Thursday, August 30, 2018

Close to the Sea

Tuesday, I ran away from home. 

I’ve been at the house almost 100% of the time since I got back from Albuquerque in July.  Not only at the house but in the house.  It’s been too hot to do anything outside.  Work in the yard - noooo (everything I’ve wanted to do involved moving plants and they would not be happy being dug up and moved when the temperature was 100° and the ground rock hard).  After my drive home from Albuquerque, I suffered with “car paranoia” for a couple of weeks – god knows, breaking down on Hwy 59 would be tantamount to entering hell.  Morgan wasn’t doing too well and I was reluctant to leave for more than an hour or so.  Wharton doesn’t offer much in the way of fun things to do.  Whine, whine, whine.

So, I ran away from home.  People that know me would know where to look – the closest beach.  Right now, that’s Matagorda.  I got down there early.  The sandy path down to the beach is still pristine.

There are a few wild beach flowers still blooming.

 The sun is in and out of clouds.

The tide is really high and the beach looks like someone has dumped two dozen truck loads of sand on it.  Soft white sand – the kind of soft where each step sinks down over my ankles.  There is much wind.  Lots of waves – big waves for no storm brewing out there.  Very strange.  This is August and usually the tide is low and the waves are quiet.  There is not one single shell on the beach.  This is Matagorda – there are always shells.  The water is really warm – well, that’s normal. 

The pelicans are out flying around over the water.  It’s amazing to watch them fish.  They hover for a few seconds and dive straight down.  Wham – into the water and float up and fly away.

I’m not sure what is better than sandy feet, warm water, the sound of waves, the feel of the air, the briny scent on the breeze.  It soothes my soul and relaxes my mind. 

Take care.

Friday, August 24, 2018

Once upon a Time

I recently found a book at one of our local resale shops.  Favorite Folktales from around the World, edited by Jane Yolen.  For some reason, it really appealed to me, so I bought it.  I have a small collection of Fairy and Folktales and thought this would make a nice addition. 

“Tales are meant to be told.”

That’s what it said in the opening line of the introduction.  Yes, they are.  Storytelling is one of the oldest arts as both entertainment and for cultural need.  It was the method of preserving history.  Tales of kings and gods, wicked and good, frightening and soothing.  All these have been passed from bard to bard, mother to child.

So, here’s a story for you …..

The Two Pickpockets
A story from England

There was a provincial pickpocket who was very successful at his work, and he thought he’d go up to London and see what he could do there.  So he went up to London, and he was even more successful.

One day he was busy in Oxford Street when he suddenly found that his own pocketbook had been taken.  He looked round and saw a very attractive blond girl walking away.  He was sure that she was the one who had picked his pocket, so he followed her and got his pocketbook back from her.  He was so much taken by her cleverness in robbing him that he suggested that they should go into partnership together.  And so they did, and succeeded brilliantly.

At length the provincial pickpocket thought, “We’re the best pickpockets in London.  If we married we could breed up a race of the best pickpockets in the world.”  So he asked the girl, and she was quite agreeable, and they were married, and in due time a beautiful little baby boy was born to them.  The poor little fellow was deformed.  His right arm was bent to his chest, and the little fist tightly clenched.  And nothing they could do would straighten it.

The poor parents were much distressed.  “He’ll never make a pickpocket,” they said, “with a paralyzed right arm.”  They took him at once to the doctor, but the doctor said he was too young, they must wait.  But they didn’t want to wait; they took him to one doctor after another, and at last – because they were very rich by this time – to the best child specialist they could hear of.

The specialist took out his gold watch, and felt the pulse on the little paralyzed arm.  “The flow of blood seems normal,” he said.  “What a bright little fellow he is for his age”.  He’s focusing his eyes on my watch.”  He took the chain out of his waistcoat, and swung the watch to and fro, and the baby’s eyes followed it.  Then the little bent arm straightened out towards the watch, the little clenched fingers opened to take it, and down dropped the midwife’s gold wedding ring.

No moral – just a story.

Take care

Saturday, August 18, 2018


Like most of us, I have a morning ritual that includes feeding Morgan, putting away the dishes from the day before, fixing coffee and sitting at my computer to check the weather (pleeeaaasse let there be rain), and look through the news feed.  Today when I checked the weather, I saw this –

I remember this day and the days after.

A little history - In early 1960, my parents built a beach house in Sea Isle, a small subdivision on the west end of Galveston Island.  Sea Isle is about 16 miles from Galveston proper, past the seawall and out FM 3006 west toward the pass. 

