Old Glory to the rescue to thwart the robin!

It’s been way too long since I’ve sat down and put together a blog post, so one of my goals IMG_2383.jpg
for today is to do just that. Now it’s time to catch back up with what’s happening here as spring is in full force once again.

And springtime means yard work and getting everything that we dismantled (deck and patio furniture, planters, decorative ornamental hangings, etc.) and put away back in late fall dusted off and back in their proper places.

Now, as the days and weeks wear on through April, things are shaping up nicely around here. The grass all around is healthy and relatively free from various weeds and those persistent dandelions. The first applications of crabgrass preventer and early spring weed-n-feed have been applied.

We’ve mowed five times already and have added mulch to our backyard “triangle” that IMG_2377.jpghas the tall evergreen in the center. The colors of the daffodils and the tulips (that survived the rabbit assaults!) have been spectacular for the last couple of weeks.
IMG_2379.jpgWhen all of the yard tasks are finished, I enjoy sitting on the deck in the late afternoon with a cold drink, or in the early morning with a hot coffee, and watch the birds come and go to our two feeders and our neighbor’s finch feeders.

Those mornings when the sunshine is magnificent (which it has been for the past several days), there’s simply an overall feeling of nature coming alive and all the vestiges of winter cold eradicated.

Which brings us to the saga of the industrious robins who, for the last couple of springs, have built a nest in the tall evergreen out back. It’s a perfect spot, offering protection from the weather and other nosey creatures.

I’ve watched the nest-building on those mornings when I’m on the deck, and I find it cool how organized the robin “nest builders” are. While one bird goes out and forages for nest materials (grass, mud, cloth, etc.), another one–some distance away, yet on alert–watches to chase away any intruding bird who might have ideas about disturbing the nest in some way.

IMG_2381.jpgOne morning a few days ago, I happened to notice one of those robins hanging around our deck several times. When I went out with coffee in hand, the bird flew out low over my head. I looked over to where it had come from and saw that it had been starting a nest on the top of our gas fireplace vent on the side of our house. The nest was pretty far along, too, so I knew I needed to get rid of it before Mama robin moved in to lay her eggs.

It is a perfect spot for a nest, I realized, as it’s surrounded on three sides and out of the way and protected from strong winds. The problem, however, is that we don’t want a bird building a nest so close to the deck where we’re going in and out. Also, we don’t want grass, mud, stones, and other nest materials clogging up the fireplace vent.

I figured I could remedy this quickly in its early stages by getting the broom and sweeping away the grass and mud that our industrious little friend had placed there. I even wedged an old shovel handle through the deck privacy wall in hopes that it would deter the robin from returning to build its nest.

IMG_2382.jpgAll seemed satisfactory until the next morning when I checked it out, and the bird had re-started the nest, having deposited a good amount of grass once again. So, I repeated my earlier sweeping and put the handle back over the vent top, thinking that this time I’d surely discouraged the little red-breasted birdie!

Not so!

The robin was persistent, though, doing the same thing as before the following morning. Something more had to be done to deter the robin from nesting on our fireplace vent, and my creative juices were in overdrive.

What I came up with is as follows: Inside a coffee can I placed a heavy stone for weight and then punched a hole in the IMG_2374.jpgplastic lid just enough to fit a miniature American flag through. I hoped that the waving of Old Glory would keep the eager robin away, and the lid and can would keep the top of the vent covered and inaccessible to the robin. So far it has worked.

Each time I go outside, I check to make sure that the little flag is waving and no grass has been placed in or around the can on the vent.

I still see robins out and about, bouncing and bobbing right along on the green, green grass of home, and I’m pretty sure that one is nesting in the big evergreen as before.

But wherever they are, I wish them and their babies well–Just not next to our deck and on our fireplace vent!

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Photo: learner.org

Starting my day with a cardinal’s song…

What a difference a week makes!

Last weekend, I made a quick trip out to Ohio where we were “treated” to five inches of snow late Friday night, creating a winter wonderland. Ordinarily, that’s something I enjoy—just not on April 8th!

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Last Saturday morning in Marblehead, Ohio

And although we didn’t have any snow here at home in northern Illinois, it was annoyingly cold to begin this week. However, a gradual warming trend has crept in, and it’s actually beginning to show promise that things might be good for the foreseeable future.

It is even rumored that it might warm up to the high 60s (F) on Saturday. I say “rumored” because I don’t often put much credence in some of the weather folks’ predictions. As always, we shall see.

Because of this weather turnaround the past couple of days, I’ve been able to continue with my “de-winterizing” of things outside:  Removing the protective screening from around most of our bushes and hauling all of the deck furniture and tables and plant stands up from the basement yesterday. (Love those stairs!)

