Tuesday, September 30, 2008

October 1930 and 1931

I am smitten with how little kids solve design challenges. When I draw a jack-o-lantern, it's the classic one we've all seen or learned in school. Three equilateral triangles, usually the same size, and an open mouth with three remaining teeth. End of design process.

This little kid was learning how to design and carefully cut with scissors at the same time. You can see the fold marks that were made in the faces while the young artist aimed for symmetry. I like the little Batman Joker style face on the pumpkin on the right. When the paper was folded in half, it was cut with a full smile so when the paper was unfolded, the little guy had a double smile going on at the top. Probably a mistake but it sure is cute. I like how the two pumpkins are sitting on the fence too. One sits on top of a post while the other one gets himself safe and comfortably situated between two posts. 

I'm not sure if the same kid cut out the cat silhouette. That was a pretty common design used in the 20s and 30s but even so, some pretty good cutting. I'm wondering if maybe the teacher (or the mom) cut out that particular shape.

At the bottom of the above little piece of art is written "3rd Grade October 1930?" The art below doesn't have any written identification on it but is probably from the same year because the paper and coloration is the same as the one shown above. 

It kind of reminds me of boyband brother trios. The cute one always gets to be in the middle. 

At the bottom of this piece of art is written "4th grade October 1931." That's just the sweetest little pumpkin face ever. Why should such a cute little pumpkin have any concerns  about a big owl and a big bat joining him? October nights are pretty darn nice. Even nicer when others drop by to enjoy them with you. :-)

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Maybe my last praying mantis post for the year, maybe.

It is a beautiful day today. Blue sky, lots of monarchs, in the high 8os, and there is a block party going on right now so I get to listen to live Zydeco. But a little earlier I saw this guy...

I felt bold and picked him up to have a look at him. He was not too into it.

I put him down.

But then I picked him up again..........only to put him back down. He was getting very put out by this.

"That looks like a good place to get away from this very unpleasant woman...well, actually any place would be better than where I am now."

This is not a good thing when you see a praying mantis doing this.

Getting closer.

Yeesus (as my Norwegian relatives would say)!!!!!!!!!!! AAAAAAGH!

I could not get him off of me. As soon as I thought I had him off my camera, he had jumped on my arm, and when I thought I got him off my arm, he jumped to my shoulder. AAAAAAAAGH. 

Meanwhile, Cathy Jean was taking all this in while I twirled around trying to get that darn praying mantis away from my face!! If anyone looked in my backyard, they might think some middle-aged woman was dancing alone to the accordian music... sincerely and  furiously.

Okay, calmness. I managed to put the praying mantis on the elm tree. I watched him nervously. He scrutinized me. He was pretty fed up. But then he saw an ant coming down the tree. The praying mantis did a little dance (I suppose Zydeco music could make even bugs start moving to a beat). He continued his weird little shaky dance up the tree...and then positioned himself above the ant. They looked at each other. The ant was probably as confused by the mantis's stupid looking dance as Cathy Jean was with my twirling one.   

They considered each other and then...BAM. The ant was headless (I think the praying mantis was thinking of doing the same thing to me). I watched him chomp away while he carefully licked his fingers to keep them clean. My camera's battery ran low during all of this (of course) so that was that. The rest of the insects are overjoyed that they get the rest of the day off from me sticking a camera in their business. Right now they are listening and singing along to live human music while they celebrate my absence in the backyard.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

An introduction to the fishpond

This is my little pond situated right below the deck and next to the steps leading down to the backyard. I like how tucked in it is. It is surrounded by lattice on two sides, steps on one side and on the one exposed side, there is a turtle high row of rocks with potted plants in front. You can probably guess where I'm going next with this story. For a good ten years or more, the turtles never even thought of looking to see what was behind the potted plants. All they knew was that the few times they pushed the potted plants, they didn't budge. Interest was lost for a couple more years. But one day, I went into the backyard and  found Michael Ray in the pond. He just about filled the entire pond (that poor fish!). The only way he could have gotten in there (I could tell from the evidence of a potted plant that also was floating in the pond) was to climb up two steps, push a rather big potted plant out of the way, and then leap in. I am relieved to know that desert tortoises can float, sort of. What a mess. A couple days later I found Cathy Jean in the pond! If one turtle has or does something, the other one has to have or do it too. At least that's how it works with the twins. 

