Monday, June 30, 2008

El Segundo Blue

Last Wednesday's LA Times (June 25th) had a front page article on a study that was done to determine the effects of global warming on our state's native plants. (You need a subscription to read the full article, but you can read the study from which it is derived here.) The news was not good.

Two-thirds of California's unique plants, some 2,300 species that grow nowhere else in the world, could be wiped out across much of their current geographic ranges by the end of the century because of rising temperatures and changing rainfall patterns, according to a new study.

What bothered me more than the article, were the comments that came in to the Times and were listed at the bottom of the online version. There were several people that said in effect, "so what?" and it's "survival of the fittest," and all that. They don't seem to realize that with native plants, you get native wildlife, too, native birds, bugs, mammals, etc. If the plants or in some cases the one plant that a particular species of animal likes to feed on disappears, we lose another species.

Let's take for example the El Segundo Blue Butterfly, Euphilotes battoides allyni. It lives out its entire life-cycle on the California native plant, Coast Buckwheat, Eriogonum parviflorum. This butterfly is on the endangered species list but is making a comeback due to conservation efforts. Traditionally, it was found in the dunes at El Segundo, and along Santa Monica Bay south to Malaga Cove on Palos Verdes Peninsula. Conservation efforts have centered on removing the non-native vegetation growing on the cliffs and dunes (mostly what we call ice plant) and replacing it with native plants, and in particular, the Coast Buckwheat. Here is a YouTube link with Travis Longcore, PhD., from USC explaining the project. You might also like to read his 5-year Review: Summary and Evaluation which was just released in March of this year.

I was alerted to the fact that the butterfly had been seen at Pt. Vicente by the friend that I met there last February. I was very eager to go down to have a look for myself and take photos of course, when my camera died as I reported yesterday. Luckily, in searching the web for a solution to the camera problem, I discovered that I could still use it in manual focus mode. It was the auto-focus feature that was broken. So after flipping the sub-mirror up manually and checking that the camera would work, I packed my gear and headed out early this morning.

It was a lovely morning, but the fog horn was blowing at the lighthouse. You can see the fog out there hugging Santa Catalina Island, ready and waiting to envelop us once again. I had no trouble finding the buckwheat because the native plant garden that has been established around the Point Vicente Interpretive Center (PVIC), had several plants in full bloom. But I was amazed when I finally found the butterfly because it is so tiny! It is no bigger than the bees that were also buzzing around the flowers. My photos above might be deceiving so to give you some idea of the size of the butterfly, here is a photo of the full plant. The balls of flowers on the ends of the stalks can't be much more than an inch in diameter.

The males are supposed to be bluer than the females, but I am not sure I could tell them apart. When they flew they looked more blue than when they landed. The photo below shows a possible male coming to chase after the female who is feeding. A bee is getting his fill nearby. The adults live only a few days. They mate and lay eggs right on the flowers and the eggs hatch in 3 to 5 days. During the "caterpillar" stage, the larvae hide in the flower heads and feed on the buckwheat seeds. Then they molt into their pupal stage. The "cocoons" fall to the ground and remain buried in loose sand or debris beneath the plant for one or more years when the whole cycle begins again.

So does it matter if these tiny butterflies survive? If their host plant disappears? Most of the people walking by the garden probably had no clue that they were even there they are so small. But after sitting and watching them for almost two hours, seeing them flit about in true butterfly style, landing to feed and maybe soak up some sun, then chasing each other off, I think it does.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Catching Up

Does this look like sunny Southern California? Last night the SBAS Dark Sky viewing session was fogged out at Ridgecrest. A couple of us had been waiting for weeks for a chance to use our scopes and set up even though things didn't look too promising at 8:00 p.m. The skies never cleared and I gave up at around 10:30. I think one lone star came out briefly in all that time. This is a frustrating hobby at times.

At least I got to practice setting up although I'll never know if I had perfect alignment or not. And I remembered to bring my dew shield and my watch with the seconds displayed which I usually forget. You need the exact time (and longitude and latitude) to set the go-to mechanism. I also brought a folding chair for relaxing now and then between viewings. But by the time I have all the equipment I need packed in the trunk of my car, there isn't room for much else. And take a look at those monster scopes that some of the guys have! After spending thousands (in either money or hours or both) on the scopes, you need to spend more money for a truck or van to haul it around!

