Sunday, January 31, 2010

In Which I Am in Awe of Butterflies

I have always enjoyed watching butterflies flit about my backyard. They seem so otherworldly, so not-quite-robust-enough for nature, so ephemeral and ethereal that if you breathe too closely near them, they might disappear without a trace to prove they'd been there. They seem far too delicate for nature, which can be so gritty and dirty.

Last night, I watched The Incredible Journey of the Butterflies, which had been broadcast on PBS' Nova earlier this week. The Nerdy Scientist was captivated with their beauty and fortitude, and heartbroken with the ease with which they can die. How can something strong enough to fly thousands of miles over 8 weeks be drowned by just a few raindrops? What a poignant reminder of how beautiful, how elusive, how capricious, how amazing nature and life are. What a wonderful reminder of how much we don't know, and how much we still have to learn, how much fun science can be.

And I particularly enjoyed recognizing a kindred spirit, another nerdy scientist who was so worried that the butterflies were not able to make their journey, and was so relieved to finally spot them flying in to rest that he was laughing with delight, giggling with joy, and almost crying with relief. Ahh, we love a scientist entranced with his subject as much as we are with ours.

And I loved the sweet depiction of life in Mexico. Living as close to the border as we do, local news is inundated with problems and stories about crime and border walls and illegal entrants. I love Mexico, I loved living there, I loved traveling there, and I loved how kindly a portrayal of the small Mexican town we saw in the film, where residents eagerly awaited the butterflies' yearly return, celebrating with a big festival when they did. I love the simplicity of the Day of the Dead celebration. That feast has been adopted by my second hometown, but with typical over excess--a huge parade, flame dancers, costumes. The Day of the Dead is about family, quiet recollections, preserving the memories of those gone before us. I loved Angela Garcia in her (machine made) huipil, the food stands, the adorable kids counting butterflies flying overhead in a clear blue sky.

And here is a giant swallowtail (a male, I believe), drying himself last May on my oleander.

Friday, January 29, 2010

In Which I Celebrate Daisy

Today is Daisy's 6th Homecoming Anniversary. She is a typical stripey girl--opinionated, crazy, and she hates to be brushed. But she's also very sweet and (usually) well behaved. Many happy returns, Mae-Mae! May we have many more anniversaries together!  (photo of Daisy sunbathing, 31 December 2009)

The adoption card on her cage at the Humane Society, where she had been for several months when I saw her, said she was sweet. Sometimes. It said she was affectionate. Sometimes. It didn't say she was a pistol. Which she is, sometimes. But I love my animals to have spunk, so I'm glad she's got her own strong personality. She fits right in with the rest of the Zoo.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

In Which I Admit My Car Is Smarter Than Me

I had to buy a new car in October, and chose my dream car, a Honda Element. I love it. I feel a little disloyal to my old car, but it was killed; I had no choice but to replace it. I still feel guilty.

I had to figure out how the windshield wipers worked last week, because that rain was the first we'd had since I bought the car (welcome to living in the desert). And I've discovered that the E system is backwards from the wipers on my little Civic. Last Friday, I went out to dinner with my friends Kerry and John, who were down from the SuperMegalopolis for work meetings for her and university stuff for him. It was pouring when I left the restaurant (El Charro, muy delicioso! I had the pollo con mole enchiladas, ummm!), so I smugly flicked on those wipers. Then I got to a red light. The wipers stopped. Hmm, thought I, I must have accidentally hit the mechanism, so I turned them back on, higher, and they flipped merrily away until we got to the next light, when they stopped. The light bulb finally went on. The wipers stop when the car is stopped! Maybe you, Gentle Reader, have known about this for a long time, but my beloved little Civic (may Percy rest in peace) was born in 1991, so the computerized car is a whole new animal to me.

It's raining again today, and not only am I enjoying the rain immensely and looking for a big puddle to jump in, I giggled the whole way to work every time I had to stop the car. I am easily amused.

