Cozy Snow Daze!

Ten great reasons to stay inside where it’s cozy and warm!

Baby It’s Cold Outside!
First Snow Storm of 2022 in Northern Virginia
Breakfast cookies and hot cocoa with mini marshmallows AND whipped cream!

https://www.google.com/amp/s/www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/ree-drummond/breakfast-cookies-3864548.amp
Nap Time! photo by Katherine Slovak
We didn’t have a white Christmas, but were having a white New Years, so we’ll take it!
Cozy comfort food!
Gooey grilled cheese and tomato soup, yum!
Not quite ready to un-decorate…
A great day for a roast!
Cheers to 2022!

Happy New Year all!

Ten Beautiful Things Part 2

Flowers!
Hibiscus “bruise” in full bloom
A Nature Visitor!
Autumn Sunsets!
Hummingbirds!
Cheese!!!
Waterfalls!
photo by Katherine Slovak
Rainbows!
Freedom of Speech
Road Trips!

Finding beauty is not difficult, beauty is all around us. Noticing, and appreciating beauty when we discover it is the hard part.

Have a blessed and beautiful day!

Baby Bunnies!

Are they heavenly creatures or a serious gardener’s worst nightmare? It depends on your perspective.

As a professor of horticulture, my dad was an avid gardener. He passed away ten years ago, but throughout his lifetime he shared his passion for gardening with my five siblings and me. We all love gardening although some of us are more dedicated than others.

Shortly before retirement, my parents built their dream home in a wooded area not far from the University of Rhode Island where dad was teaching.

It’s not easy making a garden thrive when you are surrounded by the woods and all manner of forest dwelling creatures. I recall dad’s constant battle with nature, in particular with deer, ground hogs, rabbits, fox and even chipmunks. I never understood moving to the natural habitat of wild animals and then spending all of your time trying to keep them at bay.

Dad spent countless hours building wire fences around his garden and his cherished plants to keep the deer away. Deer are incredible jumpers so the vegetable garden fence had to be really high and had an added component of an electric zapper along the top. Dad had a relocation program for the chipmunks which involved have a hart traps. I am not sure why the chipmunks were spared because I don’t believe some of the other varmints fared nearly as well. I try not to dwell on it. Let’s just say that he valued plants above animals, as many committed gardeners do.

I enjoy gardening but my level of commitment is wavering. I grow flowers because I like to cut flowers and put them in vases. I grow herbs because fresh herbs enhance the flavor of the meals that I make. In my youth, my dad was trying to feed a family of eight with his vegetable garden. By comparison I am a pampered gardener.   

We moved to a new home in the middle of the pandemic and the gardens were badly in need of attention. Having this task saved me from falling prey to a bout of depression for all of those months when we were holed up at home.

I inherited this raised bed which I turned into a kitchen garden and filled with herbs and a few vegetables.

My herb and vegetable garden

As my father had taught me, sometimes you have to move plants and shrubs around if they are not thriving in their current location. I moved lilacs and peonies, shrubs, and hydrangea bushes.  I revived soil and installed a new perennial bed. I cut things back, ripped things out, pruned and fertilized. I released all of my COVID angst and created something beautiful.

The birds were thrilled. Birds and gardeners have a symbiotic relationship. We dig up worms for them and they grace us with their beauty and song. The butterflies and the bees were overjoyed. I even had a few rabbits who hopped through the yard at dusk and dawn.  

When we came back from vacation in June we made a remarkable discovery — burrowed under the thyme in my raised bed was a nest of baby bunnies; four tiny balls of fluff.

When I told my siblings about the bunnies, my brother’s wife said, “oh, no!” She’s an ardent gardener. One of my sisters said that her cats just love baby bunnies! Yikes! None of them thought this was particularly good development, but my teenage daughter was completely enchanted.

For several weeks we watched the babies grow and hop around, at first in the herb and vegetable garden, and then once they discovered they could hop over garden walls, all around the yard. During the day they frolicked and played. I was amazed at how independent baby bunnies are and by the fierce instincts which helped them escape all of the neighborhood cats, including a close encounter with Licorice.

Each day, in the early morning and late evening, the mother rabbit would return to nurse them. My apologies for the poor video quality but if I were closer she would have startled.

Momma rabbit nursing her baby bunnies

Eventually, the survivors moved on and I got my garden back. But I have to say that for a brief period of time I did not mind sharing my garden with a family of rabbits. It was nice that they felt safe enough to build their home in our small backyard.

So it seems despite my efforts that I am not a serious gardener, but I am as it turns out a resolute nature lover.

Happy Saturday all!  

