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Thursday, July 31, 2014

The White Gardenia

What's that smell?  People always ask that as they climb the steps to our porch. Most people don't recognize the lovely fragrance of the Gardenia plant.

But it was the first plant I thought of when we bought our new house. There was a little niche by the stairs leading to the porch. And I just knew that this very attractive plant would help welcome visitors with its dark green leaves and beautiful, white, fragrant flowers.

It's become another Southern favorite because it does well in the Texas heat and can be easily pruned. These plants can grow from 2 to 8 feet, but I prune it every spring because I want to keep it as a little bush. It will bloom from early spring to late fall, and it's proven to be fairly hearty because it has survived every winter here in Texas with no problems at all.

When you make landscape and/or gardening decisions, you have to consider things like soil, sun, and weather. You have to know the soil in your yard and which types of plants can be supported and also the amount of sun certain plants need in order to be planted in optimal areas.

The area by the porch was perfect for a gardenia because the soil was rich in clay with lots of rock and was pretty acidic. Whatever was planted there would be in full sun for half the day and then in shade during the afternoon, but it would also be protected from the north wind by the porch. Overall, it was the perfect spot for a gardenia which has always been a favorite of mine.

The gardenia holds a special place in my heart as I remember my mother and her mother always had gardenia plants in their gardens. I remember thinking the scent of the gardenia was wild and exotic.

I don't find the smell so exotic these days, but there's just something about the gardenia that makes me smile each time I spy a new bloom.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Explaining the Esperanza!

Driving around a new city brings new sights and one of the prettiest we found, after moving to San Antonio, was this bright-yellow blossomed plant. I was seeing them everywhere.  Some were small, but others were like miniature trees.

On our first trip to the local nursery, I found them.  They are  most commonly known here in Texas as the Esperanza. It's also called Yellow Bells because of the bell shape of the blossoms, and in this heat, it's another winner for your yard. 

It loves the heat and can live with minimal water once a week. It's easy to prune and survives most Texas winters. Just remember to trim off the winter damaged areas, and it will grow back beautifully in the spring.

Another great thing is that the bees love it! So if you have a tomato garden, it's a wonderful plant to have nearby to attact the bees to its blossoms as well.  We have 3 strategically planted in the yard, and since they bloom far into the fall, they help out with the fall garden too.

Important tip to remember is that you can promote continuous flowers by clipping off the seedpods.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Happiness is a Dog Crate!

Puppies can be so cute and cuddly, but not so much at 4:30 in the morning when you're trying to sleep.  I's also not cute to wake up to a mess every morning.

So now Daisy, our rescue puppy, is doing the crate thing!

We had heard many people talk about crates and what a help it was in potty training a puppy!  Well, we thought that as intelligent people, we could handle this the old-fashioned way.  We were wrong.

Daisy was doing fine during the day, and we seemed to be doing a good job wearing her out each evening so that she would sleep throughout the night. 

This worked fine the first couple of nights, but then we started waking up to find messes and overturned trash cans.  So doggy-prison it is.

We went straight to Craigslist because the cost of a brand-new one started at about $100 for a very basic one.  It took a couple of days, but we finally got this one for $20.00 from a college student who was off to another college.

It was almost brand-new and had two entrances and a sturdy tray for the bottom.  We draped towels on the top and sides to help keep the light out and give the illusion of a cave.  We also put in a comfy soft blankets.

We prepared ourselves for the worse....barking, whinning, scratching.  Nothing!

She loves her little cage.  I put treats in the "Daisy Cave" at night, and she goes right in to eat them and then lays down and goes to sleep.


So I highly recommend a dog crate now to everyone with a puppy!

Monday, July 28, 2014

Where Are the Made in America labels?

Imagine my surprise when I went to my local grocery store and tried to buy a new doggie toy for Daisy our rescue puppy, the newest addition to our household, and came home without one.

Made in China labels were everywhere. 

I know some people think that a dog or a cat are just that...animals. But they are to me, and many people, family members. They are loved ones. They are our babies. And I for one, am not taking any chances with them. Just look at that face, would you?

That being said, I think Daisy deserves the best, but getting the best is proving a hard thing to get. All the toys said: Made in China. And I mean, all the doggie toys! I could not find one doggie toy that wasn't made in China.

