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Thursday, November 28, 2013

A Time to Be Thankful

Today is Thanksgiving. What does that mean in 2013? It seems to me that a day officially set aside for reflection and gratitude in 1863 by President Lincoln has become little more than a day about personal gluttony and corporate greed.

As long as I can remember, Thanksgiving has been about the food. Don't get me wrong, I love food! What I mean is that the focus of the day always seemed to be about the feast, not the reason for the feast. We even call it "Turkey Day." Just like Christmas has become about the presents, not the reason we give them. But I digress..

Since I don't have much family, the feast has been problematic for me during my married life. We have no relatives in California. The spouse is British, and quite picky, so the tradition is not hardwired into him, as it is with most Americans that grew up feasting every fourth Thursday in November. He doesn't care for the traditional side dishes, except perhaps stuffing. The girls and I don't like sweet potatoes. Treklet has been a vegetarian for almost 3 years now, so no turkey or gravy for her, and she doesn't like stuffing or that green bean casserole that literally defines Thanksgiving feasting for me and Katie.  I'm the only one that seems to like cranberries. The feast to me has come to mean a full day of slaving in the kitchen for 10 minutes at the dinner table with a picky crew, only to spend another hour or two packing up leftovers that will never be fully consumed and cleaning up. 

Over the years, I've only cooked a few times. We have eaten out, gone to the movies, or gone to my best friend's home for dinner. As a former waitress, I feel sorry for the poor restaurant staff that has to work Thanksgiving. Many of them do have families at home, and they are stuck waiting on large parties or lonely singles, most of which are not generous tippers. 

Then there's the turkey. I love turkey, but I recently read this article about the turkey we eat.
Ugh, it's just not natural. Our food supply is so altered...but that's another blog.

Of course, there is more to Thanksgiving for most families than just the feast. For those with college students, Thanksgiving may be the first time since the semester started that they get to see their kids. For people with distant relatives, Thanksgiving may be a reason to travel and visit. That's awesome. 

There are other traditions linked to the day besides the feast. There is football. When I was a kid, the men all drank Schlitz and watched the game while the women worked in the kitchen and the kids played. I hope today's modern family shares the workload a little better. 

There is the Macy's parade. I've found the parade to be a great bore in the last decade or so, but in my youth I think I enjoyed the floats and giant balloons. The parade will not be on my TV this year. If you have read my blog in the past, or follow me on Twitter or Facebook (how else would you have got here?) you know my disdain for Sea World and keeping animals in captivity for human entertainment. There has been a lot of press in recent weeks about Sea World's float in the parade, and petitions, articles, and a social media blitz imploring Macy's to disallow Sea World's participation in the parade. My personal activism is to keep the parade out of our house and not shop Macy's (who, btw, is open today! Another reason to boycott)

Another Thanksgiving tradition is for holiday shoppers to pore over the store circulars planning their Black Friday shopping spree. I have never shopped Black Friday, as most of my shopping is done before Thanksgiving arrives, and I do admit to shopping mostly online, but if I did shop on Black Friday I would NOT be shopping at Macy's, or any other store that is open today. A new tradition is starting this year, and it's disturbing. Macy's and many other stores are open today, denying their employees a day off before the holiday retail madness to be with their families. Kohl's, Wal-Mart, Target, JC Penney, Toys R Us, Best Buy, Sears, Staples, Office Depot... and more. All open on Thanksgiving. All trying to get a jump on that Black Friday Bottom Line. And shoppers will show up, because Corporate Greed thrives on Personal Gluttony. 

So there's my rant. Here is what my Thanksgiving is going to look like: 

A simple meal. Yes, we will have turkey ( bought an already-cooked breast), potatoes, and a couple of simple and healthful vegetable sides, a new cranberry recipe that I made last night, and cornbread. Since I am recovering from knee surgery, and trying to eat clean as a general rule, this will minimize my time on my feet and not add to my waistline, and we will have a reasonable amount of leftovers that will be eaten.

We will focus on being thankful today. I'm going to start right now. Here are some things I am thankful for:

*My husband's good provision for my daughters and I.  We have a nice home, in a safe neighborhood. It is full of things that bring us comfort and happiness. We have reliable vehicles and are able to keep the gas tanks full so that we can go wherever we want, when we want. If I stopped right there, I'd have more than most people in the world.

*My closest friends. They put up with me when I complain. They advise me when I am troubled. They make me feel loved, when love is what I seem to be missing most in my life. They share in my joy. You know who you are.

*Star Trek  If it wasn't for Star Trek, I'd not know half of the people I know! Star Trek has brought us together online or at conventions, and I've met so many real life friends through our mutual love of Star Trek or Sci-fi in general. It's been a jumping off point for some great relationships. 

*Social Media Many people think social media is a waste of time. I disagree. I have found many friends on social media, and I've nurtured many real life friendships by keeping in touch on social media. I've found people with similar interests, be it sci-fi, nature,or  exercise and nutrition. I stay connected, I interact, I laugh, I rant, I share, I give support and I get support. I find answers to questions. I answer questions. My life is enriched by it.

*People who are working for society today. While I pity the retail workers that have to work today, or risk losing their jobs, I salute those that are working as first responders, caregivers, security, military, etc. It's good to know that they are there if we need them, keeping us safe and healthy.

*The blessing of daughters. My eldest who makes me laugh, makes me pretty, has incredible talent, gives of her time to take pictures for me and help me when I'm gimpy. My youngest who also makes me laugh, fills my house with art, has a compassionate heart, especially for animals, and teaches me something nearly every day. They both make me beam with pride.

*The blessing of a son-in-law. He is a wonderful addition to our family. He is fun and smart and looks after my first baby girl. He is always willing to fix things for his tooltarded mom-in-law. He is a joy to hang out with.

