Friday, March 30, 2007

Friday's Feast for March 30

It's Friday, so let's have a Feast.

Appetizer - What are you proud of?

My two children, Heather Louise and John Kern.

They are very different in personality but have the most important things (to me) in common - good character and a generous, loving heart.

Soup - What is the best thing you’ve ever won as a prize?

A skein of Opal sock yarn on the old, now defunct, OpalChatters Yahoo list.

It knit up into my first pair of wool socks. They were a little large, but still wonderful to wear and the start of my hand knit sock addiction.

(I haven't won many prizes so the competition for this honor wasn't great.)

Salad - Name something you do that is a waste of time.

Spider on my laptopSpider Solitaire.

Because I live in boondocks, I have a dial-up connection. Some of the online sites I like to visit take a while to load, so I bring up a game of Spider and play while they're loading. Then usually I have to finish the game before I can click back to what I was going to do or read.

I also play Spider to procrastinate. It's a total waste of time, but fun.

Main Course - In what year of your life did you change the most?

Baby Heather Louise, 19681968.

I was 23 and became a mother for the first time. Nothing changes your life quite like that.

This is baby Heather Louise in a picture taken at J.C. Penny. They called them "Pixie Pinups". And yes, pictures were still black and white then, but not for long By her nine month Pixie Pinup they were using color.

Dessert - Where is a place you consider to be very tranquil?

Part of my back yardMy yard, especially the back three acres of our five.

There's a creek (in the foreground) and a pond (in the background).

But it's only tranquil when the black flies aren't sucking blood, the deer flies aren't biting, and the mosquitoes aren't swarming.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Early Spring at Violet Acres

After a colder than normal February and first part of March in SW Michigan, we're now enjoying a warmer than normal second half of March. Today it reached 77 F/25 C. It feels downright hot out there.

Male phoebeOur Eastern Phoebes (Sayornis phoebe) are back. They nest on our back porch every year and sing very loudly outside our bedroom window early in the morning.

The picture is a male.

I spotted a tree swallow on the electric wire back in the field a few days ago, but haven't seen it since. It was probably a migrant and not one of "ours".

Male and female mallard in the creekThe Mallard Ducks (Anas platyrhynchos), are swimming up and down the creek eating the tender young cress and looking for the best nesting site.

Hellebores in bloomThe first thing to bloom here in the spring is Helleborus orientalis , commonly called Lenten Rose.

It starts blooming under the snow and always has flowers by the time the snow melts and I think to look.

Not only is it winter tough, it grows and thrives in the dry ground under a large oak tree with almost no sun at all.

February Gold DaffodilsThese are "February Gold", a small, early blooming daffodil that usually flowers the first week of April.

I went out to rake the leaves out of them this morning and was surprised to see yellow. They couldn't resist the warm weather and I'm not going to risk knocking them over with a rake.

I have plenty of other areas to rake. This one can wait until the blooms are gone.

Virginia Bluebell with budsOne of the first areas I rake out is where the Virginia Bluebells (Mertensia virginica) grow. This one is showing buds.

The bluebells are naturalized in a large hosta bed where they pop up and bloom in early spring before the hostas break ground.

After blooming they die back until next spring, happily multiplying underground so I never know where they'll pop up next.

Friday, March 23, 2007

Friday's Feast for March 23

It's Friday, so let's have a Feast.

Appetizer - Who is your favorite news anchor/reporter? Why?

Scott Ott on Scrappleface, "News fairly unbalanced. We report. You decipher." The number one daily news satire site.

I find Scrappleface very funny, an opinion not shared by DH who normally shares my sense of humor. On occasion I've tried reading especially amusing Scappleface stories to him and I can see his eyes rolling back into his head as he attempts to look like he's paying attention while thinking of something else.

Soup - Name 3 foods that are currently in your freezer.

Lean Cuisine in freezer doorFor me: Lean Cuisine dinners that were on sale at the grocery store today.

Sigh. I'm working on losing the winter blubber.

