Monday, June 30, 2008

My son wants a longer lens for the camera

This snake doesn't have an egg shoved in his mouth and I didn't crop it at all. Though he appears and my son confirms that this is, as he put it, "just a king snake," I'm thinking if I have to upload another 36 pictures of a snake's eye, tongue, and scales that I will need to buy the child the telephoto macro lens he wants to keep him from lying right on top of a bunch of snakes to get, as he puts it, "a decent shot."

I have reminded him that he doesn't work for National Geographic. I also suggested that birds and farm animals are good specimens for pictures, but no. He likes snakes, and he loves the swamp, so I try to remind him of snake safety daily, make sure he has all the books on snakes that he needs to be informed, and try not to get in his way as he wanders past the pines to the swamp looking for four of the six poisonous snakes in Mississippi. The fifth Mississippi poisonous snake, the coral snake, is found south of Hattiesburg only, so I don't have to worry about that elusive snake (at least until he gets his driving license).

I want to encourage his hobbies and interests, but getting close enough to snakes to look into their eyes is a lot to ask of a mom.

Of course, his pictures make my blog more interesting.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Bees in the Corn

This morning I did a hive entry check because last night, while I was sitting on the porch as a thunderstorm went right around us, AGAIN, I thought I noticed fewer bees hanging on the front of hive number 1. Fewer bees could have been caused by the cool, damp breeze blowing in or it could be a sign of trouble. Anyway, I stood around in front of the hives today and I saw lots and lots of bees with enormous panniers of pollen. See the little yellow pocket to the right of the bee. Go ahead, click the picture for a better look.

I did a quick look around and realized the corn had bloomed and the bees were sneaking over the fence to partake. The bees love this stuff, though harvesting corn pollen has no economic benefit since corn self-pollinates.

Hold up a minute. Let me climb on my stump.

Many commercial beekeepers forget this important, natural step in the hive year. When the beekeepers become paid pollinators for crops requiring insect pollination, the needs of the bees are neglected. Years ago, bees were more viable because there were more backyard keepers and farmers who kept their own pollination hives, which allows them to stay on the property for the entire year. During the stationary hive year, the bees are allowed to forage for the nutrients needed to keep healthy, while those on the road are fed inferior replacements.

If we let the bees gather corn pollen, would we be any better off? With all the genetically modified corn out there, I'm wondering if the bees need to be left to their own devices. Could the genetically altered corn be the one thing that is killing the bees?

We grow only organic, non GMO, corn here, so I let (like I am in full control of all my 120,000 plus bees) my bees eat all they want, but I do wonder about the other, not so lucky bees (I'm also lucky, none of my neighbors are corn growers). If corn is genetically altered to produce Bt in the pollen, which it is, then is not the pollen an insecticide?

Perhaps cheap corn isn't as cheap as it seems.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

More Unpaid Advertising

A few weeks ago, when searching for shampoo, I noticed these cute square packages, almost hidden on the bottom row. You guessed it, I wasn't shopping for shampoo at one of the usual venues, but at my natural foods coop. Because it isn't easy for us to recycle (I have to schlep glass and plastics 70 miles) so it doesn't always get done or it sits around cluttering my environs, I am always looking for ways to reduce my family's use of plastic.

This little bar claims to offer the approximate number of usages as a 24 oz. bottle of modern shampoo. The wrapper, which is corn based and biodegradable, declares the product:
  • free of animal testing
  • free of preservatives
  • bio-degradable
  • made with pure 100% natural oil
The maker also claims that the shampoo produces "thick, luxurious lather" and "rinses out clean and easily." There is also a money back guarantee and an old New England saw, "Use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without".

What did I have to lose? I purchased a bar.

We love it!! In fact, I cannot imagine any reason for another plastic bottle to cross the threshold of my bathroom.

Another instance of reduction of waste being easy.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

I decided to do a close-up this year

I've shown you my 100 year old crepe myrtle before, but every year I'm drawn to the vibrant pink blossoms that are so heavy they droop. I'm smitten.

Just like an old friend, she reappears, even when times are tough. The first year we were here, the carpenters butchered her, not realizing she was a keeper, because her limbs were draping on the roof. This year the late frost nipped her tips.

No matter. We still have a show.

