Wednesday, December 26, 2012

A Long Time Ago

Tonight snow is falling all over New York State, from Middletown, where I was born, to Saratoga Springs, where my father was born, to Utica and New York Mills, where my mother was born.  My father loved to tell me how he sledded down a big hill smack into where the  Northway Super- Highway is now.  Back then, it was wilderness, wild country, right outside of town.  The boys would drag their toboggans and sleds to the Big Hill (which he would point out to me when we were driving on the present Northway to Saratoga, and I'd have to try and picture  no road and just snow) and down they'd go.

My father has passed into eternity, but because I'm human and still stuck here, I like to imagine he visits the scenes of his youth.  About a month before he passed, as he lay helpless in bed 24/7, I whispered to him., "You'll be back in Saratoga soon" while stroking his soft gray hair that still held a slight wave, and he opened his bleary, foggy eyes and looked at me, but I know he did not understand.  Now he is unfettered.  He can walk through Congress Park now, like he dreamed when he was unable to walk.   How he loved his home town and the memories he made there. 

Tonight the snow is falling and blurring the line between the present and the past.  The sky is white with reflected snow, and the air is hushed.  Lights and the present are hazy and blurred, and it could be 1921, when my father was 2 years old.  84 White Street might not look so modern with it's addition and paint. 

That is what I would imagine if I were there, walking the streets in the midst of the heavy snowstorm.  Cars are unable to get down the unplowed roads and remind you of what year is it, and the black tree branches hold inches of snow, like icing, while the lights of the present appear haloed and dim through the snowflakes, and it's easy to travel back in time while I walk.   The air is hushed, every sound is blunted by the low hanging clouds;  it is very quiet and I can imagine my young and handsome father, just a young man, striding with his long legs down the sidewalks to home.

Sunday, December 16, 2012


Saturday my husband and I decided to go away from civilization into the Everglades.  It's been so long since we've not had responsibilities and jobs that just couldn't wait.  Weekend after weekend came and went this fall and we made no escapes into nature. 

Finally, Saturday, we made it.  The weather was nothing special.  Not cold, which we prefer above all else, just average.  Some rain showers over the city and partially cloudy out over the Everglades.  It didn't matter;  being able to get free, especially after the news on Friday, was essential and healing.

We saw birds doing what they do every day while we are working;  they were flying gracefully through the air, or perched in the water looking for breakfast.  Their "clothes" were their everyday ones, but far more beautiful than the finest attire money can buy for humans.

Here are some pictures we took, just enjoying being away from the human race and it's creations:

Above was the average scene.  No people - that was the charm.

Below - a Dainty Sulfur butterfly.  Beautiful, but very tiny.

A hawk looking for breakfast.  They don't spook like most birds do when you point your camera at them......

A water bird that is not all that common - a Limpkin.

A Great Blue Heron:

This tiny little purple butterfly is called a Ceraunus Blue.

The Ceraunus Blue - gives you an idea of it's size.

The Ceraunus Blue's outer wings.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Darkest Evil

All my life my favorite season has been fall.  Because of the new coolness in the air (I grew up in upstate New York in a small town, much like Newtown, Ct.), because school was starting again and that meant new uniforms, new socks, underwear, shoes, books, pens, paper.......everything brand spanking new.  It was almost like being born again, getting a new start.  If I didn't like the way the last year of school panned out, here came a new one with all my familiar friends.  I could start off new and do everything right.
My favorite memories are of my pre-pubescent childhood.  Everything seemed so safe, so predictable, so solid.  And even though the world was a dangerous place, societal norms and standards were Judeo-Christian and made sure that Total Chaos never broke loose on a regular basis in any given place.  That is no more.
What breaks my heart more than anything else about the shooting at Sandy Hook School today is that it took the lives of small children.  Innocent, living in a small town, waiting for Christmas and most probably still believing in Santa.  Shattered.  That's the only word I can think of for all the children that survived.  School, childhood, beautiful innocence will never be the same for them again.  And because I remember how wonderful it was to be that age and safe, secure, red-cheeked and buried in winter gear playing outside in the snow waiting for the supper call,  it brings me deep sorrow, more than any public or school shooting has ever done.
I guess the gauge of evil is Nazi Germany.  Because the Germanic people had one of the highest civilizations on the earth along with Britain and the United States in the 19th and 20th centuries, the horror to which they fell and the diabolocal detail they gave to their murder is more shocking.   If the people leave their Judeo-Christian heritage and beliefs behind, then evil steps into the vacuum.  Germany was also the home of the progressive Christian movement and theologians who began to teach that Jesus was just a great man and the Bible a collection of myths.  This "scholarship" began in the mid 1800's in Germany and, by the time of the 1920's, after a lost war, the utter destructive power of which had never been seen before, and a worldwide depression, evil surely walked right in the door in the form of Hitler and his henchmen.   And then the unthinkable began to occur slowly but surely.  Starting with harrassment, then prohibitive laws, then violence (of course) which eventually led to mass extermination of the Jews, Gypsies, mentally ill, physically incapacitated and any other "undesireables" that didn't measure up to the "high standards" of the Teutonic Aryan. And the shame of the 20th century occurred.
And now, we are devolving again.  In a different way and for different secular reasons, but the underlying cause is the same.  No God, no civilization.  And then everything and anything goes.  As it says in Judges, "every man did what was right in his own eyes", which, to me, defines Total Chaos.
Western Civilization is falling apart, and, if adults want to kill each other, while that is horrible, it is not unthinkable.  It has been going on since time began.  If adults maul, mistreat, sexually abuse and ultimately murder children, too small to do more damage than get on someone's nerves, it is a sign of pure evil having entered in.   1930's deja vu with a little Clockwork Orange and 1984 thrown in.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Best Songs

There are some songs from my past that really affected me and bring back memories almost as powerfully as an odor like cut grass (my favorite smell in the whole world).  The lyrics to this one are pure poetry:

Another one from the 60's.  I don't know much about the movie, except that Sidney Poitier was in it, he portrays a black teacher, and there is a young girl who is affected in a positive way by his example.

