Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Toto, I don't think we're in Kansas any more

I haven't bought yarn in a while, since my knitting has been seriously curtailed by sore fingers this year.  But when Craftsy had my favorite $11.99 sock yarn on sale for $3.99, I had to act.  I love jewel and earth tones.

I also bought some thicker yarn to knit hats.  I claim the blue!

Some fabric was an amazing 1/3 of the original price.  So even though I don't have projects in mind quite yet (ahem), I stocked up.  

Sommer by Sarah Jane, a 40-piece 10" x 10" layer cake set.

 Half yard Dreamfield bundle set by Lily & Loom (contains 20 half-yard pieces).

Free Spirit by Amy Butler, 5" charm pack (forty squares).

Lily & Loom Strawberry Fizz layer cake (forty 10" squares).

I love all of these charming and cheerful prints, although Dreamfield is my favorite!  I could easily make a large quilt with 20 half-yard pieces of fabric, but you might be wondering about the rest. Why bother with 40 five-inch or even ten-inch squares?  Well, it's just like a meal.  I've heard that if you're trying to save money, don't make meat your main course.  Build your meal around a vegetable or other side and have a little bit of meat as "an accent."  It's the same with quilting.  I can easily match solid-color fabrics to any of these prints and use the printed fabric to bulk out the quilt.  The patterns can be the accent and the overall effect will be just perfect!

We have finally, blissfully had a break from the oppressive heat and humidity.  Mornings are in the 70s now (!!!), at least for a while, and so we decided to take a hike.

I was surprised to see so many webworms!  They're really damaging to trees and spread quickly.

The black dots in the nest?  Caterpillar frass, or excrement.

This little guy will overwinter in tree cracks or in the leaf litter and emerge (in moth form) in early summer.  

 This is a yellow-striped oak worm.

He's another tree pest who will overwinter and emerge as a really attractive moth in early summer!

See this foamy spot on the branch?  It's yet another pest - the spittle bug. As they feed on the tree sap, they secrete "spittle." The spittle purpose is twofold:  it provides humidity, which helps the spittle bug grow, and offers protective covering from predators.

Despite the dry conditions, we saw lots of mushrooms.

And these amazingly complex funnel webs!  They're tornado-like, I think.

{Look away if you're spider-averse!}

We have funnel web spiders in Indiana, but I've never seen such elaborate webs!  Here he waits for his next meal.

I even love to see the insect carcasses caught in old webbing.  There's something octopus-like about this one.

On the home front, I've confirmed that there's definitely a new beaver in town!

They have the sweetest faces and I love to see them at work!

We've also got a heron pair.  I've got one thing on my mind:  heron BABIES!

I'll keep an eye out...and try to be patient!

Have a great week!

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

My-my-my-my Corona

Since I feel pretty secure with knitting and purling in the Portuguese style, I thought I'd try a stranded yarn project.  Something small - a pair of fingerless mittens.  I watched videos and bent two large paper clips to tension the yarn through, one on either side of my collar.  I'm afraid it was too much of a fiddly mess for me, and I ended up knitting the second mitten the traditional way.

But ouch, my fingers!  Thankfully, I discovered a product called a "Norwegian knitting thimble," which is a miniature metal coil that slides over your index finger.  It has two jutting coils that your yarn strands feed through, and thus your yarn is tensioned without smashing your fingers together too tightly.  Apparently this works for stranded knitting as well - one color of yarn in each coil.  I'll be excited to try this when my thimble arrives!

In other fiber news, Todd and I went to a quilt show this weekend.  I was interested in the color, detail, and design of the quilts...

...but mainly I was interested in the actual quilting.  I noticed that most people used a design called stippling, which is basically random squiggles across the fabric.  It's not a style that appeals to me, so I was glad to see many other designs implemented.

I even got to see a long-arm quilting machine in action.

One of these babies will set you back between $3500 and $5000!  You can program in an overall design and the machine will go to work, or you can grip the handles and quilt your own.  The idea of having so much space and freedom is really appealing, but the price tag is not.  For now, I'll stick to my cramped home machine.

We saw the full eclipse!  Here's the corona.

