Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day-December 2010

Wow, happy Last GBBD of 2010, everyone!  I am super excited because this is the first time that I've been able to show you this:  (Please let me know if you are having trouble viewing the photos-I had to link to them differently than I usually do, so it looks OK to me, but I don't know if it will look OK to everyone else.  Thanks!)

Pink Quill (Tillandsia cyanea)

Usually it is either just preparing to bloom or has just finished blooming when GBBD rolls around, but this year, I got it!

Next, as if it knew Christmas is right around the corner:

Bleeding Heart (Clerodendrum thomsonae)

The rest of this is probably going to be a little minimalistic since I have to run in less than 30 minutes to get to an appointment, and I'm still drinking my coffee and haven't showered yet.  TMI?  Sorry.  

Shrimp plant (sorry, that's all I have right now)

Mexican Pointsettia (Euphorbia leucocephala)

I noticed several of these little guys on the Euphorbia this morning.


African Daisy (Osteospermum)

Scallion-I know this one's not quite blooming yet, but it looked so cute, I thought I should take its picture.

Sweet Alyssum

White spilder lily (Crinum asiaticum)-I almost missed this one today because at first I didn't see it hiding in this mess:

Can you see it?  It's tucked away right in the middle. 

Variegated Hau (Hibiscus tiliaceus) behind a red Euphorbia-that creamy yellow flower will turn a dusky burnt orange color and fall off the tree by the end of the day.  

That's it for today, kids!  I've got to run-need to leave in less than 10 minutes.  Thanks for touring my garden with me.  Please visit Carol at May Dreams Gardens to see what else is blooming today!

Thursday, December 9, 2010

What I'm Reading Now-Soulless

Soulless (The Parasol Protectorate)Soulless by Gail Carriger-I first heard about this book from Jennie at Biblio File, and I'm going to suggest you go there to read her review because A) I agree with everything she said, B) I think she probably did a better job of it than I would and C) I'm SOOO behind on my reviews right now.  I need to wrap this up quickly and move on!

I will give you a couple quick snippets to give you an idea of why I liked this book.  Okay, so Alexia Tarabotti is a young lady without a soul in Victorian London.  Also traipsing about London are vampires, werewolves, ghosts, and supernatural creatures of that sort.  They have been completely integrated into London society-think "True Blood" but with more respect from the general public.

At a party one evening Alexia has a run in with a vampire who doesn't play at all by the standard rules of society.  He just attacks her.  Without even asking!  As a result this unfortunate being meets his demise.

The creature stood stock-still, a look of intense surprise on his handsome face.  Then he fell backward onto the much-abused plate of treacle tart, flopping in a limp-overcooked-asparagus kind of way.  His alabaster face turned a yellowish gray, as though he were afflicted with the jaundice, and he went still.  Alexia's books called this end of the vampire life cycle dissanimation.  Alexia, who thought the action astoundingly similar to a soufflĂ© going flat, decided at that moment to call it the Grand Collapse.  

I love that she is cool enough immediately after a vampire attack to not only objectively observe and analyze the vampire death process but to give it a name that is just more fun to say.  As part of the ensuing investigation by alpha werewolf, Lord Maccon, and his second, Professor Lyall:

Alexia interjected, "He seemed perfectly sane to me--aside from the attacking part, of course.  He was able to carry on a decent conversation.  He even tried to charm me.  Must have been quite a young vampire.  And"--she paused dramatically, lowered her voice, and said in sepulchral tones--"he had a fang-lisp."

Professor Lyall looked shocked and blinked largely at her through the asymmetrical lenses; among vampires, lisping was the height of vulgarity.

Although Professor Lyall is a werewolf, he is not a beast.  He is quite aware of the delicate sensibilities of those around him.

While the population of the greater London area, in specific, and the British Isle, in general, had learned well enough to accept werewolves on principle, to be faced with one engaging in the act of conversion was an entirely different matter.  Professor Lyall considered himself rather good at the change--elegant and graceful despite the pain.  Youngsters of the pack were prone to excessive writhing and spinal gyrations and sometimes a whimper or two.  Professor Lyall simply melted smoothly from one form to the next.  But the change was, at its root, not natural.  Mind you, there was no glow, no mist, no magic about it.  Skin, bone, and fur simply rearranged itself, but that was usually enough to give most daylight folk a large dose of the screaming heebie-jeebies.  Screaming being the operative word.

