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Thursday, 15 December 2011

Nature and Nutria invading our garden

Yesterday I had the treat of watching this little fellow wandering around our garden for about half an hour. I say little, but an adult nutria (or Coypu is some continents) weighs in at anything up to 20 pounds, the size of a large cat.

After munching on grass for a while, watched from a distance by two of our cats, he found this fallen pear more to his taste and tucked in with relish.

Those orange teeth are natural, and quite capable of giving nasty bite if roused. Fortunately this one was quite docile and didn't seem scared of me at all, as long as I stayed five feet away.

We've recently lost a willow tree down in the creek due to animal activity, and our neighbor blames a beaver, but  these nutrias burrow and undermine the banks too, so much as I enjoy having nature on my doorstep, we may have to take steps to discourage them. The previous owner shored up the bank, and filled in their holes, with cement, and we may eventually have to adopt the same approach. For now though, I'll enjoy the show.

Tuesday, 13 December 2011


A week ago my Brother-in-Law Chris and I hiked up Spencer Butte, the biggest Butte (hill) near Eugene, offering spectacular views when the weather is right. We hadn't expected much view when we left the house, as the top was hidden by cloud, but only a few minutes after we left the car park the sun came out, and we were treated to a rare clear winter day.

That's me, celebrating our 3/4 hour hike. Autzen Stadium, home of the Oregon Ducks, is visible down in the valley. The Butte is 2055 ft high.

This group of antennae is visible from most of Eugene, but you don't normally get to look down on it. (I think) the antennae provide radio, TV and cell phone coverage for the valley.

Looking southwest towards the coastal mountain range. Lots of farmland that way and not many townships.

I'm pretty sure these snowy peaks to the southeast are the ones around Crater Lake. The bearing and distance are right anyway.

Chris's camera was much better than mine, and these are all his shots. This is Mount Hood, 11,240 odd feet in height, and another unofficially inactive volcano. The odds of an eruption in the next 30 years are estimated to be 3-7%. If it goes pop I'm going to be up here watching it.   

The sprawl of buildings west of Downtown, centred around West11th Avenue, with the radio masts in the foreground. You can see the mountains from WalMart's parking lot, a sight I enjoy all too frequently.

The smoking chimney behind the masts is just south of our old apartment at Heron Meadows, and used to get odd smells if the wind was from the south. Happy as we were to be in the apartment, we are a lot happier not to be in that apartment now.

Thursday, 17 November 2011

How to Ruin Thanksgiving and Annoy People

Last year I worked on Thanskgiving Day morning, then returned for a midnight start to coincide with the official "doors opening" at WalMart for their Black Friday sale, officially called "The Event" at WalMart. I posted about last year's experiences, so you can refer back to that post on 11/30/10 if you wish to refresh your memory.

This year Target, a competing department store right across the main road, have announced a Midnight start on their their sale, and WalMart is starting their sale at 10pm on Thanksgiving Day. This of course means that anyone wishing to shop for a bargain is going to have to cut short their Thanksgiving evening celebrations and get along to the shops. It also means that some staff are working that evening, then returning for more madness on the Friday. I'm lucky this year, I'm working 7 to 4 on the Thursday, setting up for but not involved in the sale, then back for 2pm on the Friday, by which time the red-eyed glaze of bargain-maddened shoppers will have mostly worn off.

The 10pm start is allegedly in response to customer request, but it feels that the sales start earlier each year. Thanksgiving used to be a bookend that kept Christmas from interfering with the rest of the year, but this year sales of Christmas ornaments and Christmas-targeted gifts started before we had celebrated Halloween.

So for most of the WalMart staff, at least at my store, this year is going to be even more unpleasant than last.  I shall be giving thanks that due to a good schedule (and a considerate Manager), I shall be able to have a joyously unhurried Thanksgiving dinner with my wife and neighbors, a full night's sleep, and a relatively quiet shift on Black Friday afternoon. I shall also be giving thanks for three healthy contented cats, generous neighbors who are hosting and feeding us, everything going well with all the projects that Beth and I are working on, and being happy very with my life as a whole.

Tuesday, 1 November 2011

Halloween 2011

For Halloween 2010 we kept things very simple, but for 2011 now we were fully settled in the house I was determined to do something bigger. My original concept (which I had in 2010 but had not the means to create) was a maze, with spooky things you have to go past, before coming out the other end to a candy reward. The maze concept transformed into a Haunted Castle, when I discovered a folding castle at Toys 'R' Us. I bought two sets of this castle, which formed the frame for my 2011 Halloween experience.

