THE BRIGHTNESS OF THE AMERICAN GOLDFINCH- Marilyn Armstrong

BIRD WEEKLY – PHOTO CHALLENGE – BIRDS WITH YELLOW FEATHERS


Many of our birds show up in twos and threes, but only the Goldfinches show up in flocks. They may be small, but when they show up, they take over the feeders. All three of them. I took a few pictures.

There were a lot more Goldfinches but they kept taking off and landing with some little bits of airtime confrontations. They were in the trees, on the rail, and on the reverse side of the feeders where I can’t take pictures.

ANYTHING? – Marilyn Armstrong

A Photo a Week Challenge: Anything


“Anything” is a very difficult category. I had absolutely no idea what to do with “anything,” so I picked up my camera and took pictures. I got an incredible 30mm Sigma lens. It’s an f1.4 and extremely sharp. It’s the first Sigma lens I’ve bought. It had great reviews and in 4/3, it give me a 60mm view which is one of my favorites.  Just a bit longer than my 25mm (50mm), but it does great closeups, and it shoots in very low light.

So, here’s “anything”:

I call it “The Fallen Fuchsia”

And this is as anything as anything gets!

FUCHSIA STILL GROWING – Marilyn Armstrong

FOTD – June 20 – FUCHSIA


Three squirrels were inspecting my deck today. I got the feeling they have NOT forgotten. They are just waiting for me to put the feeders up. I didn’t know that had such good memories.

Meanwhile, the fuchsia are growing and are not being crushed by squirrels and birds.

I have a feeling that none of the critters will forget. We’ll put the feeders up and it will be full throttle ATTACK MODE!

I’m considering filling the 10 pound feeder twice a week and in between, they will have to find other food to eat. They seem to be doing fine. When winter comes, I’ll up the anti, but while food is everywhere, they can forage.

ANTHURIUM? – Marilyn Armstrong

FOTD – June 19 – ANTHURIUM


I didn’t know they could flower until this one did. Scarlet flowers on a regular philodendron, the classic green plant everyone grows in their offices.

Anthurium flower – 1

Anthurium flower – 2

Anthurium flower – 3

Anthurium flower – 4

TREES BY THE RIVER – FOTD – GARRY ARMSTRONG

FOTD – June 18 – Trees by the river


Down by the river, Garry took some pictures. I keep hoping we’ll get a little bit of rain to clear the air of the pollen. Because tree pollen would normally be gone by now, but it has been so dry, it’s still lingering around.

The river, some kids, and wildflowers across the water

And some loverly reflections

And then there are leaves and trees, and some really pretty violet wildflowers growing wild along the Blackstone River.

Trees framing the river

Wildflowers

A ROSE BY ANY OTHER NAME MIGHT BE A DAISY OR A DAYLILY – Marilyn Armstrong

Cee’s Fun Foto Challenge:
One Single Flower


I didn’t know exactly which flower it would be. It could have been an orchid or a cactus flower. Or a rose (by any other name) which would smell as sweet as Romeo — or was it Juliet?

But it turned out to be a nearly perfect daylily and a daisy that isn’t a daisy, but actually has some other name which I can’t remember. These days, I can’t remember much of anything.

Nearly perfect lily

The daisy

HOW TO ASK ABOUT RACE – Marilyn Armstrong

I read a note on Twitter yesterday wondering “how to ask” about race? I suppose it depends on what color you already are and who you are asking, but let’s suppose you are white and the other person isn’t. Any shade of not-white will do the job. From a light tan to a rich deep brown, not white is not white. Just your average person in one of the various colors that make up skin on this planet.

Colors are not white or black and I have yet to meet anyone who is gray. White isn’t a human color, nor is black. We are all somewhere in between. I don’t even think albinos are truly white, but a very light version of what ought to be the original color.

We are all shades of pale to dark brown, ranging from fish-belly (me) to dark olive, light tan, to sort of pinkish with levels of blotchy.  The freckles of youth turn to liver-spots in age, and some skin conditions cause blotchiness. In the end, though, skin is the largest sensory organ in the human body. Eyes, ears, nose, and mouth can see, hear, smell, and taste … but every single inch of your skin can feel and in various way. Skin is sensitive and discerning and I don’t believe it makes the slightest difference what color it is.

So, if you want to talk about race, why don’t you try asking someone who isn’t the same color as you how it feels to be them? How are they dealing with one more outrageous act of systemic racism? On the other hand, if you hate them because they don’t look like you, maybe you should skip conversation and get your attitudes adjusted. THEN have a conversation. Hatred just isn’t a good place to start.

