Nevada, New Mexico – Up Words – Balloons and Lights

UP – The Photos:

All Lit Up – Las Vegas, 2009

All Blown Up – Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta, 2009

UP – The Quotes:

Ending a sentence with a preposition is something up with which I will not put.
– Winston Churchill —

You can live to be a hundred if you give up all the things that make you want to live to be a hundred.
– Woody Allen –

Swainson’s Hawks – I Watch Them, They Watch Me

For the past few days I have been watching the Swainson’s Hawk Family. I believe it consists of Mom, Dad, and two hungry, uneducated youths. Sporadically during the day, the youths start to whine for food, and they don’t let up until a meal is delivered. It kind of reminds me of when my own children still lived at home…


To make life more difficult for the parents, the hawk kids are always on the move, sometimes perching on a hay bale, sometimes in the top of a tree, and sometimes on a post – but invariably about 1/2 mile or more from where the parents are hunting. This means Mom and Dad Hawk have a general idea of what “street” the kids are hanging out on, but no idea what the house number is.


The other day I was standing on the road in front of our property taking pictures of the golden hay bales glowing in the late afternoon sun. All of a sudden the hawks started to arrive from the woods beyond the hay field.


Some took up positions in the top of some trees in my front yard. One bird chose a poplar branch which was just a bit too floppy to support its weight. The branch tipped and swayed, while the bird did its best to readjust its hold and maintain its balance, all the while still calling for someone or something.


Then one of the hawks (I think it was mom or dad) made a few long, gliding passes about 30 feet above my head. I don’t know if it was inspecting me out of curiosity or whether it was warning me to go away. I took a few pictures, then retreated into our woods.


The Swainson’s Hawk parents will continue to feed their offspring for a few more weeks, then the young will head off on their own. In about a month, all of these hawks will start their annual fall migration to the pampas of South America, a distance of about 7000 miles. Next spring the same pair of hawks will return to this area to start another family (assuming they both survive and the fields around here provide enough rodents to eat).

The Feather Files
Name: Buteo swainsoni
Species: Swainson’s Hawk
Native to and Migration: In fall they fly to their Argentine wintering grounds in one of the longest migrations of any raptor. They form flocks of hundreds or thousands as they travel.
Date Seen: June, 2012
Location: a few miles North of Calgary, Alberta, Canada

Today was a Day of Coincidence

Is it mere coincidence, or are the stars aligned such that TODAY I should buy a lottery ticket, bet on ‘Stumbled’ in the 9th and eat that piece of cake that has passed the ‘Best Before’ date?

Today is indeed an auspicious day because of the number 15203. I just realized that today The Car Guy and I have been married 15203 days AND at sometime today my blog was viewed for the 15203rd time!

In comparison to other digital milestones, I suppose this isn’t much. But imagine what a feat it would be if each of those views was equivalent to a visitor stopping by for coffee each and every day of my married life!

Of course, coincidences happen all the time. Most of them go unnoticed. But here are a few more for you to consider:

Thanksgiving dinners take eighteen hours to prepare. They are consumed in twelve minutes. Half-times take twelve minutes. This is not coincidence.
– Erma Bombeck –

Dressing up is inevitably a substitute for good ideas. It is no coincidence that technically inept business types are known as ‘suits’.
– Paul Graham –

It’s no coincidence that in no known language does the phrase “As pretty as an airport” appear.
– Douglas Adams –

The sixties were when hallucinogenic drugs were really, really big. And I don’t think it’s a coincidence that we had the type of shows we had then, like The Flying Nun.
– Ellen DeGeneres –

A child can go only so far in life without potty training. It is not mere coincidence that six of the last seven presidents were potty trained, not to mention nearly half of the nation’s state legislators.
– Dave Barry-

Seeds – Fall Texture

It is the Season of Seeds. Every blooming thing has shifted into high gear to make the babies of next spring. It is the expression ‘Going to Seed’ but with a much nicer meaning than when you overhear someone whisper it about you at your High School Reunion…


The Allium family – best known for the chive, onion and garlic members, there are many non-edible bulbs in this family. These particular Alliums are called Purple Sensation. They stand 2 to 3 feet high, and have blooms the size of a baseball. They put out a lot of viable seed. I originally bought three bulbs, but I now have several hundred plants, thanks to them going to seed!

