Thursday, July 31, 2014

The Silverado Sage doesn't lie

When we first moved here to Texas, our house had a couple sage green shrubs that would bloom purple.  We learned they were called the Silverado Sage.  It's an attractive decorative shrub, and the local bee population seems to love them when in bloom.
What we later learned, either through a friend, or simple experience, is that when you see them bloom like this--

Or this...

Then it is bound to rain, usually within 3 days.  It's been more accurate in our experience, than the local weather guessers, at least in regards to rainfall.  All these pictures were taken this week, here in DFW.  The top two were taken by DH at a jobsite.  The bottom two are here at the Casa.  The little one, in its first planted blooming, is the replacement shrub given us by the man who ran over the other shrub (a shrub I did not care for anyway).  We were just glad he did not hit our house, the oak tree or DH's Honda in the driveway! 

 We like these bushes enough that we will likely cut out the hedge of photinia on the side of the house.  We have enough trouble keeping the photinia below the roofline even with hacking it back 2x a year.  The Silverado Sage is a lot more attractive, with a slower growth rate, so maybe we can keep it trimmed to chest height so it looks decent.

But did it lie, I hear you say?  Well, NO!  It rained here Wednesday, and also today.  Well over an inch today according to the gauges I can find online, though we got more rain Wednesday than the weather stations are showing, at least here at the Casa anyway.  I would guess we got a good 2" or more total this week.  It was quite welcome too.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Hotter than a dead chupacabra!

Yesterday I decided to go out for a longish ride.  It was hot.  Somewhere around 98*-103*F by the time I was done four and a half hours later.  I managed 56 miles on the recumbent, and was comfortable, though I think DH has given me his curse of cramping.  I had minor issues with the right leg on and off during the ride, though the worst of it was at the very end just before the final climb.  I'm not a cramper by nature, and I was pushing water and electrolytes all day.  Fortunately, some minor stretching seemed to control it.

The route was over known territory, and took me past a lovely ranch with some very unique cattle on it.  These are not Texas Longhorns, but appear instead to be Ankole-Watusi African cattle.

Their horns are even more impressive when they are nearer to the fence.  I saw them up close, once last year when riding the same road. 

This time the cattle were hanging out in the shade.  As I forgot my good camera, I had to make due with the one on the phone.  I had been hoping to get pictures of these cattle.  I only wish they were closer to the fenceline, so you could have enjoyed them more.

You may be curious as to the title of this post.  It happened just up the road a ways from the cattle.  There, on the side of the road less traveled, was a pile of bones.  I saw first, the ribcage and sternum.  I stopped to investigate, thinking it might be the ever-elusive deer.  It was not.

It was instead, a dead chupacabra!  Yes!  That mythical Southern/South of the Border creature!  Dead...Right There!  (Ok, so not really, and I DO know what creature it really is, but bear with me.)

I took the picture below and sent it off to DH's phone.  When I got home, I showed it to the Monkeys, all of whom love to watch the doofus Monster-of-the-Week shows on cable.  I told them chupacabras were real, and that I now had proof!  I had seen the remains with my own eyes, and would share it with them. Hehehe...

  They looked, and guessed all sorts of various and sundry critters, but have yet to get it right.  Can you tell what it is?  Post your guesses in the comments if you like.  The answer will be below the picture.

Answer:  It's a dead goat!

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Weekend Update: Aaaaahhh!

After yesterday, I thought I would post an update on things.  Of course, the old A/C chose the hottest week of the year so far (still below 100*F but not by much!) to croak.  It figures.  Of course, the install crew had other jobs lined up, and we got onto the schedule for Friday (yesterday).  With the addition of the two loaner Idylis 10K BTU  portable A/C units, plus the little window unit we purchased, the bedrooms were comfortable at least.

Old outside unit.
At last, after a week of not cooking (lots of Cold Plate) and iced coffee for breakfast, Friday arrived.  We knew it would, eventually, but with the core of the house not cooling off at night, we were building up a lot of thermal mass we would have to overcome once the new system was in place.  The install crew of two arrived well ahead of schedule, and began working immediately.  Those two guys had the old and busted outside unit dismantled and loaded in our personal trailer before we even knew it!  The old outside unit is being donated to TIRR, the Ridgeback rescue I volunteer with.  With any luck, they will be able to use it to get the kennel A/C back up and running.  They've been relying on a host of window units for far too long...

