Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Things that Made Me Happy This Month - February

There were some things that stood out during the past month that made me happy. First, the girls joined a local Leo Club (for 12-18 year olds). I'm the co-leader of it; and the teens have really enjoyed getting to know one another and do projects together.

During February, they knitted hats for newborns on round looms. They also enjoyed a heart-healthy meal together. The girls went with two of the members to see "Black Panther" and had fun. I'm hoping that they continue to enjoy doing service projects and social activities together.

In the middle of the month, Sophia and I went to visit St. Kate's - where I went to college. It was nice being back on campus; and visiting with a friend I graduated with 30 years ago. Touring the campus, listening to the women (students and administrators) speak reminded me of the power of all-women campus and the opportunities that are available to the students - particularly in terms of leadership and personal growth.

I've been making window stars this month which has been fun. Some have been for my Etsy shop. However, many were for the One Stop Donation Drop + Blood Drive that is on Saturday, March 3rd.

The window star below is a pattern that I created using the patterns from two different window stars. I like how they look together.

I am enjoying the warmer weather. Days that are in the 30s are infinitely easier to handle than those double-digit-below-zero days. Even Danny is enjoying the warmer weather and likes to spend more time outside - especially on days when the sun is out.  He only has to wear one sweater now to keep warm...rather than a sweater and his parka...when he goes outside.

We've been seeing beautiful moonrises and sunsets. Below is an "ordinary" sunrise through the pine trees. What doesn't show up in the photo is that the rays of light were streaming through the pine trees and into the yard. It was magnificent.

Other things that have made me happy during February: seeing many bald eagles returning to the area and often soaring above where I am. One morning, as I was filling the bird feeder on the mudroom room, I whistled to let the birds know the feeder was filled again. All of a sudden - out of nowhere - a bald eagle flew directly overhead with its wings outstretched. It was breath-taking!

I've seen quite a few cardinals (male and female) at the feeder. A pileated woodpecker even showed up one morning. That's unusual.

I also found out what is living in the den in the snowbank in the ditch: a raccoon...maybe even raccoons! There was a rather rotund raccoon that we saw a week or so ago. Saw one again peeking out behind a tree by the driveway one afternoon. It walked along the fence line and then went up the tree. It climbed almost to the top and stayed there for a while.

About a half hour later, Cooper started barking. The raccoon had shimmied its way down and was back on the ground - walking again along the fence line.

It has been nice seeing the wildlife and hearing the birds sing again. Spring is right around the corner!!

Sunday, February 18, 2018

Eagles - Nature Journal Entry

We have been seeing eagles more this week which has been exciting. On Valentine's Day, there were two eagles circling above us and towards the river in Osceola (Wisconsin). They would flap their wings periodically and then just glide in circles. I could watch eagles all day with their graceful movements.

On Saturday morning, Sophia and I were headed to Forest Lake and saw an eagle and crow on the side of the road eating a dead deer. I had to turn around.

Slowly drove on the side of the road and stayed a fair distance away. Nonetheless, it was still too close for the eagle, so it flew off with its feather-covered legs hanging down. They look like feathered pantaloons to me.

The eagle circled back across the highway and found a branch to perch on. It had a great view of the deer, so I knew that after we left it would fly back down and finish eating.

What surprised me was that the crow and eagle were able to peacefully co-exist while eating together. Neither was bothered by the other one which was interesting to see.

Yesterday afternoon, I went through my file about eagles and cut out photos that I had from magazines - like National Geographic.

Put these into my nature journal and wrote about seeing the eagles.

Also wrote some facts that I found interesting. For example:

- A bald eagle's nest may reach 10 feet across and 20 feet deep! I had no idea they were that big. That's literally almost the height of our home. That's huge!

-  Most raptors can't fly with a load more than 305 of their own body weight. So, about 3-4 pounds would be the max for an eagle.

- A female's wingspan in 6'7" - 7'6" and a male's wingspan is 6' - 7'1".

- The average weight of an eagle is about 10-14 pounds.

- More than 90% of birds stay with partners until they die. At that time, they look for another mate.

