Thursday, December 31, 2015

New Years Eve Morning

This should be some sort of review of the year, that being the traditional thing to post on such a day but, quite honestly, I'm not sure whether that will be the case. Maybe I just want to share this shot of this morning's inbox:

It's possibly too small to read but I assure the reader that it is the latest crop of charities who are eager to let me know that I have only a few hours left to send them money in 2015. Of course, soon I will be alerted to my very first opportunities to contribute to any number of worthy causes in 2016. I begin to appreciate the advantages of anonymous giving.

Maybe I am hesitant to review my own year because it doesn't necessarily stack up so well compared to others. My friend Alex decided at the start of 2015 that she would make it "a year of art," and she was very successful. Perhaps where I go wrong is not setting such goals. I drift into my accomplishments as I drift through life. I had no intention of becoming a bike commuter but working on Madi Carlson's Urban Cycling, combined with working across the hall from a dedicated cyclist, seems to have resulted in me biking regardless of conditions. According to my incomplete records on Luum, I've made just shy of 295 "trips" but I didn't start logging there until the first of May and I know I was biking in much of April so the number should be a little higher. I love my bike and, most of the time, I love biking so that's a nice little thing about 2015.

The garden was less of a raging success than I'd hoped it would be this year. We bought a new trough in which to plant tomatoes, placed it where it would get the maximum amount of sun and heat, filled it with fabulous soil and compost, and watered religiously, but we didn't get a ton of tomatoes and those we got were good, but rarely fabulous. Instead what went wild were the green beans in the front-forty raised bed, possibly because I kept planting more seeds, thinking that the previous batches hadn't germinated. After reading Eleanor Perenyi's Green Thoughts: A Writer in the Garden I was inspired to dry the green beans after we couldn't stand to eat any more of them. I learned that they dry quite nicely but that harvesting the dried beans is a somewhat tedious process. I've yet to discover how they taste but I do feel quite the homesteader when I look at the jar of them:

I'm thinking some sort of minestrone . . .

Thanks to a few pretty short books I received at Christmas I managed to get my total books-not-read-for-work number up to 56 for 2015. A number of those were re-reads and another number were books that were completely unmemorable or just plain bad. Alarmingly, many of those I enjoyed most were nonfiction! Crow Planet, the aforementioned Green Thoughts, Jambusters, and A Moveable Feast were all outstanding on the nonfiction side while, for fiction, The Return of the Soldier and The Poisonwood Bible were the standouts. Mona in the Desert and Antosha in Prague I put in their own category as they are the best books written but not published in 2015. If some publisher doesn't make an offer on them then I will truly despair of, well, life really.

Glancing at the titles of earlier posts, I see that I saw my first (and thus far, only) short-eared owls in 2015. Those are some remarkably gorgeous birds! I'm sure I saw a number of other new birds in 2015--a long-eared owl, for one--but I'm too lazy to consult the lab book in which I record such things (yes. every damned day. mostly.) so an accounting of birds will just have to wait. This post is already absurdly long and it's sunny out there. Perhaps that bike would like to get out one more time in 2015.

 Happy New Year, beloved readers of blahdeblahblah!

Friday, December 25, 2015

Two variations on a Christmas still-life, plus Gradka Christmas card, 2015 edition

After Gradka spent the night yowling because she didn't like the Christmas tree being lit up or was worried about the presence of Cthulu in her stocking or wanted to alert us to the presence of a jolly old elf on the roof, not to mention all those reindeer, we weren't up particularly early this morning. It's three hasty photos thrown here and then on to get something more substantial than a clementine and few pieces of chocolate into my system before more festivities du jour. Happy Christmas!

Scott likes this one for its old oil painting feel
I like this one for its sense of contained mayhem
Like the Queen and the Pope, Gradka has her Christmas traditions

Friday, December 18, 2015

It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas

I squandered another vacation day today in an effort to prepare for what is likely to be, really, a very quiet sort of Christmas. I still don't know if my family is actually getting together for the holiday, and Scott and I have decided that we're not so much exchanging gifts this year. It should be a relaxed little stretch of time but that feels like letting the terrorists win so instead this is what my kitchen table looked like this evening:

Careful examination will reveal that, at long last, I've written (and addressed and stamped, thank you very much) Christmas cards. Well done me, I say. Well done me, indeed. Less obvious, perhaps, is the discovery that this year's calendar will not fit into a standard USPS envelope. It took a while for me to admit that it also would not fit into two USPS envelopes cut open. Back to the drawing board there, but I figure the recipients don't really need those calendars until January 1, right?

