There are some who start their retirement long before they stop working. -Robert Half

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Grammy's Guide to Backyard Birds.

Now that the weather has started warming up, Grammy, Papa and I spend a lot of time sitting at the table and watching birds out of the big window facing the backyard. We even had to change my dinnertime seating assignment so that I didn't have to have my back to the window. In preparation for spring, Grammy gathered her bird books, identification guides and binoculars for easy classification and admiration of our backyard wildlife. So, for your viewing pleasure, let me introduce you to...

Grammy's Guide to Backyard Birds
Birds We Like:
1) American Goldfinch: Grammy says this is actually just a yellow sparrow. This bird is classified by its small size and yellow color. It has black wings and a black stripe on its head and eats small seeds like thistle. Our bird guide states that they: "Specialize in eating fruits and seeds of plants in sunflower family." We have a finch feeder, which is a long bag filled with thistle, that hangs on the back porch. It has a picture of a finch on it; probably so they know it's for them.
2) Purple Finch: We don't get very many of these, but they are a dark reddish-brown color and are bigger than the Goldfinch. That's all we know about them.
3) Oriole: This was an exciting year for orioles in our backyard. A lady from church told Grammy that if she puts grape jelly in the backyard, she'll get orioles because that is their favorite thing to eat. We've never gotten orioles before. In fact, my dad, who is a forester, had never even seen one before coming to Owensville one weekend. Needless to say, they do eat grape jelly. And a lot of it, might I add. Grammy also bought a special oriole feeder and special oriole food, but they won't eat out of it. Papa says it's because we spoil them with the grape jelly. They do eat from the hummingbird feeders, though, and one day when Papa was watching it try to eat from the small holes made for hummingbirds, he looked at me, laughed and said: "They sure are dumb, aren't they?" Anyway, orioles truly are the prettiest birds I've ever seen. We have two types: the Baltimore Oriole and the Orchard Oriole. Baltimore Orioles are bright orange with black heads and black wings. And when I say bright, I mean it. Think of the brightest orange crayon that Crayola makes and multiply it by two and you have the brightness of these birds. Well, the males at least. Female animals always have to be uglier. My friend, Abby, said it's just because boys have to try and dazzle us before we choose one. The Orchard Orioles are more of a darker orange. Think the Crayola crayon called Burnt Sienna.
4) Northern Cardinal: Characterized by their red color and tufted heads, these birds are one of our favorites. I like the female cardinals better than the male cardinals (the typical all-red color) because they are cuter. They are a pretty brown color with a subtle red tint and they don't have that black patch over their eyes. Grammy loves cardinals and whenever she sees one, she runs to the window and says: "There's my little cardinal! Oh look at him! He's so polite!" Manners are important in our judgement of birds and cardinals are the most polite. If one bird is eating from the bird feeder, they will wait for it to finish before they fly up. And if there is another bird waiting, they will scoot over so they can share the feeder.
5) Martin: Honestly, I've never seen a martin, but Grammy tells me they exist. Apparently they eat eggshells to build up calcium for their eggs, so Grammy always takes her old eggshells out into the yard for them. We also have martin houses, so I guess they do exist somewhere.
6) Ruby-throated Hummingbird: I never realized how loud these birds are. They sound like over-sized killer bees and drink nectar, or sugar-water in our case. Our bird guide says they're shy, but it definitely lies. Our hummingbirds are not afraid of humans or lawn mowers or other animals. In fact, sometimes they get so close I think they might hit me. The other weekend my brother Andy came to visit and was sitting on the back porch swing when two hummingbirds swooped right toward him and buzzed around him for a second before flying off to their feeders for hydration. Hummingbirds are also very loving and attached to each other (at least Grammy and I think they are). The other day, two hummingbirds were flying by the window and one of them ran into it, forcefully I might add. Grammy and I jumped up from the table and watched it go and perch on the top of the porch. The whole time it was sitting there, its friend was buzzing around it making sure it was going to survive. It was so cute. When it finally recuperated, they both flew off together toward the setting sun.
