Monthly Archives: June 2021

Good things come to those who wait

Thing 1:

Proof of that arrives every month again when I see a little purple package in my postbox, with my tea club inside. It’s absolutely gorgeous: a feast for the eye, and the teas smell divine and taste great! It’s like a little parcel of zen-moments, because these teas deserve to be sipped with care and attention.

Close-up of black tea in a box, with specks of blue and white
Clementine grey tea from Plum Deluxe – you should smell it!

A year-long subscription was my little reward to myself for surviving Quarter 1 of 2021 (including making it halfway through another semester from hell, and single-handedly at that!)

Although I know of purists who don’t like their tea “adulterated” with flavours, I was a bit bored with the selection on offer in the local supermarket and I also suffer from decision fatigue because I already need to decide so many other things in my life/job. Outsourcing what goes in my (nearly) daily cup was a great decision I haven’t regretted yet: every month I get two different flavours (other formats of the club available) and after three shipments I yet have to encounter a flavour to give away because I don’t like it.

I first encountered Plum Deluxe years ago as a sponsor on the Knitmore Girls podcast. Give them a listen! (Another good thing that comes at regular intervals!)

Thing 2:

It turns out cats are like buses: you don’t see one up close for 15 months, then suddenly you get to spend time with 4 in one weekend! I have missed the furry friends in NYC, because we don’t visit due to Covid-precautions. And visiting other people’s cats wasn’t really an option until I was vaccinated. Right as I got to that point, my friends asked if I could look after their cat for 2 and a half days. And then their neighbours asked if I could look after their three cats as well, for two meals. Ooooh! I didn’t realize how low I was on Vitamin C in cat-form until I had some quality time with these kitties. I even levelled up in cat-sitting skills, and can now add “feeding three cats at once” and “insulin injections” to my cat-sitting resumé. [I didn’t ask permission to post pics of said cats, just imagine cute furry friends here 🐈 ]

Thing 3:

Flute lessons resumed two weeks ago! Close to five months after surgery I finally had enough muscle power to hold up a flute long enough make it through a 45 min. session. (I have a heavy flute, but it does sound great). And you know what’s even better? Because my teacher and I are both vaccinated, we can meet in person.

Oooh boy. Scales. It’s been a while since I climbed these!

We managed to do pretty well with Jamkazam, which like its open-source counterpart Jamulus cuts back on latency and allow for much higher sound-quality than your average video-chat app. (Flute on Zoom is a tragedy/travesty). But Jamkazam became a paying app, and we couldn’t get Jamulus to work, and … in person is much better. We’re back to our regular flute-“disputes” about sound quality, such as “No, I didn’t hear that.” – “Well, it’s what I tried to do.” or “Which note was the weaker one in that run?” – “Beats me, I was just trying to get them all in the right order!”, rather than chalking it up to the computer messing with the sound.

Good things to come:

  • swimming: not until a year after surgery
  • a visit to Belgium: no idea when because I’m stuck in a cross-over of pandemic travel-ban mess and green-card application waiting room hell that’s too boring to explain here.

So please don’t ask me about either of these two. I’ll just keep waiting. They’ll come, like the other good things, won’t they?

Hourglass in front of a bookstand with a Chinese book

Backyard Wildlife College Newsletter 3/4:1 (2020-2021)*

“More than just fluffy bunnies”

(Backyard Wildlife College, Allentown PA, est. 2017)

* If you think this is a weird way of dealing with volume/year, wait till you see European sinology journals. Just sayin’.

Greetings, friends and sympathizers of the coolest little unofficial nature corner on the interwebs! It’s been a while, but we won’t even apologize for the silence last year in publishing our newsletter. This is what happens when a pandemic knocks sixteen months out of the collective memory of the the human world (including for our editor and groundskeeper).

