Monday, April 29, 2013

End of April Showers

Seems I've written a lot about the weather recently.  Perhaps that is because April's weather has been very strange...rain, hail, ice, temperatures well above normal and well below normal.  We know that April showers bring May flowers but we really did not expect such a deluge on the last weekend in rainy April.

Fortunately my husband has finished spreading the new pine straw and fertilizing the plants.  So we did just what Henry Wadsworth Longfellow suggested, "The best thing one can do when it's raining is to let it rain."

And rain it did; more than four inches Saturday and Sunday.  Looking out the garage toward the driveway.

Lots of rain

On this side as well

Wet yard bird

Wet hummingbird feeders (and birds as well)

Did you think for one minute the rain would ruin our grilled dinner?

Not a chance.

This morning has dawned sunny and bright.  The pollen count is down and the rivers are full, overflowing in some areas.  We need a week of sunshine please.

Friday, April 26, 2013

Fridays Are Golden

We built our house with a very large den.  It has heavy furniture and is an ideal place for the dogs to romp a bit indoors.  They have a little tug-of-war every morning and wrestle for a while.  When Lucy tires of the game, she takes the tug toy, flipping it over her nose.

Often she will grab another toy and make a new one with it surrounded by the tug.

In the absence of rain, the Golden Girls would much prefer to be outdoors.  They run in the woods, gather sticks and often just explore the sights and scents.

Lucy is our sight hound.

And Ellie is our scent hound.  Each morning brings new scents of the animals who share our woods.

Lucy pauses to watch Ellie.  She is deciding whether or not to join her.

And every evening they lie together until bedtime.

April is almost gone.  We had a good freeze last night.  Yes, a couple of days after I planted my little herb boxes and we put out the summer baskets.  We huddled them together on the deck and covered them with a sheet.  They are fine and today we might reach 70.  The weekend will be much cooler than normal with lots of rain.  Good weather for reading, knitting, or catching up on some recorded television.

Today's quote is from Lemony Snicket:

"At times the world may seem to be an unfriendly and sinister place, but believe that there is much more good in it than bad.  All you have to do is look hard enough, and what might seem to be a series of unfortunate events may in fact be the first steps of a journey."

And the first steps of the journey always begin today.  Grab it and run.


Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Animals Running the Farm

I have previously likened our leaders to the pigs who took over the farm, declaring that while all are equal, some are more equal than others.  This is particularly true in my beloved North Carolina.

It started with denouncing scientific evidence that the ocean levels were rising.  In statements supporting the ignoring of this evidence, one of our legislators commented that "it would be bad for business on the coast."  I'm sorry to say that this continued turning away from facts continues.

Among other proposals, the North Carolina General Assembly is recommending that we teach the Bible in public schools.  Not any other religious dogma, only the Holy Bible.  (And I'll bet it has to be the King James Version.)  That we teach high school students that abortion causes pre-term labor in subsequent pregnancies, or contributes to breast cancer.  (There are no scientific data to suggest that this is true.)

While I am usually mildly surprised (yet outraged) at the proposals I still can be fooled.  On April 1, (yes, April Fool's Day), our assembly proposed that the State of North Carolina can in fact, establish an official religion.  The logic is that only the Federal Government is restricted from establishing a religion, and any authority not mandated by the U.S. Constitution must be given to the states.  Thus, while the United States cannot establish a religion, states are free to do so.  Of note is that no official religion for NC has yet been established.

North Carolina is known as "The Tarheel State," and "The Old North State."
If you are not familiar with any of these people, consider yourself lucky

Here in NC we seem to have trouble identifying the problems facing our citizens.  So we establish solutions to problems that are non-existent.  For example:  our assembly has proposed a bill prohibiting any county or municipality from limiting the size of sugary drinks!  Excuse me, but North Carolina is home to Pepsi.  There is not a town in the state that would dare limit access to sugary drinks.  In fact, in the mornings you are as likely to see as many drivers getting their caffeine from soda than from coffee.

Another non-existent problem is that of voter fraud.  One proposed solution is to require voter ID.  Not a problem, you say?  Everyone should have a photo ID?  If you believe that obtaining such an ID is easy, let me take you on some home care visits to the poor and disabled.  Then let's try to arrange transportation for them.  Oh, and let's wait in line with them.  By the way: who is going to absorb the cost?  In millions of dollars?

Apparently our assembly considers that college students are among the fraudulent voters.  So the proposed solution to this is to rule that college students can vote only in their "permanent" residence districts.  And if they should try to establish the college as a residence, the proposal would penalize their parents by disallowing their ability to list them as dependent for state income tax purposes.  Surely we don't want the better educated citizens to have an easier time voting, now would we?

