Friday, May 23, 2008

On the Road Again

I began this blog in July 2006, after my husband and I had just returned from a trip to Portugal, Spain and Morocco. Since that trip, we have visited England, and I went to Ghana.

Here we go again. We will be "on the road again"--this time an Aegean adventure, visiting mainland Greece, some of the Dodecanese islands, and a quick stop in Turkey.

I will be missing your blogs during this time, and I will not be posting until we return. BUT, I have a new card for my camera that holds 4 gigs worth of photos--um, like over a thousand!--so I will have much to show and, presumably, tell when we return.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

All Things Bright and Beautiful

To continue that wonderful hymn--All Things Bright and Beautiful/All creatures great and small/All things wise and wonderful/The Lord God made them all. I always thought this hymn such a quintessential English hymn. I grew up singing this, and thought the melody I knew to be the only one. Imagine my surprise when I returned to the United States to hear a different melody being used! Just didn't sound right.

Anyway, the other day I wrote about finding a dove's nest in the arbor vita by our front door. I have been greeting the dove each time I go out. Since we have had such un-spring like weather here--we have had days and days of rain, and temperatures about 20 degrees (Fahrenheit) lower than normal averages for mid-May, I have been obsessing over the health of this poor bird. There she (or he) sits, hour in hour out every day. When we had a terrific downpour the other day, I marched out with an umbrella and stuck it on the top of the arbor vita. After all, I had removed a fair bit of the cover the wise doves had factored into their decision to build their flimsy nest in my tree.

But I kept worrying about food for her. So, I got the bright idea--maybe I could slowly sneak a small dish of seeds in to see if the dove would eat. I know, I know--don't mess with nature. Of course, she freaked and flew out. Immediately, the other dove came fluttering in--I think he--based on size. The two of them put on quite a display--she doing the broken wing routine, and he strutting around giving me dirty looks.

Of course, I quickly peeked into the nest. TWO CHICKS. Really looks like a pile of fluff to me. But there they are. I am not a dove expert--nor even a bird expert--but I have read that mourning doves will raise several broods in a season, usually laying one or two eggs.

I learned my lesson--I have left the nest completely alone now.

Speaking of things beautiful, I did check out the rhododendron--what a blooming bush this year. All the rain, the cool weather--not sure what--but the blooms are massive. This is one bush.

And Alex the squirrel is back--one paw held curled to his chest, Napolean fashion, coming up on the small deck to ask for peanuts.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Food Glorious Food

Since midnight on Saturday, I have gone without food--making it about 36 hours since I have eaten--one day and a half.** (The reason, dear reader, with which I will not greatly trouble you with details, has to do with a medical procedure that requires fasting.)

I am light-headed and a bit achy. And I know as soon as the medical test is over, I can eat. Not so with far too many people in the world. On Friday, I read a
heart rending story in the New York Times about Ali, a mother of five, who has not eaten for 7 days. SEVEN DAYS. She is weak, and likely near death. Why, you ask? She has the misfortune to live in a country that is once again dissolving into war--Somalia. One of the awful consequences of war in that war-torn country is famine. There are other factors that contribute to famine, but war exacerbates them.

I heard an NPR story the other day that used a phrase that caught my imagination--we have turned food into a commodity. In other words, instead of thinking of food as a right for all people, we have made it something to be bought and sold, to be subject to market forces, to be altered to what is more saleable.

There is huge truth in that. We all bemoan tasteless tomatoes and strawberries--why are they like that? So they ship well, and look nice so people will buy them. Produce that doesn't look nice doesn't get sold--never mind that it has no taste. Food as commodity.

The Sunday New York Times had this
astonishing story: about food waste. Americans waste 27% of food available for consumption. More than one fourth of food available to eat is THROWN AWAY. How can that be? Part of it is food that didn't sell in grocery stores because it didn't "look nice."

So, I will soon be able to eat a meal. I will survive my temporary fasting. Millions around the world do not have the luxury I have.

