Friendly Garden Spider

One cool autumn night,
a friendly garden spider
dropped by to say hello….

I know that Yellow Garden Spiders (Argiope aurantia) eat pesky insects like mosquitoes and flies, so I am grateful to have a few of them ‘hanging-around’ in my backyard.

My problem is— I was bitten a few times by spiders when I was younger, and my mind still associates spiders with pain. For example, one time I accidentally took a shower with a spider at a campground restroom facility (my fault for not looking up first). The thirsty spider must have been sitting on the showerhead drinking drops of water when I turned on the faucet. Pushed downwards by the strong stream of water, it landed on my face. In a panic, the soaking wet spider bit me before moving into my hair for protection. Augh! Naked and afraid, I ran screaming out of that shower. Luckily, I was able to remove the poor spider from my hair with a brush. Of course, the other campers who had come in to take showers were laughing at me, but I bet they all checked the showerheads before they turned the water on!

All things considered, even though I don’t want spiders to come too close to me, I don’t chase them away. Spiders do an incredible job of keeping the insect population under control without the use of dangerous pesticides. We should all be thankful for that!

Posted in Autumn, Entomology, Nature, photography | Tagged , , | 13 Comments

Cardinals at the Dog Water Bowl Bird Bath

My love, fly over here!
I found the perfect bird bath
for cooling our feathers
on this sizzling summer day.

The male cardinal puffed his chest out proudly as soon as his mate arrived, his bright red feathers shining in the morning sun.

Unfortunately, she didn’t even notice his feathers and her reaction to the faded, broken dog bowl was less than positive (that is an understatement).
She began chirping loudly at him— “Do you ever listen to what I say? I told you I wanted to bathe in the stone bird bath bowl that I saw yesterday at Rainbow Gardens. Made especially for birds, it sits on a pedestal with a lovely fountain of water bubbling up from the center, clean and fresh. I don’t think you even know how long the water has been sitting in this old dog water bowl!”

Truthfully and in all honesty, the crestfallen male cardinal had to admit that he did not know the status of the water. She shook her head at him in dismay, gazed down at her reflection in the water and sighed: “Looks like there is some dog slobber floating around in here. Do you want me to get sick and die? I thought you loved me, but now I just don’t know.”

“WHAT?” he tweeted in reply. “You are the love of my life! I didn’t realize that a dog bowl would upset you so much. It is a hot day and I thought you would like a cool drink and a bath, even if it’s not perfect. If it will make you feel better, I will taste the water for you.”
And then, without hesitation, that is exactly what he did.

She hopped back up onto the dog water bowl after that, but he could tell by his mate’s terse stance that she was still extremely upset by the entire situation. Egads!

He desperately needed to find a good excuse to escape her wrath for a while. So, after thinking for a moment, he said (as calmly as he could): “Honey, I’m leaving now to find some juicy bugs. That way we can have a picnic together this afternoon…see you later.”
Before she could get in another word, he quickly flew away.

As soon as he vanished from sight, a deep sadness overwhelmed the female cardinal. She suddenly realized that she had been too unkind. Her relationship with him was worth more than everything in the whole wide world, and her priorities had been totally upside down all morning. Oh no! What if he never returns?
Given the circumstances, does it really matter if other birds are impressed (or not) with the bird bath/dog water bowl you choose to swim in? NO! With that in mind, she decided to throw her bad attitude to the wind and take a leap into the questionable water.

After she finished her surprisingly refreshing bath, she sat in the sun drying her ruffled feathers. She prayed that her mate would eventually return, even though she had been incredibly thoughtless and mean.
Yes! The handsome red cardinal did come back to his lady love in the end. And he decided not to say another word about water or baths, even though he noticed that her feathers were now fluffy and clean. In long-term relationships, there is often great wisdom in silence.
True unconditional love is beautiful, don’t you agree? 😊
Posted in birds, photography, Relationships | Tagged , , , , | 18 Comments

Thoughts of a Natural Born Tree-Hugger

Do not call me a ‘strange child.’
What I am telling you is true.
Humans are not the only ones capable of communicating with each other.
Everything in this world has its own language, whether you understand it or not.

While holding hands of leaves,
I learned the wordless language
of the trees.
Without one word spoken —
Trees will reveal the mystical path of nature
to anyone who takes the time to listen.

And yes, it’s true. I admit it. Long before I ever heard the term, I was a natural born ‘tree-hugger.’ Every time I have leaned on or hugged a tree, I have immediately felt its strength and warmth. Couldn’t ask for a better friend than a tree—unconditional love defined!
***In 1956, my mom took the monochrome photos above and developed them in a ‘darkroom’ that she created in the basement of our house (mom would have loved Photoshop). An accomplished artist and photographer, she left this world in April 2002. Thank you for these wonderful memories, mom!***
Time travels on. Although I have grown older and my life has changed over the years, I can honestly say there is at least one thing that has remained the same — my love for trees.

A few years ago, on a trip to the island of Kauai, I had the honor of meeting a few “Moreton Bay” fig trees. What an amazing sight! Once I climbed into those huge roots and felt their energy, I wanted to stay there forever.

After my experience there, I highly recommend traveling to the Kauai Allerton Garden to see these magnificent Moreton Bay fig trees. In 1992, because of their prehistoric appearance, director Steven Spielberg even decided to include them in his movie ‘Jurassic Park.’ Their presence commands respect from all who pass by!
On a different note:
Trees can also help with drainage problems and swampy conditions. We had a natural swale in our backyard in Virginia and whenever there was a heavy rain, a river of water appeared and ran way too close to our basement door (in my opinion). To correct the situation, we planted 2 little River Birch trees along the path of the swale and hoped for the best. In the photo below, you can see the little trees in the background with mulch covered roots surrounded by water (they were rather overwhelmed).

About 6 years later, those little river birch trees were as tall as our colonial house (3 stories high). They absolutely loved a soaking rain, and I loved them for making it easier for me to sleep at night without dreaming of Noah’s ark, The River Birch tree can drink an amazing amount of water with no problem at all. In the 13 years we lived there, not one drop of water ever entered our house.
In early 2020, after my husband and I moved to Texas, I joined the San Antonio Arborist’s “Tree Bud Citizen Forester’ program. I went to a class that taught how to properly care for and maintain trees, and then I volunteered with the arborists a few times–trimming branches of small trees at local parks.

But then, Covid-19 appeared and the whole world fell into a strange ‘Lockdown.’ Freedom that I  had taken for granted, vanished. Suddenly, no one was allowed to do anything anymore, except stay home in fear. This unexpected lockdown was only supposed to last for 3 weeks, but it went on and on and on. We were originally told this was for our own good, but soon I started to see a lot more evil than good and that worried me.
Now after 1 and 1/2 years, the not so short ‘3 week Covid-19 lockdown’ might be coming to an end. I pray this is true! What good is living if the only thing we are now free to do is worry about dying? Constant fear and stress is extremely unhealthy. I don’t know about you but, aft enduring the past few years of confusion and craziness, I definitely need a hug from a tree– which is one of the best medicines of all.
Posted in Memories, Nature, photography, Trees | Tagged , , , , | 20 Comments

Rising from the Dead in Spring

New life emerges 
rising from the dead in spring 
surrounded by warmth.

In February 2021, Texas experienced the historic winter storm ‘URI.’ Most homes in San Antonio are not insulated for extremely cold weather, because it rarely drops below freezing in this area. This is why 6 days of sub-freezing temperatures with several periods of snow and ice had such a devastating effect. The local electric companies could not generate enough energy for the surge in heating demands during the storm, so they decided to implement “rolling blackouts.” This decision threw us all into the dark literally and figuratively–as the frigid cold descended. Frightening! 
Luckily, in our subdivision, the power went out at night and came back for about 5 hours during the day. At least that gave us some time to reheat the house before the power vanished again. We found out, after the storm was over, that other areas around San Antonio had been left without power for 3 or 4 days in a row. With no way to heat their homes, pipes began freezing and breaking within walls, leaving distraught homeowners without clean water on top of everything else. 
Many plants around the San Antonio area were also adversely affected by the abnormally cold weather. On the day before the arctic blast began, I placed frost covers over my most vulnerable plants even though frost covers only add 6 degrees of heat (a lesson in futility). I already knew that some of the plants could not withstand weather below 20 degrees (F) for an extended length of time.
Below are several photos that I took of the rare wintry scene in our backyard:
Whales Tongue Agave
I wasn’t too concerned about the 3 Whales Tongue Agaves, because they are wicked tough and can easily survive down to zero.