The guys stood around "chewing the fat" about equipment which they tend to do even if the skies are clear. We are all bundled up because even though the temp only went down to 60 degrees, there was a cool breeze and when you are standing around not moving very much, you get cold fast. A few visitors came up to see the sights, but since there were no stars to see, they got a lesson on telescopes instead.

Earlier in the day, I had my student recital for the end of the year. Everyone played well and the parents were happy. It was a lovely afternoon.

On Friday, I went to visit Toddler C. again. I was happily taking pictures of him (love that blond, curly hair!) when my camera died! This afternoon, I have been searching the web to see if anyone else has had this problem of a half-black picture with their Canon Rebel cameras. Turns out my shutter has died. Apparently, this happens a lot and some people say that the shutter is only good for 10,000 pictures. Since I have owned the camera for four years and have taken 14,220 pictures I guess I should consider myself lucky. One site had detailed instructions for taking the camera apart and fixing it yourself, but do I want to do that? Other sites estimate the cost for repairing the camera at $200.

Well, I thought, maybe it's time for an upgrade, but the repair record for all of the Canon Rebels is not too good it seems. Some people are really angry about Canon's lack of good customer service and especially for their not acknowledging a known problem like this. So maybe I should really upgrade and go to the Canon 5D model. Its shutter is rated for 100,000 shots and I still want to be able to use all my Canon lenses.

Whatever, I do, I feel totally lost without my camera! I have a little Olympus that I can use in the meantime but it doesn't have the capability for close-ups that I need for bird photos.

Speaking of the birds, a Red-winged Blackbird came to my feeder this week! That is a very unusual thing for a blackbird to do. I didn't get a picture of him, not because the camera was broken, but because he was too fast for me. And he showed up two days in a row, too.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008


I have been meaning to write about Laurie for months now, but kept putting it off. Maybe I have a guilty conscience. Grace's post about neighborhoods has prompted me to finally do it.

Laurie was my neighbor who passed away last March while I was on vacation. We were neighbors for 36 years, since the 1970s when we both moved into this new-at-the-time development. She was ten years my senior, but our sons were about the same age, and like me she was from New England. Laurie loved children and was a very handy baby-sitter when my kids were little because she herself never went anywhere. She also tended my house for me when we were away on one of our many trips. Laurie was the one who made it her business to know everyone on the block, but while she talked on the phone constantly, she avoided going out. She said she had agoraphobia.

She became a widow, oh, about 12 or 13 years ago, after her son was married. Life became extremely difficult for her after that, not financially, but just in terms of being able to cope with living alone and living without the person who took care of her and her phobias and had been her best friend for years. At the time, the other neighbors rallied around her and brought her meals (he had been the cook) and checked on her often to make sure she was OK.

About six years ago, I got a call from one of these neighbors asking me if I had heard from Laurie lately. No, I said, I had not. Since Laurie was not answering her phone, my husband and another neighbor went over to Laurie's house and rang the bell. There was no reply except for her barking dog. A third neighbor came over to find out what was going on and it was decided to try to gain entry into Laurie's house. This would be a bit tricky, since she had a house alarm that she frequently set off by accident.

One of the younger, very slim, neighbor-daughters actually squeezed herself through Laurie's doggie door and then unlocked the back door for the rest of us. We found Laurie upstairs, sitting on her bedroom floor, in a daze. She wasn't moving very much and was very disoriented. I was afraid she'd had a stroke. I sent my husband off to dial 911. The paramedics came promptly and transported her to the local hospital where it was found that she was OK. No stroke. Just dehydrated. She had not been taking care of herself and hadn't been eating properly. We'll never know, but it's possible she had been sitting on the floor like that for a day or more.

After her recovery, which was slow, she took to her bed. She was only 67. She had no serious ailments, she just didn't have the will to live. Her son hired a live-in helper to cook her meals and take care of her. She still used the phone constantly, but her conversations, which would last for hours, started to be very one-sided, rambling, and depressing. I feel guilty because after my own husband died, I couldn't tolerate these calls anymore and I stopped calling her. I found I was in the same predicament as she was and to me Laurie was a symbol of what could happen to me if I was not careful. Her first words to me (on the phone, of course) after hearing of my husband's death were, "You never get over it!" It was like the voice of doom.