Also accomplished today: A trip to veterinary for Gradka. We are telling her to ignore that talk of impending "Senior Citizen Status" and instead glory in her maintenance of "ideal weight." In truth, she seemed indifferent to both and just wanted to be home again.

Always happy to pose, the youthful Gradka beneath the Christmas tree
Scott and I met downtown after work yesterday (and wasn't that cold rain simply lovely for a bike ride? You know, it sort of was) to have Paradigm Shifts at Oliver's, a ride on the carousel, and a visit to the Impressionist exhibit at SAM before the crowds who will likely pack the place in its final weeks. Scott expressed some surprise at the limited size of the exhibit; possibly Paris has spoiled him. It included a Van Gogh I'd never seen before which was sort of nice (in that it reinforced the "My, that man needed to get out of Holland" theory I've had since visiting the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam so many years ago). We both quite liked the paintings by Edouard Vuillard whom I, at least, had never heard of. And we wandered around a few other rooms we usually skip at SAM until we were told they'd be closing shortly so I call it a successful outing.

Say! This isn't a report of the cookie-making frenzy at all. Nor is it likely to become one. No, I'm going to post a photo of this year's wreath, made out of detritus bits of tree and shrub to be found aound our part of West Seattle after the recent wind storms and then see about clearing off that table. Or maybe I'll just have a cup of tea.
Full disclosure: Some not-from-street ornaments added

PS to Hally: The eyes are the secret to telling female and male bushtits apart. The females have the "crazy eye" with the smaller pupil; the males have the adorable solid-black eyes.

Sweet little male on the left; slightly psycho female on the right

Sunday, December 13, 2015

T'is the season

Post-cookie-making frenzy recovery period.

 (Cookie-making frenzy report maybe later.)

Friday, December 11, 2015

Further bike update

I decided to update my biking stats for the year on the Luum site because,  you know, it's what some of us do for fun when we're tired:

Today, however, I left Bessie at home as I did some shopping in Ballard and elsewhere and, by gum, it's quite wearying to carry all of one's purchases oneself! I missed my bike basket. Possibly that means that biking is actually less exercise than walking would be, not that I see myself giving up the biking anytime soon. Not after I just bought fancy spoke reflectors today.

 Also purchased: baked goods, Christmas cards, cookie-making supplies (including five pounds of flour that would have been so much nicer to carry in Bessie's basket), modgepodge, and god knows what else. Soon TK: a Christmas tree and stamps.

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Festival of Color, December edition

Gradka, the camera, and I were out back during a lull in the rain this afternoon. Some spots of color caught my eye:

Rose hips of the always out-of-control climbing rose

Impossible to miss Anna's hummingbird. Fascinating and educational he was.
Most unexpected color on December 6th; some ripening raspberries

