Love Notes: things to love mid-winter

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This photo was from a much warmer day (last summer), but it seemed perfect for a post about love… 

I meant to get this blog posted yesterday, for Valentine’s Day, but I didn’t, and here’s why…

Another blizzard. More snow predicted. But here’s the thing: it missed us. (Collective sigh, followed by a cheer.) Various predictions said we’d get one to two more feet of snow out of this storm, adding to the four feet of snow already on the ground. Instead we woke up to two inches! Yesterday was a flurry of activity to get ready for the possible power outage, being snowed in, etc. We even succumbed to the “bread and milk” grocery run, except since we were baking bread and I’m lactose intolerant, instead we bought flour and yeast. (By the way, if you haven’t seen the hilarious bread and milk youtube video, here’s a link.)

Here are a few more things I love this month:

For my post on Writer Unboxed yesterday I asked other Writer Unboxed writers to contribute Valentines to Writing. Why and how they love writing. Check out “Writing…Will You Be My Valentine?” to see the twenty wonderful love letters, poems, and words about writing. I loved compiling this Valentine box of words.

At Great New Books this month I posted a recommendation for Roz Chast’s graphic memoir Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant. I saw this book as a long love letter to her parents (as they went through the aging process). The book is at turns hilarious and heartbreaking and Chast is amazing at expressing feelings through her cartoons. I loved this book.

Lately I’ve seen a lot of Common Ravens. These massive black birds, “cousins” of the crow, are larger than a Red-tailed Hawk, and I don’t see them often in Maine. (I don’t think… they are solitary birds so if I saw one alone, without comparison to another bird, I might think it’s a crow—crows weigh about half as much, but without comparison, this difference is hard to see). You can tell ravens from crows in flight by the raven’s wedge-shaped tail. I saw a lot of ravens in the west when I drove across the country, but it’s really spectacular to see them in the snow. The contrast is beautiful and striking. I haven’t gotten a photo of one yet, but I would love to by the end of the winter.

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Winter is far from over. This is a shot of the Cousins Island Bridge, looking toward the mainland.

Winter…which is far from over, despite the lack of snow from this particular blizzard. We are in the deep chill, with temperatures well below freezing (we’ve had thirteen days below zero in February; I don’t love that). I still go out and take photos, but with clear skies, sunrises and sunsets are less spectacular (we’ve had a few good ones), most boats are out of the water, and it’s harder to get access to beautiful areas—the snow banks are huge.

Another thing I really love today is that it’s only 32 days until the Spring Equinox. And even though I’m sure we’ll still have snow on the ground, there’s a lot of hope resting on that day!

How’s your winter going? What do you love this month?

Answers to Your (In)FAQs

This is a photo of an old church
around the corner from my house.
If you want to use this or another of
the photographs on my blog,
please ask first!

Dear Readers,

Today I will attempt to answer questions you are curious about. No, not those of you who visit (and read) my blog on a regular basis and ask me questions. But you, the other ones—and you know who you are—those of you who find my blog via a google search, one that is perhaps only tangentially related to my blog. One that, when I read it, makes me smile, shake my head, or just plain wonder.

This post is dedicated to you, random searchers. Welcome to my blog, feel the wordsxo love: I will attempt to discern what you were after, answer your questions, or at least commiserate. (This post is also dedicated to blogging friend Sara Grambusch who gave me the idea!)

1. typewriter smudges: Is a typewriter smudge something left behind by a ribbon? I’m guessing it’s something you want to remove, right? If the smudge is on your skin, try fingernail polish remover; if it’s on the paper, I’d go for the white out…do they still make white out?…For the record, I once wrote a post on a typewriter, and it has plenty of smudges, so don’t feel bad, it happens to everyone. It’s part of the charm.

2. creepy church: One of my posts had photos of a church up the street from where I live; I take a lot of photos of it to help me establish a mood for my WIP. If you want to use one of my photos, I’m honored. But please ask first.

3. Chicken With Crow Experiments: I’m sorry, I don’t know where to find experiments that deal with both chickens and crows (and yet when I googled this myself my blog came up 5th in the google search list, I have no idea why). I’ve never done one of these experiments. However I do write a lot about crows (MEH—My Engineer Husband, see #12—and I love crows), so maybe I slipped a chicken in there somewhere…



Abby eats lots of peanuts, as many as she can. She seems fine,
but please consult your veterinarian if you have real concerns.

