Desert Snow Moon and King’s Cake

New Englanders were digging out from a major snow storm and Punxsutawney Phil* was eying his shadow and predicting six more weeks of winter, while we were enjoying balmy weather, festive night skies, and the Full Snow Moon* over the Anza-Borrego Desert at the beginning of February.

DSC_0054 Snow Moon over Anza-Borrego

We also continued celebrating the 2015 Mardi Gras season* and so we continued the tradition that we began last month of bringing along King’s Cake.  This time Larry made cinnamon roll King’s Cake* with craisins, walnuts, and a hidden baby that added to the fun.  It was charged with the light of the Full Snow Moon, along with our Black Diamond Apollo Lanterns, now softened by Larry’s custom made shades using beaded fringe tape suspended from inverted baskets, which has whimsical movements in the breeze and provides fun shadows.

DSC_0014 Charging King's Cake

The cake was topped with white glaze sprinkled with sanding sugar* in Mardi Gras colors of purple, gold and green.

DSC_0038 Cinnamon King's Cake

A slice of this rich cake, along with a cup of French roast coffee, made for a good start for my early morning hike on the Moonlight Canyon Trail.  Recent sprinkles here brought new green leaves to ocotillo and brittlebush plants, but flowers are not yet plentiful due to the ongoing California drought. Nevertheless, this canyon trail always presents spectacular sights, such as golden cholla on canyon rims, piercing dark blue skies.*

DSC_0067 Moonlight Canyon Cholla

After seeing the beauty of the canyon, I returned to camp and spotted an eyesore of long ago discarded trash, partially covered in sand.  I lifted the items up and discovered that they provided a home for a large Anza-Borrego Hairy Scorpion, Hadrurus anzaborrego, that I quickly photographed before taking the trash to the dumpster.  The scorpion held its tail with sting and venom-injecting barb up high and quickly found a new home in the nearby rock wall.

DSC_0075 Anza-Borrego Hairy Scorpion

Scorpions are nocturnal and emerge at night to hunt and feed, just about the time I am outside in flip-flops doing night photography, such as of the nearby rock wall with a large Catclaw Acacia in moonlight.  A Chinese I-Ching coin wind chime is on a branch and reminds us that Chinese New Year starts February 19.

DSC_0026 Acacia and rock wall

We thoroughly enjoy our desert home away from home and the beautiful view of Whale Mountain at sunset… even Howdy Doody seems particularly happy here, and I can imagine him singing, “Home on the Range“.*

DSC_0089 Howdy Doody at sunset

*This is a link to a YouTube video.

Desert Wolf Moon and King’s Cake

 

It was an auspicious way to begin the new year, returning to our favorite spot in the Anza-Borrego Desert on the Full Wolf Moon* and eve of Twelfth Night, along with the possibility of spotting Comet Lovejoy.  The days are now growing longer, so we were able to set up camp and enjoy hot turkey open-faced sandwiches before the full moon rose.

DSC_0010 Full Wolf Moon, Anza-Borrego

Twelfth Night marks the conclusion of the Twelve Days of Christmas, the arrival of the Magi (three Wise men or Kings), Epiphany, and the beginning of Mardi Gras and the Carnival season.  Various cultures celebrate this time with a sweet cake, such as the Mexican Rosca de Reyes.*  We arrived with Larry’s version of King’s cake, a panettone with dried cherries, craisins, sliced almonds, and zest from a homegrown kaffir lime, all marinated in brandy.  Purple, gold, and green icing (traditional colors of Mardi Gras)* was drizzled over the top, adding a nice crunchy texture.  The cake was then charged with the magical and festive light of the full moon.

DSC_0030 King's Cake in moonlight

The next day, the cake was topped off with our homegrown Cattleya orchids and surrounded with strings of Mardi Gras beads.*

DSC_0044 King's cake in sunlight

DSC_0046 Cattleya orchids on King Cake

Following this photo shoot, I savored a slice of this rich cake, along with a cup of freshly brewed coffee before taking my morning hike on Moonlight Canyon Trail where I photographed bighorn sheep last month.  The sheep were elusive and not seen this time, but I did enjoy the sight of brilliant sunlight backlighting plants along the ridge, which I especially appreciated after experiencing cloudy days, cold rain and hail in San Diego just a week before.

