Showing posts from February, 2016

Holly Blues by Susan Wittig Albert: A review

Holly Blues by Susan Wittig Albert My rating: 4 of 5 stars I've been reading Susan Wittig Albert's China Bayles series for several years, and, of course, since I'm an OCD reader, I read the books in the order that they were published. But in looking at a list of the books in the series recently, I realized that I had somehow managed to skip one. Horrors! Naturally, I had to circle back and pick it up immediately. That's how I came to be reading Holly Blues , the eighteenth in a series that will soon number twenty-four. Visiting with China is like being with an old friend, not only because she is well-known to me but also because the setting of the stories is quite familiar. China was once a high-powered lawyer in Houston, but several years ago, she gave that life up to move to the little Hill Country town of Pecan Springs near Austin. All of this is home territory for one who has lived here for thirty years. In Pecan Springs, China reinvented herself as an herbalist

Poetry Sunday: As I Grew Older and Dreams

This week I give you two for the price of one - two poems by American poet Langston Hughes.  Both of the poems are about dreams, the importance of dreams and especially the importance of hanging on to them, never losing sight of them, even when life builds walls between you and your dreams.  "Hold fast to dreams..."  As I Grew Older by Langston Hughes It was a long time ago. I have almost forgotten my dream. But it was there then, In front of me, Bright like a sun— My dream. And then the wall rose, Rose slowly, Slowly, Between me and my dream. Rose until it touched the sky— The wall. Shadow. I am black. I lie down in the shadow. No longer the light of my dream before me, Above me. Only the thick wall. Only the shadow. My hands!  My dark hands!  Break through the wall!  Find my dream!  Help me to shatter this darkness, To smash this night, To break this shadow Into a thousand lights of sun, Into a thousand whirling dreams Of sun!                ~ ~ ~ Dreams by

This week in birds - #195

A roundup of the week's news of birds and the environment : Spotted Sandpiper searches for a meal on a mudflat at Anahuac National Wildlife Refuge. *~*~*~* Good news about Monarch butterflies: The population of the colorful insects wintering in Mexico has increased significantly this season. They covered more than three and a half times the acreage that they covered last year. This increase comes after several years of setbacks.  *~*~*~* Bad news about sperm whales: Mass deaths of the gigantic mammals along the coasts of Europe have scientists stumped. As many as thirty of the animals have been found dead, beached on the shores of several countries. Necropsies are being performed to try to determine the cause, or causes, of the deaths. *~*~*~* And yet more bad news, this time about Bald Eagles . Thirteen of the birds have been found dead in Maryland. The cause of the deaths is yet to be determined but scientists suspect secondary poisoning. The birds

Random Friday thoughts

My husband and I went to perform our civic duty yesterday by voting early in our state's primary. As I was presenting my identification to the registrar on duty, I had a thought.  The state of Texas, in its infinite wisdom, has decreed that all persons coming to vote must present a picture ID to thwart the rampant voter fraud which they have convinced themselves has been occurring here. They've convinced themselves because it gives them the opportunity to do what they want to do anyway. Which is, frankly, to discourage "those people" from voting.  Anyway, it occurred to me as I presented my voter's registration card and my Texas driver's license that the voter's registration card is now superfluous. The state refuses to accept it as proof of anything and yet they continue to print and mail them to us.  How many millions of dollars could the state save by simply stopping that practice? I mean, if the cards are worthless as proof, why spend millions of

The King Must Die by Mary Renault: A review

The King Must Die by Mary Renault My rating: 3 of 5 stars Theseus is well-known to us from Greek myth as the slayer of the child-devouring Minotaur of Crete and the betrayer of Ariadne. In The King Must Die , Mary Renault imagined what might have been the reality behind that myth. Renault, an English writer of historical novels, almost reached the status of myth in her own life. She was perhaps best known for her excellent trilogy on the life of Alexander the Great: Fire From Heaven , The Persian Boy , and Funeral Games . I read those books many years ago in my Alexander period, a time when I was fascinated with the life of the Macedonian general who conquered much of the known world. They were beautifully written and I've always intended to read more of Renault's work. I have to admit I was a little disappointed with The King Must Die . It didn't quite live up to the standard that I remembered from the three Alexander books. Perhaps my memory is faulty or perhaps I jus

