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Thursday, June 30, 2011

Miss Bonnie the Cat - Portrait of a Survivor

Warning: There are two photos, one of a headless woodpecker and another of a dead gopher. No blood is involved. If you don't like dead things, stop here.
We are pretty sure that Bonnie, or “Miss Bonnie,” as Ms. Pearl calls her, is our twelfth cat. All the other cats who lived with us in California succumbed to the forces of nature, one by one, in terrible ways. We had Sylvester, a striking black and white kitty, for  several years until he was found in the back yard, strafed and eaten by either a barn owl or a hawk. Stryker, optimistically named after the John Wayne character in The Sands of Iwo Jima, died after two years, victim of the local coyote/bobcat gang.

At this point you're wondering why we didn't keep our cats inside. Well, I grew up in a home with two allergic asthmatics, so any cats we had were relegated to the outside. Cats were outside animals, and that was the way it was. I was born this way.

When we moved to the Southern California countryside and a stray cat showed up at our doorstep or people said, "Want a kitten?"  these kitties became country cats,  rodent eradicators who lounged on the deck and around the garden, showing up for a pat or two when we were outside doing chores. They were not decorative, but there to earn their keep.  Country living, though, can be fraught with peril and disappearing cats were the norm.

Thinking there might be safety in numbers, we tried two cats at a time. Dirk and Al were tabbies Tom named after some roughtough characters in Clyde Cussler's novels. We still feel guilty about Dirk and Al because while we ate dinner and watched them through the kitchen window, Dirk and Al looked nervously over their shoulders. "They seem a little jumpy," I observed. The next morning they were gone, presumably to coyotes. It seems macho names didn't offer any special protection.

For years the fate of our cats seemed preordained, as Bob, Skeleton and Cougar also became coyote fodder. Even Arnold, another macho sounding name, fell to the onslaught. We have no idea if he fathered any illegitimate children along the way like a California governor of the same name. Dixie, a Siamese with a loud meow, lived almost nine years, but was diagnosed with cancer. Her secret to longevity? She insisted on living on the roof and took all her meals up there as well. She came down only if my dad visited, climbing down when she heard the Honda car driving up the dirt driveway.

Bonnie and Clyde, two purebred tortoiseshell Manx cats, came from a neighbor who would have drowned them because of their flawed tails. It seems that Manx cats' tails can't be too long or they will be worthless and can't be bred.  We figured their camouflaged Tortie fur might save them, but our attempt using killer names as good luck talismans was only half-successful: Clyde disappeared, gunned down, again by local coyotes. Bonnie prevailed and Tom installed two cat doors, one for the outside porch door and an inner one to the living room. She was a keeper; guilt, our motivator.

Bonnie has been the longest lasting of all the kitties, going on her thirteenth year with us. Extremely watchful, she is a killer in her own right, having brought numerous gophers, squirrels, birds, and sadly, baby rabbits, into our house at night, announced with a coy "meow," or a terrified scream from her prey. It became a common chore to clean up a pile of guts from her kill each morning. Sometimes all she left in the hallway was a head. Her favorite meal is gopher.

When we moved to New Mexico I was determined to counter Tom's careless, "Leave her!" attitude by bringing Bonnie with us. In a cage lined with puppy piddle pads and old towels, she accompanied me in the cab of the GMC pickup while Ms. Pearl kept Tom company in the Toyota. Bonnie's incessant meowing and her refusal to poop, even though I regularly placed her litter box into her cage, is what I remember most about that three-day travel ordeal.

 Before we left I attempted to get Bonnie used to a harness for walks, but she had a fit and ran away for a day. So no harness. While traveling I was afraid to let her out for fear she would disappear. It wasn't until the end of the second travel day that she stopped yowling and Tom made sure to remind me at each rest stop that Ms. Pearl was docile and cuddly throughout their journey together.

