The Joy of Birds (not directly about words)

It’s been a good bird week. In our yard alone, in addition to the brown-headed cowbirds, chipping sparrows, house finches, downy woodpeckers, hairy woodpeckers, red-bellied woodpeckers, Northern cardinals (There is the most gorgeous male I’ve ever seen that comes to the backyard feeders.), tufted titmice, white-breasted nuthatches, Eastern bluebirds, American robins, blue jays, mourning doves, and Northern mockingbirds, I’ve seen American goldfinches, a rose-breasted grosbeak (a few times!), ruby-throated hummingbirds, brown thrashers, Carolina wrens, an indigo bunting, a white-crowned sparrow, an Eastern meadowlark off in the field behind the house, and just this morning, a pileated woodpecker held us captive at the window as it went after the stump in the backyard. We didn’t dare move so no photos. It was fascinating watching it chip away and insert its beak and then, not in our sightline, extend its tongue to get at the termites or other insects living in the rotting wood. It angled its head this way and that. It was there a good long time before it lifted its head, sounded its Woody Woodpecker call, and flew off. It was an awe inspiring way to start the morning.

Since Ken is working from home, he’s been creating scads of wonderful nature and conservation education videos. Sometimes I get to help, either with my photos or holding something. Occasionally, I spark an idea for a video. The biggest benefit for me is I get to accompany him as he obtains video footage and photographs. Yesterday, we were recording a skit to help people identify birds. At the end, the bird is identified as a blue grosbeak. We finished recording and within two minutes, I spotted a blue grosbeak just a few yards away. It was as if it heard us talking and came by to lend a hand with the video. As we moved on through fields of wildflowers, I took pictures of butterflies and bumblebees. I saw an Eastern kingbird, another blue grosbeak, a white-crowned sparrow, a red-tailed hawk, and a great blue heron’s tracks in the mud. Also I took photos of barn swallows and ruby-throated hummingbirds at his center. (We aren’t allowed in, but we can observe the outside.)

I’ve heard plenty more birds recently, too. There’s an Eastern phoebe somewhere nearby. A pair of Bobwhites call to us from the field. Ken can whistle and elicit a call from them. We heard a whippoorwill last evening. And of course, there are bird calls I hear that I can’t identify, but I’m working on learning them. Audubon offers online help with that and the guide books describe the various calls although I don’t find that as helpful as actually hearing the call.

I derive so much joy from watching and listening to birds. With so much uncertainty and hardship surrounding us all, I feel fortunate to be able to sit on the front porch swing and take in the beauty of the nature in front of me. I encourage you to find that joy, that beauty in nature, too. As Ken says, “Be outside often.”

Life Has Changed

Gasoline is under a dollar a gallon in some places. People are staying home in droves. The air is getting cleaner. Animals are reclaiming habitats. Sea turtles are laying eggs in record numbers. The collective technical skills of the nation have soared. Zoom has become a verb and a household word. “Dogs and cats living together.” (Just had to slip in one of my favorite lines from “Ghostbusters.”) Even so, more people are spending time in nature and around the dining room table with their families. Students are learning and teachers are teaching in ways that are new and different for many. The presidential race has been knocked off the news. It is Co-vid 19 information 24/7. Despite all of this change, the disruption in my retired life has been minimal. I don’t go to my monthly poetry group meetings, Saturday Master Naturalist classes, or lunches with friends. I only go to the grocery store when I need something and I wear a mask when I do go. I’m still making jewelry, reading, playing with the dog, observing birds, taking photographs, and writing. I’ve replaced some of my “normal” live educational interactions with Zoom webinars to learn about book publishing from the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, and from Audubon, more about birds. A pleasant change is I get to have lunch with Ken since he is working in his basement office.

This year living full-time in the United States for the first time in over two decades has been eye-opening. I have learned a lot about this country that I wasn’t aware of: the number of children and families who don’t have enough to eat is astounding; the number of people who live pay check to pay check is staggering; and the racial divide is wider than the Mississippi River. True, I live in the south, but from what is reported on the nightly news, these statements describe most areas of the U.S. In contrast to that bleak picture, it is heartening to see workers who are usually underappreciated being appreciated for a change. I am worried that Americans’ memories will be short and that once things aren’t so dire, they’ll forget about the store clerk and the teacher. They won’t remember how many students get free or reduced lunch and just how sketchy life is economically for small businesses and many, many families. I’m keeping my fingers crossed they’ll surprise me.

