Showing posts from November, 2013

Caturday: Santa Claws

'Tis the season. Thanksgiving is past. Time to get the house decorated for the year-end holidays and that, of course, means a tree. That can be a challenge though if you have a Simon's Cat in the house.

The Minor Adjustment Beauty Salon by Alexander McCall Smith: A review

My rating: 4 of 5 stars Reading a No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency novel is like being in the presence of an old and well-known, well-loved friend. It's a warm hug from a someone who knows just when you really need that hug. These books are classified as mysteries, but they might as easily be called philosophy, because they are filled with Precious Ramotswe's ruminations on life, on what makes people behave as they do, on her beloved Botswana, on Africa. All of the "mysteries" that she is called on to solve are, at their core, puzzles of human nature and why one person seeks to cause mischief for another. There are no car chases, no gunfights, no bloodshed. There is simply Mma Ramotswe meditating on the personalities of those involved in her current cases and using common sense and her well-honed instinct to sort through all the motives and possibilities to a logical conclusion. The great Sherlock could not do more.   As this book opens, we learn that Mma Ramotsw

An Addams Family Thanksgiving

Yes, it is that time of year again. Time for another Addams Family Thanksgiving. Enjoy! I hope your Thanksgiving is a peaceful one with no flaming arrows and no scalpings.

Backyard Nature Wednesday: Opossums

The Virginia opossum, more familiarly known as possum. The opossum, or possum, is the only marsupial animal found in the United States and Canada. They are also frequently found in my backyard at night. Possums are scavengers and are always on the look-out for something that can become their next meal. They are attracted to garbage cans, dumpsters, and other such containers. They also will eat carrion and can sometimes be found near roadkill. They will hunt small animals. In past years, when we had a backyard flock of chickens, the possums were a threat to them. They are omnivorous and will eat just about anything they can get their mouths around. I even sometimes see them under my bird feeders where they pick up nuts and fruits that have fallen from the feeders. As a member of the marsupial class of animals, female possums give birth to tiny babies, about the size of honeybees. There may be as many as 20 babies in a litter, but, generally fewer than half of them will su

Say goodbye

I've often written here and elsewhere about the plight of the Monarch butterflies and of the bees. They are iconic insects that can be recognized by most people, even those that are fairly ignorant about other insects, and they are hugely important cogs in the ecosystem. The migration of the Monarch is a tale which borders on the magical. A fragile insect which makes the long trek all across the continent from Canada to Mexico is something which catches people's imagination as a thing that is really quite marvelous. The Monarch's migration is particularly important and is cause for celebration in Mexico where the butterflies have traditionally wintered. A story in The New York Times this week ( "The Year the Monarch Didn't Appear" ) emphasized that important cultural link. On the first of November, when Mexicans celebrate a holiday called the Day of the Dead, some also celebrate the millions of monarch butterflies that, without fail, fly to the mountain

The Black Ice by Michael Connelly: A review

My rating: 4 of 5 stars This second in Michael Connelly's popular Harry Bosch series was published twenty years ago in 1993, but it still seems fresh today. Reading it actually reminded me quite a lot of watching Breaking Bad with its aura of violence from Mexican drug cartels and the introduction of a new drug - in this case, something called "black ice." Harry is still relegated to the Hollywood Division, apparently the armpit of the LAPD, where he continues to investigate homicides in his own inimitable independent fashion. It's a fashion which does not endear him to his superiors. This particular case starts with him investigating the death of a low level criminal whom no one seems to care much about. He follows a lead to the narcotics division and he meets with an LAPD narcotics officer to try to get more information. Sometime later, a corpse that appears to be that same LAPD narcotics officer is found in a seedy hotel room. His face has been blown away by a

Poetry Sunday: The Troubadours Etc.

