Saturday, April 29, 2017

A FIRST BIRTHDAY . . . . . . . . . . .

Hello, I'm Colin and today I am ONE!

This is all so new to me - what on earth is my mommy doing bringing me
 a cupcake with one gigantic burning candle?
Daddy made me wear this silly crown. I must be a prince today.
There are a lot of people singing, and I think they're singing to me!
Many of these people I know - the other little kids and I play together often.
I recognize their mommies and daddies too.
They seem to be munching smelly cheese and crackers, and chocolates from 
England. I've already traveled to that country because it's where my
 daddy comes from! They're eating more cupcakes too, while the daddies,
 granddaddies and great grandaddies enjoy a beer, and the grandmas (one came
 all the way from South Africa, she's my daddy's mom), sip their wine. 
Everyone is chattering a mile a minute, my aunts and uncles, cousins and 
whomever - I think I have a big family and I know they
all really love me a lot. 

My cousin Jasmin was the official photographer here today - but my great
 grandma Mary took these photos. You know how she has to take photos of
 everything for this blog. . . . . . .but she asked me to write because she's just 
very busy at the moment, and I think you know why!

No Hang ups. . . . . . . . .

It's that time again and today I'm doing the packing dry run.
Packing  - always a pain.
 'Crossing the pond' time - full of expectations.
Off soon on a journey to new places - exciting.

HERE is where we're headed on Tuesday.

I didn't get the portable clothes rack (above) out for organizing my wardrobe
for this trip. I usually do that as many of you know, however this time, because 
we'll be on an expedition ship and no formal attire is required, packing
 is somewhat easier. Also, the weather should be close to perfect - visiting
 Sicily and Malta in May sounds like the best time of the year with temperatures
 in the low 70's and very little rain. Hopefully this means light clothing 
and layering should work.
It will be a long journey to get to the ship in Naples. . . . . . . . . .
. . . . . . I just know I'll be ready to be rocked to sleep that first night
on the water. That reminds me - I need to pack pj's. . . . . . . . . also
go to a birthday party this afternoon, transplant some cucumber plants,
 feed the birds, make soup, clean out the 'frig, get a manicure/pedicure. . . . . 
. . . . . . . . . . and just a whole list of other things which require attention
 this busy weekend before we lock the doors and head to the airport.

Enjoy your weekend dear friends.

Friday, April 28, 2017

Swim buddies. . . . . . . .

An unusual pair at the swimming hole - the Brown Thrasher and the Eastern Bluebird.

Neither one appeared bothered by the other - don't you love it when people, animals
 and even birds get along together, sharing the same space, attending to their personal
needs, even singing a song whilst doing it.

This is a male bluebird but as the male and female thrashers are identical, 
I'm not sure if this is mixed bathing, or two of the boys getting squeaky clean to
 pursue their respective mates. 
It's that time of year again, the birds are definitely feeling romantic and are
 in nest-building mode.

Bob and I will soon be off on the water ourselves. 
The Mediterranean calls and we're looking forward to the trip
around Sicily and Malta.
My neighbors and family members who stop by will hopefully keep the
 bird baths topped up - with all that splashing the water level soon
drops and bathing becomes difficult for the larger birds.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Scribble Picnic. . . . . . . . .Tree

"Trees are poems that the earth writes upon the sky" 
Kahlil Gibran

TREE - quite a simple word for such complexity of form and function.
I'm definitely a tree lover. . . . . and, if totally honest, I guess a bit of a 'tree hugger'
 too. Yes, I might just hug a tree if I thought it was to be cut down or injured for
 no sensible reason.

I've viewed many trees in my travels around the world and it's quite amazing 
how varied they are. I've loved them all, from snow covered swathes of silver birch in
 Kamchatka, Russia, to tropical island palms blowing in Hawaiian breezes.
The towering redwoods I viewed in Northern California last year will never be forgotten.
Billowing pink flowering chestnuts in the Lake District of England, so beautiful.
Mighty ancient oaks and copper beech trees in the forests of my real home in Devon, 
bring back childhood memories of conker fights and nibbling beech nuts as I walked 
through the woods. I have always, yes always, loved the countryside for its trees.
The only place I've visited that lacks trees of any kind is of course 
Antarctica.  Did I miss them and their shades of green, yes of course, but other
 breathtaking land and seascapes brought a different beauty in cobalt blue, 
aquamarine and white to the eye for couple of weeks.

Oh I could definitely bend your ear with tree stories, including a few less loved
 ones that fell on the cottage roof and my car during a couple of infamous
 North Carolina hurricanes. . . . . . . . . but today, for Michael's theme
 for Scribble Picnic I chose to share a lonely tree from Kenya's Masaai Mara.
Please visit this week's participants at the picnic - I'm sure there will be some 
beautiful trees to view by talented artists from around the world.