Finally, there is Lord Akeldama, a very old, very gossipy vampire with a flair for fashion, whom I couldn't help but picture as Austin Scarlett, ("Project Runway," Season 1 contestant and designer of beautiful clothes).  I don't have any quotes for him, I just enjoyed the idea of Austin Scarlett running around Victorian London as a vampire.

I have the next book in the series, Changeless, on hold at my local library, and I'm very excited because the last time I checked (which was about a week ago), they didn't even have it yet.  So, yay!  Maybe by this time next year I will have read it and reviewed it.  

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Chronicle Books Haul-idays Give Away!

Chronicle Books is asking readers to create a wish list of books worth up to $500, and one lucky winner will win all the books on that list!  Blogger bonus:  Anyone who comments on the winning blogger's wish list will also be eligible to win those same books!  So, if you'd like to create your own wish list, visit Chronicle Books Haul-idays page to enter.  If you'd like a chance to win the books I've listed below, please leave a comment here.  If you're not crazy about my list you can visit the Chronicle Books site for a list of other bloggers who have submitted wish lists, and you can comment on any or all of their  wish lists for a chance to win their books as well.  Better hurry though, the contest only runs through December 10th.  Whew!  Got all that?

Here's my wish list:


Griffin and Sabine by Nick Bantock 
Sabine's Notebook by Nick Bantock 

The Golden Mean by Nick Bantock 
The Gryphon by Nick Bantock 
Alexandria by Nick Bantock 

Dante's Divine Comedy (Boxed Set) by Sandow Birk and Marcus Sanders

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies Deluxe Heirloom Edition by Jane Austen and Seth Grahame-Smith

Extreme Encounters:  How It Feels to Be Drowned in Quicksand, Shredded by Piranhas, Swept Up in a Tornado, and Dozens of Other Unpleasant Experiences by Greg Emmanuel
New Orleans Stories: Great Writers on the City edited by John Miller
San Francisco Stories: Great Writers on the City edited by John Miller
SURFER Magazine:  50 Years Edited by Sam George
This is My Best: Great Writers Share Their Favorite Work edited by Kathy Kiernan and Retha Powers
A Year in Japan by Kate T. Williamson
Squeaky Green: The Method Guide to Detoxing Your Home by Adam Lowry and Eric Ryan

Day & Night by Teddy Newton
Frank Was a Monster Who Wanted to Dance by Keith Graves

The Life & Love of Trees text by Lewis Blackwell
Bloom a Day: A Fortune-Telling Birthday Book photographs by Ron van Dongen

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Now is the Time When I Tell You Where to Shop for the Holidays

Okay, so first off, I have to tell you a freaky story.  I've been meaning to write this post for a while, but I finally decided to do it now because I was lying in bed, wide awake at 1:30 in the morning, and, well, now seemed as good a time as any.  Before I got up, I was thinking about what I would title this post, and I thought of the above title, which reminded me of Saturday Night Live's old Sprockets skits.

You may remember Mike Myers as Dieter, Sprockets' host.  "Now's the time on Sprockets when we dance."

Although disturbing, that's not the freaky part.  The freaky part is, I came into the office, brought the computer up out of sleep mode, and I heard a few random sounds-computer starty-up noises, some bell tones, a phone ringing-and then, no kidding, Mike Myers' voice saying, "Welcome to Sprockets.  I am your host, Dieter." You guys.  I almost had a heart attack.  Turns out our iTunes was running, and, among the 5, 833 items in our collection, we have a series of random sound clips that it was running through at the moment that I turned it on, and it happened to land on "Welcome to Sprockets.  I am your host, Dieter."  Are you kidding me?  I had no idea that we even had a Dieter clip.  HOW WEIRD IS THAT??

Anyway, that sealed the deal in my mind.  The time for this post is now!

So, all that is to say this:

If you have been surfing the internet at all lately, and I'll bet you have, you may have seen ads for Gary West Smoked Meats popping up all over the place.  Even if you haven't, I have, and my reaction is always, "Yay!  Gary West Smoked Meats!"  I realized that's not the normal reaction to an internet ad, but I know the people who own the store, and they are super nice people, and they have really great products, so I'm happy to see them, hopefully, garnering some internet traffic.

