Tuesday, December 2, 2008

December alreay.

It can't actually be December already. December is the month that comes at the END of the year, and it can't possibly be that late. I demand a recount.

I think it's really late October and someone, somewhere is playing an elaborate and cruel joke on me and those around me.

So, whoever you are, lets just call it a good laugh and put the calendar back where it belongs. I mean, you can't really fool me - it's still 80 out.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Cenotes denote ancient crater?

So, we're watching NatGeo the other night (I'm nerdy enough now that I don't even hesitate to throw out the self-abbreviated names of educational TV channels). We'd DVR'd a show called "Earth: The Biography" (yeah - that nerdy. I DVR educational programs). This show is basically a fascinating collection of HD film footage of our planet and this crazy Scottsman wandering around it trying to explain how it all works. Of course, he's usually mostly right, but seldom tells the entire story. However, getting to the purpose of all of this silly exposition material, I have learned a few things that I did not already know. And you all know how much I already know, so finding a new piece of knowledge is really a treat. So, now, I will share some of this with you.

The term "Cenote" (pronounced sen-oh-tay) is typically used to describe a unique kind of limestone sinkhole that is found throughout the Yucatan peninsula in central Mexico. Many of these sinkholes are partially filled with groundwater, and are usually quite scenic and spectacular. They're one of the principal tourist draws in the Yucatan, right after Mayan ruins and white sand beaches packed with rich Americans in thongs.

Here you have a cenote AND a Mayan ruin (Chichen Itza and the Sacred Cenote). It's like a two-for one ticket to the wonders of the Yucatan!

What I did know already: I have been casually researching Cenotes for years. Not only are they beautiful, but they're full of mystery and intrigue. The Mayans considered these cave-like depressions to be holy places. Not only were they some of the only sources of dependable, fresh water in the marshy jungle, but they were also seen as gateways to the afterlife. Anthropologists have discovered gold, valuables and even human skeletons at the base of the pools, and have theorized that these were offerings made to the Gods - particularly the rain gods (Chaacs) .

Cenotes are the result of freshwater dissolving limestone along weaken fractures in the rock, creating large underground caverns (uber simple explanation, true). Since the water table can be very close to the surface, the roofs of these caverns were often fragile, and collapsed - creating the sinkhole. Many Cenotes are connected via a labyrinth of underground passages and rivers creating a massive network of open and underwater caverns that cave divers treasure. If you go to the Yucatan and you get sick of all the bootie on the beach and sweating while you climb all over the Mayan Pyramids, you can always strap scuba gear on and explore the labyrinthine world of the Cenotes. They're pretty awsome.

Diving a cenote

Oh, and there's this whole dance between fresh water and salt water, because the Cenotes are actually connected to the ocean. Fresh water, being lighter, floats on top and salt water flows below - you can see the boundary when you dive through it, evidently. Kind of like flying into Phoenix on a hot day, when you can actually taste the smog layer as you pass through it...

What I didn't know: If you map the location of the 3000 some known Cenotes, they form a distinct ring. The center point of this ring is just off the shore of the peninsula. This ring is theorized to be the remnants of the Chicxulub Crater, a massive, 180-300km in diameter, impact crater - the remnant of the event that contributed to the massive extinction at the end of the Cretaceous period (the infamous extinction of the dinosaurs). If you were watching the cool TV program, they had some pretty amazing graphics that showed the near liquefaction of the earth's crust in the vicinity of the impact - though it doesn't really explain how this might have lead to the birth of the Cenotes. There's some world-renowned expert PhD mumbling about 'instability on the crater wall' and 'fractures in the limestone layer'...but no kick ass digital graphics. I guess I have to take more geology classes before I can explain it all here, and considering the stellar results of my last return to academia, I don't see that happening any time soon.

See - cool, hu?

Adjacent cenotes in the northeastern Yucatan

The life-cycle of a cenote. Eventually they fill with debris and become dry pits filled with vegetation.

An early debris pile at the base of a younger cenote

What I learned researching this blog entry further: First, Iain Stewart, the crazy Scottsman who hosts "Earth: The Biography" is actually a scientists, not an actor. I have to give props to the folks at NatGeo for not having the series hosted by Ewan McGreggor - though I find Ewan MUCH sexier. Scientists need to have fun, too.

