Saturday, July 20, 2019

Tradeoff

There is a shrub in our backyard that bears beautiful blossoms. It's a blazing star. The only downside is that monarch larva love the leaves. 
Even while the blossoms are showing out, the tiny worms are munching away on the leaves. Soon they will strip all the leaves off the bush leaving it naked except for brilliant red flowers.

I love the bush, but I also love the monarchs that will soon be aflutter in our backyard.


Friday, July 19, 2019

Chicken tales

My great nephew Jordan and I worked on his 4-H chicken project today. The man from the county extension service was coming to vaccinate the chickens and we had to make the pen presentable. 

We raked the old shavings and hay out and dumped it in the compost pile, then spread a fresh carpet of cedar shavings. He washed their feeding trays and water containers.

He collected his noted to make sure he could answer questions about the amount of feed they've eaten, the different breeds of birds, and how much water they are drinking.

When the agent arrived, Jordan had his "chicks in a row" as they say. He heled the chickens as the agent gave them the shots.

The extension guy was impressed. 

Jordan will have to do a presentation in September at the county fair. The downside three he will have to select three of his chickens to go into the 4-H auction. The proceeds from the sale of the chickens fund the project for next year. 

Jilda and I plan to go and watch him do his thing and if there's any way possible, we will bid on the chickens.





Thursday, July 18, 2019

Yellow tiger swallowtail butterfly

It was hotter than a fanny in a firepit this morning as we walked. Sweat started dripping down my temples as I stood by the backyard fence waiting for Jilda to get the harness on Taz. I saw a tiny yellow and black bird. It looked almost like a canary. The mate was yellow and grey. Both were beautiful.

Gently pulling the phone from my pocket, I tried to snap a few pictures, but they were shy. Tomorrow, I'll pull a chair down there and take my DSLR camera down there. Maybe I'll get lucky and get a shot with the telephoto.

As we made the first lap this morning, I noticed another yellow creature down by the barn. It flew up into the branches of a small tree. I stepped closer and shot several pictures. It was a yellow tiger swallowtail butterfly. I was happy.


Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Fun with kids

We had fun with "the kid" today. Jilda and I had appointments in town and our great nephew Jordan went with us.

I won't step Jilda's entry tonight, but while she was seeing the acupuncture doc, Jordan and I hit Starbucks where I got a coffee and a New York Times. Jordan is not into coffee yet so he opted for some apple juice and a cake pop treat.

We sat outside and watched traffic while we waited to go fetch Jilda.

We decided to do a selfie to taunt Jordan's mom who was working. It used to be her that went with us to the mall and to eat.  We tried to do a straight face, but we failed miserably.

When we sent the selfie below, she responded with a frowny face. Jordan and I howled.





Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Hummer

We planted the sunflowers and zinnias for the bees, but other critters like them too. I'd been seeing these little rascals sipping nectar for the last few weeks.

Yesterday, I took my camera from the bag and attached my telephoto lens. Walking out to the backyard, I dragged a chair close to the fence and sat.

I started snapping pictures of flowers at first. It only took a few minutes before I saw this little sucker having her way with our orange sunflowers. We'd never planted them before, but we're already in love and I'll let the hummer speak for itself.





