Monday, August 31, 2015

Elusive Neptune

Neptune, the eighth and farthest planet from the sun passes closest to the Earth today in its orbit around the Sun.  The third largest planet, Neptune is unique among planets in that it's the only planet that can never be seen with an unaided eye.

Position of Neptune in Aquarius.  Credit:
While the other planets may appear as dim to bright spots among the stars, coasting along so deep into the far reaches of the Solar System, even when its orbit brings it to its closest point to Earth, Neptune is still only visible as a dim speck, even with the help of binoculars or a telescope.  And even then, it can be elusive.  It is so much dimmer than the dimmest stars in the sky, it's often only spotted if one is fortunate to have a an area free of sky pollution in which to sky watch and is familiar enough with the stars in the surrounding area to recognize it.

Over the next couple of days, our planet Earth's orbit will pass directly between Neptune and the Sun.  Looking at the three on edge, they will appear with their equators in line across the Solar System.  This alignment is referred to as opposition – opposite the sun in Earth’s sky - that planet is the closest it will be to the Earth for the year. Typically, the planet will shine brightly and be easy to

Locating Neptune in Aquarius       Credit:

Neptune's opposition will occur on September 1st and on that night, the planet will rise in the east around sunset, climb to its peak in the sky by midnight, and then set in the west around sunrise.

The best way to locate Neptune is to first find the constellation Aquarius (The Water Carrier).  Spatially speaking, it's closer than the constellation and should appear in front of it.  Then you need to consult a detailed Star Cart so that you know all of the stars that are ordinarily visible in that area. Then look for that dimmest of specks that doesn't belong. 

 Facts About Neptune:

A Neptonian Day is about 18 hours, with the ice giant spinning like a dervish on its axis.
By contrast, it's year - the time to orbit the Sun - is roughly 165 Earth years.
It's the stormiest planet with wind speeds that break the sound barrier.
Eventually, it's strong gravitational pull will destroy its moon, Triton.
It appears as a

Neptune as photographed by Voyager 2       Credit:
In 1989, the Voyager 2 spacecraft flew past Neptune and sent back the first close-up images of the planet and its moons, now numbering a total of nineteen.  It's the only spacecraft to ever have visited the planet.  Additional images of Neptune have been provided by the Hubble Space Telescope and some of the larger ground-based telescopes.

The Voyager 2 flyby revealed Neptune appearing as a bright, azure blue planet with a deep blue spot not unlike Jupiter's red spot.  The blue color is due to the presence of methane in its outer atmosphere.  Planetary "color" is a function of reflected light from the Sun.  When the Sun's light hits the atmosphere, the methane absorbs the light in the red spectrum and reflects back the blue light, giving the planet the appearance of a bright blue orb. 


Space Facts
Universe Today


Saturday, July 11, 2015

Fire: A Potentially Deadly Consequence of the Drought

Grass and brush fires are often spread even more quickly by brisk winds.
With the severe drought that we are experiencing in California, wildfires are a constant threat.  South of us, in both the Central Valley and in San Diego County near where Steve's brother David lives, large brush fires have burned tens of thousands of acres of meadow and forest land and damaged and in some cases destroyed homes and personal property. 

With water at a premium, firefighting is challenging and consumes critical water stores from an already severely depleted supply.   Berkeley was one of several cities and towns that cancelled municipal fireworks events due to concerns about fire and the amount of water - an expensive commodity these days - it would take to hose down areas that would be at risk for igniting or to fight a fire if one erupted. Here in American Canyon, the fire engines and firefighters stood ready to respond to any incidents stemming from the city's fireworks display.

On the night of the 4th of July, a wind-fueled grass fire that involved 320 acres in Vacaville threatened 200 homes. It was completely contained, however, and a teenager was arrested on Friday and charge with causing the fire.  Some news reports attribute the cause of the fire to illegal fireworks. 

