Saturday, June 25, 2011

My Poor Forest

When we were at the cabin in June, it was dry, dry, dry. Not unusual for that time of year, but the stream was running lower than normal: way lower than normal. Unfortunately, it hasn't changed. No rain has fallen since early June, the snowpack is already melted, and with the high winds, the forest floor continues to dry out.

Add to that people and electric lines, and conditions are nicely set up for a forest fire. There's already been one fire up the canyon, caused by a downed power line. Fortunately, the fire chief came upon it rather quickly and was able to assemble the volunteer fire crew in time to take down the fire before it spread very far.

Another fire has been burning for a week outside Santa Fe. Although it is no threat to our cabin, it is too close. The plumes of smoke from the fire are readily visible up the canyon, and one errant wind from the wrong direction could send the fire up over the ridge and down into our side. The meteorologists are not predicting that to happen . . . I hope they are right.

In the meantime, the Forest Service has closed the forest. That means people who have cabins may go to their cabins but they cannot take walks up the roads or in the hills. They can't go fishing nor can they gather and have get-togethers. That means the July 4th celebration that has been held since 1959 (with the exception of 2000 when the forest closed) will be canceled for the second time. It is very sad, but it is better to be safe than sorry. We cannot risk a fire.

It is a grim time in the mountains. We are doing a rain dance on a daily basis, and the meteorologists actually have put rain in the forecast next weekend. That would be a good thing.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Can't Teach Old Dogs New Tricks

Our black dog, Babs, loves chasing rabbits. She used to chase rabbits and squirrels, but I think her failing eyesight made her give up on the squirrels. But she still loves rabbits. In 2009, she loved chasing them so much she tore her ACL and had to have major knee surgery. I thought, with age and the operation, she would lose her appetite for rabbit-chasing. But that was not to be.

Lately, I have noticed her outside, nose to the ground, trying to find an innocent bunny sitting in the grass. Today, while I was mowing, out of the corner of my eye, I saw her jump and race (yes, race, despite the fact that she's 14 years old) around the yard, chasing a baby bunny. If the bunny hadn't headed toward the deck so it could slip under it, I think Babs might have caught it. And it wasn't a slow bunny . . . she was that determined. I don't know what she would have done with it if she had caught it, since she has no teeth . . . but I was surely impressed with the speed of my 98-year-old dog!

Saturday, June 18, 2011


I really miss my dad. Eleven years later, and not a day goes by that I don't think of him . . . and Mom. Dad was the quiet force behind Mom's discipline. He was the one who reinforced the importance of us girls being able to stand on our own two feet. He was a great model of how to be an honest businessman, a good person, a nice person.

Luckily, Don's dad is still with us. The lessons we have learned from him are different, but just as valuable. I have learned from Kenny that happiness comes from love and caring . . . not from money. I have learned patience, and I have watched a man of immense faith carry on after the love of his life passed on. But the most important thing that he taught his boys is how to be good husbands and good dads. Kenny has served as an amazing example of the husband who cared deeply for his family, lived for them, provided for them. Nothing has been more important to him than his wife and four boys.

His four boys have all turned into great dads. They too deeply love their wives and their children. They understand their priorities, and they have all provided a safe and loving home for their families. I was lucky to marry one of those men. He is a wonderful husband and a terrific father. Happy Father's Day, Don!

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Delusional Hotness Syndrome

Listening to the NPR show, "Wait, Wait, Don't Tell Me," on the way home from the cabin last week, we were treated to an hour of laugh-out-loud schtick. The most humorous comments revolved around a new syndrome "Delusional Hotness Syndrome."

Resulting from a dearth of eligible men in the forty to fifty age-group, men are apparently being deluded about their sex appeal. In that age group, because there are more women than men, men are thinking they are much more sexy than they really are. You know who he is . . . balding, forty-ish, big gut dressed in a tank top and shorts, strutting up the street like a peacock.

We have all seen that guy . . . I just didn't know there was a name for his obnoxious behavior!

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Escher Art

I have always been fascinated by the optical illusions that were created by Escher. He saw the world differently from so many people, but his drawings and creations boggle the mind.

When we were at the Alhambra, we saw an informative exhibit about how Escher created his drawings. As we visited other venues in Spain, we found samples of Escher-esque art throughout. The pictured floor from Toledo was the best of the floor mosaics created long before Escher, but probably studied by him. Take time to examine the floor and its illusions . . . incredible, we think.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Two Masters

By the end of June, this family will have added two Masters to the household. Masters of what, I don't know, but they will have a degree that says they have mastered something.

One thing I know Diana has Mastered is the art of speaking fast Spanish. I can't understand her. She has also mastered the use of the word "vale," which is a Spanish word I had never heard before - and no, it isn't a bad word. It sort of means all right or I get it. She has mastered the Spanish train system, the art of being a tour guide, and what it means to eat a whole paella by oneself.

Kenneth has mastered the art of taking Excel and turning it into a miraculous tool for accounting. He has mastered the California lifestyle, complete with healthy food, lots of exercise, and riding the bus. He has also mastered the art of driving like a Californian - AAGH! - though he didn't drive that way on the way to the cabin, so maybe it is just a survival technique for LA.

Last night we were able to watch the UCLA graduation online. It was a great way to experience the ceremony. Their speaker, the COO for Facebook, was excellent. The only mishap was when Kenneth got up to get his diploma, the man called him Kenneth Morton. Initially, I blamed it on Kenneth's handwriting, but he said he even wrote his name is clear block letters to make sure it could be read. Oh well, if that's the worst thing that ever happens to him, he is a lucky guy. But did he actually graduate since his name wasn't called? That's a discussion for another time.

Di's ceremony was held back in NY, so she didn't get to participate. Too bad, but she still has her PhD ceremony to go. We will definitely be there for that one.

The good news is that since both of them have graduated at the same time, no one has bragging rights. They each lived in cool places, studied what they loved . . . lucky kids!

So Congrats to our children. We are proud of your accomplisments.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Spanish Fire Marks.

When I was a young girl, my father introduced me to firemarks. What's a firemark, you ask? In the early days, people would contract with an insurance agency to have their homes protected against fire. The insurance agency would post their firemark on the home, and if a fire broke out, they would fight it. If the house next door caught on fire and wasn't insured by the same company, they would let it burn. Brutal!

Eventually, cities and counties took on the burden of fighting fires, every home received equal treatment, and firemarks went the way of the dodo bird. They can still be found in certain areas of the country - we found some in Philadelphia in historic areas, for example. But they are hard to find, even in antique shops.

When we were in Toledo, Spain, we found a home with a firemark. We don't know if they have the same system as we used to have, but we thought it was intriguing.

It says (basically) "Assurance from Fires." I would like to find a history of firemarks in Spain . . . someday maybe I can put Diana to researching it :)

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

How Dry I Am.

I just spent a week in the mountains, and the weather conditions are just plain scary. First, when we arrived the oak and aspen trees were not even leafed out. They are very late . . . usually they are budding out in early May. The apple trees were just blooming; the Lady's Slippers hadn't even come up (though they may have died because it got so cold this year); some of the very early flowers were not blooming.

To add to the weirdness, the stream was as low as it is in September. By this time, the spring run-off should be in full swing. Unfortunately, there was no run-off. The run-off happened so early, it barely affected the stream flow gauge that we follow.

Finally, the wind was blowing more than I have ever experienced in the high country. The first night I was there, the wind blew hard all night long . . . I have never known that to happen. And it blew the whole week. The pine pollen was "poofing" from the trees in quantities that turned the porch floor yellow. The wind brought in hot air . . . and lots of it. Which dried out the forest floor even more.

I am relieved that the Forest Service is watching so closely, and I hope they put a fire restriction on campfires. They see that the forest is scary dry . . . I pray that no one does something stupid.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Oh to be a Young Spaniard!

Diana couldn't wait to take us for Churros, which is a Spanish-style donut that is dipped in a thick hot chocolate. So Saturday morning, before we went to the Alhambra, we left about 7:30 a.m. to get churros.

When we left the hotel, I saw a group of about 15 young people (20-somethings, probably), dressed up in nice dresses and suits, headed down the street. I asked Di if they were going to work, or if they had been out all night. She suggested that perhaps they had been out all night, but she didn't exactly know. And we headed toward the Churro place.

When we got there, a large group of young men was seated around a table. It was obvious THEY had been up all night, and although they were probably drunk, they were not particularly rowdy nor obnoxious. Within a few minutes of our getting our churros, the dressed-up group arrived. Up close, it was easy to tell, they too had been out all night. They sat down for churros, too.

Not long after, a group of girls, all dressed in matching t-shirts came into the plaza. They were dressed like Indiana Jones, and one of the girls had on a veil. Diana explained that the bachelorette parties are all-day/all-night affairs, where the bride-to-be wears a veil, everyone dresses alike, and they make the brides do crazy things. They pulled up several tables and ordered their churros.

Within five minutes, another group, mostly guys but with one girl who wore her "bride-to-be" sash walked in to get their churros. And then a group of guys, very obviously a bachelor party, came in. Before we left, the plaza was entirely full of young people, all eating churros and having a great time!

Throughout the day, we saw several bachelor and bachelorette parties going on. In one "double bachelorette" party, the girls had funny make-up all over their faces, they were wearing white netting, and at that particular time, in the middle of the plaza, they were playing a game where they had a grapefruit in a stocking that was tied to their backside so that it could swing between their legs, and they had to hit another grapefruit that was on the ground along a path to the finish line. For one bachelor party, the boys all had on viking hats, except one guy was wearing a cow's hat. I am told the boys have to do crazy things such as sing a song in the plaza, beg for money, or kiss a stranger. My major regret is not getting a picture of one of the groups!

I was also told that some of these parties are held the day before the wedding. Can you imagine having a wedding ceremony after something like this? It doesn't sound like a positive way to begin a marriage.

It was really fun watching the young people during their parties. They were not loud or obnoxious - just funny. Oh to be young!

Sunday, June 5, 2011

More Reveling at San Isidro

As we wandered around Madrid during the festival, we came upon a ballroom dancing site. They had erected a stage for a concert, but before the concert began, they were playing traditional Spanish music, and the Spaniards were dancing to the music. In some ways, it reminded me of being at a Garth Brooks Concert - not the dancing, but the fact that all of the people were singing the songs. As they danced they sang, and those that were not dancing, sang along, too.

We were lucky to come upon a group of four couples, about our age or slightly older, who clearly enjoyed dancing and knew what they were doing. Watching them was so much fun! No waltz, fox trot, or cha cha for them . . . they were doing traditional Spanish dancing. One dance was particularly fascinating. The man never moved his feet but instead turned on one foot while his partner danced around him. We never did figure out how he turned, because his partner wasn't pulling him around - or if she was, it was effortless. But it was a beautiful dance with really interesting technique.

Other activities included clowns and mimes, concerts, and walking. Apparently, on Sundays, walking is what the people of Madrid do. Paseando, is what it is called, technically "passing by" in English. During the Festival of San Isidro, we had a lot of "paseando" to do.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

The Festival of San Isidro

While in Madrid, we had the privilege of celebrating the Festival of San Isidro. Google tells me that is the celebration of the city's bullfighting season. I didn't know exactly what we were celebrating, but it was much fun watching the way Madrilenans party!

On this day, the people of the city dress in the old traditional Spanish dress. Many of the women were wearing long dresses, white scarves on their heads, with a flower in their hair. A few had on shorter dresses, with a mantilla and flowers on their heads, and even fewer were wearing the Andalucian flamenco dresses.

The men wore traditional black-and-white checked jackets with a white or black boutonniere and a black-and-white cap. Even little children were dressed up for the day.

Much of the festival reminded me of the Riverfest here in Wichita. We went to the main area down near the river where the locals were gathering to picnic. There was a large flea market with a few food tents, but most of the people were bringing their own food. They would scatter around the park to eat, and since it is legal to drink on the streets, some were drinking beer. In Spain, however, it is considered to rude to walk around while eating, so no one was wandering the streets with drinks in hand. That limited litter and messiness, which I think would be nice for us to consider in the US.

I also noticed a distinct lack of port-a-potties or available restrooms. Don't Spaniards need to go to the bathroom? I have no idea where they went, and luckily we didn't need to find out!

Friday, June 3, 2011

Ray's Heraldo!

The common thinking among educators is that children need to be exposed to other languages before the age of twelve, because the brain catches the sounds much better. After that age, the receptors in the brain close off, and it is much harder to hear and say the sounds. I have long believed it to be true, and our trip to Spain confirmed it.

Don was not exposed to Spanish when he was young; I think it wasn't until he met me that he paid much attention. In our 35 years of marriage, he has never had much occasion to pronounce Spanish, and when he did, he tried hard, but it was very difficult for him. So when we went to Spain, I knew it would be a challenge.

In Sevilla, the main tower next to the cathedral is called the Giralda.

Don had no trouble pronouncing that word . . . he was very proud.

Later that day, which was the warmest day we had had, we decided to get some ice cream - helado in Spanish. Near our hotel was a delightful ice cream store named Raya's (pronounced rye-as). It was similar to some of the ice cream stores here, except all of the "stuff" is already on top of the ice cream, and they scoop it out into a cup (taza). Unfortunately, Don struggled with saying helado, and Raya's was beyond possibilities. So what came out was Ray's Heralda. So for the rest of the trip, when we were searching for ice cream, we instead said, "We want some Ray's Heralda." And no matter what we called it, it tasted really good!

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Spanish Trains Rock . . . and they don't even rock!

Neither Don nor I had been to Spain before, so we had no idea of what to expect. I think we both thought it would be similar to Italy, and in some respects it was. But the Spanish train and metro are much superior to any other public transit system we have ever ridden.

We took six or seven long train rides - from Madrid to Cordoba (2 hours); Cordoba to Seville (2 hours); Seville to Granada (4 hours); Granada to Madrid (5 hours); Madrid to Toledo and to Segovia (both 30 minutes). All of the trains were absolutely clean. The riders were courteous (cell phone talkers went to the area between cars to talk, for example), some of the trains had a cafe car, and the train blitzed along sometimes at more than 120 miles per hour. And they ran on time. Exactly on time. Not one train was late.

Although the Granada to Madrid train was not considered a high-speed train, it certainly seemed fast to us. It made a few stops on the way, but certainly nothing like the trains in the US. We ride the train back and forth to New Mexico at times. Now that is a slow train! The Spanish trains put our US system to shame.

The train to Segovia is new. The previous train trip or bus trip would take 2 hours, since they both had to wind through the mountains. But the high-speed train goes through the mountains in two long tunnels that shorten the trip to 30 minutes. Delightful!

The metro is equally clean and fast. Although the cars were sometimes jammed, they were clean and nice, and unless a street performer or beggar would get on the car and sing to us (highly annoying because then he would beg for money), they were wonderful. Some of the newer cars are even air-conditioned.

I know that Spain has invested a lot of money in the infrastructure for their mass-transit system, but we applaud them for it. It was such a pleasure traveling through Spain in such nice style!