Saying Goodbye to Slinky Malinki

slinky-december-15hWhen you love unconditionally, you permanently wear your heart on your sleeve. When you love a cat, you turn a blind eye to the fact that you will most likely outlive them.

I knew Slinky was at the end of her life, and I somehow thought I could prepare myself for what was to come. I know better.

Still.

Slinky died at home Monday night, resting on a soft blanket on the heated tile floor. I was with her off and on most of the day, but she took her last breath in the ten minutes I was gone to pick up my son. Mike stepped into the garage to let me know when we returned. She quietly slipped away. I sobbed.

Back inside, I held her frail little body, wracked with grief. Her eyes were a giveaway that she was no longer there, but it was hard to let go.

Slinky Malinki captured my heart, not because of her sweet disposition and loving ways but in spite of them. She showed up as a stray on the steps of our front deck about six years ago. We had a bowl of dry food out for another cat we were feeding at the time and she helped herself. I mistook her confidence for friendliness, and she took a swing at me with open claws and then left.

She returned every few days, and gradually spent more time with us on the deck. She wrapped herself around our legs, but if you reached down to pet her, out came the claws, or worse. One afternoon I was sitting on the steps and she sunk her teeth into the back of my arm. Hard.

Then one day, out of the blue, my oldest son bent down, picked her up, and carried her into the house. She froze in fear, but I was so happy to know we could catch her and get her to the vet. A week later I took her in for a checkup. They confirmed that she was already spayed and she checked out for all the scary things.

We tried to make her an indoor cat, but she wanted no part of it. I did the next best thing and made a little “apartment” in our sheltered side yard. She had an elevated bed, enclosed on four sides, with a roof and an umbrella to keep her dry. She had her meals outside for a year.

Once again, it was time for an annual check up, so I brought her indoors over night, then spirited her off the next day. It was after that second visit, and nearly a year and a half that she decided to move in. She claimed a spot under my desk, then moved to the back of the desk and life got better from there. I gained her trust, not all at once, but slowly over months and months. She hated being picked up, and I did so on an as-needed basis but also to let her know it was okay. Slinky had no interest in lap sitting either. Yet she would come to the front of the desk, give me gentle head butts, and gradually we became trusted friends.

Then an amazing thing happened. I had foot surgery last November, requiring me to be off my feet for six weeks. Slinky started climbing up on the couch, then settled herself on the blankets around my injured foot.  What a gift! At a time when I was in pain and feeling fragile, Slinky stayed close by. There is perhaps no better medicine than a warm, purring cat.

slinky-on-my-foot

Slinky resting next to my healing foot

slinky-next-to-copy-of-book

Slinky stretched out across my legs. That’s the corner of my laptop with a photo of the Slinky Malinki children’s book for which she’s named.

I miss her sweet, little soul.

Final Score: Thrips 7, Gardener 0

It’s the start of American football season, so please forgive the metaphor. As far as the Viburnum tinus is concerned, the score is not in my favor. It’s time to take one for the team. Though I feel personally defeated, it’s not all bleak. I don’t have a brain concussion from brutal tackles and I’m not benched for bad behavior.

It’s time to throw in the towel. Yet who wants to admit they’ve been bamboozled by a bug, tricked by a thrip, or outmaneuvered by aphids? Certainly not me.

I garden organically which means no pesticides or poisons. This limits my options, but I’m okay with that.

For the past seven years (yes years) I’ve been doing battle with thrips. Until last week, Viburnum Tinus filled the space between our home office window and the walkway to our deck. When healthy, it’s quite lovely. You can see the plants looking their best here. Shiny, dense green leaves give way to flowers and dark purple berries. It provided cover for the lizards and made a nice green hedge under the window.

row of viburnum titus

June, 2010

Yet year after year, the thrips return and the problem seems to get worse. This year they invited aphids to the party and things looked grim.

row-of-vibernum-titus

August, 2016

damage-old-and-new-growth

Leaves coated in sooty mold, a product of the “leavings” of insects. Also, possibly scale (dark red area)

vibernum-black-soot-damage

Please…invite your friends: scale and white fly

damage-spreading-to-nearby-plants

Damage spreading to the plant below.

By mid-summer, sticky, odoriferous goo covered the plants. Some years I give the plants a hard prune, but honestly, how much can you remove before the plant is bare? We ordered lacewing eggs one year, expecting them to hatch and eat the larvae of these pests. The smell goes away in the winter so we initially thought we had solved the problem.