Hurricane Alicia was a small but powerful storm that popped up in the Gulf and came ashore near Sea Isle (Galveston,TX) three days later.  It was a Category 3 hurricane, with winds of 100 mph and gusts up to 127 mph.  It threw off many dozens of tornados.  The only good thing about Alicia – it was a fast-moving storm and while Houston received 11 inches of rain, there was limited flooding.  At our house in Houston, we had minimal damage.

So, just a few facts.  Alicia was
(1) the third tropical cyclone, first named storm, and the only major hurricane of the very inactive 1983 Atlantic hurricane season;
(2) it caused $3 billion (1983 USD) in damage;
(3) it was the first billion-dollar tropical cyclone in Texas history
(4) the west end lost 150 feet of sand to the storm;
(5) it was considered the worst Texas hurricane since Hurricane Carla in 1961;
(6) it shattered hundreds of skyscrapers windows in downtown Houston
(7) of all the flood insurance claims filed through The Federal Insurance Agency (over 1500), only 782 received payment. 

We had enough warning to go down to the house and help close it up just prior to the storm.  “Hunker down and hold on” my father told the house as we left to get back to the city.  It was three days after the storm passed before we could get back down to the island.
 Going south on Hwy 45

The remains of a very pretty trailer park on FM 3006

Sea Isle

We were lucky – lost only a portion of the roof unlike our next-door neighbors.  They lost most of the roof and 2 outside walls of their house.  Some of the houses had no damage at all, some were nothing but splinters of wood.  FYI – all of the houses were built on 12-15 foot pilings.  Some were knocked off and some were not.  Several houses on the beach lost 8 or more feet of sand from under the cement pad upon which sat the house on its 12 foot pilings.  That was the scariest thing I saw. 

Due to the severe damage, the name "Alicia" was retired in the spring of 1984 by the World Meteorological Organization, and will never be used again for an Atlantic hurricane.

Take care

My sister went around and hugged all the trees that were still upright after the storm.  Everything needs encouragement.

Friday, August 17, 2018

août aoust lúnasa awst augusti

I know I’ve been quiet over the past many days.  The only excuse I can offer is ….

It’s August.

It’s hot and humid

If you accept such things, it 
feels like a wet 90°at 8:30 AM.

Yes, yes – I know – I’m whining.  So, what else about August.  As far as I can tell, there are only two really earth moving things – one is that my oldest daughter was born in August.  The other, here in the US part of the universe, school starts.  Everywhere parents are getting children, kindergarten to college, ready – shopping, scheduling, planning and gearing up to go from quiet to frantic days (though, many parents with college age kids may find it alarmingly quiet).  At least, that’s how it was when my children were school age and I suspect it hasn’t changed too much.
However, nowadays for me, August tends to be pretty boring.  Too hot to work in the yard.  Too hot for any outside activity.  Boring.

So, what is good and interesting about August – well, it was named to honor the first Roman emperor, Augustus Caesar (63 BC to AD 14).  It’s the eighth month of the year in the Julian and Gregorian calendars, and the fifth month to have a length of 31 days.  OK – not so interesting. 

But, Did You Know …. It was originally named Sextilis in Latin because it was the sixth month in the original ten-month Roman calendar under Romulus in 753 BC (March was the first month of the year).  Then in about 700 BC, it became the eighth month when January and February were added to the year before March by King Numa Pompilius.

This week is “Weird Contest Week” including such things as Saltwater Taffy Sculpting, Competitive Ear Wiggling, International Rotten Sneaker Contest, or World Rock Paper Scissors (RPS) Championships.

Also, today is “I Love My Feet” Day.  Most of us don’t think about our feet until they hurt. It doesn’t take long for foot pain to alter our plans.  Continuing foot pain can cramp a once healthy and active lifestyle and make a normally happy person cranky.  So, pamper your feet today.

The gemstone for August is the Peridot.  Not everyone considers the peridot a precious stone but (and here’s another Did You Know) …….

Peridot is one of only two gems (Diamond being the other) formed not in the Earth’s crust, but in molten rock of the upper mantle and brought to the surface by the tremendous forces of earthquakes and volcanoes.  Peridot has been prized since the earliest civilizations for its protective powers to drive away the forces of darkness. Set in gold and worn around the neck or bound to the left arm, it can be used as a charm against sorcery and magic, evil spirits, night terrors, and madness plus it cures cowardice, calms anger, and brightens the wit.  Seems pretty precious to me!

