Sunday, May 30, 2010

In Which a Bird is Identified and Sherbet is Eaten

Well, I think our little hummingbird at work is a black-chinned hummingbird. Friday I caught her turning her eggs over, and a little sun was dappling her back.

And just in time for the holiday weekend--rainbow sherbet! With the first spoonful, I was transformed into an 8-year-old Nerdy Scientist To Be, catching fireflies in the dusk and listening to my folks and the neighbors voices floating, laughing and chatting, disembodied and surreal, while we tingled with excitement at being allowed to play outside so late.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

In Which Carnage Is Averted

The dogs, half the cat population of the household, and I were out on the patio yesterday in the late afternoon. The sun was sinking behind the aleppo pines, but the northern mockingbirds that nest in my grapefruit tree were still zipping around, cackling away. When suddenly, the brown tabby blur streaked in front of me, racing faster that I've ever seen her in our 5 years of joint habitation. In front of her was something small and brown and scuttling as fast as little legs would let it. I shrieked.

She was immediately followed by two large white blurs, not moving at top speed and clearly disturbed that she had spotted something they had not. I dropped the phone in my hand and raced after them. Tabby Girl had it corned in the patio, but it managed to get around her and race along the side of the house, passing in front of Mr. Big and me and finding sanctuary--through the door into my house.

I grabbed Mr. Big's ruff to keep him from following, slammed the door shut, and then squeezed myself in. I was a little nervous, not sure what I'd find. A rat? A mouse? A packrat? Something bigger and scarier?

Cowering against the wall of my dining room was this little guy. His little heart was pumping and his little chest was heaving. After 5 minutes and the help of a piece of cardboard, I was able to gently shoo him out the side door and back into freedom. Probably completely discombobulated by going in one door, out another; in from the backyard and out into the driveway; out of the jaws of death to having this big, scary human chasing him with a piece of cardboard to freedom. But carnage was averted.

Tabby Girl was praised for her hunting instincts (which happily are not well honed), dogs were praised for not jumping onto top of Tabby Girl to get at her prize, and I patted myself on the back for saving the life of one lost wanderer, probably startled while out hunting for his dinner. I hope he sticks around and eats the mosquitoes.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

In Which I Build a Pavlova

I admit it--I am easily swayed by magazine covers. Oh, never fear, Gentle Reader, I don't have the budget to pursue those covers. No quaint Parisian hideaway vacations or brand spanking new, near professional level kitchens for me. But I do sigh and get wistful and wonder why my Living Beautifully on a Budget new year's resolution (and this is the second year for that particular resolution) never even gets close to the serene perfection of those magazine covers. I know an entire team assembled that photo, and that it took hours to make everything perfect, and cost tens of thousands of dollars, but while I have great will power when it comes to resisting advertising when it tries to insidiously make me spend money/feel inferior/crave something I probably don't even want, part of me still wishes my kitchen or garden or bedroom looked like that cover.

So, when I saw a dessert on the cover of a recent Victoria magazine, I thought "Aha! A do-able cover! I can make that!" It was a strawberry pavlova. I had an overabundance of strawberries, having been to Costco the week before, that I had to use before they turned. I had an overabundance of eggs, having been unable to pass the sale price of 77 cents for a dozen at the grocery store the weekend before, and I had a mixer. So I dove in.

It wasn't as difficult to construct as I thought (or feared), but my oven, which runs a tad hot and normally incinerates things in half the time the recipe calls for something to slowly brown, didn't dry out the meringue in two hours. It took two and a half, and I didn't realize the center wasn't completely done until I took the pastry out of the oven the next morning and tried to take it off the parchment paper. It stuck in the middle. Being foolhardy, I decided to risk food poisoning, pop it back in the oven for a few hours, and trust my immune system was up to dealing with the fallout of less-than-completely-cooked egg whites. I thought the meringue had whipped up nice and stiff, but it spread out a little during the baking, so it was squat and lopsided, rather than tall and majestic. But the strawberries were perfectly sweet, no food poisoning resulted, and it was delicious if not magazine-cover beautiful.

But, Living Beautifully on a Budget means enjoying what life brings, not fussing over shortcomings. Herewith, my first Strawberry Pavlova. And one lesson learned--the magazine may not tell you how to cut into the pavlova, which means you make a bit of a mess when you do try to cut, but a messy dessert is still delicious. It's not how you slice it, it's how it tastes that's important.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

In Which My Cactus Flowers

Opuntia englemannii, the prickly pear cactus. My cactus had about 3 dozen buds this year and bloomed over the past two weeks.

Friday, May 21, 2010

In Which a Mossy Nest Enthralls Us

This little hummingbird mama built her nest this past weekend right next to the sidewalk at work. My coworker used his Brunton compass to see into the nest, in which there are 2 eggs. If all goes well, I think they'll hatch in another 2 weeks or so. We're not sure what kind of hummingbird she is. I brought in my hummingbird feeder from home to augment the garden next door, where she's probably feeding. I am amazed that she is completely unfazed by the human traffic on the sidewalk just two feet from her nest. Granted, we're a small company, but most of us are stopping every time we pass to see how everything is proceeding and to be amazed by her tiny power and beauty.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

In Which a Baby Fledges

Yesterday I found a sweet little northern mockingbird fledgling in my Texas ranger bush out front. Mama and Papa Bird were flitting about, screaming at me to keep away. It had disappeared when I went to church, and when I returned I let the dogs out in the backyard, as usual. She, who had been Bird Killer just a few days before, started barking and prancing around the rose arbor. Guess who was sitting atop the arbor, with Mama and Papa sitting in my nearby desert acacia? Within the hour, as the sun sank beneath the trees, it was gone, hopefully to its own snug nest for the night. Herewith, Baby Bird:

Saturday, May 15, 2010

In Which It Seems I am Alone in the Universe

Well, this place certainly made me feel humbled, a small mote of dust in the universe.