I don’t know if the drought plays a role in this, but this past summer the smell was akin to…how do I say this nicely…vomit. It kept us from spending time on the deck and forced us to close the window at night. When the days cooled down and we wanted to let in the breeze, the pests tickled our nostrils with that nauseating smell.

planthopper

Planthopper, another garden pest. Several of them jumped out of the bushes while I pruned away the damaged leaves.

They had to go.

While I was away one day, my husband removed one of the five shrubs, leaving a gaping hole next to the deck. We “filled in the space” with our garden cart (how pretty) and the remaining shrubs sat there smelling up the place. Then we were in for another heat wave, and then I traveled, and you know how it goes.

But that smell.

Knowing I didn’t have the strength to remove the shrubs by myself, I did the next best thing: I pruned them down to the thickest branches, using the tools I have.

I’m reluctant to plant something new right away, but the space looks barren. I raked, swept, hand-picked and hopefully removed every last offensive, pest-covered leaf. While working away, I encountered a hopping green bug, sticky aphids, and other unidentified bugs.

white-bug-carcasses

Unknown: White fly or possibly the carcass of another insect

When I reached the last of the five shrubs, I  spotted a praying mantis. They’re fascinating creatures with rotating heads and stick like bodies.  They’re also good for the garden, munching on non-beneficial bugs. Clearly these shrubs were no match for a single bug, no matter how hungry.

After running inside for my camera and attempting some video, I removed his branch and carried him to another part of the garden. They will also eat small hummingbirds, and I didn’t want to take any chances.

Three hours later I had cleared the last of the shrubs, and I had the sore back to prove it. I was also racing the clock for the yard waste pick up. Once a week, on trash day, the garbage collector takes away yard waste. I certainly didn’t want any of those leaves living in my compost pile so off they went.

Short term, I hung a string of lights between a pair of gardening trellises. I don’t want anyone inadvertently stepping off the walkway ramp.

The final score is thrips, seven years and this gardener zero. Going forward, I plan to significantly improve the odds.

 

 

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Autumn on My Mind

Are you following Kerry at Love Those Hands at Home?
If not, you won’t want to miss her sumptuous love letter to Autumn. Here’s an excerpt

Autumn seduces me, energizes me, makes me feel alive. My blood sings and fizzes like champagne when autumn comes to me.  – KerryCan

You can read her entire post here.

It’s a gorgeous piece of writing, and one that perfectly captures my feelings of the approaching season.

Even in California with our subtle, seasonal changes, the arrival of autumn is unmistakable. Breezes finally blow through the valley, chasing away the ugly smog. The last of the pumpkin vines shrivel and die, but not before gifting us their wonderful fruit.

Dusk settles in earlier, and for this fair-skinned gardener, working longer hours outdoors is no longer unthinkable.

I cleared out the back corner of the garden, pruning away overhanging limbs, dead leaves and the growing layer of pine needles.  Look at this pile?

garden waste pile

Pile of pine needles, dead leaves and tree pruning. (Slinky’s tiny feet in the background)

garden corner after pruning

After: I don’t have a good before, but you saw the pile (Slinky’s ears in the lower corner)

Ironically, the pumpkins I planted in May were a complete fizzle, while the self seeded (squirrel-planted) vines were a hit. One of those vines produced four tall, hefty carving pumpkins, ready for our resident, master carver (Mike).

A second vine produced one basketball sized pumpkin, took a rest, then pumped out a second pumpkin, turning a lovely shade of orange.

round pumpkins four days apart

A third vine tip-toed up on us, producing a perfect little pumpkin the size of a cherry tomato. Then in the dead of night a critter ate it for supper.  Boo-hoo! But wait…another pumpkin eventually took its place and it too is turning orange.

protected pumpkin

“Under Armour” Pumpkin

protecting the pumpkin long view

Tiny pumpkin, big fortress

Summer is far from over. Even when the autumnal equinox rolls around, we’re still in for a few more heatwaves. That said, the California Gray squirrels have stepped up their game, knowing intuitively what lies ahead. Indoors, Slinky is getting a head start on snuggle weather. She’s resting in my lap on a soft blanket, her coat still shiny on her diminished frame.

slinky, august 2016

Slinky Malinki

There’s an interesting conversation going on in the comment thread of Kerry’s post on the origins of  the use of the word “fall” vs “autumn”. Here’s what I learned:

Fall and autumn are both accepted and widely used terms for the season that comes between summer and winter. Some who consider British English the only true English regard fall as an American barbarism, but this attitude is not well founded. Fall is in fact an old term for the season, originating in English in the 16th century or earlier. It was originally short for fall of the year or fall of the leaf, but it commonly took the one-word form by the 17th century, long before the development of American English. So while the term is now widely used in the U.S., it is not exclusively American, nor is it American in origin. – Source: Grammarist

I love learning the origin of a word. While I know my Southern Hemisphere friends are looking forward to fall, how about the rest of you? Are you ready to say goodbye to summer and to welcome the ‘fall of the year’?

