Category Archives: Castle Willett

If You Squat Right Here

Folks who think we never get snow in SoCal haven’t ever been here. We have ski resorts within an hour’s drive.

It’s extremely rare to get snow down in the valleys or on the floor of the LA Basin. These areas are all about 99% under 1,000′ elevation. But the mountains all around go anywhere from 1,600′ in Griffith Park, right near Hollywood and downtown LA, to 3,300′ in the Santa Monica Mountains, to well over 10,000′ in the San Bernardino Mountains. I can remember once getting about 1/4 inch of snow in a house that was at 910′ and next to the foothills in about 1987 or 1988. Our current house is at 1,062′ and we’ve never even come close.

However, after last week’s storms, when a fair amount of snow got dropped down to about 3,000′ there are plenty of places to see snow-capped mountains off in the distance. I just didn’t know that our yard was one of those places.

But it’s winter, and a lot of the trees have finished dropping their leaves. While talking to the crows today I noticed that if you go way over to the corner of the yard, and squat right here, and peek through the trees over there…

It’s not one of those picture postcard views that they show between every other float and marching band at the Rose Parade, but it’s our very own view!

Just as long as I don’t throw my back out trying to stand again after squatting and peeking!

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Time-Warped Christmas 2021

Merry Christmas! It was a wonderful day for family, a huge dinner, and opening presents!

What’s that you say? Yes, today actually WAS Christmas Day, at least in our house!

Or just the latest domino to fall in our quest to cast aside the normal time constraints and conventions.

  1. Not going to Worldcon in DC this week meant that we could go see the Chiefs-Chargers game two nights ago…
  2. Which meant that the kids were in town to go with us…
  3. But they have to get back home and to work, can’t stay a whole week…
  4. So we declared Christmas to be TODAY, not next Saturday.

Let it be written! Let it be done!

First time we’ve all been together for Christmas in at least a dozen years. It was a great day. I hope that your Christmas next week is as wonderful for you.

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Filed under Castle Willett, Christmas Lights, Family, Photography

Is It The Weekend?

And does it matter?

Between my work schedule (there have been a LOT of really critical deadlines and all of the work involved, but so far we’re hitting them, even if some of them are by the skin of our teeth) and “life” and the holidays and family and that football game last night, the last two weeks I’m having serious issues keeping track of what day it is.

Life isn’t counted in days of the week and weekends – there’s no difference, they’re all pedal to the metal. I don’t count days to the weekend, I count hours to the next critical deadline.

That’s not quite over yet, but I think all of the REALLY REALLY critical deadlines are over for the moment. This weekend we’re doing Christmas a week early since all of the kids are here, our first full family Christmas in a decade or more.

I hope tomorrow’s Saturday.

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Random Old Photos – December 07th

The directory said “2004/Dirty Paul.” I knew exactly what photos they were, even 17+ years later.

The old house wasn’t on a slab, there was a crawlspace under the house. Not much of one, maybe 18 to 24 inches, sometimes less, sometimes a little more. Fortunately, there were not a lot of spider webs or other critter-spoor down there. But it was dusty as hell.

I would end up down there once every couple of years for some plumbing or other problem and it was a pain. Getting in was only accessible by a teeny, tiny portal, maybe 18 by 24 inches, and that was at the bottom of a knee-high wall surrounding the portal and the screen door covering it. Getting in was a real contortionist trick, as was getting out. Immediately inside were some of the larger drain pipes from the two big bathrooms, so it was a really tight squeeze.

Moving around in there was also a royal pain, crawling on my belly, not even able to get up on my knees to crawl. As you can see, I was not in the finest of physical shape at the time (not that I’m any freakin’ Adonis now, but at least now I’m about 40 pounds lighter) so by the time I had been under there a few hours I was sore, sore, sore.

This particular day I believe that I was running coax cable for internet and cable TV. I had drilled holes in the floor in all five of the bedrooms, as well as the kitchen and living room. Then I dragged a drill underneath the house, drilled out a hole though the foundation into the family room/den at the end of the house (where the internet & cable hookup was), and started dragging cables. LOTS of trips from, each room to the portal to the family room. Hours and hours under there.

