Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Spring, and Almond Blossoms Once More

It's just a fact that you're going to hear about almond blossoms for a while.

The air is incredibly fragrant with them here in the Almond Capital of the World, and the orchards on all sides are gracing the landscape with flowers.

Today I took Howie and the Sony camera for a walk along one of the nearby orchards, and this was just about my favorite shot. I like how the blossoms are backlit by the sun, and I like the contrast between the shade on the stems and the white of the petals.

It was hazy today, not a harsh sunlight. The air was delightfully warm, and the bees were active enough that near the trees, the hum of their wings was the main sound to be heard.

I was ready for some sweet weather. I even shaved my legs today, preparing for some brief sitting in the sun in shorts.

Tomorrow I ride for the first time since my riding partner was thrown from her horse last October and had her wrist shattered. I have to say that seeing her fall, screaming as I thought the horse fell on top of her, and the ensuing drive to the hospital really have put me off riding. It's up to clever Dink to bring me back.

Sunday, February 24, 2008


This sinister crowd congregates in the evenings in my neighbor's sycamore tree.

It's a mixed flock, containing cowbirds and common grackles. When the evening deepens, and the time of perching approaches, the flock begins circling the neighborhood.

Why they circle the neighborhood is unknown to me; I know where they are going to finish up their swooping flight, surely they do, too?

They are going to end up in the blue gum eucalyptus in my front yard, which houses seasonal grackles, sparrows, warblers, finches, robins, a rude kinglet, and hummingbirds. The flock of grackles and cowbirds trace elliptical paths over our block, making tighter and tighter passes at the blue gum. As they swerve in the air above us, if there is no traffic on the street, if there isn't some moron blasting a car radio, we hear them change direction with an amazing swooshing sound, a sound you might expect to hear if you took a fan made of feathers and brushed it rapidly and gently over your ear.

Maybe it's a kind of dance for them to share with each other, a last pledge of flockdom for the night. "We fly together, we turn together, we hold together, and as the sun goes down, we rest together." At the end of the flight, all at once, they fly into the eucalyptus. There is a rattling of leaves as they settle themselves, a few complaintive chirps, and then they are done, home for the night, until the sun wakes them from the other side of the sky.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Pantsleg Grocery Bags

I know I've presented this material before, in the Piker Press, in an article called "Grocery Shopping: Panstlegs or Plastic."

However, I wanted to make the information as widely known as I know how to do, and Google is very interested in Blogger information; maybe other people can find this little demonstration more easily if it's on the blog as well as in the Press.

The first time checkout people see the denim shopping bags, I have to explain what they are; usually the checker picks them up and starts looking for a bar code to scan. After I explain that these are my shopping bags, the next question is "You MADE these?" (I don't know why that's so unusual.)

The baggers get really friendly with the bags then, and handle them a lot, stroking the fabric and opening them to look inside. The first time they load them, they seem a bit awkward and tentative -- it is a different shape of a bag for them, after all.

The next time is quite different. They handle the bags confidently, and will even lecture a co-worker on how to load them for maximum efficiency.

Other customers have admired the bags, too, but most of them have no idea how simple the construction is. That's why I'm reprinting (with permission) the plans from the article in the Piker Press.

Cut the pants legs away from the rest of the pants.

Cut the weaker inside seam away.

Cut off the seam of the cuff. We cut off the seams because they are bulky bits our sewing machines will not want to deal with. I have known otherwise dependable sewing machines to go on strike and walk out of the house when asked to sew over blue jean seams.

Fold the bottom of the split leg to the top, inside out; even the top line if necessary.

Sew the sides together, top to bottom; don't worry if one side is wider than the other -- that just makes it more basket-like. Fold down a half inch along the top to make a hem and sew that.

Cut two denim strips about 2 1/2 inches wide by 27 inches long.

I sewed a line of stitching 1/4 inch away from each edge of the strips; these will be the handles, and I wanted to be able to stop the raw edges of the denim from raveling. Certainly I could have made the strips wider, turned the edges under and made proper hems on all sides, but my cheapie sewing machine hasn't that much power, I haven't that much patience, and we're talking grocery bags here, not red carpet accessories.

Attach the handles to the bag, giving them five inches of attachment for strength. I tested the prototype with a full large box of doggie treats, a small sack of apples, a box of tea, some canned goods from the pantry -- and the handles held, at that point secured only by four dressmaker's pins. Sewn onto the body of the bag, the handles could easily safely carry a watermelon.

I made four of the bags in an afternoon. They will take the place of six to eight paper grocery bags easily; probably take the place of ten or twelve plastic bags.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Just Because I Can!

What are those? Apples? Tomatoes?

Guess again, they are berries from nandina domestica, otherwise known as Heavenly Bamboo, and they are in real life, only about 3/8 of an inch across. Now, besides the fact that I like Heavenly Bamboo, with its colorful foliage and graceful habit, what does the size of the berries have to do with anything?

The "anything" is my new camera, the Sony Cybershot DSC-H7, and its fascinating "macro" feature.

I can set the camera to "macro" mode, and put the lens as close as 1/2 inch away from the subject, and it will focus.

The trick is to keep my hands from shaking! I went through the Jitters Phase with my first digital camera, thinking that apparently I was better off with film than with digital because all my pictures were coming out blurred. Eventually I got a few to come out well, and my confidence returned.

It rained here a few days ago ... all right, I'll be honest, it rained for a week here a few days back, and on the first sunny morning, I went out and played with the camera. The droplets on the fern pine (not a fern, not a pine, but rather podocarpus gracilior) came out unexpectedly well, considering that the area is in shade at that time of day.

That's the kind of shot I've always wanted to be able to take since I got my first cheapie B/W plastic camera when I was seven. (And couldn't, of course.)

Cheerfully, in the wet backyard, I went around snapping photos not only close up, but also to catch one of my favorite phenomena in this part of the world: the mysterious smoking fence.

The first spring I lived in California, I saw the smoking fence and rushed out the gate to see what vandals had set fire to my side yard, only to find that it was steam from the heat of the sun on the wet boards of the fence.

Such is the power of the California sun, and oh, how I welcome it again!

Last of the Sansanquas

Sasanqua camellias are so lovely.

I planted this one on the back bank in a spot that has become semi-shady due to the growth of the shrubs around it. It's been almost two years since I planted it; this year I wasn't sure it would bloom at all after the freezes of the year before, and my neglect of my gardens this past year.

Much to my surprise, a week before Halloween last year, I spotted a bright pink flash of color: the sasanqua had begun blooming.

October is a little early for their bloom; I usually think of them as being Thanksgiving color. When the blossoming began so soon, I thought surely that by Christmas all the color would be gone.

Not so, not so. True to form, the camellia continued blooming through January, and although I'll have to wait until next fall to see them again, these last flowers are welcome: their disappearance means ... it's Spring.

Friday, February 08, 2008

Whoa, I'm alive!

It's unbelievable how quickly time passes.

Three weeks have passed since I've posted on this blog. Now normally, when I follow a blog, I get really irritable if the blogger doesn't post more than once a week. This space of time that I've been distracted ought to teach me a sharp lesson: sometimes bloggers don't have the time or the inclination to post. And/or: bloggers need to get off their asses and post.

I've caught yet another cold. I can't remember a winter when I was sick so much since I was a little kid. Is it because I'm run down from last summer's travails, or because Lillian is bringing home every new virus her kindergarten buddies have to offer? At this point, I'm ready to do HazMat gear until summer.

I have a backlog of photos for this blog. Maybe tomorrow I'll find the energy to present them.