Sunday, August 31, 2008

Goldfinches Galore

The American Goldfinches have had an enormously successful nesting season around here. The trees are full of them and they are indeed lovely to watch. Here are some shots I took in less than 30 minutes.

Note the bird on the right, just starting to take flight.

As we celebrated this holiday weekend, our thoughts go out to those in the path of the storm. We hope for the safety of everyone. And good wishes to all who are in jeopardy for whatever reason.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Fridays are Golden

We don't buy a lot of dog toys. For one thing, the girls already have a basket full of toys. For another, they rarely play with anything except a blue tug toy and tennis balls.

There was a time when both girls had stuffed toys which they would carry around. One day Ellie found a seam and started to pull at it. She eviscerated the toy. So excited about her discovery, she systematically tore apart every single soft toy they owned. So we have learned that any toys (other than hard ones) will be destroyed within 15 minutes. Ellie has a real knack of finding the weakness in construction and tearing the toy to shreds.

On a recent visit to the pet supply store, I came across a Kong toy with a heavy fabric covering. Thinking it would take quite a while to destroy, I bought two of them. It appeared to have a regular Kong underneath so we could at least salvage that.

We gave the toys to the girls. They are intended to be "toss and retrieve" toys.

Ellie immediately grabbed one of the toys and went off to play. Forget about toss and retrieve. She was making this a chew toy.

Lucy sniffed at the remaining toy as if she wasn't quite sure what to do with it.

Lucy walked over to the bed where Ellie was chewing the toy.

What are you supposed to do with this thing?
Lucy began to chew on her toy. She doesn't seem to like the texture (or taste).
I just don't get it. What's fun about this?
Meanwhile, Ellie is looking for a weak spot in her toy. She turns it over and tries chewing both ends.
Finally, Lucy gives up. This toy is not fun.
Well, I suppose I can use another pillow.

Ellie seems so happy. Look at her smile. Oh! I just LOVE new toys!

She loved it all right. Within 10 minutes, she had found the weakest spot and tore into it. To our surprise, the inside was not a Kong. It was two small balls which Ellie quickly started to tear into.

The adventure was over. Ellie grabbed a couple of tennis balls while I picked up the pieces of the new toys. Was it worth the money? Not really. But Ellie surely did have 10 minutes of fun. Poor Lucy never did understand the whole thing.
It's Friday again. And the end of another month. We're very happy here in the mountains. We got more than 10 inches of rain this week. It's bright and sunny today and we're expecting nice weather for Labor Day. Have a wonderful weekend, filled with fun and joy.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Life is Good

We have received 9.6 inches of rain since Sunday night! What a wonderful relief. There has been surprisingly little flooding in our area despite three days of steady rain. Oh, life is good.

My computer is fixed and it's like having an old friend back. I have truly missed reading your blogs and I'm looking forward to catching up.

On Monday, our newspaper printed a delightful story that I would like to share with you. A Western North Carolina man (David Hayes) regularly takes his three-year-old granddaughter Alyssa fishing. The two of them go out to the garden to catch crickets and dig worms and then go to the pond behind the house. Mr. Hayes usually does not fish; he baits Alyssa's hook and takes off the catch, usually small bluegills.

During one of their outings this month, Alyssa had a sudden urge to go to the bathroom. She asked her grandfather to hold her fishing pole. The pole is a hot pink Barbie Rod and Reel. A few minutes later, Mr. Hayes felt a tug on the pole. He had hooked a fish...a really big fish.

After a twenty-five-minute struggle, Mr. Hayes pulled in a catfish. It was a big catfish. In fact, the channel catfish Mr. Hayes caught on the Barbie Rod and Reel breaks the North Carolina state record! The fish weighed 21 pounds, one ounce, and at 32 inches in length it was longer than the Barbie Rod.

Courtesy photo from the Transylvania Times
Mr. Hayes says he has taken a lot of kidding from his fellow anglers. He just smiles and tells them he's the one with the record catch and that while the rules say that the fish must be caught with a rod and reel, they make no mention of the type. What a wonderful memory for Mr. Hayes and Alyssa.
Kudos to Mr. Hayes and to every grandfather or father, grandmother or mother who takes a child fishing.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Computer in Critical Condition

Alas, my computer got injured. It's not dead (yet), but not doing well at all. I took it in for repairs and it will have to stay in the Intensive Care Unit for a while.

