More weather

With my favorite meteorologist commenting in the previous blog entry about the onset of the rainiest part of the wet season, I remembered something I'd read in the LA Times House and Garden section just the other day. Robert Smaus comments in his Dec 28th column, THE MONTHLY GARDENER, that, "January is historically a dry month in the garden, though some weather experts are forecasting that this winter's heaviest rains may get an early start....Don't wait too long to do garden jobs because February and March are usually our rainiest months, when soils will be too wet to dig in or walk on."

However, my digging around in the recent historical data (60 year graph below) suggests that January can be just as wet as February in Los Angeles, and that March is generally less wet than February. On the other hand, the two years for which I have more detailed information suggest that January can indeed be a dry month. Hmmm.... Re-examining the way I've presented the data in the previous blog, it leaves a lot be desired: The connect the dots graphing technique leads to the conclusion that rainfall increases linearly between two storms, when that's really not the case at all. A bar chart would be better. Another possibility is that I've mis-graphed the data below. I'll have to check that, as well as the apparently popular view that Feb and March are usually the wettest months.


Rainfall for 2004-; front yard meadow

We had 0.26" of rain last night, according to the rain gauge in my back yard. I've been measuring rainfall since fall of 2004 and I've been using the same old sheet of paper to write the totals down on, which doesn't give a whole lot of insight into year-to-year variations. Today I decided to innovate and graph them all up using Excel. Unfortunately, at this time I can't make Excel overlay the 2004 and 2005 winters in graphical form, for comparison to this winter. I'm certain that this would be a trivial operation in some more competent graphing program.

Until I solve the graphing problem, I'll just note that in the 2004 wet season (officially July 1 to June 30, but I use Oct 1 to May 31) I had about 7.4 inches at the end of December, with a seasonal total of about 29 inches. By contrast, in 2005-2006 I had only 1.4 inches by the end of December and just over 10 inches for the whole season. This year we stand at about 3/4 inch as I write, less than in both previous years. However, I think that there's a high dispersion in rainfall totals, as well as the timing of its arrival, so I wouldn't conclude that we have any sort of trend based solely on the current 2+ years of data.

UPDATE: Obviously, I've solved the Excel problem. As usual, click for a full sized version. Average annual rainfall for the past 60 years at the official Los Angeles measuring point is 12.24 inches (link). I've also determined that the 60 year monthly standard deviation in rainfall actually exceeds the average in many months. Using the usual propogation of errors, I see a plus or minus 5.15 inches at the end of an average rainy season. Assuming that monthly rainfall is normally distributed, this means that about 68% of the time rainfall totals will be between about 7 and 17 inches (12-5 to 12+5).

I've been keeping an eye on the rainfall this year because I wanted to plant my front yard native meadow coincident with the rainy season. I sowed the seeds yesterday (festuca rubra molate, red needle grass, yarrow, blue-eyed grass, two types of clarkia, poppies, some local fuchsia, and others - full list later when I can retrieve it) because we were expecting rain: So far, so good. Unfortunately, I have to be away for several days since my house is tented (as of today) for termites and we're looking at sunny weather for eight days or so. I fear they may sprout, dry, and die by the time they get more water.

The front yard meadow is about 350 square feet of former turf lawn adjacent to the sidewalk. The rest of the front yard lawn had already been removed to make way for other natives and Mediterranean plants. For the meadow, I scraped the earth into a carefully sculpted hillock that runs the length of the yard to give my otherwise flat yard some texture, to allow for different soil dampness levels (the meadow area only has sprinkler irrigation), to provide an on-property low spot for water retention, and to avoid having to haul away the excess soil. The low hillocks are liberally larded with the (hopefully) dead remnants of the lawn, so they will have quite different drainage and fertility than the adjacent "low lands". I killed the lawn and had it scraped back in September. Following that, I graded, sculpted, sifted and watered it, raising a fine crop of latent weeds from the seed bank. These were subsequently poisoned with Round Up. The whole process was then repeated again, with less of the grading and more of the watering. By Christmas I figured that my long suffering neighbors had waited for me to get to business long enough.

