Friday, February 26, 2010

Friday Photo Shoot Out: Favorites

Today is the 1-year anniversary of the Friday My Town Shootouts, and the theme is Favorites.
Well, my favorite thing is of course taking a random trip somewhere, and last Saturday I did just that.
Hopped a train to Ussel, where they have a nice little park with a stream running through it and lit by a collection of lamps, every one different.
Old Ussel looks like many restored midieval french towns, with narrow cobbled streets, grey stone buildings, and slate roofs.

We arrived at noon, and promptly stopped for a hot lunch, but the shops don't open again until 2:30 or even 3 (if they haven't closed up for good - Ussel looks hard-hit by recession), giving the place a deserted look.
The historic district centers on the church, naturally.
Some of these old churches are real jewels.
Some of them are still painted from floor to ceiling, though not this one.
This one has modern stained glass in the windows
(many churches lost their fabulous windows in WW2)
There were two treats inside, one being this incredible carved and colored altar.

And the other being this statue of St Francis.
At least I think it was him. He's got doves.
I just like the way it's done, and the warm coloring. So many church statues are so cold and distant.

Outside there were plenty of cats.

Yeah, you.
The Botanical Garden & Park advertised a waterfall.

It falls in the shade, which was quite cold. The railing of the bridge was lined with icicles.

The stream feeding the falls joined a river.
If we'd had more time (and were slightly more warmly dressed!),it would have been nice to hike along the river out of the town and into the surrounding farmland.

But the last train back (which was actually a bus, and not a train like this, like we arrived on) was leaving at 4:20pm. Miss it and you're stuck.
So that was the outing to Ussel.
For more FSO Favorites, click here!

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Thursday Zebras

Zebras are not meant to be domestic animals.
They are supposed to roam the plains of Africa, in their thousands.
This one has apparently gotten slightly lost,
and now roams the back bedroom.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Passing a blog milestone

Ta dut Ta DA
Here it is!
Post number 262!!!
Yes, post 262. It only happens once; you've got to celebrate when it does.
I guess most people celebrate post # 100.
Well that one blew right by, and I had other bogging plans that day, so whatever.
Then 200 came and went unnoticed. I was up to 213 or something before thinking, hey!
But why should either of those "milestones" be of more interest than this one?
After all, any particular post number comes up exactly once.
And here it is.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Beware the Big Red MuleBus

The poetry bus is back !
Or is it a mule train.
Some older busses, they’re hard to tell from mules except they’re a bit bigger.

Being a lazy girl, I’m taking the prompt. If I were dead, what would my pocket contents say about me?

A figure lies disjointed in the road
Victim of an unfortunate accident
Hilarious were it not so tragic
Blindsided by the strangest of vehicles; three old bus carcasses roped together
Limping through town in jerks and starts
Then suddenly bursting forth in a new direction

Her direction.
And now a woman lies bleeding on the asphalt
Too far gone for help
All we can do is say we are sorry, and we need somebody to be sorry to

In her front jeans pocket, 3 euros 40 centimes. A random collection of coins? Or change from a fiver, having bought the Sunday paper? Possibly the latter, because the sum is reached with the minimal four coins.
Other front pocket, a crumpled check stub, 66 euros 40 for the CJP. What could the local Cancer Center possibly sell for 66.40€? A mystery.
Coat pocket: an annual bus pass. We have her name now, and her face is much prettier. An annual pass means she’s a serious bus-taker. Forbidden to drive? Epileptic? Couldn’t pass the test? Or a Greenie who puts her words into action, and uses public transportation in a town where most people who can, drive?
Coat pocket: a cotton handkerchief, white, with pink trimming. Folded in 16ths, a compact square. Accumulated lint from the black coat makes it look dingy, but it is otherwise clean.
Purse: a yellow ballpoint pen with “Applied Biosystems” stamped on it is working its way through a hole in a corner. A wallet with modest cash, a single credit card, a short list of phone numbers, a driver’s license. A California license - a foreigner. An Air France card - somebody who flies often. The health insurance card is French, however. A resident.
Missing from the purse is a passport, with a visa, required to be carried at all times. In all her time in France she’s never been asked for these documents except at airports, and has fallen out of the habit of carrying them around. The gendarmes will not be pleased. She will not care.
Purse: a folded page of sudoku puzzles. Level: Diabolic. Three of the eight puzzles are worked, correctly and without notes. A smartass, then. Five are waiting, and will wait forever.
Purse: a folded plastic shopping bag. Must have been on her way to pick up catfood, and Nutella, and dish soap. No shopping list to be found.
Purse: keys, varied in shape and size and age. A long, bent skeleton. One with a battery that records her comings and goings at work. There are no non-keys on the ring, no fluffy character or plastic Tinkerbell or good-luck doo-dad. Purely a functional set: there are seven essential portals in this life.

