Dealing With A Dirty Shower

Our house is pretty old. It was built in 1983 and we have been remodeling off and on since we moved in.  Our master shower is on our list of things to update. Someday we will gut the whole bathroom and redo it.  But for now, it’s roomy and functional, if hideous.  The grout is stained and has been cracking.  We have patched it up but it is UGLY.  My husband said the icky stuff might be the only thing holding the shower together…

I have been neglecting it for a while now, with the vague idea of doing some kind of blog post on amazing shower cleaners.  Sure, it’s nasty, but this is for the greater good.   Ahem.

I’m sure all of you have tried various cleaning methods that claim to be the easiest, fastest, bestest, no-scrub, environmentally friendly, chemical free, blah blah blah…  So far, I have found that nothing is totally scrub free and nothing works on every single type of ickiness.  Soap scum is not the same thing as hard water deposit.  Mildew that has stained your grout won’t magically disappear without some chemical intervention.  (By the way, technically EVERYTHING is chemicals, even water, vinegar, and essential oils, so that whole “chemical-free cleaning” concept is kind of silly.)

That said, I have a few things that have proven to be better than others in my house.  The warm vinegar mixed with blue Dawn in a spray bottle and left to soak is pretty good at getting dirt, scum, and even some hard water deposits but you will still probably need to do some scrubbing.  And it smells like vinegar, which my boys all hate.

This post contains affiliate links.  For my full disclosure policy see here.

When it comes to the stained grout and caulk, chlorine bleach is my favorite option (gasp!).  I like Clorox Gel Cleaner.  I don’t use this very often because it smells kind of nasty and is not the best thing to have going into a septic tank, but in small amounts it’s fine.   Hydrogen peroxide is milder and safer as it breaks down quickly into carbon dioxide and water.  And it’s cheap!  Put into a spray bottle and apply as needed to your stained areas.  It needs to sit a while to work so you will need to reapply or soak paper towels in it and leave to dry.

For years I have been tempted by glowing commentaries on the joys of steam cleaners and finally got one about a year ago.  I chose a HomeRight because it had good reviews on Amazon and sounded pretty versatile.  I have cleaned several things with it so far, and here’s my honest unbiased review of it for cleaning a really ugly old dirty shower.

This photo shows everything included with the HomeRight Steam Cleaner:

Graphic photos follow.  You have been warned.

My results:  it works well for getting surface dirt and soap scum off your shower tile and grout.  You still need to do some scrubbing.  It doesn’t do much for hard water deposits on its own; spraying with vinegar before steam scrubbing would work better.  I didn’t use vinegar this time for a couple of reasons, one, I wanted to see how well the steamer worked alone, and two, my husband was home and doesn’t like to smell vinegar.

It is hot steam (290 degrees) so it can sanitize without bleach, so that is a plus.  One thing I was surprised about (though I shouldn’t have been) was how loud it is.  High-pressure steam (55 psi) makes a lot of noise.  My kids (who are essentially grown) run away when I am using the steam cleaner.  My husband works from home so if he’s on a conference call I can’t use the cleaner in the kitchen; it’s way too loud even with his office door closed.  If you get one, maybe consider ear protection if you have sensitive hearing.

You must use distilled water, as tap water will cause mineral build up and shorten the life of your steamer.  It comes with several little cleaning attachments.  You might want to order extras of the little nylon and brass brushes as they wear out plus if you are using a brush in the toilet you might want a different one for other things…I don’t use brushes on the toilet, just the jet nozzle.

For the shower, I started with the larger nylon brush and did some scrubbing on the heaviest grime, then switched to the squeegee and went over the walls, door, and floor.  They include one little microfiber cloth but you need more than that.  I used old towels to wipe up the dirty water.

Here are some before shots:

Up close, the true horror is revealed…
More ickiness!

And the after…still in need of chemical intervention but better.

Some staining but way better!

