Thursday, April 30, 2009

Ugly As Homemade Sin

Today I feel the need to clarify my statement yesterday about there being nothing cuter than baby birds. I had geese, chickens, and ducks in mind. Yellow fluffiness.

The official goose family portrait is a prime example. Note the patient Momma, the protective Dad, and the cuddly baby.

P1160502 copy

This morning I checked on Mama Robin again and noticed something different. She was sitting a little higher in the nest than before. See how much fluffier her feathers are?


She flew off the nest when I unwittingly violated her personal birdy space, and revealed this:


It looked like a flamingo had, ahem, "hurled" in her nest. If ever there was a candidate for the "ugly as homemade sin" category, this surely must be it.

Bless its naked little fuzzy heart. I never, in all my born days(southern expression for a long period of time) would have expected that beautiful blue egg to produce something like this. Maybe the patience of a mother's love, lots of nutritious bugs, and a thigh master will turn her into Suzanne Somers.

csajmommo Or not.

You can yearbook yourself here.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Heartwarming Wednesday and a Recipe

mamma update apr28

There aren't many things on a farm cuter than baby birds. Mama Robin is still sitting on her nest in the lilac tree, but the geese are beginning to hatch out babies. Here is the little one I discovered this morning.


Mama Goose took offense at someone handling her baby. Did you know that a goose is capable of producing a nickel size bruise?

I decided today would be a good day to do something nice for my humans, and since the way to a man's heart is through his stomach, I made my Dear Professor and Son 2 some fudge brownies from a great new recipe I discovered visiting one of those food blogs over on the right side of the page.

Since our ability to accessorize is what distinguishes us from the animals, I added chocolate chips and coconut. This is what it looked like all gussied up for its picture with a sprig of some chocolate mint I just purchased to grow in the garden. (yes, I ate the mint with the brownie and loved every bite.)

brownie mint

Is that brownie calling?

You can find the recipe here. Just tell them I sent ya.

Have a wonderful Wednesday.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

I'd Rather Live in the Country

As I have said before, red water, mice, and septic tanks aside, I love living in the country. In the dark recesses of my mind are faint memories of life in the suburbs--deed restrictions, lawn chemical trucks, and neighbors in your hip pockets.

Not so in the country. Here, just about anything goes. The chemical trucks are replaced with tractors plowing, planting, and harvesting. And distance to the neighbor's house is measured in miles, not feet.

A manicured city lawn would never appreciate or allow this. It would be plucked out immediately--what would the neighbors think? But in the country they are a welcome sign of spring, and a wonderful delicacy for the bunnies and chickens in the yard.


Every spring I look forward to these fragrant pastel jewels hiding in the grass.


One year the neighbors planted sunflowers in the adjoining field. Every morning I would open the blinds to view their beautiful, cheery faces staring back at me in expectation.


Could the view from Queen Elizabeth's balcony be any more humbling?

My Dear Professor and I entertain his students now and then. They love my fresh from the oven chocolate chip cookies and watching the sunset. Last week they were over, and we spent part of the evening on the lawn marveling at the changing colors as the sun slipped behind the trees.


The city is a nice place to visit. But I'd rather live in the country.

Monday, April 27, 2009

New Life

The old lilac trees behind the garage managed to make it through one more winter, although each one does a little more damage.  The branches are beginning to swell with promises of leaves, that means clusters of  fragrant flowers won't be too far behind.  I love lilacs.

But what is this?


A few days ago, Son 2 reported that he had noted a flurry of activity around one particular lilac tree.

robin and nest

That is one stoic robin.  I wonder why he didn't fly away.  Wait a minute, is that a. . .nest?


"I've got my eye on you.  Don't you dare come any closer!"
Oh, he's a family man.  And by his menacing looks, a really protective Dad.


I just love the color of robin's eggs.  They are so dainty and. . .blue.


Don't worry, Mr Robin.  I won't bother your babies. But can I chronicle your blessed event?


Saturday, April 25, 2009

Saturday Science--Al Gore and Flatulent Cows

I was minding my own business researching Far Side cartoons the other day when I ran across this. Who would have thunk it? Al Gore was wrong. It's not the US's gazillion gallon fossil fueled hummers causing global warming. It's India's population of 283 million flatulent cows, the largest bovine population in the world.