I didn't use a solar filter, just the iPhone.  I loved seeing the 360 degree sunset, then total darkness for almost 3 minutes!  A man near us in the parking lot where we waited had flown in from Denmark just for those 3 minutes.  He got in his car and headed back to Atlanta for his outgoing flight right after the sun came back out.  It just emphasized how special this experience really was!

Here at the house, we're still seeing swarms of hummingbirds.

Our red-tailed hawk continues to perch around the property, and thankfully he's grown out of his adolescent squawks!

Our average heat index has been between 95 and 100 degrees, and it's pretty unpleasant.  Even in Indiana, August is my least favorite month, and the last 2 weeks of August are always the worst.  My yearly ritual has begun.  "Look, the season must be advancing.  The sweet autumn clematis is in bloom."

"Nandina berries are taking on their blush."

"Beauty berries are in full color."

It's still tough, though.  At least we can enjoy the color...

...and take heart in the rapidly-shifting calendar pages, even if we can't feel an actual change.

And hey, we're always enjoy the antics of our indoor cats, even though most of those antics are relatively sedate.

Here's hoping for cooler days ahead.  Have a great week!

Monday, August 14, 2017

Boogie-woogie flu

There's a mature beech tree just outside my office window, and a few weeks ago I idly noticed that the branches seemed awfully pale.  This weekend, I was startled to see that many were pure white.

Beneath each white branch was an irregular black spot in the mulch.

I love a good mystery, and it didn't take long to discover that the branches weren't encased in fungus, as I originally thought.  They were covered in teeny tiny insects - beech blight aphids.

These tiny insects are constantly dropping honeydew, a sugar-rich secretion that becomes a sooty mold on the ground.  Despite their numbers, they don't pose too much trouble to an established tree and can be blasted off with a jet of water from the garden hose.  One fun fact - they are commonly referred to as "boogie-woogie aphids," because they shake their woolly tails in response to a threat.

If you jar their branch, it suddenly comes alive with thousands of "dancing" aphids.  I found a great video that shows them in action.

I also found a really interesting fungus called Fuglio septica on one of our front trees.  Fuglio septica has a couple of interesting aliases:  dog vomit or troll cat fungus.  The reason for the dog vomit moniker is pretty obvious to anyone who's owned a dog:

But what is a troll cat?  In Scandinavian folklore, a troll cat is created by a witch from hair and fingernails to do their bidding.  Troll cats typically sucked milk from goats and cows and spit them into a container provided by the witch for her use.  Their droppings apparently resembled this fungus, and so the name stuck.  Fuglio septica is a slime mold and sometimes draws insects, like this European hornet.

Another cool insect I found recently is this green June beetle, or Cotinis nitida.

He's a grizzled old fellow...check out those battle scars!

Like Japanese beetles, these are kind of a pain to have around.  They do terrible injury to fruit trees, and also take sap from oak and maple trees.  He's a beautiful guy, though, and I didn't kill him.

It's hummingbird season here.  They fight constantly over the feeder.

The females have white throats.  Here's a young male, with his colorful throat feathers just starting to come in:

They are incredibly territorial and don't like to share.

I love to watch them.

Our red-tailed hawk is finally outgrowing his juvenile squawk, but is still staying close to home.

Check out those talons!

He doesn't stay in one place for long, though.

I've been working a lot on craft things lately.  I put the borders on my Garden Snail quilt:

It's ready to be made into a sandwich and quilted, and so is my Wallflower quilt.  I've been dragging my feet, though.  The Wallflower quilt is so big, and this quilt has so much open space that will showcase the quilting method.  I'm afraid to tackle quilting them.  I've been trying to put in a few minutes a day of practicing free motion quilting designs - echoing teardrops, meandering flowers. But my efforts are all jagged and rough, and under the optimum condition of a small square of quilted fabric, not a gigantic quilt flopping everywhere and pulling to one side.  So I'm going to keep practicing until I finally bite the bullet and go for it.  Fingers crossed that it will happen within a week or so, because I'm a bit antsy to start my next quilt!  It's a total addiction!  I'll try to get those buttons sewn on my cardigan, and finish knitting my fair isle mittens.  There's always another project in the queue.

Have a great week!