Saturday, February 28, 2009

Checking in

I'm trying out this *blogging without obligation* thing lately, have you noticed?


My camera's been collecting dust this week and that makes it hard to write anything here. Anyone else mostly write that way; with an image to spark an idea to write about?

Anyhow... I thought I should check in and let you all know that I'm still alive and busy and running around like the proverbial chicken without a ...

Hope everyone's having a nice weekend!

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Wordless Wednesday

(It's coming, ever so quietly...)

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Counting the days

I'm guessing there won't be any more snow this season; not that there was much to speak of anyway. I miss the blizzards we used to get when I was a kid, when everything would be buried and the neighborhood was transformed for a couple days.

Anyway... I took this pic back in late January at one of my favorite parks. I'm looking forward to finding meadowlarks in that field next month.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Peeping at Peeper

That's Sunshine with half her face smooshed up through the gate...


Saturday, February 21, 2009

The worst bird walk ever*

Is February an easy month to find birds anywhere?

Sandy Hook can be something like a wonderland of waterfowl at this time of year, but today it mostly wasn't. There were a couple of distant loons, a speck raft of red-breasted mergansers, a long-tailed duck or two, an imaginary harbor seal, a nice flock of faraway snow buntings and great looks at the
world's largest gull.


We did get to see this g
reat big boat heading out to sea though.

Despite the lack of birds, it was a beautiful day to be out, with a hint of spring in the air. Not really, but at least the wind wasn't quite so biting for a change.

*Post title suggested by our field trip leader

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Questions we didn't know we wanted to ask

I don't think I've mentioned that I've not been teaching for the last year or so. I miss my students at the community college, miss their stories, miss the chance to work so closely with a small group of (almost) eager learners.

I was digging around in the attic the other day and came across a lesson I'd liked to use in the mid-point of the semester on questioning techniques. It's something we readers do automatically; question as we read, but it's a skill that less-seasoned readers need help with.

I've always been a questioner; not ever satisfied with the surface answer, always intent on whatever lies beneath. I'm sure that as a child this drove the adults in my life half-nuts, and I know it drives my present-day students to distraction. I'm not the type of teacher who returns papers with plain check marks in the margins or terse comments in red ink; instead I've always hoped for my students to think a bit deeper and tend to ask questions that make them consider another viewpoint or angle... prodding at their laziness or inattentiveness. I like the chance to dangle speculation before them, or even wonder.

Imagine that! Wonder in the classroom!

So... while the course I teach is one of reading strategies, the writer in me tries to give back some of the kind of questioning that continues to be crucial to my own growth, as a writer (!) and as a person. I like to introduce the idea of questioning and speculation with the use of Pablo Neruda's Book of Questions, wherein the poet asks a series of questions, without ever really caring if a response is likely, or even possible. Neruda's questions invoke vivid images and tend to demonstrate a unique way of seeing and questioning... just as an example or two:

Why do the leaves kill themselves
as soon as they turn yellow?

How do the seasons discover
it's time to change their shirts?

Some of the things I work on with my students during discussion are:

Which is more important: the question or the answer?
Which is more powerful?
Do all questions have answers? Is there only one right one?
Do we all ask the same questions? In the same way?

A part of what I'm hoping my students will discover with this exercise is that we all have a unique perspective and this *stance* is important to consider in our writing as well as in our reading of other authors.

My favorite part of the lesson is giving students the time to come up with their own questions, using Neruda's as a model. There's a fair amount of imitation, but the whimsy is palpable and fun! I encourage them to be playful with language and subject matter, like Neruda. Nothing is exempt from wonder, right?

Some favorites:

How come people say the moon is made of cheese and not waffles, for example?
Why do flowers bloom out and not in?
Who do we make mistakes?
How come there are more girls than boys in the world?
Where does Jimmy Buffet get his songs?
Why do cookies disappear faster when you're not the one eating them?


I love that last one!

Of course you know to expect this, but...


What questions are you just dying to have answered?

What would you ask if no one dared laugh at your silly question?

Monday, February 16, 2009

Dear snowdrops

Thank you for flagging me down to stop and appreciate you in the middle of my crazy whir of nervousness the other day.

Thank you for the invisible valentine of your downturned petals punctuated with a little green heart; I had to be on my knees in the muck to see that.

Thank you for the lady passing by who paused to tell me how beautiful you were - I was thinking about her amazing smile the rest of the day.

Thank you for sharing your private patch of sun-dappled shade with me.