I loved the theme from Georgie Girl, but when I had the chance to see the movie a few years ago, I couldn't sit through it - so depressing, so indicative of the type of thinking that has led to where our civilization is today. But the theme song was so nice when sung by The Seekers.

Japanese Sandman

I love this old song.  It is so whimsical and lovely.  It became popular in the early 1920's, when my father was a tiny baby.  I can picture him lying in his crib in that old house in Saratoga Springs on 84 White Street.  Perhaps it is summer, and in the front bedroom where he is napping, the towering, graceful elm trees, long gone now, shade the house.  The breeze lightly wafts the sheer white curtains as they flirt ever nearer to the sleeping baby's skin.

I imagine that close by, the radio is playing this song, as my grandmother goes about her chores or naps next to my father.

I took this picture earlier this evening.  I thought the candlelight would add some magic to the old tin decorated with Asian scenes from long ago.  Listen to the song and imagine a baby many years ago asleep on a lazy summer afternoon.

Catching Up

Thanksgiving this year had to be different since my dad was gone and my mother needs a rest.  My oldest sister is an interior decorator and hostess deluxe.  She has a beautifully decorated home in Naples, FL and she picked up my mother a few days before Thanksgiving and brought her there.  No cleaning, no chores, no laundry - just relax.  My husband and I joined the "party" on Thanksgiving Day.  It is less than a 2 hour drive to the other side of Florida and we took off early.  We would have dinner with our family, then stay overnight in a nice hotel and sightsee around Naples for a while before we headed back east to the Atlantic side of Florida.  It was absolutely beautiful weather - cool and dry and brilliant.  My sister's house has a huge screened in porch that looks out on a preserve, so it is wild behind her house - and so beautiful and restful.

We ate dinner out which saved lots of work and extra calories.  No leftovers - no extra fat.  When we retired to our hotel room, it was so comfortable.  We could have stayed at my sister's, but I'm an oddball in that I'm SO much more comfortable NOT staying with people in their homes.  I need my space and my husband is the same way - I'm so very much more comfortable in surroundings of my own choosing.  

Next morning, we went into the preserve - called the Rookery - to enjoy the brisk breeze and bright sunshine.  I took a few pictures of the birds and a beautiful raccoon who thought perhaps we might have a snack for him.   

First - a tiny blue-gray gnatcatcher in flight:

Below - a Phoebe flycatcher waiting for breakfast to fly by

A tiny warbler- not sure what species.....such a sweet face

Some pretty Florida Holly to celebrate the season

And a big 'ole fish under the crystal clear water

Last but not least, the hesitant raccoon as we were leaving the Preserve.

Once we got home, it was mornings in the back yard to view the birds and butterflies as usual:

The Sparrows are crowding in and sometimes one pushes another off temporarily.

One morning there were two of these within inches of each other, fresh from their chrysalli

I think she looks a little surprised below.....

Finally, I was playing with my camera trying to take some pretty shots of parts of my Christmas tree and other decorations:

OK - this is downright silly, but what the heck.....

Tuesday, December 4, 2012


Does this song bring back memories for anyone out there like it does for me?

So redolent of young teen love in the mid 60's. Walking home from school together, and then, suddenly, it doesn't work out, and even today I can remember the exquisite pain of unrequited teen love.  Sounds corny, but really?  It isn't. 

And then there's this one.....Abraham, Martin and John.  Unfortunately, embedding has been disabled for this video so I can only list the url, but it is the 1968 Dion original:

Monday, December 3, 2012

Practical Housekeeping 1881

I belong to a Yahoo group of people (mostly women) who read and enjoy Grace Livingston Hill books.  They discuss the recipes, the clothes, the history evident in the housekeeping descriptions and social mores. That is one of the charms of GLH books - the reader gets a view into a long bygone world.  That and the fact that the books often incorporate real places and real people, such as famous Evangelists and/or pastors of the past, makes them all the more attractive to me. Each book has the gospel message somewhere, along with words to old hymns, old popular songs, old recipes and more.

In the midst of one of these discussions, the founder of the Yahoo group mentioned trying to locate an authentic recipe for real buckwheat cakes, "light and fluffy and delicious" as described in one of the GLH stories.  She found an old fashioned recipe in a book called "Practical Housekeeping" from the late 1800's, and I immediately looked the title up on  I found a copy and bought it.  It was a little pricey for me, being about $45.00, but I knew it would be an interesting reference book.

The copy I ordered came from the U.K., and it arrived today.  Imagine my astonishment when I opened the front cover and discovered an inscription from Elizabeth Cady Stanton to her daughter, dated 1881.  I vaguely remembered that name from history as someone who fought for women's rights in the 19th century, and, after consulting Google, I found I was correct.  She was BFF's with Susan B. Anthony and had quite a long, interesting life.

Here is a picture of what she wrote to her daughter:

As usual, click on the picture to get a bigger, better view.  I believe it says.,
"Presented to my daughter Marguerite (sp) Berry Stanton by her loving mother, Elizabeth Cady Stanton.
When we remember how entirely the action of the brain depends on the chemical knowledge of the Professor (?) who prepares materials for that great laboratory the human stomach, we may in a measure appreciate the responsibility of those who feed the human family.
New York, June 5th, 1881."

Imagine that!!  Elizabeth did indeed have a daughter Margaret, but perhaps this was a wife of one of her sons? I'll have to do more research.  I must say the book doesn't look much used.  I have a feeling that Elizabeth Cady Stanton's views on women's rights and their equality to men rubbed off on family members, and so a cookbook or a housekeeping book might very well not be consulted much.  ECS (the great lady's initials) came from a well to do family, and her father owned one or more slaves.  One of them stayed with the family after the abolition of slavery in the North in the late 1820's. I'm sure her children, when they acquired their own homes, had servants.  In that case, the "housekeeper" would still be the wife, but she would only oversee the servants, not do the work herself.

