Sunday, December 29, 2013

2013 Cat of the Year; voting is now open

Pictured (from the left) Natalie, Marilyn, Miles, David, Alex 
So, here are the contestants.  We will start with the defending champion, Natalie.

Age:  18
Weight: 10 lbs
Breed:  Domestic long hair

Background: Disemboweled by her previous owners’ dog, historically medically neglected. Borderline diabetic (Type 2 lifestyle diabetes, I'm calling it what is is). She’d prefer to be the only cat in our house.

Despite not having earned her title last year, 2013 has been an especially good year for our oldest cat.  In retrospect, perhaps winning the respect and adoration of internet fans has helped her change her attitude and slim down to 10 lbs. Self respect is a powerful elixir (I hope you are reading this Harley). Because of her weight loss, Natalie has also stopped her incredibly expensive diabetic cat food, which is a plus for our family's fiscal health.   At long last, sometime during the past year Natalie has recovered from being angry at her living situation.  She is once again affectionate, outgoing, and loving.  The Natalie of old.  Recently, she even sat on Trisha's (her frenemy care-giver) lap.  She has extended the olive branch to even Miles. But not Dr. Z.

All this "being good" takes it's toll.  It is exhausting to her.

She has also taken an interest in our hobbies.  Here she is helping Marilyn sew curtains and an awning for a camper she will never use.
She doesn't resent that.  At all.
2013 Accomplishments:  weight loss, fiscal responsibility, improved self-esteem

Age: 14- ish
Weight: 7 lbs
Breed: Turkish Angora x Persian

Background: Innocent victim of a hoarder. He was at the shelter for 2 years because no one wanted to adopt an adult black cat. We adopted him in summer of 2007 as a friend for Natalie. Boy was that a bad idea.  Really bad.

The understated hero in our house.

This has been an expensive and difficult year for our quiet and brave little guy.  He is plagued by small tumors,  inside and out.  His weight is diminishing, and he had to have one of his canines removed. I think he still expects Junebug (or Squeak) to come back home. Despite all this, he does not complain.

The other cats look to him as the leader- partly because they are terrified of him.
It's not that he is mean, he is just socially inept.  His favorite games are hit and bite. Since Squeak passed, no one has ascended to the rank of leader.  Natalie by all accounts (biggest, oldest, shrewdest and longest tenured 8th Street resident), should have taken the throne, but she lives in fear (and hate) of the other pets (Squeak, Junebug, Alex and Miles).

Back to Alex.
He is very interested in and tolerant of house guests.  He recently learned the word "selfie".  Here he is having fun with our friend Andrew from Myanmar.

He has embraced (to the best of his ability) the arrival of Miles, and tries to play with him. But again, his two games are Hit and Bite, and you never know when he is going to play, so he hasn't won over Miles as a playmate.

2013 Accomplishments:  None, really.  He is a rock; he is legend.

Age: 10
Weight: 7 lbs
Breed:  Wire-haired Chihuahua

Background:  Our smallest and youngest cat, Miles is a "California Little"- one of the small dogs sent to Missoula's Humane Society from an animal shelter in Merced, California.  He, like his bother Alex, is the innocent victim of a hoarder.  We know very little about his past, but when we adopted him he had sores on his feet and legs from confinement.

Although Miles came to live with us in 2012, since he did not complete greater than .5 years he was ineligible to complete for the title last year.  This year, he is in the running.  As a wire-haired Chihuahua, you might be surprised to find him in the competition.  Yet we remind you all that Junebug was crowned Cat of the Year, and we are still not sure what kind of creature she was.

We learned a lot about Miles this year- almost everyday is an exciting adventure for him.
He loves running, and his longest run was 10 miles (no problem).  He even competed in his first race and easily took the senior toy breed division.

He loves ice cream, especially from the Big Dipper
He loves hiking, and this summer among other things he hiked to 7 mountain lakes.
He does not like swimming,he won't drink from a lake or stream (we call it wild water), so we carry a bowl for him, and is terrified of toad stools.
He loves hunting (camp),
camping, sitting by the campfire,
but most of all he loves Marilyn.  As a chihuahua, he is fiercely loyal to one caregiver.  And he is also fond of small dogs, especially his breed.  Among chihuahuas it is called "clanning" (kind of racist, actually).

2013 Accomplishments: He learned to jump through a hula hoop on command.   He's a good boy! Yes he is!

Monday, October 21, 2013

Garden project progress- Home ReSource fencing

Although it is getting late in the gardening year, I am making some progress now on some garden projects- primarily fencing related.

This fencing project started about 11 years ago.  When we first bought our house, the house was surrounded by a dilapidated 4' staggered board fence that provided little privacy.  Over the course of a couple of summers, we replaced 2 of the 3 side of the fence as time and money allowed.
The third side (the east), I frankly never thought I would ever complete, though periodically over the years i threatened to finish it.

Then it happened, while shopping at Home ReSource one day someone dropped off about 130 lineal feet of 6' privacy fence panels- more than enough to complete our last side.

I was there on my bike and I didn't want to deal with buying, loading, unloading and storing all those fence panels so I just tried to ignore that it was there.  Later that day I returned to get it, because I couldn't stop thinking about how I should get it.  When I got back, about half had been sold.

