Beer 101 in Breckenridge

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The Breckenridge Brewery is Colorado’s third oldest craft brewery.


I’m not much of a beer drinker, and really don’t know that much about beer. When I heard about Saison, I thought they meant the artist (Cezanne). In case you don’t know, either, Saison is a pale ale brewed in cooler, less active months in farmhouses in Wallonia, the French-speaking region of Belgium, and stored for drinking in the summer months. It’s highly carbonated, fruity and spicy.


Delightful outdoor dinning

I do know that IPA stands for India pale ale; and that I don’t like bitter, hoppy beers — often the case with IPAs — and I prefer Belgian Style wheat beers. I’ve enjoyed real Guinness on tap in Ireland, which seemed like a kind of beer milkshake with its rich, creamy quality.

But my beer education reached new heights recently – along with great autumn aspen-viewing — at the Breckenridge Brewery in that mountain town.


Extenuate Mine a.k.a. X10U8

I already knew that “hoppy” doesn’t have to mean bitter, but learned that there are East Coast and West Coast styles of IPAs, and the East Coast style is not so bitter.


“Now You Know,” a one-off, small batch BB beer proved this point. This East Coast style IPA was my favorite with its wonderfully exotic herbal-floral aroma like nothing I’ve experienced in a beer or otherwise, and not at all bitter.

BB head brewer Jimmy Walker says it’s made from Eureka, Nelson Sauvin and Mosaic hops with lupulin powder, “the resinous part of the hop flower,” Walker adds. Walker and lead brewer Blake Schwalls are part chemist, botanist, artist and mad scientist.


Pub lunch with Hawaiian Sunset beer


For lunch, along with a delicious chipotle black bean soup and Caesar salad at BB’s pub, I tried the Hawaiian Sunset beer, made with passion fruit and guava – a tangy treat. Fruit beers are a challenge, Walker says, because the acidity reduces head retention. The same is true of chili beers – and coffee beers.










BB’s latest showstopper, Nitro Pumpkin Spice Latte, spawned a collaboration with Cabin Coffee, Breckenridge’s only coffee roaster, to combine cold-press coffee and a touch of dairy lactose with this arresting autumn stout. It’s like a slightly coffee-tanged Guinness, with its creamy, rich quality, which, I learned, comes from the nitro process.


Reiling Dredge Historical Site

Nitro, as the name implies, comes from nitrogen forced into the beer, giving it smaller bubbles than carbon dioxide – the other method of carbonation. “Nitro has a very dense head – a tight head like Guinness,” Walker says. “It’s a different mouth feel with CO2. For example, with soda water, CO2 gives a prickly bite, instead of a tight creamy head with nitro.” Most beer is force carbonated, meaning that CO2 is forced into the beer.

For a historic view of beer-making, Walker recommends the documentary “How Beer Saved the World.” Among other things, it recounts how more than 60 percent of all the grain in ancient Egypt was used for beer. In addition to the boiled water, beer has an acidity around 4.2 pH, which also kills bacterial growth. So, drinking beer, rather than water, was a much safer, life-prolonging choice in ancient times when the water might kill you.



Beer barrel flowers

FYI: As of 2016, according to the Brewers Association for Small and Independent Craft Brewers, Colorado ranked second in the U.S. (tied with Washington state) for the most craft breweries — 334 with 8.4 breweries per capita* (*per 100,000 21+ adults). California was No. 1 with 623 craft breweries.


BB’s Head Brewer Jimmy Walker at Aspen Alley’s Sawmill Museum









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Akumal Conundrum


Early morning on Akumal Bay before the crowds arrive

Akumal in Maya means “Place of the Turtle,” soon to be changed to “Place of the Tourist.” Located on the Yucatan Peninsula, some 60 miles south of Cancun, Mexico, and less than 20 miles north of Tulum, Akumal used to be a lovely, quiet, undiscovered place with a beautiful bay and beach that’s a refuge and nursery for giant, seagoing turtles.

Those who go for a week or 10 days generally are blissfully unaware of what’s really going on there, and see only the white-sand beaches, stunning turquoise water, giant turtles, friendly locals, tangy margaritas, and charming cafes. DSC_0459 (2)Having stayed for three months this past winter I had the unpleasant experience of seeing the dark underbelly of life in Akumal, and Mexico in general.