The hills were a verdant green in early spring.  Lack of rain has killed the grass.
Tonight we had our first (and I'm hoping only) fire scare. Behind our apartment complex is open space. A railway and road run past, and beyond that are hills that border the valley.  They were green in the early spring but with the drought, the grass has dried so the hills are covered with dry grass, weeds, and brush that is a dull wheat color. 

Despite the publicity and stern warnings from the police department, kids have been lighting off fireworks and we've all been concerned about the potential for a fire being ignited.

I looked out of the sliders and was shocked to see thick brown smoke.
At about 7 PM this evening, I was watching TV and resting when a helicopter flying close by overhead caught my attention.  I looked out through the sliders and was shocked to see dense, gray-brown billowing smoke coming from one of the hills nearest the complex. I grabbed my cameras and headed upstairs to get a better look from the landing. 

A grass fire was moving very quickly across a field behind the ruins of an old cement and basalt plant.  The plant has been abandoned since the 1970's but the city has been considering a plan to develop the area and the historic buildings into a  town center. I'm not sure where they are in the process, but the buildings are considered historically important, and would make a unique and interesting city center, no matter how the city planned to develop the area.

A California Highway Patrol helicopter alerted me to the fire.
The helicopter bore the markings of the California Highway Patrol and at the point that I became aware of the fire, the American Canyon Fire Department was already on scene.  As I watched, more fire trucks and firefighters arrived.  They quickly brought the flames under control and remained on scene until at least 8:30 PM, when I finally went back inside.  At that point, I could still see two trucks (out of a total of at least four plus an emergency response vehicle) present and several firefighters carefully walking the burned area, but the fire trucks had begun to leave so clearly they were wrapping up the scene.

Distressing to me was that just a short time after all of the fire safety staff cleared the scene, I heard some kids out in the back parking lot of our apartment complex firing off rockets and other fireworks -- totally illegal and very risky given the amount of easily combustible dry grass.  Especially after a fire so close, one would have thought that their parents would use some common sense.  

The area at the back of the complex where the fire broke out.  The garages extend from the fence that separates the property from the railroad tracks beyond.  The low buildings, rotunda building, and silos are all part of the abandoned cement and basalt factory.  The fire spread across the grassy expanse beyond the buildings.
Three of at least four fire apparatus that responded to the fire.
Firefighters controlling the spread of the mostly grass fire.
I watched as fire moved across the field.  These fires often spread quickly when fueled by the strong winds that are typical of this part of the valley.
Firefighters extinguish the fire at the leading edge where it was spreading across the field.  They had this area of the fire out within minutes.
The field behind the abandoned buildings where the grass fire broke out.
The fire extended across the expanse behind the abandoned buildings. Multiple firefighting units brought it quickly to a standstill.
The sun was beginning to set as the firefighters wrapped up their efforts and inspected for any remaining flames or embers.
Firetruck leaving, moving past the rotunda building.  The buildings are covered in graffiti. Hopefully they will be restored one day and be the centerpiece of a new city center.

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Green Onions

Recently, one of favorite recipe sites, All posted this amazing tip about scallions, known as green onions or spring onions.

Steve loves green onions in salads and sandwiches and so I decided to try it.  My biggest frustration is that the bunches of green onions we buy often wilt in the refrigerator (despite storing them in a special container designed for them).

I decided to try the tip and I was pleased by how well they sprouted and grew.  This weekend, we planted them in our herb container.    I often wished that I could just cut them as I need them. .....  Now I can. ;)
Day 3

Day 15

Monday, June 1, 2015

Memorial Day - Honoring the Veterans in American Canyon

Steve and I attended the Memorial Day ceremony at Veterans Memorial Park in American Canyon.  The park is located just about a mile from our home along a country road that parallels busy route 29.  Several members of the U.S. Army raised the flag.  A blustery, windy day, Old Glory's stars and stripes rippled and waved in the stiff breeze.

