Friday, October 26, 2012

Creatures in My Backyard - Issues #4 - Downy Woodpecker


Male Downy Woodpecker
The Downy Woodpecker is this months Creature in My Backyard. Now, as an affirmed bird watcher, woodpeckers are a species not easy to get pictures of, that is why this picture is courtesy of Wikipedia. I do two things when spotting a bird I can't name. One thing I do is pull out my large bird book (I was going to say "big bird book" but realized I was saying "big bird", no thanks) called The Encyclopedia of North American Birds, and sometimes I pull out "Birds: A Guide to the Most Familiar American Birds" which is a small book, comparatively, but sometimes just as useful. This one is copyrighted in 1956; cool, huh? Okay, so I like old books.

The other thing I do is go to AllAboutBirds.org where I can see more photos and also hear their sounds. Its a really helpful component to the site at the time when you hear the sound and you didn't see the bird. I confess, I've spent hours just trying to locate a bird by its sound when I should have been doing something else.

The Downy Woodpecker is the smallest North American woodpecker and looks like the Hairy Woodpecker but is only two thirds its size. They say these two are hard for beginning bird watchers to distinguish between. The differences are, ultimately, in size, as already mentioned. The Hairy Woodpecker is slightly over 9 inches long while Downies are only 6 3/4 inches long. Also their bills are smaller, though male Downies bills are still longer than female Downies. As is common among the animal kingdom, the female lacks an aspect of color known to woodpeckers, namely the red head, or in the case of the Downy, a red nape. But her black bands and white back and belly are just as vibrant.

Above 50 feet, Downies usually choose deciduous trees that have fungus in their bark since this makes the drilling easier. When the hole is dug, the female lays 3-8 eggs and the parents take turns incubating them for the next 2 weeks. Uniquely, the male Hairy Woodpecker will incubate the eggs at night and the female during the day, contrary to the Downy. Why God made them to be different in that respect no one will know.

Female Downy Woodpecker
After this though, the parents don't have much time with their children because in 3 weeks of hatching the juveniles are now ready to set out on their own. Talk about empty nesters. But short family time is another fact common among the class Aves.
But unlike most birds, woodpeckers do not sing. Instead, they make a high, husky pik, or just plain drill to communicate. Interestingly, when you hear the drilling of a woodpecker, you most likely assume it is drilling for food such as insects but that is not the case. Woodpeckers are known to be quiet feeders even when vigorously drilling. They drill to let other birds know what is their territory. Females drill to let males know they are ready for mating. And who knows, some might drill simply because they like to. Its amazing how solidly God made their heads. Absolutely amazing. And if you don't believe me, try knocking your head into the wall really fast about 15 times and see what happens. (Disclaimer: I am not responsible for any damage done when trying this experiment.)

If you want to attract these adorable little noisemakers, I've read suet feeders are the best choice. But they also like black oil sunflower seeds, millet, peanuts, and (believe it or not) chunky peanut butter. They will also occasionally drink from your hummingbird or oriole feeder though I have never noticed any on ours.

Here's some trivia. Can you guess what the french call these creatures? Pic mineur, which means,... well, Downy Woodpecker.
The oldest known Downy lived to be 11 years, and 11 months old. This bird wasn't partial to even numbers which are something I am inclined towards.

Eastern Bluebird
Since I started this series on Creatures in My Backyard, every creature (or in one case, organism) I have written about has practically been dropped into my lap. Before I can even come to the last Friday of the month I've had some experience involving these creatures that makes them prime choices for my blog post. Of course this is only issue #4, but its happened so far. Like the Issue #2: Baby Squirrel, God allowed me to find the poor little thing so that we could save its life. And then the mushrooms were too beautiful to pass up. Maybe eventually I will have to grab a book and pull an animal out of a hat, but there's one thing I can count on, there is always some creature in our backyard.

It so happens the story behind this fourth Friday's post also involves my dogs (see link for Baby Squirrel for another instance). I was feeding them some leftovers that they love so dearly when I heard a slightly more uncommon chirp from the pine trees looming in from of me. I followed the sound and spotted many different birds. I ran back inside and grabbed the camera. I was able to get a picture of a bluebird and a squirrel and I took a video of the Downy Woodpecker. Click the video below to see what I saw. (To see the pics of the Squirrel, once again, you can click the link above that says Baby Squirrel).


Sorry for the wobbly camera movement. I was leaned up against our trampoline and holding my breath as much as possible but it still came out shaky. The bird with the woodpecker is a bluebird, as far as I can tell. I never got a good view of its back.

