Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Opossum Playing Opossum

How exciting! My friend Jenice over in Moniteau County sent me this picture of a possum playing possum!

It happened on Monday—she told me the little marsupial had been snuffling up the uneaten seeds under her birdfeeder, when a friend had arrived with her dachshund, and the dog had, well, accosted poor little Tuffy under the birdfeeder.

With the following result.

Aww! It sure looks dead, doesn’t it. Think of it: A wee little wiener dog freaked out this scruffy wild animal! I suppose it is especially rude to be interrupted while dining, however . . .

You know, apparently when opossums “play dead,” they actually do kind of faint; it’s almost like a coma—they get so emotionally worked up, they lose consciousness. It’s not voluntary; they don’t control it. It’s one of their many defense mechanisms.

I’ve actually never seen this behavior in person. You know, even though I’ve claimed the “Opulent Opossum” as the name of my blog, I don’t have a long history of handling them, or even thinking they’re special . . . although as I wrote in one of my first posts, they really are nifty creatures, and worth naming a blog after.

And guess what! This is also my annual “Happy Birthday” post for my blog! I started the Op Op on March 3, 2009, so I’m embarking on my seventh year of this! (Boy, how time flies!)

Special thanks, and a big ol’ “Op, Op, Hurray!” to Jenice Taggart for sharing her photo with me! One of my favorite things about having this blog is that it’s connected me to so many great people, and she’s one of the best!

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Arizona Dreamin'

I'm still thinking about the weather. It's grim out there tonight. Sharon Ray (my Sharon Ray!) is predicting wind chills near -1 by 2:00 a.m., and -5 to -10 tomorrow morning. Winds gusting to 25 mph. And then there will probably be a fresh round of "wintry mix" right before the weekend. Brrr!!!

So I will take this opportunity to show you a picture of what Sue and I saw only last week. On Saturday, February 7, we were in Tucson, Arizona, where it was in the low 80s, sunny, and pretty near perfect. Blue skies. Things were blooming. Springtime in the desert!

It was that kind of dry warmth that makes the Sonoran desert so perfect in February. You can wear long sleeves or short, or slacks or shorts, and still be comfortable. You'll want a little jacket at night, just because it cools down so nicely after dark.

So, here's a picture of Saguaro National Monument. Just to let you know: If we ever pull up stakes and disappear without warning, this is probably where we'll be.

(Yes, Sue took the picture. Thanks, Sue, for sharing it! Y'all, you can see it bigger, and see more detail, if you click on it.)

Sunday, February 1, 2015

We Can Always Talk About the Weather

We really haven't had much precipitation this winter. Hardly any snow to speak of. I guess today Columbia, half an hour's drive north of us, has had some accumulation, but so far in Jeff City, all we've had is freezing rain.

Which I hate.

But at least I don't have to go anywhere, and we have plenty to eat here at home. And as long as I have Internet, I can communicate with you! Whoever you are.

Here are some pictures I took out of our top windows only about a half hour ago.

First, a view out of our top dormer looking north along Broadway toward the 50/63 Expressway and the capitol. (Well, we call it "north" here in Jeff City, because the river is "north." But let's not get into all that.) In the distance, the big building on the left, with the horizontal pattern to the windows, is the Truman State Office Building. The next building to the right of it, is the Broadway State Office Building. The next one to the right (red brick; in front of the capitol) is the Missouri State Supreme Court building:

Next, a view "west" along West Elm. Apart from our dear neighbor's house (happy birthday, Kay!), there's not a lot you might recognize here. The large rectangular building in the background is the newly former St. Mary's Hospital. The bright "light" almost in the center of the picture is the Dulle mansion:

Looking out our front dormer window, we see Broadway heading south. The former salon is in the foreground. The Schaeffer House (gift shop) is about halfway down the block, on the opposite side of the street. The green light is the traffic light at the intersection with Dunklin.

And no, that's not snow along the edges of the sidewalks, and that's not rain making the sidewalks shiny--it's ice:

Finally, here's the view along West Elm, to the east. That big tree two houses away from us is a real, genuine American elm tree, which somehow survived the dreaded Dutch elm disease. Also, you can't see it very well in this picture, but the one landmark a Jefferson Citian might know is the Coca-Cola Building. The "Coke Room" community room is at the end of the block. The famous Coke signboard is a bright spot with a small pointy projection at the top, roughly between the elm's trunk and the bright orange streetlight in the center. It's shaped like a candle because we're seeing it at an angle. (There's a picture of it on this post.)

Plus, a bonus picture: My car, with ice falling on it! I'm so glad I don't have to go out anywhere tonight or tomorrow!

