Day 8: why Maineiac, and what in the world do swans have to do with anything?

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This is why swans. Trumpeter Swans (Cygnus buccinator) adults with yellow bands, by juveniles, Canada Geese (Branta canadensis) and Greater White-fronted Geese (Anser albifrons). My photo, January 2016, Indiana.

I know, I know, “What gives? Your blog name makes zero sense”! If you know me on a personal level, it makes 100% sense all over the place. The above photo is one I took at my winter study site while counting Trumpeter Swans for my Master’s Thesis. Watching these huge white birds, the largest water bird on the North American continent, several times per week, and learning about them really made me feel a connection to them. I joke and call the Trumpeters in this wintering area “My Swans!”, and I hope some of them are still present when I go to Indiana to defend later this winter.

Like many folks, when you say the word “swan”, I used to immediately go to the mental image of the Mute Swan, the big fluffy “love” swan that is depicted in most movies, literature, and is most commonly found in park settings.

Let me tell you something about the Mute Swan: this bird is a right bastard, and it doesn’t belong in the United States or Canada, unless it’s in a zoo.

Wait. What? No! It’s so pretty, and full of whimsy!

No.

It’s an invasive species that is horrendously mean to native waterfowl, strips native vegetation, and mucks up waterways with its waste. It’s such a pain in the ass for conservation that the Department of Environmental Conservation in the State of New York wanted to eradicate them, but thanks to public outcry, had to modify their plans.

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No, seriously, these guys are aggressive dicks, no matter your feelings on Canada Geese. Photo by Harmonica Pete

My frustration with the Mute is that people make baseless, factless assertions that the Mute Swan is native because it has been here since the 1800’s, no. A native species is one that is endemic to its area, not one that required human intervention for transport and breeding. That it is pretty, so it should be allowed to remain, unchecked, in areas shared by native waterfowl suffering from decline.

I have even heard utter nonsense such as: “The DNR wants the eradicate the Mute Swan so it can introduce the larger Trumpeter Swan as a game species”, as noted in this petition. I cannot wrap my head around that bit of stupidity. The fact is, the Trumpeter Swan is not legal to hunt in any state of the union. Not. One. It missed being included on the Endangered Species List by timing and one last population stronghold in Eastern Canada and Alaska. It is only one of two swans native in North America, the other being the Tundra Swan (Cygnus columbianus), which is allowed to be hunted in only five states, including South Dakota. Most of those states have a strict bag limit, and as soon as a certain number of accidental takes of Trumpeters is reached, the season is closed.

Upon reflection, my level of irateness at the Mute Swan is merely an indicator of overall annoyance at wildlife management, environmental stewardship, and the generally cavalier attitude portrayed by the public, and many of our elected officials. As someone who has been involved with several species who were endangered, are endangered, and can easily be so again, this is a huge, raw nerve.

If you think swans are as stunning as I am, if you would love to know more about our largest native swan, the Trumpeter, I highly recommend The Trumpeter Swan Society. I am a member, and I cannot say enough about their dedication and commitment to these magnificent animals, from restoration and tracking, to education, facts, outreach, and conservation efforts.

Okay, native bird lover rant mode off…

On to the “Maineiac”: yes, I do in fact know how to spell, this is in reference to the recent relocation from the heartland of America to a coastal state, one that I have absolutely fallen in love with. Maine. Of course according to Urban Dictionary, a “Maineiac” is at least a third generation Mainer, but eh, as long as you are a year-round resident, you’re good. Yes, the governor is a teabagging nutter, but this state? It is beautiful, the sun shines most of the time, and Mainers make Midwestern hospitality look like hostility.

So, there you have not only the genesis of “Maineiac Swan”, but also a rant. Call it a twofer, you’re welcome!

Day 7: Sometimes chin up is hard, also known as people are pretty awful.

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Whooping Cranes (Grus americana) in the wild somewhere in Indiana 2015 – my photo

My goal of choosing to be happier this year is a noble one, and because it’s a goal, it’s a work in progress, thankfully, because this morning I want to reach through space and choke someone. If you are a birder, or someone that cares about nature, odds are you know about the Whooping Crane. If they grabbed your attention, odds are you have delved deeper into their story, and you know that humans are the cause of their near extinction. Overharvesting and habitat loss led to the decline of the species in the early 20th century, to where there were only 20 left in the world.

