Category Archives: Animals

How to Bear the Bears of Shenandoah National Park (and keep them bearin’ you…)

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Mama bear and cubs, seen shortly after crossing the road outside Big Meadows Campground. (hooray for camera zoom)

(I just can’t quit the bad bear puns.)

In recent years, black bear sightings have increased dramatically inside Shenandoah National Park, that gorgeous nearly 200,000-acre expanse of land that technically belongs to every American. Personally speaking, I’ve been visiting Shenandoah since I was quite young and never once saw a bear until just a couple of years ago! I’ve since seen several more. My first bear sighting evoked pure excitement out of me – that was the last thing I expected to see by the side of Skyline Drive one October, but there he or she was. The campsite daydreams of my youth found me longing to catch a glimpse of a black bear in the wild and enviously paging through the Shenandoah “wildlife sightings” binders. Whenever I heard an animal snuffling around the tent late at night, I’d quietly hope to find a giant bear print just outside in the morning.

These days, the likelihood of finding that bear print outside one’s tent has greatly increased – especially this year – and that’s not really a thing to celebrate. Bear viewing is wonderful, but we’re talking about a powerful wild animal here – one you don’t want to get conditioned to see you as a source of food! Numerous hikers and campers have reported having their belongings or tents shredded by bears in search of human food. Yikes! A little common sense will help both you and the bears stay safe, as well as ensure we can continue to enjoy bear sightings from a safe distance for generations to come! (A bear conditioned to seek out humans will not stop seeking them out. So when bears start to become nuisances or dangers in the park, they must be trapped and relocated or euthanized.)

With an understanding of the bear facts and a simple desire to co-exist with wildlife, you can avoid contributing to the problem. Spread the word! Learn the bear etiquette for visiting campgrounds and wilderness where black bears live here: Enjoying Bears Safely at Shenandoah. You might be surprised by some of the tips, but hopefully you’re not surprised that you shouldn’t feed a wild bear, no matter how cute and cuddly and friendly he may seem. Shenandoah isn’t a petting zoo; take that mess somewhere else!

Getting your bearings at Big Meadows 

Black bear sightings in Shenandoah National Park are definitely increasing lately! (More on this in a later post) If you do spot a bear, there are at least two places nearby where you can officially record your sightings. A binder log for visitors to log their encounters can be found in the Big Meadows Lodge lobby, usually on the table by the standing bear mannequin. (Sometimes the binder gets moved to the great room just beyond the lobby.) I was thrilled to finally have the chance to record my first bear sighting a couple of years ago. I’ve seen several bears since that ursine greeter surprised us by the side of Skyline Drive, so using the “bear book” is becoming something of a tradition. Another fun tradition is getting my husband to take photos with the aforementioned bear mannequin at the lodge! He doesn’t need much prompting to do something silly, believe me.

A second place to record bear sightings is the wildlife plant and animal log at the Byrd Visitor Center (by the Big Meadows Wayside). Eric and I once realized we had met a rare Shenandoah salamander on the Appalachian Trail and we may have recorded our discovery in this very book.

I’m sure there are other places to note your sightings in the park – bear or otherwise! If you know of such a place, please leave a note in the comments!

Eric and friend:


Charles the Spider

I have never been much of a spider fan and suffer from a case of arachnophobia where big wolf spiders (I mean BIG wolf spiders … see: our basement in KG) are concerned. My long-suffering father threw many an enormous hairy arachnid back into our woods as we all ran around screaming. And I’m still not sure I’ve completely forgiven him for that one time years ago when he casually allowed me to sit and chat at the kitchen table, knowing I was totally unaware that two ENORMOUS wolf spiders were scuttling around literally right next to my bare feet.