 

The HomeRight Steamer is pretty versatile and I have used it on floors, stovetop, toilets, sinks, and counters and been happy with the results.  Cleaning the oven–not so much.  My oven was horrible though, so your results might be better, and I probably should have tried the little brass brush instead of nylon.  A friend of mine borrowed it to remove wallpaper in her home and said it worked great.  Wish I had had it back when we first got this house, because taking down the wallpaper here was a huge pain!

You should read the instructions thoroughly before using.  Some things should NOT be cleaned with steam, including your dishwasher, refrigerator, and washing machine; you can damage plastic or rubber seals with the high heat.

I have yet to clean windows with it, but people say it’s fantastic.  I’m hoping for some rain to settle our dust before cleaning the windows.

All told, I would definitely buy it again.   What’s your best shower cleaning method or tip?

 

Four O’Clocks

A flower that doesn’t open until late in the day might seem a little pointless, but the four o’clock (Mirablilis jalapa) is a nice addition to your flowerbeds.  When the flowers open in late afternoon you will notice a lovely fragrance, and the little flowers are worth the wait!  They originate from South America but grow well nearly everywhere.  They are perennial in warmer climates (7 and higher) and also reseed freely.

When I was a kid my mother grew four o’clocks in her east facing flowerbeds.  (Actually, she still does.)  They were all one color, kind of a fuschia purple, and the blooms closed during the day.  The bushes got huge over the course of the summer and would crowd out other plants in the process.  So I wasn’t really a fan of this particular plant.

Four o'clocks
The original color of our four o’clocks

Imagine my joy when after moving to this house I discovered the very same four o’clocks, same boring color and everything, all over the flowerbeds!  Squee.

Landscaping was not a priority for the first several years after we moved here, with small kids, homeschooling, and interior remodeling.  So I let the boring flowers go crazy.  They were flowers at least, and they were pretty tough (benign neglect, right?).

Finally, we got roses for the main bed, and I started taking a little more care with our landscape.  At this point, I was pulling hundreds of little four o’clock seedlings as they sprouted because this is a very floriferous plant, and each flower makes a black seed that looks like a tiny grenade.

Four o'clock seeds
Four o’clock seeds

I left some in the north end because it’s pretty shady and I hadn’t planned anything for that area yet.  These flowers do attract sphinx moths, hummingbirds, and butterflies, so that’s kind of cool, and I planned to keep a few plants even though I wasn’t a huge fan of the boring flowers.  But about four years ago something interesting happened…

Four o'clock yellow bloom
Four o’clock with yellow bloom!

One of the plants had some yellow flowers on the same plant with the fuschia flowers.  That was really neat!  The next year, more of the flowers were yellow or streaked.  This kept increasing, until last summer I had several different colors of four o’clocks.  I saved some seeds to give to friends; who knows what they will produce?

After some research, I found that this is not at all unusual with Mirabilis; the thing I don’t understand is why the different colors took so long to show.  Perhaps one of those nice moths brought pollen from different colored flowers and got us some genetic variation going.  Regardless, I no longer dislike the four o’clock flowers.  I will still judiciously pull hundreds of seedlings as they show up where I don’t want them, but I will be sure to leave several plants.  I can’t wait to see what they look like this summer!

If you decide to plant some four o’clocks, now is the time.  After danger of frost, plant the seeds in the garden and water regularly.  They prefer full sun (6 hours minimum).  I don’t fertilize, but some garden sites do recommend a little fertilizer.  They can get up to four feet high and wide–mine usually top out around three feet, but I don’t water as much as they would probably like and we have a lot of wind.   You can trim back if they get too enthusiastic.  They start blooming mid-summer and will go until frost.  The seeds are considered poisonous.  Most pests don’t seem to bother them, but in seriously bad summers, we have had grasshoppers eat some of the flowers and leaves.   Give them a try!

Cleaning Utterly Filthy Window Tracks

When you live on the edge of the windswept Great Plains surrounded by wheat fields and home construction, dirty windows are a given.

