Bright Lights – Big City

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I’m spending the holidays in Fabulous Las Vegas – my hometown.

Most people don’t think of a Vegas as a place where people grow up, go to school, or barbecue. On flights home, once someone learns that am a native Vegan, I am often asked where we live – do we live in the hotels?

The truth is that we live in houses and in neighborhoods like people all over the country and the world. We mow our lawns, we bake cookies, and we put up Christmas lights…

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This display was up just a block from my brother’s house. As we left for an evening looking at lights the family was still putting it up – upon our return we saw it in all it’s glory with children dancing in the yard behind the nativity. There’s something so sweet about kids dancing around the manger as we celebrate the the birth of Jesus.

A couple of blocks over we have the neighborhood’s version of the Griswold’s – a spectacle in lights and inflatables…

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A corner lot filled to the brim – extending at least ten feet above the roofline.

Sometimes the details are more interesting that the sum of all the parts….

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Twinkling lights…

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Glowing Santa…

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Needles aglow…

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Lights and garland…

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A splash of color.

Merry Christmas from Vegas!

The Double Date

The woodpecker feeder is the hot spot at the Sunday Buffet these days, a great place for friends to meet up for brunch and a good time.

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Sometimes old friends meet up and decide to catch up over a meal…

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Hey bud – long time no see? How’s the little lady?

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She’s great, she’s on her way here now. You should call your girl – let’s have a double date.

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Too late, I’m already here! The pine post is my favorite spot.

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Mine too – I love the appetizers!

A tale about toys and tonsils on Isabelle Avenue

The King of Isabelle Avenue

As a child of the 60s, I had a front row seat to the changing roles of gender in society. Sometimes they were about serious stuff like Moms working – sometimes they were about things that didn’t really matter at all.

My mom had terrible problems with tonsilitis when we were young. Max and I got sick pretty often, we would give it to mom. We bounced back but she didn’t.  One of us would get sick and pass it on, about the time we all got well one of us would get sick again. It was a constant recurring cycle that only got worse once I started school. Our family doctor told her that a tonsilectomy was pretty serious for an adult, but was simple and safe for children. Max and I could have ours taken out at the same time, all we had to do was wait until…

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Max the Second

I’m only here because of a Fruity Chicken.

The esteemed author of the Fruity Chicken

The esteemed author of the Fruity Chicken

My brother Max started a blog about raising chickens and fruit trees in the arid desert of our native Las Vegas about a year ago. It’s a sweet, funny, and sometimes technical look at what it takes to make things grow in that hostile environment. I followed him via email until he migrated to WordPress and opened an account to make commenting here easier. Of course I was clueless about WordPress and accidentally started a blog and didn’t write anything. Max started leaving me snide remarks about the amazing content of my empty blog that sound startlingly like the stuff the spam bots send us with great regularity. After enough pushing I finally started a blog aimed squarely at sharing my photos with one person on the planet – Max.

Me and Max

Me and my “little” brother Max

I’m the oldest of my three siblings – Max came second. Max was named after our beloved Grandfather – Max the first. He has always worn the “II” in his name like a badge of honor.

I was thrilled at the idea of having a little brother, but Max has never been content in the role of the younger sibling. At about 14 he passed me by in stature, and his demeanor became that of an older brother. Sometimes teasing, sometimes bossing, sometimes protecting.

Snickering Siblings

Snickering Siblings

Max and I had lots of adventures growing up. He was my first playmate. We explored every inch of Isabelle Avenue on our bikes, we played cowboys and indians, and he and our neighbor Paul did their best to blow a few things up. When I was in high school I started working for the Stagehand’s Union – Max was right behind me.

Stylin' in the 80's

Stylin’ in the 80’s – backstage at the MGM

When our Union was locked out in 1984 he and I manned a food bank for union members and cruised the picket lines making sure everyone was OK – he had a hopped-up Ford Bronco that we zipped up and down the strip in checking on our brothers and sisters.

This is a drawing I did of Max using the stamps at the Stagehand's Union offices.

This is a drawing I did of Max using the stamps at the Stagehand’s Union offices.

As he grew into a man I saw in him the best parts of my mom and my Grandpa – loyalty, responsibility, wisdom, compassion, humor – he worked to make a stable home and family that was very different that the one we grew up in. My grandfather used to marvel at how hard he worked and what a good father he had become. I have always admired his earnestness and commitment to make a good life for his wife and his boys. They have all grown to be the kind of men any father could be proud of.

One of my favorite things to do with Max is to go out into the desert in a Jeep – there is no one I trust more behind the wheel. We have made a couple of trips to the northern Nevada site of a mining claim my grandparents worked in the 60s and 70s. The “Diggins” is located about 60 miles from the nearest paved road. I made this video for him after a trip we took with my nephew Brian summer before last. We both had a tough time after my father passed away, but this trip brought us back together in a very healing way. We listened to this song about a hundred times on the trip so it seemed the natural background for our experiences. I only wish I had been brave enough to record during the really deep water crossings. I loved the adventure, but I loved my camera just a little too much to risk it.

