My life has a superb cast but I can't figure out the plot.
~ Ashleigh Brilliant

Monday, April 29, 2013

A weekend of Mountains, Moonsets, Mowers, & Miracles

Wow, Monday again already? Is it just me or did that feel like a weekend on performance enhancing drugs? Well, even though it flew by, we enjoyed a nice one and hope you did too! Here are a few highlights from ours, starting with Friday (yes, despite including Friday in the weekend it still went by too fast!)

The forecast for Friday was so nice (sunny and about 70ºF) that my friend Robyn and I decided to meet up for a picnic lunch. We grabbed some vegan grub from The Health Nut (a tempeh salad multigrain wrap for Robyn, their yummy "I Am Immune" açai and blueberry coconut water-based smoothie for me), and drove the short distance to the Sheridan Visitor's Center, which has the best view of the Big Horns in town. Which is why I brought my camera along. :-)

Here's the view as we saw it from our picnic spot, shunning their shaded picnic tables to bask on the grass in the warm sunshine....

And here are a couple of zoom photos taken with my telephoto lens...

There's snow in them thar hills! (Good thing, since it's the source of our water!)

That's 13,005' Black Tooth Mountain in the photo's center

Our lovely Friday bade us farewell with a final beautiful view, this time of the full moon setting over the mountains...

Saturday was even more beautiful than Friday, with lots of sunshine and a high of 76º (25º warmer than average and missing the record high for that date by just 5º). BW and I took advantage of it with several outdoor activities, beginning with the assembly and maiden voyage of our new reel mower!

As a kid I loved using my grandparents' heavy vintage reel mower - already old in the 1970's when I'd use it to mow the grass at their rural Maine farmhouse, once even mowing a patch in the overgrown field behind the house so my cousin and I could play badminton there! I've wanted one of my own ever since, but had to wait for the demise of the old gasoline push mower BW and I bought as newlyweds for $35 at a Texas pawn shop (and moved with us five times) before it finally exhaled its last noxious breath late last August! But by the time we got our sod in at our newly-built house it was autumn, so I had to wait till winter ended. Which, of course, winter didn't do - the mower arrived the day before Zeus hit, and we were needing a snow thrower more than a lawn mower!

But by Saturday the snow had all melted and the front yard needed a haircut, so out came our shiny new mower ~~

After reading several reel mower guides and reviews, we ordered this Fisker's 17" Staysharp model from for $160 (now the price is $20 higher, so I guess it pays to order your mower while there's still snow on the ground!)

So why my longing for a reel mower? You can read about their advantages (and disadvantages) on this Reel Mower Guide, but my main reasons for wanting one was because they're quiet (I hate noise), non-polluting, cheaper and easier to maintain (no spark plugs, air filter or oil to change, no gas to buy and haul home, no carburetor to adjust), and it provides good exercise (and fresh air and Vitamin D exposure!) :-) 

They're also much better for your grass (reel mowers snip the grass like scissors rather than tear it as rotary motors do), they're much safer, and since they're so quiet, you can mow at any time of day - including the cool of the early morning or late evening, without disturbing the peace.

We found this mower light and maneuverable, and it cut the Kentucky bluegrass on our front yard easily and fairly quickly. The back yard's fescue isn't quite ready to be mowed yet, and it will be a bit more challenging since it's a bigger area and it slopes. But it's just going to be a better workout! 

Of course if it proves too tough or takes too long, we can always modify it...

(Speaking of performance enhancing drugs...)

And then we could even compete in the U.S. Lawn Mower Races (yes, there really is such a ghastly thing), especially since UPS already has a lawn mower racing team, apparently...

But enough about mowing stuff, let's talk about growing stuff! 

Miraculously, our neighbor's daffodils that looked for all the world like they were done for after Winter Storm Zeus hurled -2ºF temps and 8" of heavy snow at them last weekend, were revived by the sunshine and warm temps and most of them look as good as new! Here are a couple of photos I took early Sunday morning so you could see the tough little buggers' lovely rejuvenation for yourselves...

