Wednesday, April 29, 2009

This Year's Walk Ons

A Walk-On...
1. ...plays a small part in a dramatic production. Non-speaking roll.
2. ... an athlete who becomes part of a team without being actively recruited or given a scholarship.
3. ... a single player without a reservation or tee time, as in golf.
4. ...fourth studio album produced by the American band, Boston.
5. ...a single release from U2's 2000 album, "All That You Can't Leave Behind."
6. ...singer-songwriter, John Hiatt's 13th album, written in 2005.

I think something is missing from the definition. In gardening, we call walk-ons, "volunteers". Either way, it implies that the plant had some part in the decision. We all know it's not true.

I am among the gardeners that thinks these walk ons are just plain fun, and I look forward to seeing them every year. They are like presents. They are free!
The little tomato plant you see in the picture above, is not likely to see playing time. He's out in the compost pile and surrounded by much bigger players---players from the gourd/squash family.

So is this one, but she might have a chance. She's sitting on the far end of the bench in the sunlight. She is, however, is in danger of getting pummeled by the opposing team, the Bucks and Does, during a play.

The players from this team will do just fine, although they still haven't committed to sign on the dotted line with their team of origin.

This player is definitely one of the smartest walk ons I've had since last year. He's out of harms way. He sits right next to water in case he gets thirsty. He gets enough sun, but not too much. Because of his location, he may be very easy to train if I, as his coach, am willing to put in the time.

I don't know if I could consider these players from Potato Jr. College to be walk ons. They were recruited earlier in the season, but didn't seem anxious to join my team. I replaced them with scholarship players from Beet and Carrot university. Once it became apparent they weren't going to get a better offer, they showed up on my bench. Honestly, now that they are committed, they are working hard. I'll just have to see how they produce on the field.

They have rounded out an overall good looking team for the spring. Summer training camp is coming up and with our heat, many players may fade.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

The Object of His Affection

The hummingbirds have been back in central Texas for about a month now. I always know they've arrived because (and I kid you not) they come looking in the windows of the house. My office has many windows, and every spring I'll be surprised by a little hummingbird, hovering at one of them as if to say, "Where's the picnic!?"
In the past, one feeder has been sufficient. While there are minor spats regarding who should eat first, they are all content to share. Not this year. This little Ruby-Throated male has set up camp on top the shepherds hook, just above the feeder. He doesn't necessarily want to eat 24/7, he just doesn't want any other birds to have any. That doesn't bode well for the little females that take a break from egg sitting to get nourishment.
So, this year is the year of two feeders. Two feeders to clean and refill. I think folks that have multiple feeders must have a special knack for cleaning them. Each one takes me about 15-20 minutes.

You'll have to click on the picture to see the little guy. He's hunkered down for the long haul. Guarding his food against marauding females is a serious task. He's just missing a tent and a pocket size TV to watch the baseball season unfold.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Decisions, Decisions

Last summer we took the kids to the Seattle area and surrounding islands. I LOVED it. Especially Orcas Island.

This year we've tossed around several ideas---Mexico (unsafe and don't have passports), Florida (been there, done that), Hawaii (wwaaay too expensive flight prices), the list is long. One of our favorite places to visit is San Diego, but we always end up nearer Los Angeles at the end of our trips. Why not go officially visit LA? We went to our local book reseller and picked up Frommer's LA guide and needed to begin our research. With three kids of much different ages, we have to plan ahead or there is drama.

The thing is, no one, including Lee and me, seemed all that hyped about it. We just couldn't seem to sit down and get started.

