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Scarlet Quince Ramblings

Cross stitch ... art ... life

The Wild Cats
Wednesday, October 15th, 2008

We have quite a few feral cats in our neighborhood. When the people who had been feeding them moved away, and we started feeding them, we found that there were even more than we had thought. There’s a female who had a litter last year and about 6 adolescent cats, mostly her kittens but maybe not all. The big yellow tom who is responsible for all these kittens hasn’t been around in a long time — the coyotes may have gotten him (yes, that’s a thing that happens to outdoor cats here). I think some of these cats just heard that there was a good buffet at our house and probably trek a ways to get here.

The Humane Society has volunteer trappers who will live-trap the cats, take them to be “fixed”, and then release them, but we were never successful in getting in touch with any of the trappers. Finally we decided we had to do it ourselves. The first (lame) plan was to leave just a small opening where they could get into the garage, wait until they were inside, and block the rest of the opening. Then (a miracle occurs here) we catch them and stuff them into carriers. When I talked to the feral cat coordinator at the Humane Society, I learned that they have drop traps they’ll lend. Yep, it’s like a Wiley Coyote trap, a box that props up and when you pull a string it falls down. So we got one and set it up in the garage so the wild cats could get used to it.

Today is one of the spay/neuter clinic days so we didn’t put out food last night and this morning five cats showed up for breakfast. Four went under the trap and one decided to walk around on top. Figuring four was better than none, we sprang the trap and then it was pandemonium. The cats began flinging themselves at the mesh covering the top of the trap which was very exciting and nerve-wracking. We had been warned that this would happen so we were ready to hold the trap down (did you know that pound for pound, cats are stronger than titanium? or maybe it’s only steel. Anyway …) and cover it with a sheet to calm the cats. There is a port on one side of the trap where you can connect a covered crate, then by judiciously uncovering the trap, the cats are encouraged to go into the crate, where it’s hidier. So before long we had four individually crated cats who are being spayed and/or neutered right about now. We have to pick them up tonight and keep them until they have recovered from the anaesthetic and are doing OK post-op. They are supposed to be indoors too, which will be interesting. They’ll have to be in the laundry room and I hope they’re quiet because Lucky will go berserk if he thinks more cats might be coming to live here.

I hope we can get a couple of small traps that we can bait and leave to try to catch the other cats in. We borrowed a have-a-heart trap that is supposedly cat-size, but a cat couldn’t even turn around in this thing, and we have had no success with it in the past. But some of the people dropping cats off this morning had a different kind of trap which was larger and, they say, works better.

These are beautiful cats and I wish we could find homes for them, but we were told that it just doesn’t work. They’re wild and won’t ever be tame. Most of them have gotten a little used to us and go about their business as long as we don’t get too close, but some disappear if they even see you looking at them.

Sharing my chair
Monday, September 22nd, 2008

Now that the temperature is sometimes below 90, Lucky has decided that it’s too cold. He has taken to sharing my chair most of the time. He wonders why I’ve gotten up:
He has a funny way of getting into position and he always does it the same way. If I’m sitting all the way back in the chair, he walks around on my desk applying cathair to the monitor with his tail, gazing at me and making soft complaining sounds.  As soon as I make room, he steps onto my lap and then goes around behind me, always facing my left. Then he reaches up and grabs the back of the chair with his claws and folds himself into a U. If he’s not satisfied with the amount of space he has, he pushes at me with his back feet until he gets more room. Usually he has at least 2/3 of the chair and I’m left sitting on the edge getting a numb butt. If I move to get a little blood circulating, he usually manages to acquire a little more real estate. But he really doesn’t want me to leave — if I get up, he follows me talking and talking. He just wants me to sit with him and keep him warm. I personally am not finding it all that cool. I’m looking forward to truly chilly weather, because then he’ll probably want to be on the monitor. (How do cats with flat-panel monitors keep warm in the winter?)

He’s a very affectionate cat, and he likes to be close.  Maybe from his point of view, it’s finally cool enough so that he can be comfortable sitting with me.  We also sit together on the sofa for a while each evening and if I’m late he complains. He sleeps with me when it’s not too hot for him.  If I get too hot and move, he gets up and packs himself against me again.  It’s nice when it’s cold, but we do have this different idea of what constitutes “cold”.