Don’t get me wrong. I love Mexico and the Mexican people, and my love affair with both has persisted since the 1980s. And I still love Akumal, but like all romances, reality kicks in at some point and the undesirable aspects of the beloved become apparent.

It’s hard to explain exactly what’s going on there, since those in the midst of it don’t really understand either. And everyone you talk to has a different story and interpretation of reality. One problem is too many tourists are now overstressing the once-pristine bay, causing pollution from bodies, sunscreen, and other natural and unnatural chemicals. Some of the turtles have developed tumors, which local marine biologists believe are from these chemicals.

The other problem is too many people are trying to make money from Akumal’s beauty. This includes resort owners, local people trying to make a buck, and developers trying to make big bucks by exploiting the area even more — like the brand-new, 3-pool, 400-room, all-inclusive resort adjacent to Akumal Bay — wedged in between other large resorts already stressing the fragile environment. There are future plans for destruction of the mangrove jungle from the highway to Half Moon Bay (the bay just north of Akumal Bay) for even more development.

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Half Moon Bay

Sewage is a major issue in this community where in wretched Akumal Pueblo, across the big highway and relegated to the Mexicans, there is virtually no system at all. People have dug makeshift, septic systems — basically a hole in the ground — where raw sewage goes and eventually ends up in Yal Ku Lagoon or the other lagoons, bays, mangrove swamps, and ultimately the sea. To top it off, various resort owners are on the board of the Centro Ecologico Akumal (CEA) — the environmental center. Uh, a slight conflict of interest?! Some of these very resort owners and environmental board members are themselves the biggest polluters. Then there’s all the crap that washes up on the beaches from who knows where.


Someone assembled the washed-up shoes in this somewhat aesthetic pile. Not shown is the metal and plastic of all description from oil cans, car parts, and furniture to toothbrushes, deodorant containers, and every plastic object of daily consumer use.

Driving the potholed road into Akumal, visitors are beset by official-looking people, some in uniforms, who accost cars informing them that they need guides, tours, parking, directions, snorkeling equipment, and various things provided by them. They are in direct competition with two local dive shops and various resorts offering snorkeling tours and other services — not to mention hordes of snorkeling and diving operations from up and down the coast as far away as Cancun, Tulum, or beyond. And the situation is generally unregulated.

Then there’s the issue of beach access. Although all beaches in Mexico are public property, “Zona Federal,” on which anyone is allowed to go, solid walls of condos, villas, and resorts block public access. Although I stayed across the main road from the beach, just 100 meters away, I had to sneak through a condo or walk a block or two to one of the only undeveloped lots to access the “public beach” — a very annoying situation when you’ve rented a place long term to enjoy the beach.

The beach access issue came to a head this past winter — and continues now — with the local snorkel “cooperatives” creating a blockade on the main highway so that no one could enter or leave Akumal!  This happened the week before Christmas 2015 at the height of the season, creating chaos and consternation for resort owners, local workers trying to earn a living, and various tours and tourists arriving and departing. The blockade did draw attention to the greater problem, and also had the added benefit of emptying the usually crowded beaches. The issue continued to heat up, culminating in more demonstrations and toppling the historic Mayan statue near the town square.

So what does the future hold for Akumal? Former CEA director and long-time environmentalist Paul Sanchez-Navarro Russell offers solutions in his astute piece in the Mexico News Daily Since his article, the federal government has declared Akumal a Sea Turtle Refuge, but a management plan still needs to be created and implemented, with actual enforcement of regulations. Russell is the director of the Mexican Organization for Environmental Conservation. In the meantime, one can only hope that proper stewardship will prevail in this still-beautiful refuge for both turtles and humans.


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Peruvian Orchids, Bears and Machu Picchu

In the shadow of Machu Picchu and the Inca Trail, fern-lined, vine-strewn footpaths wind through the cloud forest where the world’s largest collection of native orchids in their natural habitat blooms and thrives – with Peruvian biologist Carmen Soto to identify them all. And two new species were recently discovered.DSC_0293DSC_0306

  • No orchid is too small for Carmen Soto, the resident biologist at Inkaterra Machu Picchu Pueblo Hotel. In fact, the smaller, the more enticing to Soto, who carries a magnifying glass to show her audience the beauty and intricacies of her favorite flowers. Orchids are the largest family of flowers in the world. A special orange orchid is found only in Peru and is the Machu Picchu orchid.

