Saturday, September 30, 2006

Postcards from NJ

A fun idea for a photo meme from Vitamin Sea via Pure Florida.

Send along your requests for photos from where I live. I'll go out with camera in hand and roam the neighborhood. It's a chance for me to play tour guide and show off my hometown and local area. What snapshot from New Jersey would you like to see?

Include requests in the comment section here and consider playing along on your own blog.

Friday, September 29, 2006

Surprises from the classroom

We're 4 weeks into the semester now and I've almost learned everyone's name. I only see these *kids* once a week , so it seems to take forever to know who's who.

They're a pretty mixed group, with a surprising number of boys. Usually in a class of eighteen students I'll have only 4 or 5 boys, but this semester it's the opposite. Boys make me nervous. They tend to cause flashbacks to the year I spent teaching Spanish at an elementary school and had to bear the torment of 6th and 7th graders on a daily basis. I was not a happy camper then and ended most school days very near in tears. I did much better with high school boys who didn't spend all their time trying to figure out ways to harass me.

The boys at the community college are very much like the high school students I taught. It's interesting to me to imagine what they must have been like in high school and what group they fit in to. With a new start at college, some of them are trying out new roles, but many times they seem to fall back on their old ways. Oftentimes I have the athletes who spent their high school years charming their way through classes. Confident and very personable, but sort of lazy. They smile at me a lot and crack jokes, call me *Professor* when everyone else calls me by my first name. Very amusing. Very charming.

Then there are the boys who try to blend into the walls and hope I won't pay any notice of them. Well-behaved and quiet and badly in need of help, but afraid to ask for it. They got through high school by not causing any trouble and they're hoping that strategy will still work for them. They're the hardest for me to connect with in the classroom because they won't respond to either the friendly cajoling I frequently employ, or the stern *teacher talk* that I hate to have to resort to. Stern doesn't really work for me and they see through this act of mine.

As a teacher, I know that I shouldn't have any preconceived ideas about my students, but I can't help it. What I enjoy is watching them trash the ideas I have about them as the semester progresses.

There is the muscular football player who last night volunteered to read poem after poem out loud for the rest of the class as we talked about the connections we make when reading that help us to understand text better.

And his friend who asked if we didn't have time to write a follow-up to one of the peoms we read that the class had really enjoyed. (I think that was a ploy to avoid doing any *real* work!)

The shy Haitian student who every week arrives early and rearranges the furniture so that I, and the rest of the class, won't have to do it.

The student who skipped class the first week, arrived late with a smirk for the second class, but then produced a perfect Origami crane while I floundered to make something resembling a box as a demonstration of the value of background knowledge when reading.

I like for them to surprise me. I'm glad to find these good things in unexpected places and talents in unexpected people.

Have you ever had a moment where you wondered how on earth you got to that point? I often feel that way in the classroom. I came across this picture, my college graduation pic, this evening while searching for an old friend's address. I was 22 and engaged to be married and had no clue what I would be doing the following week, let alone near 15 years later. Never would I have imagined myself to be teaching college. I look at it and wonder what my college profs thought of me, the quiet girl who always sat in the front row, but never said a word. I was terribly shy and hated to speak in front of people. How I find the courage to teach puzzles me, still. My knees sometimes shake, but I've learned to stand behind the desk at those times!

I like to think of what the students I have known will become and how they will find their place in the world. Most I never hear from again, but a few do keep in touch and will email me once in a while. I like that they do that and wish that more did. I think it's the nature of the course I teach, and the way I try to do it, that leads some of them to want me to know that they're doing well and that they've beaten the odds. That they've surprised themselves, even.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

9/28/06 Mid-week bunny fix

This is the sight that greeted me on Tuesday when I got in from work. The general mess with hay strewn about is normal, the collapsed hidey-box is not. It's been threatening to give way for a few weeks now and I've been on the lookout for a new box to replace it with. But I hadn't found one in time. This box was huge and once held 50 pounds of hay shipped across the country from Nebraska for the spoiled rabbits. I haven't ordered from that company in a while, so don't have another.
I didn't expect to find Boomer happily snoozing the afternoon away inside the busted box, but I should have known better. That bunny can nap!
I threw away the box and cleaned up and set out their bed and they snuggled inside it, as they do. But it just wasn't right... these bunnies need a box to *hide* in. None of the others have ever had a box, but I've always given one to the flemmies. They chew the doorways to their liking and shred a back entrance hole. Boomer especially loves the box and I have to rouse him morning and night to eat. He prefers his salads and his hay in bed. Lazy boy!
Before the night was over I had replaced it with the only box I could find that is almost big enough, but not nearly. Boomer seems happy to have a roof over his butt, if not his head.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Weeds or wildflowers?

