News Consumption Blues

Wishing for a source of news that is unbiased and accurate.

Recently I was talking to a coworker about how we consume news. We both feel like we should at least have a clue what is going on at a local, state, national, and international level. Ignorance is not bliss for most of the people I associate with. I guess it’s culturally ingrained, not that there’s anything wrong with being from another subculture within the US that isn’t as concerned with knowing true from false, news from propaganda, etc. There have always been folks who are just fine in a local/family bubble; it’s sort of understandable, especially lately.

So many of us just want to know what’s happening beyond our doorstep. Photo by @madelinerosephoto via Twenty20

Anyway, my coworker and I found we were in really strong agreement about how we liked to get information, and agreed that things we see on social media platforms take too much energy to figure out whether to believe or not. We both just skip that stuff and are members of the “don’t make or read any comments” group.

A good local newspaper!

I have a source for international news that I like, and I am aware of the biases of the US-centric sources I use and that they play into my confirmation bias. I am able to weed out obvious slant-y things, but it gets tiresome! Surprisingly, I find have found local Austin and Cameron news sources (radio and newspaper) that are quite helpful and not too hard to get factual information from. I guess that’s what helps keep my head from exploding. That and NOT reading their Facebook pages.

Honestly, though, I miss being able to read a news source or watch the local news and just get a summary of things that have been happening, with no hidden commercials, obvious slants, and repetitive hype. I can’t stand the local news channels (all over the US, not just where I live) that repeat the same hyped-up snippet of a news piece repeatedly to get your attention, then present something totally bland. I’m smart enough to take information and run it through my own biases and interpret it myself. I don’t need help. Thus, I can’t make myself sit through any television news.

I don’t know how anyone manages to figure this stuff out, no matter what your biases are. Photo by @andreyyalansky19 via Twenty20

I’m aware that anything written by a person has biases, but I do remember when I was a kid we were trained to try to eliminate that as much as we could, and to clearly label opinion pieces. I wish ratings and ad revenue weren’t the actual reason for news content these days. But, it sure looks that way to me. The more incendiary content is, the more it sells.

Incendiary news sells, if you can read it before it goes POOF! Photo by @foto.privet via Twenty20

I’m wary of cutting myself off from all news sources, because so much affects me directly. Where can I find some simple statements of facts to learn from? Tell me! I’d buy some crap from a company or organization that sponsored accurate, unvarnished, information.

As always, I’d love your feedback and ideas.

Killer Wasps

Now that it’s summer, the time for pictures of pretty flowers is over, and most of the things I take pictures of are insects. That’s because it’s Grasshopper and Wasp City here in Milam County, Texas. I’ll save you the grasshoppers for now, and instead share what I’ve been learning about local wasps.

Hello, I’m a cicada killer wasp. I’m big. Why did you dig me up?

First, there are so many kinds of wasps in Texas! Second, most of them aren’t out to attack us. They are busy doing their own thing, for the most part. Two types of wasps I’ve been seeing lately are way too busy killing other creatures to mess around with us. That’s good, because one of them is pretty darned big, and the other one can sting painfully, if you let it.

First, I’d been seeing these reddish wasps with black wings around the porch lately, but they would not hold still long enough to pose for a photo. Luckily, my Master Naturalist friend found one doing its “thing” and got a couple of photos, even though he said his were a bit blurry. Here’s his blog on these spider wasps. Yes, those guys flitting around my porch weren’t after ME, they were after the numerous spiders out here in the country. I wish they would get all the black widows, but they seem to go after bigger prey.

Spider wasp (Tachypompilus ferrugineus) going after a rabid wolf spider. Photo by Eric Neubauer.
Spider wasp with an unidentified prey, found at my neighbors’ house. Photo by Mark Ellet.

I got interested in them, and began reading up on spider wasps. It turns out the females drag a paralyzed spider to their burrow (or the spider’s previous burrow) and lay one egg in them. The egg hatches in there, and the baby wasp goes through five instars with the spider as its food source. Interestingly, they save the vital organs until last, ensuring their food remains “fresh.” How appetizing! Here is an article about spider wasps, if you’d like to learn more.

Spiders aren’t the only insects that need to be watching their backs right about now. Remember the insect at the top of the blog? That’s a cicada’s worst nightmare, Sphecius speciosus! From the sounds we are hearing in our woods, cicadas are up and crawling around, singing their tiny hearts out. No wonder the cicada killer wasps are crawling out of their holes in search of yummy morsels. Now, cicadas are pretty large insects. It’s no problem for cicada killers, though, because they are the biggest wasps in Texas.

