Monday, April 14, 2014

Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day - April 2014

April is here at last. Even though it hasn't brought many of its promised showers so far, we welcome it and rejoice that finally a few blooms are returning to the garden.


This old-fashioned and very fragrant petunia reseeded itself in one of the beds and I let it stay. Now it brightens that corner of the garden.


This wildflower called "Philadelphia fleabane" reseeded itself in the garden last year. It is a perennial and so it came up again this year and now is featuring these delicate little blossoms which I quite like.


I like to plant marigolds in the vegetable garden. Allegedly they help to repel some harmful insects and I just like the way they look there. These bloom in the tomato bed.


And, nearby, the tomatoes bloom, too.


They call it "autumn" sage, but, in fact, it blooms all year here, including the spring.


The amaryllises, like many of my plants, are late this year, probably because of the late cold snap we had in March, but finally they are beginning to pop.


This little dianthus, 'Early Bird Radiance,' has been in bloom well over a month now.


Some of the roses are beginning to bloom and the others will be joining them soon.

Here's the 'Double Radazz' Knockout.


This is a 'Dortmund' bud. When it is fully open, it is a simple single red blossom with a pale eye - very pretty.


This is 'Old Blush,' a dependable bloomer and one of my favorites.


 And this is 'Ducher,' also a very dependable bloomer.


 'Peggy Martin' is a bit late this year but will soon be covered in these pretty little blossoms.

Some of the gerberas are beginning to open up.




 This delicate little flower is on the 'Arapaho' blackberry.


This is Calibrachoa 'MiniFamous Royal Blue.'


The variegated potato vine is really planted for its leaves but it carries these rather insignificant little white blooms throughout the year. Notice their resemblance to the tomato blossoms above? They are both from the nightshade family.


'Tangerine Beauty' crossvine that I have shown you previously is still in full bloom.


And finally, in the shade of the magnolia tree, the yellow columbines are beginning to bloom.

It is always such a pleasure to visit blogs from around the world and see what is blooming in those gardens each month. Thank you, Carol of May Dreams Gardens, for bringing them all to us each Bloom Day.

And thank YOU for visiting my garden this month. Happy Bloom Day!

The Snowman by Jo Nesbø: A review

The SnowmanThe Snowman by Jo Nesbø
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Early on in The Snowman, a man comes to Inspector Harry Hole's apartment claiming that he is inspecting the building and treating it for mold. He tells Harry that the inspection and the treatment may take several days during which he will need access to the apartment.

Harry is on his way out the door to go to work and does he question the man - except to ask for how much it will cost - or ask for any identification or verification that he is legitimate? Nope! He simply hands over his spare door key and leaves for work.

The reader thinks, "Is this really the action of Oslo's best detective?" And her second thought is, "Oh, Harry, this isn't going to end well!"

Meanwhile, at work, Harry's team has gained a new member, Katrine Bratt, who seems like a feminine version of Harry. The team needs all the help it can get because very bad things are happening in Oslo.

Women are disappearing, often without a trace. In one instance a trace is found - the woman's severed head sitting atop a giant snowman. In another, the woman's mobile telephone is found inside a giant snowman.

All of the disappearances (and presumed murders) take place after a snowfall and snowmen are found near the scenes of the disappearances, thus the perpetrator comes to be known as Snowman.

There are few clues at first. Looking for connections, Katrine realizes that all the women are mothers who are either married or are in stable relationships. And furthermore, a search of police records turns up other unsolved disappearances and murders that seem to fit the pattern. There is also the unsolved disappearance of a detective from another town, a detective who had been investigating a local murder of a woman and the disappearance of her best friend. When he disappeared, his colleagues with the police decided that he must have been the perpetrator and they stopped looking for any other suspect.

The narrative of the story switches back and forth between the historical disappearances and murders and the current day ones in Oslo, and Harry and his team search desperately for links and something that will lead them to the source of the evil that is terrifying their city. Time and again, they believe they are closing in on the culprit, only to have it turn out that they are following a blind alley and sniffing red herrings.

Jo Nesbø is a master of red herrings and misdirection. He liberally sprinkles his narrative with clues but figuring out which ones are relevant is the problem. A couple of times, I thought I had solved the mystery and unmasked the murderer. Both times I was dead wrong. I did finally suspect the real perpetrator but I couldn't discern any reason for his actions. Well, that was because Nesbø hadn't actually given us any until a long expository chapter that explains all, near the end of the book. In fact, the intricate plot of this book kept me guessing all the way through.