    Machu Picchu Orchid

    Soto keeps an orchid calendar and orchid count for the sanctuary. There are 372 species of orchids here and 400 in the Machu Picchu Sanctuary – a special area set aside by the Peruvian government. “December to April is orchid season,” says Soto – when they bloom. Mountain anise also grows here. It’s nature’s pharmacopoeia. Anise is good for the stomach.  “Here’s mountain lemon – smell the leaves,” she says as she crushes them, “It’s a mosquito repellant.” Displaying another, Soto enthuses, “This orchid looks like a fern.


    Fernlike orchid

    Here’s a climbing yellow orchid. Walnut trees grow here, too, and bouncing ladies orchids.”

Besides orchids, the sanctuary harbors five Andean bears. Kina is an Andean bear being rehabilitated at the sanctuary. Some were rescued from a circus. Pepe is 25 years old and the biggest. He was rescued from a zoo. Bears kept in captivity or raised in captivity don’t learn how to properly climb trees, says Soto. “They fall out of the trees. So they can’t really be released in the wild. They don’t have the learned skills of wild bears. They haven’t had their mother around to teach them the right technique.” A little more slender than northern black bears, the Andeans are inky black. They like to eat ficus, passion fruit, heliconia, bromeliad, palm leaves, cactus and other forest delicacies

Although they cling to trees, orchids are not parasites, Soto says, pointing out the tiny star orchid that measures 1 cm.DSC_0311 It’s smaller than a thumb tack. Here’s an umbrella orchid – it grows under its own leaf, which it uses as an umbrella.

It’s truly a Garden of Eden here high in the Andes, and Soto happily reigns over her paradise. The hotel offers dozens of other nature tours.

The Inkaterra hotel is part of the Inka Terra Asociacion (ITA), which is a nonprofit

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Dining room balcony view from Inkaterra Machu Picchu Pueblo Hotel


organization devoted to the research and conservation of Amazonian, Andean and Marine ecosystems of Peru. Based on ecotourism, ITA develops research, conservation and education programs through sustainable development models and promoting eco business to benefit local communities.


Inkaterra Machu Picchu Pueblo Hotel


Inkaterra Machu Picchu Pueblo Hotel





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What Not to Do in Iceland: Snorkeling at Silfra

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“I’m soaking wet!” yelled my fellow snorkeler whose dry suit was apparently not working — an issue of concern in the 35-degree F water in Iceland’s Silfra rift, reputedly one of the top 10 dive sites in the world. My dry suit, too, had sprung a leak the minute I slid into the icy water, and my backside was being slowly cooled by a trickle of the world’s clearest, coldest, volcanically filtered waters.

Snorkeling in these glacier-melt, frigid waters requires wearing a dry suit over a sleeping-baglike liner, plus gloves, hood, booties and everything to keep one’s body from contacting the rapid, hypothermia-inducing water — not the most pleasant experience.


Gloomy, chilly weather with sideways, spitting rain doesn’t help either. But our intrepid snorkeling group was hot to experience this once-in-a lifetime chance to snorkel in the rift between the North America and Eurasian continental tectonic plates. Eerie Sapphire blue light and green “troll hair” algae highlight the rock formations. No fish swim here since there are no nutrients in the ultra-clear water that has filtered through volcanic rock for some 50 or more years.


Unfortunately, wearing all this gear makes a person extremely buoyant, so as soon as you hit the water you flip over on your back like an otter, which makes snorkeling challenging. Since the water is so cold, and the neoprene gloves don’t really insulate the hands, our instructors told us to snorkel with our hands behind our neck or back — another difficult maneuver in a sleeping bag covered with a rubber suit, making one’s arms feel like overstuffed sausages.

After the first 50 feet or so, most of us with leaky dry suits baled out after the struggle to stay on our stomachs, the fear of hypothermia, claustrophobia, constantly fogging masks requiring ice-water facial baths to clear, and just no plain fun finally won out.

