The Coyote Comeback

Coyotes are on the move and coming to your backyard.

When I was growing up, my first encounter with a coyote happened while I watched TV. Like most kids during the fifties, I enjoyed Looney Tunes cartoons. One of my favorite shows starred Wile E. Coyote and Roadrunner.

This cartoon was set in the Southwest American desert. In each episode Wile E. Coyote tried to catch Roadrunner, but was never successful. Wile E. built complex contraptions to try to catch his prey. His contraptions always failed, and Wile E. was the one who is injured. There was no dialogue between the two characters. The Coyote only communicated by holding up a written sign. The Roadrunner always raced by and said, “Beep Beep.” My siblings and I laughed at the slapstick humor.

My parents told me television could influence a person’s thinking. Because of this cartoon, I imagined coyotes only lived in the desert, and weren’t very smart. Both assumptions are false. Today I’ve discovered coyotes are very intelligent. In fact they are one of the most skilled survivors in the animal kingdom. (After all, no matter how many times Wile E. Coyote’s master plans failed, he always lived and returned for another episode.)

In a similar way, coyotes have made a huge comeback in America due to their adaptable behavior. Despite human efforts to eradicate them, coyotes have learned to live in a variety of habitats, from snowy mountain ranges, to big cities. In fact they are now found in all of Florida’s 67 counties.

Recently many coyotes have been sighted in Orlando. Early one morning in April, Herb spotted one walking down the street. He kept a tight hold on Buddy’s leash while the large animal ran to a nearby retention pond. Buddy froze and stared, but did not make a sound. Perhaps he considered Mr. Coyote a distant cousin since they are both members of the dog family.

This spring several coyotes have also been sighted in the park area around Lake Baldwin. My neighbor saw one a few days ago and shot this picture.

Over the past month, there seem to be fewer and fewer rabbits running through the marshy areas around the lake. Coyotes love rabbits but will eat anything, including pets. You can imagine the raised eyebrows when somebody’s cat didn’t come home one night.

It seems like there is nothing we can do to get rid of these unwelcome visitors. The local wildlife commission has no plan to remove them and only advises pet owners to keep their pets inside or on a short leash. Attempts to trap and remove them to other locations have failed to keep the rising population under control.

A dog park is located on the opposite shore of Lake Baldwin. People let their dogs run free on the property because it is fenced. Be on the alert dog owners. Coyotes can swim. There is nothing to stop one from entering the dog park.

All is not lost, friends and neighbors. At least coyotes are very clean animals. They actually bury their excrement. So if you discover a pile of poop on the sidewalk, it was probably Fido’s and left behind by a human.

I have to say I am somewhat alarmed that a pet eating mammal roams through our neighborhood. I’m also concerned that we are expected to accept the idea that “coyotes are here to stay.” Wile E. Coyote has triumphed at last. He may not have outsmarted Roadrunner, but he has outwitted man.

Musings from My Garden

Growth is the result of forces working together…

I’ve waged war with killer snails. I’ve celebrated the birth of marigold seedlings. This is my first backyard experience growing Sunpatiens and the plants are out of control.

True to their name, Sunpatiens love sun. They also like heat, humidity, and lots of water. All of which are abundant in Florida. I planted my little crop last fall. They thrived all winter. April is here and they continue to bloom like crazy.

Originally, I placed a pot of Dianthus in the center of my flowerbed to add a colorful focal point. About a month ago I placed bricks under the pot to elevate the pink blooms because I could barely see them. Now the Sunpatiens have grown even taller. What a terrible problem to have right?

If I apply this story to my writing life I can see a correlation. The fulfillment of a hoped for success brings new challenges. An author succeeds in publishing a book. The release of the book demands sales. It’s now up to the author to spend time marketing the product. All of a sudden I’m running a new business involving book signings, publicity, and sales tax.

I’m not sorry I planted the Sunpatiens. Nor am I sorry I wrote a book. Life would be quite boring if we never followed our passions. If conditions are right, flowers grow. I planted the seedlings, but the increase was due to nature. Honestly, I haven’t done much to encourage them. They took off on their own. In the same way if my book speaks to readers, they will share my message with others.