Just yesterday, I think the grownups in our family have decided that it's time to head to Washington, DC. The following is a note for my kiddos:

Yes, lots of walking. Yes, museums. Yes, it might be hot with no beach in sight. Yes, we might do something that one or two in our family don't want to do.
It's Washington, DC. It's amazing! We'll see something, or a bunch of somethings, that you'll never forget. We will look at guides and find something each of you want to see every day. It is the birthplace of what makes our country great. Yes, there is a lot of grousing at our house about government the last 8 years----but goodness knows that's what makes it great. We CAN grouse and grumble and make jokes.
Yes, we'll take breaks from sightseeing. We'll be in a hotel with a pool. We'll go see a movie. We'll eat ice cream every day. What's not to love about ice cream every day! You certainly can not get that at home!

If you want to poke around a website that has information before we head back to the 1/2 Price Bookstore to get a Frommer's guide, then here it is.

I am firmly of the belief that if everyone in this country could take a free vacation, it should be to D.C. There is soooo much there that has everything to do with government, but even more stuff to do with our history as a nation and as a world. Goodness, everyone needs to see Dorothy's ruby slippers from the Wizard of Oz just once in their lives!

If you can't decide where you should go this summer. Go to D.C. You'll be glad you did.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

The Florida Weave

No, it's not a hairdo or a square dance. It might be a square dance, but not in this instance.
It's a method I learned from my time at Johnson's Backyard Garden to support indeterminate tomatoes. Turns out I had a volunteer tomato plant last year that was indeterminite. A quick overview of the definition is: Indeterminate varieties of tomatoes are also called "vining" tomatoes. They will grow and produce fruit until killed by frost and can reach heights of up to 10 feet although 6 feet is considered the norm. They will bloom, set new fruit and ripen fruit all at the same time throughout the growing season.

In other words, they get ginormous. They will take over like the plant in The Little Shop of Horrors if you don't do something to rein them in.
The Weave is simply a way of supporting them on both sides. If you click on all these pictures, you'll see two things that are important.
1. The tomatoes need to be planted in a straight line.
2. There needs to be a support stake in the middle of two tomato plants.

All you have to do is wind the twine around one end, carefully beside the first tomato plant, around the center support, beside the second tomato, around the other support, and then do it all over in reverse. You'll need to do it several more times as they grow.

A bit of trivia---all heirloom varieties of tomatoes are indeterminate, BUT not all indeterminate tomatoes are heirloom. Confused? No worries. I'm that way most of the time.
Hybridization helped produce a more well behaved plant with greater production of a "perfect tomato".

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Garden, Muffin Top and Theology

I'll bet dollars to donuts that the title to this post has you scratching your head.
The real title should be "What I've been doing. Why I don't post daily."

In answer to those questions.
I spent the weekend at a class where we discussed the different theologies within the Christian religions. Last fall, I signed on with a group that has classes three weekends a year for three years.
It covers all sorts of theological and religious themes. I did it for several reasons. I am now co-Pastor at my church and thought maybe it was time to expand my general knowledge and be able to say what I believe, and why. Secondly, I thought it might be an opportunity for me to seek a closer communion with God. One of my own basic beliefs is that God gave me a brain. With that reasoning, I don't often pray to God unless it's to lift up a person that might be hurting mentally or physically, or to give thanks. I am really bad at listening when I pray. My prayer life is quick and I'm quite sure that God sometimes thinks I'm too busy to listen to his side of the prayer.
Thirdly, I haven't exercised my brain in 17 years. Once Tom was born, I threw myself into mothering. I became one step lower on my own totem pole. Child, husband, home and church came above me. Let me be clear, no one asked me to place myself in that position. No one ever discouraged me from expanding my world and my place in it. I did it all on my own. These classes are exhilarating for me. I get to use my brain. I remember how much I love learning.

I've also been at work in my garden, as seen in the picture. My garlic was ready to be pulled. I have never planted it before and really had not planned on it in the first place. I just so happened to have a whole bunch of garlic sprout on me and decided to plop it in the ground and see what happened. Garlic bulbs are what happened. It was amazingly simple and will be planted on purpose next year. We ate our first batch of new potatoes last night. Boiled, butter, garlic and italian seasoning. Yum. I spent yesterday planting flowers behind my pool. I do this every year and every year they suffer. I swear I won't do it again. I can't resist an area of wide open dirt, despite our drought conditions.

