Year: 2015

Watering in the Rain

Lots of rain happening of late, thanks to El Nino! It has delayed any watering in rain resizedoutdoor watering so far this year, which is great. If you happened to turn your irrigation system controller on before the rains came, hopefully you have a rain sensor (a.k.a. rain shut-off device) or other weather system that will prevent your sprinkler system from actually running while it’s raining. You don’t want to water in the rain! Let’s be honest, besides it being a waste of water, it really makes you look silly.

The Water Conservation program has been offering a rebate for rain sensors, freeze sensors, and other weather technology as part of our efficient irrigation rebate program for several years now. If you don’t have a rain sensor on your irrigation system, now’s the time to get one!

Now, a rain sensor like the one pictured, doesn’t predict when it’s going to rain. What it does is sense when rain is actually falling and stop the sprinklers from running if they are currently running, rain shut-offOR prevent them from turning on if they are scheduled to turn on shortly after the rain happens. Once the sensor dries out, it will allow the sprinklers to continue to operate according to its normal schedule.

There are sensors on the market that do predict, using live weather data, if it’s going to rain in our area, and prevent the sprinkler system from turning on. Those are slightly more expensive then the little one pictured above, but may be worth it to you. They use live weather data and your location (usually a zip code, address or GPS coordinates) to see if rain is expected for you and doesn’t allow the system to run if the chance of rain is greater than X percent. That X is usually a number you can adjust — like 30 percent. The irrigation rebate applies to this technology too.

So, install those rain shut-offs and let Mother Nature water the yard for you!

For more on rain sensors, watch my video!


Lake Georgetown: Go See!

wildflowers at Lake Georgetown April 2015


The weather has been hit or miss so far this spring for getting a little spring cleaning yard work done, but I’m not going to complain about the wet weekends!!  The wildflowers have been gorgeous (check out my pictures) AND the rain has meant we haven’t had to turn on our sprinklers yet this year, which is great.

Even though we’ve had some pretty consistent rain, the lake levels haven’t come up too much.  Lake Georgetown (Round Rock’s main water source) is holding pretty steady at 64% full.  It’s a little higher than it was last year at this time, but still, not full!  Lake Stillhouse Hollow has come up a little with the recent rain, is at 67% full.

If you haven’t been to Lake Georgetown in a while, I encourage you to go.  It’s not too far, I drove over to take these pictures for this article. (What can I say, it was a nice day and I needed a current picture!)  Simply take IH-35 north tLake Georgetown flower pico the HWY 29 exit in Georgetown, head west (turn left at light).  Turn Right onto DB Woods road and follow the signs to the scenic overlook or one of the many parks in the area.  It’s great to actually see your drinking water source in person AND the area has a lot to offer recreation-wise!

On the picture that actually shows the lake, the portion I’ve circled is a screen on an intake pipe.  This is basically like the City’s straws that are in the lake, sucking the water up and transporting it to our water treatment plant.  The screen is what keeps out fish, trash, and other large debris from entering into the treatment plant.  This is supposed to be underwater!  That gives you an idea how low it is.

Lake Georgetown edited April 2015

City water intakes at Lake Georgetown

Because of the continuing low lakes levels, the Brazos River Authority has asked that all users of these lakes reduce their water use, so that’s why Round Rock and Georgetown have enacted their Drought Contingency Plans for the last year and a half.  We are still under Stage 1 watering restrictions.  This means if and when you water your yard, it can only happen on your assigned water days:

  • For odd addresses, that’s Wednesday and Saturday.
  • For even addresses, that’s Thursday and Sunday.
  • No automatic irrigation is permitted between 10am – 7pm on any day.
  • Watering by hand allowed any day, at any time.
skink at LG


Remember, when setting your sprinkler controller for the spring, it’s best to start low and slow; watering once per week or less is plenty for this time for year.  When it starts to actually get hot, then increase the times.

Need more detailed information about the water restrictions?  Visit the City website:

Watching our figures

vintage-649760_1920Of all the City of Round Rock departments you know about—Utilities, Transportation, Parks and Recreation, Police, Fire, etc.—which group springs to mind when you think of exercise and fitness?

You didn’t name “Library”, did you?

And yet–so far–this year’s Million Mile Month participation by City of Round Rock includes more entries from the library than from any other department.   As of this morning, the City overall ranks 12th in the nation for the 2015 MMM.

