To Do List V

Last Updated:
15 November 2009 - updated completed items from summer
16 June 2009
13 June 2009
29 May 2009

This is the fifth numbered To Do list that I've started here on my blog. Because I was feeling uninspired for so long, To Do list IV sat fallow for quite some time, with only a brief excursion into fantasy closet organization.

House Improvements
  • Complete phone rewiring bonus chore. Finish what you start.
  • Repair stucco around new French door in my room. Scratch coat done 20 Sep. DONE
  • Sand, stain and varnish threshold for French door in bedroom. Threshold removed 20 Sep. DONE, BUT the threshold is cupped and won't sit flat, so I have another bonus chore to do. ALL DONE 4 Jan 2009
  • Remove old electrical panel, repair stucco damaged in the process. Remove old service entry. Repair of the stucco would be convenient at the same time as I'm doing other stucco work. 13 Sep. stucco scratch coat in place. DONE Still need to patch roof in area of old service entrance. Have metal shingle. ALL DONE 11/09
  • ALL DONE 11/09 Complete electrical install at kitchen French door. All parts at hand. Really, it's embarrassing how long this has gone unfinished.
  • Painting
    • Pick colors, prime, and paint some swatches on the house to evaluate the colors in preparation for a whole house paint job.DONE 10-18
    • Start with door and window trim color so that I can paint the French door frames. Started in Oct
    • Weatherize the French doors then paint
    • Prep and paint stucco. Started Oct 08
    • Skip the eaves, since that's a big prep job and not critical to weatherize now
  • DONE 11/09 Complete attic ladder install - needs foam, trim, and paint.
  • DONE 11/09 Put in power in attic w/ switch for attic light.
  • TAKE OFF LIST Improve my bedroom closet by widening the door, adding a light, and using a modular shelf system such as that from Elfa (at The Container Store).
  • TAKE OFF LIST Improve my son's bedroom closet by adding light.
  • Secure large furniture in house in case of earthquake.
  • Put in more soffit vents. Attic was drawing like a boiler from existing few vents the other day.
  • Replace screen over existing gable vent where it's missing. Would be good to do this not on the hottest day of the year.
  • Garage improvements
    • Install attic vent in garage gable end. I've now painted the vent white. Need to cut a few framing members for inside the garage.
    • Install new rear wall / rear-facing door in garage.
    • Install new garage door
  • DONE 11/09 Reroute gas supply lines (to kitchen and garage) in preparation for taking my interior wall down.
  • Replace / repair computer room window.
  • DONE Replace existing kitchen countertop. Use laminate. Replace sink at same time.
  • ALL DONE 11/09 Repipe house. Peter Clarke (peterclarkeplumbing.com,(310) 343-1959) recommends PEX. Pex is allowed only after special review in my area. I had a conversation with the City to see if I can qualify for an exception to the general rule, and the answer was likely yes. The review process will take about a week. Start by repiping the meter to house line - This activity set to start June 30. Do the interior when I cut into the bathroom wall and have the garage prepped.
    • Don't forget to plan new hose spigots.
    • hot water spigot for outdoors?
    • Pipe size: DONE. New supply from street will be 1", down to 3/4" main line in house w/ 1/2" lines to each fixture.
    • Install tankless water heater. After review with Peter, attic installation is OK with minimum sized tankless heater, though Peter prefers exterior wall for access / inspection reasons. Exterior wall requires larger spacing from windows than I have available, so up to the attic is is. Purchase in 2009 or 2010 in order to get tax rebate. Link to the rebate-qualified heaters.
    • Tankless heater may need new power outlet .

