Friday, June 26, 2009

Fridays are Golden

Our dogs lead very predictable lives. Both of them have little rituals much like toddlers. We can never recall how these began, but there they are. For example, Lucy must always get her collar on first when they are going out for a walk. And when they come back inside, Ellie immediately jumps on the grooming table while Lucy lies in the hall. The moment Lucy hears the click of Ellie's regular collar, she knows Ellie is finished and it's her turn.

If the doorbell rings, both dogs run to the foyer and place themselves in a "sit" while waiting for my husband or me to come and answer the door. First we must use the sign or say the word "stay." Otherwise they will break the sit, perhaps because they did it themselves.

One of their persistent rituals occurs at lunch. While we are having lunch, each dog is lying around snoozing and waiting. The instant my husband carries his dishes over, each dog will open her eyes not moving a muscle.

Lucy opens her eyes.

Ellie opens her eyes, but doesn't make any move to get up.
My husband starts downstairs and Lucy immediately jumps up and follows him. Ellie lies in the same position until my husband calls her. She slowly walks to the top of the stairs and lies there watching.

She becomes a little more alert as she sees Lucy in the hall with her collar and leash.

She won't get up until my husband calls again. She does a big stretch.

Finally she starts down the stairs.

----------------We have no idea how these rituals began and why they seem so important to the dogs. But they continue day after day. They become humorous to watch since they never vary at all. It must be reassuring to have these little events in your life that don't change.
---------------Can this really be the last weekend in June? I can't recall a spring that has flown past as quickly as this one. Wasn't it just a week or so since the migration? And now the fledglings are feeding and the adults are preparing for another brood. Wasn't it just a week or so since we saw our first spring flowers? And now they are all spent. Weren't we just complaining about the cold? And now the weather says summertime.
----------------Because the time is a-flying, we must look more closely at our relationships with others. Our time is too short to spend on petty grievances. If there is discord in your life, be the first to step up and try to make it right.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Feeding the Pileated Fledgling...Kinda, Sorta

We've been watching the Pileated Woodpeckers feeding their one fledgling for several weeks now. Invariably they feed the baby on the other side of a tree, or with the leaves obscuring them. Thus no photographs.

The parents are bringing the little one closer to the suet, perhaps as a step in teaching her to feed herself. Finally, an opportunity to photograph them.

The "little" woodpecker flies to the tree with her mother.

She turns around and opens her mouth in anticipation.

Drat! Mom feeds the baby all right, but positions herself directly behind the fledgling. You must look closely to see that there are in fact two birds.

There are two birds in this photograph as well.

Here they and baby. We have noticed that the fledglings appear to have completely dark eyes with hardly any sclera visible. The adults appear to have a more clearly defined iris and sclera. We have researched this and haven't been able to find anything at all to confirm this casual observation. If you know anything about this, I'd appreciate the information.

The fledgling clings to the tree waiting for more food. I suspect that this little woodpecker will be feeding herself soon. I hope I can capture her attempts to fly to the suet.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Ellie is Six

Ellie's birthday yesterday was eclipsed by Father's Day so we will pay tribute today.

We had a Springer Spaniel once and I thought she was the perfect dog. We got her when I was pregnant with our first child and not working for the first time in my life. All those raging mothering hormones kicked into gear and I spent a lot of time with this wonderful puppy. When she died at age 14, I vowed never to have another dog. It would be too much like trying to replace a child. It became apparent that ours was a family that couldn't be without a dog, so we got another Springer Spaniel. She was a wonderful dog, very different but far from the perfect dog. She shared our home for 13 years and we grieved once again.

We had always loved Golden Retrievers so we did a lot of research and found Dick and Chris Reents at Dichi Goldens. After visiting them, and completing forms and interviews much like adopting a child, we were given the opportunity to purchase one of their beautiful dogs. And when our turn finally came, we got our Ellie. Dichi brings the dogs into their home for whelping and this little girl somehow crawled under a freezer and sustained some lacerations, one over her eye. We were given the opportunity to "pass" and get the pick of the next litter. We fell in love with her at first sight and decided that was the dog for us. We were given a discount, although we never told Ellie she was "marked down."

We named the little puppy Dichi Sirius Eleanor Rose. The kennel name is the first part of the registered name. Sirius is the dog star, and Ellie's mother was named Star. Eleanor Rose was in honor of Eleanor Roosevelt, a woman I have always admired.

As we drove home with little Ellie asleep on my shoulder, the old love and bonding rekindled and I just knew we once again had the perfect dog. Nothing in these past six years has disputed that. Ellie proved to have the hallmark Golden personality, intelligent and eager to please. Training her was a breeze. She picked up the commands quickly and consistently followed them.

You can still see the darkened scar near her left eye. But hardly anyone notices because they are looking at her beautiful smile.

