Monday, April 21, 2014

Morning Walk ... Solitude

 I always enjoy my morning walk. Generally I'll do a couple of laps in Sam's lane (about 1.2 miles) and then repeat that later in the day. Other than when the snow is deep or the rain is pouring down, I do that every day of the year.
 Today the weather was perfect ... 50° at 7:45 am, almost clear, calm ... and yet I did not walk.
 Why? DR is spraying his fields (probably with weed killer but perhaps with an insecticide) and I took one look at the white mist rising about his machinery and came right back inside. My sinuses and allergies sure don't need a dose of whatever that is.
 Instead I drove to the Farmersville-Jackson Twp. Park and walked a couple of laps. I've always figured the path is about 0.7 miles long. I timed a circuit: 10:30. It takes me about that long to do a lap in Sam's lane and I've measured that with the car to be 0.6 miles. In any case, the two are close to identical.

 You've seen similar shots to this in the past. This line of white pines on the west side of the pond always get my attention, like dark soldiers standing at attention. The air is calm this morning and the pond is mirror smooth.

 If I walk opposite that first shot and aim back to the east, this is what I see. The sun is shining weakly through muted clouds and jet contrails and foretells rain tonight.
 I was alone for my first lap. Only after I completed half of the second did others begin to arrive. The first was a man and woman with a dog; the second was a lone man who two dogs on leashes. One, who was most interested in me, was a pit bull. In both cases, the people politely kept the dogs away from my path so I didn't have to slow down.
 "Great morning for a walk,' I said. All agreed.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Carolina Wren Nesting

 It's rare when we see a Carolina Wren but last winter I noticed one a few times. She was interested in the other birds at our suet but I don't think I ever saw her move closer than the trunk of the maple tree.
 A Carolina is unmistakable with that vivid white line above and behind her eyes. She's also of a reddish-brown that is different from the other birds, particularly when viewed in direct sunlight.
 I'd see her every now and then and then I'd go long periods without noticing her.
 Now, though, I find she is nesting in a hollowed-our birdhouse gourd we have hung from a nail on the brick wall of the garage.

 Can you see her sitting on her clutch of eggs though the small opening? When she is not there (she flies away if I forget and pass too close to the nest) I see a clutch of off-white eggs, speckled with brown. There are perhaps five.
 She's chosen a bad spot. I pass the nest whenever I walk to the garden. Our sidewalk passes right beside the nest. It is, perhaps, five feet off the ground. Above her is the ample overhang of the garage, offering good protection from storms. Also the nest is on the east side of the garage.
 Here's a closer view of her sitting on her nest:

 She is buried down in the moss. It's a wonder she can get in and out of the nest with ease. I see debris spilling from the opening so perhaps she is not as good at it as I'd hope.
 It'll be fun watching the young hatch and fledge. I'm going to have to stay away as much as possible until that happens.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Frank's Rye Bread

 Mom and I enjoy an automatic bread maker though we've been known to use it to simply produce the dough and then bake the bread manually in our oven. I prefer a horizontal loaf (our bread maker produces a vertical loaf) and I enjoy working with the warm, raw dough. But sometimes (most times) we're lazy and just pour all the ingredients in the machine and come back four hours later.

When my weather buddy in Wisconsin talked of taking his homemade rye bread to work, Mom told me to ask him for the recipe. He also makes his bread in an automatic bread maker.

 Rye has been a bit of a sticking point with us. In the past, we've had problem loaves - those that seemed to inflate normally and the deflate at the last moment like a stuck balloon (I later found out that this is due to adding too much yeast). So we tried Frank's recipe.

Just sliced - steamy hot - ready for butter

 Frank said he once forgot to add the stirring blade when he made rye bread. "I had loaded everything but the blade was not there," he said. "Disaster!"
 "The recipe is from Toastmaster," Frank said, "and asks me to use the Basic program which takes three hours."
 Our basic loaf takes an hour longer.

Frank's Rye Bread (for Bread Machine)

1-1/2 cups bread flour
3/4 cup medium rye flour
3/4 cup water
4 teaspoons olive oil
4 teaspoons brown sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1-1/2 teaspoon active dry yeast

 Even with this "known good" recipe, the rye bread seems much more dense, much less inflated than a white loaf. That's normal, though.

Frank makes a large loaf where our machine will hold only a one pound loaf. The recipe above is modified for a one pound loaf. "With my larger recipe I can simply use an entire 1/4 ounce package of yeast," Frank said. I needed to cut back.

Finished loaf, just out of the bread maker, and not yet sliced

 "Usually, my loaf of bread lasts for a week and makes good sandwiches for work. Rye bread does crumble more and I'm going to switch to white bread which rises higher, stretches better and will allow me to put more on the sandwich," Frank added.
 I'm going to add caraway seed next time. This recipe doesn't taste strongly rye so something is needed to ramp up the flavor. It is quite brown, however. I may also experiment with slightly more sugar and salt.
 But that will come another day.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014


 It wasn't unexpected. And yet it was.
 When I crawled into bed last night (about 9 pm) is was raining heavily. In fact, the sound was so pretty on the shingles above my head that I turned my radio off and contented myself listening to the brief deluge.
 Later, after midnight, I awoke to silence. I got up and looked out the bathroom window since a total  eclipse of the moon was about to begin. While it wasn't raining - at least not hard enough to hear - it was heavily clouded and there wasn't any chance of seeing the moon hide in Earth's shadow. So back to bed went I.
 I woke about 7 am and climbed out of bed to an unusual light. As predicted, it snowed overnight. On grassy surfaces I measured a full two inches. On our concrete bench I found less than an inch. And on our concrete porch (still warm from yesterday's sun) I found nothing.

 This was my first view of the snow, out the north-facing window at the top of the steps.

