Thursday, May 28, 2009

On the chopping block

It’s time to revisit the continuing story of “my big bird cage.”

About 3 months ago I got rid of the last of my "fancy birdies" keeping only my less colorful but far more lively little finches. First to go was the eye-catching yellow African love bird. I gave that mean little bugger to my girls. It was pretty, but it was mean, mean to the other birds, a regular ruffian in fancy feathers.

Once the yellow African bully was banished, the pair of gray cockatiels put themselves next on the chopping block. I say that because once free of persecution from the African, irony of ironies, they took ov
er the love bird's role as “cage meanies.” They usedtheir superior size and beak power to lord it over their smaller less aggressive cage mates.

At first the two grays were actually quiet harmless in their new roles as the cage's king and queen tyrant. After all, they were too slow and ungainly compared to the quickly flitting finches to be much of a threat at first. But, their days became numbered as soon as they began to threaten the baby finches.

I tried hard to keep my baby finches cockatiel-free and safe, but everything I did proved fruitless. The
cockatiels, especially the female, became obsessed with not only the babies, but with the finch nests as well. Seeing this made me decidedly uneasy and overprotective. Of course, I sided with the finches.

For some reason the female cockatiel began to display nervous behavior, such as flapping awkwardly back and forth in the cage for no apparent reason, or she'd perch restlessly, moving side to side while squawking loudly. I thought she might be yearning to nest herself, perhaps prompted by all the finch nesting activity, but unlike the industrious fi
nches the cockatiels didn’t seem to have even an ounce of engineering ability when it came to nest construction.

So, in an attempt to provide an artificial nest for the cockatiels I hung a fruit basket, large enough for the cockatiels, high in the corner near the protection of the porch eaves. All the birds curiously inspected it, including the cockatiels, but the cockatiel hen evidently didn’t find it suitable as a nest. Instead, she and her mate picked away at the basket fibers in that destructive way that all birds seem to have.

I had already hung four beehive-shaped baskets under the eaves from hooks for my finches to use as nests, but they were soon put off from doing so when the cockatiels began to poke their big ugly heads into the basket openings. Their bodies were too large to climb in, but they destructively reached in with their beaks and pulled out the bits of grass nest thatching that had been earlier emplaced by the busy finches.

In an attempt to keep the cockatiels from molesting the beehive nest baskets I even laced long barbs of wire into the cording all over them, which made them look rather prickly, like strange cactus beehives with metal spines. This mostly worked in that they could no longer simply crash-land onto the nests, but even so they would still find a way. The cockatiels weren’t hard-working in nest construction, but they certainly were tireless when it came to seeking their destruction.

I’d fi
nally had enough on the day I caught the big gray female with her head deep inside one of the two nesting boxes. To do this she had had to fight her way through all the tricky obstacles I’d put in place to keep her out of them. Only one box was occupied by a pair of nesting finches, and inside that box were two tiny freshly hatched nestlings. When I entered the porch and saw her craning her head deep inside the nesting box, evidently trying to get at the babies within, I came unglued. I ran yelling over to that corner of the cage and slammed my hand loudly on the grill work separating us. She hardly took any notice of me at all. I had to go all the way around and into the cage to get her to stop her attack.

Enough was enough, the sight of my innocent little finch babies being physically menaced by the big gray pigeon-sized cockatiel was more than I could bear. Within the day both cockatiels were gone. I gave them away to Eddy’s family.

While I was in the bird-purging mood I also gave away the parakeets. They didn’t go after the finches, but I found them boring; all they did was perch, eat and occasionally make ugly screeching noises.

No, I’m strictly a “finch man” now. You can have the larger birds with their colorful feathers; give me finches any day! Finches aren’t content to simply perch and eat—finches do things; they mate; they nest; they fly expertly, almost as well as hummingbirds; and they raise their young. In other words, THEY LIVE, and all right there in front of your eyes…

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

American Idol 2009, The Final

American Idol is one of the few prime time shows we have access to on overseas cable that we get to view in almost real time. It’s on about 10 hours after the live broadcast. It’s “up to the minute” aspect is one of the prime reasons I never miss a show. For me it’s a way to get a taste of the current pop culture from back home; although, we also get to see Fox News and CNN while they are being broadcasted live, but that's different.