7) House Wren: These birds are small and brown and live in the special wren houses that Grammy puts in the backyard. And, yes, that is their natural habitat. Sometimes swallows build nests in their houses, which means we have to go and pull out the swallow nests so the wrens can move in, taking us back to my least favorite backyard activity.
8) Tufted Titmouse: Small, gray birds with little tufts on their heads that make them look like they're wearing Robin Hood hats. These are my favorite birds because they're really small and they bounce around when they are on the ground. I like animals that hop. I also like it because it has this cute little white face and its description in the bird guide says its song is "hauntingly pretty." What wonderful descriptive language! I wish we had the Plain Titmouse in our area, too because the bird guide says: "Can be saucy when accustomed to people." Any bird described as "saucy" is a bird I would like to be around.
9) Mourning Dove: I used to think these birds represented peace and happiness. That was when I thought they were called Morning Doves, as in: "Look at this beautiful morning! The sun is shining, the birds are singing, and all the people of the world are holding hands in harmony!" Not the case. They are actually called Mourning Doves, as in: "Let me mourn the condition of the world we live in. The rainforest is being destroyed, children are dying of malnutrition and diseases every day and war and fighting are leading us to self-destruction." Isn't it funny how the spelling of a word can completely change the meaning? Hopefully our doves still know where to find that olive leaf. I think they do.
10) White-breasted Nuthatch: These birds are also some of my favorites. They have blue backs, white breasts (obviously), and either a black head (males) or a black stripe across their necks (females). The best part about them is their ability to defy gravity and walk headfirst down tree trunks and branches. It is so incredible! It looks like they should be plummeting to the ground, but instead they just scamper around without a care. If Spiderman had a favorite bird, which I'm sure he does, I'm confident it would be this one.
11) Red-winged Blackbirds: These birds look like regular blackbirds, but they have a big red spot at the top of their wings that kind of flashes when they fly. Even though they're "possibly the most abundant land bird in the United States," I still really like them. Grammy likes them, too, because sometimes they chase away our least favorite birds.
12) Indigo Bunting: This is Papa's favorite bird. It is small and bright blue and, if possible, gets even brighter in the sun; it almost looks like it shimmers! Whenever we see one of these, we call to Papa: "Papa! Here comes one of your Indigo Buntings!" and Papa comes over to the window to watch it.
13) American Robin: I don't know why, but I don't really like robins. I think it's because they are always carrying some dead insect in their mouths, but Grammy likes them so they get to be in the "Birds we like" category. There is also this robin that always chirps mean things at me when I try to weed the flower bed on the side of the house. She must have a nest over there, but still, there is no need for all that racket! Grammy thinks they're nice, caring birds, though because they protect their young and are always searching for food to feed them with.
14) Red-bellied Woodpecker: These woodpeckers are striped black and white and have a tan belly, not a red belly. I don't know where they got their name, but I didn't name them! The males have a red top of their head and the females have red on the back of their head, making them look like they have a receding hairline. I don't really have much to say about these except they do what all woodpeckers do. They peck holes in wooden things.
15) Eastern Bluebird: This is another of Grammy's favorite bird, but we don't see them very often. They are blue with brown bellies and like to eat fruit. Sometimes after we take a swallow nest out of the bird houses, we put apples around the bottom of it to entice bluebirds to live there. I don't know if it is working because I don't like to open the bird houses to check what's living in there. One time, Grammy went to check one and a bird flew out at her head. I don't really like it when animals fly at my head, unless it is a chinchilla. I think that is the one animal that I would like flying into my face because they are so cute and fluffy! One time my sister and I had to pet-sit for a family with a chinchilla and we would just go and sit in its room and let it jump around on the furniture and roll around in volcano dust. I had no idea that volcano dust even existed, but it does and chinchillas like to spin around in it. It was life changing.

