Saturday, January 30, 2016

Have a restful weekend. . . . . . .

via Anthropologie

Taking a little break for a couple of days - enjoy your weekend.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Bluebird BLUE. . . . . . .

I was pleasantly surprised when several Eastern bluebirds hung about
 the garden during the recent ice storm. I believe it's the family that nests
 in my birdhouse come Spring and now just stay here year round. 
Often joined by many northern migrants, swelling local populations each
 winter, they are always welcomed as colorful additions to the garden.

Quick flashes of cobalt blue in the trees where they feed on suet, 
seed feeders, and often on the ground, I was really thrilled when this male 
came back and forth to nibble on the seeds scattered on the front porch rail
 mainly for the chickadees like the one below.

This little guy picked an icy perch, the tip of a fig tree branch, probably using
 it as a safe lookout. Note the frozen rain falling. Hopefully no more weather
 such as this any time soon.

The proverbial sweet 'bluebird of happiness.'

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Decluttering with Japanese help. . . . . .

I picked up this little book up whilst waiting as Bob loaded a few bottles of wine into our Costco cart early last week. With warnings of the storm arriving - which it did with a vengeance - I envisioned staying home - which I did - and really making serious inroads into decluttering, organizing, and tidying up around the cottage. . . . . . which didn't happen of course! Given an opportunity to photograph beautiful birds and pesky squirrels slip sliding about the ice-covered garden was much more exciting.

You may have seen this book - it's the second written by a delightful Japanese woman, Marie Kondo, known as a 'decluttering guru who has revolutionized homes and lives across the world.' Paging through this illustrated version with the cutest line drawings of how to fold everything from your panties to your parka, and how to organize drawers like a Japanese bento box, is really fun. To date, my first and last experience with a bento box was the amazing food-filled offering on the bullet train from Tokyo to Niigata! Yes, I would like to see all my socks organized in a bento box. I see a lot of valuable information inside the covers of this small book - much I may already be aware of as I do embrace 'tidy', but I've spotted some brilliant new ideas also. If only Marie could make a house call here I think things would be moving along faster, meanwhile if I can just get off this laptop perhaps I could do most of it myself!

Speaking of which. . . . . . . . . . 

. . . . . . whilst my thrust is toward decluttering as I have far too much stuff, I am currently teaching my eleven year old neighbor to knit, and am finding plenty of yarn and pairs of knitting needles hidden away among my stuff! Monday she arrived on my dangerously iced over front steps - schools were shut down - for a knitting lesson. She presented me with other fruits of her labor from the stay at home weekend, these really delightful Japanese origami creations - cat, fish, rabbit, butterfly and swan. I've threaded them to hang as bunting, they are so darned cute, and I love kids who are creative and use their time this way rather being glued to a screen.

"More stuff" I hear you say. I guess so. 
But don't forget, I now have the Japanese book, and surely Marie
 will tell me that if they "spark joy" I am allowed to keep them!

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Soups - and wine - love rustic crackers. . . . . . . .

There are some great moments when stuck at home in inclement weather. Many revolve around the kitchen. With nothing really pressing regarding elaborate meals on time, one can spend most of the day looking out the windows, photographing birds and squirrels, popping out in pj's to fill bird feeders and melt birdbath water. . . . . or cook!
Well that's what happened here at our home recently, haha!

How about this for a 'rustic cracker'. So quick and easy, almost healthy, and definitely a knockout to look at and nibble alongside one of those steaming bowls of homemade soup we all seem to be making on these Winter days. Also a pretty accompaniment to an aperitif. Here's my version of the recipe in the Jan. 2016 Better Homes & Gardens - they call it Greens Cracker and used kale.

