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Kingston!

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Life in and around NoPo…

Behold the Dragonfruit!

bsh-dragonfruit-pitaya

Having lived in St. Johns for a few years, I have always been a big fan of the Kruger’s farm stand on Lombard. On a recent trip, I saw a new and exciting looking fruit that I did not recognize – the Dragonfruit. Also known as the Pitya or Pitahaya, the exotic looking fruit was an easy sell – I was told that you slice it open and scoop out the innards (the dragon guts!) with a spoon. It was supposed to resemble the kiwifruit, with tons of little black seeds in the edible portion, ‘though not as strongly flavored.

Upon arriving home, I immediately hit the internet to find out more about this spiky, colorful and new-to-me fruit. Turns out it is related to cactus apples, a fruit I enjoyed often as a child of southern California. Prior to breaking it open, I was not sure which variety of dragon fruit I had obtained. Once the white pearly insides were revealed, it was easy to identify it as white pitahaya.

My absolute favorite take-away from the article on Wikipedia was the reference to the “second harvest” of the Tohono O’odham people of southern Arizona (yet another place I have lived).

“With the scarcity of fruits in their lands, the pitaya was such a prized fruit that once it was eaten, the natives would wait for their own excrement to dry, then break it apart separating the pitaya seeds. These seeds would be ground into a flour and eaten again, giving the pitaya’s “second harvest” its name.”

Having now sliced open and eaten of the dragon fruit, the “second harvest” seems (more than ever) like a hardcore commitment from some truly resourceful people – the seeds are super tiny and awesome at sticking to one’s teeth. Even tinier than chia seeds.

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Living atop Omtose Phellack

We recently moved down from the west hills above St. Johns to a more centrally located North Portland neighborhood. My new neighbor is the I-5, which is actually an improvement. The new digs are charming, and include a fully fenced yard and a detached studio with electricity. One thing I could not have predicted based on a walk-through before renting is how icy cold this house is. And what inadequate heating resources it has. Truly, I think we may be perched atop a remnant of Omtose Phellack – the icy warren of the Jaghut.

Thank you, Steven Erikson, for providing me with proper descriptive vocabulary to capture my new living arrangements.

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That’s how you get ants (and sometimes hummingbirds)

lilies-in-bloom

When I obtained these lovely flowers little did I know how well they would attract ants. Yep, within 12 hours of arrival these beautiful and seductive flowers had called the ants into the house to try and reach them. Balls. I was forced to move the bouquet out to the porch. Do the neighbors think I am crazy? Seems likely. One unexpected pleasure – these bright hued beauties have lured hummingbirds to come and taste their nectar. Screw you ants!

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Bob Wills: Big Balls in Cowtown

I am not sure how I managed to go through so many years of life without having heard the upbeat anthem known as Big Balls in Cowtown. And now that I have finally been exposed to it, I’ve got a serious earworm that has lasted for days. It has also prompted me to try and share the joy this song brings me by posting a video for your entertainment.

Also, having not heard it before, it has prompted a bit of research on my part to discover who brought this song into the world. A general search on the song title brings up lots of links to George Strait, but he’s too young for the time period the lyrics refer to (Eatin’ saltine crackers, ten cents a pound). Turns out the version I heard is from Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys, and was written by Hoyle Nix.

Tip o’ the hat to Hack, Stitch and Buckshot for passing on this gem of a song.

Kingston has a plaid new year

Kingston's plaid collar

For being such a photogenic feline, Kingston has developed a bit of camera shyness over the years. I am not entirely sure if he is shy or just wants you to really work for each and every shot. E took about 5 different pictures of me and my plaid collared buddy, with this being the best of the batch. You can see a little bit of his profile and cocked ears, plus his festive collar.

Kingston is our adopted rescue cat, and he is a very affectionate (needy) and awesome smoke tabby. The experts on the interwebs tell me that the proper name for his coat pattern is Black Smoke Mackerel Tabby. The cat ladies who fostered him prior to our adoption believed he was an Egyptian Mau half breed. The Egyptian Mau is a pretty amazing looking feline, with a colorful history. You can see some fine examples of the smoke markings on some cats who seem to love the camera.

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New bird feeder or preferred food: why do they love the tiny house?

Last month while out and about, I decided to purchase an additional bird feeder to better service the small flock of birds that have begun including my house on their regular flight path. We had one bird tube, posted up on level two of the building. Mostly we get to see chickadees and nuthatches at the feeder, with a number of other birds showing up down-below to feast on scraps.

In case you do not have the pleasure of nuthatches, they are the most highly selective birds I have seen – on average I would say 8 to 20 items are rejected before the perfect nut is found and taken. This creates a thriving dirt worshipping colony of birds and also squirrels and maybe a chipmunk which rummage below the feed station. The squirrels really want to cut the middle man and get to the tube, but they have had no success thus far.

For feed station number two, we found a tiny log cabin style one with a feed trough on either side of the food compartment. The nuthatches ignored it for about a week, until the chickadees discovered it and began feasting. Then it seemed like both feed stations were in regular rotation. Recently, though, nearly all traffic has moved to the tiny house of seed. It has yet to be determined if the birds now prefer the trough style food access, or if the tiny house simply has a more desirable type of bird food in it. We regularly switch brands of feed, so it’s possible the tube now contains a different seed blend than the tiny house.