We have looked at all these things, the signs of a life. A quiet life, uncomplicated, unencumbered. No phone. No magpie nest of cosmetics and clippings and whatever it is other women fill their purses with.
We dial the number labeled “Parents”.

Magpie Tales

Here we are for Magpie Tales, a new meme in which we write a story or poem based on a photo posted by Willow at the 'Tales blog. I might be a bit early with this, but the Poetry Bus is leaving today too, and this is the one that's ready already.

How curiously old-fashioned.
Not only were they matches, they were wooden matches.
Not only did they have the name of the hotel proudly on the box, they were free.
Who uses matches anymore in this world of non-smokers, this world of nifty lighters?
How curious.

And yet, they are of a piece with Slovakia, even to their somber black heads.
They extend the continuum of this has-been hotel, trying to keep a foot out of the grave.
They place us in a 1970’s movie, along with the carefully preserved linoleum in the bathroom and the clean polyester bedspread.

Striking crAck!
That unique sulfurous odor mixed with woodiness.
The flame leaping up, illuminating your face for a long second, before dying back down, nearly going out, then living again more modestly.
A trail of smoke lazily disperses. I watch your eyes watching it.

There’s something about striking an old wooden match.
And about traveling to old, second-order cities.
Something to landing in a second-order hotel and having a drink in the bar and a room on the third floor overlooking the grey courtyard. Rooms on the square are 10 euros more.

We’re traveling backward in time, going east.
People are smoking in the lobby,
They have smoked here in our room, reminding us with the lingering odor that we are not the first to take this room, for a night or a week or a lifetime, not the first to look out the grimy windows onto the sunless grey courtyard.
They have generously left us matches, that we may carry on the tradition.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Friday Fave Five

There are so many memes in the blogosphere that one could hop from one assignment to the next, never having a day without some kind of thing due. A little like school, isn't it?


This week's My Town Friday Photo Shootout's theme is Town Plaza. It’s not as if I don’t have plenty of material in the archives to cover the topic...
But that’s what I’m tired of. Too darned many photos of my boring little town square. This way and that way and upside-down you’ve seen it several times. I’ve seen it even more.
So I’m taking a break.
For the very first time, I’m intentionally skipping the My Town Friday Photo Shootout.
I feel like I’m being so naughty!
Instead, I'm picking up a different meme, one I saw at Melli's blog. I don't think I'll do it every week, but there are a lot of different Favorite-Things memes out there (Ten Things Tuesday comes to mind, among others), and I've been meaning to do one.


My five favorite things this week
1. The big warm-up. Snow is pretty, but the temperatures that permit it are just not for me. We got up to double-digits (Celsius) yesterday, and it was great.

2. Oatmeal cookies. Finally, I got my butt in gear and made a batch of cookies. I bring a big can of Quaker Oats back every time I visit the States, but honestly, as much as I like oatmeal with raisins and honey for breakfast, I just don’t make it that often. So it mostly goes for cookies, which are an easy hit with my labmates. I make them with plenty of spices and dried currants. Alas, I didn’t have any nuts on hand this time. If I had, they would have been hazelnuts.

3. Traveling to a Random Destination isn’t going to happen until tomorrow, but the plan for it has been made, and that’s the hard part! Mev and I are going to Ussel. Just to see it. The locals are shaking their heads and wondering. Well, once we’ve seen it we’ll know...

4. Progress on many fronts. Not one specific thing, but many things at the lab have made a lot of progress this past week, giving a feeling of accomplishment and excitement. Experiments are going forward on all fronts, the diagnostic team (in spite of being at half staff through various slightly sick children and pregnancies) is getting results out the door, two papers are on the verge of submission, and two more are shaping up quite well.


5. Biggest one for last: Barry finished his chemotherapy, and we had a worldwide bell-ringing for him! Go, Barry! Having no ‘proper’ bells on hand, I rang a crystal glass, a metal lid, and a ceramic mortar & pestle. For more on that see the post below.
Living to Tell the Story is where you can find other Friday Fave Five posts. What's your top-5 of the week?