Old gardeners never die, they just go to seed.
– Author Unknown –


These are the seed pods of the Oriental Poppies. The holes in the top of the pods make miniature salt shakers when the seed is ripe.

Every thought is a seed. If you plant crab apples, don’t count on harvesting Golden Delicious.
– Bill Meyer –


Grass seed – so many types, so few I know the names of! It grows wild all over the property, and provides food to many birds and little beasties.

I planted some bird seed. A bird came up. Now I don’t know what to feed it.
– Steven Wright –


Raspberries – Wild ones grow throughout the forest, while tame ones grow in a long bed out back. I pick and eat or freeze as many as I can. Many types of birds like to eat them, apparently more fond of the tame ones than the wild. Each time I venture out to the raspberry bed, I flush a flock of birds who are feeding on all the over ripe fruit that is on the ground!

There are two seasonal diversions that can ease the bite of any winter.  One is the January thaw.  The other is the seed catalogues.
– Hal Borland –

Grass Paths From Here to There

I’ve been experimenting with Grass lately – the landscaping variety…


A Single Blade of Grass – When I was much younger, I couldn’t whistle at all. My aunt could put her baby finger and thumb in her mouth and create a call loud enough that we could hear her half way across town. I could, however, put a blade of quack grass between my thumbs and if I blew at just the right location, I could produce a remarkable call that sounded like… just a minute, I’ll go outside and see if I can still make that sound.

Yes, I can still do it. It makes a sound that is a cross between an angry moose, a scared duck, and the first toots of a horn in the hands of a novice.


Going to Seed – Grasses eventually produce seed, most of which is a desirable food for some animal I suppose. I like the look of seed heads, especially since they linger long into the winter to provide a welcome relief from endless piles of snow.

Lawn Follies – This spring I embarked on a cunning plan to turn my back lawn into something other than an expanse of mowedness. I chose a simple form which I call a Grassy Path. I’d like to call it something more interesting, like “Wig Wag”, but that word has already been used for other things.


The Car Guy, who is also the Mower Man, has been very good about mowing between the lines, as it were. This is the Path as seen from the west end of The Red House.


Here is the path as it heads towards my garden and the playground.


And here is one border of the path in all it’s seedy glory.

Now the interesting part of this experiment is how people have reacted to it. Adults always ask me what it is and why is it there. Children ask me nothing. They just use it. It is a raceway from the house to the playground. It is a set of hurdles. It is a place to hide when they play camouflage. I use it like a measuring tape when I practice chip shots…

Next year I will undoubtedly create another grassy path. I’d like to do concentric circles, but I don’t know if Mower Man has enough patience to keep that shape mowed for me!

A lawn is nature under totalitarian rule.
– Michael Pollan –

Last photo –  grass seed:

August in Alberta – It Seems Early for Frost

The Frost Chart for Canada is an interesting read. It makes you feel hugely optimistic about the length of the growing season if you live in Vancouver British Columbia. If you live in Thompson Manitoba, however, you might feel inclined not to plant a vegetable garden at all. Not much will ripen in 61 frost free growing days.

Here at The Red House in Alberta, the chart suggests our first light fall frost will occur in mid September. According to my calendar, we are just a few days past mid August. It was with some disbelief, then, that I realized this morning  there was a light coat of frost in the very lowest lying areas of our back yard.

In what can only be described as Mother Nature playing a joke on the weeds that grow in the lawn, the hardest hit by the frost were the two peskiest weeds! This is a Thistle encased in a thin coat of ice.

This is a Dandelion seed head just as the ice crystals started to thaw. Have you ever seen such a sad and bedraggled thing in your life?

The ability of dandelions to tell the time is somewhat exaggerated, owing to the fact that there is always one seed that refuses to be blown off; the time usually turns out to be 37 o’clock.
– Miles Kington –

I can’t find a single interesting quote about Frost. Lots about Robert Frost, but none about plain old frost. Better pickings, though,  when I looked for quotes about Ice:

I tried sniffing Coke once, but the ice cubes got stuck in my nose.
– Author Unknown –

Our Harley Motorcycle’s First Adventure

A ship is safe in harbor, but that’s not what ships are for.
– William Shedd –

There came a day when The Car Guy asked me to be his Biker Chick (perhaps as a way to justify the handsome touring bike he coveted), and I just couldn’t turn down a chance to ride behind this dashing man dressed in black leather… It was time for me to leave my safe harbor.

