Friday, March 28, 2008

Cavity Nesting Season Has Begun

There are those who say spring returns with the robin's song or the first crocus blooms, while others espouse the woodcock's dance as their guide to the change of seasons. I have even heard of people who propose that February's salamander migrations or March's spring peeper calls are the first harbingers of spring, but as for me, I put my faith in the beginning of the cavity nesting season, specifically, that of the Eastern Bluebird.

I hadn't seen much of my resident bluebird pair this winter, and was a bit worried about them, but on March 1, I saw them inspecting their traditional nesting site, and even observed Papa doing a little wing-waving atop the nest box. Mama brought in the first few blades of grass just before our March 8-9 weekend snow storm, and then I lost sight of them.

This week, the nest seemed complete, but my Wednesday morning inspecting revealed only a soft grassy cup. Apparently, I came by a bit too early, as Thursday afternoon's check showed two perfect blue eggs. Knowing that bluebirds lay an egg each day until the clutch is complete, usually five eggs, I could calculate Day One as March 26.

That beats last year's record of March 27 for earliest first egg by one day (two, if you consider that this is a Leap Year.)

Today, three glowing eggs, future bluebirds, greeted me. Stay warm, little eggs. The world needs more bluebirds.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Making A Mixing Bowl

When I signed up for my second pottery class, I assumed it would be a continuation of the previous course. However, since there were several new students, the instructor started back at the beginning again. I have been mostly on my own, with some occasional advice from Rachel. That's OK by me, my college curriculum was a "Self-Designed" program, and I am used to working independently. I decided my plan for this 6 week session would be to make a mixing bowl.

Here is a photo of what I am trying to achieve, from a "How-to" pottery book I bought at Christmas time:

Here is the step-by-step process of trying to accomplish this goal.

First try:
"leather hard" stage, ready for trimming
glazed, awaiting final fire finished product

OK, it's not bad, but not what I wanted. Symmetrical and attractive, but not a mixing bowl. Somehow, it went wide and shallow instead of tall and deep. Well, let's call Bowl Number One a pasta bowl. Or maybe a salad bowl, or even a deep-dish pie plate. By the way, this is a paint-on glaze called "Blue Rutile," which is rapidly becoming my new favorite.

leather hard
paprika and sea foam on brown clay

Yuck. I got the height this time, but with a huge wobble at the base that skews the whole thing to one side. It's pretty rounded at the top, and the rim is all right, but I hate the way the glazing came out. It's basically a flop. I'm sure we will find some use for it. Suggestions?

Third try:
leather hard
bottom waxed before glazing
ready for final fire

finished bowl

Hmm, better. Height is getting there, nice rim, basic mixing bowl shape, still some irregularity. Trouble is, it's kinda small. Not able to mix much more than a couple of eggs in this one, or maybe a sauce. The paint-on glazes here are bamboo on the inner surface and butternut on the outer. I really like the way these glazes look on the brown clay.

Fourth attempt:
newly thrown, wet clay
needs to dry before next step

bisque fired

completed bowl; blue rutile glaze on brown clay
[flash washed out the color here]

we're getting somewhere. And, please note, I added the pouring lip and handle to this bowl. It was 7" in diameter at the top when wet. (The target bowl is 9" in diameter.)

Bowl number 5, through a series of misfortunes, turned into a plant pot. I'll feature it another day.

Final attempt at making a mixing bowl. I'm back to white clay, for no particular reason.

leather-hard, trimmed
and handle added

Please note the embellishment on the handle!

bisque fired

And here is the final bowl. This is my favorite one. The glaze is blue rutile again, this time on white clay.

Notice how the color changes, picking up golden brown highlights on the swirls in the bottom of the bowl and the textures of the handle.

I promised my sister a mixing bowl for her birthday, and foolish offered to let her choose which of the two best bowls she wanted. Perhaps I will give her the brown one and tell her I broke the white one. Oh - I forgot. She reads this blog. Just kidding, sis - you can have whichever bowl you like the best.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

The General Store Reopens!