Feathered and Furry Division infrastructure improvements:

Jumping right in with the state of affairs in summer 2021, we are pleased to announce massive improvements in our infrastructure since we last wrote, and in particular dining facilities, courtesy of some investment accounts coming to fruition, and one donation from admirers of the college. Thank you, Mr. & Dr. A!

squirrel-sized picnic bench with a jar of peanuts on top, placed indoor on a brown carpet.
Handcrafted and donated by Mr. A & Dr. A.

The squirrels have enjoyed the extra winter provisions, and went straight into training for the Tokyo Olympics.

They are very disappointed to hear they were not allowed to compete in the gymnastics because it’s for humans only. Nonsense, as you can tell from the following photo: our athletes are extremely talented and dedicated, even combining mealtimes with training sessions!

Squirrel hangs upside down from a metal ring shaped like a spiral, which contains peanuts. The squirrel is eating a peanut. There is snow on the ground, but the sun shines.
Training continues during mealtimes.

The heated birdbath was a hit with small furry and feathered creatures alike during the snowy month of February. Said one faculty member of the feathered division: “Yes, there was snow, but really: my stomach isn’t a micro-wave! This water at drinking temperature is much, much better.” The groundskeeper decided to keep the birdbath in summer at ground level, to provide access for the smaller furry creatures, who make great use of the extra hydration station. Two nearby birdbaths at height continue to provide comfortable bathing facilities for the feathered faculty during the summer months.

Heated bird bath: yes, it works!

Creepy Crawly Division infrastructure improvements:

We have expanded our wildflower strip at the back of the human dwelling from 2020, and this season it includes a few feet along the side of the dwelling. As some of you may know, we have a public-private partnership (PPP) with a mowing crew for the lawn, and we do not have the power to change this. After an unfortunate weed-wacker incident, which set back the start of the growing season by a few weeks, our groundskeeper has successfully clarified the boundaries with the crew, and the wildflowers are bursting into bloom! We are very excited to welcome our usual array of bumblebees, honeybees, various solo bees, hover-flies and many, many small but fine Creepy Crawly faculty and students to explore the area with abandon.

Special Summer Guest!

No summer newsletter would be complete without an update of our special summer guest: Mrs. Ruby-Throated Hummingbird (Hummie for the friends), our annual visitor who teaches the Colibri Course.

And why would she go elsewhere? We have everything a hummingbird could desire: world-class nectar, made from the purest sugar and distilled water in perfect proportions, served in glass feeders, replaced at regular intervals and now also kept ant-free; and clothes line to perch on for preening sessions, or when taking a break from hunting flies over the compost bin. As Hummie put in her review: “Four stars, would recommend to a friend if I weren’t so territorial.”

The only thing we’d like to add but don’t know how, is teeny-tiny humming-bird-sized towels for when the rain pours down. But she knows where to take shelter:

Somebody give Hummie a towel! If you look very carefully, you can occasionally see her long tongue in this video.

We hope you enjoyed this update, and aim to bring you more news soon of our summer residents here at Backyard Wildlife College!

Don’t forget to subscribe to get email alerts for new posts (incl. of all the things are human groundskeeper gets up to), and share in the comments how your Backyard Wildlife College is doing!

Mystery project:

But soft! What yarn by yonder window lies?

sock yarn, four balls and one skein, in the colours white, pink, light grey, dark grey, and wine red
Sock yarn wound up to go, one still in the skein, all waiting to be turned into something knitted.

This Cascade Heritage Sock (75%merino, 25% nylon) is incredibly soft and sproingy (that’s a technical term for spinners and knitters, I believe), and it’s very, very fine in diameter – but that’s before washing, maybe it will bloom a bit? I’d love to see how this knits up for socks.

But these won’t be socks…

More coming soon! At least if I can knit fast… What’s on your needles these days?


Uhm. Ok. So these things…

Box of Brown Sugar Cinnamon pop tarts, one of the packets still in silver foil lies in front of the box, unopened.
Brown Sugar Cinnamon Pop Tart. “Try them!” they said. “Your life will never be the same!” they said…

Back in March, I confessed for the second time on twitter that I’d never had a pop tart. I don’t even quite know how to describe them to those of us who didn’t grow up with them. They’re “toaster pastries”? So you stick them in the toaster and they come out all nice and toasted and ready to eat? Really? This being America, I have to admit to being very (very) cautious about anything that is produced en masse and available all over the country in uniform flavours, shapes and sizes. And so I steered clear of them successfully for most of the 8 years I’ve lived here now.