Macinac Island Fudge Ice Cream in freezerFor DH: Four gallons of Mackinac Island Fudge Ice cream that were on sale at the grocery store today.

Really big sigh.

For the dogs: Baggies of small liver pieces used for reward treats at doggy school. I boil the liver for five minutes, cut it up with a scissors and freeze it until needed.

Every dog at doggy school knows I bring the best treat and I usually share.

Salad - If you were to have the opportunity to name a new town or city, what would you call it?


Any dog who passes their Canine Good Citizen test would be welcome anyplace in the town.

Main Course - What will most likely be the next book you read?

Two books - Mere Chritianity and Simply Christian Simply Christian.

I read a review calling Simply Christian the new Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis.

C.S. Lewis is my favorite Christian author and Mere Christianity one of my favorite books, so I have to check out this highly unlikely claim.

Dessert - What's the first thing you notice about the opposite gender?

Voice. I love a pleasing, pleasant male voice.

And yes, my DH has a pleasing voice and most of time he's pleasant. Now, if only I could get him to read me Scrappleface.

Monday, March 19, 2007

You Can't Baffle A Squirrel

Picture taken through the closed window while it was lightly raining this morning.

Squirrel sitting under the squirrel baffle to get out of the rain while it eats sunflower seedsQuestion: Why do we have a squirrel baffle over the sunflower seed feeder?

Answer: So the squirrel has a place to get out of the rain while eating the seeds.

Friday, March 16, 2007

Friday's Feast for March 16

It's Friday, so let's have a Feast.

Appetizer - Name two things that made you smile this week.

Newly arrived robin in the grassAll the little signs of spring, even if we are having a cold and possibly snowy weekend.

The robins arrived midweek.

What do they eat when it's too cold for bugs and the ground is frozen so they can't find worms?

Brother Dave admiring Mom's apple pie that he and I are going to eatMy little brother Dave from Oregon was in the area today and Mom baked an awesome apple pie in his honor.

We had a great visit, ate every last crumb of the pie, and did lots of smiling.

Soup - Fill in the blank: Don't you hate it when ________?

Don't you hate it when you're miles from home and realize you've forgotten something important?

Last night I was almost at doggy school when I remembered Gail's birthday socks wrapped and ready to take, but hanging on the doorknob in the hallway at home.

Her birthday is Sunday. I tried to deliver them to her at work today, but she had the day off. Guess it will have to wait until Monday. I'm so annoyed at myself.

Salad - When you can't go to sleep, what is your personal remedy to help yourself drift into Lullabyland?

I almost never have trouble going to sleep. When I do, reciting things I'm thankful for does the trick in two minutes or less.

Main Course - What is something about which you've always wondered but have not yet found a good answer?

What is the meaning of life?

Dessert - What is your favorite pasta dish?

Chili's Cajun Chicken Pasta dishChili's Cajun Chicken Pasta - until today.

I just went to the Chili's web site to make sure I got the name right and made the mistake of clicking on Nutritional Information. Cajun Chicken Pasta has 1500 calories with 79 fat grams. No wonder I like it. But I may never eat it again. Yikes.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

A Touch Of Spring

Daffodils as of March 14Michigan daffodils are stubborn and tough, but I was amazed to see that they have been growing under the thick covering of ice and snow.

Yesterday it hit 70 F/21 C, resulting in much thawing. I heard the radio weatherman call our warm March day "bizarre" weather for SW Michigan. Well, we've had nothing but bizarre weather lately. We were overdue for some good bizarre.

It's cooler today - 59 F/15 C, but still very pleasant.

There is snow in the five day forecast starting tonight, but we won't talk about that. It's only a temporary setback. Spring is here!

Male bluebird claiming his boxThe male bluebird has been seen sitting on the nest box, but only when I have three dogs with me to make picture taking a challenge.

Therefore, this is not the best picture. It was taken from across the field and is a bit fuzzy. Still, there is no mistaking this bird for anything but a male bluebird getting in the mood to start a family.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Blogiversary Questions - Blogging

Lois asked . . .

