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!



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?

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!

Beautiful Bird

Beautiful Bird

In spite of the fact that the weather is warmer and many plants are budding out–even blooming–I am still in the habit of filling the bird feeders that are suspended from my front porch overhang.  Sure, there are bugs aplenty crawling and buzzing around already (the winter wasn’t as bad as expected), but I enjoy watching the cardinals and sparrows and finches so much, that I just can’t resist filling the feed troughs that bring them close to my front windows.  Besides, they provide hours of entertainment for Tripod Jack, who loves to perch in his carpeted “kitty tree” just inside the dining room window, and the busy birdies keep him from trying to monopolize my desk or computer keyboard quite so much.

So, perhaps it was Divine Intervention or just pure luck that saw the feeders empty a few days ago, when I glanced out of the glass of the storm door and saw something large on one of the branches of the cottonwood tree.  Just a small sapling when we moved to this farm back in ’92, the cottonwood now towers above the house, a mere 30 feet or so from the porch and the bird buffet.  But the object I saw was fairly low in the tree, and the size of it must have been what caught my attention; it was considerably larger than the usual winged visitors who are so often in those branches.  Using the zoom feature on my camera, and staying just at the edge of the doorway and on the inside, so as not to frighten the newcomer, I snapped several pictures.  Alternately preening and studying the area, the sleek gray head turned around almost completely backward, the clear golden eyes focused intently in my direction.  I know you’re watching me! it seemed to say.

Watching me, watching him

Later, I took the time to research exactly what type of bird this is.  That it was in the category of Birds of Prey was obvious.  The Missouri Conservation Department has some great information on their website, and I started there, then moved on to a search for various types of hawks that frequent the vicinity.  Two choices stood out:  the Sharp Shinned Hawk, and the larger Cooper’s Hawk.  The coloring and markings of these two types are very similar, according to my reading, and they’re not always simple to tell apart.  In the case of this specimen, I am thinking it is a Cooper’s Hawk, partly due to the size, and partly to the shape of its head, and the way the lighter neck feathers sort of wrap around toward the back.

Here’s a link to one of the websites I used in my attempt at identification:

Take a look at it, if you have time, and let me know your opinion.

And in case you’re wondering why it was a good thing there was no bird seed in the feeders?  Well, hawks don’t eat bird seed, but they just love to take little songbirds out to dinner, and I bet you can guess who pays!



May I Live In Your Garden, Sir?

May I Live In Your Garden, Sir?

That may sound like a rather impertinent question, but it was indeed how I felt on Friday.  Except the “sir” in question was not a person, but rather a company, and the idea of actually living there would not be practical or allowable.  But it seemed like a good idea at the time.

Shelter Gardens, located in Columbia, Missouri, is just one of the ways Shelter Insurance® gives back to the community, and this month’s view is just the tip of the iceberg.  To help while away some time in between appointments, my recently retired friend J’Teena met me there, and we strolled the carefully tended grounds of the Gardens, a place I hadn’t visited in several years.  She waited patiently as I stopped repeated to take photos with my trusty iPhone, while I kept wishing I’d remembered to bring a better camera.  The redbud and dogwood trees were blooming, a few tulips and daffodils were still putting on a show, the rose bushes were leafing out with great promise, and the violet patch near the back was next to heavenly.  There were flowers blooming that I don’t know the names of (yet), but the pictures I snapped are preserving the images for later research.  It was an inspiration!

Many of the trees and plants are labeled, and we both felt amazed by the beauty of a very large bush with snowy-colored clumps of small white flowers.  “Korean Spice Viburnum” the tag read.  I immediately took a photo of that, just so I wouldn’t forget the name.  Among all the landscaping efforts I’ve made over the years, the category of bushes seems somehow to have been overlooked, but darned if I know why, and this specimen has me rethinking that approach.  The spicy-sweet scent was strong enough to attract us (and the bees, like last week’s apple blossoms!), but not overwhelming.  And whatever fertilizer they’re using over there, it’s working really well, because this bush could easily be mistaken for a small tree!

So today I’m thankful once again (or still) for all the spring things blooming around us.  Lilacs, violets, azaleas . . . I love them all.   I am thankful for a good friend who drove into town just to help me enjoy the day and catch up on what’s been going on in our lives.  I am thankful for companies who look for ways to “return the favor”, so to speak, to the customers, neighbors, and tourists who might have (or maybe will) support them.  And I’m thankful that I live in a place where all these wonders surround me.

What are you thankful for today?  Leave a comment and tell us about it!


It’s All the Buzz

It’s All the Buzz

Amid the Springtime rituals of planning and planting a garden, oohing and ahhing over the procession of crocus, hyacinth, daffodil, jonquil and tulip blooms making their brief but spectacular showings, and possibly cussing over the mower and the tiller and the trimmer that aren’t sure they’re ready to emerge from their winter hibernation, arrive those perfectly pleasurable days when the fruit trees are blooming.  A good year means that no late ice storm or deep freeze or wind so strong that the blossoms get literally “nipped in the bud” occurs.  Thankfully, this appears to be one of those years.

