Bearded Iris

Bearded pendant petals adorn this iris beauty. There are hundreds of species  of iris in nearly all colors. The name iris comes from Greek for rainbow. The sunlight was just right for this close shot.

Passing deer often eat my iris blooms before they fully form. Not this year. I built a wire capsule to enclose them. Some of it is visible in the upper left.

Click to embiggen

Click to embiggen

Full Moon | Joined By Mars | 21 May 2016

How I See It

The full moon rose a few hours after sunset last night. Full moon was officially at 4:14 pm CDT. Dark maria and bright craters contrasted. The large bright crater, Tycho, was prominent in the lower right. Rays streamed out indicating the force of that impact long ago.

2016_0521Moon Click to embiggen

To the right of the Moon was Mars. The red planet is now at opposition. From our Earth vantage point, Mars and the Sun are seen in opposite directions in the sky. The telephoto on my camera is good. But, it is not good enough to bring out any surface details. Look for Mars low in the east at about 10 pm local time for the next week or so. It is the closest to Earth at this time and appears larger than at other times of the year.


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Tools of Engagement

by Jim and Melanie

Before internet, talk radio, and social media platforms, it was not so easy to express your opinion in public. Your choices included speaking to the person(s) face-to-face, calling them, public demonstration, and writing a letter to the editor. Today, we have access to multiple tools that allow us to express our opinions and engage with those with whom we agree and disagree.

Is this a good thing? It can be argued both ways. I am like most people. I like having the tools to socialize with others. I enjoy discussion both in person and online. We are social beings. We band together with others who share our viewpoints. People have always been that way.

People have also always disagreed with others and their viewpoints. This aspect of human nature combines with our ubiquitous tools for engagement to cause some of the problems we are seeing today. The tools of social engagement have sharpened the differences between people.

One can express a multitude of reactions to a Facebook post by simply clicking a button. Nothing more is expected. One can give thumbs up or thumbs down on some online posts. One can call talk radio shows on a wide range of topics and express your good, bad, or ugly viewpoint. One can write the most vile of remarks in the comments sections of stories that don’t deserve that kind of treatment. Why?

In my opinion, it is not that people are any worse than ever before. I think they have too many easy tools to put their negative feelings out there at all times of day and on nearly everything online. These tools work too fast. In the past, we had to think over something we didn’t like. We had to go see the person(s). We had to organize a protest. We had to write a letter and wait for it to be published. Not today. It happens in seconds.

Recently, I read a reminder on Facebook of something I posted six years ago.

It’s time to stop viewing the other as always wrong, with nothing positive to offer. In our families, towns and communities, we accept differences of opinion and decide to work with
the things we agree on. It solves problems we face. Why make more trouble by being obstinate, unyielding and inflexible? Nothing gets done.

Things don’t seem any better than they were then. In fact, they seem worse.

House Wren | Songs

The first tiny House Wrens returned last week. Their singing will seem non-stop for the next six months. For their small size, they make a lot of cheerful sound. This one occupies the house attached to our back deck. I wrote about his attempts to fill it with twigs in this recent post.


The Spring 2012 issue of BirdScope from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology had an article about the song of the House Wren. The author claimed males can sing 600 times an hour. I confirmed that claim using my own backyard observations. During lunch on the deck, I counted songs for several timed intervals and got basically the same result. That is 6,000 calls in a 10 hour day, 180,000 in a month of 30 days, or 1,080,000 calls in 6 months. I don’t know how they do it. Such a little bird and so much sound. Wrens are one of the most vocal guests in our backyard, along with the Gray Catbird.

More from the article below…

House Wren | Welcome Back

I cleaned out the House Wren birdhouse last week to prepare for their arrival this week. This morning a single male could be heard in the bushes out back singing away. More about the singing of House Wrens here. He soon got busy adding new twigs to the house in preparation for arrival of the females. He must do a good job in order to attract a female.



Most of the twigs were small and fit easily into the small hole. But, now and then he brought one up that was awkward like this one. He tried several different approaches, first one end then the other.



This stick got the best of him. He seemed quite frustrated with it. Persistence paid off in the end.



