Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Drink of Choice

My husband saw this on a bumper sticker and I can relate. Can you?

No tea for me, thanks. I prefer progress.

[Art by Mary Cassatt.]

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Take A (Doggelgänger) Break

If you’ve finished all your tasks for today and are looking for something to do, why not take a peek at your canid doppelgänger—that is, your Doggelgänger.

Doggelgänger is “human to canine pairing software” that analyzes a photo of your choosing—which you upload to the site—and finds a pooch who not only looks like the person in the photo, but is available for adoption. Upload your own mug and find the perfect matching companion for your life.

[This adorable boy is available through Bad Rap.]

Monday, August 27, 2012

BOOKreMARKS: Bye, Bye Birdie

I’ve reached the final chapter of Sy Montgomery’s Birdology and I hesitate to begin it because I don’t want the book to end. Heck, I didn’t want the hummingbird chapter to end.

I’ve learned so much about birds (Montgomery writes: “A raptor’s vision is the sharpest of all living creatures.” They can spot prey across a three-square-mile area from 1,000 feet in the air.) and have delighted in the stories (Scientists studying homing pigeons at Cornell University had one bird who always made it back to Ithaca after being released elsewhere, but never returned to the coop as did the other birds in the study. Instead, locals who spotted the wayward banded bird in their yards would report it to Cornell, then send the bird back to the scientists—in a taxi! I’m guessing the first time the pigeon failed to return to the coop was an honest mistake, but thereafter he made it a point to meet some new neighbors and get chauffeured through town.)

If you’re not already schooled in bird behavior, please read Birdology. It will enrich your connection to the great outdoors.

[Falcon photo from Audubon Magazine; Frill Back Pigeon photo from the National Pigeon Association.]

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Meet Mr. Personality

Here’s another horse after my own heart:

Pictured (sitting) is Taffy, whose rider says he’s the laziest horse in the world. I prefer to think he hears a different drummer.

Watch his sweet video, “The Wonderful World of Taffy,” on YouTube.

Emotional Barometer

“Our culture places such a high value on being relentlessly cheerful, optimistic and Facebook-friendable that it’s just sort of embarrassing not to be that person. God knows, I’d love to wake up every day in a cupcakes-and-kittens state of mind, but there are mornings when I’ll settle for an emotional weather report that is partly sunny with only a 30 percent chance of rain.”
—Nikki Hardin, publisher of Skirt!

Isn’t that the truth? Whatever your state of mind is this morning, make your day count.

[Photographer unknown.]

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Groupon Wants My Feedback

Like thousands of other Americans, I have taken advantage of some of the discounts offered by Groupon. After my most recent deal, Groupon e-mailed me a “survey” about my experience—a private trail ride on horseback.

I wonder if the survey tactic is new for Groupon. They certainly didn’t ask me how I felt about the piece-of-crap keyboard I bought through them last spring. Anyway, I was happy to oblige.

The trouble was the structure of the survey. It allowed me to choose only one of two options, with no provision for comments or explanation: 1) I enjoyed ________ Stables and would recommend it to others, or 2) I did not enjoy ________ Stables and would not recommend it to others. Though this would seem to be the easiest kind of decision to make—as it would have been had I been asked about that useless keyboard—in this particular case, it was not.

The trail ride (actually, there was no trail; we just meandered through fields of wildflowers and butterflies) was fine. We were treated well and received what we were promised. For animal lovers, the place was a dream: 70 horses (including yearlings and seniors), a pony, a donkey, a variety of dogs from pug puppies to an ancient mastiff, cats, a rabbit, and a free-range pig.

However, for animal lovers, the place was also a nightmare: One dog was tethered to a tree, the cats were bony with opossum-like tails, tumors covered the large dogs, the pig’s stomach dragged the ground, and the rabbit—after surviving life at a research facility—seemed desperate to escape its small, filthy cage.

This father-daughter operation includes riding lessons, horse breeding, dog breeding, competitions—and no help. We learned that half of this business duo was out of commission, struck by cancer. The daughter, while performing caregiving duties for her father, managed the farm by herself. Times were tough and getting tougher.

So, did the daughter partner with Groupon in hopes of garnering repeat business? Or was she simply going for an influx of cash? Her farm sorely needs both scenarios, which is why I didn’t want to choose “No” on the Groupon survey.

On the other hand, how can I recommend a business where animals are not given proper vet care, many animals have to forage for their own food and water, and breeding principles are hardly recognized? Sadly, these issues probably aren’t the result of the father-daughter’s recent misfortunes. More likely they’re the result of a faulty philosophy about animal welfare. Worse, I suspect this farm isn’t an anomaly; there are hundreds, maybe thousands more like it across the country.

