American Robin

Mommy Robin: “Oh this is lovely!  There is nothing like a morning bath when it is already 80 degrees.”

Baby Robin “Mom!  What are you doing?  Can I get in?

Mommy Robin “Could I just get five minutes peace to enjoy my bath?”

Baby Robin “I’m bored…”

Mommy Robin “If I have to get out of this bath, you are in so much trouble!!”

Don’t you just feel for poor Mother Robin? I think she might have been using some bad words…  This video was taken one morning after the Raccoons had used the Pyrex bowl as a swimming pool.  To the US readers, the American in the title is redundant.  The Brits are more familiar with the iconic European Robin which is a much smaller, cheekier bird, part of the flycatcher family.  I imagine the early settlers were delighted to find their own red breasted bird in the New World.

The American Robin is really part of the Thrush family and they have the same gentle nature although they are not quite as shy.  Our Robins used to migrate but some decided to stay here all year.  I am delighted because they are such sweet birds.  Like the crazy lady that I am, I love to chat to them in the undergrowth when they are rooting about for worms.  One day I stopped my car to allow one to dip a worm in the savory puddle water at her own pace.

Mom and Dad Robin look very similar except the female has slightly lighter coloring.  The males have a more vivid red breast and the females a rusty color.  They look after their babies equally and have up to three clutches a year.  The juveniles have a speckled chest but don’t seem to leave the nest until almost full grown.

Robins are songbirds which is delightful… except they sing at daybreak.  Still, they cannot be as bad as the current cicadas which are so loud that Teddy ran through the house looking for a plumbing break.  Every night I think, ‘will one of our many night critters eat that bloody cicada?’.  In truth, the cicadas were the reason why we bought this house.  We were enchanted by their alien song when we moved here 17 years ago.  I have been wondering if these particular cicadas are on a 17-year cycle because they sound different from the summer cicadas.  If I wasn’t so creeped out by their appearance, I would research it…

Teddy’s Boo-Boo Et Cetera

The God of Health (Valkyre Eir perhaps?) has not been looking after this household.  I thought we had sufficient animal sacrifices; the skunk under the deck quickly followed by a lovely dead rat (“Is hamster?”) First it was my eyes – which are much better and thank you for all your good wishes – and now Teddy’s rather dashing blue stitches.

Teddy went for his annual dermatological inspection and our doctor honed in on this tiny wee mole (a millimeter in diameter) on his forehead.  Over his adult life he has had dozens of moles removed but all were benign.  It went to the lab and within two days the surgeon had removed the basal skin cancer and surrounding tissue.  That is the most common type of cancer and the least worrisome of the skin cancers unless you ignore it.  European immigrants who move to hot places have to be particularly cautious.  If I had a dollar for every time I said, “Have you put sunscreen on and where is your hat?”

His surgeon looked about 14 years old but this is just from our aged perspective…  It’s the same with firemen and police.  She said, “I am just wondering how to place the stitches to fit in with your forehead lines.”  Teddy laughed and responded, “You mean the wrinkles!” The surgeon gasped and said, “We don’t use the W word in here!”  They also perform plastic surgery along with dermatological procedures.  We were delighted at how quick the procedure was and Teddy can now relax (but wear a bloody hat).

Our neighbor’s father has just died of Covid despite being inoculated and our hospitals are full.  I have an appointment with my gastroenterologist tomorrow for a postponed colonoscopy.  I wanted to cancel the elective procedure again but he is not scheduling until 2022, so fingers crossed.  Our air quality in the Houston area has been bad.  Somewhat surprisingly because of Saharan dust and smoke from the western wildfires.  It really is a small world; even smaller for me because I have stayed inside to heal my scratched eyes.

Our floral coleus spikes are magnificent (future post), the raccoon kits are getting bigger and we are awaiting Tropical Storm Nicholas.  This year we don’t really need the rain so they have reduced Lake Houston and we sit praying to the God of Weather, Freyr. Actually, that’s a lie – we will just be watching the weather channel and Netflix in tandem.   My favorite program is Ice Road Truckers when it is hot and humid down here. Our electricity provider has already warned us about the storm and I hope that doesn’t mean they wish to be absolved from potential blackouts.

Hope your God or Gods are keeping you safe and healthy!

Sore eyes!