Some of our pedometer-wearing staffers logged premium miles darting from session to session at last week’s Texas Library Association conference at the Austin Convention Center (which hosted an impressive attendance of nearly 8,000).  Five librarians from RRPL’s youth and reference departments were presenters or panelists at TLA this year.

That’s four statistics already.  For literary types, we librarians can certainly obsess over numbers.

When we meet other library professionals, we establish focus by sharing our type of library (school, academic, special, public) and service population size.  Our customer base—over 100,000—prompts the question “How many branches?”—and “zero” is not the expected response.

Another eye-opener:  Did you know that many of the bestselling e-books that the library purchases from Big Five publishers cost $84 for a single, one-user-at-a-time copy?

Customers at the Reference Desk frequently seek numbers.   Earlier this week, requested data involved the population of Texas in 1845, including demographic breakdowns for women, slaves, Native Americans, etc.  Given that 1845 was, while not a census year, otherwise a very busy one for the brand-new state (and that views regarding who is and isn’t significant enough to count are more enlightened today), this was a tall order.

We generate plenty of questions among ourselves:  What percentage of the budget should go to e-books instead of print?  What expectations do new library cardholders bring with them from other states and different libraries?  What reading and information tastes characterize Round Rock?

No wonder we find circulation statistics so compelling.  Thank you, Rhonda and Tricia, for these examples:

Round Rock Public Library cardholders:  57,914
Books checked out by cardholders over the life of their accounts:  6,666,466
Physical items owned by the library:  220,057
Electronic items/products owned by the library:  4,243
Indic books:  206
Chinese-language books:  1163
Spanish-language books:  2057
Music CDs:  4,580

Nonfiction titles with most checkouts at Round Rock Public Library in the past 12 months:
Guinness Book of Records
Unbroken: a World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption
Cracking the SAT
Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail
Cracking the GED

Fiction titles with most checkouts at RRPL in the past 12 months:
The Husband’s Secret
Gone Girl
Sycamore Row
Gray Mountain
The Goldfinch
Top Secret Twenty-One
Personal: a Jack Reacher novel
The Gods of Guilt
Unlucky 13

Title with the longest queue: All the Light We Cannot See

DVDs with most checkouts at RRPL in the past 12 months:
Saving Mr. Banks
Man of Steel
Iron Man 3

One final count:  how many of Taylor Stevens’ Vanessa Michael Munroe series books does RRPL own?

Answer:  Except for The Vessel— we’re purchasing it in e-book format–all of them (The Mask won’t be out until this summer).  Fans of Lee Child and the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo trilogy should look into Stevens’ gritty, suspenseful series beginning with The Informationist.

Better still, come meet Taylor Stevens in person (and learn about her fascinating background).  The New York Times best-selling author will be in the library gallery on Wednesday, May 6, from 6-8:00 P.M.  Frank Campbell of Round Rock’s Barnes & Noble store will be facilitating book sales.

April art and anticipation




As a certain mid-April deadline approaches, queues for Foundation Communities’ Community Tax Center assistance at the library are lengthening, but not as much as you’d think.  Ever since the sessions opened up back in January, area residents have been streaming in with hopes of completing their returns well and in a timely fashion.

For those among you fortunate enough to enjoy the smugness of early filing, there’s the pleasant option of penciling in an activity that–unlike the project assigned by the IRS–actually celebrates creativity.  Coincidentally, I know of two that also feature April 15 completion dates:

For starters, you could rev up your imagination with the Round Rock Arts Council’s Have A Ball Contest.  The idea is to create a work of art from a baseball (or multiple baseballs).  You can even stop by ArtSpace at 231 East Main to pick up a free ball for your masterpiece. Categories include individuals, businesses and organizations, and elementary, middle school, and high school.  Entries will be auctioned at the Round Rock Express game on April with proceeds to benefit art scholarships and the RRAC.

Just be sure to have your entry in by 3:00 P.M. on April 15–and prepare for some competition.  From what I overheard just this afternoon–and naturally can’t divulge particulars about–the library’s entry will be eye-catching, a quirky transformation.

And it was only one of several unexpected inspirations generated by the creators’ discussion.   Studying the same basic white baseball, everyone imagined distinctive possibilities for translating it into art.  (I have to wonder if our library customers, known to comment on staffers’ grasp of titles, facts, and processes, suspect how much imagination and outside-the-box thinking swirls around in the same heads that appear always focused on library accounts and database selection).

