Thursday, December 27, 2007

Christmas Treasures

You know, I was not in a very Christmas-y mood this year, and crabbed about doing my shopping, especially for my hard-to-shop-for Mom. Luckily, my family was in The Zone, and did an excellent job selecting gifts for me. (Now, of course, I feel even more guilty for being such a Scrooge.) Here are just a few of them:

Clothes for work, from Mom:

Cords are great for winter at the vet office. Warm, comfortable, and easy to clean if they get messed up.

This sweater, which I love. I can't wear heavy, long-sleeved sweaters under my lab coats, but this one is lightweight and has 3/4 length sleeves, easily pushed up to keep them clean.

Tanks and short-sleeved tops from the sale bin, perfect to put aside for warmer weather. Mom can spot a deal!

PJ's, from Sis: Who doesn't need a flannel nightshirt in winter? And, with footies, too!

Also a sale item, this heart-shaped Pfaltzcraft bowl, from the church bazaar. In my pattern, which is discontinued. I love it when people know you well enough to find something like this.

The entire Planet Earth series on DVD! Whooot! I have seen bits and pieces of this show, but not the whole thing. If you haven't seen it, you must. Check out the bird-of-paradise courtship displays - Awesome! This set also includes some behind the scenes stuff. You can't believe how hard they worked for some of the footage.

Socks, gloves and mittens are tradition in our family.

I like the boxes as much as the gifts that came out of them.

Another one from Mom - subtle hint, Ma?

And all sorts of other things: calenders and a reading lamp to clip onto your book, little gold earrings and an intricately folded paper Christmas garland from a fair-trade market (my socially-conscious sister), a set of sheets and really neat little clip-things that can be used for closing snack bags or hanging up laundry.
(We are a practical bunch of Christmas-ers.) A super haul of goodies, all around.

Oh yes, and, the cherry on top: A surprise phone call on Christmas night, from someone whose voice I was longing to hear. Bonus! (Now, what are you doing New Year's Eve?)

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Pottery Update

It's official. I am definitely going to be a potter when I retire from veterinary medicine. I would like to practice another 15 years, so I figure that gives me plenty of time to improve my pottery skills. And boy, do I need improvement.

Here are the rest of the pieces I completed in my first 6 week class:

A "matched set" of mugs. They are all the same color (Paprika and Sea Foam Green,) but certainly not the same size or shape!

This was the first bowl I threw. It happened by accident when I was practicing one day. I love the Midnight Blue glaze, but am sorry I added the Ocean Wave Runner details. This additional glaze has no color of its own, but is supposed to change the chemistry of the primary glaze, adding interesting streaks and colors. It didn't really do too much here.

This is the second bowl I threw, when we were actually learning how to throw bowls. It came out pretty well, I think. The Wave Runner worked nicely with the Sea Foam, adding interesting dark streaks to the lighter base color. I gave it to my Mommy for Christmas.

This is the third bowl I threw, but the first one where I tried to apply the Runner glaze, over Burgundy this time. Whoa! Way too much, Kat! Oh well, live and learn. Guess I will keep this one for myself.

My "lidded vessel." I had a lot of problems with this piece throughout the work, so why should the glazing be any different? I left the lid on while it was undergoing the final firing and the excess glaze ran down in between the lid and the pot, effectively bonding the two parts together. We finally got them apart, but I still have more work to do to salvage it.

Tonight, I threw three new pieces, the largest ones I have made so far. I really felt like I was getting the feel of the clay tonight.

I got some new clay. I used up the last of my first 25 lb block of clay, which was white, on two of the pots I threw tonight. I decided to try the brown clay next. It has a different look and feel from what I am used to using. I threw one pot with it tonight, and so far, I like it. More later!

