Showing posts from August, 2016

Backyard Nature Wednesday: Buttonbush

When the calendar rolled around to May this year, my daughters asked me for a wish list for Mother's Day. I took advantage of their generosity by giving them a list of some plants that I wished to add to my habitat garden. They responded by gifting me with three wonderful shrubs on that list, and that's how I came to have a buttonbush. Buttonbush ( Cephalanthus occidentalis ) is native to North America and Cuba. It is a deciduous shrub that can grow from five to twelve feet high and, in perfect conditions, even taller. It can spread out as much as eight feet wide. I remembered the plant with its interesting blooms growing around the fields and creek banks of my childhood on the farm and I had long wanted to add one to my garden here. This shrub grows quite happily in full sun to part shade and in soils that range from medium moisture to quite wet. It pouts a bit if conditions get too dry. I planted mine along the back fence, far away from faucets and from ease of wate

Are you reading the wrong book?

I'm fairly omnivorous in my literary diet. I like to skip around the literary buffet table, consuming a little bit of this, a little bit of that. Just now I'm consuming Alexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow and finding it a full meal in itself. While it's true that I read and enjoy a lot of mystery and thriller series, they are a bit like palate cleansers that I partake of between the heavier courses of my meal. But all of these "dishes," in my opinion, have their place in a balanced diet. They all contribute to a healthy, thriving mind and imagination. There has actually been a considerable amount of scientific research done on the effects of reading on the brain. Researchers at Stanford University, in 2012 , had their subjects read works of Jane Austen and they studied how the brain reacted during and after the reading. According to the literary scholar leading the project, they found a dramatic and unexpected increase in blood flow to regions of the brain beyo

Free Fall by Robert Crais: A review

Free Fall by Robert Crais My rating: 4 of 5 stars A dame walks into a PI's office and gives him forty dollars and a promise of weekly payments to find out what kind of trouble her fiance, an LA cop, is in. And maybe get him out of it. Elvis Cole is just the kind of quirky private investigator who can't say no to a beautiful woman and so he takes the case. It turns out that the fiance is in a lot more trouble than his client or Elvis could possibly have imagined, and the result is another fast-paced tale that just dares the reader to be able to put it down. Within the confines of a typical violence-ridden Robert Crais plot, the author manages to tackle and address a number of controversial issues in Free Fall . He gives us a look at life in South Central LA with its gangs and, in some instances, an unspoken complicity between the gangs and the police. We see police brutality at its sickening worst and the cover-ups that are all too often the police's knee-jerk reaction to

Poetry Sunday: Late Summer

Summer is beginning to wind down, even here in the subtropical South. Temperatures that hovered around 100 degrees F. for interminable weeks now top out at a more moderate 85 - 90 on most days.  The rains have returned, even before it is autumn on the calendar, and so we don't feel so parched any more.  The days are noticeably shorter and the sun sets much farther south than it did only a month ago.  Already, a few leaves are yellowing and sprinkling the ground. That sprinkle will soon become a flood. It is the interregnum between the summer's rule and the coming reign of autumn. It is late summer. Late Summer by Jennifer Grotz Before the moths have even appeared to orbit around them, the street lamps come on, a long row of them glowing uselessly along the ring of garden that circles the city center, where your steps count down the dulling of daylight. At your feet, a bee crawls in small circles like a toy unwinding. Summer specializ

This week in birds - #221

A roundup of the week's news of birds and the environment : Dicksissels are birds of the prairie and grasslands and they don't often make an appearance in my yard, but occasionally one will drop in and, if I'm lucky, I manage to record the event with my camera. Even if the pictures aren't very good.  This one hung around for several minutes, feeding on the ground under the backyard feeders. Lovely little bird. It's always a treat to see one. *~*~*~* This week marked the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service and there were special events at parks around the country to mark the event. Americans love their national parks. America's elected representatives in Congress, not so much. The congressional budgeting process leaves the park system chronically underfunded and unable to maintain the parks as they should be as jewels in the crown of the nation. A challenge for the next hundred years will be to change that and, also, to attract a

A Hero of France by Alan Furst: A review

A Hero of France by Alan Furst My rating: 4 of 5 stars Alan Furst's heroes are ordinary people caught up in extraordinary times and circumstances. The Polish Officer , possibly my favorite of his, comes to mind. Or it could be The Foreign Correspondent . Or any one of a dozen or so other ordinary people whom he has made the center of his engrossing tales of the Resistance movement in Europe, and especially in France, during World War II. This time he takes us to France, to Occupied Paris in the spring of 1941. The ordinary person at the center of his story goes by the nom de guerre Mathieu, and he is the leader of a Resistance cell that has as its objective the aiding of British airmen who are shot down or forced to land in France after bombing runs over Germany. They must first find these men, then hide and care for them, getting them medical care when needed, and finally get them out of the country, often through Spain, and back to England where they can continue to aid the w

Throwback Thursday: A Feast for Crows

Continuing to reprise my reviews of the George R.R. Martin series A Song of Ice and Fire for "Throwback Thursday," we've now come to my least favorite book of the series. Number four, A Feast for Crows, just didn't have the oomph of the first three books . Although much of the action was drenched in blood, the author didn't seem to have his heart in the telling of it. It was merely a pallid shadow of what we had come to expect. At least that was my opinion. ~~~ Tuesday, January 3, 2012 A Feast for Crows (A Song of Ice and Fire #4) by George R.R. Martin: A review "A Lannister always pays his debts" is a refrain that we saw often repeated throughout the first three books of this series. But once Tyrion Lannister paid his debt owed to his father Lord Tywin near the end of A Storm of Swords , he disappeared and he did not reappear at all in volume four. That is unfortunate since he is easily the most interesting character created by

Backyard Nature Wednesday: Bird berries

White beautyberries. Purple beautyberries. (Those blue blossoms peeking through are blue plumbago which lives next to the beautyberry.) Golden dewdrops ( Duranta erecta ). All of these berries provide sustenance for the birds through fall and into winter, if they last that long. They are especially loved by American Robins and Northern Mockingbirds . They are wonderful plants on their own, even if the birds didn't like them, but the fact that they help to feed the feathered visitors to my garden makes them even more valuable.

