society of dabblers

Feeling artsy: dragons and owls

Dragon sketch postcard

I was going to do a wrap-up of my week, but I really didn’t do much this week that would make a post (that I haven’t already written, anyway), so here. Have a dragon postcard.

The postcard came from a scrapbooking store and I drew the dragon myself. I haven’t really drawn anything much in several years, so I decided to see how rusty my skills were. They weren’t too bad, but I found that I haven’t progressed at all for the obvious reason that I haven’t practiced at all. I did find that I’m a lot more confident with cartoon type sketches, though, and doodled some owls the other day.

Owl with cake

So there you go. I like that he looks a bit worried and also fat, like this isn’t an unusual snack. There were a lot of less-cute looking owls before this one that I won’t show you, but I’ve found a nice little “template” that I can reproduce, which is cool. No use for them at the moment, but maybe at some point I’ll think of something other than simply filling my sketch book.

joanna irl

Saturday Caturday: unicorn-cats… unicats?

Caspian the traumatized unicorn cat

Recently I picked up a product that I’d only seen online but found in a random little shop I was exploring… Inflatable unicorn horn FOR CATS. Because who doesn’t want a pet unicorn?

Leena the disgruntled unicorn

The horn had to be duct-taped twice, once for each cat to wear, because each one figured out how to hook a claw into it and pull it off of the head. They got a HUGE PILE of cat-cookies for this, dear reader, in case you are concerned for them.

With my pet unicorn-cat

This does lead me to wonder… is a unicorn-cat a unicat? A caticorn? I’m not sure, but either way it’s a really awesome little thing. For me, that is.

conservation ftw

California Friday: native habitat at the SDZ Safari Park

SD Zoo Safari Park, natural scenery

One of the interesting things to me about California is the sheer size and scope of it. I mean, Texas is huge and all, but California is SO LONG that you’d have to drive from north Florida to just about the New York state line to get a similar trip. It’s about a thirteen or fourteen hour drive  from north to south, and there are so many different types of landscape that it’s hard to picture in some ways.

According to the Nature Conservancy, San Diego County is the most biodiverse county in the continental US. That’s easy for me to believe. Not only is San Diego County extremely large, it covers a wide span of landscapes. You have the coastal salt marshes and the bay marine life, the cliffs, the river valleys more inland, you have chaparral and desert and mountains and pine forests, all in one county. And because of development, many of them are becoming endangered.

The habitat in the photo is of native coastal sage scrub habitat, protected within the property of the San Diego Zoo Safari Park. There are species that only live in this type of environment, and the Safari Park has dedicated about half of their property to remain untouched in order to preserve it. The amazing thing is really how little of this habitat exists: only about 10-15% of it is left from what was originally here. It’s hard to imagine a place that looks (at first glance) so brown and empty having so many things living in it, but it actually sits at a sweet spot in relation to the other more extreme local environs. The coastal sage scrub almost never freezes, and yet almost never goes about 90*F (or 32*C) and so is a perfect place for animals and plants to thrive. That’s why the hillside in the photo is so important to this area. (You can read more about what the Safari Park is doing here… it’s a .pdf, so you know.)

Anyway, I thought I’d share a little local knowledge I’ve gained. If you’re ever hiking in the area, take a minute to appreciate being in such an amazing, wildlife filled place, especially because it only exists in such small pockets of the country.

joanna irl

Throwback Thursday: a day at the beach in 1984

old photo on the Gulf Coast

This photo is from June, 1984. Thanks, handy Sharpie marking at the top!

While I don’t have any specific memories from this particular photo, I would like to point out my mom’s adorable blue bathing suit (which looks like some current styles I’ve seen, actually) and my dad’s short-shorts as proof that this is absolutely in the 80s. I’m about 20 months old in this photo, and (finally) growing in my hair (remember the weird face photo and how I had none? yeah, that lasted a while…) and my dad is holding the same blue bucket that appears in the photo from the following year (taken in the dining room).

(I like parentheses today, apparently. Hope that’s okay.)

This photo is from the Florida Gulf coast, near my grandparents’ house. I know that from the sugar-white sand and green ocean water that you can generally only find on tropical islands but because of GEOLOGY also happens along the Gulf. It’s much prettier than the Atlantic is in a way, though nothing quite beats the Atlantic for a gray, stormy day with plenty of lightening. But I’m getting off track.

