Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Accidental Purchase

I was off running errands yesterday, when I *accidentally* pulled into a Petco that I'd not visited recently. The last time I was in this particular Petco, I'd noticed a lovely tank full of fire bellied toads, and saw that some of them were different colours than Poison, our class pet. When I'd commented on the lovely toads to the person who worked there, she had said "oh! You should see how excited they get when we put mealworms in the tank!", which boggled my mind, as I'd read that mealworms were dangerous dainties to feed to the toads. Something about their hard scaly body segments scraping up a toad's delicate digestive tract. But good golly, what an incredible savings, if I could buy mealworms at $2 for 100 worms, instead of crickets at ten cents each (and those crickets have a pretty high mortality rate. I'm losing close to a quarter of them before they even make it into the toad tank... then you factor in the number of completely DUMB crickets that jump into the water and drown before they can be eaten, and you're looking at pretty pricey dinners for Poison.)

So, I spent a few minutes watching the toads at this Petco, and I noticed a cool bright green one that had ONLY ONE EYE! He was the coolest toad, EVER. And it wasn't an injury. He looked like he'd been born that way. There was just this smooth green skin where a bulging eye should have been popping up on the top of his head.

Oh, but what's that? Look behind Cyclops, and there's this super cool looking nearly-solid-black toad.

I did the math in my head. If I could feed the toads mealworms instead of crickets? I could EASILY afford to add another toad to Poison's tank. And besides, everything I've been reading about these little creatures said that they do better in a social environment. They LIKE to be around other members of their own kind.

AND! If I got a second toad, I'd have pretty much a 50-50 chance that I got one of each sex, and then there was a POSSIBILITY that they might mate and lay eggs!

How cool is that?

Ok, maybe it's just cool in my own mind, but I managed to convince myself that I could afford to get another toad for Nate's class tank. And besides, Poison had cost nearly $7, and toads at Petco were only $5.50. It was a BARGAIN!

When I mentioned to the gal that was getting the big black toad out of the slimy pile of toads in the back of the tank that I was thrilled to have been told that I could feed mealworms to the toads occasionally instead of a steady diet of crickets, her eyes nearly bugged out of her head.

"WHO told you that?" she said.

"Um... I was in here the other day, and I asked what size crickets you fed the toads, and the woman I talked to said that they do small crickets, but that every other day, they feed mealworms. I guess I just wanted to know what size of mealworms to supplement the cricket diet with. Actually, I was quite surprised to hear that, because I'd always thought that mealworms were not good toad food."

She nodded, "You're right. I feed the toads every day, and I will tell you that I *ONLY* feed them crickets. Whoever told you that about mealworms was VERY mistaken."

Uh oh.

"Well, I'm glad I got the correct information, then." I said. "I guess I'll be going back to the expensive food, then. Could you get me a bag with 10 small crickets in it, then? To go along with this toad that I'm bringing to class?"

She went into the back room to get the crickets while I filled out the "New Pet Adoption Forms". Hilarious, all the rigamarole that one goes through in order to bring home a five dollar toad. It's the same form that you use for the $1500 parrots.

She came out with a bag full of crickets. On the side it said "10 Small". But when I looked in there? There had to be two dozen tiny crickets in the bag. I guess she felt sorry for me.

I just finished printing up 'portraits' for the class.

Here's the first one:

And here's Poison's new friend:

Almost all the scary black color is gone from his back, and he's turning into a nice green. I think the only way we'll be able to tell the two toads apart is from their size. The new one is a bit bigger... for now. I wouldn't be surprised if we could tell them apart from the pattern of black warts on their backs, too.

Seeing as Nate and his buddy Q got to name Poison, I thought I would make a pre-emptive strike and name this new toad before I brought it into the class. So...

Here is his/her glamor shot:

Sing it with me, people...


You don't have to show your red bell-eeee.

Petstore crowds are over

You don't have to share your crickets in the night...


Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Shot Down

So, yesterday, thinking that I would enter an orchid photo in the Peninsula Orchid Society's photo contest, I went through the photos that I had taken, keeping a close eye on the ones that I could actually identify. It seemed to be important to the society that the photos be well-identified, so many of my pictures (the ones I loved the most) were disqualified, I thought, because I had NO IDEA what kind of orchid they might be. For some of them, I couldn't even tell you WHERE in the show I'd seen them. I guess after a while, all the incredible flowers sort of blended together.

