THE BIRDS MADE ME DO IT! THE WEEKLY SMILE – Marilyn Armstrong

So there I was. I had poured our coffee. Put the lids on. Set out the little breakfast cookies in their dishes and I was getting ready to deliver it to Garry and settle down to check comments on the posts.

That was when I swiveled my head and there, hanging on to the recently (yesterday) filled bird feeder was either a big downy or small hairy woodpecker.

I love woodpeckers.

I said “Oh, ooh, ah … ” and totally lost the coffee and the cookies and pretty much everything. Garry sighed and came to collect it himself. It was obvious I had lost it.

I have four cameras lined up in the dining room on the end of the table. That’s where the windows are. I almost always use the Panasonic FZ1000 with the 450 mm lens because it’s a smart camera, long enough for the purpose (usually) and it’s designed so one lens does it all.

When you are shooting birds, you don’t have time to change lenses. By the time you have the lens half-changed, the birds are gone, or the one you most wanted has flown. One way or the other, the name of the game with birds is simple.


SHOOT FIRST. SORT AND PROCESS LATER.


I’m getting better about it, too. I used to spend so much time framing everything to perfection, I mostly got lovely shots of naked branches. I could point to where the bird had been, but there was no bird in the picture. Not very satisfying.

I finally got it through my head that I can straighten and format after I shoot. If you don’t take the shots, you may never get another opportunity. In wildlife shooting, there are rarely second chances.

I do love the woodpeckers. They have class.

Finch and Chickadee

It’s pretty hard to tell a Downy from a Hairy Woodpecker. They are essentially identical except that the Hairy is a bigger and sometimes (but not always) has a bit of red on his head (but if it’s a she, no red anywhere). The main difference is that the Hairy has a longer beak.

This is a hard differentiation to make unless the two happen to be standing side by side for your inspection — something which has never happened in all my years of bird watching.

That’s why we have books.

Bet on it. It’s a Nuthatch.

Speaking of which, I ordered a new bird book. I keep seeing birds that either “officially” don’t live here or have supposedly migrated southward —  months ago. I looked at the imprint on the book and realized it was 1979. I ordered the most recent Peterson (second-hand, but supposedly in new condition) which is from 2010. While not exactly written yesterday, it should fill some of the blanks for me. Especially about the Goldfinches that aren’t supposed to still be hanging around my deck in December, but obviously are.

I have seen some birds of which I couldn’t get a decent shot. A really big (REALLY big) Red-headed Woodpecker too far back in the woods for my camera to focus on him, so I got a little flash of him — not worth processing, but at least I know I wasn’t delusional — and a very good look at a huge Pileated Woodpecker. I’d like to assume it was the Ivory-billed (almost extinct?) Woodpecker, but in bird-watching, if you think you are seeing the rarest species, you aren’t. It’s the next one down on the list. Which could be quite rare enough.

A goldfinch and a chickadee. No, I don’t know which Goldfinch. There are a lot of them.

This is the bird watcher’s “Murphy’s Law.” Actually, it holds for all wildlife viewing. If you think you are seeing something that’s pretty much gone, you are seeing something similar, but it ain’t that. Unless you work for National Geographics and that’s your job.

So the woodpecker got me this morning. I was going to write something smartly political, maybe about declining stocks and Brexit. Something intelligently timely, but instead, there was a Downy Woodpecker and a camera.

Nuts to politics. Show me the birds … and I’ll show them to you!

THE WEEKLY SMILE

AS GOOD AS IT GETS: THE FULL BLOOM OF THE CHRISTMAS CACTUS – Marilyn Armstrong

As Good As It Gets – FOTD – 12/10/2018

I’ve been following the progress of this lovely Christmas Cactus since its first bud last month and now, it has come, I think, to the end of its peak.

I watered it yesterday. The water quickly made the flowers limp as I knew it would. But the segments of the cactus were beginning to curl inward, a sign that the plant was thinking about dying too. So, there comes a moment when you either water it, or it could up and die.

I picked watering rather than death. This has been an extremely healthy plant and I’d like to give it another year to bloom a few more times. One of these days, I’ll be forced to put it in a new pot, but I shudder at the thought. These guys — as Mrs. Angloswiss discovered — have a knack for self-destructing when you try to pot them. The segments just separate. It’s what they are supposed to do, but it is very unnerving when it happens.

IF you are going to put them in a new pot, let them dry out completely first and don’t do it when they have any buds on them.

Since I didn’t want to lose it, I realized I was going to lose the last of the buds, but I watered it.

