Thursday, February 28, 2013

Watching the Wheels

I tell them there's no hurry,
I'm just sitting here doing time. ...
I'm just sitting here 
Watching the wheels go round and round
I really love to see them roll ...
    --John Lennon, Watching the Wheels

Over the last few days,
 I've had occasion to drive to Norfolk along Interstate 464.
I-464 runs parallel to the southern branch of the Elizabeth River,
so there are often a number of crows and red-tailed hawks along the way.

crow photo courtesy of

But the last two times I've driven this interstate--
once in heavy rain, another time in sun--
I've noticed a very large red-tailed hawk sitting on the same light post,
and it has been looking down at the roadway each time.
Realistically, it may have had its eye on some potential meals,
especially since hawks can see a field mouse from a distance of 100 feet.

hawk photo courtesy of

 I can't say for sure that it wasn't looking at small prey or carrion.
 I don't have the sharp eyes of a hawk, after all.
But judging from the tilt of its head, I'd swear it was
watching the wheels on the road as they went spinning around.

The Lumbee Indian tribes indigenous
to this part of  Virginia and North Carolina 
ascribe spiritual qualities to the red-tailed hawk:
speed, focus, achievement, and freedom.
That nature might explain my hawk's attraction to the speed
of hundreds of rotating wheels on cars and trucks driving down the road.
And yet,  the red-tailed hawk has another side of its spirit:
 a quiet, observant side.

photo courtesy of

Maybe that is the true source of its power,
the ability to sit in patience and solitude and watch
while everyone else spins wildly forward.

On those days when I must zip from place to place,
to beat the clock, to eat on the go, to attend to a thousand things
while pushing toward an undefined horizon,
it would be nice to fly up and perch next to the hawk.
 I'd really love to watch the wheels go round for awhile myself.
Without the field mouse lunch, of course.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

American Robin

Hope is the thing with feathers
That perches in the soul ...
              --Emily Dickinson

Yesterday a blizzard blanketed parts of the southwest and the midwest U.S.
Here in the Shire, an unappealing mix of heavy rain and gusty winds 
made walking outside a very wet and cold experience.
With all that inclement weather going on, 
who would know Spring is a mere 20 days away?

And today brings another gray, overcast, and chilly morning--
the kind of morning that makes me want to pull the blankets over my head.
But my hope for spring endures, prompted by signs of its return.

photo courtesy of

My rosy-pink camellias are just now blooming as they do every February.
This year I have counted 6 blossoms, which is a record.
My camellia plants probably don't care for their shady location,
so they are the most reluctant bloomers compared to other camellias.

But there are daffodils opening everywhere, albeit rain-soaked and sodden ones.
The soft orange and ivory pansies near my front door 
are quite happy in the cold air of late winter. 
They turn their faces to the few glimmers of sun we've seen lately.
And  as early as two weeks ago, I saw a fat American Robin
hopping through the moss looking for tasty treats.
And  nothing says spring is arriving better than a robin singing.
Or perhaps more telling is to find a nest filled with the robin's soft blue eggs.

photo courtesy of

My husband and I once drove in a neighborhood 
that was high on the bluffs of the Arkansas River.
There were hundreds of robins gathered on the front lawns of houses.
It was spectacular. I had never seen so many robins in one place.
Watching the birds take off in unison and then settle again on another lawn was fascinating.
Usually my encounters with robins are limited to one or a few.

photo courtesy of

When we lived in Virginia Beach, we had a row of black cherry trees
behind our house. One tree had a branch that stretched out horizontally.
It had grown with gentle curves that were just right for a robin to build a nest.
It's been so long ago, I don't recall if there were hatchlings or not.
All I recall is the excitement of seeing a robin nesting so close to the house.
I'm surprised the mother robin allowed us to peek at her nest,
considering an encounter I had had with nesting robins several years before.

At that time, I was attending an all-day training session to be a literacy tutor.
At the lunch break, I went outside and walked around,
stopping under a tree to examine its leaves up close.
Big mistake. 
Suddenly I was dive bombed by two robins defending a nest.
They went right for my head, flapping their wings furiously,
advancing, retreating, advancing again.
The birds and I became a messy tangle of beaks and wings and hair.
It must have been quite a sight.

