Monday, December 31, 2007
Another up close and personal view of a frequent visitor to the birdfeeder hanging outside our dining room window. (Jo's photo -- 12/28/07)
Seedpod from some member of the milkweed family, I suppose. Found on our walk on Christmas day.
The only snow remaining after four days -- on a north slope that never gets any sunshine and insulated from the warm ground by a cow pie. Cow pies are obviously good insulators, but I don't think I'd want to fill the walls of my house with them. (Photo from 12/30/07)
Saturday, December 29, 2007
Dave at Around Anchorage suggested sprinkling birdseed in my lap as a work-around for getting close up shots of birds without an SLR camera and telephoto lens. Jo didn't exactly follow that procedure when she took this photo, but she did manage to keep the distance between camera and bird to a minimum by stationing herself inside the house only 18" or so away from the feeder hanging outside. Then, she patiently waited for an unsuspecting subject. Patience and persistence paid off, I think. What I cannot figure out is how she managed to use a flash without getting a reflection off the glass.
Thursday, December 27, 2007
Since Jo is the member of our team that doesn't stay up half the night and, therefore, gets up at the ungodly hour of 6 AM, she was able to take a few more snow photos before too many patches of bare ground started peaking through.
Jerry Joe's round hay bales up near the gate.
Our driveway heading back toward the house. Jo said she was having problems with the dogs cooperating with her picture taking -- correction: Jo was having problems with our problem child, Bucket, who was gorging on snow .
Snow was not in the weather forecast for Wednesday, but it happened, starting around noon with a mixture of rain and snow and continuing until around six o'clock. For most of the afternoon, the snow had a difficult time accumulating considering our temperature was in the mid-thirties and the ground was a lot warmer. A final burst of snow after sunset left maybe an inch on surfaces up off the ground, less than that on grassy areas and virtually nothing on bare ground. I don't know if any of the snow will be left by Thursday morning since our temperature hasn't yet fallen below freezing. Building a snowman is not on my "To Do" list for Thursday.
Wednesday, December 26, 2007
Two days of sunshine have been replaced with overcast. Freezing fog is in our forecast for tonight. Oh, well, it is winter after all.
Carrion Beetle - Nicrophorus orbicollis
Also know as the Sexton or Burying Beetle, this insect's name is derived from from the fact that adult beetles bury dead snakes, birds, rodents or others small mammals in a shallow excavation. The male and female work together when securing this food source for their larvae. Once the burying process (which can take several hours) is complete, they strip the fur or feathers off the carcass and coat it with secretions which slow decay and help prevent odors that might attract other insects or animals. The female then lays eggs in the soil nearby. These eggs will hatch into larvae after a few days.
The pair of beetles stay with the developing larvae until they pupate. The larvae are able to feed on their own, but to speed their development, the adults eat and partially digest bits of carrion, then regurgitate this liquefied food to their larvae. (Yummy!!!)
Tuesday, December 25, 2007
Monday, December 24, 2007
The newest addition to our mug family. I don't know exactly how many mugs we have -- a lot, but I'm afraid to count and find out exactly how many. Trading mugs is a semi, sort of tradition among potters. So all our mugs are different and almost all were made by people we've gotten to know on the show circuit. We don't play favorites with our mugs. Instead, we use a different one every day. That way, we spend each day thinking about a different potter friend as we enjoy our mugs of (too much) coffee. (I suppose that if we ever had a severe falling out with a mug's maker, we'd have to break the mug as a symbol of the shattered friendship. I dunno. That hasn't ever happened.)
Jo traded with Brent for this mug at Christmas Showcase. Brent is mainly doing raku pottery these days, but he still makes a few functional items. Jo says this mug does a great job holding coffee and is equally adept at containing wine or even stronger libations.
Saturday, December 22, 2007
Movement from this little gadget caught my eye as I walked along the rock bluffs the other day. It's just a few leaves caught in a spider's web suspended from the rocks, but it spun nicely in a light breeze.
