I’m the Featured Artist this week!

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I’m so happy to be the Featured Artist this week on the Miller Valley Indoor Art Market’s Facebook page!  The Art Market, located at 531 Madison Ave in Prescott Arizona, was the first gallery I checked out after moving here.  I now have a space in the Art Market with several of my sculptures, dolls, teddy bears, and two of my necklaces.  You can follow this link to see pictures of the items I have available there and read my bio.  And of course if you happen to be near the Prescott area you can stop by the Art Market and see my work (as well as the work of over 100 other talented artists) in person.

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Not only does the Art Market showcase amazing and varied artwork from local artisans, but they also feature Cafe Nouveau, the coffee and gelato shop with free Wi-Fi and live entertainment.  They have a full service custom frame shop and a unique “thriftique” clothing market as well.  Art works on display  include: Jewelry, Sculpture, Painting, drawing, Glass works, Photography, Designer Clothing, Knits, Calligraphy, fibers, Gourd Art, Ceramics, Custom South West Furniture and Printmaking.

I absolutely love the variety of unique arts and crafts that you can find there, as well as the friendly, welcoming atmosphere. 

~Michelle of CreativeCritters

Calming a Nervous Cat

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Sometimes Calcifer seems to feel safer eating in his box, also known as his personal dining car ;)

Sometimes Calcifer seems to feel safer eating in his box, also known as his personal dining car ;)

Calcifer has always been a rather nervous, high strung cat. He jumps at the slightest noise and hides under the bed when someone visits. He has a hard time relaxing enough to eat a full meal sometimes. Thankfully we live in a fairly low stress environment here, so he is able to relax a little more now. I have found one product to be really useful in keeping him more calm. It’s called Feliway from Comfort Zone. The official Feliway site describes Feliway as “a synthetic copy of the feline facial pheromone, used by cats to mark their territory as safe and secure.
By mimicking the cat’s natural facial pheromones, Feliway creates a state of familiarity and security in the cat’s local environment.
As a result, Feliway can be used to help comfort and reassure cats while they cope with a challenging situation and help prevent or reduce the stress caused by a change in their environment.”
I first discovered this product shortly before I moved and it really helped both cats deal with a very stressful situation. I use both the diffuser and the spray. It also seems to help keep Calcifer and Ginko from getting carried away when they play fight (sometimes Cal can get a little rough).

These two really do love each other

These two really do love each other

I haven’t used it in a while, but Calcifer seems to be “spazzing out” more often than usual lately, so I just ordered a refill for the diffuser. There’s very little odor that I can smell, and I really haven’t seen any adverse effects from either the spray, which you spray on their bedding, cage, scratching post, etc. or the diffuser, which simply plugs into the wall.

I hate to see my fluffy boy stressed out, hiding, and not eating, so hopefully with the diffuser plugged in again he’ll be more calm and laid back.  Really he needs to take lessons from Ginko, the King of Calm and Relaxed ;)

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~Michelle of CreativeCritters

Home Grown Organic Catnip from CreativeCritters

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I’ve been growing my own catnip almost as long as I’ve had cats, and after I opened my ArtFire shop I began selling the dried catnip.  As with everything I grow (flowers, herbs, fruits, and vegetables) my catnip is 100% organic.  I started with a pack of seeds sown in my grandmother’s flower bed many years ago, and from those few original plants I’ve grown some of the best, most potent catnip around.  All of my cats have always gone crazy over it, whether brought in fresh from the garden or dried and stuffed in one of my catnip sacks or sewn into one of my catnip toys.

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This is a picture of Calcifer when he was a kitten, trying out some fresh catnip for the first time.  As you can see, he thoroughly enjoyed it!

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And this is Cedric, who passed away several years ago.  I made a knit pillow/ mat for him and stuffed it with catnip.  He absolutely loved his catnip mat!  I also have these available for sale- just click on the picture to check out the listing.

Of course my cats aren’t the only ones who love this catnip.  Customers have said their cats went crazy for my catnip and catnip toys.  Some of their comments include: “My cat Chester tried to help me “open” the shipping envelope that had this catnip in it, so I guess he could smell it through two sealed bags! I can’t wait to make a toy for him to try it out!”, “These are fabulous cat toys! I’ve had highly ‘buzzed’ kitties since they arrived. So my three boys loved them”, “kitty is loving the catnip mouse, very cute, fast shipping, highly recommended Artfire artisan.”, and “What can I say? Thank you so much for the wonderful catnip toys. Mookie got his in the mail and my sister said he adores it. He plays with it, cuddles with it, sleeps with it. It warms my heart to know that he is happy, safe, and warm. When I think of where he came from, it still makes me cry. You’re little catnip toy is bringing him so much joy. Thank you so much Michelle.”  I love being able to make kitties all over the country happy! :)

When I moved out to Arizona I made sure to bring some catnip seeds with me.  I wasn’t sure how well it would do here, but as you can see from the picture below, the ‘nip is thriving!

