Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Rainy Days

We've had a long week of rain and thunder and gloomy grey skies, with the sun making only a few brief appearances. Cycling has been kept to a minimum - but on Sunday we took a walk in the rain, to explore a little trail I'd noticed on my training rides.

The trail starts here, at a small, rain-dappled, tussocky marsh:

Blackbirds sing from bare trees, while keeping a friendly eye on visitors:

Under our feet, the gravel trail is dotted with these brilliantly-coloured plants:

We see Canada anemone...

...and giant lamb's ear...

...and a mysterious tree with cascades of tiny, bridal-looking blossom:

A black walnut tree is covered with fresh young leaves...

...and bright green catkins:

At the end of the trail, tiny Charlie-Brown style pine trees are sprouting long buds:

As I finish writing this post, dark clouds are looming up from the south and west - another storm is headed our way. Time to hit the "Publish" button and unplug the computer! (I'm way behind on visiting you all, but blog reading will have to wait until the storm has passed.)

How has your weather been?

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Friday, May 24, 2013

Flour, Butter, Sugar, Egg

Magical words, aren't they? And look what they add up to....

From Sweden via Utah comes the recipe for these delicious Tea Cakes (recipe has been modified slightly - you can find the original here on Astri's blog, in the comment section). Tender and buttery, they're also very quick to make. Stir up a batch for breakfast or tea, and top according to your taste and imagination.

Not-Quite-Swedish Tea Cakes

1/2 cup butter, melted
2 eggs, beaten
1 tsp. almond extract
3/4 cup powdered sugar
1 cup flour
Nuts for topping (optional)

Mix wet ingredients together, then stir in sugar and flour. Spread in buttered pie pan, and top with nuts if desired. Bake at 375º for 20-25 minutes or until done (may test with a toothpick). Cool slightly, cut into wedges, and enjoy with a cup of coffee or tea.

Half a recipe, in the same size pan, bakes in 15-20 minutes.

Though these cakes are delicious plain, chopped or slivered nuts add a touch of richness and crunch. (We like walnuts.)

For extra decadence, here are some other topping ideas:
  • Sprinkle with pearl sugar, raw sugar, or spices before baking
  • Dust with powdered sugar after baking
  • Sprinkle hot cakes with chocolate chips; let chips soften for a few minutes, then swirl
  • Spread with jam
  • Drizzle with icing
  • Top with fruit
Today I used walnuts and powdered sugar and chocolate chips ... purely for demonstration purposes, you understand.

Many thanks to Astri and her friend Mona for sharing the recipe.

Tea time!

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Wednesday, May 22, 2013

...Or What?

On the tag of a recent garment purchase:

(Manufacturer/website name has been changed to protect the blogger.)

I have, in my time, registered dishes and kitchen appliances and various household goods. But never a piece of clothing.

If there were any mention of a warranty, on this or another label, then registration might make a glimmer of sense. (Though a simple receipt should suffice for a warranty claim.)

Is this a marketing ploy, designed to get my email address and other info, so the manufacturer can bombard me with special offers?

Or is something more sinister afoot?

A cyclist rides by, head down, legs working smoothly. Suddenly, a siren cuts the silence. Puzzled, the cyclist looks over her shoulder, to see a marked car behind her. The driver (a uniformed female) signals her to pull over, then climbs out of the car and approaches the cyclist. 
"Afternoon, ma'am. License and registration, please." 
"But ... I'm riding my bike. I don't have a license or registration." 
"Then I'm afraid we'll have to cite you, ma'am." 
"For what? Excuse me, officer, but who are you?" 
"I'm with the Bra Police, ma'am. Didn't you see the registration notice on your bra tag? Not a good idea to ignore these procedures, ma'am. If you can't produce proof of ownership, we may have to impound the article in question."

Perhaps I'd better head over to that website....

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Sunday, May 19, 2013

Lilacs and Piglets and Thunder (oh my!)

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Goslings floating four in a row
Piglets racing in crazy circles
Windborne whiffs of apple blossom

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We're having a warm and humid streak, with thunderstorms in the forecast for the next several days. It's 80º when Tallulah and I hit the road, and only a very strong south wind keeps things comfortable.

Tallulah is sporting her just-finished cycling helmet...

...for which she has been agitating a good while. "Why would you want a helmet when you have a perfectly good shell you can retract into?" I ask. "It's a safety issue," she replies.

"Helmets are over-rated," I say. "Didn't you see the article in the latest Bicycling magazine?"

"I don't read Bicycling magazine," says Tallulah. "I only read Shell Beautiful."

"You do know that a crocheted helmet offers zero protection," I say.

