Wednesday, December 23, 2009


It's been over two weeks now since Avo's untimely death and I have been distracted by handymen replacing our crumbling and clogged 80 year old pipes. I decided to buck up this afternoon and go out to the sheep pen and visit Finley.

He was very stiff in stance and looked older, less innocent. A small trickle of blood was coming down one of his horns which appeared to have a small puncture wound, like maybe he butted his head against a nail...or perhaps it was part of the unfortunate scenario. (Later Rick and I flushed it out. He had noticed it, but badly needing new glasses, thought it was just a glump of dirt).

I went to the shed and began picking up feathers, making a little bouquet in my hand, tears streaming down my face. As it started to come together and look like a familiar chicken Finley came over. I held it out to him and he sniffed it. Then he lowered his head and used his hoof to make the 'I want' sign and I started weeping.

I want him back, too, Finley.

So whatever happened involving the sheep that ended the life we knew as Avo it was very clear Finley was missing him, too.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Until Death Do Us Part | Part Two

After coming home from judging UIL Storytelling this evening I found Avo's crumpled and muddy body next to the sheep shed. It appears he was stomped to death by Finley. I had noticed a little aggression recently and the thought that this could happen even briefly ran through my head this morning.

But they had lived together for three years since Finley's birth, and just the other day on our walk Finley was concerned his chicken had fallen behind. I cannot claim to know what goes on in the sheep mind. Avo could fly up and out of the pen if he needed to I told myself. He did it all the time. I wish I had listened to that little voice. I even had the thought since Phoebe's passing that maybe it was time for Avo to live with his own feathered people again. Take up with a nice Ameraucana hen.

Avo is in my blog mast head, and in my lap on the holiday cards yet to print. The card that won't get printed now. He's all over my blog as he loved to be photographed. So much for our peaceable kingdom. I can hardly bear the heaviness this season has already brought. He was the best chicken, and will be in my heart forever. There will never be another chicken like him. I knew this day would be hard, but I never knew it would come so soon or by the hoof of another loved one. I feel like it was my fault for not listening to my intuition. This is a tough one. We just buried him on top of his beloved Phoebe.

I'm going to take a break from blogging for a while.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Macro Monday: Bird Button #3

Thanks for all the kind (and funny!) comments last week regarding the baking of my camera. It certainly was one of those 'gotta laugh to keep from crying' incidences, of which there seem to be many around here. After a cozy night by the fire I am happy to report that Camera is back to normal. Let's just hope none of you will ever need the recipe!

I am not sure what draws me to birds, but there has always been an undeniable connection of the heart. I love bird imagery almost as much, and buttons are easy to collect. The subtle, tinted patina on this one is sublime!

When I was a child my Ruthenian grandmother sent me a pet canary. As I grew up it was followed by a long line of parakeets I hand tamed and dearly loved. As a younger woman I briefly owned a sun conure which terrorized visitors and my other pets, and sadly has been the only animal I've ever had to give away. I did not realize parrots bonded with you like a mate and were extremely jealous of all other beings.

For nearly a decade I organized a national nature festival with a very large birding component. As a botanist I don't own fancy binoculars or keep a life list (too competitive) although I am aware of what birds I've seen and haven't yet seen. I don't travel to exotic places just to add their numbers. Instead I keenly observe those around me and learn their songs, feed them and watch them build their nests in my trees. I would probably photograph them if I had the right lenses.

Still, they figure predominantly in all my artistic endeavors: hand painted scarves, paintings, jewelry, even the advertisements I design for my clients. And, of course, there is my love of chickens!

For more up close and personal views from around the world visit Macro Monday!

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Sunday Stills: Pets

Happy anniversary Sunday Stills! This week's theme of pets coincides nicely with the designing our holiday greeting card. I've always loved the hand painted cards over at Punkin's Patch showing each of the farm animals and pets and wondered if someday I might do something like that photographically. Only our animals don't tend to get along with each other that well.

So, today I made the attempt. Using our well house as a backdrop and setting up the camera with a time delay on a tripod, I took multiple exposures of the various animals one at a time with us and then I used Photoshop to collage them together. Don't we look like the peaceable kingdom!

