Saturday, December 21, 2013

Racing through December

It is a good thing to have someone help with the Christmas decorating around here.
We were off to a slow start: Getting back from San Diego totally threw off my holiday rhythm.
It was ten days into December before I stopped thinking it was November and mentally getting ready for Thanksgiving.
Beach walking in December will do that to yah!

Over at my son's house they were ON it! 
Christmas decorating was going on.
Right down to decorating the grandcat Cheeto.
It is a tradition for Bernie and me to be invited over to their place to help decorate their Christmas tree.
This year Luke could help a bit too.

He would much rather be read to than mess around with tree decorating though.
He walked around behind the tree once and after that lost interest in the thing.
We were prepared for curious toddler action.

And the tree and family portrait looks great.
So fun.
It would have been even more fun if I didn't have to go home right after that to start prepping for one of those "once every ten years after you turn 50" deals...ahem.

 A couple of days after that event I got serious about getting our hall decking done.
Tate really is helpful.
His exploring every decoration makes me laugh.

Luke is over all day on Tuesday and we had him Friday too two weeks ago.
More reason why the decorating around here lagged a bit.

Eventually we got around to slogging through the Christmas tree lot snow and picked out an Alpine variety of Christmas tree.
This year I decided I wanted to use my family ornaments, the ornaments that were handmade or collected while my kids were still little (read: unbreakable ornaments.)

The Alpine tree was just the thing for a colorful Christmas.
 It is so tall and narrow and scented nicely.
Very different than any tree we've ever had before.
I still like the old fashioned Douglas firs of my childhood because they had a lot of scent.  I've have Noble pines because they are strong in the limb and hold on to their needles even in Southern California Christmas heat waves.
One hideous year in Dallas we had a Black Hills pine.  The needles are so sharp that just brushing against the branch will lead to screaming. It almost didn't get decorated, and it almost got thrown out with the decorations still on it.  Heavy gloves and jackets were necessary to complete those tasks.
After that terrible tree I defaulted to fake trees for the rest of my Texas years.

Last Sunday we took our first snow hike up Millcreek canyon.
Dogs are welcomed on the path and they have a blast racing through the un-groomed snow under the trees.
(That's Bernie in the brimmed Stetson style hat.)

The creek was running.
It had been around zero over night and in the low teens for about a week.
Snow had iced and stayed put for two weeks; I was getting a bit tired of the bitter cold.
Having the temperatures "soar" into the 30s was great!

Next to the snow trail I saw hoar frost growing on the snow.

Each morning frost was seen on the glass table out on our deck.

The American goldfinch arrived in huge flocks.

It was good to see them back at our kitchen window.

This week we had a snow that produced needle shapes.

Up close the snow looked like piles of needles.

There was very little artful snowflake shapes to be seen.
I was checking...

Last Monday I had a tooth extraction that needed bone graft and tissue graphing too.
It hurt a lot and continued to hurt enough for the rest of the week that pain killers were required.
Pain killers = drowsy.
Not much got done besides staring out the front window a lot.
Friday and Saturday I made myself write my Christmas letter and mail about 25 cards.
In between naps...

...and checking the snowfall.
It started picking up a few shapes on Saturday morning.

The towhees flocked to our feeders and distracted me as well.

Such cute fatness!

Mountain jays, woodpeckers, flickers, chickadee, goldfinch and sparrow flutter non stop at our feeders.

The gold finches look skinny compared to the towhees.

The day after we got back from San Diego it snow and we had 12 inches of snow at our house.
That snow stayed and stayed until early last week.
By Tuesday the very last of the deck snow had melted.
Wednesday was our 37th wedding anniversary.
Celebration of the anniversary has been postponed due to my groom also having one of those "every ten years once you are 50" procedures done on Thursday.
(At least we both got an "all clear" for ten more years!)
Snow fell again on Thursday and Saturday.
My deck flags "Rejoice" is now nearly buried in snow.

Saturday morning I peeked at the deck railing and saw this charming snowflake just sitting there.
I shot this photo just using my sport/fast shutter speed setting and wedged elbows to hold steady.
Turned out pretty good for my first snowflake photo of winter!

I had read up on how a well known Russian snowflake photographer manages to get his snow photos.
I duplicated his set up by placing a wooden stool upside down, placing a glass table topper on the stool legs and pointed a flashlight up through the glass.
It worked!

I rather like the way flakes look on plants, porch railings and camera lenses, but this is an interesting way to set up photos too.

The air outside was just at freezing and the snow was graupeling and rime was forming.
The bead like structure on the snow crystal is super cooled water structure stuck to the snow flake form.
Two different water states connected in mid air.

I want my snow flakes to be "baggage" free, even though the baggage itself is kind of miraculous.

These two snowflakes got completely covered with droplets.

Nice plate shaped flake off to the side in this shot.

