The Saturday Update: Week 22

I’m going to just come right out and say that things are crazy, scary, and full of grief here in America. It’s hard for me to focus because there is a sense of history that compels me to keep checking the news. Where to start? At this point I am almost beyond words. Maybe I won’t even go there. Instead, let me offer you the good moments and snippets of joy that came to me this week. The leaves are out on the tree over my garden swing, and I can finally sit outside and read listening to birdsong. Sunday was a beautiful, sunny day, and all of my neighbors were out in their front yards working; I sat in the grass and “talked” to all of them as we shared our latest news. My neighbor next door and I call to each other over the fence these days… This week I tossed her a can of baking powder and a packet of “no contact” cookies arrived on my front porch later on. Instacart delivered all of my groceries to me and I discovered that 25 pounds of rice is a lot more than I thought it was! (Feel free to PM me if you need some…) My neighbor mowed and trimmed my lawn when I wasn’t looking and I snuck over and weeded out all of the weeds in the rocks along his house two days later. (Stealth yard work! I highly recommend it.) I applied for 3 more kittens this week, and SpaceX safely launched Crew Dragon into space this afternoon. See, no matter how bad things sound in the news, there are small moments of joy everywhere.

Knitting

Do you see what got done this week?

Knitted Maya is done!!

This is my last knitted cat for awhile. Maya, my sons Maine coon cat with attitude to spare and undisputed princess status in the home, is finally knitted up. Maya is excessively fluffy… I finally just settled on creating a cat with the correct coloration (using purple with the black for fun) and hoping that time will fluff her up if we brush her. Who am I kidding… the real Maya is too fluffy for words. She does love hanging out draped across the back of my son’s chair at his desk, so this knitted Maya took to the tree for her photoshoot.

Doesn’t she look great? This pattern is Cat by Claire Garland and you can find the project notes, such as they are, here.

The rest of my knitting energy has been going to the Garter Snake Cowl. I think that I am about half way done, and you can see that I am now in the middle of the transition from brioche stitch to garter stitch as I knit up the cowl. I love how these two yarns are looking together!

Looking good!! My Ravelry notes are here.
Garden

Flowers are popping out all over and the roses are right on the verge of blooming. The catmint has just gone crazy with the blooms and the bees are working overtime right now.

See what I mean? I’m pretty sure that this is a honey bee. Yay! So happy I could help out, little guy!
Here’s another shot because, seriously, what are the chances that I will get another picture like this while using a cell phone?
Books

Sigh. Still reading The Mirror & The Light. I can’t seem to concentrate on reading at the moment with all that is going on, but has that stopped me from buying more books to read? Nope!! I just keep adding them to my Kindle with the hopeful expectation that I will snap out of my inability to read and race right through them in a few days. My book club is meeting by Zoom in a few days so I have to get Catherine House finished before Tuesday. It’s 314 pages. I probably should start it, huh. After I water the plants, prune the roses, and maybe knit awhile…

Have a great week, everyone!!

Read a little, knit a little, and garden like your heart can’t live without it.

The Bee Books

July has just been the best month ever this year. While other regions of the nation (and the northern half of the world…) are sweltering in extreme heat, fighting wildfires, experiencing drought, or dealing with life threatening weather, Colorado has had almost perfect summer weather. The monsoon came early this year and it has been unusually cool (for July) and wet. Beautiful sunny mornings have been giving way to afternoon showers in the late afternoons. Perfectly hot and clear blue days come almost every week but they don’t linger on and on; after a few days the heat breaks and cool rainy evenings return.

Bee
The garden has been buzzing with bees every morning.

I have been in the garden almost every day with the cats and the bees, and in the afternoons I have been indulging in books about bees. How fun is that? Here are the titles:

I really didn’t know what to expect. The only thing in common with these books was the connection to bees. Two books were non-fiction, one was hard to get through, and a couple of them turned out to be absolutely great. Here’s the breakdown.

Bee Books 2

 

The Death of Bees

(Fiction) I began this book one evening reading in bed and the next thing I knew it was 3am. From the opening lines (Today is Christmas Eve. Today is my birthday. Today I am fifteen. Today I buried my parents in the backyard. Neither of them were beloved.) I was trapped. I should be clear. This is not a sweet story and it is not for the faint of heart. The humor is dark and the situations of characters in the book can bring you to tears. The two sisters in the story, Marnie and Nelly, are alone and desperate. Marnie has been the family caretaker since she was very young, and has had no adult supervision or guidance. She is definitely lacking a moral compass. Her little sister is curiously detached from the world and clings to childish understandings. I’m pretty sure she’s somewhere on the autism spectrum. Anyway, against all odds, the two survive. The girls change over time as they cope and grow into their own; Marnie becomes more like the teenager that she is, and Nelly emerges from her childish denial to become the partner that her sister needs. Eventually we work out what actually happened the night the girls’ parents died;  help and stability for the girls arrives from unlikely sources and at the end of the day there is a happy ending.

