Sunday, August 29, 2010

Wild Kingdom II: The Bird Volume

I was puttering around the kitchen last week when my brother in law, Tim, popped his head into the window to tell me goodbye; he'd been out back helping Clint, and was taking off. I walked over to the window to yak a few minutes, and spotted something fanned out on the ground behind him. What IS that? Awww, a dead bird. Don't step on it!


Still alive! Apparently a little stunned, it must have just flown into the same window that we'd been chatting through. Man, that has to be rude, flying along with abandon, and then SMACK. Poor little lamb, we got down for a closer look, and this one sat there, panting. Do birds pant? It seemed like it.

While we sat wondering just how injured she was, she startled us both by taking flight and landing on a low branch a few feet away.

Her little breathing evened out as she calmed down, so after another photo, we let her be, to get her little bird brain straight.

I wasn't sure what type of bird she was, so turned to the "Birds of Illinois" book that I got Clint for Christmas a few years ago. Tim suggested it was a woodpecker of sorts, so I started there first. Sure enough:

Downy Woodpecker. Male has a red patch on the back of his head, female does not. The book notes that this one has a number of features that help cushion the shock of hammering on wood:
"...a strong bill, strong neck muscles, a flexible, reinforced skull and a brain that is tightly packed in a protective cranium."

Hm. These are features that also help cushion the shock of flying into an invisible shield (aka kitchen window). She's a little helmet head!

This little Robin knows better than to try flying through glass, so he just enjoys the porch swing and taunts the cat.

I hope to God THIS guy never decides to go up against any of our windows, because I'm afraid he'd win. I was shocked to see him sitting just under our table in the back yard last week. The pic is a little fuzzy because I shot through the window screen, afraid I'd chase him off if I stepped outside.

At least I knew enough to turn to the "owl" section of the bird book. He's a Great Horned Owl, isn't he gorgeous? Usually nocturnal, I suspect he was probably stopping in for a late afternoon snack. Our yard is full of these:

Owl chow. Otherwise known as "voles." They make windy little paths through our entire yard, and that owl is very welcome to belly up to our "All You Can Eat Vole Buffet" any time he wants.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Mutual of Loriha's Wild Kingdom: I

I have a folder on my laptop entitled "Nature-critters" with a subfolder called "to blog." It's been a particularly wild Wild Kingdom year, and I've accumulated gobs of photos. Unfortunately, placing 20 photos in one post is ridiculously time consuming (and annoying) in Blogger, and I don't have gallons of time. Hence, the Nature-Critters Blog has somehow been days in the making, and I've given up.

Solution: It can be a series, yes? 


NUMBER ONE: Cute little tree frog.

This is by far the best photo in the folder, so it's all downhill from here, people. We were sitting out on Jen & Bill's deck in St. Louis a few weeks ago, when this baby took a flying leap, spun around a metal dowel rod like a stripper on a pole, and jumped down onto the deck.

I managed to hop up and get in one shot before he jumped away. It was a lousy shot, but I think the flash dazed the heck out of him, allowing me to take my time for this one.

Or, maybe he wasn't stunned; maybe he's just a ladies' frog, and stopped to work the camera. He does have some dreamy bedroom eyes, and a certain come-hither expression doesn't he?  How YOU doin? Meee-ooowwwww.

I mean, Riibb-bitttttt. Baby.

(This photo makes a background photo on your computer. Steal it and see for yourself.)

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Ba-dum-BUMP! Witty Retort Du far.

Any one of you that has been reading my blog for at least, oh.... 3 years or so, may know that My Clint is a firefighter. And we hang out with a bunch of other firefighters, most of whom have not signed waivers to let me post their names, stories, or photos. I'm still pussyfooting around Firefighter Confidentiality Laws, which are entirely unwritten thus far. That leaves me weighing stories I hear and things I see on the Scales of Common Sense.

So far, the laws I've observed are:

1. What happens at the campground stays at the campground.
    1a. I have no idea what that means, I've never seen anything at the campground.

2. Anything that is stupid funny or wickedly clever should be posted on my blog for the benefit of your laughter.

I don't know who that is, where that photo came from, or how to get it off of my blog.
(Trans: No waiver to post this photo, so laugh now before the cease-and- desist order arrives)

That said, I heard a story last week that I feel compelled to share with you.

Clint & Co. were recently called out just before midnight to an apartment building because a smoke detector was going off , and it smelled like smoke in the building.

They rushed up to the third floor where the smoke detector was going off, and managed to get themselves into the smoking efficiency apartment.