To further address the non-existent voter fraud, the assembly would limit early voting.  Sure, early voting allows more citizens to vote, but it can also help perpetuate the non-existent voter fraud, wouldn't it?

The direct effect of these new voter regulations would be to disenfranchise hundreds of thousands of voters in North Carolina.  The gerrymandered redistricting following the 2010 census has already created some very strange voting districts.  One district line cuts right through the middle of a college campus.  There were recounts and lawsuits because some students voted at the campus address where they get mail even though they lived in a dorm in the other district across the campus.

As for undocumented immigrants, we surely cannot let them attend our state-supported colleges and universities can we?  Even if they pay out-of-state tuition.  A new proposal would prevent those immigrants from attending our colleges regardless of how much they might contribute to society.

Our General Assembly isn't going to ignore the problem of divorce.  In NC the law requires a one-year waiting period after the filing date to obtain a divorce.  A new proposal would require a two-year wait and REQUIRED COUNSELING!  No mention of who pays for the counseling.  No exemption for spouses in abusive relationships.  Just suck it up for another year, honey.

I won't even touch on the abortion issue or gay marriage.  Suffice it to say our assembly is trying to prohibit both.

A proposed "nipple bill" would not only make it illegal for women to expose their nipples in public, it would make it a FELONY to do so.  (Exceptions are made for discreet nursing mothers.)  There does not appear to be an age included so at what age will it apply?

Another pending bill requires drug testing before an applicant can receive public assistance.  Again, no mention of who bears the cost for the testing.

We have more than 50 bills pending, few of them to protect the rights and promote the common good of the people.  It is disgraceful that in this great time of need, our "leaders" are so focused on eliminating rights and disenfranchising our citizens.

A little phrase keeps running through my mind.  It comes from a poem I learned as a child.

"Oh, Lord help us and save us" said Mrs. O'Davis.

I apologize for my ranting and raving.  I'm sorry if I have offended any readers.  But this is my blog and I can say whatever I feel.  I promise to return to puppies, flowers, and birds in subsequent posting.  But I had to get this off my chest.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Hail Done Broke Loose

One of my favorite movies is "Guess Who's Coming to Dinner?"  And one of my favorite lines in the movie is that of the maid Tillie who says, "All Hell done broke loose."  Well, the hail broke loose around here last week.  Like most of the country our weather has waxed and waned above normal and much below normal.  I do not recall making the switch from air conditioning to heat so many times in one short week.

On Thursday, after a few hours of rain, the hail started.  Small pebbles of hail bouncing all over the yard like popcorn in a popper.  And just as suddenly, the hail stopped and the sun came out!  Amazing how quickly it turned.

Icy hail in the sunshine

Fun if you weren't out

The deck was covered with little pebbles

The hail melted and disappeared in no time at all and we enjoyed sunshine the rest of the day.

Not everyone across the country has been so lucky.  Our thoughts go out to those in the Midwest who are dealing with the severe flooding.

Friday, April 19, 2013

Fridays Are Golden

Today's Golden Girls are not our dogs Ellie and Lucy.  They are instead the Comfort Dogs from Lutheran Church Charities Comfort Dogs Ministry (here) about whom I posted on Wednesday.  These dogs arrived in Boston shortly after the tragedy at the Boston Marathon and have been visiting patients and family members all week.

(Pictures are courtesy photographs from Lutheran Church Charities Comfort Dogs Ministry from Today Pets.)

Comforting an injured runner before her surgery.
Look at her smiles.


A fifteen-year-old told of his meeting with the dogs, "It's relaxing---takes my mind off what happened."  The teen is recovering from surgery to remove shrapnel.  "It's good to have my mind away from the accident, the doctors.  To have a moment of peace.  I haven't had many moments of peace since it happened."

Student nurses need comfort as well.

And the dogs visited other patients not involved in the marathon.

Here are the comfort dogs and their handlers.

These beautiful and immensely helpful Golden Retrievers are truly golden.  Thank you, trainers, owners, and managers for this magnificent ministry.

How else could we end a post on this painful week than with our beloved friend, the late Fred Rogers:

"When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, 'Look for the helpers.  You will always find people who are helping.'  To this day, especially in times of 'disaster,' I remember my mother's words and I am always comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers---so many caring people in this world."

Our heartfelt thanks to all the helpers.  And our thoughts and prayers go out from across the country to the people of Boston.  May you all find moments of peace.


Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Bring on the Dogs

When tragedy strikes, the Lutheran Church Charities Comfort Dogs Ministry gets into high gear.  The ministry is home-based in Addison, IL.  They have been in Newtown following the school shooting there, helping many children and adults try to cope with their grief.  Dogs are effective grief counselors because they are totally accepting of any emotions.  They do not judge.  They do not talk.  They are there to listen and provide comfort, allowing themselves to be petted and loved, gently nudging the grieving to let them know they are not alone.

[The first two are AP photos.]

Ruthie and Luther are packed and ready to go to Boston.

Isaiah is packed and ready

Ellie and Lucy would love to help.
Ellie certainly has the temperament but no training.
Lucy?  Well, she's a bit rambunctious.

The comfort dog ministry is a wonderful one.  The dogs will be stationed at the First Lutheran Church in Boston; a few blocks from the site of the bombing.  They will also visit the victims in area hospitals.  You can learn more about the Comfort Dogs here.

As journalist and author Christopher Morley said, "No one appreciates the very special genius of your conversation as the dog does."

Our thoughts still reach out to the people of Boston; to the workers who are helping them; to the Boston Police Department; Boston Fire Department; and the volunteers providing assistance; and to the people who refuse to let terrorism govern they way they live.  This week we are all Bostonians.

Monday, April 15, 2013

More Talking and Eating than Knitting

We have a neighborhood knitting group we call the "knit-wits" and we meet monthly at one of our homes.  This month was my turn to host the group.  We meet after lunch and the hostess serves tea, coffee, and a dessert.  Today few people brought any knitting but most did bring a finished product to show the others.  So the rest of the time was spent in talking, and talking, and talking.  You would think we never see one another they way we carry on.  We also use this occasion to exchange books we have borrowed from one another and sometimes we more closely resemble a book club than a knitting group.

I almost always make desserts from scratch and never use any "boxed" ingredients.  But while I was browsing through my favorite recipes, one jumped out at me.  I decided to forsake the "scratch" cake precedent and make this one from a mix because it is so good and seems perfect for a spring gathering.

I cannot even remember where I got this recipe.  It is that old.  It is often called a "mandarin orange cake" but I learned it as a "pig pickin' cake."  Pig pickin' is a term used primarily in eastern NC for occasions when a whole pig is slow-roasted over charcoal and then mopped with a vinegar based barbecue sauce.  It's a two day process with the first day burning the hickory wood to make the charcoal.  Then the charcoal is lit and the whole pig placed on the grill where it cooks for ten hours or more.  Neighbors gather for the feast, bringing side dishes and desserts.  There is always a "pig pickin' cake" among them.

I save out three segments of mandarin orange for garnish.

Three yummy layers

Whenever I serve this cake, everyone wants the recipe.  I'm always a bit embarrassed to tell them how easy this cake is to make.  It looks and tastes like a labor intensive cake and is anything but.  It is best made the day before serving and must be stored in air-tight container in refrigerator.  (Hence the Tupperware cake taker rather a fancy cake plate.)

Pig Pickin' Cake

For cake:
1 box of your favorite yellow cake mix
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1 can (11oz) mandarin orange segments (drained with 1/3 cup liquid reserved)  If desired, reserve three segments for garnish.
4 eggs
1/2 cup chopped walnuts

1 can (20oz) crushed pineapple, undrained
1 box (4-serving size) vanilla INSTANT pudding mix
1 tsp grated orange zest
1 tub (16 oz) thawed whipped topping

Grease and flour three 9-inch cake pans OR a 13x9 pan
Preheat oven to 350

In large bowl beat cake mix with oil, orange segments, reserved 1/3 cup orange liquid.  Beat in eggs one at a time.  Add walnuts.  Mix at low speed for 30 seconds and then on medium speed for 2 minutes.  Pour into prepared pan(s).

Bake 20-25 minutes for three layers or 35-40 minutes for 13x9 until toothpick in center comes out clean.  If baking three layers, cool 10 minutes in pans then turn out on racks to completely cool.  If using 13x9, allow cake to thoroughly cool.  [Keep in mind the "frosting" is whipped topping.  If the cake isn't absolutely cool, the topping will run.]

To make frosting:  Stir together pineapple, dry pudding mix and orange zest.  Stir in the whipped topping.  Spread frosting between layers and on top and sides of cake.  Or if using 13x9, spread frosting all over cake.  Decorate with reserved orange sections and additional grated orange zest.

Try it.  I think you will agree that it is delicious.

