Saturday, December 24, 2011

Merry Christmas!

Wishing you light, love, and happiness.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Nature Notes: Naughty 'n' Ice

Hello, all. It's been a while since I've joined you, because Mother Nature hasn't done anything particularly interesting around here lately - nothing, at least, that I haven't already posted about.

Exasperated at being ignored, the bawdy Green Lady pulled out all the stops: Flashed her boobs, she did! I swear! Saw it myself.

And THEN look what happened:

Naughty 'N' Ice

Upward Growing Icicle

That, my friends, is an icicle growing upward out of the water. In all my 60 years I have never before seen this happen.

And just like that, Mama N has recaptured my undivided attention. Can't wait to see what the hot old broad does next.

* For the more science-minded, these rare structures form when liquid water is forced upward through a central channel as the ice freezes. (More info here.) According to my research, they usually have flat sides like a prism. I was kind of disappointed in my own thingie when I found that out. I would have gotten an even bigger kick out of an ice prism.

Click here to visit Michelle's site and see more Nature Notes.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Ghost Story

It Was Only a Dream

I don't think I've mentioned it before, but I think we have a ghost.

It's just a little one, a cat I think. It jumps up on the bed and slowly creeps up until it reaches my back, then settles down. The stealthy footsteps and weight feel quite distinct, though no impressions are left in the bedding.

When it first happened I thought Gatsby had gotten in, but when I sat up to shoo him off nothing was there.

I started keeping a camera by the bed and tried to sneak a photo whenever I sensed a visitor, but I never caught anything. I quit because the flash terrified poor Gatsby on the rare occasions when it really was him.

I should be totally freaked out but, strangely enough, I'm not. Still, I do wish it would move on the big sandbox in the sky.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Nature Notes: Rare Robin

So there we were, eating dinner at the kitchen table, when dozens of robins descended on the back yard to hunt worms. Having rather poor vision, it took me a few minutes to figure this one out.

Me: "Either one of those birds is carrying around a slice of bread, or its head is stuck in something ... maybe a white plastic lid? Wait ... robins don't eat bread."

Grabbing the binoculars, I discovered the flash of white was actually the color of the bird:

By the time I ran upstairs, changed the camera lens, and got back downstairs my quarry had wandered out of range. Fearing I'd scare off the whole lot of them, I snapped a desperation shot through the slider door. When I opened the door they did scatter, so this is the best I got.

And off we go to Google robins with white heads, resulting in this excellent article from

The little guy has a condition called leucism, not the same as albinism: "The condition probably develops while the bird grows in its egg. The gene that controls skin-pigment cells called melanocytes turns on in some cases, but fails in others. The result is partially normal coloring with patches of white."

Only one bird in thousands is affected. It doesn't harm the bird's health, but it does put a serious crimp in his love life and makes him more conspicuous to predators.

Rare they may be, but luckier photographers have taken lots of much better pictures. You can check them out at Google Images.

Click here to visit Michelle's site and see more Nature Notes.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Nature Notes: First Frost

Outback in Autumn

Wow ... I missed most of a season change here, didn't I?

Summer faded into fall, the leaves turned to glory and are falling fast.

First Frost

A new groundhog took up residence under the deck and polished off every petunia and chrysanthemum blossom in the containers out there. And this morning, the first hard frost put a merciful end to the ragged stumps he left behind.


He's too cute to shoot, but I certainly am tempted.

The hummingbirds are long gone, but the bluebirds are lingering. Juncos have returned, and chickadees are raiding the feeder in earnest, stashing seeds in the bark of surrounding trees against the winter to come.

It's apple season, and pumpkin season, and almost Halloween. I love, love, love the fall, when Mother Nature is at the top of her game.

Click here to visit Michelle's site and see more Nature Notes.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Brand New Nieces!


Meet Dakota and Claire, two of my three newest great-nieces!


I got to meet them for the first time a couple of weeks ago at a family gathering. (Sadly, the third new niece's family couldn't make it.)Not so long ago, it seems, we grownups were chasing their parents around at these events. It's wonderful to see a whole new crop of little ones, cousins living and playing together.

The older I get, the more I realize how lucky we are - all of us.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Nature Notes: The Ragged End of Summer

* I'm having computer issues and won't be around much for a few more days while repairs and upgrades are done. I'll catch up with you all as soon as I can!

The hummingbirds are looking pretty scruffy these days. Ruby Throats molt their body feathers in late August up here in the north, and they can be pretty comical while the new ones grow in. Look closely and you can see new growth around the eye on this little fellow.