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

How Lucy found me a house

I was looking for a photo of Lucy but couldn't find any that were very clear. I did find an old journal from that time and inside I found this drawing I made on June 13, 1991 at 6:45 pm...and it was 90 degrees. I'm glad I wrote that down because it's kind of a strange place for Bert to be sleeping-right out in the middle of the floor like that (it must have been the coolest spot in the apartment). That's Lucy behind him because Lucy liked to be near the cats. I can tell he's sleeping too because he has one foot out and one foot tucked in. That was his bedtime position. What is funny is that stack of books on how to buy a house. It was probably a year or so later when I finally bought the house I live in now............and Lucy was the one who found it for me.

I had just flown back from a trip to San Francisco and was sprawled on the floor reading the Sunday paper. Lucy was getting some exercise in the apartment and while I was reading, he walked up to me, sat on the spot where I was reading. looked up and gave me a long, slow staredown. A lonnnnnng stare. He wasn't going to move until I figured out what he was trying to say. I told him that by this time next year, he would have his house, I promised. He kept staring, that wasn't the exact answer he wanted. I then remembered I made the same promise to him a YEAR before so I looked back down at the newspaper to see if there was anything worth looking at (I just so happened to have the real estate page open). There was a listing of a Tudor style stucco house with a pond and lots of trees and a garden, etc. etc. etc. What the heck. It was not the neighborhood I wanted but I went to look at it anyway. I had been looking off and on for a house for about a year and really wasn't expecting much but when I walked through the front door, I knew it was the one. 

When I delivered the bid on the house, Lucy came with me for "his" house inspection (I know that sounds darn peculiar, even for me, but I think I told the owners of the house all about Lucy and they wanted to meet him). So Lucy was set down on the floor and allowed to explore the layout of the house. When finished, he walked through the kitchen, went to the back screen door and started pushing  until he figured out which side had the hinges and then started pressing on the opposite side. Once he got the door open he walked out on the deck, looked at the backyard, then returned to inside the house and settled down behind a chair in the living room, one foot out and one foot under. It had been approved. The owners were very impressed because their own dog couldn't figure out how to open that door.

I wish I had made more little drawings in that journal because they're so funny to me today. Here's a drawing of Lucy trying to get up one step into the bathroom. My old apartment had a peculiar layout. The building was built in the 20s and on one side of the apartment, the kitchen, dining room, bathroom and bedroom were all lined up together. On the other side was the living room. There was no hallway. To get to the dining room from the bedroom you had the option to walk through the bathroom to get there. Odd. And it was one step up too (probably some old plumbing below). This step presented problems for Lucy because he liked to follow the cats into the kitchen when everyone woke up in the morning and wanted breakfast. Turtles don't bend. Lucy could get on his hind legs but he couldn't lift off from the back legs or pull himself up with the front ones so what I would wake up to would be this, usually with his head turned around looking at me with a pleading for help expression on it..

If you look at the first drawing, you'll see the turtle ramp I made of books covered in towels. That ramp made things a lot easier for Lucy and me. Lucy could follow the cats whenever he needed to......and I could sleep in.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Every time I look out the back door, there's always someone trying to look in...

Last night it was this guy. I thought he had a big scar but after I looked up some photos on BugGuide, apparently this is the look boy katydids are wearing these days. I thought he was pretty smart because he was hanging out under the big spider web by the security light...probably waiting for leftovers. Easy eating.

But a couple weeks ago there were these two teen raccoons. I only saw them this one time so hopefully they've moved to a different part of the neighborhood. But cute!!! Oh those bad little things are so cute.

