The Greenhouse

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After years of wishing I had a greenhouse my dreams finally came true (and I got a pretty awesome guy in the bargain too- LOL) when I moved in with Sal almost 6 years ago.  Not only do I have a large greenhouse to garden in, but nearly three acres of land to work with as well.  Over the years I’ve been learning how to best use the space I’ve been blessed with.

Originally Sal allowed the greenhouse to go dormant during the heat of the summer.  There’s no electricity out there, so no heat and no fans.  Last summer I tried experimenting with growing a few peppers, tomatoes and eggplants (all heat loving veggies) in the greenhouse and they did really well.  I even had a few eggplants and a tomato plant that survived the winter and came back this spring!  So this season I’m making full use of the greenhouse.  I planted several tomatoes, peppers, and eggplants, all of which are doing quite well.  I’ve also got kale, beets, potatoes, and sweet potatoes in there.

I planted garlic last fall and will be harvesting that this week.   Then I’ll add a bunch of compost and plant some of my late pepper seedlings and some potatoes and sweet potatoes I’ve got growing in pots.  In late fall and winter I plant salad greens and am able to have fresh salad all winter.  One of the best things about living in Arizona is being able to garden all year round.  My gardens are all organic and I start everything from seed, so I know exactly what goes into the food we’re eating.  It’s a lot of work, but it’s definitely a labor of love!

Here’s a video of the greenhouse I took a few weeks ago.  I really love this space- it’s so green and fresh and ALIVE ❤

 

This is also where I start all my seeds, so I’ve got some flowers I started as well as some basil right now.  I can’t wait to taste the fruits of my labor in a few months!

~Michelle of CreativeCritters
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Being Gramma Chelle

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Gramma Chelle- now there’s a role I never imagined I’d get to fill.  I never had kids of my own, so naturally I couldn’t become a grandmother.  Then I met Sal, who has 3 grown daughters, all lovely women.  Within the last 3 years two of his daughters have each had a girl and a boy.  And suddenly I find myself being called Gramma Chelle.  I can’t even find the words to tell you how much I love these kids!  Anna is the oldest (she’ll be 3 in September) and we have a very special relationship.  And when she says “I love you Gramma Chelle” in that soft voice of hers tears of joy fill my eyes.  She’s soft spoken, a little shy, and very gentle, much like myself, so I really understand her and know how to get through to her (sometimes when no one else can).

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Anna’s little brother Benjamin was born in February and we just got to meet him recently.  Christina (his Mom) and the kids stayed with us for a few days last month, so we had some good quality time with them.  Benjamin’s a sweet, happy little baby who already adores his big sister.  I can tell those two are going to be close.

me and ben

This little guy hardly cried at all while he stayed with us.  Most of the time he just had a big smile on his face 🙂

Then there’s Sofia, who will be 2 in July, and her little brother Raffaele, who was born in December.  So it’s perfect- 2 boys, 2 girls, all within a few years of each other.  Since they’re so close in age it will be easier to do things with all four of them.

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That’s pretty little Sofia on the left and Anna on the right.  When Anna’s here that’s her wagon and she loves having us pull her around the property.  (When Anna’s not here  that’s my wagon for carting stuff around the property.)  Sofia’s just getting old enough to start enjoying things like that.  It’s so much fun watching them grow and change.  The first time Anna stayed with us it took her a while to get comfortable.  This time she was ready to go for a ride in her wagon as soon as she got here!

 

On the left is Benjamin, and on the right is Raffaele, both happy little boys who hardly fussed at all while they were here.  And now I get to make boy toys as well as girl toys.  Dragons and dinosaurs along with unicorns and fairies- so much fun!  Being the creative critter that I am, every gift I give to these kids is handmade.  This last visit it was knit chickens 😉

Since we got new chicks in March I thought this would help them remember their visit fondly.  Plus Anna’s my little helper when it comes to the chickens.  She helps me collect eggs and isn’t afraid to pet the chicks.  She’s a natural with animals- a girl after my own heart ❤  And I just love teaching her about animals, plants, and the natural world.  She’s a good listener and has a great memory, so she knows how to pet a chicken, how she has to be quiet and calm if she wants the cats to come out, and how Dewey Dude loves to have his chest rubbed.