But before you start sending care packages of Gas-X to India, please note that their best scientists are hard at work, even as I type, looking for solutions.

Blue Bell

One is to recycle all that methane gas for use in farm kitchens. I kid you not. Fossil fuel has nothing on backing up ole Bessie to the kitchen window, plugging her backside into your kitchen range burner and waiting for. . .the inevitable. Voila! Instant omelet, or hot water for your chai.

Actually, it is a little more complicated, but not much. And the idea of cheaply storing the gas in inner tubes (yes, I said inner tubes, you can find some plans here.) makes it low tech enough to be practical and adds another layer to the recycling process.

US scientists have done their own research, which you can read about here.

Of course, it goes without saying that we owe a word of apology to all those teenage boys (you know who you are) who have boldly gone where no scientist has gone before, toiling alone to create a better world with such primitive tools as a bean dinner and a box of matches.

Your burns were not in vain. We salute you.

(I can't believe I actually wrote this.)

Friday, April 24, 2009

What is it about Flamingoes?

Name a bird that is at once awkward, funny, elegant, colorful, much aligned, associated with kitsch, and a minor character in Alice in Wonderland.

I'll give you a few to reflect. (cue waiting music from "Jeopardy")

Time's up! Did the post title give you a clue? That's right! I'm talking 'bout flamingoes. (flamingos? flamingi? flamingouses?)

Our best side

Why did the lawn ornament people single out the flamingo? And what is it about Florida that makes us associate them with that particular state? Why not armadilloes (armadillos, armadilli, armadilouses?) Or hippopotamuses (hippopatamus, hippopotami, hippopotamouses?).

All I know is I'd rather see a faded plastic flamingo on someone's front lawn than one of those wooden cutouts of a fluffy lady bending over and flashing her bloomers.

Have a wonderful weekend.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

On the Beach


How fast can you say, "she sells sea shells by the seashore" without getting your tangue all tongled?

Once upon a time, in a land far, far away (and below the Mason Dixon line), our three children, my Dear Professor and all his books, and I lived in a huge city about 2 hours drive from the beach. My Dear Professor's sister, The Counselor, her spouse, The Wild Cajun, and their three children lived several hundred miles south of us, also located about a 2 hour drive from the beach.

Our visits to south Texas always included wonderful family meals (MeMom, my Dear Professor's mother, was an incredbile cook), family stories and jokes from Uncle Bern, going to the movies with Aunt Mellie, a trip to the ranch, and a day when The Wild Cajun and My Dear Professor would find something important and manly to do while The Counselor, our combined six kids, and I would pack a picnic lunch and drive to the beach. We built sand castles, chased waves, went swimming and all other sorts of beachy things.

mustang beach
(4 of our 6 combined kids and The Counselor, my sister-in-law)

But the high point of the trip was always wading out to a shallow sand bar and looking for sand dollars.

Sand dollars come in all sizes. The souvenir stores had some gigantic ones. But the sand dollars native to this stretch of the Texas coast were less than a half dollar in circumference (there was a time, my dears, after crossing the prairie in covered wagons but before the psychedelic 70s, when US currency included 50 cent coins which were larger than the familiar 25 cent ones). The waves tossed and battered these fragile treasures, so it was a treat to find them intact.

When we had plundered the sand bar of all the sand dollars we could find, our attention turned to the various shells on the water's edge, or an occasional crab claw or hermit crab desperatedly trying to get back to the gulf. A few times we discovered tiny star fish, and created special little pools near our castles to scientifically examine them in a "natural" environment.

As the day wore on, and we wore out, we visited the public showers to remove the sand and grit which now covered everything, and to rinse off our booty. Now, by booty I mean treasure or plunder, as in pirate, not a body part. (although I am sure that pirates possessed that body part.). We brought our shells home and enshrined them in glass jars.

When we moved to the Frozen North, I brought with me a few jars of the gifts from the sea that the children (yes, and me too---especially me too!) had kept as souvenirs of those sunny days on the beach with their cousins. The intricate shell patterns and varying sizes and colors still fascinate me.