I was pretty impressed with this year’s Idol final 5. After they had it down to those singers I was satisfied that the eventual winner wouldn’t be someone who really sucked (in my opinion). I easily predicted that the final 4 would include Chris, Danny, Adam and the chick. Sorry, I forgot her name, but oh my word that voice; no way will I forget her singing voice. Dang, that girl has some unique pipes.

But, as for the final two, if I had my druthers, MY final two would have been Danny and Chris, not Adam and Chris. I know everyone raves over Adam’s incredible range, and I think he’s pretty remarkable too; but I’m sorry, as a performer he just doesn’t appeal to me. I began to arrive at this opinion about a month ago, when with my eyes closed, I listened to him sing in that super high range of his, and it occurred to me that I was listening to a female impersonator. He’s a dude with almost no male qualities in his voice. So, if that’s what trips your trigger then vote for the guy, but if I could vote, it wouldn’t be for him. In a way, Adam is a bit of a one trick pony. He sings high and does so faultlessly and VERY impressively, but if I had my choice as to whom I would pay to listen to in a concert, that would be Danny and Chris.

A writer for Newsweek opined on Fox’s O’Reilly today that he thought that Adam’s apparent “gayness” would probably work against him as Chris is apparently a Christian. What a crock. The Newsweek guy, who to me also “seems gay” based on his voice inflection, appears to have an agenda—that being that “the gay person” SHOULD win, especially since he’s “obviously the better singer.” To that I say once again, BS, because which singer is “the better” is up to each person who votes; and people vote based on which singer appeals to them.

There a lot of factors that might lead someone to decide that one singer is more appealing than another; factors that quite fairly include characteristics such as appearance, gender, race, marital status, and a whole number of items, ESPECIALLY including “singing style.” In this case, in contrast to Adam’s “gayness,” to his equal detriment, Chris has a pretty blonde girlfriend in tow, which could also just as easily work against him, since a lot of young girls will be put off by his lack of “availability.”

Ultimately though, sexuality and religion will not be what determines the winner this year. No, it WILL be singing style, and let’s face it; Adam and Chris have singing styles that are quite dissimilar. Adam, with his big high-ranging voice is obviously comfortable on the stage in glitzy musical productions, while Chris’ more understated style is that of a pop singer. Obviously, in this case, the winner “on style” is Chris, especially when it comes to economic draw. Both will do well as they continue their post Idol careers, but Chris is going to make his BIG bucks in much different venues than will Adam, who should also do quite well in the years ahead.

It’s ironic to me then that Chris is actually advertised as “the dark horse” in this competition, because I just don’t think so. I believe him to be the favorite. As I’ve been saying, American Idol is not just about singing; it’s about popularity. At this point, I think Chris has the broader attraction among voters, especially among young female voters.

And finally, the reason I think Chris will win is because all the judges, particularly Simon, LOVE Adam. Personally, I despise the judges, particularly Simon. (It’s easy to hate that mean-spirited haughty Brit) Nasty Simon actually said that based on singing talent that everyone SHOULD vote for Adam, which was a huge mistake if he actually wants Adam to win. In effect, Simple Simon has just administered the kiss of the death to his favorite. Chris is bound to win now, especially after what he did last week when he took an ugly gangster rap “song” by Kanye West and turned it into something absolutely stunning. With that, Chris definitely showed who the REAL talent is. I was blown away when he did that.

Also concerning last week, Adam made a big mistake, at least in my eyes, when he sang a Steven Tyler song. Adam hit all the notes, which is good, but NO ONE sings Aerosmith songs like Tyler, who not only hits the highs, but does so with a decidedly rocker “GUY” resonance. As I said, in contrast to Steven Tyler, Adam sounded like a woman trying to sing like a man. It just didn’t strike a chord with me.

