Saturday, June 13, 2015

Not perfect, but in a pinch...

One of the things that I love about living in the Ozarks is the tendency for folks make do with what they have. It isn't uncommon for some to assume that when something is broken, you pitch it and buy a new one, whatever the case may be. 

I subscribe to a different adage. If it's broke; fix it. I believe in and really admire those who use their head rather than just your wallet. Efficiency might as well be my middle name. And nothing gets me more fired up than solving a problem.

For the last several weeks, I have been ticked off at the aggressive bullying squirrels around here this year. They have cost me a fortune by eating more than their weight in bird seed, and in doing so decimated several bird feeders, eaten my plants, and broken pottery. They have generally been a big fat nuisance. I was so angry that I was inspire to write about my ongoing battle with the furry varmints in a previous blog post with the hope that others can relate. Misery does love company, you know!

So, this is my solution! And it works!

So far so good anyway! It occurred to me that despite this once pretty feeder being a little cockeyed from too many trips to the ground, it is basically still useful in that can still hang from a hook. It just no longer holds seed, a pretty serious flaw for a bird feeder.

I reasoned that just because the glass insert was smashed to smithereens, didn't mean I couldn't fix the thing. I scoured closets and china cabinets for a glass vase to put inside, upside down, to hold the seed. There were obvious problems with that solution, but the least of which was that each vase I had was either too wide to fit or too short to clear the metal rod that holds it altogether.

First thing this morning, I arrived at my solution. I finally cut the top and bottom off a quart container of half-and-half, just emptied with our morning coffee. I covered it with aluminum foil, cutting out little tabs at the bottom to allow the seed to flow into the holding tray. I filled it with seed and got my first feathered visitor shortly thereafter.

Oh, the squirrels were trying to get to it, but I used a pellet gun to scare the bejesus out of them. I'm not a very good shot, but the noise was enough to do the trick. They haven't been back. I'm sure they will be though, and I'm all loaded up with pellets in case they do.

Life is good here in the Ozarks once more!

Friday, June 12, 2015

OK squirrels, this is war!

Who knew that this quiet, unassuming, peaceful place I call home--the place that brings solitude, comfort, and harmony to my soul--would be the scene of an all-out battle?

I hate the idea of having to consider violence, and that is definitely a last resort, but I am about at my wit's end.

backyard sans bird feeder
There used to be a bird feeder hanging from that cord.

This morning, while I was reveling in my breakfast of farm fresh eggs with a side of fresh-picked raspberries and blueberries, I heard a familiar crash. It was one I've heard before; I've heard it way too many times before.

I knew the growing number of resident squirrels have again knocked down the bird feeder. I went out, hopeful that it wasn't time for another trip to Walmart to pick up another one--again!

broken bird feeder picJust a few minutes before, I chased a squirrel away. He was inside the feeder, eating his fill of sunflower seeds not meant for him.

The dangling cord had been attached to the bottom of the feeder. One of the pesky critters  either broke it or bit it in half. Either way, the result, as evidenced by the picture, the fall broke the feeder. It will still hold seed if I can figure out a new way to attach the bottom to its top, still dangling from the eaves just outside our enclosed back porch.

I love sitting on the couch in that porch, watching the birds. There are always plenty of goldfinches, chickadees, titmouse, house finches, cardinals, and even a blue jay or two. There is a suet feeder also, which attracts some nuthatches and lots of woodpeckers. I watched lots of baby birds this spring travel from the branch to the feeder (as described here) and fill the entire backyard with song. It is a delight that I am not willing to part with, no matter what I have to do.

squirrel feederFor the decade we have lived in this house, we have had bird feeders outside this window. Never before have squirrels been as intrusive and as numerous as they have this year.

I thought I had the problem solved when I bought this new plastic feeder. It hangs just below a squirrel baffle, designed to protect it from squirrels--I am laughing at that idea!

I was just sick when they destroyed my last feeder. It was really pretty.

squirrel invaderShown left, this cockeyed, twisted thing is all that is left of what had been a beautiful feeder. It was costly by my standards too. The ornate metal encompassed a glass cylinder which held the seed. It offered ample protection until the damned furry rodents rode it like a merry-go-round, spinning it around so fast that it completely unscrewed itself from the top piece that holds it altogether causing the fall. I had hoped the beasts rode it all the way down and got a jolt when it hit the ground. Shards of glass were everywhere, but I detected no blood. The feeder was the only casualty.