Growth is never by mere chance; it is the result of forces working together. —James Cash Penney

The forces which work together to encourage the Sunpatiens to grow are light, heat, and water. Location also enabled them to grow to their magnificent size. Sometimes we forget about the part of a plant we can’t see. A tree used to stand in my garden. The tree grew too big and we had to cut it down. Instead of covering the area with more pavers, we left the dirt in place for a new flower bed. The rich soil allows the roots of each plant to grow deep and spread out. Roots need space to grow.

Space is important for writers to grow as well. Most people work better when they have a block of uninterrupted time to create. I used to think writers created their masterpieces in charming little cabins in the woods. What a luxury. Here I am at my dining room table looking through a window at my patio garden.

Back to the Sunpatiens. They seem to be happy. The power is all mine to let them live or pull them out and plant new seedlings. I’ll wait to see what the forces of nature do next.

Enjoy more stories about my garden by reading “The Majestic Marigold.”

Get more info about my book here “Buddy the Beagle on Blueberry Street”.

A Life Illustration

Hope is one of the principal springs that keeps mankind in motion.—Thomas Fuller

Take a close look at these blooms. What do you see? Three colors of flowers on the same shrub? Is that possible?

I met the Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow plant at Leu Gardens in Orlando last week. I’d never seen this shrub before and I couldn’t believe it produced violet, lavender, and white blooms. I thought my eyes were playing tricks on me.

What’s the deal?

My research led me to the following information about this romantic plant.

  • Native to the Brazilian rainforest.
  • Grows well in tropical climates with filtered shade.
  • Average size: eight feet tall and five feet wide.
  • Blooms in spring and summer.
  • Scientific name: Brunfelsia Grandiflora
  • Sweet smelling flowers.
  • Extremely toxic to cats, dogs, and small children.

So, it’s beautiful, yet dangerous and one plant I will never grow in my backyard garden. But let’s not discount the philosophical side of the Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow shrub.

I love it’s name.

What could be a more appropriate name than Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow? For you see, each flower goes through three stages. On the first day the flower is violet, by the second day it fades to lavender, and finally changes to white on the third day. Everyday this shrub contains flowers in different stages. Wow! As far as which day represents which color, I think that’s open to interpretation.

So now for my philosophical take away… The three colors are a visual about life. Violet represents yesterday’s memories. Lavender expresses today’s challenges, and white tomorrow’s hope. Here’s a great quote:

“Hope is a renewable option: If you run out of it at the end of the day you get to start over in the morning.” —Barbara Kingsolver

The Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow shrub starts over every morning in a constant cycle of perpetual change. Likewise no matter what stage we are in the journey of life, we still have hope that tomorrow will be better. The challenges of today become hope for tomorrow.

Thanks for taking the time to read my post. You might have a different take-away about the blooms. I’d love to hear your thoughts. Until next time…

The Benefits of Board Games

Are you feeling overwhelmed by the thought of shopping for family members and friends this December? Tired of the latest electronic gadgets and gizmos?

Over the years, I’ve grown to value experiences more than things. Spending quality time with love ones results in closer relationships. This week’s post celebrates the benefits of board games. But not all board games are fun for everyone. Monopoly and Risk are both elimination games which take too long too play.

My favorite board games:

  • Keep every player hopeful that anyone might win.
  • Involve skill in addition to chance.
  • Are interesting.
  • Promote creativity.

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Many of you are already familiar with my family’s affection for Ticket to Ride. (Days of Wonder) After two years, we still play this game every Sunday afternoon. It’s developed into a habit we can’t seem to break. In this two to five player game each person draws tickets with specified routes. Players receive points for placing their train cars on tracks which connect various U. S. cities. At the end of the game, each player reveals their routes and completed trips. Points are either awarded or deducted based on the number of trips completed. All players remain in the game until the end and the winner is always a surprise.

