How Many Invasive Species Did I Find?

Last week I had a lot of Master Naturalist fun participating in the Texas Invasive Species BioBlitz 2020 that got set up by Texas Nature Trackers. You may remember I talked about it a bit last week. The idea was to see how many observations you could get from a list of invasive species found throughout the state. I knew I had easy access to a few, so I figured I’d try.

Here’s the main page for the event.

I got a good number of invasives pretty quickly, since I knew right where there was some Arundo donax (river cane), Johnson grass, and a lot of nandina on my own properties. I must have spent 3 hours the first weekend looking for invasives (and observing lots of other things, too).

By the time I went to Austin on Tuesday, I was doing okay on the leaderboard. Just a few walks around the neighborhood of Bobcat Run produced more “goodies” like Japanese honeysuckle and privets.

My final list of plants.

By the time the week was over, I was proud to be in the top twenty of number of species observed, and doing okay with number of observations as well.

Here I am, number 17, and Linda Jo number 2 (I couldn’t fit number 1 on the screen, darn it.)

Of course, my fellow Chapter member Linda Jo Conn was in second place in number of observations and first place for species. Some other guy had way more observations, because he had multiple photos of some of the species. I did a few, like things I saw both in Austin and Cameron, or ones in distinct locations. However, I could have ROCKED the numbers by just walking across the lawn and taking pictures of Bermuda grass (I would NOT do such a thing, of course).

Regrets

Darn the luck! The day after the bioblitz was over, I drove down a street I don’t usually go by, and there were a whole bunch of mimosa trees taunting me with their fluffy pinkness. Argh!

Beautiful invasive mimosa tree, just one block off of where I usually drive every day.

Then, yesterday I walked to the horse barn (I’d been driving our utility vehicle because I have a sore tendon), and right on the side of the driveway was a cheerful annual bastard cabbage/ wild mustard plant. I’d been looking and looking for one, because I knew they were there! So, that’s two more I could have found if I’d been a bit more diligent.

What Did I Learn?

I think the project did what it was intended to do: it got me much more aware of invasive species wherever I saw them, and because I kept talking about it to friends and family, I raised awareness as well. That’s exactly the kind of thing I want to be doing as a Master Naturalist.

Oh, and also, I had fun. What have been your fun projects while we’ve been not gathering in large groups and such?

Who's Struggling?

That’s a relief. Image by @wanaktek via Twenty20.

If you’re not struggling, at least a little bit right now, I salute you! Tell me your secrets, on this Monday of isolation. For once, the UU Lent word of the day, struggle, seems mighty appropriate.

I like being at home, and I like being in my little basement office full of cheerful colors and numerous little things designed to keep me in a good mood (see below). They usually help, but geez, listening to the news, being unable to go to Austin to see Anita, and worrying about the health and safety of people I care about is weighing me down.

I ate goldfish crackers and cottage cheese for dinner. That’s a sign of someone struggling.

This is NOT our worst nightmare, really!
Image by @Boris79 via Twenty20.

Life’s always been about struggle, though. Every so often some kind of malady shows up and wipes out a lot of people, disregarding their wealth, social status, or degree of universal belovedness. That’s part of humanity (and other life forms as well). That doesn’t mean it’s not hard right now. I just wanted to get some perspective.

So yeah, life’s a gift, and let’s all enjoy it while we have it. That doesn’t sound cliched at all, does it? But that’s the best I’ve got right now.

My yellowish office and my newsletter, as seen on Instagram.

Still, I’m getting stuff done, and actually got my newsletter draft finished over the weekend, so there’s actually time to proofread it and get it reviewed. My entire family spent all their time in their offices, so I figured it was better to hang around in the office than go home and stare at the animals (which I did a lot of, anyway).

Gratitude

Me and Mike’s family.

There’s always something to be grateful for, and just because I don’t share it every day doesn’t mean I don’t feel it. I’m very grateful to the companies that made all the social media software we’re all relying so heavily on. Last night much hilarity ensued when I joined with my friend Mike’s family in an extremely goofy Facebook messenger filter festival. Now, that’s family fun. So, thank you, programmers of filters.