My garden goes all to hell this time of year. I'm tired of weeding and dragging the hose around. The shorter days don't leave much time for it, even if I were inclined to be out there doing those things after work. The wild things that have been quietly growing beside their more manicured neighbors take full advantage of my neglect and shout out to the neighbors that a lazy gardener lives here. There is beauty in this chaos, but it's hard to see that from curbside. My husband, with his inclination towards neatness (only in the yard!), is aching to cut this flower bed down. It has no sense of propriety and is arching over and falling onto *his* precious lawn. So far I've kept him at bay by pointing out that this bed of white snakeroot, swamp milkweed, and Joe-Pye has nestled two monarch chrysalises in its shady depths and there could be others who need just a week or two (or three) more to finish their business here.
I never planted the snakeroot, but it found its way here from somewhere and wants to take over. I leave it be because it's not very noticeable until it blooms and then it's beautiful. The pokeberry in the picture above is something we fight all spring and summer long, but now in fall we leave it to flower and fruit. The small white aster (maybe aster vimineus?) is a new volunteer brought on the wind. I'm amused to find wildflowers growing here of their own accord, when there are so many flowers that I nurture with little success.
This summer we suddenly have goldenrod growing in the bog garden beside the pond. Where did that come from? I tried to figure out this evening what type of goldenrod it is, but was only able to determine that it is very different from the *cultivated* one I grow across the yard. This is where the writing spider made its pretty web a few weeks ago, and each evening I go out to see what new bugs are feasting on it. There is an assortment of flower flies that I don't know how to identify, and fuzzy bumblebees, and locust borers that mimic wasps.

One summer a guy that worked for my neighbor mowed my *wildflower patch* down in late summer, just before all the plants were to bloom. He was mowing the lawn and got carried away with himself, I guess. By rights, he was entitled to do so, as part of this garden is technically on my neighbor's property. I was most fit to be tied though when he told me he did it because "it's just weeds, man!" If that's the way you see the world, well, so be it. But, they're beautiful weeds. My husband takes care of the neighbor's lawn now. Out of the goodness of his heart. ;-)

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Have decoy, need jig and frozen lake

Have you ever heard of a fish decoy? I hadn't until I came across them at the show on Saturday. Sheepishly I asked the gentleman selling them if they were just decorative or if they actually had some use. He explained that yes, some people collect them, but in places where spear fishing is allowed these decoys are used to lure bigger fish to a hole made in the ice of a frozen lake. Lines are attached to the decoy, then to a stick or *jig* and the decoy is made to swim in a way so as to attract other fish that can be speared from above the ice. Like duck decoys, fish decoys are quite popular as folk art, in addition to their more practical use. Who'd have guessed it? Me, I just thought it was pretty. It's a Lake Trout, carved from white pine and only 8" long with a beautiful curve to its body. It's surprisingly heavy for its size, due to the weights placed in its belly to make it *swim* properly. The carver suggested I try it out in the bathtub to see how it works.

I had a hard time choosing which I liked best, but think I chose a good one. The artist, Rich Brooks, has won many awards for his decoys and lures and the one I chose was featured in a display this summer at the Tuckerton Seaport where he was the *artist in residence*. A nice pic of my decoy is available here and more info about fish decoys in general is available at this website.

What I love most about the decoy show is the chance to chat with the people who make such beautiful things. They all seem to love to talk and share their expertise. I'd imagine it's difficult on the ego to set up a booth filled with things you've worked hundreds of hours on and poured your soul into, only to see so many people pass by without much more than a glance. Those of us that do stop to ask questions (and to buy) are richly rewarded with a peek into the heart of an artist. Each decoy I own has been bought this way, after the telling of a story or a conversation about some aspect of their craft. That personal connection is what makes each decoy unique and special to me.

Monday, September 25, 2006

Sorting through the shelves

Randa at Garden Geek tagged me with another book meme. I love an excuse to talk about books, but felt like I needed to narrow the focus a bit, so decided to think in terms of nature books only. As you can see in this pic of one of my bookshelves, my book collection (and my thinking about books) is not very well organized. I tend not to think of books in the terms used in this meme; maybe that's what made this so very difficult for me. Anyway, here goes...

1. One book that changed your life: Changed my life? I won't go that far, but should mention Equinox: Life, Love, and Birds of Prey by Dan O'Brien. I remember wandering around a Barnes & Noble and being drawn to this book in the "Discover New Writers" section because it had a falcon on the cover. I was just getting interested in birds and this was the first of an endless series of nature books I've devoured in the 10 years or so since reading it. I read each of Dan O'Brien's books that I could find in the library and have purchased each new one as it is published. I read the authors who wrote *blurbs* for this book and found Jim Harrison, Rick Bass, and Stephen Bodio each of whom has lead me to other authors and other books.

