More Than One Type of Red Bird

More Than One Type of Red Bird

Cardinals are such beautiful birds, and we see a lot of them here in Missouri, throughout the entire year. And while I adore seeing them at the feeders that hang over my front porch, there are other red–or at least partially red–birds that are just as fun to watch. Their plumage might not be quite as spectacularly scarlet as the ever-popular cardinal, but let’s take a look, all the same.

The photo featured above was taken yesterday near the bank of a cove on the Lake of the Ozarks. The picture isn’t crystal-clear, but I was sitting inside a screened-in porch when it was snapped. My cousin had recently filled the feeder outside, and we saw the ubiquitous sparrows, cardinals, goldfinches, a tufted titmouse, a nuthatch, and this purple finch. Why it’s called a “purple” finch when the parts that aren’t brown are so obviously red is beyond me! But it was a cute little thing, and seemed determined to get its fair share from the buffet. I don’t see these birds often at home; maybe I need to invest in another kind of birdseed to attract them.

One of the types that does show up here, however, is this Red-Bellied Woodpecker:

Frequently seen carrying his prizes back to the nearby cottonwood tree on my front lawn to hoard for later consumption, this bird is very vocal, and no longer allows my presence nearby to disturb his enjoyment of a meal. From inside the window or the storm door, I can stand within 10 feet of him, but if I’m outside on the porch, I sit about 18 feet away. Again, it’s a mystery as to why the name of the bird focuses on the belly portion (which has barely a dusting of red) rather than the top of the head and the back of the neck. Granted, he’s maybe not quite as striking in appearance as a Red-Headed Woodpecker, but he bigger than a Cardinal, and rather comical in his behavior. Until recently, I was unaware that they typically have two of their four toes pointing forward, and the other two backward, which better enables them to maintain a vertical stance while clinging to tree bark. Maybe that’s why he always perches on the feeder like this, with his tail tucked underneath for balance? I also learned that the repeated tapping they perform on trees is called “drumming”, and that they use it to help them find insects inside the bark, sort of like the way we might thump on a wall with a fingertip, our heads cocked to one side, listening for the difference in sound when trying to locate a wall stud before hanging a picture. A woodpecker might also drum to announce his territory to others, or a pair of them will sometimes use this method to communicate with each other. The smaller Downy Woodpeckers around here seem to favor the suet block, but this guy is an expert at picking out the peanuts from the feeder tray. Birds are such fascinating creatures!

What’s your favorite bird to watch? Is there anything new showing up at your feeder this year? Leave a comment, and enjoy the show!

Gimme a Sign

Gimme a Sign

During college I worked part-time at the university library, mostly at the circulation desk and the adjacent reserved reference book counter. It was probably the least amount of stress I would ever experience at a job, and it helped me meet some interesting people. One young lady was very bright, but had limited verbal skills because of her deafness. One day I saw her at one of the upstairs library tables, surrounded by books and documents. When asked if she was working on a research paper, she replied that she was studying for a big test. Drawing on my limited knowledge of American Sign Language, I gestured to the materials before her, then touched the tip of my index finger to my right temple while asking “Do you know it?” Her face lit up and she smiled broadly, recognizing my attempt to communicate in the way that she knew best: a combination of lip-reading and signing. While I was sad to have to explain that I actually knew very little sign language, the mere fact that I had tried seemed to mean the world to her, and any time thereafter when I was working and she exited or entered, she always threw a smile and a wave my way.

A couple of weeks ago my dad and I were looking through old photographs he’d scanned into his computer, including the one featured in this post. Mr. Owen Parkey lived on a farm near the small town where my parents grew up. With a 1940 population of 243, the number of people in town on Saturdays was substantially higher as the farm families all rolled in to do their weekly shopping, trading, and visiting. The feed store, the meat locker, the barber shop, the hardware, the grocery, and both taverns were abuzz with conversation. For Owen Parkey, however, there were usually only two guys in town with whom he could “talk”:  the men who would become my dad and my grandpa. Owen and his sister were both born deaf, and had gone to a special school to learn sign language. At the shops, he would present his list for purchases, written in perfect penmanship. But in Charlie May’s radio and TV shop, he could pass a bit of his perpetually quiet time in animated conversation, hands and fingers flying through the rapid movements that made up the letters, words and phrases that he knew. As my future father began hanging out more and more with his future father-in-law, he quickly picked up on signing, and joined the party. Decades later, he still smiles at the memory of the those pleasant encounters, and recalls Mr. Parkey as one of the nicest guys he ever knew.

