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The little fig tree leafs are growing (bigger). There are a bunch of little figs growing too. The car is already getting lightly covered in pollen. This evening we had some wind and a small refreshing rainstorm. It was too warm inside, so I opened a few windows to get some of the breeze. Tomorrow it will be cooler, a high of 65. (Last week or somewhen, when the forecast was also for 65, I thought *eek* that will be cool, and then reminded myself that normally 65 in February would be nice and temperate.)

Feb 2017 weather history, Columbia SC
(click to enlarge)
(from https://www.wunderground.com/history/airport/KCAE/2017/2/1/MonthlyCalendar.html)

Now that it is March, maybe I will stop feeling so disconcerted about the weather. In my experience, we could have cold weather and sporadic snow and ice up through the very end of February here. But March has always sounded like Spring.

Photos under cut... )

770 feet

Tuesday, February 14th, 2017 11:18 pm
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The Oroville Dam, 17 years ago. It didn't look very impressive to me. I had no idea it was the tallest dam in the United States. I mean, come on, it looks like a grassy hill, doesn't it?

View of Oroville Dam from top

View of Oroville Dam from top

Spring of February

Saturday, February 11th, 2017 04:43 pm
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It is such a gorgeous warm sunny day today. This whole so-called winter has been relatively warm. Other than a few cold nights and cool days, it hasn't even felt like winter.

The pink magnolia tree started blooming this week. The blooms don't usually last more than a week or two. Based on photos, in prior years it bloomed in early to late March. So this year is a full month earlier than usual, unless the years in which I didn't take photos had earlier blooms too.

The fragrant yellow jessamine on the fence is also already blooming.

There is a bush at Qiao's house, which I've been curious to know what kind of plant it is. It has thin stalks, some with reddish blossoms and some with white (unless the white ones are a different kind of bush). It started blooming right at the beginning of February, even before the pink magnolia. In the summer, it gets roundish green fruit that look like plum-sized small apples. They are surprising to see, because the thin stalks don't seem like they could support such relatively big fruit, yet they do. The fruit smells and tastes like bitter apples (too bitter to eat). So it's probably some apple variant. It doesn't look like what Google Images shows for crab-apples, though.

After doing some searches, my best guess is that it is a shrub quince, even though the fruit is green rather than yellow, and more apple-shaped than quince-shaped.

More photos... )
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I bought this adjustable shelf to try out as a standing desk setup. It's wide enough for both the keyboard and mouse, and deep enough that I can rest my forearms on it.

At home, my laptop is on an adjustable mount that can be lifted and lowered, so that is how I raise and lower the display. At work, I have 2 monitors, one on the desk for use while sitting, and one on a higher shelf for use while standing (to switch between them, it only requires an alt-ctl-fn key press).

The above is okay in terms of comfort. (Having my skin touch cool metal is unpleasant, so I cover the metal with cloth as in the above photo). But to switch from standing to sitting, I need to re-position the keyboard and mouse from the shelf back to the desk, and move the shelf away. The shelf, while light, is big and awkward to move around. So switching between standing and sitting isn't a very simple matter. (Though, if the keyboard were wireless rather than corded, that would help somewhat.)

I found the below setup to be more convenient.

I use a box (or a stack of books) to raise up my mouse & mousepad. I've found that using the mouse is most comfortable when my forearm is horizontal like that, not angled up or down.
I put a wedge (about 2" high) under the keyboard (or stick something else under the front edge so that it is higher than the back edge). Typing is fairly comfortable to me in that position, even though my palms & wrists don't rest on anything. Without the wedge, I would have to bend my wrists a lot, which quickly becomes very uncomfortable.

To switch from sitting to standing, I just need to move over my box, put the mouse & mousepad on it, and slip the wedge under the keyboard. It's much simpler than the shelf.

Hurricane Matthew

Sunday, October 9th, 2016 03:00 am
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Didn't do much damage in my area, as far inland as we are. Our power flickered and went out for a couple hours during the night (as noted by the electric fans and telephone light turning off and on), but was back on by morning. The recycling bin outside was knocked over, and some rain leaked in under the garage door but didn't go very far in. Those grooves I cut in the concrete have been working very well.

