Bird Love

I have posted before about how the bird life varies from state to state.  Birds are adaptable and fascinating.  I never get tired of encountering a new bird.

I didn’t expect to see very many birds in Las Vegas, as it is not blanketed with water and trees, both of which draw birds.  But I was wrong.  I saw some of these.

Photo courtesy of askthe birds.org

Photo courtesy of askthebirds.org

The tail caught my eye, as otherwise it resembles a crow.  It’s a great-tailed grackle. Not to be confused with a boat-tailed grackle, its ocean-loving cousin.  I also saw these.

pigeonsOkay, so maybe you recognize the above birds.  I saw a few sparrows.  I spotted no seagulls, however, which are very common here.  A few Canadian geese rested their weary wings on a golf course.  But I see those here, too.  Incidentally, where *are* they going?  I mean, wouldn’t you want to go to Vegas if you were looking for warmer weather?  I know they don’t want to stick around here.  It’s just going to get colder.

Back to the grackle.  Sounds like a Shel Silverstein or Dr. Seuss creature, doesn’t it?  The grackle makes noises that sound like a rusty hinge.  They click and clack.  They chatter.  They make noises that “sound much better from a distance” from one scientist, due to their volume.  They are cheeky blackbirds.  I heard some of their bizarre cries when I went running and they made me smile.  I liked them very much.

Contrast those birds to the ones I saw from the passenger window this afternoon, driving up I-5.

Photo courtesy of tgreybirds.com

Photo courtesy of tgreybirds.com

It’s a Cooper’s hawk, aka chicken hawk.  I saw at least 11 of these buggers, perched near the top of bare-limbed trees.  There might have been a few other species of hawk.  But driving by at 60+ mph, I couldn’t look too closely.  I found the whole thing ominous.  They were sitting there, perfectly still.  Waiting.  Nothing cocky or brash here, only stealth.  Wikipedia says they rely almost totally on the element of surprise.  The mist/drizzle floated down as the autumnal gloom deepened. I wondered what they knew that we didn’t. Was there a storm coming and that prompted the need to hunt now?  Were they planning an attack, a la “The Birds”?  Where there are birds of prey, there must be prey to eat.  Like pigeons.  Gulp!

We will never know.   But the pigeons better watch their backs.

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Viva Las Vegas

Photo courtesy of statsfun.com

Photo courtesy of statsfun.com

As our vacation in Las Vegas winds down, I have a few random thoughts.

After about 1/2 inch of rain, the streets flood and the aqueducts overflow here.  The rocky, dusty ground has no topsoil to absorb the rain.  All the streets and sidewalks are cambered to maximize water run-off.  How much rain does Las Vegas get annually?  About 4.

Ruby’s impression of Las Vegas:  “Everyone is so posh!”

As we walked through the MGM Hotel to get to the M&M Store, we pointed out the over-the-top themes.  We observed the men and women laying bets at the roulette wheel.  Some played the slot machines, each with their own themes.  We saw “Lord of the Rings” slot machines.  Seriously.  I told Zac that the odds are stacked against you when you play in a casino.  The house has the advantage.

“Everyone is playing the ‘I-want-to-lose-my-money’ game”, Ruby said from her perch atop Jonathon’s shoulders.

Yes.  Exactly.

Ruby and M&Ms

I took myself off for a brisk walk to the nearest Starbucks this morning, open 24 hours.  No holidays in hell!  On the other hand, I got a perfect peppermint mocha.  Best I’ve ever tasted. Usually, the peppermint is too strong. It screams, “Mint present, sir!” This was a delectable balance of chocolate and mint. Practice makes perfect.

On the way back from the coffee mission, I walked along Tropicana, one of many busy streets/highways here.  People zip by at 50 mph a mere two feet away from where you walk.  Not much foot traffic here, despite the sidewalks.  I passed a man with a newspaper.  He smiled at me behind his mirrored sunglasses as he saw me.  He stopped in his tracks.

“You look so cute like that!” he exclaimed.

Perhaps I should take up a new career carrying coffee.

I’ve run outside at sunrise the last two days.  Simply gorgeous mornings here. Pink and coral clouds drift across the blue sky, the sun highlighting the western mountains.  Seems I never can get enough sun. Something strange has happened both days:  I ran out of road.  I start running off the main road in a residential neighborhood.  The hacienda-style homes go for miles and miles.  Until they don’t.  I hit an asphalt road with no sidewalks, and then…dirt.  Las Vegas continues to be a growing city.  For years, it was the fastest-growing city in the U.S.

