Aug 30, 2010

On Email Inboxes and User Obsessiveness

The presence of unanswered emails and tasks in my email Inbox has always gnawed away at me, and I usually strive to keep such messages under 30 items. This is perhaps evidence of some undiagnosed mental condition, but as Popeye said: "I yam what I yam, and that's all what I yam."

Recently I engaged in some Inbox-cleaning, as depicted in the accompanying screen shot, and I managed to slash the items in my Inbox to the lowest number (eight) that I can recall. I also find that the closer I get to zero, the less stressed out I am about unfinished business.

I contrast this with people I know who have no qualms whatsoever about letting their Inboxes grow to colossal proportions. My wife, for example, is completely unconcerned about the spam and commercial emails that clog her Hotmail account, and on the odd occasion when she asks me to retrieve something for her from this account, I have to fight the urge to create rules to send the spam emails to the junk mail folder.

After all, it is not my account.

This summer I taught a face-to-face course in which students had to present their research findings to the rest of the class using PowerPoint. When the student opened his email account to retrieve the presentation, I was aghast at the fact that the Inbox registered nearly 11,000 unread messages. The student shrugged this off, noting that he planned to "some day" clean house, but he had no difficulty locating his file, so who am I to judge?

Were my Inbox to grow to such gargantuan proportions, I would feel an immediate compulsion to go on a deletion frenzy. Some folks, though, probably have the presence of mind to understand that most items in the Inbox need to be immediately attacked, and that life is too short to be an Inbox neat freak.

I, however, continue to pursue the Holy Grail of the empty Inbox, and I shall persevere in my efforts to wage a righteous war against spammers who seek to defile my sacred virtual space.

Aug 29, 2010

Meet Buddy, a Rescue Puggle

Pictured on your left is Buddy, a 5-year-old Puggle we are fostering who was surrendered by the family members of his elderly former owner, who passed away last month. Buddy is a quiet and friendly dog who takes a few minutes to warm up to new people, but who loves nothing more than being petted and hugged.

Buddy was a bit spoiled by his former owner, and the family members indicated that she frequently cooked Buddy human food instead of feeding him a balanced dog food. As a result, Buddy is a bit pudgy, though I suspect he only needs to lose 6-8 pounds from the 35 or so he currently weighs to hit his ideal weight.

Buddy seems to be housebroken, and he gets along well with the other dogs in the house. He tends to be more of a follower than a leader, and he has not shown any aggressiveness toward the other dogs. In fact, when our rascally terrier mix Missy (a dog who only weighs 20 pounds) gave him a welcome in the form of a peremptory snarl, Buddy ran and hid behind the couch.

To learn more about adopting Buddy, or if you want to financially contribute to Planned Pethood's mission to rescue dogs and cats in Northwest Ohio, visit the Planned Pethood website for more information.

On Hummingbirds and Indecision

While hanging out with my dogs in the backyard this morning, I noticed what I thought was a large wasp hovering near one of my sunflowers. A closer inspection revealed that I was looking at a Ruby-throated hummingbird.

Being a photography buff, my first instinct was to grab the nearest digital camera and start snapping away. Then a paused for a moment, since my typical experience trying to photograph hummingbirds results in the hummingbird flying away before I can locate and activate my camera.

The hummingbird floated and darted among the sunflowers, evidently not finding anything worth its time. In a manner not unlike the hummingbird, I wafted between wanting enjoy the moment or to leave the scene and get a camera. The creature then drifted over to some roses, and I finally decided to take my chances on dashing into the house and locating the camera.

Luck was with me, and I managed to snap a half-dozen decent images before the hummingbird left the yard. From the picture I think this was either a female or a young male, as neither of these birds displays the bright red throat plumage from which the bird derives its common name.

Aug 28, 2010

Praise for Blogger's Spam Blocker

Screenshot of Blogger's new spam filter in action Left: Screenshot of Blogger's new spam filter in action

I was pleased to notice that Blogger now offers a spam filter feature for its blogging platform. The service allows website owners who use Blogger to weed out much of the comment spam that spambots and human spammers spew across the blogosphere.