Here's the castle assembled to test for size. It didn't completely fill the garage, but it was good to have some space round the edges anyway. My idea was that kids would go in the front door, wander around a bit spooking themselves, until the found the back door and exited, where I would be sitting (in last year's Grim Reaper costume) with a bowl of candy. Then they would exit the side door to the garage and head back to the street. It didn't quite work that way on the night (I think I got one child to follow correct procedure).

During construction I came up with the idea of filling the castle with dry leaves. Free stage dressing, better than the bare concrete floor, and they added smell, sound  and texture to the experience. We gathered up fallen leaves (which had helpfully already been swept into piles) in a tarpaulin, and it took a lot to cover the floor.

Stage dressing included this ex-trick-or-treater, complete with candy bowl with last year's candy still in it. The bones got somewhat lost in the leaves, and many kids on seeing the candy bowl helped themselves from it. That's OK, Halloween candy lasts forever anyway.

I also had this "ground rising" ghoul, colored lightball (not switched on here), and a few mini-pumpkins to add atmosphere, plus a couple of bats hanging on wires.

I also got a fog machine this year, and attempted to chill the fog to have it hug the ground, with mixed results. The problem with fake fog is that it has to be heated to start with, but then chilled if it is to stay low to the ground as intended. The chilling was attempted with a cooler box full of ice, with the fog blowing through it in a metal tube (with holes spiked in it).

Initial fog tests were encouraging, but the fog soon started rising and drifting. Well, it all added to the atmosphere, and it was definitely worth the $25 or so it cost. I'll be playing around with it to see if I can improve it for next year.

For spooky lighting, in addition to the colored spinning ball at ground level, I had a mirrorball hung from the ceiling, with a green-filtered light shining on it. Ball, light and four different filters (green, red, blue, yellow) all came as a kit. I chose green for ghastly ghostliness.

We had three artificial pumpkins in the front window, survivors from last year, but I wanted to carve my own too. This big pumpkin was remarkably empty inside, so there wasn't too much scraping to do.

Set and ready to go. The hanging ghost caused me a lot of trouble, as it was designed to rise up and down on a fishing line, making creepy howlings, when a sensor was tripped. The first time it rose it stuck at the top, and I had to disassemble it and fix the cogwheel which had broken. The sounds were far too loud, so I stuck tape over the speaker holes which muted it to acceptable levels. In my mind the ghost is the spirit of last year's trick-or-treater, but I don't know of anyone caught that subtlety. I can be vaguely seen in this picture in my grim reaper get up. I got a new mask this year, a Ghostface from the Scream movies, but it was very hot under the extra hood so I soon went back to the old one that only covered the front of my head. It worked well enough. The solid plastic chestplate of bones had a habit of bashing me on the chin, and next year I'll get something more flexible to replace it.

Finally set up and everything running. I had to keep adjusting the hanging ghost who insisted on turning to face the wrong way, and used a remote control tucked into my glove to puff extra fog when it got too thin. I dropped the remote in the leaves a couple of times, which was fun to try to find with a mask on. I also had ghostly noises playing from a CD I bought (and edited out the annoying or inappropriate sounds before putting the tracks on my mp3 player), so the visitor got the full range of senses.

One stage dressing I had intended for inside the castle was a big hairy spider, but in a flash of genius (that's mine used for this year) I decided to strap it to one of our RC trucks with elastic bands. Beth drove this round the circle of our road throughout the evening, to great effect. The truck has headlights, which worked well to draw attention before people realised it was actually a spider.

The full ensemble, RC spider, jack'o'lantern, castle, Ghost, Mirrorball, old Uncle Tom Cobleigh and all. The lights to either side of the garage door are only 4 watts each, and the lantern has just one tealight inside, so you can see that the camera has adjusted for poor lighting and made this scene much brighter than it appeared to the human eye.

Curious heads peering into the Haunted Castle. We had around 50 children visit, most with an adult or teenage chaparone, and the word "awesome" was used several times, if I may say so without appearing boastful. I was inside or behind the castle much of the time so didn't get to hear all the comments, but Beth as Front of House Manager had a few chats with parents and visitors. In addition to working the spider and encouraging people to go in, she was also handing out glowsticks to any children who were too scared to enter the castle alone or without company. We had maybe three or four who wouldn't brave the Castle even with a glowstick, and got their candy at the Castle Gates instead. It's as well that the castle was under cover, as we had a smattering of rain during the evening, with a consequent dropoff of visitors until it stopped. This also enabled me to close the garage door and leave packing away until today. 

Altogether a fun evening was had by all, over a period of two to three hours between dusk and 8:30pm. I probably spent $250 on new stuff this year, but apart from fog liquid, candy, and ice, it'll alll last for years to come, and I'll add a new thing ot two each year to keep things fresh.  