So yes, robins:
harbingers of spring, beautiful song, pretty blue eggs, charming hop.
But don't get too near their nest or you'll meet a fearless warrior,
well described by Emily Dickinson:

He bit an angleworm in halves
and ate the fellow, raw.

It's a good thing I'm adult-sized.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

The Bluebird of Happiness

Somewhere over the rainbow
bluebirds fly ...
                                            --Over the Rainbow, Harold Arlen

Yesterday morning when my husband was walking our dogs,
he came upon an Eastern bluebird that sailed across the street in front of him.
When he told me about it, 
it reminded me of the bluebirds that we had seen
flitting in and out of the cedar trees at Chippokes Plantation last May.

photo courtesy of

And it also reminded me of  the first time I had ever seen a bluebird.
It was memorable, but not the way one would expect.
Many years ago I worked in a building in a residential area near the Elizabeth River.
One day my coworkers and I heard a loud thump 
as a small Eastern bluebird flew smack into our office window.
We were on the ground floor,
so we pulled the door open and went to investigate.
The bluebird lay motionless on the ground, apparently dead.
But just in case it was only stunned,
we brought it inside to protect it from the cat
 that often prowled across the grassy lawns around the building.

We placed the bluebird in a small open box 
and watched as it slowly revived.
After several minutes, the bird blinked its eyes, shook a little, 
and looked first this way, then that.
So we opened the door and stepped outside with it.
But before we could take another step, the bluebird lifted its wings 
and flew straight up into the sky.
The suddenness of its departure took my breath away.
It happened so fast, our senses could barely take in
 the fluttering sound its wings made as it took off
for the safety of the trees.

And to this day, the sight of a bluebird lifts my spirits.
Makes me think the mythical "bluebird of happiness"
just might be real after all.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Moonlight Sonata

Late last night, after the television and the lights were finally turned off
and the house had fallen quiet, I sat for a moment in the stillness,
looking at nothing in particular, thinking of  even less.
And during that quiet interlude, 
I noticed a tiny beam of silver-white light reflecting 
on a small glass plate I use for a coaster.
I looked to see if another light was on somewhere in the house,
but all was dark.
A mystery had presented itself.

photo courtesy of

But a mystery not for long.
I looked at the tiny beam of light again and this time saw
a faint shadow from the window blinds falling across the plate.
So I looked up through the slats,
and saw that the moon was shining down at me 
through a perfectly clear and starry night.
This night moon was bright and luminous and nearly full, 
save for a small sliver obscured in shadow.
It was a waxing moon, prelude to the full one 
called February's Full Snow Moon, which will be seen tonight.

And there in the quiet darkness, 
it felt like the moon was shining just for me.
So I sat for a moment longer, bathed in a silver-white moonbeam.
It was a nice way to end the day.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Predicting the Weather

Fog goes up with a hop
Rain comes down with a drop.
                                       --from Ozark Superstitions 
                                      Vance Randolph, 1947

Predicting the weather has become the purview of meteorologists 
with access to satellites and radar,  
but in the old days, 
people predicted the weather by looking for signs in nature.

photo courtesy of

I've got a couple of signs of my own.
For example, I've noticed over the last several years
that juncos show up in large numbers at our bird feeders
on days it is going to snow.
I always wonder where they come from 
because they never come otherwise.
Last Saturday, we had nine juncos at the feeder
and by late afternoon we had a blanket of snow.

photo courtesy of

Here's my other:
Years ago, I used to commute to and from my job on the Navy base
by driving along the outer road of Norfolk International Airport.
And without fail, any time rain was coming,
the leaves on the trees along that road 
seemed to cup and rise in anticipation of the downpour.

photo courtesy of

My mom and dad once heard that winter weather could be predicted
by cutting a persimmon and looking for a particular seed formation.
If the seed kernels were spoon-shaped, one could expect lots of snow.
If the seeds were in the shape of knives and forks, a mild winter was in the offing.
If I recall, my parents obtained some persimmons from a friend and cut them open
but the results were inconclusive.
Regardless, the persimmon forecast 
is one of the more well-known folkways for weather prediction.