The easiest way to talk about something is to want to talk about it and have someone with whom to talk about it. If you don’t have any friends of other colors, then maybe you should deal with that issue first. Lectures, book, seminars, and podcasts, not to mention television news — doesn’t really give you a meaningful grasp of even the basics of the subject. If you really don’t know how to have a conversation, that’s a different problem.

If you live in an entirely unicolor area, maybe you should become part of an activity that includes people of other races. Find someone who seems sympatico and get a bit friendly. You might be surprised at how much you have in common. It might be a hobby — photography? movies? history books? Star Trek? video games? Of how much you love/hate/don’t know what to do about our so-called government, drugs, parents,  grandparents, teachers, boss, taxes, judges, police, umpires, or referees are a fine starting place

Once you scratch off the surface color, what’s left is humanity in all its extraordinary facets. You might form a great friendship or fall in love. Or start an enterprise.

Ask. If you aren’t a bigot or racist, you can start conversations with a complete stranger as long as you are polite, non-aggressive, and really interested in the answer. That’s how I’ve made many friends of all colors.  I wasn’t rude. I was simply curious and interested and it turned out, they were curious and interested right back. You just never know about humanity until you’ve tested a few different  oceans, lakes, and streams. It’s all water. What’s really different is its temperature, saltiness, and how many rocks are on the bottom. And how your feet feel about that.

I’ve always been interested in peoples’ backstories. What their lives were like. What churches they went to and how they felt about it. Their relationships with school and the arts. What things made them laugh or cry. Curiosity can take you far in this world, at any age.

RESCUE ALL OF US AND SAVE THE WORLD – Marilyn Armstrong

RESCUE THE WORLD AND ME, TOO

Rescue us from aging, mental exhaustion, and this dreadful government.

If you didn’t vote last time, remember how it worked out. Please please, save the world and vote this time. Even if the candidate isn’t perfect, he’s better than what we’ve got. A LOT better. And you can talk to him. He is capable of learning new things, even at his age. My husband is a year older and he is still learning new things — and discovering old things.

Rescue our planet so that we know our great grandchildren — ours or yours or anyone’s — will have a home.

Headless Catbird

Bring back Autumn and winter. Give me golden autumn leaves and fiery red sugar maples. Even if we have to plow the driveway, I’ll take it!

Give us health. Healthcare is wonderful for the old, but even better for the young. Let young people grow up without so many of the issues that plague us because we couldn’t afford to get them properly fixed.

And please — rain for a few hours tonight. That 2-gallon watering can is HEAVY!

SHARING MY POLLEN-FILLED WORLD (ACHOO!) – Marilyn Armstrong

Share Your World – 6-16-2020


It rained all winter. I don’t mean we got some rain. I mean we got the equivalent of 12 blizzards — all rain. The result has been a VERY buggy spring and an incredible amount of pollen.

I’m asthmatic, but even a normal non-asthmatic person would have trouble breathing. The pollen is falling so heavily it looks like snow. Garry has glaucoma and the pollen hurts his eyes, so despite the absolutely glorious weather we are getting we are mostly staying in.

What a pity because it really is gorgeous. Cool, dry, sunny. Absolutely comfortable. Perfect weather to do pretty much anything — except maybe the beach. This is frying weather. Torch one side, Baste. Turn over. Torch and baste again.


HAPPY MEMORIES! OH HOW I WISH WE COULD DO IT JUST ONE MORE TIME!


If you can tan, which I have never successfully done — even including one year when we were going cruising (remember cruising?) and I didn’t want to look like a dead white fish — SO I went three times a week for two weeks to a tanning salon to get a tan that vanished in fewer than three days,

I am pale. Very very pale. One year, I turned a very light beige. I pointed out to Garry that I’d managed to get a tan and we put our arms together. He laughed so hard he had to sit down.

So much for tanning.Now, even if I could tan (I should mention that Garry tans more in half an hour in the sun than I do in an entire summer), I wouldn’t be able to breathe. And having had cancer twice, tanning probably isn’t my best warm weather activity choice.

Thus, in the name of removing last year’s mud and muck, we are having our house power-washed. I know Owen was planning to do it and he can in the fall when it will need it again, but right now the house is dirty. Mud, pollen, and a lot of dead and living bugs in all the corners.

Owen is adding a layer of crushed rock along the front of the house so that less mud will splash up onto the house. Also adding more crushed rock in the parking area along the driveway. Good thing crushed rock is cheap in New England. We have a LOT of rocks!

