The Garden in Review

dewey sleeping in garden
Standard

Well it’s been a long hot busy garden season, but the end is coming closer.  The nights are starting to cool off to the 60’s and the days are seeing fewer 100+ temps and more 80’s and lower 90’s (hey that’s actually considered cool in Arizona!).  All in all I’d have to say that the garden was pretty successful this year.  I started most of my seeds indoors under lights, then moved them out to the greenhouse as they got a bit bigger.  I did about three batches like this, starting the plants that took longest to mature first.  Some plants, like the zucchini and squash, I started in the greenhouse in the spring as temps warmed up a bit more.  I had a really good success rate and only lost a few seedlings- a big improvement over last year.

seedlings tomatoes peppers eggplant seedlings peppers

I think it really helped give the tomatoes, peppers, and eggplants a jump start by starting the seeds indoors a bit earlier than usual.  By the time I put them out in the greenhouse they were already strong and healthy and able to handle the temperature variations.  I also took extra care to harden off all the seedlings before planting them in the garden.

hardening off peppers and cantaloupe

For the first day or so I set them outside in a sheltered spot for just a few hours, gradually working up to all day in full sun.  By the time Sal tilled the garden they were ready for the conditions they’d be living in ;)

newly planted tomatoes 2015

Sal cut the bottoms off of plastic pots and I put these over the newly planted tomatoes and peppers to give them additional protection from the wind and keep them a bit warmer.  It also made it very easy to water directly at the roots of each plant and protected them from crawling bugs.  None of the seedlings suffered from transplant shock or wind damage this season, and I think these pots had a lot to do with that.

back garden lettuce (2)

The lettuce in the back garden did really well and didn’t even begin to bolt until mid-July, which is just amazing considering the kind of heat we’ve had.  Of course I’ll be saving seeds from this batch!  The rapini did well too, but once the intense heat hit it quickly went to seed.  Last week I planted another crop which should go through fall.  Rapini definitely seems to prefer cooler temps.  I’m also trying collard greens for the first time.  I love trying new things and seeing just what I can do with them ;)

P1030693

And by July this is what the big garden looked like!  Down the center I have the butternut squash, which should give us a nice harvest in another month or so.  In spite of squash bugs and cucumber beetles the plants managed to do pretty well.  I did spray them with Neem on a regular basis, along with hand picking as many bugs as I could, and I think that really helped.

P1030696

And here you can see the carrots at the end and the onions next to them.  I just harvested the last of the red onions and they’re drying in the garage.  I harvested the yellow onions a week earlier and they’re down in the root cellar now.

P1030703

And the Japanese eggplant have done extremely well.  I just made a big batch of eggplant croquettes which turned out really well.  I’ve started harvesting peppers in the last week and they’re coming on strong now.  I’ve been harvesting tomatoes for some time now and have already made two batches of sauce.  And of course I now have my little garden helper, Dewey Dude, to keep me company while I’m working out there ;)

dewey in garden 2

Some things are coming to the end, like the zucchini and yellow squash, while others, like the tomatoes, eggplant, and peppers are just hitting their stride.  I’m already thinking about the fall garden though.  I’d like to plant some broccoli and Brussels sprouts along with some more kale in the next few weeks.  And by October it’ll be time to plant the garlic in the greenhouse again.

So you can see why I don’t have much time to blog about the garden- I’m too busy working in it!  I love being able to plant, grow, harvest, and cook with all these delicious veggies and herbs though.  It’s certainly worth the hard work and sweat that goes into gardening.  And speaking of cooking it’s about time I get some lunch on the table ;)

~Michelle of CreativeCritters

Meet the Family: Dewey Dude!

Dewey Dude
Standard

So far you’ve met my sweet Maine Coon cat, Calcifer, my comical kitty Ginko, and our German Shorthair Pointer/ Australian Cattle Dog mix, Ziggi.

cal-yawning (706x1024)

Calcifer

ginko-funny-face (961x1024)

Ginko

me-and-zig (1024x988)

Ziggi

Well now it’s time to meet the newest member of the family, Dewey Dude, a German Shepherd/ Rottweiler mix puppy.

