Monday, August 31, 2009

Memorable Visits to the Zoo

Talk to the animals

All visits to the zoo are interesting, but sometimes, something happens that is out of the ordinary, even for the zoo.

When we lived in Berlin, we visited the wonderful Berlin Zoo frequently. One dark winter day, Dennis and I were there with the kids. I had Baby Isaac in a carrier on my chest, and I was wearing a cape that went over both of us.

The wind became very sharp, and I tried to keep my back to it to shelter Isaac. Then sleet came shooting through the air, and the wolves began howling. It was such an eerie sound that I imagine that even the pedestrians outside the zoo shivered and walked a little faster when they heard it. We decided to cut that visit short and go home.

Another day at the Berlin zoo, it rained right after we arrived. I had packed some sandwiches, so we went to the monkey house and had lunch on the bench in front of the orangutan's cage. We spent most of an hour there, watching and being watched by an amazingly human-like creature. To this day, I have an affection for orangutans.

At the Berlin Zoo, the tigers had a big outdoor enclosure that was connected to their inside cage. When we visited the tiger house one day, they were outside. We were walking down a long hallway, talking about other things, when a tiger's huge head suddenly appeared in a porthole right beside little Keely. We saw his long, yellow fangs. Even though he was behind glass, his sudden appearance gave us a fright that we won't ever forget. When we looked at him again outside, we saw that the porthole was on the back wall of his pen.

I had another memorable experience yesterday at the Nashville Zoo. When we visited the giraffes, two were standing at the back of their little pasture, but one male was taking a close look at the people. I spoke to him, and he stretched his neck out and looked right at me. I talked to him for several minutes and took some pictures of him.

Keely and Taurus had moved to the other side of the little building, so Isaac and I walked over there. We were telling them how the giraffe had given us his attention, when the giraffe saw us, left the other people, and rejoined us. So we talked to him a little while longer. It was an interesting experience. It's pleasant to imagine that he knew we liked him.

It was Keely's idea to go to the zoo yesterday. She will remember this trip as the time that a dragonfly sat on her hand. Isaac will remember that the little donkey thought his hand tasted like salt. I think Taurus will remember the reptile house. It was a nice day.

A few more photos:
Jungle gym
Leopard 2
Meerkats 2

Friday, August 28, 2009

Birthday Girl

The years fly by.

Not too long ago, our daughter was the little person you see in this photo. Today, she's turns 24. She still enjoys an opportunity to sit down with a good book, and she's still a sweet girl. Happy birthday, Keely, and all our best wishes for a great year!

24 = 6 candles

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Backyard Nature

Wild ageratum and more

Wild ageratum (blue mistflower, Eupatorium coelestinum) is blooming at the edge of some shrubbery where Dennis hasn't mowed closely this year. It pops up every year somewhere around the yard, always in a spot out of the lawn mower's reach. The butterflies like it.

This clump of ageratum is particularly lush. Some of the shoots must be three feet tall. I think it has enjoyed the rainy summer.

Ageratum blooms along the road ditches this time of year, too. It's a sure sign that fall is at hand. It's a member of the aster family, and like many of its relatives, it's a late bloomers.

More backyard nature

While I was working in the shed late this evening, a baby frog hopped in. I thought it was a cricket at first. It was tiny but its hops carried it high into the air -- sproing, sproing! I wanted to put it outside, but it was fast and I couldn't catch it. Finally, I herded it out with the broom.

Just minutes later, a young toad came in. He was craftier than the little frog. He hopped behind some boards where he was perfectly safe from capture. He's still in the shed. I'm going to look for him tomorrow morning.

It was dark outside. I don't know if the little frog and toad were attracted by the lights or by the bugs that had come to the lights.

I finally decided to quit and go to the house. I turned out the lights and started to close the door. Across the driveway, I heard a large animal blow air in a startled whoosh and run away. I couldn't see it, but I know it was a deer that had come to eat fallen apples.

Now the coyotes are howling, and it sounds like they are across the road in the cornfield -- not really very far from my open window. I've heard them close to the house like this several times lately. I suppose the rainy summer has provided plenty of food for them, too.

Their yips and chortles make me feel a little uneasy. I'm glad the cats are inside.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Ghost of Vulcan's Anvil

A weird cloud in the sunset sky

The story of Vulcan from Roman mythology

Friday, August 21, 2009

The Fledgling Flies

Isaac has gone to college

Isaac moved into his college dorm last weekend. Keely and her boyfriend went over to Murray to help him haul his belongings up the stairs to his third-floor room. I had to work, so I didn't get to supervise the move -- probably just as well.