On the third and last day, the weather freezing outside, Bonnie finally let go.  There was some preliminary frantic activity, plaintive meowing and energetic scrabbling in the cage next to me. Suddenly, the air  became toxic and I had to drive with the window down in freezing weather, breathing only through my mouth. "I'm stopping," I gasped into the two way radio we were using to communicate. At the gas station I leaped out of the car, not caring that it was below freezing,  disposed of the contents of the cage (except for the cat), swabbed the interior with Nature's Miracle cleaner, relined the cage, added new towels, and we were on our way again. I had prepared for the worst and it was over. I could (almost) breathe easily, now.
Bonnie adapted quickly to her new home when Tom reluctantly installed some cat doors, and she is once again back on the prowl. Several dead birds, like this headless woodpecker, have been found in our yard. Maybe Bonnie heard us yelling at this particular woodpecker as it was ratatattatting on our roof one morning.  Tom and Ms. Pearl didn't feel any sympathy for the dead  Woody. When she brought a dead gopher into the living room for our approval,  I knew she was back on the job.

When Ms. Pearl was a puppy she made a genuine attempt to kill Bonnie, but has learned that Bonnie is a family member. They often take afternoon naps together on the couch. Ms. P is okay with this arrangement as long as Bonnie doesn't get crazy and start biting her ear.

Bonnie just put down the book. Pearl has never learned how to read.
 On a cold morning we usually wake to find both pets on the bed competing for Tom's attention. I'm allergic to cat fur so Bonnie lobbies Tom for a morning scratch by perching on his chest, peering into his face.

 Bonnie almost had some competition last year when a young stray arrived on our doorstep, instantly named Hobocat by unimaginative Tom. Just as Hobocat was getting to know and trust us, we had to make a trip back to California to see my parents.

When we returned, Hobocat was gone, even though Ernest made sure he and Bonnie were fed and watered. Another victim of the coyotes, and more proof of what a survivor Ms. Bonnie is.

Or maybe Bonnie, jealous as she is, did away with him while we were gone......

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Quilty Pleasures Wednesday-Fabric Giveaway: Let's Celebrate!

I love this box. It's the one that holds most of my bright, crazy improvisational quilting fabrics.

Inside this box are treasures galore. I have so much fabric in here I forget what I have.  I bet there are plenty of you out there with the same (ahem) problem. When I start pawing through it, I make amazing discoveries. Making a quilt with these fabrics is an exciting journey because I don't know what fabric I will choose next.

Remember this quilt?
I was totally happy and thoroughly involved when making it. There's another one in the works after a couple obligations are met. They're addicting!

So let's get down to the giveaway: I am pleased to say that our new, three month old blog hit over 4000 visitors the other day! I don't know if that's good or not, but to me it's totally cool! (Sounding a little SoCal surfer chick, aren't I?)

It's time to share some of this awesome fabric with you, the people who have been visiting our blog.

I am putting together fabric packs that will include one Lady of Guadalupe panel, a fussy-cut Freda Kahlo, along with 20 fat quarters of assorted fabric you can use to make a small quilt of your own, or at least give you a start on a larger one! There will be two winners.

Here's how to enter: Leave a comment answering this question: Who is your favorite quilt designer?  I will randomly choose two winners from the comments. The contest will officially close Friday, July 1 at 7:00 pm, Mountain Time. Unfortunately we will only be able to send our fabric prizes to the United States. If you comment anonymously, I may have trouble contacting you if you win, so include your email address along with your comment if you anonymous folks want to enter.

Freda will be waiting for your comments!

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Where There's Smoke....

Wildfires are an omnipresent fact of life in the Southwestern United States, so moving to New Mexico didn't change that part of our lives one bit. At least we moved out of earthquake land. (I say that cringing a bit because I don't want to jinx this place.)

What's different here is the way smoke moves. In Southern California, where we lived up until a year ago, we usually smelled smoke or experienced raining ash when a fire was within 10 or 15 miles or when we could see flames. Smoke meant fire, so we'd move into fire watch mode. When Pat and Ric lived up the hill from us, I could call Pat, who had a police and fire scanner. Up to date news, courtesy of the neighbors.

 The first time smoke rolled into our Northern New Mexico canyon, I freaked out, searching the internet for fire info, certain that a fire was nearby. I didn't believe the official New Mexico fire information site because the closest fire they had listed was 100 miles away. I tuned to the local radio station, the one that plays Hank Williams, Johnny Cash's brother and Kitty Wells, but there was nothing there, either.

Why does the smoke travel so far? "It's wind," Tom said, wisely. And it's as good an answer as any, so I will go with it. I have a hard time when Tom acts smart, but I will give him credit this time.

