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Cross stitch ... art ... life

Baker Lake, Nunavut
Wednesday, March 11th, 2009

I just got finished updating the map, which necessitated figuring out how I created it in the first place. This has been on my to-do list for a long time but I was spurred on to get it done by a request from one of my wholesale customers. She sold a chart to someone who lives in Baker Lake, Nunavut, who was very anxious to have his own X on the map. Although the map really reflects the locations I’ve sold to directly, I was happy to fake up something for someone living in such an out-of-the-way place.

Map of Baker Lake, Nunavut

Have you ever heard of Nunavut? If so, you must be Canadian (or better at geography than I am). It turns out that it was only separated from the Northwest Territories (which I have heard of) in 1999, so I have a little bit of an excuse.

My main excuse for being so ignorant of geography is that I was in grade school during the cold war and what we had was military-industrial geography. Our textbook took the same approach to each country we studied: first, how many square miles it was. Then, since they realized that didn’t convey much, they would superimpose an outline of the country on an outline of whatever part of the US it was closest in size to. This was supposed to make it fun. But knowing that Remotistan is about the same size as Nebraska also doesn’t convey anything (except maybe a veiled suggestion that Remotistan sure doesn’t amount to much; countries that got compared to Rhode Island were obviously ridiculous). They would tell us what language or languages were spoken there — if it wasn’t English, there was an implication that the residents had got it wrong. We covered the form of government they had: democracy (correct) or other (incorrect). Then they would get down to a list of the products considered useful to the US. This always seemed to be grains and metals and minerals, no finished goods. The implication seemed to be that yes, the country might make precision-engineered cars or fine linens or fancy chocolates, but whatever they made, we could do it better. Sometimes they had a picture of apple-cheeked children in funny clothes, but that was about IT. I suppose we were shown where the country fit on the world map, but if you haven’t absorbed the location of country A, learning that country B is just to the east of it doesn’t help. (You can’t explain what chicken-fried steak is to someone who doesn’t know what chicken-fried chicken is.) It was really quite ugly and in a way I’m glad I didn’t learn anything. I certainly hope that geography is no longer being taught that way. But bit by bit, I’m filling in the gaps, and I’m glad to know where Nunavut is!

Tomato Truncation Tragedy
Monday, March 9th, 2009

We almost always have a warm spell starting around the middle of February and into early March, although it often gets cold again later.  This year I decided (partly spurred on by a coupon for 99 cent tomato plants at Red Barn) that I was going to get a jump on the season and get my tomatoes going.  Red Barn claims to carry varieties that do well in Austin.  We’ll see if they do or not.  They had a couple of varieties that say they are well-adapted to heat, one of which is supposed to keep bearing even in 100-degree heat.  (I got 2 of that kind.)  They were all nice healthy-looking plants, 7″ or 8″ high, and I intended to get them into the ground quickly.  I got a couple of herbs too, some spearmint because I used to have some but I think it died, and some thyme just because it smelled so good.  The young leaves have purple veins too, which is pretty.

But then, like an idiot, I left all the plants in the front yard, and the deer ate all but about an inch of each tomato plant.  (They ate a hunk of the thyme, too, but I guess it was a little strong for them, since they didn’t finish it off.)  Luckily each plant had at least one leaf left, so most of them are growing more leaves.  (This also gives me an excuse for not having planted them yet, since otherwise I don’t know what my excuse would be.)

I brought them in temporarily when it was supposed to get cold, which gave Jemima a chance to pretend she lives in a tomato bed.

Goodbye to the kittens
Monday, January 26th, 2009

The kittens have been growing practically before our eyes, and getting tamer and friendlier. Pearl learned to purr first, then Socks (who was initially surprised by the strange sound) caught on.

We set up a “tiger pole” for them and they learned to climb it (and more importantly, how to get down another way than falling off) and they have gotten lots of exercise racing up and down. They both learned to enjoy being petted, picked up, and snuggled, although Socks still is a bit skittish when he sees someone reaching for him. Once you have your hands on him, he starts purring immediately.