There is much more. I hope you find time to reflect on your blessings today. If you are struggling today with feelings of sadness or loss, counting your blessings may help you realize that there is still much in your life that is good. 

Happy Thanksgiving and thanks for reading.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Post STLV Depression Therapy

     I've been home from the Star Trek Las Vegas Convention (STLV) for 5 days now. I'm just about recovered. Wait, that's not true. This is something us Trekkies never quite recover from. We wait all year to see each other, and when our too-short time is done we slip into a post-con depression, which merely fades, but never subsides, until the anticipation of the next upcoming con takes over. Some people say that social media is ruining authenticity, that friendships made online are not real. BUNK, I say! Twitter and Facebook are how we strengthen those bonds, discuss common fandom, relive our memories through stories and pictures, and make plans for the next time we see each other. We come together from all over the WORLD in Las Vegas every August, and when one of our group is missing, we feel it. When one of us can't make it we almost can't stand to read the posts of those that did, because we ache so much for the camaraderie and understanding that most of us don't get at home. We are a passionate bunch.
      I go to several conventions, but nothing is quite like the STLV experience for me. Phoenix Comic Con is fun, and very family-friendly. I take my daughter and that is our mom-daughter trip. San Diego Comic Con is often more work than fun. It's hectic, super-crowded, and meeting up with friends is sometimes impossible. Wondercon, Grand Slam, various smaller Creation Cons are all nice to visit, but I never seem to know more than a handful of people there, and outside of the convention center, I never seem to connect with anyone or engage in lengthy nerdy conversation.
     This year's STLV was different for me. It's the first time I ever went totally by myself. I have alway either had my best friend as a roommate or gone with one of my kids. I was apprehensive about going until just before the con. I was worried about feeling awkward, worried about getting into the dreaded Star Trek Into Darkness conversation (thankfully never least not with anyone that liked the film!), and worried about expenses. If I hadn't been committed to cosplay with my friend Senthil Masilamani, I may have canceled the trip out of stupid anxiety. All of those worries melted away as soon as I arrived!
      I got in a day earlier than usual, and I already had friends there to greet me. That night at the Masquerade Bar I saw even more familiar faces...friends and acquaintances that I get to see each year. I enjoyed some action figure play time with Trek Karen, but what really set me right was seeing Senthil when he arrived. I knew I was supposed to be there. Soon our little gang was together again and headed to Joe's for pizza.
      I won't (and probably can't) give a daily summary of what I did, but I did set out to do this in order to point out my highest highlights. Now as promised on Facebook, here are the moments that made me feel verklempt: 

     A few days before I left home April Hebert contacted me about making matching t-shirts to surprise Dayton Ward with. For those that don't know, Dayton named characters in his book, That Which Divides, after us. We both felt extremely thrilled and honored to have our names in the story, but I've got to say, when I read it I couldn't believe how he had captured ME in Master Chief Petty Officer Starfleet Mom. LOL Anyway... ::spoiler alert:: April's character died in the book but I got to live! Yes, Dayton is the Puppet Master. Here we are in the shirts April made for us just after we surprised Dayton at his signing table Thursday morning. It seemed to really touch him, which made us feel great.
     I was also really pleased to be able to spend some time hanging out with Dayton and his sometimes writing partner, Kevin Dilmore. I've met them both before, but there just isn't time or space to chat and hang out at San Diego Comic Con. At one point Dayton told me a secret. I hope it's OK to share it here. He told me that the reason I got such a wonderful juicy role in his book (which I didn't know about until a week before it was released) was that at the time he began writing it, he could see from my online posts that I was not happy. Indeed, I was going through a very difficult emotional and physical time. He thought the book would cheer me somehow, and it did. It made me feel special, but him keeping that under his hat until I was in better spirits was what really choked me up. It was one of those random acts of kindnesses, without fanfare or explanation. He never made his motivation known, which is exactly why it worked. That man, despite what his Facebook posts might suggest, is a giver, in the class of Old Saint Nick. What a gesture..what a heart of gold! Here I am with my book and my Puppet Master. I can only hope that the Chief makes another appearance someday...and that she be allowed to live long and prosper!
       My next STLV13 highlight is a strange one. No one would even guess that this memory would be so special to me. Friday night, after cosplaying as Gwen DeMarco all day and much of the night, I showered and changed and went to karaoke with my dear Canadaaaaaaaa, more widely known as Jocelyn. It was great fun, and meeting up with my San Diego pal, Todd Felton was a bonus, too, because he was only able to come for one night! So I'm sitting in the back, drinking scotch and chillin' with my pals when all of a sudden Darnell Davis, in his form-fitting red shirt and black leather pants, grabs my hand and takes me to the dance floor. OK, lots of people were dancing. People dance all the time...but I DON'T DANCE. Dance we did! I mean, like real dancing...and just a little grinding to some depressing Rainy Days and Mondays rendition. The thing is, I have this view of myself. I think of myself as the mom. Everybody calls me Moogie. I'm the oldest one in the group all the time. I've got that middle-aged spread and that kinda lonely and responsible mindset. Sure I do a lot of fun stuff, but it's usually with a ten year old. Darnell, you made me feel young and pretty, even if only for a few dances. :) Sadly, there are no pics of me and Darnell, but here is me and Todd after karaoke!

