Friday, February 28, 2014

We Love Lucy

Our Lucy does not like to have her picture taken.  Most especially she does not like to be told to "sit" in order to get the shot.  On these occasions, she does not look at the camera.  And she does not smile.  She doesn't mind the "sit" command if we are walking and another person passes, or if we stop to talk with someone along the way.  But being told to sit when there doesn't appear to be any reason whatsoever is something she seems to resent.  It's as if she were saying, "This is ridiculous.  There is no reason to have to sit in my own yard."

At first she doesn't even acknowledge that I am there

 Still not looking at me and still not smiling

 Oh, all right.  I'm looking at you.  And that's all you're going to get.
Can I go now?

 She reminds me a bit of my son when he was a little boy.  Although Lucy didn't actually glare at me.

It's the last day of February and a crazy month is has been.  We are really enjoying the longer hours of daylight and we know that whatever the weather brings, it won't last too long.

Our quote for today is from Charles Dickens:
"It was one of those March days when the sun shines hot and the wind blows cold:
When it is summer in the light, and winter in the shade."



Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Clouds on Clouds

I love clouds.  For me they need no names, which is just as well because I cannot identify them.  Clouds for me are objects of beauty, simply to be admired.  We see less of the sky at a given time here in the mountains, but what we see is often so beautiful.

The other afternoon we had some lovely clouds so I ventured outside for a few photographs.

Looking to the west

 Looking to the southeast

 Looking to the north

 Looking to the south

 Clouds here in the mountains are not always up in the sky.  My favorite clouds are those first arising from the valleys between the mountains.  Coming right up to reach the sky.

 Along the Blue Ridge Parkway

Clouds on clouds
In volumes driven
Curtain round the vault of Heaven.
Thomas Love Peacock

Monday, February 24, 2014

Sweet Arnold

It will never be the most attractive plant in the yard.  It is not the brightest yellow nor the sweetest smelling.  In fact, if Arnold Promise showed its flowers in April or May we wouldn't give it much of a glance.  But what Arnold Promise does is to give us yellow blossoms with a lovely smell that really brightens up our January or February days.

Arnold Promise is a witch hazel hybrid, Hamamelis x intermedia so it is not a true native plant.  But it thrives in our mountains and gives us so much pleasure with the promise of spring.  (Wonder if that's why it's called Promise?)

The blossoms are not as prolific as Forsythia but right now it's the only thing blooming

 Our Arnold Promise is about six years old and about eight feet tall.  It is not a pretty shrub when it is little and unless a gardener tells you about it, you would not think to buy one.  They have bare twigs in the nursery since they will have already blossomed before the nurseries open for the spring.  Like an ugly duckling, it grows more attractive as it matures.

 Sweet witch hazel fills the air

 Arnold Promise is a slow grower and nurseries usually prefer plants easier to propagate.  So poor Arnold is not often seen and when he is seen, he tends to be overlooked amidst the more colorful plants.

 A true plant for the senses

Witch hazel has been used for centuries in many cultures.  The extract from boiling the bark and roots makes an ointment that is soothing for rashes and burns.  Barber shops used witch hazel as an astringent after shaves and hair cuts.  And the branches of witch hazel are the best ones for dousing (or divining) water.

But never mind the uses for witch hazel.  The thing that Arnold Promise delivers to us year after year is the wonderful sweet smell and bright yellow color of spring in the dead of winter.  And for that we are indeed grateful.

Friday, February 21, 2014

Remembering Golden Fridays

It's been three months since Ellie died and I miss her every day.  I still find myself talking about the "girls" as if we still had two dogs.

Ellie and Lucy were always together.  One hardly found one dog without the other a few feet away.

Running together

Wrestling together

Resting together

Snoozing in the sun together

Every now and then I grab two "crate yummies" when I put Lucy to bed.  My husband occasionally dips out two cups of food at dinner.  And we remember how much joy Ellie gave to us and what a good life she lived.

The year is speeding past.  We can enjoy the sun longer each day.  And in two weeks we will switch to Daylight Savings Time.  Wish we could put a stop to Daylight Time and let Mother Nature dictate the timing of the day and night.

Today's quote is from Victor Hugo:

Winter is on my head,
But eternal Spring is in my heart.



Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Did You See Our Guv on Meet the Press?

