New Little Camera Given Its First Test on the Dog Walk

Right out of the box--a none-too-big one at that--my M532 is a cool blue. The pic was taken with my old camera, a Nikon P100.

I used to have a good little digital camera which I used for photos on my blog.  It was a nice touch-screen gadget, but after a bounce or two on the ceramic tile floor, “it no worky good.”  When I looked for a replacement, I thought I’d better myself and went for a bigger Nikon–not one of those PROfessional type ones, but definitely too big for a jeans pocket.  I like the Nikon (P100); I even took a class to learn a bit more.  Even so, I missed having a camera I could carry with me anywhere, and, I just use my cell phone as a phone.  I know it can take photos, but I’ve never been into using it that way.  So, I’ve  been hankering for awhile for another small camera.

The other day Best Buy had an online sale, and I saw this Kodak M532 would be coming down to $59.99 that night.  There’s a Best Buy store just down the road, so I decided to go there to check out the instore pricing, but they don’t stock that camera; however, cameras with similar specs of other brands were significantly higher, so when 12:00 AM came around, I hit the “buy” button.

This afternoon, after doing some other running-around (yeah, I still have a few vacaction days left), I spied the small box on my front porch, where the UPS driver had left it.  Multi-tasker, I am not, but I opened the box as I munched on a late KFC combo (late–I mean the time, not as in “dead”), all the while trying to keep track a break-up lawsuit on The People’s Court (I’ve got to get my fill of daytime TV before I go back to work).

When dog-walk time came, I got Annie leashed up for our usual walk around then neighborhood and stuck the little Kodak in my pocket.  On the way, I took a few shots, and here are the results.  Though, the small lens does have some limitations, I like the clarity of the pictures.  For 60 bucks, this camer was a good buy, maybe not best buy, though I did buy it at Best Buy.  (Yeah, lotsa people get a little punchy at midnight, which is what it is right now.)

Annie at the top of the stairs debates about going for a walk. (This photo makes me wonder about the flash on this little Kodak.)

This is only a small part of the agapanthus in my favorite yard of the neighborhood. I like my own yard, but there is still a lot of work to do before it can compete with this one.

When you look at the people, my neighborhood appears very diverse, but no matter the ethnicity, many seem very conservative.

On short walks, these crape myrtles at the entrance of the subdivision are our destination. They are at their best with the heat of summer.

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Despite the Heat and Lack of Rain, There Are Always Surprises in the Garden

A magnificent early morning discovery; this jungle cactus flower (cactus orchid) nearly hidden from view by the oak tree.

I don’t know what my M.U.D. bill will be this month, but with such a long period without much moisture, I’ve been watering a lot.  The vegetable garden and the grass get a shot about every other day, but the side bed, where the sun beats down, and most everything in pots need a good soaking every day.

This morning Annie and I went out at 6:30.  I was refreshed enough from a good night’s sleep that the bed didn’t lure me back even though it was Saturday.  Instead, I sprayed on a healthy dose of mosquito repellant and turned on the hose to go after the pots on the patio.  As I doled out generous amounts of water to the various plants on the patio, my squinty, early-morning eyes spied something white as I squirted the water towards some plants perched on a couple of random benches alongside the fence.

Upon closer look, that white blur was a bloom from one of my jungle cactuses (cacti, if you will), something that I had never seen before.  I was given a couple different varieties of these quite a number of years ago by a colleague, and a few years ago added another that I had liked because of the unique formation of its stems, but in the 10 or so years that I’ve had them and grown more by planting pieces into other pots, none of them have bloomed until now. 

I went inside to get my camera to snap some pictures.   It was a good thing that I did because by the time I finished my puttering outside, maybe an hour later, the bloom was all closed up. 

I don’t know a lot about these jungle cactuses.  which are sometimes called orchid cactus, and the more scientific name is epiphyllum.  After doing a bit of reading, I found out that some of them are night-blooming. Because I hadn’t noticed the oncoming bloom before, I have no idea if today was the first day it had bloomed or if it will be open again tomorrow morning when I take Annie out.  I hope so.

