Spotting two new birds I've never seen in person... a great way to end 2012, in my opinion

When December rolls around, I begin to fill the bird feeders. I don't have to until then. The birds are busy feeding on bugs and seeds from the rest of the garden. But about December is when the bugs go into hiding and the seeds from the plants get sparse. So the sunflower seeds go into seed feeders and suet goes into the suet feeders.

It is about this time of year that I often see birds I'm not used to seeing here. Because our winters are milder than only just a few hundred miles north, we get visitors that we don't see the rest of the year.

Today, I got the treat of getting to see and photograph two new types of birds that I haven't seen in person before. It was a real treat to see these rare visitors.

Yesterday, when I was sitting on the deck getting sun and giving the garden kitty lots of affection and attention, I spotted a bird and couldn't figure out what it was. I didn't have my camera with me so I had to go off of memory when hunting through my Birds of Northern California book. I couldn't find anything that looked like what I had seen. I felt like one of those people that claims to have seen Bigfoot but didn't have their camera with them. It was maddening.

Today I went out to get my bit of sun for the day (and give attention to the garden kitty) and remembered that I should have my camera with me. So I went back inside, mounted the telephoto lens on my camera body, and headed back out. It wasn't any time at all before I was rewarded with a sighting of a white-breasted nuthatch climbing around on things in a gravity-defying way. I was so excited! On the packaging of the suet I buy, there's a picture of a nuthatch. But I've never seen a nuthatch in my garden... until today!

Then as if on cue, the same kind of mystery bird I saw yesterday flew down and landed not far from the nuthatch on the fence. They were both negotiating who would be eating next from the cylindrical suet feeder with the "peanut butter and jelly" flavored suet (the exact suet with the nuthatch on the packaging). I was so excited! I would finally have photographic evidence of this mystery bird. Hallelujah! I wasn't in the "Bigfoot camp" anymore!

After I uploaded the shots to my computer, I started hunting through my Birds of Northern California book again. It was maddening. Again, I couldn't find one like it. It's often hard to identify birds from my book because the pictures are artist renderings and not photos. Then I spotted one that might be a possibility. I googled the name "yellow-rumped warbler". Hazah! That was it! The photos on the internet look very different than the one artist rendering in the book. I'm surprised I figured it out. 

I read about the yellow-rumped warbler and my book says, "Although [they] do not breed in northern California, they are commonly seen along the Pacific coast in the migration and during winter." Okay! That explains my sighting perfectly.

What a great way to finish out the year, I say.

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Wishing you all a very Merry Christmas!

Each and every one of you are important to me and Hubby. We send you the very best wishes for a Merry Christmas full of love and laughter and the making of happy memories.
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Finding blood oranges, bird feathers and periwinkle in the garden today

With the sun shining brightly today, I went out to refill the bird feeders with black oil sunflower seeds. The birds waited somewhat impatiently perched on the limbs above my head as I filled each one. Back and forth I went from the garden bench where the big sack of seeds sat to the branches of the cherry tree--taking down each feeder, filling it and then putting it back up again.

On the flagstones under my feet I noticed a feather. I usually don't find fallen feathers (the birds like to keep them for themselves) so it caught my eye. And the beauty of the striking markings on the feather caught my eye as well.

Every time I walked by the feather, I was careful not to step on it.

After I was done filling the feeders, I stooped down to pick up the feather and examine it more closely. It looked like it may have come from a scrub jay... or maybe a mockingbird. The silver grey had a slight blue tinge to it.

I carried the feather with me as I took one last lap around the garden with my gathering basket slung over my arm. I picked a few more mandarins that felt soft to the touch and ready to enjoy. I checked the lemons but didn't find any soft enough to pick. I stopped and took a look at the crop of blood oranges growing on the dwarf Morro blood orange tree and found only one soft enough to harvest.