You can almost hear them greet the warm sunshine with a relieved and contented "aaaaaaaaahhhhhhhh." Just like us. :-)

Friday, April 26, 2013

SkyWatch Friday: We got Zeused!

Winter storm Zeus, which thundered into town Sunday night and turned Monday's Earth Day into a Snow Day, was fittingly named by The Weather Channel. It's rare to find an image of a smiling, happy Zeus. Not famous for a sunny disposition, on his best days he was a gatherer of clouds and a world-class sulker...

Ruler of the Olympian gods of ancient Greece, and of the sky and the angry weather that suited his personality, Zeus was often battling or punishing someone. He overthrew and banished his father Cronos (though Cronos had it coming), is often credited with orchestrating the entire Trojan War, and is most notorious for his sadistic punishment of Prometheus. His weapon of choice was the thunderbolt, which he wielded with alarming frequency at the many who vexed him, though the image on the right suggests that he sometimes liked to add variety to his days by poking his enemies with a sharp cloud-stick instead...

Even innocent spring daffodils aren't spared...

poor doomed daffodils

...since it was Zeus who promised his daughter Persephone to his brother Hades, god of the Underworld, without her mother Demeter's knowledge nor permission. Bad move. Because when Demeter - goddess of growing things -  found out, she refused to let anything sprout, bloom, or grow. And so the earth went dormant and we mortals faced famine. 

I took the above photo of a neighbor's pretty daffodil patch just as Zeus began scowling down at us in the form of some ominous clouds ("gatherer of clouds" indeed!), and we knew his eponymous storm was looming and dooming the early buds and flowers to another wintery fate...

And when the scowling clouds turned truly angry...

...we knew this probably wouldn't end well for us and our daffodil friends...

The National Weather Service, meanwhile, figured the same thing, and turned our Winter Storm Watch into a Winter Storm Warning, with a predicted snowfall of 8-12". We got lucky, because although it snowed for 24 hours beginning late Sunday morning, the ground was still warm enough to prevent it from sticking until dark, keeping the accumulation to about 8" by the next morning and altering our landscape in Demeter-like dramatic fashion...

The snow wasn't the worst of it (except from a snow-shoveler's perspective); it was the bitterly cold temperatures left in Zeus' wake, temps cold enough to prompt an extremely rare mention in the national weather news

In the wake of the storm, temperatures plummeted. Sheridan, Wyo., recorded a low of 2 degrees below zero on the morning of April 23. Not only did this shatter the previous record of 15 above for the date, but it was the latest subzero reading ever recorded there -- by a margin of 18 days! The previous latest measured subzero low there was April 5 in 1936.

Lovely spring weather returned soon after and quickly melted most of the snow, so I revisited the daffodil patch Wednesday for an "after" picture but the gruesome results of Zeus' hissy-fit were just too depressing to photograph. So let's just remember the daffodils as they were last Sunday morning, cheerful and lovely and perilously optimistic, and hope that Zeus concludes this spring's parade of winter storms like it concluded the Weather Channel's alphabetical winter storm names list...

Daffy, we hardly knew ye...

Monday, April 22, 2013

Earth Day goodies

When I found this potent little video in my web-wanderings last month, I knew immediately that this year's Earth Day post would be a perfect place to share it...

Don't do nothing because you can't do everything.
Do something. Anything.
~Colleen Patrick-GoudreauCompassionate Cook

There are hundreds of things we can do (or stop doing) to help reduce waste, pollution and environmental destruction, and most of us are probably already aware of and actively doing many of them. And there's no day like Earth Day to thank each other for our efforts, and resolve to learn about and do even more! 
You can also read about how your diet could change the world (for the better!) at The Vegan Society, who also offers a free vegan pledge for seven days or for thirty days, with or without a mentor.

Along with my warmest wishes for a happy and meaningful Earth Day, I want to leave you with a few moments of beauty, peace and inspiration from two Australian musicians who call themselves, appropriately enough, Sacred Earth...

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Rest in peace, little Val

I'm very sad to write that little Val the mouse died in the night in his sleep, exactly one month after Tino. He passed away peacefully in his favorite sleeping spot, and since BW had just cleaned "Mouseville" yesterday afternoon, Val was nestled snugly in clean new bedding with a tummy full of his favorite foods, all freshly served. 