photo courtesy of

According to this web site:
rain can be predicted with the bubbles in a cup of hot liquid.
if the bubbles move to the side quickly, that means clear weather;
if they move over slowly, a short duration of rain, but it will clear.
But if the bubbles remain in the center, rain is coming.
Apparently this works because high pressure, 
which is what we have when weather is clear, pushes the bubbles. 
Low pressure wouldn't move the bubbles.
I just tried it, and the bubbles in my coffee moved rapidly to the sides of the cup.
So I guess the rain is going to clear out. It's a fun experiment.

Of course, weather forecasts are usually taken less lightly.
For travelers, businesses,  people who rely on the land for a living,
weather has more serious consequences, so predicting the weather
has been necessary for a very long time.

I found the 1947 book Ozark Superstitions cited above
on the website here:  Internet Archives
Randolph's book contains a dizzying number of Ozark superstitions 
about weather signs and predictions that date back to the 1800s. 

The one superstition most widely accepted by those he interviewed
is that a hog will begin to carry wood and grass in its mouth before it rains,
ostensibly to build a warm and dry nesting place to snuggle in
until the weather blows over.

photo courtesy of

Another weather indicator: chickens will go to roost before a heavy rain.
Other signs of impending rain from Ozark Superstitions:
rabbits cavorting in dusty lanes,
cats licking their fur against the grain,
dogs eating grass,
the hair on horses' tails standing up,
and one more fowl indicator of foul weather:
a rooster crowing at dusk portends a wet dawn.

photo courtesy of

I was fascinated by this next one, which seems to hold great currency
among the people Randolph interviewed:
when flint-rocks begin to weep moisture, rain is imminent.

And here's another weather sign that Randolph includes:
leaves turning up right before a rain--
Well, well. It seems my observations along the airport road 
were accurate after all.
Another in Randolph's book correlates to the coffee experiment:
Ozark hillmen say that large bubbles in puddles mean more rain is coming.
And thunder in February as happened last week in the Midwest?
Ozark Superstitions says that means frost in May.
That's one weather sign I really hope is a superstition.
Time will tell.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Rainy Mood?

Although much of the country is once again under drifts and mounds of snow,
we here in the Shire are floating away in dripping, drizzling rain.
I'm not complaining. If we must have a day of precipitation,
 a rainy one is much better than one snow-filled
to my way of thinking.

So upon waking this morning, I sat for a few minutes with a cup of coffee 
and watched the falling rain soak the rooftops, fill empty garden pots,
and generally turn everything squishy wet and drippy.
I concluded again, as I have before,
 that a rainy day in winter
 is best observed from the warm side of the window.

photo courtesy of

Rain is one of those things in nature that provoke emotion, good and bad.
This morning I found a rather peculiar web site called,
which is devoted exclusively to the sound of rain falling. 
I checked it on Yahoo Answers which pronounced it a safe site.  
It also has an active page on 
and got more than 6,000 shares on Google+.
But all it is, is the sound of a heavy, falling rain.
Many people find it quite peaceful and relaxing.

I also found a February 21, 2013 item 
published on the web site for The Guardian, a British newspaper. 
It is called "From the Archive, 21 February 1946:
In Praise of English ... Rain"
and is written by one Alison Bayley under the title "Writing about Rain."
In it, she quotes a line from a soldier far from home who wrote:
I would give worlds for the sight of any rainy English street.

photo courtesy of

In describing rain,
Bayley's essay makes reference to Algernon Charles Swinburne's 
"Atalanta," in which he writes:
When the hounds of spring are on winter's traces
the mother of months in meadow or plain
Fills the shadows and windy places with
lisp of leaves and ripple of rain ...

Bayley also cites George Meredith's poem "Love in the Valley"
in which he writes of his infatuation with a beautiful young woman:
Nowhere is she seen, and if I see her nowhere,
lighting may come, straight rains and tiger sky.

photo by CynthiaNaniOkeefe, courtesy of

And she  mentions the well-known lines said by Portia, 
in William Shakespeare's "Merchant of Venice":
The quality of mercy is not strain'd
it droppeth as the gentle rain of heaven ...

