Tuesday, December 22, 2020

A New Twist on Putting out Seed for the Birds

Some flowers ripen into seedheads that add interest to the garden. However some of these same flowers will bloom again if you remove or deadhead them. Additionally, the seedheads can provide food for wildlife you want to attract to your yard. One such flower in my gardens is coneflower. I have tried a variety of treatments to try to achieve all three benefits. This year I tried a new approach that has been very successful.

When my conflowers developed dried seedheads, I clipped them back to where they looked like they might bud out again. This left me with a huge pile of seedhead stalks. I poked a few of the shorter ones into the ground under my birdfeeder. I gathered handfuls of the taller ones and pushed them into the ground around and partially supported by a teepee style metal trellis in my back garden that is not too far from my birdfeeder. I liked the way the seedheads looked all bunched around the base and my trimmed coneflowers in the front garden did have a small rebloom after the pruning. Now, would I actually see any birds visit my seed art?

It took a while for the right birds to show up. In December, American goldfinch began filtering back into the area. They have really been enjoying the coneflower spread I set out. The first picture in this post is one of the first birds I saw eating from the seedheads. There are a bunch of goldfinches in the second photo. How many do you see? Tell me in the comments. You can click on the image to see a larger view.

What have you done or can you do that is outside the box to support wildlife in your yard? I definitely plan to recreate my coneflower feeding station next year.

Tuesday, December 15, 2020

Backyard Water Features are For The Birds

If you have the right features in your yard, not only will the year round avian residents thank you but so will migrating flocks, large and small. Water features are one of the best things to add to your backyard to attract birds so you can get a chance to watch their natural behaviours.

I have a fairly large backyard water feature. It is composed of a waterfall that flows into a short stream section that flows into a pond. The stream section is shallow so that birds can get a drink or bathe. Last week we had small flocks of several species of birds visit all at once along with some of the regulars. In addition to the stream, they also used a portion of the top shelf of the pond for bathing. It is interesting to watch how different birds approach a water source. Some are more wary than others and will look around for quite a while before dipping their head to get a drink. Then they take a quick sip and fly off. Some repeatedly guzzle until you wonder if they will be too heavy to take off. Others, especially larger songbirds like mockingbirds and blue jays, seem to prefer to drink from the edge of the waterfall. When bathing, some will dunk themselves repeatedly or even just hang out in the flowing water, while others take a quick splash and retreat to the cypress to wait to dash in again or preen.

One morning last week, this water feature was like a magnet. First I noticed the robins. They hogged the stream for bathing and drinking. I have a bald cypress and a bird feeder near the stream that other small birds started to gather at. A flock of cedar waxwings were like ornaments in the cypress. When the robins left the stream it was fair game for everyone else to move in. And move in they did, darting in and out. Joining the fray were a brown thrasher, yellow-shafted northern flicker, blue jays, cardinals, yellow-rumped warblers, house finches, dark-eyed juncos, goldfinches, tufted titmice, mourning dove, a wren and some other LBBs (little brown birds) that I was not able to quickly identify.

While I am used to seeing birds visit my backyard regularly, this intensity and variety does not happen all that often and it is such a treat when it does. I have included a couple of pictures I took of birds bathing that morning. There is a yellow-rumped warbler and a goldfinch in the first one and a male house finch in the second photo.

Tuesday, December 8, 2020

Design This - Replace Kettle Grill Accessory Table

Many, many years ago we purchased a wood table for our kettle grill that hooked to the side of the grill. As the weather took its toll on the table, we shored it up but finally this year it was too far gone and pretty much fell apart. I figured I should be able to build a new one using the old pieces as a template.

I decided to use cedar because it is more weather resistant than pine. The top was still in good enough shape that I felt confident in my measurements, the base, not so much. I decided to make the top and figure out the base later. After cutting all of the pieces to length, I used my router to round over all four edges. I hand sanded the boards before applying finish. I used a natural cedar stain and after that was completely dry I applied a sealer. When assembling the top I used tile spacers to get consistent spacing between my boards. It turned out that one board was just a tad too long so I had to use my chop saw to take off a tiny ammount. That meant I had a fresh end that needed to be stained and sealed. (two steps forward, one step back) After taking care of that I clamped everything up so I could drill pilot holes for my screws before placing them. Finally I had to cut the curve on one end of the table top so the table would hug the grill. These fresh ends had to be stained and sealed too.

My process is easy to describe but due to drying times, the stain and the sealer shouldn't be applied the same day. I also fit this project in here and there so the time from start to finish was considerable.