I got done what I wanted to and we did like having internet and cable in each room on a nice, high-speed, secure, wired connection. This was before wi-fi was real fast or reliable, and in a 3,300 square foot, one-story, ranch-style house, wi-fi always pretty much sucked over about half the house once you got away from that end. (That, of course, got fixed and upgraded a few years later, but at the time it was a big deal.)

Nevertheless, when I finally crawled out, exhausted, one of my kids was there with the camera. (None of those apples fell very far from that tree!)

At least my hair was still dark!


Filed under Castle Willett, Paul, Photography

Slightly More First Light 2021

As predicted, I feel a lot like I’ve been beaten by folks with baseball bats after spending yesterday schlepping, lifting, carrying, hauling, climbing ladders, balancing precariously on ladders, and generally doing things for one day that use extreme physical exertion and agility and which I haven’t done in a year. (Funny coincidence, that.) Let’s see, I can either get in shape and stay in shape so that next year this isn’t a sudden and painful event or I can just do nothing and then bitch and whine about it next year on the weekend after Thanksgiving…

Oh, who are we kidding. Plan B!!

Today I did get out and get up another six or seven sets of lights.

These along the driveway, threaded among the rose bushes (currently sans roses), are very nice.

Above the garage door the “spider’s nest” of colored lights got hung. It is so tempting to take that big Halloween spider ornament and hang it in the middle of this!

Speaking of critters, remember a couple weeks ago I mentioned seeing a large (18″ to 24″) alligator lizard out on the porch? No pictures, but I did see it again and get a very good look at it yesterday. It’s moved into the garage and was not happy with me sweeping up and cleaning at the end of the day. It scurried out, flipped me off, then scurried off to shelter under the piles of boxes and crap stored in the garage. It’s every bit of eighteen inches long, a lovely critter, and definitely an alligator lizard and not just a bigger fence lizard.

The (photographic) hunt goes on!

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Filed under Castle Willett, Christmas Lights, Critters, Photography

Thanksgiving 2021

The feast. It was wonderful.

Last year we didn’t have a Thanksgiving dinner other than for those in the household. This year there were family over. Smaller than previous years, much smaller than back in the day when the whole clan and spouses and kids and grandkids met up at my parents’ house. But still – little steps to recover from a brush with Armageddon.

I hope your dinner was everything you hoped for and you got to spend time with those you love.

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Halloween 2021

Finally! Coming up on 21:45 local, and our trick or treater count is finally not at zero! Five kids just climbed the hill (we can see the parents out at the curb) and for that they each get a fistful of candy. At least it’s better than last year and the year before, when the guest count was…checks notes…ZERO!.

This is what we get for renting a place a bit off the beaten path and at the top of a huge freakin’ hill. No one comes up here unless they live here, and I haven’t seen anyone up here who has kids in the three years we’ve been here.

I miss the old house on a flat, busy street a half-block from the local elementary school. I miss bringing the telescopes out into the front yard and letting everyone look through them while we chatted and handed out candy. I miss having the little kids and the adults, many looking through a real telescope at the moon or Saturn or Jupiter for the first time just being awestruck. I especially miss the teenagers, trying to be cool in front of their friends, but also trying to sneak a second or third look before they leave, preferably without their friends noticing.

I don’t think it’s a COVID thing. I think it’s an “out in the boonies” thing. Even though, to be clear, we’re right in the heart of the San Fernando Valley in Los Angeles, with multiple major five-lane city boulevards running north-south and east-west within a mile in all directions. Hardly a wilderness.

Any more late guests? I’ve just lost about eight pounds in the last two months. I would really like to NOT eat this leftover candy.

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Everything In Motion

And yet that new iPhone 13 “night mode” camera takes a pretty decent photo without even a tripod…

Jupiter at top, just left of center, Saturn just a scooch above center to the left of the tree, the quarter moon setting between the tree and the house. Various other stars visible if you click on the image to blow the whole thing up to full sized.