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The 1910 expansion pack is a good idea for anyone purchasing Ticket to Ride. It contains larger playing cards and additional routes. At the end of the game a player can earn the fifteen point Globetrotter bonus card for the most completed trips.

 

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Our second favorite family board game is Beyond Balderdash.(Parker Brothers) This game has been around for awhile. We like it better than the original Balderdash because it includes a movie category. The object of Beyond Balderdash is to make up written answers which bluff the other players. A dasher reads all the answers submitted and includes the real answer in the mix. Points are awarded for fooling other players, as well as for choosing the real and often unbelievable answer.

My family members enjoy coming up with witty blurbs to describe each movie. The title of one movie was “Madhouse.” My husband, Herb submitted this summary: “An out of control builder takes his anger out on his wife by building her a two-story house without a staircase.” Beyond Balderdash inspires our creativity and can be played by as many as seven players.

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Lost Cities (Kosmos) is a card game for two players. Herb and I love this game because it’s very compact for travel and only takes thirty minutes to play. The object of the game is to form expedition routes and earn discovery points. Players draw cards and organize them in numerical order. At the end of each round, points are awarded for cards played which exceed the cost of each expedition.

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Splendor (Days of Wonder) is an artistic and mathematical game designed for up to four players. Each player takes on the role of a rich merchant during the Renaissance. As a merchant you collect gems and gold tokens that can used to buy development cards. Some development cards carry point values. Each player tries to be the first to reach the sum of fifteen points and win the game.

A good board game never goes out of style and can bring family entertainment for years. Leave a comment and let me know your opinion of any of these games, or offer a suggestion for something we haven’t tried.

 

Do you like your job?

I think most people would agree there are things they like and dislike about their job. In my featured photo I’m shown working at my desk when I taught third grade. I look happy. Maybe this was taken on a Friday after school dismissed!

Now that I’m retired, I look back on my career with amazement. How did I do it? How does any teacher manage to fulfill all the expectations of the position? The only way I survived was by learning how to multi-task. Somehow teachers manage to take attendance, listen to morning announcements, and keep an eye on the class all at the same time. Jacks of all trades, teachers fulfill many roles.

On Labor Day, we pay tribute to the contributions and achievements of American workers. For most workers our jobs are the most important thing in our lives.  After years of working at the same job, we begin to identify ourselves by our career. When introduced to someone, we ask, “What do you do for a living?” This pattern continues during retirement, “What did you retire from?”

It’s difficult for people to retire because it’s hard to imagine a life without work. Some feel like life will have no purpose or meaning. I’m often asked, “So what do you do all day?”

“I fill my days in much the same way I did during summer vacation. The big difference is I never reach a date on the calendar when I start to feel anxious about school starting again.”

We confuse the value of our work with the amount of money we receive for it. When I stayed at home to care for my preschool children, I received no income, but the experiences we shared were invaluable. Our “self-worth” should not be dependent on our level of income.

Do you feel undervalued at work? Comedian George Carlin said, “The caterpillar does all the work, but the butterfly gets all the publicity.”

Too bad Mr. Carlin seems to have forgotten, the butterfly once was the caterpillar.

One of my favorite scriptures reads, “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving. Colossians 3:23,24 NIV

If I work at something with all my heart, I feel content knowing I’ve done my best, even if no one else seems to notice.

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Engaging in our work changes us. Our “on the job experiences” teach us new skills. By trial and error we learn new ways of problem solving to accomplish our goals. Eventually we discover that like the monarch, we can fly!

Happy Labor Day!

If you’ve enjoyed my musings about work, please subscribe to be notified of future posts. Thanks!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Have You Abandoned Cursive?

On Father’s Day my family had an interesting discussion about cursive handwriting.  My husband said he practiced cursive with a fountain pen.  This laborious method involved dipping the pen in a bottle of ink. He continued to write in cursive throughout grade school. Now his handwriting is practically illegible. He tells me, “I can read it right after I write it, but if it sits there awhile I can’t understand it.”

