Friday, March 30, 2012

It's Official...

...spring is here.

Even after a mild winter like this year's, it's hard for me to believe that spring has finally arrived. The mid-March heat wave - a meteorological aberration of the rarest kind, which caused trees and daffodils to burst into bloom several weeks early - felt dreamlike and unreal, as though the leaves and flowers brought on by the unusual warmth would all disappear when it ended. The warmth is gone, but the leaves and flowers remain - and this week I found the first violets.


For some, the first robin is the true herald of spring; for others, a change in the sky or the air. For me, at least since we moved to Wisconsin, the coming of the violets is the sign and seal of winter's end.


I don't know why violets hold such significance for me. Perhaps it's because I grew up in seemingly winter-less Southern California, which wavered between a perpetual spring and summer, and where violets were non-existent (but people grew nursery-bought pansies in December).


The white violets are the first to appear in our lawn, and this year they're weeks ahead of schedule. Soon will come the blue and purple violets, and we'll be well away on the delightfully slippery flowery slope that leads to lilacs and plum blossom, columbine and wild geranium, yarrow and hawkweed and dog roses and all the blossomy glory of spring and summer.

On an earthier note: even earlier than the violets this year were my chives, which sprang from the ground with a glad cry some weeks ago, and have been springing ever since.


They're now about a foot tall, and some of them adorn my breakfast eggs every morning.


Delicious spring!

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Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Alchemy

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     Wind-rippled silken
        waters turn silver under
           the apricot sky

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Tuesday, March 27, 2012

A Bit of Felting and Upcycling

Don't tell KitchenAid, but I used my stand mixer today to do a bit of felting. (Felting? Fulling? I'll knuckle under to common usage, and go with felting.)

If I hadn't been busy with other projects, I could have done the job by hand at the kitchen sink (which might have been quicker than using the mixer), but I wanted to see if the mixer would work, and it did - after a fashion.

Here is a small stockinette square, the last of a leftover scrap of yarn...


...and here is the bowl with hot soapy water, and the mixer paddle all ready to go...


It stirred, and stirred, and stirred...


...and 10 minutes later I had a stockinette square that was felted in the center only. Time to throw something else in the mix.


A scrap of cotton fabric was added. More stirring (some of it with the dough hook, then back to the paddle).


Finally, after 20-25 minutes, I had this:

Felted! (Fulled?)

It was still a tad stretchy, so I ran it under some hot water and rubbed it between my hands for a minute, which tightened things up nicely.

And what, you may ask, was the point of this exercise? (To waste electricity and satisfy idle curiosity?)

Enter my darning needles, flimsily stored in their original packaging. (At least one needle falls off every time I get them out.)

Messy and insecure

It's high time the needles had a new home - a fuzzy pink home (with a nifty little handle made from Planet Penny's Cotton Club yarn).


You could even call it a mobile home, because it rolls...


...rolls up, that is, and fits perfectly into this nifty little cardboard tube (which was the outer packaging for my Burt's Bees tinted lip balm and which I couldn't bear to throw away, being sure it would come in handy somehow).


Very handy indeed.

All neat and tidy

Now I just need to decorate it. What do you think? Crochet or pretty paper? (Or leave it the way it is?)

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Sunday, March 25, 2012

Blackbirds and Turtles and Leaves

(Oh my!)

The title pretty well sums up my pictures from today's walk. (Walk? Why not ride on such a fine spring day? The lingering remnants of a migraine made me reluctant to hit the bumpy road. Cycling and headaches do not go well together.)

Our crazily hot weather has abated somewhat (we actually hit 80 more than once this last week, and I wore my sandals so much I felt obliged to paint my toenails), but it was still in the balmy 60s as I set out this afternoon.

The marsh-around-the-corner is abounding in blackbirds, and the air is filled with the sweetness of their song. Here's one of them up close...


...and now in context. (Can you spot him?)


