Sunday, December 31, 2017

Wait, I Need a December Post!

Here it is, December 31st, and I haven't posted a single thing this month. So with the month and year fast coming to a close, let me see if I can put together a little something to suffice.

What happened in December?  Well, we had Christmas (quite nice) and four birthdays (also nice). One of the birthdays was my 70th. I still can't get used to that number. I in no way feel 70 and think there must be some mistake with the math. It seemed that such a number deserved a little more special observance than I usually have (sometime let me explain to you about between-Christmas-and-New-Year's birthdays).  So, I got a very special cake and had them write happy birthday to me on it, invited the family over, and had a little party. It was small, but fun.

The week before Christmas I broke my cell phone and managed to replace that with a remarkably inexpensive option when I had planned to get the most expensive thing out there.

The day after my birthday, I nearly poisoned Frankie. I accidentally left out a box of chocolate-covered cookies on the table when I took the grandkids to spend some of their Christmas money. The box was about half full, and when we returned, it was empty. A fast trip to the vet, and the quick emptying of stomach contents saved our little boy. He was sad for a day and had to take a few meds for a couple of days, but he's back to his old sweet self, and I have learned an important lesson.

The lesson really is something serious I've been thinking about a lot.  I am easily distracted and sometimes forget to do something or complete something.  The lists I write help, but maybe I've become so dependent on lists, my memory doesn't serve as well. Whatever it is, I am making a big effort to be "in the moment" every moment. Whatever I'm doing, I try to think and remember other things at the same time. It's not truly multi-tasking, but more like interruptions to keep myself alert and not mono-focused. I even talk myself through things, out loud, to avoid mistakes.

This winter, I signed up to have some young guys shovel the snow from my walks and drive.  It has worked out quite well.  Except that they went out of town for two days at Christmas and it snowed here both days. I shoveled about an inch myself, and on Christmas day, two neighbors with snowblowers cleared about six inches or so for me. The sad thing is that it has been a very dry and warm winter so far. If we don't get more snow, we won't be watering our yards in the summer.

Let's see, before Frankie's chocolate poisoning, I'd had him in to the vet for some stomach issues, and he has been on a restricted ingredient diet ever since. He has not been very happy about it, but I've been able to find some things that he does like and we can soon start adding other foods to see what he tolerates.

December was a good month, but taken in all, 2017 was not a good year. I have allowed myself to get depressed over current events too much.  I will be setting some goals for 2018, and among those will be to separate my personal life and feelings from the disaster that is at the top of our government right now.

Tonight I will got to bed early, as I always do. But I will be awakened at midnight by the inevitable fireworks that will go on for at least half an hour. At that time, I'll get up and watch the displays and drink a private toast to a good 2018 for all of us.  2018 is the Year of the Dog, but I have decided to make it the year of me. It's time to take better care of myself physically and emotionally. I have some specific plans in that regard. And I plan to get back to more artistic endeavors as well.  Of course, I will still spend a lot of my time helping my kids with many things. But I will try to remember to give myself the time and effort needed for good health and happiness.

So, cheers to 2018, whatever it brings.  May we be equal to all the challenges and worthy of all the rewards.

Sunday, November 26, 2017

Thanksgiving Wrap-up, the Last Turkey

I completely forgot to get a picture this year. I had 11 at the table and the food was traditional and delicious. It took a couple of weeks of planning and several shopping trips, and finally, two exhausting days of cooking to put it on. I debated not doing a turkey this year, and doing a couple of chickens instead along with the ever-popular salmon. But I fell back to doing the traditional thing. And it turned out well.

But the older and weaker I get, the more I hate wrestling that heavy bird to get it cleaned, seasoned, dressed, into the roaster, basted, cooked to temperature, out of the roaster, rested, onto a platter, carved, served, later meat removed from bones and stored for leftovers. Oh, and I forgot pouring off drippings and making gravy. And I hate my pious friends who boil the bones for a most fantastic broth and, thereupon, make fantastic soups. Well, hate is a strong word. Maybe I'm more jealous and disgusted because I'm so sick of handling that bird, the last thing I want is to extend its life and usefulness by boiling bones.

