Birdfeeder watching

Our back deck is just outside our kitchen window.  We have a table on the deck, but it has gone to the birds, so to speak.  On the table we have potted plants and a bird feeder and water dish.  Of course, this time of year the plants only serve to provide perches for the birds as most of them have died back for the winter.  But the birds are very active this time of year. 

We are currently feeding American goldfinches, cardinals, white-throated sparrows, titmice, chickadees, blue-jays, mockingbirds, house-finches, wrens, and a downy woodpecker.

The goldfinches are not the bright yellow color that I remember enjoying as a child in Indiana.  In the wintertime their feathers change to a dull brownish yellow, so that I almost didn’t recognize them.  My bird guide helped me to confirm that these birds were indeed the goldfinches and their plumage was for the non-breeding goldfinches.

I’ve enjoyed watching the birds through the seasons.  We feed more black sunflower seeds than anything else, but we do keep several suet baskets filled as well.  The first time we put out a suet basket I used a berry suet that was supposed to attract orioles.  I saw what had to have been an oriole feeding on it within a day or two.  At first I thought it was a robin because of all the red coloring, but then as I watched it I realized that this bird had more red than a robin and that the black seemed blacker.  But sadly that was the only time I saw the oriole.  It never came back.

Early last spring we had a number of house finches at our feeder.  I noticed one that had a serious problem with one of its eyes as it protruded abnormally from the birds head.  The bird almost lived in the feeder and only left when the other birds chased it away.  I took a picture of it with my digital camera to get a better look at it, and then realized that its beak was also malformed.  No wonder it stayed in the feeder, I’m sure it had to struggle to get the sunflower seeds out of the hulls.  One day a storm was coming up as I was leaving for work and I knew the rain would fill the dish we were using as a feeder.  I worried that our poor bird wouldn’t survive the storm, and apparently it didn’t as we never saw it again.

Malformed house finch

Another time I was working in the kitchen when I heard something hit the window hard.  I looked out the window and found a woodpecker lying on the deck.  I suspected that it had only knocked itself out and that after it came to, it would fly away, so I ran to get my camera.  I tried to get it to perch on my finger but it didn’t catch on too well.  Maybe it was the way woodpeckers use their feet, but I was finally able to get it to perch on my fingertips like they were a stump.  I eventually urged it to sit on one of the posts in the railing of our deck and took several more pictures before it gained its senses and flew away.  I then went to my bird guide and learned that my woodpecker was really a male yellow bellied sapsucker.  I never saw the bird again.

Sapsucker 1

Sapsucker2

The birds are very entertaining to watch.  When they are feeding their young they get aggressive and it is like a king of the mountain game as they commandeer the bird feeder until they are satisfied or until they get sent on their way by a more aggressive bird.  Bird seed seems pretty cheap compared to the amount of enjoyment we get from watching our birds out the window.

My Paris Dress

© 2002 by Janice Green

ParEEE!  ParEEE!  My daughter, Joni, and I were going to Paris!  A close friend advised that I should dress up in Paris if I wanted to be treated nicely by the locals.  So with my strained budget, I shopped at a special discount dress shop and found a long cotton skirt and shirt-blouse in shades of purple, orange and green.  I set it off with a black cummerbund-like wrap around belt. 

Joni’s idea of dressing up was different than mine, but for a 13 year old, her Paris Hard Rock Cafe shirt, purchased at a tourist shop in Germany, and her stunning black felt hat had her feeling and looking apropos.

Our arrival into Paris wasn’t quite as grand as I had hoped.  Paris was actually only one day of our trip to Europe, and most of our traveling was by train.  Wearing my “Paris dress,” and Joni in her carefully chosen duds, we caught a sleeper train from Frankfurt to Paris where we were assigned bunks in separate rooms.  I spent a nearly sleepless night worrying about Joni and trying to keep my Paris dress as unwrinkled as possible while keeping the camera close with its strap around my neck.

Morning eventually came as we arrived in Paris, a bit ruffled and weary, but we were finally there.  Eager to try out my high school French, I began looking in the train station shops for “une petite carte de Paris” (a little map of Paris) and “un petit dictionnare en Anglais et Français avec les phrases” (a French-English dictionary with sentences).  I found my map, but did not find the dictionary. 

Once these preliminaries were taken care of, we set out on the subway to find the Champs-Elysées.  I was gaining confidence, bit by bit, wearing my Paris dress, speaking “un très peu” French, and using our navigational skills. 

