Thursday, January 31, 2013

Wild weather at January's end

What a crazy wild night we had last night! Yesterday there were gale force winds and tornadoes all around the state, and warm temperatures (75F for the high) followed by torrential rains. Today the sun is shining, but it's still very windy, and the temperature is dropping. Tomorrow night the low is supposed to be 21F. What an incredible range of temperatures we've had this month--you never know how to dress.

The little wild  birds at our feeders have been stuffing themselves with seed. We've been seeing lots of small species recently: house finches, titmice, chickadees, mourning doves, and the ever-present house sparrows. I can barely keep up with refilling the feeders on our coldest days, and on mornings when it's below freezing outside the birds really appreciate it when we add warm water to the frozen birdbath. The squirrels also love our offerings. We've tried buying the cheaper "squirrel mix"  for them that contains lots of cracked corn , but they ignore that until the more expensive seed is gone. Even the wild animals around this house are spoiled rotten!

We are at the threshold of February, and although I'm still hoping to see some snow, I'm also beginning to dream of spring. Early springtime in the Carolinas is beautiful, and the longer days never fail to lift my spirits. I can't wait for my favorite season to arrive!

Friday, January 25, 2013

The rest of the flock

By now, anyone reading here knows all about Marco, the crazy eclectus parrot that lives with us. His antics are a never-ending source of entertainment, and although he drives us nuts sometimes, our life would be a lot less fun without him. But Mr. M isn't the only bird that lives with us, and it's time to introduce the other little feathered friends that make up our flock!

First and foremost, there is Chip.

Chip is a house sparrow that was brought to me as a newly hatched orphan. The tree his nest was in got cut down, and a kind soul found him and brought him to the local "bird lady" to take care of. I hand fed him, and eventually he grew up enough to be on  his own...only he never left. After he fledged, he lived outside for awhile but still came to us in the evenings for supplemental food (as young birds raised in captivity will do). The crazy thing about Chip was, he never quit coming to us for attention....long after he should have disappeared into the wild. He would fly down to our shoulders when we got home from work, and we would allow him to come into the house to sleep at night. Eventually it got to be winter, and Chip didn't want to go outside anymore, and after that winter was over, we had a permanent house guest. He's never wanted to leave since, and we don't know if he would make it outdoors after all these years of being taken care of.

Baby Chip, 2006

Newly fledged!

Today Chip lives in a spare bedroom in our current house. There is a large ficus tree in there, as well as some houseplants, and a window that looks out onto the bird feeders in our backyard. We let Chip fly free in there; we keep newspaper down on the floor for easy cleanup, and he as an open cage for sleeping and to hold his food and water dish. He loves perching in the ficus and watching the birds at the feeder outside. He's a sweet little guy that loves people food as treats, especially bread. Chip lives the good life.

All grown up!

Around the time we got Chip, my soft hearted husband brought home a young zebra finch from his pet store that was being mistreated by the other birds. She was too young to fight for her share of the food, and for some reason she would sometimes fall down, end up on her back, and then would be unable to right herself.  She came to live with us, and soon was a healthy, happy girl. She keeps Chip company. We call her Peeps:

Peeps flies free in the "bird room" with Chip. They get along great, which is surprising considering how different they are. Their instincts to live as part of a flock have made them friends despite the differences. We've had both of these birds for years now.

Last month, a third small bird came to live with us. Once again, there was a baby zebra finch at the pet store that needed help. This time it was a little male, and somehow he either lost (or never had) one of his legs. GB couldn't stand to see him trying to survive in a crowded cage at the store, and obviously no one wants to buy a one-legged finch. So this little guy came to join Chip and Peeps in the bird room. We call him Pogo (get it?).

Pogo is doing quite well, and is getting fat and sassy! Since he was small and weak at first (and only has the one leg) we decided to keep him in a cage for awhile to be sure there wouldn't be any trouble with the others. Also, despite his having one leg, we're afraid that he might be able to breed with Peeps, and the last thing we need is more finches! So for now at least he lives in a cage in the room where Chip and Peeps are allowed to fly free. His cage is placed to allow a great view of the bird feeders outside the window, and is roomy and clean. Peeps and Chip often perch on top of his cage, or beside him in the ficus tree, and they all chatter to each other. They are a happy little group.