In honor of a rainy winter day: comfort food for lunch--tomato soup and a grilled cheese sandwich on my homemade bread, and spaghetti squash for dinner. Soup and sauce are very comforting and cosy, and we have to enjoy these pale imitations of a winter day when they happen, as they are so rare nowadays.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

In Which I Celebrate the Birth of Pupgirl

Nine years ago today, a dog named Star was recuperating from her overnight whelping of a litter of nine pups, 7 boys and 2 girls. The first born, right after midnight, was a girl, and she was named Red Dog. As she grew, she became, in the exact words of her breeder, "a stinker." That stinker became my stinker 11.5 weeks later.

Today is Kazia's (a.k.a. Promise's Sonora Desert Star) birthday, and as recently as Saturday someone said to me "She's 9?" Except for arthritis in her shoulders, you'd never know she was a senior girl as she still acts like a puppy, and I suspect always will. Her grandmother or great grandmother lived to be a pretty healthy 16, so I'm hoping she inherited those good genes.

I'll have to scan the photo I have hanging over my desk of her when she was just a pup so you can see how beautifully she's grown.

Happy Barkday, Kazimiera! May we have many, many more together!

Sunday, January 24, 2010

In Which I Ask: Can You Spot Which One of These Squares Is Not Like the Others?

Gentle Reader, you know that Mother of Mossy and I are dedicated blanketeers for Project Linus, a most worthy organization. For the past three years, my local chapter has participated in Make A Blanket Day, when some of us (about one quarter of the hundreds who make blankets for our chapter) gather and knit and crochet and sew blankets en masse in a huge push to get as many done at one time as possible. They also provide yarn kits, which members can sign out, use to make a blanket, and return.

Since I like to make teen-sized blankets, when I saw this particular kit with 4 whole skeins of three different purples of worsted weight yarn, I snatched it. I added a half of a one-pound white skein I had in my yarn corner, and found a pattern I thought would be perfect--mod, a little retro, and would show the different colors to best advantage: Playful Primaries from one of the Vanna White afghan pattern books.

So I started in April or May of last year. But each square is made up of single crochets, and those can be soooo sssslllloooooowwww. I admit it: I got bored. So I set it aside when only half the squares were made.

Whoa! Last week I got a flyer inthe mail announcing this year's MABD. Uh oh, better get this one outstanding from last year done before I go to this one. There are no yarn police and these ladies are too nice to say anything, but how could I sign out a new kit in all good conscience if this one wasn't done? So I sat down, determined to get it done. For two weeks I worked on it every night.

On the second to last square, I ran out of light purple yarn. "NO!!!!!!!!!!!!!" I screamed silently in anguish. The reason I made as many squares as I did is that I paired the light and medium purples together and made as many squares as those skeins would allow. I had two leftover balls of the same size. So I thought the light purple would make the same number of squares. No, Gentle Reader, it didn't.

I have no idea why one out of four skeins of the same brand of yarn would not be the same length in reality as the others, but it wasn't. So I took some of the yarn I was going to use to make the border (the second skein of medium purple) and made two squares using it. Which means that one giant circle has two quarters, the same color, that touch. It rankles. A lot. It's really important to me that each of these PL blankets be as perfect and beautiful as I can make it. These scared, sometimes sick, sometimes homeless, sometimes abandoned kids should have one beautiful thing, made just for them, with kindness and good will wished into every stitch, and this fails my Blanket Perfection Meter.

So, can you play "One of these things is not like other?"

Oh, and just because I can, here's a really lousy shot of the mountains with snow from Friday. I'd have to climb on my roof to get a better shot or drive up to the foothills, and I didn't have time to do either.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

In Which I Ponder Winter

I'll 'fess up to having more magazine subscriptions than one Nerdy Scientist should, and this time of year, many are waxing lyrical about the cold, shimmery, dead of winter. But that's not the winter I live with now.

Most of us imprint our accepted norms of weather and seasons from where we grew up. I'm no exception, and having grown up where there are four distinct seasons, it was a shock to move to an area where there are really two, a very long summer and a short winter, with very subtle and very brief springs and autumns. I missed the four seasons when I first moved out here, but then really grew to love and appreciate the desert in its glory. I'm missing four seasons again. I'm not sure why; it's probably hormonal. But we have a desert winter, and today, while I was reading about icicles and snow drifts and decorating with silver and gilt to reflect the shimmery sparkle of pale sunlight on snow and ice, outside my snug little dining room was our desert winter.

