Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Wordless Wednesday-Leaping Lizards!

Botanical Gardens

The boys are off from school this week for spring break. David took this week off as well. This year we are foregoing the sailing club and checking out some of the sights closer to home. Today we went to the botanical gardens in Bogor.

David and I went there before Christmas without the kids. We got lucky and one of the gardeners showed us around and pointed out cool trees like cinnamon, rubber, and nutmeg. It was really interesting. Today with kids in tow it was more like "Wow that's a lot of trees. Where are the bats?" Yep folks we go to the Indonesian national botanical gardens to see freaking BATS! It's that inner Corwin thing again! *Sigh* Yes, Mom, I know you told me to have a little girl instead of all these boys, but they do keep life interesting, besides was I really any better??

These are flying foxes. Are they as big as they look? No, they are way bigger! They are HUGE with wingspans up to 6 feet. The boys were awed. We got right under the trees and spent a good 15 minutes staring up at them as they moved around the tree tops. They not only fly to get to a new roost but can scramble along the branches amazingly quick, like an upside down monkey. Totally Cool!

Colin saw a weird caterpillar in the orchid exhibit. "Yeah those are orchids. Hey check out this caterpillar! It looks like a snake!" I was left alone to admire the orchids while the Corwin wanna-be's admired the bug. I will really miss orchids when we leave here. I will not miss the bugs.

While looking at the aquatic collection Cody made a cool discovery, a baby water monitor swimming between the plants. Watching this little one zip about the pond I suddenly understood how the big monitors could swim between islands.

Even at a place dedicated to plants my men can find enough creepy animals to keep themselves happy. Only one thing marred the fun, as we were eating lunch Grayson grabbed the paper towels when I asked for one and ran as fast as he could in the opposite direction hoping I would chase him. Instead karma caught up with him and he tripped and fell head first into a bench. He has a big "owwie" but is otherwise OK. Tomorrow off to the zoo.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Art Work by Cody

Pulau Putri

Easter weekend marks the first weekend of spring break 2008. To celebrate we took a family trip to Pulau Seribu (Thousand Islands). This is a chain of small islands just north of Jakarta. There aren't really one thousand islands, but there are whole bunch.

We went to Pulau Putri (pulau=island) one of the northernmost islands. Which means one of the farthest away from Jakarta's ever present pollution. We all had a great time. The water was astoundingly clear. There was a walk though underwater tunnel, a sunset cruise around nearby islands, and a glass bottom boat ride. We could (and did) rent a paddle boat and paddle out over the reef. One of the best things is it's so close to home. Thirty minutes to the marina, about an hour in the boat, and we were there.

Of course, for our family the chance for the boys to channel their inner Corwin is always a priority. There was lots of wildlife to see above and below the water. Colin and Alonzo had lots of fun paddling about near shore looking at fish with their swim goggles. They are already planning where to go diving when they get scuba certified (in about a decade). There was a penned area that had a several sting rays, small sharks, and schools of small fish. Grayson spent a lot of time pointing and yelling "Sting Ray! Sting Ray!" I think it is his new favorite fish. Cody, having freshly passed his scuba test and being one dive short of full certification, paddled for a short time with the boys and then retired to the pool, as anything less than actually diving is suddenly beneath him. And of course the tunnel aquarium was a hit with everyone.

Above the water Cody spotted a Prevost's squirrel, one of the prettiest squirrels anywhere. Sadly I have only seen one at the San Antonio zoo, I never managed to catch sight of a squirrel on the island. We saw huge monitor lizards. These were monsters, well over 5 feet, large enough that Colin refused to walk to the pool by himself for fear of getting eaten, hmm...maybe I shouldn't have let him watch that show about Komodo dragons. They are so well fed, hanging out behind the kitchen for scraps, that there was no real danger, but it was startling to come across something like that unawares. However I think the coolest animal was the flying fox. Stellaluna has long been a favorite bedtime story at our house and to see a real live Stellaluna made the kid's day. I can't wait until we take them to the botanical gardens later this week and they can really get a good look at a flying fox colony.

