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Prague - Trial by Walk

St Vitus Cathedral on the Prague Castle grounds Trial by walking - that's how I'll remember today for the rest of my natural lif...

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Happy Christmas! BWWWAAACK!

Happy Christmas to one and all! This morning the girls got up all grumpy and disheveled. So I told them Santa had visited.

What'd Santa bring us?

I knew what they got of course - whole fat cottage cheese to help ward off our frozen Sacto nights - Holiday red Hawthorn Berries, and fresh, yummy Slugs!

Oh! Could that be...


Rum Kitty wanted to know what Santa brought him. Rum has gone a bit soft under his fuzzy ears - he has totally lost his wits. He now climbs onto the dining room table to look around - FORBIDDEN! Santa gave Rum what he needed this morning - a reprieve from the wraith of Claire.

Poor old Rum. So old he forgets he's not to climb on things, and forgets to go outside to pee, and now, amazingly, he forgets to be afraid of me. So now in his dotage, he is a old farty cat I can hold on my lap, stroke, brush and coo over him. Really - isn't that just the best Christmas present for the two of us?

Poor Farty old Rum-kitty

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Belated HAPPY BIRTHDAY wishes

For my beloved friends/family who celebrate their birthdays in December and who did not receive timely greetings and best wishes from me because I screwed up all of 2010 birthday-wise (having misplaced/lost my master list of everyone's birthdays).

You have my most sincere apologies and little Salsa Dog below dances for you. We both hope, you are so taken by her puppy ernest cha-cha-chas that you forget to remember that Claire forgot. Cha Cha Cha!

Monday, December 06, 2010

OK, this is weird...

For reasons I'm not going to detail, today I took a spirometry, or lung, air-capacity test. The test consists of sucking in as much oxygen as one can hold, then rapidly & explosively exhaling. I've had the test in the past for asthma - no big deal. So I expected this to go today simularly uneventful. The test used a way-fancy computer with monitor that showed a little sail boat. The technician that gave me the test, explained that as I exhaled the little sailboat would drift across the monitor, left to right; no big whoop.

So, after twice explaining to me how I was to breathe and what to expect and such it was time for me to give it a go. 'Fine!', I thought, 'let's get this over with.'

So... breathe in, that's it Ms. Miller, breathe in again, OK, again.... OK... 1, 2, 3 EXHALE!
EXHALE! EXHALE! EXH...!

I could hear a voice, vaguely in the distance, but didn't know what was being said. Slowly my mind emerged from a fog and I opened my eyes to see some person or the other, some woman, who was messing with a machine and nattering on. Where the HELL was I? Where am I? What the.... HOLY CRAP! I PASSED OUT!

I was flabbergasted. I've never passed out before in my life. Thank heavens I was in a chair. The technician turned and noticed me, asking if I was OK.

"No! I... I fainted! I've never done that before in my life!"

The technician didn't seem all that surprised, after all, she had told me I would take the test sitting because she'd had a patient that passed out and fell down.

So, she told me the machine wasn't quite working right and we'd give it another go, or two as necessary.

I wanted to run screaming. Really. I did. You know, I hear all the time about kids doing things like inhaling glue, or taking other people's medications for a buzz, but let me tell you, that isn't me. I do NOT like feeling buzzed from alcohol or anything else, and I sure as hell don't like waking up not having a clue where I am... shite!

Still, I felt rather coerced into giving it another go. So there were the three deep inhalations... one sharp, almost violent exhalation...

....vaguely I could hear a voice, and the waves by the shores of Narnia were loud. I drifted... I opened my eyes... where was I? Who were these people.... FECKING A! I passed out again!

I was again, totally rattled and now feeling frightened. The technician decided to take me to the doctor for the rest of my physical and said we could complete the lung capacity test afterwards.

Long story short. After my physical exam I told the doctor, a lady doctor, that I'd passed out twice and did NOT like it. Happily, she told me that was enough for one day and she dismissed me from re-doing the lung capacity test.

So... I'm totally freaked by today's activities. I will never, and I mean never, ever take another lung capacity test, and I don't care what the feck it means job-wise. I am never going to pass out again for the rest of my life, not as long as there is... you know it's coming.... get ready for it.. not as long as there is breath left in my body.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Got Tamale?

