Category Archives: around the world


That’s pretty much the update. It’s COLD, with occasional light snow. I am very much looking forward to spring.

Gaby, however, doesn’t seem to mind the chill. She lurks under the bird feeder and waits for squirrels.

Tax forms are showing up in the mail, so I will be working on things financial over the next few weeks. Annual physical stuff, which I hate but has to be done.

Not much else happening, so I will close with the news headline of the year, courtesy of writer Liz Williams over on the Facebook:

Ghost ship full of cannibal rats could be about to crash into Devon coast.

There are fears a ghost ship full of diseased cannibal rats could be about to crash into the coast of Devon or Cornwall.
The abandoned Lyubov Orlova has been missing since it cut adrift while being towed from Canada nearly a year ago. The 40-year-old liner has been driven across the Atlantic by high winds and is thought close to the UK shore. Based on emergency beacons activated last year aboard the ship, it is feared the 40-year-old Yugoslavian liner registered to Russia could crash into the shore of Devon, Cornwall, Ireland or Scotland.

Those searching for the ship say there are likely to be thousands of disease-ridden rats on board with no source of food except each other, according to The Sun.

Belgian-based searcher Pim de Rhoodes said: “She is floating around there somewhere. There will be a lot of rats and they eat each other.”

Shades of James, Stoker, and Benson.

Read more:


Yeah, it was cold. Snow blew and drifted and crackled underfoot. The wind bit. The house creaked. No exciting frost quakes, just loss of cable internet for most of Monday. Given what other folks went through–stranded on roadways, in train stations, etc–not going to complain. Well, not much. I did get cranky as the day wore on and the lack of instant news/stock market/publishing gossip got under my skin. I fear I am an addict.

I struggled to assuage the longing by baking brownies. Pondered a wip. Started reading Over Sea Under Stone by Susan Cooper, an older YA series that folks online had been raving about as a classic winter reread. I’m halfway through and have put the rest of the books in the series–5 in all–on hold at the library because yeah, the story is pretty good.

But hey, the warm-up has begun! -3F currently, but the wind has died. Saw a squirrel for the first time since Sunday, gnawing on the fresh suet block. A few hardy birds had gathered throughout the onslaught–the usual crew of jays, cardinals and juncos and even a pigeon or two–but more today, because HEAT WAVE!

I was worried about the car, since the garage is detached/uninsulated/unheated. But air temp in there is routinely 10 degrees warmer than the outdoors no matter what. That meant it was close to 10F in there this morning, which in turn translated to yes, the car started and I was able to get out of the house for the first time in 4 days. That lightened the general mood considerably.

Hope everyone affected by the polar vortex–that is so the name of my next band–is staying warm. I’m looking forward to spring, but there is still so much winter left to live through.

On a clear day…

Couldn’t manage this sort of photo, but I did have a couple of 4.5-Mountain-Days (Jefferson was a little hazy, but Rainier, Adams, St Helens, and Hood were all new penny bright).

There and back again

Spent a week in the Portland Oregon area. Visited good friends. Did some research. Experienced the joy of driving twisty, winding roads. Really twisty. And winding. After a drive, my right leg ached from tension and brake-hitting.

This time, I actually visited scenic vistas.

Cannon Beach and Ecola State Park:

A view of Haystack Rock from Ecola State Park

A view of Haystack Rock from Ecola State Park

NB: Haystack Rock is that vaguely conical rock way in the back, on the far right of the photo. The other haystack-looking rocks are mere impostors.

The Columbia River Gorge (view from Crown Point Vista House):

View of the Columbia from the Crown Point Vista House

View of the Columbia from the Crown Point Vista House

Multnomah Falls:

A gorgeous day at the Falls

A gorgeous day at the Falls

Had lunch at Elephants Deli.

It was good to get away.

Came home yesterday–saw the Great Plains snowfall from the plane, and found 2.5 inches of wet stuff in the backyard rain gauge. Also found a very clean deck–the deck guy had powerwashed it on Monday. Tomorrow, he repairs what needs repairing. He thinks he’ll be able to coat/seal on Friday.

Also tomorrow, plumber installs new water heater. Meanwhile, I am planning the decluttering. It’s going to be All House All The Time for the foreseeable future.

Before I left, I picked the last of the tomatoes. Most were pretty green, so I bagged them and stuck them in the closet to ripen. Checked the bags yesterday and found about half were ready to go, so today I roasted them with garlic and balsamic vinegar. Had some for lunch with rigatoni, goat cheese and arugula. So. Good.

Busy days ahead.

Madison, with baby ducks

Took a short trip to Madison with fellow writer Jen Stevenson. Talked over plot problems with current wips. Hiked up and down State Street. Ate really good Japanese. Enjoyed glorious weather. Walked the trail along Lake Mendota and discussed crow lore. A restorative 24 hours.

On the lake

We also fed baby ducks.

Nothing better than baby ducks.

Nothing better than baby ducks.


Spent a chilly, irritating, slightly dampened hour bringing in the garden hoses for the winter.

Hoses are one of my pet irritations. Universal connections leak no matter how hard I tighten or how much teflon tape I use. Even the more expensive kink-resistant models kink a treat when they’re not twisting in such a way that I have to unfurl the entire damn length and slowly, carefully rewind. Once temps cool to the 50s, they stiffen up so that all the kinks and twists set, and even when I know I’ve drained them they manage to retain just enough water to leak on my shoes.

