Party in the Bathroom!!!!!

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The Continuing Saga of Living in a 900 Square Foot House with 3 Indoor Cats

Every time I enter the bathroom, no matter what I plan to do in there, or how long I’ll be staying, I have company: at least one cat, often all three, come to join me for an impromptu party.

Yes, I close the door. But Phoebe, our little heart-challenged female, is a genius. She understands the principles of force and acceleration and all sorts of things I don’t even know the names of, and can send the bathroom door swinging inward with one precise smack of her dainty black paw. If I do lock the door, she scratches on the other side in protest–tirelessly– making a noise so annoying that I have to submit and let her in.

The boys, Buck and Trout, being handsome but sadly thick, can’t even begin to open the door without her.

Phoebe is deeply bathroom obsessed, though, so the boys will never be locked out. Wherever Phoebe is, she comes running when she hears me entering the bathroom. Maybe she doesn’t hear me–maybe she’s set up psychic trip wires. I have no idea, but she always knows.

Originally she liked to roll around on the bath mat while I was in the bathroom, giving me a rare opportunity to pet her, since she often doesn’t wish to be petted, at least by me. She’s Erik’s cat, shamelessly biased.

More recently she’s expanded her Empire of Domination and has trained me to open the bathtub faucet to a drizzle. The running water is never less than thrilling. I wonder why cats tire of everything else (toys, perches, etc.) quickly but the faucet never loses its charm. And I can’t help but obey her every wish, because, after all, she’s dying (despite looking bright and fiendish, she is in heart failure) and she’s on lots of diuretics, so water is good for her. I am her tub slave.

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Phoebe says, “Hmm, the rate of flow lacks that certain je ne sais quoi, Fix it. Now.”

So, turning on the tub is my first duty whenever I enter the bathroom. If I don’t do it, she’ll stare daggers at me until I obey.

Next the boys rush in, probably having heard the water running. They each have their own objectives. Trout likes to jump into the bathroom window and balance there precariously, threatening the screen. I worry about the screen, but mostly I’m grateful he’s leaving me alone.

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Trout says: “I may pop this screen, or I may jump down and break all your toiletries on the counter or I may just stare at you for a long while.”

Buck is more interactive. Not to get all TMI here, but when I am in our bathroom, occasionally I will be found sitting on the toilet, contemplating the nature of the universe or what have you, and at such moments Buck jumps up on the sink, which is just to the left of the toilet, and begins purring at full volume.Why he is so happy and excited, I cannot begin to guess.

In that position he is very near my shoulder, and a little taller than me, which is somewhat disturbing. He wants to be petted there on the sink. If I ignore him, or don’t pet him enough, he bats at my head and shoulder, to remind me of my duty.

If this does not satisfy, he jumps to the back of the toilet, where he skitters precariously on the stack of trashy free publications and ham radio catalogs Erik insists on keeping there, rubbing his cheek against mine until an avalanche of slippery magazines sends him jumping for safety, and sends me scrabbling to keep the magazines from falling down my back.

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Buck says, “What…are you leaving already?”

And thus ends another relaxing visit to the bathroom.

Update on Hedge Fund Billionaire Crispin Odey’s $250,000 Chicken Coop

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British hedge fund billionaire Crispin Odey has done for chicken coops what Laibach does for popular music. That is to say, take a simple form and do it up in grand dictator style.

Odey’s coop also managed to exceed Marie Antoinette’s fake farm in the questionable timing department. He got a lot of bad press for beginning his $250,000 marble chicken coop in the midst of an economic downturn. An article in the New York Times, A Hedge Fund Highflier Comes Back to Earth, indicates that Odey has had to do some damage control,

Never one to sit still, he is also repositioning his poultry palace, which he said had “morphed into a library.” So what is the deal with the coop anyway?

“For me it’s more of a folly than a chicken house,” he said, referring to the ornamental buildings that adorn some of the grand English estates of past centuries.

He gamely showed photos of the nearly completed structure on his iPhone. “Once I started thinking about what I wanted to have there, it was a Schinkelian temple.” Karl Friedrich Schinkel, he explained, was the architect who worked for the Prussian royal family, “and built almost all of that stuff you come across in Brandenburg and in Berlin.”