Hurrah! Today, my friends, the Terrys held a tamale making party. There was quite a crowd when I arrived late. Bugger! Though I recieved their invite I had immediately lost it - electronically! Yes - I am now clever enough to misplace things in 2 different mediums.

'Little Terry' was heading up the tamale making when I arrived

All were already busy getting the masa meal on to the corn husks. Some used dinner knives, but many used a new implement of destruction! Genuine, 'Texas Rolling Pins'. I actually saw the things and assumed at first that the Terrys found a new use for spackling tools. Nope, they were just using the latest development in the long history of tamale making.

Using a handy dandy "Texas Rolling Pin" to spread the corn masa

There were so many of us there were 3 work stations

Big Terry was the lead tamale maker. She also set the theme for the party by buying and designing the 'Got Tamale?' aprons we wore. She designed the logo on her computer, then the patches on our aprons. All the Terrys guests got one of the cool & official cook's aprons. I told her I can't wait to steal her ideas for some future hen party.

Soon enough there were piles and piles of masa spread corn husks covering all available surfaces - it was time for some stuffing! Pre-party, the Terrys prepared tray after tray of pork in a lucious green 'verde' sauce. The next step was spooning the pork and sauce onto the husks and folding them. Big Terry gave us all a demo of the method. I learned to roll tamales by a different method at a Nancy & Rick tamale party last January. So it was remedial tamale training for me to get used to not rolling and securing the tamales using a strip of husk to tie the tamales shut. Happily I got over that and was soon stuffin', foldin' and pilin' with the best of them.


The tamales piled up pretty quickly

Before long there were humongous piles of Texas roll 'em and hold 'em tamales, all ready for the next step. Terry put HUGE steamer pots on the stove. She put pennies in the bottom of the steamers so she could hear the pennies bopping around and know there was still water in the steamer bottoms - another clever idea for me to remember. The pork tamales needed to steam for up to two hours.

Loading tamales into the steamers

OH NO! A Problem - sort of... we were out of the green chile verde pork meat but we still had loads of masa spackled corn husks. What to do? I think it was little Terry's idea, or someone's to make dessert tamales. Soon, Little Terry was thawing large bags of frozen blueberries and Big T was making a nice cinnamon and quesso cheese mix for mixing the berries in.


Lots of hands make light loads - or some such - soon the blueberry/queso dessert tamales were complete.

We all realized that if we waited for all the tamales we made to get steamed, we were going to be camping out at the Terry's home until the wee hours. So! It was time to bag up pork and desert tamales for everyone to take home. We could all take our tamales home and steam them for ourselves. Shucks! I had to get home before dark to lock my hens in their run so the local wild raccoons wouldn't also have a tasty treat to look forward to.

Bagging up the tamales at the end of the day

Before I knew it I was on my way home with a tamales my precious bag o' tamales. That was such a nice way to spend the day-after-thanksgiving. Really, from the shared stories of the participants, it was easy to tell we all really needed something fun to get our minds of the economy and onto more pleasant things like spending time with new and old buddies.

P.S. Just tried my first chili verde pork and blueberry queso tamales: YUM! Honestly, they are savory and succulent. Tamales are well on their way to being one of my favorite foods.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Hen Party!


Still life of Ps - Pomegranates, Persimmons and Peppers

A decision was made some months ago, by those other-than-myself, that a hen party was long overdue. Further, it was decided one such hen party needed to take place - at my house. *gulp*

Wasn't quite ready for it but was glad to host, as nothing gets some spring cleaning done in November like the threat - uh... the expectation, of company.

T'was a v. short Hen Party as most of the time it was just myself and Barbara. Barb, drove up Friday afternoon. The arrival of other hens happened late Saturday afternoon.

Robbie showed up as the bearer of yummy chocolate Chip cookies as well as amazing Berkeley bread of the sort that just doesn't happen in Sacramento.


Robbie, bearer of Berkeley Breads


Barbara and Ingrid


Very-nearly-almost Conjoined twins, Robbie and Nancy


Full quorum of Hens


Uh... uninvited hen who showed up anyway

I think everyone enjoyed themselves. As per usual we spent a great deal of time either preparing or eating foods, and of course catching up on each other's lives. There was only one unplanned bit of entertainment.


