Friday, February 28, 2014

Early Desert Wildflowers

Brittlebush clumps, with their lemony yellow daisy-like blossoms, are the harbingers of an early wildflower season in southern Arizona. This clump, photographed against a wall, is at the height of blooming.

One weather app on my mobile phone shows that the Tucson area has had 0.02 inches of rainfall so far this year. That's not a lot of rain, so the big storm front that is approaching from the Pacific will be welcome this weekend.

So, why are the wildflowers starting to bloom, you ask? The local paper says that above average temperatures in February coupled with fall rains are bringing on the early flowers.

Brittlebushes seem to come first. Some years there are sections of Interstate 10 between Phoenix and Tucson that are yellow with brittlebushes along the roadway.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Moon & Venus

The crescent moon floats in the early morning sky while bright, bright Venus shines with an intensity that only early risers get to see. Yesterday morning, on February 26th, these two heavenly bodies were much closer together.

This morning's show is less dramatic but crystal clear and showy in the desert southwest sky. The temperature at 5:30 am was about 50, a far cry difference from the single digit chill that is lingering over much of the northern states this late in February.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Blowing Snow

Driving south on Parisville Road late Tuesday afternoon, I pulled over to take some photos of the blowing snow. The winds from the west picked up the top layer of snow, causing visibility to drop. On the main east west state highway, M-142, there were short whiteouts, almost like driving into a thick fog, yet you could see blue sky above.

Once I turned south on Parisville Rd the westerly nature of the wind was apparent as the snow blew in misty bands across fields and roads. Overhead patches of clear sky contrasted with clouds that reflected the pink and lavender of the setting sun. Typical weather conditions for late winter, with daytime temperatures in the teens, by the next morning the thermometer had dropped to zero again.

Digital cameras have a tough time picking up particulates like dust and mist and fog, any weather condition that is ethereal, yet this image kind of gives the impression of buildings floating on the soft cold mist of the blowing snow.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Things Are Looking Up

Some days you just have to look up. Yes, it is still winter. Yes, we up north people are wearing heavy coats and toting about heavy hearts after a long siege of winter.

But some days you just have to look up at the blue of the sky and the tracing of the trees against the clouds.

There. There it is. A rooftop pointing to the sky, leading the vision and the soul to higher things.

Out there, in the beyond, is a world where people are not judged by color or persuasion or gender or orientation. Young and old walk side by side. Where you come from is not as important as where you are going.

It's a world where Detroit will rise again. Where Arizona will throw back the indignity of separation. Where Uganda and Russia will change their minds about their gay and lesbian children.

Out there, up there, in the beyond of another day and another year, things are better for everyone. Better food to eat, better health care, better schools. There will be better ways of doing what we have always done and need to keep on doing.

I can't identify why I believe this way. I just know that today, for me and for those around me, it is my hope and prayer that things are looking up.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Late Winter Walk

The sun played peekaboo with snow showers when I went for a morning walk today. Ice and snow are still covering White Rock Shoal, but the ice floes on Lake Huron drift and move, often revealing huge expanses of open water.

I couldn't resist one more winter self portrait with the gentle snow falling in the quiet woods. I'm wearing my Softie Hat in green wool, one of my knitting designs. The striped cowl is from one of last year's Knit Alongs that we sponsor on the knitting website that I own,

The temperature was 19 degrees at 5:30 am this morning and it hadn't gone up much when I went for a walk just after 8 am. It will be a big surprise if any of this snow is still here one month from now. Usually, in this part of Michigan, the snowstorms tend to dwindle by St. Patrick's Day. Then the rains come, the frost leaves the ground, and it will be time to smell the soil again.

Friday, February 21, 2014

Pajama Thank You

Pajamas for little girls were in short supply just before Christmas last year. My list of pajama kids was pretty long, so I improvised by substituting long underwear for PJs. Sophia, one of the PJ kids, wrote me a lovely thank you note, complete with praise for the warmth of the "long undre war."

Miss Sophia is not my grandchild, but she lovingly claims me as one of her grandmothers. Life is good when you receive a colorful and flowery thank you note from a little girl.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Big Changeover

The time has come. My back will not allow me to drag my heavy old laptop around anymore. Call it ageing of the body. Call it giving in. Call it smart.