Isaac's roommate is a young man whom he knew in high school. Brandon is a sophomore and he's been at Murray State for a year already. Isaac finally got his transcript and financial aid problems straightened out, so he is officially a junior and my blood pressure is normal again.

Isaac's classes started on Wednesday. In one of them, he has already made a choice from a list of research paper topics. He says he's going to have a lot of reading, and I'm sure he's right. He couldn't register for classes until his records were in order, so this is what he was finally able to get:

  • Intro to Archaeology
  • Intro to Criminal Justice
  • Modern Europe
  • Intro to Historical Studies
  • History of Latin America

The house has been oddly quiet all week. The laundry basket is empty and there aren't many dirty dishes. The television stays on the same channel. The collection of books on the kitchen table is half its former size. The cats know that Isaac is missing, and they are shadowing me.

Isaac's college town (Murray, KY) is just an hour and a half away, so Isaac's coming home for the weekend. He wants to get some things he forgot, do his laundry, carry on his Hopkinsville social life, etc. Dennis and I are looking forward to his visit. The cats will be happy to see him, too.

The line at the Financial Aid Office, on our last visit there.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Small Canebrakes Remain

Cane still grows in Christian County, Kentucky

I read about canebrakes for years before I came to Kentucky. Usually, frontiersmen were clambering through dense canebrakes, or Indians were hiding in canebrakes waiting to attack. The cane was said to clatter as horsemen passed through.

After I had lived in Kentucky for a few years, I realized that I was in the land of canebrakes but I hadn't seen any yet. I asked a few questions. The neighbors laughed at me. "Cane? What do you want cane for? Well, it's everywhere. Just look around."

Eventually, I took a good look at some tall, coarse vegetation growing in a road ditch in our neighborhood and I realized that it had to be cane. Then, when I knew what it looked like, I began to see many small patches of cane in swampy areas and on the moist banks of waterways.

Huge canebrakes in Kentucky history

A few centuries ago, the southeastern United States contained hundreds of thousands of acres of canebrakes.  On river banks, cane grew in stands as large as "several hundred yards wide and several miles long". James O'Luken writes in The Kentucky Encyclopedia that some canebrakes covered "hundreds of acres". An article in Restoration Ecology quotes a description of a Kentucky canebrake in 1790 that was "15 miles [24 km] long and nearly half as wide".

When the winter is not too cold, the cane plant stays green. It was (and is) a nutritious food for the large herbivores and omnivores of Kentucky. The canebrakes also provided food and habitat for many smaller animals, including the now-rare swamp rabbit.

When settlers came to Kentucky, they knew that cane grew in the richest soil of the river bottoms. The fertility of the soil made the hard work of clearing the cane brakes worthwhile. Cane spreads underground through rhizomes. A long-established cane brake would have had an incredibly tangled mass of thick roots, making it very difficult to break the ground with a plow. The battle with sprouts would have been ongoing.

Two native cane subspecies

Arundinaria gigantea, the native cane of Kentucky and the southeastern U.S., is a member of the bamboo family. There are two varieties of native cane -- giant cane (Arundinaria gigantea ssp. gigantea) and arrow cane (Arundinaria gigantea ssp. tecta). Both types are sometimes called "river cane".

Giant cane grows as tall as 30 feet. It is said to prefer the floodplains. The cane around my neighborhood may be arrow cane (also known as switch cane) which is said to grow in upland situations. I don't think I've seen any cane taller than 15 feet in this area, and most of it is shorter than that.

Giant cane and arrow cane are so similar in appearance that it's difficult even for botanists to tell them apart. They can be identified by their blossoms, but canebrakes go as long as fifty years before flowering.

The photo above was taken in early spring after a cold winter. The leaves on the stalks were frozen back during several spells of sub-zero weather. This patch of cane grows near a small creek in a neighbor's field. Some good, close-up photos of native cane can be viewed at The Browyers Den.

Read more on the Internet:
River Cane
Encyclopedia of Alabama: Canebrakes
Canebrakes in old-time Georgia

Saturday, August 15, 2009

CSX at Skyline Drive

Freight train, freight train, goin' so fast

Many of the freight trains that roll through Hopkinsville seem to be several miles long. The tanker cars above were near the end of a northbound train. The hopper cars below rolled by a bit earlier.

It was a long train. I waited at the railroad crossing for quite a while. Finally, I decided to try photographing the cars as they passed. I always think that if I missed the engine, I missed the best photo I could have had. That might be a wrong idea. I like the industrial look of these photos.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Jury Duty

Trying to be a good citizen

It started with a letter from the Christian County Circuit Court Clerk. The envelope bore the Kentucky Court of Justice seal and looked ominously official.  "PLEASE OPEN IMMEDIATELY," it said in large red letters across the top.

