Monday, September 30, 2013

Wind flowers

Model "E" windmill, U.S. Wind Engine and Pump Co.

I lived in the little town of Batavia, Illinois, while I was in grade school. The oldest town in Kane County, Illinois, founded in 1833, Batavia is on the banks of the Fox River, and almost immediately after white people arrived, it became a manufacturing dynamo for America's westward expansion.

The Fox River provided water power for the flour mills that ground the wheat farmers grew in the rich Illinois soil. It also drove the saws and milling machinery that built farm equipment, provisioning the homesteaders and settlers what they needed to conquer and domesticate the vast prairies of the Midwest and central plains. It drove saw mills that sliced the downed oak, maple and hickory trees of the Big Woods, clearing the land for the farms and milling the lumber to build barns and farmhouses.

Halladay Vaneless windmill, manufactured by the U.S Wind Engine and Pump Co.
Batavia was home to three manufacturing firms that made windmills - essential machinery to draw valuable water for irrigation, using the endless energy of the wind that rushed across the high flat land. These factories ranged alongside the Fox River, built from the mellow yellow limestone that was quarried out of the river bluffs just north of the business district. There was the Appleton Manufacturing Company, the Challenge Company, and the U.S. Wind Engine and Pump Company.

Challenge vaneless windmill

Batavia now proudly calls itself the "Windmill City," reviving and celebrating its heritage, but back in the 1960s when I lived here, we didn't know anything about windmills. The crumbling yellow buildings by the river were run down, home to small factories and warehouses.

Goodhue Special windmill, manufactured by the Appleton Co.

Today, the old Appleton factory has become the City Council meeting chambers, and the area around the old factories have become parks that connect to the Fox River Trail. These vintage windmills are displayed in the park nearby.

Challenge vaneless windmill
Beautiful as the conventional windmills are, I was fascinated by the shapes and intricacies of the two antique vaneless windmills displayed here. A vaneless windmill has no tail or vane, and its wheel turns behind the tower instead of at the front. These examples have wooden wheels and cast iron counterweights that keep the wheel turned into the wind.  The balance between wind velocity and the counterweights regulate the speed of the mill, so the slats adjust to the force of the wind. Once the wheel reaches a maximum speed, it does not increase.

The limestone building used to be the Appleton factory.
On the light, breezy day I visited, these mills were braked, and could not spin in the wind. But how I would love to see their flowered, feathered shapes in full motion, spinning. What beautiful, fascinating wind-flowers to bloom on the high prairie!

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Alone at the bar with a book

Is it a tomatillo-lime-and-mint infused mezcal cocktail? Why yes, it is. And mighty tasty, too. At Bien Trucha, in Geneva, Illinois.

Friday, September 27, 2013

Thematic Photographic - Large structures

Carmi at the blog "Written, Inc." posts a photographic challenge each week at Thematic Photographic. This week, the theme is "Large structures."

This railroad bridge looms over the Fox River in Geneva, Illinois. The massive scale of its concrete piers lends the structure a monumental majesty.

Built in 1917 for the Chicago and Northwestern line, today the bridge carries Metra commuter trains from the city of Chicago to the western suburbs. The early morning sun shines on the broad arches, reflecting in the still water as a morning train passes over.

Another view
The river bank is now a park, with running and biking trails, and a footbridge has been added to the base of the bridge. Today, this large structure, which has been here for so long, has become part of regular peoples' everyday lives.

I washed my hair with hand lotion

Elegance isn't always user friendly. And of course, elegance is in the eye of the beholder.

I am staying at a pretty, comfortable boutique hotel which bills itself as "hotel and spa." For short stays like this I pack light, and rely on hotel-provided amenities like shampoo and conditioner.

Like many hotels this one provides the wee, sample-size bottles, and in keeping with its branding, this hotel's samples are designed to be "elegant."

The bottles are labelled in a skin-care regime jargon further embellished by their translation into a kind of faux French. So instead of calling something shampoo, they call it "hair purifier."