Birds We Don't Like:
1) Common Grackle: The most despised of our backyard birds, these vicious killers are black with beady little eyes, a long tail and a long, pointed beak. Our bird guide describes them like this: "Thrives in cities, suburbs. Extremely aggressive toward smaller birds; steals eggs, eats nestlings, decapitates adults." DECAPITATES!? Every time I see one, all I can do is imagine him flying toward a bird and slicing its head off with its beak. And, unfortunately, we have a lot in our backyard. Sometimes Grammy and I sit at the table and watch for them to come so we can bang on the windows and scare them away. Being the evil birds they are, however, they are no longer scared of our banging so now we have to get up and run outside to scare them away. One day they were eating all the suet put out for the robins, so Grammy started muttering: " I'll just poison them! I'll find some arsenic and put it on that suet." Other things we want to happen to them include: be eaten by a hawk, hit them with a BB gun, and let a snake get them. Now, we're not vicious people, but if you mess with our birds, you better watch your back. Grammy says: "This is supposed to be a safe haven for birds, not some place for GRACKLES!"
2) Blue Jays: These are large, blue birds who tend to bully the other, smaller birds away from the bird feeders. They tend to scare the cardinals away on a regular basis, which is not the way to get on Grammy's good side. They also can't open seeds on their own, so they fill up their throats with tons of seeds and then go to a hard surface to break them all open. So, they're greedy and scare cute birds away: two points that are not in their favor.
3) Hawks: Unless they're eating snakes or grackles.

Birds We Don't Really Care About:
1) Barn Swallow: These birds come over from the barn on the farm behind our house. We don't really care about them unless they make nests in the wren houses. When they fly, they tend to fly upwards and then swoop down again. They are black with brown bellies and kind of look like bats when they flap their wings.
2) Sparrow: Basically, just a brown bird. They are kind of cute because they have such little beaks, but not cute enough to be in our "Birds we like" category.

Monday, May 18, 2009


I have come to the conclusion that if I lived in Harry Potter world, I would unfortunately be in Slytherin. Even though every online Harry Potter quiz I've taken says I'm supposed to be in Gryffindor (maybe it tells everyone that because that is the house everyone wants to be in), the evidence points in favor of Slytherin for these two reasons:

First reason: I've been driving for 8 years now which, I think, has given me ample time to see a plethora of road kill. However, in all this time, I have never seen a dead snake on the road. Sure, I've seen squirrels, deer, bunnies, raccoons, birds, foxes, and armadillos, but never a snake. On a side note, when did armadillos start existing in mid-Missouri? Thanks for nothing, Global Warming. Along with the other terrible side effects that our planet's rising temperature has caused, armadillos have moved to Missouri and it TOTALLY grosses me out. I don't know why, but every time I see a dead armadillo, I get really creeped out and a chill runs down my spine (I've never seen a live one, but I bet it would happen then, too). Armadillos scare me, and this is why:
1) They look so mean! I tend to be scared of things with armor-like bodies. You know, things like dinosaurs, dragons, armadillos and roly-poly's. Yes, roly-polys. Don't judge me. When I was little, someone told me that there are two types of roly-poly and one type is highly poisonous and the only way to tell the difference is to see if it is somewhat flat. Now, I don't know if that is true, but in my head it is. Come to think of it, I'm pretty sure it was my older brother, Andy, who told me that and he also told me that if I ever blew a bubble and could see the reflection of a blue piano in it, I would die immediately, so every time I would blow bubbles, I would look in each of them to make sure they didn't have a picture of a piano in them. Maybe I should have used a little more discretion when taking advice from Andy. I swear, my tendency to trust will be my downfall. Maybe I should have been more like Grammy when she was little. She said that her brother, Carl, used to tease her all the time and she would just let it all build up inside her until one day she would snap. One time Carl was teasing her while she was doing her homework so she turned around and stabbed him in the shoulder with a pencil. She got in lots of trouble for that one. She also said that Carl had this globe in his room that she used to hit him with; "I would just pick it up and whop him with it so it always had this huge dent in one side."
2) When I see a dead armadillo on the side of the road, I can practically feel the diseases coming from it. Maybe it stems from the fact that they look scary, but I think armadillos have more diseases than other roadkill. The germs and deadly virus' practically seep out of each fold in their armor. It's the truth. Everyone knows that cute animals don't carry diseases. They're too fluffy.
3) Someone told me they hiss. Imagine walking along the road and turning to see a hissing armadillo running toward you. Yeah, I know. I'm going to have nightmares, too.

