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Beauty and the beer

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Okay, now I'm bombarding you with stories, as I will be doing for the newspaper. I have a whole cache of them prepared for when we're gone, so here you go with the next one


How does one control a boisterous biergartenful of customers, during peak World Cup action, with Germany whupping Argentina?

Worse, try managing a crowd of opinionated German diners, each of whose mother made the perfect potato pancake according to her own inimitable recipe.

This calls for a mix of Teutonic sass and beauty, alongside the experience of a 6-foot-3 German athlete, drill instructor, celebrity bodyguard, and events coordinator. Meet hosts Sandra and Rainer Ruhland, of Punta Gorda’s Sandra’s Restaurant.

Oktoberfest for such a pair should be a piece of Apfelstrudel.

The dimpled beauty on this team grew up in East Germany before the Berlin Wall fell. Rainer came from a different world: Ludwigshafen, in the West.

Already shaping up as an athlete, Rainer started equestrian camp at 7, was a tennis pro at 17, and had a trainer’s certificate by the end of high school.

Then, like all German youths, he was drafted for a 6-month army stint. On duty when the Wall came down, he marvels, “Before that, we hadn’t seen the other side. We drove over the border, and there they were, armed, mounted on tanks, ready for war, like we were the enemy!”

He enlisted for two more years, becoming an officer. “As a drill instructor, I had to motivate kids who didn’t want to be there. To expect someone to do something, you must do it yourself, so I became one of those DI’s whom they’d bet each other they could beat.” Mostly, Rainer won.

Given his experience and athleticism, a natural career choice was launching a 50-person security company covering events for universities, clubs, the women’s tennis Federation Cup, even the fierce Adler Mannheim ice hockey team.

He worked with many tennis players, including legends Anke Huber and Steffi Graf. One of his first bodyguard jobs was a trial-by-fire assignment handling volatile tennis dad Peter Graf, who earned the nickname “Papa Merciless” for his iron-fisted mismanagement of Steffi’s career and winnings.

One day, after Steffi retired, an agency called and said, “Rainer, how would you like to go to Barcelona to Formula One?”

“What do you need me to do?” he asked.

“First you drive the Porsche director’s wife to Barcelona. Then you escort the nephew of King Juan Carlos of Spain around for a week. We’ll pay you ten grand. The only problem is, we need Alfonso up at 8 every morning, and he never is.”

Rainer smiled to himself. “No problem.”

So he rousted the handsome young royal out each morning at 6. Turns out they were the same age, Alfonso showed him the time of his life in Barcelona, and he got paid for having fun.

Then a career with Porsche, as events manager on the Formula One circuit. Porsche backed Rainer’s ordering a million-dollar, 40-foot truck with a built-in 5-star kitchen, walk-in freezer and fridge, ice machine, and dishwasher. Hospitality tents flanking each side ran twin buffets where Austrian chefs served thousands of mechanics, drivers, and VIPs. Talk about Dinner Impossible.

“So now I cooked, too. Of course, I’d always liked cooking, since my mother taught me. We serve her recipes at Sandra’s.”

It was back in Germany during the 2006 World Cup that Rainer met the restaurant’s namesake while she was waitressing at a Ludwigshafen café. After months of her knowing exactly what he’d order, he proffered his phone number. Sandra, no easy catch, staunchly refused to call him. He finally had to ask the owner for her number.

Once he was a family man, the 18-hour-day pace became punishing. Sandra laments, “He’d be home only one day, doing laundry and paperwork. This was no life.”

Rainer knew Florida, so in 2008 they bought a house in Englewood, where they opened their own German place—in a trailer a bit more modest than his 40-foot rolling galley—next to Beach Road Snack Bar.

“In September 2011, we ran into a German friend in Punta Gorda, who knew a turnkey-ready place, just the right size. We figured, Punta Gorda’s not bad, eh?”

At first customers complained, “This food came out too fast! You microwaved it!” Wrong. Rainer knew how to cater for thousands, prep for and handle a crowd, and revel in promoting special events.