Dwarf Little John Bottlebrush bushes (Callistemon)

While the storm was raging, I didn’t know what was happening underneath the sagging frost covers in the raised bed, but I knew it wasn’t good. The leaves of the Callistemon bushes are damaged at 32 degrees (F) and the plants usually will not survive sub-freezing temps. They are native to Australia and prefer hot sunny weather, not icicles!
The rest of the backyard is filled with various agaves, yuccas, and cactus—and 2 sago palms. The native Texas plants seemed to take the cold weather in stride, but the sagos were collapsing under the weight of the snow-laden frost covers. Maybe it would have been better if they had not been covered? I don’t know.

After about 6 days, the unusual cold came to an end and the weather shifted away from sub-freezing temps and climbed back up to 70 degrees (F). Welcome to Mother Nature’s roller coaster ride!
When it was time to finally remove the frost covers, I cringed. I honestly did not expect the sago palms to survive with any ‘green’ of life still intact, but they did. A nice surprise!
Unfortunately, I did lose one Medio-Picta Alba Agave because the water inside froze and completely destroyed it. A sorry sight to behold! After a few days in the sun, the rotting agave began to smell like the inside of a gym locker, so I carefully cut the sharp points off the edges, dug it out of the ground and threw it in the trash. There was nothing I could do to save it.
My favorite plants in the backyard have always been the 12 Dwarf Little John Bottlebrush (Callistemon) bushes from ‘down under.’ The hummingbirds, honeybees, and butterflies absolutely love their beautiful red flowers and so do I! So I was heartbroken when I saw that their soft green leaves were brittle brown dead. Sections of bark had broken away from their trunks, which is a bad sign. I searched but could not find a hint of green left anywhere. Sigh. With a lopper in hand, it took me quite a few days to remove all the dead branches. When I was finished cutting, there was only about 6 inches of trunk left on all of them.
I felt like the ‘grim reaper’—so depressing!
I already knew Callistemon bushes will not grow back from the roots, so I decided to plant flowers around the lifeless trunks to make the sad situation look a little ‘happier’—at least until I could hire a landscaper to remove the remaining trunks/roots from the ground. I did not have the strength to do it myself. It turns out it was a good thing that I was too weak to finish the job.

About 4 weeks later, a small green leaf grew out of the side of one of the trunks, followed by several more. Oh my! Can it be? Are these plants still alive? Sure enough, even though bark was split open and the wood inside was dark brown, new life began rising from the ‘dead.’ I was amazed.
After I finished planting flowers and removing dead branches, I also cut the brown leaves away from the 2 Sago palms to create space for new growth. With palm fertilizer and a layer of Starbuck’s espresso coffee grounds as mulch, the palms began to grow too. Halleluiah!
Now, 3 months later, the damaged trunks of my favorite Callistemon bushes are completely covered with leaves. Spring has conquered winter; life has conquered death. 

I am surrounded by hope!

With the most intense yardwork completed, I am pleased to announce that my supervisor (an anole lizard) has just given me his unique sign of approval. The job is complete!
This means I will now have enough free time to start writing on my blog again. But first, I am going to sit down on some hot rocks, relax, and enjoy the inherent beauty of spring!
Blessings to all!


Posted in photography, Spring, weather, Winter | Tagged , , , , , | 17 Comments

Cat Clinging to the Edge of Normal

I do not understand!
Why did you let strange people come in and rip out the rug beneath my feet?
I loved that old brown, wall-to wall, dirty, dusty carpeting.
Where will I go to cough up hairballs now?
Do you expect me to live with this OSB/particle board subfloor?
I am going to get wood splinters in my paws!

Tell me—how can I comfortably lay on a mattress
that is standing up on one side?
Why isn’t it down on the bed frame where it belongs?
This is all so wrong!

And look!
Can’t you see?  Are you blind?
Your furniture is so upset, it’s heading for the door.
Don’t just stand there taking pictures—help me stop it!

I can’t hold on much longer.
I’m clinging to the edge of normal—
and I don’t like change!

Oh my….what a face!
Calm down, sweet kitty!
There is no need to worry.
Life as you know it is not coming to an end.
After a few days, the mattress will be back on the bed.
And the furniture will be returned to the same position that it was in before, I promise!

Personally, I really like the new engineered wood floor. It is hairball free, non-allergenic,  and so much easier to keep clean. Now if I just add a little throw rug for the cat, Siri (a.k.a. Seaweed), I know that ALL will be forgiven.

Posted in Animals, Humor, Pets | Tagged , , , , | 21 Comments

Christmas Lion 2020

It is true that 2020 has been difficult for everyone, and the tail end of this unpredictable year has now affected Keona—our male Balinese cat.

Keona was a happy Balinese cat until the vet shaved off half of his fur coat. Now he is a partially naked and confused Christmas lion, who does not understand WHY we did this to him. After we brought him back home from the vet’s office, I tried to make him feel better by covering him with a warm blanket. I guess that just added insult to injury, because he threw the blanket off, glared at me, and walked away. I could tell by the look in his eyes that he didn’t like me very much at that point. Sigh. I would love to tell him exactly why we had to remove a large section of his once beautiful fur coat, but that is impossible (as he obviously does not speak English).

Keona is 15 years old, which is approximately 75 in human years. The vet told us that he often has to shave older long-haired cats when they stop grooming–probably  because of arthritis, which makes it too painful to bend and twist around. Longer hair that is not groomed on a regular basis gets knotted and matted very quickly, making it easy for the skin underneath to get infected.

Because we had no other good alternative, we agreed to let the vet shave Keona in the affected area (which was half of his body). There is NO WAY that our cat would have allowed us to do this. As it was, anesthesia had to be used to get the job done safely. Hoping to make Keona feel a little better about the  procedure, the vet decided to leave a fashionable tuft on the end his tail so he would look a little bit like a mighty jungle lion. A nice touch.

But, unfortunately, Keona didn’t appreciate the creative shave and I don’t think he likes the ‘lion look’ either. He has repeatedly attacked the strange tuft at the end of his tail because he knows it is not supposed to be there. To make matters worse, his sister Siri began to hiss and growl every time he tried to get close to her. She did not recognize him and treated him like he was an evil cat/lion imposter.

Finally, after a few days of being upset and cold, Keona decided that agreeing to stay underneath a warm blanket might actually be a good idea. Thank goodness! Seeing him warm and comfortable certainly made us feel better.
I certainly understand Keona’s frustration with all of this. Anyone who is 60 and above knows that getting old is not easy. Hair starts to fall from the head and then begins to grow out of the nose and ears. Numerous body parts start to ache, break down, and fall apart. Things that used to be easy to do, suddenly become difficult. Skin starts to wrinkle, and the strange face in the mirror is almost impossible to accept!

Keona doesn’t realize it right now, but he is lucky. Unlike a human who slowly goes bald over time, hair that is purposely shaved off will grow back. He should count his blessings! Maybe he didn’t get all of his fur coat back in time for Christmas, but it is getting thicker and longer. The best Christmas gift has come from his sister–who has decided not to hiss at him anymore, because his appearance is slowly returning to ‘normal’ and he no longer smells like the vet’s office!In 5 days, the year 2020 will finally come to an end. Many people say that they plan to stay up until midnight to make sure that 2020 leaves on time, because this year has been an exceptionally long, hard road to travel (understatement).

Let us all hope and pray that 2021 is a much better year for everyone!