     After karaoke we went to the Masquerade Bar. It was the wee hours and I was hungry. Darren Benjamin, who manages McMullin's Irish Pub, where I always go when I'm in Vegas, was there. I asked him, more than once, to order me some Irish Nachos. All I got was a reply, "Wrong bar, Starfleetmom." I just kept getting hungrier. Remember will be relevant later. David Ivy was at Masquerade, too. Now here's the thing about David. I've never been quite sure he actually remembered who I was. We're not close, but we see each other at every con and I listen to every episode that he and Darren produce of Trekcast. We had a great geeky DS9 conversation at McMullins last year. I drove by myself to Vegas this year, and I listened to a several Trekcast podcasts on the way because I was behind. By the time I hit State Line I had to stop because I was yelling at David in my podcast app! Why? Because, you see, Star Wars is David's happy place and I can't stand it. In every episode of Trekcast David finds a way to redirect the conversation to Star Wars, or the Milennium Falcon, or Tattooine. He can't help himself!! Well drunk and starving me set out to rip him a new one, and after a couple of hours together, deep in geeky conversation, we were hugging and respecting and even considering doing a special Galaxy Quest episode together! Oh, David, I love you, man! Our conversation picked up again Sunday night right where it left off. I loved getting geeky with him. I'll even tolerate his Star Wars references now. :) Sadly, no pics of me and David either. I was a total PhotogFail at this year's con. I do have a pic of Gwen DeMarco and Darren, though!

     Finally, at 3:30 a.m. Senthil graciously accompanied Jocelyn and me and some other chick in a sparkly dress to the diner for some food. I had the worst ever burger and finally got to bed at 4:00 a.m. Unfortunately, my idiotic internal clock woke me at 7:00 and I was still a little drunk. Uh-oh. It was costume contest day. Yeah, that right there was one of my con regrets. We're not gonna get into those.... I was texting with my dear friend Erica and on the house phone with Jocelyn. Oh dear, we were all in bad shape. I couldn't get back to sleep, but had fun tweeting and accidentally overflowing my bathtub. I just had to be in the vendors hall at the Enterprise Bridge Restoration booth at 10:00 a.m. because I promised Nick Minecci I would be there when he popped the question to his love, Janice. I was able to pull myself together just enough to make it down there at 9:59 and see the big moment. Congratulations Nick and Janice!!

      Unfortunately, it's all fun and games until the drunk wears off. Sometime between the proposal and me getting halfway back to my room I hit the wall. Being vertical was no longer fun, and the carpeting in the long hallway between the hotel and the convention center was quite dizzying. Dayton and Kevin to the rescue!! I needed to clarify dinner plans with David K (there are 3 Davids here, try not to be confused) but didn't think I could make it. Dayton literally guided me like a blind woman..I held his elbow and closed my eyes and he took me to registration where I must have been the most horrid sight, using the counter to hold myself up, puffy eyes, hair pinned up haphazardly, and barely able to finish a sentence. I could smell my own bad breath.  Worst hangover ever. I barely remember asking David if we could have a normal dinner and catch up after the costume contest. I just wanted to slow down and visit! The con was going by so fast! He's the coolest dude ever, because if someone looking and acting like me would have invited me to dinner I would have ran away!
     I managed to get back to my room and try to nap a while and chug as much water as possible before Senthil and I made our appearance as Sylvia and Korob. I'm thankful to Melissa Navarro for taking the time to come to my room and put on my eyelashes and eyeliner, because I suck at it, and because I was pretty darn shaky. OK, next year, no staying out drinking until 4 a.m. the night before the costume parade!! I'm vowing that now. Lesson learned. I watched Catspaw twice while resting/getting dressed.      Senthil put on his robe, and it was the first time I saw him in it. OMG SQUEE he was so PERFECT as Korob. I handed him the transmuter I brought and we headed toward the elevator. The minute the door opened on the first floor we were asked to pose for a picture. A mere 10 yards later Mike Okuda stopped us for a photo! I think it took us about an hour to walk to the convention because of all the photos. We got our picture taken on the bridge, got interviewed by GameFob (surprised myself at how articulate I was), and posed and posed and posed. It was fun, but I wished we'd had more sleep. I got to see my dear friend Clay in the vendors room for about 5 minutes and that was it. I wish we had time to visit. Here are a few pics from our debut as Korob and Sylvia.

I know the solo pic of me was taken by Mission Log Podcast, but I'm sorry I have no idea who to credit for the other three.
     Senthil and I grabbed an overpriced and pretty disgusting sandwich from the cart and headed to the pre-judging. We were prepared to say some lines from the episode, but didn't really get the chance as they were trying to hurry the process along. Our number was 13. One of the judges said he loved Catspaw, his birthday was Halloween and he has a 13 collection. I knew then we were in! Haha! We stayed in the room until all of the over 125 contestants went on stage. We should have gone for more snacks and water. Finally the 30 finalists were announced and we were in the finals. We were given our Guinness World Record numbers and told to sit in the first two rows. I looked at Senthil and told him a little part of me wished we didn't get into the finals. He agreed. We were a bit rough around the edges.
     I think we were in that room for four hours. We worried about the Xindi, Morn, Salt Vampire and Borg in a wetsuit. They were hot, dehydrated and shaky. We broke the record with 1085 Star Trek Costumes in a single room. As soon as that was over we had to run straight for the big stage. There was just enough time to hit the rest room and grab a glass of water. I was feeling quite woozy, like my blood sugar was -10, and I'm pretty sure David K showing up with a granola bar just before I took the stage saved my life! About 2 hours later it was finally over. After Adam interviewed every contestant and the judges asked some questions, there was a mix-up with the results. We stood on that stage for an eternity. We all felt like our knees were going to buckle. As soon as it was over I made a beeline for my room, showered and changed and devoured a delicious steak dinner like a targ! Thanks for those moments of peace and sustenance David Kempton! Here's the only pic I have of us, and it was taken on Thursday night by Erica Anderson, after David and I completely failed the trivia quiz.

