Summertime on the Prairie

No matter how hot it gets here, summertime in Kansas provides lots of eye candy. The main star of the show is the big, gorgeous blueblueblue sky full of clouds so white and wooly, it often looks like a whole flock of sheepies overhead.

This summer has apparently broken some very old records as being the coolest and wettest in over a half-century. Yes, that's right, Kansas stole Seattle's weather and left the unbearable Midwest heat for our Northwestern neighbors to enjoy. This means that we have had some of the most beautifully perfect days that I can remember in the 15 years I've lived here now.

This is one of the small wheatfields I drive by on my way to work each day. They still farm wheat, soybeans and corn on the many parcels of undeveloped land around here. Sadly, it will eventually be destroyed to squeeze in yet another shopping center. The good thing about the bad economy is that it is slowing down the warp-speed rate of development that has been happening in our county.

The next four pictures are from a teensy roadtrip I took a couple of weeks ago to Lawrence, home of the Kansas Jayhawks who won the 2008 NCAA championship. It's a great little college town and the 20 minute drive from my house is through gently rolling farmland. One of my favorite ways to relax is to take a long drive by myself and this is one of my favorites.

I love cloud shadows!

I had two reasons to head to Lawrence - yarn and eagles. There is a fabulous yarn store in Lawrence that I had never visited before called The Yarn Barn. It's right in the middle of the charming downtown and was all that I hoped it would be. There is a very nice selection of various yarns and the best array of knitting supplies I have found so far. However, the thing that makes this store so special is the unbelievable variety of big cones of laceweights and silk yarns. I am not sure why anyone would need such large amounts, but if they do, this is the place to get it. They also have large quantities of wool battings from all types of sheep and lots of undyed roving. They also have a large display unit with both sides covered with all types of undyed yarns. I am not sure if my next hobby will be dying, spinning or weaving, but whatever it is, this will be where I come to buy my crack, er, I mean supplies. I found a few souvenirs to take home, so the drive was worth it.

When is sock yarn not for socks? When it's for pretty scarves and mitts!

I also had another reason to go to Lawrence and it was to find a particular spot on the Kansas River, which is right across from downtown:

Even though I have seen a mated pair of American eagles on their nest down at the Lake of the Ozarks (an unbelievably close view, too), it was before I started keeping a life list of birds. So to me, it won't count until I see another one. plus, I'd love to see one or more feeding. This little waterfall is a prime eagle, hawk and sometimes osprey fishing site in the winter. This is because the moving water keeps ice from forming so the birds can fish even in subzero weather. I have heard of as many 17 eagles fishing at a time! I am planning to come here in the winter to see some eagles and wanted to scout the area out first. I only hope the eagles don't elude me the way the pileated woodpeckers have.

I also love my garden in the summertime. The Annabelle and Limelight hydrangeas grow obscenely large, and so far this year I have harvested over 3 dozen large heads of Annabelle (shown here) to sell to a local floral designer as well as several bunches to give to neighbors. The Limelights aren't mature enough to harvest yet, but I should get almost 2 dozen heads from the one bush I have. I don't do anything special for them, not even fertilizer, but they obviously love the location on the front of my house (northern exposure).

This pretty little yellow flower is very special to me. It is a banana magnolia, which is an old-fashioned semi-tropical shrub that grows in New Orleans. The blooms are small and mostly unnoticed except for the heavenly smell that is like banana creme brulee. I brought one up here about 5 years ago and have babied it more than my other potted plants (who must abide by Darwinian rule in my household). It has finally rewarded me with 2 blooms! They only last for a couple of days, so I ran out to the porch several times for those days just to take a long whiff.

These are some shagbark hickories that grow not far from where I live. These are some of my favorite trees. I want to spread a blanket under them and knit all afternoon except there's a walking trail right there and I wouldn't want my yarn to get trampled.

And of course, the girls can't get enough of summertime in Kansas either!


