Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Nothing to "Grouse" About

So last Saturday, I was so excited, I had won a 'lottery' to use the grouse blind at Benton Lake Wildlife Management Area to watch them do their mating dance.  The whole week before the weather had turned the 60's, beautiful.  Saturday...cold, in the high 20's, windy (20-30 mph) and rain/snow.  I gave forth a huge sigh.  Of course, this doesn't set well when I had to leave Helena at 3:30 am in order to be there an hour before sunrise so I wouldn't disturb the grouse.

Several people were willing to go with me until their heard the 3:30 am departure time.  Light-weights!  But still I soldiered on.

Yep, this is the culprit I went to see.  The Sharp-Tailed Grouse.  The males perform this mating dance and they do it in one spot where they gather, called a 'lek'.  So my cold ass was planted in the blind on the lek at 530 am Saturday morning.  The blind cut out most of the wind, but it was still colder than all get out, grey and damp and overcast and drizzly and then snowy.

About 40 grouse and an hour after sunrise, even the grouse decided it was too cold to turn up their tail feathers and dance around.

As I drove around the loop at Benton Lake I did manage to see a lot of different water fowl, including some Tundra Swans (that's not one above).  And a hawk, which flushed a flock of grouse.  

So all of this brings me to a point which really has nothing to do with grouse, but life in general, my life in particular.

Lately, I have been feeling less than optimistic in my outlook.  There are some issues with Lady K which need to be resolved, which really has me down.  And I feel like I haven't had a chance to be 'creative' with fibers.  And no writing getting done.  It just seems like a lot of work moving and cleaning and packing and unpacking and disorganization, leaving me feeling bitchy and crabby and yucky.

Then I stopped and realized this isn't totally the case.  I have been creative.  Granted it has all been in relationship to school homework, but the old mind has been clicking over.  I have even knitted a couple of cotton dishcloths for the new kitchen.  So I started counting my blessings:

Lady K with us for the week
Lady K's health improved 100% in a couple of days
Walked to the library and back for Books and Babe on Monday
Saw 9-10 deer in the cemetery resting during our walk
Invited 2 people to go on hike in a couple of weeks
Was complimented by a co-worker on my interaction with one of the people I invited on the hike
Fixed a batch of Artisan Bread in 5-Minutes a Day
Baked 2 loaves of bread in the past couple of days
Got my new glasses and they are finally correct
Hung up 2 sets of curtains and several pictures
Knitted 2 and started on the third cotton dishcloth
Started on final projects in 2 of my classes
Selected classes for next fall (VERY full load)
Baked a cake and shared it during monthly staff meeting
Volunteered at Tizer Gardens for the summer
Spent 3 hours on my hands and knees, weeding flower beds
Brought home a container with strawberries in it
Wrote an article for the local newspaper on helping out a Girl Scout Troop with hiking badge
Went on a hike and helped out a troop earn their hiking badge
Brought home some pussy willow that is blooming.

So I really have nothing to 'grouse' about.  I really have been doing things that bring me joy and creativity.  I just need to be looking 'up' rather than 'down' more.

Oh, and would I do the grouse blind again?  You bet!

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Crazy, Crazy Month

I am so looking forward to March being over and done with.  It has been a long, stressful month.  Texter's divorce was finalized in February and we had to relocate to a smaller home (yah!).  So the past month was spent looking for a new place to rent, sorting out his stuff from ours and packing.  The past week was spent moving, most of it by ourselves.  So only another day of brining the last of the stuff over (my sewing room) and then cleaning on Monday before work and it's over at the old place.  New place, new life.

And in the middle of all of this, Lady K turned 1!  Yep, my little girl is all grown up and one year old.  Texter made her cupcakes the first day we were in the new place, as it was also her birthday.  How many kids get a new home on their birthday.

So before I start the final moving and cleaning, I stopped for a minute (because I haven't had a chance to over the past few weeks, to play a little with one of the pictures Texter took.

I think I like it.  Maybe remove the starburst behind her or drop the opacity a bit more.  But I like it.