Over the years this site has drawn its share of attention from spammers, and in the past I have periodically had to shut off the commenting feature to combat persistent spammers. With the new service a blogger can delete dozens of spam messages with a single click, which is much faster than the old method of having to hunt down and individually remove spam from blog posts.

The one down side to Blogger's spam filter is that you have to activate comment moderation, which is located under the Settings tab. One way to avoid having to moderate every comment is to set the comment moderation only for older posts, such as those 30 days or older. Chances are the spammers are being attracted to your site by some older post anyways, so this is really not an inconvenience.

In a sweep of some older posts, I was able to remove over 200 spam comments dating back to December 2009. Some folks might not mind their website being cluttered with Viagra or Cialis advertisements, but it annoys the heck out of me to allow these spammers to hijack my PageRank for free, so kudos to Blogger for creating this excellent tool.

Aug 27, 2010

On Daniel J. Boorstin and Thank You Letters

Daniel J. Boorstin It took me many years to figure out my calling in life, and the decades of the 1980s and 1990s saw me trying to find my niche in the business world in a variety of career guises. In retrospect, I was undoubtedly a poor fit for the world of commerce, as I was much more likely to be seen reading literature penned by the likes of Fyodor Dostoevsky than to be perusing the work of a business-oriented author like Stephen Covey.

Before returning to college in 2000, my own readings via my natural curiosity influenced my understanding of history. In particular, I started reading the work of the late Daniel J. Boorstin, and books like The Americans (1973), The Discoverers (1983), The Creators (1992), and Cleopatra's Nose: Essays on the Unexpected (1994) provided me with an appreciation for history that had previously eluded me.

After I returned to college and was finishing my BA, I wrote Boorstin a letter and discussed how his writing was influential in my decision to become a historian. I mentioned how I read years earlier The Discoverers on a plane while traveling on business, and while I did not see the proverbial light of awakening that exact moment, his book opened my eyes to the possibilities that might lie ahead were I to return to school.

The letter was really an impulsive act, and I cannot remember what prompted me to dash off the note. I might have picked up one of his books again, or perhaps heard his name mentioned, but I was never the type to mail unsolicited letters to people I had never met.

I never expected a reply, figuring he was a busy man, but much to my surprise I received a handwritten letter from his wife. At the time of my letter Boorstin had been quite ill, and Mrs. Boorstin wrote that her husband was "moved to tears" by my praise; Boorstin died just a few short months later.

A lump appeared in my own throat upon reading that letter, and I tried to imagine the scene as a dying Daniel J. Boorstin, hands shaking and hooked up with IVs and electrodes, read my note. I then understood the tremendous power that a simple letter can summon, and that too often in life we wait until it is too late to thank those who have guided and shaped us.

I encourage anyone reading this blog post to stop and write a thank you letter today to someone who influenced you in a positive way. It brought my heart gladness to know that I unwittingly provided a dying man a profound sense of accomplishment for his life's work, and that I perhaps helped ease his burdens for a few minutes.

All with a short and heartfelt letter.

Aug 26, 2010

The Quote Shelf

Medieval text with Latin script A frequent feature on this site; feel free to comment on the quote or to supply a competing quote.

Being busy does not always mean real work. The object of all work is production or accomplishment and to either of these ends there must be forethought, system, planning, intelligence, and honest purpose, as well as perspiration. Seeming to do is not doing.
-- Thomas A. Edison

Aug 24, 2010

A Tale of a Dead Rat

Dead rat Few sights evoke such near universal revulsion and fear among humans as the lowly rodent known as the rat, except perhaps encountering a dead rat.

Like the creepy critter sitting in my front yard today, captured for posterity in the accompanying photograph.

At first glance I looked for something with which to whack the beastie, thinking it was still alive, but the presence of flies on the suspicious carcass led me to believe that this specimen of Rattus norvegicus was indeed dead. Still, it took more than a few pokes with a long and pointy stick to convince me that this reservoir of pestilence was not going to charge at me and gouge my legs, sending me headlong into a fatal case of Yersinia pestis.

