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Pretty Winter Things

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December weather has arrived, and it is really beginning to feel like late fall. All the leaves are down, and the mums and sedum are giving their last blasts of color for the season. I even have a few late roses in the garden, although their leaves have turned reddish orange and their buds are scarred with frost.

Growing up in Michigan, as I did, you may find it odd that I was raised to believe this was a sad time of year. The garden was dying, or going to sleep at the very least, and the next several months were going to be winter, the equivalent of a dirty word to most garden-lovers.

My parents were, and still are, avid gardeners. They live for the warm days when they can putter about, planting, weeding, trimming, etc, so it is not too surprising that they were not big fans of winter, since all they could do was peruse the nursery catalogs and make plans for the next spring. Winter on the farm meant work, too; chores in a freezing barn meant breaking water out of the animals’ dishes and making sure everyone was cozy. It meant plowing piles of snow that blew down across the field to clog the driveway; it meant a treacherous, dark drive on icy roads for my father to meet his carpool. So I understand their attitude, somewhat.

I, however, love winter. Yes, it means scraping ice off my car and shoveling snow. It means layers of bulky clothing and frozen fingertips. But it is not a death-knell to the garden, or to outdoor beauty. The winter garden is not dead, nor is it ugly or sad; it is just a different kind of beauty, a different kind of life.

When the leaves are off, the stark sculptural beauty of an oak tree can be appreciated. Birds and wildlife are glimpsed more frequently, too. Visit a botanical garden after a snowfall, and you will notice beauty that is hidden in high leafy summer. Evergreens, pines and even dried perennials take on a new dimension when all around them is removed. No longer eclipsed by brilliant summer flowers, they can be appreciated for their more subtle color and beauty.

Underground, plants are not sleeping; they are growing roots, and, in the case of my tulips, I think they are having “babies” so they are far from sleeping or dead under the blanket of snow.

It does get a little dreary when the sun doesn’t shine and it is too cold be be outside. I do miss the smell of earth and plants. But if you live in Michigan, you know we spend nearly half of our year this way, and that is a little too much to just hunker down under a blanket and wait for warmer weather. That is a lot of living to be forfeited. So what do we do? Aside from outdoor sports (which really aren’t my thing) we love to visit botanical gardens.

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Our absolute favorite is the conservatory on Belle Isle. If you haven’t been there, or if it has been a while, you owe it to yourself to go again. During the winter, just walking in the place is a treat for your eyes and nose – last January, thousands of cyclamen adorned the atrium – I never realized how fragrant they are! The building itself is beautiful, with several different rooms filled with interesting plants and trees, and a few birds. Best of all – it is FREE!

The Belle Isle picture was taken by Mikoyan, I hope he doesn’t mind me using it. You can see his other beautiful photos here:http://michiganexposures.blogspot.com/2012/01/random-shots-around-belle-isle.html#

If you are on the other side of the state, you can visit the Frederik Meijer Gardens and Sculpture Park in Grand Rapids, Michigan. The outdoor acres are beautiful, but if the weather is frightful, you can enjoy the indoor gardens, which include a Victorian garden, and carnivorous plant garden, and others. Below are a few I took in September:

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carnivorous pitcher plant

carnivorous pitcher plant

cute sculpture

cute sculpture

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

If you drive south from Detroit, you can visit the Toledo Botanical Garden. It is all outdoors, but is so beautiful with a covering of snow its worth braving the weather to enjoy the trees. Without benefit of leaves and flowers, the garden takes on an ethereal quality, and beautiful evergreens could really be appreciated. We enjoyed it so much, we went back again in the summer. They also are home to an artist community, and the Blair Museum of Lithophanes.

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all our gorgeous winter pictures of Toledo are missing at the moment - you will just have to go there for yourself!

all our gorgeous winter pictures of Toledo are missing at the moment – you will just have to go there for yourself!

There are so many fun and interesting things to do in winter, even if you don’t enjoying skiing or skating; take some time to explore the beauty around us, and try to enjoy winter for itself. After all, it is going to be here a while.

PS – if you are wondering why there is a picture of kittens at the top of this post…because kittens are cute, that’s why!

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The Empty Nest

Yes, it has finally happened. We have joined the ranks of the empty-nesters. Our fledglings have fledged and we have the house to ourselves.

Son and family have taken possession of their new home and are having a great time. The house turned out beautifully, I am almost jealous of the large windows and the big empty basement, and I am happy for them. They have taken the last two kittens, too, Simon and Ash, so I have my office back, too.

The office/sewing room/guest room. It is small, but functional, and kitten-free!