I have always been cautious of the eventual curb appeal of the native garden and have tried for a more tended look than the nice couple in the next city over who were told to cut down their weeds (referring to the native plants). I think that a meadow of wildflowers mixed with perrennial grasses might be acceptable to the greener grass through chemistry crowd.

UPDATE: The termite folks trampled all over the meadow, even after I pointed out to them that I'd just seeded it. I don't know how this will affect things. They also dissappeared a new planting that I'd protected with a pair of stakes and which I'd also pointed out to them.


This year in blogging

Including this blog, I have written 64 blogs this year. According to the tags on my blogs it appears that I write mostly about home improvement (21 times) and native plants (10 time). That's not too surprising, since this has become something of a home rennovation planning document for me. I'd like to write more about food (8), wine (0), and exotic travel destinations (0).

I've labelled this post as amusing, but that's only really true if you're me. ;-) Or perhaps it qualifies as a muse upon the merits of blogging.


Impromptu pork out

I'm cleaning out the kitchen in preparation for having the house tented for termites in a week or so. That means that there are all sorts of odds and ends to cook. Last night it was a happy convergence of a defrosted pork loin, some pork sausage, a sale package for Mrs. Cubbins stuffing mix, Brussels sprouts, a metric buttload of aging apples from our apple expedition and bacon.

This got turned into sage and anise seed encrusted roast pork loin. Use the remnants of some organic yellow mustard as a glue layer for the herb crust. Bruise the anise seeds before applying with tons of Albanian rubbed sage, sea salt, and pepper. I roasted mostly at high heat (arbitrarily, but justified (also arbitrarily and possibly incorrectly) by a need for speed and because these pork loins are very lean).

The sausage got browned, copious amounts of onions and celery were dispatched and clarified, more metric buttloads of sage were applied and many apples were sliced (skin on). The sausage pan was deglazed with Trader Joe's chicken stock (I'd made my recent chickens and turkeys into soup which we finished last night) to which I added some Penzy's "better than bouillon"-equivalent and the whole lot was mixed with the Mrs. Cubbins bread crumbs in a rectangular baking dish. (Really, why I buy the pre-made crouton mix is beyond me. I could have GREAT baguette croutons for probably less money and only a modicum of effort.) Correct seasoning and bake with the pork loin, covered, and then later, uncovered. I made similar stuffing under Mom's direction for Thanksgiving and I think that this one turned out far better. I don't know what the differences were.

The Brussels sprouts were steamed (not quite enough, but that means the leftovers will rewarm better) and then added to a pan in which I'd browned some apple-smoked bacon pieces until crisp. Marjoram (I was out of the preferred thyme and even sage by that point) topped it off, with some pepper. I also had some chopped garlic that I added as an afterthought. That was a brain fart. I wish I hadn't.

We drank sparkling cider with the meal. Pretty amazing impromptu effort for a Monday night. This is the second time I've impressed myself in the past month by pulling together some more complex meals than my usual weekday fare. Maybe I've turned a corner in my cooking prowess.


Antica Pizzeria

If you read the top few Google links for Antica Pizzerria in Marina Del Rey you'd think that I'd be in for a night of pizza purgatory. I'm happy to report that nothing could be farther from the truth. I'd heard about Antica Pizzeria previously in the context of an occasional skirmish in the pizza wars. I remember comments mostly along the lines of, "Oh, the pizza Margherita is good", which seemed to imply that the rest of the menu was not.

For those not in the know, it's LA's only certified VPN pizzeria (not counting its other LA outpost closer to downtown). It's located in a mall in Marina del Rey, incongruously located next door to a Souplantation. Three of us dined there last night and had a wonderful experience.