This photo is a bit blurry and that’s exactly how my eyes have been feeling. I have chronic dry eyes that I treat with OTC eyedrops but this episode was so bad that my eye surface had scratches on them. My eye doctor tried everything in her arsenal but finally put punctal plugs in my tear ducts to save the tears which were evaporating in 1 second. 👀 My poor peepers felt like the Sahara desert. Yet again, the reason is a mystery and a blood test looking for Sjogren’s syndrome proved nothing.

As a result of all this, I am going to take a little break from digital devices to rest my eyes. Looking forward to catching up with all WordPress friends in a while. Keep healthy!

Floral Spike

This is the first year that I have seen floral spikes on my Coleus plants.  When I researched this, some articles indicated that it was a precursor to the death of the plant.  We often use them as annuals but they are perennials in their native countries of Thailand, Malaysia and surrounds.  Since we are also subtropical, they should live past a year but only if we get no frost.  Our Texas mega freeze this year both killed many trees and plants, yet magically revitalized others.

Then I read another article that suggested you should let them flower, as the hummingbirds, butterflies and bees feed off them.  The freeze also killed many of Texas’ much needed bees – I have seen hardly any this year.  The hummingbirds have started to arrive, however, and we have had a lovely variety of butterflies fluttering past the window.  A little green pond hawk dragonfly follows me around when I water the garden every day.  Coleus are part of the mint family and the roots are used medicinally in South East Asia.

Treesymbolism.com states:

The coleus plant can be considered as a sign that you need to take good care of yourself and you must do everything possible to stay healthy and live a long and fulfilled life. You must always put your health at the peak of everything because this is what will give you the courage to stay fulfilled.

Cute Baby Animals!

I felt like I needed an antidote to my last post…  Over the past few weeks, I noticed that the water in the Infinity Pool and Blue Lagoon was murky.  I had my suspicions so we put the night camera out.  My heart melted when I saw these baby raccoon kits.  The next night we put out some of our old cat’s toys and the kits didn’t disappoint.  It has been really hot so they loved having a wee bath. Perhaps they are bathed more than Ashton Kutcher and Mila Kunis’ kids?

Raccoons are part of the Procyonidae family widely spread through North and South America.  There are 7 species, from Alaska to Argentina, and include Coatimundi and Kinkajou.   Their original Latin name, Ursus Lotor, referred to their perceived habit of washing their paws.  As omnivores they will eat food in shallow water but the real reason for them moving their webbed paws in a washing motion is because they use them as vibration sensors.  Our kits were about the size of the Pyrex dish (although apparently two can fit at a push…)  In my mind, they look like a cute little bear/cat/dog hybrid.

Mother raccoon did not appear on camera so she was probably resting in the reserve, leaving the kits in the Garden of Raccoon Delights.  Raccoons usually have 2 to 8 kits but it’s likely that our 6 kits are cousins. Female raccoons sometimes live together to raise their kits – the original Sister Wives?  The biggest raccoon I have seen in our yard was as big as a Bulldog – their weight ranges from 5 to over 50 lbs.  Mrs Stripe, who was a street cat from Egypt, looked at it with utter astonishment.  It didn’t smell like a dog or a cat, so what was it??

Striped tails are my weakness so I smile every time I look at the video.  They are so small, fluffy and playful!  In another video we heard them whining for Mama.  It sounded like a puppy whining softly.  In general raccoons can make a variety of noises – yowling, growling, hissing, purring, chirping and cooing.  This litter was really quiet and I couldn’t hear them even though they were feet away from my bed.  What goes on in our yard at night?  It’s a magical, if occasionally stinky, place.

Google: How do I cover the smell of decomp?

The Garden of Earthly Delights by H Bosch

I hope my husband does not die under mysterious circumstances because my computer history will lead the cops to me.  On Sunday, I noticed a strong skunk smell at the front of the house.  I searched but saw nothing.  Then I went to the neighbors and asked if they had seen anything.  They thought their car had gone over some roadkill and took it to the carwash to no avail.  We laughed and I said, prophetically, “At least, I won’t have to go looking for a dead critter…” 

To set the scene, we are having a wee heatwave so it is hotter than hell and twice as humid.  Yesterday was 97F/36C and the humidity was 68 % – it has been the same for a week with no rain.  After my chat with the neighbor, I went out to the back yard and spotted them.  Decomposition flies – Gah!  They are so pretty with their sparkling iridescence.  Curiously there was no strong smell in the yard – the balmy breeze was taking it to the front.

