Don't forget! From now through November 26, 2014 you can earn chances to win a copy of one of my books. See Blogoversary #6
Confirmed entries to date: 4

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Spring in the Kitchen - Third Installment

 

long shot of Gasteria maculata

Here is the other kitchen plant that is now blooming. It's a really difficult one to picture! Above is what the whole thing looks like today. The plant we are talking about is right in the middle with two long snaky stalks spreading out, one to each side. The picture below is what those two stalks looked like on March 6.

Gasteria maculata buds

This is a Gasteria. That is the genus. I think the species might be maculata. In plain English it would be spotted stomach-plant! It grows and divides like crazy! If anyone would like one, just let me know and send a couple of bucks and YOU can have one. This is the third time it's bloomed in about 10 years. It gets its name because the flowers look like little stomachs.

Gasteria maculata blooms

The above picture is on macro with the new camera, and the one below is on super macro, which I obviously don't have figured out as well. I wanted to show you how the tips still look like the buds and the flowers sort of begin to droop from the lower part of the stalk.

Gasteria maculata blooms and tip

The countdown to the hike needs to begin. You can all help me be disciplined, just because I will know I am going to file a report each night!

Hike Planning Report
Spent 1.25 hours working on the maps. Managed to get one of the sections of GPS info that we have superimposed on the map to compare it with the published route.

Made mango banana fruit leather. It's still in the dehydrator.

See A Major Hiking Goal Decision - my 2 year plan
See First Google Map to see the route for the May hike
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Monday, March 30, 2009

A Day of Tens


four examples of the number 10 made with common objects

This is not an inspired post. I couldn't get to sleep last night till 5 am. Got up at 10 am, and had a dentist appt at 12:10. I realized that if I was going to redeem the day at all I would have to beat myself into it, so I decided to make it a day of tens. When I'm in these moods I figure that if I can make myself do anything that it is better than the big fat NOTHING I would accomplish otherwise. So here is what I did:

  • Dentist at 12:10 (final fitting, the "real" teeth look nice- now they glue them on and I'll have the plate next week), followed by tax office, bank, grocery store
  • entered 10 receipts in my finance spreadsheet
  • took care of 10 things from the dining room
  • took care of 10 things in the kitchen
  • worked on blog promotion for 10 minutes (that turned into a half hour)
  • spent 10 minutes returning two important phone calls
  • checked 10 old newspapers to be sure they could be tossed in the recycle
  • dropped Entrecards for 10 minutes (that turned into more)
  • crocheted 10/3.3333 granny squares for a gift I'm making
  • oh, and walked the dog and brought in the mail and all that ordinary stuff that doesn't fit the 10s theme

Obviously I did not take care of the items the 10s are made of... OK, I cheated on the slice of onion. But I need it for tomorrow's dinner anyway.

See How's Your Self Image for more about the quest for new teeth

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Know Your Weeds? Win an Ad for a Month


This contest is officially closed. See post of answers on April 4, 2009

Here's a little game that anyone can win, but those who have some North American nature knowledge will have a slight edge. This is hopefully a final goodbye to winter, although we got three inches of snow today with horizontal wind! The fun nature event was that all the army worms (remember them) that came out yesterday worked hard to tunnel up above the snow and a huge flock of starlings swooped down and gobbled most of them up. While I was trying to get the memory card in the camera they all swooped off again!

OK, here are the rules. There are five pictures of winter weed stalks below. There is a list below that of ten plant names to choose from. Anyone who gets all five of the plants labeled correctly on the first try will get a month long 125x125 ad on this blog April 4- May 3. Answers should be in the form letter-number, for example X-12, which would match a picture with a name from the list. No trick questions, the answers are in the list and the plant stalks are all typical examples.

One entry per person. Put entries in the comments sections. Contest will close April 3, 2009 at midnight EST. If you are not an Entrecard member and win, that is fine, but you'll need a 125x125 banner, or let me make one for you.

A.

B.

C.

D.

E.