Mr. Odey pointed to a relief visible along one wall. “I have the chickens and egg having the age-old fight of who came first,” he smiled. “It’s carved in stone,” and there will be a Latin inscription, “Quis primus venit?”

Meaning?

“Meaning, ‘Who came first?’ ”

So is it a chicken coop and a library? Perhaps Odey is familiar with the poultry housing described in Cato the Elder’s De Agricultura. In this early Roman agriculture manual Cato details a live-in chicken coop that provides housing for a worker who collects the eggs and keeps predators away. Maybe he can read Cato while admiring his hens. Just look out for those peasants with pitchforks . . .

Bees Like Mochi

This viral video proves two things:

1. Bees like sugar.

2. Foraging bees aren’t likely to sting.

And I love the way this street vendor keeps on working. If this were the US, there’d be a major freak out, the fire and health departments would be called and an exterminator would show up to spray poison. If you keep calm and carry on you get your mochi and the bees get a free lunch.

Thanks to Winnetka Farms for the tip. 

The Sound of a Queen Bee

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Image: Wikipedia.

I have  a friend who wanted bees so when I got a call late in the afternoon on Sunday that there was a swarm in a tree nearby I threw my equipment in the car and headed over.

The swarm was about twelve feet up in a pineapple guava tree. I trimmed a few branches, stuck a nuc box (a kind of temporary hive box made out of cardboard) under the swarm and bumped on the branch.

I knew I had the queen when I noticed a group of workers fanning their wings on the outside of the nuc box. Fanning creates a cloud of scent that lets the other workers know where the hive is located. The other reasons I knew the queen was in the box was more interesting.

When I set the nuc box down on a wooden deck I heard a sound I’ve never heard before: what I think was the sound of a queen bee “piping.” The sound is the queen announcing herself to any potential rivals–sometimes there is more than one queen in a swarm–the other queen, if there is one, will respond in kind and fight it out to the death.

It’s hard to describe how awe inspiring it is to be in the midst of a swarm. To hear the queen made this rescue effort an experience I’ll never forget.

What is that black and orange bug in my garden?

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The suggestions on a recent “what’s this bug? post on this blog made me realize how hard it was to tell apart several common garden bugs: the harlequin bug, the bagrada bug, the milkweed bug and the boxelder bug. They are all flattish, orange/red and black, under an inch long, and seem to always be mating.

After doing the research, I really wanted to see all the bugs side by side, so I made this picture and this simple reference chart. It is now my gift to you. You are welcome.

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Easter Lessons

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So, facing an overabundance of eggs, and having hard boiled a dozed out of desperation and having espied a charming post on naturally dyed Easter eggs, I decided to have a go at dyeing eggs on Saturday night.  The eggs our ladies deliver are all shades of beige to brown, so I worried that they’d not take dye as well as white eggs, but the post promised good results with brown eggs, and the dyes were deep and earthy enough that it seemed it would not matter.

The technique was simple–a one to one ratio of organic matter to water, boiled 15 minutes or more, cooled, and then spiked with vinegar. The eggs soak in this mix for as long as you like, perhaps overnight, refrigerated. I tried out onion skin (russet dye), red cabbage (bluish dye) and hibiscus flowers(purplish). All looked well. I went to bed imagining the rich, solid colors I’d find the next day, the arty pictures from the original post dancing in my head.

This morning I pulled my eggs from the fridge, all excited, only to find something had gone wrong. The onion skin eggs looked all right at first, a nice rusty shade, but when I touched them the color came off, a thin layer of colored slime peeling aside to reveal a much paler egg below–an egg perhaps still of its natural color. Same for the cabbage. The hibiscus was a total nightmare–for some reason its slime was thick and bubbly and black and utterly disgusting. I mean, like Black Plague-level disgusting. Easter buboes! Zombie eggs!

Here’s my theory: chickens coat their eggs with a protective coating before the eggs leave the “factory.” Just like auto manufacturers! This protective coating is called the bloom. The bloom is washed off in industrial egg production facilities because the eggs have to be washed and sometimes bleached to get the filth off them before they go to market. So bloom is never an issue when dyeing store-bought eggs. I’ve never tried dyeing our own eggs before, and I believe the bloom was interfering with the dye’s adhesion. If I try this again, I will give the eggs a thorough washing first.