This is not my first dead critter rodeo, so I knew that we had to remove some of the deck planks.  Teddy went out with his drill to unscrew the deck screws.  He got about half out and then had to go to the hardware store to get a special bit to yank them out.  Then we borrowed another neighbor’s drill.  Nothing was working.  Teddy looked like he was about to have a heart attack, soaked in sweat, working in Hades.  As we approached nightfall (early in the subtropics), I texted our faithful handyman to ask if he could come out on Monday.  Thank goodness he said yes.  Then I poured a full bottle of bleach on the deck and between the planks.

We both slept very fitfully and I drifted to the other side of the bed to get away from the smell coming in the closed windows.  The next day we tried all over again to remove the planks and I used every scent possible in the house which was now skunky, too.  Air fresheners, carpet fragrance, washed floors in eucalyptus, incense – it smelled like a temple or church with a dead body…  Carlos came at noon and I have never been so happy to see anyone.  This is the second time that Carlos has come to remove deck planks in our necropolis.

He struggled to cope with the scent the last time, so I said I would retrieve the corpse.  I was all set up with many bags, bleach, gloves, garden fork and very old clothes – there are silver linings to OCD!  There are also benefits of decomp flies as they lead you to the evidence.  I got straight in and pulled out the poor wee soul – it was a beautiful little skunk.  With the heat and humidity, it wasn’t all in one piece – Carlos and Teddy looked at me in disgusted awe.  “Only one of us could work on a farm,” I said.  Carlos was delighted to leave after 15 minutes and we arranged for him to come back in a few days to replace the planks.

Eventually I Googled ‘How do you get rid of the smell of decomp?’  I used bleach again, then vinegar with baking soda that makes a very satisfying chemical reaction.  Then I took bags of dirt out of the crime scene along with larvae.  I was fascinated that the beautiful dragonflies were drawn to the flies and happily ate them.  Maybe they like spicy food??  The volatile scent was still wafting to the front so there were little incense sticks were all over the yard – Nirvana.

Then I remembered my time at the airport.  Drug smugglers use coffee to hide the smell of drugs to foil the drug sniffing dogs, so the instructors get the dogs to react to coffee too.  I watched a customs dogs get excited about some luggage on the flight from Amsterdam to Houston.  They took the bag off and thoroughly searched it, only to find some regular coffee.  The passenger arrived later, none the wiser.  So, with this lightbulb moment, I went into the pantry to find some coffee to put in the grave.  It helped somewhat.  Then I went back to Google who suggested an enzyme cleaner.  We still had some left from our cat days and I liberally poured it in.  That might have helped the most. 

Skunks have an incredible defense with their notorious spray.  It is full of complicated chemicals that last for weeks and months.  They are easily predated and I have recently heard the great horned owl hooting in the backyard.  They have no sense of smell so their favorite meal is skunk.  CSI Kerry concluded that from the corpse that the owl had attempted a kill but the injured skunk sought sanctuary under our deck.  May she rest in peace.

The smell is so pervasive that I felt guilty for stinking out the neighbors even though it was not our fault.  Our houses back onto a reserve where myriad critters live in peace – usually.  My mental health started spiraling downwards.  Teddy noted that he hadn’t seen me so anxious since our time in Egypt.  On one terrible occasion we went to a fancy hotel at the pyramids to escape the eternal water/power cuts in our house.  We arrived in this verdant oasis only to find their water was off, too.  It’s laughable in retrospect but at the time I felt broken.

A few days later and my equilibrium is returning to normal.  I love my Garden of Earthly Delights and this is nature at its rawest.  Everything has to eat.  All the incense sticks gave the garden a funerial vibe and I have mourned the little skunk.  All in all, I was proud of myself for taking control and not diving into a bottle of wine to relieve the stress.  A recent bone scan showed some reduction in my bone density but normal for my age.  The doctor suggested all the usual stuff including weight bearing exercise.  I have certainly have had plenty of that this week…

Fancy Women

One of the many aspects of Texas that I love are the signs. This one tickled me and I wonder what constitutes a fancy woman? This is actually a sign from our next door neighbor, Louisiana. I noticed plenty of ‘fancy women’ in New Orleans….most were drunk as skunks and flashing their boobs from balconies in Bourbon Street.

I like to think of myself as a fancy woman but in the nicest possible way… This is the ‘skirt that disappeared’. Just before the Pandemic started I ordered a maxi skirt from American Eagle. After some weeks they got in touch to say that the skirt was no longer available. I completely understood given the chaotic situation but eventually started to wonder when I would get my refund. Just as I was getting ready to complain, my skirt arrived in the mail three months later. I had absolutely nowhere to wear it but finally it came out on my birthday, one year later.

