Saturday, August 1, 2015

Camping with the Kiddos

I don't want to have children.  Fortunately, neither does Matt.  Thank heavens we matched up on that one.  There are lots of ways to live, many opportunities to choose from and I am grateful for it.  We're all so different.  While I enjoy teaching kids things--watching the connections being made in their little minds--I also desire the flexibility and independence that Matt and I enjoy in our child-free life together--not to mention the quiet.  I enjoy spending time with children very much though, babies especially.   I love babies.

They're sure not babies anymore, but Matt and I had a good time on our recent campout with my niece and nephew (and my mom, too).  We took the kids birding where they were eager to learn the names of the different birds we pointed out (Eli made me spell them out so he could write out a list) and watch them through the binoculars.  We gave them tips on the way to toast marshmallows without blackening them.  We talked about ants and anthills.  We explored energy together--zapping each other and making our hair stand on end--at the museum.  It was great.

We all camped at a place where I camped countless times as a little girl.  It was neat to make similar memories with the next generation of my family, particularly with my Washington boy, Eli, who seems to hold his Montana memories quite dearly to his heart.  Matt and I also, sans kiddos, enjoyed a visit to nearby hot spring spa, two birding excursions, and a night out to the theatre.  It was a great trip all around.  Just as summer should be.
Toasting marshmallows and enjoying the fire at dusk.
Swimming and playing at the dredge cuts.
Playing games at camp.
Taking a walk to the museum.
Playing at the museum.
Sleeping Buffalo Hot Springs.

Friday, July 31, 2015

52 Weeks of Reading - July

And so ends another month!  And so begins a monthly recap of reading!  I managed to finish a solid eleven 200+ page books this month.
July 1 - 4
*NONE

July 5 - 11
*The Saffron Kitchen by Yasmin Crowther
*Pig by Andrew Cowan
*Fat Cat by Robin Brande
*Stuff White People Life: The Definitive Guide to the Unique Taste of Millions by Christian Lander

July 12 - 18
*El Deafo by Cece Bell
*Alex and Me:  How a Scientist and a Parrot Discovered a Hidden World of Animal Intelligence--and Formed a Deep Bond in the Process by Irene Pepperberg

July 19 - 25
*The Postage Stamp Vegetable Garden, completely revised edition, by Karen Newcomb
*American Furies: Crime, Punishments, and Vengeance in the Age of Mass Imprisonment by Sasha Abramsky

July 26 - 31
*Hitler Youth: Growing Up in Hitler's Shadow by Susan Campbell Bartoletti
*Breasts: A Natural and Unnatural History by Florence Williams
*Drawings by Kurt Vonnegut
Gosh, I read a lot of good books this month.  I guess I'd have to say my favorite was Alex and Me by Irene Pepperberg.  This book blew my mind about how smart non-human animals are.  And that is saying something since as I certainly thought they were smart before.  This parrot though!  Seriously!  I was unprepared for such avian cleverness.  There is a scene where the scientist, Irene, is trying to run some tests (identifying different colors and shapes) on Alex.  Alex doesn't want to do the tests anymore and so keeps giving false answers.  Frustrated, Irene puts him in his room for the night and, like a little kid, Alex immediately rescinds his bad behavior with an "I'm sorry," followed by the correct answer and a plea to "come back!"  It was so amazing and heart-warming.  Even if you don't read the book you should watch this video.  How remarkable!  I think so many people think animals are dumb.  Not me.  I think they have a totally different kind of intelligence.  This intelligence is especially notable in animals that are encouraged in it.  Its interesting how parrots can help up bridge this gap in understanding because they can be trained to speak and understand our human languages!  This also lead me to the realization that parrots speak any language they are taught!  I'd only heard them speak English before, but a quick youtube search brings up videos of birds speaking GermanRussian, JapaneseFrench, and more.  Birds are so cool.