What do you think of this theory? Any similar experiences?

Anyway, all was not lost. When I washed all the slime off the eggs, I found that some color did get through, and it came through it truly random and marvelous ways. My eggs don’t look so much like Easter eggs, but more like rocks, or dinosaur eggs. I didn’t get what I was expecting at all, but instead I got something kind of wonderful. That’s DIY in a nutshell for you.

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Bees will love your Coyote Brush Hedge

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Image: Wikipedia (our picture of the NHM’s coyote brush hedge came out blurry–which really is a shame because they were good looking hedges. You wouldn’t guess it from this pic).

One of a series of posts inspired by our recent tour of the new gardens at the Los Angeles Natural History Museum.

Baccharis pilularis, called coyote brush, or chaparral bloom, is an unassuming Western native plant with a secret super-power: native and non-native pollinators love, love, love! its tiny little flowers. If you want to lavish affection and care on the pollinators in your garden, plant one of these babies, if you can. It really is one of the best plants for the purpose. (For more info on coyote brush, here’s a nice post at the Curbstone Valley Farm blog with lots of pictures. And here’s its page at Theodore Payne Foundation.)

What I didn’t realize until our recent garden tour at the Natural History Museum, though, is that coyote brush makes a perfectly lovely hedge if it’s pruned up right. I’d never even thought about it. Most of the talk one hears about coyote brush is that it is sort of ho-hum in appearance but can be used to provide a background to the more showy native plants. I never even thought about how its small, sturdy, bright green, evergreen leaves make it a perfect hedge plant.

So, the lesson here is that you can have a more formal/tidy/traditional garden, and still serve the pollinators– as long as you lay off the clippers for a couple of months in the summer and let the hedge bloom. No excuses now!

For those of you in other parts of the country, can you name a good hedge bush that pollinators like for your area? And be sure to name your area, so folks around you can use the information.

On that theme, here’s a link to beneficial plant lists, organized by region, created by the Xerces Society.

Squirrel-Proof Bird Feeder

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Bird feeder in the LA Natural History Museum garden.

One of a series of posts inspired by our recent tour of the new gardens at the Los Angeles Natural History Museum.

The Nature Gardens at the NHM are not large by the usual standards of botanical gardens, and they are only about a year old, but they are already rich with bird and insect life. (A poorwill even visited, which apparently caused quite a bit of excitement in the birding community.) This is because the designers chose plants to serve wildlife, and the wildlife responded. Build it and they will come.

Off in one shady corner of the garden, I watched two bird feeders being merrily ransacked by more types of birds than I’ve ever seen in one place. It reminded me that I had once wanted a bird feeder–partly for the birds, and partly to provide “TV” for our indoor cats, or Kitty Convicts, as I like to call them. They really love watching the birdbath out the window. I imagined a bird feeder would be doubly exciting. After doing some window shopping and reading, though, I convinced myself that any bird feeder I bought would just end up feeding our pernicious tribe of squirrels, so I gave up the idea, figuring that in our climate, the bird bath was more critical to the birds.

So, with this in the back of my mind, I asked head gardener, Richard Hayden, how the staff kept squirrels away from the bird feeders.  He said simply, “Thistle seed. There’s just thistle seed in there and squirrels don’t eat thistle seed.”

Ohhhhhhh.

Some things become so easy once you get the right information. We just have to buy a feeder built to hold thistle seed. Which we’re doing.

Kitty TV just got a new channel.

How to Get Skunks Out of Your Basement and Yard

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Basements and crawl spaces under houses make idea dens for urban critters. If we could charge rent for all the skunks, raccoons and feral cats that have taken up residence under the house we’d have paid off the mortgage by now. Our particular crawl space critter B&B was opened by virtue of a flimsy access door. Some animal, most likely a raccoon, pried it open. The problem with this situation is that you can’t just close up the door. Some poor creature would die a horrible death and then stink up the house for months. The answer is to create a one-way critter exit.

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