Tomorrow is the final show before the results episode. It all comes down to which guy can “inspire” his “base” to get up and dial. I’m betting that Chris will take it all. Thing is, on a personal level I like both these guys. They seem like a couple dudes that would be really cool to hang out with. Having said that, I’ll be cool with whoever wins. I’m thrilled for ‘em both.

Monday, May 18, 2009


We’ve come to know him affectionately as “Ungoy.” That’s Filipino for “monkey.” As I write this I can’t even remember his real name. Man, that’s just not right. I even call him Ungoy when I talk to him. He doesn’t seem to mind though, and even his Aunty Divine calls him that. In fact, I think he takes some measure of satisfaction from it.

Anyway, whenever there’s a job that involves scary heights, he’s the guy we get; thus, the appellation “Ungoy.” The man is a fearless climber. So, the other day, we decided it was “Ungoy time” once again. We texted him to come on over to do some work.

Before getting to that, it’s been almost a year since we finished the tree house tower. Naturally, Ungoy was a key member of the work force that built it, a crew that included three of his brothers and their father, Eddy. During the 3 weeks of construction Ungoy and all of Eddy’s boys never ceased to amaze me as they worked so high, so quickly and confidently, and with so much apparent fearlessness.

After the tower’s completion, for the first few months of our enjoyment of it, I loved that the upper mango boughs partly screened us inside the confines of the platform. Eventually though, I realized that much of the fun of being so high above-it-all was hindered by our obstructed view of the surrounding panorama. It was irritating every afternoon to have to stand and peer around a big branch of pesky leaves to take in the beautiful sunsets. Thus, we decided it was time for Ungoy to do some tree trimming and “un-obstruct” the view.

There was a time last year that I pleaded with Eddy to let me invest in a safety harness, especially after he mentioned that one of his sons had actually fallen three floors flat on his back at one of their job sites. Luckily, it was a “soft” landing on dirt so that he was but shaken and not excessively stirred. Even so, each time I watched the boys do their precarious thing way the heck up there I begged them to let me purchase a harness, but I was always politely turned down. They claimed that the ropes would only encumber them; so, I stopped bringing it up.

Normally, I cannot bear to watch Ungoy as he does his perilous "high wire" routines. I had no choice this time though, since I had to direct him as to which branches to cut. I took my camera up with me hoping that I would not capture a shot of him tumbling tthrough the branches to the ground.

I showed him the specific unwanted branches and where I wanted the cuts to be made. After that it was up to him to figure out how to get it done. Interestingly, I was able to watch his trapeze-like antics without cringing by mostly doing so through the aperture and on the viewing screen of my digital camera—funny how that works.

Looking at the shots now, it might not seem all that particularly dangerous because the impression of height is not so apparent. Keep in mind though that he is over three stories up. The ground is a long way down from where he is working. Even when I was young and considered myself a good tree climber, I could never have forced myself to do what he does.

Getting ready to work, first thing, Ungoy slips out of his flip-flops. Before that, as soon as he got to the house, off came the t-shirt, so that was already taken care of. You can see from the photos that he is a slender fellow to say the least. Not having a lot of extra pounds to weigh him down is surely a good thing. Most people fall while climbing trees when branches give way. It was true for me, when as a kid both my worst tree-climbing accidents involved the unexpected snapping of branches beneath me.

Way up on the fourth tower landing, with the saw in his right hand, Ungoy reached up with his left and grabbed the branch that he’d be cutting on. Then, placing one foot up on the railing he effortlessly pulled himself up onto it. Watching him balance on that narrow railing I was already feeling sympathetic queasiness. He wasn’t perturbed in the least.

Within ten minutes he had all the unwanted branches removed. Amazing. You wouldn't know it to look at him, but Ungoy is in his early 30s. When I first met him I thought he might be barely 20.

I still can’t get over how he can clamber around in the tree like that with bare feet. But we DO call him Monkey, and why would a monkey put shoes on over its hands? I was watching him; our Ungoy uses his feet like another pair of hands, just like a monkey.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Poor little thing...