Pearl is really 100% tame. She loves to be the center of attention and if anyone tries to play just with Socks, or pat him, she has to butt in. He’s less outgoing, or less aggressive, and so we reluctantly decided they would do better if they went to different homes. They are adorable snuggling each other and playing together but he has visibly hurt feelings when Pearl is getting more attention than he is.

They came here about a week ago — it was just too awkward scheduling prospective “parents” to meet them at someone else’s house. Lucky has not been happy — he skulks outside the door of the room where we put them, and we had to put a mat in front of the door to keep him from sniffing and reaching under the door, and then put a weight against the mat so he couldn’t roll it away. When I catch him there, he trots away very quickly with sort of a “I certainly have no interest in whatever is going on in there” attitude. I have been lavishing lots of extra attention on him to keep him from feeling too jealous. Topsy and Jemima have not been interested in the kittens at all.

One of the main features of our guest room, as far as the kittens are concerned, is the disassembled bed. The mattress and box spring are leaning against the wall, long side vertical. They climbed up there almost immediately.

After checking on them several times, and finding them still on top of the mattress, I began to wonder if they could get down. I tried to entice them down and found that they really had no idea how to climb down. So I set up a ramp from the top of the mattress to the dresser. Pearl tried it immediately but it was too steep. I added a few books and that made it manageable — still a little slippery but OK. She wouldn’t try it again until she saw Socks navigate it, though.

That has been one of the most fun aspects of this whole project — seeing the way they learn from each other. Our cats do that too, occasionally, but these guys are at an age where they’re learning something new every day, or every hour. We brought in a “cat dancer” — little bits of cardboard tied to the end of a long flexible wire — and Socks loved it instantly. He chased it and gave crazy leaps after it, but Pearl was initially baffled by its unpredictable movements. She watched him play with it for about a day and then she had it figured out.

We have found good owners for them, I think — people who really want them, will keep them indoors, see that they get any medical attention they need (including spaying/neutering), and where they will each be the only pet. Socks went to his new home on Saturday and Pearl this morning. I so wish we could have kept them but it would not have been possible to give each of 5 cats the kind of attention they deserve, even if Lucky would have stood for it. We will miss them. We’ve been spending at least an hour a day with them for the past 5 weeks (and much more than that since they’ve been here). I have other uses for that time, but it’s hard to see them go.

Gallery updates
Wednesday, January 7th, 2009

Finally I have added the last few pictures I’ve received to the gallery. There weren’t as many waiting to go in as I thought, but some have been sitting in my inbox for quite a while. In retrospect, it’s a little hard to explain why this seemed like such an ordeal — it isn’t difficult and it doesn’t usually take very long. But December is cedar pollen time here, and it makes me tired, tired, tired to death. So much so that doing a half-hour task (that can be done sitting down) just seems impossible. I won’t go on about it because there’s little as boring as someone whining about their allergies; just wanted to let people who wondered what happened to their pictures know that I’m BACK!

Later: Well, I’m not finished after all. I THOUGHT there were more somewhere.

Much later: I added 6 more pictures to the gallery and was about to write that I am really caught up, when I realized that another one came in this morning! Now I’ve added it too, and I think I am really, really caught up. I use my email inbox like a to-do list which makes it a little hard to see at a glance what’s what. But I learned a long time ago if I put things that needed some sort of attention into a different folder (for example, I had one for suggestions) they would just languish there forever.

Bierstadt and Half Dome
Thursday, December 18th, 2008

I had another browse through some Bierstadt paintings and I was wrong — there is a painting with Half Dome in it, although it’s not exactly a painting OF Half Dome:

It’s called, appropriately enough, The Domes of the Yosemite. I believe this is a view from the top of lower Yosemite Falls, with the upper falls on the left (although we didn’t go up there; the falls were dry). It’s somewhere between this view (Washington Column on the left, guess who on the right):

and Tunnel View (this is the first view of the valley you get driving in):

You have to imagine you’re down the valley and around the corner from El Cap (on the left).

Comparing the Bierstadt view to the topo map, I believe the point jutting over the left side of the valley is Washington Column, the round dome between it and the falls is North Dome, and the sliced-off round place directly in front of North Dome is Royal Arches. I think the largest dome on the right is Half Dome — it doesn’t quite look like it, but there have been massive rock falls from the face since Bierstadt was there, so I think the rock in front of what appears to be Half Dome just isn’t there any more. My best guess.