They used to come at it from the big oak tree, some seven feet away. They leaped; no flew at the feeder. More often than not, they missed and fell to the ground. Because of the slope of the property, this is like a second story window. They never seemed to hurt themselves though, so they kept it up until they found a better way. Their agility is matched only by their perseverance.

I do enjoy watching how they do it, until they become bullies about it. I despise bullying. They would make their way up the tree, onto the roof, and then jump to the teeny-tiny ledge just outside the window. Then it was just a small leap up to the feeder. They'd grab onto the metal sides and eat themselves silly.

Finally, I decided to string beer cans along the sill, so when they jumped onto them, they rolled off. That worked for a while. I actually thought I had them. Then they figured out that if they flattened the cans, they wouldn't roll anymore. In essence, they had their ledge back, and it was that much closer to their destination. It was just after that escapade that the bird feeder finally crashed to the ground.

I dutifully went out with my dust pan and whisk broom to clean up their mess.

I also have a hummingbird feeder hanging to the right of this setup. I can't count how many times I have picked that up off the ground when the monsters knocked it off its hook on their way to the bird seed. So far, I have been able to find all the little ribber flowers that protect the holes from bees and ants. There is always one or two missing that I have to search for.

I used to have a nice little setup in the front yard for feeding the birds until the monsters destroyed it.

Birds never got a chance to eat at the feeder on the left. The squirrel bullies didn't let them. The feeder on the right--the red one--is supposed to be squirrel proof. No such thing. That is broken now too, although that may have been the nighttime marauders responsible for that. Perhaps I can still fix it. It remains empty.

little squirrel feastsI've moved what is now the main feeder, the one on the left, to the front porch. It hangs from an overhang, so it is difficult for the beasts to reach it and it is too high for them to jump onto from the porch. I can't say they haven't tried. In doing so, they have broken numerous pretty flower pots I've collected. In the process, they have also eaten the tops off geraniums and petunias, and generally made a mess of my flowers.

Look at the arrogance and determination on that squirrel face. I think he is mad at missing out on his free meals. TOO BAD!

If I didn't hate him so much, I would admit how cute he really is. For now, I refuse to do that. After all, this is war!

Thursday, May 21, 2015

The good life!

This has been a spectacular Spring. Not only do I have high hopes for the vegetable garden, sprinkled with a couple inches of Mother Nature's unique liquid nourishment, but I have had some fun in other gardens as well.

All the rain has left the ground feeling like actual dirt, rather than hard concrete. My measly strength was enough to coerce the weeds out of their comfort zone. Love wet weather for that reason.

Earlier this week, the weather was cloudy and cool, perfect for working outside. I spent the morning tidying up the garden immediately in front of the house.

A couple years ago I thought it might be nice to add some Vinca to the flowers there. Hah, bad idea; the Vinca had taken over. That stuff sure grows well around here. If I hadn't pruned it last fall, I'm sure it would have walked in the front door and confiscated my favorite easy chair by now. So, as much as I hate doing away with anything that grows, I decided the Vinca just had to go. The best way to be rid of it, short of poison, which I abhor, is to just pull it out. It took hours, but that is just what I did.

front garden

Reclaiming this tiny little space and planting a few flowers in it, was the result of a hard day's work. I just love using our many, many, many rocks to actually serve a purpose--lining flower beds. 

There was also another part to this project. Just to the right of the garden is a tiny water feature. There were a couple giant plants that had to be transplanted because the pond was completely obscured from the porch. I cleaned out the area also and planted a few flowers. 


This little water feature has a waterfall and makes the most lovely music which provides the perfect ambient sound for pondering on the porch. That Nandina in front of the pond is one of two that I transplanted. Thanks to the rain we've been getting, the plants didn't suffer from transplant shock at all. It had previously been right where that 'duck crossing' sign is posted.

Our pond is home to a new resident frog, a happy, noisy little guy.

resident frog

The final act for my days of outside fun included burning some leaves, twigs, and other yard debris, including some of that Vinca. I built a little fire pit, which is basically a ring of rocks placed on bare ground, a while back and had been filling it with small branches that had fallen out of the trees, and other similar yard waste. There was an old grapevine wreath and the remains of a half whiskey barrel that had seen better days that I threw in there as well.

