Christmas with the Yangs -human and feline

Christmas day approached and so did Rosalind to the manger.  Would the baby Jesus be safe?  One year Natasha ran off with one of the sheep!

Whew!  All is safe in Bethlehem, until Natasha decided that the fake snow on the roof looked delicious.  This leads me to an important question:  what’s with all this snow on manger roofs that we’re always seeing on cards and in manager displays?  How much snow do they get in the Mideast?  I know:  it’s a miracle!

 

Christmas day, the girls were absolutely delighted with their presents from my friend, Kathy Healey.  Both Natasha and Rosalind liked the Jackson Galaxy-approved “base-camp mat.”  Natasha was the more taken of the two.  And both had fun with the cat-nipped toys also a part of their feline care package.

 

 

 

 

After human and felines had opened all our presents,  the turkey having been cooked,  it was off to St. Matthews for the Christmas service.  We had a lovely service, with Mother Judith Lee presiding.  The 10:00 service was the third of three services held over two days (Christmas Eve included), so there was a small number of people attending.  That only made the experience even more homey and congenial than usual.  Yang and I both were the lectors!  Yang did the two readings and I did the Intercessions.  We’re lucky to be part of a church that makes us feel at home and happy.

Back home, we put together a wonderful Christmas dinner to share with each other.  I love cooking the Christmas and Thanksgiving meals with Yang.  It’s perfect teamwork, sharing the chores of preparation – and we haven’t dropped a turkey on the floor yet (knock on wood!) ! Of course Natasha was impatient to get her share.  She pulled that turkey right off Yang’s plate!  Little devil!

 

 

 

Here she is getting some turkey in a more acceptable manner – from Yang’s hand.  Kathy Healey take note!

I saluted Yang and the girls before we all tucked in!  It was a yummy meal, suitably stuffing everyone.  And speaking of stuffing, that’s my Mom’s simple but delicious recipe. The squash was my own, with nutmeg, cinnamon, ginger, and cloves, along with walnuts.  The meal was followed by a long walk around Millbury, checking out Victorian houses and Christmas decorations.

The end of the day gave us a glorious sunset, which I have to share with you in some spectacular shots.

‘Twas Two Nights Before Christmas

Two days before Christmas, the temperatures soared to the high forties, almost fifties, in Massachusetts, and the sun came out.  So, Yang and I hopped in the car, determined to take advantage of the improved weather to go a-strolling in Boston.  We parked in the the South End and headed for Beacon Hill.  Along the way, we discovered a new street with some wonderful old buildings.
They weren’t Brownstones but brick and wood.  Lovely, at least on the outside, rows of attached buildings.  We were particularly taken by the carved heads that adorned the outside walls.  Several of the house on the opposite side of the street had a woman’s head over the lintel.  Well, not an ACTUAL woman’s head.  Only a carved one.  These houses, on our side of the street had the carved heads of an Elizabethan, even Shakespearean guy and an eighteenth-century head.  Voltaire?

We had a lovely walk through the Beacon Hill section where we enjoyed the beautiful holiday decorations of greenery in the bleak (well, not so bleak today) mid-winter.  Yang took a picture of this courtyard, done up nicely.  It is also notable because, in the past, it was decorated as a Halloween extravaganza for Beacon Hill’s celebration of that holiday.  Dinner was at Tatte, on Charles Street.  I love walking down Charles Street in the holidays, with it’s neat shops and cafes, all decorated in greenery and old-fashioned Christmas imagery.
Lastly, as the sun had just set, we crossed the Boston Common to get to the Downtown Crossing and take a subway back to our car.  Yang took some wonderful pictures of the skyscrapers and Christmas lights in the trees glowing against the falling night and the fading sun.

 

So long, after  four hours of walking – ouch those knees!  It’s home to a heating pad and Bengay for me – but it was well worth it!

 

Adams Autumn Delight

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Yang and I have some specially favorite rail trails to ride, and one of these is the Pittsfield to Adams line.  Even if we do it once in the spring, we have to do it again in the fall because the colors are so gorgeous!  This year, we made our trip around the Columbus Day Weekend, on Tuesday.  We thought we’d try something different by not going straight from Pittsfield to Adams, but by parking at the dam in the middle and first going down to Adams.  Then we’d come back and having lunch at a restaurant near where we’d parked before continuing on to Pittsfield and returning. As you can see I was able to take some beautiful shots of hill full of colorful trees across the river from the parking area.

It was a gorgeous day, a little colder than the weather had been before, but the sun was out and the air was crisp.  A warmer fall jacket did just nicely and the foliage was superb.  I had to stop here, not only to enjoy the surrounding hills but to inspect what I thought might be a beaver’s dam.

