Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Scorched earth - our first attempt at a vegetable garden

We're not always successful and the photos aren't always pretty. Oftentimes, we do really stupid things.

The photo at left is proof positive that my DH and I are dangerous idiots. A few years ago, yours truly, the newly-minted master gardener, got the bright idea to use newspapers and straw to cover her just planted vegetable seedlings. This (potentially combustible) mulch would hold in moisture and keep out weeds. Great idea, right?

Enter my DH, the easily distractable and absent-minded volunteer fireman. Being the tool-loving crafty man that he is, he built trellises for the beans and cucumbers and a nice little lattice fence to keep out the critters.

Late on a Sunday afternoon he's out putting the finishing touches on his handiwork and decides to fire-up the tikki torches to keep the notorious jersey mosquitos at bay. After a while he wanders inside.

Next came a neighbor on a bicycle drawn to our yard by the smoke and flames. Then came the firetrucks. Can you imagine our embarrassment? We're inside oblivious while our backyard is in flames!

My dear brother, who has a sick sense of humor and skills with photoshop, sent us this a few days later. That's my other brother standing with the shovel and great physique in the center of the photo.

So, we learned a few lessons with that experience and our friends and family (and the neighbors!) had a good laugh at our expense.

Note: For some odd reason I can't make the above photo *clickable* for enlargement to read the captions. The caption by my brother with the shovel says "Our compost expert gives advice on composting with ash: it's simple - all you need is a match!". The Iraqi press officer says, "I don't know what you are talking about. There were no fires here!." In this issue: *Terroristic Gardening - tips from comical Ali *How to roast your peppers while still on the vine *Don't get MAD at weeds, get EVEN *How your garden can earn you big money in insurance claims Next issue: *The experts will give their tips on garden tool fire sales *Save time - combine your gardening with your grilling! And the woodchuck flipping us off says: Tips on getting those pesky varmits! Smoke 'em out!

Did I mention my brother was sick?!?

Monday, February 27, 2006

Missy plans her escape (or the joys of (re)bonding bunnies)

I'm not sure that someone who doesn't *know* Missy can see by the look on her face how much of a devil she is about to be. I caught her, with this photo, in the act of debating whether or not she could make it over the fence or onto the fancy chair without being noticed.

She and Freckles were out yesterday evening for a rebonding session, using the x-pen I set up in my living room. She and Freckles had lived together for 4+ years until Missy got sick last summer. Freckles decided at that time that she preferred to live alone.

While Freckles may prefer single-life, I know it's not best for them. They both are lonely and need the company and comfort of a friend. Bunnies are happier in groups. So, the last week or so I've been setting them up together in the living room to see how things go. They're making progress, but Missy still tries to bite Freckles when Freckles won't groom her. With time, it will get better and they'll get along again, I'm sure.

Missy's way of dealing with the discomfort of being forced together with another bunny is to try and escape from the situation and get herself into trouble in the process. Where she thought she might go once over the fence is anybunnies guess!

Sunday, February 26, 2006

Cricket the Brave

Cricket turns a suspicious eye to me lounging on the couch in front of the TV on a Sunday afternoon. This is about as far as she and Boomer will venture into the living room. They're a bit braver since we rearranged the furiture, but still stick close to the edges of the room. I've found evidence of their comings and goings behind the couch (a stray marble-sized poop that could only have come from a Flemmie) and nibbled magazine edges on the coffee table. They must be exploring in there at night while we're asleep and they know the dog is in the bedroom with us. During the day, the edge of the TV cabinet is as far as she'll muster the courage for. Sillty rabbit!

Saturday, February 25, 2006


It felt a bit like Spring today, so once I finished up my normal Saturday errands I decided to go for a stroll with the dog. I've been really lazy the last few years with walking him every day. We mostly take special trips to the beach for a run or to a favorite wooded park that is about 20 minutes away in the car. Gone are the days when I had time to walk him through town every day or to the park that is right next door.

