Saturday, February 23, 2008

The Canyon in February

What a difference a little rain makes! Joan, Jeff, Karen and I managed to squeeze in our monthly Lunada Canyon walk this morning before the rains started up again. Click on the link to see how the canyon looked last June. This morning we found the canyon bursting with new greenery.

The path had been obliterated and was it ever muddy! I think that's the end of my Beverly Hills Reeboks. Joan and Karen kept trying to clean the mud off their shoes, but Jeff stated pragmatically, "You'll only get more." The problem was that the mud would build up so much, it made it difficult to walk. If you stood in one place too long, you got stuck there. BTW, I am delighted to admit I was totally wrong about the rains this season, especially since it means that L.A. is getting so much water. According to Grace at Bad Mom, Good Mom, we have been downgraded from moderate drought to abnormally dry.

One of the plants that has literally taken over the Canyon is wild cucumber. There are five species of Marah that are native to California and I am not sure which one this is, but I suspect it is Marah macrocarpus also called Cucamonga manroot. This fascinating plant can have a root the size of a large man, hence the name manroot. The root lays dormant underground in the dry season and then bursts forth with rapid growth when the rains come along. In fact the plant is more than 99% water. The fruit is not edible, but the small white flowers are very pretty nestled against all that green. You can see the dried flower at the end of the "cucumber" in the photo. Those spikey things are very soft, not sharp.

Everything was putting out new growth. Plants that had looked dead in December have come back to life with new green shoots. Blooming plants included the lemonadeberry (Rhus integrifolia) which had both blooms and berries.

Lupine was everywhere! I got so excited over one lone plant last June, and now the hillsides are covered with it. It looks like there are two kinds in the Canyon. I think the one on the left is bush lupine, Lupinus longifolius, but the other one (on the right) was lower to the ground, the flowers were a darker purple, and it was growing more on the shady side of the canyon. Maybe they are both the same. I will have to check on that with the people at the Palos Verdes Land Conservancy who know more about native plants than I do. Or maybe Chuck B. at my back 40 (feet) or Brent at Breathing Treatment can help me out. We seem to share the same love of gardening and especially native plants.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Eclipse #2

It was a dark and stormy night... Well, actually, it wasn't very dark and the rain had stopped. We were between storms. But the wind was fierce! So the last eclipse of the moon for us Southern Californians until 2010 was very different from the one in August. After having rain in the morning and clouds all day, I almost gave up hope when I went out to look for the moon at about 6:30 p.m. PST. The wind was blowing the clouds away very fast but at one point, as luck would have it, there were no clouds except one which, of course, was covering the moon. I set up the tripod anyway and went back inside to eat a hurried dinner. I had a date with my quintet friends for 7:30.

Checking back outside at 7:00, I found the moon in this state. Almost into totality and surrounded by wispy clouds. Whereas in August, the moon was high in the southwestern sky (which for me is the darkest part of the sky), this moon was just rising and was awash in the glow of the city lights. In August there was no wind, but last night as I said a strong and cold ocean breeze was blowing shaking the tripod and making it impossible for me to get a good sharp picture.

Interestingly, this moon showed a bright edge on the right both going into and out of the umbra of the Earth's shadow. That's because it's path was situated toward the edge where the umbra meets the penumbra. Last August, the moon's path was more towards the center of the umbra. All these factors combined led to the color of the moon in totality not being as deep blood red as in August. But it still was a spectacular sight in my binoculars.

Before settling down to play some Mozart, my friends and I went out to have one last look at the moon. It was leaving totality and had a silver edge. But now mist was settling in and later when we finished playing at 10:30, the full moon was a blurry but very bright light, high in the sky.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008


Anya is definitely not a take-along project! I think it is the most complicated knitting project I have tried so far. Almost every row is different what with cabling in the ribbing, stranded colorwork, and beading. You have to plan ahead to know what colors you are going to need and whether you need to string beads on the yarn. Sometimes a color is used for only one row and there are five colors to work with and three different kinds of beads!

But it is going to be beautiful! I've done about 20 more rows since I took this picture and am more than halfway up the front. The back will be exactly the same. I work at the dining room table where the light is good and I can have the work and all the necessary paraphernalia at my fingertips.

I made three or four copies of the chart, enlarging one of them to see the little squares better. I even had to get out a magnifying glass to see the tiny dots inside the squares as the colors range from black to dark gray to gray, silver, and cream, and there's not a huge difference between them on the chart.

I'm a little worried that there won't be enough of the silver since the Kidsilk Haze (and Kidsilk Night) is used double throughout and there seems to be a lot of rows that need it. That's the only color that I have only one ball of, so I pulled the strand from the middle as well as the outer edge in order to make it double. Working with the KSH double is a whole lot easier than using the single strands as I have done for lacework and I love the poufy clouds of fuzz it makes when you strand two colors together. This will be one warm sweater!

Working on the bouclé placemats turned out to be a good idea, too. The little hills and valleys keep the beads from rolling around when I am trying to string them. But I am certainly not looking forward to having to weave in all those loose ends when this is finished!

