Saturday, December 20, 2014

Monday, December 1, 2014

I Jump on a Box

When winter settles in for the long haul, well, yuck. Days are shorter, darkness comes early and stays well into the morning; the ground turns to mud or slushy snow--and I gain weight. I then spend spring, summer, and fall trying to lose those pounds I gained, only to face those pesky pounds yet again come the next winter. It's a vicious cycle that has had me bouncing around like a pinball for several years now, and I decided it was time to get off this pony ride.

To shake things up and turn my winters around, I joined our local gym, Bodyworks. Egads, the dreaded gym! Hauling a gym bag everywhere. Wet towels and gym clothes in the car which get forgotten on laundry day (dammit!!!). But, I figured a couple days a week using the elliptical and a few machine weights might help stave off winter pound-creep.

Deep down, though, I knew I needed something more intense. Weight machines and I go way back; while we're on friendly terms, neither one of us have pushed the envelope with each other. They don't badger me when I don't work them until my muscles fatigue, or when I rationalize blowing them off because the stars aren't aligned--or I have Other Very Important Things to do--or maybe because it's a Tuesday. It's just too easy to half-ass the weight machines.

While I was relatively content with my recent weight loss and in general my physical health, I had a bit of loose skin here, and some huffs and puffs biking up a hill with everyone breezing by me there. And I know, from common sense and research, that lifting Really Heavy Things is good. Strengthen muscles, become a better bike rider, build bone density (a good thing at this point in my life), maybe move some flab off my thighs, and simply be way more fit and healthy--there's no down side.

So if I'm going to do this gym thing, might as well do it right, right? Along comes Gabe, one of the gym's personal trainers. Three days a week, he gets to work with me, this 52-year old weight-lifting noob who is just learning the difference between a squat and a benchpress.

Our first session was an "assessment" geared towards finding the proper weights to start me off. Heavy enough to bring me to muscle fatigue but light enough that I can at least do a few repetitions (reps) per set. We went through a number of free-weight exercises, doing a rep or two testing various weights, and for the most part finding out that just the bar with no weights on it at all was about right for me. Rock on, power girl!

This assessment turned me into a wet noodle. My legs, chest, and arms were fatigued, and at the exact moment I thought I was done and could crawl into the locker room, Gabe said "let's go jump on a box."


He brings me over to this plywood box. The height, depth, and width were all different dimensions, so you had a selection of heights with which to injure yourself. He stood with his toes about an inch from one of the sides and jumped up, both feet at once, using his quads to pull up his knees and feet, landing on top of the box. "Your turn," he said.

I froze. Nope nope nope. The shortest side of this box was higher than my knees. 

Panic set in, my mind raced, and in a nanosecond, I envisioned what would undoubtedly occur. Jump up maybe an inch or two; slam my toes into the side of the box; fall over frontward or backward or sideways and break something; end up in a hospital in traction; months of inability to move; 75 pounds gained. I may have been looking at a box, but I was seeing an enormous me down the road, angrily snarling at strangers "I'd be fine if it weren't for that damn box," and I was terrified.

He sensed my terror. Was it the deer in the headlights look? Or the sheen of sweat that immediately popped out on my face from a mix of panic, nausea, anxiety, and dread? Or the "No #!@&ing way!" coming out of my mouth? Whatever it was, he capitulated and got out a shorter box, this one being about a foot high--one of those black irrigation pipe covers with a green lid.

If the black box freaked me out, take a look
at Evil Box again, and imagine my first reaction
I stood in front of this box while he coached me. Jump up, lift your legs, you can do it. I don't really know what I heard, he wasn't getting through the fog of fear surrounding me. Countdown: "One...two...." nope. "One...two...thr..." nope.

That box gets put aside. He pulls out one of those steps used in aerobic classes. It's about three inches high. "Try this."

Ya think???
Determined but sloppy, I sort of hopped, one foot just a tad bit behind the other foot, onto that step. He added more height, I was looking at maybe five inches to jump. I can't remember, I think I jumped, but I was such a sorry piece of work it was laughable.

"We'll have to work on the box." Great, now I knew we'd be going through this horror show again. I was kind of hoping he'd see the writing on the wall and drop it.