 Click to biggify!

Pictured (L-R) are: Wilson, Finley, Topaz, Me with Avo, Starley, Farmer Rick with Millicent, Francisco and Cody. These are the main characters of my blog. We are only missing the other 49 chickens and a couple of wayward kittens. You can even read the label on the pitchfork: Ranch Hand. Sort of a twist on American Gothic.

For more pet pictures visit Sunday Stills!

Infrared Chickens

 Doesn't Otto look mad?

Winter came yesterday bringing us a handful of tiny snowflakes, and temperatures that dipped to 17 degrees last night. That probably doesn't sound that cold to many of you--but remember we spent a summer with three months above 106 degrees, and just a few days ago we were running around in t-shirts and sandals. So for us--and our animals--we might as well be on the Arctic tundra when it gets like this.

We use a small electric heater in our original chicken coop when it gets below freezing, but since there is no electricity across the creek we had to run an electric cord and infrared lamp that kept them at only 27 degrees. This produced an eerie, red glow in the woods coming from the new coop. The chickens looked put-off when I pulled out the camera, as if to say 'this is not a Kodak moment!' Just look at Otto's expression! (And yes, I remembered to bring the camera back with me this time).

We weren't much better off in the cold. Our old farmhouse is about one third single pane glass making it very cold and drafty, and in this kind of weather our heat pump struggles to keep us around 50-60 degrees. So we built a fire in the fireplace and broke out the new heated mattress pad. It seems to be baking us on the lowest setting and I woke up thirsty in the night. Can't imagine using it on a high setting, unless my camera needed it!

Today most of the remaining leaves--seemingly caught unaware--fell off the trees leaving circles of colors around their feet. We took photos for our holiday cards, and I'll be sharing that with you in tomorrow's post, since it's all about our pets and fits nicely with the theme for Sunday Stills.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Macro Monday: Recipe: How to Bake a Camera

To my absolute horror--the nightmare on Ranch Road--this morning I discovered I'd left the camera outside overnight, and--in this land of so little rain--it had rained! (Guess the bets are off on which part of my body will conk out first!) I brought it in, toweled it dry, changed the batteries and took this picture. Let's call this one BO (Before Oven). Looks like a macro of a cloud.

I was crushed! How would I ever explain to Farmer Rick--now that I have gutted our main bathroom and uncovered unsightly, secret, chaotically wired chambers--I would rather have another camera instead and just finish the bathroom project in, say, 2011? That would only be a tiny inconvenience, right? Right? No, that would never do. Not when I'm the one always harping about follow through, like I had it tattooed across my...well you get the picture, no pun intended.

So, I googled 'what to do if your camera got left out in the rain', and I came across someone who said they actually baked their Canon Rebel (I can hear many of you cringing right now) and it was raised like Lazarus from the dead and it has continued working. I decided to give it a try. Even though my oven couldn't go as low as 120 degrees, I set it at my lowest of 170 degrees and baked it (without batteries or memory card) for 20 minutes with the door slightly ajar.

This way, I could at least peek in and see if it was melting. I would hate to have to explain to Farmer Rick how we suddenly needed BOTH a new camera and new oven! I'd really feel like Lucille Ball then. It got hot, way too hot to handle but held its shape. So I let it cool to room temperature. After replacing the batteries and card, here's the first picture.

For AF (After Oven) isn't this amazing? There's still a bunch of moisture under the digital screen of the viewfinder, but I'm hoping I can remove that with a little time in a plastic ziplock baggie and some silica gel. Or maybe it will need to bake longer.

Anyway, here's another vintage bird button and a maple leaf to go along with the recipe!

For more up close and personal images, visit Macro Monday!

Postscript: After a cozy evening spent by the fire with my camera (wish I could have captured this happy photo), and a night sealed in a plastic baggie with all the silica gel packages I could find from shoe boxes, and some Rainsorb thrown in, the last bit of moisture I was seeing in the display screen has completely disappeared! Whew!