It was a great two day trip. The sailing club remains my favorite escape from Jakarta, but this was a wonderful opportunity to see a little something different, closer to home. I am glad we went.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Tres Leche Cake

On our first anniversary we both took the day off from work and went to Austin.  On the recommendation of a friend we dined at Chuy's Hula Hut.   I forget what we had for dinner that year but for dessert we had Tres Leche Cake. YUM!  It became a tradition, for the next 6 years we drove up to Austin and enjoyed a great meal and of course Tres Leche cake for dessert. Now that 75 minute drive to Austin is more like 3 days travel, so no Hula Hut.  Last year I tried to make my own cake, but the texture was wrong, too soft and too mushy.  This year I found this recipe.  Success!  It was good, really good.  In fact Colin took one bite of cake and said, "This is the best thing I have ever tasted!"  

Oh, if you make it to Austin and the Hula Hut, I strongly recommend the Mexonesian Shrimp Flautas. That's the next recipe I start trying duplicate.

Jakata Bloggers Meet Up At The Ball

JenJen in Jakarta and myself all dressed up at the Irish Ball.  What a fun night and thank goodness my dress and a little makeup (a lot of makeup, a whole lot!) hid the worst of the sunburn! 

Friday, March 14, 2008

I'm A Red Neck Girl!

Word to the wise, if you are going to spend your 9th wedding anniversary checking out ancient temples and ruins under the hot tropical Javanese sun, WEAR SUNSCREEN!

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Backyard Habitat

This sign is one of my treasures. It originally hung in the window of my old house (since the Home Owners Association (HOA) wouldn't let me put it up in my yard, don't get me started about HOAs!) This sign indicated that my yard was a registered Backyard Habitat. It was a safe zone for wildlife and provided the 4 basics: food, water, shelter and a place to raise young.

I earned this sign by making my yard wildlife friendly. It doesn't have to be a major project like on the Backyard Habitat TV show. It doesn't have to cost a fortune. You don't have to own a huge piece of land. People have certified balcony and rooftop gardens in the heart of the city. Every little bit helps.

I started by simply replacing the petunias, pansies and snapdragons that couldn't take the Texas heat with native flowers which thrived in the heat and dryness of the south. The bonus came when these needed much less water, almost never needed to be sprayed for pests, and began attracting butterflies and birds to my gardens. Oh, and most of these natives were either perennials (plants that survive from year to year) or self seeders so I didn't have to keep buying the same plants every spring! Money saver!

Next I added in a couple of birdbaths that I made by taking old clay pots with saucers and putting the pot upside down in the garden then putting the saucer on top and filling with water. Speaking of water, summer is the dry season for south Texas. Instead of watering with a sprinkler I would wait until my kids were done playing in the wading pool give them buckets and have them empty the swimming pool one bucket at a time by scooping the water and pouring it on the plants. Double duty, kids stayed cool and the plants got watered.

I added some color and diversity to the mix by rescuing plants from neighboring lots that were scheduled to be cleared for building (remember to check with the builder before you do this). I was able to get 2 Texas Redbuds, a Hop Tree, and a Texas Buckeye this way. The only thing it cost me was sweat and time. I also traded plants, clippings, bulbs, and seeds with neighbors and friends, improving all of our yards.

We slowly cut back the amount of yard that was covered in lawn, converting it to a small grove of native trees and plants. Less to mow, YAY! and it provided privacy and coolness by shading the front porch. The trees provided shelter, food, and a place for birds to nest. Even in winter the trees provided food like this soapberry tree feeding cedar waxwings.

So what kind of animals did we see? Mostly birds, butterflies/caterpillars, and squirrels. We had lizards and toads but they learned to be wary of a house full of boys and weren't often spotted out in the open. We did get temporary visitors like rabbits and possums that wandered in from a nearby flood plain. These usually stayed a night or two and wandered off again.