And Dewey Dude just adores Anna!  He hardly leaves her side when she’s here.  He believes it’s his responsibility to be her personal guard dog 😉  Unfortunately both of Anna’s parents are allergic to cats and dogs, so they won’t be able to have pets of their own 😦  Not surprisingly, Anna’s become very attached to our dogs, cats, and chickens.

I’m really looking forward to being a part of these kid’s lives, a loving positive influence, sharing what I know about animals, gardening, nature, arts and crafts, and much more.  Sal and I both want this to be place the kids look forward to visiting.  The puppets I made for Sal this Christmas have certainly helped in that respect!  I never realized what  a hit Cowboy Pete and His Faithful Horse Whinny would be (or how awesome Sal would be at doing these puppet shows)! 😀

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We even got Anna to decide she DOES like eggs (when she first got here she told us she DID NOT like eggs- LOL).  But a combination of picking her own freshly laid egg from the nest and a conversation with Cowboy Pete and Whinny had her loudly declaring she DOES like eggs now.  Sometimes you have to get creative with picky eaters 😉

Although I never expected to be Gramma Chelle I see it as a huge honor and blessing.  My grandparents raised me, so I have the greatest respect for grandparents and I know how important they can be in a child’s life.  My own Gramma and I were very close and I’ll never forget her unconditional love and understanding.  I can already see that Anna and I will be very close as well.  I’ve always had a very nurturing personality, and if circumstances had been different I might have made a pretty good mom.  That wasn’t the course my life took, so I put all that loving energy into my pets and plants (which all thrived under my care 😉 ).  Now I finally have children in my life, and I think maybe the role of Gramma is even better suited for me.

~Michelle of CreativeCritters

CreativeCrittersClay on Etsy

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After thinking about it for some time I’ve finally opened a shop on Etsy-  CreativeCrittersClay. This shop will mainly feature my polymer clay sculptures and home decor items like wall hangings, bowls, and candle holders.

This fun and whimsical fantasy scene with Mr. and Mrs Gnome feeding their friend bunny is just one of the delightful pieces available .

I’ll be listing some of the same items I have listed in my Artfire shop like this Spring Kitten wall hanging.

And I’ll also be showcasing some newly listed items like this mermaid bowl, found in my Home Decor category.

And of course there will be animal sculptures like this adorable cat and dog sculpture.

 

And let’s not forget the Fantasy Sculpture category!  My glow in the dark Lion Fish Mermaid sculpture is just one of the unique items to be found here.

I’m just getting started setting up the new shop up and plan to continue adding items, so be sure to stop in and see what’s available!  Thanks so much!

~Michelle of CreativeCritters

Custom Order Christmas Elf Cake Topper

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So this cute Christmas Elf cake topper is the latest creation from my craft room.  The cake topper was sculpted by hand in Premo polymer clay.  This one was a custom order for a customer in Australia and he will be the centerpiece on top of her Christmas cake.  I’m honored whenever one of my creations takes center stage!

This was a really fun project and has certainly gotten me into the holiday spirit (even though it’s not quite Halloween yet- LOL).  This whimsical elf was my first cake topper outside of World of Warcraft characters.  I really enjoyed creating this one!  The elf wears a bright green tunic with a red collar  and belt.  His tights are striped a cheerful red and green and he wears red elf slippers.

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As you can see, he’s a very happy Christmas elf, with bright blue eyes and a great big smile. 🙂

The cake topper measures about 6 inches wide and 7 1/2 inches tall to the tip of the elf’s bright red hat tipped with a gold bell.  The elf is holding a candy cane and the cake he sits on is decorated with red ribbon and red and white candies (all sculpted from polymer clay).

What a great project to start the holiday season off with!

If anyone is interested in custom cake toppers or other sculptures please feel free to contact me at macreativecritters@gmail.com with any questions you may have.

~Michelle of CreativeCritters

Dewey Dude the Chick Sitter ;) (or How to Harden Off Your Chicks)

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Recently I started taking the chicks out to the greenhouse during the day.  I set up Dewey Dude’s puppy crate with some branches for perching and wrapped chicken wire around the crate so they couldn’t slip out.

