Asian Lady Beetle | New Year Visitor

It was just before 1 pm on New Year’s Day. We were talking on the phone to one of our children. Along the edge of the table walked this Asian Lady Beetle.  We had seen it on the walls over the recent months when the outdoor temperatures got cold. Here it was again on one of the coldest days of the year.

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Longarm Quilting | My Turn

Melanie is a fabulous quilter. She understands color, fabrics, threads, design, is a great teacher, and so much more. I am impressed with her creativity and beautiful quilts. You can see her works here.

Quilting the finished front to the back with the batting sandwiched between is a study in patience and concentration. I wondered what it was like to actually run the machine. She set up a narrow strip of muslin and batting, gave me some instruction, and turned me loose.

I now have a much deeper appreciation for her skills. Some things are ‘easy’ like straight lines. She does curves, animals, flowers, leaves, and designs. Hers look realistic and artistic. Mine not so much. I need more practice.

My quilt could be made into a table runner or cut into placemats. It could even hang on the wall as a piece of modern art. I’ve heard quilters can sometimes sell their works. I would part with this one for a thousand or so. Let me know if you’re interested. 🙂

Snowshoe Hike

by Jim and Melanie

We got a fresh 6″ snowfall in a narrow band across the region of eastern Iowa and western Illinois. The water equivalent was about 0.20 inches. That is a 30:1 snow:water ratio. Normal is 10:1. The snow was very light and fluffy.

NOAA

The temperatures rose into the teens by mid-day as the snow fell. We donned our snow clothes, snowshoes, and hiking poles and set out on the trail behind our house that runs into other neighborhoods. It was peaceful and quiet. A bald eagle flew over us toward the Iowa River. Snow blanketed our shoulders.

It was 0˚F this morning with northwest wind increasing. Much colder tonight and the next few days. It will be best to stay home and warm.

Great Horned Owl Visiting Again

In February we told the story of a great horned owl visiting our backyard. Before that day, we never saw or heard one in our yard. Today we had the privilege of a second visit.

This time it perched on a lower branch than before, and Jim was able to get some terrific shots.

Great Horned Owl. Eastern Iowa. 11/15/2017. Photo by Jim Ruebush.

Click on any picture below to embiggen.

And here is a short video to show a bit of personality.

We watched it as a cat roamed through our yard beneath it. The cat was lucky the owl wasn’t ready for dinner. Later a squirrel grazed under the bird feeder and similarly escaped a violent death.

It was quite a treat to see this beautiful bird.

Backbone | Our Private State Park

by Jim and Melanie

After a large breakfast at Johnson’s in Elkader, we drove south toward Strawberry Point. Did you know they claim to have the world’s largest strawberry on display above city hall? We’ve seen it many times. By our judgment, at 15 feet tall, it is the largest.

As seen in October 2013…

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Squirrels & Feeders

Some of us choose to do battle with our local squirrels at the bird feeders. I confess to being one of them. Both humans and squirrels are creative. The challenge of foiling the squirrels is one I accept and enjoy. They usually win.

Several years ago our daughter bought a feeder for us that was supposed to be guaranteed squirrel-proof. It has a motorized perch for the birds. If a squirrel gets on it, their weight causes it to spin rapidly throwing them off. The Yankee Flipper did a good job. We were entertained for a few days as squirrels hopped on and were flipped off. This video shows one of our locals giving it a ride.

They soon quit trying. Then it became just another feeder. And, last year the rechargeable batteries quit holding charge for long. They only lasted a couple of days. That really emboldened the squirrels. Most of them went out on the rope and hung their bodies down from the wire bracket by their hind feet and ate leisurely. I needed some way to make the bracket impossible to grip. The local Goodwill store had a plastic bowl the right size. I put it in place as you see in this video. It seems to work well. Their bodies are not quite long enough.

There is still the batteries problem. I need to buy a replacement part for the spinner. It is fun to see the squirrels who are passing through and are unfamiliar with the spinner. They get a few rides and then quit. The locals know better. On YouTube are several videos posted by people with the same spinner. One in particular made me watch in amazement. This guy hung on for over 2 minutes. The owners said it wasn’t harmed. It got up and ran in a straight line down the drive. Are squirrels not subject to getting dizzy?