Even though it’s a big wasp, a cicada is bigger. Good thing the wasp has strong wings!

I was really impressed when I saw the one above just slinging that cicada around like a sack of potatoes. Even more amazing was that it picked the insect up and flew off with it (granted, it didn’t achieve much height). I already knew they lived in burrows, because that’s where we found the one at the top of this page. I now know that the cicadas are used as food for their young, just like with spider wasps. The adult wasps feed on nectar from flowers. They rarely sting humans, and the more aggressive males actually can’t sting. Here is a lot more information on cicada killers. They’re related to my buddies, the mud daubers, who daub pretty much constantly around the ranch.

So, that’s today’s non-controversial news! Thanks to those of you who actually come here to learn stuff!

Book Report: What It’s Like to Be a Bird

What a joy it has been to read What It’s Like to Be a Bird: From Flying to Nesting, Eating to Singing–What Birds Are Doing and Why, written and illustrated by David Allen Sibley (as I said to Anita, yes, THAT Sibley). The man responsible for the many Sibley field guides has just published this labor of love, a large-format book with beautiful, often life-size illustrations.

book cover of what it's like to be a bird
It’s a big, beautiful book.

The accompanying text is organized in a fun and interesting way, where slowly but surely, you’re able to learn all about how birds “work,” mentally and physically. I learned something new on nearly every page, and I thought I knew quite a bit about birds! There are many fascinating diagrams of how birds fly, digest food, lay eggs, and so much more, too.

It’s fun to learn the difference between birds whose eggs hatch fully able to get around and do things (precocial), like chickens, and birds whose eggs hatch all naked and vulnerable (altricial), like purple martins (photo below is from a Master Naturalist blog post I just sent out, by my friend Donna).

newborn purple martins
These little dudes can’t do much other than open their mouths and ask for food.
a page from a book
A sample page, showing how pelicans catch fish. It’s not how you imagined, I’m guessing, unless you’re an ornithologist.

I spent a long time just looking at the illustrations, and plan to keep the book out on the coffee table, so I can leaf through it when I need some inspiration. I can see many other uses for the book. It would be fun to share with younger folks, who can look at the pictures while an adult tells them how birds sing or how a woodpecker keeps from getting concussions while pecking. If I had grandchildren, that’s what I’d do!

Now, this isn’t a comprehensive guide to the birds of North America. Sibley chose common birds seen throughout the region as exemplars of various bird traits, though he did do his best to show examples of each type of bird, from water birds to songbirds. If you want ALL the birds, buy one of his guides. But to learn how birds “tick” from an educated lay person’s point of view AND enjoy some amazing artwork, you cannot go wrong with What It’s Like to Be a Bird.

Animal Farm Report

No, this is not a report about a book I read in high school that’s eerily reminiscent of today. I’m just updating on the ranch animals.

How’s Apache?

We continue to monitor the heck out of him. He’s walking fairly normally, so we will slowly start exercising him. Yesterday Sara and I walked him around for about ten minutes. And yes, he stuffed as much green grass in himself as he could.

Still eating hay.

He’s on a different feed, new supplements and the Buteless herbs. And he gets his coronal band painted most days. Pampered!

As for Fiona, she loathes sunscreen. Sigh.

Today we’re going to get a lot of straw that we can leave out for them to chomp during the day, since Apache and Fiona are in the dry lot a while longer.

The Other Horses

Today I tried a real ride on Lakota, the dreamy palomino. It was interesting to ride such a well trained horse. He sure backed up well, and he trotted over obstacles!

The ride was helpful for me, because I was able to convince him eating grass was not on the agenda. And my use of the reins got better, thanks to Sara’s help. Making strides!

Spice is getting fungus medication and it’s making her look worse, so far. But that may be appropriate. She and Lakota are now eating down the grass in the small paddock, so it will be bad enough for poor Apache, eventually. Ugh.

And Birds?

The guinea keats are growing like crazy and starting to lose hair on their necks, as you can see here.

We think we’re cute.

They’re still pretty ugly, but will be beautiful adults.

No more fairy eggs! The ones on the left are from yesterday.

Clarence the rooster has finally been accepted by Bertie and Ginger. He’s usually out with them now. I just hope he starts fertilizing them soon. Poor Fancy Pants keeps brooding.

At least we’re in the same general vicinity.

The others are developing personalities. Hedy seems to be the boss. I see her eating oyster shells, so I hope that means she’s a hen. Her tail is suspiciously attractive.