The thing that really frosts me is that it got injured by downloading an updated version of a spyware program I PAY MONEY FOR!!! (Thank you very much Webroot.)

I must admit to playing a rather stupid role here myself. The "doctor" at the computer hospital asked me if I had a backup drive. Of course I have a portable external hard drive to back up my files. Doesn't everyone? So he said it wouldn't matter if they had to wipe the files. Um, well, I may have been a bit of a procrastinator. So please call me if file deletion will be involved. I may want you to backup some of them first. Gulp.

Do you think for one minute I moved my recipe files there? Or backed up my iPod music? Or my most important files I cannot afford to lose? OK, so all I actually transferred to the backup were the huge number of photographs that were slowing down the speed of my laptop. But I do have a backup hard drive and I had every good intention, blah, blah, blah. I assure you when my laptop has recovered and is home from the computer hospital, I will immediately back up those files.

So after four months or so of blogging, I will have to take a rest while my computer is down. I should be back up and running by mid-week, so check again on Wednesday. If the computer has to be sent for extensive rehab, I'll let you know.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Fridays are Golden

Our Lucy is our watchdog. No, she doesn't guard anything. She simply loves to watch everything. She watches the birds at the feeders and bath, butterflies or insects on the deck, deer, chipmunks or anything else in the yard. She watches the road to see who might be walking by.

One thing she is particulary interested in watching is any bird that may be on the deck. When we hear a "thunk" on the window, Lucy is right there to see if a bird has fallen. She will then concentrate on watching the bird until it recovers and flies away. She will wag her tail in approval every time the bird moves its head or wing, or otherwise shows signs of improvement.

Yesterday I came into the great room to see Lucy staring at something on the deck.

She was focused on something just outside the door to the deck. I grabbed the camera, although it was so close to the door I expected to see an insect.

There sat a little hummingbird, staring up at Lucy while Lucy stared down at the bird. I moved to get a better angle, but the hummingbird had had enough of the stare-down and took off. Lucy looked at me as if to say, "I saved another one."

Then she lay down, confident that the matter was settled.

Aren't you proud of me? I am soooo good at this.

And so it's Friday again so soon. We still have lingering hope that Tropical Storm Fay will oblige us with some much needed rain. We had high hopes earlier, but that fickle Fay has not followed anyone's predicted path. If you are in Florida, inundated by rain, we are thinking of you and praying that you and your loved ones are safe from the flooding.

And no matter where you are or what you have to do, I hope this weekend is wonderful and lots of fun.

And THANKS SO MUCH, fishing guy for my first blogger award. I am honored.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

A Visit to Caesar's Head

I have posted before about the part of the Southern Blue Ridge Escarpment where the mountains meet the piedmont in Upstate South Carolina. Just a few miles across the North Carolina border into South Carolina is Caesar's Head State Park which lies on the escarpment and offers some wonderful views. The park is very popular, with a visitor's center (complete with a model of the escarpment), shelters and picnic areas. Nearby trails offer strenuous hiking into the gorges.

The park is situated on land covered with huge rock formations.

This is taken from the trail leading to an area in which Caesar's Head (the rock formation) can be viewed.

Here you can view the near and the distant mountains. It was a lovely day with fluffy white clouds and blue skies.
Before you can reach the viewing area, you must travel through the Devil's Kitchen. There are stairs leading down and the path winds through the narrow area between the giant rocks.

Once you make it through the Devil's Kitchen and hike a short distance, the rock formation known as Caesar's Head comes into view. Can you see Caesar's Head? Remember he is said to have had a rather large nose.

Here the formation is in the center of the photograph.
This is a close-up of Caesar's Head.
This area is absolutely gorgeous in all seasons. The short-range mountains, coupled with the distant mountains make the fall colors absolutely outstanding. I'll take another trip to Caesar's Head when the leaves are changing. I can't wait to show you.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Incoming Freshman Class

Photo from the Asheville Citizen-Times

Every year, Wisconsin eagerly awaits the mindset for incoming college freshman, published by Beloit College. The following information was taken from their Website (cited at the end).

This month, almost 2 million first-year students will head off to college campuses around the country. Most of them will be about 18 years old, born in 1990 when headlines sounded oddly familiar to those of today: Rising fuel costs were causing airlines to cut staff and flight schedules; Big Three car companies were facing declining sales and profits; and a president named Bush was increasing the number of troops in the Middle East in the hopes of securing peace. However, the mindset of this new generation of college students is quite different from that of the faculty about to prepare them to become the leaders of tomorrow.

