A Day of Rest

No one was in a great mood much of today so I didn’t even try to do any activities. The only reason we left the condos was to get groceries in the world’s smallest and perhaps most expensive Publix supermarket. That’s ok. I still liked it, because my mom shopped at Publix when I was a wee lass.

I like how this place has lots of trees and birds. We are the top right unit.

It was a bit chilly, but warm enough to sit on the balcony and crochet long enough to realize I needed sunscreen on. I enjoyed lots of singing birds and chatty crows, plus I watched pelicans diving and an osprey hunting.

It doesn’t look like much yet. It’s another curtain or a tablecloth.

There wasn’t much reason to leave here, since I got a good lunch at the cafe along with a latte spiked with Bailey’s (which may explain the nap I took later). And it’s so pretty. Hilton Head is just so green and natural.

I did venture out on a Long Beach walk. I enjoyed looking at the patterns the tidal movement makes on the sand, saw a few dead horseshoe crabs and one dead stingray. Mostly I saw shorebirds, though, such as gulls, terns, sanderlings, and willets.

This time of year, dogs are allowed on the beaches here. I got to get my dog fix just by looking out the windows, but walking with them is even more fun. They really have a good time!

A happy fellow

We relaxed in the evening and watched two movies, which we don’t get to do often at home. The first one was an extra violent but spiritually interesting one about a Viking. I had to look away a lot. The other was Cruella, which was enjoyable.

Everyone is doing better now! Naps helped.

Excellent Birds! Unusual Plants! Nature Fun!

Today we stayed at Lake Somerville State Park, which was a lovely place to work. I enjoyed my lake view from the mobile office and had no problems with internet or anything like that. I got lots of work done AND saw so many wonderful things on my breaks and after work. I could get used to this.

It’s so great to see NO ONE when camping

I went out early in the morning and was thrilled to see two different bald eagles in trees. It turns out the local high school mascot is the eagles, since there are lots at this lake. It’s always great to see them. And as I went on the walk, I was greeted by additional raptors. I first saw a peregrine falcon, who came out even blurrier than the eagles did, then another merlin showed up. I got to see it really well with the binoculars, even though my photos aren’t great.

But whoa, I did NOT expect the next thing I saw. I was looking at a pretty group of ring-neck gulls through my binoculars when I realized one of those gulls was awfully big. It was a beautiful white pelican! I watched it swimming around and diving for fish for a long time. Then, as I was sitting outside doing a call, I saw a bunch of big, white birds. The pelican had friends. They were a LONG way away, so forgive the blurriness of the photos.

By the way, the sandy outcropping where the gulls and pelicans were also had other cool birds. I saw greater yellowlegs, killdeer, grebes, and two beautiful white birds with black and white wings. They had a black bill and long legs. I swear they are American avocets, though they aren’t supposed to be here right now. I did check, and they have been seen here, so I’m not imagining things.

This is what the birds look like. Borrowed from mombliss on iNaturalist.

As I mentioned yesterday, there are lots of woodpeckers around here. I saw two more types today, a flicker and a big ole pileated woodpecker, which I managed to photograph as it flew off. It’s SO loud. Since I saw the yellow-bellied sapsucker yesterday, it means I saw the smallest and largest woodpeckers in the US!

I also saw lots and lots of chickadees and cardinals. Of the sparrows I saw, I could ID a chipping sparrow and a white-crowned sparrow. There were also phoebes, a yellow warbler, and some very entertaining vultures, both turkey vultures and black vultures. I enjoyed watching them flying, roosting, and preening.

I also saw some butterflies and moths, which surprised me. There were sulphur butterflies, buckeyes, a black or pipevine swallowtail (hard to tell), and lots of little moths. Most of my photos were just blurs. The best insect I saw, though, was a leafcutter ant carrying a leaf it had cut. I’d never seen one of those!

The only mammal I saw was a big, fat squirrel. But I saw evidence of deer and coyotes (plus coyotes woke me up at 5am).

