It’s the season of the Giant Puffball

This year, we had a double puffball event in our yard. When I noticed them they were smaller than baseballs and then were visibly larger every day. Finally B picked one and ate it, after a brief “Alas, poor Yorick” moment, and then there was one. Last photo with a slice removed, to show its solid interior, with the slice like a piece of soft cheese or a delicate wedge of memoryfoam pillow.

Double puffball 1Double puffball 2Double puffball lonelypuffball interiorFound in temperate regions worldwide.

Giant Puffball (Calvatia gigantea)

Violets… no, wait, it’s my tips for buying a used car

Axie Breen Photography BostonOkay, I know this is off topic. But when I went through the process of buying a used car, most of the relevant advice on the internet was general, from big corporate sites — not much in the line of personal experience. So I want to add what I learned to the google zone.

So first you figure out the kind of car you want and the budget you’re allowing to buy it. Then look around online to see who has some in stock. Then zero in:

1. Identify the car you want. Look at Edmunds, Kelley Blue Book online to get a sense of market value. Look at Carfax for deets on that particular car.

2. Call the dealer to check availability and make an appointment to drive it. Check the asking price and what it covers: If the car is advertised as Certified, does the listed price cover certification or is it actually extra? (Get alert to any bait-and-switch at the outset.) Is this a negotiable price or is this a no-negotiation shop?

3. Test drive. Don’t be too positive. Reserve judgment and keep in mind any flaws.

4. Negotiate. I read that an advertised price includes a “20% gross margin,” so to open your negotiation at 15% below… and come up to maybe 10% below, or what your research indicates is a reasonable price for that car. I’m not sure about these percentages — with a new car, you can find the wholesale price, but with a used car, it’s not clear cut.

Don’t take it personally if they act insulted at your offer. You have to pretend you do financial negotiations all the time, just like they do.

Do NOT reveal what you’re really willing to pay, because they will immediately clamp onto that figure and start working upwards from there. (When I revealed that number, I felt the balance of power shift.)

Work out the car price deal first before considering the value of any trade-in, because the figures get fast and confusing when they mix them together, plus there is lots of opportunity for them to discuss all the negatives of your trade-in.

Be ready to walk if you are not coming to an agreement you like, or if you feel like they’re trying to mess with you. Or ask for a few minutes alone (with your calculator) to recover from their patter, look at the figures and formulate your plan.

Also, this can take a long time, what with them consulting with their manager, etc., so be ready for that too.

You might be thinking to use CarMax or another no-negotiation car seller to avoid all that hassle, but if you are willing to do the homework and negotiate, I do think you will end up with a better deal than at a CarMax type place. (I know I did, comparing the similar cars and prices at those dealers with what I got.)

It’s nice to have someone go with you, if possible. In my case, for awhile they kept trying to deal with my husband, but I was actually steering this particular purchase and they eventually figured that out (as B got out a novel to make it clear he really was not the negotiator) and they had to talk to me. We inadvertently had kind of a good cop, bad cop thing going on, because he was more ready to buy and I was seriously ready to walk, and I do think that saved us some money.

Good luck!

Okay, we can have a bonus photo from nature: lettuce at Powisett Farm, Dover, MA.

Axie Breen Photography Boston



Common Arrowhead by Axie Breen PhotographyAnother marsh plant seen at Lake Waban in Wellesley, MA. Grows with its feet in water, can be one to three feet tall with big arrow-shaped leaves. Very attractive to insects because it has 25-40 stamen and can hold loads of pollen. Ducks feed on the tubers and seeds. Muskrats eat them too. Native. Water Plantain family.

Common Arrowhead, Duck Potato (Sagittaria latifolia)


Common-Boneset by Axie Breen Photography

This plant is slightly furry with purple leaves which appear fused together around the stem. It grows in low wet areas. (I shot this from the boardwalk at Lake Waban.) It’s in the sunflower family! Native people used it to break fevers by heavy sweating, and it was a very commonly used medicinal plant in the 19th century for all kinds of ailments. The latin name perfoliatum comes from the way the stem appears to perforate the leaves. Native.

Common Boneset, Thoroughwort, Agueweed, Feverwort (Eupatorium perfoliatum)

Pink water lilies

DSC_0118I photographed this lily, but look closely at who else is in this shot!


That’s right, a little frog has its nose stuck up there. And when we started looking for them, we saw loads of little frogs, still wearing their tadpole tails, enjoying their new ability to breath air, sunning themselves on the lily pads. (I can’t help but think, heron snacks.) I think these might be juvenile bullfrogs. There was a bullfrog at this pond with a call like a great foghorn.


Water Lily (Nymphaea sp.)

Bonus photo: Lucy investigating the beaver lodge, which is about twice as big as last year.

beaver lodge

Snapping turtle action

Snapping TurtleI was sitting at my desk when my attention was drawn by sudden movement outside. This turtle had just walked through the yard and when it came to the edge, where there’s a wall and a two-foot drop, it just took a flying leap tumble down to the driveway. Turtle parkour! At first I thought it might be injured, but it straightened its tunic and kept going. They’re surprisingly leggy and fast when in motion. Reminded me of this:

Presumably it was on an egg-laying mission.

Ovate-leaved Violet

This is a glory time for wildflower watching. Noanet Woodlands is peppered with blossoms. Plus I just found a wildflower I’ve never seen before, in the years I’ve been paying attention: a woolly sort of violet. (very exciting!)

Ovate-leaved-violetwThe leaves are a different shape and the whole plant has a downy surface. I’m surprised to see it’s rated “common”! Generally found in dry, open spaces (but I found this plant in the woods). Native.

Ovate-leaved Violet (V. fimbriatula)

Bonus pictures: Lucy making short work of the horse jumps at Noanet Woodlands. I especially like the second one, where she appears poised for takeoff.

Lucy-leap1 LucyLeap3 LucyLeap4

Skunk Cabbage Leaves

SkunkCabbageLeavesThe first wildflower of the season is transitioning from flowers to leaves. The maroon flowers/spears come up through the snow. They’re kind of like mammals; they convert glucose to heat so they can emerge in the late winter months. Then the spadix and spathe wither away and these stout green leaves emerge. Native to the wetlands of eastern North America

Skunk cabbage, Symplocarpus foetidus

Maple trees waking up

Tree-openingThis fancy little blossom is on a male Red Maple (I think). The blossoms on female Red Maples are not as showy and not loaded with pollen like this one.

Red Maple (Acer rubrum)

Red-osier dogwood

Red-osier DogwoodIn the gray and brown landscape of early spring, it’s heartening to see these clouds of red stems. They like wetlands, and these are in the wetland border along the Charles. The  bark responds to the increased light of spring by becoming brighter red. Native people used it for all kinds of things, like making dye from the inner bark and brushing teeth with peeled twigs. Native throughout northern and western North America.

Red-osier dogwood, red-twig dogwood (Cornus sericea)