Things I Want(ed) to Do

As I find ways to do more things that help me feel like a regular person again (while still being COVID-aware), I’ve started making a mental list of things I want to do, and figuring out whether I can actually make them happen. Have you been entertaining similar thoughts?

But Wait, I’ve Done So Much!

I managed to get out of town for a weekend with family successfully, so that knocked one off the list. I’m going to spend more time away soon, and I’ll fill you in on that when the time comes. The plan is to not do my beloved shopping and eating out, but still enjoy another place.

Another thing I want to do is hang out with fellow Texas Master Naturalists. The annual meeting starts tomorrow, and I’m taking time off from work to sit at my desk and hang out virtually. I think that will be a good time, but I’ll have to figure out how to get all my movement goals made! If it were in person, I’d be there hiking around Houston already!

I’ll be there virtually!

Some members of our group are also planning some outings to other counties to count what wildlife can be found there. I hope that will bring us together safely, outdoors, and let us enjoy ourselves while doing some valuable work!

More along the lines of vanity, I really wanted to get my nails done by my friend, Tina, at the nail salon. I hadn’t gone since I had St. Patrick’s Day nails put on. That’s because there are often lots and lots of people there, along with their families, friends, and such. We wanted to avoid crowded spaces, because we wanted out clients and their families to be sure that they knew we were putting their safety ahead of our vanity.

Happy, shiny me.

Luckily, Tina came up with a plan for me to go one evening at the end of their open hours (which happens to conveniently be when her husband is disinfecting things), when no one else is there. So, yay! I have nice new nails on my hands and feet, and we got to catch up on a LOT of each other’s goings on. Masks were worn and hands were washed obsessively.

Looking autumnal.

Another thing I want to do is buy fresh fruit and vegetables. I’m a little put off by farmers’ markets, since around here there isn’t a lot of mask wearing. And I seem to always have meetings on Wednesdays, when there’s a lovely small market here in Cameron. However, I did hear about a place nearby that sells hydroponically grown stuff. Maybe they deliver! I’m checking it out.

This probably sounds selfish, but I miss wandering through art galleries, too. I just love to look at hand-made stuff, whether paintings, pottery, jewelry or sculpture. I managed to sort of do it today, when I managed to go to the new antique store in town when it was just about empty. I found a painting of trees that I just loved. $25. I thank the woman who painted it, wherever she is.

Trees and rivers. Not a masterpiece, but I like it.

I also got a piece of Navajo pottery by A. Joe, who I can’t find anything about other than he’s contemporary. It is just what my fireplace wanted, however. I think this satisfied my desire to enjoy art, since I even brought some home! Check out Chelle’s if you’re ever in Cameron!

It makes the blue in the rug under my desk not look quite so out of place!

I realized I have very few other things on my list, other than eating out at a nice restaurant and having our book club indoors without masks, so that all the members can hear each other. Masks are really difficult for the hard of hearing! But, no wonder I feel better. I’m finding ways to do what makes me happy. And I got a flu shot, so that’s one less thing out to kill me.

It’s funny, I intended to write about things I want to do, but ended up writing about how I’ve done so much of what makes me happy already. What have you figured out a way to do, while keeping to your personal standards of safety? What do you still want to do?

Saint Vlassic

This is a big dog event. This afternoon, when Vlassic and I were walking to feed the horses, all the young cows were standing on the drive. That was tempting!

The walk was weird due to a lot of dust brought in from a cool front. Weird sun.

Vlassic ran after one lone cow, but came right off when I called him. The rest of the way, he walked right next to me, even when the cows got closer and closer, hoping for food.

I was so proud of him! And he didn’t bother Big Red when she was eating, either.

Star is also glad he leaves her alone. And she’s drinking out of the trough.

On the way back, he and Copper played nicely, then the three precious white calves stood right there, taunting him. He was tempted. But, he didn’t run at them when they trotted off.

Step away, dog.

He made a move toward the last calf, but Mama put her head down. Vlassic got the message and set off with me. What a good boy, Saint Vlassic!

Books I Will Never Read Again

Are there any books, movies, or other media that you made it through once but just NEVER want to go through again? Last night my sister asked me about the handmaid costume she saw somewhere. I told her about The Handmaid’s Tale book, and that it had been made into a series. I read the book when I was in graduate school, and probably lost a lot of popularity as a professor by making a class full of engineering students read it and write a report.