We started with Antipasto Misto dal Deli, a selection of vegetables (in our case carrots, broccoli, cauliflower, green beans, and rapini), cooked and seasoned to perfection to showcase their wonderful flavors. My favorite of the bunch was the rapini (aka broccoli rabe) which had a smoky taste. I'm not too familiar with this vegetable, but I'm sure it will make an appearance on my kitchen table in the near future. Maybe it had been wilted in their wood fired pizza oven?

Throwing caution to the wind, we didn't order the pizze Margherita. Instead we moved on to two excellent pizzas, the pizze Bianca al Prosciutto ($11.95 - Mozzarella, parmesan, prosciutto and arugula) and the pizze Quattro Formaggi ($11.50 - Parmesan, gorgonzola, smoked and regular mozzarella). Both were delicious.

The flavor combination on the pizza bianco was superb. The cheese, arugula, and proscuitto flavor balance and combination were inspired. Of course it's been around for years, but I'm thankful that I know about it now. I hadn't previously been an arugula fan, but like rapini you will find me buying some in the near future. Maybe it will make its way onto my own pizzas.

The pizza Quattro Formaggi was also excellent. The gorgonzola and smoked mozzarella didn’t overpower and the combination sung together in perfect four part harmony.

At least one poor review of this restaurant complained that pizzas were "inexplicably served without sauce." Hey, ignoramus! There's a long tradition of the pizza bianco (translation white, implying no tomato sauce) and anyone who thinks this is inexplicable has no business writing pizza reviews.

Some poor and so-so reviews of this restaurant criticized service but service was attentive throughout our meal and an early mix up with our drinks was quickly and efficiently rectified.

The one criticism that I've read of Antica Pizzeria that does hold an element of truth is that the crusts of the pizzas tend to get a bit soggy. Soggy's not really the right word, but they aren't cracker crisp on the outside, as you'd expect from an 800F wood-fired pizza oven. This didn't detract from the flavor, but the texture of the pizza near the middle wasn't everything it could be. Don't get me wrong, it was still delicious, but I think that the pizzas would benefit from being placed on a warm porous surface rather than the serving plates*. I've noticed a similar problem with my own BBQ-made pizzas: the crust is stupendous right off the BBQ, but gets a bit less crispy after a short time out of the oven.

* Theory: the pizzas re-condense some of their own moisture back into the crust when placed in contact with the colder serving plate. A warm porous serving platter would act as a sink for condensing moisture and keep the crust crispier.


Get Mortified

A friend called with good news. While chatting, she told me about this outfit.


The premise is simple, and it works: Mine your most embarrassing teen journal entries and memories for comedic value.

Alfa Christmas

From a few years back. Pictured are my brothers and father.


Notes on how to stucco

This blog entry gets a fair number of hits. As an FYI, there are photos and a bit more written text in my weekend update from 22 Sep, 08.

I've modified the text below from instructions first posted on the Better Homes and Gardens website. I got really confused about a month ago when my stucco guy found my prep work completely lacking. I had prepped expanded metal mesh over house paper, which allows quite a bit of flex in the EMM. He wanted a firm substrate to work with, and I've since found at least one other web site that stated there are regional differences in stucco techinques: some regions do metal mesh over paper, others back that with plywood sheathing. The advantage of plywood sheathing is that you don't have to wait for the first scratch coat of stucco to dry and you can finish a wall in one day as a result. With EMM over paper, the scratch coat (when dry) provides the rigid substrate.

Here's my edit of the BHG article. Their's had nice graphics, but I don't think they're necessary for an understanding of what to do.

Of all wall materials, stucco is one of the most difficult to patch. Small cracks can be widened slightly and filled with patching cement. But if the damage is more extensive, you must chip away the old material down to the lath or masonry underneath, then build up a new surface in three layers.