This morning I noticed a big spider web in my driveway. I was hoping it wasn't tethered to my car so I backed out slowly just in case.....very slowly...and at the six foot backing up point, yes, the web was definitely anchored to the car. At the 8 foot backing up point, boom, the anchor broke and the spider went flying. I felt bad about that but tomorrow, I know I'll find an even bigger web in some equally inappropriate place. I love the big projects spiders come up with at this time of year. What grand egos they have (although this morning's spider might have a slightly bruised one right now). :-)

Monday, September 22, 2008

First Day of Fall and an Introduction to Lucy the Turtle

When I moved into my house about fifteen years ago, Renee made this card for me and also got me a rake as a housewarming present. She said something about using the rake to keep the turtles in line (...and that was when the twins were just a couple ounces of turtle!). The twins have always been bad. Bad. Bad. Bad. But my first turtle Lucy... he was a very, very good friend and I miss him. He passed away many years ago very suddenly. My vet suspected a tumor so there really wasn't anything we could have done, just one of those sad things. 

At the pet store where I got Lucy, they said Lucy was a girl, but he turned out to be a boy. And by the time I figured that out, poor Lucy was already stuck with that name. Made my vet crazy, that name. I remember another vet in the office was admiring Lucy and had him on his lap and kept telling him "You're so pretty, you're so pretty." I updated Dr. R and told him Lucy was a boy. He paused a second or two and then went right back to his "You're so pretty, you're so pretty." Ha ha ha. 

Lucy liked me, really liked me. He liked the cats (used to crawl in the yarn basket in the closet and sleep with them). But he adored Meg. When I brought him to work he would spend the day in her cubicle with her. 

He also liked to go for walks. When I lived in an apartment, I would let Lucy out of his tank to get some exercise. I remember one Saturday he came into the kitchen while I was doing dishes, circled my feet, made sure he stomped on them, left the kitchen, went to the front door, rammed it for about five minutes and then returned to walk a circle around me. He did this maybe 7 times over a period of an hour until Duh, I figured out what he was trying to communicate. He wanted to go for a walk outdoors. And that is what we would do whenever he would repeat this behavior of asking to go out. 

When we were at the park, I'd work on  a crossword puzzle while keeping an eye out for Lucy while he walked around in the grass. Lucy would  hide behind a tree and stick his head out as far as it would go and I would point to him and say "I see you!" and then he would pull it back in. He would hide in depressions in the grass and up periscope his head and I would do the same thing. "I see you!" He'd pull his head in and then go find another area to hide and see if I was still watching him. When he wanted to go home, he would come find me, start pushing on me and then we would walk home.

This might seem like an odd thing, walking a turtle in a park, but I was not the only one who did this. I heard there was a turtle walking man who sometimes took his turtle to the same area for exercise. And I once talked to a woman in San Diego (I think there is a turtle walking club that meets at the zoo there) who crocheted harnesses for turtles so they couldn't get away. Turtles can get away fast if you don't keep an eye on them every single minute.

When I got the twins a couple years later, I'd take them to the park too. Unlike Lucy, when they were out, they would run as fast as they could to get away from me and most of the time, up a hill toward traffic. Difficult now, just as difficult then. One time I lost Michael Ray in the park. I turned away for just a second and he was gone. I searched and searched and had to go home and call my friend Mary to bring her dog and some rakes, we needed to find a lost turtle. I eventually did find Michael Ray not long after Mary and Butch arrived. Michael was on a bluff of sorts with an excellent view of two women raking furiously not ten feet away from him with one confused dog. Errrrgh. I think that's another reason why Renee chose a rake as a gift. It's a needed thing for both maintaining a house and a turtle.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Visitors and residents from this weekend

This morning I caught Cathy Jean by surprise when she was taking a nap in the sun with her front legs dangling over the side of this 2x10 piece of wood. It was pretty cute. But Cathy Jean didn't want me to see her so relaxed so she woke up and shot me this mean look. While I tried to take her picture, she scrambled as fast as she could to find an area where I couldn't see her.

Not far away from her, there was an orb weaver who had built a web between the two hanging baskets of lantana.