Rustic Cracker
1 rolled, refrigerated, unbaked pie crust - brought to room temp.
1 egg yolk and 2 tsp. water whisked together
2 large Swiss rainbow chard leaves with stems (you may not want to eat the stems as they are a bit chewy with such a short time in the oven - I cut mine off before serving)
1/2 cup coarsely grated Gruyere cheese 
1/2 tsp. snipped fresh rosemary (this time I used dried Herbes de Provence as I couldn't get to my rosemary bush on the ice).
Sea salt and black pepper

Preheat oven to 400F. Line large baking sheet with parchment, set aside. On floured surface unroll and fold pastry sheet into quarters. Gently roll into a rectangle, trim edges or leave free form as I did for a more rustic look. Transfer to baking sheet. Brush with egg mixture, sprinkle with herbs. Arrange leaves on top lightly pressing down and sprinkle generously with the cheese. Bake 15 mins. or until golden, watch carefully. Remove, cool on a rack and sprinkle with freshly ground black pepper and a little sea salt. Slice diagonally to serve (I found a pizza cutter useful). I liked it best still warm and crispy, or you can serve it cold.

Before baking.


Monday, January 25, 2016

Childhood Memories. . . . . . . . . . . .

As a much-needed change from ice and wildlife, today's post is about my childhood. Growing up in England following WWII was so different from today - perhaps you'll enjoy hearing bits of it now and then. We're trying to find more history on Bob's paternal grandparents who were from Ireland - we're hoping to visit there soon - digging into a family's history is always interesting.

The coronation of Queen Elizabeth II took place on June 2, 1953. I was nine and can recall some of the celebration in our town. Each neighborhood had a block party on the streets with long tables laden with homemade cakes and such, lots of bunting was waving in the Spring breeze, and it was sunny and warm. I'd never been to London but later that same year I was taken to the city to visit an aunt and uncle. Their neighbor had a daughter and we became friends for a few days. Although she obviously was much younger than me I remember us having fun and her name was Jacqueline. I vaguely recall this visit to the famous Trafalgar Square, a large public space with Lord Nelson's Column at it's center, a well known tourist attraction in central London.

I recently learned that feeding the famous feral pigeons, a flock of 35,000 at their peak, was banned by the city in 2003 as they had become a health hazard. As you can see from this one old, stained photo I found tucked away, we girls were obviously enjoying ourselves helping with the feeding - and yes, I'm still feeding birds here at the cottage eons later!

My mum, an accomplished dressmaker, made my beautiful coat for the big city trip. I remember the fabric was a deep petrel blue wool with a waffled texture. Although you can't see it well, the brooch on my coat was a coronation souvenir, a miniature metal book which opened to expose a pullout folder of tiny photos of The Queen on that special day. How I wish I still had it. Note our footwear, the same basic, comfortable Clarks leather T-strap, with a crepe rubber sole that every girl and boy in England wore in those days. Funny to think how limited the choices for footwear and clothing were back then compared to the massive amount of stuff kids have to pick from now. It was definitely much easier to get dressed in those days with so little to choose from!

via Wikipedia

Clarks popular 'Joyance'  T-bar children's sandals for girls and boys - launched
 in 1933 and in production until 1972.

A couple of years later, I remember taking a school trip to London - most likely still wearing Clarks sandals! This educational visit included a Thames River trip to Runnymede near Windsor Castle where King John signed the historic 'great charter', the Magna Carta on June 15, 1215. I wish so much I had photos from that London visit. These days with us photographing just about everything, it makes me realize how few we took back then with those little box film cameras! Hopefully our memories will keep going for some time yet - meanwhile don't forget to write family histories down, and put names and dates on the backs of your photos for the future generations of your family. They will thank you for that.

This post really came about due to things mentioned by two blogging friends last week - childhood photos, and what we British children wore when growing up - including Clarks sandals for both girls and boys, and those awful baggy elastic waist knickers we girls had to wear under our dresses and school uniform skirts. Remember, most girls never wore jeans or trousers in the early fifties in the UK, but I recall seeing American girls in the movies wearing trousers  - I'm guessing good legs were definitely a plus at that time. At age 12 I became the proud owner of my first 'two-wheeler', a shiny black bicycle to peddle back and forth to school in the Winter uniform of navy gym slip, blazer, and the always necessary 'mac' (raincoat), or green and white striped dresses in Summer - no slacks, pants, leggings in those days. BUT, it was around then girls started wearing plaid 'trews' - slim fitted ankle length trousers often in Scottish tartans - followed soon by the first casual jeans, mostly colored denim, blue jeans arrived later. 