Once inside, they found an oven billowing smoke that had engulfed the apartment, a female occupant, sound asleep on her bed, with the smoke alarm screeching from approximately 6 feet above her head. Zzzzzzzzzzzzzzz. A smoke alarm; have you ever left your biscuits too long in the oven and had one go off on you? It's piercing! You want to hit the ground and rub your ears on the floor, like poor doggies when dog whistles are blown. To sleep through one is inconceivable.

Still, she slept. Soundly. While Clint ran to the oven and his partner ran to check on Ms. Tenant, she sat up with a start. Can you freakin' imagine?!! Waking up to all that noise, and men with giant coats and airpacks and helmets on, standing in your bedroom?

"GAhhhhhhhhhhh!" she screamed, "What's going on?"*

And Clint, without missing a beat, pulled a pan out of the oven and said:

“Your fries are done.”

*I'm dying to stop at the punchline, but I just can't leave it alone. Who wakes up with 2 aliens in their bedroom and says "What's going on?" I've watched too much CSI or something; I'd turn in to a human shredder, and start swinging my arms faster than the Road Runner's legs.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Last Brigade Home? Can I Have a Word, Please?

An interesting spin in the media today: "The last major combat brigade, Stryker Brigade, is exiting Iraq." 100 or so left to tie up loose ends, and they'll be out soon.  It's not sitting well with some of my soldier babies. Brian's facebook update, today, read:
“its peculiar, how FOX news is reporting the last combat brigade has left Iraq, yet here we are, 3rd Heavy Brigade Combat Team-3ID, still way in Iraq.”

I've been reading through other reports that insinuate that they're all coming home. A disclaiming word here and there, the last "major" combat brigade is coming home. And, "the base has had 18,000 troops deployed to Iraq in 2009 and the brigade is the last of them."

The base. The last of the troops from Joint Base Lewis McChord, in Washington State. That's one base. My kid is a combat engineer, serving in a combat brigade from another base, and he's still there. His replacements are flying in, and will serve their (probable 1-year) tour.

What are they, chopped liver?!

No, they're not chopped liver; they have simply been assigned new titles: Support and Assistance Brigades (or some such). 50,000 troops will remain in Iraq to "support and assist" the Iraqi military. How does that assistance come into play? Brian's company has been "assisting" the Iraqi military for the last year. I asked him what that means; are they just a burly menacing background presence, like bouncers or bodyguards? His answer:
"we lead all the missions still, sometimes with an Iraqi army truck, or Iraqi police truck with us to put an Iraqi face on our missions"
Leading the missions. That is supportive. And at some point, "support and assistance" has to translate into "we got your back" when combat situations occur, and they will.

When that time comes, our Combat Engineers from our Combat Brigades will support and assist by engaging in combat. There will still be fighting, and there will still be American lives lost, and we shouldn't play down that fact. I'm not celebrating until my kid is out of there, and I will continue to ache for the families whose soldiers are still serving. I'm sick of war. I'm sick of Iraq and Afghanistan, and listening to body counts.

When it all comes down to it, I guess I just need to shout out that there may be a new name on this operation, and a new title on our combat brigades, but we can't forget that we still have 50,000 troops there.

I want to remind you that as the rest of the country celebrates the homecoming of Stryker Brigade, there are hundreds of families, as I write this, in a state of dread, gearing up to say goodbye to their sons, daughters, husbands, wives, mommy, or daddy, for a year, and to put them on a plane to Iraq.

Our work is not done.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Amber Cameo

It was over a year ago that Clint and I were visiting his daughter Jen, and her hubby, Bill, in St. Louis. We aren't really clear on the date, but blog-o-graphic evidence supports the fact that it was at least July 2009. I had blogged briefly about our sauntering around a huge antique gallery and coming across this, uh, thing:

Gyeck, it still gives me chills. There really wasn't much to write, it kind of speaks for itself. The post read "ew, creepy, huh? The end."

Well, there was more story to that day, or rather, there is now. To back up a little, the gallery is the  Warson Woods Antique Gallery. From what I can tell, you can rent a locked set of shelves or a cubby, set it up any way you like, and sell your old loot. I mean, antiques.

With all due respect, "gallery" seems a pretty fancy title for what is the Warson Woods Antique Gallery. If I were to lure you there, I'd probably use the term "flea market." It's a complete sensory overload of old stuff—big old stuff, like bureaus and desks, and tiny old stuff, like hat pins and silver spoons. There is tons and tons of any old crap treasure you can imagine.

