Savoring 2014

As 2014 winds down, I am savoring my favorite memories of the year - for every month and then some aspects of continuity across the months of the year.


The year started out particularly cold. The high points of the month were photographing ice crystals while I waiting for my daughter to finish up the last sessions of a conference (and yes - I am savoring her January visit too!).


February was the month I rediscovered the joy of microscopy. I took the 40 year old microscope out of its wooden case and began looking at insect wings, onion skins, and feathers. It was a time to stay warm inside and savor the continuous interest over a lot of years.


It was our first time to enjoy The Philadelphia Flower Show. I savor the memory of the day because it was full of spring color weeks before the outdoors was warm enough flowers. I also savor the super gardening gloves I bought from one of the vendors which I wore frequently over the summer and into the fall.


Seeing the cherry blossoms are a spring tradition for us in the Washington DC area. I enjoy them every year!

I went to Dallas last April and saw the Klyde Warren Park in downtown for the first time. This may become something I want to do every time I go to the area!

Looking back through my notes for April - I remembered seeing the Wood Frogs, and am remember them as a sight and sound of spring as well.


Every May, I keep a special lookout for fiddleheads and Jack-in-the-Pulpits. 2014 was not a disappointment. There were plenty to see!

Longwood Gardens is beautiful in the spring as well. I particularly enjoyed the tulips; they are always flowers I want to see in profusion.

Last May was my first experience with Letchworth Falls State Park in New York. Now that I am thinking about it again - I want to go back!


This was our first year to see the lotuses blooming at the Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens.

The dragonflies were an added photographic opportunity of the place.


Mid-summer is an excellent time for enjoying fireworks! Some years they are rained out or we miss them .... but this year the weather was great, we found a good vantage point at the last minute and enjoyed the display.

I also made a trip to Dallas just in time to catch the Naked Lady Lilies blooming in my parents' garden.


While I was in Dallas, we walked around a small lake near my parents' several times and observed a swan family - with one cygnet that was almost as large as the parents.

There were also a profusion of sunflowers in Dallas and I now have seeds from those plants to grow some of my own next spring/summer.


September was a good month to walk around the Maryland side of the Great Falls of the Potomac. Lots of water coming over the rocks. Maybe we'll go again sometime this winter.


At the beginning of the month I was in Newport, RI with one of my sisters - touring mansions and gardens...walking the cliff walk. Great memories.


Chincoteague and Blackwater Wildlife Refuge are some favorite fall destinations for us. This year we were a tad early for the winter birds but there were lots of herons and gulls that made photography worthwhile.

Catoctin/Cunningham Falls was another fall destination - for foliage and shelf fungus!


December has been full of things to savor - the poinsettias, solstice hike, decorations, pomegranates and the US Botanic Garden. I'm going to skip adding pictures since they are too numerous (and still very fresh in memory).


There are themes for the year too that I'm savoring:

  • The sweet potato I grew in a trough pot from January to October. The leaves were good as salad greens...and the sweet potatoes were baked then eaten with butter and cinnamon.
  • All the Coursera courses I took. I was looking back through the list and trying to decide if I had a favorite. There are ones that were thought provoking...others that caused me to change the way I do things...others that were just a joy to learn.
  • Visiting Brookside Gardens. I go there frequently and savor the parts that are available while renovations are occurring.
  • Being a Volunteer Naturalist for the Howard Country Conservancy. It is a thrill to lead nature hikes for elementary school field trips.
  • Community Supported Agriculture. 2014 was my first season to belong to a CSA from June-October and I'll probably continue for as long as there is a CSA near where I live.

That's it for the trip down memory lane for 2014. I enjoyed it....but anticipate 2015 will hold just a much that I'll be savoring next year on December 31st.


US Botanic Garden in December 2014 - Part I

We made our annual holiday trek down to the US Botanic Garden in Washington DC on the last Sunday of the year. Their holiday display includes models of Washington area monuments constructed of natural materials such as pine cone scales, willows branches, grape vine tendrils and acorn caps. The slide show below shows 6 of the models. Some things to note: the dome of the Jefferson Memorial Is some kind of guard with the stem still attached (1); the Smithsonian Castle is very ornate (2) so I included a close up of the right side to show the stick-bark-seed construction (3); the National Museum of the American Indian is made mostly of shelf fungus (4); and the US Botanic Garden glows from within (5); the capitol is one of the larger models (and it doesn’t have scaffolding around the dome as the real one does right now) (6); and the Supreme Court building (7) is very ornate so I included a close up of the columns that were just as ornate and more colorful than the actual building (8).