Dedicated individuals and organizations have spend many countless hours and dollars on working to save these animals, restore their habitat, and protect them from extinction. At this point, between captivity and wild populations, there are more than 500 Whoopers in the world. I am incredibly fortunate, and I have been able to see most of the birds in the Mississippi Flyway at some point, and even some of the birds held in captivity for breeding and reintroduction purposes. They are a stunning sight to see. Over five feet tall with gleaming white plumage and a bugle-like call that echoes for miles; there is no other bird on the North American continent that looks like a Whooper, not even the Sandhill Crane (Antigone canadensis) which is a full foot shorter, is an all-over gray/brown, and never shows black in the wingtips. These two species tend to hang out together during migration, and every once in a rare while mate and produce offspring. Seeing them side by side heightens the obvious differences.

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Size, conformity, and flight shape of common marshy birds. – International Crane Foundation

The reason behind this post today? Indiana Department of Natural Resources (INDNR) announced this morning that Female Whooping Crane #4-11 was found shot to death in southwestern Indiana. This is a huge loss for many reasons.

  • She was a first-time mom last summer, we have now lost her genes, and her future reproductive ability.
  • This loss is indicative of a larger problem with the public, and often when the perpetrator(s) are caught and charged, they get away with a slap on the wrist, like this 2009 case where the shooter was fined just $1.
  • It takes $100,000 or more to take a Whooping Crane from egg to release, and with 20 birds shot and killed in the past few years, that is not a small chunk of change, especially as it is mostly non-profits doing the work.
  • According to Newsweek, one in five birds in the Eastern population is lost through human shootings.

I started this blog post a week ago, and I had to take time off from writing it, because it was too much. Not this incident, specifically, but compounded with so many other things going on in my life, in the news, and this was a bridge too far.

I have many more thoughts on this bird, the species as a whole, ecology, and what in the hell we are doing to our planet, but I want to get this up, and maybe post another round of ramblings.

Day 6: a new beginning – mom, why is new years such a big deal?

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What most of us picture when we think of 2016 – source unknown

Last night was low key, just hubs, the kids, the dog, and I, warm and snug in the house, watching the snow fall, and more than 2 million people on television in New York’s Times Square. Hubs and I spent the early evening watching our new binge favorite, and are one episode away from being caught up on it: Penny Dreadful (spoiler: Rose Tyler is still excessively pissed off about being left on a beach in an alternate universe. If you get that joke, hello fellow Whovian!), and we had yummy snacks, champagne, and “kid wine”, as my youngest calls it. Welch’s sparkling grape juice, to be exact.

As we watched the frenzy build, and folks joyously count down from 10 to 0 and scream “Happy New Year!”, kiss, cry, toast, and generally be excited, happy, enthused, etc., my youngest turns to me and asks “Mom, why is new year’s such a big deal?”, which took me by surprise. I took a moment, thought about it and gave him my thought on why.

To me, New Year’s is a symbolic new beginning, the slate is wiped clean, with the turning of the page to a blank calendar, waiting for all of the events and appointments to be filled in as the days, weeks, and months roll by, I see possibilities. I see the chance to start a fresh chapter in my life, and fill the pages with the story I want to write.

Some folks may think that is a little deep for a 10 year old, to that, I say: you have never met my 10 year old. I secretly think he’s a 40 year old who got trapped into the body of a 10 year old during a freak storm (think Freaky Friday), but then he makes a fart joke, or can’t figure out how to take out the trash and I think he’s normal. He appreciated that explanation, and actually seemed satisfied with it, so that’s a great start.

Every year I read about, overhear, and discuss resolutions with people, and I will say this: I don’t make them. To me, resolutions are an absolute, a line in the sand, and once your toe goes over that metaphorical line, there is a mental “Eh, fuck it”, and that resolution gets binned. No thanks, I don’t need to start piling up the mental tally marks of failure from day one.

Which is why I make general goals, turn the rudder a bit to the right and start heading in the direction I want my life to go. I have that power, I have that ability, and though I know not every day is going to take me closer to where I want to be, I know that keeping that goal in sight will keep me moving in an overall forward motion.