Perfect snowflakes aren't always what we think of when we think of perfect.
There is a lot of variation in snowflakes.
The needle snowflake, the branched snowflake, the plate shaped snowflake...
And the ones with attached dots.

They are all good.
The Russian photographer's method is a winner.
Glad I had a chance to practice using the method today.
I don't think we will be getting more snow before Christmas.
I still have to make pralines for the neighbors and bake cookies for us.
That last bit of Christmas preparation might not get done if the snowflakes were falling and enticing me outside.
December has raced along.
I am looking forward to the slower days of the 12 Days of Christmas, the after Christmas preparation time of pure enjoyment for us.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Travel Journal: Nov 27- Dec 6: La Jolla Shores

While Utah and most of the rest of America was being pounded by snow and ice, San Diego was warmly slipping out of November and into December and Christmastime.
Christmas lights lit up yard and houses; they seemed to be trying too hard to make up for the lack of the Christmas signature snowy scenes.
Well, San Diego has its own Christmas signature scenes.
A major one is Poinsettia.
A lot of the poinsettia that are bought in North America are raised in the northern San Diego area green houses.
Most folks think of poinsettia as a potted plant that gets chucked out after Christmas is over.

Locals don't toss their poinsettias pots.
They cut them up and share poinsettia sticks from their Christmas plants.
The sticks are literally just stuck into the ground and in a year or two they grow sky high.
How fun is that?
Even more fun:  Having my BFF Gail also in town for the Thanksgiving holidays, out visiting from her home in Colorado Springs!
We both grew up in San Diego and our parents still live in San Diego.  Our Dads have birthdays the same week so we often wind up in San Diego over Thanksgiving time.
It is a nice way to meet up and have some time together.
We had already met up for lunch in La Mesa a few days earlier.

Usually we work in a time to walk together on the beach each visit too.
Tides are especially high and low November and December which makes beach walking even more fun at low tide.
As we arrived at the beach, I was really surprised to see that kelp had been washed up all the way to the sea wall and beyond.
Bernie and I had taken a walk on the beach earlier in the week; I had noted the low tide time and Gail and I plotted to get to the beach and up to the tide pools at the best possible low tide time.

Winter storms were raging far north of Southern California.
Sea birds were flocking on our beach, including a few kinds of birds we had never seen before.
I thought this funny little bird was gull.
Later I showed my Dad my photos of the bird and he identified them as Terns!

He thought it was a Caspian Tern, but I think after looking more closely, they are actually Royal Terns, based on their white foreheads.

The begging bird made the cutest chiiirrrp sound.

Not sure if this was a begging juvenile or a mating ritual.
Either way, we enjoyed the show!

The terns eventually grouped up.

Don't they look like a bunch of bald headed guys with just a wild fringe of hair around their heads?

La Jolla Shores beach is a cupped by hillsides that are now filled with large homes.

In summer the humans pack the beach, in winter, the birds take over.

As we walked along the birds would explode into the air as we approached their flocks.

They'd rise frantically, beat their wings...

Then land again just a few feet away.
Maybe their were tired out from a long migration flight; maybe they just figured we didn't pose too much of a threat.

Gail thought it would be fun for me to attempt to get a photo of her in the middle of the bird flights.

I had her walk backwards towards the birds, facing the sun.
The silly birds just sat there or just shuffled a few feet away as she got closer and closer to them.
Maybe they just sensed that Gail is a really kind person and posed no danger to them.

(Photographing birds over wet sand always makes for cool pictures with their mirror like reflections included.)

The surf was definitely "up", especially compared to the prior day when Luke was playing in the water.
The first few days we were in town the waves rarely broke more than two inches high.

Now there was some serious wave action out there.

When Bernie and I walked the beach he taught me a new beach trick.
He walked up to the goose neck barnacles on the pier and stroked them like the clusters were a large cat.
The barnacles swayed in the direction of his slow gentle stroked after he lifted his hand.
I was amazed and couldn't wait to show Gail.

I told her to watch carefully and began to stroke the pier clinging critters.

They. did. not. move.
At all.
Epic fail!

So disappointing.
When Bernie stroked them they definitely swayed.
I had stroked them too and saw the same slow collective movement.
(And yes, it does feel really odd to stroke these hard things.)

I had never really paid much attention to them before.
They are such interesting little clusters, how ever did I miss studying them before?

Scripps pier, where local children grow up being dared to surf between the pier pilings.
They often do dare to do so, even after also growing up hearing their mothers warn them about not surfing or swimming between the pilings.
Adults love to attempt to take photos with the sun setting framed perfectly at the end of the pilings.

The barnacle dots or blooms are formations I don't recall from when I was growing up.

I had never noticed that they had red lips before.
Gail pointed that little detail out to me.

We discussed the mussels she had recently seen on sale in the super market. I told her mussels were delicious.
She had never tried eating mussels before.
I kind of wished I could try harvesting some from the beach to try some day.

Past the pier, the shoreline turns into a horseshoe shape and one can see way up the coast.

