ANOTHER DAY AT UMASS – Marilyn Armstrong

It’s another one of those lost days for us. This is Garry’s official 3-month audiological checkup. I’m expecting great things.  I’m charging my little camera because this time, I am remembering my own excellent advice:


my camera because even though it makes the bag more than a little bit heavy, you just never know. Pictures just happen.

I am due for at least one smiling photograph of Garry and his audiologist.

I’ll tell you all about it, but today, I’m going to be missing in action.

Sorry. I don’t think we get a normal week until sometime in January! And then, I’ve got a book competition to judge. Maybe in February?


A WEEKLY SMILE – Enjoying the Birds

Every day there’s a new one I haven’t seen before, or finally, I manage to get a picture of a bird I’ve never photographed before. One of those that has always gotten away.

I’m getting a real kick out of my bird feeders. I used up the small bag of seeds I’d bought in the grocery store and started using the “better quality” seed I’d ordered on Amazon. I didn’t realize there was any significant difference, but there must be.

Red Finch – freed by pet store owners when they were no longer allowed to sell the wild finches, these have taken up residence all over the country … including New England.

Garry and I changed the seeds yesterday. We dumped the leftover seeds from the cage into the flat feeder. Meanwhile, a lot of seeds fell over the railing onto the ground below.

The Red-Bellied Woodpecker

It will be interesting to see what grows from all those seeds because the seeds in birdseed are “live,” which is to say … they can grow.

This is probably a female Downy Woodpecker. They are essentially identical to the Hairy Woodpecker, but smaller. Female, because she has no splash of red on her head. The white back pretty much guarantees it is one of those two woodpeckers and it’s medium size suggests Downy.

And one in flight …

When we climbed out of bed into the kitchen this morning, there was a swarm of birds out there. Not the usual collection of Chickadees, but … well. I had to take out the bird book because there were birds I’d never seen before. I still haven’t identified all of them. A bunch of them fall into the category described by my “Peterson Field Guide to Eastern Birds” as “Confusing Fall Warblers.”

Some of them could be Juvenal, though it’s late in the year for even nearly full-grown babies. Regardless, all of them look a lot alike. Brown, flecked with white. Bigger than the Chickadee and Titmouse crew, but smaller than the woodpeckers.

The brown one looks like a Wood Thrush, but it could be something else including one of the many brown warblers, all of which (especially amongst the females) look similar. I’m betting on Wood Thrush (but could be a winter feathered Bobolink). Rather long and leggy. The other one is probably a White-Breasted Nuthatch.
Could be a Starling or the winter feathers of a Bobolink. Or something else?
A lady Red Finch and a White-breasted Nuthatch

Then there are warblers. Warblers — there are at least 20 different types living in the woods — resemble each other. There are the yellow ones, the green ones, the white with gray or black ones. They are the same size, pretty much. A big section of the bird book is spent trying to help you figure out which one is which. In the end, you may never know exactly which warbler you’ve seen. And maybe it’s a wren.

Take your best guess. Pretty sure the one flapping is a Nuthatch and the other is one of those small brown birds. And there are an awful lot of small brown birds.

The only way I can tell them apart is by whether or not there are patches or bars of white on wings or tail (assuming I can see the wings or tail which depends on their position on the feeder). Mostly, the shape of the beak is my best indicator of what type of bird it is. The long pointy-beaked birds have a very different purpose from the rounded, not-pointed blunt beaked birds.

A Chickadee and a Tufted-Titmouse, and a downy woodpecker — our most frequent visitors

The good news is that when I can get a picture, I can take my time pawing through the book. Also, even if I don’t get a photograph, I can tell the difference in the size of the birds. There was a near-war going on as the day progressed with big birds knocking the small birds out of the way, then the small birds coming back in groups to get the big guys to move. I have two feeders. The flat one is designed for the bigger birds, but don’t tell the big birds. For one reason or another (maybe the rainy weather?), all the birds like the cage with the seeds and a roof that probably keeps them dry.

Still some birds like the flat feeder because they can really get into it.

I have only seen a single squirrel so far. I think there are so many acorns in the oak woods, they really don’t need the seeds. This was a super acorn year. About every three years, we get super huge acorns, big enough to dent the car when they hit and the squirrels get really fat. A couple of our dogs used to love eating acorns and they got fat, too. Apparently, dogs can eat and absorb acorns.

To be fair, some of the dogs I’ve owned can and will eat pretty much anything that doesn’t eat them first.