And the labels are printed in a kind of lower-case pale ochre brown, in the teensiest-tiniest font. Stepping into the shower in the morning, I blinked and squinted at the array of three frosted plastic bottles and had no idea what to wash my hair with. I simply couldn't read them without my glasses. So I guessed.

It turned out to be "velours pour le corps" - lotion.

How's your day going?

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Developing story

 Today feels like there's a convergence of too many issues to handle! Here's what's on my plate:
  • Completing a complex assignment at work that relies on other people's input - on time
  • An interview for a job I'm not sure I want, 20 miles away, four hours from now
  • A promotional job opening at my own employer, application deadline Friday
  • A night at the theatre
  • A busy day full of meetings tomorrow
  • Preparing for a trip out of town
  • A potential writing opportunity fills me with anticipation
I'm not sure I want to change jobs now, even though I am making a lot less money than I was three months ago. The two job openings would upgrade my salary, but they would also be more stressful. Part of me is wondering if I'm only considering them to soothe my ego.

I love going out at night, but my day starts very early now, and tomorrow's a work day. I want to enjoy myself but don't want to drag the next day.

I'm looking forward to my trip - I leave Thursday - but it seems like there's so much to complete before I walk onto the plane.

Sometimes you just have to have to step from one stone to the next, without thinking about it.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Real life opera

La Traviata apartment house in Santa Monica. Operatic pretensions aside, the famed Verdi opera was based on Alexandre Dumas' novel La Dame aux Camelias, a romantic pot-boiler about a tubercular courtesan, but its Italian name, La Traviata, means "the fallen woman."  Would it be a little odd to live in an apartment so named?

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Cat street art

Downtown Los Angeles, the 300 block of South Broadway. Cat art on the rooftop of the building at 351 South Broadway.  This silhouette of a cat on the rooftop of an old building amused and delighted me when I visited it this weekend.

The thing I didn't realize until now, when I wanted to verify the address for this blog post, is that the mural that used to be on this building, titled "Calle de la Eternidad" by Johanna Poethig is now gone. The building has been renovated, and will become office suites and new retail space.  The property developer intends to re-install the mural on the side of the building.

I suppose that is a good thing. But the mural was a wonderful piece of art that lent its beauty and power to the Broadway streetscape. I will miss it.

This mural is no longer there.
How do we deal with it, when our familiar landscapes undergo transition?

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Thematic Photographic - Strangers in our midst

Carmi at the blog "Written, Inc." posts a photographic challenge each week at Thematic Photographic. This week, the theme is "Strangers in our midst." Find creative ways to photographic other people. I love it best when a photo of a stranger brings out their basic humanity - in profound or even silly ways.

When I saw this photo, I thought of the title, "The mariachi checks his text messages." These two musicians were taking a break from a Sunday afternoon gig at the busy Redondo Beach Pier. One of them took a moment to check his messages - our everyday interaction with modern technology is an all too common sight these days, even when one is garbed in traditional costume.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Old Tony's, Redondo Beach

"The kids say she was dressed like a star, in one of them cheap little seaside bars....."

           - Bruce Springsteen

Friday, September 13, 2013

Garden Gold

I mentioned that I am taking an on-line writing class. I'm rather pleased with a piece I wrote for an assignment.

The assignment was to write about something we taught ourselves, in 500 words or less. Open with a quote, saying or cultural reference, and then return to it at the end with a twist. Here's mine:

Thursday, September 12, 2013


In the tide pools, lapped with free flowing sea water, there's sunlight and energy. Here creatures need strong foundations to withstand pounding waves and the pull of tides. And here, there's such an abundance of life.

Click to "embiggen"
Never resting, the waves bring constant challenge and nourishment.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

What a difference

After our weekend heat wave, this is what Tuesday and Wednesday morning have been like at our house.

What a difference, huh? I've had to wear my sweater in the mornings!