That is, until my friend Jacki and her husband were kind enough to do my groceries when my shoulder had healed enough to do my own cooking, but I could not yet drive. So one fine morning, she showed up and plonked down, in addition to my healthful veggies and raw hazelnuts and whatnots from my shopping list, this package of Poptarts. “Little present for you from me, to try!” Oh. Ok, thanks! Great!

I asked advice from various quarters: How do you eat them? “Put them in the toaster. But really low, and keep an eye on them, because your toaster may catch fire and burn otherwise.” Wait what? Why would you willingly risk setting your house on fire for a pre-fab sugar junk food snack?!? Debates ensued: “You can also stick them in the microwave.” “Nah, they’ll go soft.” “Just not that long!” “No no, eat them straight from the package!” Gasp! You mean I’m to eat them RAW???

Foil with two brown sugar cinnamon poptarts revealed.
Yaaa- really appetizing to eat them straight from the package, right?

Since each foil package contains two “tarts”, I decided to risk it in the toaster with one, put most of another in the microwave in 15″ increments, and nibble on a raw corner.

But because I value the services of my $5 second-hand brave little toaster, I decided to protect it from sugar-melt-fire:

Toaster with two slots, in the left slot is a poptart with a piece of baking foil wrapped around it, the baking foil sticks out.
Baking foil to the rescue! Protecting my Brave Little Toaster (which needs a scrub, but that was hard to do with one crummy arm in March.)

The verdict of the experiment? If I were really, really hungry and there wasn’t anything in the house, I’d risk my toaster. The pastry casing is “flat” in taste even if a bit more crunchy after toasting, the sugar/cinnamon is not very exciting. The microwave didn’t do anything for me, and straight out of the package would be only useful in case of prolongued zombie-attacks or other acts of deities making it impossible to forage outside for wild berries.

Sorry friends, I know I just failed my citizenship test. I think it’s one of these things you need to grow up with, and clearly I didn’t! But if any of you want some Brown Sugar Cinnamon poptarts, I have a box with another 10 of them (5 packs of 2 each) to hand out, just drop me a line! You’re also welcome to have them here with a lovely cup of tea or coffee!

Yi yeol chi yeol (Yi yŏl ch’i yŏl) – not just for Korean dishes!

When I was in Korea, I learned that there was a good reason I loved hot food in the summer: it was curing like with like. Pyongyang nengmyeon (cold noodles) in the middle of winter? Makes sense! 1 Flaming hot … well, so much of Korean food is red, hot, and spicy, that you can pick your favourite dish and it will fit the bill for beating the summer heat by sweating it out.

Today for lunch, I improvised a bibimbap with some below-par jalapeños in a failed attempt to up the spice-level. (What’s wrong with peppers in Pennsylvania?). A good dollop of Gochujang came to the rescue, mixed with a hint of sesame oil and soy sauce. Veggies were chopped up cucumber, sweet pepper, lettuce, and sprinkling of spring onion, over a few scoops of cold rice (too lazy to microwave) and I put a little fried egg on top. I forgot all about the toasted sea weed I have in the cupboard 😭

No photographic evidence of my lunch, too tasty to stop for a photo!
“비빔밥 – Bibimbap” by jamiefrater is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

But it was dinner when I surprised myself. I still had a nice little savoy cabbage hiding in the fridge, and it sure wasn’t going to get better by just staying there. Yet I associated this particular vegetable with winter stews and hearty, warming dishes. Would I dare…?