Two Up Riding – I sit on the back of a two wheel machine that can accelerate to infinity and beyond before I’ve even noticed the light turned green. I trust The Car Guy and his knowledge of this machine to keep me safe… well, as safe as one can be on the back of a motorcycle, which isn’t the same thing as the safety of my recliner in the living room, or even the seat of my PT Cruiser, for that matter.

This past week-end we pointed the Harley west. After climbing through the Rogers Pass, we descended into Revelstoke BC where we stayed in a hotel that gave us a glimpse of this mountain in the distance.

As mountains in the Rockies go, this one is actually not very dramatic when seen in the light of morning. But the night before, we watched a thunderstorm sweep through the valley. Forks of lightning raked the sides of the mountain, and on two occasions we saw flames, then wisps of smoke where trees had been ignited. We watched the making of a forest fire, and it was both fascinating and horrifying. Fortunately the rain put these baby fires out before they could really get going!

From Revelstoke we travelled south to Nelson. At one of our rest stops, I found a gardener who clearly likes sunflowers as much as I do. One entire side of their house had a deep flower bed just filled with these happy faces!

Boswell British ColumbiaFrom Nelson we headed back east to Fernie. Near the BC community of Boswell is an impressive little home called The Glass House. It is the ultimate example of recycling, having been constructed from over half a million empty embalming fluid bottles!

Nearing the end of our trip, we dropped back into the foothills of Alberta. A threatening bank of clouds rolled into the valley. As the miles clicked by, we came upon a cattle drive. Knowing the Harley was not going to be stopped so I could take another photo, I pointed my camera in the general direction of the cows and clicked the shutter.  It is very hard to take photos when the wind threatens to rip the camera right out of your hand…

A ride on a motorcycle is not just trip, it is an adventure. Each time we take the Harley out of the garage, I think of Marlin the clownfish from Finding Nemo (Walt Disney Studios). After finally finding his lost son, Marlin is not inclined to let Nemo leave his side again. But, Marlin recognizes that he has to let his son grow up and explore the world on his own terms. He says to his son,  “Now go have an adventure!”

Noxious Weeds – the Outlawed Flowers

Regulations grow at the same rate as weeds.
– Norman Ralph Augustine –

I try to be law abiding, but to be honest, it is a hard thing to do. With so many lawmakers in so many levels of government, there is just no way of knowing whether what I did legally yesterday, is possibly illegal today!

No where is this more true than in the garden. Each year another plant is added to the noxious weed list, and some of them are on the prohibited list.


Probably the most well known noxious weed in farming country is the Canada Thistle. Introduced from Europe, it is a very successful plant. I pull it out by the roots when I find it in my yard, but it is easy to find and admire elsewhere because it is so commonly found. It is beautiful when it flowers!


Though I have been growing these Shasta Daisies for tens of years, they are closely related to the Ox-Eye Daisies, which are considered noxious. I keep my daisies in check by not letting their seeds mature. Someday, I suppose, a plant inspector will find them, and will demand that I remove them.


The Oriental Poppy or Papaver somniferum is best know as the Opium Poppy. It is easy to grow from seed, and in years gone by these plants sometimes popped up in my yard. I’m not sure, really, whether they are illegal to grow here.


The Common Dandelion – in some urban municipalities it has been removed from the noxious weed list, not because it has been eradicated, but because there are worse plants to deal with. Dandelions provide food for a number of animals, insects and birds.

Weeds are flowers too, once you get to know them.
– A. A. Milne –

Communications History – The Telephone

The Car Guy took a consulting job this past January. It was supposed to take only a few months of full time work, but that was not to be. Seven months in, and there is no end in sight. He is more than ready to retire again. It isn’t that he doesn’t like the project, or the challenge. What is really getting him down is how hard it is to get away from the job after work hours now that he has a company issued Blackberry phone.

