Sassy Sue wows the bark park visitors with her catching and retrieving.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Christmas Is for the Birds

The main bird feeder, from Duncraft, is only a few feet from my desk - outside the window. The squirrel is already enjoying his corn feeder, nearby on the sill. I added another suet basket, hanging from the first one. My plan is to have a comfortable view of various creatures feeding at once. The multiple feeding arrangement generates noise, and more birds will come because of the noise.

The squirrel does not even try the Duncraft feeder, because his weight on the bar shuts off the supply of seed, which is now pure black oil sunflower.

For your amusement and edification, I compared the price of seed at a store. Blended seed (cardinal on the front) was $2 a pound, while sunflower seed was around 50 cents. Thistle (for finches) and safflower (hated by squirrels) were both higher priced than sunflower. As Bruce Church said, all the blended seed sacks featured various song birds. Sunflower seed is loved by 42 species of birds and costs less than all the other seeds.

The backyard corn feeder attracted a pair of blue jays, the most majestic of all the colorful birds. The jays rested above the feeder, looked around, and landed on the ground to pick up corn. They pecked away at it in the security of the branches above. I noticed them harvesting corn from the ground last year, too.

We probably have many jays living behind our house. We are surrounded by oaks, a favorite habitat for jays. A pair nested in the bush near the Duncraft feeder, so I wonder if they will nest there in the spring and notice the equivalent of a McDonald's outside their door.

"Jay, the nestlings need more food, dear."

"I'll just hop over to the feeder."

"So convenient, Jay. I hope we always nest here at the Jackson's. Grab a few seeds for me, too."

We now have one main feeding station (sunflowers, suet, corn and water). I can be inches away from a chickadee enjoying his suet - a foot away from cardinals, finches, titmice, and chickadees eating sunflower seeds. The squirrel is closest of all, because tree-rats are shameless food hustlers. They cannot be frightened through glass.

Three other places provide seed, corn, and suet. Now I will look for extra nuts for the jays and squirrels.

Some people think it is strange to feed the creatures, but the Lord of Creation shared His nursery with them.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

The Donkey

The Donkey

When forests walked and fishes flew
And figs grew upon thorn,
Some moment when the moon was blood,
Then, surely, I was born.

With monstrous head and sickening bray
And ears like errant wings—
The devil's walking parody
Of all four-footed things:

The battered outlaw of the earth
Of ancient crooked will;
Scourge, beat, deride me—I am dumb—
I keep my secret still.

Fools! For I also had my hour—
One far fierce hour and sweet:
There was a shout around my head
And palms about my feet.

G. K. Chesterton

Giotto di Bondone, Scenes from the Life of Christ 10.
Entry into Jerusalem, 1304-6,
Cappella Scrovegni, Padova

Monday, December 20, 2010

Merry Christmas from the Rescue Pets: Sassy, Precious, and Treasure

Sassy is unusually solemn for once.
Normally she is grinning her assumptive close - "You are taking me to the Bark Park soon?"

Precious found Sassy's large bone and helped herself to the rest, an early Christmas gift for herself.

Treasure has cornered the cute market by hopping on the bed and raising her front paw to say, "You may pet me now."


Sassy's foster mother wrote:

"I love you guys. I smile every time I come to your blog. Thank you for being such wonderful people!"

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Sassy Friends the Squirrels

Sassy, the wonder-dog, went along with me on errands yesterday. We often stop at the recycling center, which supports veterans and is run by veterans. That gets us near the Bella Vista post office, which has a waiting line of two people on a busy day.

Just before the recycling center is a neat little hardware store. When I walk in the door, someone meets me and helps me find whatever I want. This time I wanted a garbage can for bird seed and a squirrel feeder. The employee showed me the $10 feeder and found one for even less - "This one looks better too."

Sassy waited outside in the limousine, the Icha-boat. I always roll down the window for air, so she leans out and gives me a big yelp on my way into the store or post office. In spite of her missing back leg, she spends the whole trip watching me drive from between the seats, perched with that back leg on the rear seat, her powerful front legs on the arm rests.