On that day, we browsed until our brains were tired, when a ring in one case just grabbed me. It sat amisdst such a myriad of other trinkets that it was hardly noticeable except for the angels singing when I glanced at it. A sterling silver setting held very large chunk of amber with an old-fashioned cameo carved in the back.

Cameos have always struck a romantic, nostalgic nerve within me. They remind me being a little girl, and of my grandmothers, and of dressing up—of them dressing up, and of my dressing up in their clothes and jewels. Despite that, I was never a prissy little cameo girl. I've never dressed so finely that a cameo would fit anywhere on my being with any sense of congruency. 

But here was a cameo with moxy! A great big old cameo bauble that smacks more of eclectic bohemian than it does conservative Victorian. I had the proprietor open the case, and guess what? It slid onto my finger like that glass slipper fell on to Cinderella's foot.

Of course it did. It also cost more than I could spend at the time, it was too much of a whim. I just couldn't. I handed the ring back over. Sniff. When we left the store, I actually said, outloud, "Bye ring. I love you."

NOW, it's (at least) a year later, and we were back in St. Louis a few weekends ago. Clint and I had  few hours to kill before meeting back up with Jen and Bill, and I was still obsessing about that ring! I finally broke down and called the store. "You're going to think I'm crazy," I started, "but I saw a ring there a year ago..." I could just imagine the clerk rolling her eyes, but I stood my crazy ground, and she agreed to look, and call me back.

It was about half an hour before the my phone rang. "The ring is not here," she said. "I'm sorry."

Well, poo. Ok. That is that, then. I knew it was a longshot, I told Clint. Now I know, I can stop thinking about it.

But then, about 15 minutes later, I told him "That ring is there! There's no way someone bought my ring, can we just go, so I can see for myself?" He figured there would be no harm in trying (don't you love that?) and we were out the door within minutes.

I started my apologies on the way over, "I know this is a wild goose chase. And maybe I don't even remember the price; maybe it's more than I thought and I can't afford it. And maybe it's better in my mind than it will be when I see it again, so I'm sorry if I drag you out here and then I hate it, ok?"

When we pulled into the parking lot, I was barreling out of the truck before Clint had they key out of the ignition. Come on! Come on! What if someone gets it while I stand here?!! I waltzed in with purpose, went straight to the shelf that I imagined it to be in, and ....




And I still loved it, and it still fit like a dream, and I by-God wore that ring back to the counter and began digging out my cash.

Sweeter yet, Clint reminded me that we had an anniversary of sorts coming in 3 more days—it had been 4 years since he walked me back to my car, and gave me the sweetest goodnight kiss of my life. He bought the ring for me, for our 4th Kissaversary.


Don't you just love happy endings?

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Soldier Baby Coming Home: Counting Down, Second Time Around

25 days. My kid is scheduled to finish up his second tour in Iraq, and head home in 25 days, but who's counting? We are! 25! Twenty Five! XXV! Two-ty-Five-y! If I knew exactly what time his helicopter would lift him out, I'd calculate the hours and keep track of them too.

(My cell phone.)

Oddly, once again, the closer we get to the big day, the more nervous I become. I remember feeling like this on his first tour. I'm usually not prone to irrational fears or superstitions, but they somehow grab me by the heart and shake me senseless when it comes to Brian & Co., in Iraq. There's this weird aspect of counting down that makes me nervous, as I can't shake the "Close only counts in horseshoes and hand-grenades" mentality.

Once that little cliche goes through my head, I always think how jacked up it is that I actually have to worry about "hand grenades" or the equivalent. When I mapped out my life, this was not in the brochure!

Still, one of Brian's facebook updates this week read:
dear guy that just shot mortars, you are a bag of asses. F yourself. yours truly, me.

I'm perpetually logged into to several social networking sights, so I caught this about 2 minutes after he posted, found him on G-mail chat and asked if everyone was ok. They were, no one got hurt. They were just all pissed off that they had to run for the bunkers, and squirrel up in the heat.

After 4 years and 2 deployments, I'm still learning. Sometimes I get the idea, but realized I have no idea what he's talking about. "What's a bunker?" I asked him. He explained to me: a waist-high concrete tunnel covered in sandbags, strong enough to withstand mortar fire.

"Take a picture," I told him. Of course, that's what I always tell him, and his typical response is that there's nothing to take pictures of. "It's boring," he says, "nothing but desert." I argue with him: "Show me the chow hall, I can't imagine it. Show me the shops and the base, and the places you go. I hear about it, but I'd like to see it." I guess he feels dorky [My Mommy want to see the chow hall, folks]. Apparently the shutterbug gene isn't passed down from generation to generation.