Posted in Animals, Arthritis, cats, Pets, photography | Tagged , , , , , | 13 Comments

Monarch Butterfly Stops in San Antonio Mid-November

Tasting red flowers
and dreaming of Mexico
in mid-November

a monarch butterfly
stops in San Antonio
with little time to stay…
Winter weather on the way.

The peak time for monarch butterflies to migrate through San Antonio is from October 10 through October 20. So I was very surprised to see this one fluttering around the bright red flowers of the ‘Little John’ Dwarf Bottlebrush (Callistemon Viminalis) on November 20—all alone and a month later than normal!

Now it has been 10 days since I saw my ‘one and only’ monarch butterfly–a bright light during this strange and troubling year of 2020. It’s November 30th and the temperature is expected to drop down to 30 degrees (Fahrenheit) tonight, which is freezing cold. However, I have read that these butterflies can travel 100 miles or more a day, so I am hopeful that she has already found her way south to warmer weather.  Maybe she is even resting in Mexico, surrounded by the gentle fluttering sound of other monarch butterflies.

** If you would like to virtually fly away to one of the awesome monarch destinations in Mexico, watch this incredible video made by


Posted in Monarch Butterfly, photography | Tagged , , , , | 9 Comments

Entomology Summer Camp Hands-On Experience

In July 2019, I was a volunteer assistant with the Entomology Summer Camp (ages 7-12) at Phil Hardberger Park in Bexar County, Texas. The camp lasted for 3 days and the group was led by Molly Keck, a Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service entomologist. Guided by her knowledge and understanding of the insect world, it was easy for everyone to learn from this special hands-on experience.

One of the interesting outdoor activities was called “Life in a Log.” As they reached into a plastic container filled with wood debris, the campers were encouraged to search for  beetles, centipedes, and millipedes.
No fear!

Each morning the campers went for a walk on a park trail with their nets, looking for more insects. On the second day, nature gave us an unexpected surprise when one of Ms. Keck’s interns found a Texas-sized female walking stick camouflaged by green leaves on a tree limb overhead. The intern reached up and gently brought the walking stick down for all to see.
Wow! What an incredible discovery—good eye!

The length of this walking stick was so amazing, it immediately inspired a chorus of ‘Oooohs and Aaaahs’ from the entire group. Because they are always much bigger than the males, Ms. Keck said this particular walking stick was definitely a female (about 7 inches long). In all my life, and I have been around for a while, I have never seen another insect quite like this one.

Everyone wanted to gently touch her, because you never know if you will ever encounter an insect as big and beautiful as this ever again. It certainly felt like a once in a lifetime opportunity, especially for me!As the campers continued to swing their aerial/sweep nets through bushes and plants —grasshoppers, wasps, butterflies and a variety of other insects were soon discovered. A few spiders (which are actually classified as arachnids) were also found.

“I’ve got a BIG spider,” someone yelled out, “Come quick everyone and look!”

Yikes! For whatever reason, although insects generally don’t bother me, the sight of a spider always makes me cringe a little. It’s probably because I was bitten a few times when I was child and still remember how much that hurt. As a result, although fascinated by spiders and intricate webs, I usually try to keep my distance. Maybe if I had been part of an entomology summer camp when I was younger, I would have overcome my ‘spidery’ fears long ago.

I did to take a few photos of the big spider in the net. The overall appearance is quite stunning and, after looking through a website with photos of Texas Spiders, I think it is a yellow garden spider  (Argiope aurantia).

A little farther down on the walking trail, we came across a large field with numerous dragonflies hovering near the ground over the grass. To the young campers, it looked like it would be relative easy to capture a few of them in their nets. Wrong answer. Dragonflies are incredibly fast and can change direction in the blink of an eye. As soon as everyone came running towards them, the elusive dragonflies flew upwards and slightly out of their reach.  After about 10 minutes of running around in the sun, one young boy got so frustrated that he threw his net up into the air and yelled, “GET IN THERE!”  It was an interesting approach, rather like a fisherman casting his net out into the water hoping to catch a fish. Unfortunately, it didn’t work. Nice try though! A few campers were lucky enough to catch a dragonfly that morning, but others walked away from this field with an empty net.

After the humbling experience of chasing dragonflies, we returned to the classroom for lunch and a special treat of cricket chips!  I tentatively tried one chip and was pleasantly surprised. Turns out that chips made with cricket flour have a great taste and are also very nutritious. As it states in an article by Chirps: “These aren’t just empty carbs, folks. Unlike plant proteins, cricket protein is a complete protein with all nine essential amino acids, more b12 than salmon, and more calcium than milk.”

Because of the summer heat, we spent the afternoons inside the classroom learning more about the life-cycle of insects and the important role of insects in the environment around us. During that time, we also worked on a number of insect-oriented crafts and projects, which including creating insect collections.

Note: Permission to survey and collect insects was provided by Phil Hardberger Park employees. The park does not encourage taking insects from the natural areas without permission.
At the end of the last day, Ms. Keck brought in her gentle pet tarantula—Coco. It doesn’t have the same markings as the ones here in Texas, because Coco is a Chaco tarantula from Guatemala. After demonstrating how to treat a tarantula with respect and kindness, Ms. Keck told everyone that they could hold Coco in their hands, if they promised not to frighten her or make her uncomfortable with rapid movements or loud screams.

Both boys and girls were equally excited about the chance to have this gorgeous tarantula in their hands, so they readily agreed to be as quiet and as calm as possible. It was definitely the grand finale of an unforgettable experience in entomology—what a thrill!

I watched enviously as the tarantula went around the room from one set of hands to another, until it finally came to me. I looked at the spider and said, “I have never held a tarantula.”
“Would you like to hold it?”
“Yes, but…(pause)…Maybe next time,” I replied. “Maybe next time.”

What was I thinking?  Life is meant for living! I really wanted to know what it would feel like to have a live tarantula in my hands for a few moments. Now I realize that I should have taken the opportunity when it was offered to me, because there is no way of knowing when or if ‘next time’ will ever come.  So many lessons learned!


Posted in Bexar County, Entomology, Insects, Texas | Tagged , , , , , | 33 Comments

Siamese Cat Shelter-in-Place Guidelines

Big blue eyes
in a travel bag
going nowhere
Since they like to stay home and are perfectly happy in small places, our 2 Siamese cats (Siri and Keona) are trying to teach us how to effectively “shelter-in-place” during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Here are the simple cat guidelines that we are expected to follow:
1.  Eat, purr, sleep
2.  Make time for meditation, NOT worry
2.  Use the litter box when necessary
3.  Don’t ever scratch or play with the toilet paper roll, because someone might need it
4.  Give yourself a bath every day, or have another cat lick you clean
5.  Occasionally play with something that squeaks, if you get bored
6.  Stay warm
Of course, there are a few things on this list that human beings can’t do.
However, after a few minor tweaks and some changes in the wording, it is basically good advice. Stay safe!

Posted in Animals, COVID-19, Humor, Philosophy, photography | Tagged , , , , | 27 Comments

Covid-19 Life in a Darkening World

Birds fly high above
the darkening world below—

It’s time to come home!
sunlight quickly vanishes
from the horizon.      ~ms
All around the world, people are being ordered to stay home to avoid contact with a novel coronavirus (COVID-19). Because Covid-19 is a new virus of dubious origin, no one seems to know exactly how bad it will get or how long it will last. ‘Non-essential’ businesses have  been shut down in hopes of slowing the spread of this highly contagious virus, but how many weeks can companies and their employees survive with no income? Not long! Suddenly fear, panic, chaos, and confusion everywhere! What is happening?  Life changed so quickly. I’m worried.

I keep reminding myself that there is always a powerful bright light shining behind dark clouds. But then, I hear more negative news — more people infected; more people dying — and I am upset again.
I do realize that it is extremely unhealthy to be stressed-out all of the time. So today, I decided to wander back through old 2014 photos to a warm summer day on Chincoteague Island, Virginia.  As I started my virtual walk through familiar images of wildlife, sand, sea, and sunsets—life began to feel normal again!
On seashell covered sand
going nowhere and everywhere,
my thoughts easily travel
on the earth beneath my feet!