Along with our dirty windows, we get heavy dirt building up in the window tracks, especially on the west side of our house.  At times it’s so thick I think we could plant lettuce in there…obviously, I don’t clean often enough.   This is real life and it’s dirty.

The best way I have found to clean these tracks is very simple and you probably have everything you need on hand.

This process works with DRY dirt, don’t try it when it’s wet and sticky.

You will need:

One old toothbrush

Vacuum with small nozzle

Window cleaning solution

Rag

Qtips

Open your window to allow access to the track.  Scrub the dirt with the toothbrush to loosen it, then suck it up with the vacuum nozzle.  Scrub as much as you can and keep vacuuming until you can’t get any more dirt up.

As you can see, the track is full of dirt, don’t judge me.
Start scrubbing with a toothbrush to loosen the dirt.
Vacuum window tracks
Use your vacuum nozzle to suck up that loose dirt.

 

Now it just needs a wipe with a rag and some window cleaner, and some Q tip for the corners.

 

Our windows have little square holes at the bottom to allow water to drain out.  This is a good time to make sure those aren’t clogged up.

Now use a little window cleaner and rag to get the last bits of dirt.  You may need a Q tip to get into small crevices, depending on how picky you are.

There you go!  Shiny clean window tracks to go with your shiny clean windows (assuming you cleaned those too)!

The Easiest Roses

Springtime is a great time to plant roses!

Knockout Roses HouseofIngrams.com

Knockout Roses HouseofIngrams.com

Knockout Rose HouseofIngrams.com

Star Roses and Plants, the growers who produced the amazing and wonderful Knockout Rose family, have my undying gratitude.  (I am in no way affiliated with their company, I just love their plants!)  I have four of the Red Double Knockouts in my front flower bed and they look fabulous.  They have cherry red blooms that look like a classic rose.  My sweet husband bought them for me as an anniversary present years ago.

Knockout Roses HouseofIngrams.com

This post contains affiliate links.  

 They are super easy to maintain and are prolific repeat bloomers from early May til frost.   They are hardy in zones 5 to 11.  They need full sun and adequate drainage.  Maintenance consists of pruning down to around 12 to 18 inches tall in February or early March (ideally before they leaf out but that’s always hard to pin down here in Oklahoma) and maybe some rose fertilizer occasionally.  Pruning large canes is much easier if you have something like these Fiskars loppers

Bypass pruners are also very useful, these from Fiskars are great:

Thorn-proof gloves are really nice to have, these are on my wish list:

Regular deep watering keeps these roses blooming like crazy.  The tradeoff for all those blooms is the lack of fragrance.  They have survived my preferred gardening method, “Benign Neglect”, for seven years. These roses are “self-cleaning”–which means you don’t have to deadhead to get more blooms, but it won’t hurt and might help reduce the incidence of Rose Rosette virus (more on that below)…  

If you put them out in the landscape, pruning is optional but they will get pretty big, like four feet tall by four feet wide, and I don’t think they look as nice as with that yearly pruning.  Of course they are roses, and these babies have some seriously wicked thorns, so don’t plant them where thorns will be a problem–and consider how big they could get before you place them near a pathway or under a window.  You can give them a trim any time of the year except in the late fall because it could encourage tender new growth that could be killed by frost (you’re probably going to prune that away come spring, but it might harm the overall health of your plant.) 

The only potential downside to these awesome roses is Rose Rosette disease, also known as Witches’ Broom, which is a nasty virus carried by microscopic mites.  Here’s a link to an informational PDF from Oklahoma State University.  There is no treatment or cure, and infected plants start getting uglier and uglier until they finally die.  If your rose gets this, the recommended action is the immediate removal of the entire bush, roots included. It should be burned or bagged and discarded.  Do not compost these bushes!  Roses in proximity may or may not get infected; direct contact seems to be the easiest way for it to spread but I think it’s windborne to some extent considering the way it has spread around here.  Since nearly every landscaper in Oklahoma has planted some of these roses, the disease has made its way all over the state.  Luckily mine are okay so far but I keep a close eye on them. If they ever get the disease my backup landscaping plan (after the wailing and gnashing of teeth) involves dwarf Crepe Myrtles. Once they are established, they are almost bulletproof.

