Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Possible New Project

Granted I haven't picked up a crochet hook in over 20 years, but I'm hopeful that I can make some sense of this easy, free crochet pattern for a cowl.  My expectations are realistic & on the lower end in that I am just wanting something to help keep me warm at the horse barn.  My sister was better at crocheting than I'll ever be, but surely I can do a bunch of single crochets (which is all this pattern is).  I haven't started it yet, but I have my materials bought (hook & yarn - even bought the same dye lot - yeah me).  Right now, with all the holiday madness, I'm trying not to start any new projects or start reading any new books (which is a tough challenge), but I'm ready when I do have the time.  In hindsight, it would have been nice to be able to make a few of these for Christmas gifts - maybe next year.  Is anyone planning on making their own Christmas gifts or returning to an old hobby?  In all honesty - I really have no business restarting an old hobby - I can barely keep up with my life as it is - but something about this one project really calls to me (or is that my age?).

In case you wanted to try this free pattern - here's where I found it:  http://www.kraemeryarns.com/patterns/ (scroll down to "Crochet" & you'll find it among several other free patterns, will open up in separate window as PDF).  If you decide to try it - let me know how it turns out.

UPDATE:  My sister beat me to this project & sent me a finished cowl in a tan color.  I've enjoyed wearing it to the barn & it has helped keep me warmer (or maybe the warmer winter has helped too).  I still intend to make this for myself, but it has obviously been pushed back on my to-do list.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011


I know it is too early to be making resolutions for the new year, but I seriously need to make one that applies to getting (better) organized with my pictures/videos (not to mention my life in general - but I'll tackle this part first).  This picture of the area in front of my computer is merely a very small sampling of what I'm dealing with.  I realize I'm on borrowed time not having more than 1 backup (and in some cases - no backup - YIKES), so this is/could be a serious issue for me.  It is especially challenging this time of year because of all the extra pictures & videos I'm taking for the holidays.  But sitting in front of my computer for days on end just sorting/organizing backing up just doesn't sound like much fun (never mind the huge accomplishment in the end).  Has anyone else already given thought to a resolution?  Maybe you've got one similar to mine?  How are you going to tackle that monumental job?  Good luck to all of us.

just a very small sampling of the mess that needs tackling - ugh

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Nature Center

Blue Crab

American Alligator
Corn Snake

My son & I (along with a group) visited a nearby nature center/wetlands area.  I've always enjoyed visiting these kinds of places and this one was not a disappointment.  A lot of hard work went into their museum area, including live exhibits of a fish pond (complete with alligators), box turtles, snakes (all non-venomous), just to name a few.  There were beautiful murals and touch boxes - many things to touch, experience, and all very nicely done.  Since it was chilly, dreary, & windy all of our activities were inside, but the staff really did a good job - alternatng between classroom work & hands-on exercises in the museum.  I hope to go back one day and walk the trails of this nature center - it is esturary, salt water, marsh type environments, different from some of the freshwater ponds/creeks that I usually visit.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

December Temperatures

Honestly I realize that this daytime high is not considered cold for many people, but for us along the Gulf Coast in early December - it might as well be freezing (our normal average daytime temperatures should be in the mid-60s).  Cloud cover all day meant no sunshine at all, and temperatures at night dipped even closer towards actual freezing.  We recently had rain, wind, and a 15-20 degree temperature drop during the day which made the weather feel extreme.  It has been one of those weeks where I got chilled to the bone (even shivering), and haven't been able to fully warm up.  The thought of sitting in my chair, wrapped in a blanket, reading, and drinking hot chocolate seemed like the best plan of the day (never mind the clothes that needed washing, bills needed paying, etc), but sadly that plan didn't work out.

About reading - a friend & I have, for the last several years, read the same books.  We plan/discuss what book to read next as if it were a life changing decision.  I'm little behind her on a few books simply because at the time they didn't interest me.  We are both lovers of books & love to be surrounded by books (including many that are in our "to be read" pile).  I think we are headed towards the Cassandra Clare books (The Mortal Instruments/The Infernal Devices series) and are considering the Marie Lu book, Legend, as well as James Patterson's Witch and Wizard series.   During my research into which series/books I would suggest as our next reading adventure, I browsed through an author's blog that included what she was listening to, reading, watching on TV, eating and drinking.  I thought it was an interesting addition - a peek into the real world life of an author. 

I'm not an author (but hey anything is possible - still deciding on that "what to do when I grow up" plan), but here's what is going on with me at this moment.

