Starting 2019 with a Little Sun and a Little Snow

2019 has been pretty unremarkable so far. We’ve had a lot of the usual Southern Indiana winter weather. It’s quite a mix but often warm, usually cloudy, very brown, sometimes rainy, and occasionally snowy. A few days were warm enough that the Ladies were allowed to sit at the open back door to survey their domain.

There is not a lot to survey, though. The only bit of natural color that remains is in the leaves of the blackberry, which glow against the drab browns everywhere else. That makes snow a gift as it smooths everything over, highlights the remaining plant structures, and creates contrast against the browns.

We’ve only gotten one snowfall with accumulation so far. Last weekend several inches fell overnight, but they began to melt with the help of some rain even before we awoke in the morning. I got out early and got some photos before things deteriorated further. It was not a very high quality snow, but it was festive for several hours.

I’d never taken Perry out for a walk in the snow before, so I decided to find out what he thought of it. Turns out he’s not a fan. He did not like getting it between his toes, and he kept shaking his wet paws like it was the worst sensation ever. We came back inside after less than 10 minutes.

Oh, and we started 2019 with a really neat sighting. John went to take the trash out on January 1 and felt a presence no more than 20 feet above him. He looked up and there was a mass on the cable wires directly in back of our house. It was a barred owl, and it stayed long enough for John to find me and for us both to marvel before it flew off.

Other than getting snow between Perry’s toes, the cats are doing great, though. John and I enjoy their furry presences. Perry continues to improve ever so gradually. He still has a long, long way to go, though. However, the Ladies continue to be perfection. At Christmas we moved their giant cat tree into our living room with the other smaller one. The two cat trees now form a Cat Complex that the Ladies clearly love.

Everyone continues to be bothered by the interloper cat from next door. He frequents our yard. The other day, both Ladies were riveted by something they saw out the window. I looked, and the neighbor cat was on our opposite neighbor’s roof. He was up there for so long that I was afraid he was stuck, but he somehow leapt from the roof onto our magnolia tree. I missed seeing how he managed that and only caught his less-than-graceful dismount from the tree.

Closing Out 2018

Time passes through my garden. Like the wind, it touches all the plants there. It has finally sapped almost all the color and structure from the marigolds and hostas whose demise I’ve been documenting for the last several months. Meanwhile, it has burned brighter colors into the ajuga and it has brought beautiful blooms of seed structures to the autumnal clematis.

Also passing over my garden these days are waves and waves of snow geese. Below you’ll find a video showing just one portion of one huge formation of them.

With slower changes happening in my garden, I’m left to photograph my cats more. They’re pretty cute as they snuggle into warm spaces in the cold weather and as they accent the Christmas tree. Lady Morgaine is a champion napper, always curled up in new formations on her heated cat bed in the windowsill or forming random lumps under the covers as she slumbers on the bed for hours. It’s been warm enough for walks with Perry, which he has enjoyed. His behavior is always better after a nice walk.

A Little of This and a Little of That

It’s mid-December, and I’ve been to a variety of places in the past several weeks. At home, my garden has slowly been going further and further into dormancy. The previously frozen flowers and leaves are drying, their color fading further to brown.

I got my final harvest mid-November. I’d attempted some fall greens and a few came up. I needed the space to plant my garlic, though, so I picked the greens and some small garlic shoots that had been growing all summer from discarded garlic cloves. The greens and garlic leaves made a delicious fried rice. The garlic that I planted in the space they vacated will grow all winter and spring and will be ready to harvest sometime around next June.

 

The day after Thanksgiving, I ended up in my hometown of Archbold, Ohio for their 20th annual Festival of Lights Parade. In case you have never seen a parade in a small Midwestern town, they usually include a wide array of farm implements plus fire, rescue, and police vehicles from as many surrounding areas as possible. Archbold puts a twist on it by holding their parade after dark and requiring everything to be coated in lights.

The last time I saw a Festival of Lights Parade, someone had even covered the village’s septic sucker in lights. I was disappointed that there was only a minimally lighted garbage truck this year, but the Archbold Fire Department did go all out by installing a smoking chimney on the back of their big ladder truck. Of course, there was also the Sterlina the Cow with a nicely lit wreath around her neck.