Tennis is still his life, too. His and Sandra’s 5-year-old, Nils, has been playing since he was 3. Rainer plays in the USTA, participates in Punta Gorda’s annual Shoes for Kids Tennis Shoot-Out, and gives lessons to talented kids who couldn’t otherwise afford to play. Given his exposure to the Peter Graf school of sports parenting, it’s no surprise to see him taking a nobler path.

  Member Comments About This Blog Post:


    I'm on for the potato pancakes. I will try everyone's mothers secret recipe. LOL.

And I would have taken the Formula One Porshe job in a minute. LOL. This is a dream job even with the 18 hour days. While other little girls dreamed of marrying a prince I wanted to marry Ferry Porshe or Enzo Ferrari. LOL! My favorite movie for years was Grand Prix. I have literally seen it hundreds of times. I thought Yves Montand was the sexiest man alive. LOL. I liked the movie Le Mans too. I loved watching formula one. My favorites were Jackie Stewart, Emerson Fittipaldi, Niki Lauda. and Mario Andretti. How does one ever leave a job like this?????!!

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68ANNE 9/18/2014 5:56PM

    Very interesting read!

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CHOCOHIPPO 9/18/2014 4:57PM

    What a fascinating story. I'm going to have to check out that restaurant!

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BROOKLYN_BORN 9/18/2014 12:15PM

    Wow, what an interesting life! We had a German exchange student when the wall came down. What an exciting time.

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_LINDA 9/18/2014 11:58AM

    emoticon emoticon
Fabulous story! Very interesting life indeed!

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JOYINKY 9/18/2014 10:24AM

    This one's a heartwarmer. Gotta love people that "give back". :)

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GABY1948 9/18/2014 8:16AM

    Another GREAT story...keep 'em coming! emoticon emoticon

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NEW-CAZ 9/18/2014 2:55AM


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JANTHEBLONDE 9/17/2014 7:50PM

    Love your blog! Thanks for sharing! I hope you have a wonderful day!
Hugs and love,

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LJOYCE55 9/17/2014 7:38PM

  Thank you for sharing this story.

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Sometimes a cigar is more than a cigar

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

What favorite place might you leave not smelling as good as you feel? If you’re a cigar aficionado--a cigar bar.

Pity the poor cigar smoker. Venues for smoking are few, and that stinky stogie compels even liberal barkeeps to fling up “No Cigar Smoking” signs. Smoke a cigar in the comfort of your family room, watching college ball with a Yuengling in hand? “Are you kidding me? If I’m lucky, the better half might let me smoke in the garage. With the door open. And a fan on.”

In the day, gentlemen could retire to the library to make or break deals over an after-dinner cognac and cigar, while the ladies gathered to do whatever they did in the parlor. For God’s sake, how could a lady get herself a cigar?

Lynn Davies could. She was such a serious archaeology/fine arts major at Florida State that she didn’t even know what a ‘Nole was until sophomore year. And yet, this studious young lady had cigar smoke in her veins. Eldest child of a Lee County judge who smoked “really nasty” cigars at home, Lynn is unquestionably her father’s daughter. “Firstborns are usually overkill and have to live up to those expectations,” she grins.

Ever since a Cuban émigré buddy introduced Lynn to her first primo cigar in 1993, she hasn’t stopped. In fact, she claims to have smoked each of over 30 brands and countless singles, boxes, bundles, samplers, and limited editions carried by her and husband Bill’s Port Charlotte cigar emporium, Tobacco Locker.

Lynn and Bill met over cigars, on a cruise. After a year of cross-country courtship, they moved together to Florida. Wherever they went, they gathered cigars—to the tipping point where Bill made a purchase and Lynn groaned, “If we collect any more, we’ll have to open a store.” His eyes lit up, and the rest is history.

When they moved into their current location 7 years ago, they filled its 1,000 square feet with scientifically humidified inventory and began selling online ( Four years ago, the couple added a living room to the store.

The Locker is tucked away in a mini industrial park off Collingswood, so it takes some word of mouth to draw customers in. But the word is out. Here you can sink deep into a leather club chair and relax like nowhere else.

Consider this your other living room and kitchen, where you can help yourself to a cigar and craft beer or wine, with Bill or Lynn recommending the perfect pairings. You might even have your own cedar-lined cigar locker with a brass plaque engraved “Tiger Man” or “The Godfather,” and conduct likeminded conversations with other connoisseurs.