Soon they'll be heading south. They molt their flight feathers once they arrive in their winter range. Like the last pot of sweet corn and the first cooler days, shaggy hummers are a sure sign that summer is nearly over.

Click here to visit Michelle's site and see more Nature Notes.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Love You Forever *

My younger son goes back to college Saturday. I'm going to miss him.

Passing by his bedroom door this morning ... well, noonish actually ... I was struck by a sudden, overwhelming desire to go in and wake him up.

When he was very little I loved to lie down next to him in the morning and gently tickle his nose. He tried hard to pretend not to wake, scrunching his eyes shut, his mouth twitching mightily as he suppressed a grin. When he could take no more, he opened his merry blue eyes and giggled as only a little one can.

Somehow I didn't think this would go as well at age 21 as it did when he was two. And so I tiptoed on, leaving a memory and a sigh on his doorstep.

* The experience reminded me of Love You Forever, a children's book by Robert Munsch. I thought it was totally creepy at the time I read it to my boys. I still think it's creepy, but I get it now.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Nature Notes: I Brake For Butterflies

Common Buckeye

I just love the things I learn when I look around for something to share for Nature Notes. And I love that it nudges me out of the house and into the yard to notice the things we usually miss. Thanks, Michelle, for hosting this awesome meme!

These little butterflies, about two inches across, are swarming my gravel driveway. (Last year the drive hosted red admirals, but I haven't seen a one of those this summer.)

It took a lot of Googling to identify our little visitors, but I finally found it. It's a Common Buckeye, junonia coenia. It's attracted to nectar and mud, which would explain the fascination for the driveway. I have to inch out of here to give them time to escape being run over, and the result is that I am escorted to the road by a lovely cloud of them.

Once on the road I have to go slower than usual to avoid hitting yellow and black swallowtails. They are particularly abundant this year, and they have an unfortunate habit of crossing the roads at windshield height.

In checking Wikipedia for the identity of the black ones, I discovered that they are color variations of the same butterfly. In fact - amazingly enough - this can happen:

It is "A bilateral gynandromorph. The left half is male, while the right half is female."

Isn't that amazing?

*The top photo is mine, but the bottom one is free access on Wikipedia.

Click here to visit Michelle's site and see more Nature Notes.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Nature Notes: Last of the Lilies

Last of the Lilies

** OOOPS!! **

For any who may have happened by this post before now, I offer my apologies. The angst-riddled private draft got published by mistake. Below is the post that was meant to be. Sorry for the buzz kill.

"Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin. And yet I say unto you that even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these." - The Sermon on the Mount

I do love a day lily. They're as elegant as orchids and as sweetly fleeting as a summer sunrise. And best of all, they practically grow themselves.

See, here's the thing: I love gardens. I love the idea of gardens. And I love planning gardens. But actual gardening? Not so much.

It's all the sweating and the bug bites, mostly. I hate sweating. And I hate itching. So as you can see in the photo, things tend to go untended by this time of year.

Which is where lilies come in. They provide wave after wave of glorious color with absolutely no need for any help, which is a good thing as they aren't getting any.

I have several varieties with staggered bloom times, from early July through ... well, through about now. The big finish is this double variety that practically glows in the dark. The deer ate a lot of them, but they left enough to keep me happy.

For me, the day of the last lily is the last day of summer.
And today I share the very last one with you.

Click here to visit Michelle's site and see more Nature Notes.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Nature Notes: Bluebird Babies

We have bluebirds again this year, just one pair, but they have three babies! They stop by every day for a swim, and it's such a joy to see them splashing around.

They have zero interest in the seed feeder, and I am not inclined to pay actual money for meal worms. I don't mind keeping the bathwater clean and fresh, though.

I've found a shallow plastic plant saucer works better than the deep clay birdbath for attracting them. Raccoons like to munch on the edges, but the birds don't seem to mind the raggedy accommodations.

Bathing the Kids


All Clean

I considered putting putting up bluebird houses on the fence posts around the pasture, but after doing some research I concluded it might do more harm than good.

There's a lot more to it than just putting up a nest box. They have to be monitored at least once a day for parasites and sparrow attacks, and we have predators that would quickly notice the boxes.

It's a lot of responsibility, and it often ends in tragedy. Call me cowardly, but I try to avoid heartbreak wherever possible these days. Besides, wherever they're nesting, they seem to be doing just fine on their own.