We had hoped to be able to sign up for an English speaking tour, but the tours turned out to be only for US military personnel and their families.  We also learned that the Hard Rock Cafe, the one stop on the entire trip that Joni most had her heart set on, had gone out of business a month or two earlier.

 My French got a workout looking for a “Magic Marker.”  We went into an office store on the Champs-Elysées, but I didn’t know enough French to ask for it by name.  All I could do was ask for a pen that “writes a wide line”.  The store clerk was gracious, but didn’t understand.  Finally she thought of the felt tip markers and we made our purchase.  We used the marker to make paper signs naming the current location and date in our diary notebook. Then we photographed a sign each day so we could better identify our pictures when we got them developed.

Since we were truly “on our own” to explore Paris, we paraded up and down the Champs-Elysées one more time and admired the Arc de Triomphe.  Studying my “petite carte” we returned to the subways and came out at the Eiffel Tower.  We took the elevator to the top where I used up almost an entire roll of film taking pictures in every direction.

We returned to the train station to pick up our luggage, and then caught a taxi to our hotel.  In our room we watched cartoons in French.  We also caught the news, in English, and learned that the singer, Madonna, had jogged through Paris and right past the Eiffel Tower the same day, quite possibly while we were on top.  Given my mad snapping of the camera, I wondered if I might have caught her on film. The next morning we took the taxi again to the train station.  This taxi driver was especially friendly, so I did my best to converse with him in French.  He pointed out an opera house to us, gesturing with an operatic utterance and outstretched arm when I didn’t understand, but since we were leaving Paris shortly we couldn’t check it out.  I tried to tell him about seeing Madonna on TV but I didn’t know the French word for television.  Eventually I tried pronouncing the word, television, with a French accent and he understood me immediately.  I even impressed myself! 

We then caught the TGV to Lyon.  The TGV at that time was the second fastest train in the world, having only recently been outdone by the Japanese.  On our trip to Lyon, I was treated the most rudely of any place we went on our entire trip.  Perhaps because I couldn’t order appropriately in French, or perhaps because I wasn’t properly attired, as I wasn’t wearing my Paris dress again that day, the waiters were refusing to serve us any food on the train.  I was so hungry and getting angrier by the moment.  I think they could have served it to me raw and I could have cooked it on my head–I was steaming!   I did remember how to say “J’ai faim” (I’m hungry) and that at least got a little sympathy out of one waitress, so with the help of another passenger on the train, we were finally able to get some food. 

From Lyon we took another train into Switzerland where we spent two very peaceful nights.  About a week later we flew back to the States.  Again I wore my “Paris dress” to the airport, and as we went through customs, the customs lady looked me over and asked if I had purchased any designer clothing in Paris.  I decided that my Paris dress must have been elegant enough as I strutted on to the jet liner with my head held high.

My Paris dress no longer fits me, especially the skirt.  But it hangs in my closet as if it were an elegant prom dress.  No matter that I bought it at a discount store for less than $20.00.  It’s my Paris dress!

My Paris Dress

Note: I am not really wearing the skirt in this picture.  I tucked the waistband under the belt and held it out at the sides to keep my hips from showing around the edges.

The Lament of the Adult A.D.D.-er

© 2002, © 2004 by Janice D. Green


I’m old enough to know myself
To know what I can and cannot do
Don’t fault me for choosing
Not to beat my head against the wall
Yet one more time
Just to please you.

Some things I do well,
Yes, I truly excel.
While in some things I’m slow
Though by now I know
How to compensate for most
In other ways.

I might not fit your mold
Though you don’t understand why.
I may be slow to catch on
No matter how hard I try
For I’m smart as a whip
In some ways, that’s true.
I don’t choose to be slow
So don’t act like I do.

I do know my mind
So don’t think me unkind
If I say I can’t do what you ask.
If I don’t know me by now
I’d like to know how
You know me so well.
It seems we just met.

It’s your support I need
An encouraging word
Or a helping hand
In places where I fall short
To know that you see
The things I do well
Valuing them and me
Above all the voids.

I’m old enough to know myself
To know what I can and cannot do
Don’t fault me for choosing
Not to beat my head against the wall
Yet one more time
Just to please you!

To Speak or Not to Speak

© Copyright 2004 by Janice Green

Shout it out,
do not pout.
Without a doubt
to go without
speaking your mind
would be unkind
to yourself.

But then again
words spin
in the wind
and when
they return
you may get burned
for your neglect
of respect.

