Wednesday, April 24, 2013

In Its Element

The tiny verdin is a bird I’ve seen in the past, as it visited my garden to snack on bugs and flowers.

I did wonder where they nested, but this year I don’t have to wonder. I have a large, noisy family of them right in my back yard.

 (be sure to click on photos to enlarge)
Hiding in plain sight
Verdin (Auriparus flaviceps) in a mesquite tree
Other than its chipper conversation, the main feature of the verdin is that it’s very difficult to see (and nearly impossible to photograph). It has perfect camouflage for the yellowish-greenish-gray foliage of our desert scrub.

Peeking out of the pyracantha
Finally visible!
Eating an insect on a branch of the lemon tree.
I will gladly welcome more of these birds and any other insect eaters to the garden.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Pollen Nation

Pollen is here.
And it’s here.

It’s in the water.

And it’s definitely in the air.


Every tree, shrub, and grass is in flower here.

 So pretty to look at, so painful to breathe.

In the early part of the 20th century, Phoenix was known as a haven for people with allergies and respiratory ailments, due to the clean, dry air. One hundred years and a million people later, we are known for the poor quality of our air, which seems to be comprised mostly of ozone, dust, pollen, and other large and small “particulates.”

I don’t think I’ve taken a normal breath since late February! Zyrtec, which has worked reliably for me for the last ten years, barely makes a dent in this season’s allergies. I’m steadily working my way through the pharmacy shelves, trying a new combination of antihistamine and decongestant every two weeks, hoping for the magic formula.

I studied pollination ecology a few years ago (thus the title of the post, from a very confusing phone conversation with my aunt). One of the many things I did was photograph these microscopic particles. Pollen is actually a beautiful thing, when it’s not wreaking havoc on your nasal membranes.

The pollen was dyed before mounting on a slide, to create contrast between the structures on the outer wall of the grain. Presumably this assists in identification, although I never got very good at the ID part of the job.

If you want to see some really beautiful photos of pollen, just Google “pollen photos” or “pollen microscopy.” You may have seen some in Nat Geo or similar magazines. The pictures taken with electron microscopes (very different from what I used) are fascinating.

I hope you enjoy your flowering season with minimal sneezing and wheezing.


Thursday, April 11, 2013

Mix-N-Match McCall's

This colorful patchwork print ITY
from Fabric Mart, sometime last year
was originally intended for this pattern

as part of the all-70’s slate-blue collection that I planned way back when.  

Since it is now April, which in Phoenix is the thermal equivalent of August in the rest of the Northern Hemisphere (we’ve hit 90 F/ 32 C already), the allure of a long-sleeved, maxi-length polyester dress has pretty much evaporated.

However, I do have a couple of short sleeved tops made of poly-ITY that are inexplicably comfortable even in the summer heat. So went to the pattern stash to search for a compromise between 70s groovitude and polyester discomfort.

I found these two dress patterns from McCalls. They look similar in the photos, but the line drawings have a number of key differences.
I like the gathered shoulders on M6073 but I’d prefer a bit of a sleeve as on M5662 in view F. In fact I would have used M5662 if only the skirt were gathered in the back, which it is not. M6073 has skirt gathers in front and back, which I prefer.
So I hodged bits of both patterns together into a podge of a dress.
front: the pattern is simple,
the fabric is wild
The shoulder gathers from 6073 went onto the sleeves from 5662. The midriff band from 5662 is with the gathered skirt from 6073. Somehow it all worked out, and I like the look of it.
I'm not too sure about the wearability yet, as I still ended up with a maxi dress in polyester.
Yes, I could have made it shorter, but I just hate having 1/2 yard of fabric left! Too little of it to make a top, but too much to throw out. My scrap bin is already overflowing!

I’m giving it a test run on a dinner date next week, after which I’ll know for sure whether it’s going to be a summer dress or be relegated to the closet until next fall.
What’s on your sewing/crafting table?



Monday, April 8, 2013

The Farm at South Mountain

My camera refused to do anything but flash a “memory full” message at me, so I finally uploaded everything. This led to a realization that I’m at least a month behind in posting photos. Also that many things that are so fascinating at the time are just not that interesting when viewed weeks after the event. And that I compensate for poor camera skills by taking dozens of shots of each subject.

pecan tree leafing out
Out of the photographic chaos I was able to extract some decent pictures of a recent trip to The Farm at South Mountain, a former cattle ranch/pecan orchard which is now a combination organic farm, restaurant, and outdoor activity area.

Maya's Farm
Maya’s Farm takes up the center of the property, growing organic vegetables for restaurants and farmers markets. Needless to say, the farm is always my main interest when I visit.
rows and rows of beautiful lettuce
fluffy, feathery dill

At various times of the year there are gardening classes, plant sales, farmers markets, even wine tastings. There's a small shop with a well-edited selection of cooking and garden items. I love the casual restaurant where you can pick up a sandwich on freshly baked bread, a salad made from farm vegetables, and imaginatively decadent desserts to carry out for a picnic under the century-old pecan trees.

rustic gateway
It was unusually crowded the day we visited (it happened to be Easter Sunday), but it was still like a trip out to the peaceful countryside instead of only a 10-minute drive from the center of downtown Phoenix.
a simple and lovely vignette at the shop

As it heats up here and my garden shrivels to nothing by early summer, Maya’s Farm will somehow keep on going. I’ll go there and walk among the rows of tomatoes and peppers and wait for fall.


Friday, April 5, 2013

The Cobbler’s Children Go Unshod

Doctors make terrible patients and carpenters never fix their own homes. These are ridiculous generalizations that I personally know to be untrue, but I’m bringing them up in the hope of explaining why I, as a CPA with years of experience, postpone the chore of tax preparation until April. When I finally sit down to do what should be a straightforward task, I thrash through it, screaming and crying as though it were a medieval torture.
the original Form 1040, from 1913

Anyway, for the past week, I’ve been sitting at my desk, working on taxes.

Ha, ha. Just kidding. For the past week, while I wallowed in self-pity and pretended to do tax stuff, I was actually finishing the jeans I started in February.

I also spent hours looking out the window at the spent winter vegetables that need to be composted, poking around on Pinterest, reading (Little Heathens by Mildred Armstrong Kalish), and doing pretty much anything other than taxes.

I hope you were all clever enough to get your taxes done early and/or by someone else.