Now I turned my attention to the legs. They had weathered in such a way that they were not the same length so I had to make an educated guess of the length for the new ones. There was a nifty bit of hardware that attached the legs to the top and I was pleased to find out that I would be able to reuse them after hitting them with some WD-40. The hardware makes a sturdier attachment than just using screws. I was also able to reuse the hooks that go on the end of the table top opposite the legs to hook onto the edge of the grill as well as some hooks I had added to the underside of the original table to hang accessories from. After cutting the legs and the cross brace, I went through the same steps of routing, sanding, staining and sealing.

Finally, I could put the last pieces together. After putting on the legs I added the hooks to hang the table on the edge of the grill then took it outside to see how it worked. It was great, except that one hook did not rest on the edge of the grill, it was too high. This was perplexing. I moved the grill and table around in case my patio was causing the issue. When that did not work, I took the table back inside to try to figure out what was causing the unevenness. I knew the table top was flat and not warped. The hooks for hanging on the grill had the same profile. I finally found the problem. When attaching the last screw on the last hanging hook, it caused a knot hole to pop loose that caused the unevenness. I glued the knot hole back in place then clamped it up while the glue dried. Finally I was able to reattach the hook and
you can see from the photos, the table works like it should now.

When I was cleaning up between making the top and the legs, I noticed a small cutoff that had a very interesting and unusual grain pattern. I decided to round over its edges and finish it when I finished the legs of the table. The stain really enhanced the grain so that it gave me the impression of a landscape. I enhanced that impression by adding a tree charm so that the image now was of a tree growing by the side of a lake. It is currently sitting in my display case until someone wants it for a small accent piece in their home.

Friday, December 4, 2020

Design This - Specific Accent Color Flying Pig Earrings

Sometimes a custom request is as simple as a change of color. That was the case about a month ago in my EclecticSkeptic Etsy shop. I had an inquiry that referred to my golden flying pig and colored crystal earrings. I have several color choices available to be purchased and shipped right away in the listing. However, none of the color choices were quite what my customer was looking for. They asked if I could make the earrings with a clear or pink crystal bead.

I pulled clear and pink crystal beads of the same size as the accent beads in the listing from my stock of possibilities and took a picture to see if any of them would fit the bill. During our ensuing discussions my customer also expressed a preference for gold filled instead of my standard gold plated findings. Luckily I have a small selection of gold filled findings on hand. Once the choices were made I was able to mock up the earrings and quote a price. My customer replied to move forward so I made a custom listing and created the earrings after the purchase was complete.

I usually end my "Design This" posts encouraging you to contact me if something I have is close to but not quite what you are looking for so that I can see if I can create what you want. This is a perfect example of someone who took a chance and reached out to a seller (me) to see if a little tweek could be done to an existing item to create what they wanted. Contact me with your questions, big or small, to see if I can make your vision a reality.

Sunday, November 22, 2020

A New Twist for Making Mustang Grape Jam or Jelly

Many years ago my family tried making jam from our wild mustang grapes that grow along an old farm fence, with varying degrees of success. I wanted a low sugar jam but even when using low sugar pectin, getting the correct consistency eluded me. I was not an accomplished jelly maker, in fact making a jam from my grapes was my first and second attempts at it. Mustang grape seeds are difficult to separate from the pulp and the skins and juice can irritate one's fingers. My son was especially sensitive. After a couple of seasons with only so so success and life getting rather busy, we did not make any again until this year. The years in between saw me give grapes to others who were interested in trying or were used to working with mustang grapes.

This past summer we had a very large harvest coming in and for a variety of reasons, the usual suspects could not take the time to put up jelly or make other things like ice cream from my grapes, so I went in search of what I hoped would be a fool proof recipe. I stumbled on one recipe that intriqued me. It used chia seeds instead of pectin to set the jam. It was not designed specifically for mustang grapes but I thought I should be able to adapt it.

While the seeds still took an annoying amount of time to separate from the grape pulp, this method worked very well. The basic steps I took were to measure out 12 ounces of grapes after removing them from their stems and then separating the pulps into one saucepan and the skins into another one. Each saucepan was simmered for 5-10 minutes while covered and pressed with a slotted spoon regularly, especially the pulps to help free the seeds. Before beginning to simmer the pulps, I added 2-3 Tbsp of water to keep them from burning and help break down the pulps so they would release their seeds more easily. Additional water may be needed during simmering. After the skins have softened and released some juice I poured the contents of that saucepan into my VitaMix and blended until mostly smooth. After the pulps simmered I separated out the seeds before adding the skin mixture and 3 Tbsp of honey. Once everything was stirred together I added 2 Tbsp of chia seeds, stirred until incorporated and let set for 5 minutes before putting the jam into jars.

