Thursday, February 26, 2009

How Many Friends Do You Have?

We all have so many acquaintances, but how many real friends do you have? I'm not talking about a friend, I'm talking about a Friend. You know, the person who has seen all the skeletons in your closet and loves you anyway. The person who knew you "way back when;" who knows where you came from and knows whom you have become. The person who knows where all the bodies are buried. (Heck, she might even have helped bury a couple of them.) The person who would drop everything and fly to your house at a moment's notice simply because you say, "I need you here." The person to whom you would never tell even a little white lie.

I am so lucky. I actually have two such friends. And one of them arrived today for a visit. She is such a good friend, I would actually put my blog on hold to spend time with her. So...I won't be posting for a week. I'll be back next Friday.

Please stay safe and have a wonderful week, whatever you are doing.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Caught Him in the Act

My husband is a very early riser. During the winter, he is up well before sunrise. He hangs the bird feeders and then fills the bird bath with fresh water first thing every morning.

Yesterday morning he hung the feeders as usual. When he was coming back to the deck with the water, he was surprised to see something already at the suet. Being the blogger husband that he is, he put down the water and grabbed the camera. He snapped a few pictures of the flying squirrel who had decided to have breakfast (or perhaps dinner) early. These were truly shots in the dark.

So, why didn't our wonderful "squirrel baffle" keep the flying squirrel away? Simple explanation for that. This squirrel doesn't need to climb up the pole. He easily glides there from a nearby tree. The squirrel was startled at first, but managed to get a few bites of suet before gliding away into the woods. We think this is a Southern flying squirrel because of his smaller size and gray coloring.

Thanks honey, for being so quick with the camera.

The flying squirrel is the only nocturnal tree squirrel in the United States. They often seek shelter in attics where they can cause a lot of damage. We have checked the house carefully to make certain they have no place to enter. We aren't certain where this squirrel lives, but we do see him more often than we would like. Flying squirrels have been known to raid bird nesting boxes and grab the eggs. And you know how we feel about our nesting birds.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Arnold Always Promises and Delivers

I rarely see a barber shop with its candy-striped pole any more, but when I was a little girl they were common. One of my earliest memories is that of going to the barber shop with my daddy. I loved the haircuts, shaves, and conversations. I loved the lollipop the barber always gave me. Most of all I loved the intoxicating smell of the witch hazel the barber used as an astringent.

It is not surprising then, that one of my very favorite plants is Arnold Promise, a bright yellow witch hazel. While very attractive, Arnold is not so interested in looking good. He does what few other plants will do. In February when other plants are sleeping, Arnold gets dressed up in his yellow finery and blooms for us. You can't imagine the excitement around here when Arnold begins to bloom. This blooming plant marks a passage of time for us.

Arnold's blossoms spread throughout the plant...bright yellow on bare stems. When enough blossoms are open, the heavenly fragrance wafts through the air and you no longer have to stick your nose in the plant to smell it. Your mood is uplifted the minute your walk outside.

Arnold has showy green leaves all summer. They turn a beautiful orange in the fall. If you live in the proper area, consider getting your own Arnold Promise witch hazel. It will bring more joy than even the first crocus or daffodil. I promise.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

In Honor of Erma

Yesterday marked the anniversary of Erma Bombeck's birth. Born February 21, 1927, she brought humor to American women (and men) for years through her books and newspaper syndication. Erma Bombeck had kidney disease and died following a kidney transplant in 1996. She left us laughing most of the time. While she was ill, she reflected on her life and gave us these important words:

-by Erma Bombeck
I would have gone to bed when I was sick instead of pretending the earth would go into a holding pattern if I weren't there for the day.

I would have burned the pink candle sculpted like a rose before it melted in storage.

I would have talked less and listened more.

I would have invited friends over to dinner even if the carpet was stained, or the sofa faded.

I would have eaten the popcorn in the 'good' living room and worried much less about the dirt when someone wanted to light a fire in the fireplace.

I would have taken the time to listen to my grandfather ramble about his youth.

I would have shared more of the responsibility carried by my husband.

I would never have insisted the car windows be rolled up on a summer day because my hair had just been teased and sprayed.

I would have sat on the lawn with grass stains, and enjoyed it.

I would have cried and laughed less while watching television and more while watching life.

I would never have bought anything just because it was practical, wouldn't show soil, or was guaranteed to last a lifetime.

Instead of wishing away nine months of pregnancy, I'd have cherished every moment and realized that the wonderment growing inside me was the only chance in life to assist God in a miracle.

When my kids kissed me impetuously, I would never have said, 'Later. Now go get washed up for dinner.' There would have been more 'I love you’ and more 'I'm sorry.'

But mostly, given another shot at life, I would seize every minute...look at it and really see it … live it and never give it back. STOP SWEATING THE SMALL STUFF!!!