4. Is it okay if my dog eats the peanuts I feed to crows? My dog Abby eats them (shell and all) and she seems fine! Of course, she’s a lab. Please consult your veterinarian if questions remain.

5. Hermione mug: Did you find one? Please tell me where, I want one too.

6. man stuck in a rowboat: I’m sorry, I hope you got out. If you didn’t, try calling the U.S. Coast Guard. Immediately. You could get cold, see #8.

7. How to make a bridge out of toothpicks:One time my daughter built one of these in middle school. It was a huge pain to make, but it was beautiful. And she got an A on the project. She gets a lot of A’s.

8. Is 1 degree cold or hot weather: Do you spend too many hours of the day in your house, in front of your computer? I’m not sure how you don’t know this, but 1 degree (either Celsius or Fahrenheit) is considered cold, yes. Please go outside next time your thermometer says 1 degree and live the cold (but Mom says wear a jacket).

9. Iphone low battery: I have this problem too, so if you found a solution please come back and tell me.

10. antic house: The definition of antic is an attention-drawing, often wildly playful or funny act or action. I live in a quaint antique house, and there’s nothing funny about it. And I honestly think I’d prefer to live in an antic one—it sounds like a lot more fun.

11. Oprah waving: I wrote a post about Oprah and Meredith Vieira, and how I want to be interviewed by them when (for the record, I refuse to say if) I get famous. I don’t want to see Oprah waving, I want her to give me a hug like she gives all her guests. And yes, I admit a bit of a girl-crush on her (and you too, Meredith—just in case you’re reading!).

12. 8 meh: I only have one MEH (My Engineer Husband). But he’s as good as 8 regular MEHs any old day. He’s a keeper.

Cheers,

Julia

p.s. What are some of the weird searches that got people to your blog? I’d love to hear in comments! And if you have more questions for me, leave them….I’ll try my best to answer them.

The Great Crow Experiment, Part 2

The Gang of Seven
Abstract
The Great Crow Experiment is a non-scientific study conducted by wordsxo scientist-wannabes—MEH (My Engineer Husband) and me. As previously reported in MEH and the Crows (citation: wordsxo) and Science News (citation: Science News), American Crows are extremely intelligent animals. The hypothesis of this experiment is that Corvus brachyrhynchos (American Crow) has the ability to recognize individual people and individual cars. Part 1 of the experiment presented the hypothesis, materials, and method. This post, Part 2, presents Results, Conclusions, as well as opportunities for further research (i.e., things we just don’t know the answers to).

Results
On September 7, 2011, we started to feed the crows at the sports and recreation area where we walk our dog—about 1.5 miles from our house as the crow flies.
October 7, after a month of feeding the crows, and as evidenced by the Crow Log audio below, the crows definitely recognized us and waited for the peanuts. This is especially significant because we were not at the usual location (the softball field) but were instead at the nearby baseballfield. This indicates the crows saw our car (and/or us) and came to that spot for peanuts. Other cars did not elicit this response.

Crow Log Audio: Crows recognize the car (and us?), note the excitement in my voice!! (October 7, 2011)

Crow Log 10-7-11 (mp3)

These are the incredible contrails I mentioned
in the audio recording! Gorgeous!

On October 22 we were in a nearby town (about 10 minutes from the recreation area) and the crows saw us in the nondescript white station wagon and sat in a nearby tree and cawed at us, apparently waiting for us to give them peanuts.

On October 23,when we came out of our house, there were three crows in the tree outside our back door—this is the first time we saw crows in the trees around our house. We believe these are the same crows that we feed at the recreation area.



This video was recorded on November 12; it shows the crows arriving and descending when they note our car’s departure. (MEH’s caution: people who suffer from motion sickness may not want to watch.) 

Conclusions

“The Gang of Seven,” a murder (group) of seven crows recognize our car; and we believe they also recognize us and our dog, too. We believe these same crows may come to our house for peanuts—although we’re not sure it’s the same crows.

Feeding crows is a fun activity, but it can be hard to stop. It can also provide amusement to family members. Our college-age daughter told me that she and her friends were talking about what their empty-nest parents were doing since their kids left for college. She said our stories of feeding the crows made everyone laugh—hence it’s all worth it. After we sent her a photo of one of the seven crows, she said: “That’s one large crow! Have you considered what happens if you STOP feeding the crows and you have 7 large and angry crows outside your house?” 