I hope to get faster at separating the seeds from the pulp, but this recipe is definitely something I look forward to making again next summer when my grapes begin ripening around the 4th of July.

Sunday, November 15, 2020

Happy Holidays Virtual Artisan Market

For almost a decade I have participated in a holiday market in downtown Arlington. This year, the group decided not to temp fate and moved ourselves online. Since you won't get to see us or our creations in person this year, we beefed up our online presence so you could learn more about us and our processes. We added videos, lots of product photos and more. There is also a contact form for you to submit questions to any of the artisans. You will find plenty to browse through at the Happy Holidays Virtual Artisan Market, as well as in the online shops of the participating artisans. I hope you will stop in.

While I will miss seeing customers in person, I hope to still be able to help you find unique gifts for those on your list or something special for yourself. Since I will not be manning the store each day this year I will have more time if you want to inquire about custom work. I had an inquiry just this weekend to see if I could make a listing of mine with a different color crystal accent. I'm happy to say that I could and have just posted that custom listing for purchase. Let me know if you are looking for something specific that I might be able to create for you.

Tuesday, November 3, 2020

Beautyberry Jelly Experiment

Midsummer when I was looking for alternate mustang grape jelly or jam recipes, I came across a recipe for making American Beautyberry Jelly. I bookmarked the article and hoped for a good set on my beautyberry bush this year. I had never considered it anything other than ornamental so I was excited to see how they would be to put up.

Beautyberries are about an eighth of an inch in diameter and set in clusters stacked along arching branches. They are bright purple and the birds like them. I harvested a batch of berries the first weekend in October. The birds had started on a couple of branches of berries. I left those alone and picked six cups of beautyberries. It was a bit tedious. It takes A LOT of those tiny berries to make six cups. There were plenty left for the birds however, in fact as I am writing this about a month later, there are still plenty.

Except for using a chinois instead of cheesecloth, we pretty much followed the recipe to a T for the first batch. It made lovely jelly but it was also a bit sweeter than we usually gravitate to so we changed up the second batch a bit. We halved the sugar, added some lemon juice and used low sugar pectin. This made it more to our tastes and I wrote down some notes for the next year if we have the time to make it again.

Wednesday, October 28, 2020

Join Me and Other Local Artisans in The Etsy Market Hosted by the DFW Etsy Artisans Team

A dozen artisans are part of the DFW Etsy Artisans team (an independent team of artisans who sell their creations on Etsy.com) that is hosting one of the virtual Etsy Markets this year. The Etsy Market: DFW Etsy Artisans will run from 6pm Friday, Nov. 6 through 6pm Sunday Nov. 8, 2020.

There will be opportunities to watch live streaming sessions with different makers. Check out the schedule on the event page. You can see a preview of which Etsy shops are participating, including my EDCCollective and EclecticSkeptic shops, by flipping through the lookbook below.

Friday, October 23, 2020

Holographic Photographic Art Pegasus Sticker

Even though I have not keep up with my blog posts with one exception for about eight months, I was able to create some new items during that time. I started out by sewing masks for friends and family. I completed some new magnets, started a couple of projects that are still in the works (one item for me and one item design for sale) and added another sticker to my sticker offerings. A couple of pieces of my photographic art were in a virtual show over the summer and some pieces made it into in person exhibits this fall.

Today I want to share some information with you about my stickers. This is a new product for me. I created the artwork for my first sticker just before the end of last year. Early this year I had some produced from that artwork. Even though I have had them for a while, this will be the first time for me to share my dragonfly decals with you on my blog. They are supposed to be very weather resistant and able to go through the dishwasher if you attach them to something like a travel mug. I have been testing out the weather resistance of the dragonfly sticker in my garden. I attached one to each side of a ceramic disk made for me by my friend, owner of CiCi House of Clay, and hung the ornamentation from a hook. It has been there for months. The water still beads up on it and the colors are good.

I created my second sticker a couple of months later. Instead of an image on an oval sticker like the dragonfly, I decided to try a holgraphic die cut sticker. I thought a flying horse would make a good candidate for this type of sticker. I started with some images I took of a flying horse model. I digitally created essentially a line drawing from one of those images that I used as the basis for the sticker. The printer added the holographic magic. Watch the short video clip below to see how the rainbow of the visible light spectrum plays across the decal depending on the angle of the light falling on it. These decals are available in my EclecticSkeptic Etsy shop.

Monday, October 19, 2020

Summer Vegetable Recap

As I am sure it did for many people, 2020 allowed me to focus on some things that I have wanted to do the past several years but barely or never got around to. I am still trying to get to all of the weeding in my gardens that needs to be done from years of some degree of neglect, but I have made a lot of progress.