Dewey Dude

   Dewey Dude  

Dewey Dude was a gift from my boyfriend for my 40th birthday and I couldn’t have gotten a better present!  We had been discussing getting another dog for several months and Sal decided that my 40th was the perfect time.  We took some time to find just the right pup, wanting a dog that would fit in well with our lifestyle and one that would be a good companion for not only myself, but Ziggi as well.  And that meant a big dog who enjoyed being outdoors and living an active life.  Dewey is a German Shepherd/ Rottweiler mix.  Both are large breeds, and both have intelligence and protective, as well as herding instincts.  I can’t be sure just how big Dewey will get, but I’m betting he’ll be pretty large when he’s full grown.

We adopted Dewey Dude from a shelter in Phoenix after I saw his profile on a German Shepherd rescue website.  It was a choice between him and his brother, and although his brother was cute and friendly I fell in love with Dewey the moment I held him.  He was pretty calm and those eyes just melted my heart.  Plus he had very pretty markings, with a brindle pattern on his legs and cheeks and a gorgeous white flame on his chest.  I just knew that he was the one for me <3

dewey belly 2

Before we brought him home I set up his crate in the kitchen.  Of course Calcifer and Ginko had to give it their seal of approval!

P1030722

Little did they know what would soon be sleeping in that cozy crate!

Dewey Dude and Ginko

Just look at Ginko’s fluffed up tail!  He didn’t know what to think of this strange new creature.  And Dewey was simply curious about Ginko- from the start this puppy seemed to just want to be friends with everyone.

Ziggi and Dewey Dude

  Ziggi and Dewey Dude

Ziggi was less than thrilled with his over-affectionate new little brother, but over the last few weeks he seems to be accepting him as a part of the family.  He even plays with Dewey now, and if the pup gets himself into trouble Ziggi’s the first one to answer his whimper for help.  When we ask Ziggi “Where’s Dewey Dude?”  he usually goes and finds him.  Ziggi is a very intelligent dog himself, and he’s already helping us train Dewey.

The cats are now okay with Dewey so long as there’s a gate or glass door between them ;)

cal ginko dewey

dewey cal gink

For his part Dewey has figured out that the cats run away when he gets excited and barks at them, so he’s learned (for the most part) to stay calm if he wants them to hang out with him.  He really is very smart dog!

Dewey learned “Go potty” and “sit” in his first few days with us, quickly followed by “time to eat”, “inside”, “outside” “lay down”, “come”, drink your water”, and “go for a walk”.  He knows who I am, who Sal is, who Ziggi is, and who Calcifer and Ginko are, all by name.  We’re still working on “no bite”, but I’m seeing a lot of progress in the last day or so.  He’s a very tactile dog and likes to paw things and people or put his mouth on them.  But Sal and I are being consistent in not allowing him to bite us, because although it may be kind of cute now, once he’s full grown that could be a very dangerous habit.

He’s very affectionate though and likes to get kisses and cuddles on a regular basis.

dewey and me

Within no time at all this sweet little puppy had completely stolen my heart!  I love him so much and am so proud of him already.  Even though he just turned 3 months old he’s only had one accident in the house, and that was my fault for not letting him out right after we finished playing.  He likes to play fetch with me and is really good about bringing the ball back, something Ziggi just refuses to do.  I’ve started walking him regularly and he picked up on leash training very quickly.  He doesn’t seem to have any fears or phobias and has already gone through two thunderstorms with no signs of fear at all.  In fact, I had to make him come in out of the rain the other day- getting wet didn’t bother him at all!  He’s not scared of other dogs, thinks horses are just fascinating, and gets along great with other people and kids.