The list of choices
1. Common mullein   -   Verbascum thapsus
2. St. John's wort   -   Hypericum perforatum
3. Wild blue flag   -   Iris versicolor
4. Mistflower   -   Eupatorium coelestinum
5. Common teasel   -   Dipsacus sylvestris
6. Chickory   -   Chichorium intybus
7. Bouncing Bet (Soapwort)   -   Saponaria officinalis
8. Yucca   -   Yucca filamentosa
9. Wild Asparagus   -   Asparagus officinalis
10. Bee Balm   -   Monarda fistulosa

Good luck! If anyone wants more weed fun, I did a similar game, but just for fun, on an e-newsletter I produced for a while. You can see that at Books Leaving Footprints, Newsletter 5

See One Less Army of Worms for a previous thaw and emergence of worms
See The Army Meets a Different Need for what happened to them

Saturday, March 28, 2009

The Subnivean Layer - Revealed!

 

Recently the word "subnivean" has come into popularity to describe the layer under the snow where a number of creatures live, protected during the winter.

subnivean mouse tunnel Februarysubnivean mouse tunnel March

The picture on the left was taken on February 11, and the one on the right, today. You can see how, when the snow began to melt it uncovered where a mouse/vole/shrew (some creature of about that size... could be any of those) had dug through the matted grass and even scribed the tunnel into the dirt. You can seen how well-packed their groove is because it's basically unchanged six weeks later. All that's different is that the grass has dried out and fluffed a little bit.

The picture below is a closeup of how the tunnel looked in February, so you can tell how smooth and formed it is... a tube for little furry bodies!

subnivean mouse tunnel February closeup

I decided to use this today because I hiked a longer loop and came across this remnant of a subnivean apartment house! The small amount of heat generated from the vegetation under the snow melts a small air gap and keeps the temperature there very close to 32 degrees once there is more than six inches of snow overhead. Well, we were over that for most of the winter!

subnivean mouse holes in grass covered bank

The mice used the looser grass on this small embankment to create living spaces underneath. Look at all those little doors! I've put a closer shot below

subnivean mouse holes in grass covered bank

Tomorrow I'm going to post a little contest. Stay tuned!

See Mouse Antics for tunnels seen from the top side of the snow
See Mouse Builds an Empire or a Maze for some wonderful pictures on the Huckleberry Days blog which I just found today!

Friday, March 27, 2009

A Major Hiking Goal Decision


photo label

As some of you know, I've been working on hiking the North Country National Scenic Trail for 17 years. Each year I've been able to do one or more sections, and I've now completed 3518 miles. I've hiked all the red on the map, and the blue is what is planned for May. The official estimate of the trail length is 4600 miles, but my total will come in at about 4400. That's because sections that I've had to connect with road walks will be longer once they are off road.

I'm always torn between wanting to make a big deal out of my quest and preferring to remain a bit shy. (One can't be too shy when there is a book to sell.) But I've been very quiet, except to a few close friends, about what I'm going to now publicly share here.

Anyway, as of right now, there is no other woman who has hiked as much of the trail as I have. Two other women should be mentioned. The first person to follow the entire route of the NCT was Carolyn Hoffman. Right after the trail was authorized (1980) she set out to find it. She hiked a lot where it went through National Forests, and rode a bicycle on roads to approximate the rest of the way. Also of note is Sue Lockwood who accompanied Ed Talone on the first thru-hike in 1994. Sue was in kidney failure and had to take time off for dialysis along the way. She hiked about 3000 miles of the trail. Only 7 men have hiked the whole trail!

Yup, I COULD be the first woman to hike the whole thing. I've been really quiet about this, because I've known that some woman could set out and do a thru-hike and be the first. I've been saying for over a year that I was now close enough to my goal that if I learned of someone who was setting out to hike the trail that I could accelerate my schedule and still be the first.

And that is just what is happening. In May, Bonita "Mother Goose" Helton plans to begin a two year hike of the North Country Trail. This is no hiker wannabe. She has hiked extensively out west, and has done the whole International Appalachian Trail. Unless she gets injured or becomes ill, I'm sure she'll succeed.

So, I've been thinking about whether I really want to be the first woman to hike the whole thing, or whether I want to continue at my pace of about 200 miles a year to savor the experience. I've decided that I want to be the first.

This means that I'll need to hike just over 400 miles this season. Preliminary plans are to finish Minnesota and do some more of Michigan this year. This post is getting long, but this is just a huge deal for me... the planning, and the finances, and letting many of my other pursuits languish while I focus on this dream.

