Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Darling Starling

For reasons I don’t care to get into here, we currently have a nest of starlings in the eaves of our home. We’re waiting for the babies to hatch and fledge before cleaning out the nest and patching the hole in the fascia board. Until now we had little to go on with regards to the progress of the babes, save for the quietness of the nest one day, followed by the expectant chirps as momma bird flew in and out with food.
This afternoon one of the chicks fell out, or failed in an early flight attempt. Let’s face it, it’s too downy to be a flier, and the two story fall to concrete probably wasn’t the best thing for its long-term health. But it did give me an opportunity to snap a quick photo.

And the crew of cats that alerted me to the exciting development just beyond the sliding glass door probably had the best three hours of viewing entertainment of their little lives.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

BOM April: Put a Hex on It (with apologies to Portlandia)

Does it feel like I’ve gone radio silent? Things have picked up around these parts, and it’s getting harder and harder to work for long stretches on any one thing, or even find an opening in the crazy schedule for routine yet essential tasks.

I had visions of crafting a post about one of my more involved projects once it was completed, but alas it looks like that won’t be for several weeks. So here’s a taste of one: the April block in my Craftsy quilting class.

April’s lesson is on English paper piecing, which means hexagons, and dozens of them. As usual we were given two designs. The first design I’ll refrain from showing you until it’s completed, but it’s a basic design with hexagons. The second design was supposed to be a kind of a landscape with a hex sun beaming hex rays. If you like that kind of design, rock on. But it is absolutely not my aesthetic, nor would it, in my opinion, fit with the other abstract blocks that we’ve made so far and that I assume we’ll continue to make past this month. So I’m going rogue. But if I’m not doing the prescribed design, what design will I create?

Option A:
 I prefer this over the original, but realized that I may encounter balance problems in my fabric selection. On to Option B (Imagine there’s another medium hex toward the top of the design similar to what’s at the bottom. I simply ran out of pre-cut hexes for this exercise.):

 Better balance. What else can I do?
Option C, medium hex remark from above still applies:
 Hmmmm. I like it, too, but it could be read as liturgical, which isn’t the direction I wanted to go.
Option D, medium hex remark from above still applies:
Ding, ding, ding. We have a winner! Now for the long and boring part, cutting out the fabric and basting them into the hexagon shape.

For the record, this BOM has taught me that I loath making hexagons, and not for the reason people who don’t know me might believe. More on why when the blocks are completed.

In other news, I am currently reading four books. FOUR, people! The one non-fiction I have going is If Walls Could Talk, which is a history of home design as a mirror of the culture and norms of the day. I highly recommend it to anyone who is interested - not just in architecture - but also European and American culture of the last five centuries. I’m still in the first few chapters (See: “crazy schedule,” and “currently reading four books” above) but to give you an idea of the breadth and depth of cultural discussions, yesterday I finished the chapters on childbirth and breastfeeding. And yes, it really is a book about the history of home design. You can listen to the Fresh Air author interview here.

Monday, April 09, 2012


You can’t overestimate the power of a cat’s love - or of a cat’s loathing.

For the second time in under a week the unmistakable screams of male cats fighting sent me sprinting to the solarium in the post-sunset or pre-dawn hours.

Allow me to set the stage. We have cats. Six cats, to be exact, all spayed or neutered, all pampered house cats. Five of these cats enjoy hanging out in the solarium where they can catch a breeze through screened openings set about a foot off the ground. Two of the cats are male. In times of turf war or perceived peril, the alpha male plows a path through the wall-to-wall carpet on the way toward his preferred hiding spot under the bed at the opposite end of the house and a level up. The beta male, on the other hand, will defend his territory and the honor of the female cats. Though he is now declawed, when Nacho (beta cat) was an unsocialized neighborhood stray (old neighborhood) I witnessed him chase down and kill a seemingly healthy squirrel. He has the neck of a rugby player, and the spirit of a soldier. One last critical point: the solarium is set along what appears to be a regular patrol path for a neighbor’s cat, coming from our front yard to our back, up the stairs and down the utility alley to his home the next street over. While I have never gotten a close daylight view of this cat, he appears to be a husky long-coated white and orange male. And based on evidence, fully clawed and presumably intact.

