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

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

2014 Sheridan Annual Garden Tour, Part 1

As I've mentioned in a couple of previous posts, we went on Sheridan's 2nd Annual Garden Tour on July 19th. (We went to last year's also, in which our friends Al and Jackie's garden participated, but I didn't take my camera. This time I didn't make that blunder!

This year there were eight gardens (we made it to seven) competing in two categories: "Amazing" Estate Garden and "Amazing" Backyard Garden. It was a very bright sunny day, which made it difficult to get good photos, so I mostly concentrated on capturing the whimsy and beauty in the details, rather than taking sweeping panoramics of the properties ~ some of which were too huge to capture in a single photo anyway! I'll share them in four posts as time allows… so let's get started!

This garden, in the Backyard Garden category, belongs to a woman named Lauri, and is a certified Backyard Wildlife Habitat. It was an instant favorite and so gets this post all to itself because I took a lot of photos of it! :-) Lauri's backyard is fairly narrow but deep, and filled with treasures both hidden and not. She has a veggie garden and most of her plantings are from seed. She did all ofd the design and installation herself, and we loved its feeling of barely-controlled wildness and its mix of shady woods and open spaces. But mostly I loved all the whimsical touches! 

You know I had to get a closeup of that adorable birdie-hippie VW bus...

And this fun tent birdhouse! Look at all the great details. The birds in Lauri's back yard must be happy campers indeed!...

Lauri and I share (almost) the same first name and a love of birdhouses…

Anyone know what flower this is? (Thanks to Jackie for informing me it's a fancy clematis!) I thought they were really pretty…

She had a couple of gorgeous clematis plants (one a bit smaller than this gorgeous specimen was taking over part of the garage building)...

I loved the backdrop the neighbor's trees provided at the rear of Lauri's property, especially for this fun sunflower, which made me think of a sailor on watch in a ship's crow's nest...

2014 Sheridan Annual Garden Tour, Part 2
2014 Sheridan Annual Garden Tour, Part 3
2014 Sheridan Annual Garden Tour, Part 4

Thought while I'm at it, I'd share a few recent photos from our modest little front flower bed. It may be small, but it's been blooming like a big boy! 

The zinnias came from my friend Rose, who sent us a seed packet of them and one of snapdragons when we first moved to town. I didn't plant them at rental #1 because it was fall/winter, nor at rental #2 because we were building this place by then and I wanted to save them for our house. But in all the hubbub, I forgot about them till this summer! We planted them without high hopes, and though the snapdragon seeds didn't do anything, the zinnias have been amazing! I kept having to thin and transplant them, it seemed that every seed germinated. They just started to bloom this month…

I love the little yellow "stars" around the center of the pink one, which had vanished just a few days later when I took this closeup...

Good thing I got these photos when I did, because we had horrid winds over the weekend that frequently gusted to 50mph over the course of 24 hours, and by the time they moved on to ruin someone else's day they'd bent, broken, desiccated and denuded most of our zinnias. :-( Fortunately, quite a few were still safely tucked away in their buds, biding their time, and should be showing up any day now!

After my dental and haircut appointments tomorrow morning, we're off on our maiden voyage camping trip with the dogs and Girasole, spending the night at a state park campground about 20 miles away. It's been a really crazy week, but we purchased some more camper/camping gear and made some modifications to Girasole (like adding bed rails and slats; the "sleeping on a table top" concept just wasn't going to work for us) that should make things easier/safer/nicer, yet we still don't feel prepared. But the weather's supposed to be ideal, it's just one night, and not that far from home - what could possibly go wrong? ;-) We're not sure if we'll get another chance to "rehearse" before we all head up to Havre in mid-September for a much longer outing, but hope that tomorrow's experience will provide a good shakedown. Just not one that's too shaky!