The photo up top is of Laurie's bougainvillea which came into bloom in May. I marvelled at that because I never see anyone water this plant. Most likely one of the neighbors is doing it. I never saw Laurie outside working in the garden. She never walked any of her many dogs herself. She said she was allergic to the sun. She certainly "never got over it." She shut herself up in her house and faded away.

Monday, June 23, 2008


This gorgeous orchid cactus blossom, Epiphyllum of some sort, greeted me this morning when I went out on the patio. I had been watching two other plants with buds on them, but had not noticed this plant was ready to bloom. The blooms only last one or two days, so you have to take photos immediately. This bloom is 5-inches in diameter to give you an idea of its size. I got this plant, and three others, as cuttings from my friend Kathy. She gave me several "leaves" from her plants and was sure she was giving me two pinks and two whites. She scored a "W" on the two leaves that she thought were white, but the plants healed themselves and the scoring disappeared. I had to wait several years before the plants started blooming to find out what colors I did have and it seems they are all white. When I mentioned this to Kathy, she said I should ask for my money back.

Growing in the pot with the cactus is Maidenhair Fern or Adiantum jordanii. It is a native California plant that will die back completely, then revive when given water. It seems to love the cactus soil that I have used in these pots. Originally, it started with a little 4-inch pot of the fern that I bought and left on the shelf out on the patio. The wind sent its spores to the cactus pots and now they all have some fern growing in them. They seem to like each other, so I have left them, and the fern lets me know when the pots need water.

I might also mention that these plants, while in pots, are outdoors year round and under the patio cover which is a slatted affair. So the plants get dappled sun as they would if they were growing in the wild in trees. I think this plant may have gotten too much sun, as some of the stems have turned reddish. It's possible I need to add an acidifier to the soil, too. I have neglected my poor potted plants this year and have not given them any fertilizer as I usually do about twice a year. It's been on my to-do list for over a month now. Maybe, today will be the day. The heat wave appears to be over and temps are returning to normal.

Sunday, June 22, 2008


I have put up a second bird feeder. I was dropping off some glass bottles to be recycled at my local Wild Birds Unlimited store (they donate the proceeds to the South Bay Wildlife Rehab center—more on them later) and I overheard a woman asking about the best way to attract goldfinches. I learned that goldfinches like a special kind of seed called Nyger that needs a special kind of feeder because the seeds are so tiny. I was also told that it was too late in the year to attract any goldfinches to my yard. Most had already migrated and the ones that stick around for the summer had chosen their feeders already. So when I mused that perhaps I should wait until the fall to buy a second feeder, the salesperson, not wanting to pass up a chance to make a sale, convinced me that the House Finches would like the Nyger seeds, too.

Well, I got Goldfinches! The one pictured above is so mottled that I am not sure what kind he is, but most likely he is a Lesser Goldfinch. He doesn't have much white on his wings which is puzzling me. This pair of goldfinches (below) that showed up a few days later are definitely Lesser Goldfinches. The male has the black cap. They announced their presence with a high, wiry call that sounds like, "tleee" or "tseeeew." Later in the fall when the migrating goldfinches come through it will be almost impossible to identify them because the females, immatures, and non-breeding males all look the same, a drab greenish yellow, and are also similar to the fall, non-breeding American Goldfinch.

The American Goldfinch is much more common throughout the United States and can easily be identified by his bright yellow color, front and back. He will sing as he flies and his song sounds like, "potato chip, potato chip."

I first learned about the Wildlife Rehab center in my area years ago, quite by accident. I was at a print shop getting some copies made of an article in a magazine about birding in Hawaii. My husband and I were planning a grand trip to the big island. The lady next to me seeing that I had an interest in birds asked me if I would like to see something she had with her. Yeah, I said hesitatingly. She opened the large knitting bag that she was carrying and showed me a very small cage with two extremely small hummingbirds inside! They were abandoned babies that needed to be fed by eye-dropper every 20 minutes. So she couldn't leave them to go run even a short errand and had devised this way of toting them around with her. While chatting with me, she took out the eye-dropper, filled it with nectar, and shoved it into their eagerly-waiting long bills. Talk about dedication!