Then it was on to the inside work of removing the old stack which fit inside the utility closet.  The new inside stack, which is the air handler, blower, heater coil and evaporator coil, would fit in the same space.
The new inside unit.
Utility closet.
We had a cooler iced down with Gatorade and water so the crew could keep hydrated.  The Monkeys were good, too, not bugging me for a Gatorade very often, and since I had overbought, they were rewarded with a cold one too.
New and quiet!
New ducting was put in place in the attic to improve the air flow.  The new stack was set into the closet, and the crew began connecting it.  We even got a new thermostat (Oh, SHINY!) to replace our old one.  Finally the A/C was ready to test, and was kicked on at 2:30pm, about 7hrs after they began.  We were not sure what to expect, with all the heat built up in the house, and a day of 97*F with the typical high humidity of Texas summers.  The thermostat read 88*F inside.  Despite all of this, we saw a decrease pretty quickly.
See?  It's coming down!
This morning, as I sit here with my HOT coffee, and a bowl of oatmeal, I am relishing in the lovely cool air in my house.  The whole house had cooled overnight, and the initial programming on the thermostat seems to be working.  The only thing I am noticing, besides the cold air, is the noise of the cold air return.  The new system is drawing much more air, so the return grates hiss slightly.  It is a lovely sound!

DH got out before dawn, in the cool of the day, for a longer ride.  With his plans of an imperial century on Hotter 'N Hell next month, he needs to push the distance.  Unfortunately, today will still be pushing 100*F outside.  There are plans later this evening, for grilled chicken fajitas with a  friend.  May this weekend be a pleasant one for all of you, whatever you do, and whatever your weather!

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Adventures in Air Conditioning Part 2.

Such is the life of a home owner.  Next to owning a boat, I cannot think of another consumer item into which vast quantities of cash flow, besides your home.  Many of these costs, while yielding a tangible benefit, are of little comfort--such as a new roof is necessary, but you don't really think about it.  Or a new water heater, or fridge, etc.  Some appliances are a necessary part of life, and none more so than the central air conditioning in your Texas house.  You'll understand this most acutely, when your A/C croaks in late July...ask me how I know.  Remember a year or so ago, when we when through the process of replacing the compressor motor?

Yeah, the A/C died again last Friday night.  Lucky for us, it was cool Friday night, and Saturday afternoon the A/C man came and worked on the system.  It ran like a charm Saturday night, but by noon Sunday, the core of the 17yr old issue, a valve, was sticking again.  To try to fix the valve and replace the inside coil which has a leak, would be like pouring good money after bad, since the outside part of the system is 17 yrs old too, except for the motor we replaced about a year ago.  It would likely fail in another year or so, and have to be replaced with a unit incompatible (different coolant gas) than our current one.  So we'd still have to replace an almost new coil etc.
This part is actually still working...
Unlike the weekend, this week is starting off hot and humid.  Humidity is running 94% this morning, and the high will be 96*F with the rest of the week being much the same.  We broke down Sunday night with an emergency run to Big Box Mart and bought a small window A/C unit for the master bedroom, so that DH and I could sleep.   The kids have had to suffer in their rooms however.  But today should bring them some relief.  Our A/C man is bringing over a pair of loaner window units, which we will put in the kids' rooms.  That way even the dogs can have some A/C at night.  It was so hot in the rest of the house last night that I insisted that old dog Cody sleep in our room, under the bed.  It was the only place he would lie quietly without constant panting.
Pant, pant, pant!
The A/C won't be replaced until Friday.  That was the soonest the install crew could come do the work.  I think it's gonna be a long week!  Once done though, it will be most welcome, since this weekend is forecast for 100*F on Saturday.  Ahhh, welcome to Texas in July!  The new system should lower our electric bills, as it is far more efficient than the old unit.  The .gov has an efficiency scale, dubbed SEER (Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio), consumers can use to compare systems.  Our old one, best as I can tell from the web, rates around a 10. The scale tops out around 23, and higher is better.  The new unit is a SEER 16.  It will take a few years to offset the not-inconsequential cost of the new unit, but it should occur eventually.  And thanks to the Dave Ramsey plan, we don't need to sweat the cost (pun intended).

Sunday, July 20, 2014

50 years = 50 miles + 7 more for being late

Yesterday was the 30th annual Tour de Paris Texas, an amazingly well organized bicycle ride. Both DH and I have done it in the past and enjoyed ourselves, but we had never done it together. Since we ride at fairly different paces, there's only one good way for us to ever ride together comfortably--Serenity!

Yes, we rode our tandem on TdP. I was wanting to push our distance a little on the tandem, as we have plans for an 80 miler later in the fall, and so far our longest ride had been 41-42 miles. Plus, having turned the big Five-O back in December, I needed to fulfill a goal of riding 50 miles, one for every year I've been on this blue dirtball. Unfortunately the distance splits were either quite a bit shorter than our 41 mile high, or a fair bit longer than it.

What to do? What to do? We thought about riding the 60k distance, and then going a few miles down a longer route, turning around and riding back to the finish. This was the answer we chose, though not the one we actually did. At the SAG stop where the routes split, we headed off down the 90k route, planning on reversing course at 25.5 miles on the GPS. The road had other ideas though. Those first few miles were trending downhill...which meant a return ride all uphill. Not our favorite option on a tandem. On a downhill, gravity is your best friend on the tandem, but uphill? Not so much! As we hit that imaginary turnaround point, we both reached the same conclusion--better the unknown road ahead, than the long uphill behind us.