I am free to remember
sounds of waves breathing—
sighing into sand,
while seagulls calmly walk
through foaming waters.

I enjoy the sight
of a sand castle fortress
(or cake with stick candles?)
that the sea can not reclaim.
And ah….what a surprise!
Nibbling on something green while sitting in white sand,
behold a real beach bunny (without a bikini).

Since I have always been a little “directionally challenged,” the position of the bird in the next photo always makes me smile.
Feeling confused?
Just remember–
If you ever see a sign that says
and you don’t know what it means,
follow this bird’s example and park sideways.

I also saw a tall, majestic bird while walking through the Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge  on that summer day. He didn’t seem to be concerned about my presence, and stood still long enough for me to take a picture. After I returned home, I searched the internet and came to the conclusion that I had just had the honor of meeting a “Great Blue Heron.”

The most comforting image of all
standing high above the trees below,
a symbol of protection and hope
in the darkness of a storm—
a lighthouse!
Lighthouse in the distance
Within these photos
I have happily wandered for hours
high above the panic and fear
in this darkening world.
But now, it’s getting late.

The sun is setting once again
and another day is ending.
Reluctantly I bring my mind back to the present time, back home to 2020.

I know my husband is still watching the TV downstairs, because I can hear the familiar voices on the 24/7 news arguing about COVID-19. They repeatedly ask who is to blame for this pandemic, how did it get out of control, how many are sick, how many will die–and on and on. Why don’t they mention those who have recovered? Why do they offer no hope?  The constant negativity is demoralizing.

To make matters worse,  the 24/7 news introduces their ominous updates with the equivalent of horror movie music. Why are they doing this? Is this extra musical ‘fear mongering’ necessary? I don’t think so. Stop! People are being controlled and paralyzed by FEAR!
While I was writing —
I realized that I have been on WordPress for almost 8 years now (since May 2012). During this time, I have enjoyed reading through all of the various posts.  Through pictures and stories that other writers have shared, I have virtually traveled to places that I would never have seen or experienced otherwise.  Thank you.

Now, during this indeterminate time of isolation and separation, everyone please stay well and stand strong!  With all of my heart and soul, I pray that life eventually returns to the way it was before it fell 6 feet apart!

Virtual hug  ( ❤️ ) 

Posted in Chincoteague Island, COVID-19, Nature, Virginia | Tagged , , , , , | 56 Comments

Strong Civil War Connection to Fredericksburg

I lived in the Fredericksburg/Spotsylvania, Virginia area for 23 years, but I did not find out about my “Strong” and personal connection to the Civil War and the Battle of Fredericksburg until a few years after I moved to Texas.


While I lived in Virginia, I visited the Fredericksburg National Cemetery on several occasions and took quite a few pictures. During that time, I was totally unaware that my great-great grandfather (William Stark Strong) and my great grandfather (William Washington Strong) were with Company E of the 121st Regiment Pennsylvania Volunteers in the Battle of Fredericksburg (Fredericksburg Campaign at Marye’s Heights) on December 13, 1862.
My great-great grandfather, First Sergeant William Stark Strong, was severely wounded during the battle and died the next day. His 21 year old son, Corporal William Washington Strong, survived. If he had died as a result of this fight also (or at any other time during the Civil War), I would not be here today to write this story. A sobering thought on this Memorial Day weekend.

William Washington Strong lived to be 88 years old and, at some point after the war, he assembled and published a book about his regiment’s experiences.  Even though some of the pages from his book were lost over the years, a copy has been thoughtfully reassembled by the Survivor’s Association.
The easiest way to read the online version at the link below, is to choose “one page view” and then zoom in on the text several times.  The contributor is the Library of Congress:
 History of the 121st Regiment Pennsylvania Volunteers — ‘An Account from the Ranks.’

Needless to say, as soon as I found this online copy of my great-grandfather’s book, I began reading it. To be able to go back in time through the words on these pages, and virtually experience the emotions and conditions that the soldiers experienced during the American Civil War—is an awesome privilege.
Having lived in Virginia for so many years, I know the different places that are being referred to above, and I can easily imagine being there. I have not forgotten how muddy and sloppy the red clay is during and after a rain, and I know what it feels like to walk through pine tree woods while brushing off mosquitos, ticks, spiders, and side-stepping an occasional snake! 

Regarding the interaction between my great-great grandfather and his son at the battle of Fredericksburg, I was happy to find additional information in this book.  All things considered, Corporal William Washington Strong’s loving concern for his wounded father and his determined attempt to remove him from the battlefield, might have saved his own life that day:

“He (First Sergeant William Stark Strong) fell at Fredericksburg, December 13, 1862, at the most advanced point reached by the regiment in Meade’s famous charge; was wounded in the ankle and in the right side, the latter causing his death. It is our duty and pleasure to record the generous act of the commander of a Confederate regiment that greatly relieved the suffering of Sergeant Strong. When the Union lines were finally driven back, a son of the sergeant, who was a corporal in the same company, went to his father’s assistance, but was unable single handed to take him off the field, and so both fell into the hands of the advancing foe, and became prisoners of war. The corporal approached the commander of one of the rebel regiments, occupying a position in reserve, and asked for a stretcher for the use of his father. On learning the situation, the officer without hesitation detailed men with a stretcher, with orders to take the sergeant to the field hospital a half mile or more to the rear and entirely out of harm’s way, where he remained until his death. When it is remembered that under the orders issued by the commander of the Union army, no assistance could be given the wounded by their comrades, this kind act on the part of the Confederate colonel can be better appreciated.” (Appendix pages 157 and 158)

“The dreadful slaughter in front of Marye’s Hill at no time approached success, but, however brave, the efforts of the troops at that point were from the first utterly hopeless.” (page 32)

There was supposed to be more Union soldiers at the Battle of Fredericksburg, but they didn’t get there in time: “Colonel Biddle in his letters writes, ‘ a support which had been ordered for us failed to come. Had it come the result probably, would have been different.”’  (page 33)

When I was at the Fredericksburg National Cemetery in 2011–a tour guide mentioned several reasons why the additional troops did not arrive as expected. Apparently, there was some miscommunication within the Union army that led to dire consequences in Fredericksburg. One of the biggest problems was the fact that Burnside was given a map with unclear markings. As a result, they got lost.

At the end of the battlefield tour, the speaker talks with great passion about the memory and meaning of the Battle of Fredericksburg. I must say that this Fredericksburg National Park employee (who is the speaker in both of my short videos) knew the history of this battle by heart.  His presentation was awesome. I remember thinking that, whatever he was being paid, he deserved a raise!

Considering the contentious political environment in the United States today, I would like to share one last story from my great grandfather’s book. Down by the river, on May 18, 1863there was an amazing interaction between the Union and Confederate soldiers which clearly shows that, even in the midst of a brutal war, it is possible to ‘harbor no hatred’ for those who hold different beliefs:

“ The weather being excessively hot, the men of both armies indulged in bathing in the river, conversing freely with each other; some of the men on various occasions crossing the river and remaining with the rebels for an hour or so, bartering coffee, etc., for tobacco, and making inquiries—a singular phase of warfare that must not be lost sight of when forming a conception of the disposition of the American soldiers, who, when the hour of conflict arrived, were ready to sacrifice their lives in defense of their convictions, but appeared to harbor no hatred for those of their countrymen who entertained a different belief and were ready to die in its defense. No history of any war, since the beginning of warfare presents such a spectacle. Invariably, hatred between the contestants is a prominent feature which leads to pillage and useless infliction of suffering when opportunities occur. But unless in actual conflict, the men comprising the fighting elements of the opposing armies during the War of the Rebellion seemed ready to extend manifestations of friendship for each other. (page 46)

Memorial Day was originally called “Decoration Day” in honor of the 600,000 lives lost during the American Civil War. Today, Memorial Day honors and remembers all of the soldiers who have lost their lives defending this country. We owe our  lives today to those who walked before us. God bless them today and always.