Here is the title page of the book, where it was published and the front and back of a doodled on piece of paper that was tucked into one of the pages:

I'll be looking up the precursor of this housekeeping book called "Buckeye Cookery and Practical Housekeeping".

I have to figure out what the little paper says in French under the doodles.  Meanwhile, an autograph only of Elizabeth Cady Stanton is worth $450.00, should anyone want to pay that for a little scrap of paper:

What a surprise for this Monday afternoon!!  I have to believe that the shop in the U.K. that sold me the book didn't know who Elizabeth Cady Stanton was or the book would have been considerably more.  I don't want to sell it - it's just a really neat experience for me.

I Haven't Written In Forever

The last time I posted here was May 2012.  As you can see.  Since that time, my father passed on (October 4, 2012), my mother and oldest sister and I and our Significant Other or Husbands have celebrated Thanksgiving, and now it is becoming Christmas.

When my father first passed, it was such a relief for all of us.  He had been slowly deteriorating for years between his dementia and his neuropathy.  To know that he was no longer trapped in his earthly body that had failed so completely was like breathing after holding your breath for too long. 

Now, I look back and, in the realization that it is over and he is gone, I have achieved another milestone in this roller coaster ride called life - or life has achieved it for me.  I did nothing but continue to exist and take what came.  My father's funeral was very beautiful and very comforting.  I was looking for assurance I would see him again in heaven, and I believe I received it that day.  My sisters and my mother felt the same way.

On a different note, the painted buntings are back.  Cheeky Boy, the Common Yellowthroat, has not shown up.  The show off Catbird was around for about a week in November and I haven't seen him in a while.  The Spot Breasted Oriole is back chomping on Cape Honeysuckle flowers.  The territorial Mockingbird and the pair of Red Bellied Woodpeckers never left. 

The population of Blue Jays has swelled and the one that knows how to catch peanuts in mid-air returns now and then, holding his beak slightly open as a signal that he's ready to catch.

I started another veggie garden and it is better than last year so far.  I've had some green beans that are quite yummy, but appear to be drying out a bit.  I'm watering them a lot since this is the dry season, but chlorinated water is not nearly as good for them as good old rain.  A couple of cucumbers have popped out of their yellow flowers, but that plant is even more dry than the beans.  I'm not sure now many I'll get, although the few I've had so far were delicious. 

There have been a few salads made with the lettuce I planted, and, since it grows back, it looks like there will be more salads to come. 

The tomato plants - 2 of them - are just beginning to get flowers.  I also threw some herb seeds - literally - into one of the raised beds - and various herby things are growing wherever the seeds landed.  The wild birds plant sunflower seeds all the time and they are always growing.  Only sometimes do they achieve the huge, showy yellow head with the large seed center that represents the quintessential sunflower.  Most of the time a yellow flower does indeed appear, with a small dark center, but it isn't big or symmetrical or impressive.  But the bees and other pollinators don't care - and that's what counts to me.....making the wildlife happy.

We've had a temporary raccoon visit.  I say temporary because I haven't seen him/her in about a week.   Mr./Mrs. Raccoon would show up about 2pm, coming down the center path in my garden, that leads to the right side of the back yard, saunter toward the porch door, taking a left at the path to the veggie garden and the overgrown east side of the house.  He/she would go back and forth several times, although I couldn't see clearly enough to ascertain whether anything was being carried in it's mouth.  My husband and I searched the east side of the house and found no evidence of a raccoon habitat, so perhaps it was just passing through to somewhere else.  The house on that side is recently vacant and there were pit bulls outside in the back yard there all the time.  Perhaps now that there is no one there, animals feel freer to come and go through there.  I'm nervous about who may move in - it was so quiet even with the big dogs there.....

Well, I will be blogging again on a more regular basis, but right now I have to go to a meeting at work, so I will sign off for now.  Pictures to come sometime this week when I get a chance-of the garden and it's denizens.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Busy May

Friday night seemed like the lead-in to a relaxing weekend.  Notice I said "seemed".  We are getting new windows on our house on May 14 and 15, and so I had to trim back the Cape Honeysuckle and other bushes away from the windows in the back yard.  It looks bare - but they will grow back in time for October's Painted Buntings to find a place to hide again.

It's getting hot, too hot to work outside for hours at a time, but I managed to trim the bushes, rake the debris into a huge pile (for bagging later), mow the back yard (it hadn't been mowed yet this year and now the grass is getting high), and work inside the house.

That's another story.  About 2 months ago my husband and I went to Ikea and bought new bookcases for my room (real pine to replace pressboard ones), as well as a kitchen hutch.  All three of these had to be put together and the bookcases had to be spray painted with polyurethane.

This past weekend, I finally finished putting the kitchen hutch together, took out the old piece of furniture to be repurposed on the porch (took out the two old bookcases that were out there already and gave them away).

Also - my husband's coworker sold him a much bigger TV than the one we had for $150., which is a lot cheaper than a brand new one.  It's quite nice and my husband is happy, but we had to switch around the bookcases (full of books) and other furniture in the living room to fit the bigger TV into the room.  He did the heavy moving, and I did the re-decorating and replacing of items of decoration.

So - to recap - my husband and I, between us, yesterday and today, changed the living room furniture around, which entailed taking lots of books off bookshelves and putting them back, trimmed the bushes away from the windows in the back yard - and finished arranging the repurposed furniture on the screened in porch.

All this, plus laundry, vacuuming, straightening up and grocery shopping.  We got so much done, though, it is very satisfying.  

Yesterday morning, before we began all our tasks, hubby took a picture of my Squeebles, my Maine Coon kitty boy.  Here he is, ever mellow:

Wouldn't it be great if the kitties could help?  Unfortunately, they don't.  We've thought of putting little booties on their feet so they can dust the floor and furniture, but they are not orderly in their perambulating, so they would just spread everything around instead of capturing it in one place for pick up.

They sure are stress busters, though.  Especially my baby above.  He loves to be cuddled and he is an armful!!  He must weight more than 18 or 19 pounds.  He likes to sit in my lap facing outward, and I can then put my nose in his neck fur and sniff and give him rubbies with my nose. 