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Of course Calcifer and Ginko have sampled this season’s crop, just to make sure it passed their rigorous standards. ;)

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Calcifer says “WOW! That’s some GOOD ‘nip!”

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Ginko says, “Yeah, man, that’s the stuff” ;)

If you’d like to purchase some dried catnip or a handmade catnip toy just check out my Organic Catnip Toys category.  I also do custom orders, so just send me a message if you’d like me to create something special just for your kitty.

Be sure to cuddle those kitties! :)

~Michelle of CreativeCritters

It’s Getting Pretty Wild Around Here

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I love the country and living the country life.  Gardening, chickens, the great outdoors, and everything that goes with it (except maybe for the dust and intense spring winds) all feels so natural and simply right to me.  And wild animals go right along with everything else that is country living.  Last week the neighbor called to tell us a mountain lion had been spotted just up the road from us.  My first thought?  “Oh wow, how cool!”  Now I’m not a stupid woman and I have no wish to come face to face with the big cat, but I must admit that I think it’s pretty awesome that I live in a place that bobcats and mountain lions also call home.  I’m originally from the suburbs, so that’s not the sort of thing I would normally come across.  Granted, I had possums, raccoons, deer, bunny rabbits, and other critters that used to wander through my yard, even when I lived right next to a highway, but that was mostly due to the destruction of their habitat.  Those poor creatures had nowhere else to go.  During the years I lived there (from childhood until my 30’s, basically) I watched the woods, meadows, and wild places disappear as shopping centers and homes were built in their place.  While it might have been frustrating to have the deer eat my Hostas down to nothing I understood that they were merely trying to survive and adapt to the environment they were now forced to live in.  Generally speaking, wild animals don’t want to be in such close contact with humans.

I’ve actually seen fewer wild critters since I moved out here than I used to when I lived in the suburbs.  Out here they have plenty of wide open spaces to roam.  However it’s been very dry and the weather has warmed up quicker than usual (it’s about 90 today).   I think that’s bringing more animals down from the mountains searching for food and water.  The other day I found this beautiful corn snake gliding through the flower bed as I was watering.

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He was about 6 feet long and didn’t even object when Sal gently moved him to the nearest pack rat nest.  I welcome these guys around here.  They’re non-venomous and not at all aggressive and they help control the rodent population.  One this size is big enough to eat the large pack rats too, and those rats can cause a lot of damage to the crops.  Normally you wouldn’t see one of these guys so close to the house and so active this early in the season though.  I’ve also seen quite a few snakes squished on the road, which always makes me sad.  I’m not scared of snakes or any animal, really.  I respect them and am cautious, but I’ve also educated myself on their behavior.  Generally speaking, if you leave them alone, they’ll leave you alone.  Since we also have venomous snakes out here I never attempt to handle any of them or get within striking range.  I knew this guy wasn’t poisonous since I’ve seen several of these since I’ve been here.  I still let Sal move it to a better location though, since he’s got more experience handling snakes (and it doesn’t hurt to let him feel manly ;) )