Garden / Yard Improvements

  • Prune Brazilian Pepper tree - started 16 Mar 08 Finish what you start.
  • Rethink entire front yard garden for fall, 2008 - My native plants are too large and unfocused and the meadow is not living up to expectations. Partly DONE 31 Dec 2008 and earlier Dec by removing large buckwheat plus moderate changes in design. Still need better design or year-round compensating prettiness.
  • Put in at least one more sprinkler for meadow area. It may not get watered often, but I'd like it to have complete coverage.
  • Move the front yard native scheme onto the parking strip (between sidewalk and street) in a way that continues to allow car access from the curb side
    • Planning: Continue line of meadow border. DONE. Probably use festuca rubra and pavers in the center, low bushes, taller grasses, or other ground cover at the property line edge of parking strip.
  • Install patio area for bedroom French door entry.
  • Regrade back yard selectively so as not to have ponding near house. Dry creek?
  • Use custom pavers for hard surface so as to match side yard?
  • Install brick pavers in N. side yard.
  • Shift grading to shunt drainage water away from house.
  • REMOVE FROM LIST Demolish patio behind kitchen
  • Install new patio with California native grape arbor. (Or do I want a fruit tree arbor?)
  • REMOVE FROM LIST Plan for hot water in the back yard. Outdoor shower? (see repipe)
  • DONE 11/09 Get rid of dirt from the back yard.
  • DONE 11/09 Replace driveway - I have a design that I'm mostly happy with. Included in design: separate entry path, driveway adjacent planting, trellis over garage. Concrete pavers which allow water infiltration. Have contacted Miguel Cisneros (who did neighbor's patio) for bid.


Match rockets

Science fair season is over. Phew.

Silent PCs

I've become enamored with quiet, power-sipping, small form factor computers for the home. I like them because they are unobtrusive visually and audibly, yet can be always on without major guilt over the power consumption.

If quiet is the only goal, then the End PC Noise folks seem to have a lock on the quiet PC accessories and systems. Their systems are not typically fanless nor particularly low power. They do have a lot of products to quiet your desktop PC. But my major home applications don't require tons of computing horsepower, so there's no need for every computer in my home to be heavy iron. Here's where the small and efficient computers come in.

Of course there's small laptops and netbook form factors, which are nice and stowable, but there are other candidate form factors that are more efficient, smaller, and sometimes more powerful.

fit-PC2 Available this month. Fanless. Less than $400 fully configured. Can stream HD video with 10-40% CPU load. Atom based.

ZaReason has the 'Breeze 3660' for $350 which consumes 30 W.

I've read that Shuttle will soon make an external power supply version of the Shuttle KPC, which would eliminate the pesky fan noise.

Local suppliers PC Liquidators have inexpensive micro and mini -ATX cases and the like, in case you want to make your own.

Any number of small linux distributions are available on lightweight computers.
DamnSmallLinux is one example that seems close to a best of breed. There's also Cappuccino and a personal favorite (for no apparent reason other than the product seems like good value) Z-Tech Services.


Monetize followers

I've been kicking the tires on some of the newer features on blogger. Apparently I had a follower, and didn't really know it. Then I had two, and three. Thank you. I'm sincerely flattered.

With three points defining a trend line, I put a followers link at right. Maybe I ought to be a follower of my own favorite blogs?

I clicked on the Monetize tab today for the first time as well. Those who just read blogs won't see this tab, but it's for adding advertisements in the side columns and/or between blogs. Maybe not a bad thing, but for a blog like this that averages 50 hits per day it's probably more of a deterrent to traffic than an income earner for me. At first I thought it was a bit crass to call the tab 'monetize', but on the other hand I've been using Google Analytics for some time now to monitor traffic without feeling moral peril, so serving an ad up is only the next logical step in my vast and growing empire of passive income earning web pages. (That's a wry joke, folks.) So no ads for now.

Fennel- and Dill-Rubbed Grilled Salmon

I made this recipe from epicurious last night for family guests.

* 1 tablespoon fennel seeds
* 1/4 cup plus 2 teaspoons (packed) golden brown sugar
* 3 tablespoons Pimentón de la Vera (Spanish smoked paprika)
* 1 tablespoon coarse kosher salt
* 2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
* 2 teaspoons dried dill weed

* Nonstick vegetable oil spray
* 1 3 3/4- to 4-pound side of salmon with skin (preferably wild salmon)
* Olive oil


Finely grind fennel seeds in spice mill or coffee grinder. Transfer to small bowl. Mix in next 5 ingredients.