I have these words of Erma's on a little plaque, always kept in my desk drawer when I was working:
"When I stand before God at the end of my life, I would hope that I would not have a single bit of talent left, and could say, 'I used everything you gave me.'"

Friday, February 20, 2009

Fridays are Golden

On Wednesday the weather predictions were dire. High winds, freezing rain and severe weather for Wednesday night and Thursday morning. Not certain I would be able to get off the mountain, I rescheduled an early appointment I had in Asheville. I woke up early and saw the moon and stars in the clear sky. Daybreak brought a glorious sun.

While I was certainly glad the weather was fine, I was not happy that I had unnecessarily rescheduled an appointment. I picked up the paper and saw the bold headlines, "Better get out your shovel." Hah!

I spent much of the morning doing little tasks around the house. There seemed to be a sleeping dog every where I turned. They truly made the most of the sunny morning, moving from bed to bed, sunbeam to sunbeam.

Lucy on the tan bed.
Ellie on the red one.

Lucy on the hallway rug.

Ellie moves to the tan bed.

Ellie moved so Lucy takes the tan bed.

Ellie is back on the red one.

In no time at all, Lucy decides it's time to share. She plops down next to Ellie for a snooze.

Another weekend is upon us. I hope it will be a good one for everyone. Find at least one thing that is giving you stress and ELIMINATE it. You can tear down that wall of stress one little thing at a time.
Have a wonderful, safe and fun weekend!

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Really Yellow Pine Warbler?

For several days we have seen a small yellow bird flitting in the trees and at the suet feeder. I thought he looked like a Pine Warbler except for the fact that he seemed to be much more yellow and I couldn't see the typical olive color on his back. But we had only quick glimpses of the bird.

Yesterday the bird and I (along with my camera) met together on the deck and I got a few shots.

His markings are definitely those of a Pine Warbler. Perhaps he is just more yellow than most? Or does anyone think it's a different bird?

Here's one bird I can always identify...our little Downy Woodpecker. She was feasting yesterday along with the yellow bird. Our squirrel baffle is working fine. I'm tempted to take it off so the crazy squirrel can finish gnawing the suet feeder! Wild Birds will replace it if it no longer holds suet. They have never had this problem with this particular feeder. Leave it to us to have the first one to be attacked by squirrels.

You may note how brightly the sun was shining yesterday. This morning dawned misty and gray. When my husband took the dogs for their morning walk, they walked in mist, then rain, then sleet, then snow. Just as they were approaching the house, lightning streaked across the sky to begin a thunderstorm. As we enter our third year of drought, we welcome anything that falls from the sky.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Resting Places

Difficult as it is to imagine, people have lived in these mountains for centuries. Native Americans wandered through these forests hunting and gathering. Hardy settlers arrived here and somehow made a living for their families in this harsh land.

Scattered throughout Pisgah National Forest are small cemeteries. Some have unmarked graves or simple rocks, the names of those lying there long forgotten. In the summer months, they lie hidden from sight, obscured by grasses and saplings. While most of the cemeteries are unmarked, there is one cemetery that is well known. The McCall family history is legend in Transylvania County. They were among the earliest settlers to live here and their family cemetery lies deep within Pisgah National Forest.

It is difficult to determine the exact size of the cemetery, since many graves are marked by simple stones, or not marked at all. The writing on most headstones washed away many years ago.

The barely visible date on this larger stone is 1873.

Rachel McCall died in 1881. What an incredibly difficult life she must have led in this isolated rugged area.

Whenever I am out in these mountains, I wonder about the lives of these hardy individuals. Nothing brings them closer to mind that to stand in the cemeteries that are their final resting places. I try to imagine their lives and honor their deaths.
Only when you drink from the river of silence shall you indeed sing.
And when you have reached the mountain top, then you shall begin to climb.
And when the earth shall claim your limbs, then shall you truly dance.
Kahlil Gibran

Saturday, February 14, 2009

We've Been Together Too Long

It's Valentine's Day. This morning I grabbed my coffee. At my place on the table were three cards. I had already put my husband's card at his place last night. Why do I have three cards? Somehow the dogs each manage to get me a card as well.

As usual, I had gotten a funny card for my husband. On the front there are two ladies chatting. One said, "This Valentine's Day, I got a bottle of wine for my husband." On the inside, the other lady responded, "Good trade."

When my husband opened the card, he let out a really big laugh. Well, I thought the card was funny too, but not THAT funny. Then he said, "Open your card. We did it again."