I call this “The best tank of gas ever” and it was. It was a blast to just be together in the wilds of the land we grew up in. We never got to the Diggins – the late spring snows in that year made it impossible, but we had an amazing trip. The song makes me laugh because we are only “southern” in the sense that we grew up in southern Nevada.

Me and Max

Me and Max

All this reminiscing to say that today is Max’s birthday. No one’s known me longer or better.

Thanks for pushing me into this blogging thing, thanks for always being there for me. You’re the best man I know – I love you.

Happy Birthday!

The Majestic Titmouse

Today I sat out on the porch in the glorious December sunshine – I had my camera ready to capture some cardinals, or woodpeckers, or maybe even the eagle that’s been circling over the mountain for the last week. It occurred to me that even as I try to find the right feeder to attract those snobbish cardinals, as I build feeders to bring the woodpeckers closer, as I buy food I think will get me flashier birds – I have been neglecting one of the most majestic and loyal species at the buffet.

The first birds to come to the buffet were titmice. Those first couple of weeks I was thrilled to see any birds, but before long I was caught up in the search for the flashiest and began to ignore my new friends. The titmice continued to come and entertain me, even as I quit lifting my camera, after all, it’s just another titmouse.

Today it occurred to me that I have these amazing little birds right here in front of me. They like any feeder, any food, and I think they actually like me. They get incredibly close and talk back at me. As I walk across the lawn to my car each morning they call to me and they greet me when I come home each evening. How could I be so distracted by some red feathers or flashy patterns?

Cardinals may come and go, but titmice are in this for the long haul.

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Noble

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Content

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Cute

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Curious

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Cheery

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Silly

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Industrious

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Bold

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Wistful

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Balanced

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Content

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Chatty

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Friendly

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Proud

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Clever

Who needs a lot of red feathers and fancy patterns? I need to learn to be as content, as friendly, as happy as my faithful friends, the titmice.

Calling All Cardinals!

Since I opened the backyard buffet I have been trying to attract Cardinals. Sure, there are tons of cute titmice and chickadees, but that red bird caught my eye the very first time I visited the property. I knew they were in the woods and had even used my iPhone birding app to call them forth in vain attempts to capture them with my camera. I learned early on that they didn’t care for a typical pegged feeder, they need to either feed on the ground or on a larger flat surface.

This summer I discovered the pottery of Julie Windler at the Norberta Philbrook Gallery – I wrote a post about it here. I loved the glazes and they were perfect for chickadees. I keep one filled with suet and one filled with seed on the buffet.

Julie mentioned hoping to see a shot of a cardinal at one of my feeders and I gave her a few parameters of what I thought they would need to feed. I have been seeing them on the patio or feeding in a pie plate I put out on a table. Julie said she could make me something that would work. It’s very simple, it’s a small plate with three holes to suspend it from with drain holes so that the seed stays dry after a rain. It was a little small so I was skeptical. Right off the bat the titmice loved it.

Today I filled it with songbird food – a mix of seed, fruit and nuts – it actually looks pretty tasty. I settled in with my camera hoping to get a shot or two of something feeding at the new addition. I heard the distinctive sound of larger wings flapping while I was focused on a titmouse feeding nearby. Without moving I looked up and found my first customer at the new station. I actually saw 4 cards at once, but focused on just this pair.

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Mmmmmmm tasty!

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This new feeder really classes up the joint.

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Let me take a look around.

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I think the coast is clear.

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Let me double check.

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No one over that way.

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I’m going in!

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Get your feet off our food, you moron! I can’t take you anywhere!

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Busted.

Raining Cats & Dogs

What follows is an excerpt from my Art House Coop Sketchbook Project from a couple of years back. Basically you buy a sketchbook, fill it with whatever you like and you send it back – the Brooklyn Art Library then sends your book out on tour with thousands of other sketchbooks in a traveling exhibit – a library where art lovers can check out your book and even leave you comments. It’s a wonderful project and when the road show returns to Brooklyn your sketchbook becomes a part of a permanent library. I have loved doing Sketchbooks – I’m on my 4th and my niece is joining me this year.

Check it out here.

I live on about 6 acres in the Ozarks. When I moved here a decade ago I had one dog. With so much room it seemed natural to add another, and another, and another.

Here in the hills and hollows the neighbors have “country dogs” – basically dogs that have no limitations, no fences, no kennels, no boundaries. So even with my humble pack I am often surrounded by dozens of cats and dogs. Some days it seems like it is raining cats and dogs.