2. One book that you've read more than once: Prior to reading books on the natural world I had been reading a lot of gardening essays. Naturally, I began to find myself favoring those garden authors whose books intersected with my interest in the outdoors. Sue Hubbell is one such author and her A Country Year: Living the Questions is a book that I've read over and over when the mood strikes me. It's the type of book I can pick up and read for an hour or two and return to six months later. Hubbell's books cover varied topics like bee-keeping and living in the country, but also sea life and bugs among other things. Good stuff that I always enjoy.

3. One book you'd want on a desert island: Easy question! Sundial of the Seasons by Hal Borland.

4. One book that made you laugh: Nature books as funny? The only ones I can think of are by Pete Dunne, but he gets less funny the more you read him; he needs some new one-liners! Sorry, Pete!

5. One book that made you cry: The Education of Little Tree by Forrest Carter. Wonderful book that I enjoyed immensely and have often given as a gift. It tells the story of a Cherokee boy growing up the Appalachians in the 30's.

6. One book that you wish had been written: I'd love to see someone write a book about Sandy Hook and its environs, something like Season at the Point: A Birder's Journal of Cape May by Jack Connor. I know quite a few people who have the knowledge to write a book about the Hook; maybe someday one of them will.

7. One book that you wish had never been written: I won't bother finishing a book if I'm not enjoying it, so can't really answer this one. The most recent book that was disappointing to me was On the Wing: To the Edge of the Earth with the Peregrine Falcon by Alan Tennant. It got good reviews, but nearly bored me to death.

8. One book you're currently reading: Whispers in the Pines: A Naturalist in the Northeast by Joanna Burger. I haven't made much progress with it yet, but it's there on the nightstand. I loved one of her other books: A Naturalist Along the Jersey Shore, so I'm bound to enjoy this one too.

9. One book you've been meaning to read: I want to find the time to re-read Scott Weidensaul's Living on the Wind: Across the Hemisphere with Migratory Birds. Every one of his books is great, but this was a favorite.

10. Now tag five people: I'm not sure that I want to trouble anyone with a tag, so I'll just extend a general invitation to anyone that might feel like doing this. In particular, I would love to hear (maybe just in comments to this post) about your favorite book about the natural world. Nothing is better than a book recommended by a friend! I'd also like to know if anyone has read any of the books that I mentioned here and what your thoughts were. Let's talk books!

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Decoy show

This weekend was the decoy show at the Tuckerton Seaport. My husband and I go to visit the seaport museum and look at the decoys for sale. In addition to all the stuff for sale, there are contests throughout the weekend. As usual, we missed the retrieving contests, but got to see some very wet Labs. The decoy pics from yesterday were from a *working rig* contest; this year's bird was the Green-Winged Teal and a hen and drake were judged, each in breeding plumage and carved in contemporary style. There's also a duck and goose calling competetion (whch was hilarious to watch) and a skeet shooting competition. We bought a few decoys (I'll post pics another day) and had softshell crab sandwiches for lunch. Here's some other pics from the day:

Decoys in a display at the seaport - I love decoys, but these traditional style are a favorite.

We walked past dozens of tables filled with decoys. Shorebirds are my favorite, but my husband goes for the fancy duck decoys.

Cedar Run Wildlife Refuge had a display table with this gorgeous Barred Owl. This bird is unreleasable due to injuries, but is a well-adjusted educational bird. He was also pretty sleepy-eyed. His table got more attention than the Lab puppies for sale; that made me happy to see.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Bird quiz!

Silly ducks with their backs turned and butts in the air - how are we supposed to know who they are?
At least these were a bit closer - can you name them?
Close, cooperative ducks, finally! What are they?

* Note: Don't bother checking the photo tags, most of you won't find any hints there. The only hint I will give is that these ducks are not what they seem to be. Have fun!

Friday, September 22, 2006

To Autumn

"O sacred season of Autumn, be my teacher,
for I wish to learn the virtue of contentment.
As I gaze upon your full-colored beauty,
I sense all about you
an at-homeness with your amber riches.

You are the season of retirement,
of full barns and harvested fields.
The cycle of growth has ceased,
and the busy work of giving life
is now completed.
I sense in you no regrets:
you've lived a full life.

I live in a society that is ever-restless,
always eager for more mountains to climb,
seeking happiness through more and more possessions.
As a child of my culture,
I am seldom truly at peace with what I have.
Teach me to take stock of what I have given and received;
may I know that it's enough,
that my striving can cease
in the abundance of God's grace.
May I know the contentment
that allows the totality of my energies
to come to full flower.
May I know that like you I am rich beyond measure.

As you, O Autumn, take pleasure in your great bounty,
let me also take delight
in the abundance of the simple things in life
which are the true source of joy.
With the golden glow of peaceful contentment
may I truly appreciate this autumn day."

