Sunday, March 05, 2023

Aslan, you're bigger.

     A circle of grass, smooth as a lawn, met her eyes, with dark trees dancing all around it. And then -- oh joy! For he was there: the huge Lion, shining white in the moonlight, with his huge black shadow underneath him.

    But for the movement of his tail he might have been a stone lion, but Lucy never thought of that. She never stopped to think whether he was a friendly lion or not. She rushed to him. She felt her heart would burst if she lost a moment. And the next thing she knew was that she was kissing him and putting her arms as far round his neck as she could and burying her face in the beautiful rich silkiness of his mane.

    "Aslan, Aslan, Dear Aslan," sobbed Lucy. "At last."

    The great beast rolled over on his side so that Lucy fell, half sitting and half lying between his front paws. He bent forward and just touched her nose with his tongue. His warm breath came all round her. She gazed up into the large wise face.

    "Welcome, child," he said.

    "Aslan," said Lucy, "you're bigger."

    "That is because you are older, little one," answered he.

    "Not because you are?"

    "I am not. But every year you grow, you will find me bigger."

                                            -- C. S. Lewis, Prince Caspian

    I've been meditating on this concept for several days. This morning, during my ladies' Sunday School class, our teacher asked us what motivated us to worship God. Apart from all the usual "things" (family, safety, provision, etc), it occurs to me that the older I get, the bigger God gets. And I have nothing that He needs. AND YET... he loves me and gave everything to redeem me.

How could I not worship a God like that?

Wednesday, March 10, 2021

Michelle... my belle... Sont les mots qui vont très bien ensemble!

 To Michelle...

I can't believe it took me this long to check back in... I think I must not have all my settings correct, because I thought it was supposed to send me an e-mail whenever I get a comment. Boo!! Anywho -- you can e-mail me at kl yw ood - a t- p r oton m ai l -d ot - co m (weird formatting so bots can't scoop it up, there aren't actually spaces) and I'll send you my actual digits so we can text and we don't have to lose track of each other EVER AGAIN.

And so I know for sure it's you, attach a photo of your face to the e-mail. I don't want to send my digits to some random stranger who SOUNDS like you but is just trolling me.

Friday, November 27, 2020

Another belated announcement


In other news, I chose to take a medical retirement after the 2018 school year.

I just simply had too many physical issues preventing me from doing my job effectively.

During that first six months or so afterwards, I crawled into a mental hole of depression... I got to where I never even went out my front door (other than trips down to Dallas to my doctors at UTSW).

Eventually one of those doctors picked up on it, and referred me to one of their psychiatrists. When I visited with her, she required that I talk to one of the therapists at least once a month. I reeeeaaaalllly didn't want to do that -- please don't make me talk to someone about this because I won't be able to hold anything back and all I will be able to do is cry -- please just give me a pill to make this better -- but no, she told me that her continuing to treat me was contingent upon my visiting with the therapist.

Once I actually did see the therapist, boy howdy was I glad I'd done it. I began to feel the weight lifting off my shoulders. I eventually was able to go back to church (!!)... that was a biggie, because for my entire life, I did NOT miss CHURCH. Skipping church was just not something we did in our family. It wasn't ever an onerous thing, it was just What We Always Do. We go to church on Sunday. And for six months, I had stayed home on the pretense that I just didn't feel well enough to go back.

And after seeing the therapist (and beginning to take an antidepressant and an anti-anxiety medication) (only a small dose), I began to see sunlight dawning in my life again.

I honestly think that everyone ought to talk to a therapist every so often, even people who aren't depressed. It's so helpful to just talk to someone who's completely objective and not currently involved in your day-to-day life... to help you sort through your thoughts and your relationships.

I've since been "graduated" from monthly visits, with the understanding that I will once again seek it out if things start to go pear-shaped again in my life. I actually have the helpful option of visiting the therapist via telehealth (video visits), so I won't have to make the wearisome trip to downtown Dallas.

Go see a therapist. Do it. Even if you're scared to.

Few and far between

Yeah, yeah. I make these well-intentioned promises to myself that I'll come back to posting here. And here it's been two and a half years since I posted.

Hey, at least I didn't completely nuke this blog like I just did to my Facebook account.

I finally did it. I deleted my Facebook account. Not deactivated. DELETED.

