Monday, April 30, 2012

Amazing Sight at the Birdfeeders

Red Crossbills are a rare sight at our elevation.  One year we made a little birding record in North Carolina.  We had Red Crossbills who nested in our conifers and brought their fledglings to our feeders.

Last week my husband looked out and saw a pair of them.  It was amazing to see a pair of them again.

The male is on the right, just in front of a cardinal.  The female is on the left.

They seemed to enjoy the sunflower seeds.

The male saw me but continued to eat.

They are wonderful to see.

I highly doubt this pair will stay around here.  This year our conifers have few to no cones so this might not be a good place for them.  Perhaps next year...

Friday, April 27, 2012

Fridays Are Golden

The weather has been much cooler this week.  That means it's time to hit the trails.

Ellie sits while we take a break for water.

Lucy conquers a large stump and smiles.

Ellie patiently waits for passers-by.  Many people thank us for stopping our dogs.  Others ask if they can approach.  We usually don't even have to command, "sit-stay."  The girls automatically sit when we stop walking.  Well, Ellie always does.  Sometimes Lucy needs a prompt.

Lucy loved sitting on the stump but Ellie didn't seem inclined to join her.  "Just as well," says Lucy.  "After all, I AM the Queen of the Hill."

A most unusual sight.  Ellie using Lucy as a pillow.  Actually she had no choice...Lucy kept taking more and more space until Ellie had no other place to lay her head.

Hard as it may seem to believe, this is the last weekend in April.  The weather has been so strange around here that it's hard to determine which season we are enjoying.

We have two quotes today.  Both concern compassion.  The first is from John Fitzgerald Kennedy.  (Who, by the way, never made me want to throw up.)  When he spoke them I had no idea how much we would lose our national purpose, our national action, and our national compassion as we moved toward such a bitter partisan society.

I believe in human dignity as the source of national purpose, human liberty as the source of national action, the human heart as the source of national compassion.

The other quote is from George Washington Carver:

How far you go in life depends on your being tender with the young, compassionate with the aged, sympathetic with the striving and tolerant of the weak and the strong.  Because some day in your life you will have been all of these.


Monday, April 23, 2012

What Do You Mean, No Prize for Fiction?

I read a lot.  I have several sources for good books.  We are fortunate to have an independent book store here in town and I find quite a few good books while browsing there.  They know me and my reading habits so they often recommend books.  All the local book clubs post their monthly selections (which the store discounts) and I often find a book among the list.  Sometimes I hear about a book on NPR or from the newspapers.  I have friends who often tell me about certain books.  I have to admit I've been known to buy a book purely because the cover attracted me to it.  Often I buy books because of a particular author.

And every year I look forward to the Pulitzer Prize winners.  I always read the fiction winner and sometimes I love it and other times I really don't care much about it.  But I can always understand how the book came to win the coveted prize.

Imagine my surprise when this  year's Pulitzer Prizes were announced.  AND THERE WAS NO PULITZER AWARDED FOR FICTION!!!  I feel cheated.  Shouldn't there always be a winner?  Like in the Academy Awards?  (Can you imagine if the Academy announced there would be no award for movie of the year?)  My surprise morphed into anger.  What kind of idiots allowed this to happen?

I heard one of the jurors on NPR's Morning Edition.  Juror Susan Larson was also shocked and angry.  And so were her two fellow jurors, Maureen Corrigan and Michael Cunningham.  Over a period of six months, the jurors read more than three hundred nominated novels and short story collections.  After much negotiation in person, through conference calls and emails, the jury submitted three works as finalists for the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction 2012.  Here they are in no particular order:

A posthumously completed novel about boredom and bureaucracy in our workplace.

Told in the first person, a dysfunctional family in a failing alligator wrestling theme park.

About a day laborer in the "Old West"

As far as I know, no one has any idea why the Pulitzer Board did not award the Pulitzer to one of the three finalists.  Were none of them thought to be worthy?  Were they dismissing the work of the three jurors?  Was it simply that the board members were fiercely divided about their own preference and refused to come to a consensus?  The only explanation that has been presented is:  the board could not reach a majority vote on any of the novels.

Not since 1977 has there been a year without a Pulitzer Prize for Fiction.  The board's failure to name a winner is not acceptable as far as I am concerned.  Especially when there is little reason for the failure.  I hope all three books were so vigorously defended that no one would move.  But we may never know.  And that is a shame.

