Sunday, April 16, 2017

Easter Surprise - Dewberries for Dessert

Instead of collecting Easter eggs, I was presented with the opportunity to collect dewberries this Easter. While mowing my yard this lovely Easter afternoon I noticed that the native dewberries had begun to ripen. I picked one from my riding mower as I went by. The berry was tasty so I planned to see how many I could collect after I finished cutting the grass. After mowing I grabbed my Easter basket (colander) and headed out for the hunt. It turns out this is the best year for the native Southern Dewberries that hug my fence in a couple of areas of my yard in quite some time. Based on recent years, I was expecting that I might gather a couple of handfuls to put over some vanilla ice cream.

Instead I found enough to make my simple berry pie. This pie is pretty foolproof. There are only 4 ingredients, 1 store bought graham cracker pie crust, 1 - 8 oz. block of cream cheese, 1 cup of honey and enough berries (blackberries, strawberries or blueberries) to fill the pie crust (slightly domed). Instructions: Let the cream cheese warm up and soften. Rinse the berries. Mix the softened cream cheese and honey. Pour the berries in the pie crust and gently pack them down. Spread the cream cheese mixture over the berries. Now bake in a 350 degree oven for 45-60 minutes, until the topping is golden brown.

Southern dewberry is a small native, trailing, prickly vine that is closely related to blackberry.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Perches in Bluebird Habitat

The first thing that comes to mind when thinking about creating bluebird habitat is man-made nest boxes. Bluebirds are cavity nesters and destruction of this part of their habitat along with competition from invasive bird species, compounded by some natural climate cycles, caused a major drop in bluebird populations beginning in the 1950's as I previously posted about in detail. Perches are another critical part of bluebird habitat that you can help provide for their success.

Don't think caged bird perches or protected roosting tree perches in this case. Bluebirds are hunters. I have seen estimates that insects make up from 60-80% of a bluebird's diet. To catch insects, bluebirds like to scan the area around a perch and pounce on their prey on the ground or sometimes catch it midair. Because bluebirds hunt in open areas, their perches are often found on the edges of these areas, limiting their ability to hunt a large open area in its entirety. The chain link fence around my backyard is a favorite perch. I have also seen them on swing set beams, branches of shrubs and trees (especially before they leaf out so the birds have a good view of the area) and garden art that is somewhat tall and pole like.

When I was mowing the back pasture this past winter there were a couple of tall, sturdy weeds whose main stalk remained after the first mowing pass. Since they were interior to the open area that bluebirds and a couple of other feathered friends like to hunt in from perches, I decided to leave a few of the sturdier stalks to expand the bird's hunting area. I was rewarded with bluebirds utilizing these perches and was lucky enough to get a few decent pictures of them in use. You can see a male bluebird scanning for prey and then swooping down to catch its prey in the pictures in this post.

Monday, March 20, 2017

Spring is in the Air

The spring equinox is one of my favorite days of the year. According to the calendar, we can officially say we are through with winter and can welcome in springtime. Unfortunately Mother Nature does not always follow the calendar. In North Texas it feels a bit like we jumped straight from winter to summer with a forecast high today of almost 90 degrees. Signs of spring have been around here for a few weeks already, from spring blooming bulbs to flowering trees and the pretty green of new leaves on trees that don't put out a flush of flowers. I have been watching birds gather nesting material. I saw a crow this past weekend flying with a big twig in its beak and the blue jays have been gathering up fallen bald cypress leaves.

Along with the signs of spring outside, it is almost time for a favorite indoor spring event, Spring Gallery Night. Join the Texas Pottery and Sculpture Guild (TPSG) for their 2017 Spring Gallery Night Sale at the Fort Worth Community Arts Center. The sale begins Saturday morning, March 25 at 10 am and runs until 9 pm that evening. The guild has invited a few non-pottery artists to join them and I will be one of them. Many of my photographic art pieces are spring themed. Watching this YouTube video showing examples of artists work will give you an idea of what works you can expect to find.

Typical Gallery Night crowds are fairly large, so if you want to avoid the crush come early to do your shopping. The Fort Worth Community Art Center is located at 1300 Gendy, Fort Worth TX, 76107 across Lancaster from the Amon Carter Museum.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Happy Pi Day 2017

Since 1989 math and science geeks have celebrated the all important mathematical constant pi and used the day, along with other folks, as a good excuse to indulge in their sweet tooth while eating some pie. The society of physics students has also turned Pi Day into a celebration of support for undergraduate involvement in the physical sciences. Pi appears in more than just mathematical equations, it is also found in many science formulas. You can help support STEM by helping undergraduate physics students get a piece of the pi(e) through your donation. (If you don't know, I have a Bachelor of Science in Physics so I think this is a great cause.)