The other part of the holiday display involves model trains. The structures to the side of the tracks change every year. This year it was light houses. The winding path through the exhibit was packed with people that had stood in line for over an hour to get in - many with young children. But the wait was worth it. The child in front of us had a ‘Thomas’ lunch box and was very excited to see the trains. The older couple behind us had visited many of the lighthouses and were surprised at how many of the models they recognized. These models are built of natural materials like the monuments. A good time was had by all!


Posts from previous holiday displays:



The Progress Paradox and Sustainability

Two ideas have been swirling around in my thoughts for the past months. The first is from Gregg Easterbrook’s The Progress Paradox; the idea is that almost all aspects of Western life have vastly improved in the past century - but most men and women feel less happy than in previous generations. The second idea is that we have to figure out ways to live on Earth sustainably (a good staring point to understand why is Jeffrey Sachs' Introduction to Sustainable Development course available On Demand from Coursera)…or we won’t be able to live on Earth; our population is growing, there will come a time when the world cannot provide enough food and water, and we are changing the climate of the earth (and it’s not for the better).

Putting the two ideas together - we live in a way that is not making us happy and it is hurting the planet…..

We need to change the trajectory of ‘progress.’

Up until now - progress has been about harnessing the resources that the earth stored away in the past. Breaking natural cycles was not something we worried about. In many cases the resources are transformed as they are harnessed and cannot be used in the same way again. With the cycles broken, the resources are not replenished either. For example, we have ramped up agriculture to produce food for more people but managed to reduce the productivity of the land either by erosion, salination, or poisoning of soil…so that some soils can no longer grow food as effectively (or at all). And the overall biodiversity around us has been dramatically reduced.

Our quick and dirty manufacturing has made industrialists wealthy and provide inexpensive products to millions but left debris and poisons in their wake.

There is evidence that there is a human induced mass extinction happening on Earth right now.

We all make choices about the way we live and most of us would choose to live sustainably if we could. But our society provides very few choices that enable that?

Right now some aspects of sustainability are very difficult or impossible. Some examples:

There are some items that always come packaged in plastic (plastic bins/bags of salad greens, bags of frozen fruit),

There are products that such short serviceability that they clog landfills (disposable diapers, foam packing material), and

Electric cars are expensive and range limited….the list goes on.

But the real problem is lack of vision from the top that leads to a sustainable society. With no top down vision it is hard to piece together what we as individuals can do (i.e. bottom up) that will make a difference. That does not mean we should not take the actions that we can.

In 2015 - my overarching resolution for the new year is to live more sustainably. 

There are some steps I have already taken in the past few years and new actions. Some are substantial…some are very small. I’ll be writing about them in the weeks ahead and encourage everyone to think about taking steps, even small ones, toward living more sustainably. It’s the most important type of progress we can make for the long term benefit of our children…and the generations to come. And - who knows - maybe there is a nugget of happiness in the doing too.

Ten Days of Little Celebrations - December 2014

Noticing something worth celebration each day is an easy thing for me to do. The habit of writing it down reminds me to be grateful for these and a myriad of other things in my life. This month has been full of ‘little celebrations’ - as had been the usual for the past few months. Here are my top 10 for December 2014.


Christmas Decorations - at home and other places. I like Christmas decoration - my own and others. Over the years I have enjoyed the less glitzy ones the most: the clove studded fruit, the fresh greens, and poinsettias…but in the end, I really enjoy the whole look of the season. It’s a celebration that always ends the year on an up beat!

The Snowman. I like the music and the visuals of the film. Every year it is an integral part of our celebration of the season.


Apple Cherry Crisp. Yum. I love apples and cherries…and even more together. The oatmeal of the ‘crisp’ is just right from my perspective - better than crust.

Garlic Tuscan Bread. I don’t eat bread very often but I could not resist the loaf in my grocery store bakers…crunchy crust and soft on the end side. I toasted it and ate it sprayed with olive oil.