But a cute little creature named Charles has taken over one corner of our balcony, and I don’t want him to leave. When I first saw his web out there, my initial thought was to get Eric to move him elsewhere. But as I sit reading a healthy distance away, our little stripey-legged friend catches and devours all the bugs that normally bite me. So I’ve made peace with this arachnid. His name is Charles, he has a rather large web, and he retreats into our stored Christmas wreath (stacked against the wall) whenever a storm comes in and blows his web down, only to return and rebuild very quickly. He’s done this a few times now. He vanished when a thunderstorm struck, then again as Hurricane Irene approached. The storm ripped down his web, and I worried he might be getting soggy in the torrential downpour. That’s right, I was worried about a spider. But by the following afternoon, anchor strands had already reappeared. He moves really fast. Whenever we’re blessed with a warm day again, I’ll be out there reading and propping up my feet, while he wrecks all those bugs. Who would’ve thought I’d ever be happy to befriend a spider? (Although over the past few months, he’s been getting bigger and bigger … we may need to reconsider his rental agreement.)

The Halloween Countdown: Decorating Our Home

October means it’s time to get out the Halloween decorations! Or, in our case, September means it’s time to get out the Halloween decorations. (We get enthusiastic early.) Eric is very blessed in the creativity department, so on one of his rare non-exhausted days off, he began catching up on long overdue artwork. When evening came, he took a break from his Wacom electronic sketch pad to mess around with some old props given to him by his last employer, Joe Devers of Just Outrageous Events, Inc. (JOE). (See the website for this incredibly creative and experienced floral event/event drapery company here: Just Outrageous Events.) Here’s what Eric came up with in no time flat:

Eric's shrine to Halloween

The images on the ceiling and wall are homemade creations Eric set up himself. At the bottom, Eric used a tiki vase from JOE as the base. He cut out pumpkin and ghost stencils from orange construction paper and made them stand up from the base with tape and pieces of bent clothes hanger. At the back, he attached a little flashlight of mine so that it shone through the stencils, projecting the images on the wall.

A flashlight taped behind a couple of homemade stencils makes these cool images on the wall.

An adjustable projector light from JOE shines on the walls, ceiling, or anywhere else we want it to go. (Warning: these types of lights get very hot very fast.) Eric cut out a mean jack-o-lantern face from red paper and pasted it over the light, then pointed it straight up at the ceiling.

RAWWWR

In the middle of the display is an old-style haunted house decoration, one of a few I bought in a pack from our local Giant a year ago. The lights on the surrounding strings are shaped like skulls and jack-o-lanterns.

These Halloween jack-o-lantern lights are from Target.

We hung a “Happy Hauntings” sign from CVS on the outside of our door, and added a re-usable grocery/trick-or-treat bag on the inside.

Trick-or-treat bag from Giant supermarket.

One of my favorite decorations is the “Coffin Mister” I bought a couple of years ago. The coffin’s lid is hinged, and a skeleton sculpture creeps out at you. Fill lines carved inside direct the amount of water needed; flipping the switch activates the fogger and color-changing lights (included in the set). With all other lights off, the sight of the mist pouring out around the skeleton’s expression is very spooky. The Mister comes with a small circle mat to place under it, which does a shoddy job of protecting your fine mahogany, so be forewarned. We place ours on an old coffee table someone threw out at my building that I don’t really give a rip about, and routinely find puddles of water gathered way past the “protective” mat’s borders, and under it too! Also, if you have young children, be aware that the Mister was made with lead paint.

Check your local Target for this coffin mister.

A more child-friendly decoration is this light-up ghost from the Avon catalog! I doubt this particular decoration is still available, but you can find many like him. He turns on and off with a switch and has lasted seven years so far (probably because I take the batteries out before storing each year).

Glowing Ghost, Avon catalog, circa October 2003.

This jack-o-lantern, also provided by Just Outrageous Events, lights up when plugged in. Our cat Domino just loves this guy and lays right in front of his face whenever we turn him on. I’m guessing his lights feel warm on her fur.

Another great Halloween prop from Just Outrageous Events!

Check your local supermarket for Halloween-themed tissues, paper towels, and foaming hand soap.

Softsoap Halloween foaming soap with a glow-in-the-dark label!

Target takes a good portion of cash from me each year with their line of scary socks, throw blankets, pillows, dishware, and stuffed animals.

Just a few of the themed pillows on the couch, all purchased from Target.

Ebay is always a good place to search for unique treasures.

Vintage Garfield Halloween mug, circa late 1980s, purchased from an Ebay seller.