I had one photo that I was particularly fond of. It was a close-up of a little odd-shaped orchid, and because I was photographing with available light, I'd had to open the aperture up wide, giving me a very shallow depth of field. But, as a result, it had fun, blurry bokeh in the background.

I had everything necessary for the identifying of the photo, seeing as right after I'd taken this shot, I'd taken a shot of its entry form, which said "Novice Class, Best Phytothallid"

As a courtesy, I also provided the link to the snapfish album that this photo was in. Just in case any of the members wanted to have photos of their own orchids (which I couldn't identify) for their records (as I'd seen very few of the 'regulars' there with cameras.)

I was set.

Or so I thought.

I just got an email back from the contest organizer:

"Dear Kemma, This is not your best photo."


OK, so it's not quite as bad as all that. But the opening line still stung a bit. She goes on to suggest that I submit 2 to 6 of *MY* favourite pictures from the snapfish album, and she might be able to identify the specimens for me. She also said that having photos with people in them was a good thing.

So here goes. I made a little gallery of some of my favourite photos, and I will rely on your incredibly good taste and fine eye for color and detail to help me choose the photos I should RE-submit to the contest.

I apologize for the photo overload.

Monday, January 25, 2010

POS Afternoon

Now, some may see that title and think "Uh oh. What horrible ordeal happened in the Parker House?"

And I could string you on for quite some time, but I've got carpool duties in 10 minutes, so you get off the hook.

POS isn't a bad thing when it stands for Peninsula Orchid Society.

Kelly and I spent the afternoon yesterday at the Peninsula Orchid Society's annual show and sale.

And it was a LOT of fun.

These were Kelly's (first) favourite orchids... the Cymbidium with the little chocolate brown centers.

Here, a little closer:

Can you believe this? Those things grow OUTSIDE here! The mind boggles.

I had fun looking at all the little tiny specimen plants, thinking "These things are ORCHIDS? Wild!"

That little flower is smaller than a dime. The leaves are quarter-sized. It was a 'best in class', but I forget what for.

These little spider-like things were SO fragrant!

There were big signs everywhere that said "Do not touch", but I think I broke the law several times by touching the flowers with my nose as I buried my face in several fragrant bundles.

The oddest looking things, too. Here's one where the flowers grow in spikes at the root level, and hang DOWN! I guess this plant grows on cliffs, or something. Go, epiphytes! WILD!

And this one! Man, it didn't look real. (confession time: I may have touched this one, because HONESTLY, those flowers looked like those fake tissue-paper flowers that you made in 2nd grade)

This next one was called "Medusa". I was honestly expecting it to smell like carrion, because once I'd had a succulent with similar-shaped flowers that stunk like rotting meat, and attracted every CSI-evidence fly for miles around. Fortunately, it just looked wild, and didn't smell. Whew!

And did you know that vanilla was an orchid?

I think I had known that, in the back of my brain, but I never thought I'd actually ever see one. OR... Own one! Yes, I succumbed to the romance of the fragrant bean, and now have a vanilla orchid vine snaking its way up the side of my kitchen window. I don't imagine that I will ever harvest vanilla pods from it, though. The flowers are only open for 8 hours, and they must be pollinated in the first 4 hours of that window. And then? The pod has to ripen on the vine for A WHOLE YEAR! And then? Then you've got to harvest it and DRY it carefully for another year, before you start processing it for flavor. Yikes. But for me? It's all about the vine. And the cool new greenery in my kitchen.

Also, interesting story that is true: I was looking at the display from this one orchid grower, and I noticed this lady coming up behind me in a walker, and I thought "Wow, deja vu... why do I know her?" and then I realized that I'd sat beside her at the funeral last week. And then the woman beside her says "Oh, Hello, Kemma!" and I knew that I knew her, but it was one of those 'out of context' things, and I was stumped, until she said "I'm a soprano." and I realized that I sing with her on Tuesday nights, but we just don't sit in the same section. Turns out the vanilla vines were raised by her niece. And she had two extras that were for sale. And, well, now she doesn't, because I bought one of them.