Bye Facebook - Paradite 

Every time I've thought about this in the past, I've tried to see if I could go for a week without visiting the site, and every time I've gone back within a day or two. But not this time.

This time, I stopped posting sometime in the first week of November, and I didn't go back. And then I saw somewhere else online (I think it was on Parler) that a bunch of people were planning a "Mass Exodus" from Facebook and were going to all delete their accounts on Friday, November 13th. I thought that sounded like a plan; it still gave me a few days to decide whether I really wanted to do it or not, and to actually let a couple of people in my private Messenger groups know (so that they wouldn't suddenly not see my name in the group list and worry about me). And on Friday the 13th, I deleted my account. And deleted my other account under a fake name which I used whenever I got tossed into Facebook jail for some meme I posted three years ago or some other ridiculous thing. I shook the dust from my feet and left for good.

I know that nothing on the internet truly ever goes away. And I don't really think there's anything particularly alarming about me anywhere, mainly because I don't really think there's anything particularly alarming about me to begin with. I do know that Facebook will never actually get rid of any of my information. But they're not going to get any new information, either.

MeWe: A Safer Alternative for Social Media | Ready ...

I didn't disappear from all social media, however. I've had an account on MeWe (a social media site with a format not completely unlike Facebook's, albeit much simpler) for a couple of years, and I've posted there sporadically over that time. When I left FB, I decided just to post on MeWe in the same way I've posted on FB for the past few years -- mostly humorous memes, some political in nature and some not -- and some news and opinion articles of interest. I don't post a lot of personal stuff, such as where I am at any particular moment in time.

MeWe was started specifically to be a free-speech zone, and promised not to censor me. In all the time I've been there, I've never once had any interaction with the site admins that I didn't specifically seek out. No unwanted and un-removeable notices or reminders to Get Your Flu Shot or Have You Registered To Vote? or intrusive attachments to anyone's posts explaining why This Is False Information Which We Think You Shouldn't Be Able To Read And Discern For Yourself Whether It's Accurate Or Not.

The moment I see something like that, I'm deleting my account there and moving to Gab or WIMKIN or some other actual free speech zone.

I haven't deleted my Twitter account, but I almost never post there. I do still go there to see particular Tweets of interest, but I've also got a Parler account (under an assumed name) because Parler welcomes ALL views.

The Rage Mob has accused us of leaving FB and Twitter because we're seeking out an "Echo Chamber" where we don't have to read leftist posts. I beg to differ, however... I'm leaving FB because they want an echo chamber (they don't want my point of view) and I want to go where everyone is free to speak their mind... even if they have views I disagree with. I do appreciate having the option of "blocking" certain users of my choosing -- not necessarily because I don't want to hear their political opinions, but because they post things of a prurient nature which I'd just prefer not to have to look at whenever I log onto a social media site. If there is an over-abundance of conservatives, libertarians, AnCaps, and other dissenters on MeWe, it's only because we're the ones who've been forced out of FB. Liberals, leftists, socialists, Communists... they're all free to join us.

Eventually, one would think that the Left would realize that censoring speech on their site never actually eliminates that speech. It merely drives it elsewhere. It also highlights that speech, if one's being honest. When Twitter censored the Hunter Biden Laptop story, it actually made a whole lot more people seek out the story to find out what it was.

The Left has no realistic concept of how human nature works. When you tell Bob he can't have something, you actually make him want that thing even more than he did before. It's just how most of us are wired. And if you tell Barb she can't say those things, she will probably just find a way to say those things where you can't hear her.

I did also begin using the DuckDuckGo browser almost exclusively, since they don't filter my search results the way Google does. Yeah, I'm aware that this blog is a Google site. I do still use Google occasionally, mostly for Maps and Translate functions. Yeah, I'm extremely concerned about how much control Google has amassed over my life. I'm still hoping we can figure out a way to gain back control of it.

At any rate, if you're still inexplicably coming here to see if I've posted something new, and you're wanting to keep up with me on social media, e-mail me at gradualdazzle-at-gmail-dot-com and I will send you an invite to my MeWe account.

Thursday, May 04, 2017

Encouraging news

Two days ago, I *finally* got a call from the scheduler at UT Southwestern to set up my appointment. He cheerfully chirped, "Looks like we can see you sometime in... uhh... August!"

