Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Is Anybody Watching?

I have been glued to my TV set for the last three nights watching (and knitting while I watch) The War by Ken Burns on PBS. I hope that some of the younger generation is watching the series because it goes a long way to explaining where we are now in this country. The industrialization that is causing today's global warming began in full earnest during the war. The industrialization of farming practices that is threatening our health started soon after. But most importantly, can anyone not see why there was a baby boom after four years of the horror that was WWII? I get really upset when newspaper articles or cartoons (last week's Prickly City story line, for example) blame the Baby Boomers for the Social Security crunch that is about to occur. They (we?) didn't ask to be born, nor did they ask to be indulged in by parents who had seen enough of death and destruction. (I am either a Baby Boomer or not depending on whose dating you use. I was born late in 1945. As a result, I have been "on the cusp" my entire life.)
The documentary has brought back a lot of memories for me even though I wasn't born until after the war was over. My father did not fight in the war because he was deaf in one ear and so was classified 4F. He did volunteer to be an air-raid warden in Washington, D.C. which is where my parents were living at the time. The war was something that the grownups thought about a lot, but didn't want to talk about. Most of what I knew about the war until now came from watching all the war-related movies when they were re-run on TV in the 60s. Neither my high school American History class or even my college History of Western Civilization class got as far as WWII or went into it in any depth.

One of my uncles did fight, though, and was one of the first American servicemen to enter Dachau, the oldest Nazi concentration camp, after the camp had been liberated in late April of 1945. It was his job to round up any SS men that might still be there. For two months he screened inmates to find out what country they came from, how they got to the camp, and help them return home. His team found hundreds of Nazis and SS members who surrendered without resistance. Some donned prison clothing to try to hide with the inmates but they would be found out by the prisoners and beaten. When he returned home himself, my uncle had terrible nightmares for a long time that were so bad my aunt was afraid of being strangled by him in the middle of the night. Even though he fought in Europe, he would never buy anything made in Japan for the rest of his life.

In a very unlikely place out in the California desert, is the General Patton Memorial Museum. It is located at the Chiriaco Summit exit off of I-10 between Los Angeles and Phoenix. A lot of people who drive that route frequently don't even realize it is there. But my husband and I stopped there several times on our way to or from visiting our son in Phoenix. Most of the time, we just viewed the many tanks that are parked in a lot beside the museum. But one trip we had enough time to go inside and look around. Imagine my surprise when I found a three-ring notebook lying on a table that turned out to be a photocopy of the report of the first soldiers to enter Dachau, my uncle's corps.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007


Shhh! Elodie is blocking. She is laid out on the floor of my family room, on top of an old mattress pad, patiently being transformed into something soft, warm, and gorgeous. For some reason, when I have a piece laid out like that, I want to tiptoe around it and talk in hushed tones.
She's beautiful already and I know I am going to love her when I get the little bit of sewing done. I blocked the body previously and now I am blocking the collar. It should be done this afternoon. I'll post pictures of the finished shrug shortly.

The wave-stitch lace pattern was easy to do, especially with this yarn, Berroco Ultra Alpaca Light. I was constantly making mistakes, but was able to fix them without frogging back. A purl can easily be turned into a knit on the next row with the help of a crochet hook, and missed yarn overs can be picked up on the next row as long as there are only one or two. More than that and the yarn gets too tight. I used stitch markers to mark the beginning and ends of the pattern repeat so that as I purled on the wrong side, I could check to see if I had done the pattern correctly on the right side.

I made the petite size with the size 4 and 6 needles as specified, but the yarn has stretched after blocking and with working so that it is several inches longer and wider than when I started. No problem for me or for this pattern. There is room for lots of leeway.

But I am sorry to report that the pattern is riddled with errors. One MAJOR error is with the setup row. You knit a long, winding ladder of purls that eventually you drop and let run to the bottom. Fortunately, I asked myself the question, "What will stop it when it gets to the bottom, so that it doesn't continue into the ribbing?" Answer: There should be a yarn over at the end of the lace pattern and before the ribbing to stop the run. BUT their pattern is incorrect! Their line for the setup row reads:

*p2, p2tog, yo, p9, etc.

It should be:

*p2, yo, p2tog, p9, p2tog, yo, p1 rep from *, end p1.