I chose my trusty snow shovel as the implement by which I would send this rodent of to Rattus Valhalla:

The rat in question was quite large, though not as monstrous as the rats I used to see near the waterfront when I worked in downtown Detroit at Joe Louis Arena. From head to tail the rat was the better part of two feet in length, and I estimate its weight to have been about one pound and a half.

The cause of death is a mystery, since there were no signs of foul play on the rat's body. The usual suspects - my five dogs - reported no unusual activity today, and I am sure that if one of the dogs had been wise to the presence of a large rodent, I would have heard about it. I think that this rat consumed poison bait someplace and then staggered onto my front lawn to die.

I felt a twinge of sorrow as I tossed the rat carcass into the trash can, as the creature began to look a lot less fearsome. With its little whiskers and soft brown fur, I might have used the term "cute" to describe it, at least if I had stared another minute or two. However, the rat is now buried under several bags of trash, and by tomorrow this rodent will be the stuff of a municipal landfill.

Adam Tavel

Adam Tavel, poet, writer, and professor A quick plug for my old friend Adam Tavel, a Maryland poet, writer, and composition professor who I have known for almost a decade. Tavel has been published in a wide variety of journals and genres, and recently Tavel's work has been featured in Summerset Review.

You can also read Adam Tavel's poetry in Clarion, Poet's Quarterly, and The South Carolina Review. Tavel is also one of the finest writing editors I have ever encountered, and he taught me more than a few writing-related tricks over the years. Adam Tavel is also a bloodthirsty fantasy football competitor, but that is the subject of another post altogether.

Anyways, there is no particular point or deep meaning to this post beyond a few words of praise to a guy who deserves greater recognition as a stand-up human being. Keep plugging away, brother!

Aug 23, 2010

Easter Lilies in Late August

Way back in April I purchased a pair of Easter lilies at a local Rite Aid store. The plants were on clearance after the holiday, and I took pity on its withering, browning leaves.

A few weeks ago I noticed that the plants had produced new stalks, and even more surprising was that a whole new series of flower heads appeared in late August. Today the Easter lilies opened, and an otherwise dreary section of the yard is now awash white brilliant white flowers.

I am not sure if the plants have been tricked into thinking it is spring, or if my gardening prowess somehow translated into super-lilies. I suspect that the former is the correct answer, and that the post-Easter planting combined with an early spring has disrupted the plant's seasonal cycles.

Yeah, I know I have been posting a lot of gardening-related material lately, but heck: political happenings are ephemeral, and history will always be there to discuss. Perennial plants that bloom out of season, though, are magical and noteworthy.

Aug 22, 2010

Sungold Dwarf Sunflower

I had forgotten that I planted some Sungold Dwarf sunflower seeds a few months ago, and I assumed that the as-yet unblooming sunflowers in my yard were one of the other varieties I planted. Thus it was with some fascination that I noticed these sunflowers blooming today.

The flowers, which also go by the name Teddy Bear sunflowers, have a soft, almost velvety feel to their petals. I think that these particular flowers are the giant version of the Sungold Dwarf variety (yes, I noted the oxymoron), as the flower heads are almost a foot across. The flowers also added a dash of color to the yard at a time when most of the summer flowers have passed, and the fall bloomers have yet to appear.

Aug 20, 2010

Yellow Tree Rose

We purchased a yellow tree rose from Costco this spring, and the plant has been providing amber-hued dividends all summer. At first I thought I killed the grafted plant, as I did not even see leaves until early June, but the rose tree continues to bloom with unexpected vigor.

The plant also seems more resistant to some of the rose-related diseases and pests in the area, though admittedly some of these rose problems might need a year or two to manifest themselves. I have also been hesitant to prune the plant at this early stage, so the tree looks a bit unruly at the moment, but the yellow blossoms have been just short of spectacular.

Aug 18, 2010

The Quote Shelf

Medieval text with Latin script A frequent feature on this site; feel free to comment on the quote or to supply a competing quote.