--- Edward Hays

Autumn is my favorite season of the year - I love the colors and the cooler air, but I loathe the shortening days. The hours of daylight have been decreasing since the summer solstice, but the shortened twilight becomes most noticeable now. No more do I have an hour or so outside after my evening coffee when I get in from work. It's darker when I get up too, which makes it next to impossible to rouse myself from bed. The cooler nights make wonderful sleeping weather with the windows wide open, and the crickets and katydids still sing me to sleep, albeit a bit slower now. The last few weeks I've been hearing the great horned owls and even a screech owl one night very late.

The farms I pass on my way to work are advertising u-pick pumpkins and apples. The weekend traffic heading west becomes unbearable on the local roads through the *country*, filled with people from away who come to pick apples and pumpkins. The summer beach crowds are gone, replaced with these same people to harvest peaches, then apples, then pumpkins. Before long it will be Christmas trees. I'm seeing deer again in the fallow fields and the young horses that I've watched grow up on the horse farms on the way to work are gone to begin their training for the racetrack, I suppose.

One of these weekends I need to get to Cape May and spend a little time at the hawk watch there. If no hawks are moving there is always the monarchs to see, or the huge numbers of flickers, or maybe a fallout of migrant robins. There is always some magic to be found at Cape May in the fall. What do you love about the coming season; what magic does it hold for you?

Thursday, September 21, 2006

9/21/06 Mid-week bunny fix

Toileting as a social activity

If you have a visitor counter on your blog, you might pay attention to the searches that bring people to your site. I'm not sure how useful this info is to us bloggers, but it can be an amusing look into what deep questions the internet-using public is pondering. Here, I get quite a few hits that relate to rabbits and more specifically to rabbit poop. I thought I'd share a list of these search terms for your amusement (and mine). I'm certain it's this post from March that interests searchers.

bunny poops too much
is rabbit poop clean?
rabbit care smaller poop
how much rabbit poop in the veggie garden?
rabbit poop smaller
what does rabbit poop look like?
rabbit poop problems
photo of rabbit poop
rabbits poop a lot
bunnys poop
rabbit poops on couch
rabbit poop orange
rabbit poop health indicator

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Morning glories

All the garden blogs I read seem to be featuring fall flowers the past few days, so I thought I'd buck the trend and post a summer flower while I still can. These morning glories are blooming on the fence around the pond and are putting on a pretty late-summer show. It's called "Chocolate Silk" and has large flowers and variegated foliage. The only really *chocolate* part of the flower is the center, the rest is a softer rose-purple than is showing in these pics. We have it planted with some moonflowers and at the base of the fence we planted french marigolds. I thought the contrast of orange and purple would be pretty, but now that the morning glories are blooming well the marigolds are on their way out. We grew these from seeds which is a first for us.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Stuck in the basement

Buddy has been getting stuck in the basement lately. He insists on following my husband down there when he's doing laundry or getting some tool and then Buddy decides he's too afraid to climb back up the stairs. Or at least we think the problem is that he's afraid. He does have some old-age stiffness in his joints, but goes down the stairs fine, it's up that's the problem; and it's just this set of stairs. The three smaller stairs that adjoin these and lead to the kitchen are no trouble for him. The problem, we suspect, is that these stairs are open-backed and Buddy can *see through them* and maybe with his decreased vision it's just enough to make him feel unsure of himself.

You'd think he'd remember this and not go down there. But the urge to follow my husband and be in the middle of everything is still strong in him. He'll whine and pace. He'll try taking a running start at it, but gets only as far as his front feet on the first step before he chickens out. We spent nearly an hour coaxing him once before my husband had to carry him up. Poor embarrassed Buddy!

We've tried to be mindful of it and close the kitchen door on our way down so Buddy can't follow. Saturday my husband was in and out getting tools from the basement to help a friend of his - both were in the basement for just a minute and then left with the door open. Buddy went down to check things out without my knowing it. An hour or so later I realized he was missing and sure enough he was laying stranded at the bottom of the stairs, looking pitiful. There's just no way I can carry all 90+ pounds of dog up the stairs, so I tried coaxing him. It didn't work so I apologized and took his pic. An hour or so later he appeared in the living room, wagging his tail furiously.

I'm curious if anyone has had any experience with this in an older dog. We mentioned it to his vet when we were there last week and she wasn't too concerned and said that if it were hip or joint pain that was causing it, she would expect it to be when going down the stairs. I'm wondering if anyone has any ideas of what might be causing this new quirk in our old boy.

Monday, September 18, 2006

We have peppers!

Two of them - oh boy! What a joke. The six pepper plants kept dropping their blossoms - what is that about? Too much rain? These two nicely-sized peppers have been mocking me since Saturday when I picked them and tonight I'm going to make one of my favorites - stuffed peppers. My dad made the best stuffed peppers, but was always very vague about his recipe, like all good cooks are. I'll share my recipe, but must warn you that I'm no cook.

