Becoming Steffi


Hello, I’m Steffi

Naming a dog is something of an art, unless it is just happenstance.  After a while, one needs to stop saying “puppy” or “Pupperdoodle” or “little dog” and anoint with a proper name.  We had tried out a few names here and there, and nothing much stuck.  I was playing with pup with a tennis ball, and bounced it for her to catch.  She liked that and after a couple of times with me, caught the ball, and began to release it herself and make it bounce and catch it.  I was telling R about it, and he said maybe we should name her Martina.  Martina McBride?  Navratilova…or Steffi?  I can miss his subtleties at times.

I hope all the R & B musicians, actors, and tennis players appreciate that we admire their qualities and consider it a tiny little “Dog Oscar, Cat Grammy, or GDA* Open” when we bestow their name on one of our beloved family members.

*Greatest Dog Athlete

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Triodanis perfoliata hiding amongst the clover and chickweed, Oxalis crassipes ‘Rosea’ aka Oxalis Cottage Pink Wood Sorrel, Beyonce hiding amidst the grass, and a new crop of moss

triodanis perfoliata

Venus’ Looking Glass (Triodanis perfoliata)

I have spotted these tiny purple star-shaped flowers throughout the yard.  They are a member of the angiosperms family of woody and non-woody forms of plants.  Considered the most diverse of all plants, they reproduce via flowers and seeds contained in fruits (   They like to “hide” among other ground cover plants such as clover and chickweed.

Oxalis crassipes 'Rosea and lawn moss

Oxalis Cottage Pink Wood Sorrel (Oxalis crassipes ‘Rosea’)

Also in patches throughout the yard, the dainty little oxalis flowers open up in the morning, and close at dusk for the evening.


Beyonce (tortoiseshell cat)

Also enjoying hiding in the mini-ecosystem, Beyoncé appreciates the tall grasses that make a cozy napping spot in the sun.


Moss on rotted wood (star-like individual sporophytes Dicranum moss)

Along with my lesson on Angiosperms, I learned about Gymnosperms and Bryophytes and Sporophytes.  Pine trees are members of the Gymnosperms family of woody trees and shrubs, and reproduction is via seeds in cones, visible in the upper right corner.  Mosses are small plants that do not have vascular tissues, and are found in moist habitats and shady forests, both of which are found in abundance on this hillside.  They are members of the Bryophytes and Sporophytes plants group.  This is a small specimen that popped up on a former porch rail that I was in process of dismantling.  These have “star-like individual sporophytes” and I find these in small patches on trees generally.  Then there are those gorgeous velvety green mounds that cover portions of the ground in the woods across the driveway

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Finding Purpose

Lately, I have had numerous dreams of “trying to get home.”  It began with the loss of my mother February 2019.  Mom crossing over was so much harder than Dad barely a year before.  I have always had dreams of my grandparents’ houses, and now I add my parents’ house to the mix.  Just a couple of days ago, I remarked to a colleague “I wish I still had a home in Texas to go home to.”  Currently, it is more of a longing to return to a time where things did not seem so overwhelming and out of control.  Of course, truth is, we never have control of most things; the world goes right on spinning on its axis and traveling around the sun.

Enter Purpose

Maggie Jack

R found this little cutie under the car yesterday afternoon.  He heard her crying and whining and went out to investigate.  She was collarless.  We went up and down the road and R stood at the bottom of the driveway to watch for anyone who might be looking for a lost puppy.  Meanwhile, she was fed and watered and crated for safety.  She already figured out the crate was her safe space, and willingly goes in, and is slightly hesitant to come out.

Puppies are like babies and kittens and baby birds: you just cannot help falling in love with them, in spite of the work involved.  We have all struggled with so much loss the last couple of months.  And then there was a puppy in need.  I was reminded of the year Baby Jessica was dropped down a well casing in Midland while playing hide and seek with other kids.  Out of work oil workers brought in equipment, and the nation was glued to the TV screen for days watching as they tried to rescue her from the well.  I was in graduate school at the time, and recall one of my classmates saying of why it mattered so much to us all: There is so much going on that we cannot do anything about…but one baby in a well, we can do something about.

Thank you for getting the ticks off

We removed the 4 ticks we found on her, and R went to the vet to pick up tick/flea tabs for a puppy.  We suspect she was dumped; the pull off across the road is a favorite dumping ground and over the years, we have rescued 3 other puppies and a number of cats who were dumped.  The ticks had not been on her long.  I checked the Lost Pet Facebook page and the local shelter, but she was not on it.  She is smart, and readily responding to positive reinforcement for coming, going in her crate, and pottying in the back yard.  Our dogs do not run loose; they are in the house, in the fenced yard, or on a leash.  It is safer for the dog and their humans, and any other humans who might encounter the dog unleashed.  After all, we literally rescued Roadie from the middle of the highway at the bottom of our hill.