A desert winter is grey, with low clouds that hug the mountains that ring the basin in which our metropolis sits. The mountains dominate the horizon, and are only located a few miles from downtown, so when they disappear from sight, it seems a different city. It rained overnight, a typical winter rain, slow, steady, quiet, soaking. The days are warm enough that my Bermuda grass is growing early, although my winter rye never did. The air smells like rain. Not the summer rains, which smell of creosote, a smell which, once sniffed, you never forget. Not sweet, not smokey, not pungent, just creosote. Winter rain smells like rain, like water, clear, unencumbered.

A large storm from California is making its way over us today and tomorrow. The forecast calls for high winds and rain, with up to 4 feet of snow upstate, and probably at least a foot of snow up Mount Lemmon, our local winter playground with its lone ski slope. The authorities will close the road up the mountain until the storm passes, and then, when it does, reopen it to vehicles with chains or four wheel drive. City residents will flock up there to build snowmen and forts, have snowball fights, go hiking with their dogs, and in general forge some memories to get us through the very hot and very long summer that's coming.

I'll stay down here, though. The pale winter sun is rising so far to the south these winter days. When the dogs and I take our early morning walk, the sun is way off to the right on our eastbound return. Come summer, it will have moved way to our left. There will be puddles for her to play in (he's on bed rest, so he'll miss walking through the deep puddles and trying to sneak a drink in), and therefore muddy pawprints will track across the floors inside. If it's warm enough, all the cats and dogs and I will go have breakfast outside, listening to the birds sing. They love a newly washed world. It'll be quiet and calm, as if the desert is soaking up this slightly cooler, wetter time for her own memories come the long, hot summer.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

In Which I Worry a Lot, and Read a Little

Mr. Big has had an on-again, off-again limp on his left hind leg since May 2009. I got him over that initial damage, but then he re-injured it over the summer, then again in September. He's had multiple blood work results (no valley fever, which can cause limping and is endemic around here), multiple x-rays, multiple doctors and specialists look at him. The only thing one x-ray revealed was a growth of bony material on the back of his fibula, indicating a repetitive stress injury. Then in December he had the bad reaction to his new Chinese herbal medicine prescription, so I've been keeping him quiet just because he wasn't his usual silly self. Last week I noticed that while he wasn't limping, he was standing with more weight on his right leg. I thought perhaps he'd just pulled it slightly, as he had no trouble getting up, which has been characteristic of every other limping episode.

Then last night, after I let him back in the house for dinner, he stood waiting for me. As I walked up behind him, his back two legs suddenly splayed, and he had to lurch to regain his balance. Then he started hopping on that foot. He was very quiet for the remainder of the evening, not interested in going out one last time; in other words, he didn't feel good.

This morning, he's not hopping, but he's limping much more strongly. I've made an appointment to see Dr. P.M., the acupuncturist/Chinese medicine specialist, next Tuesday. Dr. M, his 'g.p.' vet, would automatically want to put him on Rimadyl, something I'm just not comfortable with (that was his response to the first limping episode, after he decided immediately it had to be valley fever; it wasn't, though; no bone lesions, no blood indications of valley fever). Dr. Shields, the surgeon who looked at him last summer, thought it was just the repetitive stress injury re-injured and put him on Metacam. She even asked Dr. Boulay, with his extensive familiarity with valley fever, to check Mr. Big's x-rays, and he agreed it was not valley fever. I'm simply tired of pumping him full of high-powered drugs, and hope acupuncture can make him more comfortable. He's 10, for pity's sake, and I'm not risking his liver for some pain mitigation.

Meanwhile, I am going to have to severely restrict his movement, which will make him depressed and me sad.


