Thursday, December 31, 2009

Happy 2010!

Saale Nao Mubbarak | Kul 'am wa antum bikhair | Xin Nian Kuai Le | Onnellista Uutta Vuotta | Bonne Annee | Prosit Neujahr | Kenourios Chronos | Hauoli Makahiki Hou | Naye Varsha Ki Shubhkamanyen | Bliain nua fe mhaise dhuit | Felice anno nuovo |Akimashite Omedetto Gozaimasu | Saehae Bock Mani ba deu sei yo! | Nawa Barsha ko Shuvakamana | Godt Nyttår | Feliz Ano Novo | S Novim Godom | Feliz Ano ~Nuevo | Gott nytt år! | Warsa Enggal | Losar Tashi Delek | Yeni Yiliniz Kutlu Olsun | Shchastlyvoho Novoho Roku | Chuc Mung Tan Nien | Blwyddyn Newydd Dda!

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Unidentified Toucan No More!

The mystery is solved! This photogenic bird that posed so nicely for me at the Woodland Park Zoo in Seattle back in September is a green aracari (Pteroglossus viridis); a type of toucan. You may remember I did a painting of it as well, but I couldn't identify what kind of toucan it was. Today I was surfing the internet, dreaming of someday being able to have the time and money to visit the Canopy Lodge in Panama for a birding vacation and noticed a photo from a visitor that looked a lot like my mystery bird. It was identified as a collared aracari. So I hopped back to the Seattle Zoo's website and typed "aracari" into the search feature instead of "toucan" and sure enough, I got a hit for "green aracari". I then google-imaged (I can hear the grammar mavens out there shuddering) "green aracari" and bingo - tons of photos of my bird!

The green aracari is found in northern South America and is the smallest of the toucans. It is also the only toucan species in which the male and female look different (called sexual dimorphism). Males have a black head whereas females, which is apparently what my bird is, have what is described as a rusty chestnut head (looks dark maroon to me...) and a slightly smaller bill.

So daydreaming and surfing the Web today turned out to be a productive activity for once. Plus fantasizing about seeing a green aracari in the tropics took my mind off the latest cold snap we're headed into. Brrr.

Friday, December 25, 2009

A Christmas Story

One year, maybe 15 years ago or so, Paul and I spent Christmas with my mother and then stepfather. My mother polled each of us to find out what everyone wanted for Christmas dinner. Each of us - including my mother - admitted to wanting something other than turkey (the traditional British Christmas dinner if you aren't going to spring for a goose) because we all really just don't like turkey. So armed with our suggestions, preferences, and dislikes, dear Mama headed down to the High Street to do her Christmas shopping. So, when we all sat down to Christmas dinner, our bellies rumbling in anticipation, what were we presented with? Turkey. Why? Because, in my mother's words, it is tradition. And tradition is apparently more important than what the cook and the dinner guests want.

Well, fast-forward to 2009 and I say "Bah humbug!" to my mother's Christmas tradition. Tonight Paul and I made bings for dinner. From what I've understood in my research on the subject, bing is a Chinese word that can apply to a number of different types of flat bread. If you've ever had moo shu pork, the pancake is a type of bing. Tonight we made a kind of stuffed bing that we are in the habit of devouring at a local restaurant here in town but we wanted to try our hand at making it at home. I searched online for a recipe and found one from chef Ming Tsai that sounded like our restaurant version.

We are devout foodies, but I never meant this to become a food blog. Nevertheless, I took pictures of the process. I was in charge of making and shaping the bing dough and Paul oversaw the meat filling and the cooking portion of the project.

I cannot stress how delicious these were, and what enjoyment we got out of making a restaurant favorite from scratch in our very own kitchen. It beat the tar out of a turkey dinner. However, we are having pumpkin pie for dessert so I guess we aren't completely breaking from tradition. But in my book, pumpkin pie is a good tradition.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Waterlily Painting

Value sketch

The leaf of this waterlily was a problem child, as far as this painting goes. It is flat. Very flat. Maybe a slight upturn along the edge in a few places, but not a lot of different textures, values, or interest to be had on the leaf. It wasn't even considerate enough to sit a tiny bit above the water so as to cast a shadow or reflection. It made a lovely photo at the time, and if you are Monet, it probably would have made for a lovely painting, but as a painting reference I found this specimen decidedly dull.

Dull waterlily painting

So after much grousing and grumbling, I decided to throw caution to the wind and invent a reflection and some more shadows on the damn thing. I don't like doing this. I am comfortably co-dependent with my reference photos and straying from their photographic reality gives me gray hairs. In fact, in the sketching stage of this painting I had an argument with myself; half of me wanted it to look exactly like the lily in the photo, down to the last petal and the other half said "So I missed one or two petals - no one will know." (...except now all of you do. Keep it to yourselves, please). And since the number of petals ended up not being exactly the number my specimen had, a little made-up reflection in the painting could hardly hurt at this stage. Right?

Watercolor of waterlily. Now with more lilypad bling.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Put 'Em on Ice

For the first time in a week, it was bearable to be outside for any length of time yesterday. In the morning when I left for work, I felt there might be reason to hope since it was 10 F out (the same temperature as the high from the day before.) and sure enough, by my lunch break it was approaching 20 F. I headed outside to see the sun and breath some fresh air and to maybe catch sight of some of the bald eagles that have come into town for the winter.

So here I am walking along the riverfront trail, enjoying being outside for a change and some movement across the river catches my attention. Inexplicably, there's a guy walking around on the river, really close to the edge of the ice. This ought to be interesting, I thought to myself, so I stopped to watch.

Then this guy picks up a good sized river rock and chucks it waaaaaay up in the air and watches it smack back down onto the ice. He then walks out to the rock, picks it up and does it again, and again, and each time the rock falls a little further out onto the river, he walks a little further out on the ice. I decide that I've had enough when I see him throwing the rock onto the ice that is slightly submerged under the water. Call me crazy, but I think when water is flowing over the ice it should be a good indicator that you shouldn't step there, regardless of what the rock says.

Through the wonders of Photoshop, I have highlighted the thrown rock for you to see.

So I'm walking back towards work and start to notice that there are other river rocks scattered here and there on top of the ice in the river. This means that other people (or maybe just this one obsessed guy?) have been performing this same act all up and down the area! Why have I never seen anyone doing this before? I mean, my office is right on the river with a wall of windows facing it and I'm always peeking out the window looking for eagles in the winter; you'd think that I'd have noticed this before.

And why are they doing this? To fish? Sure, the river has trout in it, but there are so many open areas you could just as easily dangle your hook directly into the river rather than going to the bother of drilling a hole in the ice.

I will let you know if I ever find an answer.

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

International Birding I

blue tit (Parus caeruleus)

My husband and I have made many sacrifices while he has been in school working on his PhD. However, once in a while there's a perk to the process that is just so priceless, I start to wonder if maybe he shouldn't become a life-long student. For example, Paul presented a paper in Paris and I got to go along. Poor me.

But while I was enjoying this amazing opportunity, I was still thinking like the nature nerd that I am. One day during our trip (one of the few sunny ones) while Paul was busy working, I ran over to Notre Dame. I was in the gardens at the back of the cathedral, admiring the magnificent architecture, when I heard and then spotted a little songbird in the trees. So picture the scene - everyone else is oohing and aahing at the Cathedral, pointing their cameras at the spires and the flying buttresses, meanwhile I'm running around peering frantically into the trees. The other tourists must've thought I was nuts. We all have our own priorities, I guess.

You Crazy Tourist!
What I was missing