Bloganuary – Road Trip!

I’ve signed up to be inspired by a Blog Post topic in a new WordPress invention: The Bloganuary.

When I first received the invitation to this inspiration I figured it just wasn’t a good time to join in the fun. I’m trying desperately to maintain a goal of writing at least 1000 words in a book I’m authoring. Business constraints and life in general get in the way, of course. And then there’s the constant dance atop the fulcrum of Motivation & Inspiration versus Grit & Discipline that can tip me far off my goal. Adding another writing project for the day simply seemed silly.

On the other hand, I have not been achieving my goal of producing blog posts which I can blame on the weather, the holidays and of course, the book I’m supposed to be writing. So, this Bloganuary challenge seemed like a good way to keep up my blog entries by simply adhering to the daily topic, which alleviates the need to determine a subject of a post (especially when I am crippled by the weather and can’t go birding for great photos at this time of year.)

TOPIC OF THE DAY: What is a road trip you would like to take?

My first thought was a quick two day jaunt to Nashville to see a musician – maybe Blake Shelton? Maybe a nice dinner. Maybe stay in a high quality, “down town” hotel with a door man and concierge service – not crazy expensive, but better than we might usually treat ourselves.

That answer was “do-able.” Nashville is about a four hour drive. It’s south of here, which at this time of year means we’d probably steer clear of bad weather. We’d hire a pet sitter for a couple of nights and be back before our next business commitment. My husband and I are dog trainers. We not only have our own assortment of pets, but we typically have a few client dogs in our home for training. Even getting away for a weekend usually seems impossible. But, it’s still the “holidays” and we don’t have any client dogs – well not until next week! Yeah, I’ll write about a trip to Nashville, I thought.

Then, I sat back in my chair, took a deep breath and realized that this is not an assignment based in reality. I don’t need to have the funds to take this road trip. I don’t need to have the time to get away. This is merely a question about what I’d like to do (regardless or despite my current circumstances) if I were to take a road trip. That sentiment changed everything. I even got a bit excited about the project.

I opened Bing maps and filled in a few key cities and let the program draw my path of travel. I didn’t care how many miles it was. But, it turned out to be over 10,000 without calculating the side trips off the main route. No problem. It’s my dream road trip. I didn’t care how many days it might take. Let’s just say a month is probably not sufficient. But, who’s counting? Cost is irrelevant, so let’s not even discuss it. One of highlight of working on this project was permitting myself to contemplate the full adventure with infinite resources.

The journey begins at my home which is in south-central IL. Below you will find the main stops along the way of this epic expedition.

Northern Illinois

I grew up in McHenry and, after decades away from the place, it would be interesting to see the high school and the house I called home as a kid, and the little house I bought as a 30-something, single woman as my first purchased real estate.

Southern Wisconsin

Darien, WI was my second purchased property. It was a small farm where I raised sheep, ducks and chickens and trained my Border collies to herd livestock. Living alone and traveling 72 miles (one way) to work each day, I was a bad-ass, independent, single woman. That was a pivotal time of my life, and in the later years I met Robert who later became my husband. I think we should drive by the old place to have a moment to reflect about where we began our lives together.

Minneapolis, MN

The Twin Cities are know to have the biggest population of Swedes and Norwegians outside of their homelands. About half my DNA comes from Scandinavia, and my father shared his love for the cuisines of those countries during my childhood. On our Road Trip I’d like to sample more of the foods and culture from my ancestry.

North Dakota

A trip to Theodore Roosevelt National Park would get me in touch with my favorite past president because of his great love for our natural world.

Montana

As a child, beginning when I was just eight years old, I spent the summer writing “my book.” When I was eight, the story was about an eight year old girl who lived in Montana on a huge ranch. She had a horse named star (because he had one on his forehead) and she saved a baby wolf during a terrible storm, housed it in bunk house where one of the ranch hands kept her secret from her father who would have never allowed it. The wolf became her best friend and saved her from drowning in a river. When I was nine, the story was the same, but the girl was nine years old and the grammar and vocabulary was a bit better. Still, the main character lived in mountains of Montana. I’m not sure why I had that dream that i recorded in a green notebook every summer, but I’ve never been to Montana. This Road Trip would fill that gap.

Calgary, Canada

Heading further north west on our journey, a stop near Calgary in order to take in the beauty of Banff seems like a good stop. I’ve never been to that part of Canada.