At the dinner table, I announced to the family that this was probably my last turkey. In fact, it might be my last Thanksgiving day dinner. All of my children have other dinner invites every year, and we go through a crazy exercise of trying to find a time when everyone can be together at the same time. Sometimes it works, sometimes not. And if they've already been to an earlier dinner, they're not so hungry for the big feast I produced.  So what to do?

I'm thinking of going completely against tradition. My idea is to make a couple of pots of homemade soup and homemade breads. Simple, delicious, and just the right amount of food for people who are trying to hit two or even three dinners that day. Everyone, including the grandchildren, liked the idea and it produced quite a lot of discussion. I may even do it later on the long weekend -- maybe Sunday evening.

It felt good to have my family be supportive of my wish to depart from traditional Thanksgiving things. I had already abandoned most Christmas decorating traditions for several years now: no tree or lights. But I adorn my house with poinsettias and sometimes my whimsical Christmas village, and wreaths on the door. I'm down to doing the things that give me pleasure and make the holiday a happier time for me.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

November - Some Firsts at the Birdfeeders

In October I had let the birdfeeders run out and was considering giving up the feeding due to occasional rodents and the difficulty of getting to the feeding station in the winter. I'm so glad I didn't.

I original;y set up this feeding station so I could watch the birds from my kitchen window. It's a tall pole with arms extending out for various feeders -- high enough the deer can't reach them. I serve mostly black oil sunflower seeds, but also millet, nyger, peanuts, and suet.

A couple of weeks ago as I watched the empty feeders, a surprising Red-Breasted Nuthatch showed up. It's not rare in Utah, but rare in my yard. I've probably seen just a couple in the trees since I've lived here. I ran to grab my camera, but missed him. I immediately replenished all the feeders. Did it return?  Yes! In fact, every day it comes back.  And now they are coming in twos and threes.

Now while this is going on, I've been following Utah bird threads online and have seen that other birders are seeing this charming bird for the first time at their backyard feeders, too.

And I'm also seeing lots of reports of Steller's Jays sightings. Again, this is not a rare bird in Utah, but usually stays in the mountains and doesn't visit backyard feeders. People are calling this an incursion year for the Steller's Jay.  I found myself wishing I'd see one at my feeder, too. When one day, there it was.  And now it is visiting every day.  In fact, I'm seeing two at a time here. And I'm seeing them all over the neighborhood in the pine trees. What a great bird it is!

Here are a couple of shots of the Steller's Jays, and one of our Woodhouse's Scrub Jay that we see year-round.

In addition to these birds, I have been seeing the regulars, California Quail, House Finches, Black-capped Chickadees, Juncos, as well as Pine Siskins, which I haven't seen in a few years, and American Goldfinches and Lesser Goldfinches, which I usually don't see this time of year, but are common in spring and summer.

Well, as if things couldn't get any better, what should show up today but a pair of Evening Grosbeaks. Again this is not a rare bird in Utah, but it's a first in my yard. For years I've watched as people posted pictures of this lovely bird all up and down the Wasatch Front. I tried putting out jellies and oranges to attract them, to no avail. Suddenly, here they are eating black oil sunflower seeds.
So now, I'm keeping my eyes peeled for a possible Rosy Finch, which seems to have also moved down from the mountains into backyards this year.  And, who knows, even an eastern Blue Jay. They are very rare here, but usually one or two is seen every year. But there have been an unusual number of sightings already this year.  So, why not in my own backyard?

You have to wonder what is bringing these birds to a lower winter elevation this year. Some are theorizing that a shortage of food sources this year is pushing them down. But I wonder if it might be a sign of a hard winter and deep snow ahead.

Friday, October 27, 2017

A Good October

At the end of September I was lamenting what a waste this year has been in so many ways. It was something of a wake-up call to look back on 12 months and realize the lack of progress. I managed to pull myself together and make some goals for October. And then I jumped on them. Without listing all the things I wanted to accomplish, I can predictably say a lot of them had to do with fall projects in the yard.

