Happy Eclipse Day!

Monday mornings always inspire me. I like the feeling of a fresh start. A clean slate. A whole week to accomplish the things I wanted to do last week but didn’t get around to. Well, we’ll see about that one. 🙂

Today we’re looking forward to the grand spectacle in the heavens, 10:30am -1pm our time. It’s a glorious day here with clear blue skies, so we can expect a good views of the eclipse. Right where we live they’re saying it will be 70%.

If you’d fly over the Canadian prairies today, you’d see that harvest has begun in Manitoba. Around where we live the golden fields are waving in the breeze and farmers are greasing up their combines. Our goldenrod and Canada thistle are coming into bloom — the first signs of autumn. Our nights are cool. The hummingbirds are still coming to our feeders, but it won’t be long until they’re on their way to Mexico.

Blog-ographically, you are going to see some change here, too, more book reviews in the next few weeks. Over the past two years, while I’ve been recovering from my illness, I’ve read quite a few books. I know all writers appreciate a (hopefully positive) review on Amazon and Kobo so, since I’m writing them anyway, I’ll post them here as well.

“What goes around comes around,” they say. I’m hoping when Silver Morning Song goes live on the vendors’ sites folks will review it, so I should be ready to do the same for other authors. As I write this, my book of short stories and poems is being formatted for download to the net. I’m getting excited to see it for sale on Amazon and Kobo!

I’ll kick off with this review:
One star — but I’ll give the writer credit for having a terrific imagination.

510 Creative Writing Prompts: For Aspiring and Experienced Writers
by Jonathan Wright
Kindle edition sold by Amazon Digital Services

“To each his own,” they say, and this book of prompts is NOT my cup of tea.

Usually I can find something that interests me in a book of writing prompts but I skimmed through the whole book looking for what I’d call a normal scenario. Nada. These are all the sensational types. If you write sci-fi, horror, thriller, paranormal, zombies, etc, this book is full of prompts for you.

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The $2000 Crack

No, this isn’t the story of a drug deal — but it is the story of a BIG deal. Finding two grand is a fairly big deal at this house.

My tale started innocently enough Sunday morning as I was getting ready for church. I took my hearing aids out of the box — and dropped one. Usually they stand a bit of shock, but this one went on strike. Nose out of joint — or whatever.

On Tuesday when we went into the city I took the injured appliance back to the Sask Hearing Aid Plan office where I’d purchased it — and learned that this plan was phased out in the recent provincial budget cuts. (Now only children are eligible.) The steno checked my record, though: I bought these hearing aids in Feb 2012 and they have a five year warrantee. Do the math.

I took them to a private clinic that fixes this brand and she couldn’t get the thing working again. She phoned the Oticon company and they did the math. For $500 I can get the warrantee extended for six more months. Then I can send it to their lab, but there’s no guarantee that when they take it apart they’ll be able to fix it.

A new hearing aid will cost somewhere between about $1400 and $3000. To complicate things, I have two, synchronized to work together, and there’s no guarantee a new hearing aid would be able to work in harmony with the old one. “Quite often,” the receptionist told me, “people end up having to buy two.” Whimper!

This story will be familiar to anyone who’s needed to replace a hearing aid; they just are pricey little gadgets. Dropping one isn’t wise, but it happens. So since that fateful fall my mind has been contemplating payment options:
— If I were in good health I could sell a kidney but I’m keeping my arms and legs.
— If I were a prolific writer I could crank out twenty novels by the end of the year.
— I could make do with only one hearing aid. (Bob vetoes that idea.)
At any rate, I have an appointment at a hearing aid clinic tomorrow morning and we’ll see what conclusion we can come to with those folks.

What can you say? The older we get, the more it costs.

I’ve finished Silver Morning Song, my book of short stories and poems, and am waiting now for a business name registration and an ISBN. But I have a number of stories and poems that don’t quite fit this book so I’ve been compiling a second book. The items in this one— I’m calling it Wisdom in Whimsy— will be mainly just-for-fun stories and poems.

I didn’t have very many items for this book until this morning when I plugged in an old flash-drive and found quite a few more to add. I’m thinking of writing some more stories about Winnie and Raylene (see Winnie Plays Monopoly) and including them in this second book, too.