I'm not the only one enjoying the warmth. Small painted turtles are sitting on tussocks around the marsh's edge, stretching their little necks up to the sun. (I know just how they feel.)


Last week's leaf buds have become this week's leaves - everywhere there are clouds and tufts of green. I love the leafy contrast with the red of this wild berry vine.


More young leaves, fluted like tiny fans.


The old outbuilding at the start of the trail is nearly hidden behind fresh spring growth...


...but it's in there somewhere.


Many of the trees have put on their dancing clothes, and are decked with ribbony blossoms.


Oh my. The Favourite Tree looks quite different from the last time I was here...


...with clover at its feet, where once was only snow.


Another tree bedecked in its spring finery.


If you look closely, you can see the hind end of a woodpecker in the next photo. (He simply refused to turn around to have his picture taken, and was so high up that I couldn't get any other angle on him.)


I don't think I'll see any snowmobiles on the trail today. (Poor Arctic Cats - they didn't have much of a season this year.)


A shot for Project Sky::365.


More baby leaves against the blue, blue sky. I think spring has gone to my head.



I love the rosy tints on this tiny maple leaf - a hint of the glory to come.


On my way home, I see more sunbathing turtles, some solo...


...some in groups. Turtle clique?


And more blackbirds, including this obliging fellow, who poses quite happily and sings while I snap his photo.


Just a short block further and I'm home. A beautiful day for a spring walk.


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Saturday, March 24, 2012

Why Didn't I Think of This Before?

Most people I know hang their kitchen towels over the oven handle. But the handle on our current oven leaves no space for a towel, and in any case I've never liked crossing the kitchen with drippy hands.

So for years I've hung a towel over the sink, on a hook screwed into the side of the cupboard - but the hook never worked quite right. Either it poked holes in the towel, or the towel slipped off and fell in the sink (usually when something greasy was soaking there), or the loop on the towel was placed wrong and the towel hung down too far. I've tinkered with various hooks, and even made my own, but could never find one that suited me.

Yesterday it came to me - the perfect solution:


So simple. Why didn't I ever think of this before?


(If I were feeling really crafty I would paint the clothespin to match my kitchen decor - but I think it looks fine just the way it is. And it works.)


Mr. M liked the idea so much he borrowed it for his utility towels:


A note on wooden clothespins: they split! Be sure to drill a pilot hole before putting any nails or screws through them.



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Friday, March 23, 2012

On Google and Art Appreciation

I'm rather a fan of Google (although I suspect that one day they'll take over the world). Their search engine's clean, unfussy structure has always appealed to me, and they offer a wealth of free products which are very welcome in the Micawber household. Now that I have a gmail account, I like Google even more. (No spam, ever, and when you sign in you go straight to your inbox. So simple, so elegant.)

We interrupt this post to bring you a short grammatical digression on subject-verb agreement. What is the proper pronoun to use when referring to a publicly-traded corporation that is also a search engine and an entire platform of computer products? The plural "they" seems somehow appropriate, yet when I refer to "them" as Google, the singular verb form sounds better: Google provides, not Google provide. Oy. I wish the English language were as straightforward as Google's search engine.

Back to our regular programming: The creative folks at Google, in addition to having the simplest and best (in my opinion) search engine around, are also blessed with a sense of whimsy. They frequently change the logo on said search engine, replacing it with a doodle commemorating historical events of every kind: birthdays of famous and not-so-famous people; the onset of seasons or years; national days and holidays, and more. (Some of the doodles are interactive - on Lucille Ball's 100th birthday, a 50s-style TV set played famous clips from the "I Love Lucy" show. Les Paul's 96th birthday featured a playable guitar - and boy, did I waste a lot of time spend many enjoyable minutes on that one.)

Today's Google doodle is an homage to Juan Gris, an artist I'd never heard of before. Born in 1887, Gris was a Spanish painter/sculptor who spent most of his working life in France. Jonathan Jones, who writes an art blog for the Guardian, calls Gris the "unsung cubist" and one of "the three great masters of cubism" (click here to read the article).