Thursday, 6 October 2011

Jury Duty... not

I received a letter recently summoning me to attend Jury Duty at the local Circuit Court. Unfortunately I am ineligible to serve as I am not a US Citizen.

The standard forms included, confirming eligibility to serve (where I fail on the first count), claims for travel costs, a one-day bus pass should one not have a car etc., did not anticipate that a recipient could possibly not be a Citizen. They allowed for excusion from duty for age and infirmity, or for reasons of having been involved in a crime, but not on the first and most telling point, not being a citizen.

I tried calling the phone number on the forms, but no luck, it was an automated line with no way to talk to a human or leave a message. I had the option of faxing a form in, but I haven't used a fax machine for ten years when email attachments made them almost obsolete. The final try was mailing back the form with my objection written in the "other reasons for not serving that you may wish us to take into account" box, where I wrote "I am not a US Citizen. I am a Permanent Resident, and unfortunately not qualified to serve as a Juror" or something to that effect.

Yesterday I received the response letter confirming that as a non-Citizen I am excused duty.

I'm wondering what database they chose my name from, as anywhere where I officially exist, it should be pretty clear that I am an non-Citizen. Beth suggested the DMV (Department of Motor Vehicles) provide data, as most adults in the State would have a driving license, and that is quite possible.

My suggestion for an improvement in local Government efficiency is to use the Register of Electors (or whatever the equivalent form is called), though Beth pointed out that some people do not bother registering to vote, while they would still want to be able to drive a car. Should non-voters get to stand on a jury? I suspect that people who so not exercise their Democratic right to vote would not make the best jury members anyway.

Whatever, until I qualify as a Citizen (in another year or so) and take the test and oath, I will not be turning up at a courthouse to pass judgement on my fellow Eugenians.

Tuesday, 4 October 2011

Change of Season

October heralded a distinct change of Season, with the temperature dropping and proper rain, our first decent precipitation since sometime in mid-June. We had over half an inch yesterday, and though I was at work through most of it, it was lovely to hear the rain on the roof when I was back home.

The dropping temperature has made a single layer, t-shirt or polo shirt, just too little except at work where the temperature is regulated. At home I'm adding a button-down shirt or hoodie as an extra layer, though with the buttons or zip open for now. We haven't had to use the heating system yet since Spring, we'd rather add layers of clothes.

The cats are spending more time indoors, though Elbie has caught two mice in three days, and brought them in for me, and Ghost, not to be outdone, brought a mouse into the bedroom in the middle of the night and proceeded to crunch on it in the middle of the floor. I removed it as soon as I realised what he had, and he happily switched to the dry food bowl we keep in the master bathroom.

Our "third" cat Simon is gaining confidence around the house, snoozing on a front room couch in daytime, and hopping silently up on the bed when we wake in the mornings for a few moments of attention. He's very gentle and purrs a lot, and must have been starved of affection at his real home one road down from us.  He and Ghost have occasional standoffs, mostly when they encounter each other unexpectedly, but no actual fights have occurred.

A potential shake-up at work came to naught. A co-Manager (second highest rank in the building) left to manage a different store, resulting in various openings in the management structure as people shifted around. There was a brief possibility (at least in my mind) that I might be offered a Department Manager position, but our own Department Manager didn't get promoted so our department remained unchanged. We do have two new associates though.

Tuesday, 6 September 2011

Kayaking on the McKenzie

A free Saturday provided the opportunity for my next kayaking adventure. Having paddled the Willamette River from close below the I5 bridge (currently closed to river traffic) to Corvallis,  my next step was to explore the convergence of the McKenzie River with the Willamette. The McKenzie meanders North of Springfield, joining the Willamette outside of town.

For this adventure we parked up my Mazda at Brown's Landing, went home for breakfast, and then at a leisurely 9am~ish headed to Armitage Park. This Park, off the Coburg Road between Eugene and Coburg, has a great landing for boats to lauch, and is just west of the I5 bridge across the McKenzie.

Putting on the splashdeck is the worst part of preparation, requiring at least three hands or use of a knee as a clamp.

Phew, at last the splashdeck is on, paddle is ready, and everything loaded.

Using Beth's GPS for a rough guide. I'm not walking so it's more than 8.3 miles, but I'll be travelling faster than walking pace so I'll get there before 12:34, hopefully.

I try to keep my feet dry while getting in, but it's not very dignified. Fortunately nobody saw me except Beth, and the millions of dozens of three people following this blog.

Getting waterborne requires some joggling to shift the kayak forward, but at last I'm afloat. 

