Happy 1st of NaNoWriMo!

Happy 1st of NaNoWriMo!

A Walk in the Park

November and NaNoWriMo have become as much of a tradition for me as apple cider and ghost stories in October. To kick things off right, I recommitted to my health and fitness goals, last week. I’m inordinately proud of the fact that I took two long walks – 6.5 miles – around my favorite local park, this week. The first time, I was exhausted and in pain. I took three days “off,” and the second time was a breeze. I didn’t even have to stop for rest, and averaged about 18 minutes per mile. The more I exercise, the more I realize I don’t want to derail my efforts with unhealthy eating, though I did pay for that Trick-or-Treat Blast from Sonic on Friday, and will finish paying it off today. Fortunately, the weather is great and a walk in the park isn’t really much of a chore.

Health and well-being should never take a back seat to anything. It seems obvious, but we all tend to forget that. Even the “fitness nuts,” as they pursue their addiction to the gym with grim determination, sometimes forget that a well-lived life is a well-rounded life. I think this is why my favorite exercise is a long walk in the park. “Travel” is (mostly) out of the question, but that doesn’t mean we can’t take little “day trips” and appreciate our usual surroundings. Combining this with “cardio” – power-walking several times around the 1.7 mile path – hardly seems like work. I’m “getting my steps in” while I get lost in my thoughts, listening to music or reveling in silence and birdsong. I can listen intently for the scurrying of tiny feet, stopping suddenly, inches away. It’s comical how squirrels seem to think that if they freeze, staring back with beady little black eyes, we won’t see them.

“Hi, Squirrel.”

His bent tail reminds me of a story my mom used to tell me about her own childhood. She and her brother had a BB gun. They were playing around in the back yard, and she took a turn. Shot a squirrel in the tail. That squirrel haunted her for years – she’d see it running around with its broken tail, glaring at her as if it knew, making her feel guilty. She owned a gun, but never shot at another living creature again. I saw this squirrel in the park, and for half a second, wondered if he had a message to give me.

It’s been years since I last saw a grasshopper, but they seem to be making a comeback. Scroll fast if you’re squeamish about insects, but remember that grasshoppers are vegetarian and don’t bite or sting humans.

Walking in the park, yesterday – Halloween – was fun. Earlier in the week, I ran across this spooky Jack-o-Lantern. A grinning orange pumpkin head, washed up on the muddy banks of a gloomy lake.

Someone should have added a headless scarecrow, just to make the picture complete.

I found some more “hidden” Jack-o-Lanterns there, on Halloween. They seemed happier. Maybe that’s because they were perched atop bales of hay, and seemed to be having a lively, friendly conversation. They didn’t seem to mind my eavesdropping, and taking a selfie with them!

We have an overabundance of Halloween candy. Despite the pandemic, Trick-or-Treating, done with the usual levels of parental hypervigilance, ought to have been safe enough. And so, we set out carefully wrapped bags of factory wrapped treats.

I thought it was a little sad, at first, but as we went outside to gather up the treats, we saw that the street was full, and little costumed children were emerging from cars. “Wait,” I said to my husband, thinking that, although the hour was late, they might want candy. But no – a neighbor was hosting a party. I guess I know who I’ll be avoiding at the mailbox for the next two weeks or so.

No, chocolate is not “NaNoWriMo fuel.” It is a reward for walking 6.5 miles – twice in one week – at the park.

Halloween Acrostic & a Bonus Hidden Message

I think only one person found the “hidden message” and I practically had to lead him to it and point it out. Which is fine, because Mitchell Allen has been writing word puzzles and brain twisting stories for as long as I can remember, so for him to admit that I “got him” with this is serious bragging rights for a day! If you see it, leave it in a comment below (no fair helping, Mitchell!).

Hallowed haunts all children know on Halloween!
A witch’s brew, spooked lemonade — as little happy
People cram their sacks with sweets to eat!
Pretending merry mischief, upon the stoop they creep, to
Yell the chorus, “Trick or treat!” Good
Heavens, it’s a sequined devil! Princess? Something
Airy, like a fairy — Tinkerbell! And me,
Lighting up the entry way, I hear them give
Little squeals, delighted, as shuffling zombie feet
Outside signal their arrival: More of my
Well-mannered ghouls. Autumn’s crisp, clean smell
Evinces all the joys of fall; this, but one treat.
Evening comes to send them scattering home — or
Now, one wonders, were they there at all? Oh, marvelous trick!

