Archive for December, 2013

Too Old for Grandpa Santa

The real white beard should help his perfect “Santa Suit”. Adding a little coal dust, he headed to the chimney.

“Oh, Grandpa,” she laughed “Don’t you know I am 12 years old?”

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My Heart Melts for You!

She waited quietly behind the fence for the plane to land. Six long months since she saw him leave for Korea with his Army Unit. Tears were rolling down her face, landing on her very pregnant belly. As each plane landed, she felt her heart sink.

Finally, his plane landed and pulled up to the entryway. She waited, her heart pounding, to see his face. He ran out, smiling and felt his heart melt as he looked at his wife carrying the child that he would soon hold. Home. Her. That baby girl. What could be better than that?

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A Precious Soul

She is 86 years young. I grew up to this amazing person, my aunt, youngest sister of my mother.

Since I was a toddler, I would walk up the hill to her house, plant flowers with her, watch her can vegetables, help her work in the garden, and help decorate for Christmas.

When I was a young adult, trying to survive a disastrous marriage, be a single mom, work and go to school, she made sure my kids and I had clothes, food, toys. Even today at her last siblings funeral, she smiled at me and said, “Maybe someday I can make up to you all that you have done for me.”

I smiled and quietly whispered, “If I were to live a thousand years I could not begin to make u for all you have done for me.”
I think often of what the world would be like if it were full of people like my aunt. She listens, she cares, she is generous, considerate, loving beyond all reason. I envy her thoughtfulness, honesty, willingness to help, or even to be kind when she disagrees.

If ever there has been a person who is “my precious. Is is my aunt, who is like a “sister”and friend as well. I have shared my joys and sorrows with her, helped her with her ailing elders, and enjoyed visits to her house several times a week, if not more. When I thin of the word, “beautiful”, her face comes to mind. She is the kind of person that makes life worth living on my worst day, a true treasure.

Thanks for being ‘my precious’, Aunt Phib!

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A Wonderful Memory of Days Gone By

“That’s my favorite Christmas song!” I said as I looked up at my mother.

She smiled back at me, busily wrapping gifts and checking the stove.

I looked outside, and noticed the dark gray sky, hoping, that soon snow would be coming down onto the mountains around our house. Going to my grandmothers farm for Christmas would not be a problem, because it was only up the hill from my house.

“Mom,” I asked with hope in my blue eyes, “Could I PLEASE open just one of my presents tonight. My friend Sarah’s family does that. It makes Christmas last another day. . Besides, with my birthday right after Christmas, it is the only really special time I have.”

Mom sighed as she removed a pumpkin pie from the oven. “ I like for you to wake up on Christmas morning-very early- (she smiled and brushed her hand through my curly hair) and see you sneaking through the house to find the presents under the tree. “You know that I hear you!”

“But Mom,” I begged, you told me that all your family had was stocking hanging on the end of your parent’s bed, with some fruit and maybe one toy. Things don’t have to always be the same!”

“Oh, alright.” My mother said, as she rushed about. “But just ONE!” she emphasized.

I jumped up, shouting “Oh, thank you, mom, thank you!”

I remember that day-49 years ago. I remember the dress she wore, the tattered apron over it,The tired look on her face, the flour spilled on the table.

Tears fill my eyes as I wonder where time has gone. My own children are grown and have children nearly that old. I lost a child 7 ½ years ago, and I often refer to this time of year as the “Helladays” because they make me miss my young, lively healthy family so much.

I struggle to cook a few snacks for the teen I still have living at home. Where does time go? Why do we loose those people and times we treasure so much? I wiped a tear and turned on the radio as I cooked.

That same song came resounding through the speakers. I was surprised, filled with a mixture of sweet memories and loss.

“It’s the most wonderful time of the years!” the orchestra and singers sang in a rhythm that could have come from that long ago day.

I sneaked into my sons room and handed him a small wrapped gift.

“Whats this, Mom?” he smiled.

“Just a little memory,” I said. Merry Christmas!

He got up from his video game and gave me a hug. “You are the best mom in the world,” he said.

And for a moment, I saw my mom saying the same thing to her. I held back the tears, so he wouldn’t see me cry and walked slowly back to the kitchen.

Perhaps the Christmas spirit was still alive after all.

