Monday, April 30, 2007


When Mary’s beloved grandmother, Babci, passed away, Bourka was bewildered. She and her sister, Shifka had come to live with Babci on Easter many years before. When Shifka, (the pretty white one) died, Bourka (the mottled brown one) was left alone with Babci. As Babci got weaker and spent more time in bed, Bourka would sit with her for hours at a time. Babci would talk to her in Polish and stroke her head.

Babci’s daughter, Mary’s mother, also lived in the house. Not long after Babci passed, her daughter decided that the house was too much to care for. She moved to a nursing home. But Bourka and her friend Patches were left in the house. No one in the family could take them.

Mary knew that I had lost my cat Jackson a few months before. She came into my office and told me about the 2 cats left alone in the house with only a caregiver. I decided to go and visit them. (You know where this is going, right?) Bourka came right up to me, I was able to pick her up and pet her. She was beautiful. The other little cat was more skittish. I only saw a black streak of lightening as she headed to the basement to hide.

About a week later Mary and her family came to my house with Bourka. She came right out of the carrier and strolled around the house like she owned it. Patches had to be trapped and would not show up for a few more weeks. In the meantime, I had gathered up another cat whose family left him behind when they moved to Florida (they took the dog.) So I went from 0-3 in a month. (I’ll tell his story another time.)

After Bourka had been with me for a few weeks, I decided to change her name to Babka (the sweet cake). I thought it was close enough to Bourka that she wouldn't even notice. She immediately had an identity crisis. She stopped eating. She moped. I rationalized that she could not possibly care. She hung around the house, not responding to anything I said. When I said something to Mary, she told me that Babci always spoke to her in Polish. (That would explain why she would not get off the counter when I asked her to.) I reverted to calling her Bourka. She started eating again. Well. Alrighty then. Do I need to learn some Polish? I went out and got Polish language tapes. I finally gave up trying to learn even the most rudimentary baby Polish. Bourka on the other hand, still sits in front of the boom box with I put the tapes in for her.

One last story, Belle, the wife of my neighbor’s brother is a nurse and works with some Polish women. She has learned a few phrases in Polish. She came over to see the house and Bourka came out to see who had come in. I explained that Bourka only knows Polish. Belle spoke to her in Polish and the cat came running across the entryway to get petted.

I have had Bourka for 4 years now. I still don’t know any Polish and Bourka still mostly ignores me. If you know how to say "Get Down" or "Stop that!" in Polish, let me know.

Sunday, April 29, 2007

Ducks in Trees

As I walked down the footpath at the Swamp I could hear other people talking. The voices grew louder as I crossed over the bridge. Standing in the path was a woman and a small boy. He looked to be about 6. He was telling his mother in a very excited voice that he had seen a duck in a tree. The mother was patiently trying to explain that ducks are in the water not in the trees. The little boy was adamant. He kept repeating in a loud voice that he “really, truly” saw a duck in a tree.

As I drew near them, the mother looked at me and shook her head. She smiled a tiny smile.

“Kids.” She said.

I leaned down to the boy. “Where did you see the duck?”

He pointed back down the path. I scanned the trees with my binoculars and sure enough he was right. Back in the trees, fairly high up, was a male Wood Duck.

I turned to the woman and said, “He’s right. There are ducks in trees. That one is a Wood Duck.”

“Here use these.” I let her and the boy use my binoculars.

She looked at me incredulously and followed my pointing finger. “I have never seen a duck in a tree before,” she said. She turned to her son and apologized for doubting him.

The little boy smiled a gigantic smile as they moved passed me on the path.

As they rounded the bend, I heard him say, “I told you there were ducks in the trees.”


Have you noticed that every charity has some sort of Walk or Run or Race these days? Have you ever participated? Well, today, I did WalkAmerica for the March of Dimes. This walk is the granddaddy of them all. It started in 1970 and has been going strong ever since. It felt good to get out there with all of the other walkers to do something for a good cause. There were groups of folks from companies walking together. There were teams from high schools, and there were lots of people that were walking with a baby’s picture on their t-shirts. There were families, there were dogs, there were clowns, there were cheerleaders, it seemed like everybody and their brother was there. There were lots of babies, which made sense, since the mission of the March of Dimes is to prevent birth defects, premature birth and infant mortality. There are Walks in many communities in every state. Check out their website at Put on your shoes, get out there.

Thursday, April 26, 2007


Tete a Tete

Pink Charm


Ice King

And most of them are not blooming yet!