Protesting handmaiden. Image by @straubmuller via Twenty20.

But right now, I could not stomach that book, nor could I bring myself to watch the Hulu Series. It seemed eerily possible in the 1980s, and today I could see women becoming property again, just like in the book. Shudder. I have had many nightmares brought on the The Handmaid’s Tale.

Please. Image by @jenni.heller via Twenty20.

In fact, many of the books I don’t think I could take reading again are in a similar vein. You are NOT going to see me cracking open 1984 or Fahrenheit 451 any time soon, either. I think those books have already come true, and not in a good way. Yeah, the whole dystopian novel genre isn’t good for me.

Neither are books or movies about Nazi Germany. No, thank you. A couple of movies in that genre have scarred me for life, including Julia (a beautiful film, but gave me bad dreams) and Seven Beauties (eww, ick, yuck, don’t watch it). I realize now that I watched way too many of these really sad movies during my most impressionable late teen years. I STILL have Apocalypse Now nightmares, too. I wonder if High School Boyfriend knew what a pacifist he was creating by taking me to all these violent and psychologically terrifying movies?

As I have mentioned before, I’m one of them there Highly Sensitive People, which means media violence and cruelty really get to me (as well as teasing, bullying, name-calling and putdowns). I pay attention to violence warnings on books and movies for good reason!

Oh and for goodness sake, I don’t want to ever see that damned Red Pony book again (curse you, Steinbeck, and curse you, school librarian who gave it to me to read in the THIRD GRADE). Graphic descriptions of the deaths of beloved pets, innocent wild animals, and other harmless creatures aren’t for me, either. I managed to get through that book about the dog that keeps dying over and over (The Art of Racing in the Rain), because I knew all would end well (and I didn’t want to look like a wimp in front of book club).

Oddly enough, I can watch Dr. Pimple popper and shows about surgery just fine. I just don’t like violence and loss.

What are your topics you just don’t want to read about or watch these days? (I realize for many of you it may be politics, but I’m not here to encourage bashing of anyone’s views, just wondering what turns you off.)

Achieving Nature Goals

Okay, I have a little something to say. After all that iNaturalist work last weekend, it was this weekend where I met some goals, or desires, or whatever.

While walking around, I remembered to open up a balloon flower to find the seed. My friend Linda Jo was right! They look like little yin-yang symbols!

Balloon vine seed, and my fingerprints.

While we were walking the horses, Sara very patiently let me try to get photos of all the butterflies and moths swarming in the pasture, even when her horse stepped in fire ants.

Waiting for Suna to take pictures.

Everyone’s patience was rewarded, though. I saw a butterfly on the fence. It sat still. I got its picture! It was an American snout, the ones we saw so many of last week! Finally one stood still.

No, not a great photo, but you can see the snout!

After achieving that goal, I felt fine. Then, on my way home, one of the dragonflies I’d been seeing all summer finally stood still. I was really curious what they were called, but they are very dart-y ones.

Hello, black saddlebags!

These always look like two mating to me. I was happy to see what they actually look like. Cool insects, and another goal met.

I looked at my iNaturalist totals and was happy to see I hit 1800 observations today. I’d been disappointed not to get there last week. Luckily, there are lots of interesting things to see on the Wild Type Ranch, where we walked!

Most recent observations. Over 1800!

I think that’s good for someone who has jobs and stuff. Still, I look forward to lots more in the future. We hope to visit neighboring counties with few observations and see what’s there!

Here I am looking for bugs with my “helper.”

Glad I found my voice. Sometimes I just need to shut up. Hee hee.

And Now We Have Fish

It quickly became obvious that our new cattle trough was also a great breeding farm for mosquitoes. We certainly couldn’t poison them, because that’s the water for the animals. And it’s too big too tip over regularly.

So, we went with the time-honored technique of adding fish to the water. There are many options, including gambusias, which are actual mosquito fish. We went with goldfish. Because I’m a big spender, I went with the 32-cent ones rather than the 16-cent ones.

Regular old comet goldfish.

If we are right, they’ll eat lots and grow fast. The trough is deep enough to keep them safe from birds, I hope. I put them in the trough to get accustomed to the water temperature.

It looks icky in there.

In zero seconds, onlookers appeared.

Hey, Suna, whatchya doing?

Those guys stood back, but Rip was really curious.