So, let's sum up:
rain can be peaceful and relaxing.
It can come to us in ripples or straight lines.
And it can "droppeth" gently.

photo by bella_domanie courtesy of

But I think above all, I prefer the description of rain 
provided by e. e. cummings
in his poem "somewhere I have never travelled, glady beyond":
(I do not know what it is about you that closes and opens;
only something in me understands
the voice of your eyes is deeper than all roses)
nobody, not even the rain, has such small hands.


Friday, February 22, 2013

The Mad Gardener's Song

Perception is a curious thing.
Sometimes we see something in the distance
and we are sure we know what it is,
only to find out when we get closer that we were wrong.

photo courtesy of

One of my friends told me a story once about her parents.
who were driving in a rural area one day 
and passed by a shrub covered in beautiful pink flowers.
One of her parents said the unusual blossoms were on a camellia;
the other said no, an azalea.
To settle their disagreement, they turned the car around and went back to check. 
And what were the  lovely pink blooms?
The cups from pink Styrofoam egg cartons carefully attached to the branches.

The Mad Gardener's Song, a nonsensical rhyme by Lewis Carroll,
describes a man whose eyes are continually playing tricks on him,
as when ...
He thought he saw a Buffalo
    Upon the chimney-piece:
He looked again, and found it was
    His Sister's Husband's Niece.
'Unless you leave this house,' he said,
    'I'll send for the Police!'

photo courtesy of

And in a later verse:
He thought he saw an Albatross
    That fluttered round the lamp:
He looked again, and found it was
    A Penny-Postage Stamp.
'You'd best be getting home,' he said:
    'The nights are very damp!'

I sympathize, as this happens to me on occasion.
I may have mentioned before about the time I thought I was watching 
 a male cardinal braving a strong breeze.
I stood in the window, admiring the bird's tenacity
as the wind whipped the branch he was clinging to, tossing it to and fro.
I called my husband over to see the gallant bright red bird,
then suddenly realized my heroic cardinal was actually a red leaf.

photo courtesy of

I've seen rabbits that have turned out to be branches,
have tried to pick up sand dollars on the beach that turned out to be seagull poo,
and once plopped down next to a stick to plant crocus bulbs,
only to discover the "stick" was a snake.

photo courtesy of

And just this week, while driving home after work,
I marveled over the breathtaking beauty of the fire-red setting sun,
only to get close and realize I was looking at the "don't walk" light
on an electric pedestrian signal.

Or, as Lewis Carroll's Mad Gardener would say:
He thought he saw a Garden-Door
    That opened with a key:
He looked again, and found it was
    A Double Rule of Three:
'And all its mystery,' he said,
    'Is clear as day to me!'

And sometimes, for some of us, clearly unclear.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Great Blue Heron

A few weeks ago,
I was walking my dogs a block from my house
when a Great Blue Heron drifted overhead 
and landed on the street in front of my neighbor's house.
I had never seen a shore bird alight on the street before,
much less stand and eat the remains of a fast food sandwich 
that had been run over after someone dropped it from their car.
It was in the early afternoon, so there was no traffic,
and the heron stayed a long time finishing
 its convenience meal before taking flight.

photo courtesy of

Then yesterday, a blue heron flew very low over my car
as I was driving home.
For a large, long-necked, long-legged bird, they are surprisingly elegant.
"All about Birds" has an eloquent description of herons.
It is so beautiful, I'm including it here:

Whether poised at a river bend 
or cruising the coastline with slow, deep wingbeats,
 the Great Blue Heron is a majestic sight. 
This stately heron with its subtle blue-gray plumage 
often stands motionless as it scans for prey 
or wades belly deep with long, deliberate steps. 
They may move slowly, but Great Blue Herons 
can strike like lightning to grab a fish or snap up a gopher. 
In flight, look for this widespread heron’s tucked-in neck 
and long legs trailing out behind.