Here are two great resources, though, if you want to take up "bluebirding" as a hobby:
** North American Bluebird Society
** Sialis

Click here to visit Michelle's site and see more Nature Notes.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Nature Notes: Feed Me!

Barn Swallow Babies

I had never gotten a really good look at swallows, much less gotten a photo, before this past week. They dart through so fast. So it was a treat when a whole family of them lined up on my gutter for the day.

Most baby birds flutter their wings when begging, looking all helpless and cute. These guys stand up tall and proud, wings spread like little eagles, competing to look biggest and strongest.

If I were a swallow mom, I think I'd be a little intimidated.

Feed Me

Ordering Room Service

Click here to visit Michelle's site and see more Nature Notes.

*P.S. Thanks, Tina, for the invitation to enter these into PicStory! I hope I did my entry correctly. Here's the link to that meme, everyone: PicStory.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Nature Notes: One Wondrous Weed

Strange and Beautiful

Well, it's been awhile. Hasn't it.

Here's the thing: I turned 60 last week, and it hit me harder than I expected. Suffice it to say that my thoughts turned inward and melancholy for a few weeks, until I realized how ungrateful it is to lament getting old when so many never get the chance to do so; how silly it is to regret the things left undone when I could still do most of them if I really wanted to.

So. I'm over it. And I'm back. Now about this weed ...

Over the past couple of years, I have allowed the milkweeds to spread in hopes that monarch butterflies would find them. We have three handsome stands of it now, and it makes me smile to think how my old neighbors from the development would react to see them ... I'd have villagers at my door with torches and pitchforks. Literally.

Milkweed is generally described in agricultural literature as nasty, noxious, invasive, toxic, and pernicious. I beg to differ. It's a handsome, sturdy, healthy-looking plant with gorgeous, fragrant flowers in summer and perfectly magical seed pods in the fall. Parts of it are edible if boiled first, though I have no intention of testing that.

Its genus, Asclepias, is named for Asklepios, the Greek god of healing. It has been used in Native American and folk medicine to treat everything from warts to kidney stones to asthma and as a contraceptive, though I haven't figured out yet how that last one would have worked.

The fiber in the stems was used to make cloth, and the floss of the seeds was used to make fine thread as glossy and strong as silk. In World War II children collected the pods and turned them in to the government. The lightweight floss was used as stuffing in life vests and flight suits.

In Hindu mythology, the creator was under the influence of milkweed juice when he created the universe (which would explain a lot), and so milkweed is considered to be the king of plants.

In your back yard garden or wild patches it smells like lilac and attracts butterflies and bees like nobody's business. In our patches, tiny tree frogs like to sun themselves on the broad, flat leaves.

AND, It is the only food monarch caterpillars can eat. The sap has a cardiac toxin in it. Monarchs hold that toxin in their bodies and wings, which makes them un-tasty and toxic to most birds and other predators.

No more milkweed, no more monarchs. Butterfly conservation groups are encouraging people to plant milkweed along the migration paths of monarchs to offset the stands lost to development.

OK. Done. Here I am, surrounded by common milkweed. So where are the monarchs?

* If you'd like to plant milkweed, I'll have a lot of seeds come fall. Drop me an email and an address and I'll be happy to send you some.

Click here to visit Michelle's site and see more Nature Notes.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Nature Notes: Something Blue

I think I'm in love. Today was the first time ever that I've seen an indigo bunting, which has to be the bluest bird ever.

He didn't stay long, and I had no time to switch out the short lens for the telephoto, so this is a tiny, fuzzy crop from the full photo. Still, isn't he something?

I immediately went to the Web for information. It's a finch, feeds on insects and seeds, and is apparently fairly common over a wide range. They must have been hiding from me all this time.

And check out these tidbits from

* A group of buntings are collectively known as a "decoration", "mural", and "sacrifice" of buntings.

* Indigo Buntings are actually black; the diffraction of light through their feathers makes them look blue. This explains why males can appear many shades from turquoise to black.

* They are more common now than when the pilgrims first landed. This is due to an increase in their favorite habitat of woodland edges, such as power line clearings and along roads.


* They migrate at night, using the pattern of stars nearest the North Star to guide them. In captivity, these birds will become disoriented if they can’t see the stars in April/May and September/October.

A brilliantly blue bird that isn't really blue, guided by the night sky and the North Star. Does it get any more magical than this?

Click here to visit Michelle's site and see more Nature Notes.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Nature Notes: Babes in the Woods

Are You My Mommy?