And by the way, I’m working on a chart of “The Domes of the Yosemite”.

Spam and eggs
Wednesday, December 17th, 2008

This has nuthin’ to do with nuthin’ (as a friend of mine would say), but it’s such a great idea that I had to share. It came in what was essentially a spam email. Here it is: when making devilled eggs, put the yolks in a zip-loc bag instead of a dish to mash them up with the salad dressing and whatever else you put in your eggs.

This makes the eggs fast to mix, you can get ALL the lumps out, and you don’t have a dish to wash afterwards. Snip a corner of the bag to squeeze the filling into the eggs (and you also waste less filling).

I mooshed the filling down a little. I also accidentally discovered that putting the eggs on a paper towel dries the bottoms so they don’t skate around on a plate. I could probably have figured this out if I had ever really thought about it.

The eggs don’t skate when I use my cute egg plate (it’s an egg-shaped plate with depressions for a dozen half eggs). I didn’t use it this time because somehow there were only 4 eggs left in what I was thinking of as a new carton of eggs. The plate empties quickly, but you don’t want to start out with it half-empty.

This bag approach is similar to the Aunt Jemima cornbread mix which comes in a bag in a little pan. You add the milk and eggs to the mix in the bag, moosh it around, squeeze the batter into the pan, and bake. As I recall, it’s not especially good cornbread, but I thought it was so much fun to make when I was a kid.

Monday, December 15th, 2008

In October we trapped a bunch of feral cats and took them to the Humane Society to be fixed. The vet told us that one of the cats had had kittens recently, and recently she started bringing her kittens to our garage to eat. There were only two kittens, which is a small litter. (I hope it isn’t the case that there were originally more and something happened to the others, but we once had a cat that gave birth to a single kitten, so perhaps spotty nutrition accounts for the small litter.) The kittens are absolutely adorable — aren’t kittens always? They are probably about 12 weeks old.

We’re calling them Little Socks and Little Pearl because they look just like their uncle Socks and aunt Pearl. (Yes, we are breaking ALL the stray cat rules — 1. Stray cats will not be fed. 2. Stray cats will not be fed anything but dry cat food. … 7. Stray cats will absolutely not be given a name. We are currently also feeding Coco (the mother of the kittens), Patches, Blinky, Sandy, and Brindle Cat — the mother of all the adult cats except Patches, and the only one that hasn’t been spayed or neutered.)

The kittens pretty much lived in our garage for a while, back in the shelves on an old bath mat. More recently the older cats have been showing them the ropes, the pond in the back yard for water, the leaf pile for other needs, etc. They are very playful, jumping each other, swatting older cats’ tails, playing “King of the Mountain” in the silver maple, and on and on.

After much agonizing about what would be best for them, we captured them and are working on getting them used to people so that they can have homes. (The Humane Society’s adoption program won’t take them unless they are friendly.) I would LOVE to have them here but Lucky, who is very easily stressed, would go crazy if he thought MORE cats might be coming to live here. Instead, a friend agreed to foster them, and they’re currently living in her guest bathroom. (A bathroom is a good place to start new kittens because they can’t get someplace where they aren’t retrievable, they can’t do any damage, and it’s a small space. When we brought Lucky home and let him loose, as he discovered what a big world he was suddenly in, he got more and more panicky. He was much happier in the bathroom until he got used to things.)

At first the kittens were not very happy with the strange hard white surfaces.

But they have quickly gotten more comfortable.
(I wish I could get a picture without the glaring red irises but you can see that Little Pearl has blue eyes — she’s a beautiful kitten.)

My friend and her husband visit them often in the bathroom, and we’re visiting also most days. Little Pearl is already allowing herself to be petted. They have lots of toys and apparently are having a pretty good time for themselves, and I’m glad they’re not outdoors — they were born very late in the year and it’s cold out. So I trust this story will have a happy ending. We’ll probably try to find them homes ourselves without going through the Humane Society — not that I have anything against the Humane Society, but Lucky was there only 5 days and he caught the feline equivalent of kennel cough and almost died, although he was younger and smaller than these two. If we can tame these guys, get them their shots, and send them directly to a good home or two, that would be best.

