Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Laughter is the best tonic

A handful of favorite bumper snickers from head shops and other stops around the country:
  • The more you know, the less you need (Aborigine saying)
  • Imagination is more important than knowledge (Albert Einstein)
  • Urban Sprawl: Plants and animal die to make room for your fat ass
  • There is no way to happiness-happines is the way (The Buddha)
  • Same old circus, different clowns


Sunday, March 23, 2008

The Easter Henhouse

Just before heading to Easter Mass, my younger brothers and I were always led to our grandpa's henhouse.
Ironic in that we were in our Easter finery.
A scratchy, pink crinoline dress, lacy white anklets and patent leather Mary Janes for me. Ill-fitting Robert Hall suits for the boys.
The odor assaulted us first.
Then, the muck.
Holding our breathe, we catiously tip-toed over damp, skinny planks -- being careful not to step in juicy chicken droppings.
Inside, a half-dozen nests miraculously cradled pastel- tinted eggs.
We scooped them out, made the treacherous exit and felt relieved. We'd survived an annual egg hunt unlike all others.


Friday, March 21, 2008

Lettin' the Good Times Roll

Long before Aunt Bobbi made an honest man out of him, Uncle Joey, a retired meat cutter, has been our Italian clan's biggest trickster.
When a pair of his nieces clamored for a pony, he slipped one into their yard--unbeknowst to their amused-yet-irritated parents.
At the biggest family gatherings, he always offered the boys an escape. Let's hit a local watering hole, he'd suggest, and " go pinch the girls."
Perhaps his best gag? Wrapping a dead cat in fresh, white butcher's paper and subsituting it for the roast a difficult customer had ordered. (She probably had it comin').
All the while, his love and generosity towards generations of our families' kids is unmatched.
I got a shiny silver dollar every Sunday that I "took him" to Catholic Mass.
He secretly paid in the '60s for a mind-blowing set of hardcover Time/Life books on everything from the mysteries of the human body to deep space for me and my brothers.
And as you see here, his favor is much sought by our family's fourth generation.
When asked in his late 70's what he might have done differently as a younger man, he smiled and said: "I wish I'd had twice as much money--and twice as much fun."
Thanks, Uncle Joey, for all the fun you've given us. Happy Birthday. :-)
Photo: Courtesy of Uncle Harry

Saturday, March 15, 2008

The Rightness of Being

Long before Oprah popularized gratitude journals, I began counting my blessings.
Even in the darkest circumstances, the list picks me up.
Among a multitude of other things, I'm grateful that:
  • My mood default setting is optimistic
  • After a lifetime of fighting a proclivity to be fat, keeping fit is second nature and I've accepted my body style: Zaftig
  • My sense of humor works overtime
  • My phobias are few
  • I come from a large, lively, loving Italian family.
  • Work is my friend


Monday, March 10, 2008

A breath of Spring

The weekend sunlight was as blinding, and as welcome, as it would be seem to a cave dweller.
Add to it a meadowlark's trill. Hawks courting on wings. Pink sunrises. And the high-pitched squeals of emerging rock chucks.

Gradually now, the days will begin earlier and earlier until the sun finally rises at 4:45 a.m. And sets about 10 p.m.

Soon, snowmelt will rush down the mountains, thundering over Spokane's Falls.
put the spell on ice.

Local gardeners keep their eyes on the snowy peaks. It'll be safe to sow seed once the mountains store their white, winter shawls.

The Earth seems eager for the change.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Makes Rose smell sweeter

The steriod scandal that's rocked baseball makes former player Pete Rose's bets on the Cincinnati Reds seem almost innocuous.
A few years back, Rose zipped down the steps of the Marion, Ill., federal penetentiary where he'd served his gambling sentence.
Scores of reporters, photographers and TV cameramen -- some from as far as Japan -- jockeyed behind a yellow crime scene tape to capture the moment.
Rose, in a navy Member's Only jacket, jeans and white sneakers, pretended not to notice, hopping into a hired black sedan.
He didn't do juice, HGH or andro. Nope. He got high on good ole' adrenaline.
So while baseball grapples with whether to let stand home run records set by super-human Hulks, perhaps it's time to absolve Rose and make him eligible for the Baseball Hall of Fame.
What say you?

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Promises, promises...

