Sunday, November 25, 2007

Upper Newport Bay

Yesterday was such a beautiful day, clear blue skies for the first time in weeks, that I decided to go down to Upper Newport Bay to see the birds. I hadn't been down there in several years but it is one of Southern California's hot spots for birds. It is a huge area that takes several hours to view and I misjudged the time a bit and got there only a few hours before sunset, which is why the sky isn't blue in the photo on the left.

Normally, the evening is the best time to see shorebirds at a salt-water marsh like this because they are busy feeding before settling down for the night, or taking off in flight to their next destination. The dabbling ducks, like the teals and wigeons which are in abundance at Newport Bay, migrate at night if they are moving on from the bay. However, some do stay at the bay all winter. The shorebirds, dowitchers, godwits, etc., who began their migration last July or August have pretty much arrived at their wintering feeding grounds by November. They are here to stay until spring.

The tide was out when I arrived and it seemed to be a very low tide. There was hardly any water to be seen, the bay was all mud. That combined with the very dry brush surrounding the bay made for a very bleak landscape. It also forced the birds to gather down in the gullies made by the moving water so that there were fewer birds to see from the road that winds its way along the south side of the marsh. The birds are also farther away from the viewing sites so picture taking is more difficult. I had to use my spotting scope to see the birds well and wished I had a camera lens that is as good as the Leica scope! I was lucky to get this photo of a female Northern Harrier as she swooped low over the grasses looking for prey by taking three shots in a row very quickly. Harriers are beautiful birds when you get to see them up close.

I was very happy to see a few Northern Pintails. These have always been at Newport Bay in the winter but lately, they have been classified by the Audubon Society as a bird that was once common that is not so common anymore (see Common Birds in Decline). Their numbers are down by a whopping 77%!

Here is a list of all the birds that I saw. There were 28 species in all. They are in no particular order. I can't tell a greater from a lesser Yellowlegs unless they are side-by-side. (I think this one was a lesser.) And I can't tell a long-billed from a short-billed Dowitcher even if they are side-by-side, but then neither can most birders. So we call them just Dowitchers.

  • Great Blue Heron
  • Great Egret
  • Snowy Egret
  • Western Grebe
  • American Wigeon
  • Northern Pintail
  • American Coot
  • Blue-winged Teal
  • Green-winged Teal
  • Cinnamon Teal
  • Mallard
  • Bufflehead
  • Ruddy Duck
  • Black-bellied Plover
  • Lesser or Greater Yellowlegs
  • Dowitcher
  • Marbled Godwit
  • Long-billed Curlew
  • Western Sandpiper
  • Willet
  • Black Skimmer
  • Forster's Tern
  • Caspian Tern
  • Ring-billed Gull
  • Brown Pelican
  • Black Phoebe
  • Northern Harrier
  • Turkey Vulture

Friday, November 23, 2007

The Morning After

I spent the morning cleaning up the house after the little tornado known as Baby C. hit yesterday. Boy can he move fast! I had two boxes full of toys for him to play with while he was here, but he wasn't particularly interested in those, he went after the real knickknacks and other things that I have around the house. It took three adults to watch him, try to predict his moves, and grab things out of his reach before they got thrown on the floor and broken.

After I got the house back in shape, I kept on going and decided to organize my UFOs. I purchased KnitPicks Options needles last year and even though the set came with two 24-inch cables and two 32-inch cables, plus the two 40-inch cables I bought extra, I never seem to have the right size available when I need it. KnitPicks also provides little screw on caps so that you can use the cables as stitch holders and that was my downfall. I had so many unfinished projects on holders that there weren't any cables left to work on something new. (Yes, my mother tried to teach me to finish what I started before going on to something new, but sometimes I just can't resist.)

A couple of weeks ago I started the Maltese Shawl for my DiL on a 40-inch cable, the only one that was free, but that cable turned out to be too long and it was getting in the way. I wanted to switch to a 32-inch cable. The Opaque Sweater which was almost finished still needed one of the 32-inch cables and the back of Sorrel has been held on the other 32-inch cable since last winter. So I worked on the sweater until the cable was freed and then for some reason got out Sorrel to have a look at it. After I realized there were only a few rows to go before the back was finished, I went to work and got it done. Why is it that we put things off sometimes that really only need a few more minutes of concentrated effort to get completed?

When I worked on Sorrel last winter, I was having trouble with the yarn and finding which needles were best for working with it. The yarn is a one-ply Rowan Tapestry in a weird combination of soybean protein fiber and wool. It splits very easily. The Options needles were too pointy and split the yarn with every stitch. I tried bamboo and found that the yarn wouldn't slip and slide very easily with those. Today I discovered why. The size needle called for is a US6 and the pattern is from the UK where they use a 4mm needle. I only realized recently that the standard US6 is 4.25mm and my bamboo needles are this size while the Options size 6 is 4mm. The bamboo was not a perfect match. Why didn't somebody tell me?!! By luck, I recently purchased some Addi Turbos in size 6 just to try them and these are 4mm. Not only that, they are metal and therefore smooth, but are not as pointy as the Options. Perfect for Sorrel!!

