Category Archives: massachusetts

An Autumn Walk in St. John’s Cemetery

Between Halloween and fall foliage, October seems the perfect month to post blogs on my cemetery visits.  St. John’s Cemetery is one of my favorites, a beautiful rural setting that was just starting to put on display its lovely autumn colors.  Unlike the rolling hills of some Romantic-style cemeteries, the layout is fairly flat, but it has a plethora of  old trees providing shade in summer and wonderful colors in the fall.  A river runs alongside with all kinds of  brush that serves as home to many different birds.
There is plenty of beautiful statuary in this cemetery, as well.  Some of it shows magnificently against the backdrop of autumn’s leafy splendor.  Here we’ve got Jesus.
And here we have a sad woman shouldering the sacred cross, perhaps striving to lift the burden from Christ’s shoulders with repenting her sins.
There are so many beautiful statues here celebrating Catholic figures of holiness-many of which you won’t find in non-Catholic cemeteries.  We found many different versions of the Virgin Mary.  These are some  especially interesting ones.  This monument evokes the Infant of Prague motif.

 

 

These other two images of Mary are intriguing as well.  The first figure reminds me of Our Lady or Lourdes or of Fatima.  The second shows her crowned Queen of Earth and the Heavens, with the Christ child.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The images of angels were fascinating, too.  I love this relief that seems to show Saint Michael, sword in hand, ready for Someone Special.

 

 

 

 

 

However this exquisite carving of an angel struck me the deepest.  I’m including more than one shot, I’m so impressed with it.  Look at the deep contemplation in the features.  What is this angel thinking?  Brooding on the fall of some many angels and humans once bright with promise?  Or is there a trace of a smile in the subtle shaping of his cheeks and lips?  Take time to delight in how the material of his gown seems to drape gracefully as a part of his body.  What does he hold tucked behind?  A sword or a staff?  The features are so gracefully, believably carved that not a single Dr. Who fan would blink in his presence.

 

I’m just not sure who this saint is.  He’s in monk’s robes, so it can’t be Joseph-and no baby Jesus. There are no animals around, so it wouldn’t be Saint Francis.  No baby Jesus on his shoulder-not St. Christopher.  Maybe St. Anthony or St. Peter?  He is holding a cross, the way Peter was martyred, but what about the skull?

 

 

There are other wonderful statues that are not of Saints, much in line with what you’d expect in any cemetery.  Behold this piece that looks like a cathedral.

 

 

 

 

Then there are some lovely statues of women, like this one of a mother reading from a book to her daughter. The book is probably a Bible, but I like to think of it as something by C. Brontë.  Charlotte was actually pretty spiritual.
You can also find some impressive examples of Celtic Crosses in this cemetery, some with intricate relief designs carved on them.  Below are two examples I found captivating.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The river that parallels one side of this cemetery hosts many wonderful critters.  We’ve seen ducks and a Great Blue Heron here.  Once we even saw a muskrat swim gaily upstream.  The brush and trees along the banks host flocks of Robins, Chickadees, Vireos, Phoebes, Catbirds,  and King Birds.  In the summer, we’ve seen Orioles and woodpeckers flying and perching on the imposing tress on the grounds.
Speaking of birds, one time we showed up in the cemetery too late to be allowed to continue our walk.  As we were driving slowly toward the main road to leave, Yang asked me, “What’s that on the tomb stone ahead?”  It was a great big red-tailed hawk!  The pictures aren’t perfect because it was night and we took them through the windshield of our car, but they are pretty darned neat.  I especially like the one where Mr. or Ms. Hawk does an almost 180 with the head and stares right at us.  Yikes!
Lastly, this gravestone raised  an important question for me.   If Curley’s here, where did they plant Moe and Larry?  Or Shemp?

 

Early Autumn Beauty

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Yang and I started our foliage forays early this year.  By the end of September, you could find some lovely colors if you looked in the right places.  My first description is on the Blackstone River trail near Holy Cross in Worcester.  We went just before dusk to avoid running into too many people.  We saw some really nice colors on the boardwalk that runs along the river and through some marshland.
Here  the plants in the marsh are turning lovely shades of tangerine, gold , and crimson, highlighted by the still green plants around them.  All kinds of vireos, sparrows, and other small birds flitted from swaying stalk to trembling branch.  The misty grey of twilight lent a mystical atmosphere

 

Walking into the woods of the trail, you see saffron, ruby, and orange flame emerge through the dark green trees not yet turned.

