Thursday, December 31, 2015

New Years Eve Morning

This should be some sort of review of the year, that being the traditional thing to post on such a day but, quite honestly, I'm not sure whether that will be the case. Maybe I just want to share this shot of this morning's inbox:

It's possibly too small to read but I assure the reader that it is the latest crop of charities who are eager to let me know that I have only a few hours left to send them money in 2015. Of course, soon I will be alerted to my very first opportunities to contribute to any number of worthy causes in 2016. I begin to appreciate the advantages of anonymous giving.

Maybe I am hesitant to review my own year because it doesn't necessarily stack up so well compared to others. My friend Alex decided at the start of 2015 that she would make it "a year of art," and she was very successful. Perhaps where I go wrong is not setting such goals. I drift into my accomplishments as I drift through life. I had no intention of becoming a bike commuter but working on Madi Carlson's Urban Cycling, combined with working across the hall from a dedicated cyclist, seems to have resulted in me biking regardless of conditions. According to my incomplete records on Luum, I've made just shy of 295 "trips" but I didn't start logging there until the first of May and I know I was biking in much of April so the number should be a little higher. I love my bike and, most of the time, I love biking so that's a nice little thing about 2015.

The garden was less of a raging success than I'd hoped it would be this year. We bought a new trough in which to plant tomatoes, placed it where it would get the maximum amount of sun and heat, filled it with fabulous soil and compost, and watered religiously, but we didn't get a ton of tomatoes and those we got were good, but rarely fabulous. Instead what went wild were the green beans in the front-forty raised bed, possibly because I kept planting more seeds, thinking that the previous batches hadn't germinated. After reading Eleanor Perenyi's Green Thoughts: A Writer in the Garden I was inspired to dry the green beans after we couldn't stand to eat any more of them. I learned that they dry quite nicely but that harvesting the dried beans is a somewhat tedious process. I've yet to discover how they taste but I do feel quite the homesteader when I look at the jar of them:

I'm thinking some sort of minestrone . . .

Thanks to a few pretty short books I received at Christmas I managed to get my total books-not-read-for-work number up to 56 for 2015. A number of those were re-reads and another number were books that were completely unmemorable or just plain bad. Alarmingly, many of those I enjoyed most were nonfiction! Crow Planet, the aforementioned Green Thoughts, Jambusters, and A Moveable Feast were all outstanding on the nonfiction side while, for fiction, The Return of the Soldier and The Poisonwood Bible were the standouts. Mona in the Desert and Antosha in Prague I put in their own category as they are the best books written but not published in 2015. If some publisher doesn't make an offer on them then I will truly despair of, well, life really.

Glancing at the titles of earlier posts, I see that I saw my first (and thus far, only) short-eared owls in 2015. Those are some remarkably gorgeous birds! I'm sure I saw a number of other new birds in 2015--a long-eared owl, for one--but I'm too lazy to consult the lab book in which I record such things (yes. every damned day. mostly.) so an accounting of birds will just have to wait. This post is already absurdly long and it's sunny out there. Perhaps that bike would like to get out one more time in 2015.

 Happy New Year, beloved readers of blahdeblahblah!

Friday, December 25, 2015

Two variations on a Christmas still-life, plus Gradka Christmas card, 2015 edition

After Gradka spent the night yowling because she didn't like the Christmas tree being lit up or was worried about the presence of Cthulu in her stocking or wanted to alert us to the presence of a jolly old elf on the roof, not to mention all those reindeer, we weren't up particularly early this morning. It's three hasty photos thrown here and then on to get something more substantial than a clementine and few pieces of chocolate into my system before more festivities du jour. Happy Christmas!

Scott likes this one for its old oil painting feel
I like this one for its sense of contained mayhem
Like the Queen and the Pope, Gradka has her Christmas traditions

Friday, December 18, 2015

It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas

I squandered another vacation day today in an effort to prepare for what is likely to be, really, a very quiet sort of Christmas. I still don't know if my family is actually getting together for the holiday, and Scott and I have decided that we're not so much exchanging gifts this year. It should be a relaxed little stretch of time but that feels like letting the terrorists win so instead this is what my kitchen table looked like this evening:

Careful examination will reveal that, at long last, I've written (and addressed and stamped, thank you very much) Christmas cards. Well done me, I say. Well done me, indeed. Less obvious, perhaps, is the discovery that this year's calendar will not fit into a standard USPS envelope. It took a while for me to admit that it also would not fit into two USPS envelopes cut open. Back to the drawing board there, but I figure the recipients don't really need those calendars until January 1, right?