DSC_0059 Moonlight Canyon ridge

We usually eat dinner outside in the late afternoon while enjoying the ever-changing display of soft, dusty pastel colors on the nearby Pinyon/Vallecito Mountains and Whale Peak, but sometimes the darkness seems to fall too quickly, and for those occasions, we now have Black Diamond Apollo Lanterns,* which, on the dimmest setting, present a soft light enabling us to see and enjoy our meal, in this case, Kalua pork and pepper jack cheese quesadillas, with a side of black-eyed peas with ham, buttered broccoli, and scallions.

DSC_0088 Apollo lanterns

After dinner, we enjoyed stargazing and looking for Comet Lovejoy.*  Larry saw what looked like a bright, flickering star with changing colors of blue, white, and green at the foot of Orion just above the horizon.  Later, I was mesmerized by the full moon that lit up the desert…

DSC_0085 Looking for Comet Lovejoy

and happy the following morning by the return of the sun!*

DSC_0102 Anza-Borrego sunrise

 

*This is a link to a YouTube video.

Nutcracker in the desert

Nutcrackers and nuts returned with us to our latest, favorite site in the desert to bask in the warm sun and cheer us inside the trailer during the cool December evenings by the Vallecito Mountains.  We were lucky to enjoy five sunny days before the Pineapple Express delivered wind and rain as we safely crossed over the mountains (due in part to Airstream’s aerodynamics and handling stability*) on our way back to San Diego last Friday.

DSC_0013 Nutcrackers in the desert

DSC_0099 Our desert campsite

Larry enjoyed getting up before sunrise and taking walks while sipping hot coffee as the sun rose.  Meanwhile, on the first morning, I was busy taking advantage of how beautiful the early morning sunlight looks as it streams into the Airstream, making everything look happy and festive.

DSC_0001 Nutcracker & books

Featured in this display is E.T.A Hoffmann‘s Nutcracker, first written in 1816.  This version was translated by Ralph Manheim and published in 1984 by Crown Publishers, INC., and illustrated by Maurice Sendak,* who did the brilliant set designs and costumes for the Pacific Northwest Ballet’s Christmas production of Nutcracker,* which was made into a movie, Nutcracker: The Motion Picture,* in 1986.  This film is my favorite version over the years, but my video wore out, and it wasn’t until 2011 when it became available on DVD.

Before viewing my new Nutcracker DVD, I thought it would be good to go back and read the book, a real book that can provide a satisfying sensory experience.  For the occasion, I wore a Victorian style smoking cap adapted and embellished by Larry (a work in progress), similar to those worn by Professor Albus Dumbledore,* and a Hawaiian shirt inspired by Dr. C. (insightout).

DSC_0091 Reading Hoffmann's Nutcracker

The stockings were hung in the trailer with care, in hopes that Herr Drosselmeier would soon be there. (He was last seen in the desert delivering nutcrackers seven years ago.)

DSC_0092 Nutcracker - The Motion Picture

He did briefly appear on our seldom used TV screen, but was turned off because we prefer evenings relaxing on the lounge while watching stars through the Vista View windows, votive candlelight dancing on the shiny aluminum interior, and listening to the music of R. Carlos Nakai.*

DSC_0121 Nutcracker anticipation

It’s magical, peaceful, and timeless…  funny how time just slips away.*

The desert will always welcome nutcrackers…  as time goes by.*

*This is a link to a YouTube video.

Happy in sunny San Diego

Our Airstream Safari trailer is happy as a clam after getting the salt deposits washed off upon returning to home base after basking on the bluffs of South Carlsbad State Beach for 5 days.  The big, annual wash and wax job will take place next month before we begin our fall camping schedule.