Heading south on 71B means we are aiming at the Bentonville Bark Park, her favorite place. The barking begins early, because she would explode if she had to contain her joy. She is now quite famous as the ball snagger. The other owners depend on us to bring a spare ball, because Sassy gets the other dogs obsessed with her purple one. Tennis balls are always left in the grass, but Sassy is a fashion trend-setter with her special toy.

When we got home and finished our Dairy Queen, it was time to take care of the birds and squirrels.

The squirrel feeder is simple. Two cedar boards are joined, and a large screw comes up from the bottom for impaling an ear of field corn. I wanted to feed a squirrel close up, and this was easy to attach to the window sill. It came with two extra screws and holes in the right place. I actually found my cordless drill and got the job done in a few seconds. Sassy, who supervises all my outside work, was next door with Maynard and Homer, two enormous guard dogs with electronic collars.

Norma Boeckler

Sassy and I also trimmed back the bush near the inexpensive bird squirrel feeder. With some luck the small birds will get more of the food and the squirrels less. I expect to head to the kitchen and see the squirrel defeating my latest effort. The blue jay appearing there was enough to encourage me, and squirrel maneuvers are interesting anyway.

Sassy and I put the new ear of field corn on the feeder and added sunflower seeds to various feeding stations. I am sticking to sunflower seeds alone, because they are the best priced seed and they flow from the feeders better.

Sassy never stops grinning at her ball, knowing I will have to toss it.
Chris enjoys talking to the other dog owners when we go together.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Sassy and I Feed the Birds

St. Francis was known for communing with Creation.
My wife has noticed a resemblance.

Sassy and I do bird-feeding chores every day now. First of all, we want to keep the corn feeder full for Mr. Squirrel and his extended family. Watching them swirl around the tree trunk for the chance to eat is worth the effort.

Second, we take the mixed seed bag around to all the feeding areas. Outside the garage is one zone. The front door planter is another one. Mixed seed is not a bargain, so I am scattering it where birds can pick out what they want. Some goes among the dry rocks. Several handfuls are thrown in the planter. I also have very cheap feeder up front which tiny birds use because the perch fell off into the holly bushes. I am not looking for that perch until I have a Hazmat suit on.

The bedroom window sill is quite low, but surrounded by holly bushes. The birds love all the protection they have. Cardinals enjoy the window sill and also the main feeder.

We have chickadees, cardinals, woodpeckers, red polls, titmice, and nuthatches feeding. Blue jays have been absent, but they are plentiful in the summer.

The result of spending a little money and a little time is a constant flow of birds around the house. The front of our home looks like O'Hare Airport during fair weather.

Birds will stay under cover during a storm but feed immediately before and after the low pressure zone moves through. We have no snow or ice, so the larvae are still easily accessed on trees and among bushes. However, cold weather requires more fuel, so birds are happy to have extra food to supplement their diet.

When one of the worst storms was bearing down on Minnesota, the weather was unusually warm, 60 degree weather. Hunters noticed enormous flocks of birds heading away from it. Many men were trapped in the woods because they did not realize the birds were fleeing a deadly blizzard. Here is the video about the Armistice Day Blizzard, 1940. Around 50 died from the sudden weather change.
Sassy inspires people at the dog park with her ability to chase down balls and snag them from the air,
even though she is missing one hind leg.
Photo by Norma Boeckler

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Cardinals and Sassy

Cardinals got me to purchase a serious bird-feeder, a squirrel proof bird-feeder from Duncraft. Bruce Church had a pair of cardinals feeding at his home in Michigan. I thought that was ideal. Cameras never capture the amused look of a male cardinal feeding. They cock their heads and seem quite pleased with themselves.

Two factors have increased business at the feeder, which is a few feet from my computer, just outside the window.

The first is cold weather, reducing easy access to the bug population while increasing energy needs.

The second is using single variety of seed. All the blended seeds promise a lot, but they use a lot of filler like millet. I threw the blend on the ground where it was eaten, sunflower seeds first. When I replaced the blend with safflower seeds alone, the feeding soon became constant.

