CONSTRUCTION! – Marilyn Armstrong

Cee’s Black & White Photo Challenge: Construction Related

I really wanted pictures of road construction because it’s everywhere from early spring until well into the fall. But I never seem to have the pictures. I don’t know why. I think it’s the frustration of not being able to travel anywhere.

I wouldn’t mind the construction if it lasted more than half a season, but they do such a miserable job, it barely lasts out one season before they have to do the whole job over again.

Our tax money more or less at work!

Preparing poles is the hardest part of raising a tepee. And, of course, creating a piece of flat ground on which to stand it …
Teepee poles – made of oak and sassafras saplings
Building our “new” deck steps
More tepee construction
Building the new front door

MORE ABOUT THE WOODPECKERS – Marilyn Armstrong

The birds haven’t been very active today. It’s cold, so they fly in, grab a bite, and fly back to wherever they make their home. My son came over to refill their feeders because they ate a lot yesterday.

The big birds were out, especially the woodpeckers.

They are hefty eaters. It takes them a while to settle down, but once they get a good grip on the feeder, they just keep eating until they are finished. The rest of the birds mostly wait. Not all, but most.

A pair of woodpeckers

I had a pair — boy and girl — of Downy or Hairy Woodpeckers. I think they were Downy Woodpeckers, but both kinds of woodpecker look very much alike.

More woodpeckers!
Pair of peckers

It’s the beak length that’s the main difference and since they usually have it stuck inside the feeder, it’s not easy to figure out which is which. Whatever they are,  they are probably a mated pair.

The brightest bird of them all!
The Cardinal and the Tufted Titmouse on the flat feeder

I took a lot of pictures of these two because it was the first time I’ve had both on the feeder at the same time. I found it kind of thrilling.

Departing woodpecker (I think) and a nuthatch
And yesterday’s Ladderback with the bright red head

This proves I don’t have a very exciting life. I get really excited by birds and any other kind of wildlife.

MY BEST YEAR – 1969

1969 was the year I learned to fly. The world spun faster on its axis. Everything changed. We had the best music and the most fun we’d ever have again. It was before AIDS, too. Sex was fun — and the worst disease you could get was something a doctor could fix with a shot of antibiotics.

Neil Armstrong walked on the moon in July 1969. I watched it unfold. I was a new mother with a 2-month old baby boy. I wasn’t working yet and was finished with college. I was at home with the baby, not working, no studying. I had time to see the world unroll.

We were going to make the world a better place, end war. End bigotry, race prejudice, inequality. Turns out, it didn’t quite work out the way we planned, but our hearts were pure, even if we were also stoned.

Marilyn and the kid

It was a great time to get work, too because the world was opening up. You could still get an interview with a live person who might actually hire you. We had hope and we believed.

I saw Neil Armstrong walk on the moon. We saw it on CBS. It was obvious Walter Cronkite wanted to be up there too. Up there, with Neil and the rest of Apollo 11. He could barely control his excitement, almost in tears, his voice breaking with emotion.

The great Arthur C. Clarke was his guest for that historic broadcast. Neil Armstrong died last year. He had a good life. Unlike so many others who fell from grace, he remained an honorable man: a real American hero.

Apollo 11 – 1969

How I envied him his trip to the moon. Maybe the Mother Ship will come for us. If they could fix the old folks on Cocoon, maybe there’s room for Garry and me. Off to the stars? Sounds like a good deal. Earth, these days, is a total bummer.

On the moon, 1969

Woodstock was that summer. There were rumors flying about this amazing rock concert that was going to happen upstate. I had friends who had tickets and were going. I was busy with the baby and wished them well.

There were hippies giving out flowers in Haight-Ashbury, but I didn’t envy them. Because I was happy that year, probably happier than I’d ever been and in some ways, happier than at anytime since.

I was young, still healthy. I believed we would change the world, end war, make the world a better place. I still thought the world could be changed. All we had to do was love one another and join together to make it happen. Vietnam was in high gear, but we were sure it would end any day … and though we found out how terribly wrong we were, for a while we saw the future bright and full of hope.

I had a baby boy and I sang “Everything’s Fine Right Now” which I first heard sung by the Holy Modal Rounders at a local folk music club. They were the most stoned group of musicians I’d ever met, but the song was also a great lullaby. It made my baby boy laugh. 

It was the year of the Miracle Mets. I watched as they took New York all the way to the top. A World Series win. 1969. What a year. I rocked my son to sleep and discovered Oktoberfest beer. New York went crazy for the Mets. It should have been the Dodgers, but they’d abandoned us for the west coast.

I wore patchwork bell-bottom jeans and rose-tinted spectacles. I had long fringes on my sleeves and a baby on my hip.

Music was wonderful. How young we were! We could do anything, or so we thought.

We were going to end THE war and right every wrong. As we found the peak, we would almost immediately drop back into a dark valley. For a year, though, one great year, the stars aligned and everything was as it should be.