It occurred to me that the 90k route was over 50 miles, and I could hit my goal, plus a mile for every month I was late in meeting the goal. I watched the GPS tick the mileage up, until I saw this--

The Tour de Paris as usual, was very well supported, with 3 area bike shops providing mechanical and roving support, lots of volunteers manning the SAGs, a good selection of foods at the SAGs (even pickles and pickle juice for DH!), excellent route marking and law enforcement support to man the major intersections for safe traffic control. A lot of other rides could learn a lot from the good folks who put on the Tour de Paris.

It was a great way to reach a personal goal. We were both tired by the end of the ride, and the post-ride hamburger was most welcome. Plus, how often do you get to see the Eiffel Tower... in Texas?

Here's a look at our Strava data.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Color, texture, and light

These were taken yesterday, on a glorious rainy, chilly day in North Texas.


Monday, July 14, 2014

Tour de Crash 2014

The annual Tour de France is in  progress this month, overseas in, you guessed it, France!  This is not to be confused with this coming weekend's Tour de Paris (TX) however.  I will ride the Tour de Paris, but never the Tour de France.

This year however, I think it should be renamed the Tour de Crash.  It has been brutal on the riders this year, losing several marquee riders to serious injury.  On day one, Mark Cavendish crashed in his mom's hometown, separating his collarbone/shoulder upon impact in the finish line sprint.  He required surgery.  Oh, and he took down at least 2 other riders.  Then returning champ and favorite to win, Chris Froome, crashed several times, ultimately withdrawing on the wet day on the cobblestones.  Talansky, Van De Velde, Vansummerin, and a ton of others have gone down, hard.  Today's stage 10 victim?  Alberto Contador, who crashed on the first mountain stage.  You could tell it was bad, by the way the field doctor was working on his knee...then Contador got back on the bike, and took off.  With what turned out to be a broken tibia!  He rode for some 2-3 more miles before the pain was enough to force him out of the race.  Yeah, he rode part way up a mountain with a broken too will require surgery to repair. 

Many of the crashes have happened due to road conditions--it has been raining in France for the last week.  Today was no exception--it poured!  I wish they would send some of that rain back over here...we could use it.

Still, the race has been exciting, and it looks like Vincenzo Nibali for Astana, wants to win yellow in Paris(France, not Texas).  But he's going to have to survive 2 more weeks of crashes.  With the way riders have been dropping like flies, I wonder if he will make it!

Sunday, July 13, 2014

The View From Back Here

My rear view
Ok, for those of you who are new here, or otherwise not-in-the-know, I ride bikes.  A lot, compared to the general population, and not a lot by some hardcore folks standard.  Sometimes I ride an traditional bike, aka DF (diamond frame), other times I ride my Giro recumbent bike, and sometimes, I ride that rarest of beasts, the recumbent tandem!
Forward over the Captain
Today was such a day.  By NTX standards, a lovely day for a bike ride, with lots of sun, and not a lot of ground winds.  We got a fairly early start, with a route mapped out, and in our heads (we ride this area a lot so we don't need to program the gps to show us the route).  Apparently everyone else thought it a great morning for a ride too, as we saw a TON of cyclists out there--at times it was like watching the TdF peloton roll on by!

We ran into a couple friends out for a spin on their Catrikes, so we rode a couple miles with them to chat.  That's one of the nice things about a tandem, it is by nature a social beast, and being stoker, I get to be the social one.  With both hands free, I can navi-guess, wrangle water bottles, and food, take pictures, and chat with other riders, since I can't see where we are going, and  can't steer.  Nice thing about the Seavo tandem, it is incredibly stable. I can shift my weight around, fidget, turn, etc, and not disturb the balance or handling of the bike.  DH appreciates this aspect of recumbent tandeming.
I think the county forgot to mow!
You see a lot more, from the bike than you will from the car.  The pace of travel is slower, and  you have to pay attention to everything when you ride, from cars turning, coming up from behind, and don't forget loose dogs, potholes, and lengthwise pavement cracks big enough to swallow your wheel!  But not everything is a risk--there's a lot of interesting flotsam and flattened fauna on the roads, pretty ditchweeds, and flowering trees.  Plus livestock and the occasional exotic (camel anyone?).
Milo/Sorghum ripening.
I shot some pics on this ride, in part to give you an idea of the sights in the county, and a couple special pics for a friend who loves old barns (These are for you, Buttons!).
This one is in sad shape...

This one is gorgeous and well maintained stone.
The hay's all in, too.

Not all of my photos turn out so good--it can be hard to take good shots from the back of a moving bike.  That's my excuse, anyway!  But sometimes you just see something that gives you a chuckle...  I wonder who lives here?
I hope everyone had a good weekend.  We did, despite it being a mite warm here.  No polar vortex for Texas.  But maybe some rain in the next week.  We can hope anyway!

Friday, July 4, 2014


The pineapple.
The dandelion.
The allium.

I hope everyone had a safe and happy 4th.  I hope you all thought about what it really means.