Spray grill rack with nonstick spray. Prepare barbecue (medium-high heat). Brush salmon lightly on both sides with olive oil. Rub spice mixture generously over flesh side of salmon. Place salmon, skin side up, on grill rack; cover and cook until fish is slightly firmer, about 8 minutes. Slide rimless baking sheet under salmon to turn salmon over without breaking. Place another rimless baking sheet atop salmon. Using both hands, firmly hold baking sheets together and invert salmon; slide salmon, flesh side up, off baking sheet and onto grill rack. Cover and grill until just opaque in center, about 8 minutes longer. Using rimless baking sheet, remove salmon from grill. Gently slide salmon, flesh side up, onto platter and serve.

I made the rub (by eye on the proportions) with fresh dill and a bit less sugar and smoked paprika than the recipe called for. I was concerned, based on some of the comments at Epicurious, that the paprika would overwhelm the flavor of the expensive wild salmon. I also didn't feel that I wanted a super sweet rub. My guests and I loved it. The flavors melded and the brown sugar caramelized nicely. I got occasional bright spots of fennel that added to the flavor interest.

Based on the reduced proportions, I think I got it just about right with the wild salmon. Here's my gripe with the recipe: Calling specifically for wild salmon is just a conceit. This robust rub would work better at full strength on farmed salmon steaks - and cost 1/3 to 1/2 the price of the wild salmon called for in the recipe.

This was served with grilled green onions, asparagus, and a salad of walnuts, feta, green beans, and mint. Dessert was a lemon cake with fresh fruit. I would put this meal collectively in the category of healthy and delicious.


Notes from Native Plant Design Class

I went to the Native Plant Design Class on Saturday then over to Mark's house for dinner with his family. These are the notes that I took from the class. All errors are mine.

The instructor was Robert Cornell of RobertCornell.com. He was a Buddhist monk for 10 years and he currently has a spiritual therapy practice in addition to his landscape design business, so the class started off a little differently than most. He asked us to do some closed eye meditation and visualize aspects of a favorite native or garden environment. Then he asked us to bring the feelings that we had and "our connection to the earth - our island home, each other and spirit or 'god'" to our understanding of our love of gardens and our desire to do something positive for the earth.

With that done, he headed into an old fashioned slide show to showcase the garden design issues that he brought to the class. He made the point several times that he stays employed as a garden designer because he is responsive to his clients' needs, which inevitably involves compromise in the plant pallette selection compared to typical hardcore nativists. For example, if a plant looks dead because it has a summer dormancy, he is less likely to use it.

First on the slide show was an annual wetland area / dry stream at the Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Gardens. He recommended these gardens and the Santa Barbara botanic gardens as places to see native plants in their full glory. He made the point that the RSABG "annual wetland" was a created place, with artfully placed stones and a created topography that created a very effective illusion. The installation was pretty large, and he planned to show us progressively smaller installations as the slide show progressed. Attention was given to topography, drainage, exposure - both sun and wind, soil type and drainage, and existing native plants.

Next up was a large Brentwood residence that illustrated solutions for topography and drainage solutions. The solutions were hugely expensive because of the scale - nothing I could afford for myself but some I could conceive on a smaller scale, I suppose. One involved digging out 4' of fill dirt that the architect had put in and refilling with a special soil mixture, pipes for aeration of root systems, gravel for drainage, and adding a bridge over the now-reduced soil height.

He talked for some time about how he does irrigation. He uses a standard zone setup, with drip irrigation and high efficiency rotating sprinkler heads. The Rainbird style rotating head is apparently passe. You must use a rotating head with small droplets on hillsides so the water droplets have time to soak in and don't run off as a sheet. Rainbird-style sprinklers have large droplets that can contribute to erosion, are noisy, lose water out the back. Gear-driven MP Rotator brand sprinklers were mentioned with favor.

Drip irrigation is done with a style of drip like Netafim (a brand mentioned favorably). These drip systems have the emitters already built in to the hose (with variable drip rates and spacing up to 1 m apart) so there's no need for to punch holes and add spaghetti tubing or emitters (which always break). He puts the drip line on the surface, but under a layer of mulch and runs for 45 minutes or and hour which is 1 gallon per emitter. He suggested 1 watering per month for established drought resistant plants in summer. The drip is gridded on the surface you want to irrigate, with the emitters positioned so that they are not near the crowns of any natives. It's 12" to 16" between parallel drip grid lines. This sort of system seems like it would be good for my vegetable gardens, provided I had a water hookup nearby.