It was good to be back for the parade after many years. Nothing rings in the Holidays like some lighted farm implements.

 

After Thanksgiving with my family, I traveled to Columbus, Ohio to do an arts residency. I’ll write more about that on my art blog, but here I’ll say that I need to remember to schedule residencies only when the days are longer. By the time I was finished teaching at the school every day, I only had about an hour of daylight left, so I didn’t get to see much of the city.

I did fit in a visit to the Franklin Part Conservatory, however. Their interior had some special plants and lighting for the holidays and they had special light displays in their exterior gardens. I could appreciate some of the exterior lights, but the display I most wanted to see was not turned on yet. It was in the Japanese garden, and the printed descriptions made it sound like there would be projections on the white fabric banners I saw suspended in the space. They were still interesting to look at, though. I was sad that I was just a couple days too early for the Conservatory’s evening hours.

 

After I got home from my art residency, John and I made sure to go out and get a Christmas tree. As is the tradition at Patchwork Central, we drove out to some reclaimed strip mine land and cut an Eastern red cedar. In the past, someone from our group would get the proper permits and training, but now it’s just John and I getting a tree, so we simply dash in and grab one before anyone notices.

The scarred land is beautiful with scattered cedars everywhere, brown grasses, and small ponds. Over the years, John and I have learned that trees look a lot smaller while growing in a field than they do when indoors. In the past we’ve come home with some giants that needed every inch of our 12′ ceiling heights.

The first tree John found looked great…until I realized that it was at least twice his height. We kept searching and found another very pretty specimen that wasn’t much taller than John. Perfect!

Once home, we soon had it decorated. It’s the first time the Ladies have been around a Christmas tree, so we weren’t sure what to expect. The only time they showed any interest was when I first brought out the lights. Once Lady Ygraine completed her lighting investigation, both Ladies went back to pretty much ignoring the tree.

I was a little puzzled by some hanging clumps among the branches. At first, I thought they were insect related, but I couldn’t pull them off so I thought they were part of the tree. They looked great as part of the decorations, but I decided I’d better do a little Googling. Turns out they are cocoons for moth larva. Ick. They’re gone now.

 

And speaking of the cats, they are all enjoying their warm and cozy life indoors and they are repaying us in cuteness. The outdoor interloper who John and I have nicknamed McBalls continues to stir things up for our three indoors. Lady Morgaine continues to love her heated cat bed. And, Perry is still a huggy, bitey mess.

 

 

Approaching Autumn

Fall is coming to my garden. We’ve had a couple light frosts and many nights in the 30’s, though my thermometer has yet to register anything below the freezing point. Fall color has slowly sneaked into the foliage, and certain exposed flowers and leaves have been severely damaged by the cold. However, things continue to grow and bloom until a hard frost puts an end to it all.

The first serious cold air blew in two weekends ago. I went out on a beautiful day before the cold and collected all the lima beans I could find. They hide very well. I was sad that I didn’t find a single bean of prettiest ones I planted. They had brown stripes and were called “ping zebra.”

I also had fewer big Christmas limas than I had expected. They have fruited well for me before. Perhaps the problem was that I got the beans planted a little later than I should have. It was early July when I got them in the ground. Maybe bigger beans take longer to grow.

Other lima varieties did just fine, including one called “Alma’s Pennsylvania Dutch” that I got from a garden blogger in Eastern PA. She’d reported on her blog that it hadn’t been particularly prolific for her, but it’s done great for me.

I’d also planted some Native American beans that a friend had given me. One variety turned out to be a kind of scarlet runner bean. They were pretty, but didn’t produce many beans. Another non-lima that I grew was a pole bean called “Penndragon.” I ate several as green beans, but they seemed to quickly get too large to be good raw, and I let many of them dry. I’ll probably use a few of these beans to plant more next summer. I’m a sucker for a great plant variety name.

The photos below begin to capture autumnal changes in my garden, even though they only cover a week from October 20 through October 27. The changes are subtle at this point, but they are there.