I chuckled and told him that if that's the soonest they could squeeze me in, I might as well not make an appointment at all, because I'll be completely paralyzed by then. I briefly outlined my issue, and he said, "Tell you what. I'll forward your information to the doctors and let them make a decision, and I'll call you back after that."

Whatevs, dude. Heard that before.

But then yesterday, just one day later, he called me back and said, "We can see you on May 18th!"

If I could've leaped for joy, I would've.

Now here's hoping that, when I go see this fancy-schmancy neurologist, he or she will be able to immediately get me the help I need. I mean, how hard is it to hook me up to some IV copper? Really? But it's like none of my current specialists have the first clue about that.


I am absolutely NOT going to be one of those Christians who spout the "everything happens for a reason" line of shite, because it's untrue. We live in a fallen, chaotic, broken world where crap happens to "good" people while "awesome" stuff happens to those considered undeserving. It just does. But I do know this -- that God will take this load of poo that's been shoveled atop my head and make it into an opportunity for blessing and grace and beauty.

Saturday, April 29, 2017

Weighing all my options

This spring, I've felt strongly that I'm standing (well, sitting) at a fork in my road, that I'm somehow in a "Sign From God" point in my life.

I could continue down the road I've been on for the past decade. Plus sides: same salary, same co-workers (who I love), same daily schedule. Downsides: I would have to continue doing part of the job that I was told last year would only last for one year -- a part of the job that I'm woefully unqualified for and which caused me inordinate amounts of stress and anguish this year... and there will be a significant change-up in the people who are my superiors, whose leadership styles are a big unknown to me and who could make my life very difficult.

I will admit that I'm slightly better-equipped for the one part of the job now than I was last year. But the administrative shake-up is very unnerving.

I don't want to say more, not even here. Not right now. I'm feeling paranoid and private.

Another tine of the fork in the road is a big UNKNOWN, but it could be the realization of a dream I've had for a long time. I could quit my job and stay home and turn my art into a source of income. Pluses are obvious, I think. The big minus is that I am not good at keeping records, doing business and marketing, etc... which are of critical importance for a person starting a business. One possible plus has arisen in the past twenty-four hours, though -- I have a friend who rents booth space at several arts/crafts fairs, and she would like to split her costs and let me fill out her booth with things I'd be selling (which could be things I've made, or could even be wholesale items of my choice).

And yet another option is to work from home for a corporation. I have a couple of friends who already do this and are able to provide decent incomes for their families. The only real minus I can think of right now for this option is that I haven't actually landed a job yet. So it's not a guarantee.

I got some sage advice from a beloved co-worker on Friday which I believe I will act upon -- I will sign the contract I've been offered. This always leaves open the choice to resign if one of the other roads becomes obvious as the ONE.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017


Couldn't cope yesterday, so I called for a sub. Husband calls the neurologist when they opened and they were able to work me in, so he took me. She basically threw her hands in the air and said she just didn't know how to help me, so she's sending me to UT Southwestern med school in Dallas; surely someone there will know what to do!

In the meantime, I'm extremely discouraged by the contract my district is offering me next year. When I agreed at the beginning of this year to take on the middle school and high school theater & one-act play, my understanding was that it would be for one year only. If it was something I felt confident in, I'd go take the ExCET for theater and then I'd be certified in it.

Well, I hated it. As in, it literally contributed to my catastrophic health crash in December, in which I spent three of the worst days of my life in ICU with bacterial pneumonia and sepsis. I'm still not all the way better from that, either -- I still have days of crushing fatigue in which I can barely get out of bed or answer my phone, and the lower lobe of my left lung still aches when I take a deep breath. Kind-of like a permanent "stitch in my side" feeling.

Anyway, back to my contract. No more choir, because I can't play the piano, but along with my art classes I still have to teach theater and they're giving me two sections of junior English. The new principal promised that he would carefully screen the middle school theater class (unlike this year, in which it was a convenient dumping ground for ill-mannered brats with no intention of learning drama) and make sure that the only students there will be ones who are actually there to study theater.

