Monthly Archives: September 2013

Pipes and Drums

I saw a Tweet mentioning bagpipes and it took me back in time, over 20 years ago to a performance by a pipe and drum corps.

I can’t be certain, but my memory wants to say it was the Black Watch from Scotland. It was a performance at the Seattle Center. My then boyfriend took me. I don’t remember why or how he’d gotten tickets. But he knew I’d like it so he took me.

It was incredible.

One lone bagpipe can be good, can be moving. But a whole corps, with multiple pipes and multiple drums, with everyone in kilts and full regalia…. Absolutely breathtaking. There were rousing military marches; mournful songs of grief and pain; lilting tunes of happiness. A pipe solo of “Amazing Grace”. And of course “Scotland the Brave”.

I wish I could remember more.

One thing I do remember is that the Washington State Secretary of State Ralph Munro was in attendance. As the highest ranking official guest, they asked his permission to begin and to end. He joked a bit about letting them leave, knowing the audience was enjoying the show.


Wildlife 2

The other morning, while letting a cat out, I noticed a very large, healthy looking squirrel circling the spa. Clearly he was trying to figure out how to reach the water, which was about a foot below the edge.

I’m watching, mumbling “please don’t go in the water; please don’t fall in and drown”, when I see movement from the other side of the yard.

It’s a hawk, swooping over the pool, heading straight for the squirrel. The squirrel was faster, darting into hiding before the hawk reached the edge of the spa. The hawk shifted flight, pausing briefly in a tree (before noticing me standing there) then flew off.

I do have to say, having seen hawks hunting before, that I don’t think it was really trying.


Another morning, after I’d gotten back from my walk and before my husband left for work, he called me out to the front door. Way up high on the wall was a lizard. We’re still not exactly sure how it got into the house. Nor were we sure how we were going to get it out. Lizards are quick, and with a two-story entry, it was going to be very easy for it to stay out of our reach.

I decided to leave the front door open, with the glass storm door closed. Not really for the lizard but because it was nice out and it’s easier to tell when a cat wants back in.

A little while later, while heading to the kitchen, I noticed the lizard wasn’t up on the wall any more. When I approached the front door, there it was, down in the bottom corner, looking for a way out. So I obliged it. I opened the storm door, which got me a look of concern, and with a little nudging with my toe, it hopped off and disappeared into a flower pot.

Since then I’ve seen a smaller, greener lizard climbing around on one of the pillars outside the door.


And final story… For now.

Once a week we take care of the pool — testing the water, adding any necessary chemicals, brushing off the steps and sides, emptying the skimmers, scooping out debris… All those things that need to be done regularly to keep the pool nice.

I had my daughter out helping me. While she turned on the hose and opened the skimmers, I got the scoop. But not to scoop out leaves. Oh no. What I had to scoop out of the pool was a dead critter, of the furry type. I’m not exactly sure what it was — a chipmunk or some type of squirrel. But yuck ๐Ÿ˜ฆย  I flung it off into some distant bushes.

By this time my daughter had two skimmers open and was opening the third as I approached. Just in time to see the snake curled up in one corner.



“Snake!” This time with pointing.

“What? Where?”

By this time I’m thinking we may need to have her vision and hearing checked.

“Right there. In the skimmer. In the corner.” Now I’m standing as close to it as I’m comfortable.

She wanders up, looks down, “Oh.”

I grabbed the scoop and attempted to coax it off into the bushes outside the pool area. Yeah, that didn’t work too well as it went the opposite direction, right down into the skimmer proper. And stayed there. I hoped it would swim out into the pool so I could scoop and fling, but nope.

Now, I don’t know what kind of snake this was. All I know is that while most snakes here are harmless, there are some very poisonous ones — rattlesnakes, water moccasins/cottonmouths, coral snakes, copperheads. I was knew it wasn’t a rattler (no rattle) and it wasn’t a coral snake (no red, yellow, and black) and I was pretty sure it wasn’t a water moccasin. But I couldn’t 100% rule out copperhead. It was about 8″ long, maybe half an inch in diameter at it’s widest. The head didn’t look triangular to me, and the patterning seemed wrong but I’ve heard that juvenile copperheads look like a lot of other snakes. So while I didn’t want to kill it, I also didn’t want to get too close, just in case.

