Elegant Home ~ 10 Things a Painting Reveals About Beautiful Rooms

There are many famous paintings of home interiors, demonstrating the importance houses have had to people throughout history and throughout the world. These beautiful paintings of bedrooms, parlors, dining rooms, powder rooms, and kitchens are as different in style as our own homes. Inspired by paintings such as Henri Matisse’s Interior with Phonograph (pictured above), here are ten ways to add beauty to any room. 

  1. Color ~ The most striking aspect of Matisse’s painting is his use of bold bright color. Every memorable room has a distinct color palette. You may prefer pastels, earth tones, rich shades, or even a monochromatic look. Study paintings, magazines, and friends’ homes to find a distinct color palette that speaks to you.
  2. Music ~ Matisse named this painting Interior with Phonograph, even though the record player is only partially seen to the right of the painting. I wonder what album was turning on that phonograph the day Matisse created this masterpiece. Music fills a house with beauty and emotion. 
  3. Flowers ~ Notice the flowers on the table. Are they pink roses, carnations, or maybe azaleas? I wish I could lean in and smell them! The tablescape wouldn’t be as attractive without that little vase. Flowers always make a house feel like a home.
  4. Food ~ Fruit, bread, wine, and cheese are often included in paintings. The big pineapple and peaches on the table make Matisse’s room come to life. Food represents comfort and joy. The sight, smell, and taste of delicious food should be a central feature of our homes.
  5. Decorations ~ In this scene, we see a gold tray, a basket, a decanter, and the flower vase. Each object adds to the beauty and function of the room. Think about the decorations, accessories, and art in your home. Does everything serve a purpose and make you smile? 
  6. Textiles ~ Imagine this room without the yellow swag curtain, the red and white striped tablecloth, the rug in the far room, and the patterned wallpapers. Textiles make any room more comfortable, warm, colorful, soft, and welcoming. 
  7. Light ~ Whether a room is lit by a candle, a lamp, or the bright sun streaming through a window, lighting makes all the difference in the atmosphere of a space. In this painting, Matisse captures the cheerfulness of a sunny day. Adjust the lighting in your home for the purpose and mood you’re trying to create. 
  8. Composition ~ Just as every painter must make decisions about where to place objects in a painting, we must decide where to place things in our home. Don’t be afraid to move around furniture, art, and necessities until you have everything arranged in the way that’s most practical and pleasing to you.
  9. Cleanliness ~ Let’s face it, no matter what style it is, a dirty home isn’t elegant. Pay someone, bribe someone, or just do it yourself, but the cleaning must be done if we want our home to sparkle like this Matisse painting.
  10. People ~ Not all paintings of interiors include people. Often it seems as if the homeowner has just stepped out while we get a glimpse of their private dwellings. However, if you look closely at the center of this  painting, you’ll see the small face of a bearded man, perhaps approaching an open door to the home. Matisse reminds us that homes are nothing without people. Those who live in and visit our homes are what truly fill a room with style, beauty, and love. §

“Some people look for a beautiful place. Others make a place beautiful.”
~ Hazrat Inayat Khan

Featured Art ~ Interior with Phonograph by Henri Matisse, 1924. 

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Elegant Communication ~ Let’s Stop Cussing

Conversation

“Language is the dress of thought; every time you talk, your mind is on parade,” wrote Samuel Johnson in the 1700s. It’s certainly still true today. We can be dressed to the nines, but the words we speak must be equally beautiful for us to have any hope of being elegant. As a former language arts teacher, I’m aware of many things we can do to improve our communication, but we can start by not swearing.

The ubiquitous use of expletives has made it easy for them to slip into our conversation. Words that dropped jaws a generation ago, barely get a reaction today. Network television still has a list of taboo words, but even cable news is peppered with four-letter expressions. Throw in movies, reality shows, social media, and routine conversation, and we are exposed to a slew of curse words every day. In a 2018 report, Business Insider said the average American utters 80 to 90 curse words a day!

Swearing is most often done to express anger. And aren’t we an increasingly angry lot? Life can be stressful, and venting with the perfect four-letter word might initially feel like a good way to let off steam. However, in my experience, it does nothing to help me feel better and makes me question my self-control. If we aim to be elegant, profanity-laced rants undo any attempt to be calm, cool, and collected.