So feeling energetic (and sort of guilty) today, I set out to visit our favorite local spots. This circuit through town usually takes us about an hour if we don't stop to birdwatch or daydream along the way. We walked through town - we do this quickly because all the activity frightens him - and made our way to the local "nature trail". This place makes Buddy happy because there's lots of fallen leaves, mud, and things for him to explore. Not much there today in terms of birds, but we did see a red-tail soaring above the tree tops. We continued along the marsh and creek and paused where it widens and one can imagine the ocean that is only a few miles away. The marsh side of the road has access to shallower water and Buddy often takes a dip there, but not today. He wanted to, but it was still a bit too cold for him to be swimming.

Sadly, it was low tide and most of the ducks were way back in the marsh hidden in the phrags. The open water had groups of mallards and canada geese visible. Further out, I imagined a few buffleheads. By this point, Buddy and I were a bit more than half-way home and it was clear that he'd had enough and was tired. We walked the rest of the way very slowly. My Boo is feeling his age, I'm afraid. He's 11 this year and is stiff and having chronic problems with his ears and skin. He sleeps a lot. Until today he had boundless energy on walks. I guess maybe we just overdid it today.

Friday, February 24, 2006

Irish Fiddle

Just passing along this link to an NPR story this afternoon about an Irish-American fiddler. Listen to the story for a treat!

I adore Irish folk music. I love the fiddle. Wish I could learn to play. Last spring I started taking a series of courses at the community college where I teach to learn the pennywhistle. Fun courses, but difficult for me to learn in such a large group. I hope to repeat the beginning level course again this spring, but would really like to find a private tutor to give me lessons.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Another water lily "Patio Joe"

"Patio Joe" was a very profuse bloomer for me last summer. I don't think there was a single day from June through early September when this lily was not in bloom and it often had multiple blooms at the same time. In these photos the color looks very pink, but I remember it as being quite variable depending on the stage of bloom. This link has a nice description of the charm of this lily.

These photos were taken in early June when the locust blossoms were falling. I loved the effect of the white petals floating on the surface of the water. The blooms look stellate rather than cup-shaped indicating to me that the photos were probably taken during the second or third day of bloom. On the first day of bloom the flower opens only part way and each bloom lasts just a few days before it sinks beneath the surface of the water.

Both of these smaller photos show buds waiting to open. Part of the fun is anticipating when a bud will break the surface and bloom. This often leads to disappointment for me if a lily blooms during the workweek and I'm not there for it. You see, lily blooms open late in the morning and begin to close for the day around 2 p.m. when the heat and height of the sun diminish. With this particular lily this wasn't an issue; as I said it was almost always in bloom - even on weekends. I used to have a tropical night-bloomng lily called "Red Flare" that was just as difficult to get a look at. It bloomed while I was at home, but it was too dark to see it properly.... ;-) What I liked most about that lily was the large burgundy-colored lilypads and the way that the blossoms stood well-above the surface of the water. Like so many plants, we killed it over the winter. We couldn't leave it out in the pond because of its tropical nature, so we tried to overwinter it in the basement and it rotted. Someday we'll learn how to overwinter the tropicals we both love so much.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Hot Buns 2007 Contest

Send your favorite bunny photos for the annual Hot Buns photo contest; the winners will be featured in the Buns 2007 calendar which benefits The Rabbit Habit. Send entries (gif or jpeg files) to lilbun@verizon.net or dhoffman_48@yahoo.com (which can handle bigger files). The deadline is April 10. All entries will be posted at www.geocities.com/dhoffman_48/.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Sun-striped Bean

Mr. Bean ATB 2/21/04

Monday, February 20, 2006

Dora, who (almost) always gets away

If anyone is inclined to wonder why I post so few pictures of Dora, the photo to the left should answer that question. She mostly steps out of any photo I try to take of her. Boomer and Cricket, who appear here most often, are very cooperative and lounge about everywhere. Dora, on the other hand, is very wary.

She has her favorite resting places where she feels safe, but it is hard to get a good photo of her beneath my office chair where she loves to hang out. She naps there and will nudge my feet with her nose or nibble on my pantlegs for attention. I'll reach down and scratch behind her ears for a while and then she settles back for her nap.