I wish all plants were this hardy.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Summer Food

Now is the time of good eating. I'm making jelly, preserves, and jam. We've harvested and have a wonderful excess of taste enhancers like garlic, onions, basil, dill, and peppers. And the summer melons are getting to that heat produced sweetness that only Mississippi can supply.

This week, I produced blackberry preserves and syrup, and plum jelly. The plums weren't mine, but I should have enough of mine (from the rent house's small orchard) to make another batch or two later this week. I was worried that there would be nothing for jelly, since most of our fruit got frozen. Our larder is bare, except for fig preserves, so I put out word in town that I needed some plums.

Luckily, we found some. Plum is Mr. W's and E's favorite.

I thought y'all would want to see my garlic braided. Obviously, it isn't a wreath. That didn't work out, but this year's creation is much better than last year's. The true test, though, comes once garlic is cut from the braid. A good braid will remain. A lousy one will fall apart. I'm hoping for the best.

Mr. W took some meat out of the freezer this morning before he left for work. I guess that means he is tired of zucchini. I may have overdone it a bit. Just this week, we've had sauteed zucchini with Parmesan, sauteed zucchini in tomato sauce served over pasta, zucchini and onions, zucchini tart. I suggested omelets with, you guessed it, zucchini for supper last night, but was overruled. We had pasta and pesto, instead, but no meat was in sight.

Tonight, we'll have meat and no zucchini.

Yesterday, when I was delivering the pay checks in town, I saw a truck load of melons.

Mississippi Melons.

I knew the man. I asked a few questions about the origination of the fruit, while smelling the cantaloupe and thumping a few watermelons. Even though there have been melons in the local grocery store for weeks, they weren't the real thing. They weren't from here. They were picked a little early.

I waited patiently.

Waited until the pick-up trucks driven by locals were pulling into town, loaded with melons.

I was rewarded - rewarded with the sweetest Smith County watermelon and perfectly ripe cantaloupe.

The chickens approve!

Thanks for the Challenge

Yes, Zilla, I do know the name of the butterfly. It is a Painted Lady, Vanessa cardui.

Of course, I didn't know when you asked me, but I have garnered quite a collection of online resources in my 12 years as mother of children who ask nothing but questions. Look at this wonderful UGA site. I needed other pictures to make the identification, but I just happened to have them, since Princess was trying to capture her image for the Neshoba County Fair Photography Competition and took about 50 images of that butterfly and zinnia. She wasn't pleased with any of them. See why I need so many extra external hard drives.

Once you finish identifying butterflies, you can also identify birds, frogs, lizards, turtles, insects, plants, and fungi. I would have to say that it is a most useful site for my questioning, nature children.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

An Upgraded Zinnia

I've been having one of those time sucking days. I usually devote either the morning or afternoon of every Thursday to payroll activities - time cards, check writing, tax paying, employee bill paying, insurance and bank reconciling, and balancing the ledger - you know, stuff. This morning, because I had the audacity to install, on Wednesday, the operating system upgrade I purchased back in November, I couldn't use my accounting program, not locked out, just incompatible.

The software company has worried me for years about updating my software, touting all the bells and whistles of the newer programs. I always say, "This one works, there is no need. I'm fine just where I am."

It's not that I'm cheap. Well, maybe a little. But, I usually keep software (and a computer) until it ceases to do the job for which it was purchased, then I'll upgrade. This morning completely unaware of the potential problem, I began my usual routine and every time I opened a bank register, I was frozen - clicking no longer permitted. Some keyboard sequences were permitted, but honestly who knows every single keyboard shortcut for every single task and the menus wouldn't descend so I could cheat.

I upgraded.

And as an added bonus, I was able to spend that money online, so I didn't have to speak to a customer service rep. who would have probably had a good, "I told you so" laugh.

After that disaster was managed, I checked my other programs so there would be no other last minute surprises. Photoshop 7 (I think it is 6 years old, which is practically unheard of for an Adobe product) no longer works. This is a BIG, expensive problem but shouldn't effect my pictures here, since they come straight out of the camera, unless I crop weeds, mess, or something else ugly out of the picture and I usually do that in iPhoto, not because y'all aren't Photoshop worthy, but because I try to limit my non-work computer time and I tend to get a bit obsessive-compulsive once I get started.