On my way back up the path to the house, I noticed that a single periwinkle blossom was out--its brilliant blue striking against the other greens and greys of the bed it was nestled in against the fence. Many more blossoms will follow so I decided to pick it and bring it in with the rest of the "precious" things I'd gathered in my basket.

Bringing in the treasures I'd found, I felt a bit like a little kid. And I felt even more childlike wonder cutting open the exotic looking blood orange with it raspberry colored juices dripping out. As I opened the fruit and held it in my hand, the afternoon sunlight streaming in the window reflected off every facet of the ruby innards of the fruit. And I knew I had to photograph it.

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There's the idea of the magic of a white Christmas and then there's the reality

I will readily admit it. When it comes to snow I'm a total wimp. I hate it. No... loathe would be a better word. 

Snow sounds very good in theory. The thought of a white Christmas seems so magical. Maybe if I could have snow on just Christmas Eve and Christmas Day (snow that didn't kill all my sub-tropical plants in the garden), I'd like it. But once Christmas was done, I'd want someone to come and roll it all up and take it away, giving me back the mild climate I've grown to love here in the San Francisco Bay Area.

If I really want to see snow, I only have to drive about 3 hours and I'll be in the winter wonderland of the high Sierra Nevada mountains where snow bunnies and snowboarders flock to ski slopes throughout the colder half of the year. Sometimes, even our own mountain and hills are capped in lovely white so that when I crest the hill on the road that takes me out of our little niche, I see a majestic white peak dominating the panoramic scene before me.

But I don't want snow anywhere near me or my garden.

I tell people that I did my time.

Years of my childhood were spent in the harsh cold that envelopes the Rocky Mountains. At well above a mile high in elevation (almost 8,500 ft to be exact) snow could come as early as September and as late as June. I walked to and from the school bus stop in it for a half mile every school day as a little girl. I spent several Easter Sundays hunkered down inside as a blizzard raged outside keeping our family home from church. I spent many nights with my family huddled around a fireplace burning kerosene lanterns because the power was out from downed power lines due to heavy snow. As a little girl I read Laura Ingalls' book "Little House in the Big Woods" for the first time and could relate very well. Snow was real. It wasn't magical. It was a harsh reality for 9 months out of the year.

Yes... I did my time in the snow. I am not wistful for the proverbial white Christmas. I'll take the foggy Christmases of the Bay Area any day.
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Tis the season to harvest sweet and juicy mandarins off our tree

The delightful smell of mandarin peel oil has been on my hands all afternoon and evening. There's no way to hide it. I can't possibly sneak around pretending that I didn't eat the first fruit of the season harvested off our little dwarf Kinnow mandarin tree. I'm like a kid with chocolate all over her face after eating a Hershey's bar. There's no way to be sneaky or deny it with this sweet pungent goodness wafting from my hands.

I harvested the first mandarin and ate it right there out in the garden--tossing the peels in the iris bed at the base of the olive tree.

I was making sure the fruit was ready before picking any others. Honestly I was.

After I determined that the mandarins were ripened to perfection, I harvested the two largest ones and brought them inside for Hubby (he loves them).

With one in each outstretched sweetly pungent hand, I immediately said, "Look at what I have for you!"

He was appropriately dazzled by my offering. He didn't notice that I smelled of evidence of my "crime".  The mandarins were set in a place of honor on his cutting board in the kitchen to be enjoyed after dinner.

Later in the day I decided I wanted to photograph the two I'd harvested (they were so beautiful I couldn't help myself). When I was setting up to photograph them, Hubby had to make a quick run to the hardware store. While he was gone I finished my set-up and started shooting the photos. I couldn't complete my shoot unless I had pictures of a peeled mandarin. Without hesitation I peeled one of them and that wonderful aromatic oil squirted all over my fingertips.

Ahhh... heaven.

Of course I had to eat a slice that wasn't being used in the staging. I had to. Okay, it was two slices... or maybe three.