I decided to make a photographic record of all the cats and dogs in my life over the course of a couple of months. Some are mine and some are my brother’s family’s pets. I shot everything with my iPhone using the Hipstamatic app. The captions on the photos are things I have heard said about each pet.

Oscar

"The softest cat in the universe"

“The softest cat in the universe”

One day my sister-in-law Karen got a call from her neighbor, a local veterinarian. Someone had dumped kittens at the clinic overnight. They were only 2-3 days old. Only one was still alive when he arrived at work. He asked if she would be willing to try to bottle feed the lone survivor – translation “Karen, take this cat and be responsible for it for the rest of its life.” Karen obliged and Oscar thrived. Oddly this yellow cat that was never nursed is on a mission to nurse every small animal he meets. Puppies, kittens, the chihuahua – he tries to be a wet-nurse to them all. He has been known to allow Karens birds to feed in the same bowl he is eating from. He has the loudest purr of any cat I have ever seen. Oscar is odd…and soft.

Daphne

"She's like your crazy old aunt"

“She’s like your crazy old aunt”

When Karen’s great-aunt passed away she left behind Daphne -14 years old, deaf, blind, and not housebroken. Daphne was a difficult houseguest. Every 12 hours Daphne would bark non-stop until she was fed. Even the time change to Daylight Savings Time had no effect on her – every 12 hours, every day.

Karen began to take Daphne to the Doggy Spa once a week for grooming and massage. Daphne served her master and then enjoyed her golden years by bossing around her new humans. She was like that crazy old aunt – we all have one.

Kirby

"if you're my friend, you must be special"

“if you’re my friend, you must be special”

Kirby hates:

Camera – he hides when he sees one

Snakes – he has been bitted by Copperheads 8 times

Pills – he has to take them after snake bites

Kirby loves:

My living room rug

Killing snakes

Kirby was bred to be a show dog. He is perfectly proportioned and has a gorgeous coat. He is a dream to walk on a leash. There is just one problem. He is terribly shy, so shy that he could not tolerate being touched by judges in the show ring. His breeder was eager to place him in a home because his behavior was spreading to the other dogs. So Kirby came to live with me. He was at my house 29 days before he let me touch him. Kirby chooses his own friends in his own time. He will always be shy. but if you’re on his list you must be special!

Lola

"That is one crazy cat"

“That is one crazy cat”

Lola belonged to my nephew Tommy, she was sent to live with Karen for a few years, but now she lives with Paul, an old friend from the neighborhood – he seems to be the only human she genuinely likes. Lola has issues. She’s that cat that will sit on your lap and purr sweetly until you move a muscle – then she will attack you with claws out.

"Lola has crazy eyes"

“Lola has crazy eyes”

I’m not certain that she ever blinks, I have never seen her sleep, she looks cuddly – but it’s wise to keep your distance!

I don’t know if there is such thing as an “alpha cat” – if there is Lola is one. The other cats scatter when she enters a room. She strikes with lightning speed and pinpoint accuracy. That sweet look lulls you into trusting her, then she strikes without warning. It’s a good idea to keep a supply of band aids on hand for Lola encounters. If Lola cannot attack you she will attack her own back leg, it’s her evil nemesis and it’s always stalking her – day and night. It’s her eternal struggle for victory – victory over her own read leg.

That is one crazy cat.

Cocoa

"The sensible one"

“The sensible one”

Cocoa was my Pop’s Corgi. After Pops passed away Cocoa missed him terribly. Being a herding dog, Cocoa is alway looking for a job to do. She’s the sensible one.

Cammie

"She's not a dog, she's his daughter"

“She’s not a dog, she’s his daughter”

Cambria Louise was a gift from Karen to her husband Max, my brother. Karen and Max have three sons, no daughters. Cammie is not a dog, she’s his daughter. She is a pointer and she is obsessed with birds, this makes for interesting times since Karen raises birds for a living. Cammie has her own couch, her own bed, her own bowl. In a house with 6 dogs, 4 cats, 3 boys, 14 birds, and a turtle, Cammie is the only organism that has anything that is entirely her own.

I went out to the desert with Cammie and Max one day. She was very annoyed that I was permitted to sit in the front seat of the Jeep. The front seat is her seat. If the princess is in the car it’s best to give in and crawl into the back unless you want a fifty pound dog on your lap.

Sunshine

"He believes he is a tiny dog"

“He believes he is a tiny dog”

Sunshine is a rescued goldendoodle. I named him Sunshine because he reminds me of a blonde hippy I met in Oregon with the same name. Sunshine is tall and thin like a standard poodle, and sweet and loyal like a golden retriever. He hides under my end tables, he barely fits under there. He believes he’s a tiny dog.

Sunshine was abused and neglected as a puppy. He is very cautious around strangers, but I have no doubt that he would defend me from any danger.

