Showing posts from November, 2014

Poetry Sunday: Shopping

'Tis the season to go shopping - even if, like me, you only do it in front of a computer screen. I remember a time when money was scarce and shopping for gifts for the holiday season was such an ordeal, as it still is for so many people. It was a time when "Nearly everyone we loved was alive and we were in love...we didn't know we already had everything." Faith Shearin understands. Shopping by  Faith Shearin My husband and I stood together in the new mall which was clean and white and full of possibility. We were poor so we liked to walk through the stores since this was like walking through our dreams. In one we admired coffee makers, blue pottery bowls, toaster ovens as big as televisions. In another, we eased into a leather couch and imagined cocktails in a room overlooking the sea. When we sniffed scented candles we saw our future faces, softly lit, over a dinner of pasta and wine. When we touched thick bathrobes we saw midnight swims and

American Kestrel in November

I am taking an extra day to give thanks and so there is no "This week in birds" post today. The regular post will return next week. Meantime, here is a picture of one of my favorites to hold you until then.  The little American Kestrel , smallest and surely the prettiest of all our falcons, visits this area in large numbers during late fall and winter.

A history lesson

Got a minute? Well, actually, about fourteen minutes. If so, here is a crash course in the founding of the United States of America and the origins of Thanksgiving. Spoiler alert: It's not the version that Texas school children will be reading about in their new social studies textbooks. Moses doesn't bring the Constitution down, fully written, from Mt. Sinai. 

Thanksgiving thoughts

I hope your Thanksgiving is everything you want it to be. While you are celebrating, spare a thought for the roots of this, my favorite, holiday. Perhaps there is a lesson here for us. (Hat tip to Being Liberal .)

Backyard Nature Wednesday: Muscadines

One of the disadvantages of living in subtropical Southeast Texas is that we don't get that much autumn leaf color here. There are a few trees, some of them non-native like the Chinese tallow, that do present good color but they are the exceptions. I have a Shumard red oak in my front yard and in some years it has blazing colors, but it's a bit unpredictable. One plant I can depend on showing some fall color is the native grape, muscadine.  My two muscadine vines, a 'Cowart' and a 'Fry' cultivar, beginning to "color up" in late November. I grow muscadines in my garden more as an homage to my childhood than for any actual use. Muscadines grew rampantly in the area where I grew up and I used to look forward to picking them in the fall and eating them right off the vine. I also looked forward to the muscadine jelly that my mother made. In truth, muscadines are not really that great for eating because they have very tough skins and are quite seed


My backyard has been an exceptionally quiet and boring place in recent weeks. The garden that for most months of the year is filled with birdsong and bird activity has been mostly deserted by the birds. All of the permanent resident birds of the area, except for the Carolina Chickadees , Downy Woodpeckers , Carolina Wrens , Red-bellied Woodpeckers , and ( sigh ) House Sparrows seem to have totally disappeared. Even the usually ever-present Northern Cardinals and White-winged Doves and the raucous Blue Jays have been absent. This Great Abandonment is an event that happens every year in early fall. I have theorized in the past that it coincides with an abundance of wild food being available so that the birds do not feel the need to visit my feeders. I don't know that to be the case, but it seems reasonable. This year, however, the GA has lasted longer and has been even more complete than in other years, and I am really at a loss to know why. Watching the feeders on Sunday aft

The Plantagenets by Dan Jones: A review

The Plantagenets: The Warrior Kings and Queens Who Made England by Dan Jones My rating: 5 of 5 stars "The prince was drunk." It's one of those memorable first sentences that draws you right in and makes you want to know more. Who is this prince and why was he drunk? Why was his being drunk important? What were the consequences of that drunkenness? It is from such minor, sometimes seemingly insignificant threads that the entire fabric of history is woven, and Dan Jones has an eye for those threads. He teases them out and shows them to us with style and wit and in great detail throughout this popular history of one of the foundational dynasties of England. From that drunken prince, William the Aetheling, who, along with his drunken crew, was about to die in an 1120 shipwreck, to the beginning of the reign of Henry IV in 1399 - which marked the end of the Plantagenets and the beginning of the Lancasters' dynasty - Jones keeps his reader engaged in the events of this