A couple weeks go by; each session is a mix of upper/lower body, or push days, or pull days, or leg day is exactly the same. On leg days, my mind wandered to Evil Box. I didn't say anything though, foolishly hoping that maybe he'd forget about Evil Box. Oh, Grasshopper, you will learn.

Of course he didn't forget. A week ago, after a bunch of legwork, I hear "Oh-kaaaay, time for the box!" (me, slowly walking like a prisoner to her execution, whispering while crossing myself "In the name of all that is holy, noooooooo, not the box.....)

He brings out the 12" black box, saying cheerily, "You can do this!"

Giving him the look of death, I fiddle around. It's not in a good place, I want it near a wall to break any forward fall. We moved it. I stand there, looking down at my feet. Maybe if I move it a few inches this way, it'll be better. No, over here is better yet. Gabe waits, patiently. I was reminded of the first time I dove off a high diving board. Regular one, no problem. High dive? Creep to the front, toes gripping the edge, bounce a little bit, look down, nope. Turn around, go back a few steps, and repeat.

That was me, here, with my box. Crouch down in preparation to jump. Mental countdown. Balls of feet and legs quiver in anticipation of their need to perform the perfect combination of jumping and pulling myself up through thin air. One...two....nope. Straighten up, defeated. Step back. Repeat. Gabe: "You're letting this get into your head. Jump." Uh, yeah. My head sees everything that can GO WRONG and that THIS BOX IS GOING TO KILL ME.

Oh my god, what a weenie am I.

Sometimes, you get so sick of yourself, you'd rather just jump and let the world crash down on you (at least I could say "I TOLD you so!!!") than bear another second of exasperating paralysis by fear.

I jumped.

I landed on the box.

I screamed (I think???), danced around a bit, and gleefully hugged poor Gabe (this woman must be nuts). Gabe told me "three more times, then rest, then eight more times." After that 8-rep set he said "two more." All with me landing on the box. Like this (boy, I wished we had a video of that first time, but this will have to do):

So, after a few weeks of training, we are actually adding weights to the bars. Pretty small weights, but weights nonetheless. My form is getting a little better every time. I deadlifted over 100 pounds for the first time a couple weeks ago (now I'm up to 115 lbs!), and I'm sure there will be other milestones achieved by next spring. Things like that make weightlifting pretty addictive for me.

I'm still freaked out about Evil Box, which Gabe says I'll be jumping on soon. But I don't think anything will pack the same wallop for me as jumping on that first box, because that was way more than just moving my body--it was about pushing the weight of fear out of my mind, and that is the biggest success by far.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Amazonas: Singing its Superlatives

I have traveled a bit in my life, and have come to realize that there are, generally, three outcomes of experiencing a new place: 1) glad you went, got the t-shirt, may have been an interesting place, but there's no urge to visit again; 2) liked it, and don't necessarily need to go back unless someone else pays and then I'd be happy to; or 3) loved it, left a piece of my heart behind, would go back tomorrow, and you'd better be prepared if I decide to stay there for the rest of my life.

Yup. #3 here.
I never thought I'd feel #3 again after visiting Tanzania when I was 19 (a trip that gripped me like no other place I'd been before, or since) until my trip to the Amazon River. If I had to describe it prior to July of this year, my preconceived notion was "sweltering, buggy, humid...but with lots of cool birds and things to see that would make the miserable conditions worth it." After July of this year, I now say "a true tropical paradise, interspersed with brief, random moments of sheer terror." Which to me, is a more apt--and interesting--description.

Almost hitting a hive of killer bees while
out and about at night
This July, I went to the Amazon River to experience two weeks of its natural splendor. I have lots of pictures. I could write a dissertation chronicling every day and detail. But that would ultimately be pretty boring for you to read. I don't know of anyone who really wants to hear about every moment of someone else's adventure. So after some thought, I have decided to write this first introductory entry describing the general outline of our trip and a few Amazon superlatives to give readers an idea of the fascinating world in which I dipped my little toe. Over time, I'll write up a few stories of some specific experiences that stood out for me to remember--and, taken together, should give readers the "jizz" (birdwatching term describing the overall look and feel of a bird) of the trip.

I knew the Amazon River and its surrounding rainforest was big. And, well, biologically diverse. I guess it didn't hit me until I went there HOW big and HOW diverse.