Monday, March 17, 2014

New Artwork

I came home from work on Sunday after taking Texter to work.  There was really nothing I could do at the present time as far as packing goes and my brain wasn't really up to absorbing any lessons, so I decided a little unwinding time was in order and played with some digital creations.

This was a picture of the trolley on the walking mall in downtown Helena in the fall.

This one I particularly like.  A friend of mine back in North Carolina had taken the picture.  He has been under the weather lately, so I took his picture and played with it a bit.

This one I really enjoy because of the more 'painterly' look to it. There is something about the sunflowers I like.

I wanted to see what it would look like with a picture which had little contrast to begin with.  

I have to say I am pleased with my evening's work and plan on exploring this method futher.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Benton Lake Drawing

So, with all that is going on in my life externally, I feel like I am not being 'creative' enough internally.  I picked up a copy of Somerset Digital Studio magazine the other day and decided to take a moment to unwind a bit and be a little creative.

I had taken pictures at the Benton Lake National Wildlife Refuge and made a panorama of the picture of the sunrise over the mountains and the great clouds and lighting.

While this lead to some great drama over the landscape, it made it really hard for me to distinguish between different waterfowl in the distance.

This morning I took the above picture and using the tutorial from tutorial and created this.....

I am really liking this technique and want to do more.  I need to learn a bit more about adding some 'lines and squiggles' on the pictures, but for right adding the goose was enough.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Break Before I Break

Do you ever have so much on your plate you feel a bit overwhelmed and don't think you will get any of it done?  Between school work and packing and making all the calls needed to set up services for a new place, that is where I am right now.  Luckily, it is spring break at school, which means I don't have to rush quite as much with homework.

Yesterday, I drove up to Benton Lake to see the start of the spring waterfowl migration (those pictures to come) and I stopped at a scenic overlook to climb up the little stairway there.  The result of that little stop was this picture.

So with a bit of Photoshop play I came up with this....

Now I have to go back to work.

Sunday, March 02, 2014

Squirrely Weather

Yep, even native Montanans are saying this has not been a typical winter.  I am taking it all personally, myself.  North Carolina has been hit hard this winter.  I have snow up to my knees almost as I drag out trash to the trash can in the alley.  Right now there is about an 18 inch 'pile' of snow on top of my patio table.  And the bad part about it is that I know part of the snow evaporated and settled over the past week, so there really has been more.

Anyway, I shoveled a path out to the end of the patio so that I could put out some seed for the birds.  And the squirrels.  Stumpy, the squirrel pictured here, took advantage of the sunflower seed I had scattered on the bench.

Normally, I sigh and complain about the 'stupid squirrels', but how can you begrudge a little snow covered animal, with snow caked on his elbows. 

Plus, I think his 'nuts' are frozen too!

Friday, February 28, 2014

No Nap and a Chickadee

Lady K was being difficult this afternoon about her afternoon nap. So I got up and we went back into the living room, watching it snow (and snow and snow and snow).  There were a few sparrows and juncos around the feeder at the end of the patio.  Then this little chickadee flew down to the crab apple tree at the bottom of the yard.  It is still really pretty with some of the apples still on the branches and the snow on the branches.

So there he was, sitting there all by his lonesome.  And then.......

A large flock of waxwings descended onto the crab apple tree.  There was probably about a 100 of them.  At first, I was really excited because I thought "Cedar Waxwings!", which I had only seen 1 before in August.  

But when I got out my Sibley's to verify what I was seeing, it seems these were not Cedar Waxwings, but Bohemian Waxwings.  Which is exciting as they are less widespread than Cedars.

So Lady K is forgiven for not napping, because if she had, then I would have missed this invasion.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Different Snow

One of the things pointed out to me when we first moved to Montana was how I left the heat and humidity behind me.  And this just doesn't pertain to the summer.  It also applies to winter.  The snow here is 'dry'.  There isn't 'wet' snow, which is a good thing.  And this weekend we are expecting another 12 inches of snow.

One thing that has surprised me is that snow seems to 'evaporate'.  And a lack of icicles.  Most of the icicles I have seen are actually on the spruce trees.