Sumo patiently tolerates dressing as Count Fatula each Halloween with a small doggie costume I bought him. This year, Eric made him a matching vampire coffin for him to sleep in. Eric used cardboard boxes to make the shape and then wrapped them with a black plastic garbage bag. A bit of organic catnip sprinkled inside enticed the vampire kitty to take a closer look. Unfortunately, he was still too wired for pictures and wouldn’t hold still long enough for me to take a good shot!

Count Fatula checks out his new sleeping box.

A bit too small? No worries for this cat. He will cram himself into anything. (Domino's spots can be seen on the left)

We have plenty of other Halloween decorations, including scented candles, vintage postcards, and picture frames, and a flashing pumpkin flashlight. And this year, we’re making Sumo a mummy outfit!

Murrells Inlet

September has reached its end, and the colder air of October is here. We just had our annual family beach week a couple of weeks ago to enjoy the last of the truly sunny days. This year we headed to an oceanfront house in Murrells Inlet, an unincorporated town in South Carolina’s Georgetown County. Although I’d never been to Murrells Inlet itself, I’m very familiar with the general area. I’ve vacationed in the nearby Grand Strand cities of Myrtle Beach and North Myrtle Beach at least seven times.

My sister had recommended Murrells Inlet to us, and it did not disappoint. It was beautiful, fun, and very easy to get around. I appreciated how the general September atmosphere was calm and collected. Sometimes you just don’t want a crowd. The beaches, lined mostly with houses on stilts, lacked the overly busy atmosphere of Myrtle Beach, but there was never a lack of things to do. While I saw many a boarded-up business – a stark reminder of the recession – the Grand Strand is still a vibrant area where boredom seems impossible.

On Waccamaw Drive. The beach is on the left!

At the corner of Waccamaw Drive and Atlantic Avenue, you’ll find a small touristy crossroads with a dash of local thrown in. Here you are no longer in Murrells Inlet, but Garden City – an area of Horry (pronounced “OH-ree”) County. Eric and I walked all the way up there one day and it was quite the hike.

At one side of the crossroads, you’ll see a very small amusement park called Slick Track, which looks abandoned, and a large beach supply chain store called Eagles. Stores like Eagles, Wings, Pacific, and Shell City are EVERYWHERE in this area! Use them to stock up on your rafts, swimsuits, towels and fireworks! (We did!) However, the animal advocate in me would like to kindly discourage you from purchasing hermit crabs with painted shells – the paint can be very harmful to the little crabs and even kill them in a painful way. Not to mention it just looks gaudy and undignified!

Slick Track and Eagles

Directly across Atlantic Avenue is a little row of shops with Sam’s Corner, the Pavilion arcade (or “distribution center” … haha), a tiny grocery store, and more.

Sam's Corner is on the left.

Sam’s Corner, to the far left in the above picture, boasted signs for 5 cent coffee and “world famous hot dogs” so Eric and I tested their claims a couple of times. The inside of this diner was comfortable and friendly and we struck up a conversation with one of the workers while we were there, who teased us in a good-natured manner. (Perhaps Sam himself?) I had a dog with chili and jalapenos and it was indeed delicious, although it can’t compare to a Weenie Beenie half-smoke. (But can anything?) I was disappointed that they didn’t offer free refills on the sodas. The prices were a little high all around, which I think one should expect in a beach town. I thought the 5 cent coffee was surprisingly good. They also serve cocktails and beer including one called “Hugo Revenge”. (Hurricane Hugo hit the town very hard in 1989.) I tried their El Paso sandwich for breakfast one day, which was a grilled pimento cheese sandwich with bacon and jalapenos. Who would’ve thought slapping these ingredients together would produce something so tasty? My verdict on Sam’s is that it’s a cool hangout with some yummy grub for a quick bite or midnight snack, and I want to eat there again. It only accepts cash, so be forewarned.

The Pavilion arcade was exactly what all kids of the 80s used to run around in on any Grand Strand vacation worth its salt. They have every cheesy, silly game you’d imagine with the requisite tokens required to play each game, and the tickets that you redeem for little el cheap-o prizes. Yes! Eric and I shelled out way too many dollars to knock out a dumb metal horse’s teeth, engage in a Wild West shootout, play skeeball, zap some crickets with a lizard’s tongue, and team up to fight off giant flies and spiders on a jungle adventure gone wrong.