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Sisterhood Quilt: Stitching Together Art and Friendship Around the Globe

The Sisterhood of the Travelling Sketchbook is a collaborative effort, born from the seed of an idea between bloggers Anne Lawson and Kate Chiconi. It started when Anne offered (and mailed) sketchbooks made from experimental drawings or practiced watercolor washes. Anne offered them to blogging friends and sent about half a dozen around the world.

sisterhood Cover and map

Inside back cover: Foldout map (left) and original page art by Anne Lawson (right)

Kate added her own gorgeous drawings and some fluffy feathers to her version of the book, then sent it back to Anne.  You see where this is going, right?

Anne posted Kate’s drawings here, and then through this comment thread:

I think we need a larger sketchbook, and initiate a Sisterhood of the Travelling Sketchbook ~Kate Chiconi

the project grew wings.

All told, 15 bloggers signed up to take part. One of the sisters set up a Word Press blog, another created an interactive map of the traveling sketchbook. Anne is adding photos to a page on her blog as each of us completes our entry and sends it on to the next sister.

sisterhood sketchbook inside

Opening page: Textile art by Kate Chiconi

I broke out in a cold sweat when the sketchbook arrived in the post. I’m crafty and creative in my way, but was a bit intimidated by the artistic abilities represented in the sketch book. I calmed down, let different ideas wash over me, and eventually decided on a paper quilt using images of the art and poetry that came before me.

My entry is The Sisterhood Quilt: Stitching Together Art and Friendship Around the Globe. I copied each of the traveling entries so far, and created a collage of squares. I printed the squares on watercolor paper, then double stitched them to a piece of onion skin typing paper. I included a square of the map, and a square of my recent squirrel pillow project. It’s called Four Loves: Animals, Sewing, Nature and Photography.

The poem in the upper right hand corner comes with a sad tale. Viv in France, part of the original sisterhood, died suddenly and unexpectedly while visiting her daughter in July. I found this poem on her blog, and hope her family will appreciate the posthumous entry on her behalf.

sisterhood quilt full page

Sisterhood Quilt: *Upper row* Kate, Chas, Chas and Viv *Middle row* Anne, Sandi, Sandra and Alys *Bottom row* Anne’s cover, book detail, map (copyrighted material belonging to original artist)

sisterhoood quilt

The threads that draw us together

Contributing Artists so Far:

Australia

Anne Lawson
Kate from Tall Tales from Chiconia
Sandra (Lady Red Specs) from Please Pass the Recipe
Megan (Chas) from Chas Spain
Sandi, who lives in Wandin East

sisterhood map of Australia

A corner of the map. All this fun started in Australia

The States

Alys from Gardening Nirvana (that’s me)
Sue From The Magpie’s Nest (the sketchbook is with Sue now)

Artists to Come:

Ushashree from Creative Crafts DIY

Europe

Marina in Greece, Athens Letters
Lyn, also in France, Tialys
Constanze is in Germany
Annett blogs at Knetty Craft
Jan is in Britain, The Snail of Happiness
Margaret, also from Britain, The Crafty Creek
Then back to Anne in Australia

It’s been a joyous experience taking part in this project*. I hope you’ll come visit our shared blog and get to know us a bit better.

A sister is a gift to the heart, a friend to the spirit, a golden thread to the meaning of life.
Isadora James

*except when I freaked out at all the talent on the pages before me

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Throw Pillows: Squirrels as My Muse

If you’ve been out of the habit of sewing for a while, throw pillows are a great way to get back in the game. They’re quick and easy and they’re a lot of fun.

Earlier this summer, while sewing new covers for the deck furniture, I made a couple of toss pillows for the garden swing. I bought a yard of unbleached muslin for a few dollars, cut it in half, and made a  pair of fold over slip covers. With squirrels as my muse, I enlarged a couple of photos from the garden, then printed them on inkjet fabric sheets.