As a parent, I forced my son to practice cursive every day for a whole summer, yet none of those exercises improved his penmanship. I remember being embarrassed during a parent teacher conference. A middle school teacher described his handwriting as primitive. Today he’s a successful attorney who signs documents electronically with an x.

Prior to the adoption of Common Core Standards, cursive was a large part of the third grade curriculum. My featured photo is from a worksheet I distributed every year to my third graders. Prior to retiring in 2013, I loved teaching cursive. Most of the children were excited about learning it. I remember spending hours grading their handwriting. I proudly displayed their excellent work on a bulletin board. Today I wonder if any of them still write in cursive.

For most schools, cursive is out and keyboarding is in. My husband and son think cursive should not be taught and view it as a waste of time. I can’t imagine living without cursive. I journal, take notes, make grocery lists, and sign my name in cursive. I think of it as a more efficient way to write.

My mom, age 85, joined our discussion. “What about people’s signatures? Isn’t that important?”

“Not anymore, Grandma,” my son responded. “Who writes checks? I pay all my bills online.”

Grandma shook her head. “Not me.”

In the distant past, cursive was considered a trademark of literacy. Mastering this skill meant you could not only write, but read other’s cursive. If cursive is no longer taught, future generations won’t be able to read historical documents. Journals and letters written by family members who’ve passed on will not be understood by their children. I imagine technology already exists to scan cursive and turn it into print. And the reverse, creating script from print. This seems so impersonal. A person’s handwriting used to say a lot about themselves.

What will become of people who analyze handwriting? According to graphologist, Kathi McKnight, cursive gives a good indication of our personalities. She asks people to write a simple sentence in cursive. A right slant means you’re open to others and like to socialize. A left slant means you like to work alone. No slant at all indicates you tend to be logical and practical.

I guess graphologists will be out of a job. Too bad, Kathi.

I’m afraid cursive has become an ancient artform. Its continuation now relegated for parents to teach at home. By the way, Amazon sells workbooks for adults and children. But what child wants to spend their summer vacation practicing cursive? Ask my son. It didn’t work for him.

Have you abandoned cursive? Do you think teaching it in school is a waste of time? Leave a comment. I’d love to hear from you. I’m growing my audience and would love to have you as one of my followers.

 

 

Cardinal Virtues

This spring a cardinal family visited our enclosed patio. The parents were fussing because their baby couldn’t fly above the fence to make an exit. The baby would flap its wings, rise a bit, then fall back to the ground. For a few minutes I debated whether or not to intervene. Should I pick the baby up and carry it somewhere?

I knew the nest wasn’t in our courtyard. I sought out my Facebook friends, who responded with a number of ideas. “Cover it with a towel and take it back to a grassy area.” Another person told me, “Don’t move the baby without a clothes basket on your head because the father cardinal will attack you.” My husband told me to wait and see what happens. (That’s usually his advice about most things.)

I watched the cardinal family for an hour through the back door window.  Finally the baby cardinal made it to the top of the table. Encouraged by his mother, he managed to fly from the table to the top of the fence.  My husband got a terrific photo of him preparing for final take off.

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This event sparked my curiosity. I wanted to know more about cardinals. I discovered they were named after the red robes of the cardinals of the Catholic Church. Immediately the term “cardinal virtues” came to mind.  I applied the seven virtues to a cardinal’s behavior.

Faith: Believing the promises of God. Cardinals stay in the same general vicinity twelve months out of the year.  God provides for them through the cold, grey winter months. The male cardinal’s red color reminds us to “keep the faith” during bleak times.

Prudence: The ability to use foresight, knowing when it’s the right time to take action. Since cardinals do not migrate, they grow extra feathers and eat more to prepare for winter.

 Hope: Cardinals sing cheery songs which lift our spirits and encourage us to persevere through trials.

Love: Male and female cardinals mate for life and share the duties of child raising. The female cardinal calls to the male who responds by bringing her food when she’s nesting.

Justice: Male and female cardinals sing together. Both compliment one other. Each gender has a “voice” in cardinal matters.