Did you see our NC Governor McCrory on the Sunday morning talk shows?  He appeared on both "Meet the Press" and "This Week with George Stephanopoulus" specifically to discuss the effects of our recent heavy snow storms.

Had you heard him, you would have thought he was a breath of fresh air in the dirty political scene.  A moderate who is more concerned with the environment and the citizens than he is about his own political agenda.  YOU COULD NOT BE MORE WRONG.

McCrory loves to be photographed at schools.  Perhaps he thinks we will forget about his cuts in education funding and teacher salaries if we see him in school often enough.

Although the appearances on television were about the snow storm, it was a given that the moderators would ask Gov. McCrory about climate change and his on-the-record statement that he doesn't get caught up in the global warming debate because he thinks it is in God's hands.  I almost dropped my coffee with his response that we should stop arguing and pointing fingers and concentrate on keeping the air and water clean.  "My main argument is let's clean up the environment.  As a mayor and now as a governor I'm spending my time cleaning our air, cleaning our water and cleaning the ground" he said.

Gov. McCrory worked at Duke Energy for 28 years.  That, in and of itself is not a problem.  But consider this:

---   Duke Energy via its political action committee donated at least 1.1 million dollars to McCrory's campaign.

---   Upon election, Gov. McCrory appointed several former Duke Energy employees to key positions in State government, including the Commerce Secretary.

---  Duke Energy is likely the largest pollutor of toxic metals into our state's water systems

---  Environmental groups three times in 2013 tried to force Duke Energy to clear out coal ash dumps using the Clean Water Act.  The efforts have been blocked each time.  By whom?  By the NC Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR).

---   North Carolina is the only state in its region that has not adopted the Environmental Protection Act (EPA) rules on measuring toxic metals.

---  The DENR refused Environmental Protection Agency grants of more than half a million dollars.  The grants were for monitoring water quality.

You may have heard about a recent coal ash spill in Eden, NC.  A pipe ruptured at a closed Duke Energy coal-fired power plant.  More than fifty thousand tons of coal ash spilled into the Dan River.  [Coal ash is the waste after burning coal and has very high concentrations of toxic metals, such as mercury, arsenic and selenium.]

 Coal ash spreading across the Dan River
Yes, that is a city downstream from the spill.
Photographs from the Appalachian Voice

 There are thirty-one coal ash ponds in North Carolina, almost all of them near rivers and many of them more than half a century old.  Gov. McCrory would have you believe that he has a good track record of going after Duke Energy for violations.  Really, Guv?

Here's what he did after the major spill into the Dan River.  The State proposed that Duke Energy should pay almost one hundred thousand dollars to settle the violations.  Duke Energy is a fifty billion dollar company so a hundred thousand is a very small penalty.  So no lawsuit.  Duke Energy signed on to the penalty.  They said they are sorry and will clean up the spill.

Oh, by the way; the settlement does not require Duke Energy to actually remove the coal ash from the other sites.  Just pay the penalty.

So friends, our Governor McCrory is not at all the moderate concerned green person you saw on television.  He is in favor of shale fracking in our Piedmont area where the shale is quite fragile.  He is in favor of exploring possible oil drilling off our hurricane prone coast.  He began his term by favoring big business over science.  The General Assembly passed a bill stating that NC would not accept recent studies on rising sea levels.  You see?  We are a coastal state and saying the sea level is rising would be bad for development.  Yep, that's what the Guv said.

Thanks.  I always feel better after ranting.  I sent a letter to Governor McCrory after his appearance, but I haven't yet received the usual generic response.  I think he has a separate file for "That Brevard Bitch" who keeps writing, complete with canned responses.

Monday, February 17, 2014

A Special Day

February 17th is a very special day.  One this date in 1976 our son was born.  When we brought him home, his older sister was very surprised to see that he was a REAL baby and could move his arms and legs and cry.  We had talked about the baby but her two-and-a-half year-old self didn't fully comprehend.

Our son is very smart and all his life he has used his wit and tongue rather than fists and threats to assault or defend.  He could recognize all the letters of the alphabet before he was eighteen months old.  Before he was three he was reading.  We never taught him, he just seemed to know.

