Sunday, March 31, 2013

Early Easter

March sunshine along Section Line Road, Huron County, Michigan

It feels like Easter is really early this year. And it is. Easter is the first Sunday after the first full moon after the spring equinox, so it can fall any time from March 22 to April 25. Easter, on the liturgical calendar, is considered a moveable feast.

Here in Huron County, at 43.84 degrees north latitude, the sun's rays are finally warming the ground and melting the snow and ice. It will be a few days, maybe even a week, before the farmers pull their equipment on to the land and start spring work, though.

Yesterday, the Saturday before Easter, it was warm enough to do a little gardening. Ed and I cleaned out  clumps of hosta, iris, and daylilies. Ed hauled two garden carts full of shredded stems and leaves to the big compost pile. The daffodil clumps are emerging. Tulips are showing their curly leaves.

Even though the ground is cold and even though Easter is early, things are starting to grow.

Copyright 2013
Wanda Hayes Eichler

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Wisconsin Bunnies

We had a great back yard when we were growing up on Cherry Street in Marshfield. Dad put up a rabbit hutch one summer and we took care of bunnies. I don't remember if they had names. I just remember that their cage was back by the garage and that we enjoyed their company as kids.

Check out the ephemera (little things to notice) in this photo from my Dad's slides. The bunnies are drinking out of a cereal bowl. The water glass that filled their bowl is on top of the hutch. The white food container looks like one of those match holders that held a big box of wooden matches. The wood pile appears to have been replenished.

The canvas on top of the hutch must be rain protection. The photo was taken in the summer since the hedge behind has leaves.

For today, since it is the Saturday before Easter in 2013, we'll assume that these 1950's bunnies are Easter bunnies.

Copyright 2013
Wanda Hayes Eichler

Friday, March 29, 2013

Easter Art

The Easter art from Hannah and Vallee's school is egg-stra special! Hannah decorated her egg with buttons that are attached with big glops of clear glue and a puff of cotton bunny tail.

Vallee is the star of the Easter dangle that just might end up hanging from the rear view mirror in Grandpa's car.

Easter art -- what fun!

Copyright 2013
Wanda Hayes Eichler

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Leading Edge

Some kind of massive cloud front moved across Michigan's Thumb this morning. Not being a meteorologist, I do not have a name for this wedge shaped formation out over Lake Huron that I photographed shortly after sunrise.

I can tell you that the weather has turned softer, kinder, sunnier. Today it feels like the seasonal wheels are turning a bit. My mind is turning, too, to gardening and golf. There were a few sprinkles of rain on the car windshield last night as I drove up the shoreline.

The ice and snow on White Rock Shoal melting. The iceberg-like formations from early this week have drifted and dwindled. Water and waves are taking over the shore, and the rocky bottom of the shoal is clearly visible.

March is finally loosening its grip and that must be the leading edge of April that I saw out over Lake Huron this morning.

Copyright 2013
Wanda Hayes Eichler

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Vole Damage

Those random tracks through the grass? Those are pathways left by voles during their winter adventures on the Cedar Bluff lawn. The biggest snowbanks seem to attract the voles who eat their way through the sod and set up shop for the winter under a cozy drift of snow.

This set of tracks almost looks like their Main Street. Maybe there was a barber shop and a post office. Anyway, now that the sun is melting the snow, the voles have had to pack up their rollabouts and truck off to somewhere else.

Can't you just see them, trailing through their little migration airport, saying, "Wow, that was a fun time. We had lots of good sod to eat and the snow was fantastic!"

Copyright 2013
Wanda Hayes Eichler

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Da Brackets

The first weekend of the NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament is over and my bracket sheet has been updated multiple times. I use a tablet of drawing paper -- 11" x 14" -- and try to get every single game in the entire tournament onto that one sheet of paper.