Monday, July 15, 2019

Find time with those we love

Last Sunday we invited some of our songwriting friends over to break bread and play music. Few things in life provide as much joy as friends and music. 
We keep our house reasonably clean, but whenever we have company coming, we work ourselves silly, making the place presentable. As our friend John Elliott used to say before he passed away, “Fun ain’t cheap.” 
We worked for days getting the place ready, and I thought we were set. Sunday morning while we were sipping morning coffee, Jilda pointed upward and said, “You have to dust the ceiling fan.”
The ceiling in our great room is 14 feet high at the apex. I hadn’t noticed, but there were dust bunnies and dangling cobwebs on the blades. It looked like Spanish moss swirling around. Setting my cup down, I went out and dragged the stepladder inside to do the deed.
Once the house was shipshape, Jilda started working on the extras. She cut fresh zinnias and sunflowers from the garden and put them in vases in the great room and bathrooms. She put a fresh tablecloth on the table with linen napkins. 
Even when we tell our peeps that we’re just having hotdogs, baked beans, and chips, she always has an ace up her sleeve when it comes to food. For this gathering, it was her freshly baked lemon pound cake. 
She assembled the cake from scratch with essential ingredients like butter, flour, sugar, and lard. (Just kidding about the lard.) She’s meticulous in making this cake. Our niece once asked Jilda to tell her how to make it. Explaining the steps sounded more complicated than enriching uranium. “There are no shortcuts,” she said. 
While the cake was baking, it filled the house with an aroma that smelled like Heaven’s kitchen. 
After our friends arrived, we talked for a while, played music until our fingers bled, and slammed down some dogs. Then it was time for dessert. Jilda sliced off chunks of pound cake, put on a dollop of whipped cream, and topped it off with a handful of blueberries that I’d picked earlier in the day. Did I mention that we also had ice cream? The next few minutes involved a lot of grunting. 
Our friends lingered into the night before we said our goodbyes. They might have still been here had we not heard the rumble of thunder and the sound of rain gently tapping the metal roof.
I thought once we retired we’d have more time to spend with our friends. That has not happened. It seems like we need a Cray computer to work out the logistics and get everyone’s calendars together. In fact, I don’t know how I ever found time to work a full-time job.
This much I know for sure – there is more sand in the bottom of the hourglasses of our lives than in the top. We lose close friends every year.
As we cleaned the kitchen after our friends left Sunday, Jilda and I made a promise to ourselves.  We vowed that we would find a way to spend more time doing the things we love with the people we love.

Sunday, July 14, 2019

Bougainvilleas

 Bougainvilleas are finicky shrubs. The Mandevilla on the porch has been blooming for almost two weeks, but the bougy just sat there sulking.

I read where they are not fond of water. Aha! We water the flowers, shrubs, and garden stuff daily so maybe that's why the bougainvillea was not blooming. So I cut back.

Jilda came inside today and said you need to check your problem child. When I walked out the first blossoms had popped out.

It's a beautiful blossom. It looks as fragile as a spider's web. Last year the blossoms were a cross between orange and beige. This year they are crimson.

Soon the deck will be blazing with bougainvilleas.





Saturday, July 13, 2019

Lessons learned in a darkroom

I started an online photography course today from Michigan State University. It's actually a set of five courses that cover all aspects of photography. I've been taking pictures for a long time, but I want to get better.

Both instructors are older and they talk about spending time in darkrooms developing film and pictures. I can relate. 

When I first started working for the weekly newspaper in 1973, one of my jobs was to take pictures and print them for the paper. I spent countless hours under a dark amber safelight. 

I'm sure some of my weirdness comes from inhaling photographic developer and fixer for so many years.

Even after I left the paper, I bought an enlarger and built a darkroom in the barn. 

Watching an image appear on a blank white sheet of photo paper has always seemed like magic to me.

I know there are millions of photographers these days who shoot remarkable photographs and they've never gotten a "fixer buzz" after midnight in a darkroom.

I'm not one to judge but this I know for sure. All those hours I spent in a darkroom fixing pictures that were shot poorly has helped me understand how to approach taking pictures in a digital world.




Friday, July 12, 2019

Mushroom rose

Walking today, something caught Jilda's attention. She'd forgotten her phone, so she called me back to have a look at a mushroom that looked like a rose.

I know the color is wrong, and it looks like some slugs may have had their way with the shroom, but still.

It wasn't there yesterday, but we got a downpour at dusk yesterday. Mushrooms love the rain and the humidity when it's hotter than a steam room. They thrive. If it keeps raining, this mushroom rose could be as big as a volleyball in a few days.