I spotted a doe from my office window and noticed something small and furry lurching along just behind her. Groundhog, maybe? That would be strange...

I grabbed my binoculars and was delighted to see that she had a newborn fawn that was clearly taking its very first steps.

Don't Wake the Baby

She settled her little one against the pasture fence and left it there. (Deer do that - she'll be back.) Once she was out of sight, I went out with my camera for some close-ups, being careful not to frighten the little guy into standing up. Their only defense at this age is to stay hidden and still, so I shot through the fence instead of entering the pasture. And when he lifted his head I left.

Curled up, he was no bigger than my cat. Granted, Gatsby's a hefty kitty, but still.

Wait For Me, Mom

This is why we let the grass grow tall wherever we can. This weedy pasture is a relatively safe place for baby deer and turkey chicks, provided a coyote doesn't happen along.

Update: We decided not to spray the dandelions, though they have become a plague. In her comment, Joco recommended eating them. I did give that a go, but they were pretty awful. Much too bitter for us. Maybe they make better wine? There's a thought.

Click here to visit Michelle's site and see more Nature Notes.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Hello, Sweetie

All For Me

The hummers are back! Well, at least one of them is.

So far, this timid little female is the only one to have found the feeder. Last year we had returnees hovering outside the kitchen window before I had even put out the feeder there. They apparently remembered its location from the summer before, which I found absolutely amazing.

And while we're talking bird behavior...

Let me tell you what the cardinals are doing.

A pair lands on the deck rail. The male flies over to the feeder, returns with a nice juicy seed, and gives it to the female. She accepts it with great dignity, as if it were her due.

It must be the birdie equivalent of buying her dinner first. In any case, it's quite sweet and funny. Have you ever seen birds do this?

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Say Yes to the Dress

It seems like the more I have to blog about the less time I have to blog. Know what I mean?

I did mention earlier that my older son is getting married May 5 next year. Traditionally, the Mother of the Groom is something of a peripheral participant in preparations. However, the bride's mom is several states away, so I get to be more involved that your standard MOG. Totally excellent.

And I should mention that I already love my future daughter. She is accomplished, beautiful, funny, and down-to-earth. She fits in with us so well that I thought of her as a part of the tribe from the very beginning.

And so, I was honored and delighted to be invited along with her friends to shop for The Dress. I'm not posting any photos, of course, in case certain family members stumble in here. (You know who you are. Yes, I see you.)

She's looking for something elegant with clean lines. I am pleased that she's avoiding the mostly-bare-boob mountain-o'-fabric monstrosities that seem to be so popular just now. Mind you, if that's what would make her happiest I'd be all for it. As I keep telling my son, It's her day her way.

She tried on quite a few: ballgowns and mermaids, A-lines and endless variations on the theme, all lovely in their own way. We gathered around each one, tugging at this, smoothing that, chattering amongst ourselves on the merits and flaws of the frock. This one is very flattering, this one has beautiful bead work, that one would be great if we snipped off that damned silk flower. The bride as princess, surrounded by her attendants.

And finally, she emerged from the dressing room glowing. Clearly, this was The One, her dress, the one that had been waiting patiently for her to find it. The sales girl pinned a veil in place and the tears began to flow. Perfect.

P.S. I can't end without posting this photo. An Amish bride and her flower girl were trying on gowns in the section next to ours. If I had the right, I'd post a photo of this little girl's face - she was so delighted with herself. Her grandma looks pretty proud too, doesn't she?

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Nature Notes: Splendor in the Grass

Splendor in the Grass

If I told you this was a rare variety of chrysanthemum you'd probably want one.

However, this lovely blossom is a lowly dandelion, arch nemesis of control freaks, gardeners, and lovers of lawn. Which is to say, my husband.

We have thousands of the little gold flowers in the spring. They pop up literally overnight or, as they did this year, in the course of a single day. Not there in the morning, running riot in the afternoon. It's impressive. (And I secretly enjoy them on that first day, before they turn ugly.)

We don't want to spread weed killer all over the place, and so have relied on relentless mowing to control them before they set seed. It worked well - until now.

The crafty little bastards have learned to keep their heads down.

The Hubby attacked them on first sight, firing up the tractor and wading full-throttle into the swarm. Other than a full hour of his weekend that he'll never get back, there were no casualties. You could almost hear the weeds giving him the raspberry.