I haven't mentioned, however, that I do not trust administrators. Not ever. Maybe they don't mean to lie, but when push comes to shove, their promises become piles of pigpoop because they're stuck with kids they don't know what to do with, and the fine arts department is ALWAYS the first choice of dumping ground real estate. Oh, look! Here's a new kid with an ankle bracelet; oh, he's not an athlete? Meh. Who cares what we do with him? Just pitch him into an art class. Kids who don't play sports don't even ping the radar here.

I'm pretty sure they're trying to kill me off.

I haven't signed a contract yet, and I'm not sure I will. My mom said I needed to bargain with them, and I explained that this WAS their final offer. I've already e-mailed all of them with suggestions for how I could better serve the school district's needs. Doesn't matter. They don't WANT to spend the money to hire someone (they haven't even LOOKED or ADVERTISED for anyone) to teach theater AND choir.

It's a short trip to my mental rabbit-hole from here... workplace anxiety like this is a huge factor in me having a depression crash. Gradually losing sensation in my hands and then feet and then legs over the past year has furthered subjected me to crashing waves of fear and cowardice.

After returning home from the doctor yesterday, I made it up the ramp using a can and holding the rail, but after getting onto the porch, I tumbled sideways. I'm glad I didn't fall off the porch or break any bones, but that was a little scary.

Monday, April 17, 2017

Well, sometimes you learn the hard way.

I arrived at school today and found that my desk computer had lost connection with the network. Being the DIY type, I carefully leaned out of my wheelchair and got to the floor to crawl to the router to reset it. I couldn't reach it. And also quickly realized I couldn't get back into my wheelchair.

I'm grateful that I had some students already in the room; two big burly fellows rallied to my aid and lifted me up into my chair. I won't be trying that one again anytime soon.

My next appointment with my neuro is on May 15. I'm going to ask her to start the process for me to get a power chair with a lift that can raise me up high enough to see my students' work (as well as do things like cook and wash dishes at home). If I ever see any physical improvement at all, it will take months or even years. And in the meantime, I need to be able to get around. I can push this regular chair around on an indoor surface or on a good sidewalk, but it's useless on grass or uneven surfaces. And there's just too much I can't do.

I'm thinking about starting blogging here again on a more regular basis. I'm aware that no-one reads it anymore, which is totally fine because I just need a place I can rant and sort my thoughts. I really am a cheerful person by nature, and I'm not angry with God about my physical condition because PLEASE, God doesn't owe me anything. But sometimes I still have feelings of despair, of uselessness, etc... and I think I just need a place to be able to write it out and then work through it.

I do want to gush a little about how awesome my church family has been. Honestly, sometimes (okay, all times) the worship service isn't spectacular, and the youth group never ministered to my son (which broke my heart a little, because church youth group was always such a big part of my life). But my son has found a place of service that he enjoys -- he runs the sound booth and has been awesome back there. And interestingly, he has become a fan of the old-school hymns (go figure!) that we usually sing. So all is not lost, at least on that front. I used to play a second keyboard to go along with the piano and organ, and I loved doing that, but I cannot play anymore. I can still sing, so they set up a mic and a music stand for me. Rick leads the music but does not select the songs; I think the pastor and pianist do that. Alice works in the nursery every Sunday and plays with the little ones. So even though it's not a "contemporary service with a band" kind of church, we've plugged in where we can and we do our best to help.

HOWEVER... however "imperfect" it may seem to an outsider who's been going to contemporary services... the kindness and commitment the members show for caring for one another? I'd rank it far and above most other churches I've been a member of in my life. The very first Sunday I showed up to church in a wheelchair, the deacons got together and began to work out the details of building me a ramp to get into my house. After three weeks of planning, they came to the house and totally just built me a fantastic awesome ramp. I am in awe of the level of commitment to service that these people have for one another. THIS is what "church" is really supposed to be. Not guitars and drums (although those things can be awesome). It's about loving one another. And the rest of the world sees this love and marvels at it ("See how they love one another!"). This is how Jesus wants us to be.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

And the CUlprit is...

At that last appointment, Rick was right -- the issue was just too complicated to summarize on the phone. The neuro ordered three more tests: Copper levels, Vitamin E levels, and then a test for Neuromyelitis Optica (which is a very unpleasant disease that doesn't always have a great life-span). I was relieved to find out that I did NOT have NMO... but they said that my Copper levels were way too low.