We're number one!

The Guardian's headline was appalling, but not really surprising to anyone who has been alive and paying attention in Texas for the past few years: Texas has highest maternal mortality rate in developed world, study finds The story that followed gave the shocking facts. A report in the September issue of the journal Obstetrics and Gynecology  gives details of a study by researchers from the University of Maryland, Boston University's school of public health, and Stanford university's medical school. The study found that the rate of Texas women who died from complications related to pregnancy doubled from 2010 to 2014 to 35.8 deaths per 100,000 births in 2014. This represents a maternal mortality rate higher than any other state and higher than any other country in the developed world.  Yes, we're number one - in women's deaths from the complications of pregnancy. The report stated that the doubling of mortality rates in the study period was hard to explai

Purity by Jonathan Franzen: A review

Purity by Jonathan Franzen My rating: 3 of 5 stars Purity is the legal name of the central character of this book and moral purity as a concept seems to be the philosophical idea which the author wants to explore through his characters and their stories. He does it at great length in this interesting but rather ponderous novel. (Full disclosure: I originally rated the book at a four-star read, but after sleeping on it overnight, I dialed it back to three stars. I think a bit of editing, trimming down some of those long passages that seem to go on forever repetitiously and to no great effect at advancing the plot, would have definitely made it a four-star.) Purity Tyler, by the time we meet her as a young college graduate, has adopted her school nickname, Pip, as the name that she goes by. This Pip does not have any great expectations. She's in a dead-end job, burdened by crushing college debt and a lack of direction. She is also burdened by a lack of knowledge about her family

Poetry Sunday: The Afterlife

I've mentioned here before my admiration for the poetry of Billy Collins, one of our former poet laureates. He has been called "the best loved poet in America" and that may be right. His poetry is deceptively simple and is always infused with his wry sense of humor and quirky way of seeing. I feature his poems here fairly often. And now, here's another one. The Afterlife   by Billy Collins . While you are preparing for sleep, brushing your teeth, or riffling through a magazine in bed, the dead of the day are setting out on their journey. They're moving off in all imaginable directions, each according to his own private belief, and this is the secret that silent Lazarus would not reveal: that everyone is right, as it turns out. you go to the place you always thought you would go, The place you kept lit in an alcove in your head. Some are being shot into a funnel of flashing colors into a zone of light, white as a January sun. Others are standing naked bef

This week in birds - #220

A roundup of the week's news of birds and the environment : This is the time of year when we expect to start seeing migrating Rufous Hummingbirds, like this juvenile from last year. So far I haven't seen any this season, although we have several Ruby-throated Hummers in the yard just now. I have cleaned, filled, and rehung all my nectar feeders just in case, and there are plenty of Hamelia blossoms for them to feed on, as well.   *~*~*~* The major environmental story of the week has been the massive flooding that has hit Louisiana due to torrential rains. Although climate scientists always caution us that we shouldn't attribute any one weather event to the effects of climate change, it's hard to deny that the warming climate is having a rather disastrous effect on weather such as this flood and the earlier one in West Virginia , as well as events related to weather like the wildfires in California .  Meanwhile, none of these stories get the attention they de

World Photo Day

My blogging friend, Alana of Rambling with AM , clued me in to the fact that today is World Photo Day.   It's a project that encourages photography enthusiasts around the world to upload their photos to the site, showing the images of their world. What a wonderful idea! This is an event that began in 2010 and, since then, thousands of photographers from around the world have uploaded thousands of images that show perspectives of their world. Anyone who wants to participate has to first create an account and then will be able to upload their photographs. Anyway, considering that it is World Photo Day started me thinking about my photographs and possibly sharing some of them with you. I usually show you pictures of my garden or of birds that I've seen, but here are just a few from one of my favorite trips that we took a couple of years ago to Big Bend National Park in West Texas. The park features a stark and rugged but beautiful landscape with mountains, desert, and views

Throwback Thursday: A Storm of Swords

For "Throwback Thursday," I'm continuing with the rerunning of my reviews of the books in George R.R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire series, which I read beginning in December of 2011. This is number three in the series, A Storm of Swords . ~~~ Monday, December 26, 2011 A Storm of Swords (A Song of Ice and Fire #3) by George R.R. Martin: A review This series just gets darker and darker. George R.R. Martin continues to show no compunction about killing off his characters. Of course, he's got about a million of them so there are plenty to spare! The clash of the kings continues in this volume. The five contenders for power in the Seven Kingdoms of Westeros wage their wars across the face of the land and no one is safe or secure. Robb Stark still rules in the North and has not yet lost a battle. The execrable Joffrey Lannister still sits on the Iron Throne most recently occupied by his putative father, Robert Baratheon. Robert Baratheon&