Sunday, December 28, 2008

Doing the right thing. Not just karma.

OMG. I just spent my Christmas money. OMG. SO EXCITED!!!

I'd had the Wild Bird Center (warning, Cardinals) recommended to me, but I was a bit wary. Just because of money, mind you. Certainly I'd be able to find the binoculars I wanted online for a lot less, right? But nonetheless, I needed to see and feel and use the binoculars before buying. I was tempted to go to the store, figure out what I wanted, and then go home to price check. Of course that made me feel guilty, as well. Sigh. Conundrums.

I went today, picked out the binocs I liked best from their inventory and bought them. You gotta go with your gut, and frankly buying local makes my gut sing. Or something. (That's a positive response, by the way. I wasn't talking about my stomach gurgling painfully, something I've been way too familar with recently.)

I didn't know if the binoculars would be cheaper elsewhere, but the service I got was so pleasant that I'd have been a real loser to use the bird center's wonderful staff advice and not buy there. And let me expound upon their service for a second. I told them my price range, and they brought out a few different binoculars in that range. However, they did not tell me which ones were the most expensive, or in fact, any of the prices. They led me through a variety of exercises to see which ones I felt performed the best, and at no time did they push the more expensive ones on me. And I didn't even know which ones were expensive, mind you.

I picked the Nikon Monarch ATB 8x42 binocs. They were the lightest, the clearest, and the brightest of the ones I tried. The one downside is that the close focus was farther than the second pair I had narrowed it down to. But they were a lot less heavy. And they were clearer.

I did just Google the prices, now that I'm home. And you know what? They're within $10-$30 of typical online prices. OK.

Because? In addition to the expertise the staff gave me, they also chipped in a lens pen *and* a harness, which I was planning to buy. Apparently it wasn't in perfect condition (it was a return), but I didn't see anything wrong with it at all. Anyhoo, that's about $35 worth of extras they threw in.

Well worth it, in my opinion. Well worth it.

(The binoculars are so awesome! They're feather-light! They focus really close up! They're bright! They're clear! And what's rather amusing to me is that my first binoculars are the same brand, but a couple of steps down.)


Thursday, December 25, 2008

Recession Christmas

I wish all Christmases were recession Christmases. Virtually all of the gifts here at my sweet second home have been hand made. The presents end up being so much more personal this way. They're an artsy bunch, this family, and it shows.

My gifts to them were either homemade or scavenged from around the house. Hats, scarves, too-small cashmere sweaters, a winter coat that didn't fit and that I've been too lazy to return (mail order! Annoying!), and the like. Since I hadn't prepared for gift-giving, I had a blast running around and seeing how creative I could be.

May your celebrations be simple. Happy Holidays.

(my new, original) artwork, pictured above:
Perfect from now on 7
acrylic on paper
9" x 12"
by Wendy Heldmann
(Note the birds)

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Dashing through the SNOW!!!!!

OK, so there might not be snow, but I'll be home for Christmas! At my second home, that is. My NC family home base is in Charlotte, at my sweet love JJ's parents' home. Skip, Jane, and the rest of the clan welcome me with open arms whenever I need it, and I am just full of gratitude for them.

Also, for my mumma, who read that last pitiful entry and offered to buy me a last-minute trip home.

Love Love LOVE!

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Sleighbells ring and all that.

I've been feeling a little pathetic recently, to tell you the truth. I had some meds changed, which helped curtail a slide downwards that I was feeling, but they've also left me with some weird side effects. Basically, in the mornings I've been feeling shaky and sometimes vomitous. Actually, I think for the first time ever, coffee is truly exacerbating this yuck feeling. I tried stopping the wakefulness-encouraging medicine, but that just left me so sleepy I've taken two 3-hour naps in the last two days. Followed by a full-night's sleep. Ugh!

This morning it hit me hard that I was going to be alone on Christmas. I called up a friend, but she wasn't able to invite me along to her goings on. I have to admit that I then cried in public. I do have a couple of places I can go, but for some reason they don't feel *right*. I want FAMILY, darnit. Hi Mom. I love you. I'm still glad I'm not getting on a plane, but I sure wish teleportation were a viable travel option. Sigh.

The good thing is that I've managed to take the last couple days' slump and transform it some. I left the house this morning, and when I came back I put in a couple of loads of laundry, ran the dishwasher, and gathered cookie recipes. I've made some thumbprint cookies to showcase my plum jam, and I'll begin on my traditional toffee here in a bit. Tonight I have a party to go to, which I'm looking forward to, and tomorrow I'll be doing the Chapel Hill Christmas Bird Count. I did the Durham one last weekend.

I did get a couple of cards in the mail today, which also helped. One was from my wonderful Grandma, and I'd like to share it with you.

Dear Stew,

I'm sorry you couldn't make it up here for Christmas, but when you work that's not always possible. We'll miss our Stew but will look forward to next summer maybe.* The weather up here is just so cold and snowy right now. I hate to go out and shovel my walk off, but I'll have to because the poor little birdies are all out of seed. So I'll have to go fill the feeder. My two pair of cardinals and the little snow birds (juncos) and sparrows and chickadees and blue jays are waiting for me to feed them. The squirrels and a little rabbit are out there, too. The boys were over last week with their father, and they brought hamburgs. I can't say no to that! I went to school doings with Annie and the boys last Wednesday. Your mom and Pete were here Mon. and brought me wine, two kinds of soup, fresh strawberries, and choc. cheesecake. I guess I won't starve! We will miss you!