2 large green peppers (how convenient; that's all I've got)
3/4 lb. ground beef, pork, lamb, or sausage (I use lean ground beef)
1/3 cup chopped onion
1 7.5 ounce can tomatoes, cut up (fresh would be nice; I use a petit cut with Italian spices)
1/3 cup long grain rice
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce (I'm generous with it - love the stuff!)
1/2 teaspoon dried basil or oregano (I use both)
1/2 cup shredded American cheese

Halve peppers lengthwise, removing stems, seeds and membranes. Immerse peppers in boiling water for 3 minutes. Sprinkle insides with salt. Invert on paper towels to drain well.

In a skillet cook meat and onion until meat is brown and onion is tender. Drain. Stir in undrained tomatoes, uncooked rice, Worcestershire, basil and oregano, 1/2 cup water, 1/4 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper. Bring to boiling; reduce heat. Cover and simmer for 15 to 18 minutes or until rice is tender. Stir in 1/4 cup of the cheese. Fill peppers with meat mixture. Place in a baking dish and bake at 375 for about 15 minutes. Sprinkle with remaining cheese.

This same mixture can be used to fill zucchini or cabbage rolls. There is always just enough meat mixture left in the pan after filling the peppers that I can stand over the stove and eat hobo-style. I especially like this recipe because the peppers are just blanched and stay nice and crunchy. I always serve this with mashed potatoes and extra sauce on the side. Yum! Off to eat and enjoy.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Gray hairstreak

Gray hairstreak on the frothy white flowers of snakeroot

"Lord, make us mindful of the little things that grow and blossom in these days to make the world beautiful for us". - W.E.B. du Bois

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Writing beside the pond

I've written very little lately about the pond. After the initial flush of bloom from the waterlilies and other plants, early in the season, I haven't spent much time out there or posted very many pics. I feed the fish most days and occasionally scoop out the fish poop that tends to accumulate in areas where the water doesn't circulate well, but other than that, the pond has pretty much taken care of itself this summer.

I did need to intervene during the heatwave in mid-July when the overly hot water threatened to boil my pretty goldfish and slimly algae covered the pebble beach. An afternoon with the muck-vack and daily water changes kept that disaster at bay. The frogs have been fairly active and vocal, especially the tree frog who hung around for a month or so. Before he vanished I was finding him calling each evening from inside one of the slats of the pvc fence that surrounds the pond - he found a spot with excellent accoustics. There have been very few dragonflies this summer, which is disappointing because I enjoy watching them so much. No dragonfly nymphs either; I've spent many hours in past summers rescuing them (or so I imagined) from inside the skimmer net where they seem to prefer to set up shop. I never got around to planting any annuals along the pond's edge as I usually do and never even fertilized the waterlillies. Despite that, the new tropical, purple in the opening photo, is still going strong, with two blooms on most days. Before long I'm going to need to figure out how to overwinter it; if anyone nearby would be willing to rent out a small space in their greenhouse it might just continue to bloom through the winter. We planted new fountain grasses at the back of the waterfall a few weeks ago to replace the switch grasses that were there. Switch grass is pretty early in the season before it flops over and looks like it was trampled by an elephant.

One morning this week my husband startled a young black-crowned night heron from beside the pond. Leaving for work before it was fully light out, he called me from bed to bring my binoculars. Sleepy-eyed, I found it perched clumsily in one of the holly trees at the edge of the yard. We haven't seen it since and there don't seem to be any fish missing, so I can happily add this new bird to the yard list. I hope this first heron to visit the pond doesn't mean that others will follow; while I won't begrudge them fishing rights, I have become fond of some of my fish. Maybe this wasn't the first visit and explains the occasional fish that has gone missing over the years.

I was poking around this afternoon in the bog garden, wondering over some goldenrod that is growing wild despite the soggy soil, when I found this black and yellow garden spider, commonly called the writing spider. I'd never seen one of these before and was happy to find it there, in its web, overlooking the pond. In the web were two carefully wrapped skippers, caught unawares on their way to or from the joe-pye weed, still blooming nearby.

An interesting bit of folklore about writing spiders says that they can be used to cast a spell on an enemy. All one need do is shout the person's name at the spider, after which the spider will write the name in its web, and misfortune will follow for the intended victim of the spell. You might also try asking the spider the name of your future husband or wife, and the spider will oblige by writing the name or initial of your future mate in the zig-zag portion of its web, called the stabilimentum.

Friday, September 15, 2006

A short chicken and Coop story

Don't you imagine it must be nice to keep a few chickens in your back yard? Crowing at dawn and to announce visitors? I know having chickens is no big deal for some of you living in more rural areas, but for most people living in my part of NJ, it's something of a novelty nowadays. Growing up I didn't know anyone who had chickens and I still don't have any neighbors with a coop in the yard. The closest thing to outdoor farm animals in my area are hutch bunnies. ;-(

So when my oldest brother Kevin moved to the country (or what passes for *country* in these parts) and joked about it, we got him a baker's dozen of baby chicks for Easter one year. I don't think he's forgiven me yet.

