Thursday, February 19, 2009

Bufflehead or Hooded Merganser

And just in time to be included in my Great Backyard Bird Count!

Every year in late winter or early spring and if the pond isn't frozen, a pair of ducks spends a day or two paddling around. Maybe they're on their way somewhere and just resting here, but I always wish they would stay and raise a family.

These, I first thought, are Buffleheads; however, after staring at the pictures and going through my bird book several times, I'm now leaning more toward Hooded Mergansers because of the breast color and stripe. Buffleheads seem more white from breast all the way across the bottom of their bodies. Most of the ducks that land here are very wary and it is difficult to get close enough to get a good picture - they either fly away or dive under the water.

One year it's Wood Ducks, another year Mallards and there are almost never more than two, a mated pair. Only once have I seen two species of duck on the pond at the same time. In any event, it's a moment of absolute happiness for me to observe wildlife. I wish them well and Godspeed on their journey home.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Great Backyard Bird Count Feb 13 thru Feb 16, 2009

Get involved! It's fun, it's easy, it's FREE.

Learn about the birds in your area and around the world and help keep track of their populations.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Hippo Birdy

Things are not always what they seem.

Be careful.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Only in Mexico

12/29/2000 Mazatlan Old Town
5 p.m. beer and botana at Son Sin

Calendaria (the very lovely handmaiden of beer and all good kitchen things) comes over to the table where I sit eating her delicious homemade soup - in her hand she has a large spoon which she dips into my bowl, removing one of the onions to return to her cooking pot.

Only in Mexico - where if you have no Spanish, the heart is always softened by smiles.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Mabel Frances Weber Valentine, nee Cooper

This is my gram at 16 years of age, four feet eleven and solid steel. She made the dress she's wearing, I guess everyone made their own clothes in those days. Too bad we don't still cherish that art. Grammy died on March 4, 1994, just two months shy of her 101st birthday. She was born May 1, 1893 in Elgin, Nebraska. I remember on her 100th birthday asking her what she thought about it, she said, "I don't know what happened to the first 99 years!" At 100 years she was a little hard of hearing, but the thought processes still worked fine. She never lost the twinkle in her blue eyes either.

My gram is the one I talk about in an earlier post about gardening. She lived in an apartment in Seattle then and I remember like yesterday when she gave me that package of nasturtium seeds, took me outside to the big concrete planters that bordered the sidewalk and said, "plant them." So I did, and watered and watched every single day. When that first little green sprout stuck its head up, I was ecstatic (remember, I was only 10). And then they grew like crazy and there were big bunches of bright orange flowers cascading all over the place all summer long. A perfect plant for a kid to start with - easy to grow, prolific, and gorgeous! That is how my life-long love of gardening got started. My gram never dumped poison on the earth either and neither have I.

I don't know much about Gram's early life. She met and married a man named Gus Weber who was born in Switzerland and stowed away on a ship when he was 15 to reach the shores of America. He was an artist, a newspaperman, a musician who had his own band. He fought in the Spanish-American war, was injured, and later died in a VA hospital. I never knew him because my mom was only 12 when he died. Gram was left with five little boys and three little girls to raise. I don't know how she did it. She eventually married Grandpa Bob Valentine. My impression, gained at the age of three, was of a sweet man who took time to give me rides in his old car and tried to teach me about chickens and eggs and such. I wish I knew more about him. My father was in the service then and when we moved away from the mid-west, we never returned. But still, if only people would realize how valuable their lives are and how important to keep logs, or journals to pass along vital information, as well as impressions of the events of the time.

Grammy spent many years researching her family's roots. The Mormon church has very extensive genealogy records and that was her main source of information. I often wonder how much more she could have learned if only she had a computer. As it was, using only the telephone and the U.S. mail, she filled a very large binder and found relatives going back 400 years. It is a fascinating piece of work that she left us - I hope to maybe pick up where she left off, but that may be a job best left to the next generation.

When I was 11 or 12, Gram showed me how to make a pattern using an already-made shirt and then I cut out the material and made another shirt! That's the way they did it "in the old days." Wouldn't hurt to revive some of those old abilities now. She guided me in baking my very first apple pie from scratch and it was a gorgeous thing, perfect crust, perfect filling, golden brown. Thinking back now, those simple things she taught me, the results she let me have all on my own, that's really what happiness turns out to be - the simple stuff.

Grammy never smoked a cigarette or touched a drop of liquor and the only times I thought I heard a curse from her mouth would be those times she would be flipping through a magazine and come upon an ad for some kind of booze. The rest of the time she expressed disapproval by saying, "Aw shaw!"

Grammy enjoyed Lawrence Welk. I remember watching it with her, laying on the floor looking over at her every now and then where she sat on the sofa, big smile on her face. She loved Norma Zimmer, the Champagne Lady, and I loved the bubble machine. There were a lot of good shows on TV in those days, radio too - we didn't have to be embarrassed by nudity and sex scenes on family television, or frightened by violence and gratuitous bloodshed. I think the experience of watching TV together was a whole different thing then, mostly we laughed together and didn't have to look around trying to avoid each other's eyes because we were embarrassed.

I miss Grammy. She had a long life, parts of it sad, parts of it happy, but she was always included up to the day she died and she always had a smile. That's the way families ought to be.