Poetry Sunday: The Pumpkin

For Thanksgiving week, here's a classic American poem by John Greenleaf Whittier about an iconic ingredient of the traditional Thanksgiving dinner, "the rich Pumpkin pie." It was written in 1850. The Pumpkin by John Greenleaf Whittier  Oh, greenly and fair in the lands of the sun, The vines of the gourd and the rich melon run, And the rock and the tree and the cottage enfold, With broad leaves all greenness and blossoms all gold, Like that which o’er Nineveh’s prophet once grew, While he waited to know that his warning was true, And longed for the storm-cloud, and listened in vain For the rush of the whirlwind and red fire-rain. On the banks of the Xenil the dark Spanish maiden Comes up with the fruit of the tangled vine laden; And the Creole of Cuba laughs out to behold Through orange-leaves shining the broad spheres of gold; Yet with dearer delight from his home in the North, On the fields of his harvest the Yankee looks forth, Where crook-necks are coiling and yello

This week in birds - #135

A roundup of the week's news of birds and the environment : The Whooping Cranes of the last natural-occurring wild flock of the birds are returning to Aransas National Wildlife Refuge on the Texas Coast from their summer home in Wood Buffalo Park in Canada. They will be with us until around April next year when they will head north once more. Meanwhile, conservationists continue efforts to increase the numbers of a flock they have been working to establish that migrates from Wisconsin to Florida and back each year, as well as a non-migratory flock in Louisiana. The hope is to have healthy flocks in different areas so that the species is somewhat protected from a catastrophic event at any one site. *~*~*~* A hazard faced by any migrating bird, especially large birds like the cranes or like the Trumpeter Swan, is that some people like to blaze away at them with their guns. The Trumpeter Swan is not as endangered as the the Whooping Crane, but it is still pretty rare

Washed Up

Poor Simon's Cat. All he wants is a nap, but the world conspires against him. I know just how he feels.

"Who won the Civil War?"

These are college students in Texas, USA. This is just sad. I'm speechless. Really...just speechless.

Wordless Wednesday: Turkey time


Home truths about quackery

We live in an age of false equivalencies - the assumption that all opinions are equally valid. We see the most egregious examples of this with the media and its "he said, she said" coverage of events. They even do it with things like climate change, where deniers are routinely given the same weight as the overwhelming mass of scientific opinion. They do it with vaccination policy when they give time and space to the anti-vaxxers who make the discredited claim that vaccinations are responsible for autism. They do it in covering the obstructionism that is rampant in Washington when they pretend that both political parties are equally to blame. The equating of science-based critical thinking with quackery is surely one of the most disheartening signs of the times in which we live. But at least it gives the comics plenty of material.

The Handsome Man's De Luxe Cafe by Alexander McCall Smith: A review

The Handsome Man's De Luxe Café: No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency (15) by Knopf Canada My rating: 4 of 5 stars Precious Ramotswe's ruminations while driving her tiny white van around Gaborone and seeing a cow and calf standing under a tree: We could stand under trees too, and look about us, and think about things. Not only could we do that, she thought, but we should. It was called meditation - she knew that - but she did not consider that we needed a special word for standing under a tree and thinking. People had been doing that well before meditation was invented. There were many things, she reflected, which we had been doing as long as anybody could remember and which had suddenly been taken up by fashionable enthusiasts and given an unnecessary new name. Mma Ramotswe had been invited to a Pilates class in a local church hall; it would be of great benefit to her, she had been told. But when she had gone to the class and seen what Pilates was, she had realised that

Poetry Sunday: A Child's Calendar

"November always seemed to me the Norway of the year."-   Emily Dickinson Leave it to the Belle of Amherst to put things very succinctly. John Updike had a gift for putting things succinctly and simply as well. He did this very notably in his book, A Child's Calendar . Let's see what he had to say about this time of year. from A Child's Calendar by John Updike The stripped and shapely Maple grieves The ghosts of her Departed leaves. The ground is hard, As hard as stone. The year is old, The birds are flown. And yet the world, In its distress, Displays a certain Loveliness.                            ~~~~~ The trees in my yard are not quite stripped of all their leaves yet, but they are disrobing fast. Even so, each season, each month of the year has its "certain loveliness" and that is true of November as well. As we wait for that first killing frost, we enjoy the gray morning mists and the last colorful blooms of the autumn

Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day - November 2014

November Bloom Day already? Ah, October, we hardly knew ye. As the old song says, the days do get shorter when you reach September. But October went by in such a hurry that nothing much has changed with the blooms in my garden. Basically, all the blooms I showed you last month are still there and I don't want to commit the sin of repeating myself. So, I looked around to see if I could find something - anything! - that I hadn't shown you before. In some cases, many times before. It's well nigh impossible really, because most of my plants have been around for a long time and their blooms will be very familiar to you if you follow my posts here from month to month. Still, I was able to come up with a few which perhaps I have not overused.     The white mistflower with its companion marigold. The white mist came into bloom this month and has been a real feast for all the butterflies that visit my garden. Well, yes, I know I've shown you the 'Grah

This week in birds - #134

A roundup of the week's news of birds and the environment : A Dark-eyed Junco of the Oregon subspecies searches for food on a parking lot bounded by an 18-inch snow in Estes Park, Colorado. The picture wasn't taken this week. It was actually taken a couple of years ago, but it's a scene that could occur in much of the country this week as cold weather has descended. *~*~*~* The big news for the environment of the entire planet this week was the announcement of the agreement between our country and China to begin working on controlling and reducing greenhouse gases . It doesn't really get us to where we need to be, but it is a start and one that is extremely important. Any significant steps to correct human-caused global warming must involve both the United States and China, the two biggest greenhouse gas emitters. No doubt the global warming deniers in Congress will do everything they can to gum up the works of the agreement, but, fortunately, it is not in the

Call Me Princess by Sara Blaedel: A review

Call Me Princess by Sara Blaedel My rating: 2 of 5 stars Much as I liked the character Harry Hole, I finally had to give up on Jo Nesbo's series. The sadism of the later books just got to be too much for me. I enjoy crime thrillers, but I don't enjoy reading about the crimes themselves, told in intricate and loving detail. I want to read about the solving of the crime and the personalities and interrelationships of the solvers of the mysteries. So, I had been looking around for a replacement among Scandinavian mystery writers and recently there was a long article in The New York Times Sunday Book Review  which discussed some of the most popular authors currently on the Scandinavian scene. After reading the article, I noted several of their names and decided to start my search for a Nesbo replacement among them. After some consideration, I decided to give Sara Blaedel a try. She's a Danish author who writes about a woman detective (a plus for me) in the Copenhagen po

Thursday Tidbits

Have you heard about this letter to the editor from a Canadian citizen in British Columbia? It's been making a bit of a stir on the internet this week. It might be a bit difficult to read in that format, so here is the text: "Many of us Canadians are confused by the U.S. midterm elections. Consider, right now in America, corporate profits are at record highs, the country's adding 200,000 jobs per month, unemployment is below 6%, U.S. gross national product growth is the best of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) countries. The dollar is at its strongest levels in years, the stock market is near record highs, gasoline prices are falling, there's no inflation, interest rates are the lowest in 30 years, U.S. oil imports are declining, U.S. oil production is rapidly increasing, the deficit is rapidly declining, and the wealthy are still making astonishing amounts of money. "America is leading the world once again and respected intern

Backyard Nature Wednesday: Migrating Monarchs

I have noted here at various times throughout this year that Monarch butterflies have been very scarce in my garden for this entire period. Unlike previous years when they were often plentiful, they've been a rare sight indeed in 2014. I was particularly delighted, then, earlier this week to find THREE of the beauties visiting my backyard at the same time. Their presence might have something to do with this plant, Eupatorim wrightii , the white mistflower. It is a favorite with butterflies of all kinds and it is in full bloom right now. The Monarchs seemed to particularly like it. These two were in shadow so it's a bit hard to see them, but they were hanging onto those white fuzzy blossoms. A nearby marigold also came in for its share of visits. Three is absolutely the high water mark for number of Monarchs in the garden at one time for this year, so this was definitely a banner day. As the migration continues, I'll be interested to see if that number can b

