Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Of Forks and Trees

"We had another tree come down in the backyard," said my husband, Paul, when I arrived home one Thursday evening. "Did it hit anything?" Not an unusual question since three weeks earlier a sixty foot Hemlock came down during a windstorm and took out a section of our fence.

Although those of us who live in the Pacific Northwest don't experience hurricanes or tornadoes, we do get our share of windstorms due to the cool water to the west. During the late fall/winter seasons low pressure centers make landfall along our coastline, bringing with them strong winds (40 to 60 mph). Living on Whidbey Island can be quite exciting when the days get shorter and the winds start to howl.

Now before you think "why the heck are you living in a place where large trees drop all around you," we make sure the trees are well clear of our house and when the wind blows mostly all we get is tree litter. This is not the actual toppling of complete trees but rather large branches, leaves, and pinecones. This necessitates lots of outdoor exercise afterwards, raking and bending all while listening to bald eagles chattering overhead. Not a bad way to spend a day and, in these times of sitting in front of a computer for far too long, you feel like you really earned your lunch.

But, occasionally we still have an entire tree come down. In the case of the sixty foot Hemlock, we could tell what happened. The ground was overly soft due to recent heavy rains and the tree being on the edge of our small pasture simply toppled over roots and all. Using his chainsaw, Paul made quick work of the tree and I was the cleanup crew. Very soon our backyard was clean and orderly and the wood was donated to the local Lions Club. That is until that Thursday evening when another large tree (around 40 feet in length) apparently fell over.

The tree in question.

"The problem is," Paul explained "I'm not sure where it came from. I can't find a stump." Since it was too dark to see anything, we waited until the next morning to check out the tree. Paul was right (he loves it when I say that), there was no stump anywhere. In cases like these, when the answer can't be found on the ground, we knew the next best place to look is up because maybe we weren't dealing with an entire tree but part of a tree. And sure enough that provided the answer. "We've got a 'cake fork' tree that has lost one of it's tines," I remarked. At some point in this tree's life, many years ago, the top had been sheared off, probably during one of Whidbey's frequent windstorms. The loss of it's top wasn't enough to kill the tree and it sprouted three new branches to replace the top it lost.

Mystery solved!
In the image above, the pink circle shows where the tree "tine" broke off. The orange arrows indicate the other two tines and the blue arrow shows what caused the damage. It looks like the top from another tree fell on the top this tree snapping off the middle "tine." And guess what, soon we will have another cake fork tree. 

Paul disputes my assertion that there is something such as a "cake fork" tree. But I know I've heard it somewhere. Admittedly, after much "Googlizing" I could find nothing to support my claim, officially. But I did find the tree image below, which when paired with the image of the cake fork to the left, nicely illustrates my point. 

Bonus Cake Fork Trivia* The cake fork was typically designed to be used with the right hand, while the left hand holds the plate. The left tine is wider so it can act like a knife to cut cake when it is pressed down on the plate. Left-handed cake forks have the right side widened instead. Credit: Wikipedia

So our mystery was solved. My only problem now is I've got a hankering for some cake.

Shadow Girls
10x8 inches, oil on linen canvas, 2017
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These girls (hens) are enjoying the warm late spring sunshine as they scamper about looking for tasty things to eat. Something to look forward to during the dark days of winter.

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Christmas Soap

If you're a parent, chances are good that you have received a handmade gift from your child at Christmas. In my family, us kids routinely gave my parents such "special" presents. These were always made in an elementary school art class and usually consisted of glazed and fired clay objects in the shape of bowls, animals or, in one case, a bald human head decorated with flowers (I'm pretty sure my sister Susan was responsible for that one).

My youngest sister, Sally, joined in the effort during her kindergarten year. Sally's teacher choose a more useful and less complicated project for her budding young artists. She had them make Christmas soap. She provided bars of of mildly perfumed white soap and instructed her students on how to apply seasonal decals. Each child made three bars which were then carefully wrapped in Christmas paper with the final touch being a handmade gift tag.