Ima come check this out!

He got right up to them and bopped them with his nose.

Can I eat this?

After a while, the fish were freed.

Uh, we’re just fine in this bag, thanks.

Within a minute of being released, they were noshing on algae and chasing larvae. They won’t need the fish food I got them!

We love this green water! We have space! There’s food! Woo’

I look forward to seeing how they do. The trough adds new water when the cows and chickens drink, so the water won’t be stagnant. We will see.

Buttercup the Hen Speaks Up

By Buttercup Wellsummer and Bruce Easteregger

BAWK! I’m Buttercup. I’m told I’m a Wellsummer hen. My friend, Butternut, and I have been living in a cozy place with a cozy inner safe space. We like it. It’s calmer since the giant gray chickens left. They were older and quite uppity. Hmph. One of them is already sitting in the leg-laying place.

Shut up, Buttercup. I’m cool and have all my wattles.
I laid an egg! It’s pink! So there, Buttercup!

Hey, I’m talking, Sapphire. We got to stay in our safe place, because we got extra-yummy food for growing but also on account of Butternut hurting her foot. The human with blue hair (she’d make a cool hen) didn’t want her getting hurt by the giant rooster or big hens on the outside.

I’m just looking for bugs over here. But yeah, I’m a bully. A very pretty bully.

We had a nice life. Butternut got better. We were good. Then, that dang human opened our doors! Other chickens came into our safe place! BAWK! We hid.

Sure, he’s a nice rooster, but he’s still a rooster!

We got braver when we realized bugs were out there. Mmmm. Bugs. We didn’t get many in our safe place. They escaped.

A bug! This is the life!

We stuck together. That’s how us chickens roll. We form little sub-flocks.

We survived sleeping last night and are feeling a lot better! I’m even joining the others by running up to the humans when they show up. We all like it when the human with the egg-shaped head opens our doors in the morning.

Look! I’m running with Gertie, who likes to chase me.

Butternut is still shy and hangs out in the safe place. She needs to get over it! It’s fun outside!

I’ll stay in here with Hedley. I’ll try to convince her to start laying again, says Butternut.

A Hello from Bruce’s Gang

COCK-a-DOODLE-DO! It’s me, Bruce, the crazy-looking rooster who everyone loves. I’ve been having so much fun lately!

Howdy! Isn’t my comb dashing?

Since Star and Sapphire got released from the other pen, where they were imprisoned with the Butters, we’ve formed a unit! These gals are strong, brave, and beautiful. My kind of gals.

We’ve been exploring all over our land now! There are so many places to check out. So many yummy bugs and plants!

Here we go, wandering around the humans’ pen.

We go into the place with big trees, which worries the humans, but we are fine. We also go hang out with the cows. Wow, there are so many bugs in the mud by their giant water hole. Yesterday, we tried to go into the human pen, but the human who loves the cows said we couldn’t. Bummer.

We just wanted to check for bugs in there! We provide a service!

We just keep going. We find yummy water in the big water holder near where the cows eat.

Love this greenish water. Humans are going to get fish to put in here. Wonder if we can eat them?

We hide under all the humans’ metal things. We eat!

Silly blue-haired human thought the gray hens were lost. This is a great hiding place.

Every night the human with the egg-shaped head shuts our doors so we can sleep in peace. Thanks, humans for the food and safety.

Why wasn’t I the star of this post?

Black Weenie Dog Unsure about Cameron, TX

by Vlassic Bruns Kendall

Hi, I’m Vlassic, like the picke company, only with an extra s. I am a small, black dog. I travel a lot, now that Suna goes back to Austin more often. I like it in Austin, mostly. I get to hang out with Pickle the chiweenie, play with Anita, and snuggle lots and lots with Suna.

Snuggling makes me very happy.

I have some friends and enemies in Austin, but mostly friends. Last week a dog kept yapping at me until her human took her away. And for some reason, my old buddy, Percy, was mad at me much of the week. But, we sniffed butts and had a nice walk last night. I love walking in Austin. Suna and Anita pick up my poop, so I try to go as much as I can.

This morning, I got to go for a car ride (yay) and we ended up at this place in Cameron, where some of my family are, plus some nice people like Meghan and Jenecia, who give me treats and pet me. It’s a little weird here, but I have toys and a water dish, which helps a lot. Plus, I get to visit and “help” people work!