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Portland cold snap tough on the winter birds

This morning I discovered a tiny victim of the recent cold snap here in Portland – a tiny bird body lay beside the path to the design studio. Last night’s cold and windy conditions must have been unrelenting for that tiny feathered form. Minimally the little avian was not on the inside of the bird huddle through the long dark night.

We have bird feeders hanging from our upper story, and help supply food to the local birds that stay through the winter here in the west hills. Mostly we see chickadees and nuthatches, but the dead fellow from this morning was of another species, unknown to me. Still sad, though.

The tiny wild bird’s passing was noted, and, to some small degree mourned. No one wants to be the tiny body stuck outside of the bird huddle on a brutally cold night. The body has been removed from the walking path and deposited beneath a tree – returned to the wild to become food for other creatures. Here’s to hoping that everyone who seeks shelter and warmth finds enough to make it through the night.

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moonlight melonmounter – grey demanding hillside raider

I recently made the decision to begin offering food to one of the local cats on the hill. He’s big and grey, and seems like he might have a home somewhere. Or maybe not. It also seems possible that he simply has a number of places on his hill route to stop in and try for a hand out. He seems more domestic than feral, but I can definitely say that he is a rather demanding bastard. We call him Gene Harrogate, after the moonlight melonmounter featured in Cormac McCarthy’s book - Suttree. Gene is most notable in that he arrives in the rain, hunches under the eaves that cover our trash can area and he punked out my dog from day one. He also has a terrible meow, and utilizes it to demand food if he catches you at home when he is in need. A successful marauder, there are days I regret my decision to befriend the needy grey beast.

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‘Coon raiders in the night

Well, it looks like the raccoons have finally discovered that our trash can is no longer secured against their prowess. Sad news for us, especially now that it’s 2 weeks between trash pick-ups. Last year we switched over to a new trash can provided by the city with the compostable upgrade to the garbage service. At that time we lashed down the top of the giant compostable food bin, but the new trash can (now with wheels!) did not have any easy way to lash the top down. We have made it unscathed for most of a year, until the ‘coons came last night for a tasty, successful and messy snack. I have since added a brick to the top of the can lid, but I’ll be surprised if that is enough to dissuade them. Here’s to hoping, though.

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Fare thee well, pumpkins

Ah, November has arrived with the lovely Dia de los Muertos – a time to recall those who have passed on. A bitter-sweet celebration; nearly everyone has a list of kith and kin that seem lost to us through death, and while honoring the dead and recalling their contributions is positive, forgetting the pain of loss is quite a challenge. Today you can let it out freely – you are not alone in recalling the beloved dead.

The changing of the month means it’s time for the pumpkins of October to pass on to the compost heap. Perhaps the humus they create will help something wonderful grow to fruition next season. I indulged this year and got 2 pumpkins for the celebration of all hallows eve. I chose a traditional orange one, and decided to try the newish white skinned type. Last year I thought the white skinned pumpkins were ugly, and kind of gross. This year I felt attracted to them, and immediately thought what a great “head” one would make for a headless horseman costume. Alas, I was not a headless horseman, but the luminescent pumpkin was definitely a boon to the Halloween season.

Since the pumpkins have to go out to be composted, I have also been thinking about my porch plants and how I need to man-up and kill off the straggling plants that are left. Usually I kill plants off well before their season is done, but I had a banner year and there are still live cherry tomato plants struggling to beat the cold. It seems cruel to leave them out to deal with the elements, yet I can’t quite bring myself to uproot the fecund plants and put an end to their life-cycle. Ridiculous, right? I have been happily eating their fruits, but am unhappy to think about their death. The lemon cucumber plant has been stunted and basically dead for weeks, but the tomatoes are really hanging on. They even put out another round of flowers just a few weeks back. Still, it’s definitely time to wrap up the summer growing season and say good bye to the plants and pots until next spring.

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First of October 2012: heat-wave!

Well, what a pleasant surprise for the start of October – some sort of breezy heat-wave! Perhaps it has to last a few days to be considered a “wave”, but I am thinking of today as a heat-wave if only because the winds are soft, warm and could totally fool you into believing we are still mid-Summer. The house is hot, and the breeze is soft and seductive. Yay for my porch tomatoes, and probably yippee for all of the birds and animals scrambling for food before the soggy cold darkness descends. Still, can’t say I am feeling the October in the air. I have another batch of cherry tomatoes quickly ripening on the vine, and both plants are starting to flower again. That is how much like summer it feels here in the West Hills.

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Woolly Bear: first hairy caterpillar of the 2012 season

Today on my way to the design studio, I practically stumbled upon a banded Woolly Bear caterpillar. I only learned their proper name last year, thanks to the wiki article.  You might also know this spiky creature as a “woolly worm”, depending on where you grew up. A member of the moth family Arctiidae,  we seem to have examples of the Isabella tiger moth’s caterpillar here in Portland’s West Hills. Folklorists believe you can predict the severity of the coming winter based on the ratio of brown to black. More brown than black equates to a  mild season, with more black than brown suggesting a harsher winter.