On last September's safari to that beautiful area of Africa, the animals were 
unbelievable, however I was also struck by the trees. So few scattered
 across the plain, so little shade provided, but sometimes a home to birds who
 wove incredible colonies of hanging nests, whose trunk hid a sleek cheetah waiting
 to make that incredible lightning speed run to grab its meal for the day, and a place
 for the leopard to climb and hang its prey across a branch out of the reach of other
predators, then returning and climbing the tree for several days to eat.

One of several Maasai Mara desert date (Balanites aegyptiaca) trees I
 photographed - here you get the true feeling of how few trees there are. 
Edited to a sketch, with watercolor pencil scribbles for color.

"Keep a green tree in your heart and perhaps a
 singing bird will come"
Chinese proverb

 I'll be away for the next couple of weeks and unable to join the picnic party. 
Internet access on ships is usually sporadic and terribly expensive. I know from
experience that even if you are able to connect, it's so slow and costs a small
 fortune to post anything, especially pictures. I take my laptop really just for
 e-mailing family to keep in touch, and as an additional backup for new
 photos. Sadly I may have to take a short hiatus from blogging. . . . . . 

. . . . . . . but I hope to see you here later in May!

Monday, April 24, 2017

My story - well part of it . . . . . . . . . .

When I emigrated to the USA in 1962, I flew from London to
 New York, then onward to my final destination, Washington, D.C. 
It was October. It was my first time ever on a plane. Jet travel was
becoming popular and taking over from steam ships as a faster 
way to 'cross the pond.' 

I was almost 19. I'd never been away from home before.
At the time I didn't even think of myself as an immigrant. 
Although I had all my legal paperwork, I just planned to be a working
 visitor for a year, seeing America, making some money, living an
 adventure before settling down etc.

I was excited, but scared to death.
I survived!

For my first visit home to England for Christmas I went by ship - this ship,
 Cunard White Star ocean liner RMS Queen Mary. I wanted the experience
 of a transatlantic crossing by sea.

Called luxury liners, they were splendid, glittering steamships connecting the old
and new worlds on each side of the North Atlantic,
 That bygone maritime era of the early 1900's accommodated royalty and financial
 barons on upper decks, and hordes of immigrants deep within their holds.
That way of life has gone forever, made obsolete by jet travel.

For me that crossing was a memorable journey. 

In the small blurry pic above, after I had traveled to NY by train from
 Washington, D.C., I had boarded the ship - note we dressed up a bit
 more for travel in those daysand was waiting to sail out of New York. 

Being December, the crossing was rough however I wasn't bothered by
seasickness thankfully. By then 'Mary' was aging and her stabilizers were
 nothing like those on modern day ships. It was my first of several journeys on
 Cunard's "Queens". I've yet to sail on Queen Mary 2 which replaced this first
 'Mary', but I have sailed on the current Queen Elizabeth and Queen Victoria,
 both of which were smooth sailing. I'm certain Queen Mary 2 sails effortlessly
 across the wide Atlantic. I still hope to sail home aboard her some day 
in the future. . . . . . so much more elegant than the hassle and discomfort 
 of air travel these days.

The first 'Mary' first sailed 80 years ago on May 27, 1936. She left Southampton
 to the sounds of bands and cheering crowds for New York on her Maiden Voyage.
 She would become one of the most beloved ships ever to sail during the 1930's,
the heyday of society cruises.

Over the years she carried 2,114,000 passengers, plus 810,730 military 
personnel whilst serving as a troop carrier/hospital ship during World War II, 
19,000 GI brides, and 4,000 child evacuees, and she sailed a total of
 3,794,017 nautical miles.
RMS Queen Mary left on her last voyage from Southampton on October 31, 1967,
just three years after I sailed on her, bound for her present home in Long Beach,
 California, arriving to an ecstatic American welcome.

 Dry-docked, she continues to be well-preserved and much enjoyed. She is now
 officially classified as a building (hotel/attraction/event center) rather than one of the
 greatest ships ever built.

Here's a book I'm adding to my wish list - the story of the 
Golden Age of sea travel across the Atlantic. The cover 
illustration is of the original Mauritania, another great 
Cunard ship, sailing the seas from 1906-1934.

Have you crossed the Atlantic by sea?
Which ship did you sail on, and did you enjoy that mode of travel?

Oh yes, I should add in closing, that one year visit turns into
 fifty five years come October of this year.
Few regrets ~ no longer scared!

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Green thumb . . . . . . . . . .