“There’s a surge of interest in the cigar business,” says Lynn, and there’s no question that Florida, with Cuban enclaves like Tampa’s Ybor City and Miami, is its hub.

Clients come from all over--Venice, Punta Gorda, Cape Coral, Fort Myers, Bonita Springs--seeking the quality and variety of Tobacco Locker cigars. Any given day, you might find doctors, lawn care pros like Dave Precht, CEOs, the mayor of North Port, or Vince Powers, disabled for years, all hanging out in a cloud of camaraderie. “They’re very accepting of everyone here,” says Vince. “And there’s no membership fee!”

Lynn agrees, “We have a good crowd. Smoking cigars is a social event, so when new people come in, it’s easy for them to join the conversation.”

The Davieses recently took 28 clients on a road trip to see their own cigar factory in Nicaragua—a casa (“house”) where workers roll cigars and tend the tobacco.

They give back through fundraisers for the Cigar Family Charitable Foundation, a nonprofit created by the cigar-making Fuente and Newman families to provide education and health services to poor families in the Dominican Republic. They also work with the Cigars for Warriors organization, through which they serve online customers in Afghanistan. One of them, John Callahan, just returned from his third tour.

What does Lynn’s dad, now a former cigar smoker, make of all this? He congratulates them, laughing, “When the big bust comes, you’ll have something to barter with!”

  Member Comments About This Blog Post:


    Have you been smokin' stogies, GF?? LOL! My middle name is Lynn but I ain't touching these. I must admit I am not a fan. No smoking in my garage with the door open and the fan on. Nope!

My grandpa smoked a pipe when I was a kid. I always hoped he would smoke the cherry tobacco as I hated it the least. LOL.

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_LINDA 9/18/2014 12:03PM

    And here I thought that cigar smoking had all but died out except for seeing the odd celebrity indulging. Its nice they do have a welcoming place to go to -so cozy sounding!

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JOYINKY 9/18/2014 10:18AM

    Yes, a reminder of my cigar smoking Dad too! Interesting.

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LJOYCE55 9/17/2014 7:33PM

  Being a former smoking addict, I no longer indulge. However, I have been guilty of striking up conversations with cigar smokers just to inhale the intoxicating aroma.

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COOLRAIN 9/17/2014 7:25PM

    I know Cigars aren't "popular" but I grew up with a cigar-smoking father, and every time I smell one, it takes me back. I've even been known to light one up and puff on it just to smell that "daddy smell." Thanks for the blog. I may have to go out and buy a cigar just to complete the sensual memory. emoticon

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Home is at Royal Thai

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

“Where you going, Kayoon?”

“To the market! I need more candy!”

Was this the whine of a chubby kid, giddy with a little extra allowance? Hardly. It was the excited cry of a 12-year-old Bangkok entrepreneur.

Kayoon (June) had spread newspapers on the floor, laid out an array of brightly wrapped treats for sale, and experienced her first taste of business success. She had exhausted her stock, made a 104-baht ($5) profit, and was already darting down a crowded Bangkok street to reinvest.

At 13, she advanced to street cooking: meatball-on-a-stick, with her own sweet-and-sour sauce, and flavored gelatin in a cup. “I was like a kid with a lemonade stand,” smiles June Tang, now chef-owner of a much larger enterprise: Royal Thai Restaurant in Punta Gorda.

Her parents had long ago left a life of poverty in rural China in search of the opportunities Bangkok offered. There they ran a successful leather-goods business, producing everything from belts to briefcases, and were no strangers to hard work, rising every day at 5 a.m. and stopping only for meals.

June worked hard, too. “I wanted a bicycle so bad, and I saved money to buy one. My parents said, ‘That’s a man thing, you can’t do that.’ But in college, I bought a motorcycle even though everybody thought it was weird.” Off went June, buzzing around the wildly congested Bangkok streets before girls were supposed to do any such thing.

After graduation, her parents didn’t expect her ever to leave home, because extended Chinese-Thai families stay together. At the tender age of 22, she was running the family business’s leather-goods showrooms all over Thailand. “I loved it! I was good at it!” she crows.