This sign was on the Cantina next to our Cajun restaurant. It reminded me of a sign on a major toll road in Houston that made me laugh every time I saw it. It was a ramshackle old sign with mismatched letters leading to a very insalubrious bar in an industrial area, along the train tracks. “Our beer is colder than your ex wife’s heart…” I imagine that only ‘fancy women’ would ever dare go there!

As for the Cantina, all margaritas make you sexier. They didn’t reference the type of meat – that’s always suspicious…

I love marinas and this one at Lake Conroe has got way fancier as the decades have passed. Last year there was a Trump rally in boats on the lake – there was another on Lake Travis in the north of Texas where 4 of the boats sank. I will leave you to imagine how I felt but let’s just say schadenfreude was involved. Before you ask, no one died – there was too many boats on the lake at the same time. The Devil looks after his own…

Gas Lighting

‘Gas Light’ Image courtesy of Vox.com

Britannica definition of Gaslighting:

An elaborate and insidious technique of deception and psychological manipulation, usually practiced by a single deceiver, or “gaslighter,” on a single victim over an extended period. Its effect is to gradually undermine the victim’s confidence in his own ability to distinguish truth from falsehood, right from wrong, or reality from appearance, thereby rendering him pathologically dependent on the gaslighter in his thinking or feelings.

Although the term ‘Gaslighting’ is frequently used in modern parlance, it originates from a stage play named “Gas Light” produced in 1938 in the UK, followed by a British movie and then the more famous American movie in 1944, starring Ingrid Bergman and Charles Boyer, pictured above.  In essence, the husband is trying to persuade his wife that she is becoming insane by a series of deceptions including deliberately dimming and brightening the gas lights.  I won’t reveal anymore of the plot but it is an excellent movie with twists and turns.

In real life, gaslighting can exist in sexual and marital relationships, working relationships and friendships.  When writing this post, I wondered if I had been gas lit by boyfriends or my husband.  There were elements of manipulation in one or two relationships but I am not sure if it was truly deceptive or intended to undermine me.  My husband certainly manipulates me to get his own way and vice versa.  Before I learned to drive, he tried to persuade me that he was an excellent driver and that I was just an anxious passenger.  I am surprised his pants didn’t burst into flames…  Occasionally, I will use a sugary sweet voice to ask for something but that is just a normal part of married life.

Truthfully, I think I was only gaslit by a colleague in a work situation.  We started to work together after I had been very successful with a grant application.  It probably grated on her that I was being praised about that accomplishment.  I had some years working in the community sector and she did not.  Over a period of six months, she criticized every element of my working pattern until I doubted my own skills.  She instinctively knew that I was vulnerable to being bullied – it was like a cat with a mouse.  Part of me realized that she was making unfair criticisms of me, especially about my writing skills!  Despite that, it wore me down and I eventually resigned.

Sometime later the gaslighter did the same to a new colleague who became unwell because of the unfair treatment.  At that stage, I was asked to help with an intervention.  I hate confrontation but I was also very angry that I was not the only victim.  At the meeting, I snapped and yelled at her which is very unlike my work persona.  She burst into tears and curiously admitted the truth about our relationship.  She was insecure and jealous of my success and that was her excuse for gas lighting me.  I felt no validation just sadness and guilt that my earlier intervention may have helped.

On reflection, I think she had left her previous employment under a cloud but I am not certain.  It would have been even worse for my mental health to confront her in a timely manner – I needed some time to decompress and evaluate what had happened.  Sometimes gaslighters get away with their behavior because it can be subtle to detect but she was asked to resign.  Later, she and her husband divorced and I wondered if she did the same to him.

One would think that I learned a lesson about believing in myself, wouldn’t you?  Sadly not.  The very next new colleague did something similar.  This was even more complex as I thought we were friends.  I perceived that her jabs and criticisms were part of a jokey friendship.  She called me her minion, even though I had been offered her job (and turned it down) and was part of the interview panel.  This time it was infinitely more subtle and I was beginning to think I had a problem communicating with my colleagues.  The reasons for the gaslighting were EXACTLY the same!  What is wrong with my self-esteem – perhaps my psychiatrist could tell you?  I was so embarrassed and confused that I blamed myself.  This time I had the perfect excuse for resigning – Teddy had been offered an overseas posting and I escaped to Egypt.