Giving animals as gifts is never a good idea. Giving chickens is really, really silly.

It's been seven or eight years since that first batch of chickens and Kevin and his wife have recently built a fancy new coop to house their growing population, so I guess they must have found something to enjoy about them. There have been quite a few problems with predators though, as those of you with chickens know is inevitable. There have been raccoon issues and opossum problems, and of course there have been hawks who visit the flock.

Kevin sent me an email a few weeks ago with pics of this photogenic hawk, wanting to know what type it was. He had some great shots of it to help with ID, but this one was my favorite.

I'm not certain how many chickens have been lost through the years to hawk attacks, but from the stories he tells the problem is more often a raccoon or a neighbor's dog. I was really surprised to hear that dogs would be a problem to chickens, but it happened. A few winters ago before my brother rebuilt the chicken coop he had hawks that were getting inside the coop to attack the chickens - imagine that! I guess late winter is a lean time for predators and they are desperate for food.

The original chickens we gave them were Bantams, who make little tiny eggs, but I'm not sure what variety he has now. He collects the eggs and lately has been using them to make a Pennsylvania Dutch Specialty - pickled beet eggs - yum! A recipe is available here. I love to visit when there are baby chicks, who will follow you around peeping. My brother lets them *forage* for bugs in his vegetable garden and feeds them raspberries from his bushes. He also turns over logs and rocks to help them find crickets to eat, but that's another story! He used to have one really nasty little rooster that liked to attack people, so you had to carry a stick out in the garden, just in case he cornered you. I think they must be begging for breakfast in this last pic, just outside the back steps. Wouldn't that be a nice sight first thing in the morning?

Thursday, September 14, 2006

9/14/06 Mid-week bunny fix

Has anyone noticed that the mid-week bunny fix has moved more towards the weekend? I originally started posting bunny pics on Wednesdays back in the spring because that is my teaching night. The bunny fix is an easy post that I can do quickly when I'm brain dead after working the day job and then teaching my class until 9 pm. Anyway, I'm teaching on Thursdays this semester so the bunny pics will be appearing on Thursdays until some time in December when the semester ends.

Back to Peeper, the bunny by the window. Our routine is for her to have a half hour or so of *out time* in the morning before I go to work. She chews on the door edges of her cage until I let her out. That sound drives me crazy so it's an effective strategy on her part. Once I'm home in the evening and settled I let her out again to romp and play for a bit. We're still at the stage where I feel the need to supervise her out time because she likes to get into things. She digs at the floor and the carpet. She pulls papers out of the wastebasket. She races around the room, literally bouncing off the walls. A few times I have come into the room to find her perched on my desktop. She jumps straight from the floor, up three feet, to the top of the desk. But her favorite thing to do is to sit on the hope chest and look out the window. None of the other bunnies have ever done that so it amuses me and I take a lot of pictures of her there.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Chicken apologies

I have pics and a story to share, but a lack of time and patience for Blogger's wonkiness tonight.

Sensing this, Blogger vaporized my first attempt at this post. Now, more than an hour later, my laptop battery is about dead and I'm giving up for the night.

This is a pic of my niece feeding her chickens. The chickens are my fault.

Check back another time if the story interests you. There are hawk pictures.


Tuesday, September 12, 2006

A casual gesture of beauty

I took the day off from work and camped out in the backyard with my butterfly-to-be. I drank my morning coffee, did some prep work for school, watched unidentifiable warblers flit through the trees, dozed in the sun, drank more coffee, read a chapter or two in a book, and snapped this photo around 1:30 this afternoon. I was impatient and had myself convinced that it wouldn't happen today and that I would miss it while at work tomorrow. I'd read that the chrysalis would become very dark before eclosing (thanks for the proper word, Bev!) and once that happened I could expect the metamorphosis the same day. The chrysalis certainly could not become any more beautiful than it was in this last pic above.
I got up from the lawn chair at 2:45 and found that the butterfly had emerged while I was feeling sorry for myself. It hung, suspended from its shed chrysalis, for about an hour and a half. For most of that time it was as still and intent as when it was pupating. Every so often it flexed its wings or repositioned itself ever so slightly. I'd read that most of the work of metamorphosis is complete before the caterpillar forms its chrysalis. During the first half of pupation the wings grow and scales develop; the last touches are the addition of pigment. When it emerges from the chrysalis the butterfly hangs limply, vulnerable, while it pumps blood through the veins of its wings to expand and harden them. Tentatively it tests its wings and flight muscles.
Eventually it climbed to the top of a snakeroot flower, a few inches above where it had spent the last 17 days pupating, and spread its wings to the warming sun. I could see then that it was a male based on the two *dots* in the black veins of the hindwings. The russet and black wings are gorgeous and fresh. Breathtaking! He flew to the top of my neighbor's garage and rested, then flew to the mulberry tree and rested again; warming and strengthening his wings.
Just 2 1/2 hours after emerging from his chrysalis, and 2 1/2 weeks after pupating he flew away towards the sun; heading south, I hope. It is chilly tonight, I hope he has found a sheltered spot in which to spend it. From what I've read, monarchs born this late in the summer form the last generation of the year, flying south to Mexico where they overwinter until March, when they mate, fly north again, lay eggs and then die. I feel incredibly lucky to have been able to watch this whole wonderful spectacle from start to finish. I've been blessed by the experience. Fly! Fly away butterfly!

