We’ve had some great visits to Newport Beach but last weekend’s might have been the best one of all. The CE convinced Phyllis to pile in the car with us for the trek to the OC to visit Tina, John and those three adorable girls.
We were so busy having fun that I didn’t take many photos. We shopped: first stop was Roger’s Gardens, where we had our choice of trinkets for either Halloween and Christmas. It is worth the trip to Orange County just to visit this store!
Tina introduced us to the Michael Nusskern (I think that should actually be Nu$$kern!) boutique and to Juxtaposition Home, and we made the obligatory pilgrimages, of course, to Fashion Island and South Coast Plaza.
All that shopping made us hungry and lucky for us, there is no shortage of fine dining in the OC. Tina introduced us to Bearflag Fish Company and I am still dreaming about their Seafood Rice Bowl. Can it really be healthy if it tastes that good?
For our next meal, we headed to the dock of the bay. Ever since Tina and John moved to their new home on the water and a Duffy boat materialized at the end of their dock, we have enjoyed so many wonderful moments cruising around Newport Harbor. John set the scene for our dinner Friday evening by serving up his new signature drink: Moscow Mules in frosty copper mugs. The secret, he says, is in the abundant use of fresh-squeezed lime juice. And he topped each one off with a ginger candy – what a treat!
After our Moscow Mule toast, we said goodbye to the little girls and boarded the Duffy to putt over to The Dock for an elegant grown-up dinner.
The next evening the girls joined us for a Duffy ride and a kid-pleasing pasta fest at Pizza Nova.
The family joined us for an al fresco Sunday brunch on the terrace of the newly renovated Island Hotel.
Since John was leaving on a business trip, he bestowed his Ducks tickets upon us – it was my first hockey game ever and I loved it!
Great family weekend! Thanks you guys, for showing us such a wonderful time!
Not to be arrogant, but I am really racking up the accomplishments these days. In addition to my finely-honed skills at not remembering, I am entering Olympic-caliber territory in not sleeping. My new pattern: go to bed at 11 pm, wake up at 1:30 a.m. Do not go back to sleep. Repeat every three or four nights. And yes, I am a lot of fun to be around after two hours of sleep, as the CE can attest.
I have never been to Seattle, but I have been sleepless in a host of other cities. Last night it was Newport Beach, where we are spending a fun weekend visiting stepdaughter Tina and her family. Yesterday was a perfect day and last night should have offered up a perfect sleep. But instead, I was wide awake at 1:38 a.m. First thought: “No worries. Plenty of time to go back to sleep.” And then I proceeded to break all the rules for doing so.
One of the caveats for dealing with 21st century insomnia is to kill the backlight. According to researchers, the “blue light” emitted from smartphones and computer screens, mimics daylight and therefore suppresses the “sleep hormone” melatonin and tinkers with our body clocks. So my decision to reach for my iPhone and play two real-time games of Words With Friends with an apparently equally sleep-challenged friend was probably a bad one. I followed this up with a worse decision: I checked the news headlines.
I don’t count sheep. I count worries. And they are at least as plentiful as little lambs in springtime when the top Twitter trending items are #ebola and #ISIS. Trust me, there are no sleep-inducing scenarios around either topic. By 4 a.m. I was desperately trying deep breathing exercises, which go something like this: “Breathe in slowly…ohmygosh ohmygosh now they’ve got warplanes…breathe out slowly…ebola ebola EBOLA!!!!“.
After another hour of staring into the dark, I picked up my phone again and Googled an article about worry and sleep. The advice in a nutshell: “Let go of your worries.” Oh, okay, sure. “ISIS…ebola…ISIS…ebola…yikes what is this about a Dragon’s Nest? Does that mean there were WMDs after all?” The only saving grace of that very long wakeful night is that it is over. And that my beloved husband (who slept like a baby, by the way) fetched me a latte at 6:15 a.m. when I started crying from sleep deprivation.
Oh, and I learned, FWIW, that there is a company out there that manufactures blue light-blocking lights and eyewear. It is called LowBlueLights.com (clearly no one stayed up all night coming up with that name…) and if you subscribe to their insomnia-inducing theories about the carcinogenic effects of melatonin suppression from blue light, you can buy a filter for your phone or tablet screen, a low blue light reading lamp or a snappy pair of light-filtering orange specs guaranteed to terrify your spouse if he or she awakes in the night and sees you wearing them. I like that idea. Then I won’t be the only one not sleeping.
