Thursday, December 31, 2015

A Murmur..what?

Some days it is deafening around here.  I have never seen so many starlings hanging around.  Twice one day I walked into the garage and heard what sounded like a hissing noise and wondered if the old fridge had finally given up the ghost and some vital pipe was loosing fluid under pressure.  Nope, it was the starlings chortling away outside.

The European Starlings (Sturnus vulgaris) are an invasive species that now numbers in the millions.  Also in the millions are the numbers of dollars lost by the agricultural industry due to grape, cherry and berry crop damage.  Around here they are the bane of the blueberry growers, so during blueberry season we are plagued with the sounds of propane cannons going off to scare the birds, or recorded distress calls.  It's a huge issue.  Already in the Okanagan they have trapped and destroyed many starlings, and now in this area they are talking about trying the same thing.  The starlings push out the native birds, using their nests or nesting sites for their own.  How did they arrive in North America?  Well it seems that a certain group at the end of the 19th century released 60 starlings in Central Park in an attempt to bring all of the birds mentioned in Shakespeare's works, to North America.  Never was fond of that Shakespeare guy.... 

Large flocks of starlings are called murmurations.  I wonder who came up with that name.  While the starlings are basically rats with wings, when they are flying (mumurating?), they make some amazing shapes. 

 Here are some examples.

This video below was taken at our place.  The starlings are in the field next door. Not as impressive as the videos above, but fascinating all the same.  The starlings practice what is called 'roller feeding'.  The birds at the back of the flock are constantly moving to the front to new ground.  They poke their beaks into the ground in hopes of grabbing something edible. It's like a massive organism slowly moving along.  The birds you hear in the video are ones behind me up in the trees, the ones on the ground are too busy trying to eat.

This is one of the things I love about blogging.  I start to post about something, and then I end up Googling it, and learn all sorts of fascinating information that I didn't know before.  How long I retain that info is another story.  Did you know that starlings can imitate voices and sounds? Saw videos of that too:)

Here's what a cow pie looks like after the starlings have been by.  Hard to see, but the ground is riddled with the same kind of holes.  Aeration by starlings.

And to give another bird a moment in the spotlight, we've had some visits from redwing blackbirds.  I love their song when they are perched atop the marsh grasses.  It was interesting, when the bird on top of the feeder tried to fly down and join in, the other three all expanded the red patches on their wings to about four times the size.  Warning it off and staking a claim to 'their' territory I guess.

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Winter Walk - Hayward Lake

Today was a beautiful winter day. Mild and sunny.  We did something a bit different and instead of doing the usual walks here at home, that I think we are all bored with, we got in the car and drove to a place we hadn't walked before.  It was Hayward Lake on the north side of the Fraser River.  It is a man made lake, held back by the Ruskin Dam, which is used to generate electricity.  The trail, for the most part, ran along an old rail bed.  Across the little bays along the lake were the old pilings. 

There were a couple of little beaches. Not really sure why they were fenced off.  The sign said 'danger, fast moving water and steep dropoff'.  We couldn't figure out the fast moving water bit.  The dogs 'thought' they wanted to swim, but I know darn well they'd find the water too cold.

Some driftwood art

Here you can see remnants of trees that were flooded over.  You would think it would make sense to log the area before flooding it, wouldn't you?  For this reason, no power boats are allowed on the lake.

Since the trail couldn't cross on the old trestles, sometimes it had to make a detour around a bay where a creek ran in, and it headed up hill, pretty steep sometimes.  It was hard work for Calli, even though we have the leash attached to her cart and help her up the hills.

Those hilly bits went through typical west coast rainforest

That tree right next to Larry's left arm was massive, and went up what seemed like forever.  We estimated 150 ft.

On the way back we thought we Calli would be desperate for something to drink, so this creek was easy to access off the trail.  You know that old saying 'You can lead a horse to water, but you can't make it drink...' That applies to dogs too.  She is 'funny/weird' about drinking water.

There was some pretty major construction happening at the dam, and some of the area was closed off, maybe until 2018!  The regular parking lot that was down almost at lake level was closed, and there was another parking area further up the road.  The only problem with that was that it was high up above the lake, and there was a steep switchbacky trail down to lake level.  Fine going down, but pretty darn hard for Calli to come up at the end of the walk.  Larry pulled with the leash, and on the steepest parts I picked the back end of the cart up.  She seemed to walk faster that way.  Our theory was that it leveled her back out and she didn't feel like she was walking up hill, so was able to go faster. 
Almost at the top here.  

We walked a little over a third of the way up the lake, from the dam at the south end.  We did two hilly bits, and when we hit the third bigger one, that  made us decide to turn around, as we knew there was still the major climb to do at the end.
We couldn't have asked for a nicer day.

