A Traveler and his Cat exploring America.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

The Cellphone and the Gift Cards

I have a cellphone. The only person I ever call is my wife. Then usually it is only if I am in the grocery store for example. "Hi. I'm in Safeway. What kind of flour am I suppose to get? There's quite a few different types here." The only person who ever calls me is my wife. Most of the time I never hear the phone ring since I am riding my motorcycle or bicycle, have the music too loud in the car or forget to turn the thing on which I hear about when I get back home. "Why have a phone if you never turn it on?" The last two times she called me she had to leave a message. "But I had it on" I pleaded in my defense. I tested it at home and sure enough the phone went to the message saving part instead of ringing. After fiddling with it for way too long, I went to the phone store. As I walked in carrying the phone in my hand, the sales guy's eyebrows went up. I explained what was going on and he immediately said that my phone was so old they had phased out the frequency or whatever it was operating on. They gave me a new updated model which contained a camera. That in itself is a whole other story but I eventually got the hang of using the camera part.

As I wrote in a previous post our family has this drawing names thing for Christmas gift giving. I feel sorry for the poor soul who draws my name. Therein  lies another whole story or post. I tried to make it easy by suggesting a gift card at a book store. Come Christmas day I got a package full of little items from that unlucky one. He did good. Part was a Barnes & Noble gift card plus another one for Peets Coffee. For those of you not living here on the left coast of the U.S., think Starbucks but only better. So on this rainy cold day I went downtown to cash in on my book card, walked across the street for a coffee drink and sat outside watching life go by as I sipped my mocha. It wasn't until I was wondering what time it was I remembered my phone would tell me, and then thought of the camera feature. "I could have been taking pictures!"

I don't think this is too bad at all for a cellphone camera. I set it for black & white since I feel urban pictures look better that way.

Notice the guy on the corner playing the horn. He'd switch from it to a sax, then flute and back pretty much playing the same rambling slow tune which I think he was making up as he went along. Ocassionally he would march in place trying to keep the circulation going in his feet.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

The Grandson's Christmas Gift from Grandpa

So here the great mystery is revealed. I made each a scooter similar to what I had as a young boy.
It remains to be seen how well they will hold up. It wasn't till I was well into the project did I think about looking into my scrapbook at the picture of me with my scooter my dad had made for me.
That's me on the right.

Looking closely at Tony's scooter, that thing had to have been indestructible. His dad used 2x6's! Mine was of thinner 1" pine board and it never broke. I recall shelf braces on mine so I did the same for the grandkids. Undoubtedly side bracing like Tony's would be better, but I was using plywood for this project so side bracing would not work as well. Notice the steel wheels from a set of roller skates. State of the art in the 50's. For the grandkids they got modern polyurethane wheels. These I took off skateboards which I bought at Toys R Us.
Tony, his sister Teena (referred to in the Christmas 1957 post) and me.

I assembled the first scooter and foolishly stood on it, cracking it in half. Damn! Now I had to make another, wondering if I needed to adhere warning signs on the finished item in regards to weight limits, not designed for adults, manufacturer assumes no responsibilty for loss of life while using this product.

So if Miles and Gavin's scooters fail, I still have the skateboard blanks and have a plan to re-do a newer more durable scooter using them with a thicker upright piece secured together with side bracing.
In case you are wondering why I didn't use the skateboards to begin with, several reasons: 1. They have all these heavy metal death graphics on the underside (what kind of message are we sending our youth?),  2. they are curved up on each end which posed a problem for the upright piece, and 3. I wanted the whole thing to be something made by grandpa.

Oh and why did I stand on the first scooter? What was I thinking? It was the kid in me. I wanted to take it for a spin. As I was writing this up I was thinking how cool it would be to build a larger one for myself. But I do enough already to embarrass my family as it is so best I pass on that idea.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Christmas 1957

I was in third grade. The Christmas tree was set up in front of our large front room window. My mother had impeccably decorated it as always, painstakingly placing each metallic ice cycle on the branches. There was so many on each branch that by Christmas the tree drooped to the floor under the tremendous weight. I don’t even know if they make or sell ice cycles anymore. No doubt they’ve been removed from the market long ago as they probably contained lead (the weight remember) and were deemed a choking hazard to children and pets. After the big day my mother would remove all of those ice cycles, box them up in the package they came in and save them for the following year, adding a fresh box or two to replace any casualties. This Christmas though I remember more than others from my childhood.