 The maple outside the kitchen window has its branches lacy-white with the new snow. This is the tree that we tapped for maple syrup. That was March 9 last year (read about it here).

 Looking east from the same spot, the yard is patchy white. Some spots have a full two inches of snow. Other spots have already melted clear, probably due to last evening's warm rain. By the way, there was 0.72" of precipitation in the gauge (both rain and snow, of course).

 The remainder of last year's onions stand snow-covered in the garden. Bare soil, as you can see, did not hold the snow; in the distance, the straw-covered soil held it just fine.

 Beside the kitchen maple, we leaned a couple of mill stones many years ago. They betrayed the snow falling from the south.
 Yesterday our temperature reached 71°; the day before (Sunday) we reached 79° and some spots touched 80°. What a difference a mere day makes this time of year, when air masses collide.
 How long will it last? Well, some of the snow should make it through today. It's 32° at 8:45 am as I type this. We'll rise into the upper 30's. Tomorrow we'll return to more spring-like weather with a high into the low 50's. And then back into the 60's.
 By then, today's snow will be but a bad memory.

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Pinehaven in Early Spring

 It's not a perfect day. It's sunny but it's also a little chilly (48° as I gave the yard a first mow of the season) and there's a breeze from the north that brings up goose bumps. It's one of those deceptive days ... too pretty to stay inside and too cool once you're outside to comfortably stay there.
 And yet after this brutal winter, what other choice is there?
 A cloudy morning gave way to sunshine, at least, and I feel the need to knock the rough edges off the lawn. I didn't manage to finish but I've done more than half of what I planned. My feet are wet from the soggy ground, my socks are sodden about the toes and when I unroll my jeans, great amounts of cut grass fall back to the ground. A shower was needed - and quickly - and it has made a quick difference in my mood.
 But back outside I go. Clean body, clean clothes and smartphone in hand to share the joy of this day.

 I have mowed this section of lawn behind the garage. It always seems to grow more quickly than the rest though I seldom give it fertilizer. The septic system is buried here. Is that the reason?

  Farther back and looking east, the sky is full of small cumulus clouds and contrails. The sky is as brilliant and pure a blue as is possible hereabouts. The air could not be clearer.

 From the back of our driveway looking north, the edge of the area I mow is shown. Another acre is north of that row of trees and we allow it to grow naturally, with as little pruning as possible. It's a wonderful nature habitat and I figure the less I change it, the better. It has been growing wild for over 27 years.

 And from that treeline looking ESE back towards the house, this shot demonstrates how much I have to mow. I'd be happy if it were all wild, except right around the house.
 Isn't the scenery particularly beautiful just before the trees leaf out? Our view is less blocked now and unlike winter we can stop and enjoy the view long enough for it to sink in.

 I told a friend in Las Vegas that I'd be mowing this afternoon and that she might catch me on our weather webcam if it happened to upload a frame at the right time. Oddly enough, it did. This view is westward from the garage.
 And speaking of mowing, tomorrow I finish.

Friday, April 4, 2014

Finally ... daffodils

 They're late this year. Maybe it was because the winter just past was the third snowiest on record (~54") or maybe it was because we got so cold so often. The coldest was -12° (01/28/14) but I recorded 11 days at zero or below. It was brutal.

 You've got to expect nature is going to slow down spring blooms, just out of fear if nothing else.

 But recent days have been warm (72° on 04/01/14) and above average every day this month. And last night's rain didn't hurt, either: 1.79 in just the last 24 hours, 2.35" so far this month.

 Conditions are now right. The daffodils took notice.

 These daffodils grow in our meadow, beneath the summer weeds. I can count on them surviving - and I can count on them multiplying. Each year the vivid yellows blaze a little brighter, a little more extensive, a little bolder. It is a carpet of canary-yellow, stretched by nature's own hand, weaving its way down one weedy hallway, now carpeting new rooms.

 It is magic, isn't it, to afford no more than a cheap carpet in the living room and then to find the bedrooms carpeted, too?

 In 2012, the daffodils were in full bloom on March 12. They are a full three weeks later this year.

 So far there are only clumps of yellow. The white ones are ready to bloom but the yellow ones have beat them to the finish line.
 A few weeks ago, on a sunny, pleasant day, I walked to the meadow to see if I might find some shoots of green. There were none. I kicked the leaves aside and found no more than frozen ground. Yet one week later the daffodils had begun upending the dried fall leaves, green spires reaching for the sun.
 Today they are in their glory.

Later (04/10/14): The white daffodils have added their bright faces to the mix. With this morning's brilliant sunshine, this otherwise-weedy  area is awash in bright colors ...

Wednesday, April 2, 2014


 While Mom and I continue to process the plethora of black walnuts I collected last fall, I happened across a hickory I had picked up and thrown into the basket with the others. I never thought to try one. But when I pulled it out of the basket the other day, it had split open naturally and was just asking to be sampled.

 Is there an easier-to-open nut? Just lay it aside and keep it dry and wait for it to open itself.
 The nut splits into perfect quadrants.

 I'm not sure where I found this one but I remember picking it up, thinking it was too pretty to leave behind. It's a big nut, heavy and armored, but an easy one to get at the meat if you just wait a few months. Winter's deep cold probably helped, too (I keep the nuts I find in the garage in wicker baskets).

 This, I believe, is a shagbark hickory and I never checked to see whether it was edible. It is - certainly - and the flavor is strong and walnut-like (it even looks similar). Since I had collected but this one nut, I opened the inner shell and Mom and I shared the heart-shaped meat. Perfect!
 Next year I'll keep and eye out and purposely collect these. It'll be nice to have some variety in the nuts we freeze for our many baked goods. No sense in letting the squirrels make off with all of these.