Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Daddy Dearest

The activity around our bird feeder has picked up to normal levels after the one week break while we were out of town.

Yesterday, I was finally able to snap pictures ( a little glare from the glass screen) of the baby cardinal that I had written about earlier, this time grown to near adult size. It is accompanied by its Dad, who picks out seeds from the feeder and shoves it into Baby's mouth. A big baby indeed!

No sign of Mom though. Is she off shopping instead of caring for Junior? I wonder how the cardinal society works.

From this link:
Cardinals are believed to breed from April to September. A female cardinal lays an average of three to four eggs. The females are responsible for incubating the eggs while the males look for food for his mate and later for their young. At nine to 10 days, the young cardinals can already fly. Once they leave their nest, the male parent takes care of the fledglings and feed them with insects for three weeks while the female prepares for a second brood. It is said that the male has a strong instinct to feed such that he is capable of feeding fledglings of other species.
In another fascinating look at Cardinal Society:
After the fledging of their young, adult cardinals sometimes divide the adult takes some fledglings to one part of the territory, the other adult takes the rest to another part of the territory.
Actually,she was most probably away caring for her other offspring. And here I was hoping that the female cardinal had decided to take some 'me time' for herself.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

The Timeshare Trap

So we just got back from a fabulous vacation in Las Vegas and Arizona. Of all the gorgeous sights and scenery that we saw, the one that sticks (in my craw, I must add) is that of the Timeshare presentation for a hundreds-of-miles-from-the-nearest-ocean, Polynesian village of high-rises peppered with fake beaches and overcrowded pools, that shall remain nameless. Or maybe I will call it the Tikitiki resort, just for convenience.

It all started with S insisting that we catch the Lance Burton magic show while we were in Las Vegas.So, we dutifully stopped at the hotel/casino where he was performing to inquire about tickets, which we were assured by a gazillion flyers and brochures would be in the range of $60-$80 a pop.
Teresa pounced on us eagerly at the sales pavilion."You want tickets to Lance Burton, Friday 7 pm? I will give you great deal! You just go to the presentation on Tikitiki resort for 2 hours and I give you tickets for Lance Burton show for only $130 for 6 tickets." Her partner Dave pounced on S, wearing his school T-shirt,"You're from Pittsburgh, I'm from there too'- for the hometown boy pitch, adding a yinzer ring of authenticity to the whole performance.
It sounded like a deal to us, and we were also intrigued by the prospect of attending a 'timeshare vacation' sales pitch, just to see what prices might be on offer. Not that we were hugely enthusiastic at the prospect of waking up and hightailing it to the pickup location at 8:00 am in the blazing morning sun (which was extremely hot, hotter than I've ever experienced even in India). But, anything for discounted magic show tickets, after all.

The people had us signing and initialling several documents to verify that we were who we said we were, along with probing questions like 'How important is going on vacation to you on a scale of 1 to 10?', 'Which do you like to do best on vacation: shopping, sightseeing, beaches, eating out etc. etc. on a scale of 1 to 10?' Ulp, could we just get on with seeing the facilities and none of this namby-pamby psychobabble questionnaires?

There was more to come, as we waited in the lobby along with about 3 dozen other couples for the 'personal vacation facilitator' we would be paired with. Mysterious mumblings between the suited people at the counter, while we cooled our heels. They kept sending out ushers to different couples as they called out the names, as we waited and waited for ours to be called out. I was getting a little antsy, "Should we go up to the desk and ask?", when along came Maria, huge smile plastered on her face. "Hello, I'm going to be your vacation facilitator today."

The next half hour was more of the psychobabble questioning, only this time done in person, rather than through an impersonal piece of paper, with tantalizing hints about how the timeshare 'with a twist' worked. We sat, dutifully nodded and grinned when appropriate, I munched, not too happily on pre-sliced apples that tasted like sawdust. A migraine was in the works.

