Renaissance fair weekend

Juli and I took my son to the Renaissance Pleasure Faire in Irwindale on Saturday. The weather was beautiful and we had a very relaxing weekend.

We've gone for several years now. This year my son wanted to be an assassin disguised as a peasant, so we accessorized his costume with throwing knives and a wooden main gauche. He bought leather bracers at the Faire.

However, now he aspires to be a squire in the Royal Court. We might have to take a more active role next year. It looks like "participant" classes start on weekends at least a month before the Fair starts. Perhaps the best way to get our feet more wet is as a Friend of the Faire.


Trip to Santa Barbara

After the stop last Saturday at the Payne Foundation I headed up the coast with Juli. Our destination was the Andrew Murray Vineyards annual open house.

The invitation didn't come with a request for RSVP nor with directions. Google Maps is unable to accurately locate the route to the winery, but those in the inner circle know that you bypass Firestone Vineyards and head down a single lane road into the vineyard towards "Area 51".

Andy was tasting 12 wines and serving heavy hors d'oeuvres. We spent an hour or more tasting and eating and ended up liking his Viognier (Juli and me), the Sanglier (me and Juli a bit), and some of the bigger Syrahs (all me).

The oak trees were picturesque, the vineyards idyllic.

The hills all around had large amounts of lupine growing on them. This looks similar to lupinus nanus which I have growing and blooming in my yard.

This looks like Quercus lobata (California White Oak), but the leaves don't seem quite up to type. Perhaps it's Quercus ×macdonaldii or some other.

On the way back home we met up with my parents and son and joined them for a meal outside Santa Barbara at the Hollister Brewing Company.

Photo credit: Juli.


Some blogs that I've been reading

Wild Subburbia


Town Mouse and Country Mouse

LA Times editorial

This editorial in today's LA Times deserves a full quote, but in the interest of fair use, I'll just give you the gist of it below.

California's wildfires
More frequent and intense brush fires are threatening Southern California's native landscape.
April 22, 2009

Spring is in its early stages, which means the wilderness parks are still abloom with red paintbrush and blue-eyed grass. In Chino Hills State Park, though, the palette is markedly different: pale yellow mustard, purple thistle and the white-and-lavender flowers of wild radish, none of them native plants. It's a pretty scene right now, but one that tells a story about a worsening cycle of wildfire that threatens to transform the Southern California landscape.

Ravaged by two brush fires in November, the park is now firmly in the grip of opportunistic invaders. Aside from a lone poppy hidden amid the radish, there wasn't a native plant to be found on a recent hike along a mile and a half of Aliso Canyon.

The 2008 fires came too soon after other wildfires. They burned with particular intensity and blackened 95% of the park. The combination provided a perfect opening for weeds such as mustard to choke out native flora.
Noxious plants make an inferior habitat for wildlife; they also turn brown and dry faster than native plants, lengthening the fire season. As global warming accelerates the fire cycle, Chino Hills could be an early example of sweeping, long-term change in the open spaces that Southern Californians cherish. ...

Poppy Day shopping success

I got everything on my list and only one extra - a California polypody fern. I killed the last polypody fern that had. Maybe I'm wiser now.

The shopping list that I had made it easy to home in on that I wanted, but I don't know about the practicality of some of my selections. Seriously, Chlorogalum pomeridianum (Soap Plant)and Scutellaria californica (Skull Cap)! What was I thinking? I guess I thought they sounded new and interesting but I'll have to put them in pots since their requirements are so different than my garden. So score one for the shopping list but score zero for impulse control.

Web comics I like

I've been following Indexed for a while and my brother just sent me a link to xkcd.

A mentor at work has liked Weirdass Comics but you have to really commit to enjoy it, which might explain why I never did.


Native plant shopping list for Poppy Day

I fixed my computers last night. For the first time in a month or so I have a full complement of functional computers at home, from where I write most of this blog.

It's Poppy Day at Theodore Payne tomorrow. I thought I'd stop by on the way up the coast to Santa Barbara and pick up some goodies for the garden.

From the extensive plant inventory, these look likely.

Muhlenbergia rigens (Deer Grass) - I've managed to kill the last two I purchased. I will give them one more chance in my garden.

Aster chilensis (California Aster) - Grows well in most gardens. What's not to like about this easy plant?

Penstemon 'Margarita BOP'

Bromus carinatus (California Bromegrass) - Will take my soil.

Chlorogalum pomeridianum (Soap Plant) - could be fun.

Scutellaria californica (Skull Cap) - only 2 available. Looks interesting.


Goring gardening's sacred oxen

I followed another blog to Linda Chalker-Scott's web site. She's a University Extension Urban Horticulturist at Puyallup Research and Extension Center and Associate Professor of Horticulture and Landscape Architecture at Washington State University.

Of interest to me today were the extensive selection of articles that she's written dispelling common garden myths dating back 9 years.