Wherever you are, be careful driving (and walking!) in whatever foul weather you might be having. Take care!

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Colorful January

That sounds like an oxymoron doesn’t it! “Colorful January.” We usually think of white snow, a scene dominated by blues and cold grays, or else we think of tan, brown, gray, and more tan. At least around here, anyway.

But Sue and I have been hiking as much as we can (post-holiday fitness attempts). And we’ve been seeing things. Maybe we’re just being mighty hopeful, looking for signs of spring wherever we might find them, and imagining we see them when we don’t.

Anyway, on Saturday, we went for a nice little hike at Spring Creek Gap Conservation Area. And we did see some color!

For one thing, there’s the beautiful coppery shine of the many clumps of Virginia broomsedge, or broomsedge bluestem (Andropogon virginicus), one of our native warm-season grasses. I have always admired this plant, recognized it as being quite different from other grasses, long before I knew its name. It’s quite common, but it really shines in winter, after its bluish-green leaves have cured to a glorious copper color.

And as we hiked a little further, we started noticing there were several fallen logs with an eye-popping orange bracket fungus on them: Cinnabar polypores! These tough polypore brackets are bright orange-red above and below.

. . . As you can see.

With fungi this bright and colorful, you almost don’t miss the flowers.

In the creek, there were delicate patches of bright green filamentous algae, flowing after rocks like mermaid hair.

And here are some pretty little mosses and lichens. The tiny goblets are the reproductive structures of the lichen. Lichens, you know, are a life form that comprises both a fungus species and an algae and/or cyanobacteria species, living in a mutually beneficial relationship.

Yeah, yeah, whatever. . . . But mostly, we love them for their cute little pale blue-green fairy goblets, which contrast so nicely with the yellowish greens of the nearby moss!

As the afternoon went on, the sun drifted behind some milky white clouds. Once the golden beams disappeared, it was as if the color had been sucked out of the landscape. The sky was dull white, and it was hard to tell how close we were to sunset.

As we hiked back on the main ridge trail, the sun repaid us for its earlier shyness by dipping down below the clouds that had offended us earlier. As the sun sank below the horizon, its beams poked the bellies of the clouds, tickling them pink and orange, revealing their ripples of relief.

We just stood and took pictures!

What a great day!

Friday, January 16, 2015

Watch This Blog: “The Five Pillars of Health”

It’s a new year, and naturally most everyone is thinking (after the holidays): “I need to focus on my health again.”

Well, here’s some good mind-chow to help you with your goals: Doc Bea’s The Five Pillars of Health. What are these five pillars? Love, Sleep, Water, Play, and Eat.

Notice that “diet and exercise” are not named (per se) in that list. And there’s a reason for it, which you’ll learn about in Doc Bea’s January 14 post, “Secrets of Good Health from DOT Drivers.” (I know, you’re thinking, “What-what-what?? Is she talking about truckers?!”)

Well, yes, as a matter of fact, she is.

My disclaimer, here, is also a big part of my endorsement for this young blog (which started in December): Doc Bea is a personal friend of mine. I went to high school with her, and for this reason I’m biased. But it’s also the reason I know this is a blog to watch. Bea (Beatrice) has led an interesting life. She comes from an interesting “place,” with her strong Greek heritage which in several ways set her apart (above, actually) from the rest of us silly, more Americanized high schoolers.

Bea was writing (very good) poetry, excelling in all her classes (even math!), and debating politics and philosophy while the rest of us were obsessing over our silly boyfriends and girlfriends, worrying about who was sitting next to whom during the football games, and hyperventilating over the new Star Wars movie.

While the rest of us were contracting our tight little circles of friends, Bea was expanding hers. She befriended all the kids—including the immigrants, the nerds, the holy kids, the atheists, the shy kids, and the loudmouths. Bea has an insatiable curiosity; she listens carefully, and cares deeply.

Doc Bea is getting close to age 50, yet she’s only recently gone to med school and earned her medical degree. She had already pretty much raised her children. She was a caregiver for her grandmother who had Alzheimer’s, and her father, who died of colon cancer. She has struggled with her own health problems, surgeries, weight issues, and she understands the difficulties of common people leading busy lives, who are trying to find some way to stay healthy.

As she says, “I have lived medicine long before I even considered going to medical school, . . . and I chose to take this journey because I made my dying father a promise to do so, and he made me promise, because he was comforted by my care and advocacy and wanted this for others. I was a non-traditional (aka OLD) medical student in my 40’s. I had a 14-year previous career in Information Systems as a Help Desk Analyst. I helped people to fix their computer issues. Now I have graduated to life issues.”

Actually, Doc Bea has always been involved with life issues, and that’s why I’m watching her blog. Don’t expect the status quo from her. She has strong feelings about the medical and insurance industries, and she has even stronger feelings about the dignity and rights of patients.

So check out her blog. Bookmark it, add it to your blog feed, friend it on Facebook. Because this is one to watch!

Friday, October 24, 2014

Pawpaws and Persimmons: Two More Reasons to Love Autumn in Missouri

October is the best month in Missouri, it really is. I claim all 31 days as my “birth month.” I love the way October takes us from the last bits of summer and through the most brilliant parts of “red” autumn. Low humidity and bright blue skies return, and it’s a pleasure to be outside again.

This seemed to be a bumper year for both pawpaws and persimmons, two luscious tree fruits native to the eastern United States. This year, to preserve and extend the feast, I processed the fruits and froze the pulp in measured quantities.

With both fruits, it’s the pulp you want, and not so much “pieces.” Both are at their best when super ripe and soft. Persimmon flesh turns into jam. Pawpaws turn into custard.

What will I do with my treasures?

Ice cream is my current favorite application. It’s pretty doggone larapin to serve samples of pawpaw ice cream and persimmon ice cream together, two dabs nestled side by side, one greenish yellow, the other pale orange. They compliment each other beautifully.

Some people put persimmons into a quick bread, but I don’t think I’ll be doing that. Quick bread is how you disguise zucchini. No thanks; it was some work to remove the seeds from the pulp, and I don’t want to do anything to hide the exquisite flavor.

Indeed, compared to the domesticated persimmons you can buy at the grocery store (they’re in season, now—you should try them!), the wild persimmons are definitely more highly flavored.

There are plenty of recipes on the Internet for pawpaws and persimmons, but I like to stick to simple concoctions that put the fruit first. Like persimmon jam, or whipped cream with persimmon pulp swirled through it.

I can’t believe I haven’t done a post on persimmons and pawpaws yet, here on the Opulent Opossum, but there you go. Do you have a favorite recipe for these treasures? I hope you’ll share!

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Black Walnut Wheat by Piney River Brewing Company

Piney River Brewing Company, based in Bucyrus, Missouri, has invented a beer that I especially admire: their Black Walnut Wheat. It’s delicious!

Since there’s nothing not to like about it, let’s go directly to why we love it!

Because we love black walnuts! It’s Missouri’s official state tree nut. Our state is the top producer of black walnuts in the world, and we like them, and we’re proud of them.

I’ve blogged about black walnuts before—shown their progress as they mature; told you about the delicious pickled black walnuts produced by Barnacle Farms in Mary’s Home, Missouri; even shown you pictures of a variety of critters drinking the late-January sap of the walnut tree in our backyard.

I think everyone should have a big black walnut tree in their backyard!

And we can’t have our lebkuchen or our billy goat Christmas cookies without black walnuts!

Since I’m so proud of Missouri’s black walnuts, when I first saw this beer on tap at my favorite neighborhood restaurant, I had to give it a try: Black walnut beer, really?

And there’s something to that local pride, isn’t there. It’s September, and it’s that time of year when the Hammons company, based in Stockton, Missouri, establishes black walnut hulling stations around the state. This is a distinctly Missouri thing, which the Piney River beer celebrates on its label.

The deal is, black walnuts are harvested by hand, by anyone. Whether you’re collecting them for yourself or selling them to Hammons, the company makes it easy for you. It’s a messy, involved process to hull them (that is, remove the sloppy, black-staining green or black outer part), which is the first step in getting to the nutmeats.

So people bring buckets, bags, and pickup trucks full of black walnuts to these processing stations, where Hammons hulls them using really cool-looking machines. (It’s great fun to watch!) At the time of processing, you can either sell your bounty to Hammons, or if you want to take your walnuts home and try to bust them open and pick out the nutmeats yourself, you just pay them for the processing.

If you’re interested in harvesting and cracking your own nuts, read Hammons’s webpage about how to do it. Once you’ve tried it yourself, you’ll understand why black walnuts cost so much at the store.

Anyway—the limited seasonality, the gathering of people it causes, the promise of all those good Christmas cookies, and the idea of genuine riches growing on the trees without any help from you, besides picking it up after it’s fallen, plus the crispness and blue skies of early fall, all makes black walnut harvest seem like a celebration.

And that’s what I get from the fact that this beer exists: Someone else feels this same way. Right on, Piney River Brewing Company!