Yesterday my friend Michelle was here.  We set metal t-posts in a 20 x 30 perimeter, stretched and secured 4′ high woven wire around it to keep the varmints out, and hung an old gate for the entryway to my new garden.  It has been several years since I’ve had a garden, and the truth is, I’m so excited about it I can barely contain myself!  Maybe it’s the strong farmer influence in my genetic history manifesting itself, but I’ve always felt somehow incomplete during those years without a vegetable patch.  Witnessing the growth cycle of the plants and enjoying the bounty of the produce is such an elemental pleasure, but a strong one that pulls me in, year after year, just as the orchard does.

After the garden perimeter preparations, we worked on refreshing the mulched areas underneath the two apple trees near the garden.  Both of these trees were here when I moved to the farm, and I’ve never figured out the specific types.  I just know that one gets yellow apples that stay fairly crisp and somewhat tart when ripened, while the other produces red apples with a softer texture and a juicy, sweet flavor.  It was interesting to note that the blooms of the “yellow” apple tree had more pink tint to them than the ones for the “red” variety.  What made the task of mulching so much less like work, however, was the amazing aroma of those apple blossoms.  The air around their branches was perfumed with a lilac-like sweetness, one of those smells it seems I can almost taste.  The honeybees were tasting it, or at least giving the impression that they were.  Michelle and I were careful not to disturb them, knowing that they were doing a more important job than we were.  After all, the mulch just makes it easier to mow around the trees, and helps to hold in some moisture underneath.  The bees, though, help in the pollination process that allow those blossoms to become the fruit for next Fall’s harvest, which is what it’s all about anyway.

So, here’s to the Buzz!  Do you have an orchard?  And what’s in your garden?


Colorful Memories

Colorful Memories

We all have a mental storage cabinet that holds memory files full of various events from our lives.  Some good, some bad, some meh.  And the older we get, the more stuffed those cranial cubicles become, often making it difficult to retrieve specific bits of information just exactly when we want them, sort of like that junk drawer or closet where you shove odds and ends that you don’t know where else to put.  (Admit it, we’ve all got one!)

But memories are odd, in that they can be triggered to float to the top of the heap in many ways:  an unusual odor, a specific sound, the sight of a certain place or thing or even a particular shade of color.  This season of the year brings the changing wardrobe of the trees, and I’ve witnessed a multitude of beautiful hues over the last few weeks.  The fact that we had decent rainfall this year had to have helped this process, as well as the rather temperate summer.  Regardless of the cause, though, I’m awed by the beauty and think–yet again–what an artist is our Creator.

Yesterday, my friend Karen and I were traveling the short distance from her house to a local restaurant for supper, and stopped along the way to take photos of the trees in the cemetery.  The sun was sinking into the western horizon just enough to make the orange leaves of one specimen absolutely glow.  Another tree had lost most of its splendor into a 30′ diameter carpet of color, which reminded me of the walks I took with my Sweetheart, not long after we began to date back in 1983.  We were still young enough then to enjoy running over to a raked-up pile of freshly-fallen leaves and jumping into them.  It’s a sweet memory, and it makes me smile.

We stood by the stone that bears his name and the date that he left us: three years ago today.  I told Karen about that time ‘way back then, and how I think of it every Fall. We talked about how many things have changed in those three years, and how it doesn’t seem like it could possibly be that long since he was here with us.  We rehashed several other memories, over dinner, of Larry, of her parents, and many other things.  I’m fortunate to have such a friend.

If summer is the time to “stop and smell the roses” as they say, then maybe Autumn ought to be the season of recollection.  Open up that vault of memories, pull out a few favorites and enjoy them once more.  I’ll close this with a quote from our daughter.

“Don’t take for granted what you have when you have it, for one day you may not.  Let stress go, let love sink in, and hold good memories forever.”  –Jennifer Martinez 


Got Hips?

Got Hips?

First of all, my apologies for being on hiatus so long without arranging for a sub or working up some posts in advance.  The reason was a worthy one, though:  the Trip of a Lifetime!  After more than two years of planning and saving and anticipation, my particular friend Peggy and I were super-fortunate to be able to take a 17-day vacation in historical, scenic Scotland.  It’s a place I’ve always wanted to visit, and each day was such a discovery.  Still floating!

The temperate weather and abundant rain lend their efforts to what must be a national devotion to gardening.  The flowers (like the castles and the churches, and the mountains and the lakes–er, lochs), were plentiful and amazing.  Along with a plethora of stone walls, there were more hedges than I ever imagined could grow in such a relatively small country, and many of those hedges were comprised of old-fashioned rose bushes.