     I have no credit for these stage pics either. They were all swiped from Facebook posts that I was tagged in. While my costume looked great on the floor, I was later shocked to see the pics. The stage lighting and flashes totally make me look like I'm in my underwear and you can't even tell I have a catsuit on under that sheer cape! Senthil, sweet as ever, said next year he'll stand up there in his underwear so I don't have to! Haha! Thanks, buddy.

     I think the reason why some of the more accomplished cosplayers don't enter the Costume Parade is that you are held hostage for so many hours without relief and unless you have fancy homemade latex on your head, you have not chance. Still, spending the day with Senthil and propping each other up for photo ops was a big highlight for me. Thanks Senthil!!
     OK, another David made my con amazing. David Taylor was our host in Room 1017. Joe Dickerson mixed martinis & passed out little gifts, I brought my action figures, and we just generally got out of control. New friends Amy and Rachael were awesome and FUN! I missed a bunch of panels, but no regrets! I'm not sure I have any pictures from 1017 that are shareable to a wide audience. I already admitted here to getting way too drunk Friday night. That's a pretty big admission for my generally vanilla Facebook page, where I will probably share this. I remember on Sunday giving my leftover sandwich from lunch to David K. in the hallway as he was escorting Robert Beltran to his room. I texted to let him know I finally found chicken soup (I'd been wanting that for my Harvey Fierstein con voice all week) and that it was just my leftovers, but I ended up texting the wrong David, David T. So now whenever I text or DM David T. I ask if it's the right David. He always says yes. :D Here's the only pic from 1017 I want to share, and I credit David Taylor for it.

     Now, remember how I said asking for Irish Nachos on Friday night would be relevant later? Sunday night our little gang took cabs to Mandalay Bay and ate at the Burger Bar. Wow! Delicious! When we got back, we headed to Masquerade and there was Darren Benjamin who said he'd been looking for me. He handed me a bag with a to-go order of Irish Nachos inside! I just can't tell you how that touched me! It was such a sweet surprise. I only wish I hadn't just eaten, because they were so delicious. I shared them with whoever wanted some, and just couldn't believe how thoughtful Darren was. It was another random act that made me feel special.
      The first time I went to STLV with Melissa Nickerson, we were starstruck. We saw every panel, signed up for every event, never left the Hilton. It was glorious and the best week I ever had. I cherish those memories, but now STLV to me is the relationships we build, the memories we make, the random acts of kindness, the silly little gifts we give each other, the geeky conversations, the shared experiences. I hardly see any panels. I keep those people close to my heart, I keep in touch online, I even try to visit some if I'm traveling to their area. I know this post got long, but so many people touched my heart and made me feel loved and happy. I couldn't mention them all, these are just the biggest moments. I loved spending time with all of you, even if for only a few moments... Lisa at the TrekRadio booth, Melissa, Ned, Ernie, Scott (thanks for taking care of me and for umox!), Katie, Kerry, Terry, Allen, Cush, Vernon, Amy, Rachael, Charity (best dressed vendor at the khan), Michael H, Michael M, Mary, John, Ken, Deyvid, Chris, Chris and the other Chris (and I thought there were a lot of Davids!), Eric, Nicole, Christine, Chuck, Jor de, Nancy (thanks for holding my purse!), Larry, Matt, Ariel, Wil, Brandon, Alistair, Mikkie, Ryan, Gina, Tory, Lorrie, Daniel (Ponn Farrr!!!!), and everyone else that I'm failing to give a shout out to.
     Do we have a date next August?

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

I'm So Verklempt

Treklet just made my, my month!

She was working independently on a writing assignment from school. I had not looked at the assignment yet, and didn't know what the topic was.

I was on my MacBook and saw a notification pop up that a document, mom.doc, was saved to our school dropbox, so I went to take a look at it. Here is what I found:

I think my mother is amazing because she is a multi-tasker. For example, she can teach me while doing the laundry, cooking, and talking on the phone. She is also very smart and is a great teacher. She can do almost all of my problems in her head and know the answer right away. She is always honest and can not tell a lie.

My mom is very talented. She can sing like an angel and can work a computer like a maniac! I have almost nothing to change about her but if I did, I would ask for her to be less busy. Her talents are what make her unique. My mom does not sing that often, but when she does it sounds super! What I love the most about my mom's talents is that she is fantastic at taking care of me. She says she will do anything for me. And I would do anything for her.

My mom teaches my lots of things including, be content with what you have and do not be greedy or jealous. She also teaches me to never lie. She says that lying will just lead to more lies. I try my best to follow that rule. She also says to be healthy! She goes on bike rides and finds fun ways to make things like healthy cakes.

My mom is the best because she loves me and because she takes care of me. She is very funny and hard working and I love her very much.

WOW! Can I possibly live up to that picture she just painted of me?! 
(she's obviously a very talented fiction writer)

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Mad About Valentines

I have a twitter pal who shares a love for the show Mad Men with me (you know who you are, Sassy!). She had already seen most of it before me, as I have just marathoned five seasons in the past few months on Netflx. I have had so much fun discussing the episodes and characters with her as I get caught up! I'm one disc away from being up-to-date and dreading having to wait a week between episodes when Season Six begins in April.

I got a little silly and creative this afternoon and designed some Mad Men Valentines for her. I used photos of our favorite bad boy, Don Draper, and added references to some of the ad slogans from the show.

I simply couldn't wait to share them until Thursday, so I posted them to her on Twitter first. Here they are now for the rest of the world. You probably won't "get" them if you haven't seen the show.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Household Stuff

I'm pleased with this idea I got from Pinterest this week:


 I've had a vacuum sealer for years, but have made little use of it, other than to seal bags of meat or leftovers for freezing. I have the jar sealing attachment and have probably never used it before.
Romaine lettuce is cheap at Costco, but the packages contain 6 large heads and by the time we get to the last 2 it's almost always turning brown.

