Saturday, October 31, 2009

Happy Halloween?

This has always been considered a night of fun and pranks. As a child I only remember block parties and costumes. Then all of that changed when my father received a subpoena one Halloween night. What a sneaky way to serve papers. For several years after that event, Halloween became a time filled with wariness.  

Over the years I've had a variety of goodies ranging from candy to coins to give to the kids. I prefer giving a handful of pennies as parents don't have to worry about the safety of my treat and therefore throw it away. And the kids always have fun trying to see how many pennies they can grab in one hand. (it's about 10-12 by the way). 

This Halloween however,  I'm not going to participate. I don't want little goblins and monsters ringing my doorbell begging for treats. Instead I'm going to close the gate to our property and turn the lights off. It's not because I'm a Scrooge. It's because I feel safer not opening my home to strangers. Halloween has become a night if revelry in our town and I do not know how safe it is to open the door to a semi-out of control group of youngsters. So bah! Humbug! No Halloween for us! Is it really Happy Halloween anymore? 

Saturday, October 24, 2009


I spent 3 days in Dallas this week. It’s always fun to go to a “big city” and Dallas is a big city. While I can still drive in urban traffic and maneuver a car in tight spaces I do prefer living in suburban or rural locations, as they are far less hectic and offer room. A big city is fun to visit, but not where I want to live.

I did get to shop at 2 of my favorite places: The Galleria and Highland Park Village. The Galleria is a modern version of Galleria Vittorio Emanuele in Milan, with a hint of GUM in Moscow (I think). It's shiny and glitzy and filled with every store you can think of. I think there is more shopping space in The Galleria than exists in the whole state of Wyoming. Highland Park Village however is a quaint, one of a kind shopping experience. It opened in 1931 and is considered the first shopping center in America. I love the architecture; the shops; and the feeling of the place. If I have the time, I like to walk around HPV then stop at Starbucks and have a latte.

I’m back home in CA readying for a huge trip to Spain in a couple of weeks. And, in case Weed Woman is reading this, I’m packing the “traveling sweater” so watch this space to find out where it is going next.

One more thing: the bird spikes seem to be working, however the last time we saw a Flicker it was pecking away at a WINDOW! Crazy bird!

Sunday, October 18, 2009

The Return of the Flicker

picture courtesy of

The Flickers have come back. They usually visit in the winter but they are here before Halloween this year. You might be wondering what is a Flicker and why should you care about it? 

Well a Flicker is a bird.  A rather large, pretty bird. It stands about 12-14inches tall. It has a pretty spotted chest with a black gorget around the neck. It has red patches under the wings that you can get a glimpse of as it flies and that's why it's called a Flicker. You see "flicks" of red in flight. Its official name is the Common Red Shafted Flicker.  All of this is rather benign but there's one more thing to know about a Flicker. It's a woodpecker!!!

So this little beast is back and that means flocks of them will try to attack my house for the next few months. No wood is safe when there are Flickers In the neighborhood. 

We have tried all sorts of methods to get rid of these pesty critters. Typical "scarecrows" such as fake owls, or sparkling CDs dangling under the eaves, or wind socks blowing in the breeze are mere obstacles the Flicker can deal with. We've resorted to throwing pebbles at them at night when they roost on the walls (and then "decorate" the house with "calling cards"). We have even tried scaring them with loud noises. The Flickers just fly away to return the next day and start pecking away again. 

Houses in our neighborhood have had shutters, eaves, molding, and doors destroyed by the birds. All of us have tried numerous ways to get rid of them  but they come back every year just like clockwork. They are not discouraged as long as there is wood to peck on.

Not only are they destructive, the noise is annoying, especially if you have a headache already. And did I tell you they decorate the house with great long droppings that have to blasted off with a pressure washer?  

Last year, as the season ended, we discovered "bird spikes." No these do not spike the bird and ready it for a fricasee. They are a series of long nails embedded into a plastic strip. You install the strips of bird spikes under eaves or on top if places you don't want birds to roost. We saw them being installed on the roofline of the local mall after it was inundated by pigeons. We found a hardware store that sells them in foot long strips and we installed them along the eaves. Well--the bird spikes are going to be tested. I'll let you know if they work. 

So far so good. I've heard the call if the Flicker. I've seen them hovering under the eaves by their favorite places but I have NOT seen them land on the wooden eaves nor have I heard them hammering away on the house. 

(As an aside, the cartoon character,Woody Woodpecker, was created by Walter Lentz because his roof was being destroyed by the rascally bird. The original Woody was an insane bird that destroyed things for the heck of it. As far as I know, a Flicker is not insane like "Woody Woodpecker.")  
Picture courtesy of

Monday, October 12, 2009

One day later on a morning walk

What a difference a day makes. Yesterday was bright and sunny, today we are waiting for a storm. The clouds are leaden and the air smells differently. Along the way I'm looking for scenes that attract my attention.