For starters, let's look at the river itself. Most write-ups of rivers generally list them by length (The Ten Longest Rivers In The World!) or by volume of water carried (The Ten Largest Rivers In The World!). The Amazon is the second longest river, nudged out by a nose by the Nile River (4,180 miles for the Nile, 3,912 for the Amazon) [Never fear, America, the Mississippi-Missouri complex is third at 3,710 miles]. This is from one source; others claim different lengths for each of these rivers, but I'm not going to be picky here because the Amazon comes in at #2.

It's the volume of this magnificent river that makes it shine in the statistical books. The Amazon is #1 by a long shot. The Amazon holds about 1/5 (20%) of the world's river-based freshwater. It is larger, by volume, than the next 7 largest independent rivers combined (two more rivers in that top ten list are tributaries of the Amazon, the Madeira, #6 and the Rio Negro, #8, and those aren't included). The Nile doesn't even enter the picture in the top 30 of this list [the Mississippi-Missouri complex ranks 15th]. The Amazon carries, on average (so this is averaging the highest flows during the 6-month rainy/flood season with the lowest flows of the dry season) 209,000 cubic meters per second (or for us U.S. people, 7,380,765 cubic feet per second). At high flows, the volume has been estimated to be 11,000,000 cubic feet per second.

The Amazon River drains a 1.4-billion acre watershed; over half of this watershed is in Brazil in the region known as "Amazonas." The rest is shared with Peru, Venezuela, Ecuador, Colombia, Guyana, Bolivia, Suriname, and French Guiana. Two general drainage areas split the main tributaries of the Amazon--the Andes Mountains drains into the southern/western part of the watershed, ultimately landing in the river the Brazilians call the Rio Solimoes (So-lee-MOE-ez; but others refer to as the Amazon proper), and the Guyanan Highlands across northern South America drain into the Rio Negro and other northern/eastern tributaries. The Amazon and its tributaries enter Brazil with only one-fifth of the flow it finally discharges into the Atlantic, yet already at that point has a greater flow than the discharge of any other river in the world.

The Solimoes drainage carries quite a bit of sediment from the Andes Mountains. The water tends to have more nutrients--and is cloudier--due to this sediment load. The Rio Negro, draining the volcanic substrate of the Guyanan Highlands, doesn't have that sediment load. It does pick up tannic acid from the tannin-heavy rainforest vegetation, and is therefore clear but dark (think of a glass of clear iced tea), and--fortunately for us and the humans that live along it--too acidic for mosquitoes to breed. Unless you get into the interior of the rainforest beyond the edges of the Rio Negro and its acidic tributaries, you don't see or experience mosquitoes while on this river. An added bonus is that the Rio Negro water is like a vinegar rinse--good for your skin and hair.

Just east of Manaus, where the Solimoes and Negro meet to form the Amazon proper, is a phenomenon and tourist attraction known as the "Meeting of the Waters." The light-colored, sediment-laden Solimoes meets the clear, dark Negro. Their currents are different speeds, their relative density differs, and because of that, the two rivers essentially travel side by side, not mixing, for up to four miles. This separation is most notable, and easiest to reach by boat, just outside of Manaus.

Rio Negro, at left; Rio Solimoes, at right; we're now
on the Amazon River
The Amazon then picks up more and more water on its journey east to the Atlantic, emptying out its freshwater into the sea. The plume of freshwater is so great (and lighter than sea water) it can reach over 250 miles in length, and between 60 and 120 miles in width. Sailors over 100 miles into the Atlantic ocean can still scoop up freshwater off the side of their boat. Its mouth at the Atlantic, during high seasonal flood flows, can be over 120 miles wide (some documents cite 250 miles width; others say "wider than the distance between Paris and London"). At Manaus, where the Negro and Solimoes meet, it's already about 10-15 miles wide. Can I just add here that Manaus (some thousand-plus miles from the Atlantic) is only 144 feet above sea level--and that some of the Amazon River is actually below sea level, but its force and size push it upwards and onwards.