Also accomplished today: A trip to veterinary for Gradka. We are telling her to ignore that talk of impending "Senior Citizen Status" and instead glory in her maintenance of "ideal weight." In truth, she seemed indifferent to both and just wanted to be home again.

Always happy to pose, the youthful Gradka beneath the Christmas tree
Scott and I met downtown after work yesterday (and wasn't that cold rain simply lovely for a bike ride? You know, it sort of was) to have Paradigm Shifts at Oliver's, a ride on the carousel, and a visit to the Impressionist exhibit at SAM before the crowds who will likely pack the place in its final weeks. Scott expressed some surprise at the limited size of the exhibit; possibly Paris has spoiled him. It included a Van Gogh I'd never seen before which was sort of nice (in that it reinforced the "My, that man needed to get out of Holland" theory I've had since visiting the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam so many years ago). We both quite liked the paintings by Edouard Vuillard whom I, at least, had never heard of. And we wandered around a few other rooms we usually skip at SAM until we were told they'd be closing shortly so I call it a successful outing.

Say! This isn't a report of the cookie-making frenzy at all. Nor is it likely to become one. No, I'm going to post a photo of this year's wreath, made out of detritus bits of tree and shrub to be found aound our part of West Seattle after the recent wind storms and then see about clearing off that table. Or maybe I'll just have a cup of tea.
Full disclosure: Some not-from-street ornaments added

PS to Hally: The eyes are the secret to telling female and male bushtits apart. The females have the "crazy eye" with the smaller pupil; the males have the adorable solid-black eyes.

Sweet little male on the left; slightly psycho female on the right

Sunday, December 13, 2015

T'is the season

Post-cookie-making frenzy recovery period.

 (Cookie-making frenzy report maybe later.)

Friday, December 11, 2015

Further bike update

I decided to update my biking stats for the year on the Luum site because,  you know, it's what some of us do for fun when we're tired:

Today, however, I left Bessie at home as I did some shopping in Ballard and elsewhere and, by gum, it's quite wearying to carry all of one's purchases oneself! I missed my bike basket. Possibly that means that biking is actually less exercise than walking would be, not that I see myself giving up the biking anytime soon. Not after I just bought fancy spoke reflectors today.

 Also purchased: baked goods, Christmas cards, cookie-making supplies (including five pounds of flour that would have been so much nicer to carry in Bessie's basket), modgepodge, and god knows what else. Soon TK: a Christmas tree and stamps.

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Festival of Color, December edition

Gradka, the camera, and I were out back during a lull in the rain this afternoon. Some spots of color caught my eye:

Rose hips of the always out-of-control climbing rose

Impossible to miss Anna's hummingbird. Fascinating and educational he was.
Most unexpected color on December 6th; some ripening raspberries