Many of the class attendees were exploring the idea of a native plant garden. A quote I liked: "The thing about natives is that if you have a control issue it'll be a problem."

Another quote followed the usual exhoratation to use groups of 3, 5, 7 or a single specimen, "No chop suey gardens!"

Fire was mentioned at length. The woman sitting next to me was interested in this topic. Robert presented a better way to site homes on hills at the urban / wild land interface, but or course no architect would implement it since it sacrifices views. He also recommended replacing chaparral with more fire-resistance plants. Lemonade Berry was given favorable mention as one that could be sheared low to prevent fire. Water systems are used to keep growth from being completely dried in the summer. Ultimately all fire prevention plans are unique to the site.

Next up was the house of Ed Begly, the environmentalist (notably not described as the actor or even actor-environmentalist). He has a yarrow meadow just like me! His looks better. It probably gets more water. I asked if he incorporated other plants in Ed's yarrow lawn and the answer was no, but he suggested bulbs and penstemon if I were to do that. Based on that recommendation, I put Penstemon 'Margarita BOP' into my own yarrow meadow later in the weekend. Ed's house is across from a school and not fenced - he does have a large number of Mahonia 'Skylark' at the edge of his property as an aid to privacy. It's a spiny plant and Robert suggested it under a window to prevent ingress or egress. Neater plants used in Ed's garden included Pacific Coast Iris and dwarf manzanita 'Emerald Carpet'.

A Mimulus or two was also used at the Begley house. Robert mentioned that they are a "touchy" native and need very little water. I'm sure now that is why mine have all died - too much water.

He mentioned Coreopsis perhaps with Gaillardia, as an example of non-natives that work with natives. Also Bulbine, a South African heather, that stays contained and small. He probably meant Bulbine frutescens, but he was often non-specific with his plant names. A plant list would have been a nice handout.

Summer Holly (Comarostaphylis) was mentioned as a good plant. I hadn't heard of it before, but it's out there on the web ref.

Buffalo grass, a N. American (but not California) native, was mentioned as a personal experiment of Robert's but today he says he wouldn't recommend it because of its long dormancy and sparse growth habit which allows easy weed intrusion. There's pictures on his web site. Of course the sparse growth habit and long winter dormancy would allow you to plant wildflowers or the like, so it seems like it's just that he doesn't recommend it to his clients.

A list of favorite garden plants (for garden designers who want to keep happy clients) list closed the informational part of the class:

Woodwardia fimbriata (Giant Chain Fern)
Salvia Spathacea (Hummingbird Sage)
Ribes viburnifolium foliage is scented - piney/resinous, evergreen, tolerates clay soils.
Summer Holly (Comarostaphylis)
Santa Ana cucurus (bad phonetic spelling, I guess - can't find anything with that spelling)
Carpenteria californica
Mahonia 'Golden Abundance' from Monrovia Nursery
Iris 'Canyon Snow' very strong
Erigeron (Coast Aster)
Coral Bells - 'canyon' hybrids
leymus 'Canyon Prince'
manzanita 'Howard McMinn' - best manzanita for yards. Slow grower. Winter bloom
Western Redbud
Matilija Poppy- garden thug

He ended with a poem by Mary Oliver, "Some Questions You Might Ask" that was a bit zen. I don't usually go for meditation, but I left feeling relaxed and positive, so perhaps the internal looking parts of the class had the desired effect.


Rancho Los Alamitos

Rancho Los Alamitos in Long Beach of all places, is hosting a weekend open house. Fresh Dirt had the news before me, but it's kind of exciting - in a native plant sort of way.

The gardens on the ranch were originally designed by Allen Chickering, so the restore gardens might be quite interesting.

Rancho Los Alamitos Historic Ranch and Gardens
In Collaboration with Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden present

Opening of the Restored
Rancho Los Alamitos
Native Garden

Saturday, June 6, 2009
11:30 a.m. – 5:00 p.m.