Now if I could just find the size 10.5 needle tip that I seem to have misplaced...

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Happy Thanksgiving

Happy Thanksgiving to all my friends and family!

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Wheat-free, Low Carb Thanksgiving

Many people, when they hear that I am eating low-carb and wheat free, have commented, "That's awfully restrictive, isn't it?" Of course, I don't see it that way mostly because I feel so good on this diet. I see it as an opportunity to be creative and try new things. One such challenge is the traditional Thanksgiving Day turkey dinner. There's no problem with the turkey. I can eat as much of that as I want. But for years I made my mother's recipe for a bread stuffing that was the highlight of the meal, but now I have to avoid wheat. And then there are mashed potatoes with gravy, cranberry sauce, cranberry bread, butternut squash, and of course pumpkin or pecan pie, all of which are very high in carbs. What to do?

Last year and again this year I will make a wild rice/brown rice stuffing with mushrooms and almonds that I got from the Internet and which is very good. As long as I use the same seasonings as my mother did, it tastes very similar to hers. Mashed cauliflower or celeriac can substitute for the mashed potatoes. After all, the potatoes are only a vehicle for the gravy. It's the gravy that matters, right? And said gravy will be thickened with corn starch. I will make my own low-carb cranberry sauce from the Eades's The Low-Carb Comfort Food Cookbook. And instead of cranberry bread, I have adapted a recipe from an old cookbook I bought on Nantucket many years ago called, From the Galleys of Nantucket. (I have the 1983 version.) The recipe is called Apple Pudding and here is my adaptation:

1/2 cup honey
3 tablespoons corn flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 cup tart apples, diced
1 cup chopped fresh cranberries
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 cup chopped pecans
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon butter

Mix apples, cranberries, and pecans. Spread out in a greased pie dish. In a separate bowl mix honey and egg, add corn flour, baking powder, vanilla, and salt. Pour over the fruit and bake for 30 minutes at 375 degrees.

One year I forgot the vanilla and so sprinkled the top with cinnamon and ground nutmeg before baking. It was fantastic! Now I do both. This satisfies me as a dessert so much that I don't miss the pie. But as it stands, this recipe is wheat-free but not low-carb. So I am planning to eliminate the honey and use stevia powder instead. I just have to find some substitute for the liquid that the honey would provide. Or maybe I will just dilute the honey. This will be an experiment.

I'll let you know how it turns out.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Cobweb Complete

One nice (??) thing about not feeling good is that there is plenty of time to knit, as long as you are not so miserable you don't feel like doing anything. I have been knitting up a storm the past few months and have completed two works, Cobweb and Elodie, with the Opaque Sweater not far behind. I've also watched a lot of DVD movies from Netflix, but that's another blog.

Cobweb comes from Rowan Knitting & Crochet Magazine No. 40. It is done in Rowan Kidsilk Night which has a metallic thread in with the mohair and gives it a light sparkle which doesn't come out too well in the photos. This was the project I decided to do when Creative Beadcrafts in the UK sent me the wrong beads for Anya. The multi-faceted crystal beads were so pretty I decided to keep them. I knew I could find some use for them.

I pretty much followed the pattern exactly except for making an error when casting on for the sleeves. I knitted the first two rows instead of a knit and a purl (stockinette), but this turned out to be an advantage because you don't notice the difference and it keeps the edge from curling. I will not be putting the flowers along the front edge since I want to wear this when I play concerts and the flowers would only get in the way of my violin. I may change my mind on that and I still need to find the right brooch to close the front, too.

The pattern called for two different kinds of beads, but I only used the one. Our concert black is not supposed to be too sparkly. There is a crocheted edge all around the neckline and across the bottom of the bolero. I found crocheting with the mohair easier than knitting with it and this part went very fast. When I put the bolero on to model it for the pictures I was pleasantly surprised at how comfortable it is, so light and airy. I had been afraid it would be too hot. We'll see...

I finished Elodie several weeks ago but am just getting around to posting this photo of the finished project. The pattern comes from the Nora Gaughan Berroco Collection Vol. 1. When I posted earlier about it, I mentioned the several errors that were in the instructions. Berroco has now been informed of the errors and has them listed on their errata page.

This shrug has come in very handy for just about any occasion when there is a chill in the air and it was fun to knit, too.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

The Canyon in the Fall

We had our walk through Lunada Canyon for the Palos Verdes Land Conservancy yesterday morning. It was a cool and slightly foggy morning which was nice actually, because we were able to go down the canyon further than we ever had before. Usually, we turn back at a certain point because of the heat. In the summer, it's wide open sun with no shade in the canyon.

The canyon was very dry as was expected, but it was amazing to see some of the plants in bloom and even sending out new shoots. There is no irrigation in the canyon except for a trickle of runoff that runs down the middle, so these plants have only had those scant inches of rain that fell in late September, early October. The California Fuschia (Epilobium canum) on the left was spectacular and the Lemonadeberry (Rhus integrifolia) on the right was putting out new growth everywhere.