**Back in 2015, I sang “God Bless America’ with the 70 voice Rappahannock Choral Society (RCS). Once again, I sincerely thank Linda Monner, who was the Conductor and Artistic Director of the RCS, for giving me such a wonderful and unforgettable opportunity.** 

Excerpt from the History of 121st Regiment Pennsylvania Volunteers ‘An Account from the Ranks’
by Wm. W. Strong

Company E-121st Regiment of the Pennsylvania Volunteers


Posted in American Civil War, History, Photo Essay, photography | Tagged , , , , , | 33 Comments

The Little Eyes of Texas

Hiding in plain sight
the little eyes of Texas
suddenly, I see!

When I first moved to San Antonio, I did not realize that I was surrounded by the little eyes of Texas. I actually thought I was alone, until the day that I almost stepped on a black tarantula sitting quietly by my back door. Rather unnerving! I don’t know how long the spider was there, but it was probably wondering how anyone could completely fail to notice something as large as a tarantula.
Thanks to the surprise visit from this spider, I realized that I needed to start paying more attention to the Texas environment around me. Wake up!

With eyes wide open
I can look around and see
a camouflaged lizard in a tree,
silently watching over me.

Now I notice when an anole lizard climbs up a sharp yucca leaf to greet me, and I take the time to stop and say hello.

And look!
Deep within a sago palm,
sheltered by sharp-pointed fronds
a  lovely moth rests quietly
safe from flying predators
searching for a tasty treat. Moth_2When I come across a caterpillar that looks like a porcupine with quills, I am wise and aware enough to keep my distance.  I wish I could say that I know what kind of butterfly or moth the caterpillar in my photo might become; but truth be known, I have no clue!
The leaf-footed bugs that visit our yard when the white yucca flowers bloom, are so prolific that they actually command attention (they look like stink bugs with leaves on their back legs). They don’t play loud music, but the leaf-footed bugs love to suck the juice out of the yucca blooms and party for days with their friends. Doesn’t matter if I repeatedly shake them off of the flowers and tell them to go away, they simply come back. Rather pesky, they are! Since the flowers don’t last that long anyway, I found it easier just to leave them alone–because they leave as soon as the flowers fade. But for those who have citrus trees and other fruit bearing plants that are being damaged, some sort of pest control is usually used.

I must sayI am very happy to see that the praying mantis hangs out in Texas too (I used to see them all the time in Virginia). This amazing insect is fascinating to watch. An image of stamina and precision–a praying mantis can hold the same motionless pose for long periods of time, waiting patiently for an unsuspecting meal to come wandering by. And then, watch out! The mantis is extremely accurate and quick. Praying Mantis
Praying Mantis upside downThe more that I learned about the natural environment of Texas, the more I wanted to know. So last year, when I heard there was a Master Naturalist program (Alamo Area Chapter) here in San Antonio, I signed up for the fall semester (Class #43). The program was everything that I hoped it would be, and it was fun to spend time every week with a group of people whose interests were similar to mine.  The training covered a wide range of topics, which included discussions about native trees, plants, animals, birds, insects, reptiles, fish, geology, water, weather, etc.  To top it all off,  there were various field trips guided by people who knew the San Antonio area. Since I am not from Texas, the field trips opened up a whole new world of places and things that I did not even know existed here!

And so…
Thanks to the little eyes of Texas (especially the black tarantula), I now have the honor of walking through and working with nature as a Texas Master Naturalist–with my eyes wide open.
Mitchell Lake_birdwatching
Snowy Egret

Attached below is a short video created by George and Marcos Ozuna. George Ozuna is a member of the Native Plant Society of Texas and a Texas Master Naturalist, and his son Marcos is an educator. Their work and love of nature is greatly appreciated.

Posted in Birding, Nature, Photo Essay, photography, Texas Master Naturalist, wildlife | Tagged , , , , , | 42 Comments

Good Friends and Auld Lang Syne

As this year comes to an end, I look back at years gone by once again.
And I remember the house I once had in Virginia, where there was a room that belonged specifically to a baby grand piano. It had such a beautiful voice; the glorious sound danced through the air.Piano_1

We lived in that house for 13 years. But time passed by, and one day we had to “downsize’ and move away. Sadly, the piano could not come with me because the house in Texas was going to be much smaller. 

If you read my previous blog, you know that my newly built house in Texas turned out to be a source of major stress.  As a result,  I have not written much since I moved here in 2016. Repeatedly begging the builder for help with construction defects has drained most of the creativity out of my soul. 

Luckily this December (thank God)  music came and threw its loving arms around me. I joined several musical groups for the holiday season, and while we were sharing the joy of Christmas songs with others,  I started to feel the goodness in the world again.

In this very short video of ‘Auld Lang Syne,’ I am singing with Doc (guitarist) and Julie (flutist/ flautist).  There were good friends gathered all around, with the sound of music and joyful voices rising up above the problems of the world.

 Now, as we leave 2018 behind tonight, I hope and pray that 2019 will be a great year for everyone. Listen! Do you hear the sound of fireworks?
it’s 12 midnight here in Texas
Happy New Year!

Posted in Happy New Year, New Year, photography | Tagged , , , | 37 Comments

Pulte New Home Nightmare

Our Pulte built home is less than 3 years old—AND—it has cracked and separated exterior brick/mortar, cracked drywall and floor tiles, doors and windows that are out of square (one window is jammed), diagonal cracks in drywall above door and window frames, caulk separating from baseboards, doors, windows, soffit, and siding; and 7 cracks in the foundation.

I know there are many struggling homeowners with problems that are eerily similar to ours (search online for ‘Pulte Reviews and Complaints’).  However, realizing that other new Pulte homes are falling apart at the seams does not make me feel any better.  In fact, knowing that there are others in the same situation makes me even sadder. 

With blind faith, we trusted Pulte would build us a good house and that was a big mistake! Since I am not sure how to explain how tired and distressed I am right now, without explaining some of what I have already been through — I will go back to the beginning of this nightmare and start there:
March 2016—we finalized our purchase of a new Pulte home in a 55+ Del Webb community. We thought that a newly built house would not have as many problems as an older home, but we were wrong. The quality of the construction is terrible.

Since I moved into this house a few months before my husband did, I ended up dealing with a long list of issues by myself. Major stress! The first time it rained, the roof began leaking into the front bedroom and the garage. I was upset. It took a few weeks of arguing with Pulte before they sent a roofer out to investigate.

While the roofer was inspecting the valley near the right side of the front arch, he noticed a small metal square sitting on the corner of the flashing. He said, “What is this thing doing here?”
When he lifted the square “thing” up, I could see a big gap in the flashing there (I did not have a ladder, but I did have a camera with zoom lens). Since I wanted to take a few photos, the roofer left the metal square lying on the shingles next to the flashing for a few minutes. Here are 2 of my photos of the flashing on both sides of the front arch:

On March 21, 2016–our home inspector did note that the flashing in these areas was ‘suspect’ in his final inspection report (he also included a photo). He said that these areas should be inspected by a roofer to ensure that the flashing/counter flashing had been installed properly. We gave the report to the Pulte field manager. Three days later, right before we closed on the house, we were assured that all repairs had been made. However, when the roofer lifted the ‘small metal square’ off the corner of the flashing on June 16, 2016, I could see that the original gap was still there. The small metal square the roofer removed was not in the home inspector’s photo (below).
Roof Inspection

Sigh. For the next hour, I stood on the ground below and watched as the roofer repeatedly tried to close the gaps. In frustration, he complained that it was impossible to make flashing fit correctly around such uneven brickwork. See how the bricks are hanging out beyond the edge of the flashing? What a mess!
Flashing doesn't fit with brickThe roofer kept taking the flashing apart and trying again, but the gap in the flashing reappeared every time he attempted to make it align with the brick. He finally gave up. He said that the bricks in this area needed to be removed and redone correctly by whoever had done the brick and mortar, because dealing with sloppy brickwork is NOT the responsibility of a roofer!
Because of the bricks, I could see that this was not going to be a quick or easy fix. In spite of hours of work, all that the roofer had been able to do was make the flashing gaps a little smaller. (How he got tar up onto the soffit above, I am not sure).
tarAs I stood there staring up at the nightmare on my roof, I felt totally overwhelmed. The situation had not gotten any better. There was a possibility of more rain in a few days, and I could easily see that the roof was going to leak again. I was extremely concerned about additional rainwater falling into the house. On top of everything else, I am allergic to mold.

