Rufous Hummingbird!

All right! Two years ago I got it into my head that I wanted a Rufous hummingbird to come to my feeder in the fall and stay for the winter. They do that on the Gulf Coast, although the closest ones I know of have been seen about 10 miles from me (that’s 10 miles as the crow flies, which is important when you’re talking about birds).

Two years ago, I left my hummer feeder out past the Ruby-throated migration in hopes that a rufous would find its way here. I didn’t get a Rufous, but got something totally unexpected. A Buff-bellied hummingbird showed up. Boy, I had no idea what that bird was until I looked him up. That’s when I learned the male and female Buff-bellied hummers look alike.

Last year, I left the feeder out still hoping for a Rufous, but also wanted the Buff-bellied to come back. Mr. or Mrs. Buff-bellied did show up and spent the second winter here. It was really nice, but still no Rufous.

This year, I left the feeder out hoping the Buff-bellied would come back. No Buff-bellied hummer this year, but about a week and a half ago, we saw a hummer at the feeder. It was small and I thought it was a female Ruby-throated straggler who would only be here for a day or two; she was busy doing other things when everyone else left and now she was running way behind. I don’t really know how a person would tell if a bird was old and too weak for the trip, but she looked fine to me.

Then came the surprise! When I was washing dishes and she was feeding, I would be watching her. That is when I noticed a flash of rufous coloring on her sides and tail when she flew. The first few times I saw it, it didn’t really register in my head that this was not normal for a Ruby-throated. After about a week of watching her, it dawned on me that even though she didn’t look like any Rufous I’d seen before, she just might be one. So, I looked in my bird books and that is when I discovered the male and female don’t look alike. What I had seen before were males. I needed one more good look to make sure who this bird is.

Then, along came a cold front. We had rain and a cold north wind and it got down to freezing last night. I read that the Rufous might stay for a week or two and then move on, and I was afraid she would leave if she didn’t like the climate, and I’d never be positive about her identity. Well, she didn’t leave and today the lighting was just right, and I finally got a good look with binoculars at her side, belly and flank and she is a female Rufous! I am so happy! My friend who lives 10 miles away has had them stay all winter, so I expect that as long as she likes the groceries and I can keep them coming, she will hang out with me this winter. I’m so happy.

Autumn?

We are down to the last few hours of Thanksgiving, and I feel like I missed Fall. I usually feel this way at the end of November, but more so this year. I love the fronts with dry cool air, and Fall colors and decorations – the cornucopia, fall squashes, pumpkins, watching the leaves change color. Well, there’s something good. The woods that I see out my studio windows have really been pretty.

The reason it goes by so fast here I think, is because I’m on the Gulf Coast. I grew up with school textbooks and scenic calendars with definite seasons in all the photos, and I think that affected my expectations. We don’t have such definite seasons here. And, when September is as hot as ours was this year, and then we go into October and November with our temps running 10 degrees above normal…geez. This week the weather is finally doing what it normally does and we’re getting two cold fronts in one week. We are loving it!

Besides our weather patterns not fitting in with school textbooks and most scenic calendars sold in the US, Autumn actually lasts until the third week in December, but we start putting up Christmas decorations right after Thanksgiving. That certainly helps to shorten the season! I was surprised to learn that people used to wait until Christmas Eve to put their trees up. Now we put trees up before the Thanksgiving turkey is all gone. And not only Christmas trees, but we can decorate every single room in the house with Christmas stuff; there’s no end of pillows and linens and garlands galore. We seem to have made Christmas into its own short season.

As with Fall decorations, I want to have time to enjoy the Christmas decorations, too. By January 1st though, I want to do winter colors. I have an icy blue tablecloth that I like to put out during winter with a lace tablecloth over it. It reminds me of ice and snow, even if I look outside and see a random butterfly in January.

