Thursday, November 30, 2006

11/30/06 Mid-week bunny fix

Boomer and Cricket went to the vet on Tuesday for a check-up. Because they are so closely bonded, I send them together, with the idea that they won't be as frightened if they have each other for company. They are big bunnies - Flemish Giants - as a breed very laid-back, but my two were rescued from a slaughterhouse so they tend to be a bit high-strung for their breed.

We go to an animal hospital that treats dogs and cats, but that also has two vets who see *exotic* animals only. One Flemmie causes a stir in the waiting room at the vet's, but two together is quite a show. Me trying not to throw my back out carrying forty pounds of bunny is even more of a show.

The most difficult part of the ordeal is getting the two of them into the carrier at the same time. I'll usually bring the carrier up out of the basement a few days before the appointment so that they might not be so afraid of it. They'll go in an out of it, and Boomer might even take a nap there, but as soon as I try to force them in and close the door they panic on me.

The visit with the vet went well and both bunnies had their nails trimmed and scent glands cleaned - two things I'm not able to do myself at home because they won't let me hold them for long enough. They behave beautifully in the arms of a stranger though - go figure! Cricket has an odd growth on her lip that I found a few months ago and wanted the vet's opinion on. He suggests removing it so both bunnies will be going back next Wednesday for the procedure.

When we came back to the house, rather than lugging the carrier out onto the sunporch where the bunnies live, I let them out in the kitchen, which is a room they haven't had the courage to explore in their 2 1/2 years here. Cricket quickly found her way through the living room and dining room and into her favored napping spot on the porch, but sweet Boomer roamed around for a while as if lost.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Putting out fires

Gosh it's great to be back at work! (I'm trying to be upbeat about the end of my vacation.) I've missed getting up before dawn, sitting in a stifling hot office all day, and then driving back home in the dark. Really, I have!

My coworker Linda likens our job at social services to that episode of "I Love Lucy" where she and Ethel are working in the chocolate factory. Remember that one? They can't keep up with the candies as they make their way down the conveyor belt so the girls start popping the chocolates in their mouths...? Our job is something like that, but instead of chocolates, it's paperwork. An endless stream of casefiles of families needing help. If you spend too much time with one client or get too involved with a particular case (or take a few days off!) the work backs up even worse than usual. There are a lot of people looking for help and good management of my caseload is something that has escaped me lately.

I think of it like putting out fires. Where are the hottest flames and the most smoke? Who sends out the loudest alarm? Have other departments been called in for mutual aid? You get the idea.

Where I run into trouble is being objective about how to spend my time. I suppose I should work first on the case that has been on my desk the longest, and in a good month that's what I'll do, but there's often a contradiction in the work I want to do and the work that should be done. Between deserving and needing.

After spending most of this morning returning ridiculous *urgent* phone calls about overdue paperwork, I tried to get some of the really urgent cases off my desk. The family of illegal aliens whose wife and mother was killed in a car wreck last month, the kids ending up in intensive care and none had medical insurance. The teenager who just *discovered* she's pregnant at six months and hasn't had any prenatal care. The eldery lady who can't afford her medicine and pay her rent. In the midst of these real emergencies, the fire I had to put out was that of the single mother who let her (free, on you and me) insurance coverage lapse because she couldn't be bothered to send back the paperwork. She yelled the loudest today. She and her kids need the help, but are they deserving of my time, before the others? You see why I have a problem.

In case you're interested, the fire pic was taken from my front stoop last May. An old farmhouse across the street burned down while the neighborhood stood and watched. It took the fire department forever to get water on it.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

More blue

Today is the last day of my mini-vacation from work; tomorrow it's back to the desk and the last few classes of the semester before finals. I haven't accomplished a single thing in six days off and I'm sort of proud of that! Three and half more weeks of work and school and I'll have the *real* vacation that I wait all year for. I like being off at this time of year, but find myself disappointed that there's not more happening outside when I'm home to enjoy it.

One treat the last few days has been seeing the birds that are visiting the feeders. I've been refilling this wreath feeder with whole peanuts from the grocery store twice a week. The squirrels take a fair number of the peanuts, but I discovered that there's also a small gang of blue jays that stop by throughout the day.

I love blue jays above all the other feeder birds, despite their bad reputation, I think because they are so clownish. The range of blues and violet in their feathers is wonderful to see when the sun hits them just so. Oh and do they love peanuts! Some of them will work a peanut loose and fly away with it, shell and all, to eat or hide elsewhere. The one in the larger photo was breaking the peanuts from their shells and filling up his mouth with three or four before flying away with them.

I looked through all of my bird books this evening for a poem to share with these pics and couldn't find anything that was complimentary. Poets don't seem to like blue jays. I finally found a poem by e.e. cummings online that I'll close with. At least I think it's complimentary; sort of hard to tell with cummings.

crazy jay blue)
demon laughshriek
ing at me
your scorn of easily

hatred of timid & loathing for(dull all
regular righteous

thief crook cynic (swimfloatdrifting
fragment of heaven)

raucous rogue &
vivid voltaire
you beautiful anarchist
(i salute thee

Monday, November 27, 2006


I went to the garden center around the corner today looking for a rosemary topiary. There was just one left and it was already half way to dead so I left it there. There were plenty of poinsettias though. I left them there too. I like them well enough when they're massed together like in this pic, but one or two of them don't look like much. Plus, if I bought them now they'd be wilting and making a mess well before the holidays arrive. Does anyone like these plants?

