Sunday, April 12, 2015

Montana Spring: Wildflowers

Suddenly around the whole neighborhood - in fact, all over town - are the indubitable signs of spring: the ground is no longer frozen (though most mornings there are signs on surfaces, like lawns and roofs, that the temperature dipped below 32° Fahrenheit before dawn), the days are definitely longer, the sun more intense. Trees have buds, and most lawns (except ours, see photo below, but that's another story) are greening up nicely! And best of all, wildflowers are popping up everywhere!

So how about these wildflowers? Here's a shot of our side yard, sprouting yellow, red, and orange:
In the front of the house we found this single big blue bloom:
Here's a nice natural bouquet arrangement of Stay greenia I found in a park while on my post-workday constitutional last week:
They're so colorful, and almost ubiquitous, at least in our development in which there is a great deal of construction and public land improvement underway (these early bloomers tend to thrive in disturbed soil), and everywhere else around town where there is excavation for, say, the burial of utilities:
I liked them so much that I was willing to deprive my neighbors the sight of these lovely signs of spring, and plucked those in our own yard (once the cable company had finished burying our fiber optic cable, which they could not do last fall when we signed up for service because the ground was already hard-frozen; the cable spent the winter successfully on top of the ground, but grass-mowing season is almost upon us), and put them in a vase where we can enjoy them night and day. Aren't they charming and cheerful!
The the red, yellow and orange ones especially nicely set off the sole blue one (scientific name Bozemania  water departmentia).

Saturday, April 4, 2015

Teddy's brush with...

Last fall we launched a long-anticipated move from a safe, small but well-appointed high-rise condo in Chicago to a new two-story house in Bozeman, Montana. It's taking us a while to settle in (i.e., to get it "well appointed"), like the book cases that should be delivered very soon so my tomes can finally be unboxed, displayed and accessed...in other words, we're getting there...
Relocation has been the experience of a lifetime for our cat Teddy too. While he thoroughly enjoyed the play opportunities the packing materials provided back in Chicago, like most house cats, he's at heart a homebody, content in his element, with no particular urge for adventure beyond the front door. The cross-country drive required long days and three overnight stays along I-90 (a remarkably straight shot from the suburbs of Chicago to the exit to our Bozeman house). All of those days Teddy was confined to his carrier next to me in the car (with KLK following in the U-Haul truck). After about 15 initial minutes of registering his unhappiness each morning, Teddy would lapse into a cat snooze, with only occasional pleading looks and sad little cat comments through bars before repositioning himself for the next long nap.

At last we opened that carrier door one final time, and Teddy began the adjustment to his comparatively vast new home, with its big windows and cat-width sills from which to watch the magpies and robins, and more rooms than he'd ever seen before to be thoroughly evaluated for cat suitability. Of course, it took him no time to remember where his litter box was and where to expect his meals to be served, and every night we were there for him to join us in warm, safe sleep as we had always had been.
But what was most interesting was watching him figure out exactly how the two-story design, which he'd never encountered before, worked. The living room is double-high with a balcony overlook from the second floor. We would call to Teddy from the balcony and he would gaze up, puzzled as to what we were doing 15 feet above him -- likewise, when we were on the first floor he would poke his head between the rails, considering how this new geographic arrangement actually worked. Suddenly, after a couple of days, the light went on: he figured out that if he ran up or down the stairs he could be on the level with us again. 
He enjoyed the balcony in other ways as well. Domestic cats have never really lost their arboreal habits, and Teddy found the railing to be a more fun route to transit the landing than the floor. This concerned us, but we knew there was no way short of stringing barbed wire along the top to prevent him from his tightrope fun.