How to Wash Dishes Once a Week

How to Wash Dishes Once a Week
(And Get Away With It!)
© 2002, 2004 by Janice Green
It’s All About Focus…
Part I: How to leave dirty dishes in the sink until the end of the week
Part II: How to wash all those dishes at the end of the week without losing your cool.
I envy people who have spotless homes and can leave their curtains pulled back and their front doors open without shame. I’ve even taken a stab at getting it together with the help of one of the housekeeping experts, “Fly Lady” (www.flylady.com), on the Web.

But for me, I’ve decided it’s a matter of focusing on what is truly important. As a school librarian, I have a whole summer ahead of me, and I don’t want to spend it all trying to catch up on nine months of housekeeping neglect. I love projects. I love to knit and to sew. I enjoy writing and have wanted to get my writing published for years, but something always comes along to snatch my time away. This summer is going to be different!

Part 1: How to leave dirty dishes in the sink until the end of the week

Our children have left the nest so we are only washing dishes for two. If you still have children at home, you must consider a different strategy–the children take turns washing them during the week and you wash them on weekends. If the children are small, put your breakable dishes on a very high cabinet shelf and buy plastic dishes. You may need to involve your husband, especially if you have male children. He must help set the example by taking a turn once in a while. If he protests, remind him that no husband has ever been shot by his wife while washing the dishes!

If your kitchen is conspicuous to your living room or front door, move to another house or put up a three-panel screen to block the view!

Now keep in mind that the purpose in all of this procrastination is to help you focus on your “matter of great importance.” Watching TV or videos doesn’t count, neither does sitting at the computer in chat rooms. If that’s your goal, get off your derriere and wash your dishes–every day!

Plan ahead on meals and make it as easy as possible. Eat boiled eggs and yogurt for breakfast. The pan doesn’t need washing, just empty it out and put it up. Once a week prepare a large pot of goulash or stew. Then cover the leftovers, still in the pot, and put them in the fridge. The next day dip out what you need and heat it up in the microwave. Also keep plenty of hot dogs, pot pies, and TV dinners available to avoid making a big mess cooking. Eat lots of fruit and raw vegetables such as carrots, celery, and tomatoes. Bake potatoes on a napkin in the microwave. Napkins are great throw-away dishes! Eat out once or twice a week where you will have a good choice of vegetables to help compensate for irregularities in your diet.

A major problem in this plan can be one of running out of dishes before the week is up. Take an inventory to be sure you have a reasonable number of plates, bowls, glasses, and silverware. If you don’t have at least service for 8-12, you may need to add to your supply. Keep in mind those dishes you use most and buy extras. You may also have to learn to settle for a plate instead of a bowl for goulash.

It is forgivable to make up a very small amount of dishwater in a bowl or large cup to dawdle out a few clean spoons or a few bowls or glasses. But remember, this is only for the purpose of enabling you to focus on your “matter of great importance.” No fair if you are only watching the soaps.

Managing the sink may become a problem as the dishes pile up. It helps to keep all the dirty dishes on one side of a double sink as much as possible so you can still wash your hands and fill a glass with water without bumping into other dishes. It also helps to make some attempt at keeping them stacked in an orderly way.

OK! So far, so good. You are approaching the end of the week. The second sink is beginning to accumulate dishes and there is probably a shortage of countertop space by the sink as well by now. You are ready for Part II.

Part II: How to wash all those dishes at the end of the week without losing your cool.

Visually size up the mess. Don’t start stacking and re-arranging yet, it can be too overwhelming and you might just walk away and never come back. Before your husband divorces you over this, you must keep your cool.

Locate your largest container, preferably a dirty pan like your goulash pot that holds a gallon of liquid. That is the first thing you will wash. First rinse out any loose mess, and then fill it with hot dishwater. If you don’t have one such container among your dirty dishes, use a clean one. Balance it by setting it at the front of your double sink with the side farthest away from you supported by the divider. That should provide stable support. Then pick out the largest, most obnoxious pieces to wash next. These are the pieces that fill up your dish rack so fast it will make your head swim. Mixing bowls, plastic storage containers, yogurt cups you are saving for temporary flower pots, pans… These pieces are the ones that are always in your way, so don’t save them ’til last, get them washed, and out of your way. It’s amazing how quickly this will trim the rest of the job down to size. This is also a good time to pick out your silverware and wash it, though it can wait with the other dishes as well. Finish washing the big pan, dry it and put it away.

Now you have more wiggle space and you can begin to stack and get your sink ready for more serious dishwashing. Put everything in one side of the sink while you rinse out the other side eliminating the gunky stuff you don’t want in your dishwater. Then fill the empty side with dishwater and transfer your dishes into it beginning with silverware if you haven’t already washed it, then dinner plates, smaller plates and ending with glasses.