See Only a Few Miles But O So Good for my last NCT hike that counted toward my quest
See The Essential Adirondacks for a short article about last summer's hike in the Adirondacks (was my monthly newspaper column)
See Triple Play in the ADKs for a longer article about last summer's hike in the Adirondacks
A journal of a North Dakota hike is available on Xanga, but posts there don't have permalinks. If anyone would like to read it you can go to Sharkbytes on Xanga, then in the bottom left corner choose July 28, 2007 and click GO. This will take you to the preparations for that hike and then you can work through the hike with the "previous" and "next" choices in the bottom right of the page. Xanga's awkwardness is one reason I left!

Watch My Counter


Hey! My counter may go over 10,000 today... only 48 hits to go at 7:57pm. Watch it with me, and thanks for all the visits.

Wow... I suspect some of my friends have been clicking to bump the counter. Nevertheless, at 11:59 when I put up my hiking goal post, the counter registered 10,001. That is HUGE, since I began this blog in October 2008.

You are awesome readers!

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Spring in the Kitchen - Second Installment

 

Remember that I hinted at two more events to come in my kitchen? Here is the next one!

Commelinaceae, pussy ears

This plant has had little tiny, tight buds for a month. I was beginning to think that they would never open. Let's talk about this plant for a minute. It is in the family Commelinaceae, which means that it's a spiderwort of some kind. There are large garden varieties for outside. An easy-to-spot feature of these is their 3-petaled flowers and leaves (on most of the species) that seem to grow out of the leaf axils above them.

There are a couple of semi-succulent species that are house plants. One common one is Cyanotis somaliensis, often called Pussy Ears or Furry Kittens. That sounds like it could be this plant. But the growth habit isn't quite right, and the flower stamens aren't quite right either. Neither is it Cyanotis kewensis, Teddy Bear Vine, for all the same reasons. So this is some related, but different species. I got this plant for free from a commercial greenhouse. The owner was sick and tired of the way it trailed all over and said I could have it! That was four years ago, and it has never bloomed before now, so this is totally cool.

Did the bud open? Yes!

Commelinaceae, pussy ears

I gave a talk today on spring wildflowers in Michigan to the local garden club. They seemed to like it, but I came home very tired. Well, tomorrow is another day!



See Springtime In and Near My Kitchen for the first installment of the kitchen plants
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Wednesday, March 25, 2009

The Happiness of the Bluebird

 

bluebird sitting near nesting box

I am beginning this post with a lousy photo, but here's why. Remember that I got the bluebird boxes put up and was hopeful that my flashy friend would want to stay and build a nest? He's here, and checking it out! I actually saw him go into the box just before he popped out and sat on this log. I grabbed the camera the minute I saw him, and snapped this shot through my office window- double glazed glass and a screen. I'm actually surprised you can even tell it's a bluebird!

bluebird sitting near nesting boxbluebird sitting near nesting box

Then I went to the living room where I could shoot pictures through just glass in the deck door. These are better. I tried to sneak out on the deck, and he didn't fly away completely, but went up in the branches where I couldn't get a clear shot.

He's been here today too, flitting between the two nesting boxes. I hope that he decides to make one his 2009 home, and of course I really hope that it will be the box that I can see from my window. This box is only a few feet away from the now-fallen tree they nested in last year, so I know the proximity to the house won't deter him.

I always wonder if it is the same bird that returns each year. He certainly seemed to know where to look for a suitable hole. I hope I've returned his favor and made him happy!


See My Bluebird of Happiness
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Tuesday, March 24, 2009

KitchenHenge - Installment 1


This is a poor beginning at a project I've wanted to do for a long time. I love to watch the sun move from north to south and back as the seasons change. I've been trying to document the sunrises on the solstices and equinoxes. I was going to show you the winter 2008 solstice (but I've apparently deleted that picture sigh), with the spring 2009 equinox.

This is all complicated by the gray sky we so often have in the winter when we never see the sun, and probably more significantly, by the fact that morning and I are NOT friends.

So what you are going to see is autumn 2008 equinox, a February 2009 sunrise, and a couple days after the spring 2009 equinox. I've put a red line through the same tree in each picture so you can get oriented and see how the sun has moved. One thing I think is really interesting is that the two equinoxes don't have the sun in the exact same place. Is that because the sun was higher in the sky in the February picture? If it's because I missed the actual date by a couple of days then the sun should have been farther to the left (north).

I can see why the ancients became fascinated with this stuff.

Oh, and KitchenHenge? That's because my rule is that I stand on the top outside kitchen step to take the picture. I'll try to continue the collection with a bit more diligence, and consistency of zoom, etc.