Swearing is frequently used in an attempt at humor. I once spent an evening at a comedy club and left feeling like I needed a long shower with lots of soap. We’ve all seen colorful sayings on T-shirts, coffee mugs, and bumper stickers. These quips might make us giggle, but surely we can think of more clever things to say. In the words of Downton Abbey’s Violet Crawley, “Vulgarity is no substitute for wit.”

Cussing can make us seem less refined and even boring. CEO and author Michael Hyatt said, “If you can’t be interesting without profanity, then let’s face it, you’re not that interesting.” Ouch. Conversing can be difficult and can even produce anxiety in some. Relaxed conversation takes practice, and we can learn to edit out bad words. Cursing downgrades any conversation.

I was recently at a social event, and while I wasn’t particularly offended by the conversation laden with profanity, I knew others within earshot would be. I excused myself and went to the restroom feeling like an old fuddy-duddy. Then I reassured myself that the whole point of good manners is to make others feel at ease. Swearing can be disrespectful and make others feel uncomfortable, so it’s simply not polite.

Finally, it is never okay to swear at or in front of children. Research shows cursing at a child causes increased aggression and insecurity. Children are going to imitate what adults say, even when they don’t know the meaning of the words. I’m not one who finds it cute when children repeat curse words. Every adult is a role-model to every child and should take that responsibility to heart.

Some may counter that swearing doesn’t really hurt anybody, and maybe I should lighten up. Perhaps. But as someone who spent decades teaching poetry and literature, I long for beautiful words and phrases. Why put an ugly word out into the world when we can choose a lovely one? I agree with contemporary author Rajesh Walecha who wrote, “Speak beautiful words to create a beautiful world.” §

“The wise one fashions speech with their thought, sifting it as grain is sifted through a sieve.”
~ Buddha

Featured Art ~ Conversation, Camille Pissaro, 1881.

To watch or listen to this blog post in video format, please click this YouTube link ~ https://youtu.be/OnrelpQ-XCc

Elegant Books ~ “Put on Your Pearls, Girls!”

lulu better

Put On Your Pearls, Girls! is a fun, cheeky pop-up book for grown-ups written by Lulu Guinness, a British fashion designer famous for her unique handbags. It was published by Rizzoli in 2005. The beginning of the book offers an inspiring acrostic definition for the word pearls ~ Poised. Elegant. Attractive. Radiant. Ladylike. Sophisticated.

You’ll be enamored by Lulu, the main character of the book who the author says, “is a fictional character, based on myself, except that she is timeless, ageless, and has long legs I can only dream of possessing.” 

Illustrations by Martin Welch make the book an absolute delight as Lulu goes through her day from the time she gets up (Lulu is not a morning person) to the time she goes to sleep, counting her blessings. In the pages between, we see her meditate, bathe, dress, work, shop, entertain, garden, daydream, and party like the elegant, glamour girl she is. 

In one of my favorite parts of the book, Lulu offers these twelve suggestions  ~ 

  1. Create a style that is uniquely yours – don’t be a slave to fashion.
  2. Money does not equal style.
  3. Mix vintage with modern – couture with chainstore.
  4. If you’re feeling fat – why not shop for accessories?
  5. Carry bags of personality.
  6. Never take fashion or yourself too seriously.
  7. Mutton dressed as lamb is never a good idea. (This is an especially good point for those of us well over fifty.)
  8. Less can be more – but sometimes more is more.
  9. Beauty comes from the heart – not from a jar.
  10. You can be too rich or too thin.
  11. Be who you were meant to be – not who others think you ought to be.
  12. Put on your pearls, girls!

When I’m feeling less than Lulu-like, I flip through Put On Your Pearls, Girls! for instant motivation. I’ve given this book as a gift to several of my favorite girly girlfriends. It’s not a book for everyone, although I’m not sure who wouldn’t enjoy the interactive aspects of the book, including opening a little red handbag to see a compact and lipstick inside! 