Denali National Park, Alaska

Denali would be the furthest destination of our Road Trip, but not nearly the termination of the adventure. Who wouldn’t want to experience Denali? It seems like one of those locations that can’t disappoint. Clearly, it would require several days to take in just a small portion of its natural splendor. The vastness of the Alaskan wilderness must be awe inspiring.

Anchorage, Alaska

Planning a stop in Anchorage eliminates the needs to back track on the same road we would travel into Denali. And, with so much to experience in our nation’s largest State, it seems silly to double back on the same route. Anchorage also offers fresh sea food of all sorts, a chance to experience the diverse cultures that make up the city, and the opportunity to learn about and taste some of the native dishes.

Juneau, Alaska

On the return trip, a stop in Juneau sets up the opportunity to use the Alaska Marine Highway system – aka ferries that carry your automobile while negotiating the coastal waterways. I was surprised when I noticed that Bing Maps drew a line through the water rather than on an established land highway as it plotted the course from Juneau to Seattle. So, I did a bit of research. I had never heard of the AMH system, but in realizing it would be required, I figure it might take some deep research to finalize a travel plan. The trip requires moving through Canada, either by land or by sea. It’s possible that a ferry cruise ship from Anchorage to Seattle might be better. I saw a quick couple of sentences during my research that showed photos of very large cruise ships that were referred to as ferries. Who knew? But, hey, this trip is just in my dreams, so I’m not going to fret about the details. I will say that the trip along the coast from Juneau looks enchanting from my completely ignorant perspective.

Seattle, Washington

Foodie. When I think Seattle, I think Foodie. I am a wannabee foodie. I must admit that most of my “fooding” (is that a word?) is a vicarious television experience! If this dream Road Trip ever became a reality, I would need to spend hours researching the best restaurants to visit during the stop in Seattle.

Portland, Oregon

Primeval temperate rain forest. I can only imagine how spiritual an experience it would be to stand quietly in such a world. Cool, deep green, lush. Those are worlds that I might use to explain the sensation of tranquility. While in the area, I would like to venture west from the Portland area to visit Siuslaw national forest.

Nappa Valley, California

Wine. That’s a beverage that evokes different sort of tranquility! When I think of Nappa Valley, images akin to Tuscany in Italy. I suppose if that’s true, it might be a motivating reason to embark on a hot air balloon ride. OK. Let’s not get carried away. A nice table for two over looking a prosperous winery would be sufficient a reason to spend a night at this location.

San Francisco, California

Sourdough and seafood and seashore. Need I say more of a reason to stop by for a snack and a sight? When I was twelve years old, my family took a road trip to California. I still remember eating at Fisherman’s Wharf. I would find it interesting to see what fifty years can do to a place – oh, and of course my memory of said location.

Los Angeles, California

To be honest, I can’t think of anything that would instantly draw me to LA. However, as I was manipulating Bing Map to create a good route of travel “there and back,” it helped to get to LA before heading East again in order to cut across to the Grand Canyon, which is an absolute for any road trip I might take to the western US. However, I’m certain I could find sufficient reason to spend several days in LA under the “Foodie” category, alone.

Las Vegas, baby

Until I traveled there (a trip that I didn’t really plan) about twelve years ago, I would have never said I wanted to go to “Sin City.” I don’t gamble. But, I do enjoy good entertainment. On our trip, we saw a Cirque du Solei show that highlighted the Beatles (I believe it was called Love.) It was spectacular, regardless of our bad seats. I would definitely include one good show, perhaps a couple, in between enjoying the vast culinary options that Vegas offers.

The Grand Canyon

Once heading home from Las Vegas, it only makes sense to spend a day at the Grand Canyon. It was part of my family trip when I was twelve, and I will never forget it. Since we’re not worrying about cost on this dream Road Trip, I might be willing to fight my fear and take a helicopter ride to truly experience this one of the seven wonders of the natural world.

Utah

The state of Utah is home to five National Parks; Arches, Bryce, Canyonlands, Capitol Reef, and Zion National Park. In order to complete this blog post without staying up all night (I just received an email with a new Bloganuary topic!) let it suffice to say that our epic Road Trip would include a few days exploring at least a couple of these national treasures!

Denver, Colorado

Denver has a well established foodie community, so I can’t imagine failing to take advantage of the “micro-brewery with eats” scene as we slowly conclude our travels. I’m not saying I’d want to try the Rocky mountain oysters they serve up, but I would be excited to take a side trip to the Rocky Mountain National Park while we were in the neighborhood.