The other errors can be easily corrected as you work if you are at all familiar with knitting lace and sweaters, but you would not realize this error until you had completely finished the lace part of the body and let the purls run to the bottom only to discover that they would continue to run into the ribbing! I would have been VERY UPSET if this had happened to me, although I probably could have gerrymandered some kind of fix.

Other errors include not telling you to switch to the larger needles when you start the wave stitch pattern when working on the body, and not telling you to sew the ribbing of the body together at the end to form cuffs. I also think there is an error with the number of inches you need to make the ribbing on the collar. The pattern calls for 2.5 inches, but the photo looks to me like the collar is the same as the body which is 3.5. In any case, the ribbing of the collar should extend to the beginning of the ribbing of the body when you sew it up. I left 2.5 inches when I picked up the stitches for the collar, but by the time I got to knitting the ribbing of the collar, the body had stretched and 3.5 inches were needed. So it worked out fine by luck. The numbers on the diagrams do not add up either, but since my piece had stretched, and I was OK with the size, I just ignored the diagrams.

There is a list of errata for the entire booklet, Nora Gaughin Vol. 1, at this Berroco website. It lists two of the errors for Elodie, but not the worst one!

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Welcome Rain

It rained last night! It not only rained, it poured! That's big news here in LA where we have been having a severe drought. I was awakened at 4 a.m. by the lovely sound of raindrops on the bricks outside my window. You'll think I am crazy, but I actually got up to take pictures!

I love the smell of rain, the creosote odor before the rain starts and the fresh wet smell after it is over. The downpour only lasted about 10 minutes and that was it. This morning's sky was full of beautiful billowy clouds, something we don't see very often in LA either where the sky is almost perpetually blue, or alternatively, gray.

This was a nice gentle rain with no wind or lightning. But how do you take pictures of rain? I managed to catch the drops of water that were cascading off the roof of my house and the picture below shows my snowbush (Breynia nivosa) with raindrops on the window of my atrium.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007


I had my trees trimmed last week. It's something that has to be done every year or the trees get out of control. It's also something I hate doing because of the noise, the mess, etc. I do admire the guys who are willing to do the work, from the aerialists who climb up the tree with such ease to trim it from the top down, to the guys on the ground who carry loads of heavy branches out to the front street and then at the end of the day, throw them all into the chipper. And my trees look so pretty when they are done.

But I hate the sound of the chain saws. I always feel like my trees are screaming, "Yee-ouch!" There is a part of the little opera called "L'Enfant et les Sortil├Ęges" by Ravel where the trees come to life and moan, "Mon blessure! Mon blessure!" (My wound! My wound!), referring to the carvings the young miscreant has made in their bark. Thankfully, the guys don't use the chain saw anymore on the pine trees, just small hacksaws which are blessedly quiet.

When they are done trimming, they do a pretty good job of cleaning up all the debris for me. I don't make it easy for them, though. My yard is small and I have planted a lot of herbs under the trees. However, there is usually plenty for me to do after they leave. Then it's my turn to get the yard ready for our winter guests—the birds who will be arriving in a couple of weeks in migration.

To that end, I cleaned the birdbath really well and bought a new chain for it since the old one was all rusty. It's a hanging bath. I also bought a new seed feeder which also hangs from my patio cover. I have had seed feeders in the past that attracted mostly House Finches, but one year we had an irruption of Pine Siskins and I had about 30 of those coming to my yard every day to feed. An irruption is when a number of birds are found outside of their normal range. Pine Siskins are mountain birds, but one winter they were here in the flatlands for some reason.

I fill the feeder with sunflower seeds only and the finches drop a fair number of seeds to the ground where the White Crowned Sparrows, who prefer to hunt for seed on the ground, can get them. Birds seem to know that my yard is a bird-friendly place and the presence of these birds also attracts other migrants who prefer bugs to seeds, like the warblers.

The Scrub Jays took no time at all to find the feeder. They're such smart birds. But the feeder is too small for them. They cannot comfortably perch and dig out the seeds. The resident squirrel has also found the feeder and he spent an hour yesterday trying to figure a way to get to its treasure. You can see his problem in the picture below. I thought he was going to try to fly across but he didn't, thank goodness.