Try her take on this garden chestnut, "When transplanting trees or shrubs into landscapes, amend the backfill soil with organic matter."


Grilled Lamb Kebabs with Cumin and Cinnamon

I made this recipe from http://www.epicurious.com/recipes/food/views/Grilled-Lamb-Kebabs-with-Cumin-and-Cinnamon-103628Epicurious for family on Easter. I made once a couple years ago and liked it then. I think I liked it even more this time. It's been a crowd pleaser both times.

Grilled Lamb Kebabs with Cumin and Cinnamon

Bon App├ętit | July 2000

* 1/4 cup olive oil
* 1 teaspoon ground cumin
* 1 teaspoon ground black pepper
* 3/4 teaspoon salt
* 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
* 1 3 1/2-pound sirloin half leg of lamb, bone removed, fat trimmed, meat cut into 1 1/4- to 1 1/2-inch pieces
* 6 12-inch metal skewers


Whisk oil, cumin, pepper, salt and cinnamon in 13x9x2-inch glass baking dish. Add lamb to dish and toss to coat well with oil mixture. Let marinate at room temperature 1 hour or refrigerate 1 1/2 to 4 hours, tossing occasionally.

Prepare barbecue (medium heat) or preheat broiler. Thread lamb pieces onto skewers, dividing equally (about 5 pieces per skewer). Grill or broil lamb to desired doneness, turning occasionally, about 6 minutes for medium-rare.

I marinate in a plastic bag which lets me really work the spices around on the meat. I also used slightly more of both cumin and cinnamon than called for in the recipe. I justify this because my spices might not be as fresh and pungent as the day they were purchased. The cinnamon is mostly subtle background in the proportions given, but occasionally you get unexpected bursts. I think that next time I'll use about 5:4 cumin to cinnamon.

Successful launch

Before I left on travel, I had the opportunity to watch the successful launch of WGS SV2. (That's Wideband Global Satcom Space Vehicle 2.) Here's some material cribbed from ulalaunch.com

Cape Canaveral, Fla., (Updated April 3 - 10 p.m. EDT) - A United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket successfully launched the Air Force’s second Wideband Global SATCOM (WGS) satellite into orbit at 8:31 p.m. EDT, today. WGS-2 joins the service’s first WGS satellite, which also launched on an Atlas V Oct. 10, 2007. Today’s launch, along with WGS-1, took place from Space Launch Complex 41. The WGS system will significantly increase the communications capabilities for troops in the field.

“ULA congratulates the Air Force and our mission partners on the successful launch of WGS-2,” said James Bell, ULA WGS Mission Manager. “ULA is proud of its continuing role of providing reliable assured access to space for the Air Force’s critical missions. WGS is a force multiplier for our troops in the field who defend America’s freedom everyday.”

The WGS-2 mission is the second installment of the Wideband Global SATCOM (WGS) system. The WGS satellites are important elements of a new high-capacity satellite communications system providing enhanced communications capabilities to America’s troops in the field for the next decade and beyond. WGS enables more robust and flexible execution of Command and Control, Communications Computers, Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance (C4ISR), as well as battle management and combat support information functions. WGS-2 augments the existing service of the WGS-1 satellite by providing additional information broadcast capabilities.

This mission was launched by an Atlas V 421 configuration, which uses a 4-meter diameter payload fairing, two solid rocket motors, and a single-engine Centaur upper stage attached to a single common core booster powered by the RD-180 engine. This was the 15th launch in Atlas V program history. The 14 previous Atlas V launches included two missions for NASA, two for the United States Air Force, three for the National Reconnaissance Office and seven for commercial customers.

Formed in 2006, ULA combines the successful Atlas and Delta expendable launch vehicle programs offering cost-effective and reliable launch services to U.S. government customers, including the Department of Defense, NASA, the NRO, and commercial organizations.

Still slow

I'm still suffering from computer-related problems at home, so my posting rate is down even accounting for my out of town travel last week.


I'm back from Maryland. I enjoyed crab cakes and scallops for dinner on different nights. It was complete culture shock in many ways, but on the way out I stopped at the National Wildlife Visitors Center off of the Balitmore-Washington Parkway. This is just a few miles from NASA Goddard and Fort Meade. They have a lot of conservation oriented exhibits that are targeted at short attention spans and the web site makes reference to a popular conservation tour that I missed. Of interest to me was that off in the corner I found a large poster for the Friends of the Patuxent Wildlife Research Center. The Patuxent and Little Patuxent are local waterways so I was reminded of the nascent Friends / Amigos of the Dominguez Watershed. I didn't have time to explore much because I really wanted to head off to the National Cryptologic Museum, the exit for which is shared with the NSA. There were a lot of suspiciously clean cut attendees (overheard wife commenting to husband, "I bet you know all aout that.") as well as some cub scouts. The Cryptologic Museum has fun things from the history of crytography like a defunct CM-5 and a Cray YMP as well as an early Bombe. National Cash Register made the Bombe as an Enigma decoders. I remember seeing a CM-5 at NCAR in 1977 or thereabouts. The one at the museum is powered up in such a way that the trademark blinking red LEDs were still going.