Anyway, if I owe you an email (and it's probable that I do!), please bear with me - we didn't know BW's retirement would be so hectic! Our own fault for buying the camper. We thought you just buy one, toss in some food, clothes, and toiletries, hook it to your vehicle and you're off on adventures! We were SO na├»ve. Here's Girasole in her new home, undergoing a storage modification… can you spy BW? :-)

Friday, August 22, 2014

SkyWatch Friday: The Difference Between the Lightning Bug & the Lightning

For the past month or more, our neighbor has been trying (unsuccessfully) to convince us that there's been a nightly cloud of lightning bugs blinking and flashing their luminous bellies above a street lamp north of our houses. Though we've looked for them (also unsuccessfully), we've remained skeptical for several reasons:

1) Lightning bugs (aka fireflies) prefer warm, humid climates and are native to areas east of the natural barrier of the Rockies. They're rarely seen in the more arid states west of Kansas - and those few species that can be found in the Rockies are not the flashing variety.
2) We haven't seen any in the 25 years we've lived in Wyoming (to our sorrow)
3) When we've lived in places with lightning bugs, we never saw them cluster around lights. In fact, along with development, researchers cite light pollution as a probable major factor in the worldwide decline in lightning bug populations, since it interrupts the flash patterns lightning bugs use to communicate and attract mates.
4) Every time our neighbor has tried to convince us, he's had a beer in his hand. ;-)

What we have seen are small moths flying around the streetlights, whose light reflects off their wings and makes them appear to be glowing. So we think those are probably what our neighbor is seeing and mistaking for lightning bugs.

But last Friday and Saturday evenings, we also saw this amazing cloud of lightning blinking and flashing above the street lamp north of our houses...

So maybe our neighbor meant to say lightning and not lightning bugs. :-)

"The difference between the almost right word and the right word 
is really a large matter -- 
it's the difference between the lightning bug and the lightning."
~ Mark Twain 

Friday, August 15, 2014

SkyWatch Friday: Ringside at Sunrise (+ bonus goodies)

As if the splendid "Super Moon" rising in the evening skies wasn't enough to take our breath away this week, our morning skies on Wednesday and Thursday seemed to be putting all they had into a Sunrise heavyweight title match to which we had ringside seats! Choose the winner (if you can!)

Ladies aaaaannnnd Gentlemen! In the east corner, in the orange, gold, pink, and purple trunks, Wednesday's "Tornado Cloud" sunrise...

And also in the east corner (awkward!), wearing… well, pretty much the same colored trunks but with more fluffy bits, Thursday's "Golden Glow" sunrise

Let's get ready to ruuuuuuuuummmmmble!!!

And now for anyone who's interested, here are some bonus, non-sky pics. I have not forgotten my promise to share photos from Sheridan's (relatively) recent annual Garden Tour, but since it's looking like a multi-post dealio, I wanted to first clear out some of these poor little stragglers that I never seem to get around to posting!

During our hot summer weather, our front porch is the place to be in the early mornings and evenings. When we were clearing out and organizing our garage recently (to make more room, for reasons that will become apparent at the end of this post), we found our pretty iridescent glass-winged dragonfly candle holder - a gift several years ago from my friend Jo. In the melee of moving 3x in a year, it had wound up stashed away rather than hung up and enjoyed! So we immediately remedied that - finding the perfect spot for it was easy!

Yup, easy as 1-2-3! :-)

Now his little doorbell brother has someone to talk to! :-)

Speaking of insects, here's a threefer, though it's a sad ending for two of them. Sitting on our back patio (the place to be in the hot afternoons), we watched this robin chase several grasshoppers along our back fence. We didn't think she'd manage to catch one, but she did! She then - with her mouth full, the feathered glutton - continued to chase the surviving grasshoppers around. This time we knew she'd never be able to catch a second one, not with her mouth still full of her first hapless victim - but again, she did! Beats us how, despite watching it happen. Aware she had an audience, she perched on our fence, turning her head to the left, the right, and straight at us repeatedly so we'd have ample opportunity to admire her grasshopper-catching skills. She did this for so long that I eventually fetched my camera, attached the telephoto lens, and took several photos of her before she flew off to those trees in the background - where she no doubt has a nest full of late-summer babies to admire her grasshopper-catching skills far more than we, her vegan audience, ever could. :-) 

Only when I downloaded this photo did I see that I'd inadvertently also captured a winged critter in flight…

And while we're on the subject of critters, here's a recent photo of a content and contemplative Tessa, watching the passers by from the shade of the front porch...