Seen from the living room -
The Entertainment arrived gobbling bird seed

Normally at Hen Parties we take walks and/or tour the local area, but as the time was short and the local rather ho-hum, only the most stalwart Hens took a hike.

Ingrid, Robbie and Nancy, about to set forth on a Hen Hike
Late Saturday night, was the trickiest bit of the Hen Party - all six of us sleeping at my house. Yet, somehow we managed it - one each in the two bedrooms, 1 in the spare room on an air mattress, and 2 of us in the living room, one on a cot, one in a sleeping bag on the floor and amazingly enough, a couch to spare! Maybe another time I'll try for seven overnight guests.
Sunday morning we all rose, rested and ready for breakfast. I'd talked Barbara into bringing goose eggs from her flock and she managed a couple of them.


The Goose eggs alongside one of my hen's comparatively eensie eggs


Sunday morning each hen made her own
eggy extravaganza for baking

So it was a lovely hen party. Barbara stayed to visit a couple of extra days. That first night I took a MAJOR tumble in my back yard, having tangled my foot in the loose netting that separates the grass from the cement patio. Barb decided instead of a gate, there must be a gate between the two areas. So, after a trip to Orchard Supply, there was some serious construction going on.
The final job was complete - using a folded tomato cage for a door and presto! A quite serviceable gate so I don't take any unnecessary trip while heading out to feed the hens.

Friday, November 12, 2010

A Little Fall Birding

Know what makes me cranky? The bird that got away. Case in point, a beautiful bird, that flew all the way to California from the high arctic where Narwhales blow bubbles under the ice. That bird is an Ivory Gull, that flew into Pismo Beach just last weekend.

Not to whine, but I should have leapt into my car, picked up birder buddy Don and zoomed down to Pismo Beach. We could have seen that high arctic gull that only once before has ever entered California.

But Nooooo - like a jerk, I skipped the opportunity, thinking I would drive down to see the bird on Thursday, Veteran's Day. No dice - the beautiful Ivory Gull skipped off to heaven only knows where, Wednesday. The horror!

Beautiful gull, seen here thumbing its nose bill at
tardy birders, such as me, who did not see it

So, as a birdie boobie prize, yesterday Don and I picked up buddy Teressa and we all headed to Fort Mason in San Francisco. Fort Mason is a pretty spot on the bay, right across from Alcatraz. There were loads of other birders when we got there, who just like us, were looking for a less rare vagrant, a Black-throated Blue Warber, an Eastern species.

A Black-throated Blue Warbler - another no-show for the week

No dice. Skunked by the Black-throated Blue, last seen yesterday, Wednesday afternoon. Still, we all had fun looking at the more cooperative, and easier to see birdies. And I enjoyed photographing the more cooperative birds that bopped cheerily around the trees and shrubs. There were Varied Thrush, several Pygmy Nuthatches and a Northern "Yellow-shafted" Flicker that may have been a bit lost. I managed a few shots of some Pygmy Nuthatches and even shots of the teeny little Brown Creepers that worked at 'de-bugging' the bark of a vine strewn tree.

Brown Creeper, living up to its name - being brown, and creeping

Looking a lot like a bit of Bark

Around midday we drove north to Petaluma in search of Pacific Golden Plovers. I've seen them before but they were still a 'lifer for me, because the place I saw the lovely little Plover below was the Isle of Hawaii - therefore those birdies didn't count as North American seen birdies.

My Pacific Golden Plover that didn't count, yet was still rather a beauty

We saw several beautiful, golden hued Pacific Golden Plovers at Schollenberger Park. I didn't take any photos there, but we saw Mute Swans, Blue-winged teal, Mallards, Black-bellied Plover, and other species as well. Nice stop, and the Golden Plovers did bring my total for lifers in 2010 up to 18 birds.

Up one lifer for 'moi', we headed south to visit Don's daugher Rose, at her work place, a veterinarian clinic. I can't believe I was so taken by the critters at the clinic - adorable lizards, loads of exotic birds and so help me, FERRETS! I didn't think to take Rose's picture. Rose promptly brought out a beautiful ferret for me to play with. HEAVEN! I would love a trio of ferrets for pets, but the timing at this point of my life sucks so no ferrets for me. Still it was fun getting to hold a particularly cuddly one.

