Monday, May 29, 2006

I trade babysitting time with a mom who also works at the Lab where I work. I've been babysitting for her two boys for almost four years now, since they were 1 and 3. Emma has known the boys her whole life, and probably considers them her brothers. I trust them completely with the care of my daughter, and feel that they trust me with their sons. These people are Good Friends. It's very important to have Good Friends.

The boys are now nearly-five and nearly-seven. They are intelligent, sweet, headstrong, fun, demanding, loving, infuriating, stubborn, independent, strong, energetic, funny, and exhausting. In short, they are boys. I love them.

Last Wednesday while Emma was napping, Nik (age 4) said to me out of the blue, "I want to do some sewing." I have no idea where this came from, but it was an opportunity not to be wasted. He showed me his mom's sewing basket and we found some fabric scraps and some thread. I had him write his name on the fabric, then showed him how to stitch over the lines. Midway through this his brother Kai (age 6) came home from school and immediately wanted to do a project too. I cut another rectangle and had him write his name and showed him how to stitch. I told them that if they finished stitching their names, I'd sew bags with their names on them.

Click to enlarge and see the fabulous monogramming job they did. When I gave them the bags on Friday, they immediately said that they are "collection bags" and we had to go right down to the beach and find some beach glass. This was such a fun project, and it was so great to see the look of accomplishment on their faces when they saw the finished bags with THEIR sewing on the front!

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

It’s been sporadic, but I have been working on the sewing thread Daffodil. After not doing much on it at all for quite a while, I picked it up again for real, and in the past two days I’ve done twelve rows.

That’s 63 rows, 4 ½ inches, and roughly 33 hours of work. The flowers of the daffodils are just starting to show (the double blobs on the left and right sides).

I’ve had a bit of a change of direction with this project. I was originally going to do it as it was written, for a table runner. You crochet the chart once bottom to top then turn the chart around and work it the other way to mirror the daffodils. However, I realized that I would probably never actually use it as a table runner, because I wouldn’t want anything spilled on it. In fact, if I do display it, framed and on the wall will probably be the method. And I think it would look strange to have a framed runner. One of the daffodil clusters would have to be upside down, or they would both be sideways. So instead, I will only crochet the chart once and just finish with the top border.

This feels strangely like a cop-out to me. But really, I’m not out to prove anything by making this project. By doing it this way, I will have a finished piece that I will actually look at and enjoy, rather than just have rolled up in a drawer.

I’ve also been making fan bookmarks.

I used up the last of the blue variegated thrift store thread on a long bookmark, then the next morning went into the living room to see that Emma had been playing with my scissors. The short blue bookmark on the top is in fact the very same one I showed last Thursday. See anything different between the first picture and this one (other than the twisted tassel)? Yep, it’s now shorter. She had snipped the tassel and the base two fans into itty-bitty little pieces. I was extremely unamused. Emma went for a nice long time-out, and I sat down and repaired the bookmark. Because she had snipped the first fans, not the last ones, I had to completely unravel and re-crochet it. I made it with 12 fans instead of the original 14, and cannibalized the tassel from the long blue bookmark to make the tassel for the short one. I think the long one is long enough that it doesn’t really need a tassel, but the short one definitely does.

The purple one is also thrift store thread, #8 perle cotton, worked with a #11 hook. The perle cotton has a much softer twist than crochet cotton, and is a bit of a pain to crochet with, but the finished fabric is nice and smooth and sheeny. I don’t think it will wear as well as a more firmly twisted thread (the blue variegated is a nice firm 6-ply cable), but I crocheted it tight and really, how much wear does a bookmark get?

Lastly, it’s time for an aquarium update. All the fish are swimming, the plants are thriving, and all is well.

  • The Amazon Sword (left background) keeps putting out more leaves, though the three oldest have died back. I think these were the original leaves that were on the plant when I got it.
  • The tapegrass (far right) has put out another leaf, and I saw today that it is starting a bloom spike!
  • The Borneo fern (second from right) isn’t doing much. The leaves are still all there, but I haven’t seen any new ones. I know this is a slow growing plant, though, so it’s probably still just acclimating.
  • The Java fern (left foreground) keeps getting bushier, though some of the oldest leaves have died off. It is also producing plantlets from the tips of the leaves, and I detached a couple and started them on the other piece of wood (the one with the Borneo fern). Their roots have attached to the wood, and they’re making lots of leaves.
  • The Micro Sword (center background, right foreground) is doing well, though it seems to have trouble rooting in the gravel. I think the grain size is too large- this plant would probably do better in coarse sand. But it hasn’t lost any leaves, and I just keep poking it back into the gravel when it floats out.
  • The “lily grass” that I thought was going to die (center foreground, between the pieces of wood) may make it after all. It stopped losing leaves when it had four left, and now actually has a new leaf starting! We shall see.

Sunday, May 21, 2006

Another milestone for Emma:

She's a big girl now. I may have to cry.