Ten Beautiful Things

Nature makes this easy, but I thought a writing prompt like this would inspire some joy on a Sunday morning. Feel free to share yours! #10BeautifulThings

Gorgeous Gourds!
Morning Dew! Photo by guest photographer Katherine Slovak
Naps! Licorice is an expert when it comes to naps.
Lunch Fresh From The Garden
Flowers From a Friend
Cows! Photo by guest photographer Katherine Slovak
Moonlight on the Beach! Photo taken in Bethany Beach, DE
The Change of Seasons. Goodbye Summer, Hello Autumn.
The Elusive Ghost Crab! Photo by guest photographer Katherine Slovak

My daughter, Katherine, takes excellent photos so I borrowed a few of hers for this post. Here is the guest photographer in action...

Have a blessed Sunday all!

Nesting Box 101

How to Create a Cozy Birthing Space for your Pregnant Cat!

Your “Queen” is showing signs she is ready to give birth, so what do you do? If this is your first experience with feline pregnancy, there is no need to be worried, because your momma cat knows exactly what to do! For all other questions your Veterinarian can coach you through the stages and the signs of your cat’s pregnancy so that you will be ready for the special day. However, a very important item to provide for your cat is a Queening or Nesting Box where she will feel safe and secure while birthing her kittens.  

A few years ago, my family fostered a pregnant stray cat named, Sweetie, who had been abandoned in the middle of winter when her family moved away. Neighbors who had been feeding Sweetie, suspected that she was pregnant, and called HART (Homeless Animals Rescue Team) https://hart90.org/ in northern Virginia, where my daughter and I were volunteers. As you can well imagine it can be very difficult to find foster families for pregnant cats because once the kittens are born they need to remain with their mother and foster family until they reach an adoptable age. You quickly go from foster cat parent of one to foster cat parent of 4, 6 or even more. I agreed to take Sweetie home before taking any time to think about the level of commitment required. Although I had many years of experience as a cat parent, I had no experience whatsoever with cat pregnancy.   

The volunteer Veterinarian answered all of my many questions about the impending birth. Since Sweetie was a stray, he could not be certain how far along she was in her pregnancy, but he said it could be any moment or a few weeks away. He took an x-ray of her belly so that we could get an idea of how many kittens to expect and to see if all were still doing fine. I was so relieved Sweetie had been found in time and was not going to have her kittens outdoors in the freezing cold. The Vet assured me that aside from rare complications, Sweetie would be able to handle the entire process on her own without human intervention. We simply needed to supply her with a safe environment, and to make sure that she had plenty of food and water. She definitely had a healthy appetite!

We have a cat of our own, a female named Licorice, and the Veterinarian recommended keeping the two cats separated for the entire time we were fostering Sweetie. This was the safest situation for both cats, and later would ensure the safety of the kittens. We set up our finished basement as Sweetie’s home and divided our time between the two cats in our family. Licorice was not thrilled with the situation, but we made sure to give her lots of love and attention. 

As her time approached, Sweetie began searching for that extra special place to have her kittens. I noticed she had been spending more and time hiding under the couch and I was not too keen on the idea of the kittens being born under my couch on my brand new carpet. Sweetie seemed to like this location though because it was dark and sheltered and tucked away. My main concern was for Sweetie’s safety and the safety of her new kittens. I thought there was real possibility she might burrow up inside of the couch and make her nest there. In speaking with some of the other volunteers at HART I learned that if I offered Sweetie a Nesting Box, she would likely opt to use it, and my couch, carpet and the kittens could be saved!

I did a little research and found out it was easy enough to build a Nesting Box. The box needed to be large enough to accommodate Sweetie and her soon-to-be arrivals, but also cozy and secure. She needed to have easy access to her food and water and the box needed to be warm and inviting.

Here’s how I did it!

  1. I started with a medium sized packing box, 22” wide, 15” tall and 16” deep.
  2. Then I proceeded to make some adjustments using packing tape and scissors. Box size may vary depending on the size of your cat. Sweetie was a small to medium sized cat, even with her bulging belly.
  3. I lay the box on its wider side and removed the two side and top closing flaps.
  4. I removed the top piece of the box so that it had a base, and two sides. It was a good sturdy foundation.  
  5. Using the discarded cardboard, I added a peaked roof, so that it looked a little like a small cardboard house. This was strictly for aesthetics and not at all necessary.
  6. I used the additional cardboard pieces to make an extension from the base with low sides that Sweetie could easily step over but so that the kittens would not roll out.
  7. I was careful to make sure none of the tape had any exposed sticky sides where small furry beings could get stuck.   
  8. The base of the box was lined with multiple sheets of newspaper and puppy pads. Then, I lay a soft towel over the top of the pads.
  9. I draped a second towel over the opening leaving a large enough hole that Sweetie could go in and out as desired.

The Nesting Box was a comfy, dark and I hoped an appealing space for our mother-to-be. Sweetie observed my activity with interest and seemed to approve.