There were the usual speeches and observances that one ordinarily encounters at these events. Some local musicians sang some patriotic songs, and members of the VFW Post #11099 presented flags and flowers that they placed on the granite memorial.

I was pleased to see how well-attended the ceremony was.  The true meaning of Memorial Day often gets lost in the crush of barbecues, swim parties, and beach expeditions.

We arrived early to be able to get seats and while we were waiting, Steve and I reminisced about the Memorial Day ceremonies of our childhood.  I remembered going to Worcester to see the parade in front of City Hall.  Soldiers in uniform marched solemnly, and tanks and large guns separated the battalions.  There were marching bans, boy scouts and girl scouts, and many politicians.

I recalled one particularly unseasonable Memorial Day when it was overcast and chilly, threatening rain.  My mother hustled my sister and me into sweaters and coats and made us drink warm milk "to keep you warm".  Someone gave us little flags and we were chastised every time our arms sagged -- the flag always had to be held upright.  It was impressed on me, and to this day I hold it dear, that the flag is the symbol of our country and should always be treated with the utmost respect.

Below are scenes from the ceremony held this past Memorial Day in American Canyon.

The flags are raised as the Star Spangled Banner is sung.
Members of the VFW present flowers, a flag and a wreath which they placed on the memorial (below).

Monday, May 25, 2015

Memorial Day 2015

Honoring Black Hawk Tail #517 ~ You Will Never be Forgotten.
Memorial Day has come to have very special meaning for us. Every year we honor the soldiers who died when the Black Hawk helicopter with the tail #517 crashed in Afghanistan carrying solders and Navy Seals that we had been supporting through
Soldiers' Angels.

As members of Soldiers' Angels, we had supported many, many soldiers who served in Afghanistan and Iraq with cards, letters, care packages, and holiday gifts since we first joined the group in 2006.   

In 2010, we adopted an entire unit of 35 soldiers who were members of the 101st Airborne Combat Air Brigade, 101st Airborne Division.  This unit was based at Fort Campbell, Kentucky and had been deployed to Afghanistan where they were stationed at Kandahar Air Base.

In addition to the soldiers of the 101st, we also supported another platoon of 12 soldiers, members of a combined joint special operations task force serving in Tarin Kowt that our CAB unit delivered mail and supplies to.    

Capt. Nick Craig
Our unit of the 101st CAB brought mail, food, and supplies to  groups of soldiers stationed in the mountainous region  near Kandahar and served as the extraction team for any NATO troops in that region who were either in extreme danger or who had been injured or killed.  It was grim, dangerous work.

Our main contact for both units during the deployment was Capt. Nick Craig, one of the Black Hawk pilots in the CAB unit we were supporting.   Nick relayed messages to us, letting us know what kinds of food, clothing, and toiletries the special forces soldiers needed, and what the soldiers in his own unit needed as well.  

We sent cards and letters every week and more than two dozen care packages every month, including complete meals, toiletries, and snacks for the special forces soldiers.   

We also sent each of our soldiers a Christmas stocking stuffed with goodies from their "Wish List". (That was a major production but we pulled it off!)   And we sent each one of them one of the "US Flag" T-shirts we are wearing in the above photograph.

On September 21, 2010, the U.S. suffered one of the most devastating losses of the entire war when one of the unit's Black Hawk helicopters, tail #517, crashed, claiming the lives of 9 soldiers and sailors. 

While we were grateful that Nick was not flying that day, the five soldiers who perished were members of the 101st CAB.   The other four troops who died in the crash were sailors, members of a special forces combined group.  Three were Navy SEALs and the fourth was a Navy cryptologic technician assigned to a Naval Special Warfare unit. 

Their unit emblem, sent by Nick, shortly after the crash.
Nick sent us an email about the crash and a couple of days later, when names were officially released, he sent along their names as well as photographs.  He helped in the recovery of the remains of soldiers who he knew and flew with.  We can't imagine how difficult that must have been for him and for the entire unit.   