In honor of Super Tuesday 2, here's a bi-partisan joke you'll appreciate no matter whom you support--or detest.

While walking down the street one day a US senator is tragically hit by a truck and dies. His soul arrives in heaven and is met by St. Peter at the entrance."Welcome to heaven," says St. Peter. "Before you settle in, it seems there is a problem. We seldom see a high official around these parts, you see, so we're not sure what to do with you.""No problem, just let me in," says the man."Well, I'd like to, but I have orders from higher up. What we'll do is have you spend one day in hell and one in heaven. Then you can choose where to spend eternity.""Really, I've made up my mind. I want to be in heaven," says the senator."I'm sorry, but we have our rules."And with that, St. Peter escorts him to the elevator and he goes down, down, down to hell. The doors open and he finds himself in the middle of a green golf course. In the distance is a clubhouse and standing in front of it are all his friends and other politicianswho had worked with him.Everyone is very happy and in evening dress. They run to greet him, shake his hand, and reminisce about the good times they had while getting rich at the expense of the people. They play a friendly game of golf and then dine on lobster, caviar and champagne. Also present is the devil, who really is a very friendly guy who has a good time dancing and telling jokes. They are having such a good time that before he realizes it, it is time to go. Everyone gives him a hearty farewell and waves while the elevator rises...The elevator goes up, up, up and the door reopens on heaven where St. Peter is waiting for him."Now it's time to visit heaven."So, 24 hours pass with the senator joining a group of contented souls moving from cloud to cloud, playing the harp and singing. They have a good time and, before he realizes it, the 24 hours have gone by and St. Peter returns."Well, then, you've spent a day in hell and another in heaven. Now choose your eternity."The senator reflects for a minute, then he answers: "Well, I would never have said it before, I mean heaven has been delightful, but I think I would be better off in hell." So St. Peter escorts him to the elevator and he goes down, down,down to hell. Now the doors of the elevator open and he's in the middle of a barren land covered with waste and garbage. He sees all his friends, dressed in rags, picking up the trash and putting it in black bags as more trash falls from above. The devil comes over to him and puts his arm around his shoulder."I don't understand," stammers the senator. "Yesterday I was here and there was a golf course and clubhouse, and we ate lobster and caviar, drank champagne, and danced and had a great time. Now there's just a waste land full of garbage and my friends look miserable. What happened?"The devil looks at him, smiles and says, "Yesterday we were campaigning...... Today you voted."


Saturday, March 1, 2008

"Mary Travis, Winner'

When it comes to writing, I think of myself as a bricklayer. My stories build paragraph by paragraph--with time in between to step back and puzzle over their construction.
I regard my daughter, on the other hand, as a virtuoso. She sits at her computer and plays the langauge like music on a fine instrument.
Here's an excerpt from one of her latest short stories. It picks up as the main character, a spinster, embarks on a blind date arranged by her busy-body sister.
"The man's name was Graham – like the cracker! – Joan had cheerfully informed Mary. He was a payroll specialist at the insurance firm where Joan worked, and Joan had arranged for Mary to meet him at 7 p.m. at the diner down the street from Mary's building. It was already 6:30, and Mary could hear her sister's voice rattling around her skull:
Wear something nice! But not too nice. Wear your smart tweed coat, not your schlumpy wool one. For god's sake, wear nylons. If he brings flowers, act surprised, but not impressed.
She sighed before the vanity mirror as her eye dutifully noted every wrinkle and sag. One bristly hair had sprouted below her chin on the left side and she'd been rubbing a finger over it for two days now like a worry stone. She pawed around in the drawer for tweezers.
It was true, Joan was right, it had been a long time since she'd been on a date. The man at the library, Monsieur Amway as Joan called him, didn't count. She used to color her hair in the sink once a month, but she saw now in the mirror that the brown had faded. It was not so much that she'd gotten older, though that much was clear, but that she'd stopped thinking about such things. Her days carried her as if a piece of wood in a creek, from job to home, from book to book, from couch to bed. She had plodded without seeing where she was headed. And isn't that what you wanted? Your freedom? Or did you want a husband like Joan's and separate beds and the same stories over breakfast? Or maybe you just planned on dying alone?
Where she was headed, she supposed now, was to recreate some awkward Coke-with-two-straws high school date."