I use a pencil and eraser to squeeze in win/loss records, names of coaches, and interesting facts about the teams as they move through the tournament. This year's sheet even includes dates, times, and places for most of the games. I have a code for the CBS sports announcers, too. From Greg Gumbel to Charles Barkley, they all have their little spot in the margins of my big picture.

It is quite a challenge to see just how much information I can fit onto one sheet of paper.

Now I'm thinking about a method of getting the 162 games that the Detroit Tigers play in one season of Major League Baseball onto one sheet of paper. That would be quite something if I could manage to create a reasonable record of one baseball season.

Of course, first comes Michigan State's trip to the Final Four and beyond. Then I can think about baseball!

Blog post about last year's bracket sheet

Copyright 2013
Wanda Hayes Eichler

Monday, March 25, 2013

March Thaw

The cold March wind cuts through my winter jacket like a sharp knife. An evening walk turns into a bone chilling adventure, but the sight of water moving in a neighbor's corn field is encouraging.

In spite of the cold daytime temperatures, the snow pack is dwindling. Field tiles are opening. Water rushes across the fields and into the ditches, on its way to creeks and rivers, and, eventually, to Saginaw Bay and Lake Huron.

Even though late March days are cold, winter is facing defeat. When the field tiles run in Huron County, spring is coming.

Copyright 2013
Wanda Hayes Eichler

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Vegetable Curry

I fixed a vegetable curry for supper on Saturday night. Ed and I are gradually moving away from eating a lot of meat, so the curry was a bit of an experiment.

We both said we would make the recipe again. Think cauliflower, carrot and onion, cooked in a sauce of coconut milk. Chickpeas and baby spinach are added at the end of the cooking time. Ginger, curry and our favorite, garlic, add the savory side to this dish which we ate with brown rice. Our dessert was apple slices and peanut butter from St. Laurent's in Bay City. Yum!

I found the recipe in Fine Cooking magazine and would heartily recommend it. Here's the link to Vegetable Curry. 

Copyright 2013
Wanda Hayes Eichler

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Lonely Bench

It is the first week of spring and the Lake Huron shoreline is snow covered. A bench facing White Rock Shoal and the mighty lake is deserted, waiting for warmer weather and visitors to the lake shore.

Shipping begins this week with the opening of the St. Lawrence Seaway and the Welland Canal in Ontario. Ed and I haven't seen any freighters going past Cedar Bluff this week. Tonight, however, we did spot a Coast Guard ship, the buoy tender Hollyhock, stationed out of Port Huron, upbound around 7 p.m.

Readers of the blog know that I often use black and white photos. This one, while it appears to be black and white, is just what the camera recorded on a gray day in early spring in Michigan.

Copyright 2013
Wanda Hayes Eichler

Friday, March 22, 2013

Rock Pile

In hiking terms these rock piles are called "cairns" and are used to mark a trail. This pile, found along Dove Mountain Trail on a bench near the boulevard, caught the light just right.

I like the natural texture of the stone. The dark edges of the bench and the dark background set off the neutral gray surfaces. While this cairn is along a busy street, one can imagine the importance of these rock structures out in the wilderness where they serve as a sign that someone was there before you came.

Copyright 2013
Wanda Hayes Eichler

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Robin in the Pink Snow

This part of Michigan missed the announcement that spring came yesterday. One robin, however, decided to venture forth along the road. The confused robin, no doubt cold and hungry, lingered long enough for me to snap several photos. I'm guessing the bird was seeking some grit and salt along the edge of the highway.

And, since the day was pretty gray, I snazzied up the photo, making the robin decidedly red, the snow pink, and adding some wishful green to the grass. Happy Spring!

Copyright 2013
Wanda Hayes Eichler

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Desert Sunset

I almost called this blog post "Sunset Perfection" since this is such an incredible image of sunset in the desert southwest. The ocotillo leaves give a furry texture to the usually spiney cactus. The distant mountains wear a coat of purple haze. The refraction of the sun rays, wisps of clouds in a blue sky. . .well, I could go on and on about the elements that make this an almost perfect sunset.