Friday, December 21, 2007
Since we began walking in the woods again, Jo, I and the dogs have been doing an excellent job of collecting and disbursing burdock seeds. There's quite a lot of burdock growing along some sections of the trail we normally walk.
A close look at burdock burrs makes it easy to see why they adhere so easily and so tenaciously to pants, socks, shoe laces and dogs' fur. It's also easy to see how burdock burrs served as the inspiration for the invention of Velcro.
Missouri Plants has more information and prettier photos of burdock plants and blooms.
Thursday, December 20, 2007
The pond on the upper pasture is a lot fuller than it was a couple of weeks ago, and we got another .6" of rain overnight. This rain came in the form of a thundershower, complete with a fair amount of thunder and lightning. Had to get up and unplug the computer.
I'm sure these high, wispy clouds have a name, but I don't remember what it is. I just thought they were a cool addition to the sky above our upper pasture -- a much better addition than the honey locusts in the foreground.
We leave on our afternoon walk about four o'clock every day, but with these short winter days, we can't dawdle too much or it's getting dark by the time we return. These long shadows point the way down the "home stretch" of the loop we normally walk.
While Jo and the dogs went on to the house, I decided to linger and photograph the "sunset". Here in the hills we don't have a true sunset. The sun simply drops down behind the mountain across the valley. Often, the sky is more colorful a while after we've lost sight of the sun.
Wednesday, December 19, 2007
Other common names: Common Earthstar, Sessile Earthstar, Rounded Earthstar
The earthstar is a common puffball-type mushroom, but is often overlooked because it is small (3/4" or so) and is usually found in thick leaf litter. The two earthstars in the photo above are both immature. The sporocarp on the one in the foreground is about half open, but hasn't even started opening yet on the mushroom in the rear.
When fully open, the rays recurve back underneath the spore sac. In this case, they are mostly hidden in the leaf litter and appear to have damaged areas.
When fully dry, spores are ejected through the apical pore. Rain striking the spore sac or wind blowing across the apical pore aid disbursal.
This group of earthstars was really pushing the limits of their growing season. I took the first two photos on Saturday. That night our temperature dropped into the mid-twenties. I think the less developed earthstars were killed by the freezing temperatures. However, the muchrooms that were farther along appear to have already developed their spores. It was time for them to dry out and disburse the spores anyway. The bottom photo was taken on Tuesday.
Thanks to Mushroom Observer for the ID and to Mykoweb and Mushroom Expert for additional information.
Tuesday, December 18, 2007
Bits and Pieces over the past few days:
Friday evening and most of the day Saturday it rained. We picked up another 2.25 inches, giving us a total of around five inches of rain for the week. The pond is looking in a lot better shape now. Fortunately, very little precipitation fell after our temperature dropped below freezing Saturday night. No snow, sleet or icing.
We've been battling with a bad telephone connection for several days. Sometimes, no phone. Most of the time, the computer wouldn't stay connected. Every once and a while, things worked fine. I was convince the telephone company had a problem up the line somewhere. I was totally wrong -- again. We have a shorted line in the house.
I really wanted to replace that telephone line Monday, but the dogs said we should go cut more firewood instead. Rusty and Bucket insisted that it was rediculous to be crawling around in the attic on such a bright and sunny day. I removed the shorted line from the system so the other two lines worked and we cut more firewood.
Saturday, December 15, 2007
She's named for Hyacinthe Bucket, the main character on the BBC comedy Keeping Up Appearances.
Back in October we did an art fair in Sequiota Park in Springfield, MO. Usually we must board our two dogs when we travel, but were able to take them to this show. A couple of weeks after returning home, we received Bucket's ID tag in the mail. We hadn't even missed it yet. A woman found it in the park. In the accompanying note, the lady expressed some concern about Bucket's welfare, hoping that she hadn't gotten lost.