One day I notice new additions to the presents under the tree. You couldn’t help to notice for the two boxes were huge (to me), equal in size perfect cubes. They had to set off to each side of the tree. You couldn’t squeeze them under a tree even without the several pounds of ice cycles. Naturally I had to investigate this. One box was very light as if it was empty and the other so heavy I couldn’t budge it. No names were on them but who else could they be for? I was the only one. Any kid will tell you; the bigger the better and there were two! I suffered immensely until Christmas morning.

After I got through the presents containing shirts, pants and new pajamas it was time for the main event. I don’t recall if it was my choice or they were presented to me in this order but the “empty” box I opened first. It was a globe. I’m sure the disappointment showed on my face. What was I to do with this? Okay I thought, this heavy monster is going to make up for it. I eagerly ripped off the paper and pried open the top. Books? It was a complete set of World Book Encyclopedias. My heart sank. My excitement fizzled out like a balloon full of air and Christmas was done. I resigned myself back to the toys I had opened earlier, which I could not tell you this day what they were, but I remember those encyclopedias.

Later my friend Teena and her older brother asked what was in those two big boxes and I told them. I think she already knew. Teena was my age, in my same third grade class with Mrs. Lahr. It seems that Mrs. Lahr had a job on the side peddling encyclopedias. She would call or visit the homes of all the kids in her class and try to talk the parents into buying a set of encyclopedias for little Johnny or Mary. “It will be a gift he or she will find extremely valuable in these school years ahead. And if you buy now before Christmas you will receive as an added special gift bonus, a revolving 12” globe on a pedestal.” I guess Tina’s parents couldn’t afford it but my mom did. And you know what? Mrs. Lahr was right. I used those encyclopedias all the way through high school. They were great to plagiarize from for reports and assignments. Just rearrange a few words here and there and I was done with the assignment.

But school played a small part with those books. Often I would refer to them for one reason or the other and I would invariably get side-tracked. I would start reading about something else then continue on flipping page after page reading whatever sparked my curiosity. They were great books chock full of photos, illustrations, maps and graphs. I would be entertained for hours. Fifty years later I still had those encyclopedias and when we were going to move to our new home, it was time to let them go. It was then I learned of their new value – worthless. No one wanted them and I couldn’t even give them away to the likes of Goodwill or the Salvation Army. And so it was with a small bit of sadness I placed them in the recycle bin on trash day.

But I haven’t changed any over the years. The Internet has replaced encyclopedias many times over in the sheer volume of information to be had and enjoyed. And yes, I continue to get side-tracked every time I Google a topic.

Have a nice Christmas. Hopefully you too will get a gift that you will always remember.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Rain and More Rain

...except when I was counting on it. I got all my warm clothes and rain gear on for a hike yesterday. Once I got on the trails the rain fizzled out. But I did get to see a nice rainbow, unfortunately I had my camera on the wrong white balance setting (from the murderer's eggs shot indoors) and the picture is not as nice as it should be. But here it is anyway -
I did see a new mushroom to photo. I remember these from last year and they seem to be the most colorful to be found along my hiking trails. The surface of these always seem to glisten even if it is not under wet conditions.
And these I've presented before but thought this time a bit unusual as I don't recall seeing stem type mushrooms growing out from the side of a tree. They are always coming out of the ground.
Naturally at the end of my hike as I was walking along the pavement back to my car, the rain fell with vengeance. I'll try it again later this week as there seems to be no let up in the rain for several more days or so the forecast shows. Yet as I write this there is a bright light outside my window. If I am not mistaken it could be what I once remember as sunlight. Also, I didn't bother staying up for the lunar eclipse last night as the stars (remember those?) were not visible. At least it isn't freezing cold anymore.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Murderer’s Eggs

