Enjoy the charm of camellias in Middle Georgia

Spring has come early to Middle Georgia, and there is no better way to celebrate spring than a visit to Ft. Valley’s Massee Lane Gardens. The camellias are in full bloom, and over the coming weeks, the rest of nature will blossom along with them.

Massee Lane Camellia variety R. L. Wheeler
The R.L. Wheeler variety of camellias is one of the many varieties of camellias in the gardens as Massee Lane. Photo by Doug Deal

Massee Lane Gardens is open Tuesday through Saturday, from 10:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., and on Sunday from 1:00 p.m. until 4:30 p.m. Admission for adults is $5, but senior citizens (age 55+) pay $4, and children under age 12 are free. A variety of plants, including live camellias, are available for sale at the gardens.

As the headquarters of the American Camellia Society, and a part of Georgia’s Camellia Trail, Massee Lane Gardens features six distinct gardens: the camellia garden, the Avera-Peterson Children’s Garden, the daylily garden, the Japanese garden, the rose garden, and the environmental garden. Ask at the front desk about the children’s scavenger hunt, but remind your little ones not to pick petals or leaves off of living plants. There are plenty of fallen blooms, leaves, and blades of cut grass to complete the scavenger hunt without plucking from the flowers.

The brick-laid paths of the camellia garden have old-world charm that is perfect for a romantic stroll, a family weekend outing, or a photography session. There are over 1,000 varieties of camellia growing throughout the garden. Wandering through the camellias leads to a lovely hidden koi pond in the Japanese garden, with a peaceful bower where you can sit and enjoy the birdsongs, or step from stone to stone across the pond and look at the koi.

Massee Lane Gardens
Massee Lane Gardens, historic home of the American Camellia Society. Open Tues-Sat 10 AM – 4:30 PM and Sun 1 PM – 4:30 PM. Photo by Doug Deal

In the Avera-Peterson Children’s Garden of Discovery, parents can sit in a central area while youngster’s explore a variety of smaller gardens. In the dinosaur garden, children can dig for fossils in the sand banked by plants from the dinosaur era. There is also a garden where children can smell different flowers and herbs, and a seasonal vegetable garden. Around Massee Lane Gardens, there are several ponds, and the children’s garden has its own small pond for children to enjoy. There is a butterfly garden, a gazebo, a playset, and even a flower maze for children to enjoy.

Near the children’s garden is the environmental garden, which is distinguished by the screened-in outdoor classroom at its entrance, which is used for environmental education, and its viewing patio overlooking the garden’s 2.4 acre pond. There is a paved path around the pond that is perfect for families with strollers and others needing wheeled access. There are benches for wildlife viewing, and shady areas make the area pleasant year-round. Bluebird houses dot the shoreline of the pond, and a variety of native species grow along the path.

The daylily garden comes alive in mid-spring, and colorful blossoms can be seen from May through the summer season. Year-round, there are delightful characters from Alice in Wonderland scattered among the daylilies to engage young visitors. Crepe myrtle blooms in late spring, and bird houses attract feathered friends to entertain young and old alike.

The rose garden is a popular spot for engagement and wedding photographs, with its 150 varieties of drought-resistant roses and its beautiful gazebo. The rose garden has a climbing arbor where hydrangeas bloom. Its full charm can be enjoyed in the late spring.

Massee Lane Gardens is home to America’s largest collection of porcelain by American artist E.M. Boehm, an American sculptor whose works featured many nature themes. His works may be viewed in two galleries onsite, the Stevens-Taylor Gallery and the Annabelle Lundy Fetterman Educational Museum.

For every age, there is something to explore and enjoy at Massee Lane Gardens, and this is the perfect time of year to venture out and discover all they have to offer. Massee Lane Gardens is located at 100 Massee Lane Road in Ft. Valley, Georgia. Call them at (478)967-2358, visit their website at https://americancamellias.com/, and like their Facebook page.

