Showing posts from 2014

Happy New Year!

A new year is always a chance to begin anew and  do it better this time. May 2015 bring you joy,  peace, good health and all good things.  Happy New Year!

Picturing 2014

The end of the year is a time for reflection, for looking back over the year almost gone and remembering. As a part of that process, I've been reviewing some of my blog posts of 2014 and the pictures that accompanied many of them. Here are some of my favorites, most of them from my own backyard. January - American Goldfinche s were everywhere in the garden and at the feeders, still dressed in their winter drab. February - The leucojums, one of my favorite spring bulbs, were blooming.  March - I saw and photographed my first Giant Swallowtail butterfly of the year in the garden. April - Many of the amaryllises were in blossom. May - The Eastern Bluebirds were already busy with their first family of chicks for the year. The first of three. June - The Echinaceas were in full flower. July - Dragonflies in many colors were everywhere! They filled the air of the garden in the late afternoons.   August - The beautyberries were already r

The Ghosts of Belfast by Stuart Neville: A review

The Ghosts of Belfast by Stuart Neville My rating: 5 of 5 stars Gerry Fegan is a haunted man. The former IRA "hard man" can't escape or turn off the memories of the people he has killed, particularly the innocent and those who didn't need to die. The Troubles in Northern Ireland had no place for mercy and Fegan had tortured and killed, without compunction, at the behest of his bosses in the movement, those who engineered the deaths of others but never got their hands bloody. Now he is followed day and night by the shadows of twelve people that he killed - twelve people who are seeking vengeance through Fegan against those who ordered and caused their deaths. The only way he will ever find peace is to give them their vengeance, turning his skill in the art of killing against those who directed his activities in the past. Gerry Fegan, when we meet him, has recently been released from prison, where he served seven years. Prison and all that he experienced there change

Poetry Sunday: Make Me Strong in Spirit

As we come to the beginning of a new year, here is a prayer to strengthen us, a meditation for our consciousness. Make Me Strong in Spirit by Abby Willowroot Make me strong in spirit, Courageous in action, Gentle of heart, Let me act in wisdom, Conquer my fear and doubt, Discover my own hidden gifts, Meet others with compassion, Be a source of healing energies, And face each day with hope and joy.                                         ~~~ May 2015 be filled with all good things for you and those you love.

This week in birds - #139

A roundup of the week's news of birds and the environment : A colorful male Mallard at rest on the calm waters of a pond. Mallards are among the many species of ducks that frequent our area in winter. *~*~*~* Mistletoe is one of the iconic plants of the holiday season, greatly favored by lovers, but did you know that this parasitic plant also provides food, shelter, and nesting places for many animals in Nature, including birds? In fact, some critters could hardly survive without it. *~*~*~* Scientists have been busily redrawing the avian family tree . The new schematic affords a much clearer picture of the interrelationship of many species and of how birds came to be who and what they are. *~*~*~* Now that the governor of New York has banned fracking in his state, environmentalists in other states - like Pennsylvania, for example - are pressuring their state governments to do the same , as evidence mounts regarding some of the hazards of the procedure. *~*~*~*

Full Dark House by Christopher Fowler: A review

Full Dark House by Christopher Fowler My rating: 3 of 5 stars This book is sort of Phantom of the Opera meets Sherlock Holmes, with the role of Sherlock being played by Arthur Bryant and Dr. Watson by John May. This was the first in the Bryant and May series featuring the London Police Department's Peculiar Crimes Unit. Some of the crimes here are very peculiar, indeed. The roots of the mystery are in the World War II period when London is being hit by the Blitz and theater productions are staged with the purpose of keeping the spirits of the populace up. In this instance, the production at the Palace Theatre is a rather risque interpretation of Orpheus in Hades. The theater itself seems to be haunted by a ghostly presence that does not approve and that is attempting to close the show before it opens. It begins with a dancer in the production being murdered in a particularly cruel way. Her feet are chopped off and thrown away. Two other murders of cast members follow. All are mu

I wish you a merry...whatever!

At this season, whatever holidays you celebrate, I hope they will be happy and peaceful and that you'll have people that you love with whom to celebrate.  Happy Hanukkah!  Merry Christmas!  Happy Kwanzaa!  Happy holidays! 