Butternut Squash Soup. My grocery store has butternut squash already cut up into chunks which makes the two kinds of soup I make simple easy. I alternate between the two because like them both so much. The first is butternut squash with curry seasoning (sometimes I sprinkle unsweetened coconut on top…pretty and tasty). The other is butternut squash with salsa. Sometimes I add parsley or chopped kale. It only takes about 15 minutes for the squash to soften in the broth; I mash it in the pan with a potato masher (and wonder if I will ever buy an immersion blender for the purpose).


Bluebirds. We have some resident bluebirds. They are visiting our deck because we have a bird bath that does not freeze (I bought a heater for it). Every time I see them, I celebrate. I hope I can get some pictures of them eventually.

Canadian Geese. Usually the Canadian Geese bother me because there are so many of them but they were so photogenic at Centennial Park this month that I changed my mind about them.


Solstice Hike. I enjoyed the hike this year and plan to add a hike on the shortest day of the year to our family tradition for years to come

Wildlife Photography Class. The class from Creative Live was well worth the time…but I celebrated it because my husband and I did the class together in our den with the Christmas tree decorated and a fire in the fireplace. Some wonderful hours!

Bundling boxwood and holly. Somehow group activities in December are an important part of the holiday. Bundling boxwood and holly for a nature holiday sale was not something I’d done before … but it added to the celebration of the season seeing the piles of greenery and knowing that most of it would find its way to other homes for the holidays!

Gleanings of the Week Ending December 27, 2014

The items below were ‘the cream’ of the articles and websites I found this past week. Click on the light green text to look at the article.

How the Ancient Romans Made Better Concrete Than We Do Now - Article include the ‘how’ plus some information about how the scientists worked out the details. Roman concrete is ‘better’ in terms of durability and its production releases a lot less carbon into the atmosphere.

The Greenland Ice Sheet: Now in HD - The article is a story from Ohio State University. Some of the imagery is available here.

Top 25 Wild Bird Photographs of the Week #74 - As usual - I can’t resist looking through these collections of bird pictures.

The Complete History of Earth in One Tidy Infographic - As usual for infographics…lots of data packed into one page. It is worthwhile to read the text then expand the infographic to take a closer look. I am taking the Origins course so it was a nice coincidence that this graphic came out recently.

Top 10 Public Health Stories of 2014 - We are getting to the end of the year and a number of sites are compiling top stories. This one is about public health.

Over two hundred interesting new species in 2014 - We are still finding a lot of new species in the world - even while we know species are going extinct too. How will we ever know the magnitude of the extinctions when we don’t even know all the species on Earth?

Mosaic Design Gets Assist from Robotics and Enterprise Software - I’ve always enjoyed mosaics and now it appears that robots are being used to create them. Will that make them less expensive (and thus more popular)? I hope we see more mosaics in public places - and in homes too. I’ve noticed several airports with mosaics (one of the newer terminals at DFW and Tucson).

Photography in the National Parks: Looking Back On 2014 - So many good places to take pictures…

2014’s Big Advances in (Biological) Science - A list from The Scientist.

A Video Tour of Yellowstone National Park - A 5 minute video about the geysers of Yellowstone.  It’s a reminder to go back to Yellowstone - soon.

Christmas Retrospective

What were the best parts of your Christmas? Here are mine:

A sunny day. We’d had clouds and rain for the days leading up to Christmas to having a bright sunny day for Christmas was very welcome.


Scones. I made scones with cranberry orange relish and crystalized ginger - and ate my first serving hot from the oven, sitting in a sunny window, drinking hot tea, and reading a novel.  Cooking is something I savor now that I don’t need to rush.


Yes - there was other good food and gifts…but looking back at the day, I savored the quiet of this Christmas. Many past Christmases were a lot of hustle and bustle with large family or work events around the holiday. By the 25th everyone was exhausted. But the calm settled in around my house early this week....making the day a relaxed crescendo of the season.

Christmas Eve

The night before Christmas….what is your tradition?

As I was growing up, I remember the countdown to Christmas. We were permitted to open one present per day beginning a few days before Christmas. The largest or most grandly wrapped present was saved for the evening of Christmas Eve - opened after a very large evening meal that tried to provide everyone’s favorite foods. I remember the desserts more than the main dishes: apricot kolaches and cinnamon rolls. As I got older I appreciated the raisin buns (yeast bread around a raisin filling) served with dinner.

