Thursday, 31 March 2011

That Darn Cat

So, we've NOT got a new cat... yet. But this one is certainly using all her charm to worm her way into our hearts. Here's a picture of her the other day:

Obviously, she's looking much better. If you'll recall, when she first showed up the other day, she had red crap on her, and she looked absolutely sad and pathetic:

I mentioned at the time that we were hoping the red stuff wasn't blood and as it turned out, it wasn't. It appears to have been some kind of floor wax. That's a bit of a relief, but it's also disturbing to know that someone would spray a cat with floor wax.

Wow, how can you not feel bad when she does this?

So now we're not sure what to do, exactly. We're planning on taking her to a shelter in San Ramon or Palmares, once we check the place out. It's apparently a no-kill shelter, which is the only option I'd accept. She's a really loving cat, so hopefully a good family will find her. We almost have started considering keeping her, but we already have two cats, and we never really wanted any cats in the first place. It's hard to give them a good life, and one more cat would make that even more difficult. Especially since this one's a female. Obviously, it'd need to be spayed, and we still need to get Boner neutered, lest his name go from a semi-vulgar joke into a kind of prophecy. In short, Berlin doesn't need more cats! Especially not adorable cats that break your damn heart!

So, wherever you are: if you have a pet, GET IT FIXED! Bob Barker was right, and we need to keep the population of unwanted pets down. In Berlin, the attitude is, "Oh, whatever," or "Pobrecito, there's no reason to fix him," or "I don't want to pay $30 dollars to have an animal fixed," or some other stupid excuse like that. But the reality is that there are a ton of unwanted animals, and Berlin's a really crappy place to be an animal.

So, I just wanted to get that off my chest. I'll keep you updated on the cat situation.

Orchard Beach Sand Reclamation

There has been a lot of work taking place this winter at Orchard Beach in the Bronx. The NYC Parks Department has partnered with the U.S. Corps of Engineers to replace lost sand and combat further beach erosion along this 1.1 mile city beach. Officially known as the Orchard Beach Shoreline Protection Project, it is the first time sand has been replenished here since 1964.
Like many of Long Island Sound's larger parks, the beach here is not natural. Built in the 1930's, sand was brought in from Sandy Hook, N.J. and Rockaway Beach, N.Y. to create this crescent shaped city beach. Over time, the sand has eroded, exposing the more natural, rocky shoreline below.
Earlier this month, the City Of New York released a comprehensive waterfront plan entitled Vision 2020. According to the report, the goal establishes a set of actions for
"realizing our waterfront and waterways as a world-class destination, a globally competitive port, and a rich and vital natural resource that draws all New Yorkers to its edge and onto the water.
The Action Agenda includes 130 specific, high-priority projects that demonstrate the City�s commitment to investing in the transformation of the waterfront."

This sand reclamation project at Orchard Beach is one of the projects listed in the report.
So far, so good!

Waterfront Action Agenda: Vision 2020
Soundbounder: Extremes IV
Soundbounder: Pelham Bay Park
Soundbounder: Orchard Beach Lagoon

Wednesday, 30 March 2011

A Bird's Eye View

As winter winds down, the days are relatively quiet. The most activity we see is in the world of the birds. Flocks of them are returning, whom Greg fondly refers to collectively as Tweety birds. I've seen red polls and finches, some grosbeaks, and the usual chickadees and nuthatches. The songs they sing are more spring-like, and they are voracious at the feeder. We've started to toss a handful of seeds out the window of our room, on to the roof of the screen porch. It makes for some great viewing. We get a kick out of some of the feisty finches, who spend more time defending territory from their flock-mates, than actually eating. I wish I could tell them that there is plenty of seed to go around.

For more years than I can recall, whenever Greg would see a small plane going over Gunflint Lake, he would declare that the pilot should come down to pick him up, and take him for a ride. After the blowdown, and since the fires, that desire has only grown stronger. He had been up in a plane many years ago, but with the changes our forest has endured, he knew the scenery would be different now. That wish came true yesterday. A friend taxied down the ice, stopped out front, and invited us for a quick tour.

For my part, I, too, had been up above Gunflint Lake many years ago, when our friend Bill had his plane at the airport at Devil's Track. He offered to take me and the boys up for a ride. Addie was too little, so she stayed home with Greg, waiting on our landing, to wave at us as the plane came by. Robert sat up front, and Paul and I enjoyed the view from the back. Since it was a good seventeen or so years ago, my memory of it is a bit faded. Mostly green and blue, that is what I recall.