I hesitated to write this post because I seem to keep misplacing the photos I took of the finished house – they are on my computer at work, or somewhere else, who knows. I promise I will show them sometime.

In the meantime, we have turned our attention back to Claymire, and assessing those little projects that got lost along the way. This weekend, I finally painted the baseboards in the living and dining rooms. They have been the wall color for about 2 years, ever since we had the Great Flood of 2010 and replaced all the flooring. They looked okay, in fact, I don’t like the look of a skinny white stripe running around the room when mouldings are little skinny clamshells we have in the bedrooms.

The dining room, with blue tape still in place. It looks a little too bright, to me, in this room.

But the ones in the main part of the house are 6 inches, and decorative. Besides that, flat paint, which I love on our less-than-smooth walls, is not easy to scrub on a baseboard.

The color is Pittsburgh Paints Manor Hall in Dogwood Blossom, paint I had left over from the old kitchen cabinets.

Next, we did some upgrades on our door mouldings. The plan is to do this through the whole main part of the house; so far, we did these two as a trial:

Before

and after

 

It is made from a 4″ piece of mdf, a piece of 1/2 round, and some crown moudling.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What do you think? I found the inspiration and DIY how-tos on Pinterest. I love creative people, especially when I can borrow their ideas!

So now mr husband is looking at our fireplace, and wondering if we shouldn’t tile around it. We have wanted to for a couple of years, and just couldn’t decide what to put there, so I just painted it black and waited. On the way to the tile shop yesterday, while waiting for paint to dry, he wondered whether everyone did as much home improving as we do. As he started to tick off the things we have done to Claymire since moving in 15 years ago, I suggested that yes, people did, at least people who bought a home in such crummy condition as ours, and weren’t content to leave it that way.

The fireplace as it looks now. So many options and ideas!

Besides, I realized that fixing up the house makes me happy. I like to see a new pillow on the loveseat, or fresh curtains, or a new plant. Even rearranging furniture gives a new perspective on a space, reveals possibilities, and maybe a fresh start.

And we do have a fresh start. For 24 of the 26 years we have been married, we have not lived alone, just the two of us. It is an odd realization, that hits at different times of the day, in strange ways. I hear a noisy muffler at night, and realize it is not our kid coming home. The city truck that picks up leaves went by, and for the first time in years, I didn’t worry that his car was parked in the way. I hear an ambulance go by at 1 am, and decide it really isn’t likely that he’s been in an accident. (I know, mother-brains work in strange ways.) It is just us, now, and that is kind of exciting, and kind of sad.

Oh, and I did get an early Christmas gift…we have officially adopted Mabel cat!

Welcome home, girl.

 

 

 

Like I need another project…

Folks, do you ever find that, in the midst of having waaaaay to much to do, you start mentally planning more projects? I do this all the time, and I think it is a way of avoiding the need to think about the current quagmire around me.

Right now we are neck-deep in a ton of projects, and yet I find myself contemplating up-dating the door mouldings and changing the color of the living room walls. Yeah, like I need another project. If I mentioned these plans to mr husband right now, I think there would be a homicide.

It has been a pretty awful week, so I guess my brain needed a diversion from reality. Son and Daughter-in-law have bought a house, at last! It was a HUD foreclosure, and while it is a sound, good house, it needs a lot of work, and also an “occupancy inspection” from the city before they can move in. While I agree with a lot of the updates the city requires, such as proper venting of the furnace and hot water tank, etc., much of it amounts to a shake-down for more money. They charge $250 for the inspection, done by 5 different inspectors, and we will see the report tomorrow, but basically it is asking us to bring a 50 year old house up to code, which isn’t really financially feasible, and isn’t required for all residents buying homes, just those buying a home that has spent time vacant. It is stressful and expensive, to say the very least.

It’s a good house, but was badly neglected

So we are exhausted and rapidly going to the poorhouse, our own house is overdue for a good cleaning, and leaves are beginning to fall, signalling our time is short for completing any outdoor projects this year.

Then this past Tuesday, we noticed our Chippy cat wasn’t acting well. In fact, she seemed lethargic, and Wednesday morning she seemed to have trouble breathing. I high-tailed it off to the vet first thing in the morning, and after x-rays, they rushed me to an emergency vet, where she was promptly put in an oxygen-tent for animals. After a battery of tests, they determined she had very advanced hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, which is a big word I likely misspelled that means heart disease and she was already suffering from congestive heart failure. After 24 hours of treatment, she wasn’t responding at all to the medication, in fact, it was damaging her kidneys, and she was fading fast. She was so fragile, we only had a couple of minutes with her Thursday evening, when we made the decision to let her go, as she wasn’t going to survive outside of the oxygen for long. Even the vet, who usually will never give advice, agreed that it was best, as there was no way she could improve with the amount of damage to her heart.

