Posts Tagged ‘Friends’

Butterflies, Gems, & Friends

October 31st, 2013 1 comment

On Friday last, a friend, my husband, and I took a daytrip downtown to the Smithsonian Institute in Washington, DC.  Our objective was to take the DC Metro down to Metro Center, have lunch at M&S Grill, stroll down to the Natural History Museum and spend a leisurely afternoon checking out the Butterfly Pavilion.  It was a good plan and it worked out splendidly.  It turned out to be a gorgeous although cool day and perfect for a trip downtown.

Well, we did get off to a bit of a rocky start – the Metro train was waiting at the station and so we jumped into the first car just as the bing-bong alarm signaled the door was closing.  And, of course, the first car was filled to the gills.  I had hoped rush hour would be over but guess it goes longer than I had remembered.  But, like seasoned pros, we hopped off at the first stop and got on the second car where there were plenty of seats and we could relax our way into the Capitol.  And, it is open today – no Government shut-downs threatened for a few more months.  I often wonder what other countries think of this country with its political disagreements and airing of dirty laundry on world-wide TV.  I have heard it said that democracy isn’t pretty and I would have to agree – nope, not pretty at all – but so much better than the alternatives.  But I digress.

HamiltonBack on track (no Metro pun intended), we soon found ourselves outside Metro Center only to discover that the M&S Grill had closed down.  Backup plan needed pronto.  No problem. This is the Capitol of the whole United States and there are restaurants everywhere so we headed on down the street to The Hamilton.  We were early but that worked to our advantage because we didn’t have reservations.  And The Hamilton is a beautiful restaurant – think gentleman’s lodge or club or something like that – no, not the stripper kind – I mean the aristocratic kind you read about in books.  The Hamilton is all white table cloths, crystal, leather upholstery, wood paneling, beautiful nature prints on the walls, soothing lighting and impeccable service – not to mention delicious food.  Lunch was pretty darned good, if I must say so myself and I’m glad the M&S was closed come to think of it.

Smithsonian 2Out of the restaurant, down a few blocks and over a couple more and we found ourselves in front of the Natural History Museum.  We were getting close on the time so we headed straight up to the second floor and into the IMAX Theater.  We were given our nifty humongous red 3D glasses and found ourselves nice seats in the upper middle of the stadium style seating.  I had worried about things being a bit too crowded on a Friday but ‘twas not the case. And minutes later, the movie began.

Flight posterThe Flight of the Butterflies (filmed in 3D) tells the story of the annual migration cycle of the monarch butterfly and of Dr. Fred Urquhart and Norah Urquhart, the scientists who studied the monarchs and discovered that monarchs do migrate and documented that migration path from the eastern US and Canada to Central Mexico.  The mystery of the scientists’ lifelong study (40 years plus) to be solved was to find out where the monarchs went in winter.  Dr. and Mrs. Urquhart developed a system of tagging the butterflies and enlisted volunteers everywhere (citizen scientists) to find and tag monarchs. They formed the Insect Migration Association which is still active today as the Monarch Watch.  Ultimately, with the help of a couple in Mexico, Ken Brugger and Catalina Aguado, the winter home of the monarchs was discovered in the Transvolcanic Belt of Central Mexico.  The film was good.  I loved the 3D effects when the movie was showing the butterflies.   I especially loved the feeling that you could reach out and touch the butterflies that seemed to be flying throughout the movie theater. But, otherwise, I thought the 3D effect was somewhat wasted on other scenes and sometimes the panning of the camera gave my stomach a little lurch so that I thought I might get a little seasick.  There is a small fee (about $8) for the movie but I thought it was worth it.

