Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Welcome to Shangri-La

Today dawned cold and damp in Maryland. Later this afternoon, however, the sun came out and by the time I got home from work, the sky had become a beautiful blue with puffy clouds and the grass had turned a luscious green from all the rain we've had for the past several days.
So I grabbed the camera and George and I headed out.
As I walked, I remembered what a reader said to me recently in a comment. She said that it looked like a live in a Shangri-La of sorts. And today, when I looked in the viewfinder of my camera, I thought the same thing. George is way up this fenceline, almost to the barn.
You see, I see these fields and this driveway, and the horses, and the whole picture every single day. It doesn't always look wonderful, but some days it's downright picturesque. And when you look through the viewfinder at the little bits and pieces that I've captured today, it truly does look like heaven on earth. To me, it does.
That's George standing on the loading berm on the main farm driveway. Horse vans pull up to this little loading dock of sorts and it makes it easier to load and unload the horses. This is right in front of the breeding shed. George probably likes the view the added height affords him. Don't the trees look almost ethereal?
And here's what it looks like to stand under one of the ornamental cherry trees. This is someone's front lawn, and when we used to live along this driveway, years ago, we had these same cherry trees in our yard. My youngest son loved the 'pink snow'.
I used Pioneer Woman's actions on a few of these pictures, either Lovely & Ethereal or Boost. But what I was most excited about was the cloud trick I learned in this month's Popular Photography magazine. It looked a little complicated at first, but after practicing it several times, it's actually a breeze. Oh, get it? A breeze!
I used the cloud trick on the 1st and 2nd photos of this post. The trick involves a total of about 8 different steps with a layer mask and use of the multiply blending mode and so on and so on and blah blah blah. Like you really want to hear all about that!
Well, that's my walk with George. I know that when I get home, the house will smell really good and it will feel wonderful to be there. And it's not that I really really hate to cook. It's, well, it's one thing that my husband really seems to enjoy doing and providing for me. And I think it's really nice of me (don't you?) to let him do it. Um, yeah. That's it.

UPDATE: About that cloud trick, I need to tell you that these are REAL clouds. All I did was boost them to make them look what they looked like to me. I did NOT put fake clouds in there! Thanks to those who contacted me to ask.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

The poetry of tulips and another meme

If you've never been thrilled
to the very edges of your soul
by a flower in spring bloom,
maybe your soul has never been in bloom.
~ Audra Foveo

I've been tagged in a meme again and this time it was Tombstone Annie that got me. It's probably because I'm so darn popular. (Not really). Anyway, despite my hesitation at posting yet another meme, I'm going to comply because I'm just nice like that. Besides, I enjoy reading those of others and I think people find them interesting. The deal is that I'm to list six random things about myself and then tag others at the end. I'll do the first part of the deal, but I'm nixing the second. So let's begin.

1. I've said it before and I'll say it again. If you're going to brush your teeth, keep it to yourself. I can't stand to see people brush their teeth either in real life or TV. It's weird. I'm aware of the fact that I'm weird. Do I care? Nope.

2. I have been known to grow science experiments in my fridge. Not all the time, just every now and then. My husband doesn't find this amusing. It's not that it's something I do intentionally. Sometimes I just forget it's in there. And then it's interesting to see what's growing.

3. I am uncomfortable in the kitchen, unless I'm cleaning in there. I need to get over this irrational fear. It's not that I can't cook. I just really don't want to.

4. I love sitting by a campfire, and can build my own fire, thank you.

5. I love how my husband smells. Did I just say that out loud? I don't even care.

6. I enjoy a good book, a good glass of wine, a good time. But not necessarily in that order.

And this is the part where I don't tag anyone. Hope everyone has a good day. Today was beautiful here in Maryland, if you're a duck or if you absolutely love a good downpour. I am not complaining. The grass is so lush and green that it's making me giddy. So how are things in your neck of the woods?

Monday, April 28, 2008

Mystery tree has truly been identified now

In the interest of journalistic integrity, I must admit that I had incorrectly identified this tree the other day. I had thought that this was a Red Maple, but wasn't truly sure, because I couldn't find my husband's dendrology book.
Enter my friend, Katie, who not only surprised me with her knowledge, but who was only too happy to help solve this mystery.
What we have here, according to Katie, is a Striped Maple (Acer Pensylvanicum). Katie says:

Look how the three tips of the leaves are almost the same length. And the flowers, pendulous, drooping, dare I get to say it: a raceme.