How do I know these people?  Remember when I told you about the Rat Race in Oregon?  Well, what I didn't tell you was that we stayed with Paul and Whitney Murdoch, the owners of Gary West Smoked Meats.  Paul and Whitney, whom we had never met before, who didn't know us from Adam, who already had five other visiting pilots as house guests in addition to their own two kids who had all of their freinds coming and going, who were in the middle of preparing for the grand re-opening of the bar and grill that is attached to their store, welcomed us with open arms all because they are some of the nicest people in the world.

They fed us, housed us, and let us be a part of their awesome family for the three or four days that we were there.  In return, we used their washer and dryer, took over their bathroom, ate all their food, and bumbled around their store, trying to help but also trying stay out of the way as much as possible.  Seriously, these people deserve a medal.

Gary R. West Meats (as the sign outside their store says) is located in Jacksonville, OR, which has been designated as a National Historic Landmark and is the cutest little town ever.  They have all kinds of meats, but they are known largely for their jerkies (Gary West, not Jacksonville), which are awesome.  These are not the little packs of dried out leather that you buy at the gas station, but hefty packs of chewy, meaty goodness made from buffalo, elk, and beef.  They have several different flavorsnitrite-free versions and they even have dog jerky (uh, just to clarify, that's jerky made FOR dogs, not FROM dogs), which comes complete with a picture of their awesome dog, Gus, on the package.

If you have a lot of people to feed this holiday season and are thinking, Gosh, I wish I could just order a meal in a box this year, you might consider the West Family Feast.  I haven't sampled this myself, but I'm tempted after reading this description from their website:

A huge and handsomely packaged gift box arrives stuffed with treats; One Whole Hickory Smoked Turkey and half a succulent and lean Yuletide Ham. Handmade German, Bratwurst and our trademark Summer Sausage. Papa Liebe's hand-tied Pepper Sticks and Smoked Wild Alaska Salmon. Savory Oregon Blue Cheese and Rogue Creamery's new Touvelle Gouda. Rise-up! Bakery's Ciabatta bread and Brandied Cranberry Garnish. Half a pound of our award-winning jerky, as well as fudge and our Sweet Hot Mustard. A very impressive smorgasbord of local Oregon treats.

That might be more food than you need, but you can also check out their other ham- and turkey-based gift items.  If smoked meats aren't your thing, don't despair; they have plenty of other great items to choose from.  They have gourmet cheeses and sausages, wine, condiments, and one of my favorite new discoveries hulless caramel corn.  I don't know how they do it, I think it's some kind of scientific miracle.  If you love caramel corn but hate all those little kernels and hulls that manage to hide out in your gums for days on end, this product is for you!  Science never tasted this good when I was a kid!

I didn't take a lot of pictures while we were in the store, but I did take one of their honey display because I thought it was so pretty with the sun shining through those decorative bottles.

So, have I convinced you yet?  If you are in the Jacksonville area, stop by the store, have a burger at the grill-they are also awesome-and say, "Hi!" to Paul and Whitney if you see them around.  If you're not in the area, please consider making a purchase from their online store.  They are nice people and they have a great product.  In case that isn't enough, I will bribe you with a picture of Gus, their real-life sweet-heart of a dog who actually exists.  (He's the sleepy-looking old guy in front.  Awwwww.)

Well, thanks for listening to another one of my fairly-biased gift-giving recommendations, and, remember, if you know someone who would appreciate a bouquet of beef jerky, (come on, you know you know someone who would love that!) Gary West Smoked Meats is the place to go!

Thursday, November 18, 2010

What I'm Reading Now-Little Bee

Little Bee: A Novel
Little Bee: A Novel by Chris Cleave-If you're aware of this book, then you're probably aware of the mystique surrounding it.  Maybe mystique is too strong, a word, but the author or publisher or somebody essentially decided to part with the standard practice of telling readers what the book is about; instead, they decided to say:

We don't want to tell you WHAT HAPPENS in this book.
It is a truly SPECIAL STORY and we dont' want to spoil it.
Once you have read it, you'll want to tell your friends about it.  When you do, please don't tell them what happens.  The magic is in how the story unfolds.

