Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Beautiful Birds

Since we bought the new Canon PowerShot digital camera I’ve been having fun taking pictures of birds. Looking out through the glass doors I can capture woodpeckers feeding on the suet hanging on the edge of our porch. The ‘downy’ woodpeckers will stay right there and let me photograph them, but the bigger ‘hairy’ guys are scaredycats and will flit away as soon as I inch up to the glass. I’m learning how difficult it is to get a good photograph of a bird!
In January my hubby rigged up a clothesline between the porch and a nearby maple tree on which we’ve hung several bird feeders.

There’s a pulley so that we can easily winch them in for filling, and then push them back out away from the porch.

The messy birdies (mainly the sparrows) were leaving too many ‘presents’ on our porch when the feeders were hanging from the edge of it, so something had to be done!

This system works well, as they tend to sit on the line rather than the porch, but they’re still close enough for us to see their comings and goings. The suet cage and 2 net suet bags still hang from the porch though, and this brings the woodpeckers close enough for me to get some reasonable pictures of them. I love to watch their antics!

Although we have quite a variety of birds visiting our feeders, I haven’t had much luck getting many good photos yet, but it’s fun trying. Most birds startle easily.

The cheery, cheeky chickadees (how’s that for alliteration Jelly?) are quite bold, but they rarely sit still for long. We have the ever-present resident flock of sparrows. Recently one little fellow plopped down in the snow right outside the glass door and just sat looking in at me for a while.

Of course I took the opportunity to snap its picture. At first I thought it might be hurt, but when I called hubby to come and see it, it startled when it saw him and flew away.
I’d love to some day have a digital camera with a bigger zoom lens so that I could get better close-ups of the birds, but the little Canon is easy to carry around and I’m having fun learning how to use it.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006


Glorious sunshine!

Sunshine on my shoulders makes me happy,
La la,
la la la,
la la la la
Sing with me! (as John Denver used to say)

The temperature outside was 62ºF (16.6ºC) and the sun still shone brightly when I arrived home from school this afternoon. I don’t know what the high temp was today, but it felt like something close to 70ºF (21ºC). Hey Val, lots of degrees going on here :)


The kitty cats were basking in the warm sun by the back door, waiting to be fed. They were happy to feel the sunshine!

The snowdrops were happily nodding their pretty white heads, enjoying the sunshine.

Zoey had to get into the picture :)

The little nuthatch was happily feeding in the sunshine!

I’m happy to feel the sunshine!
Can you tell? :)
Spring is springing this week. Finally! Yippee!

Sunday, March 26, 2006

Computer Tip

Recently, while visiting an interesting website called Wanda’s Country Home, I came across a handy computer tip.
Thought I’d share it with you….

To make the degree symbol when typing temperatures:
Type your numbers on the NUMBER PAD, e.g. 350
Then, while holding down the alt key with your left hand, type 167 on the number pad, and viola! You’ll have your degree symbol…see? 350º
Try it!

If you do visit the above site, check out "Pine Tree Crosses". It relates the story of an amazing phenomenon of special interest with Easter coming up.

For other computer tips see Zoey’s blog. She posted one recently that I appreciated learning….how to sort your favorites by alphabetical order. It’s so much easier to find my blog pals on the list now!

And just to brighten up your Sunday (or Monday, depending on where you are in the world), here’s a pretty pink bouquet of carnations from our church.

Saturday, March 25, 2006

A Pleasant Surprise

Last week the mailman delivered to me a parcel, which came all the way from sunny Australia. My dear friend Alice sent this pleasant and most welcome surprise. My husband has been ill lately and going through some tests, so the parcel cheered us up at a time when we really needed some cheering.
The package contained several audiotapes……some with music, and one with Australian birdcalls and a ‘Bird Symphony’ - beautiful music with birdcalls interspersed throughout.
My husband and I listened to the birds as we ate dinner that night, and sat there smiling at each other, once in a while saying, "Oh that one sounds familiar!" The sounds of the birds transported us right back to Australia….to memories of living there, and hearing so many of them on a daily basis. What a treat to hear their cheerful chirping again, and especially the ‘laughter’ of the kookaburras!
The kooka in the picture was sitting on my mother's back porch, waiting to be fed. I took this photo in 1994 when I was visiting Mum.

There was music by a Welsh singer named Aled Jones, who started his music career as an amazing boy soprano. Now as an adult, he has a wonderful voice, which is similar to Josh Groban’s. He sings some of the same songs as Josh G., as well as beautiful hymns, traditional and contemporary spiritual music. There was a Christmas album of his, and another beautiful collection of songs called "Voices From the Holy Land" in which he sings with various choirs as a young teen.
Another tape held encouraging spiritual music by Genesis…."Bring Back the Springtime"!
There was also instrumental relaxation music by Tony O’Conner, which incorporates Australian Aboriginal instruments, Aussie birdcalls and ocean sounds. That music is playing as I write this.