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The Pain of Progress

“Wow!” Jack gasped as he and his friend, Don, walked down the street that was sparkling with activity in the 1980’s. “It’s empty, tagged with grafitti, this was the main drag back then.!”

Don took a moment to look around at what had been a new and up-coming area of their small mid-western town. The plants thank had been placed there to beautify the cement surroundings were over-grown. The sculpted trees were tangled with vines. It was sad, heart-breaking,to be honest.

”Progess.” Don sighed. What a joke. The walked on to the “new”main drag only a few blocks away.

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MONARCHS, LADY BUGS AND PRAYING MANTISES

Butterfly Monarch Butterflies Facts | Butterfly

I have studied insects for many years. Monarchs and their host plants, the many varieties of the milkweed plant, are  among my favorite.  I notice that the milkweed plants that we have in the Southern Appalachians, (wild and tame) do not look like some of the ones that I have seen in other areas, so there are more varieties than I am accustomed to watching.

There are several varieties of milkweed plants in our area. Some have tiny white flowers and delicate stems and leaves. Other, more common milkweed plants have slender leaves and are more “bushy”. The flowers are dainty and vary from yellow to deep orange. All milkweed plants secrete a milky white substance that makes the insects who feed on them distasteful and therefore, helps reduce predation..

I love to watch the life cycle of the monarch, which begins with the barrel-shaped egg that the female attaches to the bottom of the leaf of the milkweed. I watch as the tiny black caterpillars grown, soon showing their beautiful yellow, white and black stripes, which are visible from the time they have molted only once through several more molts, to adulthood. Fully grown caterpillars, hang upside down in a “comma shape”, suspended by a silky thread secreted from its abdomen. It looks like it is going to “dry up” or shrink, a bit, before it seems to magically turn into a mint green chrysalis with gold spots and a gold spiral.

Even through the Monarch caterpillars devour the plant as it grows, the leaves and stems will grow back on some branches, even those with with pretty severe damage. The milkweed is a perennial and grows back from a deep tap-type root that is not damaged by the monarch caterpillar. Therefore, I don’t have to worry if this season’s monarchs severely damage my plants. Next season, fresh new leave will appear, ready to blossom and then have their leaves and blossoms turn into a monarch feast.

There are several broods of monarchs, spring, mid-summer and late summer. Only the midsummer brood gets to partake of the blossoms, which seem to be the caterpillars’ favorite part of the plant.   When the monarch emerges, it secretes an orange fluid as it pumps up its wings with fluid. this is normal and necessary.  The wings will not take on their normal shape without it. It is very easy to tell a male monarch butterfly from a female because the male has a black spot in the middle of it’s hind-wing which secretes a hormone scent. The last brood of the season flies to Mexico, or Central America and over-winters as an adult, flying back north in spring to lay its eggs on newly sprouting milkweed plants. As with all butterflies and moths, the monarch is a four-cycle metamorphic insect, meaning it has 4 life stages-egg, larva, pupae and adult. Ironically, the Lady Bug,(as well as other beetles and ants) also has 4 phases in its metamorphosis.

The Praying Mantis and the Lady Bug (sometimes known as Lady Bird Beetle)are carnivorous insects.  They are often known as a “good” insects, or insects which eat insect pests that destroy many flowers and cultivated plants. Both insects start out with their favorite foods being aphids and gnats. As they grow, Praying Mantises catch and eat larger insects with their claw-shaped front legs. Lady Bugs stay with the smaller insects, mainly aphids. Praying Mantises are three-cycle metamorphic insects, as are all grasshoppers, crickets and cicadas – meaning they have 3 stages, egg-nymph and adult.

File:Praying mantis india.jpg - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

The Praying mantis molts from its’ exoskeleton four times. By the time they reach their third in-star, you can tell a male from a female because a female is larger and has a wider abdomen. As they grow, so does the size of the prey they feed on. Bees and small butterflies remain favorite foods throughout a Praying mantises life. A third in-star mantis has what might be called ‘proto-wings’ or wing bugs beginning to protrude from the top of its abdomen. A fourth in-star has larger wings which reach further down its abdomen, but are not yet usable. Only a full grown Praying Mantis can use it’s wings to fly.