Now, many are asking yourselves why I updated my operating system in the first place. I was given a fabulous deal last time I bought a LaCie external hard drive because of Leopard's new Time Machine feature which works so well with LaCie products. I was tempted.

Many more of you are asking what the zinnia picture has to do with this post. I just don't know, except that when I mulling over my options, I walked out to the garden and saw it. I like thinking about pink zinnias rather than expensive upgrades.

Perhaps this is an upgraded zinnia.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008


In pursuit of perfect blackberries, we tramped through mud and briers, risked getting chiggers and ticks, and endured oppressive heat. Why? Wild blackberries are the best. No thornless hybrid, no tame orchard berry can even compete.

The flavor and texture differences are subtle, yet distinct - the twang of the wild, I like to say.

My children and I brought home 5 pounds. We picked many more than that, but getting them into the basket is tough. Even though I should have more self control than my children, I know I ate at least a cup - maybe two. You have to test each picking location to make sure they aren't bitter from lack of rain.

Yep, that sounds like a solid defense.

We did have to limit our picking to low spots, the spring stream, and the small spring because we need rain to produce the sweetest berries. Those dry berries have way too much wild twang. Even with the limitation, we got enough today for a cobbler and a jar or two of preserves.

Yum! Yum!

While we were out, we did reconnaissance for a later harvest - wild muscadines. My husband has a small orchard, but finding a wild crop is even better because I like that wild twang. Of course, walking out to the orchard is certainly easier. Looks like we will have a good crop this year if we don't have to share too many with the birds.

Monday, June 16, 2008

The Roost

Finding the perfect roost for my turkeys was a challenge because, quite honestly, I didn't know what I was seeking. My husband took a partial cattle panel out to the coop and propped it against the wall when the poults were small. They hated it. The wires were too small or they couldn't figure out how to use it.

When my husband was out of town, I decided to remove his work and find a real solution. You can't let your birds free range unless they roost in your coop. Turkeys that don't roost in the coop won't return to the coop at night, so they will be unprotected. They are also difficult to catch when needed. So, I put roosting turkeys on the top of the list.

I hung a pole from the roof like a giant trapeze. Too swingy, I guess. They didn't like it. I, then searched high and low for something that I thought a turkey would like.

Finally, I called a man who is dedicated turkey hunter and asked about favorite roosts of wild turkeys.

"In the tops of pine trees on branches about three inches in diameter," he said.

K and I started searching for 3" branches and I just happened to have a few perfect ones in our Katrina cedar pile. They were there all along, I just didn't know what I needed. As soon as the limbs were installed, the turkeys started investigating - playing if you believe animals play.

That night every poult roosted.


Do you ever feel as if you speak some cryptic language in which perfectly legitimate instructions, perfectly subtle jokes, and perfectly nuanced inflections and details flow from your mouth, only to be misunderstood or ignored?

Am I the problem?

Communication can be exhausting.

Saturday, June 14, 2008


We're at that awkward time of the gardening year when we get basket after basket of one thing, but don't have the other ingredients to make our favorites.

Costata Romanesco, my favorite zucchini, is fabulous alone, sauteed in olive oil with just a sprinkle of sea salt and freshly ground pepper, served over a bed of spaghetti. Dust lightly with Parmesan to make it perfect. But, what I'm craving right this minute is Ratatouille. I still don't have eggplant, bell pepper, or tomato ripe, but I'm close.

Meanwhile, I have lots and lots and lots of zucchini.

I'm making Zucchini Bread with the larger squash (this species gets huge overnight but is amazingly tender for the larger vegetable genre) for eating now and for the freezer. Here's the recipe in case you have an over supply without support veggies.

Zucchini Bread

3 ea Egg -- slightly beaten
1 cup Sugar, Brown
1 cup Sugar
1 cup Vegetable Oil
2 cup Zucchini -- grated
3 tsp Vanilla Extract
1 cup Flour, White, Unbleached
1 cup Flour, Whole-Grain
2 tsp Baking Soda
1/4 tsp Baking Powder
1 tsp Salt
3 tsp Cinnamon, Ground
1 cup Pecans -- Chopped

Preheat oven to 350. Beat eggs and sugars together. Mix in oil, zucchini, and vanilla. Sift dry ingredients together and beat into mixture. Stir in chopped nuts. Pour batter into two greased and floured 9 x 5 loaf pans. Bake for 1 hour. Best if allowed to cool for a while after baking. from Dinner on the Diner, Junior League of Chattanooga.

