Thursday, February 26, 2009

What shall I sacrafice for Lent?

A young man of my acquaintance sent the following text message. It struck me as profoundly true.

Actually I can't think of anything to give up for lent that would help anyone
else. Really all I would be doing is making myself feel superior and

There is some element of the statement that I am the most humble person in the community in this. A contradiction in terms.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Partridge Berry?

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This sort of looks like a partridge berry, except the leaves are not round as in the ones I am familiar with in the woods. This might be an Asian one, but that is only a guess. I found this on the Rhododendron Trail at Calloway Gardens. If you know what it is, please let me know.
this one has more berries than any partridge berries I have ever seen. See a picture of our native partridge berry here. They tend to produce few flowers and fruit, grow best on slopes where they can slough off the leaves that fall from the trees that give them summer shade. Another interesting thing about our native partridge berry (Mitchelli repens) is that although it produces two flowers, both flowers require polination for fruit set. After pollination, the ovaries fuse and one berry is produced. The plant is technically a shrub, although to the casual observer it might appear to be a vine, rooting as it slowly grows along the ground.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

A Variegated Daphne

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This little shrub has a delicious fragrance in winter when you need it most. The leaves on this one are variegated and although it adds to it's charm, I wonder if in this case it might be a hindrance to good growth. This shrub is not sturdy by any means, at least in the piedmont south. If it had more green it might grow better but as you can see much of the shrub is just stems. This is exactly what happened to the one I grew. It struggled on for a couple years and then succumbed. Enjoy it while you may, I say.
I found this on the Rhododendron Trail near the Butterfly House at Calloway.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Emerald Butterfly at Day Butterfly House

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This lovely Emerald Butterfly thought it was hid among the green leaves, and in fact I would have missed it, except someone directed my attention to it as I passed.

Sunday, February 22, 2009



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The pink hellebore in the top picture is blooming now in my yard in east central Alabama. It is probably 6 or 8 years old. It bloomed the second winter after I planted it, and has increased in size and blooms every year. I give it almost no care, except I did water it the first year in the ground. But not after that. It is growing in the dry shade of an oak tree , and I suppose benefits from the leaf drop. When the summer gets underway, it gradually retreats into a tattered tired looking form, but it will be back next winter with it's lovely blooms. It is often called a Lenten or a Christmas roses but is in no way related to roses. The name refers to the bloom time. From my reading I think if I gave mine more care (i.e. water and fertilizer) it would grow faster and bigger. I have another plant but it has never bloomed and only has three leaves. Maybe I could goose it along with more water and fertilizer. In the event that you wish to purchase one, go for the bigger plant for the few dollars more as this will cut years off the growing time.
The second picture of the white hellebore was taken at Calloway Gardens last week. There are some on the Rhododendron trail near the Butterfly house.
These are long lived plants and are rarely bothered by deer or rabbits, maybe because they are reported to be poison.
Other than the name Hellebores, these are great plants. Get thee to the garden center and get thyself one. Then report back to me so I can get another one. I think my original one came from Home Depot.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Owl Butterflies and Blue Morphos



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I enjoyed both the butterflies and the plants at Calloway's day Butterfly House. The owl butterfly seen in the top photo could easily be confused with the blue morpho in the second photo, at least when the wings are folded in the rest position. The owl butterfly has a larger spot and it is on the lower part of the wing as opposed to the blue morpho. Of course there is no mistake when they take flight about which one is which.
The blue morpho is not actually blue but because of the placement of scales on its wings, displays iridescence.
Both butterflies are native to Mexico and south and Central America, and both like to feed on fruit.
The blue morpho is grown commercially, not only for butterfly houses, but for use in decorative arts such as jewelry. Their wings are fragile and easily damaged in captivity.
Wow! It was a great treat for me to see these.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

February at The Sibley Center



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The Sibley Center at Calloway has a lot of succulents and dry area plants, but they are accented with other blooming plants. Red Amaryllis were set in among the succulents and made an outstanding display. The pictures show the main display in the Sibley Center. It is arranged so it can be viewed from both above and below. Right now the central display is cyclamen in red, white, and pink.
Cyclamen is one of my favorite winter plants. To keep it looking it's best it should be kept in a cool bright place. Heat is its undoing. They go dormant when the weather gets warm. I have managed to have one or two to live and bloom the second year, but it is really not worth the effort. Mine never make as good a show the second year. Usually the bulb rots over the summer. I have one that had a few crooked blooms this winter in it's second year and a few days ago I set it outside in the ground. It may not live, but I have at least given it a decent burial. There are 2 types of Cyclamen. One is the florists cyclamen and I expect these are the kind that appears in these display beds. The other is the hardy type. I have grown these from seed (a tedious and tiresome project even for a plant lover like me) and I still have a couple alive after maybe 10 years or so. They bloom a little but even if they didn't, their leaves are exquisite.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Miniature Bird of Paradice