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Dawn Chorus

The dawn breeze wafted the curtains and stole across the bed. Shifting the cat curled up at my side; I pulled the blanket over my shoulder and opened my eyes a slit to look at the clock. I still had plenty of time. It was the pearly gray light of dawn. I rolled over, got comfortable, and started to listen to the birds.

I do not use an alarm clock. I use the dawn chorus and the color of the light to tell time. (The time shift twice a year, of course, wreaks havoc with this method and I am all befuddled until I adjust to the change.) I have been an early riser for years and years, some would say an insomniac. I started listening to the birds when I could not sleep. Now, I think of them as old friends and returning neighbors. (“Ah, I see the Robins have arrived.”) The birds of the flatland and the birds of the mountain, of course, are different, and it took me awhile to get to know the new neighbors-but isn’t that the case where ever you move? I find waking gently to the strengthening day and the birds a comfort.

In the early hours, I can hear the newcomers setting up their territories and looking for love. I hear Thrushes, Warblers, Orioles, Titmice, Mourning Doves, Phoebes, Chickadees and all the rest. I love picking out what is what or who is who. My favorites are the Orioles, the Warblers, and of course, the Whippoorwills. The Whippoorwills send me into the arms of Orpheus and I hear them sleepily again in the pre-dawn hours. They have not arrived yet.

Ever since I flexed my work hours to 10-6, I have no need of the nerve-wracking buzzing of an alarm. What a rude way to wake up in the morning. My heart goes out to all of you that need to use one. I own an alarm clock and I do set it if I have an early flight. But I never end up trusting it to go off, so I end up sleeping badly; glancing at the clock every hour on the hour. I do resent the necessity.

I prefer my tried and true method. From now until late fall, I will wake to the birds in the morning

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Apple blossoms

I was at the nursery the other day, browsing for yet another brand of anti-deer spray, when I looked up and saw this incredible white against the blue sky. This tree was gorgeous. I have never bought a tree because that would involve digging a hole to plant it. Trees need really big holes. Living up here on the mountain, I have loads of big rocks in the soil. I have become quite expert at large rock removal-it is all about the right tools for the job. But sometimes, I also just dig a few inches one way or the other from the hidden rock and plant there.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Heat of the Day

In August in Baku, the sun bakes everything-from people-to kitties-to the trees themselves. These cats were doing what we all wished we had been doing. Napping in the noon-day heat. The one redeeming feature is that Baku is the "windy city".

Today was a strange heat filled day. Way too hot for Spring. My sister called and said it was 90 in the flatland yesterday.

It's Starting

The early season daffs have started to open. Remember there are 2,000. I will be enjoying and sharing them for weeks.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Trout Lily

In my travels this weekend, I saw a few wildflowers starting to bloom.

Speaking of snakes....

There was a shrill screaming as I came around the bend. On top of the screaming, I heard shouting. Two young girls flew past me with their hands clapped over their mouths.

“Huh! Must have been a snake.” I mused.

When I got closer, I saw a cluster of people looking down. There were about 12-15 garter snakes heaped together in the leaf litter next to the entrance to the boardwalk. There was what appeared to be a leader/teacher talking about the snakes. The rest of the class/group seemed interested. I sidled up and fired off a few shots.

Why are people afraid of snakes? Is it something primordial? Is it that some of them are poisonous? Is it that they are not cute? Or that they creep on the ground? This is not the first time of have seen this behavior but I am still puzzled.

Snakes don’t bother me. I have had large black snakes at my house lounging on the rock walls. I have even had them soaking up the sun on the front stoop. A few years ago, I had to cut several of them out of the deer netting that I had strewn about the yard. I ended up pulling off the netting because it broke my heart to have them all twisted up in it. So when you come over in the summer, look before you step, you never know.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Pretty Clear in Any Language

So there I was, hiking along on my way to see some petroglyphs at Gobustan in Azerbaijan, wearing sandals, of course since it was 5000 degrees at least and this is what I see.

Blog Of The Day Awards Winner

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Wild Thing, You Make my Eyes Sting

According to the directions, the road from Delano dead-ended into the national wildlife refuge; all I had to do was look for the familiar brown sign. I tossed the map into the backseat. Boy, there is nothing better than tooling along a country road in the California sunshine with the windows down when it is cold rainy and miserable at home. Life is good. I was grooving to some Mariachi music and counting Meadowlarks sitting on fence posts, when I saw the first rows of a vineyard. Vineyard? Here? What? Why? How? This was a dry, dusty, brown place, not lush like Napa or Oregon. The vines had not leafed out yet and lots of LBJs were hopping around in the vine cuttings. I slowed the car to a crawl. I like sparrows. I feel like they are often overlooked. I gave up, however, when a truck came hurtling around me tossing sparrows around in its wake. As I looked at the truck diminishing in the distance, I suddenly realized that I had been driving more than the 12 miles I thought was in the directions.