Tomorrow is another rare free day. I'm thinking about checking the beehives to see if there is any honey to harvest. That should be fun.

Have a great weekend.





Thursday, July 11, 2019

Rain on the river

I had a council meeting to cover this evening, but there wasn't a quorum, so the mayor canceled the meeting.  That made me happy.

It was almost dark and raining when I headed home. Most of the day I've been at my desk writing several stories. This meant that I hadn't had a chance to stop by the Forks of the river today. I decided to correct that situation.

Pulling into the lot this evening, I saw several cars and trucks sitting there watching the rain falling on the river.

Since the Tyson pollution spill and subsequent fish kill in early June, I've stopped by the Forks every day.

The last tests taken shows the river is back to normal. I still haven't seen any fish jumping. I'm guessing it will take some time for them to repopulate.

I switched off my engine and put on my straw hat. It seemed unwise to let my Canon camera get wet, so I shot a few pictures of the waining light with my phone.

I never knew that rain on the river could be so beautiful.







Wednesday, July 10, 2019

It doesn't take much to amuse me

The weather has been hard on Jordan's chickens this week. I put an oscillating fan in their pen and that helped a great deal. They are drinking about three gallons of water a day. They are still small chickens, but they are thirsty.

A few days ago, Jilda picked a double handful of basil and other herbs and put them in a bowl of water. She then put the bowl in the freezer. 

Yesterday, I took the chunk of ice with the embedded herbs down and put it in the pen. They didn't know at first what to do, but it only took a moment before they were all clucking a sigh of relief.

This evening after I put another two gallons of fresh water in their pen, I stepped back onto the deck and sat for a few minutes and looked at the clouds in the evening sky. There is a half-moon straight overhead.

As I started to go inside, I noticed a pink Mandevilla blossom on the plant next to the door. When I squatted down to shoot a picture I had an idea.  

My knees complained, but I squatted lower and shot a picture of the blossom with the half-moon photo bombing the flower. 

It doesn't take much to amuse me when it's hot.


Tuesday, July 09, 2019

Figs

Mean people would have preferred to stay in Hades today rather than Empire. We walked at 7:30 a.m.  There was not a hint of a breeze. The dogs walked one lap and almost took the door down to get inside.

Jilda and I did a few more laps. We were almost to the back fence when we decided to walk a few hundred yards to check on the fig tree.

Last year the bush came our in early spring trying to get a jump on summer but a late killing frost turned a bumper crop of figs into a handful of fruit that we ate warm from the bush in August.

This year, in August we will have enough figs to feed the county. Yum.