For those of you who don't know the definition of Muffin Top--- It is a noun. It refers to that bit of squishiness that hangs over the top of your pants. Men use the word, Spare Tire. Women, ironically enough, use a word that describes a food that we shouldn't eat too much of. Either way, spare tire or muffin top, it means you might be overweight. In my case it means I'm overweight AND have high cholesterol. It also happens to mean that I haven't done a lick of real exercise in over a year. According to those that make charts about such things, I am considered overweight. My cholesterol check was a wake up call. Heart disease runs in my family on my father's side. I have this dream that one day my kids will all move out and have happy lives. When they do that, I will get my husband back, all to myself and we will travel. We will go on long walks. We will ride bicycles in Ireland and Italy and France and Maine. We will visit the kids and play with grandchildren. We will canoe on rivers I didn't know existed (but we will not camp beside the rivers). We will climb mountains and hills and pyramids and ancient ruins. I won't be able to do any of those things if I progressively let my love of Spicy Cheezits become greater than my love of living.

So, "What I've been doing. Why I don't post daily"---I've been gardening, studying, exercising, and keeping meticulous accounts of every bite that I eat. It takes time. I'm really not at the computer much. I log in to the site that helps me keep track of food and exercise, respond to email, keep up with my photography, read( but often not comment) all my favorite blogs, and occasionally check FaceBook. As my answering machine says in the spring and summer...."We might be outside right now, please leave a message..."

By the way, Spicy Cheez-Its have 150 calories and 8 grams of fat in just 25 tiny crackers. Sitting on the couch with the whole box while watching 7th Heaven is a good way to get a Muffin Top and raise your cholesterol to worrisome numbers. Just FYI.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Tut, Tut, Looks Like Rain

Glorious, ground soaking rain!
Two inches and counting!

A gold star for the person who knows where my title came from.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

It Will Make Your Heart Sing

As a 40 something woman, it seems like the young and the beautiful get all the breaks. We, as Americans, are lead to believe that being skinny, rich and beautiful is what will make the world go 'round. As we age, we feel our dreams slipping away. Many of us simply give up pushing forward for happiness. We live our lives in a rut. We live our lives doing nothing new, nothing that will enlighten our minds or lighten our hearts.
Lee showed me a YouTube video tonight that nearly had me in tears. I could say more about it, but it speaks for itself. Some people just never give in and never give up.


"Did one of the chickens lay that?" "Maybe another bird snuck in and laid an egg?" "It gives me the creeps. Get rid of it."
Those were things I heard from my kids when I brought in the egg on the left.
Now my chickens laid small eggs when they were first starting out. The egg in the middle is our very first egg. The egg on the right is the size we get today.
My chickens are 4 years old. Teeny tiny eggs should be a thing of the past. If you click on the picture, you'll see that the shell is badly formed. Very bumpy and different colors. I don't know which hen laid it, but I'm sure the others are jealous. It couldn't have been much work at all to lay such a tiny egg.
Just out of curiosity, I cracked it open---no yolk. I'm sure there's some biological answer to why this occurred, and unfortunately I have to know. Google and I will be spending some time together today. I'll also be consulting my numerous chicken books. After all, we wouldn't want egg laying aliens to have gotten into my nest box in order to take over the world. Oh well, at least we know it wouldn't be a very big alien.

Something must be in the air, because Danni over at On the Way to Critter Farm got the same sort of egg today. She weighed hers though. Go see how much her weighs. See if it has an alien inside it.

PS...Darn, and I really wanted a yolkless, tiny egg to mean that aliens were invading. Here's what egg experts have to say about it:
Yolkless eggs are usually formed about a bit of tissue that is sloughed off the ovary or oviduct. This tissue stimulates the secreting glands of the oviduct and a yolkless egg results.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Bird Netting Has Its Place,...