While these dishes are soaking, dry the odd dishes and pans in your dish rack. They should have had time to partially dry already, especially if you rinsed them in very hot water. The hotter your dishes get when you rinse them, the faster they dry. Always keep this in mind when you are in a hurry. Don’t dry yogurt cups and stuff like that–give them a shake and set them out on your table to finish drying, or better yet, throw them away–you really don’t need them anyway.

Wash your glasses next and put them steaming hot into the dish rack, bottoms up. As they begin to drip dry, wash the bowls. Then back to the glasses, dry only the outside of the glasses and the top rim and put them right side up in your cabinets. They can finish drying there as easily as in your dish rack and nothing wet is touching the cabinet. Next rinse your bowls in steamy hot water and space them out across your dish rack to maximize the air flow around them as you begin washing your plates. Put plates in the rack so they stand up straight–don’t lean them against one another or they will take much longer to dry. Hand dry only as much as necessary to get them into the rack.

Somewhere at this point in the process you may want to take a short break. Treat yourself to a bowl of strawberry shortcake or ice cream while you can still wash the bowl and spoon. That gives you a head start on next week’s dishes. (Then again, you could just eat out of the container and only have to wash the spoon.) But beware, if you are inclined to forget to return to the task at hand you may need to skip the break, or tie yourself to the faucet with a long string so you won’t forget to return.

If you still have silverware to wash, it should be next. Then catch any odd pieces you may still have overlooked the first time around. Wash the counter tops, the stove top, empty and rinse your sink, and then wipe it dry ’til it shines–for the “Fly Lady!”

The first time you try this, you may have to keep your mind on the method, but once you are practiced up at it you may be able to plan your next great project from beginning to end or think through an article to write about as you wash so many dishes. How do you think I thought this one up?

Keep in mind that the only way you will ever get away with this excuse for putting off washing dishes is that you are making time to do your “matter of great importance.” Religious people fast to find more time to focus on God. Think of this procrastination as a “fast” of a different sort that enables you to focus on something really great. Reach for the stars!!!

Fasting…, hmmm, now there’s a thought… Maybe we can get this down to washing dishes every other week!

A Backwards Party in a Hoghouse

From my Family Heritage Album 

© 2002 by Janice Green

Among my earliest memories of writing my own thoughts and ideas I find myself playing with secret codes when I was in about the second grade.  My older brother, Keith, had been using secret codes to share messages with Ronnie who lived up the road, and I thought it looked like fun.

The easiest code they were writing called for two sheets of paper and a piece of carbon paper.  The trick was getting the papers in the right position before starting to write–an original copy on top, a second sheet under that which would carry the encoded message, and beneath it all was a sheet of carbon paper with the carbon side up.  Then when you wrote the message correctly on the top sheet of paper, it would appear backwards on the backside of the second sheet of paper.  It was a great trick!

I discovered two problems with my newfound trick.  The first was figuring out whom to write a message to since my older brother preferred writing to the neighbor boy, and my younger brothers and sister couldn’t read yet.  Then the second problem was figuring out what to say in my secret message if I did figure out whom to send it to.  This was probably my first encounter with writer’s block.

That’s when the idea of writing an invitation to a party came to me.  Since the writing was all backwards, it seemed perfect for an invitation to a backwards party.  There had been a backwards Sunday School party at church recently where everyone dressed with their clothes on backwards or wrong side out, and with their shoes on the wrong feet.  My family had recently moved to the farm in Rochester, Indiana, that had been in my father’s family for generations.  There was also a new family who had moved into the farmhouse across the road and they had four young children.  We could invite them to join us for a backwards party in our clubhouse.  With Mama’s permission, I wrote the invitation, in code of course, and took it to Mrs. Ogle across the road.  She didn’t understand it, so I showed her how to hold it up to a mirror to read it.  And what joy!  She said they would come to my party!

When the day arrived for the party, the girls, Carol, Doris, and Sandy came in dresses, though I don’t recall what her son, Donnie, wore.  They didn’t wear anything wrong side out or backwards.  I panicked!  I guess in all the excitement I had forgotten to explain to her about the clubhouse. Our clubhouse was nothing more than the old 5 by 7 foot abandoned hog-house behind the barn.  To fix it up for the party we had brushed out the spider webs and used some crepe paper to attempt to make it more festive.  I had also planned an activity or two to play in it.  But I would NEVER wear one of my dresses to play in the clubhouse!  We even had to climb in through the door in the roof!