In Which Criquette Finally Resurfaces and Writes a Post

I knew it had been a while since my last post, but I didn't realize it's been nearly 2 months. Bad, bad blogger! I was also surprised that I hadn't continued the story of my quest to see a pileated woodpecker, or of our wonderful long weekend down at the lake, or posted pictures of the pathetically few FO's I managed to finish since the beginning of summer (and let's not count the embarassing number of UFO's and frogs that I created).
First, the
Quest for the Pileated WP. I did go back to the arboretum the following weekend and spent 2 hours lurking among the cottonwoods by the creek. I found evidence that I was in the right place, looking at the right trees:

Notice the huge holes in this tree

compared to these holes made by much smaller woodpeckers

The more I looked, the more of the huge excavations I found. There was a tree I suspected they may have been recently using as a nest, but I could only get glimpses of it through the foliage. I looked and waited and waited... Finally, I gave up and started heading back. Then I heard it, right in back of me: the pounding. Two beats, loud and strong, just like what I've heard on my bird sounds cd. It was soooo close, but I couldn't see anything. Some other people were close by and they heard it too. It drummed once more, then called it's kah-kah-kah sound, as it flew further away from us. Arrrgggghhhhhhh!

Some birders will count identifications by sound alone, but for my lifer list, I want an actual sighting. I went back 3 weeks later with a friend, very early in the morning, but didn't see or hear much of anything. The birds all seemed to be sleeping in that day. I've decided that during summer, the forest is too thick and lush to see much of any birds who perch or fly among the canopies. I decided to wait until mid-autumn, maybe October, to go back and try again.

Then, in late June, we headed down for a few days of r&r at the Lake of the Ozarks. We love staying in the quaint family cabin close to the water's edge in a quiet cove, listening to the birds and the gentle lapping of the water. Mr. Criquette, being a Type A personality, has no concept of the word "relaxation". I call him my 2-legged squirrel. He hauls down numerous projects, some of them work, or finds small fix-up projects around the cabin. His idea of fishing is to throw a line off the dock and bustle about doing projects until a fish snags itself on the line. He rushes back to release the fish, throws the line back in and bustles some more. It gets quite exhausting watching him in all of this activity, so I take little mini-naps in between knitting and reading.

I will usually stir myself once or twice a day to take a nature stroll, looking at the various wildflowers and birds that inhabit the area.
I was on one of my strolls along the bank of the cove, and had my binoculars looking for the herons that roost in the swampy area at the far back of the cove, when it ocurred to me that the tree I was looking at was a cottonwood - a really big one at that.

Wait a minute! Pileateds love them some big, old cottonwood trees and PWP's are listed as one of the regional inhabitants. I did a quick search around the cove and noticed several big cottonwoods. Best of all, I noticed that the huge, half-rotted tree that sits at one edge of the property is a cottonwood that has several of these:

Holes this big could only have been made by PWP's!

I about peed my pants as I ran off to tell Mr. C. He was very interested and we both kept a close eye on the tree the rest of the time we were there, but, except for a yellow-bellied sapsucker (a lifer for me), some extremely noisy titmice and chickadees, the herons, a mama wood duck and her babies (another lifer!), yellow finches, a phoebe, a great crested flycatcher, and 2 different warblers I could hear but not see, there was no sign of the big woodpeckers.

I was still happy about adding to my lifetime list, but still felt like the PWP's have a conspiracy to elude me. The most frustrating part was when Mr. C returned the key to the owner (his uncle) and asked about the big guys. His uncle, obviously not a fan, said, "Those big pests? They're around all the time. We wish they'd go somewhere else." Such is my luck.

Even though I've not been blogging, I have been knitting (with a little crochet thrown in for a change). I have made several dishcloths, including several for Ravelry swaps:

And of course, there are the ever-present UFO's, always lurking in my knitting basket...

My most favorite project right now is a very special one. One of my lovely nieces, who is majoring in hotel management and tourism, is taking a class in wines. As part of this class, they have to go on a 2-week tour of the California wine country, which of course includes mandatory tastings and gourmet meals. All this and college credits too!

I missed her birthday earlier this year, an important one. So I decided to make my first shawl. As in the kind of project where I must FOCUS and PAY ATTENTION. As you might imagine, my progress on this shawl is quite slow, despite the fact that the pattern is so easy, a toddler could make it.

I'm using Classic Elite Cotton-Boo in a beautiful light grey, the color of Spanish moss. The entire time I was working on the first 10 rows, I kept feeling like I needed to frog it. But I remembered reading that lacy projects look terrible the first few rows and so I kept going. Now I am past the second repeat and am loving what I am seeing so far!

I'm so excited that all I want to do is spend the entire weekend doing this and nothing else. However, there are massive dust bunnies gathering in force throughout the house, and my closet has become the equivalent of the Bermuda Triangle and must be brought under control, not to mention the mundane weekly chores that have to wait for the weekend. I motivate myself by remembering that we will be going back down to lake soon. And maybe, just maybe, the "big pests" will make me a very happy birder.