Now it's just about time to go to bed and tomorrow is Monday of another work week.  Hope everyone out there, whether they work in the home or outside the home, has a FABULOUS Monday.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Update From Florida

Well, Mr. Gray Catbird has moved on to his/her breeding grounds, and, withing a few days, so have the Painted Buntings.  I heard the Painteds singing 2 days ago, and then, they were gone - I know because I hear no song and they do not come to the feeders - all 4 of them have gone to their home breeding grounds.  

I'm not sad, although you'd think I would be.  Last week I found a stray cat in our back yard, having killed and eaten one of the racing lizards that lives there.  The cat finished all but the back torso, tail and hind leg because I scared him and used the hose to get him out of the yard.  I worried about my little bird "guests", but they have had the sense to move on.  Last year, they left during the first week of May, but this year, it is just a week earlier that they decided to "hit the road".  

I'm free now to trim bushes back, try to control the Morning Glory once more (it is an illusion - I never control the Morning Glory, but it lets me think so for brief periods of time).  We are having new windows put in our early 1970's Florida house, and I look forward to the energy savings they will bring.  With the advent of new windows comes the necessity to trim back the wildness of the bougainvillea and Cape Honeysuckle that grow right up to the house and would cover it, if allowed.  I will hack them all back, prune them if you will - like the grape vines in the Gospel of John.  But our rainy season is almost upon us and what I prune this coming week will be wild and crazy once more come October, when my "bed and breakfast for birds" opens up again for those who are migrating and seeking a place to stay. 

My husband and I had a scare last Thursday night.   He lets so much of the insanity of this world get to him, having been brought up by parents who could not, themselves, deal with the world at all.  He had a few minutes where he had difficulty talking, and, although he has had speech difficulties with certain words all his life, this was different.  Off to the emergency room we went.  He had several tests that came back fine.  He does not take care of himself physically as he should, thinking that he will last forever.  That will change now.  More fish and chicken and lots less "treats" and things we shouldn't eat are on the menu.  Low carb, no caffeine - that's the start.  We both need it.  Thank the Lord, all is well and all tests have come back normal.  He may have an MRI, the final test to rule out a mini stroke, next week, if his regular physician thinks it is necessary.  

One day at a time is all we ever receive, and if we think we get more, we are foolish.  Sufficient to the day is the evil - and the wonderfulness - thereof.  Just live today, plan for tomorrow if you must, but know that it is never guaranteed.  Knowing that my Lord is in charge is a great comfort, almost an adventure, to see what He will work out next. 

Friday, April 20, 2012

My Father's Favorite Music

I'm a lot like my father.  He had some favorite pieces of music that he would listen to as loud as he could, so as to be overwhelmed, buried in it.  You could see his emotions cross his face as he listened, the music making it almost as if he would burst with the beauty of it. 

His favorite pieces were "The Grand Canon Suite" and the theme from the movie, "Gettysburg".  For some reason - perhaps it is because both his maternal and paternal great grandfathers fought at Gettysburg in the 77th NY - my father was fascinated by the Civil War, and supremely, by the pivotal Battle of Gettysburg.  While I share his interest in the Civil War, my heroes are Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson, not because of their Southern stance or their legendary leadership, but because they were honorable Christian men who lived what they believed.

A few months ago, I bought my mother an inexpensive CD player so that she could bring music to my father in the "home".  Every day when she visits, if the weather is nice, she rolls his wheelchair outside into the tree shaded courtyard and they visit awhile and enjoy the breeze and the sound of the birds.  The first time I tried to bring him music was a while before that.  I drove up to visit them and my mother was to meet me at the home.  I got there first, went to see my father, had a nurse get him ready for going outside - and out we went.  I hadn't been alone with him in such a long, long time.  My mother is always there and while that is a good thing, this felt like a stolen minute when I could somehow try to connect with the man I used to know.  I had my iPhone with me and, as we sat in the courtyard, I told him I had something for him.  I began to play the Grand Canyon Suite, and he began to hum along, his deep, beautiful voice still there.  There's the part where the donkey is clopping down the trail in the canyon, from top to bottom.  The music is  onomatopoeic in the way a word sounds like what it describes.

This is part one.  The donkey part is part three.

Part two:

Part three - the donkey theme:

Part four:

Part five - the cloudburst, and then peace:

When I played part three for him - "On the Trail", that's when he hummed along.  He doesn't remember how old he is or what year it is, he's not sure what town he is in, or even where he is, but he remembered that music.  They say that music, even for Alzheimer's patients, (although my father has dementia, not alzheimers, for what it's worth) is remembered, including lyrics.  It is indeed soul therapy.  

When I first got to his room that day I asked him if he knew who I was, and he did.  He always melts when I ask him that and he smiles and says, "my daughter" in this goofy way that is so precious to me.  I have to fight back tears at that point, it is so beautiful.  I've always known that underneath the anger issues, he was the most darling man, and I see it now more than ever.  He is happy every day.  He jokes with the nurses, he smiles, he never complains.  I can still see the father I remember as a child who always had to stop and talk to people, chat with the gas station attendant or the grocery store clerk, share a joke or a funny line with an acquaintance he has bumped into. 

I think about who I am at the present time and who I have been for the past 20 years as a grownup.  We should all strive to keep the worries of this world from affecting our behavior, from making us angry or resentful because, in the end, none of it matters anyway.  We are left elemental.  Babies are elemental.  They soak up what is around them but they are worried about nothing.  If they begin to get uncomfortable, aka, hungry, wet, tired, sick - they cry and alert their caretakers that something is needed.  They aren't angry or resentful or jealous or sad - not yet, anyway.  Not at the very beginning.  And as we age, we go back to elementals.  My father is ok as long as he is comfortable - and he seems to be that almost all the time.  He even laughs at times.  