This year, my goals are fairly simple, and I think attainable:

  • Be grateful. Look for the good, the positive, and find happiness in every day, no matter how tiny it may seem.
  • Look after my health. A walk around the property, a hike though the gorgeous scenery here in Maine.
  • Be more present for the family. Start doing my PT so oldest and I can jog together, start family game night, movie night, pile on the grass and talk night.
  • Bird more! I live in a state that gives me the opportunity to see a bunch of lifers, if I would just go get them.
  • Do more. Take the family out and explore!

If I start with number one, the rest will fall into place, so I have decided to set up a “Happy/thankful/smile” jar on the kitchen counter with a pile of small slips of colored paper. Everyone in the family is encouraged to participate! Had something make you smile today? Write it up, toss it in! You are thankful for something or someone today? Write it up, toss it in! The whole point of this is a visual exercise, the more we are happy for, the more slips of paper that go in, the more we will look for things to share. Anonymously, or not. The even bigger picture here is that if we are looking for things to put in the jar, we are actively choosing to seek happiness. I think that’s a worthwhile endeavor, don’t you?

I know many folks are dreading what 2017 has to bring, for very valid reasons. I am one of those people. I know there is only so much I can do with some of these situations, so I will take deep breaths, toss in my hands where I can, but make sure I spread happy where I can. Hubs and I have started telling the kids “It starts with me”, meaning: if everyone says “Not my problem”, nothing ever gets done. If you take two minutes of your time and pick up the trash on the side of the road, wash up the dishes you didn’t use, smile at a stranger, say hello and mean it, close the lid on the public bin someone left open… you start a small ripple in a big pond. No, it may not change anything, but if you lead by example, choose to do right, you can change your environment, and possibly teach other folks to do the same.

I hope that this bright, beautiful first day on the clean slate of 2017 brings you hope, happiness, humanity, humility, humor, whichever adjective you need to make it through and take one baby step towards steering the ship of your life in the direction you want and need it to go.

We’ve got this.

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Your negative argument is invalid. I am wearing a crown of flowers, and I am happy… and probably up to something.

 

Day 5: I think my tractor’s sexy!!!

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Me and Emily, our John Deere 1023E tractor. I love her, quite a lot.

Before I moved to Maine, if you had said not only would I own a tractor, but I would name it, and absolutely adore it, I would have told you a) no, I won’t own one b) if I did, why would I anthropomorphize it with a name and c) adore a tractor? Pretty sure I said the same thing about owning a minivan, but I digress.

Last night we experienced our first Nor’easter, which dropped a foot of very wet, very heavy, incredibly beautiful snow. We can’t tell there is a field in the back past the mowed grass area, and so the non-forested five acres we have looks huge, including the snow-bound 400′ driveway.

This year, after purchasing the house in Maine, we knew we were going to need a riding mower, at minimum, but with more than seven acres, including forest, we decided we would probably need more. Enter Emily. Emily was hubs’ choice, and we didn’t get her until about a month after the house, so by the time she arrived, the lawn was in serious need of mowing, and she needed a name, but nothing was right.

When the kids arrived from their holiday in Alabama, they got to meet the tractor, and in order to explain hydraulics, we used the monarch butterflies we used to captive rear as an example. Sounds weird, right? If you have ever seen a caterpillar eclose from its chrysalis, it is simply astonishing; the abdomen is huge and distended, the wings tiny and useless. As the butterfly dries, it pumps its abdomen, forcing the fluid into the wings, plumping and unfurling them. Like this. It’s a three minute video, but if you have never witnessed it before, it’s fascinating!

The point of the preceding paragraph was that my kids have seen this many, many times, and it was the perfect example to explain hydraulics, they grasped the concept, and because we had borrowed a book from the library when they were little, and it was about “Emily the butterfly”, oldest spawn immediately slapped the “Emily” moniker on the tractor, and it stuck, so Emily she is.

As a side note: we are weirdos, and have named all of our vehicles. My van is “Arthur Dent”, because my kids are ginormous smart-asses, and after I had gotten t-boned, the van had a huge dent in it, thus Arthur (thanks, Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy). When we purchased hubs’ car, we went with the deep blue color, which immediately earned it the name “The TARDIS”, a la Dr Who. Yes, we are a family of total geeks, why do you ask?