No tripod, so this image shows a little blur and jiggle – but as I said, everything is in motion.

The Moon in its orbit around the Earth has now moved to be visible at this time of night. The Earth has rotated so that we’re in night. The trees are all blowing in 16 knot winds, gusting to 24 knots, so they’re waving about a bit. And I’m trying to hold the phone/camera as still as possible while standing in those winds as a faux tripod.

Yet – the picture is lovely.

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Hunting Alligator Lizards

No pictures, yet. But I’ve seen it.

First, happy to report that yesterday’s goals of getting some down time were met. Groceries, football, a nap (naps are SO wasted on toddlers, they have no clue how wonderful they are) – it was an excellent start. Of course, tomorrow’s Monday, but little steps.

Anyway, anyone who’s read this site for any length of time has seen lizards. Almost all are fence lizards, at most about eight or nine inches long, most smaller, some very small. At first I thought they were California alligator lizards, but it seems that they’re in fact western fence lizards. The body size and shape gives them away. The alligator lizards are long and thin and can get bigger, well over a foot long, while the fence lizards are shorter, thicker, squatter, and rarely get over nine or ten inches.

Knowing that now, I think the only time I’ve seen an alligator lizard was the one at the old house about four years ago. The one that showed up in our toilet in the house. Fredzilla.

Looking through the pictures you can see how much longer Fredzilla was, how much longer his tail was in proportion to his body, how skinny he was, how his head shape is different. Best guess – California alligator lizard.

(As always, I’m guessing, not a herpetologist.)

So a few days ago, new house, no Fredzillas here, starting to see fewer of the fence lizards as it starts to cool and they start go bed down for the winter. Out on the front porch, tucked away in the corner, there’s one of those big plastic bins that you get from the hardware store that are used to stash away about fifty feet of garden hose. I picked it up and slid it four or five feet until I got to the end of the connecting hose…

…and underneath was an alligator lizard that was probably 20% to 30% bigger than Fredzilla. It was over two feet long if it was an inch. And it was just as surprised as I was.

In about two seconds it had scuttled back under the hose reel box where I had put it down. I considered lifting the box up again, but a) it was heavy and I didn’t want to throw out my back, b) I was awkward to lift and I didn’t want to put it down on top of FredZilla II and squish it, and c) I didn’t want FredZilla II freaking out and heading for parts unknown where I would never see it again.

For now I’m assuming it’s still under there from time to time, and in the vicinity in general. I do have to move that hose reel box back at some point, so maybe I’ll set up a couple of cameras to watch when I move it back to see if it’s under there then. If not, I’ve got a trail cam that I can set up at ground level out there, maybe that will catch some photos of it.

The hunt is afoot! Photos only, no captures or injuries or death. Is FredZilla II real or just a hallucination of my aging brain? Time to gather evidence!

Everybody have a good week, starting with Monday tomorrow. Face the day and your fears head on, kick ass, take names. EGBOK!


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Filed under Castle Willett, Critters

Unwanted Guests

Being where we are and the ecosystem we’re in, we get gophers. Annoying little bastards, they’ll ruin your lawn in weeks if allowed to. Our gardeners deal with them as needed. But this morning…

As soon as I came to a spot in the house where I could see out of the sliding glass doors to the backyard, it was obvious this was no simple visitation from gophers.


The other problem with them, especially since the back yard is on the edge of a sizeable hill, is that if left unchecked the gophers can dig enough holes and tunnels to undermine the stability of the hill. Given enough gophers and a good soaking rain this winter (please, we could REALLY use that rain!) then a chunk of our (rented) house ends up in the downslope neighbor’s back yard and the house gets red-tagged and we’ve got 24 hours to find a new place and move out.

Not my idea of a good time.

So the powers that be have been notified and in a couple of days someone will be out to encouraging the gophers to move to someone else’s yard. In a couple of days.

In the meantime, tomorrow morning might be “interesting.”

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Filed under Castle Willett, Critters, Photography