Monday, December 24, 2007

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Check Your Sunflower Seed

When you buy your black-oil sunflower seed from a reputable wild bird supply store, you are usually assured of getting a good quality product, clean and free of noxious weed seeds and other contaminants. Your small shop owner depends on your return business and your recommendations to bird-feeding friends to stay open, so s/he is careful when choosing what suppliers to buy from. I might see the occasional grain of corn or striped sunflower seed, but in general, I am very happy with the black-oil seeds I get from my local store.

Even the best manufacturers sometimes have a problem with their source for sunflower seeds, and weed seeds may slip into the mix. The thing I most hate to find in my sunflower is this:

The seeds of Field Bindweed, also called Wild Morning Glory.

As far as I can tell, nothing eats this seed, so it ends up in your yard, infesting your flower beds and getting tangled in your shrubs and bushes. I try to be alert and pluck out any bindweed seeds I find, as a preemptive strike.

Edit, 12/23, 6pm: OOPS!! Donald tells me I have mislabeled the white seeds. They are not bad bindweed seeds, they are plain old soybeans. I plead ignorance. Somebody once told me they were bindweed, and I believed them. Thanks for the correction!

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Bird Feeding, part 5: Suet Dough

You may have heard me mention "suet dough" in previous posts. It's a term I learned last year from Julie Zickefoose's blog. She shared her recipe for a sure-fire homemade bird food, and I started making it. I have modified the name to "Zick's Famous Suet Dough," but it could also be called "Magic Suet Dough," as it attracts any kind of bird you could care to name. About the only things I haven't seen eating it are Mourning Doves and finches.

First, the recipe:

1 cup lard
1 cup peanut butter
2 cups quick oats
2 cups yellow cornmeal
1 cup white flour

Melt the lard and peanut butter. Add the oatmeal, cornmeal and flour. Allow to cool. Store at room temperature. Serve crumbled.

I double this recipe, and use the old lard tubs to store any leftovers.

I use several different types of feeders for suet dough. A flat tray or platform type feeder allows more species of birds access, but usually gets over-run with starlings.

This caged feeder was designed to hold two commercial suet cakes side-by-side,

but I stuff it full of suet dough for the little birds, like chickadees, titmice, and Downy Woodpeckers. They can get in through the large outer openings to feed on the goodies inside. Bluebirds will use this feeder, too.

I always put some in a small custard cup, garnished with mealworms, inside my bluebird feeder. This is a feeder with Plexiglas sides and 1.5 inch diameter holes in the short wooden ends, designed for cavity-nesting birds.
I am experimenting this year, placing this feeder closer to the house than in past.

Bluebirds and Carolina wrens use this feeder a lot. I had a young Downy Woodpecker in it last year. Twice, he got stuck and I had to help him out. I think he wised up after that.

Now, some of the birds I have photographed, enjoying Julie's suet dough:

All for me!"

Downy Woodpecker, immersed in his food.
"This is much better!"

immature White-crowned Sparrow

And, the species I originally wanted the suet dough recipe for:

Eastern Bluebird, female
"Hey! Who ate all the suet dough?

Friday, December 21, 2007

My Least Favorite Bird

I can't stand starlings. They descend on my feeders in swarms and clear me out of suet or suet dough the instant I put it out. They keep trying to nest in my purple martin housing. They are taking over everywhere I go, with their filthy habits.

But, even I have to admit: There is something beautiful about a starling in winter plumage.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

A Study in Blue [Jay]

For Mary, who wanted more bird photos, and for Holly and Susan, who can't believe I actually am a birder.

Roger Tory Peterson's favorite bird
Cyanocitta cristata

I don't know about real bird photographers, but I find it really hard to get a good picture of a Blue Jay. For as big and bold and bright as they are, they are remarkably flighty. During my marathon picture-taking sessions last winter, I had tons of snaps of the place a Blue Jay used to be, and another gazillion out-of-focus, out-of-frame, out-of-touch shots of Blue Jays flying away, and only one or two keepers. I thought this one turned out all right.

