It seems like every time I get interested in something new (like quilting), I start to do research only to find I'm the million-and-first person to think about taking up the hobby during the pandemic. Apparently, birdwatching, aka birding, is so hot ...

Quarantine Hobbies: Birdwatching

It seems like every time I get interested in something new (like quilting), I start to do research only to find I’m the million-and-first person to think about taking up the hobby during the pandemic. Apparently, birdwatching, aka birding, is so hot right now.

Aside: I can’t think of birding without conjuring the image of Walter Berglund in Jonathan Franzen’s “Freedom,” which is a fantastic read if you haven’t come across it before. (Note: this post contains affiliate links, so if you happen to purchase something, I’ll get a couple of pennies.)

But I won’t let the whims of the crowd dissuade me from a new pursuit. It makes me feel like a bit of a bandwagon-er, but who’s to say this isn’t my next big hobby? I even became a “friend” of our local National Wildlife Refuge. Woo, hoo!

Besides this fabulous move, I also wangled a couple of “investments” for Christmas gifts, including a spotting scope, a cameraphone adapter and the Audubon Field Guide to Birds, Eastern Region. When we lived in CA, we picked up the Western Region book, not realizing that it would be completely useless to us on this side of the Rockies. Live and learn!

We’ve had a bird feeder up for years, and I’ve come to know some of our visitors, or at least I thought I had. Northern Red Cardinals, both male and female, make frequent appearances, along with sparrows, Carolina Chickadees and Black Tufted Titmice. Previously, I’d see (more accurate: hear) Mourning Doves. And who can forget Wile E. Coyote’s perennial prey?

This is a Roadrunner

But I’d never heard of the species that came up when I put one of my first photos into the Merlin bird identification app. It was a Pine Siskin (see below). Not rare or anything, just a new bird for me. I love it. That’s what it’s all about for me — learning, growing and keeping my mind sharp as I grow older.

Do you watch birds? What’s your rarest sighting?

     


Quarantine Hobbies: Sewing/Quilting

Like many (if the news/feature stories I’m reading are any indication), I’ve taken up a new hobby to soothe my troubled soul during this pandemic.

I’ve had a sewing machine for a few Christmases now but hadn’t progressed all that much in my learning — or so I thought. I guess over the years I’ve managed to learn something, because when I decided to try my hand at quilting recently I actually remembered a few things — like how to wind a bobbin (and what a bobbin even is), how to thread a needle, how to replace a presser foot, how to raise and lower the needle, etc.

Yes, these are the absolute basics, but when I first started the machine would “beep” at me all the time for one reason or another. Or I’d sew a lovely long stretch of fabric only to find that my bobbin was empty or my needle unthreaded. So frustrating! At least now I’ve developed a fair measure of competence (and confidence).

My first quilting project was a mini-quilt from Wren Collective — just the upper left-hand (“L”) log-cabin-style corner of a sampler quilt. What I learned is that quilting requires a certain amount of patience and precision, not to mention some math (geometry + arithmetic) skills. I’m not sure I have these in the needed quantities to be a successful and happy quilter, but I’m not giving up yet.

What’s caught my eye is what I’ve learned is called “modern” quilting, which the Modern Quilt Guild defines as functional, but with elements of modern style: “These include, but are not limited to: the use of bold colors and prints, high contrast and graphic areas of solid color, improvisational piecing, minimalism, expansive negative space, and alternate grid work. ‘Modern traditionalism’ or the updating of classic quilt designs is also often seen in modern quilting.”

These aren’t your grandmother’s quilts.

I’ve also learned that “quilting” actually refers only to the part of the project that happens at the end — when you put together backing, batting (called “wadding” by Brits) and the front of the quilt (often pieced/patched together) and sew together the “quilt sandwich.” The artistry there is in creating a compelling, interesting texture, which really appeals to me — though it’s super super difficult for me right now.

My initial quilt (above) was just done very basically with straight lines and quilting along the patchwork borders, but I’ve since begun using it as a practice piece for more involved stitching using a walking foot and even free motion quilting.

The awkward curvy stitch patterns are called “stippling” and the part in the yellow bunny area is just curvy lines done with the walking foot.

So, quilting combines a lot of different elements — that mathematical piece, the color/fabric/pattern choices, overall quilt design, the hands-on cutting and sewing part of things, and, eventually, the quilting. Each seems to engage a different part of my mind, which I find both appealing and therapeutic.

I think it’s enough (along with sewing, which is a subject for another post) to keep me busy for a while.

     


Lists of skills to pass on to the next generation

As my kids reach their teens and their time to fly the nest gets closer, I’ve been giving some thought to what I still need to teach them before they tackle the challenges of what’s now called “adulting.”

LaRose by Louise Erdrich book cover.

This came to mind because I’m currently reading LaRose: A Novel by Louise Erdrich and, at one point, the title character (who holds the name in modern times, anyway) is described thusly:

…. LaRose was precise and deliberate. He was becoming an effective human being. He had learned from his birth family how to snare rabbits, make stew, paint fingernails, glue wallpaper, conduct ceremonies, start outside fires in a driving rain, sew with a sewing machine, cut quilt squares, play Halo, gather, dry, and boil various medicine teas. He had learned from the old people how to move between worlds seen and unseen. Peter taught him how to use an ax, a chain saw, safely handle a .22, drive a riding lawn mower, drive a tractor, even a car. Nola taught him how to paint walls, keep animals, how to plant and grow things, how to fry meat, how to bake. Maggie taught him how to hide fear, fake pain, how to punch with a knuckle jutting. How to go for the eyes. How to hook your fingers in a person’s nose from behind and threaten to rip the nose off your face. He hadn’t done these things yet, and neither had Maggie, but she was always looking for a chance.”

Guess how old the kid is at this time in the story? He’s seven.

I’m feeling a bit behind in my parenting.

This reminds me of my “skills for the zombie apocalypse” list from long long ago.

     


Progress

The sun is shining very brightly these days in Central Texas. Though we’ve had a bit more rain than is usual for this time of year, the heat is pretty much as expected: stifling.

But, so long as they get plenty of water, the native plants are pretty happy. Wildflowers are everywhere, the animals all have burs stuck in their fur (oh, the wonders of seed dispersion), and our little pond is starting to be a little less “black plastic” and a bit more “ecosystem.” Ok, there’s still a lot of black plastic. See for yourself how it’s developed over time….

And because I know you really want to take a good look at how things are these days, here’s a still or two from yesterday.

See the lovely water lilies about to open up?
There are even FISH in there, if you can believe it.

There’s still a lot more to do, of course, but I think it’s coming along quite nicely, especially with regard to the sound effect — there’s nothing quite like running water to relax you.

     

Texas natives

I’m sure my cousin thought I was going a bit overboard at the Plant Sale, but the place was buzzing so I certainly wasn’t the only one. I took my trusty wagon — which converts into a dolly and a bunch of other things — and dragged it along to all the tables, picking up lots of things that had caught my eye on the sale list, as well as a few more.

The objective is to fill the space around the waterfall/pond/fountain thingie and make it look less like a black plastic abomination. I’m also looking to expand my literacy about natives in general so I can potentially do some beautification hereabouts — which is sorely needed. I even splurged on a couple of water lilies, which I’m hoping will help me turn the pond into a real ecosystem — slowly but surely.

Here’s what I ended up with:

Wish me luck keeping these specimens alive.

     

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