During the past several weeks I’ve been going through a book on depression by Pastor J S Park, as one of his beta readers. Entitled How Dark It Really Is, this book is well worth reading if you want to understand what someone with depression is going through and how you can best help them. And if you’re the one dealing with this affliction, it helps you to identify negative voices that want to drag you down. You can read it and realize you’re not alone, that others have felt this same pressure, hung on in the bad times and made it through.

For no specific reason I was feeling rather blue myself last night, so I went for a walk. Need to do this more often. And I and saw a bobolink — first one I’ve seen in a long time. This afternoon at our finch feeder a mottled, odd-looking bird attracted my attention, being much larger than the pine siskins plastered on it these days. Got out my binoculars confirmed my initial guess: it was a young male rose-breasted grosbeak. A rare summer visitor.

Last week at a birthday party I was telling the ladies I hadn’t seen a gopher all summer. This is the prairie; gophers usually abound. So where are they? Have these last wet years taken such a toll on the gopher population?

Be careful what you wish for, they say. Yesterday I let my black tom, Angus, out and fifteen minutes later he came back with a full-size dead gopher dangling from his teeth. Hoping to bring it inside and eat it at his leisure. 😦 Nope — not a chance! But now I know why I never see any gophers around our yard.

Others don’t think it’s been very wet here, but it seems to me we’ve had a lot of thunder-storms and tornado alerts in the past six weeks. The sloughs along our road are drying up now, though.

And that’s another glimpse of life at our house. 🙂

Poetic Insight Needed

Good afternoon every one. I decided on Saturday that, with what I have up this week, I’d take a mini-break from blogging. But now I want to ask your opinion on a little verse I plan to include in my book — in fact it’s from this verse that I’ve taken the title.

Going back to last week, I was working on my book, Silver Morning Song, trying to get it ready to be formatted as an e-book. I also had an event to prepare for on Saturday: our local Christian bookstore was sponsoring an event and I was given a two-hour slot at their writers’ book signing tables. This was for The Rescuing Day, the cover of which is displayed at right. (Details in the My Books section under the header.)

It was an interesting day. None of us who brought books had huge sales but you have to count it as an opportunity to get your name out there. I had small postcards made up advertising my book and also my blog; I handed out a number of these and sold a few books.

Now that is behind me and this week I have two heavy irons in the fire. I’m still going over my own book, plus beta reading a book on depression written by Pastor J S Park. So I shut off the e-mail notifications on “Blogs I Follow” to cut down on the distractions while I finish these two projects.

But now I’ve come to this one tiny poem, included in my first compilation four years back. It’s from this haiku that I got the title for my book of poems and short stories.

Silver morning dew
distills on silent farm yard
sleeping cat stretches

But then I titled it Silver Morning and upgraded it to:

Silver morning dew
distills on silent farm yard
sleepy cat stretches
songbirds herald the dawn.

And finally, for more connection to the title of the book, I may tweak the title and publish it like so:

Silver Morning Song

Morning dew distills
on silent farm yard,
sleepy cat stretches,
songbirds herald the dawn
with silver morning song.

So, which do you think sounds better the blue the pink or the green? If you have any opinion or suggestion please leave a comment.  Thanks much!

The Swallows Are Back!

“When the Swallows Come Back to Our Exhaust Fan…”

Did you know that tree swallows have seriously decreased in numbers here in North America, especially in areas where English sparrows have multiplied. Non-native birds, English Sparrows are miserable, aggressive neighbours. They’ll chase adult tree swallows away and hog the food and best nesting sites. They will also invade swallow nests, kill the adult birds, eat their eggs and destroy their chicks. Heartless things, they lay their own eggs on top of the corpses and pick away at the remains.

Swallows may find a remote abandoned building where sparrows don’t hang out, or they may find humans who are blind enough —or kind enough— to let them live close by, where sparrows and other predators won’t venture. All the better if there’s an opening easy to defend. At least that’s what one pair of tree swallows must have thought in the spring of 2010, when they found the cover of our exhaust fan missing.

There’s a small hole in the outside wall of our mobile home just below the roof, where the bathroom fan is vented. It’s supposed to have a covering but this fell off sometime, leaving the recessed pipe about one and a half inches in diameter with one end open to the great outdoors. Tree swallows checked it out and found an entry just their size in a wall warmed by morning sun and a nice interior ledge with ample room for a nest. Thus began our own personal experience with swallows.