Our frustration is greater when we have much and want more than when we have nothing and want some. We are less dissatisfied when we lack many things than when we seem to lack but one thing.
-- Eric Hoffer

Aug 16, 2010

Rosa Pratincola

I was intrigued and mesmerized by the wild roses that I saw along the lake shore while traveling to Mackinac Island and Mackinac City last weekend. Pictured on your left is Rosa pratincola, which is also known by the name wild prairie rose.

I refrained from picking a seed pod of the Rosa pratincola while I was a guest on Mackinac Island, as this would bring down a hefty fine for illegal harvesting of plants in a state park. However, I found some of the same flowers growing in a weedy area next to a boat dock on the mainland side, so I helped myself to a rose hip with the goal of harvesting the seeds and growing some Rosa pratincola next year in my yard.

Aug 15, 2010

RV Towing a Hummer

Normally I am not a person who rails against people who drive gas-guzzling vehicles, as I figure if they are stupid (or wealthy) enough to shell out $3 a gallon to keep an 8-MPG vehicle on the road, it is their business. Yet I admit I gave the Hummer-towing RV a double take this afternoon when I encountered the aforementioned fuel-gulping convoy on Interstate 75 north of Bay City this afternoon.

I do not know the exact models of the vehicles in question, but I suspect that the 6-8 MPG the spacious motor home gets is considerably lessened by towing an H2 (I believe that is the model of Hummer being towed).

The presence of bicycles and a motorcycle indicate that the tourists in question have at least a passing acquaintance with vehicular gas mileage, but the owners of all these toys clearly are unconcerned with any fanypants notions of saving the planet by going green. In fact, I almost have to admire their brassiness, which comes across like a motorized "f**k you" to any environmentalists they might pass: "Yeah, not only do I drive a big honking RV, but I got a Hummer, too. Wanna take that s**t outside?"

Mackinac Bridge at Sunset

Left: Mackinac Bridge as seen from the western side of the Straits of Mackinac

I had the pleasure of taking a sunset cruise on the schooner Appledore V this evening. The ship departed from Straits State Harbor in Mackinaw City, and my wife and I sailed with family members and a few other fare-paying guests in the waters near the Mackinac Bridge. I took the image on the left about an hour before the sun crossed below the horizon.

As a former Michigander, I long knew the general history of the bridge, and I have traveled over this engineering marvel more times than I could count. However, until I sailed under and around the bridge I never really appreciated just how impressive this structure really is.

As we passed directly underneath the bridge we could see vehicles above us through the open-grid roadway. The noise the cars and trucks above created reminded me of the sound of World Cup vuvuzelas: sort of a droning hum that rose and fell with the volume of traffic.

I was also surprised at the relative dearth of watercraft in the vicinity of the bridge, especially on a sunny weekend evening. Then again, perhaps the five-mile width of the Straits of Mackinac means that even a higher volume of vessels would not seem dense in the vast open waters between Lake Huron and Lake Michigan.

Left: Last rays of sunlight under the Mackinac Bridge

The setting of the sun served as a bittersweet metaphor for the end of an enjoyable four-day weekend. This was the first vacation of any sort in the past 20 months or so in which I had very little work following me, as I only had to answer a couple of emails. My last few vacations were of the semi-working sort: courses were in session, and I had to be available long distance to address student concerns or problems that inevitably arose.

I also made sure that I got a bit of a head start going into next week's tuneup to the new fall semester, finishing all of my syllabi and loading a lot of course content onto course websites. I much prefer taking vacations these days that are as free from work-related distractions as possible. My wife and I are trying to coordinate our teaching schedules so that we can take a few vacations next year in which work does not intrude into vacation time.

For far too long I have allowed work to take precedence over the minimal amount of truly free time that I can enjoy, and I think the sanctity of vacation time is a worthy goal to pursue.

Aug 13, 2010

Amish at the Lake Shore

(Mackinac Island) I found intriguing the number of Amish tourists I saw during my visit to Mackinac Island today. On your left is a young Amish couple with a baby (you can see the stroller next to the man) who I encountered as I meandered along the shore of Lake Huron this afternoon.