Waiting for Ike
Friday, September 12th, 2008

I’m waiting eagerly to see if Hurricane Ike will come through here. Originally Ike was predicted to turn south after it hit the Texas coast, then predicted to come straight through Austin, and now it’s predicted to veer sharply northeast. We aren’t even certain to get any rain, let alone any “interesting” weather. I hope they’re just wrong about that — why should it make a sharp right like that? It has gradually been clouding up today as the storm approaches and we may get some rain from the edges of the storm even if the main storm goes elsewhere. Rain just does a better job than sprinklers, so I’m hoping for a good steady rain — I can pass on roof-destroying hail and tornadoes. (We’ve been watering all summer and a lot of stuff was half dead until we had a couple of inches over a few days about a month ago. Then all the flowers went “Zowie!” and burst into bloom again.) We’re at the top of a hill so it can rain all it likes, as far as I’m concerned.

I understand the National Weather Service is telling people around Galveston that if they stay, they “face certain death”, and yet some people figure they’ll ride it out. I think the NWS made a mistake throwing down the gauntlet that way. Texas has a lot of pretty ornery people. They should have said that Ike has the power to confer zombie-hood, and anyone who doesn’t want to spend eternity eating brains should evacuate.

Along the highway, signs on the northbound side direct refugees, and on the southbound side, warn us not to go to Houston. Usually that’s just common sense — I normally avoid Houston at all costs, but seeing that sign did make me think it would be interesting to go to Houston and see some weather. No, I’m not going to — like I have time anyway.

My Helpful Helper
Thursday, August 28th, 2008

This is Jemima, who helps out sometimes in the mornings. She comes in quietly (I usually don’t even notice) and gets into the chair. Her contribution is to sleep. She has only been doing this recently, since I hung a smock across the back of the chair instead of putting it away. I guess the chair wasn’t cozy enough before.
This is much more help than I typically get from the other two cats. Topsy likes to walk on the printer and push the button to print a test page, or to sit on top of the monitor and trail her tail across the screen. (Monitor-sitting is mostly a winter activity.) Lucky also likes to sit on the monitor and if he finds Topsy there, he pokes her until she goes away. This usually entails a lot of screeching and swatting. It makes it easy to work. If it’s really cold, he gets into my chair behind me and begins pushing me with his back feet until I am sitting on the edge of the chair.

Jemima only has a short tail, and she can’t move it much. Usually it sticks straight out behind her, and when she runs, it flaps up and down which is cuter than you can possibly imagine. She probably doesn’t run that much faster than the other cats (if at all) but it makes it look like she’s really going hell for leather. We found her as a stray when she was about 6 months old so we don’t know why her tail is like that — she may have been born that way, or she may have had an accident. She’s still on the wild side. She doesn’t like to be fooled with but she has gotten so she likes to be near her people, which is very nice. One of the perks of working from home!

Rain at last!
Wednesday, August 20th, 2008

We finally got rain yesterday and last night. I don’t think we have had any significant precipitation here in about 3 months. Edouard was headed straight for us, then broke up into little stormlets when it crossed the Balcones Escarpment (that happens a lot) and we got just a tiny amount of rain. One day MRA called in a panic to make sure the cats were in because it was raining hard (and he knows how oblivious I can be). It was raining three miles away, but here it didn’t even cloud up. We’ve had several cloudy days recently, with heavy rain showing on the Weather Underground radar all around us, but never coming through here. Finally, yesterday it got darker and darker and darker over about three hours and eventually we had about a tenth of an inch. But like at Camelot, the rain mostly falls after sundown here, and we ended up with about 1.8 inches. It’s a great relief, and I’m sure the aquifer needed the water. I know my plants did.

It has been such a dry summer that everyone’s water usage has been much higher than usual. I thought we must have a pipe leaking somewhere when I saw the water bill a couple of months ago, but no, we just had to water a lot. Little shortcomings in the sprinkler coverage have become very obvious as the grass fries here and there. The city water authority took it upon itself to publish the names of the top 10 water users, and guess who the “winner” was? Lance Armstrong. And he hasn’t even been home. I can’t quite figure out what the point was. They certainly aren’t motivating other people to cut down on their water usage. Now everyone can say, “Well, at least I’m using less than Lance.” And I find it really disturbing that they gave the list to the local paper, which then published quite a snotty article about all the rich and important people who are using a lot of water, some of whom couldn’t be bothered groveling to the reporter. But I’m less disturbed by the tone of the article (the Austin American Statesman isn’t the New York Times, after all) than by the fact that the water authority made the information available. What’s next? Articles about people who don’t call their mother much? People who leave their porch light on all night? People who are chronically late returning their library books? (I would be on that list. The library has started emailing me when my books are close to due. I’m trying to believe they are doing this with everyone now but I really feel singled out.) I know, water scarcity is serious (some places anyhow) but I say — raise the price, or set a household limit, or ban outdoor watering. Just don’t publish people’s utility bills.