DSC_0335 Salt deposits washed off

We have been happily enjoying viewing free, over-the-air high definition TV over the summer and celebrating our independence from pay TV with the help of our Mohu Leaf 50 indoor antenna, saving us $75/month.

Last week, we were happy to discover the first flower bud on one of our pitahaya cactus plants, Hylocereus undatus, that we planted three years ago.  This is also known as Dragon Fruit and we are happy that it grows well in San Diego.

DSC_0001 Our first pitahaya flower bud

We obtained our plants and sample fruit of the Pitahaya Roja* (seen below) from Ong Nursery.

Last night our pitahaya bloomed under a full moon. Pitahaya flowers in Southern California bloom for one night only.

DSC_0054 1st Pitahaya bloom

Pitahaya pistil with writhing tentacles happily rises above 800 stamens.**

DSC_0052 Pistil rises above stamens

I climbed a stepladder under the full moon and applied a small brush to cross-pollinate two flowers.  The deed was completed by happy bees in the early morning.

DSC_0087 Bees pollinating pitahaya

We now await the fruits of our labors.

DSC_0021 Ripe pitahaya fruit

Eating Dragon Fruit* is a happy, refreshing and healthy experience.

Another happy experience occurred early this summer when we gathered with friends for a Victorian picnic in Old Town San Diego State Historic Park.

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(Photo credit: Travel writer, Charlie Jung)

Seen on the table is ham and cheese stromboli (made by Larry), along with German coleslaw, fresh fruit, lemonade, lemon curd, pickles, empanadas, hard boiled eggs, and sliced cheese.

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(Above photo credit: Travel writer, Charlie Jung)

HPIM2905 Bill & Larry, happy in Old Town

And of course, we had a Happy time in Old Town San Diego!*

And continue to be Happy in America’s Finest City!*

* This is a link to a YouTube video.

** Pitahaya: A Promising New Fruit Crop for Southern California, Paul H Thomson, Leo W Manuel, 2002

Ocean knight currents, part four

I cautiously passed the windmill facing the ocean, which I had originally and mistakenly perceived to be a giant with waving arms,* and sallied forth to find the museum housing musical instruments that are close to my heart, such as the lute.

DSC_0165-2 South Carlsbad windmill

While venturing eastward, I came upon a lovely field of flowers (The Flower Fields® at Carlsbad Ranch)* with a beautiful damsel (Dulcinea?)* in the middle beckoning visitors to enjoy the splendor of ten million Ranunculus flowers.

DSC_0163 Flower Fields of Carlsbad

Assured that the lady was safe behind a white picket fence, I continued on in search of stringed instruments and came upon a magnificent castle* on top of a hill with a commanding view of the countryside and the Pacific Ocean.  This is the home of the Museum of Making Music,* which displays hundreds of vintage instruments and presents special exhibitions twice a year along with concerts, workshops, and educational programs.  (I last made a pilgrimage here in 2008 to view a special exhibit of ukuleles.)  I was delighted that my quest was at an end as I experienced their current, special exhibit, “The Banjo: A New Day for an Old Instrument.”

DSC_0149 MOMM's banjo exhibit (1)

DSC_0150 MOMM's banjo exhibit (2)

The banjo’s roots are thought to go back to West Africa, where hide-covered gourd folk lutes, such as the akonting, were plucked.*  The concept was transported to Colonial America by Africans via the Atlantic slave trade.

DSC_0159 Banjo's roots

An early version of the banjo was played in degrading minstrel shows of the 1800s.  My favorite black banjo/guitar/singer of the folk song era of the 1960s was Elizabeth Cotten,* best known for her timeless song, “Freight Train.”*

DSC_0146 Recapturing the Banjo

Back at camp, Larry prepared lunch featuring pupusas, a traditional Salvadoran dish, fried masa pies filled with ham and cheese.

DSC_0176 Larry's pupusas

A couple strolled into the sunset as I reflected on our successful quests, the rebirth of the San Diego Opera, and why music is so important.*

DSC_0018 Stroll into the sunset

It’s nice to remember the sun’s gonna shine again.*

*This is a link to a YouTube video.