Monday, February 18, 2008

Another Lunar Eclipse

There will be another eclipse of the moon this coming Wednesday night, February 20th to 21st. And for North America, this one will be at the comfortable hours of 10:05 to 10:48 p.m. EST or 7:05 to 7:48 p.m. PST. These times are for the totality. The whole show of the moon going in and out of the Earth's shadow takes much longer and is fascinating to watch. The eclipse will actually start on the West Coast before the sun has set and the moon has started to rise. I took this photo last August when the eclipse occurred at 4:00 a.m. The red color is caused by all the sunrises and sunsets around the Earth being reflected at the same time! Cool, huh?

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Winter Skies

I finally got out to do some astronomy with the guys last weekend. Because my rehearsals are at night, and concerts are usually on Saturday night, the night the club has its dark-sky outings, I don't get a chance to do much astronomy in the winter. But that's not the only problem. While winter has the advantage that you don't have to stay up very late to wait for it to get dark (the sun sets here at about 5:30 pm now), I hate working in the cold. When you are viewing something at the scope, you just stand there, not moving very much, and you freeze even if the temperature isn't that low! Plus the metal equipment is very good at conducting the cold to your hands. I wear bikers' fingerless gloves in order to be able to turn the focus knob and such while keeping my hands as warm as possible. Last Saturday, I ended up with a ski hat and jacket on, plus the gloves and a scarf, and the temp only went down to about 52 degrees. And I wasn't the only one all bundled up like that. But it was a good night for seeing, at least until about midnight when I quit—relatively warm, dry, and still.

The winter skies offer some of the greatest glories of the universe for our viewing pleasure. At the top of the list is the Orion Nebula (M42) which can be readily seen by even a small telescope, it is so bright. I am awed by this spectacle every time I view it and Saturday night I spent a lot of time searching its depths for more details. I tried to figure out which neighboring "star" was M43, de Mairan's Nebula, and think I finally got it. In my scope, and most of the other scopes that were out, you can't see the nebulosity around M43, just the bright center, due to the light pollution coming from Los Angeles. (More on that later.)

I also explored the other parts of Orion's sword including NGC 1980 and 1977 (both emission nebulae), and 1981 (an open star cluster). Again the nebulae are very hard to detect, so I settled for locating the correct star pattern. My goal was to learn more about the winter sky and maybe soon (when I go up into the Sierras) I will be able to really see them in all their splendor.

I then moved on to other Messier objects in the same vicinity including M41, 46, 47, 48, and 79. 79 is a globular cluster, i.e., a tight group of stars that are gravitationally bound, with a dense center and less dense fringes. These look like fuzz-balls in my scope and 79 was particularly small and faint. I never would have found it without help from one of the guys. Unlike most of the objects in Messier's Catalog which are members of our galaxy, 79 has the further distinction of being an "immigrant" from a former dwarf galaxy that has been eaten up by our Milky Way.

41, 46, 47, and 48 are all open clusters of stars and as the name suggests, their members are more spread out. The famous Trapezium of the Orion Nebula is an open cluster. Saturday night we could see two of the fainter stars in the Trapezium in the larger telescopes (14- and 15-inch). Open clusters show up very nicely in my small scope (5-inch) but the most famous one of all, the Pleiades, M45, is so spread out, it is best viewed with binoculars. If your eyesight is good, you can see this one with the naked eye. Another cluster that is viewable with the naked eye is the Beehive Cluster, M44.

But alas, these wonderful sights are becoming dimmer and dimmer due to the increase of outdoor night lighting in my area. When I can no longer see Orion or Sirius in the winter night sky, I will cry. Our club, the South Bay Astronomical Society, has in the past worked to decrease the amount of new lighting installed especially at the Port of Los Angeles. Together with the local Audubon Society and others, they managed to convince the Powers That Be to install blue lights on the Vincent Thomas Bridge instead of glaring "skytracker" lights and floodlights.

I googled "Lights Out" last week to see what information I could get on the book, but discovered instead, Lights Out San Francisco and Lights Out America. The idea is simple, just try to get everyone to turn off their lights, especially outdoor lights, for one hour as a way of protesting light pollution. They did this with some success last October 20th in San Francisco and want to expand their program to the entire country. As it happens, in Sidney, Australia, they have been trying to organize an Earth Hour, to protest global warming. The idea is the same, turn off the electricity for one hour. The two groups have decided to join forces and the next Earth Hour will take place from 8 to 9 pm on March 29th. Even if only a few people make the effort to do this, it will make a big difference. I plan to be outside with my lights off on March 29th and hope for dark skies at least for one hour.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Creative Knitting

In case you thought there was no connection between my posts on GERD and knitting, here is a link to a project that combines the two subjects in a very creative way. If you scroll down to the bottom, there is a link to the pattern. The friend that sent me these links thinks that the project may be life-size. Here is another link she sent to a blog post that gives new meaning to the term "cable knitting."

One good link leads to another, and so here is a page of zoomorphic designs. The squid is my favorite. These are crocheted. And finally, the Crocheted Coral Reef. And all I do is scarves and sweaters!

Speaking of which, I have finally cast on Anya. (Yay!) This one will take awhile because it has a bit of everything—cabling (in the ribbing), beading, and stranded color work. I think I am finally ready for this after all the shawls I have knitted with Kidsilk Haze and the bead work I did on Cobweb. It should be fun!