Thursday, July 25, 2013

Back At It

It’s been ten days since I started the giant pink antibiotic pills my doctor prescribed to me for my “major” sinus infection.  After two days, my symptoms started abating…slowly.  But it wasn’t until this past Sunday evening that I started feeling myself again.

What that meant—along with the continuing deluge—was that outside the house, the garden was being overrun.  Even when I wasn’t feeling well, I’d at least wander out for some desultory bean or berry picking, but any feelings of contentment were generally spoiled by all the greenery that wasn’t supposed to be there.  My illness extended neatly over two weekends which, as I’m sure you understand, is normally prime garden maintenance time.  So as the work week wore on, I still wasn’t very motivated to go play in the dirt.

Today, finally, my inner gardener rose up and took control.  I wandered out to pick some beans, and next thing I knew, the weeds were quite literally flying in every direction.  It’s very satisfying to feel the riiiiip of the roots coming out, and once again I mentally thanked Michele, my favorite goat farmer, for her gift of composted manure last fall.  Between that lovely loose dirt and the previous evening’s rain, most of the weeds came out easily.

Here’s a bit of before and after, from bottom to top!

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I’ll address that squash plant in a minute.  And no, I didn’t finish pulling out those weeds.  I don’t want to frighten off my inner gardener with a seemingly unending chore.  I’ve found that if I don’t try to get the whole thing done in one go, I’m less likely to put it off.  One step at a time.

So, let’s take a few steps back and see what the whole bed is looking like these days.

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Whoa, that’s pretty lush, isn’t it?  You can’t even see my rocks anymore!  But, truth be told, what you’re seeing is mostly marigolds and parsnips.  Here’s what the “productive” part of the bed looks like.

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That’s one bean plant in the middle left, and another peeking out center bottom.  All the rest is flowers!  The beans have been pretty lackadaisical about growing and producing, but I have managed to gather about a quart’s worth in the past week or so (which I should be blanching and freezing right now, instead of writing about them!)

Did you notice what’s missing?  Squash plants!  You may remember a previous post, when one of my plants was flat on the ground, and the other was still healthy.  As the second plant began to succumb, I finally figured out what the problem was, and it wasn’t pretty.

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Squash vine borers.  This is the main stem.  The larvae get into the stem and suck it dry, causing the entire plant to collapse.  From the little I’d heard, there’s no hope once a plant’s infected.  All I could do was cross my fingers that the third plant—which I hadn’t really wanted in the first place—was far enough away on the other side of the carrots to elude the pests.

Sadly, the answer to those dreams turns out to be “nope.”  But after pulling the second plant out, I had googled the problem and found two possible solutions.  One is to cut into the stem and remove the bugs manually, but this seldom succeeds because there are usually more than can be found.  Besides, it’s not the easiest thing to get under the wide leaves and twisting stems of a squash plant without breaking half of them off, and still have enough flexibility to wield a blade delicately.  Believe me, I tried.

So I’m sticking to the second approach, which is to mound dirt up on the stems as a way to encourage rooting, thereby attempting to keep ahead of the pests by creating new primary stems.

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I don’t hold out much hope, but as you can see, there are four or five little squashlets growing.  It would be nice if I could at least get another week to let them get to size.

Speaking of size…(this is a segue, people, stick with me)

McKenna Kitten is slowly but surely on her way to becoming McKenna Cat.  Here’s a before-and-after with one of Rosie’s toys (just because I happened to get a picture of her next to it the first week we had her).

     McKenna 07 (3)          IMG_20130725_175136_969-1

Oh, she’s still a kitten all right, but her legs and body are both lengthening.  (There was a treat involved in the second picture, not a hairball.)  You’ll notice she’s also finally grown into the collar Miss Chef bought her.  How’s this for a modeling pose?

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It’s all in the eyes.

She and Rosie have come to whatever agreements were necessary, and we now leave them alone together.  I took this picture exactly two weeks after McKenna came home.

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Rosie gets most of the credit for this one.  McKenna is fascinated by our whole feeding-time routine, mostly because Rosie gets canned food, which I’m sure smells most intriguing to the cat.  If McKenna gets too close to her bowl, Rosie will growl at her—unlike Smoky, McKenna’s never pushed her to the point of actually snapping at her.  Anyway, McKenna has no qualms about drinking from Rosie’s water bowl, so she simply positioned herself there while I dispensed the food—“Just getting a nice little drink”—to be as close as she could without pushing Rosie’s buttons.  And it worked.  I’m not sure who’s the more clever one, but I’m thinking it’s a win-win.

And now, because who doesn’t like cat pictures on the internet, here are a couple more I’m just throwing in here because I like them.