On this day, of course, things were predominantly white. We do still have a lot of snow, especially when seen from the air. Add to that the expanses of iced lakes, and it almost looked like a black and white landscape. The sun was shining brightly, and it was easy to identify the lakes with which I am most familiar. Looking west into the BWCA, it was quite helpful to have our pilot pointing out the various familiar names of distant lakes. Turning south, he showed us the tip of the Lutsen ski hill area, and we could see Lake Superior on the horizon. I was totally struck by how close these places are really are to me. It may take me an hour to drive to town, but up in the sky, I could almost see it from here. Ely is further---three and a half hours away by car, but it was out there somewhere to the west. Out of reach, of course, due to the flying restrictions over the Boundary Waters, but not so far away just the same.

We circled back along the south side of Loon, and I could see over to Gunflint Lake, the ridge between the two lakes stretching long. Paul and I had hiked the eastern section of it in January, when we took the trail to Bridal Falls. Patches of forest butted up against open area that had been parts of prescribed burns in the past. I recalled one such event, the Saucer Lake burn, back in the fall of 2005. I was home alone with Addie when the Forest Service came through to rent our boats and use our landing. Another section of the burned area had resulted from prescribed burning during the Ham Lake Fire. Without those planned activities, the wildfire in 2007 may have had a different ending for us.

Soon we were making our way from east to west down Gunflint Lake, descending closer to the ice. The lake is mostly clear of snow, save for a few thin crusty patches. The ice is super slick and bumpy. The wheels touched down with a loud thump and we slowed as we approached our point. We got out and thanked the pilot for our adventure, grateful for the opportunity to see it ourselves, and for the photos we were able to capture. What an awesome surprise!

Tuesday, 29 March 2011

Pictures of the Day: March 3-29, 2011

Wow, I've somehow gotten very behind on posting these Pictures of the Day. You may have seen some of them on flickr or on the weekly picture projects, but likely not all of them. So, here they are!

March 3rd: Scoff if you will, but having a bidet turns out to be awesome.

March 4th: Here it looks like I'm riding the bike at an incredible rate.

March 5th: Upon first glance, this seems to be a pretty damn secure wood fence gate. Until you realize that three of the four locks are superfluous. We came across this gate driving from Playa Cabuyal to Liberia, in Guanacaste, Costa Rica.

March 6th: Around the time the sun goes down, things start getting windy in Berlin. This is a tree we planted in our yard around a year ago.

March 7th: A quesadilla and some beans I made for lunch. It seems that a lot of food pictures turn out looking like some sort of barnyard afterbirth, so judging it against that standard, I'm pretty happy with this picture.

March 8th: The letter of the week for my weekly picture project was "J," so when Juan Manuel walked into work with his name tag on, it seemed like a good J picture was in the making.

March 9th: A junk drawer in Angela's sewing machine.

March 10th: Angela and I went for a walk and came across these two goats sitting on a couch outside an abandoned pulperia (like a very small general store in Costa Rica). I'm not sure what their deal was, but when we came back by around an hour later, they were still there. Must have been comfortable.

March 11th: Angela and I cleaned our water tank today with some bleach and a broom. I was trying to get a picture of the broom while it was drying, in order to capture the drops of water coming off it.

March 12th: A "still life" at school in the afternoon. This stuff must belong to the teacher who uses the room during the day.

March 13th: We quickly stopped by Juan Guillermo and Paola's house since they had a new baby, Sarah, and we wanted to see her. Congratulations to them!

March 14th: So, I guess I'm officially one of those creeps who takes pictures of his lunch before eating it, but at least this was at home. We had hot dogs, beans, and chips. Incidentally, it was one of my grandpa's favorite meals.

March 15th: Some laundry with a foreboding sky. I went for a walk around Berlin and took some pictures.

March 16th: This is a little glass candle-ball thing that Angela and I picked up in Munich. It's pretty.

March 17th: I made "Thai Coconut Chicken, Hold The Chicken." Chicken here is usually hit or miss, but potatoes are almost always good, so I usually use them instead. It turned out very well!

March 18th: It was my birthday, so I spent most of it having fun. That meant that late in the evening, I had to plan for the next day's classes. Tea and this little birthday dog from a few years ago helped.

March 19th: Some classroom closets set out in a hallway at work.

March 20th: Some pretty flowers at Termales del Bosque. We went there for a belated birthday celebration, since it's one of our favorite places to visit. As its name indicates, it's hot springs in a forest. Very nice!