The story reminded me of a video I’d seen recently, and with a quick YouTube search, I was able to play it for Daddy. Here’s the link:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=otUJzNtRPhw, and it’s called The Most Emotional Surprise of the Year. (Warning, have your hanky handy!) It made me cry. It made me grateful that I can hear. It made me appreciate the efforts of my Grandpa Charlie, and of my dad.  It made me want to learn sign language. It made me want to be a better person; to be more understanding and accommodating to folks less fortunate. It made me feel. And it made me wish I could hug Mr. Parkey.

photo credit Howard Weilmuenster

Remembrance

Remembrance

Last weekend was a busy culmination to a week that had been jam-packed with activity. It was great to be able to attend two of my grandson’s junior-high basketball games, ride my little gelding Tanner twice, see a late movie on opening night with my friends the Neufelds, (John Wick Chapter 2!), and then participate in an excellent fund-raising event for a cousin who is battling cancer on Saturday. To top that off, two of my cousins who were helping to spearhead the event opened their home to me–and another set of cousins–afterward, so we didn’t have to drive home in the middle of the night. The dinner, featuring BBQ pork, beef brisket, veggies, homemade rolls, and a wide assortment of desserts, was fantastic. The raffles and auctions were exciting and productive. The turnout by the folks in their small-town community of Wellsville, Missouri,  was truly amazing. People dug deep and gave from their hearts, and it was such an inspiration.

Somehow, the five of us managed to tumble out of our beds before 8am on Sunday; no small feat, considering at least two of us were up until almost 4am, chatting and unwinding from all the excitement! And when all four cousins agreed to join me for my side trip to the cemetery in Middletown where so many of our kinfolk have been laid to rest, I was grateful. It’s not that I’m opposed to going there alone, but somehow, it took a bit of the sting out of the grief of putting new silk flowers at my mother’s grave, having Desiree and Paul, Jeff and Linda at my side. Then we meandered around the place, paying our respects at as many of the headstones of our family members as we could find, and admiring the art forms exhibited on many of the markers.

This one, for instance, at the edge of an older part of the cemetery, wasn’t for anyone we knew. On the front is carved “Our Children”, and the date on one side is from 1865. Many names and dates we saw served as reminders of the days when childhood mortality, and even the loss of women in childbirth. was much more prevalent than we see today. It made us feel lucky to be born when we were, and appreciative of the fact that we haven’t had to face the hardships that so many of our ancestors did.

Near the opposite border of this extensive bit of land, closer to the road, we located the grave of Charley and Carrie (or Caroline) Steele, the couple who adopted my great-grandmother Peirrie Belle when she was a nine years old. Because their parents had died young, Peirrie (pronounced Peery) and her four siblings were split up, mostly among the families of relatives. The Steeles were friends of the parents, however, and had no children of their own, and so legally adopted my great-grandmother. She was loved and provided for, and raised almost as an only child from that point, and she returned this honor by naming my grandfather (the first of her eleven children) Charlie, and her next child Selma Carolena. So you can imagine our delight in finding here, amid all the dry brown grass of mid-February, the first sign of the Springtime to come:  a beautiful cluster of purple crocus, blooming just in front of their stone. And while we might never learn who planted them there, at least we know someone remembered. Someone, at some time, took a moment to slip those little bulbs down into the soil, knowing they’d sprout up each year as a beacon of Life renewed, and a hope for the future, a promise of the big Family Reunion we all hope to attend one day.

Won’t it be grand?