If the dog is too rambuctious or if I'm running the vacuum, she'll head back to her cage for safety. She's confined there during the day while I'm at work, but often chooses to relax there. She seems to have a sense for when it is time to go to bed because I will find her waiting for me to close her in before I turn out the lights for the night. In the photo at left, taken on the day I brought her home, she is looking very suspicious of me and my camera.

Dora is a stunningly beautiful rabbit; a Checkered Giant. She is small for her breed (I suspect that is why she was sent to slaughter by her breeder), but she shows the gorgeous markings and graceful shape that is typical of her breed. She even has polka-dots on her belly!

She looses any sense of wariness when I sit on the floor nearby. She dances over and presents her little head on my leg for pets. If I don't oblige her quickly enough, she licks my pantleg for attention. She hasn't worked up the courage yet to climb all the way onto my lap, but will settle beside me and click her teeth with contentedness. I think she would stay this way for hours; she loves the attention so much. Like most rabbits, Dora is loving and affectionate when given the chance and on her own terms.

Sunday, February 19, 2006

Road Trip

My husband and I took a ride today to Peddler's Village in Lahaska, Pa. - the drive was short - only about 1 1/2 hours. Closer to home is Smithville, which we usually combine with some birding at Brig. Believe it or not, we didn't get lost despite the easily distracted navigator (me!)

We did some shopping and had lunch at the tavern. I spent too much money on things I don't need (like the adorable pair of ducks at left). We've been doing some remodeling at home and are finally buying proper furniture after 12+ years of marriage, and I've decided that I'm tired of looking at bare walls and empty shelves. I hate to spend money on silliness like this, but they do make me smile! We found them in one of the shops that had the primitive-style country crafts that I like.

There was also a lovely shop that sold imports from France - beautiful things! I couldn't resist this dried flower arangement; now I just need to find the right place for it - and figure out how to keep it from getting full of dust! My poor flash photos don't show the intensity of color - the deep red and yellow of the roses together with the lovely purple of the dried lavender. Just gorgeous!

A few weeks ago we drove to Conneticut to pick up a huntboard for our dining room and plan to go tomorrow and order the farmhouse table we picked out locally to go with it. The table is huge - really too much for just the two of us -but it will give me a good excuse to have holiday dinners here at home after all these years. Anyway, I thought these dried roses were a perfect contrast with the black-painted wood of the huntboard.

The DH is snoring in front of the TV, tired from all the driving he did today; and I've got bunnies to feed and love on. So, I'll have to share the rest of my finds from our road trip on another day.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Helping Missy breathe easier

Miss Buns has a chronic respiratory infection called Pseudomonas that was diagnosed in December of 2004. This bacterial infection is very difficult to get rid of. My vet and I have been treating her for more than a year now with various bunny-safe antibiotics and still every culture and sensitivity test we do comes back positive. I've more or less given up on the idea that we'll ever cure her of it (I'm not willing to subject her to a cocktail of strong, injectable antibiotics) so I concentrate my efforts on coping with and keeping the infection in check. When her breathing gets bad and she starts sneezing too much I dose her with 10 days of Baytril and that seems to do the trick for a month or two. Twice a day I clean the crusty stuff from around her runny eye to keep the fur on her cheek from falling out. She enjoys this extra attention and daily *grooming* from me and generally won't struggle as I wash her cheek fur and comb through it with a small flea comb. Sometimes she gets pissed and will nip me if I'm not careful and pull at her skin.

Every so often her breathing sounds just horrible and I can see that she is congested and struggling to breathe through her stuffy nose. Today was such a day. My vet was kind enough to loan me a nebuliser machine (used by people with asthma) to treat this congestion. I use a very weak mixture of a liquid antibiotic and saline solution in the nebulising machine. Then, I corner Missy and hold the mouthpiece in front of her face so that she has to breathe in the medicated mist. We've done this often enough that she is no longer freaked out by the mist floating past her nose, nor is she bothered by the sound of the machine. She'll sit quietly for the 5 minutes or so that the treatment lasts and will sometimes nibble hay from her litterbox or wash her face in the adorable way that bunnies do. None of it seems to faze her at all, thankfully. Lately, she is so comfortable that she *chins* the mouthpiece, claiming it as *hers*. Once we've finished, I always give her a favorite treat to reward her for behaving. I also give a treat to Freckles who lives on the other side of the lattice wall you can see in this photo. A favorite and convenient treat is a few craisins which she gobbles up quickly.