The house could use some sprucing up to help us get in the spirit, but today wasn't the day to be shopping for wreaths and garlands - it was sixty degrees here! That didn't seem to stop many of the folks I saw today picking out their trees. They seem to be in the spirit, but it's still escaping me. I think I need some cold and snow before I'll feel like it. What about you - have you started preparing for the holidays already? Are you one of *those people* that have all the gifts wrapped and hidden away somewhere?

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Meet the wheekers

Pet stores are evil places that prey upon soft-hearted fools like me. I kid myself into thinking it's safe to go in for supplies when I know full well that I'll be tempted just the same. I'm a responsible person who knows better than to buy an animal from a pet store. I know that it's important not to breed or buy animals when there are so many dying in shelters. All of the animals that share my home are rescues of one sort or another. The wheekers are pet store refugees.

I never wanted a guinea pig, still don't in fact, but these furry guys have been here for about two years now. They had been bought from and then returned to the pet store where I buy bunny stuff. They were there in a corner week after week with an *Adopt Us* sign on their cage. Who wants rejected guinea pigs? Certainly not the silly people who come along and plop down $200 on a cage set-up and supplies for their kid's throw-away pet. If they're going to spend all that money, you can bet they want a brand-new animal, not some used version! So finally I got tired of looking at them there and brought them home thinking they wouldn't be much more trouble than a bunny. And they're not any more trouble, but they're not bunnies, obviously. I prefer bunnies. Bunnies who can learn to use a litter box. Bunnies who don't have to live in a cage. Bunnies who don't squeal bloody murder anytime I think of touching them. Bunnies who smell sweet.

Lately, the pet store has one whole section devoted to *adoptions* of the animals that have been returned or who were never sold before they got over being young and cute. I stay away from that section. Bunnies are usually too well-represented. I've talked to the owner about the twisted logic of her for sale/for adoption scheme, but she figures that she's doing a good thing by taking the animals back in after she's sold them. After all, people could just turn them loose or neglect them to death. She's got a point there, but I would suggest she educate her customers better or make them stop and think before buying. I don't guess educating people about responsible pet ownership would help her business any, would it?

Anyway, I think the wheekers prefer my husband. They don't squeal nearly as much when he pets them. They don't run in circles to avoid his hands, kicking up their back legs like miniature bucking horses, when he lifts them out to clean their cage. Plus, he gives them a mountain of hay to burrow into each day. If you look closely at the pic at left, you might just see the tail end of one of them hiding under all that hay. They disappear under there for an hour or more each evening after he gives it to them, coming out just in time for their nightly carrots. A love of carrots is something they share with the bunnies. I just wish they smelled as sweet as they look.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Sky-blue or robin's-egg blue?

I've been seeing pictures of this sky-blue grist mill for years and decided today to visit and see if the building really is that blue. Pretty, isn't it? Not quite the color of the sky, but close. More like robin's-egg blue.

The grist mill is located at Historic Walnford and is now part of the county park system. The site has been recently renovated and includes a Georgian-style mansion, carriage house, and other farm buidlings like a corn crib and cow shed.

The mill, situated on Crosswicks Creek, still operates for demonstration purposes and is powered by a turbine rather than an external water wheel as I expected to find. The creek is shallow and slow and could no longer carry goods by boat from Walnford to Philadelphia as it did during the 18th and 19th centuries. It is, however, still a popular spot for fishing and canoeing.

The communities surrounding Walnford are some of the most rural in our county. The only time I usually get to this area is when I visit the rescue that I adopt my bunnies from, but I really enjoy the little backroads that travel past horse farms and a winery or two. That's another NJ surprise - we grow grapes here.

Traveling a bit further west today I came across a picturesque old town that I would like to revisit if I ever get in the mood for holiday shopping. What interested me most there today was the old mill pond filled with hundreds of snow geese. Quite a sight and a surprise this far north as I usually drive an hour or more south to see them in the winter at the wildlife refuge near Atlantic City. The only explanation I can imagine for their presence here are the many sod farms in the area. I would love to have a pic to share, but my camera battery died after taking pics at Walnford. Hopefully I'll find the snow geese again on my next visit. There are more pics of some of the other buildings at the Walnford link above and I may post a few from the interiors on another day.

Friday, November 24, 2006


I wonder if all that eating I did yesterday has affected my ability to think straight and do anything besides lie on the couch like a slug. Maybe it was watching tv all afternoon that has numbed my brain. I have nothing but leftovers to offer up this evening.

The pic at left is a leftover from last weekend and a short walk with Buddy to the local woods. Not woods at all, really, as you're never out of earshot of the road and anymore it seems more like the hangout of the local delinquents than the *nature trail* that it purports to be. The last time I visited with Buddy we came across a group of teenage boys with paintball guns. This time it was graffiti painted on the trees. A depressing sort of walk on all accounts. I put Buddy in the car and drove over to the development across from the woods because the walk there and back would've been too much for him these days. The screech-owl box that has been productive in the past had its top torn off - destroyed and unusable for roosting, even. The woods were wet and muddy and we both made a mess of the car on the way home. The one thing that made me smile was a father with a brood of kids in tow. The kids were racing along ahead of him, jumping through the fallen leaves and in and out of the puddles on the muddy trail. He was laughing and didn't even scold his daughter for climbing up a low-limbed maple that overhangs the creek. They stopped to chat for a bit as Buddy and I had a rest on a fallen log. Buddy almost let the kids pet him before shying away behind me. Some things don't change, no matter how old he gets.