The name of the hummingbird lady is Jean Roper. The rehab website says she takes in hundreds of hummingbirds annually. I met Ann Lynch, the founder of the center, many years ago on a birding excursion to Lake Machado in San Pedro. She had a large cardboard box with her and was about to release an American Bittern into the wild after nursing it back to health. She opened the lid of the box and out flew this startled bird with a very large wing-span. He flew across the lake and made several circles in the air before settling down in the reeds on the opposite side. What a sight!

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Summer Soltice

Is it hot enough for you? My son in Arizona sent me the photo on the right saying, "Yeah, but it's a dry heat." The outside temp is at the top with a little arrow showing that the heat was still rising (that's 121.5 degrees Fahrenheit, in case you can't read it). The second number is the inside temp. He has air conditioning. So I sent him back the photo below. The outside temp is on the left and the inside temp is on the right. But my gauge is in the sun in the afternoon, so this is not the temp that the weather forecasters will report. But it felt that hot! No air conditioning here.

Dry heat does make a difference. I can remember temps in the 90s being insufferable back in New England because of the accompanying high humidity. I learned as a child to pull down the shades and close the drapes early in the morning while the house was still cool to keep the heat out. I still do that. But last night the temps did not go down very much, so we are starting off the day hot.

Happy Summer Solstice! And stay out of the sun.

Meanwhile, my daughter alerted us to the fact that the Moon, which was full on the 18th, in conjunction with the solstice, will appear very large as it is rising as it usually does in October when it is called a harvest moon.

The full Moon of June 18th is a "solstice moon", coming only two days before the beginning of northern summer. This is significant because the sun and full Moon are like kids on a see-saw; when one is high, the other is low. This week's high solstice sun gives us a low, horizon-hugging Moon and a strong Moon Illusion.

I have always wondered about the explanation for this illusion. They used to say that it was because the Moon was being viewed through several layers of atmosphere which would magnify it. Now they say it's just an illusion because we are looking at the Moon with familiar things like houses nearby.

I wanted to do a little experiment and compare photos of the Moon taken this week with photos that I took of the Moon during the eclipse last February when the Moon was much higher in the sky. Now this is a totally unscientific experiment, mind you. First of all, I missed the moonrise on the 18th. The above photo was taken on the 19th and I couldn't see the Moon until it was up much higher than it needs to be to see the effect because of fog drifting in from the east. (Fog rarely comes from the east. That's just another indication that our weather pattern is unusual.) I did use the same camera with the same lens though, and the same settings. There were similar foggy conditions, too.

The Moon does appear to be the same size in both photos except for the glow from the sunlight which makes it appear to bulge out in the lower photo. There are some trees and an airplane going by in the first photo, but I don't think you can see them. The plane does make the Moon look big.

In the fall when I am driving to rehearsal, I get a good look at the harvest moon and it does look huge. There is one point where I am up high enough to see the horizon clearly. The only problem is it is up on a bridge, where I can't stop to take a picture!

Thursday, June 19, 2008

June Bloom Day

Yes, I am a little late again but most of these photos were taken last Sunday. I am just now getting around to posting them. I didn't think I would have many blooms to show this month other than ones that I have already posted. The lavatera, bougainvillea, Lion's Tail and others are all still in full bloom. Then I remembered the forgotten plants, the ones I don't think about very much either because I didn't plant them, they just grew, or because they have been in the garden so long that I take them for granted.

Heading the list of those plants that I take for granted are my rose bushes. I started out with six hybrid teas 37 years ago and one of those plants is still there. I think it is called Pink Dreams or something like that. You probably can't get it anymore, but it has the most wonderful smell. The photo at the top is of one of the newer bushes from New Zealand, MACgenev. It also has a wonderful smell and is very disease resistant. When the other bushes get mildew (usually during the June Gloom time), this one doesn't.

