A Round of Robins Eating

We’ve seen them before but from inside the building. There’s one day every winter when we look out the main office window and comment, “Wow. There are a bunch of robins out there. The holly berries must be ready to eat.” It’s impressive, with robins filling the trees and bumping into the windows. I thought I’d truly appreciated the spectacle, but last week I experienced it from the center of a robin tornado. It was pretty intense.

I was walking back to work after lunch when I realized that the holly tree in front of Patchwork was flapping and fluttering. It looked like a monster. It was full of hundreds of robins and hundreds more were waiting in the trees. They’d dive in, flap their way to some berries, and then they would explode out again whenever a car drove by or they were otherwise startled. I wouldn’t say I was afraid of birds, but it was creepy getting close to the tree.

Holly berries have to go through a series of freezes and thaws before birds can eat them, and apparently they were finally ready to eat. Just prior to that, they’d made really lovely photos in the snow! As the birds ate, holly leaves fell all over the ground. Eventually there was a thick blanket of them that other birds picked through to make sure no valuable nutrition was left behind. When the birds were gone, so were all the berries.


A Frosty Start to 2018

2018 started out with an icy cold blast that wouldn’t stop. On the coldest night my thermometer hit -1. That cold stuck around for over two weeks, but we thankfully had a warm home to be in. The furnace created an impressive stalagmite under the exhaust pipe. I thought it was interesting to see all the differently shaped furnace stalagmites around the neighborhood.

After a brief break from the frigid cold (one day the high was in the 60’s) we got a nice little snowstorm with 4″ – 5″ of photogenic snow. Frigid temperatures have returned with it, so the snow will be sticking around for a few more days. It looks festive, but our cars are completely stuck.

I’m sure the cats don’t know how good they have it. They’ve been spending a lot of time by the heat vents and on their heated cat beds. In between they have play time and Perry does his all-important laundry inspection. They’ve also thoroughly loved watching the throngs of birds at the feeders trying to survive the cold. I’d failed to stock up on the safflower seeds that the cardinals and other bigger birds eat, so I made an emergency run to Rural King today so I wouldn’t run out. The cats were very happy that their “stories” went uninterrupted.

Last week I got a window bird feeder for the Ladies. The birds finally found it yesterday, and Lady Ygraine quickly found the birds. They haven’t been back since she lunged at the window, but she’s eagerly awaiting their return. The sales woman at Wild Birds Unlimited assured me that she has a the same feeder and a cat and eventually the birds learn that the cats won’t get them. I hope so!

Here’s a slideshow of the first two weeks of 2018. Click on any photo for a larger image and a description.

Closing Out the Year

Everything is pretty well tucked in and dormant in my garden. We’ve had several blasts of frigid air and surely many more will descend on us before spring. Really, winter has barely arrived.

2017 has been stressful, and 2018 promises to have new challenges all its own. John and I didn’t even feel like we could manage a Christmas tree this year, but I did put up Christmas lights outdoors. It’s enough to feel festive, shining light with abandon into the darkest, longest night.

I continue to rejoice in the beauty of the changing seasons, including the deep, earthy colors and the pale decay seen throughout my garden. They are what the end of the year looks like, so I’ll leave you with them–and a little bit of pre-Christmas snow.

2017: The Year of the Cat

This year has been all about cats, and while I love them, I hope that next year will revolve around them a little less.

We began 2017 mourning Shamoo, my furry companion for the last 18 years. He was a great cat, and we were sad to lose him, but he had lived an enviable life to its fullest.

Only a month after his death, John and I decided that with the horrible state of the world, the seemingly endless issues to worry about, and a growing concern for the well being of the marginalized people we work with daily, we needed a soft, furry friend to pat at the end of the day. Well, two furry friends to pat would be perfect!