 

 

 

 

Here, you see chartreuse and tardy green leaves, segueing into flames of orange and crimson.  Beautiful!

 

 

 

 

As the season progressed, we had a chance to go further afield, journeying to a trail outside of Peterborough, New  Hampshire.  Our walk through the soft light of green woods brought us to a lookout on a large rock extruding into the river.  Looking back, we could see the trees at the water’s edge were gradually putting on their  yellow and  orange finery.
Looking in the opposite direction on the the river, you could see the lovely colors mutedly reflected in the water. At one moment we heard a splash across the water, an otter-sized splash, but alack, we never caught sight of the slick furry critter.
I did manage to get a shot of this handsome guy enjoying the beauty of the spot!
Then it was back into the woods with soft dreamy light slipping through the trees.

 

 

 

 

 

 

I thought this cleft rock was pretty neat!  Glaciers leave behind the darnest things!

 

And how about this cutie?  What kind of a frog do you think this is?  I’m not sure whether Yang or I took this shot.   Yang couldn’t detect him a first, for his  (the frog’s)  colors blent into the undergrowth so perfectly.  I guess that’s the idea!

 

 

The walk out was about 2  & 1/2 miles, so when we returned to the rock outcropping on the river, we must have covered about four miles.  Needless to say, we took a rest.  I love this shot of the river.  Doesn’t it almost look like a painting?  It’s a nice image with which to leave you!

 

Adventures of a Pumpkin Grower: Harvest Time

My last post was about the denizens growing in my pumpkin patch.  Now, I can write you about the harvest.  I still have one large orange pumpkin on the vine, and two embryos actually got fertilized about a week ago-who knows if they’ll make it.  However, most of the others are now decorating my house!
Number One Son is here in the living room, decorated appropriately for Halloween.  He may not be the biggest of the family, but he’s the brave first to be fertilized and survive.  He’s right next to the television, so we can see him all the time.

 

 

 

Here is Number Two Son on the dining room table-another place that we spend a lot of time.  He’s a bit bigger than his elder brother, and he is strong and handsome.  You can also see he shares the table with a lovely striped gourd.  Each of these was the only survivor on its respective vine, but both do the mother plant proud.  They certainly fit nicely with the Halloween decorations, don’t they?

And speaking of handsome gourds in the dining room, here’s this gorgeous  melange of orange and green.  He’s a perfect fall color!  The first gourd on his vine grew for a while, but didn’t make it.  This chap grew up next, initially hanging from the fence where the vine had climbed.  His healthy form soon brought the vine down to earth.  Beautiful color and shape, wouldn’t you say?
I have already harvested three more orange pumpkins.  I suspect they are sugar pumpkins, but they are just too pretty to eat.  Two of them, I have put by the fireplace with a white pumpkin and a green striped one.  I think they make a neat combo.  How about you?

 

The white pumpkin was actually attacked by a grub and has a hole in it, but a little peroxide seems to have ended the invasion.  I put the side with no wounding out to face the world.  Good-sized guy, isn’t it?  When we harvested it, we found it also had a local root coming off the stem.  I guess that’s how it got enough nutrition to grow this big.

 

There’s also this good sized pumpkin or squash that’s green with stripes.  I don’t know what kind it is, but it sure is pretty.  Does anyone out there know?  I’d love to hear from you so I could find out what I have.  I wonder if there was some cross pollination that created a hybrid?

 

Remember the runaway/escapee?  That pumpkin grew into a real beauty.  There’s even an almost bluish cast to it’s white skin.  Is this a Lumina or  is it another breed of pumpkin?

 

Last but not least, remember I said I’d harvested three orange pumpkins?  Well, the third one is not on display at home. Instead, I brought it to the grave of my favorite actor, Claude Rains and left it as a token of esteem.  Presents you work to create yourself are usually the best!

 

Tales of a Pumpkin Grower

I was surprised to realize recently that I have been growing pumpkins for almost thirty years!  And it all started by accident.  One early summer afternoon, when I lived in Connecticut, I was sitting  in my yard under some shady trees with a friend, when I noticed we had these big orange flowers growing in the composting area.  I had no clue what they were.  When I asked my friend, she said they looked like squash flowers-but I hadn’t planted any squash seeds.  Yang was away in China visiting his family, but when he checked in with me by phone, he said those were probably from the Halloween pumpkins we’d put in with the compost last fall.  He told me to check for a bump under some of the flowers, which I sure enough found:  embryos on the female flowers.  I even learned how to pollinate the female with male flowers.  Happily, we ended up with some giant pumpkins for Halloween that fall. My pumpkin growing with Yang was off to a successful start!
Eventually, we had to re-purpose that area, but we created another pumpkin garden next to the house.  They loved it there!  We had gourds, pumpkins, decorative squash and even hulu!  You can see how the vines spread out and took over. The land was so rich we had the best of luck growing.  You can also see that in my thirties, I was a natural blonde-just saying.