So we all out for a nice lunch with Rose & her fiance Nate (really sweet guy, Rose knows how to pick 'em). I chatted with Rose who is chock full of pet helpful knowledge and we talked 'critters' all through lunch. It was nice getting in a visit, hadn't seen Rose in ages.

Following lunch, Don, Teressa and I headed back to Fort Mason for another shot at the Black-throated Blue Warbler, but it was no where to be seen. A Townsend's Warbler took pity on me and bounced around in the sunlight, allowing to take some so-so shots of it.


Townsend's Warbler


The Townsends hitting a more classic pose

BONSAI!

Sooo that was that for the day! On the drive back to Don's place, before I took off for home, I spotted the only Barn Owl I've seen this year. It sailed by over my car on the freeway. I took that as a good omen for my drive home and it was.

Monday, November 01, 2010

Halloween at the House that Fear Built


The Winchester Mystery House

Halloween is the night you collect that candy, give out that candy, or go out and get yourself spooked. I decided this year to go with the latter. So Halloween afternoon I drove on down to the Winchester Mystery House in San Jose.


One Big-arse sprawling house

The Winchester house is one of the most haunted houses in the United States, so naturally, lacking any common sense at all, I decided to take the Halloween night flashlight tour of the grounds. I arrived early in the afternoon so I started off the ‘festivities’ with a free, self guided walk about in the Winchester estate gardens. The grounds are lovely and filled with loudspeaker talks that give a good overview of the grounds. I must admit, it being Halloween, it wasn't the lovely flora that I was thinking on, but my upcoming nighttime flashlight tour.


my daytime view of the house

So as dusk fell, ghouls & ghosts of the human Halloween costumed sorts, as well as half the cast of Rocky Horror Picture Show and the odd Show White and Roman soldier gathered for the sold out flashlight tours. When it was my group’s turn, we met our sexy black cat costumed guide for the evening, Claire, a twenty-something year old. She told us she has worked at the Mystery house for six months, and has led tours only a couple of months. She promised us plenty of ghost stories - most of which happened either to or to the hapless guests on her tours. So after warning us no photography was allowed, and as each of us fiddled around with our souvenir tour Flashlight, we were off! Note, the photos below are lifted off the web and can't begin to capture how delightfully dark and creepy tour was or how astounding the Winchester House is.

The first thing we all learned was in her later years, Sarah Winchester, the owner of the huge mansion, had bad arthritis, and could barely lift her feet more than a few inches. So she had many staircases removed and replaced with low rising steps. Explained that in parts of the house Sarah frequented, she had the normal staircases removed and replaced with ‘low risers’. So as we were led up to the second floor we found the stairwell doubled back on itself over and over, over and over until I felt like I was going to meet myself coming back the other way! I include a photo below but it doesn’t properly show off how low the 3 inch high stairs are or how the passageway winds back and forth, back and forth.


The low & flat stairs are interesting to navigate in the dark by flashlight

At the top of the stairs, we were in a teensy area, where I first noticed the weirdest thing about the Winchester House - it was chock full of windows, doors, sliding openings, none of which make any sense; windows open into walls, doors go nowhere, there were often what looked to be little atriums - maybe 3 by 3 feet - that didn't contain anything or serve any purpose - they were just there. There was a window at the end of the room that looked down into the kitchen below - not a sweeping view of the kitchen, but a lopsided peek over a stove ventilator that served no sensible purpose. There is one spot with a window face down on the floor in the middle of the room! That's the whole point of the house architecture - no point at all. A pure case of what happens when someone has more money than God and spends their cash building with no goal other than to never stop building. Note: Sarah earned a thousand bucks per day back when 1K could have kept a whole family alive and well for a year.

Soon we entered a tiny little 12 x 12 ft room where Sarah held a séance every single day and where loads of bizarre things happened. Next we were gathered round in Sarah's bedroom, where Claire, standing by Sarah’s bed, looked into the doorway behind the rest of us and jumped! She thought she saw a face in the doorway behind us. She was noticeably freaked as she told us about the bedroom and its bizarre occurrences – think floating orbs and transformed spiritualists – freaking is apparently a Winchester House tour guide's occupational hazard, not covered by OSHA.