In addition to my flower garden, I was able to focus on a couple of small vegetable patches I have not tended for a while. As you read in my previous post, I had quite a crop of basil this year. In this post you can see pictures of some of the other vegetables I had success with, green beans, summer squash, cucumbers, eggplant and a second small crop of asparagus after the early September rains.
In addition to eating them fresh, some of the cucumbers were made into quick pickles. Many of the eggplant flowers dropped off but the fruits we got were delicious. The pole beans did not set much before the hot summer temperatures set in but we got a bumper crop after the temps went below 90 degrees again. Some of those were canned and some frozen because we could not eat them fast enough. The squash did not produce as much as I expected but we did pick some yellow summer squash, golden zucchini and regular zucchini. In addition we enjoyed cherry tomatoes and small sweet peppers. While we did not grow enough produce to supply our needs, we relished the fresh picked additions to our food supply

Monday, May 25, 2020

Food Art - Creative Serving Receptacle

My basil crop was growing well and I needed to pick and use it. After making a good sized batch of pesto there was still quite a bit ready for use on the plants so I tasked my husband with finding a recipe that uses a lot of it. (Basil continues to grow well if it is harvested before it goes to seed. I had already pinched the flowers off once and preferred to harvest instead of pinch with as large as the plants were.) He found some Asian recipes but did not have all of the flavoring components needed. This all happened just before our once every two weeks shopping in this time of trying to limit potential exposure during the coronavirus pandemic. For our next shopping trip we headed for one of the large Asian markets in town. Unknown to me on the list was also a pineapple fried rice recipe's ingredients that my husband had made note of from one of the foodie channels he follows.

Trying to be efficient gathering what is on your shopping list is a challenge when visiting a store you are not very familiar with. We only had to ask twice where something was. After getting home and putting away the groceries my husband asked if I would like fried rice for lunch. He did not have to twist my arm for my affirmative reply. He got busy cooking and I went off to work on something. When called for lunch I was presented with a very creative serving dish full of pineapple fried rice topped with a parrot. It turns out the fried rice video had included a bit on making a pineapple parrot decorated bowl to serve the rice in. I had to take some photos so I could share this bit of food art. And yes, the fried rice was delicious.

What about the basil I started off talking about? That recipe might be dinner tonight.

Saturday, February 22, 2020

Great Backyard Bird Count Wrap-Up 2020

I had someone ask me how many different types of birds I saw during the Great Backyard Bird Count. In our City event on the Saturday of the bird count, between the three groups, we collectively found 34 species of birds. Gardens Park includes several different types of habitat, both terrestrial and aquatic so it is a great place to walk and count birds. I counted for about 30 minutes late in the afternoon on the Friday just sitting at my back door and watching what came to my feeder, water feature and the surrounding area. On the Sunday of the bird count I walked my 4+ acres for about an hour and a half. Between these two times at home I identified 16 bird species. Some birds flew past too fast to be identified and some hid too deeply in thickets and hedge rows to get a good enough look at them to id them. Photos of a representative bird from each of the 16 species are found below.

First row: Blue jay, Carolina chickadee, Carolina Wren, Cedar waxwing
Second row: Eastern bluebird, Eastern phoebe, House finch, House sparrow
Third row: Mourning dove, Northern cardinal, Northern mockingbird, Red-tailed hawk
Fourth row: Ruby-crowned kinglet, Turkey vulture, White-winged dove, Yellow-rumped warbler

Not all of my photos were taken this year but most were taken the same time of year. Click the image to enlarge it.

Sunday, February 16, 2020

Jujube Butter

I took pictures late last summer when I made some jujube butter from a larger than normal crop of the fruit so that I could write up a blog post about the process. I wish I had managed to write it then because I would have still remembered exactly what I did to make the jujube butter. It was delicious. Now that I am trying to get back to writing a post a week I will write down my best recollections.

The picture of the colander full of jujubes shows the harvest that I turned into a batch of fruit butter. I do remember a few specifics. I looked at some jujube butter recipes as well as apple butter recipes and
put together a plan from what I liked from reading all of them. I sure wish I had made notes when I was done. I did cut out the single pit (it is much like a date pit) from each piece of fruit before beginning to cook. I also left the skins on, unlike the instructions in the jujube butter recipes.

