Some Robins Can Be Sunbirds…Sort of

We always thought of Robins as birds who are the harbingers of spring. On the other hand, we’ve seen Robins in the middle of winter. We saw them today.

I realize that you technically can’t call a Robin a Sunbird. There is a species of Sunbird. It’s a small tropical forest bird. And you could call a person who travels from hot, humid parts of the country to cooler parts a sunbird—sort of the opposite of snowbirds; those who migrate from the cold north to the warm south in the winter months.

And so, I think you could call the Robin a sunbird—sort of. They’ll stick around all winter as long as the berries hold out.

Slow Progress with Juggle Behind the Back Trick

About a month ago, I made a YouTube video showing my miserable performance trying to do the throw behind the back juggling trick.

I have been practicing nearly every day since. I’m still not able to do the trick and integrate it into the 3-ball cascade. On the other, I’ve gone from zero percent to “maybe I can do this” when I try the 2-ball practice trick.

My latest video on the 2-ball practice trick alone still shows me chasing after dropped balls, obviously. But I catch at least one and sometimes both more often than I did last month.

The 2-ball practice throw behind the back trick has two components. They’re parts of the full trick which incorporates the trick into juggling a 3-ball cascade. I inferred this from the little manual I got with the Learn to Juggle kit I bought back in mid-October.

In one component, I throw the ball behind my back first with my right hand (the trick ball), then quickly throw the second ball up and—drop both on the floor. No, wait, the idea is to catch them both. This was easier a month ago then it is now because I quit practicing it to do what was harder.

The harder 2-ball practice component was to throw one ball up with my left hand first, then throw the trick ball behind my back. The object is to catch both, which I was unable to do at all until the last few days. It was a coin toss whether I would catch either ball or both. Most of the time, I dropped both.

I was amazed because it seemed like I went from being completely unable to do this to being marginally competent (luckier?) practically overnight.

I have watched demo videos of jugglers who can do the behind the back throw trick and it’s pretty impressive. At first, I thought I would be able to do this without as much effort as I put into doing the throw under the leg trick. They incorporate the same general moves, which includes throwing one ball a little higher than usual in order to make time for doing the trick throw and catching the next ball.

But the stickler for me is having to look behind me for the ball coming from behind my back—which means I have to take my eyes off the balls in front. When I do the under the leg trick, I’m looking at everything happening in front of me.

For a while, it seemed easier to throw the one ball before the trick a little lower rather than higher than usual. That doesn’t make sense, when I think about the timing, and yesterday it didn’t seem to matter exactly how high I tossed it. But I’m pretty sure that throwing it higher makes the trick easier.

Also, early on I thought you had to throw the balls perfectly to get the trick right. I do anything but that, which is why I’m good at ugly juggling. It’ll be a while before I incorporate this into a 3-ball cascade.

Snow Day!

I wrote this post yesterday because I didn’t know whether or not we’d have a power outage because of high winds (up to nearly 50 mph) predicted for the Arctic Blast this week.

When we’re not outside scooping our walkway and driveway, we’ll probably be playing cribbage or, God forbid, Scrabble (which I always lose).

We’ve heard about the renewed interest in board games, one of them being Scrabble. We recently found an old Scrabble game at Old Capitol Town Center (formerly Old Capitol Mall). It’s Super Scrabble and it was on sale for $50 at a hole-in-the-wall shop lacking an entrance sign. The high price is because it’s a collectible relic from the past, although a quick internet search revealed it was made in 2004—hardly an antique. You can find them on eBay for $30. On the other hand, you can find them going for as much as $179 at an on-line store called Mercari.

We’ll also probably take a break by munching on our Christmas cookies.

I’m all set for the freezing weather. I’ve got my thermal underwear out and sweats out, along with my heavy gloves.

The wind will probably make shoveling pointless at times. We’ll probably bag it and then I’ll practice the juggling behind the back trick—another pointless activity.

More Ugly Juggling!

I know you’ve been waiting for more ugly juggling and I’ve got it for you right here. I have been struggling with doing the under the leg toss trick and the reverse cascade as well for days.

Both are extremely ugly, but I’m giving myself credit because I’m a geezer past his mid-sixties who just started juggling in mid-October.

I generally tend to practice in my office where my computer and webcam are. It’s not unusual for me to drop a ball or two on the keyboard. Sometimes when I do that, a couple of extraterrestrials materialize and try to sell me real estate somewhere on the outer rings of Saturn. I don’t worry about them because I just accidentally hit the keys again by dropping another juggling ball on the keyboard and they dematerialize.