(Click on the Cornell Lab link above for more information
about the Great Blue Heron.)

photo courtesy of

Not much about The Cornell Lab of Ornithology description above
was news to me, but I confess I've never heard of a Great Blue Heron
"snapping up a gopher." 
That sounds like way more than a mouthful,
even if they may be referring to what is called 
a small "pocket gopher" or a ground squirrel.

Spotting white egrets or blue herons flying overhead
or wading in the river, lakes, and marshes near my house
always seems like a special event.
Maybe it's because of the graceful, undulating curve of their neck
or their long angular legs, or maybe their dusky blue coloring.
Whatever the reason, they are a bird to watch.
Especially if a gopher happens to be around.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Pisces, the Fish

Happy Birthday, Pisces friends and family!

Depending on the source, the astrological sun sign of Pisces
occurs between February 19th and March 20th
or February 20th and March 21st. 
That means today we have entered the sign of Pisces,
the two fishes swimming in opposing directions.

image from

I hadn't realized before that in many sources, 
the two fishes swimming in different directions
are actually bound together by a connecting thread.
That lends a sense of unity to their seeming discord;
in other words, they may be swimming in opposite directions,
but at some point, they must return to one another.
Maybe that is why the sign of Pisces is sometimes associated with love.

constellation of Pisces, image from

Astrological sun signs are said to influence the personalities
of the people born within those few weeks.
Those who are born under the astrological sign of Pisces 
are said to be creative, sensitive, and reasonable.
They are also mysterious and dreamy.
But according to Mabel Shoemaker in a 1904 book called Astrology
(cited in, they are also  desperately afraid of ridicule
and a little capricious.
[Picture: Pisces]

image from

But researching Pisces today, 
I learned a lot about other aspects of astrology.
For example, astrology has an historical component.
According to the 1993 book Mythical Astrology by Ariel Guttman,
Gail Guttman, and Kenneth Johnson, cited in,
the earliest zodiac sign on record was Pisces, 
dated to 2300 BCE on the lid of an Egyptian sarcophagus.
And astrology is also part of Greek mythology;
In Zodiac, a book published by the Wikimedia Foundation,
Aphrodite and her son Eros were transformed into the Piscean fishes
to hide from Typhon, a great and terrible monster.

photo from

I learned from Wikipedia that the sign of Pisces
 is also seen in the stained glass windows of
the medieval cathedral in Chartres, France.
It seems an odd choice for a stained glass window in a Catholic cathedral.

This Cathedral was the site of a 12th century excavation by the Knights Templar
because it was said a crypt there contained the Ark of the Covenant.
Today, pilgrims come to the Cathedral
to see a woven veil said to belong to the Virgin Mary.
Perhaps it is these holy associations
 that explain the presence of the symbol of Pisces,
said in some interpretations to represent Christ.

 an inscription of Greek letters signifying the Christian fish symbol
image from 

I wonder sometimes how much we can really learn
about ourselves through astrology.
For many reasons, it seems unlikely that we are influenced 
so completely by the stars and the planets.
As Shakespeare said: 
It is not in the stars to hold our destiny, but in ourselves.
But then again, our bodies and the tides 
are influenced by the phases of the moon, so who knows?
Another Shakespeare quote, this one from  Hamlet, says:
There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio,
Than are dreamt of in your philosphy.

As a Pisces myself, I could go both ways on the question.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Old Man Winter

February is when Old Man Winter
really freezes the Shire with his icy breath.
And the last several days have been no exception.
Saturday's gloomy gray skies and chilly biting wind 
brought in a few hours of snow,
which at first was a fine sifting,
followed by fat wet flakes of snow at the end.
image from

After snow covered everything,
 the warm yellow lights from the houses in my cul-de-sac
 spilled out across the snow, illuminating the darkness.
There is something appealing about a dark and snowy night
and warm lights shining from houses,
especially if one is inside looking out.

photo courtesy of

All the snow became ice-capped overnight, 
causing my one tender daffodil blossom to disappear.
The camellia blossoms around the neighborhood 
were frosted in mid-bloom.
And some of the crackling layer of snowy ice remained 
on Monday morning on the deck behind my house.
But the sun came out, and the rest melted away by day's end.

photo courtesy of

And as a result of the crisp overlay of icy snow and the low temperatures,
I witnessed a phenomenon on several cars 
as I was driving about town this week.
Every now and again, a sheet of ice would loosen
and slide off  of the back of someone's car;
and as it hit the pavement,
 it would break into thousands of tiny glittering diamonds.
The effect was dazzling.
Yet an unremarkable event, I suppose;
but a string of  unremarkable events 
can become remarkable by their frequency,
and this happened so many times I felt like I was witnessing a ballet.