Was Don Draper involved in this?  Because, I have to say, I kind of think this is marketing genius, not to  mention just a little bit ballsy.  I mean, you have to be pretty sure you have a good product if you're going to go with the word-of-mouth marketing ploy, especially with a book.  It seems to have paid off-I've heard nothing but good things, and I did manage to go this long without knowing what the book is actually about, so who am I to part with tradition at this point?

I won't tell you what the book is about, but I will share with you a few parts that I liked.  Early on, Little Bee gives a great example of how different the same language can be between two speakers.

I am only alive at all because I learned the Queen's English.  Maybe you are thinking, that isn't so hard.  After all, English is the official language of my country, Nigeria.  Yes, but the trouble is that back home we speak it so much better than you.  To talk the Queen's English, I had to forget all the best tricks of my mother tongue.  For example, the Queen could never say, There was plenty wahala, that girl done use her bottom power to engage my number one son and anyone could see she would end in the bad bush.  Instead the Queen must say, My late daughter-in-law used her feminine charms to become engaged to my heir, and one might have foreseen that it wouldn't end well.  It is all a little sad, don't you think?  Learning the Queen's English is like scrubbing off the bright red varnish from your toenails, the morning after a dance.
I love her view of her language, and this example made me laugh because it reminded me a lot of the pidgin that is spoken here.  I liked Little Bee's view on a lot of things.

On the girl's brown legs there were many small white scars.  I was thinking, Do those scars cover the whole of you, like the stars and the moons on your dress?  I thought that would be pretty too, and I ask you right here please to agree with me that a scar is never ugly.  That is what the scar makers want us to think.  But you and I, we must make an agreement to defy them.  We must see all scars as beauty.  Okay?  This will be our secret.  Because take it from me, a scar does not form on the dying.  A scar means, I survived.

Obviously, Little Bee is referring to scars resulting from violence, but this made me think of the scars left behind by things like cancer, scars that people might try to hide because they think they are ugly or embarrassing and my hope is that everyone with such a scar can adopt Little Bee's philosophy on beauty and strength.

One of Little Bee's habits is to figure out how she would kill herself in any given location.  This sounds morose, but she has her reasons, and I had to laugh at some of her solutions.

One day [they] gave all of us a copy of a book called LIFE IN THE UNITED KINGDOM.  It explains the history of your country and how to fit in.  I planned how I would kill myself in the time of Churchill (stand under bombs), Victoria (throw myself under a horse), and Henry the Eighth (marry Henry the Eighth).  

I had to read the following passage a couple of times before I finally read it correctly.

Everything was happiness and singing when I was a little girl.  There was plenty of time for it.  We did not have hurry.   

I kept thinking that there had been a typo and it was supposed to be, We did not have to hurry or perhaps, We did not hurry.  The addition or subtraction of just one tiny word makes such a huge difference, and I think it's this kind of nuance throughout the book that makes it so successful.

So, overall, I'm on board with everyone else who read and loved this book...but with one caveat.  Little Bee's story is entwined with a woman named Sarah, and for me their story worked well.  The problem for me came anytime the men in Sarah's life entered the picture.  I don't know if Sarah's one of those people who is just attracted to complete losers or if these men were simply caught up in situations for which they found themselves unprepared, and as a result didn't act as well as they could have, but I found their handling of certain situations to be not only distasteful but just downright unbelievable at times.  I suppose that both men could be said to be representative of certain failings in society, and maybe that was the author's intent, but they both just made me want to throw the book at a wall a few times.  Gah

I don't know if Heather J.'s was the first review I saw for this book, but, according to my notes, it does seem to be the one that finally made me get off the fence and decide that I wanted to read this book.  So, thanks Heather!

Other reviews (Warning:  The more you read, the more you are going to know about this story!):

Trish at Hey Lady!  Whatcha Readin'? gives a few more details about the story here.
Florinda at The Three R's Blog was not impressed by the withholding of information about this book.  How do you feel?
Raych at books i done read had some mixed feelings but mostly loved it.
According to Books on the Nightstand listeners and readers, Little Bee was one of the top books of 2009.
In a guest post at My Friend Amy, Mary Sharratt thinks that Little Bee would have been considered women's fiction and thus not taken as seriously had it been written by a woman.  Interesting.  Is she right?
Sheila at Book Journey read this for her book club.  Although the club as a whole didn't love the book, Sheila says, "While it was not the book I thought I was going to be reading, it was the book I was meant to read." You gotta love it when that happens!
Bellezza at Dolce Bellezza says, "There is nothing like a book such as this to point out to me my incredible naivety."  Indeed.  