I have helped resolve a mystery, and I got to use a word I never do. Raceme isn't as good a word as frolic or whatever your favorite equivalent is, but golly. I feel fufilled. Happy day, thank you. ~Katie

So thanks to you, Katie, for letting me know what this tree is in such a prolific way with your vocabulary featuring adjectives such as pendulous, drooping, and dare we say yet again, a raceme. And raceme is an excellent word, Katie. You have truly shown your inner geek and I applaud you!

A birth announcement

Today I took George for a walk and decided not to bring my camera, knowing that after the walk I'd probably be spending hours on the computer looking at all the new pictures. So ix-nay on the amera-kay today. However, after walking down to the pond and seeing what I'm posting here, I walked right back on up the hill and got the camera, with the zoom attachment.
My husband and I can't believe the goslings are out already. This Canada goose pair brought their 3 just-borns into the pond today for their first swim. We think they've been living in the upper swamp area just below the pond berm because this is the first time we've seen them.
I managed to keep George at heel all the way down the hill, and had him stay and sit next to me while I crawled along the edge of the pond to get these photos. Oh, the lengths I go to just to share my pictures with everyone. Oh, if you only knew.
Hope you enjoy these. Have a great Monday.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Mystery flower is identified

Regular readers of this blog may remember a post I did last week about yellow violets. I had originally gone out looking for a tree with little tiny white flowers that my husband had told me about. I couldn't find the tree, however, and I kept going further and further until I stopped and looked down and saw a yellow violet.
Oh, excuse me for a moment. If you've arrived on this blog for the first time, this is about as thrilling as it gets, okay? I warned you in the masthead of this blog to not get too excited. So if you're looking for excitement, you still have some searching to do. But if you're looking for some quiet and some nature, with a little bit of inter-species love and slutty broodmares thrown in, well you have arrived, my friend.
Anyway, back to the weird flower tree.
I went back the next day and found the tree and took some pictures, bringing a little branch home to help me identify it. And just this morning, we think we've identified this tree. Unfortunately, we can't find my husband's dendrology book from college, which is a really good source of information. So we're going with The Audubon Society's Field Guide to North American Trees. Not so good, mainly because it's a field guide, but by jove, I think we've got it.
The Latin name, Acer rubrum is also known as Red Maple, Swamp Maple, Soft Maple or Scarlet Maple. The tree we found is growing on the edge of the field, near a swampy area. I love how the little seed pods hang and if you look closely, you'll see the white that my husband was thinking of when he mentioned a little white flower. You can also see why I just passed this tree by. I was looking for white flowers and didn't see any.
I learned so many things from Wikepedia, too. The Red Maple is used for the production of maple syrup, although a harder maple is preferred. Red Maples are considered soft woods in the lumber industry. The wood is close grained and as such it is similar to that of other maples, but its texture is softer, less dense, and has a poorer figure and machining qualities. High grades of wood from the red maple can be substituted for hard maple, particularly when it comes to making furniture.
One thing we did find out which was a little alarming was that the leaves of the red maple, especially when dried or wilted, are toxic to horses.
Well, that's my little lesson for today. I just think the seed pods are an interesting subject.
It's a damp day here in Maryland, as we had some rain last night. The fields are lush green against the dark wood of the fencelines and trees and it's absolutely beautiful. Have a wonderful Sunday, everyone.
Update: See April 28 post for correct identification on this tree. It's actually a Striped Maple.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Judy wins again in the Guessing Game

Congratulations to my sister, JUDY, for her correst guess of a STRAWBERRY! Yep, that's what this is and so many of you got it correct, as well. Good for you! I wish I had whipped cream and sponge cake to go along with it, but unfortunately, I don't.
My sister Judy and her husband live in Florida. Judy is already famous from winning one of the first Guessing Game contests on this site, so she's a pro at dealing with the fame.
Judy and Rick are also featured on a post I wrote about a month ago, along with a picture of them with Chuck Norris in the middle. We were all in Nevada several years ago hanging out with Chuck. If you want to read the post about it, here it is.
Thanks to all who participated this week in the Guessing Game! It returns every Friday, when I remember, at 6 PM.