Then today, while I was washing the breakfast dishes I heard the birds making an awful racket.  Something obviously had them very upset.  I always pay attention to the sounds of nature, and birds tend to be the early warning system for all the critters.  When there’s something dangerous in the area they give the alarm so every creature in the area knows there’s a predator lurking about.  I looked out the window and saw a large coyote prowling around in the bushes.  He was about as big as Ziggi, who’s 80 pounds.  He was very pretty, but it’s not normal to see a coyote so close to the house especially at that time of day.  I’ve heard the packs howling at night sometimes, which is a really eerie sound, but I’ve never actually seen one out here until now (except for a few that had been hit on the road).  Thankfully Ziggi was in the office with Sal and never even knew the coyote was out there.  The coyote might have run off if Ziggi had chased it, but it also might have chosen to fight.  They’re both about the same size, and Ziggi’s strong, but that coyote is a wild animal and has to fight to survive.  I’m glad Ziggi never saw him, because he would feel it was his duty to protect his territory as well as his “flock”.  His “flock” includes me and Sal, the cats, and the chickens, and he’s very protective of all of us.  Anyway, after wandering around a bit the coyote seemed to realize that he wasn’t going to catch any of the quail or other birds and he made his way into the brush and disappeared.  He was a beautiful creature, but not one that I want roaming too close to the house.  I told Calcifer and Ginko that that was one of the reasons they were house cats!  I know a coyote would make a quick meal out of them if given the chance.  And that’s another reason I only let the chickens free range when I can be out there and keep an eye on them.  They’re very secure in the chicken yard that Sal built, which is completely fenced on all sides as well as the top, so I’m not really worried about anything getting in.  I can tell you that I was considerably more aware of my surroundings as I went about my daily chores outside though.  The simple fact is, out here, you have to be aware of what’s around you.  We’ve got snakes, coyotes, javelina, big cats, as well as smaller threats like spiders (some poisonous) and scorpions- things you really don’t want to stumble over, surprise, or put your hand on.  In spite of that I wouldn’t change a thing.  It’s all part of the wonderful, diverse world we live in, and everything has it’s place and it’s purpose here.  I’ll simply have to be more alert when I’m outside, whether here at home or out hiking.  Most run ins with wild creatures happen when a human surprises that animal, so I make sure to make some noise as I’m walking so whatever may be out there is aware of my presence.  They have as much (if not more) right to be here as I do, and if they’re drawn to houses and more developed areas because that’s where the food and water is, it’s no fault of their own.  They’re just trying to survive.

~Michelle of CreativeCritters

The Garden Is In

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It took a few weeks, but I managed to get all the plants and seeds planted in the garden (gardens, actually).  I’ve been gardening for almost 20 years now, and each year brings new challenges and learning experiences.  Back in Ohio I had to deal with cold, wet spring weather and heavy clay soil.  Here in Arizona it’s the intense spring winds that have probably been my biggest issue.

We had a warmer than usual winter and spring seemed to come earlier than normal (although I’m still figuring out exactly what’s “normal” for Arizona), so I started the seeds in the greenhouse a few weeks sooner than Sal normally would have.  Unfortunately I didn’t have his help this year because he was so incredibly busy at work.  Things took a little longer to accomplish, but I still managed to get it all done.  Actually, having his help last year was a new experience for me since I’ve always done all the gardening on my own.

I’ve already decided to do some things differently next year based on some of the problems I had this year.  Sal has always used a combination of garden soil and compost to start seeds in, which is what I did as well this year.  However, it seems that the cucumbers had Fusarium Wilt ( a disease that remains in the soil) and all of my cucumber seedlings died.  Next year I plan on using sterile seed starting mix for all of the seeds, as well as plating resistant varieties of cukes.  I did rotate the crops this year and planted more cucumber seeds directly into the garden.  Hopefully these will fare better than the first batch.  Last year we lost quite a few plants due to wind and sun burn and the fact that we forgot to properly harden the plants off before setting them in the ground.  This year I made sure to harden off the plants (exposing them to the sun and wind slowly increasing their time outdoors) for at least a week before planting.  So far most of the transplants seem to be doing fairly well.

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In the first picture you can see where I planted the carrots and onions, and further back the eggplant and peppers.  I think I’ll start the carrots and onions a little earlier next year since they can handle cooler temperatures and still sprout reliably.  To maximize the use of space I planted lettuce seeds between the rows of onions.  I think this will work out pretty well, although I’ve never done it before.  The carrots and lettuce seeds are already starting to sprout, no more than a week after planting, so that’s a good sign.  Another change I need to make is to thin the carrots more aggressively.  Last year there were too many, too close together and the result was a reduced harvest and smaller carrots overall.  I make mistakes, but I do try and learn from them.  Last year WAS the first year I’ve grown carrots, so I’m still learning how to get it right.

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I started new eggplant and pepper seeds in the garden (most of the ones I started in the greenhouse didn’t do well- more issues with the soil, I think) and covered them with Wall O’ Waters to help keep them warm and moist and protect them from the wind.  These seeds are always slow to sprout, so I’m just trying to be patient.  I’ve got some surviving pepper plants in the greenhouse too.  I want to wait until they get a bit bigger before transplanting them into the garden.