There are ten colors of Knockout Rose available now (wow!).  I just spent some time on the Star website and now I am seriously trying to figure out where I can put more roses.  One of each, please?  You can find Knockout Roses at most garden retailers in the US and Canada.  Look for the lime green pot and enjoy your roses!

Knockout Roses HouseofIngrams.com

 

Knockout Roses Bud HouseofIngrams.com

Getting a Higher ACT Math Score

My younger son took his ACT for the second time in early February. He got a decent score the first time, but in the hope of getting better scholarship offers elected to take it again to try and increase his math score (and bump up his composite as well).
He took it originally in April 2017 as a sophomore and got a 28 in math with a 32 composite. He was taking Thinkwell online Geometry at the time. This year he is taking Thinkwell Trigonometry (which begins with a massive Algegra 2 review!).  I am not affiliated with Thinkwell, we just really like their upper-level math courses for homeschool.

This post contains affiliate links.  See my full disclosure policy here.

We had the first edition of this McGraw-Hill 50 Top Skills for a Top Score ACT Math  (the second edition is out now) that his brother had used with some success when he was in high school and so thought it would be a good way to try and increase his math score. There are 50 lessons to cover 50 key ACT math concepts and strategies. He signed up for the February 10, 2018, test. By the time we recovered from the holidays and a family vacation, he had three and a half weeks to study; practically speaking he had 22 days. I challenged him to cover at least three lessons a day on top of his regular schoolwork. He had Sundays off and at least one camping weekend during this time, so he usually did four lessons a day.
Test day came and went, and I knew the scores usually come out the second Tuesday after the test Saturday so was really planning to check first thing on the 20th but got busy and forgot!
It was a couple of days after the scores were up before I remembered to look.
Mission accomplished! He managed to score 33 on the math section, which was a gain of five points! His other scores were comparable to last time, so his composite went up to a 34. I went and woke him up to show him the scores on my laptop screen. He was less excited than I expected.
😀
This book is available on Amazon.
His method was simply working through the lessons in order, but this includes a CD with two extra practice tests (recommended), a pre-test and post-test, and cut out flash cards.  These images are from our book, which is a few years old.  The one linked above on Amazon is the new second edition.

I should say that no matter how good the prep materials are, you won’t get a good result without a lot of time and effort.   Your results may vary!

 


I think his Thinkwell Trig course with the Algebra 2 review included helped but the prep book was a HUGE factor in improving his score.  We highly recommend it!

 

Why You Should Plant Russian Sage

Are you looking for a plant that survives freezing winters and scorching summers, is drought tolerant, blooms all summer, and attracts bees and butterflies?  Look no further, because it’s right here…Russian Sage.  Its botanical name is Perovskia atriplicofolia.  This tough beauty is originally from the region around Afghanistan, and it is one hardy (zones 4 through 9), gorgeous plant.  But it’s not really Russian, and it’s not really sage either…

Russian Sage (Perovskia atriplicofolia) is one of my absolute favorite perennials.  It is completely different from culinary sage (Salvia officinalis) and you do not cook with it.  It is a member of the mint family (Lamiaceae) but is not generally considered edible.  (If you smell it you will know why.  It smells rather medicinal.)  It is considered an herbaceous perennial.  It is tough as nails once it gets established, and blooms nonstop midsummer to fall.  I have it in my front flower bed with my Red Double Knockout roses; full sun, facing east, in a very well drained raised brick bed.  This is a photo taken in late June.    

Russian Sage and Knockout Roses from HouseofIngrams.com

It grows to a tall (around three feet) airy shrub with delicate gray-green leaves with tall spikes of tiny purple/blue flowers.  It really is stunning.  The bees love it too.  

If it gets too tall for you or starts to flop over, just give it a trim and it will recover and be blooming again in just a few weeks.

