Monthly Archives: July 2008

Ruby-throated Hummingbird Moves into the Neighborhood

This male ruby-throated hummingbird darted in to have a sip at our feeder.

This male ruby-throated hummingbird darted in to have a sip at our feeder.

Sometimes, the littlest things can get me excited — like spotting a hummingbird at our feeder.  And they truly are little, as well as elusive. They barely weigh more than two ounces at the most and are about three to four inches long.

In May, we take down the seed bird feeder and put up a hummingbird feeder. Actually, my husband does all of the work, but I’m an enthusiastic observer.  The feeder is outside of our breakfast nook, which is at tree level, so we have a good view.

We spotted a hummingbird a few times at first, and then the feeder sat full and unvisited, it seems, for all of June and most of July.

A male ruby-throated hummingbird at our feeder.

A male ruby-throated hummingbird at our feeder.

After an autumn, winter and spring of lively activity by the seed eaters, who mobbed the feeder and fought one another for perches, it got awfully boring waiting at the window, staring at the red liquid that never seemed to drop. Occasionally a wasp would land for a sip. Ok, maybe I didn’t watch that much, but I did glance up from my newspaper every now and then.

Our conversation was sparkling each day.  “Has the level gone down at all?”

“I don’t think so.”

Dutifully, my husband changed the untouched nectar every week.

Then one day, my husband called out, “Hummingbird.”

I looked up.  Nothing.

“You missed it,” he said.  

This happened several times in a week.  I never saw anything.  I was beginning to think he was hallucinating.  It couldn’t just be my bad vision.  

Finally, just this week, a male hummingbird appeared. This time, when my husband said, “Hummingbird,” I actually saw one hovering at the feeder.  He said that he’d seen a female earlier.  Females are slightly larger, more brown-looking and have a whitish throat and a longer beak.

The next few days, I stood at the window off and on with my camera at the ready. That’s why I’ve included so many photographs.  I’ve got to make my vigil pay off in some small way.

A rare moment of stillness at the feeder.

A rare moment of stillness at the feeder.

Ruby-throated hummingbirds are the only hummingbirds that breed in the eastern half of the United States.  They range as far north as Central Alberta over to Nova Scotia.  They are territorial and very feisty, particularly in late summer and early fall when they are fattening up for their long nonstop flight in September across the Gulf of Mexico to their winter quarters in southern Mexico and Central America.  They are solitary birds and don’t pair up the way cardinals do. After courtship and mating, the female hummingbird is left to do the child-rearing herself, including nest building.  She will repair an old nest.

A description of the nest sounds like something from a fairy story.  The female chooses a small tree branch where she builds a nest of thistle and dandelion down, held together with spider web and covered in lichen. She lays two eggs smaller than jellybeans.

Another view of our elusive ruby-throated hummingbird.

Another view of our elusive ruby-throated hummingbird.

At our previous house, about five miles north and also in a wooded area, we had several hummingbirds descend upon our feeders in late summer. They fought, divebombing and squeaking at each other.  When that happens, put up two feeders that are not within sight of each other, if you want to keep the peace.

The male has an iridescent red throat and is smaller than the female. The birds can beat their wings 55 times per second when hovering and even faster when moving backwards and forwards.  Nectar from flowers is its main food, but hummingbirds also will catch insects on the wing and snatch spiders from their webs.

 For more information on ruby-throated hummingbirds, go to or to this site at Cornell University.


Filed under Biology, Bird-watching, Family, Humor, Kansas, Life, Nature, Personal, Uncategorized

Confessions of a Savoholic

My friend Jan gave me this photo in a frame after we graduated from college, and she moved to California.  She said this would be us checking our mailboxes for letters from each other, back in the days before email. I've saved all of her letters, including emails. And I still check my emailbox often to see what hilarious tale she has to tell me.

My friend Jan gave me this photo in a frame after we graduated from college, and she moved to California. I've saved all of her letters, including emails. And I still check my e-mailbox often to see what hilarious tale she has to tell me.

My birthday is coming up, but don’t mail me a card.  Forget a Christmas card, too.

As much as I’m eager to hear from you — and I assure you that I am — I’ll be compelled to save whatever you send to me.  I miss as much as anyone the fact that almost no one sends a “real” card or letter anymore, but it’s like booze to an alcoholic to me.

Your card, photocopied newsletter of your trip around the world, photos of your kids and dogs, the rare actual hand-written letter — I keep it all.  At least I’ve given up stamp-collecting, so I don’t have to save the envelope, too. (Although I might!)

It’s bad enough that I save every scrap of paper that my children have ever doodled on, but I also keep the greetings of people whose names I barely remember from Christmas to Christmas.

Once in January while walking with friends, I saw a ripped trash bag, its contents spilling onto the grass.  Christmas cards and –worse still — photographs were swirling in the wind.  I was horrified.  Someone threw away photographs?  I have every photograph I’ve ever gotten, plus the ten thousand I’ve taken myself.

“I throw away everything after a couple of weeks, ” one friend, Karen, said as I picked up one of the tossed treasures.  I even knew the family, which made it more heart-rending.  These poor smiling people were on their way to the dump.  Karen saw nothing cold-hearted about a trash bag full of holiday greetings and carefully posed family portraits.  She never sends any of these items herself, so maybe it’s understandable.  Her weakness is sending beautiful party invitations, which I’ve kept, of course.

“You didn’t throw away my photo, did you?”  My children with their cat, Malcolm?

