25 May 2011

The Physics of Whippets

Bareit – formally known as Summit Grin and Bare It – is four years old today.

When he came here, he was not yet two years old. He'd been in five different homes – all kind, loving homes, but that's still a lot of different places to live in two years.

He was a little anxious and clingy; understandably so. Ernie, our unflappable greyhound, was a steadying influence and helped him settle in.

When Ernie died about this time last year, we became a two whippet family. Jasmine is sweet, charming, submissive, insecure, a little neurotic, butterfly-brained, and in constant motion (we call her Brownie). Bareit became the older dog, the one showing the new kid how things are done. He has grown into the role. He's handsome, confident, secure, and not nearly as naughty as he used to be. He still likes to roughhouse, which Jasmine does not, and he likes to play Chase Me, which Scarecrow was never very good at but Jasmine enjoys very much. He still likes to take his toys, and the occasional odd item of clothing, outside to play with, and leave wherever he happens to lose interest.

Bareit is still teaching us about the whippet concept of space and time. I don't understand how a whippet can be on either side of a fence, seemingly at will. We're still working on that.

Whippets believe it is possible for two bodies to occupy the same space at the same time. It wasn't possible to demonstrate this concept until we had two whippets, because Ernie wasn't having any of it.

We don't understand it, but find it hugely entertaining.

Happy birthday, little buddy.

24 May 2011

Seeing Red

There's been a lot of traffic on the trunks of the black cottonwoods outside my window. Seems like everyone's wearing red today.

There's the male Robin who was driving the whippets crazy a couple of weeks ago. He finally stopped attacking the bird reflected in the kitchen window, found a mate, and built a nest in one of the trees on the west side of the house. They've been a pretty constant presence, busily doing the baby bird thing.

A Red-breasted nuthatch put in an appearance. I haven't seen (or heard) them around here much before. Their red breast is more of a pale rusty color, but whatever. They're very handsome little birds, and they have at least as good a claim to a red breast as a Robin, whose breast is more of an orangey brown. Or maybe a brownish orange.

Then there was a Red-breasted sapsucker, a bird I don't remember ever seeing before although I don't know why not, because they're common enough around here. Now that's red, sure enough – candy apple red – but you don't notice it on his breast so much as all over his head. I guess the name "red-headed woodpecker" was already taken.

The Hairy woodpecker who showed up to work over a gnarly bit of trunk is a fairly regular visitor. It was the female this time so she didn't actually have any red on her, but a male would have some.

Ditto for the female Anna's hummingbird who has been around from time to time lately. A male Anna's would have some serious red.

Makes me want to go put on my University of Georgia T-shirt, the one that says "Junkyard Dogs." I bought it 33 years ago when I was in Athens for an American Society of Mammalogists meeting. I'm pretty sure I still have it – I don't turn my closet over very often, I guess. It's old, but it's very red.

It would be a good day for one of our Pileated woodpeckers to stop by. I haven't seen one, but the day's not over yet.

(I wish I had great photos of all these guys, but I don't. I don't even have not-great photos. The best I can do is to send you to All About Birds. Lame, I know. Sorry.)

Maybe tomorrow will be chestnut day. There's the Rufous-sided towhee who has been picking disgusting looking things out of the leaf detritus on top of the shed, and the Chestnut-backed chickadee, my new favorite bird of all time. On a scale of cute from 1 to 10, they're an 11. And maybe a Rufous hummingbird. It could happen.

You've got to get excited about the little things, don't you know.

22 May 2011

Uncle Al Must Be Nuts

Ever since my previous post, I've been studying (some would say obsessing over) that picture of my mother's brothers and sisters. The more I look at it, the more I'm convinced that my Uncle Al can't be right. Those kids can't be who he says they are.

If you're bored by my fixation on old family photos, now would be a good time to go read something else.

For one thing, it looks to me like the third kid from the right in that photo is a boy. Uncle Al says it's my Aunt Virginia, but if so, she's got a boy's haircut, and she's wearing shorts. If this is 1927, give or take a couple of years, girls don't wear pants, even to play outside.