Image is E's. I think this will be her fair photography entry. I saw her working on it in Black and White, yesterday afternoon.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Under the Moon

Last hour, I lay prone on the porch swing listening to the frogs, crickets, and the blues, thinking about how wonderful it would be to sleep out there. I shared my perch with my children for a little while, but I kept encouraging them to take baths, brush teeth, read, and get in the bed. Finally, I was by myself.

Sort of.

I wondered if I could be comfortable. I would probably spend the entire night with ten plus cats wallerin' on me. Cat hair and the 87% humidity don't mix well. Ten cats and one person in a five foot porch swing is a tight fit.

But the moonlight filtering through the crepe myrtles, the frog and insect symphony, the light breeze, and gentle sway of the swing are teasing me.

Maybe I'll give it a try.

Perhaps me sleeping on the porch would bring the rain.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Too Far?

Yesterday, when K was finishing the lawn, he found an injured baby. Isn't it cute?

He came for the camera, but then asked if he could keep it and try to nurse it back to health. It looked dehydrated and had some sort of fly attracting injury on his back side, but we didn't pry too much because that area of a skunk is not something you want in your face.

Just in case.

After a few droppers of water and a few kernels of cat food, Lil' Pepe showed a bit more life. We, then, had to find a way to keep the flies away, because maggots swimming in rotten flesh isn't pleasant for anyone.

Established for the night, we thought we had a chance to heal this stray. I was really excited because I need more egg eating skunks to compete with the egg eating rat snakes.

This morning, Lil' Pepe was dead.

And I was actually sad. I tell you he was just too cute not to want to keep him.

It's probably good thing Mr. W is out of town. I doubt he would have been moved to care.

Monday, June 02, 2008


The canebrake is an almost magical place with its muffled quiet of thick vertical growth and filtered light. Once you move a little way into the forest of canes light becomes even more scarce. The air is cool and damp. Cane strippings and leaves blanket the floor. Wildlife abounds - frogs, canebrake rattlers, voles and who knows what else is lurking- hidden by the shadows.

Alas, we weren't there to meditate. With work to do, we shattered the silence with the whine of a chain saw, downing mature canes with the potential to become outstanding structure for my unruly running beans.

Yet, there certainly is pleasure in work, if you take the time to find it.

Sunday, June 01, 2008


I absolutely, positively love basil. And why not? Basil grows when it is hot, is a companion plant to just about any other plant, and it provides the base for one of my most favorite dishes - pesto.

In fact, we had pesto last night. I was tired from hoeing, weeding (I missed that one piece of grass in the basil), cutting and hauling cane for beanpoles, and sticking a few beans - not anywhere close to all. I needed something quick, low heat producing, and indulgent.

Noticing earlier that my basil needed nipping, I decided pesto was the answer. So, we threw two chickens, flavored with a bit of olive oil, salt, garlic, and a touch of lemon, on the grill, and I started harvesting basil. If I hadn't been so tired, I would have hand chopped every single garlic clove and basil leaf, but alas I tossed everything except the oil and cheese in the food processor and pulsed it a few times. I am usually snooty about things like this, but sometimes you just have to take the easy way. I did grate the Parmesan by hand before I threw it in the food processor with the olive oil and gave it a few more whirs.

Here is a recipe. I know not from where it came, but I do know that it is very flexible.

About 2 cups basil
About 1/4 pine nuts (I've used pecans in a tight, but will never use walnuts though some people like it that way)
Two or three cloves or garlic
Sea salt to taste, but also to help with the chopping of the garlic
Ground pepper to taste
A mound of grated Parmesan, about 1 cup
Then, enough great extra virgin olive oil to make it smooth and somewhat emulsified (maybe 3/4 cup).

A few of those recipe caveats: Quality matters here, use great olive oil and if you have a green can in the fridge, leave it there.

Chop the basil, pine nuts, and garlic together with the salt and pepper. Add the cheese. Then add the olive oil in a stream until it looks right. Serve over pasta - warm or room temperature.

Sit back and wait for the Wows, Ohs, and Ahhhs.