Sunday, January 31, 2010

Direction Determines Destination

This post is of a personal nature, something that I am not completely comfortable doing on my blog. Not that I want it to be impersonal, but having it open to anyone who happens to stumble upon it is still a bit disconcerting to me. I read quite a few home and garden blogs and I enjoy getting a glimpse into the real lives of those who write them. So, here is a glimpse into my real life right now.

2009 was a very difficult year for my family. It started off with yet another job layoff for my husband, it was the third one in less than four years. (He was in the recreational vehicle industry.) On the heals of that was finding out that my dad had lung cancer and had to have his upper left lobe and three ribs removed along with chemo and radiation. My mother-in-law fell and had to have surgery. She is in the end stages of Alzheimer's and is slowly wasting away at 79 pounds and is dying a very slow and tragic death. Add the financial stress of trying to keep our home and stay on top of the bills and many other things thrown into the stress mix. It was difficult to say the least.

I am very much a stress eater. Also due to the finances, eating cheap was more important than eating healthy, (at least that is what I told myself). Guess what happened? I put on quite a bit of weight on my already over-weight self! At the end of December I weighed more than I have ever weighed in my life, even pregnant! YIKES! Plus I just didn't feel well at all. My immune system was sluggish and I caught everything that was going around. My blood pressure kept getting higher and higher as did my blood sugar. I had no physical or mental energy. I felt absolutely lousy!

This picture was taken by my son in October 2009.

I knew I had to do something or I was headed for some very serious health issues. So, on January 1, I got serious about my diet and health. I'm happy to report that I have done very well with my New Year's goal so far! When I weighed in this morning, I had dropped 11.5 pounds during the month of January!

I have not eaten any sugar, (I use Stevia), nor have I had a single piece of chocolate during the whole month!

I have also given up my beloved coffee, (my only source of caffeine), and replaced it with green tea. I've given up all processed junk food and I'm eating only food that provides real nutrition for my body.

I am an all or nothing kind of person, so I dare not cheat. I am also a sugar and carb addict, a junk food junkie, so I absolutely have to go cold turkey when I do this. Each time I fall off the wagon it gets harder and harder to get back on. (Yes, I've done this several times already. You would think I'd learn!). For me it is all mental. All last year, for the first time in my life I had absolutely no will power and I didn't even care anymore. I thought about food and felt hungry all of the time. It feels so good to have will power and be in control of my appetite again, to do what I know is right for my health.

I am very glad that my blood pressure and blood sugar are normal again. My doctor had prescribed blood pressure medication because my blood pressure was getting as high as 179/111 and I was having pounding headaches. I don't need the medication now.

Constant stress is a killer. It definitely takes a toll on the body, mind and spirit. I am trying to eliminate the unnecessary stress in my life. It seems that some people will continually heap more and more on our plates if we let them. I don't need more on my plate right now, it is already full. I am learning to say no.

I have over 100 books in my personal library on diet, nutrition and health. For some reason, it is a subject that fascinates me. That knowledge is absolutely worthless unless it is applied.

I am spending time each day reading from some of my favorite books on the subject to stay motivated and keep this at the forefront of my mind. I am doing my best to apply that which will benefit me and lead me back to good health. I don't want to just lose weight, I need a complete lifestyle change. Something that I can stick with long term.

My pastor preached a sermon recently about how our choices and our direction determine our destination. Life is made up of simple choices, those choices that we make eventually determine what we are. I am now reaping what I have sown in my poor choices regarding my diet and health.

Proverbs 27:12 The prudent see danger and take refuge, but the simple keep going and suffer for it.

I am trying to remember this simple lesson as I change my life one choice at a time.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Soaking Up the Sunshine

The sunshine was out today for the first time in about two weeks. Libby and I sat at the kitchen table and soaked up the rays.

The glare from the sun on the snow was so bright that I had to put on my sunglasses so I could watch the birds this morning!

I had a terrible time doing this post due to issues with both Blogger and Picasa. I hope that it is a temporary issue! My quick post turned into a two hour torture session!

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Female Red-bellied Woodpecker

I always get very excited when I see a new bird species here at Robin's Nesting Place! Having a home in a newer subdivision that was once a cornfield, with no trees, it has taken me years to attract birds to my feeders. Of course my children think I'm totally nuts to get as excited as I do, (this totally sensible mom has been known to actually jump up and down and be moved to tears at the sight of a bird). I'm not even sure why it thrills me so much, but it does!

A few days ago, for the very first time, I spotted a red-bellied woodpecker at the back of my yard. I was on the phone with a neighbor when I spotted it. I started taking pictures while holding the phone. Because of the distance and holding both the camera and phone, the pictures were not very good.

I was totally delighted when she came back today and braved the feeders! She was a little shy and didn't stay very long. I hope she will be a regular now and I'm really hoping that she has a mate and that he will soon visit.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

A Close Call

A few days ago I was in the kitchen talking on the phone with my mom. Something hit my sliding glass doors and made such a loud noise that I screamed! I looked up just in time to see a dove fall to the patio and a Cooper's hawk right at the door swooping down to catch the dove! My scream caused the hawk to fly off very quickly leaving the dove behind.

This is my sliding glass door after the dove hit. It left almost the whole impression of the dove in flight on the glass. I wish I knew what was on the feathers that caused the white powdery substance to be on the glass. Do birds have that much dander?

The poor stunned bird sat for the longest time not moving. I finally put on some gloves and slipped outside and stroked the bird. It never flinched.

Libby sat for the longest time with her nose to the glass watching the dove. I stayed close by too keeping an eye out for the hawk.