When we moved to Auburn, we had a lot of land, but not all of it was good for growing vegetables.  Still, after the first year, we did get some nice pumpkins and gourds, as well as other veggies (peppers, tomatoes, eggplants, soy beans, corn).  However, the earth in the first garden we had started to wear out after almost twenty years.  About three years ago, we got NO pumpkins or gourds.  Yang decided to do something.
He developed a circular garden in the middle of our large lawn, filling it with lots of good earth and cow manure.  Last year, we got plenty of veggies and some outstanding pumpkins and gourds.  One white pumpkin is still whole and unrotted over a whole year later.  Of course, Yang also circled the garden with a fence and chicken wire at the bottom to keep out the critters.  This year he expanded the garden and replaced about six inches of bad earth with cow manure and good soil.  Boy did we do well with eggplant, peppers, tomatoes, and PUMPKINS!

 

Here’s Number 1 Son, the first pumpkin to get fertilized (thanks to me), as well as the first pumpkin to be picked.  He’s not the biggest, but your first born is always special.  He came off the vine of some seedlings that we bought.

 

 

 

We also have a sister to last year’s big white pumpkin.  I think this one might even grow to be bigger than last year’s.  This pumpkin grew from seeds that I saved from an early pumpkin.  When I buy pumpkins for decoration, I always look for good “breeding stock” from which I save the seeds for growing the next generation.

 

I’m not sure what the heck this one is.  It’s green with stripes.  I don’t remember buying seeds or saving any that looked like this one, so it’s probably some kind of hybrid.  If anyone recognizes the type, please let me know.  Maybe it’s part squash?

 

 

We bought a bunch of pumpkin seedlings from Howe’s in Paxton, and I also planted seeds from previous years’ pumpkins of a similar variety.  I did plant the seedlings and the seeds in different quadrants, but the vines just went wild, so it’s hard to tell which is the source for these beautiful orange pumpkins.  this one, I can trace back to a seedling, but the others are hard to tell.
Some of the plants are more adventurous than others.  This guy snaked through the fence and is now growing wild and free (and subject to rabbits and ground hogs) in the yard.  What a rebel!

 

 

 

As you may have noticed, we have some sunflowers in this garden.  I successfully planted delphinium and bachelor buttons, then said, “What the hey!” and dropped in two sunflower seeds.  We’d had a mammoth sunflower that I bought last year, towering about seven feet.  Well, one of my seeds (either from a package or that sunflower) has shot way up.  Here it is next to me (I’m 5’3″) for scale.  So, I hope your growing season this year, despite the drought, was as successful as ours!

 

Touring the Gardens and Meeting the Animals at Chez Yang

So, summer is here and all the flora and fauna is out in full force at chez Yang.  We have plenty of avian visitors, as well as furry beasts.  The flowers are coming along nicely – or were until the insects and fungi started to stage their voracious assaults.  Anyway, lets take a tour!
Yang and I were joking that we have about 14 gardens spread around our property.  He set out to improve some of them this year.  We had a triangle of standing flox, dianthus, balloon flowers, and black caps, with a delphinium and two fox gloves returning from last year – all overrun with God knows what.  Yang cleared out what we didn’t want, and we added new delphinium and foxgloves, transplanted some more delphinium, and rounded things out with asters and ageratum.   Above is how the plot looked initially.
Now, the foxglove in the foreground is literally (and I know what the word actually means) taller than I am.  The delphinium from last year has also shot up.  The other foxglove from last year is also doing well, despite a slow start (left of big foxglove).  The black caps are ready for harvest – I’ve already had black cap and walnut scones and black caps with ice cream.  There are more to be plucked.  Sorry, I didn’t take the pictures earlier, so that you could see the flowers in full bloom.  Here’s a close up of the tip of the tallest foxglove, where the flowers remain.  The bees love this garden!
This is the peony garden on the other side of the house, named for – you guessed it! – pink peonies given us by Rosemary Adams years ago.  You’ll notice that there is chicken wire around this garden. Why?  That gets us to the fauna flourishing this year.   We’ve been sighting innumerable rabbits around our property and that of the neighbors on either side of us.  Apparently, they believe delphiniums are delicious!  Especially, the expensive ones you send away for in the mail.  Grrrr! Anyway, here you see one of the wonder bunnies taking a sun bath alongside a Flicker hunting for her dinner in my neighbor’s yard, right next to my fish pond.  Sociable little devil, isn’t s/he?  Some days, I look out in the backyard and see one of the rabbits, some birds, and a chipmunk or two amicably chomping away on clover and seeds or bouncing about under the bird feeder there.  It’s like living in a Disney movie.
 