And so we found the Ladies at the Humane Society. They were extremely shy at first, and honestly it wasn’t until August that they really seemed to settle in and accept us as their people and this as their home. As they’ve settled in, it’s been wonderful to discover what lovely Ladies they are. They’re sweet cats. And beautiful. They enjoy interacting with us. They are wonderful friends for each other. They love to lounge. They love play time. They are graceful and dignified. And so floofy! They are worthy of the names Lady Ygraine and Lady Morgaine.

As good as they are, it was still work learning their rhythms and routines, figuring out the best ways to approach them, and working with them to teach them to trust us. Looking back, plenty of time during the first half of the year was taken up by them.

We had all begun to settle into a routine together when Larry appeared in the back yard. That was at the beginning of July. Things are still far from settling down again. I keep reminding myself that even cats as delightful as the Ladies took more than half a year to get acclimated. I also remind myself that Larry has come a long way since first coming indoors.

It’s easy to lose track of those things because he remains a very difficult cat. He’s violent. He bites hard. He demands constant attention but lashes out when you don’t do exactly what he wants when he wants it. He steals the laundry and metal objects. And he’s still separated from the Ladies.

But he also gives tremendous hugs that can last for five minutes. And he’s interesting and clever. And handsome. He has figured out how people open doors and twists his paw around the knob to try to do the same. The only thing preventing him from taking over the world is his lack of thumbs. He loves clicker training. I’ve been training him for a few weeks and he can touch his nose to a target, sit, stay, go through his tunnel toy, and jump over a paper tube on command. He seems to enjoy the positive interaction with John and I when he is able to do things we approve of.

The clicker training has gone a long way in improving his behavior. One big example is that he is able to sit and stay on the ironing board positioned next to the computer so I can do tasks like write this blog post. However, he gets impatient quickly and gives me big sighs or starts fiddling with metal objects or gets into my lap and tries to stick his face into the treat bag. Then the biting begins again.

John and I hope we can continue to work to modify his behavior and train him to be a better cat. It has been slow, stressful, and draining. We hope that we are up to the challenge. More than one person has asked why we’re putting so much time and energy into a cat known to bite us in the face. It’s that we happen to be in a position to try to help this little life that the universe cast onto our doorstep. Not everyone would be. And we have compassion for a little guy who was created because it’s cool to own a Bengal cat, even if they’re a challenge to care for, and who was not trained well by his former owner.

We’re also transitioning into calling him Perry instead of Larry. Perry will be short for Sir Percivale, who was one of the knights of the round table. Percivale was discovered running around in the woods. He wanted to be a knight, but first he had to learn knightly manners. It seems a fitting name for this cat.

Just last week, the people across the street moved out. They were my link to his previous owner. I watched them load their belongings into pickup trucks and drive away, and I struck me how much we are really stuck with Perry now. And I have no hope of solving some of the mysteries in his life, like how old he is or the details of his pedigree.

So now we’re approaching 2018 and we have three cats. I hope very, very much that it will be a good year for us all.

The Cost of Frost

The weekend before last began warm and beautiful. A few leaves were still on the trees, but the forecast was for a sudden change in the weather. I did some organizing and cleaning as the cold front blew its way through the treetops and into my yard.

In the time since then, my garden has seen a beautiful collapse of the leaves and plants. They’ve been invisibly broken apart by the jagged edges of internal ice crystals as we’ve finally had many nights in the 20’s and low 30’s.

Below are a series of photos that I took in this time period. You can spot the same plants as the frost changes them. Some colors deepen. Some leaves grow translucent. Some grow leathery.

After the frost had worked its way into everything and most of the final leaves had come off the trees, I spent the day with my leaf blower coaxing all the leaves on the ground into one garden bed or another. As part of the process, I took down my bean trellises and found a few final dried beans to add to my collection. There was a mixture of pretty limas and several more Mostoller Wild Goose pole beans that I think are gorgeous.

And finally, something freshly cooked but completely out of season–blackberry jam! For many years, my blackberries have fruited well but never produced enough at one time to make much of anything. Mostly, the birds would eat the berries as they ripened a couple at a time. Patchwork’s blackberry bushes were larger, so if I wanted to make jam I could collect enough berries there.