The forward is written by English actor Helena Bonham Carter. (You may know her from her more recent portrayal of Princess Margaret in seasons three and four of The Crown.) She writes that Guinness invites us back to a time “when women were fabulously feminine and decorative and flirty and pretty. But unlike our forbears we do it because we choose to, not because we don’t have any other option.” §

“Use your imagination, trust your instinct, and follow your dreams.”
~ Lulu Guinness

Featured Art ~ Illustration of Lulu by Martin Welch from Put On Your Pearls, Girls! 

To watch or listen to this blog post in video format, please click on this YouTube link ~ https://youtu.be/ahjzlQizzPo

Elegant Relationships ~ 10 Gracious Acts Whenever We Leave Home

renior bal

After more than a year of unprecedented time spent in the confines of our homes, most of us have begun to venture out in public again. I don’t know about you, but I’ve found some of my manners to be a little rusty. Every time I go somewhere, I’m grateful to see someone displaying these gracious acts, reminding me of simple things we can do to make life a little more elegant for everyone. 

  1. Countenance Counts ~ Countenance refers to our facial expressions. We’ve all been duly warned about RBF (resting biddy face). I’ve certainly caught myself deep in thought and realized my mug was less than pleasing. How nice it is to go out and see friendly faces again. 
  2. Right On ~ I wish I had a nickel for every time I reminded my students to walk on the right side of the hallway when changing classes. Foot traffic flows more smoothly when we stay to the right side of the sidewalk, stairs, and escalator. 
  3. Hold the Door ~ It still seems chivalrous for a man to open a door for a woman; however, everyone who is able should hold the door for anyone who is approaching. I always feel I’ve passed a kindred spirit when another woman holds the door for me. 
  4. Wipe the Sink ~ I was recently at a highway rest stop. After washing her hands, a woman took a clean paper towel and quickly wiped down the counter before I stepped up to use the sink. I offered a her a “thank you”, but I really wanted to applaud and cheer this rare gracious act! 
  5. Please and Thank You ~ This week, I was surprised by how cordial a man in front of me was to the employee in a drive-through window. (I also noticed how quickly her attitude reflected his.) He reminded me how important it is to be friendly and respectful to the hard-working people who serve us throughout our communities. 
  6. Trash Talk ~ My husband and I were on a road trip this month and noticed the cleanliness of many of the towns we traveled through. Unless you’re Oscar the Grouch, we all want to live in communities where streets and sidewalks are lined with flowers, not garbage. We can do our part by vowing to never toss even the smallest piece of trash out the car window or onto the ground.  
  7. Dressing Rooms ~ Have you ever walked into a store dressing room and seen piles of clothing scattered on the floor? When trying on clothes, we should always put garments we aren’t purchasing back on the hangers and on the rack provided. No store employee should have to feel like they’re picking up a teenager’s messy bedroom. 
  8. Elevator Etiquette ~ While traveling, I was exiting a hotel elevator as a young boy and girl were waiting to get on. Obviously well-taught, the boy gently scooted his sister to the side and waited for me to step out before entering the elevator. It was such a sweet and memorable display of good manners from a child. 
  9. Table Manners ~ This summer, my husband and I took our grandson to a nice outdoor restaurant and sat near a couple with their grandchildren. During the meal, we overheard subtle reminders to put napkins on laps, use a quiet voice, and put phones away. It warmed my heart to see these grandparents taking time to patiently teach valuable lifelong lessons.
  10. The Golden Rule ~ Whenever my husband and I spend time with our grown children, we are always proud of their tolerance and acceptance of everyone we encounter, no matter how different they may be from us. We live in a diverse and changing world. Some may call their behavior being politically-correct, but it’s really just being kind and following the Golden Rule.

    Though most of us are thankfully past lockdowns and quarantines, it seems Covid may be with us for a while longer, forcing us to be aware of the contagious nature of the virus. As we cautiously move through our days, let’s remember being courteous is contagious, too. Just imagine if we made gracious acts like these go equally viral.§

    “Manners are the sensitive awareness of the feelings of others.
    If you have that awareness, you have good manners, no matter what fork you use.”
    ~ Emily Post

Featured Art ~ Bal du moulin de la Galette by Pierre-Auguste Renoir, 1876

To watch or listen to this blog post in video format, please click this YouTube link ~ https://youtu.be/nfug1Ub5Et0

Elegant Pursuits ~ A Daily Walk

woman with a parasol

I have a penchant for novels and movies set during the 1800s. My favorite scenes feature characters gracefully strolling through the beautiful countryside. Without the invention of the automobile or the luxury of a horse-drawn carriage, walking was the only way most people could visit friends or go to church, school, or shops. These days, walking is primarily done for exercise, but taking a daily stroll has many more benefits that can add elegance to our lives. 