How hard it is for all of us to let go as time passes, but eternity promises that time will no longer hold sway over us.  It will always be "now" and we will never be ruled by a clock or a calendar again.  We will be able to spend eons with our loved ones in heaven if we wish, and none of the shadows of this life will interfere.  It will be elemental all the time.  The basics, with us being fully functional beings and nothing to react against or fear.  We won't have to be reduced to babyhood to live beautifully and happily without a blemish.  

Here is the theme from the movie, "Gettysburg" that so moved my father:

My Little Avian Friends

It's that time of year when the migrant birds that have graced my yard all winter fly back to their northern homes.  My favorite little buddies this year were my Gray Catbird:

He was far from the shy recluse that Gray Catbirds are supposed to be.  I should have taken more pictures, when my little red butted friend (look closely at the second picture and you'll see his rust colored under tail feathers) came out every afternoon around 4pm.  He may still be here - I'll look tomorrow.  I heard him singing his meowy cat song a few days ago. That usually means it's getting to be mating time and time to go back home to breeding grounds. I would be sitting in my lawn chair not 6 feet from his favorite "appearance" area - and there he'd be.  He would peek out and then hop out from the opening in the bougainvillea, look for any treats I might have left him there and then move on to find peanut butter.  I would leave him pieces of ripe passion fruit from my vine - he loved those!!  Who ever heard of a wild Gray Catbird eating peanut butter (don't worry - it is natural, not full of preservatives and chemicals)!!   In the last picture, Mr. Catbird is on the branches upon which I might spread a little peanut butter.  It was fun to watch him eat it and then go for some water. 

"Cheeky-Boy", the male Common Yellowthroat, left a few weeks ago, at the end of March.  He was my favorite, flitting among the bushes directly around the screened in porch starting before the sun came up.  His little masked face was so sweet and you can tell I miss him and hope he comes back in the fall.

In the pictures above my little Cheeky Boy is eating the same thing the Gray Catbird unexpectedly liked - peanut butter.  How funny is that?  Common Yellowthroats are seen in the Everglades all year round.  In the wild they live in the marshy areas and cruise along the ground for goodies.  I think they eat bugs like most warblers.  Poor Cheeky Boy won't find much peanut butter in the wild, but that's probably a good thing, really.  I don't know where his nick name came from but one day as I was watching him gad about my yard, in and out, not shy in the least, I thought he was delightfully "cheeky" or fresh, like a little flirt - so I guess that's why I called him that.

I need to give Mr. Catbird a name, but none came to me.  I haven't named the Painted Buntings either - it doesn't seem proper, not in the same way as the little masked warbler.

I feel as if these little birds that God sends me every year are His gift to me; and I make sure I take good care of them in return.  I keep the feeders full for those who eat seed and provide caged feeders for the smaller birds who are frightened of the parrots and grackles and jays we have, not to mention the squirrels that hang upside down next to a feeder and grab it periodically to get some more food.  I love them all, mammal and bird.  There are places for them to hide in the brush and a pool of water with a filter that keeps it moving.  There is a birdbath in which the water is changed daily.  In the rainy season, all this slows down.  No need to worry about filling pools of water or birdbaths in the summer - the rain does that every day.  In the summer we concentrate on butterflies and dragonflies in the garden and the only bird feeding we do is peanuts for the Bluejays and squirrels in the morning and evening.

These little avian visitors are my companions as I sit outside and watch them come for breakfast in the morning.  Sometimes they perch on a branch and wait for me to finish filling feeders or filling the birdbath;  then as soon as I sit down, they come and eat or drink.  I can't tell you the intense soul pleasure these little creatures bring me.  My backyard is truly my little pocket Eden - in all seasons.
This year we've had one fully colored male Painted Bunting and 4 "Greenies", which could be females or immature males.   They are also still here.  Last year they left during the first week of May and I heard the male sing maybe 2 days in a row before they left.  This year the male buntings (which I now know includes one of the greenies because I saw him singing and only males sing) began singing over a week ago and have not left yet.  They sing in my bougainvillea bush so sweetly.  I'll have to keep an eye out now because every day they may be gone - for all I know they have gone today while I was at work.  I'll clean their feeders and make sure we are ready for all of them to come back in the fall.

Friday, March 30, 2012

It's Thursday night and I'm not sleepy, although I'll pay the price tomorrow morning.  It's 12:20pm and after I write this post I'm hieing to bed ( you know - like "hie thee to a nunnery")

I love music.  All kinds of music.  Tonight - the most powerful pieces of music that "called" to me were Richard Strauss's "Four Last Songs" written shortly before his death, and they are very lovely, even though they are about death.  The words are not rebellious, "fighting against the dying of the light",  but embracing, beautiful, peaceful.  However, Richard Strauss's words don't necessarily bring me closer to God.  

Next is Leonard Bernstein.  What a genius he was!  And handsome?  When he was a young man, he was leonine looking, striking, charismatic.  Here are my two favorite pieces by him.  They are both part of larger productions, but I can't pull myself away from just them to listen to the entirety of either.
"Make Our Garden Grow" from Candide:

The male singer is Jerry Hadley who, it appears, killed himself in 2007.  His wife left him and he seems to have never gotten over it.  What a tragedy!  The voice of the female singer is rich and full, beautiful.  The music is - I cannot think of any more appropriate word - orgasmic.  It is like standing at the edge of heaven, ready to enter in.  I love the cutaways in the video to Leonard Bernstein - he is so emotional that he puts his hands over his face several times. This video happens to be the performance to honor Bernstein's 70th birthday.

I imagine what Bernstein was feeling when he wrote this.  He lived through the Holocaust, although he lived in the US, so he did not directly experience it.  However, the sheer horror of what occurred to Jews in Europe must have influenced him.  This particular song reminds me of the Jews that survived WWII.  They went to Israel, those that could, and they could have sung this song while they built up the land:  

You've been a fool
And so have I,
But come and be my wife.
And let us try,
Before we die,
To make some sense of life.
We're neither pure, nor wise, nor good
We'll do the best we know.
We'll build our house and chop our wood
And make our garden grow...
And make our garden grow.

