Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Just Like a Graceful Lady

Yes, these white grape flavored gummies "offer admiring feelings of a graceful lady". I don't lick that many ladies, but I'm guessing they don't taste like Welch's.

Monday, June 29, 2009


Sorry, Internet, I forgot to post yesterday. I am going to backdate this post so that it will look like I posted, but I did not post. I believe I was either writing, watching Christy (boy was Kellie Martin young in 1994!), or helping Ivan walk her dog. In any event, apparently blogging did not fit into my busy busy schedule. But, as a treat, here is a picture from my recent trip to space. You know, where I stopped right after the Lake District? Gosh, it was so pretty.

Or at least, it was until someone pointed out that this picture of tidal channels in Iran looked like a giant squid. I thought it looked like nerves and axons inside the brain. One is much less gross than the other. You can decide.

Giant squid (hint: gross)

Brain (hint: surprisingly, not gross)

More pictures from the International Space Station here, should you be interested. Normally I would not stoop to posting links, especially to places I have never been, but this is one place I don't think I will probably ever take personal photos of. Unless they get that space elevator working!

Friday, June 26, 2009


Some ten years ago I visited San Francisco with my family, and during a tea break at the Japanese Tea Garden my Aunt cracked her fortune cookie and read "you have a magnetic personality" and then a bird pooped on her.

So the joke from then on was if you had a fortune saying how likable you were, you should probably duck and cover. So when we went back last week for a tea break and Uncle Bill pulled this gem,
Small Brother and I looked from one another to the pigeon sitting on the eaves and laughed til tea came out our nose.

Uncle Bill made it out unscathed.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Every time I walk by this, I sigh and shake my head.

I think at Christmas I'll wrap my security blanket around its base and see whether this happens:

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

All The Comforts of Home

It's always fun to walk through the RV Campsites on the way to the Backpackers Site because you see things like this:
Because GOD FORBID you go the week without cable. And meanwhile we're preparing food like this with a camping spork and a pocket stove.
Our way was more fun.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Big Birds, Bird Brains, and Dinosaurian Wiliness

Someone invited birds of prey, in addition to alpacas, to the miserably wet town festival thingy. Here is a large, miserably wet bird.

He is a peregrine falcon. He is wearing striped pajamas. I want to call him a jailbird, but it's such a bad joke I'm going to resist. I came in toward the end of the falcon talk so all I know is that the males of this species are smaller than the females. This led the bird man to make the assumption that the females were giving the orders, which he seemed to think would make all the women in the crowd overwhelmed with delight. I know I personally felt that this one avian species having larger females than males definitely makes up for the thousands of years that males of my own species used their muscle mass as a tool of repression. The bird man was a bird brain if you ask me.

But the falcon was pretty.

Bird brain also had a bald eagle with him.

Nothing he said about the bald eagle offended me. This particular bald eagle has a broken wing, that's why one looks funny. He is apparently one of few bald eagles in the northeast who can be safely brought within close range of the public; the others are all scary and unpredictable. I don't know, this one may be as cool as the Fonz, but he's still a fifteen-pound bird of prey with a giant beak and giant claws. I used the zoom to take these pictures. I don't even like being near pigeons.

Giant beak

Giant claws which I have Photoshopped so you can clearly see all the dragonlike knobbly bits

Bird brain says birds should be reclassified as dinosaurs. I'm in favor! They have very wily eyes. On the other hand, this picture looks to me like a man in a convincing bird costume, so clearly I should have no say in this matter.

Bird brain also called my attention to the fact that outdoor cats kill one billion songbirds and small rodents each year. I decline to provide an illustration for this fun fact.

I don't know much else about bald eagles because in spite of the fact that he was holding one, bird brain did not talk about them much. He mentioned that "bald" means white, not hairless, although the impression of baldness is hard to deny. Then he talked about how bird feathers are essentially scales (as in dinosaur scales). And how the claws produce some kind of waterproof secretion. And then he put them out on their little stands, and a magician came on stage, and made a rather poor bird joke, worse than mine, even. At which point I went back to the alpaca.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Bear Repellant

I am convinced this zipper pull kept the bears away in Yosemite. Or maybe it was the fact that I hadn't used deodorant in three days... probably the zipper pull.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Say Hello to an Old Friend!

He is so delighted to see you!

This is Meridian, making his yearly appearance at the town it's-summer-and-it's-raining-so-let's-eat-fried-dough festival. I posted about him last year, too. He's got the same spiffing haircut, and his main interest is still the consumption of grass.

He is very bendy.

He is intrigued by other animals.