Listening to:  early morning sounds of the house - mostly everyone else sleeping
Reading:  Twilight/Midnight Sun (yes I'm behind the rest of humanity in finally reading this series, and yes I'm cheating & alternating between the 2 books, even worse - I read Breaking Dawn first - drives my friend crazy too)
Cooking/Baking planned for today:  Brownies - for our afternoon snack

I won't bore anyone with this info in every post, but if something signficant changes I will let you know.  I haven't had as much time for reading as I would like - the holidays, afterschool activities, etc.. seem to be getting in the way.  The cooking/baking will soon be in high gear - preparing for gift giving.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Early Morning Learning

I'm usually awake early in the morning, ahead of everyone in my house and probably earlier than most, especially for a weekend.  I've been trying to use this quiet time to get ahead in my day (check all my "stuff" online, start washing clothes, etc.), but lately I've been learning even more more tricks/tips that apply to photography - mostly post processing.  I have updated/installed the camera raw plug-in for my photo software (only took me 2 tries), and I found an easy way to make bookmarks from pictures.  This is something I've been wanting to do - easy gift ideas or gift tags.  I haven't printed it on card stock yet, but I'm hopeful it will be as good as it looks on my computer.  I may print on photo paper, then glue onto really heavy cardstock (not sure that weight of paper will feed through my printer) for extra durability.  I'm not always crafty, but this I can do. 

the hands of a dressage rider
This section of the picture is actually placed on 1/2 of a 4x6 size image, so you can get 2 different bookmarks out of 1 printed photo.  I didn't figure this out for myself - I found someone online who explained it in a few steps.  You can find it here:  http://flyingsamphoto.com/digital-photo-guide-article-009.shtml  (My personal notes:  I rotated the original photo, then cropped out what I didn't want in Windows Photo Gallery, then reopened photoshop elements & resized the cropped picture - not exactly the way it was explained, but worked for me.  If someone would like exact steps I followed, let me know & I'll post).  I'm finding that several of the things I would like to do require the photo to be processed through several different photo processing sofware packages - my own shortcuts.  I'm sure the PSE7 that I have does it all, but I just haven't mastered it.  So, if you are on my Christmas list - you may be receiving something like this.... of course I'll need my days to be 48 hours long each... Christmas is getting here too quickly.

Monday, November 28, 2011


Hope everyone is recovering from the Thanksgiving holiday.  Getting back into the everyday routine is really difficult.  The next three weeks will be spent in a frantic overload pace - as many other families will be as well.  It was a nice Thanksgiving for us - family, too much food, and seeing some fall color.  Seems we've shifted in weather to almost winter (34 deg this morning taking the kids to school) but hopefully next week we'll be back to our normal weather for this time of year.  Speaking of weather (had to sneak it in), we've been receiving some rain around the state, not enough to alleviate the drought, but certainly enough to lift the burn bans on many counties - which is a step in the right direction.  Hope you enjoy my one picture of fall color we saw in East Texas (the yellows are really visible, but the reds are just starting to show).

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Learning Something New - HDR

Galveston Island State Park
Although I realize most of the time I am behind the rest of the world in learning new techniques - I am really enjoying this approach to photography imaging - HDR (high dynamic range) that fuses 3 photos together (1 underexposed, 1 balanced, 1 over exposed) so that the final output includes all the colors, tones, etc that is possible.  I've seen photos like this circulating around, but didn't know how to get that look.  This seems to be especially effective in lower light. 

The above picture was taken at Galveston Island State Park, Texas, in the middle of the afternoon (I know very bad time for taking pictures), but I wanted a few very quick pics to play with.  I needed to do some research to figure out how to set my camera for bracketing and also quickly found out I would have to shoot in a manual mode (aperature priority) - not my favorite thing to do - but this will force me to get better.  I used 3 stops up/down and fused 3 pictures together using HDR software (Photomatix Essentials).  I didn't crop this - this is how it came out of the camera.  Once in the HDR software I applied the "painterly" tone mapping.  There are other choices & you can preview before you save the fused file/picture. 

Here are some details of what I did/used to get this picture.  Keep in mind that I've reduced the file size of this picture for the web - way down.

Camera - Nikon D90
polarizer filter on (for color saturation & glare)
bracketing set for F3 (3 stops +/- around the balanced photo
aperature priority (F4.5)
auto focusing

Here's another photo of a gull that I applied the deep tone map affect - wish our water in this area was that nice blue (it is usually kind of muddy), but it makes for a nice picture.  Same camera, aperature priority, auto focus, with polarizing filter (because yes I was taking pictures in the middle of the day).  This picture has been cropped. I really like the sharp/bright colors of the granite/rock he is standing on as well. 

Gull at Texas City Dike, Texas

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Dealing With Life

I think this picture says it all without any caption.... an arm that is bent not at the wrist, but where it shouldn't.  This has been one of my excuses for not posting - dealing with life right now.  Good news - my son will be fine after the usual period in a cast - although his arm was slightly manipulated again after the initial set - he's a strong guy to tough it out.  As for taking pictures - I snuck this picture with my phone really quickly in the hospital ER while it was up on the lightbox.  I don't have an iPhone, but I still find my phone's camera very handy for these kind of quick pics - don't think it would be proper to haul out the big camera and ask everyone to pose just for historical recording purposes.  But I did have a chance to use the real camera at a dressage schooling show.  I've been photographing horses with and without riders for a few years now and at least I can say I've seen an improvement in my efforts.  Here's a couple that I took that were from a little different angle than you usually see.  An additional benefit from these pictures - they can be used as teaching tools - showing the rider what they could do differently or what they did really well.

A rider's hands help guide the horse.
FYI... the fingers should be closed.

A young horse looks relaxed in her
first dressage show.