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On a recent trip to Calloway Gardens I saw so many beautiful plants that it made me salivate. This is a miniature bird of paradise and you can easily see the "bird" in this one. Mary G said that on a recent trip to South America she saw forests of these. I guess they may have been the regular sized ones which can get as big as trees, although there are quite a few sizes and colors. They are native to South Africa but have been distributed worldwide and are mostly accociated with tropical areas. The primary thing that keeps pot grown birds from blooming is insufficient light. They prefer full sun.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Baby Giraffee




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I plucked these delightful giraffe pictures from a recent email from a friend who knows I love giraffes. But on the heels of this email I heard the horrible story of the chimpanzee attack. It was the saddest story to me, as I have an abiding interest in chimps also. I think the meaning of this attack is clear: wild animals are still wild animals even when they live with people, and you can never be sure what they may do. What actually triggered the attack may never be known, which is also tragic, because it would help us understand our own species better.

Most babies measuring 5 ft would be considered big, but newborn giraffe, Margaret, at Chester Zoo, UK is seen as unusually small for her species. HOW SWEET!! She is one of the smallest giraffes ever born at Chester Zoo but pint-sized Margaret will soon be an animal to look up to.

Little Margaret, who is the first female Rothschild giraffe born at the zoo, is being hand-reared by her dedicated keepers. The first calf for six-year-old mum Fay, Margaret, who was born two weeks early, tipped the scales at just 34 kilos and is a mere 5 ft tall.

Tim Rowlands, team leader of the Giraffes section, said: 'Margaret is potentially one of the smallest giraffe calves we have ever seen. Fay isn't the largest of giraffes and Margaret was also early which might go some way to explaining her size. 'Margaret was having difficulty suckling so our keeping team are now hand-rearing her'.

Monday, February 16, 2009

What Is This?



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What is this? What kingdom is it in? I dug this up in my flower bed . When I first saw it, I thought it was a root, but now I have changed my mind and do not believe it is a plant at all. But what is it? It has no odor that I can detect. Please tell me what you think.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Oak Tree Against Blue February Sky

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This is the oak that the daffodils in yesterday's post were growing under. I wonder just how old this tree is. Half of it had split off and lay at it's feet, but the remaining portion appeared full and healthy. The sky made a perfect backdrop. What is better than a beautiful warm clear day in February!

Saturday, February 14, 2009

February Daffodils



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These three pictures are a testament to the longevity of daffodils. These daffodils are in the what used to be a yard of a no longer existent house.The house has been pushed over and burned, not even leaving any scorched earth. The rain has taken even that away.I remember nosing around this old place when I was a teen and younger. Deserted houses intrigued me even then. They have a story that is just waiting to play out for the one who looks long and carefully enough.
There used to be 3 old houses in this area but they are all gone to be replaced by a pine plantation. I feel a little sad about it, but not because the owners decided to try to make some money off the land. I am sad because I waited so long to come back to this spot that I cannot recognize the old landmarks. Had it not been for the daffodils, I would have missed it completely.
There were 3 different types of daffodils. The last picture is the one I believe is commonly referred to as jonquils. They have a wonderful fragrance that makes me happy just to smell it. I picked a bunch for my table and enjoyed their fragrance for hours. I do not know if the fragrance gradually dissipated or if I got olfactory fatigue. At any rate I enjoyed the fragrance as long as I could. The flowers are still beautiful in a vase for several days.
These bulbs have been happily blooming in this location for more than 100 years. Nobody has lived in the house for more than 60 years, so I guess this is the definition of carefree plants.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Sexing Chickens