Saturday, December 5, 2015

Saturday Evening Post

Anna's hummingbird on the grapevine this morning
I'm feeling a bit scattered so let's just see where this post goes, shall we? I could write about Lyanda Lynn Haupt's Crow Planet which I am enjoying more than I've enjoyed any book I've read in a long time. She's a beautiful writer, is Ms Haupt, and this book is the perfect mix of personal anecdote, gentle polemic (can a polemic be gentle?), and fascinating scientific fact. And maybe it's that I bought the Sibley Guide to Bird Life and Behavior, but haven't actually read it (because it's a damned intimidating volume), but my complaint about a lot of "bird books" is that they don't tell you things like that young crows' eyes are blue or that the eggs of cavity nesters are white because they don't have to be camouflaged for protection; Crow Planet tells you that stuff, and it also discusses whether it does any "good" to hang clothes out to dry and why that does or doesn't matter. You hear a lot about "the author's voice" in the book world; Lyanda Lynn Haupt has a lovely voice. That she lives in West Seattle so a lot of her examples are local is both good and bad; I feel like we're such neighbors that I could drop by her house and ask her to lend me a ladder so I can climb up to see the crow's nest she talks about. I figure if I triangulate on "ten minutes to Lincoln Park"and "2 blocks from a busy street" I can figure out which "restored old farmhouse" is hers, right? Luckily, I'm too lazy to be a truly successful stalker.
This morning's still life
So there's that. I am loving this book which I have turned to several times in the last week to find calm. It's that sort of book. I can't believe I've avoided it all this time just because I wasn't entirely wild about the cover. The amazing thing about a book is that, in exchange for $16.95 plus tax, you can experience perfection.
Yellow-rumped warbler at the suet feeder
Maybe this will be a birdy sort of post then. I put in an hour or so on the Cornell Feederwatch early this morning. (One place Ms Haupt and I part company is over feeders: she doesn't approve of them for doubtless very sound and good reasons.) Sitting in the backyard with my binoculars, notebook, a blanket or two, and, eventually, an umbrella is also a calming activity. I was going to say that the juncos continue to outnumber every other species but, on reflection, there was quite a sizable gang of thumbprints today. The yellow-rumped warblers have also returned. Winter birding may really be the best.

The other thing started today is work on the 2016 calendar. I think it's going to be all France this year which means I spent a good long time winnowing down the million photos taken on our vacation. My plan is to post the runners-up here, just because I'm so darned sorry that they won't be on the calendar itself. The lucky recipients of said calendar, if they also happen to read this blog, can have the pleasure of saying, "You picked this lousy photo of a bee when you could have given me the Eiffel Tower? What sort of editorial judgment is that?" So, without further ado, the Eiffel Tower shot that sadly is probably not in the calendar. (See how I waffle? But that bee is in.)

Foreshortened Eiffel Tower

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Perils of Cycling

Final commute numbers for November
"Ride in the Rain" ended on Monday and, much to the disappointment of my competitive nature, one of the guys in the warehouse came in at the last minute with two rides more than me (the bastard worked the day before Thanksgiving!) so I lost my #1 status.  I ended up with more trips, though for fewer total miles, than the average participant but, I console myself, that that "average participant" wasn't limiting herself to commute trips. And, of course, regardless of how I stacked up, I did avoid adding a few pounds of CO2 to the atmosphere. I'm not sure I truly understand what that means, but I understand it's a good thing. So go Team Me!

The greatest benefit (for me) of participating is likely that it demonstrated to me that I can ride when it's cold and dark and wet; some times it was even a bit of fun. Yesterday, aka the first of December, aka the day after the end of the competition, I just automatically put on my wet-weather cycling ensemble, and set off on my bike. I've been biking to work pretty much every damned day since sometime last April and, by gum, it seems like it's just habitual now. Maybe.

 As I left the office this evening, I was thinking somewhat seriously about throwing Bessie on a bus at some point but it turned out to be dry, not windy, and not too cold so I was feeling pretty invigorated even before I found myself going over the bridge in a higher gear than usual. I realized I could go to the QFC in the Junction for what I needed for dinner and, while still uphill, that's an easier--though longer--ride than heading straight home. I was, in short, feeling downright perky about things. Right up until the moment I rode straight into some low-hanging tree branches.

That stretch doesn't offer much in the way of street lights and I was looking down at the pavement where my headlight illuminated more than straight ahead. There aren't many cars but it's a stretch along which I move slowly (it's one of those stealth hills that kill me) so I tend to ride quite a bit to the right--too far to the right, as it turned out, because the damned tree branches hang out over the road, too high to hit me were I walking but the perfect elevation to slap me--hard--in the face when I'm on Bessie. Luckily, I guess, I was moving so slowly that I wasn't knocked off entirely, but it hurt a lot at the time and I was still pretty shaken an hour later. It didn't stop me from doing my errands, but I opted to push my bike for a block or two immediately after the incident, in part to allow myself time to calm down because, damn, it hurt.

I confess myself disappointed that I don't look more injured--just a bit of a cut on a slightly swollen lip; did I mention it hurt?

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Follow-up to "Where are the White-crowned Sparrows" photo post

Although only one person commented, I figure she deserves an answer. Or something. So here is the same photo with all the secretive white-crowneds circled. For all I know there are more in here as well.