Decades passed. Being young was a long time ago. We use lots of drugs, but they control our blood pressure, not our state of consciousness. They are no fun at all.

I worry about Social Security and Medicare and I know I’m not going to fix what’s wrong with the world. I’ve lived a lifetime. My granddaughter is the age I was then.

I’ve remarried, lived in another country, owned houses, moved from the city to the country, and partied with a President … but 1969 remains my year.

SO WHAT IS LYING, REALLY? – Marilyn Armstrong

Fandango’s Provocative Question #12

This week’s provocative question deals with exaggerations, embellishments, and lies.


“How do you feel about people who always seem to exaggerate when relating a story? Do you equate embellishment with lying? As a blogger, when, if ever, is stretching the truth, other than when writing fiction, permissible?”

I think this is a question that has no bearing on writers because you are trying to draw a sharp line between “hard data” and “fiction.”

There is no such line. A myth is a story stretched out and exaggerated. Unless you are writing instruction — like a manual or the results of a scientific study — there’s no line nor ought there be one. Many “fictional books” are essentially true, but to make the story more readable, timelines are compressed and multiple characters are combined into one character.

Fact or fiction? Or maybe fictionalized fact or fact-based fiction?

That’s not lying.

That’s writing. That’s telling a story. That’s creativity. That’s what we are all about. It’s what we do. That’s why there’s no clear line between a “docu-drama” and “realistic fiction.” Why story-telling is an art and not a science.

I’ve written manuals and scientific studies. I did it for money. Those documents are fact-based and of necessity must be, but everything else is a story.

Blogging is what I do for fun. You are welcome to call it whatever you want, as long as I get to write in whatever form I choose. Once you start to define creativity, you effectively make it NOT fun anymore.

By the way … If you have a friend who exaggerates stories in which you were involved? You are welcome to interrupt him or her and add your piece of the adventure. Nobody ever said you have to sit passively by and just listen.

We have a president who lies. He says things are true that are not true and these things are supposedly based on facts. THAT is lying.  But then again, I’m not the one standing in front of the American people promising to make it great again because I don’t know when it stopped being great.

THE NEW IBERIA BLUES, BOOK 22 – DAVE ROBICHEAUX – James Lee Burke

The New Iberia Blues:
Dave Robicheaux Series, Book 22

By: James Lee Burke

Narrated by: Will Patton

Series: Dave Robicheaux, Book 22
Length: 15 hrs and 3 mins
Unabridged Audiobook
Release date: 01-08-19
Language: English
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Audio


James Lee Burke never fails me.

Every book he writes is rich, sensual, and powerful. The writing, the feel of the place and mood of the times. Of course, Dave Robicheaux and Clete are my favorites, but I have loved every book I’ve read by James Lee Burke, in and outside of the “Robicheaux” series.

I didn’t think they could get better, but this was better.

Why? Because the characters aren’t the same “kids” they were. They have aged, grown, and changed. They aren’t the same “guns blazing” Dave and Clete.

Life has been hard for both of them. Dave has lost three wives, one to Lupus and two to violence, but he’s not full of hate or looking for retribution. He’s an adult, a genuine grownup.

Both men have moved on with the understanding that life isn’t and won’t ever be exactly what they want. They aren’t expecting perfection, yet they are still involved, caring, concerned for each other and the world in which they live. They are entirely alive and deeply involved.

If you like James Lee Burke’s writing, there’s nothing not to love in this book.

Will Patton is a superb narrator (and a pretty good actor too, by the way). He may even be better than the original narrator who was himself, brilliant. What Patton has going for him is clarity of speech which enables him to use a reasonable southern accent, but clearly enough for we northerners to easily understand.

My only regret is that I read the book too fast.

I should have slowed down and made the story last longer. Maybe I’ll read it again.

Maybe I’ll read the last TWO again.


Note: This review is for the Audible.com version, but reading James Lee Burke as a regular book is just fine and in fact until quite late in the series, I read all his books in hardcover. I have all of the first books in hardcover, first edition. I know it’s sentimental, but I can’t help myself. I still love the smell and feel of a new hardcover book!

WHY SERENDIPITY? – Marilyn Armstrong

For seven years, Serendipity was the “official” name of this blog. One day WordPress decided the money I paid wasn’t enough to protect the title of my blog and we disappeared. Vanished.

To emerge back into the light, I had to come up with a “more unique name” so readers could find us. In between, some kid — one of WordPress’s “happiness engineers” explained that the problem was really that I am irrelevant. People — the general public — no longer (overnight) likes anything I write.

He really pissed me off and I’m still holding a grudge. I actually asked him what award-winning work he was currently writing. He explained he hoped someday to write something pretty good but hadn’t gotten there yet. I asked him if he’d ever written anything at all and he said, “not yet, but he was planning to.”