Speaking of chipmunks, we’ve got quite a few digging holes and taunting my cats in the yard, especially when the girls are looking out the window.  Natasha is particularly in  Ahab mode, sitting patiently outside a hole or drain spout in the yard, waiting for the munk to make a fatal mistake.  She nabbed one once, but we managed to get it free of her.  Our reward will be more holes, devoured sunflower shoots, and gnawed planks on our porch.  Behold what Natasha calls Nemesis.

With all these evil fur balls waiting to decimate everything we’ve planted, Yang created a larger central vegetable garden, fortified by a wire fence and chicken wire.  We’ve got pumpkins, peppers, eggplants, bachelor buttons and delphinium growing in here – yes, we know we can’t eat the last two.  We even have some volunteer tomatoes growing from last year.  This fence is DEFINITELY necessary.  Several times, I looked out to see a rabit sitting outside the fence and staring in.  Another time, I found a big pile of rabbit scat directly outside the gate (which is tight to the fence and flush to the ground).  I know wascally wabbits when I see them.  I’ll keep an eye out for heavy equipment deliveries from ACME.

The birds are less destructive visitors, and they enjoy the gardens – especially the ones with feeders.  Here is an oriole feasting on orange halves.  I haven’t seen any in a few weeks or even heard any in the woods.  Perhaps they have moved on to their next migratory stop.  The catbird loves our suet feeder, and loves to hang out on various perches around the gardens.  We caught him in is ablutions.  You can enjoy a commentary from me and Natalie Wood in Inside Daisy Clover.
We also have window boxes filled with lovely color combinations of flowers. Some flowers have passed now, but the pots and window boxes, on the whole, most are still a pleasure to see.

 

 

 

Our roses have done nicely as well.  Years ago, I bought about four sea-rose bushes and now they have spread to create a slope of beautiful scent and sight behind our house.

 

 

 

One of my favorites is a single yellow rose given us by my mother-in-law about twenty years ago.  Every year we get at least one bloom. Lately, it has only been the single bloom.  However, this year, that single bloom was the biggest I’ve ever seen on the bush.  Beautiful, isn’t it?

 

Happy Gardening!

Backyard Birds 2

Right after I did my last backyard bird posting, wouldn’t you know that Mr. and Mrs. Grosbeak made their return.  And they were ultimately joined by some exciting friends.  But enough about the friends later – first, let’s get to the Grosbeaks.
First, I saw the female and managed to get some nice shots of her.  I never noticed this on females before, so I’m not sure if this gal is unique, but you can see from these pictures that this gal has some lovely orange coloring, analogous to where her hubby has his rose breast – a broad splash, with a narrow taper. There may be another couple, because I believe that I have also seen a female this year without the orangey coloring. I’ll have to keep my eyes peeled.  We’ve been having Rosebreasted couples visit us for more than five years.  At first, we had only females, then one year males joined in.  One year we had two males.  We may have more than one couple as it is, but I just haven’t seen all four at the same time.
Anyway, is it me or is this girl giving Yang a smile?

It’s fun to watch the male and female come and feed together.  They seem to prefer the single copper-topped feeder.  I usually hear one of them singing, then, there they are, having a meal out!  I love to hear them sing in the trees as well.  I can’t help wondering if they have any nests nearby.  I do know that the pair with the gal in the peach-colored breast feathers makes the round with some of my neighbors, as well.  According to the Cornell Ornithology site, both parents brood the children, with the Daddy often singing away in the nest.  Here’s a link for more information on these wonderful birds.  I also love to watch the males fly away, with the flash of black and white on their wings like a special optical effect.
I have also noted that these birds can be pretty aggressive.  No Grackles, Starlings, Mourning Doves, or Blue Jays better mess with them when they want to feed.   Who you Lookin’ at?
Another fairly aggressive beauty that I found on my feeder this year was the Baltimore Oriole.