And I’m extra grateful for the creators of Zoom, who allow me to attend meetings online and actually SEE my coworkers. I’ve also enjoyed a couple of Zoom sessions with women I’ve been in an email/FB group for 25, that’s right, 25 years. Shout out to the Sislist!

Me, Zooming solo.

Heck, I’m even grateful to the post office for letting me send letters to my family and friends to cheer them up. Are you doing that? A woman I admire in Minnesota (who founded the email list mentioned above) is sending letters to anyone whose address you send her. She calls it Sunshine Mail. It’s keeping her busy and brightening so many days. Knowing about it brightens mine.

There! I’ve cheered myself up just by pointing out these ways we have to cope, while we struggle along. Send me more ideas!

Should I Be Committed?

Hmm, I don’t think I’m referring to being institutionalized. I’ll let you know if I get to that point, though I sure hope I don’t. I know that is hard on everyone involved.

One commitment is to my precious little circle of a doggie.

No, today’s UULent word was “commitment,” and I surprised myself at where my mind went when I read that. At first, I just thought of things I had a strong commitment to, like meditating, walking (i.e., making the Darned Watch happy), my spouse and family, and me.

The Darned Watch. Remnider of so many things I’m committed to. And grackles. Not committed to them.

Then I thought about how very serious I am about commitments. If I say I am going to do something and really commit internally, I go to a lot of lengths to meet those commitments. That’s good, right? I know some non-profit organizations and a boss who are glad I made commitments to them. I once beat myself up if I missed any meeting of anything (wow, I went to a LOT of La Leche League meetings when my kids were little). I’m doing better with that.

Traditional wedding ring. It’s not very me-like, but it reminds me I have committed to a partnership with Lee. He ain’t perfect. Neither am I. Suna ring! What does it spell backwards! Ha ha!

And that’s the thing. As I’ve mentioned before, I tend to over-commit myself. Oh look, here’s another link. It does fill my days up so I can’t ruminate or dwell on things I can’t do anything about, but I do need to rest and recover. As my Suna ring* is supposed to remind me, I am also committed to myself (my physical health, my mental health, my needs).

Sometimes, too, commitments need to be broken, because they aren’t good for you. I know I have held on to more than one relationship too long, because I didn’t want to break a commitment. (A conversation with friends I had last night reminded me vividly that I stuck with people who were not good for my mental health to my detriment.)

Two other examples leap to mind: I broke my commitment to my church when I realized it was not a source of inspiration for me, but a reminder of what’s negative about institutions. I ended my commitment to La Leche League when I realized that the bickering and in-fighting was not going to end and we were never going o be able to just concentrate on our mission. These things were draining me. I’m better now where I can admire these institutions’ admirable qualities, but not be deeply involved in the parts that aren’t good for me.

I’m committed to trying to get 700 minutes of watch-approved exercise this month.

Plus, some of my “commitments” have devolved into habits. I finally stopped subscribing to knitting magazines when I realized I was never going to actually knit anything from them, and I could buy individual patterns when I need them. I was just in the habit of buying things to support a hobby that was no longer bringing me joy. I realized I was knitting because I thought I was supposed to be, not because I enjoyed it. Now I ONLY do it when I feel a real desire.

I guess what I’m trying to convince myself of here is that, while it is good to be committed to a practice, a cause, a person, it’s not necessarily a character flaw to de-commit. I think the result of this UU Lent prompt has reminded me at just the right time that I need to periodically re-evaluate my commitments of all kinds to be sure they are still benefiting me, my family, my community, and my world.

I will not give up the commitment to healthy eating. Thank you, volunteer kale.

Do you have commitments that you may want to move away from? What kind? Why?


*The Suna ring was hand made, and purchased at Silver Dollar City in Branson, Missouri, a place I thought I’d hate but ended up providing a wonderful vacation and a happy time for my sons and me right after that commitment to their dad broke. I still miss the people we went with every day, though I lost them when the La Leche League commitment went bad, big time. It’s hard when your best friends fire you. But, I’ve been wearing that ring nearly 20 years now.