Holding them in my hands, I can feel the warmth of the sun on my face, and hear the waves crashing on the beach behind the delighted squeal of children's voices announcing their discoveries. Those were wonderful days. Those are wonderful memories.

Anyone out there game for a picnic on the beach?

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Heartwarming Wednesday and a Question

I declare today to be Heartwarming Wednesday. (It is Wednesday, isn't it?)

If you are like me, and information challenged, then you may not have discovered this yet. If you already know about it, I'm sure you won't mind seeing it again.

It's the story of an underdog, an average 47 year old Scottish woman from a wee village who has a huge voice (the woman, not the village). A story of heart, determination, drama, surprise, good music, and something we can all identify with, the fairy tale of the ordinary proving extraordinary.

It also has a villain, Simon Cowell, but every good story needs a nasty villain. Although, in this case, even Simon's nastiness is tempered. Take a look here.

The cynics have said there was some staging going on--the panel was aware of what was to come (that has been denied in an interview), that a voice like that doesn't come out of nowhere. Well, if it was only good theatre, it is still something that touches our hearts in a deep place.

Did it touch you? Why? Let's talk about it.

(You can hear more music from Les Miserables here.)

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

My Big Screen TV

Across the room from my computer is my big screen tv. It was a real bargain--it came with the house.  It is environmentally friendly, energy frugal, and has an endless list of channels.  My favorites are:

the Weather channel,

the Bird channel,

the Traffic channel,

the History channel,

and the Home channel.

I may put my digital converter up for grabs-- the analogue reception seems to be just fine.

Monday, April 20, 2009


Principessa is our middle child, the sandwich filling between our two sons, and the owner of our two grandkitties, Chester and CC.  She is as incredibly sweet as she is incredibly beautiful.  I can say that in all honesty because other more objective people have said so.  Complete strangers have stopped me on the street and made that very comment, much to my delight. 

All right, maybe not complete strangers, but at least other family members and friends.  Do they count?

Here are a few pictures of Principessa in various stages of her life.  (The cute little boy in some of the photos is her big brother.)


I think sailor outfits increase a child's cuteness factor by at least 20x.


Principessa led a long and successful campaign to add a cat to an historically pro dog family.  My Dear Professor was concerned that we would be stuck holding the bag, or the kitty, once Principessa went off to college.  He was right.


Mittens the Destroyer was the bane of our existence for 15 years.  And we all miss him terribly now that he is gone.

I could tell you some pretty embarrassing facts about Principessa, how she thought for the longest that an area rug was an Ariel rug, and that others couldn't hear her when she hummed.  But I won't.

Because today is Principessa's birthday.  (cue party horns and confetti!!)

Won't you join me in wishing our Principessa a Happy Birthday?

And to help celebrate, here is our darling daughter caught in a reflective mood more recently.

Texas Reflections

Hehehe.  Get it?  Reflective mood?  Reflection in her glasses?  Oh, never mind.

Happy Birthday, Principessa!

Loveyalots, Mommo.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Good Stories

I took the back way home from town yesterday. It's a tad longer, but I had no pressing appointments and my camera was begging for some action.

sepia springfield sign
I am continually amazed by the surprises that can be found in a viewfinder. I had stopped to take a quick picture of a round bale of last year's hay and found mister goose patrolling the area. His significant other must be setting on a nearby nest.
sepia goose
As I looked to the left, I found this reflection in an otherwise nondescript swampy area. We have quite a few swamps in these parts. I'm wondering what kind of summer it will be for pesky mosquitoes. One rainy summer they were out in droves in the middle of the day!
sepia swamp
The shadows were lengthening and these weathered bales from last year stood sentry like ancient ceremonial stones in a field showing new growth.
sepia bales
There is usually one lone tree in every field. This one looked both stately and mournful.
sepia tree
But even more mournful was the shape of this once prosperous barn. Elderly barns and elderly people have a lot in common. Both are composed of equal portions of grace and frailty.
sepia barn
When we moved to Iron Acres seventeen years ago, we hired George, a neighbor and handyman, to help us put up some fencing and add a little onto our tiny barn. George packed a lot of gumption and grit on an old frame much like the barn above. He was a prisoner of war held by the Japanese near where the nuclear bombs fell that ended World War II. He lived in this rental property that belonged to Miss Alice, our neighbor across the street.

sepia george

Oh the stories old George and that house could tell---the history they both have seen.