Two New Pots

I got three new pieces of pottery back from glaze firing tonight. In one, the glaze was too thick, glumped up, and looks like poo-poo. I am too ashamed to show it. But these two came out OK.

I could have sworn I put a white edge around the rim of this pot, but I guess I didn't. The cobalt blue is pretty, though. It is a cell-phone holder, or maybe you put dip in it, I'm not sure.

This little "basket" has gone through many transformations. First, it was going to be a mug, but I goofed it up and tried to turn it into something else. The next thing I knew, the sides sagged over, so I made a rim. When I was trimming it before bisque firing, I broke off a piece of the rim, and had to use "slip" (very thin, water-clay solution) to glue it back on. I tried making a braided handle, but it cracked into nothing, so I just did a little twist. It ended up looking cute, if I do say so. I am taking it to work, to hold paper clips, since my official "paper clip holder" is the one with the gunked-up glaze.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

I'm So Excited!

"And I just can't hide it..."

Last winter, I spent HOURS bundled up on my (unheated) screened-in back porch, digiscoping birds at my bird feeders. I got dozens of images, including a few I was pretty proud of. But, at that time, my ancient computer wouldn't talk to my new digital camera, so I couldn't upload any of the photos. I saved them on a CD. (Which my old 'puter also couldn't read.)

When I got this new computer, I couldn't find the C
D's with all my stored photos. I was so bummed.

Then, this weekend - I found them!!! (Isn't it amazing what you can find when you clean off your messy desk?)

Finally, I have gobs of bird photos to share with you. Maybe I can finally live up to my goal of being (at least in part) a birding blog.

To start you off, here's a small taste - American Goldfinches in winter.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Toxicology Tuesday, December 18

Holiday decorating involves many seasonal plants. This week, see how many of these Christmas plants you can identify, and more importantly, if you know whether they are

Toxic or Not?







[Bonus points if you can rate them in order, most toxic to least.]

A. Christmas Cactus - Nontoxic
B. *Mistletoe - Toxic
C. Poinsettia - Nontoxic
D. Norfolk Island Pine - Nontoxic
E. Holly - Toxic
F. I didn't know for sure, so I asked you! I thought this was some kind of juniper species, and most of you agreed. If we are right, then as far as I can tell, it is nontoxic to our pets.

And now, for the bonus round:
is the most toxic plant in today's post. All plant parts are considered poisonous, but especially the berries. It can cause severe gastroenteritis (vomiting and diarrhea), a decrease in heart rate and blood pressure, difficulty breathing, erratic behavior (hallucinations in people), seizures, coma, or even death. Holly is the second most toxic plant, primarily causing a severe, self-limiting gastroenteritis if a pet eats the berries. (I saw this once in a puppy, but it is not very common.)

As for the poinsettia, it has gotten a bum rap over the years. Urban legend has the poor poinsettia plant rated someplace between bubonic plague and nuclear war in its severity. In truth, it is basically nontoxic. A pet who ate an entire plant may experience significant vomiting and diarrhea, and it is possible that
an ultra-sensitive individual might develop a mild skin rash from contact with its milky-white sap, but that is all. So, feel free to bring this lovely plant into your home and don't panic if Fido or Fluffy try a little taste.

*[Thanks to the US Forestry web site for the photo of mistletoe.]

Since the next two Tuesdays are Christmas Day and New Year's Day, Toxicology Tuesday is going on hiatus for the holiday season. It will be back in 2008.

Happy Holidays!

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Christmas Baking

I don't really need all this sugar, but it doesn't feel like Christmas to me until I have spent a day like I did today, doing my holiday baking. The cold, raw wind roared around my yard all day, and I was happy enough to spend time indoors, once I fed the horses and filled the bird feeders.

With Christmas music playing, I first cleaned and organized my kitchen, then began my marathon baking session. I started with a double batch of Zick's Famous Suet Dough, because birds deserve homemade treats, too.