 

 

 

I  couldn’t help stopping to take pictures of some of the most wonderful flaming maples.  It was so cool to see colors that went from crimson flame to soft orange all in one tree!  I noticed that there weren’t too many  scarlet leaves to see as we’d experienced in our first fall ride here. My guess is that those leaves had either lightened in color or fallen.

We ultimately cruised down the hill leading into Adams.  I wished I could have taken shots of the dusky green woods and glacier-abandoned boulders on my right or the tumbling river on my left, but there was no stopping on that race down the hill.  Just before we entered the town, we stopped to take some shots, with the gold, orange, flame  hills shot with evergreen surrounding the town.  The pale azure sky forms a complement of color.  And here’s a most handsome guy in the foreground!

On the other side of the town, the trail runs along where the river has been  channeled into a canal.  Again, the hills embracing the town’s valley make you think that it must be glorious to wake up in the morning or return from work in late afternoon to such gorgeous colors surrounding you.

 

 

 

 

We may have raced down a hill to get into town, but we had to labor up it when we left.  I may not be as young as I used to be, but I made it, albeit panting a bit at the end. I didn’t need a sign to tell me to Stop! Luckily, there ‘s a lovely little bridge where you can  rest. Nice view, isn’t it?

You can tell by the look on my face that it was a loooong ride up.  Thank God for water!

Wouldn’t you know that when we finally got back to the parking lot, it turned out that the restaurant was closed on the only day of the week we were there!  We ended up having to forego the rest of the ride and scout out a place to eat in Pittsfield.  That’s okay, though.  We’d actually conquered the toughest part of the ride.  Even better, we found this great little (literally) Italian restaurant in town, Brooklyn’s Best.  Later, we took some fun pictures while walking off dinner.  We discovered this neat little gargoyle above.  I even made a new friend.  Do you think Rosie and ‘Tasha will share their litter boxes with him?

Birding with the Yangs

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These past few weeks, Yang and I have had some wonderful bird sightings, sometimes, literally, in our own back yard.  Case in point, one Friday, Natasha was meowing at the door all day. Then Rosalind was in the pantry window bird-chattering away, while I worked on my novel in the dining room.  I stopped and suddenly became aware that I’d been hearing a high-pitched hawkish call.  I got up and looked out the window in the dining room, and what did I see in the patch of sea roses, but two Merlins!  One flew away, while the other hung out for some time – before attacking a sparrow who out-smarted him.  I got these pictures through the window because I was afraid going outside would drive my visitor off.  Hence, it’s much blurrier than I’d like.  What do you think of this new guy?  I haven’t seen him since, but I did find an ominous splash of tiny white bird feathers on the nearby back porch.
Our bird feeders have returned to us the usual suspects.  Lots of Titmice and some Chickadees battle four pushy Blue Jays.  We also have two male and one female Cardinal  visiting.  One of the males is pretty aggressive.  While he’s fine with the little birds, he’ll go after the Blue Jays and drive them off!  We also have Nuthatches, Downy Woodpeckers, Goldfinches wearing their winter buff, and even a Yellow-bellied Woodpecker.  One day, a Carolina Wren gave me such a scolding when I came too near the juniper bush!
On a visit with friends on the Cape, we came across one of my favorite, but rarely seen, birds.  At first, seeing the creature head on, I perceived a bird with a brownish head and chest with a white belly forming a “v” into the brown chest.  I claimed I’d never seen such a bird before, until he took flight and I saw the luscious blue.  Bluebirds! A good-sized flock of them!  I noted in my Peterson’s that Bluebirds are usually found year round in New England mainly on the Cape.  How appropriate!  The Bluebird was one of my “must see” birds for the year.  I still need to see an Indigo Bunting, a Piliated Woodpecker, and a Scarlet Tanager.  It’s probably too late in the year for the first and last, but I’m holding onto hope for that Pterodactyl-sized woodpecker.  The Bluebird photos are courtesy of Andrea Krammer.
Today, when we took a morning walk (about 7:00) on the Blackstone River Trail, we saw some interesting birds.  A Great Blue Heron and a black Cormorant were fishing in the same part of the river.  Then, atop a tall dead tree, we saw a bald eagle.  We watched as he sat there majestically for some time before he soared off away from us and the river. We didn’t have the means to get a picture, so I’m borrowing this one below.

I can’t wait to see what the remainder of the year brings!
Source eagle image:  https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Eagle_on_roots_-_crop_3_(430008061).jpg

 

Autumn Colors: “Brightness falls from air.”

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Last week’s wind and rain may  have stripped many local trees of their brilliant foliage, but some golds, rusts, chartreuses, and even scarlets still hang on.  Maybe you would like to enjoy some of that local “color” in its prime?  Yang and I did some traveling around New England, which I will try to document in later blogs.  Still, there were some exciting colors in my own neighborhood.