If you want to get drinks and/or ice cream, you can traipse across the street to Painter’s Ice Cream, and the Pier at Garden City, both on Waccamaw Drive. Painter’s, sadly, was closed when we had the chance to go there, so I can’t vouch for it, but the handmade signs are cool.

Painter's Ice Cream

The Pier has an arcade attached with more nutty games, and has karaoke sometimes too. At this point, I think you’re more in Surfside Beach than in Murrells Inlet or Garden City. If you continue through the bar, you’ll find many people fishing off the pier. The number of fish and bait attracts some other types of fishers, too …

Blacktip shark!

Yes, sharks! As we stared into the water, we saw no less than four – two blacktips, and two sand tiger sharks. I can’t even tell you how incredible it is to see such a powerful animal up close in the wild like this. The big swimmers devoured fish left and right and one even chomped the bait right off a lady’s line, taking the line with it. We had a clear view of them the entire time. At one point, a sand tiger was several yards away from a woman combing the shore all the way down at the beginning of the pier, but he showed zero interest in her or any other swimmers. He was merely circling to check out the fish selection. While I wouldn’t recommend throwing yourself into the water to hang out with these creatures, seeing their natural behavior is amazing.

I never remembered the Myrtle Beach area as having much wildlife, but we certainly saw plenty! Gangs of brown pelicans were a constant presence. They really are such magnificent birds. We saw pelicans, terns, seagulls, and sea hawks fishing out of the ocean on multiple occasions. They had a smorgasbord to choose from – huge schools of fish regularly went by. The schools were easy to spot as they looked like dark shadows in an otherwise sparkling sea, with silvery scaly bodies regularly leaping up into the air. It was also not rare to spy a pod of dolphins or some other set of porpoises bobbing in the waves several yards from shore. While in the sea itself, it was very common to see many fish in the breaking waves, and groups of sandy-colored bottom feeders blending in with the ocean floor. Eric thought these “bottom feeders” might in fact be baby sand sharks, which doesn’t seem impossible!

We didn’t encounter any jellyfish on our vacation, but something did give my foot a slight scratch or nibble in the ocean. I wasn’t concerned. It was probably one of the many crabs we came across. Ghost crabs were not as plentiful at night as they were at Hilton Head, but they were definitely out and about. We were a little alarmed to find so many dead ones, however, including three within very close proximity to one another with no noticeable signs of trauma. Some of the live ones we saw were quite large. We found one with a fish he had just caught, and caught others in the middle of digging their burrows. In the morning, crab clawprints dotted the sand.

He will destroy you

Little lizards and skinks inhabit the sea oats and grass. A pair of skinks regularly ran back and forth across the path as I approached. I don’t know what they were up to, but they left neat tracks behind.

Lizard tracks. You can see where the lizard's tail dragged along on the ground behind him.

Eric, admiring the gorgeous sun-sparkled sea, encouraged me to take a beach walk with him every morning. It was very difficult for me to rise out of bed at such an early hour, but the smell of Daddy’s multi-grain pancakes helped.

Another gorgeous South Carolina morning

On a couple of these morning beach strolls, we came across a couple of big light brown crabs with white spots, which my wildlife book identified as speckled crabs. We saw one such fella right where the waves broke one morning. He made it clear that he did not appreciate our peering at him and extended a huge claw out to its full length. As he snapped at us, a smaller crab scuttled out from underneath him! We had accidentally disturbed a fall mating ritual! The angry crustacean grabbed his woman and floated back out into the waves, thoughts of murder no doubt in his mind.