About a week later, after a pallet of brick was delivered to my house, Pulte sent out a few of their people to start working on the bricks around the front arch. Soon after they arrived, the workers began pulling bricks out and tossing them from the roof to the ground.
Removing brick A rectangular sheet of particle board was placed over the center of the cement below, but there were also bricks falling down onto the sides where there was no protection at all. I asked them to stop for a few minutes, so I could bring out some broken-down cardboard boxes to cover the rest of the cement.  I didn’t need a damaged walkway.
Throwing bricks from aboveAt some point during all of this, Zone 3 of the in-ground sprinkler system started to leak underneath the sod on the right side of my yard. This was the 3rd time that a section of the sprinkler system had malfunctioned, but at least a sprinkler leak in the ground is not as frightening as a leaking roof. I turned the water off.
Leaking sprinklerWatching the front of the roof being torn apart and looking at the swamp in my yard, I felt like I was sinking. Adding insult to injury, my front door looked like it had been damaged before it was painted. Why did the builder install a door in this condition on a new house?Front door on new home=========
WHY, after seeing such a lack of quality and craftmanship, did we buy this house?

In order to have a new house built, a non-refundable percentage of the final purchase price (‘earnest’ money) has to be paid in advance. After that point, if the prospective buyer decides not to buy the house even for very legitimate reasons, the builder does not have to return the earnest money.
In regards to the front door, I did notify Pulte of the problem and they sent out a painter with a brush and a small can of mahogany gel stain. However, the mahogany gel stain was so thick that the painter had difficulty trying to spread it evenly on the door. Hard to believe, but the appearance of the door was a little worse by the time the painter left.

I couldn’t take it anymore. In my eyes, the Pulte door began to look like the entrance to homeowner hell.  So I drove down to the local Lowe’s Home Improvement store and bought a front door that didn’t look battered and abused. I paid Lowe’s to install it for me and then I painted the trim. Immediately, the front entry looked much better. Thank you Lowe’s!

A few days after I had the front door replaced,  the French doors at the opening of the office room caught my eye. Oh no! What now?! For some reason, the doors no longer lined up vertically or horizontally with each other. How could this be? The doors were even when we did the final walk-through with the home inspector only 2  1/2 months ago!  I had no clue why they had suddenly shifted so dramatically, until I looked up and saw the strange alignment of the strike plates above the French doors.
Top of French door frame

French doors out of lineI called the Pulte customer service rep (the same one who was handling the roof) and asked him to send someone out to look at the French doors. To make a long story short — I found out that the wall on one side of the French doors was not even with the wall on the other side. Because of this, the frame was installed with a ‘twist.’ Then someone must have repositioned the strike plates above the 2 doors in an attempt to align them (instead of moving a wall). After that, the stress of the uneven walls on the twisted frame quickly started to warp and crack the doors. I think it’s a good thing that this hidden defect revealed itself so quickly, because the builder only has a 1 year warranty on doors.

After new French doors (with frame) were delivered, the wall on the left was moved in a little and the frame with both doors easily fell into place. The carpenter had to take off a baseboard, move the wall, put the baseboard back on again, repair the drywall, and then repaint. It would have been easier and less expensive (and less stressful on the homeowner) if all of this had simply been done right while the house was being built.

There was another smaller door upstairs in the furnace/air conditioning room by the attic, and it would not close because it was hanging on a slant. I guess no one had the time to do this door right either. All that it needed was wider and longer screws.  Unbelievable! By this time, I was very annoyed with this Pulte built home. I was tired of dealing with numerous construction issues, big and small, day after day after day. Frustration! Here is a short video that I made while trying to close this little misaligned door. It is easy to hear the growing anger in my voice!

On June 24, 2016–The repair of the roof flashing and the brick/mortar in the surrounding areas was finally completed. It looked good to me.  I was relieved! The gaps in the flashing were gone, and rain didn’t leak into the house from that area anymore.  Flashing repairedBUT THEN–
11 months later (on May 23, 2017), I looked up and saw that the brickwork Pulte had redone on the left side of the arch was already falling apart. Look at it!
May 25, 2017 disintegrating brickworkGod help the homeowner! When will this nightmare end? Brick/mortar repairs should last longer than 11 months! Unfortunately, the house was 14 months old when this happened. Brick and mortar only have a one year warranty, regardless of any previous repairs.

There was a thunderstorm with strong winds predicted for the weekend, so there was no time to spend arguing with Pulte over faulty workmanship. Once again, my major concern was the possibility of water intrusion, so I quickly found an experienced local brick mason (Everardo Torres) through Home Advisor–and we paid for the repair ourselves. The brickwork that Everardo did was perfect.

In August 2016, 5 months after we purchased this house, the first signs of foundation movement began to appear on the left side of the house. Sigh. Harbingers of things to come.

By the beginning of December 2018, almost 2 1/2 years later, an expanded view of the same area in the photo above looks like this:

The day that I looked up and saw the separated soffit and wood above, I was surprised and horrified. The wood corners at both ends of the brick wall had actually opened up and dropped down!  When did this happen? 

I couldn’t reach this area with a 6 foot ladder, so a neighbor kindly came over (with a taller ladder) and put duct tape over the gaps t0 keep rainwater from leaking inside.  A week later, I hired a local painting company (E&V) to caulk and paint the entire 2nd story loft siding and soffit area. E&V did a great job but, if the foundation keeps moving, I don’t know how long the caulk will hold.

On December 3, 2018 — I hired a home inspector to come out and specifically check the roof support system in the attic. Considering the separated areas on the exterior of the house, I was concerned that interior roof trusses might be pulling apart too. Sure enough. The inspector found and photographed a broken roof truss. We notified Pulte, but it has not been repaired yet.

We hired a structural engineer to do a baseline foundation elevation survey during the first year that we lived here. Since then, we have paid him to return two more times–so we know exactly what is happening to this foundation and how the differential movement is affecting the house.

I don’t know how much more I can take. Each time I hear another loud pop, I cringe. How bad is this going to get? Day after day, month after month — worrying about what is going to fall apart next has left me physically, mentally, and soul tired. The emotional toll has been great.

People often say that homeownership is the epitome of the great “American Dream.” I think NOT. In retrospect, we would have been better off if we had purchased some land and a tent, instead of spending a lifetime of hard-earned savings on this disintegrating Pulte house.
Update: In February 2019, our structural engineer sent us a “2nd Follow-Up Assessment” report, which included specific repair instructions (in bold) regarding the damaged roof truss that our home inspector had found back on December 3, 2018. By March 2019, at least the roof truss was repaired.

Posted in American Dream, Construction Defects, Photo Essay, Pulte Homes, PulteGroup, Texas | Tagged , , , , | 63 Comments

Labrador Retriever Riding in Style

It wasn’t a dream or a figment of my imagination.
I actually saw a goggle-wearing Labrador Retriever sitting proudly in an antique car painted with red flames.  This awesome dog was definitely riding in style and appeared to enjoy the attention of people passing by.

The driver of the car told me that his loyal Labrador used to work as a ‘bomb-sniffer,’ but was forced into early retirement due to hip problems.
Oh wellwho needs to keep working anyway. Let some other younger dogs do the bomb sniffing from now on.  Retirement is working out perfectly, and it doesn’t get better than this!

