Archive for October 2009

Gettin’ our freak on

October 30, 2009

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A very scary attempt at pumpkin carving by Greg. Maybe next year he will perfect his skills!
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As kids we would look forward to Halloween with great anticipation. In school, we would make masks, Halloween cards, and cut out a lot of pumpkins with lots of orange construction paper. For days we would talk about nothing else except what we were wearing for the big night. Our big costume plans usually turned out to be disappointments though, as were too lazy to make anything elaborate. The end results were just a yearly parade of ghosts, clowns or hobo’s. The girls would turn out a bunch of witches, princesses, or, again, hobos. It was mostly all on our mother’s shoulders to put her makeup on our faces and try to raise the originality level.

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Our niece Zoe, and her very powerful Halloween outfit!

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When it got to the moment to head out to knock on doors, Chris, frankly was always disappointed. He could never see anything but a big hat or a sheet in front of his eyes. The thick makeup would always get in his eyes, and couldn’t wait to get home. And, to this day, both of us are not particularly fond of people hidden behind masks. It still scares the both of us (We both hate clowns too!).

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Zoe again D
on’t mess with with the Intimidator.

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Anyway, after the long night out collecting booty, our father would collect our bags and sort out any unsavory items that we were given. It was a much simpler and safer time, but no one took chances. As our friends were all great storytellers, we all heard stories about the razor blades found in chocolate bars, or the scorpions placed in cored-out apples. It was all so scary, and not in a good way. In addition, we also knew that dad would be sneaking a few of his choice pieces of candy for himself. This night was fun, but overrated!

We think the candy thing was great, and it also signified the un-official start of the holiday season. This was an ok beginning to a great new season. Soon Thanksgiving would be here, and then the grand-daddy of them all… Christmas, was coming fast. As kids, Halloween just meant that the holidays would only get better.

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Zoe has taken over the blog with Halloween costumes of years past. She can be very persusive!
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On the next evening after Halloween, when our heads were still spinning from all of the excitement, and our stomachs were stirring a bit as well (for other obvious reasons), we would dress up (without the makeup, and in nice clothes) and take a trip to the cemetery.

We were raised Catholic, and it was necessary to appreciate the deceased on All Souls Day. Boy, it would always spook us more than a bit. Since the days were short, and we went after school, it could be very dark, and terrifying! Our mother didn’t even bat an eye about the creepiness of it all. We would light some candles, and swear that we could see the dead rising. As kids, we just thought it was ghoulish, spooky, and odd.

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A typical scene from the Dia de los Muertos
These skeletons look a little hungry.
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Celebrations happen all over the world to celebrate their dead with variations of All Souls Day, and most are pretty interesting.

Mexico celebrates the “Day of the Dead”. Vignettes are set up with skeletons acting out every day scenes; drinking coffee, working at the office etc. People there also visit the cemeteries, and decorate the gravesites with Marigold flowers and candles, as our mother did. The visitors also bring toys for deceased children, and bottles of tequila for the elder deceased friends and relatives. Sugar and chocolate skulls are made with names of the deceased on the foreheads, placed on little altars, then eaten after a ritual.

In the Philippines, Memorial Day is celebrated much like All Souls Day. On the evening before the holiday, celebrants go door-to-door, and request gifts while singing a traditional verse. This song represents the liberation of souls from purgatory.

In our ancestral home, Poles open their windows and doors on All Souls Day to welcome the souls of the deceased. They are said to return to the places where they lived and worked for a visit.

And in China, the dead are celebrated in a similar celebration to Catholics. The people offer flowers, fruits, and traditional foods to share a feast with the living. Incense is lit for these souls, while material possessions are offered to the ancestors. Paper-made Chinese money, cars and houses are made available to the dead person’s tomb for prosperity to the departed souls.