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I also have some cantaloupe and muskmelon seeds and plants in the garden, all covered with glass or plastic cloches to help keep them warm and protect them from the wind.  I love cantaloupe, and although I’ve never had it, I’ve heard muskmelon is just as good, if not better.  I’m really hoping these will do well and produce lots of fruit.

Down the center of the garden I have the butternut squash which I’ll train up onto the trellis as they grow.  we did it like that last year and it was so much easier than having the plants trail on the ground.  Whenever possible I like to grow vines and trailing plants up on trellises.  It takes up less space and the fruits and vegetables seem to be less likely to get damaged.

I also have beets, zucchini, yellow squash, cucumbers, tomatoes, more lettuce, and yellow and green bush beans planted.  As the zucchini and yellow squash get bigger I’ll put tomato cages over them for them climb up and keep the veggies off the ground.  That worked pretty well last year and is so much easier then trying to tie the plants to stakes.  The tomatoes are also grown on a trellis and I weave the stems through the openings as the plant is growing so I really don’t need to tie them at all.  I created a wind barrier using a floating row cover over the trellis to help shield the young plants from the intense winds (and to keep the straw mulch from blowing away).

And that’s just the big garden!  We also have two smaller herb gardens with parsley, cilantro, chives, scallions, basil, and fennel, as well a a salad garden with more lettuce, broccoli raab, Swiss chard, jalapeno and Hungarian wax peppers.  And throughout all the gardens I’ve planted flowers like marigolds and nasturtium, not only because they’re pretty, but because they help repel insects.

At this time of year I’m pretty focused on the garden, spending most of my time outside tending the flowers, fruits, and vegetables.  These make up a large part of our diet, so it’s important that the gardens do well and produce what we need not only for the spring, summer, and fall, but right through winter.  I blanch and freeze whatever we don’t eat fresh and we’ve got a root cellar to store the root crops.  And of course everything is raised organically- no chemicals here!  The chickens are kind enough to supply us with plenty of fertilizer, as are the neighbor’s horses.  Weed control is 100% manual, and pest control is done by hand picking the insects or using one of the many organic recipes I have (often using garlic, hot peppers, or onions along with Neem oil to create a bug killing or repelling spray).

So if you don’t see me online too much over the next few months you know I’m out in the garden, tending the plants. :)

~Michelle of CreativeCritters

 

Featured Artist: Jewelry By Shari

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Shari, of Jewelry by Shari on Etsy, designs and makes fine, quality, unique Bohemian (Boho) jewelry. She designs her handmade jewelry, which is all original and  high quality.  Shari says “Designing and making jewelry are my passion. It allows me the usage of color and I love color. I went to school at Western New Mexico University and received my degree in Fine Arts. The design and color aspect of my training was a favorite study of mine. My class called “Color” lasted for 6 months 3 times weekly. I never realized just how much is involved in color. You can create hundreds of variations using just 1 color. Sounds amazing but it’s true, because I had to. It most certainly fascinated me. And I love combining different colors together. That’s where designing came in.”

She first started designing and making jewelry while living in the Caribbean islands.  She was constantly surrounded by the vibrant  bold colors of the flowers and the crystal clear aquamarine flashes of the sea.  That’s when the influences of Flash came into play in her jewelry, especially the Aquamarines, Fire Rainbow Moonstones, and Labradorite gemstones.  She says, “The most breathtaking colors were underneath the sea which is a world onto itself! The bold and vibrant colors of the fish and the amazing color of corals left me with the feeling of being outer worldly. I loved to snorkel just to see the color. Color influences my choices designing jewelry. It really makes a difference in our moods.”

Sheri uses Gold, Sterling Silver, platinum, and sometimes copper since these metals are archival and last forever.   Her range includes 10k,14k,18k, and 24k gold as well as gold filled.  She also uses Sterling Silver in her jewelry.

Shari uses precious and semi-precious gems including beautiful Swarvoski Crystals and Czech Glass beads. Her gems include everything from opals  to Chalcedony, Labradorite gemstones with beautiful blues, greys, and greens that flash as you turn the stone. Some other gems that can be found in her jewelry are Herkimer diamonds, Jade, (various colors) Black Onyx, (various colors) Citrine, Ruby, London Blue Topaz, Topaz, (various colors) Moonstones including Fire Rainbow Moonstone, Amethyst, and Aquamarine, also in various colors.  You can find just about anything that suits your fancy!

Below is just a small sample of the beautiful jewelry that can be found in her shop.