The National Book Awards were announced this past week. The prize for poetry was awarded to Mary Szybist, a poet with whom I admit I was completely unfamiliar. It is always exciting to meet a poet one hasn't known before. I read several of Szybist's poems in recent days to try to learn more about her. Her poems often feature images and ideas from Nature. I was particularly struck by this one - I think because of its images of Passenger Pigeons. Such an iconic and once ubiquitous bird. Now it is no more. "At what point is something gone completely?" The Troubadours Etc. BY  MARY SZYBIST Just for this evening, let's not mock them. Not their curtsies or cross-garters or ever-recurring pepper trees in their gardens promising, promising. At least they had ideas about love. All day we've driven past cornfields, past cows poking their heads through metal contraptions to eat. We've followed West 84, and what else? Irrigation sprinklers

Have you heard the good news about Obamacare?

The national media, especially that portion of it that is located inside the Washington beltway, seem to have completely adopted the Republican line on the Affordable Care Act, aka Obamacare. It's a "train wreck." The website is a disaster. Repeal is inevitable. But if you get past the front pages where all these horror stories appear, you may find quite a different tale, buried somewhere on page six. This week, for example, we saw headlines like these: No big drop in Obamacare support and Obamacare enrollments surging and website working better The stories that appear beneath these headlines detail the fact that support for the health care program is holding essentially steady, that enrollments in the program during the first two weeks of November were more than twice what they were for the entire month of October, and, finally, that the glitch-prone website is now working for at least 90 percent of its visitors. These are all hopeful signs t


FDR famously spoke after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941 of "a day that will live in infamy." It was an apt and memorable phrase, one that I am sure was engraved on the hearts of all Americans who heard it. That "day of infamy" was well before I was born and so I never heard that speech in real time, although obviously I've heard the recording of it many times. Sadly, there have been other days of infamy in our country's history since then. The one that I remember most, the one that affected me most - even more than 9/11/2001 - was 11/22/63, the day an American president was murdered in cold blood on the streets of a major American city. It has been said that that was the day America lost its innocence. In very many ways, it was the day that I lost my innocence. Things were never quite the same for me after that. I had idolized John F. Kennedy. I was inspired by him. Even though I was too young at the time, I wanted to join the Pe

Backyard Nature Wednesday: Sickle-winged Skipper

Sickle-winged Skipper butterfly ( Achylodes mithridates ), aka Bat Skipper, perched on a lemon tree.    This very unusual and fairly large (1 1/2 to 1 7/8 inches) butterfly is easily identifiable in any setting because of the shape of its wings. In addition to their unusual shape, they are striking because they are glossed with an iridescent sheen of lavender and copper and crossed by bands of bluish gray spots. Thus, a butterfly which at first glance seems to be a rather dull brown, on closer examination is actually quite colorful. This is a butterfly of South and Central America and the West Indies, which ranges into southern Texas where it is a year-round resident. It is rare for them to wander as far north as my backyard just north of Houston, but this one did. When seen in this area, it is generally in the months from August to November. Some have even strayed as far north as Arkansas and Kansas but that is extremely rare. This skipper is at home in tropical thorn-sc

The White Princess by Philippa Gregory: A review

My rating: 3 of 5 stars Philippa Gregory's series about the women of the Cousins' War, the 15th century conflict between the Yorks and the Lancasters over who would rule England, continues with this account of the life of Elizabeth of York. Elizabeth was born a princess of the House of York, daughter of Edward IV and Elizabeth Woodville, who we learned about in The White Queen. As a youngster, Elizabeth is betrothed to Henry Tudor, who will become Henry VII and found the Tudor line. Henry and his uncle Jasper had fled to France when Henry was still a child to avoid being destroyed in the cousins' conflict. Eventually, Henry returns to England with an army and manages to defeat Richard III, the last of the York kings, on the fields of Bosworth. In Gregory's telling, the princess Elizabeth had been in love with Richard III, her uncle, and, in fact, was his lover. She grieved for his death at Bosworth. Henry, who took the crown that day, chose to honor his betrothal to