There’s no denying the simplicity of taking a walk. It requires no special equipment, it’s free, and we can do it on our own schedule. Whether walking through a misty moor or around the block, all one needs to do is put on shoes and go. We can even do as they did during the Regency era and “take a turn” around the living room after enjoying tea or a rich meal. 

Nature is the main reason I head out the door for my daily walk. Though my route may stay constant, each walk tells a different story with a unique setting that includes the weather and colors of the sky at that particular hour. One never knows what may appear in the unfolding scenes of a walk ~ a bunny in the neighbor’s yard, a fawn at the edge of the woods, Queen Anne’s Lace growing alongside the road. 

Walks can also provide much-needed solitude. One of my most beloved characters in literature is Elizabeth Bennet of Pride and Prejudice. This complex introvert frequently takes long walks alone to sort her thoughts and clear her head. About Lizzie, Jane Austen wrote, “Reflection must be reserved for solitary hours; whenever she was alone, she gave way to it as the greatest relief; and not a day went by without a solitary walk.” 

On the other hand, walks can provide a connection to our community. I often walk down the sidewalk of the busiest road in town. Hardly a day passes that I don’t run into someone I know who honks, waves, or stops for a quick chat. No one tips their hat or curtsies, as they do in my favorite movies, but walking in my hometown makes me feel grateful to be part of a place I love.  

Finally, taking a long solitary walk feels like a romantic nod to the past. I have to admit, I wouldn’t mind spending an afternoon strolling across a field of wildflowers, stopping under a large shade tree to read a book of poetry or write a few lines of my own. I usually walk in a baseball cap and sneakers, but I dream of the day that I confidently go for a stroll wearing a flowing dress and carrying a parasol. §

“An early morning walk is a blessing for the whole day.”
~ Henry David Thoreau

Featured Art ~ Woman with a Parasol by Claude Monet, 1886

To watch or listen to this blog post in video format, please click this YouTube link ~ https://youtu.be/O2az8D__FBc

Elegant Nature ~ Adding Beauty to the Universe

A Perseid meteor shower nudged me outside at three in the morning to gaze up at the sky. I gasped each time a saw a shooting star streak across the deep blue sky. The universe was created with such elegance. I believe you and I are given the enormous lifetime responsibility of contributing as much beauty to the world as we can.  

The Elegant Universe is the title of the book that inspired the popular Nova series by the same name. It explores superstrings, hidden dimensions, and parallel worlds beyond my understanding. I am more poetess than physicist, but I do adore the title.

Elegance can be defined as that which is exceptionally beautiful and simple, modest and at the same time bright. We see elegance in a snowflake, a spider’s web, the big dipper, and a swan. Wikipedia adds, “Elegant things exhibit refined grace and suggest maturity.” 

There’s no need to point out the lack of elegance swirling about our planet. Politics, pop culture, and nightly news make that clear, but these are things over which we have little influence. We are but a single star in the infinite cosmos.

Are we shining “like a diamond in the sky” as the nursery song encouraged? I believe we were created to be brilliant. Imagine if each of us blazed through our days, leaving a trail of light in what can seem like a dark world. 

How do we possibly go about raising our personal standards to match the elegance of the universe? One of my favorite quotes is by Julie Andrews, “Leave everything you do, every place you go, everything you touch, a little better for your having been there.” 

It’s a daunting task for sure. Anne Lamont wrote a book which she titled Bird by Bird. The author recalled her brother had to complete a big school project on birds. Overwhelmed by the task, their father advised him to “take it bird by bird”. In other words, we can do almost anything by taking it step-by-step-by-step.

Our own elegance can be increased in three not-so-easy steps. One, we can elevate our thoughts. Two, we can elevate our words. Three, we can elevate our actions. At the risk of over-simplifying our existence, those are the areas of our lives over which we have control. If we value elegance and wish for that in our homes, our communities, and our world, then that’s a pretty good place to start.

