Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Remembering Maxine

Our family has suffered another terrible loss.  On September 2, seven months following the death of her second husband, John’s mother, Maxine Bagley Johnston, died at Harbor Hospice outside Houston.  Born March 13, 1920, she looked (and acted) much younger than her 97 years.  We mourn our loss, but are comforted to know that she is no longer in pain, and that she is in the company of her Savior and of loved ones who have gone before her.  

Maxine was loving, caring, giving and cherished by family and friends alike.  She was exuberant, full of life, and always worked tirelessly in church and civic activities.  She loved games, and I'm told she also played a mean hand of Bridge.  She hosted her Bridge club only a few weeks before her death, and cherished those friendships.

Holidays were always special when Maxine was a part of them.  In the twenty-seven years I knew her, I don’t think we missed spending more than a handful of Easters and Christmases together.  Worshipping at Christmas Eve services was always a part of our holiday, as was the opening of gifts.  Maxine made us feel extra special because each person’s package had the same distinctive ornament year after year.  They grew pretty tattered over time, but we always knew the gift inside was chosen with loving care.

Maxine loved beautiful things.  She enjoyed dressing up, and made every get-together an occasion for celebration.  Her house and yard were always filled with flowers, and she enjoyed watching the many pretty birds that visited her feeders and nested in the hanging baskets on her patio.  She was amused by the bunnies and squirrels that cleaned up what the birds didn't eat, and she was fond of the goldfish in her pond that came to the surface to be fed.  

A perfect hostess, Maxine loved to entertain.  She always made sure guests knew they were welcome and their opinions valued.  Maxine raised two devoted children, and she loved her stepson and stepdaughter and their families like her own.  To her grandson, Christopher Hightower, step-grandchildren, and great grandchildren, “Mimi” was the very best grandmother ever.  As for me, I have been blessed with the two best mothers-in-law on the planet.  Maxine was one of them, and life will not be the same without her.

After her passing, we found inside the “secretary” Maxine used for a desk what was clearly a poem that she loved.  It was yellow with age and I know it was special because it was not only taped inside the cabinet, but also secured with three nails and a bit of glue.  It is titled A Smile and it pretty much sums up Maxine’s personality and her philosophy of life. 

Maxine was generous with her smile.  We will miss it, but the gift of her love and her memory will always be a part of us.

Saturday, July 29, 2017

Room for Ribbit

There’s always room for one more, they say.  In this case, the “one more” doesn’t take up a lot of room.  He (or maybe she) also doesn’t take food out of our mouths, doesn’t need to be walked or brushed, doesn’t use a litter box or require us to clean out a cage.  We just need to be careful not to step on him.  

Ribbit is a southern leopard frog.  He took up residence in our pool a couple of weeks ago, and shows no sign of leaving.  Not quite as big as my thumb, I suppose Ribbit is still a froglet.  Wikipedia says his body can grow up to 13 centimeters, so he still has a long way to grow.  I understand that leopard frogs are mostly nocturnal, and we have seen Ribbit leaving the pool a couple of times in the evening…to hunt I suppose.  But most of the time he can be seen basking by the pool.

Here is Ribbit on his rock.  We had placed a couple of flat stones on the top step of our pool so any small creature that fell in would have a way to exit.  Ribbit has apparently decided that the stones make a good basking spot, and the area behind them affords a fine hiding place.

During the day, we sometimes bring him small worms from the garden, which he gobbles up as soon as we place them on his rock.  When Colt enters and exits the pool, water streaming from his coat, Ribbit usually just sits quietly as 50 pounds of border collie leaps over him on the way in or out. 

Occasionally, when we swim the waves wash Ribbit off his rock and he swims around the pool.  I usually just scoop him up and put him back on his rock so he won’t get caught in the skimmer.  So far, he seems to be managing very well.  

It’s too bad frogs don’t do cute things like puppies and kittens do.  Then I would have more pictures to entertain you.    Unfortunately, Ribbit's big, googley eyes look the same no matter what is going on around him.  His expression never changes, except when he smacks his froggy lips after eating a worm.  His right and left profiles look the same. 

No matter; it doesn't take much to amuse us and we’re enjoying our new friend.  We hope he stays around for a while.   

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Happy Fourth of July

(I know, I know...I'm a little late with this one, but we've been busy.)

We almost always spend the Fourth of July at the farm…because we love being there, and because Kota gets terribly anxious when she hears fireworks.  There are plenty of poppers in our neighborhood near Volente, but none on Goat Hill.  This year was no exception.  We arrived on the first and spent time with Allan and Jef and the McElhaney family.  Jamey and Laura twirled each other into falling-down dizziness on the sack swing.

And Lulu and Clover hung out with their cousins.

We had a smoked pork butt feast with Cousins Kathy and Eric and topped it off with fresh figs poached in balsamic vinegar over Blue Bell Homemade Vanilla.  (I know, it doesn’t sound all that appetizing, but just try it.  You'll like it.)  The dogs got bone treats.

Cousin Kaia showed off her squirrel-chasing, tree-climbing skills,

and Radius and Savvy enjoyed some fresh grass after their ride.

All in all, it was a wonderful Fourth of July!

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Wiley Coyote x 2

There is seldom a dull moment at the farm.  When we arrived a week ago, the rain gauge was brim-full…showing 5 1/2 inches had fallen since our last trip.  Then, last Friday night it rained another inch.  We are awash and aslosh!  The cows and calves are happy.

When we went for our walk on Saturday morning, Red Cow’s heifer calf was having a mid-morning snack.

B1’s calf was getting a bath, which she apparently enjoyed immensely.

On Saturday afternoon, Brian, Debi and Granddog Louie arrived for their first look at the place since we did the prescribed burn in February.  

Everything looks very different.  There are seeps and springs where lush grasses now grow, and we have an abundance of wildflowers.  