Just to test the current I start off upriver...

paddling furiously to gain the bridge

and confusing Beth who tries to follow me upstream. As soon as I turn back downstream I am carried away, and this was Beth's last view of me for a few hours.

Looking under a footbridge, I spot some interesting lumps

closer inspection proving them to be House Martin nests, or whatever the USA footbridge version of a House Martin is.

slightly weird and alien-looking without evidence of the birds, but I know they are there.

Somehow I never recognised the point where the two rivers join. In fact they join twice, as there's an island between them, and I missed both spots. Nice view of the mountains though.

Various birds as usual, I think this was an Osprey.

Sod it

I've been thinking for some time about getting rid of our "flowerbeds" in the front and replacing them with sod (aka turf). The flowerbeds are a nuisance when mowing the lawn, look terrible for 90% of the year, and need constant weeding which they don't get and thus look terrible. What's been stopping me is that Jerry's, our local DIY store, never has sod (5' x 2' rolls of turf) in stock, so you need to pre-order or get up really early on delivery day to have a chance to get some. 

Then on Sunday, during a trip to Home Depot for a different project, we saw sod stacked up on pallets, at exactly the same price ($3.19 a roll), so on the spur of the moment I bought six rolls and piled them in the trunk, despite having no tarp to protect the lining, and having done no preparation of the flowerbeds.

Thus at six pm on a Sunday evening I could be found digging out the flowerbeds and laying strips of sod in their place. This was actually the best time of day to do the work, as the area was in shade. A claw-on-stick tool made short work of the scrubby dry bedding, and soon I was piling the loose dirt and debris in a wheelbarrow and laying down the strips of sod.

Beth kept me supplied with cups of tea while I worked, recorded the event for blogsterity, and vacuumed out my car boot for me. This is the front corner of the flowerbed, partly clawed ready for removal of loose plant matter and the bigger stones. The soil is moderately stony here, and there are roots from a mega-Lupin near the surface. A few weeks ago I chopped down a monster Lupin as a beginning to the re-lawning process, and in a few places the roots had put up new shoots. These proto-Lupins have been donated to our neighbor who plants them in his riverbank.

My main concern was to get the sod down quickly so we could water it thoroughly, and it still needs more levelling. This can be achieved by lifting the sod like a rug and filling underneath while it's still liftable, or by scattering loose soil on top once the grass has sprouted a bit.

The debris I lifted partly with a spade and partly by hand, piling it first in the wheelbarrow before dumping this out onto a tarpaulin round the side of the house. This I will sort through once it has dried a bit to remove the plant matter for the yard waste bin, while sifting out the soil to level up the lawn.

Our two black cats found all this unexpected activity fascinating, and watched from our neighbor's lawn. Robert relaid his whole front lawn earlier this year, and I hope mine will look as good in time.

Having got six strips laid, I still need another three or four to finish across the front, but now I know where I can pick up sod easily it's not so daunting. I've always found a big lawn easier to mow than a small one, apart from emptying the grass box more, so adding 100 square foot of lawn is no bother as far as mowing goes.

All our near neighbors have similar front lawns, so it'll look more uniform. We're watering the new strips and the lawn itself liberally until the Fall rains come, and I'm looking forward to easier garden maintainance from now on. The sod is a mixture of local grasses, a Summer and Winter blend, so if we can keep it alive it should look great.

Wednesday, 24 August 2011

New Freezer

Because I'm often working on weekends and in the evening, Beth and I often eat meals at different times, and buy our food separately. This led to a minor contretemps over the use of space in the garage chest freezer, in so much as I filled it with my food, and Beth wanted to use it too. I overlooked the unreasonableness of her request, and we solved the problem by ordering a second, identical chest freezer from Sears. This arrived last week, and now we use one each, supplemented by the kitchen freezer for things that are opened.

Sears, by the way, give a 2-hour delivery window, but not until the night before the delivery is due, so you have to take a day off work anyway, but at least you can use some of that day for other purposes. Fortunately with my varying schedule it is no trouble finding a midweek day for a delivery, without having to lose hours or vacation time. In London we got our appliances from Currys, who wouldn't even give a delivery time of morning or afternoon (as far as I recall), so you'd have to book a whole day off work.

Last night we went to WinCo and stocked up on frozen and other foods, and both enjoyed the ease of stuffing our respective chest freezers to the brim (actually Beth's is still half empty). It is a rare luxury in London to have the space to put a chest freezer, let alone two, but our double garage is the ideal location.

Our double garage, featuring my Little Red Corvette Mazda, recycling bin, garbage bin and two chest freezers to your left, Beth's reclining bicycle and my kayak to the right, bicycles and furnace on the back wall.