"I know - but I'll feel more like a real cyclist with a helmet. Pleeeeease will you make me one? Just think how cute I'll look" - here she bats non-existent eyelashes - "and how much fun we can have taking pictures of me wearing it."

"Okay, I give. What colour would you like?"

She chooses Jade from Planet Penny Cotton Club. ("So I can match Iris," she says.)

At the pond just outside town, we see four goslings paddling along between their proud parents. I debate whether to turn for a photo, but tell myself I'll get it on my way back. (I should know better.)

A few miles farther on, we stop for a wildflower shoot. An interesting plant is about to bloom, but I can't tell what it is:

White yarrow perhaps? The buds are all covered in a mysterious fuzzy substance. I'll keep an eye out for it on my training rides.

The next one I do know - wild mustard. It's dotting roadsides everywhere with happy colour, and competing with the rampant dandelions for brightness.

Around a few corners is our favourite willowy curve. A large flight of swallows is swooping and swirling back and forth, across the bridge and down to the water and up into the sky:

(They're much closer than they look in the above photo.)

As we tool along a favourite road, whiffs of apple blossom are carried along the wind. Wild plum has already come (and is nearly gone), and the apple blossom is only a few days old, but the heat and wind are taking their toll. We stop near a favourite apple tree to find the ground already littered with petals:

But some of the blooms are still on the tree:

Just up the road is my friend and coworker P's house. I stop, hoping for a glimpse of pig...

...and am rewarded by the sight of a male and female sleeping in the barnyard. This is a new breed, called Iowa Swabian Hall:

The male is very friendly and talkative. My friend P, who is mowing the lawn, stops to ask if I'd like to see the piglets.

Inside the barn are three sets of piglets (all are a cross of Iowa Swabian Hall with Red Wattle). One sow has a litter of fourteen, another a litter of about 7 or so (it's hard to tell because they won't stand still long enough to be counted).

A third batch are weanlings. A few of them let me take a photo...

...then suddenly they start running around and around their pen at an amazing rate of speed. (They seem to be getting a lot of fun out of it.)

All the pigs look healthy and happy, with large pens and plenty of straw to root around and bed in. Soon the weaned piglets will be moved out to pasture. (No crates for these lucky little pigs.)

Just up the road from P's house is a favourite lone oak (it marks the boundary of her land, and is a favourite with her as well):

We turn a corner, swoop down a little grade, and stop at a giant lilac bush out in the middle of nowhere. (The bush is so huge I can't get it all into one photo, unless I go way down the road.)

This is not the lilac bush - this is something growing at its feet and about to burst into bloom:

(Salsify, I think.)

Also growing here are violets...

...making this a perfect spot, in my book. (Any place lilacs and violets grow together is a good place.) :)

And now for the lilacs.

Tallulah is fascinated by the lush blooms...

...and seems to like their scent as much as I do.

One last long sniff, then it's back on the bike. We're riding through some gorgeous country, but the air is thickening steadily and the temperature is rising.

At the top of a hill, we stop so I can fix my braid (which is about to come loose), and find the very first wild columbines blooming right at our feet:

The blossoms are full of fluffy tree seeds (cottonwood, perhaps):

Above our heads is a lovely canopy of birch, the leaves whispering and chuckling in the wind:

It's getting hotter. A few miles on, our road leads through a lovely valley...

...full of Black Angus cattle. These are just a few of them:

Up a short grade, and we're out on the high prairie. The southern sky is growing steadily darker, and the wind has risen to a low shriek and is trying to push us off the road. Trees are groaning, making ominous cracking sounds. I start to think uneasily about thunderstorms.

One last photo stop...

...then we make tracks for home.

We turn briefly south, to find the dark clouds right in front of us.

Then our road turns west, and we're racing against the storm, with about 6 miles to go. We fly down the road with the wind (luckily) behind us. Thunder sounds, and the clouds begin to spit rain.

"Keep your head down, Tallulah - we're making a run for it!" I call.

"Don't worry - my head is as down as it can get," comes Tallulah's voice faintly. "You put me in your pocket upside down."

After the fastest 5 miles of my life (thunder is a great motivator), we reach the pond at the edge of town. The goslings are nowhere to be seen - they're probably safely tucked up under Mom, who is sitting on the grass.

The thunder is moving away now, to the east (whew), and in a few minutes we're home.

A good ride, though shorter than I had planned - but given the weather this is probably just as well.

Miles today: 27.5
Miles this year: 498.3

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Friday, May 17, 2013

A Sunshiny Necklace for Judy

The spring beading season has begun. Here is the first of my friend Judy's commissions:

Judy chose the sunny Orange Botswana Agate and the Swarovski crystals. (I added the smaller carnelian and silver beads.) Together they make a warming, cheerful necklace.