Along with improving their technology skills, the general public is getting an education on epidemiology. Since this is a fanzine/blog about words, let’s break that one down a bit. The suffix –ology means the study of. Epidemia is from the Greek and means prevalence of disease. For the uninformed, it could be a steep learning curve in terms of, well, terms. Isolation vs quarantine, for example. From the Latin, insalatus means made into an island. Quaranta means forty in Italian. The former means to keep the well away from the unwell while the latter means to wait it out alone to see if the person exposed to disease becomes sick. For pandemic and epidemic, we turn again to the Greek. The root -demic means people of a district. The prefix epi- means on, upon, near, at. The prefix pan- means all. An epidemic is a disease that affects many persons at once and spreads from person to person in a localized way. When you decide which word to use, it is a matter of scale. A pandemic is essentially an epidemic that has spread across many continents. As doctors discuss possible treatments and governors talk about medical needs, the words respirator and ventilator are frequently mentioned. Respirators are masks; ventilators are machines. Both deal with the respiratory system. –spir means breathe while vent stems from the Latin ventulus, “a breeze,” which comes from ventus, “wind.” (This is a good time to give a shout-out to If you don’t know it, it is a great place to learn words. My students and I used it a lot.) Other words in the news are disinfect, virus, and vaccine. According to the online Cambridge Dictionary, the definition of disinfect is to clean something using chemicals that kill bacteria and other very small living things that cause disease. Hmm…that last bit makes me wonder about virus. Just what is a virus anyway. It causes disease; it’s a very small thing. Is it living? According to Encyclopedia Britannica: Virus, infectious agent of small size and simple composition that can multiply only in living cells of animalsplants, or bacteria. The name is from a Latin word meaning “slimy liquid” or “poison.” Viruses are powerful agents that can mutate and lie dormant in a living body. We also know it can “live” on surfaces for various amounts of time. Even so, viruses can’t reproduce without a host. Bacteria is different; bacteria can be killed; viruses cannot. It is impossible to kill something that isn’t living. So this is where it is a bit confusing. Viruses on surfaces can be killed; in your body, the virus is using your cells to reproduce and survive. The treatments must not kill the host cells to the point where the host is adversely affected. A vaccine is a medical treatment to reduce the chance of getting a virus. Back when doctors were fighting small pox, a vaccine was created using cow pox virus, so the word vaccine comes from vaccinus, vacca, Latin for cow. A vaccine uses a live, but weakened strain of a virus or a killed virus to help the host develop antibodies which builds immunity against the virus. Antibodies are disease fighters in our immune systems. Vaccines are developed to help prevent hosts from contracting the disease the virus causes. It takes quite a while to develop a vaccine. The virus and the disease it causes must be studied so that scientists can mimic it. Then the vaccine must be tested on host subjects to determine its effectiveness and to see if there are side effects. The world is impatiently waiting for a vaccine. The progress in developing one is moving forward at a rapid pace, where rapid pace means by year’s end. In the meantime, we can keep busy learning words.





For Those Who Don’t Know Me

While learning about fanzines, it was suggested that I write something to introduce myself. After all, I am writing for people I have never met. So here is a little background, some context for you, my audience.

When I was a young girl, I loved to read and write. In high school,  I wrote a column in the local newspaper; In college, I minored in journalism. I wanted to be a veterinarian, but that didn’t work out. I had taken a lot of science courses so ended up with a BS in Science and then circumstances led me to a Masters in Early Childhood Education. I combined my love of science, technology, writing, and reading to become a teacher.

I spent the last twenty-two years working as a teacher in American schools in Shanghai and Taipei. I traveled extensively and have many wonderful memories and trinkets to show for it. Before moving to Asia, I worked for seventeen years as a teacher in various capacities in the Florida Keys.

When my second husband became ill with a brain altering disease no one could figure out, I began to write poetry. I read it, too. I think Frost is credited with saying you have to read at least 100 poems before writing one. Being able to express my fears, anger, and grief through poetry helped me cope with what turned out to be eleven years of my husband’s suffering and eventual death. I continued to write poetry to express my feelings. When my new love interest, who had been my high school sweetheart, died in a car crash, poetry helped me cope. I have three chapbooks detailing these emotions and experiences.

When I retired last June after thirty-nine years of teaching, I decided to pursue writing more vigorously. I am still writing poetry and am proud to say that one of my poems will appear in the March 2020 edition of Rattle magazine, but now I am also writing picture books and ta da—a fanzine, this fanzine—Logo-phi-lia.

I moved from an urban environment to a country one with fewer than two-thousand people. I can see stars at night! I am learning the names of birds. I fish in the creek. I have a wonderful partner, Ken Forman, who opened his home to me. I get to hang out with his dog, too. He is the one who encouraged me to write this fanzine.



Rebranding? Repurposing?

For those of you who have read any of my posts on this blog, you know I was writing about using technology in my classroom. As of June, 2019, I retired from teaching. I still love technology, but my focus has shifted to writing. I should clarify that statement. I have been a writer just about all of my life in one form or another. I am still writing poetry, but since retiring, I have been writing picture books. (Keep your fingers crossed a publisher will like my ideas.) Ken, my partner, is the editor of a fanzine. He encouraged me to find something I am passionate about and write a fanzine article. I decided that passion is words. This blog will henceforth be named Logophilia, which is the title of my fanzine. The image on this blog is a photo of a framed print a very talented fifth grade writer and student of mine gave me a couple of years ago. It hangs in my office. I think it is just right for this blog.

I started my first article for Logophilia, so perhaps this online exposure will give me the impetus I need to finish it. Stay tuned.