Off to take a nap…
Quick: what were the last five books you read?
If you are in your twenties, you could probably remember, but since you haven’t read five books since college, the point is moot. If you are in your thirties, it doesn’t count, because you read “Pat the Bunny” five times to your toddler last night and that’s too easy. If you are in your forties, you might have a shot at it, but you are too stressed out by your teens or pre-teens, the situation at work and the wildly careening stock market to read or remember what you read. So that leaves those of you who are fifty and over, and if you can spout off your last five reads and throw in the names of the authors, as well, you win a hearty round of applause from me. Because I can’t remember a damned thing.
I think it was in my early fifties that I started to notice the sputtering memory. Chalked it up to stress and hormones. Now that I have to check the “over 60″ box on survey forms, I have no excuse other than advancing age for these wild flights of memory.
And wild, they are. I try to remember those last five books. I finished one yesterday, so that one is in the bag. (The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, by Mark Haddon. I think they’ve just adapted it for Broadway so you should read it before you see it.) The one before it, yup, got it. (The Island of the World, by Michael D. O’Brien, possibly my favorite read of the year thus far.) Then it gets a bit murky. I put on my glasses so I can think better. How crazy is that? But it helps. (I also hear better if I have my glasses on. Go figure.) Third book back, I draw a complete and utter blank. Oh, wait, it was a book club book. Now I remember. (The Unwinding, by George Packer. Hmmm, there are reasons why I put that one out of my memory.) And then there was the other book club book before that one. (Sweet Thunder, by Ivan Toig, in which I learned about copper mining and Butte, Montana. Not that I will remember any of it…)
But what was the fifth one back? I keep a list of all these books but I want to make myself remember without looking at it. Ugh. I know it, I just can’t think of it. And then, the addled brain takes over and we go on a little ride together. Forget linear memory. Nowadays, everything I want to keep is chambered away in a spiraling nautilus shell. What did I read before that book club book? Well, that chamber is closed, slammed shut, but I had lunch with a friend this week and we talked about books. So I remember our conversation and how great it was to see her and what I ordered for lunch (the half papaya with crabmeat, although I still cannot remember what I had for dinner night before last). And then I remember we talked about our kids and that takes awhile, of course.
Then it comes to me, through mists of gray matter, that I can remember what she was reading (Treasure Island). And then my mind goes off-task, remembering that the chickens must be put away and the dogs must be fed and just as I pick up a cup of scratch with which to lure the hens home to their coop to rescue them from that hawk swirling ever closer in the sky, I REMEMBER! The nautilus curves and a chamber opens: I had told my friend that I’d just read the tome that is Don Quixote and she almost dropped her fork and said her husband is currently reading it, too, and we marveled that two people voluntarily committed at nearly the same time to read the 900+ page Don Quixote that could function equally well as a novel or a door-stop.
So there it is. I came up with those last five books but in the same amount of time one of you probably solved a quadratic equation or cured some form of cancer.
Memory is different from memories, by the way. I can remember the clothes my kids wore when they were small. (Daniel’s blue and yellow star-covered onesie was a favorite, and then there were all those Hanna Andersson striped jammies…but I digress) I can remember in technicolor detail the night I met my husband. I can remember the words to almost every Joni Mitchell song. And, inexplicably and maddeningly, the words and melody to the 1968 hit “Build Me Up Buttercup” by The Foundations. But what I had for dinner night before last? Forget it.
One thing I did manage to remember was a conversation some friends were having about their favorite poet, Billy Collins. I should be embarrassed that I’d never heard of him, but then, it’s entirely possible I had and just didn’t remember, right? Collins was our Poet Laureate from 2001-2003. The New York Times called him “America’s most popular poet”. I missed him when he came to speak in Santa Barbara last spring, but finally looked him up and found this poem he wrote, which has made me an instant fan:
The name of the author is the first to go
followed obediently by the title, the plot,
the heartbreaking conclusion, the entire novel
which suddenly becomes one you have never read, never even heard of,
as if, one by one, the memories you used to harbor
decided to retire to the southern hemisphere of the brain,
to a little fishing village where there are no phones.
Long ago you kissed the names of the nine muses goodbye
and watched the quadratic equation pack its bag,
and even now as you memorize the order of the planets,
something else is slipping away, a state flower perhaps,
the address of an uncle, the capital of Paraguay.