I think what I really want in my heart of hearts is to live more in sync with seasonal changes than what I seem to be able to pull off. Farmers used to do that, ya’ know. They had to pay attention to weather and animal behavior and all kinds of signs in the skies. These things took the place of the meteorologist. They also had their seasonal chores. The other day, I saw a suggestion for farmers to use the winter as a good time to catch up on their reading. It was in a replica of a 1910 Almanac. Their tools had all been cleaned up and oiled during Fall. Fence mending and home repairs were done before the snow started. Of course, this was New England. I’d rather live here than there, so I guess I’ll just get in sync as best I can where I am. One thing that would help would be if I would get off this computer. Our brains weren’t designed to have this much light to process at this late hour. I hope you all had a nice Thanksgiving.

My First Gluten-Free Thanksgiving

This is not the greatest time in the United States to start a new way of eating, no matter what it is. Unless, maybe it’s going to be an all-you-want-of-everything-you-want-that-is-loaded-with-sugar-and-fat diet. So, what to do for Thanksgiving?

I’m lurching along here, learning as I go how to avoid gluten and dairy, too. Today I learned that Bit-O-Honey candy is gluten-free. After I already had a piece of it in my mouth, it dawned on me that I hadn’t looked at the ingredient list. I saw “natural flavor,” and not knowing what that was, I went to a website that has a whole bunch of candy info. It’s gluten-free but, guess what? My Hershey’s Special Dark can’t be MY Hershey’s Special Dark any more. It is NOT gluten-free. I also just noticed that Bit-O-Honey has milk in it. Ugh. OK…I just threw all that in for free; we’re here to talk about Thanksgiving.

I told my husband that I’m doing good to be learning one meal at a time. I have to deal with three of them every day, and don’t want to eat the same three things every day, so I have to branch out. (Breakfast has been the biggest challenge, but I’ve also run into things like having to change to gluten-free soy sauce.) I told him that to have Thanksgiving come at a time when I haven’t found my footing yet, is a bit overwhelming. He suggested we go to a cafeteria. Smart man!! I told him that was a fantastic idea!

So. I called to make sure they will have food besides the traditional Thanksgiving food, and the lady said they will. (I am trying so hard to be careful. Dr. Leiberman said in “The Gluten Connection,” that our bodies react to gluten in any form and in any amount if we are sensitive to it.) I’ll be very careful and ask if flour or wheat is used in anything that I’m not sure of. But, I’ll probably take my digestive enzymes just in case.

Yesterday I bought the ingredients for a special thing we call The Pink Stuff – you know, the mixture of canned fruits and jello and cottage cheese and Cool Whip and marshmallows? Hmm. Dairy. I may be having cross-reactivity problems, or maybe part of my problems have been caused by dairy foods, and I’m just now finding that out. Whatever. I’ll set some aside for myself before I add the cottage cheese. I guess I could get some silken tofu, crumble it a bit and mix it in mine, but it’s not so important that I need to brave the very crowded grocery store. Maybe I’ll try that next year.

I also want to try a pie. I decided to do a pumpkin pie. Yesterday, I found an easy gluten-free pie crust recipe. It calls for rice flour and I have that. This is getting better. Then this morning, I looked at the recipe on a can of pumpkin that I have in my cabinet. Uh, oh. Evaporated milk is one of the ingredients. I thought my pie was not going to work. That is thick stuff, and how would a substitute be anywhere near good enough to pull this off?

Have you ever done a search using the words “gluten-free pumpkin pie”? I know. I wanted “diary-free” since I had the pie crust part settled, but I was up til 3am taking notes from the library book that I mentioned above to make sure I got all the info out of it that I needed since it was due today. I’m doing good to be sitting up right now. Anyway, you might want to give that a try. There are tons of recipes! Guess what I found? This one has  instructions for making your own evaporated rice milk. I have rice milk. See how it gets better as we go along and slowly acquire the needed ingredients and actually have things on hand? I love it! AND, I bought some coconut oil last week that I can use as a butter substitute. I bet this will be one good pie!

So, there you have the ups and downs of My First Gluten-Free Thanksgiving. By next year, I’ll be an old hand at this. Well, I won’t know as much as all these ladies whose websites I’ve been reading, but I’ll be doing better. And, better is good.