Trying the direct approach...

He finally decided the whole thing was too risky and not worth the effort and he left. I hope it remains that way. Now if only the birds for whom it is intended would find it!

Sunday, September 16, 2007

One of the Guys

I've been taking my telescope out a lot lately, just to my front yard. But last night I went to the Astronomy Club's In Town Dark Sky Observing Session on Palos Verdes to see what the viewing would be like from there. The guys in the club have found a spot that is close to the top of the peninsula and is at about 900 ft. above sea level (the peninsula goes higher to 1,000 ft. but that is behind the gates of Rolling Hills). From this vantage point you have a good view in all directions with no trees or buildings in the way. I was very impressed with what I could see with my naked eye even before I got out the scope.

The night was clear but breezy. The wind died down finally at about 10 pm, but the fog horn blowing offshore kept us all mindful that the fog could roll in at any time. The indications on the Unysis Weather site showed that the wind speed at 300 mb was just about the worst it could be for astronomical viewing, but I have learned a curious thing. When the jet stream is right over us (in Los Angeles) as it was last night, the air is very clear of particulates, ergo the sky appears darker because the city lights are not being scattered so much (my theory). The winds are supposed to cause twinkling and jiggling of the tiny objects you are trying to look at, but in our case the trade-off is worth it. But it reminded me of another factor to consider when you are buying a scope—get a good, sturdy tripod!

There were about eight guys with telescopes at the site and me. I am one of only three women in the entire club of 30+ people. I have been shy about saying anything at meetings, or going to one of these observing sessions, because I didn't feel confident that they would be interested in anything I had to say and because I still didn't know how to operate the scope that my late husband left me. But after hours of practicing at home plus my trip to Joshua Tree, I felt I was ready for the Big Time. I can now set the scope up, level it, point it north, initialize the computer controls, and what's most important, I have learned what to go look for (at least in our late summer skies). In fact, I introduced the guys to a few new things—my good filter for bringing out nebulae, and some Messier objects they hadn't tried to find yet.

My best viewing of the evening was with globular clusters. These are small, gravitationally bound collections of stars that usually look like clouds of gas in my telescope, if I can find them at all. Last night I was able to bring into focus some of the individual stars in M22 which contains over 100,000 stars! Alas, M13 remained a hazy blob and I couldn't even find M4 (it was too low and into the city light haze). My scope does better with nebulae which are more spread out than these tiny fuzz balls. M11, the Wild Duck cluster, is an open cluster but looked like a hazy ball in my previous attempts until last night when I was able to bring out the individual stars in that one also. The Lagoon Nebula (M8) was spectacular and the Butterfly Cluster (M6) really looked like a butterfly last night.

But the highlight of the evening was when we were about to pack up and call it a night and one of the guys invited me to look through his 14-inch telescope. This huge monster made my five-inch scope look like a baby version of the same thing since they are both Meades and of the same basic design. Within seconds he whirred his scope around to show me NGC 869 (an open cluster in Perseus, part of the Double Cluster), Caldwell 55 (the Saturn Nebula), and one of my all-time favorites, M 57 (the Ring Nebula). We could both see the tiny diamond on the ring which in his opinion indicated a good night for seeing.

Friday, September 14, 2007


My plumeria has bloomed! It has the most intoxicating fragrance amd blooms in the fall. I bought this plant as a six-inch fat stick with no leaves on it from the South Coast Botanical Garden for $4. I stuck it in a pot and for many years it produced leaves but no flowers. I didn't even know what color the flowers would be if it did bloom.

The plant grew bigger and bigger, got transplanted into a bigger and bigger pot, but still no blooms. Kathy asked me, "Are you giving it any fertilizer?" No, I wasn't. So I started giving it Bloom Booster and lo and behold, I got blooms, but only on one stalk. The plant now has nine stalks and this year for the very first time it will bloom on two stalks! I'm ecstatic! And it's pink, my favorite color!

Monday, September 10, 2007

Baby Boom

Baby C. celebrated his first birthday over the weekend and there were lots of babies at the party. The guest of honor had a really good time and seemed to realize that this was all about him when we sang "Happy Birthday." The other babies, who ranged in age from 8 weeks to 4 years had a great time, too. Moms and Dads were kept busy chasing after all these tots, but it was a lot of fun.