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Boise Trip Report, Expanded Edition

A lost Vermeer
The mini-break to Boise was pretty fabu. We were gone only a few days but it feels much longer (in a good way) and that's nice. It was, our hostess Tish and I agree, one of the best Thanksgivings ever. Possibly I've reached the age where the interjection of eight college-age adults, and two slightly younger children at a gathering is a good thing. They're so darned lively, those kids, and they play so nicely together. When I was at the Banff Mountain Film and Book Festival last year, Yvon Chouinard said something about how "maybe this younger generation will fix things; we sure won't!" and while I occasionally shook my head internally at things  they said (Amazon! Walmart! NO!!!), in general the kids are all right. So that was good, as was dinner, as was the company of those at the grown-up table. Tish makes a mean Brussels sprout too. It was all good.

Of course, I was predisposed to be happy on Thursday after happening across a great horned owl in the park between Tish's place and the Boise Guest House on Wednesday. As we were walking en route to the Flying M I had noticed, from across the street, something large that seemed to be holding something in its talons. A thorough look around revealed the owl, posing obligingly, atop a building. Sadly, I didn't have my camera with me. When I returned fifteen minutes later, now equipped with camera, the owl had shifted to a less ideal tree--and now visibly had a dead squirrel in its clutches. Photos such as the one posted a few days ago resulted. Not brilliant lighting, partially obscured by branches, often with its head turned but still: clearly a great horned owl with dinner. So that was pretty cool.

My Man Shipton
Scott and I delayed our start on shift at the Thanksgiving Kitchen by tromping through a snowy bit of land where the many white-crowned sparrow photos were taken. We also watched a couple of hawks, most likely Cooper's, swooping about the area. Happily we did not see them take any of our sweet little sparrows. It was a fine expedition which had us referring to each other as Shipton and Tilman after we decided to complete the circumnavigation regardless of the possible danger. It was grand. (Holden Caulfield disapproves of the word "grand." It's the sort of word used by phonies. I've  just completed my latest re-reading of Catcher In The Rye. That is one fine, damned odd book, if you want to know the goddam truth.)

Some frozen leaves at Barber Park
Bottoms up mallards in the freezing Boise River
On Friday we went out to Barber Park where, oddly, I'd never been before. We didn't stay that long, since it was so damned cold, but I loved it and am now ever so eager to return. We saw  many kestrels, for one thing, none of them close enough for a decent photo but all of them close enough to admire through binoculars. The place was also thick with red-tailed hawks. It's no wonder we saw so few songbirds. Sadly, no owls.
  Later on Scott and I took a walk to visit the bookshops of Boise, visiting the always excellent Trip Taylor (Hemingway, Kingsolver, Simenon, Browning, and god knows what else purchased) and the also fine Rediscovered Books. I was pleased to see some familiar covers at Rediscovered.

 We flew back home this morning, stopping en route to the airport at the truly excellent Janjou Patisserie. Mmmmmm.

White-Crowned Sparrow Counting Game!

Home from Boise and so sleepy!

On Thanksgiving morning we took a walk in a snowy bit of vacant land (development sadly encroaching on all sides) where we followed the tracks of a deer for a while--until I realized that I was probably a lot less sure-footed than a deer and some of that terrain was steep and slippery. It was a lovely--gorgeous, even--snowy morning. We discovered quite the crowd of white-crowned sparrows, most of them looking as if their crowns had just come back from being starched and polished. We didn't realize how many birds were to be seen until some other people flushed them from the bushes. Two dozen or more birds took flight. There aren't that many in this photo, I don't think, but certainly there are a lot more than I realized when I snapped it. We were across a wee ravine (okay, so maybe it was more of ditch) so the quality is far from perfect, but see how many birds you can spot. (No fair looking at the name of the photo, and don't forget you can click on the image to get it larger.)

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Now we can bike any day in November

Some days are just perfect and this was just such a day. I could almost be converted to getting up early on weekends if days like this are the result. Oh, the fact that it was gobsmackingly beautiful weather probably contributed a great deal. Maybe having an actual plan for the day contributed as well.