And the snow twists into some really unusual shapes, like this 'wave' on top of the fencing in my backyard.

So now I own a snow shovel and YakTraks to keep from slipping.  I have to blaze a trail out to the alley and the trash cans with snow up to my knees.  And I have to shovel a path to the bird feeder in order to put out seed for the birds (and squirrels). 

At least, with the snow, I will be staying inside and working on my homework and taking 3 mid-term tests.  I think I can safely say I am ready for warmer weather.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Fruitless February

And the point of February is?  Between the stomach flu coursing through the household and snow piling up outside (more than this little Southern girl is use to), I just don't see the point of February.  I feel like I got nothing accomplished and still have a long list of things to about 8 letters I need to answer.

Stumpy has gotten braver and will sit right in front of the patio door to nibble on seeds that fell from one of the feeders.  I like this picture because you can also see the 'tide' of snow creeping closer and closer to one of the few clear patches on the patio.

Of course, it is this bravery that earned him the shortened tail I am sure.

I am shoveling snow.  Lots of snow.

This is yesterday morning (Monday).  This morning (Tuesday), the horizontal bar is covered in snow. Luckily, it is all dry, light snow, not a wet mass of snow.

But life here in Montana goes right on.  So I am off to work again today.  And more snow forecast for the coming week.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Inventing Wings to Fly Over the Bitter River

This past week has been 'eventful'.  Eventful, meaning on Tuesday, right after I drop Texter off at work at 5pm, I get a call to come get her.  That queasy stomach she had.....well, she threw up on her supervisor telling her she didn't feel too good.  Victim #1 of the stomach flu.  After being up all night, lounging in the bathroom, we took her into Urgent Care and they prescribed some anti-nausau pills and fluids and rest and back home we trooped.  Oh, did I mention they kept her for a bit to give her IV fluids?

Then, later on Wednesday, someone who doesn't need to feel bad, got a icky stomach, along with copious amounts of sinus drainage.  So my time was spend fetching fluids for both my little girls and hoping it stayed down.

Thursday, started out well, in that Texter had made it to the couch and Lady K was a little less clingy. However, at 12:38am Friday morning, I was on my way to the bathroom.  Did you know you could lose about 6 pounds in 12 hours?  Not recommended, but it's possible.

So the three of us have been going from bed to couch to kitchen for fluids for the past few days.  No homework getting done as I can't even summon up much energy to sit at the computer.  But I have managed to down a couple of books during this time period.

The first, is actually the second in a series, titled Bitter River by Julia Keller.

Bell is the District Attorney for Acker's Gap, West Virginia and everything is going to hell in a hand basket.  One 16 year old pregnant girl dead and some mysterious attempted murders to boot.  At 40-something, with the responsibility of being the District Attorney on a small budget in a small town, Bell is often short-tempered and impatient (like so many of us).  Her 16 year old daughter, is living in Washington with her ex-husband after events of the previous year (and book).  And she has to assist the sheriff in solving these crimes.

I could identify with Bell's feelings and her impatience with the small town mentality, all the while she knows and understands it herself.  A good book to read between naps while sick.

But my favorite is by an author I have followed for several years, Sue Monk Kidd.  I appreciated her book, Dance of the Dissident Daughter, and her questioning of her spirituality.  Her new book, The Invention of Wings, also an Oprah pick (which I rarely read them), is a work of fiction based on fact.

Set in the early 1800's in Charleston, South Carolina, Kidd follows the fictionalized life of Sarah Grimke, the daughter of a well-to-do judge and planation owner.  It also twines in the life of Hetty 'Handful', the slave she was given on her 11th birthday.  Telling their story from both sides, Kidd has pieced together a wonderful accounting of both their lives and times.  Sarah Grimke and her sister, Angelina, where actually two of the first female abolitionists and women's rights activists.  Being from the South and wealthy parents made them a bit exceptional on both fronts.

The read is intense at times, especially when you read Handful's accounts of things, but Kidd captures  Sarah's struggle with her way of life and her conscience well.  It was a bit heavy for reading between naps, but well worth the effort. 