I thought I would never get the under the leg trick. I have watched that trick done by several pro jugglers who make YouTubes out of their skills and try to teach others. What often happens is that I keep trying and fail so much that I just figure I’ll never get the hang of something.

And then one day, I just start doing a trick more often than I fail. I keep at it until I complete it more than I miss. That’s how it was with the under the leg.

Don’t get me wrong. My under the leg juggling trick is really ugly. But it’s my kind of ugly.

One of the key things for me is getting my right leg up just before I throw the ball under it. This is vital, because if I don’t stand on my left leg long enough to stick with the cascade pattern, I end up flinging the ball into the computer, the wall, or on my head.

Another key factor is to throw the third ball up high enough so that I have time to pitch the under my leg and also throw that one high enough to get back in the cascade. I start my count out loud when I throw the third ball. It’s hard to believe how much more focused I get when I count the throws out loud.

I can’t throw them so high they bounce off the ceiling. They just have to be high enough to get back into the cascade.

I really think my practicing the one leg stand on both legs (one minute on both the right and left legs) for the last few months has helped me get into shape to do the under the leg trick.

In my ugly juggling video, I made one clip of the under the leg throw in slow motion.

The reverse cascade is another trick I am struggling to learn. My reverse cascade sequences are very, very short. That’s about all I can say about it so far.

But they might get better.

Ugly Juggling Tricks Now!

I’m learning juggling tricks. Uglier than ever, lucky for you! The 1 UP 2 UP is really tough to do. You have to toss up one ball and immediately toss up the other two while the one is hurtling back down like a meteor.

As usual, I’m reeling, rocking, and rolling all over the place.

The half shower is throwing one ball over the other two in one direction. That changes to jugglers’ tennis when you send one ball both ways. If you use a ball that’s a different color than the other two, it looks like tennis.

I have only one set of non-juggler balls with one yellow ball. They stick to each other and to my hands, so they’re hard to control.

But I do have a dryer ball.

Taming the Juggling Balls

As of November 7, 2022 it has been 22 days since I purchased the Learn to Juggle kit from Barnes and Noble. So far, my learning experience reminds me of a story by Mark Twain, “Taming the Bicycle,” which was published posthumously—obviously after he succumbed from his injuries in the attempt to ride the high-wheeled bicycle in the early 1880s.

Just kidding of course, about his death from the bicycle riding adventure. He did mention using about a barrel of something called Pond’s Extract, which was a liniment for scrapes and other wounds.

Twain was writing about learning something new—a thing all of us are called on to do many times in our lives. He didn’t try to learn to ride the bicycle until he was over 50 years old.

I didn’t try to learn how to juggle until was well past my mid-sixties. How do you account for decisions to embark on new hobbies, adventures, and other nonsense at an age when most people would be content vegetating on the porch or in front of the TV?

I just answered the question, in case you didn’t notice.

Anyway, I am making some progress as juggling, although it’s uneven. It’s hard to believe, but sometimes I think I juggle better as I wander around. I think it might be because there is a natural tendency to throw the balls away from you. That way, I look more adept simply because I’m making a frequently observed beginner’s mistake. But I seem to be steadier even when I walk backward a few paces.

 When I stand firmly in one place and attempt to juggle, I can often barely make it past half a dozen throws. Wandering a little, I have made thirty throws.

But then, randomly, the opposite occurs and the theory fails.

Counting the number of each throw seems to help—occasionally. I also notice that unscheduled, short practice episodes for 10 minutes or less work better than struggling along for a half hour or so at set times.

I don’t dread the practice sessions; in fact, I have a sort of itch to juggle at various times during the day. Sometimes I believe I do it to help me collect my thoughts, to keep my hands occupied, or just to pass the time.

I remember learning to ride the bicycle for the first time when I was a kid. I fell down a lot, just like Twain did—until I got the hang of it. Maybe juggling will turn out to be the same.

But I won’t need Pond’s Extract for juggling mistakes—as long as I don’t try juggling while climbing or descending stairs.

Blob Juggling

Sena bought me some new juggling items, which include three new balls and 3 Blobs. The Blobs are probably extraterrestrials because they have antennae. They all tend to bounce off my hands, but that’s no excuse for my continuing ugly form, which I swear I’m continuing to work on.

