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The Train to Zagreb

Huge and modern Prague Train Station For the second time this trip, we caught a train. This time we headed for Zagreb in Croatia.  W...

Saturday, March 31, 2007

WAH!

I've waited years for the camera of my dreams to finally materialize - a digital that takes photos as sharp as camera film does. Then when I found that camera, I waited for the lens-of-my-dreams to materialize - a lens for taking long distance shots of wildlife. The lens was finally invented & it has auto focus and image stabilizer to steady the shot because I prefer hand holding my camera for wildlife shots.

So last week my dream lens arrived and today I took it south to Mercy Hot Springs to try it out on Long-eared Owl photos. THE LENS REFUSES TO FOCUS AT ANYTHING OVER 250 MM And its a 100 - 400 zoom! So 90% of the photos I took are out of focus and I could just cry I'm so upset. Yes, I know there are more important things to be upset over in this world - we are at war - but damn it, I am so disappointed. The camera will be boxed up and UPS'd on Monday. I'll be going on my next two vacations with my old, non-image stabilizing 100-300 zoom lens.

Imagine if these owl photo had been in focus! The photo on top I took at less than 300mm and at that focal length I almost got the lens to focus, but the lower photo was taken at 400mm.

Doesn't this baby look like a Chupacabra?

Friday, March 30, 2007

Casablanca Night

Don drove up from the Bay Area for a weekend of ALL BIRDS, ALL THE TIME; my favorite way to spend time. I was woefully unprepared for company – as usual these days. Since I am so out of practice in the cooking arts, we went out for dinner. We stopped by my favorite Japanese Restaurant, Mikuni’s but as always, although Mikuni’s has commandeered and added all the surrounding shops to its floor space, the wait for seating was 45 minutes. We opted to eat sooner.

So we drove down to Casablanca, a most beloved restaurant. Maurite is the owner of the Casablanca and I haven’t seen him in years now, his brother does all the waiting for the place most of the time.

Casablanca is all Moroccan style. Diners sit on authentic hassocks or if for those who do not fancy sitting cross-legged, all the tables are along a comfy, pillowed bench that lines three walls of the large dining area. The tables are ornate brass trays atop linen covered low pedestals.

Morrocans are a clean bunch - so before your food is served the you hold out your hands over a silver basin and Maurit's brother pours warm water over them for you from a silver kettle. You dry your hands with a fluffy white towel that serves as your serviet during the meal; handy, because the meal is largely eaten with your fingers. All the above delights, plus, Fridays & Saturday evenings are accented by live belly dancing.

Alternately, two young women shimmied and shook for our dining entertainment. We had the ‘Royal Dinner’; each guest choosing an individual entrĂ©e which is served after several courses of Moroccan food. For starters, iced or hot mint tea is served with fragrant hot lentil soup. Next is 'salad' - cold spiced veggies such as stewed carrots & spicy spinach. That is followed by Pastilla. I was surprised Don didn’t remember the Pastilla, but I think on his last visit the pastilla was wolfed down so quickly he didn't form a memory of it. Pastilla is layers of phillo dough, sprinkled with powdered sugar. At Casablanca the Pastillas are all etched with a heart of drizzled honey. Inside the delicate hot pastry is a delicioius mix of eggs, chicken and almonds. Sounds strange perhaps but it is amazingly yummy.

Next the main dishes are served. Don chose Moroccan spicy meatballs. I skipped my usual favorite, rabbit, choosing instead to have the chicken (Cornish hen) with honey sauce, sesame seed & prunes. Like all the other dishes, the 'Chicken with Prunes and Spices' tastes far more delictible than it may sound.

When last we ate at Casablanca, Rose, Don's young daughter was with us. The girl can be quite a fussy eater. She put up her nose at the first course, the lentil soup. She did not even want to try sipping it straight out of her small bowl. “I want a spoon!” she demanded, and she was given one. Then she sniffed the soup as if it might be poisoned. Hesitantly she touched her tongue to the liquid on the spoon. OMYGAWDITSGOOD! She gulped down her soup and when the salad came Rose dug right in. From that moment on the meal was competitive eating and for once, I lost! I have never before or since seen Rose eat so much or so eagerly. Don too, come to that.


A bit down the bench I sat on was a family of five who chatted in Spanish. When not enjoying stuffing bills into the dancer’s belts, Don commented to them, in Spanish which he learned in the Peace Corps. By the meal’s end our groups merged a bit, enjoyin a chat. The father is an American whose father is from Central America (sound familiar?) and his wife - four months pregnant - is a lovely lady from Barcelona Spain. We were all in solidarity over the occupant of the White house and our country’s lame health care system. They are so disenchanted with the way things are going in the States they are moving to Spain where the health care is free and they don't have to put up with the Shrub. Their youngest child - a four year old girl, was all over the room, bouncing about like a bunny. Happily, Casablanca is amazingly family friendly. All three kids even had a go at belly dancing with ‘the big, scary dancing ladies’.