Father Winter may bring chilling cold and snow, 
but he at least tosses an occasional diamond into the ice.
It just goes to show that every cloud does have a silver lining.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Presidents Day

Although I'm not a fan of February's capricious winter weather,
I do appreciate all the holidays and celebrations it brings.
And today we have another: Presidents Day.

photo courtesy of

According to
President's Day was established in 1885 
to honor George Washington's birthday, February 22nd.
In 1971, congress passed a law moving many holiday observances to Monday
so American workers could have a 3-day weekend,
and that resulted in Washington's Birthday commemoration
being switched to the 3rd week of February.
And while they were moving things around on the calendar,
some folks decided that Lincoln's birthday should be moved to the same day.
And soon someone had the idea 
that we should celebrate all the US presidents on this day.
And here we are.

So in honor of Presidents' Day,
put together a video of presidential fun facts.
Here are a few I found interesting:
John Tyler, one of our Virginia presidents, fathered 15 children.

Richard Nixon Playing Piano in Beverly Hills in 1962 - Dusty Trice
 Nixon photo from 

Richard Nixon played several musical instruments,
including piano, clarinet, violin, cello, accordion, and the saxophone.
Somehow it's hard for me to imagine Nixon holding forth on the accordion 
with a rendition of "Beer Barrel Polka."
James Madison, also a Virginia president,
was the first to wear long pants instead of knee-britches.
John Quincy Adams was the first president to be photographed,
but judging from his photos, saying "cheese" for the camera
wasn't in fashion yet.

photo from

Chester A. Arthur had sideburns, called mutton chops, down to his lapels.
There are other photos of Arthur with shorter chops, 
so it appears he reconsidered his look at some point.
Probably the most fascinating item in the video 
is that Martin Van Buren was bilingual and spoke English publicly, 
but Dutch was his native language, which he spoke at home.
He grew up in Kinderhook, New York, a state settled largely by the Dutch.

photo from

And what about George Washington who started the roll of presidents
and the Presidents Day holiday?
In the book The Surprising George Washington, 
historian Richard Norton Smith tells us a number of interesting facts.
Washington introduced the mule to the US; he loved pineapple and Brazil nuts.
He won a unanimous vote in the electoral college.

He also traveled the country in a white carriage 
and the coachman sat in a leopard-skin box.
He was accompanied by a valet, footmen, saddle horses,
and his white horse Prescott.
Whenever he entered a settlement, he was announced with trumpet and bugle.
His "publick" was delighted to be honored with a visit from the nation's leader.
 (source: Paul Johnson, citation below).

But everyone didn't love Washington.
According to Paul Johnson in his book George Washington: The Founding Father,
John Adams, Washington's vice president and later president in his own right,
called Washington "Old Muttonhead." 
This is because in Adam's estimation,
Washington was little more than an actor playing a role,
understanding little about the intricacies of running a government.
Timothy Pickering, secretary of state to Washington, was even more unkind,
accusing Washington of sleeping during cabinet meetings, 
not writing his own speeches,
and most belittling of all, saying that Washington needed chalk marks on the floor
to show him where to stand during receptions.
By today's standards, all minor infractions, 
if considered infractions at all.

Irrespective of political criticisms, most historians agree
Washington performed his duties admirably and was a man of high character.
Johnson cites this quote about Washington made by Tobias Lear,
described by the author as the man who kept [Washington's] records.
According to Lear, Washington was "almost the only man of an exalted character
who does not lose some part of his respectability
on an intimate acquaintance."
And that's a good reason to celebrate.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Random Acts of Kindness for Pet Lovers

While I was preoccupied with learning more about
Mardi Gras, Valentine's Day, and the ancient Roman festival of Lupernalia,
I overlooked a contemporary observance 
for the week of February 11th through 17th:
"Random Acts of Kindness Week."

photo courtesy of

According to the Foundation's web site,
this week is the time to increase one's acts of kindness and civility.
Their suggestions range from something as simple as giving a larger tip to a waiter
to volunteering somewhere or donating food to a local animal shelter.