Balloons, Wheel of fortune. Hee..ere comes......Vanna...Oops, I mean Debbie. The inspirational speaker who was going to inspire us to throw away our laptops and frantic hunts for travel deals on Priceline negotiator or Travelocity and instead settle down, martinis in hand while we lazily planned vacations in Paris or Maui or Borabora. So we were treated to more mumbo-jumbo while almost each couple was introduced to the room, as in "This is Mike and Grace, they've just renewed their vows after 20 years of marriage", as my headache got progressively worse and I kept edging off my seat, till Maria asked "Are you trying to get up and go, 'cause we aren't done yet."
"Oh, no, I was trying to get a cup of coffee." as I made a beeline for the morning snacks set out.

No, we weren't done, and we next trotted off on a simulated tour of the resort, passing by a overcrowded pool and transplanted palms placed tastefully between 5 storey blocks of apartments. "When is she going to show us the apartments?", we wondered, this after 100 minutes of presentation time.

We finally got a 2 minute tour of the apartment at minute 105, rushed back into the meeting room and seated for a final 'hard sell' round. Maria showed us the pricing. Our jaws dropped- it was double the amount we had thought, based on the intimations of a friendly cabbie. "I heard that some paid X instead of 2X", my husband stated baldly. Maria held up three fingers "I'm calling my manager in to see what he has to say'. He came over immediately and started chalking up the numbers, with modifications to show how we could get from 2X to X, such as splitting up the suites into half, and ended up with a reasonable number just 10 minutes past the allotted time. At which point, my husband stood up and said "You can't force us into a decision in a few minutes- why delay so long to give us this information. We were interested, but wanted all the data you gave us without all the preliminary marketing."

Parting may be sweet sorrow, but not in this case- no tears, just stonyfaced courtesies, as we collected the voucher for free tickets to the magic show which, incidentally, was very good and quite made up for the waste of 3 hours of our morning.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Tour de France- Part VII

The new girl in her classroom was tall, big-framed, with a well-developed bosom. Suji was intrigued by the implication- how old was Paula, where was she from? Paula sat at her desk, lips compressed grimly, eyes ablaze with a silent fury. She had smooth gleaming dark cocoa skin, complemented by tiny springy curls clustering close to the scalp. She was always dressed neatly in a navy blazer, knee length skirt and white blouse. Her unbending taciturnity defeated everyone. Even the teachers could barely elicit anything more than a monosyllabic response when they addressed her. At playtime, while the other kids would whoop and holler exuberantly as they chased around the playground, Paula kept her silence under an old oak tree.

Suji approached her again. “ Hi, Paula.”

“Mmmmpf.”- an indifferent nod. “Isn’t it nice weather today? Do you like to swing?”

Silence. A shake of the head.

“I’m eight years old. How old are you?”


“I’m from India. Where do you come from?”

Paula turned and walked away from the tree to the other end of the playground.

Shrugging, Suji pulled out a book from under her sweater, settled comfortably against the tree trunk and started to read. The smuggling of books out during the play break had become a regular feature of her day. Recess time outdoors was an annoyance, not a release, she had decided, particularly in the absence of any playmates.

Suji still had to go through the routine of gymnastics class and breathless, panting runs around the tracks. Gymnastics classes were held in a large translucent bubble, where all the other girls came attired in leotards. Suji was the only one in a tee and shorts. She watched enviously as Helle, elegant in her purple leotard, classic Nordic features and blonde topknot, gracefully cartwheeled her way across the floor and ended with a back flip. Suji’s trials at cartwheeling weren’t getting anywhere, though her attempts at a handstand were showing slight improvement. She spent more time listening to the lovely classical music wafting from the speakers than actually trying any tumbling. Balance beams, uneven bars and Roman rings were drudgery of the worst kind, she lacked the muscle power to lift a respectable height on the pommel horse and gave up after a desultory attempt or two. The gym teacher shook her head and tsk-ed at the ineptness. Suji couldn’t care less if she got a failing grade in this- this was the very least of her priorities at school.