Ellie's mother, Star, is described by Dichi as "the perfect Golden personality -- intelligent, loving and people-oriented, with great sensitivity to the emotions of the human beings around her." Many of her offspring are companion or therapy dogs, and our Ellie has those same characteristics. She is very sensitive to my moods.

Ellie's father, Kona, received his AKC Championship points at age two, not an easy feat for a breed as popular as Golden Retrievers. Dichi describes him as, "a happy-go-lucky dog who likes nothing more than strutting about the house & carrying his stuffed toys in his mouth---talking to you the whole while! He is so much fun!" The same was true of our Ellie until she learned that she could tear apart the stuffed toys by finding a weak spot. Now she carries tennis balls in her mouth, "talking" the whole time.
She is lovely and graceful running the trails.
Some might criticize us for getting a dog from a breeder when there are so many abandoned pets who need homes. I think it is wonderful for people to adopt from shelters, but I make no apologies for going to a reputable breeder. All Dichi dogs are checked and registered for hip, shoulder, and elbow problems as well as eye examinations. We received a five-generation pedigree and the breeder tracks his dogs carefully. That's no guarantee, but a good indication that the dog will not suffer from those problems common to the breed.
---------------I do so love both of our dogs, but Ellie has a special place in my heart. It's as if she knows me well and understands and accepts me unconditionally. She is everything a dog should be. Just before she goes out for the final time at night, she comes to my chair with two tennis balls and we have a little "chat." My husband gets up early to walk both dogs. After breakfast Ellie lies in the hallway outside the bedroom, waiting for me to get up. As soon as I step out of bed, I can hear the thwack, thwack of her tail on the hardwood floor. When I come out she greets me as if I am the most important person in the world. It gives me the same thrill every day, even before I have had my coffee. I hope that everyone can at one time have a dog like who instinctively knows your moods, who is so easy-going and so loving.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Honor Him Today

When God Created Fathers
by Erma Bombeck

When the good Lord was creating fathers, He started with a tall frame. A female angel nearby said, "What kind of father is that? If you're going to make children so close to the ground, why have you put fathers up so high? He won't be able to shoot marbles without kneeling, tuck a child in bed without bending or even kiss a child without a lot of stooping. And God smiled and said, "Yes, but if I make him childsize, who would children have to look up to?"

And when God made a father's hands, they were large and sinewy. The angel shook her head sadly and said, "Large hands are clumsy. They can't manage diaper pins, small buttons, rubber bands on ponytails or even remove splinters caused by baseball bats." And God smiled and said, "I know, but they're large enough to hold everything a small boy empties from his pockets at the end of a day, yet small enough to cup a child's face."

And then God molded long, slim legs and broad shoulders. The angel nearly had a heart attack. "Boy, this is the end of the week, all right," she clucked. "Do you realize you just made a father without a lap? How is he going to pull a child close to him without the kid falling between his legs?" And God smiled and said, "A mother needs a lap. A father needs strong shoulders to pull a sled, balance a boy on a bicycle or hold a sleepy head on the way home from the circus."

God was in the middle of creating two of the largest feet anyone had ever seen when the angel could contain herself no longer. "That's not fair. Do you honestly think those large boats are going to dig out of bed early in the morning when the baby cries? Or walk through a small birthday party without crushing at least three of the guests?" And God smiled and said, "They'll work. You'll see. They'll support a small child who wants to ride a horse to Banbury Cross or scare off mice at the summer cabin or display shoes that will be a challenge to fill."

God worked throughout the night, giving the father few words but a firm, authoritive voice and eyes that saw everything but remained calm and tolerant. Finally, almost as an afterthought, He added tears. Then He turned to the angel and said, "Now, are you satisfied that he can love as much as a mother?"

The angel was quiet.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Fridays are Golden

There are so many wonderful things about living in a small town. The Transylvania Times is our local newspaper, published twice a week. There are no comics in our little paper. Truth be told, we really don't need any. Several laughs can always be found in the "Letters to the Editor" section. Other articles also bring forth chuckles. Here is something in yesterday's paper that caught my eye and made me smile because of its simple truth:

"The Dunn's Creek Baptist Church 'Kiss a Pig Contest' to raise money for a climbing wall for the church playground has been changed to 'Kiss a Goat Contest' because they could not find a pig and Aaron Masters has a goat."

As much fun as we have with the newspaper, it is brief and soon over. The fun we have with the Golden Girls lasts all day, every day. Here they are running down the driveway. They had been outside for less than five minutes, yet when they saw me they ran over as if they hadn't seen me for days. Now where else do you get that kind of loving attention simply for being there?

The girls have a little fracas, but it is very short-lived. It's just too hot to do much wrestling.

Finally they rest, looking like bookends.