Communications have changed considerably since he embarked on his career in the 1970’s. When he first started working, he spent much of his time in remote locations. At that time, reports were hand printed on a form, then voice relayed to the head office by mobile radio. Land lines came later, and with them came the addition of a fax machine which enabled information to be sent back and forth much faster.

black push buttonThe phones in use at that time had rotary dials, but by the 1980’s most businesses and homes had moved up to the push button phone. (The one in this photo lives here at the Red House, and has been in service for about 40 years.)

With the advent of Computers, then the Internet and Cell Phones, communication speed increased. Messaging became instant and some would say more and more invasive. The demarcation line between home and office blurred, then disappeared.

When The Car Guy retired, this line had not yet been crossed. But today, he is subjected to the never ending nagging presence of mail on his Blackberry. The expectations of his co-workers, and the job, never end. Not only that, but everyday communication with family and friends is reaching the same level of immediacy. One of my children has suggested that I buy a smart phone, and learn how to text message. “Just think,” she said, “You would be able to get text messages from us even while you are at the cabin!” (We don’t have a phone there, nor voice cell phone coverage unless we walk about 1/2 a mile and sit by the dumpsters…)

But I kind of like the idea that the cabin is part of a time warp zone of silence. It takes me back to the days when The Car Guy would phone me after 2 weeks of silence to say, “I’m coming home tomorrow. Pick me up at the airport, okay?” The days where we lived for weeks at a time by Marriage Rule #1 – No News is Good News!

Grandchildren – Herding Cats at the Cabin

For twenty four days there had been a constant flow of people coming and going from the cabin. For several  quiet days, just 3 people were in residence. On one busy long week-end there were 14 family members (and 22 for dinner one night). People, groceries, beds, beach towels, bug spray, transport vehicles, freezies, beer, golf clubs, fire wood, marshmallows and with any luck, at least one adult around at all times to make sure the little kids didn’t eat all of grandma’s dark chocolate in one go. It was an exercise in Herding Cats.

On the last Sunday night, Five Survivors were left for one last night of frivolity before the Exodus back to the city. Me, and four young grade school children were the last ones standing. There was one lone escape pod left in the driveway. Me, and an Army of Cats were good to go. My little army – they had been on cabin time for 24 days, which meant they had no sense of urgency, if in fact they had ever had any. Late nights and late risings had shifted meal times to mid morning, mid afternoon, and mid evening.

Bath time had been replaced by the occasional swim at the lake or a dip in the hot tub or by pointing the garden hose at each other on the trampoline. At least one child had not used hair shampoo the whole time. What didn’t wash off with this water became the base layer for the next day. Bug spray, sunscreen, campfire smoke, dirt… as one grandson noted on the last day, “The mosquitoes don’t seem to bite me anymore…”

So when the last child rolled out of bed on the last day, I announced that we were going for “lock and load” at 4:30 PM. That gave us exactly six hours to gather up belongings, hoover up a week or two of dirt, eat two meals (and thus empty the fridge), eat one last freezie, and close up the cabin.

The children, thinking 6 hours was forever, had other plans – one wanted to go bush wacking with sharp pointed tools, one wanted a trip to the beach with the dinghy, one wanted to go looking for frogs and snakes in the marsh and one wanted them all to go to the playground. All good ideas, but grandma couldn’t be four places at once. I needed a diversionary tactic, so I said they could have a three Movie Marathon. Each child could pick two they wanted to watch. During the time they weren’t watching a movie, they could help me pack their stuff. Then they could do anything else they wanted, as long as it was outside and it didn’t need adult supervision. (And nothing that was already packed got unpacked…)

At 4:23 PM I made a last sweep of the yard. I gathered up the things the kids had “lost” on the trip from the house to the car, locked the cabin door, and turned off the water. At 4:29:19 PM (according to the Grandsons watch), I loaded the last of four children into the Jeep for the trip  back to the city.

From what I have told you, I would imagine you are surprised that we made it on time. So I’ll divulge my Secret Weapon for Herding Cats. Their electronic games had been confiscated a few days previously (by their parents) and I had promised them that they could play with these games during the 2 hour drive home…

What form of bribery do you use to Herd Cats?