Sunday, July 20, 2008

July Gloom

The fog that usually persists in June giving rise to the term "June Gloom" around here didn't materialize in June this year. But now it has. When we walked Lunada Canyon yesterday, there were drastic changes from the last time I was there in May. Along with dry soil and moist air came a mold or mildew that has decimated many of the plants in the canyon.

This Bladderpod shows the type of damage that has occurred. Some plants had black tips like this, others like the brave Cliff Aster, had black stems but were still flowering on top. In the upper photo you can see a wide swath of plants that have died back and turned black in the foreground. Since I didn't walk the canyon last month, I can't say for certain which plants these are.

The sages have finished blooming and have dried out as had most of the California Sunflower, but the California Fuchsia was just starting to bloom. The California Buckwheat was in full bloom and was the most spectacular plant of the day. Runoff from the yards and gardens that rim the canyon could be heard trickling down in the bottom of the canyon. This area is full of willows and at least one Mugwort which were all putting out new growth, but the walls of the canyon are too steep for us to go down there.

A crew of volunteers from the Palos Verdes Land Conservancy was there to hack away at the Sweet Fennel, Foeniculum vulgare, which has pretty much taken over the middle of the canyon. It's pretty, but non-native and invasive. Since the workers were just cutting the plants down and not pulling the roots, they will be back. The air was scented with the peppery smell of the cut fennel.

Among other non-natives that were doing quite well despite the fog were the Castor Bean plants, Rincinus communis, that appear at the end of the trail where the Land Conservancy's domain ends. This plant is highly poisonous although castor oil is made from the beans. It grows vigorously and is a striking plant, especially when it blooms. Nice in the garden, maybe, but it doesn't belong in the canyon. And I wouldn't even have it in my garden if there are children around.

A tree-sized plant has caught our attention many times on our walks, but it is down in the canyon and hard to get to. Using my telephoto lens this time, I got a good photo of the flowers and discovered that it is a kind of tobacco plant—Tree Tobacco or Nicotiana glauca. This member of the nightshade family is also highly poisonous. Hummingbirds are attracted to its bright yellow tubular flowers, but according to my friend at PVIC, they can become nicotine dependent as a result and neglect native plants that need pollination.

One small plant that also seemed to be holding its own was this White Sweetclover, Melilotus alba. It's another non-native and is supposed to be invasive also, but there were only two or three plants that I could find. Perhaps they will be the plant that has taken over the canyon when we go back in August.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Fantastic Five

I was at a party recently that was attended by many musicians and happened to find myself at a table of percussionists. In fact, the hostess was a percussionist. After listening to their shop talk for awhile, one of them asked me if string players ever get together like that and talk string talk. I replied yes, but when we get together, we don't talk, we bring our instruments along and sit down to play chamber music.

I am preparing for one such evening coming up this week. The quintet group is getting together again for some Brahms and Mozart. Do you know how hard it is to get five people together? Anyway, the literature for the combination of two violins, two violas, one cello, is limited so we may not meet many more times, at least not as a quintet. But the literature is full of gems. A few weeks ago, we played Mozart's K 516, the great g minor, and Dvorak's Opus 97, the companion to the "American" string quartet. This week it will be Mozart K 614 and Brahms Opus 111. We have already played Brahms Opus 88, the Bruckner, Beethoven Opus 29, and one Boccherini, the "Bird Sanctuary" (not so great). So there's not much left. I'll have to check through my file cabinets to see if I own the Mendelssohn Opuses 18 and 87. I know I've played them. Then there are quintets by Bruch, Martinu, and Vaughn Williams (another Phantasy) that might be interesting. And there are two more great Mozarts to play. Wikipedia has a more complete list of quintets.

As part of my preparations, I listened to my Teaching Company lectures on the Chamber Music of Mozart again this morning. I really love the enthusiasm of the lecturer, Robert Greenberg. He talked about the "mature" Mozart writing what he felt was important regardless of whether or not it would sell (the quintets did not) and reminded me of the timelessness of this music. He ends his lecture with examples from K 614 quintet and says:

Embrace Mozart's string quintets for the transcendent masterworks that they are. Make a bed of them, paper your houses with them, or at least keep them near at hand in the car. They make us more complete, and most certainly, happier in every meaning of that word.
I have a great recording of K 614 on LP with the Grumiaux Trio and guests Arpad Gerecz, violin, and Max Lesueur, viola, which I see has now been re-mastered on CD by Phillips. But the sound on the CD is distorted, so I think I will stick with my LP version. I can convert my LPs to MP3 or WAV files with my new Ion TTUSB 10 Turntable. My old turntable still works but it is touchy and to hook it up to the computer, I need to run a 50 ft. cable through the house. The Audacity software comes free with the Ion turntable but after capturing the files, I usually import them into Adobe Audition, formerly Cool Edit, for further refinements. It's a bit of a tedious process, since I am such a perfectionist, but worth it for the many fabulous, timeless, performances I have preserved on LP.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Dietary Doublespeak

I haven't written about my diet in a long time even though it was one of the reasons for my starting this blog. But there are so many good blogs on low-carb diets out there now, which explain things so much better than I could, that I stopped putting my two cents in. But rest assured, I am still following the diet and after four years, I can say that not only has it helped me tremendously, it has become routine. It's only when I get invited out to eat or travel that I remember that most of the world doesn't eat the way I do and doesn't understand why either.