Then, two days before Christmas, with me busy in my second floor study and KLK likewise in his, it happened. All I knew was the sudden loud thud could have been caused by nothing other than Teddy pitching over the railing to the floor below. KLK's peripheral vision caught the fleeting motion of the cat's abrupt disappearance and he shouted "Teddy fell!!" We ran down the stairs that Teddy had so recently mastered and found him to be in one piece at the bottom, but very distressed. He ran behind the couch but allowed us to approach. Thank God, and miraculously, there seemed to be no damage. He was not limping, nothing swelled, no blood oozed, and he admitted no sign of pain, other than to his ego. He eventually made his way to our bed where he tried to recover his dignity, interrupted though he was by one or the other of us asking him, at no greater intervals than 15 minutes throughout that first day, if he was okay. Very concerned, but even more reluctant to add to his psychological trauma by sticking him back into the carrier, we called the vet and she agreed that if his pupils weren't dilating and he was eating (which he was, as always) and doing his thing in the litter box, there was no need to add to his stress by bringing him in. By Christmas the three of us were more or less back to normal. And to our great relief, Teddy has stayed off the railing ever since.

Flash forward about three months when I happened to get a rare look into his mouth mid-yawn.
Although a cat's mouth is private territory (at least according to Teddy), I clearly saw that the left front fang was about half the length it used to be (2010 photo). We think this must have happened when he fell, but he never let on that he was suffering. We squeezed him back into the carrier and took  him to the lovely Dr. Rosenthal at Foothills Veterinary Clinic. The doc informed us that the canine tooth was broken to the point where the sensitive inner pulp was exposed. The only cure for the doubtless tender fang was extraction.

This was accomplished yesterday. Teddy was a growling, hissing, dribbling, angry mass of misery when we picked him up post oral surgery. He was still reeling from the effects of anesthesia, including local novocaine that made him drool enormously,  and also had on board a long-acting pain medication (how great that we don't have grab his sore upper jaw to shove pain pills down him!) and a long-acting antibiotic (ditto!) with sparkling clean teeth and a stitch or two where the offending tooth used to be.

Like the garage that gives you the nail that caused your tire to go flat, Foothills presented me with the offending tooth. It's quite remarkable how enormous the root is compared to the pointy part (which albeit should be a longer than the remains of Teddy's). Of course a predator has to have well-anchored canines, which are used for capturing, securing, and tearing apart prey. But given the corresponding hole left behind, it's a wonder Teddy isn't in more distress today, even after a night's sleep and a couple of meals of soft canned food.
Last night and this morning Teddy's behavior was odd. His pupils were dilated from the drugs still in his blood stream, but he was exceptionally affectionate and interested in being held tight while he purred loudly. Purring sometimes indicates distress but he certainly seemed to want to be warm in our arms. He's always been one to flop over flirtatiously when we coo to him, but was doing it nearly constantly as if trying to rub off the smells of the hospital, until just a few hours ago. Now his energy is back, his eyes are normal, dinner went down the hatch in just a few minutes, and if he's in pain, he's not admitting it. He's young and will heal fast. Life will be better without that tender tooth, even if he never admits it was a problem in the first place.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Happy St. Valetine's Day 2015

Please accept this red rose from Jake, citizen of Montana Grizzly Encounter, Bozeman, Montana, as a token of his happiness and love of life in celebration of St. Valentine's Day.

MGE is a wonderful sanctuary for grizzlies that cannot be released to the wild. If you're ever in the mood to be entertained by happy bears out of their behind-the-scenes "dens" for fresh air and exercise, MGE is THE place.
Jake loves his sister Maggi especially.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Bozeman recycles

My faith in the value (to the environment, to the economy) of recycling  goes back a long, long way. My faith that the material that goes into the recycling bin ends up being recycled has never been strong, and less strong than that, that enough people recycle properly to make much of a difference. In the late 1980s I pushed for the availability of little blue waste-baskets at every desk at the huge academic medical center where I worked. Eventually, everyone did get a blue receptacle for the massive volume of papers we produced, back in the early days when desktop computers were touted as the solution to the over-use of paper, which were also the days when so much went awry with printed materials - such as the times miles of wide, continuous paper jammed on its roll through the dot-matrix printer, requiring a re-run, or two, to produce usable output. However, the blue bins with the universal "recycle" icon were (and still invariably are) distributed in the absence of any education or guidance, so even a sincere user has little idea what materials should be deposited within. The most casual observations will show that half the paper ends up in the regular basket and half the non-recyclable materials used in everyday business (including the user's lunch leavings) end up in the recycling basket. And that's before the housekeeping service picks up the baskets and dumps the contents of both into the same large plastic bag for disposal.