The monarch who came into the yard to enjoy the lantana stayed at the top of the baskets. Safe.

A funnel-web spider took in some sunshine (their webs are all over everywhere, this is the only funnel-web spider I could find out in the open and he was huge!).

Praying mantis in the backyard.

Praying mantis in the frontyard.

Praying mantis pondering on the front porch.

When the two stray cats are done eating dinner, the leftovers go to this juvenile possum. Possums are just the strangest looking things. They look like they walk on four little pink fingered hands. This guy is cute and when he scampers away, he is fast! He doesn't have that ambling waddle that the older ones have.

You can't tell in this picture but that gray cat I despise is passed out on the bench behind him. Full tummy.

Another orb weaver in the backyard is busy reweaving this web. The little possum is eating right below him. I probably should not be out with my camera and its flash while the police helicopters are flying over my backyard with their searchlights. It's your typical Saturday night. They're searching for the kind of wildlife I don't want in my backyard. That only happened once.

And then there is this beautiful thing. This Pandora sphinx moth was on my front porch screen when I was on my way out tonight. I hope he's still there tomorrow morning so I can take a picture of him in his real colors (he's supposed to be olive and dark pink!!!). This was done with a flash at night so I won't know the real colors until I see him tomorrow morning.

I got out a ruler and measured him. He's 2.5 inches wide between the bottom tips of the wings. I'm leaving the porch light off tonight so I'm the only one who knows he's there. And hopefully, tomorrow, he'll still be there and I'll have a photo that is even prettier. :-)

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Last Saturday morning...

I walked out my backdoor to see this...

Once out the door, I got their full attention. They had been waiting...

...and, in the rain.

I was getting quite the staredown. Maybe they were just being considerate and were checking to see if I got their message which took all summer for me to figure out. "Maria, just go for it. Honestly, we don't care what it is." I think more likely they were done with their summer eating and before they left, they wanted to make sure that I knew that they appreciated the datura. Maybe next year I could add to the menu since they were going to bring even more of their friends and family.

This one started crying because I told them datura would not be served next summer. It was permanently off the menu (I know, I know, I'm a mean, mean woman. I appreciate their thanking me and their kind farewell thoughts but one summer of grasshoppers is enough).

When I left them and walked down the deck steps to the yard, it was just like a scene from Alfred Hitchcock's "The Birds," just with grasshoppers playing the parts of the birds. The backyard was full of baby grasshoppers-all kinds, and crickets, all colors. Leaping, leaping, leaping. And then on Sunday, nothing. They had all left. All of them. I haven't seen one grasshopper since.

But when one party leaves, the next party arrives.

See that cat in the background? Not mine.

See this cat? Not mine. I don't even like him. He's one of those cats that if you pet him once or twice, they will turn around and bite you. I have a scar. But he still shows up to be fed every once in a while. I'm not sure if he's a stray or not. Hard to tell. One time he showed up smelling like cigarettes so who knows where he goes or what he does on his food route around the neighborhood.

"Lady, the food goes in here. Hurry up."

This is the poor cat I do try to feed. Eli used to live a couple doors down the street but that family moved. Eli was a feral farm kitten when he was adopted and decided after a couple months of being indoors, it was not his lifestyle. He left that house and never went back. I've been feeding him weekdays for three years now. And after all that time, I have never been able to touch him. I don't see him that often on weekends because he gets his meals from another neighbor down the street, but only on weekends. 

He's a very polite cat. He will come to the backdoor and find a good vantage point on the deck so he can stare into my house to try and get my attention when he wants something to eat or just some light conversation. He has a very hard life but he's 95% feral and even if he wasn't, I have a house full of birds, as well as Violet who is not too enthused about sharing her indoor life with other cats. And being a feral cat, he is not adoptable. This is probably the best sort of life he can have but at least he does have two people feeding him. That makes it a little easier for him.