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After the movie, we headed on over to the Butterfly Pavilion.  Now it has been some time since I visited one of the Smithsonian Museums and I am always amazed and overwhelmed at the size of the Institute and the museums.   When I was in elementary school, the highlight of the each school year was a field trip.  I remember two.  One was a trip to the Coca-Cola Bottling Company.  Being Atlanta, going to see Coca ColaTM might be a bit obvious but, for us, the highlight was getting an ice cold CokeTM and a little souvenir after the tour. I do not remember much about the tour but I do remember that CokeTM at the end and the little brass CokeTM key chain that I kept for many years. The other field trip I remember well was the trip to the Museum at Emory University which had an Egyptian exhibit that included a real live mummy.  Now, of course, by definition, mummies are not alive but one never says “real” without “live” when one is in the fifth grade and wanting to emphasize something truly stupendous….believe you me, it was a real live mummy and nothing at all like the mummies in the horror movies that showed on the Friday Night Midnight Shocker each week.  The mummy at Emory was all orangey and dirty looking – not a bit of clean white gauze anywhere.  Other than these two and other art galleries and museums over the years, I have never visited a museum that is even close in size to the Smithsonian.

smithsonian1We always talk about the Institute as if it were just one big museum.  It is not.  The Smithsonian Institute (SI), founded in 1846, is, in fact, the world’s largest museum and research complex.  It is huge and includes nineteen (19) separate museums and galleries, the National Zoo, and nine (9) research facilities. The Smithsonian had more than 30.3M (yep, that’s million) visitors in 2012 and includes over 137M objects, artwork, & specimens and more than 8.45M digitized records.  So, when someone says they are going to the Smithsonian while they are in town, you might want to suggest that they narrow down the itinerary a bit.  For this visit, we are, as noted above, at the Natural History Museum. Other museums routinely visited by tourists in town for a week or so would include the American History Museum, the Air and Space Museum, and just maybe they might squeeze in one of the art galleries or maybe the American Indian Museum.   (For the complete listing – )

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And I am no less amazed on this visit although we are limiting our time to seeing the IMAX movie and seeing the Butterfly Pavilion.  One thing that really amazes me is that there is this climate controlled, separate vault of sorts right smack dab in the middle of the second floor of the museum.  We have visited butterfly gardens and houses before but none in the middle of another museum like this.  It is not huge but it is big enough and is filled with a good assortment of tropical butterflies.  No monarchs in the pavilion as they are native to the area and a month ago, you could probably see them outside the museum in the butterfly garden.  Of the butterflies in the pavilion, I (just like everyone else) was captivated by the Blue Morpho.  Unfortunately, the two Morphos that I saw just would not perch for even a moment so that I could get a photograph.  So you’ll have to be content with what photos I managed to capture. Again, there is a small fee ($6) for entering the Pavilion…..otherwise, the Natural History Museum is free.

group photo 5Not wanting to leave exactly yet, I suggested that we look in on the gems & jewels exhibit and strolled into what I thought was the gem display area.  My husband kindly advised me that I had wandered into the souvenir shop for gems and was not actually in the display area.  (Silly me.)  But that tells you how big the place is overall…..the souvenir shop was pretty danged big.   We found the Rocks and Gemstones area and spent some time meandering through the exhibit.  We would have been there hours had we stopped to read every sign or look at every rock or crystal or gemstone in the place.  We did stop to touch the oldest known rock (gneiss) on Earth at 3.96B years old. (And, yes, you can touch it – look at the sign beside the rock. It says “please touch”.)

Oldest Rock

And the crystals simply fascinated me – they are so very lovely. I wondered about people who attribute special powers to crystals and ancient tribes who felt that they could use crystals to communicate with the gods.  My husband notes that early radios used crystals that vibrated at a particular frequency to facilitate radio communications.  So maybe there was something to the old legends and stories after all. (Go to Wikipedia and search for crystal radio and read the article – rudimentary but organic materials needing no power source to build a passive radio receiver.  Food for thought – you couldn’t talk to the gods but they could talk to you or to your high priest.)group photo 6

No visit to the gems exhibit at Natural History would be complete without seeing the Hope Diamond.  I mean it was just right there and would take only a few moments to slip through the doorway and take a quick look.  Well, it was a bit more crowded in there than I had realized and nothing is every easy but we did got in to see the Diamond without too much trouble.  I’m afraid my photo is not too good as it was taken relatively quickly as the display rotated the necklace around so that it could be seen from all sides of the exhibit and the gem looked a little dirty on this day…but it was very impressive at 42.52 carats.  It is known more for its flawless clarity, blue color, and history more so than for its size.

