My Peeps aka Bird Watching

A gold finch and a purple finch at my feeder

A gold finch and a purple finch at my feeder

Finches feeding 3

Goldfinch keeping an eye out

Finches feeding 2

Both finches checking either direction

Finches Feeding 4

The finches eating side by side with a slate colored junco on the ground

I love feeding the birds. I have three bird feeders around my house so I can watch them from my kitchen window, living room window and deck. It’s fascinating watching the birds with their aerial displays and feeding tactics. I’ve learned what birds flock together, what their songs sound like and how their appearance changes depending on the season.

When I first put out a new bird feeder it usually sits untouched for a day or so. Eventually a scout chickadee will appear and I know that shortly after that the feeder will be covered with goldfinches, house finches, purple finches, cardinals, sparrows, blue jays, juncos, tufted titmouse, nuthatches, grosbeaks and the occasional bluebird. If you click on any of the bird names I just mentioned, it will take you to Audubon’s website with interesting facts about them, what they look like, what their songs sound like and where they live.

The finches and sparrows will eat together with only the occasional squabble and the juncos tend to remain on the ground and eat the fallen seeds. The cardinal couples usually come separately but now and then both male and female share the perch. Nuthatches and tufted titmouse flit quickly in and out without lingering and when the blue jays come they always make a lot of noise about it. Red winged blackbirds visit sometimes but starlings, cowbirds and grackles travel with them too and I don’t like having a huge flock hogging all the food.

I learned a rather surprising life lesson one day while watching the birds. I was sitting out in a chair in my yard watching several gold finches eating happily when suddenly a red-tailed hawk swooped out of the hedgerow and snatched one of the little yellow birds. My mouth literally dropped open. I felt bad for the little birds and they were traumatized for quite a while after that but eventually they returned to eat. That was certainly a vivid display of the circle of life and I am no longer surprised when I see hawks circling in the sky above my yard. The hawks need to survive too and my bird feeders fulfill that need in a roundabout way.

Springtime is an amusing time to watch my feeders because the male goldfinches are ridiculously combative during mating season. They perform aerial duels circling up into the sky before flying off in a huff. Meanwhile the female finches with their less vivid plumage sit contentedly eating at the feeder as the males compete in vain for their attention. I don’t think even female birds are impressed by macho, show-off males. The cardinal couples are always sweet to each other with the male feeding the female and sometimes coming alone to fetch food for her while she tends the nest.

Chickadees are the bravest and often fly right up to the feeder shortly before I fill it. I’d love to have them eat out of my hands someday but we all don’t know each other well enough for that yet. When I sit out on my deck and watch all the birds they often land on the railing or the electrical wires and chirp at me curiously. They’re not shy when it comes to getting their food and I am always humbled and comforted by their trust in me.

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Mistress of Mowing

Mistress of Mowing's Front Lawn

Mistress of Mowing’s Front Lawn

I’d never driven a riding lawn mower until I mowed the acreage of my new home in the summer of 2011. It took me 3.5 hours that first time and when I finished I’d made such odd-looking circular patterns the lawn resembled a golf course. I was tempted to stick some flags into the center of the various circles but I resisted. Regardless, I was proud of myself and enjoyed the experience. Almost two years later, I still like mowing my lawn.

Yes, I said I like mowing my lawn. Even on day’s like today when the battery was giving me trouble and the shed doors closed just after I started the mower which left me coughing in exhaust fumes. I then had a stern talking to the doors (hooked them open) plugged my battery into the charger and set about my morning, all the while wreaking of tractor exhaust. I didn’t see any point in showering when I still had to mow once the battery was juiced up. All that is not what I enjoy about mowing though.

When I finally did start mowing, it felt wonderful being out in the sunshine under the bright blue sky. The air was warm, there was an occasional breeze and the grass was finally dry enough that it didn’t bog down my mower. It’s still early in the season so my grass was only really deep in a few areas but I did the whole yard to give it a uniform start. I listen to music while I mow and quite often dance along to it. My neighbors undoubtedly think I’m insane for all sorts of reasons so I don’t see any harm in doing what makes me happy during chores. I occasionally pause in the shade to change my music or answer a text but otherwise I continue mowing.