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Sunday Stills: The Letter T

Finally, our colors here are Turning. Fall comes very late when you live so close to Mexico. I've been thinking of it as Summer, since our Summer was Hell. This is the part of my house that used to be the Town Post Office until 1968.

I was inspired by dibear and the shot of her cactus earlier this week, so when mine opened I took one too. I know it's supposed to be a Christmas Cactus, but I think of it as a Thanksgiving Cactus as that's when it always seems to bloom.

Here's my Thoughtful Husband, Farmer Rick, icing a birthday cake he baked for me. Everyone tells me 50 is the new Thirty. This is because they are all older than me and it makes them feel better, too.

I was able to capture Starley, my camera-shy Terrier, giving me a kiss.

I got this nifty set of Tools. One of the advantages of aging is the gifts get better. Remember how thrilled you were at 14 to get just a dime store curling iron? Jewelers use dapping blocks and punches to form metal into curved shapes. This set ranges from itty-bitty to door knob size. Wow! If you've been following the progress of our chicken coop, then you'll know how much I like curves.

I also love the curves of my new Toaster!

Some friends sent me this  Ten Good Things About Getting Older card. I particularly like #5 You can take bets on which part of your body will conk out next. Remember the rib I dislocated earlier in the spring when we began the new chicken coop? Well, I did it again, on my birthday, no less! (By the way, my chiropractor goes by the name Dr. T. I will be calling him Tomorrow!)

How did this happen? Tearing apart our bathroom. Seriously, the space has been bothering me for a long time. Everything came out except the Tub and Toilet (this will eventually be traded out for a low flush model, since our water is like gold to us now). You may remember what I started with when I got this idea back in the summer. Ultimately I decided the only thing I really liked about the room was the switch plates! Well, you have to begin somewhere.

So, I began at the most logical purchasing Toast, Tan, and Tangerine Towels to match...

...and collecting Tile for the mosaic mirror surround I plan to make.

But renovation isn't all fun and is going to be a Terrible Trial of our carpentry skills.  Remember that big mirror?...well apparently it was covering some hidden Trouble!

OMG: WWBVD? (What Would Bob Vila Do?) For more takes on the letter T, visit Sunday Stills.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Mid Century Modern

Yesterday for Thanksgiving I was thankful to still be 49. This morning I am reflecting on reaching half a century, which sounds so... old. Of course, I have friends of all ages, so I understand it's all relative, but I do tend to think of myself as a perennial 27.

I received this lovely birthday card from my high school history teacher, Clarice, who is 80, with whom I've stayed in touch for over 30 years. I graduated with the History Award. I'm sure my AARP card is on its way! I hear there are some pretty good discounts.

For breakfast, Farmer Rick made me tea, pancakes with vegetarian sausage and Canadian bacon. He is doing the house chores so I can be relaxed and creative today. I think being a life-long vegetarian with an active lifestyle has kept me youthful and in shape.

Last week at the grocery store the checker and sacker, having just handled my healthful food purchases, asked me if I was a vegetarian, and I said yes. They guessed my age to be 35. Sounds good to me. To be sure, my life is better than it ever has been.

Because most of my friends are tied up with the holiday, I've decided to celebrate all year long and in various ways. It's definitely a time for personal reflection on what I've been through and accomplished, but also a time to discard and pare down to the essential self and make sure my remaining time is vibrant and fulfilling. It's like New Years Eve--only looking ahead at the entire next half century! One thing is for sure, I plan to make more time for music and art.

If you've reached this milestone, I'd love to hear how it has affected your life. If you haven't, I'd still be interested to know how you would handle the second half of your life differently.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Macro Monday: Bird Button

My latest whimsy is collecting antique bird, insect, and flower buttons. I'm hoping to incorporate them into my jewelry making, or at least use them for inspiration. I am in the early phase of appreciating them without knowing much about their history.

For more up close photos visit Macro Monday!