Another plant that I not only take for granted, but have actually been thinking of getting rid of is this hydrangea. It is supposed to be purple in color, but this year I didn't get out there in time with an acid soil amendment so the alkaline soil and water of Southern California turned it pink. I will only have a few blooms this year because my gardener, who is unfamiliar with this plant, trimmed it way back last winter before I could stop him. The blooms come on last year's growth, so if you cut all the stems back, you get lots of new leaves, but no blooms.

I once mentioned this plant to a friend and he said, "Hydrangea? As in hydra? As in water?" Yes, this is not a drought tolerant plant. My only excuse was that this plant started out as a container plant on the patio, and when the container disintegrated (it was redwood), I moved the plant once and then again to its current location. It's just not satisfactory where it is. It's close to the house and gets plenty of shade and water runoff from the roof in the winter, but then just as the blooms are coming out in June, the sun hits it and the leaves dry out. It's gotta go.

This second hydrangea is still a lovely blue because it is still in the pot, a gift from a student. Hydrangeas, especially the blue ones, remind me of Nantucket, one of my favorite places.

Over in the herb garden, this plant started coming up and I almost pulled it. I thought the leaf pattern was interesting so I left it and now I remember that it's a chrysanthemum that I just stuck in the ground last fall when I felt the garden needed some fall color. This bud has opened a little early. Hopefully, the plants will survive the summer heat.

Plants that planted themselves include this no-name plant. It blew over from my neighbor's garden. It's very common around here, so I should know the name, but since I didn't plant it, I don't. But I do like the cool blue-purple flowers that come out in June. They make a nice contrast to all the orange flowers I have in the front.

Another plant that just appeared is this bed of gazanias down by the street. It's in an impossible place wedged in between the curb and the cable box and gets water from me only once a week. It got started because I let the fallen leaves from the ficus tree collect there and they made a nice natural mulch. The bright sunshine-yellow flowers are a cheery greeting to visitors.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008


After spending days trying to import my thousands of email messages that I don't want to lose into Microsoft's new Windows Live Mail because they told me that they would no longer support Outlook Express after June 30th, now they tell me they are postponing the date that the switch will become irrevocable, and are looking into updating Outlook Express to accommodate DAV. I guess they got a lot of complaints. Well now I am complaining! Make up your mind, guys!!

Computers drive me nuts. Why do they have to keep updating things? I am tired of wasting time learning new programs or re-learning old programs that have been updated. Quicken forced an update on me just before tax time. They could have planned that better! And to be honest, I don't like the new Windows Live Mail. For one thing, it is slower than Outlook Express and seems to have a few bugs. While it is very similar to Express, there are some differences that I find annoying. I might be able to set it up to work exactly like Express, but that takes time.

I'd much rather spend my time knitting or gardening or blogging.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Snowflakes in June

I had a very busy morning this morning. Got a lot of things done including mailing genealogy stuff to my sister and my cousin, music to my accompanist, and a condolence note to a friend who recently lost her mother. Then I realized that today is the 10th anniversary of my own mother's passing. I felt I needed to commemorate the day and wanted to write a tribute to her. I decided the best thing to do would be to post photos of some of the gazillion crochet projects that she did over the course of her life. I have already posted about the lovely christening dress she made for me which didn't get used until last year by Baby C. I also posted about the last tablecloth she made which she left unfinished when she died at age 86.

So here are some of my favorite pieces. I'll start with the tablecloths she made for me. The first one was made especially for my round table, back when round tablecloths were hard to find, and features a pineapple theme. The pineapple is a symbol of hospitality.

American colonists began importing the pineapple from the Caribbean in the 17th century. Due to its seemingly exotic qualities and rareness, the pineapple soon became a symbol of hospitality in early America. Because trade routes between America and Caribbean islands were often slow and perilous, it was considered a significant achievement for a host to procure a ripe pineapple for guests. Similarly, some accounts tell of New England sea captains who, upon returning from trade routes in the Caribbean or Pacific, would place a pineapple outside their homes as a symbol of a safe return.

Due to its association with warmth and friendliness, pineapples in America were often used as the “crowning” piece in large displays of food. Similarly, the pineapple symbol was used frequently in the 18th and 19th centuries to decorate bed posts, tablecloths, napkins—anything associated with welcoming guests. Today, the pineapple remains a fitting symbol for the hospitality industry, and pineapple-themed products still abound. From lamps to candle holders to salt and pepper shakers and beyond, the pineapple motif says "Welcome!"