Iceland is a splendid, magical place, with breathtaking waterfalls, glaciers, volcanoes, verdant farms, and the hip, colorful capitol of Reykjavik. Thingvellir National Park is likewise beautiful and fascinating, and perhaps a different snorkeling company with better dry suits might have made the experience more pleasant. Our young guides were certainly competent and enthusiastic. Another of our group did a dry-suit scuba dive at the same site the next day and reported a good experience. Her dry suit probably didn’t’ leak. All the rave reviews on Trip Advisor must have had different outfitters than our group. But the experience was certainly bracing, and made most of us vow to stick to warm-water snorkeling only. One man’s whole body went numb and he was barely able to drag himself out of the water. Another woman’s hands went completely numb, and our guide and bus driver had to help her out of her gear as she wept from the pain as her hands began thawing. Chalk it up to another memorable travel tale.

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Chihuly Charms Denver Botanic Gardens

Blue Icicles

Blue Icicles

DSC_0652blue flamingos

Currently at the Denver Botanic Gardens, renowned glass artist Dale Chihuly’s intricate, luminous pieces give viewers a glorious glimpse of the human imagination coupled with nature. The show runs through November 2014.

This is the latest in a series of botanic garden installations done by Chihuly, who also works in ice and neon. Concerns about hail damage were allayed when an installation in Dallas, TX, with thousands of glass pieces lost only six during a severe hail storm. “Chihuly glass is very tough,” says Britt Cornett, the head of exhibitions for Chihuly.

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Chihuly, who suffered an eye injury in an auto accident, no longer does the glass blowing himself. He works with his team of 80 people producing pieces in glass-blowing facilities in Finland and the Czech Republic, as well as his home studio in Seattle.

Dale Chihuly, renowned glass artist is based in Seattle, WA

Dale Chihuly, renowned glass artist, is based in Seattle, WA. (Note the footwear.) His eye-popping installation of lavender spikes and chartreuse swirls appears to grow out of the waterlilies at the lovely Monet pool.

The Denver Botanic Gardens is unique among gardens because it combines all of the arts, plus science, and no one in the history of art and gardens has done quite what Chihuly has.DSC_0681Chihuly & croppedDSC_0646waterlilies2DSC_0660pink tower


For a truly radiant experience, visit the gardens at night, when the pieces are illuminated, but sunlight creates a stunning play of color and light.


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For more information about Dale Chihuly and the Denver Botanic Gardens, visit

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JAIPUR’S CHARMING SNAKES (posted in AFAR “Ambassadors” 3/11/13)

Friendly Jaipur snake charmer plopped his turban on my head and introduced me to his cobra.

Friendly Jaipur snake charmer plops his turban on unsuspecting tourists.

Patting a cobra is one of the highlights of a Jaipur visit, along with the questionable act of  donning the snake charmer’s turban.

One of Jaipur's seven gates to the old city

One of Jaipur’s seven gates to the old city

Known as “the Pink City,” because of its rosy, wedding-cake architecture, Jaipur also amazes with a sprawling 18th-century astronomical observatory — the Jantar Mantar — that resembles a stunning contemporary sculpture garden.

The Jantar Mantar looks like a contemporary sculpture garden.

The Jantar Mantar looks like a contemporary sculpture garden.

Giant sinuous, sandstone sundials reach for the stars with their own staircases and are accurate to two-tenths of a second. The world’s largest sundial — several stories high –could be a piece of I.M. Pei’s architecture.

The world's largest sundial

The world’s largest sundial

Just outside the city, the spectacular Amber Fort doubled as a luxurious palace for the maharajah and has it’s own “great wall” spanning miles of local countryside. Visitors ride elephants or Jeeps to the hilltop fort.

The Amber Fort was also a luxurious palace.

The Amber Fort was also a luxurious palace.

A hot-air balloon ride offers a bird’s-eye view of the fort, countryside and this fascinating city, which is the capital of Rajasthan, India’s largest state.

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Taking a dip in Mother Ganges is the dream of all devout Indians

Taking a dip in Mother Ganges is the dream of all devout Hindus. Thick fog envelopes parts of India during December and January — not the best time to visit , although it adds to the mystique.