Thursday, February 28, 2008

What are saving them for?

You don't have to join the Peace Corps, be artistically inclined or come from money to make your world a better place.
Just smile. Flash those pearly whites.
Sure it's a simple thing. But it's far more potentl than you may realize.
Try it out with a stranger who looks alone and forgotten. Or old person. Or a poor person who's so often dismissed she feels invisible.
Doesn't cost you a dime. But it can be priceless in the eyes of someone who rarely receives the slightest attention.
Put yourself out there. Make the world a better place--one smile at a time.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

One more move

De-cluttered? Painted? Plied potential buyers with fresh-baked cookies and still can't unload your house?
Here's a sales tool you may not know about: A St. Joseph statue.
My mom swore by him, but then she was also known to keep a tiny voodoo doll.
After my 90-year-old Aunt Rose, a devout Catholic, endorsed it, I decided to give it a try.
Folk lore says to bury St. Joe near the FOR SALE sign "head first, feet towards heaven, facing the direction of the street. "
Say a prayer and wait for the offers to roll in.
After the sale, exhume your "underground real estate agent" and display him in a place of prominence in your new home.
Despite a softening real estate market last fall, it worked for us.
And there's no shortage of St. Joseph supplies. Statuettes, prayer booklets and in some cases searchable home listings are available online.
Face in this market, it takes Divine intervention to close a deal.
Plus you'll get pleasure in knowing your nosy neighbors are going nuts trying to figure out just what in hell you've buried in the front yard.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Keepin' it real

Some people collect antiques. Baseball cards. Or Hummel figurines.
Me? I collect sayings. Here are a few of my favorites:
  • "If you're not outraged, you're not paying attention," a bumper sticker.
  • "Urban sprawl: Cut down all the trees and name the streets after them," another bumper sticker from same college town head shop.
  • "Try not to count too much on any one thing 'cause it's liable to become a disappointment," Robert Duval's cowboy character in "Lonesome Dove."
  • "If you're going to kick authority in the teeth, you might as well use two feet," Rolling Stone's guitarist Keith Richards.

What are yours?


Sunday, February 24, 2008

With a lot of help from their friends.

How do the stars pull off their stunning Oscar looks? With mink eyelashes. Underarm Botox to prevent perspiration. $1,000 facials. Personal trainers. Loaner gowns and jewels. And more.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Making do

Say what you will about the recently-approved U.S. economic stimulus package, it's being enthusiastically welcomed by those eeking out a living on Social Security, SSI or a small pension.
One 77-year-old woman said although the anticipated $300 won't be enough to fix her leaky roof--it will enable her to replace the 28-year-old mattress that's giving her back aches.
Another retiree said it will be a gift equal to half her monthly stipend.
A third said it will bring a little relief into a world devoid of the "three C's."
Cars, cable and cell phones.
"They're luxuries," she tells her friends, "not necessities."
Yep. The government did a good turn, extending a hand to America's old, infirm and disabled.
I just know they're going to do their part to spread the good will around.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Suck it up

Forget the Bas Mitzvah. Quinceanera, too. A girl's right of passage in the 60's was her first girdle -- a necessity then.
Panty hose hadn't been invented yet. Nylons had to be fastened by wire to rubbery tabs sewn into the girdle. (See photo above).
Even taut cheerleaders sported girdles in those days--and they didn't have a thing to hide. Or minimize.
Today's woman can put synthetics on her side (as well as her waist, thighs, buns and bust).
New, sleek shapewear is effective and feels good -- unlike its ancestors.
A recent column in the New York Times suggested women purge the ugly from their undie drawers and go for Spanx or Flexees.
Get a look at how they firm your curves atwww. or
So forsake the fad diet. Just limber up the credit cards.
After all, if you want to stand out like the Eiffel Tower, you MUST start with good foundations.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