When he was four he loved to listen to my old vinyl records.  One of his favorites was the Kingston Trio, especially "MTA."  The second time he heard it he looked at me in wonder and asked, "Why didn't his wife just put a nickel in the bag with his sandwich?"  I had no answer and had never thought of it before.

We went to Disney World and stayed at Fort Wilderness.  At a campfire, the two characters of Chip and Dale came by.  When he mentioned something about Dale I asked how he knew it wasn't Chip.  Not dropping a beat he said, "Because he has a red nose.  Chip's nose is brown."  I had never noticed the differences in their noses.

When he was five, he was swatting a balloon with a folded up newspaper.  I asked him twice to bat the balloon in his room and not in the den.  He took one more swat.  He hit a nearby lamp, knocking it over.  The lamp fell on my coffee mug and the base shattered.  The base of the lamp was glass and it was filled with seashells.  Bits of broken glass and shells were all over the floor and the coffee was seeping into the carpet.  I sent him outside to pull weeds.  (Physical labor seemed to be the most effective punishment.)  When he came back inside after the assigned time, I hugged him and told him that he was not being punished for breaking the lamp.  We understood it was an accident.  He was being punished for not obeying me about taking the balloon to  his room.  He paused for a minute to absorb what I had said.  Then he innocently looked up at me and said, "I understand.  But Mom, if I hadn't broken the lamp would I still have had to pull all those weeds?"

Sweet five-year-old, dressed for Christmas

When he was six or so, he told us a lie.  I can't remember what it was.  At any rate, serious infractions called for a sit down at the empty dining room table to air out the problem.  We were very vocal about the importance of telling one's parents the truth and my husband and I went back and forth for several minutes.  Finally my husband looked at my son and asked, "Have you got anything you want to say?"  And ever so sweetly our son said, "Yes, sir.  May I be excused from the table?"

He loved his Big Wheel

I could fill a blog about my son.  He was a challenging child and kept us on our toes.  And he grew up to be an amazing man.  A compassionate and caring man.  A man who is accepting of all types of people.

Yet he can still come up with a snarky remark now and then.

We love you, dear son.  Have a most wonderful birthday.  May 2014 turn out to be your best year ever!

Friday, February 14, 2014

We Love Lucy

Lucy is about the only one here who loves the snow.  She has had so much fun doing zoomies in the soft fluffy snow.  She doesn't care so much about the snow on the driveway.  It isn't as deep and has a crust on it so it's not so fluffy.

She stops and stares at something in the yard.

 I walk around to the other side and she is still staring.

 She is staring at the yard.  Something is different

A closer look reveals the bear covered in snow.

We are hoping the roads will be passable soon as our temperatures rise.  Our son has a birthday on Monday.  Unfortunately his gifts have not left our house yet so there is no chance they will arrive in time for the special day.  We've had no mail and no newspaper and that hasn't bothered us one bit.

Today's quote is from Samuel Taylor Coleridge:

Advice is like snow...the softer it falls, the longer it dwells upon and the deeper it sinks into the mind.



Wednesday, February 12, 2014

And The Snow Came

We have several inches of snow and it is still falling.  Many times we are spared even in the face of heavy predictions.  But this time we are in the midst of the snowstorm pounding the South.

The shrubs laden with heavy wet snow

 A goldfinch grabbing a sunflower seed that fell on the deck railing

 A wren and titmouse share a feeder

 A titmouse stands on the deck beneath the railing looking out at the snow

So how much snow will we get?  That's anybody's guess.  But if the temperatures remain below freezing this snow will stay on the roads for a while.  Like most mountain folk we are prepared.  Plenty of food for man, dog, and bird.  Books to read and projects to knit.  Movies to watch and friends to visit.  We're hoping to get less rather than more, but we will have to take what we get.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Arriving Early

We're under a winter storm watch.  It begins Tuesday morning and ends on Thursday.  As you can see, they got it wrong again.  It's snowing like crazy here.  The schools dismissed at noon.  And the birds are flocking to the feeders.

The feeders are filled every morning at 6.
They empty fast in the snow.

We have the pantry and freezer stocked.  Plenty of food for the birds.  Good books to read and projects for knitting.  Movies waiting on the DVR.  Good thing, because we may be stuck for several days.  Wisconsin roads are cleared quickly and even a large snow doesn't bring everything to a halt.  But NC is not as well equipped to manage the snow.  The shadows on the hills and curves will keep the snow on the roads far longer.  Because of the steep hills and deep valleys, it will be several days before we can head downtown.