My first guess was the Downy was searching for food because he wasn't making much of a drilling sound. Or maybe it was sort of a mating dance he was doing, trying to attract a female. Well, sorry bud, it didn't look like it worked. It is quite funny though, how he went around and around the branch, pecking away with such ferocity. Amazing creatures. If you look closely you can see his red nape.

And this is the end of the fourth issue of Creatures in My Backyard. Thanks for reading and I'll see you next time.

Eastern Bluebird's silhouette


Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Vintage Fashion - Culottes, Gold Boots, and Fashion Plates

As some may know this is Pamela Sue Martin playing the part of Nancy Drew in the 70's, almost 80's, TV show The Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew Mysteries. My brothers and sisters and I grew up checking these and The Hardy Boys Mysteries out at the library and watching them over and over. Pamela Sue Martin is one of my favorite Nancy Drew's only second to Bonita Granville in the late 30's. Except for her slightly cocky air, I liked her because she was quite the intelligent sleuth and very fashionable, which brings me to my subject.


In the 70's fashion naturally was just as diverse as it is today. In fact if you look closely at some of todays fashions you can see bleed-throughs from the 70's. Its true. But there are some elements of that time period I wish they would bring back that they haven't. Like her denim culottes in the picture to the right. Very classy. In my opinion, though, the outfit makes her look a little anemic. The girl was as straight as a stick. The costume designer should have accounted for that, but then they all were as skinny as toothpicks back then. 
 



In the last photo, Jean Rasey as George Fayne is wearing classic denim bell-bottoms, another of my favorite 70's styles. A little more tomboyish in dress, George is still stylish and up to fashion date.



I love her lemon drop yellow turtleneck and matching plaid jacket. One thing is for sure, I'll bet her turtleneck fit better then than any do now days. Those you can buy today are short on the arms and stomach and make me very irrational.
Also noticeable is her hair. Very pretty and curled at the bottom. But thats another blog.




Gold boots have no match! But the funny thing is how she has her pants tucked into them. Honestly, I prefer the culotte look. The way they hang out almost takes away from the neatness of the outfit.

At this point, she is making a get-away on a mechanics roll-around, or "creeper". Thus the reason for the moment. It just so happens this is the only good shot I could get of her boots.




(Here's a glimpse of my (short) past. Growing up I would play with my Grandmother's (or rather my mother and her sister's) Fashion Plates. If you have played with them, you know what I mean. But for those who do not, they were plastic interchangeable plates with raised indentions of girls and their clothes. You could lay your choice of outfit and girl in the proper area, set a piece of paper on top, then close the flap to hold it in. Then taking a crayon sideways you'd run it down the paper over top of the plates. Sigh Many is the time I sat in my grandparents living room on a warm summer day, the air conditioning whirring in my ears, and made style after style just so I could give them to Grandma, Mum, or stack them among my own “treasures”. Those were the days.
The reason I brought this up is some of my favorite choices in that selection were the culottes and boots. Funny isn't it. These were retro 70's-early 80's, just so you know.)





To the left is a sideview of Nancy's outfit. Later on in the show, which happens to be The Mystery of the Diamond Triangle, she wears a white jacket/button-up over top of the pink but I couldn't get a good reference photo so I stuck with this one.

Back to the boots, they are another element of the 70's readily attainable today. Boots are definitely in. And gold boots are a keeper. Okay, I have to admit, I like browns and golds when it comes to shoes. 






In this last photo, our subjects are wearing robes after having gotten soaked in the rain. George's robe is rather un-glamorous, even though I like the pattern. But as ever the fashion model, Nancy is wearing a classy white robe that complements her feminine figure. (Poor George.)







Why can't we dress with as much class now days as they did back then? In my opinion, it all starts with caring how we look. Do we let the modern fashion designers dictate their choice of clothing to us or do we make our own choices based on how we believe we should look? I know many people would heartily disagree with me, but the latest fashions now days scream "ME!" or "Trampy". I ask, "Would you classify yourself as a tramp? No? Then why would you want to look like one?" Also I hardly call some of the modern styles classy, albeit, there are a few. But, risking being too old-fashioned, I love retro. Its in my blood. But don't worry, you couldn't pick me out of a crowd by the way I dress; I look pretty normal most of the time.

Next, I'm thinking about trying Nancy's hair style on myself. Usually my sister is my guinea pig but this one might just be right for me. I'll have to see how it turns out before I promise a blog post on it. So until then...




Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Loops & Threads Zig-Zag Pillow

Its always nice to find new patterns when shopping in a craft store, but its not nice when you sit down to do it and find out its not correct.

This has happened to me at least twice, both times with a Loops & Threads pattern. The first time was with the Lilac and White Crochet Baby Blanket. A beautiful colored blanket with a delightful ripple technique. It wasn't very far into it that I started pulling out my hair. At the moment I can't recall the exact problems I had but stay tuned if your looking for hope.

Then one day, I decided we should have some more couch pillows. So I pulled out the patterns I had and laid them in front of my mother. I asked her which one she preferred and the Sideways Zig-Zag Pillow was chosen. We got the yarn choices and I sat down to work but once again I encountered problems. Remembering that it took me twice as long on the blanket than it should have, I said it was time to see if there is a different way. I was not in the mood to struggle and have to solve the pattern problem myself. So I googled it and found the pattern on Michaels.com but it still didn't help. So I searched again and... I found the corrections on Ravelry! I was thrilled. But as usual I studied it thoroughly before I admitted I had found the answer. It really helped but I found that I didn't have to follow all the corrections. So without further ado I will explain my own.

Now the free flyer I found at the store has only three rows of instructions while the pattern on Michaels' site has four rows that still aren't correct. I can't figure out why the flyer would have only part of the pattern, and still making it appear as though it was the complete pattern.

Anyhow, that's when I went deeper and found corrections on Ravelry by a woman who had to figure it out the hard way. Here's her pattern if interested: Alaina2's Zig-Zag Pillow. Finding corrections on this pattern I searched to see if there was more to the last one I had, the Lilac and White Baby Blanket. There was, on Michaels.com, but I haven't tried the pattern again to see if the extended pattern is correct.

Her corrections are very helpful, but I found that her Row 4 is not necessary plus I still had to make some other corrections. Here are my corrections:

Mum chose Vanna's Choice Navy, Silver Grey, Burgundy, and Silver Blue, instead of the patterns choice to better match our living room decor.

(Referring to the online pattern)
  • Work Rows 1-4 (or steps 1-15)
  • Then to repeat 3-4 as instructed:
  • For Row 3 continue original instructions until you reach the last valley. Skip the valley as usual, sc in the next 4 st, then 2sc in next st., and 2 sc in next st. 
  • Now repeat Row 4 from original pattern.
So the corrections are only for Row 3. Alaina2's corrections are for Rows 3-4 but I found them unnecessary.

Now comes the "assembling" where you are supposed to sew it up like an envelope. My pillow cover was more of a rectangle than a square so I had trouble figuring out the next step. Well, I did but it was a bit of a stretch, if you'll pardon the pun. My family says the pillow turned out looking good, but I don't advise looking at the back. The next time I make a pillow with this ripple pattern I will try something different, but I am not sure what. I might make the zig-zags straight instead of sideways, I'm not sure.

Here's a picture of the back:


If you are working on this pattern and you have questions about the pattern or my corrections feel free to ask me. I hope my corrections are comprehensible.




Sunday, October 14, 2012

Thus Far

My big news is actually a bit late. If you've seen my tweets then this will be no surprise. To those who haven't read my tweets: I'm published! No, not in writing, sadly. I'm still working on that. Actually I am now waiting for a response to my FIRST query letter. I can't say I am very positive about because I have a problem being positive. Yeah, its not a good thing. But if God thinks this is something I need, then He'll provide. Its all I've got.

I have published my site! That's the good news. For years I have poked around on Wix.com, a free site designing page, trying this and that but I am not a site designer and I personally don't want to become one. The thing is I couldn't afford to pay someone to do it for me and my family are all too busy. Besides, if I didn't know what I wanted then what am I to tell them. Nope. So I trudged through it myself. Two years at least it took me to actually figure out what I wanted and all that thanks to Wix's already made sites.

My problem was I wanted everything to be original. Its something I have struggled with since childhood. When it came to writing, my characters had to have all new names (usually created) and since I don't, usually, write fantasy you can see where things could get strained. Also I wanted my plots to be OVERLY original. Lets just suffice it to say, I in no way wanted to copy anyone or anything. Hence the many hours of struggling then AND now. Its hard to come to grips with the fact that its okay to be original sometimes. I so didn't want my story to just be filed in with the rest of the fiction books out there that I almost pulled my hair out every time I sat down to write.