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You know, you can buy anything. Maybe it's always been this way. Medicine shows have been and still are making money for the people who run them. But this is a new twist, at least to me. The object in the picture is two slices of some composite material with embedded magnetic properties glued back to back. In the picture the instrument is stuck to my refrigerator. (I am holding the string erect-it is not magnetic.)
The way this instrument is to be used is by holding a chick and swinging the magnet over the chick in a front to back direction. The magnet should be swung about an inch over the chick's head. Start the arrow swinging over the chick and count slowly to 30. If the arrow starts to move in a circle after 20, the bird is female. If it continues back and forth for a count of 30, the chick is male. If the bird bumps the arrow, you must start over.
Another way of sexing chicks is to hold it in your hand with the legs between your middle and index finger. If the chick draws its body closer to its feet it is female. If it stretches it's feet down , it is male.
Chicken sexing is more important than you might think at first. You would not want roosters in a house where you were producing eggs for sale. Someone might be offended by that dot of blood in the yolk. In the case of producing hatching eggs, too many roosters in the house would cause a lot of unnecessary fights.
The first people to determine accurately the sex of chicks were Japanese. They did it the way you might imagine. They looked at the chicks genitals. But you have to know how and where to look.
Now I am sure this is too much information for some of you. But I just could not resist sharing this valuable information with you. And if you want to get one of these sexing gagets, I can get you an address.

Monday, February 9, 2009

The Power of Prayer

I believe that prayer is the most important tool we have in making our way through life. The power inherent in prayer is the greatest force that exists in the universe.Most people are familiar with prayer as a way to communicate with God. But most people do not think of it as a two-way street, that is that God might communicate with humans through prayer. Even though I am certain of the power of prayer, I mostly act like I don't believe it. It is almost unbelievable that God would grant to any person that will accept it unbridled access to divine power. Prayer puts us in direct contact with the power of God.
Of course this does not mean that prayers are always or even frequently answered in the way I envision. In fact, it seems like the opposite might be true- God usually works things out in a way that I never would have guessed possible.
I am not implying that prayer is a magic sword either, or if it is, sometimes it cuts backward. Often the effect of prayer is not an external change at all, but an internal change in the pray-er. It might be a change of mind that results from a different view of the situation.
James 5:16 says that the fervent prayers of the righteous have great effect. It begins to appear that more is involved than just telling God our thoughts and desires. We must be righteous also. I believe this means desiring to be in communion with God and being willing to follow whatever direction God gives. I know I am on shaky ground here, because I am getting mighty close to saying that God speaks to individuals. Yes, I think he does. God has spoken to me, not in an audible voice, but a voice I heard inside my head. And there was no confusion about who the speaker was. It was not something I would have ever come up with, but it turned out to be a good thing.
I am suggesting that what we need more than anything else is to access God's power through prayer, no matter what it takes. It might turn out that what we need is contentment. The whole step ladder could be eliminated, cut out all the money, fame, and respect and go straight to the top: contentment. This is beginning to sound a lot like eastern philosophy. So I leave it there. You go figure it out for yourself.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Miracle Fruit Party

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This is miracle fruit (Synsepalum dulcificum),which hales from west Africa. It makes sour and acid foods taste sweet. Take a berry and put it in your mouth and remove what little pulp and skin are covering the large seed.Work on removing all the pulp for about a minute. Then hold this pulp in your mouth for about 5 minutes, chewing to make sure the fruit comes in good contact with your taste buds. The seed can be saved for planting later in hopes of getting a bush of your own that will produce fruit in about 2 years (hopefully). Then taste the foods you have available to experience the changes in taste.
The results of our tasting varied, and could be related to the berries themselves or how effectively the the small amount of pulp was distributed in the mouth.The pictures I have seen of miracle fruit showed bright red shiny berries, You can see these are not, but they still worked. I do not know if they were older or less mature than the ones I have seen in pictures. One person said it made no change in taste for her but everyone else said that there was a definite effect. We tasted a lot of different things:
limes- sweet
calamondin oranges -sweet even though this is the most sour thing I have ever eaten
meyer lemons-sweet
clementines-very sweet
extra sharp Vermont cabot cheese-mellow and good.creamier, and I guess sweeter
sour cream=no taste
feta cheese- delicious
cranberry juice-sweet and good
grape juice-sweet but not as improved in sweetness as some of the other food
grapefruit/pomegranate juice- Bitter, maybe nothing could improve it
orange juice-taste like sugar added
vegetable juice- I don't like but berries made it pretty good
coffee- no difference
vinegar- tasted sweet in mouth but burned on the way down.(If you do this, take small sips)
hot sauce- sweet, but still hot
tomatoes-I mean wonderful
onion (raw)- no difference