Under the spell of the Perseid meteor shower, I stopped wishing on falling stars, and set an intention to do all I can to add to the elegance of the universe. I will often fall short, but as Norman Vincent Peale said, “Shoot for the moon. Even if you miss, you’ll land among the stars.” §

Featured Art ~ The Starry Night, Vincent Van Gogh, 1889

To watch or listen to this blog post in video format, please click on this YouTube link ~ https://youtu.be/0jHNAUtXBJY

 
 
 

Elegant Personal Style ~ Quality Over Quantity

The oil painting known as Girl with a Pearl Earring, by Johannes Vermeer, features a young woman wearing an exquisite earring. Her bare face and turban-wrapped hair, bring focus to the pearl earring and, more importantly, the simple beauty and elegance of the girl.

I think of my own jewelry box and note the painting is not named Girl with a Bunch of Cheap Earrings. My jewelry is just one area that I could apply the concept of quality over quantity.

Quality can be defined as the standard of something as measured against other things of its kind. For example, Godiva chocolate is considered to be of exceptional quality. For about the same price, one could indulge in a single Godiva chocolate or a whole bag of M & Ms.

Quality over quantity means choosing better over more.

We don’t live in a time that supports this lifestyle. Fast food means we can get a big greasy meal for less than the tip at a sit-down restaurant. Fast fashion means we can buy ten shirts for the cost of one cashmere sweater. We can get the kids a cartful of plastic toys from the dollar aisle, or one classic board game.

There are many good reasons to adopt the idea of quality over quantity. It reduces clutter. It’s more sustainable for the planet. It saves money in the long run. It honors fine craftsmanship and design. It helps us gain more clarity about our personal preferences.

I’ve long been a believer in quality over quantity; however, glancing around my bathroom, I see evidence to the contrary. There’s a shelf of half-empty bottles of hair and skin products that didn’t live up to their promise. There’s a drawerful of makeup that isn’t exactly the right shade or formula. There’s a basket of gloppy nail polish I’ll never wear.

I’m committed to eliminating the clutter, forgiving myself for the waste, and finding a single high-quality version of the products I need and want. I’m not going to stop there.

Here are just a few areas where we can more consciously apply the philosophy of quality over quantity ~

  • clothing and accessories
  • food and pantry items
  • furnishings and home decor
  • cleaning products
  • books and magazines
  • toys and games

Quality over quantity doesn’t just apply to material things. We can think about quality when choosing our activities, our entertainment, our relationships, our conversations, and even our thoughts.

I need no convincing of the elegance, simplicity, and wisdom of choosing quality over quantity. As Steve Jobs said, “Quality is more important than quantity. One home run is much better than two doubles.” §

Featured Art ~ Girl with a Pearl Earring by Johannes Vermeer, circa 1665. 

To watch or listen to this blog post in video format, please click on this YouTube link ~ https://youtu.be/FBTGuEVbGjU 

Elegant Nature ~ Enjoying Summer’s Bounty

Summer Bounty Art

There is no finer example of true elegance than that of nature. In summer, it generously bestows miraculous gifts of flowers, fruits, and vegetables. How pleased nature must be when we appreciate them. Here are ten ways to graciously accept and celebrate summer’s bounty. 