Post script:  My husband just turned on the television and we learned about the tragedy at the Boston Marathon.  Whatever your deity may be, please send up your thoughts for those affected.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Fridays Are Golden

What a difference a week makes!  Last Friday found us with a mid-day temperature of 33 and ice on the trees.  Then things warmed up and all week we have had temperatures ten to fifteen degrees ABOVE our normal.  Severe thunderstorms and high winds moved through our area last night.  Today is sunny and very warm.  We didn't turn on the air conditioning for several days, but the pollen is so bad we reluctantly turned it on.  We figured it is cheaper to pay for a bit more electricity than to keep buying allergy pills, tissues, and eye drops.  Hopefully last night's rain reduced the counts enough for us to open the windows and enjoy the mountain breezes.

The girls have really enjoyed the sunshine and being outdoors more, "helping" spread pine straw and picking up sticks.

Ellie always checks in with St. Francis and the little bird he holds.

Lucy "drifted" outside the boundaries and was summoned with a recall.  She seemed rather indignant about it.

Jeepers, Mom, I wasn't going to run off anywhere.
Ah, dear Lucy.  I know that, but you simply have to abide by the boundaries.

Lucy is a very restless sleeper.  She twists and turns and flops around constantly in her crate at night.
She apparently has great dreams because her legs will move and her tail will wag in her sleep.
Here's how she looks every morning before she is groomed.  Rather sad, isn't it?
(You may need to click to appreciate the bad hair day)

Time is really flying by.  Already one hundred days of 2013 have past.  Amazing.  We will be stuck in our community tomorrow as the "Assault on the Carolinas" bicycle race takes place.  There are several races of different lengths up and down the mountains, around the curves, and through the valleys.  Every single one of them includes a portion (large or small) of US 276, the road that leads us anywhere we need to go.  There are 40K, 60K, and even 100K races.  [No, you cannot join the race.  Registration capped long ago with 1,000 participants.]  Thankfully, our community is not a bad place to hang out on a Saturday.

Today's quotes come from Carol Burnett.  She has a new book, written to honor her daughter Carrie.  Carrie successfully overcame teen-aged drug addiction and went on to live a happy productive life.  That life was cut short when Carried died of cancer in 2002.

"You have to go through the falling down in order to learn to walk.  It helps to know that you can survive it.  That's an education in itself."

"I've always grown from my problems and challenges; from the things that don't work out, that's when I've really learned."


Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Birds in Spring

I am awakened most mornings to the loud song of the Eastern Towhee ("drink your tea"), or the very loud Tufted Titmouse (peter, peter, peter).  Our house is in the woods, so we have lots of birds.  Living in moderate North Carolina (climate not politics), we have lots of songbirds that live with us year-round.  But they are never more fun than in spring when they are busy mating and nesting.  And activity is at peak right now.

We have at least three pairs of Down Woodpeckers

And several pairs of cardinals

Although we have fresh water all the time, this goldfinch prefers to drink from a tree cavity that holds rainwater.

We have many, many American Goldfinches.
They are perhaps our most common birds.

The cardinals eat early and late

They do not winter here, but we welcome Purple Finches every spring and summer.
We have two nesting pairs every year.

The different variety of birds here would fill several posts.  We are lacking Bluebirds near our house.  But we can stroll on the golf course or near the lake and see plenty of them along with the usual waterfowl.

We are blessed indeed.  Not only do we have these wonderful resident birds, we are treated to the grandeur of the spring migration.

Monday, April 8, 2013

April Flowers

Cool weather has delayed spring around here.  And the ice last week made us fear damage to our plants, ready to blossom.  Fortunately, there was minimal damage.  A weekend filled with warm sunshine has popped everything out.

No damage on this beauty

But some did not do so well.

This white one was mostly spared

We love this one

And the bright yellow

Tiny blooms on the sage

And slightly damaged hellebores

Early bird songs with active courting antics are a sure sign.  We're waiting for the spring migration.  Oh, life is indeed good.

Friday, April 5, 2013

Fridays Are Golden

It is not uncommon to look up at the high mountains early mornings in early April and see ice on the mountaintops.  It is quite another to look out your own backyard and see ice on April 4.  Not just in the early morning, but at 3:00 in the afternoon!!!  Our normal high for the date should be in the mid-60s.  Yesterday our high was 32.  Mist, clouds, gray and ice.

(You may need to click to see the ice clearly)
Where is spring?

The calendar says it's here.

Where are you going Ellie?
Thought I would check the other side of the house to see if it's better there.

Look at that, would you?  Where is my sunbeam?

Absent my sunbeam, I'll just settle on soft golden Ellie.