This leads me to another subject: my garden. I built a couple of wooden raised planters last year and placed them just outside my fence. I extended some irrigation tubing from the risers out there and planned to grow larger plants that take up too much space in my other vegetable beds, like pumpkins and zucchini. Within days the squirrels had eaten my plants and I gave up. Squirrels aren't usually a problem inside the fence, as my schnauzers tend to murder, mutilate, and or eat any that get inside the yard in hope of grabbing a few bird seeds.

After our trip to New Zealand, I was inspired to get my garden into better shape. I hated seeing those wooden boxes that I spent money and sweat on go to waste, so I devised a squirrel-proofing plan. Here is what I came up with. It took me 2 afternoons to build, without a plan. Yup, I just improvised with a staple gun and some cable ties. CABLE TIES FTW!

I can lift the entire cover off in one piece, weed, fertilize or harvest, and then replace it.   I planted cool weather crops for now, lettuces, bok choy, kohlrabi, and chard. It's been a whole week and nothing has nibbled at my plants and the covers are staying put. Our guinea pig will have fresh leaves every day and when my lettuces grow big I can keep them fresh in vacuumed jars!

In order to keep track of all the various goodies I've planted, I simply took pictures of each bed and labeled them with Skitch. It's my first practical use of the service. If you don't know what Skitch is, you can check it out here: Skitch from Evernote
Skitch is a free app from Evernote (also free) which you can use with your iPad, Mac or PC to draw on your photos or annotate files. I can open the files from any device and they are synced into my Evernote notebook! Here is an example of one of my planters, after Skitching:

I can continue to annotate the file with fertilization, pests or harvest notes. I also took pictures of the informational signs at the nursery when I bought the plants. Into the Evernote Garden Notebook they go! Then I can refer back to this information later. This one is especially handy for me, because I'd never heard of this lettuce before!

So my outside-the-fence garden is doing well but inside my fence is another story! A couple of weeks ago I spent a day gardening in the rain. I weeded my planters. I turned the soil, I laid out new weedcloth. I gingerly planted tender young cauliflower, broccoli, brussels sprouts, cabbages, kale, sweet peas, carrots and asparagus. It was HARD work.
Me and a couple of hoes in the rain.
It rained for 3 days. On the 4th day I went out to inspect my veggies, knowing they'd be happy after the long gentle soaking rain. WHAT? Something had been nibbling the leaves! I blamed slugs, even though I didn't see any. What else could it have been in the rain? So I treated the area with Sluggo for organic gardens. 
Just one week later, this was all that was left of my hard work. 
Mostly stems. :-(
 I've never had this kind of trouble inside the fence before. It's obviously not slugs. Today I found a couple of baby plants laying on the concrete outside the planter. Grrr... perhaps it's a raccoon, skunk or opossum. The dogs keep the yard patrolled during the day, and rabbits and gophers can't reach them. My next big project will be to devise some sort of mesh covering for these. Yeah, right, when I have time...(i never have time)

By the way, when I was digging in one of my vegetable beds I unearthed several of these. They are tomato hornworm pupae. Remind me to plant my tomatoes in a different bed this summer!

Finally, I'll just say a few words about hummingbird feeders. I have four of them. At certain times of the year they need refilling almost daily. I see many people filling their feeders with that red mixture that you can buy in stores. Please DO NOT use that stuff! It's more expensive, and the birds certainly don't need artificial dye. They will see the red on your feeder and investigate.

All you need to put in your hummingbird feeder is sugar water. Mix 1 part sugar with 4 parts water. That's all. Many people boil the water, dissolve the sugar, and let it cool. I just use hot tap water.  Stock up on regular granulated sugar when it goes on sale, usually just before holidays like Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter.

Clean your feeders EVERY time you refill them. Use a tiny brush to get the mold and dirt out of the little feeder holes, and use a bottle brush to clean inside. Use HOT water and a little vinegar or household bleach if you've accidentally left them to get moldy. Be sure to rinse very thoroughly.

With a regularly stocked supply of nectar, we get 5 species of hummers in our yard here in Southern California: Anna's Black-chinned, Costa's, Allen's and Rufous. The latter two are seen in migration, and the first three nest here. We've had tiny nests in our yard and they are amazing.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

In Search Of....

I'm a winner!!
I commented on an post over at TrekMovie and won the In Search Of... boxed set! Click here to read about the prize and see my winning comment: Review: In Search Of… The Complete Collection & Your Chance to Win! [UPDATED: Winners announced for In Search of... box set!]

My prize arrived the very next day after the announcement of the winners. Although the list price of the set is $149.99, it is available on for $117.08.

The seven seasons set is attractively packaged in a fliptop box. Let's open it up.
Each Season is 3 discs, for a total of 21 discs. 

I began at the beginning: Season One, Disc One
The theme music VERY1970s.
There are 4 episodes on the disc. I click on the first episode, "Other Voices." The mystery is whether plants communicate and have feelings.

Plants have feelings. Marcel Vogel, a research chemist San Jose, CA is the first person we are introduced to. He is having children try to feel the plants' energy by hovering their hands above the plants. Vogel was known for his mainstream scientific work as well as some fringe science theories. He is best known for designing the Vogel Crystal Cut, which purportedly focuses the "Universal Life Force." Learn more here: Wikipedia Vogel Entry  and here: Legacy of Marcel Vogel

Next we see Nimoy in his signature turtleneck. I swear that's all he wore in the 70s. Turtlenecks. Did he get a lot of hickies? I digress...back to the DVD.