The Drs. Eades continue to be my main source of information and this morning's blog entry by Dr. Mike is really good. He has blogged many times about how difficult it is to get people to change their minds about the benefits of low-carb eating and to realize that many "facts" of dietary wisdom—no salt, fiber is good, whole grains are good, eat lots of fruit and vegetables, limit protein and especially red meat—are based on unproven suppositions. People, including researchers and doctors, are almost paranoid about fats in general, and saturated fats in particular, as the study that is the subject of his post demonstrates. I have just about given up reading the standard news reports, news articles, and other health news letters because they always toe the line and repeat the same wrong assumptions over and over. "Everybody knows...." is the tip-off. Or worse, they come to conclusions that would be laughable if they weren't so important to people's health.

This morning's LA Times Health section gave another prime example. In a rather lengthy article about people going on a gluten-free diet even if they have not been diagnosed with celiac disease, (I am on a no-grain diet, so gluten is just not a problem) they list the drawbacks of this way of eating:

For one thing it's difficult to diagnose celiac disease in a person who has been on a strict gluten-free diet for a long time. ... The diet can make the small intestinal inflammation less obvious on biopsy.
Well, duh! The "cure" for celiac is to never eat gluten. So if I don't eat gluten, I will never know if I would have become celiac if I had. (Did you follow that?) Then they go on to say that people avoiding gluten (think grains) need to watch their B vitamins. I always thought that the main and best source of B vitamins is from meat. As for folic acid, which grains and cereals are supplemented with, it is not a natural component of them, read Eades' blog entry on that subject. You can have too much of a good thing. BTW, I try to eat liver once a week.

Another case concerns eating low-carb to lose weight and/or control diabetes. People complain that when they go off the diet, they gain the weight back. So the diet doesn't work. This is another duh! Low-carbing is a life-style. Not something you do for some short period of time to solve health issues and then abandon once your goal has been reached. Here is a recent blog entry by Eades on the comments that have been written in to Amazon regarding his Protein Power book that touches on this subject.

But enough ranting, here are some links to those terrific blogs I was talking about.

I found this blog entry over at Modern Forager very interesting. I have been avoiding, but not completely eliminating nightshades for less than a year now, but whenever I try going back to eating them regularly (tomatoes, eggplant, etc.) I have an arthritis flare-up. Could be just a coincidence, but I am doing just fine without them.

Robb Wolf posted a very interesting article about the Paleo Diet and Multiple Sclerosis. Click on the link to the video of Loren Cordain explaining the Paleo Diet and how it can help those suffering from MS. Actually, it's a seven-part series, so it will take awhile to view it all.

Like the Eades, William Davis over at Heart Scan Blog is a doctor, a cardiologist in fact, who always has something interesting to say. Since I mentioned eating a gluten-free diet above, check out this entry from Dr. Davis.

Mark's Daily Apple has just posted some great breakfast recipes, especially for people on the go.

And finally, MizFit shows how to get your exercise while watching your kids at the park.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Red, White, and Blue

Last night there was a nice line-up of Saturn, Mars, Regulus, and the Moon in the evening sky. Mars is red-orange and Regulus shines a bright bluish-white. Saturn is more whitish-yellow. Set against the evening azure sky, they made a beautiful sight in my binoculars.

The two planets and Regulus spanned about 5 degrees while the crescent Moon was another 5 degrees below Regulus. The colors are barely apparent in my photo. If you click on it to see the larger image, you will notice that the smaller objects are streaks. That is because I used an ordinary tripod to take the photo and not my telescope. That's how much the Earth rotates in just the 15 seconds it took to take the picture.

Regulus or Alpha Leonis is actually a triple star system in the constellation Leo the Lion. This means that its stars are gravitationally bound together, they don't just appear to be close together from our point of view. The name Regulus comes from "Rex" meaning "King." It was known as the "Kingly Star" or "The Lion's Heart" to the ancient Babylonians.

Over the next few nights, the Moon will edge towards a conjunction with Saturn which happens on July 10. This is the last month to see Saturn before it dips into the solar glare. It will be hidden from our view for about two months and re-appear in the morning sky in the fall. The rings are getting more and more edge-on, which means they will look like a straight line and be much harder to see. Everyone is so amazed when they see Saturn's rings for the first time. Usually the comment is, "It really does have rings!"