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Mid-Month Check Up

It's the middle of the month (or close to it) and I am dismally behind on my list of things to accomplish for A Lovely Year of Finishes.  But I am blaming it on the Olympics!  So while I did cut up the shirts to ready the fabric for cutting into blocks, I started a new project for my Olympic watching.

This is day 2 of my afghan....

First off, of all my endeavors, crochet is probably one of my least proficient.  But I saw a picture of the Lille Matelasse Circular Baby Afghan by Priscilla's Crochet and I so wanted to do all the afghans in her book.

Now her's is crocheted in baby weight and I went up to worsted weight, so mine will be larger and heavier.  But that's fine, since it will be used by adults.  I have never done popcorns and I am already so over them.  But I have 5 more, ever increasing rounds, of popcorn stitches.  I've never knitted into the front or back of the 'post', but it is much like ribbing in knitting.  But it is continuing, with (or despite) help from Lady K.  I'll get back to my other projects shortly - after the Olympics.

These Olympics have grabbed my attention since they are hosted by Russia.  In 1980, I had a Soviet pen-pal and was greatly disappointed for the athletes when the U.S. boycotted the games.  He did send me stamps, pins and a collection of the posters from the games.  Over the years I have given them to a couple of people I worked with who were real Olympic fanatics (they have actually attended several games).  I still have some of the stamps just to remind me of my pen pal and the experience.  But I find myself riveted to these games this year and I am not normally a follower.

So my 'gold' will be finishing this afghan before the end of the month.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Snow is for the Birds

I have probably spent more the past few months on bird seed than I have my entire life.  But with snow mounding up and the temperatures dropping to double digits below zero, I just HAVE to.  And yes, I know they are wearing little down jackets, but still....

The magpies look spiffy still in their black and white 'tux' outfit.  They are my "we will eat anything you put out", challenging the squirrels for cereal and bread crumbs.

I also know that sparrows are considered by some to be a 'trash' bird, invasive, over-populating and driving out native species.  But despite the snow and their reputation, how can you not feel joyous with this....

Sunday, February 09, 2014

Lady K Study

I had the camera out, taking pictures of our ever increasing snow and the birds, and Lady K was my assistant.  So I couldn't resist snapping some pictures of her.  After all, and I can't believe it, she is almost a year old!  This time last year we were finding out where we were moving and when and now she is days away from going from crawling to walking.

She was watching Texter here.  And the birds feeding outside the patio door.  I love that wild hair.  It's finally growing.  Maybe one day she won't be mistaken for a boy when she is all bundled up. 

And here she is, exhausted from all her homework helping, crochet helping, dog helping, bird watching helping.  Sacked out on the couch, covered up with my robe.

Even in black and white, she is still my little cutey.  So serious looking.

This is the look you get when she knows she wasn't suppose to do what she just did.  Or wondering why you are playing with that stupid camera and not her.  

She is getting too old, too soon.

Friday, February 07, 2014

Mandala from the Bathroom

Yep, I was taking pictures in the bathroom (and not what you think either).  I have some plants in there and the shadows in the afternoon light was really interesting.  So from this picture....

This is the amaryllis left over from Christmas.  Just the leaves now, but the shadows on the wall were really interesting.  So I turned it into this....

I love the really geometric look to the design.  And I used the glass in the shower as a texture behind the mandala.  This is one of my favorites now.

Extension Tubes and Macro Photography

One of my first loves with photography is macro photography - closeups of things, particularly flowers.  But I have never been able to get really, really close.  Then I read about extension tubes you add to your camera (as opposed to a $$$$ lens) and picked up one fairly cheap off Amazon.  I had not tried it yet, but decided, why not, in the -23 degree weather!  Seems reasonable to me.

We have a metal table on the patio which is covered in snow for the most part.  The metal is in a mesh pattern and part of the table, where the wind has swept off part of the snow, is exposed and snow is sitting at the junctions of the mesh.

So I get this wild hair to throw on a coat over my yoga pants and top and slap on the extension tube to see what it will do.  I was having issues focusing on items in the house.

