October 2008 Archives


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Today I volunteered for the Democratic Party, making phone calls and leaving flyers at doors. I never thought I'd be one to call strangers or walk door to door, as I generally hate receiving political calls and anything that ends up in the recycling bin, but once again the importance of this election made me want to do my part for bringing about change in our country. And today's message was a reminder about early voting, which I highly want to encourage. So it was all good, at least until I reached a straight-party Republican, apparently the father of the Democrat I was trying to reach, who told me that he wouldn't vote for Obama for dog catcher. Balance that call with a woman who said she already voted straight Democratic and go, go women (in reference to two of our local candidates). Phew. But overall, it was a good experience, I'm glad I did it, and I will likely volunteer again in the next few days. It feels good being active for progress.

I think the phone call with that unpleasant man prompted my Obama "flair" purchase. Three buttons and two stickers for the car, plus an extra sticker that says "What would Ann do?" in reference to our wonderful former governor, the tell-it-like-it-is Ann Richards, deceased but still loved, never forgotten. It was too meaningful to resist.

Last day to early vote. Polls close at 7pm! Happy Halloween! (One of my buttons is a Halloween one, reading, "VP Palin? TERRIFYING!")

Enjoying Hope

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I despise politics -- the games people play, the mean attacks, the obvious and the subtle lies, the corruption, the voting scandals, the worst sides of capitalism showing through, candidates' personal goals instead of goals with the best for America in mind, lobbyists the driving force behind a lot of decisions, racism, religious fanatics, stupidity (sometimes those last three go hand in hand). The list goes on and on, and events and actions during election years just makes me ill most of the time. I think that's why it's nice for me to feel such hope for a change. And we need a change. Though Barack Obama is also a politician, he is a man I can believe in. It will take a long time to repair the damage George Bush has done, but Obama and Biden will make immediate changes for the better. McCain won't. Don't even get me started on Palin. And though our family, like so much of the country, is feeling the effects of the economy drop, at least it will hopefully be the final nail in the coffin for George Bush's place in history books. I want them to show forevermore the damage his office has done, and that he is one of the worst, if not the worst, President in the history of our country.

It's funny though -- as much as I despise George W. Bush and his administration -- I find that it is even harder to listen to John McCain. That man's speaking voice affects me like fingernails on a chalkboard. Maybe he should master Palin's wink -- then the effect will be perfect -- perfectly creepy, that is. I watched the VP debate directly -- the presidential debates I had to listen to from the other room.

Last night Obama aired a 30-minute ad on several networks. Of course, the talks afterward had to do with how much Obama spent and whether the overall result would be a gain in voter support or a loss. What's wrong with spending campaign money to do exactly what it's meant to do -- help you reach out to Americans and to help you win? Obama has money because he has incredible support across the country -- if McCain doesn't have similar support, there's a reason. Isn't that why people send money to their candidate -- to help them win? Exactly. And the ad was about positive change -- it didn't attack Obama's opponent the way that McCain is so fond of. Of course, McCain continued his attacks on Larry King Live. Sure, he might have appeared more relaxed, but he still played the smear game. I know the man doesn't have natural charisma the way Obama does, but he could at least try. Or is he trying? Eep.

Proud Voter

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Ivoted.jpgToday I did something for the first time -- early voting. Because this election is so important to me, I really wanted to avoid any complications and get my vote in early. I have to admit -- not waiting in long lines is quite a nice way to go about the voting process. Nolan went with me and thoroughly enjoyed helping me mark the ballot. At the end the volunteers thanked him (and me, of course) for voting, and the two of us walked out proudly displaying our "I voted" stickers. It was particular meaningful because Nolan has really been interested in the election, even watching some of the debates with his parents. He's had discussions with his classmates at school about various candidates, which was really nice to hear, and he was pleased to hear that his parents were voting for candidates he also supported (meaning his friends' families were probably also supporting them). Today he asked me why kids couldn't vote and really felt it unfair that he couldn't express his choice of candidate. So it was very nice to let him be a part of my voting process. It was a special experience for both of us.

I've also done something else for the first time this year -- proudly displaying our presidential candidate's sign in our yard. I've often wondered about families that are split in their choice of candidate -- do they put both candidates' signs in their yard? Probably some do. I just haven't seen it yet.

I find it remarkable how elections really bring out the best in some people and the worst in others. I'm often in awe at the intelligence of people involved in these elections and then stunned by the stupidity, ignorance, and/or greed of many of our American voters and sometimes our country's candidates. I long for a country that really represents the ideals it once was known for.