Saturday, July 5, 2008


I've been doing a lot of work on my genealogy project lately, which is why I haven't posted about knitting in awhile. Yesterday's 4th of July celebrations gave me the idea of writing about my ancestors who participated in the Revolutionary War. While I am distantly connected, but not related, to such people as Nathan Hale and Benjamin Franklin (by a second marriage to an uncle in the case of Hale and to a grandaunt in the case of Franklin), I am related to John Adams, the second President. I am a one-half third cousin, eight times removed to be exact. There are 12 generations between me and our common ancestor.

However, I can claim direct lineage to at least four patriots who are not so well known.

Abner Adams: The first on my list is another Adams whom I have not been able to connect to the famous John yet—Abner Adams of Pomfret (later Brooklyn), CT. Abner "turned out for the relief of Boston [he was a lieutenant in the Lexington Alarm], served in the New York campaign as a corporal and was taken prisoner at the surrender of Fort Washington. In 1777, he was appointed captain of a train band by the Assembly," according to DAR records. He was most likely drawn into the militia by Gen. Israel Putnam who was also from Pomfret. Abner was 41 years old at the time of his capture and somehow survived and lived to the age of 89 years.

Asa Stevens: Asa died Friday July 3, 1778 in Wyoming Valley, PA, (or Westmoreland, CT, depending on your source. The land was in dispute as to whether it belonged to CT or PA at the time) at 44 years of age. Asa had moved with his family from CT to Wilkes Barre, PA, and was serving as lieutenant under Col. Zebulon Butler when he was killed at the Massacre of Wyoming. Of the four hundred Connecticut men in the fight, less than one hundred escaped. A monument has been erected near the battlefield that has Asa's name on it.

Friday, July 3. This morning Col. Zebulon Butler, leaving a small number to guard the fort, (Wilkesbury) crossed the river with about 400 men, and marched into Kingston fort. The enemy sent in a flag demanding the surrender of the fort in two hours. Col. Butler answered he should not surrender, but was ready to receive them. They sent in a second flag, demanding an immediate surrender, otherwise the fort should be stormed, plundered and burnt, with all its contents, in a few hours – and said that they had with them 300 men. Col. Z. Butler proposed a parley, which being agreed to, a place in Kingston was appointed for the meeting; to which Col. Z. Butler repaired with 400 men, well armed, but finding nobody there, he proceeded to the foot of the mountain, where at a distance he saw a flag, which as he advanced, retired as if afraid, 20 or 30 rods; he following, was led into an ambush, and partly surrounded by the enemy, who suddenly rose and fired upon them. Notwithstanding the great disproportion of 1600 to 400, he and his men bravely stood and return the fire for three quarters of an hour, with such briskness and resolution, that the enemy began to give way and were upon the point of retiring; when one of Col. Z. Butler’s men, either through treachery or cowardice, cried out that the Colonel ordered a retreat – This caused a cessation of their fire, threw them into confusion and a total rout ensued. The greatest part fled to the river, which they endeavored to pass to Fort Wilkesbury, the enemy pursued them with the fury of Devils, many were lost or killed in the river, and no more than about 70, some of whom were wounded, escaped to Wilkesbury.

The Boston Gazette and Country Journal, Monday August 3, 1778

Jonathan Stevens: Jonathan Stevens was the son of Asa. At the time of the massacre, the surviving wives and children fled down the Susquehanna to safety. After returning to find their homes burned, they somehow made their way back to CT. Jonathan was only 14 years old then. When he turned 16, he joined the army of the Revolution to fight. According to DAR records, Jonathan "enlisted in Capt. Samuel Williams' company. He engaged in the battle of Valentine's Hill [in Yonkers, NY]. He received a pension, 1832, for service as a private in Capt. Williams company and Col. Samuel Webb's Connecticut regiment." After the war, Jonathan married Abner's daughter, Eleanor Adams, and together they found their way back to PA where the last eight of their ten children were born. It took them four years to complete the journey and several more before they finally settled down.

Andrew Ney: Andrew was born in Lower Mt. Bethel, PA in 1753. He was a private in the battles of Brandywine and Germantown. Later he joined Col. Jacob Stroud's Pennsylvania Regiment who fought Indians "beyond the mountains." Andrew is a new person in my database, so I have not fully researched the details of his life yet.

There are other ancestors that I will be able to include on this list eventually when I am able to find out more about them. Families were disrupted by the war and were on the move in the years following the war which makes it difficult to find their records. But the fun of doing genealogy is the mystery of their lives and the wealth of knowledge gained from learning their histories.