Barry's Bells

The bells were ringing on Thursday!
Barry finished his chemotherapy and rang the traditional bell at Princess Margaret's Hospital, and his friends joined in around the world.
My bells included the sublime tone of a wet finger around the rim of a crystal wine glass. .....Ohhhhhmmmm.....
The hard, insistent Tong! of my ceramic mortar & pestle, happy to be of service since it hardly ever gets to grind any food items.
And the metallic *clang* of the lid of my pasta cauldron.
Sounds to waken the cats, and possibly the neighbors.
Sounds of joy that our friend is finished with his chemical torture and can get on with everything else!
Happy Day, Barry.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Thursday zebras

The zebra on the bus stands out
You say Hmmm. This is odd...
The zebra in the shop is not allowed
The clerks do not like to clean up the mess
The zebra in the house takes up too much space, and steps on the cats' tails
The zebra on the plain
Among the thousands of zebras writhing across the hillside like stalks of grain in the wind
Is not distinguishable
She is safe from the lion
Who cannot pick her out against her neighbors

What, you were expecting photos?
Live free of expectations!

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

February Cat of the Month: Sasha!

Sasha the gorillacat.
Sasha was big and black and had a short thin little afterthought tail. 20 pounds of cat. He had bright yellow eyes that bugged out slightly, and canine teeth just a bit too long so they stuck out like little fangs from his fat jowls.
And he was a fraidy-cat.
He was so afraid of going to the vet, the day after we brought him home from Pet Pride, that he peed on me. He seemed to be really sorry about that. The poor darling - he was so worried we were taking him back to the shelter.
He was afraid of going outside. If we opened the sliding door to the porch, he wouldn’t cross the sill. He would just stand at the edge, craning his neck out and meowing his head off for Man O War to come back inside. Man O War, of course, was walzing back and forth on the railing and jumping down and jumping up and having a grand old time outside. If we left the door open to bring in groceries, Man would be out like a shot, and Sasha would hang at the doorway, leaning out, maybe putting a paw out, meowing for Man O War to come back in right now.
Sasha was afraid of getting on furniture. I guess his former owners really drilled him on that. If we put him on the bed he would get right down. It took months for him to be comfortable on the couch or the bed. It took him so long to feel welcome on the bed, in fact, I never dreamed that I would teach him this trick in a single go: my husband used to sleep with a pillow on top of his head. Total darkness, or silence, or whatever. We used Bonker cat treats to teach Sasha it was alright to be on the bed, and one time I put one on top of Tim’s pillow. That was instantly Sasha’s favorite place to sleep. Tim would wake up with 20 lbs of cat on his face. Hey, I thought it was pretty funny.
Our vet recommended we get our gentle bundle of fur down to 12 pounds, and we tried, but food was one thing that could make Sasha give up his fear of getting on furniture, he loved food that much. Because Man O War was not at all fat, we would feed him regular catfood, up on a countertop. No worry that Man would eat Sasha’s diet pellets on the floor (the diet may have been just to turn them off eating!). And Sasha was literally incapable of leaping up to the countertop for the good stuff. I figured if he could get at it, he could have some. But my Sasha was a smarty. He figured that if he got on a chair, and then on the dining table, he could just barely squeeze along the sideboard and over the microwave cart to the counter where real catfood was just sitting there. So we had to move the catfood again.
Once the couch became cat territory, both cats spent a lot of time there. They liked to groom each other, especially on the head. But it’s hard for two cats to lick each other’s heads simultaneously. So one would put a paw out to say ‘hey, hold still’, and the other would put a paw out too, ‘no, you hold still’, and then there would be wrestling.
One of the strange things Sasha did is what he didn’t do. We had to wash the cats fairly often and treat the house for fleas because of Man’s terrible flea allergy. We’d wash them, towel them off, and put them out on the balcony (we had moved to an upper apartment) while we went out the time it took for the flea bombs to do their stuff. A couple hours later, Man O War would be dry and fluffy, but Sasha would still be wet. He refused to groom himself after a bath.
This probably contributed to his getting sick with a cat virus, feline infectous peritonitis. The vaccine for FIP had just come out, but too late for Sasha (who likely had carried the virus from his Pet Pride days or even before). He was 12, and amused us greatly for two years. So take this advice and get your cats vaccinated against FIP!

Monday, February 15, 2010

Friday, February 12, 2010

Friday Photo Shoot Out: Aquariums

Today's My Town Shootout theme is Aquariums.
Chosen by Chef E, one of the delightful people who keeps the Shootout organized. (We wouldn't want any accidental shootings of each other...)Note about my town : there are no aquaria here. None in my house. None in my friends’ houses. No public attraction (there’s not even a zoo). I seem to remember a Chinese restaurant in town that has one. Maybe.
Oh yeah, I know one! There's a veterinary office not far from my house that has a huge aquarium in the front window. No, no picture of it. It's the most disgusting aquarium ever. It looks like the vet left and never came back. It's full of black water. Nasty! Actually, I recall now they've taken it away. The vet's closed up shop finally. I'm back to no aquaria.
So I offer you this.
Yeah, yeah, you've seen it before.
Our office space used to be a big empty room that the League Against Cancer used for school tours and etc. Rarely used. So we begged the space from them and installed eight small rooms and a waiting area. Not being allowed to knock new holes in the supporting walls, not all the rooms have windows to the outside. So two of them have windows onto the waiting area, notably this one.
Here he is, my friend Yannick. In his fishbowl.

