Thursday, July 29, 2010

Sometimes local birds are the best birds

We once went on a field trip whose theme was that the "best bird" is the one you are currently looking at. This week we are enjoying local birds with a birding friend from California. We went up to the International Crane Foundation, which I've blogged about before. Yes, we saw cranes, but we also saw a baby American Robin about to leave the nest and a House Sparrow about to build one.
The next day we drove an hour and a half to the 44,000 acre (17,806 hectares)  Necedah National Wildlife Refuge where we saw a family of Whooping Cranes in the wild and some Trumpeter Swans. They were too far away for good photos but we saw them well from the observation tower using our scope.
   Biologists are working at Necedah to establish a second migratory flock of Whooping Cranes. They have already had success directly releasing chicks to follow adults that already know the migration route between Necedah and Florida. Some chicks are still led south by ultralight but they plan to phase that out as the flock grows. The refuge itself is very beautiful and we had a grand time enjoying the wide open spaces.
Today we birded right in the city of Madison at Cherokee Marsh where Mr. Rududu got photos of the red eyed vireo—a bird that usually torments me by singing persistently from the top of tall trees where I can't see it. Today vireo satisfaction was total.
 After lunch at home, we walked over to Olbrich Botanical Gardens where our very common but magnificent Northern Cardinal posed in all his glory.

Monday, July 26, 2010

The three most powerful words

I saw this on campus. It touched me how many people had torn off a tab. The three most powerful words, the words that change the world or change a life: I love you. Let's all remember to say them to the people that need them.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Toymakers' Manifesto

I was recently interviewed by math4knitters for her podcast. One question Lara asked me was about my fascination with knitted toys. Why do two middle-aged people like making small knitted toys? We'll admit to not giving them all of them away. OK, maybe not even that many. Some are too delicate for children; they are more like little sculptures; some we just can't part with.
  So here is my Toymakers Manifesto:  knitting silly toys doesn't need an excuse any more than any other crafty pursuit does. Cuteness is its own reward.
  In celebration of this stand tough approach, we accept the newly completed strongman into Le Cirque de Souris.
 He was knit and assembled by Mr. Rududu. I embroidered the face and provided a little knitting advice along the way. He joins his colleagues the bee trainer, the lady bird trainer, the plate spinner, the juggling clowns and the ring master. There are several more characters we plan to knit, including the escape artist and the trapeze artists.
The patterns were created by Alan Dart. These mice are about the size of real mice so the knitting is quick. However, parts are numerous and are knit flat so a mouse requires lots of sewing up; it's a bit fiddly and time consuming. Mr. Rududu has installed armatures so that the mice can be posed without falling over.
 We knit the mice bodies with Shetland 2 ply jumper weight yarn; the clothing and accessories are in Kauni yarn from the rainbow sequence. It's hardly a stashbusting project but you can use up very small amounts of yarn you might have on hand. I guess every little bit helps when it comes to stashbusting.
   As for the rest of the interview, some of is about what rududu means, about my nether garment and why I knit it, and a large part is very basic hints about knitting in color for someone who has never tried it.  The interview can be found here.

Friday, July 16, 2010

My new favorite yarn store

What a joy to discover a wonderfully overstuffed yarn store in the middle of nowhere, especially when that middle of nowhere is just a short drive from my house. Susan's Fiber Shop is on a farm between Sun Prairie and Columbus, Wisconsin. I was under the impression that it was a small shop for spinners. I couldn't have been more wrong. The first few minutes we were in the shop, I mostly stood there with my mouth agape, stupefied. Then I ran around and discovered room after room of fiber related goodness.
  Mr. Rududu quickly homed in on the only origami book among a vast assortment of books covering many crafts. He searches out origami books in places like Japanese bookstores in San Francisco so I was impressed he found one he wanted on County Highway A. I finally settled a bunch of beautiful sock yarn I really didn't need and Betsy got the book on spinning that she had been after. Susan also has beading supplies, looms and weaving yarns, all kinds of fleece, and did I mention that she has yarn? She does a lot of mail order sales but it seems mostly of spinning supplies. A fellow knitter advises that it's good to call before a visit to make sure the merchandise is not traveling to a show or festival the day you want to go.
After my purchases, I went out the back door to meet and greet some of the 70 or so Teeswater sheep that Susan has. Baa! Baa! BAA! They were quite fascinated by me until they determined I had no sheep food.
  On the way home we had lunch in Sun Prairie (population 28,000), which has a vibrant downtown reflecting a 37% increase in population since 2000. Yikes. The Atlantis Taverna served us very good Greek food and on the same block were two quilting shops. J.J. Stitches  and Prairie Quiltworks, which even has quite a bit of interesting yarn. Looking at quilting fabric is almost as fun as looking at yarn, and less expensive since I rarely buy any.  Sun Prairie seems to be a new epicenter for fibers; maybe that's why so many people are moving there.
  We will be making another field trip out to Susan's soon.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Water watching