“You can’t keep everything,” Karen shrugged.

“You can’t?”  Well, I’m certainly trying to.

Recently, I looked through my Christmas cards from 1999.  I cried again over the loss of a friend’s father.  That could be a clue.  Research studies are under way on the nature of hoarding.  It must be a primordial fear of not having enough of something, whether food, memories or information. At least I use my saved stuff — when I can find it.

Sometimes, I read “how to de-clutter” books, patting myself on the back that I got them from the library and didn’t add them to the glut of books and magazines I already own.  I even take some of the advice — for about a week.

The internet has been a gift.  I love email from friends.  You can keep in contact with people throughout the world.  The mail is easily filed and stored, thanks to Yahoo and Google.  My husband was shocked one day to see that I had 10,142 read messages in my inbox. Why not?  Google can handle it.

A related problem is saving articles on various interesting subjects.  I call it “cliptomania.”  I won’t tell you how many file cabinets I own and how many stacks of clippings are waiting to be filed.

I also save articles in cyberspace, where they don’t clutter my office, although sometimes I save the “hard” copy, just in case.  I think this means I’m a “digital pack rat.”  The New York Times allows you to save its articles at no charge and even tells you how many others saved the same one.  I’m not alone….usually.

Well, at least I don’t collect anything else.  Oh, gosh, I forgot about matchbooks, but since smoking is being banned in restaurants (I never smoked, and I never used any of my matchbooks….) free matchbooks are hard to come by these days. Problem solved there.

Naturally, I married someone who can keep everything he’s saved in one file drawer.  Periodically, he happily does a purge and then looks at my stuff.  The scariest words my husband can say are, “I’ll clean your office for you.”

Still, one Christmas he gave me ten pairs of scissors so I can clip wherever I am. It’s like giving drugs to an addict.  I’d enter a twelve-step program, but I really don’t want to quit.

I was just kidding about the birthday and Christmas cards.  I’ll be waiting by the mailbox.


Filed under Communication, Family, Friendship, Health, Humor, Life, Personal, Uncategorized



This is a chigger, enlarged about 1,500 times. Chiggers are red until they are engorged, when they turn yellow. They feed on our dissolved skin cells, not blood. (Photo — Dr. W. Calvin Webourn, the Ohio State Acarology Laboratory.)

Since I’m still scratching like crazy, I decided to get serious about avoiding more chigger bites.  (See my post, “Berry Picking by Moonlight” for an impractical approach.) If you’re wondering whether there are chiggers in your area, there probably aren’t. If you’ve been in nature, you’d already know! 

Wear Insect Repellent.
Wear long pants and long sleeves (which is so much fun when it’s 95 degrees!)
Wipe off your skin with a rough towel when you come inside.
Take a warm shower or bath with soap after coming indoors.
Wash your clothes and used towels in hot water and detergent to kill any chiggers hanging out there.
                                                                                                                                                               Chiggers are the almost microscopically small six-legged larval (juvenile) form of an eight-legged mite (Trombiculidae), related to ticks.  How can something so small cause such torment? You can’t see them to pick them off.  By the time you feel their bite, it’s too late.  Your body has already started its allergic reaction.
                                                                                                                                                         Chiggers are constantly on the move, running onto your body from grass and plants, heading for areas of thin skin such as your ankles or groin area. Their mouth parts are weak, so if they can’t find a delicate area, they need a fold of skin or a tight piece of clothing to help them pierce the skin.
                                                                                                                                                                          In North America, humans aren’t a chigger’s preferred host.  Chiggers would rather bite reptiles or birds, which don’t get an allergic reaction.  We’re just accidental prey. (There are chiggers in Asia and the Pacific Islands that do prefer humans, and their bites cause no itching.)
                                                                                                                                                                       The chigger injects saliva to dissolve our tissue, which the chigger then sucks.  Our bodies react by walling off the corrosive saliva, forming a sort of feeding tube in the center of a welt that itches like crazy.  The tiny chigger then sits on the tube, alternately injecting saliva and then sucking up the liquid tissue.   Most chiggers are scratched off before they complete their one and only feed.  If they don’t get enough to eat, which may take three days of feeding, they won’t mature into an adult mite. Too bad! 
                                                                                                                                                                       The good news is that chiggers don’t carry any diseases.  However, if you scratch too much, you might get an infection.
Now, enjoy your summer outdoors!


Filed under Biology, Family, Gardening, Health, Howto, Humor, Kansas, Life, Nature, Personal, Uncategorized

The Brothers Angora, Chapter One

Bones and Paddington quickly make themselves at home wherever they travel.

Bones and Paddington quickly make themselves at home wherever they are. Bones, on the left, is deaf, a trait that appears in Turkish Angoras. Paddington, on the right, has one blue and one amber eye, a frequent and even favored Turkish Angora characteristic. Turkish Angoras are known as the “swimming cats.” Bones loves standing in water in the sink.

We parents do crazy things for our children.  My husband and I volunteered to help our daughter move her belongings to a new apartment with two roommates while we visited her in Boston, where she attended college.

Usually, we flew, but this time we were bringing some small pieces of furniture, a computer and housewares in our minivan from Kansas City — a round trip of about 3,000 miles.  Our daughter gave us a list of what she needed.

“Oh, can you bring our kittens?”

“You have kittens?”

“Amber’s cat had kittens.”

My daughter.  What a jokester!  “Don’t they have homeless kittens in Boston?”

“These are Turkish Angora kittens.”