The 1st of NaNoWriMo – Kick Off to a Month of Literary Abandon

This will be the first NaNoWriMo in which I have the entire month off work! This is my work. Which means there really are no excuses, this month, doesn’t it?  And since “excuses” include this blog, which does not, itself, count towards the word count, I must be off!

Healthy breakfast: :heavy_check_mark:
Coffee: :heavy_check_mark:
Big tumbler of water close at hand: :heavy_check_mark:

Although the required daily word count to “win” this thing is only 1667, I’m aiming for 2000+, so I can enjoy the Thanksgiving holiday guilt free, without derailing any goals.

Till later, Commentaters.

 

 

 

 

Riley the Rollerblade Bird

Riley the Rollerblade Bird

I was so stunned, I didn’t even think to take pictures.

We had been on vacation for a week. My daughter had left her Rollerblades on a chair on our back porch; they’d been there for weeks, if not months, and she had outgrown them. I should have simply thrown them out, I suppose. But it is said that everything happens for a reason, and apparently I’d left them there so that a Carolina Wren could build her nest and lay her eggs in one of them.

Unfortunately, she didn’t build a barrier against the downward slope of the skate opening, and one of the eggs had rolled out and lay smashed on the concrete. Another had hatched, only to wriggle out of the safety of the nest and onto the chair. But at the very edge of the opening, a tiny bird still struggled to live. Precariously caught up in the nest, but wriggling towards its doom, this little bird was clearly hungry and thirsty. Mom was nowhere in sight.

The thing wasn’t pretty. It wasn’t cute, adorable, charming, sweet – the only adjectives that came to mind were hideous, pitiful, pathetic, and not long for this world. Where was its mother? Had she given up at the loss of the first two? I went back inside and waited. Now and then, I looked out to see if I could catch a glimpse of her, for surely she’d come back to feed her baby if she was anywhere nearby.

Nearly 24 hours passed. It’s hot here in July. That this little bird survived so long without food and water, that it continued to struggle with such determination, convinced me that I had to do something. But what? What do I know about rescuing a baby bird, particularly one that looks like a preemie? I found a shoebox and lined it with grass and leaves. I put it on a heating pad, set to Low. I carefully lifted the creature, which by now we’d dubbed “Riley the Rollerblade Bird,” and laid it in the box. I could see its heart and stomach and other organs through the translucent skin of its tiny belly. The thing wasn’t even as large as my thumb. What did I think I was doing?

I mashed up some fresh plums and a little distilled water. Probably a bad idea, but it was dehydrated and if it opened its little beak any further, I thought, it would swallow its own head. (I learned later that it’s a miracle I didn’t kill it trying to give it water and fruit; Carolina Wrens need a very special diet containing certain enzymes that only the mother herself, or specially-trained wildlife rescuers, can provide. And one drop of water gone astray would have gone straight into the bird’s lungs, drowning it or paving the way for an upper respiratory infection that would likely kill it.) I bought mealworms from PetsMart, chopped them up as fine as I could, and tried to offer those. The hungry little baby wanted them, but couldn’t quite manage such a mouthful. In desperation, I turned to the Web.

There, I learned about wildlife rescue organizations. Our local organization put me in touch with a wonderful woman who lives nearby and was willing to take Riley in. She had the enzymes and special food he needed, as well as an incubator and medicine. It was touch and go for a while, but under her care, he thrived and grew and eventually was rehabilitated and learned to fly. Then, one day, he left her to join the other Carolina Wrens.

These are some of the pictures taken by Elaine, the woman who rescued Riley. You can see his transformation from tiny, featherless monstrosity to fine young bird in just a matter of days. I can’t find the photo she sent me of Riley outside sunning himself, just before he took off to join the others, but I can tell you that he was a healthy, handsome young bird.



The next year, a small wren took to sleeping in one of the hanging baskets on my porch. Never even bothered to build a nest, just snuggled down into the dirt in the midst of a tangle of ferns. I like to think it was Riley, come home.


I found this lost tale, and the photos, while going through the “archaeological dig” of a home office that’s gone largely unused, in favor or working nearer the coffee pot downstairs. I’ve been clean it out to set up as my writing nook, and 20-year-old photos I once thought were long lost are one of my rewards.

If You Can’t Beat ’em, Join ’em!