Storm in Nature and Life

Jim’s story of the book “Storm,” with some fascinating and unexpected connections.

How I See It

Some things we keep over the years carry strong ties and meaning in our lives. In our house, we try to not keep very many things, only the most important. Given the chance, we part with some of the things we’ve kept that might not have much meaning any more. When we die, we don’t want to leave the job of sorting through our stuff to our children.

I sorted some books on the shelves to see which could be donated to the public library for their sale. I decided to keep this one. The book and I have connections that goes back several decades. I will explain.

The Book

Storm is a novel by George R. Stewart published in 1941. Each of the twelve chapters is a day in the life of the storm. Each details the impacts of a storm which began in the western Pacific. The storm…

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Autumn Walks

by Jim and Melanie

One of our true pleasures is walking or hiking with each other. The pace allows for companionable silence or conversation, and for experiencing our current surroundings while letting the past and future fade. When we travel we look for opportunities to hike, and at home we walk the neighborhood or make small outings to local trails. Serendipity often blesses us while we’re out.

When visiting Washington state last month, we intended a hike in Point Defiance Park, a city park in Tacoma. It hugs the shoreline of the Tacoma Narrows and Commencement Bay, south of Seattle. Jim also wanted to visit the park’s rose garden, displaying the last of early fall’s blooms.

What we didn’t anticipate was the dahlia garden. The tall-stemmed blooms overwhelmed us with their joyful colors. We don’t see many dahlias where we live, so we lingered for a while, taking dozens of photos. Here are a few. Click to embiggen.

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This week we hiked closer to home. We drove to hiking and mountain biking trails a few miles away, next to the Coralville Reservoir. There are several miles of trails, rated from easy to difficult. Because they are for bike riders as well as walkers, the trails are designated for one-way traffic to improve safety. We hadn’t hiked in this area before and enjoyed the new adventure.

Most of the trail is within the trees with no view of the water, though you can see the reservoir in places. The fall colors are slow in coming this year, and the trees are still leaf-covered, perhaps due to our mild summer.

Our moment of serendipity came about halfway through our hike, when we chanced upon this Santa-on-a-tractor-in-a-creche. It seemed to be the perfect representation of Christmas in Iowa, though a little early.

Since we hadn’t been to these trails before, we stuck to one designated as “easy.” There is a lot more to explore for other times. We’ll go back.

Snakes on a … Sidewalk!

by Melanie and Jim

Most snakes in Iowa are pretty harmless, not scary like snakes on a plane. The ones we see most often are non-venomous and pretty amusing. They are Brown Snakes, and they typically measure from 13-18″ long. Most we see in our neighborhood are smaller than that, with lengths from about 8-12″.

Yesterday’s first snake sighting was on the paved trail behind our house. We had just left the house for a short walk when we happened on the snake, stretched almost its full length across the trail. We estimated it was about a foot long, maybe slightly more. There was some dappled sunlight warming the little thing. They seem to appear in early fall. They like areas with water and some woodland border, making our neighborhood the perfect habitat.

Jim ran back to the house to get a camera while Melanie stood guard. Two women came along and admired it while we waited. They said there were other snakes that were much smaller farther along. And then one of the women hopped a little and pointed to two more snakes at the edge of the sidewalk. A bicyclist rode by, and we directed him to the side so he wouldn’t run over the small monster.

Finally Jim came back, camera in hand.

Slightly out of focus, its tongue is flicking at high speed.

Great picture of its markings, including the top of its head.

With no sense of scale, you might think this is large and ferocious!

A few seconds of video, with Melanie’s finger to show how tiny it is.

After that encounter, and noting the two other snakes at the edge of the sidewalk, we didn’t see any more for most of our walk. Shortly before getting home, Melanie saw another skedaddle into the grass. It was a larger, longer snake and moved very quickly. It moved too fast to get a good look at it, but because of its larger size, we guess it may have been a garter snake.

Snakes are always fun to see around here, partly because we know they are harmless if not bothered. Do you encounter snakes where you live?