Why I Am “Too Busy”

You know what’s extra-extra nice? It’s nice that people care. And people do care about me! One way I know is that I am very frequently told I am too busy, or asked why I do so much. This is not new. Sensei Larry, who taught the kids karate, always called me “the Joiner,” because I did so many things at my old church.

And when I was in La Leche League, I certainly had a lot of jobs, though all that volunteering led to an actual paid job, followed by a career!

Case in point. My new knitting project has followed me to the office, so I’ll have something to work on after I run off to the park to do a Master Naturalist bioblitz. This is the calmest Saturday I’ve had since last year.

It’s true. I may be an introvert, but I like to keep busy. Boredom is not an issue for me. My whole life I’ve had a book in my hands, knitting in my lap, or some meeting to go to (choir, yarn shop, LLL, political things, my women’s group, etc.) I like being around people who are doing things. That’s how I learn.

Sure, there have been times when I’ve over committed. I’m able to figure that out and eliminate some things, honest. Right now I am totally at my limit. I can’t take on another committee chairmanship, event to organize, or new hobby (even though I’d love to learn to paint).

In the last week I’ve said “no” to several things. I’m mentioning this so that those of you who are concerned will see that I DO say no. I just don’t write about those things, since the Joiner always is sad to disappoint people. I was born this way, sigh. But I’ve had therapy!

The things on my plate right now support the things I care about passionately: animals, nature, writing for my LLL friends, our new business, and my paying job (which I love, so I’m not quitting). I’m going to be careful to not take on any new sub-jobs, and to ask for help when I need it. I just LOVE to do work I’m passionate about.

You, my friends, can help by pointing out to me when I’m frazzled and short-tempered and reminding me to ask for help. I’m glad you care. And I know that a lot of my busy-ness is to keep me from thinking about losing contact with my beloved son. I know.

This is me and Jenecia (JD), who I met in Master Naturalists, and is now my good friend. We were celebrating our two-year Facebook friend-a-versary yesterday. The nice thing about a small town is that you get to see your friends so often!

Still, I’m glad I have such kind friends in real life and in the virtual community. You help me see that life always has positives and negatives, and that you can make your own positives by getting out there and DOING rather than STEWING. Hey, did I make a meme? I’m too busy to go create one and post it, though. Heh heh.

By the way, having spent the week here in Cameron, I tell you what: I’d be exhausted if I were here full time. My goodness, I went to a lot of meetings, events, and such. I think it was just an exceptional week, though. At least I got some relaxing social time with my Cameron friends, too. Cheers to my new Bistro wine happy hour buddies, and to the wonderful servers and staff friends there!

How to Perk Up a Small Town

Chris, Kathleen and Jean waiting to eat their meat.

Last night I went to the Cameron Chamber of Commerce banquet. When you are in a bunch of organizations, as well as more than one business, that’s a member, you sort of feel like you have to go. Since Hearts Homes and Hands was a Gold Sponsor, we got to sit up at the front of the place, which I’d never done before (never having spent the money to sponsor anything). At the event, I learned lots of ways to get things going and make small towns better. The first one was the most fun.

Surprise Someone

There we are, right under the BIG sponsor.

Lee, Kathleen, Chris and I were the HHH representatives, but we invited two of my Milam Touch of Love Board members to come, as well (wish we could have invited them all). It was nice to bring Jean Schara and Mark McKibben along with us for a fancy meal and some beverages. (Once again, though, there was nothing for non-drinkers in the wine and cheese time before the meal.)

Lee and Mark paying attention to Judge Young.

At the end of the evening, the Chamber gives out awards to citizens and groups. After the big awards, they give out Excellence Awards to groups or people who didn’t quite make the cut, or aren’t in the in-group of Cameron movers and shakers, which is who usually gets things (not complaining, just noticing). In fact, Lee won one of these last year for our work renovating houses and buildings in the community.