Even most of the doggie treats are made in China. Now I am not totally against all things made in China, but there have been many reports of dogs that have died and gotten sick from pet treats made in China. So I was pleased to read an article about how Petsmart and the other major pet retailer are committed to stop selling Made in China pet treats.

By March of 2015, it will be a lot easier to find Made in America or Made Anywhere Else, but China labels.  Yippee for all pets out there!

Poor Daisy did not get a new toy today, but she did get some wonderful chicken-flavored chew rawhides made in Columbia.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

A Bird Feeder Memory

A bird feeder?  I'd never really thought about a bird feeder, but my husband likes birds, and so one of the first things we put up in our new yard when we moved to Texas was a bird feeder. 

We went to our local hardware store and found a 4 arm shepherd's hook that we thought would be perfect in our yard.  We could then hang 4 bird feeders at one time. What a time-saver, we thought. We won't have to fill them as often. 

Were we wrong! At first, it took the birds time to get used to the bird feeders, but word soon spread like wildfire among the bird population of the area, and we couldn't keep the birds away.

Now the birds empty the feeders in one day. It's become part of our morning ritual besides feeding the cats and feeding the dogs, now we feed birds.

Every morning I get to enjoy the doves as they come to call. And call they do until the bird feeders get filled, especially those white-winged ones.  

One morning I was out on the porch sipping my coffee listening to the birds, and it took me back in time.  For a few minutes I was back in 1976 at my grandparent's home.  

I remember this huge walk-in enclosure where he housed many doves.  He would go out every morning and walk around spreading seed.  He would also share the seed with the many free doves that would inevitably find their way to his yard.  When I was older, he would let me feed the doves too.  It's one of the few memories I have of that man.

Isn't it funny how sounds can trigger memories we don't even remember having.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Best of Texas!

Was walking through the yard this morning chasing after Daisy when I heard a lot of buzzing.  It was coming from the Pride of Barbados.  The bees were all over this plant this morning.  It is in full bloom right now.

If you've traveled through Texas or spent any time here, you're bound to have seen a particular lush green plant with bright red, orange, and yellow blooms. It's a plant that loves and thrives in our steaming summers here. It's a member of the pea family.  I won't bore you with the exact scientific name, but you might have heard it called the Mexican Bird of Paradise or even the Peacock Flower, but most commonly as the Pride of Barbados.

When we moved back to Texas three years ago, it was during a drought. The property we settled on had a small barren yard.  The soil wasn't too good, but the weeds loved it.  So the first order of business after getting rid of the weeds was to try to spruce up the place.

At the local nurseries, we talked to many people and these beautiful plants were recommended. They typically grow to about 5 - 8 feet in this area. Mine in the picture are about to the 8 foot range now.

They have suffered a bit in the winters here, but they grow back beautifully every spring.  It can be pruned fairly easy, which is good because they will block walkways if you let them. It loves full sun, and it is very drought-resistant.  We water these minimally.

Most of all, it is beautiful and adds lots of color to any yard.

What more can you ask of a plant?

Friday, July 25, 2014

Daisy Does School!

Daisy had her first day at puppy training. She was wonderful!

We adopted Daisy through San Antonio Pets Alive when they were hosted by Petsmart. A couple of times a month they set up shop in the aisles of Petsmart to find new homes for dogs and cats that have been saved from certain death at kill-shelters.

In exchange for adopting a dog or cat at one of these events, Petsmart gives you a coupon book worth over $200.00 in savings on supplies and food at Petsmart. Included was a $20.00 coupon for their 6 week Training Course.

Since adopting Daisy, she has only been about ninety percent accident free, and we've discovered she has a shoe fetish.  A training course?  Let's try it, we thought.  What could it hurt?

Daisy attended lesson one a couple of days ago. They presented us with a free bag of training treats and a clicker. We learned about using a clicker to reinforce good behavior.

Daisy seemed to understand the general concepts.  Now we have to keep practicing and reinforce what we learned in the class at home.  Apparently consistency is the trick to training.  We even left the class with homework for Daisy to work on until our next training class.

Will this help us over-come her shoe fetish? 
We'll have to wait and see! 
Wish us luck!

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Sassy is Just Like a Student!

My favorite time of the year is summer.  Why?  Because I'm a teacher, and I have summers off. Today as I was trying to do some things that needed to be done. I was reminded that the new school year will be starting much too soon.