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Isn’t that a hilarious pose?  She was fast asleep when I took this--but don’t be fooled, because within half an hour, she was tearing around the house like she had rockets on.  And yes, she still tries to play with Rosie’s tail/face/paws, and Rosie still doesn’t get the concept.  I keep telling her to play with the cat, but she just wags her tail at me and says “Walk?”

Oh, and remember the post entitled “Miss Chef’s Projects?”  Both the animals were intrigued when she started in earnest on this one.



Rosie’s earlier leakages as she lay by the front door had destroyed a good portion of the flooring, which wasn’t all that nice to start with.  Miss Chef has far more confidence than I do when it comes to DIY projects, and she decided she could tear up and install some flooring herself.  It took a while, a bit of cursing, and perhaps some cooling-off periods, but once the bulk of the work was done, it looked amazing.

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It feels nice underfoot, too, even if Rosie’s still figuring out how to maneuver this new slippery surface.  We’re still waiting on a last bit of molding to come in before Miss Chef will finish all the trim, but it’s much less embarrassing to open the door these days.

One of these days I might do something worth sharing, besides playing with the cat and digging in the garden.  In the meantime, I’m just happy to be feeling like myself again.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Getting Bigger

I’ve been sick for most of the past week, with a “major” sinus infection, according to the doctor.  I just started antibiotics, but am still not feeling cognitively competent, so I’m simply putting up this charming little video.  Not only can you see how McKenna’s looking a bit more cat-like, but it’s also a good representation of the relationship between cat and dog in our house right now.


Wednesday, July 10, 2013

A Two-Fer: McKenna and Garden Update

It seems that adding a kitten was just what was needed to take up that extra spare time I had lying around.  I barely have time to glance at the blogs I’m reading, and I’m ok with that.  A full life is, in this case, an enjoyable one.

I can’t blame it all on the cat, though.  Work has gotten busier, and I’m about to finish up the training period on that new project I started on some months ago.  Which means I’ve got to get up to speed to work at the level of a fully trained employee, and I’m also able to pull a little overtime.  The part of the job I moved out of is still very slow, so it’s nice to be occupied all day and bump up my income a little.

But that’s not what you all came her to see.  You want more McKenna, don’t you?

Well, first of all, she’s taken quickly to the carpeted podium perch that Miss Chef made for her.


You can see one window behind her, and she’s facing the sliding glass door overlooking three steps down to the patio.  That extra sense of height is very attractive for such a little gal.

In fact, if you’re a cat, you can never get high enough, can you?

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When I took this picture, Rosie was out on the patio, which of course piqued the cat’s curiosity.  By now, McKenna’s gotten over her skittishness around the dog, and has graduated past the nervous sniffing and tentative touchings, into softpaw swipes and the occasional “just kidding” averted attacks.  Rosie remains confused by such behavior.  She looks, waits for the cat to get out of her way, and carries on. But for most of playtime, Rosie lies on the floor watching warily while McKenna zooms by, galloping crazily from room to room.

I think the most traumatic part of Rosie’s life with a new roommate is when we yell at the cat.  McKenna does react fairly well to curt “No!”s and finger snaps.  But poor Rosie always thinks it’s for her, so she comes over wagging her tail and trying to stick her nose into our hands as we’re reaching for the cat—which gets McKenna worked up and distracted from climbing on the table or playing with the curtains, so the lesson is lost, while Rosie ends up baffled and feeling rebuffed.

Fortunately, that doesn’t happen as often as you might expect.  Thus far McKenna has proven less persistent at misbehavior as Smoky was.  It may only take seven times to get the message across to McKenna, as opposed to 700 times with Smoky (and who has the patience to reach 700?  Not me!)  On the other hand, McKenna is just starting to explore a little more deeply, playing with hangers in the closet, and as I mentioned, thinking about climbing the curtains.  She may be easier than Smoky, but we’re not out of the clear yet.

On the other hand, there’s a lot of sleeping going on, too.  Bedroom…

McKenna 07 (8)


…living room…

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…she has to try out every spot before choosing her favorite.  Which looks to be this one—the classic back-of-the-couch.

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“Someday,” she dreams, “I’ll reach both ends of this blanket.  Just you wait and see.”


Have you figured out by now that about the only time we can get a good picture of her is when she’s asleep?

McKenna 07 (13)


With peace reigning for the moment, now would be a good time to check on the garden, don’t you think?  After all, it’s been a while, even for me.  Since we returned from our driving vacation, it has rained and rained and rained.  I’m willing to bet that this morning signaled the first time we got through 24 hours without rain for the past two weeks.  And it rained at least twice this afternoon.  The data from the NOAA website indicates that so far in July, we’ve gotten three times the normal amount of rainfall.  Safe to say, we’re no longer in a drought.