For more information, check out: https://americancamellias.com/



Macon’s Stubby’s Heroes reaching out to dog owners for September 25th walk

Stubby’s Heroes is a dedicated group of volunteers and advocates who are working to change the negative stigma attached to pit bulls through education and outreach.

Stubby's Heroes encourages participants in the Bully Breed Family Pack Walk to dress up their dogs. Photo courtesy Elizabeth Worthy.
Stubby’s Heroes encourages participants in the Bully Breed Family Pack Walk to dress up their dogs. Photo courtesy Elizabeth Worthy.

Jones County resident Elizabeth Worthy was one of the earliest members of Stubby’s Heroes, joining in metro Atlanta in 2012, and she has brought her passion for pit bull activism with her to Middle Georgia. Stubby’s Heroes was started by founder Johanna Falber.

“We educate through spay and neuter clinics,” explains Worthy, “and we hold monthly outreach outings for the homeless, Stubby’s Day of Compassion.”

When she joined Stubby’s Heroes, Worthy’s specialty was handling insurance breed discrimination: “We offer to review leases and [insurance] policies for people to be sure that they are allowed to have the dogs, as well as that they have coverage for the dogs. We also refer people to insurance agents and companies that sell pit bull-friendly policies,” Worthy explains.

Since 2014, she has been a director of the organization in Macon-Bibb County. Worthy organizes monthly walks for pit bull owners, foster families, and rescuers; she oversees the walks state-wide as well. Walks are held in public, dog-friendly spaces, with the goal of socializing dogs with each other, bully breed lovers, and the general public.

During the walks, safe spaces are kept between dogs for the safety of all. Photo courtesy Elizabeth Worthy.
During the walks, safe spaces are kept between dogs for the safety of all. Photo courtesy Elizabeth Worthy.
After walking in Tattnall Square Park, the dogs walk over to Washington Park to play in the water. Photo courtesy Elizabeth Worthy.
After walking in Tattnall Square Park, the dogs walk over to Washington Park to play in the water. Photo courtesy Elizabeth Worthy.

Macon’s bully pride walks begin at Tattnall Square Park, where the dogs and their humans have the chance to walk, run, and mingle with others. On their website, Stubby’s Heroes set out several rules for the safety of dogs and humans during the walks. For example, owners of “reactive” dogs are requested to dress them in red or yellow bandanas so that other participants know these animals need extra space.

“After the walks, we take the dogs over to Washington Park in the summer months so that they can enjoy some water play,” says Worthy, “and in Macon-Bibb, we have gone to Just Tap’d, they are dog-friendly.”

The next Stubby’s Heroes walk for Macon-Bibb will be held on Saturday, September 25, 2016, at Tattnall Square Park, beginning at 1 p.m. Interested members of the community, including owners of all breeds of dogs, should check the details on the Macon-Bibb Stubby’s Heroes Facebook page for important information about the walks: https://www.facebook.com/events/1672792133004359/

For more general information about Stubby’s Heroes Macon-Bibb County, go to their Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/Stubbys-Heroes-Macon-Bibb-County-Bully-Breed-Family-Pack-Walk-865226526833689/

To learn more about the history of Stubby’s Heroes, and to find chapters in other areas in Georgia, go to their website at http://www.stubbysheroes.org/.

*An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that Elizabeth Worthy was a founding member of Stubby’s Heroes; this was incorrect, as Johanna Falber started the organization and Elizabeth joined in 2012.

Dauset Trails: Middle Georgia’s hidden treasure

Dauset Trails Nature Center is devoted to wildlife conservation, preservation of Georgia’s traditional plant life, outdoor recreation, and reviving traditional rural skills, such as blacksmithing and preparing cane syrup.

A rescued bald eagle on the wildlife trail. His wing was injured in the wild before he came to live at Dauset Trails. Photo by Lauren Deal.
A rescued bald eagle on the wildlife trail. His wing was injured in the wild before he came to live at Dauset Trails. Photo by Lauren Deal.