I’m having a meeting.

Suna took me for a walk today, and that convinced me I do NOT like Cameron. Everywhere I turned there were more dogs barking and running up to me. The first few were behind fences or attached to something that saved me. Whew.

I like the sidewalk, because there are no grass burs. And look, Suna picked up my poop, like she was in Austin or something!

But, a giant dog (Suna says a medium-sized old, sweet dog) came rushing out of a garage and barked LOUD. Suna screamed. She was embarrassed, she told the old human who came running out. In the end, I liked that dog fine, and we sniffed butts. Suna says she has no pictures because she was so busy protecting me. Thanks, Suna!

Parts of the walk were good, like I found a dead thing to sniff, and lots of places to pee.

MMM. Dead thing.

But, danger is everywhere! There were all sorts of grass burs on the sidewalk where the vacant lot had been mowed. I had to stop and remove them, but then, yay! I got to eat them. They are tasty snacks, actually.

Then ANOTHER dog came after me. Suna knew this one would be there, so she talked to it. He wagged his tail, barked a little, and went home. Suna saved me again!

By the time I got home I was exhausted. I tried to regain my strength by eating stuff out of the trash can, but she emptied it.

No luck with the trash can. I’ll just lay down.

Suna felt sorry for me, so she found a nice blankie for me to snuggle up in while she works.

I’m comfy and cozy now!

I’ll just take a nap now, and hope Suna takes me back to the ranch, where my other human, Jim, likes to hang out with me, and where I can run free with the other dogs, even bad ole Penney, who I actually like, now. And my chickens! And all those cute calves. I think I’ll dream of chasing them. Bye!

Humble but Lovable, the Cedar Elm

It’s about time I paid tribute to some trees again, don’t you think? Enough of that introspection hoo-hah! Today I was inspired to write a little something about my favorite Texas tree, the cedar elm (Ulmus crassifolia), because it just keps showing me how wonderful it is.

Also these beauty berries keep telling me they are beautiful, so okay, I put them in here. There are cedar elm leaves around them.

The cedar elm was the first native tree other than the live oak that I learned to identify. Yes, before the Ashe juniper (the one that’s not cedar, but is called cedar). There was one in my neighbor’s front yard, and it looked so different from the other lucky natives the developer had left that I just had to look it up. Then I got confused. Is it a cedar, or is it an elm? Apparently, it’s an elm. Here, read what something official says:

The common native elm in east Texas where it is planted for shade. Called Cedar Elm because of the rough, cedar scale-like texture of the leaves and because it is often found in the western part of its range with Ashe Juniper (Juniperus ashei), which is locally called cedar. The Latin species name means thick leaf.

Ulmus Crassifolia
Oaks and cedar elms mix at the work patio.

The ranch is chock full of them, which makes sense. We have their favorite terrain: near water, flat, and with a saucy hint of limestone to make them happy. The limestone is why they’re all over the hill country. The terrain is why they are all over Milam County.

Don’t confuse the cedar elm seeds with these inland sea oats. Of course you wouldn’t; this is obviously a grass, right?

Cedar elms are very easy to identify by their leaves, which have sawtooth edges and aren’t very big. Nature conveniently deposited one on my arm today.

Cedar elm leaves turn yellow just before they fall to the ground. Then they turn brown.

They’re deciduous, which makes me happy. That way I see a lot more in the woods at the ranch during the winter. Their leaves are dropping right now, and it’s like a gentle rain.

They make pretty displays.

As the picture above shows, they shed their little fruits and seeds at the same time that the leaves are falling. That’s a rare trait in the elm, and an easy way to know you have a cedar elm. Squirrels will eat them, if there aren’t nice juicy acorns nearby. Check this out!

By September or October, the branches are thick with clusters of flat, oval seed packets called samara. The samara looks much like a tiny green round ravioli, or those dots of explosive caps for toy guns of the past. These are the fruit of the elm tree, with the seed forming a reddish bump in the middle.

The many beneficial traits of cedar elm
Here are little branches blown down by the wind that show the seeds and leaf size. Look at all those leaves on the patio (those are just from today, since the building staff obsessively sweeps).

Since these are native trees, they also feed lots of native creatures. Here’s some sort of tent caterpillar or something that has made a home on a cedar elm branch.

Looks yucky, but, yay Nature.

