Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Another Break

Yes, I'm taking another break from blogging.  I'll probably return in May.  And I'll try to get around to reading your blogs to see how things are going for you.

Celebrate Earth Day on Friday by doing something positive for our dear Mother Earth

A full moon awaits as our Jewish friends observe Passover.


Monday, April 18, 2016

Flaming Tree of Spring and Autumn

It occurs only at this time of year.  And for a short while.  But for a week in spring, when the sun rises above the mountains beyond, we can look out our deck and see a beautiful tree all aglow.  Not with fire, but with the sunlight illuminating this one small area.

Our back yard is wooded and slopes down to a creek below.  When we stand on our deck, we can look out at trees across the creek.  The tree prominent in the photographs is a Red Maple, often called a Swamp Maple.  (Acer rubrum)  It is one of the most common deciduous trees in the United States and is the State Tree of Rhode Island.  It is well known in colder states as one of the maples that can be tapped for sugar.

Our house is located near the highest elevation of the Red Maple's range.  It doesn't do well in elevations above 3,500 feet.  The Red Maple is so named because almost all parts of the tree are red to some extent.  It is one of the most brilliant autumn reds but the immature spring leaves are red as well.

The first sunlight hits the maple.

 The tree is about 40 feet tall.  We are at the same level because the hill we are built upon slopes down.
And the hill beyond the creek rises to where the tree stands.

 Gradually the sun illuminates more and more of the area around the tree.

 Soon the leaves will no longer be red.
And the sun will shine in a different direction.

But while we have this flaming tree we will enjoy it.  We need some rain, but I must admit I'm delighted to see the sun rising on this lovely tree each morning.  Weather predictions indicate we won't being seeing the sun rising for a couple of mornings.  And that's all right.  The woods are too dry.  And it's a dangerous time since the trees have not fully leafed and the dry leaves on the ground are exposed.

Hope your Monday starts well and continues throughout the week.

Friday, April 15, 2016

Mid-April already?  Time is flying and Spring is here despite some frosts at night.  We've seen migrating Rose-breasted Grosbeaks and welcomed our first hummingbirds this week.

Thank goodness for premium channels, streaming, "on demand," and DVDs of vintage Bette Davis movies.  Those along with my books are an alternative to network television so rife with politics.  I did near that John Kasich is opposed to gay marriages but "would uphold the law."  And Ted Cruz thinks our "bathroom law" is perfectly reasonable.  Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton apparently had a contentious debate with much shouting and finger pointing.  Amazing what you pick up on the banners when you try to watch the local weather reports.  I even changed my laptop's home page to avoid politics.

Lucy moves in her own private sphere, blessedly unaware of all the things going on in our world.  Everything moves in her world with perfect regularity.  I'm a bit jealous.

 In the evenings she snoozes with her pillows next to my husband's chair.

Surely they can see that I need a little blanket.
Mom knits them for babies but where is mine?

Today's quote comes from Franklin D. Roosevelt:

"If civilization is to survive, we must cultivate the science of human relationships - the ability of all peoples, of all kinds, to live together, in the same world at peace."  



Wednesday, April 13, 2016

The State of our State is Embarrassing

Despite what you see from our General Assembly and Governor, most people in North Carolina are informed, tolerant and kind.  The 2010 election turned both houses Republican, many of them from the more rural conservative areas.  Frustrated citizens blindly (and stupidly) voted for anyone not the incumbent without regard to whether or not they were doing a good job.  These ill-informed unhappy voters voted only for the inexperienced newcomers.  Boosted by huge funding from conservative Political Action Committees, the tone of the General Assembly changed dramatically.  Another thing forgotten by these dissatisfied voters was the 2010 census.  The census led to gerrymandered districts that twice have been deemed illegal by the court system.  The new districts dilute the votes from the more liberal cities, practically assuring election of conservatives.  Many churches  are providing lists of candidates they consider sufficiently "Christian" to serve in the General Assembly.  (The word is in quotes because these people are far from Christian and the tenants of Christianity.)  As a result Asheville in not in the mountain district.  Asheville, likely the best known mountain city in the entire State.  One district cut a narrow and irregular swath all the way from our border with Virginia south to our border with South Carolina.  Even members of the legislature smugly admit that the new voter registration laws are intended to disenfranchise Democrat voters.

