here's two of them, Nick and Verena, who in the intervening time have got married and grew another room-mate of their own, Oliver! It was great to catch up with them, all too briefly though.

This is the Whangapoua crew from a wonderful weekend at the Arcus's beach house, which doesn't really do the place full justice. Award winning beach compound might be a better description. It was a great opportunity to catch up my dear friends and to see their kids and to see how they have all grown up too in the case of Leon and Gracie. An unforgettable weekend of sun, sea, fun, food and friends. Thanks guys!

Well coming home after that was a big strain on me, as I so long to go and live there again.

My first day back at work didn't help this mood too much since my computer at work had been confiscated by the FBI! Welcome home Graeme!

To cut a long story short I had downloaded a bundle of programs called Tor that allowed me to log into the BBC website as if I had a British IP address and was therefore able to listen to football commentary of the mighty Newcastle United!

Unbeknownst to me, that also opened up my computer, gloriously labeled as "Property of the US Government", to be an anonymous server for anyone that wanted to use it. All that the two Counter Intelligence FBI agents would say when they interviewed me a week later was that "a bad actor" had been using my computer as a "node".

Since birth it's been a pretty rough ride being a Newcastle United fan. We're basically the equivalent of the Boston Red Sox in terms of not having won the Premier league since 1927 or something, (famously throwing away a 15 point lead in 1992 I think to finish 2nd!!!), but surely adding the FBI into the mix is not something any ordinary football loving fan should have to deal with!

Still, the FBI had not broken my resolve to be a Newcastle United fan, Fat Mike Ashley on the other hand.........

I've yet to break it to my wonderful in-laws that I'll have to become a San Diego Chargers fan since that's their home town, and no doubt I will bring the Newcastle United curse with me to their team. Sorry Jeff!

So after about 6 weeks I finally got my two computers back, and yes my honeymoon photos were on them, so I can someday soon get them out there for you to look at!

Finally good news and some pictures Bruce wanted to see! Thanks to good fortune and luck, our former company has been bought out for almost $1 billion dollars. Some might say that may be a bit on the cheap side since the drug, once approved will be a multi-billion dollar seller, but hey I'm not complaining about the wonderful abundance that's been presented to us!

When I started at Plexxikon, I instituted the traditional British Friday lunch time trip to the pup in Berkeley called Jupiters, which some of my American colleagues took to with, quite literally, flying colours!

Despite the odd reprimand over some post-pub lab safety issues, they were some of my happiest moments there, and indeed it was during one of these visits that I first got the inclination that my now wife had a bit of a crush on me!

So what better place to celebrate our collective good fortunes than at Jupiters!

Here's some pictures and the odd commentary!

In honour of Bruce, I gave my vegetarian habits a rest for the evening and had the world famous "Cassiopeia BBQ chicken pizza"

John and Graeme discussing if they can buy out the Oakland A's, or maybe just build a new all seater stadium for them, so about 200 seats then.

The gangs all here!

The Jihad reunited for the first time since that fateful June day..... Bugger I'll probably have the FBI back on my case now....

And as usual the last to leave were .....

Thanks for reading and see you next time!!