“Hmmm.” I didn’t know what a Turkish Angora kitten was, but how could that be important?

“And they’re rare,” she continued.

I sighed.  Still not impressed.  My daughter wasn’t going to be breeding and showing cats.


Paddington and Bones found a warm spot to enjoy the drive to Boston from Kansas City. Here they are somewhere in upstate New York.

Paddington and Bones find a warm spot on the dashboard to enjoy the drive to Boston from Kansas City. Here they are somewhere in upstate New York.

“And we promised Amber we’d take them.”

I pondered this information.  “No.”

A cry of dismay. “We’ve already named them.  Cynthia’s is Paddington, and mine is Bones.”

Well,  now that they had names, they were claimed.  It was settled then.  We’d be driving a pair of two-month-old kittens to Boston. No problem.  My husband and I didn’t cave in quite that easily, but it was still embarrassingly fast. (Part of the negotiations involved a small ball python.  Another story.)

On a break from classes, my daughter flew to Kansas City to get the kittens from Amber.  When my daughter walked in the door of our house with one crying kitten clinging desperately to her shirt, she looked miserable.  Motherhood can be hard.  But the kittens quickly adjusted to their new temporary home. They didn’t mind being confined to a bedroom and bathroom area, because our old cat, Malcolm, didn’t much like them in his territory.  Soon, the kittens discovered how much fun it was to pull all of the toilet paper from the roll and shred it.

“We’ll keep the cats in a carrier,” I said, when my husband wondered whether it was safe to have kittens running loose in the car.

Newborn Bones and Paddington snuggle together. The brother's mother was rescued from a home of a cat hoarder.

Cat owner Amber emailed this photo to my daughter and her roommate. They were hooked when they saw the snuggling newborn brothers, which they immediately named Bones and Paddington. The brothers’ mother was rescued from a home of a woman who had more than forty cats.

Confining the kittens lasted for about the first half-hour of the trip. The meowing was unbearable, so I released them. Once freed, they leapt and sailed around the minivan.  They watched from the windows and slept some times on the dashboard.  Online, I’d found motels that would take cats, and the kittens were surprisingly quiet when we settled in each night.   They snuggled next to us.  We also spent some nights with friends along the way.  With the kittens in the car, we stopped only for gas until we reached each night’s destination.

We moved our daughter into her apartment in the Fenway Park area. (Another story.)  There was hardly room for her and her two roommates to move around.  The kittens quickly made themselves at home, climbing above the clutter. I missed our furry passengers on the drive back to Kansas City.   To be continued.


Filed under Cats, Family, Humor, Personal, Pets, Travel, Uncategorized

Malcolm, Old Friend

Malcolm never saw a pile of laundry he didn't want to sleep on.  Now he can't make the jump onto the bed.

Malcolm never saw a pile of laundry he didn't want to sleep on. Now the poor old guy can't make the jump onto the bed.

I’m the woman always wearing a sprinkling of cat hair.  Sometimes I take the lint roller to my clothes, but usually I don’t even notice the hair. 

I miss not finding Malcolm, our cat, lying on a pile of my not-yet-folded laundry. Yes, it used to irritate me a little, but he looked so adorable as he slept, shedding his lovely orange hair on my clean clothes.  He could be in the middle of a nap somewhere, hear the dryer door open, and be on my bed in a flash, ready to settle onto warm towels and clothing.  A dark load of black pants and shirts.  Perfect!  If he got there too late, even a cold sock or two would do as a foundation for a nice snooze. 

Just this year, he couldn’t make the jump.  He fell back onto the floor with an undignified thump.  He mewls pitifully now that he can’t get to his favorite napping spot, so I place him on the bed. I set the dark clothes aside, of course.

We brought Malcolm home sixteen years ago from Wayside Waifs, an animal haven.  My daughter chose Malcolm, because he was slightly fluffier than his sister, Sophie.  We should have taken her, too.

We knew nothing about cats, except that they seemed to be easier to take care of than dogs.  He came with worms, fleas and ear mites, but we managed to quickly get rid of all of the pests and felt proud of ourselves. 

Young Malcolm was like a rocket in our house, flying and leaping.  We couldn’t keep him from the counters.  He knocked plants over.  We learned about hair balls.  We discovered that cats can eat too much and then vomit.  Sometimes, if he was upset, he decided not to use his cat box.  We wondered what we’d signed up for.  It’s hard to remember that now when we see him waddling slowly around the house, a paragon of almost perfect cat behavior.  We have two younger cats, who remind us of how Malcolm used to be. 

No one appreciates Christmas morning more than Malcolm, who rustles in the torn paper and bats and chases the ribbons.  Malcolm has always liked to be held — or at least tolerated it very well — but he is much sweeter now.  He used to bolt at the sound of the doorbell and disappear when we had guests.  Some people didn’t even know we had a cat.  (Unless they were allergic….)  Now he seeks out anyone who visits and endures the tough love of children.

I could easily be one of those dotty old women who talks to cats, because Malcolm does talk back. He likes to sleep next to me, but that’s only been in the last two years.  Sad that he came to this so late, because now it’s a rare night he can leap onto the bed. He lies on the floor next to the bed, crying to be lifted to his spot.  Then he snores.

Last year, he lost a lot of weight.  It scared me.   Even the veterinarian was alarmed.  But after a change in food, he was quickly back to his plump self again.  I hug him tighter now.  He’s only a cat, but I can’t bear to think of losing him.