For my part, dear authors and publishers...I will purchase and read all three of these books.  And for my part, a big THANK YOU to Susan Larson, Maureen Corrigan and Michael Cunningham for your diligent work.

And to the mystical body of the Pulitzer Board?  A BIG RASPBERRY!!!  If you can't do your job, send in replacements.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Fridays are Golden

I'm glad our dogs are not afraid of thunderstorms.  Because thunder boomed and lightning streaked across our house almost every day this week.  The Golden Girls actually seem to like them and we often sit on the screened porch watching the storm and listening to the rain.

Rain brings decisions about when to take the girls for walks.  We seem to choose the slack just before another downpour.  And the downpour starts the minute we get past the driveway.  So everyone comes in soaked.  We use a lot of dog towels during those days and the girls have fluffy hair afterwards.  (The term "dog towel" is used for the old frayed bath towels we have used over the years.  We don't buy special towels for them.)  While they seem to enjoy watching the rain, they definitely do not enjoy being outside in the rain.  They play indoors but mostly they sit and watch the rain, or sleep the day through.

Ellie looks out as Lucy snoozes.

Yet another photograph of Lucy using Ellie for a pillow while Ellie has been shoved under the chair.

It doesn't look any more comfortable from another angle.

It's hard to believe that more than a hundred days of 2012 are past and gone.  Sunday is Earth Day so take some extra time to enjoy Mother Earth.

Two quotes this week, both from Sydney J. Harris who was a great syndicated columnist:

"Happiness is a direction, not a place."

and this timely one:

"We have not passed that subtle line between childhood and adulthood until we move from the passive voice to the active voice---that is until we stop saying "It got lost," and say, "I lost it."


Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Wacky Web Stuff

Sometimes you just use the stuff people send you in emails.  And when you have enough of them you change your email address or block a few senders who send you endless nonsense on a frequent basis.  At least these three gave me a chuckle.

Supposedly from a computer grammar program.

I do think parents of 7th graders should have a shot or two.

And this one for no reason  other than I laughed.

Monday, April 16, 2012

We Need A New Ice Cream Flavor

In 2009, Vermont became the fourth state to uphold the rights of all people to marry whomever they wished.  The legislature passed a law ending the prohibition of gay marriage.

Ben and Jerry's, my favorite ice cream maker sold a new flavor to encourage passage of Vermont's "Freedom to Marry" law.  They called it "Hubby Hubby" and featured a gay couple atop a wedding cake on the containers.

Earlier this year when the United Kingdom debated legalizing gay marriage, Ben and Jerry's stepped up again with a gay couple atop a wedding cake on the containers of a new ice cream flavor.  They named the new flavor "Apple-y Ever After."

Ben and Jerry...we need a new flavor for North Carolina.  Please.  And soon.

In May, citizens of our State will vote for or against an amendment to the North Carolina Constitution.  For the record, it will be Amendment One.  It is commonly called (and it makes me sick to my stomach to even write it) "The Marriage Protection Amendment."

Essentially the ammendment states that MARRIAGE BETWEEN ONE MAN AND ONE WOMAN IS THE ONLY DOMESTIC LEGAL UNION THAT IS VALID OR RECOGNIZED in our fair State. (The all-caps shouting is my own.)  It is important for you to know that NC law already prohibits same sex marriage in North Carolina.  It might also be of interest to note that for the first time in over a century, both the State House and State Senate are controlled by Republicans.  I won't go into detail about how expansive and far-reaching this ornerous ammendment could be.

The House Majority Leader (Rep. Paul Stam) likens gay marriage to polygamy and even incest!!!  County Commisioners and City Councils, particularly in the conservative mountain areas have issued proclaimations in support of the ammendment.  Leaders of the Catholic Church are in favor of the ammendment and have written extensively in letters to Catholic Churches around the State.  The most recent one is a four-page "FAQ" (frequently asked questions) with such explanations as the "fact" that the ammendent is needed for the children.  "Marriage between a man and a woman protects and promotes the well-being of children by allowing the children to benefit from being raised by both their father and their mother," says the publication distributed in all Catholic Churches last weekend.  Oh, and the publication denies that the amendment promotes any discrimination against the way same-sex couples choose to live.  PULEEZ!!!