The character of Harry Hole continues to grow on me. I find him enormously likable and entertaining. He finally seems to be getting a handle on his alcoholism in this book and his relationship with Rakel, though officially over, continues, and his ties to Rakel's son, Oleg, are unbreakable and serve to humanize him further. Oleg, too, is a very appealing character and badly in need of a father figure. He has selected Harry for the job.

Finally, here's a tip of the hat to the translator, Don Bartlett. Reading a book in translation is always a dicey affair, one that can be hit or miss. When Bartlett is on the job, the reader can count on a hit. His translations flow and sound as if they might actually have been written in English. Jo Nesbø is very lucky that Bartlett is the one interpreting his words to those of us in the English-speaking world.

This suspenseful book has whetted my appetite for more Harry Hole. I'm looking forward to getting on with the series.


View all my reviews

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Poetry Sunday: In April

It's April and, in the northern hemisphere, Earth is waking from its long winter nap. Nature is regenerating and all things are made new.

In April


  by James Hearst

This I saw on an April day:
Warm rain spilt from a sun-lined cloud,
A sky-flung wave of gold at evening,
And a cock pheasant treading a dusty path
Shy and proud.


And this I found in an April field:
A new white calf in the sun at noon,
A flash of blue in a cool moss bank,
And tips of tulips promising flowers
To a blue-winged loon.


And this I tried to understand
As I scrubbed the rust from my brightening plow:
The movement of seed in furrowed earth,
And a blackbird whistling sweet and clear
From a green-sprayed bough.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

This week in birds - #104

A roundup of the week's news of birds and the environment:

We have Orchard Orioles in the neighborhood this week but so far none of these colorful Baltimore Orioles that invaded my yard by the dozens last May. I'm putting out my oriole feeder and hoping for the best. Their visit last spring was really the highlight of my last year's backyard birding.

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Repercussions of the recent oil spill in Galveston Bay are still making themselves known. Rescuers have plucked almost 400 birds from the mess so far, but more than 500 more have been sighted but were unable to be rescued. Even those that are rescued have slim chances of survival.

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The "Dawn Chorus" of birds is a well-known phenomenon, but why exactly do birds sing so energetically in the morning? The Zoologic blog explores that question.

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Bradford (or Callery) pears are popular ornamental trees in the suburbs around Houston and in many areas of the country, but they really are not a good choice for landscaping. They are not a native tree and they are highly invasive, tending to out-compete native trees for space. Birds and other wildlife do enjoy their tiny fruits and they spread the seeds, but there are many native trees that are just as attractive to wildlife and are better for the environment.

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The Dutch are the world-class experts when it comes to water management. Coastal cities in the United States could learn much from them on how to live with encroaching water, which will become an ever more urgent issue as we continue to do nothing to halt the progress of human-caused climate change.

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A new computer model uses DNA to identify the world's most distinctive birds. The researchers developed a website where you can identify the most distinctive birds in your particular area.

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A fossil fish, found by scientists in the Canadian Arctic area, exhibits characteristics of both a fish and land-dwelling animals. The fish's scientific name is Tikaalik roseae and it is some 375 million years old from the Devonian period. It is considered a transitional creature, a link between species.

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The Smithsonian Gardens in Washington now feature bronze statuary of five extinct American bird species: the Labrador Duck, Carolina Parakeet, Great Auk, Heath Hen, and Passenger Pigeon.

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The first California Condors that were hand-raised and released into the wild had behavioral problems that affected their ability to survive. Researchers trying to save the species have altered their training program for hand-raised birds to try to address the issues and increase the birds' chances.

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Woodland salamanders are - surprisingly - the top predator in North American forests, outranking bears, owls, wolves, etc. Also surprisingly, the unassuming little critters play a significant role in the global carbon cycle.

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Unfortunately, the late winter storms that ravaged California did very little to relieve the extreme drought conditions that prevail in the state.

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New research indicates that two tiny species of killifishes that were considered extremely endangered may in fact now be extinct following the destruction of their only known habitat.

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Around the backyard:

I believe I may have seen the last of the Yellow-rumped Warblers that visited the yard this winter. I haven't seen or heard any around for a few days now. The same can be said for Ruby-crowned Kinglets. I'm still seeing the occasional Chipping Sparrow and the Cedar Waxwings, although their numbers appear to have diminished. And actually, I have more American Goldfinches in my yard than I did a few weeks ago as more of the birds from farther south stream through on their way to their nesting grounds.

But these days the backyard is dominated by the permanent residents and the summer visitors, like the courting Ruby-throated Hummingbirds I watched yesterday and the White-eyed Vireos whose song seems to ring out from every tree these days. April is in fact a month that is filled with birdsong. Happy, happy month.