Another tablecloth she made for me is used when I open the table to its full dimensions with two added leaves. Again, it was hard to find tablecloths for such a large table. (But don't ask me the exact dimensions right now. I have forgotten them.)

The next three photos show doilies. I'm sorry I didn't take the time to press these out so they would look their best. They have been stored away for a long time. The third doilie, with the pineapple pattern, is still starched and pressed as my mother sent it to me. Nobody uses doilies anymore but at one time, doilies were placed under all table lamps, vases, figurines, and anything on display to protect the wood underneath. The backs of stuffed chairs and arm rests were also covered with similar lacy designs. The paper "doilies" that are used sometimes today on a dessert plate are an abomination in my opinion.

She also made a couple of bedspreads and afghans for me and my daughter, but I don't have photos of them. She made dresses, tops, sweaters, and booties for everyone in the family. Here is a photo of a concert black dress she made for me many years ago and a charming dress for my daughter and her dolly. She also made stuffed animals for all the babies in the family and a set of little teddy bears that were mascots for my niece's gymnastics team.

I will not part with any of these creations even though I may not be using some of them right now. But the ones that my children remember the most with fondness are the snowflakes shown at the top of this post. My mother would make these up off the top of her head and send them to everyone. Some I have used as Christmas tree decorations, but the ones in the photo have long black threads attached to them so I can hang them in the window in the wintertime. Pretend snow. Makes me feel like I'm home again.

Monday, June 9, 2008

Another Walk, Different Canyon

I have found a new canyon to walk on Palos Verdes, the George F Canyon. It's another preserve managed by the Palos Verdes Land Conservancy. I can't believe that yesterday was the first time I explored this canyon. Like the Lunada Canyon, there is only one trail about three-quarters of a mile long. This one goes up the hill and then you turn around and go back down. Somehow that is easier to do than the other way round. Like at Lunada there is a creek running through the middle of the canyon, but this one had quite a bit of water in it still. Lunada Canyon is on the south side of the peninsula and has a lovely view of the ocean as you have seen from my photos. The George F is on the lee side of the peninsula and the view from the top, when you get there, is of the Los Angeles Harbor to the east and more canyon to the west.

I heard about this canyon from a friend who has shared her extensive research into the plants of the Palos Verdes Peninsula with me. She had just come back from a hike up this canyon last week when I met with her and after she showed me her photos taken that morning, I decided that I just had to see this canyon for myself. In particular, I wanted to find the wild Southern Honeysuckle that she said grew there.

I found the honeysuckle quite by accident. As I hiked up the trail, I was taking photos right and left, there were so many interesting plants to see. I took a couple of pictures of what I thought was the honeysuckle along the way up. On the way down, I took two photos of this plant but couldn't find the other one again. Turns out, this is the honeysuckle and I still haven't figured out what the other one is. I'll have to get more photos when the buds open up.

Many of the plants were the same ones we have seen at Lunada, so I will only show photos of the interesting new plants that I found. Up top is the lovely, and huge, Matilija Poppy. This plant was obviously one that was planted by the conservancy. I might mention that the George F Canyon has an irrigation system in place, although I don't know how often they use it. One whole hillside was covered with new plantings. While these were all California natives, and probably native to Palos Verdes, it makes it difficult to tell which plants are truly growing wild. The other photos I will show you were taken further up the trail where the chances are greater they got there by themselves.

One patch had several of these Heart-leaved Penstemons. It was growing as a shrub although it can be a climber and is also known as wild honeysuckle. It is native to California and much of the South and Southwest and can be found as far north as Oregon.

This white, lacy plant may be Poison Hemlock, the stuff they used to kill Socrates. If it is, it will have purple spots on the stems. Unfortunately, I didn't get much of the stem in my photo. I'll have to go back for a second look. Poison Hemlock is known to grow on PV.

Next comes Snowberry or Symphoricarpos mollis. The frosty-looking berries will turn pure white by fall. This is another member of the honeysuckle family.

I found this one lone Clarkia, Clarkia purpurea. It is also known as Farewell to Spring, which may be why I only found one.