As I walked out of our driveway, I was greeted by one of the neighborhood dogs as he tried to lure me up the cypress lined pathway.
A little bit further down the road, I met up with a trio of horses who came by for their morning pet. Sometimes I have carrots for them, but this morning I did not. They did not stay long.

At the halfway point in my walk there is a pond that usually has ducks in it. This morning there were 3 ducks talking to each other.
As I was nearing the end of my walk, I was drawn to the roses. They are near the end of their cycle. The rose hips are ripe, but a few of the blossoms are hanging on for dear life. I wonder if they will be there after the rainstorm.
No exotic travels; no tantalizing adventures; just a quiet day in the country.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Sunday Morning Walk

There are big differences between autumn in the Rocky Mountains and autumn in the foothills of the Sierras. The Rockies are splashed with color. The foothills are covered in golden earth tones that do not yell “pay attention to me” but have a quiet subtleness that says the season is changing. Here are some images from my walk this morning.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009


One of the vagaries of travel is tying together all the loose ends. The easy part is finding flights, hotels, rental cars. The hard part is working with several countries regarding ingress and egress, and that means visa requirements. In January we will be cruztalking on a cruise that makes several stops in China. This past week I have been working on the visa requirements for entry into China. My first challenge was to find a provider that was not going to ask a mint for the service. I found prices vary from $200 to $500 per visa! I asked my travel agent, which provider she recommended and used that service at about $200/visa.

Getting a visa can be a big deal or it can be a piece of cake. For example, when you go to Turkey, you need a visa, but all you have to do when you land in Istanbul is find the line that says “visa” and pay $20 American, and you get the visa.

Egypt has an interesting visa requirement. You can go directly to an Egyptian Consulate in the States and apply for a visa and for a small fee; they will affix it to your passport. You may also go through one of the many visa document providers that exist, both on and offline, and for a larger fee, they will affix it to your passport. OR, you could wait until you get to Cairo. At that point, find the queue that says “visa,” line up and pay $15 for a single entry or $25 for a double entry visa. They will give you a pretty stamp and you will have to figure out how to glue it in your passport.

If you are thinking of going to Brazil for the 2016 Olympics, then you will need a visa. You will have to go through a visa provider, but the visa is good for 5 years providing you use the visa within 60 days after it has been purchased. The same is true if you are going to Russia. The Russian visa takes up a whole page in your passport, and it has your name printed in Russian characters, which is fun to look at.

If you go through a visa provider, you will have to fill out a questionnaire or application form. While all the questionnaires are similar in that they want your name, date and place of birth, passport number, employer, etc. Some countries want detailed information on items you have long forgotten. That was the case with a Russian visa application. It was about 10 pages long, with each line written in Russian (i.e., Cyrillic) and English.

When all is said and done, filling out a visa application form is never easy. I strive to give correct information, but sometimes, I just don’t remember or I cannot figure out what they want. For example, I am retired. So when a form asks for my employer I state “retired.” That’s fine for most countries, but the Chinese visa form still wants to know from where I retired. Then they ask, when did I retire? Do they want the exact day or the year? I’ve learned that if the questionnaire says YY-MM-DD, they want the exact date. If that is not indicated, then a year will do.

Given the above, I filled out the forms for the Chinese Visa today. It took me 3 days of gathering to get all the information. In addition to a 2-page questionnaire that is written in both Chinese and English, I needed a current original passport photo, (do not send photos that I have copied and saved to my computer!) I needed a complete itinerary and my flight and cruise schedule for the entire time we are going to be gone. If I had copies of my e-tickets and my cruise vouchers that would suffice. Lastly, I have to send them my passports that have at least 4 empty pages, not including pages 20-24, which are never used for visas. I think the package is squared away. Tomorrow I’ll send it Priority Mail to the SF office of the visa provider, and, if I completed the form correctly and sent in all the right stuff, they tell me that I should have my visas and passports back in 4 days. I hope so. I do not like having my passports out of my hands for that long and then to put them through the mail system to boot.

On the up side, we will be traveling through seven countries. China is the only country that needs a visa. Thank goodness for that! I would not like to go through a similar process for each of them.

Earlier this year I worked on getting International Driver's Licenses. It was a piece of cake: passport photos, copy of US Driver's License, and $15. It would be nice if visas were that easy!

Monday, October 5, 2009

Soul in the Mountains

I like to be near mountains. Mt. Shasta and The Tetons are my 2 favorite places. My soul lives in the moutains.