Years ago in Chicago I also instigated my 75-unit condominium's participation in recycling, but only by proving that the cost of  newspaper, glass, steel, and aluminum pick-up would off-set the cost of having it collected as garbage. For many years now I, and most of my neighbors, have dutifully deposited newspapers, cans, and bottles into the large signal-blue bins in the condo's garage. Those bins were picked up by the Hyde Park Resource Center, the original, and at the beginning, the only option in our 'hood; HPRC was run by devotees and there was no doubt the materials ended up where they were supposed to: in new newspapers, airplane bodies, and pickle jars. Eventually, one of the local grocery stores started accepting milk jugs and other plastic. So I do have a small, short history of hauling recycling. I like to think some of those milk jugs I dropped off are now incorporated into the newer boardwalks around Yellowstone's geyser basins. I can only hope it is so.

When we moved to our house in Montana this fall we deliberated on lots of things including whether to pay the trash pick-up service to take our recycling along with the food debris (not set up yet for mulching) and litter box leavings and materials that cannot be recycled (aka, garbage). We decided instead to start by taking our recycling to one of many locations in Bozeman, most located in out-of-the-way corners of the massive parking lots of retailers such as Home Depot and Target (extra kudos for Target, the only place in town that takes glass) and coincidentally, very close to where we live thus necessitating only the tiniest of diversions from routes we follow anyway. In particular we have been producing truckloads of cardboard between the gradually emptying moving cartons and the containers our many new purchases (oh, how much stuff a new house needs!) arrive in.

Given this opportunity the two of us have been very vigilant about our "post-consumer waste" as it's termed, much more so than we were in Chicago. KLK in particular is a huge consumer of canned soda, and I like my beer in bottles, but we also go through so many other items and have inspected even berry and tomato cartons for the distinctive icons of recyclable plastic, which, it turns out, are usually there.

Two big surprises have come from this new lifestyle of ours: 1. We don't live as light as we thought. Every day we are between the two of us capable of generating a mountain of material that would contribute a larger share than we imagined were it going to garbage, and 2. Bozemanians are very dedicated to recycling. Although I've known about and followed life in Bozeman for as many years as I've been hoping to move here, given that this is a politically conservative region, where the cause of climate change is not universally believed to be attributable to man's profligate behaviors and people drive pick-ups, not Priuses, I have been extremely pleased to witness how many residents are responsibly splitting the recyclables from their waste and exerting the mental, physical, and fossil-fuel energy to get it to a place where it will be correctly destined. The many large receptacles at each location - these photos show only a few of the bins behind Home Depot - and that they are often filled to capacity when we stop by in spite of being regularly emptied - make me doubly glad we live here among so many kindred spirits.
 
Here's a sampling of our daily interior leavings; the bigger cardboard, and plenty of it, is out in the garage waiting to be flattened for Home Depot's waiting bins.
 
(All photos taken with my Samsung S5 phone, for convenience and incredible sharpness and ability  to excellently expose photos in less-than-optimal lighting conditions.)

Friday, November 28, 2014

It's been a while...