This is certainly not the first time we have bought identical cards for each other. Far from it. In fact, it has happened so often that my daughter once suggested we just go shopping together and select a card. I must admit that it is surprise that given the large selection of cards from which to choose, we could have come up with two just alike on more than one occasion. My husband and I are very different. In fact eHarmony would NEVER match the two of us. Despite the differences (or perhaps because of them) we have been married 37 years (38 years come November). You figure.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Fridays are Golden

Thanks, everyone for the definitive ID on the Purple Finch. My husband was not as pleased as I expected. He said, "oh," and took the news in stride. But we will both look at these birds with new eyes from now on. And I will try to get more pictures showing all sides of the birds.

Several days a week, our Golden Girls get to run on one of our community trails. It is much longer and steeper than the trails on our property and they just love it. Fortunately, the trail is little used by people. There is no view, no dramatic scenery, no waterfall. It's just a wonderful place in the woods. So the girls can run off lead, up and down the hills and along the trail.

The girls know the word "trail" and they get very excited when they hear it. They know they are going for a short ride and then will be able to explore the forest and trail. Here they wait for instructions. This is a side entrance that leads into the foyer outside their room. It's wonderful when they are a bit muddy since they don't have to go through any other parts of the house before they get cleaned up.

They wait in the yard before heading up the steps to the garage.

Back home, they are exhausted but happy. See those smiles?

Big dogs need free running on a regular basis. We are so fortunate to have so many safe places for them to run.

Another week has past. We had unbelievable weather extremes this week. But the wonderful full moon every evening was a sight to behold. Wherever you are and whatever your weather, I do hope you have a wonderful weekend. Our thoughts go to those who have lost their jobs or homes or who are suffering for any reason.
Take care this weekend and stay safe. Have fun and pamper yourself a little. Do at least one thing that is fun and takes your mind off your worries.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Bird Quiz

My post about House Finch v. Purple Finch has started some controversy among some very knowledgeable readers. I am far from an expert and would love to have others speak up. One reason for my saying it is a House Finch is the phrase, "If you see a Purple Finch, you will know it." This bird is like all the others I have seen all winter, surely too common to be a Purple Finch. Additionally, while not all the photographs show it, he was svelte, not chunky.

I would love to be incorrect. It would give my husband such a thrill. Since I'm not a bird expert by any means, I will take it as a learning experience and will indeed say, "Yes, dear. That is a Purple Finch."

Any experts out there?

It's Purple and it's a Finch

[LATE ENTRY NOTE: Because of some of the comments, especially from Zen Birdfeeder, and a new one from Lynne, I am putting this disclaimer. Watch for the comments on the next post. Wow! I have been watching Purple Finches all winter. (Sorry, Mary.) Word in from Kathi confirms it's a Purple Finch. Read her comment on the next post for a great explanation of why this is true.]

"Come here," he says several times a week. "That's one, isn't it? "No," I reply. "That isn't one either."

My husband desperately wants to see a purple finch. This year the house finches are amazingly rosy, perhaps from all the delicious berries around. They also vary a lot in depth of color, so each one looks a bit different. So each time one appears in the trees or at the feeder, my husband's hopes are raised once again. [New note, late entry: I have apparently been totally wrong in calling these birds House Finches. Poor guy, he's been seeing Purple Finches all along.]

Look at this group of messy birds. You would think they hadn't eaten in weeks.

Note that the siskin seems heavier than the finch.

Well, lady. I can't help it if you don't know the difference. Poop on you.

He goes about his eating and ignores me.
One bird is very easy to identify and there's no confusion. That's one of our mated Pileated Woodpeckers. This is Big Mama, checking out the trees for some tasty stuff.

I can't wait to see my husband's face when I respond, "Yes, dear. That's a Purple Finch."

Monday, February 9, 2009

Raspberries and St. Francis

When we lived in Wisconsin, my husband had a statue of St. Francis outside his study window. During a prolonged subzero spell, his head fell off. (St. Francis, not my husband.) Does that sound familiar, Shelley? We put his head back on and it remained while he stood for many years protecting the wildlife in the garden.

When we moved, we decided not to move St. Francis. He was large and heavy, not to mention his unstable head. My husband has missed having St. Francis around and we have plans to get another large statue for the yard.

Meanwhile, I have found a lovely plaque of St. Francis. Doesn't he look inviting on this tree? There is a creeping hydrangea (well, that's what we call it) at the foot of the tree which will grow and bloom around him this summer.

I have always been a promoter of shopping locally whenever that is possible. I pay more money to buy books at my local bookseller when I could easily order them more cheaply Online. But I NEED my local bookseller. And the only way to keep local business in business is to purchase from them.

I have now expanded my definition of "local" to include bloggers I follow. One of those is Helen Ellis, the owner of an online (and in-store) boutique and that is where I purchased St. Francis. From her blog "Wings and Things," you can access the Online boutique. Here is the direct link to the Online store: Helen is a wonderful photographer and sells her photographs and cards at the boutique. But there is much more. There are all sorts of nesting boxes, birdfeeders, birdbaths, and garden art work. I urge you to check it out.

