Outdoor operations

The weather has really warmed up and stabilized this week; sun, heat and no thunderstorms; just what I needed to make my aching muscles and joints behave themselves. This week has been a good one and I took to the backyard for most of the afternoons. There’s a lot that can be accomplished outside. Let me take you on a little tour of my days.

That's right!
MacKenzie: when she says that she took operations outside what she really means is that I was forced to share the swinging garden chair with her. Does she not understand, June is for cats?!!

The shade of my locust tree covers the lawn swing and a couple of the gardens. What could be better for a person with a latte and an incredibly good book?

The City of MIrrors
The aforementioned book…

I’ve been consumed with the Justin Cronin novel, The City of Mirrors. Oh, my goodness. What a well-written, tightly-crafted book to spend the summer afternoons with. I read the first two books in this series and I wasn’t completely sure that I wanted to dive into a book of over 700 pages to learn the fate of mankind in their battle against the Zombie apocalypse, but the reviews made me take the leap and I pushed the “buy” button on my NOOK. Good decision. I keep highlighting passages that are just so wonderful I want to savor them later. I usually race through good books but this is one that I am stretching out so the experience will continue. The perfect June book.

After an hour of reading the knitting begins. Check out my progress on the Solaris shawl (by Melanie Berg).

 

Shawl
I’ve gotten through the first two color inserts in the shawl. To get a different color in the short row section I pulled off some yarn until I was at a new section. Fast, easy, simple.
Colors in ball of yarn
and I still have some great (crazy) colors in the ball to use. Project details are here.

I’ve also taken some weeding breaks. The little roses in my tea rose garden are now blooming, and I have gotten the weeds pulled out of another couple of patches. There are a lot of weeds, but everything is getting ready to bloom so I’m pretty motivated to keep at it.

Rose
The bloom on this tea rose is just great; really big for such a small plant.  This was one of those little roses that are sold at the grocery store. I put them out in the garden when they look a little worn out and they winter just fine here in the Denver area.
Mess
Here was today’s project. Do you see the rose plant in there?
Rose
Oh, there it is!!

Towards the late afternoon as things really warm up I water the flowers and gardens and head inside for food, the news and more knitting (bet that was a shock, huh!) Even the cats are ready to come in by that point. OK, they get kitty treats for coming in, but they would probably come in anyway… especially since I just watered all of their favorite plant nests. 🙂

Outdoor operations have ended for the day.

Tomorrow I am going to attack another garden!

Have a great weekend everyone!!

 

Rocked by the Week

Wow, the week just sort of rushed by without me getting much of anything done. Mostly I have been going to doctor’s appointments and getting tests done; lots of energy being drained away without a single knitted object to show for it. What is up with that?!! This week I didn’t do any rocking; it was more like getting rocked by the week this time.

Still, there have been accomplishments. Check out the finally finished slippers that I made from the Dream in Color kit I bought a few weeks ago:

Slippers
The color is a little dark as it was really cloudy when I took the shot. These are the Pleasant Pheasant Slippers (by Laura Neel) made with Classy with Cashmere in the February 2016 colorway. So nice and comfy!!
Slippers
Here a shot I took of the slippers the sunny day I started them. Aren’t the colors fabulous? They are very warm and cushy, and did I mention the cashmere?
Shawl
I am still working (and working and working) on my Waiting for Rain shawl. It is getting there. Really, it is…

But mostly I spent the week in doctors offices or in bed reading my latest series of compulsive reads: the Cat in the Stacks series by Miranda James. They are fast cozy mystery reads that feature a murder-mystery solving librarian with a giant Maine Coon cat sidekick. I enjoy the books, but it kind of bothers me that the cat on the front cover, who is excessively handsome, is not really looking all that much like a Maine Coon to me. I kind of know about this because Yellow Boy is a Maine Coon mix.