I truly think casual life changed once girls could toss aside those skirts and silly knickers (of course we did eventually get to wear much cuter knickers!!!) pull on our trousers or jeans, hop on our bikes. . . . . . and experience a bit more freedom at long last! 

Sunday, January 24, 2016

What a difference the sun makes. . . . . . . . . . . . .

We're already having a 'January thaw' around here. Amazing what warmth the early morning sun can share, even when the temperature is still below freezing. Actually, looking out now several hours after I took these photos, the icicles have gone. Neighbors are out cleaning off their cars and scraping their steps. We'll be out there soon but not planning to drive anywhere until tomorrow.

Trees sparkling with a coating of ice.
Surely the WELCOME flag will thaw and unfurl soon!

This is my very own dear Carolina wren - and it has a mate. Each day they arrive around 5:30 pm and fly into the two hanging baskets containing the now dead Boston ferns - I have to leave them up 'til Spring just for these birds - on the front porch, where they spend the night. We hear them rise in the morning at dawn - they are very chatty first thing.This month, since the weather cooled off, they get into one basket together. . . . . . . now how sweet and romantic is that! I know I've shared this story previously, and it happens year after year, but I just have to tell it again. Nature never ceases to amaze.

Our January Ice Storm . . . . . . . . . .

So what did we do to stay busy during the ice storm?
Played in the garden of course!
Actually I stayed in behind glass - it was so cold out there - but Bob was a 
friend to the birds, and pesky squirrels, keeping them well fed and watered.

Forget a warm welcome to the cottage this weekend - the WELCOME flag was frozen solid in this contorted shape. Of course with the entire area at a total standstill, no traffic even came up the street bringing visitors, not even the mail truck could get through and we've had no delivery since Thursday, very unusual.

This feeder was frozen and the birds couldn't get seed from the little port holes. . . . . . . 

. . . . . . . but the 'good guy' was soon out there with the tea kettle again dousing feeder and bird bath with warm water. Remember now, none this white stuff was snow, all solid ice so walking anywhere was somewhat dangerous.

We also scattered a lot more seed on the ground to accommodate so many hungry birds. . . often as many as fifty were eating at one time.

The suet feeders were also popular - here a handsome male Yellow-bellied sapsucker shared with a titmouse.

On Friday night we lost power, first flickering off and on through the evening
 as we sat close to the fireplace, then at 11 o'clock it went off not to return until
 early Saturday morning. The house stayed quite warm and the extra
 blanket came out. Raleigh's severe ice made the national news regarding
dangerous road conditions, and the huge power outages in our area.
We're OK though and today the sun is shining and melting is underway. 
Just hope our friends to the north in D.C. and NYC are managing with such
 huge amounts of snow - stay safe if you're in those areas.

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Today is National Handwriting Day. . . . . . . . . .

Following the flurry of activity during the holidays come the quiet January days. 
We at last have time to sit down, relax, and do other things with our free time.
Many of us still prefer to pen thank-you notes in gratitude for lunches, dinners,
 parties ~ as well as gifts.
There are few better ways to convey to family and friends appreciation and good
 manners than sending a hand written note or letter.
Finding a hand addressed envelope in the mailbox, or on the doormat, tucked between 
bills and mass mailings, will certainly cheer up the dullest day.
The words we write are always important, but the choice of card, quality of paper,
color of ink, type of pen, all contribute to a beautifully penned message, making 
the recipient feel special because someone took the time to correspond this way.