Today I spent nearly an hour cleaning and medicating his ears. We've been struggling to get rid of an ear infection for more than a year - we do antibiotics and medicine twice a day and I think it's gone away, but invariably it comes back worse than the last time, it seems. He's been a trooper about it, but today I realized we need to do something more. My old man dog doesn't deserve to be so uncomfortable all the time. Not to mention he wakes me up all night with his head-shaking. I'm scared about putting him under for the deep ear cleaning that our vet had recommended once before, but I don't know what else to do to for him, short of cutting off the offending smelly ear!

Tomorrow I hope to get out in the fresh air and walk in the woods and clear out some of the cobwebs. There are lots of leftovers to walk off.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Give this one day to thanks

We give-away our thanks to the earth which gives us our home.
We give-away our thanks to the rivers and lakes which give-away their water.
We give-away our thanks to the trees which give-away fruit and nuts.
We give-away our thanks to the wind which brings rain to water the plants.
We give-away our thanks to the sun who gives-away warmth and light.
All beings on earth: the trees, the animals, the wind and the rivers give-away to one another so all is in balance.
We give-away our promise to begin to learn how to stay in balance with all the earth. - Iroquois Prayer (adapted)

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Kitchen chaos

The kitchen looks something like this - like a small tornado hit - you get the idea - but there's a pumpkin-praline pie baking in the oven and a pumpkin cheesecake still to make. The DH is peeling chestnuts for our favorite casserole with Brussels Sprouts. The bunnies are attention-deprived. I'm feeling thankful that I don't have a turkey to cook also.

Happy Thanksgiving to all. Off to attend to that pie in the oven.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Alav hashalom

I found myself wandering around an old cemetery today on my lunch hour. I had gone intending to take some photos of Old Tennent Church, founded in 1692 and used as a temporary field hospital during the Revolutionary War. Instead I wandered around looking at the gravestones, many of which are from the 1700's. The church building was closed, but some of the pews are said to be scarred from the surgeon's saws and the blood of soldiers who died here during the Battle of Monmouth and are buried in the churchyard. There are two huge old oak trees that frame the entrance to the church, set on a hill.

It felt strange to be taking photos of gravestones, but many of them are interesting. The oldest are so simple and different in their sentiments on death compared to the laser-carved ones that are seen in the modern part of the cemetery. The modern versions seem to be more about comfort and a sense of prestige for the living, rather than a memorial for the deceased. The oldest tombstones are frightening in the images they depict and the warnings they contain to passerby. A popular epitaph from the 18th century reads, "Behold and see as you pass by, as you are now so once was I, as I am now so must you be, Prepare for death and follow me."

This curiosity about gravestones and cemeteries comes in part from thinking about them the past few days. I'm wondering what role they play in the mourning process for the people left behind. My closest friend, who lost her dad in the last year, had the *unveiling* ceremony for her dad's monument this past weekend. It's the custom in the Jewish religion to hold this ceremony close to the one year anniversary of a person's death. I guess it's supposed to be one of the last steps on the path of grief for her. I've tried to be with her as she learns her way without her dad beside her. I've tried to give her the chance to talk often of her dad and share her grief with someone who understands it, but it's been hard to see her suffering the most personal loss of her life and not be able to do more than listen.

I hope that she'll continue to find strength in the practice of her faith and in her family. I know how difficult it must have been for her to see her father's name insribed on the gravestone. Perhaps the finality of that sight is the reason for the Jewish custom and the delay in seeing the monument. Maybe soon she'll find a way to see beyond his death, to the impact of his life and his love, and she'll come to understand that his values and ideals continue in her.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Decking the halls

How would you like to live in a town that decks itself out like this for the holidays? Lucky me, I do! Technically, I live in the next town over, but Red Bank is the place that I consider home. I don't really feel part of the community in the town where I live, but feel as if I'm among friends when going about my daily grind in Red Bank. There's always a familiar face and I know the best coffee shops and where to find a good bargain in town.

My husband was born and raised in Red Bank and has worked for the Public Works Department there for most of his adult life. He fixes the police cars and fire trucks (and is a volunteer fireman there), picks up the leaves in fall, and plows the snow off the streets in the wintertime. If you want to know the truth, I think the town would crumble and fall without him, at least judging by the number of calls he gets to go into work at 3 am to fix something.

Another *job* that my DH has is to decorate the town for the holidays; he's done this for as long as I can remember. During November he works his regular job during the day and then spends a few hours each night and most days on the weekends stringing lights and hanging wreaths around town. By the time Thanksgiving comes and the work is done he's about had it with decorating, but that is when we start the job of decorating our own home for Christmas. Some years he's full of energy and goes all out at home, other years we're lucky to get a tree up and decorated before midnight on Christmas Eve.

This year, my DH decided that he wants a break and won't be doing the decorating in Red Bank. He says he's tired of working out in the cold and the rain. It's strange to have him here now, when he should be out there, making the town light up so pretty. Already tonight, as the deadline nears, the phone calls are coming for him to help, or to fix some machine that's stuck in the road blocking traffic. I'm sure he won't be able to resist helping, for long.