...and it's not on the ground.

I've used the stuff for years to keep birds, squirrels and deer off certain plants. Lately, I've used it to keep the chickens out of the area around our pool. The stuff is great because it's virtually invisible.
The invisible part also makes it a hazard for small wildlife. Twice this week I have rescued spiny tree lizards from the netting behind the pool. They go after a bug and find themselves impossibly tangled in the stuff. Luckily, they're fairly good sports about being picked up and having the net gently cut away with cuticle scissors. I knew those tiny scissors would come in handy for something.

Snakes, however, are not good sports about being cut out of the netting. A couple years ago I found a very large Eastern Coachwhip snake tangled up in a number of ways. It took my neighbor and me an hour to cut it loose and not get bitten. I, being the weird snake lover that I am, doctored its numerous wounds with neosporin before letting it go. It didn't seem all that grateful. Nasty old snake!

I think it's time to use a different material to keep unwanted critters out of my flower beds and garden.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Silent Sunday

He is risen.
Pedernales State Park

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Be Careful What You Wish For

Yesterday, I posted several pictures and a story regarding Cedar Waxwings. I mentioned that I hoped to get a closeup picture of just one bird.

Whenever you have large numbers of birds in one area, and gigantic windows on your house, you are bound to have birdy casualties. Not long after I published my piece on the Waxwings, I heard a familiar thud. I was saddened to find a Waxwing lying in the grass.
The hope of all bird lovers is that the bird has just 'rung its bell'. The little bird seemed to have done just that. I gently picked it up and put it in a shoebox. Dark and quiet are what birds need in this situation. They will either live or die, but they won't do it out in the yard, afraid of predators.
This was not the way I wanted my closeup. I did take advantage of the situation by snapping 3 quick pictures before I let the bird have its peace and quiet. The coolest discovery was of the red on its wings. I thought the coloring was a part of the wing. It appears as though the red is individual little feathers that stick out beyond the length of the wing. (see pic #1).

I'm happy to report that after about a half hour, I heard movement in the box. I took the bird outdoors and placed it in a bush. It sat for one last picture and then I went inside. Not long after, it rejoined the flock.

I love happy endings.

Friday, April 10, 2009

If You Plant It, They Will Come

Eight years ago, this spring, I began landscaping our property. Being on four acres, I wanted badly to attract wildlife. I also wanted to see that wildlife---primarily birds and butterflies.
Birds need three things. Food, water, shelter/nesting. The two things I planted specifically for fruit eating birds were yaupon holly and pyracantha. I got never ending visits from mockingbirds to these bushes. In fact, one set up camp in one bush and would fuss at anyone or anything that came near.

What I really wanted to have visit was Cedar Waxwings. I grew up in Missouri, but had never seen one until I moved to Houston. I remember hearing a high pitched 'twee, twee, twee' and following the sound to a neighbor's holly. The little birds covered their bush.

They were the most perfect bird I'd ever seen. Their feathers are so perfectly aligned that it looks as though they don't have feathers---much like a penguin. Gray, and brown. Black masked like a bandit. Mask outlined in white. Tail dipped in bright yellow paint. Wingtips dipped in molten red wax. Soft yellow belly. As I got closer, they flew away. 'Twee, twee, twee'

Every year, they come through here on their way to their nesting areas in the northern United States. I hear them and stop what I'm doing. "Will they stop? Will they see my bushes?" Never in 8 years have they stopped---at least while I was around. Until yesterday!

I heard their familiar call and went outside. I couldn't believe my eyes. I turned right around and went in for Lee's camera that has a zoom lens. Back outside, I held my breath and began shooting.
More and more of the little flock dropped out of the Live Oak tree into the Yaupon Holly. It was obvious that devouring berries as fast as possible, was far more important than the lady with the camera.
I have never been so grateful for a zoom lens as I was yesterday.
Here a few stop to make sure I'm not a bird-eating monster before they head back to inhaling berries.