The General Assembly has taken our State backward.  In the name of "religious liberty" they want to return to the days when it was perfectly fine to discriminate against anyone different from themselves.  In fact, one new law specifically forbids local communities or counties from passing legislation designed to protect any group from discrimination.

These political cartoon speak for themselves.  Please note the cartoonist of each.

They don't even listen to God Almighty!

 And so our State is losing revenue by individuals and companies who will not come here because of the new law.  Sadly, many of our legislators think that this affects only the cities in North Carolina.  And everyone knows those liberal hotbeds are wicked.  They are too uninformed to realize what they are doing to our State, not just to our cities. Their response to PayPal pulling out plans to add 400 NC jobs?  "Cancel your PayPal account.  That'll show them."  Our own Governor announced that the other States who are forbidding all but the most essential travel to NC are simply trying to make us look bad.  Sorry, guv.  You and the General Assembly have already done that worse than anyone else could possibly do.

Yesterday Governor McCrory announced an Executive Order regarding the infamous HB 2.  Surprisingly enough, the order extends protection to State employees from discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity.  The order affects only State employees and none other.  The bathroom clause remained unchanged.  And the law still prohibits cities from developing their own anti-discrimination ordinances.  So with the stroke of his pen, the Governor managed to infuriate those on both sides of the issue.

A new billboard by the roadside in Polk County
Makes me so sad

I believe it's only a matter of time before this onerous law is changed.  But it will take years to undo the damage it has caused.  Just as I never imagined a Presidential campaign like this one, I never imagined my State turning so vindictively red.

Monday, April 11, 2016

Our Son the Beekeeper

“Mankind will not survive the honeybees’ disappearance for more than five years.”  So said Albert Einstein many decades ago.  Since that time the honeybee population in the world has declined dramatically.  This decline affects everyone from the farmer to the consumer.  No other animal or insect plays a greater role in the ability of farmers and growers to produce the fruits and vegetables we often purchase without a second thought.

So I was delighted last summer when our son mentioned that he planned to take classes in bee keeping and build the hives to start keeping bees.  A friend of his was pleased to provide the space on his mini-farm underneath his apple trees and near fields with clover.  A great spot for the bees and great for the apple trees as well.  Thus, the journey began.

All went well.  The hives were placed and the bees ordered.  They came as promised a week or so ago when the Indiana weather should have been favorable for placing them in the hives.  Mother Nature did not cooperate.  A sudden cold spell chilled the air and made the freezing nights far too cold for the new active bees.  So the bees were kept in my son's basement for a week.  He fed them sugar water and worried about how they would do.  More experienced bee keepers assured him the week's delay should not matter.

The weather finally improved and yesterday our son and his wife drove the bees to the farm.  Quite an experience to hear all those bees buzzing in the back of the SUV.  They sent me a video of the bees in the back and they were surprisingly loud.

Donning his protective gear our son placed the bees in the hives.  He was delighted to see both the queens in their little cages moving about and active.  

NOTE:  The queens come in little cages, closed off with candy.  The bees and the queens do not recognize each other.  So the bees will eat through the candy.  By the time they eat through and the queen is free, her pheromones will become familiar and they will recognize her as their queen.

Our son the bee keeper
Photograph taken by our daughter-in-law

The hives are closed off so the bees must remain inside for several days.  They have sufficient sugar water to live on until they get out.  The hole the bees will use for entering and exiting the hive is stuffed with a marshmallow.  By the time the bees consume the marshmallow it will be time for them to fly freely in the open air.

I am so pleased when I hear one more person has taken up bee keeping as a hobby.  No longer can we rely on professionals to supply all the bees we need.  Individuals are also encouraged to keep bees.  We all depend on them.  And I do love honey.

We do not have honeybees.  But we do have boxes for Mason Bees.  While they produce no honey and do not require any work, they are great pollinators and very useful to have around.  If you have flowering trees or gardens, place some Mason Bee boxes in the trees.  Mason Bees do not sting and will not damage your trees.  You can order boxes for them from almost any gardening site.  Or build your own if you are handy.  If every one of us would keep Mason Bees, it would help with pollination.  And kudos to those of you who keep honeybees.  You are doing all of us a great service.