Las Vegas contains at least two different personalities.  There’s the Strip, glamorous and lit up like an overgrown eccentric Christmas tree. Tour groups and conferences frequent the expensive shows and shops.  Las Vegas’ nickname is “Sin City”.  Legalized gambling, renowned nightlife and state-sanctioned prostitution play into this moniker.

My brother-in-law and his family make up the other half.  This is the real Las Vegas.  Families live here.  People hold down regular jobs, not at the blackjack tables.  They commute.  They pay bills and grocery shop.  They live much like everyone else. Only they endure in the shadow of the glamor of an adult playground and constant influx of strangers.  It’s an interesting dichotomy  in a state economy funded in part by a gambling tax.

I feel privileged to be able to see both sides of this fascinating city.  We’ve had a great time visiting family and making new memories.   I got to be a part of the living, breathing town, behind the dreams and the alluring glitz.  Las Vegas means “the meadows” in Spanish.  And I guess it used to have lots of those, supported by artesian wells. May it continue to sustain the families making a home here, creating their own green pastures.  That’s where Las Vegas’ true beauty lies.

Thanksgiving in Vegas

This is definitely different.  I’m sitting outside on a patio as I write this.  The smoker, holding our turkey, is going.  The sun shines down and the temp is 55 degrees.

We are definitely not in Shelton anymore, folks.  And I’m loving it.

The natural landscape.

The natural landscape.

It’s chillier here than I thought it would be.  It’s fall.  The acacia trees are a glorious yellow-brown.  Some bushes and flowers are blooming, even in November.  This is the desert, after all.  Every single tree had to have been deliberately planted by someone.  What grows naturally?  Tumbleweeds, a few scruffy trees and weeds.  I’ve seen loads of oleander and yucca as decorative foliage.  The caliche (ka-lee’-chee) in the soil prevents good growing conditions for things we take for granted, like grass.  I did see an astroturf patch of lawn, however.  But don’t tell anyone.  Read what Wikipedia has to say about caliche:

Caliche beds can cause many problems when trying to grow plants. First, an impermeable caliche layer prevents water from draining properly, which can keep the roots from getting enough oxygen. Salts can also build up in the soil due to the lack of drainage. Both of these situations are detrimental to plant growth. Second, the impermeable nature of caliche beds also prevents plant roots from going through the bed, which means the roots have a limited supply of nutrients, water, and space, so they cannot develop normally. Third, caliche beds can also cause the surrounding soil to be basic. The basic soil, along with calcium carbonate from the caliche, can prevent plants from getting enough nutrients, especially iron. An iron deficiency will cause the plant’s youngest leaves to become yellow. Soil saturation above the caliche bed can make the condition worse.

And yet, you know what grows here?  Jojoba.  Aloe vera.  Agave.  Cassia.  We visited the world-famous cactus garden at Ethel M. Chocolates (a must-see and taste) and were overwhelmed at the beauty birthed in the desert.  These coveted plants, in lotions, hair products and medicines, grow best in this non-fertile soil.  Tell me God doesn’t have a sense of humor.

Photo courtesy of tripadvisor.com

Photo courtesy of tripadvisor.com

It reminds me that nothing and no one is beyond hope.  God can bring beauty out of the desert.  The sunrise this morning, laden with pink and orange clouds, mesmerized me.  The sun lit up the mountains.  I find myself thanking Him for His faithfulness to all of His creation today.

… On each side of the river grew a tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, with a fresh crop each month. The leaves were used for medicine to heal the nations. – Revelation 22:2

Directionless?

Photo courtesy of amritanshparth.blogspot.com

Photo courtesy of amritanshparth.blogspot.com

I have a poor sense of direction.  In fact, it’s gotten me into trouble more times than I’d care to mention.  Jonathon, on the other hand, is pretty amazing.  He can get us back to wherever we were even if it’s a new place he’s never been to before.  I, on the other hand, get lost in new surroundings, and then get my bearings.  It served me well delivering flowers in Scotts Valley. I learned the area by getting lost.  Repeatedly.

This morning, I went into the clubhouse of our timeshare to use the treadmill. Upon my arrival, I discovered a couple in there already.  The man had just finished on one of the treadmills, which he graciously wiped down and let me use.  He moved to the bicycle, intent on Fox 5 news.

I got situated, headphones plugged in, and pushed the green button.  The treadmill started up.  I usually use the Quickstart mode.  It runs about 60 minutes, should I choose to run that long, and lets me manually adjust the incline and the speed.

Not today, girlie.  I had no data to track by.