Monday, July 08, 2019

A moment of nostalgia ~ my column from Sunday

I had an interview in Doliska this past week. Afterward, I decided to drive through old Dora. I didn’t realize it, but the street is closed now. Years of rain, heat, and neglect have taken their toll. The concrete slabs on the roadbed have leaned and buckled. The street is impassable now except for determined explorers.
I sat there for a long time with the motor running reflecting on my old hometown. The place I remember as a child began migrating to the “new highway” in the 1960s. You can move businesses, but you can’t move memories.
When I was a kid, that old town was Mecca to me. I wasn’t allowed to cross the highway on my bicycle and go to Sumiton, but I could roam up and down the street of Dora until my legs turned to rubber. 
Coke, Pepsi, RC, and Grapico bottles brought a three-cent bounty in those days. I spent a chunk of my youth searching roadsides, and vacant lots for empty bottles. The return deposit for one bicycle basket full of empty bottles was enough to buy a chocolate shake, a bag of peanuts, and a kite. 
Before the post office moved, they used to hang bags of mail on a pole at the train depot. The conductor on the afternoon train had some kind of hook, and he would snag that bag off the platform without stopping. If the term High Tech had been invented back then, that’s what I would have called that mail pickup.
After I started driving, my horizon expanded. I spent less and less time in old Dora. After graduation, I started to college and later got a job on the night shift. Old Dora slowly became a ghost town.
After returning from a stint in Panama with the U.S. Army, Dale Short hired me to take pictures and write stories for The Community News in Sumiton. We covered all the hot topics in East Walker County. 
Dale had an old 8 mm movie camera, and we decided to have a fun day at work. We had a lot of those during the three years we worked together. We loaded our cameras and headed to old Dora. That was in 1975. 
Buildings were only on one side of the street, and the other side was a concrete wall. Beyond that was railroad tracks. I don’t recall any graffiti in those days, but through the years that changed. Seniors from local high schools started spray painting their names and some interesting poems on that wall. 
There were a few hold-out businesses in 1975, but most had moved on. Dale and I spent hours exploring and photographing the old vacant buildings that loomed large in the memories. 
At one point, Dale was exploring the old Masonic Lodge (I think), and I climbed the stairs to the railroad depot. I sat down on the platform and dangled my legs off the edge. An old faded Frisco boxcar sat vacant on a sidetrack. 
In my youth, Dora was a bustling town, and if you closed your eyes, you’d hear the sound of commerce, but all I heard that day was the sound of crows cawing.
This past week when I got home, I searched YouTube for the video that Dale posted almost 10 years ago. Seeing those old images of my hometown made me both happy and sad. 
If you’d like to see the video, search YouTube for Exploring Old Dora 1975.

Sunday, July 07, 2019

I love days like today

We had a gathering at our house this evening for a group of our songwriter buddies. We've done it for years, but not often enough.

We talk about music. We talk about where we're playing. We showcase new things we've written. We talk about what we're reading. Where we've been. What we plan to do when we grow up.  We eat, we laugh, we enjoy kindred spirits.

I didn't get everyone in the picture this evening, but three of the guys wanted to have a look at the garden, the barn, and the beehives.

I snapped a picture of Bob, Fred, and Jon on the thinking bench. I think if we'd had a few more minutes on that bench we could have come up with a solution for world peace and true happiness.

I love days like today.


Saturday, July 06, 2019

Swim

I knew today would be toasty when I stepped down before sunrise to feed and water the chickens.  

We didn't have a lot of outside work planned. That was fortunate.

We did go see our great nephew Jordan swim. He is one of the smallest swimmers on the team but he's competitive. Today gave him an opportunity to swim with kids that were in high school. Swimming on that level, it's not about beating the swimmers in the lanes on either side of you, the race is against the clock. 

I'm not sure what the algorithm works, but it's fair for all the kids swimming. 

This is the first time we've seen him swim this year. He did good. I'm proud of that young'un.





Friday, July 05, 2019

IRS

We got a nastygram from the IRS in early June. It said we owed $814. I scratched my head and said some unkind things about Uncle Sam and my accountant...but that number sounded familiar.

When I looked in my records, we paid $814 in April when I filed my taxes We did a cashier's check and sent the payment through certified mail.

I checked the IRS site, it said they had not received the payment.

I looked at my U.S. mail receipt and verified the envelope containing our payment was delivered. I then called the bank to make sure the check cleared. It did. 

I sent a snooty letter to the IRS pointing out their error and slept soundly that night.

Today, we got a second notice with added late charges, penalties, and poo-poo charges.

I tried calling them and went through 1776 options before being placed in the right queue. I was there about 30 seconds and I got a recording saying the had a high call volume to call back later. It then hung up on me.

Had I taken my blood pressure at this point, my BP cuff would have said - CALL 911.

I took a few cleansing breaths and then called my accountant. He chuckled and said bring him the documents and he'd handle it Monday. Apparently, he had a hotline that the IRS actually answers.

Next year, I may drive my taxes to the IRS and demand a signature.

I'm about to drink a cup of sleepytime tea and hit the hay.





Thursday, July 04, 2019

Happy 4th of July

Today has been fun. 
I hope you all have enjoyed a remarkable 4th of July.