How did you get started writing a blog?

When I started my first blog, Seasons of Violet,
in September, 2003, this was my life:
Getting Kicked Out of the Nest
Background: I worked for Pharmacia for 17 years. Pharmacia was acquired by Pfizer. Thousands of us in Kalamazoo are being severed. We call it being Pfired.

Late last fall when I first learned I was going to be Pfired, my initial reaction was happiness. After all, I wasn't planning to work that many more years and the severance package was generous.

We had a psychologist brought in to conduct a class on the emotional impact of being severed. He talked about denial, anger, resentment, and depression. I listened, decided it didn't apply to me, and threw the handout in the wastebasket. Classic denial.

In a few months as the slaughter began, I noticed that it didn't take much to bring tears to my eyes. I started having uncharacteristic emotional reactions to everyday events. By that time everyday events included the elimination of everything familiar at work: the departments, the systems, the culture, and the people.

The anger, resentment, and depression cycles peaked in August. These were the weeks prior to one of my favorite workmates getting Pfired. For several weeks I was unable to concentrate and the slightest thought of what was happening brought a big lump to my throat.

I think I'm better now. I think I've reached the stage where I accept and I'm ready to move on. I don't like what is happening. I'm never going to feel good about what is happening. But I'm almost ready to thank Pfizer for throwing me into the next phase of my life.

Back to now . . .
I thought it would be helpful to write about what was going on at work, so I started Seasons of Violet. I was wrong. It didn't feel right posting publicly about people's private traumas, including my own. The above post is as cathartic as it got.

Seasons of Violet ended up averaging about 15 readers a day, most of them family. I think my mother did multiple views to make me feel better.

I soon learned to enjoy my forced retirement and gradually the blog turned more and more to happy things - knitting, nature, and dogs. It was time for a new blogging start and Stitches of Violet was born in October, 2004.

At the request of son John, who doesn't like to wade through knitting content, Seasons of Violet is maintained as a shadow blog to Stitches of Violet. It has the same content minus the knitting.

If Lois meant to ask a technical question instead of a personal question, the answer is much easier. Go to Blogger and sign up. It's free and easy to start a blog there.

Angie asked . . .
Why did you choose "Stitches of Violet" for your blog title?
The following is from my very first blog post on my first blog, Seasons of Violet, September 1, 2003:

Picking a Name

A few weeks ago I made a list of names I might possibly use for my blog. They all included the word violet, because violet is my e-mail name and my theme.

After making the list, I sent it out to some family and friends for their thoughts. Most of them thought that “Violet Blooms” or “Blooming Violet” was the best name because either it reminded them of spring or it indicated that I was blooming. Blooming as in personally growing and becoming a more complete person.

So glad I asked. I do have days when I’m blooming. They are rare and wonderful days.

Many of my days I am just trying to survive. Sometimes I’m depressed and/or tired. Sometimes I feel crummy. Sometimes life seems heavy and hard. Those are the days I need to write the most.

I’m sure everyone will be surprised when I don’t use a name containing “bloom”. Instead, I’m going to go with “Seasons of Violet” to represent the changing times of my life.

My dear husband Bob, in his great wisdom, picked that name from the start. He knows me well.

I like symmetry when it works. A year after the above post when I started my much more successful knitting blog, I changed "Seasons" to "Stitches" and here we are.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Blogiverary Questions - Nest Boxes

Young bluebirds in nestTo celebrate spring, we're going to talk about bluebirds.

For those who are curious to know more, I recommend the North American Bluebird Society website.

For those who prefer and/or also want hardcopy, The Bluebird Monitor Guide is excellent as is the The Bluebird Book: The Complete Guide to Attracting Bluebirds.

Laura from Beautiful West Michigan who blogs at The Laurel Leaf asked . . .
Did you put the bluebird houses up yourself or did some government/nature organization do it?