Swann's Way by Marcel Proust: A review

My rating: 3 of 5 stars 2013 is the centennial anniversary of the publication of the first volume in Marcel Proust's epic, Remembrance of Things Past . In commemoration, many book clubs, literary groups, and fans of the work have organized marathon readings of it. I decided it was time for me to do my own commemoration by reading it. After all, isn't it something that all literate people are supposed to have read? I had actually attempted to read the book several years ago. I read perhaps thirty pages and was completely daunted. I just couldn't go on with it. But these days, I am made of sterner stuff, plus I have more time on my hands, so I persevered. And, believe me, reading Proust does require perseverance. His convoluted, complex sentences go on for half a page or more with no relief. If the reader's attention wanders for even a few seconds, she can be irretrievably lost and has to go back to the beginning to pick up the thread of the narrative. I confess this h

Poetry Sunday: Autumn Waiting

We're coming to the latter third of autumn. Some days we get a taste of winter. On other days, it seems like summer again. The season can't seem to make up its mind. It is waiting for something - a cold wind, perhaps? - to tip the balance. Autumn Waiting  by Tom Hennen Cold wind. The day is waiting for winter Without a sound. Everything is waiting— Broken-down cars in the dead weeds. The weeds themselves. Trees. Even sunlight Is in no hurry and stays For a long time On each cornstalk. Blackbirds are silent And sit in piles. From a distance They look like Something Spilled on the road.

Caturday: Adam and Eve's pets

The Story of Adam and Eve's Pets (No, you won't find it in the Bible.) Adam and Eve said, "Lord, when we were in the garden, you walked with us every day. Now we do not see you anymore. We are lonesome here, and it is difficult for us to remember how much you love us." And God said, "I will create a companion for you that will be with you and who will be a reflection of my love for you, so that you will love me even when you cannot see me. Regardless of how selfish or childish or unlovable you may be, this new companion will accept you as you are and will love you as I do, in spite of yourselves." And God created a new animal to be a companion for Adam and Eve. And it was a good animal and God was pleased. And the new animal was pleased to be with Adam and Eve and he wagged his tail. And Adam said, "Lord, I have already named all the animals in the Kingdom and I cannot think of a name for this new animal." And God said, "I have

The Crossley ID Guide, Britain & Ireland by Richard Crossley and Dominic Couzens: A review

My rating: 5 of 5 stars The unique Crossley ID guide series continues with this volume covering the birds of Britain and Ireland. This beautiful book covers all the regularly occurring birds in Britain and Ireland. Several of them will be familiar to American birders, even those who have never traveled to either location. This is especially true of the shorebirds and raptors, many of whom are international fliers. These guides are geared toward beginner and intermediate birders, but even advanced birders will find their approach to identifying birds an innovative one that will not bore them. Richard Crossley's method is to use actual photographs of each species of bird in many different poses and place them against a background which shows appropriate habitat for that species. In many ways, it combines the best of the traditional field guides which use paintings of the birds to emphasize their most noticeable field marks and the newer guides that use photographs of birds. His me

CBS fail

For those of us who are old enough to remember CBS News when it actually stood for integrity and truth-telling, their current debacle with their fake, sexed-up Benghazi story is especially infuriating. This is the kind of phony journalism that we've come to expect from Fox News. We had looked for something better from the network of Walter Cronkite, Eric Sevareid, and Edward R. Murrow. The 60 Minutes story that was presented as an eye witness account to the attack last year on our consulate in Benghazi was trumped up from beginning to end. Their "eye witness" was a liar, whose lies were easily disproved by actual journalists who bothered to check. He was never actually there on the night of the attack.  CBS now says it is undergoing a "journalistic review" of the story which started as soon as they learned there was an issue with it. The question is why was there no journalistic review before the story ran? Why was it not vetted and confirmed before it was sh