The seeds appear pretty prolific, because they can easily become over crowded. We have some that need to be thinned out, which is always hard for Ms. Tree Hugger. But they can really grow thick, which makes it hard for them to grow tall and strong.

I’m happy to have them, filling the cedar brakes (limestone landscape common in the center of Texas) with something to break up the monotony of those dang Ashe junipers!

Resources

Cedar Elm, Texas A&M Forest Service.

The many beneficial traits of cedar elm, by Marilyn Sallee, Native Plant Society of Texas, 2011.

Ulmus Crassifolia, Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.

That Sneaky Mass Media

Lately “the media” gets a lot of flak for trying to push its subversive agenda onto all of us innocent consumers of information. I have no argument with those claims, but I don’t necessarily see it as bad. I know that the television I watched, the books I read, and the magazines I looked at affected how I perceive the culture I grew up in.

I was convinced that “normal” people were thin, white people with a couple of children who drank sophisticated cocktails. The norm for women was to be thin, blonde, blue-eyed and with the rare combination of flat stomach and large breasts. Normal men had lots of hair, but could have a little weight on them, because that made them look successful. I thought all this, because that’s what I saw in the media (not in real life).

One of the reasons I’m SO glad that the women’s movement, Black Lives Matter and organizations acknowledging that people come in different sizes, abilities, and shapes have been becoming louder and louder. And that mass media, with its agenda-promoting engine, has been helping lately. It’s an uphill battle to make our ads, shows, and print material look like “us,” but it’s happening.

First Example: Fashion

I have been reading InStyle magazine since it came out, and I have always been fond of its editorial direction. It’s one of the first fashion magazines I’ve read that have had a real pro-woman focus. They have a series of “bad-ass women” that features a huge range of women, not all of whom are celebrities. It makes me feel so good to see the occasional wrinkled face and the many skin tones in the photos.

There’s a nice range of sizes, colors, ethnicities, etc.!
Could this woman be more beautiful? WOW.

The most recent issue is one you should pick up. The beauty issue blew me away. So many races, hair types, sizes, and even ages were features, all of whom are represented as models of beauty. THIS is how you change cultural norms. If they keep telling us that people with African, Asian, Indian, and other heritages are beautiful, even people with old ideas will gradually change. I really think this is true.

Every page I turned presented different ideas of beauty. Yes, there were pale, skinny people. But there were also so many others in the mix. That’s what I want to see, all the ways in which we can be beautiful. And yes, there are beautiful trans women in there, too.

Second Example: Texas Parks and Wildlife

I have a soft spot for these folks, since I’ve been involved in so many of their really great programs over the years. But this month’s Texas Parks and Wildlife magazine warmed my heart. The letter from the editor talked about how they will be depicting lots and lots of different types of Texans going forward (they did have a lot of white guys before).

Happy fishing family.

It’s not something you really notice until there’s a change, and then you just have to smile. There was a happy Hispanic man catching a redfish, a black family on a fishing pier, and even a man hunting from a wheelchair (must be a cool wheelchair!).

Happy hunter.

This is really important for them to do, because we note a lack of diversity in our Master Naturalist program, and the TPWD has written about the perception among some that certain groups just don’t “do” camping, fishing, hiking, and hunting. If we see more and more photos of all kinds of people engaged in outdoor activities, maybe people in all groups will feel more welcome to get out there and have some fun.

Don’t we ALL deserve some outdoor fun, relaxation, and exercise?

Third Example: HGTV

I’ve probably said this before, but I’ll say it again. I am really loyal to HGTV, because they started featuring diverse families on their home shows long before other networks did that kind of thing. And they never presented them as, “Oooh, look, these are GAY people!” No, they presented them as bickering couples, interesting personalities, and folks who just want to buy or fix up a house.

HGTV's Newest Hosts Are An Adorable Married Gay Couple
Their gay hosts focus on houses, not being gay.
Creating Accessible Homes | HGTV
Oh look, he happens to use a wheelchair. Nice h ouse!

And they do the same with people with disabilities. They’ll talk about the importance of finding or remodeling a home to make it comfortable for the residents, but they treat them respectfully and focus on the whole family.

By showing diverse groups, they make the wide variety of people in the US and Canada into a feature, but a normal feature, not something to crow about. That’s what I want, for all of us to be “normal,” no matter what.

So there, the media and its subversive message of inclusion has made me darned happy.