 We were up before 8:00 a.m. (which counts as shockingly early, yes) so I could dig up the geraniums and get them--and the lawn furniture--shifted into the garage for the winter. Some of the geraniums live in pots; one of those pots is more than two feet tall and weighs about 100 pounds. That one requires some clever Scott engineering(tm) to shift from the patio in the back, across a stretch of lawn on the side and then some sidewalk in the front, and down the driveway into the garage. I always feel like we've worked a mracle when that particular item is shifted successfully. Scott swapped out the screens for storm windows too so we're truly prepared for winter now. Take that most efficient neighbors!

 But all the domesticity was done before 10:00 and a few hours later we--and our bikes--were on a bus heading for Ballard and the bakery case at Besalu. Oh, Besalu! How I miss you!

 After stocking up on ginger biscuits and croissants, we set out on the Burke Gilman for the UDistrict and the Fill. It was ever-so-exciting to encounter Madi Carlson leading a bike tour en route, though not so exciting as practically crashing over my handlebars several hours later at nearly the same spot.

Trusty steeds parked by the CUH
The Fill was fabu! The coots are back in the thousands and while there weren't thousands of cormorants, there were at least fifty, which I call a pretty good cormorant count. The water, the trees, and the light were all gorgeous and while there weren't a ton of species to be seen, what there was was cherce. The birds who like to winter over water in the area seem to be making their return: I'd practically forgotten that things like buffleheads, wigeons, and hooded mergansers existed so they were a lovely combination of new things and old friends all together.
Speaking of old friends, we met up with Alex who was out with Truman which was also quite fine. It's handy having a bird expert with you when you're trying to work out what an odd duck might be. (It turned out to be a male merganser with his hood down.) Truman is a handsome and well-behaved dog too, though when he's had enough, he's had enough. It could be that he didn't care for being used at bait to attract the red-tailed hawk.
Red-tailed hawk showing off the red tail
After bidding adieu to Alex we decided we weren't really all that cold so we took a stroll through Yesler Swamp where, again, the light was gorgous. We saw a ruby-crowned kinglet, more song sparrows, another kingfisher or two, as well as another great blue heron, plus a bald eagle which you would think would be plenty. But then, as we were leaving, I noticed something darting under a bush; after a moment the sweetest little bunny came back out to pose for some fading light photos. We warned it to watch out for raptors and then returned to our bikes.

The light was definitely fading, but we decided that riding back to Ballard for dinner at Oaxaca would be a good plan. Oh. Scott's front light turned out to be very weak and there was that "almost-over-the-handlebars" screeching to a halt business when I was trying to ride too far to the right on the Burke Gilman because some east-bound riders insisted upon riding two-abreast and there turned out to be a a pallet jutting out into the path but Bessie's brakes were up to the task and, odds are, the weight in the basket helped keep her from flipping. We stopped off at Gas Works and declared that it was some beautiful, this Seattle of ours.

Oaxaca was fabulous as usual and our Metro karma held as a D came along pretty quickly and contained no crazies. While the mileage doesn't get counted in my bike-in-the-rain stats, we're calling it just about 15 miles of biking and, as I said at the start, a simply marvelous sort of day.

Female red-winged blackbird in the blown cattails

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Bland bike update with a side of worm

I am maintaining my #1 status on my team, which could suggests that my teammates are slackers but really I think that "status" is determined by number of commute rides so as long as I keep riding to and from work every day, I should be fine. Of course, next week's holiday schedule might wreak a little havoc. But since Madi Carlson stated recently that I inspired her to ride a few days ago, well, my ego might need something to calm it down a little. I have enjoyed not riding in the rain for the last three trips; a slight chill is a lot more pleasant than actual precipitation. And, hey! Mountaineers Books has wormed (that's foreshadowing that is) its way up to #141 out of 505 teams.
Speaking of worms (that's a smooth transition that is), I record that tonight's salad included a live worm. A cute little green fellow, it was, wriggling on my plate. I guess when they say "organic" at the West Seattle Farmers Market, they really mean it.

And because the blahness of this post is just too blah, I add a random photo of a wren with an unripe cherry that I happened across while looking for other photos this morning. 