For many years I kept in touch with this colleague who had become a ‘friend’.  There was a part of me that admired and liked her despite everything.  Finally, my common sense kicked in and I ghosted her (but that’s a topic I will leave alone).  What provokes this behavior?  In my situation (but not the Gas Light movie), the gaslighter’s insecurity made them try to undermine me.  Did my seemingly confident persona get on their nerves?  I can be very tactless and laugh too much at work.  My theory doesn’t follow through as the perpetrators continued their gaslighting behavior with a variety of other people with different personalities.  Does needlessly criticizing people give them pleasure or is it a form of sadism?

Goodtherapy.org states:

One of the most common reasons people gaslight is to gain power over others. This need for domination may stem from narcissism, antisocial personality, or other issues. Like most cases of abuse, gaslighting is about control. … Over time, the abuser may convince the target that they cause the abuser’s aggression.

I hope that none of my readers have been victims of a gaslighter but please share your experience if you have been.  During these experiences, one friend and colleague reached out to me asking me if anyone was treating me badly.  I regret not telling her the full facts but I am not sure that I was aware of what was happening.  In other words, the gas lighters were successful.  Now that I am older, I hope that this won’t happen to me again.  On two occasions I was offered jobs by people (in Egypt and America) that I thought might be possible gas lighters or bullies, so I demurred with an excuse about my mental health.  It helps that I am now more open about my vulnerabilities and mental health disability. 

Finally, I questioned if I could have gaslit any of my employees or colleague.  My flaws are many; dogmatic, disinclined to delegate, obsessive but not a gaslighter. Clearly, I can have poor judgement in interviews, given my last experience.  The only thing I am sure of is that I didn’t act with malice in the workplace.  Be kind to your colleagues.

The Circle of Life

Teddy and I decided to go to the Lake for my 29th birthday. There is a new boardwalk development with a rather nice Cajun restaurant. I don’t eat much fish but LOVE blackened catfish so we both had that with dirty rice. Most of the catfish is farmed locally and has a delicate flavor. The spices are blackened in the fry pan and the rice has herbs and chicken sausage in it. Then we had Beignet…

Not our usual ducks – a family of Mallards. In Scotland we used to call them Muffy Ducks because they looked like our brown tabby cat.

As we walked along the boardwalk after our delicious Cajun repast, I spotted this sign leading to a little fenced hole on the deck where you could feed the various fish in the lake. Texas Children’s hospital sold fish food and the proceeds are donated to the hospital. As you can see from the sign, the lake has grass carp, catfish, bass and bluegill. Catfish and Bluegill are native Texans. A long time ago, I rescued a much larger Catfish that was stuck on a lure – Kerry and the Catfish.

Look at those hungry little catfish with their maws gaping – such cute little whiskers! That’s were the title comes in – the Circle of Life. I thanked them for tasting so delicious and wished them a long life. I was the Red Tailed Hawk and they were the Squirrel.

The Non-Ducks are back!

Above are Whistling Ducks who migrate to our pond every summer. They are really neither geese nor ducks but a sub family – Dendrocygninae. It’s a bit of a tongue twister so we call them non ducks. They live in Latin America in the winter and we think they are Catholics given the amount of ducklings they have.

This is a male Needham’s Skimmer dragonfly They are common along the Gulf Coast and give a lovely flash of crimson in a sea of blue and green Pond Hawk dragonflies. To me, they are beautifully colored fairies that cluster around humans because we attract mosquitoes. These little predators are quite precocious and will sit on your hand or head.

This is Mr and Mrs Puddleduck, a pair of Muscovy ducks who live here year round. Mr Puddleduck has a glorious blue sheen to his feathers. They wag their tales like puppies when you talk to them…awww! We have had so many thunderstorms around these parts that we have puddles in the ground around the pond. These are full of slugs and worms that these fat little omnivores love. Their feathers have been covered in dirt with their muddy foraging. I tell them to go bathe in the pond to no avail…

These are two mud encrusted red eared slider turtles – what is it with the mud this year? Perhaps it acts as a sunscreen in turtle world. Sometimes they ‘turn turtle’ and we have to wade in and rescue them before the sun bakes them. They are indigenous to the southern Gulf but people have released unwanted pet sliders into other areas and then they become invasive.

OUR IDYLL

If you look really closely to the right of the most northerly pondweed, you will see the head of a massive turtle. He splashed into the water like a hippopotamus when I approached.

This is a Delta Flower Beetle, a beneficial migrant from the Florida Everglades. I was really trying to capture the Lantana blossom but then spotted the Delta which is also a type of Scarab beetle – happy memories from Egypt.