Acts of kindness are a great idea any time of year.
Nothing says more about a culture than how it treats 
the most vulnerable among its members, including the animals
who live under its stewardship.
As I write, I am surrounded by five very small pekingese,
each sleeping peacefully in the sun,
content after a full meal and some crisp fresh air and exercise.
But each did not start out that way.

I thought I would share two of their stories here 
in hopes that readers will include Potomac Valley Pekingese Club
or their own local animal rescue groups and shelters
in acts of kindnesses for this week and the rest of the year.

Wylie's Story

 Wylie Po Zhong Qi September 2009

Wylie Po Zhong Qi was near death when he was turned into a local shelter.
He was malnourished with sores all over his body. 
He had not one hair on the top of his hindquarters.
His tail was sparse, his eyes dull. 
He didn't have the energy to walk down to the end of the driveway.
I had never seen such a thin dog.

Wylie was one of the many pekes rescued by 
the Potomac Valley Pekingese Club rescue group,
a 501(c)-3 nonprofit organization 
dedicated to the rescue of abused, abandoned, and neglected pekingese.
Over the years, they have rescued and rehabilitated hundreds of pekingese.
Their volunteer board and rescue directors, and the compassionate veterinarians
who give their time and expertise, 
 all work tirelessly to save these small dogs 
who want only to curl up next to a human who loves them.

The stories of how these small dogs end up needing rescue are often horrific.
The violations of their spirits and physical health are often unbelievable.
But these little dogs are resilient and with help they achieve their birthright:
to be the most faithful, loving, and loyal companions,
devoted to the safety and protection of their owners.

This is how Wylie came to live with us. 
The moment he crossed the threshold, Wylie behaved as if he had come home.
Sometimes a dog just knows.
This is Wylie today with his sister Liliang Xin:

Liliang Xin and Wylie Po Zhong Qi 2012

Lily's Story

Liliang was a backyard breeder dog for the first 3 years of her life.
That means she was kept outdoors in a small cage
with no protection from the elements.
If it rained, she got wet. If it snowed, she got ice stuck to her paws.
If it was hot, she sweltered without even enough clean water to quench her thirst.
She was heartworm positive, caked in her own feces,
terrified of every sound, every person, every thunderstorm.
Like many pekes, she had eye problems and had to have one removed 
because it had been damaged so severely it began to atrophy.

After Lily's rescue, she lived with her beautiful foster mom Shanyn,
who took great care of her until the day we adopted her.
After three years with us, Lily has blossomed.
Her fears and anxieties lessen all the time. 
She loves to play with a stuffed chipmunk, and loves her food.
No longer a prisoner, she is a princess:
Liliang Xin 2011

Today, Lily will even voluntarily roll over 90% of the way on her back to get a tummy rub.
Healing takes time, so we know she'll relax the other 10% of the way eventually.
She no longer cowers when people approach, 
no longer runs to hide at every new sound.

You, too, can help a loving animal 
that has been broken and battered and help it heal again.
The Potomac Valley Pekingese Club needs good foster homes for the pekes they rescue.
They need adoptive families.
They need financial contributions to help pay for veterinary care.

Although there are many random acts of kindness one can choose,
why not help turn this:
Ju Li 2010

Into this:
Ju Li 2011

Margaret Mead once said:
"Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens
can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has."

Go to to see how to help.
And for daily updates on the work of Potomac Valley Pekingese Rescue,
and also send a friend request on Facebook to 
Potomac Valley Pekingese Rescue at

Please share today's Still Waters blog 
on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, GooglePlus, or StumbleUpon, etc.
It's one small random act of kindness accomplished with just a quick click.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Ladies Home Journal

Today is the 128th anniversary of the Ladies Home Journal magazine,
originally published as a newspaper under the title
"Ladies Home Journal and Practical Housekeeper."
photo from Ladies Home Journal, January 1886,

I've always enjoyed looking at old newspapers and magazines.
I love the language, the stories, the advertisements,
and the glimpses of what concerned people generations before.
So today, I'm going to share some of the more interesting items
from the first issues of the 1885-1886 Ladies Home Journal.