But it wasn’t enough. June was her parents’ daughter, after all, and seeking opportunities.

“I thought about America all the time, ever since I was little. It was more independent there, men and women more equal. I loved my parents, but they kept telling me, ‘You’re not allowed, you’re not allowed,’ so I wanted to go to America.”

At 28, June moved in with a cousin’s family in Memphis, where she worked two jobs, went to school, and visited Graceland as often as possible.

Years later, her friends finally convinced her to take a break and visit West Palm Beach. At a Ft. Lauderdale country club she landed a job—as well as assistant chef Eddie Tang from Hong Kong. “I never moved back to Tennessee!” she laughs.

Working their way through two country clubs, as chef and assistant chef, June felt this was what she was always meant to do. When she and Eddie had saved enough, they agreed, “We both love to cook; let’s open our own business.”

So, 24 years ago, on a 1.5-acre parcel of land in the boondocks, on a two-lane country road, they opened Royal Thai Restaurant and raised their daughter.

As effervescent and energetic as June is, her daughter, Christina, now 27, is the picture of calm groundedness, competently learning all aspects of the family business. “Ma and I run the business, and I love cooking as much as she does. All my life, I’ve lived at the restaurant, 16 hours a day. After school, I’d come here and do homework in my office in back. Home is just a house to sleep in and hold our stuff.”

It’s hard for Westerners to fathom the love and respect that binds Asian-American families so fast. In this land of freedom that June so yearned for, kids can’t wait to get a job, their license, a car, an apartment--and leave home. “I’m first generation in the States,” says Christina. “It’s sad to me that so many Asian kids become Americanized and don’t speak the language or hold onto the culture. We still go home every year to see family.”

Christina went away to start college and had been accepted at an Orlando pastry school, her dream. But when her father fell ill with cancer, she didn’t hesitate to move home to help at the restaurant.

“I hear from my friends, so often, ‘Your mom is living with you?’ I say, of course, it’s normal to live together, not weird at all. It’s my choice to live with my mom. It’s part of Thai culture. It’s not common for American extended families to live together, but it is in Thai culture.”

It’s a small thing, but symbolic, that Christina still gives June a good-morning and a goodnight kiss, every single day.

  Member Comments About This Blog Post:

JOYINKY 9/18/2014 10:14AM


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GABY1948 9/17/2014 6:51PM

    Lovely pic and I LOVE your stories! emoticon for another one!

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VEENAS1 9/17/2014 6:08PM

    Nice story. I am glad to see you posting.

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JANTHEBLONDE 9/17/2014 6:00PM

    What a great story! Thanks for sharing! I hope you have a wonderful day!
Hugs and love.

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SUNSET09 9/17/2014 12:51PM

  emoticon and emoticon . What a way to hold on to your dream and give back it the family who raised you to do so. Culture, customs and courtesies are so important and you're only doing what your parents did for you. Keep up the good work and hold on to your dreams! emoticon emoticon emoticon

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CHOCOHIPPO 9/17/2014 12:49PM

    What a charming story. I love that the story is more theirs than the restaurant's.

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MORTICIAADDAMS 9/17/2014 12:12PM

    I've never had Thai food but have always wanted to try it. I don't know that I have ever had the opportunity of meeting anyone from Thailand either. I love their family dynamics.

I loved the story about June. You have such a wonderful way of helping me know who the people are in your stories. June is a remarkable woman and so is her daughter. I'm sure I would have really enjoyed meeting them. You are having some wonderful experiences.

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NEW-CAZ 9/17/2014 11:55AM

    emoticon emoticon

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SLENDERELLA61 9/17/2014 9:41AM

    Thanks for a great telling of a great true story. Hoping your day is as interesting as your story!! -Marsha

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_LINDA 9/17/2014 9:26AM

    emoticon emoticon Certainly Asian families are much tighter knit. Its a great trait. Love the photo!
We have a Royal Thai restaurant here too. Wonder what made them pick that name..
Thanks for another wonderful story!