Part of the reason we keep the little birds in their own room is to ensure that there is no trouble with Marco. Marco likes them, though, and will sometimes call out, "Chip! Peeps! Whatcha' doin'?" Occasionally he will fly into their room to see what they're up to, but we keep a close eye on any interaction between them. A medium size parrot could hurt little birds without even meaning to.

So that's the rest of the flock! Everyone has heard of crazy cat ladies. I guess I'm a crazy bird lady!

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Cold (and dreaming of snow)

Well, it's finally cold again here in eastern SC. We only had about a week of unseasonably warm weather, followed by a return to our normal winter temperatures. Last night it got down to 25F, the coldest it's been so far this month. The birdbath was solid ice this morning and the birds and squirrels were flocking around the feeders replenishing their energy stores.

Yesterday at work I spoke to a couple driving through (off I-95) on their way back home to Connecticut. They were trying to beat a snowstorm that is headed to the Northeast, and needless to say, they weren't thrilled at the prospect of snow. They smirked when I told them I wished we would get some! But having been deprived of it for most of my life, there's still something special about a snowfall to me. I hope we see a little bit of the white stuff this winter. Spring will be here before we know it!

Of course I took lots of pictures the last few times we got some snow, and I thought I would share some of my favorites with you.

Our side yard.

Every summer, several broods of house sparrows hatch and grow up here.
The nest box is right outside our kitchen window.

This is Charlie. He's a Boykin Spaniel, and was Ginger's best friend when we lived at our last house.
He belonged to our neighbors.

GB, Ginger, and Charlie, 2009.

First winter at the new house, 2010. I love this photo.

GB and Ginger.


Monday, January 21, 2013

Happy MLK and Inauguration Day!

Today is the day set aside each year to celebrate a true American hero, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
We are also celebrating the 2nd inauguration of President Obama. Despite all of our shortcomings, this country has come a long way since the civil rights movement. MLK would be proud!

Photo: A new official presidential portrait, just in time for the Inauguration.
President Obama will be sworn in with a bible that belonged to Dr. King.


Thursday, January 17, 2013

Productive day

Yesterday was a good day.

I got some things done around the house I'd been putting off for months, most of which ended up taking very little time and effort. I'm beginning to notice that I may have a wee problem with procrastination. Check out what I managed to accomplish in one day (with free time left over in the afternoon). What was I waiting for?!

1. Two phone calls I made yesterday (to change our Internet service provider) will save us over $100 per month. Another call (to set up direct deposit of my paycheck, two years after getting hired) will save another $12 in bank fees per month, not to mention the hassle of depositing the check each week.

2. I've been doing without a needed prescription since before Christmas because I wasn't sure what to do with the paper script the doctor gave me. Any long term medicines I take are provided via mail order, 3 months at a time, by my insurance company. Since I couldn't just pop down to the pharmacy to have it filled, I put off doing anything. It ended up taking less than 5 minutes on the phone with a representative and then dropping the script in the mail. That's it.

3. I finally raked our front yard. I procrastinated with that because I thought it would be a hard job. We have three large pine trees and an old oak that had dumped what looked like pounds of leaves and straw on the ground. But when I finally got started, it turned out to be kind of pleasant. The weather is still nice and warm, and the exercise felt good. It took about an hour, and our yard looks so much better. I'm sure our neighbors (most of whom have perfectly maintained lawns) are beside themselves with joy.

The best part of the day came last. I went downtown in the afternoon to do some shopping. While I was out, I ran into a casual acquaintance who made my day. She said, "Wow, have you lost weight? You look thinner. What have you been doing?" I nearly hugged her right there on the spot!

I need more days like yesterday.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

And a good time was had by all....

My Sunday afternoon with friends was a success! I had hoped to take pictures, but everyone was running behind and by the time we got started it was almost dark. It was so nice to be able to sit outside this time of year. The crazy warm weather we've been having probably can't last much longer, but it sure is pleasant!

Gus the puppy came over. That boy is growing like mad! He's only 4 months old and already he weighs 50lbs, and his paws are still huge in comparison to the rest of him. He's a total sweetheart, just 50lbs of pure puppy goofiness. Ginger and Gus are going to be good pals; they ran around the backyard and played hard for an hour or so, then Ginger went inside and took a small nap. She's a high energy dog, but no match for a 4 month old! Haha.