Backyard Nature Wednesday: Carolina jessamine

Carolina jessamine ( Gelsemium sempervirens ) is a native evergreen vine. It is a part of the natural ecosystem from Texas east to Florida and as far north as Virginia. It is a robust grower that has no serious diseases or pests and yet it is relatively easy to control with pruning and pulling up "volunteers."  The vine is sometimes mistakenly referred to as Carolina "jasmine," but jasmines actually belong to a completely different genus, Jasminum . Carolina jessamine puts on a truly spectacular display at this time of year. The vines are covered in masses of fragrant yellow trumpet-shaped flowers. This vine is on a trellis next to my patio, so when I sit outside these days, I'm able to enjoy its wonderful fragrance.  From every angle, the vine is covered in its wonderful blossoms. My vine is in full sun and that's where jessamine is happiest, but it will also grow in partial shade or even full shade. And though mine grows on a trelli

Great Backyard Bird Count wrapup

This year's four-day Great Backyard Bird Count wrapped up on President's Day, February 15, but if you haven't reported your count yet, you can still do it until March 1.  I mentioned here in an earlier post about a bird walk at Brazos Bend State Park that I took on Saturday of the count. I counted 18 species of birds during that jaunt. But I also spent time on the other days observing the birds in my own yard. My designated observation area includes my one-half acre yard plus my next door neighbors' backyard. Their backyard has several large pine trees that attract many woodland birds, such as woodpeckers, so I like to include it in my observations in order to increase my number of species. I ended my weekend count with a total of thirty-two species. This includes birds that were present in my designated area or were flying over the area. There was no lack of Northern Cardinals in my count. They are regular visitors to my feeders. The female

A musical interlude

It's Monday and maybe some of us need a little pick-me-up, so here's a musical interlude for you. Enjoy!

Poetry Sunday: Caged Bird

When our kids were little, we had a succession of parakeets. They lived in cages, because we also had cats.  At some point, I found it intolerable to have birds in cages. Birds should fly free. When our last parakeet died, the cage went into the attic and we never got another pet bird. I know why the caged bird sings. It is dreaming of freedom. Caged Bird by Maya Angelou The free bird leaps on the back of the wind and floats downstream till the current ends and dips his wings in the orange sun rays and dares to claim the sky. But a bird that stalks down his narrow cage can seldom see through his bars of rage his wings are clipped and his feet are tied so he opens his throat to sing. The caged bird sings with fearful trill of the things unknown but longed for still and his tune is heard on the distant hill  for the caged bird sings of freedom The free bird thinks of another breeze and the trade winds soft through the sighing trees and the fat worms waiting on a dawn-bright law

This week in birds - #194

A roundup of the week's news of birds and the environment : This Red-tailed Hawk , caught in a sudden shower, got a refreshing bath! Not that he seems too happy about it. *~*~*~* Death Valley is the hottest place on Earth and we do not think of it as being covered in wildflowers, but El Niño has the power to change all that . The big weather system from the Pacific created unusually wet conditions and that has resulted in a remarkable wildflower bloom in the normally unforgiving landscape. *~*~*~* Wild Turkeys were extirpated in New Jersey in the 1800s, but, after being reintroduced to the state in the 1970s, they have made a remarkable comeback. So much of a comeback that they have become a hazard in some parts of suburbia where the large territorial birds have been known to threaten and attack humans. I don't know - Wild Turkeys run amok somehow seems a bit of poetic justice.  These Wild Turkeys are not running amok. They have hundreds of acres to roam