Sunday, October 23, 2011


How many favorites do you have bookmarked in your internet browser?  I counted & I have 194, not including the ones buried inside folders (I didn't count the number of folders either).  That number is surprising to me especially since I thought I went through them every once in a while I deleted a few - maybe a few too few??  My favorites are websites that I visit everyday from world news, other blogs, a certain social network, nature/science websites, and yes some celebrity magazines (US & UK).  I don't have much free time to watch tv, so the majority of my news does come from the internet.  Some of my favorites are there because I might need to refer back to that information for a future project too - research, and some are there to help me with things I'm learning (photoshop tutorials, photography tips).  While others are bookmarked for items I think I may want to purchase in the future.  Parts of my house are going through a massive fall clean up/out - maybe I need to turn my attention to my favorites.  But if I delete the bookmark, should I print out the information & file it for future reference?  That just creates more filing for me - but then again I would have it forever in case of a computer crash.  How do you manage your bookmarks/favorites to keep them under control?

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Halloween Music

Our recent cold front actually brought some cooler weather, so it now actually feels like fall (actually in the mornings feels like winter).  I really like winter clothes & think I look better in them than summer (they cover up more stuff), but I hate to be cold - seriously I really don't like being cold.  We haven't bought our pumpkins yet - just been too busy & it has been a little warm.  I did start listening to some Halloween music today; even practiced/learned to play the theme music to the movie Halloween - the old John Carpenter movie, not the new one.  I'm practicing this to play a bad joke on my husband.  Just listening to that music gives him the creeps - that movie sure scared the poop out of both of us (still does) & that tune just brings it all back.  I plan on telling him how I learned a song on the piano - naturally he'll listen (like a good husband) - then wham - I'm gonna start with that 5/4 time Halloween song... love it.  (disclaimer: I am not a pianist - never took piano lessons, but I can read music - this is an easy piece - thank goodness.)

There are a few tunes around that I consider Halloweeney.... I'm sure there are tons out there - sorry but I'm tired of Monster Mash & Purple People Eater songs.  Here's a link to a few of my favorites (these links should take you to Amazon's website of downloadable MP3s:

Toccata & Fugue in D Minor - http://www.amazon.com/Toccata-Fugue-Minor-BWV-565/dp/B000S4GHYG/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=dmusic&qid=1319049485&sr=1-1

Nessum Dorma (Puccini) - http://www.amazon.com/Nessun-dorma/dp/B001D8NWNU/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=dmusic&qid=1319049546&sr=1-1  (actually this is just a good song to listen to anytime - but it was played in the movie The Witches of Eastwick)

O Fortuna - http://www.amazon.com/O-Fortuna/dp/B002EDO9VW/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=dmusic&qid=1319049617&sr=1-1 (you may not think you know this one - but it has played in several movies too)

Tubular Bells - http://www.amazon.com/Tubular-Bells-Movie-Exorcist/dp/B001I84Q26/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=dmusic&qid=1319049690&sr=1-1 (actually I think my uncle introduced this music to me before the Exercist movie came out)

Psycho - http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B0010WNOSM/ref=dm_dp_trk21?ie=UTF8&qid=1319049875&sr=301-1 (this is always a favorite of many - but the movie was a little before my time - it scared me when I was younger, but still doesn't measure up to Halloween)

Funeral March - http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B0046DVW0E/ref=dm_dp_trk43?ie=UTF8&qid=1319050119&sr=301-2

Moonlight Sonata - http://www.amazon.com/Moonlight-Sonata/dp/B000SA3MXO/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&s=dmusic&qid=1319050540&sr=1-2  (which coincidentally will be my next piece to try & learn - although it will certainly take longer than an afternoon)

Padme's Ruminations - http://www.amazon.com/Padmes-Ruminations/dp/B0014LPY9G/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=dmusic&qid=1319051027&sr=1-1 (I love all of John Williams's compositions - this one from Star Wars 3 (yes I liked it too) is creepy and knowing she is sensing something going wrong (using the force) in the situation just makes the music sadder)

The Resurrection Stone - http://www.amazon.com/The-Resurrection-Stone/dp/B0059R58HE/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=dmusic&qid=1319051229&sr=1-1 (from Harry Potter 7, part 2 - again the music is great, but don't know if the situation makes it sadder - not so much scarey music, but certainly emotional)

I'll stop there; there are many hundreds more - which are your favorites?  I'll let you know how my bad joke on my husband goes... good thing he such a good sport.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Pig Showing - County Fair

My family spent some time at our county fair this weekend and it was probably the first time we've been during the first weekend - lots of events going on.  It was a beautiful day so we spent all afternoon there (our usual fair weather is either soaking wet/muddy or freezing record cold).  We even got a chance to watch a few events we haven't seen before (and still don't understand).  One particular one was a pig show.  The teenagers (assuming 4-H'ers) bring their pigs (these aren't cuddly ones - these big fat pigs) into the arena and walk them around and around, using sticks (I'm sure there is an official term for it - in horse world it would be a dressage whip) to guide the pig's direction (hitting/tapping around the neck to make them turn either side).  Some of the kids had a difficult time getting their pig to listen & ended up in the corner or smashed between the pig and the fence.  They walked their pig around until something happened (this is what we missed & don't understand) - the teen would hold up their hand, their family would clap & whoop/holler - then a group of men with boards (plastic) would come over & safely guide the pig out of the arena.  We can only guess, but we think it was an auction type event - the teens who raised their hands had their pigs bought (although we didn't hear any auctioneer doing his thing, and they guided the pig out with the boards to keep it safe from harm from other pigs, etc. I guess so that it would be nice & pretty for slaughter?  Another interesting thing (we did see this in action) - the teens all had brushes in their back pockets - they used them to brush off the pig's rear-ends... not sure the purpose of that other than to keep them clean, but that's what we saw.  At one point one pig was made to lay down & roll over - took several people to do that - or maybe he wasn't supposed to roll over just held for better inspection??  This will forever be a mystery since I don't see any of us going into pig showing.  Here are a few pictures from that event.