Naturally, the years change a person. I admit that I was impetuous in my earlier days. I saw things as black and white, so naturally having aspects of a book similar to someone else's  in the smallest way was not at all acceptable. Thankfully, I have come to realize that although the name Mary is very normal it can fit certain characters. Now the trouble is purging that way of thinking from myself forever. Its not as much character plots anymore as it is writing the perfect article. I drive myself nuts trying to keep in mind all the do's and don'ts in writing while still trying to remind myself to BE myself. It usually goes where I struggle, pull my hair out, cry, beat the table, sob to mother or anyone nearest, before I come to the point where I can be alright with just writing it the way it comes to me. (I sound like a mental case. I have issues. Perfection issues.) And naturally, I edit it afterward, but the initial draft is the heartache.

So back to my site... Since I chased a rabbit. I finally told myself that site designing is not something that comes naturally for me and is not something I want to spend my life doing, and I started searching through Wix's already-made HTML sites. There I found the perfect site for me. The colors are me, the style has almost a vintage/newspaper look which I absolutely adore, and the layout just worked perfectly. I finally hit my pocket of inspiration after that and went at it with a vengeance.

And just to set things straight, those "two" years I didn't spend as much time on designing my site as I should have or I might have come to this conclusion sooner. I had so much else I was trying to tackle that it was not at the top of my list till about a month ago. So...

But I'd love for everyone to tell me what they think about it. Here's the url: goldensails.wix.com/amylynn or you can find a link at the top of My Links to the right and down. No, I didn't make it the first link, it just so happens that my name starts with A.

Now I am throwing myself full force into my writing. Which I am glad I can do. But the typical race for time still exists. Anyone who says singles with no "job" have all the time in the world to do what they please needs... well, needs to be set right.

 So until next time...


Thursday, October 4, 2012

Tomato Basil Muffins

I was thinking an Italian tomato-ey basil muffin would be good for weekend breakfast so I scrounged around, pulled this element from this recipe and that element from that recipe and came up with my own. Like usual.

There being eight of us here, buying enough cereal can get expensive, and unless we have raw cows milk, its not worth it anyway. So for years we have been making our own breakfast foods. On Mondays I fix a few batches of granola bars (a recipe I will share soon) and on Thursdays I fix something that we can eat on Friday morning and the remainders on the rest of the weekend. On Saturday I prepare a breakfast just for but I haven't been too fond of it lately, soooo.... I'm going to try something different. But that's future news. Lets get to the here and now...

This recipe is for sourdough people. If you are not a sourdough person... you should be. Its better for you. Anyhow, the recipe can always be changed to a non-sourdough version if wanted. But since it is sourdough it needs to be considered seven hours before baking time. Of course some people don't care as much for the health benefits of sourdough as much as the flavor and will add some to the mixture and bake immediately. Its optional. You'll just have to play with it a little.



My Tomato Basil Muffins
Yields 36 muffins
Ingredients:
  • 5 c sourdough starter
  • 4 c spelt flour (or whatever it takes to acquire a really firm dough) 
     
  • 2 lbs ground free range, grass fed Beef
  • Green Onions, chopped
  • unground Celtic sea salt
  • Garlic powder
  • Pepper
  • Basil
      
  • 6 Eggs
  • 1 tsp Celtic sea salt
  • Basil
  • Pepper
  • Garlic powder
  • 2 sticks Butter
  • two 12 oz cans Muir Glen Fire Roasted diced tomatoes
  • 5 oz Parmesan, finely grated

Seven hours before baking, mix sourdough and flour in a bowl much larger than necessary and cover. Note: if you do not already know, sourdough, if done properly, will rise three or four times its size, so leave lots of room in the bowl.

When your ready to bake, cook ground beef and add onions, salt, pepper, garlic and basil. Let cool a little while preparing the rest.

In a medium size bowl beat eggs, and add salt, pepper, basil, garlic, butter, and tomatoes. Then add liquid ingredients to sourdough mixture. Mix till well combined. This may take some muscle but don't omit this task or you'll have people ask if you added nuts. Yes it happened to me. *sigh* Then add the ground beef, mix, and add the parmesan.

Scoop into oiled muffin pans (I used Pam, but if I had more time I think coconut oil would have been a better choice, that is the Ultra clean, tasteless kind) and bake at 375 degrees for 15 – 18 minutes, or until golden brown on top. 


 Give it a try and feel free to tell me what you think or what you did instead. I love hearing other peoples ideas on cooking.



~GoldenSails