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The deck open for business!

I still need to get the hose and reel and patio furniture out from beneath the deck where they’ve hibernated since last fall. Those duties are on my “To Do” list for today, which is an even more delightful day than yesterday was. (I guess I shouldn’t be so quick to judge those weather people!)

Another sign that maybe the winter blahs have fled is how much lighter it is in the morning when I get up—usually between 5:30 and 6:00. Nothing like watching the sunrise while I brew that morning coffee and read whatever it is I’m reading at the moment. (American Gospel by Jon Meacham)

I’ve even resumed my morning walking regimen, striking out the past few days in brilliant sunshine for my twenty minutes of brisk enjoyment of the neighborhoods around here.

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The green, green grass out back!

This morning as I set out, I was greeted by a very happy and loud cardinal, singing and calling out to one and all from his perch atop our neighbor’s tree that he, too, was glad that things have turned around to the more pleasant side of life.

When I returned feeling wonderful and ready for the day, I took my coffee out to the deck and savored the sights and sounds and smells all about.

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First coffee on the deck this spring

 

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Home for another robin’s nest?

 

The grass I mowed yesterday is even greener this morning!

There’s a robin snooping about and investigating the big evergreen for a nest, I’m sure.

The morning air is still cool, and a fleece jacket or sweatshirt is in order, but there’s just something now that seems to be pointing to the warm days not too far off.

As the morning turns to afternoon, there is no need for the jacket, and I’m even “inspired” to complete those remaining “de-winterizing” jobs out there. I’ll even find time to sit in the sun, on the deck, and listen to that cardinal’s happy song. Can’t wait to hear what he has to say tomorrow morning as well.IMG_1705.JPG

 

Is spring on the way, or are the robins confused?

OK, I’m not complaining, so please don’t read this wrong. But…

Around these parts, one of the first signs of spring is the appearance of robins—those happy-go-lucky, red-breasted winged friends who seem to arrive out of nowhere.

Without a doubt, we can always rely on them showing up around mid-March, and it’s always a special moment when we call out: “Hey, there’s a robin in the neighbor’s back yard!”

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“Hey, everyone. It’s spring! Or is it?”

Well, last week (January 27th to be exact!), as I was grinding away on my MacBook and happened to glance out through my “window to the world,” I spotted one of those happy-go-lucky, red-breasted winged friends bouncing about in the back yard, carrying on as though the calendar was much farther along then it really was.

I sensed that the perky, little robin wanted to be seen, and I could almost hear her shouting: “Hello, everyone. It’s springtime!”

It was a delightful feeling seeing that bird, and one which made me feel good about the direction our winter was taking.

True, this winter has been a far cry from winters past—particularly last year’s—and the fact that I’ve only used our snow thrower two times is testament to that fact. Again, not complaining!

Not surprisingly, soon after the first robin showed, there was what appeared to be an invasion of her friends, immediate family, relatives, and various other hangers-on of the robin clan.

Our yard seemed to be cluttered with them as they bounced around in search of snacks and treats in the grass no longer covered with winter’s blanket.

After awhile this battalion of birds moved from the back yard and maneuvered around to the side lot where I snapped a couple of photos of this earlier-than-usual showing.

Later that afternoon, while I was busily stoking the Weber charcoal grill on our driveway, I could see that the gang of robins was still in the vicinity, but that they had moved across the street to the large empty lot. Again, I snapped a photo from my driveway, and one must look carefully to recognize them as robins. If nothing else, take my word for it.

Funny thing is, I haven’t seen them since that day. Our weather has been unseasonably pleasant and very March-like, so one would think that the happy creatures would have stuck around and continued whatever it is they do to herald the onset of spring—even though that’s still quite a ways off!

Perhaps one bird in this merry contingent checked the calendar and had an “oops moment” and delivered the news to the leader, causing the embarrassed congregation of happy-go-lucky, red-breasted winged friends to slink away, realizing that they’d jumped the gun just a bit.

Whatever the reasons: Why they arrived when they did and Why they didn’t stick around, the wonders of nature never cease to amaze me! Something was definitely at work in the universe of the robins, telling them it was time to pop in to northern Illinois.

Maybe they were just checking things out, making sure everything was in order for their real arrival in several weeks from now. Whatever their reasons, we’ll be looking for them once again and will welcome them back to stay a lot longer!

Not complaining…

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Elkins, WV & pizza in the Canaan Valley…

(This is the second part of my posting about our recent ten-day trip to North Carolina, West Virginia, and Ohio. The previous post stopped with our arrival at our hotel in Beckley, WV.)