The Sulphur Springs Valley from 10,022 feet above sea level. My highest peak/hike to date.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

In Which I Know They're Dogs, But...

Or, Death In the Mossy Nest

My survey project on the large citrus mountain required only half a day today, and because we started so early, I thought I'd pop in at home, shower, and then go spend the rest of the day in the office. He Who Snores and She Who Roars were surprised, and greeted me with that sleepy-eyed, yawning face they have when woken up unexpectedly. Mr. Big was happy to sit outside while I showered, but Pestica has been in a shadowing mood lately, so she insisted on coming inside. After I finished, I wanted her to go out again, as I knew she needed to use the grass, so I took her back outside. Mr. Big had been dozing on the patio, in the shade, but perked up when she bolted out the door. She had seen some birds sitting way in the back, near her toilette, and she took off after them. The birds were so startled, they flew into the oleanders, but without realizing that there is a chain link fence behind said oleanders that would obstruct their flight to freedom. One lost his flight and ended up in Pestica's mouth.

She was so proud of herself for catching a bird. Mr. Big was an excellent birder in his day, known to snatch birds out of the air in flight. His most noteworthy catch: a juvenile/almost adult Cooper's hawk. So she pranced around, showing off to him, with the bird in her mouth. It was probably still alive and unharmed at that point, but scared and stunned. I've successfully persuaded her to yield undamaged birds from her mouth to me in the past. But not this time. Mr. Big  trotted up behind her and snapped at the protruding back end, getting a mouthful of feathers. She, determined not to share her bounty, at that point bit down (probably killing poor little bird then), streaked off behind the shed, and started to eat her prize. It was a morning dove, I think.

I know Nature is not mean. When death occurs in Nature, there is no malice, no delight, no deliberate, meaningless injury. Death is for food or because some predator is trying to make you their food. But it distresses me when the dogs eat birds nonetheless. I admit to being the softy Mother Nature is not.

And have you heard about the latest Neanderthal man genetic research? Reversing the reverse of years ago, the genetic evidence now indicates that modern humans (except modern African humans) have Neanderthal DNA. Supporting my long-held contention that humans, regardless of species, were just as randy, just as willing to be swayed by a pretty face or a better hunter, just as nondiscriminatory as other mammals, in the past. I always thought this was the most pragmatic view of a world with several different hominid species.

When I was in graduate school, however, the operating theory was the opposite, that there had been no admixture between anatomically modern humans (Mossy Speaks Anthropologese!) and Neanderthals. I thought that was silly and wrong when I first heard it, decades ago, in class. That view (and I was just a lowly student of the many famous and not-so-famous scientists whose whole lives' work was/is in human evolution and who had real, substantive arguments for and against admixture) was pooh-poohed by some experts in paleoanthropology (and physical anthropology was my minor, not my major area of graduate studies, so really my thoughts were negligible to anyone but me). But, it appears I, and those real experts in the field of ancient hominid studies, were right after all.  Long live the hominid, in all its glorious species diversity! Yes, Gentle Reader, we are mammals after all. We have a big brain, opposable thumbs, and the ability to plan for the future and regret the past, but we are no more and no less than our animal brethren.

So, all those cliched jokes about ex-husbands and ex-boyfriends being Neanderthal--could very well be true.

Friday, May 7, 2010

In Which May Flowers

Sweet little pincushion cactus at haystack.

Thistle bloom.

Nesting red-tailed hawks (three adults are tending to the three 15-day hatchlings in the nest built on this tower)--apologies for the fuzziness of the photo. I hope to have a better camera someday so I can get really gorgeous shots (but it still has to be portable).

Sunday, May 2, 2010

In Which I Complete My First Timed 10K

Lady Scientist S asked Lady Scientist J and I to join her on the Heart Group's Cinco de Mayo 10K Race/Walk today. This was the 30th annual running of this race, and exactly 742 people walked or ran it. The first half of the race was uphill, from a local high school through a golf resort and residential community. Although I've hiked many a longer trail (with and without Mr. Big and Pestica, and often with Librarian M), I haven't walked 6 consecutive miles at a fast pace since last summer, when I was helping Lady Scientist J train for her 3-day cancer walk. It was also my first timed 10k. My finishing time: 1 hour, 39 minutes (sustained pace of 3.8 mph). I am very pleased.

And will publicly announce that I think I will do the half-marathon here in town Dec. 12. This is a milestone birthday year, and I feel the need to mark in it some dramatic way by doing something I've never done before. I've never been interested in doing a marathon until about 2 weeks ago, when the idea sprang on me out of nowhere. I think it's a great idea. I can test the strength of my middle-aged body and see what needs to be taken care of before it's too far gone. I love to walk, and this will challenge me to walk more while training for it. And I suspect the sense of accomplishment will be very empowering.

There. Now I've said it publicly. I'll have to do it.