- By mid- to late-February, the eggs are laid.

- The beak color moves to a clean yellow bill by the fourth year. Sometimes it may take longer.

Saturday, February 17, 2018

Chinese New Year 2018 - The Year of the Dog

Chinese New Year was February 16th this year. It's the Year of the Dog.

Our original plans were to have a Chinese meal at home that evening. However, Cooper and Danny got into a rather scary fight that changed the course of the evening.

Both the dogs are fine. However, both - who view themselves as Alpha dogs within their own small packs - need to be less testy to one another. We had made a lot of progress during the past year with the adoption and then introduction of Danny and Scooby to Aspen and Cooper. Although there have been times when they bark at one another - it was nothing like what happened on Friday night.

Thankfully, no blood was shed. Danny was shaking and quite frightened after the encounter. The dogs are now temporarily separated from one another until we feel like they can be okay with one another again.

So...with that being said, we postponed our Chinese New Year dinner until Saturday evening. I had purchased a variety of items from the store and cooked everything. It was a lot easier than trying to prepare the items on my own.

We had vegetarian eggrolls, chicken dumplings, vegetable fried rice, and beef and broccoli stir fry.

Danny joined us for dinner. It was safer for him to be on Sophia's lap - especially with food around.

It was nice - and simple - way to celebrate Chinese New Year. Wish there were activities locally to celebrate Chinese New Year, but there aren't. It would be fun to go somewhere next year that celebrates the holiday so we can see a Lion Dance, have Dim Sum, and enjoy other activities.

Cooling Aromatherapy for Hot Weather and Hot Flashes

When I was going to Arizona last July, I had wanted to find an aromatherapy blend that would help with overheating. I looked on Pinterest and found some essential oil blends for hot flashes which I thought would be somewhat like being in 120 degree weather in Arizona.

I found a blend on Camp Wander called "Dash the Hot Flash Spray" which had a nice blend of essential oils that I like: lavender, geranium, bergamot, and peppermint. There's clary sage in it too, though I don't use it that often.

I never got around to making the spray before I left, but still wanted to try it because it seemed like a nice blend of oils. I'll be going to Las Vegas this summer for a convention and the weather is supposed to be hot there as well. I'll be bringing the spray with me this time to use when I'm outside in the heat.

To make the spray, you'll need:

8 ounces alcohol-free witch hazel
4 drops bergamot essential oil
4 drops geranium essential oil
10 drops lavender essential oil
2 drops clary sage essential oil
2 drops peppermint essential oil

Once you have the ingredients and supplies, simply add all of the ingredients to a spray bottle.

To use, shake well and spritz lightly on your face, chest, and neck when you feel the heat.

Another blend I have used from Shanti Aromatherapy uses Lavender, Peppermint, Clary Sage, and Pink Grapefruit. I'm not sure how many drops to use of each one, but probably a similar amount as above would yield a nice scented spray.

10 drops lavender essential oil
4 drops peppermint essential oil
4 drops clary sage essential oil
4 drops pink grapefruit essential oil

Friday, February 16, 2018

Outdoor Mom's Journal - February

During our outdoor time this week we went....exploring around the yard and down the street. Not too far from home since it was only 15 degrees with a biting wind; and I wasn't wearing a hat or gloves.

Started in the backyard and looked at the barn which needs some repairs and a fresh coat of paint.

Someone was looking out the window at me. Hoss was curious as to what I was doing.

Some of the trees took a beating this winter. Will need to have limbs and branches cut off and trimmed to woodstove length so we can run the wood through the log splitter this Spring.

There was evidence of rabbits all around the backyard. In fact, I saw one in the pasture running from brush pile to brush pile today. It was a rather large rabbit and it was running quite fast. The brush piles clearly serve an important purpose for them.

There are still no leaves on the trees yet. Have a while before that happens.

The playhouse and hobby shed also need some repairs and painting this Spring and Summer. I think the bushes need to be cut as well. They look overgrown from this angle.

I took a closer look at the evergreens along the east side of the backyard. Was surprised to see that one tree, in particular, has brown needles where the new growth is which isn't good. Will need to have someone come out and look at that the Spring.