Although I really don't like them, we stopped at the petting zoo - this one had several exotic/unusal animals to pet in addition to the regular goats, miniature donkey, etc.  One animal that was really cute was a guanaco.  We've never seen one or heard of one, so I had to look it up when we got home.  Here's what I found:  native to arid mountain regions of South America (poor guy - considering our heat/humidity - must have been miserable - note:  even the chickens were panting in their cages on this day, and we had nice weather), they are in the camel family, will spit when threatened, and their fiber (hair/coat) is comparable to cashmere.  This one was a youngster and was very cute, although I still don't like petting zoos (one reason - those kids who think it is funny to hit the animals & they are old enough to know better - why aren't the parents doing something?  oh - because they think it funny - I will stop at that, although there are many many other reasons for my dislike).  So, here's a picture of that cute quanaco.

guanaco - native to South America

On a better note - my son & I entered the photography contest.  I've entered for several years off/on and this contest is intense in my county.  A lot of good amateur photographers (and student photographers) and a lot of good opportunities for photos (birding, close enough to coast, close enough to big city, etc).  I always hope to win a ribbon, but there are many times that I haven't.  I was really hoping my son would at least get 1 honorable mention, but sadly he didn't.  I was pleasantly surprised that I did get a 2nd place ribbon and an honorable mention (each entrant is allowed a total of 5 pictures). 

Thursday, October 13, 2011

About Blogging

I seem to be thinking too much about this blogging thing.... so many others manage to post more regularly like twice week or even daily.  There are certain unwritten rules that I seem to be following in my head that others are not:  don't post anything too personal, don't post anything that can identify my family (call me paranoid about keeping my family safe), don't post trivial things but post meaningful, educational, interesting (at least to me) topics, etc... Since I named this blog "From All Directions" I intended it to include many topics with pictures, but it doesn't seem that I have been successful.

Lately the weather has taken up everyone's thoughts - the drought, the rain we've managed to get lately, the amount of rain we still need (somewhere around 22 inches), the changes in humidity, etc.  So the following is a picture that I took last weekend (again at Brazos Bend State Park) of Creekfield Lake.  I had heard from one of the volunteers that the park had begun pumping water into it again (as opposed to what I was told  - their original plan of letting nature take its course), and then the next day they received several inches of rainfall.  Personally, I'm torn as to whether pumping was good or not - almost seemed too late, the lake had dwindled to only the gator hole remaining, with probably no fish, very few water birds, etc... a real disruption in the ecosystem.  However when we get rain, everything will eventually return - the natural cycle & one that people could come & watch.  With the artificial pumping they are maintaining a certain water level - which is good - but I hope they continue to pump so the ecosystem doesn't take another "hit" & can remain sustaining for all the wildlife that is dependent upon that small lake/marsh area.  Here's a picture of Creekfield Lake after the pumping, but before the rain. 

Creekfield Lake @ Brazos Bend State Park, Texas

I'm really happy to see the water in the lake, but hope the park makes the commitment to maintain a certain water level/depth.  If they are going to interfere/react to the natural cycle I think they should make the decision to keep pumping.   To see a picture of how low Creekfield Lake was a few weeks prior to this picture scroll down a bit - I'm standing on the same bridge looking the same direction - towards the pier.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Texas Fires

What a labor day weekend Texas has had... wildfires seem to be sprouting up everywhere.  I think I fear fire more than hurricanes - more time to prepare for a hurricane.  We've had dry spells in the past, but nothing like this dangerous fire weather that I can remember.  Weather underground has a really cool map that shows where all the current fires are in the state as well as the smoke trails - some of the smoke is so dense/heavy it is showing up on weather radars. 


It is also interesting to read what other people are saying about Texas & the fires. I read one article from Reuters about several of the fires (including one that killed 2 people) and I don't know if I'm more saddened by the reality of the fires or the comments that people have added to the article. Maybe I live in a dreamworld & people really don't like Texas or her people? Here's a link to the article, in case you'd like to read for yourself:


I don't have any of my own pictures to add to the blog today - actually I'm grateful for that - meaning I'm not close to an area where fires are burning.  Very sad to read/watch on the news how some of our state parks/forests are burning.  I can't imagine watching the fire approach and take over a house.  It is also very upsetting to think that we may not be receiving substantial rainfall for the next 3-6 months (heard that on the weather news this morning). 