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My scruffy little chicks checking out their new daytime digs

 

They’ve got their food and water and can even nibble on some Swiss Chard that’s growing close to the cage.  They’re still protected from any serious wind, and the top of the crate is covered so there’s shade as well.  This allows them to slowly get used to outdoor conditions, as they get some sun and a bit of a breeze, but nothing too intense.  Plus they can eat all the bugs they can catch within the crate- yum! LOL  Just like hardening off plants, young chickens need to slowly get used to outdoor conditions.

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“Hey, not bad!  Food, water, perches, fresh air, greens- yeah this is nice!”

 

I started them off with a few hours and gradually increased the time in the greenhouse to most of the day, bringing them back inside in the evening.  They really seem to enjoy having room to run around and spread their wings, and they love the perches.

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“Thanks Mom- we like this set up!”

They’re still kind of skittish, but when I just hold my hand in the crate for a few minutes the bravest ones will come over and check me out.  Then I pet them and scratch their little chests, which they really like.

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Dewey Dude, the official Chick Sitter

And Dewey Dude has become my official Chick Sitter 😉  He leads the way when I take the chicks (in a box) from the house to the greenhouse.  Then he keeps an eye on them once they’re in the cage.  During the day he frequently checks on them just to be sure they’re OK.  They seem to like him too- they’ll come over the side of the cage where Dewey’s at and nibble on his nose or toes 🙂  He doesn’t even mind when they do that!  He is such a good dog!

dewey and chicks in greenhouse

“Don’t worry Mom, I’ll keep an eye on the girls”

There’s that guarding instinct in action 😉  I still have to watch him when the chicks get excited and start fluttering around, because he wants to paw or mouth them, and it wouldn’t take much for him to accidentally kill them.  As he gets older (he’s 11 months old now) he does get calmer and better able to control himself.  I’m sure the day will come when I’ll be able to allow him to be among the chickens unsupervised.

The next move for the chicks will be out to a separate enclosure within the big chicken’s pen.  When the little ones are about the same size as the big girls I’ll allow them to fully integrate, but when they’re so much smaller the big girls could hurt them.  Chickens can be surprisingly mean.  This is the first time I’ve tried the dog crate in the greenhouse for the chicks (I forgot we even had it until we got Dewey Dude- LOL).  Last year I let the chicks “free range” in the greenhouse, but that had it’s drawbacks.  They ate too many greens and damaged what little lettuce I had growing in there, and they were very difficult to catch when it came time to go back to the house in the evening.  Each year I learn more and figure out better ways of doing things.

So that’s what’s going on with my little feathered friends right now 🙂  Before you know it they’ll be all grown up and laying eggs for us!  And my sweet puppy is so happy to have such an important job- he’s the best chick sitter I could ask for ❤

~Michelle of CreativeCritters

It’s Time For Spring Chicks!

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Yep, it’s that time of year again- time to start raising the next batch of chickens.  In the past Sal has gotten 6 or 7 day old chicks from our local feed store every other year or so.  This time we’re doing it differently and have decided to get new chicks every year so there won’t be any reduction in overall egg production as the youngsters grow to maturity and the older hens stop producing.  Our 7 Rhode Island Red chickens from last year (now 1 year old) are still producing reliably and haven’t started to molt yet, so we should have plenty of eggs until the little ones are ready to start laying.  This year instead of our usual Rhode Island Reds we got 6 White Leghorns.  The Reds lay brown eggs and the Leghorns lay white eggs, so we’ll be able to know who’s producing and how much.

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One of my Rhode Island Red chickens

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Our 6 new White Leghorn chicks

So far we’ve had good luck getting our day old chicks from Olsen’s feed store.  A few days before we’re ready to pick them up I wash the chick cage with soap and water and scrub it thoroughly (I do the same thing before we put it into storage too), then spray it with vinegar to sanitize it.  Their feeder and water container get the same treatment and everything is allowed to dry in the sun.  Sal made this cage years ago, when he first started raising chickens and it has served us well.  By the time the chicks get too big for this cage they’re usually ready to go out to the coop.  There’s a removable tray under the bottom of the cage that we line with paper so it’s easy to clean.  Of course the bigger these critters get, the more often I need to change their paper (they can be messy little buggers!).