 Maintenance on this is super easy, I just give it a very hard pruning (to about 6 inches tall) in the late winter.  If I find a plant in a spot where I don’t want it, I have the best luck moving them in winter while they are dormant.  I have killed a few (ok, many) transplants during their active growing season.  My gardening style is best described as “benign neglect” so this is an ideal plant for me.  

When I first planted three of them behind my roses, the plant instructions said they rarely reseeded.  Well, I beg to differ…I had dozens of tiny baby Perovskia coming up in the bed the next spring.  Most of them were in desirable places so I let them be.  I don’t really consider them invasive, but if I left them alone they would definitely take over the bed.  This winter I have been able to share some of my extras with a couple of friends.  Since that first season, they aren’t reseeding so much as rooting from flopped stems and spreading by runners, as mints will do.  This year I will try some pinching back early in the season to see if I can reduce the flop factor. They get more water than they really need since they are in with my roses that are watered fairly regularly.  That combined with their eastern exposure is causing them to be “floppy”.

To keep these happy plant in full sun in well-drained soil.  Cut down almost to the ground in late winter or early spring, as they bloom on new wood.   They are pretty drought tolerant once established.   

Below is a photo of Russian Sage used as a tall bedding plant at MS&T in Rolla, Missouri.  This was taken in late June.

Russian Sage in landscape HouseofIngrams.com

Here’s a closer look at the flowers tucked behind some four o’clocks…

Russian Sage in the background with four o'clocks HouseofIngrams.com

I highly recommend this plant if you have a well-drained spot for it.  It won’t disappoint!

 

 

 

Steak in Cast Iron Skillet With Peppercorn Sauce

Steak in Cast Iron Skillet from House of Ingrams

Steak is one of the few things I can guarantee every person in my house will enjoy.  Here’s my favorite easy method you can do anytime, no grill required…

You will need a seasoned cast iron skillet large enough to hold the steak flat, a steak suitable for grilling; it should be thick, not thin– (T-bone, ribeye, New York Strip, etc), kosher salt, butter, heavy cream, beef broth, and fresh ground pepper.

Unwrap the steak and place on a platter.  Sprinkle lightly with kosher salt on each side.  Let it sit at room temperature for about 30 minutes, up to an hour.

When you are ready to start cooking, place the cast iron skillet on medium-high heat until it is screaming hot.  Turn on your vent fan.  You might want to open a window too.  😀  Carefully put your steak in the pan and sear for four minutes.  There will be smoke and sizzling.  If it’s smoking too much, turn down your heat some.  Flip and do another four minutes.  At this point, you must determine how done you want your steak.  Time depends on thickness and your skillet temperature.  An instant-read thermometer is super handy at this point…

120° F (48.8° C) = Rare

130° F (54.4° C) = Medium rare

140° F (60° C) = Medium

150° F (65.5° C) = Medium well

160° F (71.1° C) = Well done

For 1 inch thick T-bone as pictured, I flip it again and do about 1 to 2 more minutes on each side, then remove from the pan and cover with foil to rest for at least 10 minutes.  You should test the temperature to determine your stopping point.  I aim for medium rare to medium.  Well done steak makes us sad.

Cast Iron Steak

For the pan sauce, take the cast iron skillet and over medium heat add 1/2 cup of beef broth to deglaze the pan, add 2 tablespoons of butter,  a generous amount of fresh ground pepper (1/2 teaspoonful), and a quarter cup of heavy cream.  Increase heat to medium-high and simmer until the sauce coats the back of a spoon.  By now your rested steak will have left some liquid in the platter they are on…add that to your sauce and stir.

Peppercorn Pan Sauce for Steak

Serve!  When all four of us are home I use two cast iron skillets at the same time (two ribeyes or one T-bone will generally fit in one pan).

This is one of our favorite meals.  We usually have the steak with some bacon browned green beans or a salad.  Simple food is best!

Steak in Cast Iron Pan with Peppercorn Pan Sauce

No grill required for this yummy steak with pan sauce.  