Sarah's comfy bedroom - featuring her death bed

We moved onto another area with a wall featuring row after row of stained glass web windows - 13 in all - Sarah had a ‘thing’ for the number 13.


Winsome by daylight, creepy as hell by moonlight

Claire said that once, while in the servant's quarter’s area of the Winchester House, and while alone a co-worker left to get something. Claire was changing out some light bulbs. She felt uneasy, and had that creepy feeling she was being watched. She hoped her co-worker would hurry up and return. Then, a voice behind her head shouted her name. She jumped, turned and - no one was there. Since then, Claire never feels good about being in the servant’s quarter’s area. Can you blame her? I think not!

That wasn’t her first weird Winchester experience though. You see, when she first began working at the Winchester house, she often heard co-workers swapping creepy tales on their paranormal run-ins at the mansion. Of course, sensibly, Claire did not believe a word any of them said. Then after closing late one night, she was closing out her cash register in the gift shop. As she worked alone in gift shop, she could hear someone going up the stairs to an office, her boss’s. Then she heard steps coming down the stairs, then back up again and down. Obviously her boss had forgotten something and kept climbing up and down the stairs.

Then a voice shouted, “LISTEN!” behind Claire, and yes, when she turned around, there was no one there. Later on, her boss and some other people came into the shop – they’d been at some other area of the property – no one was in or near the supervisor’s office or the staircase.

That was Claire’s turning point, when she turned from normal skeptical non-believer, to what most of us are – unwilling and living with the knowledge that there is some SPOOKY arse shite going on out there!
When Claire told us the story of her night at the gift shop and the disembodied voice behind her back, she said after some consideration, she wonders if the voice wasn’t telling her she ought to listen to her co-worker’s ghostly stories and take them serious. Isn’t that creepy?! Really, you must hope you remain untouched by such certainty in the world of the paranormal.
Let's see... what creepy stuff happened during our Halloween night flashlight tour? Well, several people got freaked by cold spots creeping up their sides. One girl noted “of course it’s cold; we’re wearing fishnet stockings and hose!”

Another girl quipped back, “I’m wearing jeans and my leg is just as frozen!”

It was too!
As for my own experience, as I often do on tours, I was practically glued to the tour guide, my namesake Claire. At one point I trotted after her and the two of us alone arrived, in a stairwell area ahead of the others. While we waited for the rest of the group to catch up – there were a dozen LOUD and insistent knocks on a wooden door we stood next to. Quickly, Claire swung the door open. No one was there. We both stared down the long, empty and creepy hallway behind the door.
Claire swung around to look at me and demand, almost defensively, "Does that grab you as... weird?"
Uh…. Yes! No wonder Claire grew increasingly unnerved during the tour.
Eventually went up to the highest point of the building, where we visited the room that Sarah Winchester was accidently trapped in during the 1906 earthquake. And too, we were all able to climb out onto a balcony, overlooking the gardens I toured earlier in the day.
Then we were back downstairs and into the kitchens - the one that was used prior to the 1906 San Francisco earthquake, and one that was used afterwards. Yes, there was more than one kitchen. In fact, here are the Winchester house's famous over-consumption statistics: 2,000 doors, 1,257 windows, 40 stairwells, 40 bedrooms, 47 fireplaces, 17 chimneys, 13 bathrooms (but only 1 shower) , six kitchens, three elevators, 160 rooms, 47 fireplaces, 2 ballrooms, and more than 450 doorways and a b'jillion turrets. Oh, and the parquet floors are to die for - ok, not literally, but they are majorly awesome!


This organ is famous for playing itself.

Tour guide Claire also told us that participants on her tour have on two occasions saw ‘the thin man’. Once he walked up some stairs and disappeared before some of Claire’s tour participants. Another time he stopped to lean on a pole and again, disappeared. Another ghost seen wandering around the halls at Winchester house is handyman in coveralls, who busies himself with various unearthly chores.