Bunkers were doable though; while we were chatting, he took a quick break, and came back 5 minutes later with these photos:

It was, that day, "2300 degrees" outside, he told me. I have no idea how many guys shove into one of these tunnels. I imagine 3 or 4 waiting out mortar fire, and I imagine the "how many people in a phone booth" contests from the 1950s.

(I wonder how many of our soldier babies have never seen a phone booth.)

Anyway, Mama no likey mortars. I still sometimes wonder how the world would be if we could just turn over our conflicts to its Mothers. We could grab our kids by the ears when they bombed the other kids, cuff them across the head and yell "what in the hell are you DOING?!! Go say you're sorry!" We'd ground them for a week, and apologize to each other, saying we don't know what had gotten into them, we didn't raise them like that.

That kind of reminds me of a story Brian told when he was home on leave. While driving down a road on one mission, a little bitty kid ran out of the house and stood defiantly in the front yard, giving them the bird with both hands. Moments after, little kid's dad came racing out and grabbed him, paddling his little butt all the way back into the house. Can you imagine your 4-year old kid out in the front  yard, flipping off a bunch of guys with guns and bombs?!! I can only think what I would have done, as a parent, if I had been in that guy's shoes. Besides having a heart attack, I mean.

Ah, I'm rambling now, reflecting. My kid is coming home, and to say that I'll be happy to have only to worry about horseshoes is an understatement. I probably keep repeating that I hugged him goodbye 2 days after my sister died, but the fact that I immediately replaced one constant worry with grief and more worry with another has resonated with me greatly for the past year. Having him home for 2 weeks on leave is wonderful, but that time is still laced with dread that you have to put the kid back on a plane to a war zone.

Still, I'm grateful to be living in the era that we are, one in which I can have near-daily communication with him, and with some of his buddies, through e-mail, phone calls, chat, Facebook, or Skype.

I am fortunate enough to live in an era in which I can carry a wireless modem in my pocket, hook up a netbook, pull my kid up on camera, and talk and laugh face-to-face with him from a campground out in the middle of nowhere. I can call friends he does not know over to say hello, and I can surprise him with a few he does, to give him a taste of being back home.

I reiterate that I cannot imagine having been mother to a Vietnam soldier, or in any other era that we were in conflict with another country. Waiting weeks or months for a letter to make it across the world, little or no phone calls. Seriously, I don't know how they managed. You know what gives me a coronary every single time? When Brian calls, there's always a delay on the phone. Once I know it's him, I'll ask "how are you/how is everyone?" I ask this, and there's silence. There's enough of a pause that, every single time he calls, my stomach flips over before his voice clicks back in and he says "Fine. We're tired, ready to go to chow."

If the things that undo me are this minor, I think I'd just have had to find a fainting couch, and lie down for a year, had I been a soldier-mama in the 60s.

At any rate, I'm ready to have him home. I'm ready to have them ALL home. I'm ready to stop worrying that he's calling with bad news. I'm ready to stop worrying about mortars and bunkers and about how they always return from their missions 15 minutes after chow hall closes.

I am READY, people, to gather around and have a beer or 3, and hear about camel-spiders, and all of the other stories, good and bad, they didn't have time to tell on the phone.

I'm ready to hug them and spoil them and feed them spaghetti.

25 Days.

Sunday, August 08, 2010

Wild Fruitstand Chase and The Bridgman Premier Meat Market

Clint and I have gone on several long-long weekend trips this summer, which is part of the cause for the blogging lag. Luckily, it's also the source of a lot of fun stories!

On our way home from Michigan a few weeks ago, I declared that we HAD to stop at a produce stand before leaving the state. After making said declaration, I promptly fell asleep, and woke up closer to the Indiana border. Panicking that we'd passed all of the fruit stands, I began searching the Garmin, and found one just 5 miles off the road. I made Clint asked Clint to pull off, and we were directed to our final destination: a bunch of abandoned buildings on a dirt road.

Heck. We turned around and got back on the interstate, where I once again began searching the Garmin, and convinced Clint to give it one more chance, pulling off in Bridgman, MI. We drove into town, arrived at our final destination on another small downtown street: An abandoned building.

Well, hell. I called off the wild fruitstand chase, but asked Clint to slow down on the way back out of town; there was a cute little butcher's window that looked intriguing. If nothing else, I might take a photo. He did, and we ended up stopping to check out the place.

Look how cute! As we approached, we noticed the proprietor carrying a huge smoker around the back of the building, and gave him a wave, knowing he would likely meet us inside in a few minutes. 