Iaian Stewart

Ewan McGregor (obvious difference in sex appeal)

Second: There are cenotes in the United States, as close as eastern New Mexico. Bottomless Lakes State Park boasts 9 small cenotes, which, despite the name of the park, are between 17 and 90 feet deep. They only appear bottomless because of algae growth and the steep sides of the sinkhole. Three of the lakes are stocked with Rainbow Trout, and one has shallow shores which allow for swimming and other waterside activities. They were formed by the Pecos river and it's interaction with an ancient limestone reef similar to that found not far away at Carlsbad Caverns. Unlike the Cenotes in Mexico, human sacrifice is not a ritual at the New Mexico Cenotes, which may be why the Mexican Cenotes are located in a rain forest, and the ones in NM are in the middle of a very arid region. The gods must be appeased - who's going to offer themselves up to create a whole new weather regime?

One of New Mexico's Cenotes...

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

New Music...

Finally found something cool enough to share! This is some great music - very indie, very theatrical. Lots of fun.

No good Youtube to link you to, but here's a link to they're myspace where you can hear some fun tunes. My faves are Imitation of the Sky and Misery Loves Company.

The front man of the group (Bryan Scary is only his STAGE name) actually began as something of a one-man-show, playing all of the instruments on his first album with the exception of drums. Now there's talent. But now he's got a band, and they're all versatile and pretty good at they're jobs. Now, if you do find some video footage, you'll have to tell me if their retro-80's hair band in Devo jumpsuits works...

Have fun with it!

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

More Kitchen...

So it feels like all I have time for these days is hiking and kitchen remodeling. Sorry if the rest of you feel neglected, including my loyal blog readers (like I have any). I'd say things will improve, but lets be honest, it's holiday season. Even I'm not crazy enough to promise regular anything this time of year... So yesterday morning our kitchen magically sprouted 2 massive granite outcroppings, with the help of a couple of skilled laborers. The counter surface is beautiful, and feels expansive. I'm sure once it's been covered with our stuff if won't feel so big - but for now it's enjoying it's moment in the sun (or at least in the incandescent lights).

So next is tile, paint and decorating. All fun stuff compared to plumbing, electrical and 3 months without a kitchen... Oh, and I need gas to that stove so I can COOK! It's cooking season - I'm jonesing to make some spaghetti or enchiladas or pumpkin bread or something! Ak!

ooh - pretty!
The other side - a different material
Close up of the black...

This will probably be the only time I'll be able to do this!

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Kitchen Remodel Update = Progress

In the light of the infusion of hope that the new election has brought to our lives (or at least the lives of the people who agree with me politically), I thought I'd share another victory of mine:
Kitchen Cabinets.

Yes, they're in. They're sexy. Shortly after them came a sink with a faucet and a new garbage disposal. It's kinda like magic. I start out with this (thanks to some mad cleaning...)

You know, without cabinets, the room does seem bigger...

But then my house started to fill up with wooden boxes...
Here's a couple of teaser pics of the kitchen with the cabinets in. It's hard, even with the widest-angle lens I have, to get photos. But, don't fear, we'll have better ones as the process continues...

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

The Election of the Year...

It's Election Day here in America. I hope you got out and voted. Many are calling this a "historic" election and anticipating record voter turnout. While every election has equal potential to be historic in retrospect, to call one so before it's even occurred is quite a moniker. Lets hope it lives up to our expectations, what ever they may be.

Just for the sake of entertainment, here's some election trivia and useless knowledge:

The 2000 Presidential Election between Al Gore and George W. Bush was not the first time that a president has been elected without the majority of the popular vote. It has happened 3 other times: in 1824, 1876 and 1888.

Although we think that election chaos is a new thing, but we'd be quite wrong. The 1824 election mentioned above was actually fought out between 4 candidates from essentially the same party. The Federalist Party had folded during the previous presidency, leaving only the Democratic-Republican party intact. Factions split on issues and geographic lines resulting in 4 candidates, the two strongest of which were John Quincy Adams and Andrew Jackson (their respective factions eventually formed into the National Republican Party and the Democratic Party). No candidate received a numeric majority of either the electoral college or popular votes, though Jackson did collect more of both types of votes than any other candidate. According to the 12th Amendment, the vote then goes to the House of Representatives. Unluckily for Jackson, he had powerful enemies in the house and the election was given to Adams. Jackson cried foul for four years until he was able to run against Adams again, this time with no other contenders to split the vote. Jackson won the 1828 election by a landslide. (It's also interesting to note that only +352,000 votes were cast nationally in that election - boy things change!)

My man Andy. I think this is a really cool look for the President.