Hope DiamondThinking about history, the hope diamond existed more than a billion years ago – before dinosaurs and before humans. It was discovered sometime around 1668 (before the United States) in India.  It was originally about 112 carats which was cut down to 67 1/8 while owned by Louis XIV.  It was lost for about 20 years after the French Revolution and later showed up in England.  You can read the full history here.  The Hope Diamond is surrounded by 16 white diamonds and held by a platinum chain with another 46 diamonds….quite a piece of jewelry. There is a funny story about it that shows how the uber-wealthy do not think the same way as us poor hicks do. It is said that one of the last owners before the stone was donated to the Institute kept the necklace hidden under the seat cushions on the sofa for safe-keeping and has a photo of her dog wearing the necklace. Familiarity breeds, well, familiarity – nothing special about this old thing – it’s been hanging around the house for years.

Quite a necklace, quite a story, and quite an interesting day.

If you would like more information about Flight of the Butterflies and the Smithsonian Butterfly Pavilion and Museums:

Smithsonian Institute:

Natural History Museum:

IMAX Theaters:

Flight of the Butterflies site at Smithsonian:

Butterfly Pavilion:

Video of Butterfly Pavilion:

Flight of the Butterflies Movie Site:

Flight of the Butterflies – Secrets of Filming:

Free Book for children – ITunes:

SI Gems and Rocks:

Hope Diamond:

History of the Hope Diamond:

Dr. Fred Urquhart and Norah Urquhart:

Wikipedia Crystal Radio:

June Blooms (June 21, 2013)

June 21st, 2013 2 comments

As of late, I have been browsing blogs to see what others go on about and what makes each blog special.  Yep, I’m looking for pointers and ideas so I’m surfing the blog-o-sphere.  I had become a fan of The Tidewater Gardener after a friend recommended that I check him out.  Recently, there was a post with a challenge that members of the blogger community – the flower lovers & gardeners among us – get out there and take photos of the flowers blooming in their gardens on June 15th and post them for all to see.  The original idea seems to have come from another blogger – Carol of May Dreams Gardens.  Carol invites all bloggers to survey, photograph, and share their blooms and then add a link at her blog-site to share the wealth with everyone.  Of course, I found all this a week or so later than the intended “share” date but I cannot really let that stop me, now can I?

So, round the yard I went taking photos of flowers with my trusty Sony Cybershot® only to find that most of the photos were too blurry to use.  Either my eyes are going bad or the camera has been dropped a few times too many.  Vanity keeps me from admitting the first and thriftiness the second.  So, next day, I was out there again with a little bit better camera….and I got a little bit better photos….and some are good enough to share.

Hydrangea Photo 12Starting off with the obvious, there are three different hydrangeas blooming in the flowerbeds at present.  I ask you, what respectable southern gardener would not have hydrangeas in the yard? There are some givens with southern gardens – hydrangeas and roses and crepe myrtles.  If you have any more yard room at all, then you have to have a Southern Magnolia; if your yard is small, like ours, you can get away with omitting the magnolia but you absolutely must have the others.   Of course, the crepe myrtles are not blooming right now or I’d surely have a picture to show you. We have both mopheads and lace cap hydrangeas blooming this June (Macophylla mophead & Macophylla normalus).

