Early Morning Identity Confusion?

August 9th, 2017

The Bird Woman in “Mary Poppins”

Jane Darwell was eighty-four years young when Walt Disney personally tapped her for the role of the Bird Woman in his 1964 production of “Mary Poppins.”  Although she appeared in more than 100 major motion pictures films in her lifetime, critics say she is best-remembered for that particular role and for her portrayal of the matriarch and leader of the Joad family in the film adaptation of John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath for which she received the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress.

Brave Goldfinch

These early mornings, its Darwell’s Bird Woman character I’m feeling very close to – not in the magical world of Mary Poppins but in my own marvelous world of Oysterville.  As happenstance would have it, I’ve been the one who has been feeding the birds in our nearby neighbors’ backyard each early morning for the last few weeks.  I walk across the churchyard, through a gap in the fences and into Carol and Tucker’s place, carrying my little tub of wild birdseed and, sometimes, a package of thistle seed – if the finch feeders need replenishing.

At first, the birds didn’t appear while I was within their sight, though I could hear a bit of flutter and flurry in the alder trees bordering the property to the southwest.  I knew they were watching and waiting for me to disappear so that they could have at the bounty I was distributing.  Gradually, though, they have become bolder.

The very bravest and first to show up while I was still at my scattering duties were the goldfinches.  One, two, three… as many as seven perched on the three feeders and on nearby tree branches.  They would only let me approach so far, though – not quite close enough for a good photo.  Not with my bare bones cell phone camera, anyway.

Hungry Jays

Next on the braveness scale were the jays.  For all their saucy talk, I’d have thought they would be the first.  But isn’t that often the way with the braggarts and blusterers of the world?  Finally, here came the juncos – lots of them.  Maybe they feel there is safety in numbers.  They seem to like the tops of the picnic tables best.  Perhaps they feel those tabletops offer a more direct flight back up to leafy safety.

The mourning doves are there, too, invisible but full of noise and whuffle.  They fly quickly from tree to tree, obviously watching, but apparently waiting to appear until I am well out of sight.  And, yesterday, a little gray squirrel joined the fun.  His eyes never left me as he picked up seeds and stuffed them in his cheeks – all quick decisive movements and with an attitude that said, “I’m outta here the minute you make a move in my direction.”

I’ll bet the Jane Darwell didn’t have half as much fun feeding the pigeons on the steps of St. Paul’s Cathedral in London as I do feeding the birds and other little critters within sight of the Oysterville Church.  Still… I feel a kinship.  Old ladies playing yet another of life’s enchanting roles!

A Ghost Talk and Tell-Tale Signs

August 8th, 2017

It was cold and I was glad that I had worn my winter jacket.  I was glad, too, that my yellow rainhat was in my pocket – the smoky fog was just on the verge of wet enough.  And the wind made me wish that I’d stuffed my blue knit hat – the one Rosemary made me – into my other pocket.

“Why am I doing this again?” I asked myself.  I was on my way to the Benson Beach Amphitheater at Cape D to give a ghost talk.  But, I often feel that way just before a gig, so I sucked it up and looked for one of the park personnel – usually a volunteer who introduces me and offers to get me a chair so I won’t have to stand for an hour.  This year, though, no-one showed up – that is no-one from Parks.

Ghost Stories of the Long Beach Peninsula

The amphitheater, on the other hand, filled to over-flowing.  Adults, kids, dogs, people in wheelchairs.  I wish I had counted.  More than 50 I think.  As we waited for folks to gather, I talked with a three-generational family from Bellingham.  “We camp here every year,” they told me.  When I commented that the Park looked fuller than usual – full to capacity, I thought – they said, “No.  It’s always like this in August.  We have to make our reservations in October if we want a spot.”  I wondered to myself what months I had been there in past years.  Maybe July.  Certainly I had never noticed so many campers before.

