Sunday, April 29, 2007

Babies and Sumo

This is hilarious - in Mainichi today, they had a Reuters photo showing a baby-crying contest in Sensoji Temple (Tokyo). The aim is to get the babies participating to cry as loudly as possible (the loudest is the winner) - the event is held to pray for the babies' health.

And nothing is going to get a baby to cry more loudly than taking it from it's parents and putting it in the arms of a giant Sumo wrestler.... heh heh heh, very cute!!

More snaps here.

Saturday, April 28, 2007

Pheasants and Woodpeckers

The rain has returned to our area, so I won't be doing any more digging in the garden for the next little while (much to Casey's chagrin, she's been enjoying having the chance to run around the woods and dig up rocks while I garden). :)

I did get some shots of the Ring Necked Pheasant yesterday evening, while he was sitting resplendently on a log, calling out his "gobble gobble" and thumping his feathers. I had to take it through a window, on long zoom, so the quality is poor, but it gives you an idea of the gorgeous-ness of his featherage. He is a beautiful, beautiful man.

Earlier today, while I was out with Casey, she very excitedly ran to me to tell me there was a new kind of birdie in the trees. I looked around and saw it was a couple of woodpeckers in the trees. I think it's a Hairy Woodpecker, it seemed to be the right size. It's a terrible shot, I had to take it on super-zoom against a bright grey sky, but you can sorta make out what it looks like. :D

So, there's still been lots to see, even though it's been rainy. :)

Friday, April 27, 2007

Awesome site, and new sighting! :)

Yesterday, while Casey and I were walking along the edges of the deep forest, I believe I saw my first Boreal Chickadee. Of course, I didn't have my camera with me, so I missed out on taking a picture of both the bird, and the abundance of Mayflowers blooming there (*sigh*). So, a couple of minutes ago, I thought I'd look around online and see if I could find someone else's picture of the Boreal Chickadee, and I found the most awesome site!

Cornell Lab of Ornithology: All About Birds

has not only photos of the Boreal Chickadee (see here) but also recordings of the SOUNDS that the bird makes! It has listings for tons and tons of North American birds, including most of the ones I have mentioned here in my blog! (Plus maps of where the birds can be found, and other cool facts).

I've been playing the sounds for the last little while, and Baby Boy is FREAKING! He's running from window to window, all around the basement, tail swishing madly, trying to see where all these birdsongs are coming from!

So, if you want to hear what some of the more common birds I've mentioned here sound like, head on over to the All About Birds site!

Ring Necked Pheasant (ours sounds a little more like a turkey than the one here)
Song Sparrow - such a pretty little song he makes!
White Throated Sparrow
Black-Capped Chickadee
House Finch (although looking at these different pictures, I think it might be a Purple Finch we have around our feeder...)
Mourning Dove
• And the loon, which is always heard off in the distance, such a beautiful, haunting cry.

I'm also happy to report that the frogs started singing last night! They're about a week later than they've been the last couple of years, but the weather just wasn't right for them yet. :) So now, they can sing to their hearts content (peep, peep, peep, peep, for hours and hours) until they find a mate!

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Mayflowers starting to bloom!

I just went out in the backyard woodland area to see if I could find some Mayflowers...mostly I saw this, a lot of buds getting ready.

But then, I saw this cute little dark pink Mayflower sticking up, saying hello!

And then, I finally found this nice little grouping of buds, all starting to open - very pretty! Each plant has its own intensity of pink - some are white, some are just lightly kissed on the edges with pink, and some are really dark pink (not to fushia level, still a true "pink").

So, the official flower of Nova Scotia is doing well, and ready to dazzle us Nova Scotians again with its beautiful display!

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Sleeping Doves

I was going to go out after supper and move another wheelbarrow-load of dirt over to the new plot, but I spotted these Mourning Doves resting just behind the garden area, soaking up the last rays of the day's sunshine. Pretty darn cute. And I didn't want to disturb them, so I'll move that dirt at another time...

Monday, April 23, 2007

BeanDreams - getting closer!