It felt like dried sand, so I don’t think it was too early. If I’m lucky, it will bloom again in a few weeks. This is, after all, the season for blooming cactus.

So these are the full blooming cactus. They are not macros, but they are shot very close, but not using the macro lens. I wanted to show more of the entire plant this time. I hope you have enjoyed the journey.

I certainly have had fun showing the process of budding, and blooming.

SOAP MAKING 101 – BY ELLIN CURLEY

My future daughter-in-law, Katie, has started a fun new hobby. Soap making. She’s always been artistic and soap making is another creative outlet for her. Soap making is creative aromatically as well as visually, so it provides multiple levels of artistry.

Katie in her kitchen getting ready to make soap

Katie makes beautiful soaps, whimsical soaps and some simple soaps that smell heavenly. She can play with design and smells to make an infinite variety of shapes, patterns and odors.

Katie is very industrious and motivated and she is trying to turn her hobby into a small business. She got herself on Etsy, the major craft site online. She has also done some craft shows and designed and printed business cards.

Her business is called The Phoenix Rising Shop because the symbolism of the phoenix rising from the ashes has tremendous meaning for her.

Another one of Katie’s charming designs

She also came up with a clever marketing idea – the soap making party. She offers to come to your house and make batches of soap in your kitchen with you and you and up to twelve friends. It becomes a social gathering with a theme.

Katie did a test party at her home and it was great! Everyone had lots of fun and learned a lot.

To make soap, there is a very specific recipe that involves the mixing of different oils together at the right temperature. Everything has to be precisely measured out, mixed through and temperature tested. A lye mixture is added to the oils.

This is a recipe where the order in which you add ingredients is as important as what you add. At one point, the mixture thickens as you mix it. Very cool to watch.

Testing the temperature with an infrared thermometer

Adding scent and color is the fun part. There are a huge variety of scents,  from watermelon, cherry, lime, vanilla, ocean breeze, and pine. You can also mix a variety of scents to create your own, such as watermelon cherry, or white tea and ginger.

The quantity of scent you put in is also important. Too much and it is cloying. Too little and you can’t smell anything.

Party guests testing scents

There’s a whole artist’s palette of colors. How you add the colors can determine the design or pattern on the soap. You can also use a knife to swirl colors together to form different designs.

We did a simple pattern layering ribbons of different colors into the soap mold. We also chose the basic rectangular mold that makes bars of soap as opposed to fancier molds in any shape you could imagine – flowers, seashells, geometric shapes, whatever.

The soap has to set 24 hours in the mold before it can be cut into bars. Then it has to cure for four weeks before it can be used. So Katie has set up shelves in the basement to hold the finished soaps and the ones waiting for their due date.

Check out The Phoenix Rising Shop on Etsy to see the wide range of soaps Katie has created. Soaps are a wonderful Xmas gift! And she ships anywhere!

Discarded and oddly shaped chunks of soaps

FROM THE SMALL DOG – Reblog – Sue Vincent

“The time has come,” the doglet said,
“to talk of many things;
Of tennis balls and squeaky ducks,
and sneaky bees with stings;
of why the sparrows fly so fast
and if that cat has wings.”
“Just wait a bit,” the writer said,
“I’m busy with these things.”

“But writer,“ said the small dog then,
“The sun will shortly set,
the pheasants will be playing out,
and rabbits too, I bet.
I really should be practising,
I haven’t caught one yet.”
“Hmm. Never mind, it’s raining
and you don’t like getting wet.”

“Ok then,” sighed the little dog,
“We could consider, please,
the therapeutic benefits
of sharing Cheddar cheese.
Or why that spider’s sitting there,
Or why do you have knees…”
“You scratch a lot,” the writer said,
“You sure it isn’t fleas?”

The clouds were turning dusky pink,
Upon the fading blue.
The writer sighed, put down the pen
another task was through.
“Come on, small dog, go get the leash,
your walk is overdue.”
The small dog answered sheepishly,
“Tough luck, I ate your shoe.”

With apologies to Lewis Carroll…. 
But none at all to her.
She should come out more.

Sue Vincent – The Daily Echo

ILLUMINATION – THE LIGHT FROM WITHIN – Marilyn Armstrong

A Photo A Week Challenge: Lit from Within

The glowing light from within is special. The light in the pumpkin, the light in the teepee. The light within the globe of a lamp or inside the lampshade.

The glow of lights at night in Boston’s theater district

The glow of buildings on the Commons before Christmas

The city glowing at night