Wintery Day Is Just Right To Stay Inside and “Chill”

Morning greetings of winter white out the door--Lyons, Kansas.

Morning greetings of winter white out the door–Lyons, Kansas.

Just like family get-togethers and exchanging presents, snowstorms seem to be a tradition of every Christmas holiday visit I make back to my home state of Kansas.  This morning we woke up to a couple inches of the white stuff on the ground, with even more swirling around in the air.  The snow itself made for a pretty scene outside, but the cold blast of 7 degrees when I opened the door was more than what I’d call “brisk.”

The first thing I had to do was sweep a path on my sister’s patio and then out on the grass for Annie to take a “go.” Finally, she did, at lightning speed.

With the snow still coming down most of the day and the cold wind zipping at the skin, other than re-sweeping the doggy paths, I haven’t wanted to venture out.  It was just the kind of day to keep the house cozy by using the oven to cook up the pork roast and sauerkraut we got yesterday in preparation of a cold day.

Tonight the forecast is for 5 degrees, but I’m sure that the blankets and quilts on the bed will keep me–and Annie–warm.

Swept paths for a little dog to make a quick run outside.

Swept paths for a little dog to make a quick run outside.

Annie stays near--or on--a warm lap on these cold days.

Annie stays near–or on–a warm lap on these cold days.

Beauty from the Garden Helps Lift Spirits on a Gloomy Friday

This is not the first of these jungle cactus (epiphyllum) that I have posted on my blog, but at 7 o’clock this morning, the amazing bloom certainly helped brighten up the day.

I could be grumpy about so many things this morning.  I spent the third night without AC.  Thankfully, with the tile floors downstairs and all the ceiling fans downstairs stays relatively comfortable and with the windows open and box fans pulling in air I can sleep upstairs at night.

Tomorrow I will plunk out the money for a new AC system  I’m keeping the furnace even though the AC company would have liked me to have pulled out everything.  There are way fewer days where we need to have the heat on here in southeast Texas in comparison how much we use the AC.

Last night was the first night I have stayed in my house without Annie.  I took her to stay with my neice until the new AC is in.  The temperature was only up to about 90 yesterday, but I just didn’t want her to get too hot if the thermometer goes up higher today.  Also with the workers in and out tomorrow putting in the new AC, my house wouldn’t have been a good place for her.  I even plan to get myself out of the way once they are working.

So because of the heat and not having Annie there, I woke up early and decided to crank up the computer, only to find out about all the senseless deaths in Colorado.  I really don’t understand how people can be opposed to more stringent gun laws.  I think most people get wiser with age, but obviously that is not universal.  In my opinion, we would be much safer and saner today if strong gun control and legalized marijuana had been made law back in the 1960s.

With those thoughts on my mind, no dog to feed and give some lovin’, and a little extra time before having to get myself on the road to work, I had a chance to take in the grass that I had quickly mowed last evening and all the plants and flowers that are thriving after the 12th straight day of rain (.25 in. yesterday).  On another day, I might have missed this amazing jungle cactus (white epiphyllum).  But there on the other side of the barbeque grill, in full glory, popped out this wonderful flower, only the third one so far this year.  Had I not spied it this morning, it would have been completely wilted by the time I arrived home.

After a few snaps of the camera, I was able to jump into the car in a much brighter mood than only moments before

New Little Camera Given Its First Test on the Dog Walk

Right out of the box--a none-too-big one at that--my M532 is a cool blue. The pic was taken with my old camera, a Nikon P100.

I used to have a good little digital camera which I used for photos on my blog.  It was a nice touch-screen gadget, but after a bounce or two on the ceramic tile floor, “it no worky good.”  When I looked for a replacement, I thought I’d better myself and went for a bigger Nikon–not one of those PROfessional type ones, but definitely too big for a jeans pocket.  I like the Nikon (P100); I even took a class to learn a bit more.  Even so, I missed having a camera I could carry with me anywhere, and, I just use my cell phone as a phone.  I know it can take photos, but I’ve never been into using it that way.  So, I’ve  been hankering for awhile for another small camera.

The other day Best Buy had an online sale, and I saw this Kodak M532 would be coming down to $59.99 that night.  There’s a Best Buy store just down the road, so I decided to go there to check out the instore pricing, but they don’t stock that camera; however, cameras with similar specs of other brands were significantly higher, so when 12:00 AM came around, I hit the “buy” button.

This afternoon, after doing some other running-around (yeah, I still have a few vacaction days left), I spied the small box on my front porch, where the UPS driver had left it.  Multi-tasker, I am not, but I opened the box as I munched on a late KFC combo (late–I mean the time, not as in “dead”), all the while trying to keep track a break-up lawsuit on The People’s Court (I’ve got to get my fill of daytime TV before I go back to work).