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There's always a way

Wednesday, September 03, 2014

Reclusive local personality Snook the Cat, of the new Snook’s Bayside Bar & Grill at Englewood’s Royal Palm Marina, has granted a rare interview to Sue.

Sue: Now that the “Zeke’s” name has gone to Zeke’s Uptown on Dearborn Street, what’s it like having your name on Bayside Bar & Grill?

Snook: Frankly, it should have borne my name all along.

Sue: Snook, you’re no stranger to the Sun. Readers might recall how you fell overboard and were rescued by Billy and crew last spring.

Snook: It took them rather a long time to save me, but that Billy is one clever human.


Nine years ago, a little girl was giving away kittens at Dearborn Corner Market. A marina mechanic scruffed one up, and the rest is history. Now Snook supervises new managers Denise (“Dee”) Trent-Morrow and Billy Lillia at Snook’s Bayside.

Resourcefulness, kindness, and determination to get things done not only saved Snook’s soggy hide when he tumbled into the bay; they also describe Denise and Billy.

Shortly after the couple met in 2003, Denise would learn the meaning of “doing a hurricane.”

Mara Routh, Billy’s boss at the Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall in Sarasota, knew that he could fix stuff. He could MacGyver up gadgets to get just about anything done, not to mention bartend hordes of thirsty concertgoers. After Hurricane Charley, she figured he was right for her team at MOE Catering and Restoration Services, which deploys disaster relief after major storms in Florida, Louisiana, and Texas. They provide power, restrooms, showers, housing, and food to first responders and townspeople. Billy’s first job with MOE was feeding FPL workers after Charley.

A year later, Denise joined him on the team deployed to Louisiana the day after Hurricane Katrina. Their first stop was Franklinton, where they supported electrical workers who got the town running. They unloaded tractor trailers, put up tents, and made sure everything ran right. Says Denise, “When we moved out, the townspeople lined the fence rails with signs thanking us.”

Chalmette, in ravaged St. Bernard Parish, was their next assignment. It was worse there.

Billy still tears up when he remembers, “We cried all the way there. I had to stop and get sick by the side of the road because of the devastation we drove through.”

When they reached Camp Premier in Chalmette, “thousands of people were sleeping in tents and had nothing. We’d do anything to brighten up their lives.” At every Walmart stop, Denise stocked up on Hot Wheels. They soon called her the Camp Fairy, that lady with the twinkling eyes and cascading red hair who always had a toy in her pocket for kids who were good. And Billy was “Jersey Boy,” who, it appeared, could be dropped down in any disaster and find a way to help.

One night before Christmas, the 1,600 occupants of the mess tent were tucking into their roast beef dinners when a heartbroken wail rose over the crowd. “Mama, how’s Santa gonna find us? He’s never gonna know where we’re at!”

Fighting tears, the Camp Fairy got a pencil and paper, and told the little girl, “I work for Santa. We’re Santa’s elves, and our mission is to find all you displaced kids, so I’m taking names.”

“Then I got on the Internet to everyone I knew, we got on the news … and we had to put up extra tents to take in all the donations.”

A preacher and his wife who’d lost their church said that, if red suits could be found, they’d be Santa and his elf. The sheriff’s department flew them in by helicopter and escorted them on a fire truck to the camp, where they gave out gifts for 11 hours. “That Christmas is the best memory in Billy’s and my whole lives,” says Denise.

They got back and started working at Royal Palm, soon becoming Zeke’s bartenders.

When they learned last spring that the restaurant they loved was closing, their determination to make things work went into overdrive. They asked owners Dale and Johnna Wentzel if they could keep the waterfront location open and help promote both places.

Since they’ve been managing Snook’s, it hasn’t been easy. Denise has had three major surgeries in the last nine months but has bounced back to work every time, grinning and joking.

Billy, mechanic Mike Probst, and Denise

Dale shakes his head, “I don’t know how you do it, Dee. You always have a smile on your face.”

And now there are two sister restaurants in Englewood that are still one big, crazy, happy family.

  Member Comments About This Blog Post:


    I like Snook. He is good looking and reminds me of my former cat, Maynard G-String. I think Maynard was a little smarter than Snook though - not one to go sailing nor fall overboard. He did skirt the edge of our pool a lot but that was the end of it. Maynard was very street smart.