March 21st: Some "fruits" made from condensed milk, powdered milk, and sugar... sort of like a Poor Man's Marzipan. We got them at a roadside stand near Zarcero.

March 22nd: This little cat outside our door fairly broke our freaking hearts. It's been coming around lately, and we think it might have a home, but is only trying to mate with our cat Boner. In any case, we're not sure what to do.
As a side note, we think that MAY not be blood, since it's really light and doesn't look much like blood. But we don't have another good explanation, either.

March 23rd: Our niece Kati stopped by on her four-wheeler!

March 24th: Testing out the zoom on the camera (obviously, it's not very zoomed-in in this picture). These are the towers in Berlin, as seen from our kitchen.

March 25th: I went to San Jose with my friend Lucy to do a bureaucratic errand at the Ministry of Migration. Of course, we didn't realize till we got there that it had all been for naught. But we went to the mall for lunch and saw this awesome tree.

March 26th: Angela went into a supermarket so while I waited in the car, I got a picture of this seemingly heavy-duty bakery in Palmares.

March 27th: The lens from my camera. It seemed like a good "L" picture, since it's a weekly photography-themed project.

March 28th: "Das Letzte Gefecht" (The Stand), by Stephen King. I've been reading it for my Sitzbook book-a-week project.

March 29th: A lemon mint plant that we got at the hardware store today. Yes, such a glorious thing exists.

Whew! Well, that's it for now. Hopefully something in there was interesting for you. If not, I've got nothin'!

Thanks for reading and looking, and have a great day!

Wolf Larsen

Sometimes when snowflakes are falling and the winds are howling, I find myself thinking about Wolf Larsen. No, not the antagonistic character from the Jack London novel Sea Wolf, but instead a former fishing rig of the same name, anchored in the Price's Bend section of Northport Harbor. Brutal and cynical, yet also highly intelligent, she is appropriately named.
I first saw Wolf Larsen several summers ago while anchored here waiting for an August storm to pass. Her outriggers and design stood apart from the cabin cruisers and sailboats surrounding her. There was no activity aboard, and it appeared that there hadn't been any in a long time. Cormorants and herons had assumed ownership with two large nests atop the pilot house. 
Returning here again (by land) in early December, the other boats were long gone, but not Wolf Larsen. There she was, still moored, with her bow pointing into the northwest winds as some early season snowflakes blew around. Was she spending her entire winter at Prices Bend? I don't know.
I do know that when I arrived at Hobart Beach on a blustery March day, I saw her again. Still standing proud, attached to her mooring, a little bit tired, but not for show.
Sometimes it seems as if every harbor has a few of these: an owner with a dream, and not much else. There may  be grandiose plans of Caribbean travel and carefree days afloat, but in the end, divorce, layoffs, and all the other complications of life get in the way.
Old boats require money and time. We often can provide one: rarely can we offer both.
 When times are good, we have the money but wish we had the time. Then times turn bad and we have the time, but the money and the dream are all gone.

Fjord in France

Did you know that there are fjords in France? No? I did not know about it, too. Till yesterday.Than I found a photo like this one:

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The title of that photo was "Calanques". I heard that word for the first time and thought it's something like a little mediterranean town that is situated not far or on the seaside of this formation -like Amalfi, Maiori etc. But I was not right. The word is possible to translate as "fjord" -well, you are right, "translate" is not the proper signification but everybody knows what it is. So, I, for example, sell vacation packages and cruises in Northern Europe that offer visits and trips to Norwegian fjords. Spectacular places, I have to say you.

But I' never thought that there are similar fjords in South Europe, too.

The region is full of them. Here is the photo from Wikipedia where you can find more general information about this place ( Calanque ). Because I did not know about it, I'll copy here some words to have them in my site.

The region is between Marseille and Cassis, there are different calanques there you can visit.

There arew similar formations. So here, in Italy, there is a Regional Natural Reserve of Atri (it's in the region Abruzzo) where you can visit calanques -without sea there, only mountains of this special form. Plants do not grow there but there are interesting animals like reptiles and many species of rapacious birds. Because there are so many different species, it would be interesting to go for bird watching there. We have some species here and they are very interesting to observe.

Lesley's Nature Watch - Peacock,

Red Admiral, Small Tortiseshell, Brimstone, Comma, Speckled Wood, Orange Tip. Seven species of butterfly in my garden in the past week. The first three of these need nettles on which to lay their eggs. If you can spare a place for an undisturbed nettle patch in a sunny spot in your garden, you will be helping some of nature's most beautiful little creatures & of course you will have the joy of watching them floating silently among yor flowers sipping the nectar.