Testing the waters of the Ganges. it was actually quite warm compared to the chilly air temperature in January.

Testing the waters of the Ganges. it was actually quite warm compared to the chilly air temperature in January.

Indians believe they have four mothers: Mother India, Mother Ganges, a biological mother and Mother cow. Mother cow is the giver of milk and therefore life. Cows wander freely through traffic, nap on medians and nibble on vendors’ veggie stands (sometimes getting a bad-karma bop on the nose, which some of my travel companions witnessed with surprise and amusement). Indians believe it’s good luck – or more accurately – good karma to feed the cows. Some people buy hay to feed the wandering cows.

Proud mother

Proud mother

The first thing an Indian woman does after baking bread each morning is give some bread to the cows.

Village cow looking for breakfast

Village cow waiting for breakfast

Next she gives some bread to the street dogs. Lastly she gives bread to her family.

The ubiquitous meandering cows that still give milk all belong to someone. Cows no longer lactating are basic welfare cases that the people look after, receiving good karma to do so. Bulls wander around, too, and are as docile as the cows.  Hindus do not eat beef.  Many Indians also have water buffaloes, whose milk is consumed and used in cooking. Although water buffaloes are not considered sacred, and don’t have the status and free rein that cows enjoy, they are still considered beef and off limits for consumption.

Indian street dogs don’t look half as miserable as dogs in other third-world countries.

Street dogs dozing contentedly

Street dogs dozing contentedly

It was reassuring to know that the Indians were looking after them somewhat and treating them more kindly. The Indian dogs were restrained and humble – never barking at people, who they know might feed them. Being a cat lover, I was dreading seeing feral cats, but saw only a handful. Our guide Ranvir said people don’t tend to keep cats as pets, but do have pet dogs. Feral cat numbers are low due to all the feral dogs – a dog-eat-cat world, unfortunately.

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Busy market

Busy market

It was so cold in Delhi that the goats were wearing coats. India is like a colossal untouchable petting zoo with goats, dogs, pigs, and cows free ranging everywhere – even on major highways.  With a low of 1 degree C. (just above freezing) in December of 2012 Delhi had the coldest day in 130 years, and in the state of Uttar Pradesh alone, 150 people died from the cold. So much for my warm winter escape from Colorado. Our plane had landed in New Delhi in a haze of fog, which made it rather unreal and dreamlike – enhancing my already mystical idea of India.  The bone-chilling December fog was filled with wood-fire smoke.

This goat sports a Mickey Mouse hoodie.

This goat sports a Mickey Mouse hoodie.

Mahatma Ghandi

Mahatma Ghandi

Colorful veggies and barefoot boy

Colorful veggies and barefoot boy

People are living on the streets – on traffic medians and any empty lot – huddled around fires. These squatters – many of them refugees from Bangladesh looking for work –  live in dwellings made of rags, cardboard and plastic tarps. Residents huddled around cooking fires looking like normal families. It didn’t seem sad and pathetic. Flat and smoggy with palms and tropical trees, terrible traffic and abysmal slums, Delhi reminded me of Mexico City. According to our superlative Indian guide Ranvir, no Indians need starve. Both Hindus and Sikhs operate daily soup kitchens open to all.

Like Mexico, India is a shock and stimulant to the senses. It’s vibrant with color and street life –not like the US in winter with everyone warmly shuttered inside and deserted suburban neighborhoods. In India the streets are alive and buzzing with activity — and animals!

India is very ecumenical, respecting all religions — of which it has more than 30, including predominantly Hindus, plus Muslims, Sikhs, Bahais, Jains, Buddhists and Christians.

Lovely, lotuslike Bahai Temple near New Delhi

Lovely, lotuslike Bahai Temple near New Delhi

Jama Masjid, India's largest mosque

Jama Masjid, India’s largest mosque

Cook stirring the pot at Sikh soup kitchen

Cook stirring the pot at Sikh soup kitchen

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Mazatlan, Mexico

Roof-top garden and sea view in downtown Mazatlan

Mazatlan means “place of the deer” in the ancient Nahuatl language. It’s a more of a working-person’s city, and less of a resort town than its more glamorous and famous “Night of the Iguana” neighbor Puerto Vallarta. There’s more actual culture here with the Angela Peralta Opera House, which has nightly performances of all kinds. There are also numerous arts organizations in the city. Mazatlan is considered to be the only working Pacific coastal town with a strong manufacturing infrastructure along with a rich cultural and arts community.

