Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Changing Colours

What's been happening at Micawber Towers the last week or two? Nothing exciting.

The lurgy has been, and is now gone, much to our relief.

I've been plunged in a vortex of crochet dissipation, with not much to show for it but several pattern ideas sent off to various editors. Whether any will be accepted, who can say? But I've enjoyed the intensive swatching. I wish someone would pay me to swatch....

We enjoyed a week of sunshine and summer-like temperatures, made surreal by the steady falling of leaves from the trees. Bees, urgent with the knowledge that such dreamlike weather was too good to last, were locked in last-minute embraces with my cosmos blossoms:

But yesterday September woke up, and realised it had been slacking off on the business of fall. The mercury dropped about 25 degrees; grey clouds rushed in, complete with dampness and drizzle, and our dreams of a long warm autumn were quenched. Ah well.

Here are some photos from those halcyon days of heat and sun. First off, an afternoon walk from last week. Blue skies and power lines:

Hawkweed, its hair already in curlers for the night:

A fallen maple leaf - the first of many to come:

Sun shining through Virginia creeper in the wood:

The pond at the prairie restoration project was well-populated with honking geese...

...most of whom panicked when I walked by...

...leaving only a few brave birds behind to guard the peaceful waters:

A squirrel at the very top of a tree sat frozen while I snapped several photos:

At the other side of the pond, more Virginia creeper - a shock of scarlet amidst the green:

At this point I had to turn back. Though barely a mile from home, my legs were giving out due to lingering effects of the lurgy. But I got a lovely shot of smartweed (also known as knotweed or water pepper) on the way home:

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Now we fast forward to the end of the week, for a short Saturday bike ride in which I encounter three horses running down the road towards me:

I only have time for one quick photo before I see an entire family of Amish coming after the horses. (The Amish prefer not to be photographed, so at this point I put the camera away.) I slow the bike down, and stop about 10 feet away from the horses, who then decide to turn and thunder back towards their stable, just beyond the barn to the right. The nearest Amish family member grins at me and says, "Beautiful day, isn't it?"

It's a very beautiful day, blue-skied and hot. Cornfields and soybean fields are bleaching to yellow and gold behind a red barn, while a white cow grazes in the pumpkinless pumpkin field in front:

(It's been a bad year for pumpkins in our area. Some attribute this to weather, and others to a lack of bees.)

On a road that stretches through extensive marshlands, I see a turtle, its shell covered with moss and (I am sorry to say) leeches:

The road climbs out of the marsh, past fields edged with bright sumac hanging out its autumn bunting...

...then up to a wooded hill, where a tiny glade just off the road is transitioning beautifully from summer to fall in a flurry of green, red, and gold:

And that's the last photo from Saturday's ride.

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Sunday is another hot, beautiful day, perfect for a walk. The oak tree in the front yard has been busy dropping leaves:

All the neigbourhood walnut trees are turning gold:

The leaves of this tiny tree (which I can't identify) are a deep, saturated yellow:

Combed grasses are adorned with scattered leaves:

Though there's still plenty of green to be seen, autumn definitely has a foothold.

Now we just need the maples to get going....

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What colour are the trees where you live?

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Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Two Rides

I have so many blog posts bouncing around in my head - crochet posts mostly, but others too - yet somehow they're just not getting written, or finished. This is partly due to time constraints, and partly to a tedious habit of perfectionism that can sometimes almost paralyze my creative output.

But here's something I can write about without having to think too hard....

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Though still summer by the calendar, the thermometer says it's fall. Nights have been cool - some very cool indeed, in the upper 30s. We've yielded to the inevitable: put on socks and long pants, rooted out the jackets and scarves, and added blankets to the bed.

Daytime temps are still moderate (for the most part), allowing me to ride in shorts and jersey. The air continues clear and lovely, with the bright blue skies peculiar to autumn.

A week ago Monday: a morning ride, and a favourite barn.

Around the next corner, wild sunflowers are thick on the verge. Have you ever seen anything so cheerful?

A mile or two later, I am on the lookout for some pale blue asters, which always bloom first on this particular stretch of roadside. And here they are, right on schedule:

They're quite small, and delicately lovely:

More miles, then up, up, up a hill, across the top, and ready to descend the other side, into a favourite valley:

And that's all the photos for this particular ride.

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Sunday, late afternoon, Tallulah and I hit the road. A strong cool wind is blowing, but the sun is still warm enough for shorts and bare legs. I will make vitamin D while I can....

"I hope you realise," remarks Tallulah, "that I'm breaking the wind for you."

"Thank you, Tallulah," I gravely reply. "I do appreciate it. And I think perhaps 'blocking the wind' would better express your selfless action."


A favourite bend in the road:

Shadow shot!

Riding at this time of year has a sort of valedictory feel. Nature is winding down, bringing a sense that colder weather is coming, that the cycling days are limited. Between last Monday's ride and today's, there's a marked difference in the number and appearance of wildflowers. Cool nighttime temps have killed off many varieties; even the ubiquitous goldenrod has suffered. I feel the urge to photograph all the flowers I can, while I still can.

Thus it is that I stop in the middle of a steepish climb to shoot some mysterious white blossoms growing in a shady spot well away from the verge. I've seen them here for a few weeks now, but have been reluctant to pause for a photo due to the aformentioned steepness of the hill. Today I figure I'd better shoot while the shooting's good - who knows when the frost may come?

The wildflower book identifies them as White Snakeroot. A member of the aster family, this plant contains a toxic chemical that can cause a sickness in cows, which can then be passed on through their milk to humans. (Apparently this sickness has is no longer a concern, thanks to modern feed and processing capabilities.)