And now, to the questions of the day:

Questions:

What do you think of professional motivational speakers?  Do you think they motivate?

I don’t think they’d motivate me. Every time I try listening to one of these guys (they are almost always guys, but I hear there are women mixed in there who I’ve never heard) and by a paragraph into the shpiel, I’m comatose with boredom. Maybe I just haven’t met the right motivator? Or maybe I’m totally uninterested in getting motivated. Or more than likely, both.

 Do you have a favorite flavor?

Lobster in butter sauce, strawberry ice cream (real ice cream with real strawberries mixed in high quality vanilla), really good fresh peaches, fresh local shrimp, and excellent quality New England clam chowder. The white kind, not the pink or red kind. A perfect baked Idaho potato with butter (not sour cream), angel food cake without any icing, and fresh blackberries. Or raspberries.

And sushi.

While out walking, you hear a rustling in some bushes.  What do you think of?

What kind of animal is it? Do I have a camera?

What’s your ideal temperature (nature-wise)?   Hot, cold, temperate and mild, humid or bone dry?

Right now. About 70 degrees with a light, dry breeze, and sun with some puffy white clouds.

GRAY CAPPED CATBIRD IN THE TREE – Marilyn Armstrong

I haven’t taken any bird pictures because the feeders are down. Not sure when they’ll go back up, but I’m thinking maybe the end of August or mid-September. I have a lot of seed and I have the feeders. I’m really waiting for the giant troupe of squirrels to learn to love the woods and acorns and not be wholly dependent on my seed. I’m also hoping that the number of flying squirrels stop emptying the feeders every night.

I went to take pictures of the garden — or whatever you want to call it — and there was a big gray bird. I’ve seen a lot of catbirds, but this one was bigger than usual. And fat. I guess the birds aren’t starving because I took down the feeders.

Capped Gray Catbird

Capped Gray Catbird

Capped Gray Catbird

Capped Gray Catbird

Capped Gray Catbird

HOW TO SPEND A DAY NOT BUYING AN OVEN – Marilyn Armstrong

I spent most of yesterday not buying a new countertop oven. Probably 7 or 8 hours were consumed looking at and deciding to buy it, then deciding it was too expensive, too cheap, not big enough, too many options I would never use until my brain turned to mush and I gave up for the day and night.

About 6 years ago, I discovered the joy of the countertop convection oven. The first one I bought was an inexpensive medium-sized oven from Waring, reasonably priced at about $75. It lasted two years before the legs fell off, probably from heat exhaustion.

New kitchen faucet!

My electric bill had dropped by 50%. I  had not realized my range was so expensive to run. When the Waring died, I upgraded and got a Kitchen  Aide convection oven. I have used one or the other of these two countertop ovens for everything except for the few times I had company.

When COVID-19 intruded on our lives, I started to bake a bit. I always liked baking, but for a lot of years I was too busy working or too busy being sick. These days, though, I have some time. I need to make better use of it. Although I love taking pictures and writing posts, I also need to do things which get me off the keyboard.

When I baked gingerbread the other day, I had to use the big oven. Ditto for the salty soft warm pretzels. I was either going to invest in a new full-size range or a much bigger countertop oven.

They are making new countertop machines differently than they were six years ago … or even last  year. Many of them are a lot bigger and more powerful. Big enough to cook a 12 to 14 pound turkey.  Most of them can be used as a family oven, convection oven, and/or an air-fryer.

I owned an air-fryer but rarely used it. Recently, I gave it away. Owen has a big one downstairs. How many air fryers does a three-person household need? Even Owen’s doesn’t get used often.

Then, there’s the tale of the wandering Kitchen Aide electric beater. I owned one years ago, but after heart surgery, I couldn’t move it. It weighs almost as much as our Kirby Vacuum which, if you own one or ever owned one, weighs slightly less than a VW bug.

Owen moved back. By now, he had given my Kitchen Aide to Kaity and had gotten a newer one for himself. Meanwhile, I had a Sunbeam mixmaster which was good for most things, but caught on fire attempting to work through whole wheat bread dough. Smoke started pouring out of its motor. After that, I didn’t have an electric mixer and I didn’t bake much.

A couple of weeks ago, Owen gave me his new Kitchen Aide. What goes around, comes around. To create counter space for the mixer, I’ve had to do massive kitchen rearrangement. I threw away a lot of china canisters — even those with sentimental value. I bought stackable containers from small to huge for flour, yeast, spices, sugar, and everything else.