Every day I watch him grow and mature.  His confidence grows by the day and with each new experience.  He loves the kiddie pool we got for him and Ziggi and even knows how to stick his head under water to retrieve a toy (or leaf, or bug, or whatever might catch his eye).

dewey in pool 2

dewey dude

I know I haven’t written many posts lately, being so busy with the garden and yard, not to mention this little guy, but I had to take a few minutes to share my newest baby with you all.  Anyone who knows me knows that my pets are my family and as such are incredibly important to me.  I put a lot into raising them and ensuring that they live happy, healthy, fulfilled lives.  Just think- this sweet puppy and his brothers were unwanted and homeless, but now I have the chance to give Dewey Dude all the love and joy he could ever want.  His brother got adopted as well :)

Don’t you just love stories with a happy ending?  Although this is really just the beginning of course!  I hope to be able to share many happy stories of Dewey Dude’s life an adventures :)

~Michelle of CreativeCritters

The Seedlings Have Sprouted

Standard

seedlings 2.16.15

As promised, I’m keeping you all up to date on the progress of the garden this year.  About two weeks ago I planted several varieties of seeds in starter pots and got them settled under the grow light in the spare bathroom.  You can check out this post to read more about it.  Within a week nearly all of the seeds had begun to sprout.  I was very happy with the high germination rate!  I think I owe my success so far to the fact that I used high quality seed starting mix, kept the mix evenly moist, and had the trays in a room that maintained a fairly steady temperature.  Most seeds sprout best between 65 and 75 degrees, which is why starting them indoors seems to work better than starting them outside, or even in the greenhouse.  Temps outside and in the greenhouse can vary widely throughout the day and depending on the weather.

Once all my tomatoes, eggplants, and peppers sprouted I did start taking them on “field trips” to get some extra sun out in the greenhouse during the day while it was warm.  Grow lights are nice, but they just don’t have the solar power of the sun itself!  I have the lights on a timer so they’re on during the late afternoon and through the night.  This allows the plants to actually get nearly 24 hours of sunlight between the greenhouse and the grow lights.  Plus the lights warm the bathroom up a little bit during the night when it would normally be a bit cooler.  I’m trying to do everything I can to make this gardening season the most successful yet.  Between Sal and I we have MANY years of gardening experience, and we’re constantly learning new things.

pepper seedlings 2.16.15

This is a shot of the peppers ready to be taken out to the greenhouse.  I’ve got these handy trays to transport the plants in, then once in the greenhouse I’ve got plastic trays to set the different varieties in and I can then add a few inches of water to the trays and water the pots from the bottom.  I check on the plants occasionally during the day to make sure they haven’t dried out, which can happen pretty quick in the greenhouse.  Then about 4:00 or 5:00, when it starts to cool down a bit and the grow lights have kicked on I pack up all the little pots, careful to keep the different varieties together, and bring them back into the house.  I also have a small fan blowing on them lightly for a few hours a day.  The movement helps strengthen the stems so they’ll be able to withstand conditions outdoors better.  Once the plants get at least two sets of true leaves I hope to be able to keep them out in the greenhouse full time and start another batch of seeds (different plants) inside.  Of course that will also depend on the night time temps.  If the young plants  get too cold growth will slow or stop.  Temps have been really nice for the last few weeks though, with highs around 70 and lows around 40 (and it’s only the middle of February!).

All in all I’m very happy with the progress so far and am really looking forward to a productive season.  While this is all a lot of fun for me, it’s also the main source for all of our vegetables, so it’s pretty important that we get a good harvest.  We’re mainly vegetarians, eating meat just once or twice a week, so we need to grow lots of healthy and nutritious veggies!

Until next time, happy gardening!  And as always, please feel free to leave me a comment.  I’m always interested to hear ideas from others, or answer any gardening questions I can. :)

~Michelle of CreativeCritters

Starting Seeds Indoors (the beginning of the 2015 gardening season)

Standard

It may only be the beginning of February, but here in Arizona it’s time to get some slow growing seeds started to give them a jump start on the season.  Back in Ohio I always started nearly all my seeds indoors because it took so long for them to sprout in the cold, heavy clay soil that I had to work with.  This is the first year I’m starting seeds indoors since I moved to Arizona, but I figure even with our warmer spring (and even winter!) temps some of the slow growers could do with some early season pampering.  So I’m starting the peppers, eggplants, and a few tomatoes in the guest bathroom.  Sal worked hard to get everything set up for me, including the plastic covered trays that fit over the top of the tub and the plant lights.

seed starting 2.3.2015

So today I filled 69 2″ plastic pots with organic seed starting mix and sowed the first vegetable seeds of 2015.  It was a gorgeous day here and a real pleasure to be outdoors and getting in touch with nature.  It got a bit breezy, so I moved into the greenhouse to avoid having my tiny seeds blown all over the place.

seed starting indoors 2.3.15

Once I had my trays filled with pots and my pots labeled and my seeds sown I watered everything well then brought the trays inside and placed them under the lights.

seed starting indoors 2.3.2015

Then I covered the pots with a sheet of plastic to help them retain moisture.  If the soil dries out none of the seeds will sprout.  I also have a spray bottle filled with water so I can mist the top of the soil as needed.  Once the seeds start to sprout I’ll remove the plastic.