I enjoyed looking at lots of beautiful trees as I hiked and saw excellent mosses as well. Many trees are dead, but lots of them were from when they made the lake and it was higher. I think it will be higher once it rains some more again. The dead trees sure look like they host many types of life. I passed one tree that was literally abuzz with bees and others with holes in them for animals to live in.

And the silence was glorious, at least until a whiny child hiked by. Literally ONE child is in the area, and it’s loud enough to be heard all over. Wow!

I saw one spider, this gray jumping spider

Lee and I are heading home tomorrow in between meetings, but this stay has been so enjoyable and restorative. I’m glad for the chance to travel more.

Hopefully I can see more stuff like beard lichen.
Or whatever this lichen is. So pretty.

The Mobile Office Gets Mobile

I may have mentioned that Lee got the mobile office he’d been saving up for a few weeks ago. He wanted something that could pull a horse trailer and let him work comfortably. That proved really difficult!

It’s so nice to be somewhere quiet.

After months of trying to find a custom van, he changed tactics. We both missed traveling with our two previous RVs, so Lee looked at them as potential mobile offices you could sort of live in and pull a trailer. I sure heard a lot of conversations about various formats and types. Lee wanted one with a big truck chassis, because they are reliable.

One like this

Lee actually found a low mileage used vehicle that was very nice and budget friendly (for a behemoth). And so now I can work anywhere I want to, I guess. More importantly, Lee can, too. Well, anywhere this thing can park and get cell reception.

Nice campsite.

Anyway, enough about the conveyance, let’s talk about travel. We’d wanted to try the mobile office out this weekend, but I needed to do horses yesterday.

So, we left for Lake Somerville State Park today. It was a lovely, short drive, perfect for getting used to the squeaking and rattling of a building on wheels. The noise is a small trade off for the fun of looking out of that big windshield at the world. I’d missed that. Lee has missed driving a big truck, and I truly loved seeing how happy he was driving.

I, on the other hand, got my happiness once we arrived. A Sunday in winter is not overly popular at a state park, so we can’t see any other groups and all we hear are birds (and planes flying over). That’s so rare and precious.

So private

I enjoyed wandering around the lake and looking at birds and signs of aquatic life. I love winter, when you can see through the trees. Seeing the yellow bellied sapsucker was cool. And from the sound of it, every tree had a woodpecker this afternoon. This made me so happy.

Yep. We had a lovely and EXTRA peaceful afternoon and evening, with few problems other than realizing we only had ONE fork for eating dinner! I enjoyed using the little oven, which is a combination microwave and convection oven. That saves space for the large fridge.

Plus fake fireplace. Classy.

We will be here through Tuesday. I’ll be able to work just fine, as there’s 5G out here! And Lee can work without me bothering him with my endless Zoom meetings, because I can shut the door to my office, AKA the bedroom.

I think it will be fun to work from various spots closer to home in the future. I didn’t think another RV was in the future, but this one seems like it will make my hermit husband happy and let me spend some quiet time close enough home that I’ll be able to keep up with my ranch chores and precious horses.

I’m happy at the possibility. I even have a Senior state park pass!

And maybe we can eventually bring a dog. On the other hand, there’s no barking here!

Nature: Good Role Model for Resilience

It was awfully cold, then it rained a lot and warmed up. All of nature seemed to think it was time to wake up my get moving until the next cold front comes along.

I hatched and found a flower. I’ll be fine.

I took a lunch break walk today to see how all the water features are doing. A heavy shower last night got the front pond flowing a bit, so I walked around and looked at the stream. It was pretty in the winter sun.

There were dozens of minnows darting around. I didn’t see any of the larger fish, which might have washed downstream in the flood last week or were in the deep parts. I always feel good when I see fish, because that’s a sign of healthy waterways.

I enjoyed looking at the coral berries and other colorful plants that remain, and was extra happy to see the spring flowing away. Hooray.

I wasn’t alone on my walk, though. My buddy Vlassic was as interested as I was! We had a great visit and walk, until he raced back home down the path I use for leg yielding with Apache.