Monday, December 28, 2015

Some Christmas Pics

We had a nice Christmas.  Just the four of us.  Hopefully one year there will be more;-)  I always like to get some sort of Christmas photo of the family.  It`s easier to get cooperation if I keep it simple, unlike some years past.  It`s kind of been a tradition that all the animals get looked after first.  We no longer have a herd of horses or a flock of sheep, but we still have chickens and dogs.  It`s a bit different now that Meredith is living at her own place, but David has been staying with us over the Christmas break between semesters.  So the chickens were looked after while we waited for Meredith to arrive, and then we headed out to the bush to give the dogs their morning walk.  I`d taken a camera, and handed the duty of finding an appropriate placed stump and setting the camera up, to David.  A comment or two was made that it would have been much easier if I had brought the tripod. (note to self...remember that for next year).  So about 12 shots were taken, but there were a few funny ones because we didn`t think the camera was working because there were no lights flashing.  So about shot number three David heads back to check the camera, and then Meredith and I see the lights start to flash, and we have funny looks on our faces.  Anyway, there was a decent shot or two in the bunch. Six out of the seven subjects were cooperating in this one.  It was a mild, mostly sunny Christmas Day.  If we couldn`t have snow, we were happy to settle for dry, mild and sun.  I was somewhat overdressed, but was trying to add a bit of Christmas cheer to the scene.

Just some random shots on the way back.  I think Meredith must have just kicked Jake`s toy.  Larry is in the background climbing over the fence to rescue Luna`s soccer ball from the blackberries.


More watching.  David trying to get the perfect action shot with his phone.

The old girl, one month short of 16 years.

The younger girl, who is already 8! Where HAS the time gone?

Christmas Dinner.  Turkey, cranberry sauce, stuffing, roasted potatoes (three kinds) and broccoli, brussel sprouts and cauliflower, gravy. Found some Paleo recipes for the cranberry sauce and stuffing.  They are keepers. Used the fancy china, Larry's mum would have been happy:)  Meredith made a trifle.

A bit of Christmas decorating.

The full moon that night. 15 second exposure, so it looks like daylight almost, but you can see two stars to the right of the moon.

Our Christmas was merry and bright, hope your's was too.

PS  Meredith and David went to visit their Nana  that afternoon.  They took her out for a 'walk' and then said she was quite happy and chatted away back in her room.  They didn't know what she was talking about, and didn't know if she knew it was Christmas Day.  That's okay, I was worried that she would be mad that she wasn't coming to our place this year.  It was out of the question for a multitude of reasons, but it would have been difficult for my mother to understand why.

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Merry Christmas

On this Christmas eve, wishing you all the very best.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Wet and Poopy and Brave Little Dogs

First of all, thanks for the kind comments on my last post. It's always nice to know that others understand what you are dealing with.

It seems to be a particularly wild and wet Fall this year.  Lots of rain.  Well this is the time of year we generally get lots of rain, but maybe it just seems more noticeable because of our very dry summer.  One thing that we haven't had much of for a year or two is high winds, and we sure have made up for it in the last part of this year.

The little creek that flows through our bush is full again.  It dried up in the summer, which is not unusual, but it took a long time this Fall for it to get flowing again.  I think there was a lot of room in the ground for the rain to soak into, before it started to run off and reform the creek. That is Luna's 'cooling off' pool you can see there.  As we pass by sometimes, the water is all murky, and we know Luna has been in for a quick dip to cool off.

The heifers made themselves at home in the north side of the old horse shed.  The walls were falling apart and heifers were pushing their way through them, so we banged sheets of wood up and nails in to make it a bit more secure.  We had some old hay stacked at the back that we used for bedding in the chicken coops. Hay that was baled 5 or 6 years ago, and we didn't think the heifers would be interested in it. Wrong, wrong, wrong!  What they didn't eat, they spread around and slept on.  We did go out one day and managed to salvage the last few bales and also some of the loose stuff that hadn't been pooped on yet.

I'm going to go out there and pile all that poopy bedding up, and add some of the pies that are outside the shed, there's only about a million of them, and hopefully get some nice compost for the garden. 

It was a glorious day on Wednesday, which was sorely needed, and happily that was the day that had been arranged for the heifers to go home.  Mid afternoon I managed to get them into the riding ring, and then when Carol arrived with her truck and trailer, we pushed them down the alleyway to where the trailer was parked. With the three of us and some frantic waving of our ski poles and some grain to coax them into the trailer, they more or less cooperated and jumped in to head off home.