Filed under Cats, Family, Humor, Life, Personal, Pets

Berry Picking by Moonlight

Chiggers lie in wait to make me lunch as I grab these blackberries for my own meal.

Chiggers lie in wait to make me their lunch as I grab these blackberries for my own meal.

How did chiggers make a living before people started wearing clothes?

An entomologist explained in a college “bugs and boys” class that chiggers have weak mouth parts so they need pressure to clamp onto our skin.  The invention of elastic waistbands was a huge boon to chiggerdom. 

This is blackberry season, which means every time I bring in a bowl of berries from my bushes, I’m also wearing a crop of chiggers.  I’ve never seen a chigger, but they sure make their presence known. Huge itching welts appear, usually in a line along my underwear.   Bug spray doesn’t always work, either. It’s almost like salad dressing to the bugs.

What would happen if we gardened in the nude?  Would the poor chiggers wander the naked skin, unable to take a bite? 

Naked gardening does pose other problems — sun overexposure and skin overexposure. I wouldn’t want a golfer on the adjoining course to miss a shot, shocked by the sight of me scampering around naked with a berry basket.  Some night I may just creep out to the bushes under the moonlight, flashlight in hand, hoping I don’t surprise a hungry raccoon, and tell those chiggers, “Bite me, if you can!”


Filed under Biology, Gardening, Golf, Humor, Kansas, Life, Nature, Uncategorized

There Will Be Blog

The mini-van’s thermometer shot up to 94 degrees as we left leaf-shaded suburbia.  We hurried (careful not to exceed the speed limit) into the city, eager for a soft seat in a cool theater at a late afternoon movie, just before the higher evening prices kicked in.  We chose “Gonzo,” a documentary about Hunter S. Thompson, a man more than a decade older than us who chronicled our generation in a way we had not quite experienced ourselves.  We were happy to go along for the trip, even though we weren’t hurtling down a highway in a convertible Cadillac, fueled on Wild Turkey and weed ala Thompson.  We bought our tickets, fumbled for seats in the dark and settled in.

Hunter S. Thompson, Gonzo journalist.

Hunter S. Thompson, Gonzo journalist.

Hunter S. Thompson was like an early blogger.  Although his words were published — not instantly blasted to the public in bytes — the impact was almost as immediate.   He created, or at least perfected, personal, interactive journalism that shaped the news from his days of living among the Hell’s Angels and Merry Pranksters to dining with presidential candidates.

For the 1972 presidential campaign, he typed his words on the campaign trail at the last minute and fed them into a primitive fax machine, while the production staff at Rolling Stone magazine waited for these last pages, usually hours after the printing deadline.

I was a student journalist during the 1972 campaign.  I have no copies of the words I wrote that were printed in the student newspaper, but I’m sure they had no long-term or even short-term impact.  I just felt lucky to be the one chosen to document George McGovern’s visit to Union Station in Kansas City.  I also wrote about Julie Nixon Eisenhower’s campaign stop for her father at a hotel near the Country Club Plaza.  What I remember most was a video appearance of Richard Nixon on a large screen and wedges of iceberg lettuce swathed in French dressing on plates in the hotel kitchen, all equally unpalatable. Somehow I ended up in the receiving line and shook Julie’s hand.  I worried a little at the propriety of looking like a fan or an admirer.  Journalists need to remain objective. Thompson said he always wrote the facts — as he saw them.

While he knew he’d get better stories as an anonymous observer, he didn’t mind shaping the story.  All journalists do that to some extent. We get to know our sources, even want to be stay on good terms with them.   Somehow, even though Thompson often angered his subjects, he still got access.  According to “Gonzo,” Thompson rode in a car with Nixon for more than an hour, chatting about football, because he was forbidden to mention politics or the Vietnam War. I’d be very surprised if Thompson wasn’t on Nixon’s enemies list.  Thompson loathed Nixon, favoring McGovern and making no secret of that.

Thompson shared his notes with Tom Wolfe for his “The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test.”  Wolfe created his own form of writing, “the New Journalism,” using a colorful, original, involved voice.  Wolfe called Thompson the greatest American comedy writer of the 20th century.  Both men coined phrases that became a part of the language.  They both created trademark images of themselves, standing out in talent and in appearance from the crowd of writers in 1960s and 70s.

Tom Wolfe, 1978, on a street in New York City, in his trademark white suit, which helped to stand out among the crowd of writers.

Tom Wolfe, 1978, on a street in New York City, in his trademark white suit, which helped to stand out among the crowd of writers.

They couldn’t be more different in style. Thompson was casual, with his sunglasses and dangling cigarette and wearing some kind of slouchy canvas hat.  Wolfe is refined, always dapper in a white suit, hat and cane and white or two-tone shoes.  In November 1987, my husband and I happened across Wolfe in the Boston airport.  Wolfe had been in town plugging his Bonfire of the Vanities.  My husband took the seat next to Wolfe, whose elegant pale cream wool coat was neatly folded in a chair, his white homburg hat resting on top.  Wolfe was like a character in a book from another era, who was keenly and quietly reading us and the others in the waiting room.  I was suddenly very aware of my wind-blown hair and too-casual traveling clothes.   I later read in Bonfire the words of one of the characters deploring the poor state of dress of air travelers.

Perhaps, Thompson would scoff at millions of bloggers besieging the world with their own views, their own experiences, a cacophony drowning one another’s voices. Actually, he probably wouldn’t care.  Some people just rise above the crowd and will always find readers.