When we purchased Emily, we put half down in cash, so I like to joke with hubs and tell him that my half is the paid off one, but in reality, we both knew he would be using her 90% of the time. Well, as it turns out, I usually do the mowing, but we argue over who gets to do so, and same with the snow removal. It’s fun to be out and about on the tractor, because it’s fresh air, and really, we’re city slickers, so: TRACTOR!

We have a list of implements we want to purchase, including a snow blower, and a tiller, but man, the tractor itself was dear enough, start adding on those implements, and the whole enchilada costs twice as much as my van is worth. We use the front end bucket to shove snow around, and it does the trick for now, but I feel the snow blower coming *sigh*. Using just the bucket, I was able to go dig out the mailboxes, and help my neighbors knock down some huge snow piles left by their plow man, which impeded their line of sight to get out to the road. They rewarded me with a pineapple. I put the pineapple in Emily’s cup holder for the ride home, and I cackled the whole way: a pineapple in the tractor in December in Maine. It was an amusing visual.

To wind this down, it is gorgeous here, and I adore my John Deere.

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Day 4: 2016, the year that won’t die, even as it takes childhood icons to the stars.

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I haven’t posted in a few weeks, mainly because the past few weeks have been the equivalent of a nuclear bomb detonated in the middle of the living room here. Hubs and I are as good as ever, kids are safe, I will not go into details is it would violate the privacy of someone I would kill for.

Now that is an interesting concept: would you kill for someone? My mom has always had a saying: “I wouldn’t go to jail for anyone, no one is worth that”, and I finally realized she meant she would not sacrifice herself or her freedom to take the fall for someone else, and I can totally get behind that. However: you screw with my family, you hurt someone I love? I positively cannot be held responsible for the temporary insanity that coincides with your demise. Mind you, I don’t mean petty offenses, but lately, I have found out that the most stable, loving, involved family can have a horrible person sneak in through a window when all the doors are locked and wreak havoc.

That is metaphorical, and we have fortunately not suffered a home invasion. Of course, the euphemisms that describe something much more terrible aren’t as relaxed as we would like to think…

So, today is December 27, 2016, and we all received the awful news that Carrie Fisher, Princess Leia died today, after losing George Michael on Christmas Day, preceded by Alan Thicke, Prince, David Bowie, and Alan Rickman… add the election of Trumplethinskin, the Mango Mussolini, and as far as I am concerned, 2016 can die in a dumpster fire, because it has been a vicious year.

I am fully aware that a Georgian calendar is not sentient and as such gives no amount of fucks about us, or our puny existence on this tiny blue marble hurtling through space, but damn, it sure feels like the hits keep coming with malevolent intent. I swear on the nearest crow that if we lose Betty White before this colossal turd of a year is done having its way with us, I will maniacally say: “Eh, screw it, give tRump the codes, this planet is due for a reset button push”.. and I might even mean it when I utter the words.

And to add insult to injury? No new yard birds. No Evening Grosbeaks, no Pine Grosbeaks, no Common Redpolls, no Snowy Owls, though the latter was a longshot no matter what. At this point, I am just rooting for the Bald Eagles across the street to lay a few viable eggs in late January, and to see eaglets fledge in April.

Bah.

I will say this: my thesis is beginning to get more than a passing nod from me at this point, and I can’t wait to get back to Indiana to defend and finally be done, February will see me viewing the Chili Peppers with one of my best friends, plus a road trip up the eastern seaboard – wait, who does that in February??? Oldest spawn will be getting contacts, going to skills camp for her preferred sport, and I am already planning my gardens, plus a bluebird/chickadee trail around the grass area, and looking forward to the return of the breeding icterids.

In other words? I am going to make 2017 my bitch. 2016 brought some amazing new things in life, and I am going to make damned sure 2017 is even better.

Deep breaths, and really? Look for the good, acknowledge that sometimes seriously shitty things happen, but don’t let them define you. Enjoy a walk outdoors tonight and marvel at the stars. Understand that the internet has both made the world a tiny place and brought fantastic people to your side. Sip a cup of your favorite beverage and appreciate the fact that you can still do so.

In the words of the infamous Jerry Springer: “Be good to yourself, and each other.”

Even better, TC from the Bangor, Maine Police Department: “Keep your hands to yourself, leave other people’s things alone and be kind to one another.”

I believe I like that one just a wee bit more, and if you haven’t had a chance to enjoy the humor of a Northeastener, I highly recommend the Facebook page of said department.

