Sunday, January 25, 2009

6 Week Pups

This is really just a hit-and-run post to get up more pictures of the Labrador puppies. Elly and I have visited each Sunday for the last three weeks. We just got back from Sedalia about an hour ago. The puppies are six weeks old in these pictures. They are growing fast and are as adorable as possible. One more Sunday visit and our puppy will come home with us the following Saturday — February 7.

This last picture shows all ten puppies having one of their four daily meals at a circular feeding pan. Watching them do this is a riot because they rotate like a pinwheel around the pan, each puppy nudging the next one around as they all eat as much food as possible.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Eden Revisited

“There is a story so pervasive, so deeply sublimated, therefore so powerful, that it is disabling our grace and ease in this world, the grace and ease with which we mostly conduct our lives and create our art. The story is Genesis, the Ur-story at the center of all our stories. It is in Genesis that we learn the reason for our current state of exile from Nature. Uniquely created and endowed (thus unnatural), in a world that is neither our original home nor our ultimate home, we have been cast as aliens into an opaque, often dangerous world, a corrupted form of something earlier, something higher. These observations on human nature, and on Nature itself, shape our forms of upbringing, the dynamic and moral structures of our entire civilization, our schooling — and in particular our art education.

To create a new, more deeply satisfactory story, one that will enable a healing of the schism between humans and the rest of creation, constitutes the great task of this generation. Because this story is as primary as it is, invasive as it is, the task of creating a new story, Genesis II, requires an effort that our minds, bodies, and spirits find satisfactory. The artistic enterprise, when full and sincere, is just such an engagement that calls upon these powers, making the arts well-bade instruments for this daunting and necessary creative act.”

— Peter London, Drawing Closer to Nature: Making Art in Dialogue with the Natural World.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Goldfinch Convention

We got some bad news on the bird front. Our bird guru, Mark McKellar, who operates Backyard Bird Center, told me my New Year's day "merlin" is actually a sharp-shinned hawk. Drats! Now I'm determined to get out and observe some merlins this year. We did have a consolation, though, Elly and I saw a brown creeper on one of our hackberry trees a few mornings ago. We've never seen one in the backyard before. This is the best picture I got of the littler bugger. He came early, so I had to shoot at a higher ISO setting (200, I think) which is pretty noisy on the Canon S2 IS. Still can't bring myself to spring for a full-blown digital-SLR though.

We're also having large groups of goldfinches at our niger feeder. All 8 perches are frequently occupied with more birds waiting their chance. One day I counted fourteen. Mark said the harsh winter up north is driving birds down to our area, including common red polls and pine siskins. Even a white-winged crossbill has been spotted. They like to flock in with gold finches, so we have decided to add more niger feeders to encourage them.

Here are several pictures showing how we have mounted the niger feeders so they can be raised and lowered easily for refilling.

I looked through my many image folders and discovered I don't have a picture of the niger feeder with 8 goldfinches at once, so that will be an image goal of mine. Here is the closest I have gotten so far -- five. This quality is more representative of what the camera can manage in good lighting.

Here is another of my favorite birds, a Carolina Wren, which obligingly posed in full sun for me this week. These visit our yard regularly, but we're trying to figure out how to encourage them to be daily visitors.

Puppies at Four Weeks

We took another trip to Sedalia last Sunday to visit the pups. We're visiting every weekend until we bring our puppy home on February 7. We'll be going again tomorrow. Here is a picture of the whole crew -- all ten puppies. They have grown a lot in just one week!

More adorable, of course.

Feisty, too. I wore a knit sweater instead of a sweatshirt and won't be making that mistake again.

And they're talking back!

Emma is a patient mom, fortunately, but she still appreciated some commiseration from Elly.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Puppy Pictures

Elly and I got to visit Emma and her puppies for the first time last Sunday. We spent time with the three yellow males in the litter -- ten puppies altogether. And, of course, with Emma too.

While we were with the three yellow boys, Emma stayed in the puppy enclosure. But she got to come out and visit us before we left, and we gave her a new collar with a heart tag enscribed "Emma: World's Greatest Mom."

Here is one of the three boys. They are all handsome, but Elly picked a favorite almost immediately.

It's a tough decision, though. Which one, which one?

We will be visiting practically every weekend until our new puppy comes home with us on Saturday, February 7.

Friday, January 2, 2009

A New Bird on New Year's Day

Elly and I had a relaxed and fun New Year's Day, which we spent together at home. It was a "car-free" day, something I plan to track in 2009. Here is a picture of our new cat, Brulee, sprawled in abandon across a new door mat we got mostly so she would have something to lie on in the kitchen. We got the idea after noticing that she likes to lie on a mat in our downstairs bathroom.

This is NOT an invitation for belly-rubbing or any sort of familiarity, we have discovered, but it is a sign that Brulee is happy and comfortable in her new home. (I have checked a few cat books out from the library, and Elly has been busy reading them.)

The first birds I saw New Year's morning were dark-eyed juncos. Other early visitors included mourning doves and cardinals.

I went for a walk around noon and found a spot near some woods not far from our home, by a boulevard in our neighborhood, where the ground was moist from runoff. Birds were thronging around. I first noticed the spot because of all the robins, dozens of them. We've had more robins this winter than I can recall. (They tend to stay year-round, which people who don't get off the beaten track don't realize because they like to hang out in wooded areas where they are able to find grubs and other things to eat in the leaf mold.) I have wondered if the robins might be massing for an assault against the starlings, who they significantly outnumber at present. :-) In addition to the robins I saw cardinals, juncos, gold finches, house finches, white-throated sparrows, chickadees, what might have been a house wren (didn't get a good look) and even a brown creeper, which I haven't seen for quite some time.