Copyright 2013
Wanda Hayes Eichler

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Three Palm Trees

Driving east across West Linda Vista Boulevard on the north side of Tucson, you come to this triad of palm trees. But, wait. Something is different here.

One of the palm trees is not a palm at all. It is a very cleverly disguised cellphone tower!

Copyright 2013
Wanda Hayes Eichler

Monday, March 18, 2013

Buds on the Orange Tree

Winter has not been kind to the orange tree in our Arizona backyard, Too many nights of freezing temperatures caused it to lose over half of its leaves. Yellowed and leathery, they lay on the ground many a cold morning.

The last few weeks have been different, however. The nourishing sun and hot weather, coupled with strategically placed irrigation, brought new life to the little Arizona sweet orange dwarf tree.

Buds abound. If there is one, there must be a hundred. And, like so many of the trees in Michigan after last spring's hard freeze, this tree is developing another set of leaves. In the photo you can see a large leaf on the bottom left. That's an old leaf. Contrast it in size to the myriad new leaves surrounding the little popcorn looking buds.

Quite a tough cookie, this little tree is. Maybe, just maybe, it will produce some fruit this year.

Copyright 2013
Wanda Hayes Eichler

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Arizona Cardinal

While not as bright red as northern cardinals, the Arizona cardinal is a delightful bird to encounter on an evening walk. This one might be a juvenile, considering its feathery tuft and plump body.

A website from Cornell University identifies this bird as a Pyrrhuloxia, a related species to the northern cardinal. Since I'm an amateur birdwatcher, I will still call it an Arizona cardinal.

Copyright 2013
Wanda Hayes Eichler

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Creosote in Bloom


Creosote bushes dot the landscape across the Sonoran desert. So common that they become background to the solid saguaros and willowy ocotillos, creosote bushes show their green leaves and lemon yellow flowers in the spring of the year. In the winter this plant looks very olive and brown, quite drab, but spring brings on color.

Here's a closer look at the very common, very widespread creosote in March of this year. For those of us with northern heritage, this might be another mention of the substance that was used to treat wood to keep it from rotting, as creosote treated lumber was used extensively for years to build fences and decks.

I thought that the substance used in treated wood comes from this plant, but further reading about creosote reveals that coal tars are involved in producing the some of the compounds known as creosotes. If you take Mucinex for a cold, you might want to read the Wikipedia article about creosotes, since guaifenesin, the expectorant used in Mucinex and Robitussin appears to be derived from creosotes. Interesting reading about an interesting compound that related to plants.

Copyright 2013
Wanda Hayes Eichler

Friday, March 15, 2013

Tucson Lights

Tucson is having record heat. Yesterday's high was 92 and broke a previous high set in 2007. The heat begins to subside after the sun sets and evenings are beautiful.

So today's image on the blog is a night time scene. This one was photographed on the street in front of our house and shows the lights of Tucson in the distance.

I used a black and white approach in my computer's darkroom. I highlighted the center cactus with its low halo of city lights. Then I brought up the grain of the photo with the old Kodak Tri-X Pan films in mind.

Copyright 2013
Wanda Hayes Eichler

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Drying The Plastic Bags

I truly am my mother's daughter as you can see by my improvised plastic bag drying mechanism. Yes, those are red wine bottles, and yes, those are Ziploc bags drying upside down on the bottles.

Mom used to run plastic bags through the washer and dryer, or so I seem to remember. I resisted recycling plastic bags for a long time and then realized that I really could easily wash them out. I use my sister Mary's method of washing and rinsing. I use sudsy water, hot. Then, like Mary taught me, I rinse them three times. Mary's scientific method reduces the soap residue into parts-per-million (or something like that).

The wine bottle drying rack is my own invention. My Grandma Rose used to keep Mogen David wine around the farmhouse. As you can see, I stick with the reds and even make the bottles into something useful.