Sea birds and human "birds" each enjoyed the beach in their own way.

Gail and I both are constantly amazed at nature and beauty.
The chain-like pattern created by tide water flowing over the sand was enough to make us stop and look and enjoy for a bit.

The chains had water flowing through them.  How and why they create that pattern, I have no idea.

It was so wonderful to have the time to just enjoy seeing something so beautiful and transitory.

I felt blessed to have a friend who stops and really "sees" beauty too.

I snapped a fast photo of Gail.
She had just a few days earlier learned that her father is facing a serious illness.
Lots of changes are ahead for her and her parents.
A walk on the beach was a way to step away from all that the news meant for a bit.
Last year we walked together as I faced the impending death of my mother-in-law.
God seems to manage to get us together during many of our life milestones, both good ones and bad.

Pausing to treasure a pearly sea foam pattern.

Taking in the booms and spray of  the waves crashing upon the shoreline rocks engages us as we walk along.

This is actually a pretty unusual scene for this beach. The tide is at a record low; making the usually below the water  rocks subject to the crashing wave action.

Translucent kelp and shoreline mussels share in common a golden color, stolen I think from the many golden sunsets of summer.

Grays and golds, charcoal blacks and pearly white seem to be the colors of the shoreline today.

The very low tide has left tiny tide pools everywhere.

Bits of shells, broken and whole, and tiny rocks mosaic together in sandy conclaves.

The tiny shell bits often find a permanent home stuck to the many sea anemones.

My favorite picture of the day:
I do not know how or why small holes form on shoreline rocks but each hole has become a micro tide pool and has also gained a resident.
I blew this photo up and found it was like a "Where's Waldo?" scene composed of sea forms, including a tiny, smaller than a dime sea anemone opened up into a full bloom.

We rued the fact that we weren't wearing water socks so we could have explored inside this tiny cavern.

We looked at things up close.

Admired this anemone with his little hermit crab buddy.

Each anemone seemed to have its own distinctive shade of turquoise.

Hermit crabs scurried along in game of follow the leaders.
(During my earlier visit to the tide pools with Bernie I was chagrined at parents who pointed out hermit crabs as snails.  Huh?  And despaired for America's future when a good sized young lad wanted to pick up a hermit crab after seeing us holding one, yet he was too afraid it would pinch him. I pointed out how tiny the claws were and how that even if it did pinch it would feel like a tiny poke. He still couldn't bring himself to hold one. Sad.)

Playing with hermit crabs is just part of tide pool time.

They really move fast too...this one flipped itself upright and raced off Gail's hand before I could click a photo of it running.
Love those bright blue bracelets!

The tide pool area present patterns and colors galore.

One can peer into the distance scene...

Or kneel down to take in the scene at the tip of one's own toe.

When Bernie and I came here, he took a mussel and shattered its shell, then tossed the meat in bits into a quiet tide pool.
Within seconds fish and crabs raced out from nooks and crevices to feast on the unexpected bounty.
Some of the fish were tiny inch long opal eyes, grey with a small white dot on the middle of their spines.
I expected them; what I didn't expect was to see six inch long sculpin to also dart out from beneath the rocks!

I mentioned what Bernie had done to Gail.
We toyed with the idea of pulling off a mussel and feeding a tide pool too.
Guess we are still just too girly to want to crush shell and pull out smelly bits with our bare hands.

After a bit we turned and walked back from the beach.

The bird tracks were mixed in with our own tracks.

When the tide would tern they all would be washed away.

I looked back and saw that para glider sails were now rising over the cliffs.

So many people gilding in the sky at once!

What a happy colorful sight!

The tide was still going out as we walked back and the pier piling bases were being revealed further out too.
Bernie and I had seen lots of starfish the other day; I was eager to show Gail them too.
Orange and purple...

And one that looked as though it was covered with white bead work.

We rolled up our pants and waded out.

I dashed back and forth between waves trying to get a good starfish photo.

Gail was the one that figured out how to really make the star fish stand out.
They just look like regular old starfish...

Until you see her hand next to them.
These were HUGE starfish!

Star like constellations  seemed beaded like maps onto their bodies and arms

I suppose they eat the mussels?
(Yes they do!  These star fish are in Fat City!  All-You-Can-Eat Mussel buffet!)

I get a kick out of how sea life layers and reside on each other.
And how one goose neck barnacle has stuck its neck out beyond the others.
(I later learned that in Spain the gooseneck barnacle is considered a delicacy.  If you want to whip up a batch as an appetizer, HERE is a fast and easy recipe. Personally I think I'll pass.)

Back at the Shores parking lot we admired the new life guard tower's mosaics.

She drove us the three blocks back to my parent's house and dropped me off.
When would see each other again?
Hard to say.
We plan a get together in Idaho in mid February.
Hope it can happen.
A lot can happen in the next eight weeks.
It seems odd to think that mid February IS just eight weeks way doesn't it?.