The Secret Life of Bees

(Fiction) Another coming of age book. This one is set in the South during the time of the civil rights movement, and there is once again a dead parent. Lily, a 14 year-old on the run in search of her dead mother’s story, arrives in Tiburon, South Carolina, where she and her black stand-in mother take refuge at the home of a honey operation run by three sisters. I read this book right through too. There was a lot to learn about bees, life, legacies and mothers in the story; a good book and a fast read.

Kiss of the Bees

(Suspense) Well, I hit the wall with this one. The first half of the book keeps rehashing events from a previous novel while advancing the story line and interjecting Indian folklore. Help. Shoot me now! Eventually the book took off and the story began racing along, but since the bad guy in the book is an evil psychopath serial killer I just wanted it all to end. Whew! Eventually I got there, all is well, goodness prevails. I won’t be reading other books in this series.

Bee Books 1

The Hive

(Non-fiction) This is the history of the honeybee and us. The very opinionated (and sometimes offensive) author relates how bees are linked to our work ethic, politics, and so many other things. Bees were the first source of sweetness for ancient men, and the wax was useful and important in a world lit only by fire. The text is organized in general topics (like Sex, Life and Death, and The Beekeeper) full of details and facts about bees in kind of a stream of consciousness style. Just when I would start to slip away into sleep I would come to a short chapter of recipes for cakes and lotion. The book was interesting, but you have to love bees to do this one.

The Bees

(Fiction) You are a little bee in a hive. You are obviously different from the other bees. You are controlled by other bees and forced to conform and work for the success of the collected hive all of your life. If at any time you slip up you will be put to death. Welcome to the life of Flora 717.  Life, death, nectar and love for the queen. I liked the book, but I wouldn’t call it a great read. 🙂

Well, that’s it. I am so over bees for the time being. I think that the rest of the month will be mysteries. I’m almost done making the new seat for the swinging lawn chair and those would be great books to read out in the garden. 🙂

Gardening for Cats and Bees

I just finished reading my first “Bee” book, A Sting in the Tale by Dave Goulson. This book was a quick friendly read about bumblebee biology, ecology, and the efforts to build habitat in the United Kingdom that will support and grow wild bumblebee populations. One of the techniques that the researchers in the book utilized to detect bumblebees was to have observers sit in their garden (or some other location) for 20 minutes to tally the number of bees they saw.

I’ve been a little sad over the absence of a strawberry crop this year, and I thought that it was due to a lack of bees. As I read the book, however, I realized that many of the bees that I have seen in the past were actually bumblebees. I plant a lot of  flowers that should be attracting bees, too. Late yesterday afternoon I headed out to the garden for 20 minutes with my camera to see what was actually going on out there.

Bee
Well look at that! There is steady bee traffic to some of the plants in the garden. All those hairs on the abdomen of the bee is the tip off that this is a bumblebee. Aren’t those red bands on the bee cute?

A little search of the internet led me to believe that this is a Bobmus huntii bee. The bees were really targeting purple flowers yesterday afternoon. I saw them on the lavender, this catmint plant, and on the pincushion flowers. I don’t know why my strawberry plants were a flop this year, but maybe is was due to a very wet and cold spring that made it hard for bees to get to them. I learned that bumblebees struggle in those conditions as they need to maintain enough heat to work their flight muscles. Who knew?!

As I was sitting out with the bees and the flowers I realized that while I have a lot of plantings that attract wildlife, I have actually made my yard and garden into a habitat for cats. Check out what I’ve done for them.

Cat in catmint plant.
As you can imagine, the catmint is a big favorite with the cats. The plant is really hardy, doesn’t need a lot of water and tolerates cats building nests inside of them. Yellow Boy sleeps inside this nest with the bumblebees buzzing over his head.
Uncut grass under the tree.
I leave a little circle of grass and plants around the base of one of my trees as the cats like to sleep in the tall grass. Easy solution to cats needing shade in the summer sun. One year a visiting cousin cut all the grass thinking that she was doing me a big favor. Sigh…
Cat in grass.
The grass nest is a big hit with MacKenzie.
Cat water dish.
I bought a nice saucer for large pots at the nursery and now it is a source of water for summer kitties. I hose it out and put in fresh water each morning. 
Lavender and invisible fence wire.
This lavender draws a lot of bees. Behind the plant attached to the fence you can see a wire. The wire is part of the invisible fence system that I put up to train the cats to not jump out of the yard. They trained really quickly and I haven’t activated the fence for the last 3 years. The bricks at the bottom of the fence are plugging small gaps.