Frank Campbell of the Round Rock Barnes & Noble just alerted us to another April 15 (that’s a Wednesday, 7:00 P.M.) event dear to the hearts of Harper Lee fans.  Anticipating the July 14 release of Lee’s Go Set A Watchman, the La Frontera B&N will host a discussion of To Kill a Mockingbird.  Where this classic is concerned, few folks contemplate the book without the movie (or vice versa), so both will be considered here.  And a special TKAM trivia contest will be part of the fun!

NEW Lawn Aeration Rebate!

All the late winter rains have been great, and I can’t wait to see all of the wildflowers that should soon be blooming! aeration Hopefully, most of the rain did some good on your property, rather than just runoff.  One way to keep water on your lawn and help you have a stronger, healthier yard, is aeration.  I know I’ve spoken about aeration before, but will do it again!  It’s just so good for the soil!

Lawn aeration is a great way to help your lawn stay viable and healthy, it encourages deep root growth of the grass by providing space for the roots to grow, which helps with drought tolerance.  With more space, the water that is applied to the lawn (either rain or sprinklers) will now go down further into the soil, rather than running off.  I highly encourage everyone to have their lawn aerated annually to promote the root growth, help erase some of the compaction issues that some of our lawns face (I know I walk on the same trail in my backyard all the time, which only adds to compaction), and help with some thatch issues.  This all boils down to the fact that you won’t have to water as much, which is a huge benefit too…we ARE still in a drought.

The picture to the right shows the soil cores that are removed from a lawn during the aeration process.

To make getting your lawn aerated a little more lucrative, the Water Conservation Program is introducing a new rebate program for a limited time this spring/summer–a lawn aeration rebate!  The rebate is up to $50 rebated back to you, after you have your lawn aerated.  You can rent a machine and do it yourself (but they are pretty heavy!) or hire someone or a lawn company to do it for you.  Simply fill out the application and submit it along with a copy of the paid invoice for the service.

The rebate is only a pilot, to see how much interest there is in it, so no applications will be accepted after August 30, 2015.

Not too busy to stop and smell the tulips

It may be spring break, but folks in Round Rock never stop doing their homework.Semper Augustus Tulip

The Improvements for Your Home display tower on second floor requires constant monitoring to refill empty slots:  volumes of wiring tips, bathroom plans, room makeovers, repair techniques and such are snapped up by residents determined to get the target project done like the pros would–or to confirm that this really is a job for said pros.  Consumer Reports fans know that the April issue is all about cars and have been asking for it at the Reference Desk; local auto dealers must be accustomed to well-informed shoppers.

Knowing this, when trailers for The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel  first appeared, we expected increased demand for our DVDs of The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel.  As one patron explained, “I know the background from the first movie, but my friend doesn’t–and she really should before seeing this one.”

Like the locals, actors in the Marigold  films are staying busy.  Bill Nighy has at least three roles either in post-production or filming status since Second Best.  Richard Gere, not in the first installment but notably on board for the second, reportedly has two post-Marigold roles in the works, in addition to his photography and social activism via the Gere Foundation.  For Tom Wilkinson (in the first Marigold cast but not the second), Internet Movie Database lists seventeen recent roles, including that other hotel success, The Grand Budapest, and Selma (he portrays LBJ).  Examples of additional work for the Marigold crew—these you can check them out from the library on DVD–include Dev Patel in The Newsroom and Maggie Smith and Penelope Wilton in Downton Abbey.

Among Dame Judi Dench’s film projects are Peregrine’s Home for Peculiars, inspired by Ransom Riggs’ popular Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children and directed by (who else?) Tim Burton.

But the mention I most rejoiced to see is Dench’s role in Tulip Fever.  Set in Amsterdam, this drama (due out sometime this year) borrows the unusual backdrop of an early market bubble—17th century speculation in tulip bulbs.  A 2004 film starring Jude Law and Keira Knightley was ultimately abandoned due to tax issues; this iteration features a screenplay by Sir Tom Stoppard. Coincidentally, the novel behind this movie was written by Deborah Moggach–author of The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel.

Celia Imrie (in both Marigold films; she also played Colin Firth’s bride-to-be in Nanny McPhee) has completed a new project since Second Best; RRPL cardholders can also watch her in the earlier short film The Man Who Married Himself via the library’s Indieflix subscription.  And now Imrie has published a novel whose premise promises appeal for Marigold and Peter Mayle fans: the charms and hazards of living abroad.  It’s titled Not Quite Nice and judged by Booklist to be “funny” and “over the top”; Library Journal recommends it for “readers seeking a breezy read with a touch of romance and mystery and a heroine they can relate to”.