Comfort Food

Comfort Food

Chocolate Galas not withstanding, sometimes we just need a little Comfort Food. While the exact types and recipes can vary from sweet to salty, savory to spice, I think it’s probably more the memory or emotion a particular food evokes that is most meaningful.

For instance, back in the Dark Ages after I attended the morning session of kindergarten (yes, it was just half days back then!), Mother would often fix a grilled cheese sandwich for my lunch. White bread, with just enough butter to brown the bread, but not enough to make it soggy, American or Velveeta cheese, all nicely toasted in a cast-iron skillet.  Mmmm! This is still one of my favorite sandwiches, especially when paired with tomato or chicken noodle soup. Not the chicken soup from a can, mind you, but the Lipton kind from the packet with the little skinny noodles. Isn’t it funny to be so picky about such a simple thing as chicken noodle soup? Stir up a beaten egg with a little salt and pepper and add enough flour to make a thick paste, then drop tiny dumplings from the tip of a teaspoon into the simmering broth . . . oh my. That’s comfort food.

Another basic meal on the list is poached eggs on toast. Last weekend, while visiting Daddy, we had this for breakfast on Sunday. I told him how I recalled this as being one of the things Mother might make for me if I had to stay home from school due to sickness. Was it the protein she thought I needed?  The comparable blandness that would go easy on my stomach? The soft texture of the damp toast and the smooth egg that wouldn’t irritate a sore throat? The answer eludes me, but the memory remains, just like the times Dad would warm up milk in a pan on the stove and drizzle in some honey, stirring until it dissolved, and serve it in steaming mugs. That, too, was comfort food.

Custard pie and homemade ice cream make me think of my Grandpa Charlie and his siblings. Chinese food reminds me of my sister and her husband, because the first time I met him (before they were even engaged!) he took us to an excellent Chinese buffet for lunch in Tulsa. Chicken mole, first prepared for me by my dear sister-in-law, has become a favorite, and I never order it without thinking of her and my brother. And how can I possibly look at barbeque beef brisket without a fond remembrance of my Uncle Stan and cousin Dan, or see smoked salmon and not call to mind cousin Greg?

So, now it’s your turn. Leave a comment, if you will, and share your favorite comfort food, and why.  Then, get comfortable!

Chocolate Gala

Chocolate Gala

Cole Camp is a small, historic Missouri town on Highway 52 with strong German roots. It boasts several good restaurants and antique shops, it’s not far from the Lake of the Ozarks, and the folks there really know how to throw a party.

Last week I saw an advertisement for the annual Chocolate Gala to be held at their American Legion Hall, with proceeds to be going toward a new Community Building.  It sounded interesting (they had me at “chocolate”), but this Sunday was going to be my one day of the week to just relax at home, maybe put my feet up and read a good book. Last night, however, I saw a post on social media from Thaney Brockman–a lovely business owner of my acquaintance who lives and works in Cole Camp–stating that tickets were still available.  A quick telephone call to one friend, a text to another, and I was able to message Thaney that she could consider three of those tickets sold.

Not knowing quite what to expect ahead of time, the gals and I were blown away.  The Hall was decorated with white, silver and blue, the banquet tables were beautifully set, the background music was festive, and the folks working the event were warm and welcoming. Excited voices hummed like a busy hive of happy bees. There were display tables of door prizes and raffle items, wine tasting tables and bottles available for purchase, cream pies with mile-high meringue for auction, and even a classy drawing of the much longed-for Community Building to remind us of the purpose of the event. And, of course, there was the food. OH, MY, there was food!

With great wisdom and forethought, a long buffet table in the middle of the room held platters of thin-sliced meats and cheeses, savory appetizers, chicken salad and crackers, along with large chilled water dispensers at each end. These items presented a perfect counterpoint to the round tables before and behind, which were loaded with dozens of various sweet treats, all featuring some form of chocolate. From truffles to brownies, pretzels to green grapes, marshmallows to mint, there was chocolate galore!  It was all so good, I’m fairly sure I foundered myself.