I wanted to reach through the computer, grab him by the throat, and throttle him. Luckily, I can’t do that … but someday.

A year later, we are very much back as “Serendipity – Seeking Intelligent Life on Earth” which is really the name of the post plus the “subtitle” in one title and you can find all 8,729 posts by using at least half of this annoyingly long title — or the name of whoever posted it the piece.

A few years ago, a few more people started writing for the blog and now, we are five. Garry and Tom write when they feel like it, Ellin and Rich write at least one piece a week and I do whatever remains and these days, a lot of them are pictures of birds.

Rich Paschall – in France

Rich Paschall has been writing, always on Sunday, but sometimes other days. Now that he is retiring, I expect to hear more from him. He has also been an incredible help to me when I’ve been out sick for long periods of time, especially when I was in for, then recovering from, a massive amount of heart surgery.

I don’t know if this site would have survived without his assistance and I will always be deeply grateful for his caring and concern, even though we’ve never personally met. I keep hoping one of these days, we will meet!

Tom Curley in performance

Friends Ellin and Tom Curley — well, we’ve been friends a long time. Tom, and Garry and I all worked at the same college radio station and Ellin is the wife Tom always needed but didn’t know until they met. I love happy marriages!

Ellin Curley

Tom writes when his personal lightning hits while Ellin is a loyal, regular writer and is beginning to get the hang of photography as another way of writing the story.

All of us have a lot to say.

Garry talks about his life as a TV news reporter and all the people he met along the way. Tom talks about his life and views as a TV director, producer, and engineer.

Not to mention his post TV life doing Audio theater in which Ellin is his partner.Garry Armstrong

Everyone has a LOT to say about the political world, mostly not very good stuff, but that’s the way it is these days.

“Serendipity is defined as the occurrence and development of events by chance in a happy or beneficial way.” – Dictionary Definition.

Basically, life is all serendipity. I started this site 6-1/2 (seven years in February!) years ago and have garnered closing on 800,000 views from almost every country on the planet.

And still, I see a frightful lack of intelligent life on Earth.

Stupidity is exploding at an unsustainable rate. I thought we had reached epic levels of stupid, but there’s just no stopping it.

Marilyn Armstrong

Watching Jim Jeffries last night “interviewing” the Q people who also appear to be “flat world” believers … and believe Hillary Clinton kills babies for their blood. All of which beliefs are based on zero evidence. None of these bizarre “humans” think “proof” or “evidence” is important. Stupidity reigneth.

When you witness that sort of thing, not only do you get a splitting headache, but you realize seeking intelligent life on Earth may be a futile effort. To seek, yet never find.

There is no intelligent life on Earth. We are like Arthur’s knights seeking a Grail that never got to Britain and possibly never existed. Yet we seek it.

Serendipity? Well, there are two reasons for it as this blog’s title.

First, there is a lovely chocolate shop in Manhattan named “Serendipity.” They serve iced chocolate that is to die for. When I was a teener, it was the place to be, the coolest place in the big city. It continues to exist and I’m betting it’s still the place to be, especially if you live in New York, are young, and looking for life.

A flyaway woodpecker!

The other reason is more obvious. Life is serendipity. You go looking for one thing, you find something else. While you are “settling for that other thing,” you discover you like it more than whatever you were looking for. A lot of my writing is entirely serendipitous. I start writing and something falls out of my hands into the keyboard and sometimes, it’s pretty good.

We are born.

We have no idea who we are or what we will be.

We may never know who we are or what we will be.

We make choices, which may or may not work out, but regardless they are temporary. Because everything changes. We live many different lives and few of them are planned.

Life isn’t something you plan.
It just is.

A GOOD DAY FOR WOODPECKERS – Marilyn Armstrong

I really wasn’t going to take any pictures. For one thing, I didn’t feel particularly well and I really have a LOT of pictures. Thousands I think during the past three months.

So I was in the kitchen trying to make a sandwich. I wandered to the window and I looked out — and there was a red-headed ladderback woodpecker landing on the feeder, a cardinal in the flat feeder and before I finished picking up my camera, two more woodpeckers, both landing on the feeder in addition to a variety of other smaller birds.

I’ve never gotten a picture of a male and female downy (or hairy) woodpecker on the feeder at the same time while yet a third woodpecker was on the other feeder and a cardinal too.

Isn’t this a gorgeous bird?

I couldn’t take pictures fast enough. I also have managed to process a lot of them. Many didn’t need much processing. Other than a little straightening or cropping, the pictures all looked fine right out of the camera.

Another beauty!

So I did a little cropping, signing, and now, time to put some of them up for looking at. I hardly know where to begin, so I think I’ll start with the ladderback red-headed fella and tomorrow I’ll get serious about the two woodpeckers … or something like that.

Can you see the snow falling in the pictures? Because it’s snowing out there and it’s very cold.