Track running was unpleasantness of a different kind, in the crisp cold air. She ran for about 50 feet before her lungs gave out, slowing her down considerably, wondering whether she would ever reach the end of her track.

But the nature walks to the nearby Parc de St-Cloud were sheer delight and filled with myriad surprises along the way. They would put on their coats and trudge through the woods, arriving at an opening with a grassy field, and let loose, picking up odds and ends for their nature journals on the way. They chased across the field, teacher sedately following, to a sun-dappled path which ended in a small outdoor playground with paint peeling off the slide and swings, unlike the carefully painted equipment back at school. A brief rest and recess later, they walked back the way they had come, toting their writing pads, pencils and paper bags filled with found objects. This was Suji’s idea of outdoor fun- Fresh air, sunlight, brisk walk.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Tour de France- Part VI

One evening out at a restaurant overlooking the Seine, at the magical hour when the lights of Paris turn on to the delight of the tourists crowding the bateaux mouches trawling the river, Suji sat at on the very edge of her seat stuffing herself with mouthfuls of the mushroom pie that Amma had cut up for her, novice that she was to table manners, forks and knives. Adult conversation flowed and ebbed around her, softly susurrant, between her parents and the friends who had invited them to dine out. She paid no heed, too busy savoring the spicy herbal flavors scenting the pie, the melting crunch of buttery pastry shell. "Yum, I love this mushroom pie!"

Back home, she slipped into her nightwear and curled up in her bed, falling into a rather fitful sleep. At midnight, she awoke in a cold sweat, with a burning ache in her food-pipe. Nausea bubbled up as she raced to the bathroom sink barely in time. So much for the delicious mushroom pie.

Amma sniffed in the morning after a bleary-eyed vigil with basin at Suji’s bedside. “Best to stick to eating pommes-frites (French fries) from now. No more mushroom dishes for you!” With that, Suji determined not to undertake any more experiments in eating French cookery beyond the known staples of “du pain”( bread), croissants, French fries and La Vache qui Rit (Laughing cow) cheese cubes, and above all ‘thayir saadam’ ( curd rice) and potato chips- her favorite TV dinner.

Another of Suji's now seriously limited food adventures was a passion for a garlic flavored soft cheese. Suji would sneak up to the refrigerator to spoon out tablespoons of the stuff into a small bowl, and Amma was always wondering why it kept running out so fast. There can be too much of a good thing. One day, the point of satiety was reached, after which Suji turned her nose up at it and refused to finish up the generous supply that Amma had laid in.

Lunch at school was a routine affair- Peanut butter sandwich or occasionally chapati rolled up with a filling of sugar and ghee, along with apple juice or milk from the cafeteria. Suji was happy enough to munch these for a while, but as time passed, the peanut butter sandwich's charm palled, and she attempted sneaking it into the kitchen trashcan before Amma discovered it half uneaten in her lunchbox and gave her a solid scolding. Suji took to bundling up remnants in a paper napkin and surreptitiously discarding it before the lunch monitors could see her in the school cafeteria.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Groundhog Day

Yesterday was another unremarkable repeat of the recent biking and walking expeditions we have been doing practically every weekend.
Bikes and bike helmets: Check
Baseball caps: Check
Water bottles: Check
Lemon rice, curd rice, mango pickle, jalapeno chips: Check
Ladles and picnicware: Check
Groggy kids: Check
So off we drove onto PA-43, the toll road (cheap at 50 cents a pop) from and to Heaven, on our way to Cedar Creek State Park.

The weather was perfect- gorgeous blue skies and enormous powder-puff white clouds, greenery shading the sides of the bike trail. I walked behind M who still struggles with training wheels, while the others went far ahead of us. We stopped occasionally to admire the wildflowers and had a couple of butterflies following us, convinced from the bright yellow I wore and M's pale purple that we were a mother-lode of nectar. One landed on M's capris and stuck out an exploratory proboscis, only to be disappointed. It flew away into the bushes afterwards.