Last, but not least was "A Tribute to Banjo Patterson" by Wallis and Matilda. Banjo Patterson was probably the most famous of the Australian poets. He wrote ‘Waltzing Matilda’, ‘The Man From Snowy River’ (which most of you probably know was made into a movie, plus a sequel), ‘Clancy of the Overflow’, and many other poems. On this tape the poems are put to music. Alice included the words printed out on paper to all the poems on the tape. She has been a busy girl!
Aussie kids are taught Banjo Patterson’s poems at school. It was wonderful to hear them again and to be transported back to my school days and the nostalgic memories of a childhood spent growing up in Australia.

All these musicians are newly introduced to me and are a welcome addition to our music collection. You see, Alice and I have been discussing our music preferences, among other things. This is actually the second parcel she’s sent. The first contained a tape each of Aled Jones and Tony O’Connor. When Alice learned that I loved them both, she sent more! Bless her heart.

So thank you, sweet Alice, for such a thoughtful and caring gift, on which you must’ve spent many hours of preparation. You are truly a blessing and I’m very grateful for your friendship.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Meeting An Author

For one all-too-short hour at school this afternoon I had the privilege of listening to a published author speak to our 4th graders. March is always PARP (Parents As Reading Partners) month. This program promotes reading to our students
across the country. We always have some interesting events as part of this program. Gary VanRiper came to our school to share his knowledge and expertise with the children and to encourage future would-be authors to try their hand at writing. But most or all he came to encourage READING. He had a friendly rapport with the children that held their attention easily as he shared his lessons and fascinating stories of how a series of middle chapter books titled "The Adirondack Kids" came to be.
The really unique thing about this series is that it’s co-authored by father and son. Gary and his now 16-year-old son, Justin, write these books together! And Mrs. VanRiper (Carol) has joined the team and now illustrates the books, so it’s a real family effort.

The first book began as a home writing project when Justin was in 3rd grade. He wrote an essay about adventures at the family’s summer camp on Fourth Lake in the beautiful Adirondack Mountain region, which is not far away from us, here in upstate NY.
Gary read a chapter of Justin’s story when asked to attend a PARP program and Justin introduced the characters. Then people wanted to know when the book was coming out! That story grew into a 15 chapter book which was self-published by the family and made the best seller list and the #1 regional book. From there the series grew into a sequel, and then a 3rd book and a 4th and 5th …..the 6th book in the series is due to go on sale in two weeks!
The main character in the stories is Justin, who is fashioned after the ‘real’ Justin. He has exciting adventures each summer at camp with his two best friends, and his cat, Dax. The family really does have a calico cat named Dax and the story of how they acquired this kitty is a good one. You can read it, and see a picture of Dax by clicking this link, and scrolling down the page to the ‘Most Asked Questions’ section.
One of the childrens' favorite parts of the program today was when Gary showed them pictures of Dax on an overhead projector, and told them her story. They searched for a special cat for the adventure series and found Dax, who was just purrrfect, at the Rome Humane Society.
There’s a couple of newspaper articles about the father and son writing team which are very interesting, as well as lots of other good stuff.
The stories use history, local landmarks and characters kids can relate to. When kids can read about a place that they’ve actually been to, like the Pied Piper ice cream stand, they are hooked. And knowing that someone close to their age actually wrote a book is a real encouragement to them.
The first and last thought that Gary VanRiper left the kids with was this:
‘READ! If you are not a reader, you will never be a writer. Every book you read is like taking a writer’s workshop’.

Food for thought, yes?
Maybe you too can write a book!

Saturday, March 18, 2006

Just Around the Corner

Officially, spring is just around the corner, but it’s hard to imagine any semblance of warmth as I look out through the glass doors at the bleak, wintry landscape that is our front view today. Once again the wind feels like it’s coming straight from the Arctic circle and light snow is being blown horizontally across the yard.
Nevertheless, the garden is telling us that spring is indeed, on her way. Yesterday I took a little tour to see what was happening in the gardens and snapped a few photos.

Daffodils have been slowly emerging for quite some time now, and their stems are beginning to get a little taller.

The snowdrops have had white buds showing for a week or two, but the blooms are not completely open. On sunny days they stand up straight and look bright and cheery, but on days like today they droop and seem disappointed. I’m amazed at their endurance and the way they ‘bounce back’ as soon as the sun warms them. I feel empathy towards them because their actions seem to mimic my reactions to the weather.

