Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Ice, Snow, Wind and Hail = Indoor Projects!

We finally got to enjoy our patio this Memorial Day weekend. Before that, the cold winds kept us indoors.

It's been pretty dry - except for the hail, ice and snow. At least the grass (or should I say, dirt) is getting a much needed drink.

We've been busy indoors - renovating the guest bathroom. Yes, it really is that orange! At first, we were just replacing the floor as it was stained. We needed to pull the toilet when we tore out the old floor - so maybe we'll replace that while we're at it. The sink was old and worn - so we checked into finding a new one - but they don't make that size anymore - so maybe the whole top - counter and sink should be changed. The old cabinet was custom built and not a normal size, so we couldn't just buy a new top - we needed to replace the vanity cabinet also. Out came the old one with the orange tiles on top - being careful not to mess us the tiles on the wall and we found a cabinet and top we liked to replace it.

While the room was almost naked, we decided to finish the job and paint the walls and ceiling. We had JUST enough paint left from the master-bath project, but he-who-shall-remain-nameless spilled the paint into the tub, so we had to buy a new can to finish the job.

Nothing is simple here at the Cruff house. The new sink is centered in the counter top whereas the old one was off to the right. This meant, the medicine cabinet and light were no longer centered. Down they came. Now we had a hole in the wall, lopsided plumbing and an electric box for the vanity light off to the side. Many adjustments and visits to Lowes later, we have a new mirror covering the hole and a light that is almost centered over it. The old toilet is sitting in the guest room (room with a bath?) and a new one is in the garage. We need to keep the old one just in case the new one doesn't fit - since the rough-in for the drain is not the normal 12 inches. Once the new floor is in, we'll find out.

I've still managed to get some quilting done. After cutting fabric on the dining room table - my back was a disaster, so my wonderful, resourceful husband found a solution - he propped up the legs with PVC pipes. It's just enough that I can cut in comfort. Of course, the table has to drop down when we have company - but that's OK. The old computer desk in the 3rd bedroom is my new sewing table. The set-up is not as convenient as I have in Florida, but it works.

These are the squares I'm assembling. They are the first step in a French Braid pattern that I'm adjusting as I go. The colors and patterns are fun to work with.

Our yard is finally looking a bit better. We still have huge brown spots - but there are signs of new growth, so we are hopeful. The flowers and pond help tremendously.

We have had more new birds in the yard this year then ever before. This adorable Yellow Warbler has been a daily visitor. We think maybe they like the neglected yard - or maybe it's because we have not been outside to scare them away. What ever the reason, we are enjoying them from our kitchen window!

The Western Tanagers are still around, but not in the numbers as we had earlier in the month.

This was another first for the yard - a Rose-breasted Grosbeak. We think he followed us home from Missouri.

The Bullock's Orioles have left now - but they stayed around for almost two weeks. We THINK this one is a first-year male as the females do not have the black on their chin.

We think this is another first-year male, a little further along with his adult colors. The bright orange one we had earlier this month probably had more Baltimore Oriole in his family tree. Please correct us if we are wrong!

The Magpies are beautiful birds - but they are loud and obnoxious.

The Lesser Goldfinches are just starting to return. We saw our first one over the weekend. All males so far, but we expect the females will arrive very soon. Last year we had dozens enjoying the thistle feeder.

The larger and prettier American Goldfinches have mostly moved on. We just see one or two a day now.

We'd had several Chipping Sparrows.

And this new bird. We THINK it is a Swainson's Thrush. It's larger than a Sparrow and smaller than a Robin. He feeds on the ground, not at the feeders. Please let us know if our identification is not correct.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Birds Galore!

After leaving Pensacola, we drove west along Route 10 through Mississippi and Alabama towards Louisiana - taking a short detour to Biloxi and Gulfport. Both towns are right on the Gulf and the severe damage from Hurricane Katrina is still evident. The beautiful, majestic mansions that once lined the coast looking out towards the ocean have been replaced with vacant lots.

On the beach side of the highway, I noticed large flocks of shore birds and when I went to investigate further, I found nesting Least Terns.

The beach was covered with them!

Least Terns are the smallest of the American Terns at about 8 inches. According to http://www.allaboutbirds.org/ their conservation status is of "least concern" but according to posted signs, the site is protected by both Federal and State laws.

On the beach next to one of the Least Tern nesting sites was a large group of Black Skimmers.

We spent our second night in Baton Rouge, Louisiana - even though our GPS really wanted us to go north on Route 55 to Memphis. It was a good thing we didn't heed her constant nagging to turn around as Route 40 between Memphis and Little Rock was closed due to the severe flooding.

While listening to the news about the flooding, we heard that the ferry across the Mississippi River from St. Francisville to New Roads was taking its last ride at 10 AM that morning - with a brand new bridge opening to take its place. We turned the car towards St. Francisville and crossed the Mississippi River on the next to the last crossing. It cost us $1. New Roads is just south of the Morganza spillway and the ferry launch terminals are now underwater.

Bill and I loved Louisiana. The people were gracious and friendly - but the FOOD was beyond fabulous! Bill enjoyed his 5 pounds of crawfish at Boutin's - one of the best Cajun restaurants in Baton Rouge and I LOVED the etouffee at Fresh Catch Seafood Bistreaux in Marksville.

We spent our third night in Little Rock and visited with people displaced by the flooding. The next morning as we headed north towards Shell Knob, MO we saw some of the flooding first hand. Acres of farm land were under water.

The next three days were spent with our very good friends, Mike and Mel at their beautiful home on Table Rock Lake. My favorite place is their porch, which overlooks their large, wooded backyard, the lake and (best-of-all) their bird feeders! The American Goldfinches were fabulous in their full mating plumage.