I have a new sport: water watching. It's something I do with binoculars when I'm birdwatching and there are no birds around, assuming there is water.
I also enjoy watching water without binoculars. I think many people are already water watchers—there must be a reason that property near lakes, oceans and rivers costs worth more and why my dentist has installed a waterfall outside his office.
 I call my group called American Water Watchers Association (AWWA). That sounds a bit like agua said with a speech impediment. I'm assuming America covers both the northern and southern continents. The same acronym would work for Africa and Asia.  EWWA for Europe? Doesn't sound nearly as nice somehow. Or we could go with World Wide Water Watchers. (WWWW) To say it, put your lips together to make a W and blow out.
The tough part about making it a sport is quantifying it. After all, birdwatching, which is a bit marginal as a sport, lets you count things. That's the beauty of water watching: it's hard to count or keep score.  Too fluid a subject? But think of field trips to famous and beautiful waterfalls, or to the beach.
   Even watching still water with reflections is fun. This is the Thai water garden in a park near our house.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Caught: a big one!

A couple of days ago a neighbor called to tell us with great excitement that a Great Blue Heron had just flown in and landed in the park in front of our house.
 The Great Blue is the largest North American heron, standing up to 4 feet tall (120 cm). They are also common and widespread so we've seen them often—but never standing around right in front of our house! The city park is on a lake, so we've seen a few fly past over the years. A nearby gaggle of middle school kids learning to canoe and banging paddles against their aluminum boats weren't enough to scare it off. Even some people that were unaware of it and walked along the path a few feet away only caused it to fly to the other side of the river. There, fortuitously, it was out in the open so Mr. Rududu could get some excellent photos of it.
We understood the bird's reluctance to leave when we saw the fish it had caught. I think it's a catfish—or maybe a carp—if anyone knows please let me know.  I'm a lot better at identifying birds than fish. One thing for sure, relative to the size of the bird it was BIG and not easy to eat.  These birds swallow small fish whole but this one needed some dissection first.
   By the way, Mr. Rududu digiscopes. He uses a small point and shoot digital camera to take pictures through a small telescope. It's easier to carry the gear around than a full sized camera with big lenses and we can also use the scope to look at birds. Our rule: look at the bird first and then take a picture. How great that his best ever photo of this species could be taken right by our city house.
Edited to add: probably a yellow bullhead, which is a type of catfish.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Oooh—pretty lights!

Like many in the US, I watched a lot of fireworks this holiday weekend. Madison claims to have the best fireworks display in the Midwest: Rhythm and Booms. I, for one, believe them. The fireworks are electronically set off to go with music that is broadcast over the radio. I love these colorful explosions whose only purpose is to be beautiful.
They shot off over 15,000 shells and the display lasted over 30 minutes. It was spectacular!  I only wish that our Independence Day celebrations could be a celebration of peace—with less military presence, in this case including a flyover by some military jets before the show.
A friend lives near Warner park and after the show we wait at her house while some of the 250,000 attendees try to leave simultaneously. It goes pretty smoothly, considering that that is more people than live in Madison. There are also many people watching from all around the nearby lake; there's even a traffic jam of boats going home.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

An Iowa adventure

Laws on smoking in public vary from state to state.  In Iowa, they are very strict: at a rest stop along the highway you can only smoke if you are inside your car with the windows closed.
Fortunately, we do not smoke. Incidentally, the rest stop was bucolic. (And the air was pure.) I felt like just staying there a while and looking at the scenery. We were on our way from Madison to Des Moines to visit friends last weekend. Iowa and Wisconsin share a border but the Midwest is large and it's about a 5 hours drive. It's scenic in a gentle sort of way.
  A highlight of the trip was an delicious Iowa version of Chinese hot pot. (Our friends spent a month in China this winter, visiting their daughter who is teaching there.)
We saw the new Pappajohn Sculpture Park. It's a gorgeous open space right downtown and is full of large sculptures by well known artists. One of the most popular works seems to be Nomad by Jaume Plensa. It's fun to walk inside the figure and look at the sky. (Plensa is also responsible for the wonderful fountain in Chicago's Millenium Park.)
 We amused ourselves by looking at the art and looking at each other look at the art. Paul took a lot of photos too; here he's taking a shot of Back of a Snowman by Gary Hume. Only metal snowmen would have survived the heat in Des Moines this weekend. Saturday the heat index (what it feels like with the humidity) was 103F (39.4C). We stayed inside and watched the US lose to Gambia in the World Cup, the only sad part of our trip to Iowa.