Quote of the Moment

"It's never wrong to hope, Byx," said my mother. "Unless the truth says otherwise."
- from Endling #1: The Last, by Katherine Applegate

Thursday, December 25, 2008

(No Longer) Dreaming of a White Xmas

I'm looking out the window right now at snow falling. On Xmas Day. The ground is still white with the remnants of our last snowstorm, and though it's above freezing so the new stuff isn't sticking (much), I finally got to see an honest-to-goodness White Xmas. I also saw a hummingbird on Xmas day. Of all the things I thought I'd never see...

It hasn't been a great year overall, but it's been a decent holiday thus far. I got some new blankets and bedsheets, and some other loot I look forward to hooking up and reading and otherwise employing. Moreover, people seemed to like what I gave them. (I think one of the fundamental shifts that marks the transition from childhood holidays to adult holidays is when one becomes less concerned about what you get and more about how people enjoy what you give.) I went over budget, naturally, but it's Xmas. If you're ever going to go over budget, that's as good a time as any.

Well, it's time to post the results of this year's ornament blitz. To be perfectly honest, I'm not entirely happy with the outcome. This is a lesson not to take a year off from a medium before belting out ornaments...

The Ornaments - Work In Progress
I was at a loss as to what to make this year, until I remembered that my aunt wanted a painted feather for Xmas. So wouldn't it be just too clever to make Paperclay feathers and paint on them? Here you see my work-in-progress on six templates. (Two are still half-finished...)

Ornament Feathers Front and Back
Yes, I know the shots are lousy. It turns out that flat ornaments reflect light badly when one is trying to photograph them in a dim basement at one's workbench... Anyway, the images (since you probably can't see them well) are a beluga, an osprey, a cardinal, and a walrus. Not very happy with the way the osprey came out, and I misplaced the fin terribly on the beluga, but deadlines don't allow for much in the way of redos.

How do you spell family?
Immediate family has a way of wandering by my workbench at inappropriate times, so I can't do exceptionally elaborate items. I'm also in the midst of an inspiration drought. So when I was wandering though Micheal's and saw wooden letters, I thought: Hey! Letters! They have names with letters in them! And thus, one of my least creative ornament ideas was born... The holly leaves are mostly there to hide the hanger glue; I don't have a drill, so I had to glue hand-twisted wire hanger loops to the backs. I don't know that the fake holly leaves are a drastic improvement, in hindsight.

The Painted Feathers
Now, let me start with the disclaimer that these feathers were a gift, and I'm 99% certain they're from acceptable sources; one's clearly turkey, and the other one looks like some manner of domestic fowl to me.
Okay, since my aunt wanted a painted feather, and I had no idea what to do for her husband, I decided to paint feathers for them both. My first step was to look up how to paint feathers online. (That's the subject "how to paint feathers" which I looked up online, not how to go about painting an online feather.) I found a variety of instructions, good and bad (mostly bad) from a variety of sources. My test feathers, however, showed no significant difference between those I prepped by various methods and those I painted "raw." I washed some in Woolite and some without. I prepped some with varying intensities of thinned Elmer's glue. I sprayed a couple with varnish. I was able to discern no difference when painting, and saw no difference in drying after over a week. In the end, I winged it. (No pun intended. Oh, okay - I fully intended that pun.)
I carefully picked out the least ragged feathers from the bunch. I used a thin solution of Elmer's and water to help prep the feathers, in theory binding the thing together so it was less likely to split in the painting process. I spent too long hunting for halfway interesting ref pics. And finally, when I'd finished my other ornaments and cleared my workbench and had no more excuses, I started to paint.
It was a whole different process, painting a finished image on a larger feather (the shorter one's an even 12 inches, the longer over 15), than it had been painting test blobs on smaller feathers. The images fought me. The paint fought me. The feathers fought me. In the end, I triumphed... more or less.
This left me with another dilemma I hadn't even considered beforehand: how to present them. The fair where my aunt pointed out the painted feathers sold them loose. I've seen other people selling them in custom mattes (or, more often, as prints of custom matte jobs.) Unfortunately, I've never cut a matte in my life, and this close to the deadline seemed an unlikely time to start. I also discovered that buying a large enough frame was a joke, as I only needed a narrow frame and they're darned expensive to buy, especially if I'd be hacking out half the width anyway. All the precut mattes were made to normal frame proportions; again, I'd be paying for far more matte than I'd be using. The local "fancy" art store also was woefully low on uncut matte board, to the point where I'm suspicious that they're clearing it out. Another desperation run through Micheal's, and I hit upon an idea, or something close enough to one that I snatched it up and ran with it. I bought lengths of flat basswood and basswood dowels, cut them to size, stained them, and glued them up with wood glue. Then I drilled holes*, threaded wire through to secure the feathers, and ran more wire for a primitive hanger. The end results are pictured here. I'm actually happier with the improv frames than I am with the painted feathers. The primitive look makes them pop, I thought. Besides, my aunt's husband has a good woodshop and makes picture frames; odds are the feathers will end up in something better if they find themselves on the walls.

* - Okay, I didn't do the drilling, since (as mentioned earlier) I have no drill. I also didn't do the dowel and blank cutting. My sister has a woodshop, so I got her to do that. I also had to borrow the woodstain and wood glue from her. So she's as much a contributor here as I am.)

So, anyway, I thought I'd get these posted before we headed off to the family gathering. The snow's still coming down, but the roads are mostly bare from what we've heard.