The collection, Drawings, by the late, great Kurt Vonnegut was great.  I love that guy.  He was so quirky, creative, and intelligent.  There were two introductions--one artsy and one personal.  The former was a bit over my head.  The latter was written by Kurt's daughter, Nanette, and was tremendous.  Kurt's doodles are sometimes simple and other times wildly complex.  Of course, there was a section devoted to self-portraits.  I love his self-portraits, his abstract and geometrical renderings, his appreciation of humanity.

I also enjoyed Stuff White People like a great deal.  It made me laugh out loud while it made fun of me.  Turns out, I like a lot of the stuff white people like!  Ha!  Of course, its all generalities, but as I was reading there were only a couple of entries that I thought were way off.  Even if I don't like Oscar Parties, say, I have friends and family that do!  Its sarcastic and caustic at points making it, in my opinion, a fun, satirical read.

There weren't really any bad books this month, though I hit a slew of coming of age novels that were not stellar.  All were fine books, don't get me wrong, but they didn't wow me as some of the others this month did.  More two or three stars instead of four or five.  The Saffron Kitchen and Pig were both sort of coming of age novels involving race and place.  The Saffron Kitchen is set in Iran and Pig in Scotland.  The Saffron Kitchen made me ever so grateful for the family and culture I was born into--what a blessing!  Fat Cat was the story of a girl who tries to go paleo (in diet, transportation, cosmetics, etc.) for a science project with the latent purpose of sticking it to a boy who broke her heart.  The love story was pretty cliche, but I liked how the female lead was really into science and scholarship.  She also becomes a vegetarian by the end and saves a vegetarian restaurant for closing.  Ha!  Veg fiction!  I didn't know that when I picked up the book.  It was just a coincidence.

El Deafo was probably my favorite of the coming of age stories  This time it was about a young girl who is rendered deaf following an illness told in the form of a graphic novel .  Another book to make me count my blessings, including the ability to hear clearly.    It also made me think of my step-father who grew up deaf.  He was quite adept at getting by in the hearing world.  I suppose one has to be!  Since it was a graphic novel it was a very quick read.  I really like graphic novels.  I was glad to see my library had gotten a new one.

American Furies was horrifying and thought provoking.  What is the aim of a prison?  To rehabilitate or to punish?  I spent a lot of time thinking about that.  It seems to change with the political and social winds.  I don't have the answer, but I do not think that three strikes laws and juveniles being sent to adult prisons is going to solve our crime problems.  I know its not so simple, but if we spent the money we do on the prison complex on social reform maybe we would need so dang many of them.  There were some staggering statistics in there.   It was a fascinating historical glimpse into the justice system and a chilling cautionary warning, too.  It made me reflect on a book I read earlier this year called Shakespeare Saved My Life which centered around educational efforts in solitary confinement.

Speaking of horror and staggering statistics, the book, Hitler Youth, was also quite filled with them.  I mean, I think it would be hard to write a book on the topic without that being the case.  This book was a Newbery Honor Award winner and quite compellingly told the story of the rise of Hitler, the propaganda campaign among its citizens, especially the young, and the role they played in the ensuing war and holocaust.  It is amazing how fast it all happened and how openly.  In the book the author reports that at one point more that 80% of German young people were in the Hitler Youth.  Its incredible to me to imagine that sort of group uniformity and solidarity.  If only it had been used to do something good.

Breasts: A Natural and Unnatural History was quite good.  Just the sort of narrative non-fiction that I enjoy.  I learned quite a bit about the miraculous breast and all it can do.  Its the only human organ that does most of its growing after we're born, for example.  Or that while chimpanzees chests will swell while they're breast feeding their young due to swelling milk glands, humans are the only primates that have breasts all the time.  The book was also rather horrifying, in its way, when the author started delving into the connections between environmental pollutants and breast health.  That part made me want to get rid of everything plastic and covered with flame retardant...