Salina, KS

Once we reach the plans east of the Rockies, I have to say it’s slim pickins’ for entertainment on the final day before we arrive back home to Illinois. Maybe, that’s not all bad. After a day of flat, monotonous driving which concludes a few weeks of extraordinary sights, sounds and flavors, perhaps a fast food meal in a cheap hotel might seem perfect.

Home, again

Whew! Just writing the bare bones of that trip has exhausted me. I wish I had the time to research and insert a few photos to add to the reader’s adventure. The next topic for this Bloganuary is “Write about the last time you left your comfort zone.” I could say writing this post took me out of my typical sense of snugness. Gosh, if I ever get the chance to take such a Road Trip, it would be an overwhelming task merely to select the best spots to visit out of the hundreds which are available on such an odyssey!

Counterfeit Caviar

Late in the day on Dec 30, I decided that I wanted to do something fun and special for New Year’s Eve.  We typically just stay in.  In ‘normal’ years that would be for one of the following reasons:  1. We are lazy 2. We aren’t proactive enough to make reservations before everything fills up 3. We worry about driving late at night in possible bad weather  4. We worry about sharing the roads with drunk people, especially late at night 5. We are generally a-social people who don’t really enjoy being around a lot of humans 6. We are lazy (oh, did I mention that already?)

This isn’t a ‘normal’ year – it’s a “pandemic” year, so I’ll call that reason #7 as to why we might not go out on New Year’s Eve.  To avoid suggesting we are lazy, lack proactivity or can’t drive at night, I will say that the reason we didn’t want to go out for a festive date around far too many crazy people , was because we were doing our civil duty and stayed home due to “the pandemic.”   

We live in a rural area.  That typically means we must try to thrive in a culinary desert. If we want to eat anything that really tickles our taste buds, we need to travel quite a distance – and that means both from a restaurant experience as well as to secure a decent grocery selection.  We had already decided to avoid traveling on New Year’s Eve, so I thought it would be exciting to create a spread of unique dishes and small plates, even if that simply seems strange when there were just two of us in attendance.  The reason we have a refrigerator is to house left-overs, right? I created my shopping list filled with items that I wasn’t quite certain I’d be able to find and Robert put forth his effort by tolerating my spontaneity and agreed to go shopping with me.

A bit after 5:00 PM, we took off for the Super Wal-Mart in Effingham, which is about 30 minutes away, because the “local” Wal-Mart (15 minutes away) is so small it doesn’t even carry the bare essentials at times.  Not to mention that it doesn’t have a liquor department, which wouldn’t normally be on my radar, but let’s face it, we were planning for a New Year’s Eve feast extraordinaire!

Caviar would not normally be on my shopping list.  However, I had a strong urge to create little crackers topped with cream cheese and a dollop of that briny, pop-in-your mouth, fishy delicacy.  I wasn’t sure I’d find it, but I hoped.  I didn’t expect there to be a fancy or expensive brand of caviar.  But, in the past, I have been able to find a small jar for a reason price at the local grocery store.  But, that store converted to a half food and half hardware establishment, so I didn’t even consider checking it out.

The Wal-Mart in Effingham was quite busy when we arrived around a quarter to six the evening prior to a holiday-designated New Year’s Eve day.  We made our way around the store gathering all the items on my list – or finding acceptable substitutions.  But, then we got to the line item “caviar.”  Our first stop was the canned fish section.  Nothing.  We checked the fresh fish section, which is a reason to travel the extra miles over to Effingham.  It’s far superior in selection than our local Vandalia Wal-Mart.  But, no caviar.   I thought there was a small chance we’d find it as a specialty item in the liquor store, which is its own shop within the main building.  But, before we checked out and made our way there to pick up a botte of of sparking wine for the next day’s midnight moment, I thought we might just go back and do a really good look in the canned fish section, one last time. 

TaDa!  Up on the top shelf, pushed back so it was impossible for me to see, Robert reached back and brought out a fairly substantial sized jar (within a box.) 

“Wow!”  I exclaimed, as he handed me the coveted item, “It says it’s imported from Norway!”  I was excited.

“What does it cost?” I asked.  Robert had already said it was four dollars-something, but I couldn’t believe he read the right price off the shelf.

“Forty dollars,” he replied and I pushed it back at him before he could even finish his sentence.

“Just kidding.  It’s four dollars, twenty-eight cents!”  Always the jokester. 