This is the front view of my old house. You can see the stand of trees to the side of the house. Neatly mowed lawns and clean flower beds helped keep the HOA off our backs about the thicket of trees. The flower beds were heavily mulched to keep out weeds and retain water.

This is the side view, the large trees to the right of the picture are the back side of the thicket. It took us about 4 years to change the yard from new home blah to nature habitat. We were lucky the builder had left many of the trees that eventually formed the thicket. We added in native shrubs and trees to fill in blank spots.

NWF has tip sheets to help you attract wildlife to your yard or balcony. The Canadian Wildlife Federation has a similar program as does Australia. Check with your local nursery, parks and wildlife department, or follow the links above for help in picking out native plants for your area. Have fun gardening, and enjoy nature!

Friday, March 7, 2008

Country Road

David found this show while channel surfing tonight. For some reason I find a room full Indonesians all dressed for the rodeo and singing country music utterly hilarious. Actually the music was pretty good, and of course I am a country music junkie, so I was happy. The show was broadcast in a mixture of Bahasa Indonesia and English so I was able to follow along.

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Strange Tropical Fruit #2- Jackfruit

As I said in my post about rambutan, this is fruit that is weird to me. This fruit is not commonly imported to the United States, or at least not available in Texas at my local HEB. It is eaten by many, many people in tropical areas of Asia.

Jackfruit is one of Colin's favorite fruits. I think this is mostly because there is a jackfruit tree in our compound. He is enamored of growing and picking his own food. Strangely I think he misses my gardens back in Texas more than I do.

So what does jackfruit taste like? It is very sweet, has a sort of squishy texture and to me smells a bit like Juicy Fruit bubble gum. My tropical fruit book described it as a pineapple flavor mixed with melon. Mostly I just thought it was sweet and sticky, but not so as juicy as pineapple and melon. It is very large fruit covered in bumps, sort of small spikes. Inside the fruit there is a lot of pulpy stuff and bunches of bright yellow sections each containing a seed. It is these sections that are eaten. The seeds can be eaten as well. The immature fruit can be eaten as a savory cooked dish. I haven't tried either of these specialties. An interesting note, the unopened ripe jackfruit smells nasty, really nasty, sort of like a rotting onion even though inside is fine.

The fruit grows from the trunks and branches of the jackfruit tree. Although it can grow down low on the trunk, like in this picture from Bali, it also grows very high up in the branches as well. Large fruits can grow to a whopping 110 pounds (50 kg). Imagine walking under a tree with bumpy, spikey, giant watermelon sized fruit hanging over your head. Makes me a bit nervous. Good thing that Newton was sitting under a apple tree, not a jackfruit tree.

I have a funny story involving Colin, jackfruit and the gardener: Colin has attached himself to one of the compound gardeners. He follows this poor guy around all afternoon whenever he can't find a friend to play with. I have repeatedly told Colin to leave the gardener alone but the gardener just looks at me and says, "No problem Bu." Bu (boo) is short for Ibu (EE-boo) which is a polite way to address a woman, like ma'am. Colin calls the gardener Anaconda, his name is Uding (hope I spelled that right). Colin decided his name was Anaconda when Uding called Colin anak anak (bahasa Indonesia for child or children) said quickly it does sound a bit like Anaconda. So anyway Colin follows Anaconda around for hours, babbling at him in English while Anaconda answers back in Indonesian. Who knows if they understand anything the other says. He will give Colin bugs and snails, trimmings from plants or seeds to plant. Most of the time they both seem satisfied with their arrangement.

One day however the boss gardener was around so Anaconda had no time for Colin, but Colin wouldn't be discouraged. Finally the gardener went to the back and picked a small jackfruit, broke it open and gave it to Colin. This didn't stop Colin from following him around but it did keep him out the way. He sat watching Anaconda work and stuffing his face with jackfruit.
Colin ate so much jackfruit that he didn't touch his dinner.