Monday, July 23, 2012

Blogging Break

I am taking a break.  It might be for several weeks.  I will try to catch some of your posts and I will be back before too long.  I've turned off the comments for this post.

Enjoy these photographs of our mountains.
And stay safe, everyone.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Fridays Are Golden

In the interest of equal time, I decided to give Lucy another post of her own, since I did two posts for Ellie's birthday.  So here are some more glimpses into the daily life of Lemonade Lucy.

She loves to lie on the deck watching birds and animals.
She rests her head on the lower railing and puts two paws between the slats.

She is so smart that she knows which bed says "Lucy."
(I strongly suspect that for some reason this bed is the more comfortable, 
but my husband insists Lucy can read her name.)

It took quite a while for her to learn "down/stay," but she does know the command and follow it.
In fact, both dogs run to the door and put themselves in a down/stay whenever the doorbell rings.
They may look so well behaved but don't kid yourself.  After they have been released they run to the fridge for their little piece of cheddar cheese.

While Lucy is very active, she can sleep better than anyone I know.

Another week has ended.  We have seen some respite from the high temperatures but are having rather severe thunderstorms almost every day.  Our thoughts go out to those suffering from nature's wrath.  And to those who suffer at the hands of their fellow man.

Today's quote is attributed to several different people, most consistently to Helen Keller, so I will go with that.  It seems very appropriate amid all the problems that make us feel so small and insignificant.  In an era in which large corporations are considered "individuals" who can buy our electoral process, we sometimes think we don't matter much.  But we do...each one of us.

I am only one,
But still I am one.
I cannot do everything
But still I can do something;
And because I cannot do everything
I will not refuse to do the something I can.

You likely have heard variations of the story of an old man frantically trying to save starfish stranded on the shore.  The shore was littered with starfish, most of whom would surely perish when the sun rose.  The task seemed impossible.  So many starfish and so little time.  A man approached the old man and asked what he was doing.  When the man told him, the younger man responded, "Why?  There are too many of them.  This won't make a difference."  The older man threw another starfish to safety in the ocean.  "It will to that one," he replied.  Then continued his work.

We all have to believe that little things we do will make a difference.  I reflect on the starfish story often in these confusing days when every detail of our lives seem politicized.  And for a while I feel a little bit better.


Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Celebrate by Serving

The Nelson Mandela Foundation and the United Nations have declared today "Nelson Mandela International Day."  Born on July 18, 1918, today is Mandela's birthday.  According to the UN declaration, Nelson Mandela gave sixty-seven years of his life to bring much-needed change in South Africa.

To honor him, people all over the world are being asked to give a mere sixty-seven minutes today in service to others.  One minute of your time for every year of Mandela's service to mankind.

Photograph from the Internet, not credited.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon encourages all of us to take action on Mandela's ninety-fourth birthday.  What better way to honor such a man than to give to others?

So join me today in giving an hour and seven minutes to do something kind for someone else.  Make this a better day.  It's a small thing to do and may mean so much to someone.  We affect the lives of others in ways we may never know.


Monday, July 16, 2012

Really Easy Fruit Cobbler

I don't usually share recipes here.  Goodness knows, there are many far better resources for cooking than this blog. But I do love to cook.  I subscribe to several cooking magazines and love to try new recipes.  I watch several cooking shows when I have the chance.  One more perk of being retired is that I can cook complex dishes that take all day to prepare.

Sometimes I go back to the simple tried and true.  There is one recipe I received very early in my married life that is so easy and so delicious that we continue to have it every year when the berries and peaches are ripe.  It may be the easiest fruit cobbler I've ever seen and our family loves it.

Baked in a three-quart baking dish it looks like this.

Spoon a serving into a dish while the cobbler is warm from the oven.

Top it with your favorite ice cream.
In our house it is vanilla-with-the-bean.

1 stick butter or margarine
1 cup sugar plus extra for fruit and top
1 cup milk
1 cup self-rising flour
2 cups fresh berries or diced fruit

Preheat oven to 400.  Put stick of butter in 3-quart baking dish and place in heating oven to melt.  (Or put dish in microwave to melt the butter.)  Remove the dish and set aside.

Put fruit in saucepan and add sufficient sugar to sweeten to taste.  Warm the mixture until sugar melts.

Mix together the sugar and flour in a small bowl.  (If using unsalted butter you might want to add a dash of salt.)  Add the milk and whisk until mixture is smooth.  Pour the mixture evenly over the melted butter in the baking dish.  Do not stir.  Spoon the heated berries evenly over the mixture.  Do not stir.

Bake at 400 for about 30 minutes until crust is lightly browned.  Sprinkle top with sugar and bake another 5 minutes.

I'll never forget my first experience with this cobbler.  We were living in a farm house out in the country while our home was under construction.  A neighbor invited me over for coffee and served this cobbler.  I asked for the recipe which she gladly shared from memory.  I excitedly bought some blackberries and made the recipe for my husband.  It was a soggy mess of dough and fruit.