I've added this update to Tino's memorial page, which is now dedicated to the memory of both of them, where you can see their photos and read their story...

Despite doing well for the first three weeks after Tino's death, Val became frail and wobbly in the past week. This morning when I got up and checked on him, I found that he had died in his sleep during the night - one month to the day after Tino. They were probably the same age, and very elderly for mice, but given Val's rapid decline so soon after Tino's death it's impossible not to imagine that Val didn't die of a broken heart, missing his constant companion. Sweet and good to the very end, Val died just ahead of a major spring snowstorm that's due to arrive at noon today, bringing 5-10" of snow to our area over the next two days, giving us time this morning to bury him beside Tino in the still-warm soil of the front flowerbed. Rest in peace, little one, we love and will miss you so very much.

"Sleeping Mouse" by Charles Van Sandwyk

Friday, April 19, 2013

SkyWatch Friday: Unbeatable Sunrises

There was never a night or a problem 
that could defeat sunrise or hope.
~Bern Williams

Our first half of agitated April saw an amazing variety of weather (sunny days near 70ºF, snowstorms, 60mph winds) and, more importantly, photogenic sunrises and sunsets, moonrises and moonsets, and ever-morphing storm clouds. Since my archives are beginning to burst at the seams with April sky photos, I thought I'd share these four beautiful sunrises I captured earlier this month from our back patio... 



Even managed to sneak a simultaneous moonrise into this one :-) ...
4/6/13 (5:17am)

Our sunrises don't just change a lot from day to day, they change a lot from minute to minute. This next sunrise was taken just 32 minutes after the previous one...

4/6/13 (5:39am)


Happy SkyWatching.
And please be kind to each other.
More than you know.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

'bout sums it up...

April so far...
If my flip flops are going to be covered in something white this time of year,
I think that something ought to be beach sand from St. Maarten! :-)

Speaking of flip flops and beaches, I've been reminded* that flip flops were, and in some places still are, also known as "thongs." So if you find yourself lucky enough to be packing for a vacation on an international beach, a thorough understanding of the different meanings of "thongs" can be critical...

*For you, dear Elephant's Child! :-)

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Boston's pain and the comfort of furry faces

My original plan for today's post was to share some recent photos of our furry-faced family members. But in light of yesterday's tragic events, I first want to say...

My favorite city for as long as I can remember, Boston holds many fond memories for me, and like so many I am broken-hearted at yesterday's awful news. Such brutal acts of violence defy understanding. When I composed my profile on Care2 many years ago, one of the things I listed under their What Scares Me heading was, "Humanity's capacity for brutality," while under the adjacent heading Inspirations, I listed "Humanity's capacity for kindness." That we're so capable of the latter, but too often choose the former, is both frustrating and tragic to me and to anyone who longs and strives to live in a nonviolent world. But although both traits were on full display in Boston yesterday, the vast majority of people were clearly acting on, demonstrating, and inspiring us with their courage and compassion. So while we grieve and try - yet again - to make some sense of the senseless, I think it's important to remember and focus on that. Because Mr. Rogers' mom was right...
(image via Vegans of Instagram)

Very true. (Now if only our species would stop creating so much need for so many helpers!)

I find few things as reassuring and full of love as a furry face, so here's my original post, composed at first to entertain but now also offered as a source of comfort to anyone who feels the same...

I've been remiss in posting photos of our canine kids lately, but not because I haven't been taking any. With faces like these, how could I not? :-) I've actually had this post ready to go for a while, except for Josie holding up the show. She's very photogenic, but as soon as the camera appears, Josie does the opposite. But if you're going to be a "wildlife" photographer, you have to be persistent (e.g. more stubborn even than Josie), and finally - for a few brief moments Saturday morning - it paid off. Here's Josie's "I want to be alone" Greta Garbo pose...

Tessa has a face that's made for closeups. Which is a good thing, because the instant the camera is pointed at her, she comes up and sticks her big schnozzle right in it...