Squirrels use the yard constantly and provide the cats with some quality exercise as they chase them, but I no longer put out food for squirrels. They have been raiding a neighbor’s trash and burying stuff in my planters, so they get little else from me. I used to have a bird feeder and nesting boxes in the yard, and I really liked the birdsong and the activity was hours of entertainment for the cats (who really never managed to catch anything, but they loved to try!). I discovered that the birds also attracted other cats (AKA enemy cats!!) so I had to stop putting out food. Even an invisible fence will not keep a cat in the yard who chasing out an invader!

Now my cats think they are dogs. They make me get up in the morning to let them out, mill around the door carrying on as soon as I come home, and are happy to go in and out all day through a cat door.  They come running in from the yard when I shake the kitty treat bag, and stay in all night (asleep!) like good boys.  I can do cat-free crafting activities during the day (like warping my loom) while they happily doze outside dreaming of bugs and garter snakes. By making the yard an appealing habitat for my kitties they stay put and are safe outside.

Crazy cat-gardening lady, huh! Some of my friends think it is strange to let my animals tunnel thought plantings, but they are just a part of my overall scheme. After reading Dave Goulson’s book I also realized that this isn’t just a backyard; it is also important habitat for wildlife in the city. I will be putting in more plants with an eye to supporting bumblebees (who evidently are critical to the pollination of strawberries and tomato plants!). Later this summer my butterfly plants should get going and there will be hummingbirds and butterflies for kitty entertainment. Everyone wins!

I wonder what other people are planting for cats?

 

 

 

Hello July: Culebra Shawlette and Bee Books

It’s July! The garden is blooming, it’s a wonderful time to hit the great outdoors, and the warm afternoons are prime knitting and reading windows of opportunity. I have been spending the this week working on a fun shawlette from Bijou Basin called Culebra.

Tibetan Dream Yarn.
I loved this yarn when I first found it at the Interweave Yarn Fest. It’s 85% Yak and 15% Nylon. 
Shawl
As soon as I wound the yarn my enthusiasm waned a little. It didn’t look very nice anymore. Once I started knitting it I was in love with the yarn again. I had to cast on three times to get the correct number of stitches (long tail cast-on issue; somehow I never learn…) and the yarn really bloomed and softened as I worked with it.
Lace Close-up
Here’s a close-up of the lace design on the shawl. Fun, huh. The yarn is Tibetan Dream yarn by Bijou Basin. Here’s my project notes on Ravelry.

I finally finished the lace portion of the shawl this afternoon and now the rest will be garter stitch short rows from the middle of the shawl out which will create a shallow crescent shape. The shawl is knitted from the lace edge up towards the top. Lots of stitches to cast on, but then the knitting was easy. Now that I am out of the lace I am definitely in the knitting home stretch on this one.

My garden is blooming and looking much better than it did a couple of weeks ago, but it is absolutely lacking in humming. I haven’t seen very many bees hanging around even though I have lots of flowers that they like. Look at what is happening in my strawberry patch:

Strawberry plants
See all those luscious baby strawberries? Right. Neither do I. These plants have bloomed like crazy, but no berries. Dang it!

I miss the bees this year. I used to show a NOVA video to my biology classes about bees that they really liked a lot called Tales from the Hive. Bees are just amazing; a few years ago I entered a drawing for a bee hive for my classroom and was just crushed when I didn’t win. (Sounds strange, but this is a thing. The hive would have been set up in my room’s greenhouse and the bees would have traveled outside through a Plexiglas tube.) Years ago I had a bumblebee nest in the garden and they were the cutest things… Ok, there was one little incident with the cat, but other then that it was all peaceful. 🙂

Bee Books! I am behind in my reading resolution for the year. It’s the first of July, and I am now on book #44. I should be done with book #50, so I need to pick up the pace a little. As it turns out I have a stash of books (almost as big as the yarn stash) that includes a number of titles that involve bees. Hey. That’s the ticket. I’ll read bee books. Here’s the list.

A Sting in the Tale
This is the book that I’m reading right now. It’s about bumblebees. the kind of bee that used to live in an underground nest in my garden.  I hadn’t really thought about them as being different from honey bees, but they are.

The other books in my little stack are:

This is actually an eclectic mix of genres in this little collection of bee books. Some are informative non-fiction books, one is a mystery, a couple look to be great little novels. Perfect reading for the high days of summer.