Other folks joined our conversation – people from Auburn and from Idaho.  We talked about the smoke – really bad in Bellingham they said.  They were glad to be here.  “The air quality index was 146 the other day,” they said.  “In Beijing (supposed to be the worst in the world), it was in the 80s.  We’re glad we’re here right now!”

The Grandpa from Bellingham left for a few minutes and came back carrying a lovely padded armchair from their campsite for me!  Wow!  Let the talk begin!  (Afterwards, I realized that I hadn’t even used it and apologized profusely.  “No problem!” he laughed.  What a great group!  In fact, the whole crowd was receptive and enthusiastic.  Maybe overly so in the case of a couple of little kids – maybe first or second graders.

Sydney with 2nd Grader, Southgate School, Hayward, CA – 1962

They came right down in front and perched on the green utility box where they proceeded to call out comments and questions as soon as I began to speak.  I stopped and said, “You know, for a while it’s my turn to talk.  You’ll get a chance when I’m finished.”  The little girl dashed back up the stairs to her family but the boy – not related – immediately put his hand up where it mostly stayed for the next hour, even after a reminder that he could ask his questions later. (After 29 years in primary classrooms – I KNEW that kid!)

All-in-all it went well.  Appreciative applause.  Questions about where they could purchase my ghost stories book.  And the Bellingham family lingered to talk.  “You were a teacher, weren’t you?” the mom asked.  “Primary?”  When I conceded that she was correct she said, “I could tell by the way you dealt with those kids!  My mom is probably about your age and she was a teacher too.”  We corroborated the birth years – yep, 1936! – and found that we had both taught in California – I in the Bay Area, she in Fresno.”

I wasn’t surprised about the tell-tale signs.  That teacher voice and teacher look never go away.  Thank goodness!

To Bag or Not To Bag?

August 7th, 2017

The Riding Lawnmower

In our climate, the question of whether to bag the lawn clippings or leave them behind when you mow deserves due consideration.  Some folks say that leaving them on the lawn is actually a good thing, nutrient-wise, and if you mow often, you can’t even see them.  If you can’t mow regularly, though, and the grass is a little (or a lot) long, the browning clippings are quite unsightly.  Plus, walking on the grass in the early, dewy morning hours is a big problem.  Grass clippings cling to your shoes or boots and woe be unto those who forget to leave them outside the door when re-entering the house.

Nyel (Bless him!) has always bagged but it makes the job more onerous and it takes some strength to unfasten the hopper, dump the clippings, re-attach and so forth.  On our big lawn, depending on the time it’s been since the last mowing, there are many, many trips to the back forty to dump.  Lately that process has been eliminated (for health considerations).  So… grassy feet on the journey to the chickens each morning.

Grassy Shoes

This morning I decided (for the umpteenth time) to use the “new” boots that were a Christmas gift a few years back.  The old ones have developed numerous age-related leaky places and really don’t do the trick when it’s wet.  I hate the new ones, though.  They are too small, hard to get on, impossible to get off without help, and hurt my toes (to boot!) but they are (supposedly) my size and the only brand Jack’s carries now.  Ditto Dennis Co.  Plus it’s one of those things that I don’t think about between wearings so I’ve not been serious in my search for a different pair.

It’s been a while since I’ve succumbed to trying those boots once again and, even though they’ve been sitting (or do boots stand?) in the laundry room for many months, I automatically turned each one upside down and gave it a good shake before slipping (read: tugging) it on.  I was only medium-surprised when a half cup or so of chicken scratch spilled forth from one of them.  There’s no way of telling when the stash was put there – I see no other ‘evidence’ of critters in residence — but Nyel is setting mousetraps as we speak.

Boot Stash

Two steps onto the lawn in those owie boots and I vowed to throw them out, ‘new’ or not.  And I thanked my lucky stars that Nyel is once again out of the hospital and home again and feeling better than he has for some months.  Maybe next time he mows, he can bag.  And maybe I’ll expand my quest for comfortable, easily removable boots.  And maybe we’ll trap a mouse.  Lotsa maybes in our lives these days!  I’m glad about that on all counts!