When I tell Pat, a friend, about an article I’ve posted or published, she promises she’ll read it — some time, maybe after a long day of work as a pediatric nurse practitioner, after yard work,  after dinner.  I laugh.  She was one of the group of us who’d seen “Gonzo,” and then her husband John encouraged me to write a “gonzo” post.  Gonzo is hard…..

A friend, Jan PlanetJan says that encouraging friends to read your blog feels like “peddling giftwrap for your kid’s middle school.”

Inspired by the title of another movie we’d discussed, Pat says to keep at it.  “There Will Be Blog,” she proclaims.   And, so it continues.


Filed under Entertainment, History, Humor, Journalism, Life, Politics, Presidents, Writing


We all suspect we have a double out there in the world, but the internet makes it easier to find dozens of them.  A couple of years ago, I googled my name to find one of my articles so I could email it to an editor.  Dozens of Cathy and Catherine Shermans appeared.  Only three of them were me, but some were so like me in what they studied or pursued or were employed in doing that if I didn’t know better I would have thought they were me.   Poet, science writer, photographer, artist, museum worker or in jewelry sales —  work or hobbies I’ve done.  Others were college students, a counselor, realtor and attorney.  So far, I haven’t found any with a criminal record. One received a humanitarian award (Not me….) Rosanna Arquette even played a Cathy Sherman in a movie, “Good Advice.”

Others with my name were so different from me I thought there’d be no way anyone would mistake those tough gals for wimpy me!   Long-haul trucker, another one a school bus driver, one a personal trainer.  There’s the young teenager named Cathy Sherman who won outrigger canoe contests in Honolulu. But, I thought, hey, if those Cathy and Catherine Shermans can do it, maybe so can I!

Googleganger is the name for this phenomenon — googling our other selves, our doppelganger (German for double going.)  A story in the New York Times (See link to the story below) explains the psychology behind why we feel pleasure and seek out others with our name and lists lots of examples of people who have plowed this googleganging earth before I did.  It also describes the hunt for our other selves. People have written books on it.  As for the word, googleganger (imagine a pair of dots, an umlaut, over the a,), it was named “most creative” word last year by the American Dialect Society.  My friend, “Planetjan,” (see blogroll), put the word in her “Quotation Rotation.”

Some people with really common names will laugh at the thought there’s a bond.  To them, it’s probably annoying.  You get the wrong mail, or even go to jail.  Some people have even gotten arrested for the antics of their name double.  

My name is just common enough to have googlegangers, but not common enough that I know anyone with my name.  I thought I owned my name.  Wrong!

Sherman Tank.

Sherman Tank. Don't get in the way of a Sherman!

It wasn’t until I received a facebook friend request from a Cathy J. Sherman in Australia that I thought it might be possible to actually get to know some other people with my name — without going to a lot of trouble. I’m now adding Cathy and Catherine Shermans to my friends list. So far, I haven’t had to deal with the dilemma of what to do with a Kathy with a K. I never thought of Kathy as the same name as mine, but I shouldn’t be so picky.  After all, they are Shermans…..

Rosanna Arquette is not a Cathy Sherman, but she played one in a movie.

Rosanna Arquette is not a Cathy Sherman, but she played one in a movie.

I have ancestors named Catherine Sherman, but despite all of these doubles, I’ve never met another Cathy or Catherine Sherman.  I came close once.  I got a report from my doctor that I had an abnormal finding on a test.  I needed a different test. I drove in an ice storm to get to my procedure, after worrying for a month.  The nurse asked me a couple of questions. It turned out that another Catherine Sherman had had the same test in that office the same day I had. It was her abnormal result, not mine. I was relieved for myself, but concerned for my double.  This confusion wouldn’t have happened had I taken my husband’s much more rare last name.  But I wouldn’t have any googlegangers.  Medical mixups are a small price to pay. 

Finding a host of Catherine Shermans led to a lot more people with the last name of Sherman in a facebook group called “Shermans Unite!”  I’m now a proud new member.  People grouping together with the same name isn’t a new phenomenon, although it was much harder before the internet.  You had to rely on the old-fashioned phone directory.  How quaint is that?

Growing up, I didn’t know anyone else with the name of Sherman other than my immediate family.  If we Shermans have nothing else in common, we do have similar nicknames, including being called Sherman by friends instead of our first names.  It makes it confusing when I go out with my three brothers and their five sons.  My two sisters kept the name Sherman, too.  (If you were lucky enough to have that name, would you change it?)

General William Tecumseh Sherman

General William Tecumseh Sherman

 According to “Shermans Unite!” Sherman is the BEST LAST NAME EVER!  The facebook group says “that people call you by your last name, all of the time, because it’s just that great.”  And this is true.  And it’s never mispronounced.  If for some reason people tire of calling you Sherman, there are tons of nicknames — Sherm, Shermie, Sherm-dog, The Shermanator (From American Pie), or Tank, from Sherman Tank.

People are bound to be jealous and will try to use the name maliciously.  When my father played high school basketball, the opposing teams tried to rattle him by chanting, Sherman, Sherman, you are it!  S H for Sherman, I T for It!  But there is no stopping a Sherman.  We’re like tanks.

General Sherman Sequoia Tree in California, large single organism in the world, and named after a Sherman!

General Sherman Sequoia Tree in California, largest single organism in the world, and named after a Sherman!