A well-dressed gentleman approached me in the grocery store yesterday and asked if he could give me a card.  The laminated card urged a "Yes" vote for the ammendment.  I gave the card back to him and stated that in fact, I planned to vote a resounding "NO."  He then asked, "Are you married?"  At this point I might otherwise have simply walked away, but I responded, "Yes, I have been married to the same man for forty years and same-sex marriage in no way threatens that."  He said, "It might not affect yours, but what about your grandchildren?"  I responded in an overly-polite tone of voice, "What I hope for my grandchildren is that they will have full and equal rights to marry whomever they wish whether that is a person of the same sex or a person of the opposite sex.  And I hope they will live in a more open-minded society than the prejudiced bigots I see before me."

And I turned and walked away.

Much to my chagrin, as I drove home I wondered if I had been too harsh on the gentleman.  But that was only for a brief moment.  After all, he was the one who approached me.  And I did use a polite voice.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Fridays are Golden

The girls start getting excited when I put on my hiking boots.  Not certain whether they will be going along, they prance excitedly around the hallway outside my bedroom door.  It isn't until my husband brings in their portable water dish and their water bottle that they know for sure they are going someplace fun.

Ellie licks her lips in anticipation.
Oh boy!  I can hardly wait!

 Lucy watches my husband lock the door.
Why on earth does it take him so long?

Too bad the girls never appreciate the beautiful greening of the forest.

They are far too busy running up and down and up and down the hill.

Can you sit for a moment?
Smile for the camera.

Lucy takes off again, still smiling.

The weather has been nearly perfect for us.  Cold nights and sunny days.  We did have three nights with hard freezes and some of the vulnerable apple trees will be significantly affected.  Other apple varieties were past the point of harm and the strawberry crops are fine.

We get so caught up in the unconditional love our Golden Girls give us that we need to remember what Ann Landers said:
Know yourself.  Don't accept your dog's admiration as conclusive evidence that you are wonderful.

And Dr. Seuss gives us the quote of the week:
Be who you are and say what you feel, because those who mind don't matter, and those who matter don't mind.

Take care on this Friday the Thirteenth.


Oh, and if you haven't done your taxes you have until Tuesday to do so.

Just sayin'

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

All Hail Done Broke Loose

Hailstorms fascinate me.  Always have.  Hailstones "popping" in our grass kept me mesmerized when I was a child.  I recall many days on the porch swing looking out at the miracle.

A furious line of thunderstorms with intermittent hail along with them crossed our area last week.  Bright sunshine all morning gave no hint of the impending weather.  In mid-afternoon lightning streaked across the sky accompanied by loud cracks of thunder.  The satellite dish lost the signal so often we finally turned it off.  (That "searching for signal" came on the screen more than the program.)  I sat reading and enjoying the sound of the rain when the sound changed dramatically.  Hailstones hit the window and bounced in the yard like popcorn.  Pea-sized rather than golf-ball sized, thank goodness.

The digital thermometer continued to drop one-tenth of a degree at a time providing proof of the drop in outdoor temperatures.  When the thunder abated, our neighbor called and asked what happened.  They had been in nearby Asheville watching a matinee showing of The Hunger Games.  The sun was shining when they entered the theater and they exited to find themselves in the midst of the storm.  They missed most of the heavy rain and didn't see any hail until they got home.

The small hailstones did little, if any damage.  And it was fun to see the ground hushed and white but not with snow.

By the driveway

On the deck

In the side yard

I do so enjoy watching hailstorms from a sheltered area.  This one had a short life, but was repeated several times as the front bringing thunderstorms passed overhead.  And the next morning dawned bright and sunny, albeit with much lower temperatures.

[Just in case you didn't recognize it:  The title is a play on words from one of my favorite movies, "Guess Who's Coming to Dinner?" in which the maid Tillie declares that, "All Hell done broke loose."]

Monday, April 9, 2012

Don't Forget the Greenhouse

Easter egg hunts fill the weekend all over the country.  Perhaps the largest one around here takes place at the Biltmore Estate.  The children dash about picking up the eggs all over the lawn.  Story tellers and magicians provide additional entertainment.

Photograph from The Asheville Citizen-Times
Photographer: John Fletcher

Regular readers know that we visit the Biltmore Estate frequently.  We tend to focus on outside activities or the "special" guided tours.  On a recent visit we decided to go through the greenhouses.  While all the plants are impressive, the orchids grabbed my attention.