I thought the world
Was sugar cake
For so our master said.
But, now I'll teach
My hands to bake
Our loaf of daily bread.

We're neither pure, nor wise, nor good
We'll do the best we know.
We'll build our house and chop our wood
And make our garden grow...
And make our garden grow.

(ensemble enters in gardening gear and a cow walks on)

Let dreamers dream
What worlds they please
Those Edens can't be found.
The sweetest flowers,
The fairest trees
Are grown in solid ground.

ENSEMBLE (a cappella)
We're neither pure, nor wise, nor good
We'll do the best we know.
We'll build our house and chop our wood
And make our garden grow.
And make our garden grow!"

The words above are written by someone, by people, who have lost God, who believe that they must do the best they can and then die.  Granted, there is no Eden on earth now, and we are neither pure nor wise nor good - that is all true - but to make sense of life, we need the Lord Jesus Christ.  In any case, the music is so beautiful it hurts.

Next is Bernstein's "Mass" - the "Simple Song" from the Mass to be specific:

Now we're talking.  I could be easily convinced that David, from beyond the grave, inspired Bernstein to write the music and the lyrics just as he did.  Perhaps the guitar isn't the instrument that David would have used in ancient Israel, but the music, the lyrics, the beauty of the singer, his youth and vigor are David as I might imagine him.  The lyrics are beautiful, I believe taken in part from an Old Testament Psalm.  

"Sing God a simple song, lauda laude
Make it up as you go along, lauda laude
Sing like you like to sing, God loves all simple things.
For God is the simplest of all, For God is the simplest of all.

I will sing the Lord a new song, to praise him, to bless him, to bless the Lord.
I will sing his praises while I live, all of my days.

Blessed is the man who loves the Lord,
Blessed is the man who praises him.
Lauda, lauda, laude, and walks in his ways.

I will lift up my eyes, to the hills from which comes my help.
I will lift up my voice to the Lord, singing lauda, laude.

For the Lord is my shade, is the shade upon my right hand.
And the sun shall not smite me by day, or the moon by night.

Blessed is the man who loves the Lord lauda, lauda, laude,
and walks in his ways.

Lauda, lauda, laude, lauda, lauda di da di day
All of my days………"

How true these lyrics are - "blessed is the man who loves the Lord and walks in His ways" - so true.  I first heard of Bernstein's "Mass" when I was in my late teens.  My sister introduced me to this particular song and I've loved it ever since.  It doesn't seem so many years ago that I would wait until my parents weren't home, put my album of the "Mass" on our record player at home and sing along at the top of my lungs to the "Simple Song".  Although these days I don't sing at the top of my lungs, I still manage to sing along.....
"For the Lord is my shade..." - that part of the song is my favorite.  He is our protection and our hedge.  He takes care of His children.  I don't know whether Bernstein ever believed in Jesus Christ, but I sure hope so.  His music, along with, of course, West Side Story, lives on and comforts and inspires me.

And now - to bed.

Friday, March 2, 2012

So Much To Learn, So Little Time

No Ashley, I'm just fine - the title doesn't mean anything. 

Now that I've gotten THAT out of the way, what am I up to lately?  Remember the sweater I was making?  Still stuck at about 14" - need to work on that.

Remember how I was making my husband's lunch every day?  I've flagged a bit, but I'm still doing it, although I'm very undisciplined at continuity and follow through.  I can come up with great plans, I can save my own life - but sticking to those plans is tedious after a while and that's where being a grownup comes in (something I've never really mastered well).

For instance - I planted a veggie garden this past October.  I even made a map of what I planted, but I didn't plan on it serving the purpose of pointing out to me the several items that didn't grow at all.  The seeds never sprouted.  In fact, the only thing that grew - for a little while - was string beans.  I was able to harvest a few bowlfuls of them and then the whole plant withered and died.  The peas came up, made a few flowers and then disappeared.  The little plants turned yellow and then brown and then went belly up, as the saying goes.  The corn?  It was coming along - I could even see little tiny baby corns (so cute!!), but the night critters ate them all up and all I found in the morning was corn debris.  Period.  Carrots?  They've grown and prospered.  My husband even had some tucked into his lunch one day - little baby carrots home grown.  Onions?  Never showed up.  Tomatoes?  Two kinds?  Never even saw the light of day.  Seeds just sat there and gave up the ghost.

I'm not sure what happened.  Perhaps I should have sprouted everything on the porch and THEN replanted it in the raised beds.  Perhaps I should have built some sort of chicken wire cover over the beds so that birds and critters couldn't trample everything, but then how would I have gotten in myself to pick things, weed, etc.? 

I'd love to have 2 chickens to lay eggs, but I know they'd get sick and I would freak because I can't stand animals to be in pain and I can't help them.  Or worse - they'd get eaten by something and I'd find the feathers.  We do have a hawk that eats pidgeons, doves and the other day even a grackle (I can tell by the feathers left behind).

As far as my Downton Abbey fixation, I'm still reading books about the Edwardian English aristocracy, Americans marrying into the Edwardian English aristocracy and the downfall of the English aristocracy.  These people had lots of money, but the social rules they had to follow took all the fun out of it, in my mind.  I don't envy them.

I'm forever trying to master photography.  I can take nice pictures because I have a great camera and a decent eye for composition.  Plus flowers are easy subjects.  But what I'm trying to understand is the manual basics of the Exposure Triangle.  I bought a Photography textbook and it has helped a great deal.  Now all I have to do is keep my camera settings on "Manual" so I learn by practice.  Next up - Photoshop layers.  I have never understood layers and it is an intrinsic part of Photoshop and Photoshop Elements.  You can do great things, but you have to understand layers, so I have a book just about layers in photo software.  I have so many books to read I need to stop sleeping and stay up nights so I can catch up - at least I feel sometimes like sleeping is a WASTE!