A few of the plants were looking very sad and dry and dead or dormant, especially the lupine (Lupinus longifolius) which will have to reseed itself if it is to come back. The Bladderpod (Isomeris arborea) was also looking pretty bad, but it will come back as soon as it gets some water. All the sages have gone to seed as has the Coyote Bush (Baccharis pilularis) which was absolutely covered with fuzzy white seed pods ready and waiting to be dispersed by the wind.

Other plants like this California Bush Sunflower (Encelia californica) were in an in-between stage—very dry but both flowering and seeding. California Buckwheat (Erigonum fasciculatum) and Coast Goldenbush (Isocoma menziesii) fell in this category also. Another amazing plant was the Cliff Aster (Malocathrix saxatilis) which has sprung up profusely along the wide swath along the left side of the canyon that was cleared due to fire regulations. The aster, with its small daisy-like flowers, thrives in disturbed areas and there were new plants everywhere. How do they do that with no water?

After finishing our walk, I headed over to Pt. Vicente where there is a lighthouse and an Interpretive Center and the reason for my visit, a well-tended native plant garden. I wanted to have a look at their sages because I was still not sure I had identified the black and purple sages correctly in the canyon. As luck would have it, when I arrived there was a group of volunteers from the California Native Plant Society busy at work weeding and pruning in the garden. Here was my chance to get information from the experts and they happily obliged. Two women in particular spent a lot of time talking to me, looking at the photos I had with me, and explaining things about the plants of the canyon and Palos Verdes in general. I had indeed mixed up the black and purple sages and will set that right for our next walk through the canyon.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Forced Break

I haven't been feeling well lately which I may blog about when I know better what's going on. In the meantime, I have been forced to take a break from playing, practicing, and performing at what is usually a very busy time of the year. It feels weird. For as long as I can remember I have been rushed through November and into December, come up for air briefly at New Year's, only to have it all rev up again later in January. My hiatus from playing, however, has not stopped me from continuing to explore my life-long passion, classical music.

KUSC, our local classical music station, had a program (the Record Shelf with Jim Svejda) last week on English string quartets (Nov. 4, 7 pm). I have two string quartet groups going currently and I am always looking for new music to try. My wish list at now includes recordings of string quartets by Bax, Vaughn Williams, Elgar, and Maxwell Davies. Maybe because I am of English descent, or maybe because I love a good melody and so do the Brits, I love the sound of 20th century English music and especially chamber music.

I have also been listening to some new lectures on music from the Teaching Company by Robert Greenberg of San Francisco. I started with the series on the Symphony, and am currently going through the series on Beethoven's Symphonies, to be followed by Beethoven's piano sonatas (Yes, not violin, but piano. They haven't done a whole series on violin music and probably won't.)

Greenberg opened my eyes to the plethora of classical style (or Style Galant) symphonies that predated those of Haydn and Mozart. The excerpts he played were lovely and so I put in an order at Amazon for the symphonies of Sammartini, Wagenseil (never heard of him before), as well as the "Sturm und Drang" symphonies of Haydn. If my college music history course covered these early symphonies, I don't remember it. In the two courses on Beethoven's work, Greenberg goes into much more detail than he has in other series describing the basic classical sonata form, minuet form as it developed under Beethoven into the scherzo, and Beethoven's method of motivic development that truly is on a college level. As always, he peppers his lectures with biographical data which help to enhance the understanding of the music.

This afternoon, I will be heading up to Pasadena and Cal Tech's Beckman auditorium again for a Coleman Concert. Today's concert will be very special because it will be one of the last performances at these concerts by the most premier of all string quartets, the Guarneri. The Guarneri, which was founded in 1964 and still performs with all its original players but one, is planning to retire in 2009. Peter Wiley replaced David Soyer on cello a few years ago. The Guarneri has been my favorite quartet for years and I cherish all the recordings I have by them especially the old LPs. I have recently tried to get their early recording of the Beethoven Op. 18 string quartets, but it is out of print and I will have to pay top dollar if I want to get a used copy now.

Today they are playing Op. 18, No. 5, my late husband's favorite, Borodin No. 2, and Brahms c minor quartet. It should be a very good program.

Monday, November 5, 2007

Getting Caught Up

I'm a little behind in my blogging. Time to get caught up.

My two grandsons had terrific costumes this year for Halloween. Baby C. is turning into a real charmer, as you can see. He's at the stage right now where he likes to point. His octopus costume was a big hit with everyone. Nick, dressed as the Grim Reaper, was scaring all the little kids on his block and even his own friends didn't recognize him!

Here in L.A., the skies are blue again but still very hazy. We've been having morning fog every day which sometimes lifts by noon and sometimes lasts all day as gray skies. The second round of Santa Ana winds we were due to have this weekend didn't materialize, fortunately. But unfortunately, the air quality has remained only moderate since the fires have been brought under control.