 

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Tamarack, West Virginia (Wikipedia)

Waking to a dismal dark morning of rain, we checked out of our hotel in Beckley and made our way the short distance to Tamarack, located in a service area of the West Virginia Turnpike, so Carolyn could browse all of the arts and crafts shops in the uniquely circular building with a colorful red peaked roof. Everything on display and/or for sale inside is West Virginia made: Wood carvings, glass, pottery, metal work, jewelry, books, and other specialty items.

After a while, our Tamarack tour completed, we scurried out into a downpour and set off once again and were headed up US-19 toward Elkins, about two-and-a-half hours away. We were fortunate as we clicked off the miles that the rain abated frequently, allowing us to take in the rolling scenery passing by.

By mid-afternoon we entered Elkins and called my cousin Roger, who was to meet us and lead ELKINS SEAL-rgbus back to his home. By this time, the rain had stopped completely, and we enjoyed the clear view of the surrounding mountains and life alongside the Tygart Valley River.

From Roger, recently retired from the West Virginia Department of Natural Resources, we would learn a massive amount about the land and beauty of the entire area. For example, considered the gateway to the Monongahela National Forest, Elkins has long been a destination for sightseers and outdoor adventure enthusiasts alike, and we encountered many such folks the two days we spent in the area. It was also very easy to understand why Roger loved spending thirty-six years working here, being one of those outdoor enthusiasts himself! He has never known a river he wouldn’t love to fish, or a hill or woods he wouldn’t enjoy hunting for grouse!

We spent the remainder of the first day there with Roger and Jeannie getting caught up with family news and pleasant chit-chat about this, that, or the other thing, happily off the road.

The Blackwater River in its upper course in Ca...
The Blackwater River in its upper course in Canaan Valley Resort State Park (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Wednesday found us loading into Roger’s SUV for a drive up to Canaan Valley and Blackwater Falls State Park.

We quickly learned that the correct pronunciation is Canain rather than the familiar Biblical pronunciation. At any rate, the area is like a bowl, tucked into the mountains, and it is a popular tourist attraction, especially for hikers and bikers.

Roger pointed out all of the wetlands that are a great part of the area, and the start of the Blackwater River that runs through the valley and gushes noisily over the Blackwater Falls nearby.

Siren's Cafe-Wonderful pizza!
Sirianni’s Cafe…Davis, WV–Wonderful pizza!

After a nice tour of the falls and valley area, it was time for lunch, and we weren’t disappointed in Sirianni’s, located in the tiny burg of Davis. Famous for its pizza and various pasta dishes, the place had atmosphere—as well as delicious pizza!

Being from the Chicago area, we are familiar with quality pizza, but this was definitely worth writing about. The thin crust, which I prefer, was crisp and tasty, and the sausage, green peppers, onions, mushrooms, and tomato sauce were delicious. In short, it didn’t take the four of us very long to devour the large pie before we headed back to the car and back to Elkins.

As it turned out, that day was the perfect one for our excursion up to Canaan Valley as the rain stayed away. It returned through the night, however, and we had it along with us on our two-and-a-half hour drive to Athens, Ohio, the next morning once we bid farewell to Roger and Jeannie.

We both look back on our little trip, away from home for ten days, with good feelings about each place we stopped and visited and explored the countryside. Thanks to all who shared their homes and surroundings with us. It was a fantastic journey!

English: Monongahela National Forest entrance ...
English: Monongahela National Forest entrance gate along Old US 33 east of Elkins, West Virginia. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

That sneaky old April!

I can honestly say that today feels as though some good spring weather is just waiting to thrust

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Springbrook Prairie Naperville 001 (Photo credit: Michael Kappel)

itself into the big picture—and none too soon, either! The sun is brilliant on this April Saturday morning; the sky is as blue and clear as one can imagine. And the temperatures are a very pleasant 50° at the moment here in northern Illinois. It’s the kind of morning that I really feel guilty sitting here at my MacBook to create this post because I know I should be out doing something—even if it’s just picking up debris and litter, leftovers from the winter blasts.

Chicken Wire Role
Chicken Wire Role (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Also, there are the numerous chicken-wire protective “cages” we put around most of our young bushes and trees to thwart the ravenous attacks of the rabbits these past frozen months. Last year, we failed to protect the plantings, and the rabbits chowed down heavily, taking everything right down to the ground. Fortunately, most bushes survived last year’s onslaught, and this winter’s precautions have seemed to work all the better. Now, it’s a matter of taking down the wire and stakes and storing them away until late next fall. Within the next few days, I’ll be making a trip to buy the first application of crab grass preventer/weed-n-feed.