I love orchids and have grown them (one at a time) in the past.  They bloom for a very long time.  But then they stop blooming for a very long time and the plants without blossoms are not all that attractive.  My neighbor has a perfect place for growing orchids.  It's a bay window and she had the contractor put a large sunken area with a shallow sink in the window sill.  The sink has a liner containing rocks and water.  Fifteen or more orchids sit on these rocks and thrive.  At any given time she has so many of them blooming that one totally overlooks the other plants.  I'm glad she grows them.

I'm not a golf fan.  I never watch more than recaps of shots on television.  But you just have to love it when a man named "Bubba,"  a Floridian who went to college in Georgia, who never took a  golf lesson in his life, wins the coveted Green Jacket of the Master's Tournament.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Fridays are Golden

We got this perfect Easter card.  No, that is not one of our Golden Girls, but it surely is adorable.

This week we took the girls on a new trail in Pisgah National Forest.  The trail is very easy and located near downtown, making it a very popular one.  A multi-use trail, it follows part of the Davidson River and most of the trail work was done by various volunteer groups.  My husband belonged to one of the work crews and that crew did amazing things.  Like moving and building bridges!

This foot bridge was not sufficient for the new trail since it was not wide enough for biking.  So the crew actually moved the bridge to this location to join a different existing trail.

 Then they built this new bridge to replace the one they moved.  The cost of the bridge was several thousands of dollars less than it would have been had private contractors built it.  As you can see it is sturdy and attractive.  And done completely by volunteers led by an expert who was also a volunteer.

The girls just loved this trail.  It is wide and even.  But most of all they loved the fact that so many people would ask if they could pet them.  We always have our dogs at "sit-stay" when other people are coming our way.  We are aware that some people (hard as it is to believe) do not like dogs and some people are intimidated by them.  Some would prefer that dogs not be on their biking trail.  And some of the hikers (although it is a stretch to call this a hike) are elderly and some have small children.  The girls are perfectly content to sit and watch the people as they pass.

After a ride that passed the veterinarian's office and a hike in the forest the girls were pretty much spent for the early afternoon.

Here Ellie snoozes in the sun.

 And Lucy is never more than a dog's length away from my husband.

The quote for the week comes from sef-made wealthy motivational speaker Vivian Greene:

"Life is not about waiting for the storms to pass...It's about learning how to dance in the rain."

This weekend is very special to many people around the globe.  For Christians it marks the death and ressurection of Jesus.  For Jews it marks the beginning of Passover.

So whether you are celebrating Easter, or Passover, or simply if you love chocolate bunnies, Peeps and Cadbury Eggs:


Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Lovely Flowers

The annual Biltmore Estate Festival of Flowers is set for April 7-May 20.  Because of our early spring this year, we decided to visit last week.  We were not disappointed.  The profusion of tulips is a sight to behold.  The flowers will still be gorgeous all during the Festival but I cannot imagine they will be any better than what we saw.

The Lady on the Hill

Here's a sample of what we saw:
NOTE:  I had to change the way the slide show was presented because it ran for a while then stopped accessing.  So I switched to the "video" function which is keeping it on the post but makes for much less crisp images.  So don't make it full screen or it will be even worse  Sorry.

An unexpected bonus for us?  It was Passholder Appreciation Day with extra discounts in all of the shops.  If you ever travel in the Asheville, NC area, you really should spend a couple of days at the Biltmore Estate.  Grandeur on a grand scale.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Very Unusual Bird Activity

Many nesting boxes hang in the trees in our backyard.  Almost all of them are used by the nuthatches, chickadees, titmice.  The White-breasted Nuthatches typically occupy this particular house since they are among our earliest nesters.

Imagine my surprise when I saw an American Goldfinch flying back and forth to the house.

You can see the bird just to the left of the box.  You may want to click on it to enlarge.

The bird flew back and forth to the nesting box carrying materials.

 A first for me!  I have never seen a goldfinch enter a birdhouse.

 Yet enter the finch did.

So what's so unusual about this bird activity?  Plenty.  In the first place goldfinches are not cavity nesters.  I have looked for information and found nothing to indicate they are.

Secondly, it is far too early here for the goldfinches to nest.  They are among our latest nesters despite their early color changes.

What prompted this unusual behavior?  I haven't a clue.  My husband thinks this bird may have survived a window strike with traumatic brain injury.

I last saw the bird flying back and forth to and from the house on Saturday.  I did not see it yesterday or today.  Perhaps one of the wiser goldfinches taught this one about the birds and bees.

I'll be sure to let you know who ultimately nests in this box.  I would wager a huge amount that it will not be a goldfinch.