Beautiful Fine Quality Boho Genuine 22k Gold Vermeil AAA Chalcedony Gems, Rare Mexican Opal (Dragons Breath) 14k Gold filled necklace

Fine Jewelry, Quality Southwestern Jewelry Necklace,Turquoise, Pink Quartz, Sterling Silver, Handmade Silver Polymer Clay setting

Sterling Silver Dangle Earrings, Fine Jewelry, French hooks, 2.75″ long, Aqua color Czech beads

14k Gold Filled Bracelet, Fine Jewelry, Beautiful AAA Neon Blue Solor Stalactite Drusy, Green Aqua Agates, Czech beads,14k Gold F Bracelet

Fine Boho semiprecious Pink Agate Rondels Pearl Necklace, Biwi Pearls, Swarvoski Crystals, 14k Gold Filled lobster claw Clasp

And this is only a very small sample of what’s available from this talented artist!  Be sure to visit her shop to see all she has to offer!

~Michelle of CreativeCritters

 

 

 

Keeping Fit and Healthy

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I’ve always been a very active person, especially once I moved to a rural area near a lake when I was 13.  I love being outdoors and used to spend all day running through the woods and fields or swimming in the lake with my brothers.  I was never really one for team sports, but I did enjoy playing baseball or football with the guys when I was a teenager.  I was definitely a tomboy!  Thankfully I still have a desire to stay active and have a hard time sitting still for too long.  I started working out to The Firm videos when I was 18 in order to keep trim and build some muscle.  I never bought into the misconception that if a women lifted weights she would get bulky and masculine looking.  Strong women are sexy- period!  I love my muscles and the fact that my body can do all the things I ask it to do.  Climb a mountain?  Not a problem.  Heft that 50m pound bag of chicken feed?  Sure thing!  In June I’ll be turning 39, an age at which many women start to freak out about getting OLD.  Fact is, I’m more fit now than at any other time in my life.  The way I see it, age is just a number, and I’ve never been stuck on it.  I often forget how old I am.  I feel great, I think I look pretty darn good, and I’m very comfortable with where I’m at mentally and physically.  Most importantly, I’m happy.  I enjoy working out, I enjoy the yard work and gardening, the hikes, swimming in the creeks and rivers where we camp, even the mundane housework (which is a workout in and of itself) can be enjoyable.

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Here’s a shot of me watering the basil last fall.  Just wandering these 4 acres (with plenty of hills and rocks to climb over) is enough to help keep me in shape!

One thing about me is that I love variety, so I’ve never been one to just do one workout over and over.  I have a good collection of exercise DVDs that I used to use and I used to have an elliptical machine as well.  Over the last year my workouts have changed quite a bit though.  For one thing I was getting bored with the DVDs, plus I gave my elliptical machine to my mother (hiking these hills and mountains in my neighborhood provides an even better butt and thigh workout, not to mention really kicking in the cardio).  Then I started to discover the workout channels on YouTube.  Silly me- I never even thought of looking on YouTube for full length workout videos!

Now I can do a different workout every single day.  Whether I’m looking for strength training, cardio, yoga, or a combination, it can all be found on YouTube.  Of course I have my favorite channels and instructors, most of which I’ve added to my Playlists so if I do choose to repeat a workout, or a Challenge, I can easily find those videos.  You can follow the link in my signature to see which videos I’ve added- just check out my Playlists.  I’ve tried to organize everything into the proper categories (strength training, cardio, yoga, etc).

exercise-areaAnd of course having a personal trainer can be very helpful.   You can see my fluffy trainer keeping an eye on me as he guards my water bottle and my laptop ;)

I’ve got plenty of exercise equipment to add variety to my workouts, although you can get an excellent workout without any equipment at all.  I’ve been adding to my gear for years now and have steps in 2 heights (one for cardio step and a taller one for more strength training and things like box jumps), an exercise ball- great for ab work and stability exercises, dumbbells ranging from 5lbs up to 30lbs, 10lb. kettlebell, 20lb kettlebag, a weighted hula hoop (hooping is a super fun way to burn calories and tone your core), jump rope, yoga blocks and bolster, and BOSU.  I look forward to my daily workouts and am lucky to have a good sized space to work out in.  Normally I’ll do a 30 minute to 1 hour long strength and cardio video followed by a 20- 30 minute yoga stretch.  Pair that with a healthy diet and a low stress lifestyle and you’ve got the recipe for total health and fitness!

~Michelle of CreativeCritters