That's alot of water. And a huge watershed. Let's turn to the Amazon rainforest. If it was a country, it would rank 9th in size. Ten percent (some reports say up to one-third, or over 30%) of the world's known species live in the Amazon rainforest (over half the world's species can be found in all of Earth's rainforests combined). 20% of the world's birds live here, as do 2.5 million insect species, 40,000 plant species, and 3,000 fish species. There are so many plants that for the most part, native cultures would only bother to name those plants that are either beneficial/used or poisonous. The rest they didn't name; what a headache that would be, eh?

Some people refer to rainforests, especially the largest ones, as "the world's lungs," attributing the carbon absorption and oxygen-producing qualities of plants offsetting carbon build-up in our atmosphere. However, this is a misnomer; the decomposition of plant matter here absorbs about as much oxygen as the trees produce. It's more accurate to state that our planet's rainforests have a cooling effect on global climate, as they absorb a huge amount of heat from the sun. About 30% of our carbon emissions actually come from one thing--burning of the rainforests for agricultural uses/exploitation and human growth.

The Amazon and most of its tributaries are characterized by forests that become seasonally flooded during the 6-month rainy season. The river can rise up to (at times exceeding) 30 feet, flooding about 100,000 square miles of land every year. At the river's height, one can travel to normally inaccessible areas by canoe, effectively floating through the rainforest at mid-canopy height. Trees can be seen beneath the water, fully leafed out; birds and other animals can be observed more easily as you glide through the middle of the forest canopy in your canoe.

A flooded tree
This is why our trip was scheduled when it was. The height of flood season is just when the rainy season stops (end of June) and the river has yet to barely start receding. This is when you can best explore the forest--by canoe.

Floating through the mid-canopy layer of the rainforest
Our tour began and ended at Manaus. Upon landing at the Manaus airport (direct from Miami), we were shuttled to our boat, the Dorinha, that would be our home for the next two weeks. We would float a few days up the Solimoes, turn and come back to Manaus for a day visit, and then spend the majority of our time on the Rio Negro.

Hello, nice to meet everyone, what are we in for???

Our home for two weeks, the Dorinha

For the most part, our day would start at daybreak with a wake-up song played over the boat's P.A. system--Pavoratti's La Traviata to be exact; we'd grab a cuppa joe and enjoy opera, the wake-up songs of birds, and a bite of yesterday's dessert cake.

We'd then head into our three canoes as the day broke for a morning float into the forest.

A few hours later, we'd head back to the Dorinha for breakfast/brunch, and spend the heat of the day traveling further upriver on the boat with that time to ourselves for whatever we wanted to do: nap, watch the trees float by and see birds along the way, or in my case, pull out my crochet while sitting on the canopied upper deck and watch the forest and water glide by.

We'd then land somewhere fascinating and go for an afternoon canoe ride until sunset.

Back at the Dorinha, we'd have dinner and review "the checklist" (a gathering of the group to review every species observed that day).

Many evenings after dinner, we'd head back on out for a night-time spotlighting excursion. Let me say here that there's nothing like floating in the dark of night in the jungle, more stars overhead than you've ever witnessed before, with only a spotlight lighting your way as we looked for reflections of eyes that could belong to snakes, frogs, caimans, birds, tarantulas, or sloths. Shiver.

So come join me and hear my stories of Amazonas, which I'll be posting over the next several weeks. I hope you enjoy!

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Cyrano: Pushing His Luck

Throughout June, we observed our House Wren Cyrano continue to woo his Roxanne. Every morning they would both be seen, singing from nearby branches and other favorite perches (our cobalt-blue gazing ball being one), happy to have found each other. Pretty soon, the stuffing of the old-man nestbox began; twigs, pine needles, and Carly's fur (the only benefit to the massive shedding of her winter coat) were schlepped inside until we thought not one more pine needle could fit. Then things quieted down as eggs were laid and tended. Oh, Cyrano still sang, but his song was noticeably quieter. We could still hear it--right at daybreak outside our open bedroom window, causing Bruce to have this love/hate relationship with him. The bird simply cannot stop singing.

Bruce's fancy new camera at work
We truly were thrilled, though, to watch this unlikely couple make a go at having a family. I was all set for this blog post to be centered on Cyrano, Roxanne, and (fingers crossed) new babies successfully fledging from the nest and entering the world. A nice little package of a story, wrapped up with a big happy bow. There is more to it, though--so just keep reading.