My year in books

There have been some really good books published in the last year and I've been fortunate enough to have read a number of them plus having reread a few oldies but goodies from my past. As I look over the list of books that I've read in 2014, it's difficult to pick the cream of the crop, but I've considered each month individually and tried to pick my own personal Book of the Month. For some months, even that has been impossible and I've had to include more than one title. Here, then, is the extended list of my favorite books read (so far) in 2014. January : And the Mountains Echoed by Khaled Hosseini - In my review of this book, I wrote, "This story stretches all the way from Kabul and the villages of Afghanistan to Paris, Greece, and, finally, San Francisco, but everywhere it goes, it is about family relationships and how we love and take care of those closest to us and what we owe not only to parents, children, and siblings but also uncles, aunts, cousins,

Monarchs of winter

Many times in 2014 I've bemoaned the absence of Monarch butterflies from my garden. Their visits have been few and far between. Lately though, and somewhat surprisingly, there seems to have been an uptick in their numbers. I often see them visiting the late blooms that still hang on in the garden here in late December. And just this week, I was surprised to see a mating pair in united flight across my backyard. I followed their flight and watched them land high in a limb of my next door neighbor's pine tree. You can just see them tucked in among the pine needles here. They remained there for at least an hour. But elsewhere in the garden there was evidence of other Monarch pairings. Checking out some of the milkweed that is still in bloom, there was evidence that it had been munched, but I didn't see the caterpillars that had done it. Then I looked at the fence/screen behind the bed where the milkweed lives and there they were - three fat caterpillars! Not on

Poetry Sunday: The Shortest Day

This poem pays homage to the traditions of Winter Solstice, the time when the old year ends and the new year begins - never mind what our calendars say. It happens today at 5:03 P.M. CST. As the days have gotten shorter and shorter and grayer and grayer in recent weeks, we've looked toward this day, the demarcation of seasons. Tomorrow the day will be just a little bit longer and a little bit lighter and for that fact we rejoice, knowing that, if winter comes, spring cannot be far behind. The Shortest Day Susan Cooper And so the Shortest Day came and the year died And everywhere down the centuries of the snow-white world Came people singing, dancing, To drive the dark away. They lighted candles in the winter trees; They hung their homes with evergreen; They burned beseeching fires all night long To keep the year alive. And when the new year’s sunshine blazed awake They shouted, revelling. Through all the frosty ages you can hear them Echoing behind us – listen! All the lon

This week in birds - #138

A roundup of the week's news of birds and the environment : The Cedar Waxwings are back! Just in time for the holidays and what a gift they are. A small flock of the nattily dressed birds have been making their way around the yard, renewing acquaintances with all their favorite trees, this week. I always look forward to seeing that first waxwing in the fall. I know I say this about all my backyard birds, but they really are one of my favorites. *~*~*~* Drought continues to be the big environmental news in the Southwest, even though the recent storms in California have offered some relief to that parched state. Some of the southwestern states have taken steps to reduce the amount of water that they draw from the Colorado River in order to keep from exacerbating the reduced water available to the river system. *~*~*~* A recent study showed that Golden-winged Warblers abandoned their breeding grounds in the mountains of eastern Tennessee in April 2014 just ahead of

Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout: A review

Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout My rating: 5 of 5 stars Olive Kitteridge is a large woman with a loud voice and a big personality. If we were to compare Crosby, Maine to a solar system, Olive would be the sun around which all the planets orbit. Olive is not a lovable woman. She is outspoken and opinionated but has trouble expressing her own emotions. As we progress through the thirteen short stories that comprise this portrait of her, however, we learn that she is a woman who loves passionately and deeply. It is her tragedy that she is not able to express it. Short stories are not my favorite form of writing, but these short stories seem a particularly appropriate way to reveal Olive to us. Each story features different characters, often long-married couples, sometimes former students of the formidable Ms. Kitteridge - she taught math at the junior high school until her retirement - and sometimes just people passing through the little town, but we see Olive through their eyes.

Iguanas 1, Kitten 0

Welcome to your Friday morning chuckle.