Also subtle: the cats have begun to choose the spots where they will each stay warm for the winter. The Ladies have ignored their heated cat bed since spring, but suddenly on the first truly cold day, Lady Morgaine was seated upon it. It’s on a window seat. It’s been a regular nap location ever since.

Meanwhile, Lady Ygraine has been hovering at the furnace vent on the stairs. The blast of hot air is strong there. Sometimes she naps, but sometimes she plasters herself to the vent.

The Ladies also have been sleeping in noticeably tighter formations at night. Normally they join us in bed, but with the colder nights I’ve felt them squished close together. One night, I got up, grabbed my camera, and turned on the light in an effort to capture the cuteness.

Unfortunately for Perry, his behavior does not allow him to join us all in bed, but he has his own heated cat bed that he sleeps on at night. But, it is a minor heat source compared to his new favorite spot: the dryer just after it has completed a cycle! John added a little step stool so Perry can hop in and soak up the toastiness. He’s fierce and bitey, so he doesn’t let you put the next load in until he’s good and ready to get out.

Meanwhile, we continue to take walks outside. I’m not sure what will happen when it really starts to get cold. Maybe Perry will still enjoy it. We’ll have to see.

Maybe he’ll like snow.

The Waning Blooms

Autumn has begun, and with it the final blooms of the year are here. The toad lily is covered in its spectacular flowers. The marigolds are settling into their favorite season with fresh blooms. And the zinnias are fading gracefully into dry, silvery mildew. They are all wonderful fall blossoms that mark the close of the growing season.

Additional things to note in my garden: my patch of elephant ears. I rarely photograph them because they’re squeezed into a less-than-attractive spot between the air conditioner and the compost bins. They grow slowly and steadily all year and reach their largest size around now. They’re pretty, and I wish I had a better spot for them.

Also of note: Basil and more blooms from my bobcat orchid indoors.

With cold weather, we haven’t opened the door for the Ladies to sit and watch the world go by. I’m sure they miss it. Unfortunately the last week or two of warm weather was marred for the Ladies by an interloper cat. He’s been upsetting Perry as well and has interrupted several of Perry’s walks. Everyone is upset that he’s hanging around. You can see the problem in the funny photo below.

If he sticks around, I may try trapping him and taking him to the Humane Society’s Trap-Neuter-Return program.

 

In other cat news, after ignoring her new cat tree for about two weeks, Lady Ygraine decided she loved it and spent a week rarely leaving the upper hideout. She and Lady Morgaine were extremely adorable. She’s already moved on to other sleeping spots, but Lady Morgaine remains convinced that this cat tree is the best thing ever. It’s over 80″ tall, and she loves to hang out at the very top on a cat paw-shaped perch. I thought the cat paw was a little gimmicky and lame, but she doesn’t mind at all.

As the weather has gotten cooler, the mice have started sneaking into our house. One came in and was hanging out behind the stove in the kitchen and in back of the cabinets. It stayed well away from where the Ladies could reach, and that really bothered them. Here they are being confounded:

And cold weather or not, Lady Morgaine is always up for some pats on the bed. She’s incredibly adorable, and I caught some of that with my camera last weekend. Here’s her little photo shoot. She’s a rare cat who truly enjoys tummy rubs. She has a very deep, very quiet purr, and you can just barely hear it at the start of the video.

 

A Very Augusty September

Because of my travelogue (thanks, again, to everyone who traveled along with me), I haven’t posted anything about my own garden for two whole months! Well, I decided I better rectify that situation before the month of September is over. I only have a few more hours, so let’s get posting!

My garden made it through my trip to Europe thanks to watering from the house sitter. When we left, there were zinnias blooming, surprise lilies, beans, and honeysuckle. When we came back, the zinnias were still going strong, squash were ripening nicely, the autumn clematis was blooming, and a few lima beans were ready to pick.

Overall, August was hot and unforgiving and things quickly moved into the crispy, tired stage. I hoped some relief would come in September, but we continued to have dry weather and highs in the mid- to upper-nineties. Now at the end of September, my plants are all ready for a winter’s rest. The heat, bugs, and mildew have taken their toll.