I guess that you could call my plastic bag recycling a sign of a re-purposed life. As my Facebook friend, Dale Rosene, the Alaskan Santa, always says, "life is good," especially with recycling.

Copyright 2013
Wanda Hayes Eichler

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

The Comet PANSTARRS, Viewed From Southern Arizona

Here's the comet PANSTARRS as it appeared last night from The Highlands on Dove Mountain, north of Tucson. I headed out for an evening walk and tucked my trusty Sony Cyber-Shot with the hand-held twilight function on it into my pocket. I knew that the comet would be visible shortly after sunset.

What I didn't know is that lots of other folks had the same idea, so when I got to my chosen viewing spot, there were two cameras on tripods, a set of binoculars, people and golf cars, all waiting for the crescent moon and the comet to appear. I stationed myself near a saguaro cactus so that I would have a point of reference when the moon appeared.

Here's how to find the comet:

In the photo the moon is to the left of the cactus. Move your eye down to the horizon and find the mountain to the left of the cactus. Now move your eye up from the peak (it is jagged) and look for a smudge in the sky, just a little higher than the moon. That's the comet. In this image you can kind of make out a bit of a tail.

You may have to move your monitor or screen a bit to make out the smudge. Remember that you can click on the image to see it by itself.

Here's a closer image with the comet circled. I did some adjusting of the photo, but did not add anything to it. Photoshop people will recognize these tools. Curves, levels, sharpening, etc. Once again, as I have said in this blog before, the Sony point-and-shoot does a remarkable job of capturing an image in the night sky.

Tomorrow I will have to try the tripod and Nikon.

Copyright 2013
Wanda Hayes Eichler

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

The Spain Stack

I spent about an hour today with the Spain stack, a pile of travel guides and a map that reflect the itinerary of a trip to Spain that we have planned for the month of May. You can see the green tabs sticking out from the second guidebook in the stack, all evidence that so far I have been able to cross reference the printed itinerary with one of the guidebooks.

Spain will be a new adventure for both Ed and me. I'm already finding that the place names (Toledo, Guadalajara, Madrid) reflect places in North America, and that the architecture will be exciting (La Sagrada Familia in Barcelona, for instance.) Words and names in the guidebooks waken old classroom learnings -- El Greco, Guggenheim, Gaudi, Basques, Segovia -- and beg for more discovery.

So much of the fun of travel is in the anticipation. The Spain stack is already proving engaging. We will be traveling with J. Michael Barone of Pipedreams fame. Many of you will remember last May's blog posts from Great Britain as we roamed southern England, listening to pipe organs in cathedrals and churches and town halls with Michael and company.

While the guidebooks can picture the places in Spain like Madrid, Barcelona, Lerma, Burgos, and Toledo, I am left to imagine the sound of pipe organ after pipe organ swelling, crescendoing, and whispering, and all of this music happening in incredible spaces and places.

The sights, the sounds, the tastes -- all of that lies ahead and is now piled and folded together in the Spain stack with its little green stickers waiting for May.

Copyright 2013
Wanda Hayes Eichler

Monday, March 11, 2013

Cactus Wren

A cactus wren sits atop a barren ocotillo. This photo was taken in February, just as the ocotillos were beginning to leaf out. Now the desert is popping with gray greens and the wildflowers are starting to bloom. The ocotillos are getting their red plumes and there are cactus wrens flitting from branch to branch.

Copyright 2013
Wanda Hayes Eichler

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Avra Valley Jaunt

Driving west of Tucson on a cloudy, sometimes rainy day, we saw magnificent chunks of mountain in fractal silhouette against skies filled with ultra blue holes that emerged from giant cumulus puffs of cloud. This view, altered into an old West look, was taken on Red Rock Road, out near the Silver Bell mine.

Heidi and I posed for our picture next to a crazy saguaro that had upwards of 100 arms and nobs. We stopped to photograph this unusual specimen and chatted with a man and his mother. She was from Oregon and was delighted that we liked the saguaro since it is a favorite of hers which they come to visit every year.