  1. Be Amazed. Imagine you never laid eyes on a bright yellow sunflower, smelled a bunch of lavender, or bit into a juicy, sweet strawberry. What a happy surprise they would be! Intentionally celebrate the gifts of summer as if for the first time. 
  2. Visit a Farmer’s Market. My husband and I stop by a farmers’ market a couple times each week during the summer. Not only do we go home with a variety of fresh-from-the-farm produce, it’s always a humbling reminder that the good food on our plates depends on experienced, hard-working hands.
  3. Gather Summer Blooms. I bet something pretty is blooming right outside your front door that you could clip, arrange, and slip into a little vase. If not, take a walk or drive and you’re sure to find some wildflowers growing in a road-side ditch. Pick just a few to add a touch of summer to your home. 
  4. Cook with Fresh Herbs. My husband is the chef in our house, and I’m always impressed by how he jazzes up simple meals with fresh herbs from our backyard. Identifying and relishing the distinct flavors of basil, dill, cilantro, mint, and rosemary makes our mealtimes more flavorful and mindful.  
  5. Go to a You-Pick Destination. We recently picked our own lavender from rows and rows of hazy purple flowers. The heavenly scent transported us straight to Provence. Whether you pick your own flowers, fruit, or vegetables, it’s a summertime ritual not to be missed. (If you’re in southern Illinois, be sure to visit Lavender Falls U-Pick Farm in Mt. Vernon.) 
  6. Eat a Rainbow. The practice of eating a rainbow every day simply reminds us to have a diet filled with colorful fruits and veggies. Different colors in produce deliver specific nutrients. For example, red foods like tomatoes and strawberries contain an antioxidant called lycopene. It’s easy to eat a rainbow during the summer months.
  7. Get Creative. Beautiful things in nature inspire creativity. Consider masterpieces like Vincent Van Gogh’s paintings of sunflowers or George Gershwin’s aria from Porgy and Bess called Summertime. Let a big blue hydrangea or a bowl of ripe strawberries inspire you to draw, paint, or write a poem.
  8. Dine Al Fresco. There is no better way to enjoy nature’s bounty than dining outdoors. A warm breeze, the song of birds, and the changing colors of the sky, all add to the ambiance of a memorable summer meal. 
  9. Share the Goodness. A few weeks ago, we found some superb blackberries and knew we needed to get a quart for my father-in-law, too. He later surprised us with some perfect peaches. Whether you have an abundance of cucumbers or prolific rose bushes, sharing the gifts of summer only increases their pleasure. 
  10. Feel Gratitude. This week we bought a small bunch of gorgeous sunflowers at the grocery store for four dollars. I cut their thick fuzzy stems and arranged them in a vase that I keep moving around the house. Each time I scurry by them with a load of laundry, see them from the kitchen sink, or sit near them while I write, they bring a sigh of appreciation.

    As poet Celia Thaxter wrote long ago, “There shall be eternal summer in the grateful heart.” And gratitude is an elegance we can cultivate all year long.§

    Featured Art ~ Vase with Twelve Sunflowers, Vincent Van Gogh, 1888.

    To watch or listen to this blog post in video format, please click on this YouTube link ~ https://youtu.be/Be3haNqqc9w

Elegant Self-Care ~ A Good Night’s Sleep

Poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow had a lovely wish for us, “Be thy sleep silent as night is, and as deep.” Man has long understood the value of sleep. As one of our most basic biological needs, we know proper sleep is fundamental to our physical and emotional well-being. Maybe we should also consider getting a good night’s sleep a polite thing to do.

All of us have had to muscle through a long day after a bad night’s sleep feeling groggy, grumpy, and gross. It’s difficult to be bright and cheerful when we’re exhausted. We’ve also all been bitten by someone who is dog tired. I’m positive we’d see more dignified, tolerant, and elegant behavior if everyone took a nice long nap.

Poor sleep has many causes including waking children, work demands, care giving, and blasted insomnia. When that’s the case, we may have to ride it out or even seek professional help. Yet many of our sleep problems may have more to do with simply not placing a priority on proper sleep hygiene. 

According to the National Sleep Foundation, good sleep hygiene means having both a bedroom environment and daily routines that promote consistent, uninterrupted sleep. Keeping a stable sleep schedule, making our bedroom comfortable and free of disruptions, following a relaxing pre-bed routine, and building healthy habits during the day can all contribute to ideal sleep hygiene.  

There are many ways to make our bedtime routine an elegant part of our day. It might include a warm bath, luxurious sleep wear, quality sheets, meditation or prayer, a journal, or some peaceful music. It probably doesn’t include watching Netflix until we pass out in our clothes, face unwashed, and unprepared for the next day. 

Getting a good night’s sleep is one of our most important personal responsibilities, and it’s something we must teach our children. As a teacher, I saw many students suffer from poor sleep habits. It’s no surprise that studies show both behavior and grades improve when children routinely get the nightly sleep they require. 

The National Sleep Foundation advises that healthy adults need between seven and nine hours of sleep per night. Children and teens need even more to support their growth and development. It’s important to honestly assess how much sleep we need based on our activity level and overall health.