And when I was about to come inside, I stopped to admire the dandelion blossoms. That’s when the gorgeous butterfly appeared. A friend joined him or her, and I basked in my winter surprise. They were soon joined by honey bees, who’ve been out the last few days, especially in the chicken coop. They like the feed.

In addition to all these guys, I saw lots of turtles and little frogs. Plus, I was happy to see tgat the greater yellowlegs are a pair. They look so interesting when they fly, swooping and calling as they go from one pond to another. Since I didn’t get photos of these resilient winter residents, I’ll share the sunset we enjoyed on our way home from Drew’s lesson.

I liked the reflection on the Tahoe

I’m glad to be back at work, glad to have my routine back, and very glad for so many signs of resilience around me.

Sharing a Skill in a Soggy Field

Right after I wrote last night, we had the most intense rainstorm we’ve had since before the drought started. Around 2.55 inches fell quickly as a narrow band passed over. The water came up high enough to require the backup culvert to kick in so our driveway/dam wouldn’t be breached. Whew. The new pond flooded for the first time!

When morning dawned, we were inside a thick cloud of fog. It was ethereal and made everything around here look better! I especially loved to look at the horses sort of looming in the distance.

There were puddles everywhere, and I had a hard time enticing the chickens out of the hen house. Leftover bean soup did the trick and allowed me to gather the egg of the day, which I believe came from Star. You just have to wonder sometimes what goes on inside chickens. Or, maybe it’s better just to not think about those things.

It’s sorta like a space capsule

A few puddles didn’t stop me from working with the horses, who dodged the threat of getting bodywork, because the direction the rain came in made even their covered area full of puddles. It was weird having big wind coming in from the south!

I know the bluebonnets appreciated the rain.

The best part was that my son joined me today and brought his new Christmas-gift helmet with him. He’s helped me groom and worked a lot on the tack room, but not ridden with me before. I lengthened the stirrups on Apache’s previous saddle so he could use it. Finally I figured out how to do that myself!

After practicing some groundwork skills, I showed my son how to mount and turn by demonstrating on Drew, which conveniently gave Droodles and me some time to practice our newest skills. We turned on the forehand and did some mighty fine side passes. Even my son could tell he was going sideways. I was so proud.

Apache was NOT stressed out about this. They both enjoyed each other.

Drew then had to stand petulantly as he was ignored in favor of Apache. He was a very good boy and patiently carried my son around and paid attention to his cues. First, I led them and practiced stopping and starting. Then we put the bridle on, and my son walked Apache in the round pen, trying to get the stopping thing correct. He did well with turning, though. When you’re on your first ride, I’d think it would be hard to relax and say, “Whoa” calmly. Saying, “Easy,” in a calm voice also takes practice.

We will do more practice next week! Now, of course, Apache had to test my son. He ignored the request to turn, and just marched out of the round pen. I got to channel Tarrin and tell my son to shorten his reins, spread them wider and get Apache to stop. And he did!

Thinking about nature helps deal with horse shenanigans.

Then I got to pretend to be Tarrin and take him back in that round pen and do some work. We did the square exercise and a lot of side passing and leg yielding. It was fun for me, because I didn’t have stirrups due to having much shorter legs than a 6’3″ person. I discovered I was leaning forward but fixed that and did well. Hooray, I got to practice something new, too!

I deserve more food.

I really had a lot of fun, even without being able to let the horses trot. I don’t think they wanted to, anyway. They’d been slipping a lot in their pens. Speaking of slipping, Fiona slipped into Drew’s pen as we were getting ready to feed. They began a mud fight, where Drew would go nip at Fifi and she’d kick him. I’m sure it was a ton of fun for Drew, but Fiona looked annoyed, so we got her out of there.

Later, when Lee and I took a walk, there were Fiona and Drew, still picking at each other, but voluntarily, since they had the whole pasture at their command. I do enjoy watching the animals interacting. Thanks to watching them, our walk lasted until the sun (which had barely come out from the foggy clouds all day) started to go down. We got rewarded by some beautiful clouds, which helped me feel better after finding out how much my car repair was going to cost (YOW).