There was one lone white butterfly flitting around the front yard as I finished that last 1/3 of my property. I adore butterflies and always take them as a positive sign of hope and renewal. There were few other bugs out thankfully and I didn’t have any other major issues mowing today.

When I get off the mower my whole body is still vibrating from the ride but eventually that subsides and I feel human again. I came inside and happily washed the mower stink off and dressed in comfortable summer clothing. I enjoy mowing but it isn’t my entire life and I don’t obsess over every little spot or insist on weed whacking every time. Mowing my yard is something that has to be done and I take as much pleasure in it as I can. I am not a master of mowing because I’m always learning but I am a Mistress of Mowing because I am skilled at being the keeper of my land.

Making Time for My Writing Passion…

While I am passionate about everything I write, even the blogs and articles I can’t take credit for, my first love in writing will always be fantasy fiction. I started a new fantasy book a couple months ago and while I have tons of ideas for it, I haven’t had the time to work on it much. I’m going to make some time tonight to add a bit more to it. For anyone curious about it, this is what I wrote up as a sample book jacket blurb. To read some of the first chapter, click on the link at the end of the post to go to my Corbin Creations website. Happy reading!

“What happens when a woman whose heart was broken by the death of her beloved father finally does what every man she’s met since tells her to? “Stop crying.” No longer able to express her pain, Vihresa’s tears turn to rage. A rage that hardens her heart and threatens to turn the magic she possesses to darkness. What will come when the fire within finally burns to the surface…”

Unbroken Flames – excerpt

Strength, rocks and cinder blocks

bonfire flames

The flames of my first bonfire, summer 2012

hedgerow cinderblocks

The cinder blocks were stacked behind an old burn barrel

cinderblock toss

Cinder block toss: a new Olympic sport!

cinder block firepit

Cinder block bonfire surround

I’m not afraid of hard work and I don’t mean just hard mental work, I mean hard physical work. I am the sole owner of 1.4 acres of land in Upstate NY and it falls squarely upon my shoulders to improve and maintain my property. I do what needs to be done when it needs to be done and I never back down from a new landscaping challenge.

As stated in my “Not Profound” post every single tree I own is messy and drops branches, pine cones or leaf sticks. The spring cleanup of my yard is an ongoing process as with every strong wind more mess falls from the trees. My first spring in my home was last year and I gathered a decent pile of branches and pine cones. There was no designated bonfire pit in the yard because the previous owners apparently burned everything but the kitchen sink in barrels. So I picked a spot toward the back of my property, dumped the branches there and proclaimed it my bonfire pit. A proper bonfire pit is surrounded with rocks to define it but surprisingly enough, I’ve yet to find any big rocks on my property.

Last year was my first bonfire and it went off quite well with my girls, two close friends, ample s’mores and a couple of Samuel Adams Summer Ales. I’ve already started this year’s pile and while it isn’t as large as last year, judging by the wind again today, it will be soon. I still really wanted a true border around it so I began investigating the hedgerow between my property and the neighbors. Monday morning I discovered that behind one of the old burn barrels was a decent sized stack of cinder blocks. I fought through the vines and prickers for a closer look and concluded that the blocks had never been used for anything. I’d found my bonfire border! I resolved to get the blocks out of there that afternoon following work and went about my day.

Monday afternoon arrived and it was a beautiful, relatively warm day. My daughters were more than happy to play outside on the swing set and in the yard so I went out in work clothes determined to get the job done. I knew I wouldn’t want to carry every single block across the yard one at a time so I moved my wheelbarrow over near them for transport. In order to reach the pile I had to walk over a rather large mound of old ashes and burnt whatever and it was somewhat squishy and less than stable.

Wearing my leather work gloves, I yanked and pulled at the nest of vines until I could get at the pile and then picked up my first cinder block. That was literally the first time I’ve ever moved a cinder block and they were lighter than I expected but still a substantial workout for my arms. I carried that block over the squishy mound and into the wheelbarrow and repeated the process twice more before becoming fed up with that idea. I then began throwing the blocks out toward the wheelbarrow in a sort of backyard Olympics sport and I was impressed with my own strength.

I could put four cinder blocks in the wheelbarrow and still be able to move it so I made as many trips as it took to get the blocks over to the fire pit where I began placing them around in a circle. By the time I finished that job I was pretty beat. I’d pinched my hands between two blocks more than once, banged them into my hips and legs and scraped up my forearms because I’d become too hot in my sweatshirt to keep it on. Even so, I was ridiculously proud of myself and would do it all over again if need be. I’d accomplished what I wanted to and my bonfire pit finally looked substantial and permanent.