Purpose: what gives us meaning and the reason to get out of bed.  This morning when I awoke, I was dreaming again of trying to get home.  I was in a strange city, and had somehow gotten on public transit and ended up far from home and unable to find my way back.  As I kept trying to find the right bus or train, I encountered many strangers in a frightening sense of lostness.  Yet somehow, I kept on resolving one mishap after another, moving further and further toward finding home. For the first time since all of this began, I hopped up instead of turning over and closing my eyes again.  After all, the baby had to be fed and taken outside to potty.

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At long last…my magnolia blooms


It seems to have taken longer this year for the first magnolia bloom to open.  Perhaps because it has been on the cool side the past week, but nonetheless I was excited to see it fully emerge yesterday.  It will be like opening a new present every day for a couple of weeks, and then when the petals have turned brown and fallen, the pods will begin to generate the pretty little red fruit that feeds birds, eventually fall to the ground, and then alas, another long wait until next May.


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It does not rain indoors in Mississippi

cacti (1)

Last Thursday I finally made it up to my office for the first time since we began working remotely in March.  I had to make a quick trip up for my text books in order to be able to finish out the semester but I was not thinking about anything other than books.  When I finally remembered my succulent arrangement, I figured it was too far gone to matter.  The clock was running out this week, so I suited up and retrieved all my personal belongings–not that many as I wisely chose last summer when we finally moved to the new building to minimize what personal items remained.  Frankly, I was surprised as this girl looked better than I would have expected with no water since March 6.  I set her and her sisters outside, planning to try to hydrate later, but I was in some pretty severe pain and exhaustion after unloading.  Four hours of transferring electronic files to be able to wipe my computer, plus packing up and toting items down 2 1/2 flights of stairs one step at a time only to walk a block to my car and repeat 3 times had taken its toll.  I was dripping wet with sweat and the only thing I was thinking about rehydrating was my own body.


It began to rain shortly, so I left it out there.  Then it rained again the next morning.  Now it may or may not make it, at least all of it, but the plumpness in some of the leaves and stems gives me hope.  After all, there is a reason that cacti and succulents survive in the desert.

Last evening, I brought it inside onto the screened porch and set it next to my growing “still life” collection.  You know where my mind went next, right?

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What does a 6 pound can of hominy have in common with a 6-roll package of toilet paper?

size comparison (1)

You might recall my recent post where the can of hominy was larger than the head of my spouse?  One afternoon as I came home from a grocery run, R said “Come in here; I have something for you.”  He proceeded to hand me the tiniest package of toilet paper I have ever seen.

The hominy can is 7 inches tall, and 6 inches in diameter.  Let’s look at that comparison again:

size comparison-2 (1)

A roll of this tissue was 3 1/2 inches tall, and 2 3/4 inches in diameter–including the hole in the center of the roll…meaning the whole package of six rolls fits inside the can.  You may be saying to yourself right now “Wow, where could I get some tiny rolls of toilet tissue!  I have dreamt of using a roll that will fit in the palm of my hand instead of those bulky old triple rolls that require a fork lift to get it onto the paper dispenser!”

World's tiniest toilet tissue

Had I already purchased my 6-pound can of hominy when I placed the order for the toilet tissue March 16 (you know, during the critical time when some folks thought it was a good idea to buy 100 cases of toilet tissue at one time), I might have looked at the woman’s head and the package of toilet tissue and said, “Hey wait a minute…that pack of paper is smaller than the woman’s head, which means it is smaller than a 6-pound can of hominy!”  Not only could I have saved myself $14.99 and a 51-day wait for delivery, but I could have peeled the paper label off the hominy can and obtained almost as much paper!

Suzassippi has sworn off buying online.  And that’s all I have to say about that (Forrest Gump, 1994).

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Cornus drummondii: Rough-leaved dogwood

Rough-leaved dogwood fruit turning to flower

Cornus drummondi is a large shrub or small tree with a fast growth rate. I know this personally from experience because just as I thought this tree was gone forever, it burst up from the alleged dead stump almost overnight. More on that later, however. Let’s talk about fruit and flowers and the attraction to birds and pollinators–in our case, mostly bees. For years, R and I dreaded the blooming of this hardy fellow in a prominent corner of our yard, right next to the screened porch and the entrance/exit from the back door to the driveway. The smell is overpowering as it moves from the fruit to the opening of the flower. Imagine an entire tree covered with the rather sweet smell of something we cannot even name, but assaulted one’s nostrils the second you opened the back door. [Note; there is one blooming on the side of the house next to my window this year, and I can smell it through the closed window. Yeah, I know, intense, right?]