I'm sure there are plenty of other reviews out there.  If you've reviewed this book, let me know and I'll add a link to your review.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day-November 2010

I missed October GBBD, and I'm a little late getting to November's, but it is still the 15th here in my neck of the woods, so I'm counting this as a win.  I have to say, I think winter is one of my favorite times of year in my garden, and here's one of the reasons why:

This is my Euphorbia leucocephala or Mexican poinsettia, and pretty soon the entire thing will be snow white.  Lest you think I'm cheating, there are some actual blooms here.  They're just really tiny.

Aren't they cute?

Here's another white flower, my spider lily, Crinum asiaticum.  I rarely get a chance to see them from this angle as the weight of the blooms usually pulls the stem down toward the ground.  Kind of impressive from this angle, aren't they?

You can see what my lilies usually look like in the bottom left-hand corner of this picture, almost touching the ground.  Lurking in the background under my shrimp plant, is Mocha the mighty hunter.  I think she's staring at a lizard.  I don't think she's ever caught anything, but she sure likes to act like a lion stalking prey in the tall grass of the savanna.    

Speaking of tall grass, here's my red ginger, standing about six feet tall.

Here's a red ginger bloom that's done its time and now, instead of going to seed, it is doing this.  What is this you ask?  Well, I had no idea either, but back in January, I noted a similar phenomenon, and Christopher from Outside Clyde was kind enough to explain that eventually the weight of all that new growth will pull the bloom down to the ground where the keiki (baby/child) plants can put down roots and turn into new six-foot plants.  Cool, huh?

I have a bird of paradise that is a little past its prime but still interesting.  

My last vacation saw the demise of my red miniature roses, but I did what any good gardener would do and went shopping for more plants.  In the tradition of this pot, which has housed nothing but miniature roses, I am happy to have this pretty little bloom to show you this month.  

I didn't manage to show you any blooms from Tillandsia cyanea (Pink Quill) last year, but we'll see what happens this year.  

See the little purple blooms preparing to emerge?  Yay!

And, finally, my Evolvus glomeratus, or Blue Daze.  I love the pretty blue with the bright white center.  

That's all for today, but please be sure to visit Carol at May Dreams Gardens to see what else is blooming this month.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Dueling Monsters Challenge 2010

Happy Halloween, everybody!  I hope you are all having some spooky fun today!  I have been catching up on my spooky reading, thanks to Heather J. and Jill/softdrink.  Once again they have teamed up to host the Dueling Monsters read-a-long.  This year's monsters came to us in the stories of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and The Picture of Dorian Gray.

I had never read either book before so this was a good chance for me to catch up on some classic reading.  Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde was delightfully short-I had no idea-a mere 84 pages!  It was an easy read, and I enjoyed it.  Dorian Gray was not quite as short-about 243 pages-but I think I would have enjoyed it more had it been only 84 pages since the last 84 pages (exactly 84 pages-I just checked!  Spooky coincidence??) is where all the good stuff takes place. (Seriously, I spent quite a lot of the first half of the book wishing that Dorian, Basil, and Lord Henry would just get in on already because, really, isn't that what they all wanted.)

Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (Bantam Classic)Let's start with Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.  As I said, I enjoyed this book.  I really didn't know what to expect other than the man and the monster.  It's been noted that there aren't any female characters of note in this story, but the first note that I wrote relates to the servant who witnesses Hyde's murder and then faints dead away.  What I wrote was, "Why with all the fainting?"  Victorian women seem to be famous for fainting (they even made couches specifically for this purpose).  Why?  Did they actually faint all the time?  I'm guessing they did, otherwise why make the couches?  OK, so then why were they always fainting?  Was it the restriction of the corsets not allowing them to get enough air to their brains?  Was it a combination of the heat and all that Victorian clothing?  Was it simply a convenient excuse to leave an uncomfortable situation?  Perhaps it was the cost of the couches themselves.  Eee!  That would make me swoon too!