But for the last few years the Patchwork bushes haven’t done well. John’s eaten all the jam I had from recent years, so I decided I needed to do something differently. This year I collected the blackberries in my garden and froze them one at a time. By the end of the summer, I was pretty sure I had enough for a batch of jam and over Thanksgiving weekend, I finally had time to make it.

I used my strainer to separate out all the seeds, running the pulp through the hand-cranked machine over and over to try to get as much moisture out. I knew I wouldn’t have any pulp to spare. In the end I was a cup short, but thinking back to some jam I’d seen sometime this year, I steeped some sage leaves in hot water and added the water to the blackberry pulp.

The result? 4.5 jars of particularly delicious jam!

You’ve Peaked, Evansville.

Every fall in Evansville there is a beautiful moment when the leaves have changed gloriously and enough have scattered across the ground that we are surrounded by a world of autumnal color. The streets are lined with reds, rusts, pale oranges, and yellows. My back yard is bathed in golden light filtered through the maple leaves, and it’s the color of happiness. But, the moment is always brief and an instant later the branches are bare and the leaves on the ground are dry and grey.

(Click any of the photos below for a bigger image and a slideshow of the changing leaves.)

My garden has fully embraced autumn. We didn’t have freezing temperatures until a few days ago, so most things were still growing though they seemed to anticipate the killing weather. Many leaves were tinged with orange and yellow and seed pods were prominent. I picked the last of my beans and brought my house plants indoors for the winter. The Ladies enjoyed adventuring in their new jungle in the kitchen.

Meanwhile, a few photos of the cats. We keep working with Larry to improve his behavior, though he’s still a challenge and very bitey. One thing that we’ve discovered he loves: clicker training. So far he can touch a target with his nose, stand on a mat with all four paws, and sit. He seems happy to do it and happy to have very positive interaction with John and me.

Of course, the Ladies are simply delightful, as always.

All three have the following advice as winter approaches:

Find a warm spot…


Enjoy your warm bed…

Wrap your tail around your nose to keep it warm…

And enjoy the changing seasons.


Turning to Fall

Now there’s the promise of cooler days mixed in with the warm ones. Last night was cold enough I needed to bring my houseplants inside. They’ll go back out tomorrow for more direct sun and fresh air, but it won’t be long before they’re in for the winter.

I’ve got some final tomatoes still ripening. The Atomic Grape variety has been getting nice and ripe and I’ve decided I like them better than I thought. The color still isn’t as dramatic as it was in the seed catalog, but they’re still pretty, especially in big clusters.

I’ve been picking my lima beans. A couple weeks ago I got a nice collection of both fresh and already dried. They’re tasty and beautiful. It usually takes all summer to get a nice crop ready to pick. The hearty begonia flowers are gracefully descending into seed pods and the toad lilies are blooming, so it must be time for fall. The zinnias and marigolds continue to bloom and add nice autumn color.

A big, fat, orange cucumber is hanging on a dying vine with drying beans nearby. It is the image of early fall. And the corn has been pulled and sits by my front stoop looking festive. A few weeks ago I was sitting next to someone at a gathering of nonprofit professionals and he kept talking about going out to his farm to get some corn to decorate his nearby nonprofit. In Patchwork Central style, I got my fall decor from my yard and not from my second home.

And finally, the cats are enjoying the changing seasons from the back door. We’ve been trying to try to prepare for merging the household, so Larry has even gotten in on the garden viewing action. The merger hasn’t gone great so far, so keep us all in your thoughts. About a week ago we let them all meet, but Larry just got excited and chased the Ladies around the house. He just wanted friends to play with. The Ladies didn’t like his game. John and I continue to try to train him not to communicate with us using his teeth, but it looks like that work will be ongoing. He’s a much tougher to than average cat to figure out. Meanwhile, the Ladies continue to be their usual lovely selves.