And then, as I was standing there admiring the car and the dog, an image of my Siamese cat suddenly pounced into my mind:

What would happen if I tried to put goggles on my cat Keona and take him for a ride in a car with no roof?  There would be paws and claws everywhere!  No way would he put goggles on. And if I actually got him into a car like this, he would rip the leather seats to shreds. No. No. No. It would NOT be a good experience! 

I did get permission to hug the Labrador Retriever before they left. So soft and gentle; what a sweetheart!  I waved goodbye as the man drove away from the gas station with his best friend sitting by his sidesurrounded by flames and riding high.
(If anyone knows what type of car this is, please let me know–because I have no clue).

Posted in Animals, Antique Cars, cars, Pets, photography | Tagged , | 39 Comments

Foster Kitten’s Grateful Prayer

Foster Kitten's Grateful Prayer
Dear God,
I can’t see or walk very good yet
and I am too little to take care of myself,
so I am grateful that you gave me a foster mom
and a safe place to stay.
Without her, I don’t know where I would be right now.

Not only did she save my life, she also brought my mom into her home and saved the lives of 3 other baby kittens too.
Foster Kittens with momI intend to repay my foster mom for her kindness as soon as I can. When I am a little bigger, I am going to jump up and sit on her lap and purr as loudly as I can. That way she will know that I love her as much as she has loved me.
Foster Kitten Prayer_2
I do understand that as soon as I get old enough, someone is going to adopt me and take me away to my furever home. I am excited about that, but thinking about moving also makes me feel sad. I will miss my foster mom when I go.

Whatever happens God, I have faith that you will guide me down the right path.
Thank you for listening to my prayer.
Now I have to sleep again, because that’s what baby kittens do.
Sweet dreams all!
Kitten sleeping
***My neighbor is a volunteer with the local animal shelter, and she is currently the foster mom to the mother cat and 4 baby kittens in these photos. Even though I have 2 cats of my own, this is the first time that I have ever seen kittens so small. An  interesting experience!
++ UPDATE ++ July 8, 2018
The 4 kittens are now 10 weeks old, full of curiosity, and learning more about the world around them every day. They are ready to be adopted and have been working hard to perfect their basic cat skills, such as:

A cat who knows how to stalk stealthily is guaranteed to keep your house free of unwanted bugs and rodents.  
Hunting Mode

These two priceless cat skills have the power to lift and heal a tired soul. Always great to have a little extra love and affection!
Purr and Hug

Definitely not basic cat skills, but it is important to at least attempt to understand how to use a cell phone in this digital age.  Always good to be prepared. Might need to dial 911 one day, and ask the fire department for help getting out of a tree.  Cell phone trained

This is a very difficult skill to perfect–especially for a kitten. I have a lot of unusable blurry photos of  gray ‘blurs’ running, jumping, and playing, so I appreciated the ones who decided to stop for a few seconds and pose for the camera. Without a doubt, the next two kittens were practicing their “Please Adopt Me” poses. Absolutely perfect!
Waiting for Adoption
Adopt Me Please
We are waiting with open arms.

Posted in Animals, cats, Family, Pets, Photo Essay, photography | Tagged , , | 28 Comments

On the Path of Wind and Water

Sailing on water
created by winds of thought,
my soul travels on.

Many years ago, in the late 1970s, a 29 foot sailboat carried me around the Hawaiian Islands on a path of wind and water. Although the old photos that I have are fading, I clearly remember the scent of salt water in the air, and the sound of the boat sliding (often pounding) through the waves—as if it was yesterday.

It was an entirely new experience for me, and I learned a lot from those sailing trips: Be aware of your surroundings and do not be complacent (don’t fall asleep at the helm). The environment and life itself is always changing, so take nothing for granted. There are no guarantees.

Personally, I loved the calm days when the ocean slept quietly within itself and the voice of the sea-breeze gently sang as it passed through the rigging. Do you see the diamonds of sparkling sunlight dancing on the water? Joy!
Sailing Hawaii blue sea
But life is unpredictable and Mother Nature can quickly change a gentle breeze into a screaming wind that churns the sea into an angry rage. Sometimes life is not easy, but there is no time to worry or complain when ocean waves are rising.  Reef the mainsail, raise the storm jib, say a prayer, and keep moving forward.

A sea-bird flew along with the sailboat through a storm one day, showing me that it is possible to maintain a calm and steady state of mind even in a bad situation. I watched it glide smoothly through incredibly strong winds for several hours, barely moving its wings—no worries.

It has been 37 years since the last time I have been sailing but, over the years, my life has often resembled a rough sea with all of its ups and downs.

The biggest storm in my life happened in the late 1980s, when my first husband decided to change and go down a completely different path. The new lifestyle he had chosen did not and could not include me. I had to leave. I had to run. No choice.  Suddenly, I found myself adrift on dry land with no anchor and no place to call home. What happened to me after that is a long and almost unbelievable story. There were good things (almost miraculous) that came my way, but there were also days when I was completely exhausted and wanted to give up.

I would like to tell the whole story, but I don’t know if I will ever have the strength to write about all of the strange twists and turns that I went through. In order to write about that portion of my life–I would have to sift through old memories and deal with some painful ones that I have tried to forget. Writer’s block!

For now, I will end with the simple fact that everything in my life has continued to change over the years. Like everything else in this world, I have grown older. But my soul remains the same and travels on with the wisdom of the path of wind and water.


Posted in Memories, Nature, ocean, Photo Essay | Tagged , , , | 26 Comments

Christmas Cat on Night Patrol

It was the night before Christmas, and the area directly beneath the sparkling tree was under close surveillance by our two stealthy cats. I could tell by the stern looks on their faces that they were not going to let anything cross into their protected zone—except for humans with prior approval. I can’t explain why they suddenly decided this area needed to be guarded, but there must have been some good cat reason. Perhaps they had seen a wayward spider?

Apparently the male cat Keona decided to volunteer for  the Christmas eve night patrol shift, because he gave his assistant Siri permission to retire to the adjacent bedroom. As soon as she left, he began sniffing around the tree, doing one last check to assure that there were no unwanted creatures attempting to crawl into the paper or under the tree skirt.
After he thoroughly sniffed everything twice and was positive that all was safe and secure, he quietly returned to his secret hiding place at the back of the tree beneath the branches (where he thought he could not be seen).  And there he stood a lonely vigil while time ticked slowly by.

Keona had hoped that he was going to be able to defend the Christmas gifts and prove his catly worth, but absolutely nothing was happening.  Eventually, in spite of his incredible patience, he had to admit to himself that he was getting tired.

It soon got to the point where he could no longer hide the overwhelming fatigue and boredom that he felt inside. Wasn’t exactly the professional thing to do, but he simply had to yawn. Having a job which requires doing nothing is exhausting! Time begins to drag and minutes feel like hours………

With his mouth still wide open in a big cat yawn, he wondered why he had ever decided to take this pointless night patrol job. It certainly wasn’t as exciting as he thought it would be. Feeling rather dejected, he decided there was no purpose in continuing to stand any longer and he sat down.

As soon as he started to relax, he began to realize that he had been focusing on all of the wrong things. There was no danger around him, only beautiful dancing lights coloring him with a warm glow. Because he had only been searching for the negative, he had completely failed to notice the positive. Christmas revelation! He decided to immediately retire from his job as Christmas cat on night patrol–and curled up into sleep until a gentle ray of morning sunlight shone through the kitchen window.

Posted in Animals, Pets, Photo Essay, photography | Tagged , , , | 42 Comments

Marine Corps Reserve ‘Toys for Tots’ Christmas Magic

The spirit of Christmas
put a warm arm around me
and suddenly I believed.Santa Baby_3
This year, the Veteran’s Club in our community coordinated a drive for donations of new, unwrapped toys for the Marine Corps Reserve ‘Toys for Tots’ program. The loving response of the people here was incredible. By the time the representatives from the Marines and Santa Claus arrived in mid-December, there were 11 boxes of toys to give them, and each box was filled to the brim and overflowing. It was easy to see that the true spirit of Christmas had been hard at work!
Marine Corps Reserves Toys for Tots program_3
To end our Toys for Tots drive, we had a joyful celebration —which included Santa and the Marines (of course), and good music, food, and drink.
Marine Corp Reserves Toys for Tots program
Everyone in the room was smiling–because we all knew that, due to all of the donated toys, many less-fortunate children would now awaken to a wonderful Christmas day.  Someone out there even got a unicorn, a magical sight to be sure! 🙂
Marine Corps Reserves Toys for Tots_2
Merry Christmas to all!