 

Day 3: Happy Holidays, now quit lacing the food with the plague.

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Happy Days: birding in Maryland, warm weather, iconic Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias)

Wait. What? Yes, you read that correctly. Our holidays since 2008 have been measured in amount of general malaise, or overt suffering, and when you think about it, it’s morbid, but sustainable. Ask any ecologist or economist, and they will tell you that not only is perpetual growth not sustainable, it is downright not possible, despite what every corporate sales target implies.

When you start at the bottom, there is nowhere to go but up, even if it is a great holiday because no one was puking up their toenails. Honestly, how many “Greatest Christmas EVER!!!” can you have? That gets expensive and silly by the time the kids are 10, but  “No one had to go to the hospital this year” is always a good holiday.

Let me take you back to 2008 for some perspective: a few days before Christmas, Hubs had an outpatient procedure done, it should have been a rather quick heal, and life would be back to normal in about a week. Enter the plague to end all plagues. Less than 12 hours after having the procedure, he begins vomiting, and when I say vomiting, I mean vomiting. This was a GI bug for the books. Know what happens when you are heaving like that so soon after a procedure that involved some cauterization? Yup, that was a fun hematoma. Roughly the size of a plum, and solid. Also problematic: being less than mobile while having gastric distress.

Now we add in an ice storm. An ice storm means if you don’t have to be on the roads, don’t be on the roads, don’t make life difficult for first responders because you needed some shampoo or a loaf of bread. It also means that there are some serious value judgments that come into play when deciding just how bad a situation is. This is my segue to my youngest spawn.

Youngest spawn (YS) was 15 months old, and didn’t weigh much at all. Guess who started with the GI Bug from Hell a few hours before his daddy? Oh. My. Crow. He was unable to keep anything down for more than a few minutes for over 12 hours. His diaper was bone dry. That young, no wet diapers, unable to keep anything down, I had to decide: ER or no? I went with no, because his eyes were not sunken in, he was responsive, no high fever, and still willing to try fluids. Not worth risking anyone’s life on the roads, and we kept a close eye on him for signs of dehydration.

One more bit of fun to add to the mix: we were in the process of revamping the basement because it had flooded that summer, thanks to a sump pump that went kaput while we were on vacation. Bare floors, minimal plumbing fixtures, and then an ice plug formed in the ejection line, so the new pump was running like crazy, making the water in the basin hot. Fortunately I noticed the constantly running pump, checked, and took the shop vac down to empty the basin. Every 30 minutes.

I am not sure I have ever been so damn exhausted in my life. Three flights of stairs, two barfing family members, a sump basin that had to be vacuumed out… the saving grace was that my parents were with us for the holidays. My dad, bless his heart, spent hours with YS on his lap with a barf bucket. My mom jumped in and helped with meal prep, pain management, and keeping oldest spawn (OS) entertained. Can you guess where this is going…?

After the vomitfest began, and I had been cleaning up barf buckets for hours, YS and I wound up on his bedroom floor at about 4 in the morning, both of us in tears. Me because I was so damn exhausted, him because he was so damn tired and thirsty. I know when I have been barfing for hours, all I want is to chug something cold, but as an adult, I know I can’t. You can’t explain that to a 15 month old. All they know is they are thirsty. My folks were up by this point, and Mom relieved me of YS, Dad said he would get the sump, and I should go grab a quick nap.

I planned on an hour. Four hours after that, I woke up and panicked, but there was no need. Shortly after I went to bed, YS stopped barfing, and Mom got him a popsicle. Know what is great on a really sore, thirsty throat? Yup. Cold, with the added benefit of calorie-laden, slow fluid intake.Dad had been taking care of the sump pit, too. What an absolute relief to have that done.

The ice storm eased up, temps went north of freezing, and the ice plug moved out of the sump line. YS was on the mend, though he refuses chicken and noodles to this day, horking a meal up and following it with hours of sickness means you will not look at the first food on the floor for a damn long time. Hubs was on the mend. Dad and I hit the store and got the external sump pipe insulated to prevent further ice plugs. Life was good again.

Then came Christmas Eve and Dad wasn’t feeling well…

Instead of the Beef Wellington with creamed peas, herbed potatoes, crème brûlée, and excellent wine for Christmas dinner, Mom, OS, and I had macaroni and cheese with fish sticks. Dad, YS, and hubs were happy with jello and clear soda.