She may be remembering a similar time when I was feeding chipmunks and one of the chipmunks ended up coming into our kitchen, presumably looking for food. (Note, chipmunks look really big in the house; crows probably look even bigger.)

Further Conclusions:

  • ·      Crows are very smart and definitely recognize our white nondescript station wagon, but they do not seem to recognize our dark blue even-more-nondescript sedan.
  • ·      We think the Gang of Seven recognizes us, too, because they turn around to look at us when we’re walking at the recreation area.
  • ·      Crows are very shy. Most of them fly away as soon as our back door opens—however, there is one larger crow that I’m convinced recognizes me because he/she does not fly away when I come out the door but instead sits and watches me.
  • ·      Putting peanuts in your yard will attract crows but will also attract squirrels, chipmunks, and Blue Jays (also in the crow (Corvid) family).  All of these are less shy than crows, and will come to get peanuts while we are in the yard (crows will not).
  • ·      MEH can drive and shoot videos (backwards!) at the same time—this is not a recommended activity but he only does this on a dirt road when no other cars are around.
  • ·      Many people we’ve talked to about what we’re doing have said they don’t like and/or are afraid of crows (some associate them with danger, death, Poe, or The Bob Newhart Show).
  • ·      Dogs (at least our dog Abby) love peanuts and will eat them shells and all (crows do not eat the shells).
  • ·      Peanuts are scarce this year because of drought conditions experienced in the south—and this has driven up their price (peanuts are expensive).
Opportunities for Further Research

We still don’t know with absolute certainty that the crows we see at the softball field (the so-called Gang of Seven) are the same crows that come to our house for peanuts. Casual observation indicates they are: we see them first thing in the morning at home; then when we arrive at the recreation area (about 1.5 miles from our house as the crow flies), they arrive about 5 minutes after we get there by car. MEH says the only way we’d know for sure is if we wore a cave man mask and banded them. (Note, if you don’t know about why we would choose a cave man mask, read about that here.)

Comic Relief

This audio recording made me laugh when I listened to it, and I thought I’d embarrass myself (even) further by sharing it with one or a trillion Internet users. (Don’t worry, my eye is fine.)

Crow Log Comic Relief (mp3)

The Great Crow Experiment, Part 1












Introduction/Purpose

The hypothesis of this experiment is that Corvus brachyrhynchos (American Crow) has the ability to recognize individual people and individual cars.

As previously reported in MEH and the Crows (citation: wordsxo) and Science News (citation: Science News), American Crows are extremely intelligent animals. MEH (My Engineer Husband) read an article in Science News about a crow researcher who would occasionally fling peanuts and/or dogfood out her car window to stir up crow activity. After she sold her car, the new owner called and asked her why a crow was following her to work. The researcher then realized that crows recognize not just individual humans but also individual cars. By the way, the car’s new owner didn’t mind the crow following, instead just “provisioned her car with peanuts for the occasional fling.”
MEH suggested we try an experiment of our own and test the theory ourselves. This was an easy task because there are a lot of crows at the nearby park and recreation center where we walk our dog once in the morning and again in the evening.

And so it was, about two months ago MEH purchased a large bag of peanuts (a preferred crow food) and we started feeding the crows—from our car and when on foot while walking the dog.

Materials
* Peanuts
* Camera
* Video Camera
* iPhone Audio recorder (we made daily audio “Crow Logs,”  like the one you can listen to at the end of this post!!)
* The car (white non-descript station wagon)
* Ourselves (MEH and Julia)
Method and Procedure

The experiment entailed a four-pronged method:

1. Placing peanuts twice a day at specific spots around the softball field at the recreation area: specifically at portions of the fence we have called “faux gates” (because they are shorter segments so they look like gates and we decided the crows might easily see them from the air).

2. Placing peanuts on the fence posts at the recreation area.

3. Flinging peanuts out the car windows (when crows are present) as we drive away from the recreation area as well as other places we see crows.

4. Throwing peanuts in our driveway if and when we notice crows in our yard or following us home.



Crow Log November 14, 2011 (mp3)LISTEN HERE for a preview of results!!