Mike and Mel promised us that they had seen Baltimore Orioles in the yard. We just caught a glimpse. The picture is lousy - but I know the sighting doesn't count unless you have a picture!

There were lots of Cardinals. I think the females are beautiful!

We heard the loud voice of the Carolina Wrens before we saw them.

Early one morning, Bill decided to try his new owl call that Captain Erica had taught him - Whoo, whoo, who-cooks-for-you. We didn't see any owls - but he drove the hawks mad! Two of them immediately arrived to survey the area - screaming to scare away the intruder. The rest of the birds - and even the squirrels - disappeared. It was quite a sight! Mike reports that the hawks are STILL looking for the owls. Naturally, Mike keeps provoking them with his own call. He says he's saving lots of money on bird seed.

There were three Pileated Woodpeckers across the street - two adults and a juvenile. The baby didn't yet have the red top notch.

But the best bird sighting was this magnificent Rose-breasted Grosbeak.

He sat on the tree right in front of us. I couldn't get enough pictures!

The female Rose-breasted is just as pretty - but in a different way.

I love the Tufted Titmice - and there were lots of them entertaining us.

We saw both Downy and Hairy Woodpeckers. I think this is the smaller Downy - but unless they are side-by-side, I'm never sure.

We had a wonderful visit with Mike and Mel. Mel is amazing - always upbeat, smiling and doing what ever it takes to make her guests feel welcome and comfortable. I really admire her.

Back at our summer home in Colorado Springs, we have been constantly entertained with migrating birds. This is the first time we've seen the Bullock's Oriole in the yard - and we have had several pairs eating the berries in the bushes that border the backyard. This one is bright orange, like its first cousin, the Baltimore Oriole. One of the others is more bright yellow.

The Western Tanagers arrived right on schedule and we have had several pairs everyday.

This little Yellow Warbler is another first for the yard. We've seen them on our hikes - but are very pleased he stopped on his way to his breeding grounds.

I just took this picture of the Bullock's Oriole a few minutes ago. They are amazingly beautiful birds. We certainly delight in the creatures that visit our backyard - which, by the way, is looking better and better each day. Bill has worked hard mowing & trimming, thatching & raking, weeding & seeding, setting up the pond and planting flowers. He's hard at work right now.

Our usual visitors have returned - House Finches, Sparrows, Robins and Mourning Doves by the dozens, a Northern Flicker & Scrub Jay, We again have Mountain Chickadees nesting in one of the bird houses and Mr. Squirrel is still trying to get to the feeders.

Life is especially good.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Pensacola Naval Air Station

The first stop on our cross-country journey from Ocala to Colorado Springs was the Pensacola Naval Air Station - home of the Blue Angles. We had reservations at one of the Navy Lodges, but it was too early to check in so we headed to their world class aviation museum. There we learned that it was the 100th anniversary of Naval Aviation and it was being celebrated by an air show. The Blue Angles were scheduled to fly for one hour beginning at 12 noon. I looked at my watch and was disappointed to see that we had missed most of the show: my watch said 12:45 PM. We went to the field anyway so I could get a glimpse - and maybe a picture.

Sure enough, when we arrived at the viewing field the Blue Angles were not flying. I was crushed until I realized we were in the CENTRAL TIME ZONE - and the show was scheduled to begin any minute!

The Blue Angles are the US Navy's flight demonstration squadron, flying F/A-18 Hornets that have been modified for precision flight.

Look how close they came to each other as they crossed paths! I had only one chance to get this shot and was thrilled that I nailed it!

Check this out: the front plane is upside down!

Planes #1, #2, #3 & #4 - all lined up.

Do you think they did this on purpose - just so I could get this shot?

Oops, I digress - but couldn't resist this beautiful Pelican.

All six of the planes in formation. There were actually two #4 planes as both #5 planes were grounded.

Look how close they are!


Coming out of their cloud of smoke. This show was wow, Wow, WOW! I loved it and can't believe we saw it by chance. Our timing this trip started out great - and it got even better!

Back in Colorado

Bill and I arrived safely back to our summer home in the dry skin, broken nail, lifeless hair, nose bleed state of Colorado. Our first day home it snowed.

Our yard was a complete disaster. Those of you that know us know that our back yard is usually our pride and joy with soothing water features, beautiful gardens and a comfortable patio. It'll take a lot of work to get there this year!

The fish did not make it through the harsh (and very dry) Colorado winter. The bubbler that delivers life-saving oxygen and keeps the water from freezing stopped working, delivering a death sentence to my Goldfish.

Two days after arriving back, I had a dozen women over to play Bunko so I had to focus my attention on moving around the dust inside the house. Hopefully, no one looked too closely. We had a great time, as always, but I never could have gotten ready without the help of my good friend, Nancy. She made the dessert (yummy heath bar cake) and came over early to help set up the tables. She is a great hostess and even served the cake and coffee while I caught up on all the latest gossip.

We had a fabulous cross-country trip and I have lots of pictures to share in a future blog. I'm so far behind I still need to finish-up with our last couple of weeks in Ocala!

Our Spring Break visit with grandson Zachary was much too short - but we kept him plenty busy! Over Easter weekend we took him for a surprise trip to Cedar Key...

and an airplane ride over the barrier islands! Zach sat up front with the pilot on the small 4 seater Cessna.

The views were magnificent!

I think Zach enjoyed the ride! Afterwards we went to Tony's for clam chowder and toured the Cedar Key Museum. I hated to put Zach back on the plane - but we needed to pack-up and get ready to head west and Zach needed to go back to school.