Many use safflower because squirrels are not keen about raiding a feeder for that particular seed. The seed is rather expensive, so I was looking for a large bag of black oil sunflower seed. Walmart in Jane, Missouri had a 25 pound bag. Another bird watcher was looking over prices when I was. Safflower was over $1 a pound in seven-pound bags. Black oil sunflower was about 28 cents a pound in the large bag.

I am using the rest of my mixed seed for the planter near the front door and the window sills of the bedroom. The squirrels are welcome there, and the small birds alternate with them. When I scatter seed in the sheltered, dry rocks near the front door, small birds glean whatever they find.

Conversion to 100% Sunflower Seed
The least expensive and most popular option is sunflower seed. No other seed has so much nutrition, a combination of protein, oil, and minerals. I will use that for all locations soon, with the assumption that squirrels will stop by the low security zones (window sills, flower box, rocks). The bird-feeder has a bad reputation in the squirrel community. They do not even try it now.

Our three-legged Sassy watches out of one bedroom window, where I put the seed on the sill. She goes on full alert when the squirrel is inches away, eating seed. She is blase about birds. We are regulars at the doggy bark park, where she is famous for shagging balls while alleged retrievers sit around and look dumb. Some retrievers wait several seconds to start and amble toward the ball, but Sassy tears off immediately, her back bent with the effort.

Sassy is quite the hero now. Everyone loves to watch her catch high pop fly-balls. The strangest trick is pulling it out of the air as she runs to catch the ball falling away from me. Planting herself under it and catching like a pro is impressive enough, but no one can figure out the running catch, since she cannot watch the arc of the ball. When the ball is deflected off a tree branch in our yard, she adjusts and catches it.

Sassy relishes her fame and munches on the ball extra times. She hands it back into my hands or rolls it to the feet of her latest friend. That is one of her signs of approval, letting someone else throw her ball. Recently we were ready to go home when a little girl showed up with her dog and mom. Little Annabelle threw the ball for Sassy until our wonder-dog was trying to rest on the way to the car.

The evolutionists like to say certain traits are bred into dogs like German shepherds and Australian cattle dogs - she is both. But Who instilled those traits in the original DNA?

One moment Sassy will sing the cattle dog blues with me. The next she will bay like a German shepherd. It is as if she is taking books out of the Sterling Library at Yale.

Sassy was looking at her favorite throwing and chewing ball at the bark park. Chris is in the middle.
Norma Boeckler, our artist-in-residence is on the right.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Treasure the Rescue Sheltie

Photo by Norma Boeckler

We adopted Treasure and Precious from the Sheltie Rescue group in Phoenix. We only wanted one dog, but both Shelties were together since being taken from a backyard breeder in Tucson. No one knew for sure, but they thought the two were mother and daughter.

Both were extremely shy and remain jittery. They do not like being out in the public. Their foster mother said, "They are bed dogs."

Treasure has a cute, funny personality, so we are glad we gave her a new life when no one wanted either dog. More than one family called them "incorrigible," probably for their off-and-on housebroken status.

Treasure has several tricks that animate her unique qualities. Early on I urged her on the bed by commanding her. "Get on that bed, right now." She always broke into a big Sheltie grin when she jumped up, so I wondered if she would learn a new one.

Chris taught her to do "paw-paw" when she wanted to be petted. If we say "Paw-paw," she sticks a paw out for petting. She learned quickly and began using that to make us laugh. Sometimes she raises a paw in a stiff military salute. At other times she sweeps it in the air, using one front leg or the other. Another trick is to move one paw just a millimeter, to ask for more attention. She grins with each gesture, so we laugh with her a lot.

Shelties often win agility trials. Treasure showed off that trait when she learned to jump on the bed while Chris was making jewelry. Treasure was able to jump up and walk among the bead containers without disturbing anything.

Treasure follows Chris everywhere in the house, night and day. Treasure is tiny but has an abundance of beautiful black hair, perhaps more than most Shelties. She shimmers as that coat bounces up and down, following Chris around the house.