The local volunteer animal group that spays and neuters stray or unwanted cats now releases the unadoptable cats (after spaying/neutering) back to the places where they were originally trapped. Their reasoning is that there is a need to have a few cats in the neighborhood to keep the mouse and rat population down. There was a big problem with rats in my neighborhood several years ago. I remember finding a dead one on my driveway one morning and since it was trash night, I decided to just put it in a bag and then throw it out in the garbage later that night. The only bag I could find was a shopping bag from a high end women's clothing store which had lots and lots of tissue in it. So I wrapped the dead rat in the tissue and then stuffed the rest of the tissue in the bag and left it on the front porch. It looked pretty, like it was a gift. When I got home from work that night, the bag was gone. Ha ha ha!!!!! Cats might help keep the rodent population down but I'm not sure what's big enough to keep the criminal element in check. I'm hoping whoever thought he had a big prize when stealing that bag from my porch, thinks two or three times before trying that again. Ha ha ha. Still makes me laugh. :-)

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Watching me, watching you

A couple days ago when I was photographing the 18th century insect prints, I looked to my right because I thought something was watching me (how many of my bug essays start out like that?). Sure enough, once again I was being watched. But not by a grasshopper, this is the week for praying mantises.

It looked like he had grabbed a prepackaged fastfood something from a nearby spider web. He held it one hand while he continued to watch me. Apparently I am extraordinarily good entertainment for insects. 

I looked to the right for some reason and found his old shell. I couldn't photograph it too well because it weighed nothing and any slight movement I made, made it quiver. It actually blew away while I was photographing it but I managed to retrieve it....from a spider web.

While I tried to photograph the shell, the praying mantis started to eat his McSandwich o'sorts.

I thought what he had in his hand was some dried up dusty old dead thing.

I was a little taken aback with what was under that webby crust of dust.


Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Madalene and Louisa Pasley, Victorian Entomologists

I'm not sure how I feel about having a checkpoint list to confirm whether I'm legitimately drawn to something or not. Independent thinking and slightly naughty kids? Check. Art created by kids? Check. Insects? Check and check. I might bore myself with my newly discovered predictability but I still like what's on my checkpoint list. :-)

I bought the book "The Adventures of Madalene and Louisa, Pages from the album of L. and M. S. Pasley, Victorian Entomologists" a long time ago. It was published in 1980, is out of print, but you can still find it at some on-line booksellers.

The two girls who created the stories and drawings were sisters and created this album from ages 12-16 (they were born in 1847 and 1848). No relative seems to know why the two girls chose to portray themselves as "middle-aged spinsters"-just one of those odd private jokes between sisters that would set them off in laughter I suppose. I think these two girls were absolutely brilliant (and goofballs at the same time). I love to find evidence of silliness like this from the past.

These girls loved to "entomologize." That's all they wanted to do but sometimes they were forced to hang out with their older sister Georgie who they said "had been sent away to a school where she was made to drink quantities of calomel which had made her SOUR." The album was drawn and written by the two sisters (not Georgie) and tells their stories of chasing insects despite their sister Georgie and Mr. Mitchell (their drawing instructor) messing with their plans. Those kids were on a mission with their bugs. They were just as determined to go after the bugs as the bugs were determined to thwart their plans in unexpected ways. Reminds me of my summer. :-)

The story of "The Rare Larva"

We discover a beetle larva in a dead tree,
with great effort it is secured
in a collecting case.
It however bursts the ends out
and another method
has to be adopted.

I think it's really funny that one of the sister's faces turns red with all the exertion...but not the other. :-)

I also think it's funny how CONSUMED they are with the chasing of bugs. And that Mr. Mitchell (in the above illustration) is totally unaware of being surrounded by insects (for him, he could only see Lake Windermere, that was apparently the only thing he thought worth drawing). He has no idea that there is a big mosquito thing drilling a hole in his head. When you're aware of insects, they look just like this illustration- they become huge and they are everywhere. What is bewildering to me is that there are so many Mr. Mitchells out there, people who just don't see that there is a whole other world being lived around them.

I'm thinking owning a camera might have something to do with it too. Sherry said that once I started taking pictures, I would soon be looking at the world with a photographer's eyes. When I get a better camera, I am going to be insufferable.