I haven't yet heard from my sister though, who was in Charleston. Unless she evacuated after all. I hope she's ok.
[Update: got a text from her, she is ok.]


This flying insect was gathering nectar from the lantana flowers in the evening, last week. It was flitting too quickly for me to get a clear shot of it. It looked unusual due to its thick torso. From doing an image search, it may be some type of hawk moth?

insect on flowers
insect on flowers
insect on flowers
insect on flowers
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cupboard contents

A while back I bought a can of Cuitlacoche, also called "corn mushroom" or less flatteringly, "corn smut". It is considered a delicacy in Mexico, and was expensive - at least $4 or $5 for a small can. I don't recall ever having had it before, and suspected I might not like it, as in general, I don't even like mushrooms. But it being vegan, I figured I should at least try it.

It sat unopened in my cupboard a long time, as it being such a small can, it didn't seem worth the trouble of getting out my saute pan and cooking it.

Remember my trip to Kroger Marketplace, when I found the 89 cent bottle of date/orange/flaxseed/chili spread? (which by the way, makes a chili-bean-like tasting sandwich.) I went back to the same store a couple days later to get a shelf for supporting my keyboard when working standing up. I didn't end up getting the shelf, as it wasn't quite the right size. But this time, the special discount section had a bunch of Cuitlacoche cans, for only 39 cents each! I still didn't know if I'll even like the taste (especially after reading this review), but at least now I could buy enough for a whole panful, to make it seem worth the effort of cooking it.

I also got some other greatly discounted items - vegetarian taco filling, vegetable couscous sauce, and even some switchel drinks. Oh, and even a box of cinnamon raisin Matzo granola.

Man, that place is like a candy store.

Update - 2016/10/09:
I sauteed the cuitlacoche with onion and garlic in peanut oil, and ate it with cornbread and vegan smoked gouda cheese. The cuitlacoche actually tastes all right to me. I'm not sure how to describe it, but it's not at all mushroom-like. It reminds me of some food I've had before, but I can't think what.

the bird is still there

Wednesday, June 15th, 2016 12:54 am
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Oh, and today I saw a hot-pink colored caterpillar. I didn't think of taking a photo of it.


Sunday, March 6th, 2016 10:49 pm
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I made a batch of "Pistachio and Rosewater Cupcakes" (sans frosting) today, but forgot to add in the pistachios. They taste great anyway.

Pink magnolias abloom:

Me back in January, suited up for using the angle grinder:

A sunrise last month:


dirt ducts snakes

Wednesday, February 24th, 2016 11:30 pm
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Last weekend I mucked about in 2 crawlspaces.

At the new house, one of the ducts had been loose and leaking out hot air (hopefully the reason for the high gas usage last month). An HVAC technician fixed it, but I wanted to look around to make sure there was nothing else obviously wrong-looking down there, and to get photos of everything.

I explored a part of the crawlspace with my high-intensity flashlight, headlamp, and camera. But a big low-hanging duct blocked my way to the other half of the crawlspace.

I wondered how the HVAC guy had managed it. Surely if a small person like me couldn't get through, even slithering on my belly... I suddenly wondered if there was another entrance into the crawlspace. There were no other entrances around the outside of the house. But in the garage closet, I found an access hatch. Bingo! Qiao knew about it, but I hadn't thought of asking him before-hand.

So I went in that way, found the duct that the HVAC guy had repaired, and took a bunch more photos.

Then my mom told me that she had been in her crawlspace unsuccessfully trying to find out where one replaces the filters. Since I was full of dirt from the other crawlspace anyway, I offered to take a look. The headroom in her crawlspace is somewhat better than at the other house. It turns out her system has an electronic air filter which has been turned off since she got the house. I'll have to go back to check what is inside the unit; when I was down there, I didn't realize that the front panel can be pulled off. It's possible the original cells may have been removed and replaced with a disposable filter - that may be why the switch was turned off.

There was a surprise in my mom's crawlspace: a long long long snake skin winding around the HVAC system. A snake must have shed its skin. Or maybe multiple snakes. Or maybe one snake multiple times. It was so long that I hope it wasn't a single shedding from a single snake.