Posted in Children, Christmas, Inspiration, Music, Photo Essay, photography | Tagged , , | 8 Comments

Butterfly Love on a Leaf

Intriguing orange
butterfly love on a leaf—
October surprise!

From a distance, I first thought I was looking at one large orange butterfly on a wax myrtle tree branch.  But when I came closer with the camera zoom lens, I suddenly realized there were two butterflies intertwined.

These two lovers are Gulf Fritillary butterflies. In the photo above, the lighter colored female hangs onto a leaf while the bright
orange male dangles in a precarious, provocative position beneath her.

Ah…the glorious thrill of love!
Without warning, he opens his wings, she loses her grasp on the leaf, and they fly off together rather clumsily (still connected). Due to technical difficulties, they don’t fly that far before she reaches out and grabs onto another leaf for support. Why is he making things so difficult?!

There is definitely a special sort of October autumn ‘spring’ going on here in San Antonio, Texas!

Posted in Autumn, Nature, photography, Poetry | Tagged , , | 22 Comments

Hot Texas Summer Sun

Rocks glowing beneath
fire-breathing dragon hot
Texas summer sun.

The temperature for this area is predicted to reach 105 degrees (Fahrenheit) today, and I can already hear the hot sun hissing on the horizon. Luckily, last winter, we had Emilio Ramirez landscape our backyard with rocks and some different types of yuccas, agave,  and cactus (among other things). Rocks don’t wilt, and desert plants are able to tolerate  intense heat much better than grass. We also had Emilio install a 38 head drip system so we can give everything a cool drink when needed.  However, even with the drip system, I still need to use the hose every so oftenbecause trees and bushes require more water than agaves and yuccas. I often walk around my yard and stick my fingers into the ground to test the soil moisture, so I will know if I need to water again.  It might be a little bit easier to maintain than grass, but Xeriscape does not mean no maintenance!  

Of course, when we switched from grass to rocks, the ‘creatures’ that wanted to inhabit the backyard changed too. I never saw a scorpion in Virginia, but I have seen a few here.  Last week around midnight, I heard my Siamese cat talking rather loudly. She never talks like that unless she is communicating with ‘something’ of great interest. So I got out of bed, turned on the light, and saw that she was calmly escorting a scorpion across the tile floor. Oh no!  The scorpion was obviously annoyed, as it was waving its tail over its head while it walked beside her. Of course, I have no picture of the scorpion because I was too worried about saving my catso you will just have to believe me.

It seems that the only creature I managed to photograph this summer was a grasshopper at the Government Canyon State Natural Area a few miles away.  It was meditating like a Zen monk in a small sliver of shade, trying to keep a cool head on a hot afternoon. 
There are others who have no choice but to stand in the heat without water or shade. Wildflowers along the roadside bow their heads and pray for cooling rain. Not all will survive the fire-breathing dragon hot Texas summer sun!
***UPDATE:  July 25, 2018***
Here we are again, a year later at the end of July, with summer temperatures rising up to 105 degrees.  While the rest of us are wilting and hiding inside of air conditioned rooms,  heat and drought resistant native plants continue to grow and bloom outside under the  sizzling Texas sun.  Amazing!


Posted in Haiku, Nature, photography, Poetry, Summer | Tagged , , , , , , | 23 Comments

One Pink Wildflower

Surrounded by jealous weeds,
a pink wildflower
danced in the warm sunlight
for one glorious day
before vanishing from sight.
in the darkness of the night,
‘something’ ate this flower
and the buds below,
leaving nothing behind
but a broken stem
and yesterday’s memory.

Dear wildflower,
life is unpredictable!
If I had realized
you were leaving so soon,
I would have said goodbye.   ~ms
It’s true. The lovely pink wildflower only survived for a few hours, but all of the tough weeds that surrounded it are still here and growing strong. All things considered, maybe it’s wiser to go through life as an unattractive  weed—there are not many things that want to endure a mouthful of scratchy, prickly leaves and thorns!

Posted in Nature, photography, Poetry, Spring | Tagged , | 12 Comments

Cat Warmth and Wisdom

Cat wisdom knows exactly
where to find warmth and comfort
on cold December days.
The wise cat knows exactly
how to quickly transform
an inexpensive
insulated shopping bag
into a comfortable bed—
(just don’t sit on the zipper).

when a catnap is desired
any soft place is perfect
(especially when there’s room to stretch).
And then—
as winter days grow colder
cat wisdom instinctively
seeks sunlit spaces
to warm the fur.
Last but not least—
cat wisdom teaches us all
that the best way to create heat
on a cold, dark winter night
is in the kind arms
of a loving friend.   ~ms

Posted in Animals, Pets, Philosophy, photography, Poetry | Tagged , , | 46 Comments

Autumn Pampas Grass Magic

Summer green has been replaced
with Autumn’s sunlit leaves
sparkling gold and red
colors evoking visions
of magic everywhere.
Like the changing leaves
at the end of October,
Halloween celebrations
give us the opportunity
to boldly imagine and create
new visions of self
with a childlike freedom.

On Halloween day (1997),
I chose to take on the persona
of a gentle witch wearing
a black satin velvet dress.
Standing in my backyard
holding a natural magic wand
made of pampas grass plumes,
I began to conduct sounds
of bird songs, chirping crickets,
and softly falling leaves.

As I drew circles in the air
with my magical grass wand,
I began to feel a strong
connection with earth,
sky, and the universe itself.
Like a note written in time,
I realized I was an integral part
of a magnificent symphony
written by an unseen
and masterful composer.
And the power of my song
was and is in my own hands!
Note: This is the first time that I have written anything on my blog in 3 months, because when there are problems in lifemy creativity seems to vanish like dust in the wind. Was recently in a car accident and I am currently doing my best to get my feet back on the ground (literally)!
**I would like to add that, this morning, when I read all of the positive comments, wishes, and hugs being sent my way, I suddenly remembered a post I wrote in 2012—where the ‘bluebird of happiness’ was sitting outside my window reprimanding me for being so sad.  I just read through the post again and the words still apply—made me smile! How did I forget?  I greatly appreciate all of you for jogging my memory!
“There is more to life than death,
and more to death than dead.
Every shadow comes from light
not the darkness in your head.
Happiness ……wake up!   ~ms

Posted in Music, Nature, Shamanism | Tagged , , , , , | 41 Comments

Grasshopper Camouflage

Standing motionless
surrounded by old brown grass
baking in the sun,
how did you notice me
and my perfect grasshopper
summer camouflage? ~ms
I saw the grasshopper from a distance, in spite of its clever camouflage,  because its long legs were sticking up and pointing in the opposite direction of the grass. So I thought I would come a little closer for a better look.

The grasshopper glared at me and did not move.  I could almost hear it thinking:
“Lady, why don’t you just go away? I’ve been hopping and semi-flying around all morning, so back off and leave me alone!  I’m tired, I’m wearing the equivalent of a suit of armor,  it’s hotter than hot out here, and I am NOT going to move again just because of you.”

Poor thing! It is over 100 degrees here in the Texas Hill Country this afternoon and nothing out here should have to move for no reason. So I took a quick photo and walked away. Maybe I should go back inside anyway, because more hot things (like snakes) might be trying to rest comfortably in the grass or underneath a shady old tree.
Even with a bottle of water in  hand, I don’t think I’m going to be able to wander around in the hot sun for long. Yep. There is a possibility that my mind is already starting to melt, because I could swear that one of the branches of a nearby live oak tree is watching me!



Posted in Humor, Nature, Summer | Tagged , , , , | 21 Comments