ADDENDUM: Looked at the Cool Whip label after writing this and saw that it has milk in it. Lovely. Maybe next year I won’t have to avoid dairy and I’ll have some Pink Stuff. This year, I’ll just eat my pie and think about how much better I feel these days.

Serendipity in Bible Reading

Last night I discovered a flow from one place to another, and then to a third, in the Bible that I’ve never noticed before. First, I’ll explain what I’ve been doing in my reading lately, since that has to do with how this was discovered.

Sometimes, like last year, I read through the Bible in a year, following a reading plan. On Saturday evening I would also read the chapter that our pastor would be preaching from the next day. He preaches straight through books, so it makes it easy to know where he’s going. I haven’t been reading by a plan this year. I’ve been reading a chapter of Proverbs each night that corresponds to whatever date is on the calendar. You can read the whole book 12 times through the year that way, only missing the last chapter a few times, unless you just tack it on when you come to the 30th day of the month. (I got that idea from a pastor years ago.)

I’ve also been reading the section that our pastor covered two weeks back, the one he preached from the past Sunday and the one where he will be on the coming Sunday. I read those in rotation, one chapter or section a night, starting with the one to come on Sunday evening. The way this works out has me reading through those three sections twice in the week, ending (for its third reading) with the part he will preach from the next day. This helps me keep things in mind that he has said in his sermons and helps me learn the books better.

Along with these two things, I read from another book, or section of a book. I read just sort of wherever I feel like reading, or I go to a subject that has been on my mind. A few weeks ago I started reading Romans. When I came to chapter 8 I just hung out there for several nights and kept reading it over and over. Then a few nights ago I saw Isaiah 53 when I was turning pages going from one place to another, and I stopped and read it. Two nights ago I read Isaiah 53 then went to Romans 8. That was pretty cool. But last night, seeing how Isaiah 53 ends and also seeing a note I had written in the margin, “John 17,” I decided to read that chapter then go to Romans. That’s when I saw an interesting progression and flow from Isaiah 53, to John 17, and then to Romans 8. Oh, man, I think I’ll hang out on this one for a while!

Still Trying to Figure This Out

I think I’m frustrated by the whole learning how to cook differently thing. I got the Better Batter flour mix and wanted to make bread yesterday, and when I went to the website to read about it and find a recipe, I found one and it said to mix the dough with a mixer for 7-10 minutes. I figured my arm will fall off – I’d have to eat the bread with one hand. I was willing to do that. Then as I read comments, I saw that I would have to use a mixer on a stand. Naomi, the lady behind the great flour, told a reader that the thick dough will burn up a hand mixer. SO…now I need a mixer on a stand! The last slice of I bread I ate was when I was at my son’s house and he cooked sausages and I put mine on a slice of bread. That was October 18th. I’d love some French Toast about now. (OK…back to those questions I ask myself…What do I live for? Aren’t I glad I don’t have to take medicine?)

Another frustration is so many recipes that I find and want to try, call for ingredients that I don’t just have around here because this is all new to me. And it looks like I need to avoid dairy, at least for a while. My esophagus feels sore off and on and it seems to coincide with eating dairy.

The great cornbread recipe (see this post for the link) that I have calls for dairy. At least I can make pumpkin muffins without dairy, but I need to get some non-dairy margarine/butter type thing to do it. (And these muffins are totally worth it! DE-licious!) I wonder if the day after Thanksgiving I should just go on some kind of heal-the-digestive-system diet for a few weeks, where I lay off all beans and soy and dairy and gluten and nuts….anything that can be hard to digest?

Oh, I quit taking the enzymes. My doctor told me to try them for a couple of weeks and if I wasn’t fixed to try no dairy, and then if after a couple more weeks I still wasn’t fixed, to try no gluten. I was feeling better while taking the enzymes, but everything was not fixed. I tried going gluten-free first because I noticed that when I ate gluten, like the time I ate the huge beautiful Bavarian Cream donut that sat in my stomach like a rock, if I took an enzyme afterwards, within 15 minutes my stomach felt better.