The diverting doodle in question,
courtesy of Google

Although I'm not usually a lover of cubism, I wanted to see more of Gris's work - so I googled him (!) and found all kinds of fun, colourful images. Take a look at this happy painting:

"A Pot of Geraniums", Juan Gris, 1915
(public domain)

I love the woodgrain on the table and window frame; the textured wallpaper; the lifelike geranium leaves; and the cheerful polka-dot violet fabric (at least it looks like fabric to me). Woodgrain and wallpaper motifs appear in many of Gris's works; musical instruments are another frequent feature, as are various homely objects painted in cheerful colours. (His work seems permeated with cheerfulness; perhaps that's why it appeals to me.)

"Open Window with Hills", Juan Gris, 1923
(public domain)

"Fruit Bowl with Bottle", Juan Gris
(public domain)

Don't you think Gris would have made a fantastic quilter?

Many thanks to Google, and their sense of whimsy, for introducing me to this "joyous, entertaining" artist and his work. And long may the diverting doodles continue.

P.S. To see more of Juan Gris, visit the wikipaintings.org Juan Gris page.

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Wednesday, March 21, 2012

To Bach on his Birthday (with gratitude)

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Dear
Johann
Sebastian,
You may be gone,
but your work still brings
beauty and order to
a dissonant world, joy to
heavy hearts, and clarity to
troubled minds. While music lives, your fame
shall live too, and your song will never die.

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Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Easy on the Eyes

Are you a lark or a night owl? Do you rise early, singing to high heaven - or are you at your best after the sun goes down?

I'm definitely a night owl. When other people (and by "other people", I of course mean Mr. M, a lark if ever there was one) have staggered yawning off to bed, I'm usually good for a few more hours of crocheting or blogging (or reading other people's blogs). I love to work on the computer at night, when the house is quiet and I can be alone with my thoughts.

But working on the computer at night is hard on the eyes, and can have negative effects on sleep patterns. Here's a scary fact*: the bright blue light coming from the monitor mimics daylight, and fools the body into staying awake longer by disrupting and delaying the nightly production of melatonin, a hormone crucial for sleep. (I can testify to this - since I started blogging and spending more time online at night, I've also spent more time tossing and turning in bed because my mind wouldn't shut off when the computer did. Normally I sleep like a top.)

Short of returning to an electricity-free lifestyle governed by the rise and fall of the sun, what can we do to minimize the effects of too much light - and the wrong kind of light - from our monitors?

Here's something Mr. M and I are using: a free program called "f.lux" which "makes the color of your computer's display adapt to the time of day, warm at night and like sunlight during the day." (Quote from the f.lux website.) F.lux works by gradually changing the appearance of your monitor as the evening progresses, to match the appearance of your indoor lighting. On our screen, glaring white becomes softer; warm colours become warmer (and slightly peachier); cool colours are gently muted.

Mr. M downloaded this program to our computers about a month ago, and it's been working really well. My eyes no longer get tired and sore when I use the computer at night; and when I go to bed I fall right to sleep, even if I've just spent hours online.

If you're interested, check out this website: http://stereopsis.com/flux/. The program is completely free, and available for Windows, Mac, Linux, and iPhone/iPad. There's also a very helpful FAQ page for those who want to read more about the program before downloading.

P.S. Since this program changes the appearance of screen colours at night, you might want to save your intense Photoshopping for the daylight hours, although there's an option to disable f.lux if necessary for fine colour work.

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*(Even scarier is this quote from a New York Times article on how light affects our body clocks: "Some experts believe that any kind of light too late into the evening could have broad health effects," including weight gain and cancer. Yikes! Or as Marigold the Goat would say, Oy! Time to turn off the lights and hit the hay.)

