Monthly Archives: December 2009

Merry Ex-Mas


We went “home” for Christmas. Just like the song says. We debated this plan because Andrew has wrestling practice over the winter break, but decided to go because I’d not seen my brother in a year and because Andrew wanted to.

Dona, slightly marinated in red wine.

We drove into Illinois on December 23, just as an ice storm was developing. We had a nice visit with my brother over pizza and beer. We awoke the next day to ice-sheathed trees, ice-covered walkways and ice-encrusted snow drifts. We normally spend Christmas eve with Dean’s family and this year was going to be unique because it was going to be held at Danny and Carol’s new home. However, not only were trees, walkways and snow covered in ice — so were power lines. The electricity to the new house was out and the celebration there was postponed.

Mom, relaxing. Happy to not cook.

So, instead of having a ham dinner at Carol’s we ate mediocre Greek food at Paul’s. At least the wait staff was friendly.

Since we stayed with my brother, Kevin, I thought that having dinner (cooked by Kevin and me) at his house would be the best plan. I didn’t plan on the ice storm. Or the flooded garage. Or the frozen turkey. And I’m a little confused (but not in a bad way) how we ended up celebrating Christmas with Kevin’s (first) ex-wife and her ex-boyfriend.

My mom doesn’t like to drive in bad weather, so the drive down and back was a little nerve wracking for her.

Everything worked out well, though. Jill (Kevin’s ex-wife) is a brilliant and resourceful cook. Too much meat (turkey breast, ham & rib roast) to cook in the one oven? No problem — pull out the grill. Result = delicious smokey flavored chicken breast and moist ham in addition to perfectly cooked stuffed rib-roast.

Gingerbread house

Jill’s ex-boyfriend, Devin, was the life of the party, alternately serving as DJ and practical joker (Kevin is still finding beer-bottle caps around his house).

Mom and Dad had a safe journey home and we spent the rest of the night building gingerbread houses, watching movies and finishing off the wine.

Sometimes traditions are what is needed, but occasionally spontaneous moments are just as rewarding.

He painted clothespin men…

I’ve written a bit about Jeremy here and there. We met on a student exchange. He lived in Yorkshire and I lived in Illinois. We were friends for several years and even talked of marrying someday. We visited back and forth for several years.

On one of his visits to Elgin we picked up a clothespin ornament kit from Lee Wards. It held paint, a paintbrush, clothespins, glue and felt as well as directions on how to assemble the ornaments. One evening — the evening before he was to go back to England — we assembled the ornaments.

Now if it were me, I would have made the faces basic. Two dots for the eyes, one dot for the nose and a curved line for the mouth. Not Jeremy. He was an artist. He gave the faces large, expressive eyes. He gave the faces freckles and cheekbones that blushed. He made even added knees to some of the ornaments. Arms occasionally wore wristwatches.

Being the not-an-artist of the pair I was assigned the task of gluing the felt clothes to the clothespin people — which turned out to be quite fun. We pretty much stayed up all night, but the results were awesome.

Jeremy fashioned several of the clothespin people after people in his life. Strangely, I was not turned into a clothespin person. Nor was my mom. But the rest of the family was as was his family. A couple times over.

He made a nurse that actually does look like his mom and a doctor that looked like his dad. His dad was also the hiker and I think Mrs. Claus was his mom. He made a policeman that could have been his brother Nick who was trying to become a British Constable. He made a cowboy that looked like my cousin Bob who was living with us at the time and who made our life a little hellish at times. He made a boy scout for my brother Kevin and a sailor for my dad. And no relation, but a common interest — the lumberjack held a bra (it since has been mostly lost).

A couple of years ago, after a decade or two of hinting, my mom finally gave me the ornaments and yesterday I put them on the tree.

The video below is about the artist L. S. Lowrey — an artist Jeremy introduced me to. The song was popular back then. Whenever I think about my clothespin men and women I think about this song.



Christmas Tree Bird Count

Yeah, we got snow. Lots and lots of snow, but that didn’t stop me from birding this afternoon. I saw a surprising number of rarities for this time of year and for this area — must have been the Nor’easter.

The first bird I saw was very far from home. I am not sure of the exact species, but it sure was decked out in warm weather gear. You’d think he (or she) would be toasty in the above freezing temperatures here in Bethesda without all that warm weather gear.

Warmly dressed penguin

The second bird I spotted was a common resident here in all seasons, but most welcome in the winter after a snow when its red coloring is a vibrant contrast to the snow.

Northern Cardinal
Northern Cardinal

I was delighted to spot my third bird of the day. This one of my favorites and, not counting today, I’ve only seen them two other times in my life — and had to take a boat ride to do so.


The next bird was one I had trouble identifying because they are not found in the United States. I did see some similar species in Ireland, but even the Internet didn’t help. I think it is some sort of Tit.

Not sure -- A Blue Tit perhaps?
Some sort of Tit

The next bird is unidentifiable and nothing I’ve ever seen nor heard of. Based on its habitat I’m leaning towards albino cowbird. (and although not a bird, what IS that animal behind it?)

Not sure but better looking than the pig
Abino Cowbird

Again, another bird far from its natural setting. This one was quite shy and wouldn’t smile for the camera.

Pelican (Possibly Brown)

The next two birds look similar to the bird near the barn, above, but have double neck rings. They may be related, but probably are not the same species. I’m thinking they are a vagrant species blown in by the winter storm from Africa — given their symbiotic relationship with the fox. I’ve seen enough nature shows to know that Africa has a lot of birds that sit on backs of bigger animals. I wonder whose heart the birds are fighting over.

Not sure -- but they have a symbiotic relationship with that fox
Vagrant Species from Africa that eats hearts of animals

The next one is very familiar to me, although I don’t see it nearly often enough. It’s without a doubt my favorite bird. This one is lacking a little color, but it has enough identifying field marks for me to know what it is.

Cedar Waxwing
Cedar Waxwing

The next bird has no identifying marks at all. It may be the same species as the one by the barn, but its bill looks a lot different. In fact this one’s bill looks more like a warbler or titmouse, but its body shape is more like a junco. I have no clue though, as to its identity.

Little Brown Bird
Little beige bird

This next one is easy.

Pheasant perhaps

I was shocked to find this fellow — especially after already seeing one earlier in the day. This one was dressed even more strangely than the first.

Penguin in a Top Hat

This next one is also hard to identify. It has the crest of a Jay or Cardinal, but is pale yellow. I’m just going to guess though.

Not sure
Yellow white-capped jay

The next one was also something I’d never seen before. It looks a little like a starling.

Not sure
Iridescent golden-bellied starling

Couldn’t find the next one on the Internet either.

Not sure
Black-beaked glitter-winged turtle dove

This next one looks somewhat like a wren so I’ll take a guess.

Maybe a hummingbird?
Cactus Wren

You cannot see the crest on this one in the photo, but it’s there.

Blue Jay perhaps?
Blue Jay

I don’t know what this is, but I suspect it is a variety normally found in Europe. Maybe Gwen can help out. In the meantime I’ll name it myself.

Not sure
Red-belted zebra-backed thrush

The last bird I spotted today is one of the hardest to identify. It has no identifying marks and only the color and shape provide any clue to what it is.

Little Brown Bird
Little Brown Bird

Although I’d love to take credit for the idea behind this post, I’m going to come clean and admit that Birdchick did it last year.