Anyway...I think that Edward Hyde won this round of Dueling Monsters.  Although both books deal with the physical manifestation of evil, Hyde was a scarier creature because he eventually started to take over Jekyll against his will, the assumption being that someday the takeover would be complete.  The way Jekyll described the progression of the changes reminded me of a heroin addict.  Eventually the drugged state becomes normal and without it you become ill.  Eventually you need that which made you sick to make you feel better, but each time you need more and more of it.  Eventually it consumes you, and either you kill it or it will kill you.  Jekyll, himself, was a little wordy and boring for my taste, but overall, good job on a quick creepy story, Mr. Stevenson!

The Picture of Dorian Gray (Penguin Classic)It could be argued that Dorian Gray (D.G.) is a scarier monster because his debauchery seems to be more willful.  He has the ability to decide at every turn whether to do good or not, and, apparently, generally chooses not to; but I have to wonder if he behaves any worse than a common criminal.  What makes him dangerous is simply that his evil doesn't show on his face.  Hyde's evil was out there for people to see-people were immediately repulsed by his appearance and thus knew to stay away.  On the other hand, people are taken in by Dorian Gray's beauty and his charm, "that indefinable attraction that Dorian seemed to be able to exercise whenever he wished, and indeed exercised often without being conscious of it."...much like a vampire...who never ages...and he does seem to suck people's souls dry.  Hmmmmm....interesting...anyway, the point is, people still choose to engage with him on some level.  If he's dealing with criminals, we assume they are complicit in their deals, if he is having some wild and crazy sex, we assume his partners are willing, although I suppose it's possible that that's not the case.  If he's doing drugs, well, somebody is likely selling them to him.  Certainly the murder he commits is a grizzly, terrible thing for which he shows little to no remorse, but that seems to me to make him a psychopath, not some otherworldly creature.  Not that psychopaths aren't scary, but in this day and age, they are no new news, I'm afraid.    

Both books had some things in common that I found interesting.  For one thing, they both seem to be a bit (or perhaps quite a bit) autobiographical in nature (which, admittedly, makes the vampire psychopath thing a little more scary).  Both the Afterword of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Jerome Charyn and the Introduction of The Picture of Dorian Gray by Peter Ackroyd point to this.  For me, both books were frustratingly vague when it came to just what kinds of terrible acts Mr. Hyde and Mr. Gray were guilty of.  Aside from a couple of murders and some drug use, we don't know very much.  From what I could gather, their greatest sins seem to be that they were out having a lot of bawdy, raunchy, indecent sex.  This may have been shocking to their Victorian readers, but, again, it's just not very scary today.    

botox can smooth out those lines around your mouth.  Been eating too much?  Liposuction can get rid of all that excess in no time.  Been having irresponsible sex?  Penicillin can clear that right up.  Been doing too much meth?  Well, honestly, there's not much to be done about that-let this be a lesson to you kids!  Don't do meth!  Been (sin of all sins!) aging??  Face lift, my friend.  And we do this all in the name of beauty, which was, of course, Dorian's great love.  *gasp*  Oh my!  Maybe this was a scarier book than I thought! 

I still have to give the win to Mr. Hyde because his inherent evil repulsed people on sight, and I've been around those people, the ones who give you the willies even though there's nothing specific that you can point to as the reason why.  Also, a much less painful read.

So, now I'm genuinely curious.  If you could see the physical manifestations of all your evil deeds on your likeness without those signs ever showing up on your physical person, would you be more or less likely to behave badly?  Remember, there's no way to alter your likeness.  The effects are cumulative.  Once the evil is done, it's done, and it's recorded forever.  On your face!  Mwahahahaha!   

Monday, October 18, 2010

Here's How My Summer Vacation Started

I already told you about the middle part of my vacation, where I spent a lot of time freezing my butt off on top of a mountain, watching people paraglide.  For the first few days of our vacation, I spent a lot of time sweltering in the sun, watching people paraglide.  Are you seeing a theme here yet?

Since Hubby's been spending all this time flying and will continue to do so, he thought it would be a good idea to take an SIV course.  This is a course that teaches you how to recover if your wing does something funky like collapse mid-flight, lets you practice things like spirals, and gives you an opportunity to throw your reserve 'chute*.  Of course, you hope that you never have to throw your reserve 'chute in real life, but if you do, it's  nice to have some idea of what's going to happen when you do.  All of this is done over a lake with a boat crew standing by for retrievals.

To start things off, the boat would tow the pilots around the lake until they gained about 4,000 feet in altitude, then the pilot would unhook the tow rope and instruction would begin.