Kim, with some Photoshop action

My beautiful niece, Kim, is extremely easy to photograph. I don't think I've ever taken a bad picture of her since the day she was born. Some people are just easy to capture on film. That is one of the many things I've learned in all these years. Other people have to be coaxed, and caught just right, and it's probably why I stick to landscapes, macros and horses and dogs. Oh, and don't be confused by the word film. I'm into digital, but I still talk film sometimes.
When I'm in the right mood, I do enjoy taking pictures of people, even though I don't think it's a strongpoint of mine. I'd like to be better at it, so it's a goal.
The picture shown here was accomplished in Photoshop using two of the actions available in Pioneer Woman's free action set #1.
First I fixed the photo slightly to my liking. Then I ran PW's "B&W Beauty" action making the picture black & white. Then I flattened it and ran PW's "Soft & Faded" action, which lent a slight sepia tone. If you use Photoshop, these actions are a nice add-on.
Here's the original SOOC (straight out-of-camera shot) above and the finished one below. The color picture is fine, but it wasn't doing anything for me. I love how the sepia tones add to the mystery behind the sunglasses, which for me are the focal point. Well, that and her beautiful hair with the little wisps.
BTW, I texted her and let her know she's going to become famous. I think she's laughing right now.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Weekend Guessing Game #13

Well, I remembered. And it's an easy one.

For those of you who are just joining us, on Fridays at 6 PM, I usually remember to post a photo for you to try to guess what it is. The rules are simple:

Make your guess, then hit the comment button. You'll see what to do next. If you comment anonymously, please an identifing sig (e.g. your initials or first name).

First one to guess wins. See, it's easy! And so is the picture this week. Winner will be announced by 6 PM Saturday. Have fun!

Feeling a little vintage today

Sometimes I feel my age. I was kidding today around with a couple of the 8th grade girls, telling them I'd keep something they told me "on the Q.T." to which they replied, giggling, that they'd rather I kept it on the "down low". I laughed too, but then realized that I really show my age sometimes.
I got over the vintage feeling after I left work, though. I had to drop off some pictures at the local newspaper in a nearby town and as I was walking down the street, I got honked and whistled at by a truck full of workmen. At first, I thought it was someone I knew when I heard the honking, but when I looked up and realized that it was three men in a gigantic utility vehicle, I laughed to myself. In my younger days, I would have gotten angry and annoyed at people who did that, but when it happens now, it simply surprises the heck out of me.
Yeah, so maybe I'm not so vintage after all. It's all relative, anyway.
So, perhaps it's because I was feeling a bit old-fashioned today that I used Pioneer Woman's photoshop actions again, choosing the "Vintage" look for the mares and foals pictured here.
Don't they look like they're from an era long-ago?
It was another beautiful day in Maryland. I took George on a walk down to the tree my husband had told me about yesterday. He took pictures of it to show me what the flowers looked like. It's not a white flower like he told me it was and that's why I couldn't find the tree yesterday when I went looking for it. It's actually a string of seed pods hanging down. I took the macro lens and got some interesting shots that I'll post tomorrow.
Tonight at 6 PM is the Weekend Guessing Game. I hope that I remember this week.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Oh, humble yellow violet

When beechen buds begin to swell,
And woods the blue-bird's warble know,
The yellow violet's modest bell
Peeps from the last year's leaves below. -

Excerpt from
by William Cullen Bryant , 1814

Today was a beautiful day in Maryland. After work, I came home to find my husband busy in the garden. He didn't need my help, so I started off on a walk through the woods with George. I was only going to go round the pond, but my husband told me about a tree with an unusual flower that he saw and suggested that I change my lens.
I tried to find the tree he mentioned, and kept going further because I thought maybe it was at the end of the trail he told me to take. Finally, I just gave up looking for it and concentrated on the beauty all around me. While I walked, I thought quiet thoughts, of my sons who are at the beginnings of their adult lives and then of my father, who is getting very near the end of his.
I knew that my father was going to an appointment with his physician today. He lives in California and is being cared for by my sister, Ginny and her husband Jay.
My father will be 90 years old this August. I posted about him once, in this post. My father is a wonderful man, and quite handsome! But he's getting more confused and now suddenly, not well at all, and I just want to be near him. I want to help him feel better like he did for me when I was a child. I want to help my sister and her husband and share the burden of caring for him. They have some help, but I want to be there, too.
I plan on flying out and spending a week in June when school is finished for the year.
Anyway, I was out walking and suddenly, I realized that I was walking in the woods and I haven't done that since March 26 -- the day before my knee surgery! And it didn't hurt very much! However, I realized that now I had to walk all the way back, so I suddenly stopped and right then I looked down and there, among the old leaves and the new shoots trying to push up, was a yellow violet. I don't see them much and I can't remember the last time I ever noticed them. When I looked closer, I saw there were several yellow violets. So I got down on the ground (after checking for poison ivy) and started taking pictures, crawling around from violet to violet. I didn't have my macro lens with me, but this lens was fine on the setting I had it.
George was with me and because it was a little warm today, he had his tongue hanging out again. He'd already been on a good walk with his dad, so this was his second of the afternoon.
When I came home, I looked up yellow violets and found that they arrive in April and thrive in a dry woodsy setting. And I also found that William Cullen Bryant wrote a poem about them; the first quatrain is above.
Hope you enjoy the beautiful violets and this tree I came across that wanted to be in the blog. It was whispering to me while I was walking by and I just had to oblige.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

My little buttercup

Thirsty little Buttercup
Caught the dew and drank it up,
Said cool water was so good,
She didn't seem to care for food.

