Saturday, November 21, 2015

A Collection of Cat Ladies

Today I attended a TNR workshop run by the Feline Fix program. I think these are my people...

There were about a dozen people there... all women except for the two guys who had clearly been dragged along by their respective women.

We got lots of information about TNR (trap neuter & return), a pile of statistics on feral cats, demonstrations on how to use traps, info on best practices for maintaining a colony, and a bunch of moral support from other cat ladies.

The program is run by a local non-profit that runs a low cost spay & neuter clinic. Seriously, it's only $10 per cat to fix them, get them vaccinated and have a medical exam. To date they have fixed over 35,000 cats - which sounds like a lot, but when you consider there are an estimated 100,000 feral cats in Denver... well... there's obviously a LOOOONG way to go.

But these folks are doing so much good work in the community. There were more people than usual at today's workshop because they are busy training volunteers to actually go out into the community to TNR vast numbers of cats - up until now, they have only provided traps and support for people who were willing to do the trapping themselves.

The most encouraging thing I learned was that the combined FIV/FeLV infection rate among feral cats in Denver is less than 2%. I had previously been told that it was as high as 50% - hence my great trepidation about the possibility of ever being able to bring any of "the Grays" indoors.

They also said that if a cat is FIV positive and not symptomatic, it's generally considered OK to return them to their colony as long as they are fixed. FIV only spreads through biting and mating, so once they are fixed, those two behaviors pretty much go away. FeLV is a different story since it's spread through more casual contact and generally has much poorer outcomes for the cats. But all of that made me feel much more hopeful about their futures.

They even had a cat who had been trapped and found to be fairly tame. He's nearly 10 years old, FIV positive, with fairly substantial kidney disease, and needs a child-free "only pet" household. But they weren't giving up on him, they were actively trying to find someone to adopt him. That made me feel very good about the organization in general.

I also spoke with several people who had succeeded in socializing feral kittens that were as old or older than Little Blackie and her sibling(s)...

Sooo... bolstered by all of this hopeful information, and by the fact that Blackie was literally climbing the screen door trying to figure out a way inside when I got home, I got a bit bolder with her. When she came running up to me, I put out a hand and was able to pet her tail and even stroke her back a few times! And she didn't freak out!

I might have been able to pet her more, but as soon as Little Gray saw this, she (yes, she) came running over to get in on the action. And she just let me pet and snuzzle her a whole bunch!

So now I am totally confused. The Little Gray that I was petting today was clearly a female, and also clearly still a kitten (she's a bit smaller than Blackie.) But I KNOW for sure that there is also a "Little Gray" who is a male, because I've seen him with his tail up and there were furry little balls under there!

But I was pretty sure there was a Gray Mama too... so maybe there are actually three gray tabbies?!? I've never seen more than two tabbies, or a total of 4 cats at once... Maybe it's just Gray Boy and three kittens? Or maybe there is a Mama cat, but she only comes by on occasion?

This is the only photo I've managed to get of all four - look how sweet Gray Boy lets them all eat while he sits by and watches over them...

Well the other part of this puzzle is that they said it's probably best to wait until after the holidays to try to trap them. Because of holiday closures and fundraisers, they have very limited clinic days from now until the end of the year, and we seem to be in a weather pattern of one storm right after another. And the cats won't be breeding at this time of year anyhow.

So that gives me a bit of breathing room to figure some things out. Little Blackie and Little Gray are very bonded, and I wouldn't want to separate them if at all possible.

Terrible photo taken through the screen door, but you get the idea
But if this is in fact the Little Gray who let me pet her, and not the one who runs away scared... then maybe, just maybe I might be able to bring them both inside - assuming I can tame them up and that they both test negative... which is a lot of assumptions... but maybe....

And as for Gray Boy himself... Well, he has been rubbing his tail against my leg lately, but he still freaks if I attempt to touch him at all... so I guess we'll just have to cross that bridge when we get to it.

He's looking nice and healthy these days though.

Anyhow... that's the news from the crazy cat lady!

Monday, November 16, 2015

Here it Comes!!

Well folks, it's looking like winter will be arriving in the Mile High City tonight. We've had a few small snows so far, but this storm looks to be the real deal. There's a blizzard warning out, and the snow totals are all over the map. I've seen everything from 3 inches to 2 feet predicted!

Sooo... I've been busy prepping for the storm.

My main concern is the outdoor kitties, so I set up a few wind breaks around the kitty village in hopes that it will prevent any blowing snow from drifting in and inundating their little houses.