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Sunday Stills: Horses

For several reasons, this has been the hardest challenge yet, as Ed (facetiously) said. Yesterday's plan to get out and photograph horses was set aside for Phoebe, whom I posted about yesterday. Usually when I let Avo out in the morning he thump-thump-thumps (he's the most heavy footed rooster around) over to wing her and this morning he winged me a couple times and then cautiously walked around looking for her. I think not only do we need a new ewe for Finley's companion, but perhaps we need a real hen to be Avo's.

Anyway, I'm posting a photo of the only horse I own: Milda's Horse. It has an interesting story.

In the early 90's I was volunteering at the booth of a nature preserve at a fair being held at the Austin Botanical Gardens. On my break, I discovered a booth with these quaint little paintings, and one of a horse caught my eye. I had brought no money with me, and the artist was also on break.

The image haunted me for weeks. I called the organizer, and since it was the only art booth at the fair, was able to determine the vendor was a woman named Milda. Fortunately she was in the phone book, so I called her up and inquired about the little horse. She said it was $10 and gave me her address.

When I drove up, I realized she lived in an assisted living tower on the lake. Milda, in her mid 80's, not unlike my own Ruthenian grandmother, was under five feet tall and spoke with a thick Latvian accent. She had prepared Latvian almond cookies for my arrival, as she would for each of my visits over the next year. I bought the painting of her horse.

She had fled Latvia during the communist rule for France, where she studied at a national art academy. Her eyes gleamed talking about the European countryside she had travel and painted. I showed her my own paintings, which were large and realistic still life. My problem in painting landscapes was a matter of scale; it seemed I could not paint anything smaller than it actually was and make it work. Milda was sure she could help change that.

In reality I became her vehicle to get away from the home, as we would take our paints out into the surrounding hill country. She was always 'tinking' (thinking) about us having shows together. In fact, every time she was tinking it involved doing something together. Like me, Milda also played the guitar, only hers was tuned to an open G so that she could play chords by barring with one finger. She liked to sing Latvian folk songs, which we did if it were too rainy to go out and paint. She finally determined I was hopeless as small landscape painter. So we sang and ate cookies.

Then one day she told me her daughter had just died of cancer. I had never met her, nor had I known she was sick, but she lived nearby and apparently assisted Milda in whatever I didn't. Her grandson and his wife had just had a baby and were moving her to California to live with them. As it turned out, the little horse had become something altogether different and very big in my life that I was about to have to part with.

She gave me her daughter's knife and coffee grinder. Milda asked me if I wanted to have one of her paintings as a goodbye gift. I had really admired one of a blackbird sitting on a tree stump, but she said that was the only one she intended to keep. I asked her to pick, and she gave me one of a flower bouquet. We have lost touch. I wonder if she is still with us, and if so if she is still painting, singing, and making almond cookies.

Now the blackbird on the stump haunts me, so much that one day I may paint it in her memory. But at least I have Milda's horse.

For more horses, visit Sunday Stills.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Until Death Do Us Part

I should have known something was up when Avo was crowing at 2:30 a.m. This morning we found Phoebe laid out cold on our morning rounds, and on closer inspection her remaining blind eye, as blue as the Earth from space, blinked. We moved her into the sun where I fed her warm molasses water with electrolytes. She perked up a little and gummed an apple and some alfalfa, but went slowly downhill and passed in my arms.

She had been feisty, her usual self in the days before. The only thing I noticed was she was foaming around the mouth whenever she ate the last couple days, and today discovered a hard mass under her jaw and she appeared anemic. 

Nobody knew how old she was when we found her three years ago by the side of the road, poorly cared for, blind, and presumably hit by a car. She always looked sort of rag tag, but we gave her the best of care and loved her just the same. Because of the neurological damage she always walked in circles and her hooves grew shaped like bananas because she always went in the same direction. You could tell her general mood by the diameter of the circle. Our vet didn't think she'd make it, but she was one tough sheep. So tough--and much to our surprise--she dropped a lamb a few weeks later--two rescues for the price of one!

The vet did not expect Finley to live either, but, of course, he did too. For Avo the outcast rooster, she became the big fuzzy hen of his dreams and she put up with him in a way no one else would. They were inseparable. Farmer Rick and I are heartbroken, and Finley and Avo will be at a loss without her.