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Halloween table setting This tabletop with Christopher’s Number plates are currently displayed at Red Shows Home Goods Store in Ann Arbor, Michigan.
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We all celebrate in different ways. Our sister Cindy and her husband Larry, have a party every year for the adults in her neighborhood, after the candy is given out. She has many appetizers and always makes a batch of her famous Pumpkin soup, as well as some kind of spooky adult beverage. Our sister Janine living in a beach town might hit the night out to see children as well as adults meandering the strand on the beach dressed in full costume. Our sister Beth is always baking some yummy goodies. Chris and Greg stay in the comfort of their safe homes and give out candy.

As you may have guessed, although we have some fond memories of Halloweens past, we are not so fond of the holiday today. We love the traditions, and it’s true we really enjoy the candy! Other than that, it is rare that you would see either of us in costume, but if you are missing a few treats from your bag it just might have been us sneaking a little sample in memory of dear old dad.

Until next week
—Christopher and Greg

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Design Brothers this week: Check out the Eye Lounge in Phoenix for “2”… a show of Christopher’s encaustic paintings with Lisa Marie Sipe. His works can also be seen at D. Frank Designs in Scottsdale for a few short weeks.
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Grand inspiration

October 23, 2009

We did not intend to turn this blog into a travel site, but it seems that we have dominated this blog with writings about our trips and adventures as of late. But, inspiration seems to come to us when we get out of our day-to-day lives, and get out on the road. There is something about getting out and seeing something new that gets those brain cells twitching, and (hopefully) gives a little freshness to our work.

So again, we are on the road and traveling with Christopher to the Grand Canyon. Over the Columbus Day weekend, he took a drive up to the North Rim, passing the red rocks of Sedona, the Navajo Nation, and skirting Vermilion Cliffs National Monument. Arizona is a pretty amazing place, and always awes.

Photos can never do any justice to the beauty of the Grand Canyon, so all we can say is to add this trip to your bucket list if you haven’t been. Get in your car (don’t forget to detour on Route 66 for a bit of automobile history) and drive! Here are some photos from the quick trip.

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On the away up At the Colorado River crossing in the Navajo Nation
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Gilbert H. Hansen plaque at the Navajo Bridge. We couldn’t find much information about this adventurer, but loved the plaque.
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Cliff Dwellers Lodge Rock houses near Lee’s Ferry.
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Finally at the North Rim What a great spot for inspiration.
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A great place to rock One of the cabins at the edge of the canyon.
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Roosevelt Point Remains of a fire from 2006.
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You don’t have to walk far A view from the lodge.
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It was worth the long drive
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Remaining fall foliage hanging on to the trees
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Red, yellow and green never looked so good together.
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A view from Cape Final.
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Angel’s Window from the Cape Royal Trail
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Too many photos to choose from.
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What can we say about scenes like this?
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The South Rim is right over on the other side.
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The end of autumn.
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Endless vistas.
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Go and see what you missed!.

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Christopher didn’t mention that he was sick for half of his short stay at the North Rim. So, the longer treks never happened, and his big plans were ended quickly. But sitting on the porch of the lodge, all bundled up, wasn’t bad at all. He actually had a chance to get out his sketch book and draw, listen to some geology talks, and watch the stars at night. Something a little different and relaxing… that doesn’t happen enough. So,sometimes when a vacation turns in an unexpected way, it can be just as memorable. It ended up just the way he hoped!

Where do you find inspiration? We want to know!

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Design Brothers this week Christopher’s plates are mentioned in Kitchenware News this month.
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Until next week—
Christopher and Greg

Trash talkin’

October 16, 2009

Fall is here, and if you have a yard with trees, you know that it can be fun to rake… for about one day. Then it gets pretty tiring. In some towns, it is is illegal to place a bags of leaves out on the street or in a trash can for pick up, except on certain days. It is not always easy.

One way to take care of those leaves is to build a compost bin. Of course, it’s a great idea for more than leaves. All those food scraps don’t have to fill up your garbage cans, and your shredded papers can go right in too. If you have the space, fall is a perfect time to think about one for your home.