 

Friday, April 11, 2014

Game of Goats

HBO's blockbuster series Game of Thrones has spawned a lot of take-offs - and rip-offs - but I have to say this is the best one yet!



Okay, all those other folks out there planning their GOT intros using kittens or puppies or duckies or whatever can just quit now. I don't think this can be topped. In the game of animal parodies of Game of Thrones, the House of Goats is the clear winner. And it was all done without nudity or incest and not a drop of blood shed!

Thursday, April 10, 2014

All the "skewed" numbers (With update 04/11/14)

I've been bemused but not really surprised at the reaction of the right-wingers to the news last week that the Affordable Care Act had blown right past the stated goal of 7 million people signed up for private insurance under the new insurance exchanges by the deadline of March 31. The figure announced last week was 7.1 million. The revised figure announced yesterday was actually 7.5 million.

And what has been the right's response to this? The same as their response to inconvenient facts like evolution or climate change. Denial, of course!

"It's all a lie! They are cooking the books."

These are the same people who spent the last two months of the presidential campaign in 2012 insisting that all those polls that showed Obama ahead were somehow "skewed." They went to great efforts to "unskew" them and show that, actually, Romney was well in the lead and would win by a landslide.

One of the people who believed that was Mitt Romney himself. He was apparently so sure of victory that he neglected to write a concession statement in advance. He had only written a victory speech and so had to scramble to come up with something a couple of hours after the polls closed and it was obvious that he would lose.

It seems that the Republicans are following the same course in this election year. They are so sure that opposition to the Affordable Care Act is a winning strategy that they do not seem to have a Plan B. They continue to try to repeal it believing that voters will flock to their cause and make them winners once again.

But it's not just the Affordable Care Act they want to repeal. They want to repeal Medicare as well. They just passed a budget in the House of Representatives that would do away with Medicare as we know it and replace it with a voucher program.

What do these people have against their fellow citizens having access to health care that does not result in their bankruptcy?

Meanwhile, health care reform just keeps rolling and Charles Gaba, who has been spot on in detailing the numbers of those who are signing up, now says that the grand total of those who have insurance under all the provisions of the ACA is something like 20 million people! This includes people who signed up through the state and federal exchanges, off exchanges, the under 26-year-olds now covered on their parents' insurance, expanded Medicaid in those states wise enough to do that, etc.

So the Republicans are putting themselves in the position of seeking to take away the insurance of those 20 million, plus all those who are depending on Medicare and would no longer get it under their budget. Somehow that just doesn't sound like a winning political strategy to me, but who knows? As my cynical husband often reminds me, "People are stupid!"

And speaking of stupid, not to mention hard-hearted, none are more so than those Republican governors like our own Rick Perry who are refusing to expand Medicaid in their states.

This is really a no-brainer. The federal government would pay 100% of the costs of expansion for the first three years and 90% after that and millions more Americans could get insurance to help pay for their health care. This is truly a matter of life and death for some people. But these governors couldn't care less. For them, it's all about scoring political points with their base.

There must be a special circle in hell where the fires burn especially hot for people like that.

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UPDATE: Paul Krugman's column today sums up very nicely the attitude and motivations of those Republican governors who refuse to expand Medicaid - the stupidity and the hateful spite.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Backyard Nature Wednesday: Crossvine

Crossvine is a native perennial vine that is a member of the trumpet-creeper family (Bignoniaceae). It grows in the woods in many of the eastern parts of the United States, including in east Texas and occasionally to westernmost central Texas. It is a robust woody vine that can climb up to 50 feet due to its tendrils which have claws at the tips, enabling the vine to catch and hold on.

In the spring, it produces masses of brilliant flowers in shades of orange. The leaves are glossy dark green in summer and turn reddish after frost. In areas of mild winters, such as southeast Texas, the vines keep their leaves through winter and once the weather warms up it is ready to grow and produce flowers.

Like many native plants, this one has been cultivated by horticulturists and new varieties created. I grow one of them in my backyard.

This is 'Tangerine Beauty' and it is well-named for it is a beauty, and, at this time of year, the vine is completely covered in these blossoms.




Native Americans historically found many medicinal uses for crossvine. They used it as a remedy for diphtheria, edema, headaches, and rheumatism. Today, we grow it just for its beauty or to provide shade when planted on an arbor. It is also very attractive to hummingbirds and various pollinators.

This is a great plant with many useful and beautiful qualities. If there is any downside to it, it is simply that it may be too robust for the space allotted to it in the garden. It grows rampantly and creates suckers that may encroach outside of where the gardener wants it to grow, but these are easily pulled up to keep the plants in bounds.