We've had some very warm (almost record-setting) temperatures this past week. The air is heavy and quite uncomfortable. Afternoon thunderstorms (some of them severe) have been the order of the day. Fortunately, neither of our dogs is upset by thunder or lightning. In fact, they love to sit with us on the screened porch and watch the storm.
They ultimately get bored with the storm. Ellie plops on the floor looking a bit depressed.

Lucy keeps vigil at the deck door. She loves watching the rain splatter on the wood.

Father's Day occurs this Sunday on the Summer Solstice. In the US we are rapidly approaching the longest day of the year, although we will have plenty of light for several months to come. Summertime will be "official" soon and we will quickly forget our complaining about the cold weather as we complain about the heat.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Reluctant Fledgling

Our Red-bellied Woodpecker pair had one fledgling this year. They have been feeding the "little one" for weeks now, although the fledgling is almost the same size as the parents. One or both of the parents try to coax the baby to the suet feeder. Nothing doing. The bird will sit there, sometimes yelling, but making no attempt to fly to the suet.

The parent eventually brings food to the baby. I noticed that recently the parents are beginning to land below the fledgling rather than above. I wonder if this is another step in trying to end the feedings.

The little one eats a lot now, so there are many trips from the suet to feed the baby.

I suspect that in a few days the parents may have to start the "tough love" method of parenting. This fledgling gives no indication of wanting to obtain food for himself.

We'll keep watching, but I will be very surprised if the parents continue to feed this big baby much longer. Heck, I'll bet he doesn't make his bed either.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Laurel and Rhododendron on the Parkway

We have had scattered thunderstorms every day for several days. In between storms, we drove up to the Blue Ridge Parkway to check on the Mountain Laurel and Rhododendron. We weren't disappointed. The Mountain Laurel, while waning is still lovely as the Rhododendron comes into bloom.

It seemed that every time we stopped for a picture, we would be under a cloud cover shooting at a mountain in the sun. Not good lighting for photographs. Thus the closeups of the plants are not as good as if they were in the sun.

This is primarily Mountain Laurel, with a few Rhododendron behind them.

At a slightly lower elevation the laurel is mostly spent and the rhododendron is in full blossom.

The post is a little late today because I have a new laptop and needed to get the proper passwords for email and to register the spyware and anit-virus programs. The operating system is Vista and I have heard there have been some user problems. When I started to send a test email message, I clicked on the spellcheck icon. The computer informed me it didn't recognize the language. A quick search led me to a screen declaring that there was a "bug" in the email spellcheck that occurs when the first email is sent. I had to go in and list any language OTHER than English. After applying that, I could go back into the tools and change the primary language to English. Doesn't give me a lot of faith in the new system, but I'm willing to give it a try.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Knitter's Group

I learned to knit simply because we have a small neighborhood knitter's group (called Knitwits, of course). The group meets monthly and it soon became obvious that I needed to attend whether I knitted or not. My thought was that joining a knitting group without knitting was similar to joining a book club without reading the selections (although a surprising number of people do just that). So I grabbed a how-to book and some supplies and started knitting. There is an amazing amount of Online information, including videos of exactly how to do some of the stitch combinations.

I was amazed at how calming knitting can be. Now, I knit almost every evening. There are times when it interferes with my reading, but not often. I never set deadlines for finishing a project. There is something very satisfying about starting with rolls of yarn and some needles and creating a beautiful article of clothing.

Here are just a few of the things I have done lately:

This is done in cotton for summer. Its wavy pattern and light weight make it the perfect summer scarf. The color of the yarn is "Emily Dickinson" but I couldn't help calling it rainbow sherbet.

Beads complicate a knitted piece. Before knitting actually begins, the beads must be strung on the yarn and pushed far down the skein. The beads are pulled forward as needed. Periodically the knitting reaches the long string of beads and all of them must be advanced along the skein to make room for more knitting.
This beaded scarf is done with red silk yarn. There were TWO knots in the first skein of yarn. Knots are not often a big problem, but if you have beads on the yarn, they cannot be moved further along the skein. The yarn must be cut, the beads removed and then restrung. Bummer!

A similar pattern in white silk with pearl beads.

The Entralac pattern which looks much like a quilted piece.

The clapotis pattern which looks (and is) simple. But it is tedious with lots of stitches. It is begun on the bias with solid rows of stitches. At a certain point, every nth stitch is deliberately dropped. The dropped stitch runs down the entire piece making a pattern.

The process results in a light-weight scarf that is fun to wear.

Sufficiently wide to wear as a shawl, it can be twisted and worn as a scarf.

You may find it amusing that I wear scarves only when it's cold or I'm dressed up in the winter. However, I am amazed at the scarf lovers out there who wear them year round. My dear daughter-in-law is one of those people. I do so love knitting for people who excitedly wear the items rather than sticking them in a drawer somewhere. After I sent the last scarf to her, my son called me to say that she had worn it around the house since the mail came. That warms a knitter's heart.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Fridays are Golden

We recently bought a new piece of art for the yard. Because the dogs are usually so inquisitive, they notice every little new thing be it a plant, furniture, or artwork. We find it better to show them the new thing rather than having them stumble upon it. We anchored the piece and brought the girls out to see it.

