Holley Gerth – Your Story

With special thanks to Holley Gerth for her gracious generosity in sharing her beautiful graphics.

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Discouraging carpenter bees and evil spirits

carpenter bee

We noticed lots of bees when we bought our house in the spring last year. Having never seen them before, the large black bodies hovering near our faces was scary. Beekeeper Brian assured us male carpenter bees were not aggressive and did not have stingers, but females would protect their nests.

Reminded us of the bears in Colorado. We had the same situation when bears came to visit every spring and fall. Bears were looking for food after a long hibernation in spring and bulking up for winter in the fall. Bees come looking for mates and a home.

We kept food sources secured in the spring and summer and the bears would visit and move on. Discouraging carpenter bees is not so easy.

Before we moved in, we had the house professionally treated, which meant sealing all the bored holes in the porch ceiling, eaves, and siding. Unlike termites, the bees don’t eat the wood they bore tunnels. Those tunnels weaken eaves, window trim, fascia boards, siding, wooden shakes, decks, and outdoor furniture. Not something a homeowner wants to happen.

We also painted the ceiling of our wrap-around porch blue after sealing fresh bee holes last fall.

Why blue? Two reasons. (1) Carpenter bees don’t like painted surfaces and (2) a blue ceiling is a southern tradition.

We didn’t use just any shade of blue. You used a specific shade of Haint blue, a soft blue green to ward off evil spirits called “haints,” a specific type of ghost or evil spirit from the Carolina coast, but also found in tales from various regions of the south.

So not only are we discouraging bees, we’re keeping evil spirits away. Always a good thing.

Our bee population this spring decreased dramatically. But a few are persistent about returning to their previous abodes.

Beekeeper Brian made carpenter bee catchers for us. Those seem to be doing an excellent job.

The one over the garage door is catching the most bees. You can see we failed to paint the garage eaves.

In the fall, we’ll seal the new holes so the bees can’t winter over in them and paint the eaves blue to discourage the bees from returning next spring.

We’ll never be completely free of carpenter bees. They are great pollinators so we wouldn’t want to be, but we do want to discourage them from destroying our house.

They’re welcome to visit, not live here.

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Changing Colors?

A Blog by Chicken Wrangler Sara

I came home one day to find a lizard on the fence post. It caught my eye because it was bright green. A week later I saw a brown lizard on the bench.

I wondered if perhaps it was the same lizard. I know anoles change colors.

If so, why did it choose to stand out on the fence post and blend in on the bench?

Then I thought about human behavior.  Why do we sometimes choose to stand out and be different and other times we want to blend in?

I haven’t come up with an answer.  Any suggestions?

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Holley Gerth on Our Story

With special thanks to Holley Gerth for her gracious generosity in sharing her beautiful graphics.

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The Return of the Hummingbirds

One of the things we love about the house we bought on our return to Texas was the certification as a Wildlife Habitat House.

Maintaining that environment became our goal as we settled in. We had an unusually cold winter this year. Several days of temperatures below freezing are absolutely not a normal winter in Texas.

Neither are April days in the low 50 degree and high 40 degree range.

A few hardy birds and one or two hummingbirds stayed around, but most of our wildlife disappeared. It’s May and warmer temperatures have returned.

That means bullfrog serenades, cardinals and swallows swooping down and around in their mating dance, mosquitoes buzzing for prey. (Hate that part since I am major mosquito bait.)

Baby squirrels play chase one another and mama shimmies up the bird feeder pole to shake birdseed down to her babies.

Dogwoods, Japanese magnolias, peach trees are filled with blooms. Four o’clock plants are popping up and soon will be bursting with red flowers.

Our hummingbirds are back at the feeders in large numbers. We have five feeders around the yard. One or the other of them always needs refilling now.

Last year I worried that we’d lose our large population of hummingbirds when I started making their syrup instead of purchasing the commercial nectar as the previous owner did. This year it doesn’t seem to matter. I prepare hummingbird syrup at least twice a week.

Unfortunately, carpenter bees have also returned. More about these ugly critters next week.

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Finishing Strong

A Blog by Chicken Wrangler Sara

The school where I teach has a long tradition of celebrating May Day including a May Pole. The kids learn to skip around the pole holding streamers as music plays.  At the end, there is a pattern of colored streamers on the pole.

If done properly, it looks very neat. This year was a little rough. Practices were held as often as possible but some of the students still struggled.

After the festivities were over, one of the students asked the teacher in charge, “So how did we do?”

The teacher looked at the pole and said “The last 18 inches look great.  Let’s just leave it at that.”I think I will adopt that philosophy about the school year.  It was a rough start but I plan to make the last “eighteen inches” look pretty good.

So to all my fellow teachers and students out there – here’s to a strong finish.

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Pat Conroy on Goodness

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A Tale of Canna Lilies and Irises

The urge to dig in the dirt attacks me every spring no matter where I live.

I miss certain elements of all my gardens. Things like the columbine and poppies of Colorado, Tennessee irises, rhododendron in Connecticut, and the lilacs of Kentucky to name a few.

Often I was able to transplant favorites from place to place. Sometimes the climate differences between states meant plants couldn’t thrive in the new locale.

Our return to Texas last year meant a return to familiar gardening with an added benefit I was able to reunite a favorite garden flower (canna lilies) and my antique birdbath.