“No way.  This is way too big a jar, are you sure?”  I asked.

As he was scanning the shelf label, again, I read the label on the jar more carefully.

“Cavi-art.  Black seaweed pearls.   It’s vegan.  It’s not real, not even close.

But, as I contemplated the options, I thought that it might be worth giving it a try.  So, we tossed it in the cart.

The first thing I wanted to do as Robert brought in the bags from the car and piled them on the counter was to get a taste of that vegan caviar substitute.  If it wasn’t salty and it didn’t pop in my mouth, I was going to be very disappointed.  However, the meatless ‘meat’ market is pretty competitive now a days.  Perhaps, they have figured out a way to create a plant-based product that could deceive a normal-run-of-the-mill person like me, if not a caviar connoisseur. 

I tore off the box.  As I twisted off the gold colored lid, I hear the standard pop of the jar releasing pressure.  Sadly, that was the only pop I’d experience.  The little “pearls” were little.  That’s fortunate, because they did not pop nor did they release any flavor-of-the-ocean, briny goodness.  In fact, they weren’t salty at all. 

“Oh well, it’s a bust.  At least we only wasted four bucks,” I said as I handed a small sample to Robert.

Robert is not known for his culinary diversity.  However, he has been a good student over the past twenty years as I have encouraged him to try new foods.  He’s still an absolute “no” to liver and tripe.   And, I agree with him regarding the latter.

“Why don’t you add some fish sauce?”  he suggested as he handed the spoon back to me.

This was truly a “mind-blown” moment for me since Robert wouldn’t normally even want to know I had sprinkled a few shots of the stuff in an Asian dish I cooked.  But, he was spot on.  That was a great suggestion as a possible improvement of the product which referred to itself as “art” so I couldn’t really blame them for its complete lack of taste.

Overnight, the Caviart marinated in real fish sauce, which clearly isn’t vegan, but that’s probably why it was likely to work!

I’m happy to say that Robert’s “hack” for vegan caviar was successful.  Adding fish sauce solved the product’s flavor deficit almost sufficiently enough that I could overlook the fact that the “black seaweed pearls” didn’t burst in my mouth with salty goodness.

In a divot of onion and chive cream cheese (which I used both to augment the flavor deficit AND because there’s a cream cheese shortage – did you know? – and there wasn’t any plain cream cheese at the store!), the Caviart counterfeit caviar was quite tasty. I’m not sure how many people would really be interested in this hack – which obliterates the vegan-ness of a vegan product – still, I’m happy to share! Happy New Year!

Parrot Biscuits!

Today, I’m posting a unique topic compared to my traditional fare.

I’ve been wanting to make my own parrot biscuits for a long while, but it never got close to the top of the priority list. I finally did it and I feel great because I think the birds love them. I want to share the process with you!

We have two parrots. Rocky is an Umbrella Cockatoo and Lucy is a Blue-fronted Amazon. They stay in our therapy pool room (just off our bedroom). It is spacious, warm, has high humidity, lots of windows and because we don’t usually swim in the evenings, it provides good, natural lighting (as in when the sun goes down, it gets dark.) That is valuable to a parrot’s overall health, as is the “tropical” environment of our pool room.

When we acquired Rocky (which was very much a purchase for rescue scenario), he was in very bad condition. First, he was in a 24″ square cage – which is outrageously too small for such a big animal. He had plucked most of his breast, shoulder and leg feathers (a habit he hasn’t fully overcome, but he’s much better.) That was twenty-two years ago! He was ten years old (supposedly) when we acquire him. The person from whom we acquired Rocky, was feeding him an exclusively pellet diet (Pretty Bird brand.) When we acquire Lucy at around 8 months old (a year before we got Rocky), she was also being fed pellets (Zupreme brand) as well as a seed mix.

Along with his pellets, I began feeding Rocky the same commercial seed/nut blend Lucy was receiving and personally, I think he appreciated eating more than the same ol’ dry kibble every day. Rocky wasn’t keen on Lucy’s Zupreme pellets and Lucy completely ignored Rocky’s Pretty Bird. So, for a long while, I purchased both types of pellets and the seed mix, adding fresh fruits and veggies as well.

When I started thinking about making home-made parrot biscuits, I reviewed the labels of the pellets (which some veterinarians and parrot experts suggest can or should be the exclusive diet for a healthy bird), I discovered a pretty scant list of ingredients. They are mostly made of corn, wheat, soybean and a few minerals along with artificial or natural flavor.