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Motorboat: young west hills feline

Over the last few weeks I have seen a charming new addition to the local landscape – a young mackerel tabby cat with long ear tufts and a notably long tail. Originally, I avoided contact. I am a sucker for animals, most especially young, seemingly in need sorts. After seeing the handsome cat a few times, though, I was caught outside when he was wandering through. A striking looking young feline, he has no collar. He seems generally well fed, and is friendly as all hell. He also loves to purr. Hence, his name – Motorboat. Since I was caught outside, I decided to make contact. I made some friendly clicking noises to get his attention – from 3 long jumps away I heard the purr kick in. So friendly and sweet natured, he is a charmer. Now, I am worried about his health and safety. My BF saw him 2 days ago way across the neighborhood while he was out riding his bike. And last night we saw him on the uphill road – he had to climb straight into the hillside brush to avoid us and another car coming down the narrow windy road. What if he has no home? I would like to give him a home, and “put a ring on it”. That is, give him a collar and make sure he has his shots and plenty to eat. Come on by, Motorboat.

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fresh from the porch: lemon cucumbers

While I find myself looking forward to Autumn and the turning of the leaves, I am a little sad that my porch garden is coming to a close for the 2012 season. It was a banner year, and these last few weeks of September are my primary harvest time. Big news on the harvesting front – success with the lemon cucumber starts. I only got 4 fruits in total, but each one has been celebrated. Below you can see the innards of my first lemon cuke, fresh off the vine.

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End of summer feline sun zombie

Kingston has been generally pleased with the cooler weather we have been flirting with, but he also loves the sun. Today he was in some sort of torpid state due to the sun beams and allowed me to catch photographic evidence of his exalted feline zombie status.

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Feast of the cherry tomatoes

It’s been an awesome summer of porch gardening here in the west hills – I have been snacking on delicious cherry tomatoes, and even lemon cucumbers! I am sure I mostly have the great pacific northwest to thank for my fruitful bounty, but it’s still thrilling. It probably helps that my neighbor (who’s an excellent gardener) chose not to plant this year, so it’s just me and the porch plants. Don’t they look delicious?

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Scrabble word of the day

toque
Awesome old word for a specific style of ladies hat, or (older still) a pimp hat from France, wearable by ladies or gents. Clearly I am paraphrasing, or possibly making up that definition. : ) Thank you Scrabble for exposing me to unknown words – too bad your in-game “dictionary” does not actually define words.

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ootheca burn: where have the mantids gone?

Well, I am sad to report that my wonderfully anticipated praying mantis ootheca has yet to produce anything. Sigh. It’s been well over 2 weeks (the minimum needed for the egg mass to hatch), and the weather has been freakin’ warm. Seriously warm for the Pacific Northwest. It’s now mid-August, and the weather situation is not going to get much finer for the bugs or the plants. The little paper bag on the front porch is known house-wide as “the bag of disappointment” currently. I know I am still secretly hoping the mantid babies will show up any day now, but the summer will be over soon. How can they hope to come out and thrive if it’s not soon? It has been suggested that I place the egg sack deep into the local shrubbery and use my imagination to play out a future where they actually do hatch, even though I do not get to witness it. It does suck to think I manage to pick a dry one, or maybe one that actually hatched last year. If the mantids do show up, you can count on pictures of the grand event.

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Military nomenclature: DOD naming conventions stand out every time

If you have ever served in the U.S. military, there’s a good chance you can spot military nomenclature immediately when seen in the press, or when you overhear it. There is something inelegant and awkward about many of the names, even while struggling to encompass some large overarching data set. That is, on one level the name will make perfect sense – it seeks to clearly and uniquely describe an item, and generally speaks to the utilization of said item. What does it do? The full military nomenclature will break it down for you. Today I saw an excellent item clearly named by the Department of Defense – the Inverted Multi-Purpose Ballistic Tomahawk Bayonet. That’s right, according to the Duffelblog (military equivalent of the Onion) the IMBTB is slated to replace the bayonet add-on for M-16′s.  Even though the IMBTB does not exist, it’s clear that the authors at DB know all about how you would name such an item.

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industrious spiders of summer: catch and release

Dang, but the local spiders are busy in these warm summer months! Yesterday I turned off the upstairs box fan for a few hours of cooler overcast weather. A short time later I noticed that a tiny opportunistic spider had already incorporated the silent box fan into his master web plan. All I can say is, damn! I am inspired by the rapid inclusion of new opportunities by my eight legged friends. We have a capture and release to the outdoors policy at the tree-fort, so whenever possible unwanted visitors are cupped and tossed out on the porch vines to make their way. I was also surprised this morning by a large and active spider inside the car. Has he been in the car for awhile? He seemed well fed. Are there enough bugs inside my car to keep a spider in good health? That idea is less than appealing, I gotta say. Maybe he was a recent transport, which suggests he arrived riding myself or my bf. Arachnids have my respect and admiration already – now they seem to be trying to recruit me!

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