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Friday, August 28, 2009

My Dead Cicada Came to Life and Terrorized the Family

I met the cicada on my way back from the mailbox. I was thumbing through my mail when I passed something on the ground that caught my eye. I bent over for a closer look and came face to face with one big, ugly bug thingy. He looked maybe a little over an inch long.(My apologies to those bug thingy fans among you.) He wasn’t moving, so I figured he was dead.

The cicada looked so …so…big and ugly I decided to take him inside to show him to my grandson. He’s at an age to appreciate an ugly bug. I didn’t want to touch the cicada, so I ran inside for a paper towel and a plastic fork to pick him up with. Why a plastic fork? I could throw it away when I was finished with the bug. My mama didn’t raise me to let bugs touch anything I’d ever use again. She wouldn’t ever let my sister and me catch lightening bugs to put in her good canning jars. We had to use old mayonnaise jars with holes punched in the lids.

Anyway, I got the cicada inside and called my grandson who hurried to see what Grandma had found. About the time he got there the cicada came to life. His wings unfurled, and he took off straight at us. We did the only thing we could; we screamed and started running around the dining room. I’m not sure exactly why I jumped up on one of the dining room chairs, but that’s what I did. Duh. The cicada can fly. My grandson? Who knows; I abandoned him to his fate.

It only took a few minutes for the cicada to run out of steam. Obviously, he wasn’t quite dead when I brought him in, but I could see that he was hurting now, probably on his last legs. Simon (my grandson) opened the door, and I flipped the bug outside with the plastic fork which I immediately threw away. Remember that’s what my mama would have done.

The cicada’s body stayed on the deck for a day or two, until we were sure he was good and dead. We then brought him back in and took his picture. Due to a computer malfunction I can’t show you my cicada’s picture, but I’ve added one at the top of this post. Don’t worry. They all look alike to me. If you’ve seen one you’ve seen them all. (Apologies again, bug people. They don’t all really look alike.)

Speaking of looks, did you know what they look like? I didn’t. I’ve always heard people talk about cicadas, so I decided to do a little research on my buggy friend. Here’s what I was able to find out.

1. Cicadas are insects, best known for the sound made by the males of the species. The males make this sound by flexing their tymbals, which are drum-like organs found on their abdomens. The sound can reach over 100 decibels when the cicada is singing which explains why the noise is so overwhelming when you get a bunch of them singing at the same time. I don’t like the sound. To me it’s a hot, metallic, keening racket that spoils the peace of a summer’s evening. The males make this sound to attract a mate. On an interesting note, if there’s no female of the same species as a lovesick male, males of other species will help the male find a mate. Is this like a human blind date? Hmm. Here’s a link so you can hear what they sound like. Try one of the sound files.

2. Cicadas are often compared to locusts, but they aren’t locusts. There are over 100 species of cicada in North America, and over 2000 species around the world. Cicadas exist on every continent but Antarctica. In North America there are two main types of cicadas: periodical (which belong to the genus Magicicada) and annual. The Tibicen is the most common genus of annual cicada in North America. The Magicicada has either a 13 or 17 year life cycle. They emerge in broods, millions at a time. The Tibicen emerges every 2 to 7 years a few at a time.

3. Cicadas spend almost all of their life underground. Cicada nymphs emerge from the ground in periodic cycles. They climb up trees and shed their skins. An adult cicada emerges. The adult cicada’s entire purpose in life is to attract a mate and produce offspring. Five to 10 days after mating the female cuts a slit in a deciduous tree and lays her eggs. The eggs hatch, producing tiny nymphs that fall to the ground. They bury into the soil and feed on underground roots. They remain underground until time for them to emerge.

4. Be wary of observing large numbers of cicadas too closely. When many cicadas congregate on warm days, they feed on the tree fluids and often urinate while doing so. This bug urine is called 'honey dew.' It isn't uncommon to be pelted by honey dew.
The 'honey dew' does not stain, or stink. It feels like rain drops-or so they say. It doesn’t matter to me how it feels or smells. I DO NOT want bug urine anywhere on me.