Lawdamercy! We knew we'd hit the jackpot the second we stepped in that front door. I wish I could describe the delicious aroma that knocks you over when you walk into this place. It's smoke and garlic and smoke and spice, and...mmmmmmmeat, beautiful, beautiful meat. Applewood smoked chickens and sausages, and—ohmigod—bacon burger. Yes! Bacon ground right into the beef. Sheer delicious genius!

Roasts and steaks, and how would you like that cut, and would you like a taste of this, just out of the smoker? Yes, by then the owner/butcher himself, Mr. Alfred Ottusch, had stepped in and struck up a conversation with us, showing us what was on the menu for the day, and giving us bites of meat. Smoked kielbasa, homemade salami, and meat sticks.

There's our bacon burger. And we helped ourselves to 1.5 lbs of this pork. He offered to cut it into a roast, or chops, or butterfly it, anything we wanted! We opted for a simple roast.

We ended up ordering the burger, the roast, 4 just-now-smoked kielbasa, and a pound of the meat sticks to send to my soldier babies. They were all beef. It's against the rules to send any pork product to Iraq, you see, so they were all beef.* All of that and a bag of ice, and our grand total was $24 and some change.

As were about to take our leave, a horrendous storm blew through, so we decided to wait it out and chat with the Alfred and his wife. They invited us to stay as long as we needed to, use the restrooms, have a beverage, take our time.

We did. We learned that he is a volunteer fireman, and Mrs. Ottusch was just helping out for the day. They have a son heading to Afghanistan in January, and another currently in Navy SEAL bootcamp. (Ahem, yes, I did get their card!) When his butcher knives or boning knives get dull, he sends them out to have them sharpened, then sells them, used, for $5. They're involved in the community, working hard to put on a BBQ & beer street dance to raise money to fund the fire department.

Further browsing revealed that they sell everything you'd need to set a 5-star meal on your table. There's wine and beer. Baking potatoes and all of the fixin's. A freezer full of homemade raviolis and other pasta. And of course, any BBQ sauce you could imagine.

By the way, if you just wanted to pull over for a pulled-pork sandwich and a side of cole slaw, or other homemade salad, the total cost is less than $5. Quite simply, they were lovely people with a lovely little store reminiscent from a past that, at my age, I can almost remember.[Any local townies remember Norm's Shopping Bag?]

What I loved most about our visit here was that we had, all along, been looking for a fruit stand. It was a nice reminder that sometimes when we can't find what we're looking for, opening our eyes and our minds may be all we need to do uncover a real treasure of a consolation prize.

If you're ever in the Bridgman, Michigan area, do yourself a favor and pull over. You won't be sorry!


Bridgman Premier Meat Market
4352 Lake St.
Bridgman, MI 49106

(After) The pork roast from above: YUM!

*That's my story and I'm sticking to it.

Tuesday, August 03, 2010

FreeBlogging, 1-2-3, GO!

I know I sound like a broken record with all of the "oh there's so much to blog about that I can't find time to blog excuse." I am tired of my own tired excuses, but here I am again, 11 p.m., thinking I should blog and not being able to think up even 1 subject. Where did they all go, all I do all day is laugh and think "har, har, that would make a great blog."

Since I can't think of a dang thing to blog about, I'm force myself to freewrite for 5 minutes. Maybe something will blurp out. Ready?

Wait...I have to go find my stop watch.

Okkkk, GO!

See, there's a reason I never seem to be able to get stuff done; every time I go to do a thing, I have to stop and do a different thing. Hey, what about the blog about how Clint can't understand how it is that I have 9 pairs of reading glasses, and yet I end up out of town on mini-vacations without a single pair? How can I do that when they're so crucial? Well...I don't really have anything more than a dumb stare in reply, so my only defense is that all of my reading-glass wearing friends do it too. It's a phenomenon, that us non-Type-A folks succumb to. ... It has taken me 3 weeks of having help with Mom to realize that I don't really get any spare time if I get excited and fill up the spare time with new activities. "Oh, I have an extra hour a day, I think I'll fill it with something and then I don't really have an hour at all." Time management, yesssss, I'm still learning it. I'm getting better at saying no, or at least not volunteering for crap like "oh, we can MAKE that, let's do it Friday,"....I catch myself, i'm catching myself, yay me. My cat got sick last week and crawled under the bed for 48 hours. She wouldn't come out so I walked around the house babytalking to her just so she'd have some support. She finally came out and croaked at me, and then got better, but has had a bad case of pica ever since.


I'll come back tomorrow to see if I said anything; I'm too tired to check right now.