The idea of printing on fabric is still a marvel to me. I used printable fabric once before to make a banner (bunting) for Fran who blogs at The Road To Serendipity.

burlap bunting finished

Bunting for Fran: Burlap and photos on printable fabric

I’ve been searching for a photo-fabric project ever since.

The neighborhood squirrels cause all sorts of mischief, but I love them anyway. I thought it would be funny to plop a pair of pillows at the “scene of the crime”, the very place where they like to chew on the swing cover.

I didn’t just make covers though. I bought a small, twine basket at the same fabric store and attached it to the tree nearby with a piece of twine. I filled the basket with left over fabric strips, cat fur, soft wool scraps from a felting project AND part of last year’s swing cover, previously nibbled on by the squirrels.

basket of nesting material

A basket of potential nesting material. Birds and squirrels welcome

nesting material basket august

Guess what? It worked! Not only is the swing cover unharmed, at least so far, but the nesting material is dwindling. It sat untouched for a while, then small amounts disappeared. Last week, they all but emptied the basket. Time to refill it, STAT.

If you’ve never used the printable fabric sheets, they’re quite amazing. You simply feed them through your printer like a piece of paper. After printing your photo, let it stand for 15 minutes. Then you peel of the backing, soak the fabric in room-temperature water for 10 minutes, rinse and lay flat to dry.

Squirrel photo printed on an inkjet fabric sheet

Fresh off the press: Squirrel photo printed on an inkjet fabric sheet

I used printable fabric sheets from The Electric Quilt Company but there are a number of brands on the market.

Here’s one more look at the pillows. I smile every time I see them.

Come nap with the squirrels

Come nap with the squirrels

Clothes Dryer Update:

If you’ve been following my clothes dryer saga, here’s the latest. I wish I could write the denouement, but alas that must wait for a time when all the stars align and I have a working appliance once again. [insert dramatic sigh here]

It was a dark and stormy night…in my head anyway. I called the sales rep at Airport Appliance, the company that sold us the dryer. I explained that the repairs provided by Meyer Appliance continued to fail. He was courteous and sympathetic, contacted a rep at Fisher & Paykel, the dryer manufacturer, and within an hour I received two calls, one from the regional sales manager. He said they had to make one more attempt to repair the appliance before they could replace it. They want to send out Meyer Appliance again even though they’ve failed to repair it in their shop or in my home, twice. Though they’ve been out four times, they only count the actual attempts at the repair. Meanwhile, the laundry piles up for our family of four as I try to find other ways to deal with my stress that don’t involve reaching for chocolate. Stay tuned.

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August Doldrums: Dirty Air, Dryer Woes and a Cat Named Slinky

I have the August doldrums. Blah!

It is usually hot, dry and smoggy in San Jose throughout August. It’s been particularly bad this year with multiple wildfires burning up and down the state.

Spare the Air Alert: Source, San Jose Mercury News

Spare the Air Alert: Source, San Jose Mercury News

After five years of the drought, there is plenty of fuel feeding the wildfires. Millions of trees have died from drought-related conditions, providing even more fuel than usual. According to News Deeply

A bark beetle epidemic driven by drought is killing off millions of trees in the Sierra Nevada as California starts another summer plagued by drought and higher temperatures.

This is the driest time of year, with virtually no rain during the months of July, August and September.

The Soberanes fire started in July in Monterey County, not far from the lovely town of Carmel where we spent our get away weekend in March. It’s only 60% contained and fire crews don’t expect to have it out until September 30th!  Because San Jose is in a valley, the smoke gathers in the basin, with no wind or rain to carry it away. It adds to such a sense of gloom when the skies are a hazy gray. Even when you avoid the news, as I’m trying to do, it’s impossible not to see those hazy skies and realize what’s happening around us.

august smog

Believe it or not, there is a mountain range beyond the trees. You can just make it out.

valley fair view smog

View of the mountains from a nearby shopping center.

My dryer woes aren’t nearly as dramatic, but oh what a pain. We bought a new washer and dryer in late June and took deliver July 8th. They purred like the proverbial kitten and as with all new appliances, they use less water and less energy…when they work.

The first time I used the steam setting on the dryer it leaked water on the floor. Assuming it wasn’t properly connected, Mike contacted the appliance store who referred us to a certified repair shop. The first repair person said he needed a part (for a brand new dryer!) and would have to take the dryer to the shop because he didn’t have enough room to repair it in our home. I asked him to please leave the dryer till he received the part so that I could dry clothes on other settings. A week later, and before the part arrived, the dryer started making a loud banging noise, akin to putting a bowling ball on the fluff cycle. In addition to that awful noise it also smelled like stale smoke. Did I mention that the dryer was only a few weeks old?