For the first few weeks (or longer, depending on the weather) we keep the cage on the island in the kitchen, with the heat lamp positioned over the top.  Figuring out the right position of the heat lamp is a bit of trial and error, but the basic rule is if the chicks are all clustered together under the lamp they’re cold and you need to move the light closer.  If they’re avoiding the lamp and are scattered around the cage, as far from the light as possible they’re hot and the light is too close.  They should wander around the cage comfortably and sleep in small groups all around the cage floor.  It took me a while, but I’ve gotten pretty good at figuring out how to keep them comfortable.

The really fun part is always introducing the other animals to the chicks.  I do like having the chicks get used to the cats and dogs so they’re not afraid of them, and having the dogs especially realize that these chicks are not prey, but family members they’re supposed to protect.

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“This thing is fascinating!”

This is Dewey Dude’s first experience with chicks, and I’m making a special effort to get him familiar with them.  He’s getting better with the older chickens, but still wants to jump on them sometimes.  He’s a very skilled hunter (he caught his first mouse when he was just 3 months old, and since then has caught a variety of birds, rodents, and rabbits) so I want to be sure he understands that this is not the same as the critters he hunts.  He’s very intelligent and watches me talking to the chicks and holding and petting them, so that also reinforces the idea that these little things are part of the family and are to be protected.  Ziggi’s been through all this before and really has very little interest in the chicks (or the adult chickens, for that matter).

Then of course there’s the cats.

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Ginko is utterly fascinated with the chicks.  He’s always been a housecat and has never caught anything bigger than a spider, but he’s got some pretty strong hunting insticts.  He’s not quite sure what to do with these things, but they sure do smell interesting!  BTW, I’m very careful that no animals get hurt or stressed out during these little meetings.  I’m actually surprised at how calm the chicks are when I take them out and let them interact with the cats and dogs.  Of course if the chicks were running around the house unsupervised I’m sure it wouldn’t take Ginko too long to figure out what a cat does with a critter like this.  Calcifer, on the other hand, is a complete love.

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I could probably let all 6 chicks cuddle with him in the chair and he wouldn’t mind at all.  He’s actually a little afraid of them when they start cheeping loudly and fluttering around in their cage (they really get excited if a gnat or something flies into their cage!).

And so this is just another sign of spring around here- the peeping of fluffy little chicks on the counter 😉  When the weather warms a bit more we’ll put the cage out in the garage with the heat lamp and I’ll start taking them outside for brief “field trips” to get them used to the outdoors, the sun, the wind, the feel of grass under their feet, etc.  Sal’s going to build them a separate little coop in the main chicken enclosure so when they’re big enough to go out full time they can safely be with the big chickens.  When they’re the same size as the Reds I’ll allow the flocks to intermingle.  If I put them together when the chicks are too small they could get hurt- chickens can be pretty vicious.  And when the Reds stop producing we’ll give them away to someone who wants them for bug patrol like we did with the last batch.

This will be the fourth year that I’ve raised chickens, and each year I learn a bit more.  I’ve already learned that Leghorns spook easier than Rhode Island Reds.  Loud noises have the chicks peeping and fluttering all over the cage, and any time I change the water or feed them they all spaz out- LOL.  They are getting used to me though, and I hope spending  a good bit of time with them will help them calm down and realize I’m not going to hurt them.  They do seem to enjoy it when I hold them and pet their little heads- they close their eyes and get this blissful expression 🙂

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Just hanging out with my peeps 😉

So that’s life down on the farm 🙂  I’m not sure how often I’ll be able to post now that it’s getting to be planting season, but I’ll try to keep you all up to date on the latest happenings.  On that note, the seedlings are all doing well.  I’ve got them under lights in the guest bathroom like I did last year (you can check out this post to see just what I did last year https://gettingcreativewithcreativecritters.wordpress.com/2015/02/03/starting-seeds-indoors-the-beginning-of-the-2015-gardening-season/).  I’ve been putting them out in the greenhouse during the day for extra sunlight and that seems to really be getting them off to a good start.  Then I bring them back in before it gets too cool in the evening.