Anyway, back to Slytherin. In the past two weeks, I have run over two snakes and I'm scarred for life. The problem with hitting snakes is that there is no way to avoid them because believe me, I totally would have if I could. They pretty much span the width of my car which means straddling them is out of the question. So, if you've never hit a snake with your car, this is what happens: You're driving along, minding your own business, when in the distance you can see something long on the road. Hoping it is just a stick, you keep going and realize it is a snake. Being the safe driver you are, you start screaming and take your feet off the pedals, hoping your car will magically lift off the ground because if it doesn't, you'll surely hit the snake and it will definitely fly up into your open window to latch onto your neck and cause instant death. But, as gravity will have it, your car doesn't lift up and you hear it thump under your tires. In your rear-view window, you can see it writhing all over the road behind you. Afterward, you might feel like vomiting, and that is completely normal.
When I told Grammy that I ran over some snakes and how traumatizing it was, she said: "Well, good! You did the world a favor!" Then we continued to talk about how snakes are Satan in animal form. She kept telling me: "Anything that slithers around like that can't be good."

Second reason: The other day, Grammy and I were cleaning out birdhouses in the backyard because there were sparrows living in them and Grammy wanted bluebirds to live in them. This is my least favorite activity at Grammy's so far because it is DISGUSTING. Bird nests are really gross and filled with random assortments of feathers, yard debris and salmonella. Anyway, on our way back to the house, we were walking through the yard and I saw a snake lying there with his head sticking up, so naturally I screamed, then Grammy screamed and after a few seconds of jumping up and down, we ran to the picnic table to seek higher ground. I was just going to leave it there and run inside, but Grammy said we're not leaving it because it was facing the house and we didn't want it to come and get us, so we started grabbing gardening tools and throwing them at the snake, in hopes of making it slither away toward the field behind our house, but it wouldn't move. When we ran out of tools to throw, Grammy went and found lots of bricks so we stood on the benches of the picnic table and threw them at it, but even when I hit it, all it did was bounce into the air and then become completely still again. And not a dead kind of still. More of an "attack-mode" kind of still. Around this time, the two boys working at the farm behind our yard saw us (or maybe they heard us yelling death threats and were worried about our lives/sanity). Either way, they came over and Grammy ran up to them and asked them how they feel about snakes. Luckily, they felt fine with snakes and came over and stomped on it with their protective footwear. Turns out it was a copperhead. Awesome. Good thing Grammy and I didn't try to be too brave or we might be lying in a hospital bed somewhere. They picked it up by its tail and started carrying it off to throw into a field, but right at that moment, Grammy came running from the house carrying a shovel and yelling: "Come back here! I want that thing dead! We don't want it coming back to get us!" They beheaded it.

Anyway, my snake encounters have led me to believe the sorting hat would have placed me in Slytherin. Actually, maybe they mean that I would have been that valiant fighter that seeks truth and justice in a world filled with evil, slithering deceit. I'm not supposed to be in Slytherin! I'm Harry Potter! And Grammy is Captain Planet! And when our powers combine...

Friday, May 8, 2009

Tennis Pro.

My little brother is a tennis pro. A few weeks ago he was even on the television as the Student Athlete of the Week. Yeah, it's kind of a big deal; he got to be King of Athletes for an entire week, putting him one step closer to world domination. Anyway, today was his final home tennis game (or maybe it's called a match? or a scrimmage? I don't know. I think I'll call it a scrimmage) so, I left work early and headed to Jeff City with Grammy and Papa. On our way up, we had two main conversations:
1) My driving/the upkeep of my car. Papa recently gave me a list of directions telling me how to start my car, since it likes to leave me stranded places. He instructed me to: Turn key once. Turn car off. Turn key just so battery starts, and do that three times. Turn car off. Turn car on.
He also told me I need to keep my gas above half a tank, which is hard for me because I drive so much and, unlike Papa, I don't like to go to the gas station every other day.
Along with that, we discussed my speed, how closely I follow cars, and "safe roads," which are roads with two lanes in each direction. I think Papa lives in constant fear that I'm going to pass someone on those two-lane highways. I try to keep him on the edge of his seat. Sometimes, I'll speed up like I'm going to pass someone just to see if he'll start to whistle. He does.