I’m really excited to be starting a new gardening season- hopefully the best one yet!  I’ll keep posting on the progress on the plants, and what I’m up to in the garden (this will also help me remember what worked and what didn’t).  And if you have any gardening tips you’d like to share please leave me a comment- I’d love to hear from you!

Happy gardening!

~Michelle of CreativeCritters

Whimsical Frog Pendants from CreativeCritters

Standard

The latest addition to my ArtFire shop are these adorable and whimsical little frog jewelry pendants.

Whimsical Red Frog on Green Blue and Gold Clay Leaf Jewelry Pendant

I became inspired to sculpt these cute little critters after re-reading a few books from Christie Friesen.  I love her fun, free form style.  Although many of my Christie inspired projects bear little resemblance to the original tutorial, her general style can usually be seen in them.

Whimsical Teal Blue and Green Polymer Clay Tree Frog Jewelry Pendant

For these pendants I started out by shaping several leaves from polymer clay.  I swirled together shades of blue, green, and gold then wandered around the house checking out the leaf shapes on the many houseplants we have.  Each leaf was shaped by hand, and each is unique.  They’re not exact replicas of any certain type of leaves, just sort of inspired by the shapes I observed.  I CAN follow precise instructions, but I really enjoy just going with the flow and allowing my work to develop almost by itself.  And I love creating things that make me and my customers smile.

Whimsical Polymer Clay Yellow and Teal Tree Frog Jewelry Pendant And these cute little froggies certainly do that!  Some of them have been embellished with glass beads for a little extra sparkle and color.  That’s another Christie thing- she likes to add a variety of beads, jewelry findings, and other interesting things to her work.  Since I’ve got lots of vintage jewelry, much of it broken or missing stones, I often add bits and pieces to my work as well.  There’s just something about vintage jewelry that is so cool- I’ve got some pretty wild pieces I’ve saved from my Gramma’s collection and from my neighbor, as well as plenty of jewelry I’ve picked up at garage sales.  Nothing goes to waste!  One of the (many) things I love about polymer clay is how easy it is to incorporate a variety of different materials into the final piece.

Whimsical Yellow Green and Gold Tree Frog Leaf Jewelry Pendant I also like using embossing powders to add more color and texture.  I don’t always know just how it will turn out after it’s baked, but that’s part of the fun.  I thought this little frog would be more speckled, but once I baked him the embossing powder formed larger patches of color, which is fine by me.

I’m sure there will be more frogs in my future (I’m thinking about making more plush frogs too), but since I seem to have a touch of craft ADD I’ve since moved on to dragon pendants.  Really, though, you just never know what I’ll create next ;)

If you’d like to learn more about each of the pendants pictured above just click on the picture to be directed to their individual listings in my shop.  Thanks so much for stopping by! :)

~Michelle of CreativeCritters

Recipe for Cranberry Lemon Cookies

Standard

cranberry lemon cookies

I just wanted to share this recipe for delicious and healthy Cranberry Lemon cookies.  This recipe makes 24 cookies (although I doubled it in order to have plenty to give as gifts).

Nutrition info per cookie: 104 calories, 5 g. fat, 1 g. sat. fat, 13 g. carbs, 1 g. protein, 1 g. fiber, 95 mg. sodium

RECIPE:

1 1/3 cups brown rice flour

1/4 cup ground flax seed

1/2 tsp. baking soda

1/2 tsp. baking powder

1/2 tsp. sea salt

1/2 cup olive oil

1/4 cup unsweetened applesauce (I’ve also used very ripe mashed pears)

1/4 cup honey

1/4 cup fresh lemon juice plus the grated zest of 1 lemon

2 large eggs, beaten

1/2 tsp. vanilla

1 cup dried cranberries

Preheat the oven to 275 degrees.  Line two cookies sheets with parchment paper.

