Monday, February 23, 2015

Of Mice (Houses) and Men

Valentine's Day was a little over a week ago, and as usual I threw myself into preparations with gusto.  I just didn't have time to mail handmade cards - sob! - but I did bake batches and batches of cookies. 

For friends and family, chocolate sugar cookies with royal icing.  The heart shapes were achieved simply by placing a drop of pink icing amid the white and drawing a toothpick through it.

For Todd's suitemates at the university, red velvet Oreos...

...and for their party, a three-layer red velvet cake with cream cheese frosting.  I'd seen an idea online:  crumbling the cake left over from leveling the layers and pressing it into the frosting.  I decided to take it a step further by pressing leftover crumbs into a cookie cutter.

Remove the cutter, and the shape stays.  Voila!

Plenty of crumbs left over to hide my messy frosting job, too.

It was delicious! 

I usually try to do a handmade gift for Valentine's Day.  Although I'm atrocious at embroidery, I had the idea to embroider a circle of monogamous animals in honor of our commitment.  Wolves, swans, beavers, and many birds fit that criteria, but I was quickly overwhelmed at the thought of sketching out many animals that would require so much detail work.  I decided to go with insects, because I'm very fond of them, and there are surprising examples of monogamy within their world...although, to be fair, it's mostly because they live such short lives. 

First, I sketched my choices:  the termite, mosquito, and cockroach.

I darkened the outlines, cut them out, and arranged them on my fabric.

I used my light box to illuminate them for tracing with a fabric pen.

Here goes nothing!

I was really pleased with how it turned out!  It framed easily and now hangs in Todd's office.

My gifts from Todd were a mousepad with an image of an insect I'd photographed last year, plus a scroll saw and boxes and boxes of tools.  Yes, I was thrilled to get power tools, because this meant that we could start our work on the MOUSE HOUSE!  In review, the mouse house is a three foot tall "tree stump" with a cut-away front that shows the multiple rooms within.  We would create the furniture and furnishings ourselves, all in 1:12 scale.  I was absolutely thrilled to get started.  Todd has a mind better suited to architectural drafting, so he sketched out the floor plan...

The updated plans include a little library...hooray!

Next, he calculated room size, cut the boards, and started drilling.

It took several hours to finish the frame.  It *must* be correct, because it's going to be holding a lot of weight.  The frame itself (minus the front opening, of course) will be wrapped in chicken wire, then a type of molding cement for bark, plus the room contents add weight.

It was Todd's idea to leave an opening in the bottom of the house, to mimic the natural openings in some smaller tree trunks.  We'll create more natural curving sides with molding cement. 

Windows, doors, and stairs are coming next.  Stay tuned!

Have a great week! 

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

The Turkey Trot

Even though 'our' turkeys seem to melt away into the woods for several months around this time of year, we've still been seeing quite a few of them.  There's a flock of females and a flock of males, and I've caught them digging contentedly though the leaves together recently.  I saw the beautiful albino female, too.  Her feathers are so lovely.

The males are bolder and so colorful.  I love the way their feathers turn a brilliant iridescent copper in the sun.

There they go!

More lovely birds have been spotted.  The Carolina wren...

...tufted titmouse...

...and a particularly sassy female cardinal.

I love it!

So the weather got warm, many flowers started to bloom...

...aaaaaand...then we had an ice storm.

I have to admit, I was so excited that I didn't sleep well and was up early.  I *love* taking photos of ice.  This may be winter's last - and only - gasp here.  It's supposed to be 50 degrees by the end of the day.

By the way, I'm going to try to find time to do a separate Valentine's Day post in a few days.  I am falling too far behind with my photos! 

Have a great week!

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Mr. Bluebird on my shoulder...

I have piles of work to my left, and piles of work to my right.  I got home from the gym HOURS ago, and I'm still in my sweaty tank top and yoga pants.  I can't seem to get anything done, though, because in South Carolina, it's bluebird mating season, y'all!

The first blast of really warm weather this weekend brought them out (don't worry, envious Northerners...we're back in the 20s by the weekend!).  I've been watching them sitting on branches...

Preening on posts...

 ...and generally flitting around.


But today I noticed some other behavior.  Males and females both were gathering nest-building materials.

Females alone build the actual nests, but males help to gather the materials.  Here's a female landing on one of our four bluebird nest boxes:

Meanwhile, the males were displaying very aggressive behavior.  Multiple males sat on various branches and flapped their wings in great agitation.

Then I saw an actual male bluebird pair fight for the right to mate the waiting female.

I've spent a great deal of time watching them this morning, and reading about their behavior.  But oh, it's not just bluebirds.  Our trees are alive with little song birds now, and I've been out with my camera in the little time that I've had available this past week.  I wanted to make sure they had plenty to eat, but we were out of traditional bird seed.  I decided to make a non-seed mixture and see how it went over.

The recipe is easy and endlessly adaptable.  Have seeds, nuts, raisins?  Toss them in. 

Basic Recipe

2 - 2 1/2 cups bacon grease (I save our leftover grease in the fridge)
2 cups cornmeal
1 cup peanut butter
1 cup white flour

Heat the bacon grease and peanut butter until it's melted...

...and mix in everything else.  I packed the resulting (stinky) mixture into a standard loaf pan and put it in the refrigerator until it was mostly solid.

 It looks very much like peanut butter fudge when sliced.  I wrapped up my individual slices and put them in the freezer until needed.

I'm going to put them in little onion sacks or feeder cages, but just to see how they went over with the birds, I set one on top of one of the birdhouse posts (we still need to replace the old birdhouses, but the posts still stand).

Ten minutes later:

Success!  The birds went crazy for it.  It only lasted a day!

Give it a try if you want a non-seed alternative for your backyard birds.  Have a great week!