I bought the rest and for the last few months I have been moving those panels around- each place I put them turns out to be a place where I need something else.

Over the last two weeks, panel by panel I have been replacing the old fence with the new.  I actually just set out to pull out the old fence posts and dig new holes before the ground froze- bargaining.
One thing lead to another, and I now have two new gates, and 90% of the east fence complete (I ran out of materials!).
As for the old fence, Marilyn neatly de-nailed, sorted and stacked all the old cedar fence pickets and cedar 2x4 rails.
I'll eventually reuse all these boards into trellises, garden furniture and other things.

Replacing the east side fence was just the beginning.  Having all these fencing materials on hand helped me address some other problems that have developed over the years.

Over the years, our use of the backyard and our needs have changed.  We no longer need a 10' double door to the garage (my shop), and it is saggy and hard to use.  Now that we don't even have an overhead door in the garage, we don't need a double gate int he fence to access it.
So, I replaced that double gate with a single 40" wide gate that opens both into the alley and bakyard.  It is much easier to use, takes up less "floor" space,

And, the feature I like most is that I installed a deadbolt lock (from Home ReSource) as a latch that I can open from the alley (I had it keyed to our house key).
All the hardware was from Home ReSource, too.
Plus, this gate incorporates not only parts of our old fence, but our old hammock stand, too, like the curved top and bottom rails.
Though we don't need a big gate to the garage, we do need a big gate to get the camper in the back yard.  You can follow the renovation of our camper on my wife's blog

I considered a lot of different options for opening and closing this 11' gate from two doors on hinges to an 11' rolling or sliding gate.  I eventually settled on the low tech (and cheap) option of just making a removable panel on hangers I got at Home ReSource.

So, as our use changed, so did the fence, and gates.
It is very gratifying to reuse everything you can.  The western red cedar lasts a long time and has a lot of life left in it (both the new fencing and the old), but I reused everything I could from the fence panels and supplies I purchased, including 2x4's, pickets, and screws.    The only thing I bought new for this project is pressure treated 4x4's and concrete.
My old gate hardware is going to a friend for his gate project, and anything I don't plan on using is going back to Home ReSource, where it can be used again.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

An outdoor garden shower- it could be yours on Oct 25!

Yesterday, our garden coaching business, Butterfly Properties competed in my favorite Missoula event- Home ReSource's Spontaneous Construction (aka SponCon).  In this event, contestants have 7 hours to build whatever they want from materials found at home resource.  Affectionately known as a festival of creative reinvention, SponCon brings out incredibly creative and talented artists, builders and craftsmen. This is a really unique and inspiring event, and I look forward to it all year.

However, today I feel like I got run over by a truck!  It is exhausting- the planning (though it is spontaneous), loading up all of your shop (and then unloading it at the end of the day!), the 7 straight hours of foot-on-the-gas building and problem solving is really exhausting; and I can't wait to do it all again next year!

This year, in keeping with our theme of building things for the garden, we built an outdoor shower. At
Butterfly Properties Garden Coaching, we encourage clients to embrace outdoor space as both an extension of your home and a refuge from life’s demands. Bathing outside gives a sense of freedom, a way to connect with the outdoors, and is also practical. Our Garden Shower creates a charming sanctuary for you, and a practical spot to hose down the kids and dogs.
Team photo:  (from left) Larissa Cummings, Marilyn Marler, David Schmetterling, Brittany Cummings, and Barry Cummings
The other theme we have been following is repurposing garden tools into things for the garden (seems appropriate).

In 2011 we built a mobile garden cloche (this is still my favorite project of ours)
In 2012 we built a table and chairs from garden tools
This year the garden shower.
 It is a finalist in the competition, so that means it will be auctioned off at the Benefit Auction on October 25- so it could be yours!

The shower features insects made from garden tools that each have a function (I call them shovel bugs).

The lady bug's leg is a shower valve
The shield bugs feet are towel and clothes hooks
And the butterfly (we had to have a butterfly) is the door pull
Also, the water from a garden hose is all plumbed
and emerges through a watering can
that is perched on a snag (we got that from a slash pile).
It is a lot of fun to see talented builders and architects from around western Montana at this event, including Mast and Co., DePuy Building and Adapt Design and Build, each of which donates a lot of their time to Home ReSource.

Also I look forward to this event to see my friend Barry, it is about the only time we see each other anymore (he used to live in Missoula but moved to Idaho).  The funny thing is we spend all day together, working a few feet from one another, and don't say a word to each other!  Maybe its the ear plugs.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Don't be afraid to change; change is a constant in the garden

The hammock stand is dead.  Long live the hammock.
A garden is not permanent.  Plants grow, they die, and your interests and needs change.  Fortunately change can come easily in the garden- your landscaping does not have to be forever. The notion of permanence often paralyzes people into never beginning. But in a garden, if you make a mistake or things don’t work out like you expected them, you can change it!  I know this from experience.  You can move plants, compost them, give them away, etc… It is much easier to remove your landscaping than remove a room inside your house!