I remember that there weren’t usually shells of any sort on those beaches, because of the ocean floor dropping off about a mile off shore. I remember that it was hard to make sand castles because the sand was so powdery, but it was soft and nice to play in nonetheless. I remember my dad pulling me out on a raft to the sand bars where he’d find sand dollars and put them on the raft with me to crawl around and I’d watch their tiny feet wiggling and was terrified of getting in the water myself for some inexplicable reason (I’ve never been afraid of sharks so… water maybe?) and we’d ride the waves.

I remember clumps of seaweed washing up after high tide, or storms, and shaking them to get the little animals inside to fall out onto the sand and then scooping them into the blue bucket (filled with water, of course) and I’d have my own little aquarium until it was time to dump them back in the water and go home. I found fish and hermit crabs and tiny shrimp and even seahorses! When I was a kid, I thought they were baby seahorses because they were so small, but I learned recently that they were a species of dwarf seahorse, the smallest kind in the world. How about that?

I remember playing in the sea oats (when I wasn’t supposed to probably, though my grandmother was never big on rules if there was fun to be had) and running along the hot pavement between the house and the water.

And I really wish that beaches around here were as pristine (and empty) as that one in the photo looks. Gorgeous.

conservation ftw

Wildlife Wednesday: burrowing owls!

Living Coast, burrowing owl

Ever since I read Hoot by Carl Hiaasen, I’ve been kind of fascinated by these little birds of prey. This burrowing owl is from the Living Coast Discovery Center and is part of a colony they have on exhibit there. They eat insects and small mammals, or small reptiles and amphibians they find. One interesting thing I learned about them is that they actually nest in burrows made by other animals, such as ground squirrels, which are very common here. They hunt by running along the ground (which I would SO love to see, with those little legs scooting along) or by swooping and grabbing things (like insects) from the air.

Burrowing owls are locally (in Orange and San Diego Counties) almost extinct, other than a tiny population on a Navy base. The Orange County base recently started bolstering protection for the owls, which are the only nesting owls in this part of the state that anyone has found, and they are very close to another endangered species (least terns) right on the base. It’ll be interesting to see how this plays out, as the terns are naturally snack food for burrowing owls.

There are over twenty subspecies of burrowing owls, including the Floridian one made famous by Hoot. They used to be common all over the US but since their territory is also prime land for development (wide open areas with sparse vegetation), they are running out of places to breed in localized areas. You can read more about them at the Burrowing Owl Conservation Network site.

Personally I think they are ridiculously cute, with their fluffy bodies and long, skinny legs and I’d love to see one in the wild. I’ll add it to by California bucket list. ^_^

conservation ftw

Tuesday Zoosday! This baby okapi is pretty much adorable.

SD Zoo, baby okapi

So there’s a baby okapi at the San Diego Zoo. She’s a couple of months old at this point, but I got to see her last week for the first time and she is pretty cute.

Okapis are a giraffe relative (don’t let those stripey legs fool you into think they might be zebra cousins!) and live in a very small, dense rain forest area of central Africa. There are less than 100 in zoos around the US, and several of those are here in San Diego. They’re fascinating to watch and I always make a point of going by their exhibit.

SD Zoo, baby okapi with mom

I think the most giraffe-like quality an okapi has is the head. If you look at the shape of the face, and at they way the tongue is manipulated to get shoots of grass or leaves, you can definitely see the family resemblance,  I love the huge ears these animals have. I know the photo is super over-exposed, but they were moving quickly in and out of that bright patch of light; usually they hang out in the shadows near the front of the exhibit, but baby girl there wanted to run and explore. She was awfully cute. Have I said that yet? It’s cool though because you can see how their legs blend in with the trees in the foreground, and you can kind of imagine what it’s like when they blend into their native forests.

Okapis are part of the Species Survival Plans Program and are a perfect illustration of how zoos benefit and promote species conservation. These animals are SO elusive in the wild that there is almost no way to study them. By observing them in captivity and learning about their reproduction and husbandry, we can learn to manage their populations and hopefully supplement the wild population. There is also a movement to educate people about so-called “bushmeat” which is often okapi or other endangered hoofstock and the like.

I think these animals a pretty cool, though I’ve only seen them a handful of times. If you’re interested in reading more about them, the San Diego Zoo’s website has some good stuff, as does the Okapi Conservation Project. ^_^

joanna irl

Cupcakes for One: revisited!

cupcake with frosting

So if you’ll recall, a couple of weeks ago I made a batch of cupcakes and then froze (almost) all of them to see how well they’d hold up in long-term storage, as such. I remember our frozen wedding cake being extremely edible (though all of the frosting shlumped off like a wet towel… which didn’t make it taste bad, so still a win in my book) and I decided to test out individual cupcakes. My recipe for just six is nice, but I can’t (or shouldn’t) eat all six in one sitting, so it’d be nice if I found an effective way to make a dozen and then have them for weeks without them going bad.