Phew! I did a LOT of digging this weekend! When the garden plot was first put in many years ago, it was put in off to the side of the backyard. Which was fine, back then. But the trees have grown quite a bit, and now the garden is in their shade for the entire morning. According to the info I got from Vesey's, plants do most of their growing in the morning hours, so I felt it was worth the effort to dig up and move the garden over a few feet. We don't have any topsoil in our backyard - it's been cleaned up and leveled since Hurricane Juan's destruction, but not "finished" as it were (which has actually been a blessing - the wildflowers and grasses grow freely, and are a huge hit with the local birds), so moving the garden to a completely new location would have been too monumental a task - there's just too much rock. However, moving it over a few feet - do-able. Now, if we don't have the terrible growing weather we had last year locally, my garden could do really well this year! :)

Dave and I finished putting up the fence this morning, and I have just a little more soil to move and turn over, and a couple of plants to move (my sage and chives from last year), and it'll all be ready for planting! A couple of the plants I plan on growing this year are able to be sown BEFORE the last frost (unlike last year), so I'll be able to get things started nice and early. Yay! :)

While I was digging up the garden, Casey had a great time being a total spazz, and dug up rocks in the woods. :)

Aside from all that, we had a close encounter with a VERY nearby Ring-Necked pheasant who has started to add a vigorous thumping wingbeat to his turkey-with-a-sore-throat "gobble gobble". Springtime, so he has to show he's tough enough to defend his territory and take care of his 2 lady-friends...and maybe add some more, who can say? He IS a big, beautiful boy, after all! :) His wing beats are very intimidating when heard up close, I must say - Casey and I went indoors for a while after that, to let him go by unimpeded.

Great weather, so glad I had a chance to get started on my garden!

Here's an overview shot, so you can get an idea of how far I moved it.

Here's a shot of the new garden plot from a different angle - I've actually added a little to the square footage, so hopefully I'll be able to plant a little more this year, too!

Friday, April 20, 2007

Gorgeous Day!

Finally, the sunshine has returned! I got out and moved some of my garden, since the weather was cooperating. And now some Mourning Doves have nestled in amongst the tall seed-providing weeds in our backyard, stretching out their wings to take full advantage of the sun, and having an nice nap! Very cute!

Here's some shots of the longer walk Casey and I took a couple of hours ago:

Look at that sky! So blue! A little bit of life is slowly creeping back into the forest, but it's got a ways to go yet.

This is the end of the line for our longer walks usually, where the power lines cut a rather ugly swath into the forest. However, this forest, as I've now seen with Google Earth, continues onward to at least the middle of the province. That there be wild country. And of course, bear country. And coyotes. And bunnies, and all sorts of other creatures. Gotta watch out for some of the more dangerous ones, especially now that spring is here.

Here's a longer shot, with Casey for scale. The forest sure is lovely - so dense.

We have this kind of moss all over Nova Scotia - it's usually grey, but during the very early spring, it "blooms" with this gorgeous bright pink kind of flower - I guess this is how it reproduces and spreads, I'm not sure though. I see ones of varying degrees of pink, and another kind that turns bright red. Quite pretty!

Casey, having a great time running around...

And in the end, while passing by and inspecting maybe thousands of rocks - one stood out to her enough that she decided to take it with her. She carried it ALL the way home - that's like a 20 minute walk. She ran for the last bit though, it was a little heavy at times. Casey and her rocks...when she finds one she likes, no other one will do. They're like her precious sheep charges, she keeps them all together in one place.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Dave just got stared down!

He was looking out the window just now, and a grackle was on the deck and spotted him. The bird then proceeded to do this weird sort of leg stretch, standing on one leg at one point, fluffed his feathers, and ended with rubbing his beak on either side, looking like he was trying to sharpen it, all the while staring Dave down menacingly. Dave's like "What? What did I do??!! I don't want your food, your territory, or your woman! Good grief! A guy can't even look out his own window, geez!"

A few minutes after that, we hear Casey doing her jump 'n' growl, that she does when she sees something not right. But she kept doing it, then started barking - so we took a look outside, and there's a Mourning Dove sitting on our lawn, neck and head tucked back, taking a little rest/snooze. And Casey doesn't like it one bit! What's that out there? What's it doing? Is it infringing on our territory? It better not touch my rocks! (Casey LOVES to play with rocks, she noses them around and such).