Had Groupon devised an e-mail survey with more options—for instance, a series of value statements that rated my experience—I might have been able to give the desired feedback. As it was, though, I chose the only other option left: I deleted it.

[Painting of horse by Gustave Caillebotte; painting of pig by Stephen Filarsky.]

Friday, August 24, 2012

The (Equine) Reading Life

Here’s a horse after my own heart:

This is Shana, whose guardian is equine coach Nicole Birkholzer. In a post on her Mindful Connections blog, Birkholzer asks whether horses are studious. Take a peek at the other horse pictured and you’ll have no trouble answering the question.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Ode to a Tree

esterday marked the demise of the last mulberry tree standing between my neighbors’ property and the expanse of now-shadeless withered grass that stretches out from our living-room windows. I can’t blame them. Who wants mulberry trees next to their driveway? Removing the tree will reduce their car-wash expenses and increase the natural light in their home.

Still, I will miss watching the sun’s shifting light on the tree’s leaves. I’ll miss the shade thrown by the tree and the songs of the birds who populated it. I’ll miss its stature, its profile against the sky.

Thoughts of this young mulberry tree evoke memories of a much larger and older one from my youth—whose smashed fruits supplied the boys’ war games with pseudo-blood, whose branches offered the most adventurous climbing.

Oh sweet mulberry trees, thank you for the time I knew you; you were loved.

[Drop cap by Jessica Hische.]

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Home, Home on the Hill

Periodically we peruse sale listings for properties. We often find something we like but can’t afford, or something we can afford but don’t like, or something we like but refuse to pay anything close to the asking price. Rarely do we experience that Goldilocks Moment where something is Just Right. Until this month.

The listing was for a summer house, a cabin. A LOG cabin, to be exact. It sat in some woods on a hill near the Kentucky River and the price was right. Sure, it was a fixer-upper, but that was part of the appeal for my husband. He delights in building and fixing things and constantly tinkering with improvements (the Kaizen attitude toward home ownership).

We started fantasizing about our lifestyle there, wondered about the neighbors, seriously considered a boat… But the detail in the listing that really stoked our imaginations was the acre of property on which the cabin sat. For a couple of gardeners currently deprived of their gardening, an acre sounds like Eden.

We couldn’t stop imagining our lives in that log cabin overlooking a river and surrounded by vegetation. Yet of all the photos attached to the listing, none gave us an inkling as to how the cabin was situated on the acre. So we drove out to see it yesterday.

The “neighborhood” was gorgeous: houses hidden in lush wooded lots, the river palisades in view. “Our” cabin stood atop a steep hill across the road from an expansive (and better) property that really did overlook the water. As we climbed the steep, crumbling limestone steps from the road to the porch and patio of our dreams, with more steps above to reach the actual cabin, I started to suspect that growing old here might prove challenging. Directly behind the cabin rose most of the acre of land promised in the listing: a wall of rock.

Yup. We’d be buying an acre of land all right, but it would be a vertical acre and practically useless to us. It was a deal-breaker.

We had to laugh. At least we had experienced a beautiful drive to a place we’d never been. I guess now we can redirect our fantasies to winning the losery (i.e., lottery).

Note: The pooch in the pics was the sentry of the ’hood and bounced around like a wicked-fast Slinky. To make friends with her, we threw sticks for her to fetch—over and over and over again.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Say What?

I read this the other day:

“Ethics is the new competitive environment.”
—Peter Robinson, business leader

Oh, Mr. Robinson, how you make me laugh. I know it wasn’t your intention. But, honestly, there are so few of your kind who care about social responsibility and the high road—opting instead for shareholder happiness and the bottom line—that I’d hardly call your arena “competitive.” But we can keep dreaming, can’t we?

[Graphic from the Everything Small Business Journal.]

Bird Briefs, Part 2

They’re fluttering outside my windows and inside my books: birds. Thought I’d say a few words about them.

Extreme Rescue
Sy Montgomery’s latest book, Birdology, is a delightful collection of stories, histories, lore, and facts about seven avian species (or, if some scientists get their way, seven dinosaur species). She devotes one chapter to hummingbirds, profiling the day-to-day efforts of a “hummer” rehabber who specializes in fostering orphaned baby hummers—so tiny they’re best observed with the aid of a magnifying glass.

One member of the 340+ hummingbird species journeys from Mexico to Alaska each year—the longest migration, in terms of body length, of any bird. The first portion of the course includes a trek across the Gulf of Mexico—a 21-hour, nonstop flight. It’s a miraculous show of stamina and endurance, and not every hummer is up to it. Montgomery mentions one unfortunate bird who collapsed on an oil rig. The (unnamed) oil company ordered a helicopter to transport the feathered patient to a wildlife rehabber in the States, where the little guy spent months recuperating in a greenhouse. He caught up with his pals on their return migration to Mexico. I’m not sure which is more amazing: the hummers’ migration or the oil company’s good deed.