Update: here’s the latest picture — they are in the bathroom sink.

Balcones Canyonlands
Wednesday, December 3rd, 2008

We went for a walk at Balcones Canyonlands over the weekend. It sounds like something at Disneyland, but it’s really our closest National Wildlife Refuge. It’s habitat for the endangered black-capped vireo and golden-cheeked warbler, but I usually go for flowers or butterflies or just to get outdoors.

This is at Doeskin Ranch; two other sections are really just birding platforms.

Texas is not a place most people associate with fall color, but it exists — you just have to wait until late November. The colors would have been spectacular had it been a sunny day but we were having a gloomy Novemberish day. On the other hand, this time of year the sun is so low in the sky much of the day that it would have been annoying. This is a good year for color — the Spanish oaks, sumac leaves and berries, persimmons, and poison ivy are bright red — the cedar elms are bright yellow. The dark green of the cedars shows them off beautifully (it’s really Ashe juniper, but people here call it cedar). Other trees have already lost their leaves.

This time of year, it helps to have an appreciation for dried plants. Liatris mucronata or Blazing Star blooms in late September, but the died heads are attractive in their own way.

If you look around, the rosettes of next year’s flowers are getting started. This is Erodium texanum, or Texas stork’s bill. It’s a little geranium that blooms in early spring.

The junipers are covered with berries. I’m not a gin drinker but I do like the smell of juniper berries.

We hiked up the Rimrock Trail to start with. It’s a silly name because although they have managed to make the trail very steep, this is not really much of a canyon. Walking along the plateau at the top, we found a new trail (or new to us), the Indiangrass Trail. I assume this is Indiangrass.

The trail winds and winds down the valley and eventually returns to the top of the ridge. They should call it the Cairn Trail. This borders on the absurd, don’t you think?There are two more cairns in sight up to the right. It’s a very easy trail to follow so I can only assume that someone had a lot of time on their hands. Then, about 2/3 of the way along — no more cairns. It’s as if they thought, “Ok, you should have the picture by now — you’re on your own.”

If you go to Balcones Canyonlands in October, it can be a great place for Monarch butterflies. There’s a lot of frostweed (Verbesina virginica) which isn’t much to look at but the butterflies find it tasty! I’ve seen as many as six Monarchs on a single plant.
But they drift on the wind as they migrate so they don’t always get to Balcones. This picture is from another year; by now the frostweed has dried up.

Yosemite in the fall
Wednesday, November 5th, 2008

We got back from Yosemite about a week and a half ago and I am finally almost caught up. (What? You didn’t notice I was gone? That’s because of the secrets I learned in the Orient which enable me to pass invisibly among men.)

We stayed in the Wawona Hotel which is one of the lodges in the park and did day hikes. The first day we hiked in the west end of the Yosemite Valley, and here is El Capitan:

We were walking along the Merced River when a black bear came out of the woods on the other side and had himself a bath.

So much for my theory that the bears might be hibernating. I had brought a couple of bags of trail snacks and it was very hard to know what to do with them — the park doesn’t want you to leave them in your car or the bears will rip your car apart, and the hotel doesn’t want them in the rooms because they’ll attract mice. Yeah, carry them with you, but you can’t walk all the time (especially me).

This is Cathedral Peak, same day. I didn’t connect it with the Bierstadt painting of Cathedral Rock until later — his view is from way down the valley.

The next day my knee was trashed so we had a mostly driving day. We drove out the Tioga Road which crosses the park east-west and is a winding chain of sheer drops with no guard rails. We stopped at Tenaya Lake, famous from the Ansel Adams photograph.

The jet trails are coming from Reno, I believe.

On to Mono Lake (actually a little east of the park). I had a vague impression that the tufa towers were caused by pollution but that’s not quite the story.

They form natually underwater when the calcium carbonate in the lake water reacts with something in the fresh water entering the lake. They’re visible now because Los Angeles has been siphoning water off from the feeder streams for years. This has been very bad for the lake and everything trying to live in it. A few years ago an agreement was reached that half the drop in water level would be replaced, and the lake is within about 10 feet of the target level, if I recall. The last 10 feet will take much longer because of the larger area to fill. The bird in the water is a western grebe. This does not count as an animal picture.