For many of the children, this was going to be their first holiday gift giving experience and Sally was no exception. She bubbled with excitement as she placed her gift to my mother under our Christmas tree. Our tree was traditionally placed in the parlor (a.k.a. living room - blame my New Jersey upbringing) of our house. The parlor was our "fancy room" reserved for company and use on special occasions. It contained our piano, a pink velvet couch, two wingback chairs, a fireplace and, in December, our Christmas tree.

Sally's gift was one of several "family gifts" that would accrue under the tree in the weeks before Christmas. Naturally, Santa's gifts arrived on Christmas eve after we had gone to bed. Sally placed her package front and center under the tree where it was admired by the whole family. Toby, our Old English Sheepdog, also noticed the growing pile of interesting wrapped packages.

While we were at school the next day and mom was busy, Toby sauntered into the parlor drawn by an enticing odor. He sniffed among the gifts where he discovered Sally's fragrant package. Being a typical card-carrying dog, he thought a tasty morsel lay behind the decorative paper.  He tore into the package and "sampled" each soap before realizing they smelled far better than they tasted.

Toby tore into the package and "sampled" each soap before realizing they smelled far better than they tasted.
When Sally arrived home her beautiful gift was in tatters. The pretty paper lay like confetti scattered over three partially gnawed soaps. Fortunately, the decals on the top of each soap escaped injury and Sally was able to repair her gift by smoothing out the divots left by Toby's teeth. She rewrapped the gift and placed it once again under the tree.

The next day, Toby repeated his ransacking of the soap. This time the decals did not fair as well and Sally spent quite a bit of time reconstructing the decorative bars. Once again the repaired soaps were wrapped but this time Sally placed them on top of the piano. This proved to be just the ticket, because  they remained there unmolested until Christmas morning.

When Mom opened her gift she admired the beauty of the misshaped soaps. "They're lovely and exactly what I wanted," she said to a beaming Sally. It was one of those magical family moments. Only Toby looked a little put out as he stood there with his nostrils quivering.

Happy Holidays!

Hey Ewe There!
10x8 inches, oil on linen canvas, 2017
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A ewe and her lamb on my friend’s farm on Whidbey island.

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Chicken Halloween Tidbits

When I need to think, I often find that getting away from the computer and going for a walk with our dog Tucker produces some surprisingly good ideas. At least I think they're good ideas. Such was the case, with the subject of this blog. Tucker and I were marching along on the leaf strewn trails near our home and I was thinking about how much I like the fall season and in particular Halloween. And if you are a frequent reader, you also know I like chickens. "That's it!" I thought. "I'll write about chickens AND Halloween!" I grew more excited as we walked. "There's got to be lot's of interesting tidbits combining Halloween and chickens." 

Well, after extensive "Googling" I'm here to tell you there's not much out there when it comes to Halloween and chickens. I thought I was starting off pretty well when I found out the following about that quintessential Halloween treat Candy Corn:

No. 1  
Invented by George Renninger, a candy maker at the Wunderle Candy Company of Philadelphia in the 1880s, Candy Corn was originally called "chicken feed" since back then, corn was commonly used as food for livestock (they even had a rooster on the candy boxes). 

After that, it was slim pickings. This is what I scraped up from the bottom of the barrel that was scary and involved chickens:

No. 2
Q: What kind of ghost haunts a chicken coop? 
A:  A Poultry Geist

No. 3
The Ghost and Mr. Chicken is a 1966 American comedy-drama film starring Don Knotts as Luther Heggs, a newspaper typesetter who spends a night in a haunted house, which is located in the fictitious community of Rachel, Kansas. The working title was Running Scared.[1] The title is presumably a humorous variation of the film The Ghost and Mrs. Muir (1947).

No. 4
What does Alektorophobia mean? The fear of chickens. Something I can’t understand, but if I ever saw a chicken this big I could see where it would make you take pause.

No. 5
If a rooster is not present in a flock of hens, a hen will often take the role, stop laying, and begin to crow.
I find this last bit the most frightening of all, mostly because of how eerily unsettling a "hen crow" sounds. My husband and I have heard it. In the summer, early in the morning, lying in bed with the window open listening as our little world awakens. First we hear muffled thumps as our girls (hens) jump from their roost and land on the henhouse floor. Then, soft clucking as they emerge from the henhouse to welcome the new day. Then a jarring, loud "SQUAAAWWK!!!!" that makes you sit bolt up with your heart pounding. It doesn't sound remotely like the virtuous rooster "cock-a-doodle" but instead like someone is being murdered right out in the yard. Scary? Oh you better believe it.