The other day, I lit the fire, but not until I made sure my new kink-free hose (yeah, we'll see how that goes?) was ready to go, just in case. The fire burned all day. At times I coaxed it along a bit, raking leaves into place and stirring things around a bit. I love burning. There is just something about a good fire.

I love living in the country and being able to efficiently dispose of yard debris. The ash will go great in the compost pile and will one day help the flowers grow.

fire pit collage

This morning I finished up an epic task--cutting the lawn. After a quick trip to the grocery store/gas station, I filled the lawn tractor tank and set out to make it look a little more livable around here.

There is no better season than Springtime and nothing feels better than sprucing things up a bit and working outside. There is still plenty to do, but this work is good work. I just love living in the country!

Monday, May 11, 2015

Who needs a bucket list?

If anyone ever asked me what I wanted, I'd be lost for an answer. The thing is, I simply want to be connected to the world around me. That may ultimately include complexities not yet envisioned, but for right now, it just means I'm pretty content to just enjoy whatever comes along.

To me, all things in life are all about connections. Whether it is a phone call from my kids on Mother's Day, my husband saying thanks when I make him dinner, or the Saturday morning tradition of hearing from my best friend, I relish the people connections in my life.

It would be difficult to make a list of what I want because most of the time, I don't want anything. My bucket is smaller than a vintage soda bottle top. At other times, my wants encompass the entire universe. I guess it all depends on the day. 

rain guageOn this day, I satisfied one desire that might have been listed in that tiny bottle cap. 

It had rained overnight and throughout the weekend. We got between 4 and 4.5 inches of rain, something we definitely needed. The ground hasn't yet made up the deficit from past drought conditions. In addition, I had just planted my garden, which could always use a good rain. 

I absolutely love rainy days, so I was already in pretty good spirits when I woke up this morning. Sleep was especially dreamy. I always keep the windows open, even when it rains--no--especially when it rains. I like to hear the sound of the rain, but even more importantly, when it rains a lot, the dry creek in the backyard makes the most beautiful music. As water rushes over some of the rocks that have been around for thousands of years, it moves others out of its way, constantly and deliberately making its way toward the river miles away. 

I've always heard it, but I've never seen it, at least until this morning. I always wanted to, but just never did. The creek bed is in the middle of our property, at its lowest point. The land on both sides slopes toward it. The woods are pretty dense with all the trees fully leafed. I always assumed the path to the creek would be muddy and messy, tick-infested, and perhaps there would be an abundance of snakes trying to escape the water-soaked ground. I had no desire to encounter them! The best time to hear the creek, would be while it is still raining or very shortly after it stopped, while the water-logged hills were still draining. 

I'm not sure why I never went out to where the water rushes. Watching water flow is one of my favorite things. I love water, though I have a healthy respect for it. Our little creek running is basically just a natural drainage ditch, which in periods of heavy rain becomes a flash flood, something I never really experienced before. I lived my entire life in a flat topography, where drainage issues were often times engineered. Oh, how I have grown to love the dramatic elevations here! 

My husband has labeled our creek, 'Bout Time Creek.' One day after a night of rain we heard it. He said it was 'bout time. The name just stuck.

Friday, May 8, 2015

Time for gardening

The garden is finally planted. All the doctor visits are out of the way for at least six more months, John is doing well at physical therapy, and my energy level is picking up a tad. Rarely do I wait until May to plant my vegetable garden, but this has been the year from hell. Hopefully, things will turn around.

I always start my gardening tasks with the highest of hopes only to have them dashed when one or more of a gazillion things defeats my efforts and deflates my dreams.

Perhaps this will be the year that all my efforts pay off. I hope to so many tomatoes that I exhaust myself cooking and stirring and canning and eating a bounty of delicious, juicy, heirloom tomatoes. I hope to have so many that I get so sick of fresh salsa and the sweet fragrance of basil mixing with tomato juice that runs all the way up to my elbows.

vege garden
I know it doesn't look like much right now, but this little raised vege bed holds all the promise I can muster. It still needs a little fencing around it, but since Mother Nature is watering this morning, the fence will have to wait. I doubt the neighborhood critters have even noticed yet. I must get to that chore soon, however because the animals have no mercy when they are hungry. In addition to several heirloom varieties of tomatoes, I've planted my favorite Serrano peppers, yellow squash and cukes along with green bean seeds.