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To put it bluntly, Christopher is not handy around the house. He knows the way to the home improvement stores. He can use a paint brush. He is actually alright with some yard chores, and he will be the first to volunteer for an art project. But home repair abilities are over his head. So, we wanted to brag that he just built a new compost bin from scratch. This is big! He knew that it would not be hard, but usually when he starts a project at home, it usually doesn’t get finished very quickly (if ever).

So, the blog this week begins with Number One in a series of articles entitled: “If Christopher can do it, so can you”. It just means that this is a very simple project that anyone can attempt.

C has been wanting to get a compost bin for years now. More and more trash seemed to be going out of the door, and ending up in some landfill somewhere. So, after looking around online and hardware stores for the right compost bin solution, it seemed like most the reviews were not very good for the affordable ones, or the cost, too high for the better-made versions.

It did seem easy enough to build, although there are many options, and a bit overwhelming. Now, there are a lot of ways to build a compost bin, but the one decided upon fit into C’s lifestyle and backyard plan. More importantly, it also seemed like the easiest way to go!

Here is how he did it.

Estimated time needed: About 1 1/2 hours (after shopping)

Go Shopping
This is the easy part! Here was C’s shopping list:

20 gallon plastic trash can with lid….. $11.98

2” drill bit….. $ 6.97
You will have to poke holes into the trash can with a hammer and nail, or power drill. C chose to place larger holes, so this drill bit cost can be deleted if you wanted. C already owned the drill.

Insect screening and insect fiberglass screening….. $ 9.90

Duct Tape….. $ 4.30
or staples (see below)

Total cost (tax not included):….. $33.15

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Alright. Now that you have all of the items, let’s begin.

Place holes in the can
Drill some hopes about 2 or 3 inches apart. You will need air-flow in the bin, so place the holes pretty close together, but far enough away so the can does not fall apart. You want to keep air flowing through the can in order to break down the trash inside faster. It is also good to get some sunlight to poke through the holes to help even more. Don’t forget to put the holes on the top and bottom of the barrel. We would recommend to evenly space them to make it look nicer, and if you would like, make a nice pattern with the holes. C wasn’t so thoughtful.

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Drill those holes Afterwards, clean up the plastic bits. C sanded them lightly to get rid of the mess.
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Screened If you have raccoons or even larger animals poking around your compost area, you might want to use a metal can with a lock. And, you should use some stronger screens that cannot not poked.
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Cover holes with screening
Now you need to cover the holes from the inside firmly with the screen(s). We think the screen is a good idea in order to keep pests out, and keeps the smell a little more confined. Adhere with staple gun, or duct tape. C used the duct tape, as his stapler was not very good for this. He placed the metal screening first, taped it, and then layered it with the plastic screening. C did this as there are cats, a lot of Arizona insects, and rodents running around my yard, and wanted to play it safe. You don’t want this mess all over your yard!

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The inside C used duct tape to adhere the screened. It seems pretty strong and looks like it is going nowhere, even after numerous shoveling.
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Raise the composting bin off the ground
You will need to raise the can off the ground, so air and water can flow through. C had some concrete bricks that he was able to use, but you can use bricks, rocks, or plywood boards also. We did not count this as a cost, as it is easy to find something around your patio or yard that works.

Place the compost in a place with some sun (too much may make it too dry), and where air can’t flow through some air… not in a corner or surrounded by walls or thick bushes.

That’s it. But the easy work is done. In order to keep the compost working, you will need to keep it moist (I hose it lightly about every three days when it doesn’t rain), and also shovel the muck around (C shovels and spin it around the same time me water).

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Tada! The finished product.
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There are many recommendations on much green materials (grass clippings, branches, leaves, etc.) vs. food scraps. We try to go 75% yard waste to 25% food scraps. But, there are definitely things that you shouldn’t put in your compost such as meat scraps, oil, dairy products, or chemicals. Go ahead and put in coffee grounds, eggshells, shredded newspaper, leaves vegetables, tea bags, and a lot more.

There are so many ways to build a compost bin, and there are a million different theories on keeping it working well. We are not going to go into all of these. We hope that some of the links can lead you into the direction that is perfect for you. You can spend less, or you can make yours as large as you want. It is just a nice way to help your garden grow a little better, and save a trash pile or two. Now that C has his, he needs to build another companion in order to have a clean fresh compost can, and another with the compost that has broken down. We both hope it is as easy as the first one!