Throughout the event, the buzz of conversation would lower occasionally as the master of ceremonies would hold up and describe a door prize or two, and announce the winning number for the drawing. Everyone present would check their ticket and then a cheerful exclamation would erupt from one corner or another, whereupon we’d all applaud our congratulations. My friend Karen won a gift certificate from a local restaurant, and then Michelle won a big basket with several goodies in it. And me?  I basked in the glow of fun, the prize of long-term friendships, the pleasure of helping out a Big Cause in a Small Town, and the sugar rush from all that chocolate. It was an incredibly good time.

If you haven’t been to Cole Camp, and would like to check it out, a good website is here:  http://www.colecampmo.com/    Just be sure to take your appetite!

Got Ice?

Got Ice?

Along with the many advantages–to me, anyway–of living in a rural area, there are occasional drawbacks. For instance, I really miss the pizza delivery, the vast assortment of restaurant choices, and the five minute drive to a movie theatre that I experienced when living in Springfield. Those things were swapped for being able to hear an approaching vehicle from more than a mile away, not hearing a siren from the house more than a handful of times in more than twenty years, and having the luxury of being able to see the Milky Way on lots of nights. Truly, my life is blessed.

Experience has taught me, however, to be prepared for certain things. Gravel roads mean buying tires more often, so I have to budget for that. I own two freezers and have several pantry shelves, because I choose not to drive several miles into town more frequently than necessity requires doing so. And although it doesn’t happen often, an ice storm can produce a power outage with darned inconvenient consequences. An event like that had been predicted for Missouri this weekend.

News photos showed empty shelves in the grocery stores. Many schools and businesses preemptively announced Friday closures last Thursday evening. People with fireplaces made sure they had dry wood stacked inside, ready to use. Because power outages on the farm often mean no water service (well pumps won’t run without electricity!), I keep more than a dozen gallons of water on standby at all times, and late last week made sure I had extra pet food on hand, and a new bottle of propane for the grill, just in case. My daughter’s husband came by with his farm truck and moved a couple of big hay bales underneath the roof of the lean-to for the horses. The kerosene lamp on top of the china cabinet got a thorough dusting, too.

Well now it’s Sunday evening, and Mother Nature had pity on most of us, it seems. Conditions weren’t anywhere near as bad as folks had expected for a good portion of the state. For those who did get damaging ice, I can sympathize, and be truly grateful that this area was spared. As one of my favorite fictional characters, Jack Reacher, says in the book series by Lee Child: “Hope for the Best, Plan for the Worst”. That seemed like a fitting motto for the weekend. I’d much rather be prepared and reprieved than neither!

A Fowl Story

A Fowl Story

Supper at the kitchen table was tradition at my parents’ home, a meal we all ate together, and one in which we (mostly) ate what we were served. Mother was a good cook, and her constant efforts to provide us three nutritious and tasty meals each day must have been exhausting. The discussions around that table could be interesting, educational, and often amusing. Daddy regularly kept us entertained with jokes and poems and stories of all kinds, but the one I’m thinking of this week actually came from one of my siblings. Here’s hoping one of them will chime in with a comment below and take the credit they deserve! The story goes like this:

Once Upon a Time, there was a state-owned zoo that was famous for its dolphins. The dolphins looked like the dolphins from any other zoo, and they acted the same, and learned the same tricks from their trainers. The special thing about this particular school of finned wonders was that the same set of dolphins had been there as long as anyone could remember, since the zoo had first opened a very long time ago, and none of them died. People began to say they were Immortal!

Well, obviously, this created some interest from the scientific community, and a team of marine biologists were sent in to make a study. The only difference they could pinpoint about the porpoises, was that they ate primarily a certain type of young seagull at specific feeding times each day, and that this habit had never varied in all the years of record. The scientists told the zoo officials at the state house that as far as they could tell, as long as the dolphins received their regular diet on time, every time, they showed every sign of being able to live forever.