In the 1876 election, the loser, Samuel Tilden (Dem), actually received a majority of both the popular and electoral votes as initially counted. This was in Reconstruction era America, and is still held to be the most hotly contested election in American history. The disputed results were mainly in the South - South Carolina, Louisiana and (big surprise) Florida. There were reports of violence against voters and corruption at the polling place. The result of the election is generally called the Compromise of 1877 - essentially the Republicans agreed to withdraw Federal troops from the South in return for their acquiescence and the election of Ruthaford B. Hayes as President. This was effectively the end of Reconstruction and begun a pattern of systematic prevention of black voting in the South through poll taxes and grandfather clauses.

And we think nasty campaign ads are new...

Since 1960, voter turn out has dropped from only 60% to a low of 49% in 1994. That number has climbed back up to the mid-50's in the 21st century elections. I find this statistic to be depressing.

Richard Nixon has received more votes than any other person in American history. His three Congressional terms, two terms as Vice-President, his narrow defeat by JFK in the 1960 presidential, his run for the California Gubernatorial, his first election to the Presidency in 1968 and his landslide defeat of Geroge McGovern (the largest in Presidential history until that time) makes Nixon the most voted for American politician ever.

Good ol' Ricky celebrating

Most Americans consider the British Prime Minister to be the equivalent to the our President - however, the British Constitution is largely uncodified, or de facto. There are few official references to the post - none which predate the 20th century. Parliament has decided many times that the position simply does not exist. The politician in the post generally holds onto power by controlling his or her respective party in Parliament and by holding sway in the Cabinet.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Kitchen Remodel II

Ohmigawd. I'm sure that even before humans moved beyond the basic animal survival stage and began to do simple, civilized things like living in caves, stealing each other's wives and cooking food that there were probably more developed kitchens than the one I've had for the last couple of weeks. I thought the whole no cabinets, no countertops thing was bad. Then I met the no stove, no microwave and no sink thing, and I began to realize that even backpacking is more civilized than kitchen remodeling. At least the cave men had fire. If I want fire, I have to light a candle or pull out my backpacking stove. I feel so, primitive.

Gary working on the plumbing

Doesn't it make you want to cook?

Speaking of which - I'm toying more and more with the idea of starting a commune. with the economy where it is, and with society as a whole pretty well going to hell in a dump-truck (I don't think the problems fit in that hand basket any more), I'm beginning to think that creating a small community of other pissed-off intellectuals out trying to live off of the land and make clothing out of old grocery bags might just be an appropriate response. I've got several interesting developments so far:

  • The folks that run the Mountain States Wholesale nursery have been talking about creating a commune on their property - which is already blessed with ample growing yards, green houses, wells and food producing plants. While I think this is an ideal location, it would be unlikely that they'd let me run it (seeing as how it's their idea and all). So, obviously, that doesn't work for me. However, I like the nursery idea, so I say we either find a similar set up, or use Gary's guns to take over their commune and plant me as the "Gemini Queen of the Commune". Gary can be my consort.

  • Another friend with ties to the New Mexico ranching and farming community has offered cows and seed. I can't imagine life without beef, so this works for me. He also thinks we should ban money in favor of the barter system. This would eliminate the need for lawyers and accountants. I think this is brilliance.

  • Considering that we're in the Southwest, we should take a clue from the native communities who were seasonally migratory. Living somewhere nice for the summer, like Mt. Graham or the Rincons where we had a regular water supply, cooler weather and lakes stocked with trout (we'd have to manage this resource carefully if we anticipate Fish and Game's collapse). For the winters, we could go someplace where we wouldn't have to deal with cold weather and keeping track of heavy coats. I like the San Pedro river area for that, but there's always Hawaii. It's a long canoe trip, but the Queen of the Gemini Commune can just conscript a few handsome young studs to row her over there.

  • Finally, the commune has to be equipped with a full kitchen at all times. I will not eat brick dust and try to re-heat meat in a toaster oven just to escape the evils of society. At the very least, I need a flame for my macaroni and cheese. There are certain products of progress that simply cannot be set aside.

Monday has been established as the install day for the cabinets. I'd be more excited if it meant I'd also have a sink, stove and microwave - but we must take the little joys as they come, right?

Monday, October 20, 2008

Funnies from the Political Race...

Now, I know that some of you may disagree with me politically - but I think these are funny just the same. The last one is my own attempt...

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Gotta Share this With the World...

Pure genius: Click here for the future of America. Click all over the screen to find great little jems.

this - if you like SNL - is one of their best skits, ever, especially if you had to watch the vp debates like I did. At least I was in Chicago. Among friends...
Felt kinda like this to me...