Hubby came home before I was finished and passed by my studio doorway. "It smells like mandarins in here," he exclaimed and peeked in to see what I was doing.

"I'm just taking photos of your beautiful mandarins, Honey," I said, "I had to peel one of them to get the shots."

I failed to tell him I'd eaten some of his precious mandarin--the loving offering I'd ceremoniously brought him just a few hours before.  I feel a bit guilty...

...but it was so good.

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Instead of "breading" the cat, we prefer "Abe-ing" the cat. It's far more dignified.

Click here to find out

DISCLAIMER: We think breading isn't a very nice thing to do to a cat. However, "Abe-ing" Dee Dee for this photo was something she thoroughly enjoyed. She sat and watched me make the hat while Hubby narrated to her what I was doing. She was quite excited to get all the attention. I cut out spaces in the brim of the hat for her ears, so she was unfazed once we set the hat on her head for a quick photo shoot with the iPhone. She's such a diva that she loved being cooed over.
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Filling our home with winter whites and fresh greens

It's been a few years since I've felt up to decorating for Christmas. Usually, Hubby gets out a few select decorations from the attic that will add some festive feeling to our little home but won't require a lot of clean-up once the holiday season is over.

This year I'm feeling peppy and also inspired by some of the ideas I've found on Pinterest. I discovered that every time I saw a photo of Christmas decorations with live mini trees and fresh greens, I was pinning it to either my December board or my Pale Pretty Christmas board. I was particularly inspired by a photo from A Cottage Nest (click here to see it).

I finally asked Hubby if we could depart from getting out the same-old-same-old from the attic and do something different based on what I'd been liking. He was totally up for it.

In fact, it was on Hubby's suggestion that we spend our Friday night date night (the last day of November) hunting for exactly what we needed, so I could decorate on Saturday. I'm telling you, I'm married to a total sweetie!

We hit several stores on Friday evening (I'm a power shopper that gets in, looks, and gets out rather quickly from a store). We were really happy that we were able to find all the sweet little trees at super low prices as well as five of the seven containers we needed at discount stores (two we already had). We even found a beautiful new mirror at an unbelievably low price and then got an additional 20% off because it was dinged a bit on the corner. Sweet!

On Saturday, we hung the mirror over the mantle first (I measured and Hubby set the anchors). Then we headed out to find the last few little items we needed including greens, a bag of cinnamon-scented pinecones and a set of sparkly silver LED candles (an open flame would be a fire hazard among the trees).

We picked up the fresh greens at a local tree lot that had extra branches from trimming the trees they had sold. Once we got them home, I wired together the larger boughs to create the garland for the hearth and a swag for the front door. I used the smaller sprigs to tuck around and between the tree containers on the mantle.

The cats were loving all the fresh greens. I let them sniff, chew, and lick the boughs before I started constructing anything with them (yes, Dexter licks evergreens--even fake ones). Lucy went nuts for the bag of cinnamon pinecones and rubbed all over it like it was catnip. She didn't give up her claim to the pinecones for quite some time. She finally got bored and wandered off after a while so I was able to place the pinecones last. I left some down low for them to sniff and enjoy.

The cats don't climb up on the mantle, so we can have these Christmas trees without incident. This is a wonderful alternative to having a cat in the Christmas tree multiple times a day from now until New Year's Day. We get the wonderful smell of Christmas in our home without the hassle of having to redecorate the tree every morning after a night of feline fun with the enticing baubles and sparklies they can't leave alone.

Now it really and truly looks and smells like Christmas here in our little home! It's been great starting out December like this.

Trees from largest to smallest:
"Dwarf Alberta Spruce" (Picea glauca 'Conica')
"Ellwood Cypress" (Chamaecyparis lawsoniana 'Ellwoodii')
"European Tree" (also marked Chamaecyparis lawsoniana 'Ellwoodii' 
but looking very different than the taller cypress)
Center "tree" is a rosemary plant cut like a Christmas tree
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