Happy Halloween!

Mom and Me
11x14 inches, oil on linen canvas, 2017
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A easy-going mom with her curious foal on warm summer day.

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

My Travels with Toby

Toby with our Winnebago in the mid 1970's
When our dog Sam passed away there was definitely a hole left in our family as I was growing up. We begged our parents for another dog, but they were not easily swayed, especially my Dad. Our family was already large (5 kids, 2 horses, a cat and assorted chickens) so he was probably enjoying not having the extra mouth to feed. So when we approached him one night after dinner clutching the local newspaper to show him the advertisement for Old English Sheepdog puppies and he agreed to drive out and take a "look", we couldn't believe our luck. Who takes their whole family to "look" at puppies without every intention of bringing one of the little fur balls home? We had him, my dad, the "Old Softy."

We all piled in the Country Squire station wagon and drove out to pick out our new dog. Of course he was adorable, I mean we're talking an Old English Sheepdog puppy. And he was a purebred, meaning he cost money. Another thing that went against just about every bone my dad's body. Pay money for a dog?!!! Who does that? Back then, dogs were a dime a dozen and strays, it seemed, were everywhere. Nevertheless, we went ahead and bought ourselves a dog.

We named him Toby. Because he was a purebred, we had the opportunity to expand on that moniker when we submitted his papers to the Old English Sheepdog breed registry. His official name became "Sir Tobias Distlefink of Somerset County." I imagine this had the folks at the breed registry rolling their eyes for days.

Toby grew up to be a sweet dog, but he was not overly blessed in the "brains department." Once, after cleaning our ponies' stalls, I was making my way to the manure pile with a rather full wheelbarrow when Toby decided to come out and meet me. He bounded over and ran smack into the side of the wheelbarrow knocking over it and me in spectacular fashion. And there was the time when we heard him barking frantically one night outside. Upon inspection, we found him facing off with an empty, metal garbage can that had blown against the fence. Granted, on both of these occasions, the cause could have been the fact that his sight was partially impeded by his sheepdog bangs. Regardless, the family consensus was: lovable pooch but not the sharpest tool in the shed.

We were about to embark on our first vacation with Toby, when it was decided (mostly by Dad) that he would be boarded at a local kennel. Our vacations, back then entailed traveling many days and vast miles in a 27' Winnebago. Now, I know that sounds like a large vehicle, but we were a family of seven and I'm pretty sure my dad felt the addition of an 80 pound sheepdog would make our tight quarters that much tighter.

So the afternoon before our departure, Dad and I delivered Toby to the kennel. As we were checking him in with the owner, my father let it slip his thoughts on Toby's apparent shortage of intelligence. The owner, a kindly looking, older gentleman took great offense to Dad's remarks. He knew of an Old English Sheepdog that had saved his owner's life by courageously dragging his unconscious body from a burning building! My dad listen politely, knowing any argument would only delay our exit. "Make no mistake," said the owner taking Toby's leash. "This is one fine, intelligent animal you have here." "We'll take good care of him." "Enjoy your vacation." With that, we turned and hurried out the door.

We were both feeling slightly guilty as we headed home. Maybe we had been too hasty in our judgement of Toby's cleverness. Maybe he was smarter than we thought, a diamond in the rough or fur as the case may be. After all, a professional dog person had just told us that Old English Sheepdogs were brilliant animals. We would look at Toby in a new light when we returned from our trip.

That evening, after supper, as we were finishing packing up the motorhome, the phone rang. My dad picked up the receiver. "Hello?"  He listened with a look of concern growing on his face. "Alright," he said. "We'll be right over to pick him up. Goodbye." He returned the phone to it's cradle. We all looked at him expectantly. "We have to go get Toby," he said. "He won't stop barking."