Next blog post (Thursday): Results and Conclusions



MEH and the Crows

I haven’t talked much about MEH lately—in fact, if you’re new to my blog, you might not even know what I’m talking about. MEH (My Engineer Husband) is the nickname I gave my husband when I first started my blog—because way back then (almost six months ago!), MEH was unemployed and he was around a lot. In fact, our desks are side by side, and he gave me a lot of great ideas for the blog!

The good news and the bad news is that MEH’s work is taking up a lot of time now. He’s doing software consulting for a company in the town we live in so he can ride his bike to work (he loves that) but he is gone a lot (he hates that and so do I). But the best good part is he’s making money again (we both love that).

Still, we don’t get nearly as much of a chance to discuss my blog (or even other things) together, like we used to. And that means I don’t get as much MEH-y stuff—like science (MEH loves to learn and talk about science) to blog about any more.

So imagine how thrilled I was when quite by accident I stumbled onto a MEH-y thing to blog about! It happened recently when we were outside working on the shed. (An interesting aside, and this is very exciting: we got a new shed! I know, for some of you this will sound really really lame, but not if you live in the Northeast. Here in the Northeast—Maine in particular—we take our sheds very seriously. So, when a neighbor offered us a free shed, we jumped at the chance.)

This is how it all started…

And that’s how this particular adventure started. All we had to do was transport the shed from her house to ours….which we did (well, we didn’t do it; we hired an excavator to do it). Moving the shed is in itself a MEH-y thing because MEH likes to consider all the possibilities, like using large logs to roll the shed from said-neighbor’s house to ours or using a friend’s truck to tow the shed to our house—but in the end we hired an excavator with a front-end loader.

But wait, here’s the good part! As MEH was re-attaching the ramp to the shed, a crow flew over us. And as it flew over, it did a most peculiar thing, it turned its head all the way upside down! Now, you really think I’m off my rocker. What is she talking about?

Let me break it down. A few months ago, MEH told me that crows are really really smart. Apparently they are so smart they recognize INDIVIDUAL humans. And they “tell” their baby crow chicks which humans are bad and which humans are good. So, if someone does something mean to a crow, like shoot at it or capture it to put a tag on its leg, that crow will remember and make sure other crows know you’re a bad human.

John Marzluff, a wildlife biologist at the University of Washington, verified this by testing crows to see if they really remembered individual humans—he did this by putting a caveman mask on people. First, someone wore the caveman mask when tagging wild crows. Then he put the same mask on random people walking across a college campus. Crows cawed at people with the mask on! When he had people wear the mask upside down, he found that some crows flew upside down to see if they recognized that person.

“Is that the guy Mom told me about?”
(One of our many crow pics; MEH likes this one
because the crow was staring right at him!)

Which is exactly what the crow was doing with MEH. And here’s why: they know that MEH likes them. For one thing, he feeds them—with corn in our backyard—and he also photographs them. And, everyday when we go out for our early morning and late afternoon dog walks to the open space near our home, we see crows. Often they fly toward us rather than away from us. We (and specifically MEH) think they know MEH feeds them and likes to take photos of them. (On the days they fly away, crows are allowed bad moods or to be shy, right?!)

But I think there’s more…I think the crows may know that MEH respects and likes crows: partly, he does because they’re so smart, partly because they enjoy flying and play while they’re flying (MEH has a private pilot’s license and loves flying—a plane). Partly because “crows are pretty cool” because they use tools.

That’s right. Crows use tools—MEH told me this too. If a glass is half full of water and there’s something a crow wants that is floating on the water—way down inside the glass and its beak won’t reach—a crow will drop pebbles in the glass, causing the object to rise to the surface so the crow can get it.

But back to MEH….and the upside down crow. I’m thinking all those crows out there are teaching their babies what a great guy he is. And that’s why that crow turned its head upside down to get a good look at him. The crow couldn’t believe it: finally getting a look at the good-hearted friend of crows he’d heard so much about from his momma bird!




Have you had an experience with a crow recognizing you? How about another bird (apparently at least pigeons and mockingbirds recognize humans, too!)? And if you see any crows flying upside down, now you’ll know why!

Cheers,

Julia

p.s. I got some of this information from a story on NPR about crows and face recognition—and with the story there’s a cool quiz to see if you can tell crows apart as well as a crow could pick MEH (or you) out of a crowd. You can see that story and quiz here.