Apparently, yi yeol chi yeol also works for Flemish winter dishes: I boiled the cabbage leaves for ±10 mins, then rinsed what I would eat in cold water, and chopped them in smaller pieces. (Oh, take the big midrib (is that what you call it?) out before boiling). Then I fried up some uncured bacon pancetta cubes, added the savoy cabbage and seasoned with “pezo” (family abbreviation for pepper and salt, or peper en zout) and copious amounts of nutmeg. Finishing touch was to throw a nice chunk of real butter in there for the final minute or so. None of that plastic margarine stuff for me, thankyouverymuch.

A big white plate with a blue circle edge, piled with fried savoy cabbage speckled with tiny pink pancetta cubes, and on the righthand side a few baby potatoes in the skin
Savoy cabbage with pancetta.

Served with cute little baby potatoes, that little winter dish hit the spot on a day the temperature officially hit for the first time this year 91F/33C. I scoffed down this little mountain of cabbage and taters without any trouble. For somebody who spontaneously combusts as soon as the temperatures hit 80F/26C, that’s pretty good evidence that “heat cures heat”. Now if only I could find some jalapeños with some real fire in them in this Commonwealth I might survive this summer… Suggestions in the comments, please!

  1. Incidentally, the only times I’ve had digestive issues with cold noodles was in summer!

Ant Moat: Activated

Last year I got an extra feeder for Hummie the Ruby-Throated Hummingbird. I hoped to attract more of these flying miracles, but it turns out I am blessed with just the one, who became a fast friend during the summer of 2020, when I tried to keep my distance from humans. (She’s back this summer. More in future posts.)

A female Ruby-Throated Hummingbird perches on the feeder, against a blue sky. Sunlight filters through the tips of her folded wings, and through the glass of the feeder.
Hummie resting at the feeder, summer 2020.

But not only Hummie likes my high quality nectar: the local ants and the odd wasp are also big fans of it. What can I say? Only the finest ingredients for my special summer guest! 4 parts distilled water to 1 part superfine crystalized white sugar, and making sure the feeder nor the sauce pan I use have any trace of soap on them make for highly desirable nectar.

The ants have no sense of self-preservation, and intoxicated by the sugar they’d climb inside the feeder, and died a sugary death. I can only hope that they were high and happy as they transpired. Not only is it sad for the ants, but it’s also a problem for the hummingbird: the dead ants carry fungi on them, which then breed in the nectar because it hangs in the sun, and it’s not sugary enough to be a preservative. If you don’t clean the feeder quickly enough, the hummingbirds can catch diseases and die.1 <– New! “Footnotes”, click to reveal!

I tried very briefly with a strip of tape, sticky side out, around the posts that the ants use to climb to the feeders. That would work: they were smart enough not to tread on it. But Hummie is about as tall as the strip of tape (2 inches) and I was worried she might accidentally get stuck. I quickly removed the tape.

Fortunately there is an “ant moat” built into the feeder, that with a little bit of attention from me will stop them from getting to the port holes. The basic idea is that the ants march along the hook down to center at the top of the feeder, but then encounter the water that surrounds the hook. They can’t make it to the rim, and because they don’t swim they have to turn back. 

Last year, the location of my feeders meant the ants could by-pass the moat, and once one found the way in, they all followed suit.

close-up of a hummingbird feeder hanging on a hook, but with part of the feeder touching on an ornament that allows the ants to bypass the hook from which the feeder hangs
The ant by-pass for the hummingbird feeder (red arrow)

This year, I’ve been a bit more organized and have activated the ant-moats. All it took was a piece of string, and tying a knot or two. I’m no sailor so my knots leave a bit to be desired, but as long as I keep the water levels topped up at the crown of the feeder, ants will be saved from drowning, the feeder will be cleaner for longer, and Hummie will enjoy ant-free nectar. I imagine the ants stomping their little feet in frustration as they march back to the ant colony, possibly throwing in a choice swear word here or there now they’re deprived of an easy source of food.

Now I just have to add “monitor the moats” to my daily morning routine.

More news from the adventures at Backyard Wildlife College coming soon!

  1. You need to clean feeders regularly anyway: hummingbirds also introduce micro-organisms in the feeders, but dead ants make it go off faster. And it’s not appetizing to look at.