The couple was part of a large group from Middlebury, Indiana. These folks did not seem to adhere to some of the most strict rules of some of the Old Order Amish groups: they traveled by bus, wore name brand footwear, and I even saw an Amish man sporting a Nike cap.

There were no signs of cell phones or PDAs among this group, though, so I think that the stereotypes about the resistance to technology still carry some validity. I would suggest that any Amish readers of this post feel free to weigh in on the discussion, but that presupposes an acceptance of the Internet as a permissible technology.

Pair of Ferries

Pictured on your left are two of the ferries that carry passengers from the Michigan mainland to Mackinac Island. I took the photograph while traveling on a different boat, and the waters in question are the northernmost of Lake Huron.

I think the image would have been more compelling had I managed to catch both water-spouting ferries in the shadow of the Mackinac Bridge, but alas: the photography gods did not permit this creative opportunity.

Even though it was hot by northern Michigan standards today (mid-80s and muggy), there were some especially cool breezes to be enjoyed on the lake. Thus, returning to the mainland meant the end of a short excursion as well as a revisiting of the summer heat.

Aug 12, 2010

Giant Mouse of Pinconning

(Pinconning, MI) We took a side trip on our way up to Mackinac Island to visit the town of Pinconning today. Pictured on your left is a giant mouse outside of the Wilson Cheese Shoppe in Pinconning, a Michigan town noted for its cheeses.

I lived in Michigan for 25 years and traveled to the northern parts of the state more times than I could ever remember, yet I never ventured into Pinconning. As a child I pronounced the town as "PINE-cone-ing," like a verb associated with the gathering of pine cones. However, locals pronounce the place "PIN-con-ing."

Just so you know.

I think that retailers of cheese are the only businesses in which the presence of large rodents might be seen as a source of pride. The giant mouse standing guard at the Wilson Cheese Shoppe seems friendly enough, but I would not advise trying to jack him after dark.

Get it? Jack the cheese-bearing mouse? I kill me.

Aug 11, 2010

Unexpected Construction Snafus

Pictured on your left is the ceiling to our first floor bathroom, which contractors cut away to get better access to drain lines for out new upstairs shower. We knew that we had some leak issues, but the removal of the downstairs sheetrock provided us with a better view of the water damage.

So the contractors will be hanging around a few more days, and a few hundred more dollars will need to be invested in the old homestead. There are worse outcomes in life, are there not?

And tearing a few extra holes in the ceiling would still have been cheaper than relocating all the water lines and drain lines for the new shower, especially given the price of copper these days. Running new lines from the basement would easily have been an extra thousand dollars or more, not to mention the extra hours of pounding, sawing, and other renovation-related noises.

Aug 10, 2010

Where Once There Was a Shower

We are continuing in our efforts to help jump start the local economy by hiring contractors to help us remodel our house, and the picture on the left is our upstairs bathroom after Day One of renovations. Our bathroom was remodeled a few years ago, but the bathtub unit we purchased developed a crack, so we elected to install one of those step-in shower units with benches.

Assuming I live to a ripe old age (never a safe assumption given my prodigious consumption of fatty and fried foods over the years) I will be able to use this shower as long as I can still crawl.

The contractors we are using recently finished a few other projects, including the installation of a clawfoot bathtub in our downstairs bathroom and the relocation of our laundry room to the second floor. The workers are producing fine work, but the temporary disruptions associated with renovations have been getting on my nerves a bit. Yet despite the heavy traffic, the endless dog-yapping, and all the other unpleasantries of home improvements, we should have a brand-new bathroom by Thursday.

Now, to prepare for the property tax hike rebuttal I will need to compose once the county auditor gets wind of our renovative exploits.

Aug 9, 2010

Reconnecting with Japanese Spurge

In our quest to create peaceful garden spaces in my yard, one of the plants we chose for a shady area under a maple tree was Japanese spurge (also known as Pachysandra Terminalis). Over the past few years I did not tend to the spurge plants as well as I should have, and they languished a bit while I pursued a doctorate.