A Flood of Memories!

August 6th, 2017

Kay Buesing

We had reserved seats but, when it became obvious that Nyel would not be leaping out of his hospital bed in time for the curtain, I asked Kay Buesing if she’d like to be my date.  And so it was that we went to see PAPA’s final evening performance (There’s a matinee today!  Go!) of “She Loves Me.”

After all, Kay and I and community theater go back a long time.  Back to 1980 when we were part of the founding group of Peninsula Players – in the days of Lawrence Lessard and Fritz Hahn and Ginny Leach and Martha Sommer.  I have a vision of the two of us prancing around on stage (Were we auditioning for something?) – me singing “I’m a Little Teapot” and Kay laughing (or was she cringing?)

Brooke Flood, 1998

The last time I saw “She Loves Me” was at the Bowmer Theater at Oregon Shakespeare Festival and I remember being impressed with the outstanding talents of every single performer.  As last night’s performance unfolded (a literal description of that magical set!) I was equally impressed with the voices and the dancing and the mysterious suspension of disbelief that the ensemble created.  I was sucked right in.

The two female leads – Hope Bellinger and Brooke Flood – I’ve known since they were chubby-cheeked little girls.  Hope, so shy yet so accomplished, struggling to get up on the piano bench at Vespers and play a solo with perfect aplomb.  Brooke, my student in first, second, and third grades at Long Beach School – was there anything she couldn’t do well?  Though I’ve followed both of them all these years, watching them (like half of the community!) with neighborly pride, I still felt so blessed to see them together on stage all these years later.

Ron Thompson, 2012

And the male lead?  Ron Thompson!  The last time I saw him, he was here tuning my piano!  He had done a House Concert here (a pianist!) and had mentioned that if I ever needed a piano tuner… I can’t remember how many years he returned… and it took me a few beats last night to realize that this accomplished actor/singer was that same Ron Thompson!  Wow!

Such pleasant associations with these three young people – the memories wafted over me throughout the evening.  The topper was when Brooke called to me as we were leaving and I met her five-and-a-half-month-old son, William.  He smiled and reached his little hands out to me and nestled his cheek against mine!  I was instantly in love.  And so, we all decided, was William!

What a fabulous evening!  Layers and layers of memories… and still the beat goes on!

Birthday Balancing Act

August 5th, 2017

Birthday Baoy

Our long-planned birthday excursion for Nyel – a traditional August 4th event – took an unexpected turn yesterday when his destination suddenly became Ocean Beach Hospital.  The balancing act between medications for his CHF (congestive heart failure) needed fine-tuning… once again!  But this time, his cardiologist thought that his situation could be managed here, rather than in Portland.  In the grand scheme of things, that was a big plus and we are hoping for the best.

Meanwhile… our plans to meet for dinner with friends had to be put on hold.  Our plans for our usual overnight adventure at the Tokeland Hotel had to be put on hold.  And, once again we reminded one another that things could be worse.

Let him eat cake!

We also noted that this hospital thing on special days is beginning to be a habit.  Nyel spent Christmas at Good Samaritan in Portland, my birthday at Emanuel Hospital (also in Portland and now…this!  Our 30th anniversary is coming up and we’ve decided to avoid making plans…

As it turned out, Petra and Michael came over from Astoria for a visit – brought him two big pieces of dark chocolate cake, and diverted us with stories about Michael’s photographing ventures on the Columbia.  We laughed a lot – the best medicine, as they say, though Nyel might argue that dark chocolate is right up near the top of the list, no matter what the heart healthy diet may say!  Besides, a birthday is a birthday!!

Birthday Bird

Jeanne Bellinger dropped in, too, and brought Nyel one of her little bird mobiles with a sweet birthday note attached.  (There are a lot of perks to being at your ‘hometown’ hospital and knowing most of the folks who work there!)  The bird is flying around near his bedside, tethered to an IV pole which, fortunately, is not needed right now.