The dogs are once again outfitted in their T-shirts to keep at least some of the spear grass and “beggar lice” out of their coats.

My brother and his family took on the project of sorting and organizing the many projectile points, arrowheads and stone tools that have been picked up on the place over the years (mostly by our parents and our Aunt Frankie and Uncle Watt).

A couple of months ago, Brian Jameson and Carol Macaulay-Jameson, archeologists familiar with this area, looked through our collection, and recommended that we try to organize and identify them.  They said some of the points were several thousand years old, evidence of continued habitation by native peoples throughout our county’s history and before.  While Noah and Rachel played a serious game of cards, Allan and my niece, Erin Carmody, worked hard to sort and catalog the collection.  This will allow us to preserve it for kids and grandkids, and it won’t be just a bunch of projectile points and stone tools.  There will be a real connection to the farm we all call home.

I had a delightful surprise on Tuesday morning.  I had gone out just at sunup to photograph the meadow below our house.  I noticed movement a couple of hundred yards away and thought it might be a deer or turkey.  As I quietly watched, I saw something very unusual.  A pair of coyotes made their way across the pasture, apparently unaware of me or Colt who was dozing a few feet away.  These images are certainly not wall-hangers, and normally I wouldn’t use them.  However, I can’t resist showing you how perfectly the coyotes blend into the tall grasses, and how comfortable they were within sight of the house, even if they didn’t know I was watching.

For several minutes the smaller of the two hunted for mice or grasshoppers in the tall grass.  She would crouch quietly, then spring with paws together and front legs extended in an attempt to catch her prey.  I didn’t see her eat anything, but it wasn’t for lack of trying.  After several minutes, the two of them loped up the hill, then melted away into the brush.

We know coyotes live on the farm.  We hear them from time to time, and see their scat.  However, I can probably count on one hand the times I have seen one of them.  This chance to watch them in their daily routine was a real treat, and one I hope will be repeated…maybe if I get up early enough.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Mission Cube Challenge at the Capitol

The Texas State Capitol is a great place to spend an hour or so…with or without a camera.  And, it’s been too long since I spent some focused time photographing something other than dogs, wildflowers or baby calves.  So, when Precision Camera announced an upcoming "Mission Cube Challenge" in cooperation with Canon USA and “adventurers and photo takers the New Darlings,”  I was game to sign up. 

Precision Camera and Video is Austin's first-class, full-service, one-stop-shopping location for all things photographic.  Founded in 1976 by Jerry and Rosemary Sullivan, it grew from a spare-bedroom camera repair operation to the largest camera store in Texas.  Precision personnel, especially Sales Associate Robert Backman, have answered my questions (and taken my money!) on numerous occasions, and have given me outstanding service and photo products.   

A group of 40 or so of us arrived on Saturday morning, and were issued loaner Canon EOS M5 or M6 cameras with our choice of lenses.  The M6 I used is one of Canon’s new mirrorless cameras…this version had a viewfinder as well as an LED screen.  I prefer a viewfinder to the rear screen, which is the only option on the M5.  I chose the 14-150mm zoom lens (28-300 35mm equivalent), which is my go-to lens on the Olympus OM-D EM-1 I currently shoot.  The cameras are very similar, but the Canon is newer, and has more bells and whistles and a very intuitive menu system.  It was a pleasure to shoot.

We met our photo challenge leaders, and were issued “mission cubes” which contained the themes for the images we would shoot.  Our choices were:  “reflections,” “fine lines” and “green.”  We were told we could submit one image that represented one of the themes…or if we could manage it, an image that represented two, or even three of them.  Then the fun began.

We were bused downtown to the Capitol and fanned out like a swarm of bees in search of flowers.  I decided to focus on the “fine lines” theme, and shot a number of images outside on the Capitol grounds.  

The beautiful architectural details outside, including the impressive Texas Peace Officers' Memorial, provided lots of options.

The Capitol sits on four blocks designated as Capitol Square in 1839.  The first Capitol building on this site was completed in 1853, but burned in 1881.  The current Capitol building, constructed of sunset red granite, was completed in 1888.  Topped by the zinc Goddess of Liberty statue, it measured over 566 feet by 288 feet and cost more than $3.7 to build.  From the terrazzo floor to the star 281 feet above in the dome, which was installed in 1958, it is a beautiful structure.

After 45 minutes or so outside, I decided to cool off and explore the photo options inside the Capitol itself.  There are more beautiful architectural details inside, 

including a dizzying look up into the rotunda.  

There are also impressive views looking down from the three balconies the public can access.  

Unfortunately, for "accessibility and safety reasons," the dome is not open to the public.  That nice zoom lend did, however, give me a pretty good look at the spiral staircase accessing the very top.

Some of my favorite shots were of the frosted glass panels in the interior doors.  The light streaming through from outside made for some interesting effects.

The outing truly qualified as an adventure.  On the way back, the bus broke down and stranded us under Hwy I-35. 

(Turns out, even that isn't a bad place for a photo op.)

Learning that the bus being sent to rescue us was at least 30 minutes or more away, a dozen or so of us opted to walk the mile or so from the bus back to Precision Camera.  It was sunny and hot, but with a nice breeze, thank goodness.  We made it back before the replacement bus and had first pick of the yummy Schlotzsky’s sandwiches and cookies waiting for us.  While we munched our lunches, our chosen images (one per participant) were printed and judged. We even got to keep the SanDisk 16 GB SD cards with all our images!  Thank you, Canon!

This was my favorite image, and it was chosen for a fourth-place prize in the photo challenge.  I didn't get first place, which was a new Canon M5 kit, but that's OK.  I had a great time.

Thanks, Canon, Precision Camera and Video and New Darlings for a most enjoyable Saturday.