I asked the gentleman if he was a researcher, by any chance, and he replied, "no, we just like cactus." He gave me a few tips of where to see other crazy type saguaros.

When he offered to take our photo with the cactus, we quickly said "yes" and this photo is the result.

Another obliging photographer who happened to be our waitperson at Wildflower, a restaurant near the corner of Oracle and Ina in Tucson, took this photo of Richard and Ed and Heidi and me. Wildflower is across the street from where the Tucson shootings happened in January 2011.

We enjoyed a lovely meal which capped off some delightful days spent with Richard and Heidi in the Desert Southwest.

Copyright 2013
Wanda Hayes Eichler

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Winter Baseball

Winter baseball in the Cactus League can turn from this. . .

. . .to this in a heartbeat. Or a rain shower. Or a thunderstorm. Or hail. We experienced rain, thunder and hail at the Arizona Diamondbacks game at Tempe Diablo Stadium yesterday. Ah, baseball.

Copyright 2013
Wanda Hayes Eichler

Friday, March 8, 2013

Art Mess

We have company this week and the weather turned cold. Since we can't eat outside in the courtyard, the dining table which is usually the site of the art mess had to be cleared. Here's what the table looked like one day recently when the watercolor tasks were in high gear.

It really isn't a mess since each item is within reach according to its drippiness factor. But it does look like a mess, doesn't it?

Copyright 2013
Wanda Hayes Eichler

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Before Sunrise

The waning moon floats in the soft southwest blue of the morning. Clouds catch the first light and throw pink reflections. The air is clear. A soft wind stirs across the desert where saguaros look like unstrung telephone poles, lost from purpose, yet standing tall. In the distance a mourning dove is cooing, glad to sense the coming day.

All the desert is waiting for the sun to rise.

Copyright 2013
Wanda Hayes Eichler

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Stone Cabin

Out on an evening walk recently, I captured this image of a stone cabin. It looks like it is stacked stone construction and the chimney certainly means that there must be a fireplace of some sort. This part of Dove Mountain was ranched for a number of years before development took over the landscape.

The stone cabin might have been early living quarters for a settler, or a chosen picnic spot, or maybe even a summer house. Whatever its vintage and use, it is an enticing landmark to behold as evening light casts golden shadows across the bajada in the Tortolita Mountains.

Copyright 2013
Wanda Hayes Eichler

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

One Walker's Story

The view from Dove Mountain Trail was sky blue and desert magnificent this morning. I was feeling pretty good about getting in my one-mile-plus-a-little-bit-more walk when I started chatting with a fellow walker along the trails.

Turns out, this women walks 3-4 times a week and walks four miles at a crack. "I lost part of a lobe from one lung and the walking really helps," said this very healthy walker who also is a golfer. She was just about to her two mile turn around point and slowed to walk with me for a bit.

Well, that kind of story will get me outside more often. Fresh air and exercise. Both are the gifts of Arizona in the winter for lots of us down here.

Copyright 2013
Wanda Hayes Eichler

Monday, March 4, 2013

Arizona Dale and Tales of Sturm Road

Today I am introducing Arizona Dale, the sock monkey, to the blog. Nonie Shetler from Pigeon made this monkey last summer and then he traveled, stuffed in a rollabout, to Tucson with me in January. Dale got his name from Nonie's husband, Dale, who helps Nonie with her sales table for summer craft shows where she sells adorable sock monkey dolls.

This method of naming the sock monkey comes from my friends, The Sturms of Sturm Road north of Pigeon, who would always name their current farm dog after the origin of the dog. So, for quite a few years their dog was "Ottsie," named after our south of town neighbor, Otto Voelker. I'm not sure if Otto knew that his dog was a namesake but someone will tell him when they read this, I'm sure.

Not that it is significant, but Dale and Nonie Shetler lived on Sturm Road for a great number of years before they moved to town. So Arizona Dale has some Sturm Road roots, too.