Monday, September 11, 2006


"Twilight is a time for sharing - and a time for
remembering - sharing the fragrance of the
cooling earth - the shadows of the gathering dusk -

Here our two worlds meet and pass - the
frantic sounds of man grow dimmer as the light
recedes - the unhurried rhythm of the other
world swells in volume as the darkness

It is not strange that discord has
no place in this great symphony of sound-
it is not strange that a sense
of peace descends upon all living things-
it is not strange that
memories burn more brightly-as the things of
substance lose their line and form in the softness
of the dark-

Twilight is a time for sharing- and a
time for remembering-remembering the things of
beauty wasted by our careless hands-our frequent
disregard of other living things-the many songs
unheard because we would not listen-

Listen tonight with all the
wisdom of your spirit-listen too with
all the compassion of your heart-
lest there come another night-
when there is only silence-

A great


*Really bad pic of the Tribute in Light taken this evening from the North Beach Observation Deck at Sandy Hook. A small group of strangers met in the gathering dusk. The sunset on the bay was fantastic, night herons and small flocks of canada geese flew past us at eye level, and the lights from NYC lit up the clouds.


Monarch chrysalis, day 16

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Waiting for wings

Monarch chrysalis, day 15

Saturday, September 09, 2006

In the holly forest

The holly forest at Sandy Hook comprises some 264 acres and is said to include the largest concentration of American Holly on the east coast. I went on a NPS ranger-led walk this afternoon that focused on the ways the Lenape Indians used the natural resources available in the forest and salt marsh to survive. Sandy Hook and much of the mainland in the nearby Highlands was *bought* from the Lenape in 1678. The Lenape had used the area for hunting, fowling, fishing, making canoes, and harvesting food from the natural vegetation. The wild beach plums were one of the main attractions of Sandy Hook for the Lenape and the fruit was collected and dried. The photo above is the fruit of the Prickly Pear Cactus which is widespread on Sandy Hook. The fruit can be harvested (wear gloves to avoid the spiny parts) and made into jellies, dessert sauces, and one company even uses it to make lemonade. In Mexico, the fleshy part of the cactus itself is used in many recipes, including omeletes. The Lenape likely used the dried seeds to produce a product similar to flour. The fruit tastes somewhat like watermelon and is full of tiny seeds.
On our way to the holly forest, walking through the salt marsh, I found these Fiddler's Crabs at low tide. They scurry about in the sand foraging for food and doing maintenance on their burrows. I wasn't able to get a close pic, but the males are the ones with the large claws, which they wave around to attract a mate to their burrow. The Fiddler's plug up their burrows with a ball of mud during high tide, trapping a pocket of air inside, and emerge when the tide recedes. Northerh bayberry, typical of coastal habitats. The tiny berries are a food source for swallows and catbirds (I've read that Rails eat them also) and are also used in candlemaking.
Some of the hollies at Sandy Hook are thought to be as much as 170 years old. This tree was large, but was not the oldest among them. I loved the knobby look of the trunk. Today's walk was too short and quick for my liking, but it was nice to see this part of the holly forest. The area is normally closed to the public as it's part of a large wildlife management area. I didn't see any osprey or terns today, and the platform in the marsh was occupied by a greater black-backed gull when we walked past it. I saw a few migrating monarch butterflies, but the goldenrod isn't blooming just yet, so I can expect to see many more in the coming weeks.

Friday, September 08, 2006

On blogs and blogging

I stole this meme from somewhere in the blogosphere and reworked some parts. Thought it might lead to some interesting reading if anyone else wants to give it a try.

Are you satisfied with your blog's content and look?
For the most part, yes. I would like to be able to change the image in my header once in a while, but haven't figured out how to do that yet. I wish I were more comfortable with HTML so that I'd be willing to experiment a bit more. As it is, if I think it looks okay I'm hestitant to change anything. Even adding links to the sidebar makes me anxious. I tend to write about whatever is floating through my mind each day and like to have pics to go with each post. I really enjoy the visual aspect of blogging, and enjoy photos or illustrations on other's blogs as well as my own.