Love, hugs, and kisses from

*What Grandma doesn't know is that I'm flying up to Michigan for a long weekend at the end of January. She's turning 90, and I'll be there, dammit!

Friday, December 19, 2008

Another mystery

Welp, never did figure out anything about 86 cent day. Kind of anticlimactic, really. I mean, so cool! But...NO resolution. Dammit. Ah well.

Today's crazy story came by email. The father of this fine family below sent me a Christmas card via email, complete with their portrait. In fact, he sent the photo twice!

I've gotten emails before that weren't intended for me--usually they're for a namesake who gave out the wrong email address. This one, though, is from a family who lives here in North Carolina, rather than, say, Maryland or West Dakota.

I'm pretty certain I've never met this family. However, a very large part of me is already embarrassed because surely this entire entry will end up being a giant foot-in-mouth moment.

After all, one time I ran into an old boyfriend and didn't know how I knew him. I've not been blessed with a great memory, it seems.

Anyhoo, here they are.

Let's play "Guess How These People Know Stew!"

Monday, December 15, 2008

Alright, SPILL!

Someone wonderfully kooky stopped by my house yesterday and left this for me.

I'd like at least a clue to the mystery, kthanks.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Please, Please, Please NO.

Do you think these could be, gulp, bed bug bites?


Sunday, December 7, 2008


Hiked again today, first a couple of miles on my own, birding, and then another few miles with Suze. I'd never been to the quarry in the wintertime, and decided to check it out for waterfowl. The usually empty gully you need to cross to get to the quarry has turned into a creek. One that's too wide to jump over. Dammit.

I found my way across with the help of a couple of stepping stones, though. The sun's angle highlighted the water and pine trees, and it made the red clay soil just brilliant. No birds, though. Ah well. I crossed back over the stream and almost fell backwards into the water. On my ass. Hiking back to the parking lot, I considered how well I'd be able to survive in the woods for a day or so with what I had on me if I broke an ankle.

Inventory of what I was carrying/wearing:
Sibley's guide
Grinch Hands
Cashmere hat #1
Cashmere hat #2
Tank top
Base layer
Cashmere sweater
Wool/cotton socks
Hooded waterproof shell
LED keychain
Cell phone*

What I didn't have:

Even taking the phone out of the equation (cause that makes it way too easy), I was pretty happy with what I came up with.

Observations of note:
I could use the Sibley's guide and a lighter to start a fire (sad, but worth it). There's a lot of dead wood.
The LED keychain is a wondrous thing.
I'm glad I have warm head coverings.
Wettish leaves would be a good smoke creator.
I know the SOS morse code. I think. Smoke signals. Cool.
I'd drink stream water, risking contaminants.
There's wild ginger, so I could chew on the roots.
Can I catch a squirrel? I don't have a knife. I wonder if I could gut it with my hands. Would it skin easily? Maybe I could just burn the fur off?
I bet if I had to, I could break my binoculars to get to the lens.

Yah. It was a fun hike.

*Which I lost later. And then found again. Whew.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Obsessive inaccuracy

I feel petty bringing this up, but there's nothing more annoying than when someone corrects you, and they're wrong. The commenter was referencing this post.

Soup Soup Soup

Ya know, sometimes I think the best recipes are ones that you just kind of end up making, with little forethought and less second-guessing.

I got some kale and napa cabbage at the market today. My body is telling me it needs greens, dammit. When I got home, I figured I'd make a white bean soup. There are no white beans in the pantry. Black beans? Maybe.

Chop chop chop up ~1/2 cup onion.
Mince mince mince a clove of garlic.
Dice dice dice a small stalk of celery.
Cut cut cut the kale ribs into tiny pieces.

Sautee it all in a small amount of oil.

Remember you have some smoked sausage in the freezer. Excellent. Slice slice slice it up and toss on the sauteed veggies. Hack hack hack up the rest of the kale, and add it in. Add some water. Stir in some higher-quality bouillon since you don't have stock. If you do have stock, use that instead, of course.

Taste. Needs spice. Hot pepper from freezer, aw yeah.

Huh. I wonder what apples would be like? Cube cube cube a Gala. Whomp it in, too.





No beans. None. Pure veggies, smoked sausage and broth. Hits the spot. Will be even better tomorrow, yes it will.

Friday, December 5, 2008

What to say?

Every day I have fewer things that beg me to write here. Indeed, it's not that my life is either so full or so empty that hinders things. I don't know what it could be. Ah well, no worries.

I've been tempted to write OLD WEST DURHAM in every post ever since I discovered that our wonderful and very nice neighborhood association president has an RSS alert set up for references to OLD WEST DURHAM. Hi John! Hilarious. To me at least. Sorry for the silly prank here, John. You know I love this neighborhood. LOVE.

I just did a 3-mile hike at the Eno. Bubba dragged me at a faster pace than I'm used to on unlevel terrain, so it took under an hour. I didn't bring binoculars, but I should have. I swear I saw a broad-winged hawk sitting on a line at the realty company I rent from. Buteos and accipiters aren't my strength, and the without a field guide to compare, I just noticed as much as I could. Red chest on sides and shortish tail lacking the stripes of a Cooper's, though there was one band on it. Problem is, broad-winged hawks aren't here this time of year. They've gone way south. So...I'd bet it was actually a Cooper's hawk after all. Maybe a juvenile?

Anyhoo, lots to do this weekend, both socially and obligationally.