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Sunday, March 18, 2012

A Boisterous Ride & the Three Great Things

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A fox running down a country road
Trees flying tiny pennants of spring
Amorous frogs whistling at passing girls

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Boisterous in so many ways - the wind (gusting up to 28 mph); the frogs (singing their little hearts out in any water available); the birds (sparrows and robins, geese and sandhill cranes, blackbirds, cardinals, orioles, quail, and a very large hawk to name a few); the sky - soft grey, spring blue, and deep azure, with large fluffy clouds that give the world assurance of clouds; and, to top it all off, the sheer exuberance of green life exploding from twigs and branches and roadsides everywhere. After a week of temperatures in the 70s, spring is busting out all over. (Today it's almost 80. Unbelievable.)

At the edge of the village, catkins are tossing in the wind like so many fuzzy caterpillars:


I think I see pollen. No wonder Mr. M has been sneezing.


Twigs have lost their svelte outlines, and are sporting interesting leafy bumps.


Gorgeous buds, full of new life.


This tree still bears last year's dark berries.


I see clouds of pale green catkins...


...with tiny flowered tips.


These pussy willows are soft enough to make a bunny jealous. I love the tiny green leaves and the rosy buds.


This tree's grey catkins, normally pendent, are blowing sideways in the stiff wind...


...and looking rather ghostly.


My favourite willows have green fronds now.


Up the road, flocks of geese are relaxing by a marsh. Having successfully delivered spring, they're enjoying a well-earned rest. (Fuzzy picture due to snapping while cycling.)


Blackbirds are everywhere (except close enough for a clear shot).


Last week, this tree stood guard over a brown field, but the brown has been edged out by the green.


A royal progression of clouds.


The statutory shadow shot.


Here's something I don't get to see very often: a fox. He came out of a field and onto the road a hundred yards or so ahead of me and starting running for all he was worth, straight down the road. I tried to get a good shot, but it's difficult to break into a sprint AND pull a camera out of a back pocket, turn it on, focus, and zoom. (I'm happy to have caught even this blurry image.)


Every so often he would look over his shoulder to see if I was still following. (I was.) He eventually turned off the road into a sort of mini-quarry where he no doubt went to earth. The mini-quarry was situated just next door to a very nice farm with a large chickenhouse. I wonder how often he gets chicken for dinner?


Some miles on, a freshly-painted barn.


I pass into wooded country and see this dark stream winding beneath the trees next to the road.


A few curves later, I come to this quilt barn (which featured in one of last year's cycling posts).


Just across from the quilt barn starts a belt of impossibly green fields and hills. (Impossibly green considering that it's still technically winter here.)

A sandhill crane stalks through the pasture to my left. Somehow he always manages to hide his head behind a branch just when I'm snapping a picture.


Flocks of his brethren are wheeling overhead, riding on the wind.


I turn onto a road that's new for me and can't resist another shadow shot. The road turns out to be very hilly and curvy...


...and on my way down one of the hills, I see a very large hawk perched in a tree just next to the road. I take the best picture I can on the fly (he's the blob in the lower right corner).


Back on level ground, I pass a very strange-looking field. I can't figure out what those plants are, so I park the bike and hike out to see...


...sunflowers. They droop rather elegantly against the charming spring sky.


As I head back to my bike, a flock of geese across the road panics and flies off, protesting volubly.


I still have about 10 miles to go, and the day is drawing in. No more photos for several miles, until I reach a favourite marshy corner. The sun is shining temptingly on the water so I stop for a shot...


...then put my head down for a mile or two more, until this small flock of blackbirds tempts me to pull out the camera again.


One last stop, at a large marsh a few miles from home, where the frogs are singing louder than ever:

video

I'm lucky enough to have a strong tailwind the rest of the way, and fly home in style pushing a respectably large gear. (Tailwinds are great for the cycling ego, especially at the end of a ride. They make you feel that you're in better shape than you really are.)

A very good ride, full of beauties large and small, plenty of wildlife, fresh air, and some satisfying climbs.

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