At the end of August, John and I prepared a meal of summer on a plate: corn fritters and tomato gravy. It was my mom’s favorite food, but as children my sister and I grumbled about having to eat it so she didn’t make it often. It also requires some fiddling around, so I guess that could be another reason she didn’t make it often.

At some point many years ago, I asked for the recipe and she wrote it down for me. I have no idea if she actually copied it out of a cookbook or if she just wrote it from memory. If it was from a cookbook, I’ve never found that book. Several years ago, I did another blog post about corn fritters and tomato gravy and found it interesting that one of my mom’s sisters commented that she didn’t remember this particular combination of foods.

Now that I’m an adult, I’m sorry that we were so overly dramatic about not wanting to eat corn fritters and tomato gravy. It’s really good! Though, it isn’t particularly photogenic.

Late summer is also the time of year when my most unusual and dramatic orchids bloom. One variety is called Miltassia Dark Star “Darth Vader”. The other variety is called Odontocidium Wildcat “Bobcat”.

And with that, we come to my own lovely cats. They survived our trip to Europe, but clearly missed their humans immensely while we were away. They didn’t seem angry, but when we returned they required more than 24 hours of constant reassurances that everything would be all right.

Things quickly were back to normal, though. The Ladies are lovely and Perry is a challenge. Perry does much better if he has a couple enrichment actives every day. Usually that’s at least one play session and a walk outside, although sometimes it’s clicker training or a puzzle feeder. It’s good that both he and I can easily spend an hour just wandering aimlessly around the tiny yard and looking at what’s new.

Perry tends to get all the good stuff because we’re working so hard to try to modify his behavior. He’s got two big cat trees and lots of toys and if John or I have only one spare minute to play, he’s the one who is most likely to get the play time.

But, the Ladies love to play, too, and they enjoy their little cat tree. So we finally ordered and assembled a giant cat tree for the girls. Lady Morgaine is absolutely enamored with it. So far, Lady Ygraine has decided that it’s just not her thing.

And finally, a postscript for our European trip. Here are all the goodies we drug home with us. We’ll probably be enjoying them for the next year! There are a wide variety of German gummies, German beer, German and British chocolates, British cookies, British drinks, and a German garden weasel. Plus two German flags handmade for us by my niece.

Germany!

I was traveling for a good part of the month of August. My sister lives in Germany with her family and John’s sister lives in England with hers, so we spent one week in Germany with my sister’s family and then met up with John’s entire family in England.

It was wonderful, much too rare family time. In addition to all the visiting with our family members, we saw some great sights. We spent plenty of time in historic locations and beautiful natural environments, which everyone enjoyed.

I’ll do a series of posts here that focus on all the beauty I photographed, starting with some general shots of Germany.

Our home base was the small town where my sister lives. It’s just outside of Nuremberg, Germany. There is farmland around it, and plenty of nice German gardens surrounding everyone’s homes. John and I stayed in a guesthouse that had a nice variety of plants growing around it. From our room, we also had a nice view over the town. It’s particularly good on Sunday mornings when all the church bells ring together.

The guest house also had some sweet kittens. We would greet them every day as we came and went, and they were often getting into some kind of trouble or another. You could tell that the kittens were German because they played with beer bottle caps. 🙂

Many mornings, our breakfast came from the bakery across the street from my sister’s apartment, partly because my sister decided that it was too hot to want to turn her own oven on to bake breakfasts. Germany had been experiencing a heat wave and a drought for several weeks before we arrived, and it was in the upper 90’s for almost all of our trip.

With such high temperatures and no air conditioning, we spent a couple days enjoying German pools. One that we visited was a “natural pool”. The pool used plants and aquatic animals for filtration rather than chemicals like chlorine. The water was very green in color and the entire pool was lined with algae. It also had a stream area where kids could wade and play by using rocks to divert the water’s flow. It was a neat place, and I’m realizing now that I should have gotten a photo of the entire thing. You’ll have to make do with a photo of the waterlilies at work filtering the water.

Despite the heat, it was a very good trip.