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Latest Local Birder News

Yesterday a flock of Indigo Buntings flew through the area. The males are deep blue and the females a sparrow-like brown. There is an empty lot next to our home currently filled with ripe-to-bursting wild peas of some sort, and indigo buntings apparently love to eat seeds and berries.

And I do mean literally bursting – as I went out recently to check on our newly planted honeysuckle and blackberry bushes, I realized I was hearing an odd popping sound. I stood quietly and looked around. Gradually I realized the pea pods on the wild plants were now fully ripened and dried, and since the sun was hot enough, the heat was literally making them explode open, spreading the tiny black “peas” in each pod in every direction when they burst. As I watched, one split and hit me in the face.

These plants must be very popular with the local birds because I have also seen our resident nesting cardinals fighting other birds over rights to feed in the lot, as well as significant blue jay activity there, along with the inevitable small brown birds you see all over.

We saw a hawk last weekend – I think a young one, it seemed clumsy, as if it had recently become accustomed to stretching its wings. It only appeared to be passing through, because after a moment it was gone. Other recent sightings include a flock of about 20-30 Monk Parakeets, and a close up sighting of a buzzard.

Currently two ducks seem to have taken at least temporary residence in a pecan tree across the street. I am not clear on their relationship – sibling or mates? Young ducks tend to stay close in family groups until mating time, and these look very similar in color, and small. Possibly they are both young mallards.

Our four cats remain convinced that if I let them out they could catch any of these fascinating feathered creatures, but the only cat I have known to have caught a bird is the feral cat who graces our doorstep and whom we feed to discourage her bird-hunting ways.

Summer PhotoBlog

This Summer we bought our first home.

DiningRoomLivingRoom

So I’ve been doing a lot of gardening and work around the house.

Probably the best part of the garden so far is the sunflowers:

Sunflower14

Of which the bees seem to approve:

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We also have a New Orleans yard classic, banana trees, although they aren’t very large yet:

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As well as a number of other plants in pots and around the house.

The cats have slowly settled in. Once they became acquainted with the local wildlife it all became a bit easier for them:
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And before we knew it, Rosh Hashanah had rolled around again.

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All in all remarkably busy – and that is just a brief overview! More to come soon!

Strange Tales from 1990s New Orleans

I’ve been working on a video project with a backstory so bizarre it couldn’t be anything but a classic New Orleans tale – something too strange to be fiction.

I have an album whose artists are to be found no where on the internet. Or rather, they come up only as some people who sang at a concert once or twice many years ago, listed under names that are clearly not “real” or “legal” names as most people in America would understand them (see “NymWars” if you are interested in the controversy concerning the issues over “real names” vs. “legal names” among the artistic and other segments of society). The album, being on a CD, is in danger of soon degrading and being lost forever and there is no where to purchase it that I can find anywhere.

So I decided to upload the songs onto youtube, making the video some pictures I’ve taken around town. The band was named “Cybersanctum”; the album named “Alchemy”, and the artists in question called themselves “Lorelei” (vocals) and “Pteran” (mostly forms of electronica). The songs seem to be mostly based in the neopagan ’90s culture with perhaps a bit of influence of ceremonial or “high” magic in the lyrics.

The odd backstory, however, is how I acquired the CD.

For a brief time I had this roommate. I will gently allow this person to remain unnamed, although certain friends of mine will read this and know exactly who I am talking about. He declared himself to be a high priest of Satan and spent a good deal of the 90s walking around wearing these rather fetching robes – black choir robes with flames licking about the bottom. He shaved his head and the entire rest of his body, so he told me once. I never asked why. I didn’t want to know.

For all of these personal oddities, he was actually a pleasant enough fellow; intelligent, insightful and talkative. I never saw him do anything violent or even raise his voice. He smiled a lot and if anything he just seemed rather… flaky. He seemed, absent the Satanic schtick, to just be a person who was sort of absent-minded. I can’t even recall any notable tattoos or piercings, although it would seem odd for anyone in the alternative culture to not have any at that time – if he had any, they were rather understated and not very flashy. He was rather thin and not very muscular. Also, he was usually broke.