2) The weather. Today was especially treacherous when it comes to weather. On my way to work this morning, it got increasingly darker throughout my drive until the sky was almost black. Luckily, the heavens didn't open up until I got inside, but when they did, they opened with half-dollar sized hail and 70 mph winds. This also came with a side of flash flooding and tornado warnings. I even had to take an alternate route home from school today because the roads were covered with water!

Once we got to the tennis scrimmage, we grabbed our folding chairs and went and sat by Mom and Dad. For some reason, whenever I go to watch my brothers play sports, the moment I sit down, I instantly and unexplainably become thirsty. And by thirsty, I mean walking in the desert for days parched. I don't know why. It used to happen when I went to Andy's track and cross country meets, too. It's a phenomenon that will most likely remain one of those unsolved mysteries my children will talk about for generations to come. Anyway, once I sat down to watch Logan play, my throat obviously started drying out and I could hear my taste buds start begging for liquid. So, since I didn't have anything to drink, of course, I started asking around for some gum or perhaps a mint. I went down the line and finally got to Papa and remembered that he has a pocket full of butterscotch disks, so he reaches into his pocket and pulls out a butterscotch disk and a melted piece of chocolate, that, as you guessed, was smeared all over his hand upon exiting his pocket. He just sat there and stared at the piece of dripping bridge mix for a while, said: "Well, I wonder where that came from" and then popped it in his mouth. Another thing about tennis scrimmages is that you're not allowed to talk, or if you do, you must do so in a voice no louder than a whisper. In fact, it would be best if you could learn to read lips. Thus, Papa eating melted chocolate from his pocket is an event that should occur somewhere people are not so intent on silence because my whole family began to laugh. And if you've ever been around Brunners, you know that would throw off any tennis player. We're loud. And I mean loud as in when we were little and would go to the grocery store with Mom, she would give us all part of the shopping list and we would scatter to collect our assigned foods and the way we would find her again would be to listen for her to laugh. And then, it gets better, Grammy and Mom have the same laugh and, thanks to genes, I, too, have inherited that laugh. At least we're happy.
Anyway, Logan won both his singles matches (I think that's the word) and his doubles match. He even broke a string on his racket, to which Mom replied: "He's just so strong!" Papa kept telling us: "Boy, he's got quite an arm! He really hits that ball, doesn't he?!"

Then we went and ate Chinese food. Then we came back home and ate a seven layer chocolate cake that one of my students gave me last night when I gave a presentation about the Missouri College Advising Corps to the MU Extension Council of Crawford County. The meeting was at the Country Kitchen in Cuba and some of my students were working, so one of them sent me this HUGE slice of chocolate cake, complete with brownie crumbles and drizzled chocolate syrup. Needless to say, its taken us a while to eat. I don't like chocolate, but it looks so good that I keep trying it in hopes that I'll magically like chocolate. You know, like how people get older and magically like vegetables or magically become lactose intolerant? Yeah, I was hoping that would happen. It didn't. I still don't like chocolate. Unless it comes in the form of Grammy's special chocolate sheet cake. Anyway, Papa is glad my student gave me a huge chocolate cake. Maybe he could put that in his pocket for later, too.

Perch Girl.