When dog-walk time came, I got Annie leashed up for our usual walk around then neighborhood and stuck the little Kodak in my pocket.  On the way, I took a few shots, and here are the results.  Though, the small lens does have some limitations, I like the clarity of the pictures.  For 60 bucks, this camer was a good buy, maybe not best buy, though I did buy it at Best Buy.  (Yeah, lotsa people get a little punchy at midnight, which is what it is right now.)

Annie at the top of the stairs debates about going for a walk. (This photo makes me wonder about the flash on this little Kodak.)

This is only a small part of the agapanthus in my favorite yard of the neighborhood. I like my own yard, but there is still a lot of work to do before it can compete with this one.

When you look at the people, my neighborhood appears very diverse, but no matter the ethnicity, many seem very conservative.

On short walks, these crape myrtles at the entrance of the subdivision are our destination. They are at their best with the heat of summer.

Another Weekend of Rainy Weather, But Really, Who Can Complain?

Because this pot retains so much rain water, the flowers on this kalanchoe have turned a more piercing red than usual and the leaves and stems are also turning red.

Am I the only one who thinks that time change days frequently have some kind of inclement weather that helps add to the confusion?  I woke up to light pings of rain drops hitting the window.  When I could no longer ignore Annie’s staring at me from only a few inches away from my face, I got up to take her out. 

By this time, the shower had just about ended.  Slogging through the wet grass, I found .40 of rain in the gauge to add to the 2.60, which had accumulated from Friday afternoon through Saturday.  After the long drought of last summer and fall, a rainy weekend is still something to enjoy.

All the plants–trees, grass, garden vegetables, and, for sure, the weeds–are making up for lost time.  The pine trees in my neighborhood are thick with baby cones.  The verbena in my south bed are lush with purple and pale blue blossoms. 

When it comes to my little garden, I’m sure I’ve over-planted this year, because with all this good moisture, every little sprout wants to grow.  The peas are climbing the menagerie of trellises and string I’ve put up.  The lettuce, though a bit trampled by the rain will soon be ready for a first cutting.  Pole beans are popping out of the ground and stretching up.  Then there are the tomatoes.  I’ve set in more than any other year.  If all of them produce, I may have to start my own salsa company!

With all this gray weather, yesterday was a good day to cook and warm up the house.  I found a good buy on a pork roast, which I braised in the skillet and then set into a baking dish loaded with cabbage, potatoes, celery, onions, carrots, and a few spicy peppers (these last from my garden–planted last year).  In the skillet with the meat bits left from the braising, I reduced a pint of orange juice, which I then poured over the meat and veggies, before putting them into the oven to roast.  I have to say, the end result was enough to raise my eyebrows–great food for a gray weekend.

Holiday Road Trip and Day Trips To Boot–All Made for a Great Winter Break

Wind turbines of the Smoky Hills Wind Farm line the wintery horizon in pastures along the Lincoln and Ellsworth county line, not far from Wilson Resevoir.

A wet, grey afternoon with some unexpected early hours off from work make it a good time to try out one of my Christmas gifts.  I received a set of silicon baking pans, so the square one is being used for brownies–mix-type–with a lot of goodies added.  We’ll see if I pack them up to share at work.

I can hardly remember a better Christmas since I was a kid back in the Santa Claus days.  I can’t put my finger on it exactly, maybe mostly because I was prepared and things went as planned.  I even enjoyed the shopping and wrapping gifts, which sometimes I find tedious.

With the car all loaded the night before, Annie hopped onto her place on the passenger seat, and we headed out the morning of the 23rd for Kansas.  Even at the more than 11 hours (mostly stops for gas and a dog walk here and there), the drive wasn’t that bad.  The weather was mild and putting the car on cruise for long stretches of the interstate made the drive almost easier than my two hours each week day of commuting to work.

Needless to say, it was one of those Christmases of too many presents and too much food, what with a table-filled buffet spread at my sister’s and her kids and families.  Then the next day we headed off to my brother’s, the second year in a row that I was together with my two brothers and sister for Christmas dinner.  Until last year, there were a good many years in between that for one reason or another we all hadn’t gotten together for the holiday.  I think we all realize that we are a pretty lucky group that have our health (yeah, we all have a prescription for high blood pressure, but, hey!) and get along well to boot.

I headed back to Houston on the first day of the new year, but before that I spent some relaxing day drives with my sister as part of what I would say was one of the best vacations for a long time.  One of my goals during the trip was to load a cooler with some Kansas cured meat.  I like to go back to the very store that I went to with my dad when I was a kid and pick up smoked sausage.  Back in my tag-along days, it was called Klema IGA; now it’s Wilson Family Foods, in Wilson, Kansas.  The store hasn’t changed all that much, but it’s still a good store for a small town.  I wish I could have broad back some of the fresh meat from the cooler because there’s no comparing  it to plastic, no-taste stuff I find in the big name super markets out here in the suburbs.