There are two birth flowers for August – the gladiolus and poppy.  In the language of flowers, gladiolus (or sword lily) represents remembrance, calm, integrity, and that the heart is being “pierced with love”.  The other August flower is the poppy – red means happiness, white for consolation and yellow wishes wealth and success.

Here on the Gulf Coast, August is the month we really start watching for storms.  However, we did the storm thing last year (THE GREAT STORM OF 2017), so we don’t have to do that again for another 15 or 20 years.

As for me, I think the best thing August is good for – is reading – inside – in the AC.

Take care.

Friday, August 10, 2018

Unexpected treasures

Since it’s still so hot, humid, and dry (yes, yes, I know – the words ‘humid’ and ‘dry’ don’t sound like they should be in the same sentence BUT I live in the Texas Gulf Coast Plains where humid and dry are the norm for summer), I thought I mention another couple of plants that do well in all three conditions.

Once upon a time, while at an estate sale, my sister and I came across this really pretty plant – tall with shiny leaves and bright red flowers.  Whoa – what is that?  And just so you don’t think we actually took something without checking – we did ask the woman holding the estate sale.  Do ya think we could take a cutting from that plant?  Sure, she sez.  And, we did.  Small cuttings – taken from the back of the plant.  Cool!

Odontonema strictum

more commonly called Firespike or Cardinal Guard or Scarlet Flame.

Firespike is a showy evergreen shrub that mostly grows straight up to as much as 6-feet tall.  It has shiny dark green leaves and, starting in late summer to mid-winter, beautiful bright red flowers.

I rooted my cutting in water (which worked very well) and then planted it in the ground.  I’ve also talked to people that have rooted cuttings directly in the ground also.  Pinch off all the leaves except a few on the top and bury it to cover the leaf nodes.  According to still others, it will spread via roots throughout the garden (but mine has never done that though – must be something that occurs in warmer places than this).  And, by the way, this is another plant that survived THE GREAT FLOOD OF 2017.  After sitting in water for three days, it just shrugged it off and kept on growing.

You can plant Firespike in full sun or partial shade.  It will not only grow in the shade but will produce beautiful blooms.  It can grow in most any type of soil – well-drained sandy loam to heavy wet clay.  Keep new plants watered, however once established, it is very drought tolerant. 

It’s hardy from zone 8-11.  In zones 8-9 (I live in zone 9), it may die back in winter but should resprout in the spring.  Myself, I usually take a cutting just before cold weather comes calling – just in case.  So far though, my Firespike has come back without problem.  So, if you live somewhere in the frozen northlands (that’s north of Dallas, you know), it makes a nice potted plant as well.

The bright red flowers of Firespike attract butterflies and hummingbirds.  Unfortunately, it also very attractive to deer so, if you live in a place where deer wander through the yard, you might want to keep it in a container to move to safety.  

OK, so again, once upon a time …..

My sister and I (yes, I know it sounds like we get into, uhmmm curious situations) first started taking yoga here in Wharton with an instructor who used the home of a friend.  The yard attached to the home was huge, beautiful, and full of plants.  And, again – Whoa, what is that?  Do ya think we could take a cutting?

Talinum paniculatum
Jewels of Opar

I actually didn’t find out the name of this plant until recently when one of the women at the garden club was able to identify it.  It is commonly known as Fameflower, Jewels of Opar, or Pink Baby's-Breath.

This is actually a succulent (plants that have some parts that are more than normally thickened and fleshy, usually to retain water in arid climates or soil conditions) small shrub.  It has shiny leaves that clump at the base and flowers that bloom on tall lacy stalks.  Mine starts flowering in early spring with tiny pink flowers followed by dark red seeds until the really hot part of the summer.  It doesn’t get to be too big – maybe 2-feet by 2-feet.  It survived THE GREAT FLOOD OF 2017 and all the weird cold weather that happened last winter. 

Because, when I got the Jewels of Opar, I didn’t know what it was, I planted it in shade.  And, it’s done well there – grows, blooms, produces seeds.  However, it can be planted in full sun also.  It self-seeds and new plants are likely to come up all over.  It’s drought tolerant, grows best in well-draining soil, and is considered a “tender perennial”.  Mine is planted in a somewhat protected place but I take cuttings at the start of cold weather – just in case. 