Surprises are part of the enjoyment of gardening:  they can be grand surprises like this cactus flower that I had never seen before or simple surprises like a cluster of yellow beans hanging from a plant I was sure I had checked carefuly just the previous day.

Always Important: Getting the Right Tool for the Job

The Bissell 3-in-1 Vac (The porcelain chicken is not an attachment.)

From time to time on here, I like to recommend (or criticize) products and services that I have purchased or used.  When I first moved from an apartment to my own home, I had to buy quite a number of items that I had never needed previously, especially those used for the lawn and garden.

One task that I had never been satisfied with was taking care of the downstairs floor, which is white (or nearly white) ceramic tile.  This tile was obviously what was put down when the house was built in 1985, and some have suggested that I replace it with wood flooring.  However, since I moved in, the tile floor has grown on me:  the white reflects the light and makes the rooms feel larger than they are, but even more importantly, these floors are one of the big reasons that the downstairs stays so cool even in the heat of a Houston summer.  On the other hand, in the winter, they can be cold, but area rugs with good padding help insultate in places where one sits.   Anyway, staying cool in the summer is a much bigger deal here than staying warm in winter.

The big challenge has been keeping these floors clean.  Light-colored floors certainly show the dirt, but when they are clean, you know they are clean, something you can’t be that certain of with darker floors.  Most of the dirt is what I track in from outside.  Despite having a good, brush-type mat at the back door, pieces of oak leaves and other specks come in.  I don’t think I can blame Annie much for this, but she does like to drag her kibble around, so a bit of the crumbs can be found here and there.

I’ve tried a number of ways to clean the floors.  Most of the dirt is loose, so some type of sweeping is needed more frequently than mopping.  I’ve used dust mops and brooms for sweeping, then a wet mop or the Swiffer.  I even sometimes dragged the cannister vacuum down from upstairs (there’s mostly carpeting up there).  No one method or combination seemed to give the results I wanted, and getting the end results that I wanted also felt like it took more effort that it should.

Finally, after some thought I decided to try some kind of electric broom.  When I went looking, I found many kinds, but the one I picked ended up not costing a lot and does exactly what I want it to do.  For $20 and tax, I brought home the Bissell 3-in-1 Vac.  It’s really just one of those small hand-held vacuums that comes with an attachable handle and a couple of accessories: a floor and rug attachment with wheels and a crevice tool.  It’s corded with about a 12-foot cord.

This is just the tool that I needed for doing quick, efficient cleaning of the loose dirt on the floor.  Though it’s small, it has good suction, enough to pick up loose kibble, pieces of leaves, and other dirt with no problem.  It’s light-weight, so it’s really just the thing for cleaning stray cobwebs from the ceiling corners and molding.   That job takes a lot more coordination and maneuvering when using the long tubes and hose of the regular vacuum cleaner.  One tool I wish had been included is the brush, in order to do blinds and other dusting. 

When the job is done, just dump out the dirt into the trash; there are no bags to replace.  Wrap up the cord, and stow it away until next time.  It’s very compact, you could even store it on the side of the pantry.

It easily snaps together and comes apart, so I’ll be using just the hand-held vac the next time I clean the car.

A Sunday Drive: In Search of Bluebonnets

Barely out of the car, Annie is panting in the hot sun at Washington-on-the-Brazos State Park. These were some of the few bluebonnets we encountered.

Having finally accomplished the long-put-off doing of my income taxes before noontime, and with the yard and garden work already finished for the weekend, I coaxed Annie into the car and off we headed out 290 in quest of bluebonnets.