The only reading I had were the Lite-Brite dots on the screen, showing me how much I had done of the workout and the huge spike in speed that would come on soon.  When?  No idea, since the timer didn’t work.  No concept of how fast I was going, other than the gauge of my own effort.  I couldn’t even get the incline to move.  Did I mention the entire small space was heavily mirrored, too?  Yeah.  I kept almost walking into the walls, my poor sense of direction multiplied exponentially.

I almost stopped everything and concocted an outside route.  Then I remembered the movie we watched last night – Rio.  Kind of late to the party on this one, as the previews looked lame.  But this scene caught my attention.  Blu and Jewel, two blue macaws are chained together.  Raised in Minnesota through a freak accident, Blu’s owner/best friend brought him to Rio in order to breed with Jewel.  The two birds got captured and managed to escape – together. They need to get across town to see Louie, an unknown entity to them, who will break their chain and set them free.  Neither of them are comfortable.  An outgoing toucan named Pedro encourages them to relax and enjoy.  It’s Rio!  Pink petals flutter down from the sky.  The sun sets in the foreground.  They have no control over where they’re going, but they can make the most of it.

So I did.  I watched the clock on the wall and the percentages mount up on the treadmill’s one working screen.  Ten percent done, twenty percent done, all the way to 50 percent.  I guestimated my mileage and still got a good workout.  I didn’t need the “chain” of the timer or speedometer, though it would have been nice.

In case you were wondering, the two (eventual) lovebirds got released from the chain via dog slobber.  But that’s all I’m telling you. Obviously, taking life advice from animated movies can be haphazard at best.  But in this case, I’m glad I listened.

Tripping on Coffee

mr. coffee

Today, we drive down to Portland.  We leave for Las Vegas in the morning.  No, not to gamble.  We’re meeting family there.  My husband grew up there and his brother and family still live there.  It will be fun to all be together again.

I learned something new today.  Don’t do ALL your laundry and pack on the same day.  Nope.  Don’t do it.  Just don’t.  It takes up your entire day.  Yes, you come home to clean clothes and maybe less laundry.  Or maybe you just do all the laundry you accumulated on your trip the day you get back from said trip.  Where is my maid?!

To totally change the subject, our coffeemaker finally has reached the end.  Oh, we can limp along, making nearly-full pots of coffee.  But put the filter in a little cockeyed, not quite fully centered, and coffee oozes out of the bottom of the machine.  We wake up to a teensy bit of coffee in the carafe and a delicious puddle on our sloping counter.  Awesome!  Amazingly, Jonathon rarely notices the coffee lake.  I end up mopping it up, cursing under my breath.

Sometimes it’s a sludgy goodness, black as coal.  It congeals on the hot plate, making a sort of paste.  Yeah.  It’s fabulous.  My chemistry teacher from high school, Mr. Hutchins, would be so proud!

Today, in between packing, paying bills and cajoling Zac through his assignments, I spent some time giving  Mr. Coffee a vinegar rinse. You load 4 cups of white vinegar into the machine and run it through the “clean” cycle.  Somehow, the machine managed to take 5 cycles to get it all brewed.  Even then, there was still some vinegar residue in the bottom.  I couldn’t see trying to get the last bit out, so I did the next step of regular water in the machine, a full 8 cups worth.  Twice.  Both times, true to form, it leached out onto the counter.  I mopped it all up.  The counter to the left of the machine is exceptionally clean now.

This machine has faithfully brewed us coffee nearly every day for the last 3+ years.  Our water here in Shelton is hard, loaded down with minerals.  We’ve cleaned the machine when the light came on.  We’ve babied it, made excuses for it. At one point, Jonathon even took it apart to check for blockages.  No dice. But over time and with repeated use, things just wear out.  It’s okay to replace them.  It’s okay to be done with something, to move on.

I’m sure there’s a spiritual application here, but I’m too tired to figure it out.  I suppose we could simply give up coffee altogether.

Nah.  Not happening.

Mr. Coffee, you have served us well.  Well done, good and faithful servant!  Catch you later.

Get to Work!

work_in_progress

I read Haggai today, all two chapters of it.  Yay, me!

I guess God must have read my other blog post, because I got something out of today’s reading in Haggai.  I stand corrected.  Chapter 1 starts with Haggai getting a word from the Lord.  It’s time to rebuild the Lord’s temple, which lay in ruins.  The Lord reminds the people of how they have been planting more than they harvested, essentially getting less than they invested.  Did the people wonder why?  The lack was due to not respecting the Lord’s house.  “It’s because of you that the heavens withhold the dew and the earth produces no crops. I have called for a drought on your fields and hills—a drought to wither the grain and grapes and olive trees and all your other crops, a drought to starve you and your livestock and to ruin everything you have worked so hard to get.” (Haggai 1:10-11)

Ouch!