By the way, the election this year falls on our anniversary. Michael and I agree on what would make the perfect anniversary gift.  :)


Pre-Halloween fun

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Halloween has always been one of my favorite times of year. I almost always dress up in some sort of costume, though admittedly I've put aside the "something different every year" plan for myself to allow for a less stressful approach to getting the family out for Halloween, making use of things I have at home as best I can, and sometimes wearing a simple costume from a previous year. Someday I'll have another sewing machine, and at that point I might get playful with more complicated costumes again. This year even Nolan opted for a simple idea, and as usual he pulls it off very well. He decided to be a hobo, and we were able to create a costume that cost us not a cent (appropriate for the costume, lol). Now that's the way to do it! For me, I just pulled out a "snakeskin-like" dress I used to wear ballroom dancing and borrowed Nolan's stuffed snake, and voila, I became a Snake Whisperer. Not too exciting, but not as boring as those other parents who came as themselves to the pre-Halloween party down the street!


The hoboWe also enjoyed the annual pumpkin carving party at Stepan and Jfer's. Nolan was the designer for our pumpkins, and Michael was the carver. I couldn't do much with this annoying tendonitis (caused by gardening), but I did what I could! I guess I was the photographer?




I did get to provide this eyeball decoration for the pumpkin carving party -- one of my glassblowing "masterpieces"!



Getting back to my grass roots

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Despite the fact that our butterfly garden has been dedicated as such, the old grass is trying to reestablish its territory. So every morning I go out to pull grass. It's amazingly hard to pull it out with its roots in this clay soil, so chances are I'll be pulling grass for some time to come. On the plus side, I get to spent ample time admiring the wildlife that is frequenting the garden. This morning I enjoyed, among others, monarch, queen, skipper, sulphur, and tiger swallowtail butterflies. They'd fly over me, casting shadows the size of birds, and as I looked up I'd see a vision of color fluttering by.

Monarch 10-22-08 a.jpgThis morning also brought a dragonfly and a small centipede, which crawled quite close to my flip-flop-exposed toes. I just studied it for awhile and went back to my gardening. After all, a centipede, while hazardous to humans, is quite the bug predator and is welcome in my garden. On the other hand, perhaps I should stop wearing flip flops!

Happily all my plants are doing well. The rains we had last week assured me that my front yard plants are finally established -- they have really settled in and started growing. It's fun to see all the blooms on small plants. It's like watching small kids learning to do grown-up things. Here's a close-up of a milkweed bloom.

Milkweed bloom 10-22-08.jpg

I should correct my statement to say that all of my plants that have survived the dogs are doing well. The thundering husky and his girlfriend do their best to trample the garden or eat young seedlings. Hopefully, if all goes well, one of these days the surviving plants will be large enough that the dogs go around, instead of through, the garden. If only the dogs could pull up the grass for me -- that would be okay.

Grass 10-22-08.jpg

I am an Iris (edit: now I'm a Lily)

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Happened upon this quiz in a garden blog, This Garden Is Illegal. As it turns out, I am an Iris. I don't take too many of these types of quizzes, but how could I resist one that pertains to my newfound love of gardening? The thing I dislike about quizzes like this is there are the occasional questions where the answer choices just don't fit you at all, or you are between two choices. <edit: 05-27-09; I retook the quiz today while messing with my blog set-up. As it turns out, now I'm a LILY. The description fits me much better: "Your artistic expression tends to show up in flamboyant bursts. When you are feeling creative, it consumes your every though and action. But just as quickly as the muse shows up, it leaves you and you are back to your relatively normal self." Fits me to a T.


I am an

What Flower
Are You?

I am a

What Flower
Are You?

The pond begins

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The pond is officially underway. Thanks to Craigslist, we found someone who was getting rid of huge rocks from their yard, and another person wanting to get rid of an old hot tub shell (and yes, we hauled it all). We are recycling the shell into a pond for our backyard. We'd love to go even bigger with our pond, but because of the dogs, we need to have a partially raised pond in the hopes that we can keep the dogs out (I said, HOPE). The hot tub shell should be perfect for the job, plus we get to save a major piece of trash from having to go the landfill. 

The pond beginsThe butterfly garden has a few more plants. If all goes well, these plants will be huge next year, supplemented as well by spring-blooming plants.