What did I learn with my little 5 minute experiment?

1.  It's COLD!  I mean seriously cold outside.
2.  I can get really, really close to the subject matter.
3.  I need to use a tripod.
4.  My depth of field is very small.
5.  Your fingers will stick to a metal table.

I want to play with the tube, removing some of the extensions and using a tripod.  I have a regular one and a tiny, tiny one.  In the meantime, I will content myself with taking pictures through the window where it is warm.

Sunday, February 02, 2014

Praying for a Good Book

After wondering whether or not I would find a book that kept my interest for more than a few pages, my prayers have been answered.  Normally, I would do a book review on my book page, however, I am so delighted that my dry spell has been broken.

Once again, I picked this book up as I was checking in books at the library.  I was intrigued by the title alone.  I have heard of prayer boxes, have contemplated creating my own and currently have a basket I made, holding feathers, which I all my 'blessings'.

Tandi, the main character, is on the run from an abusive relationship with her 14 year old daughter and 10 year old son.  They are hiding in the Outer Banks, an area Tandi remembers from her childhood.   So right away the book hits several chords with me.  I, too, am a single mom.  I left Texas (before my kids were born) and moved to North Carolina.  I am familiar with the North Carolina coast, but more so, further south.

Struggling to keep her family together with very little money, she discovers the body of Iola Anne, her landlady.  Iola Anne had passed away in her sleep.  Having left her house to the local church in Fairhope, Tandi is asked to clean up the house so the church can figure out what to do with it.  Since this means the possibility of earning a few dollars and her unpaid rent being forgiven, she jumps at the chance.

During the process of cleaning, Tandi discovers box upon box, mainly shoe box size, filled with letters and clippings and other memorabilia saved by Iola Anne over the years.  Reading the letters Iola Anne has written to "Dear Father", Tandi pieces together an extraordinary live.  These revelations above Iola Anne give Tandi the courage to make changes and take chances in her own life.  

I really loved this little book.  While short in pages, it is long in making you stop and think and wonder what kind of legacy you might be leaving behind.

Saturday, February 01, 2014

February To-Do's

It's that time of the month again, time to announce what I hope to get finished in February for the Lovely Year of Finishes.

So for February, my goal is to work on the back of the 'Fractured Grinch'.  I am going to have to do some piecing on the back rather than using whole cloth for the back.  I have some pinwheels I can make out of the leftovers from the front and one whole block.  

I also plan on the following:

- Fingerless gloves.....only about 10 rows done last month, so hopefully a finish this month
- 'Joy' quilt....two months of blocks to complete
- Cut up the shirts and get them ready for cutting into blocks

Part of my issue is that I have to have things I can do which are 'child-proof'.  There are times when Lady K wants to 'help' and I need something, like the shirts, that are easy to accomplish despite my helper.

And since everyone in the country has seen snow last month, here is something a little bright and sunny.

Friday, January 31, 2014

Happy Chinese New Year!

Here it is the end of one month on our calendar and the start of the Chinese New Year.  Unfortunately, I didn't have any pictures of horses to create a mandala for it.  So I am going for the 'springtime' look to kick off the New Year.

This is a lupine I took a picture of last spring.  And as there is 3-4 inches of snow on the ground and it is expected to be below normal temperature wise for the next week, I thought I could use a little reminder of warmer days.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Money, Money, Money

With the New Year I made a couple of commitments to myself financially.  I am so tired of having more month than money.

First off, I joined up for a Fabric Diet.  And unless there is someone holds a gun to my head, I have not bought any fibers or fabric all month.  And right now, as far as I can see, this will hold for February - although there are a couple of fabric lines I would love to get a set of fat quarters for to have for future use.

To further my Fabric Diet and to get some items off my to-do list, I joined in with a Lovely Year of Finishes for 2014.  I have so many projects waiting to be worked on, it seems a shame to keep buying more and seemingly getting nothing done.  January has gone well with that plan.