It was really great, then, to see the look on Mark’s face when it was announced that Milam Touch of Love received an award for the work we have done for animals in the area. Jean had a clue something was up, because I’d told her it would really be a good idea to reschedule her Facebook Live event for her essential oil business. Mark just showed up for the food and friendship, but hooray! We were recognized. Both Jean and Mark have spent SO much time, effort and money for the group. It was great to have them join me.

We are very happy to get our award.

ALL the volunteers and donors for MTOL are part of the recognition, though, because, as with all nonprofits, it takes a lot of work to succeed. I am really proud of them.

Remind Them It Doesn’t Suck

I have to admire Judge Young, who has been personally dragging the county into modernity by courting businesses and proposing things that disrupt the status quo. He spoke for “two minutes” at the banquet, and reminded everyone how much good has happened in the past couple of years.

Melanie is timing the judge, who I don’t recognize without his cowboy hat. There were lots of them in the audience! Texas, y’all.

He’s not kidding. All sorts of solar power companies are moving in, and I can’t complain about that. We in Milam County are also some sort of bitcoin mining capital of the country, and wile I’m not the biggest fan of that sort of thing, it does bring in jobs. And while a lot of people complain about moving the city offices to the former hospital in town, it WILL provide opportunities for new businesses to come in and make downtown Cameron an actual destination.

I hope he perked up a few people…

Bring in a Motivational Speaker

Sarah collects vintage hats. Flowers came from down the road from us at Silver City Flowers.

Another way to perk up a town like Cameron is to get the movers and shakers to think differently. So, this year, Melanie Reed brought in a young woman who has worked with small towns throughout Texas to improve their images and such.

Sarah O’Brien had actually done her homework, and presented a talk that wasn’t just ideas, but had concrete suggestions. She’d taken a tour of the town a few weeks ago (including the Pope Residence – so THAT was the lady who Melanie dragged through our construction zone).

Sarah used local buildings as examples of positive and negative mindsets. We laughed when Jean’s business was used as the negative (Ms. O’Brien has NO idea what’s in there).

One thing she said, in a talk about Lee’s favorite topic of mindset, just geared toward small town leaders, was that to get people to be positive about Cameron, we have to be positive. I saw myself and my blog about potholes in that one! Oops.

We laughed even harder when OUR building was used for abundance. I guess she didn’t notice the peeling paint on her tour.

You do hear a lot of folks around here saying how hard it is to get good people to work for you, how the poverty mindset has made the citizens unmotivated to do better, etc. I see how being more positive might very well rub off! I’m going to make an effort to portray Cameron more positively and to continue to work to make it a place where people enjoy living.

Look! It’s our award. If only we had an office to hang it in.

Hey, at least I’ve helped increase the population by about ten people at the moment, some of whom are eating LOTS of donuts (the construction guys) and all of whom are buying things here! Thanks to Canova, Martha, Mike, Kathleen, Chris, Jim, Nicole, and Easton for saying yes to Cameron, even if you aren’t all here forever.

It’s fun being part of a small town trying to re-invent itself. No one gives a flip about me in the leadership of Austin, and that anonymity is nice, but it’s also nice to feel heard here in Cameron. I say YES!

Does Volunteering Count as Recharge Time?

Yep. I’m sort of resting as I spending my usual first Saturday of the month at the thrift store. Gotta help those local dogs and cats! Resting with restless young teens is not all that restful, but we have been enjoying our friend Meghan’s twin teens try to fill their time as they help out. They are at that awkward age between child and hormonal teen, which is cute, but chatty.

Jean and the kids.

I did spend a bit of time pricing jewelry my sister donated to the MTOL table. We did sell some of it, so hooray for her! All donations help! And I get to be with friends.

Canova’s stuff is among this fine collection.

Luckily there are plants to enjoy, including this beautiful “mother of millions” in bloom. I never had one do that! Not bad for an invasive.

Looking up
Here you can see the leaves with little babies on them.

And I wandered out to the side of the highway and found things for iNaturalist. That’s double volunteering!

Verbena.