What I am unclear about is whether I cooked the fruit before or after using my food processor to puree the jujubes or what other ingredients I added. I think it is most likely that I put the jujubes in a large pan, added some water and simmered until tender. I may have added some cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, cloves or honey as these were suggested additions in the jujube and apple butter recipes I looked at. (All except the honey, I traditionally substitute honey for sugar when possible.) I think it was after cooking that I blended
everything in the food processor. Perhaps I simmered it some more if it did not have a firm enough consistency yet. Hopefully I will get a bumper crop again in August and manage to create another tasty batch of jujube butter and take good notes. If I do, I will update this post.

When the jujube butter was finished I scraped it into a container. It had the consistency of a thick icing. It was very good on toast but my favorite thing to spread it on was heated, store bought frozen pancakes. I did not even need any dairy butter when eating the pancakes topped with jujube butter.

Have you made jujube butter? If so, I'd love to hear about your process in the comments.

Friday, February 7, 2020

Artist Spotlight - Ellengant Creations

My husband and I have seen and almost purchased the work of this talented polymer clay artist for ourselves for years. (I did purchase one of her fish ornaments for a family member several years ago.) She is known for creating whimsical sea creatures and dragons. Last year she added cats to her hand crafted menagerie. Her name is Ellen and she came up with a wonderful business name that I think perfectly captures her work, Ellengant Creations.

So what about this piece we purchased last fall? Ellen created it almost two years ago for a group show in Mansfield, "Inspired by Nature". My husband and I
were both enthralled with it, however we could not justify the purchase at the time. We both saw the piece again at BRIT's Fall Gallery Night Artisan Market last year and decided it was time for it to come home with us. It fit in perfectly next to a corner cabinet near the top of the stairs. The variety of technique, sea creatures and textures draw you in. This is a very elaborate work and the more you look at it, the more you discover. At a glance one thinks, "Oh that's nice."
Upon careful examination one thinks, "That's amazing!" From the painted canvas background to the polymer clay canes, fish, barnacles and more this piece is truly a work of art that evokes the wonders to be found under the sea.

In addition to a photo of the entire polymer clay on canvas piece, I have added closeups of some of the bits I particularly like. You can click on the images to enlarge them and better appreciate the details.

Wednesday, January 29, 2020

Design This - Fashionable Beaded Lanyard Holder

So many businesses require badges today and a popular way to keep up with one's badge is to wear it on a standard, flat fabric lanyard holder. During this past holiday season I had a customer, who while looking at my jewelry, asked if I had any beaded lanyard holders. I did not but told her I would consider doing a custom one if she was interested. From her purse, she pulled out a beaded black one to show me what she had in mind.
She was looking for an additional option to be able to wear to work. I took a measurement and her contact information so I could send her some ideas from the materials I had to work with.

I took a picture of two options I came up with from looking through my supplies. One option would use wood and howlite beads and the other would use kiwi jasper and white cat's eye beads. My customer chose the option with the jasper beads. I mocked up the design and sent a photo to get feedback. She liked the design and wanted a continuous strand of beads, without a clasp. I was able to achieve this by using a couple of
crimp beads and covers on either side of the back center bead. I used a large lobster claw clasp strung with the beads to hold the split ring that a badge would attach to. After finishing the lanyard holder I decided to experiment with making a pendant that could be interchanged with the split ring or even worn with it so that the beads could be worn as a necklace or as an even fancier lanyard holder. I gave this pendant to my customer as a freebie to try it out. Let me know what you think of the concept in the comments.

The second photo is a composite of two of images of the completed lanyard holder and the third photo shows the pendant added to it. Photos enlarge when clicked.

Wednesday, January 22, 2020

Yellow-rumped Warblers Have Returned

While yellow-rumped warblers have probably been in the area for a while this winter, I saw my first one this morning. At first I was wondering what little gray birds were flitting around, some of them were pretty nondescript. I grabbed my binoculars and it clicked that I should be looking for some patches of yellow. Some birds can be shy about showing their namesake patch on their rump. Depending on the subspecies of yellow-rumped warbler, time of year, age and sex of the bird their may also be yellow patches on their sides, top of head and throat. The bird pictured here is likely an immature or female myrtle yellow-rumped warbler.

Over the past few weeks I have noticed other migrants coming back to the area such as American goldfinch and dark-eyed junco. I also start to see more sparrows again this time of year such as the song sparrow I saw yesterday. This could be due to migration or trees and shrubs that have shed leaves to make the little brown birds (lots of similar looking sparrows) easier to spot long enough to try to tell them apart. Seeing all of the bird activity gets me pumped up for the Great Backyard Bird Count (GBBC). My city of Dalworthington Gardens will be hosting a GBBC event on Saturday, February 15 from 10am - 1pm. We will gather in the annex before going out to see how many species of birds we can identify in Gardens Park. I'm looking forward to it.