A little reading:
I finished "Knitting America" by Susan Strawn yesterday morning. It was a fast and interesting read, although honestly, I got a little tired of the large number of repetitive paragraphs that named the kinds of yarns and patterns available in the first half of the twentieth century. Clearly she did an exhaustive amount of research, finding old catalogues and pamphlets to amass that information for that era, but it wasn't matched by her discussion of post-1960s knitting and yarn. How many times can you tell your reader that yarn companies offered patterns for baby bonnets, sweaters, and soakers, and not expect them to skip that paragraph? The post-Debbie Stoller knitting phenomenon received about 2 sentences. The book was published in 2007; surely enough time had elasped for her to address this modern history in a little more depth.

A little baking:
I made a lemon sponge custard with the fresh lemons from Lady Scientist B's tree, which she gave me on Saturday. Unfortunately, some of my egg yolks got into the egg whites during separation, so it's a very flllaaaattttt sponge custard. But it is full of springtime lemon zesty, tart goodness. And I don't need my food to be culinary magazine photo worthy for me to enjoy it.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

In Which I Get Fingerprinted

Yes, you read that right--fingerprinted! I'm thinking of undertaking a new volunteer position, and it required me to be fingerprinted. I am no longer anonymous. They had to redo my last two fingers because there was too much sweat on them. "Nervous?" asked the policeman. "No, just warm." It was raining outside, so I'd put on my raincoat, a sweater, and a turtleneck, and after a little wait and then the process itself, I was pretty toasty.

Last night, Lady Scientist T gave me some homemade turkey soup she made--and it was delicious. I shared a piece of turkey with Pupgirl and Mr. Big. They were happy. He's still limping on that back leg, but even though he needs to be rested for 4 to 6 weeks after each episode (and it's only been about a week and a half since the last episode started), he gets depressed if I take her for a walk by herself. In the summer, he stands in front of the open door and cries Aroos that can be heard down the street. So no one's been getting a walk, and I think we're all stiff because of that. So we took a short walk around 2 blocks today in the drizzle. He marked about 15 times. No joke. I swear his bladder must be about a gallon.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

In Which I Conquer Yeast

I like to cook, but have always had an unreasonable fear of yeast. I know, for thousands of years, millions of people have baked bread daily. How hard could it be? But for some reason, the idea of using yeast made me shy away from trying my hand at bread. It seemed mysterious, difficult, it needed to 'rest' and be 'punched down' and 'proofed.' What language was this?

Then, on Christmas Eve a few weeks ago, I decided, this is it. The year is almost over, and I had mentioned wanting to try to make bread back in January to Lady Scientist S. If I'm going to do it, I should just do it. I had bought yeast in an effort to force the issue a few weeks back. I plunged.

Following a tutorial online, I assembled the ingredients, opened the yeast packet, took a deep breath, and started.

And it was easy! And almost mindless! And the result was delicious! I amazed myself. Who knew bread making was so easy? And no bread machine for me, gentle readers, oh no, I made bread the old fashioned way. And felt this strange cultural memory connection thing to all the women before me who spent their lives making bread every day.

Photographic proof of my bread experiment on Christmas Eve (using whole wheat flour):

It bubbles!

Waiting to rest.

Clever use of solar energy to make it rise. Hey, what's a baker with no radiators and
a pilot-less stove to do?


Flush and giddy with success, I tried another loaf last Sunday, to test whether my first loaf was a fluke. This time white, with scalded milk, and it was even better! I win yeast, I win!

Saturday, January 16, 2010

In Which We Undertake Urban Exploration, With Lunch

The day begins... 7 a.m.

Today I got to hang out with the Lady Scientists (S, J, and B) and go urban exploring. It's our 2010 commitment to a) get back to spending more time with each other (we used to get together for what I called monthly archaeofemme lunches, but work commitments got in the way), and b) explore more of the Metropolis and surrounding areas we live in. Our first trip: the local Jewish History Museum and a new restaurant, picked by S.

First, B, J and I went to the historical society for a lecture by the author of The Blue Tattoo, a biography of Olive Oatman. The lecture was great, and I very much want to read this book. We were the youngest people there, besides the author. Good for the ego.

S was at meeting nearby, so off to Paradise Cafe for tea and coffee until she joined us, then off we went, through downtown, through the South Metropolis, through the

Yaqui village, to Perfecto's, a new taqueria restaurant that had received a recent good review. Typical Mexican taqueria, with old cafeteria style chairs and little tables, and food served on quite trendy rectangular white plates. I had the chicken enchiladas, which were delicious. Unusual guacamole--with large chunks of onion and lettuce in it. I liked it a lot, but I'm not sure the others did.

Then, through the barrio to the Julian Wash Park, which we did the mitigation for, then worked with establishing the park, layout, design, everything. We even did the explanatory signs. One of which has either been stolen or taken down for some maintenance. This is where I sigh and shake my head.

Then to the Jewish History Museum, where we must have made the docent's day, week, maybe month. Four eager, innocent visitors, too polite to ditch him. He followed us around, read the displays to us, told stories, etc. It was really very sweet, but as it turns out, two of the people who have donated major parts of the exhibit to the museum are friends of both S and B, which led them to get excited and start talking about their mutual friends, which derailed the docent's speech and kind of discombobulated him. But he was sweet and enthusiastic, and the museum was a very interesting window into the early days of the Metropolis.

The Lady Scientists are such fun to hang out with--they're smart and savvy and incredibly nice and lovely, and are nice enough to let me hang out with them, despite my not being as smart and savvy and lovely as them.

Future outings might be to visit some of local Joessler buildings (local early nineteenth century architect who built beautiful Spanish Colonial structures), maybe a visit to a couple of the large developments which we did the mitigation for and haven't seen since, perhaps even a visit to the Uber Metropolis up the freeway.

Tomorrow: Nerdy Scientist culinary experiments

Friday, January 15, 2010

In Which The Beasts Are Named, and Lentils Are Consumed

Sunset from my backyard last summer. I thought those Maxfield Parrish colors were made up till I moved out here. Now I see them every day.

The dogs are known as Pupgirl and Mr. Big, a.k.a. She Who Roars and He Who Snores. They have joined me in middle age, and we are all feeling it, to one degree or another.

The lentil and barley shephard's pie was okay, but it needed more potatoes for the topping (I used all five that I had, but really 7 or 8 would have been better, if not 9 or 10). And some gravy. Everything is better covered with gravy.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

In Which I Explain the Blog Name, and Wax About Red-Tailed Hawks

Why name the blog The Mossy Nest? I wanted a cosy name, something that intimated small, quiet, warm, with a crackling fireplace and footstools. Somewhere you could settle down and visit a while, with no pressures, and leave feeling refreshed and happier. I had no idea how hard it would be to come up with a good name, especially when everyone in the universe is already blogging and has come up with really creative names.

I was watching Nature on PBS Sunday night, which was a new episode about Hummingbirds (and I heartily recommend you watch it, either on TV or online), and the words "the mossy nest" came up. Perfect, thought I. It immediately brought to mind The Country Diary of an Edwardian Lady, which I remember from my days at the PW Bookstore and always wanted to own. A pale green background, with a colored pen and ink drawing of a cosy little nest, with an egg or two. And so Mossy was born.

This morning on my way to work, a small flock of 5 or 6 red-tailed hawks flew alongside Big Red. We usually have a resident pair at the office, and their fledglings every year, but these were all adults. I've never seen so many red tail adults flying along at once, nor had my coworker, driving behind me (also gawking at them, as he is married to a master birder).

As for the hummingird Nature episode, it is full of incredibly beautiful images of these gorgeous feathered creatures. But I was stupified not by all that colorful plumage, but the few seconds of time-lapse infrared photography of a hummingbird at night, sleeping, its core temperature dropping. Amazing. The Nerdy Scientist was fascinated.

It is appropriate that the first real post at the Mossy Nest include something bird-related.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

In Which I Enter Cyberspace, With Trepidation

I resisted Facebook. I resisted texting. I have succumbed to blogging, decades after everyone else. My Inner Luddite is shaking her head slowly, in despair.

Not only have I created one, I have created two. The madness is out of control.