A short story I was reading lately went like this: Three young men in two separate vehicles were travelling in the deep dirt back roads of Baja California. As dusk approached one of the four wheel drive cars began to overheat. They stopped, checked out the problem and saw that the radiator was dry. After adding more water they started the engine and water gushed out along the seam of the outlet port of the radiator. With no means to make a repair and many miles from the nearest road their situation appeared bleak as darkness settled in. Soon they heard a dog bark and out of the light mountain mist ahead appeared a man carrying a rifle with a dog trotting alongside. One of the young men spoke a little Spanish and learned that the scruffy dirty looking little man’s name was Manuel. He lived alone nearby in an abandoned rancho. He told the gringos that he thought he could fix their radiator for them but it was too dark to do so now and invited them to spend the night at his little adobe.

Manuel’s home was a thatched roof, dirt floor, one room shack. He held his hand over his heart and said “I have very little, but I give with all my heart”. With that he went outside to collect some eggs to prepare a meal for his guests apologizing for not having any tortillas. One of the men pulled a large bottle of wine from his coat and Manuel’s face lit up. After a very unique and unusual meal (which is what this post is about) they decided some whisky was in order and so retrieved a bottle from the vehicles. As they drank each had stories to tell, one topping the other. But it was Manuel’s stories that intrigued the men most. He told about lost mines he knew where there was gold and showed them a small lump of quartz he had tucked away in a pouch. The guys were unable to discern any gold in the small stone, but what did they know about gold prospecting. Manuel said how he would soon be rich and have many women. The whisky bottle made another round. Quickly Manuel asked if they knew of Pancho Villa. Then men nodded. Pointing to a beaten old pile of leather he said “Pancho Villa rode in that saddle. He was a great general and was from Sonora. I am from Sonora.” The men listened with amusement and more whisky was consumed. Manuel grabbed his rifle leaning in the corner. “This rifle was in the Mexican revolution. It has killed many men. Many men.” The whisky taking its effect he dizzily sat down pulling a handful bullets from his pocket. The boys nervously raised their glasses and said “To Pancho Villa, the great general, and the revolution!” Manuel then asked “Do you know why I now live in Baja California and not Sonora?” Trying to smooth the atmosphere one of the young men hoisted his glass and said “Let’s drink to Sonora”. They suggested because of the gold he was here in Baja. Manuel proudly drank to Sonora, put the bullets back into his pocket then went on.

“Yes I am here because of gold but also because I killed a man in Sonora. He was cheating at cards. I didn’t have my rifle then so I killed him with my knife. He was a big man but I am fast. My knife was big. I don’t have the knife anymore. I left it in the Indian. Damn Indian. I had to run from the Indians so I went to Sinola. And what do you think? I killed another Indian, this time over a woman. So now the police were after me and I run away to Baja.” By now his head was hanging low to the table and he murmured his last words for the evening, “And now I am going to get rich and find gold.” They boys laid him in his lumpy bed and covered him with his filthy blankets snickering about fanciful tales of lost gold, Pancho Villa, a revolutionary rifle and two dead Indians. Never had a bottle of whisky talked so much.

The next morning they repaired the radiator and left a hung over Manuel in his bed to sleep it off, leaving a big lock-back knife on his table as a thank you gift. A week later in Bahia de Los Angeles by chance they met the man who owned the land Manuel lived on. “Was he kind to you?” the land owner asked. With a chuckle they told him how he was very hospitable, he fed them and they gave him whisky. With deep concern he replied “Oh senores, you should be very careful with who you drink whisky with around here. Manuel can be very violent when he is drunk. He’s already killed two men that we know of.”

The writer concluded, “So okay, Manuel is, indeed, a murderer and there probably is some truth the stories he told.” He added that it was his little culinary offering that impressed him the most and to this day he makes it often whenever he has guests. It is always a hit. He included the recipe at the end of his story and I just had to try it.