If it bothered Mrs. Ogle, she never let on.  She let the children take their clothes off and put them back on wrong side out and backwards.  And the party began!  I was quite proud to have pulled off the party, but I also learned something about the importance of including all the important details in an invitation that day.

Writing your family history

I wish I knew what my grandparents were like since all but one died before I was three years old.  What were my great grandparents like? Or my great, great grandfather who I’ve learned was a pastor who rode a horse from one church to another in his circuit?  It is one thing to learn the names of my ancestors, but to me this has little meaning without some indication of their personalities.  I wish I could enjoy a long conversation with them.  Where did they live?  When did they get electricity?  How did they provide clothing for their families? 

For my father’s 90th birthday I made an attempt to put together pictures and information to tell his life story, and I put it into web page form to share with guests at his birthday celebration.  He helped me to write and edit some of his memories as I picked his brain for anything and everything he could tell me.  I thoroughly enjoyed the project; however, it was a temporary disappointment. Daddy’s health was deteriorating to the point that we decided to spread out the birthday celebration over three days with a series of drop-ins so he wouldn’t become too overwhelmed with so many people all at one time.  This plan gave him more time to enjoy all of his guests.  But as it turned out, there was no appropriate time to present the web page, and few guests took the time to sit at my computer and read what was written there.

I transferred the web page onto my father’s computer before I left Murfreesboro to return to my home in South Carolina.  The more I thought about it I realized that the web page was not a good solution for my father as he was no longer able to sit at his computer and navigate through the web page to read what was there.  Around Thanksgiving following my father’s June birthday celebration I began considering the possibility of putting the same files and pictures into a book he could hold while sitting in his recliner, so I began making Google searches for ways to self-publish a book.  It wasn’t long before I discovered Lulu.com, an online book printing (print-on-demand or POD) website, and I realized that I could pull it off in a very short time.  Since I was planning another trip home for Christmas, I hurriedly began the cut and paste process of transferring my web page text and picture files into a Word document that could be uploaded to Lulu.  Within two weeks I had created a file for the first draft of Dad’s book.  I hurriedly uploaded it to Lulu and put in my order for one copy to be delivered to my parents’ home in Murfreesboro before packing my clothes and driving to Tennessee.

Before I left South Carolina I learned that Dad was in the hospital, and  while I was driving through Atlanta I got a call on my cell phone that Dad was taking a turn for the worse and I should drive straight to the hospital as fast as possible.  Dad pulled through that crisis and after my second day in Murfreesboro, I was able to present him with the professional looking first draft of his book which had come in the mail.  Nothing could have made him more proud.  He showed it to every person–visitor or hospital staff–who came into his room explaining that it was a book about himself.  He read the entire book carefully and gave me more information that I added to the finished edition later.  Having taught high school English, he was also a fantastic proofreader. 

Dad never saw the final draft of his book, but he died feeling very important and appreciated.  I believe he lived an extra two weeks on the energy he gained from reading and showing the book to his guests.  Dad died in mid-January.

I share this story because I want to encourage others to write about their ancestors.  There are too many wonderful stories that die every time a person dies, even more so, the oldest among us.  Their lives have gone through so many changes as the world has gone from pre-electricity to laptops, cell phones, I-pods and MP3 players to name only a few recent advancements.  They have lived through the days of horse-drawn carriages and have seen astronauts walk on the moon and repair satellites in space.  Few children born in the last 20 years will ever know what it is like to create their own fun without TV or the latest computer games.  Those who are willing to do so can have a part in preserving the heritage that their children and grandchildren will wonder about when they are older.

Learn about your ancestors while your grandparents, aunts and uncles are still around to tell you about them.  Make a list of things to ask and write a little at a time.  Some items in your list might include:

  • Ancestry/genealogy
  • Home place(s) 
  • Childhood toys, activities, and playmates
  • Childhood chores
  • Clothing
  • School stories
  • Courtship
  • College
  • Jobs/career path
  • Transportation
  • Electricity, lighting, TV…
  • Travel

Use a recorder and take notes.  Write down the events and arrange them to suit your fancy.  Make scans of pictures and include them in your writings.  If you don’t feel like publishing the stories in a book, put them into a ring-binder notebook and continue adding to your collection of stories.  Save your computer files for sharing with family members or for making a book at some date in the future.  I will be sharing some of my memories from my own “Family Heritage Album” in the future as part of my blog.