While the dogs played, my two guests and I drank margaritas and talked. I served Black Bean Thingies (the recipe came from a knitting superstar/blogger, Stephanie Pearl-McPhee The Yarn Harlot, from her blog back in December) and they were a hit! The idea is to cut soft tortillas into as many 4inch circles as you can (using a pint glass to measure), then put the circles down into greased muffin cups. Then you fill them with a mixture of drained and rinsed canned black beans, corn, Roma tomatoes, green onions, diced green and red peppers, avocado, lots of cheddar cheese, chili powder, salt, and cumin. After filling the cups, you bake them in a 350 degree oven for 12-15 minutes. As long as the mixture isn't too wet, these little cups bake up crispy and delicious, and are equally good hot or at room temperature. They're perfect finger food for parties! We also had homemade cheese dip and crackers, and I bought cupcakes from the grocery store for dessert. We all ate too much and drank too much, and laughed a whole lot too! A good time was had by all!

I can't wait to see what we come up with for our February gathering. Our resolution to make more time for friendship this year has gotten off to a great start! I love my wonderful circle of friends!

Sunday, January 13, 2013

A beautiful Sunday with friends

Today is going to be a great day! Some friends and I decided as a mutual New Year's resolution to have small monthly get-togethers this year. It's so easy to let weeks slip by without any contact; everyone is busy and it's easy to put friendship on the back burner, so to speak. We've decided to do something about it this year, and today is the day we chose for our first gathering.

As a mini theme for the month of January we decided on "Beat the Midwinter Blues". We're going to have margaritas and a small potluck of "summery" dishes. (I plan to make miniature taco salads and provide the margaritas and iced tea.) The weather might as well have been special ordered for us; it's going to be 78F today! We're in the middle of a freak January warm spell this weekend, so we will get to have our party out back on the patio. The weather is beautiful, with a warm wind and blue skies. Gus the puppy is coming, too, so even Ginger will have a friend to play with!

It's going to be a fun day.

Monday, January 7, 2013

Street fight!

Last night was interesting, to say the least. There is a dog in the neighborhood, a young lab mix, that is kept on a chain in his owner's backyard. The poor guy goes nuts every night when we walk past with Ginger--jumping, straining at his chain, barking hysterically--and it's a sad and sorry sight indeed. Every once in awhile his owner will step out of the back door to yell "Shut up!" but that's seems to be the extent of the attention he gets. I hate walking past his house; it breaks my heart to see a dog so neglected. It's an odd thing in our neighborhood, too. Most of our neighbors are middle aged folks that dote on their pets, and would never chain up their dogs. I guess everyone has "that one neighbor" even in a good neighborhood.

Last night, as we were doing our usual walk, we saw a black shadow running around the side of this dog's house. Lo and behold, the dog had somehow broken his chain and escaped the fence, and was running loose in the night. When we got close to his house, he rushed up to us, overexcited and leaping around. We immediately reined in Ginger's leash; it was obvious this dog hasn't had any socialization and we knew it could mean trouble. The dog is probably good natured in general, but he scared us from the get go. He kept jumping up on us and Ginger in an intimidating way and refusing to let us walk on in peace. Ginger was nervous and growling and the situation was getting out of control. The owner came to his door (I guess he heard the ruckus), and GB yelled for him to come get his dog. He came out of his house, dressed in nothing but a pair of shorts, looking like a drunk redneck (which he probably was) and started walking our way to retrieve his crazy animal. Then all hell broke loose!

Ginger and the dog started to fight. Ginger's collar slipped off and I was left holding the leash with the empty collar dangling at the end. The two dogs were rolling on the ground, snarling and yelping, and no one could get a handhold on them. Ginger broke free from the dog and started to run; the crazy lab was right behind her, and I panicked. I vaguely remember yelling something along the lines of "Get your f*ckin' dog! Get your f*ckin' dog!" as I scrambled after them. GB was in the midst of the melee, trying to punch or kick the crazy dog to get him to let go of Ginger, and the owner was trying to grab his dog. (GB told me later he landed a couple of hard kicks to the dog's ribcage). We all ended up in another neighbor's yard, screaming and grabbing at our dogs, until finally Ginger broke away and ran down the street.  I went after her, the drunk redneck finally was able to grab his dog, and GB came running after us. I was shaken up, and furious, but Ginger was fine. Apparently the fight sounded worse that it was; it was difficult to see what was happening at the time because it was so dark. We walked directly home after that, with me shaking all over with adrenaline and fury and declaring I would call the police if Ginger had any bites on her. She didn't, thank goodness.