One of Imrie’s associates tagged it as simply “a very witty novel by a very witty woman”: that’s Julian Fellowes, creator of Downton Abbey.

Fix a Leak Week

The week of March 16-20, marks the EPA’s WaterSense program’s Fix a Leak Week to encourage families to check for water leak and drips in their bathrooms, kitchens, and yards–and fix them!

Check out this cute video on how to accomplish this:


An easy way to determine if you may have a leak, is to go look at your water water meter and see if the hand on the meter is moving when no water is being used in your house.  You can also look at your water bill usage (look at the gallons, not just the dollars).  If you’re using more than 2,000 gallons per person, per month, in the home, then usage is higher than average and you may want to check for leaks.

Good luck!

Groundwater Awareness Week

Tnatl groundwater awareness week logohis week marks National Groundwater Awareness week, so I wanted to talk about groundwater in general, and some groundwater facts for Round Rock.

Generally speaking:

  1. Groundwater is the water that soaks into the soil from rain or other precipitation and moves downward to fill cracks and other openings in beds of rocks and sand. It is, therefore, a renewable resource, although renewal rates vary greatly according to environmental conditions.
  2. It also is an abundant natural resource.
  3. Of all the freshwater in the world (excluding polar ice caps), 95 percent is groundwater. Surface water (lakes and rivers) only make up three percent of our freshwater.

Round Rock specific:

  • We take groundwater from northern Edwards Aquifer.  This is the same Edwards Aquifer that the City of San Antonio relies on.
  • The City currently has 3 active wells and 3 in reserve;
  • The current water level is 25-ft below the surface, or 175-ft above our pump. Thanks to recent rains, levels have held pretty steady this winter.
  • The City used 688,340,000 gallons of groundwater in 2014 which was 10.69% of the total water produced.
  • On average, we use between 1 and 3 millions gallons per day of groundwater, so a pretty small portion of our daily water use.

You can help recharge the aquifer, by keeping water on your property during rain storms and allowing it to soak into the ground, rather than runoff your property.  This can be accomplished by creating rain gardens, which capture the rain in a low area in your yard and should all soak into the ground within 48-hours.  You can also capture the water in barrels or tanks and then slowly release the water on your yard or landscape a few days after the rain happened.  The whole point is to keep the rain on the yard and not let it run off into the storm sewer.  The rain becomes groundwater, which will penetrate down to the aquifer.


Views from above and below

CunardTwoErik Larson’s Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania will be out soon–March 10–but the reviews (e.g., “…history at its harrowing best”) have me wishing I could get my hands on an advance copy this weekend.  If you have one you’re willing to lend, there’s a batch of brownies in it for you…

Larson consistently proves his gift for avid historical research that lends compelling new insights into milestones like the 1900 Galveston hurricane (Isaac’s Storm).  His telling portrayals of individuals’ lives beforehand amplify our comprehension of the aftermath.

The centenary of the sinking of the Lusitania (Hampton Sides calls it “the other Titanic”) has prompted numerous new entries on the subject. Among them, maritime researcher Eric Sauder, noted for expertise regarding passenger ships of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, has two new volumes forthcoming: The Unseen Lusitania: The Ship in Rare Illustrations (May 1) and RMS Lusitania: A History in Picture Postcards (July 1).

Poignant cover art fronting these books depicts Cunard’s proud liner steaming ahead to a fate we know too well.   A small, perfunctory item from the Imperial German Embassy published in newspapers days before the ship’s departure had cautioned that “travellers sailing in the war zone…do so at their own risk”.  We can’t know how many passengers were ignorant of the warning and how many read and dismissed it. I picture them as relaxed and happy, focused on novelty of the journey and proximity of the destination, caught utterly by surprise when the torpedo streaked toward them from below.

My latest WWI-era (fiction) read, on the other hand, depicts danger from above and residents, not voyagers, who do acutely sense danger.  The centerpiece of Esther Freud’s wonderful Mr. Mac and Me is an imagined friendship between famed artist and architect Charles Rennie Mackintosh and teenaged Thomas Maggs, son of a pub owner in a coastal village in Suffolk. (Macintosh actually did sojourn in a similar setting in 1914). Freud also memorably portrays civilians’ experiences in wartime—food shortages, hyper-awareness of outsiders and their motives, upended routines, strange new regulations—and zeppelins.