Just when I was beginning to consider retrieving the map from the backseat, the road dead-ended at the Kern National Wildlife Refuge as promised. When I drove past the sign with its accompanying brochures, there was no one in sight. It was just before 9 in the morning. But there were birds everywhere-- Swallows gathering mud, Blackbirds shining in the sun, Marsh Wrens singing in alta voce from every stand of reeds, and ducks, ducks, ducks. Creeping around the 6-mile loop, I saw Coots and Moorhens, Egrets and loads of shorebirds, fabulous White-faced Ibises (close to the road for full-face views), Avocets, and Stilts. I saw courting Harriers and a perfectly still American Bittern, right out in the open. And there were sparrows. Most of them were regular, White-Crowns and the like, but I did see a Golden-crowned Sparrow. Nice.

I also saw something white gleaming in the sun. It was just at the limit of my binoculars. It was fraternizing with coots and appeared to be their size. It was diving below the water, so definitely not a dabbler. It looked to have a black facemask and a stripe going down the front of the throat not the back like a Grebe. The bill looked yellow. There appeared to be some black on the wings. I got out of the car and walk to the edge of the water. I strained my eyeballs to no avail. I got out my little camera and fired off a few shots hoping that on the computer they would look better (not). In the pictures it is a white speck. The only thing I could think of was a partially albino coot. Maybe yes, maybe no.

This kind of thing happens to me a lot. I often bird alone, usually on business trips. With nothing but a pair of binoculars and a local bird book, I try to see what is out there in between meetings. I have seen some fantastic birds. I have also seen some mystery birds. And that is OK. It is all part of it.

I loved this NWR. If I lived nearby, I would go often. If you do, go now!

Monday, April 16, 2007


I have been using string bags for several years now. They come in colors and hold as much as, if not more than, the traditional paper bag. The key is to always have them in the car. Some grocery stores even give you 2 cents off for every bag you bring.
Saving the planet and cash back! Win-win.

Rainy Day Pot Roast

Sunshine on a rainy day.

It has been raining hard here for days. Yesterday it was a cold sleety rain. Brrrrrr.
I decided it was a pot roast kind of day, so I give you my rainy day pot roast recipe.

Rainy Day Pot Roast

1 3-4 lb roast (I usually use a top or bottom round)
Brown the roast in a dutch oven with a little hot olive oil and butter.
Take it out of the pot.

Add 1 large chopped onion, 2 scraped and chopped carrots, and 2 washed and chopped celery stalks. Stir them around until they have some color.

Add about ½ a bottle of red wine, maybe 2 cups. You can also use beef broth (canned is fine) or white wine. I think red gives it more depth. Scrape up the bits on the bottom of the pot. Put the roast back in.

Add 1 large can of whole tomatoes, squished and ½ can of beef broth. The liquid should come half way up the roast. I sprinkle in some herbs. Since I’m lazy, I use Herbs de Provence. I put in 2 good size pinches. You can put in whatever herbs you like. I adore thyme and tend to put it in everything.

Cover the pot, and put it in the oven at 350 for 3 hours. Turn the roast every 20 minutes or so.

Serve with garlic mashed potatoes, a good Italian bread and some asparagus (on sale at the A&P). Enjoy.

The neighbors came over and we devoured most of the roast last night. It does make excellent sandwiches if there is any left over.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Pigeon Blood

This color of depression glass was/is called pigeon blood. The color is truly amazing when the piece is held up to the light.

Friday, April 13, 2007

A Hmong story

Do you belong to a book group?

I do, thanks to the pushing and prodding of my friend Diane. We are reading "The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down", by Anne Fadiman. It is the story of a Hmong child, her American doctors and the clash of 2 cultures. The girl, Lia Lee, has severe epilepsy. Both her parents and her doctors want what is best. As I remember it does not end well. I read it about 5 years ago and liked it. I haven't read it since then. Hmmm, maybe I should refresh.

In the meantime, I offer you a Hmong tapestry that is hanging in my bedroom. The Hmong do incredibly beautiful embroidery. I bought this tapestry at the Minnesota State Fair. It tells a folktale.