We enjoyed the lights of the season. There was a line of cars to see the biggest display in town. We always tried to spot which part was new…and where the guards were sitting.

Music was also an important part of the season. We enjoyed school performances, caroling, and church choirs. Some of the events were earlier than Christmas Eve but they set the stage for the evening…and the next day too.

Now - I realize I have some of my own traditions.

  • Pumpkin Custard is our favorite dessert for the Christmas season (as it was for Thanksgiving too). I’ll be making it today.
  • We’ll watch The Snowman video (available on YouTube here) this evening and maybe listen to Steeleye Span’s Gaudete (from their web page here) and some Mannheim Steamroller Christmas.
  • A fire in the fireplace to enjoy along with our dinner and video/music.
  • Driving around to look at the lights in the neighborhoods near us.


Poinsettias are a frequent sight this time of year. They are a welcome large bloom in the shortest days of the year and seem to be included in more displays every year. It does not seem that long ago that we only saw red ones but now they come in all shades between white and red. I’ve been collecting images for this post over the past week or so. The large colorful parts of the plants are actually bracts…with the flower of the plant being the small structures surrounded by the colorful bracts. The undersides of the bracts often have prominent veins that may be a different color than the other tissue. Enjoy the varieties of poinsettia in the slide show below…they’re a colorful part of the winter holiday!

3 Free eBooks - December 2014

It’s time again for the monthly post about eBooks that are freely available on the Internet. The three below are my favorites for December 2014.

Boggs, Jean Sutherland, Douglas W. Druick, Henri Loyrette, Michael Pantazzi, and Gary Tinterow. Degas, 1834–1917. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art. 1988. Available from the Metmuseum site here.  This is the catalog for a large scale retrospective exhibit of Degas’ work in the late 80s. There are lots of examples of his works and his process for their creation. There are many other similar books on the Metmuseum site that make it worth browsing.








Wilson, Charles William. Picturesque Palestine, Sinai, and Egypt. New York: D. Appleton. 1880. There are four volumes available via the Internet Archive: Volume 1, Volume 2, Volume 3 and Volume 4. With all the wars that have happened in the area between 1880 and today - I wonder how many of the places depicted in the drawings are still standing. Many looked very old in 1880!





Hariot, Paul. Atlas colorie des plantes medicinales indigenes. Paris : Librairie des sciences naturelles. 1892. Available at the Internet Archive here. I always enjoy a book of botanical prints - which is what this is. I like the way the prints are an intersection of art and science. There is another book from the same author that I am looking forward to viewing too.

Winter Solstice Hike

One of the new traditions I am starting this year is taking a Solstice Hike. I got the idea from a guided hike conducted by the Howard County Conservancy yesterday (yes - a day early…but Saturday was a better day for the event than Sunday). The hike started at Belmont Manor and Historic Park and hiked down to the Patapsco River through the Patapsco Valley State Park that almost surrounds Belmont. The keyword about the trail is down; it was that getting to the river and then uphill for the way back!  My Fitbit counted about 9,000 steps and the equivalent of 40 flights of stairs. The pace was comfortable and there were no difficult parts of the trail.

It was about right for a winter hike. I bundled up and stopped periodically to take pictures. The first stop was the pond and the cypress tree. We had noticed on a hike before last fall’s BioBlitz at Belmont that there were knees by the pond and then noticed the large trees at the water’s edge. Some of the knees are in the water but most of them are in the grass around the pond and are scared from mowers.

As we started into the forest we noticed a tree with distinctive bark. I took a picture of the trunk and up into the tree to help with identification. I think I is a black tupelo/black gum since the bark does look like ‘alligator’ hide and the branches make a pinwheel pattern coming out from the trunk.

With the vegetation of summer gone, I started looking more closely at the base of trees. They usually provide a firm hold to the earth for the tree. There was one tree with a splintered trunk that still had a stump firmly in the ground.

I like the winter scenes that still have a bit of green from moss






Or ferns.

I photograph just about every shelf fungus I see as well!

Finally we see the Patapsco River.