Males , lighter-weight and looking for mates are more likely to fly. Females that are ready to make egg sacks can do little more than glide from the top of a plant. Therefore, males are more likely to end up prey themselves, likely to bats who use echo-location or a form of radar to detect where the mantis is.

Most of us have seen nature films where the prey, say a gazelle, gets away from a lion. This is true with carnivorous insects as well. I have seen a large butterfly or cicada struggle so hard with a Praying Mantis, that the Praying Mantis lost its claw! Fortunately, a young mantis starts to re-grow its claw, so if a third in-star mantis loses the end of its claw, it may have a usable claw again if it reaches adulthood.

It is also a myth that the female mantis always eats the male after mating. Ordinarily, the Praying Mantis chews off the wings of a flying insect and discards them right away , so that the victim has nothing to fight with, Using craft paint to mark them, I have marked mantises from third in-star on into adulthood with craft paint dots and have seen many male mantises mate more than once. The trick, (like that of a black widow) is to pick a mate that isn’t real hungry and “know” how to dismount. I have actually seen three male Praying Mantises trying to mate with one female at one time! Safety in number? Who knows!

Nature has so many variations of life that it would be impossible to run out of creatures to study. Some, of course, make studying them a bit easier and safer than others. I enjoyed teaching my little ones about insects and flowers and it brings a smile to me as I see them teaching these things to their own children. Observation is the best way to learn about creatures, and often, choosing whichever creature presents its self is the best way to “choose” what to study.

My suggestions: Keep a dated journal of both words and photographs. Include yourself and children in your pictures. Try to make some memorable photographs, keep your journals safe and share them with friends, family, classrooms and neighbors. Most of all, enjoy the world around you, protect and respect it so that the next generation can carry on your tradition!

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The Barrister’s Ball

The house was gorgeous as the hanson pulled up into the circular drive. The horses were a bit restless in the blowing snow, the driver having to calm them so that Serafina and her soon-to be husband, Dalton emerged.

Serafina’s coats blew wildly around her dresses. Her bonnet barely holding on as Dalton held on to his new black tophat.

“I simply despise these extravagant events!” Serafina complined as the doorman bowed and let them in.

“Oh, Sera,” Dalton sighed, “It is only one night and being invited to a party at Sir Dellingam’s estate is something you simply don’t turn down if you want to be a Barrister in the town!”

Serafina sighed and handed her coat to the doorman, hanging on to her reticule as Dalton shook out his coat and handed it in as well.

They we motioned to a room glistening with the light of candles and lamps, a roaring fire warming the room a little too much. Several servants scuttled by with trays, offering drinks and cucumber sandwiches, tarts, and even a tray of chocolates.

Dalton noticed an associate from his firm across the room and lead Serafina toward him.

“Ah, Raymond!” Dalton said with a smile and slight bow, “May I present my future wife, Serafina?”

“ Very nice to meet you, my lady,” Raymond smiled and turned to his left. “This is my wife Abigail. I am sure you will become good friends in the years to come.”

After a few minutes of conversation and more that a proper amount of delicacies from the trays, Dalton whispered to Serafina, “Come, I have something to show you!”

With a look of suspense in her sparkling blue eyes, Serafina followed Dalton down a hall and through a door behind a stairwell. There they found themselves in a small library, with doors leading out outo a terrace.

Dalton, opened the door as the wind swept over them, immediately bringing her warm coat to Serafna’s mind.

“Where are we? She inquired.

With a sparkle in his eye he smiled, “A place quite alone within a crowed house.”

“How did you…” she started to say, but found her mouth sealed with those of her fiance’.

“Oh, my!” she smiled as she shivered a bit, both from the kiss and the cold of the wind.

“See, I told you such parties were not so terrible!” he laughed as he opened the door and hustled her back inside.

Sarafina shook the snow off of her hair, hoping the pins were not too far out of place from the wind and the stolen affection. She fluffed it a big and curled her arm through his as they returned down the hall to the party.

Suddenly, the fire seemed particularly attractive as they walked together and stood in front of it, their hands touching behind them as they warmed themselves.

“Maybe being the wife of a Barrister would not be so boring after all,” Serafina thought as she helped herself to another tart from the pro-offered silver platter.

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