He is a handsome devil.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

We interrupt your regularly scheduled post

to bring you this intriguing update just texted to me by Ivan:

Things I learned in Yosemite: It's all fun and games til someone drops their pants in the fire.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Hill Top

Hill Top is the house Beatrix Potter bought when she began the process of moving from London to the Lake District in 1905, three years after her first book, Peter Rabbit, appeared in print. Even though our hostel was on the opposite side of the lake, Hill Top wasn't very hard to get to. Someone had the intelligent and lucrative idea of starting a combination ferry-bus service that takes you across the lake and then carts you the two miles to Hill Top in Sawrey, and then two more miles to the Beatrix Pottery gallery in Hawkshead. It's very convenient and relatively cheap considering the time it saves and what it would cost to take a bus around the lake. Plus, there's something about ferries that is rather fun. In Victorian novels people are always meeting interesting strangers on ferries. This did not happen to me. However, I did encounter The Nice Canadian we knew from the hostel, with whom I discussed the comparative merits of Christopher Eccleston and David Tennant. Conclusion: The Nice Canadian (I never found out her name) and I agree that both actors make satisfactory Doctor Whos, but we are prepared to vehemently dislike the next one until such time as he grows on us and we forget about the others. So it goes with serial television. There is no loyalty.

Well anyway, Hill Top is set, as you'd expect, in a nice bit of countryside. This is a picture of the other side of the street.

Hill Top was (and I think still is) a working farm, and Beatrix Potter bought up the surrounding land when it became available. She continued to farm and to acquire land for just about the rest of her life, leaving all her property to the National Trust when she died. I like to think she single-handedly saved the Lake District.

She moved out of Hill Top in 1913, when she married William Heelis. (I would like to say she met him on a ferry, but in fact he was her lawyer.) However, in her typical independent fashion, she retained Hill Top as a sort of repository for all her cool stuff -- furniture, fancy dishes, figurines, art, merchandise made from her books, and various curios. I was particularly fond of the collection of tiny pitchers and watering cans. The house and its furnishings appear in a lot of her drawings. Naturally, pictures weren't allowed, but I have a great souvenir book detailing all this that I'm sure you'll all be banging down my door to see! I tell you, I squealed aloud when I saw the dollhouse ham that Tom Thumb tries to carve in Two Bad Mice. I frightened children, that's how delighted I was.

The garden path leading up to the house.

The same view as illustrated in The Tale of Tom Kitten.

Hill Top

It was impossible to get a good picture of the house on account of all the stinkin' tourists. In old pictures, it looks like the house used to be whitewashed (as half the town is) but evidently they've stopped doing that. You can't tell from this, but it's really quite cozy-looking.

Walking through the tiny town of Sawrey, not surprisingly, is like walking through one of the books.

Sometimes you meet people you know.

No wonder Peter ran away. Mr. McGregor is terrifying.

After we had seen the house and I had spent a million dollars in the gift shop, we hopped on the bus to Hawkshead, where the Beatrix Potter Gallery is housed in William Heelis's old office (on the left, behind the gaggle o' stinkin' tourists).

It looks tiny from the outside, but the drawings are tiny, too, and they fit a lot of them in there. The collection rotates, but I got to see a few drawings from Mrs. Tiggywinkle, which is my favorite (I don't know why, I hate doing laundry), and a large number from Squirrel Nutkin, which I hardly remember anything from. All of the drawings are extraordinarily impressive, though. It is easy to think, when you consider that she wrote about itty bitty bunny wunnies wearing itty bitty coatsie woatsies and having adorable itty bitty adventures, that Beatrix Potter was merely an overgrown child. But she was really a dedicated artist and naturalist who, in addition to drawing pretty landscapes and fuzzy creatures, took on studies in mycology and entomology. She and her brother boiled dead animals in order to examine their skeletons. And there's a decidedly gruesome element to her some of her stories. Peter Rabbit's father was cooked in a pie, for Pete's sake. In an early illustration for the story, the pie is shown, and on my honor, there is a little cotton-tail coming out the top. And do you know, I always had the sort of uncomfortable feeling that the tailor of Gloucester does not love his cat.

And you thought those stories were sentimental. Pshaw!

We headed home after Hawkshead, but as it turns out, crossing Windermere doesn't mean you have left Beatrix Potter's domain. She also owned land in Troutbeck, which is a small town just up the street from our hostel, which we had walked to a number of times. It's the quaintest town imaginable, with a fantastic view of some dramatic scenery.

Troutbeck looking south

Troutbeck looking north

A terrible picture of a wonderful garden

I guess these are called the Troutbeck fells. In spite of strenuous effort I can find no other official name for them.

I desire to live precisely here.

Finally, I have run out of things to say on this subject. At least, until Beatrix Potter's diaries arrive at the library for me to read. Gosh, I hope she writes about boiling dead animals!