Despite not having met any of "our" soldiers or knowing them personally, the loss was very personal to us.  We held every one of them very close to our hearts. 

Nick organized a memorial to honor the soldiers who died and single-handedly raised the funds to build it.  The memorial was dedicated at Fort Campbell on my birthday, January 6, 2012.    

We couldn't be there for the dedication, but Nick sent us a certificate commemorating the day and acknowledging that the flag that was raised over the memorial that day was flown in our name by a Black Hawk helicopter over Afghanistan.  We were very touched by the honor.  He also sent us their unit emblem which hangs in our kitchen.  

As we have done each year since this tragedy occurred, today on Memorial Day, we are remembering and honoring the soldiers and sailors who perished in the  crash of Black Hawk #517.  

In 2011, we dedicated the circular rose and cottage garden in front of our home in Newburyport  to the memory of these soldiers.  We called this particular bed the "rose island" since it was planted predominantly with roses.  On Memorial Day, we placed American flags around  the circle, one for each soldier and sailor lost.   We left the flags flying in place until it was time to close the garden for the winter.

In 2012,  in place of the flags, we  erected a memorial in the form of a figure of a soldier bearing a flag on the rose island.  At night, the statue and flag were lit by a solar powered spot light that shined from dusk until dawn.  The soldier was lit year round -- we went during winter storms to make sure that the light was cleared of snow and the flag was protected. 

Last year (2014) we moved to California and this is our first Memorial Day in our new home.  We are in temporary quarters in a lovely apartment in American Canyon.  But our soldiers are in our heart.  The soldier statue is in storage, awaiting a new home in a new garden in California, but to honor our soldiers, we are attending the Memorial Day Celebration in our new city. 

We are grateful for the safe return of the many soldiers we supported over the past nearly 7 years.   For those who gave their lives to this effort, we have pledged to honor their memory.  We will never forget. 

The   Newburyport garden tribute to the soldiers and sailors who died on September 21, 2010 in the crash of Black Hawk Tail #517. The red rose is Veteran's Honor.
Close-up of the statuary.


Remembering the Soldiers and Sailors 
from Black Hawk #517

Chief Warrant Officer Matthew G. Wagstaff
Sgt. Marvin R. Calhoun Jr.
Chief Warrant Officer Jonah D. McClellan
Maj. Robert F. Baldwin
Staff Sgt. Joshua D. Powell
Petty Officer 2nd Class Adam O. Smith
Lt. Brendan J. Looney

Senior Chief Petty Officer David B. McLendon
Petty Officer 3rd Class Denis C. Miranda

Author's Note:  Much of the content of this post is taken from our previous posts about this courageous crew which we originally  posted on Memorial Day, 2011.  You can read the previous post HERE. Photos were sent to us by Capt. Nick Craig shortly after the crash.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Vintage Roses: A Living Museum

Zephirine Drouhin covers a trellis bench in our cottage garden in Newburyport, Massachusetts.
Many years ago, when I was creating my very first rose garden, I discovered a wonderful nursery where I could indulge my love of old garden roses.  My love affair with Zephirine Drouhin and Cardinal de Richelieu, two of my favorite bourbon and gallica roses respectively, began with my first order of roses more than two decades ago from Vintage Gardens in Sebastopol, California.

My first rose garden was small and I could only fit a few of the vintage beauties in the narrow area where roses thrived in that garden.  When I moved to a larger home with a larger yard and a better environment for roses, I moved them and they grew happily alongside the many roses that had been rooted and hybridized by Mike Lowe, who provided the other roses that filled that rose garden.

A decade later, when Steve and I married and planted our first rose garden in Newburyport, once again I looked to Vintage Gardens for the beautiful old garden roses that were well-represented among the more than 280 roses we eventually cultivated there.