Another place we like to go is Brant’s Meat Market in Lucas, Kansas, about a 20-mile drive that passes by Wilson Resevoir, which is much more impressive to me these days than it was when I passed by it back when I was a college kid going to and from a summer job.

Locally, it's called Ralph's Ruts (Rice County, Kansas). This is one of the few places where you can still see the Santa Fe Trail, which was dug out by the thousands of teams of wagons that passed through in the 1800s.

Geese feeding in a field near Odin, Kansas. These are part of the large numbers of ducks and geese that stop annually at Cheyenne Bottoms Wildlife Area not far away.

The parking lot at Meridy's Restaurant in Russell, Kansas. The buffet is loaded with mounds of fried chicken, homemade mashed potatoes, and gravy that rival Mom's. It's basically a "have-to" on every Kansas trip. (It's right off I-70 if you're making a trip through western Kansas.)

Over the several day trips, we didn’t go but a county or two away from my sister’s house in Lyons, Kansas, but each outing held a new discovery or re-discovery in the central part of the state where I grew up.  My car brought back with it some dried Kansas mud from some of the few dirt roads that had not but a few days before been plowed clear of snow.  I can say that even though I’ved lived a good long time outside of Kansas, I’ve still got some of that same dirt in my blood.  (I’ve got other photos that I wanted to include, but WordPress is kicking my butt right now as I try to insert them.)

This old limestone schoolhouse has been empty and looked the same since I was a kid riding by on the school bus. This is one of the landmarks I was looking for on a day trip filled with memories. This was also the road that kicked up all the mud onto the sides of my car.

The train still passes by the local wheat elevator in my hometown of Dorrance, Kansas, pretty much the way it has for many years.

Happy Holidays to All from Trip to the Outhouse

All of the Christmas cactuses are blooming at the same time this year, giving me time to enjoy them before taking out on the road.

The year is quickly coming to an end.  I’ve got the car almost packed, and in the morning, I’ll add the last few items and stick Annie in the co-pilot seat for our annual Christmas road trip to Kansas.

Although the mostly interstate drive can get long and monotonous, I’m ready for a change of scenery and a break from work for almost two weeks.  I’ve even enjoyed getting out to the malls to do Christmas shopping this year.  Maybe it’s because I’ve been organized and know exactly what I want to get for people, so I don’t do that much wandering from store to store trying to figure out what I might be looking for.

I even washed and cleaned out the car today for its first long trip, and I’m anxious to see whether I can make it through Oklahoma without having to buy gas.  That is not one of my favorite states (you might guess why), and I don’t like to spend any more money there than I have to.

Oh, my.  Am I being a Grinch? 

I hope that I will be more inspired to write here in the coming year.  Somehow 2012 may be a better year.  I’m optimistic about it.

I know here in the last few months I haven’t given those who might pass through this blog much to read.  In a minute, I’m going to pack the camera in the car in its special corner; keep your fingers crossed that there will be road trip photos!

Merry Christmas and a Happy 2012!

Despite the Heat and Lack of Rain, There Are Always Surprises in the Garden

A magnificent early morning discovery; this jungle cactus flower (cactus orchid) nearly hidden from view by the oak tree.

I don’t know what my M.U.D. bill will be this month, but with such a long period without much moisture, I’ve been watering a lot.  The vegetable garden and the grass get a shot about every other day, but the side bed, where the sun beats down, and most everything in pots need a good soaking every day.

This morning Annie and I went out at 6:30.  I was refreshed enough from a good night’s sleep that the bed didn’t lure me back even though it was Saturday.  Instead, I sprayed on a healthy dose of mosquito repellant and turned on the hose to go after the pots on the patio.  As I doled out generous amounts of water to the various plants on the patio, my squinty, early-morning eyes spied something white as I squirted the water towards some plants perched on a couple of random benches alongside the fence.

Upon closer look, that white blur was a bloom from one of my jungle cactuses (cacti, if you will), something that I had never seen before.  I was given a couple different varieties of these quite a number of years ago by a colleague, and a few years ago added another that I had liked because of the unique formation of its stems, but in the 10 or so years that I’ve had them and grown more by planting pieces into other pots, none of them have bloomed until now. 

I went inside to get my camera to snap some pictures.   It was a good thing that I did because by the time I finished my puttering outside, maybe an hour later, the bloom was all closed up. 

I don’t know a lot about these jungle cactuses.  which are sometimes called orchid cactus, and the more scientific name is epiphyllum.  After doing a bit of reading, I found out that some of them are night-blooming. Because I hadn’t noticed the oncoming bloom before, I have no idea if today was the first day it had bloomed or if it will be open again tomorrow morning when I take Annie out.  I hope so.

Surprises are part of the enjoyment of gardening:  they can be grand surprises like this cactus flower that I had never seen before or simple surprises like a cluster of yellow beans hanging from a plant I was sure I had checked carefuly just the previous day.