When I visited the neighbor again, I told her I must have written down the recipe wrong.  In our discussion the problem became clear.  She had assumed that I would know to use "self-rising" flour even though she said only "flour" when giving the recipe.  "How did you think the dough would rise?" she asked, not in a condescending way.  What seemed self-evident to an experienced cook was not so clear to a novice.

So every year I make this cobbler several times as various berries ripen.  And my husband and I never fail to laugh as we recall the doughy mess of my first attempt.

Give this simple recipe a try.  I think you will enjoy it.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Fridays Are Golden

Our Lucy had a birthday last week.  July 4th to be exact.  And now she is seven years old.  Lucy is the smartest dog we have ever had.  Far from being mellow like Ellie, Lucy has the temperament of a show dog. She is very loving and while she is not particularly interested in pleasing you, she is devastated when she is scolded.

Lucy was much more difficult to train in common commands than any dog we have ever had.  I might have mentioned before that she had a dozen questions about every single command.  We first noticed that with one of the first commands, "sit."  Some of her questions were, "why?  where?  for how long?  can I wag my tail while I'm sitting?"  She needed special training to believe that a command given inside the house applied equally outside the house in other situations.  It took forever for her to finally learn the command, "down."  In our training, when the command is given and the dog is first learning, the owner places a hand on the dog and gently puts her in the down position.  Unfortunately, Lucy thought this was a fun command.  "OK, they say 'down' and then they push me to the floor.  Yeah!  That's fun!"  The command became so corrupt that we left it for a while and then re-trained her using another word.  Lucy knows all the commands and she also knows that she will be corrected if she fails them, but every now and then she just HAS to give it a try.  She will try to go out the door before the master tells her.  Sometimes she will move forward and pull on the lead rather than walking by the master's side.  She knows she will not get away with it, but something within her just makes her have to try.

She was our first dog to get carsick on a regular basis.  I made it a habit of taking her for short drives around the neighborhood, plastic bag and paper towels at the ready.  Slowly she became more and more tolerant of riding in the car and by the time she was six months old, she no longer had a problem.  She continues to have a "delicate" digestive system which we attribute to the fact that she picks up almost anything along the way.  We have to check her mouth every time we bring her in and often find acorns, little sticks, or even pebbles.

Lucy has always smiled a lot, even on her first day home.

Whereas Ellie loves tennis balls, Lucy loved very large hard balls.
She was so funny pushing this ball and falling all over it.

She always loved to play with Ellie.  And she still does.

Here she is several months old.  She still has the "puppy" sit.

And this is the grown up Lucy.
She looks smaller and leaner than fluffy Ellie, but they are within a pound or two of the same weight.

We asked for relief from the heat and we definitely got it.  On the down side, the cooler air brought heavy rains.  We are going through dog towels rather quickly as we walk in the rain.  There is flash flooding nearby and the parched fields are now standing in water.  Thank goodness we have a large den with heavy furniture where the dogs can romp and play a bit.

It seems that more and more people are angry much of the time.  I may have used this quote before, but if so it bears repeating.  From The Buddha:

"Holding on to anger is like grasping a hot coal intent on throwing it at someone else;  you are the one who gets burned."


Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Memories of Snow

Many people are suffering with the excessive heat across our country.  We had a very mild winter this year, but for the previous three years we had above average snowfall.  A few people love to think back fondly on those cold days.  Especially during the heat waves of summer.

One of my Milwaukee friends came down to visit in March one of those years to enjoy our Carolina sunshine and get away from the Wisconsin cold and snow.  We laughed when the skies became cloudy and my friend mentioned that in WI that would have signaled snow.

Little did we know that it signaled snow here.  In the middle of March.  While it happens often in the higher elevations, it is not that common here.  And snow it did.  And it kept on snowing.

This cardinal glared at me as if I caused the snowstorm.

Lots of snow and still snowing.

A goldfinch picks up a mouthful of the white stuff.

The bird was sitting on the deck rail.
This photograph gives you some idea how deep the snow was.
And it wasn't done yet.

Branches were laden with heavy snow.

My friend and I had planned to sit on the deck much of the time,
talking, reading, or watching birds.
That wasn't going to happen this trip.

The snow lingered and we could not get to the airport for my friend's return flight home.  We changed her flight and she got to stay an additional two days.

Memories of I miss it?  Not at all.  We chose this place for our retirement because of the infrequent snows.  Even when it gets too hot outside, I still would not want a flake of snow.  I'll just stay in the air-conditioned comfort and try not to go stir-crazy.  At least I can still get in the car and drive somewhere.  And I can look at photographs of the snow more fondly than I looked at the snow itself.

On the bright side, we are expecting a cold front to give us some relief today.  It will be most welcome.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Little Female Pileated

Another Pileated Woodpecker has fledged.  This makes the fourth from our two pairs of resident parents.  We saw the adults showing behavior that suggested they were feeding a fledgling deeper in the woods.  Finally, they brought her to a tree near the house.

