Like the rest of the world, I’m pretty hooked on Instagram. Here are some pictures from the last several days. Two of my favorite things, as you can tell, are cute animals and sweet treats. Enjoy!

Maxine taking a nap on Dawn’s legs

Chowder loves sleeping on the back of the sofa.

This sweet guy showed up on our porch last week. He hung around until his owner came and picked him up.

Tabouli with Chevre, Red Onion, & Cherry Tomatoes

Avocado & Cherry Tomatoes on Toast

RolyYo is possibly the best frozen yogurt in the world, and definitely the best I’ve ever tasted. It’s pretty unbeatable with strawberries and blueberries.

MaraNatha Dark Chocolate Almond Butter & Strawberries on Toast

As was probably made evident by my extended absence, all week I’ve been paying for the fun I had last weekend.  I’ve been barely treading water as far as work is concerned–I have two presentations and two essays to turn in next week, plus a stack of Comparison/Contrast essays to grade at some point (not one of my sixteen students has dropped, which is great but also means more work for me).  So this weekend will be spent in front of the computer, drinking more coffee than I probably should, and eating foldover peanut butter sandwiches.  I’m sure the upcoming week will be more relaxed, and we have Mardi Gras break coming up, so I’ll have some cool (and in no way related to school) things to share soon. Hopefully this cute picture of Chowder will make the wait a little more bearable (since I know you guys are hitting refresh every fifteen minutes and tearing your hair out in frustration over my lack of posts).

More and more these days I find myself embracing my cat-lady status.  Cat art all over my walls?  Check.  Consistently covered in cat hair?  Check.  Talking strangers’ ears off about Chowder and Maxine?  Check.  I’ve even written some cat poems, which I think is probably the worst offense of all.

So, after completing my first stuffed cat last night before bed (just in time for my niece’s party tomorrow!), I didn’t hesitate before starting on my second stuffed cat this afternoon.  I wasn’t really satistfied with how lumpy the finished product was, so this time I lined the entire pillow with muslin for a (hopefully) much sturdier stuffed animal.  (I’ll be using the terms pillow and stuffed animalinterchangibly, since I can’t decide which one fits better.)  To make the lining, I sandwiched a gray striped tank top (right sides together) between two pieces of muslin and pinned everything in place so that I had a layer of muslin, two layers of gray jersey, and then another layer of muslin.  I then folded the whole thing in half (hot dog style), drew the outline of half a cat face, and then cut it all out in the same way I would a paper heart, leaving a 1/2″ seam allowance.  Then I unfolded it so that it actually looked like a cat face and sewed all the way around, stopping after each ear so that when turned right side out there’s a 6″ to 7″ gap at the top of the head.  This easily accomodates my embroidery hoop and leaves plenty of room for me to work on embroidering the sleepy and awake faces on the front and back.  I’m hoping that the top of the head will be a less conspicuous place to sew the whole thing up once stuffed, since I wasn’t happy with the way it looked on the chin of the previous cat.  So far, all I’ve completed are the sleepy eyes.  I’ll probably be working on this one at a much more leisurely pace since I’m not dealing with a deadline, and the next week of school promises to be busier than this one was (at least I’m not counting on two more sleet days, but who knows?).

Now that I’ve seen this photographed, I’ll admit I think I was subconsciously inspired, at least as far as the head shape and color palette are concerned, by these adorable Kitty-Cat paper dolls I saw on ModernCat yesterday.  So sweet!

Including the time it took to take pictures of this little guy, I think I barely squeaked by in time for this to count as day three.  Tonight I finished this cat pillow to give my niece at her fourth birthday party tomorrow!  Having never made a stuffed animal quite like this one (though I made a similar owl, also from a tank top, a while back), I’ll admit there are things I’ll definitely do differently next time.  And since I promised a cat like this to someone else almost a year ago and still haven’t managed to deliver, I’ll be making another one sooner than later!  All of the embroidery was freehanded, which explains why things aren’t quite symmetrical.  Still, I think it gives each animal a distinct personality I’ve found to be lacking in a lot of store-bought toys.  The reverse applique for the eyes on the “awake” side of the face was by far the most challenging aspect of this project–at least the first eye was challenging.  By the time I got to the second eye I had a better handle on what I was doing, which is why the right eye looks so much better than the left.