Just wait. I’ll have more renovation pictures up. Volunteer time is almost over.

Why This Non-gambler Gambled Last Night (Introverts, Harken!)

We had our own sign!

My dear spouse is the incoming president of the Cameron Rotary Club. Thus, it was sort of his duty to attend their big yearly fund-raiser, a casino night. We never went before due to a strong dislike of crowds and an equally strong dis-interest in gambling. Heck, we never gambled when we had to go to those real estate things in Las Vegas!

But, we had already bought a bunch of tickets to contribute to Rotary. And we were also a corporate sponsor, as we try to get this business going. So, we psyched ourselves up, buoyed by a surprise visit from nephew Chris (Kathleen’s birthday is next week, and this was a GOOD present). We brought along our assistant, Meghan, too.

Eek, a crowd.

The idea was to chat people up and let them get to know who our team is. It became obvious really quickly that the bland snacks were not going to entertain us all evening. I told myself that I might as well do something to pass the time, so we three women took all our pretend money and got coins for the slot machines. A kind woman told me how slot machines work (really, I don’t gamble).

Well, here we go. I can’t say I never gambled anymore.

We ended up having a lot of fun, especially when we were joined by our fellow business owners, Courtney and Jeremy. We lasted way longer than we thought we would, because we kept winning, dang it. It also helped that Chris kept sneaking more coins in our buckets. He is a good supporter of charitable organizations, I guess.

I finally could not take any more dinging and scooping up of germy coins, so I bravely made my way to the nearest gambling table. The dealer had pink hair, so I hoped she might be fun. She was.

Continue reading “Why This Non-gambler Gambled Last Night (Introverts, Harken!)”

I Think I Need to Rest

I don’t think I’ve just done nothing since last Wednesday. I’m so glad to be sitting in my living room in Austin with Anita, with my honeysuckle whiskey. Not in a meeting.

Who is sleeping through my meeting?

Today I was still in Cameron, so I met with Lee and Kathleen about Hearts Homes and Hands. The dogs helped. There I found out my office is the old storage room. That will be fun.

I ran from there to move the horses back to their usual pasture, since I got home too late from the hospital last night (my sister is recovering just fine).

Alfred takes care of my sis.

Next I met with Mandi about our little event venue, since it’s now getting bookings. Then I worked a while. Then a meeting with a coworker that happens weekly. Then met with our contractor on the Pope residence. That was fun.

I got home, exhausted. Looked at email. Oh…there’s a Friends of LLL board meeting. There, I volunteered to be secretary since we only have four members temporarily.

By the way, the Christmas branch is now a Valentine branch.

Hooray. I then got to drive like crazy to Austin to get to my visit with the ole therapist where I said I’m fine but too busy. After that I tried to buy sheets for our weird Sleep Number Bed that raises up. Nope. Went to the wrong one of 800 mattress stores in Austin.

While I was writing this, three people needed me on Messenger. I am a failed Hermit. And my eyes are tired.

Penney had really tired eyes.

Tomorrow? Ha! Two stressful meetings and one lovely chiropractor appointment. And time to walk at lunch. Thursday, Friday, and Saturday have meetings in the evening. I think next Sunday will be my next day of rest.

Carlton says get some rest.

I hope the fog dies off by then. It was foggy almost all day today! And honest, I enjoy everything I do!

What are YOU up to? Get some rest.

Coop Coop! Run! 2019 Projects Done!

Hooray hooray. Today we finally were able to get the work done on the chicken coop to get it ready to hold actual chickens. Yesterday, while enduring the longest lines ever at multiple stores, Chris was able to get all the materials we needed to finish the coop, plus a feeder and waterer.

Roofing in progress.

This morning we got going as soon as we were coffeed up, and with assistance from my brother-in-law Jim and less assistance from me, Chris got a really cool arched roof on the chicken run that will thwart even the most clever hawk or owl. HA! Raptors go eat something else!

One good-looking chicken run!