Pretty Hedy

And Bruce never ceases to amuse me. He’s bossing like a boss and fluffing his crazy feather variety all the time. And trying to crow (no luck yet from either rooster).

I think I’m cute.

Trim and Tidy and Safe

The work on my future office is progressing. The bathroom just needs the sink picked up and installed, and some paint touch up. Then I can add my plants and wall stuff.

Now the edges of the tin won’t attack people. It looks so good.

The office trim is getting painted for both rooms on this side of the house. It will get installed as soon as it is dry.

Shiny.

The same is true for my beautiful mantel. We revised it a bit and really like its shape. Creative use of leftover trim makes a huge difference!

Side view of mantel shelf. I’m gonna have a baby fireplace!

Also, because the State has requested more precautions in businesses, we added places right inside the doorways of both the current and future offices so anyone who goes in can spray their shoes with sanitizer and clean their hands.

We canceled a lot of upcoming activities, too. Until the virus spike in Milam County calms down, our little ranch community will keep doing our best to entertain ourselves. So glad for our pets, livestock, and weather.

Peace to my friends, family, and the community.

A Home-like Hearth

Things are coming along at the renovation site where our office will be.

Most of our window blinds were special order, because they are so long. A few came in already. The one in my bathroom is a special favorite of anyone using that room for its intended purpose. We now have privacy!

Some light still comes in. And look, Tubby has fixtures.

We had two others installed but one broke spectacularly. Gotta replace it! But this one is fine, after a bit of trimming.

Doing its job.

We’re still working on the floors, waiting on some drying. But, today my little hearth got installed. It’s inset into the floor.

Preparing the foundation for the tile.

It was fun watching the teeny tiles go in.

Lots of squares.

It’s ready for grout, once it’s dry. We may do red grout. We will see.

Won’t a little heater look cute there?

Chris is now working on the mantel. We are trying different arrangements of trim, shapes, etc. It will be great to display things on.

Not the final product.

Oh yes, since the pedestal sink broke, I had to find another one. It needed to be small, since the bathroom is a bit awkward. This met all the criteria.

And it’s cheap.

Meanwhile, we are preparing for new safety procedures. Here’s Lee bringing our new router into the office. We’re following instructions. And hey, Internet makes an office a real office.

Mr. Internet.

Cute Animals for Scary Times

Really, I do understand why people are being cautious these days. The rate of coronavirus infections in Milam County has skyrocketed. I have been limiting where I go, and even wearing my mask to cross the street. I ordered a lot of new masks today, too, since I’m wearing them more and getting them dirty.

Question mark butterfly
This question mark butterfly is stunningly beautiful, and was right outside my office door.

My family and the companies I am affiliated with are all being very careful. There have been two people die who work for my Austin employer, though I do not know what caused it. Sure makes you pause and want to hug your loved ones, though you can’t.

Sleeping white dog
For the past three nights, Carlton has been lying on top of me until I get to sleep. Dogs are so loving.

What I can do is tell you some fun/mildly interesting stories about animals and share some pictures! Okay!

A house finch nest
Mama Finch says she likes it on THIS side.

First, all the birds around our Cameron offices have been continuing their festival of babies. The mockingbirds finally left their parents this week. I miss them, but Lee says now we have a carport squirrel. The swallows are down to two babies who are about ready to fledge. And the every-valiant house finches re-built their nest on the OTHER side of the garage and are sitting on eggs.

I love that nature just keeps plugging along. Some things just don’t change.

One thing that doesn’t change is Alfred and his abundance of hair. We had him pretty well cleaned out, but yesterday we noticed Harvey was getting lots of hair out of him. So, Kathleen sat and patiently removed hair for about ten minutes, before Alfred ran out of patience.

Large pile of dog hair and two dogs
I’m not sure I like this…

The rest of the night, if Kathleen even LOOKED like she was heading toward him, he ran away. Not much makes him run. We laughed a lot, and laughing is good. I hope some day we can work on his other side!

A jackrabbit in Milam County, Texas
Just chillin in the pasture.

I got a new animal sighting today, too! I saw my first jackrabbit in Milam County, right on the ranch. Someone had said they saw a really big bunny, so I think this was the one. Those are some big ears, but I felt a lot better with my ID when a couple of local friends confirmed my sighting. I am happy to see them and hope their population grows.

In horse news, Apache is walking close to normally, for which we are all very grateful. He, Fiona, and Big Red the chicken are all getting tired of living in the tiny pen not sure why Big Red is always there, but maybe she thinks shes part of the herd.