Back to the story. I have sprinted the length of the house from my craft room to the solarium where I turn on the light and look for the source of the screams. My beta male, Nacho, is near the smallest of our screened windows staring out onto the back patio area, and visibly upset. I can see the culprit disappearing into the dark at the top of the landscaped stairs as I kneel down next to Nacho to comfort and calm him. When I do so, I notice that in the course of the fight the screen has come loose on two of the four sides, easily allowing another cat to come in or ours to get out.

 Poor quality image snapped in haste, but the claw marks of a cat are unmistakable.
Thankfully, the winter glass insert was within reach, so I put it in place to re-secure the room. The other cats have shown tremendous interest in that window, sniffing it closely as though they can smell that something really dramatic happened there. No doubt. After the sun came up, I could see that the screen bore the unmistakable tears of a cat’s claw. That damn neighbor cat was trying to fight his way inside. Unacceptable. And while my cats are current in their vaccinations, I do not add feline aids or leukemia to their vaccination schedule because they aren’t exposed to outside cats. Except that they are, thanks to a (presumably intact) male cat and an oblivious owner.

Poor Nacho. It took him several hours to come down off that adrenaline rush high, pacing and mumbling all the while.

Short-term we replaced the screens with a screen/hardware cloth sandwich. Hopefully that will be sufficient to avoid further break ins. But what I would love to do? Rig up a mister bottle (paint ball gun was also suggested) to fire when a motion detector is triggered by a small animal walking along that pathway. It would, of course, also need a web cam to capture the action, and we would probably want to have a time lock on it so that it wouldn’t activate during daylight hours when I’m, say on my hands and knees pulling weeds. Just sayin’.

Unfortunately, that last deliciously satisfying solution is outside of my skill set (for now), but Good Lord it makes me happy just dreaming about it!

Sunday, April 01, 2012

More Better

As always when you buy a new house, there are 1001 things that demand your attention in small to big ways. They can’t all be accomplished at once. Sometimes there are budget constraints. Sometimes it’s impossible to find room on the calendar to slot it in. Sometimes you know something needs to be done, but aren’t quite sure of the solution. The yew fits in to this last category.

This shaggy behemoth has been an eyesore since day 1. It’s a good 20' in diameter, its relationship to the maple (the trunk is visible on the left side) has always struck me as odd, and there are no other bushes in our yard that are similar in shape or structure. Why haven’t cut it down because it does serve a useful purpose, helping to shield our house from cars careening out of control down the street in the icy depths of winter. It also helps to form a privacy wall between us and some of our more irritating neighbors.

A less irritating neighbor told me that there used to be more yews on that bit of land, that were planted closer to the main street, and would have formed a ring around the maple. That made a bit more sense. But the yews were removed by the city some years back because they formed a sight line hazard, resulting in a car vs. bike accident.

Now that the main issues with the yard have been attended to, I have been able to turn my attention to the yew. It turns out that yews are one of the few evergreens that can be trimmed back brutally in the spring, and grow back easily through the summer season. I decided, brutality was the answer.

This is a photo taken inside the bush, showing the interesting bark and limb structure. Many of these limbs will need to be cut out, but the bones are very interesting. Once I was inside, it was clear that this bush has never been pruned, properly or otherwise.

Our long-term plan will be conducted over several years, but the goal for Year 1 was to “lift the skirt,” as arborists say. This is definitely a two person job, so one person can climb deep inside and saw, chop and lop, while the second person pulls out the debris, and helps to identify the next limb to be dealt with.

Three hours later, we had this:

Not one yew, but two, with a lifted skirt and a much more appealing overall appearance. Purposeful but not overly fussy.

Next year we’ll thin out the yew on the right to give it a more architectural appearance.