Feathered Friends and Frenemies

The angry Blue Jay

My bird feeders have generated hordes of new visitors this year. In the spring, I was pleasantly surprised by yellow finches who seemed to have realized that my finch feeder was full and waiting for them to partake—which they did, sometimes four and five at a time! The brilliant yellow of the males made for a delight of bright colors against the more drab coloration of the females, who tend to prefer solitary dining.

Then this fall, after lots of rain that refilled the usually-muddy pond behind my house so that it now resembles a small lake, I suddenly was bombarded by an aggressive blue jay, who expressed his frustration by dive-bombing me when I dared to venture onto the back deck. He tried numerous times to partake of the largesse at the wooden feeder, but it swung too vigorously when he attempted to land on either side. The only time he remained on it was when he realized he could cling to the roof, but that meant he was too far away from the food and whenever he leaned toward it, the feeder nearly tossed him on his head! The other feeder (not pictured) is set up for small birds and is spring-loaded to close whenever a larger bird or a squirrel attempts to steal the food. After several such attempts, the local squirrel population has learned to leap wildly for the little wooden feeder and then to hang from the roof and scoop up the food, scattering lots of it on the ground for later gathering forays. But the blue jay just couldn’t keep trying to get at the food from the tray.

More amazing was the willingness of the red-winged blackbirds, males and females alike, to gather on the smaller feeder, sharing what it held, flying off, alerting more of their kind and then coming back for more. I’m having to refill it at least once a week, and we’ve yet to have snow. Perhaps the cold weather is just enough to have limited their usual foraging so that they now depend more on what I put out than what they would otherwise have to search for.

Regardless of their reasons for seeking out my feeders, it is fun to watch them, including the ferocious blue jay, who squawked irritably at me until I set out a small bowl of food in the now-empty flower container. So there, Mr. Jay! Now be nice and stop dive-bombing me!

Red-winged blackbirds
Red-winged blackbird

Real Estate and My Novels

sold signOne of my several careers over the years has involved real estate sales and service. It’s hard to believe but sixteen years ago, I considered myself an original “April fool” for jumping into the real estate game—one reason related to my love of reviewing open houses when I was a teenager dreaming of what my house would look like.  That dream probably related to the fact that my dad was in the service and we moved around a lot—always renting since we were rarely in any one place more than two years. In one case, his duty station lasted a mere nine months. I think that was the year I was in one school for 13 days!

Back to the realty gig: like most totally green realtors, I knew nothing when I began, even though I’d taken the requisite pre-licensure course and passed the state-administered test. Each transation thereafter became a learning experience, one that ensured I would seek, and eventually obtain, several advanced designations, the better to know what I was doing and to serve my clients.  As important as that advanced training was, remaining open to the needs of each client—seller or buyer—informed my work.

The stories of other realtors and their experiences with their clients also added to what I knew. And all these encounters—the good, bad, ugly, funny, gruesome, dangerous, and just plain stupid—all became grist for the particular mill in Granddad’s House. Some of the realtors who appear in that story are also found in Just Friends, and in another book called Choices, which won the Grand Prize (http://chantireviews.com/2014/09/23/the-official-list-of-the-chanticleer-2013-grand-prize-winners/) in the Chanticleer Book Reviews and Media Contest for 2013.  It remains to be seen if those same realtors show up again in as-yet-unwritten stories in the series taking place in the fictional town of Evergreen, Washington.

People often ask if I miss my work as a realtor since I retired from that role. Yes and no. I still remain open to answering questions my friends ask, usually for their relatives or acquaintances. But, I don’t miss the often-frustrating actions of banks since the 2007-2010 Recession, whose decisions buyers and sellers still hang on with often too-long bated breath. Requiring that buyers prove they have the money to buy a home has always been wise, something some lenders forgot in the craziness of the period 2002 through 2008. But triple-checking bank accounts and demanding to know about every little thing is going way too far in the direction of total mistrust.  Would that the happy medium is soon achieved.

Where is Abingdon?

Across the valley from our rural rehearsal venue

One of my first loves is choral singing. My friends know they’ll find me raising my voice in different venues throughout the year, such as my local church choir, the annual Handel’s Messiah community sing, the Skagit Symphony Orchestra at least once a year, and various cities around the country. Two such special experiences included singing at Carnegie Hall, a truly unexpected opportunity, I never expected. More recently, I’ve discovered  Road Scholar Choral Participation programs that involve singing. (To check them out, go to https://www.roadscholar.org.

This past year was my first attendance in tiny Abingdon, VA, population, approximately 8,200, and home to the wonderful Barter Theatre (www.bartertheatre.com). If you live within range and haven’t enjoyed its offerings, do yourself a favor and take in a show there. You won’t regret it. Do these names—Gregory Peck, Kevin Spacey, Ernest Borgnine, Patricia Neal, Larry Linville—ring a bell? They’ve all played there.  Their pictures are on a wall near the gift shop.

Back to Abingdon. This particular musical experience included learning songs in Spanish, Latin, and Quetzal, as well as English, and included tunes from the sixteenth century as well as more modern pieces, including a special arrangement of “They Dance Alone,” by Sting. The singers, many of whom return year after year, were especially welcoming when I finally wandered in after three flights and a small shuttle ride across the Tennessee-Virginia line.

The director, Andrew Walker, was a fabulous find, knowledgeable, skilled at bringing out our best efforts, and appreciative of even the most off-the-wall comments during rehearsals.  We probably laughed almost as much as we sang. As one who’s always believed that laughter is one of the most healing of medicines, I have to say that my time in Abingdon was a delightful way to improve my mental health.

We sang 5-6 hours/day. Non-singers might think that’s too much, but singers love to sing and our rehearsals did include breaks.

What made Abingdon even more special was the celebration of one couple’s first wedding anniversary. They exchanged wedding vows last year at this same venue with many of the same singers in attendance. I don’t know how many other Road Scholar events have included a wedding, but that this one did speaks to how special this group is for its participants, at least half of whom include new people each year. I count myself among those who have recently discovered this group and who intend to return.

If you’re interested in this and other groups, look us up in the Road Scholar offerings for the month of November. Even if you have to come from more than 2,5000 miles away, as I did, you won’t regret it.