I’ll also be attempting to fix our 20-foot telescoping flagpole. One would think that a simple little release button that doesn’t pop out would be an easy fix, but I’ve had a devil of a time trying to get it to work. I’m sure the problem is all a result of the terrible weather these past months, and I’m counting on the manufacturer to ease my pain and help me get the thing back in normal operation!

Sitting here and typing these words, I realize that April has really sneaked up on me this year. Could it be that we’ve been so beaten down by the winter that just was, that we have forgotten about the ceaseless march of time? And though it’s still been cold, damp, and bitter most of these early days of the month, there have been glimpses of what is surely to come.

And this year, I’m certainly ready to get out and tackle these spring chores that need doing—without any hesitation or hemming or hawing, either! Each day, I am thankful that I completed The Good Luck Highway when I did and am free now to spend the time necessary outside, away from my writing desk—especially on a day such as this one.

I’ve had some wonderful feedback and positive comments regarding my second novel. It’s amazing just how much a writer can learn about his own work through the comments and feedback from readers. My story, a very fun one to write, touches on friendship, love, disappointment, trust, and growing up. I hope anyone reading it will see these elements clearly—while having a fun time along with Mac and Led on their “adventure.”

Thanks to one and all who have bought the Kindle Edition, Nook Book, or the paperback. Very soon, I’ll get back to tackling my next projects: A series of short stories and the next novel. It will bring back Rick and Karen Brenson, main characters from Black Wolf Lodge. It has been a fun story to start writing, and I’m growing very eager to dive right back into it after being away since November.

Long farm lane that dead ends at a chicken house..
Long farm lane that dead ends at a chicken house.. (Photo credit: D.Clow – Maryland)

In the meantime, outdoor beckons…and I must heed its call!…CortlandWriter

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It happens every spring…

It happens every spring, right about this time—first week of April—when winter’s harshness has moved on out, despite a chill in the mornings and evenings. An awakening of sorts kind of sets in, inspiring me to scurry down to the basement and haul up the chairs for the deck. And it isn’t long at all before I’ve settled into one, in the

 

Fox's Cross Bottom - geograph.org.uk - 340095
Fox’s Cross Bottom – geograph.org.uk – 340095 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

wonderful sunshine, portable radio tuned to one of the White Sox’ first games of the new season. And for the first time since last fall, I’ve traded long pants for my standard-issue shorts. One look at my suddenly exposed lily white legs, I realize it’s time to start spending time in the sun once again, particularly since we skipped our usual February trip to Florida this year. For the first time, I realize just how “winterized” I’ve become!

 

During the course of the afternoon, I manage to put away in the garage the extra snow shovel that spends the winter in the corner on the deck. Though convenient for removing the heavy snow that accumulates on the deck—very often this winter—the plastic orange winter tool leans there now, resembling the “Maytag repairman,” alone and friendless in the warmth and brightness of a beautiful spring day.

But I’m hesitant to run the gas out of the snow thrower, a task I complete just prior to hauling the thing down to our son’s storage shed until next November, because as soon as I do, I’m sure one last freak snowstorm is going to nail us when we aren’t looking! (Probably not, but I’ll just wait another day or so just to be sure…)

 

And speaking of motorized equipment, our old John Deere mower has been in and back to the lawnmower shop for its annual “checkup,” something that has kept the thing working wonderfully for many years. Each spring, I keep my fingers crossed that it will perform as well as it did the previous year. Unless I run over some unseen item or fail to keep it clean after each use, there’s no reason why the thing won’t get me through another mowing season. All the same, I worry about such things.

 

Now that the switch from winter to spring/summer mode has all but been completed, I relax once more in my chair on the deck and survey the back lot. A weedy row that serves as a border between our yard and the farm field (corn or soybean) is a place where litter and other loose materials get caught and collected there. For the past few years, one of the first things I do is, with garbage bag in hand, pay the area a visit and do some picking up of all of the trash and other flotsam and jetsam that have been deposited there during the long winter

Spring cleaning - #3
Spring cleaning – #3 (Photo credit: lastonein)

months. Already, the place looks better!

 

Now I’m ready to make a run to Menard’s to pick up a bag of the crabgrass preventer/fertilizer that I’ll spread sometime next week, since the ground is finally thawing out. Many people ask why I bother to fertilize since it only makes mowing more frequently a necessity, thus more work. And I don’t have a very good answer other than it’s because it happens every spring!

 

Now, back to that comfy chair on the deck and a tall glass of something coldCortlandWriter