Free Admission to Rancho Los Alamitos and Site Activities

Pre-registration and Fees for
Keynote Speaker Seminars


California native plants as cover crops

I tried using clover purchased from Peaceful Valley Farms this winter as a cover crop for my vegetable garden, but it only grew in widely dispersed spots once the weather warmed up a bit despite having spread the seed pretty heavily. I had thought it might grow OK over the winter because of our mild winters in Southern California. Not mild enough, apparently. I later sowed a California native, Phacelia tanacetifolia (which a quick Google search tells me I have misspelled before on this blog) which is naturally timed to sprout and grow through the fall and winter. Success!

While looking for cover crops on the Peaceful Valley website (the source for my clover seeds) I came across mention of Phacelia tanacetifolia as a cover crop. Since I had plenty of seed left over from last year's seed harvest I gave it a try in my vegetable garden.

Use of P. tanacetifolia as a cover crop isn't widespread in the US, but there's an awareness that maybe we're overlooking a good thing:

Phacelia tanacetifolia is a versatile plant that is used extensively in Europe, both as a cover crop and as bee forage. It is also being increasingly used in California – especially in vineyards. Phacelia is quick to grow and flower and grows well in dry soil. It does a good job of limiting nitrate leaching when planted in early fall. It winterkills at about 18°F. In cooler regions, it can be used as a between cash crops cover crop in the summer. Phacelia is listed as one of the top 20 honey-producing flowers for honeybees and is also highly attractive to bumblebees and syrphid (hover) flies. Phacelia's habit of flowering abundantly and for a long period can increase beneficial insect numbers and diversity, because it provides high quality nectar and pollen. It's also useful as a cut flower with its unusual and attractive blooms, strong stems, and long vaselife. Because phacelia germinates well at cool temperatures and grows quickly, cut flowers can be available by mid-spring. ref.

I applied the seed to the densest and heaviest of soils in my raised garden beds after spreading some compost on top. This is a bed that had previously not seen many amendments and the soil there is more clay-like than at the other end of the vegetable garden.

At first I feared that it wouldn't grow, but apparently the winter exposure isn't as direct in this bed as in my front yard where the P. tanacetifolia started weeks earlier. Eventually it grew quite well.

Here it is, with Ollalieberries on the fence in the background. I had already started on the demo in this photo - see my shovel handle sticking out.

Last week I cut it down at the ground and composted it in place with a top dressing of rotted leaves. I've kept it damp and it appears to be ready to plant, so today I put in cucumbers.

Who knew cover cropping with natives would be so easy?


Little car accident

My father had a little car accident back in late January. I took these photos on Feb 15 when I visited. The Ghia was purchased in Germany by my grandfather, so it's been a one family car. Here's what my mom wrote

Dear Boys,

Well the Ghia has reached its demise.
No one was hurt during its destruction.
No animals were hurt
No plants were destroyed.

Your dad was driving down Alston Rd. towards our house when he noticed smoke and fire coming out of the rear of the car. He was passing the Y's house. He pulled in their driveway. Fortunately they had they gate open.

Even more fortunately they were home. A neighbor came out and asked if he could help. Your dad asked for a fire extinguisher. He didn't have one, but he did call 911. D however provided 2 fire extinguishers. Their son J was home also. He took photos. (This is how J makes a living: photography. He lives in a loft in downtown LA).

The fire department came. The Highway Patrol came. The fire department left after making sure the fire was out. They had to wait for the lid on the engine compartment too cool enough for them to open it. Apparently when there is an incident involving a car, in the county, the Highway Patrol takes care of it not the sheriff.

The Ghia is still in the Y's driveway. Your dad has a list of people to call tomorrow. I guess we'll find out how much it isn't worth and if we want to restore it or forget it.

D's remaining classic car is a Packard, which your dad saw and admired as well.

D brought your dad home. Your dad did have some of his papers etc. from the car. On his way to the Y to exercise, to work off all of the adrenaline, he stopped to pick up some info on a maybe new car for me and the blanket and towel and his umbrella that were still in
the car. He said, "You were right. They all smell of smoke". At the moment they are outside awaiting treatment tomorrow.