We stopped at Tuolumne meadow on the way back and walked to Soda Springs (a naturally carbonated spring) just for a place to go. We saw this coyote on the way back.

We visited a couple of sequoia groves. Here’s the upper grove at Mariposa Grove:

The building is a museum which was closed for the winter. And yes, we saw the tree in Bierstadt’s painting, the Grizzly Giant!

They had been burning the grove (lower down; you can’t tell from this picture). For a long time there haven’t been any new sequoias getting started because they need fire, and the Park Service has been on a no-fires mission for years and years. A managed burn clears away the pine litter on the ground so the seeds can germinate, the ash nourishes the young trees, and the fire doesn’t hurt the old trees.

The Mariposa grove was full of tame animals. I refused to take pictures of the mule deer, although I pointed some out to a woman who was taking pictures of every animal she saw. She crept up on the deer very slowly, taking pictures all the way, only to discover that the deer probably would only have moved if she had kicked it (and maybe not then). I do like ground squirrels:

The markings on their fur look like feathers. This guy was completely focused on his digging and only moved when I stepped around him.

I took a lot of pictures of Half Dome from various angles. Here’s Half Dome and Tenaya canyon from Glacier Point:

Glacier Point is at about 7200 feet with a 270-degree view, and there is a 4-mile trail from it down to the valley, which I think is at least a 4000-foot drop. Must be quite a trail.

When we got home, I went through a lot of Bierstadt paintings on a couple of web sites to see what his views were like. He painted at least 100 pictures of Yosemite’s domes, peaks, waterfalls, and canyons, but as far as I can find, not a single picture of Half Dome. That seems very strange. Maybe Half Dome wasn’t really famous until Ansel Adams photographed it.

We also walked down Tenaya canyon one day. It passes Mirror Lake which is the brown spot among the trees at the lower center of the picture. The Park Service has allowed it to silt up (they used to dredge it each year), and while there may be water after the snow melts, in the fall it’s just a sand pit. It’s on a list of “most overrated” destinations in Yosemite. One guy who hadn’t gotten the word asked us where Mirror Lake was, and was very put out when we told him he was looking at it.

We had beautiful weather with chilly nights and daytime highs of about 70, and it was really a relaxing trip, in no small part because there was no TV, no radio, no internet, no email, no cell service (we were apparently the ONLY people in Yosemite not getting cell service, but I think they were the ones losing by it — what sense is there in climbing to a beautiful spot and calling the office?).

Millions of cats
Thursday, October 16th, 2008

We picked up the four cats yesterday and stacked their carriers in the laundry room overnight so that they would stay warm and we could keep an eye on them. The good news is that they all came through the surgery fine. The bad news is that one of the females had kittens about 5 or 6 weeks ago. They said she probably wasn’t still nursing but I let her go a bit ahead of schedule. (They say you should monitor females for 24 hours after surgery but if they’re nursing the kittens need them.) I haven’t seen the kittens yet but she will no doubt bring them to the food at some point and then we get to do this again. I hope that if we can catch them while they’re very young they can be socialized and adopted. The Humane Society has a bunch of adult cats for adoption, but kittens always go quickly.

We were also able to get one of the Humane Society’s good traps, and caught one more cat last night, which went to be fixed this morning. We re-set the trap, but only caught a possum.

The Humane Society here, and I imagine most places, has a trap/spay-neuter/release program which they say is the only proven humane way to control feral cat populations. They spay or neuter the cats, give pain medication, worm them, clean their ears, give them a flea treatment, a dose of penicillin, and a rabies shot, all for free. Quite a deal. You can have other things done for a fee. I don’t know if the vets donate their services but I’m sure they at least give them a reduced rate. I checked into having our vet spay or neuter these cats and it would have been several hundred dollars, depending on how many were females. They also “tip” the left ear (remove about 1/4″ from the eartip) — they say this is the universal sign that a feral cat has been spayed or neutered, and it’s mandatory. Then they go back to wherever they came from, and live out their lives but without increasing the population. It feels like a bit of an uphill battle (and it must seem like a mountain to the people at the Humane Society) but I’m sure it makes things better than they would be if nothing were done.

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