Inside, I found a summons. "DEAR PROSPECTIVE JUROR: You have been selected to serve as a JUROR in the Christian County Courts. You are summoned to appear at the following place, date, and time. Failure to appear may result in a fine or jail time..." and so on. 

I had to answer some questions on a form and return it within five days. Most of the questions were innocuous. I remember only two of them -- whether I or anyone in my family had ever been convicted of a felony and whether I or anyone in my family had ever filed a personal injury claim.

On July 6, roughly 50 citizens (including me) answered the jury duty summons. Getting through the metal detector and security check at the door of the Justice Center was difficult for me. First, I had to remove my nail clippers from my key chain and take them back to my car. Then I had to take my camera out of my purse and take it back to my car.

I finally got through security, found the courtroom and sat down in an empty seat. In a few minutes, a secretary for the District Court welcomed us to jury duty. After roll call, she told us a bit about the types of cases that are tried in District Court and how a jury would be selected, if needed. Then we watched a video about Kentucky's justice system.

Before we left, each of us received a card with a telephone number on it. We were instructed to call that number each day after 4:30 p.m. to hear whether we had jury duty the next day. The card also had a telephone number to call in case of an emergency that would prevent us being available for jury duty.

I didn't anticipate that I would have any emergencies, but I did. When my Aunt Cleona passed away, I was gone for about five days, so I called the emergency number. The clerk's office told me that there was a case that required a jury on one of the days I was going to be absent. However, I was excused.

When I got back home (on a Thursday night), I was busy with catching up on my life and going back to work. For several days, I totally forgot that I had jury duty. On Monday night, I was taking a shower, when it hit me like a bolt of lightning -- oh-my-gosh, I'd forgotten to call, and what if I had missed a time when I was supposed to appear?

I called the number as soon as I got out of the shower. The message said that jurors were needed the next morning. I still don't know if the jurors were needed on the Friday and Monday that I forgot about jury duty, but I doubt it.

The next morning, the session in the courtroom began with a roll call of the jurors. I was thankful I was there to answer when my name was read. Then the lawyers and the judge had a quiet discussion at the bench. I heard the words "car accident". Soon, the judge announced that a key witness was unable to be in court that day so the trial was postponed.

I've only had jury duty one more time since then. We all met in the same courtroom again. After the roll call, the judge explained that the court would be considering half a dozen cases of adults who might be unable to handle their own affairs. The jury would hear the evidence in each case and decide whether the person was incompetent. If necessary, the judge would then appoint someone as a guardian.

A clerk turned a handle to spin a little wire cage of numbered balls. After a few revolutions she pulled out a ball and called a name. One of the jurors in the audience rose and took a seat in the jury section at the front of the courtroom. The judge questioned him about his acquaintance with the families and the witnesses. (The juror would have been disqualified if he felt unable to be impartial.)

The process was repeated until twelve jurors were seated. Then the balls were spun again, and 6 of the 12 jurors were chosen. The other 6 were dismissed, along with all the rest of us in the jury pool. I could have stayed and observed the trial, but I left. I was making a quick trip with Isaac to Murray that day to try to iron out some college enrollment complications before I had to be at work in the afternoon.

My session of jury duty ends in a little over two weeks. It has been interesting, but I'm thankful that so far, I haven't had to sit on a jury. If I do have to be a juror, I will do my best to give an honest and fair vote based on careful consideration of the evidence. However, if that grave responsibility does not come to me, I won't be disappointed.

(I took the photo of the statue of Lady Justice a couple of years ago when I attended a trial at the Justice Center. No one said a word about me having a camera, then.)

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

A Bad Year for Blue Mold

Wet weather a problem for tobacco growers.

Frequent rains have kept our part of Kentucky much wetter than usual for this time of the year. Temperatures have been cooler than normal.  The weather conditions have created a pleasantly green look to the countryside that's unusual for the 12th of August. Dennis has been mowing the yard at least once a week since April.

Unfortunately, the cool, wet summer has also been favorable for the growth of blue mold, a tobacco disease. Tobacco growers have been urged to monitor their fields carefully, because the mold spores drift on the lightest breeze.

If caught early enough, the spread of the disease in a field can be limited with treatments of fungicide. Such chemicals are expensive, but it's better than losing the entire crop. Leaves that have been damaged with blue mold are worthless.

Blue mold overwinters in the tropics where it infects winter-grown tobacco and native Nicotiana species. When summer weather systems carry the mold spores into our area and the conditions are favorable, the spores grow.