At the water’s edge there are sycamores with their roots being undermined by the river.

As we begin the hike back we see the distinctive trunk of a Honey Locust.

Next year I might do another guided Solstice Hike…or I may just hike with friends. The point is some outdoor time on the shortest day of the year!

Another new tradition I want to try this year is a First Day Hike in a State Park. There are parks all over the US participating. To find one near you - check the  site (the logo at the bottom of the page goes to a form to select your state)! I hope the weather on January 1 is as good for hiking as the weather was for the Solstice Hike.

Gleanings of the Week Ending December 20, 2014

The items below were ‘the cream’ of the articles and websites I found this past week. Click on the light green text to look at the article.

The Hooting Season: Enjoying Great Horned Owls - I liked the owl pictures!

What Are MOOCs Good For? - I enjoy the Coursera MOOCs so I thought I would read a review of MOOCs in general.  I was surprised that the review barely mentions people like me that enjoy MOOCs to learn about a topic rather than to get a certification or qualification for a career. When I look at discussion boards - it seems like there are quite of few of us ‘post career’ folks taking MOOCs.

Walking Fish Model Evolution - I had heard about ‘walking fish’ but had never seen one in action. This post includes a video....and discusses how the fishes bones change if they are walking frequently.

Three ways cats can control our minds - There is a summary in the narrative of the three ways but the video is worth watching! Fun!

An Ocean of Plastic - I’ve been hearing more about this recently…we have to figure out how to stop putting more plastic into the ocean. On an individual level - recycling plastic is an OK answer but not really good enough. It’s hard to avoid plastic but that is what we need to think more about. I have already stopped buying bottled water and I carry reusable shopping bags whenever I shop (not just for groceries although that is how I started).

A Bird's Eye View of Humpback Whales Participating In Bubble Feeding - This is like the walking fish post - something I’d read about but never seen. The second video provides more narrative about how they do it (if you don’t hear the narrative check the audio volume).

EPA’s Energy Efficiency Action Week & New Energy Star Home Advisor - This online tool has been updated according to this post. The tool itself is available here.  Be prepared to hunt through records if your want to assess your house with this tool!

Absolutely Stunning Examples of Lakes and Rivers with Unearthly Colors - I appreciate the ones that are colors from nature….the ones from pollution are very sad.

Chemical-Sensing Displays and Other Surprising Uses of Glass - A peek at Corning research.

Desalination out of Desperation - There is a lot of water in the sea….but desalination is still very expensive. But we may be coming close to a time when we’ll pay the price.

White Throated Sparrow

It was a cold and cloudy day when I walked around Brookside Gardens earlier this week. My plan was to spend most of my time inside the Conservatory but I made a quick walk around the gardens surrounding the building. There were a lot of small birds that were very active in the rose garden. I should have brought my monopod and bundled up better. It was too hard to get close enough to the birds to get a good image. I managed to get close enough and then zoomed to 20x to get one good picture of one bird…figuring out when I got home that it was a white throated sparrow once I got home.

I’ll have to go back prepared to sit on a cold bench for a time and get many more good pictures of birds finding food in winter.

The Grand Cleanout - December 2014

About 150 books and tapes left the house this week - donated to the local Friends of the Library charity for their used book sale. This is what they looked like in boxes filling the trunk of my car.

Previously I had been keeping travel and cook books as references but now I am using the internet more than books. When I travel I want the most current information rather than a book several years old. Doing a quick search for recipes on my tablet is easier than looking through the cookbook shelf; I put the tablet on a stand on the counter once I choose the recipe.

I kept the travel books that were very specific to a place I enjoyed…and cookbooks from Moosewood - a restaurant we enjoyed while my daughter was in college.

Centennial Park - December 2014

I visited Centennial Park between rain showers yesterday and photographed the Canadian Geese. They were conveniently at the lake shore close to my favorite parking lot.

It is fun to title pictures…give the geese people-like personalities. What do your think of The Orator (below)? The geese in the water look like they are paying attention!

There always appears to be one Guard Goose in the flock.

When one decides to leave - there is often a Follow the Leader exodus.

And what about the strategy of the Big Stretch when they first get out of the water?