Birthday Visitors

It seemed odd to drive home in the gloaming, all alone.  On the other hand, asking for a cot for a sleepover (as I do in Portland) didn’t seem appropriate or necessary.  And, Farmer Nyel was concerned about the chickens.  As it turned out, there was one perfect egg in the nest box.  Considering that the girls have been on strike for five or six days (maybe a work slow-down during the heat) I was pretty sure it was a birthday present for the boss.  I called him to say so and I could feel the smile from seventeen miles away.

We count our blessings!


The pleasure is all mine!

August 4th, 2017

In Carol’s Greenhouse

We were really pleased when Tucker and Carol put us in charge of the birds and plants at their place for a few weeks.  Finally!  We could return just a bit of their many, many caretaking duties with our chickens!  Nyel said he’d scatter birdseed each early morning; I offered to water Carol’s gorgeous potted plants – berries and vegetables and colorful flowers both in and out of her greenhouse.  “Every other day would be fine,” she said.  No one thought “heatwave!”

Things didn’t start well, though.  Nyel was in the hospital the day they left and for most of that first week.  But the gods were smiling on us all.  Tucker and Carol’s son Clark was at their place for exactly the right time period – we couldn’t have planned it better!  So, when we were finally home and could take up our tasks, all was well.  Except Nyel, who is not so spiffy.

Peter Amongst The Lettuces

So, I’ve been doing ‘double duty’ and, I have to say, I am enjoying my experience immensely.  The birds were a bit skittish at first.  I felt them watching me from the trees, but they were shy about showing themselves.  Gradually, they have become braver and this morning I practically had to shoo them away – goldfinches at the thistle feeders, stellar jays and juncos, a robin or two, and a couple of mourning doves, all after their favorites from the wild bird seed Tucker left.

But that wasn’t all the wildlife that greeted me.  In the greenhouse, a bright green tree frog hopped out from behind a tomato plant and we looked at each other for quite a while.  S/he seemed in no hurry to return to protective cover and I enjoyed the early morning company.  And then… a gray squirrel came off the deck as I headed for the hanging basket of fuchsias.  Unlike the frog, though, she didn’t hang around to get fully acquainted.   One quick look at me and she was off, darting behind the big pot of peas next to the boathouse.

Carol’s Fuchsia

I wanted to linger to see who else might arrive but… it’s Nyel’s birthday and we have places to go and people to see (and miles to go before we sleep!).  I almost felt guilty when I got home and described my feeding and watering adventures to him.  It was one time that I really didn’t want to admit that the pleasure was all mine.

About that hole in my doughnut…

August 3rd, 2017

Garage Door

“Why do you always look at the dark side?” he asked me.  Why, indeed?  We were having a discussion.  Actually, an argument.  Over, of all things, the garage door.  After forty-five years of faithful service, it had finally given up.  Off its trolley… Motor dead…  Halfway up…  Halfway down.

It wasn’t that either of us opposed getting a new garage door.  We are agreed that it’s high time.  In fact, we’ve been putting it off for years and the poor, old, tired mechanism apparently decided to make the decision for us.  We lost no time in calling for help but it wouldn’t be forthcoming until Friday at the earliest. The ‘discussion’ centered around what to do in the meantime.  Leave the car out and the garage door stuck in the open position or…

My Dad – Bill Little, 1981

I, of course, skipped directly to the “but that would leave our house vulnerable” scenario.  That was the dark side to which my practical husband was referring.  And… I had to agree with him.  I do always look at the worst-case scenario.  I think it must be some sort of insulation against disaster if and when it comes and, of course, the great relief (usually) when there is a much better outcome than I have imagined.  Plus, I come by I naturally.  My grandmother was a worrier.  So was my dad.