Blue mold really likes damp, cool, summer weather, lots of fog, and/or a field that is low-lying or shaded. Most years, blue mold shows up somewhere in Kentucky, but when we have a typical, hot, dry summer, the disease usually doesn't become an epidemic.

I suspect that the field of tobacco in the photograph has blue mold. It definitely is diseased; the leaves are wilting. I was shocked when I drove by and saw the plants in such a condition. Just a few weeks before, I had photographed the same field, and the tobacco was tall, lush, and very green.

Sunday, August 09, 2009

Interesting and Useful Stuff on the Internet

Internet diversions and more

At Blind Search, you can (blindly) compare the results and choose your favorite of Google, Yahoo, and Bing searches.

Type something and hear it spoken at Oddcast. You select the sex, accent, and language of the speaker, as well as various sound effects. (A link from Gloria.)

The Puzzle Museum. (Also sent to me by Gloria.)

Craziest Gadgets is a technology blog about unique inventions of the oddest sort. (This link was sent to me by Taurus.)

Sharkbreak is a stress-relieving toy to play with while you are waiting on the telephone. Chatnoir is a more challenging game -- try to cage the cat. (These links are from Kenneth.)

If you liked Chatnoir, you might like some of the other Flash games at Gamedesign, too.

Free Fax will send a DOC, .DOCX, or .PDF as a fax. (Hint--some scanners will save in PDF format.) There's a small fee if you don't want advertising on the cover sheet.

Make your own bike rack. This rack is for hauling bicycles in a truck, but it would work just as well for the garage.

Printable Paper is a great resource for graph paper, game score sheets, staff and chord paper for music, and much more.

Cyndi's List of Genealogy Sites on the Internet is where I recently found links to the 1900 and 1920 U.S. Census records which contain handwritten data about my great-grandparents George and Elizabeth Sees.

Check Prairie Bluestem's "Internet" tag for more great links.

Dental Ordeal Survived

Anticipation was the worst part

I've been having dental problems. Recently, I managed to split the root of a tooth. My dentist and the oral surgeon agreed that it had to come out. They also agreed that they'd never seen anything like it!

I went to the oral surgeon on Friday and he removed the tooth. I was dreading the extraction terribly, but I can honestly say that it didn't hurt much. The injections burned a little, but they were small discomforts. The numbing agent took effect quickly, and most of the pain I suffered was mental and emotional, not physical.


When I came back to the waiting room, Isaac sprang from his chair and helped me to the car. He drove me home and led me to the sofa. Then he got me an ice pack and a pain pill, tucked an afghan around me, and brought my kitty to snuggle with me. I dozed off quickly.

Dennis came home from work a few hours later, and I woke up enough to hear the guys whispering. "How's she doing?" "She's been lying there ever since we got home." "Just let her sleep!"

Later, Dr. Miller called. He was worried that I might be bleeding. I answered his questions as well as I could, and he asked me to call him if I had any problems whatsoever.

Dennis fixed me a can of potato soup for supper that night. He mashed all the potatoes in it so there weren't any big chunks. During the night, he got me another pain pill, and the next morning he fixed me oatmeal for breakfast.

I appreciated those little acts of kindness. When you're injured -- even with just a sore jaw -- it's heartwarming to know that someone cares and really wants to help. I've been reminded of the healing power of compassion.

Avoiding dry socket

About seven years ago, I had a tooth pulled just a couple of days before leaving for a car trip. I was in agony with the darned thing and had to live on Advil for the entire time I was traveling.

I realized afterwards that I must have had a "dry socket" -- a notoriously painful condition that occurs when a blood clot fails to form or is prematurely dislodged. The physical work of getting ready for the trip, loading the car, etc., probably caused the problem.

I was determined that wasn't going to happen this time. After the extraction, I spent about 48 hours just lying around. I can't remember the last time I've slept that much. (I didn't even have to feel guilty about it!)

Today, I'm feeling fairly well, all things considered. I've done a few things that didn't require much exertion. Tomorrow (Monday), I'm going to resume a mostly-normal life, and Tuesday, I'm going back to work.

Saturday, August 08, 2009

Bright Sunset

Pink is not just for stucco.

Seen in Hopkinsville, KY

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Hidden Log Cabin Museum

History preserved in Van Buren, MO

Wanda Newton is the owner of the Hidden Log Cabin Museum in Van Buren, MO. She was born and raised in Van Buren, but she lived in Chicago for a while as a young adult. When she came back to Van Buren, she was surprised how times had changed. The old ways of Ozark life were being abandoned.

Miss Wanda noticed that antique dealers from distant cities often attended estate auctions and farm sales in Carter County. She watched the dealers leave with their loot, and she worried that Carter County was losing its history, one auction at a time. She decided to start a collection of items that would be representative of life as it had been.