The image above is a scan of a Christmas card from a few years ago. A local artist paints beautiful scenes of the town at Christmas and turns some into cards. One day I'd like to be able to afford one of his paintings of a Christmas scene of our hometown as a gift for my husband. Something beautiful to remember all of his hard work by.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Worms before dinner

It dawned on me this afternoon that I haven't checked on the worms in the basement for a while. I add food to the bin once a week, but lately that's it. I've not been a very good landlord, it seems.

If you need reminding, I keep a worm bin in the basement to compost kitchen scraps. It's a small tray-type bin and the worms are red wigglers. It's not nearly as disgusting as it sounds. I collect leftover vegetables and greens, coffee grounds, and eggshells in a small copper composting bucket I keep in the kitchen and once a week empty it into the bin for the worms. I cover the food with a layer of shredded junk mail so there is no smell to attract other insects. Every few months the worms have made enough compost for me have a few cups worth of natural fertilizer for my houseplants. Mostly I save the compost up and use it in the spring when I repot.

If things are working as they should there is no smell or trouble with it at all. I usually add food to the bottom tray until it looks nearly *done* and then add food to the next tray up, with the idea that the worms will move upward to find the food, leaving the compost in the tray below free of worms.. My worms didn't want to migrate upward like they were supposed to, so this year I've been adding food to the bottom tray, hoping that they'll be willing instead to migrate downward. So far it seems to be working, except for the few worms in the opening photo who look like they're trying to migrate up and out of the bin! Excess moisture has always been a problem for me and even that top tray of nearly finished compost is wetter than it should be.

I suspect that adding food to the lowest tray, so near to the bottom of the set-up, is what's causing the backup of excess moisture in the system. There's a spigot on the bottom to drain away the liquid, so I've left it open with my copper bucket beneath it to hopefully dry things out. They say that you should be able to use the liquid that drains out as *compost tea*, but I find it to be so foul-smelling that I would never want it on the houseplants anywhere near where I was sitting! Usually I'll just dump it outside on the vegetable garden far away from the house.

I decided to try adding some dry leaves as bedding, in addition to the shredded paper and junk mail, for added minerals for the worms. The instructions that came with my bin suggest adding all sorts of oddball things. Every so often I try something new and hope for the best. The worms don't really eat the garbage; instead they feed on the microorganisms that decay the food - so I won't add anything that is likely to rot and fester in there for too long - no meat or oil in any form. Once in a while I'll treat them with some moldy bread or baking yeast sprinkled on top of the working tray, but that's it. They seem to be happy with old bunny greens. In fact, I see lots of little red worms if anybody wants to give vermicomposting a try!

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Carpintero velloso menor

Fuzzy (downy) little carpenter at the peanut feeder. ;-)

Friday, November 17, 2006

By any other name - a bird quiz

NJ Audubon has recently published a guide to the New Jersey Meadowlands that is available for free. This guide is the second in a series; the first covers the NJ Delaware Bayshore. These are great little books! I mention them now because on my most recent volunteer day at Sandy Hook Bird Observatory I discovered that the new guide had finally arrived, but for some reason, we only had the Spanish-language version in stock. While I'm glad to see that it's being published in Spanish, I do wonder how many Spanish-speaking birders there are out there to make use of it.

The language teacher and word-lover in me was most interested in how the translators of the guide handled the use of bird names in Spanish. From the little bit that I've read on the subject, there currently is no standard method for this type of translation due to the many local variants that are commonly used for bird names. I believe that this guide makes use of the names used in the Spanish version of the Kaufman Field Guide to Birds.

Anyway.... I thought we might have a little fun with this. Translation is more art than science, and involves finding the essence of what a thing is, rather than focusing on the words used to describe it. In other words, a thing is what it is, rather than what it's called. Many bird names in English seem arbitrary on the surface, but often relate to some characteristic of the bird in question, whether the name be related to how the bird looks or how it feeds or the sound of its voice. For example, the name of the White-breasted Nuthatch describes the bird's physical appearance as well as making reference to its feeding behavior. The name of the Northern Cardinal likens its color to the vestments worn by some priests. The name of the Scarlet Tanager in part is descriptive of the bird's color, but what does tanager refer to? Is that an arbitrary term? Couldn't we just as easily call the Scarlet Tanager the Black-winged Redbird? Would we still know it by that name?

Never having had occasion to use Spanish bird names, I sat down with my dictionary this evening to dissect the Spanish names of a few birds and thought it might make a fun quiz for bird lovers. The 15 bird names that follow are literal translations of the Spanish used to describe them. Similar species are loosely grouped together.

1. Scratching sparrow
2. Chestnut-colored pouch-maker
3. Red-eyed scratcher
4. Fuzzy little carpenter
5. Little whistling plover
6. Orange-throated warbler
7. Blazing/fluttering warbler
8. Sideburned warbler
9. Ground warbler
10. Creeping warbler
11. Spotted thrush
12. Golden-toed egret
13. Scissor-tailed swallow
14. Rainbow duck
15. Nun-like duck

Some of these are very easy, with others you may have to use your imagination. Some bird names were impossible to translate so literally without giving them away, often because the name, like our English one, related to the bird's call. For example, the Killdeer is called Chorlo Tildío; Chorlo is the family name of Plover, Tildío is the descriptive term and sounds (even in Spanish!) like the Killdeer's call. Similarly, the Willet is called Playero Pihuihui; Playero is the family name and Pihuihui describes the Willet's call.

Happy guessing!