A prime example of my usual attitude is the “Stories from the Heart” series I’m writing for the paper.  I almost dreaded seeing the first one in print.  I had visions of all the bigots and racists coming out of the woodwork in response.  I cannot tell you how gratified I am that the reaction is the exact opposite.  Concern, and requests to help have come pouring in –, by phone and email to me, personally, and on FaceBook in ‘conversations’ between people I don’t even know.  I am so glad!

My purpose in writing the stories has been to shine a bit of light on those in our community who are desperately afraid and are feeling confined to the shadows.  It never occurred to me that readers would respond by sending money or by asking how to help.  For the record, though, there is a group (working title:  People Power Immigrant Advocacy) who are trying to get a GoFundMe account up and running for the families in need here in our community.  In the meantime, contributions for families in need can be sent to “Stories from the Heart,” 12912 N Alley, Long Beach, WA  98631.

As for the garage door – in a mighty burst of energy, Nyel managed to get it down after the car was safely in last night.  I, of course, am already trying to figure out how to keep various commitments at the other end of the Peninsula if the car is now trapped. And maybe I need to go to the bakery for a doughnut hole or two…

So Much for Feeling Smug!

August 2nd, 2017

Sydney Works Against Deadline, 1970

It doesn’t pay to relax for a minute.  Not for me.   Not when my writing is concerned.  But, it seems to be a lesson hard to come by and, once again, I am reviewing those same old Words to Live By – “It ain’t over till the fat lady sings.”  Or, in this case, until the paper comes out.

It’s Wednesday, August 2nd.  The first Wednesday of the month.  It is the day my column has been published in the Chinook Observer for the past five years.  It’s not a big deal, a once-a-month column.  Not like having a deadline every single week. (Or, god forbid, every day like in the Big City.)  With a month in between each column, I have the leisure to think about what I want to say and I have plenty of time to meet the ‘deadline’ which is the weekend before publication.  I usually try for Friday or Saturday and for half a decade all has been well.

Dinnertime at Emanuel Hospital 7/25/17

For this week, I chose to write about Pacific County’s proposed zoning change for Rural Residential and Rural Lands.  My column urged readers to attend tomorrow’s hearing on that issue – 6:00 p.m. at the Long Beach County building.  The decision that will ultimately be made will affect every single resident in Pacific County and I wanted to express a few words of concern.  In my column.  In today’s paper.

I wrote the column last week while sitting at Nyel’s bedside at Emanuel Hospital in Portland.  I had lots of time on my hands and it seemed a good way to use it ‘wisely.’  I even had the opportunity to research parts of the zoning proposal I was feeling fuzzy about and ‘talked’ (via email) with an expert or two.  I fine-tuned, found the perfect illustrative photo in my files, wrote a caption, and turned it all in on Saturday morning.

Matt Winters by Damian Mullinex

Imagine my surprise (as they say) when I received an email from the editor yesterday saying that there had been a mix-up and Ruth’s column was being used instead.  Mine will go in next week, he said.  When I went in to see him, a bit later, I asked him to pull the column permanently.  Depending upon how the hearing goes tomorrow night, I’ll rewrite it for next week.  Or not.

Life Lessons revisited:  #1 Never Feel Smug and #2 Think Twice about Time Sensitive Material Destined for a Weekly Paper.  Oh… and that old standby (which should probably be #1 in this household):  #3 Don’t Count Your Chickens Before They Hatch!

See you tomorrow evening at the hearing!  And do read Ruth’s column.  Far more interesting than mine would have been.

…and another ‘rule’ bites the dust!

August 1st, 2017

Yes or No?

What with the real news, the fake news, the old news and the new news – it’s hard to keep up.  Case in point:  As the sun became more reliable this summer and we found time to be out in it more often, we replenished our sunblock.  Wrong!  Wrong! Wrong!  As it turns out, dutifully slathering ourselves in this protective lotion causes more skin cancers than it prevents!  Who knew?