At times this is "get a respirator" smoke, thick ash raining down when all we want to do is eat an al fresco meal on the deck. Then I wonder where the people of Los Alamos are eating their dinner and I stop getting all uppity.

This was the view from our deck Sunday evening when we were eating dinner. That's smoke, not rain clouds.

 So I keep scanning the skies, checking the internet, and listening to Patsy Cline, hoping the rains will come soon.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Belly Up To The Bar, Boys!

The Angus Boys are glad Tom filled the water trough. After a hard day at work, munching and crunching, there's nothing like a cool drink at the local bar.

Then a stranger steps through the swinging doors. The music stops and everyone turns to look. 

Hey! Whattya lookin' at?

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Purple Green Beans?

My dad and I have grown Royal Burgundy Green Beans for a long time, he, with always awesome results, me, not always good. I attribute the difference in our green bean success to the more moderate temperatures at his Orange County home compared to the inferno temperatures in the Inland Empire where we lived. Orange was always a good 15 to 20 degrees cooler on the (almost) coast.

Why purple beans? Well, they're fun to look at. The blossoms as well as the beans are a pretty purple, or as my dad used to say, "Purpipple."

The beans are easier to find on the plants, their royal burgundy pods contrasting with the green leaves. That makes for faster bean picking. When you cook them, the beans turn green, which is good for people who need to eat stuff that looks familiar.

Aren't the purple beans and flowers pretty?                    

Friday, June 24, 2011

Taco Soup-A Guest Recipe

 It's going to be hot here, in the low 90's, today and for the next several days. I'm not complaining, because having moved from a place where the low 100's is normal for summer, I am just fine with 91 degrees!

That said, I remembered reading something years ago about how spicy foods actually aid in making you feel cooler. Think about all the hotter regions of the world and those hothothot spices. These folks are on to something.

When we eat spicy foods, we perspire, which helps to cool us down. It's a simple version of air conditioning.

My friend Shela sent me this recipe last week and we are having it for dinner tonight.  Here is what Shela says: "I got this recipe from my sister-in-law. Not sure where she got it, but credit where credit is due."

(About the ingredients: If you don't have Ro-Tel tomatoes at your store, choose a can of diced tomatoes with chiles. That should work. )

Taco Soup


1 lb ground beef
1 med. chopped onion 
1 can Ro-Tel tomatoes
1 pkg. Italian dressing seasoning mix
2 cans Ranch Style beans
1 can corn--undrained
1 can stewed tomatoes
1 pkg taco seasoning mix(I use Lawry's)
salt and pepper to taste

Brown meat with onion. Drain. Add everything else. Heat thoroughly. Good crock pot recipe!

You could make it a little more Southwestern by adding green chiles, frozen or canned. You could even go a step further and serve it over Fritos. Top with shredded cheese, green onions, and a dollop of sour cream.

Eat it and sweat. You'll feel much cooler, I promise!

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Drought in New Mexico

Eastern New Mexico isn't the only place in the United States with severe drought conditions, and lack of rain in parts of Arizona, Oklahoma, Texas, and Florida are contributing to a rip roaring fire season this year. The photo on the left shows the driest area of the ranch, with little or no greenery. 

Our six Angus steers, a.k.a. The Angus Boys, are lucky because although parts of the ranch are dry, with grass like shredded wheat,  they still have acres of relatively greener grass and oaks to browse on. Sometimes they even sneak into the yard for a little snack if we aren't looking.

The concern here at the Nickel and Dime is water. The creek is drying up. So far we still have some deep pools swimming with little fishies, perhaps baby trout. There are a few bigger fish that we are watching with interest. If they're going to drown anyway, we might as well eat them or put them in the Growing Dome's water tank.

Here is the creek last year in July,  during the monsoon season. Every year Arizona and New Mexico get almost half their annual rainfall in July, August and September. That's an average, though, and who knows what will happen this year?

Here is the creek yesterday, approximately the same spot as the photo above.

We will closely monitor the water situation and if it looks like the creek will dry up before the rains come (crossing fingers and saying prayers) we will pump water and fill up the water trough for The Boys until they get a little bigger.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Quilty Pleasures Wednesday-A Spiderweb Quilt

Notice the individual blocks?
I had never made a spiderweb quilt before, but with the abundance of 30's fabric in my stash it was a no-brainer to use them for this quilt. I used this tutorial from the Quilt It blog. Marit's directions were clear, the  awesome photos helped immensely, and I had no trouble whatsoever making the blocks.