But she's adapting well.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Lest you think I haven't been doing anything fibery at all in the recent past, here's a little project I did Wednesday night.

A thread crochet bookmark, done in #30 crochet thread (from the Thrift Store!) and a #11 hook. Super quick and a fun design. I'm normally not big on variegated crochet thread because I don't like the uneven striping and pooling it produces when worked in the round, like for a doily. In this design, though, I think it works and doesn't detract too much from the fan motif. I will definitely be making one for myself in white, though.

I think this pattern would also look nice as a band, around something like a basket or a straw hat. Never mind that I don't have a straw hat or that it would perhaps be excessivly girly for me. I just think it would look pretty. Perhaps with a floaty sundress. Walking on the beach. In Costa Rica. With my binoculars.
Remember my Thrift Store and how much I love it? Remember the alpaca at $2.00 per fleece, the $10.00 drum carder? Well, a week and a half ago, the Thrift Store brought new meaning to the phrase "a good deal."

That is indeed a pair of Zeiss 8x20 binoculars. ZEISS. The company that produces some of the best optics on the market. These binoculars are pretty much what I've been coveting for years: small, light, easy to pack and wear all day, and a bright clear image with almost no edge distortion. They're ZEISS!

There are no scratches on the lenses, they came with a case, and I'm in love. I tried them out on their first official birding trips when my dad was here, and they were perfect.

Zeiss. I can't get over it. Zeiss binoculars for $2.00.

TWO dollars.

Monday, May 15, 2006

Quick post, because my dad is here visiting again. It seems to be going a bit better this time than when he was here last October and December. We all seem to be a bit less tense.

For me, I think this was helped in great part by a stategy suggested by a couple posts in Kris's blog, which I implemented in the two weeks before he arrived. When you do cook, cook big and put the extras in the freezer, or take an afternoon and just make things to put in the freezer, ready to cook or reheat.

I love it. It's fabulous. In three 2-hour sessions over the course of two weeks, I put four quiche fillings, six meals worth of Alfredo sauce, three meals worth of cheese and sausage stuffed manicotti, three meals worth of citrus-marinated pork chops, a pork stir-fry, four meals worth of Sesame Chicken, a lime-ginger marinated pork loin, and two lemon-ginger marinated steaks in my freezer. Since I was making meals with lots of citrus, I bought the big bags of lemons, limes, and oranges at Costco because they are much cheaper that way, and now have a nice big stash of lemon, lime, and orange zest and lemon and lime juice in the freezer. I didn't juice the leftover oranges- we're eating them fresh. I also bought the cheeses (mozzarella, cheddar, and parmesan) at Costco in the (cheaper) big blocks and they, too, are shredded and ready in the freezer. There is little I hate more than shredding cheese by hand with a box grater, and doing a big block in the food processor is great.

So what that meant for when my dad arrived is that the stress of planning meals is GONE. I've already done the work, I just have to pull a meal out of the freezer in the morning, thaw it in the fridge, and it's ready to cook in the evening. Make a salad, cook some rice or noodles, and there you go!

This kind of planning ahead is not something I've been particularly good at over the course of my life, but I think freezer cooking is great, and I'm feeling very smug...........

Monday, May 08, 2006

"Name the 10 most beautiful birds you have seen.” An innocuous-sounding meme, right? I thought so, when Liz tagged me yesterday. But when I sat down to actually write the list, I couldn’t. Even excluding the species from my Costa Rica trip, there are still all the North American birds. Just 10 species? How can I pick just ten?

After thumbing through my beloved, battered field guide for almost an hour, I had a bit of a problem.

Forty-seven species, and I thought I was being ruthless when I picked these. I could have made the whole list warblers. After much additional browsing and tangential reading (I love reading field guides) I came up with this list, presented here in the order they appear in the guide because I can’t rank them by “beautiful” any further than this.

great blue heron
wood duck
rufous hummingbird
violet-green swallow
varied thrush
cerulean warbler
blackburnian warbler
hooded warbler
western tanager
painted bunting

The thing is, I think every bird is beautiful. Yes, the ones on the list are colorful and showy, but there are many more just as colorful. And what about those that have beautiful voices? Or the drabber species, streaked in browns and grays and white, beautifully adapted to blend with their environment?

As I was immersed in my bird guide this evening, I discovered that I not only “collect” species names for my Life List, I collect habitats, impressions, and experiences. In trying to decide on the “most beautiful” species I’ve seen in my life, I was unable to separate the birds from the circumstances in which I had seen them. I could hardly bear to exclude a bird from my potential list of ten just because it wasn’t as showy as others.

For example, the prothonotary warbler did not make it on my list of ten. I first saw this bird near Wilmington, North Carolina, in the creek where I did my Master’s thesis project. When I think “prothonotary warbler,” I don’t just think of a little yellow bird with a loud, sweet voice. To me, this bird evokes the memory of days spent in the green, watery, blackwater swamp of Town Creek, surrounded by cypress trees poking their knees out of the banks, and the smell of river and plants and mud. I can feel the heaviness of the moisture in the air, and the cool relief when the boat passes into the shade under the trees. Against that backdrop, I’m watching a vibrant golden bird bouncing among the cypress knees, singing its heart out.