We are now at the Denver Botanical Garden. Music is being played for the plants.  Musician/Biologist Dorothy Retallack experimented with many different types of plants and music. While keeping water and light levels equal, she played hard rock in one chamber, soft, soothing music in another. Plants leaned toward speaker in the chamber where soothing music was played, but the hard rock plants shrank away & died. Time lapse photography over several days showed this dramatically.  However, my googling skills have turned up several experiments that got the opposite results, and much discussion about the many variables in these experiments. After reading several web pages devoted to the topic, I might conclude that music, or sound in general, may be an energy source that plants may be attracted to. Here's a good site that details her experiments more than the show did: Dorothy Retallack's Positive Music Experiments

Kendal Johnson and his  Kirlian photography is up next. He takes photographs of leaves exposed to electrical energy. My first impression is that he looks like a hippie with his shirt embroidered with flowers and laid back attitude. He is explaining photographing energy in the air. Yes, photographing the AIR. He says he asks people who have a "green thumb" to hold their hand over a wilted leaf and the photograph glows more. These people have more glow in Kirlian photographs of their fingers.  I looked up Kirlian photography and I just don't see how this proves anything about plants communicating. I think the photographs simply depict coronal discharge, and variations can be attributed to humidity levels around the object and perhaps chemical variances. I mean, they are sending voltage through the subjects, right? Here are some links if you're curious:

It does produce pretty pictures, though:Kirlian Photography Images

The final wacko, um, I mean researcher in this episode is Cleve Baxter, polygraph expert for CIA who uses polygraphs to study plants. He cuts his own hand, to see if he gets a response from the plant. WTF? The experiment fails..perhaps he's performed it too many times? He tries again with an assistant. He cuts her hand (shouldn't he have gotten a fresh plant instead of a fresh victim?)  Oh wow, the plant reacts to her as he slices her hand! He concludes that it is a reaction to her apprehension and pain, pointing out the spike on the graph at the point when he is about to cut her.  

He also believes the bacteria in yogurt has "primary perception"  He puts yogurt in a test tube, inserts silver wires in the yogurt and hooks them to the lie detector. Next he stirs some antibiotic into some yogurt in another beaker. The yogurt in the test tube does not react.  New experiment: He pours milk into some yogurt in a separate beaker. After 20 seconds the bacteria finds nutrient in the milk. The other yogurt in the test tube reacts. It wants some milk, too. WHAT? 

So the conclusions are that plants and even bacteria can react to something that is happening to other life forms nearby. 

Nimoy asks, "Did you ever wake up with a feeling that something happened to someone you know? ...Plants may have carried the message to you." This reminds me of the blossoms in Narnia telling the Princes that Aslan was dead. He then says that plants can understand us and communicate, but for the time being we can only listen to them with our machines. One day those machines may be unnecessary.

Because I'm a curious person, I watched Episode 2 immediately after being astounded by my newly acquired knowledge that my plants are frustrated to no end in trying to talk to me. I'm so distraught, I'll just present my notes on the episode in bullet form.

Strange Visitors 
  • The high-pitched electronic theme music is really awful.

Disclaimer over credits: this series presents information based in part on theory and conjecture. The producers purpose is to suggest some possible explanation, but not necessarily the only ones to the mysteries we will examine.

  • Native American legends/origin stories. Man and Animals were the same. 
  • stone ruins in Mystery Hill in New Hampshire. 
  • Indians of this region did not build in stone. Where did these ruins come from?
  • Wyoming: Medicine Wheel, another curiosity in stone. Covered in snow much of the year. Most investigators now agree the wheel was an indian calendar. Lack of settlement breaks it's ties with Mystery Hill. Why was this mentioned?
  • Mystery hill's layout reminiscent of ancient european cities. walled streets ending at a type of temple. 
  • Charcoal deposits between the rocks have been carbon dated at 3000 years old.
  • Comparing now to Druids at Stonehenge. Were human sacrifices made on large flat slab with grooves in it? Did blood once run down those grooves?
  • an inscription on a boulder is thought to be Phoenician, the style of masonry is the same. So the conclusion is that the Minoans crossed the seas from Crete to North America. Perhaps they saw no future here and left. 

Here is the Wikipedia entry on the site:'s_Stonehenge  
I'm skeptical of the explanation given on the show. Especially the sensationalism of the sacrificial stone. 
I like this explanation from the above link: "Artifacts found on the site lead archaeologists to the conclusion that the stones were actually assembled for a variety of reasons by local farmers in the 18th and 19th centuries. For example, a much-discussed "sacrificial stone" which contains grooves that some say channeled blood closely resembles "lye-leaching stones" found on many old farms that were used to extract lye from wood ashes, the first step in the manufacture of soap."

After watching the first two episodes, I am hypothesizing that most of the topics presented in the series are sensationalized and after 25 years of further study many of the theories presented have probably been disputed. It was probably a riveting show in the 1970s, before the instant-answers and collective knowledge of the internet, and I'm sure it sparked quite a bit of interest and imagination in its viewers. I can see how it would hold a nostalgic place in original viewers' hearts. 

Saturday, January 19, 2013

To the Office of the Prime Minister of Japan

I am saddened and shocked that your government still allows the daily capture and slaughter of dolphins in Taiji cove.

 I am dismayed that the dolphin meat is sold to Japanese citizen and served to Japanese schoolchildren, despite it being contaminated with mercury.

 I am sickened that instead of preserving and protecting Japan's national resources, you allow the destruction and squandering of it. Why not consider promoting tourism to the area?
The slaughter of cetaceans in Japanese waters is not sustainable.

 Millions of people worldwide consider dolphins and whales to be intelligent social creatures and are appalled by the practices those that break up their families and keep them in captivity.

 I urge you to do the right thing, to protect your citizens, the environment, and your national heritage and stop the Taiji dolphin hunts.