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Brazos Bend State Park - 2011 Drought

Brazos Bend State Park is close enough for a day trip, one that I try to enjoy as often as I can.  I visited a few weeks ago just to see how the park was handling the drought.  Shocked and saddened don't even begin to explain my initial reactions when I walked around Creekfield Lake (the paved path leading to the observatory) - it was reduced to a puddle.  There were alligator tracks leading to it - clearly the alligators were still around, but very few birds (and fewer species) were still fishing, wading in the remaining stagnant water.  The marsh side of Creekfield Lake wasn't in any better shape - those beautiful cattails, drying up, burned brown by the hot sun with nothing but cracked dirt trails around them.  Even the cypress trees are showing their stress in their brown leaves.  I was fortunate to be able to chat with a park volunteer who told me the small pump they have to bring water into Creekfield Lake just isn't enough to keep up, so they were no longer even trying - whatever happens, happens.  I can't help but wonder about the bullfrogs that you hear at dusk talking to each other.  The volunteer also said he expects it to take a few years for the bird and insect populations to recover -- birds won't come when there isn't water.  Here's a few shots of how Creekfield Lake looked on that day.

alligator tracks lead to the puddle that once was Creekfield Lake

A few remaining herons wade in the shallow water

marsh side of Creekfield lake - cattails burned & dried by hot sun

I also visited the 40 acre lake area - since there is more water here, there are also a LOT of alligators in close proximity to each other.  That day everyone seemed to be behaving themselves & the gators were easily visible in the shallow water.  My sister commented that the lake looked like an abandoned swamp.  On the west side of lake (with the sloughs), duckweed has covered the surface entirely, giving everything a deceptive healthy green color.  There were several gators here as well, but well hidden in the muck.  A few moorhens were fussing and a very few herons were fishing.  The lake level is down here as well since the park decided to no longer use the pump to maintain the water level.  The sloughs were dry and cracked.  It was easy to see where the gators were coming/going to the water - their tracks/slides easily visible in the preserved mud.

duckweed covers portions of the 40 acre lake

alligators are still there
sloughs along 40 acre lake are dried up, vegetation burned by heat/sun

alligator tracks/slides through what was the slough to 40 acre lake

It is very tempting to go off the paths & walk around in the dried up areas, but there are more reasons not too - alligators (there are over 500 of them in this park), habitat destruction (the drought won't last forever), bullfrogs and others than are hidden from view can easily be stepped on not to mention the snakes - although not always seen - be assured they are still there as well. Besides walking off the designated paths is a big break in the park rules.

Our area is forecasted to have some break in the current weather pattern in the coming days, so I plan to go back to look around and see what is still there as well as observe any changes in the fauna that I hear/see - do they really believe the weather is going to change? 

Friday, August 26, 2011

Weather Changes

Wow - we actually received measurable rain yesterday - officially 0.90 inches (UPDATE:  official total ended up at 1.26 inches) - which brings our August total to: (drumroll)....... 0.97 (UPDATE:  1.33 inches)... not much of a dent in our drought (UPDATE:  at least we did get 1/3rd of our average rainfall for this month).  But I walked around outside just to see if the rain had any affect on the outside world.  The most obvious & first change was the remaining green grass grew at least an inch overnight and the burned, dying grass is at least a little softer.  A hummingbird was flying around and there were a couple (2 exactly) new flowers blooming - both pink (wonder if that means anything).  The native passion flower is still struggling to survive much less bloom, but the lizards are still out & about.  I also noticed a few more flying insects (wasps, grasshoppers) venturing out.  Further out in the yard, where it isn't as protected, the wide cracks are no where near closing up (left my slipper in the picture for perspective). 

Here are a few quick pictures I took a minute ago - it is hard to spend much time in 99 degree heat (w/heat index of 104)... I'm really hoping fall will be better - if not at least wetter.

pink pentas finally bloom
dwarf humminbird bush hanging in there

native passionflower still struggling

sensitive brier - wildflower
lizard or anole - love his hands

crack in yard

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Hot Hot Hot

Yes - we continue to experience record breaking temperatures and drought.  I know I've posted several times about our weather, but I along with many others are just surprised that the pattern continues with no real break seen in the future.  Just to give you an idea:

August 21 - August 29  our temperatures will range in the upper 90s - mostly 99 & 98 and mid to upper 70s for the night, but we do have a few chances of rain - only 30% (better than the 0% we see most days).  In fact today we had 3 alerts:  1 heat advisory & 2 air quality alerts - crazy stuff.
Our historical averages for these same dates are lower 90s (would feel chilly) during the day and lower 70s for night (wow winter). 
The .07 inches of rain we've received so far this month hasn't added much to our total rainfall (historical average 3.84 inches for August).

September - our historical average temperatures should range in the mid to high 80s for day and right at 70 degrees for nighttime.  September is also our big rain month - averaging 7.12 inches -- which coincides with our most active time of hurricane season.

We continue to have high pressure over our region that does bring us beautifully clear days, but the combination of the heat and dryness/drought only make our temperatures stay high.  Sadly most everyone in the area hopes for a tropical storm or even category 1 hurricane, just for the rain. Unfortunately these high pressure systems also steer all rain-bearing tropical systems away.  Trees are dying, farmers are selling off their cattle because there isn't always hay available to feed them. 

