Blue Heron

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This stunning blue heron was posing in the sunshine, apparently begging to be photographed.

The recent visit to Brazos Bend State Park near Houston gave me what was probably the best sightings of just about everything.

I watched a bittern gorging itself on a huge fish. It took more than just a few gulps to get it down, and there was a noticeable bulge in its throat when it was half in down there, with half still hanging out of its beak. Continue reading

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A three-legged alligator

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I spent a warm, sunny day at Brazos Bend State Park near Houston. As it was warm the ‘gators were out, as well as many different birds. It was a day for using the binoculars and camera as well as the eyes; there was a lot of activity.

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Pelican Island

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Finding birds in sprawling urban Houston is suprisingly easy – if you know where to look. From the street or garden (aka backyard in the US) the best bet is to look up. Trees, overhead wires and telegraph poles offer perching places for a pleasing variety – mockingbirds, blue jays, northern cardinals, mourning doves, and the ubiquitous grackle. I’m no US bird expert but can now recognise a fair number of birds when we come to stay with family.

We set off to explore a new area – a park and nature reserve with a reservoir, tucked in between busy freeways. I must admit it wasn’t quiet! Pathways go around the reservoir so it’s a good walking place. With binoculars it also proved to be a good birding place.

Not only did we see several loggerhead shrikes (never having seen a shrike before) we also had  good views of the white American pelicans which congregate there, clustering together on a couple of small islands in the reservoir. They squawk, they fly spectacularly, they skim over the water, they take off and land and provide an ongoing moving tableau of avian activity.

Back in the Zone

 

Spending precious family time in Houston, I like to renew my volunteer status each time we visit so I can go into 8 year old granddaughter’s school and help out in her class. As a trained teacher it’s always a delight to be back in school  and be  “back in the zone” as one of the reception staff at her school calls it when I turn up.

Today was my first day back this trip. School starts early here, at 7.35 am and it was arranged for me to go in for the morning session, 8.00-10.00 am. I’m scheduled to be doing this twice weekly, and I’m smiling.

I’ve been generally helping out today with the language/grammar work they were working on. I loved hearing that they’ve been learning about idioms and we had a few jokes about breaking a leg and having butterflies in the tummy. Today they were correcting spellings and tenses in their written work. Then, it being Valentine’s Day, their teacher asked me to read the class a story which they had to pay attention to as there were some questions to write answers to following this.

It was a heart warming story about how a miserable lonely man finds love and friendship in his community. He learns how to smile, laugh, reach out, be kind to people, and help them out. He discovers he is no longer lonely and unhappy.

What a great message, not just for Valentine’s Day but for every day.

It’s good being back in the zone.

 

 

 

 

A Chip off the Old Block

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Modern day children’s toys are full of techno-gadgetry, often needing batteries or access to a power point. No such things were available when I was growing up. I had a train set when I was five years old, but the train was clockwork and had to be wound up to make it go. Most of my toys were made of wood or tin, like the train set, and were made in the UK. Imports from China were an exotic, unheard-of commodity.

There are a few toys I really liked. They gave me hours of pleasure and encouraged me to be creative, so I kept them. Maybe I hung on to them for sentimental reasons, maybe because I thought they might one day be worth something if I wanted to sell them, but mostly because I realised that they would be useful when grandchildren came to stay.

My doll’s house, built entirely of wood and made especially for me, was and is one thing I don’t intend to part with; it’s already offered creative play to granddaughter who is fascinated by its old fashioned, hand-crafted furniture. The coloured wooden shapes puzzle shown above gave me hours of enjoyment as I learned about making patterns and discovered creative possibilities by combining the  shapes in different ways. This is one of the designs granddaughter created, doing the same.

My grandchildren now enjoy this particular wooden puzzle which has lasted well, has not broken or faded, and still manages to hit the spot – as well knock spots off newer plastic gadgetry and imports.

They do say the old ones are the best….

 

That stand-out quality

P1000457Sometimes you see a face, a person, an animal, a bird, whatever. It doesn’t matter exactly what it is; it just stands out from the crowd.

Commanding attention, it rates more than a second look and has a quality or qualities which can’t be ignored. And whatever that is, it may prove difficult to put a name to.

So it is with this statue I saw in the Austrian town of Tulln. He is part of a larger group of figures depicting one of the stories from the German legend of the Neiblungen.

The statues dominate an impressive water feature, and tell the tale of an important meeting. There are many sculpted characters involved, even one of a rat. Here I quote from the official Tulln website:

The Monument to the Nibelungs or Nibelung Fountain is dedicated to a scene from the great medieval German epos: the meeting of Kriemhild, Queen of Burgundy, and Etzel, King of the Huns, in Tulln. It is depicted in a set of bronze sculptures by sculpture Michail Nogin.

The reception of Kriemhild as bride by Etzel her soon-to-be husband in Tulln was peaceful and festive. Today it is considered symbolic of the cultural encounter between Occident and Orient, between West and East.

I’m not sure who this character is – possibly Bleda, brother of Attila – but this statue of him has plenty of stand-out quality.  He’s striking, proud, fearless, perceptive, ruthless, commanding – the sort of person you’d want on your side if you were in trouble, and definitely not someone to cross.

Revenge: an improbable short story

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This rather improbable short story emerged from an exercise I did by creating a conflict between two characters, where one has to persuade the other to do something which both know is morally wrong. It’s from a book called “Back to Creative Writing School”, and I had a lot of fun with this one.

Euan Cope was livid. The headmaster had just told him that his application for Head of the English department had been unsuccessful and now he had to go and teach 4B.  Anger was burning hot inside him as he threw open the door to the classroom, slamming it behind him and trapping his long scarf in the process. The members of 4B sniggered and called out, “Sir…sir…you’ve shut your scarf in the door!”

Scowling at them, the usually quiet and unexciting Mr. Cope seemed to be in a bad mood. Telling them to be quiet and open their copies of Twelfth Night, he barked out instructions on which passage they were to read and discuss, assigning character parts to some of the more articulate students. Continue reading