In memory

He wrote his own epitaph.
It was after his first marriage ended in divorce, that he fell hard for a loving mother and her two children.
Their new life together Life was divine. He was deeply in love. And he had two younger kids to nurture now that his own were nearly grown.
But the dream vaporized into the fog the day his bride dropped to the floor and became unresponsive.
Bad weather grounded the medivac chopper that could have zipped quickly to the nearest trauma hospital 110 miles away.
So he hopped in the back of the ambulance to accompany her on the ride to St. Louis. A flat tire and bad directions hampered the arrival of a relief vehicle.
By the time it was sorted out, she was gone. Brain aneurysm, they said.
He never fully recovered, despite a later relationship with the woman he'd hoped would help him forget his overwhelming grief.
"When I die," he once told me, " you can tell people I died of a broken heart."
Those haunting words came back to me when I got the call he'd had a fatal heart attack during a pick-up basketball game 30 years ago President's Day. He was 46.
For the first time, I felt the same sort of excruciating loss that killed him.
I miss you, Dad. And I wish I could have been there.
Photo: Magelli Family Album

Break through

An artist once told me when he began a new painting, he could see in his mind's eye the glorious result.
Somewhere along the way, however, he found he had to 'work through the ugly part of the painting.'
Our region is doing just that: Working through the ugly part of winter.
Cavernous potholes. Sloppy puddles. Filthy cars coated in oily, gray road de-icer.
Yet in the coming weeks, the sun will glow longer. Skies will turn robin- egg blue. And a riot of blossoms, grasses and flowering trees will help us forget about this mid-winter grime.
A new landscape will emerge resplendent -- think of as the spring collection of an Old World Master.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Remember when...

The Amish believe photographs can capture their souls and refuse to have graven images of themselves.
That may seem outlandish on the surface.
But it's a little easier to understand after pouring over turn-of-the-century photos of my immigrant grandparents with their young brood. And snapshots of friends and family from 20 years ago.
There, frozen in time are the flashings of people -- and the trappings of their time.
And while the pictures didn't trap their souls--perhaps they preserved the next best thing.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Day after day

A full-body massage starts the day. Followed by a lite breakfast and a leisurely morning around the house.
Lunch at noon. And a luxurious nap until sunset.
Then it's time for supper and play.
Yes, the cat is king of routines.
There was a time when I feared my routines were poor substitutes for real living.
Now I can see they create a predictable framework in an unpredictable and often cruel world.
And as we grow old, the routines grow ever more precious. Towards the end, they may be all we can really count on.
That's why I believe old women deserve their tea served precisely to their liking.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Another bright spot in wasteland

"Break Bad (v.) 1. to challenge convention 2. to defy authority 3. to raise hell," according to

It's far fetched. Rotates on gallows humor. Tends toward the macabre.
And is one of the best TV series not produced for HBO.
Breaking Bad follows a high school chemistry teacher who's been on auto pilot for years. But when he finds out he has late- stage terminal lung cancer, he embraces life with reckless abandon.
Actor Bryan Cranston plays teacher Walter White.
To build a nest egg for the family he'll be leaving behind, White hooks up a looser of a former student. Jesse Pinkman, played by Aaron Paul, who is a self-proclaimed meth-making"artist." In their new partnership, White bubbles by night and Pinkman distributes to a seedy network of established customers.
Nothing goes smoothly for the two--as the picture above illustrates. The fiascos that befall these guys will have you howling.
Episodes one and two are in rebroadcast on the AMC cable channel and streamed free on the AMC Web site,
Hopefully this will tide you over until Hollywood's writers begin churning out new material.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

For the health of it

Because I'm without a health club membership right now, I'm sneaking more exercise into my day.
My heart has to have it. And it's the best antidote against lapsing into a penguin's body double.
So while my dog runs off leash in a field, I've taken to doing squats and standing leg exercises outdoors. In winter coat, hat and gloves. It's not as exotic as the fitness queens whose TV routines take place on breath-taking beaches. But it'll do.
I also splurged on a sleek, new $24 pedometer. About the size of a credit card, it's flat and thin and fits in a back pocket.
The daily goal: 10,000 steps or about five miles. I wear the little ticker morning to night. It subconsciously spurs me to step up my activity.
Takes 21 days to create a habit, I've read. I'm five days into the program.
At this rate, I might just make it to my first spring Bloomsday ( after all.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Color me happy

Every year, my employer hosts several kids' coloring contests. In February, young artists decorate paper hearts.
Purple feathers, red and pink foils, tiny plush heart pillows and every shade of red media known to kids adorned this year's entries.
There's even a heart-turned-American flag with stars on a field of blue plus requisite red and white stripes. "God Bless America," it proclaims.
Angels, puppies, cut outs of candies, pasta shells and tiny, red crepe paper flowers brightened others.
I had the pleasure of sorting the artworks.
While some focused on candidates' caucuses or slogged through slush in what is the grayest month of the year here, I was knee deep in kids' whimsies.
By the time I finished, my slacks and desk were sprinkled with shimmering gold, silver and pink glitter.
I chose to think of it as fairy dust.