Whatever it is you are struggling to remember,
it is not poised on the tip of your tongue
or even lurking in some obscure corner of your spleen.
It has floated away down a dark mythological river
whose name begins with an L as far as you can recall
well on your own way to oblivion where you will join those
who have even forgotten how to swim and how to ride a bicycle.
No wonder you rise in the middle of the night
to look up the date of a famous battle in a book on war.
No wonder the moon in the window seems to have drifted
out of a love poem that you used to know by heart.
I fully intend to remember Mr. Collins and read more of his poetry. We’ll see how that goes. Oh, and I finally remembered what I had for dinner night before last. It was a half of a dried-up leftover hamburger. Brain food, I hope…
Have a memorable weekend!
We all know what the current drought in California is doing to the flowers and the trees, but I’ve recently been thinking about the birds and the bees as we enter the driest months of the year.
The drought hits home for us every time we drive past the former body of water known as Laguna Blanca. Even at its best it was more a puddle than a lake, but now it has gone completely dry and is nothing more than a shallow pit. It was painful to watch the water recede in May and June, seeing hungry birds standing sentinel over the dying fish in the circle of water that grew smaller and smaller until nothing was left but cracked, parched earth. Even the birds finally abandoned it.
We have been told that the lake goes dry roughly every twenty years and, barring a truly apocalyptic drought situation, we look forward to seeing the little puddle restored at some point. And, if not, well, we can live without it. But can the birds live without it?
I never really thought much about the birds that populate our neighborhood and our property. They were just there. Especially the crows, which can be counted on to make a cacophonous racket to announce their comings, goings and general dislike of the humans who reside in their territory. But once we started keeping chickens, we began to spend more time outside tending to the flock, and I noticed that not every bird flitting in the bushes was a sparrow or a Scrub Jay.
I recently downloaded Cornell University’s Merlin app, which gives you simple prompts for identifying common birds. I was positively triumphant the day that, Merlin-assisted, I identified a Spotted Towhee that resides in our front yard.
As I became familiar with the Towhees, Sparrows, Juncos and Black Phoebes that cluster in the chicken pen looking for leftover morsels, I started scattering wild bird seed for them in the winter months. As the drought became more acute this past spring, it finally occurred to me that ground birds need water as well as food. As we and everyone else have cut back water usage dramatically, there are fewer and fewer water sources for these birds. In an embarrassingly belated head-smack moment, I remembered the birdbath that we placed under the oaks years ago as a decoration. I have been faithfully filling it every day or two for the last several months.
If I’m stealthy, I can sometimes see birds preening at the edge of the birdbath. The birds need water not just for drinking, but for keeping their skin and feathers in good condition. Even if I don’t see the birds using the birdbath, I am rewarded with evidence that they have been there when I clean it out each morning. Bird droppings, stray feathers, a bright red berry dropped from a beak into the birdbath. All are reminders that with a small amount of water I can do our resident ground birds a big favor.
If you decide to fill a birdbath for the birds in your yard, it is important to keep it clean. According to an article in The Washington Post the water shortage raises greater concerns of diseases like the West Nile virus. “When we have less water, birds and mosquitoes are seeking out the same water sources, and therefore are more likely to come in to closer proximity to one another, thus amplifying the virus,” comments California Department of Public Health chief Vicki Kramer. A primer on cleaning a birdbath can be found here.
Along with keeping a birdbath clean, it is important that it be relatively shallow with a gentle slope that allows birds to wade into the water. According to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, the best birdbath is the one that most approximates a puddle. And, of course, you want one that does not provide access to resident felines, since bathing birds tend to be focused on their toilette and vulnerable to predators. A shady area is preferable to full sun for bathing birds.
Lately I have noticed honey bees hovering near the edge of our bird bath and scores of them near our pool, where many have drowned in a desperate attempt to find water. Bees collect water and ferry it back to the hive for the purpose of maintaining proper hive temperature and humidity. They also use water to dilute honey and to produce the “jelly” that nourishes bee larvae. According to the Kentucky Department of Agriculture, a 1:1 sugar/water mixture, placed in a tin well away from human activity, is just the ticket for thirsty bees. Gravel or other material that allows the bees to safely land should be placed in the container.
