Oct 272017

Maybe I should, but I don’t feel terribly bad about “cheating” by recycling reruns of seasonal themes (like the Autumn Foliage Friday Fun).  So we’ll begin with a brief review about Halloween from what we learned last year.

THEN we’ll move on to the new stuff.

We Can Thank the Irish for Halloween

Samhain was a sacred Celtic festival that marked the end of the Celtic calendar year.  Celts believed that during Samhain the wall between their present-day world and the afterlife became porous enough to allow spirits to get through.  (You taking notes on that “wall” feature, Donald?)  To befuddle the marauding apparitions that may be wandering their streets, it was a common practice for the Celts to disguise themselves in costumes and masks so as to escape the spirits’ attention.  And at the same time, to cover all their bases, they would put out special food treats to placate the phantoms.

As part of the celebration of Samhain, fires were lit to ensure the sun would return after the coming long, hard winter.  And Druid priests would throw the bones of cattle into the flames – hence, “bone fire” which then morphed into “bonfire.”

Catholics had a three-day Hallowmas holiday close to the Samhain celebration time that was designed to honor and pray for the recently deceased.  And in the hopes of winning pagan converts over to Catholicism, in the early part of the 11th century the Pope decreed Hallowmas would coincide with Samhain, lasting from Oct. 31 (All Hallow’s Eve) until Nov. 2.

“All Hallow’s Eve” then evolved into “All Hallow’s Even” – and by the 18th century it was commonly referred to as “Hallowe’en.”

The Irish also provide the legend behind our ubiquitous Jack-o’-Lanterns at this time of year.  They’re named after an Irish drunkard known as Stingy Jack, infamous for duping folks into buying him a drink.

The folklore is that Stingy Jack tricked the Devil into paying for a libation by having the Devil turn himself into a coin.  But Jack just happened to then put this transformed-coin of the Devil into his pocket that also held a silver cross, which prevented the Devil from returning to his original self.

To remove the silver cross from his pocket, and thus allow the Devil to transform back, Jack made Lucifer promise he would not take him to Hades when he died.  But when Jack finally did pass, God (who was not a bit pleased with Jack’s chumminess with the Devil) refused him entry into Heaven at St. Peter’s Gates.

So Stingy Jack was forced to wander the earth at night with a burning lump of coal as his only source of light.  Jack placed his lump of coal in a makeshift lantern made from a turnip or rutabaga carved with openings mimicking his face to emit the lump of coal’s light.  So Stingy Jack became “Jack of the Lantern” or “Jack o’ Lantern”.

When the Irish moved to America turnips were hard to find – but pumpkins were plentiful.  So they switched their tradition of carving faces into pumpkins which they used to keep Jack and other troubled spirits away.

But pumpkin- (and other vegetable, fruit and more) carving has been raised to an art form by Angel Boraliev who is from Bulgaria.  He’s (with a name of “Angel” I double-checked – and he’s a he) a professional decorative carver for hotels in Bulgaria.

He put up a page on Bored Panda (where you can view all 26 Halloween carvings) to prove that pumpkin- (along with squash) carvings don’t have to be scary – but can be quite beautiful.  So let’s enjoy a few (Right-click or scroll-click, if your mouse has that feature, on one to open in a new window as a full-size photo.  Or just click on one them and it’ll open as full-size.  Click back/return to get back to the others) …







I could learn very little about Angel himself or how he does it.  All I could locate was this YouTube video of him carving a rose – and he said it took him just 8 minutes – but don’t worry, it’s sped up:

So “Happy Halloween” from all of us cats ready to go Trick-Or-Treating!

Oct 202017

For those of us of a certain age, the “Please Stand Up” catchphrase brings back memories of that old TV show “To Tell the Truth”.  But it appears applicable to the latest meme coursing through the intertubes: Melania Trump uses a body double.