Loved the story of Denise and Billy. They sound wonderful!! I was looking at some Hot Wheels the other day. I probably will never think of them the same way again.

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68ANNE 9/4/2014 6:24PM

    tugging those heartstrings with that one!

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_LINDA 9/4/2014 9:01AM

    Such a wonderful story! People who can deal with disasters and keep their wits about them are one in a million. I would bet their eatery would be an awesome place to visit..

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GINIEMIE 9/4/2014 6:50AM

    Okay third try. First my computer locked up, second session timed out and finally...
Thanks for sharing with us the story of Snook and the place named after it, but mostly the people. They seem to be caring and fun filled people. Denise is in my prayers as are you my dear friend, who continues to write and share with us these phenomenal stories.
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GABY1948 9/4/2014 6:44AM

    emoticon story, Suzy...I love your blogs! emoticon

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NEW-CAZ 9/4/2014 2:28AM

    A wonderful story Suz, thanks for sharing!

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CHOCOHIPPO 9/3/2014 10:37PM

    How wonderful! I wish them the best

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JOYINKY 9/3/2014 10:08PM

    What a wonderful story! Thanks for sharing!

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VEENAS1 9/3/2014 8:42PM

    Nice story. Glad to see you blogging again.

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What bird is dumber than a chicken?

Wednesday, September 03, 2014

Okay, so chickens have pecking order. And they're smart enough to run about even after decapitation. So, it's EASY for another bird to be dumber than that. And that bird is ... (drum roll!) ... the mourning dove!

These creatures are the cows of the bird class. They never look up, merely grazing placidly until they're picked off by a hawk, leaving behind only a flurry of feathers.

So, guess what? A mother dove has decided to leave two of her grown babies under the hedges, in the mulch, in front of our house. Probably a pretty safe place, unless a cat should come by. We've given them a plate of birdseed and are debating about water.

Knowing grown children, they may never leave.

  Member Comments About This Blog Post:

TINKERBELL200 9/9/2014 10:24PM

    Cute! They are dumber than a chicken though! They seem to have a purpose and stick to it! Grazing and they do not pay attention to anything else! It's like the cow's grazing in the fields in the pouring down rain as the world goes by! It's like they are oblivious to their surroundings. That could be very dangerous for them! Hopefully they didn't really get picked off by the hawks!

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JANEDOE12345 9/6/2014 9:00AM

    I have no doves at present but had a veritable herd of them last year. This year I had two grinning cats and some piles of feathers. Perhaps that mournful noise announces their inevitable and imminent demise. Sigh. Birds need to be pretty quick to live up here with Betsy & Chauncey patrolling the acreage.

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    It's totally true but sad at the same time. Doves are so pretty and they seem docile and sweet, unlike many in the bird world..................but.........
...... their calls totally depress me. Listening to them outside my window every day almost has me ready to slit my wrists. LOL. What is so horrible??? Maybe it's because they do get eaten way too often. We used to have several here every day and now I only see one. Hopefully they have not all become hawk dinners. I am a cat lover but they are the number one threat to wildlife and of I ever had another he/she would be indoors only.

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_LINDA 9/4/2014 8:54AM

    Very interesting! I love hearing mourning doves, but can never seem to get close enough to them, they either fall silent or fly away. We have robins that continually nest in our huge, open spruce tree (in the middle of the yard with no other trees around it) and their nest continually gets raided by crows, but they keep coming back anyway. So not sure the doves are the dumbest lol.

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JOYINKY 9/3/2014 10:12PM

    When I was doing "from the nest" I read up on fledgling robins. The parents will raise 2-4 groups of 4 in a season only to replace themselves in the population. The mortality rate is high. I imagine it's the same for doves, if not worse. Nature isn't always kind. Hawks need to eat too. Good luck! I'd be taking care of them too.

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GINIEMIE 9/3/2014 8:32PM

    They look so sweet, I didn't realize how dumb they were. But Suzy my friend are really keeping these poor wild birds alive-for "gasp" a hawk? I love watching and feeding birds. Some of them are pretty messy though.
Thanks for caring for our feathered friends.
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