Jo printed a thank you note. Bucket's photo was on the front and the message inside was worded as if it came from Bucket herself. Bucket thanked the woman for returning the tag and assured the lady that she was okay and hadn't gotten lost. Bucket said she'd been a good dog and remained on her leash at all times in the park. It was just her tag that had fallen off her collar.
We assumed this cute reply would be the end to our correspondence with the thoughtful lady in Springfield – until today when Bucket received a holiday card and accompanying photo from two dogs and a cat, Abby, Spanky and Figment, residing in Springfield. Our other dog, Rusty, is pouting because he didn't receive any mail.
Bits and Pieces from Friday, 12/14/07:
I got a little more firewood cut. My neighbor's son was also in the woods loading some of the wood his dad cut a couple weeks back. It's amazing how having snow in the forecast motivates procrastinators.
The squirrels breached the baffles on the birdfeeders in less than 24 hours. Jo is observing how the squirrels access the feeders before making alterations.
Today varied from mostly to partly cloudy before becoming completely overcast late in the afternoon. Rain began around 8 PM. Our forecast called for the temperature to drop below freezing overnight, but fortunately, that didn't happen. No freezing rain, just 2.25” of the liquid variety.
Temperature range: 49/36.
Friday, December 14, 2007
Our "driveway" bathed in glorious sunshine. In honor of this special event, I decided to cut some more firewood. Jo's main project for the day was fabricating some squirrel guards for our birdfeeders.
Squirrels are always something of a problem, but this year seems especially bad. I reckon that's because the squirrels don't have their normal supply of acorns, honey locust pods, etc. Last spring's late freeze killed the blooms on most of our trees.
The funnel-shaped guards Jo made look kind of tacky, but seem to be doing the job so far. However, engaging in a test of wits against the squirrels makes one feel like Wiley Coyote trying to outsmart the Roadrunner. I would be very surprised if the squirrels don't find a way to circumvent the guards.
After Jo finished with the guards, she and the dogs walked up to where I was working and helped load firewood. Jo was much more help than the dogs were.
Biologists with the Arkansas Department of Game and Fish are saying that deer and wild turkeys are already beginning to alter their feeding habits due to a lack of mast. The animals are spending more time feeding in open field and food plots. However, these biologist also say that there should not be any serious increase in mortality because the deer and turkeys have enough other sources of food -- assuming we don't have a prolonged period of bad winter weather, that is.
Weather: High = 57. Low = 31. Sunny skies with a light north wind.
Wednesday, December 12, 2007
The H. U. Lee International Gate and Garden is tacked onto the east end of the Statehouse Convention Center. I have nothing against either gates or gardens, in fact, I enjoy gardens, but this space offered little of the welcoming ambiance one normal associates with greenspace in the middle of a city. It was more about H. U. Lee and martial arts than about nature and plants.
When I returned home and did a little online research, the garden made a lot more sense even if it didn't suddenly become more appealing. According to the Arkansas Times, H. U. Lee founded the American Taekwondo Association, which meets annually in Little Rock. The Lee family and ATA members donated the $1.4 gate to the city. I don't really see how the gate itself could cost $1.4 million – I may be wrong about that, though – so I assume that part of the money went to defray the cost of constructing the garden.
If I understood more about Taekwondo and martial arts in general, perhaps I'd better appreciate the garden, but as I see it, the garden is a just about adulation of Lee and Taekwondo, including a bust of Lee and a large wall listing Taekwondo masters. I wonder if the city of Little Rock would build a tribute garden to me if I donated $1.4 million to the cause? We'll never know.
There are a few more photos taken in and around the Statehouse Convention Center and during set up for Showcase here if anyone wants to have a look.
A relatively warm (65º) December day. There wasn't as much fog, but we still remained under a low, gray sky. Jo and I and the dogs took our walk up the road since EVERYTHING in the woods is dripping with moisture. We'd have returned soaked from a hike in the woods.