All of the tested foods were either improved or there was no effect as noted above, except the grapefruit/pomegranate, which actually seemed more bitter under the miracle berry influence.
In retrospect, it would have been better to taste each tested food before the berry was eaten. That way the effect would have been even more pronounced with the memory of the food still on your mind.
At any rate, a good time was had by all. If I am able to grow some fruit, we will do this again.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Yard Sculpure by Roy Hood



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These yard sculptures were fabricated by Roy Hood, a native of Opelika , who would doubtless never admit to being an artist. Yet, he clearly is. These creatures were welded together using old worn out and rusty gardening and farm implements. I added the paint just to make them show up a bit more against the drab winter background. But the creatures may be more appealing in their native rust. These 2 birds, a turtle and a fly seem ready to let out a wisecrack, just like Roy himself. His delight is insulting people as they walk by his booth at Ruth's flea market. He enjoys sparing with one and all. He is about 90 years old, but he is as spunky as they come. In addition to welded sculptures, he also makes wooden carvings, primarily mules. He makes all kinds of seats, chairs and settees out of odd assortments like wagon wheels. He also constructs wagons and drays to be pulled by horses, mules, goats, etc. He is a real live breathing Alabama folk artist.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Life in Prison

Those of you who know me personally ,know that I have been corresponding with an inmate in the Iowa Women's Correctional facility for several years.I offered to set her up a blog site. My purpose in doing this is to try to enlighten myself as well as others about life in prison. I believe that because someone is sent to prison they do not cease being human, and they still have the same needs as those of us on the outside. They need to be reminded of their worth as people who are valuable in God's sight just because they ARE. They need ministry. They need to know they are not forgotten.
Shalonda's purpose in writing the blog is to try to get help for herself. She believes she was wrongly convicted and hopes that someone will hear of her plight and try to help her.
I understand that most women in prison say they are guilty and are getting what they deserve, while men usually protest that they are innocent. Shalonda says she is innocent.
I do not know how to reach a wider audience than through the people who read my blog. I would like advice on how to publicize her blog.

To go to her blog, click here or go to

Monday, February 2, 2009

Rosemary , Culinary Herb


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Something else blooming now besides daffodils is Rosemary officinalis. It is evergreen with needle like leaves and flowers come in several colors, white, pink, purple , and blue. My shrub is several years old and kind of sprawls out even though this one is called an erect rosemary, as opposed to trailing. It is the herb representing remembrance. Rosemary is tolerant of drought as well as a lot of other neglect. I step outside and harvest a few leaves when I need them for spaghetti sauce, soup, or occasional bread making. I have never had any trouble from either bugs or deer eating the rosemary. Sometimes I decorate a kitchen wreath with rosemary. Other than this little pruning, I never prune unless a branch dies. (I had one to die once when the dog nearly uprooted it digging for chipmunks.) It is often sold in pots pruned into a tree shape at Christmas and if you have a potted one, you may need to shape it more than I do in the garden. This is a plant easy enough to grow for beginners. It is my second favorite herb. Lavender is my favorite, but it is much harder to grow, at least for me. I think it resents the prolonged heat and humidity of our southern summers. Or maybe it is this clay.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

What the Preacher Said and What I Thought

The scripture for this morning's sermon was Numbers 13:30-33. This is the incident where Moses sent a dozen men into the country to scout out the land. When they returned,10 of the scouts said they could not take it, but 2 scouts, Caleb and Joshua, said they could take it. The preacher talked about how pessimism paralyzes us. It's the old familiar tune of the little train that thought he could, and Dr.Peale's Power of Positive Thinking.
The hymn that I liked best from the service was Great Is Thy Faithfulness. "There is no shadow of turning with thee. Thou changest not, thy compassions they fail not. Great is thy faithfulness, Lord unto me". This is not about my being faithful to God, but rather His faithfulness to me. Even when I turn aside, his interest in me does not waver. He remains faithful to himself and to me.
I am braver than I used to be. Age has given me the benefit of a lot to look back on, and what I see there mostly is how fortunate I am and how faithful in his care he has been to me. Most of the things I fretted over in the past did not even leave a wrinkle in my brain. My face is another matter.
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