Butterfly garden 12-19-08The first removal of an invasive Nandina also happened this weekend. One down, fifty to go! Okay, hopefully not that many. But lots.

The art of blowing glass

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A couple of weeks ago, Stepan and I started a glass blowing class through Informal Classes. It was Stepan's idea to sign up, and and even though I probably wouldn't have signed up for it on my own, I'm thoroughly enjoying myself. After all, we get to be creative, make useful and/or artistic pieces, and play with hot molten glass all at the same time. The class is taught by local artisan Aaron Gross.

Meredith working on a glass bowlHere I am working on a glass bowl.


Glass close-up.This close-up shows Stepan picking up bits of colored glass with his gather.


  Blowing a bubble Blowing a bubble is a lot easier with gum.


Stepan reheats his vase

We started out making simple cups and bowls, but we are learning to challenge ourselves with fluted bowls, vases, and adding elements of color. Today I made a vase that I sketched out ahead of time -- I hope it looks nice once it's cooled. Stepan's creation was destined to be quite nifty, but just before the piece was finished, he accidentally bumped it against the edge of the glory hole and it broke. We all felt a sense of sadness, but someone in the class had to do it at some point, and we are all grateful to Stepan for being the one to take that step. Despite today's catastrophe, Stepan is becoming quite proficient at glassblowing, and it's fun watching him.

Telling America how it is

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Thought I'd link this wonderful blog -- an 82-year-old speaks out against the embarrassing and hypocritical pair of self-claimed "mavericks," McCain and Palin. Helen has certainly gotten America's attention. You go, girl.



Hermit crabs get a new home

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Our hermit crabs have a new home -- they will be the pets of a new teacher in our district. She had hermit crabs for much of her life, so I know our little ones will be happy and in good care. Good luck, Shelley and Shelton (or Shelby if Shelton is actually a girl!). We will miss you!

Hermit crabs.jpg

The problem with a big yard

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Living on roughly 1/2 acre has its advantages, but of late I'm feeling a little overwhelmed by the sheer size of it all. The property has about 65 trees on it, but they are mostly on the side and back of the property. The rest of the yard has been fairly empty, except for a few volunteer shrubs and invasives and weeds. So now that I'm trying to finally garden -- I'd call it landscaping, but ultimately I hope for a more wild look -- I feel like I'll never be able to get enough plants to fill it.

Today was the biannual plant sale at the Wildflower Center, one of my favorite local places to visit. Normally a visit brings peace and tranquility to one's soul when walking through the colorful displays of butterflies fluttering among flowers, listening to the sounds of buzzing bees and trickling waterfalls. But today was a madhouse of mayhem -- local Wildflower Center members all fighting their way to their desired native plants in order to claim them and place them on their cart. It was quite an experience-- and fun getting caught up in the selection of plants. I bought 5 trees: 2 Mexican Redbuds, a Lacey Oak, a hop tree, and a Texas Persimmon. Perennials and shrubs included Hill Country penstemon, savlia coccinea, salvia greggii, purple coneflower, mealy blue sage, TX lantana, wood fern, yellow bells, mexican feathergrass,  and red columbine. I think that's everything. But did I buy enough? Nope. I still need another big tree and some more plants for the butterfly garden. I still need to buy shrubs for... everywhere. I have so much I'd like to get in the ground now so that I don't have to wait again until next fall. But I have so much yard!  

A green thumb? Mine's covered in dirt

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Just like my mother, I thrive on projects. My latest project has turned out to be one that will keep me busy for a long, long time. After 13 years at our house in Austin, I am finally planting plants, some for landscaping and some for pure enjoyment. Sure, I've planted a handful of things from time to time, and even attempted a little vegetable garden, but I was clearly a newb and the desire to transform the yard never took. Well, I might still be a newbie, but I have found my green thumb, or at least my perpetual dirty fingernails and feet. Welcome to my young garden.

This all started with the deliberate falling of a dead tree in our front yard. We beat it to the punch -- the old hackberry was destined to fall on the house (specifically our son's bedroom) with the next strong wind. Somehow the process of removing it got me inspired to plant a few things. And suddenly a little project became a full property focus.

I started on the entryway. There were 3 beds of almost complete dirt that had sat there empty (except one yew and some annoying weeds) for years. Now they are filled with small shade plants that will someday be big plants. The beds have room to change -- in fact one change was made today. We've had rain for the past 24 hours, and it turns out the water running off the roof was bombarding my little wood violet, trying to drown it in the process. The wood violet is now safely tucked away in a different bed, and I have buckets collecting any additional runoff. Yes, we need gutters. Yes, what a grand opportunity for a rain barrel. No, we can't do any of that at this time. But my wood violet may yet live, and for now that is what matters.