Then we waited. And we waited. And, we waited a little bit longer.

Sweetie continued to hide under the couch and in various other places around the basement. I panicked some and considered abandoning the Nesting Box, but decided to leave the box alone and be patient. One day, Sweetie circled the Nesting Box a few times, peered inside. Then miraculously, she went in and lay down. Over the next few days, she visited the box fairly regularly, and sometimes she even napped inside. 

 When the big day finally came, Sweetie went into the Nesting Box and remained inside. One by one, the kittens arrived! Sweetie carefully cleaned each one as they emerged, first one, then two, and then three. We grew a little concerned, because based on the X-Ray we were expecting four or maybe five kittens in total. We began to worry that Sweetie was having complications or not all of her kittens had survived. After another hour went by, the last kitten was born!

Sweetie was a calico, so it was great fun to see the variety of colorful offspring she had. The first born was a dark orange, tabby male with short hair. The second was a “buff” lighter orange, tabby male with short hair. And the third was a black, grey, and white, female tabby with medium hair. The last, but not the least, was a solid grey female with short hair.

We didn’t rush to naming all of the kittens right away because we wanted to see what their personalities were like, and go from there. The exception to this was our tiniest, little grey, who took her time joining the rest in celebrating their birthday. We named her Sprout before we even knew her gender. 

After the births, Sweetie remained in the box with her kittens for around the clock nursing. After the birth the Nesting Box was still surprisingly neat. The Vet was right! Sweetie took care of everything, even the housekeeping. I waited about a week, so as not to disturb Sweetie and her kittens. Then, one day when she left the Nesting Box to go to her food dish and the kittens rooted around blindly searching for her, I carefully rolled up the old towel and some of the paper I had used to line the box and replaced it with a clean paper and towels.    

As the kittens grew, we expanded the nest to become a secure playground for our new arrivals. We added more and more cardboard pieces to the nest until it became a cat compound. This allowed Sweetie to leave the box and take “Mommies time out” breaks from her kittens. After a few weeks, once the kittens were box trained, there was no containing them. They were literally climbing the curtains and the stairs. We dismantled the nest and opted for cozy cat beds, and a kitten proof room. 

It was great fun and an amazing learning experience for my family to see the kittens Sprout, Princess, Hobbs, and Lance born and grow to the adoptable age of 6-8 weeks.

Princess was our dainty girl, and very prim and proper in her play compared to her three siblings. Hobbs, the first born, was always the ring leader of the group and first to climb out of the nest and lead the charge. Lance was named by my friend who adopted both Hobbs and Lance. And Sprout made up for her smaller size with her tenacity of spirit.

We have been fortunate to be able to see Lance and Hobbs grow up. Princess and Sprout were also adopted as pair by a nice couple. Sweetie was adopted as well a few weeks later. Although it was hard to part with them, we are so pleased they all found forever homes.

If you decide to build a Nesting Box for your expectant feline, I am sure she will be extremely grateful for the effort. It is a simple craft that reaps big rewards.    

Sources:

https://hart90.org/

Dog Envy

My sister, a retired kindergarten teacher, recently started a dog walking business. The featured pooch is one of her clients. I imagine it is a very rewarding job. Dogs are always happy to see you, especially if they think they are going out for a W-A-L-K. I envy my sister some days strolling in the open air while I am schlepping to work in the dark.

My neighborhood is perfect for dog walking with its park-like setting, and ample sidewalks. Every day there is a new little puff-ball cuter than the last. Dog owners look so peaceful just following along behind their masters.

Fluffy tails, floppy ears, fuzzy-wuzzy puppy dogs in all shapes and sizes; morning, noon, or night I see them trotting through my neighborhood, walking their owners. Big, small, squatty, tall–I feel the tug on my heartstrings, and I want them all!

Sadly, having a dog is not going to happen in my near future. My life is too hectic and household space is too limited. Half of the time, we cannot even find the cat.

“Where’s Licorice?!?!? Has anyone seen her today?”

“Did you check the closet?”

“How about the dryer?”

Cats like to hide. It is one of their favorite games. Licorice is jet black, so if she has tucked herself under the bed, or if she is lurking in some dark corner, you cannot see her until she opens her eyes. Usually after I spend twenty minutes frantically searching for her, and calling her name, she silently appears, right behind me. It is a little creepy.

Licorice

But she gets me. I wonder if a dog would. She sits on my computer when she wants attention, or grabs my leg when she wants affection. She love bites me when she is tired of being petted, meows when I forget to feed her, and stares at me when her cat box needs changing. Cats are excellent at keeping distracted humans in line.  

Is it true that you are either a cat or a dog person? Can you be both? I think that I have always been a cat person with dog envy. Perhaps I lack the level of commitment required to be a dog a person. All of the dog people who I know treat their dogs like their children.