"He's got crazy hair"

“He’s got crazy hair”

Sunshine has crazy hair, in the summer I have him cut close like a schnauzer, in the winter I let his coat grow out. Right now it’s so long that I cannot see his eyes. I know his coat keeps him warm, but I miss his face. By February all of his hair will be over six inches long. Bringing Sunshine into my home and into my life has required another addition to the household…a Dyson.

Squeegee

"Why is the smallest one always the alpha dog?"

“Why is the smallest one always the alpha dog?”

One summer my Pop came to visit and admired my Jack Russell Terrier. He had always wanted one but they were very expensive back home. Here they are hunters and ratters – work dogs. I found a breeder for him – they showed us two pups. Pops asked which one would be the best and I picked the smaller squarer one. He seemed drawn to the pudgy one with a short nose. I went to the car to get the back seat ready for the ride home an Pops emerged with both puppies. He spent the rest of his vacation in my house picking up puppy poop.

Squeegee is a small terrier – about 12 pounds. She is also very bossy. Why is the smallest one always the alpha?

She was bitten by a rattlesnake when she was six months old, she’s a tough little thing. She dislikes my other female terrier, even so she sleeps next to her each night. She’s a barker – she trees squirrels, chases away deer and rabbits, and sounds the alarm if she spots a snake – but she catches nothing. Squeegee is the very definition of “all bark and no bite.”

Squeegee hates:

Cameras – she always looks away

Snakes – she barks like crazy

Velcro – not the sticky stuff, my other terrier.

Zeno

"King of the dingle-berry"

“King of the dingle-berry”

Poor Zeno is an odd Pomeranian. He belongs to my nephew Brian. His tongue always hangs out over his teeth. He urinates on every vertical surface in the house. He has massive dingle-berries – he’s the King of the Dingle-berry! He’s not very huggable.

Poor little Kingle-Berry.

Charlie

"Massive underbite"

“Massive underbite”

Charlie is kind of homely. She has a short nose and a massive underbite – she looks a little like a tiny boxer. Charlie belongs to Karen. Karen often chooses odd dogs with issues. We sometimes call Charlie “Chucky” like the scary dog from the movies. She looks like him and she is a terror – so it fits.

Charlie often plays possum, she closes her eyes while pretending to sleep. Keep an eye on her and you’ll notice that she is sneaking a peek at you. She’s a tiny spy making sure nothing gets by her. I wonder who she reports to, is she an enemy agent, or just an eavesdropper. I don’t trust her.

Ruthie

"Big personality - tiny package"

“Big personality – tiny package”

Ruthie is a yorkie. You know when you look at a puppy and think, “wouldn’t it be cute if they stayed this small and sweet?” Ruthie did stay that small, and is mostly sweet. She makes the Charlie the chihuahua look like a giant next to her tiny teacup face. She really is all hair, I’m convinced that she is just a hamster with a really long coat. Small as she is, she is fearless. She takes on the cats and the other dogs with no concern for her tiny stature. She is Charlie’s best friend and together they are a tiny, powerful tornado. Ruthie is a big personality in a tiny package.

Anabelle

"Pretty pretty"

“Pretty pretty”

Anabelle is Karen’s Maine Coon. She has paws that look like catcher’s mitts. She is very sweet and loves to sit on your lap. She is a very patient model and isn’t bothered with my camera, even if I am using a flash. She’s a peach.

Whenever Max sees Anabelle he says “Pretty – pretty!” in a high-pitched tone. It’s so unlike his natural voice – this big manly construction worker cooing at a fuzzy cat. Anabelle really is pretty and she is the sweetest cat in the house – no issues, no odd habits, no psychosis, no drama – just pretty pretty.

I don’t own a cat. I’m not a cat person. Anabelle makes me think I could be though. Of course with three terriers at home it would take a very special cat to survive in my household.

UPDATE – since this was in the Sketchbook Project, Max and Karen have taken in a three-legged cat named Tripod that Anabelle does not get along with. He now uses his normal voice and calls her “Crazy Ass Psycho Bitch”. I still like her.

Velcro

"Velcro sticks with you"

“Velcro sticks with you”

Velcro is a rescue, I wrote her story here – she’s a mystery. I have had her for about 8 years and I am guessing she’s close to 14 years old. I brought her home from an adoption fair at the mall. She was scheduled to be euthanized at the pound the following Tuesday. I named her Velcro because she sticks with you – always sitting as close as possible to you. She has gone grey, she is my best pal.

Velcro loves:

Cameras – she loves the attention of being photographed

Wasps – she eats ’em!

Hunting – she is a master hunter – she has killed rabbits, squirrels, possums, pack rats, field mice, snakes, and moles.

Velcro is a champion napper. She could sleep for 20 hours straight. Maybe it’s because she works so hard hunting those pesky rodents and reptiles. Maybe it’s because she’s old. No matter, she deserves a rest.

She’s the best thing I ever brought home from the mall.

iPhoned this one it.