This latest hiatus in Amusing Musings is explained by our total relocation from Chicago to Bozeman, Montana last month. But the title of this post, "it's been a while," also refers to one of my earliest Musings, Winter in Yellowstone, at last, in February of 2007, in which I explained my impatient goal to live close to Yellowstone National Park (Bozeman chosen from a number of options for mostly practical reasons, to be shared in a later post). Only seven long years later, picking up one's life and loves and things of more than 45 years and reinstalling them all in a newly built house is disorienting, exhausting, and frighteningly expensive. I'm not big on chaos (and folding one's tent and erecting it again 1,450 miles away is nothing less), but slowly everything is fitting into its new place, and in the last couple of weeks there have been occasional moments to relax and enjoy. Because I am still working for my Chicago employer (from my computer and phone) while the unpacking and organizing and acquisition of new-house-things like a washer and dryer and window covers are going on, the long Thanksgiving weekend is exactly what I needed to regroup mentally. Here are a few images of our new life to share:
Typical of northern Montana, we got a big November snow a few days ago. Also typical of northern Montana, the Polar Vortex that brought us 6 or 7 inches warmed up precipitously, creating this physics-law-breaking cantilevered iceberg glacially sliding off the roof of KLK's "man cave" that I can watch from my computer desk. The pendulous thing was longer than a foot before it started to curve downwards, still gripping the remaining snowpack on the roof through some very strong hydrostatic process. We watched it enlarge and elongate all day Wednesday. At 5 A.M. on Thanksgiving morning it gave way, thunderously thudding on the first floor roof below. 
The warm temperatures and sunlight and peaked rooflines caused many more avalanches and created a thigh-high berm of snow around the sides of the house. KLK took advantage of the relative warmth to remove a little slippery stuff by the front porch. Shoveling snow is his new workout. 
Teddy the tabby took a while to figure out his big new house, but now he's bravely giving me regular heart attacks by tight-roping along the second floor railing...the drop to the living room floor on the far side is about 20 feet. Note beyond our window a Tyvek-wrapped structure. This was green space when we bought it in June, though we understood it would soon be developed. More about the phenomenal number of mushrooms housing starts in what was until very recently open agricultural land in a later post.
Thanksgiving day was so peaceful in our neighborhood (in spite of being a couple of blocks from a middle school, the 'hood is almost always quiet) and the day so unexpectedly mild, we went out to explore on foot. In spite of the huge number of older, and newer, and being-constructed homes, green space has been spared here and there throughout. This park with its still pond and backdrop of the Bridger Mountains, is particularly appealing. Nothing quite like mountain light. Just what I wanted!

Friday, October 10, 2014

Heard today

On the car radio while running errands this afternoon:

WBBM news radio, an ad for an orthopedic practice, rated highly by "U.S. Snooze and World Report."

WBEZ, Chicago's (usually flawless) public radio station:  a reference to Illinois Republican gubernatorial candidate Bruce Rauner's "indiscrepancies" - uttered, alas, by the reporter.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Objects 3. Cerámica San Isidro Moorish plates


In 1963-64 (8th grade for me) my mother spent the year teaching teachers of English in Madrid, with me in tow. As I've remarked before, one of the things I most enjoyed about that year abroad was the exoticism of the shopping opportunities. In those days, foreign wares were not so readily available in the United States, and, at the age of 13, I found the European traditional and contemporary objects to be wonderfully new and appealing.
In Spain the specialties were strongly regional; a well-known example is Toledo steel, made into jewelry and knives for the consumption of tourists and serious collectors alike. Spain is also known for its regional ceramics and pottery styles, sometimes realized as decorative objects, famously lovely tiles, or colorful usable objects such as table ware.
Another of my most valued memories from that year is our visits to the many historic meccas around the country, among the most enjoyable to the town of Granada, site of The Alhambra. Spain was once a colony of the Muslim world; the North African Arabs and Berbers who occupied much of the Iberian peninsula are referred to as Moors. Moorish culture dominated the Andalusian region from 711 until 1492, and left its aesthetic and cultural marks in many ways. Granada's Alhambra, the massive and stunningly beautiful fortress-palace left by the Moors, is an overwhelming do-not miss should you find yourself in Spain. Although this photo of my mother taken there (doubtless by me, already in those days a camera-toter) is badly faded it is possible still to make out the incredible lively and romantic architecture and decorative style. Many of the fine details are in fact the written word from the Koran. It's truly extraordinary
Modern takes on this decorative and symbolic tradition are used in the locally produced ceramic wares, known as the "Andalusian" style. On that visit we bought a set of eight plates of varying designs made by Granada's Cerámica San Isidro that take great advantage of the local symbology. Granada means pomegranate, and the fruit's image is everywhere, as in the middle of this San Isidro plate.What is most interesting about this design (and the starred plate above) is that the star is six-sided, like the Jewish Star of David. The Muslim star is five-sided. Intentional or not, I'll never know.  
It's hard to photograph pleasingly embossed texture of these 8.5-inch plates, but the designs come through well.
And here are the plates in a celebratory bon voyage slumber party for my classmates heading out for a school-sponsored trek to England, June, 1967.
I don't use them to serve food anymore -- who knows how much lead is in the glaze? But they're quite nice arrayed in a small group on my living room wall, and allow me to reminisce about that wonderful long-ago year in Spain.


