Award-winning author
Unusual times, remarkable places

The "Standard of Ur" from ancient Mesopotamia

The "Standard of Ur" from ancient Mesopotamia

25 July 2012

Stuff in my yard: Fledgling hawk and goldfinch

Although we enjoy feeding birds all year long, spring and summer are especially fun because of the fledglings. Even though birds generally don't leave the nest until fully adult size (or bigger!), they have certain telltale signs: bald spots, tufts of feathers, a timid air, and a look of confusion.

Here are pictures of two of this year's fledglings. The first one, a fledgling hawk, is unusual to see so close up. I spent a long time with my bird books trying to identify it, and based on the close barring of the tail, the thick legs, and the heavy beak, I think it's a red-tailed hawk (Buteo jamaicensis).

The second is a young American goldfinch (Carduelis tristis). Our goldfinch feeder hangs right next to a window, and goldfinches are so shy they generally fly away the moment they see any movement inside. This fledgling goldfinch, though, hadn't learned that lesson yet and stayed at the feeder after all the other birds flew away. You can clearly see how it has fuzzy feathers sticking out in many places and its feathers haven't finished growing in on its back.

19 July 2012

Buildings of Centreville, Maryland

We spent our vacation in Centreville, Maryland, a tiny historic town on the Eastern Shore. Here are some photos.



residence with gargoyle

downtown Centreville

courthouse, Queen Anne's County, built 1796 or earlier


backyard with garden, cottage, and carriage house

11 July 2012

Return to a lost love, the fountain pen

I used to love writing with a fountain pen. But I didn't love the ink that stained my palm from dragging through what I had written—a problem many left-handers have. So I reluctantly returned to ballpoint pens.

They skipped. They blobbed. They dragged across the paper. They laid down an uneven line that dented two or three sheets in the tablet. No matter how hard one pressed, their mark was weak and timid. Their thinness made them hard for my arthritic hands to hold and caused my hand to cramp. The pressure they required to get a  solid line made writing an effort, not a pleasure.

Then came computers. I didn't care what the etiquette books said about writing thank-you notes and formal letters by hand, I wrote everything I could on the computer.

Then came the rollerback pen. I loved them with a passion . . . for a while. Once again, I wrote smooth, bold lines with ease. But the longer I used them, the less love blinded me. On glossy stock, such as many greeting cards, they smeared and took forever to dry. On rough stock, the ink often bled. My infatuation waned.

But I still lusted after fountain pens. It was not only the ease of moving across the paper I craved, nor just  the way the flow of the ink responded to slight changes in press to give character and grace to my unattractive handwriting. No, my right-handed husband began acquiring fountain pens, and so fountain pen catalogs began arriving in the mailbox, catalogs full of thick-barreled pens that would be easy on my arthritic hands; pens of brilliant colors and patterns and cool materials such as celluloid and wood; pens overlaid with silver or gold filigree; pens with a variety of tips for even more dramatic lines.

Then came eBay. I didn't look at pens there for a long time. I didn't want to end up with a vintage fountain pen that needed an expensive repair, and of course I was still left-handed.

Then a writer friend told me the secret words that would allow me to return to my true love: fast-drying ink.

I hesitated. I could not believe the answer could be so simple. My searches at and the pen stores I knew about didn't turn up any fast-drying ink. My writer friend came to the rescue again with more secret words: Noodler's Ink's  Bernanke Black and Bernanke Blue. Made for left-handers; dries instantly.

Next I stumbled on fast-drying inks from  J. Herbin, whose bottles featured a channel on top for one's pen, and whose ink seduced with both name and appearance. Rouge Opera, the color of red velvet theater curtains. Vert Empire, the color of the laurel wreath that crowned Napoleon. Terre de Feu, reminiscent of dried blood and probably perfect for penning a horror story. Café des îsles, the faded color of ink on aged documents. 

Back to eBay's huge selection of pens. Many new and unused ones had prices under $10. I was back to writing with fountain pens.

Now, I sit anywhere in the house and write; I don't have to go to computer if I need to write more than a paragraph. My handwriting has improved and has new flourishes. My grocery lists are bright and bold, and I make more to-do lists than ever.

05 July 2012

Things that make me say "huh"

In my post of 20 June, I explained why I self-published my 29-year-old dissertation as a paper book.

Since then, I've been thinking about how to find people who might need or want my dissertation. I added key words at and posted on Facebook about my blog post when my book first appeared. Last week, I also put up a Goodreads contest:

Goodreads Book Giveaway

Reproductive Behavior of Captive Nicobar Pigeons, Caloenas ni... by Shauna Roberts

Enter to win

I set the contest to run for three weeks because frankly, I thought it would take that long for five or ten people to sign up. Instead, I had ten entrants that day. There are now several dozen.

I am baffled.

So, what do you think? Are there that many people interested in pigeon mating behavior? Or are there that many people who don't read the descriptions of the books they enter contests for? Or do some people think this is a novel with a funny name?