The story is a changling one. Nuplhai and his wife Jer go to visit some relatives. He walks her part way then turns back. She walks on along alone. She meets some tigers who offer her a ride (never fall for that stunt). Nuplhai notices her absense and asks the relatives. They don't know anything. He back tracks and finds tiger footprints. He goes home, makes a sword (lots of gruesome details) and returns to track his wife. He finally finds her, kills the tigers and brings her back home only to have her tell him to dig a hole for her "tiger skin" She gets in the hole for 2 weeks. She "comes back a new woman".
They both go back to his parents. The story ends with the parents blowing a panpipe for Nuplhai and Jer's souls.

I think we are lost in translation, but I love folktales from other cultures. Obviously I like the tapestry. It has been hanging in my room for many years.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Do you believe in ghosts?

I had only been in my house a few days and was still unpacking. I was sitting on my knees upstairs in the library with my head and shoulders in a closet when I heard someone say “Hello”. It was clear as a bell. I came flying out of the closet looking around. There was no one there. The voice was male. The windows were closed. I found no one in the house. I checked everywhere. Weird.

The next incident was several weeks later. I was bringing groceries through the basement. As I started across the basement I heard the phone ringing. My hands were full, so I decided to let the machine in the kitchen pick up. I clearly heard a male voice talking in sentences. I assumed it was the boyfriend. I finished bringing in the groceries and went to the machine to pick up the message. There was none. Weird.

A few months later, I was taking a nap on the sofa in the family room. Again I heard a male voice, this time saying my name. Again, I checked everywhere. Weird.

Then the voices stopped.

Now it is smells—not all the time, sometimes men’s cologne, sometimes strange food smells. Last time it was in my walk-in closet. The closet had been closed up all day. When I opened it after work to change clothes and the scent of cologne wafted out. It was a scent that was vaguely familiar. I own perfume but rarely wear it. So it was not me. Weird.

(I have had problems with closet doors staying shut too. That was weirding me out for a while, but that turns out to be the cat. He learned how to open the doors and apparently likes to sleep in the closet during the day. )

Why am I bringing this up? Today at work my cell phone rang. No one calls me at work so that was weird. I fumbled in my purse for the phone and when I answer, a male asks if it is I. I say yes. He then says he is sorry that it is a wrong number. I said “What?” He just kept repeating that he was sorry until I hung up. My friend Mel died a year ago in February. The guy on the phone sounded just and I mean just like him! Weird.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Swamp Thing

I live on a mountain where warblers are not hard to see or hear--trees, trees, murmuring trees. But I am talking about wood warblers. There are some that prefer a damper more southern clime. That is the crux. Outside of Florida and Texas, I have never birded the south.

I have looked for years in watery spots. Everyone I know has seen it. I was starting to feel like a total loser. Then the unexpected happened.

As I came around the corner and onto the boardwalk at Paradise Pond in Port Aransas, I stopped short. There was someone else on the secluded path. We nodded.

I looked for the Black-bellied Duck promised me. Nothing. There were lots of Blue-winged Teals, Black-crowned Night Herons and a cacophony of blackbirds. I continued to scan the trees.

The man nonchalantly said, "Boy, those Prothonotaries sure glow like neon."

I looked at him in disbelief. I whirled around frantically. I didn’t see anything.

Could this be my lucky day?

I tried to be cool. "I have never seen one."

The old guy said, "Well, one was just here."

I thought to myself, "Of course, that is always the case."

I fell to scanning the trees, then the bushes.

“It was just over there,” he said pointing across the small pond. “They really stand out”

I nodded numbly. “That’s what I hear.”

I looked right and left. I looked at the tops of trees. I peered into the bushes. I found the Black-bellied Whistling Duck. But now I wanted more.

The old guy walked off. I sighed, resigned to it being another near miss.


I whirled around. My fellow birder was pointing down at the water. I tiptoed over and right there at our feet was this BRIGHT YELLOW warbler. No wonder I had never seen it. I was always looking up. I would never have looked that low. And ya know, it does glow like neon.

Yikes It's Cold!

The walls have eyes

Down below Ground Zero at the Chambers Street/World Trade Center station in New York City the walls are fabulous. Oculus (Eye) was created by Kristin Jones and Andrew Ginzel, and it comprises 300 different mosaic eyes based on human eyes taken from photographs. I love the eyes, I love that they are watching, and I love the meaning. They are spectacular works of art. There are lots of mosaics all over the subway system but I am drawn to these.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Yummy Potato Bake

I made this potato gratin for Easter last year. It comes from a photocopy of a page torn from a magazine. I have no idea what magazine nor where I got the photocopy. So my apologies for lack of citation. The guests raved about the dish. I offer it to you.