5. The experts say that cicadas don’t bite. Instead they pierce and suck with this square looking sucker thing. Does it matter if you’re bitten with teeth or pierced with a sucker? I think not.

6. So, what use are cicadas? They aid their host trees by aerating the soil when they emerge as well as trimming weaker branches when they lay their eggs. They also form a vital link in the food chain between trees and literally hundreds of carnivores and omnivores, including: squirrels, birds, toads, raccoons, possums, other insects, people, and even fungi.

7. There is a wasp called the cicada killer wasp that eats cicadas, but so do lots of other creatures including pets. Try to keep your pets from eating cicadas. If the cicada has pesticide in it your pet will eat that when he eats the cicada.

8. You can-believe it or not-buy cicadas on the web. Check out

I hope you’ve enjoyed getting to know about cicadas. Once again my apologies to the insect lovers who’ll probably be outraged by my attitude toward the cicada. What can I say? It’s my mama’s fault.

Friday, August 21, 2009

A Day In The Life Of Clare Austin, Author Of Butterfly

Everyone knows that authors have glamorous lives, right? Okay, here's a day in the life of Clare Austin, author of Butterfly. See if it's what you expected. Welcome, Clare. Thanks for guest blogging today.

A day in the life….

I rise from my scented bower around eight a.m. Slip into a sexy bathrobe and wait for my man servant…who has an uncanny resemblance to Gerard Butler…to bring me my cappuccino. I open my laptop to check the hundreds of fan emails in my mailbox. “Gerard” (I’ll just call him that to protect his true identity) comes to check on me, ask if the coffee is to my liking before he walks my little dog, Maggie.

Hold it! Whose life is this? Not mine.

This morning I got up, made my coffee and stumbled back upstairs to a shower. Tried rather unsuccessfully to tame my frizz ball of red hair, couldn’t find the white shirt I wanted to wear and had to settle for a less than fresh pair of khakis because I haven’t done the wash.

I brushed my teeth while reading my email. I answered a few, toothbrush in hand, as well. Tossed back a protein shake, kissed my man…not Gerard…goodbye and dashed out the door.

Today I was at my “day job.” We were unusually busy and I felt more than a little scattered all day. I did have a lovely surprise. One of my co-workers had made a beautiful pendant out of little parts of my book, Butterfly. It was one of the dearest things anyone has ever done and it made me realize that my accomplishment with the publication of my first book actually meant something to my friends and acquaintances.

When I finally got home, I had a birthday party to attend and a blog or two to write.

This is not necessarily a typical day for me. I work at home, writing, five days a week. On those days, I try to write a good couple of hours in the morning, not counting the time I spend on emails and promotion. Then I typically go ride my horse, go for a swim or both. If I don’t get out and do something physical, I find it hard to sit and concentrate on making a bunch of words into a story…or a story into words on a page.

I write again in the afternoon, taking one or more breaks to walk my dog, get a cup of tea or play my violin. In the evening, I will relax, read a book, study Irish language or read aloud to my husband as we lounge in bed. I always go to sleep thinking about my story. Every night I write a scene, visualize a setting or play out how a character will react to a situation.

Somewhere in all this I manage to keep my home in some semblance of order, cook just enough to get by, garden, and wash the clothes…but I still don’t know what I did with that white shirt!

Thank you for hosting my on your blog today.
Clare Austin

Excerpt #1

He lost sight of the fiddler in the mobs of tourists enjoying the April sunshine.
No sooner had he decided to give up on his quest than he heard hands clapping in rhythm with the beat of the now familiar Irish drum.

Then he saw her.

She lifted her instrument and, with the surety of a bird’s wing slipping through the air, bow was laid to strings and life was breathed into melody.

He moved to the edge of the gathering where he could have an unobstructed view of the musicians. She looked up, and he thought she recognized him for an instant. Then her eyes turned and followed another. She smiled and nodded.

Cade had never thought of himself as the jealous type, but he did feel cheated out of that smile.