One last picture from the garden at Hill Top.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Goodbye LA

The last words written on my chalkboard wall before I painted it white. Goodbye LA. It's been real.

Monday, June 15, 2009

The Lake District

The Lake District is located in Cumbria, on the north-west coast of England, in the part that I think of as England's neck. I have just spent fifteen minutes trying to figure out what exactly Cumbria is, because it does not appear on any of the county maps of England that I've been looking at. This, I now know, is because the counties showing on the maps -- Cumberland, Westmorland, and a bit of Lancashire -- ceased to exist in 1974, when they were merged into one larger county called Cumbria. Why almost all the county maps of England on the internet are more than thirty years out of date is, to be perfectly honest, not surprising. This is a country in which they have not yet figured out that the hot and cold taps can be combined for a very pleasant handwashing experience in which no nerve damage need be sustained from extreme water temperatures. This is also a country that makes sixteen billion dollars yearly from overseas tourists but neglects to label its streets. No, the map thing is really the least of England's peculiarities.

Fortunately the most important thing to know about the Lake District is in its name: it has lakes. It looks like the same person who clawed western New York got to Cumbria, too, although I think they were formed differently. You may research that on your own; I wore myself out with the first paragraph.

Cumbria is fairly large and we only had two days, so we only saw one lake: Windermere. I rate it highly as a lake because it has islands. All that greenery to the right of the frame is an island, not the other side of the lake. The islands reminded me of Swallows and Amazons, and I have since learned that Arthur Ransome, who wrote the series, went to school in the town of Windermere. But apparently the books are based mostly on Coniston Water.

The extent of our boating was to take a ferry across Windermere to Beatrix Potter's house, but we had a remarkably good view of it from our hostel. Considering that hostels don't usually come with views, I was impressed. Also interesting: I saw many more sailboats in Windermere than I did in Cornwall. This and one particular episode of Inspector Lynley lead me to believe that everyone in Cornwall with a boat is probably a smuggler.

But there's more to do in Windermere than boat on Windermere or sit around and look at Windermere. You can also hike around Windermere and marvel at the lovely scenery.

Locals would probably call this a "walk" but at the ninety-minute mark, when you have gotten lost at least seven times, and your feet are thoroughly drenched, and you have just nearly lost your sneaker in three inches of foul-smelling mud, it automatically becomes a "hike". The main problem with this walk/hike was that we did not know that a stile could look like this:

Those are VERY HARD TO SEE from the other side of the pasture. I take comfort from this entry in Beatrix Potter's journal, in which she describes a similar experience: "Went to Hawkshead on 19th. Had a series of adventures. Inquired the way three times, lost continually, alarmed by collies at every farm, stuck in stiles, chased once by cows." And poor Beatrix didn't even have farmer Polly looking out for her like we did. As we were passing by Polly's farm, we ran across this little setup:

Polly (who we never met) had set out a basket of water and orange juice, and a container of treats for the hungry, ill-prepared, or thoroughly charmed hiker. We fell into the last category. We signed her little book, put some pence in her little honesty jar, petted her dog (who could leap fences by the way, very impressive), and went happily on our way.

We were making our way toward Orrest Head, which against all probability we did eventually find. This is what it looks like from the bottom:

And here are some views from the top. They will be more impressive if you click on them and look at the large version. It was a very "the hills are alive" kind of place.


Windermere and the fells beyond

I thought you would like a close-up.

What we had just walked through, more or less.

Incidentally, if you have ever wondered what happens when you check the little box on your customs form that says you've been walking through pastures, the answer is not very exciting. All they do is mark your form with an A (not for Anarchist, fortunately, but for Agriculture), put you in another screening line, make you put your luggage through what I guess was an x-ray machine, and let you go. Here is the odd thing: our luggage did not go through any pastures, our shoes did. And our shoes were not looked at. I suppose if in answer to the question, "Is there any soil on your shoes?" I had said, "Yes, clumps of it, teeming with nasty microbes," it might have been more interesting. But alas, for our own comfort, we had cleaned them.

In spite of the debacle with the stile and the six hours we spent walking around in horribly clammy shoes, the Lake District was my favorite of the new places I saw. This is my way of warning you that I will be going on at great length about Beatrix Potter in my next post.

Friday, June 12, 2009

It's Time

Today is my last day of work. Tonight is final dinner with my friends. Small brother arrives in four hours. Backpacking will begin in two days. Goodbye LA. I'll miss you... just a little bit.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

St. Michael's Mount

To get to St. Michael's Mount from St. Ives you must first take a train to St. Erth, change for the train to Penzance, take a bus from Penzance to Marazion, and if the tide is in, get on a ferry from Marazion to the island. Those are a lot of forms of transportation (and, for some reason, a lot of saints) for one day trip, but the trouble is worthwhile.