When the remnant left behind after the Babylonian invasion heard this, they began to obey.  The Lord was with them.  By 1:14, things started rolling – the Lord “sparked the enthusiasm” (v. 12) of Zerubbabel, governor of Judah, and Jeshua, the high priest.  They got the party started.

But then another word came.  The Lord reminded the remnant of the glory of the former temple, something they could see for themselves. Yet it wasn’t about the outward adornment.  But now the Lord says: Be strong, Zerubbabel. Be strong, Jeshua son of Jehozadak, the high priest. Be strong, all you people still left in the land. And now get to work, for I am with you, says the Lord of Heaven’s Armies. My Spirit remains among you, just as I promised when you came out of Egypt. So do not be afraid. For this is what the Lord of Heaven’s Armies says: In just a little while I will again shake the heavens and the earth, the oceans and the dry land. I will shake all the nations, and the treasures of all the nations will be brought to this Temple. I will fill this place with glory, says the Lord of Heaven’s Armies. The silver is mine, and the gold is mine, says the Lord of Heaven’s Armies. The future glory of this Temple will be greater than its past glory, says the Lord of Heaven’s Armies. And in this place I will bring peace. I, the Lord of Heaven’s Armies, have spoken! (Haggai 2:4-9)

I gleaned several things from this passage.  The Lord has a specific timing for things.  This remnant, beaten and pretty destitute, began to have hope again as they rebuilt the temple.  The temple represented the center of their lives as a nation.  Restoring regular worship meant everything to their recovery.  Secondly, when the blessings lag in our lives, perhaps it’s time to ask why.  The people probably didn’t even consider asking that, fresh from the punishment of the Babylonian invasion.  They knew about God’s judgment and figured it continued.  This shows me that God intended to bless the survivors all along.  His mercies are new every morning.

Thirdly, when the word does come – no matter what it is – obey.  Get to work!  God will bring the enthusiasm and inspiration and passion.  Step out in faith.  Our results may not meet our expectations or match the former glory, but He will take care of the rest.  Get to work!  God blesses our obedience. Period.

This sermon brought to you courtesy of Pastor Susan.  Now everyone pass the offering plate…

Wisdom Run

Shelton is in a deep freeze.  Nighttime temps plummet into the 20s.  Every morning, we awake to light ice coatings.  The grass, crunchy in its chilly crystalline case, glitters under the brilliant sun.  We turn on the gas fireplace and huddle up.

I had to get out and run in it.

My running mojo has been rather low lately.  But I know me.  I needed the vitamin D.  My mood plummets quickly when the weather is continuously rainy or cloudy.  So despite the frosty air and very sore muscles from yesterday’s clusters in kettlebells, I laced up.

The azure sky made the now-bare trees stand out in bold relief.  My ankles, exposed below my running capris, got goosebumps.  I breathed in the cold air and considered our state of affairs.  I am astounded again at how much of our lives are dictated by our thoughts.  I am learning this even as I teach my children the same thing:  focus on the good things.

We’ve been working through some family issues and thinking ahead to the future.  We’re planning and rehearsing for the Christmas program.  We leave for Thanksgiving in a few days.  It feels a bit overwhelming.  But then I remember God.  He knew all about these hurdles before I was ever born.  He can handle them.  I can ask for wisdom and He will be faithful to supply. If you need wisdom, ask our generous God, and he will give it to you. He will not rebuke you for asking – James 1:5.

When I look at life this way, the challenges seem almost…fun.  Like, what will God do next?  How will *this* situation get resolved?  What’s the Lord got up His (enormous) sleeve this time?  I feel this way especially when I can do absolutely nothing.  Because then I am completely dependent on Him to get me through.  I am learning to get excited at this prospect, rather than feeling powerless and all too human.  As I adopt this new attitude, I find out just how ingenious God is.  Sometimes our “deadlines” are ones we’ve imposed on situations; they aren’t God’s.  I can still live and be happy despite crappy circumstances.

It’s an ongoing process.  I have not mastered it yet.  Running helps.  Eating well helps.  Sleeping enough *really* helps.  My family rocks!  I have great friends inside my church and out.  I am a blessed woman.

So as I focused on the blessings, I found I got happy.  The miles got easier as my body and my spirit warmed up. The sun, and the Son brought me joy. I didn’t have all the answers.  I still don’t.  But I know they’re on the way.