Thank you for giving me the time beside you to remember that the universe will send me everything I need at just the right moment... a friend to hold my hand wordlessly as I wonder what's happening to me... another to talk me off ledges... someone to gather my stories and worries and unedited truth like so many ingredients of an ancient family soup... another to collect my tears when I most need to cry.

Thank you for helping me hear the stars in my dreams calling me.

Oh, and thank you for an excuse to muddy my jeans.


Sunday, February 15, 2009

Zen thoughts with bunnies

When you do something, you should do it with your whole body and mind; you should be concentrated on what you do.
--Shunryu Suzuki

Saturday, February 14, 2009


Winter has lost its newness and its luster and I find myself alert for the small voices that signal change...

Without any snow cover there's little to contrast the lack of color in the landscape if we don't look closely...

The change now, in mid-February, is in increasing daylight as the sun swings north again...

That light and the sogginess it brings underfoot, the extra brightness it adds to shrunken viburnum berries...

And the fragile texture of butterfly wings that it reveals among the tatters of last summer's hydrangea...

All are among the small voices that signal hope for change. Have you gone looking, yet, for Spring?

Mostly I didn't find much, but there are snowdrops in the neighbor's garden and the promise of hellebores... can peepers be long off? Cardinals are singing some at first light and the redtails perching closer together... maybe it's closer than it feels.


Friday, February 13, 2009

No swimming

The beach at Asbury Park 2/4/09

Thursday, February 12, 2009

A crazy love of things

I'm funny about pens; I prefer markers, actually, and they must have the finest of points that flow smoothly without skipping or stuttering ink across the page. They needn't be expensive; for years I've favored a fine-tip marker made by Staples that costs $5.00 for a dozen.

There's something wonderful those pens do for my handwriting; they make it look like practised calligraphy, almost.


Pablo Neruda wrote a whole book of Odes to Common Things, but I'm not sure he ever wrote an ode to a pen...

I love
not because they are
or sweet-smelling
but because,
I don't know,
this ocean is yours,
and mine:
these buttons
and wheels
and little
fans upon
whose feathers
love has scattered
its blossoms,
glasses, knives and
all bear
the trace
of someone's fingers
on their handle or surface,
the trace of a distant hand
in the depths of forgetfulness.

From Ode to Things by Pablo Neruda

What are some of your favorite things, special forgotten treasures of your everyday life... hats, flower vases, compasses, the velvet feel of a particular chair...

Share, please!

BTW, Dave at
Via Negativa wrote a series of Odes to Tools that is just delightful. Enjoy!

Monday, February 09, 2009

Boomer camouflaged

Click for full bunny cuteness!

Lynne, he's about one and a half times the length of a loaf of bread... so a bit bigger than a breadbox, I guess. I found this pic online with a dog for comparison and this one! that could be Boomer's less handsome twin.


A BIG bunny who loves to spend the late mornings stretched out in a sunbeam. He and his bondmate Sunshine aren't ever caged (there is no cage big enough for two Flemmies to live together) and so instead they have run of the sunporch.

They have their favorite napping and loafing spots depending on time and season. In the cold and dark of winter, they prefer a sunny spot with something warm beneath them. In the summer, they most often hang out in a dark cardboard box, with their bellies stretched out on the cool tile.

If I'm in the room and they're awake, they're underfoot, dancing and binkying and begging for food like puppies, threatening to trip me at every step.

Very sweet!

Sunday, February 08, 2009

Feathered fashionistas

My brother shared this pic of a couple of his chickens on top of an old shed; he said with last week's snow they just sort of poked their little heads out the coop and didn't know what to make of it.

Silly chickens!

Not having much first hand experience, I'm not sure if I should believe those who say chickens are pretty smart or those who say they're really dumb.

It's pretty neat to see my brother understanding a bit more about bird behavior because of his chickens; he recognizes the peculiar sound the flock makes when they've spotted a hawk overhead and this winter he's busy figuring o
ut how to keep starlings out of the coop to steal the chickenfeed.

Anyone with suggestions on that?

He demonstrated some weird kind of chicken logic for me today. They react to particular colors he says... he called them "fashion police" actually, and brought out this shirt that he says they hate. Sure enough the flock scattered at the sight of it and were freaked out for the rest of the afternoon, clucking suspiciously at us from beneath the pine trees at the edge of the yard while we talked.

Silly chickens!

Saturday, February 07, 2009

A picture of unhappiness...

...the pond at his feet was frozen solid at mid-week. It was fifty degrees today, so I imagine the GB Heron is looking a little less cranky today.