St. Michael's Mount has been inhabited for thousands of years. The Romans used it as a port, the Saxons made pilgrimages to it, Norman Benedictines built a priory on it, the same Norman Benedictines suffered an earthquake and a plague and died all over it, it was captured in the name of kings and pretenders several times, and the pesky Spanish repeatedly tried to land there while at war with England under Elizabeth I. It is currently the residence of the St. Aubyn family, who have owned it since 1659. As a matter of fact, the guidebook from which I am taking and probably misrepresenting its history was written by John St. Aubyn, Lord St. Leven. Which again brings me to the question, why so many saints? Having two in your name seems like overkill. Hey, wouldn't it be funny if they'd named him St. John? That's a little Jane Eyre humor for you, ha ha ha.

Boy, I wish I could still blame everything on jet lag.

The island is so close to shore that you can walk to it when the tide is out, as we were able to do. In spite of being a small island, in terms of other islands, such as the whole of England, it's quite imposing when you approach it this way.

Yes, that's scaffolding on one side. There's always scaffolding on whatever you want to see you when you travel any great distance to see it. There's still scaffolding on York Minster, six years since I was last in York. All these buildings are so old, I don't think they bother to take it down anymore.

Not far from the harbor, someone has painted a lovely mural on the side of this building. It looks like it's modeled after the sixteenth-century map shown in the guidebook.

What confuses me about this is that the compass contradicts the fact that St. Michael's Mount is south of the mainland. I have never been great with maps and I don't trust my own judgment, but I still don't recommend you orient yourself using this.

The inside of the priory/fortress isn't overwhelmingly exciting. Most of it isn't open to the public since it's still being lived in. However, I was very entertained by two things. The first is a mummified cat. (Sorry, no pictures were allowed.) (It wasn't much to look at, believe me.) I quote from the brochure: "Over the fireplace is a curio which perhaps surprisingly is not that unusual to see in an European castle - a mummified cat! They were brought back as souvenirs by visitors to Egypt when the pyramids started to be opened up." Perhaps surprisingly? What a gross souvenir. The closest I came to bringing home a dead cat is wanting dearly to take home a fake grumpy rabbit.

But who knows. If it had been four thousand years old, wrapped in nasty old cloth, and made totally indistinguishable from a mummified salami, maybe I wouldn't have been able to pass it up.

The second thing was a truly impressive model of the Mount carved out of champagne corks by the second Lord St. Leven's butler, Henry Lee, in 1932. It was incredibly detailed, right down to the pattern of the brick in some places. I sort of wonder if Mr. Lee didn't miss his calling. I also sort of wonder whether he did any work, because it would have taken me the length of a career to make something like that.

There are some other interesting things inside, but let's move on to what I have pictures of: the view.

This is the town of Marazion from the top of the Mount. You can see the submerged causeway and the harbor where the ferries dock.

These trees are Cordyline australis, also known as Cornish palms or Torbay palms (apparently wrongly because they are not palms). I gather they're native to New Zealand but all I can find on them for sure is that they are not native to California. Very helpful. Anyway, this picture justifies the term "English riviera" to me. Before I saw this I would have snorted at the pairing of those words.

This is the remarkable hillside garden, with the castle (the Victorian bit, I think) sitting at the top. It looked very steep from the bottom.

And less steep from the top, but it's still not something you'd want to fall off of.
There are a lot of odd stories and legends involving the Mount, the absolute stupidest of which (I humbly suggest) is the one about Jack the Giant Killer. Jack is meant to have killed Cormoran the giant by digging a hole and tricking him into falling into it. And here is the very hole!

At first I was annoyed that this guy wouldn't get out of my picture. But now that I look at it, I am happy to have him there illustrating what I was thinking as I was taking it. As you can see from his hands, he is saying to the person he's with, "But it's only this big!" I suppose the well probably once took up the entire area, not just that little door. For marketing purposes, I think they should have made a wooden cover to go across the whole thing. Much more believable.

Speaking of things that are unbelievable, I believe Queen Victoria visited here. (She seems to have left a trail of plaques all over the country.) And I am willing to believe that some loyal subject made a brass replica of her footmark and stuck it in the place where she first stepped. But I am unable to believe the size of her shoe!

Holy cow! That poor woman! Let us hope these shoes either had very skinny platforms on the soles or were meant for royal functions only, and the rest of the time she had on some big, fuzzy slippers. (Please see the comments for small-foot jokes aimed at me. They will be graciously provided by Ivan.)

I would like to end with a picture of my Cornish cheddar sandwich (two slices of bread, one centimeter-thick slice of magnificent cheese, aaahhhhh) but I hadn't started taking pictures in restaurants at that point. So here's another picture of freakishly good weather in Cornwall.