Each August for the past 11 years, Beloit College in Beloit, Wis., has released the Beloit College Mindset List. It provides a look at the cultural touchstones that shape the lives of students entering college. It is the creation of Beloit’s Keefer Professor of the Humanities Tom McBride and Public Affairs Director Ron Nief. The List is shared with faculty and with thousands who request it each year as the school year begins, as a reminder of the rapidly changing frame of reference for this new generation.

The class of 2012 has grown up in an era where computers and rapid communication are the norm, and colleges no longer trumpet the fact that residence halls are “wired” and equipped with the latest hardware. These students will hardly recognize the availability of telephones in their rooms since they have seldom utilized landlines during their adolescence. They will continue to live on their cell phones and communicate via texting. Roommates, few of whom have ever shared a bedroom, have already checked out each other on Facebook where they have shared their most personal thoughts with the whole world.

It is a multicultural, politically correct and “green” generation that has hardly noticed the threats to their privacy and has never feared the Russians and the Warsaw Pact.
Students entering college for the first time this fall were generally born in 1990.
For these students, Sammy Davis Jr., Jim Henson, Ryan White, Stevie Ray Vaughan and Freddy Krueger have always been dead.
- GPS satellite navigation systems have always been available.
- Coke and Pepsi have always used recycled plastic bottles.
- Gas stations have never fixed flats, but most serve cappuccino.
- Electronic filing of tax returns has always been an option.
- All have had a relative--or known about a friend's relative--who died comfortably at home with Hospice.
- As a precursor to “whatever,” they have recognized that some people “just don’t get it.”
- Universal Studios has always offered an alternative to Mickey in Orlando.
- Martha Stewart Living has always been setting the style.
- WWW has never stood for World Wide Wrestling.
- Films have never been X rated, only NC-17.
- Clarence Thomas has always sat on the Supreme Court.
- There have always been gay rabbis.
- IBM has never made typewriters.
- McDonald’s and Burger King have always used vegetable oil for cooking french fries.
- They have never been able to color a tree using a raw umber Crayola.
- There has always been Pearl Jam.
- The Tonight Show has always been hosted by Jay Leno and started at 11:35 EST.
- Authorities have always been building a wall across the Mexican border.
- Lenin’s name has never been on a major city in Russia.
- Caller ID has always been available on phones.
- Living wills have always been asked for at hospital check-ins.
- They never heard an attendant ask “Want me to check under the hood?”
- Iced tea has always come in cans and bottles.
- Windows 3.0 operating system made IBM PCs user-friendly the year they were born.
- Muscovites have always been able to buy Big Macs.
- The Hubble Space Telescope has always been eavesdropping on the heavens.

Information and list taken from the Beloit College "Mindset List for the Class of 2012." The list has been pared for brevity. For complete list, go to:

Now, does that make you feel a little old? This magazine may make you feel better.

(Charles Summer)

Monday, August 18, 2008

Strange Hummer

I noticed something strange about a hummingbird that has been hanging around our feeders the last several days. I'm not certain whether it is an immature male or a female. At any rate, when I first glanced at it, I saw an abnormality in the neck. It almost looks as if there has been a band or something around it. I've since looked closely with the binoculars, and there is a distinct division of feathers on the back of the neck.

I have no idea what caused the strange appearance, but it doesn't seem to bother the bird at all. It flies normally, perches in the trees, and sips nectar from the feeder and the flowers. It also engages in some typical hummingbird aggression.
No doubt there are as many variations in birds within the realm of "normal" as there are variations in humans. That's one of the things that makes backyard birding so interesting.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Beautiful Rain

Rain is grace; rain is the sky condescending to the earth; without rain, there would be no life. John Updike

It rained yesterday. We actually had some rain. Not just a sprinkle, but a real summer shower. The rain was not expected or predicted by the meteorologists. It just fell. And welcome it was.

There was a puddle in the turn-around and the raindrops spashed the water.

The raindrops bounced off the dry pavement and the parched earth.

The raindrops fell on the walk, and made spatters in the bird bath.

It rained on the deck, the umbrella and dusty table and chairs. Mother Nature giving everything a bath.

The rain blew against the windows. From the bridge above the great room, the trees outside the window had a mystical look. The rain on the window turned the outside world into a painting. What a joy to behold.

