23 February 2008


I can only remember a few times I've felt like a better cook than lunch this afternoon. I was whipping up a few grilled cheese sandwiches for the girls, taking the time to cut the crusts off Avery's and making sure they weren't "burned". As I set Lily's plate down she came running in to the kitchen, looked at it in all its glory and gasped, "Exquisito Daddy!". I know she's shown a penchant for the occasional Spanish word in the past, but I honestly have no idea where she came up with this one. I guess it's proof that her television-based education is continuing to pay dividends.

In a related incident, I was peeling some apple slices Mandi got for them the other day and Lily inquired as to the type of apples they were. Her favorite is the Red Delicious (pronounced redalishis), but she'll tolerate just about any variety. When I told her they were Granny Smith, I fully expected her to be able to repeat it back to me. Instead, her head tilted a bit and she asked "Grammy who?" She was totally perplexed, and I couldn't help but laugh. I guess having stuff named after people is not a concept she can grasp yet.

21 February 2008

What a surprise!

Lily and I were just leaving the grocery store this morning when I saw a Northern Cardinal flying low between two trees in the woods adjacent to the parking lot. Just as I turned left to leave I saw another bird fly between the same trees, but this one was more drab. Thinking that was an odd place for a Northern Mockingbird to be, I parked along the curb and retrieved my binoculars from the floorboard. What I saw when I focused them made me almost uncontrollably excited . . a small flock of Cedar Waxwings just perched among the trees and not doing much of anything. I absolutely love these birds, their dramatic crest, mask, and yellow-tipped tails contrast their satiny grey bodies so starkly. I remember the first time I saw a flock of them, they were devouring the berries on a pair of trees, and watching them at close range was mesmerizing. Thankfully, today before I left for the gym I had switched lenses on the camera and put it in the car, a decision which paid off with this photo and a few others the waxwings posed for. They are entry number 61 on my Big Year list, but without a doubt one of my favorite entries. And on a day that I never even expected to do any birding at all, it makes it that much sweeter.


Some kids are just more vocal than others. That's an entirely different animal than the variation in their abilities to communicate. Some toddlers will run their mouth ad nauseum, but little of it is comprehensible. Others are largely quiet, but when they do speak it's clear and very easy to understand. What we have here, pictured at left, is the uncommon combination of the two. Lily has been a great communicator ever since she learned to talk. She put two and three words together into sentences early, and she never really engaged in any "baby talk". She also never shuts up. The net result of this, for me at least, is that she's very hard to just ignore. Usually, if she's speaking, it's something of substance that requires either an action or an answer. So you can't just let her babble, because she's not babbling, she's engaging you in a conversation, and it would not send her the right message if you refused to acknowledge her. So I find myself often, as do others in her presence, having tireless conversations that seemingly will never end.

I used to think, when I was bartending for a living, that I was the king of what I called the "walkaway handshake". If some drunk was sauced on Cutty Sark and had me cornered in what would seem to be an endless discussion about how much better the Reagan years were, I would always come up with the perfect strategy for getting myself out of that predicament. That skill, apparently, has passed me by. I probably bring it on myself with Lily, often encouraging the silly banter, and even initiating it sometimes. That's what my predilection for sarcasm and movie-quoting get me, I suppose, it gets thrown right back at me with her.

On a similar note, yesterday was a very quotable day for Lily. Her friend Matt came over to play in the morning, so we skipped the gym and just hung out around the house. She really likes Matt, he's one of the only kids her age that she gets to play with outside of the gym on a regular basis. She gets super excited when I tell him he's coming over, and she'll go around prepping her toys and telling me all about what they plan to play. It was about half an hour before he was scheduled to be picked up yesterday and I decided to take them for a walk around the neighborhood in the wagon. Frankly, they were out of rooms to destroy and they'd begun to grow bored. So we loaded up and headed out. As we wandered the side streets, their conversation started to dwindle as Matt became more interested in the airplanes in the sky than what Lily had to say. Well Lily would have no part of that, so she spent the last two blocks of our walk singing the following song, which she made up on the fly. For the full effect, you have to sing it out loud in precisely the same way she did: "You are my friend!", with not only the volume but also the pitch rising as you get to the end. The same verse was repeated approximately sixty-four times, at which point I let the kids out of the wagon and Matt out of his misery.

Moments later, in the back yard, they had again finished playing together and were now running around independently of one another, both happily doing their own thing but Lily again looking for some conversation. Having tried and failed to re-engage him, she resorted to another newly concocted song . ."I love you!", again rising in pitch and volume at the end, but this time the first two words were at the same level. There must be some formula based on the number of words in the verse that determines the rhyming and tone scheme. I think he was relieved when his mom showed up to get him.

More to come . . gotta motivate now before she loses her mind from being in the same place for too long.

18 February 2008

GBBC '08

With one day left in this year's Great Backyard Bird Count event I thought I'd just mention some of my results from our outings. Saturday morning I took the girls to the Reedy Creek Nature Center for their event, and while my enjoyment level definitely exceeded theirs, we had a good time nonetheless. With as much modesty as I can muster I can tell you that I was far and away the most skilled birder there, as the majority of the attendees were parents with their kids or childless adult couples that were just beginning to explore the hobby. We, meaning the staff naturalist and I, identified quite a few birds in the 30 or so minutes we spent outside by the feeders, and the girls had fun climbing on tree stumps and throwing rocks into the little fish pond (guess which one was doing that). I rewarded the girls' indulgence of my trip to the nature center with a picnic lunch at the park, which they devoured mightily before heading off to build mulch castles and perfect the new found art of jumping from a moving swing.

Later in the afternoon we went down to the Moss Creek Nature Trail, mostly just to get out of the house, but also because I wanted to see if the Pileated Woodpecker would afford me a little better view of himself than I had the last time. He was neither to be heard or seen, but I was able to add a brand new species to my Big Year list, the Brown Creeper. As has been the case this year with this list, upon seeing the first one I immediately saw another, a mere 3 feet higher up on the same tree. I'd studied his pictures in my field guide numerous times, but neglected to read the description. I suppose I expected something at least as big as a nuthatch, but this little guy was no bigger than a kinglet. From my vantage point he was on the left side of a tree, which allowed me to see his bright white belly. From there I watched his camouflaged back help him disappear into the bark of the tree, undoubtedly the reason why I've never seen him before. He's tiny, and his camouflage is extremely effective. His addition brings the list total to 60 for the year.

After the trail, I took the girls to Chick-Fil-A for dinner, having again promised them a reward of food in return for their cooperation with my hobbying. We played and ate, and on a lark (pun only mildly intended) we drove around the back of the Babies-R-Us to see if the Red-headed Woodpeckers were out and about. They weren't, but as I scanned the water for ducks I heard the familiar squawk of the Red-winged Blackbird. I perused the treetops and sure enough, there were two males perched on a branch making their call. I knew they would be on the list by spring time, but these two made an early arrival and allowed me to add them now. Two new list'ers on a day when all I really wanted was to get out and do some citizen-science is a great surprise. Today is the last day of the annual event, and we might try to make one more list before Mandi gets home tonight.