To add to my desire to sing "It's a small world", I was taking all these photos of the flowers, when I heard "Have you heard about our photo contest?" and turned around to see ANOTHER woman that I knew. I think we were BOTH surprised to see each other. I know her husband too, but didn't know that he'd been a member of the orchid society for coming up on 40 years. Several of his orchids were prize winners, so I took a few photos of him, too. I will be entering the photo contest, because the prize for the winning photo is membership in the society, and a free potted blooming orchid.

This was a very fragrant flower. And ENORMOUS!

These ones remind me of my grandmother. Back when I was a kid, she'd go out hiking in the mountains and come home with old bread-bags containing shovels-full of some shrivelled little plant, and the next summer, it would look like this in her garden. Her lady-slipper garden was unmatched. I'm sure that today it would be some environmental law violation, what she did, but back in the 60s and 70s, it was magical.

I loved this one. I think it was one of the big winners of the show.

But I think my heart belongs to these odd little creatures that don't quite look like the showy garden-variety bloomers:

And how about this? A BLACK flower!

The variety was astounding. I wish that I could have spent more time there. Next year... and next year, I bring a tripod, and an external flash, too, so I can take DECENT photos of the things that I see.

I have yet to take photos of the fragrant orchid that I bought and brought home for Ken. It's got tinier flowers, but such an incredible scent. I can hardly wait until next month, as there is another show down in Cupertino. I'll be sure to take the camera to that one, too. And Kelly wants to join me.

She should, seeing as she's now a member of the local orchid society...

Monday, January 18, 2010

Mutual of Omaha's Wild Kingdom

And I don't need Marlon Perkins narrating, either. I've got the whole "Savagery of Nature" going on in the laundry room (Poison's temporary home, until we move him/her to Nate's class tomorrow).

This is taken from underneath the cage, so you can see why he's a "Fire Belly Toad"...

Poison is going through the crickets at an alarming rate. If he doesn't slow down, he's gonna need a new cage soon, because he'll be MASSIVE! (unless crickets aren't all that nutritious, or give him the runs, and he doesn't grow bulk at the same rate as he's consuming the little bugs). This morning, the Littles and I had to run out to the pet store to purchase more size-small crickets, because we were down to our last TWO, out of the original 10 that we bought on Saturday afternoon. Now, I will admit that there is a percentage of attrition that I wasn't expecting, and I think that the crickets might be a little cannibalistic, when all is said and done, because I can't account for the whereabouts of three of the original 10. I did find one in the laundry room sink this morning, so there may be a little bit of Hogan's Heroes going on in the Cricket Keeper Cage that we're borrowing from Q's mom.

Anyways, I bought another TWENTY crickets, and installed them in the Cricket Keeper, with plenty of cardboard hidey-holes (they're territorial, AND nocturnal, apparently) and big cubes of Cricket gut-load so they wouldn't take bites out of each other, and then I dropped a cricket into Poison's cage, and watched.

He was standing at one side of the cage, looking longingly at the Cricket Keeper...

It's like he KNEW that's where his supper came from. And he's waving to them. "Hello, Supper!"

So then I dropped a cricket into the cage, and the cricket made a bee-line for the water-line. I think maybe they don't get enough to drink at the pet store. I remedied that in the Cricket Keeper, so now they've got a little drinking station. I'm all about the Geneva Convention with my little prisoners.

Anyways... the cricket goes to the water line, and takes a drink. Poison notices...

You can't really tell, but he's got one eye on that cricket. And he's doing these little 'I am a leaf in the wind' bob and weave motions, which would be WAY more convincing if I'd put a plant in the cage...

The cricket keeps drinking. Poison moves in a little closer....

Cue the theme music from Jaws...

When he finally does make his move, it's SO fast, I'm never ready with the camera, even if I'm RIGHT THERE! But we've only had him for 2 days. I bet I'll get better at it as time goes on...

And he DIVES in for the kill!

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Obsessed with Poison

Nate spent the afternoon in a young boy's paradise.

First, we picked up his buddy Q, and, armed with a backpack full of zip-lock bags and a net, we headed off to the local pond.

It was a grey day, threatening rain, but it was still a lot of fun.