This year I vowed to revitalize the spurge garden, and I have been regularly watering their space. I also filled in some thin areas with a dozen new spurge plants, and I think the small shade garden is starting to prosper.

When properly tended, Japanese spurge provides a dense ground cover, and the plant produces white flowers in the early spring. Several patches still managed to thrive in the years that I paid the garden inadequate attention, and they have started to send out shoots with new plants for the first time in years.

I am also adding nutrient-rich leaf mulch to the spurge garden to help with moisture retention and to add a bit of acidic pH to the soil. The tree under which the plants grow is a notorious consumer of moisture and nutrient, but even my best efforts to neglect these plants could not kill the garden.

Aug 8, 2010

Violet Delphinium

I am not sure where I purchased the small Delphinium plant that is pictured in the accompanying photograph, but the plant has proven to be a hardy and colorful addition to my gardens. As an added bonus, in this growing region the Delphinium produces several rounds of flowers (this is the second for this plant this year), meaning that any garden with Delphinium is likely to receive plenty of color throughout the year.

The plant is quite toxic, though, so be sure to keep Delphinium away from small children and pets.

This perennial plant can be propagated from seed, or you can also split the rhizomes and start new colonies in other gardens. In this garden the Delphinium grew from a single stalk to six stalks in two years: moderate growth, but not the type of growth that takes over an entire garden.

Aug 7, 2010

Riding on a Canal Boat

Left: a restored section of the Miami and Erie Canal in Providence Metropark

Though I have lived in the area for over two decades, I previously never set foot at Providence Metropark. Moreover, as a historian who sometimes writes about the region of the Great Black Swamp, I am also a bit embarrassed to admit that I had never went on a canal boat ride on the restored section of the Miami and Erie Canal that the park boasts.

Thus, when my wife mentioned that she would like to take a canal boat ride, I readily agreed, and we set out to Providence Metropark.

The mid-eighties weather was perfect for a boat ride, and I was impressed with the knowledge of the tour guides, who wore clothing from the mid-1870s and peppered the tour dialogue with interesting historical tidbits (and no references to newfangled technology such as the spirometer). Sometimes when I take a historical tour I find myself gritting my teeth at the history being presented, but the three reenactors were well versed in the history of Ohio's canal era.

The site also features a working sawmill and gristmill that is powered by water. Visitors can tour the Isaac Ludwig Mill and see how lumber and grains were processed before the era of industrial agriculture, and the mill even cuts timber used in many of the area Metroparks.

Tour bus and group reservations are accepted for the canal boat tour, and you can call 419-407-9741 for more information. Tickets for the boat ride are quite reasonable: $6 adults, $5 seniors (60 and over), $4 children (3 to 12), and kids aged two and under are free. The canal season runs from late April to mid-October, and you can follow the above link to find exact tour times and dates.

Aug 6, 2010

Shark Cloud

I am sometimes accused of walking around with my head in the clouds. This is a charge that I would probably confess is true, though I would also argue that head-in-clouds syndrome occasionally has its own rewards.

Such was the case with the sunset images I took tonight.

Pictured on your left is a series of clouds in the western sky over southeastern Michigan this evening. The larger cloud formation reminded me of a great white shark, in small part perhaps because this is Shark Week on the Discovery Channel. There are some decidedly dagger-like appendages to the cloud that resemble razored shark teeth.

The smaller cloud might be an unsuspecting red snapper about to be sent to Marine Valhalla.

Aug 5, 2010

Rapid Rhetoric: PAVIOUR

Raphael's depiction of Plato defining the difference between true and false rhetoric This is an irregular feature - both in frequency and oddness - dedicated to a word or phrase I came across that I have never previously used.

paviour (PAVE-yer) n. a laborer who lays paving materials; a machine for laying paving materials; the material used in a paving project.