I already gave a review of The Postage Stamp Vegetable Garden.  As such the only thing I will add is that I read every single word in the book.  I don't count a book on my list unless I do.  I think Matt thought I was a little crazy.  He said that reference, how-to type books don't necessarily need to be read in order, cover to cover.  In general, I agree, but not when I was reviewing the book.  I could see what he meant though.  When I need help sewing I just look things up in the index of my sewing book--I don't read the whole thing!  It made me think that perhaps I should keep a list of the books I utilize for reference as well as those I actually read cover to cover.  Maybe.
Weeks passed: 31
Books read: 48*
*With 48 books read I am already at 92% of my goal and there are still 153 more days left in the year.  I am well on track.

Recaps for the previous months of the challenge can be found by following these links:  January, February, March, April, May, June.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Stilts

I saw my first Black-necked Stilt in June.  Matt saw his first in July.  These are some incredible looking birds.
Their long, slim body is adorned in black and white plumage which is quite striking and fancy--like a little bird tuxedo.  They stroll around on these absurdly long, skinny, bright red legs.  Legs so long the birds got called stilts.  Its fitting, really.  When they fly their red legs stick straight out behind them.  It is hilarious and awesome to watch.
When we crossed paths with them in July they had little fluff-balls of chicks with them, too.  The littlest chick appeared to be walking on the surface of the water--though I am sure it was really so light it was balancing on bits of plant material floating on the surface.  It was so tiny!  Its remarkable how babies grow and change.  I mean, its hard to fathom that this little unobtrusive ball of feathers will someday transform into the sleek, leggy, beautiful adult wading nearby.  Of course, the same would be set of our small, red-faced, wrinkly human babies, too, I suppose!  Cute, exciting, and remarkable either way.
They're very cool birds, these stilts.

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Birding

We got some great birding in last weekend.  We stopped at the Bowdoin National Wildlife Refuge near Malta, MT on our way to see a play at the historic Fort Peck Theater.  The birding around Fort Peck was also excellent.  We logged several new-to-us birds.
We saw:
Baltimore Oriole
We saw this pretty fella while eating a sandwich in a city park in Malta.  It was such a delightful surprise for our lunch hour.
Cedar Waxwing
 Franklin's Gull
 American White Pelican
 Black-necked Stilt--a first for Matt!
 American Avocet
 Western Kingbird
 Chestnut-collared Longspur--a first for both of us!
You'd have to click to enlarge the photo to start getting an impression of the cool coloration on this bird.   This rather diminutive bird was possibly our biggest source of excitement on the birding trip.  They're just cool looking--and always seem to be hiding in the grass.
 Eastern Kingbird
This is a cool shot in that its actually of a Western Kingbird (left) sharing a fence line with an Eastern Kingbird (right).  This is in a part of the country where their ranges overlap.
Yellow Warbler
Do you see him?  Yellow Warblers are so tiny!
 Brown Thrasher-a first for both of us!
 Downy Woodpecker
 American Goldfinch
This male American Goldfinch (left) seemed to be feeding his mate (right).  This is a common bird habit which demonstrate the ability to provide for her and a brood of babies.  Its sweet and fun to watch.
We also saw:
Turkey Vulture
American Robin
Mallard
Western Meadowlark
Ring-billed Gull
Tree Swallow
Double-crested Cormorant
Red-tailed Hawk
Common Yellowthroat--a first for us both!
Gray Catbird
Bank Swallow--a first for Matt!
Osprey
Common Raven
American Crow
Red-winged Blackbird
Yellow-headed Blackbird
Eared Grebe
Western Grebe
Yellow-billed Magpie
Killdeer
Mourning Dove
Northern Flicker
House Wren
Common Merganser
Long-billed Curlew
Wilson's Phalarope
Common Nighthawk
American Coot
White-faced Ibis
Ruddy Duck
Willet
We took my niece and nephew along for a few of our birding walks.  Eli had me help him write out a list of the birds he'd seen--I had to spell them if they were tricky, like Double-crested Cormorant.  Keleigh asked me, "How do you know what they all are?!"  I told her, "practice, practice, practice...."  They were cute looking through their binoculars and we were pleased to share our birdlove with them.