Do you remember that student in class that always raises their hand first?
The one who always knew best?
The one who always had the answer?
The one you got tired of listening to?
The one who wouldn't take no for an answer and monopolized the teacher's attention?

That's my Sassy Cat. She has to be the first one every time! She's also the one who follows me every time I go into the bathroom. I try to close the door, but she just sits and scratches on the door till I let her in. It's as if she doesn't trust me in there by myself. You'd think I had a back door and was going to escape if she didn't come in with me.

Sassy needs a lot of love being a rescue cat, but I've also had to set boundaries just like I have to do with my students. I've had to show Sassy that she doesn't always get to be the one first, and that she can wait and be patient, and in return every night she knows that she will get to sit on my lap and have one-on-one time with me.

Students also have to be shown how to be fair because students can become outcasts in the classroom if they don't play nice. They have to learn that taking turns is perfectly fine and you don't have to be called on every time, and that if you're patient and appreciative of others, that they will return the behavior. 

Each year brings new challenges for the teacher, but some are recurring ones. I usually have at least one Sassy Cat in every class.

Here's wishing all the teachers out there are getting a good rest before the new year starts!

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Are You a Bargain Hunter?

Do you pay full-price for items or are you a bargain hunter?

These days one has to be a little tight with their money.  If I could, I'd buy everything that caught my eye, but I can't so I don't.  But that doesn't mean that I don't buy anything that I want.  It just means that I have to be a smarter shopper.

Gardening and maintaining my yard are two things that I enjoy.  So when I saw this metal stand at my local Lowe's one day, I loved it, but it was pricey.  Needless to say, it remained in Lowe's care.

I kept my eye out though, and sure enough, after the season was over, I grabbed it on clearance for $10.00.  This was at a very considerable discount.  They were down to three and really wanted to get rid of it.  I was only to happy to take advantage of this deal.

Sometimes I miss out on things I really want, but when every dollar counts, I can't afford not to hunt for bargains.  I've found that if you wait till after the season, all the leftovers are marked down to make room for the new stuff. 

Every time I go shopping, I make sure that I look through the clearance aisle or section.  These days every store has them, and you'd be amazed what you'll find.

The other day at Walmart I found Hershey's New Mixed Berry Sundae Syrup for 50 cents.  Apparently this New item was not selling.  I grabbed it up for my ice cream eaters at home.  They loved it, but at 50 cents, it wasn't too much of a risk. 

The other item I found was Betty Crocker Frosted Premium Brownie Mix with Caramel Frosting...for 50 cents again.  I bought two of these thinking that brownies are brownies, and if I didn't like the frosting, it wouldn't be a big loss to toss the frosting.  I was right, the brownies were great without the frosting. 

When's the last time you found a great deal?

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Remember Daisy Duke?

Remember the Dukes of Hazard? The TV show from the late 70's with Bo and Luke Duke and the General Lee, the orange suped-up Dodge Charger stock car? Well, I'm sure there's lots of men out there that still remember Cousin Daisy with the skimpy shorts and the legs that went on forever?

Well, meet the newest member of our family, a four-month old Lab mix, Daisy. We got her yesterday when we went to PetSmart. I swear, we only went there for cat food and cat treats. I imagine we must have looked pretty funny walking out with this dog and box of cat food and bag of cat treat.  People were probably thinking that we had no business owning a dog if we didn't even know how to feed it.

However, PetSmart was hosting a dog rescue organization named San Antonio Pets Alive. Several foster parents were there with puppies and dogs that they had rescued from kill-shelters in the area. These people rescue these abandoned or forgotten pets from being euthanized.

In some cases, they give medical attention and in most, they have to work with the animals to get them ready to receive (hopefully) a new home. Every time one of the puppies or dogs gets adopted, two animals are saved because then the foster home has a space available to rescue another animal. When we heard all this and saw the dog formerly known as "Angie," we knew we just had to have her.

The foster mom told us that "Angie" had never really bonded with her name so my husband picked the new name Daisy, even before we left PetSmart. It brought back memories. As a teen-aged girl, I had spent many a night dreaming of Bo and Luke Duke.

Isn't it funny how things in everyday life can trigger memories long forgotten and take us back to yesterday?

I've been calling her Daisy Duke ever since!

Monday, July 21, 2014

DIY Cat Condo Anyone?

Got cats?  Get a lot of rain?  Want to give the cats a place to hide and stay dry?