**First part of this blog written just before noon on Monday.
POST-SCRIPT: medical test all over; all is fine. I have broken my fast, and millions around the world have not.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Hand Work

When my husband and I bought our first house, we were drawn to the house because of its flowering trees and shrubs. The backyard had lovely forsythia blooming, there was a flowering cherry tree on one side of the house, and a weeping cherry tree on the other. Once we moved in we discovered a pear tree that bore the sweetest wondrous pears.

However, all that greenery meant trimming and clipping. So, the first time we needed to trim hedges and such, we asked a man who helped tend the grounds at the college where I was teaching at the time. He came out to our place equipped only with a hand held hedge shears. I was astounded. I offered him our electric hedge trimmer, but he politely declined. I always trim by hand, he said. So I watched, and learned. He had an unerring eye, and in short order had the place in great shape.

Since then, we have moved to another house where I do all the hedge and shrub trimming. But I kept the lesson I learned from that long ago event. I prefer to trim greenery by hand, using just large garden shears. Occasionally, in a hurry, I will resort to electric trimmers, but I enjoy trimming much more when I do it by hand.

Yesterday was a lovely cool spring day, so I headed out to trim an arbor vita next to our front door. A couple of weeks ago, as I walked past this arbor vita, a mourning dove came fluttering out, making a great show of flapping around, falling to the ground, hopping a bit, dragging a wing, and of course leading me away from the tree. I presumed she had a nest in there, but when I looked into the untrimmed tree, I could not see anything.

Well, after I got done trimming the arbor vita, I spotted a mourning dove carefully watching me from nearby on the driveway. She kept close, waiting. As soon as I was done, she flew to the tree, crawled in and settled down. Aha! I had found her nest. So I tried to keep my distance not disturbing her too much. I did sneak up, of course, to get her photo.

More inspections out and around my grounds, and I see the miniature rose is getting ready to bloom. This was a gift from my daughter several years ago, for Mother's Day. It has bloomed each year since.

Equally tenacious, but less beautiful, is the wild rose stock that keeps growing back every year. When we first moved to this house, I grew three rose bushes. They did well for a while, but since roses take so
much work, I gave them up and dug them out. However, I must have missed some of the root of the wild rose stock which grows back every year. No flowers, of course, just the thorny hardy root stock.

I finally got to see my neighbor's bunny again--Hoppy. He is a carmel colored dwarf rabbit that they keep year round in a hutch. It bothers me to see him confined so, so I visit him and bring him an occasional carrot stick to eat. From his hutch, he watches the wild rabbits cavort. It always puts me in mind of "The Velveteen Rabbit"--which I will not think about too much, or I will start crying! (I confessed to my tendency to weep when I read touching children's books, here.)

Oh, the flowers at the beginning of the post? Some of my dianthus, blooming. I love the deep purple pink of the flowers.


Alex, the squirrel, has not been seen now for 3 days. I did find this. . .

Looks like a dirty window, you say? Well, yes it is, but the "dirt" is on the outside. Paw marks--streaking down the window on the sunporch. Actually, on two of the sliding glass door windows. Methinks a squirrel was trying to get in. When I saw my neighbor yesterday, she said she saw a crow (her identification) grab a squirrel and fly up to the roof. Oh, no, hope it wasn't Alex. I will keep looking, but I don't hold out too much hope.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

All Creatures Great and Small

When PBS began running the series "All Creatures Great and Small," I was an immediate fan. I just loved this charming series, gleaned from tales of a Yorkshire country veterinarian, James Herriot. Each week, we were treated to a new animal story intertwined with the human stories of Herriot, the two Farnon brothers--Siegfried and Tristan--with whom he worked, and the people of Yorkshire. I was so taken by these stories that I even tried to read the books on which they were based. I must confess Herriot's rendering of the thick Yorkshire accented English completely did me in, and I don't think I finished the book.

Lately, I feel as though I am living in an "all creatures" zone. It is completely of my own doing. All except the deer, of course. They have wandered in, bashed my one spruce tree, and sheered by hostas off to the ground. The other creatures have been invited into the space around our house by my feeding them. We even had our annual visit from the ducks who think our pool, with winter cover, is in fact a pond. The local guard dog is dispatched to dissuade them.