We did have some unwelcome visitors on the shore. Once was that most disgusting of southern insects, the palmetto bug. This moniker is clearly supposed to help you forget that you are really dealing with a giant flying roach. Well, I can’t forget and was repulsed by those that made their way inside our beach house! That will teach me to leave my balcony door open at night (to hear the ocean while I sleep). Eric, on the other hand, is from the Bronx and was completely undaunted. Another pest was the deer fly. These annoying bugs hang out on shore during their mating season, biting any patch of warm skin they can find. You have no idea they are on you until you feel the pain of their bites. Covering yourself head to toe in towels (and subsequently sweating to death) works as long as the deer flies can’t find an opening. They are relentless and forced me onto the porch one day. Jerks. Thankfully, they were absent the remaining days of the vacation so we could enjoy our daily swimming and sunning! Lastly, we encountered some sand burs. These aren’t a huge problem as long as you don’t go tramping around in the sea oats, but some do make their way down to the sand. Eric was annoyed to get some stuck in his feet when coming up the path back to our house. I think he thought he’d left them behind in Texas!

Now imagine these ... stuck in your bare foot!

Across the street from our house was a salt marsh, which is the inlet itself. My Uncle Cliff saw an alligator glide by behind some of the marsh houses; sadly I never made the same sighting. But my sister and brother-in-law had the idea to go kayaking there, and Eric and I tagged along. I had been canoeing several times and figured kayaking would be only marginally more difficult. I don’t know where I got this idea. One of the first things we did once in the water was plow into someone’s boat. But we soon got the hang of it and enjoyed a few hours steering around the marsh. It’s a very good workout!

Cat and Rob out-kayaking us

We caught up!

The marsh was teeming with life. Fish were jumping everywhere, including a whole school that I thought might go right in our kayak. Eric and I also witnessed an unfortunate one being fought over by a group of terns. Egrets, ducks, and herons standing in the marsh grasses were so close we could’ve touched them. The blue heron is a gorgeous bird with huge wings, which makes his raspy, throaty call all the more jarring. We also spotted a white heron with what appeared to be a much younger (but still tall in his own right) heron who didn’t know how to fly yet.

The salt marsh is home to another group of animals you might not expect: a family of goats! Do you remember Goat Island from my Lake Martin vacation? Murrells Inlet has its own.

The Murrells Inlet goats are definitely well-fed.

The goats are fed by a local dude named Bubba, who has his own restaurant, Bubba’s Love Shak, overlooking the marsh. I highly recommend trying the spicy Bling Bling shrimp tacos with your cocktail or beer!

Bubba's Love Shak on a slow afternoon.

Keeping with the theme of the famous B-52s song ... 🙂

The view from our table!

Salt water trails on Eric's arm, a souvenir from kayaking.

Lastly, I can’t close the post without recommending the Gulfstream Cafe on Waccamaw Drive. My very generous Aunt Vinson took us all out to eat dinner here on one of our last nights. The Gulfstream is right over the marsh. The upper deck (which had a three-piece band playing) provides breathtaking views like this:

This was so gorgeous I had to make it my new blog header!

The drinks are made perfectly, and so is the food. Even the bread and butter are very savory. We ordered a slew of appetizers to pass around the table. I chose the firecracker shrimp, which comes with chipotle sauce and delectable mashed potatoes. We also had others, including onion rings (which came stuck together in a huge block), bruschetta, oysters rockefeller (a new one for me – I loved them), and oyster shooters (another new one for me). Oyster shooters are unbelievable. You get a shot glass with the oyster, tabasco sauce, vodka, and lemon and down it all at once. All of the appetizers alone were so filling and delicious that I had almost no room left for the entree: a pair of heavenly crabcakes and more of those luscious mashed potatoes.

I think Murrells Inlet, and the surrounding areas of Surfside and Garden City, make up one of those places that has something for everyone. Another winning getaway!

Post notes:

If you are interested in learning more about the wildlife and beaches of the Grand Strand area, please read Tideland Treasure by Todd Ballantine, an environmental scientist and Hilton Head resident. The book is a great read with hand-drawn illustrations, and the wring is done in Ballantine’s own hand (not typeface).

I usually avoid typical chain restaurants, whether casual dining or fast food, while on vacation, unless it’s something I can’t get back at home. One of those places is Red Burrito, a Mexican fast food joint you can often find attached to a South Carolina Hardee’s. On the West coast, it’s called Green Burrito and is attached to Carl’s Jr. The Red Burrito menu is small, but you get a lot for your money. Seven bucks got me a bean and cheese burrito, warm tortilla chips, refried beans, and rice in a to-go carton.