The bluebonnet is the the Texas state flower, and for a few weeks in spring, the roadsides and pastures can be ablaze in color from the bluebonnets and other wildflowers, especially the Indian paintbrush

Without seeing a glimpse of a bluebonnet, we drove as far as the quaint, old town of Chappell Hill and turned onto a side road.  This asphalt lane, like so many other roads in the Texas Hill Country, seems to be filled with natural beauty and history.  It never ceases to amaze me how on one piece of land you’ll see a humble dwelling that probably was once a share-cropper’s house, and then, not even a quarter mile down the road, a 6 or 7 figure “swankienda” stretches out into the acreage.  But these, along with the green meadows and wooded creeks, make for a drive that forces you to go at a speed slower than that of Granny going to church.

After about 50 miles of driving, a small, hillside field showed off its indigo glory, but the cars and motorcycles that were already stopped left no place to pull over and try to take pictures of a small dog romping amongst the bluebonnets.

So on we went a few miles, and ended up at Washington, Texas, which is the place where the Texas Declaration of Indepedence from Mexico was signed.  Many years ago, a big part of the area was made into the Washington-on-the-
Brazos State Park
.  It’s really a wonderful place, not too overdone with the history part.  There’s a museum and a visitors center, but there are also places to picnic and lots of trails to walk and discover the history as well as nature’s beauty.

With a 92-degree south wind pushing at us, a maybe mile-long walk was about enough to do in a guy and a little dog.  I’d brought water for her, which she lapped up when we got back to the car, but after getting the AC going, I began looking for a convenience store to find a cold drink for myself.

We did find some bluebonnets in the park, but either it’s still a bit early or the drought has caused the bluebonnets to suffer this year.  Whatever.  We had a good day on our quest, finding more than the flowers.

Independence Hall, the site of the signing of the Texas Declaration of Independence. This looks like a replica to me; maybe some of the boards are original.

Some of the flowering plants growing along the pathways. The pinkish-purple appears to be a native verbena. The white blossoms on the other plant were pretty, but the stem looked very prickly.

The park has many trails to wander, some along the Brazos River. Here and there, youll find informational signage, telling about the history of the site, but these signs do not interfere with just enjoying the tranquillity of the area.

Pieces of history, like this old water well, are evident throughout the park, but because the park has not been "over-developed", the visitor can almost feel like he is discovering artifacts.

Located outside of the state park, current-day Washington, Texas holds hardly more than some kind of eatery and a post office.

Now That April Fool’s Day Has Passed, It’s Time To See How the Garden Is Growing

Annie is always ready to assistant in checking out how the garden is growing. (4-2-11)

When it becomes garden time, this blog could be one of the most boring in all of the blogosphere; however, my little patch helps keep me on an even keel, so I like to add a pic here and there just as a record for myself of what I planted when and how things are growing.

It’s just been about 2 weeks since I put in the last photo, but the entire plot looks so much greener.  The lettuce is still going gangbusters, and most of the beans have started on their second set of leaves.  I didn’t over-plant this year, so I’ve had to go back and drop in a seed or two in places where the originals didn’t sprout.  I have a total of 7 tomato plants and 4 sweet peppers, not counting the 1 volunteer tomato that I discovered a couple days ago; it probably came from the compost that I added last winter.

I need to get in and hoe out the chickweed and elm tree sprouts that would cover the ground if it weren’t for the vegetable plants; however, unfortunately–or fortunately–we have had enough odd showers to keep the garden soil a bit too moist for that task.

The neighbors across the street are having a garage sale, which they started preparing for before 6 AM.  Of course, Annie couldn’t stay settled with the commotion, so we’ve been up since that time; quite early to get up on a Saturday, but I’ve gotten the back patio swept of most of the remaining oak leaves and the nasty pollen crap that they put out in the spring.  I love my shady oak tree, but keeping the patio clean is an almost never-ending story.  Oh well, just like my garden, the patio with its shade-covered pergola is one of my favorite parts of my house.

OK, yes, it’s Saturday, and now 10 AM; it’s time for a shower and out to take care of any number of errands.  Tomatoe cages, for one.  Definitely need more tomato cages.

Spring Begins! It’s Time for Planting and More Garden Updates

Spring, and it's time again to record the growth of the garden. As always, Annie ready to check things out.