The St. Francis plaque is made by Carruth Studios. One of our local shops sells Carruth Studios art, but I feel that buying from Helen is like buying from a friend. Her prices are better too.

Here is another Carruth piece I've had for a while. I have it hanging at the end of a kitchen cabinet. It amusingly gives the "raspberries" to our guests.

If you know a fellow blogger has a store or an Etsy site, browse there for your next gifts. If he or she has written a book, buy one. Let's keep it in the blogging community whenever we can. Just as we need our local stores, we need our friends in the blog world.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Icy Waterfall

Last week brought us much colder than normal temperatures. For four days and five nights, we were sub-freezing with daytime highs not getting out of the 20s. My camellias were loaded with huge and beautiful buds. The freeze turned them brown and they are beginning to drop. Bummer.

On the other hand, sustained freezing temperatures, just like heavy rains, signal the need to visit waterfalls.

Looking Glass Falls is a very popular waterfall in our county. I was surprised to see the amount of ice on the top and sides of the falls. (You can click to enlarge any of the photographs.)

The plunge pool at the foot of the 60-foot drop was frozen over.

It was REALLY cold at the foot of the falls. The normal mist was not water vapor but ice.

Along the sides of the falls, the brush was heavily coated with ice from the cold mist. It was absolutely beautiful.

The pool is not white is ice.

We felt as if we were standing in a fairy land, the sound of the waterfall somewhat muted by the ice. Tiny crystal ice palaces were everywhere.
We could have stayed there forever, if not for the cold. My fingers were numb before I finished taking pictures and put on my gloves.

I would love to be there as the ice breaks up. Can you imagine the cracking and sound of the ice falling into the pool?

These photographs were taken Thursday monring. As further proof that there is no such thing as "normal" weather, our high today will be in the upper 60s and might even reach 70!

Friday, February 6, 2009

Fridays are Golden

We interrupt the Golden Days to bring you this little picture. It has been cold here by anyone's standards. Thursday morning dawned with a 4-degree temperature. My husband put out the feeders and filled the little bird bath. It was so cold the water "steamed" up. This little siskin seems to think we put out a sauna.

(Now back to our regular Friday post.)
Whenever I get out the vacuum cleaner, Ellie goes to her crate for the duration. Lucy, on the other hand, has a knack for lying exactly in the spot I plan to vacuum next. This little game plays out until the vacuuming is complete.

Here she is, eyes open, knowing she is going to have to move.

She staggers up, looking quite unkempt and goes to lie somewhere else.

When I need to vacuum the new resting place, Lucy goes back to her favorite spot on the rug in the foyer.

When the vacuum cleaner is put away, Ellie comes out of her crate. She often takes a bed by the window. Wouldn't you know? The instant Lucy knew Ellie was here, she got up and moved over to share the bed.

Another favorite spot for both dogs is under my husband's desk. Whenever he is working at the desk or computer, both dogs are lying at his feet.

Another Friday is here. The hours of sunlight are lengthening. Weather across the country should be better this weekend. Our thoughts are still with the folks in Kentucky as they enter yet another week without electricity.


Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Gated Communities

I do not like the idea of gated communities. They bring to mind a certain type of person who wants to exclude people from his or her community. These people seem to achieve a sense of power when the guard recognizes them at the gate.

Well, I have a confession to make. I live in a gated and guarded community. Some people think we live in this community because we are rich. In fact the opposite is true. If I were truly rich, I could afford to purchase enough land to give me a buffer. Alas, I cannot. So the next best thing is a gated community that provides the same land use values I hold dear.

My community is almost 40 years old, ancient for a gated mountain community. It is four thousand acres and more than 50 miles of paved road. Green space between lots is owned by the Property Owners Association (POA), as are the facilities and amenities. Yes, we have a clubhouse and a golf course. But we also have a bluebird club that builds and maintains bluebird houses all over the golf course. The golf facilities are increasingly subsidized by the POA because more and more of the residents are hikers and fewer and fewer are golfers.

My community has very strict land-use regulations that some people would not want to live with. We have no problem, because the regulations mirror our own environmental concerns.

So why, you may ask, do you need a buffer? The answer is quite simple. Transylvania County has NO county-wide zoning restrictions. The idea is that "a man can do what he wants to do with his own property." There is nothing to prohibit your neighbor from opening a loud honky tonk, or a dirt bike rally, or a garage. Almost as important, there is nothing to prohibit the junk he may accumulate in his yard.

Here are a few snapshots of people I don't want for neighbors:

So I live in a gated community. Where else can I go less than a mile and watch the hazy mountains come to life? This view from a byway near one of the trail heads.

Where else can I take a hike down to one of the most beautiful waterfalls in the area? This is the waterfall for which my community is named.

One of these days I will take you on a tour of my community. You would love it here.