One of the best things I have done, is to print out the weekly planner for 52 Weeks of Saving.  So far I am on goal and I have big jar where I have the chart folded up and check off the weeks as they go by.  I know the first weeks are easy with just a couple of dollars going in, but hopefully this will create a habit which can keep up.  I would love to split up $1400 at the end of the year between the girls and I for Christmas (and so would they, I think!).

I also joined up with the Living Well, Spending Less on Facebook.  It's difficult to go out and spend money on things I don't really need when I read about people cutting back and saving hundreds or thousands of dollars a month.  And loving it!  It inspires me to come up with menus and plan my grocery shopping.  And not to do any frivolous spending.

So as the first month of the year comes to a close, I feel a bit better about my life in general and my money in particular.  Of course, I do have this large box of papers I have to go through and resort where the dog chewed up my filing box and scattered papers everywhere in my room.  I have to do that in order to do taxes (which will be a bear this year with two states to file taxes in).  Hopefully, this weekend can see some progress on that front.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Live is Crazy!

This is how I feel my life is going right now.  Not bad.  It's certainly 'colorful'.  But it's crazy and not at all the ROUTINE is was going for at the start of the year.  And I can't believe a month has gone by already!

But I have accomplished several things.  

Fractured Grinch top is complete.  That was one of my January goals.  And the 'Snowfall Shawl', which had been such a pain in the rear for me is complete and on it's way to Arizona.  My fingerless mitts had a few additional rows knitted, but not complete as I wanted them to be.  They are moving over to my February list of 'to-do's'.  Same with my block for the Joy quilt.  Couldn't quite get them done.  They too will be moving, along with the addition of February's block.

I have done more postings than usual this month, which is a plus for me.  I have planned menus and pretty well stuck to them throughout the month.  I have gone into the doctor for an annual checkup.  Mammogram and bone density tests tomorrow and a followup for all my results in February.  I am really happy to say, at 56, I am not on any medication, other than taking my Vitamin B and fish oil.  
Now if I can up my exercise daily.

Lady K and I are working on a 'plan' to regulate her bedtime.   So far, we have managed about an 830pm downtime and about a 6am uptime.  If we can just keep it up, then my sleep time will be better.  I installed a 'sleep app' on my phone to see how I actually sleep at night.  Last night was the first time I used it and I am at 88% efficiency for sleep.

So, deep breaths and calm thoughts and a prayer I can get my homework done by Sunday night!  

Sunday, January 26, 2014

More or Less Fractured Grinch

I had all my blocks together, but needed assistant (or a second opinion) on how to lay out the top.  The original pattern calls for a 7 X 8 block quilt top.  Since I bought the fabric first and then decided on the pattern (and didn't want to buy more fabric), mine is going to be 5 x 8.  I had thought about turning it into 2 lap quilts, one for each of the girls.  But then I decided, "No", this one was for me.

Texter had me set out the 4 different blocks in a pile and hold onto our helper, Lady K.  She laid out the blocks according to the pattern and then set about doing some rearranging.  She does a good job on figuring things out like this.  

My design wall is downstairs and definitely not big enough to accommodate a 62 x 99 inch quilt top.  She laid out the blocks and then put down colored post-it-notes on the 4 different blocks.  That way she knew what she could exchange for what easily by just exchanging like colored notes.  (Rather smart of her, I think.)

Our goal was not to have groups of the same colored blocks.  And I think we accomplished that rather well.  Needless to say, this is a very bright quilt top.  What I have to do now is to figure out the remaining pieces and turn them into pinwheels which will probably go on the back which will have to be partially pieced.  And I have 1 block left over from the front which will also go on the back.  The fabric I have for the back is also "Grinch" flannel, but with large motifs which I didn't want to cut up for the front.  And I have another piece which I hope will be enough to fill in with and do the binding.

I ran outside with it and some binder clips and clipped it to the fence before it got too dark to take some pictures.  You can see it's going to be a pretty big quilt.

But piecing the top together was one of my January finishes, so I am successful there.  Now for February I will focus on the back and then in March quilting the huge thing.  I have only made one other quilt this large and I tied it, not quilted it.  So interesting times are ahead.