A Hermits Christmas Eve

As the years pass and our circle grows smaller, the holidays have stopped being about visitors, travel, and togetherness. Television commercials keep saying that’s what we should want.

This one goes from lap to lap.

But Lee and I are happy to spend time with just each other these days. We have plenty of animals to stand in for friends and family, and they’re certainly entertaining. The dogs have been going all out to make us smile!

The horses have been playing a lot, as if the cold weather makes them frisky. They do have really thick coats right now.

It was a beautiful day, though, so I did the usual bird watching (highlights were cranes and a butcher bird) and weather observation. All the ponds iced over, but melted when it got above freezing. I have new inexpensive base layers that made being outside okay. Nice!

It was lovely spending time with myself, giving myself holly nails, watching football, cooking dinner, and working on a present. It’s important, I think, to be comfortable enjoying each phase of life, and each new situation. That’s the way to inner peace.

Holly jolly fingers.

Tomorrow and next week will bring more people to the ranch and that will also be enjoyable. You can’t hermit every day! it will be good to celebrate with people.

I’m hoping you find peace with whatever life hands you this time of year. Maybe you’ll find comfort in traditions and maybe you’ll try something new. Just remember that we’re all dealing with “stuff” and doing our best. I sure remember that and just want the members of my own circle to know they’re loved.

Autumn of Life Is Here

When the fall color arrives here in the middle of Texas, it’s subtle, and you don’t see it coming. I love this season and take comfort in the quiet beauty of our cedar elms and oaks as they prepare to lose their leaves for the winter.

I see some orange and yellow out there.

Today dawned sunny and crisp, but not cold. It was a welcome relief to see the sun for the first time in many days, and even more welcome was the sight of the new pond finally completely full and draining to the other side of the dam. After four cloudy, drizzly days, we had a large front move through overnight that brought enough rain to fill the drought-parched tanks for the first time since last spring. I guess the drought is over, at last.

It’s full!
I keep you healthy

The way this season has crept up reminds me of how I’ve been moving into the autumn of my life and not realizing it. I’ve been lucky to be very healthy since we came out to the Hermits’ Rest and have been growing stronger and more capable thanks to working with the horses and other animals.

Realistically, I am old.

But this illness that came up last week has been a very unsubtle reminder that I’m not a young person anymore. A cold that I’d usually just power through over a few days has made me weak and tired. I didn’t expect that at all. I keep trying to go out and get things done, only to feel worse and fall asleep for a few hours. I’m not bouncing back.

I am glad that it’s been so wet and muddy out, because it the weather had been good, I know I’d have been trying to force myself out to work with Drew, who needs me on him and working with him. But our working area is a little lake right now, and I am barely able to maneuver across the muck to get the food buckets for the poor horses. (They are not suffering; in fact, I think they are enjoying the pleasant temperatures and the abundant hay.)

And the horses have puddles to stomp in.

As I’m pulling myself out of the depression episode and feeling my mortality more than usual, it’s taking effort to not go into reflective mode and dwell on goals not achieved, mistakes made, and errors unaddressed. The sun’s helping me remind myself that I’m still able to learn new things, be kind to those who’ll accept kindness, and forgive others.

I should do more looking at reflections and less reflecting. This is the creek, with water at last.

While it’s true that I notice my memory failing and don’t know how much longer I’ll be a useful member of society, I do have confidence that no matter what, I’ll be able to enjoy each new autumn when it arrives. It may just be different from now on as I go from the autumn to the winter of life.

Master Naturalist Meeting Notes: Friday, October 21

I promised to write up notes from the sessions I took at the 2022 Annual Meeting of Texas Master Naturalist, but there was a lot of stuff going on the last couple of days. Now I have a moment! First, I will say that this was the best conference I attended so far in terms of the quality of the sessions I attended. They were chock-full of interesting tidbits. It also helped that the Omni Houston has comfortable chairs. I wasn’t squirming the whole time, except in the one session where I had to sit on the floor. Anyway, here are some notes!