Then the to my delight, the owner Maurit came in! I hardly recognized him at first, it's been such a long time. He sat with us for a bit to chat. What a nice guy – he always makes his guests feel like you’re the most special people to ever walk through his doors. No wonder I'm so fond of dinner at the Casablaca.

Battlefield - the Gulag Garden under attack

Damn, damn, DAMN!

Yesterday after work I walked along my front flower beds with the idea of gloating over the beautiful little Hosta seedlings I planted a week ago. My jaw dropped - my poor seedlings looked like Swiss Cheese - numerous holes in the leaves.

I was horrified by the holes, but holes beat out what happened to the Blue Mountain variety. Two of the three seedlings I planted were eaten by the snails, right down to the soil line. Apparently in snail-speak the word for candy is 'Blue Mountain Hosta'.

Oh yeah... and I put down the snail bait all right. Don't worry none about that!

Friday, March 23, 2007

I'll be happy with whatever comes up, really.

Received my Genographic test kit in the mail today. The kit has all sorts of educational stuff I'll read over the weekend, including the bucal swab materials for sampling my mitochondrial DNA(bucal... HAHAHAHA!) .

The only reason I bothered to mention the kit just now is the invoicing slip gave me a good laugh. The invoice has the usual generic packing slip for exchanges/returns of merchandise which includes a generalized list of coded reasons for returning merchandise, e.g., damaged' and defective, style not as expected, or damaged in transit. But the first listed reason for returning one's gene test kit is.... (drum roll please):

COLOR NOT AS EXPECTED

HAHAHAHAHAHAAAA!

Most Boring Topic in the Known World

What's the most boring topic in the world; someone else's dreams. However, since this is MY dream, not someone else's, so I know my dream is of great interest (oh shut up).

Haven't had this sort of nuclear holocaust dream since I was a kid; I was staring out the window at the city and saw a humongous bright flash of light, followed by a massive rush of rubble headed my way. I shouted to my brother Juan, cousin Fernandez (where the HELL did thoughts of Fernandez come from???) and niece Doris that a nuclear bomb had gone off. My brother pointed to a large football game going on at a nearby stadium, saying the explosion was only the cheering of the crowds, the dust storm was caused by the excited crowds of football fans cheering and waving home team flags.

Have no idea where the eff that dream came from. It was nice visiting with the relatives though, even if it was only in the dream scape.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

The Gulag Garden

The only creatures known to make as much kafuffle as I do following an accomplishment are hens. There are many who claim that I make far more noise than any Leghorn egg layer but I say such people are only envious of my accomplishments (as well as being annoyingly truthful). Recently I decided to renovate the backyard, so I begin to garden in earnest. After all, I am physically capable of doing so - or so I tell myself - and if I do so there ought be a great deal of satisfaction and far less $ spent) if I provide the labor. I've spent hours and hours daydreaming of what I can accomplish in the 'back forty' - taking into consideration that I haven't got a mule.

My first big project is putting in a brick border around the area I enjoy calling 'flower bed' – it's actually a weed bed. A second project is renovating the Hawthorn Island, an crabgrass encased oasis on the backyard lawn that holds my berry bearing, Cedar Waxwing delight - my Hawthorn tree. The Hawthorn island harbors the rampaging, brown shirted, hobnail booted German Iris I’ve fussed about a week ago (see horrid iris HERE). Ugh! The iris bed is a nasty, gnarly mess of crab grass, slugs, snails, iris rhizomes and a million privet seedlings that grow from seed to humongous shrub in a matter of days. I am determined that all the weeds and unwieldy plants in the Hawthorn Island are - to use street lingo - 'going down fothermucker!' (I got that bit wrong, didn't I?). There are many other things in the back forty to be done too, such as removing and replacing numerous garden casualties such as my dearly de-budded blue butterfly bush; may it R.I.C. (rest in compost).

Over the weekend I stunned myself by actually bricking a wee corner of the future flower bed. Later, tiring of stoop labor I then stained and water treated several redwood pots and such (several = 2). See? I told you – if I do the work, this blog is damned well going to showcase every drop of sweat on my brow. Harumph, and same to you buddy.

I am determined to garden so please, don't try and stop me. I must do this for myself.

Please; won't someone, for pity's sake, please stop me?

Friday, March 16, 2007

Free Stuff!