Yes!  We do have Orioles this year! Usually, one or so will cruise through in May, take a look at our suet and seeds, then turn up his beak and take it on the wing.  This year, I got wise and noted how people placed their orange halves for Oriole delectation.  It worked!  I cut the oranges  across the equator, then impaled them on the trellis for our Morning Glories.  Now I can’t keep the Orioles away.  We have two adult males, one juvenile male (below), and two females, one orange and one yellow (yellow to the right).  And woe betide the Oriole who wants to join another Oriole at the juice bar, even if it’s a female with a male  or they can sip from different halves.  Orioles may have lovely calls to announce their coming, but their aggression chatter is NOT soothing.  We even had an Oriole/Grosbeak confrontation – Mr. Grosbeak won.  Still, if two Orioles can rarely feed together, the disappointed party will usually go to town on the suet. One time, Yang looked up to see a male Oriole perched on the window ledge and staring in  at him!

 

If all this weren’t exciting enough, on three separate days we had a hummingbird on the hummingbird feeder.  I couldn’t tell you if it’s the same one or not, but there have been repeat appearances.  Yang was even able to snap some photos, as you can see – well, you can see better if you click on the photo.  I normally don’t see these guys until July, but I’d been hearing on FB about all kinds of sightings. So I thought, maybe if there are no flowers around, the hummers would be more interested in my feeder.  Bingo!  It worked.
Now, for my final extraordinary sighting.  I’ve never had a clear look at one of these guys before.  I’ve always wanted to see one in all his glory.  It seemed as if everyone in Massachusetts was sighting these guys but me!  Then, yesterday, while we were watching the episode of Father Brown that I’d dvr’d, Yang said, “Wow!  What is this strange bird.  I’ve never seen this before.”  I hopped up, took a careful peek around the window curtain, and there it was in all his indigo  glory!  Yes!  My first full-color Indigo Bunting!  Well, I guess he has completely changed from his winter to his summer duds, but he is still something!
I don’t know if he’ll be back.  He wasn’t crazy about the oranges, he was skeptical of the suet, but the sunflower hearts did seem to grab his attention – though the Grackles kept getting in the way.  Let’s hope we see more of him!  Wow!  What a bird- watching season!

Backyard Birds, Part One

Despite the polar vortex heading our way this weekend, spring is trying to sprung on us.  And the feathered visitors to my backyard are showing the way.  Bright new plumage is emerging and old friends are returning from warmer climes, though some winter visitors have lingered on.
The bird I’ll introduce to you first is a Downy Woodpecker.  We’ve seen these lovelies all winter long, and this spring they’re still pecking away at trees and the wooden poles holding up our feeders, as well as chomping away at suet.  I noticed that they seem to come in different sizes.  I’m not confusing them with Hairy Woodpeckers, who seemed to disappear from my feeders in the winter, only to return in the spring- especially for suet. We also have gotten a few Yellow-Bellied Woodpeckers throughout winter and spring – and a Flicker or two. Unfortunately, so far this year, we’ve only gotten  photos of the Downys.
Bluejays can be real stinkers – one of the biggest bullies at the bird feeder.  We have four who show up together and try to boss the other birds away.  Often they succeed, but we also have some extremely aggressive Cardinals, Chickadees, and Goldfinches who won’t take excremental effluvia from no one.  So, the Bluejays aren’t always the boss of everyone.  Still, they are beauties, aren’t they?
Speaking of Cardinals, we have more than a few pairs visiting.  I suspect the same couples hang out here through the years, and their kids may even take up residence in the yard as well.  The other day, I saw a female feeding a male black-oil sunflower seeds off the feeder.  I guess when you both brood and fledge the kids and take them out to lunch, you split courting and parenting even-steven.
And in these pictures below, you can get a gander (so to speak) at the ‘ttude both Cardinals and Chickadees possess that enables them not to take any guff from Bluejays.

Who you lookin’ at?

Here’s a less belligerent  chickadee.  They have to be one of my favorites!  I love their cheery calls and the way that that bounce through the air in flight.  They seem to disappear in the mid summer and not return in number until almost fall. Then they stay winter through spring.

 

Juncos always herald the beginning of winter, with their castanet-like calls and the flash of white fanning out in their tales when they take flight.  I haven’t seen any for about two weeks now, but they did seem to linger much later this year.  I love how on some their grey feathers almost shine blue.