The pendant is strung in one with the necklace, with a center dangle added for extra beauty:

This is the first time I've worked with Orange Botswana Agate. It's gorgeously varied, with wonderful banding that gives each bead the look of a tiny, Creamsicle-tinted planet.

The earrings are simple to keep the focus on the lovely stones.

I hope Judy likes it. (If not I'll happily take it off her hands.) :)

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Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Bird on a Branch

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A bird sits on a branch
of what, I do not know

worms or beetles or feathering his nest
what the wife and kids are up to
wondering if he'll get that raise
and whether the Dodgers can
stay in the top ten

Or maybe he's just enjoying the sun
and the view from the top of the
poplar tree

the chance to sit on a branch
and be warm
and think of nothing at all

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Monday, May 13, 2013

Blossom and Blue Skies

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Blossom at the edge of the woods
Cloud-kites flying in wide blue skies
Swirl of blackbirds crossing my path

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Spring has been flirting with winter for the last few days, with howling wind, spitting rain, and freezing nights. But Sunday is gloriously sunny and slightly warmer; the icy north wind has moderated to a merely chilly west wind.

Today I am hunting two types of flower. What I thought for years was wild plum has been blooming this week, and I'm determined to get some pictures of it. But the first tree I see is so tossed by the wind I have to (gently) hug a branch to get a still photo:

Now that I see the blossoms up close, they don't look at all like plum. (I find later that this tree rejoices in the name of Allegheny Serviceberry. Much less euphonious than "wild plum", but no less beautiful.)

Back on the road, the sun is shining at just the right angle (or so I think) for a turtle shadow shot - but it's harder than I realized to capture Tallulah's shadow:

Best we could do, Marigold

(Note to self: find smoother pavement for next turtle shadow shot.)

A mile or so up the road, just past my favourite larches... the next flower on my list. At the larches' feet is a marshy stretch where grow these sunny little beauties:

Marsh Marigolds, or kingcups, have been rejoicing my sight on the last few training rides. I'm glad I can stop and take their photo today.

 A tiny bonus flower grows on the grassy bank...

 ...which turns out, when researched, to be Meadow Anemone, or Canadian Anemone.

My road leads next through some woods, where grows more Allegheny Serviceberry. The wind being temporarily blocked by trees, better photos can be taken:

Around the corner is another beautiful example, peeping out shyly from the edge of the woods:

Flower-hunting over, it's time to head west and into the wind.

Some favourite oaks:

I pass three great things all in one place - railroad, barn, blossoms:

A train is all that's required here to make my cup of happiness complete (but alas, it doesn't come).

The road curves around large open fields backed by pine forests. I like the stripes of green and brown, with blue-and-white sky above:

Crows in neighbouring trees:

We reach a main highway which leads to the next town. Here we have the option to ride on the road or on a raised trail next to the river meadows.

"What do you think, Tallulah? Trail or road? I'm inclined towards the road myself."

"I think the trail sounds prettier," she says. "Why would you want to ride on the road? What's wrong with the trail?"

"In a word," I say, "pedestrians."

"Oh," says Tallulah. "I was afraid you were going to say turtles."

"Turtles are no problem - they move in a reasonably straight line and you can usually tell where they're going. But humans on foot are unpredictable - I'd hate to run into one. And this trail is usually full of humans."

"What a prima donna," mutters Tallulah (who thinks I can't hear her). "I vote for the trail," she says more loudly. "You can take pictures of the river."

So we take the trail, which turns out to be blessedly smooth and free of foot traffic (human or chelonian). We're headed straight into the wind, so we can't go very fast, but we enjoy it all the same. On the horizon are the steeples and water tower of the town through which we'll pass:

The trail runs for about 3 miles, then we're back on surface streets.

We reach the river proper, and stop for a short break. Iris rests against a tree...

...while Tallulah climbs down for a look at the river (and possibly a nibble of this succulent plant):

Looking east:

And west:

Then it's back in the saddle, heading out of town to explore a road we've never ridden. We reach our turnaround point and head back, the wind and sun behind us.

The road dips and rolls...

...and passes over the interstate...

...and brings us back to town. Aided by the tailwind, we zoom down the trail...

...where a cloud of blackbirds swoops across our path and back again. We feel as if we're flying with them.

Soon we're on the last stretch for home. Shadow shot with cows:

Farm buildings glowing red in the sun:

The wind has veered back to the north and is getting very chilly indeed. It's good to reach the warm house.

A lovely ride, though windy. After days of (even windier) training rides fuelled mostly by determination, it's nice to take the camera out and mosey round the countryside, stopping for photos whenever I like.

34 miles
Miles this year: 409.7

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