Sassy is the big dog and likes to be in charge. Treasure does not want Sassy touching her, although Sassy likes to throw her rear leg over us or the Shelties to keep track of her flock. Treasure responds to this by curling her upper lip and showing red gums and white teeth. She can huff but not bark. Sassy acts dumb about all this. She simply gets up and adjusts her position, making sure no other dog is left on the bed when she settles down again.

However, when Treasure jumps on the bed and Sassy is already comfortable and in position, Treasure walks across her fur-sister with a big smile on her face. Sassy's lightest touch is a canine felony, but Treasure can step on Sassy while grinning. That is entertaining to watch.

Treasure loves eggs and grilled chicken. Our friend's Uncle Roy asked, "He scrambles eggs...for the dogs?" Yes, and I also grill chicken for us and the dogs.

They have studied my habits carefully. The dogs know the first step in grilling and immediately begin to supervise, stopping by on the deck to make sure I am getting the fire going. When the aromas begin, their attention goes up several more notches. During that first food break, their eyes are wide with anticipation.

As Luther said, dogs always expect the best from their owners (so we should expect the best from God). An owner can say "No" to a dog a dozen times in a row and that dog never stops assuming that a "Yes" is coming soon. They wait with puppy smiles. They love our glass table, because they can look up through the glass at us while we eat, their starving orphan dog look or loving puppy look aimed at our tender conscience.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Father's Day

Bethany, on the left, was the ultimate camera hog. Martin, center, had to look aside to avoid lens glare. Erin Joy on the right was grinning for her Mom.
Bethany and Erin could not sit up or talk.

Someone in our family has been disabled since 1974. That changes my perspective on a lot of issues. For example, I cannot understand how we can call ourselves a wise, liberal, compassionate nation when our own American genocide against unborn babies goes on without remorse.

Babies are the most wonderful gift from God, and being a father is the most fulfilling role possible. I wrote once before that all the time invested in the early days will come back with lifetime dividends paid, just like saving money. But the government cannot take it away.

I remember my mother reading Lassie Come Home to us, my sister bawling her eyes out at the happy and sad parts. My teachers at Garfield read to us as well, even though we could read. I read stories to our children, and Martin reads to his. I insisted on real literature, so we read Twain, Lewis, and Tolkien.

We are a three-generation Lord of the Rings family now. Josie's middle name is Tinuviel, and Danielle's is Eowyn. We half-expected our grandson to be named Gandalf. His middle name is Nathaniel - a gift from God in Hebrew.

Now that we live in Arkansas, we have many casual get togethers. On Father's Day we had Dilly Bars. Xander, Tammy, and I wax-washed the van. Xander also wax-washed the tree. Soon he aimed the hose at everything except the van, including his mother's legs. Xander wanted a squirt-gun, so Grammy fixed a squirt bottle with sudsy water in it. The van was finished, so Xander squirted the van and thoroughly washed one rose bush.

Josie gave Sassy a workout, leaving our tripod dog grinning and panting. Danielle watched her favorite videos on YouTube. Often the grandchildren and dogs cluster around the computer for games and entertainment.

We parted and met again by accident at the mall. Martin was using his gift card for computer equipment, but the grandchildren wanted to visit the bookstore. I dropped by to use my gift card for a Photoshop book. We met in the computer section of Border's.

Long ago, Martin and I hornswaggled his Mom into getting an Atari game computer, for its educational value. We wanted the games, but it was educational. Martin now taps on keys to get mainframe computers to process terabytes of data, among other things. He got me into computer science, and that got me into online teaching.

Now we discuss the future of publishing, which will be mostly digital.

Martin helped with my library, in Cleveland, many decades ago.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Sassy Is a Neighborhood Star Again

Sassy took Anna to Sedona, Arizona.

Betty was Sassy's foster mother, after the amputation that made our dog into a tripod. Sassy's leg was useless and keeping her back, so that was necessary.

In Glendale, Sassy was a big hit with everyone, especially since we met many dog owners on the way to the park. Quite a few cats met Sassy too. Sassy delighted in sending them up trees and into garages, but never touched one.

At first Sassy was not meeting too many people. In Bella Vista, Arkansas, few walk their dogs. Little by little, Sassy has made a new set of friends. The mailman sent dog cookies over his car, from the opposite side window, getting them to land in front of Sassy. I wondered if he had been in artillery.