The most famous Sherman is the Civil War general William Tecumseh Sherman. My father did some research and didn’t find a link there.  We claim him, anyway!  Other famous Shermans include General Sherman’s brother John, who authored the Sherman Antitrust Act, and was a senator and Secretary of the Treasury and Secretary of State.  He was also known as the “Ohio Icicle.”  Hmmm.   James S. Sherman was the 27th vice president of the United States.  All of these Shermans are part of a vast political family that spans the history of the country, beginning with the patriarch of the family, Roger Sherman, a senator from Connecticut, who was one of the Committee of Five who drafted the Declaration of Independence and then was one of the signers.  In fact, he was the only person to sign all great state papers of the U.S.: the Articles of Association, the Declaration of Independence, the Articles of Conferderation and the Constitution. That’s a big deal.  Way to go, great-great-great-great grandfather!  (Ok, it’s just wishful thinking.) 

To see more about this family, go to and search for the “Baldwin, Hoar & Sherman family.”  Isn’t wikipedia great!

Thomas Jefferson said of Roger Sherman:  “That is Mr. Sherman of Connecticut, a man who has never said a foolish thing in his life.”  That, perhaps, is a clue that I’m not related to him.

My branch of Shermans was originally French-speaking Catholics from Alsace-Lorraine, a province that was tossed back and forth between France and Germany.  The Roger Sherman family is Anglo-Saxon Protestant, originally from England.  The name Sherman is from Middle English shereman for “shearer,” so maybe our common ancestors were all shearing sheep together somewhere before some of the Saxons moved into England.  (The Celts would say invaded!) There are Jewish Shermans, too.   Sher  “scissors” plus man is yiddish for tailor, according to  There are also some non-Shermans who like the name so much that they give it to their children as a first name.  Sherman Helmsley was one of the lucky ones.

Mr. Peabody and his pet boy Sherman

Mr. Peabody and his pet boy Sherman

There are lots of other famous Shermans. Don’t forget Mr. Peabody’s pet boy Sherman from the Rocky and Bullwinkle Show. The work of photographer Cindy Sherman, who uses herself as a model, is in museum collections across the country. There’s Ben Sherman, a clothing designer, and Nat Sherman, tobacconist to the world.  Remember comedian Allan Sherman (Hello Muddah, Hello Faddah song) and Bobby Sherman, the teeny bopper singer?  My brother’s name is Allan, so we sang that a lot.  My father’s name was Bob, so he got a lot of phone calls from giggling girls when that singer was popular — or should I say “more” popular, because Shermans never lose popularity.

General Sherman gave his name to the Sherman tank and to the General Sherman Sequoia tree, the biggest tree in the world.  It is, in fact, the largest single organism by volume on earth!

There’s Sherman, Texas, and Sherman Oaks, Calif., and counties named Sherman in Kansas, Nebraska and Texas. If your name is on a county in Texas, you have hit the big time! The Texas county and city are named for Sidney Sherman, who fought in the Texas Revolution.  Those Shermans are fighting all over the place!

Cindy Sherman explores her many selves through photography.

Cindy Sherman explores her many selves through photography.

I feel happy to be among my tribe, even if we are united only by one glorious name!  As to the subset of Cathy Shermans, my googlegangers, I’ll be happy to see what you’re doing out there in the world.  Now when I see my name listed multiple times on my facebook birthday calendar all year long, I don’t have to groan about getting older, I’ll just celebrate more!

Names That Match Forge a Bond on the Internet a link to a New York Times article about finding your name double through google, called googleganging.


Filed under Family, History, Humor, Internet, Life, Personal, Politics, Technology, Uncategorized

Museum of Natural History at the University of Kansas

L. L. Dyche's taxidermy was so life-like it struck fear into this visitor to the Dyche Museum of Natural History at the University of Kansas. Photo by Cathy Sherman.

This stuffed bear is so life-like it strikes fear into this visitor to the Museum of Natural History in Dyche Hall at the University of Kansas. Behind these visitors is a section of the Panorama of North American Animals and Plants, the largest diorama in the world. Photo by Cathy Sherman.

Call me weird, but I like to hang out with stuffed animals.  I’m not alone, though.  Fifty thousand people a year visit the exhibits at the Museum of Natural History & Biodiversity Research Center  (that’s a mouthful) at the University of Kansas.  The museum is in Dyche Hall, just west of the Student Union.

I studied at KU (Rock Chalk, Jayhawk!) and later worked across the street from the museum for five years. I still love These workers from more than a hundred years ago take a break from building the Panorama of North American Animals and Plants, the largest diorama in the world, which is in the Museum of Natural History at visit the museum whenever I return to the campus and have taken many friends there, too — whether they wanted to go…or not! (You know who you are!  It was fun, after all, wasn’t it?)

I like the quiet other-worldly atmosphere of the museum, even though it’s very much about the world we live in.  The museum’s motto is “We study the life of the planet.”  Biodiversity Research Center has been added to the name since I first started going there, since it’s not just cases and cases of stuffed animals in life-like settings.  There’s a lot of research going on behind the scenes.Dyche Hall

The museum is the leading university natural history museum in the country in biodiversity research — discovering, documenting and spreading the knowledge of life on earth, past and present, according to its website.  They have huge inventories of plants and animals (I’ve worked in their storage areas), including the best bee and scorpionfly collection. Sometimes my work took me to the museum when I wrote stories about research. I took a class in museum preparation in a classroom there, but quickly found out that I wasn’t cut out to cut up animals.  Actually, I didn’t cut much, but slipped off the skin of a mouse like a glove from a hand.  I did it just once.  It’s not for me!  Another task was to examine animal pelts in drawers to make sure they weren’t infested with carpet beetles.  I went through all of the mink, ferret and martin pelts.  They aren’t nearly so appealing flattened in drawers as they are in a coat, although I don’t think they should be made into coats.