The Nature Center features a reptile house, a wildlife walk featuring animals ranging from river otter and bear to owls and cougar, a wildlife watching pavilion, and pond overlooks where children can feed ducks, fish, and turtles. End of summer is a fun time to visit the Nature Center early in the morning, but as the day heats up, many of the animals retreat to their dens. A new addition to the wildlife walk is a bathroom shelter near the beaver, where the barnyard path diverges past Pavilion 1.

The barnyard has grown in recent years into a lovely replica of a 19th century farm. There is still the animal yard, with pigs, goats, cows, and lots of chickens, the chicken coop, and the old barn with its traditional farming equipment on display. A working blacksmith shop, a cane syrup mill and syrup cooking area, a general store, a tenant house, and a smokehouse complete the barnyard. In the fall, Dauset Trails will host a cane syrup making day on November 19, 2016; traditionally, they also host blacksmithing exhibitions by the Ocmulgee Blacksmith Guild.  Check back on Macon Community News for updates on this event.

For a quarter, children can get food pellets to feed the river otters at Dauset Trails.
For a quarter, children can get food pellets to feed the river otters at Dauset Trails.

Dauset Trails also has many miles of hiking, biking, and horseback riding trails. Hiking and biking trails are marked with different colored blazes and numbered way points. A comprehensive map is available for download and printing on the Dauset Trails website. The trails vary from approximately 3 miles to 17 miles long. There are also campsites, with Adirondack-style shelters for camping by organized groups, such as scouts and 4-H.

As Middle Georgians look forward to cooler days in the fall, plan a trip to Dauset Trails for your family to enjoy the best nature has to offer.

Dauset Trails is located at 360 Mt. Vernon Church Road, Jackson, Georgia 30233.  Their website can be found at dausettrails.com.


Exercise and fun at Sky Zone Macon

Isobel Deal preparing to jump into the block pit at Sky Zone. Photo courtesy Lauren Deal.
Isobel Deal preparing to jump into the block pit at Sky Zone. Photo by Lauren Deal.

The youngest members of the Macon Community News team (ahem, the Deal kids) have been begging for a trip to Sky Zone since it opened in Macon. With one day left until school started, Friday was go time.

Although their website is informative, I couldn’t access the price list menu from my cell phone and resorted to using a desktop computer instead.

In addition to their regular “open jump,” where participants can jump on any of the structures, Sky Zone Macon also offers a toddler jump, a fitness jumping class, and a GLOW jump (where jumpers ages 5 and up buy special glow in the dark shirts and jump in the dark). The times, dates, and cost for participating in different programs varies, so it’s a good idea to check the website; there are also age restrictions for the three specialized jumping programs.

Climbing on the blocks is great exercise for the little ones! Photo courtesy Lauren Deal.
Climbing on the blocks is great exercise for the little ones! Photo by Lauren Deal.

We chose the open jump. You pay for jumping time in increments of 3o minutes. The half hour jump is $10, and each additional half hour is $4 more. However, if you underestimate how long your family will want to jump, once you’ve purchased your tickets, an additional half hour will cost you $7. I strongly recommend that you purchase tickets for the hour-long jump on your first trip!

First-timers must purchase Sky Socks, which feature thick rubbery bottoms to provide good grip on the equipment. The socks are $2.50 each pair. You must also complete an online waiver prior to arrival at Sky Zone. Both the socks and the waiver can be used for future trips (so don’t let your kids toss the socks!). Waivers must be renewed after one year.

One final note about purchasing tickets: while it is strongly recommended that you purchase tickets for your jumping times online, be aware that there is a service charge added, and although I didn’t attempt an online purchase, the symbols indicate that only Visa or MasterCard are accepted for payment. I bought our tickets at Sky Zone, where they informed me that they also accept Discover and American Express.

Sam Deal relaxes in the block pit. Photo courtesy Lauren Deal.
Sam Deal relaxes in the block pit. Photo by Lauren Deal.

After a brief rules reminder, my children and I experimented with the foam pit. My son bounced on the trampoline a few times, then plunged vigorously into the blocks. He landed on top, then submerged his body in the pit. He rolled, waded, laid…reminding me of all the fun we had in ball pits in the 1980s.