So Dad and I climbed back into the car and drove out to the kennel once again. We were met at the entrance by the owner clad in a bathrobe with Toby standing by his side. Toby wasn't barking but he sure was thrilled to see us, whimpering and wagging his entire rear end with excitement. The owner had lost his kindly expression. He muttered, "I'm sorry but we just can't keep him if he won't stop barking." There was no mention of the superior intelligence of the breed or daring canine deeds. Instead, he just looked relieved as he handed me the leash.

Dad was tight lipped as we turned to go. I could tell he was not thrilled that Toby would accompany us on vacation, but he had no other choice. It was too late to get him into another kennel. Secretly, I was pleased. In the end, Toby actually turned out to be a pretty good traveller. He would lay quietly while en route and loved visiting with other people we met at the many rest stops and trailer parks along the way. At night, he bed down with me on the floor of the motorhome. He never set paw in another kennel and joined us on many a rolling vacation. If I didn't know better, I'd have thought he planned it that way. 

10x8 inches, oil on linen canvas, 2017
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For some reason these running ducks remind me of the game we played as children called “Duck, duck, goose.” I don’t know why. There is no goose in sight. Unless…that’s what these ducks are chasing!

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Its only a mouse.

There it was again, a soft scratching noise. I stopped working on my painting and holding my brush in mid-air, listened hard. Silence, then "Scratch, scratch." I laid down my brush and arose from my chair to investigate. The noise was coming from the laundry room adjacent to my art studio. I walked through the doorway and saw our cat, Jasper, staring intently at a grey, plastic wastebasket next to our dryer machine. Jasper continued to watch the outside of the grey container as I ambled over to look inside. It was empty, save for a small, trembling mouse gazing up at me through tiny black eyes. "You are one lucky mouse," I said. I reached in and grabbed him by the end of his tail and lifted him from his grey prison. With the mouse dangling from my hand and a very interested Jasper hot on my heels, I carried him to the nearest outside exit. After walking through and shutting the door, in a very indignant cat's face, I released the mouse into some nearby bushes.

Mice who find their way into our house usually do not fare as well as this one. Jasper sees to that. He just "plays" with them until they eventually succumb. Living in a rural area, we are unfazed by the occasional rodent visitor. But I found out the hard way that not everyone shares our laissez-faire attitude. This became abundantly clear a few years back when my sisters, Susan (older) and Sally (younger) and their friend Sandy, came for a visit (yes, I realize there is an over abundance of the letter "s" in that sentence.) Rather then move our two boys out of their small bedrooms during their stay, my sisters and Sandy elected to "camp" in our living room using thick, foam pads for mattresses. Being a good hostess, I rounded up pillows, sheets and blankets for them to use. They were making up their "beds" side by side on the floor, when Sally asked me for an extra blanket before heading to take her shower. I knew we had an additional comforter in the upstairs linen closet and went up to fetch it. I opened the door and spotted it on the lower shelf. "There it is," I thought as I pulled it from it's storage spot. Then I heard a soft "thud." It was the kind of sound I imagine a cardboard cylinder from a roll of toilet paper would make if you dropped it. I looked down and saw a grey furry form. Upon closer inspection, I saw that it was a deceased mouse. Not a recently deceased mouse (I'd seen my share of those), but one that had expired quite some time ago. So long ago that the body was dehydrated. Without another thought, I picked it up and tossed it into the bathroom wastebasket.

I carried the blanket down to the living room where Susan and Sandy were happily ensconced in their makeshift beds reading magazines. I placed the blanket on Sally's "bed". Then I turned to Susan and said, "When I pulled out the blanket from the closet a mummified mouse fell on the floor. I don't think it was in the blanket, but maybe next to it. Do you think Sally will mind?" Susan looked at me with a straight face and replied, "No, she won't mind at all."
Sally had returned to the living room and gotten into her bed. She was arranging the blanket around herself when she noticed Susan's covered, supine form gently shaking next to her.

With that said, I went off to brush my teeth and get ready for bed. Meanwhile, Sally had returned to the living room and gotten into her bed. She was arranging the blanket around herself when she noticed Susan's covered, supine form gently shaking next to her. The shaking got more pronounced and she heard muffled giggling. "Alright," she asked. "What's so funny?" It was then that Susan informed Sally about the mummified mouse and its close association with her blanket.