Monday, November 16, 2015

Separating the wheat from the chaff (Bike in the Rain Update)

Hey, will you look at that? I'm still #1 on my team though Doug has a zillion more miles than me. He's counting non-commute trips (as are most teams) while I'm sticking with our Captain-imposed rule of recording commute miles only. Half those commute miles are in the dark, I've come to realize, and most of them are in the wet as well. Increasingly, it's the cold, dark wet (or the wet, dark cold, if you prefer, which I don't). I've realized that biking in November isn't as much fun as biking in May, though I do love my sweet shoe lights. It takes longer for me to get out the door, whether that door is here at home or at work, and I'm a little more cautious as I ride over wet leaves in the dark. I worry a bit about whether I have quite enough lights on my bike and person. This evening when I got home I gave Bessie the wipe-down, cleaning, and re-greasing that I've been promising her for weeks. Filthy, she was too; I just hope the attention results in slightly more responsive brakes and a little less reluctance to shift when required.

But what about that wheat and chaff, you might ask. Well, I note that my team was #223 last Thursday while today we're #152. And, sure, maybe it's that other teams haven't recorded their miles recently but, while I can anyway, I assume that last Friday's windstorm kept a lot of other cyclists off their bikes while some of us just got onto our twenty-year-old steel steeds and pedaled our way to glory. Or at least to work and to the bar afterwards.

I'm not sure what I'm going to do when December rolls around, but I sort of suspect I'll add a few more blinking lights and continue to ride. While it's not the ride in the park that May is, it probably still beats the alternatives.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Bums of the Bird World

It's the first weekend of Cornell's Project FeederWatch which means that I spent a lot of this frigid day in the backyard, lab book, binoculars, and camera in hand, attempting to count birds which, unobligingly, do not stay in one place long enough for me to count beyond six or so. I know that some people get flocks of hundreds in their yard and I can say only that they must have much larger yards and also be phenomenal counters. The highest number I reached was "about fifteen" and that was thumbprints bushtits at the suet. Of course the bit of suet wasn't large enough for all of them to be at it at once and they kept hopping about but I feel almost confident about the fifteen number. There were probably more than the fourteen dark-eyed juncos I noted down but I couldn't look in every direction at once and those damned juncos, who so perfectly match the fallen magnolia leaves that cover the large garden bed, flit from plum to magnolia to ground to magnolia to fence to apricot far faster than I could count. I do love the way they flitter down to the ground like leaves, though. I could watch that all day.

 Part of me wonders just how truly important numbers reported by the likes of me might be (though, of course, Cornell insists citizen science makes all the difference). I feel a little like Ralphie with the Little Orphan Annie decoder ring though the birds aren't spelling out anything so crass as "Buy More Bird Seed" despite Wild Birds Unlimited being a sponsor. It's got to be a benefit, however, to encourage participants to become more aware of the birds in their own backyards regardless of what numbers are then fed into a giant computer database. I spent more time than usual seeing who comes to visit and I was rewarded with a fox sparrow right in my own tiny garden. I initally assumed it was a second song sparrow but fortunately the fantastic Mr Fox returned a few times so I could have a second and third look and, well, fox sparrow will be on my report. Also on the list: 2 Anna's hummingbirds, 1 Bewick's wren, 2 Steller's jays, 1 European starling, 1 song sparrow, 1 goldencrowned sparrow, 5 American goldfinches, 6 house finches, 2 black-capped chickadees, 3 chestnut chickadees (who knew?!), 1 northern flicker, 5 pine siskins, and those aforementioned 14 juncos and 15 bushtits.

But hey! What's a post about birds without bird photos? Just words. I'm working on a whole new guide for birds, featuring the angle one sees so often. As far as I know, there isn't a guide to bird bottoms on the market yet so I figure wealth and fame will soon be mine. More than those things, however, I want readers to identify the birds shown, from below, below. All the photos were taken in the backyard today so all the bires are on the list above.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Cycling update: I'm in 1st place!

Just because I sort of doubt I'll hold onto my "Team Leadership #1" status for long, I'm preserving the moment by posting a quick screen shot here. I'm disappointed to see that my team is #223 of 502 competitors, but then we're counting only work-commute trips rather than *all* our bike rides during November. A few members might be a little slow about recording their rides too.