Both the village lad and the artist are out of their elements.  The sensitive, cultured “Mac” would much prefer to be in his beloved Glasgow, but the seaside venue is meant to improve his health and economize on living expenses. Because “Mac” is frequently seen wandering and examining his surroundings (he paints wildflowers), the villagers reckon he’s a spy.  Thomas’ own artistic bent, encouraged only by Mackintosh, is ignored by family and discouraged by his teacher.  Declaring his fervent wish to work as a sailor on a seagoing vessel, he is reminded that his lameness (no barrier to work around home and pub) would render him useless there.

Through Thomas’ eyes, readers share the terror of Zeppelin raids–or the mere sight of the dirigibles looming above.  Running homeward one night, Thomas hears “the roar of thunder through a cloud” and then, “there it is, the round belly of a Zeppelin, directly overhead.  The noise fills the whole sky.”  Another time, he is awakened by the engine roar; the airship crew ultimately decides not to save all their bombs for London and drops one just down the street.

To combat the distress of these seemingly constant visitations, Thomas imagines what he would invent if he had Count Zeppelin’s financial resources:  “A submarine….I picture it streaking to the defence of any ship that is in trouble, scooping the grateful men into its hold.”

If you join a request list for either of these marvelous reads, consider some of the library’s other recent World War I-related acquisitions while you’re waiting:

An Unwilling Accomplice by Charles Todd
Hope Rising by Stacy Henrie
The Canal Bridge: a Novel of Ireland, Love, and the First World War by Tom Phelan
After the War is Over by Jennifer Robson
Silence for the Dead by Simone S. James
The Meaning of Names: a Novel by Karen Gettert Shoemaker

A Higher Form of Killing : Six Weeks in World War I that Forever Changed the Nature of Warfare by Diana Preston
Behind the Lines : WWI’s Little-known Story of German Occupation, Belgian Resistance, and the Band of Yanks who Saved Billions from Starvation … by Jeffrey B. Miller
Ring of Steel : Germany and Austria-Hungary in World War I  by Alexander Watson
The Unsubstantial Air : American Fliers in the First World War  by Samuel Hynes
World War I : The Definitive Visual Guide : from Sarajevo to Versailles / R.G. Grant, et. al.
A Mad Catastrophe : the Outbreak of World War I and the Collapse of the Habsburg Empire by Geoffrey Wawro

It’s Baaack!

springsaver rainbarrel_9-9-14

50-gallon Spring Saver

By “It”, I mean another rain barrel sale!  The Cities of Round Rock & Hutto are working together to promote a rain barrel sale!  It’s by preorder, so you place the order for the barrels online, then come pick them up on a specific day.  There is no limit on the quantity of barrels you may order, and sale isn’t limited to Round Rock or Hutto residents.  Anyone can purchase one; however the last day to order is April 24, 2015. 

Three sizes of rain barrels are being offered, as well as a diverter to make it easier to get the water from your gutter downspout into the barrel:

  • 50-gallon Spring Saver, 6 color choices, $64.99
  • 54-gallon Rain Saver, 3 color choices, $84.99
  • Classic 100-gallon, 28 colors, $208.65
  • Water diverter kits for $15.99 or $21
rainsaver rainbarrel_9-9-14

54-gallon Rain Saver

The Barrel distribution will happen on Saturday, May 2nd at the Dell Diamond.  Once you make your purchase, you’ll be emailed all the relevant pick-up information.

To pre-order and full details:

A very limited selection of barrels will be available for sale on May 2nd, so plan ahead and purchase yours today to ensure you get the colors you want! 

Why collect rainwater??  I’ve talked about it in previous posts, and condense the “whys” here:

  1. Rainwater is much better for plants than the municipal water supply (it’s generally higher in nitrogen and it’s softer water), which probably is THE main reason people collect it.
    classic rainbarrel_9-9-14

    100-gallon Classic

  2. However, an often overlooked, and just as good reason is for erosion control. You don’t have to actually “use” the water collected, but if you could at least slow it down on your property; that would aid in reducing the amount of erosion your property is subjected to.  You can collect the water and then just release it, slowly, over your yard a few days after the rain event. Then the barrel(s) is empty and ready to collect the next rain event and you don’t have any worries about mosquitos!
  3. It’s free, and
  4. Tax-exempt! The water falling from the sky is free, and the purchase of collection containers has been tax-exempt in Texas since 2001.  To assist you with collecting this precious resource, the City of Round Rock has a rebate for installing water collection tanks or barrels. (This rebate is available for direct City of Round Rock water customers only.)