After about an hour, I returned with M to a spot close to the creek, snagging a partly broken picnic table that nobody seemed desperate enough to want, all better spots having already been taken by early bird picnickers. It was shady and cool as we waited for the others in our party to arrive from their biking and walking.

"I'm bored", M started on her usual whine. "When will the others come here."
Suddenly, "Look, Amma! A groundhog!"
There it was, a smallish groundhog venturing out into the grass about 4 feet away from where we sat. It seemed mesmerized by something in the distance, which turned out to be the curlicues and swirls of RC airplanes flying high in a nearby field. After munching a bit on some clover, it retired into the bushes again.

I took a trip to the van to retrieve the picnic food and tablecloth, leaving M with my parents, in charge of the table. After setting up the table, as we started to eat our food, the groundhog ventured out again. This time it set a direct course for me, as I chowed down on lemon rice and jalapeno chips. I set aside the plate and snapped a few shots of the advancing groundhog, which moved forward, unfazed by the flashing bulb. What a pro! Angelina Jolie must have nothing on this one, in terms of paparazzi friendliness, I thought.

Now, he was too close, and I started getting antsy. I stomped on the ground, and he ran away into the bushes, only to venture out on his quest again as I resumed eating.
'Let's try throwing him a chip', M shouted.
'No, we shouldn't be feeding it. It's a wild animal."
By this time, the rest of the party had arrived, and the groundhog vanished into the bushes again. We thought that he had gone away for good, till we noticed that he had sneaked up on us from the other side, hidden among the Queen Anne's lace and thistles.
The kids were all excited. "Here's a chip, groundhog!". Our remonstrations went unheeded as they tossed chips in his direction. He rooted around, picked out a chip and sat up munching it delicately, while I grabbed my camera and started clicking away like mad, again. He posed gladly for my benefit, quite the seasoned model.
He went through a fair amount (I'd say about half a bagful) of the jalapeno chips before delicately licking his paws and deciding it was time for a goodly siesta.
On the way back, M and S had a discussion about the whole trip and decided that the groundhog was the best part, and deserving of a name to rival that of Punxsutawney Phil, so they picked Jalapeno Joe (even at the risk of copyright infringement, considering there's a restaurant chain of that name), since the groundhog loved the jalapeno chips so.

Move over, Punxsutawney Phil, make way for the next paparazzi's darling : Jalapeno Joe.

(OK, I know it isn't February 2, but it doesn't matter, we'll just move Groundhog Day to mid-August instead.)

Saturday, August 9, 2008

It's Wall Art time, Wall-e

And this blog post has no real connection at all to Wall-e, just that it sounded suitably alliterative.

As we move into the dog days of summer, the mind yawns and stretches a tiny muscle here and there. Today's exercise is to test the propagating power of the Wall Art tag.

I'm first, so here goes-

Tag Rules:

Items on your walls:
Look up from your computer and stare at all the walls in the room surrounding you.
List each item on the wall and its origin (for example : Faded landscape print from _ , Family photo taken in Portland, Andy Warhol soup can poster, Starbucks neon sign, whatever...)
If you are in the great outdoors blogging, the tag will settle for a brief description of the flora and fauna (scientific names would be much appreciated, naturally).

Pass this on to 5 bloggers.


Items on my walls:

(1) A United States Postal service Space Achievement and Exploration Press Sheet ( face value $38.50) with a holographic Landing on the Moon, colorful nebula and dish stamps, Solar system stamps with pentagonal views of the sun and galaxies, and two holographic space station stamps. With any luck, this thing will be worth a small fortune in another 50 years, when I can drag it to the Antiques Roadshow and have an appraiser tell me that it is then worth $1000.

(2) Atomic clock, which unfortunately hasn't been receiving the synchronizing time signal for ages. It defeats the purpose of buying this, as the major marketing point was that it never needed to be adjusted for Eastern Daylight Time to Eastern Standard Time and vice versa. All for the want of an extra 9V battery, which I have been to lazy to replace.