Unknown illustration

C. Coles Phillips. Magazine Cover - 1910

Charles Dana Gibson - "Yes or No" - 1905

George Goodwin Kilburne - "Penning A Letter" (date unknown)

Despite many an hour spent on a computer in these modern times, e-mailing
 and blogging to keep in touch with family and friends, I still enjoy sending a
 hand written note or card when appropriate. 
I love the smoothness of the paper as my pen moves across, signing my name,
folding and tucking the page into the crisp envelope waiting to be addressed and sealed.
Choosing a colorful stamp for the upper corner is always fun, then adding a personalized
 return address label to complete something perhaps old-fashioned to some, maybe 
too time consuming for others, but hopefully appreciated by the recipient.

How do you feel about hand written notes or letters, and hand writing in general?
Do you still do it, enjoy it, or have you given it up and stick to the keyboard?

Friday, January 22, 2016

Icy conditions ---------

The Titmouse

The White-throated sparrow
 The Cardinals, male and female - the Eastern Bluebird, male

The Towhee, male
The Cardinal, male

Sharing a few of the sweet birds in the ice coated garden.
Pix taken today through the dining room window - too cold and dangerous 
to step outside.
Thoughts are with everyone on the East coast as this storm arrives.
Stay warm and be safe.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

A Squirrel's Tale. . . . . . . . . . .

This is a tale. 
Just a silly tale about one of many animals who seem to
 enjoy sharing the garden here at the cottage.
 If you have your own squirrels you'll know what it's like,
 if not, but you like them and think they're cute, I hope you enjoy
 getting to know mine. We have a constant run on our bird feeders
 from a family of about 10 grey squirrels who nest in our backyard oak trees.

"The good people from the cottage are at it again, back and forth filling the bird feeders every day now that really cold weather has arrived here in North Carolina. I hear the Mr. moaning about the price of seed, whereas Mrs. just keeps grabbing one of those digital cameras, raises the blind and takes pictures - it's too cold to be outside waiting for a "good shot" so she manages to get me through the glass. I have to admit I look pretty cute, don't I?"

"Yesterday she actually remembered to put some tasty birdseed in the silver-plated upside down hanging lid - one of the more posh recycled feeders in the back garden. I love this one because I can forget performing gymnastics and just sit in the dish munching non-stop, no balancing acts required. I found it early this morning just after the Northern Flicker, that rather large handsome woodpecker, arrived. I scared him away and just sat here having more portraits snapped while enjoying the best breakfast. Did you know I've heard them calling me a pesky squirrel - I wonder why. As I said earlier, I am cute, aren't I?"

"Later I took a break and decided to meet a friend in the front garden for a quick lunchtime snack. We cleaned up some of the yummy mixed seed falling from the feeder above us - yes, we actually stayed off it and gave the bluebirds, cardinals, finches etc. a little breathing room. In all honesty, that particular feeder is the new one which is really hard to figure out - its little windows close when I try hanging upside down and I can't get to the delicious morsels . . . . . . and its really embarrassing in front of my family and friends when I keep falling to earth."

"Well, doesn't look like a day for paddling or sipping, the ice is solid until the Mr. arrives with the hot tea kettle and we have a little melt down around here! Meanwhile, they're still trying to temp me with that bag of mostly dried corn - called 'squirrel food' - they bought. It's OK for a change, but you know something, I really do prefer the yummy crunchy birdseed in the feeders. So, not long and I'll be back performing somersaults and gymnastics on those backyard feeders I know I can get into . . . . . . showtime coming soon, hope to see you there."

Please know that no grey squirrels or garden birds were injured by Mr. Bob during his foray into the garden with very hot water. He just pours enough to melt the ice so all can get a drink on these below freezing days.

Below, our official forecast from the local TV station for
 tomorrow (Friday) - it doesn't sound good, especially
 freezing rain which is of course ICE - and the warning of
 possible power outages. Schools and business will be closing
 of course, and kids will want the right fluffy white stuff
 to build snow persons and such.

Overcast and breezy with a wintry mix likely. Expect snow, freezing rain and sleet during the morning. We could have mainly freezing rain and sleet most of the day with more snow mixing in toward the evening and overnight hours. Expect higher snow accumulations as you head north and west of the Triangle. Ice accumulations will be possible, so roads are likely to become slick in parts of the viewing area.

Looks like Winter has arrived at long last.