The Con Man by Ed McBain: A review

The Con Man by Ed McBain My rating: 4 of 5 stars These early Ed McBain novels from the 1950s are now old enough to qualify almost as historical mysteries and the language and attitudes often seem staid, stilted, and outdated. Did policemen really used to talk like that? I remember watching reruns of "Dragnet" years after the series first ran and I seem to recall that Sgt. Joe Friday and his partner did, in fact, employ some of this terminology and exhibit some of those attitudes, so, yeah, I guess maybe they really did talk like that. In spite of the fact that the books feel dated, the writing is so crisp that it draws us in and holds our attention. We feel like time travelers visiting another planet and observing the interaction of the inhabitants there. The books never fail to spark our interest and this, the fourth in the 87th Precinct series, is the best one yet, I think. Each entry has been an improvement upon the last one, which bodes well for my future reading of th

A Long Shadow by Charles Todd: A review

A Long Shadow by Charles Todd My rating: 4 of 5 stars After reading the previous book in this series, A Cold Treachery , I was interested to see where Inspector Ian Rutledge's cases would take him next and I decided to jump right in and read the next book in the series. After all, it was already on my Kindle waiting for me, just a click away. We first encounter the inspector here on New Year's Eve, 1919, only a short while after the end of his last case. He accompanies his sister, Frances, to the house of mutual friends for a dinner party. At the party, one of the guests is alleged to have some psychic powers and she is asked to hold a seance, an activity that is very popular in the London of the day. This makes Inspector Rutledge, who has an intimate knowledge of and relationship with the dead from the recent war, very uncomfortable, and he is relieved to receive a phone call from Scotland Yard which gives him an excuse to leave. As he is leaving, he finds a brass cartridge

Poetry Sunday: In Flanders Fields

On Tuesday, we celebrate our Veterans Day. It falls on November 11 each year. Once known as Armistice Day, it commemorates the time when the guns on the Western Front of World War I, the "War to end all wars," finally fell silent in 1918. In the midst of that war, in 1915, a Canadian doctor/soldier, Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae, was moved to write a poem to honor the dead of that terrible conflict. It is a poem that could speak for the dead in all wars and it speaks to us still today. In Flanders Fields John McCrae In Flanders fields the poppies blow Between the crosses, row on row, That mark our place, and in the sky, The larks, still bravely singing, fly, Scarce heard amid the guns below. We are the dead; short days ago We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow, Loved and were loved, and now we lie In Flanders fields. Take up our quarrel with the foe! To you from failing hands we throw The torch; be yours to hold it high! If ye break faith with u

This week in birds - #133

A roundup of the week's news of birds and the environment : Chickadees and pine trees go together no matter what kind they are or where they occur. In my neighborhood, it is the Carolina Chickadee , but in Rocky Mountain National Park where I took these pictures, the Mountain Chickadee is the predominant member of its family. It loves the pines and the pine seeds there just as much as "my" chickadees love the ones on my neighborhood. *~*~*~* The biggest loser in last Tuesday's election appears to be science and the environment in general and climate science in particular. The next Congress will be even more hostile to the idea of doing anything about climate change than the current one. A recent Pew poll showed that 83% of Republicans either do not believe that global climate change exists or that it is a problem. *~*~*~* The distribution of birds in the United States is likely to change drastically over the next 60 years because of climate change

Post-election analysis

All the political pundits are busily explaining to us exactly what last Tuesday's election means. All the right-wingers are vociferously gloating about the "permanent" majority they have achieved in the Senate and the House. President Obama's policies are thoroughly repudiated by the American people, they say. Well, maybe. Just about one-third of registered voters turned out to vote in this election and, of that number, just over half - something like 17% of the nation's voters - gave the Republicans their victory. That is the tsunami, the earthquake, the tidal wave that they are crowing about.  Seventeen percent somehow does not seem like that big a mandate to me, but then what do I know? I'm not a pundit and I don't live inside the Beltway, so I can't claim any secret pipeline to the brains of American voters that allows me to interpret just what their votes mean. I did see one bit of analysis of American elections that seemed to make sense t