That is the saga of The Worst Christmas Ever for our family. Start there, and it pretty much goes up. Next post… cooties. Again. But this time for Thanksgiving!

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The Grinch and his dog, Max. ~Dr. Seuss

 

Day 2:We’re not in Indiana anymore, kids! Also? Turkey.

 

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Wild Turkeys (Meleagris gallopavo) photo from American Expedition

This morning I slept in a little bit, until 06:30 (ugh), and I began my mental checklist of things I should probably do today to make tomorrow go smoothly and be slightly less stressful. So far I have got the turkey in brine, the cranberries made, and a pile of recipes on the counter, mocking me. I am making a cranberry apple pie for dessert, because yum.

Last night I started this page up, and I am fortunate because the folks that bought our house in Indiana include a fantastic freelance editor and blogger named Leah. She writes for many places, and has some great things to say over at her page Leah’s Thoughts. She pointed out that I had called Maine the “Granite State”, and that moniker rightfully belongs to New Hampshire. Maine is the Pine Tree State, which makes sense, 85% of the state is forested, and I have pines all over my yard! Thanks for the catch!

Before we moved here, we had discussed the possibility of moving to Maine, and since our oldest had to do a state report, she did hers on Maine. The Maine.gov site has plenty of interesting facts about our adopted home, such as: there is a state fossil, and even state soil! We moved from a state with over six million people to one with just over one million, and nearly the same land area; Indiana has 36,291 square miles, Maine has 30,843 square miles, so there is way more open area here, and the lines are a lot shorter at the grocery stores! Of course coming from California with approximately 38.8 million people, the vast majority of places I go are not nearly as crowded!

Some things here in Maine that I have had to get used to:

  • No central air in 99% of the houses, including ours.
  • Most heat is provided through heat oil, which is delivered to the house via a big ass tanker truck.
  • Septic. While not only a Maine thing, it’s new to me.
  • No hot water heater, we have a boiler which is used to heat the house and provide hot water for the house. And when I say hot water, I mean HOT!
  • Stunningly friendly people: trust me, folks in the Hoosier state have nothing on Mainer hospitality.
  • No traffic on the highways, and folks that get out of the way if you come up on them in the left lane. Unless they’re from Massachusetts, then all bets are off.
  • The price of electricity. I had a cow the first time I opened an electric bill. Turns out, it’s the 9th most expensive state in the nation for electricity.
  • Maine is like California in that it is nearly two states: Southern Maine, District 1, which includes Portland, is distinctly blue, very liberal, and has the highest population density. Northern Maine, District 2, where we live, is so red it would make the Queen of Hearts envious. It is sparsely populated, fiercely independent, definitely conservative-leaning.

That being said, I am very happy here. I am 45 minutes from the ocean, like I was in California, but with 0.5% of the population, and a whole new host of birds to entertain! In Indiana, I did have the chance to see Wild Turkeys often, and I knew with a fair amount of certainty where I could go to see a flock at any given time, and though they occasionally wandered through the neighborhood, they were not at all a bird I saw in my backyard.

Here in Maine? The list of yard birds is really amusing, some are old friends, some are old rare friends, some are completely new yard birds, though not life birds, for me. I can assure you I never looked out my back door and saw a Ring-billed Gull chilling in the yard in Indiana, or a Bobolink. Here? Eh, par for the course. My favorite part of the Bobolink: it sounds like R2-D2 is in the yard!

My best fly-over birds here in Maine have been: Bald Eagle, Peregrine Falcon, Osprey, Merlin, Common Raven. Most of those stop in the yard for snacks, the added benefit of having a hay field.

I do miss seeing Trumpeter Swans and Whooping Cranes, hopefully when I go back to Indiana to defend my thesis next year I can have a gander at them again.

I suppose I have avoided my responsibilities long enough, and I should get myself back to the kitchen, because these pies and casseroles are not going to make themselves! A new addition to our table this year: a stuffed squash as a main dish for my oldest child, who is now vegetarian. We tried it last week, and it was delicious!

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Stuffed pumpkin!

Do you have a favorite Thanksgiving Day dish? A favorite holiday tradition? I would love to hear all about it!