For many years, we had bird feeders, which I gradually gave up on. The refuse on the ground of sunflower shells made me a less than enthusiastic bird feeder. Then last year, we bought a new bird feeder, then another, and began feeding birds again. Buying a sunflower mixture has attracted a different set of birds, and lessened the number of shells falling on the ground. The tree cover has helped to discourage the swoop through flying of the peregrine.

Predictably, the squirrels soon discovered the bird feeders. They regularly raid the newly filled feeders, and I have yet to buy baffles to try to keep them out. I have taken another route--buying peanuts. After seeing a peanut wreath on RuthieJ's blog, I found one and dutifully filled it with peanuts.

Enter "my" squirrel. Perhaps you remember this fellow. This squirrel (I am convinced) is the one who caught my mini-snowball. Anyway, after emptying the bird feeders, he has begun to venture up onto the small deck next to our sunporch. Maybe the strategic placement of peanuts has encouraged him. In fact, he (I know this because I have seen his. . .ahem. . .equipment) comes up on the deck, stands up, curls one paw into his chest, and looks in the window. "Is the nice lady there who puts out peanuts?"

So, when I got the peanut wreath, I placed it within easy reach. Within seconds, it seemed, Mr. Squirrel (for some reason, I call him Alex) found the peanuts and proceeded to empty the WHOLE wreath, trip after trip after trip. I even ran out of peanuts, so my husband and I went shopping on Mother's Day to buy new bags of peanuts.

Now, Mr. Squirrel is making regular trips for peanuts. Sometimes he eats them right where he stands, leaving behind quite a mess. The spent peanut shells and husks have in turn attracted rabbits and cardinals, who peck away at the detritus.

All of this activity provides much entertainment or frustration for the two cats and one dog inside the sun porch.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

What Were "They" Thinking?

Every now and then, I encounter an experience that makes me shake my head and laugh at the sheer absurdity of it all.

Recently, I had two such experiences.

Today, I attended a Mother-Daughter luncheon with my step-mother. She has invited me to these events, held at the retirement village where she and my father live. It is very sweet of her to invite me, and I accept (barring an schedule conflict). But today's event was not the usual. First, it was scheduled to begin at 11:30 a.m., but didn't actually get underway until 12 noon. Okay. Then each of the courses was a little slow in being served. Okay again.

However, the "what were they thinking" moment occurred when it was time for dessert. There was a scrumptuous array of petit fours, mini-cream puffs, eclairs, strawberries, marshmallows and a chocolate fountain. Again--OKAY. However, the woman in charge said--this is self-serve so we will ask each table to go one at a time, beginning with Table 13 (we were at Table 4). Normally, this is a somewhat efficient way to serve a large group of people--HOWEVER, many of these dear ladies are in their 80s or 90s and many had canes or walkers.

Have you ever watched 100 elderly women go through a dessert self-serve line--ONE SIDE of the table only (because that's how it was set?) with a chocolate fountain as the FIRST stop? It. . .was. . .so . . .painfully. . .S-L-O-W. And I wasn't the only one annoyed at this arrangement. The woman immediately behind me in line had a walker, and she kept clicking her brakes on and off. I had to laugh--and she sheepishly admitted that she does that when she is annoyed. But the good news is, there were enough goodies for all.

On a much different note, I had a good laugh and a "what were they thinking" moment when I cleaned the bathrooms this week. Normally, cleaning the bathrooms does not set me into gales of laughter. Truth is, I really hate this particular chore. See here.

I was using a new container of toilet bowl cleaner, when I saw it. The warning label on the bottle.

My reaction--honestly, why on EARTH would we need to know that the toilet cleaner can kill the flu virus. Okay, I can understand "kills 99.9% of germs" (whatever that means) but the flu virus? Please. How could ANYONE catch flu from a toilet bowl?

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

What If. . .