Old Mazatlan Inn - A Great Place to Stay.

Fountain and Courtyard at Old Mazatlan Inn

If I were going to stay or live here for any extended time it would be in El Centro, the more interesting, historic city center and the spiritual, cultural, and emotional heart and soul of the city. And the place I’d stay would be the Old Mazatlan Inn, an artfully designed residence with a spectacular hilltop view in a charming, though hilly, neighborhood. Guests can either rent a unit or purchase one — all smartly furnished in rustic Mexican chic and with kitchens ( Living in El Centro, however, one sacrifices the beautiful beaches of the suburban “gringo zone” to live downtown.

Strolling in the evenings in lovely Plaza Machado, one would think they were in some affluent North American city because it has been taken over by gringos.

Of course there is the presence of the drug cartels, and in fact I heard what I didn’t know was a shoot out the other morning. Apparently someone — not drug related — was trying to steal the car of the mayor’s body guard. They caught the thief. I’ve seen no crime or problems here, otherwise, and it feels peaceful and safe. Sadly, the cruise ships have stopped coming because of the drug wars, which is really a shame and hurting the economy here greatly. But as far as I’m concerned and from my recent visit I can report that Mazatlan feels totally safe.

Entrance to Old Mazatlan Inn

Window Trim Detail at Old Mazatlan Inn

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Mexico House Swap – Alzeimers Cat?


Here in Mazatlan, Mexico, I’m house and pet sitting. I connected with a condo owner who wanted to swap houses with someone in Boulder, CO, where she lived for many years. I jumped at the chance to escape the onset of winter and stay on the beach. So my furry charges are a cat named Baby and a dog named Funny.

Baby. Is anything but. At 13 this sweet, demure, diminutive kitty seems the perfect lady. Until night falls. Despite her feather weight and demeanor she packs a yowl that would wake the dead. She sounds like a nubile cat in heat, strutting the red-light district of notorious cat houses. Of course this Jekyll and Hyde transformation only occurs at 3:00 a.m., and continues until dawn.

For the last two nights Baby has caterwauled in the wee hours keeping me awake and/or reawakened every 15 minutes. Needless to say, I woke up this morning mad at Baby. So then she later disappeared. After searching on three floors of this giant condo building with three sets of stairs I went to ask Judy, a neighbor who helps find Baby when she wanders off. Baby or any other pet is not allowed to roam freely throughout the condo.

After the last two nights I was hoping that Baby had flung herself off a railing from the 9th floor to the concrete below. In fact in the middle of the night when she kept caterwauling relentlessly, I had thoughts of flinging her off my 9th floor balcony. This morning during the search for Baby, I looked down from the dizzying heights hoping to see a cat pancaked on the ground. Don’t get me wrong. I love cats and have four of my own, but Baby is ready for an asylum or the old cats home.

So Judy and I began a sweep of the entire nine floors of the condo building, which has three wings, separated by three staircases. Apparently, Baby will go down stairs but doesn’t like to go up. So Judy started on the ground floor hoping to sweep her upward.  I started on the top floor to sweep her downward or intercept Judy’s “upsweep.” No Baby.

Baaaaaaa Beeeeeeeee, Judy sang loudly and embarassingly through out the echoing hallways. I did a quieter version. After we met in the middle with no luck I gave up and went to the unit. As I fired up the laptop Baby came strolling out from under the couch where she had been sleeping. This was after we had returned once to the unit to call Baby and make sure she wasn’t in it. So then I had to go find Judy, who was still sweeping the condo hallways singing Baaaaaaaaaaa Beeeeeeeeee, kitty, kitty, kitty in a very loud voice. Judy was good natured when I told her about Baby’s reappearance after Judy had walked up and down nine floors and all the hallways.

Baby is now sitting placidly out in the sun on the front step washing herself, oblivious to the disturbance she created.

I e-mailed my neighbor who is a vet. She says such caterwauling is caused by deafness, hyperthyroidism or senility. Baby might have all three.

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