Be Real….

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Let’s be real….. January is a messy month.

Whether you’re contemplating grime covered snow along the roadside, or frozen limp plants in your flower pots; January offers a little disappointment for everyone.  We know this, and yet we push through it.

Did you read my post, Sunday Dinner: First Snow” where I described some super “squirrel proof” suet cake and showed you some hand crafted bird feeders holding it?  I made up the suet recipe in mid-January and had three new feeders filled with it before our first snow of the season.


January 23, 2016 Optimistic 010


And as it snowed, I brushed away the accumulating ice and added little piles of Cayenne laced fresh seeds on top of the feeders to entice our birds.  They rewarded us with lots of action, gathering in the nearby shrubs and trees awaiting their turns to eat.

But all of that easy food attracted the attention of our cold and hungry squirrels as well.  You may know them well:  those pesky little guys who dig holes in the pots in search of tasty bulbs or hidden acorns.   Like deer, they also carry ticks.   You may be a fan of squirrels, but we are not.  Thus, my excitement at the Cayenne laced suet recipe in the first place…..

And in honesty to each of you who read that post, and especially to anyone who may have tried the recipe for yourself: It didn’t deter the squirrels for even a moment.


The birds did enjoy the feeder, between visits from the squirrels....

The birds did enjoy the feeder, between visits from the squirrels….


My partner was skeptical from the very beginning.  No amount of explaining about the Cayenne made a bit of difference.  He wisely knew that hungry squirrels would come anyway.  Their little squirrel eyes might be streaming with tears from the hot pepper; (do squirrels have tears?) but they would smell the food and come marauding anyway.

And as usual, he was right.  The blue cup and saucer, carefully hung  in the Dogwood tree by my office window, on a fragile branch way too slender to support a squirrel, was emptied first.

I watched the little guy gingerly explore the branch and find his way to the chain, where he hung upside down while feasting.  No amount of noise I made from inside caused him the least distress.  He simply looked at me with that stoic look of a feasting squirrel, and kept eating.

It was only when I appeared outside, moments later, with a huge shaker of Cayenne pepper in hand that he took off to the neighbor’s yard.  I shook pepper all over the remaining suet, and the glass cup and saucer for good measure.  But the squirrels didn’t mind the pepper, or the swaying chain, and within days cleaned all the suet from the cup.


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That is when they discovered the other feeders left in potted plants, one in the front and the other on the deck.  Yesterday we noticed their persistence had broken the one on the deck in two.  The suet filled suet cup landed on the ground a story below.   We rescued it, and set it where the birds can still find it, and the squirrels will do no more damage.

The delicate porcelain bowl I’d placed in front had a worse fate, and cracked when the squirrels’ enthusiasm knocked it out of its pot.  What a mess!


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As I said, January is a messy month; and often filled with disappointment.  I say this, having taken stock of the sorry state my pots are in today.  Even the most ‘winter hardy’ ornamentals suffer from days beneath ice, their roots in frozen soil.


Sorry, no grooming here yet.... We just lifted off its ice dome and freed it yesterday. But the Heuchera shrugs off the cold!

Sorry, no grooming here yet…. We just lifted off its ice dome and freed it yesterday. But the Heuchera shrugs off the cold!


A few noticeably perked up once their soil thawed a little yesterday, so their  roots could absorb some water.  Even the toughest can dehydrate in the wind, when the soil remains a block of ice.

But all one can do is tidy them up a little and hope for the best.  I’ve spent the last few days lifting off remaining chunks of ice, deadheading and pinching off spent leaves and stems.

My faith is in their roots….  Soon, I expect to see new leaves and plump buds appear again.


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But let’s be real.  There are a few more weeks of wicked winter weather left before us.  Even as we turn the first calendar page of 2016 this weekend, there is a lot of cleaning up left to do before we welcome spring.


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Woodland Gnome 2016


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Sunday Dinner: First Snow

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“My religion consists of a humble admiration

of the illimitable superior spirit

who reveals himself in the slight details

we are able to perceive with our frail and feeble mind.”


Albert Einstein


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“Age has no reality except in the physical world.

The essence of a human being

is resistant to the passage of time.

Our inner lives are eternal,

which is to say that our spirits

remain as youthful and vigorous

as when we were in full bloom.

Think of love as a state of grace,

not the means to anything,

but the alpha and omega.

An end in itself.”


Gabriel Garcí­a Márquez


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“For a seed to achieve its greatest expression,

it must come completely undone.