If you’re not familiar with an old-fashioned rose, they’re similar to a multi-flora rose bush, with several blossoms grouped closely together on the stem.  The blooms open out a bit flat, since they don’t typically have a lot of petals, but the fragrance is rich and pleasing.  And if the flowers aren’t clipped for display, or pruned before this time of year, they produce their seeds in a round or oval-shaped pod called a “hip”.  The hips start out green, then turn yellow, then sometimes progress to a deep red or even burgundy or almost black, depending on the breed of plant.  Deer, rabbits, and squirrels have the common sense (or God-given instinct) to eat these morsels, which are full of Vitamins C and A, antioxidants and all sorts of other good stuff.

Provided that no chemical pesticides, herbicides or fungicides were used on the plant, we can enjoy the benefits of rose hips as well.  For centuries, they’ve been harvested for use in tea, jams and jellies, and even soup.  Rose hip oil is used in cosmetics and in ointments for treating burns and acne or scars.  They may be helpful in preventing cancer and treating arthritis.  The more I read about their various uses, the more I start to think I should plant a rose hedge of my own!

The pity is, that I didn’t harvest a sackful of the little things myself, when they were right in front of me, since 24 hours after our return, Peggy and I both turned out to have contracted a cold somewhere along the way.  All that Vitamin C from a good dose of rose hip tea might have helped.

Have you used rose hips?  Were they good, and did they accomplish what you hoped?  Let me know!

Roses in Scotland!

Sunset Cruise

Sunset Cruise

Yesterday was eventful. Two years and nine months (almost) after the passing of her Master, a good friend assisted me in loading the Two-Wheeled Mistress onto a trailer and hauling her to the HD dealer in Sedalia, where they will sell her on consignment. Going through the saddle bags and the tool pouch and the shelf of supplies the night before was brutal, but seeing two ol’ boys drooling over her as we drove out of the parking lot helped. Here’s hoping she finds a new owner soon, and that he (or she) will enjoy the bike as much as we did.

Thankfully, Cousin G had invited me to visit with himself and Cousins K & B at the Lake Place, which is about a 45 minute drive from my house. We enjoyed dinner on the screened-in porch, meaningful conversation, and a perfectly relaxing Sunset Cruise on the pontoon boat. It was exactly what I needed.

Keifer and Ziva are Australian Shepherd mix siblings adopted by K & B last year. They’ve grown up spending many weekends at the lake, and they trot excitedly down the ramp, across the dock, and onto the deck of the pontoon with no hesitation whatsoever. The tradition of a Sunset Cruise is obviously something they relish, and watching them post themselves as lookouts at the front of the boat was fascinating. Keifer kept a sharp eye out for blue herons, ducks and geese. Ziva–for the first time ever–jumped up and sat down on the upholstered seat next to Cousin G, taking in the view from a higher vantage point, but acting as though it was something she did every day. As the sun dropped slowly toward the horizon, the temperature of the air cooled accordingly, and the evening was as perfect as it could be.

As the song says: “I get by with a little help from my friends”. And with gratitude for the loving kindness of those friends, I do more than just get by. I really live!


Red, White and BOOM!

Red, White and BOOM!

As holidays go, the 4th of July is one of my absolute favorites.  Sometimes there’s BBQ involved, often homemade ice cream comes into play, occasionally a family gathering, or maybe even all three of those at once, which makes for a really fun time.  But of all the Independence Day traditions that abound, it’s the fireworks that truly make it special for me.

All across America last night (and in some places tonight, or even tomorrow night) untold quantities of cash were literally blown up in the sky.  It seems odd, doesn’t it, that we scrimp and save and pinch pennies for most of the year, but come July 4, not only do we collectively set a match to millions, we enjoy it!  How and why this particular tradition began is something I’ll have to research someday.  It’s a good bet, though, that the Founding Fathers never could have imagined how we’d be celebrating their signing of the Declaration of Independence all these years down the road.

My parents were children of the Depression, and I’ve mentioned before that I’m a devoted student of the Dave Ramsey School of Financial Peace.  So it makes no sense whatsoever for me to be so enthralled by the sight of so much money going up in smoke–however colorful–on an annual basis.  But every year, when this little farming community puts out the jars and the coffee cans at local businesses to collect for the Fireworks Fund, we all pull together for the Cause.  The local volunteer fire department donates their time and expertise in planning and executing the show at the city park, where everyone gathers on their blankets and lawn chairs.  The Boy Scouts sell hamburgers, hotdogs and soda pop, there’s kettle corn for sale at another booth, and sometimes snow cones or funnel cakes.  When the daylight diminishes and the announcer introduces the music with our National Anthem, all voices still.  People of all ages are on their feet, hands on their hearts, gazing across the lake toward the command center for the festivities.  And when the final tones of “O’er the Land of the Free . . . and the Home of the Brave!” fade away, the show begins.  We’re captivated.  We’re proud to be Americans.  We’re spoiled rotten by the abundance and the privilege and the money-wasting excesses of our society.  And for that hour, at least, I’m glad of it.

Three cheers for the Red, White and BOOM!