The seed mix brands vary regarding the list of ingredients, but to be honest, more than half of it ends up on the floor. I have never seen my birds eat the rock-hard pieces of corn or the millet that often comprises a large percentage of the food. That said, while my birds reject the dried corn in seed mixes, they love fresh corn on the cob! The seed mixes also often contain their own version of pellets, which I typically seen tossed to the floor, too.

What seems to excite my two lovely parrots is a product called Nutri-Berries by Lafeber brand. They are balls of grains (grasses, millet and oats), peanuts and corn that are stuck together with corn syrup. They are sized to fit into the bird’s “hand.” They are expensive, but worth it if the parrots waste less (which seems to be somewhat true) but I still think the ingredient list is pretty short. I’m assuming (maybe I’m wrong) that the more diverse the diet the more likely to provide more diverse nutrition.

My quest to make a nutrition-dense parrot biscuit began. Surely, I could create something that was more varied than ” Ground corn, Soybean meal,Ground wheat, Vegetable oil, Wheat germ meal, Sugar” that make up the pellets. And, once I did a bit of research, I realized I could probably make it cheaper than the Nutri-berries, too.

To secure ingredients for my own version of a parrot biscuit, I visited a site I really like. I’ve purchased many products from them previously- but it was for us humans. Nuts.com has far more than tree nuts. They have a vast array of great foods, including nut flours, seeds and fruits, as well as sprouted grains.

Sure, you may be aware of almond flour or even hazelnut flour, but did you know there’s chestnut and peanut flour? There’s millet flour, too. My birds never eat the millet that seems to be a filler in the parrot seed mixes. I suspect it’s too small for their liking. But, millet has nutritional value and if it were part of a biscuit, they could get that benefit in a biscuit. Nuts.com sells human grade millet (yes, some people actually eat it as a cereal) and also sprouted millet. A quote from Nuts.com claims:

Unlike the standard seed growing process, sprouted seeds are germinated, which means they’re soaked and rinsed until they grow small tail-like ends. At that point, enzymes within the plant are activated and the sprouted seed reaches its full nutrient potential; meaning it contains more fiber, protein and nutrients than unsprouted plants.

Nuts.com

There’s also a product made of sprouted grains called Sprouted Super Flour! Nuts.com has many multi-grain mixes that are intended for hot breakfast cereals or multi-grain bread bakers. They are all great ingredients for a parrot biscuit, I think. It has to be better than mere corn meal and wheat flour. Of course, along with nuts, nut flours and grains they also have dozens of fruit products, many are organic and they have no-sugar-added varieties. Nuts.com was a great source for some of the less common ingredients. For the ingredients I could find locally in a grocery store at a lower cost, I did so (rolled oats, almond flour etc..)

BASIC DESCRIPTION

My intention for creating these parrot biscuits is to provide a more diverse, flavorful, exciting and nutritious daily food that will not be subjected to the extreme waste of commercial pellets and seed mixes. I wanted them to be interesting to the parrots that, let’s be honest, don’t have the sort of life they deserve flying through the jungle foraging for various foods which may be seasonal or challenging to harvest. Along with a variety of nut and grain flours for the batter, I added seed, nut and fruit “mix-ins” that can be swapped out when I create a new batch.

I wanted the biscuits to be stable without refrigeration, so I decided to do what was necessary to make them as dry as possible. To do that, I baked the batter on a non-stick cookie sheet covered with parchment paper until it reached a “hard chew” consistency. Then, I cut through the ‘loaf” to create approximately 1 inch squares so that, once fully dried, I could easily crack them apart. Then, I put back the sheet back in the oven at 200 degree F for a few hours until they were hard and crunchy like a biscotti cookie. I hoped to create something that was stable (at least for a few weeks to a month) at room temperature when stored in a sealed container.

INGREDIENT LIST

Everything listed here is in approximate quantities. I’ve made four batches over the past four months and never had the exact same ingredients or ratios, and they all turned out well and the birds love them. Swapping between the batches gives the parrots something different each day.

A binder is necessary, and I’ve always used eggs because it’s a good source of protein. I also have typically used almond flour as the primary flour. I have found that more “nibble bits” that the birds can pick at while holding the biscuit seems to keep them interested (they turn the biscuit over and over in their claw searching for something to pick out.) They also take small bites of the biscuit which gives them a mouthful of variety.

Here are images of some of the “nibble bits” ingredients:

Here is the ingredient list of my most recent batch.