The community at my community college is currently grieving--in the space of one week, two young students have been killed in auto accidents, for which neither was at fault. One was the daughter, in fact only child, of one of the faculty. The other was a young man who had made quite an impact in terms of his curiosity for learning, and his love of books. I had neither of them as students and did not know them at all. But such news does affect us all--perhaps in a John Donne kind of way--"the bell tolls for thee."

Each of these young people was an example of great promise lost. They had shown abilities that foreshadowed the lives they might have lived. But, of course, now they will not.

The vicissitudes of life is one of those things I ponder. An apt metaphor used during the Middle Ages was the great wheel of fortune. I previously wrote about this concept when I considered why elections turn politicians out of office. The wheel of fortune turns. . .some days we rise with it, some days we fall.

Of course, a life lost is more than just the turn of a wheel. There is only one path to any of our lives (unless you are Shirley MacLaine). I have sometimes wondered what might have happened if just one small detail of my life had been changed.

My daugher introduced me to a movie that explores this concept--Sliding Doors. This movie explores the consequences of a split second of timing in a person's life. In one version of reality, things turn out positively for the main character; in the other version her existence is somewhat more dreary. The movie is somewhat mind-bending as it plays with reality.

It poses the question that the death of the two students poses--what if? What if either of them had been driving down the road at a moment sooner or later? What if. . .so many endless variations.

the photo is not of THE pond I fell in, but one from the Internet that I enhanced a bit.

The closest "what if" moment in my life occurred when I was a very small child. My parents were visiting some people who had a pond. I was a toddler, and wandered off from the adults. Soon after, the young daughter of the family found me face down in the pond. Obviously, I didn't drown. I don't know how precarious my situation was. All I know is that it could have been an incident with a tragic outcome. What if?

Saturday, May 03, 2008

Going to the Movies--reprise

Back in January, I went on a movie binge--seeing (along with my husband) most of the movies nominated for the Academy Awards' best picture category. I enjoyed them all--I guess I am a movie buff who attends movies infrequently.

Last night, I went with a friend to see the movie "The Counterfeiters." I highly recommend this movie, but I will caution any prospective viewer that it is not for the faint of heart. The movie reprises the story (previously unknown to me) about the Nazi efforts to destabilize the British economy during World War II by counterfeiting the British pound.

Code named Operation Bernhard, this effort on the part of the Nazis might well have contributed to propping up the German war effort. One of the critical conflicts in the movie is between two counterfeiters. Since they were all Jews, and therefore at risk of being exterminated in the death camps, one of the counterfeiters, the lead character named Saloman, keeps adhering to the personal credo--better to counterfeit and live than resist and die. Another character, Burger, feels conflicted by their work. He believes they should resist. The tension frequently breaks out into violence among the counterfeiters--fighting each other.

Image of forged five pound note from

There are two very poignant scenes in the movie. In one, one of the counterfeiters tries to assert his moral superiority because he says he was a banker before the war--not a counterfeiter. The irony is so thick in his statement.

In the second scene, the lead counterfeiter--Saloman (nick-named Sally and who had been a counterfeiter before the war) has asked for real documents to use in forging--for example, passports so the covers will be authentic. When the group gets a packet of real documents, one of the counterfeiters breaks down when he sees his own children's passports in a batch that were shipped from Auschwitz.

The counterfeiting operation was set up in the Nazi camp of Sachsenhausen. This is the camp that had the infamous gates with the slogan Arbeit Macht Frei--work makes free. In the case of the counterfeiters, even though their fate was to be death, the slogan was prophetic. For reasons not shown in the movie, they did all survive.

If you want a challenging movie that once again explores the theme of doing something "bad" with a good outcome--survival--see "The Counterfeiters." I found myself making mental comparisons to another recent movie that explores a very similar theme--"The Black Book" or "Zwartboek."

While the focus of the movie is clearly on the Jews in the horrific circumstances of the Nazi death camps, there are scenes that explore the actions of the Germans. I couldn't help but think once again of the question that haunts me--would I be so easily swayed to turn into the mindless majority as did the Germans during the Nazi era? There is no easy answer to such a question. The events of the current U.S. war in Iraq bring home to us the fact that seemingly good people can be too easily swayed by events and presumed authority.