The nebulsing has a dramatic effect on her breathing and I'm thankful to my vet for suggesting it as an alternative treatment. I know a few people who nebulise their rabbits every day to treat chronic respiratory problems and they've all said that their bunnies handle it well. For Missy, I think it's the craisins when we're finished that make it worth the bother. And she does breathe easier afterwards. She always feels well enough for a treat!

Wednesday, February 15, 2006


Interesting post today on Charlie's Bird Blog about birders who keep lists. I'd imagine most birders do keep some manner of a list. I have friends who keep year lists and place lists, in addition to their life lists. I keep a yard list, and a pond list, and also a life list. I'm not fanatical about it; hence when I tried to come up with the last five additions to my life list, I was only certain of three:
1. Wilson's Plover
2. Eurasian Collared Dove
3. Razorbill

Prior to these, I'm not sure. Probably Gray Jay and Boreal Chickadee from my early summer trips to the Adirondacks. Obviously I don't keep very good records! What do these birds say about me as a birder?

Would any birders care to list their most recent 5 life birds?

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

My Bunny Valentines

Boomer and Cricket, 2004

Monday, February 13, 2006

Lotus and dragonfly

Here's another favorite photo from my pond - this beautiful lotus was expensive and short-lived, but well worth it for the two summers it bloomed before we neglected it last winter and let it freeze. The pot I kept it in was huge and near impossible to move to the deep end of the pond without climbing into the water. It was late November by the time we did the clean-up that year and I just wasn't willing to climb into the frigid water. So I pushed it from the pondside as far as I could and hoped for the best.

The first summer the flowers and leaves were huge - sometimes as big as dinner plates! It provided great shade for the goldfish and landing spots for dragonflies (I think this one is a blue darner - anyone know?) Lotus need warm water to bloom well and require a lot of fertilizer. I don't like to add much fertilizer to my pond plants and hope that what the fish provide naturally will be enough. The second summer the lotus didn't bloom as nicely and the leaves were much smaller because of too little fertilizer. With a weaker plant I started having trouble with aphids - they didn't do much visible damage like they will to roses - but were still a nuisance. Maybe a stronger plant would have survived the winter, I don't know.

I'm thinking about buying another lotus this summer if I can find one suitable to small ponds and that will not require a planter that I can't handle alone. These plants are just too beautiful not to include in the water garden.

Sunday, February 12, 2006

Snow day!

I was afraid the winter would pass without any significant snowfall, but we hit the jackpot today. I love the snow, but my husband, who worked all day and all night plowing for the town and schools, doesn't feel the same, needless to say. A neighbor was nice enough to take care of my front sidewalk and dig out the end of the driveway, I guess so he wouldn't have to watch me out there struggling while my husband was at work.

I dragged the dog off his warm bed for a walk around 5 pm when it finally stopped snowing. I'd guess we got about 15 inches; just enough to make ordinary things look beautiful. We walked through the neighborhoood and ended up with our customary pass through Sickles Park to have a look at the raspberry and blackberry fields and the farm pond. There a few people cross-country skiing on the track around the ball fields, but besides them we had the place to ourselves.

The neighborhood red-tail was perched in his usual spot on the edge of the field, but flew as soon as I raised my camera to take his picture. I found a very cranky-looking great blue heron standing on the ice of the farm pond who was a more willing photo subject. Oftentimes there are a few mallards that hang out in the pond, but I didn't see them today. Not many birds around in general, I guess most spent the day hunkered-down out of the weather.

There were masses of robins flying overhead just before dusk, but I didn't see any feeding in the holly trees or viburnums in my yard during the day. There were only a few house finches, a bedraggled starling, and a lone junco at the feeders today, despite their being stocked with sunflower, suet, and peanut mix.