The kitchen looks bigger because finally, there are empty spaces on the counters. I got a big, heavy plastic board for rolling dough or chopping vegetables. I’d have gotten a marble one — they are supposed to be the best for rolling dough — but anything big enough was too heavy to wash in the sink. Besides, I would drop it on my toe. Which would hurt.

Today, I consulted with Owen on oven sizes and finally bought a really big one that is so new it has no ratings. The ratings were making me crazy. So many of them were written by people who blamed the machine for not doing what it wasn’t supposed to do. Or not having the right temperature because they assumed that they should never need to adjust cooking time based on their machine.

You need to know your oven, whatever you are using. One guy said that the package instructions always were wrong and it was the machine’s fault. It apparently never occurred to him to adjust the timing. Package cooking directions — including those in cookbooks — work if you are using the same equipment the cook was using. If you aren’t, then you adjust the temperature up or down until it comes out right.

One guy complained that the baking pan didn’t fit in the shelf slots. Someone had to tell him that he was supposed to put the pan ON the shelf, not on the heating tubes.

So many dummies complaining the oven got hot. Yes, ovens get hot. When they are hot, don’t touch the glass on the door. You will get burned. Very young children figure it out. Even my dogs can tell if something’s hot and keep their noses away from it.

Grown up people aren’t as smart as young children or dogs.

I hope this oven works out. I can finally use my baking pans again and with the air fryer gone, there’s room for a regular toaster again. No matter what anyone says, a countertop oven is not a great toaster.

SPICY GINGERBREAD – Marilyn Armstrong

It’s a sweet bread, not the hard stuff (which is really baked masonry) typically used to build houses, or the dough used for gingerbread people. This is more of a cake, but not as sweet. It’s the one I make when I don’t have enough bananas for banana bread or some other fruit for bread.

It’s easy to make, tastes really good, and goes well with coffee, warm or cold.


SPICY GINGERBREAD


Ingredients:

2-1/4 cups white flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons ground ginger
1-1/2 teaspoons cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/4  teaspoon ground cloves

1/2 soft butter or shortening
2 rounded tablespoons sugar (white or light brown)
2 eggs
1 cup molasses
1 cup very hot water

Put the flour, soda, salt, ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves together in a bowl. Set aside. Beat eggs, butter, sugar in mixing bowl. I use a manual eggbeater.

Mix the very hot water with the molasses, then add it and the rest of the ingredients into one big mixing bowl. You can use an electric beater, but don’t overbeat. I usually use a wooden spoon, but that’s because my electric mixer weighs more than my vacuum cleaner, so if I don’t need it, I don’t use it.

The wooden spoon works fine. I’m sure using the beater would make it lighter, though lightness isn’t really what gingerbread is about.

My oven runs cool. I bake it at 400 degrees for 40 minutes, then turn it down to 375 for another 5 minutes. You need to know your oven. If it runs hot, turn the heat down. I can only tell you what I do with my oven, but knowing your own kitchen equipment really helps in producing better food.

I have cooked this in a loaf pan and in the traditional 7X12X2 pan and both work fine, but I have to use my full-size oven. The mini-oven doesn’t seem to work as well for homemade baked goods. If you’re using a glass baking dish, lower the temperature.

I use spray on oil and it seems to work better than smearing it with butter or oil. I even spray it when it  has a nonstick surface. Sometimes nonstick is perfect, but sometimes, a piece of the bottom hangs up and when you flip the pan, half the cake stays in the pan. Grease the pan. Maybe you don’t need it, but why not? You’ll only discover you needed it if you didn’t use it and you baked goods came out ruined.

It’s done when it pulls away from the sides and springs back to your touch. Let it cool so you can handle the pan without protection, then flip it over to cool on a rack. It usually falls right out of the pan, hopefully all in one piece.

Good warm with butter, or honey butter, or by itself.

THERE GOES THE NEIGHBORHOOD – Marilyn Armstrong

Cee’s Black & White Photo Challenge: Letter R – at least 6 letters per word


There goes the neighborhood! Garry came back from the deli looking very dangerous!

Ruthless!

Remember the real Garry

Cee's Black-White

WATER WATER – Marilyn Armstrong

THE BLACKSTONE RIVER 


The Blackstone is 47 miles long and drops sharply throughout it’s descent from the hill in Worcester to Nantucket Bay. It twists and turns so that if you live in the Valley, you are never more than a quarter of a mile from the Blackstone or one of its tributaries.
There are about 47 dams and waterfalls that were used to power mills and factories. A few have been removed, but most are still standing.

Manchaug dam on the Blackstone

The Mumford in the middle of town

Photo: Garry Armstrong