They also have another house on the south side of the house, and I was concerned that it could get buried. Fortunately, someone tore out an old wooden gate and left the pieces in the alley. They were the perfect size to create a little lean-to to protect it.

And I've tried to secure anything that might blow away in the winds...

The trash cans don't usually blow away, but their lids do tend to blow open so...

Then there are the gutters. This is a really long story, so I'll spare you the details, but the gutters on my garage weren't installed correctly, so they weren't draining. The result was that during our first big rain/snow of the season, the water overflowed the gutters and poured down onto the back patio, totally inundating the little kitty village. Seriously, their houses had an inch of water in them!

The only real way to fix it was to add an additional downspout - but it was problematic because the place it needed to go was right by the gate, meaning it would leave a big puddle (and subsequently ice rink) right where I have to walk. Not good!

So, I got creative.

It's a bit Rube Goldberg-esque, but it's working great, and the kitties stayed perfectly dry during the last rain. 

Of course, CatMan, who actually has something called spatial ability, took one look at it and said that the right thing to do would be to turn the corner and run a downspout horizontally across the top of the garage door, and then make it go down and drain into the alley. Why didn't I think of that? 

Well... next spring maybe...

In other news, Little Blackie is turning into a real sweetheart.

She likes to play, and if I wiggle a long piece of straw or a stick, she'll happily chase it for hours. She still won't let me get close enough to touch her, but she and Smoky seem to be bonding...

Alrighty! It's supposed to start fallin' in an hour or two, so here's hopin' everybody stays safe and warm!

And on that note, I think I'm gonna go make a big batch of chicken soup!

Happy Winter Everybody!!!

Thursday, November 12, 2015

On Greenhouses and Letting Go

Well folks, if you've ever lusted after a greenhouse like I did for so many years...

...well, my first impression is that they're a bit overrated.

I should qualify that statement. It's not that a greenhouse can't be a valuable tool when it comes to growing plants... it's just that it's not exactly the cure-all that I once imagined it would be.

It did extend the growing season for a few weeks, but wasn't able to protect the plants once we got into the "hard freeze" category.

I'm sure that not all greenhouses are created equal. I've seen greenhouse panels that are double or even triple walled, and I would imagine that they would do a much better job of holding in the heat than my little temporary model did.

Now, I didn't have a huge amount of thermal mass in there - I'm sure that would have helped. I did fill about a dozen gallon jugs of water and scattered them about, but it wasn't nearly enough to warm such a large space.

And I didn't even venture into the world of greenhouse heaters. Plus the plants inside were all warm weather stuff... cucumbers, eggplant, peppers, and tomatoes. I'm sure cold weather plants like greens or peas would have fared better.

But here's the other part of the issue. The thing gets REALLY hot really quickly once the sun starts shining on it. Seriously, I tried to get out there to open it up by 9:30 each morning, and it was still in the mid-90's by then. After everything died, I didn't bother, and the temperature soared to over 120! So if you did grow cool weather crops in there, you'd probably have the opposite problem of it getting too hot!

Hmmmm.... so I'm starting to understand how it is that greenhouse grown veggies have such a big carbon footprint! Fans and heaters seem to be an essential part of making the things work.

So, I've taken off the cover, packed it away, and closed up the garden for the season. To tell the truth, I'm sorta relieved, because dealing with the thing took WAY more work than I thought it would, and I'm glad to be done with the gardening season so I can rest a bit and get ready for next spring.

I'm not sure if I'll use the cover again next spring or not. The hail protection part of the project still made it totally worthwhile, just not sure that the greenhouse part is worth the trouble.

So gardening is done for the year, but you know, seasons change, the circle turns, and that's the way things are "supposed to be." Things are born, they live, and then they die...

Speaking of which, the Colorado folk music community is reeling with the recent loss of one of our own. Chuck Pyle, who was known as the "Zen Cowboy," died suddenly last week.

They're not really sure what happened yet. He was out fishing and when he didn't come home by dark, his wife went out to search for him and found him face down in the water. Don't know if it was a medical thing or just a tragic accident, but it does reinforce the reality that nobody gets out alive.

Chuck was an amazing songwriter and performer, and his songs are among my very favorites. So I'll leave you with a few of them, as well as a few of my favorite "Chuck-isms."

Start slow and taper off...
Always ride the horse in the direction it's goin'...
Don't believe everything that you think!

Rest in Peace, Zen Cowboy.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Cosmos Conundrum

OK... so last year I tried planting garden cosmos for the first time. Lots of people in my neighborhood grow them - they're so pretty and they bloom all summer long.

So I started some from seed and transplanted them... and, well, they did OK, but not great.