When at the Y parking lot a man approached your dad asking about your old red Alfa. He asked if your dad wanted to sell it. Your dad replied yes, for $8,000.00. The man continued that he knows someone who collects Alfas. Then your dad mentioned that he just had a car
burn up, the Ghia. The man added that the same man might also be interested in that too.

Laugh. Your dad did. All in all it could have been worse. Your dad also got to touch base with a friend from the past. Altogether not a bad thing.


Insurance eventually paid over $9k for this otherwise well-maintained car.


Native Plant Design Class Saturday

I've actually signed up for this one. I seem to be forgetful these days so hopefully I won't forget. The subject matter sounds basic, but I doubt I know as much as I need to on the topic.

Design Fundamentals for Native Plant Gardens, with Robert Cornell
2009-05-16 1:30pm – 2009-05-16 3:30pm


Theodore Payne Foundation, 10459 Tuxford Street, Sun Valley, CA 91352
Created By

This class, subtitled “Bringing Natives Home,” describes ways to showcase the beauty of California native plants, select plants for small and large spaces, and group plants according to light and water needs for a thriving low-maintenance garden.

Landscape designer Robert Cornell has worked with native plants for more than 25 years.

$20, members. $30, non-members.


Not blogging too much lately

I'm not blogging too much lately. It seems like I'm doing other things more often - mostly health related, but it's also because my main home computer is now a Pentium III laptop running Puppy Linux and I haven't taken the time to upload a photos to it since I think I'll be moving on in short order to a more capable machine. The PIII was a last ditch attempt to not spend money on a new computer for my home office and it's shown me that in principle what I want to replace the former desktop computer is a laptop: they stow nicely into the rolltop desk.

This afternoon I saw Jesus Christ Superstar at the local Civic Light Opera. It was a good production, but not exactly an uplifting story, unless one counts Jesus hovering off the stage in the last scene. This perhaps explains the less than packed house.

I ran into Bob from work at the theater, and he mentioned my company's theater club which is producing Brigadoon this summer. I'll try hard to go. I think there's a lot of fun and surprisingly high quality amateur theater around here.

I'm off to BogFest XV tonight. I am not sure what to expect.

Update after BogFest. It was great! We got there late and had to endure a noisy SRO crowd at the back of the room, but later we moved up to some empty seats and enjoyed the show much more. Next year arrive early and stake out a place at the front.

Margaret's Lavatera; gopher predation experiences

When We last saw Margaret's Lavatera assurgentiflora, in Margaret's Mallow it had grown significantly, but now it's even bigger.

Of the half dozen that I took to my parent's house and planted on the Upper 40, all but one at last check (during my trip back from Andrew Murray) had been destroyed by gophers. Gophers LOVE this plant, so much so that they will girdle the trunk and nibble small branches above ground. The one surviving Lavatera is in a partially shaded area and somehow the gophers hadn't spied it at last check. These are really good looking large shrubs with flowers all over like Margaret's picture when they are a bit older, so it's a shame to lose so many. Here's a photo from Feb 15 where there's signs of above ground nibbling.

Another Lavatera was eaten about 3/4 of the way through and lying on the ground. The remaining upright trunk at left is girdled all around. By April, these were all dead as doornails.

A Mimulus croaked, and it looked like gopher predation, but I'm not 100% sure.

In contrast, a different good looking flowering plant, Romneya coulteri (Matilija Poppy at left) planted at several locations on the Upper 40 - including a couple right in the middle of the gopher hills - seems to be doing well with no noticable gopher predation. It will start slowly this year but next year ought to have plenty of great looking flowers. Holding the earth on this hill is a chore that's probably well suited to the root structure of R. coulteri. The weeds are Oxalis pes-caprae or Oxalis cernua (Sour grass, originally from South Africa). Gophers tend to farm that stuff in my experience.

Also surviving and flourishing despite gophers were several salvias (a white hybrid [perhaps Salvia apiana x leucophylla "Desperado"] that was too large for my yard, a S. Clevelandii selection propagated from cuttings in my yard, and local black salvia [Salvia mellifera?] that I grew from cuttings taken in the Santa Barbara chaparral) as well as a buckwheat.

Surviving with minor gopher predation were California poppies and any number of little oak seedlings growing from the several hundred acorns my brother and I planted last fall.