So in the year 2013, a January ice storm did us a favor; it appeared as if the demise of the tree (with the then unknown name) was imminent. As soon as the thaw came and the weather warmed, the great cutting began. Pretty soon, it was nothing but limbs on the ground and the remains of the stump barely visible. I started hauling off small branches. Finally, after the snowfall this past December, this was all that was left:corner-tree-2

I could finally reach the limbs that had been sawn from the stump, and trim back the annoying new twigs.  I began to drag the big limbs down to the bottom of the hill to create the dead hedge–another ARK project. I had made what I thought was amazing progress…and then…and then…one morning…


Rough-leaved Dogwood blooms

Yes, blooming right there on top of the “dead” limbs!  There was nothing to do but take a seat and wait.  Somehow, the intensity of the aroma did not seem as strong and overpowering as it had before.  I developed a grudging admiration for this stubborn little perennial.  I began to notice it in the woods next door, and at the bottom of the hill near my dead hedge, and blooming amidst the kudzu re-establishing itself after the fire of 2015…and right next to my bedroom window.  When they said  growth rate = fast, they were not lying.  So given the bees are in dire straits these days, I will leave this Cornus Drummondii and all its siblings and cousins alone.  After all, you do not get the luxury of building an ark and then telling the elephants they cannot come on board.



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What I will not be doing in retirement

Chipping sparrow ebird -17Yesterday was the Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s Global Big Day.  I learned that while I enjoy watching the birds during my routine evening hour decompression time, and enjoy learning about the species that frequent my hillside, serious birding is not in my wheelhouse.  For one, my yard location is not prime: early in the morning faces the east, and that is not optimal for photographing.  Late evening, the sun is low behind the trees on the west, and that places the yard in shadow and not optimal for photographing.  Software corrections such as my awesome Lightroom (a gift from my super techy husband) can do amazing things to help me identify, but it can also distort the colors when increasing exposure or reducing shadow, hampering identification. (Example follows below).  I dutifully went out early morning, mid-day, and late afternoon to observe.  In between, with unhealthy doses of frustration, I attempted identification of what’s in my yard in order to help documentation for Lafayette County.

Searching for the identity of these two birds above consumed much time, without accurate results.  The exposure lightened the heads enough, and made the blue sheen more prominent, resulting in the bird being identified as the Western Bluebird, but they are not found in this region.  They range from the northern Canada all the way to Mexico and Central America.  I was perplexed but persistent.  It occurred to me that what I see often in the early morning at the feeders is the brown headed cowbird, so I played with the exposure just enough, and voila–brown headed cowbird was distinguishable.  That cemented the deal for me–no serious birding on the horizon.

I shall just enjoy the benefits of watching the ones who flit in and out of the yard as they fly off to home, whichever tree that might be.  I did however, identify two species unnamed to me prior: the Carolina chickadee and the Chipping sparrow.  And during the evening is when the bluebirds gather, perching along the fence to eat the seed on the rail.  Serenity in the time of chaos.

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The ARK: My hillside ecosystem

grasses near the cliff

ARK = Acts of Restorative Kindness.

I am relatively certain many might look at this photograph and wonder “Why did she post a picture of a bunch of weeds?”  Truth be told, as a child of relatively pragmatic folks growing up in the ecosystems of northwest central Texas, we never watered, nor planted flowers.  What you had in your yard was what you had when you got there.  Generally, that was Indian paintbrushes, mesquite trees, cacti, Johnson grass, and the occasional wild plum tree when we were further west.  In later years, we were in a relatively-speaking “wet” area, and had bluebonnets, rain lillies, sunflowers, and the ever present prairie sage and tall grass.  I am pretty sure I never heard about invasive species, but I heard a lot about water conservation in an area where wasting water was the 8th deadly sin that should have been moved to #1.


As I posted not long ago, things have changed drastically on the hillside with not mowing and allowing the land to revert to its wild state on the outer perimeters.  I have always tried to have a bird, bee, butterfly friendly yard, but this year, in addition to seeing more of the birds, bees, and butterflies, I am seeing species of plants that were not readily visible previously.

And, did you know that due to Mississippi being directly above the geographic center of the Golfo de Mexico, it is the main flyway for transgulf bird migration?  Me neither, until today.  I have been getting ready to participate in e-bird tomorrow, to document the birds in my yard, and started looking at the Mississippi ecosystems.

The primary challenge to ecosystems in Mississippi is not unlike other locations: urban and suburban development that causes habitat destruction, along with the introduction of invasive species and overabundance of use of chemicals in pest/weed control (LandScope America).

It’s time for us to wake up and smell the roses…or there might not be anything left to pollinate the plants and flowers that belong in our areas, and feed those birds, bees, and butterflies.  I am preaching to myself here: my ARK is behind schedule.

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When I am old, I shall wear a dog hat

Susan in a dog hat

When I am old

I shall not wear purple or red hats.

I’m going to march in the street in my boots and short skirts

And kick some whatever needs kicking…

Whilst wearing a dog hat.

As my friend once said, “anyone can bring the green bean casserole, but it takes you to bring the funk.”

Thanks, Sister of Justice.  I am getting ready to rumble.

Posted in Acts of Restorative Kindness, Diversity Equity and Inclusion, New Deal Administration, Social and Economic Justice | Tagged , , | 13 Comments