Somehow I missed celebrating Earth Day yesterday, so today I'm sharing the
view from the front porch this morning looking out across our little quarter acre.
My feeling is that every day this amazing planet Earth should be celebrated,
 whether you have beautiful sprawling country acreage, or just a small plot
 outside the city.

Yesterday morning we sat out here in brilliant sunshine with our coffee, and by
 late morning is was hot. Today cooler weather has returned with a vengeance
 and it will stay a couple of days with the possibility of heavy rains. . . . . . there's a
 light rain just starting now.   
Personally I am embracing this cool Sunday morning. I don't enjoy heat - especially
 when the air conditioning system is on the blink which ours is at present! 
With rain dampening down the pollen - enabling me to throw open the 
windows - and refreshing all the shades of green, I took these few photos early
 today to show you how green it is around the cottage.

The small oak tree, snuggling up to the fig, I've mentioned often.
This is 'Bob's Oak', growing from an acorn that sprouted here several years ago.
"Leave it" Bob would say when I showed up with the weeding tools.
 "Let's just see what it does". Well here it is, already a substantial tree 
with a pleasing shape which seems to be growing about a foot annually.
The birds love it, using it as a perching place for the feeder and bath.

These three trees were all started by us - the red maple, Celeste fig, and
 of course the some day 'mighty oak' perhaps to be enjoyed by generations to come!

New Boston ferns are now hanging on the porch - always a favorite here in
 Summer months. In Winter they become nighttime roosts for our family of 
Carolina wrens who snuggle in the pots, making small 'bedrooms' when the
 plants are brown and ugly. . . . . . .but I don't have the heart to take them
 down until I replace with new ones come April. I must admit, any birds 
trying to nest here in Spring - usually finches who adore hanging baskets but
 are so messy - get shooed away because the ferns can't be watered if they move in!

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Ruffled feathers. . . . . . . . . .

Spring brings the robins and from what I see in my garden, robins love water.
Bathing in it even more than drinking it perhaps.

The American robin is quite a large songbird of the thrush family, non-migratory 
here in North Carolina. It is usually the first bird to sing at dawn - I'm hearing it
 loud and clear these mornings. . . . . . . .and it often sings all night in spring!
Named after the European robin, that cute chubby little bird known as 'robin redbreast'
 in the British Isles because of its reddish-orange breast, the two species are not
 closely related. The European robin belongs to the flycatcher family and is much smaller.

Our larger - 9-11" - American robins love visiting the bird baths.
Usually easy to tell the difference, the male has an almost black head and brick-red
 chest, compared to the female's gray head and dull red chest. When wet like this
 visitor, it's harder to really tell!

Dipping a claw to test the temperature?

Not bad for a splash about in the Spring sunshine this week.

Drying off doesn't take long on a warm day.

Need to get to that itchy bit under the bill.

The American robin, a very territorial bird, is most active during the day and assembles
 in large flocks at night. It's one of the earliest birds to lay eggs, those pretty
'robin's egg blue' ones, in a nest of coarse grass, twigs, paper and feathers,
 smeared with mud, and often cushioned with soft materials. I haven't found a
 nest yet this season, but I have a feeling there's at least one in the back garden!

All photos taken on a hot April afternoon this week.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

The wee interloper. . . . . . .

The House Wren ~

We rarely see this particular tiny bird in our garden even though it's a native
 of eastern North Carolina. It rarely comes to seed feeders preferring an insect diet.
 In winter months it sometimes migrates to other southern states and Mexico,
 but often just hangs out in North Carolina year round.

A very tiny bird, just a bit smaller than the more prolific Carolina wren - my favorite
 little bird ~ but the same size as the Carolina chickadee, this wren apparently has
 found its way to my front porch over the past few days, and. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 

 . . . . . . . . . .guess who's having to fend him/her off from their nest site in the 
Home Sweet Home box, our pair of chickadees!

They have a plan though, when the wren shows up, one stays covering the entrance
 while the other one hangs on the Boston fern then chases the noisy wren away.

Here the House wren is sitting on the jasmine below the nest box, probably thinking
 the spider web is camouflaging it! This bird is very cute, barely 5" long and not
 as chubby as the Carolina wren.  Brown and tan, with a slightly curved bill, it also
 holds its tail erect. It lacks the white eyebrow of the Carolina wren but is also a
 prolific songster, singing loud, melodious songs from dawn to dusk during 
the mating season. I'll be keeping an eye on it as I don't want it to steal
 house and home from the chickadees - they have nested here for the past
 three years, and last year in April we were lucky enough to watch the
four babies fledge - an awesome sight.

From the wildlife habitat, my garden, yet another bird story. . . . . . . . 
 and there will be more of course!