Sunday, May 24, 2020

A Stay-at-Home Order: Sketches on Dining In

(And Other Divertissements)

I'm writing this post especially for True Concord Voices & Orchestra, one of the many organizations for which I perform. While musicians are grounded until further notice, arts organizations continue to connect with their concert goers in innovative ways.  Introducing performers to deprived audience members in a more personal way, as in this post, is one such strategy.  If you are able, consider supporting one of your beloved local organizations during this difficult time.

Happy, Healthy, and COVID-Unemployed! Let's Ride! Except...I'm not.  Of all my pursuits, tearing around on a Ducati is the one most likely to result in medical intervention.  So I've made the personal decision to remain out of the saddle while hospital beds are at a premium.  All the time in the world. A fully operational Ducati. Those two states of being have not coincided in years.  I won't lie.  Some days, I'm tempted.  But for now, we sit.  And wait. And wait and sit. Just like everyone else.

My last ride, over two months ago, was, appropriately, to a ghost town. Yes, Fairbanks, AZ is an actual ghost town. Even in long ago early March, a picnic lunch was a sanitized and distantly social affair.  It was with genuine sadness that I declined my friend's offer to pack my lunch for me. Is that allowed anymore?

Photo by Excellent Friend and Motorcyclist Missy Blair

So what have I been doing?  Some things, like hand washing and toilet paper usage data collection, have become nearly universal.

Other activities feel fairly unique.  In an arguably questionable financial strategy, I bought a flute*. And a roof.  In the same week.  Most days, I run between the front yard, checking on Baby Hummerbird, who had his flight feathers removed by a cat-of-unknown-origin the day after he fledged, and the back yard, assembling the contraption-of-the-day in an ongoing feud to keep a neighbor's cat from assaulting my Lucy's Warblers nestbox.  (If you read only one of my silly trademark footnotes, let it be this one**.)  Mostly, the cat is winning, although Miss Lucy is still sitting on her three eggs.  Time will tell if the eggs are viable.

Many mornings, I get a two-wheeled wildflower joy fix by bicycling on The Loop.

If you know where to look, you might find an abandoned trail side orchard.

The bicycle lunchbox proves handy for roadside finds.

My motorcycle/bicycle risk assessment may not have been entirely accurate.

Empty grocery shelves***? Bring it! Cooking with what's on hand is a daily creative opportunity for any budget minded eater, and the extra challenge of pandemic limitations only has me - zing! - sharpening my knives with a gleam in my eye and sly smile on my lips. Dosa, stuffed zucchini blossoms****, beet-walnut dip, okonomiyaki (of a sort),  roasted red peppers, lemon frozen yogurt, lion's mane sopes, pickled mustard greens, Thai beef salad, homemade ricotta, "Ground Beet Gnocchi" (so named because the mixture of pureed red and golden beets makes for gnocchi the color of ground beef), lemon curd barquettes, and, in a nod to pandemic skill acquisition goals, hand patted tortillas - no tortilla press needed, thank you very much - have all hit my dinner plate in the past weeks*****.    If I am so inspired, I snap a photo. Usually, I just settle down and eat.

Add chives to your walnut beet dip, lest you mistake it for raspberry sorbet.

Red Pepper Acquisition Credit goes to Good Friend and True Concord Voices & Orchestra staff member Shawn Campbell.

Lion's mane mushrooms. Not foraged. This time.

New favorite cross cultural snack: rice with pickled mustard greens and salsa macha

During the heat of the day, I often turn off the stove and shelter in place with the Metropolitan Opera free Stream o' the Day, while firing running commentary back and forth with an ad hoc chat group. 

But the real wild card of late? An online nature sketching course.  Typically, my level of patience varies wildly by activity. Practicing the flute? I got this.  (Even when I don't.) Motorcycle maintenance? Zero Zen.  Sketching has been an unexpected new window into my labyrinthine mind. Each time I sit down to draw, I watch myself tracing a predictable emotional outline, from one point on the serenity scale to the other. The simplest shapes can be infuriating, and when I'm not consumed with the urge to throw my sketchbook across the yard, I am perplexed and curious why I can not replicate the uncomplicated contour of a heart shaped leaf.  Like Mozart, seemingly straightforward lines are deceptive, and can take a lifetime to render with the grace they hold within.  Each time I open my little pink thrift store art box and begin, I reach a pivotal moment. Do I give in to discouragement and frustration? Or enjoy the process of exploration and discovery? The choice - and it is a choice - which I must make anew each time I draw, is an undeniable struggle for me, the proportions of which I am a bit embarrassed to admit. I take a breath, employ the eraser, and start again. I got this. Even when I don't.