“The Gluten Connection,” by Dr. Shari Leiberman,  has a chapter on supplements, and enzymes are only recommended for “gluten slips.” I stopped for that reason, and because my doctor didn’t say to keep taking them if that wasn’t the whole problem, and because they are WAY too expensive for me and I could lose my house and have to live under a freeway bridge so I could have my enzymes (Ok…that’s catastrophizing…), and because I couldn’t be sure of everything I should avoid if I kept taking them and they did what my body couldn’t do.

Well, I just took this banana bread out of the oven. Better Batter can be substituted cup for cup in place of regular flour so that is what I used. It didn’t rise like banana bread normally does, which is to be expected. It smells good though.

ADDENDUM: The bread was good. It was thick and not cake-like, which is what the cook wanted who came up with the recipe. I expect to be making this again.

ADDENDUM II: Thought I ought to say this: The esophagus thing is not from dairy. It’s a muscle spasm. It feels better when I eat and it is worse in the evening than in the morning. If I make faces that Gene Simmons would be proud of, it releases the spasm a bit. Seems to be stress-related. Big sigh.

Working in the Garden Yesterday

I am thrilled to say that I was able to go outside and work for a while yesterday without mosquitoes constantly swarming all over me. The recent cooler weather seems to have put a small dent in the population, if only for a day or so.

I’ve had a few pots of herbs that I need to put in the ground, but haven’t done it yet since I have been redoing my whole garden, including the herbs. I know it’s fall, but this is Southeast Texas, and some herbs do well here at this time of year. I have parsley, rosemary, sweet basil and oregano that I bought a few weeks ago. I also have my spearmint that I dug up so I can move it. I’ve been stuck with all of them dug up and all of the bricks that I had in place – just for looks because I like bricks – taken out of the garden. It’s just been a huge mess. Finally, now the old herb garden spot and the part where I’m expanding herbs into is all dug up and smoothed out. I put some vinegar on weeds near the very edge where I have concrete blocks. After I got that much done the mosquitoes found me. One flew into my mouth and I decided to do something else.

It was Saturday afternoon, and also the day after Veteran’s Day. The sales were on. I wasn’t interested in the sales. I figured that earlier in the day, the ladies in the part of town that has curbs and not ditches out front, went shopping and their men raked leaves. By afternoon, I should be able to find a truck load of bagged leaves in just a little bit of time. So, I got my son to help me. He’s young and tall and I’m old and short; he can lift big heavy bags and throw them in the back of the truck like they are nothing. I pointed at what I wanted and he tossed it in the truck.

It didn’t take long even though I got side-tracked. We saw a huge pile of stuff in front of a house that some men were remodeling. I need to learn how to ask in Spanish if it’s OK for me to go through the trash pile. The third man I asked spoke English and he said I could. I found a big mirror! It’s 34×38 and I can use it with a six-pane window frame that I picked up when I was curb-crawling a few weeks ago. Anyway, now I’m side-tracked from gardening, so back to the garden.

When we got home with the leaves, my son unloaded them (and the mirror) while I laid cardboard and newspaper on the ground around the satsuma tree. I wet it down really good then spread leaves on it. This will help the tree not to have to compete with grass for nutrients. Not only that, it will help to feed the tree as it all breaks down. Mulch means less grass to mow, which saves gas. I figure all that adds up to a good reason to mulch under the satsuma tree.

That is about all I got done. I quit when a mosquito flew into my nose. They are horrible today; it’s warm and raining, so here we go again. Next week I want to try out a natural mosquito repellent that I ran across in a magazine. It’s made from 1/3 cup of apple cider vinegar, 1/3 cup of witch hazel and 5 drops of citronella. If the mosquitoes will stay away from my skin, maybe they will stay out of my mouth and nose and I can get some work done. In the meantime, I’m enjoying looking out my back door at the progress I’ve made so far.