Each block starts with a triangle, the triangles are sewn together on the long side, and then four squares make a web.  If you go over there, tell Marit thanks for me! Sorry, it's only glimpses of the whole quilt but I want MBB to be at least semi-surprised when she receives it.

I like the secondary star pattern this design makes.
 Since I've been messing about with this quilt for months, I should be elected Queen of the Procrastinators. Why? Well, once I finished the blocks and sewed them together, I had to actually think! There was a spiderweb center, but no plans for the rest of the quilt. So far I have a strippy border set off by two inch borders of the same plain fabric I used in the webs.

Depending on the quilt's size after adding strippy all around, I may have to add more stuff. I'm working on a deadline here: I have a quilting appointment tomorrow!

Back to work!

Monday, June 20, 2011

It's the Bees' Knees! Beekeeping in Northern New Mexico

When we bought our steers from Donald and Anita LaRan, local cattle ranchers, Anita invited me to join their organization, The Sangre de Cristo Livestock Growers Association. The group was started through a grant from Heifer International, an organization dedicated to helping people in high poverty areas find a sustainable source of food and income. By purchasing my steers from Donald and Anita, I kept money in the community, which is important for a small, rural village in Northern New Mexico.
 At the meetings (sorry I've missed a few, Anita!) the members teach skills they have to the others. I am learning about solar water heating, cattle care, fruit tree grafting, and now, beekeeping thanks to the knowledgeable group members and the guest speakers who come to talk to our group.

Meg McGee is a member of the livestock group and a master beekeeper, as well. She offers classes at the classic adobe home she is renovating, her gardens and bee yard our classroom. Meg believes in hands on education, so that's what we have been doing, acting like beekeepers while she guides us in our learning. 
That's Meg on the left giving us important bee info. Paul, on the right, is an experienced beekeeper but continues to learn.
The bee population has decreased worldwide due to mysterious bee illnesses. Scientists think the increase in pesticide use is a contributing factor, since pesticide residues are turning up in bee remains, hives, honey and the combs. By learning how to keep bees, people can  turn around the decrease in bees and help the public to understand why bees and bee habitat are important and necessary components for survival, not just for the bees, but for us. Not only do bees produce tasty honey, but they are necessary to pollinate the crops that we and our animals eat.

The type of beehives we are using are called Top Bar Beehives. Coffin shaped, simple boxes have wooden bars spanning across the tops. Simple and cheap to make, these hives are easy to maintain and inspect, bees don't usually need medicines living in this type of hive, less equipment is needed, and the queen can go wherever she wants, which I understand isn't possible with the box type hives which keep the queen separate from the honey.

Some of Meg's hives. That's Jonathan, listening intently.

The hives are simple to inspect. We just lift the bars up one by one to look at the brood combs or the honey combs.
Inside the hive with some of the bars removed so we can see what's happening.  

Our tasks at this class were to identify drone and worker bee cells, identify the drones and workers and to find the queen. She was busy at work, laying eggs, which we were able to identify within their cells. The bees were not concerned with us and kept doing their bee jobs while we were visiting. Smoke from the bee smokers kept them docile, but these bees are pretty mellow all the time.

After lunch we learned about swarming behavior, heard a tale about collecting bees from within the walls of an old barn from two of our class members, and a cautionary tale about a black widow spider bite and the local medical care available for dealing with such an event. Note to self: Find doctor in Taos or Santa Fe.

Members of the Sangre de Cristo Livestock group taking the class get credit for the hours spent learning. When they reach forty hours of bee training, they will be eligible for a gift of bees from someone else in the group who received bees previously. It's called Passing on the Gift and a large component of the Heifer program.

Eventually the plan is for all the beekeepers in the area to form a co-op to sell the honey. Because there's money in honey.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Quilty Pleasures-Taos Color, Quilt Inspiration

Orlando's New Mexican Cafe is my new favorite restaurant in Taos, but I'm not here to talk about the food, which is reviewed extensively by all the Yelpers and Trip Advisors and any other organizations out there devoted to finding good food while you're on the road. Suffice it to say that my stacked blue corn chicken enchiladas topped with green and Tom's blue corn soft tacos were excellent. We're here to talk about color today and how quilty inspiration can be found anywhere, even in a bathroom!