And now to our final critter, BW - who retired two weeks ago today and has finally learned to love it (haha!), posing beside our new T@B teardrop trailer!

It's a 2014 S floorplan w/wet bath "M@xx" model. Despite being teeny-tiny (it'll fit in our garage, yay) and so lightweight you can tow it with some cars (like the Subaru Outback) and even maneuver it around by those two handles you see, it manages to squeeze in a U-shaped sofa/dinette which converts to a queen bed, a wee kitchen (2-burner stove, bitsy sink, little fridge), a "wet bath" shower with commode and hamster-sized sink, a furnace, air conditioner, stereo system, and television with DVD player! All the comforts of home. Well, not really, but it's not really camping if you haul all the comforts of home with you! 

We got the T@B - which, in a nod to my Tuscan heritage as well as its cheery trim color we have named "Girasole," Italian for sunflower (gira sole meaning "turns to the sun") - so we can take our dogs with us when we go places. They are all canine senior citizens now, but still love going on adventures! 

Though we signed the purchase agreement on Girasole a couple weeks ago, we won't be picking it up at the Montana dealership till Monday because we took our 1995 Jeep Grand Cherokee ("Otis") in for repairs and upgrades. He's got over 206K miles on him, bless his little 8-cylinder heart, and we needed him to be as safe and dependable a tow vehicle as possible before asking this additional duty of him. We spent the time he was in the shop, well, shopping! Getting such a late start on camping season does have one advantage - we're getting a lot of stuff on sale (including the T@B itself!), which is especially helpful since we have almost no camping gear (sleeping bags and a camp stove are about it), and have never had a travel trailer/RV of any type before. So we needed accessories - boring stuff like hoses and tire chocks, and fun stuff like a (backordered till October, sadly) matching yellow & grey T@B tent that attaches to the trailer's side (where the dogs will sleep and where we can stash some gear), some portable dog fencing, fun party lights (a necessity, you ask me!), and a pair of these reclining camping chairs. Which I blinged up for this photo with the sunflower from the bouquet from BW's retirement breakfast, plopped ever so appropriately in an empty Girasole wine bottle! :-)

Friday, August 8, 2014

SkyWatch Friday: A Gift of Skies Tied with a Rainbow

A magnificent sunrise on Saturday, a glorious sunset on Thursday - a lovely gift of skies, all tied up with a beautiful (rain)bow...

Last Saturday dawned on a chilly mix of tattered clouds, golden sun, and freshly fallen rain that created a sunrise-colored rainbow. It seemed to be bringing good luck to the elementary school across the street, though I doubt the kiddos whose summer vacation is on its last legs were impressed...

Here's its other end ~ it was a full double rainbow, though I couldn't fit it all in the frame

Unlike our hectic days spent beneath them, the skies for the rest of the week were mundane. At least until last night's sunset painted this pretty picture, so evanescent I nearly missed it...

SkyWatch Friday: every week a gift of lovely and interesting skies around the world...

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Methinx it's a Sphinx!