In hiving his bees, our son was stung only once.  And it's actually supposed to be a good thing for bee keepers to occasionally get stung by their bees.

Friday, April 8, 2016

We Love Lucy

Interesting week we have had.  Temperatures all over the place.  Now it is much cooler than normal with frost and hard freezes at night.

This weekend is the Assault on the Carolinas (HERE)  The Assault is a major bicycle event that features rides of 40K, 60K, and 100K up and down the mountains of Upstate South Carolina and Transylvania County in NC.  The rides all begin and end in downtown Brevard.  The other thing shared by all the rides is that they travel on US 276, our only route to town and beyond.  Need I say that we don't plan to leave the community?  Except perhaps to drive to a nearby viewing place to cheer on the riders.  They have an elevation gain of 5,567 feet in the 100K.  I'm sure they will appreciate the cooler temperatures.  The wind?  Not so much.

The Assault has become increasingly popular.  The rides began with 50 cyclists and are now capped at 1,000 riders.  Registration was closed in 2015 for this year's ride.  Interestingly enough, the average speed in the 100k is 36mph.  The speed limit on most of the route is 35.  Considering the elevation changes, that is quite impressive.

Lucy is on forced rest this weekend.  At the park on Wednesday she decided to run zoomies around the car after finishing a healthy run by the lake.  The sharp quick turns caused a minor injury.  I'm sure she pulled a muscle.  She limped a bit each time she got up yesterday.  The limp went away after several steps so we are certain the injury is minor.  She isn't limping at all today but we think it prudent to keep her from running over the weekend.

She manages the rest surprisingly well for such an active dog.  She follows my husband around and takes a bed wherever he ends up.  In this photograph, she is on the alert since he has walked into the hall.  She's watching to see if he goes upstairs or comes back to the den.  If he returns, then she will plop her head down and snooze some more.  If he goes upstairs, she will follow and get into the nearest bed or find a sunbeam.

Can't bother to look at the camera, Mom.
Gotta watch where Daddy is going.

Our friends in Wisconsin were frequently in touch as their Presidential Primary assumed far more importance than it usually does.  Made no sense to vent to others living there, so they vented to us.  They are delighted to once again be out of mainstream news.

Today's quote comes from Shel Siverstein's A Light in the Attic.  It is delightful, a little bit naughty and was a favorite book of both our children.  And as I age, I love this verse more and more.  I'm glad I have a freezer full.  It's nearing time to use them.

I'll take the dream I had last night,
And put it in my freezer,
So someday long and far away,
When I'm an old grey geezer,
I'll take it out and thaw it out,
This lovely dream I've frozen,
And boil it up and sit me down
And dip my old cold toes in.

Every great dream begins with a dreamer. Always remember, you have within you the strength, the patience, and the passion to reach for the stars to change the world. Harriet Tubman
Read more at:

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Sunshine and Flowers

Well, the sun rose over North Carolina yesterday morning despite the UNC loss in the NCAA Final.  What a game it was and it was a shame that one team had to lose.  And that the one team was UNC.  Basketball just doesn't get much better than that game.

And the sun is still shining brightly here.  But we are expecting a hard freeze which has more than a few people worried about their plants and trees.  No real threat to the fruit trees, thank goodness.  But some ornamental shrubs and bushes are at risk.  It won't be a killing freeze, but will be enough to darken and kill some new growth.

One of our camellias is in full bloom again.  Such lovely large blossoms.

 Unfortunately, all these lovely blossoms and buds will turn brown and fall to the ground with the expected freeze.  So I will put several branches in water to open and bloom inside.

I've mentioned before that we have planted only those plants that are appropriate for our garden zone.  But I made an exception for camellias.  We planted camellias because I really love them.  But we are at the edge of their growing zone so we know full well the blossoms will often succumb to a sudden cold snap.

I could cover the camellia with a couple of sheets.  But I do not lament the loss of the flowers.  After all, I knew all along that life here for camellias is risky.  But like many other things in life, camellias bring more than their beauty when in full flower mode.  The shrub itself is lovely.  And the promise of flowers is a bonus.

Happy Wednesday, everyone.  The 97th day of 2016, a year destined to feel longer than any other in recent memory.  Thank goodness for books, music, hobbies, and anything else that provides an option to the constant political rhetoric and talking heads on television.