Although initially hesitant, my daughter found that she was so light, she simply lay atop the foam blocks. She could crawl easily across them without sinking in.

I, on the other hand, dropped like a concrete block in quicksand. Remember, in the NeverEnding Story, when Atreyu’s horse sinks into the Swamps of Sadness? Yep, that was me, going down like a horse in an 80s movie…this was not as much fun as I remember it being…

Fortunately, Sky Zone has a ladder just for this purpose. So that middle aged moms can climb out of the foam pit with what’s left of their dignity mostly intact. Sweet!

Let me take a moment to comment on the staff: they were fantastic. They

Dodge ball gets a new twist when you get to bounce out of the way! Photo courtesy Lauren Deal.
Dodge ball gets a new twist when you get to bounce out of the way! Photo by Lauren Deal.

were friendly, observant, respectful, and playful. I did not see a single employee eyeballing (or even holding) their cell phone. I DID see employees showing kids how to cartwheel, complimenting kids for a good dodgeball throw, and making sure that bigger kids were taking turns with younger kids.

Sky Zone does a good job appealing to visitors big and small. On the three-lane basketball court, each goal is a different height. Similarly, there are two dodgeball courts, one for players 11 and up and one for players 10 and under. There are also large digital clocks mounted high on walls so that jumpers know when their time is ending…a great feature for parents who want to ease their children into “time to go!”

Even the walls are made of trampoline pads, so kids can bounce off of them, too! Photo courtesy Lauren Deal.
Even the walls are made of trampoline pads, so kids can bounce off of them, too! Photo by Lauren Deal.

The largest play area is a patchwork of trampolines: rectangular jumping pads, wall trampolines for tricks, and two long channels for handsprings and cartwheels. We jumped our hearts out — not quite literally — to upbeat music.

Our hour passed quickly, and all three of us had a blast.

Sky Zone is great fun, and frankly, I think it was worth the admission price. The facility is clean, and the trampolines are well-maintained. On a hot August day, the temperature inside was comfortable, even when we were jumping.

My kids wore gym clothes, but I was in pants and a top…next time, I will definitely dress in my workout ensemble. We will go ahead and buy the two hour tickets, but I will be sure to hydrate everyone before AND after we jump. If I lived closer to the north side of Macon, I would also check out their fitness class. It was (really!) that much fun.

Sky Zone is located at 245 Tom Hill Sr. Blvd, Suite 100B, Macon, 31210. Their website is at skyzone.com/macon.

2016 Perseid Meteor Shower predicted to be spectacular August 11-12

The Perseid Meteor Shower is one of the most impressive meteor showers of the year. This year, due to a coincidence of orbital mechanics, the Earth will plow headlong into a particularly thick patch on August 11-12th.  This clumping is the result of the planet Jupiter deflecting the orbits of the fragments stripped away from comet Swift-Tuttle.  Scientific consensus is that the rate of visible meteors will rise from the usual 80 an hour to about 150 or over 2 a minute.  Although the shower peaks during this time, we are actually seeing stragglers right now and will continue up until August 24.

Perseid Meteor Shower
In this 30 second exposure, a meteor streaks across the sky during the annual Perseid meteor shower Thursday, Aug. 13, 2015, in Spruce Knob, West Virginia. Photo courtesy (NASA/Bill Ingalls)

The Perseids get their name because the radiating streaks we see shooting across the sky all seem to have an origin in the constellation Perseus. This constellation, named after the Greek demigod who slew the sea monster to save Andromeda, rises in the North around 10 PM. The best viewing will occur around and after midnight. It can be found by looking below the “M” (“or W”) of Cassiopeia, an easy to find constellation toward the North. Although the streaks will originate in this location, they will be visible throughout most of the sky because a slight variation in the location of meteor will greatly alter its trajectory. If you imagine the numbers on a clock, they meteor could streak in the direction of any number, so catching them is best when you have the greatest view of the sky.