Apparently it all started a week ago when an Andrea Wagner posted on her Facebook page:

Will the real Melania please stand up? Is it me or during his speech today a decoy “stood in” for Melania??…

Posted by Andrea Wagner Barton on Friday, October 13, 2017

The video clip she included zooms in on the Melania stand-in, who’s wearing a trench coat and huge sunglasses, nodding along to Twitler’s gibberish defending his latest antics.  (There’s no CC – so I have no idea what he’s yammering about.)

According to the photos Wagner included, the “tell” was the nose.  Apparently it reminded folks of the one found on those fake Groucho Marx glasses (well, minus his trademark bushy eyebrows and mustache).


That combined with the weird comment by Trump when he said: “I’m joined here by my wife Melania … who also happens to be here today.”  (But then again, what comment by Trump ISN’T weird?)

Wagner’s post garnered over 130,000 “Shares” – which, I guess, by Facebook standards, gives it the credibility imprimatur of the Bible – with some folks agreeing and others not.

But I don’t see why people would be surprised Twitler kept a fake Melania around.  After all, he’s got a fake Renoir painting hanging in his private jet.  He’s got fake Time magazine covers of him hanging in his golf club resorts.  He even put up a plaque at his golf club on Lowes Island, VA commemorating a fake Civil War battle (“The River of Blood”) that never happened.


And sure enough, a few days later the Melania Doppelganger Meme segued over to Twitter, where it had a field day, led off by a Joe Vargas.

Some of the subsequent Tweets are plausible, with a number of them cracking me up with their versions of the Melania stand-in …

Others not so plausible …

But some were cute …


Some were just plain unnerving



Don’t know why, but I got a kick out of this goofy one …

Some took a bit of effort for me to figure out …

That one is NOT Melania!  It’s Donald with the orange skin and weird yellow hair!

But for a closing observation, I think we have to go with this one

Have to agree – in 2017 things have gotten so weird we simply cannot rule anything out these days


Oct 132017

The fourth annual RiSE Lantern Festival on the Moapa Indian Reservation in the Mojave Desert some 35 miles north of Las Vegas a week ago was a particularly poignant event following the recent mass shooting.

According to their website, the goal of RiSE is to “elevates hope, ignites dreams, and creates memories” when ten thousand participants release their lit lanterns that have been inscribed with personal messages in unison in the desert to create beautiful memories.

The event is not cheap, as adult tickets cost $109 ($69 for children aged 3-10) – but each ticket provides you with two lanterns, a marking pen to inscribe your message on the paper lantern and a sitting mat.  No chairs, blankets, strollers, food or beverages are permitted – although bottled water is OK.  They have numerous food trucks scattered all over that are happy to sell you drinks (including beer and wine) and food, as well as stationary food/beverage kiosks around the venue.  Oh, and parking is another $25.

(I could not find at their home website or the RiSE Lantern Facebook page – which is accessible to all and has even more gorgeous photos and videos – who actually runs it, and if it’s a for-profit event or if some goes to a charity.)

Below is a Map of their venue

The center circle is the stage area & the flesh-colored bar is the single Entrance.

The gates open at 3 PM and multiple music shows begin at 3:30 and continue until the  launch of the lanterns, which  is at about 8:30, followed by a fireworks show.

The event has become so popular that they needed to add a second night – and both sold out this year.  So that’s some 20,000 paper lanterns scattered on the floor of the Moapa Indian Reservation – the site of the event in the Mojave.

According to the RiSE Lantern Festival website, the lanterns are 100% biodegradable, and they claim they scour the desert and retrieve every single one – plus any other trash they find along the way.  They also buy carbon offsets for every vehicle they use in the setup and cleanup of the festival.

I could not find how they lanterns are actually put together, but you’ll get an idea when watching the videos.  You can see they are quite large (I’d say 3 feet tall), and take 2-3 people to launch them.  They have a forest of Tiki torches lined up in each section that you use to ignite whatever the “propellant” is that creates the necessary hot air – but I couldn’t find what kind of material they use.

Just a small view of the thousands of Tiki Torches 

In its first year it got quite mixed reviews at Yelp – generally 4 & 5 stars for its stunning beauty and emotional uplift, but very low ratings for its logistical execution.  No doubt they’ve learned from their mistakes and have improved if they needed to add another night to accommodate an additional 10,000 people.