Monday, 28 March 2011

Weekly Picture Project: Week 12 (L)

Here are this week's pictures for our weekly alphabetical project. Either later today or tomorrow I'm hoping to post the pictures of the day for the last few weeks. Until then, hopefully there's something interesting for you here:

Picture 1: A Lamp in our bedroom. It's kind of cheesy, but this lamp has been great. I think I bought it on sale at Target for a few dollars quite a few years ago. It's a touch lamp, so it's good to have beside the bed.

Picture 2: Long! I started reading The Stand for my Sitzbook project. I read it around 10 or 15 years ago and really liked it, and I've had the German translation for a few years. I finally decided to read it, despite --or perhaps because of-- its large size (1,192 pages!).

Picture 3: Longing. This is the cat that came by our house a few nights ago. She's been pretty sweet. We're giving her some food until we can find a home for her. By the way, in the pictures from a few days ago, she had some red stuff on her face and body. Thankfully, it turned out to be some kind of wax or other goopy substance, and not blood.

Picture 4: Lens. This is the 50 mm lens from my nice camera. I took the picture with our little blue camera.

Well, that's it for the moment. I'll try to get those pictures of the day up soon. Until then, thanks for reading/looking, and have a great day!

Friday, 25 March 2011

Earth Hour - Saturday 8.30pm

Just a reminder that Earth Hour 2011 takes place at 8.30pm local French time on Saturday March 26th. Millions of people all over the world will switch off their lights for one hour - a gesture of solidarity in support of the planet and in protest against the causes of climate change. If this is something important to you, please join us. See for further information.

Thursday, 24 March 2011

Sitzbook: 4 Flash Reviews!

I've been reading a lot lately, but not writing much. I've decided I should put up some more book reviews. But, in my original review of The Art of Non-Conformity, I decided to be gimmicky and I called it a 300-word review, and it was indeed 300 words. That led to some confusion, so I had to write another, much-longer review.

So, in the interest of creating even more misunderstanding, I've decided to write four short "flash reviews" for a few of the books I've finished recently for my book-a-week Sitzbook project. Each review is literally 100 words long, so they're easier to digest and misinterpret. If you have any questions, comments, or suggestions, or if you have read any of these books, I'd love to hear what you have to say.

1. The History of Love, by Nicole Krauss

The History of Love is a book that my sister recommended to me after she read Everything is Illuminated. I can definitely see where she saw the connection. Both deal with descendants and acquaintances of Eastern European World War II survivors, and both have �dueling� narrators and narrative styles. Both are excellent. In The History of Love, the cornerstone of the story is a book of the same name, and the reader alternates between an author and a girl whose mother is translating a book. I can�t give away too much, but I can say that this book was excellent.

2. The Story of English: How the English Language Conquered the World, by Philip Gooden
From the outside, The Story of English looks like coffee-table fluff history, but despite the pictures, it does contain quite a bit of information about the English language. So it is legitimate. The main problem I have with this book is that Bill Bryson already undertook a similar task with his book The Mother Tongue, and his work was quite a bit more engaging, interesting, and humorous. In fact, there are many parallels in the books� content, and this book even references Bryson�s on a few occasions. I can now understand better why I found it on the discount shelf.

3. Crime and Punishment, by Fyodor Dostoevsky
If you happen to have been following my Twitter feed, you may have noticed that I was having trouble hacking my way through Crime and Punishment. It was well-written (it�s a classic, after all), but around 200 or 300 pages over-written. As I recently mentioned, I seriously calculated the book�s content, and it�s 97.1% Crime and 2.9% Punishment, and the Punishment part doesn�t happen until the Epilogue. Those numbers make me think of skim milk, for some reason. I�ve officially decided that although I respect Dostoevsky, I much prefer Tolstoy. Call me a Russian Lit lightweight, but I don�t care.

4. Pigeon Poo, the Universe & Car Paint, by Karl Kruszelnicki
Finally, Pigeon Poo, the Universe & Car Paint, which I borrowed from Lucy, is actually a bona-fide science book, but it�s definitely accessible for non-scientists (like this guy). Over its 175 pages it covers 17 topics as diverse as why silk is stronger than steel, how Elvis died (hint: eating loaves of deep-fried bread probably didn�t help), and why traffic jams can happen seemingly in the middle of nowhere and without apparent cause. I blazed through this book in a few sittings, and it was probably just what the reading doctor ordered after something as long as Crime and Punishment.