The colors came a little slowly, at first.  Here, you can see two Mourning Doves enjoying the slow change coming to the distant hills in central Mass.  It was so nice to  be able to look out my bedroom window every morning and enjoy the gradual change form soft to brilliant colors.

I love that you can see not only the varied fall leaves in some photos, but that others let you see the contrast of pure blue October sky with those reds, golds, and rusts.  And note the clouds, white with slate grey outline, racing across the soft blue.  Such a brisk and enlivening day in the weather as well as in the visuals!

Look at this gorgeous blend of colors!  The green firs contrast with the wine of the Japanese Maple, while soft orange segues into a somber rust.

 

 

This Swamp Maple is now almost entirely denuded, having dumped an intimidating load of raking in almost one night.  However, earlier, it was slowly turning this luscious orange gold, so different from what you might usually expect from a Swamp Maple.  When we first moved here, the Swamp Maples all turned a soft lemony yellow, but for some reason their leaves have been morphing  almost as fiery as a Sugar Maple.  Climate change?  Soil changes?  Anyone know?

Speaking of Sugar Maples, every morning, I woke to see ours turn, first, into  flame, then, slowly, into a mellow apricot.  Then with the big storms, I saw it turn nude.  Here’s the tree in its softer hued phase.

Looking down our street, you can see all the most wonderful fall colors come into play. The scarlet of sumac and flame bushes.  The dark rusty red of other trees and the metamorphosis of green into orange glory.  The sky provides a soft azure complement to the color palette.

And here are just some lovely shots for you to enjoy.

Until next year?

Mystery Making with Sisters in Crime in Vermont

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Recently, I had the fun experience of being involved in the Sisters in Crime panel Mystery Making at the Brattleboro Literary Festival in Vermont.  The authors with whom I participated were Sadie Hartwell and Max FolsomLisa Lieberman was our MC. This panel is quite unique, challenging our creativity and drawing in the audience to  craft a mystery with us.  How does it all work?

The audience members are all given index cards and asked to write on a separate card:  a character name, a motive for murder,  a method for murder, and a location.  Each of the three members of the panel circulates with a bags for each category, and the audience puts the appropriate card in the designated bag.  Then, under the direction of our MC, the fun begins. Starting with names, each of the panelists selects a card from the bag, and we have to come up with a character whom we think goes with that name, including a back story and how the character fits into the story.  Sleuth? Suspect?  Victim?  Sidekick?.  Then we go through each of the other bags and create a story around the locations, murder methods, and motives, working with each other and the audience to resolve conflicts and develop the intricacies of a mystery plot. Lisa kept track of the projections on a white board in the front of the theatre. I was so impressed when my husband Yang jumped in from the audience to explain how you could have  a poisoning by tofu!

Initially, I had a little trepidation about whether I would be up to the task, ad libbing a story, but I had a ball! We ended up with an intriguing tale about a vengeful love child, a shady importer, a socialite with a stripper’s past,  a militant health food maven, a deceptive scuba expert, the Nobel Prize, and, of course, poisonous tofu.

 

The Latchis Theatre in Brattleboro was quite the venue!  An art deco theatre, likely from the 1920s, this building had gorgeous statues, mosiacs, carvings, and Spider Man.  How did Spidey get in there?  Listen, bud, he’s got radioactive blood.  He can do whatever he wants.

 

 

Mystery Making is a session that is available for libraries, schools, festivals, etc. through the Sisters in Crime New England Speakers Bureau.  Usually, there is a fee, but under certain circumstances, there may not be.  Check out the web site for details at Sisters in Crime New England.

 

Summer Bounty, Autumn Harvest

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This summer and autumn we had great luck with our vegetables!  In the older garden, we followed the advice of our friends Peter and Eric and put dried grass over the ground around our tomato, pepper, and eggplant seedlings.  They grew tall and strong and gave us plenty of fruit!
Then, as an experiment, Yang created a new garden in the center of our yard where there was abundant sunlight and Yang laid down lots of cow manure and rich soil.I admit the area does look shaded here, but it’s mostly sunny. I also had him sow soy beans in the big patch we used to have for pumpkins in the old garden.  I know that soy beans revitalize the soil, so I’m hoping a few seasons of them will enrich that plot so it can support pumpkins once more.
As a result, between the two gardens, we ended up with multiple servings of peppers, egg plant (still a few left), tomatoes, and soy beans!  We also got several nice gourds and pumpkins from Yang’s garden as well.  We might have had more, but we ended up planting late.  Anyway, we can’t wait for next year to  set up our new gardens, expanded and improved!