Monday, September 9, 2013

Bird in the house

Picture from Wikipedia

Tonight I came home from work and when I walked in the door, I noticed that Jack was posed particularly alert in the upper hallway between the bedrooms. Then I thought I heard an odd fluttering, walked past the kitchen, and noticed debris on the floor.

There, against the high windows in the kitchen, a bird was trapped in the house.

This was a formidable bird; a Western Scrub Jay. Big and tough, scrub jays are supposed to be among the most intelligent of birds.

Not this one. This guy was a dumbshit.

First, I opened the patio door wide. It was sunset, and light was streaming in. The blinds were all drawn on the lower windows, and it should have been obvious, but the jay kept flinging himself against the clerestory windows.

Most of those windows are fixed glass, but one is an awning-type window, without a screen. I had to fetch the ladder from the basement to reach it, and managed to crank it open. This whole operation freaked the jay out so much he hid behind the vent-hood chimney, and I had to wait a while for him to calm down.

Meanwhile, brave Jack had retreated into the bedroom, and wasn't going anywhere near the kitchen.

Finally, the jay emerged from behind the hood chimney, and I used a broom to drive him toward the open window.

He fluttered in a panic and landed right on the open windowsill!! - but then he fluttered crazily back to dash his brains against the fixed glass window. I stood and watched him, wondering whether he'd find his way. Would it be cruel to use the broom to give him a nudge?

Flutter, flutter, frantic, and then  - suddenly he found the opening! Goodbye, dumbshit! Good speed!

Jack was relieved.

Saturday, September 7, 2013

A woman and her dog

I stopped by the ocean yesterday. Parked the car on the shoulder and went down to the beach. It was low tide, and the rocks were exposed.

Pelicans were clustered like a pack of yelping delinquents, on one big rock out in the water.

A pure white egret waded in the tidepools, searching for something to spear.

While I watched, a woman  came down the beach with a little black and white dog. She walked among the algae-covered rocks, and took a picture or two with her phone camera, while the dog scampered up and down the sand.

Click all photos to "embiggen"
She waded a few steps into the water. She wore a long black cotton dress, and as the waves washed round her feet it soaked her up to the thighs. She looked out at the blue water and you could tell - she just didn't care.

Friday, September 6, 2013

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Weekend update

Because it is my weekend; my new job works a 9/80 schedule, which means working 9 days over a 2 week period for 80 hours. It's 9 hours a day Monday through Thursday, and eight hours on every other Friday.

So tomorrow is my Friday Off!

But this isn't a time for goofing off, I've got some serious things happening.  

My task for the weekend is a messy and yet familiar one - the raccoons have attacked our fishpond. This time, they've managed to snag the pump hose out of the fountain and cause it to spray over the edge of the pond. On two different mornings, we've awakened to a green, slimy, stinking pond, with only a few inches of water remaining.  The first time, after I plugged the hose back and re-filled the pond, I could see the goldfish cautiously swimming in their new water. This second time, I can't see any fish. They are either hiding or the bastards got them.

With my work schedule and everything else, I've had to let the pond just sit. So tomorrow, I will refit the system and try to craft some kind of raccoon-proof protection. And buy new fish.

And, mind you, it's over 100 degrees during the day. A fishpond full of slimey stuff smells pretty high in that heat.

Stay cool, people. And avoid green slime if you can.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Running to catch up

Sorry for the light posting. We came off a nice holiday week, and then things heated up.

Literally, because we're experiencing a heat wave here in LA. The house is like an oven when I get home from work.

[The Man I Love] got on a plane this morning to visit family in Tampa. More on that later. It's just me and the dog, trying to keep cool.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

What a blast

Red snapper, ready for dinner
 Fishing With Dynamite is a new seafood joint in Manhattan Beach - and it's just what you want when you go visit a seaside town.

Launched by Chef David Lefevre, who also runs Manhattan Beach Post nearby, it's a tiny place; so compact that the only seats we could find were two tall stools at the narrow raw bar. But they were Eames DSR barstools - supremely comfortable for the two hours of self-indulgent dining we were about to undergo.