And indeed, the family was successful. At least three wrens hatched, and Roxanne and Cyrano hustled their little upright tails off bringing insects to nourish babies Edmond (for Edmond Rostand, playwright for Cyrano de Bergerac), Geraldine (for Geraldine McCaughrean, who re-wrote the play as a novel); and Martin (for Steve Martin, who wrote the screenplay for the movie Roxanne, winning a Writers Guild of America award). Note: Neither Bruce nor I are one for naming our yard critters, but what the heck. This is an exception.

Forage and feed, forage and feed, and on it went. Pretty soon, the heads of Edmond, Geraldine, and Martin started to appear as they grew. We could see the nest was packed with nest-stuff, and often when Cyrano or Roxanne would bring food in, they would take things out; cleaning house, so to speak. The usual item carted out being poop from the babies. Such is life, and you had to admire the cleanliness of these birds.

The light-colored rim of their beaks goes slightly downward,
making the young 'uns look grumpy. Quit complaining, I say!

The old man nestbox is starting to show a little wear and tear!

We didn't know exactly when the birds would fledge out of the nest. One evening while sitting on the back deck enjoying our yard birds and the sunset, we noticed that the box was quiet. Too quiet. Cyrano and Roxanne seemed to have disappeared. The eerie silence went on for about 20 minutes. Bruce and I looked at each other with pained expressions of heartbreak, sadness, and a tad bit of joy. The family may have moved on, but we played a tiny role in adding a few more wrens to this world. We couldn't believe how sad we were, though, and realized at that very moment how important Cyrano and Roxanne had become in our daily lives. It was just too quiet without them, and worst of all, we didn't get a chance to say good-bye!!!

Then....movement, wren-song, and what sounded like apologetic wren-chatter as Cyrano and Roxanne returned to the box and the family woke up with open mouths. Whew. All accounted for, safe and sound. Continue on.

It had to happen, though. Two days after the above photos were taken, the young birds popped out of the nest while we were on our morning walk, and old man nestbox fell quiet.

Two summers ago when our nesting juncos fledged (see earlier post), mom, dad, and kids left the yard right away, never to return. We hoped this wouldn't be the case with Cyrano and his brood. And it wasn't, at least not right away.


This section of our yard, especially the honeysuckle bush on the pole fence, became Wren Central. The young wrens used this bush as their fort, hidden away as they learned the ropes from mom and dad. Sections of the bush would sometimes tremble while the young bounced around within. Chattering noises abounded, making us wonder what sort of conversations were going on. And, we soon started seeing young wrens perched here and there, sort of huddled in a "please don't see me, Mr. Hawk" position.

For the most part, that's how it went. We think Edmond, Geraldine, and Martin, with Roxanne nearby, are exploring the great new world that is our yard and the adjacent forest of our neigbors, as we can sometimes hear wrens within earshot.

BUT wait, he's baaaaacckkk....Cyrano is at it again. Every morning, right as the dawn breaks (which is early; the clock's first digit is always a "4"), there goes Cyrano. Singing. Loudly. Constantly. Bruce gets up, harumphs and shakes his fist (albeit gently), shuts the window, and tries to get back to sleep. Which doesn't work, because now Carly is up and starts licking, nibbling, and growling to be let out.

The song of the wren fills our mornings yet again. There's Cyrano, bouncing all over the place singing loudly from every perch possible, advertising a second time what a great layout he found for just the right female. Did Roxanne tell him she's just not that into him? Will he succeed against even greater odds in finding a new mate, this late in the nesting season? Dude, don't push it; chill and go out on top!!!

I don't know what happened to Roxanne. She's probably hovering around her brood as they make their way into the forest. Cyrano, though, has transformed into a Don Juan. Now I have to research THAT guy!

Taken just this morning. Here he goes again.

Monday, May 26, 2014

The Results Are In...

"You know what you made? You made Jagermeister!"

Said my brother-in-law Brian, kidding but sort of serious, after he read my Fig Cordial blog entry. Brian was going to visit us for the long Memorial Day weekend. While he is not a big drinker at all, he is probably my #1 go-to source for information on liquor. Or liqueurs. Or, in my case, cordials. He knows his stuff. So before he arrived, I remembered I had jars of figs and things marinating in vodka in our closet. I asked him to read my blog entry, think about what could be mixed with my fig cordial, bring some mixers with him, and we'd have a taste-testing good time. It just so happens that Jagermeister is one of his favorite sipping drinks. Score!