Dogs seem to be so much more demanding of time and energy than cats do. Cats are amazingly self-sufficient. And then there is dog breath and drool. And there is dog hair that seems to be everywhere.

Cats are very neat. They clean themselves, no bathing required.The short haired variety do not even require brushing. You can leave a bowl of food out for a cat, and she will only eat what she needs.

Adopting a dog is something I will have to work up to doing. I like to think that when I retire I will become a dog owner. But then, I will want to travel more. Will a dog hold me back? Dog people always find a way to take man’s best friend along. They take dog friendly vacations. You see, there is no commitment here!

For now, I am content to covet the dogs of others with my eyes, and to be thankful for my very independent, and somewhat faithful feline. I am simply suffering from a temporary affliction known as dog envy. I am certain it will pass, and that Licorice will never need to find out about it!

Thanks for reading and keep writing!

 

Nocturnal Creatures

I am an insomniac, always have been. I credit this with my writer-ly beginnings. As a child, after my sister and I–who shared bunk beds, she in the top bunk and me in the bottom–performed our nightly monster check, she would drift off to sleep, while I laid wide-eyed staring at the springs on the underside of her bunk. Maybe it was because I was the one who did the monster checking while she, the oldest, dictated the course of the search.

“Check the closet!” She commanded.

I obediently crept over to the closet, carefully turned the door handle. It creaked open ever so slowly. Certain that any monsters lurking there would leap out at me if I opened the door too quickly, I used stealth.

“No monsters!” I announced.

“Check under the bed,” she replied.

Now, this was the worst, because everyone knows monsters favor this location. I slid down, and lay on the cold, wooden floor, with my cheek pressed to the floorboards. I reached out with a shaky hand to lift the sheet that covered the dark monster lair.

“Clear!” I reported.

“OK, good. Now, get me my glass of water.” She said.

Having a bossy older sibling gets old fast. Most nights I did as directed because there was hell to pay if I deviated from the plan. But sometimes, I could not help myself. On occasion, I contaminated the water-glass. Once, I put the rubber stopper from the tub in the bottom of the glass. She did not discover it until she got to the bottom. Another time, it was a tiny dab of toothpaste. Truly, I was surprised she did not detect this straight away but, she had after all just brushed, so there was that.

Most nights, while my sister peacefully slept, I lay awake with my mind racing. The single thing that would quiet my mind was creating elaborate bedtime stories where I, of course, was the heroine. I would add new scenes to these tales each night, and the stories would never end.

I still struggle with sleep issues. Only now, if a story enters my mind, I have to start writing it straight away, or else I might forget the important details my nocturnal brain invents. Some of my best writing comes of these sleep deprived nights.

There is peaceful stillness in the single digit morning hours. I have witnessed them all, especially 3am the witching hour. Usually I am alone in my wakefulness in the house, but not alone in nature. Now that the weather has cooled, I love to leave the windows open, enjoying nature’s air conditioning. But living next to the forest has a downside.

Foxes like to play and “yip” at 2am. Last year we had a litter of five fox kits living in the woods behind our house. They played just like puppies, but only after dark.

We loved watching them frolic. Naturally we named them all: Boots, Tippy (she had black tipped ears), Squirt (the runt), Brownie, and Trooper (the leader). By springtime they had grown up and moved on, or so we think. I am not sure which one I hear calling in the night, but I like to imagine it is one of the pack.

Owls prefer to converse at 4am. I woke the other night to hear “hoot-hoot-hoot-hoot,” followed by a distant answering “hoot-hoot-hoot-hoot.” The hooting grew closer as the chat went on. Owl courting, I guess. This is went on until 5am. Someone was playing hard to get.

And I notice that every time I am awake, so is my faithful companion…

licky 2which is just as well, because I need someone to share ideas with, while my spouse soundly sleeps.

It no longer makes sense to try to get back to sleep. I now know the futility of this. Instead, I take these “interruptions” as a sign that there is something I am supposed to be writing about, that my brain does not appreciate the fact that my body is choosing to ignore great thoughts. After all, my brain is in supposed to be in charge. Unlike the monsters who hid under my bed as a child, the monsters that lurk in the corners of my mind are trickier to eradicate. It is best to let them live on the page, and keep them out of my closet, don’t you think?

Thanks for reading and keep writing!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Kitten Therapy

Sweet

When my daughter Katherine and I began volunteering for HART, Homeless Animal Rescue I had no idea how much these cats, and little fuzzy kittens would rescue me back. When I am holding one of these little guys, all of my worries simply fade away. HART helps homeless cats and kittens through foster care, and medical attention, to finding permanent loving homes. If you cannot adopt, please consider donating your time or resources.

cute

Happy #Caturday! And thanks for reading.