But let’s visually enjoy a very unique event with some photos and videos.




The first video is by a layperson.  I put it first because it provides a better idea of actually what goes on.

We’ll end with the two videos below that are professionally put together and are quite well done.


Oct 062017

My favorite time of year is here again – AUTUMN!

So once again you get my annual fall foliage portfolio.  And as always, it seems pretty logical the best way to begin our overview of the story behind fall’s phantasmagorical foliage fling is with … well, an overview of the vast verdant vegetation of the vales and vistas of Vermont.  (OK, OK – there probably are a few other states included – but that ruins my alliteration.)

So Just Try and Stop Me from Telling You Why Leaves Change Color

To understand why leaves change colors we need to realize that it’s part of a (hopefully) endless cycle.  Once a new leaf if fully formed, usually around June, the next thing a tree spends its energy on is setting the following year’s leaf buds.  The job of the leaves currently in place is to create and store food as carbohydrates/sugars necessary for that task.  And unlike us, trees are unique in that they’re able to manufacture their own food/energy, courtesy of photosynthesis.

Chlorophyll is the green pigmented chemical in leaves that uses the energy provided by the sun during the process of photosynthesis to convert water taken up by the roots and carbon dioxide taken from the air into sugars and starches – nutrients that the tree needs for growth – while giving off oxygen as a by-product.

But the chlorophyll that gives trees their green is not the only color pigment present in leaves all summer.  Working just as hard in the leaves are the carotenoids (carotene and xanthophyll).  These pigments are important in capturing light energy needed in the process of photosynthesis.  It’s just that the carotenoids are masked by the overpowering green of the chlorophyll during the summer months.

But with the coming of autumn, as daylight hours shorten and temperatures cool down, cells near the juncture of the leaf and its stem start to divide very rapidly.  This creates what is called an abscission layer.  This corky abscission layer of cells is the site where the leaf will eventually break from the tree and flutter to the ground.  That corky layer then serves to protect the branch through winter after the leaf leaves.

The rapid growth of that corky layer begins to physically block transport of nutrients needed by the leaf to manufacture the carbohydrates.  Consequently the photosynthesis that’s been creating chlorophyll (which is not a very stable chemical and has been rapidly broken down and replaced throughout the summer) ceases.

Once the chlorophyll is gone, the carotene and xanthophyll chemical pigments that have been present all summer long can now take center stage.

These carotenoids (carotene and xanthophyll) give their characteristic orange and yellow colors to not just leaves, but also to carrots, corn, canaries, and daffodils – as well as egg yolks, rutabagas, buttercups, and bananas.  And they account as the predominant color in about 15-30% of our tree species – typically the hardwood species of hickories, ash, maple, yellow poplar, aspen, birch, black cherry, sycamore, cottonwood, sassafras, and alder.

And the third class of color that trees have (the first two being chlorophyll and the carotenoids) are the reds and purples of anthocyanin.  But unlike the other two classes, anthocyanin has not been present in the leaves the whole summer.  The anthocyanins are created brand new –  just for autumn’s fall foliage!

Why the tree would expend its precious energy, when it’s shutting down for the winter, for the creation of a new product is not understood.  But we do know the brighter the sunlight during this period, the greater the production of anthocyanins – and the more brilliant the resulting reds and purples.  This pretty direct proportion of redness to sunlight exposure explains why the periphery of hardwood trees are bright red, while the foliage lower down and inside are the more typical oranges and yellows.

Anthocyanins also account for the coloring of cranberries, red apples, blueberries, cherries, strawberries, and plums.  They are present in only about 10% of hardwood species – mainly maples, sourwood, sweetgums, dogwoods, tupelos, cherry trees and persimmons.

But in a few lucky areas — most famously New England — up to 70% of tree species are the type that produce the anthocyanin pigment.  That high concentration of a single color (the reds of anthocyanin) accounts for the intense but relatively brief autumnal color display in New England.  Whereas in most other areas that have a higher mix of tree varieties the colors may not be as intense, but the season lasts longer.