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Kitchen Remodeling Project

So, for those who are interested in what really happens when you decide to build some 'sweat equity" into your home...I bring you the great kitchen remodeling project of 2008! This isn't one of those "we did it in 48 hours" tv shows - this is real people, real budget, real timeline. Things could very well go wrong, and there isn't a perky host to make it all better.

To say I'll bring you in from the beginning would be a bit of a fib. We've done a couple of small projects already - or more accurately, made a few purchases (a fridge, a stove, a hood, a sink - you know - small cheap stuff snort). But, the cool, scary and sexy stuff is just getting going... So strap on your tool belt and put on your safety glasses, because the plaster will fly (and likely tempers will flare, so bring your asbestos apron, too!).

For starters, here's what my kitchen looked like before:

Oh, alright, so I didn't bother to take good "before" pictures that don't show my kitchen full of booze and drunk people (there isn't a whole lot of time that it isn't). But I guess you get the drift: tiny space that people love to hang out in, yellow walls, old cabinets, a counter top that's slowly flaking away (yeah - flaking - we'll get back to that in a minute) oh, and:

a sink that's getting old, nasty and starting to clog a lot. EEew. The model, however, is lovely. She makes the sink look even worse. Some applause for Vana, please...

So, plan is: new cabinets, new sink, new counter tops, keep yellow walls and drunk friends. While we're at it, might as well modernize so that if and when we try to sell the place, people don't have feel they have to avoid references to Geico and sweep our stone-age tool fragments from under the furniture. So, new appliances (or new old appliances) and some upgrades such as a dishwasher (although I find my current 'dishwasher' to be fully functional and sex is cheaper than electricity), a garbage disposal (to avoid messes like the one above - eeeew) and a vent hood (so I don't turn the kitchen into a Hopi Sweat Lodge each time I cook). The end result should be eclectic, homey and (with any luck) slightly more functional. I hope we don't drive the drunk people out with all of our modern gadgetry, though!


Removing the upper cabinets (see I told you my 'dishwasher' was sexy)...

Removing the counter top (yes, he's using a pneumatic chisel. It's hard stuff.)

So, the counter top was "flaky" because it was plaster or cement which had been poured over lath and then painted with some sort of enamel finish (likely lead based, tasty). Over the years, no doubt water had infiltrated the protecting layer, and as a result that layer was lifting, the porous cement was allowing the water through to the wood, which then expanded and contracted, causing the material to crack, letting in more water... Well, let's just say that we were experiencing a little riparian erosion right in my kitchen (I feel so privileged).

Now we fell better about ripping it out (because we probably could not have ever really repaired it). It also proved that the kitchen was pretty much original, because behind that was...brick.

Here's what the kitchen looks like today:

Guess the Mexican food restaurant down the street will be getting a lot more business from us over the next weeks. Lets just hope the cabinet maker doesn't delay things any more! Watch for more installations of "a new kitchen in an old house"...

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Wildflowers of Southeastern Arizona

I've had some great hikes lately - all of them just chock-full of crazy late-summer wildflowers thanks to our generous monsoon season and relatively cool summer. I thought I'd share for those of you who were on my trips, those who wish they were, and those who just like pretty flowers... (now some of these aren't the greatest pictures - but I figured you'd forgive my poor photography in favor of my vast knowledge)

Santa Ritas - August

California fuscia
(Zaushneria calfornica)

Rincons - August

Arizona Salvia
(Salvia Arizonica)

Wild Grape
(Vitis arizonica)

Hill's Lupine
(Lupinus hilii)

Coral Bells
(Heuchera sanguinea)

Hybrid salvia?
(Wendy wantsaone)

Sycamore Canyon - August

Sacred Datura

(Datura wrightii)

Parker Canyon - Sept

Vine-leaf Morning Glory
(Ipomoea hederacea)

Another yellow-daisy like flower
(A Viguiera?)

???? Found near the abandoned settlement of Sunnyside
Perhaps not a native - can't find in the books

??? Another mystery plant - maybe the Huachucas are full of them!

Chiricahuas - Sept

(Erigeron oreophilus)

(Delphinium sp.)

Lemmon's Salvia
Salvia lemmonii

(Sarae's Picture)

Common Mullein
(Verbascum thapsus)

Sweet Four O'clock
(Mirabalis longiflora)

Catalinas - Sept

California fuscia
(Zaushneria calfornica)

Wild geranium
(Geranium caespitosum)

other things we saw but I don't have photos of (so I pilfered them from other sites):

Nodding Groundsel
(Senecio bigelovii)

Nodding Onion
(Allium cernuum)

Plains Beebalm
(Monarda pectinata)

(Salvia columbariae)

Franciscan Bluebells
(Mertensia franciscana)