This video was taken just last month, you can see the happy trio together.

Interestingly, right before Phoebe passed a raven flew overhead in the direction of North. Native Americans believed the raven was an omen of death, and that they carried the souls of the dead away. North represented winter and old age.

Farmer Rick had to leave for a school rehearsal, and we will bury her before the evening performance. Death is never convenient. We put Finley out to graze earlier and I just let him back into the pen to say farewell. He did not seem to recognize or even be curious about the lifeless body of his mother; instead he looked in all directions crying out for the life force he once knew her as.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Macro Monday: Wandering, Correctly

We had our first frost last night. Here it is glistening in the morning's light on Tradescantia pallida. This is a species of Spiderwort native to the Gulf coast of Mexico and is commonly called 'Wandering Jew'. Although its provenance is indeterminate, many consider this a derogatory name yet I know it by no other. It is a splendidly beautiful trailing evergreen perennial with purple leaves and flowers that brightens up the garden so I'm not sure how this is an offense. We could just as easily call it Wandering Crazy Chicken Lady and I'd be honored!

Some interesting facts: most Spiderworts have a beautiful fragrance if you take the time to sniff them, and studies have shown as houseplants they are very good at removing toxic VOC's from the air.

Visit the up close world of others at Macro Monday!

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Sunday Stills: Fins, Feathers, and Fur

Even though I live on a river it is close to impossible to photograph fish--the water is so clear (at least when there is water) that the fish usually see you before you see them and skedaddle. So, I'll have to pass on the fins category.

A lovely sunset tonight and feathers allows me to introduce you to Mr. Blue, my newest rooster, who came to live with us two weeks ago. He was among a truckload full going to slaughter with our house carpenter and I asked if I might have him. He is what would be called an Easter Egger because of his blue egg genes. His father is an Ameraucana but he is crossed with something else yet showing some Blue Wheaten coloring in his tail.  Isn't he spectacular?

And from the archives for fur I can think of no better example than Francisco. I call this photo the Big Bed Wolf. I recently had to take him on a business trip and board him for the day at my client's kennel. The moment we walked in, the staff exclaimed "look at that upholstery!"

For more fins, feathers, and fur visit Sunday Stills!

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Sunday Stills: Currency

As an artist and designer, I find American money very boring compared to that of the rest of the world. Instead I am particularly drawn to ancient coins. It is intriguing to think about the lives and situations where this currency has passed.

Recently I have discovered Mauryan punch marked coins, where the artisan's hand can still be seen. The Mauryan Empire was one of the largest empires to rule the Indian subcontinent and their economy was comparable to the Roman Empire several centuries later since both had extensive trade connections. Jainism was the Mauryas' ancestral religion. These particular coins are from the King Samprati Dynasty around 216-207 BC.

Mauryan coins were irregular in shape made by cutting up silver bars and then making the correct weight by cutting the edges of the coin. I like the imperfection of the shapes.

These coins were patterned with tools known as punches that carried the particular designs, which included the commonly used sun and six-armed symbols, and various patterns such as circles, wheels, human figures, animals, bows and arrows, hills and trees, etc. The punch was placed over the silver, and a hammer was used to deliver the blow to make the particular indention. I use letter punches in making words in in my silver jewelry.

On the right you can see the back stamp punch mark on the coin that showed its authenticity.

For more images of Currency, be sure to visit Sunday Stills!

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Macro Monday: Pipevine Swallowtail



Here's the Pipevine Swallowtail butterfly from this previously featured caterpillar. It is the most striking metallic blue. This one looks brand new, all its scales in place, and sunning itself to strengthen its wings in my garden this afternoon.

For more close-ups visit Macro Monday!

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Sunday Stills: Halloween

This is the largest pumpkin from our garden this year...well, to be honest, ever...and it was one that came up entirely on its own in the sweet potato bed. (Our best gardening is always accidental). It was harvested in early summer (which isn't normal) and it has since begun decomposing into this interesting face with big lips...kind of a happy goul.