From the door of my own office I can spy on him.

There you have it. A specimen plucked from his natural, apparatus-filled environment, and plunked down in a glass-enclosed cage, where passers by can look in and see an actual scientist at work. So far nobody but me has taken pictures.
For more Aquaria, click here.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Zebras on Thursday

It's Thursday, and you know what that means....!
Today's zebra is: er, a guest zebra.
But it does make a nice pot of tea, and that's not a bad thing when there's a foot of new snow on the drive.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Popularity points

I just want to say that I wish schools would get out of the Valentine's business.
Not High Schools, or Jr Highs, where the students decide what they want to do (or not), but elementary schools.
You know, the class where the kids exchange valentine cards.
Take fourth grade. We spent a day making elaborately decorated bags to hold our valentines. As an art project it was kind of fun, and kind of annoying because you couldn't just decorate your paper bag any old way; it had to have hearts and such nonsense.
Then it was up to the parents to furnish the kids with valentines to distribute. Which for me meant the least expensive box that would cover the whole class. How much I would have liked to pick just a few nice ones for the friends I really wanted to give to, to set them apart from the crowd.
So on the morning of the 14th you went to school with your valentines in their envelopes, neatly addressed. You attached your decorated bag to your desk. And the chaos of distribution began.
Of course, it wasn't every child putting a little card in every other child's bag. We fell into two classes of distributors: those whose parents made us give each and every classmate a valentine, regardless of whether we loathed each other. And those who were free to give fabulous valentines to a select few, and nothing to the rest.
Naturally there were two classes of recipients: the popular, whose bags were stuffed full of the offerings of their friends and their would-be friends. And the unpopular, whose bags contained just the forced and hollow cards from the kids of give-to-all parents.
There is no child on earth who does not already know which category he or she belongs to. There is no need to go through this exercise to remind us. I actually saw Becky K sort her valentines and keep only the ones from her clique, tossing the rest in the trash.
I don't think it's better to say that every child must give to every other - the whole point of giving is lost. Or that it they should be completely free to choose who to give to - just think of the poor souls who end up with none. I think the whole contest should be abolished.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Dead batteries

It's interesting how some people think something is common knowledge, and then many many others have never even heard of the issue. My bit for getting the word out:
Batteries are toxic waste (because of their heavy metal content).
As I haven't lived in the States for a while, I'm not sure what the rules there are, but in France, any store that sells batteries is obliged to take the used ones back. And while it might be the case that accumulated waste batteries still go into trash instead of their heavy metal components being recovered, at least they go into the 'toxic trash' stream, where disposal regulations are stricter (one hopes!)
For information and a disposal guide, click here.
When I lived in LA, Vons stores had a bin for them at the front. Most major grocery chains do; you just have to look.
It's the little things we do every day that can make this world a better (or worse) place!

Friday, February 5, 2010

Friday Photo Shoot Out: Circles

I don't have many photos for you today, sorry.
These are fortuitous images from my recent trip to Strasbourg.

Today's theme was chosen by Kerry. Kerry’s post at Ed and Reub has some rings in the header photo that remind me exactly of diving rings from learning to swim. OK, except for being linked.
These weighted, colored, rings were diabolical instruments of torture. The swim instructor would throw them into the deep end, and you had to go get them. And you had to get them faster than your neighbor. And you had to keep trying for the really deep one, with the whole class wishing you’d get on with it already.

I hate diving. No matter what, I get sinuses full of water. I get sinuses full of water just doing flip turns. Also, I don’t swim very fast. I could swim all day, just not fast. So the diving ring thing was right up there in the top three of why I didn’t like swim lessons. Just thought I'd share!

Anyway, for the rest of the Shootout, click here. Have a good weekend!

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Views of Strasbourg

Scaffolding! Another for my collection.

Sunday morning brought new snow after Saturday's rain washed it all away. At 9 am not much of anyone was out. The botanical garden was closed due to the weather.
Why? The plants are still there.
Not many people were biking around town, either.
This statue seemed quite pleased with the snow.
This other one rather less so.
Some architectural details.
This sort of thing really lends a good look to a city.
These gulls were waiting for something.
This young swan reminds me of Natalie,
seeing an intruder in her territory and giving a good nip.
The passing beaver did escape to the safety of the bank.
There was snow on Thursday, too, and school trips went on as usual.
A few inches of the fluffy stuff didn't seem to bother anyone.
More stories tomorrow!