Image of the Black-winged Redbird from

Thursday, November 16, 2006

11/16/06 Mid-week bunny fix

Just passing along a link to a favorite bunny site this week. If you're looking for bunny-themed holiday cards or what-have-you check out Rabbitt in Paradise. Blackberry Bunny lives at the beach in Hawaii.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Friends and companions (Renga)

urgency of bloom
hurry to flower and seed
fuel for the migrants

Autumn's children moving south
in flocks like sunset-colored clouds

A rather loose interpretation of this week's theme for one deep breath. A Renga is a group-effort sort of poem, written with others. I may try to get the girls at work to help me on another one, like Jane Poe - Nevermore did. Stay tuned.

**Updated: I harassed some of my coworkers into writing a Renga today, as stress relief. Their group effort follows.

The poets (from top left): Josie, Linda, Eileen, Kathy, Deb, Tina

sharing and caring
all day, every day, all night
true friends are always near
sadness is fleeting, but often
good friends take the tears away
friendship sometimes hurts
to hold a grudge does not work
smiles and laughter do
some friends test friendship daily
other friends are always true
bonded together
friendships come in different shades
great love every one
emotions express feelings
friendships help us cope through life
chums embrace an alliance
of familiarity

I'd also like to call your attention to a beautiful post by Mary who's been commenting here lately. In Memories Almost Forgotten she shares some very special memories of her dad. Please stop by there and have a look.

In other news, my big brother stopped by here long enough to razz me about being Daddy's Little Girl. Check the comments on this post.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Honey, I think it's done

We had my favorite for dinner on Sunday night - Spaghetti! Pasta is more or less a forbidden food here since my husband found out a few years ago that he has diabetes. I love pasta and bread more than anything, except cheese, and miss eating it. I hardly ever get to have it for lunch even, because my lunch-buddy Deb makes me eat healthy salads everyday.

We decided to cheat, just once, because I was craving Spaghetti. I was totally decadent and bought nice Italian bread and whole milk ricotta cheese to mix with the pasta. Heavenly!

The DH ended up in charge of cooking while I wandered off to do something else. While I was cleaning up the dishes and stove I discovered the poor charred houseplants that I had left on top of the stove to drain. The one on the right is more or less okay, just a little singed around the edges, but the other is totally baked. I wonder, do you think it will recover? ;-)

If you're interested, the plant is called a Pin Cushion Plant or Coral Bead Plant (Nertera granadensis) and is a weird little houseplant in the madder family sold around Halloween. I read that it's native to moist, boggy places in New Zealand and Tasmania. Apparently, it doesn't do well on the stove, despite all the steam from the boiling pasta.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Little Lessons from Dad

Have you ever sat down and tried to make a list of all the things you've learned from your parents? Aside from the *important* things, what are those little lessons that we learn by example? The (sometimes) inconsequential things that we remember a parent for?
I tried to make a list, without being too sappy:
  • Convince your daughter to have the expensive wedding. Worry later how you’ll pay for it.
  • A good story deserves to be retold.
  • A father is his daughter’s fiercest protector. While the daughter may not appreciate all that yelling and screaming on her behalf (especially if she’s a teenager) she should allow it to happen and be glad for his protection, because one day he won’t be there to do it.
  • Do something with all those National Geographic magazines you’ve been saving in the garage, before you die, so that your kids won’t have to feel bad about throwing them away.
  • Pending loss and grief give rise to new friendships and make clear those that should give way.
  • Stamp your feet when you’re angry. Your kids will remember you for it and laugh.
  • Let people take care of you when you need caring for. It helps them, even if it doesn’t make you feel any better.
  • Mispronounce words, often.
  • Cooking sun-dried tomatoes, Jamaican beef patties, or hearts of palm will cause raised eyebrows at the dinner table. Getting angry about it will only make your kids laugh more. (When you’re not looking, of course!)
  • Believe in life, always.

Because I needed to hear it today, the second anniversary of my dad's passing, NPR's All Things Considered aired a wonderful audio segment about a father and daughter called A Father's Last Days. It was a sweet and sad reminder of the final months of my dad's life and made me wish that I'd had the strength, humor, and foresight that Adrian had when helping her dad face the end of his life. Worth a listen, but have a tissue handy.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

New suet feeder!

This is a new suet feeder that I bought a few weeks ago at Wild Birds Unlimited - it doesn't seem to have a catchy name, but then it's just a hunk of wood with a few holes drilled where you stuff the suet. Mine came pre-filled, but when the birds have emptied it, the store sells new suet plugs.

Suet provides extra calories that birds use to keep warm during the winter. Some people also feed suet during the summer, but I don't do much bird-feeding then, other than the goldfinches.

The birds ignored the new feeder for a few weeks; it's only in the last few days that it's getting any action. The starlings and grackles are staying away for now, and the squirrels are, too. (I probably just jinxed myself by saying that...)

I'm hoping that the chickadees, titmice, nuthatches, and even the Carolina Wrens will use this feeder, in addition to the woodpeckers. So far I've only seen the Downies at it, but the other birds are more interested in the new peanut feeder. I spent an hour or so this afternoon watching the jays and titmice come and go. There were even a few white-throated sparrows carrying off the peanut tidbits dropped by the bigger birds above them.

I would love to see a Pileated Woodpecker at this feeder, but they're not in this area. Who knows, maybe they are and I just haven't spotted one yet. Pileateds are another nemesis bird of mine.