Bluebird nest box with baffleYears ago before my employer Upjohn/Pharmacia & Upjohn/Pharmacia was acquired by Pfizer, we had a beautiful campus in Kalamazoo with acres and acres of natural land. The company invited the Kalamazoo Nature Center to work with interested employees to set up and monitor bluebird trails.

It was a wonderful opportunity to work and learn with bird lovers who knew what they were doing. For many years I monitored a nest box trail at work and I set up a small bluebird trail, four boxes, on our back three acres.

When I retired over three years ago, I was presented a gift certificate to Wild Birds Unlimited which I used to upgrade my nest boxes with expensive poles and baffles. Very nice.

While expensive poles and baffles are not necessary, some type of predator control is needed. Before getting the new equipment, my nest boxes were mounted on metal pipe coated with auto grease. It works.

All the pictures in this post are from previous years on my home bluebird trail except this one with snow. It was taken today.

Nancy J. asked . . .
How is it that your bluebirds don't seem to mind your getting so close to their young?
Newly hatch bluebird fledgling with more eggs in nestMost songbirds do not have a highly developed sense of smell. The myth that they will abandon their nests if a human has touched their young is just that, a myth.

The Kalamazoo Nature Center bird banders pick the female up right off the eggs, band her, and put her back with no harm done. Later, when the young are about ten days old, they come back to pick up and band each of them.

Laurie in Maine who blogs at Socks Have No Thumbs asked . . .
I was wondering about your knowledge of birdboxes - the way you open them once they have nesters? I'm always afraid to go near them for fear of scaring away mom and yet you open them up - knowingly.

Nest with bluebird eggsAlthough the bird banders have no qualms about disturbing the female on her nest, there is no reason for me to do that at home. I can monitor the nest when she is out.

When I see the female peeking out the hole as I approach, I just walk quietly by.

Before opening up the nest box, I knock on the side so any adult bluebird inside can fly out before the home invasion.

I record the date the eggs hatch and never open the box after the hatchlings are two weeks old. At that critical age they are exercising their wings and, like all adolescents, want out of the box before they're ready.

Even the bird banders won't open a nest box during that critical last half week before the bluebird parents decide it's fledgling day.

Sunday, March 04, 2007


There are still a dozen or so blogiversary questions from last October left to answer. I planned to use them for fill-in topics when there wasn't anything else to blog about and never dreamed they would last this long.

Kerin who blogs at The Lion's Paw asked . . .

Did the swans come back this year? (Summer 2006)

Mute swans swimming in winter in a spring fed pondThe swans winter over in their territory, so they've been around since I wrote about the swan nest at the fish hatchery in the summer of 2005.

Today, in honor of Kerin's question, I took some pictures at a spring fed pond about a half mile from home where a few immature Mute Swans (Cygnus olor) have been spending the winter.

This pond is large, shallow, and never freezes because of the constant flow of spring water.

Close up of immature Mute Swan on pondMute swans reach sexual maturity in their third year.

The swans in this pond look to be immature. They haven't reached full size yet, 27 pounds for a male and 20 pounds for a female. They lack the adult yellow bill and their feathers have not turned completely white.

I'm not a swan expert, but I would guess they are last year's cygnets.

Immature Mute Swan exercising its wings at the end of winterNow that I have a camera with a good zoom lens, there may be more swan pictures.

The swans are attractive and interesting but they are not shy birds. They have a nasty temper, wings strong enough to break knitting fingers, and they are very territorial. I like to give them plenty of space.

Saturday, March 03, 2007

Snowy Sky, Downy Woodpeckers, and Hummingbird Migration

Saturday sky full of snow clouds for March 3The sky was full of dark snow clouds as it lightly snowed on our mid-morning dog walk.

Checking the weather forecast with my morning coffee, it had changed to predicting continuous snow until 7 am Sunday morning.

Snowy landscapeSo far, the prediction has come to pass. It's 5 pm and still lightly snowing. We've had about four new inches so far today.

While most of the rest of the country is looking at their daffodils, we're still photographing winter scenes in SW Michigan.