Late one Sunday, however, as their devoted keeper approached the arched stone bridge leading across to the porpoise pool with the cages containing their evening meal, he encountered a dilemma. The zoo’s prized male lion had escaped from his cage, and was stretched out, napping in the last rays of sunlight that had warmed the bridge, blocking the path. What to do?! If the keeper woke the lion, it might attack him. If the dolphins failed to receive their regular dinner on time, they might die. He had to think fast. In a flash of brilliance, he recalled that the seagulls loved to eat little fish.  The keeper grabbed a bucket of shad, tossed them gently but quickly into a trail leading up to and over the sleeping lion and on over the bridge to the pool. Then he released the seagulls, who followed the trail of fish over ol’ Leo and into the waiting reach of the dolphins. All was saved!

The next day, however, as word got out about this episode, the police came and arrested the zookeeper.

The charge?

“Enticing Young Gulls Across a State Lion for Immortal Porpoises”.

(yes, I hear you groaning . . .)

And while it might be the longest set-up for a pun I’ve ever heard, keep in mind, I still remember it, more than 40 years later. Surely that’s worth something!

Got a favorite pun? Leave a comment, and Happy New Year!

Weird Weather

Weird Weather

Grandpa Charlie May used to say:  “Don’t like the weather in Missouri? Stick around a day or two; it’ll change.” For all that it is now early November, the lawn’s still green, my trees still have a lot of leaves, and we’ve felt temperatures up around 80 this week. Usually we’ve had a good hard frost by now, if not a dusting of snow. Don’t misunderstand me on this, as I am not complaining . . . it’s just weird!

A few days ago I read a post on social media that mentioned a lilac bush putting on buds. As you can see in the photo above, some branches on the south side of my Forsythia bush have blossoms.  A little anemic-looking, but blossoms, nonetheless. And last weekend while visiting Daddy, I saw a really nice surprise:  a violet, peeking out from between the autumn leaves by the steps of the deck out back. Later that morning I found two more while Sis and I were helping him rake leaves (and huge acorns!) from under the big Burr Oak tree.  Violets.  Pretty, deep purple violets!

To say that violets are one of my favorite flowers is, perhaps, an understatement. More than a thing of beauty, violets hold a sentimental significance dating back to my early years. They grew scattered around my grandparents’ lawn, like tiny treasures sprinkled randomly by the Easter bunny each spring. I found them sprouting around the ivy and the ferns and the Lily of the Valley in the yard at home, and would occasionally pick one and take it to my mama. It turned into a sort of ritual, as each year after I went away to school, and even in the years beyond, when the weather began to warm, she’d pick the first violet she saw, press it between a tissue or paper towel, and send it to me.  I would do the same, either with a violet, or a dogwood blossom, or both, just a “Thinking of you” tradition we had.

After Mother’s funeral last April, my sister came in the back door of our parents’ house, and advised me to go sit on the swing under the arbor when I had a moment. Curious, but too numbed by grief to ask why, I did as she’d instructed. Sprouting up around and between the bricks and stones of the walkway were dozens and dozens of violets. . . a deluge of emotional symbols, right there at my feet. Sobbing, I sat on the swing for a long time. “I haven’t left you,” it seemed my mother’s voice was saying to me through those flowers. “I’m right here.”

So. Say what you will about global warming or weird weather or whatever. I’ll take violets in November. Any year.

21 April 1990

21 April 1990

 

Henny Penny

Henny Penny

During twenty years of having laying hens on the farm, only twice have I encountered the issue of an overgrown top beak. When my late husband Larry kept pigeons (Pensom rollers – show birds), it was not unusual for the upper portions of their beaks to grow long and lap over the edge of their lower beaks, but this might have been due to the fact that they were not allowed outside to forage and peck around in the gravel. The chickens here, however, are outside almost daily. That’s why I was a bit surprised to notice this hen one day last week.

Chickens kept in a coop or pen with at least a partial concrete floor, or that have some exposure to graveled areas, have ready abrasives to help keep the fingernail-type material of their beaks in trim. As they hunt and peck for seeds, bugs, worms and greens, the frequent scrapings of their rigid mouth material against the surrounding rocks seems to prevent the problem of overgrowth. Exactly how the hen got into this condition, I don’t know. Perhaps she’s a delicate eater. Regardless, with a top beak that long, she would soon be having a problem being able to eat at all, and a little careful pruning was in order.