I thought Luna would be looking for them Thursday morning, she always let us know where they were, but for some reason it was like she knew they were gone. We had her in the house while they were being loaded up, maybe she was watching from the door? 

One funny little story.  Luna liked to go out to the heifers, but she didn't really have enough 'presence' to move them.  In fact one or two of them would move her.  One morning the three heifers were down the little hill by the gate to the bush, were we walk in the morning. Luna went down there.  We were still at the top of the hill, probably waiting for Calli.

Jake was eating some grass, seemingly oblivious to the fact that one of the heifers was chasing Luna back up the hill towards him.  I called his name to make him look up, thinking that he would get out of the way. No, he stopped where he was, faced that heifer down, which made her stop.  His lips lifted in a snarl, and he made a little lunge towards the heifer, and she backed right off.  It always seems shocking to us when he does something like that, as we always think of him as being a meek and mild little dog.

You tell 'em, Jake!

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Christmas Party

Every year the care home where my mother lives puts on a special dinner before Christmas.  Family members are invited, at $25 per ticket.   The picture below is my mum at her first one, four years ago.  It's a nice picture of her.  

In four years a lot has changed.  My mum fell and broke her hip just before Christmas last year, so she spent Christmas in the hospital.  She wasn't bothered about me coming to the dinner that year, but then afterwards talked about how other residents had family members there, and she didn't... so I vowed that I would be there this year.  There has been a couple of times since the hip replacement that my mum has gone into a decline, and we did not expect her to come out of it.  But come out of it she did, twice. Not quite to the level she was before though.  Just recently she was having to be fed, and was on minced food.  About a week ago she was getting very upset that she wasn't getting 'real' food and tried to stab one of the care aides' hand with a fork.  I had to sign paperwork that I agreed that she could have solid food, even though she was still considered at risk to choke.
  At the dinner, I was discreetly trying to help her eat.  She only has one functioning hand, due to the stroke that put her in the care home in the first place. She wouldn't let me cut her food into manageable pieces, and made a threatening move at my hand one time.  I was trying to be discreet , and not have my mum create a scene.  I don't think she got much food into her.  She was very meticulous about picking the crumbs off the table at the end of the meal though;-)

Afterwards, at the other side of the dining room, there was some entertainment.  I've seen this couple perform before at the care home. They are called 'The Suede Dogs', Malcolm and Linda. They are good, singing a lot of old songs, and they get out there and work the audience.  Malcolm came over and took my mum's hand and sang right to her.  The rest of the time my mum played the part of conductor.

She obviously enjoyed the music, keeping time with every song.  Even when I thought she had fallen asleep, her eyes closed and her head tipped back, she was still nodding to the music. It was kind of cute:)

After it was all over, and we passed the nurse on the way back to her room, she commented that she was surprised my mum was still awake.  Back in her room I asked her if she wanted the TV on.  She seemed to be okay with that, and then she just angrily told me to 'Go, Well GO THEN'.  I kissed her goodbye and headed on home.  For the longest time the anger I would get from her would be upsetting, but now I'm able to just let it slip away.
  That visit was about as good as it gets these days.

Monday, December 7, 2015

Do you Zumba?

In case you were wondering, I never did go back to the Total BS class.  I decided to check out the classes at the Rec Centers in town.  There is one heck of a variety, and I can just pay as I go, or purchase a card good for 20 visits and save 20%, so that works better for me.  That way if we go to Oliver for a week, I'm not missing classes that I paid for.  I've always been interested in trying a Zumba class.  So last week I went to three, Monday, Wednesday and Friday, and I was there again tonight.  Different instructors in each class, so they use different moves.  I feel like the most uncoordinated idiot out there.  Quite often I am one beat behind when I finally figure out the foot movements. It seems I just barely get it sorted out and the instructor changes it up or adds something extra in.  But, I can laugh at myself, so it is kind of fun and one heck of a workout, depending on how much you put into it.  Tonight I went to Youtube and spend a while looking at Zumba videos, trying to find one that was somewhere close to what I feel like we do.  Hip and shoulder shimmies were not in my repertoire, and they still aren't really, and I feel a bit of weakness in the small of my back after attempting them.  I'm probably one of the oldest in the classes, and no leggings for me, I'm in shorts and a tank top.  I can't function if my legs are too hot, or my top either.  Thankfully there are some big fans on the back wall that blow too and fro.  Obviously the more I go, the easier it will get....right? By easy I mean actually learning the movements well enough so that muscle memory takes over and I don't have to concentrate on both arms and legs.

Watching the instructor in this one, well all I can think of is that that hair hanging in my face would drive me crazy!