Similarly, how can I ignore something like a hermit thrush, veery, or winter wren? Not as showy, true, but breathtaking for their song. The winter wren, a tiny brown mite of a bird, perched on a dead branch with its head back and tail straight up and pouring forth arguably the most amazing song ever, is truly spectacular. The hermit thrush has a floating, ethereal, flutelike song that brings tears to my eyes. And the veery’s song sounds three-dimensional to me, spiraling down in a cone of fluting notes. I heard all three of these for the first time during Ornithology class field trips, in college in Maine, and they will forever remind me of balsam fir, red maple, and the tang of the shore as the early morning sun burns off the mist.

Common loons sound like the northern lights made audible. Heard in northern Maine during a college camping trip, it was transcendental: the loons, emerald and white aurora borealis, the lake, fragrance of balsam fir, crystalline cold air, and more stars than I’d ever seen. It was the week before my freshman year, I had four years of environmental science classes to look forward to, and I was supremely happy.

The whip-poor-will reminds me of one specific night of a Girl Scout campout nearly 20 years ago when I was a junior in high school in Connecticut, drifting off to sleep in an open-flap tent in September with brilliant stars, cool air, a warm sleeping bag and a feeling of total contentment. Though I’ve never actually seen this well-camouflaged bird, only heard it, the sound never fails to take me back to that perfect moment.

Common eiders take me back to Seal Harbor, Maine, the summer before seventh grade. I was at a science camp and began keeping a bird list on my own, though it wasn’t one of the required assignments. I just thought that those black and white and green birds we saw on the rocks were too cool to ignore. Thus began my life as a birder.

Birding has been such a part of me for so long that I remember life events as much by the birds I saw, as by the events themselves. To have to pick favorites is almost impossible. Each bird is a marvel of color, pattern and sound, and I am always, no matter where I am, aware of the birds in the vicinity.

This is probably the most time anyone has ever spent on answering a meme, but I truly enjoyed spending an evening on it and thinking back over all the birds I've seen. I’m not going to tag anyone specific to go next, but instead I’m going to ask EVERYONE who reads this to take the time and look at a bird. Even crows are beautiful.

Friday, May 05, 2006

Does anyone know why Bloglines shows all my posts with blue text? Or is it just my computer that this happens on? All my other Bloglines subscriptions have nice, easy to read black text, but mine are always blue.

(An aside: Is it weird that I subscribe to my own blog? I just do it so I know that Bloglines is catching new posts.)

Hopefully this isn't something I messed up when I was fiddling with my blog template....

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Emma and I went hiking at Jakle’s Lagoon again this weekend (I really love that place), but this time we did the loop over the top of Mt. Finlayson. Calling it a mountain is somewhat misleading…elevation at the top is only 285 feet…but there is one VERY steep uphill at the beginning that made me wish I wasn’t carrying a 30+ lb. toddler on my back. Thankfully, once we got over the steep part she was amenable to walking on her own. The trail goes up and follows the ridgeline before descending (steeply again, but at least it was downhill and Emma was on her own feet this time) through the forest back to the beach. Tired Emma went back into the backpack (on tired Mama) at this point, then we (I) hiked along the beach and up another hill to the car. The round trip was about 3.5 miles and four hours this time, because of the steepness, and we both had naps when we got home.

From the ridgeline path, we saw orca whales in the Straits of Juan de Fuca (first pod I’ve seen this year), and a pair of bald eagles, a pair of red-tailed hawks, and a pair of Cooper’s hawks playing in the air currents at the top of the hill. I know where the bald eagles have their nest- in a tree that’s right on the beach, and you can stand nearby (quietly) and watch the parents feeding the nestlings. Truly an amazing place.

The wildflowers were mostly the same as the ones I showed last week, but we did see that the lupines are starting to open.

Lupinus bicolor

It’s a small species, only growing to about 5 inches high, but is this not the most amazing blue you’ve ever seen?

Lupinus bicolor

Walking back along the beach I saw some beautiful driftwood logs, all weathered and silvery, with cool swoopy grain patterns.

And a feral lilac bush. just starting to bloom.

When I was pregnant and after Emma was born, one of the things I looked forward to the most was being able to “show her things” when she got old enough- to go on a walk with her and look at birds or plants or tidepool critters or whatever, and share my excitement at seeing nature. She’s starting, and (among other things) can already identify robins, hummingbirds, bald eagles, crows, ducks, and seagulls by sight, and a winter wren by its song.

I realize that as she grows she will form her own interests and I can't force mine on her, but I hope that starting early will make appreciation of the environment she lives in an enduring part of her life.

Paradoxically, having said all that, can I just say that I am NOT READY for my little baby to be old enough to do this:

So. Not. Ready.