A special note: this pillow was modeled after a cat pillow that belongs to my dear friend Melody.  She’s had hers since she was small, but I’m not sure exactly what it looked like originally because it’s been thoroughly loved over the years and doesn’t have much of a face left.  I can only hope this one is lucky enough to suffer a similar fate!

Still a work in progress!

My first attempt at a sort of reverse appliqué with a bit of muslin left over from a previous project.
It wasn’t my intention to make this kitty cross-eyed, but I kind of like how silly it’s turning out. I just hope it doesn’t scare my niece!

Today I began working on this stuffed cat pillow (made from a gently-used tank top that no longer fits) for my niece’s birthday this weekend.  On the opposite side I plan to embroider a more awake-looking “day time” face, then sew it up and stuff it.

Chowder isn’t much for book learnin’. He’s actually waiting for Dawn and me to leave the room so he can dig in/eat the plants next to this bookcase.

Most of the time I’m equally cheerful throughout the week, but the past couple days have been very busy, and I woke up tired today.  There’s pretty much nothing I’d rather do right now than crawl back into bed and sleep a couple more hours (or days).  Since I can’t do that, I thought I’d share some cute cat pictures this morning.  On days like today I’m jealous of my cats because they don’t have to go to school or work.  In fact, they refuse to do anything they don’t want to do and spend most of the day sleeping together on my bed in the sun.

Maxine will lie on whatever she feels like, even a pair of scissors I’m in the middle of using.

What a dreamy way to spend the day.

Look at all those spikes!

I’ve had my eye on this spooky-looking plant in my parents’ front yard for a while. It finally bloomed!

This flower looks like it might be carnivorous.

These pears make me think of big ol’ grapes.

The pear trees out front have been weighed down with these tiny, sweet pears for the last couple of weeks. The limbs were almost at the breaking point when I finally got out there to pick them.

Have you ever had a pear cake? If not, you’re missing out.

These spotty little apples are some of the sweetest I’ve ever tasted.

Thanks to my Nana and our neighbor, Granny, I’ve recently come into a lot of apples. There’s no way I could eat or bake them all into something, so I decided to can them. Come October when the four of us are 500 miles away and getting homesick, maybe pie made with these apples from home will make us feel better?

We’ve also got lots of figs.

Our neighbors and family members (the ones with the cows that Chowder and Maxine love to watch) have a couple of fig trees covered in figs they aren’t going to use. We couldn’t live with ourselves if we let all those beautiful figs go to waste!

We’re drowning in baby figs.

As well as big ass figs–this is not a pear.

We will more than likely be packing and moving next week, but hopefully I’ll still be able to share the sweet treats I’m making with all this beautiful fresh (and local, and free!) fruit.

Yesterday I had a wonderful visit with my friend Alexa. Among other things, Alexa and I discussed her bare porch, and she asked me to recommend some plants that would do well in pots. This is by no means a comprehensive list, and it’s based solely on the plants I’ve had success with. Since I’ve lived without a yard for the past four years, I’ve had quite a bit of time to experiment with growing plants in pots. I’ve come to look for and appreciate certain characteristics in potted plants, and there are a few varieties that I can recommend with some confidence. Many of these plants fall into more than one category.

Plants that smell good:

I love anything in the mint family, but I’m especially fond of spearmint, peppermint, and lemon balm because they’re really hard to kill and smell wonderful. They’re especially nice when placed in a high traffic area; guests get a nice-smelling surprise when they brush against them had mixed luck with lavender.  Up until this summer, I’d never been able to get it to bloom despite my best efforts.  I’m not sure what exactly I could’ve been doing wrong other than trying to start it from seed rather than buying plants, but I can say it’s definitely worth the effort.  These sweet little blooms smell so wonderful, and their bright purple color adds visual interest as well.

Plants that look or feel  interesting:

I posted about the mother of millions (alias bryophyllum crenatodaigremontianum, in case you were wondering) a couple of weeks ago. These are some of the most visually interesting plants I’ve seen yet, and as it turns out they’re nearly impossible to kill. Again, I want to stress that these are very aggressive and probably shouldn’t be grown outside of pots. They’re also toxic when consumed, so keep animals away from them as well! These factors make them perfect plants to grow in pots because you have total control over them.