* Buyin' ain't practicin', it turns out.
** Important disclaimer! PLEASE do not EVER "rescue" wildlife without immediate and direct consultation with a licensed wildlife center. It is not only illegal, but often harmful.  See here for some preliminary advice.  (Currently, Mama Hummerbird is still doing the work of tending Baby Hummerbird.)  Readers will know I like birds, especially Lucy's Warblers. See here for more information on our special little warbler, and, if you like, scroll down to see various updates on my own nestboxes.  UPDATE: Mama Hummerbird is busy sitting on news eggs, so she has stopped visiting Baby Hummerbird. Baby Hummerbird has moved to a new temporary home: Tucson Wildlife Center
*** Teensy tiny confession: Now that my evenings are free, I volunteer weekly at my Tucson Community Supported Agriculture Group.  Who knew one day I'd be thanked for my service simply for handing out cabbages?  In return, I come home with a bag full of beautiful, fresh, and interesting seasonal produce. And? They have eggs, bread, meat, cheese, milk, and other items available for sale, too.  So, in volunteering for the essential business of food distribution, I'm also, admittedly, cheating. Take, that, COVID.
****Don't be tempted by complicated fillings or batters. Pop a piece of anchovy and a piece of cheese into each flower, and twist it closed. Dip them in a simple pastella (flour and water batter) and pop them into a shallow bath of hot high smoke point oil until golden. Drain, sprinkle with a bit of nice salt, and eat immediately.  You'll be airing out your kitchen afterwards, but something has to keep us from frying food every day, right? 
*****Thatsalotta dish washing.

Thursday, November 29, 2018


Remember my little caterpillar friend?

Well, he ate..

and molted...

 and grew!

And then one day - before I could secure a proper butterfly enclosure, even! - I saw him hanging upside down in a very special "J" shape.

When his antennae got very, very droopy, I knew something was about to happen.  Now? Must it happen right now?  I scrambled, I fumbled, I dropped kicked a lens cap, set up a camera, spilled a folder of music, packed up my things, stubbed my toe, shoved a hunk of bread and cheese in my mouth with one hand while pressing some buttons on the camera with the other, hoped for the best, and dashed out the door for work.  Time lapse photography experiment a la minute!

When I returned, I was astonished to see exactly what I expected to see.

Danaus gilippus (Queen Butterfly) Chrysalis

As far as my rough time lapse experiment went, I hoped I had made accurate calculations.

Action captured!  It may be wobbly, and a bit too fast, but that was far preferable to action undocumented, due to a lack of battery power or SD card space.  I would now have plenty of time to metamorphize both my technique and gear. Perhaps I might even catch the next event on video!

My transformed friend was a beautiful leaf green color, studded with a gold so reflective I found it difficult to believe I was looking at animal rather than mineral.

Later, with shaking hands, I clipped and secured his milkweed branch, maintaining his chosen angle, height, and orientation, and moved him - gently, so gently! - to the safety of a newly delivered butterfly enclosure.

Safe Haven
If you look very carefully, you will see my beagle, also in a different form, in the background!

"Five to 15 days, unless overwintering," I read. How would he know if he should "over-winter," if he was indoors? I tried to help him decide correctly by leaving the windows open as often as possible. 

We waited.  My anxiety over the welfare of this tiny (tiny???) gift eased, as we fell into a new rhythm.  Each day, instead of coming home to a beagle, I came home to check on my little natural wonder. It was nice to have someone in the house with me, even if was just (just???) a chrysalis.

We waited some more.

It got cold. Please, not today. "Not today," I told him.

It got warm.  "Today would be a good day," I advised.

One day, he looked a little different.