A Christmas dinner that pleases everyone: Dreaming the impossible dream

The family Christmas dinner will be at my house again this year, as it is every year. That means that once again I am stuck with trying to plan a menu that will have something to appeal to all my picky eaters. The task gets harder every year. This year nearly everybody is on a diet of one kind or another and even those who aren't fall in the category of the aforementioned picky eaters. We have people who eschew bread or sweets of any kind. Then there are those who claim gluten intolerance and/or lactose intolerance. We have people who are following the Paleo diet. I have one guest who will eat any vegetable as long as it's potatoes or green beans - and nothing else. Some will not eat pork, so a Christmas ham is out of the question. But then I still have some who expect a traditional Christmas feast with all the trimmings! How to reconcile all these conflicting dietary demands and ensure that no one has to go away hungry? Well, believe me, it ain't easy, but I'll try

Backyard Nature Wednesday: December reptiles and amphibians

We got a cold front, or at least a cool front, through last night that lowered our temperatures to somewhat more seasonal levels, but prior to that, the last few days have felt more like Indian Summer than Almost Winter. Daytime temperatures have been in the 70s F. and it didn't cool down a whole lot at night. So maybe it isn't surprising that some of my favorite backyard critters, the reptiles and amphibians, that had disappeared during our quite cool weather of a couple of weeks ago, put in an appearance once again as they came out to enjoy warmer temperatures. It's not often that one sees little green treefrogs out enjoying the sun on a December day, but there he was. He lives in a bed where crinums grow and throughout the summer I would often see him sunning himself on one of their broad leaves. Nevertheless, I was just a bit surprised to see him there this week  Then I went to sit on the glider on the patio and when I looked up from my seat, this is what

Tripwire by Lee Child: A review

Tripwire by Lee Child My rating: 3 of 5 stars I needed an antidote to the news of the day. In a world where political leaders and their apologists on the right straight-facedly justify the use of torture and where policemen are not held accountable for killing unarmed citizens, it seems that justice is as rare as unicorns. I wanted to visit a world where bad guys are actually punished for their bad deeds. A Jack Reacher novel seemed like an appropriate choice. I had read the first two Reacher novels ( Killing Floor and Die Trying ) and wasn't all that impressed, but at least I felt sure that in Reacherworld evil would not triumph. So I dipped into Lee Child's third offering in the series. We meet Reacher in Key West, digging swimming pools by hand and building up his already prodigious muscles. He has this job, plus a second one as bouncer at a club, because he's low on cash and needs some ready money. Things have been going along swimmingly, so to speak, for three

Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day - December 2014

We are still waiting for that first killing frost here in my zone 9a garden in Southeast Texas. We normally expect it around the tenth of December but Jack Frost is tardy in touching us with his icy fingers this year. The result is that all of my blooms that I showed you on November Bloom Day and, indeed, most of the ones from  October Bloom Day are still pretty much in place. There are only a few additions. The loquat tree has been in bloom all month. I dug this seedling from my daughter's garden six years ago and planted it here. This is the first year that it has bloomed. I have a couple of yellow Esperanzas. This particular one got cut back severely last winter because it had grown too large. I guess I discouraged the poor thing because it has been slow to bloom this year, but finally, here in December, it is putting on its first real flush of blooms.  The ever-blooming azaleas are still...well, ever-blooming. As are the cyclamen, of course. And the vi

Poetry Sunday: People Who Take Care

Here's to some of the most under-appreciated, underpaid, overworked, and most essential people in our society - the caretakers. Where would we be without them? People Who Take Care by Nancy Henry People who take care of people get paid less than anybody people who take care of people are not worth much except to people who are sick, old, helpless, and poor people who take care of people are not important to most other people are not respected by many other people come and go without much fuss unless they don’t show up when needed people who make more money tell them what to do never get shit on their hands never mop vomit or wipe tears don’t stand in danger of having plates thrown at them sharing every cold observing agonies they cannot tell at home people who take care of people have a secret that sees them through the double shift that moves with them from room to room that keeps them on the floor sometimes they fill a hollow no one else can fill sometimes through the shit and b

This week in birds - #137

A roundup of the week's news of birds and the environment : One of my very favorite winter visitors - yes, I have many! - is the little Chipping Sparrow , seen here in a picture from last winter. They are said to be in the area already but I haven't seen any in my yard yet. *~*~*~* Part of the proposed wall on the border between the U.S. and Mexico has been built and, just as conservationists feared, it is having a devastating effect on the wildlife there . Habitats are being destroyed, migration routes blocked, and some species cut off from their sources of food and water. In an effort to get the wall built, environmental laws were waived. Just as in the effort to combat terrorism, laws protecting human rights were waived. It seems we are a people who only adhere to our principles when absolutely convenient. *~*~*~* Evolutionary geneticists have published a new study which confirms that a "big bang" occurred in avian evolution after the extinction of t