In my tiny little town, there is a tiny little general store. I have shopped there before, but reluctantly. I never considered it more than somewhere convenient to buy a gallon of milk and the newspaper on Sunday morning. If the truth were told, it was always a dark little place, maybe not so very clean, and with a limited selection of items for purchase. There was one crowded counter, cluttered with notes on scrap paper, where you could check out your videos, buy your cigarettes and lottery tickets, or pay for that gallon of milk.

Nine months ago, the General Store had a major fire. Although the building was intact, the interior was gutted. For weeks, a large dumpster sat out front, collecting the debris. I was certain the store was damaged beyond repair. Given the socio-economic status of this town, I was sure the General Store was gone forever. Then, the sign out front began to sprout encouraging messages: "We will be back." "Coming soon!"

Well, just look at the General Store now:

Flags and banners announce the return of the General Store
There are even neon signs in the windows.

wide aisles, bright lights, and a whole new supply of stock
Check out that hardwood floor!

The main counter is easily accessible and well-organized.

Lottery tickets and video rentals rate their own check-out area.
There's a pot of fresh coffee awaiting your arrival.

New, and not yet fully functional, is the food area by the front door,
with soups and hot sandwiches, pastries and ice cream.

There's even a cozy little dine-in spot across the aisle.

You know you live in a small town when the return of the general store rates a blog post.

Here's a favorite small-town story that involves the General Store: A local woman and I were both leaving the store a couple of days ago. We commented on how nice it was to see it was reopening, and she told me she had rented a video the night before the fire. She returned it this week, when the store first opened up, saying, "Here's your video, but I'm not paying nine months' worth of late fees!" Only in a small town would someone hold onto a rented video that long, then return it at the first opportunity.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

New Yard Bird

With a Yard List of 70 species, it is getting harder to get new yard birds to add to my list, but today, by chance, I bagged one. A Pine Warbler, in the caged metal feeder, indulging in a little Zick dough. Hoping to add a photo later in the day ...

Grace's Rehab

Thursday marked 6 weeks after Grace's ACL surgery. We had a post-op appointment to check healing - Dr. Muldoon pronounced her leg solid - then had a visit with a veterinary technician who has had specialized training in physical therapy for dogs.

Shawn Combs works at the VCA Tennessee Avenue Animal Hospital in Cincinnati. As well as being a Registered Veterinary Technician, she is a Certified Canine Rehabilitation Practitioner, having attended the canine rehab courses at the University of Tennessee after her graduation from the University of Cincinnati's Raymond Walter's Veterinary Technology Program.

I was very interested in this appointment, not only for Grace's sake, but to check out doggy PT. It is always easier to recommend a boarding kennel, dog trainer, or health care professional to my clients if I have been there myself with my pets.

Grace relaxes on the comfy mat
in Shawn's tiny office

Grace meets Shawn

First, Shawn took some measurements of Grace's leg, comparing it to her normal left leg.

thigh circumference

Checking the degree of flexion

and extension of the stifle

Next, warming up the joint and massage ...

... before beginning passive range of motion.

Bicycling. This retrains the nerves and muscles in a leg that hasn't been used much for a month and a half.

To strengthen the thigh, Shawn had Grace doing "Sit to Stands," that is, moving from a Sit to a Stand position and back. Having a well-trained dog is helpful here - Grace already knew the commands "Sit" and "Stand" from our obedience work, and was used to doing "puppy push-ups," moving from a Sit to a Down and back, so this step was a snap for her to understand.

Another exercise that accomplishes the same thing is "Limbo." Grace's eyes lit up when she saw this arrangement of PCV poles. It looks a little like an Agility jump, but the idea is for the dog to lower herself under the cross bar instead of jumping over.

Grace took this obstacle in her stride. Being coaxed with a liver treat had nothing to do with her eagerness to try a new trick.

"Everybody limbo!"

Cavalletti poles. A concept taken from the equine world, cavalletti are low rails that train a young horse to pick up its feet and gauge the distance between the poles, in preparation for jumping. In rehab, it helps with strength and coordination.

At the end of our hour-long session, Grace unwound with a cold pack on her knee.

I can see where rehab can be a useful tool in a dog's post-op recovery. My biggest problem is that Grace's physical therapy is aggravating the impinged nerve in my neck. Any time I work with her, my symptoms get worse. Gotta find a way to help us both heal ...