It really ended up looking pretty spiffy. Once we got the roof on, Chris and I fired up Hilda the 4-wheeler and rode around the property looking for ideal branches to turn into perches for the chickens, so they can have fun while cooped up in the run.

Feed and water holders are hanging. And the big stick for roosting is installed.

Vlassic came with us, and thoroughly enjoyed exploring the far ends of the ranch. I showed Chris every inch of the place, and we even visited the horses and Fiona.

Nest boxes are ready for hens!

I was very happy that Vlassic behaved well with the horses. He started to chase Fiona a couple of times, but she gave him the annoyed donkey look and he backed off. In the end, everyone got along just fine. That’s one dog down, and only four to go…

This sweet great Pyrenees will be adopted soon, we hope.

After we finished putting a wind barrier up on the north side of the chicken coop, we took a break, then went over to the Cameron Touch of Love to finish the last touches on the dog run we’re donating.

Sandra checks out the shade area of the dog run.

Chris and his dad put together the shade roofs for the entry and another area on the run, and also installed wind blocks in one area that will also provide a bit of shade in the summer. We got help from the Fords, our cat rescue folks, so it went pretty quickly.

That’s me in the hat. I’m not supervising. I’m helping attach the wind barrier/shade cloth.

I took a lot of pictures of the dogs at the pound with the camera I got loaned for Christmas. I wanted to practice taking close-ups.

A sweet puppy who’s heading to a new home in Colorado soon.

And I also took some bird pictures. I’ll still work on the photography thing.

Yes, I can identify these birds! I was far away from these black vultures.

Luckily, there was a sad dog named Bud at the pound who I felt sorry for, so I got him brought out to the dog run and played with him. He’s so well behaved that he hates to pee or poop in his pen. He peed for a full minute when he got in the pen, then we played and played. He loves kids and is sweet, but energetic. I hope he gets a family soon.

We came home, and Kathleen and her daughter kindly cooked a New Year’s meal. MMM. Black eyed peas! I hope to make some tomorrow, if I can get any when I get back to Austin.

Vaguely successful telephoto shot.

What a fun day we had! It was a perfect ending to the year. The last month has seen things start to improve, at least in our little world. I’m going to keep focusing on our family, our friends, and what we can personally make an effect on.

My favorite picture so far with the “real” camera.

That’s why I’m so glad we can help with Milam Touch of Love and the dogs at the pound. We CAN make a difference there.

Bragging on Our Family

I‘m so proud of the work that Lee’s nephew, niece, and brother (Chris, Kathleen and Jim) did yesterday at the Cameron dog pound. On behalf of our company and through the Milam Touch of Love organization, they put together a huge, safe dog run so the pound puppies can get exercise and play with each other. It’s also a great place for potential adopters to get to know the dogs. Below is a slightly edited version of what I wrote for Hearts Homes and Hands this morning.


happy woman and dog
Here’s Sue Ann with Carlton, the day she adopted him from the Cameron Touch of Love.

Yesterday was a fun day for Hearts Homes and Hands! We got to fulfill our promise of building a big dog run for the City of Cameron Touch of Love facility, which is our local dog pound. Lee and Sue Ann got two of their wonderful dogs from the facility, which strives to adopt out all dogs that come in, unless they are too sick or injured.

We donated the money to buy the materials to the Milam Touch of Love organization, which supports the welfare of all animals in Milam County, and on which Sue Ann has served on the Board since it was founded. As we shared earlier, we got the materials on Thanksgiving weekend, but had to wait until our crew came back into town before the big job of building the dog run could be done.

Teamwork!

Unloading the materials

Early yesterday morning, our team arrived at the pound, where Sandra Ritch, the Cameron Animal Control Officer was eagerly waiting. Our Administrator, Kathleen Caso, led a team consisting of her husband, Chris (the mastermind of this project), Jim Caso (Chris’s dad AND one of our clients), and our dedicated office queen, Meghan Land, who is also on the Board of Milam Touch of Love.

The run uses lots of sturdy fencing panels
Buiding the vestibule.
Lots of toting.

Continue reading “Bragging on Our Family”