Murderer’s Eggs

½ medium Spanish onion, diced

1 not-so-hot green chili pod, seeded and diced

garlic to taste, minced

6oz. can of tomato sauce

½ cup cooked (al dente) elbow macaroni

2 eggs

1 tablespoon cilantro, chopped

salt and pepper

manteca (you can use butter or olive oil and the result may be healthier but it won’t be as satisfying)

Sauté the vegetables in manteca over medium heat until soft. Add tomato sauce, salt and pepper. A dash of Worcester is good, too. Cook five minutes over low heat. Stir in pasta and cilantro. Push the pasta outward from the center, making a space for the eggs. Break the eggs into the pan, and cover them with the sauce, being careful not to rupture the yolks. Cover the pan, reduce heat to very low, and let the eggs poach for three minutes or to desired doneness.

As I assumed his measurement for the macaroni was for already cooked and as I was making it for two I adjusted macaroni measurement, which proved to be a bit much. Next time I will treat that measurement as a dry one and one cup on the light side will be enough for the two of us. I doubled everything else except for the onion and the chili pod. The onion was a bit large to begin with. The chili pod was mild and I would have been safe with two. Also Manuel had included a fried egg on the side along with the two poached. I didn't try that again thinking too much.

Sauce cooking
With eggs added and covered.
As I was doing two servings at once, I made a little dividing ridge of macaroni and sauce down the middle of the pan along with a ring around the outside. In the two open spaces I placed the eggs and then gently covered them. This worked out good. Next time I will add another minute to the poaching time as there was a little bit of uncooked whites which grosses out my wife.


Tuesday, December 14, 2010

More Mushrooms

Another hike in the woods a few days ago in a different area provided different mushrooms than before. I like mushrooms. Unlike the Never-wake-up berries I'll refrain from sampling these. I am much older and wiser these days.
These little guys, the biggest no larger than a dime, didn't come out that well in the pictures. At the time I couldn't see in the captured image that the detail was lost. I guess the camera was struggling in the low light conditions plus dealing with the brilliant snow whiteness of the shrooms. But you can tell that their stems are more slender than a pine needle. Delicate, fragile and possible deadly.

 I never tire of the fascinating array of shapes, sizes and colors that mushrooms display.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Hard Times

I avoid large shopping malls. Maybe once or twice a year out of desperation I go to one. Yesterday I went to fulfil my yearly quota, plus I knew a real nice toy store was there. So here we are with just two weekends for shopping available before Christmas. You'd think it would be a bit short of madness. Not so. It was just like any other day throughout the year. Take a look. These were shot at high noon on a Saturday, 14 days before Christmas.

 You have to feel bad for the store owners.
Oh and the toy store...gone. Out of business before Christmas ever got here.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

The Pelican

Last night I was reading a short piece. Two women, long distance swimmers, were on a training swim in the open ocean off the California coast. They planned to swim from the Malibu pier to the Santa Monica pier, a distance of 15 miles (I can’t imagine). Midway through the swim they noticed a pelican acting oddly. As they got nearer to the bird he began paddling towards them. When the three met they could see the pelican was tangled in fish line. The women tried to climb out on some nearby rocks but the swell was too great and the rocks were covered with sharp barnacles. Wanting to help the bird they had no choice but to swim for shore. The pelican following them. By now I am thinking that this sounds all too familiar. I had read this before someplace else? As I read on it came to me – I had my own pelican encounter long ago.

We were camped at a large lake inland from Santa Barbara. I went exploring along the upper banks surrounding the lake. Around the first point I noticed a pelican acting strangely down below near a submerged dead tree. I clambered down the slope noticing the bird never moved away although he was aware of me. I figured he must be tangled in fish line. Reaching the muddy shoreline I took three steps in and sunk down to my knees in the gooey muck. Pulling my foot out my flip-flop remained buried. I reached into the slop up to my shoulder and pulled the shoe out. Myself now coated with black smelly mud I tossed both shoes back up onto dry land. With thoughts of buried broken bottles and quicksand I carefully pressed on, barefoot, and hoped for the best. As I neared the water the ground grew firmer beneath my feet. I waded in and washed the nasty stuff from my arm. By the time I reached the snag, the water was up to my chest and I really did not want to venture out any further. The pelican was still ten feet away and doing his best staying as far from me as he could. I reached beneath the water and was able to locate the fish line. Slowly I reeled in the bird. Once he was within reach he lounged at me and nipped my face with his beak. This won’t do and I gave him some slack so I could re-think the situation. I slowly pulled him in again, then held one arm up high out of the water to divert his attention. He struck out for it, I grabbed his beak and he then settled down.