Yesterday was a good day because I got to spend most of it with my girls, but unfortunately, there was one bad moment that has lingered on and tainted the memory of the whole day. I do this a lot; become consumed with things that most people would consider minor. The first time I realized I do this was over 30 years ago when a marine staff sergeant informed me in response to my worrying about what I considered to be the sad state of his office regs, “Hey Sergeant Spear, don’t sweat the small stuff. Everything is going to be fine!”

So yesterday afternoon we had just returned from a trip to the mall where my two little ones always have a great time in the playhouse and playing their favorite games in the arcade. Back here at the house I asked the girls if they wanted to help me feed and water the finches in the big bird cage. They responded with the kind of enthusiasm that only little kids can show.

We trooped in line around the back of the house to the large green bamboo gate of the big bird cage. I let them go in first, holding one hand high to keep any birds from flying out the door. As I closed and latched the door I told them that a batch of baby finches had just left their nest for the first time a few days before.

“Daddy, there’s a bird in the water,” the 8 year old announced uncertainly.

‘Oh no!’ I thought, ‘my first casualty.’

There, floating beak down in the water was a tiny hatchling, its wings spread wide. Both my girls were hovering over the pitiful little thing.

“Daddy, what happened to it? Is it dead?”

“Yeah, it drowned. It must have fallen in.”

“Can I see it? What did you do with it?”

I had deftly scooped up the tiny body and hid its damp feathered carcass inside my cupped palm. I didn’t want them looking at the dead bird and perhaps getting upset; although, they didn’t seem the least bit affected. I know I sure was though. I felt horrible, feeling responsible.

For the last couple days I had been watching two new hatchlings try out their wings. It’s surprising how quickly they learn to expertly flit about the cage. I imagined how the little thing must have died; it must have landed in the large watering bowl by mistake and then struggled in there for who-knows-how-long before finally expiring.

I told Divine later, “Maybe I should take the deep bowl out of there until the little ones are better at flying, and just use a shallow dish to keep them watered; ya know?”

I continued to conceal the drowned fledgling in my hand for the five or ten minutes we stayed in the cage.

“What are you going to do with it Daddy?” my 5 year old asked me.

“I’ll bury it in the garden.”

They wanted to watch me do it, but I just wanted to get it done so they wouldn’t have to dwell on its death. Thing is, I think I was the one all screwed up over it and doing all the dwelling. With the girls following me and hovering near I placed the tiny feathered corpse at the bottom of my current compost pit along the south interior wall. In no time both girls were happily running around the yard playing tag with Divine’s girls, the dead bird no longer a thing of interest.

As for me, I can’t keep it out of my mind; I still have the image of it floating forlornly there in the water.

It turns out that the dead little bird is not one of the two fledglings I’ve been watching all week. The one that drowned was a brand new hatchling that had just dropped out of one of the nests and right into the bowl of water. It was just bad luck. Poor little thing…

Saturday, May 09, 2009

"Mango Grenades"

Last year, for the two or three months of its “bombing season,” our huge overhanging mango tree inconsiderately and inopportunely dropped its load of hundreds of plump juicy fruit, one at a time, on the corrugated roofing of our bedroom. The thin metal makeup of the roof would reverberate each fallen mango into a jolting explosion. The irony is that we moved back here in the first place mostly for the peace and quiet.

The best way to simulate the explosive disturbance made by the “mango-grenades” would be to squat under an overturned metal trashcan and then have an angry baseball player whack it hard as hard as he can with a big old baseball bat. “Whammm!”

Now, imagine its 2 a.m. and you’re sound asleep under that trashcan, when “Mr. Homerun” smacks that can with all his steroidal might with his major league size 35/35 Louisville slugger . Bashhhh! Because THAT is what happened to us last year, night after night, week after week, for almost three months.