To best view meteors, it is important to get as far away from any light source as possible, and that includes the glow over the horizon of  nearby city. Viewers to the North as well as those to the East and West of Macon will have an better view than those due South, since the many street lights and signs in the city will reflect off dust particles and even wispy clouds in the atmosphere and cause a glow. This light will not only bleach out the often faint trails, but will prevent your eyes from adapting to the dark fully, which is the most important thing in viewing faint objects. The darkest skies in the world will not help if you’ve just come out from a brightly lit room or glanced at a street light.

Perseid Radiant
The sky chart shows where the origin of the streaks will occur on the night of August 11-12. As the night progresses, the image will rotate counter clockwise around the North star. Image courtesy Sky & Telescope.

The moon is also a little bit of an issue, as it will also lighten the sky and destroy your night vision, but it will set around 1 AM on the night of the 11th and set around 50 minutes later on the night of the 12th. This should not ruin the show for those who cannot stay up late, but will reduce the number of visible streaks.

If you are interested in maximizing your ability to see meteors as well as your comfort, the best way is to lie on your back in the grass (check for fire ants!) or a lawn chair with your feet pointing toward Perseus or slightly to the North-East. If the temperature drops below the dew point, it can get chilly and wet, so you might want to bring a jacket if you get cold easily.

Of all the things you can do, don’t bother with a telescope or binoculars. Meteor streaks are fast, like watching the Indy 500 on the front row fast. They also extend across the sky and the limited field of view offered by binoculars will be cramped. The magnification will also not add to the sow since the streaks last only a second or so and are so narrow, magnification will not make them appear any thicker.

Light given off by meteors is way out of proportion to their size. Most commonly, meteors are about the size of a grain of sand but will strike the Earth’s atmosphere about 50 miles up at a speed of 130,000 mph. This impact causes the grain to heat up and vaporize into glowing hot gas called plasma. To a person standing directly underneath, this would be visible at least 50 miles away, near the horizon, this could be visible for several hundred miles.

Fireballs per shower
This chart shows the relative number of fireballs per meteor shower. Perseids are in red and are followed by the Geminids and Orionids, the next two most well known meteor showers. Image courtesy Nasa.

If  meteor is large enough it will created an extremely bright streak called a fireball. Fireballs can light up the ground and even cast shadows. Of all the meteor shows throughout the year, the Perseids are one of the most likely to produce fireballs. I recall one year that the fireballs and bright streaks were so frequent that it became a bit alarming as I was viewing them alone in a nearby open field.  With this year having a suspected peak, there should be even more of these brighter streaks visible.

Anyone who wants to photograph a meteor shower, the best way is to set your camera’s shutter open to as long of an exposure as practical. This is much easier on a DSLR, but some point and shoot camera allow this. It is important to mount the camera on a tripod and point it up so that you capture a good amount of sky toward the origin of the shower.  You would want to test it and make sure that the resultant images are not bleached out, but that you can vaguely make out a tree line and see several stars you cannot see with the naked-eye.

Canon 50mm
Although not ideal, this $139 Canon f/1.8 50mm lens is a good value for capturing meteors. Canon also makes a 28mm f/1.8 which is much more expensive, but would be perfect. Photo courtesy Amazon.

My recommendation is to try 20 seconds to a minute at a moderate ISO like 400 using a fast lens like a Canon f/1.8 50mm or 28mm.  Both are fast, but the 28mm has a better field of view, while the much less expensive 50mm will be a little tight. Getting the right settings is crucial and with so many options, it is best to make sure those setting are tested before you need them.  One additional important factor is focusing. Since the meteors will be 50 miles away at minimum, you can use manual focusing on the moon to make sure you get sharp clear stars and steaks when you are ready to go. Just do not make the mistake of turning auto-focus back on.

The Perseid Meteor Shower will hopefully be a big one, but these showers are a lot like rain showers and nearly impossible to predict accurately. Just hope for no rain showers as any clouds will block the show.