The drought makes everyone feel somewhat helpless as we watch our trees and shrubs struggle and our bedding plants perish from lack of water. But it’s easy to spare a bit of that precious water for the birds and the bees. Every time I hear a Towhee call from under the oaks or the Red-Headed Woodpeckers cackle from the palm trees where they are storing acorns for the winter, I feel like they are thanking me for remembering to fill their birdbath. Or maybe, like the rest of us, they are just praying for rain…
A friend stopped by the other day and was so surprised to see how our new chicks had grown. “Are those even the same chickens?” he asked. It reminded me that it’s time for a chicken update. We are grounded here in California for a bit, missing out on fall in New York City, and even though I long for Manhattan, our sweet little flock is an excellent consolation prize for the lights of Broadway.
The three “little” ones now tower over mama Pippa. They are eleven weeks old, or, roughly, almost half-grown. When you are at the bottom of the food chain (everyone wants a chicken dinner!) it behooves you to grow up fast. Summer, Ginger and Lola are now pullets, which is the term for hens younger than a year old.None of them know or care what’s going on in Midtown Manhattan. I’m trying to take a lesson from that.
Our flock-building plan worked like a charm. We were down to two hens, but Pippa conveniently went broody on our schedule, which was crucial, since we were away much of the summer. Even though I was told by a supposed poultry “expert” that a hen that had been broody for less than three weeks would reject chicks, Pippa came through for us at two-weeks-and-change and has been a fantastic mother to her three adoptees. Since they are twice her size now (she is a bantam and they are standard-size fowl) they no longer attempt to sleep underneath her on the roost, but the four of them all huddle together companionably at night, while Luna has a second roost to herself.
Back when our beloved Hope raised Pippa and Luna, she was disillusioned with motherhood by this point and had resorted to pecking her clingy brood in order to get some peace. But Pippa is still on task, calling them over when she finds something tasty on the ground and offering the morsel to them instead of taking it for herself. This week I’ve been dealing out treats of cherry tomatoes and cheese, and while they mostly play hockey with the tomatoes, the cheese has been very popular!
Luna is sorta, kinda part of the flock. I think she may be horrified that these intruders are now larger than she is, but she began exerting her authority over them early on, so they don’t challenge her. After a far-too-close-for-comfort hawk scare last week, Luna has been staying closer to the coop while the others free-range. Pippa has become the undisputed flock leader, standing alert and relentlessly scanning the sky for danger.
Pippa has gradually introduced her charges to all her favorite haunts on our property. She started them out under the oaks, where a canopy of branches and nearby underbrush gives them at least the illusion of safety. Then she took them on strolls to the hydrangeas in front of the house, the box hedges near the garage and even over to the courtyard, which is more or less protected from intruders. Occasionally she marches them right into the kitchen, just to prove that she can. It’s not exactly Central Park, but they all seem happy. Pippa has also taught them about the relaxing bliss of sunbathing. I came around a corner last week and thought the entire flock had perished when I saw them laying prone in a heap. No, just a nice little sunbath:
It’s been a lot of fun to see the little ones change over time. Lola, the Barred Rock, is a new breed for us. She is somewhat independent and just a bit ungainly. Her bright yellow legs are so striking against her geometric black-and-white patterned feathers. And as the chicks’ trilling peeps have given way to more mature voices, we’ve learned that Lola doesn’t cluck – she honks!
Summer is destined to be a carbon copy of Hope, our dearly departed Buff Orpington. Calm and confident, Summer is well on her way to looking like a big orange bowling ball.
We’ve had Ameraucanas previously – Autumn and Coco – but Ginger has been a surprise with her magnificent coloring. She looked more like a mouse than a chicken when she was little. Now she is resplendent in cinnamon and blue-gray-colored feathers. I also admire her willow-green-colored legs and feet, although according to breed standards, the green legs are a giveaway that she is an “Easter Egger” mutt and not a true Ameraucana, as their legs are slate blue.
Truth be told, Pippa, like mothers everywhere, is a bit worn out after raising her three girls. She has just gone through her annual molt, losing some tail feathers and looking whiter in the face – I think she needs a spa day – in NYC – I’ll volunteer to take her!
It’s so nice to have a real flock again, although we do still have a few hurdles ahead. Ginger, Summer and Lola are just beginning to mock challenge one another, the first sign of developing their pecking order. And, while we have a 90% guarantee that they are all hens, there is always that tiny chance that at around three months, someone could start to crow and find themselves being introduced to a stew pot. There are the daily hawk scares, with both the red-tailed hawks and the smaller red-shouldered hawks dropping by frequently in search of a lunch menu. But all in all, things are going very well. In these early fall days while it’s still warm enough outside, we’ve begun enjoying the cocktail hour on the chicken deck once all the hawks have quit work for the day, and drink a toast to our pretty little flock. It’s not New York, but it will do. Life is good. Chickens > Broadway? Maybe…
You didn’t really think I would say aloha to Kauai without squawking about their chickens, did you?