It was a good thing that her husband supported her, Miss Wanda says, because the auctions took all the money she made at her courthouse job. She dreamed of having a place to put her collection on display.

The hidden log cabin

Finally, an opportunity opened. The house next door to her home was put up for sale, and Miss Wanda bought it. Despite its mundane exterior, it was no ordinary house. Under the siding, it was a log house with several frame rooms built onto it.

And it was an exceptionally historic log cabin. The little village of Van Buren, on the west side of the river, was burned during the Civil War. When the war ended, the residents decided to rebuild on the east side of the river. The first building that went up was a new Carter County courthouse.

When the lots for the new town were surveyed, it turned out that the courthouse had been built in the middle of the street. It was moved back a few yards, onto the corner lot of John and Ash, and there it still sits.

When Miss Wanda became the owner, she undertook a massive restoration. She stripped the log room down to its whitewashed walls of hand-hewn native pine. The large yawning fireplace had been closed off and partially torn down, so she hired a stonemason to rebuild it. She didn't have enough money for the project, so she borrowed from her husband. It took her a couple of years to pay him back.

In the other rooms, she removed modern wall coverings to reveal the walls as they had been when the addition to the house was built. She did most of the work herself, and it took her several years.

Tour of the museum

When I visited the Hidden Log House Museum, Miss Wanda walked me through the first room and told me about it. "Don't you want to take any pictures?" she asked. I told her that I would take pictures on my way back through the house, but first, I wanted to give my full attention to what she was telling me. Every item in the house has its history, of course, and Miss Wanda is a good storyteller.

So, these photos are in reverse order, starting from the back of the house in the kitchen and summer kitchen and ending in the log room which is at the front of the house.

On the back wall of the kitchen, there's a large, antique sink. Miss Wanda's sister, now in her early 90s, washed dishes in that very sink as part of her room and board when she attended high school. (It was in another house at the time.) I should have taken its picture, but I didn't. I also regret that I didn't take a picture of Miss Wanda.

The center room of the house was probably a dining room or parlor, and it has a bedroom on the side of it. Miss Wanda left the first layer of wallpaper-- a bold burgundy and white pattern -- on the dining room walls.

The big memory jug is old; the small memory jug in front was made in recent years. Just in front of the chair, a small bowl holds some bits of jewelry and small mementos. There's also a jar of buttons. These are the sorts of things that people used when they made memory jugs and jars. Miss Wanda is not sure what sort of adhesive was used in the old memory jug, but the newer one was made with window putty.

Miss Wanda says to watch for the "Knickerbocker" label when you are at a sale that has old stuffed toys. Someone in her family liked to laugh about her stuffed animals, and as sort of a joke, gave her a book about collecting them. When Miss Wanda looked up some of her stuffed toys in the book and showed the relative their value, he didn't tease her anymore.


The photos that follow are in the log room that was the Carter County Courthouse for a number of years. I'm amazed that Miss Wanda was able to find and buy all the items displayed here. She says she collected all these things in Carter County and the surrounding counties. The antique furniture you see in this room is handmade, and many of the other items are also.

I was surprised how much room the spinning wheel took. Miss Wanda told me that she used to have a loom, too, but it took up twice as much room as the spinning wheel. She finally sold it to a lady who weaves.

The coverlet on the bed was woven on a loom over a century ago, with handspun wool yarn. I believe Miss Wanda said that she made the rag rug in the bottom photo herself.

Miss Wanda receives no funds for the museum beyond what she charges in admission. She has decided not to have the house declared a historic site because she's afraid of the restrictions and obligations it might bring. She closes the museum over the coldest months of winter so she won't have to heat it.

Sometimes, classes of school children spend an afternoon at the museum and Miss Wanda enjoys telling them about the simple lives of the people who lived in the Ozarks a few generations ago. But what she likes best, she says, is when someone stops who is really interested -- someone who asks questions and wants to take pictures. It absolutely makes her day.

On the web:
A description of the Hidden Log Cabin Museum in Patti DeLano's Missouri Off the Beaten Path.

Related post:
Van Buren, Missouri
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CONTENTMENT: Keep your heart free from hate, your mind from worry, live simply, expect little, give much, sing often, pray always, forget self, think of others and their feelings, fill your heart with love, scatter sunshine. These are the tried links in the golden chain of contentment.
(Author unknown)

IT IS STILL BEST to be honest and truthful; to make the most of what we have; to be happy with simple pleasure; and to be cheerful and have courage when things go wrong.
(Laura Ingalls Wilder, 1867-1957)

Thanks for reading.