Baby C. wasn't too sure about the birthday cake, but he ate it all! Even though my daughter removed the frosting, there was still plenty of sugar in there. But a birthday without a cake is unthinkable!

Sunday, September 9, 2007

Le Cirque

swirls of blue and yellow... Le Grand Chapiteau... "Mesdames et Messieurs!"... Corteo... no barker to announce the acts, just a choreographed flow from one act to the next... a funeral cortege... a touch of the Phantom, organ music, chandeliers... angels, lots of angels, floating angels (what better way to get props to someone on a highwire?)... adult children jumping on trampoline beds with brass headboards and footboards... pillow fights... rings and circles everywhere, tossed, swung, juggled... belly-dancing with hoola hoops on a highwire... walking a tightrope upside down... human-powered horses... chickens raining from the sky, swept up into a hole in the middle of the stage (a clever way to clean the stage after a fake snowfall)... a midget floating out over the audience from six huge helium-filled balloons... audience participation to push her back to the stage... a concerto for violin and glass harmonica... whistling Mozart and Verdi... very, very strong men swinging 100-plus pound women... clowns playing golf with a human head for a ball... a cast that comes from Russia, the US, the Ukraine, the United Kingdom, Brazil, Uzbekistan, Japan, Belarus, Romania, France, Armenia, Bulgaria, Moldavia, Argentina, Poland, Australia, and Canada... music that is sometimes jazz, sometimes Italian, sometimes Spanish, sometimes Scottish, but always very French...

ticket price $50 (with discount)... parking at the Inglewood Forum $22!!!!...

Thursday, September 6, 2007

Big Morongo

The desert is full of surprises. Big Morongo Canyon Preserve is a natural oasis off of Route 62 just before Yucca Valley where you can find hundreds of birds during migration season plus several rare or unusual species that nest there. The Preserve was originally under the jurisdiction of the Bureau of Land Management, was managed by The Nature Conservancy for a while, and is now back under BLM care with the assistance of the Friends of Big Morongo Canyon Preserve. The year-round water comes from Big Morongo Creek which is formed by an earthquake fault gathering mountain snow runoff, runs underground for awhile, and then is forced to the surface by pulverized rock at the Preserve.

This past weekend, besides star-gazing at night, Kathy, Bart, and I drove down to Big Morongo Saturday evening and again Sunday morning to see what we could find. It's a little early for fall migration of land birds although the shorebirds have been at it for a month already, but you can find real rarities just before migration starts and again at the end of the season. Juveniles tend to be early. Like young human adults, they tend to explore and can be found off course, so to speak.

Spring migration is a wonderful time to go to Big Morongo. The spring birds are in full breeding plumage and the males are singing from every perch they can find. They want to be seen and heard so it is much easier to find them. In the fall, just the opposite occurs. The birds are more drab and subdued, they are more secretive, and they are quiet. It is much more difficult, sometimes impossible, to tell the males from the females from the first-year juveniles. The immatures in their first fall are particularly dull in appearance and telling them apart can challenge the experts, plus they can hybridize which adds to the problem. The great Roger Tory Peterson referred to fall warblers as "the confusing fall warblers."

Among the few birds we found on our walks were two species of warblers. One was the resident Yellow Warbler (2 birds only), and the other was more rare for this part of the country, first-year Canada Warblers (again 2 birds travelling together). I could not get a picture of any of these birds as they are too small and flit from branch to branch very fast. You are lucky to get a good look at them with your binoculars. There was still some water in the marsh area even though we are in extreme drought conditions and a waterfall at one spot was attracting a lot of birds including Lesser Goldfinches which are also resident at the Preserve. One Scrub Jay did sit on a perch to watch us for awhile (waiting for a handout?), but flew off when I tried to take his picture.

There was plenty of wildlife to view, too, and interesting plants to look at. Because of the year-round water, the Preserve attracts all manner of wildlife including Bobcats, Mountain Lions, and Bears. We didn't see any of those although a bear did leave scratch marks on the boardwalk. We did see Coyotes, Desert Cottontails, Raccoon tracks, and several kinds of lizard including two Desert Spiny Lizards, one without a tail. The sunny boardwalk seemed to be a perfect spot for the lizards to get warmed up early in the morning and when unsuspecting humans came along, they could easily, and swiftly, dart underneath it.