This dashing explorer is L. L. Dyche, who killed and stuffed a lot of animals in the late 1800s so that we'd know what they looked like.

This dashing explorer is L. L. Dyche, who collected a lot of animals in the late 1800s so that we’d know what they looked like.

The museum building is named for Lewis Lindsay Dyche, who wowed visitors to the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago with the Panorama of North American Animals and Plants, which was billed as “Nothing Like it in the World.” It was moved to the then newly built Dyche Hall at KU about a century ago and is still the largest diorama in the world.  There are 121 large and small mammals from the arctic to the tropical regions, arranged in natural settings at the time of early Autumn.  You can hear running water from a small waterfall, and a prairie dog pops up from a burrow.  Kids love that. (Me, too.)

There are four floors of exhibits in the museum, including fossils in the lower level, live snakes and fish and a hive of live bees.  I like the display of fluorescent rocks in a little room, enclosed by curtains. Some of the rocks spin on turntables.  I feel as if I’m in a time-machine, transported to a simpler time.

Perhaps out of place because it is more history than science (but one of my favorites) is the stuffed Comanche, a horse from General George Armstrong Custer’s Seventh Cavalry, which survived the Battle of the Little Bighorn in Montana.  Comanche moved to Ft. Riley, Kan., where it retired after being nursed back to health because of its injuries at Little Bighorn.  Comanche was named “Second Commanding Officer of the Seventh,” became something like a pet, led parades and developed a fondness for beer. (I wondered how that happened?)  When he died in 1890, he was only one of two horses in U.S. history to be buried with full military honors.  Despite this, his exterior was sent to KU to be preserved by L. L. Dyche.  There was a story that KU ended up with Comanche, because Ft. Riley didn’t pay KU’s taxidermy bill, but another tale says that Dyche waived his fee of $400, if he could keep Comanche.   The horse was recently restored and moved to a special exhibit case on the same floor as the Panorama.   For more on Comanche go to Citing \”Custer\’s Last Standard Bearer\”

Comanche, a horse from Custer's Seventh Cavalry, is on display at Dyche Museum of Natural History at the University of Kansas. Comanche survived the Battle of the Little Big Horn. Photo by Cathy Sherman.

Comanche, a horse from Custer’s Seventh Cavalry, is on display at the Museum of Natural History in Dyche Hall at the University of Kansas. Comanche survived the Battle of the Little Bighorn. General George Armstrong Custer and his 262 men died. Photo by Cathy Sherman.  KU Natural History Museum website.

About L. L. Dyche, Naturalist.   a link to a story about Lewis Lindsay Dyche on (Apparently this article no longer exists.)

An article from 1932. About Lewis Lindsay Dyche. Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument.


Filed under Biology, History, Humor, Kansas, Life, Nature, Travel, University of Kansas

Kansas City Symphony in the Flint Hills

 Cowboys herded cattle during the music of \

SYMPHONY in the FLINT HILLS   A symphony concert in a pasture?  Hmmmm?  Concert veterans Matt and Sue R. told us about the Kansas City Symphony’s third annual concert in the Flint Hills of Kansas on June 15.

A cowgirl along the path to the concert.  Photo by Cathy Sherman.

A cowgirl along the path to the concert. Photo by Cathy Sherman.

I love the symphony, but I thought of some drawbacks.  Chiggers, mosquitoes, snakes.   And Kansas summer weather.  It changes from hour to hour.  Hot, humid, thunderstorms, lightning, mud, floods, even tornadoes. Take your pick.   I experienced nearly all of them at Girl Scout camp……

(Later, I discovered a hazard I hadn’t thought of, though I should have known better.  Cowpies!  I stepped in one.  I worried about the other possible calamities for nothing.  I returned home unscathed without even a sunburn!)

Another attraction was our friends who had a vacation house on Lake Wabaunsee, which wasn’t that far away from the concert site.  The lake is interesting its own right because it was built by the CCC crews during the Great Depression, and cabins there housed German prisoners of War during World War II.

The two Sues make the long trek to the concert site.  Photo by Cathy Sherman.

The two Sues make the long trek to the concert site. Photo by Cathy Sherman.

This year, the concert was just south of Council Grove, a three-hour drive from our house.  The location changes every year for variety and because the audience of five thousand people can do a lot of damage to the land, even if only for a day. 

 Matt and Sue, the old friends who’d gone to the second annual concert, did the hard work of dialing for tickets, which were sold out within an hour. 

To get to the concert area, we walked a mile from the parking lot, hauling our chairs, soft coolers full of food and drink, hats, sunblock, umbrellas, bug spray and cameras.  There were wagons and shuttles for those who couldn’t make it on foot.  Or were smarter than I was.  Our group arrived early enough to sit close to the stage, but Sue pointed to an an area at the top of the hill.  She knew that the higher you sat, the better to enjoy the sweeping vista.  She was right! 

A group of music lovers stake out a spot. Photo by Cathy Sherman.

A group of music lovers stake out a spot. Photo by Cathy Sherman.

The symphony patrons are seated in front on hard seats that they paid extra for, but the cheap seats are the best. 