  • 2 cups almond flour
  • 1 cup peanut flour
  • 1 cup 7 grain or 10 grain cereal
  • 1 cup sprouted super flour
  • 1 cup rolled oats
  • 1 cup raw pumpkin seeds (unsalted) or raw sunflower seeds (unsalted)
  • 1 cup dry roasted soybean halves (unsalted)
  • 1 cup organic sprouted sorghum or buckwheat or other sprouted grain
  • 1 cup organic sprouted millet
  • 1 cup Peanut butter stock (these are peanuts prepared to be processed into peanut butter)
  • 1 cup walnut pieces (or other nut meats)
  • 1 cup dried fruit chopped if necessary (citrus peel, pineapple, raisins, apricots, dates etc…)
  • 1 cup organic, dried coconut flakes
  • 1 cup fresh frozen corn (or peas or carrots etc…)
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 – 2 cup apple sauce – (I also used apple juice or orange juice, rather than apple sauce)
  • 0.5 – 1.0 cup vegetable oil*
  • 1 cup honey
  • water and/or additional applesauce or juice sufficient to wet all ingredients and create a thick batter consistency**

* some parrot species require more fat in their diet than others – adjust accordingly

** some flours absorb more moisture (coconut flour is one of those)

SET-UP

Equipment required:

  • Non-stick, 11x17x1.5 baking sheet, covered in parchment paper
  • Large mixing bowl
  • Small mixing bowl
  • Mixing spoons

Preheat the oven to 350 F

STEPS

Whisk eggs in the small mixing bowl.

Mix remaining wet ingredients into the eggs.

In large bowl, mix all the flour-type dry ingredients.

Add the “mix in” ingredients like nuts, seeds and fruit, stir to thoroughly combine.

Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients, stir thoroughly.

Add additional apple sauce and/or water if needed to make a thick batter.

Pour the batter onto the parchment covered sheet and level with a spatula.

Bake for 1 hour (less for a smaller batch)

Remove from oven and score / cut into squares (size depends on your parrot’s size – should be big enough for the bird to hold the bar in his claw.)

Turn the oven down to 200 F.

Return the sheet pan to the oven and allow to dry until hard. For this large, thick batch, that was around 3 hours.

If you prefer a softer biscuit, dry for less time but then store in the freezer or keep refrigerated before serving.

I work out in the pool every morning, and while exercising I get to watch Rocky and Lucy enjoying their biscuits. They really savor the experience!

It makes me feel so joyous when I see them content and happy!

Proper Way to Eat a Suet Nugget

A Red-bellied woodpecker and a White-crowned Sparrow arrive at the platform feeder.

The Sparrow selects a peanut-suet nugget and shows it off to the Woodpecker.

The Woodpecker observes, then selects her own, delicious peanut-nugget.

The Sparrow turns to fly away, but drops his nugget as he takes flight.

“Silly Sparrow,” the Woodpecker exclaims. “Don’t you know you should swallow before you fly?” Then, she quickly gulps down her treat and only then, takes wing.

Special Session of the House Finch Assembly

Apparently, I came upon a special session of the House Finch monthly meeting. They are so lovely!

Winter Friends

Some bird species migrate long distances between the breeding and non-breeding seasons. Others are full time residents.

Here are a few birds that I consider welcome friends during our chilly winters.

We live on a line between the Black-capped Chickadee and the Carolina Chickadee ranges. It’s a very small area and the differences between the species is also quite minor. I have posted many photos to the “experts” but I have never had a clear consensus regarding whether the birds that live on our farm are the northern Black-capped or the more southern Carolina. To me, they are all precious and quite cute! This one has nabbed a sunflower seed from the platform feeder I have in the north pond meadow.

Goldfinches are year-round residents, but this past summer I saw very few. Fortunately, they are back in numbers, now. They are so beautiful.

House Finches are also year-long residents. The males don a deep red hue around their head and chest area. The females are more drab in their brown streaked appearance. These are friendly, cheerful birds.

Just before I took off back to the house, I spotted these male House Finches perching together in a tree.

A male Northern Cardinal. This is another year-round species.

Here’s a mix of House Sparrows and House Finches in a shrub bush in the last afternoon sun.

Dogs as Our Teachers

A few weeks ago I was invited to add a “topic” to a new website which has been designed to help authors reach more readers and readers peruse more books. The topic had to be unique to me. I also had to provide distinctive reviews of five books I’ve read that fit my topic.