I went and got the smaller scoop that would actually fit into the skimmer and helped it out. By this time it was extremely upset with the situation, attacking the scoop repeatedly. I persisted, and finally, managed to get it into the scoop. And promptly flung it over the fence and into the bushes — where it stayed for a while, probably in shock.

Of course, we will all be much more careful now when opening the pool skimmers.


The Mighty Hunter

I believe we have now confirmed that Caesar, our Mighty Hunter Ragdoll cat, has been the one leaving all the little dead shrews around the yard.
[Side note: I believe they’re shrews having done some Internet research, but I won’t swear to it]

How have I confirmed this?
1. I let the cat out onto our deck, leaving the door open, but the screen door closed.
2. A while later, I heard the screen door open (our cats can do this) then loud yowling from the kitchen.
3. I walked into the kitchen, he saw me, meowed, & dropped the dead critter on the floor.

And then I did what I do with every ‘present’ he brings me – dead or alive. I praise him, scoop up (or chase & catch) whatever it is this time, & toss it back outside. At least this time it was dead, and it wasn’t brought to my bed at 3am.

Local Wildlife

My husband is having difficulty with all the wildlife around here, particularly the snakes & spiders, but before I even moved down here, he was sending pictures of deer in the yard, dead armadillos by the road, birds in the yard, dead spiders from the garage, etc.

Part of it is that he’s very much a city boy who’s just not used to all this, and part of it’s that this is the South with more just more critters of all sorts.

That doesn’t mean we didn’t have wildlife where we lived in Illinois, because we did — deer, foxes, coyotes, mice, squirrels, bats, all the usual suspects that we pretty much also have here. But it was mostly innocuous. We weren’t worrying about poisonous spiders (brown recluse, black widows, brown widows) and snakes (copperhead, rattlesnake, coral snake, water moccasin) or leprosy carrying armadillos. There are even rumors of alligators being found in lakes in the area.

Since I’ve been here I’ve seen one small live snake — no idea what type. Many dead armadillos — I’m guessing they’re not too smart. Turtles. Bats (they were swooping over the pool one night while the girls were swimming). Lots and lots of deer. Many types of birds from hawks down to tiny songbirds.

And spiders — lots of spiders and even more webs. I’ve done some research so I know that the spiders I’m seeing are not ones I have to worry about. The poisonous ones tend to build chaotic webs in dark places. These build organized and beautiful webs out in the open; some are quite large with obvious rings.

One lovely lady, an orb-weaver, who for lack of any creativity I call Charlotte, has taken up residence on our deck. The first time I saw her, I have to admit, I freaked a bit. She’s big. Her body is a good 1.5″ long, with a leg span of probably 2″. She’s mostly brown with pretty markings, and her legs are brown and orange striped. She builds beautiful big webs, with the rings placed perfectly. Once I realized she was not a dangerous spider, I looked for her the next day but she and her web were completely gone. A few days later, she reappeared in a slightly different spot. One evening I watched for a bit while she repaired damaged spots. A couple of days later and she and her web were gone again.

Now she’s been building a web between the fan light and the wall. She’s smart enough not to attach the web to the actual fan blades. Some days she completely takes down her web only to rebuild it at night; other days she just repairs what’s already there. During the day, I can see her curled up on the light fixture, just waiting for evening. I always say hi to her when I go out. And I’ve refused to let my husband or daughter do anything to her or her web. They’re not happy about it, but Charlotte’s not doing any harm.

The Hardest Thing About Smoking Salmon Is…

…Keeping the cats away.

Well, that’s really only partially true. I did have to spend some time while prepping the fish for brining and then while working with it after the brining, shooing the cats away.

The thing is, I’ve never smoked salmon, or anything, before. But we just bought this kamado grill thing that’s supposed to bake, roast, grill, BBQ, and smoke, and I decided to try it. I looked at several recipes on line, found one that was pretty basic and followed it.

The salmon turned out okay — a little salty and maybe a little overcooked (it was good enough for my husband to eat one whole piece pretty much by himself — the best piece of course). I don’t know if there was too much salt in the brine, I brined it too long, and/or I didn’t rinse it well enough. Next time I’ll make some adjustments to that part of the process.

And I definitely have to do some fiddling with the grill and charcoal amounts and venting and how long I leave the salmon in.

But all in all, it definitely turned out pretty well, considering my lack of knowledge and experience with smoking foods.

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