Heh heh heh...territoriality can be funny sometimes...

Monday, April 16, 2007

My Gift Shop - Fun With Geometry

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Look who's back!

Took these pics on Thursday - our House Finches have returned from their winter sojourns! Yay!

Between that, and the sheer volume of various species of birds chirping outside now - twiddles and tweets and tworls and every kind of peep imaginable - I'd say spring is on the way!

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Adventures in Paska

This year, I decided to make my first paska. A big deal in a Ukrainian woman's life, this is something that every generation before has painstakingly and lovingly created for their family, and now it was my turn to join the tradition. Admittedly, I'm starting rather late in life (almost mid 30s) - I just heard about a friend of a friend doing her first one at 17! - but better late than never, eh?

I decided to keep the decoration simple on this first one, and I'm glad I did - as it turned out, the braid swelled up so much during baking that it distorted to the point you can barely tell what it is. :) Oh well, better luck next year. (I read on the Byzantine Forum - a great source of info on all traditions Byzantine - that if you make the braid very thin, the rising will make it just about the right size than if you start off making it very thick).

I noticed a couple of things about the recipe that my mother uses, and that I have posted on that I think might have to be changed - I had to add a LOT of extra flour to the recipe, after adding all the liquid called for. I asked my mother and she said she often has to add several extra cups of flour to get the proper consistency. Now, from what I understand, at least in other forms of baking, adding too much flour makes for a dry result. I don't see why it should be different here, so I'm assuming something's off with the recipe - you just shouldn't have to add that much more flour than what's called for.

I see that you "proof the yeast" ahead of time in the recipe, and I'm wondering if perhaps the sugar, yeast and water that's used in the recipe is supposed to include the small amounts taken out to test the potency of the yeast ahead of time? So instead of:

1/2 cup lukewarm water
1 tsp. sugar
1 pkg. yeast


1/4 cup sugar
3 cups lukewarm water

MAYBE, it's only
3 cups lukewarm water AND SET ASIDE 1/2 cup of that to test
1/4 cup sugar AND SET ASIDE 1 tsp of that to test

Even this might be too much liquid, so I would recommend trying what they do for most other recipes - add the water/yeast/sugar mix, and about half of the remaining water at the beginning, THEN add the flour. Then, if you still need more liquid, add it towards the end to get the proper consistency. That way, you don't have to add all this extra flour. I'll have to give this idea a test run next time around, and see if my theory is correct.

Also, from what I've read online, a little hotter than lukewarm water is best for yeast - you don't want it boiling hot, that will kill the yeast, but you do want it very warm. Think of yeast as a living thing (it is!) - do you like a scalding hot bath, or a lukewarm one? No, you like a nice warm bath, somewhere in the middle.

I ended up with a very sticky dough. After adding at least a couple of cups of extra flour, and still the dough was too sticky to work with, I decided to separate out the dough into two pieces. One, I left as is and put it in the bottom of the breadpan. The other half, I added more flour to, until it could be worked with, and this was the dough I used for the top braid decoration.

The bread browns REALLY fast, with the beaten egg brushed on top. So about halfway through the baking, check on it and see if it's the color you want - if it is, cover it with tinfoil so it won't brown further, and let it bake the full time.

Here's some pics of the process:

Here's the bread still doing its final rise - lookin' good!

Here I am adding the beaten egg to the top of the bread. As noted above, check the bread halfway through baking because this really does brown the bread beautifully and fast!

And here she is, the final product! And it tastes good too! :D As I mentioned, the braid distorted as it rose and baked, but I'll work on the decoration more next time. :D

All in all, it was an interesting experience, and I'm really glad I finally tried it! I have joined the ranks of breadmakers, and have done honour to my predecessors.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

I could weep with the sheer joy of it - tax help is finally here!

I could never reconcile spending $30 for tax software when I made little enough that I never had to pay out or get a rebate on my taxes, for many years now. But then, there was the math.

Math and I have never been friends. Ever since way back in elementary school, with the multiplication tables, I have not been a fan. Geometry, that's cool. And a kind of unconscious understanding of some aspects of geometry have helped me greatly in my artistic life.