The pi in this piece was made from some leftover pie dough from last year's Pi Day project.

Friday, March 10, 2017

Design This - Short Flying Pig Earrings

Last spring I received two convos from a nurse, each with a request for an alteration to one of my flying pig listings to make a short pair of earrings. The earrings needed to be short for wearing at work. One request was to have just the flying pig charms dangling from French ear wires without the heart in between the two and the other was to ask if I could use the image on my flying pig cufflinks to make a short pair of earrings. And she had sensitive ears so she initially asked for sterling silver ear wires.

The first request was easy to fill by making a new pair of earrings with just the flying pig charms. I did want to ask her about ear wire choices for sensitive ears though. Niobium ear wires are a great alternative to expensive pure metals and they come in a variety of colors. Luckily the second request was also fairly easy to fill since I was already doing something similar with my music note bezel earrings. This customer was a joy to discuss her options with. She was very upbeat and excited about having a variety of choices for new earrings with a flying pig theme based on her needs.

After nailing down the details I was able to get started on this custom order after finishing up another project I had in the works. The bezel earrings take a couple of days to complete. Once they were finished I took a picture for review by my customer. She was very pleased so I got them boxed up and shipped out so they could wing their way to their new home.

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Butterfly Weed Named Perennial Plant of the Year

Asclepias tuberosa or Butterfly Weed is capable of being at home in gardens across much of the country. It grows in zones 4-9, likes full sun, is deer resistant and attracts plenty of pollinators, including a large variety of butterflies. In my North Texas garden it is very drought resistant. Once established, I don't supplement its water. In fact it is rated to need as little as 10 inches of rain annually and will tolerate as much as 40 inches of rain if it has good drainage. No wonder it has been named 2017 Perennial Plant of the Year by the Perennial Plant Association.

Butterflies pictured in this post perched on butterfly weed blooms are a monarch butterfly (top) and a variegated fritillary butterfly (bottom). Because butterfly weed is a host plant for monarch butterfly caterpillars, if you are lucky enough to have monarch eggs laid on your plant(s) and witness the growth and transformation of the caterpillars, your plants may temporarily look a little worse for wear, but they will bounce back and you will have helped a generation of monarchs get off to a good start. Your local honey bees will also thank you for planting butterfly weed.

Saturday, February 25, 2017

Now for Something a Bit Different

I love living in my small city of Dalworthington Gardens. I have served it in various capacities over the years. The past several years I took on smaller roles as I focused more on my creative passions. In addition, the couple of years prior to last May's elections saw a lot of turmoil that spilled over into council meetings that made them draining to go to and caused me to pull back my attendance in the audience even more. The atmosphere has been more pleasant this past year and I have been attending meetings that I am an audience member at much more frequently. (I have a great attendance record to the meetings I need to attend based on appointments.) I have also had several people urge me to run for city council.

All of this led me to decide to file for Alderman, Place 3 in Dalworthington Gardens when I found out that the incumbent was planning not to seek re-election. Another resident filed too, so we have a contested election for Place 3. It is a small city and I do not know how many of you out there that are reading this actually live in DWG and can vote for me. To any of you that can or can encourage a friend or relative to vote for me, please do. You can join in the discussion on my campaign facebook page or learn more about me on my campaign website and blog which includes important dates for the May 6, 2017 election.

I took a series of photos of some ducks in our park that seemed to be having a conversation. I added a caption to the one below.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Design This - Rework Three Sentimental Necklaces

My customer had an aha moment one day regarding three necklaces that her sons had made for her. While wearing the necklaces could be emotionally uplifting, the closures the boys came up with were not very elegant and could be downright scratchy. She realized that I should be able to help her solve the negative aspects of the necklaces while preserving the heart and soul her sons had poured into the making of them. Two of the necklaces simply needed to be restrung and have appropriate findings added to finish them off. A third necklace also needed more beads added so that the length would fit with my customer's current necklace length preference.

It is a privilege to be entrusted with reworking jewelry that is imbued with sentimental value. I wanted to make sure I got these three necklaces right for my customer. They still needed to remind her of her sons while providing a more comfortable wearing experience. I made sure when I disassembled the two necklaces that only needed restringing and new findings, to keep all of the beads in their original order in order to preserve the designs the boys had created. For the short, magenta necklace my customer had suggested that perhaps some gold beads spaced every so often in order to lengthen it would be a good idea. I told her I would look at my supplies and make some suggestions of beads for her to choose from.