A few months ago, watching daily the mangos form in their massive drooping bunches in the branches above my bedroom; I realized that this year’s fruity bombing crop would be far worse than anything earlier experienced. Compared to last season, not only was there way more fruit, they were visibly plumper and heavier looking too. The reason? Probably the new septic tank we put in last February. Obviously, the tree had found and was making good use of all that extra underground “irrigation” from my own personal sewage plant. Not only was there more water available, as far as the tree was concerned, this new source of water was “supplemented” with “extra sewery nutritiousness!”

Once again, when in a situation that takes a combination of engineer and building contractor, I went to Eddy for help. I asked him, “Can we put a net of some kind under the tree Eddy? I don’t think I can take another mango season without doing something.”

As always, it was Eddy to the rescue. He answered without pause, “Of course. No problem!”

I had envisioned some slapdash concoction of poles and nets, but slapdash is not Eddy’s style. In just under two days, he and two of his boys put up what I have come to call “the blessed mango catcher.” It’s tidy, it’s aesthetic and it works.

Thanks to Eddy’s brilliant resolution, me and the mango tree are no longer “at war;” and if it WAS a war, until Eddy's net, I lost every battle. To fight back, all I had was a few choice epithets, but I don’t think Mr. Mango Tree heard me. But these days, that's all water under the bridge, for now, as far as "man versus mango goes," we are at peace.
And there is a tasty bonus to having Eddy’s mango catcher out there snagging mangos before they can crash onto my bedroom roof—mango shakes. A bruised mango goes rotten pretty quickly and birds and bugs soon add to their almost instant inedibility, at least as far as human consumption goes. Eddy was responsible for saving countless fruit when his net safely cradled each fallen fruit for the day or two it took for one of the nephews to go up there and collect them. And I DO so LOVE ripe lusciously succulent mangos!

Ahhh, but apart from the eating (gorging?), what a truly great semi-relief is that blessed-mango-catching-net. Even as fitful as my slumber is, at least for the 90 or so days of the fruiting season, which is pretty much over now, not a single mango-grenade went off and so, thankfully, did NOT rouse me. I describe it as semi-relief as I still woke up every couple hours or so, just not due to exploding mangos. Thus, I have Eddy to thank for the sleep I got that WASN’T lost; and if you woke up every night as much as I do, you too would cherish every slumbering second you could get.

Everyone should have an Eddy in their life.

Monday, May 04, 2009

Sarah's graduation from K

My youngest daughter graduated from kindergarten about a month ago. I attended the commencement but was too deep into my depression funk to think about posting comments or pics about it. Reading Hope’s recent post about her kid’s upcoming first communion reminded me that I ought to go back and revisit my own little girl’s big day, and over here, graduating from K is a pretty big deal.

The last time I attended one of these things, which was last year, it was for the older of the two girls. At the time, my ex was still filled with rancor over the events that had led to our break up. She could barely speak to me without spewing animosity. I went anyway, watched the proceedings, but did not participate.

This time though, the ex was like a different woman. She told me right up front that I was going to be the parent that took part in everything that required one. I was shocked at hearing this, but of course was thrilled to death. She appears to have gotten over what happened. Thank goodness.

Notice in the pictures that I’m not in a one of them. Those photos were taken by the “other parent.” Oh well, you can’t have everything. Baby steps. Baby steps. Of course, not having to see pictures of me in them is a bonus as far as I’m concerned.

My older daughter did her kinder graduation a couple years back at their previous school, Montessori, over in Villa Sol Subdivision. If you
read back to that post you’ll see me carping over what I considered to be an over-elaborate, over-lengthy ceremony. Compared to that painful extravaganza, this time, my youngest daughter’s commencement at Purok’s St. Catherine’s School was an absolute joy to attend. Lasting ONLY just over an hour, the only speech by an adult was by the monsignor, the pastor of the church and the head of the school. It was short, to the point, and I LOVED it! I am now a fan. You da man Father!

The kids sang a song or two, including the school song, and the rest of it consisted of the graduates going up on the stage one by one with each giving their memorized speech where they introduced themselves, told us who their parents are, and declared what they wanted to do when they grow up. It was very cute, and I loved seeing my brave little 5 year old march up there, grab the mike and loudly and clearly deliver her spiel. Actually, it was quite cool. I didn’t know she had it in her. Wow!