All this to say, I haven’t had much time to spend outside in the garden.  I’ve gotten the occasional few minutes to pick a few cherry tomatoes and try to keep the worst of the weeds at bay, scrabbling at a patch here and a section there.  Sadly, some of my plants are suffering from the imbalance of water vs. sunshine, and I’m not sure there’s anything I can do about it.

Still, warm temps and high humidity are perfect greenhouse conditions.  I often feel like I’m stepping outside into a jungle.  The garden has gone from this (in late June):

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…to this:

garden 07 (2)

Sorry, the angle is quite different, but if you look closely you’ll see the marigolds are three or four times their previous size, and the bamboo hoop among the parsnips has been completely overgrown.  You may also notice that the garlic is gone.  I pulled it last weekend, and got about 15 decent-sized heads.  We don’t have a great place to store it, so I’m hoping it can last through the summer and then maybe I’ll hang it in our storage closet outside the house.

That lush growth is hiding a few problems, however.  One of my squash plants appears to be giving up.

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It was perfectly matched to the one behind it, but has gotten progressively droopier.  I hope whatever it has is not catching; so far the other plant seems unaffected.  Fortunately, I have a backup—my third, unwanted squash plant, which has finally dug in and started making flowers and fruit!  Here’s a before and after.

garden 06 (30)    garden 07 (4)


The brandywine tomato has been struggling, too.  Earlier this season it had lots of yellow leaves and wasn’t setting fruit.  I ground up some eggshells to put on for calcium, and it perked up for a while and actually made some tomatoes.  With all the rain, however, either a virus has taken hold, or all the calcium has leached from the soil already.

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The cherry tomatoes on the left are still chugging along, but the brandywine just looks sad.  We’ve harvested two tomatoes from it, and there are two more to come (hopefully).  Beyond that, all the flowers have been barren.  I’ll have to try another batch of eggshells, and keep my fingers crossed.

The beans were disappointing me, too.  When we came back from vacation, there were hardly any to harvest, and almost no flowers.  Then the rains moved in, and between the dampness and lower temperatures, they didn’t seem to feel like doing anything at all.  However, this past weekend more flowers emerged, and by the end of this week I’m hoping to start my daily harvest again.

One unexpected bright spot has been our mostly neglected blackberry bush.  I managed to get bird netting over it just in time, and it’s started producing some plump, tasty berries.

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They’re coming in a big handful at a time.  Many of them are so tart I can’t help making faces, but the truly ripe ones make it all worthwhile. 

Overall, I’m optimistic that the garden will give me at least one more good effort, even if the rain continues.  And regardless of whatever else may or may not come to our table, I still consider this a successful year.  After all, any summer that gives you shirtfront-fuls of this juiciness is a summer worthy of the name.

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Update: The Fates smiled upon me last night, and I just happened to have my phone handy when McKenna was exploring a little more slowly in the evening.  So here’s this!


Does she not have the roundest eyes you’ve ever seen on a cat?  She’s actually perched on top of her litter box…which reminds me that I also wanted to mention that for any cat owners out there. 

It’s called the Omega Paw and is a bit expensive (about $30), but that’s nothing compared to most automatic self-cleaning boxes.  And this is a superior design, because it doesn’t use batteries or moving parts, just basic physics.  You simply roll the box over and back to pass the litter through a louvered grate, allowing the clumps to be separated from clean litter and gathered into a scoop that you pull out and empty.  There’s nothing to wear out or replace, and it means you can clean the box without getting your hands anywhere near the litter.

I don’t often recommend specific products, but this one is brilliantly simple—it has exceeded my expectations and totally alleviated my concerns about the whole cat excretion issue.  So if you’re in the market for a better litter box, I’d suggest you check out the Amazon page here, or the company’s product page here.  (Go ahead and watch the second video while you’re at it; I found it oddly endearing and a bit amusing.)

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Miss Chef’s Big Projects

This is going to be waaaay more interesting than you think…I’ve got a little surprise for you!

After my thousand-plus mile driving vacation, I needed a few days to recover.  By Saturday, though, we were back on schedule, up early to get to the farmers’ market.  The first field tomatoes were coming in, and Miss Chef decided on the spur of the moment that she wanted to buy enough to put up a few quarts.

We went to the bigger, NC Regional market and scoured all the vendors’ tables to find the ripest selection.  When we finally found a pile of small red ones, Miss Chef said, “Can I have all your tomatoes?”  It shocked the farmer right into selling them to us for a dollar a pound!

As she was setting herself up in the kitchen, I realized that I still had half my annual batch of strawberry jam unfinished.  I had run out of time last month when I started canning, so I had mashed the berries and frozen them.  Now would be the perfect time to finish cooking up and processing that jam.

So an aimless Saturday ended up with this collection all sealed and ready for storage:

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This includes the first half of my jam, so it wasn’t all done on the same day.  But it sure looks impressive.  I also noted that everything we can is red, when I realized that my one scruffy red t-shirt has become my “canning shirt.”

This is the kind of thing that happens when Miss Chef has vacation time.  She either gets elbow deep into projects, or she sits on the couch and reads for days on end.  Her next big project will be replacing the flooring in the entryway, which was warped beyond saving by Rosie’s incontinence issues.  (Those are now under control, provided Mommy 1 doesn’t forget to give her her “pee pills” twice a day.)  So Sunday found us perusing flooring, underlayment and strike bars at Home Depot.

That project hasn’t started yet though, since it will take ‘til the end of the week for the flooring to come in.  But Miss Chef found something else to keep her busy in the meantime.  Similarly to when she knocked together my pea trellis from bits of wood and wire found in our shed, she found all kinds of useful materials out there and made this impressive piece:

cat house

No, she’s not planning on giving groovy speeches from her carpeted podium.  She was getting ready for what we’d signed up for after we left Home Depot that Sunday afternoon.

Meet McKenna, our new roommate.

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She’s not as big as she looks in that photo.  She’s three months old today.  We adopted her from Saving Southern Kitties, the organization working through our local PetSmart store.  Her mother was rescued from a high-kill shelter while she was pregnant, so McKenna was born in foster care.  They did a great job raising her, as she is very loving and used to being handled.

This photo gives you a better idea of her coloration.  Her mother was a very light orange tabby, so I’m guessing Daddy was a tuxedo cat.  Two of her siblings were light like her momma, but one sister looks very similar to McKenna.

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Now, this was not a spur-of-the-moment decision.  Miss Chef has been wanting a kitten for a long time, and it was only my firmness that let Smoky go two years ago.  We talked about it again last winter, and Miss Chef decided that after she finished her MBA would be good timing to adopt.  For Christmas I gave her a big, fancy-pants litter box that should be a cinch to keep clean.  That was my giving her permission to get a kitten, as litter box upkeep has been my biggest concern.  (Even Miss Chef will admit she isn’t always the best about everyday maintenance-type chores.)

Miss Chef finished her MBA in May, but with all the traveling we had planned, it wasn’t until the end of June that we could get serious about bringing a new pet into the house. When we stopped by PetSmart on Sunday, I assumed we’d see if there was one there we wanted to consider.  I didn’t know the organization has people on-site nearly every day, or that Miss Chef would quietly fall in love while I chatted with the volunteers and she played with the kitty.

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We had to fill out an application, and the organization checked our vet reference before calling us on Tuesday to give us the ok.  We went to load up on supplies that evening before putting McKenna in her spanking-new crate and driving her home.

And now, what about Rosie?

Rosie 07

She is being a champ.  When she stuck her nose up to the crate, McKenna hissed and spat.  We let them see each other for a few minutes with McKenna in a crate up on a table and Rosie halfway across the room, then we separated them for a day.  McKenna had the bedroom during the day, and Rosie got it at night.  Wednesday evening we brought McKenna into the living room while Rosie was sitting quietly.  McKenna did the whole Halloween kitty thing, but Rosie mostly ignored her.  Smoky trained her well!

And this is where I am amazed by this dog.  Wednesday night, while McKenna was still pretty jumpy, Rosie wouldn’t meet her gaze.  With the dog looking away, McKenna would dare to approach within a foot or so, but if Rosie happened to glance at her—Halloween kitty.  So Rosie pointedly kept her gaze in another direction and let McKenna explore the room while we sat and pet the dog.

Today McKenna is becoming much more comfortable, very quickly.  This morning I brought her out to the living room and put her on the back of the easy chair.  When I went over to pet Rosie, the dog lay down for a belly rub, and McKenna promptly jumped down from the chair, as that submissive posture obviously meant this dog was not a killer.

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Hmm, maybe this pooch isn’t so bad…


So now they both have full range of the entire house while we’re home (hooray for the well-timed holiday!).  McKenna still occasionally puts on her Halloween pose, but she is now slightly more intrigued by Rosie than threatened by her.  And today Rosie isn’t hesitating to look right at her.  She’s so incredibly intuitive about what’s needed to let this cat adjust to her, it’s just flabbergasting.

And McKenna is turning out to be quite a little charmer.  Thanks to great fostering, she’s friendly, affectionate and bold.  She loves to play, of course, and she already has a big, ready purr.

(Pardon the poor lighting, but turn up your volume just a little, and you’ll hear how friendly she really is.)


So for the foreseeable future, there will be nary a dull moment in Flartopia.