Sunday, February 3, 2008

Keep on the sunny side

Generators, buildings, 12 V portable refrigerators and radios are just a few of the things that can powered by the sun.
That brilliant star illuminated snowscapes here today. A welcome sight after a week of relentless winter storms.
Where its rays warmed the carpet, the cat and the dog flopped down for naps.
Without sunshine our bones grow brittle. Attitudes, too.
Today's radiation renewed my little photovoltaic soul -- I absorbed enough energy to make it through February.

Saturday, February 2, 2008

Vacuous reality shows driving you insane?

Hit the coach for "In Treatment," HBO's latest original TV series.
The cable giant bills it as: "One doctor. Five sessions. Five nights a week."
Therapy never felt so good--and cost so little.
Irish actor Gabriel Byrne stars as intelligent pyschotherapist Paul Weston. He sees clients in 30-minute episodes Mondays through Thursdays.
Honey, have they got work to do!
Even Paul finds the load so heavy he seeks a shrink of his own.
On Fridays, tune in as Paul unloads his baggage, which is messier than you'd think.
Admist the dearth of decent programs, "In Treatment" is the best medicine around.
For the schedule go to

Friday, February 1, 2008

Locked and loaded

I'm was a Groundhog's Day baby. I'll celebrate Saturday for the 55th time. And I'm not going down without a fight.

Here's a few Things I Have Learned:

  1. In high- stakes poker, sometimes you have to be willing to lose everything to win.
  2. Kids are far more intuitive than they’re given credit for.
  3. Everyone has a story to tell and something to teach you.
  4. Follow your instincts.
  5. If your feelings are hurt, don’t show it.
  6. Travel is the best teacher.
  7. It’s a full-time job managing yourself -- let alone anyone else.
  8. Keep on the sunny side.
  9. If you’re lucky enough to work at something you love, enjoy the hell out of it. If not, find a really cool hobby.
  10. You’re always the same age inside.
  11. Don't worry about things that haven’t happened -- it’s the unforeseen that will blind side you.
  12. Hold fast to your values.
  13. There are many paths to enlightenment.


Thursday, January 31, 2008

Thank goodness we're not lemmings

About 63 inches of snow has hit us here since the beginning of the year.
See why people are leaping off their roofs?
Even the well-coifed governor today left the relatively balmy "West Side" (everthing west of the Cascades) to visit snow-clogged Spokane.
We're in a state of emergency, she said at a news conference.
That's how tens of thousands of parents -- whose kids have been home from school all week -- must feel.
Still, I think my temporarily tongue-tied husband summed it up best when he said: "This is the most show I've ever snoveled."

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

What it is

Golden handcuffs. That's how some folks think of their jobs.
But lately I'm reminded of just how much more a job can be.
It's a ready-made family --no matter how dysfunctional. It's inside jokes. Shared history. And daily structure.
Perhaps most importantly, it's one's contribution to the world, not to mention identity and raison d'etre.
Monday, I'll punch in at a new job. And I'll gain all those intangible perks.
The paycheck's gravy.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

The Illinois River School of Carvers

Feeble and soft spoken, elderly Charlie Perdew was usually taking bed rest during our visits in the early 60's.
He looked a fright. Unruly, long gray locks like Einstein. A yellowed, ankle-length dressing gown like Scrooge.
His surroundings made it all the worse.
Perdew's house was a fire trap. A half-century's worth of newspapers and magazines were stacked floor to ceiling, only a narrow walking path between them.
Cats ruled every cranny.
The Perdews didn't seem to notice the acrid stench of deteriorating paper and cat piss that permeated the place.
Still, we visited. We chatted. And delivered groceries and mom's handmade divinity--Charlie's favorite sweet.
I'd later learn the deceased eccentric is now considered a master carver in the Illinois River School, a small cadre of early decoy and duck call creators whose works are coveted folk art.
Charlie generously carved several signature pieces for my parents.
Today, they remind me of my childhood. And it seems like a dream.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Crash course