But taxes don't require knowledge of geometry. They require lots of adding, subtracting, and multiplying. Ugh. Especially when you do a whole page of math and in the end, as you knew it would be, there's that final bit that says, if the number is less than ___, enter 0. And so all that math was for NOTHING. Always. Oh, how I hated it. But, if I want to get a GST rebate (a small amount sent out quarterly as a rebate for a particular tax), I have to do it. So every year, I get out the calculator and do all that useless number crunching.

But then, in March, Jack Layton (the leader of the NDP here in Canada) said that free tax software should be available to every Canadian, to save all the paper wasted every year, etc. And in the article about his comments on the CBC, they mentioned that one program (Studio Tax) already was free, but it had certain restrictions (like, you can't use it if you lived in Quebec, or if you have certain special circumstances). They only ask you to pay what you can for it. I was intrigued, I had never heard of it before - so I looked it up, and it looked good! It was government certified and everything!

After updating my version of Microsoft .NET (a requirement of the program) I was able to do my taxes in under 5 minutes! I just filled in a couple of fields and it did the rest! All that math! It did it all! I was ecstatic! (And I know it did the math correctly, because I also used it to file Dave's mom's taxes, for which I had already done the math - and it was all good!)

I sat on it for about a week, then went back, double checked everything, and generated my .TAX file to upload to the government of Canada's NETFILE website. All done! No paper wasted or anything! Well, except for the forms they had already sent me, of course - but I recycled them, so that's not too bad.

Anyway, it's a fantastic little program, it even has wizards for the main tax forms, and your T4 forms from work, AND it has all those weird extraneous Schedule Forms that aren't included in the main packages that you have to make a special trip to the post office for. It has it all!

If you do use Studio Tax, please make a donation, however small. :)

The Canadian tax deadline is April 30, 2007.


Monday, April 09, 2007

From my Gift Shop - Spring Tees!

Saturday, April 07, 2007

More like Christmas than Easter....

Not very Eastery-looking outside! It would make a perfect Christmas Eve, though! :) Here's a group of 4 juncos (or was it 3 juncos and a sparrow - can't quite make out the fourth guy there), getting some seeds before they get covered up by the snow.

This one turned out blurry - but he was such a cute little guy, I had to post it anyway. He's all puffed up to keep warm, and his little dark grey top looks like a dinner jacket - so cute!

Friday, April 06, 2007

More Weird Weather...

We were just watching MLB TV (and WOW, is it amazing, more on that later), but the Seattle/Cleveland game just got called on a SNOW delay!!!! It was turning into a freakin' blizzard during the game!

I mean, I know it's cold in the springtime, and sometimes the umpires have to wear their coats, but c'mon!! This is nuts! The last few days there have been SO many games with snow, and/or people freezing in the stands, covered in blankets, and ball players walking around with their free hand in their back pockets with a pocket warmer - in Canada, we call that football weather (and we're prepared for it) - but it's just bizarre to have it during a baseball game. It's just...unnatural.

It's funny too, they have "This game is in a rain delay" signs up on the TV - I guess they never prepared in case of a snow delay!

Sunday, April 01, 2007

Awesome new chicken glaze recipe!

I just had the most awesome glaze on my chicken tonight! I modified it from the recipe found here, and it totally turned out great! Definitely try this one the next time you're having chicken!

Red Wine Glaze
Serves 4.

1 teaspoon vegetable oil
chicken pieces, enough to serve 4 (4 breasts, or 2 breasts and 4 legs, or 2 breasts and 2 leg/thigh combos - your preference)
1 teaspoon minced garlic
1 teaspoon paprika
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/3 cup red wine
salt and pepper to taste

Brown chicken pieces in vegetable oil in a medium skillet, until cooked. Set aside and keep warm.

In bowl, combine garlic, paprika, brown sugar, red wine, and s & p. Pour into skillet, and scrape up browned bits. Stir regularly, reduce until slightly thickened - you want it to still be pourable, not so thick that it becomes a gel.

Plate your chicken, then drizzle glaze artistically over the chicken. :)

So delicious!

From my Gift Shop - Bountiful Butterflies!