When the rain ended, we were delighted to find that we had received an inch of rain. It isn't much, and it won't end the drought. But it certainly lifted the spirits of this household.

The rain began again. It fell heavily, easily, with no meaning or intention but the fulfilment of its own nature, which was to fall and fall. Helen Garner

Friday, August 15, 2008

Fridays are Golden

I do not expect a great deal from local television news (or any TV news, for that matter). This week, however, they hit a new low. The reporter was standing on the banks of the French Broad River. A fisherman was beside her. Here's how the report went:

Reporter: "The French Broad River and basin has reached its lowest level in recorded history. Records began in 1895, and this is the lowest on record." The reporter then turned to the fisherman and asked, "Have you ever seen the river this low?"
Fisherman: "No, I've lived here for 25 years and this is the worst I've seen."

I was so hoping the fisherman might have responded, "NO, you idiot. If the river hasn't been this low since 1895, how in the world could I have seen it lower?"

The following picture shows just how low the French Broad River is today. Normally, NONE of the rocks would be visible. The river should extend to the shore lines. There should be rafts and canoes, and tubing all along the river.

(Photograph from the Asheville Citizen-Times)

We now resume our regular "Fridays are Golden" post. I took the girls out for a new photo. I put them at a "Sit/Stay" which usually means Lucy will tense up and look goofy while Ellie will look directly at the camera and smile her award-winning smile.

Surprise! Lucy (on the left) is giving me a big smile, while Ellie (on the right) seems distracted.

I took another shot. This time Lucy is almost laughing, while Ellie is still not even looking at me.

My husband, who was with us at the time, told me quietly to be ready with the camera and turn around slowly. I did, and was surprised to see a doe and her twin fawns going down the hill, not 50 feet away from the dogs. No wonder Ellie was a bit distracted. But she had been told to sit and stay, and sit and stay she did. I can assure you that Lucy did not see the deer. While she might not have run after them, she certainly would not have remained sitting.
You may note that the girls are wearing "prong" collars. We don't use these all the time, mainly for walking on the streets and for visits to the veterinarian, etc. And when we use the prong, they don't usually have their regular collars on. They had just been for a "potty break" so we simply put the training collars on in addition to their regular ones. A lot of controversy surrounds the use of various "correction" collars. Our trainer was a firm believer and it works very well for us. The collars look barbaric, but they are far better than a standard "choke" collar. (If you put one around your leg and pull on it, you will see that it is not painful at all and it does not choke the dog.)
Lucy rarely needs correction, and Ellie never does. But we are firm believers that dog owners must have total control of their dogs when they are around other people. Their everyday collars are not restraining collars and they are fairly large dogs. The most important benefit of the collar is that Lucy and Ellie know the collar means, "Be at your best. We're not kidding." We taught our children good manners. Why would be do less for our dogs?
Here's wishing everyone a wonderful weekend filled with joy and happiness. (And for us, a bit of rain would be much appreciated.)

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

View of Table Rock

Table Rock Mountain in South Carolina can be viewed following a short drive from my house across the SC State Line. The rock-faced mountain is a favorite destination for hikers. Below the mountain is the Table Rock Reservoir which supplies the drinking water for Greenville County, SC. You may be able to see that the water level is much lower than normal.

This mountain, to the right of Table Rock Mountain, is a Raven rookery and it is not uncommon to see ravens gliding the thermals from this sight.
Near the spot where I took the photographs, a special program is planned for September 20th. Called the Hawk Watch Program, it is designed for maximum viewing of migrating raptors. Try to imagine seeing hawks, kites, falcons, and perhaps eagles soaring below. I can't wait!!!

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Looking Glass Rock

This morning was our weekly trip up the Blue Ridge Parkway to have breakfast at the Pisgah Inn. Afterward, we decided to drive west, to see the views of Looking Glass Rock.

Looking Glass Rock is a mere 5 miles northwest of Brevard. However, one must drive about twenty miles to see the north face. The Blue Ridge Parkway winds around several faces of the rock. Located within Pisgah National Forest, it is a popular destination for hikers and rock climbers.

Looking Glass Rock reflects the sunlight, especially when water or ice collects on the faces. (Hence the name.) It was formed by underground volcanic activity and is a mass of molten rock which hardened beneath the earth. Centuries and centuries of erosion exposed the underground rock and shaped it into the marvelous dome we saw today.