I recently drove to a local state park where the drought is even more evident - their marshes/ponds have become puddles, the birds for the most part have left, there are only a few insects (mostly robber flies), nothing like you'd expect to see.  The park staff said it could take a few years for the birds to return in full force as well as the insects.  Their trees are also stressed & turning brown, and although they expect to lose a few oaks, most of the trees are expected to survive.  They gave no prediction how long it would take for the park to recover as a whole - refilling marshes & ponds, etc. 

I've posted a picture of a ladybug (lady beetle - which ever you call them) because this is something we haven't seen this year.  Nothing green for the aphids to eat, no aphids, no ladybugs.  We usually have a colony in our backyard during the summer & we enjoy watching their life cycle, but we haven't seen anything (not even mosquitoes).  I just hope we get some relief - real relief, not just enough rain to make mud & a mess, but some to make a dent in our deficit.

Interestingly there are madatory water restrictions going into place in many cities that addresses water usage during certain times.  We don't usually water our yard (cost too much), but we have had to water our house -- waiting for the ground under the house to crack open wide enough to swallow our house or at least our foundation.  So far so good, but we need help fast.

Sunday, August 14, 2011


We have been getting small amounts of rain here & there, but not enough to make a dent in our exceptional drought situation.  Looking back through some pictures that I took last year, you can see how the drought was already starting to effect Texas.  I'll be adding pictures to this post as I run across them - just to illustrate it's effects.
Sam Rayburn Lake, East Texas, November 2010

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Black & White Boots

Hard working shoes/paddock boots.

I recently took this picture as part of a photo challenge about shoes.  I have never participated in these challenges because #1 - I didn't have a lot of time, #2 - professionals throw their photos in there as well and #3 - I don't usually think my photos can stand up against others.  Although I really liked the way this one turned out, even if my subjects thought I was a little nuts - nearly laying flat on the ground while they were lined up leaning up against the fence.  This picture also forced me to learn how to add vignette to a picture - I know it is a very few easy steps, but only if you know which steps.  I've also sent this picture in to another very popular blogger's photo challenge for black & white photography (again professionals are in the mix).  I don't expect to even make the final groups of these challenges, but at least I've tried.  My only regret - I didn't pan up & get a picture of their faces while they were hanging out -- I kept my promise that I would only get their feet... maybe next time.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Aunt Jemima

On a recent road trip through central Texas, we decided to search out Aunt Jemima's (Rosie Lee Moore) gravesite, (we read about it in a book).  Originally a resident of Texas, she worked for the Quaker Oats Company and became the last actual person to tour/represent the Aunt Jemima character for the company.  Although the characterization of Aunt Jemima has been discussed many times over the years as being a negative representation of African American women, Rosie Moore viewed the character as a positive opportunity.  There are discrepancies in Rosie's story during her association with the Quaker Oats Company, including the length of time she portrayed the iconic character; some say 17 years, but her headstone says 25 years. The gravesite was declared a historial landmark in 1988, although I didn't see any special notations/markers.

If you'd like to visit - following are (hopefully) more exact directions than what we had from our guide book:
From Hearne (which is North of College Station Texas), turn towards East on 351 (you actually have to drive through 2 blocks of a neighborhood towards the west, then make a turn towards the East.  351 is the overpass that goes through town, by the Pizza Hut).  From Hearne, travel about 4 miles (there were stretches of 351 that were under construction during our visit & turned into a dirt road - but speed limit remained 65 mph (yikes), 351 is a little twisty & hilly - I didn't drive as fast as the posted speed limit or the locals) to the community of Blackjack (truly a community since only 45 people were recorded living there in 2000), which is a point that FM 2549 & 351 intersect.  Turn towards the North on FM2549 and drive for 1.7 miles (our book said a couple of miles), and turn towards East on CR 229 (which is named Pin Oak Drive (white dirt road)).  Then a short ways down on the left you'll see the Hammond Cemetery (also called Hammond Colony African American Cemetery).  When we visited, the main gate under the sign was locked, but a gate a little further down was open.  Her grave is under some trees & now a few bushes are grown up too - but hers is not too difficult to find - walk NW from the gate (depending upon which gate you enter - more North or more West).  Someone had tied a red bandana to a bush beside the headstone. 

I've been unable to locate a picture of her, but did find one of the character found on the company's label during her time (50s & 60s). 

Aunt Jemima as seen on pancake mix box
Rosie Lee Moore's final resting place, with red bandana close by

Monday, August 1, 2011

Kitten Kitten

At our house we not only have critters on the outside, we have animals in the house as well.  Currently only our cats share the house with us (at times we've had caterpillars, praying mantis, turtles, and whatever else we are observing at that moment).  Both of our cats are rescues and they are very different from each other.  This one pictured is about the size of a kitten, although fully grown.  She's about 7 lbs and still a bit on the wild side - she plays, but with claws, and doesn't really care to be around a person's face.  She has made great progress in that she'll sit on your lap (when she decides the mood is right) and she'll come when called - again when the mood strikes her.  It is interesting to watch her go about her day, knowing a little about her past & how it truly affects how she relates to things at the present.  She doesn't really do any non-cat like behaviors, but her past truly shaped her fears and desires.  She's no special breed, but she is special to us. 