What ever you call it, it is time to switch to a new, lighter laptop. So, I've been backing up and copying and discarding files and directories. I've been evaluating and ruminating and doing some soul searching.

The outboard hard drives are complete. I've dropped stuff to Dropbox and Evernoted more items. I'm ready to do it. Here we go. With any luck, this is the last blog post from the old laptop.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Thinking Geraniums

It felt like it could be a geranium day. The temperature got up to 46 and I'm thinking summer and pink geraniums. The words to "Oh, What A Beautiful Morning" from the musical Oklahoma! kept going through my head today.

I see all of these huge piles of snow -- eight, ten, twelve feet high -- just mounds and mounds of snow, and my brain is singing "the corn is as high as an elephant's eye, and it looks like it's climbing clear up to the sky," only what is climbing up to the sky are the snow piles!

Anyway, between the corn being high and thinking geraniums, I'm ready for spring. With thundershowers forecast tonight, maybe there will be some almost geranium weather coming soon.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Up To Our Necks

My neighbor called me up on Valentine's Day and invited me to morning tea. She and her husband live along the shore of Lake Huron and have this little fisherman guy that stands watch outside their house.

"I've been wiping the snow off of his face," she said as she met me at the front door. "Some days, he's completely covered!"

The fisherman is a great icon for this winter, a winter when it feels to most Up North Folks like we are up to our necks in snow.

The last storm, the one that started up on Monday afternoon and blew itself out this morning, began here with winds that swirled across the snowbanks, through the frosty woods, and along the ice covering on White Rock Shoal. The morning temperature was 8 below.

Late in the evening, about the time that NBC Olympic coverage was finally showing Meryl Davis and Charlie White in their gold medal ice dancing performance, gusts of ice-filled wind hit the side of the house with a gravelly sound, almost as if some giant was scooping up handfuls of pebbles and throwing it against the walls.

The swirling winds from the east felt like a true nor'easter, but the weather map was all about west to east movement of the storm.

Through all of this "up to our necks" weather is a beauty that defies description.

The ice sparkles, the sun comes up warm, the snow turns pink, the sky stays blue. That morning sun is creeping south bit by bit. The days are getting longer.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Bunnies and Brackets

Signs of spring! That's the bunny bowl with freshly baked chocolate chip cookies in it. It gets hauled out of the cupboard every year toward the end of February.

I made a batch of cookies for Ed this weekend using the recipe on the back of the Nestle's Semi Sweet Morsels package. The cookies were served (in the bunny bowl) during the first half of the Michigan State versus Nebraska men's basketball game on Sunday afternoon.

The game was a disaster. Nebraska (Nebraska!) won. The cookies were a success. And, if you look closely, you will see the second sign of spring in the photo.

Yep, that's last year's NCAA tournament bracket sheet under the bunny bowl. Each March I write out my brackets using an ever sharp pencil on an 11 x 14 inch sheet of drawing paper. It's easy to see, easy to erase, and gives me almost enough room for the 64 plus teams and all the games. And, yes, it is time to plan the layout of this year's bracket sheet.

Brackets and the bunny bowl are signs of spring. The cookies, well, those are a sign of how much Ed and I love good food.

Previous posts about brackets:

Da Brackets -- 2013
Bracket Sheet -- 2012

Friday, February 14, 2014

Almost Buried Fence

After Valentine's Day each year I get to thinking about putting the holiday dishes away. The bright red dishes cheer up the sameness of the winter scene. Plus, red fits the February holiday -- red hearts, red dishes -- and so the dishes stay in the cupboard where we can use them every day.

Likewise for the red bows on the split rail fence that lines the driveway. Those bows stay in place too. This year, with the snow piling up from storm after storm, the red bows are in danger of disappearing into the drifts along the fence. With one or two more storms, the fence and the bows on the posts, will be covered.

I pulled into the driveway last Tuesday in the evening. It was almost dark and I didn't hit the curve quite right and got hung up in the banks along the drive. A little "now back, now forward" dislodged my Chevy Volt, and I zipped around the curve, along the fence, and up into the garage.

Maybe I'll let the red holiday dishes in place for a few more weeks. We might need some cheering up as we navigate the driveway and watch that almost buried fence disappear.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Old Dairy Cow

I often comment that I grew up eating "old dairy cow" which would actually be grass fed beef by today's standards. The family mythology has us eating a lot of locker beef, supposedly from dairy cattle that had been culled from my Grandpa and Grandma Luedtke's herd.