I’m starting to occasionally sneak in an over-the-top throw. I toss it over instead of under the ball. I notice that I hold my left arm above the right one for some reason. It looks weird, but it may be an unconscious way to cheat my way to the silver trophy for 20 throws.

Dryer Ball Juggling Combo!

I’m still making slow but steady progress at juggling. I’m juggling 3 balls although my form and rhythm need a lot of work. I’m still lunging to catch balls I’m tossing too far out in front of me.

But I’m having a great time learning. You’ll notice I sometimes count the throws. I have a long way to go to get to the goal of 30 tosses.

The dryer ball trick includes a couple of dryer balls which I add to the usual 2-inch juggling ball which came with the kit I bought at Barnes and Noble. Or I add the big brown one to the two small regular juggling balls.

The brown dryer ball with a face which looks sort of like a teddy bear is almost 3 inches in diameter and really tough to catch coming down. The knobby blue one is part of a set we’ve had for use in our dryer for a while now.

I can’t tell if the dryer balls work or not in the dryer, but they’re fun to juggle.

Jim and the 3 Ball Flash

Well, just a few days after picking up a kit on how to juggle, complete with 3 juggling balls, I’ve now graduated to the 3 Ball Flash, which I can more or less do consistently—or at least more times than not.

The 3 Ball Flash is to toss and catch 3 balls. You hold two balls in your right hand (or left depending on hand preference) and one ball in your left. You toss one ball in your right hand first over to your left hand. You toss the ball in your left hand over to your right after the first one hits the apex of its arch. Then you toss the second ball in your right hand and catch it in your left so you end up with two balls in your left hand. It’s one, two, three.

If you can do it without dropping balls, the teachers tell you to pat yourself on the back because it’s a big milestone.

You’ll notice in the YouTube video that I make a lot of beginner mistakes. The chief one is that I’m often doing what the author of the juggling manual calls “sprint juggling.” This means that I tend to toss way out in front of me and I end up chasing balls.

There’s this thing called the juggle space in which you’re supposed to toss the balls within a fairly tight space fairly close to your body. The idea is to imagine a sheet of glass in front of you. The bottom two corners are your two hands; the top is in a line just above your head.

When I toss the balls within the frame (which isn’t often!), it’s much easier to toss and catch the balls. What you’ll see me do in the video is the basic 3 Ball Flash, but I sneak in an extra throw or two occasionally—when I feel lucky.

Toeless Mourning Doves

I’m an amateur bird watcher. Last August, I saw a toeless Mourning Dove with what some people would call String Foot, a foot deforming condition that might be caused by a variety of injuries. I had never seen anything like it.

Toeless Mourning Dove

In the slide show you can see a bird seemingly sitting in its own poop, which is said by some to cause the problem—which I suspect is doubtful. The last shot is that of a pair of doves trying to nest in our window box, which was full of sharp, plastic artificial plants. It was painful to watch and I wonder if their hazardous habits could lead to injuring their feet.

Mourning Doves nesting on a speaker

I’ve seen Mourning Doves do strange things, mainly nesting in areas that don’t make much sense. Years ago, we could not dissuade a pair of them from building a home on top of one of the audio speakers mounted outside on our deck. Cranking up the volume didn’t work.

I clicked around the web trying to find out about the problem. Speculation about the causes of these injuries range from something called String Foot (string or human hair used to build nests getting wrapped around toes leading to amputation), sitting in poop leading to infections, and frostbite.

I think frostbite is plausible, and so did a birdwatcher named Nickell, who published an article about it over a half century ago; Nickell, W. P. (1964). “The Effects of Probable Frostbite on the Feet of Mourning Doves Wintering in Southern Michigan.” The Wilson Bulletin 76(1): 94-95, complete with hand-drawn illustrations that look exactly like the one in the slide show.

In the book, Birds of Massachusetts and Other New England States by Edward Howe Forbush, you can read one of the many anecdotes from amateur ornithologists about bird behavior that Forbush collected for his book, which was published circa 1929 (I actually plucked it from one of E.B. White’s essays):

“Mrs. Olive Thorne Miller. Reported case of female tufted titmouse stealing hair from gentleman in Ohio for use in nest building. Bird lit on gentleman’s head, seized a beakful, braced itself, jerked lock out, flew away, came back for more. Gentleman a bird lover, consented to give hair again. No date.”– Forbush, Edward Howe, 1858-1929. Birds of Massachusetts And Other New England States. [Norwood, Mass.: Printed by Berwick and Smith Company], 192529.

I wonder why a bird would risk String Foot by using hair in nests?

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