While the flower is non-edible, the leaves are edible although they have a somewhat mucilaginous texture (which means slimy, you know).  One other interesting thing – it is said to be named after the Tarzan novel – “Tarzan and the Jewels of Opar” by Edgar Rice Burrough. 

Two hot weather treasures.

 Take care

Wednesday, August 8, 2018

Birds and Hooks

You may remember that I lived in Tempe, AZ for 8 years.  It was nice.  It’s very dry there.  Dry and hot.  Gardening in the desert was really different and, it took me most of those eight years to change my mindset from tropical Houston to desert Phoenix.  When we moved back to Texas, I brought several AZ plants with me.  Sadly, most of them just didn’t care for the very humid, salty growing conditions and did not thrive. 

However, a couple of things did survive and I’ve carried them with me from location to location.

One is the Mexican Bird of Paradise.  This is an evergreen shrub that enjoys full sun and has bright flowers, yellow, orange and red, that grow on long, thin stalks. The leaves are ferny looking. The stalks are covered with soft green thorns.  It’s a fairly fast grower, and by that I mean - an established plant can go from a nicely shaped 4-foot shrub to something with long (very long – 8-feet plus) stalks, in a couple of weeks.  They don’t much like cold weather and will likely die but just cut back to the ground and come spring new growth will jump up.  The Mexican Bird of Paradise shrub will self-seed.  Honestly, I’ve had limited success growing one from seed but have, instead, dug up many of the babies that have seeded themselves. 

Growing them is really pretty easy because it’s hardy, low care, drought resistant, plus  it provides lovely color during the summer months that attract hummingbirds and butterflies. Plant it in a well-draining area in full sun.  Keep in mind it can get upwards of 8 to 15 feet tall.  When new, water it weekly.  Once established, you can pretty much ignore it.  Oh, and this is one of my plants that survived THE GREAT FLOOD OF 2017.  It did sit under two feet of water for three days, died back after the water drained away, and did nothing from last August until this past late April.  I really thought it had died and then it popped right up out of the ground!  Yea!

So, I had very little success transplanting the actual cacti I brought with me.  Between rain, humidity, salty air, and a whole bunch of buggy predators, most didn’t survive.  This little guy was the exception.

Arizona Fishhook Cactus - Mammillaria microcarpa

This one is a very small cactus and is covered with softish spines.  Yes, they will break off in your skin but they’re not as bad as some.  It’s lived in a pot since leaving AZ and mostly, I leave it alone.  It sort of grows on top of itself and can result in a mound that need to be pruned and repotted or the smaller ones begin to die.

In general, it can be watered often enough to keep the roots from drying out during the spring/summer months.  Mine lives outside in the summer and I’ll water it a little more often than once a week.  The pro’s say it can be planted in bright sun as long as you can avoid the hot mid-day sun.  I haven’t figured out just where that is, so mine pretty much stays in a pot where it gets morning sun and bright shade the rest of the day.  Come fall, the plant will go into a semi dormancy and watering should be reduced.   Then by November, water monthly until spring.   Mine blooms in the spring – April and May - and produces a fruit.  The flowers are very small and white – the fruit is a little smaller than a pencil eraser and red.

Take care

Monday, August 6, 2018

All dressed up and no place to go

So, here I sit – all dressed up and no place to go.

Well, that’s a bit misleading as I’m dressed to work out in the yard BUT, as the sun started coming up, the rain started falling down.  No complaints.  We need the rain.  And, I was heading out to finish mowing the last little bit of the back yard and start on the front, not my favorite thing to do anyway. 

Sadly, the rain lasted only a short time BUT, it’s too wet to use my electric mower and the humidity is upwards of 1000% now.  Ah well, there’s always tomorrow.

Rain damp Althea

While standing in the kitchen, watching it rain, my mind ventured off into the unknown.  Hmmm – raining cats and dogs, dog days of summer, bubble …. where did different descriptive terms come from????

I mentioned, the other day, that we’ve entered the “Dog days of summer”.  Nope – nothing to do with your dog.

Morgan’s way of dealing with The Dog Days ….

So, according to different sources, The Dog Days actually start in early July and end the middle of August.  Those days actually coincide with the dawn rising of Sirius, the dog star.  And, no, Sirius has nothing to do with weather – it’s just that it rises during what is a hot humid time of the year.  Ancient Greek and Roman astrologists connected Sirius with heat, drought, sudden thunderstorms, lethargy, fever, mad dogs, and bad luck.  Nowadays, it’s considered the hottest, most uncomfortable time of the year although, for us here in Texas, it should start just after the Summer Equinox in June and go through the first of November! 