I thought this wild pea plant was very striking and was disappointed to learn that it is not a native. It is from southern Europe and is considered invasive. I only found two plants. It is called Everlasting Pea or Lathyrus latifolia. There is a species of Everlasting Pea that is native to California and Baja California, Lathyrus splendens or the Pride of California. It is an endangered species in Baja but is stable in our state where it has been known to hybridize with latifolia. Hmm...

And last but not least, the canyon was full of Toyon, California Holly, Heteromeles arbutifolia, the bush that some say gave Hollywood its name. Right now the bushes are covered with blooms, by fall they will be covered with berries. There were several very tall plants in the canyon which suggests they have been there a long time.

Addendum - July 20, 2008

It has been brought to my attention that the last photo is not Toyon, but Mexican Elderberry, Sambucus mexicana. Both plants grow in the George F Canyon and both were in bloom at the time of my walk. By now both probably have berries which would make identification much easier. The Toyon will have green berries which turn red in the fall, and the elderberry has beautiful frosty blue-gray berries. I have recently seen both of these plants with berries at Oak Canyon, so I am learning to tell them apart.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

ax - by = 1

That title should assure that many people won't read this blog entry (not that many people are reading my blog anyway). Someone somewhere said that for every equation in a published book, readership is lost. My one big disappointment with The Teaching Company lectures is that they try to sell math and science courses without the dreaded equations in the lectures. The lecturer will do everthing but stand on his head to avoid giving out an equation. What's the big problem? I never could understand that.

I could never understand the supposed gap in math scores between girls and boys either. A recent issue of Science magazine (May 30) should put that notion to rest. A study was done that showed that in countries where gender-equal societies are the norm, girls not only close the gap in math scores, but they also do even better than the boys in reading which was supposed to be their strong area anyway.

Th[e] evidence suggests that intra-gender performance differences in reading versus mathematics and in arithmetic versus geometry are not eliminated in a more gender-equal culture. By contrast, girls' underperformance in math relative to boys is eliminated in more gender-equal cultures. In more gender-equal societies, girls perform as well as boys in mathematics and much better than them in reading.

So the gender gap in geometry (where boys have the advantage) and arithmetic (where girls do better) does not change, but the overall performance of girls is improved if they live in a society that values their brains. Gee, geometry was my favorite subject.

Recently I have become immersed in two new Teaching Company lecture series. One is An Introduction to Number Theory, taught by Edward B. Burger in which he actually uses equations but keeps assuring us that we need not get into a panic over them. The other is a fantastic series on Dark Matter, Dark Energy: The Dark Side of the Universe taught by Sean Carroll of Cal Tech. This one is a winner. Professor Carroll speaks clearly, but rapidly, and non-stop. He is not reading from a prompter and only occasionally glances at his notes. He really knows his stuff. And he is not afraid to give us the nitty-gritty. Although he does not go into the details of Einstein's equation of general relativity or the Friedmann Equation which is the application of general relativity to a rapidly expanding universe, he does give the equations and explains what each term means.

I am learning all kinds of new stuff and understanding it better than when I read books by people like Brian Greene and even Stephen Hawking. But then I believe in the spiral theory of learning. You go round and round, repeating the same material over and over that you learned before, but each time at a much higher level. I'd like to tackle a book with all the gory equations included next to see if I can follow it.

P.S. These courses were on sale when I bought them. If they are no longer on sale, just wait. At some point during the year they will be back on sale.

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Planetarium Show

Last night's South Bay Astronomical Society's meeting was another winner. The club meets in the small planetarium at El Camino College, a junior college in Torrance. I didn't realize it, but having such a planetarium on a college campus, let alone a junior college, is a rare treat. Apparently California leads the way in this regard and last night we got to see the planetarium in action.

The planetarium has a 30-foot dome with a $400,000.00 projector made by Goto of Japan (in case you were thinking of buying one of your very own) that was installed in 2005. It is called the Chronos Space Simulator and let me say that it does just that. Leaning back in the not so comfortable office chairs and gazing up at the dome, you could easily convince yourself you were looking at the night sky, except for the Exit signs glaring on the left and right. The projector can be programmed for just about anything and last night's operator, astronomy professor Perry Hacking, chose to show us the night sky as we see it now in order to point out what interesting things we might go look for with our own telescopes. Of course, this was a sky without any light pollution and he could also turn off the moon and the sun to give us the best possible viewing conditions.