Taos is a town devoted to art, with galleries and museums on every block and around every corner. Orlando's decor reflects the artsy vibe in Taos, its outdoor dining patio and even the bathroom bathed in color.

When we walked up to be seated, all I could say was, "Oh!" Beautiful flowers abound and multicolored shade umbrellas keep the sun off diners on the patio. I love the horse trough planter and the tin can hanging pots. I will have to steal these ideas for my own yard.

This is the bathroom. There are a million ideas for quilts in here.

I wanted you to see the sun over the sink. I love the black tile, which gives the eyes a rest. I wish I had photographed the tile work on the right side of the photo, too. Next time, I guess.

Even the sink gets into the act. If I were to make a quilt, even the sink could provide color cues. I know you are out there, quilters and artists who also find inspiration in the bathroom. Where have you spotted some good ideas?

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Northern New Mexico Traffic Jam

We've become spoiled when it comes to traffic since there isn't much to speak of in Mora County unless school is getting out at the K-12 school complex or I get stuck behind the school bus.

This kind of traffic jam is kind of fun, though, as long as you don't have to get somewhere at a certain time. Cows can't tell time, (at least they haven't indicated that to me) they just amble and mosey.

On the road to Angel Fire today a herd of cattle was being moved from point A to point B, so we had to slow down until these (mostly) moms and their babies had passed.

They were unconcerned about walking along the highway, stopping to grab a bite to eat along the way, looking at the cars, like, "We're bigger than you, so we will continue to amble and mosey and you can't do anything about it!"

Some of these cows were big, so I had a chance to see what the Angus Boys would look like when they were finished. As an aside, I have contacted a grass fed beef co-op to help us market our beef.

This little guy seemed a little bewildered about the whole process even though his mama was just ahead. The cattleman moved his horse up a bit and the little fellow skedaddled closer to his main source of nutrition and comfort.

I suspect cattlemen love holding up traffic, their old fashioned transportation making a statement to the lazy drivers in their cars.

It looks like this baby is having one for the road. What mamas must endure.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Crafty Wednesday-Trudy Knits! She Creates! She's 91!

This is Trudy, my mom-in-law, looking glamorous in MBB's sunglasses and her vintage mink.  Not only does she tip the scale for elderly glam, but she's also the most giving person I know. How giving, you might ask.

A few Christmases ago Trude made knitted and felted wool purses for all the granddaughters, five of them, plus one for me and one for Pattie, her daughter. Seven knitted purses? I'd be nuts after making just one! For years Tom asked for and received two hand knitted sweaters for Christmas. I think I counted over fifty Trudy sweaters when we were packing up to move. Each year, after we open Christmas presents, she brings out her knitting books and we place our orders for next Christmas. She says knitting relaxes her. (I'm still looking for the relaxing part when I knit.)

Just a fraction of Tom's hand knit sweaters, all made by Trude to his specifications
Trudy knitted the scarf on the left for Tom over fifty years ago. It has a few holes, but he still uses it. That's a duplicate on the right he requested recently. Tom wanted it as a spare.

 Trude is 91 years old and still creating. Her favorite thing to say is, "Just because I'm 91 doesn't mean I can't [insert activity here.] I want to be Trudy when I grow up!

Trudy was thrilled we could move to her favorite state, so she made this counted cross stitch picture as a house warming gift last year.  The stitches in this wall hanging are teensy. I don't know how the hell she was able to do this, but she did, beautifully and most successfully.

 Trude stitched these throw pillows for us last Christmas, and they look perfect on our living room couch.  Miss Bonnie loves them, too,  so I try to keep them at an angle so she won't use them as cat beds.

One reason we started this blog was to give Trude a taste of what it's like to live in New Mexico. We figured if she can't travel here, maybe we can bring some of it to her through our blog and its photos. So here's to Trudy, her creative spirit still bubbling over at the age of 91.

PS-Trude would want you to know that she doesn't usually wear sunglasses inside the house and the mink was dug out of storage for this photo op.