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Now use your compost for your plants and gardens!
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Here are some other ideas and sources to start your own compost bin:

Recycled pallet compost bin

15 minute compost bin

Larger compost bin

Compost spinner

Options and ideas

Until next week
—Christopher and Greg

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Design Brothers this week You can see Christopher’s encaustic work at the EyeLounge and more at the Alta Loft (600 N. Fourth Street) in Phoenix.
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Pure Michigan

October 9, 2009

Over the last two weekends Greg made a couple of road trips to Michigan. The first weekend he headed the resort town of Saugatuck, located on the southwest shores of Lake Michigan. While on the second weekend he headed to the town of Frankenmuth for a wedding. Frankenmuth is located approximately an hour and a half north west of Detroit.

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Greg [1] and his partner, Brian [2] in front of their rental house in Saugatuck.
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Both towns have their individual charms and also their share of shopping. For those of you who have never visited Michigan should plan a trip. In the Great Lake State, you are never more than an hour away from a beautiful lake whether it be Superior, Michigan, Huron or Erie (Michigan does not share a border with Lake Ontario). Any season is spectacular with rolling hills, sand dunes galore and an abundance of trees (a little known fact is that there was more money from harvesting lumber then there was mining gold during the California Gold Rush).

Saugatuck, Michigan

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Welcome The sign as you make the turn in to downtown Saugatuck.
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What started out as a small artist colony, Saugatuck now offers a multitude of attractions. Located on the mouth of the Kalamazoo River, Saugatuck sits opposite Douglas Michigan; with the two towns nestled among towering sand dunes. There are beaches, a hand cranked chain ferry, and natural habitats. Condé Nast’s Traveler Magazine voted the Beach at Saugatuck as one of the 25 best shorelines in the world. The town filled with art galleries, small souvenir shops, hand churned ice cream parlors and pulled taffy takes you back to a simpler time. The best part is that everything is within walking distance.

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One of the shops in downtown Douglas Douglas is only a five minute drive from Saugatuck or a 20 minute walk.
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As most of our regular readers know, it is hard for Greg to resist shopping or at least looking for local finds. Two such places that Greg loves and has frequented in the past; are both antique/junk shops. Amsterdam Antiques has a wide variety of pottery, urns, “shabby chic” style furniture pieces mixed with some mid-century modern and brand new pieces. The two buildings that comprise the store are adequate size, but the land surrounding the shop is where you will find the most interesting pieces.

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The big “A” greets you as you arrive to the store called Amsterdam.
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The selection is wide and varied at Amsterdam The owners search the Midwest for unique finds and mix it with mid-century modern and new pieces alike.
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Sunset Junque

Sunset Junk

The next place that I often visit when I am in the southwest corridor of Michigan is Sunset Junque. It is a unique experience to say the least; with its vast land mass full of industrial refuge, clay pots, carved Asian sculptures and so much more. You will need to spend a minimum of 2 hours at this amazing place, and you can easily waste a day strolling through… and never seeing the same thing twice.

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An Asian wood carving hanging from one of the barns on the Sunset Junque property.
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All that walking and fresh autumn air does make you hungry… so follow the signs to Grandpa’s Dutch Farm Market, where pies are made daily (and sell out quickly). For the healthier appetite, there are bushels of apples of every variety imaginable as well as peaches, beets and various other root vegetables.

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Brian charging ahead and ready to buy a delicious apple pie.
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So many apples to choose from I chose the Honeycrisp; an all time favorite.
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If you are still hungry for more delicious food, and for a completly different adventure,hop into your car and drive 3 hours north to Frankenmuth, Michigan. Frankenmuth was settled by German missionaries, and still retains the old world charm of an European city.