They set about furnishing their digs. We took note of their presence when a few straws started falling onto the bathroom counter but since we never used that bathroom fan anyway–it was far too noisy and rattling–it seemed a worthwhile nature lesson to observe this process. (Beside which, there was no way on earth we could get them out.) We taped the switch so the fan couldn’t be turned on by unsuspecting visitors and watched the swallows make forays past our window as they built their nest.

In time we heard tiny peeps coming from behind the fan. We dusted shreds of grass from our bathroom counter and smiled at the baby racket we heard when lunch was served — an all-day affair. Our cat was intrigued but helpless to disturb the birds — as were the outside cats. Weeks passed and peep volume grew.

One day I was in the bathroom brushing my hair when the peeping suddenly hushed. Then I heard the unmistakable tones of marching orders; it sounded like a parent bird laying down the law to indolent offspring just like human parents sometimes do. Followed by tiny feet scrabbling on wood, then the bathroom was silent.

I hurried to the kitchen and looked out the window just as the air exploded with swallows. Back and forth the young birds swooped and dived, getting their bearings in this new world into which they’d been shoved. They still called the nest home and for days after, whenever we passed that side of the trailer, we saw a tiny black head poking out the hole as someone prepared for takeoff.

Then the offspring moved out for good. For the rest of July we watched them zip through the sky or balance on wires, learning the ropes, feasting on mosquitoes and other insects. Swallows are entertaining acrobats and can clean up a fantastic number of bugs, especially mosquitoes, every day.

Shortly after their babies left, Ma & Pa Bird were back behind the bathroom fan scratching around. New peeps started coming through the wall and the cycle repeated itself: comings & goings increased; the peeps got loud again. I happened to be there again when another set of marching orders were issued. I could almost hear a harried parent insisting, “It’s time you were on your own. Get out there and feed yourselves!”

Repeat explosion of swallow swoopers. Repeat dives, twirls, and other aerobatics to strengthen wings. More birds on the clothesline.

The bathroom fan is vented not far from our outside tap, so we were often near their nest, but they never minded our coming and going. One or the other would often have its head out watching as I turned the tap on or off. I’d even talk to it from about two metres (6′) away and it never moved.

The next spring I learned an important lesson: don’t put out inviting bird food (i.e. sunflower seeds & nuts) for larger birds like grackles anywhere near the swallow nest. Our bird feeder, hung on a post in the lawn, was too close to the bathroom vent and the swallows were obviously distressed by the presence of bigger birds at the feeder. Several times I saw them dive at grackles sitting there. That spring the swallows raised only one batch of babies, then left.

The swallows used the exhaust fan vent for two summers, then moved on to other nesting sites. We’ve put up several more swallow nest boxes over the past six years, all of which are claimed every spring and new broods raised.

Our yard can be bad for mosquitoes, but we’ve noticed that as long as the swallows are around, the mosquitoes aren’t as plentiful. Nice! It would be worth the price of a dozen birdhouses if we’re spared West Nile Virus. The swallows usually leave us at the end of July and head over to the sloughs to feast on the multitudes of mosquitoes there. After that we  have to look out for ourselves mosquito-wise.

In the fall of 2010 I read in a gardening magazine that “swallows produce one batch of young every summer.” Well, ours must not have read the rules. Or they felt so secure in their cozy home that they decided on a second family. The ones who occupy the nest we mounted on the garage have raised two broods some summers as well.

Yesterday at leas one family of swallows returned, twittering around and all trying to get into their old nest box just outside my sewing room window. Welcome home, friends!

When Children Divide the Nickels

Back in 1899 a thirteen-year-old Ontario girl named Christina Young kept a diary for that year of her life. One of her entries tells of a day her father had taken her and her sister Annie, two years older, to town when he had some shopping to do.

He gave the girls some money and let them choose some candy from the General Store; to Annie he gave 10¢ and to Christina 5¢ – probably a generous sum in those days.

However, Christina protested that Annie had gotten more. “That’s because Annie’s older,” he explained. And back in those days a child didn’t dare contradict a parent, especially Father.

Nevertheless Christina felt the sting of injustice. That night she grumbled in her diary: “It wasn’t very fair. After all, it’s not my fault that Annie’s older. And I can eat just as much candy as she can.”