Another reason I think Uncle Al must have his siblings scrambled is that there's another photo, with some of the same kids in it. I don't know when it was taken, but I'd guess maybe a year or so later. In this one, I'm pretty sure I know who's who.

In the center is my grandmother, Helen Catherine, looking, if I may say so, like a woman who's had twelve children. Around her, clockwise from the top:

Marie Helen (my mother)
Virginia (scowling at camera)
James Carl
Harriet Ann (sitting next to g'ma)
Corrine Audrey
Pat Mae (on grandma's lap)
Alfred Paul

The Alfred Paul, in this picture, looks very much like the third kid from the right in the other photo. The one Uncle Al said was a girl. I don't think it was a girl. I'm thinking it was Uncle Al.

If that's true, the other picture couldn't have been taken in 1927, because Alfred Paul wasn't born until March of 1928. So I'm back to not knowing who the kids are in the other picture, but here's my guess: let's say, instead of 1927, it was taken around 1934. Let's say all the kids in the picture were siblings, not neighbors. And let's say that the girl 4th from the right, scowling at the camera, is Virginia, because my mom says that in every family picture she ever saw, Virginia was scowling at the camera. I'm pretty sure the girl third from the left is my Aunt Harriet, and despite Uncle Al's assertions to the contrary, the boy third from the right is Alfred Paul. The others might be:

Pat Mae, about 1
Fred (about 18)
Harriet Ann (17)
Marie Helen (13)
George Francis (15)
Virginia (11)
Alfred Paul (6)
James Carl (8)
Corrine Audrey (2)

This still doesn't quite work. Some of the ages don't look right, and some of the kids in the first picture don't seem like they could be the kid in the second picture just a couple years later. But that's OK. I'm not sure I'm ready to have the mystery solved. I kind of like looking at the picture and wondering who those kids were.

I really need to get out more.

19 May 2011

Another Exciting Day

OK, I give up. Waiting for something exciting or noteworthy to write about – even if I set the bar for "exciting" or "noteworthy" pretty low – makes for a pretty sparse blog. Never let it be said that not having anything to say kept me from saying anything. You've been warned.

The latest issue of the Greyhound Pets, Inc. newsletter is off to the printer. I wish this was a project I could get more excited about. Maybe I just don't play well with others. Still, the point is not to have a good time, it's to help out GPI. Other people seem to be happy enough with the result. So, OK. That's done.

Some while ago one of my cousins sent me a photo of some of my mom's siblings when they were kids.

I had never seen it before, so I sent it to my mom to see if she could tell me who was in it. My mom couldn't remember where the picture might have been taken, and wasn't sure which kid was which. In her defense, she really can't see very well anymore, and it was a long time ago, and 11 siblings are a lot to keep track of. I tried to figure it out starting with the birth sequence (boy, boy, boy, girl, boy, girl, girl, girl, boy, boy, girl, girl) and the difference in ages, but just couldn't make it fit.

It remained a mystery until my cousin, who still lives in Ohio near my (our) Uncle Al, found time to visit him and ask about the picture. According to Al, it was taken September 9, 1927. At the time, he said, the family lived at 1525 Milburn Ave. The photo was taken in front of the neighbor's house, at 1523 Milburn Ave. The reason I couldn't match all of the faces with names on the family roster is that they don't all belong there – two of the kids in the picture were neighbors, and two of the kids in the family weren't in the picture. They are, from left to right (because I know you really want to know this):

James Carl, 1 yr.
Edward Lewis, 13
Harriet Ann, 10
name and age unknown, neighbor
Verne, age unknown, neighbor
Marie Helen, 6 (my mother, since I know you're wondering)
Virginia, 4
George Francis, 8
Alma Louise, 2

At the time this was taken the other two boys in the family were Charles Ernest, who would have been 16, and Fred, who would've been 12.

In the years after this moment was saved for posterity, my grandmother had three more children, rounding out an even dozen, and replacing the original mystery (who are these kids?) with another. My Uncle Al wasn't born until six months after this picture was taken. So how did he know all this stuff?

If this is what passes for exciting, I think maybe I need to get out more.