If You Can’t Beat ’em, Join ’em!

My Furred and Feathered Friends

My friend Michael P. is at war with a squirrel he’s named the Dark Lord SquirrelRon. I am somewhat more amused by my own garden squirrels; after all, being an amateur gardener, I view their thieving mischief as high compliments. I caught three of them rolling ecstatically in the damp earth between my peppers, mint, and basil as if they were high. At least they’re not plagiarizing my writing. I suppose real gardeners might find that statement about being flattered by the squirrels as annoying as I do when talented novice writers act all giddy when people steal their writing, or when they, themselves, devalue their work by doing it for free.

On the other hand, I’ve personally gotten more entertainment out of watching the squirrels play and chase each other up and down the live oak next to my garden than I have reaped value in herbs and other foodstuffs harvested from it over the last several years: two mojitos’ worth of mint, two or three dinners seasoned with fresh basil, and a few parsimonious little peppers lacking zing. My tomato plants grow into vine-y trees to rival Jack’s beanstalk, but never yield fruit. My thyme dries up in the Houston heat. The basil is good, but it would be just as good and just as plentiful if I plucked it from stem the minute I brought it home from Ace hardware in its little plastic pot. It’s pretty, though.

The garden is set back against the fence, in a shady spot beside the live oak. The tree drops its leaves and acorns all around, and the squirrels have taken to burying them at the base of my herbs. Which would be fine, but they insist on digging up their treasures every week. Or perhaps they are stealing from one another. I wonder if it’s a game to them.

My friend Lynn Y. sent me an invitation to play one of those stupid Facebook games: Thug Life. So I shot her in the face, burned down her pool party patio, and took all her money without batting an eye. This is what I’ve become, one of the Virtual Gangs of COVID-19. I’m friends with a corrections officer in Louisiana; he plays Thug Life, too. You’d think he got enough of that nonsense on the job, in real life. Apparently he does, because I exploited a glitch in the system, stole all his money every chance I got, and sent him this to taunt him:

Took him three weeks to get revenge. But back to the squirrels…

It’s hot, here in Houston. We came close to hitting 100º, and it’s not even summer, yet. I felt bad for my furred and feathered friends, so I recycled an old aluminum rice cooker, filled it with dirt, added two cups to fill with fresh water, and decorated it with plants and a few small rocks. They love it.

When we replaced our breakfast nook light fixture, I recycled the metal-and-plastic shade by cleaning it thoroughly, giving the metal a coat of RUST-OLEUM, and turning it upside down next to the rice cooker. I added another cup, a few plants, and water.

That poor gnome. He’s seen better days, hasn’t he? Then I hung some bird seed and suet (below, at left), out of the squirrels’ reach, nearby.

Indoor Jungle

Now that I’ve proven I no longer have a black thumb, I’m also letting the houseplants plot a take-over of the kitchen, while I “repurpose” and “recycle” things like old teapots. What kitchen is complete without “succulent” things?

Teeny-Tiny Tree Crabs

I have other friends in the garden. Between the crepe myrtles, nearer the center of the yard. My friend Mitch M. should avert his eyes (this is as close as you’ll get to a “trigger warning” on my blog, by the way – but if anyone’s more arachnophobic than I am, they should probably just scream and run, now).

No, these are not spiders. I have mentally reclassified gasteracantha cancriformis as a “teeny-tiny tree crab that loves crochet as much as I do.” Because, let’s face it: if this were a spider, I’d have to kill it. But since it’s not, I have dubbed myself “Protector of the Spiny Orb Weaver” and insist that my husband gently move its web when he’s working in the yard, so as not to kill my tiny tree crabs while protecting himself from face-planting in their remarkable handiwork.

From what I’ve read of them, they have very short lives. I hope they’re happy in my garden. This year, so far, I have two black and white tree crabs and one orange and black tree crab. Despite what the literature on gasteracantha cancriformis says, I usually don’t spot the orange and black beauty until closer to Halloween. And despite my insistence on calling them all “he” (much the way I used to name all my stuffed animals “Herman” or “Oscar”), these are probably females. The females are larger and spin the pretty, distinctive “doilies on which to dine.” So refined!

Because, you know, if they spun webs, they’d be spiders.

And they might have to die. Unlike Apeksha Rao’s Spyders. I have asked her to take over my blog for the next day or two, so do be sure to read what she has to say, and leave a note – we both love to hear from readers.