And how did I do?  I am amazed and pleased to say I've already completed nearly every one of the things I set out to do and a few more besides.  Here's one I'm rather proud of:

My cute wrought iron arbor was starting to have rotted legs due to being buried in dirt and mulch -- more every year. It looked like it was doomed. The legs at the fronts of the benches no longer supported the bench and you could not sit on them, although the four main support legs were fine. I thought I would try something to save the arbor rather than throw it away. My plan was to make cement "boots" for the bench legs. There was some trial and error involved but here's the succinct version of how it went. I placed cement patio blocks under each leg to keep them out of the dirt in the future. I used empty gallon size nursery pots cut to size to create forms for the cement. I used quick-setting cement and worked it into the forms and let it harden. This took a couple of weeks due to intermittent rain and running out of cement. At last I spray painted the entire arbor and the new feet with flat black paint. I was surprised and pleased my plan worked and looked pretty good as well.  Ta da!

The yard is all cleaned up now, the sprinklers winterized, some soil amendments added to flower beds, and houseplants have come indoors.  As seen in my previous post, I also shopped for and bought a car this month, and cleaned up my older car and sold it. And since I sold it to my son for my granddaughter to drive, I gave it some extra detailing and brand new snow tires.  I renewed my birding adventures along with my annual pass to Antelope Island.

This is not all I managed to do in October. But, it would be enough to feel so much better about things. Probably the most important effect of these successes is the improvement in my mood and outlook. I feel more like my old self again -- the person driven by goals and lists and planning.  I look forward to November and some new challenges.  I'm even looking ahead to 2018 and the things I want to change in my 70th year of life.  That's right, I'll be 70 in almost exactly two months. But I'm not finished yet.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

New Wheels

This has been a year of buying gifts for myself. It started with an iron that still worked except for the auto shutoff AND the Off button. I felt so unsure of my ability to remember to always unplug it, I just threw it out and bought a new slightly deluxe one.

Then the old coffee pot decided to not make the coffee so hot anymore. I didn't really splurge, but did get a nice new one.

Then it was my Google tablet, getting so slow and crashing since the newest Android update. I splurged on a new Google Pixel tablet. It's a treat to use -- like a mini laptop, but with long battery life and fast charging.

Then my laptop started seriously dying, getting slow, crashing, the keyboard had issues, and a plague of dead pixels was spreading across the screen. And sometimes you need a laptop -- well, I think you do. So once again, splurged and got a nice new one with lots of extras.

That's enough, I told myself. No more gifts for me. But I had been thinking about buying a car for a long time. And something triggered that idea and pushed me to start looking. I think it was my daughter who didn't feel my Nissan Altima was safe enough for winter driving. But I've had that car since 2006 and it has served me well. Honestly, with 114,000 miles, it still has a lot of life left in it.

But I went out shopping (I will spare you the extreme agony of dealing with car salesmen, but it was the WORST! THE WORST!), and I ended up buying a sweet little Subaru Forester. I had sort of planned on getting a new car with just basic features. But I came across this rather wonderful 2016 with low miles and immaculate inside and out, and with some added nice features like the heated seats and power moon roof. But the features that sold me were the "Eyesight" which can be set for auto-braking at certain following distances, and lane drift warning, blind spot warning, etc. I realized for the same money as a basic new car, I could get a two-year old Premier model with far more safety features and an extended manufacturer's warranty. I bought the car.  I had my regular repair shop check it out, and they said I got an excellent one with no concerns or issues whatsoever. Whew!

Ok, no more spending on me! Christmas is coming. Property taxes are soon due. And soon after that, tax season. I need to stop spending and start saving again.

But let me just say, I am rather enjoying my new toys.

Monday, September 25, 2017

Checking In

I haven't posted in a very long time. I think life has been somewhat difficult this summer and I really haven't felt like writing about my life. But, I'm here to simply check in today and to say things are really just fine with me.  I'm managing to keep up on caring for my home and yard, the grandkids, helping with mom. I'm failing to take very good care of myself.

I'm afraid I'm giving in to feeling old and slow. I have pain most of the time in one knee. And when the weather changes, sometimes every part of me seems to. ache. But still, I consider myself healthy and lucky to be so.

I am less brave these days at facing problems.  I procrastinate a lot, and I hate that. I have always been one to jump on things and get them done. It's not me to slack off as much as I have this summer.