The particular lake that we were at is Lake Berryessa, about two hours outside of Sacramento.  I had never heard of this before, but I really liked it.  Even though we were there over a weekend in June, it felt like we had the whole lake to ourselves.  It was really hot on the lake shore, but we did have a nice big oak tree that we were able to park ourselves under while everyone in the class took turns going through their maneuvers.

As a general rule, and for various reasons, I think spouses/significant others are generally not encouraged to attend; but I was curious to see what was going on, and I think I managed to stay out of the way and not be too big of a distraction.  When other people heard that I sat and watched, they inevitably asked, "Weren't you nervous, watching him do all that??"  The answer is no.  In fact, I think I am probably more comfortable now, having seen just how recoverable the wings really are and how well you can actually fly, even with half a wing collapsed.  The other thing that made me not worry was that I was on the ground with the instructor who was in radio contact with the pilots at all times, so I could hear everything that he was telling them to do; and, I have to say, he is probably one of the coolest, calmest, most collected people I have ever met-very confidence-inspiring.  Seeing somebody's wing collapse mid-flight is one thing-that'll make your heart stop for a second; but watching somebody's wing collapse as the instructor is next to you, calmly talking him through an induced collapse makes it more interesting than heart-stopping.  

More interesting, less heart-stopping, because I know this was a planned event.  

All in all, an interesting, if unconventional, start to my summer vacation.  We met some really great people, and I think it's safe to say that everyone walked away feeling a lot more confident and, hopefully, a lot safer.  

Up next:  Camping in the red woods!     

*7/7/11-I would just like to admit here and now that it took me this long to realize I had spelled 'chute (as in parachute) "shoot".  Stuff like that would have never slipped by me 10 years ago.  What's going on??

Friday, October 1, 2010

Hey, Slacker, Whatcha Been Up To?


Oh, you mean me?  Yeah, okay, that's fair.  I've published a whopping eleven posts over the last four months, which, let's face it, is slacker-rate at best.

So, let me tell you about my summer!

Some of you may remember this picture from a previous post:

Good heavens!  Where was I?  Siberia?  The South Pole?  Running from the law?  No.  I was in Oregon.  Granted, I was on top of a mountain in this particular picture, but still.  It wasn't a big mountain, just windy as all get out and freakin' cold.  

Why was I on top of a mountain?  Because my husband is a paraglider and our mainland vacation happened to coincide with Rat Race, the paragliding competition which is held annually at Woodrat Mountain.  Hubby didn't compete, but he wanted to check it out and see what flying on the mainland is like and how competition flying works.  Turns out, it's freakin' crazy!  At least, from my point of view.  There were over 100 registered competitors, and they all had to be off the mountain by a specified time each day.  The day that I sat and watched everyone launch, it took about an hour; I'm told they did it all in about 20 minutes one day!  To give you an idea how this works, here is a series of pictures I took of one pilot launching.

First, the pilots lay out their wings and make sure all their lines are straight and not all tangled in knots or wrapped around twigs or anything.  Once they are ready, they wait for a good cycle of wind.  Don't ask me to define "good", but you can look at the windsock in the background to see what's going on in this particular scenario.  (Click on any of the photos to enlarge.)

As the wind catches the wing it lifts it up in the air and over the pilot's head.

If everything still looks good (no twisted lines, no folded up wing tips, etc.) the pilot, in a slight fit of insanity, runs off the side of the mountain... the wind lifts him gently into the air.

Now imagine that happening 100 times in 20 minutes, or even 60 minutes.  Crazy, I tell ya!  But a pretty cool sight, none the less.


Did you notice how the pilot started off facing his wing and then had to turn around to run off the hill?  That's called a reverse launch, and that's how they do it in higher winds.  Basically, there's enough wind that by the time they have turned around and started running toward the side of the mountain, they are already starting to lift off the ground.  On days when the wind is not blowing as hard, they do forward launches.  This means they face away from their wings and have to start running in order to catch the wind to bring their wing up.  This is more nerve-wracking to watch because they essentially just keep running until they are off the hill.  Eeee!    

Anyway, it was mostly reverse launches this day because of the high winds, hence my bundled appearance in the middle of June. 

So, that was the middle part of our mainland vacation.  I'll tell you more about the beginning, the rest of the middle, and the end later!