When we returned from our walk, it seemed much darker than it should have been, even accounting for our still shorting days. Rain began about five minutes after our return. That's one of the problems with these overcast skies: You can't see the rain clouds coming. We ended up receiving 1.1” inches of rain during the evening. Sunday afternoon and evening 1.5” had fallen. At least area ponds and the ground water table is benefiting from these funky winter days.
Our dial up connection to the Internet isn't enjoying the rain. Access to the Net has become very undependable. Something somewhere in the phone line is getting wet when it should stay dry. It isn't just us. Several neighbors are also complaining, but we're caught in one of those Catch-22 situations. The telephone company repair crew doesn't work when it's raining and there's no problem when it's dry.
Tuesday, December 11, 2007
Few people know that mantis forelegs and mouth parts are specially adapted for eating popcorn.
Photos taken 9/30/2007 on the Boone County Courthouse Square in Columbia, MO.
I've got to admit that there's something appealing about honest-to-goodness, run-on-tracks streetcars in general, but these recent additions to downtown Little Rock are mainly just a costly nuisance.
Background: The Clinton Presidential Library is just a few block away from the Statehouse Convention Center – close, but too far for walking in the time I had available, so no photos. Before the library was built, that area on the edge of downtown was mostly just warehouses and boarded up buildings. (Some might say building the Clinton Library in a sleazy part of town was appropriate, but I couldn't possibly comment on that.)
Once the library location was approved, revitalization of the surrounding area began immediately. (Accusations of rampant land speculation by insiders prior to the official announcement are merely unsubstantiated rumors, probably generated by the sore losers over in North Little Rock.) Boutiques, bistros and art galleries are now open for business where derelict buildings once stood, though some of the new arrivals are having a tough time staying afloat.
The Central Arkansas Transit Company's “River Rails” Electric Streetcar division is part of this River Market revitalization, but problems abound. The geographic area covered is too small to be of much use to anyone and, consequently, ridership is anemic. Also, since there was no extra space available, the rails were laid right down the middle of a traffic lane. Part of the area covered consists of two-way streets with only two traffic lanes, so when the trolley stops, the traffic in that lane stops. Still, public transportation that doesn't go much of anywhere, few ride and actually increases traffic congestion is not a boondoggle. If you don't believe me, just ask the Little Rock city fathers.
The trolleys do make a token run just across the bridge into North Little Rock, probably just a clever ploy to con NLR into subsidizing part of the cost of operation.
Sunday, December 09, 2007
Foggy/misty weather continues. NOAA says it will be several days before we see sunshine again. Oh, well, it could be worse. Our temperature could be below freezing instead of being in the forties and fifties.
Saturday, December 08, 2007
Our overcast and dreary past couple of days have been brightened by our Christmas cactus and its blooms. Our houseplants get the necessary attention that they require, but probably don't get enough extra TLC that they'd appreciate. Almost all of them stay outside during the spring, summer and early fall. Jo keeps them watered well and they seem to thrive being outdoors. However, when fall rolls around, we must bring them inside where they really don't receive enough sunlight. I know they'd prefer to reside in a heated sun room during the winter, but we just don't happen to have one of those. I suppose it's the transition from getting plenty of sunlight to a much darker environment that triggers the Christmas cactus into blooming about this time every year. Whatever it is, we appreciate its bright little flowers.
Thursday, December 06, 2007
Jo and I got the van fully unloaded. This is the first time all the boxes of pots, fixtures and canopy components have been removed since Labor Day Weekend.
I cut some more firewood. Jo and the dogs helped load the Nissan pickup. We'd really be in sad shape if we lived farther north where continuing to cut firewood throughout the winter would be extremely difficult to impossible. I've never cut all our firewood ahead of the wood stove season. Bad winter weather may keep me out of the woods for a couple of weeks at a time, but we're far enough south that conditions will improve enough for me to get back to cutting firewood.