Sounded a little like a combination of William Shakespeare and Dr. Seuss for a second there, didn't I? :-) 

I'm not talking about the Great Sphinx of Giza, but of a pair of White-lined Sphinx moths (Hyles lineata) who have been flitting and feeding amongst our beautiful blooming bee balm in the front flowerbed the past few evenings. The first evening we noticed them as we sat on our front porch enjoying the cool temps of twilight, we thought they were hummingbirds. They are about the same size as hummingbirds and feed in the same manner, and so are often called hummingbird moths. As it happens, there was also an actual hummingbird in the mix that first evening - which rather confused things for a bit! But he took off over our roof and hasn't been seen since. Apparently the moths have staked out the bee balm for themselves, at least when the sun goes down.

I took a bazillion photos, most of which were crap - these are the best of the bunch, and aren't as ideal as I'd have wanted (it was dusk, after all, and they do flit fast, the flighty little farts!), but they'll give you a good idea, I think…

Pretty sure the pair is a male (R) and female (L)

Most of my photos are of the male, he was the one feeding the most (surprise, surprise! lol) The Sphinx moths (there are about 1200 species, 60 in North America - our White-lined Sphinx being the most common) get their name from the sphinx-like rearing posture the Sphinx moth caterpillars assume when alarmed.

In addition to hovering like a hummingbird, they can swoop & dive like hawks - hence their other nickname, hawk moths. And they can fly 30 miles an hour! (See why getting good photos was such a challenge?!)

This photo of the female is really blurry, but I wanted you to see her curled proboscis (tongue). Sphinx moths are important pollinators that typically feed on flowers with abundant nectar at the base of elongated tubes (like orchids), and so possess a 10-11 inch proboscis. No other insect has such a feature. Interestingly, flowers that have evolved to attract hummingbirds usually have no scent (since hummingbirds can’t smell), while moth-pollinated flowers often emit a strong, sweet scent as the sun sets. 

In most of my photos, the moths' wings - which beat about 50 times a second - were an indistinct blur, so my favorites were these few that captured their colorful wings frozen in motion. I especially love the wing position in this one.

A day or two after I took those evening photos, I was burying chopped organic banana peel at the base of our rosebush (works like a charm as a rose fertilizer) when who should I catch snoozing inside the rose branches but one of our Sphinx moth friends! Repose in the roses by day, belly up to the bee balm bar by night - doesn't sound half bad! :-) 

Beyond Bones (blog of the Houston Museum of Natural Science): Sphinx Moths 
Silkmoths: Hyles lineata lineata
Butterflies and Moths of North America: Attributes of Hyles lineata
ButterflyZone: Moths with Longest Proboscis 

And finally, here's wishing my dear friend Joanne ("AdventureJo" in Interwebz Land) a very happy birthday on Monday! Jo and I have been friends for 32 years - longer than some of my blog readers have been alive! :-)

Happy birthday, Jo - you are indeed a ray of sunshine! Eternally youthful sunshine! :-)

Friday, August 1, 2014

SkyWatch Friday: The Sun Rises on a New Chapter!

I wasn't going to do a SkyWatch Friday post this week ~ our dramatic skies of the past two weeks had apparently overdone it and seemed to be on sabbatical. Until this morning… 

While not the most breathtaking sunrise I've ever seen or photographed, it's certainly one of the most special, because it marked the first day of my husband's retirement! :-) After a very full, very long, very hot and dusty day at work yesterday (at the end of which, during his final delivery, he was nearly stung on the head by a nest full of angry hornets!), BW retired from UPS. He worked there for, as he likes to put it, "25 Christmases!" :-) Even his countdown to this day was marked not by how many years he had left, but how many Christmases. And when he decided that he didn't have another UPS Christmas season left in him, he decided to retire early. Or as he put it at his retirement breakfast yesterday, "I don't regret a single Christmas I worked for UPS. But if I worked one more I would!" :-) 

Congratulations, BW! You worked long and hard for this and we both made a lot of sacrifices along the way - so laissez les bon temps rouler, baby! 

And happy Friday, happy August, and happy SkyWatching to all of you!


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  • THE HUMANE GARDENER ~ Nancy Lawson
  • THE WORLD WITHOUT US ~ Alan Weisman

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"

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