08 May 2011

The Mom Thing

For the last couple of days, I've been watching a family drama taking place outside my window. A fledgling Black-capped Chickadee has been trying to convince a parent that it really still needs to be fed. It's a pretty good flyer now, and it's as big as the adult, so it's not very convincing when it sidles up next to the adult (I find myself thinking of this as the female, although I know both parents feed the young), flutters its wings, opens its hungry little mouth, and gives it the sad little starving Chickadee eyes.

The adult obviously thinks this has been going on just about long enough. Most of the time, the adult hops away. The fledgling follows, with more gaping and begging. The adult flutters to another branch. The fledgling follows. Occasionally, with an air (I know I'm being anthropomorphic here) of exasperation, the adult stuffs something into the gaping fledgling maw.

Seems like if the youngster spent the same amount of energy rustling up its own food as it does begging, it would get more to eat, for less effort. But you can't tell a kid anything.

I know what it's like.

Yesterday, Tuffy asked me how they charge for text messages on her cell phone. Um, beats the heck out of me?

She waited for me to continue. I resisted the urge to do so.

At one time, I was the one who sorted through all the eight bazillion combinations of cell phones and plans and carriers, tried to guess which would work best for us, signed us up, and paid the bills every month. Eventually, however, I stopped using my cell phone at all, and Scarecrow only used his in emergencies, at which time he would inevitably find that he had either left it at home, or forgotten to charge it. Since Tuffy was the only one using the darned thing, it seemed reasonable that she should take over its care and feeding. She can get whatever phone she wants, whatever plan she wants. Not my problem. That was a couple of months ago.

At one time, I'd have offered to track down the information she needed. This time, I didn't do that.

I finally explained that if she wanted to find out how she was billed for text messages, she could do the same thing I would do – rummage around on the carrier's website.

She whined (it was subtle, but it was definitely whining) that the website was confusing. Imagine the fluttering wings, hungry little mouth, and sad little Chickadee eyes.

Yup, I said. It can be confusing. We waited to see who would talk first.

If you still can't figure it out, I said, pick up the phone. Call and ask somebody. You're a clever girl. You can do this as well as I can. I wasn't born knowing how to do stuff, and I didn't take care of these chores because I enjoyed them; I did them because they had to be done. There's a lot of that in life. You can do it.

That fledgling Chickadee is still out there harassing its mom (I know it's the mom; I just know it), and not getting much for the effort.

I guess one of the hard things about being a mom is learning to let go; teaching them they can fly without you. As Mother's Day presents go, realizing that your kid can do that is the best one ever.

02 May 2011

Mayday! Mayday!!

Hal an' tow, jolly rumble-o,
Leap an' caper all befor' the day-o!

Oh wait. That was yesterday.

Well, I really did imagine pulling out the old Morris kit, putting on the vest, tying on the bells, and dancing the sun up. I must've done a good job of it, too, because we had a beautiful spring day yesterday. Today, of course, it's back to being gloomy and gray and leaky. And I've got the Fools Jig tune stuck in my head. Appropriately and, apparently, permanently.

Scarecrow spent the weekend ridin' fence. I always thought that was a chore associated with containing livestock, but maybe the phrase 'little dogies' pertains to whippets, too. They had all day yesterday to test his repairs. Of course they didn't, because we were home. They were quite happy to hang out in a sunny spot in the yard with the rest of the pack. Today will be the test.

When Scarecrow came in, grubby and sweaty, from working in the yard, I realized how much I miss being able to do that. Not fixing fence – that's never a fun job – but generally grubbing around outside, getting dirty. Running or hiking or riding a bike, and coming in sweaty enough to have to quarantine my clothes. Pulling weeds! Death to blackberries! (If you're not from around here, Himalayan blackberry is an invasive species that is attempting to use the Pacific Northwest as a base from which to take over the planet.) Death to English ivy! (Ditto.) In addition to being cathartic, ripping out weeds is a great way to get dirty. Planting vegetables and herbs and flowers. Watering and weeding and sticking my fingers in the dirt for no reason at all. Having to leave muddy shoes at the door, and use a brush to scrub the dirt out from under fingernails. It's hard to come up with a way to get really dirty these days. I'll have to work on that.

Happy belated Bealtaine!