At the top of the hill is a tempting stretch of wildflowers that have escaped the chill breath of pre-autumn, including thistles still vibrant with colour...

...and one or two perfect red clover blossoms. I'm very fond of red clover, a humble wayside flower that has an exotic beauty when viewed up close:

A lone Salsify, gone to seed, shows lovely delicate bones:

This Queen Anne's Lace has already curled up for the long winter's nap:

It's not just flowers that survive on this sunny hilltop: skeeters are busy stinging through my shorts (little buggers) while I dally amongst the blossoms. So it's back on the bike and down the hill, so fast the skeeters can't follow. We fly across the valley and up another hill, then turn onto the high prairie, where clouds march in formation across a September sky while drying corn stands to attention below:

Soon we turn another corner and head back down to the lowlands, through stretches of wood where the shade is cold, making me long for home and warmth. I'm working out a crochet problem in my head as I go, and the miles fly by. Roast chicken and potatoes for dinner tonight....

A good ride.

Two good rides, in fact. :)

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Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Cooling Down

The squirrels have been busy for weeks, harvesting walnuts from the tree behind the garage. From dawn till dusk they are hard at work: fetching the nuts, finding a quiet place to nibble off the lime-green hulls, hopping about the lawn in search of the perfect spot to dig - and then, as often as not, digging up nuts they've already buried, to move them somewhere else.

Eating breakfast on the porch every morning gives me a front-row seat to this annual ritual. The ash tree outside the window sports a squirrel-sized branch stub about ten feet off the ground, perfect for a spot of solitary hull-removal. The tree trunk offers protection from attacks in the rear, while the elevated location allows the nibbler to keep a wary eye out for the competition:

About halfway through the hull-removal process

It's not unusual for another squirrel to sneak up the tree and mount a surprise attack from the side. Skirmishes and property disputes are frequent, providing plenty of entertainment for the breakfasting blogger.

Fresh walnut hulls are thick and tough, but the squirrels remove them in just a few minutes. Starting at one end, they chew methodically round and round, turning the nut in their paws and spitting out bits of hull with a toss of their head, until the brown inner shell is revealed:

Can't believe he chewed the hull thing....

Walnut juice is a potent dye - I wonder what colour this guy's teeth are after a day spent chewing through walnut hulls? :)

On a side note: nuts and acorns are thin on the ground this year. Neither the walnut tree behind the house, nor the oak tree in front, have borne anywhere near the amount they usually do. A commenter from Canada recently mentioned that hickory nuts were in short supply there. Does anyone know the cause of this year's poor nut crop?

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Cooler weather calls for comfort foods, and in the Micawber household, homemade pizza ranks high on the list.

Inspired by a Boulder pizza restaurant that uses a crazy-hot wood-fired oven to cook pizzas in about 90 seconds, I've been baking our own pizzas at the hottest temp available in our home oven:

The results are amazing: a springy, crisp-bottomed crust with chewy interior; perfectly melted cheese that stays creamy, not rubbery; and baking time cut in half  - about 10 minutes (or less) does the trick for a 10"x15" pizza.

Pizza crust recipe can be found here (disregard the temperature instructions; bake instead at 500º in a well-oiled pan).

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Blueberries have all but disappeared from the local grocery store (alas). We celebrated the last of them with some fresh blueberry ice cream adapted from this recipe.

Here's my version - Really Fresh Blueberry Ice Cream for Two:

  • Puree 1 cup fresh blueberries in blender, food processor, or immersion blender cup.
  • In separate bowl, dissolve 1/2 cup sugar in 1/2 cup milk or milk substitute (we used coconut milk beverage).
  • Add 1/2 cup whipping cream or heavy cream, 3/4 tsp. vanilla, and a pinch of salt to liquid in bowl. Mix well.
  • Combine with blueberry puree, then freeze mixture according to ice cream maker directions. If you have enough willpower, let the ice cream cure in the freezer. (We didn't.) :)

The colour and flavour were out of this world...

...and the tiny bits of blueberry skin added just a hint of pleasant texture.

Next summer I'll try adding a hint of lemon to make the blueberry flavour really pop.

Next summer....


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Wednesday, September 3, 2014

A Saturday Walk

We had some glorious weather this Labor Day weekend. Saturday was beautifully blue-and-white, a perfect day for a walk to the prairie restoration project.

Goldenrod continues to march across the countryside, warning all and sundry of cooler weather to come:

Baby-fine wild grasses drift like rosy smoke over the green of the fields:

Clouds of small white asters look up to the sun:

The hot pale skies of summer are beginning to give way to the deeper blue of approaching autumn.

Sun shining through a Favourite Tree:

At my feet grow chickweed with its tiny white flowers, unwelcome in the garden but somehow appropriate here in the open...

...and the delightfully-named Butter-and-eggs, a wild member of the snapdragon family:

Honeysuckle berries gleam brightly:

At the pond, three Canada geese stand stiffly to attention, keeping a wary eye on the human with the camera:

Blue vervain waves sinuous green flower spikes studded with the tiniest of lavender blossoms:

Looking up the frilly trunk of a river birch:

Milkweed pods at the edge of the prairie restoration project:

False sunflower (I think), with a small grasshopper:

Speaking of grasshoppers, the trail is lively with them. At every step, they shoot off like small green fireworks around my feet.

Around the corner, a hickory nut bides its time, waiting for the big jump:

Dark-red seeds of a wild grass, like a spray of minute rosebuds in my hand:

I think these tiny blossoms might be White Sweet Clover:

Back in the grass near the edge of the pond grow ruffle-edged mushrooms...

...and round-headed taupe-coloured ditto:

My circuit of the prairie restoration project is complete; it's time to head for home.

A good walk on a beautiful day. Maybe fall won't be so bad after all.... :)

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