Tomatoes: some stuff not to bother trying
Wednesday, August 13th, 2008

When I was a kid, my mother grew tomatoes and we always had as many as we could eat in the summer. But so far, I am a complete failure at growing tomatoes. One place we lived, the pheasants would come and peck them full of holes as soon as they started to get ripe. Here, it took me several years to get over my ingrained northern mentality that June is planting time.

This year I was on the ball and started thinking about tomatoes in February, triggered by ads on TV for the “Topsy-Turvy Tomato Grower” (search for “as seen on TV”). It’s basically a plastic bag with a handle and you stick the tomato plant up through an opening in the bottom so the roots are in the bag and the plant hangs downward. Then you add dirt, hang it anywhere you like, and just water. The tomatoes don’t trail on the ground and rot and, the ad said, the roots stay warm. Well, they were 2 for $20 and that seemed a little steep for what appears to be just a plastic bag. I thought about doing the same thing with plastic grocery bags (maybe doubled) but was afraid that that plastic wouldn’t last the growing season. In the end, I planted my tomatoes in pots which I put in the only place that gets sun all day long, the concrete steps into the garage on the side of the house. I thought, “If they like to have warm roots, this will do it.” What was I thinking? Warm is one thing, 100 degrees on sunny concrete steps is another. I also hedged my bets by planting four kinds, Early Girl, JS 2000, Golden Jublilee, and another that has lost its name tag. But I only had one big pot, and I was in a cheapskate mood, so I put 2 plants in a 5-gallon pot and the others in 1-gallon pots. I knew I would have to water them every day and I’ve done pretty well at doing that (if you consider finding the tomato plants all wilted a couple dozen times doing well). I had to get saucers early on to catch the water that ran out of the bottom of the pots so that the plants could soak it up at their leisure. (At this point they are completely rootbound and they would be a little happier if I watered them twice a day, but I don’t seem to be able to adapt to that.)

But (you knew there was a “but” coming) I have gotten very few tomatoes. I was feeding them Miracle Gro at first, then decided that to get tomatoes, you need to start with flowers, so I switched to Bloom Booster. They are blooming but not to any exciting degree, and they just aren’t setting fruit. I have gotten fewer than 10 tomatoes, mostly golf-ball-sized. I know Early Girl isn’t a big tomato but this is ridiculous.

I also recall from reading seed catalogs that Early Girl is supposed to take 55 days, which I assumed was from seed to ripe tomato. Well, this plant, which I bought well established, took at least 6 weeks to produce a teeny tomato and then it took another month to get ripe. I may have exaggerated the time some in my mind, but not very much.

I think the plants in the smaller pots have not had any tomatoes (it’s hard to tell because the vines are all tangled up now, which also prevents me from moving them somewhere cooler). So stay away from pots, and if you use pots, stay away from 1-gallon pots.

I also discovered that yellow tomatoes don’t really do it for me. They taste just like a “real” tomato but I guess part of the experience for me needs to be the redness.

The wilting has probably been a bad thing too. The plants always come back once they get water but I think whatever flowers were blooming or in bud at the time are toast (literally).

The cherry tomatoes, which are planted in the ground, are doing well compared to the “big” tomatoes, at least in terms of number of tomatoes. But they are coming out anywhere from cherry size to raisin size. A raisin tomato is really all skin and not very satisfying. But maybe I should collect the seeds — this could be a mutation that the seed companies would love to get their hands on.

So near, and yet so far
Friday, July 25th, 2008

Fruit crate label
I really tried to finish the fruit crate label in time for the framing sale. I took most of yesterday off and just stitched and stitched. I gave up about 10 PM last night with probably only 300-400 stitches left to do. I could possibly still finish it today and get it to Ginger’s but it will need to be washed, dried, and ironed so I’m just going to let it go. There will be another sale, and anyway, it’s such a small piece, it won’t be as expensive to frame as the other Scarlet Quince pieces I’ve done.

I felt very decadent stitching in the daytime — I usually only stitch at night. I watch (sort of — you know) movies while I stitch, and when I turned the TV on, there was “It Came From The Sea” with the beautiful Faith Domergue battling giant octopi and male prejudice about what women are capable of (it would have been more convincing if she hadn’t screamed like a banshee when she first saw the monster, but I guess ya gotta have the girl scream). I didn’t notice the first time I saw this movie but they economized by only building one octopus arm. Then I watched a lot of movies I had recorded at various times. There was “The Green Years” with a young Dean Stockwell, which was terrible and I don’t know why I recorded it. “Ecstasy”, which is the German film in which Hedy Lamar had a nude scene (she goes swimming, leaving her clothes draped over her horse’s saddle and doesn’t tie up the horse — bad plan). Though it had subtitles, there was almost no dialog so not a problem to watch while stitching. Unhappy ending, BTW. Also “Brief Encounter”, made in wartime England with Trevor Howard. He’s a doctor who meets a woman at a train station and they fall in love although they both have families. They spend about three afternoons together very innocently making themselves thoroughly miserable, then he takes himself off to Africa to avoid any more temptation. After all this I need a break from stitching, or at least from movies. As you can probably tell, Turner Classic Movies is my channel.