A look back at my Dad's slides reminds me that Grandpa Bill raised Herefords for beef and, now that I think about it, there were always 5-10 beef cattle on the farm, probably steers being raised for market and for the locker.

I remember, too, that Grandpa kept a bull because we were always warned not to go near the bullpen and to stay away from the cow yard.

When I was in early elementary there was a favorite little calf in the barn that I took a shine to. Later that year, we were eating hamburger that Grandpa and Grandma had brought along on a visit, the kind that is frozen solid in one pound bricks. The calf was called "Tiny" and I found out that that's what was in the freezer beef, that little calf. I pretty much stopped eating meat for a while.

I had already figured out that if I didn't eat chicken, then I had no responsibility for pulling the feathers out when my folks dressed a bird that was given to Dad on his pastoral rounds. Several parishioners often sent a chicken home with him, minus the head, in a grocery sack, and we would take the carcass out to the garden and pull out the feathers prior to readying it for cooking.

I didn't eat chicken until the summer after my freshman year in college. I was working as a lifeguard at a summer camp and the Wednesday night meal was chicken. I was so hungry after a day in the sun with kids that I learned to eat the baked chicken breast entree that the kitchen cooked. I remember that the chicken was served with mashed potatoes, another favorite of mine, but that's another story.

Anyway, now you know why I like cheese so much. It is dairy protein. It is tasty. And it is an almost perfect food that stores well and lasts long even when it is not efficiently refrigerated. Plus it comes from cows and their milk. And the cows get to live to a ripe old age.

So am I a vegetarian? Well, yes and no. Some weeks I stay away from meat totally, but we did raise sheep at one time on Graywood Farm. At the height of our sheep raising days we lambed out over twenty ewes one spring. And we had a ram named Sam who knocked us down many a time.

Yep, we ate him. And tanned his hide. And one of my spinning friends made soap from his fat. So there. That's the end of the Old Dairy Cow story.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Graywood Farm in Winter

From a distance, when you drive along Geiger Road from the west, approaching our farm, the newly restored barn doesn't catch the eye until you see the glint of the 98 solar panels that cover the south roof. Even on a very cold day the panels are at work, generating electricity for the farm's needs.

Looking north up the driveway, the solar panels are obvious. The barn is set behind the vintage machine shed which has a gambrel roof that terminates slightly above ground level. Machine sheds with the gambrel construction are found in several counties in Michigan's Thumb and date from the 1940's and 1950's.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Snowbanks Along M-25

The snowbanks are getting pretty high along M-25, the route that circles Michigan's Thumb. Here's a corner just north of Forestville, Michigan where the snow has been shoved back with front end loaders. The road signs are "up to their elbows" in snow, as you can tell from the stop sign with its feet in a big snowbank.

The little post office at Forestville, Zipcode 48434, Michigan has piles of snow pushed back so that postal customers can get into the building and to their boxes. I keep a post office box at this location, one of the smallest post offices in the state of Michigan, just four miles south of our lake house. This post office went to part time hours after the first of the year.

While it might seem like an extravagance to keep an outpost office like this open, Forestville is the only post office along the shoreline between Harbor Beach and Port Sanilac, a distance of 29 miles. It serves a strong summer trade, but slows down in the winter months.

This winter's snow will make the record books. January came and went without a January thaw. Next week's forecast includes some days with highs in the 30's, so maybe there will be a February thaw.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Natural History Museum

The Natural History Museum at the University of Michigan held an open house even on Sunday afternoon that focused on "behind the scenes" experiences for children and adults. Our grandsons had the opportunity to do lots of really cool research type things as they moved from one station to another during the afternoon.

Model skulls of prehistoric ancestors of homo sapiens were lined up in one classroom. The instructor showed the kids how the skull of a mammal that walks on four feet differs from one that walks on two feet (the brain stem emerges at a different location at the base of the skull) and then demonstrated spear and arrowhead making.

On another floor of the museum, the boys learned about owls and got to take apart some of the pellets that owls make and then regurgitate as a part of their nutrition cycle. We all enjoyed looking at the bird and mammal displays, especially the snowy owls since these owls have been spotted this winter in Michigan.