Wednesday, July 03, 2019

We are different

No matter how much we want to believe that we are like others, and how much we want to "fit in", we are different.

We can have the same parents, grow up in the same hometown, read the same books, go to the same schools, and have the same teachers, but the things we take away are different than even those with whom we share DNA.

We learn differently, we see things differently, we hear things that resonate that others discard as noise.

Others may scoff at something that moves us to the core. We are different.

That thought struck me today as I walked to our field of flowers. We have a field of zinnias that we planted for the bees.

Jilda walks down every few days and cuts fresh bouquets for our bathrooms and the great room. 

Today when I walked down, I noticed a lone white flower in a rainbow of zinnias. It was no better or worse than the other beautiful flowers, but it was different.





Tuesday, July 02, 2019

Looking at clouds

Last night after yoga class, I dragged a bag of mats to load in the Outback. The bag has about 20 mats and they are heavier than I expected.

I hefted them up and into the back of the SUV with one hand. The grunt I made was not attractive.

As I clicked the hatch closed, I turned and leaned against the back of the car to assess the sky. When we drove in a few hours before, the sky looked like rain, but that all moved off to the east.

As I looked toward Birmingham, I saw a couple of cloud formations that looked like they'd been brushed in the sky by a talented watercolor artist.

The picture below is straight from my camera with no filters or editing. Did I mention that I love looking at clouds?


Monday, July 01, 2019

Tree Hugger

People call me a tree hugger. That doesn't bother me, because it's true.
Some people mean it as a jibe. For me, it’s a compliment. I love forests, hollows, fields, and streams. We have trees on our property that look as if they've been here forever. Something happened to one of them back in March that made me sad. 
The date was Thursday, March 14, one week before the official start of spring. The day was warm and humid. By mid-afternoon, I could hear the sound of thunder in the distance, and smell the scent of rain on the wind.
I put Caillou the wonder collie in his safe place before he started ricocheting off the walls. Stepping out on the back deck, I stood for a long time. 
A light breeze plays melodic tunes on the wind chimes hanging on the back deck, but songs of impending storms are discordant. They are harbingers. 
I darted back inside when I heard lightning slam down somewhere off to the south.
Jilda was at work so I sent her a text to tell her storms would be heading her way and then I went through my storm plan. The first thing is to switch the AC unit off. I'm not sure if that keeps it from being damaged when lightning strikes the power grid or not, but I always do it. My dad did it, and it still seemed like the smart thing to do. I also power down my computers.
Taz, our little rescue Yorkie, hopped up on the couch and shivered in my lap during the thick of the storm. Then I saw a strobe through the windows of the garden door, and an instant later, thunder shook the windows. The lights blinked twice, and then the house was dark.
The following day on the ides of March, we had things planned, but our great nephew Jordan wasn't feeling well, so our plans changed. He spent the day with us.
After breakfast, he wanted to go for a walk. We shoe'd up and headed out. Down in front of our old house, I was taking a picture of lichen on a limb that had fallen to the ground. Jordan looked up into the ancient oak in front of the old house. 
He said, "Something scratched that limb on the oak." When I looked up, my heart sank. What he'd seen was unmistakable. During the storm the day before, lightning struck the oak. It looks as if one of the higher limbs was shaved with a hatchet. 
I wanted to believe that it would be OK. 
When the weather warmed the oak put on a full coat of leaves. I smiled when I saw the "scratched" limb had new leaves.  Seeing the fresh green leaves gave me hope.
Earlier this week as I was picking blueberries, the morning sun had just crested the trees in the hollow spotlighting my beloved oak tree. There was no mistaking the change in color of the oak. They were turning brown.
Jordan stayed with us today. After we fed his chickens, we stepped over and sat in the backyard swing. I directed his attention toward the oak. I heard him say, "Oh, no."
I guess people will call Jordan a tree hugger, too.

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