It remains to be seen how long the snow will continue.  Is this early stuff all we will get?  Or is the snow going to last even longer?  Time will tell.

Friday, February 7, 2014

We Love Lucy

Lucy follows my husband around most of the day.  When he goes up and down the stairs, she never is quite sure if he plans to come back down or if he is going to stay upstairs.

She watches to see if he is coming back down

 Apparently not.  So she climbs up the stairs to find him

 When we are in the den, Lucy loves to lie in her bed.  We can't bring ourselves to remove Ellie's bed.  Not sure why.  Her crate is still up as well.  And her food and water dishes.

 From the beginning, Lucy preferred the bed with her name on it.

 But every now and then she will plop down in Ellie's bed.

This first week of February has brought more cold and snow to the Midwest and East.  We hope for better weather for them soon.

I'm sure they are hoping the old English proverb is correct:
If February gives much snow
A fine summer it doth foreshow

For now, Shakespeare is likely accurate:
Why.  What's the matter that you have such a February face
So full of frost, of storm and cloudiness?

Whatever your weather,



Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Drawing Parallels

The Biltmore Estate in nearby Asheville has enjoyed a lot of publicity with its parallels to the successful television show Downton Abbey.  The wealthy Vanderbilts were somewhat similar to the Crawleys of Downton.  After each episode of Downton, the Asheville newspaper runs an article called "Biltmore Abbey" which emphasizes the similarities between life at Downton and life at the Biltmore.

The coming of the movie "Monuments Men" has further created interest in the Biltmore Estate.  The movie involves the stories of the men who helped save European art during World War II.  (It's quite an interesting book.)  Regular visitors know that some of the greatest artworks in America were stored in the music room at the Biltmore mansion during World War II.

The curator of the National Gallery of Art was a personal friend of Edith Vanderbilt and had stayed at the Biltmore House in the 1920s.  He was very worried about the safety of the art in Washington, DC.  Recalling that Asheville was a rather isolated mountain town and that the Biltmore House was as fireproof as a structure could be, he contacted Edith about storing some of the most valuable art at the Biltmore House during the war.

The Biltmore House in early spring
(Photo by me)

 More than sixty paintings were transported quietly to the Biltmore House.  The works included some of the most famous art held at the National Gallery, including the renowned portrait of George Washington used on one-dollar bills.  Seventeen sculptures were also transported.

Doors to the music room at the Biltmore House were replaced with steel ones.  Steel bars and heavy curtains covered the windows.  And the crated art was stored there in the music room.

The music room as it appears today.
(AP Photograph)

Very few people knew about the location of the art work.  The house was not open to the public at that time.  The artwork arrived very quietly on trains and then trucks.  There was no Internet, no cell phones, no reason for anyone to believe the trucks were anything other than routine deliveries to the estate.

The art was further protected by armed guards, twenty-four hours per day.  The art remained hidden away at the Biltmore Estate until 1944, when the risk of an attack in Washington was considered unlikely.  It was transported back to Washington and the National Gallery of Art.

 Removing the art from the Biltmore Estate in 1944
(AP Photograph)

 Those of us who visit the Biltmore Estate often have learned so many interesting things about the life and times of George and Edith Vanderbilt.  The "behind the scenes" tours are enriching and absolutely fascinating.

 Trucks lined up to receive and transport the art back to the trains.
(AP Photograph)

Although the art came in silently it apparently went out in a loud and joyous manner.  Coming to the Biltmore Estate unescorted, the art left in a flurry of activity.  Apparently the trucks were escorted to the trains by motorcycle police with sirens blaring.  The city was proud to be yet another part of the war effort.

What a fun thing history is.

Monday, February 3, 2014

Flash of Red

We have several pairs of Cardinals living in our woods.  They are early visitors to the feeders and the last to visit in the evenings.  We have been lucky enough to see them bringing their little ones to our deck, first to feed them and then to teach them how to feed themselves.

Brilliant red, even in mid-winter this male is looking right at me

 He turns to present a side view

We love all the birds who pass by.  But we especially love those who share our woods year round.  And bring a bit of color amid the bare trees.