Over the last couple of weeks, I have occasionally had a cupcake. There are four left, and I intend to save them another week or so, but I thought I’d share my preliminary findings, for what they are worth to you, gentle reader, in your own quest for CUPCAKE.

cupcake, unwrapped!

Now, I am aware that these aren’t the very best photos of cupcakes EVER, but that’s because I peeled the wrapper partway off before I remembered to photograph it. That’s why they look a little lopsided. I assure you that they came out of the freezer in perfect, unfrosted condition. WAIT. I still have FOUR in the freezer!

cupcake, plain

There you go. That’s what they look like when they come out of the freezer. I take one out as I sit down to dinner, along with the cup of frosting I’ve got in the fridge, and let it come to room temperature. Then I put “fresh” frosting on the cupcake and voilà!

CUPCAKE.

Cupcake BIG BITE

It’s a very successful way to have a cupcake handy when I really need one. Sometimes you just need a cupcake, y’know?

joanna irl

An evening with Extraordinary Desserts

Extraordinary Desserts, cake case

The other night, a friend and I decided to try a new-to-us place called Extraordinary Desserts. The location we visited is only about a mile and a half from my house, and it was incredible. This is the same-day cake counter. They do wedding cakes and catering and the like, but they also have a huge walk-up dessert counter, plus a large selection of teas and coffees.

Extraordinary Desserts, with tea

The line took about 25 minutes, from the time we joined it to the time we sat at our table, but then our tea and desserts came out almost immediately. Considering the fact that it was Friday night, the wait wasn’t bad at all. And wow was it worth the wait. We ordered a roobios chai tea to split, and a raspberry tart (not my order so I don’t remember exactly what it was) that tasted amazing. And then I had my bread pudding.

Extraordinary Desserts, bread pudding

The bread pudding was one of the specials and just beautiful. I hadn’t ordered ice cream with it (so glad, it’d be too rich with it, I think) but that scoop on the side? That’s the real deal, homemade whipped cream. SO GOOD. The bread pudding is made with chocolate croissants and very light, all things considered. I couldn’t finish it by a mile, so I brought the vast majority of it home. This will definitely warrant a return trip.

joanna irl

Saturday Caturday: loving the camera?

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So, Leena is apparently into my camera the way Caspian is into shoes.  See? What Caspian does with my shoes, Leena has started doing with my camera.

IMG_1527

I first noticed it when I was sitting here writing for a previous day’s post, and I kept hearing a scraping noise behind me. It didn’t sound terribly important (remember, I live with Caspian who is OCD about paw-cleanliness so there is scraping happening all the time) but I finally turned around and saw… that.

IMG_1528

I don’t think she appreciated me taking pictures of her loving my camera, though. Maybe she figured if she claimed the camera, I’d quit pointing it in her face. Too bad I have MULTIPLES, Leena! Ha.

(Isn’t she cute?)

conservation ftw

California Friday: at the Living Coast Discovery Center

Living Coast Discovery Center, insid

Last week I discovered a nature center type place that’s south of me, right on San Diego Bay, called the Living Coast Discovery Center. It’s connected to the National Wildlife Refuge and sounded really interesting, so my friend and I drove down to see what it had.

Living Coast, docent presentation

We found out that this place has been there since the 80s but that most people don’t even know it exists, even though it’s got a great little animal collection (including a lot of native species, especially birds of prey!) and their emphasis is on education. They have a couple of full size classrooms, which makes them perfect for summer camps and school field trips, which I really liked, and a very knowledgeable team of docents.

Living Coast Discovery Center, sea stars

Some of the larger exhibits included sea turtles and a shark tank, where we got to see the sharks getting fed. They also had some smaller tanks with native species (including snakes, lizards, and these California sea stars), as well as some exhibits that seemed to be on a rotational basis. It was very interesting.

Living Coast, owl exhibit

My favorite part of the whole place was the walk along the back of the building, where you’re looking out over the salt marsh and walking through the bird of prey exhibits. They even have a big exhibit full of burrowing owls! I liked it so much I bought a membership and plan on heading back soon.