The other day my husband came inside from sitting on the deck to tell me that I had missed the greatest photograph ever.  He saw the parent feeding the fledgling on a branch and he knows how badly I have wanted to catch the moment with the camera.  "The lighting was just perfect!" he said, "it would have been great."  I snarked that I had a bigillion such missed opportunities on a weekly basis.  You know all of them;  you don't have the camera with you, the camera has the wrong lens on it, etc., etc., etc.

But I knew that sooner or later I would see the feeding and have my camera at the ready.  Not on a branch, not in perfect light, but at least on the right side of the tree.  [NOTE:  For some reason, the photographs look very dark if you have your laptop tilted too far so you might have to adjust it.]

The little girl waits on the tree.

Her mother comes back from the suet and lands alongside.

Finally!  They do not go up under the leaves or crawl behind the tree.
They actually feed right before my eyes.

One more mouthful.

And then they break apart.  Notice that there is little size difference between the adult and the juvenile.

The mother turns her head.  Perhaps there have been too many camera clicks.
Together they fly off deep into the woods.

If you are reading this, I assume you still have Internet access after the Feds shut down the temporary fix for the "Doomsday" virus causing thousands of infected computers to be unable to connect to the Internet.  It is frightening to think of the horrid things evil people can do to so many people in our electronic world, isn't it?

I hope your week is starting well.  Temperatures across the mid-west and eastern US are expected to moderate a bit.  And we hope for the rain to stop in the UK and Russia.  We definitely have some global "weirding" going on.

Friday, July 6, 2012

Fridays Are Golden

Like the rest of the middle and eastern US, we are still in the midst of a hot weather dome that seems not to move.  Record-breaking high temperatures and fierce storms continue.  Many are still without power and there does not seem to be any respite in the near future.

We are so much luckier than many others.  We have not lost power and are able to keep our house comfortable.  The temperatures drop a bit at night here in the mountains so early mornings can be quite pleasant before the sun heats up the air.

So the Golden Girls get some romping in very early and then become slugs the remainder of the day.  I've always found it interesting that the two of them are almost always together.  In this warm weather they are not often in their beds, preferring the cool hardwood or tile to the softness of the warmer beds.

End-to-end they lie beneath the window.

In the middle of the floor, barely touching.

Lucy snuggles just a little bit as they lie near a chair.

End-to-end once again.

I have no idea why the two of them are so often lying together.  There is ample floor space but they each seem to prefer the proximity of the other.

The dangers are not over across our country.  The wildfires are being contained but still cause major challenges.  Last night a string of severe thunderstorms shattered across the Great Smoky Mountain National Park.  At least two people are known dead.  The storms hit the most popular (and beautiful) Cades Cove area and the extent of the damage is unknown.

About 56% of our nation is in a drought situation causing fear for more wildfires in the future.  Farmers across the nation are looking at parched fields.  The crop yields will be dramatically reduced.

It was hot enough in Chicago to buckle roadways and traffic is being rerouted in many places.  More than 200,000 are without power in West Virginia, 70,000 without power in Virginia, and 45,000 without power in Maryland.

So as we approach this weekend, our hearts are with the suffering not only here but around the planet we share.  And our hearts are filled with fear for the future.

Our quote today comes from the late Barbara Jordan who prophetically said,

"This is the great danger America faces.  That we will cease to be one nation and become instead a collection of interest groups:  city against suburb, region against region, individual against individual.  Each seeking to satisfy private wants.  A spirit of harmony can only survive if each of us remembers, when bitterness and self-interest seem to prevail, that we share a common destiny."

I hope we can all come together in the midst of the bitterness and self-interest that does indeed prevail right now.  Let's help one another so everyone can share in the richness of this wonderful country.


Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Mend Thine Every Flaw

America! America! God mend thine ev'ry flaw
Confirm thy soul in self-control
Thy liberty in law !
(Katharine Lee Bates)

Monday, July 2, 2012

Behind the Branches

We are blessed to have so many birds in our woods and are often treated to the sight of the parents feeding the fledglings.  Since the birds come at different times each day, catching a photograph is more luck than skill.  The other day I happened to have my camera...with the right lens on it...and I saw two Pileated Woodpeckers fly to the tree.  Finally I would be able to capture the feeding.

This baby Pileated Woodpecker sits and waits for the parent to bring some food.

I've got the camera at the ready.
Want to see this baby fed?

So did I.  But the two birds climbed just high enough in the tree.
So here's nothing but branches and the tail end of a bird.

Perhaps this shot of the Downy Woodpecker feeding its fledgling will suffice.

People who watch birds know that the best bird is always on the other side of the tree.  But just knowing it's there is sometimes enough.

The number of people in harm's way seems to be growing.  Now we add those in peril from the dangerously high temperatures, many without power from the storms.  Our thoughts are with them along with those affected by the western wildfires and the residual floodwaters in Florida.