Course Main Course
Cuisine American
Prep Time 30 minutes
Cook Time 10 minutes
Resting Time 10 minutes
Total Time 40 minutes
Servings 1

Ingredients

  • 1 Tbone or other thick grilling steak
  • 1/4 tsp kosher salt
  • 1/2 cup beef broth
  • 2 tbsp butter
  • 1/2 tsp fresh ground pepper
  • 1/4 cup heavy cream

Instructions

  1. Unwrap steak and sprinkle each side with kosher salt.  Let sit at room temperature 30 minutes to one hour.  Heat seasoned cast iron skillet on medium high heat.  Turn on vent fan to prepare for smoke.  Place steak in pan and cook for four minutes.  Turn and cook another four minutes.  Test temperature with instant read thermometer.  If it is not done to your liking cook another 1 to 2 minutes per side.  Place on platter and cover with foil to rest at least 10 minutes. 

  1. For pan sauce, deglaze skillet with beef broth, then add butter, cream, and pepper. Stir and simmer over medium heat until sauce has thickened and coats the back of a spoon.  

 

The Florida Aquarium and the American Victory Ship

Back in January, we took a day to visit the Florida Aquarium in Tampa because we are all about aquariums…seriously, we go to every one we possibly can, including the ones here in Oklahoma, which are obviously few and far between…

Our visit coincided with a rare cold spell in south Florida, but it was still warmer than Oklahoma.  The first full day we planned to check out the aquarium in Tampa then make our way to our hotel in St. Pete Beach that afternoon.  It was COLD.  A really good day to be inside somewhere–and lots of other people must have agreed because the place was packed.  There was a pretty good line of people waiting to get tickets when we arrived.  We finally got our tickets and made our way inside.  I took some pictures but they don’t really do things justice.  It’s a very beautiful facility with oodles of amazing animals.  

Sand eels are so cool!

Roseate spoonbills.

The duck above is watching all the strollers closely so it can snatch up dropped kiddie snacks…”Pay no attention to that sign behind me!”

We went through the whole place in around two hours; keep in mind my boys are 20 and 16 so they weren’t interested in the hands-on or outdoor play areas (they have an outdoor splash pad playground which was not open during our visit, go figure!); families with smaller kids might want to allow more time.  And if you go when it’s warm, which is apparently almost always, you will want to bring swim gear, towels, and sunscreen so your kids can play out there.  They have a place to change in and out of swim gear right next to the playground.

There is a snack bar on site but since we had seen everything we wanted, we walked about a block down the street and found a New York style pizza place which was really good.  It had a New York police precinct theme.  It is called, appropriately, Precinct Pizza.  Check it out if you are in town!

We were thinking about heading to the rental car and finding our hotel, but had noticed a sign on the way into the aquarium mentioning something about a historic victory ship nearby…so we followed the signs and found this:

American Victory Ship

The SS American Victory Maritime Museum is one of only four working WWII era ships in the country.  My older son is a major history buff, so of course we had to spend the rest of our day exploring the massive ship.

They take this old merchant marine cargo ship out on a Relive History Cruise twice a year, and we were bummed that we missed that.  Perhaps another time.  There are nine decks to wander, including 3-story cargo holds, galleys, crew cabins, mess halls, officers’ quarters, and lots more.  They also have medals and many historic artifacts.

Above you can see the dazzle paint scheme that helps to break up the shape of the ship.

 

Both places are definitely worth a visit if you are in the Tampa Bay area!  If you decide to include the ship on your itinerary, keep in mind it has nine stories to go through and it is a ship…so expect lots of walking, and lots of steep metal stairs.  To give you an idea, I had 10,975 steps on my Samsung phone for that day.  😀

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Backyard Birdbath Deicer

Birdbath deicer House of IngramsDo you enjoy watching birds in your yard?  One of the very best things you can have is a birdbath.  Water is vital for birds all year round.  What do you do when it’s freezing outside?  You could bundle up every hour or two and run outside with some hot water in a kettle and pour it into your birdbath…or you could get a deicer for your birdbath and stay cozy indoors.