My bedroom, along with being adjacent to the TV in the living room and staying exceptionally organized (thanks to Grammy), is my mom's old room. It is also in a prime location to hear the phone in the kitchen ringing and to hear when anyone goes to the basement. In the beginning of the year, I slept on the mattress that was already on the bed. I would, however, equate the comfort level of that mattress to the comfort level of sleeping on a concrete slab, so I immediately began devising my super secret plan to get a new mattress. Why did it have to be super secret, you ask? Because, in my experience with my grandparents, I've discovered that if there is a problem with something they will just go out and buy a new something to replace it, so in order to prevent them from going out and purchasing a new mattress, the plan had to stay super secret. Like with my car. The other day, my car stopped starting again (I love it when it does this. It just fills my soul with joy and happiness.) Of course, when Papa tried to start it, it started immediately, but he still decided he needed to take it to Neil the Mechanic, who cleaned out the engine again. Papa told me that it was almost as dirty as last time I cleaned it. It wasn't in the Top 10 Dirtiest Engines this time, but it was close. Probably a 12 or 13. Oh well. At least it starts for now. Luckily, my car isn't very high-tech so it has less parts that could possibly fail. I used to have an automatic starter, well I guess I still do, but I had to take the starter off my keychain because the button would get unknowingly pressed while in my purse and I would walk out and my car would be running. Grammy had a problem like that the other week. She was trying to lock the little car and pulled on the handle and the car alarm started going off. I could hear it from the basement so I ran upstairs to help her turn it off, but we couldn't find the key. I ran to ask Papa where the key was because he drove the car last and I figured he had it in his pocket, but he said the key was on the table by the door. I told him it wasn't there, but he said I didn't look hard enough because it's there.
Anyway, after waking up the entire neighborhood, the alarm finally went off. Just then, Papa walked to the front door and said:
Papa: How did you stop it?
Grammy: It just stopped.
Papa: Well, the key's right here on the table!
Julie: You just put that there!
Papa:I told you it was here the whole time.
Julie: He just put that there, Grammy.

Papa just chuckled.

Now, if either of them ever informed me of their decisions to buy replacements, I could possibly eliminate the super secret aspect of my mattress mission because it would give me the chance to tell them not to buy a new mattress.
That is not the case. They are both bad about doing things without telling anyone. Like that time the ambulance came to our house because Grammy was having a lot of pain in her left arm and I slept right through it and I didn't even find out the ambulance was there until the next afternoon when Mom told me. The morning after the ambulance, they just came into my room really early and told me they are going to Jeff City to the hospital and then they left. They left me, the youngest and most able driver, sitting on the edge of my bed sleepy-eyed and confused and just drove to Jeff City.
Or those times that I just walk outside to go somewhere and my car is gone. And by gone I mean it is in the shop for 3 weeks.
Or that day Papa went and bought a new TV.
Or that time Papa went to lunch in Bland for lunch and then went to WalMart and there was a fire in the backyard and Grammy couldn't find him.

Anyway, my life was narrowed down to:
-The decision to become a hunchback because of my constant back pain and be forced to flee America to find refuge in some forgotten castle, haunting the local village and baking scones to ease the pain of my frightening appearance. I'd be the modern-day Frankenstein and I'd have to resort to murder and other evil deeds when the society flees from me in fear, making me an outcast to civilization.
-Or, the decision to somehow find another mattress without alerting Grammy or Papa to my plan.

I chose the second decision. So, I called my mom, and after vowing her to secrecy, told her my predicament. She understood why this needed to be an undercover operation and on the weekend of the turkey supper, they snuck a futon mattress into the car. While Grammy and Papa were occupied somewhere else, my family and my friends Abby and AJ snuck the futon on top of the mattress. Grammy noticed right away, so I just told her that it's all better now and she just laughed. Papa never noticed because he told me: "I try not to go near that room."
Now, Grammy calls it my Perch because it makes my bed really tall, like I'm the princess from The Princess and the Pea. Except I'm Perch Girl. Like in that episode of the Nickelodeon show Hey Arnold! where there is that boy who would never leave his door stoop and everyone called him Stoop Boy and they would yell: "Hey Stoop Boy! Get off your stoop! Why don't you ever leave your stoop, Stoop Boy? Are you scared??? Stoop Boy! Stoop Boy!"