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Walking Sticks

I don't mean the type that serves as an aid to walking either - I'm taking about the insects.  Some of the largest insects are walking sticks.  They are found in tropical and subtropical regions around the world.  Although they don't bite, they do have defenses to protect themselves from pretadators.  As their name implies they can act like a stick, even falling to the ground and playing dead for long periods of time.  Some walking sticks may also release an irritating chemical (can make a person's eyes water if they touch them after getting the substance on them).  Numerous studies have also shown that a male and female paired are in a better position to fight together - they combine their efforts to fend off attackers, allowing both to live longer. 

This pair hung out at our front door this week - literally on the door facing, so we got a front row seat to their mating show. 
walking stick female (large) with male
Obviously they are working on producing fertilized eggs, and they were in this position for several hours.  I've also read that staying coupled together for longer periods is for their benefit as well - more eggs.  According to one of my bug books - mating should be in August - well since the weather lately is so unusual - guess everything else in the cycle of life is a little off. 

I had grown up thinking that the female will then eat the male, but I couldn't confirm that during my really quick research confirmation.  Walking sticks are also considered decent pets - think I'll pass.  I'm not squeamish about bugs, but I think some wild things should be left wild.  Walking sticks aren't seen as often, so I tend to think that we are killing them during our attempts at mosquito and other bug/insect control.  Whenever I do see one hanging out on an area that could be dangerous for them - I do relocate them (moved one from the horse cross-tie area just this week). 

Sunday, July 24, 2011

My Backyard

I wish I could blame the hot dry weather for the state of my backyard, but I have to admit I had something to do with it as well -- or rather the lack of my involvement had an impact.  Since the hurricane a few years ago, parts of the backyard have become wildish areas.  But on the positive side, critters, insects, etc. have been spotted that I don't usually see.  On the negative side, dewberry plants are trying to take over too (and winning in some places - darn those things are hard to kill).  I took a quick walk around the yard this morning just to see if anything was alive & moving about.  I was surprised at what I found - a couple of green anoles (they are always around), a blooming soft green eyes (officially a native wildflower, not a "weed"), a few cicada skins (empty & dry) and a few new blooms on my lemon tree - and not to leave out - a few mosquitoes (guess that whopping .45 inches of rain this week really perked everything up.  Here are a few pictures from my morning walk.

soft green eyes

green anole

cicada skin
lemon tree bloom

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Let's Talk About the Weather

Yes, I'm talking about the weather again. although usually talking about the weather is what people do to make small talk or old-timers do to pass the time of day.  However, around my state/region it is serious - seriously dry and hot.  Areas/counties are now in what is classified as an exceptional drought (one that occurs about every 50-100 years).  We have received 1/10th of the precipitation that we should have by this time of year which equals to over 10 inches behind.  Mix in a long period of high pressure and we've got hot and dry.  One local news source compared the area to the Sahara Desert - saying our actual rainfall amounts have been about the same.  Here are some stats:

average rainfall amount:  5.35 inches
actual rainfall received:     .90 inches
highest temperature:          100 degrees - on June 5th (when it is technically still the spring season)

average rainfall amount:  4.78 inches
actual rainfall received:    1.47 inches (as of this posting)
highest temperature:           98 degrees - (guess all that extra rain cooled us down a bit)

My kids & I actually spent some time out in the rain this week - was kind of a different feeling getting wet outside instead of just in the shower.

Here are a couple of pictures showing the effects of the drought - one is the grass in my backyard (I don't usually water my yard especially when water rationing could become a reality) and the other is a dried up horse pond... interesting that the ever-present, invasive chinese tallow tree survives despite the dry, cracked dirt. 

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Dangerous Things for Kids

I recently read an article in the newspaper about a new book, camp, lecturer about children not being allowed to experience a little danger.  The book was called 50 Dangerous Things and the author (Gever Tulley) has a website as well.  I read through some of the things he had listed and happily (or suprisingly - depending upon how you view this approach) my kids have done at least 1/4th of the dangerous activities without any effort on my part.  Some dangerous activities I really don't consider dangerous, although there is always the possibility; like climbing a tree - yes you could fall out & get hurt, but you could also fall down in your house & get hurt.  It is kind of sad when kids need to be sent to a camp (he has those too - Tinkering School) to be able to experience things that many of us did (unsupervised) as a child.  Several years ago there was a movement of getting kids back outside to experience nature - hands on.  This is another area where our household does not lag behind - whether they like it or not - my kids are exposed & interact with the outdoors/nature/bugs/dirt, etc. a lot.  I'm not a total free-will parent, I do believe some things that children did in the past 40+ years ago may not have been the best/safest, but we did live through it.  There are things our kids can experiment with that we never dreamed of - microwaves for example:  one poster on the website wrote about nuking peeps - to see how big they would get.  As long as you don't go for the full out fire - and you don't mind a little cleanup - that sounds like something fun to watch.  Personally I think I will make an attempt to make the bomb in a bag with the vinegar & baking soda mixture, but outside.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Fighting Over Food

Before a recent quick weekend camping trip, my husband stopped at the store to pick up a few last minute items and came home with a few extra things that weren't on the list.  One of those items - a single can of Pringles potato chips.  That was fine for a special treat for our trip, but there are 4 of us in the family and 1 can doesn't go very far.  I volunteered to eat our regular food and let the others fight over the Pringles - which they literally did.  Each one has their own way of eating them too - my husband eats a stack all at once, while my children both eat them one at a time, but quickly.  I'm surprised no one was counting who was eating how many chips to make sure each one got equal amounts.  I promised that next time we decide to go on a weekend trip that I will buy everyone their own can of Pringles, put their names on it & when they eat them all - they are done for the weekend.  There may be bets on who ends up with chips at the end of the trip - I know it won't be my husband.