In the afternoon before the concert, experts gave talks in tents on many Flint Hills topics, such as archeology, Kansas birds, ranching, geology, the prairie grass and wildflowers. You learned something, and you got out of the sun.  (More about the Flint Hills below.)

Kansas Governor Kathleen Sebelius addresses the crowd. Photo by Cathy Sherman

Kansas Governor Kathleen Sebelius addresses the crowd. Photo by Cathy Sherman

Now, we’ll go live.  Kansas Governor Kathleen Sebelius, honorary chair, greets the crowd.  The first half of the program features Beethoven’s Pastoral Symphony (Symphony No. 6 in F Major, op. 68 ) and works by Chadwick and Copland.

Matt and Sue R.

Matt and Sue R.

 As the sun sinks in the west (sounds like a Zane Grey Western), it’s still hot, humid and sunny.  Cowboys herd a river of cattle on a hillside as the Symphony plays “The Great Westerns Suite,” a medley of powerful music from four western movies.  The setting sun brushes everyone and everything with gold. My eyes tear up as the theme to How the West Was Won fills the valley.  I loved that movie as a girl.  I still love it.  (Spoiler alert) I cry over Jimmy Stewart’s death yet again.  “Oh, Linus,” I can still hear Carroll Baker’s character say.  Also featured is music from The Magnificent Seven, Silverado and Dances With Wolves.  I’m a sucker for every western archetype.  Sue later discovered that the cattle drive — so perfectly timed — was not part of the program.  We’d thought the arrival of the cattle was choreographed to match the magestic western music. Instead, the cattle had broken free from their alarmed cowboy escorts and headed toward the music on their own!


Brooke watches the cattle make their way toward the music, which we later discovered was not choreographed as we'd thought. Sue R. said that the cattle broke free from their alarmed cowboy escorts. Photo by Cathy Sherman.

The sound is huge, but you can still hear the chirp of crickets and appreciate the rolling hills and rhythm of the cattle as they flow across the land.  It makes you think of corny phrases like “The hills are alive with music.”  Everything is grand. The music, the view, th"Ashokan Farewell" plays as the sun sets.e history.  The real tear-jerker is the last song on the program, Ashokan Farewell, the theme from the Ken Burns miniseries, The Civil War.  The Kansas State Song, Home on the Range, plays as we prepare to leave.  Everyone knows the words…..

The crowd of 5,000 winds its way to the parking lot after an inspiring day. Photo by Cathy Sherman.

The crowd of 5,000 winds its way to the parking lot after the concert. Photo by Cathy Sherman.


THE FLINT HILLS —I’ve lived in Kansas since I was two, but I haven’t spent much time on the Kansas prairie after my days at Girl Scout camp.  The Flint Hills are a band of hills stretching through the center of Kansas into Oklahoma, comprised of limestone and shale.  Zebulon Pike named the hills for the flint-like chert stone he saw in the limestone.

I studied prairie grass in college botany classes and driven through the Flint Hills at least a hundred times on the Kansas turnpike, which bisects it, but until I walked through the tall grass itself I didn’t realize how beautiful and diverse it is.  And it definitely isn’t flat.  Geologist Rex Buchanan can tell you by looking at each hill what layer of rock lies underneath.

Prairie once covered a third of the North American continent.  The largest portion of virgin tallgrass prairie lies in the Flint Hills, which escaped plowing because it’s so rocky.  The Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve, the first national park devoted solely to the preservation of the nation’s prairie heritage, is 11,000 acres near Strong City.Blue Wild Indigo, a wildflower in the Tallgrass Prairie of the Flint Hills.  It was used as a dye. Photo by Cathy Sherman.

Not so long ago, the tallgrass prairie reached into eastern Kansas, where I live.  Tallgrass prairie once blanketed Mount Oread in Lawrence, the home of the University of Kansas.  There’s plenty of rainfall for trees, but fires periodically killed the trees and shrubs.  Modern man keeps the natural fires from burning the trees (and the buildings.) Now mature trees are everywhere in eastern Kansas, making it look more like Missouri than it did when Quantrill’s raiders swept in.  

My backyard, which is a mile from Missouri, is part of that state’s oak – history forest and has walnut, redbud, mulberry, hickory, hackberry, elm trees, plus the Campanile on the campus of the University of Kansas, surrounded by trees where once there were none. Photo by Cathy Sherman.oaks– burr, shingle and chestnut.

On the KU campus, an acre was devoted to the tallgrass prairie that once prevailed there (I don’t know whether it’s still there), but you need thousands of acres to make a prairie.  And it’s a living thing, too, made up of hundreds of different species of plants, animals and insects.  A fire every now and then burns out the shrubs and trees and regenerates the grass and wildflowers. Lightning used to start the fires. Now, mostly ranchers do.

One April I was driving to Wichita for an Easter weekend.  As I passed through the Flint Hills during a controlled burn, huge dark flakes began to cloud my windshield.  It was snow, tinged with ash.  Ranchers burn every spring, and it doesn’t take long before the hills are green again.


Symphony in the Flint Hills   

Interesting websites about the prairie:

Tallgrass Prairie National  

Geologist Rex Buchanan points out a rock formation in the Flint Hills in a talk about the geology of the area. Photo by Cathy Sherman.

Geologist Rex Buchanan points out a rock formation in the Flint Hills in a talk about the geology of the area. Photo by Cathy Sherman.

Kansas Wildflowers 

The Nature Conservancy in Kansas —

Kansas Wildlife & Parks


Filed under Biology, Kansas, Life, Music, Nature, Travel