The mountains were blue and hazy again today. The Blue Ridge mountains have always been blue, thought to be due to the release of hydrocarbons from evergreens, especially pines. In the past, however, the mountains were blue but not hazy. They were blue and clear. There are still some very clear days, but not recently.
The haze we currently have is generally due to pollution. Several coal-burning power plants are located within the Blue Ridge mountains and they are the biggest polluters. In fact, in some areas of the Blue Ridge mountains, the air quality is worse than in some metropolitan areas. So much for pure mountain air.
The power industry lobbyists are seeking relaxation of the pollution guidelines. They want to have a "mean" yearly rate of pollution controls. With this proposed plan, the plants could far exceed safe pollution on some days as long as they are far under the maximum on others.
As one of our State legislators said, "They would like to have you think that if your right hand is burning, and your left hand is cold, it is all right because the average temperature is 'normal.' But the damage to the right hand is severe regardless of the average."
And I would add: this type of regulation is absolutely insane. Monitoring would be done after the fact. The damage would already be done before the mean pollution could be calculated.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Southern Blue Ridge Escarpment

Just a few miles from our community is a lovely drive along part of the Southern Blue Ridge Escarpment. This part of the Southern Blue Ridge Escarpment runs a line along the North Carolina/South Carolina border between our county and Greenville County, SC, and near the Eastern Continental Divide. Generally speaking, the waters originating on the eastern side of the divide flow into the Atlantic Ocean, while waters on the western side flow into the Gulf of Mexico.

Along this escarpment, the high mountains drop dramatically to the piedmont areas. In some places, the drop is more than 3,000 feet and is quite a sight to see. Here are a couple of views of the escarpment taken from (barely) inside the South Carolina State Line.

There are fantastic views all along the escarpment, and there is always a breeze. There was quite a bit of haze when I took these photos. I promise to go back on a clear day when you do feel as if you can see forever. And I will definitely show you the spectacular Fall color from this spot.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Smokey's Birthday Party

On August 9, 1944, Smokey Bear was "born." I attended his birthday party yesterday at the Forest Discovery Center in Pisgah National Forest.

Smokey Bear, and his famous slogan, "Only YOU can prevent forest fires," were begun as a public service campaign. How did they determine August 9, 1944, as his birthday? That is the release date of the first Smokey Bear poster.

Many people mistakenly believe the entire Smokey Bear campaign began because of a little burned bear cub. In fact, the little cub who became the living symbol of Smokey was rescued in 1950 in New Mexico. He lived the remainder of his life at the National Zoo in Washington, DC.

The image of Smokey Bear became protected by federal law with the passage of the Smokey Bear Act of 1952.

The Forest Discovery Center did a fine job of arranging Smokey's party. Multiple tents and staging areas allowed wonderful activities for the kids. Face-painting, making birthday cards, practicing with fire fighting equipment and several others delighted the children.

Here, the kids play Smokey Bingo.

Brevard Fire Department provided a fire engine. The little ones loved climbing up and sitting in the driver's seat.

Firefighters helped the children don hats and jackets and use a portable fire hose to shoot at "flames." There was a long line at this activity and the firefighters were so patient, giving each child individual attention.

Many children walked around with Smokey masks they made at this booth.

This little girl plays "Pin the pail on the fire."

All participants won prizes, of course. The little girl was eager to show her father what she won. (No comment at all on the shirt. This is Western NC, folks.)
Finally, Smokey makes an appearance, escorted by a Forest Service volunteer.

About a dozen birthday cakes were placed at the various stations and served to the party guests. Each was decorated differently.

This little guy watches patiently for his father to bring his cake.

It is of interest to note that ALL of the people involved in helping with this party (and maintaining the Discovery Center as well), are non-paid VOLUNTEERS. Reduced funding for the National Forest Service and the National Park Service has led to an increased demand for volunteers.

I can't resist addressing the controversy about Smokey's full name. You may remember when you were in the second grade and heard the joke:
Question: What is Smokey the Bear's middle name?
Answer: "the"

There is no "the" in Smokey Bear's name. It all began with a song about him and the writers added "the" to make the rhythm flow better. Why does this matter so much to anyone? I haven't a clue. But some folks will correct every person who mentions Smokey the Bear, informing them there is no "the." You figure.
BTW: One of the most well know slogans in the United States, "Only YOU can prevent forest fires," was changed in 2001 and the current slogan is, "Only YOU can prevent wildfires."