(3) Horrendously tacky wall calendar with ads for local businesses. The main advantage of this is that it came free from our township, and lists the school closings and township commission meeting dates and provides car wash and pizza coupons.

(4) Matted print of pen and watercolor views of San Francisco. The painful part was finding a frame to fit the odd size, so we ended up using one of the weird kits from the local craft store, but without a protective glass cover.

(5) A huge 'L I O L' , graphite on eggshell flat : c. 2000, masterpiece by S, aged seven, a sort of organic protest against the indignation of being displaced as the center of the universe by the arrival of his baby sister M.

(6) Square stained glass frame, much dwarfing the tiny 2"x 2" square display of the most ancient thing in the house : a 2008 year old bronze mite from a cache of early era coins. 'Own a piece of history for only $20, this opportunity may never arise again!' Maybe this will be worth $1000 in another 50 years too.

I'm passing this tag on to
Lekhni : No, not what's in your wallet (like that ubiquitous Capital One ad) - what's on your wall?
Usha: to provide you with some lighthearted relief (or annoyance ;) during a very busy time.
Ruchira: I'm hoping you will post more pictures of your gorgeous paintings.
Jenn: Being the Thrift Shop Romantic, I'm sure that your ever changing collection will give us a peek at some fantastic finds.
Kochuthresiamma: (I'm betting on at least one Raja Ravi Varma painting poster.)


P.S To the Wall Art Tag: Go forth, be fruitful and multiply!

Friday, August 8, 2008

Tour de France- Part V

Dinner over, Amma said “Go down to the Mini Marché and buy some milk, cheese and toothpaste”, handing over a crisp ten franc note. “Don’t forget to get the change”. Pocketing the money, Suji skipped out, snaking plaits flapping up and down against her woolen pullover - down the stairs, out the door opening onto the courtyard, down the steps and driveway, through an arched opening onto the street behind.

The sky had turned an inky blue and the street lights were switched on in Rue de la Rochefoucauld. Suji waved in response to a friendly wave from a little girl backlit at a second floor window as she turned left on the street. A few minutes later, she had arrived at the Mini Marché with its red awning extending over the sidewalk. Ignoring the swarthy cashier’s cheery greeting and raised eyebrows at her lack of response, she ran down the back aisle heading for the dairy section. “Recette pour le Gloubi-boulga” ( recipe for Gloubi-boulga) bubbled the cartoon dinosaurs on the back of the milk cartons arranged neatly on the shelf. She grabbed one and turned around to look for the shopping baskets, lips puckering in concentration before noticing the stack of baskets less than a foot away at the aisle’s end. Placing the milk carton in a basket, she pushed on toward the cheese section, where she picked out the package of cheese cubes she had gotten addicted to in the brief weeks after her arrival.

Quel beaux cheveux!” ( What gorgeous hair!) a tiny lady suddenly gushed behind her as she turned into the health and skincare aisle. The lady rushed up to her as she half turned and gently pulled her long plaits to the front to better examine the red-bowed gleaming well-oiled braids. Suji sputtered in surprise, mumbling an uncertain Je ne comprends pas” ( I don’t understand!) More rapid-fire effusions followed. Here and there a glimmer of comprehension crept in, “…Cheveux… Si beaux…un petit cadeau…” (Hair…so beautiful…a little present…) The lady pushed something in her hand. Wresting herself from the lady’s clutches, she managed a weak “Merci” as she fled to the cash register without the toothpaste and tendered her money in a hurry to escape. The cashier’s eyes crinkled in merriment at her plight as he rang up her purchase and gave her the groceries and change. He twinkled at her: “Bonsoir, mademoiselle”.