This new change in the garden is an example of a few things my wife and I often tell our garden coaching clients:

Write down what you need in your garden, and you will incorporate it appropriately. Whether it is canoe storage, bike storage, a raft, chickens, no matter what use, acknowledge that it has a place (and it deserves a place) and you can integrate it into the garden to aesthetically fit in and functionally become part of the garden. We see this all too often that there are hobbies or items that people want to have in their garden, but for whatever reason they don’t want to think about so they don’t get incorporated, and just get pushed into a corner. There, they don’t get used and it doesn't look intentional. It is like a well organized house, but with a pile of clutter in the corner (Like, between a dresser and a wall. Marilyn.).

Furthermore, it is all these components that will help personalize your garden and make it a reflection of what you like and the things you do- it will be a reflection of your lifestyle. I wrote a post a while back describing our garden as a “lifestyle” garden- a name given to our garden by a local nurseryman, and a name I have come to really like.

Plan for how you will use your garden, and you will use it more. When we began landscaping our yard we didn’t have a camper, now we do, and this will add a lot on interest to the garden while providing, if nothing else, functional storage for the camper in the off season. Again, uses and interests change over time; change is the only constant in a garden.

Have fun, try new things, and if they don’t work, re-do it!
The hammock stand was a fun project to build and beautiful to look at, but frankly, it did not get much use. I built it for my wife-  I don’t really like to lounge in the garden (this may come as a shock you many of you). Our first hammock was made of cotton so I got it for her for our 2nd anniversary (cotton is the traditional 2nd anniversary gift). The hammock pergola took up a lot of room in the garden, and room we could use for other things and other things that would get more use. 

We have a small yard, so using space efficiently is important (and a fun challenge). I have always maintained we could live in a smaller house and a have a smaller garden and we’d be fine. There are still many places in our small garden that I view as just filler- plants acting as place holders until I figure out a need or use for the space. These are what I call opportunities.

A new new gardening opportunity
This past weekend I dismantled the hammock pergola, stacked the wood, sorted and organized all the hardware (screws, lag bolts, and washers), and began planning to new pergola, which will reuse most of the wood. This Wednesday evening, friends will come over to dig up native plants for their own gardens and hopefully take away some of the hills, too. And come to think of it, I should have them dig post holes for the new pergola!

I am excited to re- landscape this and incorporate our 1966 Security Traveler into the garden.

Monday, July 29, 2013

No blog posts recently, but change is coming in the garden

Goodbye hammock room!
So, I haven’t written a blog post for some time. I have heard from some of you to get back on the ball (Amber- you should talk, you haven't updated your blog in almost a year). For whatever reason I haven’t been that inspired to write, but I think that will change soon; change is coming to the garden.

There are a few reasons I guess I haven’t written any blog posts in a while and here are a couple and one is the reason I will start writing again…

Some background:
  1. This spring I trained for my first marathon in over three years- injury and illness have kept me from running, but this year I was able to train and complete a marathon again, and I hope to resume running regularly.
  2. My wife and I bought a vintage travel trailer (a 1966 Security Traveler) to restore- my wife has wanted one for a long time. It has been a big and time consuming project.  It has kept me really busy, and I have loved it.
  3. The garden takes care of itself. I have really learned that now that we have no lawn, don’t water anything, and the garden is really dense, there is very little maintenance; mainly cutting things back. So I haven’t written much.
It may seem like restoring a camper has nothing to do with the garden, but in our case it will. In the off season, we will store the camper in the backyard. Actually a better descriptor is that we will incorporate the camper into the landscape. A guest house or a little studio is what we are envisioning complete with a pergola covering it. To accommodate this, I have a lot of work to do.

Although my wife started her own blog to chronicle her camper (check it out at, here are a few before and after pictures:

Curbside before
Curbside after
Although I don't show it here, I re-framed nearly the entire camper, re-re-plumbed and re-just about everything.  My wife re-upholstered the cushions, sewed the curtains and made the awning (among other things in the camper).
Here are some inside pictures...
Dinette before
Dinette after
 We kept the original stove, sink, oven, icebox (though I super-insulted it) and furnace.
Kitchen before
Kitchen after
Bedroom before
Bedroom after
 And a couple of more exterior pictures for good measure.
Streetside before
Streetside after
In order to get it in to the back yard, we had to remove the raised beds in the alley,, including all the soil (thank you Craigslist!), which is done(!), remove fence panels and build a big gate, then I have to clear the area for the camper. This will involve relocating a lot of plants, and it will require me to remove the hammock room (see photo at the top of the post)! 

This is a favorite spot in the garden for many, but I don’t mind the change. I like change in the garden.

I built the hammock for my wife a long time ago, and it has served us well, but I think the camper will serve us even better!

So, if you are interested in the hammock pergola, I am going to be getting rid of it, but I haven’t figured out exactly how.

There are still a lot of projects I need to finish, too. For example last fall I started building a fence for our front yard. Started, that is, not finished! To follow my garden and blogging friend Susan's (of the Bicycle Garden) lead, I am posting my garden projects on a frame on the right, rather than burying them in a post. I am hoping this will hold me more accountable (to myself, I guess).