As soon as the last vibration of strings quieted, a man Cade recognized from O’Fallon’s came up behind the fiddler and, with disturbing familiarity, spoke in her ear. She responded with a hug and an adoring look in her eyes.

Cade had been raised to be competitive, in sports as well as in business, and the appearance of a rival on the field made him want to draw blood. He wanted the fiddler in his studio, and if she ended up in his bed, that might be as nice.
He stood and listened until the sun set and the air held a chill that thinned the throng. The musicians were packing it in.

He hadn’t realized he was staring, until she walked up to him and stood so
close he could smell the scent of her warm skin in the cool evening air. Her approach to introduction took Cade completely by surprise.

“Are you lookin’ at me or waitin’ for a bus?” she said, one hand on her hip and a sassy smile on her lips.

Excerpt #2
Flannery swung through the door into the dining room with a flourish but nearly tripped over a bar stool when she saw the now familiar profile, broad shoulders, and curly dark hair of the man who had come to see her sister.

“Sufferin’ ducks, and if it isn’t himself come to brighten the day at O’Fallon’s.” Cade was as compelling as she remembered. Today he was dressed in jeans, a black knit shirt, leather bomber jacket, and a slow smile that would stop a saint in her tracks.

“What can I get you?” She thought a couple of shots of good Irish whiskey would sort him out.

“I’d try the fish an’ chips if you would join me?”

She gave him one of her best smiles, turned toward the kitchen, and yelled, “Hey, Jamie, I’m taking my break. Give us a one an’ one, a serving of the bangers and mushy peas, a couple o’ Harps, and an Inishowen, would you there?”

“Anything for the love of my life,” Jamie called from behind the door.

“Stow it, Jamie Mac!” Flannery shot back, then turned to Cade. “He’s always good fer craic, our Jamie.”

“Craic? Inishowen? One and one? Would you like to translate?”

“Whatta ya mean ‘translate’? You speak English don’tcha?” she teased. “Okay...I’m just giving you a time. ‘Craic’ is fun, ‘Inishowen’ is a whiskey from County Donegal, and a ‘one and one’ is what we, the feckin’ Irish, call fish ‘n chips.”

Flannery’s pulse quickened at the way his dark eyes, shaded by long lashes, swept lazily over her, undressing her, right here in a public place. Yes, as her girlfriends back home liked to say, “He was a ride.”

Friday, August 14, 2009

Civil War Trivia

I thought I’d end my series of Civil War blog posts with a little bit of trivia. Some of it may surprise you. I especially liked numbers 10 and 13. Number 16 makes me think Buffalo Bill must have stretched the truth a bit. Check back next week for guest blogger Clare Austin whose new novel Butterfly has just been released. Hope you enjoy the trivia.

1. The artillery barrage at the battle of Gettysburg during Pickett’s charge was heard over 100 miles away in Pittsburg.

2. General Robert E. Lee, commander of the Confederate forces, traveled with a pet hen that laid one egg under his cot every morning.

3. At Cold Harbor, Va., 7,000 Americans fell in 20 minutes.

4. In March 1862, European powers watched in worried fascination as the Monitor and Merrimack battled off Hampton Roads, Va. From then on, after these ironclads opened fire, every other navy on earth was obsolete.

5. Confederate General Nathan Bedford Forrest had 30 horses shot from under him and personally killed 31 men in hand-to-hand combat. "I was a horse ahead at the end," he said.

6. The words "In God We Trust" first appeared on a U.S. coin in 1864.

7. The greatest cavalry battle ever fought in the Western hemisphere was at Brandy Station, Virginia, on June 9, 1863. Nearly 20,000 cavalrymen were engaged on a relatively confined terrain for more than 12 hours.

8. An Iowa regiment had a rule that any man who uttered an oath should read a chapter in the Bible. Several of them got nearly through the Old Testament.

9. Alfred Thomas Archimedes Torbert held commissions in both USA and CSA armies simultaneously. The general remained loyal to the Union. He's the man in the picture.