Everything I do on my property and in my house fills me with a deep sense of pride and increases my belief in my own abilities. I’m gaining tons of experience and discovering that yes, I can do whatever I put my mind to because I’ve successfully done so numerous times in the past. My long distance friend, who knows a lot about hard work himself, gave me a virtual pat on the back and while I don’t do any of this for acknowledgement or praise, it felt really good! A little “good job, Julie!” sticks with me as I tackle my next challenge and every other challenge along the way.

Touching Spring

One of my lilac bushes overflowing with buds!

One of my lilac bushes overflowing with buds!

This past winter was rough. Never ending snow and cold and misery. I looked hopefully forward to spring and warmth and when it finally seemed to arrive I was ecstatic! Alas then the cold returned and just this past Saturday it snowed. I had a lot of writing work to do this weekend so staying inside was fine but I didn’t enjoy seeing flakes blowing past my windows the third week of April. I know there have been winter storms in May before where I live and I remember them less than fondly. I have no desire or energy for that.

When it has warmed up periodically this “spring” I’ve rejoiced in the golden sunshine and bright blue skies. All the trees are budded out eager to release leaves and my beloved lilacs will have a bumper crop this year! If only it would warm up and say warm!

Lilacs are my favorite flower. I grew up with an entire row of them growing behind my childhood home. Their sweet fragrance in the spring still evokes happy memories and I could lay beneath their lavender and white blossoms for hours contentedly. Last year almost all of my beautiful blooms wilted and expired because the weather warmed up way too early in March and then got so cold the night-time frost damaged the flowers beyond recovery. So this year I am hoping for redemption! I want to be able to hold bushels of lovely lilacs in my hands and bury my nose in them until I’m intoxicated by their natural perfume.

For now I must wait because Mama Nature is grumpy after the winter and is less than forthcoming with consistent warmth. I’ve joked with my friends that someone needs to get Mama Nature some chocolate or a fun spring fling to alleviate her hormonal mood swings. I am just as eager to bloom and soak up the sunshine as the flowers and trees around here. I want to do more than just touch a hint of spring here and there, I long to be completely caressed and encompassed in its renewal and beauty.

Queen of the King Size Bed – Part 2

Saying I am Queen of the king size bed is all well and good but I thought I’d show it as well. I’ve worked hard for everything I have and endured my share of ups and downs but I am stronger because of it. I workout daily by walking my dog, playing Dance Central or doing P90x2 and while I am not a hardbody by any means, I am pleased with my shape. There is something to be said for a woman with curves and that something is that she is beautiful. I am beautiful. My beauty comes from within and my physical form is just the vessel for it. I have self-image issues just like every other woman in the world but most days I’m pretty content with how I look and who I am.

As a ghost writer, I blog daily about interior design and it keeps me so busy I don’t have the time to focus on my own interior design. I made time for it recently and purchased a new floral quilt for my bed and leaf print sheets to replace the dark red comforter and sheets I’ve used all winter. Though Spring has disappeared for the moment, I felt it necessary to create light and cheer in my bedroom. I so often write in my freelance blogs that the bedroom is a sanctuary and I truly believe that. I always find peace when I sit or lay upon my bed and when I close my eyes I am quickly lost in the dreams of my vivid imagination.

On weekend mornings my large bed is covered with open magazines and books as I research the topics I write about and scribble furiously in my spiral notebook. Those notes are later typed into an Excel spreadsheet as I create what I call my “interior design cheat sheet.” I am loving every moment of learning about interior design, decorating and architecture. My mind is a sponge and I’m trying to soak up as much knowledge as possible so it translates properly when I write. Printed books are amazing tools and digital media will never replace them in my world. Folding down pages and highlighting sentences is such a rewardingly tangible experience!

Perhaps what I do on my oversize bed is not as exciting as some people might have imagined but that doesn’t concern me. I am a responsible woman and my life might sound boring to some but to me it is fulfilling, gratifying and a true gift.

The Doggy Gauntlet

Snuggling on the couch for warmth!

Jazz and I snuggling on the couch for warmth!