Today was a good day. My knee was hardly hurting at all and I felt, I don't know, I just felt happy. Maybe it was because I took the lilacs to work and could smell their lovely scent all day. Maybe it was because everyone who came into the office commented on the beautiful flowers. Maybe it just seemed like everything ran smoothly today. Or maybe it was because I opened up my e-mail at work this morning and saw all the comments from yesterday's lilac post. Reading your comments made me smile. It's a good feeling to have people thanking me for bringing back a treasured memory. A memory that's triggered by either the scent or sight of a flower. I loved reading your stories and I think it's what hepled make me feel good all day. I've decided that one of the best parts about having a blog might be the comment section.
Another good thing that happened today is that I saw my son who lives in a college town nearby. I haven't seen him much lately, and there's some things going on that get me down when I think about them, but I decided to just drive and see him (I texted him first to warn him) and I think we were both really glad, in the end, that I did. I love my two sons so much. And to see one of them suffer is too much to bear. So, let's not think of it. Suffice it to say that I'm so glad to have spent some time with him. As was he.

My other son called while I was driving home to tell me that the owner of the architecture firm where he's employed is flying everyone in the office out to the West Coast for 3 days in June. They're celebrating the opening of one of their buildings. Wow! I'm really glad for him.

When I got home, I took the super pup for a walk and I picked some buttercups before it got too dark. This dog is so used to coming home now and getting hosed off, that he immediately goes to the hose and waits there for me. Then he stands still and lets me clean him up! He still smells like swamp-rot just a little bit so I smoked some pot in the living room and that really helped to get rid of the stink.

Not really. But I had you going there for a minute, didn't I? I love doing that to you. You know, it's just fun.
Buttercups are fun, too. I remember playing with them when I was very young. We'd make little crowns of them, and do the butter test under my friends' chins. Good memories. Hope you all had a good day, too.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Oh, lilac tree! Oh, lilac tree!

Dearest of all the trees, to me. Steadfastly rooted, while swift years flee. Gnarled and old as lilacs be.
Lilac is one of the fragrances from my young adulthood. When I smell them, I return to a place in my heart when my sons were babies and it was spring and we lived in a small house with a giant lilac bush nearby. When I look back, I remember happiness and singing and playing.
But in reality, when I lived in that time long ago, I remember how difficult life really was. We had very little money, a beat up car, a truck that always stalled, and I remember wondering how I was ever going to have enough saved to last until the next paycheck.
But when I smell lilacs, I remember being happy.
When the boys were older, in 1st and 3rd grades, we were living in an incredible house on a horse farm in Pennsylvania. It was one of the tenant houses that the farm owner had just acquired in a real estate deal, but it was the acreage that went along with the house that was the reason for the purchase. My husband was broodmare manager, and we were given the home to live in as part of his salary. I felt as if we'd 'arrived'. We had a nice used Volvo, my husband had a good farm truck, the house had a greenhouse, two staircases, servants' quarters, fireplaces, 6 bathrooms, 6 bedrooms and the most amazing trails through woods that seemed to go on forever.
I know it sounds lovely, but in reality, it was way too big of a home. I was the one who had to keep that house clean, and I spent nearly all my free time doing so. I worked outside the home, as well, and I remember thinking how busy I always seemed to be and how hard I worked, but the house had a gigantic lilac bush. And in the spring, I would cut the blooms and bring them inside and I remember love and happiness and laughter. And children that adored me.
Wow. Where did that come from? All I did was stop by the side of the road and cut some lilacs this afternoon. And driving home in my car, smelling their heady scent, I started remembering all these things. It's not that I'm not happy right now, mind you. I just remember the happiness associated with being young and having little children. All these wonderful memories I have.
Lilacs just make me feel good. Do you have a special flower that does that for you?

Monday, April 21, 2008

What's up with Blogger tonight?

