Sunday, August 16, 2015

Aundrea has a boyfriend!

A few days ago, Aundrea moved of her own volition up to the corner of the porch, which is the perfect spot for her. She's out of the way, but I still get to see her.  And this morning I saw that she was entertaining a handsome (albeit diminutive) visitor!  The male Argiope aurantia is much smaller than the female, as you can clearly see. Looks like maybe we'll get an egg sac this fall!

Wednesday, August 05, 2015

My pet spider now has a name.

My niece Ava, age seven, has declared that my spider's name should be:


which I believe is lovely and befits her.

Tuesday, August 04, 2015

My pet spider

The lovely Argiope aurantia is looking much more filled-out and healthy after a few days of feeding her grasshoppers that I catch and put in her web for her. The webs that she's made even look nicer and neater, with the characteristic zipper-pattern and everything.

At the moment, she's enjoying a delicious feast for her dinner:

It's fascinating to watch her spring into action when I put the grasshopper into the web. This particular hopper is about twice the size of the ones I put in before; on the first day, I tried to put one of the great big hoppers into her web and it kept breaking it because it was just too enormous. Plus, I think that she was kind-of weak and was in no condition to subdue and wrap up a hopper that big. So I caught little ones for her. Today I nabbed this guy, who's not quite the size of the gigantic hoppers, but definitely more substantial that the little ones. I watched as she turned on the wrapping-silk-nozzle and quickly encased him and envenomed him. Then she rested for a couple of minutes, and went to work transferring the package to a less-damaged section of web where she could safely feast on his juicy innards.

When she finishes off her meal, I'm going to have to move the box of cow bones because it's kind-of in the way... which means I've got to rig up something else for her to anchor her web to. I'm hoping to keep her on the porch where I can observe her.

Friday, July 31, 2015

Argiope aurantia

Yesterday, one of my colleagues brought me a big box of cow bones. Of course, this delights me... bones make EXCELLENT drawing subjects in art class.

But the big box had apparently been sitting out in her barn, because it also houses a lovely Argiope aurantia:

I'm delighted by her presence; tomorrow I plan to catch a fat, juicy grasshopper and pitch it into her web. These lovely black-and-yellow ladies are some of our very best outdoor friends. She's not interested in biting you; not in the least. Obviously, if someone were to grab her, she'd probably defensively bite, but her venom is less harmful to a human than a bee's.

I used to be as terrified as could be of all spiders. I really did. Even seeing a tiny spider sent me into extreme anxiety. But in my thirties, I was hanging out at a friend's house while our young children were playing together, and she spotted one of those little black fuzzy jumping spiders (you know, the ones with white spots and bright green eyes) (Phidippus audax, to be precise), and she offhandedly mentioned how cute they were and how much she liked them. At the time, I didn't want to shriek or make a scene because my kids were there and because I was at her house. But the entire scenario made me think... maybe I really didn't need to be violently afraid of something so small... so I decided that the thing I feared most about spiders was that I didn't UNDERSTAND them well enough.

I studied online diagrams of spiders. I read articles and books about them. And I gradually found that I didn't react irrationally about them anymore. Sure, there are some spiders that are very dangerous... and I studied them, too. Enough that I knew what to look for and how to identify them, and then how to eradicate them from my house. But I also grew to understand that not all spiders are dangerous, and that, in fact, most of them serve a very valuable purpose.

So now, whenever I find a new one I don't recognize, I try to identify it and find out about it instead of reflexively smooshing it first. Sometimes they need to get smooshed... but more often than not, they're marvelous creatures who keep the nasty bug population in check for me. Argiope aurantia is one of the most marvelous ones living in our midst.

[editor's note on the next day: I caught a couple of small grasshoppers and dropped them into her web; she seemed rather pleased. I shall continue to contribute to her food stores, since I'd really like to encourage more of her offspring to take up residence here next season]

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Texas Chicken & Rice

I regularly "invent" recipes around here; most of the time they're MEH and not particularly noteworthy. But tonight I whipped one up that made everyone quite happy, so I wanted to write it down here for future reference.


1/3 cup Ranch Dressing powder
3 cups milk, half-and-half or heavy cream (I prefer the heavy cream, myself)
4-5 cups cooked white rice
3 cups diced cooked chicken
2 cups salsa
3 cups shredded cheese
1 T adobo seasoning

Whisk the milk and the Ranch powder together, then stir in the cooked rice. Pour this mixture into a 9x13 baking dish. Sprinkle 1 cup of the shredded cheese over it, then distribute the diced chicken over the cheese. Sprinkle the adobo seasoning over the chicken. Spread the salsa over this, then distribute the rest of the shredded cheese over the top.

Bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes.


This was very spicy and delicious. I have the distinct feeling the leftovers will keep being eaten until they're gone instead of getting tossed next week when the trash goes out.

If you're low-carbing, you could use riced cauliflower in place of the rice.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Stuff I saw today

I decided to take a short drive around some of the smaller county roads near my house today and I took the camera to record anything interesting I came upon.

A lovely chestnut mule...

This chestnut tobiano paint turned to face me as I drove past, and had absolutely no intention of running or shying. In fact, I got the distinct impression that I was being surveyed and found wanting.

Since it was midday, most of the cows were resting in the shade.

This mama was carefully monitoring her resting calf, and right after I got this picture, she snorted a warning and the baby leapt to its feet, and they both trotted rapidly in the opposite direction.

Our local Cowboy Church. I know the pastor and his wife very well; they're awesome folks.

And then I happened upon a committee of Coragyps atratus (American black vultures).
Interestingly, everyone I know around here grew up calling these "buzzards"... but when I came back home and began processing the pictures, I decided to look up the scientific name for buzzards, and discovered that buzzards are actually more hawk-like. These birds are actually vultures, just not the ones with the red heads and the white ruff collar.

Want to know something super-gross about these birds? Besides the fact that they consume roadkill?

They urinate down their own legs. This serves two purposes -- it's like a natural antibacterial agent, since they tend to walk around in super-germy rotting carcasses -- and it evaporates, helping the bird cool down.

You're welcome.

They're not particular attractive birds. But they do serve a useful purpose.

The view from a little bridge.

Common wild sunflower (Helianthus annuus)

This plant is a fascinating one. It's commonly known as dodder (Cuscuta californica).

Dodder is a parasitic plant which used to be classified as the only species in the Cuscutaceae family, but which has been genetically determined to belong to the morning-glory (Convolvulaceae) family.

It actually reaches and wraps itself around whatever is growing nearby. It sends out these teeny-tiny little "syringes" that suck the nutrients straight out of it. Kind of like a vampire weed. It can be a terrible pest if it gets out of hand.

And then a windmill, because I love American windmills.

I also love Cooke County, Texas. There's so much beauty here if you open your eyes to see it.

Friday, July 10, 2015

Baby birds

One particular corner of our back porch has a barn swallow nest that stays there year after year. Each spring/summer, five or more clutches of baby swallows emerge from that nest. This year I decided that I would put my brand-new selfie-stick to use in extending my phone up high in order to photograph the babies down in their nest from the time they were still just eggs up until they left the nest.

June 19. Five speckled eggs.

June 23. I missed the first hatchling yesterday, but there are now two.

June 24. Third hatchling has successfully emerged.

June 25, and now there are four.

On June 27, it appears that all five have hatched. It sure is easy to tell which one came out first!

June 28th, and they're still coming right along. I decided to call them The Five Fuzzbutts because they're just fuzzy little dragons at this point.

June 29th, and they're eagerly looking for something to eat.

June 30th.

And one day later, they look WAY more developed! On July 1, I can see pinfeathers!

July 4th

July 7th

And today, on July 10th, I captured this remarkable series of the Five Fuzzbutts actually getting fed by one of their parents!

Hey... wait a minute... someone's standing in that doorway!


Awww, c'mon!

It's fun to be able to document this little family on an ongoing basis. I'll add more pics as I take them, until they're out of the nest.

[NOTE 7/12: It was a good thing I got those last pictures when I did. They're all already flown away and gone!]

Friday, July 03, 2015

Want a flag painting?

I'd like to offer to paint an original watercolor of the US flag (or the Texas flag) in the style represented above. I'll do one in any size you like. Prices (not matted or framed):

4"x 6" --- $20
5"x 7" --- $25
8"x 10" --$40
11"x 14" --$50
22"x 30" --$150

Allow about three weeks turnaround time, more or less. Shipping charges will be added onto the price unless you want to pick it up in person.

Paypal (gradualdazzle-at-gmail-dot-com), personal check, cash (in person). E-mail me at that Paypal e-mail address to arrange matters if you're interested.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Get off my lawn.

Yesterday, the Supreme Court handed down a 5-4 decision finding that same-sex marriages are legal all over the US, regardless of each particular state's laws.

I decided to wait for the inevitable chaotic celebrations and denunciations to die down a bit, so I left the TV on "Dirty Jobs" or "Star Trek" or whatever else wouldn't have non-stop news coverage from any side of the ideological divide.