While Bart was the bird and lizard expert on our walks, Kathy is the plant expert. She kept us informed of the flora on either side of the boardwalk as we sauntered along. I can never remember the names of plants until I have become very familiar with them, but I did recognize the cottonwoods, willows, and mesquite trees that shaded our walk. The marsh area had sedges, cattails, and watercress. There was even a patch of Stream Orchids which had finished blooming. But I can't remember the name of this interesting plant.

Saturday afternoon there was a big thunderstorm with some heavy rain in the desert. We went to Big Morongo after the rain had stopped and were there to witness a glorious sunset.

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Night Owls

Friday morning I was all for cancelling our trip to Joshua Tree National Park to see the Aurigid meteor shower. The weather forecast was calling for a heat wave and the LA Times lead article was about the heavy traffic travellers could expect on this Labor Day weekend. Going out to the desert in a heat wave seemed just nuts to me! But we decided to give it a try and maybe cut our weekend short by one day. Thankfully we didn't do that, and had a great time. In fact, the weather at Joshua Tree was more pleasant than the hot and muggy weather we came back to yesterday.

The desert is having what they call monsoon weather right now. There were thunderstorms every afternoon and even some real rain on Saturday afternoon. The temperature dropped 30 degrees in half an hour and then slowly rose back up again after the rain stopped. The storms made for some spectacular cloud formations and beautiful sunsets and miraculously, the clouds mostly went away when it was time for us to do our star-gazing. You can see a few wispy clouds around Jupiter in the above photo.

If you click on the photo you will also see zillions of stars. In fact, I was pointing the camera toward the Milky Way and the very center of our galaxy is almost in the center of the photo. The brightest "star" you see is actually the planet Jupiter and the cloudy area that runs vertically through the middle is the Milky Way. The constellations Sagittarius and Scorpius are easily visible, and to my great surprise, some of the nebulae and globular clusters of the Messier catalogue are visible as well. The glow at the horizon is from the city lights of LA. You can't escape them. There was some haze (smog) out in the desert Sunday night when this photo was taken (at 9:26 pm) which reflected the lights even more. And the light is brighter in the photo than it seemed to us. I have outlined the constellations and labelled some of the Messier objects that we looked at with the telescope in the photo on the left (the ones you can actually see in the photo).

The meteor shower was a success. I personally saw 18 in a span of one hour, but the people around me saw many that I did not catch. Besides my friends, Kathy and Bart, who drove up with me, a family came up from Orange County and joined us in the Hidden Valley parking lot in the early morning hours. Kathy, Bart, and I had been there all night, viewing the stars in the southwest before the moon rose, catching some sleep, and then turning to face the northeast and Auriga to see the shower. Actually, if you look right at the radiant of a meteor shower you see pin-points of light or short meteors. If you look to the side or away from the radiant, you are more apt to see long streamers. Bart caught a very long streamer when we were there Sunday evening for more viewing.

These photos were all taken Sunday. We didn't stay all night this time, but left when the moon came up at 10:30 pm. The photo below shows moonrise and the constellations Cassiopeia and Andromeda. The Andromeda Galaxy was easily visible with binoculars and even the naked eye for those whose eyesight is better than mine! And yes we did hear a Great Horned Owl hoot in the middle of the night.

Alas, this wonderful experience may never be repeated. A park ranger came along Sunday night just after we had set up to tell us we were in a Day Use area and really shouldn't be there after sunset. His job was to lock the gate at the entrance to the parking lot. Fortunately, he seemed to be something of a star-gazer himself and knew how difficult it would be for us to move to a new location now that we were all set up and he let us stay if we promised to lock the gate behind us when we left. We had asked at the Visitor's Center when we first arrived where we could go to do some astronomy and were told that this location along with Barker Dam was OK. However, the ranger informed us that both were Day Use areas. So I asked him where we could go "legally" the next time, if there ever is a next time, and he asked us what kind of car we had. He said that he himself went down the Geology Tour dirt road for about a mile to view the Perseids.

Astronomy has got to be one of the most rewarding and frustrating of hobbies!