Later on, we were able to laugh about the experience (once it had all ended with no one hurt). We must have looked like a bunch of loonies if any of the other neighbors were looking out of their windows! I was cursing like a sailor, the dogs were rolling on the ground snarling, GB was kicking and drawing back his fist preparing to punch, the drunk barefoot redneck (in nothing but shorts in freezing weather) running after me and the must have been one hell of a sight in our normally sedate middle class neighborhood!

Definitely a first at our house; a family street fight!!

Sunday, January 6, 2013

A fair start

How are your New Year's resolutions going?  I decided to devote the first couple of months this year to improving my health. The new habits I'm trying to establish are:
  1. Eating breakfast. And by "breakfast" I mean something somewhat nutritious, prepared at home, and eaten shortly after waking up (as opposed to a muffin or scone purchased at work in the early afternoon once I'm starving).
  2. Taking vitamins with breakfast.
  3. Packing a healthy, appetizing lunch for work. Limiting fast food or eating out midday.
  4. Drinking 8 (8oz) glasses of water, and cutting way back on sodas. I could drink Cokes all day long, and have been for some months now. That's not good.
  5. Go for an extra walk (or do something else active) for 30 minutes, three or four days each week. I already take a long walk with my husband and dog every night, but I still feel the need for some extra exercise in my life. Most of the things I really enjoy doing involve sitting in a chair. Which leads me to my last health resolution for the year.......
  6. ....take up some new hobby or sport, something active, that I will enjoy and can incorporate into everyday life.
I felt that these six goals were do-able, and not too intimidating. So far, I've had total success with numbers 1, 2, and 3. Number 4 has been harder. Although I've cut down on my Cokes, I haven't been drinking as much water as I need to replace them. It's so hard to learn to like plain water when you have a soft drink habit, even though we have a nice filter and it tastes OK. It's just dull and I forget to drink it. I need to get better at this!

As for the extra walks, I haven't done those even once yet. The weather has been bad--cold and rainy and miserable--so even my nightly walks with GB and Ginger have been somewhat shorter than usual. I'm trying to be realistic about it. I figure that getting more active is going to be a process, something I won't be able to accomplish all at once, and when I'm genuinely deterred by bad weather that's nothing to beat myself up about. I haven't been purposely avoiding it, which is all that really matters.

I would love some suggestions for number 6 (a new hobby or sport) if anyone has any ideas. I need something fun to do besides walking to get me up and moving! I've considered fixing up my bike and riding, but after that I'm fresh out of ideas. Anyone have any thoughts about this? Something you enjoy that gets your heart rate up? (Besides going to a gym. I shudder at the thought of that.)

How are your resolutions going? I hope everyone's New Year has gotten off to a good start this week!

Thursday, January 3, 2013

For John ~ The Walking Dead bobbleheads!!!

These adorable bobbleheads are now available to order at Amazon for fans of The Walking Dead! My favorite is Daryl Dixon. I love his little crossbow!

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Happy New Year all!

Just popping in to wish my all blogging friends a wonderful New Year!

At my house, we saw 2013 in sitting on our front steps, watching the most amazing fireworks being set off by two groups of neighbors! It was a really nice show--somebody really forked over some money to make it happen! GB and I used to buy fireworks on NYE, but they're crazy expensive, especially if you want the good ones. We had to give it up years ago, as we're (sadly) not made of money, and can't afford to literally "blow" that much cash for a few minutes of fun. Naturally I was thrilled when we started to hear explosions and cheers outside our windows at 11:30pm. I opened my bottle of champagne, and we bundled up in warm clothes and and went out to sit on the front steps and watch. We enjoyed ourselves tremendously (for free!) while the two houses alternated lighting their fireworks. It was just like holidays I remember growing between the explosions you could hear kids laughing and shouting and running around, adults talking and laughing and cheering after each burst of color and noise, and general merrymaking (and drinking!) all around the neighborhood. GB and I agreed it was the most fun NYE we've had in years. Here's hoping all of 2013 will be as merry as it's beginning!

Happy New Year everyone!