Friday, September 12, 2014

Objects 2. Pueblo (American Indian) Pottery

Lots of us have lots of stuff in our lives, but it's not often that we have a record of how, where and when it was acquired. My family spent the 1953-1954 academic year in Albuquerque, New Mexico, where we widely explored especially the Indian lands of the region, thereby making some important discoveries and lifelong connections. We were (and I am) great admirers of the arts and artisanship of the Pueblo and Navajo peoples. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, their wares had become know nationally, if not internationally, through the enterprises such as Fred Harvey, boosted by the work of architect Mary Colter, among others. Even so, in the middle of the 20th century, their rugs, masks, wood and stone carvings, stunning jewelry, and pottery were still affordable for a young professor's family.
Acoma Pueblo, called as "Sky City" for its strategic  mesa-top location, is renowned now as then for its beautiful and finely made pottery. It's some 70 miles west of Albuquerque, right along Route 66 (now Interstate 40), the perfect day-trip from Albuquerque. Here is my mother in Sky City (with me, in the striped t-shirt) picking treasurers from their maker in November (it was very nice and warm, evidently!):
Same day, two Acoma girls, Anne Marie and Tilda Rose, pose with their offerings; note the classic humped adobe brick oven in the background to the right, and the adobe homes, with ladders to access the useful space on the flat roofs.
What Mother brought home included one small dish that was meant as an ashtray, that crashed to pieces, under my watch alas, quite a few years ago. Another prize was this small "eared" pot painted with a different abstract, but historically faithful, bird motif on each side. Its hand-coiled, wood-fired character is evident.

While rustically very appealing, it was comparatively primitively made, with thick walls and base. Which is almost certainly how it's managed to survive unvanquished all these years.

Another acquisition of the day, and of the same scale but a different, though also traditional, decoration, was much more delicately shaped and painted. The form is called "olla" (pot, in Spanish):
Through time though, it paid the price for its fineness. With the shards stuck firmly together with superglue, it has an (albeit faux) archaeological feel to it.
In the early 21st Century, spectacularly fine wares are still to be had. The people of many pueblos of the American Southwest, have perfected their ceramic arts. This is a traditional "olla" form, very similar to the "archaeological" piece above, but of a much larger scale and sophisticated painted design. It is signed "R. Victarino, Acoma." It was given to me by Puebloan friends in 2011.
My friends also gave me this piece. The pot itself was not coiled, but made in a form. The skill is all in the painting. I love it just as much, though I don't know the maker.
Indian pots, highly collectible for obvious reasons, come in all kinds of sizes, shapes and forms above and beyond the olla. Here is a display in the gift shop of the Heard Museum of American Indian Art and History, Phoenix, Arizona. It would be nice to bring them all home.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Objects 1. Royal Leerdam Serica Vase

This is a striking cobalt blue vase in the "Serica" series, designed by Andries Dirk Copier of the Royal Leerdam glassworks in Leerdam, Netherlands. In Dutch this "controlled bubble" technique is called spijkervaasje.

I don't know the exact date but this style dates from 1936-1940. The brilliantly prolific Copier lived from 1901 to 1991.
The heavy crystal ball was once the top to a Leerdam decanter. The decanter is long gone but the ball looks very good set atop the vase, especially when gently rotated it multiplies the moving water effect. This was in my grandmother's home, and as a child (and frankly, as an adult) it fascinated me. I have always called it the fountain because of the wonderful regularly placed bubbles. I can't even imagine the skill that went into making this.