On that, here’s a cultural note. Here’s the list of what the kids wanted to be: for the girls: teachers, nurses, doctors, with maybe one going for lawyer; for the boys: it was all doctors, policemen, and a couple lawyers. Compare that to what you might hear from little kids where I come from, which would ALSO probably include jobs in fire fighting, the military service, and in business. Joining the military seems to be the last thing that would occur to any kid over here, and being a fireman is even lower on their list, if at all. Interesting.

Of course they also trooped up for the obligatory "best at this and that" awards as well at the end for their diploma. Oh, and I shouldn't leave out the part where each child went up there to meet a parent. I didn't realize I was supposed to go up there until I noticed the priest and my daughter standing up there waiting for me to get my butt up there too. 'Oh crap!' I sprinted up there (sort of) apologizing as I ran up the steps. Embarassing--and wouldn't you know it, I was the only foreigner there. What a dum-dum.

For the full slideshow of Sarah’s graduation click on
this link to the Flickr set.

Saturday, May 02, 2009

Alma, Snake Killer

I finally got around to looking something up on the internet just now—it was for snake identification.

Last week, Alma, my all-in-one housekeeper /cook / laundress nervously called Divine outside to look at the snake she’d just killed out in the garden. She’d been out there picking up fallen mango leaves and spotted the slender little 15 incher down at the bottom of the well of the sunken landscape feature. If I were a snake, I’d probably want to hang out there too—it’s cool, it’s moist, and it WAS safe, right up until Alma bashed in its head.

I knew we had a snake somewhere in that corner of the yard as evidenced by all the pieces of dried up shredded snake skin at the base of the perimeter wall in that area. It looked like it had been using the sharp edges of the bamboo fence to aid itself in removing it.

I should have made it known to everyone in the household NOT to kill any snake found on the property, to avoid it, get away from it, and then call me to deal with it. I was sad and mad seeing the broken little creature on her dustpan, but there was also regret for not making it clear that I wanted nothing killed around here. I told them, “If something needs to be killed, I’ll do it. Do you understand?”

From the look of it I could tell the snake wasn’t poisonous, but to the uneducated, which most folks around here are on just about everything, ALL snakes rate instant assassination. I didn’t even try to explain to Alma why I was angry. It wouldn’t do any good, so why bother?

This is the same dim woman that on her first day with us raked up a pile of leaves and twigs in the gutter out in front of the house and proceeded to set the little heap ablaze. Aside from the fact that doing so is against subdivision rules (which deters few), Divine jumped down her throat explaining that we bury (compost) all leaves, vegetable matter and yard clippings. Alma was a bit shocked by the virulence of Divine's reaction, which personally, I loved.

Divine knows that I HATE the way almost everyone burns stuff in this town, which chokinly casts the whole area in a continuous murky nasty dirty pall. I’m thrilled that Divine has taken up that cause as well. I tease her that I’ve turned her into a Filipina version of me.

Funny thing though, now that Alma has seen the prodigious amounts of black loamy soil that has come of OUR composting efforts; she too is a fan of doing it, even though at first I could tell she thought I was just another weird foreigner insistent on doing weird things (like burying leaves).

But composting is one thing; snakes are an entirely different matter. I doubt I will ever be able to change their views on the legless slithering reptiles; because to them, a snake is a snake, something to be feared and immediately dispatched.

Nevertheless, from my web research I determined the exterminated little thing to be a Southeast Asian common house snake. I explained to Divine that the worst thing they can do to you is to give you a nip, but only if you try to pick it up; otherwise, it had been out there harmlessly minding its own business, and eating insects.

I told her, “If Alma wants to kill something, tell her to get out there and kill me up a few thousand of those darned mango ants! Now THOSE things, you have my permission to slaughter every dang one of 'em!”

That got a grin out of her.

…And the schooling of “my people” goes on…