Farmer Rick was sick all week and I've been making lots of homemade soup. Last night the solenoid in our heat pump got stuck--as it tends to do the first time we turn on the heater each season--so it was 36 degrees outside and we were basically running the air conditioner all night--frightening! Now I am sick again. We've spent the day trying to get it un-stuck to no avail so we've set up the electric blanket for tonight. It will likely be a couple days before the repair man can come to once again show me how easy it is to fix myself.

For a good scare visit Sunday Stills!

Monday, October 26, 2009

Macro Monday: Have You Hugged Your Flower Today?

Still about flowers, only a little lighter this Monday!

I figure if Ed can use Spidey in his macros I would pull out my Flower finger puppet! She was rediscovered when cleaning out the bathroom closet this weekend, along with a a $100 bill I'd forgotten about! See, there is incentive in cleaning my house!

It's a chilly 52 degrees here today and we've received 2 inches of gentle rain all morning. This should help our well which has slowly been recharging over the past couple of weeks. I'm ecstatic over the promise of having running water in the house again.

Flower goes out to check on Finley. Just look at those smiles!

I've heard of stuffed animals before, but I've never seen a stuffed flower... 
um, you got any alfalfa cookies with you?

For a close range view from other photographers, visit Macro Monday!

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Sunday Stills: Landscapes with Fall Foliage

Fall is one of our iffy seasons--sometimes we go from summer directly to winter without much color. I'm too busy today to dig through the archives for fall landscapes which are few and far between. Here are a couple of our calico cat Topaz with leaves from our "lost" maple tree taken many years ago with a not-so-great camera. The spin was physical, not Photoshop.

For some fabulous landscapes in lands where fall really happens, visit Sunday Stills!

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Macro Monday: Campfire, Flowers, Thoughts

Yesterday I went to the funeral of my friend's father.
He was the kind of person that lived life to its fullest.

My own milestone around the corner, I have begun contemplating... this my authentic self?

Or, is there something still pulling at my soul?

Am I ready to awaken into my true creative life?
I am in a funk. For more detailed and perhaps less pensive images visit Macro Monday.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Sunday Stills: The Letter 'C'

I know what you are thinking...being the Crazy Chicken lady and all...but you are mistaken!

Yesterday we drove to Kerrville to get groceries and have some fun. For us this means Coffee shops, book stores, and thrift stores. The Coffee was Consumed too rapidly for photography. We passed by a terrible Car Crash surrounded by several Cops on the way, but I thought it would be inappropriate to photograph someone's Crisis. I wanted to find something a bit more Creative.

One of my favorite place to shop for Clothes is a thrift store that supports a ranch near us for troubled Children.

I love shopping at thrift stores because it is like a treasure hunt--you never know what Collectible you may find. Purchasing there, I am able to Conserve my money while supporting a great Cause.

I love things that have been Crafted by hand. Looking for something with the Colors of fall, I Caught sight of this Captivating item.

At only $4 I did not have to Contemplate long on making a purchase.

How often does one Come across such a Charming Cardigan? It was hard Contain my good Cheer as our nights are getting Cooler and I was hoping to Cuddle up in something Chic.

After 10 stops in 9 hours and 150 miles would you believe we discovered--after hearing its plaintive Cries--one of the young Cats from our Carport inside our Car engine? After several roadside attempts, it would not allow us to Capture or extract it, so presumably it made it home. It is most fortunate its Cleverness did not end in a Catastophe!

Avo thinks we should have taken him along instead, as it's a Cinch to Control a Chicken by Comparison! For a more Comprehensive Contemplation on the letter 'C' visit Sunday Stills!

Monday, October 12, 2009

Macro Monday: Dew Drop By!

I'm still under the weather with an inner ear/sinus infection trying to finish up some client ad designs. If you've ever had inner ear trouble, you know how unbalanced your coordination can get. The drizzle and cooler weather we've received has been delightful and made for some nice photos this morning. At least shooting macro I am closer to the ground, not so far to fall!

Native Fall Aster

Ground spider web

Pipevine Swallowtail caterpillar

Mold, not snow!

Fall color in grass seedheads

For more up close views of the world, visit Macro Monday.
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