I knew my fig cordial needed some help. I tasted it weeks ago and my first thought was that I made cough syrup--or something that could be used to possibly make me feel better when I'm sick. Now, that's a pretty low bar for this stuff to jump over. I wasn't impressed, and thought I had basically wasted a gallon of cheap vodka, which is kind of a shame in its own way, and goes to show what I thought of this concoction. But it WAS very pretty--a deep ruby-amber color, and I had hope that we'd find something that would work.

After Brian e-mailed me back with his comparison to Jagermeister, he sent me a couple links to websites listing HUNDREDS of cocktails to make using Jagermeister, as well as the Jagermeister webpage, found here. With those links in hand, plus the Wikipedia page, I find out that he's pretty dang close. I didn't crack the nut that is the secret combination of 56 herbs and spices that makes the true Jagermeister, but it rings true--especially the commonality that I made a product that some people will hate, and others will love--just like Jagermeister.

The real Jagermeister was rolled out to the world, for better or worse, in 1935 by Wilhelm and Curt Mast of Germany. The name, meaning "Master Hunter," was a reflection of Curt's passion for hunting. While Jagermeister's recipe is largely still a secret, several taste-connoisseurs have determined that some of the ingredients include cinnamon, anise, and ginger (all three of which went into my fig cordial), plus things like citrus peel, juniper berries, and ginseng. Another website mentioned cardamom (check!) and possibly vanilla (check!). And, it is truly either loved or despised. I wanted to find ways to make my fig cordial loved.

I read through some of the cocktail recipes. Some were your basic "mix with a bunch of liquors" to come up with something that completely masks all the individual flavors plus ____ (sweet juice goes here; take your pick) that overpowers even THAT.

Some of the comments people added at the end of various websites included vows that Jagermeister cured them of stomach ailments; that they take a shot of the "old Jager" every night to help with indigestion; that when sick, nothing makes them improve better than a cup of black tea, a hit of Jager, and a sugar cube. And maybe there is a nugget of reason there, given ginger (aids nausea, good for digestion) and other supposed ingredients that are antioxidants or anti-inflammatories (cinnamon) it contains.

Suggested mixers included things I wouldn't really be surprised to hear: pineapple, cranberry, and orange juices, vodka (which is already a part of my cordial), Squirt soda, and even cola.

Others were surprising--peppermint schnapps? Kahlua, coffee, cream, and a hit of Jager? Other sweet liqueurs like blackberry schnapps? Jack Daniels, Coke, and Jager? Kool-Aid? What about making a JagerBomb--Jagermeister with Red Bull? Whoa. Even grape soda, mentioned several times. Yes, the grape soda you had when you were a kid--that fizzy, dark purple (I don't even want to know how much dye goes into it) sickly-sweet pop that makes my stomach churn just thinking about it.

So the day Brian showed up, I pawed through my cabinets. I found an old can of pineapple juice, some plain sparkling water that I thought could cut its powerful taste, and we had bought a real pineapple for the weekend, not thinking it'd be a lab rat for soaking in fig cordial. Brian (I knew I picked the right person for this!) showed up with papaya and pineapple schnapps; cherry cola; ginger ale; Squirt; can of the dreaded grape soda. Honestly, I didn't think they still sold this garbage (I never peruse the soda aisle).

Testing one thing and another separately with fig cordial and then mixing one, two, or three things together, we had fun trying things out. At one point, my neighbor and friend Pat came by. She had a totally different set of taste buds than we did, and what was almost bearable to us was unbearable to her. All good--that's what experimenting is for.

Now, the results!

The first mix that I could live with was a blend of papaya and pineapple schnapps, a hit of Jack Daniels, a splash of sparkling water, and fig cordial. I can see your face....please, I know. Stop. It wasn't bad.