The main problem was that they just didn't form many flowers, and they didn't bloom until September.

I figured that perhaps I just got them in too late, so this year I scattered a bunch of seeds early in the spring. Now we had TONS of rain this spring, so I know they got plenty of water, but most just didn't sprout. Finally a few plants sprouted, but once again, they grew really slow and produced no flowers.

This one STILL has no flowers, though it does finally have one tiny bud.

So here we are in November, and one plant is finally starting to bloom.

Still... it's pretty pitiful! But here's the thing. The plant itself is lush and green with big "branches" instead of the tall spindly stems that most cosmos flowers have. It's like all of the energy went into the plant and none into the flowers.

It can't be the climate because my neighbors have cosmos that have been blooming since June with TONS of flowers. I've read that if you fertilize them or water them too much, or if they don't get enough sun they can fail to bloom... but I didn't fertilize at all, they're in full sun, and I honestly didn't water at all most of the summer.

So I'm just flummoxed!

Anybody have any experience growing garden cosmos? I'd be grateful for any advice that anyone might have!

Monday, November 2, 2015

Who Has the Time?

I'm not sure if this comes through in my writing or not, but I've got a bit of a slob complex. Neatness is just not "my thing" and it's been a sore spot my entire life.

It just always seems like keeping things tidy and making things look nice is effortless for other people, while for me it's more like pulling teeth. Generally I feel like I'm doing pretty well if I can keep the house to a level where it's not a health or safety hazard!

So when I come across things on the interwebs having to do with the whole general topic of home decoration and interior design, I tend to get a little bit defensive.

I see gorgeous pictures of rooms that people have remodeled, or furniture that has been beautifully refinished or painted, and some part of me always thinks "Well, I'd love to have a home that looked like that, but how on earth do these people have enough time to care about stuff like that?"

I had one such moment today, and after grumbling for a few minutes about how nice it must be to have so much time on your hands that you have nothing else to worry about other than the color of your walls, I had a thought:

"Exactly how much time would I need to have on my hands before the color of my walls rose to the top of my priority list? A day? A week? A month? Several months? A year? A lifetime?"

You know, when I thought about it that way, the whole equation began to shift in my mind. Because honestly, I'd have to be bored out of my mind for an inconceivably long period of time before making my home look pretty would start to seem like an enjoyable way to pass the time.

Hmmm... perhaps what this all boils down to is simply a matter of priorities. I'm not sure why, but this thought was an incredible revelation for me.

Could it really be that simple? Is it actually possible that my lack of tidiness and home decoration is not really evidence of laziness or hopeless inadequacy? Could it simply be that it's just not very important to me?

The more I thought about this, the more incredible the idea became. I mean, I'm sure that there are people who look at my life and think "How on earth does she have time to ride her bike for nearly 100 miles per week, and walk to the grocery store, and do yoga, and lift weights, and garden, and hang the laundry out to dry?"

But the thing is... when I think of riding my bike or doing yoga or gardening, or pretty much anything that involves either physical activity or being outside, I don't think of it as something that "takes time" - I think of it as a fun thing that I can hardly wait to get to do!

So maybe... just maybe, the people who have those beautiful homes, who excel at decorating and making everything look nice and pretty... maybe it doesn't feel like oppressive work to them, because maybe they actually ENJOY that stuff!

Is that possible? Could anyone really look forward to painting a room, or hanging Christmas decorations, or choosing accent pillows with the same excitement that I feel in anticipation of a long bike ride?

I think this whole topic brings up an interesting and unhealthy tendency that I have. I tend to devalue things that I enjoy and find easy, while at the same time I assign disproportionate importance to things that I don't have an affinity for - as if anything that I hate to do must be noble and worthy, and anything I enjoy is just "wasting time."

So maybe I need to re-evaluate my messy tendencies and instead of seeing them as some sort of shortcoming, embrace them as evidence that my priorities simply lie elsewhere.

Anyhow, I was mulling this all over this afternoon while I was futzing in my front yard pulling some weeds - which was really just an excuse to be outside enjoying the beautiful weather instead of vacuuming the carpet, which is what I felt that I really "should" be doing.

So when the mail man came by and said hello, I made some off the cuff remark about the size of the weeds and how perhaps I should have tackled the job sooner. He smiled, shrugged and said,"Yes, but who has the time?"

Ha! Who has the time, indeed!

So tell me... am I the only person who suffers from this tendency to devalue things that come easy? Are you able to honor your personal priorities, or do you beat up on yourself for not being "good enough?" I'd love to know what kind of things make you think think: "how do they possibly have time for that?"