Here in the Northeast the prevailing attitude, I think, is that we’re really ready for spring to come. Winter here is like an endurance test for all but a few thick-blooded people who really love cold weather and enjoy outdoor winter sports and activities. I rarely cross paths with anyone who isn’t looking forward to warmer weather.
So Mother Nature….we’re ready whenever you are!

Bring on the spring!

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Cats Anyone?

Since last November we haven’t had any stock at all in our barn, freestalls or heifer barn. We sold our dairy herd in October of 2000, so haven’t milked cows since then, but have rented the buildings and some crop land to a neighbor who raised and boarded some cattle. This past fall our renter decided not to continue with that part of his business this year.
So, the only animals that are flourishing on our farm these days are the cats. It’s too bad we can’t milk or sell them because they’re a lot less work than the cows were!
They live in the barn and are very independent, as cats tend to be. They do however, expect us to feed them twice a day but they repay us by keeping the rodent population to a minimum.

This is Alice. The cat shelf will need repainting in the spring!

Some of them are regular early morning visitors at the back door, sitting on the cat shelf, peering hopefully through the glass, trying to encourage us to hurry outside so they can follow us to the barn for their breakfast. Yes, we have a cat named Alice! (just a coincidence). She is always the first on the shelf in the AM & PM and likes to perch there during the day and just soak up the sun, if there happens to be some.

Alice & Pete. Alice says, "Hello! Is anyone awake in there?"

Hubby's turn to feed them. Zoey needs lots of cuddles.

Feeding time in the barn

Years ago my hubby attached a shelf to the outside of the screen door in an effort to dissuade our 2 house cats at that time from their destructive habit of jumping up and hanging with their claws attached to the screen. They were, of course, trying to get our attention to let them in.

Zoey (another coincidental name) comes to the front porch to get our attention, and some cuddles.

Can you come out and play?

The shelf worked well, and we’ve moved it with us from that original door to this house. The house cats would jump up, sit on the shelf, and gaze at us imploringly until we let them in. The resident kitties still sit and gaze imploringly but there are no house cats at the moment. They all live in the barn, which makes it easier for us to visit our kids and grandchildren when we want to. When our neighbor kindly comes to feed them they’re all in one convenient place.

Isabelle in the sunshine
Lovely Olivia & Tuxedo, the king catSheba (the queen)

We miss having a house cat, but our barn kitties give us plenty of affection and entertainment in return for the cuddles and love we give them….plus food :)

Toby & Zoey roughhousing

They’re great companions when we’re outside working in the garden or wherever. Sometimes a little too much company as you can well imagine. When our grandsons are visiting they have the best time playing with our furry friends.

Pawprints on a snowy morn

On the way to the barn they want to walk as close to us as possible, so it’s a struggle to walk without stepping on paws.
We miss the cows, but the cats are a joy to have around and at least we still have animals living in our barn.

Saturday, March 11, 2006

Stuart's Meme

Alice has tagged me with Stuart’s meme.
I tried to think of some answers last night but the old brain was pretty much blank. Now morning has broken, and after a good night’s sleep I’m actually having a few original thoughts….nothing earth shattering, mind you, but I’m ready to give it a go.

If I was only allowed to keep one plant in my garden which would it be?
I’ve decided on echinacea, or purple coneflower.

Their color is delightful and they bloom for a long time. They reseed easily and their seeds are a favorite with the birds. I could also use them for medicinal purposes if I could figure out which part to use!
However, I could only make this choice knowing almost certainly that I’ll never in reality have to deal with this question. I can’t even imagine a garden with only one plant!

If there was only one thing invented in the past 100 years that I was permitted to keep, what would it be?
Compound interest!!!!! This was my hubby’s answer and I liked it so much, I had to put it in here :)
If Stuart means an actual machine, I'd be inclined to pick my computer. We’d have electricity to run it since electric generators were introduced in 1882, and were sending current around NY City at that time.
How would I keep in touch with all my blog friends without a computer?

Name 3 animals you saw yesterday (excluding cats and dogs).

Downy Woodpecker

Numerous birds, including woodpeckers, chickadees, sparrows, blue jays, gold finches, starlings, crows, a nuthatch, and a female cardinal. The only other things I saw that are remotely animal related, apart from our 14 barn cats (which I’m barred from mentioning), were a daddy-long-legs spider and a ‘slow fly’….large, comparatively slow-moving flies that show up in the house as the weather begins to warm (charming creatures….they die in piles on the floor in front of windows and glass doors and have to be vacuumed up. Some years there are zillions, other years hardly any).
But! Today on the way to choir practice I really paid attention and saw chickens and roosters, muscovy ducks (the funny-looking ones), horses and a herd of Black Angus cattle.
This morning we had a very large flock of red-winged black birds in our front yard. They are true harbingers of spring. We usually only see one or two at a time. Having a whole flock show up was a real treat. There were starlings and grackles mingling with them too.