From upstairs, I heard a bit of a shriek and then pounding feet followed by the appearance of Sally demanding to know if, indeed, her blanket had been used as a mouse burial shroud. I tried to calm her by showing her the departed critter, noting its state of mummification and that it had probably been in the closet long before the blanket. She was having none of it and insisted I bring her a new blanket of the mouse-free variety. I did so and the rest of the evening passed uneventfully.

Words to the wise: never assume that your tolerance levels are the same as those of another and never trust your older sister with any information involving rodents and other family members. 

10x8 inches, oil on linen canvas, 2017
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These cows are enjoying lunch on the prairie in the middle of Ebey’s Landing National Historical Reserve. The Reserve is a rural historic district, that preserves and protects an unbroken historical record of Puget Sound exploration and settlement from the 19th century to the present. Historic farms, still under cultivation in the prairies of Whidbey Island, reveal land use patterns unchanged since settlers claimed the land in the 1850s under the Donation Land Claim Act. The nearby seaport community of Coupeville, one of the oldest towns in Washington, is included in the reserve.

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Just put it back in the nest

The tiny bird landed on the rim of the flower pot hanging under an eave outside of our kitchen window. In her beak, she clutched a small bundle of twigs and grass. Watching her from the window, I called to Paul "She's at it again." He joined me at the window and we observed the industrious little bird as she constructed her nest in the shade of the geraniums growing in the pot. "As soon as she leaves, we'll have to move the nest," he murmured. "If we leave it, I won't be able to water the plant without harming the chicks." "Alright," I sighed. I went outside, climbed up on a picnic bench and removed the beginnings of the nest. All the while the little bird perched nearby and glared at me, hurling insults. "It's for your own good," I said. "Your chicks will be safer this way."

This wasn't the first time I stepped in to protect the welfare of baby birds. I got into the chick conservation business at an early age. I think I was 6 or 7 when my younger sister Sheri and I came upon two little, naked chicks peeping in the grass at the base of our large lilac bush. We carefully scooped up the small birds with their eyes still closed and nary a feather insight. We ran inside the house to show our mother who, of course, would know exactly how to care for them.

Baby Bird Trivia - Back in the day it was it was thought that handling a baby bird would cause the mother to reject it because of the human scent. However, Mother birds will not reject their babies because they smell human scent on them, nor will they refuse to set on eggs that have been handled by a person. Many birds have a limited sense of smell and cannot detect human scent, or if they can detect it, do not react to it.

The first step in aiding young birds is determining whether the little ones are nestlings or fledglings. Nestlings are featherless or fuzzy and belong in a nest. Fledglings have feathers and are old enough to leave the nest and be on the ground or in a shrub. Replace nestlings into the nest they have fallen from, but leave fledglings where you find them.

But Mom didn't know that, and being a mother with two small children looking on chanting "Can we keep them? Can we keep them?" gently took the chicks and sent us for a shoe box and a clean, dry wash cloth. When we returned, she lined the box with the cloth and placed the peeping, birds inside. She then cracked an egg into a small bowl, and stirred it with a fork to break up the yolk. Then from the medicine cabinet she produced an eye dropper and proceeded to feed the chicks the egg mixture a dropper full at a time. Sheri and I were transfixed as we watched Mom drop the slimy, yellow liquid into the gaping mouths. Finally, they were sated and drifted off to sleep. We looked on as their little chests rose up and down with their breathing and their eyes twitched beneath their transparent lids. "Leave them be," said mom. "They need to rest now. You can show them to your father when he gets home."

Waiting for Dad to return home required a lot of patience, something that was in short supply as we peered out the window watching for his car. Finally, we saw it pull into our driveway. We ran into the kitchen, where the shoebox with the birds nestled inside sat on our old roll top desk. "Dad's home! Dad's home" we shouted to Mom. "Can we show him the birds?" "Alright, alright, you may carefully carry the box to the front door and wait for Dad," she replied. I picked up the shoebox and gingerly carried it into the hallway to wait by the door. Sheri stood next to me vibrating with excitement. Our dog Sam ambled in to see what all the fuss was about.