Wings! (Day 15)

The next morning he was mostly black. A flash flood of worry scoured a path already worn with great waves of grief.  Although the reasons were obvious, I was far too emotionally attached to... a bug.  The internet shared with me all that could go wrong.

Day 16

But as the clock ticked away the morning hours, a form became more visible.  Please, please, please...

On the final day, the chrysalis shell turns as transparent as plastic wrap.

It was supposed to be a riding day, but instead, I paced like an expectant father in the waiting room. I swept the floor. I hacked up my CSA pie pumpkin with a machete. I fiddled with the GoPro: flying lessons had taught me the importance of equipment redundancy.  I turned my head for a moment - merely turned my head! - as a technological glitch stole my atten...

Gah! I missed it!

Eclosure! (That's butterfly speak for "hatching.")

My little friend - little only in stature! - you did it.

"You did it," I whispered to him.

Before my eyes, a great reversal happened: his fat body slimmed, and his crumpled wings expanded. Sometimes, he would swing back and forth on his branch.

Having owned a Dalmatian in the past, how could I not love his little polka-dotted body?

He climbed up and up!

I had given him a flower. Just in case.

But he was not hungry.  He stayed very still for a very long time. When his wings were finally dry and ready, it was too late in the day to release him. It was true, he had every reason to be tired, but more worry - just a trickle - seeped coldly in.  He was in the same place when I got back from work. Still and quiet.  Quiet and still.  Not that butterflies are all that noisy, as far as I have ever observed.

He needs a good two hours of drying time. It's best to release him when there are still several hours of warm sunshine left in the day.

When I wake, he is still still. But I do believe he is in a slightly different location on the ceiling of his enclosure. I am not still. I am restless. I check the sky. I check the weather.  Again and again.  I check the temperature of my back yard with my digital instant read thermometer.   Our moment has arrived. It's flying weather!  He agrees, fluttering this way and that, as I move him in his little tent outdoors.

See those two black dots on his hind wings? They tell me what I knew in my heart all along - it's a boy!

"Climb aboard," I say.  He does!

He waits a long time...

... and then - oh sweet tiny enormous miracle! - he launches!  After a victory lap or two, he wisely departs my bird infested yard.  When I can move again, breathe again, I go about my business, doing this and that, indoors and out. I am joyously, wondrously, gratefully, relievedly elated. And a little bit sad.

Perhaps half an hour later I fall victim to a butterfly fly-by.  He glides over my fence.  Hello again!  And then, a little later, he visits me one final time. 

Could it be another male Danaus gilippus? Perhaps. But I choose to believe he's my former roommate.

And then? A little eclosure of my own.

I've had precious little seat time over the past few years. But I sense a change coming.
In case you're wondering, the brakes are just fine!

P.S. Who knew you could miss a bug so much?

Find a lady friend, little one, and begin it all again!

Thursday, November 15, 2018

Test Rides

So, yeah. That little window in the your master cylinder?  The one that allows you to check the brake fluid level during your pre-flight? Mine fell out. I mean, it just fell right on out. There it was, sitting on the ground. Weird! But I told you that already.

Situation No Go
Looks pretty clean?

So last weekend after a fluid top off (the cylinder hadn't completely emptied out), I took it for a teeny tiny little test ride around the block. And around a few more times. Stop! Go! Stop! Go! Just to see if I could trust it enough to ride to a friend who has all these fancy tools that would make the just-in-case line bleeding super easy.* Yes, I hate trailering SO much, that I'd actually ride across town with a questionable front brake - hey, that's what the rear is for, right? - rather than load up my bike.  In any case it, stopped on command every time.

I also did some testing at the AZ Farm & Food Fest!

Yummy apple-y thing. Didn't think to note chef OR menu details. Just ate it right up.

And? Just like that, I wrote a blog post. Baby steps, right?**

*Would NOT have done this if the cylinder had emptied out!
**Big hopes 2019 is the year "life gets back to normal."  Whatever that means.

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

On Beagles and Butterflies

I was going to write this whole thing about how, when I was very little, I had a book whose cover featured a beagle with a butterfly on its nose, and from that moment on, my heart was on fire. I so desperately wanted a beagle! Of course, you know I eventually got one.*  Life dream realized! The apple of my eye!  Littlest Love, Littlest Only in Stature!

But when she died earlier this month, the morning after my father died – on opposite sides of the country, how cruel! – and when I got back the viewing window had fallen out the Ducati's front master cylinder (really!) – again, how cruel!  Well, the whole point of the thing was to be that soon thereafter, this butterfly (Yes! A butterfly! Just like the book!) came into my life, by way of a newly acquired milkweed plant – how strange! At least it will be a butterfly soon, I’m told, and it lives here with me now, and I’m waiting, waiting, waiting for it to happen.

Queen Butterfly larva (Danaus gilippus), currently in my safekeeping.

Yes, I was going to write a whole long thing about it all, but I can’t. I just can’t. What if it dies?

The Beagle Entries:
You met her here.
You saw her briefly here.
I worried and worried about her here.
Beagle in recovery here.
Here I worried and worried, again.
Caterpillar/Butterfly update.

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

A Reprieve and an Irish Cottage Pie

I was sure she was going to die. In truth, she may still. For 10 days, she has done little more than sleep, taking in no food, and only the most delicate sips of water.  I carry her to the sunny places in the morning, and to the shady places in the afternoon, where we sit together. I offer her tiny spoonfuls of her very favorite foods. I supplement her fluids. I carry her back to her soft, fleecy bed.  Nothing.  I had been treating her for a UTI, but aside from that, I have no real explanation.

And then, yesterday, she barked. One solitary bark. "Where are you??"

Have we turned a corner? It is still too risky to hope. Miss Molly is nearing her 15th birthday, and, having survived cancer not once but twice, as well as currently sporting a heart murmur that can be heard across the room, early chronic kidney disease, and not one, but two ruptured ACLs,* I'd call her "One Tough Cookie.**"  But still.

For each meal, I cook something I hope she'll eat. Inevitably it becomes my own dinner. Roasted chicken, fish fillets, omelets, pizza bones, and on and on. Yesterday I browned some $8/lb beef***. She took a morsel, but no more. Inspired by a recent trip to Ireland, I made a cottage pie for myself.  What luck that it was cold and rainy****!  I offered her a tiny taste, onion hazard be damned*****.  She wanted more! And this morning? More please!  So today, I'm making her her own cottage pie, free of all alliums.

And I hope.******

*Those are her little knee ligaments. Surgically fixable, unless you have both heart and kidney disease.  Still, tough little tractor that she is, she does what she wants, and is downright heroic during her underwater treadmill rehab sessions!
**Meanwhile, a surgeon half way around the world has said the same about my father. 
***No factory farmed meat for us, ho, ho!
****No, not in Tucson. I'm back at the farm in Utah.  The Ducati is soon to follow.
*****Heinz body hemolytic anemia, anyone?
******Turns out that UTI is being caused by a resistant strain of bacteria, so the antibiotics I had been giving her have done nothing. Though I just got a different prescription for her, the only one both effective (albeit slowly) and safe for her little kidneys, I do believe my tough little cookie has already begun winning this battle on her own. 

My girl did indeed recover, although it was quite a bit later than when I posted this. It was a tough road, but she was tougher.
Here she is, recuperating:

Friday, March 2, 2018

Little Island, Little Wheels, and Danger on the High Seas

Another tale from The Back Burner (April 2014)


It took a surprisingly long time for that realization to hit me when planning a scooter day-trip on Grand Bahama with Pilot Guy last month four years ago.  As it turns out, they do.

When you’re exiled in Flatistan, it’s actually an attainable feat, both financially and logistically, to go to the Bahamas for the day.  So we did.  One must make the best of one’s exile.

We crept through the Port Everglades security checkpoint on foot in the darkness before dawn (kinda weird, since it’s not designed for pedestrians, which is par for the course in Florida), fumbled our way, slightly lost, through a dank parking garage, navigated wholly unimpressive security, and clambered up a broken escalator to board the Pinar del Rio*, our super flashy, double hulled, fast ferry to Paradise. 

Pro Tip for Best Seats: Up and Back

For the record, Harbor Pilots are the bad-ass stuff of James Bond. They leap then climb on and off the boat as it is underway, after chasing it down with a little speed boat.  I so regret not capturing the action.

Some of us have to go through Hell to get to Heaven.  Thankfully, we are not those people**.  But our boat was rocking enough to make even us, who grew up on boats of one kind or another, scratch our heads and wonder, “This can’t be normal, can it?”  When equipment such as fire extinguishers came flying off the walls, when passengers were ordered back to their seats, but admonished not to run, (we weren’t running, we were literally being thrown across the deck by the tossing of the boat), and when staff started circulating with pre-emptive barf bags, the answer to our question was made obvious. No.  It wasn’t. Normal.  I nearly got on bended knee to thank God neither of us was prone to sea-sickness, even in these conditions.  Except I was too tired and hungry from not having had breakfast yet.  If it’s bad enough, it’s quite clear that seasickness isn’t just a bout of nausea and vomiting. It’s fully incapacitating. The staff started shuffling off the incapacitated.... somewhere.  We never did see them again and wondered aloud if they had been thrown overboard.  The only discomfort we sustained from the rough crossing was that the concessions line was closed before we managed to secure some very expensive and very bad coffee with sticky sweet (not in a good way) muffins.  I did talk a staff member into that bad coffee and muffin a bit later.  Tip: Ferry Food falls into the category of Zoo Pizza, and makes you yearn for the haute cuisine of your corner convenience store. Your best bet?  A mini box of cheerios. 
Upon our safe (yay!) but delayed due to rough seas (boo!) arrival, I had a very specific food goal in mind.  Reminiscent of the clam cakes we ate every summer as children, but spicier, and possibly even more oily…

…conch fritters courtesy of “Billy Joe, the Conch Man!”

“Coco Frio” recipe: whack open green coconut with machete. Insert straw.

Now on to the business of scooter renting.   Only an experienced motorcyclist would comprehend just how ridiculously dangerous this little adventure really was.  Scooter Rental Guy remarked, “It’s the ones who know what they’re doing – those are the ones you gotta worry about.”  Here I am, on an underpowered scooter, lacking any ability to accelerate out of the way of anything faster than an earthworm, riding on the left-hand side of the road, navigating unfamiliar routes, trying to keep myself from squeezing the imaginary clutch lever (which on a scooter is a brake lever – oopsy-oof!), all while wearing little more safety gear than a Ducati bikini and an ill fitting three-quarter helmet.  Insanity.  I could have used a touch of blissful ignorance at that moment.  Deep breath, ready, and… Activate Supersonic Defensive Driving Skills!

Island Safety Gear: Ducati Bikini, (of course I’m wearing a cover-up!), flip flops, 3/4 helmet that doesn’t fit.               Scooter Instructions: “Don’t fall off, Mon!”  Really.

For comparison’s sake, here’s my usual 16.5 (“feels like 30”) pounds of safety gear:

Motoport Monroe Kevlar Jacket, leather Alpinestars Stella Bat Pants, Shoei TZ-R full face helmet, wimpy hiking boots because I was touring (I usually wear my Sidi Vertigo Lei), and Racer High End kangaroo leather gloves. (Oh, wait, those aren’t in the photo either, but I can tell you they are as good as their name is dorky.)

So.  You see what I’m saying.

Riding on the left hand side of the road is equal parts terror and hilarity.  Each individual situation needs to be carefully recalculated on the fly: left turns, right turns, passing, being passed, pulling out, round-abouts (ooh, tricky!), all while following the spidery pen line scratched on the map by Scooter Rental Guy.  Miraculously, we were wildly successful!

Destination Achieved: Lucayan National Park!

Should you begin your park visit by descending the little spiral staircase to view the caves, you’ll find bats, fish, the palest aqua water, and that you wish you had a tripod.

Burial Mound Cave

Ben's Cave

 After that little diversion, you would, of course, approach the beach.  That is the whole point of it all, right?

Lovely, no?

Yes, actually. I never imagined a beach could make me gasp with wonder the way the enormity of the Great American West can, but...

... evidently a very nice beach, along the lines of Gold Rock Beach on Grand Bahama, can.   Gasp, I did.  And then sweetly bathed in the warmest of waters with my Pilot Guy.

The trips back to the scooter rental place and mainland were both, thankfully, equally tranquil.

*Owned by the Spanish company Balearia
** Usually, anyway.