TV broadcasters have dubbed it the "Storm of the Decade." It's shuttered colleges, businesses and even Spokane City Hall.
What to do? Go sledding.
I picked up the 'sport' when sleds were just wooden slats, red metal runners and a steering yokes-- that always turned in the most dangerous direction.
That meant my childhood runs down Harney Hill could have ended in the icy Illinois River (there but for the grace of God).
I remembered that today as I hijacked a neighbor kid's new- fangled, foam slider for a zip down a snow-padded hill.
For five joyous seconds, I was 10 again. Laughing uncontrollably. Veering off course.
Life is so much more fun when you're not afraid to look stupid.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

When Hell freezes over

That's me, headed to the mailbox.
Ha, ha, ha.
But seriously, my inner snow bunny is up to her armpits in white stuff. And it's wearing me down.
Six inches of snow here. An inch of freezing rain there. And now the whammie: A weekend-long 'snow event' now 17 hours old -- and no signs of letting up.
Thanks to La Nina, there's more come. All week long.
If I had a nickel for every snowflake, I'd be sipping mojitas in Key West.
But granny's adage breaks the reverie: "Spit in one hand and wish in the other... and see what you get the most of!"
Guess I'd better get back to shoveling.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

New twist on Judgement Day

A law in the Jewish faith says on Judge-
ment Day, you'll be held accountable for all the "permissible" pleasures of which you failed to avail yourself.
A comforting thought.
In preparation, I vow this year to float amongst the brilliant fish and corals of a warm- water reef.
Talk about a flow experience.
The amazing creatures, wild colors and often humorous behaviors lead me to believe God dabbled in LSD -- long before Timothy O'Leary.
Photos, left to right:
Marc M. Ellis,

Friday, January 25, 2008

Don't get whacked

Catholic girl's boarding school taught me many things:

  • When vacuuming the principal's office, use the beater bars to leave the same orderly pattern in the carpet--or you can just do it over
  • Underwear must be folded and stored neatly in a tiny dresser drawer--or you'll be called to your room to rectify the matter
  • Going sans bathrobe and slippers always results in the chapel window washing detail--to be completed Saturday while good girls are free to go downtown
  • Nuns can't tell Ex-Lax has been baked into the aromatic, warm brownies you made for them
  • Discipline separates the winners from the slackers
  • Winning is a helluva lot more fun!


Thursday, January 24, 2008

Hands of time

I SWEAR my mother's hands have been grafted onto my body. They're capable hands, just freckled with "liver spots."
And they're showing their age.
But these were the hands that whipped up extraordinary birthday cakes for me in the 60's--the kind Barbie poked out of--the cake a frilly, iced hoopskirt.
They're the same hands that created a two-headed- woman costume she shared with her short, stout girlfriend, Margaret. So big was their get up, the backseat of the car had to be removed to ferry them to a bowling alley's Halloween bash.
And yes, they're the hands that mischievously poured garlic juice into dad's Brute aftershave when there were suspicions he was seeing another woman.
So I'm beginning to accept my fate. Yeah, I'm growing into these hands.
But don't think for a minute I'm going to start sporting sweatshirts embroidered with cute little animals and hearts!
Miss you, Mom. :-)

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Clothes make the man

That early South Pole explorer Ernest Shackleton saved himself and his 27 -man crew is a testament to human perserverance.
The 1907 expedition was stranded for 22 months in Antartica after their ship broke apart in thick ice. They all survived, thanks to Shackleton. He gutsily shoved off in a life boat for a far-away island-- the home of whalers who would rescue the team.
At the turn-of-the century, even well-appointed adventurers had only ordinary wool shirts, felt jackets and leather boots. And their clothing eventually got wet and froze.
Insulated gloves, a down-filled parka, Thinsulate-lined boots and optically-superior Oakley sunglasses cover me in winter.
Bet those guys would have killed for my gear.
Ernest: If you get another life, go for the GORE-TEX endorsement.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Help! They need somebody

I think I saved a life today. The life of a furry, dark brown field mouse, which technically is a meadow vole. Despite temps of 18 degrees, the critters were tunneling through the snow on a sweeping alfalfa field near here.
Wiley, my dog, sniffed one out and was using her snout to toss into the air. I hope I intervened in time. I called her to my side. The mouse raced away. Whew. That was a close one.
On a little larger scale, yesterday I donated a pint of blood. It's a common type, B+, and there's rarely a shortage. Yet, a recent news story reminded me it can still be of use as plasma, sometimes used to treat burn victims.
Just think: Scientists have successfully cloned pigs and sheep. But they still haven't found a substitute for the sticky, red life pulsating through our veins.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Bird calls

Finally. I've filled a bird feeder with black oil sunflower seeds and set it out for fliers-by. I hope they spot it.