Makes one want to get out there and do some viewing.

The evening began with a short lecture by one of our members, Michael Harrison, who is taking Hacking's Astronomy 13 class on how to make your own telescope. Harrison is an astrophysicist who works in the space industry here in Southern California. We are so fortunate to have such knowledgeable people as regular members of our club. But even though he was trained at MIT as an astrophysicist, he had never looked through a telescope which is why he joined our club. After coming to our observing sessions and watching us struggle with setting up our scopes (some of the members have very large scopes that require two people to set up), he decided to take up Hacking's challenge that anyone could make a telescope with better optics than what you can buy. He also wanted to build a scope that would easily fit in the back of his car. He built a six-inch Newtonian scope that disassembles for portability and the first time he used it, he managed to see the International Space Station transit the moon!

Makes one want to go out, buy a mirror blank, and sign up for the course.

Monday, June 2, 2008

Clean Up, Clean Up, Everyone, Clean Up!

That's the little chant my daughter sings to get Toddler C. to help with cleaning up his toys. She makes a game of it and it works! He helps to fill the toy box and the plastic bins with a smile and a song. I've been chanting that little ditty all morning and all last week, too. I was way behind in getting rid of the clutter around here. But since I want to have my other grandson come and stay with me for a week this summer, I have to clean up what used to be his father's bedroom and what is now the den.

I started with the books. There are books everywhere in this house due to the fact that I am a biblioholic. My husband had his fair share, but I way outstripped him. When my son's bedroom became the den, we installed huge bookcases along one wall. I thought I would never fill them. Hah! They are overflowing as you can see. Most of the shelves have books behind the visible books. And I am ashamed to admit, all those books are mine except for one lone shelf way at the end up at the top where my husband had a few books. But to be fair, he had an office at work where he could hoard his stash and I have found boxes out in the garage filled with his college textbooks. We also shared many interests, so the books on astronomy, birds, and quantum mechanics were read by both of us.

I even have books in the pantry—cookbooks, what else? Now that I am a low-carber, I don't have shelves and shelves of packaged goods like cereals, cookies, crackers, etc. anymore, so I filled the shelves with cookbooks. Then they are handy when I need them. The living room has a fancy bookcase filled with art books. I never could resist buying the beautiful coffee-table-type books they sell at exhibitions on the exhibition. I will have much more restraint in the future because now there is no more room.

OK, I know the obvious is to throw some away, or give some away (to whom?) I am doing that. Just this morning, I threw away about five books I bought in 1973 on how to get yourself published. Blogging on the Internet has taken care of that urge. In fact, the Internet has taken care of a lot of research problems. I don't need any of the directories or encyclopedic type books anymore, because I get that information from the web now. Besides, those kinds of books are out of date before they even get printed. And now there's Google, where you can find all kinds of goodies. I recently found some out-of-print genealogy books there that I was able to download as PDFs. I am keeping my huge, unabridged Random House dictionary, though. I don't want to have to fire up the computer just to look up one little word.

Speaking of the computer, I am cleaning that up, too. Literally. Here is a link to Microsoft's tips on cleaning your computer. At first, I thought they meant disk cleaning and de-fragging, but they mean actually opening the thing up and using a Q-tip to clean the dust out of the inside. But I am doing the disk-cleaning and de-fragging, too. It's so much easier than other types of cleaning. You just click the mouse on OK and the computer does the rest.

Once you get started, says my daughter throwing things away gets easier. I'm not so sure. It isn't as easy as it used to be to throw things away. I feel obligated to re-cycle, and then there is hazardous waste to consider. You can't just throw things in the garbage bin anymore and be done with it. In fact, I have a book on how to simplify your life by Scaling Down, which tells you what to do with your stuff. Even though I have no plans to move anywhere, I found the book helpful. Reading it also allowed me to procrastinate a bit longer. But now, where do I put the book?

The garden needs cleaning up, too. The spring growth has made many plants too large, so they need pruning and cutting back, and the weeds have taken over my herb garden. But that's another post.

Did I mention all the music I have collected over the years?