The two women had a cooperating bird. They also got some help from a resident who brought pliers so as to cut the line and in no time their bird was free. They carried him to the water’s edge and set him down. He lifted his wings as to test them then lifted off the beach and flew out over the water. My bird was not working with me on this and I wished desperately to have had a knife with me. What took the women a matter of minutes of careful untangling with many helping hands (and a cooperating bird); I worked at it for over twenty minutes with one hand, slowly sinking in mud with the water now up to my arm pits. The most difficult area was at his left shoulder where the fishing line cut tightly into joint. The bloody wound did not look too serious but then it didn’t smell too fresh either. I tried to bite the line with my teeth but could not. I figured he could have been in this predicament for a couple of days by the odor. Whereas the ladies’ pelican had a gash on its leg they figured the salt water would help heal it. My bird may not be as fortunate in the fresh lake water. Finally I was able to work this last bit of line loose, released my grip on his beak and sent him on his way. He paddled off never looking back. I got myself out of the lake by a longer but less messy route. As I walked back along the way I had come I could watch my pelican work his way across the lake, rejoin his friends and soon lost track of him in the crowd.

The two women continued on with their swim. Later as they neared the Santa Monica pier a pelican splashed into the water nearby and paddled over to them. They could see by the gash on its leg, that it was the same pelican. He paddled alongside them to the pier then lifted off the water to join a flock of pelicans flying north. It was his way of thanking them.
I know my pelican was grateful. He just didn't know how to express it.

(note: none of the above pictures are of my own so don't give me undue credit for them.)

Monday, December 6, 2010

A Camera or a Gun? Also, Carpet Circles

On yesterday's mountain bike ride I came across this magnificent fellow grazing.
Unbothered by my presence, he walked even closer to me just to cross the trail.

I see deer frequently in the park and I never grow tired of admiring them.
As he crossed in front of me I wondered how anyone could so easily shoot him and end his life? He gave me the pleasure of "shooting him" with my camera and I was immensely satisfied with that as I rode away. I simply could not comprehend doing anything otherwise and feel so wonderful about it as I did those immediate few minutes afterwards.

When I returned home I found my house had been invaded by two small little alien beings who left cryptic designs on my living room carpet in my absence.
You may be able to make out the message "for Grandpa".
Strange. I wonder who did this and how this happened?

Sunday, December 5, 2010

A Walk in the Wet Woods

I am not a water person. I do not care for rain that much. Yet yesterday I forced myself out into it rather that sit inside and brood. I got dressed for any rain that might happen and went for a hike in the forest. You know what? It was pretty neat. In fact I had a grand time. First off, if you have good gear and keep warm and dry, I found it isn't so bad after all. For me the most important part is my Goretex hiking boots. If my feet are happy, then all of me is. Secondly, I discovered the environment is so different from the usual hikes I've grown accustom to. I think the biggest factor was sound. The forest had a completely different sound to it what with everything wet and drops continually falling from the trees. The flora and fauna changed also.
The ferns and mosses are once again green and lush.

Mushroom and fungi of various species come to life after lying dormant throughout the dry summer.

Madrone trees take on a new clean sheen to their branches.

Best of all though...
...the salamanders were out and enjoying themselves in the damp moist forest floor.
I just could not get them to sit still long enough for a good picture. They had places to go, things to do and were not cooperative in the low light up close photo conditions. I tried to get a picture of their brilliant yellow underbelly but they immediately righted themselves after my flipping them onto their backs. I tried a couple of times then gave up, not wanting to torment them anymore .
[ I had a hard time identifying these guys once back home. Problem was, they're not a salamander but a Rough-skinned Newt]

Upon entering, do leave an offering to appease the forest spirits for a safe journey. Too bad for me, I was going the opposite way and on my way out at this point.
Now I look forward to a full on rainy day where I will slip and slide down trails, forge raging creeks, dodge falling trees and hopefully not get thoroughly wet, cold, catch pneumonia and be laid up for several weeks.