10. General Stonewall Jackson never ate food that tasted good, because he assumed that anything that tasted good was completely unhealthy.

11. The last land engagement of the Civil War was fought on May 13, 1865 at the Battle of Palmito Ranch in south Texas more than a month after General Lee’s surrender at Appomattox.

12. The U.S. government estimated in January, 1863 that the war was costing $2.5 million per day. A final official estimate in 1879 totaled all expenses at $6,190,000,000. The Confederacy spent an estimated $2,099,808,707.

13. The melody of the popular Civil War ballad "Aura Lee" was later used for Elvis Presley's "Love me Tender".

14. Plantation owners offered a $40,000 reward for the return of escaped slave Harriet Tubman.

15. As the peace treaty was being signed at Appomattox, the brass band outside played Auld Lang Syne.

16. Wild Bill Hickock claimed to have killed fifty Confederates with fifty shots from his special rifle.

17. Albert Woodson, the last Union veteran, died in 1958. The last Confederate veteran, Walter Williams, died in 1959 at the age of 117.

18. General George Armstrong Custer captured the first and last battle flag of the Civil War.

19. The word deadline came from the infamous Confederate POW camp at Andersonville, Ga. A small perimeter between the stockade and the Union soldiers all the way around the interior of the prison was a no-man’s land. Anyone in this area was subject to immediate execution. That line of demarcation became known as the deadline.

20. When Lincoln was assassinated John Wilkes Booth ran from a theater to a warehouse. When John F. Kennedy was assassinated his assassin ran from a warehouse to a theater.

Trivia was collected from the following sources:

Friday, August 7, 2009

Can You Identify This Flag?

Can you identify the flag on the left? You can’t? Don’t feel bad. Not too many people would guess that that flag is the first official flag of the Confederacy. It was used from March 1861 to May of 1863.

The color choice was significant. Many Southerners still felt a lingering affection for the American flag so the committee charged with selecting a flag felt using red, white, and blue would made the transition to a new flag easier. The seven stars represented the original Confederate states. Can you name them without looking? They were South Carolina-December 20, 1860, Mississippi-January 9, 1861, Florida-January 10, 1861, Alabama-January 11, 1861, Georgia-January 19, 1861, Louisiana-January 26, 1861, and Texas-February 1, 1861. After Lincoln called for volunteers four more states seceded. They were: Virginia, Arkansas, North Carolina, and Tennessee. Eventually the number of stars increased to thirteen.

But hold on. There were only eleven Confederate states, so why were there thirteen stars? That’s because even though Missouri and Kentucky never seceded they held slaves and had some local Confederate governments.

The stripes in the American flag were replaced by two red bars and one white bar which is why people called the flag the stars and bars. This flag was first used at the inauguration of President Jefferson Davis.

As time went on, though, problems developed with this flag. When a battle was going on there was a lot of smoke and confusion on the field. In that confusion it was hard to tell exactly who you were shooting at. Many times all the soldiers could see was red, white, and blue. Sometimes they inadvertently fired on their own men.

After the battle of Bull Run General P.G.T. Beauregard suggested changing the flag to avoid confusion. Nobody wanted to do that, so he persuaded them to have a special flag that they carried only on the battle field. That flag is the one beside the first official flag, and I know you’ve seen it before. Interestingly enough, the flag was supposed to be square, but in many illustrations of the period it looks rectangular in shape. At any rate, everyone loved it. It was called the Confederate Battle Flag, the Southern Cross, or the Battle Flag Of The Army Of Northern Virginia.

Since people liked it so much the government decided to change the official flag. The second official flat is the one with the white field. It was called the Stainless Banner and went into usage on May 1, 1863. The problem was, it looked too much like a white flag of surrender, especially if the wind wasn’t blowing.

That wouldn’t do so the government commissioned a third flag which was adopted on March 4, 1865. It’s the one with the red bar at the end of the white field. This one didn’t last long because the war ended. It was called the Last Confederate Flag, and in my opinion it was the best one.

My sources for this post are: