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The Train to Zagreb

Huge and modern Prague Train Station For the second time this trip, we caught a train. This time we headed for Zagreb in Croatia.  W...

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Hurrah, new Lifer #556

Step one - get lazy arse out of bed. Step two, drive way the heck south and hop the Ferry over the eensie river & onto Ryer's Island. Step two - find pear orchard and hike in about a mile or so.

Turn right and head down a row of redwoods (on right).

Step three - look for the poop. Step four - Look UP! Enjoy my new lifer - a ensie Northern Saw-whet Owl.
 
See its little face there in the branches? It was only a couple of feet from my head. [click on photo]
 

He stared at me because I am obviously as interesting to stare at as he is.


There were a few other birders on hand, and thought I was told the head count of Saw-whet Owls was four, I only found the one. Saw-whets are only about six to seven inches high and the redwoods are dense and about 60 feet high so... only one owl for Claire to enjoy. After my morning Owl adventure I headed over to Consumnes Wildlife Refuge for a much shorter walk along the boardwalk at the marsh. There I got a few snaps of a noisy Marsh Wren. The little buggers are difficult to film because they bounce around like 2-year olds on Sugar Pops.


Final step - Returned home. Still gloating.

Friday, February 23, 2007

Ooops....

One of our student assistants at work is going on to a 'real' job and we had a cake for her & I took some pics with the office camera - a nice Kodak. I've had the camera in my cubicle for some time now. During the farewell party my boss had a look at the camera and he laughed, saying 'Well now I know what goes on around here, there are shots of a belly dancer on this camera!'

That was pretty funny, the photos were practice shots I took in December during the CalEPA's Christmas celebration. Later on that afternoon I was downloading the photos and viewing the thumbnail photos was stunned to see several pics just like the following...


What the...!? I was flabberghasted. Obviously one of the students must have gotten hold of the camera and took photos some pregnant woman's belly. How dare those whippersnappers....! It dawned on me - what I was looking at - photos of my own back! Allison took the photos at work, the morning I asked her to pluck the tick from me! She took the photos but in the following hoopla I forgot them.

GAK! It dawned on me, my boss saw the photos! What was he thinking? That I took photos of the belly dancers, then photographed their gigantic bellies? GAK! I called the boss over and explained about the tick photos of my back. He already knew about the tick - let's face it, everyone on the globe was told about the tick.

Nope, wasn't a belly dancer's belly, nor a pregnant lady; just my fat back. I think it was the lighting that made my back look so round. I was bending forward and... ok, my back is weird... ok, it's bizarre.

Here are the same shots from above, only blown up to give us all another look at the creepy little tick that dug in.

Yes. I'm grossed out too.
Sucking itself some prime grade Claire juices.
Super close-up. Gross, gross, gross!

Thursday, February 22, 2007

The Cost-co Shopping Challenge

Lord help me, I went to Cost-co.

Next Wednesday is the CalEPA's Black Caucus luncheon and to spare the lives of innocents that would otherwise taste my cooking, I volunteered to supply the paper plates, cups, napkins, and such for next . Yeah, ok, so I'm an uninspired cook, but the way I see it I'm doing everyone an immense favor by not cooking. No one wants to remember Black History month as the month all the African-Americans at CalEPA died from ptomaine poisoning.

Denia Pixie, Oriental Lily


So after work I was off to Cost-co to buy the paper-ware and I was doing pretty good – only putting necessities into my humongous shopping cart. Ok, to confess, I did buy enough fresh blackberries and apple slices to keep the British Navy out of danger from the ravages of scurvy or rickets and yes, I admit I bought enough asparagus to make my pee smell peculiar for several weeks. Oh right... and I bought a barrel full of those yummy portobello mushrooms the size of manhole covers. And before I forget, I also bought dried blueberries, which are now widely believed to contain magical & healthful cancer-nixing elixers of the sort normally procured from old ladies who live in caves wearing bat wings, garlic and such around their necks. Go easy on me; at least I managed not to talk myself out of buying almonds, packaged by the crate. Ok, ok, I bought the almonds packaged by the barrel.


Double Hollyhocks

I was so very proud of my prudent shopping. I was genuinely thrifty, in the manner of some Dickensian tightwad living on gruel (freshened with blueberries) and sour soup (followed by a medalie of portobellos and asparagus). Things were looking good but I then ruined my plans of frugality by parading my cart past my nemesis; the gardening section.

Here is the problem; although my mother was known for her green thumb, which extended up to her armpit, my green thumb is as shriveled as the willie of an old man who drives a shiny new red convertable sports car. I do not garden. I outright dislike toiling the soil which, if you think on it is totally disrespectful when considering God in his/her wisdom thought to provide a perfectly lovely big screen television and extraordinarily comfy Lazy Boy chair in my living room. Still, ironically, I totally adore bright flowers, freshly sprouting flower bulbs and the fruits of anyone else's gardening labor save for my own.

So, faced with the beautiful dream of a garden of lovely flowers I gave into my pseudo gardening urge an purchased a few (to be exact 54 tubers and bulbs). Not really as bad as it sounds, here's the fruit of my as-yet-unplanted garden:
  • 5 Nerine Bowdenii (pink lily thingies below to the right)
  • 8 Oriental Lilies: Lily Pixie Denia (pink bloom, shown above at right)
  • 5 Sir Alf Ramsey Dahlia (Pink)
  • 24 mixed alceas (Hollyhocks) in burgundy, orange, pink, red and yellow (top, at right)
  • 3 Hosta hybrid Blue Mountains (blue leaves)
  • 3 Hosta sieboldianna Elegans 3 Hosta fortunei Hyaciothina
  • 3 Hosta hybrid Blue boy (purple flowered plant shown below)

    Doesn't that sound lovely? Hopeful? Damned imposible considering my degree of bone idleness? Now do not be harsh, there is some chance I might actually remove the baby plants from their adorably packaged plastic bags. I might actually abandon my Lazy Boy, pick up a shovel or spade and venture into the back garden. Yes, I know, I might also decide to sprout wings and fly, but I have to keep the faith. There is some chance I might actually put these delicate hands of mine to dig and toil in the soil as did my mother and grandmother before me. Place your bets now.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Ugly Santa, Pretty Tale

Funny how things so often work out for the better.

Last Saturday night I attended a crab feed & participated in the charity raffle. Lucky me (= sarcasm) I won a ridiculously hideous wooden wind whirligig Santa. He was decked out with wind-whirling Christmas trees and as a result of aging shellac – old Santa stood on yellow snow. No lie. YELLOW SNOW! In addition to pee-pee Santa I also won a Mr. Potato Head toy set. You thought that ancient toy had ceased to exist with the dawning of the Age of Aquarius? So did I.

Eventually I got over the shock that I won none of the really cool raffle prizes – gift certificates for Nordstrom’s and Orchard Garden Supplies, 2 lb boxes of See’s Chocolates, pots of flowering hydrangeas, etc. Eventually it occured to me I can put aside Mr Potato Head for next year’s Christmas toy drive. Hurrah! Come 2007, Mr Potato Head will make some needy child happy. Further it occured to me the dreadfully-hideous-Santa would make a 'lovely' white elephant gift for a little end-of-6-week--frustration-class at Curves, which was held last night. Note: class was frustrating because after the 6 weeks I've had no net loss and oy am I pissy about it!

So last night after preparing a nice though boring green salad and after dumping poor Sandy Claws into a gold gift bag with pretty red tissue I went off to our potluck/white elephant gift grab at Curves.

Is it ironic for a weight loss center to host a food fest?

Anyway, each of us drew playing cards to set the order in which we chose our white elephant gifts. I was number three and I picked a small & plain bag that contained a not-too-awful burgundy scarf. As allowed, someone nabbed the scarf (hurrah!). That gave me a second shot at choosing either a new gift or nabbing someone else’s prize, which I did. I took someone else's very lovely, prettily wrapped gift basket. The basket was actually a small galvanized tub in which I discovered lavender shower gel and lotion, a nice scrubby sponge thingie, a massage brush and a perfectly lovely hand mirror. Even the ribbon it was tied up with was a treat. For the charitable among you, the lady whose tub I nabbed next chose a nice big box and got a gift wicker basket filled with cookies, chocolates and such which honestly - I have no use for and if you believe that I have a lovely golden gated bridge to sell you - its in San Francisco. You'd like it.

So, it turns out my hideous Santa (which ended up being the ONLY white elephant present left un-picked) went off to a storage closet somewhere and I got a really lovely present in exchange for him. I thought white elephant gifts were supposed to be perfectly ghastly but all the gifts last night were lovely - except for the pissy Santa. Thank heavens no one was stuck with him. There - a suitably happy ending for all, unless you are a pissy Santa stuck in the broom closet.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

A Sunday Stroll to the Stratosphere

Sunday I went birding with Don and another birder Sue (a new Birdin' Buddy for Don) in Butano State Park. It was cold, foggy and rather dismal - as coastal forests usually are this time of year. Sue had checked and found a nice ‘easy trail’ for us to hike, with the purpose of finding Pileated Woodpeckers. It was a beautiful forested trail, that wound its way up the hillside which after reading about the trail Sue assured us had only a gradual rise in elevation. Uh… right. The only gradual rise was my heart rate. Hummm… no the rise in my heart rate wasn’t gradual, it was sharp. The person who thought the trail was ‘easy’ had to have been a strapping six-foot park ranger, because he sure as hell wasn’t a 5 foot five tubby woman like me. Early on in our hike we were visited by a cute little Winter Wren that sung its bubbly happy song for us. That was when we started the accent, and that is when all bird life on the mountain ceased to exist. That’s how it goes sometimes; a great effort to hike doesn’t necessarily pay off in an abundance of birds. Life can be annoying like that. We did hear a Hairy Woodpecker but at the top of the hill there were no Pileated Woodpeckers waiting for us uphill; boogers.

The rear sled dog only sees the pink bouncing butt holes of the lead dogs; I can relate.
A Snag (dead tree) covered over with Christmas silvery Spanish Moss


Same snag viewed from way up the hill

After the hike, we headed to the little town of Pescadero for a great lunch at Duarte's Diner. Later we went on a hunt for a Ferruginous Hawk; a particular bird that Sue often sees on the route we took. The hawk had other plans and we didn't find it. Then our little trio broke up; Don and I headed for Thornton Reserve. There we went on a short walk that paid off with a surprising event.

Don pointed out a chickadee that was flitting around in a tree and a Peregrine Falcon flew in, alighting on a tall tree not too far from us. Peregrine’s are always a treat but this one even more so. I was puttering around and Don shouted. I turned to look and see the Peregrine dive bombing toward Don! WHOMP! The Peregrine miss judged its dive and smacked itself into a tree branch! Beautiful poofy blue-grey down feathers floated earthward. Tee hee… the poor Peregrine must have been making a dive for the little chickadee but it misjudged its own trajectory. The Peregrine flew off dazed and probably nursing a headache, but otherwise unharmed. Must have been a young bird, not too familiar with the concept ‘hey, is that branch there between me and my lunch?’

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Waking Up Goofy

Woke in the wee hours of the Saturday morning and began to prod and poke my left hand, trying to find and read the LED (light emiting diode) light panel built into the flesh of my hand. At the time it seemed a perfectly sensible thing to do. I lay sleepily running my fingers over my palm and along the front and back of each finger, but could not find the built in LED panel so I could read the numbers. I knew my hand had electronic numbers on it but why couldn't I find it? It took a minute or two for my brain to click out of dream cycle. ‘What the...?'

Strange things happen when I open my eyes while most of my brain is still in deep REM sleep.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Claire Habitat

Several days ago, while rummaging around the Internet I ran across Neo Earth, which provided the oh-so-cool map of earth seen on the right side of this blog as Claire Habitat. Quite the eye-opener the thing is. Had no inkling that in a given day my blog gets visits – peeked at, if not actually read, from every corner of the Big Blue Marble (loved that show when I was a kid).

Neo Earth enabled me over the past week to know that I’ve had ‘guests’ from as far away as Ghana, Argentina, Stezzano Italy, Athens Greece, and several from China; Jilin, Taizhou and Bejing. How amazing to think, however brief the visits might be, that my ikle blog is peeked at - literally - around the world.