Also spelled pavior, the term paviour is of Middle English derivation, with origins in the word paven ("to pave"), and both words also trace back to the French word paver. I came across the term in an 1866 collection of Hans Christian Andersen tales; the source of the quote is from a tale called "Two Maidens":
Now, there are among us human creatures certain individuals who are known as "emancipated women;" as, for instance, principals of institutions, dancers who stand professionally on one leg, milliners, and sick nurses; and with this class of emancipated women the two maidens in the shed associated themselves. They were " maidens" among the paviour folk, and determined not to give up this honourable appellation, and let themselves be miscalled rammers.
In this translation the term paviour seems to be equivalent to "common" or "lowly"; at the very least street pavers appear to have garnered little respect in this nineteenth century translation.

Aug 4, 2010

Lowly and Dependable Marigolds

I think the first flowers I ever planted as a kid were marigolds, and they have always been among the elements of any flower garden I have planted. I like the fact that marigolds provide many months of color for a relatively small investment, and of course these are hardy plants that need little maintenance beyond an occasional watering. In fact, marigolds tend to thrive just on the edge of dry soil, as this forces the plants to root deeper.

Some horticulturalists despise marigolds, citing reasons such as their prolific spreading, their strong aroma, or the ease with which any schlep can grow these flowers. Yet I like to use them as border plants and to fill in areas that need some future work but which I do not have the time to invest. For example, one of our weigela bushes died last year, so I simply tossed some giant marigold seeds in the space and voila! Instant color.

I typically grow marigolds from seed, getting the seeds in the soil as early as possible. In my front yard the flowers began to appear about the 20th of May this year, and I will continue to have color from the marigolds until at least mid-October. That means about five months of color for perhaps three dollars worth of seed, and if I remember to harvest the seeds this year, these flowers will pay dividends for years to come.

Aug 3, 2010

Dark Red Sunflower

Over the past few years I have planted red sunflowers in my gardens, and I find these plants to add an interesting contrast to the lighter hues of nearby flowers. Among the red sunflowers that blossomed this year is the specimen on your left, which might be the darkest red I have ever seen in a sunflower before.

For the moment the hungry goldfinches have not begun their feeding frenzy on my red sunflowers, but this might be simply a function of quantity: I have dozens more yellow sunflowers that the goldfinches can eat, and most of these opened before the red varieties.

Regardless of the reasons, the red sunflowers are now in full bloom, and the yard is that much more enjoyable because of their presence.

Sunflower Mauler

Over the past few years an increasing number of American goldfinches have set up shop near my house. In part this is due to the thistle seed I provide these colorful songbirds, but in larger measure the presence of the goldfinches is a function of the sunflowers I plant around my yard.

The goldfinches especially like to tear apart the sunflowers just when the flower head begins to form seeds from the florets. The goldfinch in the accompanying photograph spent five solid minutes tearing apart a flower head before noticing how close I was getting to his perch.

The birds also exhibit the courtesy to wait a few weeks before attacking my sunflowers, allowing me time to appreciate the simple beauty of the flowers before having to watch them be devoured. By the time the feasting commences, the sunflowers have long since passed their floral prime, and the sunflower mauling provides the dying plant a new purpose.

Aug 1, 2010

Tomato Thief

While taking some pictures of sunflowers I heard some rustling in a nearby patch of tomatoes. I looked through the thick tomato leaves and noticed that one of my dogs was the source of the noise.

In fact, the dog in question was not merely passing through the tomato patch, but he was helping himself to a ripe tomato right off the vine. Pictured in mid-swipe is Shadow, a five-year-old terrier mix we adopted a few months ago. The shaded area in which he perched created a bluish effect in the image, but the tomato theft is well documented for future reference.

Our veterinarian recommended against feeding dogs tomatoes, by the way, as he noted that dogs who eat tomatoes are prone to bladder stones. Green tomatoes - plus the green stems and leaves - contain the compound atropine, which can cause tremors and heart arrhythmia.

None of our other dogs have shown any interest in eating ripened tomatoes from the vine before, so I will have to pay closer attention to Shadow when he wanders near the tomatoes.