I will offer one excuse.  It has been damn hot this summer and has kept me indoors too much. We had our hottest summer on record here with long stretches in the 100s. Then, suddenly, it turned cold!  Then hot, then cold and rainy.  Now at last, I will have seven days of mild temperatures and no rain.  No excuses now, I plan to find the old me somehow, and get some specific things done outside.

I will offer another excuse. I have been sad about the state of a lot of things: our country, climate issues and disasters, the loss of too many people in my life. I see what happens when you give in to the sads. It becomes a determining factor in whatever else you try to do. I stay home a lot, watch too much Netflix, feel negative about so many things. THIS I must change.  I believe it's called fake it till you make it. And seriously, while I know you can't just "snap out of it" on demand, I have to be more positive and more determined to break this pattern of negativity that's dragging me down.

So that's the update.  Here it is, the beginning of autumn -- such a beautiful, transitional time of year. I intend to make it a transitional time for myself as well.  Making no promises as to how often I will post. But if I have some beautiful pictures, I will definitely post them.

P.S. Here's a giant zinnia from my front flower bed. I planted a lot of these to fill in where the deer had damaged so many of my perennials last winter. The zinnias have done a spectacular job as shown by this giant bloom.

Saturday, April 29, 2017

Backyard Chukars

A beautiful bird, the Chukar.  Not a native bird as I had thought, but an import years ago from the Eurasian continent.  It has established itself well in the scrub lands of the Great Basin in western U.S.  And also, in my backyard this year.  A pair of these birds, a larger sized member of the partridge family seem to have set up housekeeping somewhere nearby, and they like the little nature park that is my yard.  Delightful to have some new guests.  I once saw a single Chukar just across the street maybe 25 years ago.  But this pair is definitely hanging around.  I'm hoping for a little family later on.

End of April - Completely off the rails

 First of the year, male Lazuli Bunting.

Winter really got me down this year. I've been trying to figure out why I was so down; it was hard to cheer up. Perhaps lack of sun with a lot of smoggy days and more snow than usual. 

The extra snow this year actually makes me happy.  Add to that a very rainy April, and the water situation in our dry state is greatly improved.

And I managed to get some projects completed that were on my winter list.  And I helped my daughter (with the help of Alberto) finish converting the huge garden plot in her backyard to easy maintenance lawn and trees -- what she wanted.

I have not taken care of myself physically. It became easy not to go walking with the treacherous icy sidewalks. It became easy to stare at Netflix or anything at all on the TV and eat mindlessly.  I sadly put on pounds over winter.  Now I'm paying the price as not only do I need to get those pounds off again (and more), the extra weight makes everything I do more difficult and painful -- especially stairs.  I know this is a big part of why I have felt somewhat depressed.

But with April came some nice weather, too, and I have been cleaning up flower beds and planting a few perennials. My little project of "winter sowing" of seeds in milk cartons is coming along.  It makes me laugh, in fact.  The plants are tiny, but boy are they tough, having been through snow, rain, a few days of heat. But now I will open up the tops and let them enjoy some May sunshine next week as the weather improves. Sometime in May I will plant them in the flower beds. Okay, not everything in the winter has left me depressed.

And the lovely birds have finally returned. I have filled all the feeders with fresh millet, sunflower seed, nyger, peanuts, and suet.  Today I will add the hummingbird feeders. Already the first Lazuli Buntings have returned, lifting my spirits a great deal.

Yes, I'm very upset and depressed about the election. Things in our country, and by extension the world, are deteriorating fast.  A mean spirit is pervasive.  It's a time for the haters, the polluters, the greedy, the selfish, to thrive.  This overpowers my positive nature almost every day. It's beyond my control, I know, but it makes me inconsolably sad about the future for my children and grandchildren.   We have worked so hard and so long to improve protections for our environment.  It's like when I planted a beautiful flower bed, and then it was destroyed in a flash from water overrunning the storm drains up the hill.  Yes, that's how it feels.  All our hard work has been destroyed. I'm not resolved to this and will be an ongoing part of the resistance until this scourge is removed from office.

One thing I know I need to stop doing is thinking about how my house looks to a prospective buyer.  I've spent so much time, money, and effort fixing it up, I have forgotten my purpose: not just to have it ready to sell some day, but also to enjoy in its lovely state while I live here. It's my home and while I continue to improve it, I need to remember it is for ME now, and for the next owners sometime in the future.