While this isn't a great pic, you can see how this female (no red cap) is using her tail feathers to prop herself against the feeder, the same way she would do while feeding in a tree. I had wondered if birds would find anything to grip onto with this feeder, because the surface is so smooth, but it looks as though she has her feet gripped onto the lip of the suet plug.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Whispering goodnight

Borland compares the fallen leaves to a colorful patchwork quilt of reds, tans, and yellows ready to blanket the earth and protect seed and root from frost until later in the season when it will be sheltered with a layer of glistening snow.

If we think of Spring as the morning of the year, then now is the evening, the bedtime of the green and flowering world. So, says Borland, the coverlet is spread and the tucking in begun. All that remains is someone to sing a lullaby to the earth, but the singers have all gone south. Who will whisper good night to the earth?

Part of my routine each morning is to read the daily entry in Borland's Sundial of the Seasons. Yesterday's entry, besides creating a wonderul image of the world being tucked in to sleep for the winter, reminded me of my childhood and the bedtime routine of being tucked in by mom or dad and saying my prayers:

Now I lay me down to sleep, I pray the Lord my soul to keep,
If I should die before I wake, I pray the Lord my soul to take.

I was also taught to add a request for blessings after that:

God bless mommy and daddy, grandma and grandpop, friends and brothers, and ....

Funny how I can still remember that so clearly, and that I remember adding people and animals onto the end of that list. I can almost imagine my mom or dad wishing I would hurry up already so that they could get on with whatever they needed to do and be finished with tucking me in. The most important part of the routine, once prayers were said, was that the bedroom door be left open and the hall light be on. I was scared of the dark and the things that lurked under my tall canopy bed. I loved to hide under there during the daylight hours, but at night it was inhabited by monsters just waiting to drag a little girl under by an arm draped casually over the bedside.

Whenever it was that I was old enough to sleep without the hall light on and too old to be tucked in, the bedtime routine changed to a personal one, with prayers whispered to myself and a goodnight kiss for my dad, who was usually up at all hours of the night working on the computer.

I must've learned from him to be a night owl, because I'm the last to bed each night, turning off the lights and saying goodnight to the bunnies and then the dog who is fast asleep beside my husband on the bed. I shoo him off to his own comfy bed and climb into the warm spot he left behind, wishing for someone to tuck the blanket under my chin and then whisper goodnight when my prayers are finished.

Friday, November 10, 2006

River of memory

cedar creek
Originally uploaded by

Lene at Whorled Leaves recently prompted readers of Gary Snyder's "The Practice of the Wild" to share their experience of returning to the place where they grew up.

Snyder says, "The childhood landscape is learned on foot, and a map is inscribed in the mind--trails and pathways and grooves--the mean dog, the cranky old man's house, the pasture with a bull in it--going out wider and farther. All of us carry within us a picture of the terrain that was learned roughly between the ages of six and nine....Revisualizing that place with its smells and textures, walking through it again in your imagination, has a grounding and settling effect." (26)

In the crooked sort of way that my mind works, I was reminded of the following introduction to the memoir by Ana Maria Matute that I translated as an undergrad Spanish major. The book is called, "The River" and in it Matute shares childhood memories of the small Spanish village where she grew up. I've posted other essays from the project here and here and enjoy the excuse to reread and rework these translations from time to time.

"After eleven years, I have returned to Mansilla de la Sierra, the land of my childhood. The marsh has since enveloped the small old town, and a group of white houses, so new they seem surprised to be there, glisten in the moist foliage of autumn.

Returning to an old place after so much time stirs and revives clouded images we'd thought we had forgotten, that leap before us with a strange new meaning that can be very emotional. But everything is muted, both vibrant and muted beneath this layer of dark green glass that prevents me from walking up the slope toward the forests where the oak and beech trees are that I loved so much. The water now covers what once were beautiful and sweet lowlands bordered by white and black poplars. There on the other side of the marsh are the trees, the leaves that saw us as children, teenagers. The water covers it all; the image of the house, the stone walls, the meadow, the garden, the poplar grove. So many names, so many children's games now silent.

Any child could have drawn the house: square, simple, with symmetrical windows and a long wrought-iron balcony that crossed the front from side to side. But you wouldn't know that house unless you were ten years old and had run in the grass of its meadow, not unless you had fallen sweaty and exhausted under the shade of its great walnut trees. You wouldn't know it if you hadn't hid yourself, at one time or another, among the garden vines or in the poplar grove, if you didn't secretly climb to the highest branches of the cherry trees, in search of fruit that had not yet ripened.

And the river, how has it disappeared so strangely? I remember the river bordering the meadow, with its wide stones covered with lichens and moss, the delicate bulrush, the white, royal purple, and yellow flowers, the little bushes, the dragonflies that glowed in the sun, the dark puddles beneath the crooked trees, the wobbly bridges crossing the water. We knew that the river overflowed its banks sometimes in the winter and that it knocked down stretches of the stone wall. But we never saw it like this; overflowed, defeated, almost fearful. I know that the river widens again below. I have read its name, I've heard it beneath a bridge on level ground, between the meadows and the fertile land of the Rioja. But it's not our river, not the one that we knew. It's not the one that carried our voices and stole from us, more than once, a handkerchief or a sandal. I don't know where its gold and green water went, its shady ditch, or its banks covered with mint. They say that it's there, where the water has widened, taking on a dirty tint, the color of fear, and flooding everything. But I don't understand these things. The river still lives, deep at the bottom of the marsh and, closing my eyes, I see it intact like a miracle. A river of gold that, like life, journeys toward a place from which it does not return."