The PA asked me who my hematologist is (the one who treats me for anemia and who does blood tests on me every three months). I told him, and he kinda raised one eyebrow. "She is going to find these results VERY interesting, I think."

Meaning, why the heck wasn't she routinely checking my copper levels? I'm a gastric bypass patient; it should be one of the regular tests.

The plot thickens. Or maybe it just opens up.

I'm now in a wheelchair during the school day; it had become difficult to get through my work day without being exhausted, and I wasn't at all confident in my ability to walk without falling, even with the cane.

In reading about copper deficiency, it appears that once I start getting copper supplementation, my degeneration should plateau, and in about half the cases, they recover some of what was lost. It appears unlikely that I will completely recover, however. Barring miraculous divine intervention, of course.

Tuesday, March 07, 2017

I'm not going to obsess. I'm not going to obsess.

 I visited my neurologist, who was extremely concerned by my condition and ordered a series of MRIs for me. When I had those scans, they called me and said that it *appeared* to indicate severe B12 deficiency. They asked me to come back for some blood tests to determine this.

Yesterday, I received a call from the neurologist's PA -- the blood tests had come back, and they wanted me to come in to discuss the results. My mind reeled a little... I mean, he would totally have told me if it came back as a B12 issue, and he would've told me what they wanted me to do. But he said nothing at all about the results. To me, this reads as "this is something scary and we don't want to drop the bomb over the phone."

Rick reassured me by saying that perhaps it's just too complicated to explain over the phone, which is possible. But of course, Anxiety Girl can leap to the Worst Conclusion in a single bound.

So yeah. I've got to wait all day because my appointment is at 4:30pm. I asked Mom to accompany me; first, because I don't like to have to drive further than home-to-school-and-back because of my issues, and second, because if it actually IS scary news, I do not want to be alone when I get it.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Health & Mobility

For the past year and a half, I have been progressively suffering from peripheral neuropathy. It began on the palms of my hands, causing me to have difficulty playing the piano. I had an MRI of my neck at that time, showing herniated discs and spinal stenosis, and last May I had two of my neck vertebrae surgically fused. The problem has not progressed in my hands, but has not improved since then.

Then the soles of my feet began to go numb, and has progressed up my legs. Today I will visit the neurologist, who will likely send me for an MRI of my thoracic and/or lumbar spine. I have had to use a cane to walk for several months already, and I had to resign my job as bus driver because it's hard to use the pedals.

I would've already been in this process, but in December I became seriously ill with bacterial pneumonia and sepsis, resulting in a three-day stint in ICU. Post-sepsis syndrome has kicked my hiney hard; every couple of weeks I have crushing fatigue and am unable to work for a day or two. I've gone far and away above my allowed work absences, which has killed my paychecks.

The fatigue and depression have prevented me from being more pro-active in seeking help for my neuro issues. I finally just gritted my teeth and made the call.

I am not going to lie and tell you I'm blissfully unconcerned... but I'm also okay. None of us ever expects the Spanish Inquisition [/montypython], and we all have to go through a grief process when we have to give up on our ideas and expectations out of life. But I will still trust God and look for the beautiful in every day.

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Retro Future

There's something vaguely comforting
about taking photos out on the playground
and seeing that Red Rover is still a thing.

Thursday, December 10, 2015


One of the redeeming qualities of the job of school bus driver is that I'm up so early, I get to watch the sunrise from the very beginning. This morning it was a particularly breathtaking show. I wish a camera could truly capture just how wonderful it is. I was also playing George Winston's December album (an oldie now, but a perennial favorite for me) on the speaker, which really made it a peaceful and fulfilling morning.

Makes up for days when it seems like I can't do anything right, and when it's my fault, regardless of whether it really IS my fault. Those kinds of days suck.

Today NEEDS to be better.

Friday, September 11, 2015


Eryngo is an oddball wildflower I usually see in late summer here in Texas. The purple and blue are quite eye-popping. And the honeybees love them.

Tuesday, September 08, 2015

Piano lessons always make me feel better

After yet another unbearably hot afternoon bus route (they claim my bus is air-conditioned, but the only A/Cs that seem to work are the ones back in the back blowing on the students... the one that's supposed to cool down the DRIVER don't seem to do a blessed thing), I got back home, grabbed a three-minute rinse-off shower, and dashed over to the church for a couple of hours of piano lessons.