Here is a picture I took of the creeper. It's not a great shot, but these are tiny birds that move fast, and they are a challenge to capture with a point and shoot camera, even a good one like my Canon S2 IS. I have thought about upgrading to a digital SLR, but to do much better for this sort of subject a quite expensive lens would be required. Digiscoping a bird like this is no picnic either.

Anyway, the brown creeper was not my new bird -- I've seen them before. I checked our bird log when I got home and found my last recorded observation was almost exactly two years ago, in the same location, on a walk with Samba.

I had been standing in the same spot for about 15 minutes when I heard a high pitched alarm call and the birds started fleeing, a sure sign of a hawk or falcon. I glanced up quickly and, sure enough, a small and beautiful falcon came zipping by and landed high in a cotton wood tree on the other side of the boulevard. I managed to get two decent pictures.

I identified it as a merlin falcon using our Sibley guide based on the eye markings and markings on the sides of its breast. Elly and I have seen kestrels in our neighborhood several times, but this is the first merlin. Based on coloration, I think it is a female. They are slightly smaller than kestrels.

Also while on my walk I noticed this glyph-like arrow chalked on several walk ways. It's a marker identifying a path, to what I don't know. Buried treasure?

When I got home I helped out in the kitchen chopping ginger and garlic. Elly spent much of the day cooking. We always have black-eyed peas (for luck) and collards (for money) on New Year's Day. Elly had the fun idea of using them in Indian recipes this year. We cooked Indian with our niece, Katelyn Monday night and had plenty of leftovers. It takes a long time to cook Indian, and a trick we have learned is to augment leftovers with an additional dish on each subsequent night, which makes dinner faster to prepare and jazzes up the leftovers.

Collards take a lot of prep time because each leaf has to be destemmed, chopped up, and cleaned thoroughly to remove all the sand. They are delicious though and extraordinarily healthy. Elly substituted the collards for spinach and water cress in Deborah Madison's recipe for "Indian-style saute of Cauliflower and Greens" from her book Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone.

I'm always supposed to remind Elly to soak the black-eyed peas on New Year's Eve, but I always forget. :-) Fortunately, she has found a quick-boil way to prepare dried beans for cooking without a long presoak.

These were used in a recipe for "Curried Black-eyed Peas" from Suvir Saran's Indian Home Cooking, which is one of our most favorite cookbooks. A plus with this recipe, which combined a pureed tomato sauce with yogurt, is it helped us discover the "secret" of a vegetable korma dish from a local Indian restaurant we like.

Adding just two dishes wasn't enough for Elly, who is something of an over-achiever when it comes to culinary pursuits, so she also made a "Curried Lentil Soup" from Paulette Mitchell's book The Spirited Vegetarian. When we try a red we don't like, we just set it aside for cooking. At present, we have something of a backlog in cooking wine and this recipe helped out a little in that department.

The soup is in the covered pot on the far right, so you can't really see it in this picture, all though you can definitely see what the cooktop of a New Year's Day culinary overachiever looks like! We had fun, though. When I wasn't chopping stuff up, I was reading at our kitchen table or taking pictures of Brulee. We also decided to enjoy a bottle of Veuve Cliquot in the afternoon to allow for a bottle of red with dinner. (A bottle of champagne after a bottle of red with dinner is a bit much, even for us.)

And here is the result of all Elly's cooking -- a splendid and healthy New Year's Day Indian dinner.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

2009 New Year's Resolutions

After a fast start on my 2008 New Year's Resolutions, I fell off quickly I'm sorry to say. I did achieve some of my goals, but it was not a winning season. :-) Oh well, hope springs eternal and all that, so I'm reloading my list. Here goes.

  1. Curb impulse book buying and buy fewer books in 2009.

  2. Concentrate on reading books we already own.

  3. Read more fiction. (About 98% of my 2008 reading was nonfiction.)

  4. Reserve Tuesday and Thursday evenings for reading. (We did pretty well on this in 2008.)

  5. Go for a walk or ride exercise bike every day.

  6. Write in my journal every day.

  7. Make at least one blog post per week.

  8. Make progress on sketching and water color painting in 2009. (I really fell down on this one in 2008.)

  9. Make major progress on home improvement projects. (I'm taking 3 months off from work to accomplish this goal.)

  10. Get workshop organized.

  11. Plant vegetable garden.

  12. Make a stained-glass project.

  13. Do more dark sky site astronomy. (Only 1 DS trip in 2008!!)

  14. Take at last one trip to visit some place like the Smithsonian, or the Library of Congress, or the Huntington Library.

  15. Find a new job with a commute time less than 20 minutes.

  16. Avoid eating factory-farm produce or meat.

The last item is something I have been thinking about more and more. Elly is an ovo-lacto vegetarian, and I eat vegetarian 75% of the time or more. Typically, when I eat meat it is at lunch restaurant visits (once a week on average) or something I have gotten from Costco (usually salmon or shrimp). We often eat out-of-season produce, though, and I am not careful to find out where the produce comes from. In 2009 I plan to limit meat dishes to what I prepare myself, ensuring that the food comes from farms where animals are treated humanely. Also, I want to increase the amount of produce we eat that is locally grown. In practical terms, this means buying more food from farmers markets and Whole Foods, and talking more with the grocers about where their produce comes from.