Saturday, December 5, 2015

Saturday Evening Post

Anna's hummingbird on the grapevine this morning
I'm feeling a bit scattered so let's just see where this post goes, shall we? I could write about Lyanda Lynn Haupt's Crow Planet which I am enjoying more than I've enjoyed any book I've read in a long time. She's a beautiful writer, is Ms Haupt, and this book is the perfect mix of personal anecdote, gentle polemic (can a polemic be gentle?), and fascinating scientific fact. And maybe it's that I bought the Sibley Guide to Bird Life and Behavior, but haven't actually read it (because it's a damned intimidating volume), but my complaint about a lot of "bird books" is that they don't tell you things like that young crows' eyes are blue or that the eggs of cavity nesters are white because they don't have to be camouflaged for protection; Crow Planet tells you that stuff, and it also discusses whether it does any "good" to hang clothes out to dry and why that does or doesn't matter. You hear a lot about "the author's voice" in the book world; Lyanda Lynn Haupt has a lovely voice. That she lives in West Seattle so a lot of her examples are local is both good and bad; I feel like we're such neighbors that I could drop by her house and ask her to lend me a ladder so I can climb up to see the crow's nest she talks about. I figure if I triangulate on "ten minutes to Lincoln Park"and "2 blocks from a busy street" I can figure out which "restored old farmhouse" is hers, right? Luckily, I'm too lazy to be a truly successful stalker.
This morning's still life
So there's that. I am loving this book which I have turned to several times in the last week to find calm. It's that sort of book. I can't believe I've avoided it all this time just because I wasn't entirely wild about the cover. The amazing thing about a book is that, in exchange for $16.95 plus tax, you can experience perfection.
Yellow-rumped warbler at the suet feeder
Maybe this will be a birdy sort of post then. I put in an hour or so on the Cornell Feederwatch early this morning. (One place Ms Haupt and I part company is over feeders: she doesn't approve of them for doubtless very sound and good reasons.) Sitting in the backyard with my binoculars, notebook, a blanket or two, and, eventually, an umbrella is also a calming activity. I was going to say that the juncos continue to outnumber every other species but, on reflection, there was quite a sizable gang of thumbprints today. The yellow-rumped warblers have also returned. Winter birding may really be the best.

The other thing started today is work on the 2016 calendar. I think it's going to be all France this year which means I spent a good long time winnowing down the million photos taken on our vacation. My plan is to post the runners-up here, just because I'm so darned sorry that they won't be on the calendar itself. The lucky recipients of said calendar, if they also happen to read this blog, can have the pleasure of saying, "You picked this lousy photo of a bee when you could have given me the Eiffel Tower? What sort of editorial judgment is that?" So, without further ado, the Eiffel Tower shot that sadly is probably not in the calendar. (See how I waffle? But that bee is in.)

Foreshortened Eiffel Tower

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Perils of Cycling

Final commute numbers for November
"Ride in the Rain" ended on Monday and, much to the disappointment of my competitive nature, one of the guys in the warehouse came in at the last minute with two rides more than me (the bastard worked the day before Thanksgiving!) so I lost my #1 status.  I ended up with more trips, though for fewer total miles, than the average participant but, I console myself, that that "average participant" wasn't limiting herself to commute trips. And, of course, regardless of how I stacked up, I did avoid adding a few pounds of CO2 to the atmosphere. I'm not sure I truly understand what that means, but I understand it's a good thing. So go Team Me!

The greatest benefit (for me) of participating is likely that it demonstrated to me that I can ride when it's cold and dark and wet; some times it was even a bit of fun. Yesterday, aka the first of December, aka the day after the end of the competition, I just automatically put on my wet-weather cycling ensemble, and set off on my bike. I've been biking to work pretty much every damned day since sometime last April and, by gum, it seems like it's just habitual now. Maybe.

 As I left the office this evening, I was thinking somewhat seriously about throwing Bessie on a bus at some point but it turned out to be dry, not windy, and not too cold so I was feeling pretty invigorated even before I found myself going over the bridge in a higher gear than usual. I realized I could go to the QFC in the Junction for what I needed for dinner and, while still uphill, that's an easier--though longer--ride than heading straight home. I was, in short, feeling downright perky about things. Right up until the moment I rode straight into some low-hanging tree branches.

That stretch doesn't offer much in the way of street lights and I was looking down at the pavement where my headlight illuminated more than straight ahead. There aren't many cars but it's a stretch along which I move slowly (it's one of those stealth hills that kill me) so I tend to ride quite a bit to the right--too far to the right, as it turned out, because the damned tree branches hang out over the road, too high to hit me were I walking but the perfect elevation to slap me--hard--in the face when I'm on Bessie. Luckily, I guess, I was moving so slowly that I wasn't knocked off entirely, but it hurt a lot at the time and I was still pretty shaken an hour later. It didn't stop me from doing my errands, but I opted to push my bike for a block or two immediately after the incident, in part to allow myself time to calm down because, damn, it hurt.

I confess myself disappointed that I don't look more injured--just a bit of a cut on a slightly swollen lip; did I mention it hurt?

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Follow-up to "Where are the White-crowned Sparrows" photo post

Although only one person commented, I figure she deserves an answer. Or something. So here is the same photo with all the secretive white-crowneds circled. For all I know there are more in here as well.