In a medium bowl whisk together the brown rice flour, ground flax seeds, baking soda, baking powder, and salt.

In a large bowl whisk together the oil, applesauce, honey, lemon juice, lemon zest, eggs, and vanilla.  Add the flour mixture and stir just until blended.  Stir in the cranberries.

Use a tablespoon or cookie scoop to scoop the batter onto the cookie sheets.  Using damp fingers flatten slightly.  Bake 12 to 15 minutes until slightly golden on top.  Cool on a wire rack.

I can tell you that these cookies are a real hit with my boyfriend, and the fact that they are so healthy is a real plus!  You can also play around with the ingredients, adding nuts or other dried fruit for some variation.  Next time I make them I think I’ll try adding some poppy seeds.

Enjoy!

~Michelle of CreativeCritters

Calciferious the Cat Dragon

calciferious
Standard

calciferious

This magnificent beast is Calciferious, Calcifer kitty’s alter ego.  This is another Cat Dragon sculpture and was inspired by my fluffy Maine Coon cat.  Calcifer frequently sits in what I call his “Captain Cool” pose, so I decided to make his dragon persona sitting in this pose.

captain cool calcifer

This sculpture took weeks to complete, but it was an absolute labor of love.  Unfortunately the very first work in progress pictures are on my laptop, which died a while back (one of the reasons I haven’t posted for quite a while).  I tried something new with this piece and the center of the sculpture is weighted with a special rock that I found at our favorite camp site.  I made a cardboard base, glued the rock in place on the base, then wrapped it all in aluminum foil, filling and shaping to create a feline/ dragon body shape.  The front legs have heavy gauge wire running through them for added strength.  Then I started adding the base layer of clay.  This sculpture took a LOT of polymer clay!  After getting the head, neck, body, legs, and tail sculpted the fun part really started- adding the scales.  I used star shapes in varying sizes for most of the body, legs, and tail.

calciferious-wip

I tried to mimic Calcifer’s colors and patterns, only with a dragony twist.  I used black, silver, and gold for everything but the wings.  It was slow going, shaping and placing each scale, checking with the real cat to get the stripes and colors just right.  I wasn’t in any hurry though, and I just let the sculpture flow.  At first I used star shapes for his chest too, but then I decided that carefully shaped leaves would give him that fluffy look that I wanted.

calciferious-wip5

This turned out to be just perfect and added so much more to the sculpture.  Here you can see the stripes along his side and how the colors change from his belly to his back (this is harder to see after I added the wings).

calciferious-wip7

I brought the fluffy scales (is there such a thing?) up under his chin and just to his ears, like his fluffy fur is in real life.  That’s one of the features I love about Cal and I really wanted to capture that in clay.  I even used Calcifer’s real whiskers.  (Cats shed their whiskers and I’ve saved whiskers from all my cats.) I poked holes in the muzzle before baking then put a dab of glue on the end of each whisker and inserted it in the hole after the sculpture was baked.  You can bake whiskers at 275 degrees (the temperature for baking polymer clay), but sometimes the white ones tend to yellow a bit or curl.

calciferious2

I added all of his scales before adding the wings, which I sculpted separately and prebaked.  I used purple and gold scales because those colors are just very “Calcifer” and I liked the way they complimented the rest of the piece.

calciferious5

This is actually a rather large sculpture, for me at least, since I normally work in miniature.  It ended up measuring about 10 inches long and 10 inches high.  But since Cal has such a big personality, I had to make a big sculpture to encompass all that he is ;)  Here you can see Calciferious hanging out in the living room.  Did I mention that he’s a shelf sitter?  I designed him to sit comfortably on a shelf or the edge of a table.

calciferious10

I think he goes pretty nicely with the decor too.  I’m still deciding if I want to list him for sale.  For now I think I’ll just keep him all to myself- I don’t think I can part with him just yet.

~Michelle of CreativeCritters