You can see where your particularly area is peak-wise with this Interactive Peak Color Map.  Just slide the circle on the bar to the date you want.

Click Me for the Map

Time to enjoy some of my new favorite photos of the fantasia of fall …

Drone View of Fall Foliage in Quebec


A Tree Allée in Germany 


Bears Rocks in West Virginia 


Drone View of Farm Fields Cut Through a Forest in Keene, Ontario

Fall Foliage in the Fog


Drone View of Winding Road Through the Bogata Forest in Romania


Swans Enjoying the Autumnal Splendors


We’ll see you again next year!

Sep 302017

Trump just this week announced his Tax Plan with its “giant, beautiful, massive tax cut”.  So, no doubt you were excited when Trump’s Chief Economic Advisor, Gary Cohn, told us that:

“…a typical family earning $100,000 with two children that has been a standard deductor … can expect a tax cut of about $1,000.”

Well, a couple of things I’d like to point out to you, Gary (can I call you Gary?  I like to call all my employees by their first name).  According to the latest Census Bureau’s figures, the median income in America is about $59,000.  That’s a pretty far cry from your “typical” six-figure income!

And Gary, this just shows how out of touch (or tone-deaf) with the average American family you are.  But that’s pretty de rigueur with the Trump administration, chockablock full with its millionaires and billionaires.

Oh, WRT Mr. Cohn, the former CEO of Goldman Sachs?

Gary Cohn, the former Goldman CEO and long-time banker is worth somewhere from $252 million to $611 million, according to a financial disclosure form released by the White House

But that didn’t stop Mr. Cohn from telling us how absolutely wonderful this supposed $1,000 tax saving is going to be:

If we allow a family to keep another $1,000 of their income, what does that mean? They can renovate their kitchen, they can buy a new car, they can take a family vacation, they can increase their lifestyle.

Well, of course Twitter had a field day with Gary “I’m-In-Touch-With-America” Cohn’s claim that we can remodel our kitchens or buy our families a new car or take them on a wonderful vacation with that $1,000 tax savings.  And I’m sure you all have seen or can imagine some of the examples – like a shot of the “typical” American family’s new car:

But we’re now in the ninth month of the flailing and failing Trump administration with no sign that they’re going to get their act together anytime soon ever.  And sadder still is there is no sign they even want to!

But since this post is supposed to be the dedicated “FUN” one for PoliticsPlus, I decided I’d take their challenge and see what I could do with $1,000 to remodel my kitchen.

You’ll be glad to learn that with just a “wee bit” of downsizing I had great success!  But as the old adage goes, “The proof of the pudding is in the eating” – so let’s chow down!

First of all, to be successful with my $1,000 kitchen remodeling, courtesy of Trump’s “Tax Cut”, I had to scale back my expectations:

Fortunately I was able to actually afford the double-burner stove!

As far as the tasting proof goes, since it’s breakfast time when I’m posting this, how about some pancakes?


What about a hamburger for lunch?

And for supper?  Let’s have some fried shrimp and sautéed vegetables …

Or maybe some sushi …

Let’s finish off our dinner with a delicious strawberry shortcake!

And all of this was accomplished for UNDER $1,000!

See … Cohn was right!  Of course you’ll starve to death with the Trump Tax Cut Savings kitchen remodel job – but since their hopes of killing off Americans with Trumpcare fell through, I guess this is their fallback plan.

Bon Appétit!


Sep 292017

I suppose I could tell you my allergies have been acting up …

But I don’t have allergies.

Or maybe I’ve been having some GI problems …

But that wouldn’t be accurate.

The truth is I’ve been trying to come up with a topic – but had Bupkis

Until last night when one of Trump’s advisors stepped up and provided me with my topic!

But it’s evolved over time, and I want to get it right.  Plus I HAVE to core aerate the lawn today.  And if any of you have ever rented a core aerator … well, my condolences!

It’s my least favorite yard chore – and it’s a helluva a lot of work … especially turning the damn monster around.  I’ll be sore for a couple of days.