I recall a science class in high school where this phenomenon was presented as an example of small-scale evolution. Tall-stemmed dandelions get mowed down and don't get a chance to reproduce. Short-stemmed dandelions are spared the blade. Within a few seasons, only short-stemmed dandelions remain, being the best adapted for their environment. Survival of the fittest.

Unfortunately, this probably means an escalation to chemical warfare. Darwinism sucks.

Click here to visit Michelle's site and see more Nature Notes.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Nature Notes: Love Is In the Air

Working It

In the spring a young man's fancy lightly turns to thoughts of love. ~ Alfred Lord Tennyson

Yep, he's twitterpated all right.

The dominant Tom turkeys are strutting their stuff, flashing their frills, bringin' the bling. The ladies pretend not to notice, but it's a tough act to ignore.

Toms look huge in full display mode, and that wattle turns a brilliant red when the hens are looking.

They'd be magnificent if their heads weren't butt-ugly.

Click here to visit Michelle's site and see more Nature Notes.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Build a DIY Ghost Buster

We were driving home from an errand last week, in an unfamiliar part of town, and suddenly found ourselves enveloped in a cloud of sweet wood smoke carrying the unmistakable aroma of pork roasting on the fire. It was an invitation we couldn't refuse.

We followed the smoke to a big outdoor grill and tiny carry-out, family-run rib joint. The folks were friendly and the portion choices were large, extra large, and "monster".

And there was a trap door in the floor.

It was a small, wooden door with a ring for a handle, right there next to the line of customers. I tried to ignore it, but it whispered to me. Hell, it was all I could do not to grab that handle and go on down the rabbit hole.

According to the owner, it just goes to a crawlspace. Disappointingly mundane.

On the way out, I snapped a photo of the quirky bottle sculpture sprouting by the front door. Having made something of a spectacle of myself already with the trap door thing, I didn't go back in to ask about the bottles.

A few days later, I Googled bottle sculptures, bottle art... and soon discovered bottle trees. Specifically, spirit bottle trees.

Bottle trees are an old tradition in the south, with roots in the Congo. Though mostly yard art these days, they were originally meant to keep evil spirits out of the house.

The spirits get caught in the bottles at night, and the morning sun finishes them off. Blue bottles are best, blue being a magically protective color, with green a close second. But any bottle will do.

So the bottle art may have a more mysterious side. Which makes me wonder where that trapdoor really goes.

Links for more:

*Bottle Trees on Squidoo: Great photos, lore and more

*Mojave Bottle Trees: A bottle tree forest and a magical Dale Chihuly installation

*Bottle Tree Bob: Got haints? Here's who you're gonna call.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Nature Notes: Return of the Lone Wolf

OK, it's not really a wolf. It's a coyote, sort of a "wolf light". But he's here, and he's hunting mice in the back pasture, and I find that an amazing thing to see from my kitchen window.

Coyotes are considered nuisance animals in Indiana, which means they can be shot on sight any time of the year. But they are clever and secretive, and one mother can have as many as twelve in litter, so their numbers are actually growing.

Again, the photos aren't great - window glass, a screen, and considerable distance conspired to ruin the shots. Still, if you click them they get bigger and give a better view.

Coyotes are generally solitary, but they keep in touch with their kind by singing in the night. We rarely see them, though we often hear them howling and yammering to each other after dark. With the barred owls and frogs doing backup, it's a Symphony of the Weird that would do Stephen King proud.

The coyotes are feared and despised by most farmers and suburbanites because pets and small livestock can fall prey to them. And I do worry that Gatsby Cat will one day win his ongoing bid for freedom and end up as a coyote snack. Still, I love knowing that something so wild can still survive in our overdeveloped, tightly regulated world.

In Native American lore, the coyote is a central character, a trickster and a respected brother being. In one tradition, Coyote brings fire to mankind. That's worth a few chickens, I think.

In other news, winter is not going down without a fight. We have a dusting of snow today and freezing temperatures again, but it's the last gasp and we all know it.

Links in This Post:
* Living With the Wily Coyote
* How the Coyote Stole Fire
* Native American Lore

Click here to visit Michelle's site and see more Nature Notes.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Nature Notes: It's Spring!

Spring has finally arrived here in northern Indiana. Birds are chirping, robins are back, and last night when I got home the frogs were singing!

We usually have daffodils by now. They're late, but they're on the way. Isn't it amazing how tender green shoots can break hard clay soil like this?

Daffodils are my favorite part of spring. Can't wait to see those sunny yellow blossoms!

Click here to visit Michelle's site and see more Nature Notes.