After a week of lovely weather, long walks and basking on the patio, I'd just told her that a winter storm was coming the next day. This is her "That totally sucks, dude" expression. 

And here are the two goobers together at the back door, with Josie contemplating making a break for it (which she did right after I snapped this), and Tessa wondering what's going on in the kitchen behind me and what might be in it for her...

This is how our much-easier-to-photograph Willow usually looks: completely sacked out on her bed in the kitchen nook...


Until one of us begins a food-related activity in the kitchen. Then BOOM! She's on instant Full Alert and ready for snarfing action...

This time it was BW cutting up sweet potatoes. Willow luuuuuvs sweet potatoes!

This was the first practice photo I took with my new Rebel...

I put this pretty frame around it using Photobucket's fun editing tools, 
most of which are no longer available since their web site "improvements." Gah.

Friday, April 12, 2013

SkyWatch Friday: Ukko

These are almost a month old now, but SkyWatch Fridays just don't roll around fast enough to fit in photos of our everchanging skies this time of year! :-) 

Lots of folks in the US (including us) were - and are being - affected by that most unwelcome, vicious Spring party crasher, wild and wacky Winter Storm Walda. But before Walda there was was Winter Storm Ukko (named for the Finnish god of the sky, weather and thunder), a badass in a black hat that rode into town on St. Patrick's Day. Ukko didn't stay around these parts for long before galloping off to wreak havoc in the Northeast, but like "Saturn" two weeks earlier, it blasted us with sudden 40 mph winds (and 55mph gusts) and sideways snow that lasted all day and most of the night. Even blew away a neighbor's new trampoline, and sent another's big grill rolling across their patio. Here are some photos I took as the storm rolled in...

Looks pretty dire, doesn't it?

This creepy cloud, reminding me of the "Smoke Monster" from Lost, deserved a closeup!

I love how the morning sun lit the wildly flapping flags against that ominous sky...

See what other skies are up to around the world at... 

Monday, April 8, 2013

Red-wings sing to a postponed Spring

According to Cornell University's Ornithology Lab, "...the Red-winged Blackbird is a familiar sight atop cattails... In the North, their early arrival and tumbling song are happy indications of the return of spring.

Well amen to all that, as the Red-winged Blackbirds returned during last week's lovely balmy weather and have been noisily heralding spring among the previously silent, lonesome cattails in the field behind our house. (A tad prematurely as it turns out, since we're in the 8-12" snowband north of Casper on today's latest weather map, but bless their optimistic little hearts!) :-)

I headed out early Wednesday morning to take some pictures of them, stopping briefly to photograph the pretty sky along the way...

The cattails in the marsh were playing host to about half a dozen male Red-winged Blackbirds, who seemed happy to strike impressive poses while creating an equally impressive cacophony...

I think he's pretty aware of how handsome he is, don't you? :-)

Three amigos stop hollering long enough to eat breakfast together

They throw themselves into their performances with great panache!
(You can listen to their songs and calls here)

This guy's so into it he looks like he's about to launch himself right off his cattail!

Also according to Cornell, the boys can puff up or hide their red and gold epaulets
depending on their confidence level. So on a scale of 1-10, 
how much confidence do you reckon this guy was feeling?

Of course I had to get a couple with our house in the background...

This one really makes me smile. I think he's saying, "Hey, look at me, I'm a raptor!" :-)


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  • INFERNO ~ Dan Brown
  • ONE SUMMER: AMERICA, 1927 ~ Bill Bryson
  • THE BEAUTIFUL CIGAR GIRL ~ Daniel Stashower
  • THE SHADOWS, KITH AND KIN ~ Joe R. Lansdale
  • THE TIPPING POINT ~ Malcolm Gladwell
There is still strong in our society the belief
that animals and the natural world have value
only insofar as they can be converted into revenue.
That nature is a commodity.
And that the American dream is one of unlimited consumption.
There are many of us, on the other hand,
who believe that animals and the natural world
have value by virtue of being alive.
That Nature is a community to which we belong
and to which we owe our lives.
And that the deeper American dream is one of unlimited compassion.

~John Robbins, "The Food Revolution"