Usually, the pond is about eight feet deeper that it was today. Here, look at this:

Ordinarily (or perhaps I should say "in the past") the water has been up to nearly the top of that pipe underneath the boys. There is the sound of a pump, though, so I'm thinking that some water-department smarty-pants is realizing that we are on the cusp of a series of major winter storms, and all our neighbourhood's storm drains run directly into this pond, before hurtling down the hill to run underneath a shopping center, and hitting the San Francisco Bay at full volume. So perhaps it's a pre-emptive strike.

Our mission was to see if there were tadpoles. I suppose I forgot that even though I go outside without a jacket most days, it's still not TECHNICALLY spring, and there wasn't a tadpole or a peeper to be seen (or heard). But we did managed to catch two itty-bitty fish in the net, and I managed to do it without having a near-death experience, although it was close for a few minutes there. Who knew that mud and slick-shoes could be such a potentially deadly combination. Fortunately, *I* was the one with the camera skills, and there is no photographic evidence of the slapstick.

What's not to love about an afternoon piddling around at the pond, though?

Loaded down with two fishies and a snail, we headed home.

And then we picked up Kelly from a play-date, and headed off to PetSmart.


The last time I'd been in the store, there were three toads, and a tadpole. This time? There were dark fire belly toads, there were lighter ones. There were brown ones, and green ones, and yellowish-green ones. And the tadpole was still there.

Decisions, decisions... (ooh! You can even see the tadpole in the far right of this photo down here!)

The boys eventually settled on a smaller version of the green one, seen above. Although there was much hollering about How Much Fun! it would be to have a tadpole. But the Petsmart dude said that the tadpole had been in the store for an age, and there was no telling how long it would take for it to metamorphosize.

The boys named him/her.

Meet "Poison".

Also, say hello to the crickets, who are dumber than a box of rocks, apparently, and crawled right into Poison's hidey-hole. Good thing Poison was still a bit disoriented, and didn't realize his supper was crawling over his head.

For the first few hours, Poison didn't move much. But Kelly's keeping a running commentary about his motions, and in the last half hour, he's left his hidey-hole, waddled around on the rocks, and gone for TWO swims.

For more Late Breaking Poison News, stay tuned to this channel.

Now I'd better go put the kids to bed, and then take some more toad glamour shots.

Holy smokes. COOLER than I thought. I just went in with Ken to check on Poison, and while we were peering into his cage, and commenting on how incredibly brain-dead the crickets are...


Ken and I both jumped back, it was such a sudden and surprising thing.

Honestly, I could watch that All Day Long!

Beaver Tail Bust.

So, Skip's 15th birthday was yesterday, and it was kind of a full day (for all of us), so I asked him if he'd mind if we had the *traditional* Beaver Tail Feast on the morning AFTER his birthday, so he wouldn't be so rushed.

It was a good idea. He approved.

So yesterday, I didn't have to get up at the crack of dark, and get out the fryer, and make a delicious-yet-unhealthy breakfast for the family. We just rolled out of bed at the usual *much too early* hour, and had breakfast while Skip opened his presents.

His haul was modest, in comparison to Christmases, years past, and the track record of some of his friends. But he seemed genuinely happy.

Up there, he's opening a movie. Harry Potter #6. Also in the pile, the shirt from the previous entry (Bought at I love that site!), another shirt, which I might steal, and Ken's old iPhone. To make the phone a bit more palatable for Skip, Ken got him an orange shock-absorber skin/case. He's quite pleased with the result.

Yesterday was a busy, busy day. Homer had to go in for the 45 thousand mile check-up, and I went over to Toni's house to un-deck her halls while he was in the shop. She'd helped me earlier in the week, and it was pay-back time. I ended up on her ROOF, pulling down a zillion linear feet of icicle lights, with her standing on the ground, fretting "If you fall off the roof and die, I'll KILL YOU!" She's afraid of heights, apparently... Heh. But she took me out for lunch as a thankyou. It was a lovely deli lunch. I must go back there some day.