 A friend of mine has a blog where she has been writing about a "year of beautiful". What a good idea.  What if I tried to even make every day a day of beautiful. If I can manage to have the beauty of day be its defining characteristic, perhaps I can better take in stride the difficulties, disappointments, and physical pain.  This is a thought I will take over to my personal journal and explore a bit more.

So here it is, nearly May.  I'm in a hole of my own digging. But I have energy in spite of pain. Today is Saturday, and I will make the most of it.  It's a beautiful sunny day and the birds are singing. It's already a day of beautiful.  And if I focus on a day of beautiful, I only have to do it one day at a time.

First of the year female Lazuli Bunting.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

January - When will it end?

It has been a snowy winter. Very snowy. In most of the state, our mountains have well over 150 percent of normal snowpack, with some over 200 percent. This is very good for a high desert state like Utah. We depend on that snowpack for our summer water needs. This also bodes well for the Great Salt Lake that has been shrinking dramatically.  It's good for everyone, really, except 69 year old women who still shovel a very large driveway.

Today we will get the third of three consecutive storms occurring over a period of 4 days. The first gave us just a couple of inches of snow in the valley.  But yesterday, I had 15 inches.  Glad it was Saturday and glad I had help. A neighbor came with a snowblower when the snow had reached about 10 inches.  Then another neighbor helped with the rest after the snowing stopping.  It was hard and I am not really sure I could have done it alone.  It begins to worry me. How long am I going to be able to keep this up? This next storm is supposed to give us up to 10 inches overnight.  Flakes are just starting now.  I have to leave the house around 6 a.m. to tend grandchildren and get them off to school. I know I will be up by around 3 to evaluate the driveway and see if I need to shovel.

January is just the hardest month for me.  We have periods of inversions and pollution where you can't see the sky or mountains for the dirty air.  And when you can see the sky, it's always white. And the ground is white. Or dead brown. And the cold -- many days in the single digits or lower overnight.  The occasional thaws with temps rising into the 40s are such a relief, but they give false hope. Thankfully, though, they reduce the piles of snow around the yard.

I go by a calendar winter of December, January, February, rather than the meteorological dates. I consider the end of February the end of winter -- even though we can expect snow storms and cold weather continuing off and on into May. But the snow does melt and things actually start coming up from the cold ground.  And I start thinking about the garden.  The way I see it, we're just barely halfway through winter now.  So I need to buck up and do something worthwhile.

As usual, I have my winter list of projects to do.  This year's list included things you might not think needed doing: organizing some closets and drawers.  Actually, having decluttered and organized so recently, things were already pretty tidy.  But already, there are more things I need to discard. And I wanted to try a new way of storing things in drawers. I'd read about the Marie Kondo method of decluttering and organization, and was struck by the idea of vertical storage. Basically, storing things in drawers so that nothing is on top of anything else. The way this is done is by rolling clothing items instead of folding.  I thought this would work with things like t-shirts and tanks, sweaters, socks, undies, scarves, etc.  So, I spent a little time with my already tidy drawers.  Here's what I found: 1) It is amazing to see everything in the drawer at once. I realized I had forgotten about things on the bottom stack.  Now I can see everything in the drawer when I open it.  2) By rolling the items, I was able to fit more in the drawer.  Without showing anything too personal, here are a couple of results -- a drawer of scarves and one of t-shirts and tanks.

My next project will be something I've never tried before -- a method for winter seeding of annuals outdoors using milk cartons as mini greenhouses.  I'll just post a link to it here for the instructions: Winter Sowing 101.  I have all the materials ready to go, but I think I'll wait until into February to start my seeds.  I figure I have nothing to lose and it certainly gives me a tiny bit of gardening fun, if experimental.

I still have some other projects on my winter To Do list -- indoor things things to pass the time during this excessively white month of January.  My friend, Celia, and I have signed up for a mosaics class at the University of Utah that starts in February. I've been wanting to make mosaics on some of the stepping stones in the yard, and this should be fun.

So here's to trying to keep a good attitude and continuing to make forward progress despite the depressing weather.  Spring will surely come.