Snowy creek pictureThe birds are singing their mating songs, the temps are hovering around freezing, and it's obvious to the experienced Michigander that spring is on the way.

I love having four seasons, but I'm ready to say good-by to this one and move on to the next.

Male and female Downy WoodpeckerFor those enjoying the bird pictures, this is a male and female Downy Woodpecker.

The male Downy has a red spot on the back of his head. The male Hairy Woodpecker (not shown) has the same. The females are plain black and white.

Part of anticipating spring is watching the progress of the Ruby-throated Hummingbird migration.

The little birds started in southern Mexico and northern Panama and have now reached the southern coast of the US. They're headed our way. Anticipated arrival, the second half of April. They expect the snow to be all gone when they get here, so it better start melting soon.

If you want to know more about hummingbirds, check out It's "your source for information on attracting, watching, feeding, and studying North American hummingbirds."

Friday, March 02, 2007

Friday's Feast for March 2

It's Feast time. Short answers today.

Appetizer - What does the color pink make you think of?

Barbie case. Pink.Barbie!

Granddaughter Kimmy caused me to spend some time in a retail Barbie aisle, and there is no pinker place.

Soup - Name something you thought you had lost, but later found.

I can't think of anything. Once I decide something is lost, it's usually lost for good.

One lost thing I'd love to get back is my 1963 class ring. It was foolishly given to a steady boyfriend back in my teens and I heard that he threw it in the Kalamazoo River.

Not likely I'll ever see it (or him) again.

Salad - In 3 words, describe this past week.

  1. Slippery
  2. Slushy
  3. Treacherous

This past week was totally weather dominated. Our dog walks were adventures in staying upright. Getting in and out of our driveway and dirt road were adventures in sliding.

Last night we had a thunderstorm with rain, hail, and sleet. Overnight the temperature dipped and it all froze solid, making today the most slippery of the week - and the competition was steep.

Now at midday it's 30 F/-1 C and snowing. The forecast is for 2-4 inches. Spring hasn't quite made it to SW Michigan.

Main Course - What are you obsessed with?

Glory lounging on a rug looking glumSunny on the couch looking like queen of the worldPappy curled up on the bed taking a nap

Bet you thought I'd say knitting. Nope, it's the dogs.

I can put knitting aside for a day or two if necessary, but the dogs can never be ignored. They're wonderful, intelligent, dependent creatures who need attention, love and care. In return we get their love and the pleasure of their company, a great pleasure indeed.

Dessert - What kind of perfume or cologne do you like to wear?

Woods of Windsor VioletOccasionally I squirt on some Woods of Windsor Violet, but mostly I don't wear a scent.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

The Big and The Small

Hairy and Downy woodpeckerThe Downy Woodpecker (Picoides pubescens) on the right and the Hairy Woodpecker (Picoides villosus) on the left are almost identical except for size. The six inch Downy is two-thirds the size of the nine inch Hairy. Check out that difference in bill size.

When Hairy decides he wants to perch on the feeder where Downy is sitting, there is no argument. But when Red-bellied Woodpecker arrives, both Hairy and Downy decide they can wait a bit for their suet.

Fox squirrel and red squirrel eating sunflower seedsTwo different species of squirrel nest on our property - the larger Eastern Fox squirrel (Sciurus niger) on the left and the smaller Red squirrel (Tamiasciurus hudsonicus) on the right.

As with many species in zoology and botany, the common names we use for these squirrels are used in other geographic locations for completely different species. Even within SW Michigan, there are people who call the Fox squirrel a Red squirrel. Makes sense. It is red.

I've even heard the uninformed call the Red squirrel a baby Fox squirrel. It's not. The little Red squirrel in the picture is completely mature and as big as it's going to get. Although it may get plumper if it keeps feasting on our sunflower seeds.

John and Sydney taking a nap on the couchMy current desktop picture, son John and his daughter, my granddaughter, Sydney taking a nap together.

Sydney will be two years old on April 5 and I'm booked to arrive in Idaho on April 4 to help her celebrate.