When I started to go through my supplies to find beads that I thought would complement the magenta stone chips, I came across some lightweight, possibly coated paper, magenta and gold beads that I had acquired only a couple of weeks earlier. The magenta in these beads, shaped like 24 sided dice (tetrakis hexahedron) was a perfect match for the chips and they had gold in them like my customer had suggested. I thought these would be so perfect that I stopped looking for additional options and showed them to my customer. She agreed with me. Now I needed to figure out a design to include just the right amount of the new beads to achieve the desired new length. One other challenge that I noticed when disassembling the magenta chip strand was that there were actually two shades of magenta chips. They were very similar but also very distinct. I needed to make sure that I paired similar colored and shaped chips across from each other in the design. Once I finished this process I strung the beads on a wire and placed bead stoppers on each end so I could take a photo for concept approval before adding findings. I received an ok, finished off the ends and took a photo of that necklace with one of the other ones I had restrung.

If you have any jewelry that needs repair or reimagining please contact me and I'd be happy to see if I can be of service. (Click on the images to enlarge.)

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

20th Annual Great Backyard Bird Count

It's almost here! Dust off your binoculars and print out your local bird checklist because the 20th annual Great Backyard Bird Count happens February 17-20, 2017.

If you aren't familiar with the GBBC it "is an annual four-day event that engages bird watchers of all ages in counting birds to create a real-time snapshot of where the birds are." Why is this important? Analyzing the data can help scientists answer a variety of questions about migratory patterns, health of bird populations, climate changes, etc. They need our help as citizen scientists to gather this data as there are not enough scientists in all parts of the world to do so. Do your part and have some fun while you are at it. Grab your checklist and head out with your binoculars for some fun outdoors while you count birds. Data submission is easy. GBBC has online resources to help you identify the birds that you find. If you enjoy photographing birds, there is even a photo contest. See last year's photo gallery for inspiration. Happy Counting!

For my newsletter subscribers that were wondering about the solution to why I no longer think the red-bellied woodpecker is grossly misnamed, check out the second woodpecker photo (bottom photo - male). My husband and I have often wondered aloud why red-bellied instead of red-headed when we would see this woodpecker (left photo - female). It turns out, we never had an angle on the bird that allowed us to see the red bit on the belly that you can see in this photo.

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Photographic Art Gallery Wrapped Canvases Added to EDCCollective Etsy Shop

I have listed many of my photographic art note cards, bookmarks, matted prints and more in both of my Etsy shops, EDCCollective and EclecticSkeptic, for quite some time. However, until last week I had never listed any of my ready to hang pieces of photographic art in either Etsy shop. I have only sold my gallery wrapped canvases, prints on metal and acrylic, or matted and framed photographic art in person at shows or on consignment in brick and mortar locations. The larger size and higher price points made me hesitate. I decided to go ahead and give it a try last week and utilize the variations option in a listing to give customers a choice from five different images. (There are five listing photos, so this seemed like the appropriate number of options to offer.)

I chose gallery wrapped canvases for my first listing of ready to hang photographic art pieces on Etsy. They are lightweight and I believe they will be easier and less expensive to pack and ship than the other types of ready to hang pieces that I carry.

I do not have the printer needed to print on canvas at home so I have these images printed for me. This means that I had to get manufacturing assistance approval from Etsy just like I did on my boxed card sets that I started offering last year. I inspect each canvas and add a wire for hanging before listing an image in my EDCCollective shop. I do have more than five images that have been printed to canvas over the past few years. A couple of those are in stock too and the others may be able to be reprinted if you are interested in them. All of my potentially available ready to hang photographic art pieces can be seen in my facebook photo album. I would be happy to make a custom listing on Etsy for you if you see one that you want (canvas, metal, etc.) that is not listed, if it is available or is capable of being reprinted.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Artist Spotlight - CiCi House of Clay

I have admired the work of this potter for a number of years, however this is the first piece of Cynthia's that I have purchased. I have long been drawn to the amazing colors that she uses in her glazes. Finally, this bowl showed up in our 817 Arts Alliance hut at the Texas Christkindl Market this past December. It spoke to me so much it had to come home with me. I love the free form of the fiery colors inside that contrast with the cool blues & browns dripping down the outside. I photographed the bowl on a mirror so you can see both inside and outside at the same time. The base is inscribed with her last name, year and a leaf. (Click to enlarge.)