The site is free (forever) for readers and authors. I liked the founder’s mission, which includes an understanding of the current challenges of marketing books in a increasingly shifting realm of publication. As a self-published author who also had two books published by a “real” publisher, I can attest to the fact that both scenarios can be very challenging to achieve. Marketing and sales require skills that, at least for me, are way outside my expertise and general disposition. I also learned a long time ago, that a publisher doesn’t necessarily do the work required to help a book reach its fullest potential. Self publishing has its own set of seemingly insurmountable challenges. The founder of Shepherd.com seems to have a keen understanding of those hurdles and a vision to help alleviate some of them while also meeting his goals as an entrepreneur.

The topic I created was “Best books about dogs as our teachers.” That is the underlying theme of my book, Shamaron: Dog Devoted.

I don’t know if there is a design to our incredible existence on this planet that we share with millions of other lifeforms. Regardless of plan or mere chance; I would say that dogs exist to help us become better versions of ourselves, to save us, comfort us, guide us, humor us and most of all, unconditionally accept us. At Shepherd.com, each author is allowed one topic to claim. I chose this one because I believe it best describes the books I have written as well as future works I may produce.

I encourage you to check out Shepherd.com. It has a unique style which allows you to jump from topic to topic and learn about undertakings (and the people who write about them) that you may have never considered exist. I know that happened to me.

Here’s the link: https://shepherd.com/best-books/dogs-as-our-teachers

Merry and Bright

I’ve been away from blogging for a while as I was feverishly working on a culinary craft project / Christmas presents. Yesterday, after a few weeks of producing my treats, the boxes were sealed and shipped. I checked the tracking numbers this morning and everything is en route. Whew!

That’s a big “Whew” for me because I don’t even send Christmas cards. Really. I’m one of those people. I suppose I would score very badly on the “makes and maintains relationships” test. I’m old enough now, that I no longer have to explain why I am the way I am (not even to myself – and I am always my worst critic.) There were years when I bought a box or two of lovely greeting cards, but they were never mailed. Eventually, I realized that there was a very small chance I would get around to sending them, so I stopped fooling myself. Still, I harbored a bit of shame about that character flaw until, well, I didn’t.

I’m expecting the handful of folks to whom I’ve sent a box of homemade goodies to experience the emotion behind that curious word, “gobsmacked” when they see my name on the return address label of a box that will arrive not only on time, but ahead of the typical rush. It’s not that I want to astound anyone by my behavior, but I suspect a few individuals will cock their heads in wonder when the box shows up. More on the contents of those boxes in a later post…

I suppose another oddity about me is that, while I am a very private person who rarely has guests over for a cup of holiday cheer let alone a full-on Christmas dinner, I still enjoy decorating for the holidays. Typically, nobody sees these little delights that I sprinkle around our home. Well, of course Robert (my husband) sees them, and I think that he actually may find some joy when he turns a corner and sees my inspired moments. Make your loved ones smile – that should be a goal for everyone, right?

Here’s a little collection of a sweet fox sitting alongside a cornucopia that I set out in our foyer / entry area. Below that, there’s a photo of a plush black cat in a Buffalo check basket with matching acorns. I set that up on the side table in my dining room – it covered the Halloween through Thanksgiving season. About that cat; as Halloween approached, I had it in my mind that I wanted to add a spooky cat to my decorating exploits. As I soon found, I didn’t have the budget to acquire a life-sized cat sculpture. I had about given up hope when, while scrolling for said item at Amazon, a child’s plush toy popped up. It was very lifelike, and just fifteen bucks. Truly, he seemed so real that I found myself going in to give him a nice little pet as I walked through the room!

The autumn dining room table decor was a series of very lifelike pumpkins lined up along a Buffalo plaid table runner (to match the acorns above.) Somehow, I failed to photograph that subject before I swapped it out for the Christmas themed centerpiece.

For the dining room table this season, I was inspired by a gold toned table cloth (because it was a very good deal – which often is an impetus for my inspirations!) I’m not a gold or “fancy” sort of gal, but that nine dollar table cloth hooked me into the glitzy! I envisioned filling large, glass vases of varying heights with gold tone ornaments. I owned a low, wide bowl and a tall flower vase, so I only had to purchase the tallest vessel, which turned out to be a challenge until I spotted the perfect item it in the craft section at Wal-mart. I purchased the shatter-less (aka plastic) ornaments which were also quite reasonably priced when sold in a bulk set. Here’s how my glitzy-glam Christmas centerpiece turned out:

On the side-bar table in the dining room, I set up the elf-fairies atop their red, wooden sled which I have had for several years. I look forward to bringing these characters out every season. When I purchased them (sight unseen on line) I hoped that the “edge sitting” fairies would fit on the sled, which I acquired separately. Every year, when I get them out, I smile about how perfectly those fairies fit atop the red runner.