After about three hours it finally stood on its feet and turned around. It was getting close to dark and the temperature was dropping, I tried to figure out what to do with the injured bird. Not know what else to do, I decided that I would cut some of my ornamental grass and put it in a box and put the bird in the box on the patio for the night. I stepped outside with the box and the bird immediately flew away. What a huge relief!

The next day I moved the swing frame with the feeders a little farther back in the yard and closer to a tree. This is the first time that a bird has hit my windows like this. It was very upsetting, but at least it turned out well for everyone, well, everyone except the hawk!

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Backyard Bird Photography Tips

Several days ago Bren, from BG_Gardens asked me to share my bird photography secrets. First of all, I am just an amateur photographer with a love for nature and nature photography. I am learning by trial and error and lots of practice.

First, I'll share with you my winter photography set up. Are you ready?

Here it is, nothing particularly special at all. I sit at my kitchen table and shoot right out the sliding glass doors. I have to clean the doors often, because the cat and dog, (and occasionally little hands), leave smudges on the doors. Even though the doors are "clean" there is still a film, especially when the sun is shining, because the windows and doors in our home are defective and need to be replaced. Also I am surrounded by houses that are fairly close and don't provide a very good backdrop. So, I have conditions that are not ideal. What I wouldn't give for pristine clear doors and windows and a nice woodsy backdrop!

I don't always use a tripod, but it is easier and the pictures are better if I do. With the camera on the tripod there is less movement from me to startle the birds and the camera is already in position. This allows me to read or use the computer while keeping an eye out for activity at the bird feeders.

The birds flock to the feeders when it's snowing! Thankfully, I am usually able to stay home when it does, so it is an ideal time to practice my photography skills. With a hot cup of tea or coffee and a cozy blanket on my lap, I am ready for the birds!

If you provide a variety of seeds, nuts and suet you will be able to attract more birds to your feeders. I was thrilled to have the white breasted nuthatch this year! They are so cute!

This year we have about five or six blue jays. That is the most I've seen here! They love peanuts! I have found that it is best to use those that are still in the shells, otherwise the sparrows and starlings get them. That can be pretty expensive bird food!

The cardinals like the peanuts too.

The best secret to bird photography that I know is to have feeders close to a window. You have to get the birds closer. I have a camera lens that goes to 300mm, but even with that, if the birds are in the back of the yard my lens will still not be good enough.

Usually you can't get close enough to them so you have to get them closer to you. My feeding station is my swing frame. We store the swing during the winter, so I use the frame to hang my bird feeders. It is right at the edge of the patio.

I also have to experiment with lighting. The birds love to eat peanuts from this statue. I had it on the patio but my pictures were too dark. I placed it on the block wall to get it higher and the lighting is so much better! Also, for some reason, (I'm sure it's lighting related), if I shoot towards the right my pictures are darker, so I try to take most of my pictures to the left of the patio.

The beautiful thing about digital photography is that you can take hundreds of pictures to see what works best for your location. One thing about it, if you provide the food the birds will come back time and time again to provide you with plenty of opportunities for practice.
By the way, is that a praying mantis egg case on the statue?

I love the beautiful feisty blue jays! Better bird photography is not the only advantage to getting the birds up closer, it is simply amazing to watch these creatures up close. The blue jays can stuff nut after nut down their throat. I had bought some raw nuts in the shell after the holidays. The store had them prepackaged and on clearance. There were some filberts in the package and since no one here cares for them, I shelled them and put them out for the birds. The blue jays loved them and it was amazing to see how much they could cram in their mouths!

I prefer photographing the female cardinal over the male. Isn't she pretty?

So really, the secret to better backyard bird photography is very simple:
*Provide a variety of food.
*Move the feeders up close.
*Clean the windows and remove a screen if you have to.
*Use a tripod.

And the biggest secret of all is patience. I am willing to sit at my kitchen table for hours at a time bird watching. During the recent snow I spent blocks of time for three days just watching and waiting for photography opportunities.

Several people have commented saying that they need a better camera. I shot most of these pictures with my Canon 50D. It is an amazing camera for sure, but it isn't necessary to have a camera like that to have good bird pictures.

I took these, (above and below), two pictures with my Sony point and shoot camera. The picture of the chipping sparrow is one of my all time favorites and it was even shot in the auto mode!

Another secret is to be ready for unexpected photo opportunities. I try to always keep a camera close by, preferably with the battery charged and memory card in the camera! I was sitting at the table a few weeks ago with my niece and nephew who were here for a visit when this Cooper's hawk landed on the swing! I'm so glad my point and shoot camera was close by and ready!

As you can see with this picture I still have a lot to learn about bird photography myself. I am working now on trying to capture the birds in flight. That is no easy task! They are so incredibly fast! Also when it is snowing the camera has a more difficult time keeping its automatic focus. I spent several hours a few days ago trying to get it figured out and was not satisfied with any of my shots. So I will keep trying. I can't wait to capture a decent shot of that gorgeous wing span!

I hope you all have a wonderful rest of the weekend!

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Common Birds

We are getting snow today! I've been so excited about getting snow just for the bird photography opportunities it creates!

I've seen more cardinals this year than ever before, I'll be posting pictures of them later. Unfortunately the most common birds at my feeders are the mourning doves, house sparrows and starlings. I'm constantly shooing the starlings away.

I tried to create an inexpensive bird baffle out of a plastic bowl to keep them from the homemade bird dough. It helps but doesn't quite do the trick!

I'll be posting more bird pictures later and will tell you about my bird photography set-up.

I hope everyone is staying warm and safe today!