“The people here are crazy”, she burst out to her mother, still panting from the breakneck run back from the Mini Marché. Amma just smiled as she blurted out the details of the incident. “She was just admiring your hair, nothing to worry about.” Back in her room, Suji looked down at her clenched fist and opened it to find a half-melting square bar of chocolate wrapped in wrinkled foil, and a smile lit up her face.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

'Car'ma Chameleon - Part II

The car has finally been ransomed by paying for the new state inspection and tires, and snoozes cosily in my garage today.
But, just as I was thanking my lucky carma that I had managed to escape the horror of paying through the nose for a new power steering rack, fate intervened.
I had to borrow hubby's minivan to take the kids to their piano lesson, and merrily drove around grocery shopping after that. Normally, I dislike driving it, since it feels rather like mahouting an ungainly elephant. I'm usually extra-careful with the controls, since I do it so infrequently. On the last leg, from piano lesson to home, I relaxed my guard and thought "Finally, all these trips and I'm starting to get comfortable driving this monster." I started planning out dinner as I drove home, pulled into the driveway,and realized horrified that the brakelight was still on, a smoking rubber smell spewing noxiously from the tires.
My husband raced downstairs, grabbed a hose and directed the jet towards the smoking tires. (Now you can understand the meaning of the clip art in the previous post!) "Ha, you are going to make me spend as much as what we have saved on the power steering rack, if not more, for new brake pads, maybe even brake drums!" He piled on the guilt liberally.
I snuck away from the scene red-eared, ruing my bad luck just when I thought it had taken a turn for the better.
The next time I take out the minivan (if he ever lets me get my hands on the keys again), I will be sure to consult the calendar for Rahu kalam, or even get a complete advisory from an online astrologer before I sit in the driver's seat. Maybe that will change the bad carma at last!

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

'Car'ma Chameleon - Part I

My 'car'ma keeps shifting from good to bad. Maybe the mechanic might say that I need a change in the shifting gear as well, the way things are going.
Last winter, during the few days when we actually had super-duper cold weather, my beloved ageing Camry was forced to spend the night outside the garage, due to some work that required the space in the garage. When I fired up the ignition in the morning and started rolling down the driveway, I heard the most horrible clanking sound, which mysteriously vanished at higher speeds. I drove the car like that for a day till I could get it to the nearest mechanic (let's call him Andy).
At Andy's the problem was diagnosed as being a power steering rack which would cost approximately $700 in parts and labor. Andy helpfully topped off the transmission fluid, which he said, had gone low, because of a possible leak.
700 bucks- We looked blue in the face. My husband suggested that I try to drive the car some more days before we decided on getting the power steering rack replaced. The car continued to work like a charm, and still does about 8 months later, with no power steering rack replacement.
This month is inspection time for the Camry. So I duly took it down to Andy's for the annual ritual and paperwork. This time, the call comes : "It's passing emissions testing, but you need 3 new tires and a replacement of the power steering rack to pass inspection."
"How much for the tires?"
"'$97.55 + tax and labor."
"How much for the power steering rack?"
"$610, parts and labor"
"Can I just have you do the tires and come back later for the power steering rack?"
"Lady, it won't pass inspection unless you replace all of these", said Andy in a faintly exasperated tone.
A few minutes of muttered confabulations with my husband later, I called up Ed in __ville: the very same Ed who had held my husband's minivan hostage for a full week, incommunicado as to his whereabouts, apologetically and for free returned it, and then vanished from the radar, with no returned phone calls. Yes, we do have Stockholm syndrome towards auto mechanics, and go back in desperation to the very place we vowed never to go back to again.
Ed didn't seem to recognize my voice. "Bring it in tomorrow for the inspection and emission."
Ed, you're my only hope now.
I collected my car keys at Andy's and goggled at the bill -'$97 for an oil change, that can't be right!'
Andy said "The car's passed emission, so I put the sticker on for that. Let me know what you wanna do about the other items." I gave a general nod and decamped with my precious car.
At Ed's: "Do you want me to do just the inspection? You say that it needs new tires?"
Vigorous nods. As we left, my husband turned to me "With any luck, he won't be saying anything about that power steering rack needing replacing."
All day long, no phone calls. We moved into the weekend, when Ed is unfortunately closed. Help, my car has been kidnapped by Ed now and held captive for 3 days now!