The easiest birds to identify are the woodpeckers. They have pointy beaks, are bigger than the other birds and they come in striking patterns. I’ve seen, but been unable to photograph a real redheaded woodpecker. He is always there until I get the camera point the right way, at which point he vanishes. I did see a new one today — and it was either a female Downy or Hairy OR a Red-Cockaded woodpecker.

I did get some pictures so you can take your best guess. They all very similar and all live in the same environment, namely — our woods.

With the appalling news on the environment and looking at all the things I need to do to fix my house, birds are the bright spot. Watching them flutter around and enjoy the seed makes me happy. I can’t do much to fix the world, but maybe I can make my little woods and its birds happy and healthy.


More About The Christmas Cactus – Nov. 27, 2018

In the course of growing my Christmas Cactus, I get a lot of questions. Mostly, people whose cacti aren’t budding or blooming want to know why mine are budding and blooming.

Almost ready to bloom

There are a couple of things you need to know about Christmas Cacti.

First, they don’t do well in artificially lit rooms. They need to be near a window in a room that is not frequently used. In this case, it’s our dining room. We don’t do a lot of dinners anymore and it feels a little weird, just Garry and I at the big table. So we eat while we watch TV. It doesn’t limit the amount of cooking I do, but it’s a little more cozy, a little less formal.

Thinking about flowering

This means that the dining room is mostly used for … tada … growing plants. I’ve got a set of French doors where most of the plants grow, and the aloe is doing very well on top of the organ which no one plays — probably because it’s old, wheezy, and many of the keys don’t work.

I also have a big Philodendron in the kitchen. It’s the only plant that gets watered regularly. It virtually never flowers, though it is rather interesting when it does.

That’s the second part of forcing your Christmas Cacti to bloom.

Lots of buds!

Flowers are what plants create when they think they are going to die. It’s how they create new seeds for the next season. A plant that is well cared for and frequently watered doesn’t produce flowers. This is not only true of a Christmas cactus. It’s true of all flowering plants. Think about it. When a plant flowers, unless it’s a shrub, it dies back. Our daylilies bloom like mad and then, they die. They come back the following year, but blooming is the finale of their season.

But the cactus blooms and then continues to grow and will bloom again, rather more like a shrub than a flower.

This is going to be a pretty heavy bloom this year!

So to make your Christmas Cactus bloom, you need to keep it in a bright window. Not sunny, but bright. Water it ONLY when it is dry as a bone. Really dry. No dampness in the soil. If you water it when it’s got buds on it, they may very well fall off, so you have to control your normal human gardener’s instinct to nurture them.

A little impressionistic

Christmas Cactus are cactus. They need dry, sandy earth and very little water. This is true for all cactus and other succulent plants, as well as many plants that have succulent roots, like the dracaena, for example.

As for when they will bloom? Mine usually bloom together, but this year, one is full of buds and the other has none at all. It will bloom, but probably a few weeks after the larger one blooms. Why?

In bloom!

I don’t know. Despite all the discussion, they can bloom pretty much any time of the year and sometimes, several times a year. One of the really important things to know is that they don’t like being moved from a window where they bloomed to a different window. If they are happy where they are, try to leave them there.

Mostly, leave them alone. Very few houseplants die of underwatering, but many plants die of over-watering, too much re-potting, too much fertilizer, too much handling.

The truth about growing plants is so much simpler than people think. Find a window they like — bright but not full sun.  Water them when they get dry. Don’t water them when they are not dry. Mud does not provide oxygen to roots. Mud will make the roots of your plants rot.

Then, enjoy them. It isn’t hard to grow plants — even the recalcitrant cactus — but it can be really hard to leave them alone!

And if we ever get a sunny day, I may get some better pictures. We haven’t had a bright day in more than a week.

The Prince Of Parody from the Evil Squirrel’s Nest – A Reblog for Lovers of Weird Music

No one really gets weird music the way Evil Squirrel gets it. Have a laugh and enjoy!


Evil Squirrel's Nest

Is your favorite online shopping site a bit overloaded on this overbloated Cyber Monday?  Well, save your money and check out my wares which you can get for a 100% discount… no promotional code needed.  Yes, it’s time for The Nest to offer absolutely free delivery on more musical weirdness in our Top 30 Novelty Songs Of All Time countdown!  This is a very special edition of the countdown, in which you’ll get not one, not two, not three, but FOUR wonderful pieces of novelty music for the price of none!  Yes, and DJ Scratchy won’t even require that you have Prime membership to partake of this amazing offer.  Order now, Sponkies are standing by….

#6. Anything by Weird Al Yankovic

When I put this novelty song countdown together waaaaay back in the Spring, one of the biggest problems I had to tackle was what to do about the undisputed…

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