September 21, 2008
sunrise autumn 2008 equinox

February 17, 2009
sunrise Feb 17 2009

March 23, 2009
sunrise spring 2009 equinox

Monday, March 23, 2009

Maggie the (Not So) Great Coyote Hunter


Maggie the dog, nose to ground

tracks in mud, possibly coyote
There we were on the edge of the field and Maggie suddenly began growling, and the ridge of hair on her backbone stood straight up. She was looking toward the field. I'd never seen her act this way before near home.

Next, she turned and ran to get behind me! I had no idea what she had seen but was searching the landscape in the direction she had been looking. Then I saw it!

A medium-sized coyote ran into the woods and plunged down the bank of the gully to the creek. I had no chance to catch a picture. It was almost luck that I saw it at all. Seeing a coyote in this area isn't so unusual, but I have never seen one so close to our house before.

We walked down to the creek by the usual side gully which is a more gentle descent. I looked for the tracks in the mud, but everything was too soft to take a good impression. I've put arrows to the depressions that I think might be where the coyote crossed the creek. They aren't Maggie's tracks.

Maggie the dog with muddy legs

However, it's clear that Maggie got herself into the soft mud too! I'm always tickled at this look, because it makes me think of a bay horse. You'll notice, too, that now she's confident and self-assured. After all, she chased that alien coyote right out of her territory!

See It's For You for another funny story about Maggie
See Is There a Puppy In There? for the real Maggie
See Getting To Know Maggie for a montage of Maggie pictures

Sunday, March 22, 2009

I Heard the Meadowlark


Easter Cactus full bloomI haven't seen one yet, but this morning I began to hear the meadowlarks calling in our field.

Meanwhile, as you can see, I was not patient enough with the Easter Cactus. It needed just one more day for the blossom to fully open.

Easter Cactus full bloom

And here are some "Blue Ice" crocus from the rock garden. I'm afraid the moles have finished off most of the bulbs, but for this week, we get some happy little flowers!

Blue Ice Crocus

See Springtime In and Near My Kitchen for earlier buds of the Easter Cactus.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Springtime In and Near My Kitchen


I awoke this morning to a half-inch of snow on the ground. It's March! I'll spare you a picture- there's been enough snow here.

I've been waiting to be able to show you this series, but it's taken a long time (and it's only 1/3 of the kitchen surprises, hint, hint). Here is a picture from March 6, with the focus wrong, but you can still see the important item.

Easter Cactus tight bud

Here is the same bud on March 16.

Easter Cactus swollen bud

And here we are, today! This is a "Holiday Cactus." There are both Christmas and Easter Cactus. One site says "Easter cactus has pointed margins. This contrasts with Christmas cactus, which has either scalloped or rounded leaf margins." Based on that information, this is an Easter Cactus, Rhipsalis gaertneri. However, pictures and labels on the web are all over the place, so I wouldn't want to make a definitive statement. This poor cactus has quite a history. It was a gift from a friend in the months right after Om had a heart attack (Sept 2007). It bloomed around Christmas that year.

Last summer when I was off hiking, Om decided to do better than usual with watering the plants. The problem is that I've switched to mostly succulents! The poor cactus was particularly drowned; I wasn't sure it would even live! But it pulled through, and look what it is up to now!

Easter Cactus bloom

robin in apple treeAnd by noon the snow was all gone, and look who showed up just outside the kitchen window. Not that a robin is anything special, but it's the first one I've seen this year.

Yesterday I heard a cardinal whistling his "sweet, sweet, sweet." And the day before that it was the "Ank, ank, ank" of a nuthatch!

I think this is enough pictures for today, but the crocuses are starting to pop in the rock garden. Prepare for flowers!

See Cacti and Succulents Site where I found the information I quoted
See My Bluebird of Happiness for another bird this spring
See Philadelphia Flower Show 2009 - III for more pictures of succulents

Blog Notes- Rewarding Top Commenters


I've decided that I would like to reward my top commenters with links. Since not everyone who joins in the dialogue here is on Entrecard, I think this is more fair than rewarding top "droppers", and I like it! I've added your avatars, or something from your blog or profile if you are not on Ecard, with links to your blogs in the left column. I really appreciate the new friends I've made here!

I'll add a couple more as some new participants come on board.

If any of you would be willing to add this site to your blogrolls, it would be just great! But of course, I'm happy to have you stop by rather you do that or not.