A second crew came out on a Friday and took our dryer back to their shop. Meanwhile, laundry for four piled up. They promised to return it Monday, than Tuesday and by Wednesday we were mostly out of clean clothes and towels. I loaded up the dirty clothes, headed to the laundry mat, and spent three hours getting it done.

A third repair person returned and reinstalled the dryer on Thursday, turned it on and asked “does it always make that noise?”

Ah….no.

I explained that the “bowling-ball-on-the-fluff-cycle” noise was one of two reasons the dryer was in for repairs. He said he didn’t understand why they would take the machine back to the shop, but there was nothing to be done for it that day and off he went.

Are you still with me?

A fourth crew (an experienced repair tech and a tech-in-training came out and spent three more hours trying to repair the machine. They completely dismantled it, spreading out the parts in my narrow side yard, then left to buy “longer screws” assuring me that the manufacturer-installed screws were too short.

This made no sense to me, but I’m not an appliance technician. I gave them directions to the nearest Home Depot and off they went. Once they had it all put back together they insisted all was well and that the sound of the dryer was “normal”. I signed the repair order but with an asterisk and note saying that my signature did not mean it was “repaired to my satisfaction” only that it appeared to be working…for now.

Gosh it felt good to have my dryer back and in working condition.

For two loads, that is.

The appliance repair shop has now washed their hands of us and the manufacturer opened a claim. I’ve tried (twice) to email my request to the service protection plan, only to receive error messages. When I call they say “volume is high” and to please fill out the form on the web. Sigh

And then there is Slinky.

Slinky napping in the garden

Slinky napping in the garden

She is still hanging in there, but I’ve seen a recent decline. She saw our vet twice last week, which led to a diagnoses of a “very large hyperechoic cystic mass on her liver”. The better news is that it is NOT cancer, but a benign growth. She continues to eat, groom and purr, all good signs, but she’s lost more weight. She’s a tiny 5 pounds, about 2.5 kilos. She’s not in any pain and as long as she continues with a good quality of life, we are happy to have her with us. My heart is heavy when I see her tiny frame, but then she purrs in my face or crawls in my lap and I can see that for now she’s doing okay.

I know many of you live with cats or dogs, so you can relate to the angst.

Nothing magical or transformative will happen when I turn the page to September, but I still find myself craving the fresh start of a new month.

I’m grateful that Slinky is still with us. I appreciate Cal Fire crews and their tireless efforts fighting wildfires throughout the state. I’m grateful for the clean and well maintained laundry mat nearby. Having a washer and a dryer in my home is a luxury that I know others can’t afford. The same was true for me for many years and I try hard never to take it for granted.

cal fire collage

Meanwhile, I’m looking forward to the cooler days of autumn, clearer skies and the days we have left with Slinky.

How is the world treating you?

Of Possible Interest:

Topographical map of San Jose/Silicon Valley

CalFire official website

Fascinating article on prototype design for the Developing World Laundry System

Art in the Mist: The CreARTfuldodger

You know how it goes. You follow a blogger who follows another blogger and before you know it, the three of you are walking on a beach in Victoria, BC.

Wilma and Boomdee, Victoria BC, August 17, 2014

Wilma and Boomdee, Victoria BC, August 17, 2014

Two years ago this month I met Wilma, the artist behind the blog creartfuldodger (CreArtful Dodger). When I returned to Victoria in June with Mike, Wilma drove into town to share a meal. She offered to pick us up at our hotel, and when I gave her the address she knew it well. Wilma’s daughter works at the same hotel. Serendipity!

Wilma with her art

Wilma with her art

Wilma is great company, a wonderful tour guide and an accomplished artist. Over dinner, she surprised me with the gift of this inspired bird collage.

Knowing my love of Nigella aka Love in a Mist, she used an original, 1900’s seed packet as the starting point. She incorporated airmail stickers and stamps, also my favorites and created a tag using a vintage book cover. It’s beautiful and thoughtful. She also included my initial on the gift bag, a charming addition.

Creartfuldodger

Creartfuldodger: Layered seed packet, postage stamp, mailing labels and other ephemera. The green image shows detail from the back of the tag

Wilma writes:

Love-in-a-mist,

It is truly hard to resist!

Perhaps Alys will remember, with pleasure, her stay,

And return again one fine day. – Wilma Millette, Creartfuldodger

With great pleasure, Wilma. Love and thanks.

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