And that’s really it. I don’t seem to be able to write a short blog post about anything, I swear. 😉

Diva, A Special Girl

Sua Mah Dragon Storm Diva April 18, 1996-August 9, 2010 Photography by Michael Joseph

On August 9, my family lost one of its smaller, furrier members: Diva, my aunt’s beloved Pembroke Welsh Corgi. My aunt, Alice Vinson Lynch, purchased Diva on July 13, 1996. From that day forward, the pair shared a very special bond. I want to share the story of their incredible life together with you.

Diva (registered name: Sua Mah Dragon Storm Diva) was the daughter of Champion Sua Mah Dragon Storm and Sua Mah Chloe of Fiesta Farm. A red-headed tricolor (specifically, black and tan with white markings), Diva’s adorable puppy face and charming nature won my aunt over the moment she spotted her at breeder Judy Hart’s in Knoxville, Tennessee.

A very young Diva with her owner. Photo courtesy of Lynn and Lee Westenberg. Lynn appears on the right with her Cardigan Welsh Corgi, Roxy.

Diva was off to a great start as she attended obedience classes and earned her Canine Good Citizen certificate, and she displayed excellent manners! The first time I met her was over Thanksgiving 1996. My aunt had told us she’d have her new Corgi with her for the holiday, and we couldn’t wait to meet her. “Where’s the puppy?” I said, as Aunt Vinson showed up at our side door. “Oh, she’s at the front door,” Aunt Vinson said, adding that I could go meet her if I wanted. So I walked to that end of the house with a funny image of a dog politely waiting at the door. Well, that’s just what Diva was doing – happily sitting on the front porch, with a huge puppy grin on her face. She didn’t jump up at me when she saw me; she just bounded right in to make my acquaintance! She was a big hit with my mother, father, and sister too.

Diva in my mother's kitchen at Thanksgiving - the first time we met her! Photo by Martha V. Lynch.

Christmas in King George, 1997. Photo by Martha L. Lynch.

Diva was an outdoor dog if there ever was one. She loved daily visits to the farm with my aunt, then a horse-owner, where she enjoyed meeting horses, people, dogs, and barn cats. She made fast friends with other dogs everywhere she went, including many of her neighbors, and thought playing and wrestling with them was a great way to get some exercise!

Her playful but respectful and non-threatening nature meant she got along well with many cats, too. Our family cat Smokey, usually very territorial, once walked up to a sleeping Diva to sniff her. Years later, I caught my kitty Sumo sitting directly behind a slumbering Diva at Christmas, just quietly observing her. And my sister and brother-in-law’s friendly orange tabby, Merlin, even walked right up to Diva, rubbing his head against hers to say hello!

Diva as a puppy, happily wrestling her friend Roxy. Photo courtesy of Lynn and Lee Westenberg.

Diva’s spirit of adventure made her a wonderful travel companion to my aunt. They enjoyed many trips together, including to Emerald Isle, Key West, and Nova Scotia. Diva really loved making new friends and experiencing new places. My aunt recalls that at an upscale hotel lobby in Halifax, Diva trotted by with poise and struck perfect poses for a crowd of admirers, as though it were her job! “I felt like I was the assistant to a movie star,” my aunt remembers.

Diva just loved car rides with her owner. Photo by Jeff Bolognese.

Diva on the beach with my father, Emerald Isle, 2007. Photo by Catherine C. Lynch.

Despite her relatively small size compared to many other dogs, Diva was an expert and very fit hiker! In fact, she was a member of the local K9Trailblazers, an on-leash hiking club for dogs and their owners. Diva lead the pack on almost every hike, causing my aunt to excuse them as Diva eagerly rushed past much bigger dogs! And Diva’s inquisitive, intelligent nature showed on these hikes as she tackled every challenge, always choosing to go over a log or boulder rather than simply easily stepping around it.

Diva hits the trail. Photo by Jeff Bolognese.

Her beautiful coat shining in the sun. Photo by Jeff Bolognese.