Gardening in the Ozarks is not easy, but I am determined. 

herb garden

I also planted the herb garden. What a mess that was. Note the pile of leaves and 'vinca that ate Arkansas' at the top of the pic. I'm growing lots of basil, rosemary, sage, thyme, lemon verbena, lemon balm, last year's chives, one lone garlic plant that popped up out of nowhere, and the yummy asparagus that I enjoyed earlier this Spring from seeds I planted three years ago.

While these are not great photos, I suspect they will get better as the plants grow. Even at this early stage, they do represent high hopes. There can be no bigger thrill than growing, nurturing, and consuming fresh, wholesome home grown food.

I used to have a green thumb, but I never realized how easy it was to grow a garden in the rich topsoil I became accustomed to in Illinois. A bountiful harvest was nearly effortless. But that was before moving to the Ozarks. Things here are a little more labor intensive. Admittedly, I've had little success since living here. Whether it is soil, water, drought, too many bugs, plants too close together, the deer, rabbits, squirrels, skunks, raccoons, possums, and armadillos, eat that the plants, each year has been a learning experience. Perhaps this will be the year!

Monday, April 27, 2015

Goldfinches aplenty

chmusings: goldfinch fledglings
Springtime is looking up. The oak leaves are just about full size; the seeds are falling from some pretty brisk winds. While it seems to have taken forever to get some decent weather, the sun is shining brightly, even though that wind guarantees a slight chill will remain in the air.

That's OK though because I've noticed a few fledgling finches at the bird feeder. In fact, they are filling the feeders and the trees.

There is a hint of yellow in these feathers, so I am assuming these are goldfinch babies. I've been watching them now for a few days. There are much bigger than when they first arrived. There are about a dozen of them and they must believe there is safety in numbers.

They feed and perch at the same time, often talking to one another, tussling over the perfect spot at the feeder or on a special branch.

Speaking of goldfinches, this morning I was driving down the road and as I passed by, a yellow tornado seemed to arise out of the ditches.

Goldfinches must be migrating because there were dozens of them along the side of the road. The sound of the car startled them and the rose quickly from the ground where they were feeding.

We normally have plenty of our own resident birds, so perhaps many of them are just passing through visiting some of their extended family or just hanging out before their long journey up north.

Whatever the reason, it is always a delight to see that beautiful, bright, burst of yellow flying around. I think goldfinches may be one of my favorite birds.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Happy Earth Day

Earth Day, my favorite day of the year...

Today is Earth Day.

Mother Earth was kind enough to give presents -- a gentle rain that turned our Arkansas back yard into a rain forest. The sun is shining now. Like all females, Mother Earth is prone to changing her mind. As I look out the window into the woods, droplets of rain on the still new leaves sparkle as the warm sun caresses them. The landscape shimmers as if dressed in sequins. Thank you Mother Earth. The effect is spectacular.

More than thirty years ago, I experienced a kind of environmental awakening that has forever changed how I see and think about things. This new kind of spirituality inspires deeper thought, a kind of peripheral vision that takes in new dimensions, and a sense of connection to all living things.
John Muir, American conservationist.
American conservationist, my hero, John Muir 
photo credit: Wikipedia
"When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the Universe," said John Muir, founder of the Sierra Club, who was born on this day.

That quote has been my favorite since I first heard it. Connections are not always clear. Sometimes they are difficult to discern, but we must not be blinded by the obvious.

On that day so long ago, I walked with a group of other nature lovers along a trail. It was a time when "Save the Earth" was a popular slogan. I was disturbed about oil spills, killing dolphins in tuna nets, too much plastic that never degrades, landfills overflowing with trash that could have been recycled into useful products, and the very future of the only planet we can call home. But as I walked the trail, in the forest remnant that had been largely untouched since it was carved out by glaciers hundreds of thousands of years ago, I realized that humans aren't able to save the earth any more than they can affect it. Mother Earth will save herself, even if it is at our expense. I fear for humans who totally miss the point. The only thing that man's work will destroy is man.

I'm saddened that little has been accomplished in the past 30 years. And I am frustrated -- no angry -- at recent political attempts to reverse protections of the environment.

Even though I'm unhappy that there must be legal efforts to thwart man's destructive behavior against himself, it is too important not to be supportive since not everybody gets it. My hope for the environmental future of mankind is that more people simply realize the connections all around us. Man is not the center of the universe. He is just another piece of it.

...reprinted from 2010 but still relevant today