Brookside Conservatory - December 2014

Brookside Gardens cancelled their Garden of Lights display this year but the conservatory has the model trains on display…and is a great (warm) place to spend some time on a winter’s day. I always see something new and wonderful in the conservatory. Sometimes it is something that just happens - like the pink begonia flower that fell into a pool of water

Or noticing the cycads near the front entrance that have always been there but have recently been trimmed so that more of the plant structures show.

There is a cactus display near one corner - with threatening long thorns next to

More benign looking desert plants - sometimes with a surprising amount of color.

The water feature running through lush plants always is attractive.




But I made my way to the model trains rather quickly….following the mothers with very excited young children. Watching the trains was more fun with the chatter of children experiencing them for the first time.




Zooming - December 2014

There is a lot of Northern Hemisphere Christmas imagery in this month’s zooming series. It is the time of year that we bring green indoors for decorating - to contrast with the view from most of our windows of bare tree branches. We notice the subtle changes in color and texture now that the leaves are brown mulch on the forest floor - raked away from the lawn.

Enjoy the zoomed images…and take a closer look at decorating in your area too!

Chincoteague Egrets

This is the last post about our weekend trip to Chincoteague back in November. I enjoyed photographing the egrets too much to not include a post about them. They were not as plentiful as the Great Blue Herons or cormorants. The yellow bill and dark legs distinguish the birds as Great Egrets.

It was a very cold day but evidently the fishing was still good. Most of the birds were standing in water - or at the edge of the water - actively looking for their next meal.

Look at those long toes! The angle of the light shows how fluffed the birds feathers are against the cold.

This one has fluffed feathers too - and that primordial looking kink in the neck that egrets and herons share.

Most of the bits they caught were quite small.

This scene with the mallard and two egrets speaks of communication between species - but what exactly are they communicating?

Right after the encounter one of the egrets flew off into the sunset. And that was the end to our egret observations at Chincoteague.

Gleanings of the Week Ending December 13, 2014

The items below were ‘the cream’ of the articles and websites I found this past week. Click on the light green text to look at the article.

Drugs in the environment affect plant growth - Water treatment is unable to remove many of the drugs from sewage….so they are showing up in the water supply. This study was about the impact of the drugs (still in low concentrations) on plants - and they did find some changes. It looks like this is another dimension to think about when it comes to sustainability of the planet.

Art That's Made with Snow and Ice - Maybe I’ll try a simple pattern in my backyard when we get a good snow! The spirals appeal to me.

Climate change already showing effects at Kennedy Space Center - Not so surprising since it is right on Florida’s Atlantic coast. We were there in November 2013 and noticed how close much of the visible infrastructure was to the sea. There is a lot of commercial development along that coast too; it will probably face similar challenges.

Finding infant Earths and potential life just got easier - Did you know that Cornell has an Institute for Pale Blue Dots?

What really helps women achieve a good work-life balance? - The problem is broader than a time conflict based on this research. It points to a ‘glass cliff’ phenomenon whereby women and minorities are more likely to be placed in leadership positions which are risky or precarious….which exacerbates any ‘fit’ problems at work and thus impacts the perception of work-life balance.

Food: The rarely-seen robots that package what we eat - Two videos (pancakes and salami processing) and a short explanation. They are much faster and more reliable that people!

A Quick Tour of Germany's National Parks - Wow! Lots to see in Germany.  The post includes links for additional info about each one.

The Wonderful Geometry of Budapest's Spiral Staircases - Dizzying images…also beautiful.

Chesapeake Bay region streams are warming - I live in the watershed for the Chesapeake Bay. All the states have programs to monitor and improve the water quality flowing into the bay. It is challenging with so many things changing.

Early warning signals of abrupt climate change - Signals of a reorganization of the Atlantic ocean’s circulation….bad news. 

December Sunrise

It is easy to be up for sunrise these days. Yesterday - when these images were taken - the sunrise was at 7:18 which is well after the time I am up and about in the morning. Another benefit for this time of year - the leaves are gone so the horizon is not a solid wall of vegetation. It was a very cold morning so I took the easiest vantage point: through a window on the second floor of my house!

The first image was taken about 10 minutes before sunrise. Doesn’t the sky look like molten lava behind the trees? The second image is about 5 minutes after sunrise when the light was turning lemony.