Then, I attempted some English toffee, something my mom makes every year. This made me slightly nervous. While I can bake like crazy, I don't have much luck or experience with making candy. Despite a couple of minor operational errors, it came out well.

When I do a Big Day of baking, I often have two batches of cookies going at the same time. It might look chaotic, but I have a system to keep things organized. I start the butter softening in one bowl, beat the eggs in another, and mix the dry ingredients together in a third container. Here, I have two bowls of cookie dough in progress, peanut butter on the left and something called cocoa cookies on the right.

I like my peanut butter cookies topped with Hershey's Kisses. We call them "Peanut Butter Blossoms" in my family. By the way, I baked for years without a cooling rack, but since I have started using this one, I won't go back.

recipe for these cocoa cookies is from my best friend, Joyce, who I have known for more than 30 years, since we were freshmen in college. She called them "Esther Rich's Cocoa Cookies," but since I don't know who Esther was, I have renamed them "Joyce's Cocoa Cookies." They melt in your mouth.

Scottish Shortbread. I have two basic recipes for shortbread. The one I used today is quite simple - butter, powdered sugar, vanilla and flour. It came with this stoneware baking pan, which imparts a lovely thistle design onto the shortbread.

The cookies and candy are all packed up now. I am fairly sick of sugar, since I consider it my duty to taste every batch that comes out of the oven, and to eat defective cookies. I will take some to work, mail some to a friend, and take some to Mom's for Christmas Day.

Low-carb diet resumes Jan. 1.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Guess What We Saw Today!

I keep a bird feeder at work, a tube feeder with a mix of safflower and black-oil sunflower seeds. We are in a fairly busy area, just off a 4 lane highway, near a lot of shopping and fast food places, etc., so I don't expect much. My usual customers are House Sparrows, House Finches, chickadees and titmice, Mourning Doves, and Northern Cardinals. I have been trying for woodpeckers for the last two winters, first with a suet block feeder (starlings mobbed it) and then with a peanut feeder (no takers.) I do have a resident Northern Mockingbird, and have seen a Cooper's Hawk taking a Mourning Dove, plus we have a breeding pair of Red-shouldered Hawks just beyond the housing development behind us, so I have hopes for more variety.

Today, I looked out the window to see two House Finches on the tube feeder, and caught a glimpse of something on the trunk of the Bradford pear tree. Can you see it?

How 'bout now?
OK, here's the enlargement. Can you see me now?

A Yellow-bellied Sapsucker! You could have knocked me over with a feather. After trying unsuccessfully for 2 years for a Downy or Red-bellied, my first woodpecker is the shy, quiet, woodland Sapsucker? Who woulda thunk it?

I called all the staff over to the window and made them watch the sapsucker. "This is a really good bird, guys. You don't usually see sapsuckers in such a busy neighborhood." They were more amused with my uncontrolled glee than they were impressed by the bird.

While creeping around the building, trying for better photos, I spooked Ms. YBSA off her post. (I was wearing a white lab coat. Duh. I know that "Good Birders Don't Wear White.") After she left, I checked the tree trunk and found 3 neat, orderly rows of sapwells, 6 to 8 in each row. They all looked fairly fresh. I hope I didn't scare her away for good - I would love it if she would stay around for the winter.

No red on the throat =
Female Yellow-bellied Sapsucker

I had another good bird today, but no photos of it. On my way into work this morning, a large raptor crossed the road in front of me, flying low over the fields. At first I thought, "I've never seen a Red-tailed Hawk flying that low, and in such dim light, too." Then, it struck me. Great Horned Owl! Whoot! That brings me to 7 raptor species in the last two days.

I also had a great photo op today, but no camera with me. A Cooper's Hawk was lurking about Fast Food Alley, hoping for a morsel of HOSP or EUST. Her perch? The bucket-shaped sign at KFC. I didn't know whether she was inspecting the bucket for left-over chicken, or whether she was about to be deep-fried in the Colonel's "secret recipe of herbs and spices."