Roses growing in the shade, under pine trees, behind our waterfall in our Massachusetts garden.
In our New England garden, roses thrived in some of the most difficult conditions roses can experience on the planet:  scorching, humid summers, frigid winters, the floods of early springs, and then of course, only someone who truly "loved" roses would even try to grow them in the shade, under evergreens!   Yet, the hill behind our water garden and koi pond was covered with double red and pink Knock-out Roses, Jacob's Coat, and The Fairy (not visible in this photo).
 New Dawn and Peggy Martin  at the entrance to our formal rose garden in Massachusetts
Fast forward another decade and my husband was offered a position in California's Napa Valley. We left our beautiful New England garden behind to move to a location where we could garden and grow roses for 10 months of the year.

Knowing that we would be living in the Napa Valley, I was excited at the prospect of making a trip to Sebastopol to personally choose roses for my new garden but when I went to the nursery's web site I was shocked and dismayed to learn that the nursery was closing just as we were relocating to the area.

On the web site, I found links to the Friends of Vintage Roses and joined.  If we couldn't hand pick the roses that would someday grace our garden, at the very least, Steve and I could offer some financial support and volunteer to help preserve the collection.

The Friends of Vintage Roses is a group of dedicated volunteers that grew out of a similar group of rose enthusiasts who were regular volunteers at the original Vintage Gardens nursery for many years.

Gregg Lowery, Curator of the Rose Collection*
Vintage Gardens was the physical embodiment of Gergg Lowery's and Phillip Robinson's shared passion for all roses but especially the rare old garden roses.  Their labor of love eventually resulted in a collection that at one point consisted of 5,124 named varieties of roses that comprised the most extensive collection of vintage roses in the world.

Rose stock from Vintage Gardens was shared with botanical gardens in both the US and abroad, and was also provided for DNA studies both here and inFrance and Japan.  Dr. Yuki Mikanagi at Kobe University in Japan used roses from the Vintage Gardens for her research into rose pigment research and roses were also provided for the the Noisette and Tea studies conducted by Dr. Nancy Morvello at Florida Southern College in Lakeland, Florida.

The collection is regarded as the most comprehesive and complete collection of  Hybrid Perpetuals, Bourbons, Gallicas, Hybrid Chinas, Teas, Noisettes, and Chinas in North America.  The old Hybrid Teas include an extensive group of Pernetianas that is probably unmatched in any other single public or private garden.

After the retail nursery closed in 2014, in order to preserve and maintain the extensive collection of roses that was established by Gregg Lowery and Phillip Robinson, the Friends took ownership of the roses and created a non-profit organization to in effect, create a living museum of the roses.

The long term goal of the Friends is to once again have the roses growing in a setting that can be open to the public and at the same time able to provide specimens for research and for other other botanical gardens around the world.

The volunteers continue to meet once or twice a month at the garden's current location on Pleasant Hill Road in Sebastopol for "Dirt Days", where they work under the guidance of  Gregg Lowery, a luminary in the rose world and one of the founders of the original collection.  Gregg has remained closely involved with the roses and currently serves as the curator for the collection.  Volunteers assist with pruning, weeding, feeding, tagging, and inventorying the many rare and historically important roses.

For volunteers, working with the vintage roses is an opportunity to ask questions and learn about rose culture from one of the most experienced and knowledgeable rose gardeners in the world.  For Steve and me, being immersed in such historically significant roses and having an opportunity to listen to the conversation of experienced rose gardeners is both educational and inspiring.  As much as we know about rose pruning and cultivation, working next to such talented volunteers is always such a treat for us.  We always come away with pearls of wisdom from those who have done this for decades longer than we have. 

Volunteers gather with Gregg, ready to fertilize, weed, prune, and tag the roses.
As important to us as the educational aspect is, what I truly enjoy about these days is the opportunity to actually see and in many cases, smell, some of the rarest of the rare....  roses that few of the large public botanical gardens can boast among their collections.  To experience these roses is to experience history.

The current location of the collection is still in Sebastopol and many of the roses are cultivated in containers, in part, because it's easier to protect them from gophers and other critters, in part to make it easier to feed and water them, and in part to make it easier to move the collection, alluding to the possibly temporary nature of the current location. 