Now I know to watch out for snakes when crawling around in crawlspaces.


Friday, January 22nd, 2016 12:00 am
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This is a jackfruit cross-section.

The yellow parts are the fruit that one eats - though the white seeds can also be cooked and eaten.

The photo is from November; it was the first time I'd seen fresh jackfruit for sale, so I bought it to try. The taste didn't appeal to me, but it might not have been fresh enough. There were lots of brown spots on the fruit already (which aren't very visible in the photo). A long time ago, I had dried jackfruit, which tasted quite good.

Unripe jackfruit can also be cooked and eaten. For dinner tonight, I sauteed Upton's Chili Lime Carnitas Jackfruit. As the package was rather small, I added a can of garbanzo beans and some left-over whole wheat rotini pasta. It was quite yummy.

angle grinder

Monday, December 28th, 2015 09:02 pm
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2 guys came by in November to check on the house repairs I needed done. They were supposed to get back in touch with me, but I haven't heard from them since. I never heard back from the guy I had used before, who had come by a month earlier, either. So the gutter still hasn't been fixed.

But they did give me another idea of how to deal with rain getting in under the garage door. I had considered putting in a "garage door threshold seal", but that would make it harder to sweep dirt out of the garage. They noted that the water was probably puddling against the door and then seeping under it. Even though the garage is on a rise, the concrete right at the bottom of the door isn't sloped enough. In the past, Qiao had wanted to grind the concrete down some, but at the time we didn't really have the right tools for it. These guys suggested cutting some grooves in the concrete to allow the water to drain away.

So I did some reading. An angle grinder can be used for cutting grooves in concrete, as well as for grinding concrete. But the tool sounds rather dangerous. I decided to first try using an old screwdriver, chisel, and mallet to cut out some grooves. I was surprised at how soft the cement part of the concrete is - moist from recent rains, it could be scratched away with the screwdriver, without even needing the mallet. But the granite chips in the concrete are much harder and difficult to gouge away. They do make lovely sparks though! Yee-ha!

I decided to go ahead and buy an angle grinder to speed up the process. I bought a flat turbo diamond blade for cutting grooves, and also a diamond turbo cup wheel for grinding some of the concrete down to increase the slope.

I'd never used an angle grinder before, and the instructions that came with this one were somewhat lacking. I did some more reading to make sure that I was attaching the blade correctly. More horror stories about angle grinder accidents momentarily made me wish I hadn't bought it. But at least the kind of blades I got are supposed to be the less dangerous ones.

Today I got up my courage, along with my safety goggles, dust mask, denim clothes and work gloves, and tested the angle grinder with the flat blade. It really does cut through the concrete easily, including the granite.

I was going to test the cup wheel today too, but that one says to use a full face mask over the safety goggles. I don't have a full face mask, and I'm not going to ignore the safety warnings. So back to the store I'll go. In retrospect, my brother's motorcycle helmets which I just gave away, might have come in handy.


Saturday, December 5th, 2015 12:35 pm
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My inner aesthete wasn't satisfied with the last photo, so.

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At one of Qiao's family get-togethers, I was sitting in a chair with my leg crossed when someone came around the corner and exclaimed "I knew it was you, just from seeing the socks!"


Sunday, November 15th, 2015 11:39 pm
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Words with Friends. Qiao exclaimed: "My highest score is lower than your average score!"

Usually only Serena sleeps on this bed. This time, Zorro got to it first.

Serena's thyroid levels were low, so the vet put her on medication for that. She also had a yeast infection in her ears which required treatment for a week.

olives & flowers

Wednesday, November 4th, 2015 12:19 am
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There are these "Botija" black dried pitted olives which are very expensive (I got the first packet on sale). But they are so good that I subsequently bought a 2nd packet at full price. If I had to describe the flavor, it would be "bitter, salty, oily", which doesn't *sound* particularly appealing. But they do appeal. Especially together with the chewy texture, and the fact that I can eat them with my fingers, without my fingers getting wet.

Eating them late at night doesn't help with a case of acid reflux though.


One of the things I like about Lantana is how the flowers go away but keep coming back all summer long, even up through now in November.