The evergreens are a variety of types so the tops all look different from one another.

The apple tree is starting to get buds. I was very surprised because the weather has been so chilly.

Along the driveway, the squirrels have been stripping the pinecones to their cores. These cores are littering the driveway.

Little bits of pinecones also are all over the driveway.

This is one of the biggest trees on our farm. It's next to the driveway. It's on its last leg, unfortunately. Each time I pull into the driveway, I can see a hint of light through the trunk. The birds and animals have hollowed out quite a bit of it. It will be sad to see this majestic tree come down.

I crossed the road and found a trail of some sort leading from the road into the cornfield. Have no idea what animals the tracks belong to - perhaps a rabbit that was there a long time ago?

These tracks below were much closer together and larger. They are essentially in a straight line and lead far into the field. They're relatively big - but they look like they have been there for a while so the opening of each track may have expanded slightly as the days pass (which is common).

On the website Questions and Answers, a library patron had come in asking about tracks that looked similar to the ones I saw below. They were fair size tracks that went in a straight line.

"Tracking & the Art of Seeing: How to Read Animal Tracks and Signs by Paul Rezendes includes both photographs and drawings of animal tracks. Browsing through the book, we read that there are different kinds of patterns. The “domestic dog is a double- or indirect-registering animal (p.178).” The red fox has a regular walking pattern, going in almost a straight line. It is a direct-registering animal. The walking gait of the red fox “is usually a straight, precise, narrow line of tracks (p.179),” and the accompanying drawing bears that out. This is because the fox walks with the hind foot directly on top of the track of the front one.

"Using the Key to Tracks in The Peterson Field Guide to Animal Tracks by Olaus J. Murie and Mark Elbroch, the shape resembles those of the weasel, the coyote, and the red fox. The weasel track is a bit small, measuring less than 2 inches. The coyote and red fox are both much closer matches. The coyote has a print of 2 ¼ to 3 ½ inches long. The red fox’s is between 1 7/8 and 2 7/8 inches. The coyote trail through snow (p. 163) shows the tracks in a straight line, but they are spaced 14 to 15 inches apart."

My other favorite tree is in the west pasture. It's silhouette was back-lit by the setting sun.

The tree's branches and limbs look so beautiful against the blue and cream-color sky.

There's a set of birch trees in a clump along the fence line. I like how they grow up and outwards from a central point.

On the way back, I noticed a bunch of tracks leading from the road to a culvert.

Going closer to the culvert, there was a clear path leading in and out of the den.

I'm not sure what kind of animal is living in the culvert, but it's something of substantial size.  There are four paw prints together in each group. I have no idea what animal left the tracks.

Coming back to the driveway, I was pleasantly surprised to see how much the west side of the driveway has grown in with brush/shrubs. This used to be very open when we moved here in 1995. We've let it go partly for privacy and partly for animals to have some shelter.

Our outdoor time made us ask (or wonder about) can you tell the difference between a trumpeter swan and a tundra swan in flight?

According to the Sibley Guide, "[The} trumpeter has [a] thicker neck that droops noticeably at [the] base; [the] tundra has [a] straighter neck that narrows before [the] head. [The] trumpeter seems to have slightly broader wings, more rounded wingtips, slower wingbeats, and wings slightly more cupped/arched when gliding. [The] tundra tends to [its] hold wings flat, but much depends on the glide angle."

The Trumpeter Swan Society had this drawing that shows the difference in size between the birds:

Based on that information, Sophia, Olivia, and I saw a trumpeter swan flying northeast towards the St. Croix River when we were driving on Valentine's Day. They are such beautiful birds.

Now I'm wondering why it was flying by itself. Normally we see them in pairs or big flocks.

In the garden, we are planning/planting/harvesting...still frozen here.

Nothing can be planted and harvested yet. I planted a couple of beds of strawberries in the fall using the growths from existing plants.

It will be interesting to see how many of the plants grow. If they do, we'll have to fence off the gardens since last year the rabbits ate many of the plants. In other garden, we struggled with the grackles eating the fruit.