Honestly, doing piano lessons is like therapy for me. Not only do I get to be encouraging, I get to pass along helpful knowledge like how to count dotted quarter notes.

I don't feel quite as heavily despondent as I did earlier. I'm hoping that means I'll actually get SLEEP tonight, as opposed to last night.

Rick had been scheduled to work until eight o'clock tonight, which is about four hours of overtime, because the casino has been having their World Poker Tour tournament stuff, and they need the accountants there to process the big jackpots that come through. Tonight, though, we were all glad to see that he'd gotten to leave at five-thirty... and he brought home absolutely awesome news. Employees have little "awards" that they're able to dole out to one another when they see someone doing something "above and beyond" the call of duty. Rick had about twenty of these saved up, and every so often the employees are able to put all these "merits" into a drawing for something they might want (concert tickets, restaurant dinners, etc). This month, Rick put all twenty of his merits into the pool to get tickets to see Larry the Cable Guy. AND HE ACTUALLY WON TWO TICKETS! A week from this Friday night, he and I are going to get to go see Larry the Cable Guy. We absolutely NEVER go anywhere and do anything together, so this is going to be a huge treat. I'm actually kind-of giddy about the prospect.

And now? I need SLEEP.

Oh, joy

How much more heartbreak do I have to endure today? One of my best art and choir students suddenly dropped both of my classes saying she was too busy. Now I get to spend my afternoon bus route fighting tears just like I spent the morning bus route. Why I left myself get upset by this stuff is beyond my ken at the moment.

Explanation and apology

I often make handmade greeting cards and Christmas cards; if I need to send a card, I prefer it to be personally FROM ME.

To the left is a card I had made for a friend who had given me an exquisitely lovely gift; I wanted to thank her and tell her how much she means to me.

Before I could even get it in the mail, however, she suddenly ended our friendship.

When someone assumes ill intent on my part, it hurts... especially when I've tried always to be kind. As snarky as I can be, down deep I really do have an inner Pollyanna who believes that there's always always ALWAYS something to be glad about. I suppose that level of sincerity on my part is easily misconstrued by some as fakery or flattery... but it isn't. I really AM that way. I really do love people, even when they're unkind or harsh back to me. In fact, I often feel that abrasiveness in a person is a "challenge" on my part to find out why and to love them in a way that they will genuinely receive that love in the spirit I intended.

I won't ever stop loving my friend, regardless... but the hurt is also instructive, and forces me to back away and give myself time to recover. I may still send the card. I may not. Or I may wait and do it another time. I don't know. Grief over a lost friendship seems so very, very minuscule and insignificant in the face of the trials and struggles of others... which makes me ashamed of myself for grieving... so my usual instant response is to retreat into silence.

Hence my retreat from most social media, at least for a while until I feel more able to cope. I may go back to it tonight. Or tomorrow. Or it may be a long time. People who know me well also know what my telephone number and e-mail address are, so I'm not unreachable. And in the meantime I will continue to drive the school bus, teach art and music, and I'll blog here as my outlet.

In the past, I've been told that my Facebook posts are evidence of my need for affirmation. I'm going to spend this time considering that, and doing some self-evaluation. I don't want to seek admiration and back-pats simply for the sake of boosting my ego, but if that's how I come across, then I need to change something somewhere. I don't ever want to seem that way, and if that's truly what it appears to be, I am sorry.

Psalm 62:5 reads, "Let all that I am wait quietly before God, for my hope is in him." It's time for me to be quiet for a while and be certain that my validation comes ONLY from Him.

Bye, Facebook.

For anyone who might possibly be checking here for an explanation for my disappearance from Facebook (I know there really are only about two people who still check here occasionally, and that's fine by me)... I'm just done. 

I'm going to be combing through the posts here in the next few days if I can get the time, deleting any that I think need deleting, and then I'll start using the blog to post pictures of school events, since I know that some parents enjoy being able to see them. I'll probably disable comments, though. 

You know how sometimes you "just can't even" ? Yeah, well that whole "even" business is overrated. I really can't. Not today. Probably not tomorrow. Maybe not ever again.

Thanks for understanding.

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!]