George and Miss Alice are gone now. Perhaps someone with vision and love will befriend that old house. It would be a shame not to. I know it has some good stories left.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Peace, man

young gbsMy Dear Professor and I were commenting last night on the difference in our upbringing.  He was reared in a small south Texas town (population 300), and realized at a young age that his future lay elsewhere.  Thus began his journey from Agua Dulce to the University of Texas, then on to the bright lights of the big city where we met (Houston).

I was reared in that big city.  I grew up with the town.  Never in a million years would I have guessed that my future was anywhere but Houston.  (Or anywhere north of the Mason Dixon line for that matter.)

cowgirlThe curious thing is, we both now find ourselves in a small town and loving every minute of it.  In fact, we have another small Texas town in mind for our retirement when we finally leave the Frozen North to return to our homeland.  (For the uninformed, all Texans see themselves as Texans first, US citizens second.  It has to do with our great state once being a republic.)

As I have said before, we both love the quiet and simplicity of rural living (skunks, mice, wasps, septic tank, water well, and eccentric neighbors attempting spousal murder by washing machine aside.)

Either that, or we are both late blooming closet hippies.

Peace, man.

Friday, April 17, 2009

I Started a Joke . . .

Yesterday I compared raising golden retrievers and children. Sort of.

Our youngest, Son 2, has always marched to the beat of his own drum. His second grade teacher told us he kept everyone in the class in stitches with his stories. They were not made up. Unfortunately, they were all true.


Except for that joke he got from his Uncle Bernie.

What can I say about Uncle Bern? He also marched to the beat of his own drum. Perhaps Son 2, even at his tender age, recognized a kindred spirit. Uncle Bern was my Dear Professor's father's younger brother. (Should I draw a genealogy chart for clarification?)

Uncle Bern sort of stepped into the role of family patriarch when our dear Daddy Britt passed away at the "young" age of 65. Where Daddy Britt was quiet and stoic, Uncle Bern was the life of the party. There was always a twinkle in his eye. He delighted in telling family stories, like the annual family reunion that he claimed was "the largest gathering of the ugliest people he had ever seen."

Uncle Bern was quite a sentimental fellow. (wink, wink)

Our trips to south Texas for family gatherings at MeMom's house(DP's mother) were sure to include Uncle Bern. During one night of hilarity, UB shared one of his favorite jokes with us. (Mothers of young children, this is a cautionary tale!)

I am firmly convinced that multitasking was born not out of the invention of super computers with mega memory, but in the brain of a young child who can appear to be completely absorbed in play while his brain is recording every word within earshot.

That is what happened on this occasion. Son 2 and the rest of the "wrecking crew" (as Uncle Bern loved to call the group of kids represented by the three cherubs belonging to my Dear Professor and I plus the three belonging to my Sweet Sister-in-law and her Wild Cajun Spouse) had retired to the den while the older folks continued to sit around the table after the meal and palaver.

The family stories were piling high when Uncle Bern pulled out his favorite joke to the delight of some and the discomfort of others. All I can share in polite company is that it involved an abundantly proportioned lady riding on a train, an uncomfortable and sudden attack of Montezuma's revenge, a handy open window, two cowboys sitting on their horses while watching the train pass, and a reference to big cheeks and foul smelling chewing tobacco.

The men in the group found this joke highly entertaining while a few of us ladies swooned . . . ok, yes, I laughed. Are you happy? We all promptly forgot the incident on the way home. All, that is, except Son 2.

We found this out after he told the joke, in its entirety, at the first show and tell opportunity he was afforded in second grade. I know because his teacher reported it to me.

Do you have any idea what it is like to convince the witness protection program that you need to be relocated because of a joke?

Thursday, April 16, 2009

If I had it to do all over

My Dear Professor had a philosophy professor whose wife once told us she wanted her tombstone to read, "if I had it to do all over again, I would have raised golden retrievers." She thought that would have been easier than rearing their children.

I can't say the same. I enjoyed our children, most of the time.