This took 5 minutes of my day. You can do it to. Here's the link:

  Wanna know more? Click some of these:

Toxic Bureaucracy
Cetacean Kill
The Cove

  and follow this account: @CoveGuardians

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Non-Antarctic Penguins at the Antarctic Centre

Our last day in NZ was spent at the International Antarctic Centre in Christchurch. I made a video of pics and vids.
International Antarctic Centre

more pics

We had a great day, learned a lot, and got to meet a Blue Penguin up close.

After a delayed flight from Christchurch to Auckland, we barely made our flight out of Middle Earth. I'm posting this on FREE wifi at a restaurant somewhere in Orange County, CA! Soon we'll be home and ready to crash in our own beds.

Reality is beckoning.......

Monday, January 7, 2013

This is our last full day in Aotearoa. We have left the beautiful farm at Paua Bay for Christchurch. I left my seasick patch on from yesterday, and put a meclazine tablet inside the kid in anticipation of the sharply curving road away from the Banks Peninsula.
While The Alien drives I will pass the time between incredible vistas by sharing some more interesting observations about NZ.

+ the emergency telephone number is 111 here, not 911
+ they call stands stalls here, for example: fruit stalls, not fruit stands.
+ I saw machines in the ladies' bathrooms here selling 'sanitary towels' instead of 'sanitary napkins'. Maybe they flow heavier down here @_@
+ every little town or settlement has at least one war memorial, usually from WWI. If there are more than one, they are for the Baal War and WWII. they almost alway say 'Our Glorious Dead' on them. The names of the fallen soldiers are listed, and the dates of the war, not the name of it, are also engraved on the memorials.
+ most every town we've passed through has a Salvation Army Store on the main drag.
+ Speights appears to be to NZ what Pabst is to Wisconsin. Every pub and tavern, even in the remotest areas, has a Speights sign out front, and several Speights advertising posters displayed inside. A noable difference between Speights and Pabst/Bud/Miller is that it is actually good beer. Technically, it's a light ale.
+ Dominion Bitter might be my new favorite brew. I hope BevMo or World Market imports it!
+ While Kiwis are generally friendly and offer hospitality, they give crappy and overly complicated driving directions.
+ Marlborough and Hawkes Bay generally grow white wine grapes, but Central Otago is 80% Pinot Noir.
+ there are some road signs that are different than ours. Instead of "passing lanes" on hilly roads they have "slow vehicle bays" A white circle with a black diagonal line in it is an "Open Road" sign, meaning the speed limit is 100 kph. There are pedestrian crossings marked with white stripes on the road and black & white poles on the sides. A blue circle with a red outline & red X in it means no parking. And my favorite sign is the Exclamation Point. It's usually got another sign with it to explain what the caution is for.

We realized, once we hit the main road to Christchurch, that the long and winding road we took to Paua Bay could have been avoided. We took the long, tourist drive but there was a more direct route! Fail.
In Christchurch, the weather was perfect! After a light lunch at the Boathouse Cafe we went punting on the Avon River. It was only 30 minutes, but so relaxing. After the boat ride, Treklet & rented kayaks and went there and back again on the Avon.
me in a kayak

We booked in to a motel that is close to the airport, and the International Antarctic Center, which we plan to visit tomorrow. They have screaming fast wifi! (For a price) they advertised a heated pool, but it felt like the Southern Ocean to us, so we merely sunbathed for an hour before dinner.
Speaking of dinner, this may be the best one we've had since Christmas!  Also, I must brag that I drank a delightful porter called Wobbly Boot. 

Sheep and Dolphins

Monday Jan 7, 2013
This morning we had a delicious breakfast of freshly baked bread, fruit, homemade yogurt and granola. The more I looked around, the more I fell in love with this farmhouse and garden. The bathroom and guest rooms look like something out of a magazine. I had a free hour or so and busied myself taking artsy photos.

Soon the vans arrived with the tours from the cruise ship at Akaroa. We joined the farm tour at he woolshed. I found Murray's stories captivating. He told a bit of history of Akaroa, and the history of this farm, going back four generations in his family. Then he talked a bit about farming in NZ in general, and gave us all a chance to pose for pictures with one of his sheep before he demonstrated shearing on it. Then we adjourned outside for a demonstration of sheep herding by his dogs.

Dogs Mustering Sheep

Next we were off to Akaroa for an afternoon on a boat. We had lunch outside, and it was sunny and hot. I wondered if we had enough sunscreen on. After we ate, we walked to the harbor, and suddenly the sky was becoming gray and a cold wind was whipping the bay into a froth. Great...
Our two-hour catamaran ride was a bit rocky, and standing on the outside deck was very cold. Thankfully, we all had seasick medicine! We were rewarded with a couple of dozen Hector's Dolphins bow riding, and several Southern Fur Seals in the sea caves. Hector's Dolphins are the smallest dolphin species, and they are quite speedy, too. We also saw a few species of cormorants nesting on the cliffs, and lots of gulls and terns. We sailed past the salmon farm, and past a large cruise ship. By the time we returned to the harbour it was raining and the cafe and shops were closed.

After searching the tiny town for a coffee and light entree, we ended up buying some cold cuts, bread and cheese at the little grocery market and eating in the car. Safely back at Paua Bay, The Alien crashed, Treklet played with some Legos, and I caught my blog up. Tomorrow we shall explore Christchurch.

The Long and Winding Road

Sunday, Jan 6 2013
Our fine weather didn't last long! After nice breakfast and chat with John and Ann we left Glen Dendron and headed north. It was misty or raining all the way up the coast.
We made a short stop in Oamaru so I could snap some pictures of the old buildings. Being Sunday, there was a bustle of activity in the historical district market.

It seemed like we drove forever. I snapped pics here and there. Eventually we headed out on the Banks Peninsula. We had lost our map that showed anything north of Timaru, so we had no idea what we were in for.