Don't see anywhere near the numbers of backyard birds as I did at my country house in Southern Illinois.
I miss the energetic little things. Flitting around. Testing the pecking order.

But developments like the one we're in tend to be woefully short on tall trees. Sure, there are saplings along the curbs. But they don't provide cover or roosting spots.

Today begin's my vigil. I'm going to try to lure some life to the tundra that is our backyard.
Photo: Backyard Bird Centre

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Head in the clouds

Four inches of fresh snow coated the pines (and everthing else) today. And after watching a big bird land atop a powdery pine, I think I finally may have figured out why male bald eagles have white heads: To blend into the snow-steeped landscapes, especially trees.
From tree-top perches, their dark bodies are indistinguishable from the shadows while their white feather headresses look just like poufs of snow.
Just a theory.
Photos, left to right:;

Saturday, January 19, 2008

The neighbors

Thanks to forensic evidence (O.K., scat), I now know two more species that frequent or live on the nearest hill.
The black-tailed deer, a smaller sub-species of Rocky Mountain mule deer, are so named for the black fur that runs the length of their tails.
I suspect mostly females are feeding there at present. Fully grown, they weigh about 120 pounds and can clear eight-foot jumps.
Meanwhile, numerous burrows are home to hibernating yellow-bellied marmots, a type of large ground squirrel.

Social creatures, they live in colonies that may cover up to 6 acres of rocky outcroppings. Locals call them rock chucks.
But they're also known as whistle pigs. When they sense predators in the area, they warn one another with short, shrill chirps.
And to think, for the longest time, I could have sworn I was hearing bird calls.
Photos, left to right:; virtual dirt time

Friday, January 18, 2008

Blue spruce

The Eskimo people, I've read, have 100 different names for snow.

Now I know why.

Here, it may fall as tiny, white pellets. Or giant wet flakes. And of course there's fine dry powder that's great for skiing.

Most surprising to me, though, is ice fog.

Yep. Fog freezes, dusting everything in crystal frost. Like this colorized take on icy pine needles.

That leaves about 96 varieties of white stuff still to come.

Photo: Paula Davenport, cell phone

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Hear that lonesome whistle...

Hum that old Johnny Cash song as you read along:

All together, 60 trains roll through here every day and every night. Their whistles slice the cold night air.

I hear them sometimes when I'm half asleep. Far away. Then fading into the distance. I burrow deeper into the covers, grateful for a toasty bed and a good night's sleep.


Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Sun break

For the second day in a row, the sun has brightened skies and spirits here in Spokane.
Even with temps well below freezing, the outdoors beckoned.
Wiley, my rescue dog, and I trekked up a little ridge surrounded by new houses in our subdivision.
Saw plenty of evidence that deer, marmots and birds are finding food and cover here.
A tennis court, groomed and irrigated lawnand playground equipment will soon appear at the base of this little hill.
I prefer it "au naturel."
With luck -- even after improvements -- nobody will venture up on frigid days like this -- and Wiley and I can keep it all to ourselves.

Photos: Paula Davenport

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Moose rescue

Sometimes, people really go out of their way to help a guy.
See more photos of this daring moose rescue in N. Idaho at:

Monday, January 14, 2008

Hardly Margaritaville

Unless you're on the slopes, bundling up to brave winter weather must be something only older folks do.

In Eastern Washington--where it snows a lot -- a handful of carefree teens and coeds won't concede to winter.

"Oh no," they seem to be saying.

"It's not that cold. See? I'm still wearing flip-flops," their unfettered feet seem to say, shushing through malls and restaurants.

Makes me smile. And for a almost seems like Spring.

The lookout

Portion of Spirit Lake, Idaho's town mural