The only thing we can do about the weather is to wait for a change.  It is what it is.  But I can tell you I am ready for spring weather to accompany the calendar.

Today's quotes are from Marcus Aurelius:

"You have power over your mind---not outside events.  Realize this, and you will find strength."

"Very little is needed to make a happy life; it is all within yourself, in your way of thinking."


Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Coming to a Feeder Near You

Spring migrations are a wonder, and our favorite summer residents are Ruby-throated Hummingbirds.  Because we have had such cooler than normal temperatures, it hardly seems time for them.  But it is April already and the hummingbirds are on the move.  If you live anywhere in the southeastern United States you need to have your nectar up for these little birds.  They have had long journeys and really need the extra nourishment.

The 2013 Report Map
(You need to click to enlarge it)

You can access and follow the map here.  You can look at the map daily to chart the hummingbird progress.  And you can report on it if you are lucky enough to be the first person in your area to see one.

I'm looking forward to having you back, sweet little bird.

I am not aware of similar tracking reports for western hummingbirds.

Monday, April 1, 2013

Can't Fool Me Again...

"Your shoe's untied."  When I was a child, we actually laced and tied our shoes so this was the most common April Fool joke in elementary school.  Based on my observations of today's long laces streaming and velcro closings, I don't think it works today.

Today is April Fool's Day.  I have never been fond of pranks or jokes at the expense of others, especially myself.  But some April Fool's jokes are so clever and non-threatening that I love them.  Here are a few of my favorites...some I remember and some I do not.  I found all of them amusing.

This is perhaps my favorite:

It was in 1957 that the British Broadcasting Corporation, (BBC) News reported a bumper crop of spaghetti. According to the spot on the news show, Panorama, the maligned spaghetti weevil had been almost eliminated, allowing for a bountiful spaghetti harvest. The story was accompanied by pictures of peasants pulling huge strands of spaghetti off the heavily laden trees. Surprisingly, BBC was flooded with calls from people wanting to plant their own spaghetti trees! They finally developed a reply, "place a sprig of spaghetti in a tin of tomato sauce and hope for the best."

Taco Bell:

The 1990s brought the days of corporate sponsorship of stadiums and other venues. In 1996 the Taco Bell Corporation sent out press releases and advertisements that they had purchased the Liberty Bell and would rename it the "Taco Liberty Bell." They would allow the bell to remain on display in Philadelphia half the time and would keep it at corporate headquarters the other half. Furious Americans began calling the park where the Liberty Bell is kept, as well as their Senators and Congressmen. Taco Bell immediately revealed that it was a practical joke.

The news even made it to the Presidential press conference that afternoon. Mike McCurry, then White House Press Secretary had an additional joke for the press. He said that Ford Motors had purchased the Lincoln Memorial and it would be re-named the Ford Lincoln Mercury Memorial.

Burger King
Burger King played a great joke in 1998. The company took out a full page ad in USA Today. The ad described a new product, "The Left Handed Whopper" designed for left-handed people. The whopper was made by rotating all the ingredients 180 degrees for left-handed customers. Burger King announced the next day the advertisement was a hoax. But for several days, people came in requesting the Left-Handed Whopper. Others requested the old "Right-handed Whopper."

National Public Radio (NPR) is not above a good joke. In 2004, All Things Considered informed us the the US Postal Service was beginning a "portable zip code" policy. Since the FCC had recently allowed customers to keep their telephone numbers when they moved, the post office would allow customers to keep their old zip code numbers. The program stated that the portable zip codes would put Americans in the demographic, not just geographic landscape.


A scientific newsletter, New Mexicans for Science and Reason, published an article in the April edition (1998) that the great state of Alabama was changing the value of Pi. According to the article, the state legislature had returned the definition to the "biblical" value of 3.0 rather than 3.14159. The real purpose of the article was to parody the legislature for its position on the teaching of evolution. News of the article spread quickly and the Alabama legislature was inundated with phone calls.


And this year, Google announced on the YouTubeblog  (here) that it will stop accepting videos after April 1, 2013.  According to the blog, YouTube was merely a contest to find the best video and after eight years it is closing the contest and erasing all posted videos.  The best video will be determined within the next ten years and Google will re-launch YouTube.  (BTW:  The demise of Google Reader on July 1 is NOT a prank.)

So watch out for April Fool pranks today.  And in the words of George W. Bush:
"There's an old saying in Tennessee - I know it is in Texas, probably in Tennessee- that says, Fool me once, shame on, shame on you.  Fool me - you can't get fooled again."