Right now I'm working on a couple of large trees that died and fell. There's probably enough wood in those two trees to get us through more than half the winter -- and it's in the perfect condition for burning. Very seldom do I cut a living tree. (Since I don't work a season ahead, the wood would be too green for burning well anyway.) Instead, I just clean up dead and fallen trees. Some of the wood I bring home is past it's prime -- some might call it "half rotten" -- but it burns and we keep warm. That's what's important.
My neighbor Jerry Joe recently did a lot of firewood cutting in the area where I'm currently working, but he left "my" trees alone. That was a very kind gesture on his part, especially considering that I'm cutting on his land (with his permission, of course) and all the timber actually belongs to him. (In truth, he probably didn't want to mess with all the extra effort working in a tangled mess of fallen tree limbs involves. He'd rather just fell a nice, straight tree.)
Last evening Jo experimented with a new dish for supper. It was a kind of sausage, potato and sauerkraut soup. I was suspicious of a recipe calling for a "20-ounce package of refrigerated red potato wedges", but it tasted great. Our potatoes from the root cellar worked just fine and Jo had no problem doing the potato slicing herself. I just cannot imagine buying pre-wedged potatoes from the grocery store.
Our skies are overcast. Just north of us the forecast is calling for a winter mix of snow, sleet and freezing rain. Yuck! Fortunately, our temperature just edged above freezing.
Wednesday, December 05, 2007
Jo and I spend the past weekend down in Little Rock participating in the Arkansas Craft Guild's Christmas Showcase. Attendance was down this year and so were our sales. Regardless, this was our last show until spring. (Yea!!!) It was also our last income until spring. (Boo! Hiss!)
It's purely coincidental that Jo's pots and my spoons ended up being featured on the show poster and had nothing to do with the fact she is co-chair of the show. (Hey, there's got to be some perks for an unpaid job that requires so much of her time and effort.)
A virtually empty hall waiting to be filled on Thursday afternoon. Jo is doing her part while I'm wandering around documenting the event.
We had to come in early on Saturday so Jo could attend a meeting so I wandered around the immediate vicinity of the Statehouse Convention Center and took some photos. (Now that I think back on it, Jo had meetings Friday and Sunday before the show opened and during set up on Thursday, too. Jo does meetings much better than I.)
I was standing in the middle of the Arkansas River and took this photo of a piece of the Little Rock skyline. Riverfront park is in the foreground. The convention center complex is partially under the Peabody Hotel and extends to the left in the photo.
The Arkansas River in downtown Little Rock. The city of North Little Rock is on the opposite bank. Like most twin cities arrangements, there is a great deal of friendly (and, sometimes, not so friendly) competition between Little Rock and North Little Rock. If you start referring to the entire metropolitan area as "Little Rock", a resident of North Little Rock will be quick to correct you. Likewise, residents of Little Rock call NLR "Dog Town" because in times past whenever Little Rock rounded up stray dogs, they were simply dumped across the river in North Little Rock.
Anyone familiar with the Arkansas River in Colorado or Kansas will not be impressed with the Arkansas here. Our locked and channelized version of the river turns it into nothing more than a big ditch. Being navigable by barge traffic helps the Arkansas economy, but it's ugly, nothing like my first exposure to the Arkansas River near Arkansas City, Kansas, where Jo's grandparents had a farm that was bordered on one side by the river. (Note: The farm is now the Chaplin Nature Center operated by the Wichita Audubon Society.)
While Little Rock my be the home of the Clinton Presidential Library and the convention center, North Little Rock has a fake river boat...
and a battered, old submarine -- plus the Alltel Arena, of course.
The Alltel Arena was the venue for a Hannah Montana performance Saturday evening. I must confess a total ignorance regarding Ms. Montana until someone explained her to me on Saturday. While the traffic jam created by her appearance may have hampered a few folks trying to get to our art fair, I seriously doubt that her pre-teen fans form a significant portion of our customer base.
(Note: I'm still working on getting the photos I took down in Little Rock culled, edited and uploaded. I'll post a link to the Picasa album when I finish.)