Diva’s personality wasn’t just fun-loving; it was heart-warming and comforting. A member of People Animals Love (PAL), she visited veterans and their families at Walter Reed Army Medical Center. What a wonderful therapy dog she turned out to be for so many soldiers and their loved ones. Along with a year of service in this capacity, Diva also served as a monthly visitor to area nursing homes for several years. Her natural and genuine love of everyone she met made her a hit with all of the residents. In fact, I still recall the smiles on residents’ faces at my grandmother’s resident hall when Diva, just a very young dog, ran right up and greeted them! Even with all that energy, Diva still understood that she needed to sit quietly in Grandmother Alice’s lap when she was in her wheelchair. She was excellent at knowing just what to do in every situation.

On top of all of this, Diva was amazingly courageous and brave. She had a fear of water and preferred not to go beyond a safe boundary. But at a pool party one day, Diva spied a young boy going under the surface repeatedly. He was just bobbing around, but Diva took immediate notice and became very concerned, racing around the pool near where he was. Still very afraid of the water and not even knowing the boy, she finally dove right in to help. That was Diva – able to clear any obstacle, even her biggest fear.

I truly believe that the greatest wish of our animal companions is to love and be loved. Well, Diva had that wish granted many times over, every day of her life. With the love, care, and constant companionship of my aunt, she lived the best life any dog could ever have. Everyone who met her loved her, human and animal alike, and she loved them back. In her own way, she made the world a better place for so many. We will never forget you, Diva!

Here are some additional images of Diva’s life.

Hiking in the snow. Photo by Jeff Bolognese.

Diva is ready to lead the K9Trailblazers! Photo by Jeff Bolognese.

Making pawprints in the sand at Emerald Isle. Photo by Catherine C. Lynch.

Always poised. Photo by Martha V. Lynch.

Inauguration Day, 1997. Photo by Martha V. Lynch.

Adorable girl! Photo by Eric Mercado.

Meteors, Meandering, and Bankrupt Mexican Restaurants

The Perseid meteor shower was excellent, even though the sky was very cloudy! Eric and I headed out to Robyn and Derrick’s house in Fredericksburg to see it. They live in the woods, so we had a perfectly dark viewing platform. At a little after midnight, we wandered out onto their back porch with our beers and saw one meteor pass right through a break in the clouds. I was so excited! The four of us put a blanket on the sidewalk and saw several more over the next couple of hours as the clouds began to clear.

The next day, we took a walk on the path that runs by the canal in the Fredericksburg area. There are a TON of turtles out there, clustered on the rocks to sun themselves. Some of the turtles are quite large – easily as big as a dinner plate. We didn’t stay on the path long because it was just too hot.

Small turtle getting some sun

On the way back home, I decided on the spur of the moment to take a look at the old Chi-Chi’s building near Spotsylvania Mall (oh excuse me, Spotsylvania Towne Centre). Chi-Chi’s was an extremely popular chain of Mexican restaurants for a long time. Unfortunately, a devastating outbreak of Hepatitis A was traced to green onions from one of its restaurants in 2003, sickening over 600 people and killing four. All of its U.S. restaurants closed, although I still saw some overseas in both Brussels and Luxembourg City last year. Many Chi-Chi’s were left abandoned all across the U.S., some becoming serious eyesores (at least in the eyes of those who don’t like abandoned buildings 😉 Thanks to The Governess for putting up one of my (crappy) photos of the old Fred Chi-Chi’s at her blog, Creepy Abandoned Chi-Chis. I say that it was crappy because it was an overcast day, and I used my cell phone to take the picture. Don’t worry; I’ll go back.

We have some problems with the balcony above ours that turned out to be pretty serious. I would like to thank my upstairs neighbor for slopping so much water on her plants that it dripped through a crack on her balcony onto my head and caused me to look up. I then realized that not only is there an opening between her balcony and the side wall, but the back corner of her balcony is a bit lower than the same area on the balcony next door. A support has been hammered in place for now, and we are staying off of it until Thursday when the building owner will come take a look.

I won sixth place in a sweepstakes and I just got the prize check of … dun dun dun … $10! Hey, no complaints here.