Say It Isn’t So
If you’ve read Erik Larson’s The Devil in the White City, you know how packed it is with details about 1890s Chicago—the dust, the odors, the politics. Of all the remarkable and sometimes shocking facts Larson presents, one in particular stood out to me. Frederick Law Olmsted, as part of the magical landscape he conjured for the Columbian Exposition, populated the lagoons with birds. Larson writes: “Olmsted had ordered more than eight hundred ducks and geese, seven thousand pigeons, and for the sake of accent a number of exotic birds, including four snowy egrets, four storks, two brown pelicans, and two flamingoes.”

SEVEN THOUSAND PIGEONS? Really? Weren’t there enough pigeons in Chicago already? Every species on Olmsted’s list is a water bird except the pigeon. Could it be that a critical word—say, Guillemot—was omitted from the copy? Perhaps Olmsted imported 7,000 Guillemot Pigeons to the fair, which would make sense. Readers, can you shed any light on this matter?

Platonic Pairings
I’ve written before about LuckyBird and his sparrow pal. What I’ve not yet relayed is that we have been watching two other similar pairs at our feeders. The cardinals are young adults and, in both cases, the sparrows seem more committed to the relationships than their crimson counterparts. Is it misguided, unrequited love? Are they just friends? Will they ever mate with their own kind? Again, dear readers, if you know anything about cross-species relationships, please enlighten me.

“Birds teach us reverence—a virtue that, writes classicist and philosopher Paul Woodruff, ‘begins in a deep understanding of human limitations.’ ”
—from Birdology, by Sy Montgomery

[Art by Ernst Haeckel (top) and Charley Harper (bottom).]

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

The Magic of a Four-Leaf Clover

My days too frequently begin with a text (spam) message telling me I’ve won a $1,000 gift card to some big-box store. The first time I received one I was genuinely excited. Upon investigation, of course, the thrill drained away.

Last week, though, an e-mail brought me a legitimate note from I had won a raffle and will receive as my prize Melissa Sue Bowles’ The Horses of Proud Spirit—her book about the residents of the sanctuary she founded.

The contest was easy: Step 1) Set up an account on, and Step 2) Post a comment. I didn’t have to beg for votes or get approval from a panel of judges. It was my kind of contest. I suspect that four-leaf clover I found earlier had something to do with this change of fortune.

Thank you, Clover Fairy, for watching over me.

[Photo is from Proud Spirit Sanctuary.]

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Earthlings Dive into World Record

Did you see the news yesterday? Folks from around the globe met outside Chicago to break the world record in heads-down vertical skydiving. Skydive Chicago (where yours truly learned to skydive) organized the jump.

Can you imagine? They were free-falling up to 220 mph! I get tingly just writing about it. If you’ve never experienced a free fall, I can tell you that it’s exhilarating—better than the downward thrusts of the most dangerous rollercoaster. The sensation of no sensation is…well…bliss.

[Photo by Brian Buckland.]

If You Believe in Fairies…

Guess what? My luck is about to change.

After returning home from an afternoon of Olympian cycling (truthfully more the Sisyphean variety), I stood in our yard waiting as my husband tucked our bikes back into their elevated, chained safe house (a thief attempted to pry one away last week, so we’re extra careful now). Sweat was pouring off me and I didn’t mind standing still.

I dropped my head in exhaustion and there it was. The first thing to come into focus was a four-leaf clover.

I’ve searched for four-leaf clovers my entire life—including in that very yard—and never spotted one before. I felt as if I’d just discovered a dinosaur bone or the map to a lost treasure.

Of course, luck can be ephemeral and sometimes hard to recognize as good. Yet if you believe in fairies, then you’ll agree that my luck is about to change. Stay tuned…

Saturday, August 4, 2012

To Have and Have Not: The New Equal Rights

As you may have gathered from my reading list, I’ve been bingeing on Wendell Berry’s poetry. He writes transcendently about place, nature, farming, food, land conservation, and life cycles. If you’re unfamiliar with this Kentucky icon, I encourage you to get acquainted with him. (Start with Mark Bittman’s overview in Humanities, “The Thing (or Things) About Wendell Berry,” or read Berry’s 2012 Jefferson Lecture, “It All Turns on Affection.”)

Here’s a snippet from “The Reassurer,” published in Berry’s 1994 Entries. It made me chuckle when I read it because it might just as well have been written today.

from his smile they understand that the fortunate have
a right to their fortunes, that the unfortunate have
a right to their misfortunes, and that these are
equal rights.
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