Cynthia had a ceramics workshop built behind her house to facilitate the practice of her craft. You can find her and her creations at several shows in the metroplex during the year and she has her things on consignment in a couple of brick and mortar locations, including Potager's Other Stuff in downtown Arlington. You can also find her on Etsy as ClayBabies, where you can find a smattering of her creations, learn more about her inspiration and get a peek inside her workshop. (Check out her sold listings too, in order to see more of the variety of what she creates.) Most of Cynthia's ceramics are functional as well as beautiful. They are microwave and dishwasher safe in addition to being food safe.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Design This - Crane Origami Earrings

Last fall I met with another local artist, Amy Schultz, to discuss her participation in the 817 Arts Alliance hut at the Texas Christkindl Market. I happened to be wearing my origami crane earrings that day. Amy expressed an interest in them and I explained where they had come from and that I had additional pairs of folded critters in various stages of earring completion, made by the same amazing origamist that had folded my cranes. She suggested that I bring them to the hut for her to look at during Christkindl. That had been the plan, however it was not until she stopped by to pick up her unsold inventory that I remembered to have them with me.

Amy asked if I thought the origami would hold up for a necklace. I hesitated because even though it is coated so that the paper is hardened, they still seem rather delicate to me. She decided to stick with earrings and picked out two pair of cranes, one for her and one to give as a gift. One pair already had its finish on it and I just needed to add ear wires and a dangle from the loop under the crane. The other pair was still only uncoated paper. I added eye pins to suspend the cranes from, painted them with hardener and added complementarily colored beads and gold plated ear wires.

While we were looking over the origami critters, an onlooker appeared fascinated and I invited her to look too. She thought the pair of flying pigs would be perfect for a family member. They were also only uncoated folded paper so I treated them the same as the second pair of cranes that Amy had picked out. Because it had been some time since I had stiffened a pair of the origami critters, I made sure I was up to speed before coating any of my custom requests. Both tests turned out and I now have two more pair of ready to ship origami earrings. The folded flying pigs were my only ones and unfortunately I forgot to take a picture of them before they flew to their new home, unlike the cranes, which I have shared pictures of in this post.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Valentine's Day Gift Suggestions 2017

Have you given thought to what you will get your Valentine this year? Will your gift be practical, funny or romantic? That could depend on how long you have known your Valentine, whether he or she is a romantic or a practical type and your relationship status. (Don't forget family members, they appreciate a shout out on Valentine's Day too. Remember when you were in grade school and everyone in your class got a card from you?)

There are fun flying pig Valentine's Day cards in my EclectcSkeptic Etsy shop along with a variety of creations sporting hearts. While there are not as many items sporting hearts in my EDCCollective Etsy shop, there are many practical and pretty creations to choose from.

Order ready to ship items from either of my Etsy shops no later than the end of the first week in February (U.S. addresses) so that your gift should arrive in time for Valentine's Day. If you are interested in a custom order for your Valentine, contact me by the end of January to discuss details so I can complete your request and ship your gift to you in a timely manner. You may find inspiration for your custom item, with or without a heart, in my sold items sections in my shops.

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Making Social Networking More Manageable

I still don't know what social media platform I enjoy using the most or more importantly what my target market enjoys using and will interact with my brand on the best. I started using a tool last year for my 817 Arts Alliance organization because trying to post regularly on several social media platforms was becoming too time consuming. The tool that I chose was IFTTT. The way that this tool works is that you create recipes for action based on preset occurrences, if x then y. I set up recipes based on newly published blog posts. I was even able to break that down further and create different recipes based on specific labels I included in blog posts so that a tweet about a music concert that resulted from a blog post would be different than a tweet generated from a post about upcoming art classes.

I realized when I got so busy with the Christkindl Market between Thanksgiving and Christmas that using IFTTT would be a big time saver for me with Eclectic Design Choices' social media efforts too. (I am not sure why that light bulb did not go off sooner.) To start, I will begin with simple recipes that take action based on a blog post being published for just my EDC business Facebook page and Twitter. Going forward if I find it makes sense to split out the recipes for different labels in my posts as I did with my 817ArtsAllinace recipes, I will update them. (Note: I have just created my new account for Eclectic Design Choices and the term recipe seems to have been replaced with the term applet.)

To create a new applet, click New Applet under your account name. Next, click the blue "this" on the page that comes up and select the trigger platform for your applet to run. (Use the search bar to narrow the range of possibilities.) Once you have chosen the trigger platform, choose from any actions that are shown for that platform. Then you will be shown a page when you click the blue "that" to build what action is taken based on your trigger. Tips: Make sure to choose Facebook pages and not just Facebook if you want something to post to a business Facebook page. Unfortunately Instagram will not allow a third party app to post to it, so you can only use that platform to trigger an action, not receive one.

Here goes. Hopefully when I hit publish everything will work as seamlessly as it does for my 817ArtsAlliance recipes (applets). Perhaps IFTTT is something you can use to help you save some time while managing your social media presences and more. (I am not affiliated with IFTTT nor have I received any compensation for this post.)