Red-winged Black Birds - Unfortunately had to be taken through the porch railing from inside the house otherwise they would fly away.

I was pleased to feel more aware of my surroundings….so, thanks to Stuart and Alice for promoting this awareness.

Which season do you like the most?
This is the easy question. Hands down it’s summer! This is a beautiful season in upstate NY. The average temperatures are usually in the 70’s and 80’sF (21 to 32C). Last summer was unusually hot and we had a longer period of warm weather beginning with a warmer than usual June. It was wonderful! I spend as much time as possible outside.

Name the person who imparted the most wisdom into your life?
My mother certainly taught me a lot about life. She was a mostly self-taught person with a passion for reading and a love of word-related games, including scrabble and crossword puzzles. She was very creative, especially with a pair of knitting needles, a sewing machine or a pair of gardening gloves and a trowel.
She also showed me the importance of love by giving it in abundance.

I’m tagging
Connie and Sonia and Sue.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Surprise Amaryllis

Early in January my husband and I read an article in one of our gardening magazines about growing multiple Amaryllis bulbs in a pot to produce a lovely show. They didn’t have to be planted only for Christmas!
Shortly afterward he noticed that the local Agway store had Amaryllis bulbs on sale for $1 each. That sounded like a great bargain, so he brought home four and I planted them in a pot.
When the leaves began growing I thought they looked rather narrow for Amaryllis, but who knew…..maybe the bargain bulbs were smaller than normal?
Then I noticed the beginning of blooms…already! A few days later I noticed little white bulbs forming on the top of the stem and I said to Ross, "I don’t think our bulbs are Amaryllis!
Guess what they turned out to be?

Paperwhites! (narcissus)

Pretty little white blooms with a yellow center and a beautiful fragrance.
There are several more blooms forming, so the show will go on for a while.
It’s lovely to have something blooming….we really don’t care what it is!
Maybe we’ll try some ‘real’ Amaryllis next fall……

Friday, March 03, 2006

Winter In NY.....

.......Heating the House

Taking the children out to the buses after school this afternoon, and standing for ten minutes, while waiting until all were on board was pure torture. The wind felt like it was blowing straight from the arctic. It was the kind of wind that blows right through you and freezes you to the bone. Brrrrr! We could hardly wait to get back inside the school building.
Our weather has been like that a lot lately. I guess you could say March came in like a lion….as opposed to a lamb.
It’s hard to keep your mind on something other than the frigid temperatures when you’re out in them. This prompted me to notice our outdoor furnace, and feel very thankful for it, as I walked quickly from the car toward the promised warmth of our house.

The furnace is about a hundred feet from the back of our house.

We’ve been very satisfied with the excellent job this furnace does of heating our house. We burn wood in ours, but it’s possible to change it to an oil-burning furnace if needed. A 5oo-gallon water tank surrounds the large firebox inside. The hot water is pumped through an underground pipe into our basement to a radiator, which is fastened to the side of our old hot-air furnace. A fan then blows air over the radiator and up through heat ducts into the house.
A thermostat controls the temperature just as it would an indoor oil furnace.

We use between 40 and 60 face cords of wood depending on the severity of the weather

Another water line runs from the furnace to the hot water heater in our basement, enabling us to use the hot water from the furnace too. This cuts our electricity bill dramatically. When we had the dairy cows we heated the water in the milk house with the furnace too. This produced an overall saving of approximately $90 each month.
My hubby feeds the fire with about 3 or 4 hundred pounds of wood (about 8 large blocks) morning and evening each day during the cold weather. When the temperature falls to zero or below, he’ll add more wood later in the evening. I know it sounds awful to have to go out into the cold and tend to the furnace, but he’s used to enduring cold temperatures, having been a farmer all these years. If I had to do it, I’d have an indoor furnace! I’m a wimp when it comes to cold weather.

This was taken after a heavy snowstorm in 2002 Posted by Picasa

We let the fire go out around the middle of April. There will still be some cold mornings and nights when we may start a fire just for a day or two, but spring will be in the air, with the promise of summer to come. The snowdrops will be blooming, with crocus to follow, then daffodils and tulips…..and oh boy, I can’t wait!!
But for now, I’ll have a cup of peppermint tea, curl up in a comfy chair with a soft blanket and a garden magazine, and dream of warmer temperatures……

Here's what our vegetable garden looks like in winter.
It's a prettier sight in summer :)