The main meeting room with interesting centerpieces made out of books

Becoming a Land Doctor: Evaluating Land Health, by Megan Clayton

The speaker here had also spoken at the Bennett Trust conference, so it was good to hear her information again. She talked about how to tell if your land was over-grazed, whether it had lost its topsoil, etc. It takes thousands of years to rebuild topsoil if it’s removed.

Grass is your friend if you want healthy land! But you need to let it grow back before grazing again. The ideal would be to imitate bison, who showed up, ate, pooped, and trampled once a year, then moved on.

I found out the speaker does these fun webinars that I will try to attend

Fire and Goats: Vegetation Management Using Traditional Techniques in a Novel Setting, by Stephen Benigno

This one was a lot of fun. The speaker is from the Houston Arboretum, and he shared how they used a flock of goats from “Rent a Ruminant” — what a great name. The goats really took care of the underbrush. They just took a week and we’re great at gnawing down dewberries.

This gave me many ideas, so I had questions about fencing and such. Having just a few goats and rotating them sounds good!

He also talked about doing a controlled burn at the arboretum. That required lots of permission and publicity to keep people calm about the smoke. It worked out well but didn’t quite burn as much of the meadow as they wanted. All learning experiences in an urban woods and prairie!

No photos from this session, so here’s a beautiful Polyphemous moth that was on a window at the hotel.

Birding with Today’s Technology: Utilizing eBird, Merlin, and Other Online Resources, by Kelsey Biles

I took this one to learn more about eBird. It was worth it just to learn about how you can ID birds just by sound using it. So, if you don’t know, this is software that lets you identify birds and save your sightings online, all going to science. You don’t need photos, and it’s easier for folks who aren’t great with online image stuff. Many people I know contribute to it daily by just watching their feeders.

One of the resources I learned about

There was a lot to learn, though, so I was glad to be there. Plus the speaker had a very cute bird skirt on.

Conservation of the Night, by Cindy Luongo-Cassidy of the Dark Sky Network

This was the lunch speaker. She got us all fired up about eliminating light pollution and keeping the dark sky available for people, animals, and plant life. We all need it. I learned how to modify light fixtures to direct light downward rather than outward from simple things you might have on your property.

I feel pretty good about our place. We have a couple of rogue lights, but most of them stay off unless needed, which is a good practice. I don’t want to confuse moths and migrating birds, after all!

Speaking of the dark, we sure enjoyed the darkness of the whiskey bar at the hotel later in the evening.

Feral Hog Biology and Impacts: What We Know and What We Hope to Learn, by Mikayla Killam

This one was pretty depressing to me. It sure is hard to get rid of feral hogs. I did learn a few trapping techniques that aim to get as many hogs as possible into traps, like using funnel feeders and trip wires at the furthest end of the traps.

Of course, hogs are very smart and figure many kinds of traps out, as we know. The speaker recommended that the best way to remove the greatest numbers of these invasive animals all at once is to hire professionals in helicopters to get as many as possible, and to go in with as many neighbors as possible, since hogs don’t know land boundaries. Once that is all done, you can then more easily pick off individuals by trapping or shooting.

I discovered this lovely nest for the hotel’s black swan pair. Cygnet making is preferable to piglet making.

I learned that if you just get some of them, they go into piglet-making overdrive to get their numbers up. There’s a scientific word for it that I forgot.

Living in Harmony with America’s Song Dog, by Karin and Roberto Saucedo

My last educational session for the day was very popular. The presenters are a couple who really love coyotes and have studied them extensively in urban environments. I had to sit on the floor for this one, but it was kinda fun.

We learned how the coyotes interact with human habitation, which is often caused by houses being built around their traditional territories. We saw how they helped some of the coyotes get over mange by putting out medication for them. They knew not to get too friendly with them and showed a sad video they made about a coyote that people kept feeding even when asked not to (and even when they knew game cams were set up that would catch them). Sure enough, being tame was its downfall.

A lot of the coyote stories were sad. But an interesting thing I was reminded of in this talk was that in parts of Texas there is a lot of red wolf blood in them, which makes them a bit larger. I think that is true here, as ours are often quite large and healthy (I don’t see ones with mange out here, but they also are wilder and avoid people and our dogs).