We also did much better than expected with our sunflowers, which generally had been brutally assaulted by squirrels, birds, and bugs.  I bough one seedling for Yang’s garden that shot up to over seven feet!  These seeds that I planted managed to dodge predators and provided a beautiful glow in the sunset. I’ll be experimenting with buying seedlings and planting my own seeds again next year.  The birds have since finished off the seeds from these flowers.

 

 

 

I hope you enjoyed the show!

 

Adventures at Tower Hill

Last Sunday, I managed to take a day off from working on novel #4 to join my two buddies MaryLynn Saul and Judy Jeon-Chapman for a lovely nature walk.  Judy suggested that we visit Tower Hill Botanic Garden in  Boylston, Ma – one of my favorite places. We also met Judy’s friend, the bubbly Christina, along the way – who shared a lovely picture of the four of us with me.  In addition to wonderful plants and flowers, the Garden also has intriguing wind sculptures integrated into the greenery (amongst other colors). You can see one example behind MaryLynn and Judy here.
I also couldn’t help photographing some flowers that intrigued me, though there are too many to record.  But I do love the blue color of these lovely blossoms.  Are they large Forget-Me-Nots?  I’d love to have them in my garden.  I think they like shade.  I was also delighted to see these brilliantly scarlet flowers.  I had posted photos I’d seen of similar flowers when on a bike ride once, in hopes of getting an identification.  Several of my friends pronounced them Cardinal Flowers, and the card underneath these confirmed that i.d.  Problem solved!

 

The Gardens also possess a lovely wooded trail, filled with artfully placed sculpture that make you feel as if you had wandered into a Renaissance pastoral play or novel.  Here’s Cupid, ready to fire off his arrows to spark the typical green- world love tangles. The glorius rays of the sun glint through the leaves, but will not burn us
An ancient Greek warrior peers out at us from the lost past, before this return to the Golden Age when honey and acorns dropped from trees.
Enjoy the ruins in which to recline and play your pipes or sigh away the hours in languid otium.

Gracefully sculpted urns are always conducive to pastoral ease – especially if they might hold delectable libation – and I’m not talking Moxie here.
My fellow mystery readers and writers might look at this picture and question, “What’s this?!  What are they looking at?! Trouble in paradise?  A murdered corpse discovered in the woods?”  Sorry, mystery lovers.  It was just a sign about fairies in the woods.  If it makes you feel better, maybe they’re referring to traditional Medieval and Renaissance Fairies.  Like this!
We also found this lovely rotunda with the words “Peace” inscribed on it.  I thought it would be hilariously ironic for MaryLynn and I to stand under the word and pretend to strangle each other – she and Judy decided otherwise.  Not everyone shares the Healy sense of humor. So, here you have a nice picture of MaryLynn and I before the structure, me holding the dahlias that Judy had purchased from the Dahlia Show that day. They actually go with my blouse.

 

 

All images,  from author’s collection except:

1.the header from Christine Yen

2) the public domain image of the deamon fairy from:  https://www.ancient-origins.net/myths-legends/fantasies-evil-spirits-faeries-medieval-imagination-007445

More Avian Adventures

Yang had his nice camera out over the past few weeks and got some beautiful shots of lots of birds on our feeders and in our yard.  Here’s one type that I hadn’t seen before, the Pine Siskin.  At first, I thought these guys were just House Finches, but I noticed they had yellow tips on their wings and tail feathers.  That was different.  I looked them up in my trusty Peterson’s – sure enough, I realized we had some Pine Siskins.  I haven’t seen these guys for a few weeks, but we enjoyed them during their visits.
You can also see that though they be little, they are fierce!  This P.S. was having a nice snack.

However, surrounded by pushy Grackles, Mourning Doves, and Sparrows, he struck a blow for Pine Siskins (and dinner) everywhere by giving the others hell!

He seems to get along much better with the male Rosebreasted Grosbeak.

And speaking of Grosbeaks, Yang got some wonderful shots of the male.  Usually, we have at least one pair and at least one unattached male.  That’s how things worked out this year.  The Grosbeaks come in late spring and usually keep attending our feeders until early or mid-July.  This year, I don’t remember seeing any of them after the first week of July.

If you like your birds red, white, and black, Yang also got some shots of a Hairy Woodpecker.  As opposed to other years, we hadn’t seen many of these birds in 2019.  We did, however, see lots of Downy Woodpeckers.  This guy seemed to be not only lovin’ the suet, but looking for more!!

 

 

 

 

 

 

If you want more Woodpecker types, here are some shots that Yang took of a Flicker in our yard.

 

 

 

He loves hunting in the grass!
Like me, he is now taking off!  Enjoy your own backyard aviary!