Buddy and I finished up our walk just in time to wake up Rich to go back to work for the night. So now we're both hunkered in for the night; warm, dry, and happy. I'm lucky to have the day off from work tomorrow and I'm dreaming up all sorts of things I can do with so much free time. More than likely I'll sleep late and spend some time grading papers - which I've been ignoring all weekend!

Saturday, February 11, 2006

The snowfall is so silent

A weather-appropriate favorite from Miguel de Unamuno. The English translation by Robert Bly follows the Spanish:

La nevada es silenciosa,
cosa lenta;
poco a poco y con blandura
reposa sobre la tierra
y cobija a la llanura.
Posa la nieve callada
blanca y leve;
la nevada no hace ruido;
cae como cae el olvido,
copo a copo.
Abriga blanda a los campos
cuando el hielo los hostiga;
con sus lampos de blancura;
cubre a todo con su capa
pura, silenciosa;
no se le escapa en el suelo
cosa alguna.
Donde cae alli se queda
leda y leve,
pues la nieve no resbala
como resbala la lluvia,
sino queda y cala.
Flores del cielo los copos,
blancos lirios de las nubes,
que en el suelo se ajan,
bajan floridos,
pero quedan pronto
florecen solo en la cumbre,
sobre las montanas,
pesadumbre de la tierra,
y en sus entranas perecen.
Nieve, blanda nieve,
la que cae tan leve
sobre la cabeza,
sobre el corazon,
ven y abriga mi tristeza
la que descansa en razon.

The snowfall is so silent,
so slow,
bit by bit, with delicacy
it settles down on the earth
and covers over the fields.
The silent snow comes down
white and weightless;
snowfall makes no noise,
falls as forgetting falls,
flake after flake.
It covers the fields gently
while frost attacks them
with its sudden flashes of white;
covers eveything with its pure
and silent covering;
not one thing on the ground
anywhere escapes it.
And wherever it falls it stays,
content and gay,
for snow does not slip off
as rain does,
but it stays and sinks in.
The flakes are skyflowers,
pale lilies from the clouds,
that wither on earth.
They come down blossoming
but then so quickly
they are gone;
they bloom only on the peak,
above the mountains,
and make the earth feel heavier
when they die inside.
Snow, delicate snow,
that falls with such lightness
on the head,
on the feelings,
come and cover over the sadness
that lies always in my reason.
--From Roots & Wings: Poetry from Spain 1900-1975

Thursday, February 09, 2006

I hate HTML code!

**Begin rant**
I've spent the last few hours playing around with my blogger template just so I could add "What I'm Reading" to the sidebar. You'd think it would be simple, even for someone like me who is clueless with code. But no, copying and pasting just isn't enough. You actually need to know what all that gobblygook means! I've had enough for one night. I would like to add the other books I'm reading, but can't figure out how to do it - I'm defeated.
**End rant**

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Mansion fire and pooped-out teacher ramblings

This photo from today's Asbury Park Press shows what remains of the beautiful historic mansion that was the Thompson Park Visitor's Center. It was destroyed by fire on Monday. I drove through the park today on my way to class and was so sad to see it. I was just there in October with a few other Master Gardeners and a couple hundred Girl Scouts planting 1968 daffodils to commemorate the year the mansion was donated to the park system. Renovations had just about been completed on the building (about $3.5 million worth).

Class went well tonight, but I am glad to be done for the week. My students continue to surprise me with their insights and abilities. I would love to spend hours discussing the novel with them, and listening to them talk about it with one another, but we have to get serious about preparing for mid-term exams in a few weeks.

Sunday, February 05, 2006

23-5 Meme

I tagged myself by invitation from WoodSong's blog, which I enjoy reading each day.

Here are the rules:
1. Go into your archives.

2. Find your 23rd post.
3. Post the fifth sentence (or closest to it).
4. Post the text of the sentence in your blog along with these instructions.
5. Tag five other people to do the same thing.

Once a week or so I *feed* the worms with the leftover greens and fruit from the bunnies, some coffee grounds, occasional egg shells, and shredded junk mail for bedding material.

From my 1/26/06 post about the worm bin I use to compost kitchen waste.