It was for this reason he ended up being my roommate, needing a place to stay and promising to pay some nominal fee for a room in my tiny apartment. I didn’t ask for much. Needless to say, he didn’t pay up and after a few weeks he had to leave. Within that few weeks he began an affair with one of my close friends, which is one of the only reasons I let him stay as long as I did. How do you explain to your good friend you are making her hot new boyfriend homeless? So I got to sit in the next room ignoring them while not getting any money. Thankfully it didn’t take long for them to break up.

It was during these few weeks he came home one night and tossed a CD in my direction. “I really think this is more you than me, ” he said. This was, of course, the one under discussion in the post. I never found out where he got it and by now I’m sure he’s long forgotten himself. I played it and immediately fell in love with the songs. He was totally right about my musical taste, of course.

The postscript: decades later, he is still in town and works at some club specializing in terribly kinky things that I won’t even walk into. And he still manages to affect our life in bizarre ways. We had another roommate the other year. One day we were checking our network and saw some oddly named computer hooked into it – “666”. We asked her about this. “Oh yeah,” she said, “I bought this laptop from him. That’s what he named it.”

Of course he did.

Here’s the first of the uploads from the album:

The Nature of Politics

I’ve long felt that human beings, in forming their social, cultural and political institutions, must of an unconscious necessity reflect the patterns existent in the natural world around them.

This is the convoluted way by which I explain the otherwise inexplicable levels of political corruption in Louisiana and New Orleans politics. We live in a swamp filled with molds, fungi, alligators, and strange things that mutate and crawl out of moats. Our political institutions are the same way.

Louisiana has the highest per capita number of convictions for political officials  in the United States. These are just the ones who get convicted and caught.

This also doesn’t include the number of sycophants, aides, supporters, and other associated hanger-ons that have built up in what amounts to an entire ecosystem of corruption surrounding everything to do with Louisiana politics.

People have tried to explain this for years, based on all levels of partisan political data, sociological analysis, historical roots, and everything else, but it seems to deny any rational analysis. I think the real cause is irrational. There is something, as they say, in the water. It’s not the heat, it’s the humidity. We live in a swamp – strange and funky things brew beneath the surface of the clouded water. Nothing is quite clean.

Even a swamp is cleaned out from time to time, however. A marsh fire occurs in dry season. A hurricane comes. Winter peels back to tangled overgrowth.

We see what was lurking beneath. You can’t hide forever.

A Matter of Honour Nearly Ends in Tragedy

After a lengthy dinner at an upscale French Quarter establishment, four young gentlemen of wealth and taste began to civilly discuss whose turn it was to pay the bill.

“I insist, my good chap,” said the party of the first part, sitting alongside his best mate. “You have paid the last several times and I simply cannot abide being treated as a charity case.”

“Never!” retorted the party of the second part, with his brother beside him. “I am more than happy to treat you every time we take refreshment, as my family has left me with a healthy independence which allows me to live heartily without even dipping into the capital!”

At this back-handed reminder of his less privileged status, the party of the first part found his honor most importunately impinged upon and requested an immediate duel, with pistols, on the main thoroughfare of the city in the presence of witnesses and with their best mates as seconds. With the restaurant fare settled, the duelists set out to their chariots to engage upon the battle.

A fiery duel proceeded to range up and down the famous New Orleans streets, leaving both duelists and their seconds injured; with sad damage occurring to at least one of the horseless chariots. Worse yet, the officious police have become involved and interrupted what was clearly a private matter of debt-settling between four gentlemen. I pray ye, can such a state of matters continue in a totalitarian clime as this; when gentlemen cannot even duel in the streets when it is needful without being harassed by the Law?!

The Great Generational Divide – Print vs. Cursive

During the media hype over a certain person’s political trial, one of the young witnesses on the stand was queried as to whether or not she had actually written a certain note. A sticking point in the trial became that she couldn’t have written it, since she couldn’t even read it. Turns out the young lady in question could not read cursive.

Now, many people brought this up as evidence of her lack of education. I cannot speak as to her education or lack thereof, not knowing her or her history personally. But my own teen son – despite several efforts on the part of his quite decent schools and myself – ALSO cannot read or write in cursive. “They tried teaching me for three years,” he says. Now this is a person who will have in-depth conversations with you about evolution, international politics, and the latest hacker scandals; but he can’t write or read in cursive. And why should he?