My Yard During the Drought

It’s been forever since I’ve written about the plants in my yard. We’ve been in a drought, but most of the vegetation in my yard is still alive. The only thing we’ve lost, really, is some St. Augustine grass. Unless it’s been watered, everyone I know has lost St. Augustine grass. Normally, we get enough rain for it, but when we don’t, it dies, and we haven’t seen “normal” very often the past few years. Our weather has been crazy.

From my studio windows I can see two trees at the edge of the woods that look like they have died and one that may be dying. The two that look dead may only be dormant. I’ve learned that some of the trees are going dormant because of the lack of rain; I guess we’ll know next spring what we have left around here. The third tree has severe hurricane damage, and what is left doesn’t look so great having just a few leaves.

The only ornamental plant in my yard that I have watered is one azalea bush. And I’m not real good at remembering to water it, so it’s been stressed pretty often. Poor thing would have droopy leaves before I’d notice it was in trouble. If plants could talk, this thing could give me a holler and it would definitely get better care!

Just a few feet from the azalea is a lipstick plant. It should have bloomed months ago, but it didn’t. It was staying alive, so I left it alone. Water isn’t free, and even in Southeast Texas where we have lots of it we could end up rationing, so I’ve tried to be careful all year. Well, this fall we’ve had a little bit of rain here and there, and now the lipstick plant must think it’s spring. It has shot up taller than I am and it’s blooming.

What is really weird is our mock orange shrub. Part of it looks like it normally does in November with leaves turning a sort of yellowish brownish, and getting ready to drop. Part of it looks like it’s dead from lack of water, part of it has small new leaves, and part of it is blooming. I have never ever seen mock orange bloom in the fall! Technically, it’s not one plant, but several all growing in a clump. The clump all gets the same light, water, temperature, and wind exposure and everything. Yeah, that’s weird.

Then I have these other plants. Like the Canna lilies that are supposed to be miniature that grow by my front porch. I planted them there because the lady who gave them to me said they wouldn’t get any taller than they were in her yard, which is how tall they were in her mother in law’s yard. I thought, “How cute! They are about two and a half feet tall and they will look great next to the porch by the sidewalk.”  How about seven feet tall next to the porch by the sidewalk? With great big leaves? I have to cut some of them down every now and then just so we can walk past them without brushing up against them. That’s a good way to get a lizard on you.

Another plant that I have to cut back so we can get in and out of our house is the Turk’s cap. I go out there every few days, and whack it back and it just grows and grows. It’s been great for hummingbirds. They love the bright red blooms.  The butterflies like it, too.

And, oh, the Amaryllis! I have some pink ones and some white ones that have been growing like crazy. The red ones have been run over by the white ones. Back in the spring, before it got so hot outside that a person couldn’t even think out there, I fixed a border around the Amaryllis. (I’m still working on the front of it. I ran into a bunch of rocks in the ground.) I also mulched so my husband wouldn’t have to try to weed eat and mow around them and between them and the house. Either they like the mulch, or they saw the brick border as a challenge. It looks to me like they have made a run for the border! The white ones have grown taller than I am.  A few days ago I dug up some white ones and pink ones and gave them away. I need to do some more of that. My daughter in law said I need a whip and a chair to tame the Cannas, the Turk’s cap and the Amaryllis plants. She said she loves how things in my yard grow. She said it’s like they all just say, “I am Plant!” very forcefully. And then they grow! Really big!

One more thing about the yard and the drought. Mosquitoes. It seems like every time we get a sprinkling of rain, which is about all we are getting, the mosquito population explodes. I can’t even go outside to pick up black walnuts without three or four mosquitoes at once landing on me. What I wonder is where are the mosquito hawks? Well, that’s what we call dragonflies. Those guys can eat a ton of mosquitoes! They can eat 100 of them in 30 minutes. I haven’t seen any in a few months. I wonder if when it was dry and there weren’t many mosquitoes, the mosquito hawks all went someplace else? I hope this next cold front knocks out a bunch of mosquitoes. I sure have a lot of work to do out there!