Rose Photo 3Moving on to roses, we have a few but mostly they are the easy to deal with type of roses – shrub or blanket.  I also, do not tell any of my gardening buddies, have Knock Out® roses.  I absolutely cannot grow roses – they are just too much trouble.  Every fungus and disease known to man also is known to roses – intimately.  I am here to tell you, if there is a spot to be had, black or otherwise, it’ll be had on the roses.  So, I gave up on the tea roses and the fancy ones and just stick to the wilder looking ones that seem to grow by themselves without dust or spray or, in my shady yard, light of day. The particular rose photo I am sharing is one from a rose whose name I do not know.  It is not unusual for me not to know the names of the flowers I grow because I do not always keep up with the right & proper (i.e. species) name for anything.  And, on top of that, I inherited my daddy’s habit of re-naming every flower to better fit what it looks like. For example, he called wild red Columbines (Aquilegia species) “red tinker-bells” and Forsythia was, of course, “yellow tinker-bells”.  I can totally see that so I now call them that too.  Oh, just so you know, Forsythia is another of those flower bushes that no southern home can be without.  But back to the rose that I do not know the name of whose photo I included.  This one I will not take credit for forgetting  – it didn’t come with a name. I got it for $1 at an “end of season” sale at Lowe’s®.  I got two roses and I stuck them in the ground that very day and it was some six months or so before I had any clue what kind of rose they were.  Turns out they were blanket (or carpet or groundcover) roses – one light pink and one dark pink.  Both are blooming now but I kind of like the light pink one best.

Wild Yam Vine Photo 4As you might be able to tell, I am a sucker for a bargain and will peruse the “on sale” area like nobody’s business.  I once bought a little piddly looking plant that didn’t have a chance of surviving because it was marked “slow mover”.  I took it home and tried to make it live because I wanted to see if it ever would move at all.  I’ll never know – it died shortly after I got it home.  But even better than buying a plant on sale is getting one free.  Now, hold your horses, I am not talking about “rustling” plants although it has occurred to me that pinching off a little Coleus now and then from someone’s overflowing container garden might not be such a bad thing.  I prefer to think of my habit as “relocating” plants to a better place in life.  But I do limit myself (for the most part) to relocating plants with permission or from places that are obviously not going to be a problem like construction sites where everything is being plowed up and destroyed – although you need to get permission to be there too. But the next photo (above) is a wild-flower (of sorts).  This is a Wild Yam Vine (Dioscorea villosa) that we inadvertently came home with while “relocating” a fern from beside a creek bed by the side of the road.  We also came home with a poison ivy vine that gave me the worst case of poison ivy I have had in many a year (plant rustling is not without its punishment).  The yam vine is an interesting one so I kept it.  I have never really seen any type of flowers blooming on it but it always has these tiny little seed pods.  I do not know if these are some sort of modified bloom but it is what passes for blooms for me.  On the good side, this vine comes back every year but doesn’t really seem to get bigger or spread any further than where it is.  These may be famous last words for me. On the other hand, no matter how much I love birds and how much birds love poison ivy berries, I am not about to keep that evil vine anywhere near my yard.

Wineberry Photo 1The next best kind of “free” plants are those that come up voluntarily.  These volunteers are usually weeds (beauty is truly in the eye of the beholder, is it not?) and most people do not want them around and spend considerable amounts of time and money trying to get rid of them. But the red raspberry vine growing in the yard is my favorite kind of volunteer.  The vines were here when we moved here and we have transplanted them to various places in the yard (with a little help from the birds). Fortunately, they are relatively easy to remove and keep under control (with good thick gloves).  AND, they produce wonderful sweet berries every year.  On the down side, we do not usually get to eat many of the berries because the birds get to them first.  I have noted that birds are better at gardening than I am – at least they are better at monitoring progress on the berry bushes than I am.  The blooms on a raspberry vine are pretty innocuous but the early buds are quite lovely.  I suspect this is not a cultivated red raspberry bush but rather a Japanese Wineberry (Rubus phoenicolaseus) which has become invasive in some parts of this state. For now, they are loved by the birds (and by me) so I allow the vines to continue to grow.