In the earliest issues, each page is dedicated to a concern of women:
a page for mothers, for needlecrafts like tatting lace, crocheting, and sewing.
Also included, a "Brush Studies" page for drawing, painting, and enameling,
even an advertisement for a portable kiln for firing china.

Of course, it wouldn't be a woman's magazine without advice. 
One title warns young girls about the "Dangers of Flirting."
The short article chides  girls who are taking part in street flirting,
explaining that it will result in a "stain" on their reputations, 
causing young  men to look elsewhere for a marriageable girl.

photo courtesy of

And more concern for a girl's future prospects 
is seen in this bit of advice to mothers:
"Mothers! I say, make practical housekeepers of your daughters,
whatever else you make of them" 
because if they don't know how to keep house,
they risk an unhappy husband.

This following advertisement for an advice book
is hardly subtle in its message:
"Talks with Homely Girls,"
 an 1880's version of today's beauty magazines and makeover shows,
it offers advice on a range of topics: bathing, care of hands, teeth, 
and complexion, proper dress and manners, and deportment.

photo from Ladies Home Journal, December 1885,

And what is a 19th-century woman without an hourglass shape?
There was one fine hand-sketched advertisements for women's corsets,
"Ball's Health Preserving Corsets,"
designed to cinch in one's ample waist to Scarlet O'Hara size.
photo from Ladies Home Journal, December 1885,

 I was surprised that there were also ads for similar corsets for young children.
One, from the Ferris Company, admonished mothers not to put their children
in stiff corsets, when they should be putting them in a Ferris "Good Sense" corset,
recommended by "all physicians."

It's amazing how things change--and sometimes, don't change-- over time.
Still, I imagine some day our great grandchildren will look back at 2013
and ask, "What were those people thinking?"
And honestly, I sometimes ask myself that same question.

Friday, February 15, 2013

The Great Backyard Bird Count

My mother and grandmother always delighted in bird watching.
When I was little, I really didn't understand 
their enthusiastic phone calls to one another.
They would say things like "I had two cardinals this morning!"
or "There's a red-headed woodpecker at my feeder!"
It wasn't until I was much, much older that I understood their excitement.
And now I love to watch birds, too.

Northern Cardinal
Northern Cardinal Photo by Jerry Acton, New York
2006 GBBC Photo Gallery

I appreciate their beauty and their nature.
There's something fascinating about tiny creatures that can fly through the air.
Maybe what draws my attention is their colorful markings, 
or their soft, waterproof feathers.
Perhaps it is their speed and grace,
maybe their distinctive cries and songs. 
Whatever it is, I'm not alone in my fascination of them.
I'm always surprised at how many people love to watch birds.

White-breasted Nuthatch
White-breasted Nuthatch photo by Ella Clem, Frankfort, Kentucky
2011 GBBC Photo Gallery 

In fact, from today, February 15th, through Monday, February 18th,
thousands of people will be taking part in the 16th annual Great Backyard Bird Count
or GBBC. According to the official web page of the Count, Bird,
the GBBC is "an annual four-day event
that engages bird watchers of all ages
in counting birds to create a real-time snapshot
of where the birds are."
Click on this link: How to Participate
It's easy: watch birds for at least 15 minutes 
and upload your list to the link the site provides.

This year marks the first year that the GBBC, which is a joint project
by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Audubon, 
and Bird Studies/etudes d'oiseaux Canada,
is integrated with e-Bird, "a worldwide bird data collection program"
for individuals and groups who keep a personal bird watch record.

Pine Warbler
Pine Warbler photo by Will Stuart, Matthews, North Carolina
2012 GBBC Photo Gallery

So take the time this weekend to join the fun.
And remember: one blue jay, nice. 
Six blue jays at the feeder, amazing!