Big Red, Apache, and Fiona
Good morning. We would like to eat now.
Ginger the chicken
I did not ask for a husband.

And in bird news, the guinea fowl are growing like crazy, and the new chickens are, too. The ladies are growing in their combs. Clarence, the newest rooster, has not won over Ginger and Bertie Lee yet, but its getting better every day. Thank goodness!

We think Bruce is about to get his crow going, which will be fun. At the moment he makes some funny sounds we cannot really identify.

So, that is the non-COVID news from around here. Office update soon!

Getting Over Things

[Edited to be calmer, July 2020.]

I learned a thing from screwing up yesterday. One is that the alleged thing I did wrong wasn’t what bothered me. I’m over that, and have apologized and moved on. What aggravates me is that people didn’t let me know there was an issue; rather they told my family members.

That’s sad. I don’t want to feel wary of everyone I know. I don’t put dumb things on Facebook either, though I’m an open book when it comes to my own issues, things I do, and places I go. Life isn’t worth living if you feel like you have to hide. I don’t write about other people’s stuff, like problems my family members have, etc.

Suna blowing steam out of her ears, next to a flaming computer screen.
People disappoint me. Duh.

I would really appreciate it if someone sees me post about something they think I did that they don’t approve of, they TELL ME, so perhaps I could explain what was actually happening, or what legit reasons I have for what I do. Or extend an apology.

Two llamas.
No more being a Drama LLama, Suna!

Vent over. Subject dropped.

Book Review: The Nature of Texas

A review of a field guide to the nature of Texas, suitable for beginning naturalists

Here’s a new book that some of you who live in Texas might want to order. It’s a field guide called The Nature of Texas: An Introduction to Familiar Plants, Animals and Outstanding Natural Attractions, by James Kavanagh and illustrated by Raymond Leung.

The cover of the book, The Nature of Texas
Any book with an armadillo on it is a book I like!

This isn’t one of those huge compendiums of every single living organism in the state; instead, it highlights plants and animals that an average person with an interest in the nature in Texas might run into. The descriptions are brief and in lay terms, and the illustrations are really lovely (good job, Raymond Leung).

It’s a bit too basic of a book for me to carry around, but I could easily imagine giving it to a teenager or older child who’s going camping and wants to know what they might find out there, or someone who just moved to Texas and wants a nice overview. It would be fun to put on the bedside table for your out-of-state visitors, or on the coffee table of your rental property.

an open page of a book, with information about fish
An example of the text and illustrations.

The back of the book has two handy features. One is a brief list of interesting places to go to see the natural wonders of Texas, with clear maps. The other is a series of checklists you can use to mark off wildlife and native plants that you see in your travels. That would be a fun family project (though I’d have to add a bunch of things, like more owls).

I do recommend The Nature of Texas, just for the beautiful illustrations alone. And the introductory essay, “But a Watch in the Night,” written by James Rettie in 1948 is a real treasure, too. It’s a great reminder of how little time humans have actually been present and messing around with our planet.

Screwing Up

It happens. Happened to me. I was trying to be a good friend, but didn’t use good judgment. Did it go unnoticed?

Nothing goes unnoticed today, and by the end of the day, numerous people had reported to my spouse that I had made a mistake. Small town living at its finest.

graffiti that says paranoia
Can I climb out? Photo by @gafutch via Twenty20

That kind of thing can make you feel paranoid! Or, in my case, a lot of the work I’ve been doing on my “stuff” can fall away, and I end up acting like teen Suna with all the negative self-talk bubbling up.

I’ll take that as an educational moment, and one that can provide helpful insight into how my inner workings work, and maybe how many of us work. We may work to change ingrained patterns and know what our triggers are, but every so often, we’ll fall back into that hole.

What’s important is to learn to quickly pick ourselves up, reflect on what we can do differently next time, and (most important) shake off that self criticism and crawl out of the hole more quickly each time it happens.

a girl looking down, beside a ladder.
She did it; so can I. Photo by @paigeinrealife via Twenty20.

I even DREAMED I was climbing a rickety ladder, trying to get out of a hole. Like I’ve said before, my dreams contain very un-subtle metaphors.

Hug yourselves, friends. Our imperfect selves are here to learn to love and forgive not only others, but ourselves.

Wondering

quote from Brene Brown

How do you forgive yourself? Through prayer, meditation, invoking a higher power, or reading? Searching the internet for quotes by your favorite healing author?

What are some useful things to tell yourself (asking for a friend, ha ha)?