(UPDATE:  suprisingly the winner - or loser - who ended up with an empty can at the end of the trip.... my daughter.  In fact she carried her personal can of chips with her - maybe just in case she might run out of food.  The rest of us came home with some remaining chips.)

Friday, May 6, 2011

Extreme Savings

I caught portions of the newest show "Extreme Couponing" and although I don't have a desire to stock pile items like they do (almost resembled hoarding), I can always learn a few tips from them.  While I usually try not to shop without at least one coupon, last year I really kicked it into gear (the economy and our personal finances were stressed) and sucessfully combined coupons with store sales that really cut down on our grocery bill.  I think one month I saved $100+.  Unfortunately a local store just stopped doubling and tripling coupons, so those extreme savings won't be as available as last year, but I can still try to do the best I can.  For example, today I visited 5 different stores and managed to save the following:
savings with manufacturer's coupons - $13.34
savings from store/membership - $20.25
total savings - $33.59 (which equalled about 22.5% of my total shopping bill for the day)
Certainly not the 95% savings those extreme people are managing, but it is still money I get to keep in the bank. Luckily I live in a small town where going to 5 stores isn't as big of a deal (some stores are on the same street or across the street from each other).  I also discovered that if I'm going to get serious about saving on groceries again I need to get better organized.  I may end up being one of those shoppers that hauls a binder around to hold all my coupons.  I've got to find some way to offset the outrageous gas prices. 
The stores I checked sales ads were:  Kroger, Walgreens, CVS, HEB as well as Dollar General and Target sales just in case I need to ask Walmart to match the price (just remember to bring in that flyer to prove the sales price at the checkout).  There must have been an extreme couponer visiting CVS & Walgreens this week, because a couple of sale items were totally wiped out.  I was suprised to learn that rain checks are still available at those stores, so next week I'll be able to buy those items at the sale price & still use my coupons for even more savings. 
This week Walgreens had a couple of buy 1 get 1 free products that were useful and CVS listed some items that if purchased would add extra bucks to your card toward future purchases.  CVS cards are free for the asking at the register.  I have never purchased groceries at CVS and Walgreens and honestly it was a little strange, but not awkward enough to keep me away from those savings.
This week I'll start tracking my savings just to see how well (or bad) I do - just out of curiosity.  I'll keep you posted on my progress.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

A New Trick

I recently learned (well, actually relearned) a new trick to post-processing pictures.  Since I have finally figured it out, written down the steps & have used it on a couple of pictures, I figure it is probably "out of style" in the photography world.  I'm not a fan of over-doing the post-processing to improve pictures - I think you should just simply take better pictures - patience (as Yoda says) -- almost always pays off (especially when you are entering photo contests).  But for fun, this effect of changing the color picture to black & white then putting back in the color to an item(s) can be kind of cool looking.  I have an older version of photoshop elements, but I'm sure most any software has this ability.  I found a tutorial on youtube - you can find almost anything on the internet.  Hope everyone has a happy Easter - a good Easter gift for Texas would be rain!! -- there are clouds, wind & it is a little cooler outside.  I'm not getting my hopes up, but an Easter mircale of rain wouldn't be bad. 
Here's an Easter egg picture (the last egg my kids found in our backyard this morning) using my new trick. 

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Texas Drought/Fire Weather

Usually in Texas we are more concerned with heat and hurricanes, however lately we've had to be on the lookout for wildfires (more so in some regions than others).  It was really sad to read TPWD's report on the fires at Possum Kingdom burning 90% of the park acreage. Although on the bright side (if there is one), it will be interesting to watch what comes about after the fires have cooled and the nutrients filter down into the soil.  Some ecosystems need fire to thrive, and I hope that Possum Kingdom's wilderness areas can benefit and recover quickly. 
Texas certainly needs rain.  Here's a link to the current burn bans by county in Texas  http://tfsfrp.tamu.edu/wildfires/DecBan.png and as you can see very few counties are currently without a burn ban.   I always check this site before we go camping as it does affect what kind of fire (and if) we are allowed. 
Speaking of camping, we made a quick weekend trip last month to Lake Texana state park (under a burn ban) and the lake really shows how far Texas is behind on rain.  I don't think I've ever seen this lake as low as it was.  We were only allowed charcoal burning in the bar-b-que pits for cooking, nothing else.  Another note about Lake Texana - a good portion of their campsites (water/electricity side) are under construction (re-working water lines), so if you plan to go there soon - make a reservation. 
Here's a picture of Lake Texana in March.