Wednesday, July 16th, 2008

I’ve been working on a new hummingbird pattern, a detail of the Columbian hummingbird pattern (AUD002), in the ongoing quest to have more small patterns. I approached it by taking the existing pattern and removing all but one hummingbird, flower, and few leaves and a piece of stem. Much to my chagrin, that little section uses ALL the colors of the larger pattern. I did manage to reduce the colors some, but it still uses a LOT of colors for what will be (I think) our smallest pattern yet.

As I worked on the pattern, thinking about hummingbirds going after nectar, I realized that I don’t actually know how flowers produce nectar, or which ones have a lot of nectar. (The only nectar flower I’m familiar with is Japanese honeysuckle — as kids, we used to pick the flowers, pinch off the base, and suck the nectar. Yummy!) I thought hummingbirds were primarily attracted to red, tube-shaped flowers. Maybe it’s the color more than the shape — I sometimes see hummingbirds checking out our orange cannas, which they apparently find to be a big disappointment.

Right outside my window is a hummingbird feeder and a flame acanthus, which just started started to bloom. The hummingbirds have been visiting the acanthus flowers and it’s cool to see them actually put their beaks all the way into the flowers, but they always seem to decide it’s too much work and go back to the feeder. The quamoclits are starting to bloom, finally, but they apparently are not good hummingbird flowers. The flame acanthus is a native plant, so maybe that has something to do with it. Here they are, flame acanthus on the left, quamoclit on the right. Both flowers are about an inch long (2.5 cm).

Flame acanthusQuamoclit

Racoon visit
Monday, July 14th, 2008

We were visited by a family of racoons last night about 4 AM. As usual, the cats gave the “intruder alert” by scratching at the window panes and huffing loudly. There were 2 adults and 3 young racoons. I don’t know if they were just shopping or if they had come to clean up the remnants of cracked corn I had put out for the white-winged doves.

(We have a squirrel- and heavy-bird-proof feeder — there is a counter-weighted perch which closes the metal feeder when anything heavier than your specified weight lands. I love to watch the birds but feeding the doves gets to be a bit much. There are a lot of them (sometimes we’ve had 40 at once on our deck) and they are big and they eat a lot. So I’ve excluded them from the feeder, but sometimes I feel sorry for them — they see the other birds getting food from the feeder and they just can’t figure out why they can’t get anything. So sometimes I give in and give them a little food on the deck.)

The adult coons moved on pretty quickly, but the youngsters stayed to wash their hands in a shallow pan of water I keep on the deck for the birds. Then they began trying to duck each other in it. Very cute. But you should have seen the sludge in the previously clean water — how do they get so dirty?

Anyway it was fun to see — like being at a Davy Crockett convention!

Trip to Tennessee
Tuesday, July 1st, 2008

We just got back from a trip to east Tennessee. I have relatives there and it has been a while since we visited. When I was a kid, we used to go to Tennessee almost every summer, but we lived a lot closer then. It’s a 16-hour drive from Texas. Of course the big attraction in east Tennessee (besides my relatives) is the Great Smoky Mountains. This time of year the woods are full of rhododendrons.

You see a lot more different flowers in late April or early May but the rhododendrons are really spectacular. These were on the Parsons Branch road, a one-way drive through the woods. We did see this terrific milkweed in Cades Cove:
I think it is common milkweed, or Asclepias syriaca. It has a lovely grapey fragrance.

Cades Cove is often a good place to see wildlife. Although it was the middle of the day (not the best time for critters) we did see a black bear far off browsing the berries, and a white-tailed deer with a tiny fawn. The fawn could barely see over the tall grass and traveled in a series of leaps trying to keep up with its mother. I can see deer almost any time in my front yard snacking on my flowers and shrubs but fawns are adorable. It’s a shame they grow up into eating machines.

We also drove along the “Dragon Tail” (Route 129) which is a very winding road which follows the Little Tennessee River to Fontana Dam. Of course the Smokies are full of hydroelectric dams. This is Calderwood Dam which is the smallest one I’ve seen in Tennessee:

You have to be out early in the morning, usually, to see the mist that gives the Smokies their name. The haze in this picture is mostly an indication that I need a UV filter.

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