I refer to walking my dog Jazzmin as “Jazzercise” and while there isn’t any up tempo dancing music playing while we walk, it’s definitely exercise! I live in a rather rural and hilly area of Upstate NY and our daily walks are wrought with the usual perils of squirrels, birds and of course, other dogs. There are no sidewalks where I live so we walk in the shoulder but thankfully the town has made the shoulders rather wide. That comes in very handy when a driver isn’t paying attention and Jazz and I have to veer way over into the ditch or shoulder to remain safe. We haven’t had to go ditch diving yet but the way some people around here drive their pickup trucks way too fast, it might yet happen.

As I stated in my earlier post, I equate walking Jazz around here to running a Doggy Gauntlet. My country neighborhood is filled with dogs and if they’re outside the house, they’re rarely on any sort of leash. Then there’s the added excitement of the people who actually walk their dogs…or rather are walked BY their dogs. When I walk Jazz in the snow and cold of winter I never encounter anyone else walking their dog but the moment it warms up they all crawl out of the woodwork!

Jazz likes to pull and until I’ve thoroughly established my calm assertiveness, I walk her on a Gentle Leader. Any other collar I’ve tried, even Cesar Millan’s Illusion collar, doesn’t deter her from pulling. I can’t rely on a collar to control my dog anyway, I’m the one holding the leash, I’m the one who has to be controlling my dog. Yesterday’s running of the Doggy Gauntlet had its ups and downs, and I don’t just mean the never-ending hills. I purposely walked her by houses I know have loose dogs and I even walked by the local kennel. Jazz did quite well walking by the homes with the loose dogs. I had to keep correcting her but we walked by without the dogs running at us and only emitting a couple barks from a fair distance.

I was feeling rather proud of us until we encountered an older woman walking some little puffball white dog. Or rather, being dragged along by her little dog. Jazz gets extremely excited when she sees other dogs on leashes and it doesn’t matter what size they are. We walked by the woman with the dog with more than a few corrections and something of a power struggle but I considered it positive progress. We were almost home when I saw the little Jack Russell Terrier from down the road dragging along its owner. Jazz got excited the moment she saw it and wanted to run over and the little thing started barking at us and Jazz and I failed miserably at getting past with any sort of calm and control. I made the mistake of stopping and trying to make her sit and that didn’t help in the least because she was totally ignoring me. I then had to drag her away as she fought against the Gentle Leader. Once the other dog had continued down the road barking and fighting against its owner and was out of sight, Jazz calmed down and we made it the last stretch home without further incident.I was somewhat discouraged by our failures but encouraged by our successes and my mind was already going over what I’d done wrong.

I walked Jazz tonight in gale force winds and that was extremely distracting for both of us. We encountered one loose dog, an older black lab named Molly and while Jazz got excited, we kept moving and Molly only gave us a couple passing barks as she hung out by her owner and house. In almost the exact same spot we encountered the Jack Russell last night, we came upon a woman walking her Irish Setter and the only difference between it and the Jack was the size. That big fluffy red dog was pulling at the leash and dragging its owner and barking and Jazz was pulling frantically against the Gentle Leader trying to get free from me. I didn’t make her sit this time though, I kept pulling her along and fighting to regain control of her despite the other dog’s continued barking. To Jazz’s credit, she hasn’t barked at any of the dogs we’ve encountered and I consider that a good thing! We made it home safe again and were both happy to get in out of the whipping winds.

I don’t know what the trick is to snap Jazz out of her fixation on other dogs. I’ve tried correcting with the collar, giving her the little side tap Cesar demonstrates and distracting her with treats but nothing is very effective. I do realize that I get tense when I see other dogs and I’m trying really hard to stop doing that but it’s a work in progress.

I do wish I could see her interact with other dogs in a friendlier manner so I knew it was possible but as I can’t possibly afford to pay Cesar Millan to come out here, we’ll continue to muddle through until we get a handle on things. From watching The Dog Whisperer and just from encountering other people walking their dogs with absolutely no control, I know I’m not alone in my struggles and that I’m not a failure.

My goal is to someday be the role model walking pair in the neighborhood. A beautiful woman and her adorable dog walking confidently down the road without any leash pulling, barking or power struggles. The pair that other dog owners around here point to and say to their dog “See?! That’s how you’re supposed to act!”