I warn you, this town is not for the faint of heart. It is a bit of an overkill of cheese “Haus”, sausage shops and other kitchey stores, and also offers what is supposedly the world largest Christmas Store known as Bronners. People travel near and far to this town, and the streets get very crowded with people trying to jam into all of these attractions. It is town that will make you laugh out loud while strolling down the streets, and you will sure leave in a good mood.

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Beer steins await in the middle of town.
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Eek! Giant mice are everywhere in Frankenmuth!
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These days, Michigan is getting a lot of bad news in the presss, but it is a place that we both love to visit whenever we can. The people are friendly, the lakes are beautiful, and we think it is an amazing treasure with a lot of things to do. So visit soon, and say Yes to Michigan!

Until next week
—Greg and Christopher

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Design Brothers this week Christopher’s silhouette platter shows up at Shelterpop. Check out page 4 for a Halloween tip. Also his class is mentioned in the Phoenix New Times.
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The Urban Birder

October 2, 2009

If you want to meet interesting people… get out and volunteer.

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Christopher (C) collects agave pollen at the Desert Botanical Garden, where he
volunteers almost every Wednesday.

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We are not trying to preach here, and tell you that you must volunteer, but we have to tell you that met some pretty cool people doing just that. Among the people we have met as volunteers include doctors, all types of artists, chemists, retired CEO’s, architects, and biologists. Just the other day, Christopher met the one of the first-ever woman pilots in WWII.

Christopher met Tom Gatz a few years back at the Phoenix Desert Botanical Garden. Tom retired a few years ago from a 31- year career with the Federal Government as a wildlife biologist where he worked to protect and restore populations of endangered plants and animals. Now he volunteers as a horticultural aid and a docent at the Desert Botanical Garden several mornings each week.

Tom would be the first to deny this, but, he is a pretty smart guy, and knows just about everything you would want to know about birds (and other living things). He is one of those guys who; if he doesn’t know the answer to something, he will find it out and get back to you asap. At the garden he has become the go-to-guy for bird knowledge (don’t tell the other birders there).

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A Japanese birding tour group in Northern Thailand. The money generated for local economies from ecotourism is important in promoting habitat protection.
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Tom has always found inspiration looking up the sky, or listening for the bird calls through the trees. We thought it would be fun to ask him about bird watching, and give us a little peek into the America’s number one hobby.

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C’s encaustic bird paintings are a big hit with the birding crowd. He will be having a painting show in November featuring his bird paintings. Hope you can make it.
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Design Brothers: Were you always interested in bird watching?

Tom Gatz: Like many kids, my sister Elizabeth and I loved animals. In the fourth grade I decided to become a naturalist when I grew up. Unfortunately, growing up in a working class neighborhood on the north side of Chicago, the only wildlife to see year round were the flocks of pigeons on the rooftops, introduced European starlings on the telephone wires, and the occasional rabbit inhabiting the weedy growth along the railroad tracks a few blocks from our house.

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Tom’s parents were supportive, if somewhat apprehensive, when his first pet was a chicken.
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But something almost miraculous happened twice each year – bird migration. Each spring and fall, colorful birds of every description, on their way to and from Canada and South America, appeared literally overnight on the lawns and in the trees of our inner city neighborhood. For a budding naturalist trapped in a big city, it was like manna falling from heaven.

However, as a teenage boy in Chicago, walking around with a bird book in hand and a pair of binoculars around my neck seemed to bring out the worst in the neighborhood bullies. So I hid my binocs in a jacket pocket ,and tucked my bird book in my jeans, as I slinked past Dennis and Larry houses (my childhood friends’) in the pre-dawn hours to head east to the birding Mecca of Chicago – The Bird Sanctuary in Lincoln Park.

DB: Lincoln Park is beautiful, one of our favorite spots in Chicago.

TG: Lincoln Park hugs the shore of Lake Michigan two miles from our neighborhood. It was a long walk, but a quick trip on my bike or by bus. This huge body of water is a barrier to migrating song birds so they would bunch up in flocks in the trees and bushes in the park, hungry from their journey and often oblivious to the curious eyes of an adolescent Audubon-wannabe.