I’ve gone through all varieties of garden hose containers/reels over the years. The plastic crank-a-reels prove too flimsy, breaking after a year or two. I am currently using simple cast iron holders, one free-standing for the front yard hose and one attached to the house for the backyard hose. They’re okay, but winding is still an adventure. I sometimes lug watering cans back and forth just to avoid dealing with the hoses.

As much as I would like a dream house with a large garden, I sometimes think that I would be quite happy to take up residence in a studio apartment and let building management worry about the bloody hoses.

Ancient flower lives only on two Spanish cliffs, and uses ants to survive

I love stories like this. The reality that there are tiny, tiny corners of the world that contain plants or animals that exist nowhere else.

This story begins with a cliff-hanger. On the Spanish side of the Pyrenees mountains, around 850 metres above sea level, two adjacent cliff faces hold the entire population of Borderea chouardii – one of the world’s rarest plants. It’s a small herb that grows into crevices in the rock. Its leaves are heart-shaped and its flowers green and unassuming. There are around 10,000 individuals here, all growing on a square kilometre of vertical rock.

In 1973, I visited London for the first and, to this point, only time**. During that visit, I took a bus tour of Hampton Court and Windsor Castle.

Our very voluble guide took care to point out unique items, such as the notch in an outer wall–I have forgotten whether it at Hampton or Windsor–that marked the height of Cromwell’s tallest soldier. But there was something else he said that I remember, and I swear I am not misremembering even though I was 15yo at the time and not as engaged in soaking it all in and looking at all the old stuff as I would be, say, today. He said that there was a tree in the garden–again, I don’t recall at which site–that did not grow anywhere else in the world. I recall the phrase “Eden tree,” but *that* could be misremembrance. I have searched online every so often for information about the gardens, but have yet to find any reference to a unique tree.

**not counting a couple of quick jaunts through Heathrow on the way to and from connecting flights to Glasgow/Intersection ’95.

A Physicist on Everest

Came upon this link in today’s Lunch Links posting over at The Washington Monthly. I have to get this book:

In 1997 physicist Francis Slakey set out to climb the highest mountain on every continent and surf every ocean – he dubbed it the first “global surf-and-turf.” In his recently published memoir, To the Last Breath: A Journey of Going to Extremes, he describes the geophysics of waves, the body’s physiological breakdown at high-altitude, and the technology of climbing, as well as the people he encounters and the challenges he endures on his 12-year journey.

The section excerpted in last month’s Scientific American describes the effects of a low-oxygen environment on the human body. There is some telling, but mostly, it shows. It is harrowing:

As I made my way down the southeast ridge of Everest, with Ang Nima and Jim Williams now a few hundred feet above me, I saw a climber from our team, Bob Clemey, on his knees, gloves at his side, with his bare hands delicately gliding over the surface of the snow.

Depleted and needing warmth, Clemey saw with absolute clarity that a rock protruding from the snow was glowing red hot. He realized that lava from the very core of the earth was lifted up to the surface of Everest and was heating that rock. So he stripped off his gloves and began warming his hands over the rock like it was a campfire.

In reality, there was no glowing red rock, no lava. There was just a climber with bare hands frozen as solid as clubs, fingers gripping snow in a twenty-below-zero blizzard.

Clemey’s oxygen tanks were drained. There was no way of knowing how long he had been there or when he had run out of oxygen.

Our second crisis had begun.

The first crisis is described earlier in the section.

I have to get this book.

Sunday morning drive-by

Sunny. Hot. It’s rained twice in the last two weeks. The lawn has browned except for the shaded spots, and every-other-day watering of the flowering shrubs and veggies is the norm. Most of the tomatoes have at least one greenie. The Black Cherry is a laggard–it took a pounding from the caterpillars–but it has a lot of buds so I think it should catch up eventually.

Spotted the first Japanese beetles of the season this morning, so I got hold of the organic bug spray and covered the hardy hibiscus and the Rose of Sharon, which are all covered with sweet, juicy buds. The spray is interesting stuff by a company called EcoSmart, a mix of herb oils (thyme, rosemary, clove). It worked last year on the beetles, and took care of the caterpillars once I realized the little buggers were there. But if it falls off this year, I have an insecticidal soap solution from Gardens Alive for backup. I like these products because I can spray them on veggies up to the day of harvest without worry. Just a quick scrub, and they’re gone.

As I cleaned out some of the kitchen cupboards, I came upon some baking mixes that I forgot I had. Some of them weren’t worth saving, but there was a whole grain pancake mix that I decided to try and salvage. So this morning was a pancake morning, the first one in years. Covered them with sliced fresh strawberries and bananas. Good maple syrup. They came out good. I need to have them more often. Maybe with bacon.

A Four-Mountain Day

Jefferson. Hood. Adams. Mount St Helens. Saw them all yesterday. Couldn’t see Rainier–too much distant haze.

But that was yesterday. Today I awoke to the sound of steady rain. It’s still cloudy, but the sun breaks through on occasion. Chilly. Had a late lunch at the Reedville Inn. Back at the house. Hosts off doing their own thing. I’m surrounded by kitties and pups and watching life on the other side of the glass.

I’m on vacation.