Does your family know about your blog?
Yes, they do. Whether they read it or not is another question.

Do you feel embarrassed to let your friends know about your blog or do you consider it as a private thing?
Embarrassed isn't the right word for it. It does feel a little weird to have certain friends reading this. My boss, for example, who was *alerted* (thanks Deb!) to my rant about work from last week. Luckily, she laughed and didn't write me up for the comment about menopausal coworkers. A few other people from work read that post (thankfully none of the people I was ranting about) and I got some positive feedback from one coworker in particular who feels much the same and was glad to know she wasn't the only one at the end of her rope with it. A blog can hardly be a private thing, but it can almost feel that way when the people reading it regularly are strangers.

Has blogging brought about positive changes for you?
The discipline of writing each day is a good thing for me. I spend way too much time at it, but it beats sitting in front of the television. I read a lot of great blogs each day and enjoy reading other people's perspectives. I'm glad to have encountered people who appreciate some of the same things as I do.

Do you only read blogs of those who comment on your blog or do you also like to find new blogs?
I like to find new blogs, but also visit the folks who comment here.

What are your thoughts on commenting? Is it important to you that people leave comments?
I probably only comment on half of the blogs I read each day. I try to leave good thoughtful comments, but oftentimes I can't think of anything intelligent to say. Of course, I wonder how many people read my blog but never comment. One thing that bugs me are bloggers who don't acknowledge comments. I think it's bad form. Of course, not every comment requires a response, but there are certain blogs that I hesitate to comment on anymore because my comments are ignored every single time. Why allow comments if you're not interested in the feedback you get? The comments I get here are important to me because I like the sense of community and the exchange of ideas.

Does your visitor's counter matter to you?
Not on a daily basis, but I do like to see that I'm not always talking to myself!

Do you try to imagine what fellow bloggers look like?
I admit to having a *picture* in my mind based on the *voice* they use in their blog, yes.

Do you think there is a benefit to blogging?
Well, it's fun for me, so that's a benefit. I'm using my camera a lot more and writing a little each day. Plus, I feel like I've made new friends and gotten to *know* people I otherwise would not have. A lot of the blogs I read relate to natural history in one way or another and it's interesting to me to see how sometimes we're all thinking about the same things. Blogging has also caused me to realize that I have a lot to learn and I've been lucky to find a lot of knowledgeable people.

Does criticism of your blog annoy you?
So far everyone's been really nice. Constructive criticism is good and welcomed!

Are there any types of blogs that you avoid?
I don't know that there are any types that I avoid reading, but I do hestitate to comment on political posts or others where I don't feel capable of contributing anything worthwhile.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

9/7/06 Mid-week Buddy fix

Buddy doesn't like to have his picture taken and will nearly always turn away when the camera comes out. Maybe he figures he looks best in profile. I had wanted to get a pic of his tongue, but he would have none of it. He's a mix of Lab and Chow, so has black/purple spots on his tongue. That's the only way you'd know by looking at him that he's part Chow. He acts more like a Chow than a Lab; fearful of strangers and protective of his people. He's only a *happy-go-lucky* Lab with my husband and I. He has at least a hundred squeaky toys - half of which are usually spread around the living room and under the bed collecting dust bunnies. When he's not napping he loves to chase squirrels and bark at every person on foot that goes by the house. We call him "deputy dog" and he seems to like that name.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Plum crazy III

Are you sick of reading about beach plums yet? ;-) I think I ended up with about 6 quarts of plums after an hour or so of picking out at Sandy Hook on Sunday. I had no idea how many I'd need, so I just kept picking until my arm hurt from carrying the bucket, then I headed back. At home I washed and stemmed the plums and contemplated them for a while in the colander. I love the duskiness that clings to each plum, like dew.
Once they boiled for a while on the stove, the plums split and suddenly looked like cranberries. Kind of strange. I mashed them up a bit and then drained all of the juice out into a pryex bowl that wouldn't stain.
Sorry for the fuzzy photo. I was left with 7 cups of juice - I froze 3 cups and used just 4 in my recipe. I added a whopping 6 cups of sugar and a box of Sure-Jell pectin and cooked it for a bit on the stove and then jarred it up with my husband's help. There are eight 8 oz. jars on the kitchen counter and tonight I finally sampled some. I was happy to see that the jar had sealed properly, and the jelly had the proper consistency -not runny! I don't have any nice bread in the house so I spread a little on a Ritz cracker with some cream cheese. It's nice, but very sweet and doesn't have the tart *bite* that I expect from beach plum jelly. I need to adjust the recipe before the next batch, maybe add a bit of lemon juice or something.

Do the jelly-makers out there know if I can adjust the ratio of sugar without affecting the consistency of the jelly? I know there is some magic at work between the sugar and pectin ratio, but don't quite understand it.