Beauty Berry Photo 8Another berry bush just coming into bloom is the Beauty Berry (Callicarpa americana).  Unlike the wineberry vines, the beauty berry is all American –  nothing foreign or invasive about it. Again, the blooms are tiny but will be replaced by bright purple berries in another few weeks.  I planted this bush specifically for the birds to enjoy and they do.  When we planted a blueberry bush out front, we dreamed of eating those sweet berries but the birds get to them and finish them off long before they are fully ripe so we never get a one.  On the other hand, the beauty berry bush is different… the birds do not really eat the berries until late autumn. Maybe, they know that we humans do not eat beauty berries so there is no need to eat them quickly to keep us from getting to them first.  So, a bit after the first good cold snap in autumn, the robins and mockingbirds and catbirds swoop in and consume every single little beauty berry in just a day or two.

Trumpet Vine Photo 9I also have planted Trumpet Vine (Campsis radecans) for the birds to enjoy – particularly the hummingbirds.  And who doesn’t want hummingbirds in their yards?  The trumpet vine is also a native plant but this one can be invasive and it can grow quite large so you have to plant it where you can try to control it.  I say “try” because that is about all you can do.  But, it is a favorite with hummingbirds and butterflies and, apparently from the photo, ants.  I have never seen so many ants on a bud before and I am wondering if the trumpet flower is like a peony that is covered with ants and has a bit of a symbiotic relationship during the hard bud stage.  I note that a more common name for the plant is the “cow-itch vine”.  Do you suppose it is the ants that cause the cows to itch or the vine? Of course, the “itch” could come from some allergen in the plant – the leaves remind me quite a bit of poison sumac. But I’m good with it as long as it is the cows that are itching and not me.

Red Dragon Photo 5Now, moving back to blooms from plants less wild.  The next two flowers are plants I purchased in years past at the Philadelphia Flower Show.  The first is a Persicaria ‘Red Dragon’ and has a tiny bloom but, like coleus, has such beautiful foliage that it holds a special place in my garden.  For me, that is. It hangs over the edges of the flower beds and drives my husband to distraction…but that is only because I do not let him run through it with the weed whacker.

Firecracker Photo 10The other is one of those mystery plants that I bought on a whim at the show and I haven’t the foggiest idea what it is.  It is a bulb and not hardy at all so I keep it in a pot with an Elephant’s Ear that I bring in to the sun room to winter over every year.   You’ve been to those shows and heard those vendors talking about magic bulbs that produce marvelous tropical flowers that you know you just got to have and today only they are only $2.99 or you know you’ll regret it if you do not buy this bulb right now!!!  Well, I heard the spiel and had to have it and I bought it and came home proudly with my little bulb like a treasure in a little brown paper bag.  I figured I would plant it and it would never come up and I’d just be out my three bucks….which is usually what happens.  But it has surpassed all my expectations and then some.  It was supposed to be a “firecracker” lily and I continue to call it that because it blooms without fail every year around July 4th. This year, it is a little bit early but the blooms will last a week or so and take us right into Independence Day. I have googled the name and did see one image of a similar plant but mostly the only bloom that popped up on Google® was a bright red Asiatic lily.  If anyone knows the name of this bulb, please pass it along. Otherwise, it’ll remain the Firecracker Lily. I think that maybe an orange or yellow one planted in the same pot would make a nice fireworks type display but I would have to know what it is before I can try to buy another one.  It is sounding more and more like I need to go back to the flower show in hopes that the bulb hustler is still there with his brown bag of goodies that no gardener can ever resist.

And finally, June is the month for lilies, both daylilies and Asiatic lilies.  And there are few plants more beautiful.  From the cool clean elegance of the Easter Lily (Lilium longiflorum) to the bright hot orange of the roadside orange or tawny daylily (Hemerocallis fulva) , they are all quite beautiful.

For lilies & daylilies, it is best to let the photos speak for themselves.

Easter Lily Photo 6Daylily 2 Photo 11

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