Shakespeare Garden, an Eglantine Rose*
The collection is regarded as one of the best and most extensive in the world and has provided cuttings of rare roses to botanical gardens around the world as well as DNA samples of roses for research into the history of the different lines of old garden roses. Indeed it is  treasure that deserves to be supported and maintained.

Every time we volunteer, we see roses that we might never see in any other venue, roses so rare they may exist in only a handful of gardens around the world. The rarity and importance of these roses can't be understated.

If you would like to support the maintenance of these wonderful roses you can send a financial donation to The Friends.  Help in the garden is always needed and assistance on "Dirt Days" is welcomed graciously.  You can contact Carolyn Sanders, director of volunteers, through the Friends web site to register and to get the updated schedule of dirt days and events.

A fundraiser is currently scheduled for this coming Sunday, May 3rd, to help offset the financial costs of maintaining the roses.  The fabulous garden at Terra Bella Vista, a privately owned collection of 450 roses owned by Susan Feichtmeir will be open to the public from noon to 4 PM.  A $20.00 donation per person will gain you entrance to the garden and the silent auction of artwork and roses that is scheduled to take place from noon to 2 PM.  All funds will benefit the Friends of The Vintage Roses' costs to maintain the Lowery-Robinson rose collection.  You can see the entire flyer HERE.

The entire flyer is available on the Friends web site.*

Do check the Friends website for other upcoming activities.  Click on "Upcoming Events" on the group's Home Page.
Carolyn Sanders, Volunteer Coordinator
Volunteer activities are under the direction of Carolyn Sanders who schedules the "Dirt Days" and sends out communications and reminders to volunteers.  She is also volunteer extraordinaire and has been for some time.

Many of the volunteer activities require no specific knowledge of roses (weeding the beds and pots, for example) and Carolyn, Gregg, or one of the other volunteers is always avaliable to answer questions.

If you ever wanted to learn about roses and their care and cultivation, volunteering at the Friends rose garden is an excellent opportunity to be able to not only help out this worthy cause but to feel comfortable around these easy to cultivate plants.  Many people are under the mistaken impression that roses are hard to grow.  Nothing could be further from the truth!  Growing in pots, in a part of the country that has been subjected to a multi-year drought,
This weekend, we worked hard to make certain that the roses were adequately tagged.  Each rose has a tag attached to it, and then another one or two handwritten (in pencil on plastic) tags is added to the pot.  It's amazing how often these get displaced.  Accurate identification of the roses is crucial to the integrity of of a collection of this many rose specimens.

Tags are placed both on the roses and in the pots, to include the name of the rose cultivar, classification or group, and year the rose was introduced.
The chance to interact one-on-one with a rose expert of the caliber of Gregg Lowery is a special perk for volunteers.
Some of the roses are in the ground but many are clustered in pots.  One of our tasks last fall was to dig up and put shrubs that had been attacked by gophers.  While some volunteers were weeding and pruning, other volunteers added fertilizer and tags to the pots. The pots are not ideal, but they will protect the roses until the beds can be adequately fenced against rodent pests, an expensive proposition for a garden this size.
Some of the roses currently in bloom at the garden.  The fragrance is indescribable.

One of my favorites of the roses in bloom this past weekend.  I meant to go into the row between the pots and check the label and we were so busy, I forgot!  Maybe one of the of the volunteers will help me out.  The sun washed out the color somewhat...  the subtle soft shades of rose and mauve brushed with yellow and ivory at the base of each petal were absolutely stunning.

While we were there this weekend, blooms were everywhere.
Comtesse de Rocquigny, a Bourbon rose in the collection*

Gourdalt, a Bourbon rose in the collection*

Visit the Friends of Vintage Roses.

*Photos courtesy of the Friends of Vintage Roses
All other photos copyright Cathy Rose