Temperance: Both male and female cardinal parents restrain themselves from exploring other interests when they are raising their young. Cardinal babies hop around on the ground for a few days until they learn to fly. The parents stay close by to feed and protect their young.

Courage: A male cardinal is a fierce defender of the nest. He will attack other birds, cats, dogs, and snakes who intrude upon his territory. Males are know to even attack their reflection in a window (side-note: Intelligence isn’t one of the seven virtues).

I’m impressed. After I shared the extensive list of cardinal virtues, my husband asked, “What about the seven cardinal sins?”

I guess that’s one cardinal matter I’ll never know.

 

 

 

The Majestic Marigold

Welcome to my garden. Like other city dwellers, I have a very small space to work. Consequently when plants die, it’s a great loss. Last fall I planted marigolds. My mom is a terrific gardener and told me they are easy to grow. I agree. However, the stems become woody and their fresh green leaves fade after awhile.

Since Florida experiences a year round growing season, I replace my flowers every few months. But something different happened this spring. During March we had a few cold snaps. I didn’t want to replant my garden, so I let it go. By the time I took a closer look, I noticed the weeds were taking over. “Wait a minute,” I thought. “Those aren’t weeds. The leaves look like marigold plants.” The dead blooms from the parent plants fell to the ground and new marigold seedlings were starting to grow. I ran in the house to tell my husband, “Honey, we have a second generation of flowers out here!”

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Check out these interesting facts about marigolds:

Marigolds are versatile.  They like full sun and hot days. They need little care. Water them twice a week and they’ll do great. Dead head the spent blossoms and the plant will produce more blooms. You can save the spent blossoms and replant your next crop. They are perfect for Florida gardeners who replant often.

Marigolds are good companion plants.  I don’t mean for people, I mean for other plants. They actually repel pests like beetles and snails. (And I’ve fought many battles with snails.) If planted as a border for your garden, their aroma discourages rabbits and deer from eating vegetables.

Marigolds are edible.  This was new information for me. Hybrid varieties can be added to salads, teas, stir fries, soups, and any dish that needs color.  If you have ever tasted one, let me know. I’m a little hesitant.

Marigolds can be used to make dye for cloth.

Marigolds were named after the Virgin Mary. Native to the Americas, the plant was treasured by Aztecs for its medicinal value. Spanish explorers brought them back to Europe and referred to them as “Mary’s Gold.”

I didn’t know marigolds were so valuable. Long live marigolds! I spread more of the seeds from the parent plants on the soil in my garden and they took root. As they grew I removed some of the parents and replaced them with seedlings.  Now there are only three parent plants. They rest of the bed is new growth. Have you ever stumbled onto an exciting discovery by accident? Leave a comment and let me know.

Read another post about gardening by clicking on “The Attack of the Killer Snails.”

The Attack of the Killer Snails

Recently I planted twenty pretty pink vincas.  Since the summer rains returned to Orlando, I thought my new flowers would do well. Little did I know the rain activated a hungry army of garden snails. When my trowel scraped through the soft soil it was like a dinner bell announcing, “Come and get it. Dinner is served.”

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Snails like to feast on plants during the dark of night. When morning arrives they take cover under the soil. The day after I planted the flowers I noticed some sawed off leaves lying near the base of several stems.  Oh no, I thought.  How can I stop the snails from destroying my garden?

I remember the snail war of 2015. That year I introduced a successful tactical weapon.  SNAIL BAIT!  I don’t like to use snail bait because of our beagle. Although the label on the package explained the product was safe for pets, Buddy nibbled on some of the pellets and became ill. At the time I was so scared I made an appointment for Buddy to be examined by our vet.  Upon receiving the results of his blood test, the doctor informed me Buddy was alright. However, he suggested I discontinue the use of snail bait in my garden.

Back to the battle at hand. My mom suggested I put broken eggshells around each plant. The snails hate walking on the sharp edges, and leave. I ate two eggs for lunch to build up my artillery.  Still, two eggshells couldn’t begin to defend twenty plants.  An avid gardener herself, Mom sympathized and donated a few more eggshells to the war cause.