Keynote: Kjell Lindgren, Astronaut

The last talk of the day was the dinner speaker. It started out with some Texas Parks and Wildlife or AgriLife official talking about how cool it was that a Master Naturalist spent time on the space station recently. They showed some photos and a nice message he’d recorded for us about how being a Master Naturalist had helped him in his work. We were all happy with that, but then they surprised us with Kjell, the astronaut, coming onstage and talking to us in person.

Kjell Lindgren

This is one impressive fellow with an MD, a PhD, and a degree from the Air Force Institute or whatever that is in Colorado Springs. And of course, he’s a Boy Scout leader and such. He seems genuinely nice, kind, and humble, too. My favorite part of his talk was all the photos he shared of the earth as seen from the space station. The auroras, the volcanoes, the rivers, etc., were fascinating to look at.

Rivers and farms

I have to say, though, that Friday’s sessions were a LOT of learning all in one day. I’m glad we got to go relax afterward in the lovely bar. The hotel had great restaurants and bars. No complaints about that!

Master Naturalist Meeting: A Prairie and Wetland PLUS

I’m too tired to do much writing, but my first day of the 2022 Texas Master Naturalist conference in Houston was really fun. What a pleasant and educational day.

See how happy I was?

The day started out with a trip to Sheldon Lake State Park. If you are ever wherever it is, go visit! It’s even free and very easy for people with mobility challenges to enjoy.

Prairie area

This whole park has been reclaimed to have native plants through hard work of volunteers. So much digging and planting! We learned a lot from the park ranger and two really cool volunteers. They showed us what they did, how they propagate plants, and the history of the place.

I spent a lot of time taking pictures of plants and pollinators for the BioBlitz. I even got to see a new butterfly! I sure love learning new plants and insects.

After we got back (I was able to carpool with two nice folks) I ran into friends from home. We decided to go check out Buffalo bayou next to the Omni Hotel we’re staying at. I have to tell you, wandering the weedy area on the other side of the fancy office buildings was as fun as any organized field trip.

So many fun plants and insects! I swear the monarchs posed.

Ann and Jackie are always lots of fun, and Ann is so good with plants! We saw many native trees and so many vines. And though not much was blooming, some daisy-like plants attracted entire hives’ worth of bees and wasps. We had a blast!

Once we were done I came up and rested, then met up with folks from our chapter for dinner and drinks. This hotel has great food. And we went to the “whiskey bar” later. We had great conversations in such a warm and elegant atmosphere. A good day!

Water Magic

You may recall that we had our front tank/pond dug out, since it had dried up and it would be easy to remove the silt. It’s now patiently waiting for rain to fall. However, it’s not empty. Apparently it’s filling itself up. Here’s the pond right after it was bulldozed.

Can you see the water?

Yes, as soon as the digging was over, a puddle appeared. Isn’t that cute, we thought! I went off to Fredericksburg for the first part of this week. When I returned, the pond looked like this:

Look at that! It’s water!

No, the guy didn’t hit the water line, even though the edges of the pond do look shiny in the morning sun. It’s just clay that was smooshed flat.

I wonder if anything will grow on that. I hope so.

Today the pond has enough water in it that anyone would notice it as they drove by. There’s a spring down there, for sure, like we’d been conjecturing. What a magical surprise.

It’s in the shape of caterpillar treads, but it’s water.

I went over to check it out in person. As barren as it looks, life was there. Pondhawk dragonflies were mating, and neon skimmers were skimming along looking for food, but finding only willow leaves.

The water is a couple of inches deep in this part.

As I was taking photos, I looked at the soil I was standing on. When I moved, it made quite the sucking sound. We picked a great place to put a pond, because this place is quite the clay pit. I think my friend Pamela could come get some of it and make me a pot or a tray or something.

Clay-ey

I’ll be interested to see how it looks tomorrow. I hope beyond hope that tomorrow will be the last day I can look at the spring water, because there is a promise of rain on Sunday. That would be most welcome. It is very crunchy here and not an easy time for plants and pollinators.

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