According to an article in realfarmacy.com, California scientist Dr. Elizabeth Plourde has provided proof that malignant melanoma and all other skin cancers increased significantly with ubiquitous sunscreen use over a 30-year period. She emphasizes that many sunscreens contain chemicals that are known carcinogens and endocrine-disrupting chemicals. And, lest we are not comfortable with that bit of news, an extensive Swedish study found that women who avoid sunbathing during the summer are twice as likely to die as those who sunbathe every day.  (Which does beg the question — do the others not die?  Well… maybe something was lost in the translation.)

Sydney – 1940, Before Sunscreens

Suddenly, I find myself feeling guilt-free concerning all those years before sunscreens and sunblocks – the years when we smeared cocoa butter all over ourselves and laid by the pool in the California sunshine, tanning and staying on the lookout for cute boys who might make eye contact.  Not that I fully believe the ‘studies,’ You don’t get to my venerable age without learning that, given enough time, the research will reverse itself.  As in, remember Saccharine?  And Red Dye No. 1?

But…wait!  It seems that every time I turn around, I find various sunscreens and sun-blocks being advertised and touted.  I even heard a friendly public service reminder about summer slathering on our public radio stations.  You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to wonder how strong the ‘sunscreen lobby’ is and why we are still being encouraged to “apply liberally and often.”  Must be some powerful companies.  Oh, yeah… Johnson and Johnson is one.  ‘Nuff said.

And, once again, I’m back to the advice given me from my earliest years:  Moderation in All Things.  Mothers (at least in my generation) were always right!

Let the conversation begin!

July 31st, 2017

Only when the feeder looks promising…

I’ve found that talking with hummingbirds is a lot more difficult than talking with chickens.  Chickens are very down-to-earth as conversationalists.  Hummingbirds?  Well… flighty!

It’s not that chickens ever have much to contribute to the discussion.  Nothing too understandable.  But when I talk to them – you know, ask them how their morning has been so far or apologize for being late to collect the eggs – they look at me with heads cocked and cluck and chortle in a friendly way.  Hummingbirds, not so much.  It’s definitely the difference between being down-to-earth and flighty.

Chickens Come Calling, Almost Anytime

Plus… chickens are loyal (which is probably directly connected to the earthbound thing) and ever-hopeful.  They greet us every time we appear near the coop.  And when they are free-ranging in the garden, they join us as soon as we make an appearance.  They often work right alongside me as I weed and seem grateful when my digging fork uncovers a worm.  “Just for me?  Thank you!” they seem to say.

Hummingbirds?  Not so much.  They flaunt their independence, letting us know by their morning arrival times whether or not the garden is offering better choices that day than their feeder.  Sometimes, they are buzzing around before we can replenish their food supply; at other times, they are obvious by their absence.  Sometimes, their non-appearance feels like a direct reprimand.  (So, maybe I have to re-think their ability to ‘converse.’)  This morning, the reason for their absence was pretty straightforward – we are temporarily (we hope) out of their feeding/flight pattern.

Gardening Companions –

At some point during our week’s absence, their hummingbird feeder disappeared.  It had come loose from its moorings and had fallen into the rhododendrons below.  Yesterday, I crawled under the low-hanging foliage and retrieved it, only to find that two of the four bee-guards were missing.  More searching revealed one and then, wonder of wonders, Nyel found another brand new one in the kitchen junk drawer!  “They used to carry them at Jack’s,” he said.  “Probably still do.” Good to know.

The full feeder went up last night.  This morning?  Not a hummingbird in sight.  I know they are nearby… I went outside and talked to the rhodies and the lilac bush where they might be lurking.  “Okay.  We’re back!  And we’re sorry.”  I hope they get the message and we see them later in the day.  Maybe it’s not only that they’re flighty.  Maybe a little passive aggressive?  Personally, I’ll take down-to-earth any day.

And where is Dr. Doolittle when you need him?