I know I feel, look, and act my best when I get close to nine hours of sleep. If I get much less than that, my husband has every right to say, “Sometimes I wake up grumpy. Other times, I just let her sleep!” §

Featured Art ~ Flaming June by Frederic Leighton, 1895

To watch or listen to this blog post, please click on this YouTube link ~ https://youtu.be/VNHQ1iaSLXE

Rocket the Flying Squirrel ~ a ridiculously true story

Rocket the Flying Squirrel makes his landing on our backyard bird feeders

Just before winter’s biggest snowfall, some new people moved into the house on Oxford Avenue. Before they even unpacked their clothes, they set-up several bird feeders. Continuous drama has since ensued from a cast of wild critters and feathered friends. There are many stories to tell about life in any backyard, but this is a tale about Rocket “Rocky” J. Squirrel.

This hunk of a squirrel got his name from the flying ace and sidekick of Bullwinkle. He lives in the same backyard as Squirrel Nutkin, a namesake any Beatrix Potter fan would recognize, and Twinkleberry, a sweet little squirrel who loves to preen herself in front of the window where the people sit to watch nature unfold in its simple, joyful ways.

Within a few days of putting out that tempting cage of peanuts suspended from a sturdy bird-feeding system, Rocket was spotted sitting on top stuffing his cheeks. He looked at the people through the window, nodded his head approvingly, and gave a thumbs-up as if to say, “Nom, nom, nom. Delicious!”

“How did he get up there?” the people asked each other. After all, this was a fairly sophisticated feeder system with a proven squirrel-proof baffle. Any trees were a good nine feet away from the pole.

It wasn’t long before they saw Rocket shimmy up a tree, gingerly tightrope-walk onto a tiny limb, so thin it was nearly imperceptible, bounce three times, and launch himself through the air in a beautiful swan dive onto the top of the feeder. Squirrel Nutkin and Twinkleberry attempted the feat several times in what could only be called epic fails.

As it was a time of sub-zero temperatures, the people began tossing bread and crackers on the deck so the poor things wouldn’t starve to death. The squirrels, as well as an occasional deer and raccoon, appreciated the feast, but it did nothing to deter Rocket from gorging himself on expensive peanuts truly meant for the woodpeckers.

One day Squirrel Nutkin lodged an entire Ritz cracker in his mouth and carried it up a tree fifty feet in the air to enjoy in peace. Rocket followed closely behind, cozied right up next to him, and stuck out his paw to snatch it from Nutkin, who had clearly had enough of Rocket’s antics. They fought in a tangled circle of squirrel tails and squirrel gibberish until the cracker fell all the way to the ground and hid itself deep in the snow. Nutkin was livid. He leapt to another tree still squawking and pouted most of the day while he watched Rocket swing gleefully from the feeder of nuts.

After the snow melted, the lady of the house propped a ladder against the tree, climbed up, and ceremoniously snipped the thin limb from the tree effectively ending Rocket’s fun, or so she thought. A few weeks of this work-out, combined with a high-protein diet, had made Rocket stronger than the average squirrel. Within a day, he was able to launch himself directly from the side of the tree onto the top of the bird feeder.

When the people see Rocket perched on the feeder, they open the backdoor, clap their hands, and shout strange words. Sometimes the man even throws ice cubes. It’s a fun game that signals the squirrel to do an impressive reverse leap right back to the tree. The only way to stop Rocket from getting on the feeder would be to move the entire system to another spot which, for some reason, hasn’t happened yet. Perhaps the people get a thrill watching Rocky fly, or maybe they understand no matter what they do, this squirrel will win.

Early one morning this week, the lady stood at the window watching several gold finches and juncos, a cardinal, a flicker, and two downy woodpeckers at the bird feeders. Suddenly, on the trunk of a tree just a foot from the house, appeared an upside-down Rocket “Rocky” J. Squirrel looking at her eye-to-eye through the window. Not at all surprised, she smiled and said, “Hello there, Rocky.” He held up his right paw and waved it slowly back and forth.

From the table, her husband sat perfectly still and whispered, “I can’t believe what I’m seeing right now.” “Good morning,” the lady said through the window. The squirrel smiled at her and waved again before jumping to the deck, darting up his tree, and flying to the top of the bird feeder for breakfast. §

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