One of 40 staircases

The last room of the tour contains loads of beautiful Victorian furniture and a rocking chair that is often seen to begin rocking on its own accord. At the end of the tour I decided someday I must return for another go. Halloween or the 10th of May, the Winchester Mystery house is awesome. If you want to learn the history of the place, pluck up your courage and go on here

Saturday, October 30, 2010

A Little More Spooky Shite

Only one other spooky event for myself and of the light weight sort. Earlier this year visited a friend at her beautiful old Victorian home. Her home, conveniently enough came with a small boy's spirit. Perhaps he died in the home, but no one has looked up any history on the house yet. Also, the spirit of a deceased buddy hangs around my friend most of the time, I reckon for old time's sake. So, going in I always know there are two friendly spirits and one dear, live friend at the old Victorian. Anyway, I was being treated to a tour of the home and wondered if the two - no longer alive - friends would put in a visit. They didn't - not directly - but when we were in the rear of the house, a light bulb overhead exploded with a loud pop. I was startled and freaked. My friend wasn't so I told her when spirits are attempting to materialize they must absorb warmth. So the light bulb might have blown up as one of the household ghosts suddenly absorbed the energy of the lit bulb - or perhaps it was just an old bulb - you never quite know with these things, Oh well! Either way, no doubt, the timing of the bulb's explosion was creepy.

Earlier this month when I was visiting nephew Kirk and his family, Kirk and I visited a couple of old mansions. At one, I asked a visitor center guide if the mansion was haunted. I was joking - kinda - but am glad I asked, because it opened up the topic of 'spooky shite' with my nephew.

Kirk, has loads of spooky shite that happened to him over the years and I'll relate what I can recall here. This is GOOD spooky shite folks!

The Brooklyn Hag

Ages ago, Kirk was lying in his Brooklyn bed and the torso of a creepy old woman floated into his bedroom window. Long stringy hair flowed from her head and needless to say, she was terrifying. Kirk did the traditional Brooklyn dive under the covers and the creature disappeared. Some time later, Kirk visited with his southern born Grandmother and told her of the incident. His grandmother responded in the matter of fact way as if nothing more than a firefly flew into Kirk's room.

"That was just a Hag", she said.

Kirk couldn't believe the casualness of her response. He told me, "It was like 'Oh yeah, we see those floating around, choking people down here in the South every once in a bit - no biggie'.

The MoMA Elevator Ghost

Kirk once worked as a docent at New York City's Museum of Modern Art. He was often there at odd hours and behind the scenes. This was back when Mrs. Rockefeller, was still alive and he saw her occasionally and thought her a very nice woman. Several times while docenting at the museum, Kirk said he heard wild laughter from a back elevator and even saw a man in an old fashioned outfit in the elevator. It kind of weirded him out, and he didn't quite get why. Then one of his fellow docents told him, the man in the elevator was the ghost of a man who was once accidentally locked in the elevator over a weekend - he died in the elevator and now occasionally haunts it.

The Dictator's Daughters


Kirk went to a large Baltimore University and a couple of his classmates were a pair of scary young women, granddaughters of a major, bad arse, third world dictator. No one messed with the girls because they were voodoo witches and could throw a wicked jinx on whomever they chose. You don't believe in voodoo do you? Of course not! Rational people do not - at least not until you see it in action for yourself as did Kirk. First up, the girls did not mess with Kirk. They came into his room once and saw an incense burner, which Kirk got from his grandfather, my father. It was of foreign origin as soon as the girls spotted it they freaked.

"Where did you get that? Who is your family!" they demanded to know.

After unsuccessfully badgering Kirk, they fled - couldn't get out of the room fast enough. My family isn't exactly voodoo central so the incense burner was just that - an innocent incense burner. That is, at least as far as we know. Bwah ha ha ha ha!

One of Kirk's classmates was a straight up, East coast Muslim sort with the bow tie and neat clothing. He was boyfriend to one of the dictator's granddaughters and had carelessly shirked the girl off. Big mistake. Apparently his insulted ex took her revenge on him. Kirk said the guy went overnight from being Mohammad Straight-laced to the hippy-dippy guy in blue jeans with the sole goal of making money and giving it to his ex. That was some whammy she threw on his arse! It resulted in a complete change of personality that everyone noticed and couldn't believe. And who were the spooky granddaughters? Should I tell you? Hell NO! Don't want any voodoo doll out there with my name on it. I have trouble with the voodoo story, but that's because I've yet to have first hand experience with such goings on. That's all that stands between you, me and believing in 'stuff' you know - experience.

Tomorrow is Halloween. There will be fear... BWAH HA HA HA HAAAAAAA!