I think that I have been very consistently small-"L" libertarian in my views concerning most social issues. I believe that the federal government needs to protect the country's borders and mobilize our military to ensure our country is well-protected. I believe that maintaining some awesome national parks is within their purview. And I believe they should maintain the interstate highway system effectively and efficiently. I think that a centralized FBI that coordinates law-enforcement issues and helps states share information about crimes and evidence is necessary. I believe they should make sure that no state infringes on an individual's right to own and/or carry arms. Other than that, I think they need to get off my lawn (meaning, they need to get out of our lives and our business).

The federal government should have ZERO involvement in education. At the MOST, a state should be able to decide for itself if it wishes to provide public education and how that should be administered... but even then, it should be a buffet rather than a force-feed. Offer the education. Anyone who wants it can come get it. Anyone who doesn't? They can live with the consequences. Colleges and universities should receive ZERO federal funds, and they should be able to determine for themselves how they accept students... state-funded colleges adhere to their state's requirements. If you don't meet the requirements, you study harder until you pass their test. You don't get to pitch a fit and make them change their standards. The onus is on YOU, the individual, to achieve to the level of your choosing.

The federal government should have ZERO involvement in personal relationships of any kind. This means marriage, civil unions, or otherwise. It is none of the federal government's business who you love, choose to live with, etc. It is also none of the federal government's business who you choose to sell or buy from, where you choose to live (or who you choose to rent your property to), or what happens to you if you have a hurricane or a wildfire or tornado. People who need outside help should either rely on themselves or rely on their neighbors or their family. Period. If Chuck and Steve want to go to Metropolitan Church and get married, that's between them and Metropolitan Church. It's none of my business. If Fellowship Church believes that same-sex relationships are not permitted in their belief system, that's their right. And if Joe the Baker doesn't want to make a cake for someone, it shouldn't matter WHY. He has a right to choose who he does business with. If it makes enough people dislike him, he will lose business and suffer the consequences.

I am, therefore, perpetually disgusted that nine black-robed individuals in Washington, DC continue to have so much sway over my personal life. ObamaCare is an affront to me. Federal involvement in personal relationships is an affront to me. But I am, apparently, in the minority these days. [shrug] 

EDIT: I believe that Justice Antonin Scalia, in his written dissent, agrees with me:

I write sepa­rately to call attention to this Court’s threat to American democracy. 
The substance of today’s decree is not of immense personal importance to me. The law can recognize as mar­riage whatever sexual attachments and living arrange­ments it wishes, and can accord them favorable civil consequences, from tax treatment to rights of inheritance. 
Those civil consequences—and the public approval that conferring the name of marriage evidences—can perhaps have adverse social effects, but no more adverse than the effects of many other controversial laws. So it is not of special importance to me what the law says about mar­riage. It is of overwhelming importance, however, who it is that rules me. 
Today’s decree says that my Ruler, and the Ruler of 320 million Americans coast-to-coast, is a majority of the nine lawyers on the Supreme Court. The opinion in these cases is the furthest extension in fact—and the furthest extension one can even imagine—of the Court’s claimed power to create “liberties” that the Consti­tution and its Amendments neglect to mention. 
This practice of constitutional revision by an unelected commit­tee of nine, always accompanied (as it is today) by extrav­agant praise of liberty, robs the People of the most im­portant liberty they asserted in the Declaration of Independence and won in the Revolution of 1776: the freedom to govern themselves.

(I added the bold because THIS.)

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Flowers I saw today

First off, here's a lovely specimen of Monarda citriodora, generally known around these parts as Purple Horsemint or Lemon Beebalm. When you gently crush the flowers in your hand, it emits a pungent aroma that some people think vaguely resembles lemon or oregano. Me? I think it smells like those stinky liniments like Ben-Gay or perhaps a combination of liniment and fennel. It's not unpleasant, but it's not something that I'd like to smell all the time. And these flowers emit this scent pretty freely when they're crushed.

The above picture and the one directly below depict Chamaecrista fasciculata, a legume commonly known as Partridge Pea. It's a legume, which means it is a distant cousin to peanuts, pinto beans, locust trees (which, interestingly, has leaves that look very much like the Partridge Pea), wisteria vines, and even the lupines like the Texas Bluebonnet.

Finally, I occasionally get asked about this one. It's Solanum elaeagnifolium, or Silver-leafed Nightshade. It is considered a noxious weed and is not only toxic to livestock, its stem is covered with nettle-like hairs that sting. In South Africa, this same species of plant is known colloquially as Satan's Bush. It can thrive under truly awful conditions, which is why it's so commonly seen on roadsides, and it's extremely difficult to eliminate because its roots will regrow even if there's just a half an inch of root left in the soil. It's not an unattractive plant, however, and gardeners who practice xeriscaping find this plant to be well-adapted to those conditions.