One of the local libraries has a Friday after-school movie showing, and yesterday they were showing "Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs". I took Nate and Kelly, and Toni's kids Cole and Carrie joined us there. Toni had a big fancy shindig to go to with her husband, and their sleepover dates for both kids bailed on them, so I stepped in (because I am made of compassion. Hah!). After the movie, Ken and I took all five kids out for supper, as a sort of "Happy Birthday Feast" for Skip. Of course, it was to his favourite sushi place, where the boys sat at their own table, and acted like grown-ups. I was pretty proud of their good manners, but I probably should have monitored the coca-cola consumption of our guests. While my kids are caffeinated-soda heavyweights, our guests were nothing of the sort, and the evening probably went a little longer than it should have, after we got home, and before we got the kids into bed. Coke shines a magnifying glass on little flaws and makes them gigantic. And that's all I'm saying.

Of course, as you might have guessed, I FORGOT to make beaver tails earlier in the evening, so I ended up starting the dough at ELEVEN PEE-EM! I was wrecked when I finally dropped into bed at midnight. And when I was looking in my pantry-drawer, I saw a big bag of King Arthur whole wheat flour, and thought "Hey! Beaver tails are SUPPOSED to be made with whole wheat flour, traditionally, why don't I test it out?"

Note to self: NEVER make adjustments to the recipe that has ALWAYS worked in the past.

This morning? The dough was the wrong colour. The dough was the wrong consistency. The dough had NO elasticity. AND? I couldn't tell when to flip the tails when they were in the oil because they were already dark. Argh! It was Made Of Fail. And poor Skip, they're one of his fave things, and he could hardly choke one down before he said "WHAT HAPPENED?"

As I type this, at 3:30, a REGULAR batch of beaver tail dough is rising in the big mixer bowl. They should be ready to fry up for supper's dessert.

But first, I've gotta head off with Nate and his buddy Q. We just got back from a hike to the local pond, looking for tadpoles. I've got the classroom Toad Tank all set up and ready to go, in our laundry room, and I thought I'd see if we could do local tadpoles before I went out and bought a Fire Belly Toad from the pet store as the class pet for the spring. Alas, only little fishies and snails were moving around in the muddy water, so we've got zip-lock bags acclimating in the toad tank water, and we'll be heading out soon to PetSmart, to get a little poison-skinned pet for the class.

I'm kind of looking forward to it.

Film at eleven.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Monday, January 04, 2010

Kung Fu Fighting

Skip was at Kung Fu tonight, beating the tar out of a set of sparring pads, when he suddenly started slowing down. Like some clock-work toy, winding down and running out of steam.

And then I noticed that he wasn't looking terribly buff, anymore.

Sort of pasty.

Even... dare I say...? Ghostlike.

And then he started to weave on his feet a bit. And he put his fists down. And the guy he was sparring with stopped blocking his punches (which weren't flying any more), and the Sifu was called over...

Just in time to come up behind Skip, and grab him in a bear hug as his knees buckled out from under him.

I'm still trying to figure out what felled him.

It could be that he has spent the last two weeks just sitting in his comfy chair, playing Starcraft and Fantastic Contraption.

It could be that he's getting anxious about the vacation nearly being over.

It could be that he didn't drink anything today.

It could be that he's got a touch of whatever it was that knocked me out on New Year's Day.

Or it might be that he was holding his breath while counting off the EIGHTEEN roundhouse kicks on each side, for ten reps...


You think?

Sunday, January 03, 2010

A hike with Grandma

Ken's mother was with us from December 14th until New Year's Eve. On her first day here, she said how much she was hoping that she could get to this one local park for a hike.

It was on her Very Last Day here that we finally got all our ducks in a row and got around to getting to the park. But it was a glorious morning for a hike.

It had rained the day before, and it was pretty chilly, but the sun was shining, and there were puddles everywhere...

And it's not an adventure if you don't have to watch your back...

It's kind of fun to freak the kids out with a well placed "did you see that rustling in the grass?" while we're hiking.

Every year, we take a picture of the kids on "The Bendy Tree". This year, it was quite exciting, because of the recent rains, and the winter's growth of moss that made the bendy tree nearly un-scalable. Nate was placed on the tree, Kelly needed a boost, and Skip nearly broke his neck getting into position.

They're up pretty high. Their knees are about at my eye level.

Alas, we didn't see any mountain lions.

But we're going to go back in about a week...

So we can start counting flowers. We were just a little bit too early this week, and only saw buds.