Hopefully this season will be at least as productive as last!

~Michelle of CreativeCritters

Vacation in Mexico

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Just got back from an awesome vacation down in Puerto Penasco (Rocky Point) Mexico.  This is the third time I’ve been down there with Sal, and as always, it was just gorgeous.  His friend has a house right on the beach and has been kind enough to let us use it each year.  February seems to be the perfect time to go too.  The weather was perfect: highs around 80, lows around 60, and a nice light breeze during the day.  Plus we were there for the full moon, which was just beyond amazing!

It takes me about a week to prep all the food and everything, but it’s worth the effort.  We hit town on the way in and then never have to leave the beach house the rest of the time we’re there.  We pick up a few things (mainly fresh seafood), then head to the house and settle in.

Here’s a shot of Calcifer trying to make me feel guilty about leaving him and Ginko.  Once he sees the bags packed and ready to go at the door he knows we’ll be leaving for at least a few days.  I DO feel guilty about leaving the cats, and I miss them terribly, but they do just fine on their own for a few days.  I always make sure to leave more than enough food and water.  And within a few hours of us returning home the cats are back to their normal routine, as if we’d never left (although Calcifer especially remains extra cuddly for at least a few days).

Mexico 2-16 packing Calcifer Ziggi’s been to Mexico several times, but this was Dewey Dude’s first time down there.

 

I think he was impressed with the beach and the ocean 😉  I love having the dogs down there- it’s like they multiply our own joy.  They raced around on the beach and Dewey Dude made friends with every dog and person he saw.

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Since he hadn’t had a lot of interaction with other dogs (besides Ziggi) I was a little concerned about his social skills, but I shouldn’t have worried.  The Kid is such a sweet and affection creature that every dog he met was happy to play with him, and nearly every person loved him too.  He met an old arthritic dog named Poncho and somehow knew that he wasn’t feeling good.  So The Dude lay next to old Poncho and gently kissed his face ❤  How sweet is that?!  The young Doberman a few houses down was a great playmate though, and I think Dewey fell in love with her ❤

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And after a long day of playing The Kid is completely tuckered out 😉  Oh, and another thing that Dewey did that really showed his caring nature- he buried several dead sea birds that had washed up on the beach.  He didn’t try to carry them off or chew on them (we had to yell at Ziggi for that a few times), but every time Dewey came across a freshly dead bird he used his nose to cover it with sand, and he wouldn’t leave until it was properly covered.  After the first few I started helping him bury them so he would feel better and wouldn’t have to spend all day burying birds.  I’m still not sure why there were so many dead birds washing up on the shore 😦

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Ziggi likes being on vacation because that’s one time when he’s actually allowed on the furniture 😉

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And of course The Kid had to take advantage of the suspended “no dogs on the furniture” rule too!

Naturally I got plenty of sun, sand, and surf myself 😉

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Just walking through that sand every day, all day was an excellent leg toner!

And then there are those gorgeous sunsets!

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I just couldn’t have asked for a more perfect vacation!  And the timing for us was excellent: Sal had a lull in work, I hadn’t started planting the garden yet (although I’ll be starting seeds now that I’m home again), and the temps here at home were warm enough for me to leave the greenhouse open at night, but not so hot during the day that everything in there dried out.  It was a refreshing little pause before the busy garden season starts again.  And of course Sal’s got plenty of yard work waiting for him too 😉  I think we’ve got the timing figured out pretty well now, so hopefully we’ll be able to do this again at the same time next year.  Last year we went in mid-June, and although it happened to be cooler than usual down there it was still pretty hot and VERY humid.  The neighbors said that October through April (at the latest) was really the best time to be down there.  They also said to avoid Spring Break, because that’s when things got rowdy 😉  I prefer a nice quiet, relaxing vacation myself!

Stay tuned to see what I get into next!

~Michelle of CreativeCritters