This post contains affiliate links.  See my full disclosure here.  

Here’s my birthday present this year!  We have a birdbath in our backyard and with our temperatures going and staying below freezing so much, we really need a heater to keep the water liquid for them.  Birds don’t get in the water and splash around when it’s super cold, but they always need water to drink.  It’s especially important around here this year, where we are in a full-on drought.

The K & H Pet Products Ice Eliminator Original Birdbath Deicer

My husband found this on Amazon and I think it’s pretty well designed.  A few years ago we had a different heater and it had lots of ridges that made it very difficult to clean.  This is smooth, and you can even sand it and spray paint it to match your bird bath.  I elected to leave mine natural, as our bird bath is light colored.  And I’m lazy.

It has a thermostat so it doesn’t run when the temperature is above freezing and has a 3 year from purchase warranty.  That’s really good since birdbath heaters in my experience only last a season or two.  It uses just 50 watts of power so it’s energy efficient.  It has a short 18-inch cord so you will need to get a good outdoor extension cord and plug into an outdoor outlet, ideally one that is GFI just to be extra safe.  You should probably also wrap your connection with some electrical tape or use a weatherproofing connection.

woodpecker deiced birdbath House of Ingrams

So far our temps have gone down to the low 20s and there was a ring of ice around the edge of the bath but liquid water in the center.  The result, happy birds this morning.  Happy me, because I don’t have to run out and refill with warm water.   This is a win-win!

woodpecker deiced birdbath House of Ingrams

 

I will update this product review as needed.  So far, I am really happy with this deicer.

 

The Great Backyard Bird Count

Have you ever heard of the Great Backyard Bird Count?

GBBC 2018It’s February and almost time for the 2018 Great Backyard Bird Count! This year it goes from February 16 through 19.  Started by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and the Audobon Society in 1998, this is a free four-day long event and anyone can participate.  You can count for as little as fifteen minutes or as long as you like, one day or all four.  This event helps scientists get a better idea of how bird populations are doing.  Last year (2017 GBBC) was the biggest ever with over 160,000 people participating!

To find out exactly how to participate, go to the GBBC website.  You will need to make an account if you haven’t already.  Here’s a link to an instructional PDF.  If you are a brand new user, they recommend registering at BirdCount.org.

Red Bellied Woodpecker on feeder

You can count birds in your own yard, a park, on roadsides, or anywhere.  The online report forms allow you to log the time and location.  There are lots of tips on counting and identifying birds on the website as well and many excellent bird photographs.  If you take some bird pictures you can submit those too.

You can start with a printed checklist or just use a notebook.  Note your date, time, and location.  I usually take a notebook and write in the birds I expect to find then use tally marks during the observation period.  If there are several birds of the same species, try to report the largest number you saw at one time, this way you won’t overcount.   If I get an unexpected bird I just write it in.  After I have completed all my viewing I log in and enter the data using their easy forms.

Cardinal

I have tried to participate a little bit every year but it’s been kind of hit and miss.  In my own backyard, we usually see lots of birds when it’s cold and nasty out, but when the GBBC rolls around we nearly always have nice warm weather and the birds don’t show up.  😀  I will give it a whirl anyway!

White Crowned Sparrow

If you really enjoy keeping track of bird sightings, on the eBird website you can log bird sightings year round and it will track all your data for you.  I haven’t logged in a while and have some serious updating to do…

Helpful bird identification tips can be found at eBird, along with bird data and news.  Audobon.org has news and photos.  Cornell’s website has an online searchable bird guide.  There are also mobile phone apps you can use.

This is an excellent opportunity to get your kids involved in citizen science, a process in which volunteers partner with scientists to answer real-world questions.  Anyone can “do science” this way; you don’t have to have a degree.  You could go on a field trip to a park and make a really fun day of it, and you might spot more than just birds!

Squirrel Talk

Are you planning to participate in the GBBC this year?  Let us know in the comments!