(To be continued...)

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Tour de France - IV

The afternoon light was starting to wane by the time Suji returned from school. She gobbled a quick snack - “Aai …Pépito!” announced the television ad cartoon boy in sombrero and poncho, hawking the very same brand of chocolate coated cookies that she had eaten. She raced out to the elevator shouting “I’m going biking, Amma”. She punched the elevator buttons and losing patience, bounded down the stairs two at a time as the elevator groaned its way up.

The air was moist in the basement as she galloped down the dimly lit corridor with rows of cages bulging with children’s cycles, boxes, unused furniture. She opened the combination lock on the door and wheeled out her brand-new gleaming white bike – a girl’s model with an incongruous “Boy” sticker on the front. The niceties of gender reference didn’t matter to her - it was enough that she had a bicycle, that she knew how to ride it, learned with Appa huffing and puffing as he ran behind her one weekend ago.

That was a morning to remember- with the near fall from the bike as she realized in shock that she was sailing breezily on her own, Appa having let go of the seat, too exhausted to keep up. She was exhilarated by the free wheeling ride, skimming leafy-cool Bois de Boulogne’s wide roads, all sun-washed innocence by day, despite its unsavory reputation after dark.

She started circling around the courtyard’s square skylights marked with arrays of large glass dots, raised high enough to serve as seating for the occasional parent out to keep an eye on a playing child. There was no one else there today. “Good, I have this all to myself. Let me see, I’m now on the 3rd leg of the Tour de France. Faster, faster, I must overtake the cyclist ahead.” She sped up to overtake her imaginary competitor, snaking deftly around the skylight seats. “Time for the figure 8 maneuver practice, let me see how many uninterrupted 8’s I can make before I have to pause”. More fast and furious pedaling followed, weaving deftly around the skylights. “… 47, 48, 49, 50… Yay- a new World record, set by Mlle. Sujatha!!” bellowed the commentator in her head.
“Suji, time to come up for dinner!”,the kitchen window opened to let Amma’s call ring out. Obediently, Suji bounced her bike, down the steps to the garage exit and wheeled it back to the storage locker in the basement. The sunlight was almost gone in the stairwell as she hummed her way upstairs.

Friday, August 1, 2008

Goldfinch Summer

I peered out of my front window, scheming against the teen-sized thistle plant that towered over the hollies, when I froze. A goldfinch looking straight at me, barely one foot away.

Goldfinches are quite shy, and barrel away in the blink of an eye if you attempt to approach within a few feet of them. But this one stayed steadily on the thistle, peering at me for over a minute. I shifted to get my camera, and by the time I came back, it had vanished.

Since then I've tracked the elusive finch more than three times, pulling away vigorously at the fluff from the thistle heads gone to seed. Surely, it must be late in the season to be building nests, I thought. But no, from this site:

Flocks of goldfinches break up in July and August, when the birds form pairs and begin to nest. The male courts the female with a beautiful canary-like song. The female selects the nest site in hedge, brush, or the border of a field. The nesting location is always near a good supply of thistle. She builds a nest of woven plant fibres that is lined with thistledown or milkweed down. She will usually choose the fork of a maple or other hardwood tree, sapling or bush that is at least .3 to 10 metres (1 to 33 feet) above the ground, although some will nest in thistles closer to the ground.

That explains it. My little finch is a female, preparing her first nest of the season in one of the maples in our front yard. I've seen the occasional, fallen but beautifully constructed and lovingly lined nests, sometimes with remnants of blue shells in them. I had always thought that these were the handiwork of robins, but now I know better.

Thistles are a royal pain in the yard, but they can be sources of delight for these beautiful creatures! What a quandary I face : thistles and happy goldfinches or clean flower beds and no goldfinches! I will delay just a little bit longer before going in to take out those weeds, in hope that the goldfinch has culled enough for her nest.

(Note: The photo of the goldfinch on the thistle is from the Flickr photostream of wayne31r)