After doing chores at the barn, I picked up the troubled bird and brought her down the hill to the house. She graciously posed for photos before the procedure, and sat fairly still in my lap as I used nail clippers to remove most of the excess material from her upper beak. Not having a metal nail file to hand, the coarse side of an emery board was employed for the final shaping and smoothing, and then a few “after” pictures were taken for comparison. Bless her heart, this little hen didn’t even doodle on me. What a gal!

Since the Ordeal, I have read that some folks put a cement block or a piece of sandstone in their chicken pens to provide the birds with a tool to prevent this problem. The enclosed pen outside my coop has an older concrete floor with several rough areas, so you’d think that would suffice. Who knows? If not for that, I might be trimming beaks right and left. While it would be a small price to pay for all the nice fresh eggs they provide and the bugs they eat, I’m putting a landscape block or something like it onto my shopping list for the next time I’m in town.  Just in case!

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A Frog of My Very Own

A Frog of My Very Own

While I often extol the many benefits of living the country life, the truth is, I really do mean it. This little piece of farmland in mid-America is a very good place to be. Nearly every day, I see something in my surroundings that makes me smile.

In the Spring when the weather was cooler, my sister and I were chatting on the phone when she asked: “What is that noise, a locust? Are they out already?” She knew I was sitting on the porch swing out front. “No,” I told her, “those are frogs. Tree frogs, I think.” Just then a baritone voice joined in the song. “And that’s a bullfrog,” I added. His voice was loud, as he was located near the vicinity of the ornamental pond in the flower bed just in front of the porch. We agreed that he was probably trying to lure a lady frog to his pad. Sure enough, the following evening there were two froggy voices bellowing from the area.

The photo above might not be the same frog as the one I heard, but it was fun to see one sitting on the artificial lily pad in the goldfish pond a month or two after that conversation. It brought to mind a memory from my childhood, one involving the bitterness of disappointment, and the sweetness of the eventual outcome. The story goes something like this . . .

Our parents had taken us to visit my dad’s brother and his family, and during the course of the summer afternoon, Daddy and Uncle David took my cousins, my brother and sister, and me on a brief outing to the creek.  It was either Coon Creek or Cuivre River, I’m not sure which. (That’s pronounced “Quiver”, and until about ten years ago, the correct spelling was unknown to me!) Anyway, as the men tried out a new handgun on a snake that was lurking in the shadows, we children looked for snail shells and dried locust skins and other sundry treasures. My brother and sister each caught tiny brown frogs with buff-colored bellies and throats, and cousin Bruce tried to help me catch one, too, but we failed in our efforts before it was time to leave.

“Noooo!!” my three-year-old self moaned to my dad, “I dinna get my fwog yet!” He sympathized, but explained that we had to go, that we’d already been out longer than originally planned, and that Mother and Aunt Evelyn would be worried. My sister assured me that she would share her frog with me. My brother named his frog Herman, and let me touch it gently on its little head. “But I wanna fwog of my vewy own!” I sobbed.

It was a long drive home.

Thirty years went by, and one day, quite out of the blue, the mail brought a little parcel, wrapped in brown paper, from my aunt and uncle. As I removed the paper, the words on the white cardboard box brought the memory rushing back. Uncle David had written “A Frog of Your Very Own” on the side, and within the box was a small, molded resin frog with the sweetest expression on its face. I laughed, and then I cried, and then I called my uncle. “How did you remember?” I asked him.  “How could I forget!” he replied.

So among the knick-knacks and souvenirs on the shelves by my kitchen doorway, there sits a smiling little green frog. He greets me each morning as I come downstairs and head to the coffee pot to start my day, and he’s one of the last items I see as I shut up the house for the night; a symbol of an uncle’s kind heart, and of a wish fulfilled.

A frog of my very own!DSCN4166