Not all the visitors are unknown entities. I know the visits from Yakima Washington are from my buddy Diane (Hi Di!). The New York visitor is most likely my brother (Yo, Juanie!). The viewer from Salt Lake City is no Latter Day Saint, but is a freshman at the University of Utah, my friend Carolanne (Oy, Carolanne!).

Isn't that too cool? So click on the NeoEarth map on the right, top of the blog and have a look at who's having a look. Travel the world without having to get through airport security. Liquids & gels in your back pocket & keeping your shoes on are all are A-OK here in Claire-land.




Friday, February 09, 2007

DAMN IT!

Right after exercising on Wednesday evening there was a stab of pain in my left knee I whenever I straightened my leg. On Thursday I was steppin easy but here it is Friday and the knee still hurts. *growl* Must call UC Med Center to bitch and moan. Meanwhile I am not skipping Curves tonight - I've gone 3 times a week like clockwork since November and I'm not about to stop now; knee or no knee. Will just have to continue stepping lightly.

*deep dark thoughts*

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Over the Weekend

Mixed bag over the weekend. Saturday was the annual Free Museum Day for all Sacto and I spent the afternoon at the State Indian Museum. The museum can’t hold more than 66 people at a time so the excess had to wait outside in line. I worked the queue, entertaining people on the line with an Indian game of skill; catching several rings (salmon or deer vertebra)on the end of a stick (deer shin bone). The museum normally closes at 4PM on Free day but this year it stayed open until 5:00, but I left around 4:30, heading for Napa to visit with Barbara and Hans & Irmgard Albertson.

My buddy Barbara’s parents seemed well enough last Christmas when I spent what must be my 25th Christmas with the Albertsons – yes! It is hard to believe but that’s how long I’ve known them and have enjoyed their generous hospitality.

I first visited the Albertsons when I was 25 years old, when they lived in Cotati a cute little town north of San Francisco, not too far from the coast. In recent years Barb’s parents gave up their 10 acres of Cotati - which required a good deal of work to keep up - and they purchased a home in the Napa wine country. I’ve enjoyed the past four or five Christmases in Napa with Hans, Irmgard, Barbara and Phil, Suzi and Bob O.

It was a couple of years ago that it dawned on me I was older than Hans & Irmgard were when I first met them. I decided I could allow myself to call them by their first names. My parent’s training that all adults should be addressed as Dr. & Mrs. was a difficult habit to break (Hans is a retired veterinarian).

Last Christmas, 2006, Hans and Irmgard had round the clock nursing care in their house. Barbara brought 2 of her new cats with her on the visit. Hans had fun playing with his furry grandchildren. Irmgard was cheerful, but was only a shadow of her former self; the hale & hardy Haus Frau that I have loved over the years. The holidays went quickly the New Year was barely started when Irmgard’s health plummeted so drastically that Hospice was called in.

So I visited with the Albertsons last weekend. I was shocked when I saw Irmgard; it was more difficult seeing her so frail than I could have imagined it would be. I think it is not only the shock of seeing how ill she is, but additionally, seeing her brings back strong memories of my own mother.

My mother’s illness in 1992 took her quickly. I couldn’t (ok, I still can’t) look at pictures of her because it is too upsetting for me. Seeing Irmgard was upsetting as it was, but additionally, although she bares no similarity to my Mother – I am reminded none-the-less of my Mother.

So the weekend was riff with emotion. On the bright side it was comforting to visit Irmgard and find some of the former Irmgard in the frail body the bedridden lady now occupies. And Hans is very sweet, like a big old teddy bear. We enjoyed ourselves. I played animal podcasts and Der Taggeshau newscast for him on my video iPod. Reminded me that my father would have had a ball with an iPod if they’d been around when he was younger. That goes for my friend Joann’s father too. Both of our Father’s enjoyed short wave radio and broadcasts and I know they’d have dived right into the Internet world – too bad it came to late for them to enjoy.

So the weekend was bitter sweet and I know there’ll be many more like it coming up as I visit with the family in Napa. Barbara and I have already decided that when we get old we’re all going to take one last trip to Alaska and at the end of it that last long walk through boreal forest and join the Snow Walkers.