They have a little business to attend to first. Lucy starts a little wrestling match. These occur several times a day and the dogs are not fighting. No one is ever bitten or injured, although they do look a bit vicious.

The bouts end as abruptly as they begin. This one ends with Ellie pinning Lucy to the driveway. She puts her down flat on the surface. You can almost hear Lucy saying, "Uncle."

Here is the bird we purchased. We have few requirements for our art and our collection is eclectic at best. We purchase things we like, that blend more-or-less into the yard, and are not offensive to anyone. Something about this bird caught our fancy, so we brought it home.
The scuffle over, the girls are steered over toward the bird. They approach cautiously, sniffing as they go.

Lucy checks out the front end and Ellie the back. The doggie sniff test is an important part of checking out anything.

Lucy becomes bored quickly, but Ellie remains to continue to check out the new sculpture.

Following this burst of activity, the girls come back inside. Yes, another photograph of Ellie serving as Lucy's pillow. I do wish they were able to relax.

It's almost mid-June. School is out and for our area that means summer campers and tourists. We rarely leave home on weekends, but we have plenty to keep us entertained. Our Golden Girls provide plenty of amusement. We have the community trails to ourselves. We are treated to fledglings and watching the birds prepare for another nesting. Life is good.
Have a safe and wonderful weekend. Enjoy yourself and be kind to others.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

The Ugly Truth about those Squirrels

Brevard, NC is known as the "Home of the White Squirrel." Before this became my own little town, I was amazed at how many things carried "White Squirrel" as part of the name. In the shoppes I saw photographs and drawings of white squirrels along with children's books and cuddly stuffed animals. If there was a way, tasteful or tacky, to market the white squirrel, it was in the shoppes.

Our real estate agent took us on a tour of the college campus and pointed out several white sqirrels playing in the trees. Amazing! Regular readers will know that I am not fond of squirrels of any color, but it really was something to see these white ones running around. We learned that the second largest gathering in the town was the annual "White Squirrel Festival." A town ordinance passed in 1986 declared Brevard to be a sanctuary for all squirrels and "particularly for the Brevard White Squirrel." So the squirrel had been given the name "Brevard White Squirrel." I thought it exciting that the squirrel had mutated right in the town where we planned to live.

Curious person that I am, I did some research on the white squirrel. Much to my chagrin I discovered the white squirrel was actually brought to Brevard in 1949. What a downer! It seems a circus truck in Florida overturned and two captive white squirrels escaped. They took up residence in a yard and the owner caught them and brought them to a friend in Brevard. The friend gave the two white squirrels to his niece, Barbara Mull. In 1951 the niece married and left home. Shortly thereafter one of the squirrels escaped. Barbara's father felt that the only thing to do was to release the remaining squirrel into the wild. Soon, more and more white squirrels were sighted in our fair little town.

Yes, dear reader...the truth of the Brevard White Squirrel is the awful truth of an exotic "pet" released into the wild. Since their release in 1951, the white squirrels have bred with the native Eastern Grey Squirrels to the extent that now more than a fourth of the squirrels within the town limits are white.

The all-white squirrels do not belong to a separate species...they are Eastern Grey Squirrels that happen to be white. The "Brevard" white squirrels have grey markings on the top of their heads. Otherwise they are white with dark beady little black eyes just like every other squirrel.

Most of the white squirrels in our county are found within the town limits of Brevard. We live nine miles up the mountain and we had never seen one in our community although we heard there were a few here. Imagine our surprise when we spotted a white squirrel right in our back yard. He seemed quite unafraid of us as he flitted around the trees. Yes, I will admit that he is cute. He looks rather pink because you can see his skin. But his beady little black eyes indicate that he does indeed have pigment and is not an albino. The dots of grey on his head are a dead giveaway...he is a Brevard White Squirrel.

So if you happen to visit our fair little mountain town, you will be bombarded with all things white squirrel, including cookies and candy. If you see a squirrel in the town, there is a 25% chance it will be a white one. I love seeing the look on the faces of tourists when they see their first white squirrel. They grab their cameras hoping for a good picture.
----------And I truly wish I could be excited about them. Having learned the true story of their introduction, I can view them only as invasive. OK, they do not appear to have done any harm, and they do draw people to the area. It's just the idea that "wild" pets were released to the outdoors that really bothers me.
----------Perhaps I should actually appreciate the wit and skills of the two white squirrels released in 1951. They left a protected environment and managed to survive and thrive in the wild. (Although it doesn't hurt that so many people put out peanuts and other food hoping to attract them.)