Soon the bush was covered. Birds hanging in impossible positions. Poking at each other if space was invaded. After some 50 pictures, I figured I might have gotten a good one or two, so I went inside. After taking a look at them on the computer, I decided I wanted a really good shot of just one bird. I went back outside, and of course, they were gone.
Now that they know where the bush is, I hope they'll be back. I hope I'm around to see them. Hopefully it won't be another 8 years.

Please don't forget you can click on the pictures to see them closer.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

A One, Two Punch

This is a Live Oak tree. They are amazing and we're blessed to have 48 of them on our 4 acres, along with several other trees.

They have many attributes. They grow in the poorest, rocky soil. They are drought and flood resistant. They grow 40-80 feet tall and have a canopy that can reach 80 ft. across. They provide amazing shade, homes for animals, and ridiculous amounts of acorns for wildlife in the Fall. They are so tough that living beyond 200 years is the norm and not the exception. I L.O.V.E. my oak trees!
...there is one thing that I do not like about them. They are considered evergreen. In Live Oak terms, that means they hold onto their leaves until the new spring growth pushes them out. The old leaves are very tough and waxy---they do not decompose easily. That means that a sturdy back and a rake must be put to work in the spring in order to save the grass that lives below the trees. I only rake our backyard because that's the only grass we care about. Yesterday, I spent 4 hours raking and gathering leaves. The leaves then were put through a shredder that is a part of my leaf blower.

Then, just when you think the work is over, the tree puts on its pollen thingys (see picture above). They are like velcro and become airborn on the slightest breeze. The windows on the house cannot be opened during this time, because the entire house will fill with yellow-green dust from the pollen.

The pollen is kind enough to gather itself into piles around the outside of the house. It's just that each tree seems to have its own schedule and this cycle can go on for 6 weeks. Just when you get it cleaned up, more finds its way into cracks and crevices.
I guess it's no different than many of the other jobs I do---laundry, dishes, vacuuming---stuff gets done and then promptly undone. At least I can sit in their shade and drink ice tea. I certainly can't do that with laundry.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Honesty is the Best Policy

A couple weeks ago, I found out that James was to be awarded a gold medal for honesty at his school.

At the beginning of the year, our school adopted a program that encourages positive character traits in children. We've always had a program of that sort but it was taught by the counselors. Each month, the kids would learn about honesty, doing your best, respect for others, responsibility, tolerance, etc.
This year, our school PTA came up with the funds to hire an outside group to help with these character building exercises. I was wary. On the surface, the group seemed vaguely religious. Religion has it's place, but it's not in the public school. I waited it out and watched.

I was pleased with the outcome of my wait. The group, Knights of the Guild, has a main tenant: Our approach to teaching character education creatively integrates the instruction of noble character traits with the historic theme of gallant knight and chivalry. The relevance of this parallel stems from the term, "Knight", which means "servant". Highlighting historic heroism of both male and female knights, our programs encourage students to seek knightly character and personal excellence, through which they can better serve their communities through knowledge, wisdom and compassion.

The fun thing about this group, is that when they introduce the program at the beginning of the year, they go all "renaissance festival" on the school. They send a whole group of knights (men and women), ladies dressed up as fair maidens, and huge drafts horses. Lots of jousting and thundering around on horseback. Who wouldn't want to be a knight after such a spectacle?

Each month, a student from each class is awarded a medal for that month's theme. One knight comes out for the assembly and gives a short speech regarding that month's theme. He then 'knights' the kids that have won and places the medal around their necks. The teachers also present the kids with a scroll that explains why they best exemplify that trait.

Congratulations James. A knight of honesty. Not a bad thing to be.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Hold On To Your Hat

Red Flag Warning
Means critical fire weather conditions exist. In other words, keep your cigarette butts in your car!

Sustained Winds--22-25mph.

Current high
wind gust --45mph.