No Lovelier Death by Graham Hurley: A review

My rating: 3 of 5 stars Bazza Mackenzie, Portsmouth's drug king turned (mostly) respectable businessman, lives in an upscale neighborhood of the city next door to a judge, his wife, and teenage daughter. Like any good neighbor, Bazza promises to keep an eye on the judge's house while he and his wife go on a South Sea sailing adventure. The teenage daughter is left behind on her own and while the parents are away, she decides to throw a party. She announces the party on her Facebook page, and on the designated night for the party, more than 100 kids descend on the house. Things get quickly out of control and the party turns into a riot. The judge's beautiful house is completely trashed. Bazza and his wife, Marie, had been out that night to their own party. They came home late to find the riot in progress. Bazza wades in to try to bring order and gets a beating for his trouble. Marie calls the police and waits outside for them to arrive. When they do, she turns to go

Project FeederWatch

Throughout the year, I enjoy participating in several citizen science projects, mostly related to birds but some of them tracking butterflies and other insects. One of my favorite annual projects started last weekend. It is Project FeederWatch 2013-14. Project FeederWatch is a winter-long project which surveys the birds that visit feeders or other food sources like berry or fruit bearing shrubs in backyards or nature centers, community areas, and other public locales. Participants count the birds at their designated sites on a regular schedule, usually once a week, from early November through early April. They do the counts over two consecutive days and then report those counts to Project FeederWatch. Most participants enter their totals directly online, but there is a provision for those who prefer to report manually, by mail. One doesn't have to have any particular expertise in order to participate in this project. You only have to be able identify the species and to count. P

Veterans Day 2013

Today is that special day when we stop to honor and thank all those who have served and are still serving in our armed forces.  Today I remember all those in my own family, including my father, uncles, and cousins who served in World War II and Korean War, as well as childhood friends who served in Vietnam - some of whom did not make it home again.  And, of course, I honor my favorite veteran, my husband.  Thank you for answering the call to service when our country needed you.

Poetry Sunday: Bones and Shadows

Today we have a ghost story. The tale of a ghostly cat and the woman who couldn't let him go. Bones and Shadows BY  JOHN PHILIP JOHNSON She kept its bones in a glass case next to the recliner in the living room, and sometimes thought she heard him mewing, like a faint background music; but if she stopped to listen, it disappeared. Likewise with a nuzzling around her calves, she’d reach absent-mindedly to scratch him, but her fingers found nothing but air. One day, in the corner of her eye, slinking by the sofa, there was a shadow. She glanced over, expecting it to vanish. But this time it remained. She looked at it full on. She watched it move. Low and angular, not quite as catlike as one might suppose, but still, it was him. She walked to the door, just like in the old days, and opened it, and met a whoosh of winter air. She waited. The bones in the glass case rattled. Then the cat-shadow darted at her, through her legs, and s

Caturday: Never give up!

Today, Maru, the famous Japanese cat star of YouTube, gives us a lesson in persistence. If at first you don't succeed, try, try again. There may be a tasty treat waiting for you at the end of your labors.

Cruelty as a governing philosophy

One in four people in Texas do not have medical insurance. That is the highest rate of any state in the country. These people suffer every day because they cannot afford to go to the doctor when they are sick or their children or sick. When things get bad enough, they wind up at overcrowded emergency rooms and, ultimately, we all pay the bills for that care - if in fact the hospitals get paid at all. The state government of Texas had an opportunity to cure part of this problem by expanding Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act, but that wouldn't fit with their philosophy. That philosophy, to sum it up in one word, is cruelty. Cruelty toward anyone who isn't a millionaire and who isn't able to contribute large sums of money to their political campaigns. Indeed, it is not enough for Rick Perry to reject the expansion of Medicaid and deny its benefits to about a million needy Texans. No, he wants to restrict the current very limited Medicaid program in Texas even further