Monday, April 4, 2016

Goldfinches Getting Yellow

Among all the signs of Spring, one of my favorites is the yellowing of our American Goldfinches.  This goldfinch is abundant throughout the United States and is the State Bird of three states, one on the East Coast, one in the Mid-West, and one on the Pacific Coast.  (New Jersey, Iowa, and Washington)

The goldfinch molts all its feathers twice a year; once in late summer and once in late winter.  Their Spring plumage is bright yellow for the males and a duller yellowish/green for the females.  They turn bright yellow long before their breeding season.  Being seed-eaters, they do not breed until much later than most of our birds.  They wait until the thistle and other fibrous seed-bearing plants provide their seeds.  If you haven't planted milkweed for the Monarchs, the goldfinches give you another reason.  If you plant it they will come.

Goldfinches migrate south during the winter.  And lucky us, they stay around here all year long.  Some of our resident birds are joined by migrants while other migrants move on further south.

At this time of year there seems to be great variation in color.  Some of the male goldfinches have turned a brilliant yellow while others are still rather muted.

 You can see the color variation on these birds at the deck water basin.

 We love having these active little birds

It isn't clear what the real lifespan of the goldfinch might be, but one banded goldfinch was monitored for more than ten years.

The single negative thing about American Goldfinches would be the fact that Pine Siskins will flock with them.  So if there is a irruption of Pine Siskins and you have a lot of goldfinches, you will be mobbed by those pesky siskins.

In our state and some others, American Goldfinches have now become infected with House Finch Eye Disease.  So if you see a bird with a diseased eye, it might have this very contagious conjunctivitis.  If you notice any sick finches you should take down all your seed feeders.  Empty them and clean them with a 10% bleach solution (1 part bleach to 9 parts water).  Allow them to dry thoroughly.  It's a good idea to keep the feeders down for several days to discourage congregation of birds who might be infected.  Rake under the feeders or blow away all remaining seeds and bird droppings.

And enjoy these little acrobatic birds that brighten up our days.

Friday, April 1, 2016

We Love Lucy

It's April Fool's Day.  I thought about posting this photograph and suggesting we had gotten another Golden.  But then I decided that would be so wrong.  If Lucy were younger and more adaptable, we would seriously look for another dog.  But given her age and inflexibility, that might not work and might make her happy life miserable.  And if Lucy ain't happy, nobody's happy.

Here is the photograph anyway.  It's a very young Lucy sitting with that puppy pose.

Is this how I'm supposed to sit?

 I'm not one for pranks.  In fact, I hate them.  Doing something or planting some idea for the purpose of making someone else feel or look stupid is a terrible idea in my book.  That said, I do enjoy harmless attempts at fooling people.  Here are a few from this year:

From Pizza Hut, various types of "pizza loaves."

 From Pasante, "Grow Your Own Condoms" kit.  (Rather reminds one of NPR's spaghetti trees, doesn't it?)

 From Firebox, the iDodge.  An app for your iPhone that signals you when you are about to walk into something.  They have some other really neat "April Fool" gadgets HERE.

 From Lyst, typically fashionable chickens that lay pom poms rather than eggs.

 And a big backfire April Fool's joke from Google.  Google always builds something for April Fool's Day and gives users an opportunity to see it, knowing full well that it is a joke.  Not so this year.  Google placed a "Mic Drop" button that users could click to send and archive emails in their gmail accounts.  The users had no knowledge that the button would add the little minion character from "Despicable Me" onto their emails.  Immediately things began to go wrong.  People sending professional communications such as resumes were dismayed to find the minion (below) heading their correspondence.  The little guy appeared on sympathy notes and notes of apology.

Google quickly removed the button.  But not before this seemingly harmless April Fool prank ruined a lot of relationships and cost people self-esteem, if not a job interview.

Mic Drop Minion

So be aware today that what you may hear just might be intended to be an April Fool joke.  Oh, would that that were the case for what you are likely to hear from the Presidential candidates and news "reporters."  No April Fool's there; merely fools.

Today's quote comes from Mark Twain:

April 1. This is the day upon which we are reminded of what we are on the other three hundred and sixty-four.