Today is the first official day of spring, and these fingers that have been pulling, digging, and clutching rakes, hoes, and shovels for most of this beautiful, long weekend feel a bit reluctant at the keyboard.  The front yard is raked clean of–what-is hoped–the last oak leaves.  There have been a number of trips to various lawn and garden centers for soil, mulch, and both flowering and vegetable plants.

The fresh, often-overcast weather has made all the outside work much more pleasure, than labor.

The trunk area of the new, smaller hatchback has proven just the right size in order not to overbuy on any one trip.  Therefore, it hasn’t been a big effort to get the mulch put around trees or plants put into the ground.  More trips means more breaks in between.

The outings have given me a chance to drive on some roads, though not far from where I live, I’ve never taken before.  It’s amazing to find lanes in wooded areas still not taken over by housing sub-divisions.

One road that I do take frequently crosses what I have just discovered is called Langham Bayou.  I’ve never stopped before. but the blaze of yellow flora both around and in the water made me chance the rough little side road to take the shots that you can see in the new banner and sidebar.

It’s also time again to start recording what’s happening in my kitchy, little garden.  I planted lettuce, onions, and beans on New Year’s Day.  Unfortunately, the tender beans didn’t make it through January’s freeze, but I have been having fresh salad almost every evening for more than a week.  I’ve replanted the beans and set in tomatoes and a variety of pepper plants.

I’m hoping the much earlier start will help produce more before the hot summer comes along.

Winter Is Here: Time To Bring in the Plants and Pour That Cup of Hot Tea

The first, and maybe only, pickings from the winter garden. Perhaps fried green tomatoes will be on the menu soon.

The temperature was right at 70 when I got home from work last evening, but after I let Annie out, I started carting all the potted plants that I could into the garage, knowing that the temperature was supposed to drop dramatically.   I tried to hurry, then walk Annie and put together something for supper, because Monday night is 90210 night.  It was a new episode; sadly without any of Teddy’s coming out adventures, mostly just a show focusing on the girls, in which they went on a yoga/sweat lodge retreat and dug their nails into each other in various ways.

This morning before six, I awoke to mean drops of rain pelting the windows and by the time I headed out it was around 40.  I don’t think it got much higher than that, and the car ourside temp went from 40 down to 34 by the time I reached home, where the thermometer on the back fence already was saying 31.  I dragged a few more plants, which I hadn’t felt so sorry for the previous evening, into the jungle inside the garage, and started to cover the one too big and my precious two tomato plants that I had put in last November. 

With it already getting so cold, I pulled off three of the green tomatoes, realizing that with a night of probably more than 12 hours straight below freezing and several similar days coming, even wrapped in a couple of layers of sheets, dropped cloths, and plastic, it’s doubtful that the plants are going to make it.

Even though I was somewhat bundled up (I know for you people who have real winters my being “bundled up” is relative), I was ready to get inside.  And Annie, having spent the time in the yard, while I was trying to cover the plants and wrap the outside faucets in the blustery north wind, didn’t seem in the mood for any walk either.

Tonight was a night for soup–a duke’s mixture of leftover homemade with a can of Progresso something-or-other tossed in and hot tea.  I rarely drink hot tea these days.  When I was kid on the farm, there were two evening meal drinks:  iced tea, which started its season somewhere in May, and hot tea, which, came along during the cooler football days of the fall.

So after all the outside puttering, and with downstairs being on the cool side with all its windows, tonight was night for hot tea.  

Soup and tea were ready just before seven–just in time to see my Tuesday evening standby, but, alas, no new Glee episodes yet.  They were trying to string us along with the re-run of the “Rocky Horror” episode.  And as good as that one is, I had been primed for something new, so I just switched over to ESPN and had my soup and hot tea along with some NCAA basketball.

Yeah, this is winter in Houston, Texas, and enough winter for me.  Even though hot tea is a nice change now and again, it’s nothing I want on a long-term basis.