I love to cook. I love having people over for dinner. I am going to add a section to the blog on recipes and menus from the themed exotic to the everyday. Enjoy.

New-potato bake

3 pounds small red potatoes, quartered
2 Tsp salt
1 bag (9 ounces) baby spinach leaves

3 Tblsp unsalted butter
1 bunch scallions trimmed and chopped
3 Tblsp flour
2 C warm milk
3/4 tsp. salt
1/8 tsp. white or black pepper
1/2 lb. swiss cheese shredded. (about 2 cups)
1 Tblsp plain breadcrumbs

Heat oven to 375. Place potatoes and salt in large saucepan. Add cold water to cover. Bring to a boil. Simmer 8 minutes. Just before draining, add spinach. Drain.

In a small pan, melt the butter over med heat. Add scallions, cook for 5 minutes or until soft. Sprinkle flour over the scallions and whisk to blend. In 2 additions, whisk in the warm milk until smooth. Add the S&P, cayenne and nutmeg. Bring to a boil over med heat, whisking constantly. Remove from heat and whisk in 1 C cheese.
Coat a 13X9 with cooking spray. Layer half the potatoes and spinach in the dish; spoon half the sauce over. Sprinkle with half the remaining cheese. Top with the remaining potatoes and sauce. Sprinkle with reserved cheese.

Bake at 375 for 20 minutes, Top with breadcrumbs. Bake 10 minutes more until brown. Let it stand for 10-15 minutes.

I served it with ham and sugarsnap peas sauteed with shallots. I started with asparagus soup.

If you have any questions, let me know.

Monday, April 9, 2007

Put on your Easter bonnet....

I don't think hat, mittens, mufflers and down jackets are quite what the writers of the song had in mind. The Easter egg hunt was not a leisurely affair. The high on the mountain was only in the middle 30s with a bracing wind. But we celebrated the holiest day of the Christian calendar and longed for Spring.

Tuesday, April 3, 2007

The Addiction

Paul pulled up to the ATM, stuck in his card asking for $300. He had held out as long as he could. He needed cash. There was no time to waste. The machine whirred and spit out a receipt that said INSUFFICIENT FUNDS. Paul slammed this fist against the front of the machine. He put the card back in and asked for $200. Again, INSUFFICIENT FUNDS. Crap. He HAD to get to the meeting place. He racked his brain. Maybe if he went home, he would be able to find some cash under the sofa cushions. He snorted at the idea. That would not be enough. Maybe he could call a friend and borrow some emergency money. He ran through a list of his friends in his head and sighed. He had already borrowed from everyone he knew. He frowned. As a last resort there was always credit. He wondered how close he was to maxing out.

Paul pulled into the empty lot of the fire station to check his bags. Maybe he had some unspent cash stashed from the last visit. His rummaged through all of the bags in the trunk. His stuff was there. Perhaps he hadn’t needed all of it. But it had been such a steal. As he was kicking the tires in frustration a cop car pulled in.

“Everything all right here?”

Paul nodded and quickly got back in the car and pulled away. The last thing he needed was a ticket. He drove to the park to see what was around. He scanned the area. Nothing. He sat in the parking lot with his head sunk on the steering wheel.

Well, that was it. He was finished. He wasn’t going to make it this time. He wanted it so bad he could taste it. Why did these things always happen before payday? He sat up and took several deep breaths. OK. Stay calm. Think clearly. How much would it actually cost?

Paul slowly got out his cell phone to talk to his fiancée. To beg her one last time.

“Honey, do you have any cash I can have?”

There was silence on the phone.

“Please tell me you are not going up there”, she replied.

He considered lying. The hesitation was enough. She hung up on him. He hit redial.


“I promise after this time, I won’t do it again.”

“You promised last time.”

“I know, but I mean it this time.”

“You meant it last time.”

“ I know, but honey, it is a Red-footed Falcon. It doesn’t even live on this continent. It is a once in a lifetime thing.” He knew he was groveling. He didn’t care.

There was a heavy sigh on the other end of the phone.

Was she weakening? He took a chance. “I love you.”

Again the sigh. “OK. But this the last time you chase after a bird.”

Paul hung up, turned the car around and headed home singing “On the Road Again.”