Matute writes often of childhood and the influence of nature is strong in the lives of her characters. Perhaps that is why I was drawn to her as an author to translate, well before I recognized the same influence in my own thoughts.

If you'd like to share some memories of your own childhood places and how it feels to return there, please visit this post at Whorled Leaves.

**Posted via Flickr, when Blooger refused to upload a pic. Thanks to Egret's Nest who helped me figure out how to do this!

Thursday, November 09, 2006

11/9/06 Mid-week bunny fix

Take time to eat the flowers.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Looking back

It's laughable that I'm feeling so hesitant to make a change of location for this blog. What started a year ago today as a diversion from other things has become something entirely different. The sense of this thing being mine and important is a surprise. Maybe it's because I'd never before kept a journal, but knowing now that I have a year's worth of stuff here makes me want to hold on to the record of my thoughts that it represents.

That anyone takes the time to read my ramblings and that some do so each day is a remarkable compliment. Thank you for indulging my whimsy!

There are many readers and bloggers for whose friendship I am grateful. You have all made this blogging thing great fun and I've so enjoyed the excuse to ramble on about the things I love with you. That part of yourselves that each of you share via your blogs or comments here is important to me, as I'm sure it is to you. I hope that you will continue to be so generous.

First, I would have her be beautiful,
and walking carefully up on my poetry
at the loneliest moment of an afternoon,
her hair still damp at the neck
from washing it. She should be wearing
a raincoat, an old one, dirty
from not having money enough for the cleaners.
She will take out her glasses, and there
in the bookstore, she will thumb
over my poems, then put the book back
up on its shelf. She will say to herself,
"For that kind of money, I can get
my raincoat cleaned." And she will.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Let me count the ways....

How convenient that Blogger has gone wonky. I didn't have much to say anyway. I've spent the last hour or two kicking around ideas and probably won't be able to get even this lame post up tonight.

I've been playing around with a Wordpress site and so far I've found it to be much more manageable. Not quite ready to take the plunge, but may be soon.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Stolen glances - a Haibun for one deep breath

Quite a few of the blogs I enjoy reading - gardenpath and endment come to mind - participate in a weekly poetry prompt from one deep breath. I thought I would give it a try this week! Participants are writing in a style known as Haibun which is a combination of prose and haiku. I'm no poet, but enjoyed the excuse to share this photo I took today while out running errands.

I was delighted to come across this field and its huge round bales of hay. Most hayfields here were cut and baled and stowed away months ago and I never took the time to stop and photograph any of them. Most farmers here use square bales anyway, but I'm partial to the look of these round ones. I love the challenge of finding things to photograph that don't look like NJ at all. A hayfield like this one is probably something that many of you drive past each day and don't even give a second thought to because they are such a common sight. That may even be the case in other parts of NJ, but I love to see scenes like this that make me imagine I'm somewhere else or sometime in the past. The truth of the matter is that this pic was taken on the front *lawn* property of a corporate headquarters. I was trespassing on their private road when I took the pic.

On with my attempt at Haibun:

Speeding past shuttered farm stands and pastured horses, a dozen crows sort through the debris of a hayfield as I pause to watch them. The sun is warm at noon and the air tinged with the hint of a heavy frost to come. There is just enough time to step out of the car, walk a few steps, and steal this image of the beauty above, below, and around me before hurrying on to other things.

the color of change
leaf by leaf and day by day
Autumn at my feet

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Back to the barrens

Aside from the creepy doll in the woods, my friend Kathy and I had a nice walk yesterday at Double Trouble State Park in the pine barrens. This is her place and I had asked her to show me around to her favorite spots so I might get to know the place better, without worrying that I would get lost there on my own. As I had mentioned in an earlier post about Double Trouble, the village in the park preserves an old saw mill and cranberry packing plant. The packing house is in the photo above. I was happy to see a few people picking cranberries in the dry bog, the way that it used to be done. The bogs here look quite different than the ones I visited at Whitesbog which had been flooded for harvesting. That telltale purple hue shouts cranberries even from afar.
A closeup view of the cranberry vines and fruit. I was struck by how much this *wetland* heath resembled its garden cousins. The leaves are leathery and evergreen and the flowers are bell-shaped with reflexed petals, reminding some of the shape of a crane's head and neck. I sampled a few and they were tart! as expected.
The water in this irrigation ditch beside a bog that is no longer productive is not blue as the reflection of the sky makes it appear.
Instead, the water is tea-stained throughout Cedar Creek, a result of iron deposits in the water. Bog iron was mined from the streams and waterways of the piine barrens, as was the sand for glass-making and the trees for logging. The trails here are very quiet, with only a few dog walkers out at this time of year. I was hoping to see some ducks in the larger ponds, but didn't find any. At one point along the trail we came upon a large group of robins with a few hermit thrushes feeding on the fruit of the many sour gum trees that grow beside the water. Kathy's totem bird, the turkey vulture, was absent like the ducks. It's an odd day that one doesn't see a vulture over the barrens.
This exciting pic is an example of the sandy soil throughout the area. It is a wonder that anything is able to grow in it. Wildflowers are abundant here and I look forward to returning in the spring to search for them. The colors now are somewhat monotonous, greens and browns, with the occasional red huckleberry in the underbrush.
This last pic is Kathy's secret swimming spot, during the warmer months, of course. The creek twists and turns and pools in places that invite swimming where the shore is shallow enough. I wish that I had a place that felt as remote as this closer to home. During our walk Kathy shared stories of the many hours she's spent here, and of the friend who introduced her to this delightful place. I'm glad that she took the time to do so for me.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Creepy things in the woods

This is why I don't like to wander in the woods alone. I might just run into the person who did this.