Cat
He has a huge ruff, lots of hair in his ears, and those paws! They are giant, furry Ugg-boot paws with fur between all of his toe pads. Yellow Boy isn’t a giant cat, but if he was he would look like this guy who has been traveling the internet…
Diesel, the cat in the book is 35 pounds. Kind of like this guy I think. Maine Coons have lots of fur, and then there is the tail!
book cover
Here’s a cover from one of the books. Handsome cat, but where is the ruff and huge fluffy tail? 

Still, a small detail. Perhaps the artist had a particularly well groomed cat for the model. The mysteries are fun and I am chomping right through them. There is a housekeeper named Azalea in the books who takes care of the house cleaning, shopping and leaves yummy food in the fridge for people to eat when she isn’t cooking up killer breakfasts for them. She even does the laundry. I need Azalea. Seriously, maybe one of the doctors can write a prescription for Azalea for me. 🙂

I hoarded up energy so I could go to the Interweave Yarn Fest on Friday. What a trip! What a great day! But that, my friends, is another blog post.

 

 

Rocking the Week #4

It is March in Colorado, which means we are in the midst of endless weather adventure. This last week we experienced a march of weather fronts that came through the state with wind, wind, and more wind. It was sunny but still miserable for cats and people.

Cat
It was so windy the cats were afraid to go outside. I finally made Morgan a little fort by hanging a blanket over the patio table and chairs: he stayed in his fort most of the day Tuesday! Here he is under the table sitting on a chair under the blanket.

I was pretty miserable myself. Usually my joints are OK, but this week all of my tendons took to hurting. Gee, there are a lot of tendons in a human body! Not only did my hands and wrists hurt, but so did my knees, hips, feet… well, pretty much if it moves, it hurt. I finally had to resort to pain killers and spent a lot of time in bed this week.

NYPD RED 4
Hello books! I polished off the last two books in this series of murder action/thriller books. These are fast reads and aren’t literary masterpieces (the authors did not spend great blocks of time agonizing over the correct descriptive phrases to use…), but they were just the ticket for me. All right, they were actually kind of silly and predictable, sort of like a racy (and totally unrealistic) detective show on television, but exactly the type of mindless escapism that I needed with sore knees and aching hands.
Cat and book
MacKenzie spent the whole time laying on my legs while I was reading. He’s kind of like a purring, foot-kneading heating pad. What a good cat he is!!
Rose
Thursday I crawled out to the grocery store and found this wonderful little rose bush there while I was loading the cart with the essentials of life: chocolate, soup and guacamole dip. Hey, my knees hurt!!
Pantry Disaster
Cheered up by the roses I took on a little job: look at this disaster of a pantry. There was no room to put away my new bag of corn chips for the guacamole! Clearly a crisis.
Cleaned Pantry
Look what I accomplished in a half hour! OK, there were three bags of trash to take out. I really don’t think that I should eat food that is over 10 years old, do you?
Soup bowl pot holder
Friday it snowed 6 inches and oddly enough my hands felt better. Time to be productive: I made myself some cute soup bowl pot holders to use in the microwave. These are the most useful little items ever. My hands don’t grip well in the best of times, and this week they were really unhappy. These holders allow me to handle the hot bowls of soup with zero risk of accidents! The pattern was online and really easy to sew. I made two holders in about 90 minutes using fabric and batting from my stash. The pattern is from Seams Happy and can be located here.
Knitting
Last night I returned to knitting and made some progress on my “Waiting for Rain” shawl Look at that short row lace! It is much easier than it looks.
Lace
and look at how nice my new stitch markers look on the lace!
Robin in tree
Now it is Saturday, the snow is almost melted away, and the sky is blue and sunny. Look closely at the left end of the tree branch. No, not the white patch of snow, the other end of the branches. Can you almost see the beak? That my friend is the FIRST ROBIN OF SPRING! He was on the ground when I first saw him, but for some crazy reason he flew as I stalked crept up to try to get the picture. Still, I can absolutely verify that he is a robin. 

That’s right, it is now spring. We are in for weeks of chaotic weather, but the plants will be coming back to life, the birds will be arriving soon, and I can’t help but be happy. Today my hands feel fine, I’m going to heat up some soup for dinner using my new bowl holders,  and then I have a beautiful shawl to knit.