What my own global map should look like after a year

Hurrah! Found free source for a cluster map of all visitors to my site from around the world. Now am doubly happy I didn't give in to shelling out $ for the same service from NeoWorx. This version from ClustrMap will hold a record of all visitors to my site for a full year. Not bad for a freebee, eh?

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Behold, the Only Thing Greater Than Myself! moreorless

So much for my personal pledge to cut spending. Came across the Genographic Project on the Internet today and couldn't whip out that ATM card fast enough. Here is what I get for my squadered pennies:
  • Bucal Swab Kit (eeeeew!) for collecting adequate Claire Samples (who knew the roots of my genetic heritage could be sampled without necessitating the dropping my drawers!);

  • a map showing the migration of humans from the dawn of time, i.e., not to include any recent migration north from Mexico, without whom I would have no veggies or fresh fruit to eat (Thank you agricultural workers!); and

  • DVD all about the Genographic Project and my perceived relevance to it.
I get all of the above, plus in a month or two I'll be able to look up myself up via my cool & ever-so-secret-identity for a look at the origins of my maternal lineage. I'm expecting some relationship to both Kizzy Kinte (Kunta's Mama) and more importantly, Royalty - i.e., Lady Lucy of the Gorge de Olduvai. I hope to see my paternal grandmama's roots too, she was half Cherokee so who knows where that particular family tree limb could lead. This ought to be fun!
Lady Lucy
In other news - I was late getting home from work today. The shuttle bus that whisks us to the State Parking Lot - often at movie chase scene speeds [e.g., turning corners with only one wheel on the ground] turned left at the park & we saw the bus came to a dead halt (no oncoming pun intended). Our #142 bus hit some poor sod attempting to cross the street. My arrival home was delayed.

Ghastly business; genetic material of the hapless victim was everywhere. No bucal swab kits around when its convienient.
[Management is appalled at Claire's callousness towards the hapless innocent that was run over yesterday by a humongous bus. Apologies are extended to the family of the individual as well as the flattened victim himself. Also management wishes the individual a recovery that is even speedier than was the aforementioned bus. The only excuse Management has for Claire's lack of judgment in her comments is because when two seemingly unrelated and diverse incidents happen all on the same day, one can hardly expect Claire to not celebrate the thin silk thread of commonality between the two isolated incidents i.e., a gene testing kit + a bus accident = a irrepressible giggle for Claire. ]

Saturday, March 10, 2007

You Think?


So I'm thinking this is Mother Nature dropping the hint that I ought to stop yapping and start gardening.

Monday, March 05, 2007

Attack of the Reluctant Green Thumb

The pool has reverted into a primeval soup. I turned on the filter system and dumped in a couple of shock treatments but what is really needed is to clean the filter basket. Unfortunately the manufacturers of the pump system seemed to think home owners have trained & amiable anthropoid apes on board. It would take such a gorilla to open the lid to get at the filter basket. If a woman had designed the thing it would only take a leveraged handle and touch of elbow grease to open, but noooo - a guy designed it; only a gorilla on steroids could twist open the damned filter lid.

Aside from the pool, the back yard is looks wonderful sort of o.k. The brown-shirted, hobnail-booted, goose-stepping German Iris are sending up invading hords of shoots. I intend to uproot and donate them to gardeners at work who might enjoy huge chocolate Iris blooms. Myself, I prefer more colorful blooms.

yes, my garden is a bit of a disaster

I blew it again. Was at Target and could not resist the call of flower seeds - assorted sunflowers, butterfly-colored snapdragons, golden coreopsis and some ciantro too boot. Hopefully I'll actually plant them. Some weeks ago I gave away a large stash of aged flower seed to an Internet buddy. Obviously in possesion of a green thumb, she got most of those seeds to sprout. I'm hoping I can manage to get my fresh seeds out of the paper envelope and into the soil; Stay tuned.

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Weekend in Napa

I spent most of the weekend in Napa. Early Sunday afternoon I found myself seated with Barbara, her sister Suzi and their cousins Sharon and Diane. We took turns weeping as they discussed arrangements for Irmgard who left this earthly plane Friday morning. It was strange to see one’s own generation making plans, which in this case included no funeral, but instead a Spring picnic for everyone to gather together in remembrance of Irmgard. The good lady’s ashes will be dispersed on the ocean, also in the Spring when the weather improves.

This growing older & losing your parents, or for that matter losing your older relatives , truly sucks.

Hans, Barb & Suzi's dad of course, all considered is doing well. When I visit him in his little TV room, 'the Bunker', he continues to recognize me.

'It's Claire! Sweetie pie,' Hans says and he perks up a bit.

He still recognizes me! That is some sort of miracle and it totally warms my heart. He had a horrible sleepless night Friday. He sat weeping in the Bunker, saying 'Traurig, sehr traurig...'


Yes, very sad indeed.