There will be a fun post later tonight.

Friday, March 20, 2009

A Visit to Italy


There I was, standing in the Mediterranean Sea, gazing at the coastline of Italy! I've always wanted to travel. Perhaps the magic of the Bella Italia flower show transported me across the waves to within sight of that famous boot. I have to admit that Italy wouldn't be my first choice of destinations, but that's where I seem to have found myself!



See Philadelphia Flower Show - I for the formal Italian entrance to the displays
See Philadelphia Flower Show - IV for the Italian opera singer

Thursday, March 19, 2009

The Blindness of Familiarity


Maggie and I walked to town today. Wowser! This is Michigan in March. Yesterday I was in shorts, today I underestimated the wind. I should have worn wind pants over my jeans and warmer gloves. We came home feeling like blocks of ice.

I was wondering what to post today. I have several fun things that can be posted most any time, but then I found something really cool. I am embarrassed to say that I "found" it. If you had asked me what kind of tree was growing outside the post office that I have visited at least 500 times in the past 40 years, I wouldn't have been able to tell you. But today I found that a very large and handsome white birch tree has appeared there. (haha... covering my shame with improbabilities)

urban white birch tree

urban white birch tree

urban white birch tree

crushed aluminum cans on a scaleOn the way back I picked up all the aluminum cans that the melting snow has revealed. They weigh just over half a pound! The scrap aluminum market has tanked lately, but they are worth a few cents. All but 2 (not pictured) are too flat to return for the state deposit. Still, if people are going to throw money out of cars, I'll pick it up! (And I picked up a pretty rock too... I'm hopeless... like I need another rock.)

See Only a Few Miles for another white birch bark picture

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

(Late) Winter Rainbows II


A number of years ago when I was teaching a Sunday School class the kids and I made up a devotional exercise called "Summer Rainbows." During the week they would look for something in nature with each color of the spectrum. They wrote down each find, and thought of something to thank God for that related to each item. It's a little harder in the winter, but I've found a set again recently, and I'll share it with you. I wanted to make one more winter rainbow- had a hard time with yellow, but it's a pale yellow. When spring starts to pop, this will be easy again.

red osier dogwood twigs
moss sporophytes
crusty pale yellow lichenspinulose fern in winter
crusty blue-gray lichenblack raspberry canes

The twigs of the red-osier dogwood are really RED at this time of year. With the light hitting them at a low angle they really shine. It is a wetland shrub, very common here on damp ground that has occasional standing water. I found these on an undeveloped lot right in town. Thank you, Lord, for the wild places that remain hidden, even in the city, where frogs sing and birds may build nests.

The moss is starting to reproduce. These ORANGE stalks are the sporophytes growing up like fingers from the green moss. With this picture next to the dogwood shrub there is no sense of proportion. These are less than an inch tall! I'm really grateful that there is such wonderful variety in the natural world to keep exploring.

I've had everything for this rainbow except YELLOW for two weeks. This crusty lichen is a pale yellow, not quite white. Lichens are good environmental indicators- they won't grow where there is a lot of pollution. I don't know much about lichens, but just learned that there is a local man who does and he is writing a column in the paper every month about them. Thanks, God, for other people who find joy in discovering the hidden treasures in creation.

This spinulose fern picture was taken in New York on my hike with Irene. I had to choose between a closeup of the leaf or this long shot with the three fronds. I like the way it fans out from the base, so I chose the long shot. This fern stays GREEN all year under the snow, even when beaten down. Now there is a lesson from God if there ever was one! Thanks for the reminder, Lord!

BLUE is another crusty lichen. And it's blue-gray. If we want real blue we'll have to wait for the crocuses and windflowers- they will be here soon! Well, I don't know exactly what to say about this one. Lichens just make me smile because they are a mystery of cooperation between a fungus that needs food and an algae that needs water, so I'm grateful for things that make me happy.

I also found this very PURPLE black raspberry cane on the walk with Irene. Black raspberries have medium thorns and very reddish-purple canes with a pale bloom on them that can be rubbed off with your fingers. I am very thankful for friends who love to take hikes. Watch over Irene for me, Lord!

I'm sure that will be the last winter rainbow this season! Not that upper Michigan will escape instantly into spring, but probably by the time I collect another set of pictures the change of seasons will be becoming very evident.

See Winter Rainbow I
See Letchworth and Gibsonville

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