Chickens have thrived on the island ever since they were brought as “canoe fowl” by Polynesian voyagers as early as 1000 A.D. We first noticed them in the summer of 2007, our first return trip after Hurricane Iniki swamped the island in 1992. Residents released much of Kauai’s chicken population as Iniki bore down on the island, which gave rise to the prolific feral population of chickens that thrives there today.
Known as “moa” (or alternately, mua, per some sources) the red jungle fowl are as ubiquitous as the mynas, sparrows and zebra doves that populate the island. They are shy of humans and run surprisingly fast, so it’s not easy to snap photos of them, but on any given day we probably saw a few dozen of them as we walked or drove.
Back in 2007 the chickens of Kauai were a novelty to us, but now, as full-fledged chicken nerds, we view them as extended family to our own little flock. I’m not sure who has it better, our girls who enjoy room service in their coop, or the Kauaian chickens who free-range across the predator-free island (if you don’t count humans or cars) and feast upon all manner of exotic plants and bugs.
Not everyone is as delighted with the chickens as we are. Locals and visitors alike are known to deplore the rooster wake-up calls that disturb pre-dawn sleep. Some people don’t think it’s cute when chickens wander through the shops of Old Koloa Town, where one tongue-in-cheek store proprietor has actually painted a brightly-colored line of chicken tracks across the floor. Others fret, unnecessarily, about Avian influenza. For the record, Avian flu is exponentially more likely to occur in conditions where thousands of birds are crowded in battery farm conditions, not in small, open-air wild or domestic flocks.
There were no chickens on the property where we stayed. Technically, the wild jungle fowl are protected, but trapping and “removal” is routinely permitted. I, for one, celebrate the spirit of the free-ranging fowl, especially since learning that many of them were (and apparently continue to be) kept on the island to be used in a widespread underground cockfighting tradition that was originally promoted by Filipino immigrants during the island’s early plantation days. As everywhere else in the United States, cockfighting is illegal in Hawaii, but the state ranks 47th out of 50 for the efficacy of laws pertaining to the practice. For instance, it is legal in Hawaii to possess cocks for fighting (illegal in 37 states) and legal to be a spectator at a cockfight (illegal in 42 states). While cockfighting is a felony in 40 states, it is only a misdemeanor in Hawaii. And only if you get caught in the act. Come on, Hawaii, you’re better than that!
Everywhere we went, all around the island, it was a chick-chick here and a chick-chick there. We saw them foraging alongside cattle egrets and mynas and tending their various-aged flocks throughout parks and condominium developments. They even seem to co-exist peacefully with the substantial feral cat population. The cats, like anyone else considering an on-the-hoof chicken dinner, must have heard the longstanding island lore which states that if you boil a lava rock and an island chicken together, the lava rock will become tender sooner (as in never) than the chicken.
I hope the Hawaiians continue to hang loose regarding their hens, which in some circles are referred to as the “state bird”. A number of enterprising locals have feathered their nests by selling poultry-related merchandise:
A few tourists grumble that the chickens detract from a perfect vacation, but, overall, most seem charmed by Kauai’s signature flocks. I, for one, can’t wait to return to the Garden Island, where, as birds go, I say moa is better!
We’ve been back on the mainland for about twelve hours and I am in severe Aloha withdrawal.
Where is my daily Hawaiian sunrise? No, I’m not talking about a tropical drink. I mean the actual sunrise, which we observed each morning on the Grand Hyatt Kauai Seaview Terrace, Starbucks latte in hand.
Where are my boys? It was so incredibly wonderful that they could both carve out time to join us for part of our trip.
And where, oh where, is that breakfast buffet that we all so enjoyed? The poolside lunch? Dinner at the spectacular Tidepools restaurant, where you dine koi-side?
Where are the nightly games of hearts, which, in our family, should actually be called Hearts of Darkness, for all the times Daniel tosses that Queen of Spades on an unlucky opponent.
Every trip to Hawaii is the best trip ever, and this truly was The Best Trip Ever. Aloha, Kauai, I miss you!