The cats and dogs have been my gardening companions. When I'm in the front yard with the cats, the dogs are jealous and whiny. When I'm in the backyard with the dogs, the cats want to come outside. But they each have their area, and they don't go outside without me.

Tooga the Gardener

Tooga loves to garden with me. Any hole I dig in the front yard, she is right there to test it out and make sure it was just right.

Even Cricket has found her adventuresome side, though she still scurries back to the house or garage at every noise.


Tooga doesn't always see the toads. The toads prefer it that way.

Tooga ignores toad

The garden is bringing all sorts of wildlife -- toads, butterflies, lizards, skinks, caterpillars, wasps, birds, and squirrels. A few pest bugs, but so far so good (well, except for the goldenball leadtree that was filled with fire ants). Here is a monarch caterpillar on the milkweed.


Baby monarch caterpillarI went to plant my baby Dutchman's pipevine, only to discover it half gone with a big pipevine swallowtail caterpillar! It was awfully cute though.

Pipevine caterpillar on pipe weedBut I didn't have enough plant to support it, so I took the caterpillar back to Natural Gardener's so it could feast on their pipevine. And wow, was it happy. But my poor pipevine was dragged by the dogs through the yard before it got planted -- amazingly I've managed to get it growing again, and it seems quite happy now.

Pipevine catA toad made use of the toad bath right away.

Toad hallHere's a view of the butterfly garden before I put in the edging. I'm not going to overdo the edging in the yard, but I wanted to make sure the butterfly shape stayed. It was a pain to get those wings even! You can see the original and much smaller bed in the butterfly shape. The area along the fence and house, separated by a line of bricks, will be a bed we prepare for spring planting.

Butterfly bed

A view of the garden with the edging and some of the plants put in place. Michael helped dig out the bed, but I did the edging and the planting, giving myself a bit of tendonitis in my right elbow during the process. 


Michael in the gardenThis is our old wheelbarrow in which I planted with herbs and colorful annuals. I used some of that basil just this evening! Yum.

Wheelbarrow of herbs and flowersEastern tiger swallowtails came to visit this weekend, and two danced and went off together.

Eastern Tiger Swallowtail


All in all, it's been fun. I seem to be spending most of my waking hours thinking about plants. The yard is officially certified as a wildlife habitat, and now I'm trying to bring in as many native Texas plants as I can to help get the yard certified as a Texas Wildscape and a Best of Texas habitat. Someday our yard will look very different. Right now it's in its baby stages.

Hard to say farewell

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I admit that the last time I blogged was before April 5. I had a hard time with the passing of my 15-year-old dog Gracie. She was the third pet to pass away in less than a year, and I just felt I couldn't blog about her until I was ready. Kit-Kat had gotten very sick the previous summer, and Sammy died at 15 1/2 in November. While we knew that Sammy and Gracie were very old, by the time Gracie died, I just couldn't bring myself to write another memorial. But before I can get back into blogging, I need to do that for Gracie.


Gracie 3.jpgGracie came into my life when she was 2-3 months old. She was found by a neighbor at an old empty grocery store, and I quickly adopted her. Somehow her being found at an empty grocery store was fitting -- nothing made Gracier happier than mealtime. Older sis Sammy wasn't always sweet to Gracie, but with Gracie's unexpected kill of a garage-hiding rat, Gracie's confidence was up, and Sammy accepted her as an equal at last.

Gracie had her medical issues, but she rarely complained, even if she couldn't move very far or very fast. She had the softest ears, and it was so wonderful to lay on the floor with her, watch a movie or relax, and just pet her and rub those ears. She loved it, and so did I.

Gracie died peacefully in her sleep on April 5. We always thought her hips or back would give out before the end, but somehow her body just said it was time. I admit I was in a bit of shock -- with Sammy it had been a rough few months toward the end. Maybe Gracie knew that and wanted to make it easy on me, on us. But regardless, it doesn't change the fact that she was a very wonderful part of our family, and one of the best parts of my life for 15 great years. I love you, Gracie.

Here we go again

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Well, the website is back up with a whole new blog. An unfortunate circumstance. Hopefully I can somehow access the old blog entries, but for now I'm stuck with a brand new blog. Again.

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