Friday, February 7, 2014

Barbershop Visit

Max and Finn have had a day to chum around with their grandparents while their dad is undergoing surgery. So we made a visit to the barbershop after having lunch at McDonalds. Later we did piano lessons and pizza and we watched part of the opening ceremonies of the Sochi Olympics.

Finn likes his haircut and smiles sweetly for Grandma's camera in this classic "mirror in the barbershop" photo. That's Max, getting his cut, way over on the right side of the photo.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

The Demise of the Christmas Tree

Our poor Christmas tree stood neglected and without water for over a month. The branches drooped and dried out. The bead strands slipped and slopped.

So today, finally, we took the tree down. There were seven strings of lights, dozens of red glass balls, eight bead strands, and a lot of individual ornaments on the tree.

The needles on a fir stay somewhat soft, even when dried out. This tree was so dry that the tips of the branches flipped off as we removed the beads and lights.

Ed has a nifty way of taking the tree out of the house. He cuts the lower third of the branches off, opens a window, and pulls the tree through the opening and out onto the terrace beyond. Then he carries it out to the woods where it will shelter the bunnies and birds for the rest of the winter.

Putting the tree up and decorating it takes us at least a day. Taking it down can be accomplished in two hours and around our house, this day is known as the demise of the Christmas tree day.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Stone Cabin On Dove Mountain

Much of the land along Dove Mountain Boulevard in Marana, just north of Tucson, was once a part of a 1300 acre parcel owned by rancher Eugene "Cush" Cayton. The Cayton ranch, known as the T Bench Bar Ranch, was sold for development in 1985 but vestiges of the ranching years are visible in the Tortolita Mountains.

Here's a little stone structure, a cabin with a chimney, doors, and windows that overlooks Dove Mountain Boulevard. Constructed of stone with masonry filling, the cabin is hard to spot during the day when the colors of the stone blend into the hills and boulders around it.

In the evening when the sunlight slants low in the sky, the cabin is lit up with the warm sienna and ochre tones of evening light.

In the photo above, the cabin can be seen within the darkened oval area. One account of the Cayton ranching years says that the cabin was built by Cush Cayton's brother who lived there. Another source said that Cush Cayton built the cabin for his wife Inez. The Caytons were known for their entertaining. Cush Cayton was a cowboy and a poet, according to stories about him.

As I walk on Dove Mountain Trail, along the road, I often look for the Cayton cabin and wonder about its story. It seems to be located in a spot where if you looked southwest from the cabin, you would have a commanding view of the Twin Peaks over in the Tucson Mountains. One can imagine lovely winter evenings, sitting by the fire in the Cayton cabin, watching the sun setting over the majestic Tucson basin.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Fermented Art

Pen and Ink class, five sessions long, is over and I'm pooped. I have learned so much about what to do and what not to do as I'm creating art.  

For now, I'm ready to put my brain to something else and let the artwork ferment. It will be like making pickles. You put the stuff in the jar, heat it up, and walk away. 

Time and vinegar and heat do their job on vegetables. I'm counting on time away and the passing of days to give me some fermented perspective on my newly formed art ideas and techniques. 

Meantime, I'll keep drawing a little every day. That will be the vinegar, the acid, that keeps eating away on the new edges of what I have learned. 

Fermentation and art. Who would have ever thought that the two go hand in hand!

Monday, February 3, 2014

Last Class, Something Done

I started this watercolor piece several years ago and never had the confidence to finish it. It is not original. I copied it from a beginning watercolor book that shows how to paint each vegetable and then places each shape into this still life.

What is so very encouraging for me is that after taking Watercolor 1 at the Art Institute at Arizona Desert Sonora Museum I have finally found the gumption to do the brush strokes, the glazing, the background wash, and the detail work to finish this still life.

The onion in the finished piece feels like it is floating; the yellow pepper needs another lobe or two. But all in all, I am quite pleased with my early efforts and applaud the instruction of Rick Wheeler, a talented artist whose skills as a teacher of watercolor are only eclipsed by the body of work that he is creating as a watercolorist, pen and ink master, and expert at scratchboard.

Rick Wheeler, Artist and.Instructor at ASDM

"You Can Paint Watercolors" by Alwyn Crawshaw