The road was very winding, and seemed to go on forever. At first the views were stunning, but as the road seemed to have no end, the steep hillsides and curving path only made Treklet and I feel sick. Every time we thought we were getting close, our hopes were dashed by another view of another stretch of wiggly asphalt.
When we at last came to an intersection that we thought would lead to our farmstay, the sign we were looking for wasn't there. Luckily, my cell phone had reception, and we were able to call for direction. We ended up down a gravel road, and confused again, only now the phone had no service. We eventually found our way to the farmhouse and and a cheerful Sue waving us to our parking spot. I must admit we were pretty frazzled and cranky after 90 minutes of twisting and turning, not knowing where the end of our journey would be, but Sue's cheerful demeanor (and her offer of a beer & wine) soon had us relaxed.
Shortly after our arrival, our prearranged evening meal was ready. Sue served us a Lamb roast, a quinoa salad, and some new potatoes and steamed veggies from her garden. After a coffee and berry-peach crumble for dessert I felt much more settled, and started making plans for activities during our stay here.

In the Trenches With Yellow Eyes

5 Jan 2013
Today it finally felt like summer! It got up to 28 degrees! After a hearty breakfast with our hosts, Anne and John, and their other guests from Germany, we set off for Dunedin. First stop was the southernmost Harley-Davidson shop in the world. If you know me, you know I hate motorcycles, so you maybe asking, "WHY?" The answer is, simply, because I am a good friend. ::wink:: my neighbors and my BFF are avid Hog enthusiasts and wanted t-shirts. I only hope after seeing the price tags that hey are still willing to pay me back!

Next we headed out to the end of the Otago Peninsula, where we had a tour reservation at Penguin Place. The road is insane! It is a narrow, winding road that literally hugs the bay. It was high tide and at times we were no farther than a meter from the edge of the water! To make things even more exciting, there were cyclists on the road, too, and a bike lane only part of the way.

Otago Peninsula Drive

The Penguin Place was awesome! Here's their link for more info:

We began our tour with a short talk about the location, organization and the Natural history of the Yellow-eyed Penguin. They are the rarest penguins in the world, with a population totaling only about 4000 birds. There are colonies on several subantarctic islands and along the coast of New Zealand's South Island. The South Island population is about 700 and the number if birds using this particular colony is about 40.
Yellow-eyed Penguins are not social birds like the Blue Penguins. They are solitary and the pairs mate and nest in seclusion in the shady underbrush above beaches, up to 1 km from the water. Natural predators are sharks, leopard seals and sea lions. On land, introduced mammals including dogs, cats, stoats, and weasels all mean death to eggs and chicks.
The birds here have chicks now. Some are still in the guarding phase, with one parent babysitting while the other fishes. Others are now old enough to leave alone while both parents fish.
The Penguin Place reserve is on private property, on a sheep station! The farmer realized he had penguins and set aside the beachside portion for their protection. He has since passed away, but his family carries on. There is no government funding, but there is government oversight. The reserve is run solely on revenue from tour charges.
After our short orientation, our guide drove us on a bus through the pastures and down to the Pacific side of the peninsula. The view overlooking the beach and adjacent penguin reserve was spectacular. We walked down a short trail to the viewing area.
There are a series of tunnels dug into the hillsides, covered for camouflage. At the end of the tunnels are hides where people can see the nests up close. We were instructed to keep our voices to a whisper and not stick out arms or cameras through the viewing holes. We were able to get within 2 meters of one bird with its chick!
There are nest boxes set up on the property for temporary use by the pairs until the trees and bushes they have planted grow big enough to provide the shade and privacy the birds require. Hundreds of saplings are dotted around the landscape with green plastic boxes protecting them from rabbits.

After spying on several penguins we headed up the trail to a beach overlook to scan for penguins coming ashore. We didn't see any, but there were dozens of fur seals hauled out on the sand.

After we finished at Penguin Place, we drove a short way to the end of the Peninsula to the Royal Albatross Centre. There was a viewing platform overlooking some bluffs that were loaded with various cormorants and Red-billed Gulls, and fur seals on the rocks below. As a matter of fact, there were thousands of gulls all over the grounds and various stages of nesting. Treklet was dismayed to see several dead gulls on the ground, most of them juveniles. According to the Centre staff, they fight and kill each other!

Red-billed Gull Colony

We didn't feel like paying $100 for a tour to see the albatross nests, so we just paid $10 to look at the gallery and took our chances at seeing an airborne albatross. The Centre is also at the site of the old Fort Taiaroa so the gallery had historical information, as well as interesting displays on the birds, conservation, and the biologists who studied them. This is the only "mainland" site that the albatrosses nest, every other colony being on remote subantarctic islands. We had lunch at the cafe inside and browsed gift shop. I am sad to say that we did not spy an albatross outside. :-(

On the way back from Dunedin i saw Orokonui Ecosanctuary on the map, so we turned off and drove a few miles up a winding road. We soon arrived at the locked gate of the closed facility, but decided to stay and do some roadside birding because there was some native bush. We got nice looks at several Bellbirds, Tuis New Zealand Pigeons, Chaffinches, Greenfinches, Yellowhammers, and added Redpoll to our list. Heading back down I thought I saw so something on a large stump and made the Alien stop the car. I was right! It was a Little Owl! I don't know how I spied that from a moving car, but we all got good looks at it. How cool was that?!
We stopped for supper in Palmerston, bought a few bottles of Speights to go, and went back to the peaceful Glen Dendron Farmstay. It was a beautiful evening, and we enjoyed our beer outside while visiting with John and Ann. Ann made up some bottles for the orphan lambs and Treklet got to feed them and the alpacas.