Problem areas larger than 4 feet square usually require that the entire wall be restuccoed -- a job for an experienced masonry contractor (or a poor and desparate homewoner). Small, do-it-yourself patching jobs can be done during mild weather when there's no danger of freezing. Plan on the project taking at least three days. Wait at least six weeks before painting, then prime and paint with a concrete coating. Note: I'm not planning on a concrete coating at this opint. This may be intended for areas with more rain or snow.

Colored stucco is difficult to match. Experiment with pigments, keeping in mind that colors will fade as much as 70 percent by the time the stucco dries. Never let the coloring pigment exceed 3 percent of the batch's total volume.

3 working days for a large patch extended over 10 to 12 days to cover drying time. (Unless stuccoing over plywood / paper / EMM in which case you needn't wait for drying)

Moderate to advanced masonry skills. (If you watch someone do this once or twice, you'll have the confidence to tackle this yourself, or have a sufficiently high level of poverty+desperation.)

Cold chisel, pry bar, hammer, stapler, trowel, hawk, improvised rake, spray hose, metal straightedge.

1. Prepare the area
Wearing gloves and goggles, chip away loose stucco with a hammer, cold chisel, and pry bar. Use snips or wire cutters to cut metal lath. Staple new roofing felt and metal lath onto sheathing. Make sure the surrounding stucco is firmly attached; if not, chip away more.
1A. If repairing a large area, feather / bevel the edges of the remaining stucco with the chisel so that you can blend in the new stucco better. If repairing a smaller area (a crack, for instance). Some practitioners recommend chiseling back until you've revealed the original underlying chicken wire / EMM in order to tie the repair in physically with original. This is to prevent cracks along the new/old interface. Adhesion promoter (step 2A) eliminates this need, in theory.

2A. Apply concrete adhesion promoter to edges of existing stucco. A 1 gallon container is about $10 at Home Depot, and that ought to be a lifetime supply - it appears to be something like carpenters wood glue, and indeed CWG might work in a pinch. This is essential in areas around windows and doors, where there is high likelihood of cracks propogating along the interface between new and old stucco. My buddy Warren was told that stucco repair caulk would also do the trick, but I don't see how a bead of compliant caulk will hold anything past the first time the door is slammed.

2B. Apply the first coat
Apply the first coat of stucco to a depth about 1/4 inch below surrounding surfaces. Press with the trowel to embed it firmly in the lath. My stucco guy used a VERY thin mix of stucco over plywood / paper / EMM. If working with only paper /EMM it will need to be thicker.

3. Rake the patch if applying over paper / EMM.
When the stucco begins to firm up, scratch it with an improvised rake made by driving nails through a piece of wood. The scratches should be about 1/8-inch deep.
3A. Rough the patch surface using a wooden float if applying over plywood / paper / EMM.

4. Mist the patch
Mist the scratch coat with fine spray, keeping it damp for two days. In windy or sunny weather, repeat several times daily. I bought a spray bottle for this purpose. I think a hose would be too uncontrolable.
4A. Obviously, you don't wait if stuccoing over plywood / paper / EMM, but do keep a spray bottle on hand for misting. Use as needed.

5. Apply the second coat
Apply the second (brown) coat to within about 1/8 inch of the surface and level it off with a straightedge.

6. Float the second coat
"Float" the brown coat by working it with a trowel until water comes to the surface.
6A. Rough the coat with the wooden float if applying over plywood / paper / EMM.

7. Apply the finish / color coat (so-called even if it doesn't have color).
Mist the brown coat for two days, then wait a week. While you are waiting, practice applying finish stucco to a piece of plywood until you can achieve a texture that blends in with the rest of the wall. To complete the job, moisten the brown coat and mix a batch of finish stucco. Smooth on finish coat. Texture it within half an hour.
7A. If stuccoing over plywood / paper / EMM wait for the stucco to dry sufficiently to float it, drawing water to the surface. Texture it to match surrounding stucco at this time.