Lamb’s ear is a really fun plant because it’s fun to look at and touch. Make sure and water the dirt and not the plant itself, however, because the leaves really don’t like to get wet.

For a long time, I didn’t know that chrysanthemums and mums were the same things, but apparently, they are. I learned the spell the word chrysanthemum in second grade, and I remember being furious that my teacher expected me to learn to spell a thirteen-letter word. Nevertheless, I still remember how to spell the word and they’re some of my favorite flowers nowadays. I’ve had a lot of success with growing mums in pots. They come in tons of fun colors, bloom late in the summer, and are available at most grocery stores and greenhouses.

I’m crazy about all ferns, including the boring Boston ferns you can pick up at any grocery store. My favorites, however, are the ones that are a little harder to find and more visually appealing. I have a maidenhair fern and an asparagus fern in hanging baskets on my porch, and I love the unexpected variety and volume their leaves provide. Their leaves are more beautiful than a lot of flowers I can think of–to me, there’s something kind of woodsy, Elvin, and wild about ferns. I’m always on the lookout for newer, more rare varieties.

Plants that are Useful:

Catnip is another member of the mint family (which is why it looks so much like mint and lemon balm), and it’s good for more than just cats. Although we do love watching Chowder and Maxine go crazy after eating catnip, I would never keep this plan inside because they’d likely devour the whole thing within a day or two. Catnip, like other mint plants, is easy to grow, hard to kill, and comes back year after year. Catnip can be made into a very soothing tea for anxious types like myself (and you, Alexa). It’s cousins mint and lemon balm also make tasty teas.

Chamomile is another plant that fits more than one category. I love the way these delicate flowers look and smell, and chamomile can be used in a number of soothing beauty recipes (more on that later). My first encounter with chamomile was drinking it as a calming night-time tea, and that’s still one of my favorite uses for it. A lot of people confuse chamomile with the milkweed that grows in ditches around here, but I like how chamomile is a little stringy and wild-looking.

There are probably more that are slipping my mind, especially considering the circumstances. The plants that survived our move from Columbus are hanging out on my parents’ rarely-visited front porch, and the only time I fool with them much is to water or harvest them. As I said before, this list is in no way comprehensive–these are only the plants I’ve had luck with growing in pots. What about you guys, are there certain plants you prefer when it comes to potted plants?

(all images are links to the original source, and I also realize I’m neglecting one of the most important aspects of container gardening–the containers themselves. But that’s for another post.)

One of my favorite sources for gardening/simple living inspiration is Not Dabbling in Normal.  Earlier this morning I read a post over there titled It’s Time to Think About the Fall/Winter Garden, and that post did indeed get me thinking.

If things go according to plan (fingers crossed!), within the next month we’ll be moving into our first real house with a real yard suitable for a real garden.  Our last apartment, where we were for two years, was great and had a decently-sized yard.  However, the gardener (who was hired and paid by the landlord) had a really bad habit of weed-whacking everything that wasn’t growing in a pot–even if it was in the flower bed with a plant marker next to it.  I lost sage, basil, dahlias, daylilies, and even a tomato plant to his lack of discernment.  Needless to say, I’m excited about having complete control over a (pretty sizable) front and back yard, and I’ve got big dreams for next spring–but I don’t want to wait that long! I’ve started doing a little research as to what I can include in a small fall/winter garden that won’t require too much maintenance, but will hopefully knock out a considerable portion of our grocery bill (not to mention the health and environmental benefits of growing your own food).

In the spring, I plan on taking advantage of the chain link fence in the backyard by planting climbing varieties of beans, cucumbers, melons, and tomatoes.  Until then, I’m thinking of going ahead and building some raised beds against the fence and trying my hand at fall and winter crops.  According to HumeSeeds.com’s Fall and Winter Vegetable Planting Guide, “the soil in a well made and maintained raised bed can be between 8 and 12 degrees F. warmer than the same soil in the surrounding garden areas.”  That should be really beneficial in fall and winter gardening.

I checked the Ira Nelson Horticulture Center’s website for zone-specific advice (we’re moving to South Louisiana), and of the plants they recommend I think we’d really enjoy broccoli, garlic, onions, spinach, lettuce, and radishes.  I’m going to get to work planning planting and harvest times, and hopefully by the time we’re moved in I’ll be ready to get started.