My brother offered another idea. “How about fireplace ashes? I heard they keep slugs away, maybe they’ll work for snails.” I liked his idea because I still had some ashes in our patio fireplace that we burned last winter.  Besides, I didn’t really want to eat more eggs. I carefully ringed each plant with ashes to build up my fortifications before another nighttime attack would ensue.

The next morning I rushed out to the patio to check on my plants. Let’s put it this way. If I was keeping score it would be Snails: three / Debbie: seventeen. (Remember, I started with twenty.) Sadly, I carried three vinca casualties off the battlefield.

Desperate, I sought advice from the internet. When I searched “snails” a number of links came up. I watched a YouTube video which explained how to harvest garden snails and eat them. Yuck! In the video a man gathered the snails and boiled them in beer. Then he removed the shells and sautéed them in garlic butter. I want to kill my enemies, but I don’t want to eat them.

During my research I learned snails breathe air. If sealed in a zip lock bag the snails will suffocate. That’s a good plan as long as a person can get up early enough to pick the slimy pests off the plants before they retreat into their underground tunnels for the day.

I’d also heard of setting out little saucers of beer to drown the snails. That idea seemed hit or miss. With my luck the snails would feast on the flowers before they belly up to the bar! All of these methods took too much time.  I wanted a solution now.

Yep, you guessed it. I chose the nuclear option. I drove to Home Depot for a box of snail bait and quickly placed the pellets around each suffering vinca before nightfall. The box was labeled non toxic and safe for wildlife. The snails eat the bait, stop feeding on the plants, and crawl away to die.

But what about Buddy?  Suddenly  I realized  I could keep our dog away by fencing the area.  I used our patio furniture to build a fence around the bed and filled in the openings with pots. Someone once said, “necessity is the mother of invention.”

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This morning I surveyed my brave vinca troops. Snails: zero /  Debbie: seventeen.

The Gem of Winter Park

One of my favorite places to visit is the Morse Museum of Winter Park, Florida.  The Morse Museum contains the most comprehensive collection of works by American artist and designer Louis Comfort Tiffany.  Exhibits include leaded-glass lamps, unique windows, and architectural elements from Tiffany’s Long Island estate, Laurelton Hall. My favorite part of the museum is The Chapel which Tiffany created for the Chicago World’s Fair in 1893.

Inside The Chapel, intricate glass mosaic surfaces reflect light from a ten foot by eight foot electrified chandelier in the shape of a cross. Sitting in the chapel makes me feel as if I’m in another world. Similar to the great cathedrals of Europe, The Chapel inspires me to consider the beauty and holiness of God. I am reminded that darkness will never extinguish the light.

Stained glass as an art form reached its height in the Middle Ages. The stained glass windows of medieval churches taught the narrative of the Bible to an illiterate population. During the twelfth century in England the Tree of Jesse Window  displayed the genealogy of Christ. Pictured at the base of the tree is Jesse, father of King David. On higher branches are the kings and prophets of Judah. At the top Christ and Mary are shown. This window shared Isaiah’s prophecy: “And there shall come forth a rod out of the stem of Jesse and a Branch shall grow from his roots.”

As America became more industrialized during the late 1800’s and cities grew, churches sought artists who could work in stained glass.  During the nineteenth century, pot metal glass was commonly used. Craftspeople often painted this regular looking glass with enamels.

Tiffany’s windows took stained glass to a new level. His invention of opalescent glass used chemicals to create the variations of color found in nature. The result was a more realistic looking product.   Tiffany’s windows fulfilled a long-desired American goal of countering the perceived artistic superiority of Europe. He mastered the art, and by 1900 America led the world in the production of stained glass decorations. Tiffany Studios produced a range of products including lamps, pottery and jewelry.

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Tiffany was inspired by nature and intoxicated by color.  Winter is an example of opalescent glass from the Four Seasons panel on display in the Morse Museum.