There were rabbit tracks all over the raised beds leading from the wooded area.

I added nature journal pages about...turkeys on February 16th. I did a two-page spread because I found some images in a file I had of a turkey with spread-out feathers which I liked. It reminded me of the turkeys we had here who liked to display their feathers...especially Stuart. He was a great turkey.

Also did a two-page spread about eagles. We've been seeing them returning to the area this week which has been exciting.

Saw two on Valentine's Day circling in the air above us; and another one today on the side of the road eating a dead deer. A crow was with the eagle and they were peacefully co-existing and eating together which I thought was interesting. 

I am reading...
Flights of Fancy still. I'm almost done. The book looks at various birds and their history, myths, and other stories about them. Most the birds are from Europe. It would be more interesting if the majority of birds related to the U.S. and were commonly seen here.

I am dreaming about...the flower bulbs I planted this past Fall. I'm hoping that the squirrels and voles didn't get to them and that there will be more flowers this fall. It's always a surprise what comes up each year. If the bulbs haven't been monkeyed around with, there should be quite a few red and purple ones around the pine tree outside the kitchen window. Last year, many red ones came up which was so pretty.

Looking forward to the lilies as well. They were so tall and fragrant - and created such a beautiful scent each time we walked into the backyard from the driveway.

A photo I would like to share...One thing I'm looking forward to in a few weeks will be that the ice will have melted on the driveway.

For the majority of the season, we've been walking and driving on ice. 

Thank you to Barb the Outdoor Hour Challenge for the idea of doing an Outdoor Mom's Journal.

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Valentine's Day 2018

Valentine's Day this year was one that required some improvising. In the past, I have decorated the windows with window stars and had handmade embroidered felt bags filled with goodies for everyone.

This year, the bin I keep all the Valentine's Day items in was inaccessible since the hobby door had a significant amount of ice in front of it. If I were about 4 inches wide, I could have gotten into the hobby shed. No such luck this year.

So, I used what we had on hand: a pink tablecloth from my parents, placemats that we've had for many years, and white lunch bags to hold small gifts.

For breakfast we had egg strata. It was a new recipe I've wanted to try. It was good, though some more eggs/milk would have been good. Also got a strawberry Danish because not everyone eats egg bakes.

Made a smoothie with frozen strawberries and raspberries mixed with cranberry juice, honey, and strawberry yogurt. It was good. We used to have smoothies a lot and then stopped making them for some reason. May have to revisit making smoothies again.

Got the girls each some candies, lotion, a candle, and necklace. Olivia got a 500-piece puzzle and Sophia  got some eye shadow.

Also gave them flavored pockies and dip (an Asian treat). They had not had the dip version before so they were excited to try something new.

We went to Joanns and Michaels to get supplies for the One Stop Donation Drop and jewelry making respectively.

Headed to the co-op and got some sushi, a sustainable beverage that Sophia wanted to try, and some organic candies that Olivia wanted to dry.

In the afternoon, we helped at a Valentine's Day party at the nursing home. "Elvis" made an appearance which the seniors enjoyed.

The girls and I served Valentine's Day cookies and punch to the residents who were there. Also brought the treats to residents who stayed in their rooms. They were pleasantly surprised.

When we came home, I made dinner and set the table.

We had stuffed Italian shells (a mixture of ground beef, mozzarella cheese, parsley, onions, and mushrooms) that were covered with spaghetti sauce and topped with Parmesan cheese.

There were breadsticks too.

Sophia made the desserts. She made little lava cakes that were topped with whipped cream. This isn't a great photo because the cakes were still hot when they were served, so the whipped cream melted almost immediately once it was put on the cake. The cakes tasted AMAZING! Super delicious!

 She also made swan cream puffs.

On the body of the swan (on the inside) is a chocolate base topped with homemade whipping cream. They were delicate and very tasty.

She even made a special dessert for Olivia: a chocolate mousse inside a chocolate container.

Needless to say, Olivia was very happy to have her own dessert.

It was a nice Valentine's Day; and one that was filled with a variety of things to eat and do.