Saturday, December 5, 2015

Now For Something Totally Different

On Thursday night I read a post on a Facebook group I belong to.  It was telling members about the Herring Sale today. It is a fundraiser for kids with cancer.  Fishermen donate their time and boats and fish for herring that is then sold at the dock for 50 cents a pound.  Herring is something I feed the dogs, raw.  It's something we should eat to, cooked of course, but I'm not there yet.  That would mean I'd have to gut and fillet them first.  Anyway, I thought about going to Steveston in Richmond to get the herring.  It's a bit of a drive, nearly an hour.  
Then I thought well maybe they still need volunteers, so I sent off an email Thursday evening, and low and behold, yes, they could still use my help.  I volunteered to be a wheelbarrow pusher, thinking I'd lots of experience with that.  With some emailing back and forth we got it figured out.  I was going to get there about 10.  Larry decided to come too, which I figured was great, he could stand in the lineup and get some fish and I could go and help. 
 The first crew started bagging fish at 5:30 am and there were people lining up already at that time.  Sales weren't supposed to start until 8.  By the time we got there the warehouse was full of people lined up.  Larry stood there for 2  3/4 hours to get 60 lbs of fish!  I felt bad when I found that out later, he doesn't take standing well for a long period of time.  I asked him if he found someone to chat to, and he said yes, to a little Phillipino lady.  He said she said the sale used to be quieter until the Chinese people found out about it.  We thought that was pretty funny!  I'd say 95% of the customers were of Asian descent.
The wheelbarrow pushers would take the fish to people's cars, if they hadn't brought their own form of transporting it.  The bags were about 20 lbs each.  I think the people in the wheelbarrow section looked at me and thought, wow, I don't think this old lady will be able to do much.  My only load was 6 bags, and they gave me this monstrous big blue plastic wheelbarrow on two wheels, that they said would be easier, and that I didn't like at all.  So I pushed it to the fellow's car (and he asked me a couple of times if I needed help).  He unloaded the bags into the buckets he had in his trunk, and I turned to head back with the wheelbarrow.  He quickly pushed a $5 tip into my hand.  Well I thought that was pretty funny, but I thanked him and told him I would donate it to the cause, which I did.  
While I was waiting for another load, I got called away and put on the fish line.  They needed someone to get the bags out of the box and opened up and handed to the guy that was filling the bags under the hopper.  That's me in the yellow pants and green jacket, hanging out with the big boys, the actual fishermen.

The herring were dumped by forklift out of those red totes in the background, onto the conveyor up where those people are behind the lady in the black head scarf.  The herring would come down and were pushed into a hopper set into the table.  When it was full, the bottom of the hopper was slid open and the fish shot down a chute and into the bag that was held under the hopper by a guy that is seated and out of sight.  The guy on my left then took it from him and heaved it up onto those upturned totes to the left, and the guys there tied knots in the tops of the bags, and heaved the bags into another bin where they were handed out to the customers. 
 There were two guys sitting down bagging fish.  I was there for three hours and went through more than two cases of bags.  I figure I opened about 1200 bags for the guy on my side.  It went fast.  At 1:30 all the fish was sold.  There were lots of disappointed customers.  I heard a guy complaining that he had left in the morning because of the three hour wait, and then when he came back all the fish was sold.  There is no limit on how much you could buy, they just want to get it sold.  I heard there were 50 tons.
At the end I asked about the fish on the floor, could I just take some for dog food.  Sure they said, so I got two more bags.  How can I pass up such a good deal?  I always forget that I (or we) have to deal with it all when I get home.  

Remember those 85 lbs of cherries we picked for 50 cents a pound.  Then we had to pit them all....

Or last week at the market.  One of the vendors was there for his last week.  Instead of picking the leaves off his kale and collards, he just cut the stem on the plant and sold the whole thing for $2.  What a bargain.  I bought 6 of them. Just to get some idea of the size of them, that red cooler holds 20 dozen eggs, and the blue one, 24 dozen.  Now I did use up all the curly kale and made them into kale chips.  Wow can I eat a lot of kale that way.  

We did have collards for breakfast a couple of mornings.  Onions, mushrooms, prosciutto and sliced collard leaves sauteed and then eggs cracked on top, the lid put on and steamed to cooked the eggs.

And then Larry made chili yesterday and more sliced collards got added to that.  But, there are still most of the greens from the blue cooler left.  And we need the cooler for the eggs at the market in the morning.  I'm going to have to do something with those greens, maybe steam them and freeze them?  At the moment they are in a bucket of water sitting under the deck.  Maybe I'll get something done with them tomorrow or Monday.  Right now I have to head out to the barn and bag up herring I laid on trays to freeze individually when we got home this afternoon.  Hopefully I can get the rest of them done tonight.