If I had it to do all over again, I would have been a better parent. More aware of who these little people were, what they were feeling and seeing, how their tender hearts were being shaped, instead of being preoccupied with trying to modify their behavior so they wouldn't embarrass me in public. Isn't it ironic that parents are concerned with their young children embarrassing them in public, then when those same children become teenagers the shoe is on the other foot? Or is that just one of life's little gifts?

Somehow they managed to turn out pretty well in spite of our parenting awkwardness, for which I am truly grateful. One is married, the father of our 3 sprittles, and a bivocational pastor(church on Sun, high school math teacher the rest of the week); one is the chair of the social studies dept in a large southwestern high school, and one just graduated from college. (Can you figure out who is who from the photo above?)

I love them all, and am incredibly proud of who they have become and what they have accomplished.

I just wish I had taken more time to be a better Mommy.

But then, what Mommy doesn't?

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

More Attractive

One of the fascinating things about living in western Pennsylvania is the Amish. Somehow they manage to preserve some semblance of their historical culture in the midst of the modern world. But underneath the outward differences, their lives are really very similar to ours.

They deal with traffic.


They buy used vehicles.


They farm.

amish plow


(Can you see the dogs helping out in this picture?)

plow with dogs

Their children go to school.

amish schoolc2

And they live in houses in the country.

amish farm 2

They just do it all without electricity and pneumatic tires.

I have to admit, sometimes their way looks much more attractive than ours.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

She Has a Good Heart

Sometime during our first year at Iron Acres we adopted a dog. He was a year old Springer Spaniel named Bandit who had proven much too active for the city. Bandit was the product of his show dog mother's, ahem, indiscretion with an opportunistic dog of unknown breed.

Here is a picture of Bandit guarding part of our first hay harvest 17 years ago, along with my Dear Professor and a very exhausted Son 1. Now that was a learning experience!


I loved Bandit, and he loved me. He thought he was a lap dog. I took him everywhere. He was beautiful and smart, the first dog I ever had that did more than dig holes in the yard and bite the mailman. (sorry mailman!) He learned how to jump through the tire swing, shake, roll over, even climb a few rungs on a small ladder.

But Bandit had an aggression disorder--whatever he laid his mouth on was his. He also suffered from occasional catatonic spells. Every now and then his eyes would glaze over and he would stare into space like that character in Silas Marner. After six months he was banished to the back yard and chicken guarding duties after biting my Dear Professor on the hand while I was out shopping. Although Bandit was smart, he was not smart enough to know not to bite the hand that feeds you, literally or otherwise.

One summer, after age had taken its toll on his hearing, Bandit passed away while on "varmint patrol". I want to go like he did, napping in the sun.

The following summer we hired a young man from down the road to look after our critters while we were in Texas. At the end of the first week he reported an alarming number of chickens missing, and suggested setting up traps. By the time we returned, he had captured several raccoons, a few possums, one skunk, and a barn cat. I think the barn cat was the only critter to get away with just a slap on the paw. I cannot vouch for the others--I didn't ask, and he didn't tell.

That experience made it very evident that we did, indeed, need another dog.

06May Misty sit copyAnd that is how Misty (part hound, part Weimaraner, part ?) the freecycle wonder dog came into our lives. A farmer friend found her in the listings and made arrangements to go pick her up. I had some misgivings initially. She wasn't socialized (read: she displayed fear aggression toward other dogs), and her owners were giving her away because the wife was preggers and the husband was afraid of her. (Misty, not his wife, although pregnancy hormones have been known to cause terrifying behavior.) But my farmer friend, who is highly experienced in all things dogly, assured me that all Misty needed was some love, exercise (Did I mention she was part Weimaraner? That means ADD!), and walking with an experienced dog. (I've written about this before, here, but one of the luxuries of being sixtysomething is that I am expected to repeat myself. One day you'll find that out for yourself. Don't say I didn't warn ya.)

Our initial walks consisted of Misty gasping and pulling at the lead while I flew behind her. She is one powerful doggie! My farmer friend was right. After only a month of walking with my FF's highly trained farm collies, Misty was not only friendly with other dogs, but also capable of walking off leash and actually coming when I called . . .if she was looking at me when I called.

Misty may not be as beautiful as Bandit, but she has a good heart.

And isn't that more important anyway?