The windstorm predicted this morning has yet to really materialize but the ride home was still a bit challenging educational. I learned that when your glasses get covered in raindrops it doesn't only mean that the world become sort of grey and dim; no, all those tiny drops turn into wee prisms so that headlights blind you entirely. "Wheeeee!" I did not say. I am glad I have the sweet shoe lights and am thinking now that I might need to upgrade my $3 consignment store jacket to something that is actually waterproof. And I definitely something that will block the rain  on my glasses a bit more, which none of  these helmets would do so much but that doesn't mean I don't want half a dozen of them now.

Saturday, November 7, 2015

Mona and Monet

I am once more between books, having finished the latest iteration of Mona in the Desert a few hours ago. It is such a perfect and beautiful story. Heartbreaking, of course, and yet insisting upon love and hope as eternal truths. It is simply baffling to me, that I should live with a man who can create such amazingly beautiful worlds. Less cheery, of course, is living in a world where such perfect gems face such a battle to reach a wider audience. But this one, I say, this one no one could possibly turn away. Fingers crossed and all. Chapter Nine, I tell you, oh chapter nine . . .

Patience Quince fans may recognize these as Charolais cows; they live across from M.  Monet's place
But back to the Giverny Adventures! When last spotted our intrepid international cyclists were approaching Giverny. They passed a horse across the highway and continued on up through slight elevation gains, along ever-smaller roads featuring B&Bs and art galleries, passing the line of people pictured yesterday and also some parking lots, in search of someplace obvious to lock their bikes and a giant sign reading "MONET'S HOUSE HERE." This took them along a stretch of that previously referenced highway where traffic was largely nonexistent, to reach a spot with a bike rack, just as a gentle rain started to fall, or such is my memory anyway.

After locking up the bikes, perhaps with a few moments' pause to wonder who would be crazy enough to steal them, we walked along to find ourselves reaching the crowd in line we had passed earlier, noting as we did so, the parking lot, with bike racks, across the street which we must have passed ten minutes earlier. "Merde," we did not say, because, really, it wasn't that big a deal. Scott stood in line while I first took photos of the butterfly posted yesterday and then went across to the nearest cafe to buy some of the crappiest coffee to be found in all of France. Still, it was nice to have a snack while standing in line, for we had brought baked goods from Paris. (And I managed to collect a few extra sugar packets!)
Sewing cabinet wallpaper

 Monet's house is pretty small but oh! so very charming. There is a teeny tiny sewing closet which has the dearest wall paper (see right). The bedrooms are also charmant but it's really the kitchen that makes one want to remodel one's own house to match. (Seriously, some days later we were at a kitchen shop in Les Halles and Scott had to invoke what the weight would do to the expense of our baggage check to stop me from investing in all new copper pots and pans.) God, it was gorgeous, that man's kitchen.
Monet's pots and pans

Monet's tile
Looking out Monet's bedroom window, as one does
But, when you think about Monet's output, you don't remember his famous paintings of of interiors, do you? That's because he also had some amazing gardens. Even in late September they were gorgeous. Admittedly, there is a not insignificant staff of gardeners working to keep them looking nice for the tourists but still. You can't force nasturiums and sunflowers and the like to bloom out of season, can you? I don't know; maybe you can. All I know is that there were tons of beautiful flowers everywhere, and gobsmacking bees. Also a few charming chickens.

 You go through a tunnel to get to the water lily ponds which were just so damned much like stepping into a painting. (Aside: the tunnel was put in by some neighboring official or another; one assumes he got tired of having to slow to allow tourists to wander across the road and so voted some public funds to install a tunnel. One might be entirely mistaken about that.)  I may have written this earlier but I repeat it nonetheless; I don't know how Monet found time to paint; were I in his place, I would have found it impossible to stop looking long enough to pick up a paintbrush. It was a darned lovely spot. While we posed for photos on one of the bridges, a man in a boat punted his way through, clearing less than photogenic bits and pieces from the water.
We assume this was Monet's great-nephew who was very disappointed to learn he hadn't inherited the place but rather had to work to earn his keep.

 Eventually we had to make our way back towards Vernon, though we made stop or two en route--and yes, one of those stops was to admire a cat sitting on the hood of someone's car in the alley one cycles thorugh. And, since Scott mentioned them in yesterday's comment, I share also a snap of les cormorants:

We were pleased to get the bikes returned without incident and to have time for a quick beer while waiting for the train to take us back to Paris.