My favorites, by far, are the new characters that I set up on the buffet table in the foyer. I LOVE THEM! They were not dressed in ribbons or bows when I picked them out last night on a rare shopping trip we took to Hobby Lobby. But, I think the additions are charming. I’m quite smitten with these polar bears. I am already looking forward to getting them out next year!

On this Thanksgiving eve, I send out my warmest wishes to you and yours. May the holiday season fill you with warmth, tranquility, kindness, happiness, gratitude and love.

Dark-eyed Junco

These cuties spend their summer breeding season up in Canada. They come home to our neck of the woods in winter. These are the first two I have seen this season.

Viewing the top picture, I am always happy when a bird lands in the perfect spot – like this photo that frames the subject in a natural wreath of branches.

I just reread the first paragraph. It made me wonder; do birds consider their breeding grounds “home” or is the location where they spend the winter months their “main residence?” Gotta wonder how a bird views the world.

Scoundrels

When you hear the term “invasive species” you may think of Burmese Pythons living in the Florida Everglades as a result of intention releases or escapes of pet snakes into the somewhat fragile, one-of-a-kind ecosystem. The subtropical wetlands are currently found nowhere else on Earth. The pythons grow to exceedingly large proportions and consume some of Florida’s most prized wildlife.

Perhaps, rather you think of the Lion Fish. Native to the Indio-Pacific it’s also a favorite in the aquarium realm. As a result of pet release, the Lion Fish continues to expand it’s population in the Atlantic, Gulf of Mexico, and Caribbean, out-competing with native species and causing damage to those natural reefs.

However, you may not put a cute, little, gregarious bird that visits your backyard feeder in the same villainous category as snakehaeds, zebra mussels, or Asian carp (all highly invasive species that wreak havoc on the ecosystems they continue to infiltrate.) Yet, the House Sparrow (a bird native to Europe that history claims escaped from a zoo exhibit in the late 1800s) has expanded it range to cover all of the USA and southern Canada, most of Central America and about half of South America! House Sparrows are cavity nesters. They seek and assume ownership of any hole with the right dimensions to built their nest and rear their clutches of baby House Sparrows. They are not only tolerant, but attracted to living around human establishments. Their omnivorous diet helps them thrive a myriad of locations. It’s likely that the bird to which you tossed a scrap of bread in a park or fast food restaurant parking lot was a House Sparrow!

They compete heavily with native species that use cavities in which to nest like the lovely Eastern Bluebird, the acrobatic Tree Swallow, House Wren, Black-capped Chickadee and Tufted Titmouse. They don’t seem to care about the size of the hole and we’ve had them build nests inside boxes made for owls which are far deeper than a standard Bluebird box, which they will also inhabit. For that reason, House Sparrow are scoundrels in many people’s minds – including mine. I have watched House Sparrows out-compete Bluebirds and Tree swallows many times for boxes we offer for the native species.

And yet, when I am out filming I often aim and shoot at any bird even if I cannot immediately recognize it from my distance. After all, it could end up being a species I have never filmed (like the Harris’s sparrow I captured last week!) I often end up with photos of House Sparrows and just as often I refrain from including them in my blog because….well, I’m not truly certain.

On the other hand, I’m absolutely certain that the House Sparrows that exist next to all the native species are unaware that they don’t belong here. They are just making a living in the way that their genetic heritability dictates. It’s not uncommon for a photographer to film scoundrels of all sorts. Sometimes, the most artistic of photographers is able to make even the ugly things in life appear very beautiful.

Is it so wrong to film and publish shunned subjects? And, is the photographer that makes the images available automatically sympathetic to these avian ne’er-do-wells? I hope not. For here I share a few images of House Sparrows in the only home they know. But, let it be known that my heart breaks every time I witness House Sparrows negatively impacting our native birds and we do our best to discourage their reproduction. I have previously posted about our “planned parenthood” strategy for House Sparrow occupation of the nest boxes we offer the wild birds. Here I show their natural beauty for they know not their transgressions.