Dangerous Admissions by Jane O'Connor: A review

My rating: 1 of 5 stars When I read recently that there was a mystery series featuring a copy editor as the sleuth, I was intrigued. Having been married to a copy editor for many years with a chance to observe his powers of deduction up close and personal, it occurred to me that a word sleuth might make a very good detective. So, of course I had to read it, and since I am an obsessive kind of reader who likes to read series books in order, I started with the first one, Dangerous Admissions. While the concept seemed a good one, the execution was amateurish and, frankly, had little to recommend it. I struggled through it to the bitter end, but only because I like to finish what I start. The protagonist is a divorced single mother living in New York. She was formerly employed by one of the big publishing houses, until she made an egregious mistake on the reissuing of a Nancy Drew mystery, The Secret of the Old Clock . She failed to notice that the "l" was left out of "cl

Backyard Nature Wednesday: Winter finches

We call them winter finches. They are little songbirds that spend their summers in the boreal forests of Canada and north woods of the United States and then move southward to spend winters. Some of them make it all the way to the Gulf Coast. The movements of winter finches , like the movements of most birds, are related to finding food. In years when there is a heavy crop of seeds, nuts, and berries in the north, relatively few of the little birds travel very far to the south. It is not the cold of winter that they flee. It is lack of food. As long as they have a sufficient supply of food they can survive the cold. When the food crops fail or are less than normal, the lower 48 states can expect to see irruptions of birds such as Common and Hoary Redpolls, Evening Grosbeaks, Purple Finches, and Pine Siskins, as well as some of their fellow travelers like Red-breasted Nuthatches and Bohemian Waxwings. Those are very good years for birders throughout the country. Now, of all these

The Redeemer by Jo Nesbø, translated by Dan Bartlett: A review

My rating: 4 of 5 stars Jo Nesbø is a master of misdirecting attention. He had me thoroughly confused about the true source of the sense of evil that pervades The Redeemer. It was with some surprise that I learned just how wrong I had been. The book begins with the brutal rape of a 14-year-old girl at a Salvation Army summer camp. It is a crime, like all too many rapes, that is never reported but one that will reverberate throughout the novel. A dozen or so years later, in modern day Oslo, Inspector Harry Hole's life is more or less back on track after he fell off the wagon and went off the deep end a year ago. His lover Rakel kicked him out after that episode because she didn't want a drunk to be a part of her son Oleg's life. Oleg, however, loves Harry and is determined to keep him in his life and it seems that Harry has worked out a relationship with them. On the job, things are changing. Harry's friend, protector, and boss at the Oslo PD is leaving. The new admi

Poetry Sunday: The Tyger

My elder daughter, who is school secretary at an elementary school in the Houston area, told a story this week about a parent who had visited her office. The mother and her child were waiting in the office. On the wall there was a poster with a picture of a tiger and the caption on the poster read "The Tyger." The mother looked at the poster for a while and then turned to her child and said, "This can't be a very good school. They don't even know how to spell tiger!" Well, tyger was the spelling used by William Blake in his famous poem and it's good enough for me. The poem was always a favorite of mine in my high school literature studies. I passed that love on to my daughter and it became a favorite of hers, too. Let's make it the poem of the week. The Tyger by William Blake Tyger Tyger, burning bright,  In the forests of the night;  What immortal hand or eye,  Could frame thy fearful symmetry? In what distant deeps or skies.  Burn

What bug?

Several days before I got sick in October, I stepped out onto my patio one morning to find this rather elegant and gaudily dressed beetle crawling across. Well, well, I thought, what bug are you? I don't believe we have met before. I snapped his picture and later started researching, trying to learn his name. I knew enough to call him a beetle, but that was able all I knew. But at least that narrowed the field a bit. I finally found him in an old field guide I owned, A Field Guide to the Insects by Borror and White. Turns out my little visitor is a scarab beetle of the family Scarabaeidae , subfamily Scarabaeinae, or dung beetle! Yes, that elegant-looking little beetle makes his living from dung or carrion. The little guy, whose proper scientific name is Phanaeus vindex , is also known as the rainbow scarab, which I like much better than dung beetle so I think that's what I'll call it. The rainbow scarab beetle is resident in the eastern U.S. all the way t