Oh - and Bible study?  The most important part of my life?  My faith?  I still have not even begun to get up early every day and open the Bible.  I have software.  I have numerous Bible related books, concordances and commentaries.  I get up early.  I sit in my chair.  Neko jumps in my lap and wants to be petted.  Next is Squeebles.  He looks up at me from the floor and reaches up a paw to tap my arm - "Mommy, can I come up now?"  And up he jumps to make biscuits on my belly and then I roll him over for some belly rubs.  In between, my eyes inadvertently close and I dose off for a few minutes, open my eyes and check the time on my computer screen.  I have....a half hour, then 15 minutes, then 5, then I stand up, stretch and get ready for the day.  Today I actually opened the Bible and read a few Psalms, which is the only part of the Bible other than Proverbs that I can actually comprehend at 5:30AM.  And so, at 56 years of age, I continue the attempt to have a morning Bible study each day......sigh.

Monday, February 20, 2012

A Very Carson Christmas

I have found the absolutely funniest video I've seen yet from the characters in Downton Abbey.  I watched the final episode of Season 2 - the Christmas episode - this morning (I forgot last night).  Afterwards I always have a slight Downton Abbey/Highclere Castle withdrawal, so I looked up the actual actresses, especially Lady Mary, online.  Michelle Dockery plays Lady Mary.  In any case, I came across a British sort of "Tonight Show" called The Jonathan Ross Show, on which all three beautiful actresses appeared just before Christmas 2011.  My gosh, they are breathtakingly beautiful girls, and there is such a delicate, feminine air about them as if they've absorbed some of the ladylike behavior from being in Downton Abbey.

Here is the video - it is priceless:

Did you like that?  I laughed out loud - he is SO good at playing Carson.  

In my usual fashion, I've done some investigation into the REAL Downton Abbey.  As many people know, the home/estate/castle that appears as Downton Abbey is, in reality, Highclere Castle.  It was built or totally revamped in 1842 by the, I think 3rd Earl of Carnarvon.  The story of Downton Abbey is really not the story of the real 5th Earl of Carnarvon and his wife, Almina Wombwell.  Downton Abbey is a compilation of various stories of many English aristocratic families of that time - true stories, but not of the Carnarvons.  For instance, the story of a visiting guest found dead in his bed by his valet in the morning - true.  According to the writer of Downton Abbey, Julian Fellowes, this episode comes from something a friend of his discovered while reading his great-aunt's diary from the approximate Edwardian time period.  Julian Fellowes wrote it into Downton Abbey.  Matthew is also a character drawn from reality.  Mr. Fellowes knew or heard of someone in the past who was living a completely different life, who found that he had inherited a title and property as a distant heir.

The web site I linked to for Highclere Castle is not the home page, but I think it is the most interesting because there are actually houses to let on the estate.  There is picture of one, now rented, and it's inside rooms.  Sigh.  Just imagine.  Living in a house on Highclere Castle estate.  That would be heaven on earth for someone like me who loves the outdoors and the countryside - and history.

I think what I love most about the series is the way in which people speak to one another.  People manage to get across their meaning very well indeed without cursing or yelling or behaving in a crass manner.  I've said all this before, so I won't repeat.

The real story of the Carnarvon's is actually more exciting in some ways.  Lord Carnarvon, the 5th Earl of Carnarvon, was the man who, with Howard Carter, discovered the tomb of King Tutankhamun in 1922.  Before WWI, it was common for English aristocrats with money to finance their own private digs in Egypt or in other places.  Almina Wombwell, the 5th Earl's wife, was actually the illegitimate daughter of Albert Rothschild and Marie Wombwell.  She was charming, spoiled and was showered with wealth from her father, who called himself her "Godfather".  Her mother, Marie had been married to a good for nothing from good family and she took up with Rothschild and was his mistress for 40 years until he died.  The Carnarvons had money, but when the 5th Earl inherited, he spent like crazy and went through his inheritance in 3 years.  Marrying Almina saved his Highclere Castle as well as all his other properties, and saved his way of life.  She was the woman who turned Highclere Castle into a hospital complete with X Ray machines and operating theaters during World War I.  She threw a great deal of money into nursing injured soldiers and she was quite a remarkable woman.

I've moved on to reading "The Buccaneers", by Edith Wharton, which is a story about a few of the American monied debutantes who went to England and married into the titled, but financially strapped families there.  I'm not crazy about the characters - I like characters with integrity and there isn't much to be found.  Edith Wharton covered the all too human foibles very well, however - and her portrayal of the English aristocracy is unflattering.  Mr. Fellowes mentions "The Buccaneers" in one of his interviews about Downton Abbey, so I decided to read it.

Anyway - that's the latest from this neck of the woods.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Downton Abbey

Having a bad back (and achy legs and feet as well as sore neck) made me couch ridden for 2 days trying to seek relief along with a Chiropractor's treatments.  This isn't about what I did to hurt my back - it's too much hard work done by someone out of shape and not getting any younger.  That aside, being couch bound allowed me to watch every past chapter of Downton Abbey.  Yes - from episode 1 of year 1 to episode 8 that aired last Sunday night on 2/12, I have seen the whole thing in 2 days.  