(Probably not.)

Thursday, February 05, 2009


I have this series of almost funny pics of Luka playing with his basketball in the snow yesterday; he's all googly-eyed and acting his normal goofy self.

This last one, his serious face, is my favorite. He's concerned that my attention has wavered from him and the act he puts on for the camera. I'd spotted a pair of red tails perched in the black locust at the corner edge of our yard and was planning a way to get closer to them without spooking them from their perch.

He's plotting what silly move of his will have me giggling his way again...

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Wordless Wednesday

Snowy boardwalk reflection at Asbury Park

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

A first step

I'd intended to share pics of iceboats this weekend at the river or maybe to celebrate the snow that's been falling all day, but instead...

This story has been heavy on my mind and heart all day. The victim was nameless when the story first went to press this morning, but later in the day he was identified and I recognized a connection to one of my clients and before the workday ended I found myself meeting with a policeman to share next of kin information.


I'm bothered by the things I left unsaid last week in my rant about the homeless. I spoke mostly from a place of frustration, rather than from that place in me that works everyday with the poor and that sees the things they really lack.

A job, a home, a purpose to their day... society can provide for those things in some form or another, but...

There's no way to counter the lack of a loving family to go home to or someone that smiles just to see you come in.

There's no way to replicate the feel of a warm-mittened hand in yours on the walk home from school.

There's no way to know what a kiss in the morning, coffee brewing and the newspaper waiting might do.

I'm not foolish enough to believe that love is the only answer. I know enough about the circumstances that lead people to find themselves in this situation. I understand about addiction and mental illness and the kinds of holes in a person's spirit that a job or a handout can't fill.

But we can try, can't we? To take better care of the people we love? To look out for our neighbor? To hand over a dollar or two for the man begging outside the coffee shop, without worrying that he'll use it, instead, to buy a bottle?

The need is overwhelming to those of us who stop to consider it, rather than just shutting down, or shutting it out entirely. It's easy to forget, I think, that the answer needn't be yes or no, all or nothing.

It's painful to see the need of others; even more painful to be helpless to fix it. Admitting to that is the first step, I think.

Monday, February 02, 2009

You've got mail!

More silly parlor tricks... now if only I could train him not to shred the phone bill.

Sunday, February 01, 2009

Crayfish for lunch: A hoodie story

I did the loop around Lake Takanassee as something of an afterthought on my way home from the bird observatory this afternoon. I wasn't expecting anything new; hoping for a couple Canvasbacks maybe, or just a closer look at the couple Ring-Neck Ducks that are in the big lake since their more secluded spot is frozen over.

I'd finished sorting through the Coot, and the Canada Geese, the couple Brant and the sweet Wigeon, ready to drive away when a lone Hooded Merganser on the far side of the lake caught my eye. Mainly it was the Great Black-Backed Gulls harassing the Hoodie that got my attention. I'd read about this behavior in those big burly gulls, but had never witnessed it myself.

I didn't know what I was seeing and misinterpreted it, of course. The gulls repeatedly lifted the Hoodie out of the water, as if to fly away with it for lunch, but then dropped it back in a splash. Horrible mean gulls! The Hoodie kept diving under the water to escape, only to be taken aloft again. Poor thing! At this point I was out of the car, finally remembering my camera and with murder in my heart.


It wasn't until I got home and enlarged my pics, that I figured out what I'd really seen. The gulls were scared off by something... me maybe... and the Hoodie swam close to shore to rearrange its hard won prize. What I'd imagined to be a mouthful of fishing wire and hooks or some such other horrible death for this duck, was instead a crayfish, I think.


That he had no intention of sharing with any gull.


Click on this pic to enlarge... it's hilarious!

Looking at these pics, I'm reminded of those I've seen of GB Herons and their ministrations when *handling* prey items that are a bit too big for them. But Hooded Mergansers? Who knew? See how he's stretching out his neck to let it slide down?


This whole time, of course, I was convinced that my favorite duck in the world was choking and dying mere yards away.


Hoodies can smile with their crests, I think. Can you see the relief on his face?

Once home I read that crayfish are a favored food for these ducks and that they have a special gizzard-type thing, like chickens I guess, to process the hard shells of crustaceans.

Something else I read said that they only eat the claws of crayfish, like us with their bigger cousins, but I have no idea how he actually managed to get that thing down his throat, if he had to shake away the body first, before swallowing the sweet bits.

Birds. Always something new to learn.