I held the box behind my back in order to add a bit of panache to our big reveal. The knob turned and the door swung open. Dad stepped through looking surprised at this unexpected welcoming committee.

At the last minute, I held the box behind my back in order to add a bit of panache to our big reveal. The knob turned and the door swung open. Dad stepped through looking surprised at this unexpected welcoming committee. I brought the box around to my front and held it up for him to inspect. "Look," I said "We have baby birds and Mom said we can keep them as pets!" Dad looked into the box with a puzzled expression. "Where are they?" he asked. Sheri and I looked into the box, then all around us. The birds were gone! Then we spied Sam, who had not left our side. He was licking his lips with a contented look on his face. "WAAAAAH. Sam ate the birds!" we cried. Sure enough, the birds were gone and the only possible explanation was that they gone down Sam's gullet in one well-timed gulp. My Dad sighed and consoled his two heart-broken girls as his thoughts of a peaceful evening after a hard day's work slipped away. 

It would be a few years before I again tried to raise a baby bird to maturity. I successfully raised a fledgling starling to adulthood when I was 10 or 11. I recall the day we set it free. With it perched on my finger, I opened our back door and stepped out into the yard. It flew off circling once around the backyard before coming back and resting briefly on my shoulder. Then, in a moment it was gone again, this time for good. 

Nowadays, I put baby birds back in the nest and away from the family hound.

10x8 inches, oil on linen canvas, 2017
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Wetting his Whistle - auction ends on Sunday, May 7th at 9:00am PST. 

The phrase “Wet your whistle” means to quench your thirst. This mule is doing just that, quenching his thirst as the tip of his tongue protrudes below his lips to let the excess water dribble out.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

A Cavalcade of Chickens

The rain was beginning to turn into snow as my dog, Tucker, and I were finishing up our walk through the neighborhood. "Not such a great day to go see the Chicken Parade in Edison," I thought as I glanced up at the heavy, grey sky. Still how could I pass up the chance to see a Chicken Parade?!?!?!! A coworker had attended the event last year and spoke about it enthusiastically. I "googled" Edison Chicken Parade and found out its actually part of an event called the Edison Bird Festival. According to the Festival's Facebook page, the Edison Bird Festival was established by a pair of locals as a way to honor the "unique birding culture of the Skagit Valley." But what really sold me, were the photos of chickens on horseback. There was no doubt about it, rain or shine, Paul (who is willing to endure my eccentricities) and I were going. So, I explained to Paul that we "had" to make a Costco run anyway and Edison just happened to be, sort of, on the way.

As we drove north off of Whidbey Island, the sky began to lighten. When we pulled into Edison (population 133), a short time later, the sun was peeking through the clouds. We arrived at 11:45am and were told the parade would start promptly at noon. While waiting, we wandered through a local gallery featuring a show displaying beautiful bird art. Paul tried to get into the Breadfarm Bakery (a must visit if you ever find yourself in Edison) to get us a snack but it was too crowded. This was just as well because the parade was about to begin!  

Parade attendees looking forward to an exciting event.

The Grand Chicken Marshals start the parade.

Every parade needs a float and people dressed as chickens handing out candy.

Even canines got into the poultry spirit!
The giant eyeballs and beak are great, but what really transforms
this golf cart into a chicken is the comb on top.

Some good looking girls (hens) on the left but that chicken on the right is just plain scary.

What better way to end a Chicken Parade then with a pedal bar!

All in all, it was a very satisfactory Chicken Parade that lasted a whole ten minutes. Well worth the visit to Edison (well, I thought so, not so sure about Paul). Although, I was a bit disappointed at the lack of chickens on horseback. Hey wait a second.... I have a horse AND chickens! Maybe next year........

Scratch and Peck
10x8 inches, oil on linen canvas, 2016
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Scratch and Peck - auction ends on Sunday, April 2nd at 9:00am PST. 
These two girls are out doing what they love best: scratching and pecking. This image captures them in mid-scratch. They scratch the ground, head up, with one foot, then they dip their heads and peck at any morsels they unearth.