It is an epic story of the changing of the old world of the 19th century for the new one of the violent and chaotic 20th.  I suppose if the story were to go on long enough, we could drag each of the players into World War II and see their lives, especially the older ones, effectively drawn and quartered with total finality from what they knew in, say, 1910.  At the same time, you witness the rigidity of the classes of pre-WWI England and, realize that the chances of having been born a servant versus having been high born and wealthy weigh much more heavily on the side of being born the servant.  Which would not have been fun.  They worked from sunup to sundown for the sole purpose of making the lives of the wealthy effortless and smooth.  Knowing what it is like to have an education and the ability to make my own decisions (however I may have screwed some of them up) about my life, it is stifling to imagine being stuck in a "class" and having to live out the role expected of me solely based on the accident of my birth.  And to treat those who are wealthy with respect, often when it is not earned or due to exemplary behavior - that goes against my American grain.  I'm somewhat of a defier of authority anyway, so I wouldn't have done well.  I'd probably have ended up like Ethel, the poor little housemaid who slept with the soldier who was not held accountable for anything because he had money and position - and because he was a man and able to get away with it.  For all that, I loved the security and safety of the old ways where everything was clearly defined.  Those who worked for their living were humble and grateful and proud of their labor for the most part, and happy, too - not even imagining a different life.  One of the main things I noticed and remember from the teaching of my youth is the great truth of self sacrifice.  Today it is all about being happy and doing what makes one happy - but living for others, however unpopular that idea is now, is far more fulfilling in reality.  How about those WWI soldiers who didn't question, but did their duty?  In our human thinking, there was no purpose to the war, but in God's plan all events have a purpose, as does every life however short.  Those men and women were operating on that principle - that what we do, we do for a reason that we may not understand, but it is God's will;  and that others are more important than ourselves.    The other thing I noticed was the crassness of Richard Carlisle and all his money solving every problem.  Granted, I like a comfortable house and the idea of modernizing things is alright to a point.  But it was his attitude that struck me as representative of the new age that came after the War to End All Wars (yeah, right....).  His attitude was that money is the most important thing, not family, not tradition, not rules, not honor or integrity.  Money.  It can solve all ills according to men like Richard Carlisle, whose philosophy comprises today's thinking.   To hear men and women referring to honor and dignity and protecting women is beautiful, while at the same time acknowledging that the human race is flawed and while some women were protected, others were left without recourse because they were women.

Our society doesn't make men and women with integrity or values anymore - Christian values.  The parts of the series that most moved me?  The scene where Anna and Bates go into a Church to pray and the wedding scene with it's old fashioned Biblical language between man and woman under the headship of God.  And most of all?  The funeral scene of Lavinia where the priest intones "earth to earth, dust to dust, ashes to ashes", which sounds horribly dreary until he continues with the beautiful words.... 

"The sure and certain hope of the resurrection to eternal life through our Lord Jesus Christ who shall change our vile body that it may be like unto his glorious body according to the mighty working whereby he is able to subdue all things to Himself."

To hear the words "Lord Jesus Christ" in a respectful way on television these days is amazing and refreshing.  Thinking about my own father who is in a home and unable to take care of himself or remember much - these words are water to the thirsty, life to the dead.   I look at pictures of dad, young and handsome and with his whole life ahead of him, and clutch the words above to my heart with their comfort and promise that we shall be like Jesus in eternity, young and vibrant again.  I noted that Ethel's little boy, born in 1919 would be my father's age today - 93.  How odd to see that little baby and realize that today he, if he survived all that came between, would be today quite old and doddering.

Because I saturated myself in this story for 8 straight hours each day, it became more real than my own life for a short time.  It made me pause and reflect on my own youth, the lovely summer days in upstate New York as well as the cozy falls and winters I remember.  They, too, seemed safe and secure in comparison to the knowledge I have today of the world.  I look back and remember that some of the accoutrements of everyday living that were in use in the early 20th century were still around here and there in the late 50's and early 60's when I was growing up.   I don't think of them until I notice something, perhaps in an antique shop or in a movie and I realize that I remember when those things were used in everyday life - and had forgotten them.  How can we forget what people used to look like and how they dressed, or what buildings were like and cars?  When I look back I deliberately try, sometimes, to remember not just the interactions with people, but what our surroundings looked like.  I recently looked up my hometown, Middletown, NY, on Google Earth and what I saw so depressed me.  We were a post-industrial society in my youth, but the towns and villages in the Eastern US had not totally disintegrated yet and "Urban Renewal", that blight of good architecture" had not yet occurred.  There were still jobs and locally owned stores and the malls weren't invented until the late 60's and early 70's in my area of upstate NY. I remember my mother taking me to buy Buster Brown shoes at a locally owned store and there was a lavish display of the Buster Brown character and his dog and I wanted to climb right into it and play, it was so clever.  I also remember Tompkins, a locally owned upper crust department store on Main Street in Middletown.  There was no air conditioning and all the displays were tables and drawers underneath.  There were ladies and even men to wait on customers in far greater numbers than today, and they were all grown men and women with families who earned their living this way and didn't live in poverty.  In other words, when i was young a man could be a shoe store salesman or a woman could work at a counter - just one counter selling one type of thing - in a department store, and make a survivable living, one that would support them.  For men, this living could even support a home and family with a wife that did not work.  To work in a shoe store today, one must have 2 or 3 other jobs to make ends meet and there aren't enough hours in a day for the money needed to be made, let alone to support a family in a house.  We have all shopped in places these days where it is impossible to find anyone to help you if you need it, and when you do find someone, they are usually teenagers and don't know a thing about what you ask and couldn't care less.  In any case, Middletown was a mass of crumbling old buildings, ratty looking homes and empty, garbage filled lots where buildings once were.  The look of degradation, defeat and old age is awful.  I remembered when my father was a teacher at the high school in Middletown - for some 30 years, and how things looked and people acted back then.  When I look over the local paper I recognize no names and the crime log?  It is growing by leaps and bounds. 

Take a look at one of these days and look at some of the pictures of towns in America like Detroit and Cleveland and Newburgh, NY in the early 1900's.  How clean and new looking all the buildings are, how busy the streets with well dressed, hatted women and men in business attire.  Yes, there are workers and more poorly dressed, but the majority is middle class.  The streets are quite busy and the shops are numerous, whereas city pictures today are almost solely parked cars and if there is activity on the sidewalk, it is people dressed practically in their underwear or pajamas at best. 

We are moving toward the wrap-up of history, I do believe.  

In any case, Downton Abby is a wonderful series and I will now be keeping up with the weekly showing on Sunday nights like everyone else.

Since I am a Dispensationalist and believe in the End Times and the Rapture, it has always seemed to me that history has a recognizable crescendo and upcoming end - at least this Dispensation will end and another one begin.  The Church Age will end and the Tribulation will begin.  I can so see the progression of how this will occur in the 20th century.  That century started with the sureness and arrogance of the 19th, that all would go on as before, only better. And then hell broke loose and toppled the form and shape of Western society and governments.