When is the last time you hand wrote a letter to someone? When is the last time you wrote anything down at all, even your grocery list? Do kids even pass notes in class anymore? They text each other on their phones, as far as I can tell. On the rare occasions people do write things down, they do so in print-like text more often than not, mimicking the words they see all around them.

Now, I have read a great many articles on this “problem” which is caused by modern technology, mostly mourning the loss of the “art” of cursive. But given that few people mastered that art and more had what they self-deprecatingly referred to as “chicken scratch” which was easily misinterpreted; this seems more a case of typical human resistance to change and new technology. Do we mourn the loss of the ability to read Old English? No – this is no longer our language. Cursive handwriting is a part of our language that is fading as well, and practicing pretty script will become the hipster art of the next generation – something adorably retro, yet almost useless.

Photo Post

The new header image is part of a much larger picture I took this spring, during the annual Mississippi River flooding.

Mississippi River, Lower Ninth Ward, levees

Mississippi River in annual spring flood

The river is currently much lower, and in fact just yesterday I was walking down amongst the roots of those trees without even getting my sneakers muddy.

Guy Fawkes Day and NaNoWriMo; Homemade Dairy is Easy

Well although I’ve actually been working on it for a little while already – today I officially set up my NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writer’s Month) page! I figure this will motivate me to write… in between getting ready for Warlords of Draenor. And leveling up once it comes out. And Thanksgiving.

So okay, I may not have the best concentration this month, but I’m hoping NaNoWriMo and seeing all my friends’ writing will give me a bit more of a kick in the seat of the pants. I’ll try to remember to post updates to my progress here without giving away too many spoilers.

Happy Guy Fawkes day! …does one say “Happy”? I really don’t know. I’m not British. Apparently the British children celebrate with fireworks, much like Americans celebrate the Fourth of July. We don’t burn a wicker guy, though.

I’ve been making homemade yogurt and butter. Both are astonishingly easy and if I’d realized how easy I may have started years ago.

To make yogurt, you must start with a yogurt that has a live, active yogurt culture in it already; and some milk – as much milk as you wish to turn into yogurt. You will also need a saucepan, a stirring spoon, an accurate candy thermometer or meat thermometer that can handle high temperatures, a strainer or colander and some cheesecloth.

First, heat the milk to 170-180 degrees, stirring occasionally. Let it get close to boiling without boiling over. Remove it from heat immediately when it reaches this temperature and let it cool to 100-110 degrees. You can either leave it in the saucepan or transfer it to a large, clean bowl at this point – but at this point you add about 2 tablespoons of yogurt with live, active cultures. Stir it in smoothly and set the bowl somewhere warm and dark – probably your oven – for several hours. Many people turn on the oven light to keep the oven at an appropriately warm temperature – another method is to turn it on for one minute, then turn it off. You do not want the oven temperature to go above about 100, because this will kill the cultures you are trying to encourage; but you do want the milk to stay a bit warm because it will turn faster that way.

Check the milk after several hours. You should smell the characteristic tang of yogurt and see it firming into a gelled mass with whey rising to the top. Once the consistency seems close to right for you, you can choose to stir in the whey for a softer yogurt; or use the cheesecloth and strainer to slowly drain the whey into a larger bowl and make Greek yogurt. This is usually what I do, and I save the whey to add to homemade soups and stews.

Homemade butter is even easier. I use a blender – a fairly heavy duty one – and add heavy cream, about a quart. Turn the blender on high for a minute or two. Stop then and with a large spoon, stir the frothy whipped cream inside the blender. Then turn the blender on again. You will need to repeat this process several times, and the whipped cream inside will become more and more like a mousse, very thick and bubbly and semi-solid. At some point then, almost like magic, the sounds coming from the blender will change and liquid will appear as you hear a thumping sound – this is the butter suddenly manifesting as the whipped cream separates into butter and butter milk. Let this go on for about 30 seconds then stop the blender and stir one more time to be sure all the whipped cream gets properly turned into butter.

Run the blender about 2 minutes longer. Pour off the buttermilk into a separate container (it also can be used in recipes such as homemade ranch dressing or mashed potatoes) and put your butter into a medium sized bowl. Soak the butter in ice water to remove any remaining buttermilk from it, or it will have a tendency to go rancid. You can add salt to it if you like salted butter, but bear in mind it doesn’t need very much salt at all so add salt very sparingly! Homemade butter is a bit harder than the butter bought in stores, but is very tasty.