Not sure if I even have five readers to tag, but I'll start with Simone, divakitty's mom, and puggyspice. Anyone else want to play?

Today was my volunteer day at the Sandy Hook Bird Observatory and we had a nice number of visitors. The local Audubon group had sponsored a walk earlier in the morning, so quite a few of them stopped in to warm up. It was a beautiful day, but very windy out at "the Hook". I heard that the group saw all three scoters and a few gannets. The Barrow's Goldeneye was also seen today. Also had a call from a genteman about a *pleated woodpecker* in an apple tree in his backyard. *giggle*

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Remembering Mr. Bean

I've always loved this photo of my first Flemish Giant, Mr. Bean, and my dog Buddy. I think it's so cute the way they are peering over the gate at one another. Mr. Bean had been out on the sunporch playing with the other bunnies when Buddy came along to see what all the ruckus was about.

Mr. Bean lived in our bathroom and had free-run of the house. For the most part he hung out in the bathroom and the hallway outside our bedroom, but would ocassionally venture into the kitchen when I was fixing salads or out to the sunporch to visit his girlfriends. I used the baby gate to keep the girl bunnies from having access to the rest of the house where they would get themselves into trouble. Buddy and Mr. Bean mostly ignored each other because Mr. Bean wasn't afraid of him and Buddy was trained to always be *gentle* around the bunnies.

Mr. Bean came to me from a show breeder who was going to sell him to a slaughterhouse because he wasn't show quality - his color wasn't *good* - Boomer and Cricket were bred by the same person and sent to slaughter because they have crooked tails (another disqualifier for show). We brought him home the day before Easter, hence his name, Jelly Bean, a.k.a. Mr. Bean. I remember being so intimidated by his size and a bit scared of him!

He was a wonderful, gentle rabbit; typical of his breed. He loved to eat, and to be petted, and to nap. He loved to sleep on the tiny wicker end table in my office - even though his feet hung off the end of the shelf! He had the softest, creamiest fur on his belly and waggled his ears and danced for me when I called him "Jelly-Belly-Bean" in my silliest voice. He was perfect with his litterbox and was not a chewer (except for my PDA cord and a straw gardening hat I had left lying around where he could decorate it for me).

He loved spending nice days on the patio where he could lounge in the sunshine and flop in the sandbox on his back for a nap. He would lay beside me at night when I sat down to read. He loved orchard grass and a shot of Snapple What-A-Melon in his drinking water.

It's two years this month since he passed away and still I miss him and think of him. I wish we could have found a way to make him healthy. I wish he wouldn't have had to die alone at a vet hospital that didn't know how to help him. I wish he were still here with me.

Mr. Bean: you know that I love you and that you're safe, here, in my heart.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Hal Borland on the month of February

" Here comes February, a little girl with her first valentine, a red bow in her wind-blown hair, a kiss waiting on her lips, a tantrum just back of her laughter. She is young as a kitten, changeable as the wind, and into everything. She can sulk, she can beam, she changes from one minute to the next. February is a phase, a short phase at that, and she has to be lived with.
February can't be taken seriously too long at a time. It starts with Groundhog Day, which is neither omen nor portent, but only superstition, and it ends, often as not, in a flurry of snow. It is sleet and snow and ice and cold, and now and then it is waxing sunshine and tantalizing thaw and promise. February is soup and mittens, and it is a shirt-sleeve day that demands an overcoat before sundown. It is forsythia buds opening in the house and skid chains clanking on the highway. February is sunrise at 6:30 for the first time since November.
February is a gardener pruning his grape vines today and shoveling a two-foot drift on the front walk tomorrow morning. It is a farmer wondering this week if his hay will last the Winter, and next week wondering if he should start plowing. It is tiny, tight catkins on the alder in the swamp and skunk cabbage thrusting a green sheath up through the ice. February is the tag end of Winter --we hope. But in our hearts we know it isn't Spring, not by several weeks and at least a dozen degrees.
There's no evidence to support it in the dictionaries, but some say that February's name comes from an ancient and forgotten word meaning *a time that tries the patience.* " -----from Sundial of the Seasons, 1964