Story from a neighboring city

This articles is from the Daily Breeze. The emphasis (both in comments) and of the original text is mine.

Poppies are gold for Lawndale logo
COUNCIL: Bird-of-paradise flowers in one scene will give way in revised version.
By Sandy Mazza, Staff Writer
Posted: 02/03/2009 11:08:38 PM PST

A poppy will replace the bird of paradise flowers that have long been a fixture in a quarter of Lawndale's logo, city officials have decided.

Like the four chambers of the heart, Lawndale's city logo is divided into four pictorial scenes with a banner across the middle that reads, "Heart of the South Bay."

A sun in a blue sky, a night scene of a bushy Monterey pine tree, and a rolling ocean all illustrate the city's coastal geography and climate.

But the City Council isn't so pleased with the fourth picture - three golden bird-of-paradise flowers.

Led by Councilman Jim Osborne, a city historian who works as Gardena's parks superintendent, the City Council voted 3-2 Monday to change the flower in the logo to California poppies. (Good choice! Jim's a newer councilman in Lawndale.)

"I think most people who looked at this seal probably didn't even know it was a bird of paradise," Osborne said.
"A lot of people have no idea what it is. And I have nothing against the plant, per se. I've got one in my own yard."

Unlike the poppy, the South African bird of paradise is not native to the area, Osborne said. Poppies used to grow wild in Lawndale's fields and farmlands before it was crowded with houses, streets and businesses, he said. (In fact, Jim has some poppies in his yard which have self sowed since his grandmother's time. Interestingly, they are not the paler maritime variety, but the solid gold inland variety. )

Osborne said he hopes the new logo featuring the poppy will be rolled out in time for the city's 50th anniversary in December.

"It's just something for the future and to mark the date of the anniversary," he said.

Osborne acknowledged that the state already claims the poppy as its official flower, but he also noted that the bird of paradise is the official flower of the city of Los Angeles. Better to share a flower with the state than a nearby city, he said.

Councilman James Ramsey, no fan of the poppy, said he didn't want to tinker with the city logo adopted in 1969.

"The poppy is nothing more than a ground covering that basically doesn't bloom the entire year. The bird of paradise does," said Ramsey, who was first elected to the council in 1974.

"And I personally don't want to go with what the state of California does. (The poppy is) their flower, let them keep it. As far as Los Angeles, if they don't like what we're doing, than they can change theirs and we'll keep ours."

Mayor Harold Hofmann voted with Ramsey against changing the flower on the city's logo.

"I'm not an expert on flowers. I couldn't get a flower to grow if I had to," Hofmann said. "When you get old like me, you don't make changes." (Hoffman has been mayor for eons.)

Joe Madrid, a former (retired?) Lawndale public works employee, spoke Monday in favor of keeping the bird of paradise.

"I still say the bird of paradise is the prettiest plant around," Madrid said. "We put the flower all up and down Hawthorne Boulevard."

If something on the logo should go, he said, it's the Monterey pine. The trees were planted along the boulevard decades ago, but removed when the city covered the median with AstroTurf in the 1970s, he said. (So take that, poppy lovers! And by the way, if you act up again we'll put in more green-painted asphalt on the medians!)

City staff members ignited the debate when they asked the council to decide on one logo because several versions were in use. They wanted one picked to place on a gate at Charles B. Hopper Park, which is taking shape just west of Hawthorne Boulevard between 162nd and 163rd streets.

The change won't cost Lawndale any money because existing logos will not be replaced, officials said. When new city letterhead, vehicles and T-shirts are ordered, they'll contain the new design.

Still waiting

From ulalaunch.com

(Updated April 1- 10 a.m. EDT) - The launch of the Air Force's Wideband Global SATCOM-2 satellite aboard a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket is scheduled for April 3 with a launch window of 8:31-9:33 p.m. EDT. The Launch Readiness Review for the mission will be held later today and the Atlas V is scheduled to rollout to the pad at Space Launch Complex-41 at Cape Canaveral AFS, Fla., tomorrow at 9 a.m. EDT.

This is third Atlas V launch for the Air Force following the STP-1 and WGS-1 launches in 2007. The WGS SV-2 mission marks the 15th Atlas V launch in program history and is the fifth overall launch for ULA in 2009. WGS SV-2 is the second installment of the Wideband Global SATCOM (WGS) system. WGS is an important element of a new high-capacity satellite communications system providing enhanced communications capabilities to our troops in the field for the next decade and beyond. The first spacecraft alone is providing more capacity than the entire Defense Satellite Communications System constellation currently on orbit. This equates to 10 times the capacity of DSCS. A third WGS satellite will launch on a Delta IV later this year.