DB: It is obvious at the Garden that you love birding. You get so excited when you see an interesting one to point out to all of us.

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Back in the 80’s and 90’s (nice glasses, Tom!), Tom helped with the re-establishment of the endangered Bald Eagle population (this one is a fledgling) in Arizona.
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TG: Birding is an enjoyable hobby, one you can pursue any place in the world, and it probably kept me off the wayward path followed by several neighborhood kids, including Dennis and Larry. While working my way though college, several of my co-workers on the loading dock outside of a chain factory I worked at even got pretty good at identifying the common nighthawks that were migrating by.

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On South Georgia Island, north of the Antarctic Peninsula, Tom is surrounded by the sights, sounds and smells of a huge king penguin colony.
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DB: It is so cool that you took your childhood passion beyond a hobby.

TG: I eventually did become a wildlife biologist and still sometimes plan my vacations around bird species not yet seen. Barb (Tom’s partner) and I have been fortunate to have visited bird habitats on every continent, but as I approach my golden years, adding new species to my life list has lost its allure. Still, nothing (except Barb, of course) quickens my pulse like spotting a migrating warbler in bright spring plumage.

DB: Any suggestions for a great place to go birding in Arizona?

TG: A great place to see lots of water birds in the Valley is the Riparian Preserve at the Gilbert Water Ranch. For desert birds and migrating species, the Desert Botanical Garden and the Boyce Thompson Arboretum east of town can’t be beat. Frequent field trips to good birding spots around the state are led by local chapters of the Audubon Society. To find out what unusual birds have made their way to Arizona recently and where you can go to see them, go to their website. Many states have similar websites.

DB: How about any books or guides that you recommend for novices, or expert birders?

TG: The field guide considered by many to be the birding bible (and almost the size of one) is by David Sibley. I prefer the smaller Ken Kaufman field guide, perhaps because I can conceal it in my pocket, safe from the prying eyes of neighborhood bullies.

DB: What is next for you?

TG: Join me for a Sunday morning tour at the Botanical garden. When not there, I am tending own backyard where I recently spotted a tiny, migrating MacGillivray’s warbler foraging around my backyard pond.

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Just a few of Tom’s photos [1] Northern Cardinals (this one a female) are becoming more common in the Phoenix metropolitan area. [2] A migratory Yellow Warbler receives a light-weight aluminum leg band to help determine what areas in Arizona are important for it to obtain food and shelter. [3] A female Summer Tanager (males are bright red) calls for its mate.
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Tom’s Bird-Watching Primer

birding: a verb; the active pursuit of birds

birder: a noun; an enthusiastic, often competitive, (sometimes obnoxious) person who lives to add new species to their list of birds sighted in their life or in a given area (contrast with “bird-watcher” which implies a smaller and older person, often female, likely in tennis shoes, who enjoys seeing all birds, common or rare.

Good bird: a species unusual or new to a given area or person

Trash bird: a common species; especially if previously sighted

Life bird: the first time a new species of bird in your life is observed and added to your life list

LBJ: “little brown job”. Any small, plain unidentified bird

Pishing: making an onomatopoeic “pishing” sound by exhaling loudly. Sometimes attracts small birds. Hone your skills before attempting this in front of others

Binocs; binnies, culars: Binoculars. Get a decent pair for a few hundred dollars instead of constantly replacing cheaper pairs.

Vagrant: a species of bird out of its normal range. Local pockets of habitat often become famous as “vagrant traps”

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Even more photos [1] This pale-headed race of the Great Blue Heron, known as “Wurdemann’s Heron” was photographed by Tom in south Florida. [2] Rescued baby house finches get a second lease on life at the Wild Wings rehabilitation center in Ahwatukee. [3] A male Northern Gannet attempts to impress a female with some nesting material on Bonaventure Island off the coast of Quebec.
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Get out and enjoy the autumn weather, and while you are out, look up in the sky, and you too, might be be inspired.

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Design Brothers this week Christopher’s new custom plates are in Gifts & Decorative Accessories Magazine this week.
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Until next week
— C + G