Yet More To Do

Moved this up from the previous to do list blog while dropping off the items that I think are REALLY completed.

List updated 13 December.

Yet More To Do lists, priority ranked(?)
  • Prep house for termite tenting, Dec 26-29th.
  • Put front gutters in.
  • Get cotoneaster out.
  • Get morea down to chez frere. I have realized that their absence will make the front a bit bare, so I first need something to replace them.
  • Replace porch rail, preferably with something aesthetically pleasing and wide enough to easily hold a bottle of wine or some potted plants.
  • Get native plants in. Some done.
  • Call an electrician or three for estimates on service upgrades. Expecting $1500 to $2000 cost. Two sort of down, one to go. (Estimate of $1900 from Gene at One Stop Electric, but that doesn't include trenching the patio for a second ground rod attachment, $2400 over the phone estimate from Direct Electric Inc 310-978-8471 who advised me to call Edison to get my new meter "spotted" [approved as to location] at which point they would come by and give me a real estimate. Edison will be by on the 20th - I'll need to leave a map with preferred locations. Express Electrical Service 310-643-8463 wanted $19.95 to come by for an estimate. I told them I'd think about it.) Direct also indicated taht service upgrades have to be proven or justified somehow in the approval process with a "green sheet". Remodeling a kitchen seemed to pass as appropriate justification on the phone.
  • Pick colors and paint some areas on the house in preparation for a whole house paint job. There is a service to color a digital photo beforehand. Step one complete: Called local favorite Supremepaint (Redondo Bch: 310-540-4456) . They have referred me to a computer product called Color Preview 2000 from Benjamin Moore and tell me that it will do the trick. Apparently they had it in stock until six months ago. I've managed to find and order Personal Color Viewer 2.0, on the Benjamin Moore web site which runs either as a web based application (free, but no digital imports allowed) and a downloadable / CD version (costs $10, but allows imported digital pictures). A brief chat with Ben (!) at customer support resolved an issue with how the program runs on my Win 2K home computer (font size must be set to normal).
  • Cut concrete on porch for weep pit - the second of my flood mitigation attempts. Tools are on hand. Dig pit as deep as possible. Need stackable concrete block, 12" grate, and gravel. Neither Lowes nor Home Depot have the stackable block that I need.
  • Cut porch concrete for ground rod placement. It's starting to look like I should just demo the porch concrete altogether now, before the electrical upgrade. Started by demoing the brick planter at porch's edge, but now am uncertain due to Edison requirement to "spot" the meter location: The meter location could end up moving. I'm not too torn up though, the planter and the porch are going anyway.
  • Install attic vent (cut stucco, frame, paper, wire, repair stucco). I've now painted vent white. Need to cut a few framing members for inside the garage.
  • Complete electrical install near French Door. All parts at hand except outdoor light
  • Establish Coverdell account. DONE, but I had to use paperwork / check / snail mail to establish the account at ETrade, and strangely my check hasn't cleared a couple weeks after it was mailed so I still need to figure out what's happened.
  • Deck the Halls, etc.


Ethel - Light

I like Ethel's most recent release, which I downloaded from emusic.com but I'm at a loss as to how to describe the music to someone who has not already heard it since it's not my usual cup of tea and I find my vocabulary lacking. Tracks like Temporal Disturbances use voice samples to good effect, as well as percussive elements but it's mostly string-driven "classical" music with a modern interpretation. However, to put it squarely in the classical category isn't completely right. To me it seems to have elements of experimental music (all the wit and quirkiness with none of the randomness or atonality) and a sort of plucky rock / punk /pop sensibility, depending upon the tracks.

NPR has more information.

Edit 12/15: I've had more time with Light (still enjoying it) and I also downloaded Ethel's eponymous first release and can say with certainty that it is much less immediately accessible than Light. Ethel is to Light as la daube is to granita di limone - both satisfying, but in completely different ways. If you are curious about this group then start with their second release, Light.