Sassy's main hobby is hunting squirrels instead of cats. We have not even seen a cat. Sassy will chase a squirrel up a tree or check out a ground squirrel's burrow. I am sure the pink spot on her nose was from getting too close to one.

"Let's go kill a squirrel!" means take a walk, but it starts out with a rapid sweep of the yard.

Sassy has an interesting clucking sound she makes when greeting her canine friends. Her main buddies are the neighbor dogs and Daisy. One mean little French poodle hates her and every human as well.

Sassy plays with our Sheltie Precious every day. They chase in and out the doggy door and do their mock fighting. Sometimes Precious is down, fighting for her life, grinning and snapping in the air. At other times, Sassy is the victim, getting the snapping jaws.

If I glance at them, the fight stops, so I try to ignore them and watch. They get especially happy and energetic during fights.

Precious smiles by opening and closing her mouth. Treasure, her companion, continues her cute little puppy routine, even though she is old. Treasure has two tricks - jumping on the bed and swiping at us with her paw to get more petting. When she does these tricks, she grins as if she just won Olympic gold.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Mother's Day

Our visitor noticed blue jays nesting outside our bedroom window.

Since then we have had many rainy days. The mother blue jay does most of the nesting. I have seen her sitting there in the gloom, rain pouring down, her wings spread over her nest. The outside is cold and damp, but her wings and downy feathers keep the eggs warm and dry.

My window is only 20 inches from her nest, so she glares at me when I look at her progress. If I walk around the outside of the house, she distracts me from her nest by flying nearby and calling out "Jay!"

The blue jay is endowed by her Creator with a self-sacrificing love for her children. A philosopher would advise her, "You should serve your own needs first. Blue jay eggs are a dime a dozen. Take wing and find yourself." But her DNA code, like software, dedicates her to a nobler task.

I have been gathering photos from my high school graduating class, 1966. Some of our mothers are still alive, but many are not. My mother taught in the public schools, so she knew hundreds of parents, many of them fellow teachers.

That was the classic age in public education, when the children were safe. The teachers watched over us and made sure we were prepared for higher education. When I see photos of various students, I remember, "Their mother was a teacher too. I saw her at our house, or PTA, or community functions, or all three."

I just finished scanning our high school yearbook, when we were seniors. We are seniors once again, in a different sense. Instead of getting student discounts we are angling for senior discounts based on age.

Now that we have a world-wide financial crisis, my mother's comments about the Depression make more sense. She mowed lawns and cleaned houses to get through Augustana College, which took a long time while she was teaching in one-room country schools.

My mother grew up on a farm and remembered when electricity was brought to their farmhouse. She would say, "You don't know how good you have it." She was right. We did not. That generation learned frugality during the Depression and self-sacrifice during WWII and Korea. We benefited from both and took the advantages for granted.

When we asked Mom how she accomplished so much, she said, variously:
1. Grew up on a farm.
2. Went through the Depression.
3. Taught in a one-room country school.

I thought about that while I was trying to trim old newsprint. Mom could cut out articles with precision and file them methodically. Many of her books had a review from a major newspaper, taped into the front cover.

One of her many photo albums included a Mother's Day card, which I crafted in class, around fifth grade at Garfield. I wrote: "Congratulations for having a genius son." She must have enjoyed that card, because she kept it for 80 years.

My mother went through a long-term crisis as she lost her short-term memory. Many times she was agitated, angry, and confused. We moved her to our house in Minnesota and then to our home in Arizona, where she died at the age of 90. She turned into the ultimate mother at the end, happy and loving, still active, creating poems on the fly as we wheeled her around the care facility. She led us and the staff in a spirited rendition of "God bless America."

The hospital said, "The nurses all love your mom."

Our neighbors said, "All the children love your mom."

I lost count of the students who came up to me and said, "I had your mother as a teacher. She was the best teacher I ever had."

True genius comes from picking the right parents. As Lincoln said, "All I am, or can be, I owe to my angel mother."