The shell cracks, its insides come out

and everything changes.

To someone who doesn’t understand growth,

it would look like complete destruction.”


Cynthia Occelli


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“You do not need to go

to any temple or church to worship God.

The whole existence is God’s temple.

Your own body is the temple of God.

Your own heart is the shrine.

You do not need to subscribe

to any religion to experience God.

The only religion you need

to experience God is love,

kindness and respect to all beings.”


Banani Ray



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This is our first snow of the winter.  First forecast as rain, then as ‘a dusting,’ the  weather forecast is changing yet again.

As the storm intensifies and the temperature drops, now we are hearing that we may get a few inches of snow.  Nearly an inch has gathered in the grass now; and puddles on the patio, from our early morning rain, have begun to freeze over as snow landing there lingers in the slush.

Winter has finally blanketed our garden in penetrating cold.  It is the way of things, and a necessary passage of rest and dormancy before the coming of spring.


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My dad and I attended an opening at a local gallery in mid-December, and were interested in an eclectic collection of bird feeders made from re-purposed glassware.  We purchased a few as gifts.  And since then it has remained my intent to construct a few myself.

A trip last week to the Re-Store, with a good friend, yielded the odd bud vases and hollow ware needed.  And so on Friday, I constructed a few glass feeders by gluing the pieces together with a special glue made to hold glass and ceramics. 

I also made a batch of “Ron’s Suet Cakes” from the recipe the artist sent along to re-fill his glass ‘sculptural’ bird feeders.  This easy recipe is laced with Cayenne pepper to keep squirrels, and other rodents, away from the feeders.


Here is one of the feeders I constructed on Friday.

Here is one of the feeders I constructed on Friday.


Like many, we prefer to ‘feed the birds’ naturally through a garden planted with those berry and seed producing trees, shrubs, and perennials they prefer.  Knowing that song birds need a diet rich in insects, we expect this rich habitat provides them with an abundance of tasty insects, too.

But we also provide additional food to sustain our birds during winter storms.

And so this enriched ‘suet cake’ project has proven timely. 


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I’ll share Ron’s recipe so you can make a batch of this special winter bird feed yourself, if you are interested.  I was pleased with how quickly it set up.

After filling the three feeders I made on Friday, there was enough left to fill two small plastic cups to use as ‘re-fills’  for one of the original feeders my parents kept.  Thirty seconds in the microwave was enough to let me pour the mix easily from the plastic cup into their glass feeder yesterday.  I swished a little fresh birdseed in the plastic cup to clean it thoroughly, then piled that seed on top as an extra offering to their garden birds.


This feeder, made on Friday, will be shared with a friend.

This feeder, made on Friday, will be shared with a friend.  The vase sits over a dowel or a spike of some sort to hold it steady in the garden.  Additional seeds can be added to the saucer. 


This recipe yields about 4-5 cups:

1.5 cups of lard

Several good shakes of Cayenne pepper and an additional shake or two of red pepper flakes, if you have them

1 cup crunchy peanut butter

1 cup plain cornmeal

1 cup rolled oats

1 cup birdseed mix

Any ‘extras’ you want to add, such as shelled sunflower seeds, dried insect larvae, Niger seed, etc.  I added about 1/2 cup of shelled sunflower seeds.


Melt the lard in a small pan on the stove over a medium heat.  Add the pepper as the lard melts so that it is well flavored.  Squirrels hate hot pepper and won’t eat seeds treated with Cayenne.

Turn off the heat, and add the peanut butter to the melted lard.  Stir as the peanut butter melts.  Finally, stir in the cornmeal, oats, and seeds.

Pour the mixture, before it sets up, into any glass, metal or plastic mold.  You can also use this mix to coat pine cones.  Attach a wire for hanging to the cone before coating it.

I like this recipe for winter feeding because of the fat content, which will help the birds survive the cold weather coming.  This is a neat alternative to feeders filled with dry seed, which often gets wet and mouldy after a hard rain.  It will also keep rodents away from the feeders, if that is a problem in your garden.


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Our first snow of the season came quietly, almost without warning, and has left the garden transformed.  So beautiful and cleansing, snow invites us to stop and take notice.  We break out of the routine to simply sit and watch it accumulate.  A magical winter light fills the garden, bouncing off each icy flake. 

Listening carefully, we can hear it falling, piling up softly but steadily on every leaf and branch. 


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Winter finally has arrived in our Forest Garden.

Woodland Gnome 2016




Our Forest Garden- The Journey Continues

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