Did you Know - Sirius A is the brightest star in our night time sky and a close neighbor being only 8.6 light-years from Earth.

So, it’s raining outside – more of a gentle soaking rain but still what about Raining cats and dog.

As far as I can tell, nobody really knows.  It could have its beginnings Norse mythology or medieval superstition.  The first recorded use was in a 1651 collection of poems by Henry Vaughan who referred to a roof that was secure against “dogs and cats rained in shower.”

Now, this is one my Dad used upon occasion when asked a question - Shoot Luke, I’ve got you faded

Well poop!  No idea.  One source said it was a common radio reply during WWII air warfare.  Another said it had to do with playing craps – “roll the dice your bet is covered”.  Still another said it referred to a particular “noise art” on a WWII bomber.   Anybody? Thoughts?

OK – this is one I currently use – A full bubble off plumb.  Must be one I picked up from parents or grandparents because I certainly have had no hands-on exposure to carpentry. 

The combination of  carpentry and colloquial southern wisdom referring to the bubble in a carpenter’s level when the alignment of an object is just a touch off kilter from the horizontal and/or vertical flush point.  Refers to someone who is crazy, giddy,  moderately useless and generally annoying.

OK – one more then I’ll quit.

Michael had many unusual words and phrases he used regularly.  Most were physically impossible and highly descriptive and not necessarily repeatable.  However, he did use Peckerhead when generally aggravated, around young children, or in “polite” company (and I swear to god, he learned it from his mother).

The term “pecker” originated in the 1600’s and meant “to peck” like a bird with a beak.  Then, in the early 1900’s, people put the seemingly harmless word “pecker” next to an ordinary word “head” and a new insult was born.  “An aggressive, objectionable person. English Oxford Dictionary  A name that you call someone that really pisses you off. The Urban Dictionary.”  


I need to change clothes and run a few errands now.

Take care.
This would be serious rain!

Saturday, August 4, 2018

August Already

Since I got home from Albuquerque, the days have been a mishmash of catch-up, running necessary errands, doing house stuff, cooking (and freezing), and being a bit of a couch potato. 

My oldest grandson came out for a weekend visit.  Yea!  It’s probably the last weekend for a good long while because he goes off to college this month.  I have come to the conclusion that someone is playing with time.  I keep thinking my grandchildren should be about this age.

However, they all keep telling me this is not the case.  Sigh. 

We have a few interesting days (UselessFileInformation) coming up – like …

Mead Day: 4  
Mead is one of the world’s oldest fermented beverages and is also called honey wine, ambrosia or nectar.  

Sandcastle Day: 4

Lighthouse Day: 7
"A lighthouse is a tower, building or any other type of structure that is designed to emit light from a system of lamps and lenses and used as an aid to navigation for maritime pilots at sea or on inland waterways.  On August 7, 1789, the United States Congress approved an act for the establishment and support of Lighthouse, Beacons, Buoys, and Public Piers.”  I like lighthouses – I think I might need one – somewhere on a beach – to live in – probably with an elevator.

Particularly Preposterous Packaging Day: 7
So, if you’re being forced to use knives or scissors to open the impenetrable packing of a toy or tool, speak up!  Not only is it frustrating and annoying, the unnecessary over-packaging also wastes precious resources and leaves us all with extra trash. This is a day to bypass burger cartons, say no to supermarket plastic bags and do some thinking outside the box!

Dalek Day: 8
Ex termin ate!  Ex termin ate!

The yard has been mostly neglected since – oh, about June.  Well, except for watering – because we have had almost no rain.  Humid – yes, lots of that but very little rain.  Unfortunately, the grass seems to not need rain and keeps right on growing.  Today I got up and out very early and mowed ½ of the back yard (it’s a three day process for me).  Even at 7am, it’s very damn hot!

We are officially in the “Dog Days of Summer” – the hottest and muggiest time of the year.  For us that’s August and September (and maybe a bit of October).  Not much blooms and it’s really too hot to go out and pull weeds or plant something new.  Still, there are a few things, like …..


Mexican Bird of Paradise 
which the hummers and butterflies love.


Golden Dewdrop


Katie Ruellia

Take care

Maybe I’ll have a few pecans
if the tree will stop dropping them
and the squirrels will stop eating them!