We once acquired a very large ewe from Jim Swartzendruber, also of Sturm Road fame. Jim claimed the sheep was a ewe, so we named it Suzy, but it turned out to be Sam The Ram. Needless to say, we did not name that animal after Jim who was somewhat gender challenged when it came to sheep. Sam The Ram caused multiple incidents of havoc on our fledgling sheep farm. He eventually ended up as bratwurst and soap, and we borrowed rams for breeding season from the Wheelers or Renns rather than keeping a critter with that kind of power at the farm.

The Sturm Road dairymen, brothers Wayne and Keith, and Wayne's son Randall, would call me on the morning of my birthday from the milking parlor and sing Happy Birthday over the phone. Those were the days. I miss their voices, not even church choir quality but from the heart, with the sound of the milking machines in the background.

One more Sturm Road tale to be told is about Harriett Sturm, Wayne's wife, who grew up in Indiana as Harriett Williams who lived on Williams Road. She met Wayne at a 4H gathering in Door County, Wisconsin. After they got married she became Harriett Sturm who lived on Sturm Road. Harriet has been gone a number of years, but she always loved to tell that tale with a twinkle in her eye.

Back to Arizona Dale. I sketched the monkey first and then put the red chair underneath him. That didn't work so good. Next time I will start with the chair and progress to the monkey.

Anyway, Arizona Dale says "Happy Monday to Stan in Wisconsin, and don't worry, spring will soon be here."

Copyright 2013
Wanda Hayes Eichler

Sunday, March 3, 2013

More San Xavier

Yesterday's post introduced the architecture of San Xavier del Bac with a photo of the entire church structure. Today we'll take a closer look at the walls around the church. The photo above shows the unusual circle and dash pattern in the wall along the front of the building. You can get a good idea of how deep the wall is from the opening on the right. Notice the crumbling stonework. The building was completed in 1797 and has gone through several restorations since then.

This photo shows the large pedestal columns that frame a gateway on the east side of the structure. In the distance you can see the circle and dash pattern in the outside wall. The graceful arching of the walls and gates that frame the church are evident in the tall doorway arch to the left in this photo.

My quickly drawn sketch of the second photo uses a pen and ink approach with some watercolor added for accent. This illustration is from my daily art journal.

Copyright 2013
Wanda Hayes Eichler

Saturday, March 2, 2013

San Xavier Mission

The mission church at San Xavier del Bac, south of Tucson, is considered the finest example of Spanish colonial architecture and art in the United States. The perspective class that I am taking at Arizona Sonora Desert Museum's Art Institute will be on location here during our last class. We will be sketching details of this inspiring place with its many curves and arches and doorways and walls.

This image shows a southwestern view of the church late in the afternoon. The church attracts many tourists as well as photographers, including the legendary Ansel Adams. Often called the "White Dove of the Desert," its white form is visible from far away against the pristine blue desert sky.

Copyright 2013
Wanda Hayes Eichler

Friday, March 1, 2013

New Eyes: Three Red Chairs

The perspective is out of whack in each of these three drawings of the little red IKEA chair. But there is still a childlike charm conveyed in this page from my sketchbook. I tried a technique of painting first and drawing second. The color is Winsor red, an artist's color by Winsor and Newton.

I used fine black drawing pens by Staedtler (0.5mm, center and right) and Pigma Micron(.25mm, left.) Notice that I totally forgot the center back of the chair when I painted and that I painted a dowel rung between the two front legs when in fact the rungs are along the sides of the chair.

The wonderful side effect of learning how to draw is that you develop new eyes. You see things in a different way and you really have to look carefully to depict what you see.The three chairs illustrate my somewhat out of kilter sense of perspective. The new eyes take some time to develop.

But, as you can see from the above pencil sketch, after drawing the chair over and over, I think that I'm finally getting the hang of it.

Copyright 2013
Wanda Hayes Eichler