When we lived in Texas before our move to Colorado, I transplanted Rose of Sharon, cannas, and monkey grass from my family home in Austin to our home in Houston.

Because canna lilies love the Texas heat and are prolific, I shared plants with friends and family. One of those friends let me come dig some of the cannas I’d given her for my new garden here.

I inherited the birdbath, which has been around since 1930, from my family home in Austin, where it sat in the backyard with cannas around it. After the birdbath moved to Colorado with us, it’s returned to our backyard once again surrounded by its cannas. I added the butterfly plants to attract Monarch butterflies to our wildlife habitat.

Hurricane Harvey’s floodwaters were too much for a very large, tall pine tree that stood where the flowerbed is now.

The same friend offered clumps of her Aunt Reece’s irises for the birdbath bed in the side yard. I’m sure they’ll thrive beside the lemon tree.

The previous homeowner left that birdbath and the one on the ground. The swan is a holdover from our antique shop days. Altogether, the little flowerbed invites the robins and cardinals to stop.

The yard is a work in progress. Soon the hot days of a Texas summer will limit my gardening, but in the meantime I’m enjoying myself.

Digging in the dirt is a great stress reliever for me and the fruits of my labor bring immeasurable reward. Who doesn’t feel a sense of joy and peace walking in a garden with the aroma of flowers and the sound of birds chirping?

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Garrison Keillor on Reading

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My Favorite Poem

April has been National Poetry Month. All month Poets.org has provided opportunities and activities to celebrate poetry and poets.

I couldn’t let the celebration pass without posting one of my favorite poems about a realio, trulio, little pet dragon named Custard. I read Ogden Nash’s poem The Tale of Custard the Dragon to my children and grandchildren so often they can quote it even today.

I love Nash’s nonsensical, humorous style. Reviewers criticize him for taking liberties with spelling and rhyme. I find those liberties delightful because I relate to the same habit.

Just ask my children and grandchildren. I’ve always called them each by a nonsensical name: Brooke became Brook E; Abby – Abby Me Gail; Faith – Faith-e-foo; Morgan-Morgan from org; Landry-Landy Pandy, J.B.-J.Beetle; Sara-Sa-RAH; and Stephanie-Steph-fon-ey.

I’m reminded of the poem every time I sit on the back porch and see my metalwork dragon. Named, you guess it, Custard.

In case you haven’t read the poem:

The Tale of Custard the Dragon

Belinda lived in a little white house,
With a little black kitten and a little gray mouse,
And a little yellow dog and a little red wagon,
And a realio, trulio, little pet dragon.

Now the name of the little black kitten was Ink,
And the little gray mouse, she called hum Blink,
And the little yellow dog was sharp as Mustard,
But the dragon was a coward, and she called him Custard.

Custard the dragon had big sharp teeth,
And spikes on top of him and scales underneath,
Mouth like a fireplace, chimney for a nose,
And realio, trulio daggers on his toes.

Belinda was as brave as a barrel full of bears,
And Ink and Blink chased lions down the stairs,
Mustard was as brave as a tiger in a rage,
But Custard cried for a nice safe cage.

Belinda tickled him, she tickled him unmerciful,
Ink, Blink and Mustard, they rudely called him Percival,
They all sat laughing in the little red wagon
At the realio, trulio, cowardly dragon.

Belinda giggled till she shook the house,
and Blink said Weeck! which is giggling for a mouse,
Ink and Mustard rudely asked his age,
When Custard cried for a nice safe cage.

Suddenly, suddenly they heard a nasty sound,
And Mustard growled, and they all looked around.
Meowch! cried Ink, and Ooh! cried Belinda,
For there was a pirate, climbing in the winda.

Pistol in his left hand, pistol in his right,
And he held in his teeth a cutlass bright,
His beard was black, one leg was wood;
It was clear that the pirate meant no good.

Belinda paled, and she cried Help! Help!
But Mustard fled with a terrified yelp,
Ink trickled down to the bottom of the household,
And little mouse Blink strategically mouseholed.

But up jumped Custard snorting like an engine,
Clashed his tail like irons in a dungeon,
With a clatter and a clank and a jangling squirm,
He went at the pirate like a robin at a worm.

The pirate gaped at Belinda’s dragon,
And gulped some grog from his pocket flagon,
He fired two bullets, but they didn’t hit,
And Custard gobbled him, every bit.

Belinda embraced him, Mustard licked him,
No one mourned for his pirate victim.
Ink and Blink in glee did gyrate
Around the dragon that ate the pirate.

But presently up spoke little dog Mustard,
I’d been twice as brave if I hadn’t been flustered.
And up spoke Ink and up spoke Blink,
We’d have been three times as brave, we think,
And Custard said, I quite agree
That everybody is braver than me.

Belinda still lives in her little white house,
With her little black kitten and her little gray mouse,
And her little yellow dog and her little red wagon,
And her realio, trulio little pet dragon.

Belinda is as brave as a barrel full of bears,
And Ink and Blink chase lions down the stairs,
Mustard is as brave as a tiger in a rage,
But Custard keeps crying for a nice safe cage.

If you enjoyed The Tale of Custard the Dragon and would like to read other poems by Ogden Nash, check out this chronological list of all his work: http://www.ogdennash.org/ogden_nash_titles.htm

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