 

Speaking of blue, I adore the soft blue backs of the White-Breasted Nuthatch.  It’s fun to watch them scoot up and down a tree, searching for a snack.  You can always tell they’re around by the ack-ack-ack call they give.  Like the woodpeckers (in that family, right), they go for suet the way my cats go for dental snacks. I used to see Rust-Breasted Nuthatches when I lived in Lowell or in Connecticut, but I can’t remember seeing any in Auburn.

 

But let’s look at some spring birds.  The Goldfinches never completely left us, even in the winter, but now their numbers have increased.  Better yet, the boys have shed their drab winter coats and put on their bright, yet soft, yellow finery. You can see that the fellas in these pictures have pretty much converted their outfits to suit (ha!) the season. They LOVE sunflower seed hearts the best of all, but real troopers that they are, they will also go for black oil in the shell.  They also will take guff from no one when food is involved.
One of my favorite returnees is the Catbird.  Another suet gobbler, this guy bobs her tale and shoots about with glee. I especially like this picture because you can see the bird has got her cap on.   Like the Mockingbird (a relative), this character has many calls.  My favorite is when she calls my name, “Sharon!”
We don’t yet have pictures of all the return visitors.  The Rose-Breasted Grosbeak has been back for several days, but we haven’t gotten a good picture of him.  I’m waiting hopefully for the Baltimore Oriole, though I did see one on a rail trail yesterday. You can see one of the first harbingers of spring in this group shot:  the Redwinged Blackbird (center). 
Another typical spring sojourner is the grackle.  Mourning Doves are always with us – and pretty greedy, too.
However, we did have some real excitement when we saw this fellow on the ground beneath out feeder this week:  a male Rufus or Rufous Towhee (I have heard it both ways!).  It’s not the best shot because we had to grab it fast from indoors and a little far away.  Still, you can see the wonderful colors.  I haven’t seen one of these guys in like three years – when I was on a rail trail in Millerton, NY.  Thrilling, isn’t it?

So, I guess that’s all for  now.  The end is in sight!

 

Duck, Duck, Horned Grebe – and a Loon!

January and February have become a tradition for us to go bird watching for ducks, geese, and other aquatic birds.  This year has been an exceptionally good one for such adventures.  We always head to the Cape and the Shining Sea Trail around my birthday for one of our biggest forays.  This year we were not disappointed.  Once more, we saw a large flock of Eider Ducks rafting on the rough January seas.  The weather was so cold one of my knees started to seize up!  Nevertheless, we saw a large flock that included the brown females, mature males startling in their contrast of black and white feathers, and the juvenile males that tended to a gradual graying into white in a less striking contrast.  Did you ever notice that Eiders have a beak reminiscent of Bob Hope’s ski-slope schnozz – no disrespect to Eiders.
Swimming separately in the same bay were other interesting aquatic birds.  Here are a pair of Common Golden Eyes.  I thought they were Ring-Necked Ducks at first; but, no, they are Golden Eyes.    Anyway, they were fun to watch surfing the waves, diving for lunch, and popping up goodness knows where.  We also had the good fortune to catch sight of a Horned Grebe.  I can’t remember the last time I saw one.  He also was a little charmer with his unexpected dives and equally surprising reappearances.  I hope these guys caught some snacks – pace to the Atlantic fish.
We scooted over to a pond in Falmouth and got a gander (sorry, couldn’t resist) at some Canada Geese, Hooded Mergansers, and a Swan.  Here’s a group shot.
Here’s a flotilla of Hooded Mergansers. Just click on the photo to get a clearer view.

Our next adventure was at the Charles River in Needham Heights, where we saw not only Mallards but the Common Merganser.  This guy was so beautiful, with his green/black head and contrasting pure white chest and underside.  Also on display were more Hooded Mergansers.  I love to watch these guys.  Where the other ducks and geese serenely loiter across the waters, these guys surge along like mini speed boats, white crests proclaiming their presence!

 

Third stop:  Rocky Neck, Ct.  Here we saw quite a few interesting water birds.  Once again, the proud and speedy little Hooded Mergansers powered their way across the marsh water.  We also saw several other types of birds as well.  There were Gadwall Ducks, Blue Herons,  gulls and even a Common Loon.  The Loon was not in this same marsh, but in the ocean, in a cove by the jetty.  Many of these critters were pointed out to us by two lovely people who were also birding fans.  Thanks to their kind advice!  Check out some of the images below.
A closeup of the Hooded Merganser.

The Gadwall Ducks.
                                 The  Loon

 

Who you lookin’ at?

A different type of Loon. The Sharon Bird on her migratory peregrinations in search of feathered friends at the beach.  Note the winter plumage.

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!