Hope everyone's having a decent holiday season! Bundle up, drive safely, and enjoy!

Monday, December 22, 2008

Snowy Pictures

Well, if you've missed the news for the past week or so, there's been a bit of snow out here in the Pacific Northwest. How much snow? We got roughly 7 1/2 inches total at our house, though within driving distance they had over a foot. It's made for terrible traffic, but pretty pictures, some of which I'll now impose on you.

The Porch under Fresh Snow
That would be the same hummer feeder that features in the previous blog entry's pictures (the last two, at least.) Notice the difference.
Incidentally, we do still have a few hummers zipping around. They're hardier than you might imagine.

Pickering Lake with Snow
Many, many years ago, within my own dim memory, this was a small airport. Then the developers moved in and built a bunch of retail shops; for covering up major aquafier filtering grounds, they had to create artificial wetlands, the center of which is Pickering Lake, named for the family that owned the land when it was a farm, before the airport. The circle of life continues...

A Light by the Lake
Believe it or not, there's normally a walking path near this light.

Icicles on the Light by the Lake
The temperature's starting to nose above freezing, so we're getting some beautiful icicles. Normally, we don't get too many icicles in snowstorms, but normally we don't get over 7 inches of snow at any given time.

Tree under Snow
Lakeside boughs bow beneath the weight of the weather.

Water Feature near Lake
When they put in the artificial lake, they went all-out, including bridges and a walking loop and this nifty little fountain.

The Bridge In Snow
A self-explanatory pair of pictures...

Never Too Cold for a Swim...
The local waterfowl make a point of stopping by in even the coldest weather, as the lake's fountain (not picture) and related intake/circulation vents create holes in the ice. Here, a merganser and some unidentified ducks enjoy the oasis.

... But It Can Be Too Cold for Coffee
The local bookstore has a cafe in the back which overlooks the lake. It hadn't seen much use today, for some reason.

Fortunately for you, that's all I managed. As of now, it looks like the snow is going to be thawing in fits and starts through the end of the week, and hopefully beyond. We're still not holding our breath on things not slopping up again with refreezing or rain or snow, so we still don't know exactly what we're doing for Xmas. But at least we nearly had a white Xmas, and today at least I got to visit a little winter wonderland.

Sunday, December 14, 2008


This isn't the cleanest photo I will ever take.

Nor is it likely the most exotic.

But it is a photo I never thought I'd even have the chance to take, so I took it.

Apologies for the state of the glass...

Yep, it's a hummer. Yep, it's mid-December. And, yep, that's snow behind her. I'm hoping to get a better shot at the other feeder, but they (yes, there's at least two of 'em) are particularly sensitive to the presence of cameras.

Well, I thought it was cool... no pun intended.

UPDATE - After a day of hummer tag, I managed a couple more usable photos just before it got too dark.

Not a Rubythroat, but a good imitation - The light we're using to keep the feeder from freezing casts a red light on the hummers when they approach from the right angle. These are Anna's hummingbirds; the males have a pinkish-magenta metallic gorget and head when mature, but I've only seen immature males and females around here so far.

The Illuminated Hummingbird - Another shot which I thought looked kinda cool.

Now that I've photographed hummingbirds in snow, I suppose I have one less excuse not to finish the Ornament Blitz... I suppose I'd best get back to that.

Saturday, December 06, 2008

That Nervous Feeling Of Success

I'm suspicious.

Not only did I unofficially meet my unofficial November writing goal, but only six days into December and I technically already have at least one gift for everyone on my admittedly short list. There are a few more things to be ordered, shipped, or otherwise obtained, but if all else fails I have at least one item to give people.

We found a beautifully tacky fiber optic tree at a liquidation store for 20 bucks, and we got it up on the 2nd. It's small enough to sit on our holiday end table without having balance issues, like our other Xmas tree had. I've already wrapped stuff to go under said tree.

I also grabbed a tag off the Rite-Aid giving tree (which seems to have less pretentious requests than the Freddy's giving tree.) Since everyone always goes for the cutesy little kids, I make it a point to look for the older ones who probably know Santa isn't the one to count on to save their holiday. The first tag I saw was a pre-teen who wanted art supplies. I figured any pre-teen who still wanted art supplies deserved better than the 180-item "art set" crud someone would likely lob at them when their tag's still left on the tree just before Xmas. For under 30 bucks I got a fair bundle of art stuff together, and I've already wrapped and returned it to Rite-Aid.

I'm nearly a third of the way through the 2008 Xmas Ornament Blitz, as well. I still have some final design decisions to make, but the hard part's going unusually well thus far.

Today I saw a hummingbird. The Anna's hummers who overwinter at the lake have been nosing around here since the tail end of the Rufous season (before Labor Day.) Last year, the last one I saw was on Thanksgiving. This marks the first year I've seen a hummingbird in December. Judging by the feeders - since we still had hummers, and since the Anna's overwinter locally anyway, we figured we'd leave a couple feeders out until they stopped showing up - we have maybe two or three or so flitting about. I expect they'll head back down to the water when the weather turns colder, but for now it's fun watching the fall hummers in the yard.

I received my holiday gift to myself: The Tales of Beedle the Bard, J.K. Rowling's collection of Wizarding fairy tales from the Harry Potter universe, purchased on pre-order. Already read, much enjoyed.

So, all in all, thus far it's been a remarkably pleasant holiday season.

If the sun goes supernova tomorrow, I'm sorry.