Our Chippy was a very unique cat

I won’t subject you to the details, but if you have been there, you know. My son and I and his wife were with her, and she seemed relieved to have us hold and pet and kiss her. My heart felt like it was broken into pieces. We will miss her so very much. It happened so quickly, without any warning signs. Monday she seemed fine; Thursday, she was gone.

Chippy was only 4 years old. I know you are not supposed to admit to having favorites, but she was my favorite pet EVER. She was very special to me from the first time I saw her as a 12 week old kitten.

our Chippy, the week we got her

As I write this, Mabel is flopped across my lap, her toes on the keyboard. She hits the space bar now and then, and squeaks at me when my hands disturb her rest. I feel bad, as  she is very sweet,  but no one can replace our Chippy.

I have been preparing myself for the passing of Rowley dog, who is old and having troubles of his own, and for our Mr. Cookie, who has advanced arthritis and is 14 years old. I was not in any way expecting to lose Chippy, not at this age. We still have Mr. Cookie, and Mabel, and three of the orphans, who have all been adopted but have not been placed yet, so our house is far from empty.

For some reason, the kittens like playing in the bathtub

I am selfish, I suppose; there is still a cat on my lap. My heart, however, has an empty spot that still hurts, and there is a little grave in the backyard where my calico friend now rests, wrapped in the kitty princess blankets I made for her.

She was always there to help, whatever you were working on

 

 

 

 

 

 

So maybe that is why, as I sit here with Mabel on a cold Sunday morning, I look around and contemplate painting the walls. Thinking about what comes next is better than thinking about today. Maybe hard work helps heal the sadness.

 

Orphaned Kitten Update

The tiny kittens are now 4 1/2 weeks old, after consultation with my rescue coordinator, turns out the kittens are really only 3 1/2 weeks old, at most. …..and growing like crazy. They have started playing and climbing and running, and are using their litter box pretty well.

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Can you stand the cuteness?

The one problem we had was with food: they only wanted the bottle, but they were chewing the nipple and not getting any milk. They have tiny little teeth now, and are ready for some food. At the very least, they should be drinking out of a dish, relieving me of the burden of constant hand-feeding.

The trouble is, they didn’t want to give up the bottle. Maybe because they lost their mother early, or maybe because they are stubborn, they simply refused to drink from a bowl, and I have been run ragged with the constant hand-feeding, every four hours. I would need to refill the bottle a couple of times to be sure they got enough. Finally, I had enough.

On very experienced advice, I decided they were done with the bottle. I mixed them nice warm KMR formula and put it in a very shallow saucer. I mixed another with some warmed, yummy kitten food. I am taking that last part on faith – did not taste the kitten food! You would think hungry growing kitties would be happy to lap that up, but no dice. They cried and screamed and scratched at me to feed them. I tried all the tricks – putting it on my fingers, gently pushing their little chins into it, letting them walk in it and lick it off, etc.

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They aren’t possessed, just difficult to photograph. I think.

No takers. They simply cried at me until I left the room, then they curled up and went to sleep.

That was yesterday. All day today, I changed out the food, tried little tricks to get them interested, and left them alone. Every time I checked, the food looked untouched. I was getting panicky and exasperated and worried. Was I going to starve them to death? Was there a reason they couldn’t eat from a bowl?

I was assured from several sources that, when they were hungry, they would eat. I wasn’t so sure. Maybe these kittens were just stupid? Would my will hold out against theirs?

So tonight, being our 26th wedding anniversary, we planned to go out to dinner, and I was still concerned that the little furballs had not had theirs. I made up a nice slop of kitten food and milk, added a second dish of milk, did my usual encouragement of stuffing some in their mouths with my finger, and left them alone.

We had a great time, by the way, at Fishbone’s in St Clair Shores. They make an admirable Old Fashioned cocktail.

Upon our return, I could hear the kittens crying, but it wasn’t the plaintive cry they had earlier – it was loud, lusty meowing of very hungry kittens. I peeked inside their room, and was amazed; all the food was gone. The milk dish was actually licked dry!

I praised them and inspected their dirty little feet and faces.Such good kittens! I made them more food, just in case they were still hungry. They may still challenge me with their dietary preferences, but I guess I won this round!

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Extremely messy little kittens will need a sponge-bath!

Update: As of today, Tuesday July 24th, all kittens are eating from the bowls, and seem to like the kitten food/formula mixture. They need more frequent bathing, but that just means they get special cuddle-time while they dry off!