These tiny birds are really busy non-stop. They forage for food. They sing loudly. They are very aggressive toward other birds much larger if they need to be. They scold us at times. Cats are a mortal enemy. No cat can hide in our bushes for long without being found out.

They need lots of energy per unit of volume for their size. It is a concept called surface-to-volume ratio. Here is a link to one of my more popular posts on that topic.


Don’t Ask

I’m not afraid of asking people about themselves. As an investment manager for many years, it was necessary to ask personal questions, to find out how people saw themselves and their families, their lives under different financial conditions. Often clients would apologize for talking about their worries for their grown children or for their health. They didn’t see those concerns as part of their financial picture, but I did.

At social gatherings Jim and I often find ourselves in conversation with those we don’t know, learning much about the others. People like to talk about themselves.

Except when they don’t.

Over time I’ve found that there are a few things you just shouldn’t ask someone. Things like
When is your baby due?
Aaaaah, fraught with peril. This is a question you should never ask a woman unless she has independently confirmed she is pregnant. A dear one of mine was asked this recently. She is not pregnant. She has put on weight because of an illness. The question left her feeling humiliated and humbled one more time by an illness that has robbed her of so much, including her physical self image.

One of the best, gentlest lessons in tact I ever had was when I was a couple of weeks from delivering my baby. A woman I hadn’t seen for a while saw me and smiled broadly. “What’s new?” she asked. I understood immediately that she didn’t want to assume that my distorted figure meant impending childbirth. Being a little overweight herself, she may have heard that question herself.

When are you going to start a family?
Another child-bearing question that is none of my business, nor yours, either. Sometimes this is asked by eager family members or friends, who want a woman to “join the club.” Sometimes it’s asked by complete strangers, as my niece related to me yesterday. People who want children but are struggling with fertility problems do not want to hear this. People who don’t want children do not want to hear this. People who might someday want children do not want to hear this. Leave it alone. I’m sure you’ll be the first to know when that precious bundle is expected.

What happened to (your marriage, your job, your plan to…)?
Depending on your relationship with the person asking, this might be a reasonable question. But when the neighbor down the street, with whom you have a nodding acquaintance, asks what caused your marriage to break up, the neighbor has stepped out of bounds. Don’t be the neighbor. It’s better to ask open-ended questions about the future rather than specific, painful questions about the past.

What church do you belong to?
Since at least the early 1800s, social discussion of religion and politics was considered rude. And for as long as religion has existed, religious differences have sometimes led to great tragedy. Leave religious discussions for very close family members, friends, or people within your faith community.

How could you let your (adult) child do that?
Um, “adult.” I don’t LET my adult child do anything. As an adult, that adult gets to make their own decisions.

How can you afford that?

Will you make me a quilt?
Probably not, but I am least likely to make quilts for people who ask for them.


Double Chocolate Cookies

by Melanie

This evening a friend will join us for dinner. We debated about menu, considering salmon and asparagus, or homemade pizzas. (We finally figured out how to make a pretty good crust. When paired with basil pesto as the sauce, the result is out of this world!) We finally decided to make chicken soup (I excel at soup) with Jim’s Irish soda bread and salad. That will suit our forecast for temps in the low 40s, with our ever-ready Iowa wind.

No matter what the main course would be, we agreed on cookies and ice cream for dessert.

This recipe makes 4 dozen terrific cookies. Each time I’ve made them the texture has been fabulous, and they freeze well, too.


2 sticks butter, softened
1 cup white sugar
½ cup brown sugar, packed
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 eggs

2 cups all-purpose flour
2/3 cup cocoa powder
¾ teaspoon baking soda
¼ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon ground cayenne (optional) OR 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon (optional)

2 tablespoons vegetable oil, as needed
1 cup dark chocolate or semi-sweet chocolate chips


Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

In large bowl, mix butter, sugars, eggs, and vanilla until light and fluffy.  Combine the flour, cocoa, baking soda, and salt. If adding cayenne or cinnamon, add to dry ingredients. Stir into the butter mixture until well blended. If the dough is too stiff, stir in up to 2 tablespoons vegetable oil. Mix in the chocolate chips. Drop by tablespoonfuls onto ungreased cookie sheets.

Bake 8-10 minutes, or until just set. Cool a few minutes before removing to wire rack.