Maybe a Halloween prank, but for whom? Who carries a faceless handmade doll into the woods and strings it up by its neck along a sugar-sand trail in the Pine Barrens?


I don't think I'll be wandering down that particular trail again anytime soon.

Anyone in the mood to share ghost stories around the campfire? What creepy things have you found in the woods?

And in case you're wondering; I was not alone and we got in the car and got the heck out of Dodge, thank you.

Friday, November 03, 2006

Birder survey

From Patrick at The Hawk Owl's Nest:

Please copy and paste your responses in the comments or post this on your blog.

What state (or country) do you live in? NJ, USA
How long have you been birding? 10+ years
Are you a "lister"? Sort of, I keep a life list and a yard list, but I'm not obsessive about it.
ABA Life List: n/a (I don't know the difference between the two - told you I wasn't obsessive!)
Overall Life List: Let's see.... I'll have to count from the front of my Peterson's. 275.
3 Favorite Birding Spots: Sandy Hook, NJ, Cape May, NJ, Delaware Bayshore, NJ
Favorite birding spot outside your home country: n/a
Farthest you've traveled to chase a rare bird: The only bird I ever *chased* was my life Snowy Owl and it was just 15 minutes or so away at Sandy Hook. I searched for that bird in the freezing cold for hours though...
Nemesis bird: Golden Eagle
"Best" bird sighting: The next one!
Most wanted trip: North Dakota, Minnesota, Wyoming, Nebraska, Kansas, etc - I want to see those prairie states!
Most wanted bird: Great Gray Owl
What model and brand of bins do you use?: Zeiss 7 X 42 B/GA
What model and brand of scope do you use?: Leica Televid 77
What was the last lifer you added to your list?: Wilson's Plover
Where did you see your last lifer?: Sandy Hook
What's the last bird you saw today?: Crow
Best bird song you've heard ever: Baltimore Oriole
Favorite birding moment: A long, leisurely look at a Peregrine Falcon perched on the rail of Old Barney during a field trip with Pete Dunne.
Least favorite thing about birding: Rain and bugs. And those birders who are always stepping in front of me and blocking the view!
Favorite thing about birding: Arriving at the *place* for the day, picking up the binoculars and heading out on the trail. ;-) It's all about the anticipation of what may come along.
Favorite field guide for the US: National Geographic
Favorite non-field guide bird book: All of them. ;-)
Who is your birder icon?: Don't have one.
Do you have a bird feeder(s)? Yes
Favorite feeder bird? Blue jay

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Real rabbits

Boomer and Cricket raiding and looting

A new occasional series documenting bunny mayhem as it occurs. No *cute overload* here; these will be the poorly-lit and pooty-strewn examples of real life with a rabbit (or five) that I wouldn't normally subject you to. Some might consider this ongoing series of pics as reason for not keeping rabbits, but to those of us who love them, these are just the minor annoyances that we look beyond because we love them so.

Tonight's example finds Boomer and Cricket pillaging the hay supply. They've managed to knock the bag of timothy hay off of the filing cabinet where it is kept safely out of their reach and are helping themselves to the contents. Cricket (with her face in the bag) is resting atop the bin used to store other hay. If I'm not careful when I'm refilling their baskets with hay and leave the top ajar, I will often find one of the two of them sitting inside the bin, pillaging and pooping there as if it were a litter box. What makes this pic funny is that just outside of view is a perfectly clean, hay-filled litter box. They'd rather steal and pooty on the floor.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

November is

"November is the aging year, a woman whose Springtime children have grown and gone their way but whose hair is often spangled, whose gray eyes are often alight, and whose dress of grays and browns is neither dour nor dowdy. November is berry-bright and firelight-gay, a glittering night, a crisp blue day, a whispering wind and a handful of determined fence row asters.

November is the little hemlock in a green lace party dress, and a clean-limbed gray birch laughing in the wind. November is apple cider with champagne beads of authority; it is a gray squirrel in the limber top of the hickory tree, graceful as the wind; it is a doe and her fawn munching winesap windfalls in the moonlit orchard. It is a handful of snowflakes flung over a Berkshire hilltop, and a woodchuck sniffing the wind and retreating to his den to sleep till April.

November is a rabbit hound baying the hillside; a farm boy in a canvas coat and a red cap, the 16-gauge in the crook of his arm, on the hills of the upper pasture; a grouse bursting from underfoot with a roar of wings and rocketing into the thicket. It is hog butchering and cracklings and sage and pepper and fresh sausage. It is a fox barking in the starlight and an owl in the old dead popple asking midnight questions. It is high-heaped firewood and leaf-banked walls and buckwheat cakes for breakfast.

And November is the memory of the years. It is turkey in the oven, and plum pudding and mince pie and pumpkin and creamed onions and mashed yellow turnip. It is a feast and celebration; but is is also the remembering and the Thank You, God, and the understanding. That's the heart of it: November's maturing and understanding." --Hal Borland, Sundial of the Seasons