It turns out that this was a pretty good week after all.

Return to Reading: Three Good Books

I am just nuts about books. I have been, and always will be, a voracious reader who hoards and treasures books. I have multiple copies of my very favorite books so that no matter what happens, I will always have them. (My most collected books so far: Great Maria and Floating Worlds, both by Cecelia Holland.) I can’t imagine going through a day without reading. I have books stacked up in a reading queue and more on hold at the library. I am a reader.

Except that suddenly stopped this spring. Around the time my rheumatologist moved me to stronger drugs I realized that I was having a lot of trouble with vocab recall and speech, and I was really struggling to read. Maybe I just needed a better book, I thought, and kept prowling book stores and the library hunting for that illusive great read. It just didn’t matter; no matter what the book was my mind just skittered around and refused to engage in the story. A book that would usually take a few days to read dragged on for a couple of weeks; by the time I finished it I couldn’t remember what it was about. Crazy. Thank you scleroderma!!

Last month I scored a form of CellCept that would play nice with my digestive system and finally settled into a consistent drug regimen. I think that it actually takes weeks (and months) for the full benefit of these immunosuppressant drugs, but this month I have actually finished three (pretty darn good) books, and the last one I raced through in just a few days. OK, the drug is also causing some sleep disruption, but I’m finally reading again!! Woohoo! Here are the books of October:

stuff
MacKenzie is my reading companion. 🙂

The Girl in the Spider’s Web by David Lagercrantz

This book is a continuation of the Millennium series by the deceased Stieg Larsson. Oh, my goodness. Lisbeth Salander and Mikael Blomkvist are back. If you aren’t already familiar with these characters, let me just say that Blomkvist is an investigative reporter who is the champion of truth, loyal to his friends, famous for huge exposés, and sometimes hauled into court. Salander is… well, she is different. She’s brilliant, a computer hacker extraordinaire, a survivor, a champion, and probably a sociopath. She is broken, and she if fabulous. This book brings back the flavor of the previous books with the same intricate plotting; a murder, a conspiracy, convoluted electronic trickery, and the pace of a perfect thriller. I don’t think that it was quite as dark as Larsson’s books, but it was still a really good read.

The Narrow Road to the Deep North by Richard Flanagan

Sometimes a book is more of an experience than a story. OK, did I mention that I’m having vocab recall and brain fog issues? Reading this book just messed with my head but was so amazing that I kept going. The story unpacks in bits and pieces back and forth in time as we learn about the life of Dorrigo Evans, an Australian doctor of the last century. Dorrigo falls in love, goes to war, survives the horrific ordeal of building a railroad in the jungle as a Japanese prisoner of war, becomes a famous war hero, marries, has children, and carries a book of Japanese death poems. It is a magical story of love, guilt, endurance, survival, betrayal, and endless charges ahead in the face of impossible odds. I’m not completely sure that I understand this book, but it haunts me still.

The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell

The Narrow Road just warmed me up for this one. Once again I was reading a rich and complex novel that centered on the life of one anchoring character, Holly Sykes. The plot is broken into 6 segments that move forward in time (thank you, Mr. Mitchell!) but also loop and reconnect to characters and events in the other sections. Holly is extraordinary in that she hears voices and has accurate premonitions; the plot deals with these supernatural elements but also builds rich characters and situations that kind of left me stunned. It was with this book that I realized that I was once again a reader. I was immersed in the story, drawn to the characters, and caught off guard by twists and turns in the plots. This book had several story threads going at once, and it should have been confusing, but it wasn’t at all. I loved it and even cried at the end.

Three good books in a row! When I logged them into Goodreads today I noticed that two of the books are on a list for the best books of 2015, and the third is on the Nook Best Books List. Yep! They were just great and what I needed to return to reading. The number one book on the 2015 Tournament of Books list is one called Station Eleven. Hey, it is a science fiction! Hmmm… I may have to check that out.

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.