Another decent mix was orange juice and fig cordial, straight up. Possibly coming in just by a nose ahead of that was OJ, champagne, and a hit of fig cordial. We decided to have that play on a mimosa the next morning. The thing about OJ and fig cordial--put it in an opaque glass. The thick orange juice combined with the glossy ruby-brown cordial created the unappetizing color known as "mud." You really don't want to see it as it's going down.

Another success? Pineapple chunks marinating in fig cordial.

But what was our favorite? You guessed it---GRAPE SODA!!!! Yuck!!! But yum!!!! It's unbelievable how the two flavors played upon each other to come up with a not-sweet-soda, not-too-herby/spicy drink.

Worst? Fig cordial and ginger ale. We both thought that may be worthy, but...nah. Terrible.

I actually think that I'll like it with hot tea and a sugar cube. I may have to wait until I'm down with a cold to attempt that. Or maybe I'll try it tonight. Who knows. I do know that I'm going to have to swallow a lot of pride if I end up having to buy a six-pack of grape soda. Maybe I know a kid I can pay to walk into Safeway and buy grape soda for me. Regardless, I have enough of the stuff to last. Once the figs and other ingredients were removed, I ended up with about two quarts. Want some?

Smile, my pretty!

Friday, May 16, 2014

Nestbox. Bird. Challenge. Victory.

   Several years ago, my husband was browsing the web for something to pop out on the screen as a good birthday present for his wife (me). He found this quaint wooden nest box that had a carved caricature of an old man with a large nose, holding a pair of binoculars. The entry holes for the birds are the man's nostrils. It is very cute, and we hang it on a tree near our back deck every spring.

   The box is made for wrens, the entry holes being in the configuration that wrens like (facing horizontally out so they can go up and in). It's been checked out over the years by nuthatches, but there's never been any use of it by any bird--because our yard isn't really good wren habitat. The only time our yard was visited by a house wren (the most common wren species up here), it was a fly-by out front. Hello, no thanks, nothing good here, goodbye.
This is what the box looked like in 2005. 2006. 2007.
2008. 2009. 2010. 2011. 2012. And 2013.

Here is John James Audubon's illustration of a House Wren, note the nest configuration, in an old hat:

    Imagine our surprise when, just a couple weeks ago, a male house wren inspected our little man, and decided it was the perfect pad for a mate. We know it was a male, because in House Wren World, males find a nest spot (or a few spots), build the start of a nest (or a few nests), attract a mate, and then SHE gets to choose which nest they'll use. So there was this proud dude, flying inside with sticks and soft stuff, and then perching himself on a nearby branch, busting with pride and singing his wee little heart out. Like this:

    Singing singing singing. This would go on for hours, I am not kidding you. He'd move to a different branch, and start over. Hours. It was heartbreaking, like watching Cyrano de Bergerac trying desperately to woo his Roxanne. Wait. Cyrano. Cyr-wren-o.....perfect!!!

    After a couple days of this lone, ever more desperate song piercing our souls, I mentioned to Bruce that, you know, Cyrano may not get his Roxanne, considering Roxanne may never come within a half-mile of this property. We could only hope and watch.

    Bruce had a lot of chances to watch, too, because he had many, many yard projects going on. When Bruce works in the yard, he pulls out this boombox, tunes into the local oldies radio station, and plays it loud enough to hear it from all over the yard. A week or so ago, I came home from work to find Bruce in the yard, constructing whatever. The boombox was pulled out like normal, but it wasn't on. I talked to him a bit about our day, and inquired "why aren't you listening to the radio?"

    With this sheepish voice, he said quietly, "The wren wouldn't be heard by any females...I didn't have the heart to drown him out." (all together now "aaaawwwwwwwwwwwww...").

    And that is why I married him.

    But back to the story. Cyrano continued to sing, we continued to wait. Day after day.

    Today, I went on my morning walk with Carly, and Bruce hung back in the yard to fix, build, or water something. Upon our return, Bruce motioned me over to him. With a twinkle in his eye and barely a smile, he asked "What would be the best news you could possibly hear right now?" I thought a bit, and then it hit me.


   We grinned at each other and cheered. Score one for perseverance. You go, Cyrano.

   Over breakfast on the back deck, I saw both Cyrano and Roxanne. One was singing, one was fluffing up the nest--both reminding me that sometimes, it's the little things in life that count, big time.

Our Cyrano

His Roxanne