To everyone who uses Blogger, I have a question for you. Have you ever posted something, and it disappeared from your page? Today, I posted "Turtles and Swamp-rot: Perfect together" and yes, I know it sounds yucky, but it was here, right in this space. In fact, it's still on my 'edit posts' list, I have comments on it, but it's not here. It has the correct date on it, so it's not that. And also, if you're on this page and you can't see it, you can search for turtle within the blog (at the top left) and lo and behold, it will appear. This is the first time this has happened to me and I don't understand it. Also, after my page loads, I notice that some of the comments say zero (0), when in fact, there are plenty of comments. That, too, is in my 'edit posts' section and my e-mail is full of comments. Any thoughts on this? I think Blogger is getting me back because it knows I am soon defecting to Word Press. Now I've gone and done it by saying it out loud. But honestly, Blogger, you are Jamaican me crazy.

Turtles and swamp-rot: perfect together

Yesterday, I ventured out for a walk on (gasp) uneven surfaces, which means a walk on grass and trails. I wrapped my knee in my Ace bandage and took the happy pup down and around the pond on a simple little hike. When I got to the ditch on the far side, I turned around and headed back home. Coming around the pond, I saw what at first looked like a rock just sitting there.

It was a turtle, hiding in its shell. So I ran (read: walked) back to the house to get my camera . When I got back to the spot, the turtle was still there, apparently waiting for his photographic debut.

Although he wouldn't come out of his shell, even when left undisturbed, I managed to get a couple of pictures. For those who get grossed out over graphic nature scenes like this, I apologize. It really isn't that graphic, though.

I looked up turtles in one of the books we have at home, and found that this is a young snapping turtle. That was my husband's guess, as well. Snapping turtles love our pond and this one was coming from the wetlands and over the berm, heading for the pond.

He kept sniffing, or so it seemed, and his nostrils were huge. I put him back and George sniffed him for a bit, then went and treed one of the cats who had come down the hill to investigate.

I put the little turtle down and sniffed my fingers and what an awful smell! I thought I'd smelled something bad. Now my fingers smelled like swamp and muck and I had an urge to run home and wash my hands before touching my camera again.

But I'm not that kind of girl. I can handle the scent of swamp-rot for a little bit.

I looked up the hill and saw my husband working in the garden. It was a beautiful day yesterday, but later in the afternoon, the wind picked up and we had some gale force breezes going on. It blew like that all through the night and we had a little rain and some thunderstorms. Hope all is well in your neck of the woods today.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Ode to a ladybug

I was out in my yard the other day and decided to head inside. As I got near the steps to the porch, I happened to look down and see a ladybug on a blade of grass. So, of course, I ran inside to get the camera and put on the macro lens. I got down on the ground and watched the ladybug stop, then open its wings just a little, then open them even more, slipping one of its wings out. I was hoping to catch it fly away, as well, but it just put the wing back inside and kept crawling.

Later on, I was surprised upon opening them up in Photoshop to see that the little ladybug had something on the bottom of it. If you look closely at the picture, you will see that the ladybug had climbed through some pollen that can be seen at the bottom of the picture, on one of the blades of grass. Interesting, what you can see through the macro lens, isn't it?

How brave a ladybug must be!
Each drop of rain is big as she.
Can you imagine what you'd do,
if raindrops fell as big as you?

~ Aileen Fisher

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Winner announced early for WGG #12

JOSIE from Vancouver has won the Weekend Guessing Game with her correct guess of, guess what -- a ladybug! You all knew it was a ladybug, right?
Sometimes I just want to have fun, and why should I make the guessing game so difficult that it taxes your brains?
Josie was right on it this week and guessed shortly after the post had been published. So congratulations to you, Josie. I am sure you've been swooning in sheer delight up there in Vancouver since you found out the good news that you had won this game!
Thanks to all who played this weekend, and hope to see you back here next Friday, not only to try to win this game, but to see if I will actually remember to post it. You never know with me. And I have no idea why anyone would think I am devious. Why, I've never heard such nonsense! I am shocked!
Stop by and give a visit to Josie's blog. There's always something interesting going on. Have a wonderful evening, everyone.

I fetch stick for you

You're right, people, how could I have ever said that I had enough pictures of George. Here he is playing one of his favorite games: fetch stick.
I fetch stick for you.
I chase stick. I get stick.
I bring you stick.
You throw stick. I fetch.
I happy when bring you stick.
I sit here now.
I love fetch stick.
He'll do this until the cows come home. Which is a long time because there are no cows here, only horses. But you get the picture, right? This stick isn't very heavy, so please don't think I'm abusing young George by forcing him to fetch heavy objects. Besides, he's very strong.
I think he fetches stick it in his sleep, too, because I can see him running. I love this dog.