Well, I do, we do, and we did.  So my handy guy with the tools, otherwise known as the hubby, had a new project.  It turned out perfectly.

What I wanted was this:  a place for the cats to crawl into during the cold nights, a place for them to hide from the rain, something that wouldn't take up too much space on the porch, and something that wouldn't be an eyesore.

Thus the cat condo was born.  It is 19 inches wide and 60 inches long.  He built the lid with a frame on the inside so that it fits snug inside the walls and can be lifted up for easy maintenance.  The lid extends past the walls on all four sides by about an inch and a half all the way around.  This offers more stability and allows for the rain to drip off instead of running down the wall and possibly causing it to rot before it's time.

There are openings on both ends for easy access, and it even has a window on the side with a removable plexiglass that slides easily in and out for the different seasons.

On the plus side, he painted it a nice neutral color which goes well with our house.  Since it is 20 inches high, it also serves as a great seating area for both humans and cats.  I usually have a big beach towel folded on top as a soft, nap area for the cats, and padding for humans who don't mind cat hair.    

Overall, a wonderful addition to our porch.  I and the cats love it!

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Do You Donate?

This is Champs or as I like to refer to him...Champers!  When he first showed up at our house obviously abandoned, we couldn't tell if he was a boy or a girl cat because he wouldn't let anyone near him.  He did develop a knack for showing up for meals on time though.  Then he would hide again.

As he started to get braver, he would climb on the porch for small periods of time, but before you knew it, he was gone again!

It took time and patience, but now he is much more trusting.  He's still a big fraidy-cat and loud noises tend to send him scurrying from sight.  I believe there are some bad memories hidden away that come out to plague him from time to time for he will find a dark corner to hide sometimes.

These days Champs is doing great!  This is a recently picture of him napping on the diagonal counter that separates the dining area from the living room.  It's become his favorite spot!

Cats are wonderful, loving creatures if you just give them a chance.  It's too bad that many are abandoned when they get too big or inconvenient to have around.

Every time I go to PetSmart, I make a point of donating a dollar to help the PetSmart charities when going through the checkout line.  Can you imagine how many cats and dogs could be helped if everyone donated just one dollar?

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Spiders, Oh my!

Now I don't mind spiders generally.  I come across the occasional one here and there and usually walk around it.  Plus with five cats in the house, I never have to worry about stumbling into one in the dark in the comforts of my own home.

However, apparently my garden is fair game.  This big, ugly one has taken up home near the plumbago.  If his web is any indication, it is here for the long haul.  The web must span a good 3 feet.

My son says it's big enough to be a pet so he's named it Bob.  He seems to be fascinated by the spider.  I think my son needs to get a life, and Bob needs to move out!

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Bubblews: New and Improved?

Surprise!  Bubblews is new and improved!  As a consumer, I always dreaded seeing the words new and improved.  I always think to myself..What was it before, old and lousy?

Well, while it was not lousy, Bubblews has certainly gone out and made some drastic changes to improve the site.  Of course, like with all change, some think it's good and others don't.  But change is what makes the world go 'round.  It's the only constant you can count on.

The best change I've seen is that you are now able to see those who are connected with you.  Before you could see them as they connected with you on the notification feed, but if you missed it or were off-line for a day or so, well, you missed it.

Now you can see a list of all the people connected with you and a list of all the people you connected with.  You can also use this list to make connections instead of having to visit a person's profile page.  This is much easier and faster.

Sometimes, you need to embrace change and go with the flow to see where it leads you.  Trying to fight change only causes you undue stress.

As you can see in the pic above, Sassy never lets change get in her way.  She sleeps right through it. 

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Pretty Pink Blossoms

I was up early this morning around 8:30.  Yes, I know that this is not what most people consider early, but since I wake up at 5:30 every school morning during the year to make my hour commute to work, sleeping till 8:30 feels like heaven during the summer!

Anyway, I noticed that my Oleander shrubs are in full bloom and doing nicely too, despite the hot summer heat.  The high today is predicted to be 97 degrees and tomorrow it will 98 degrees.  

That's probably the reason my vegetables and other plants are not doing so well this summer, but the Oleanders don't mind the heat.  They survive the heat and lack of water well and even like most of our winters here too.  You can find these wonderful, colorful shrubs all over Texas and surrounding southern states.

Oleander shrubs make wonderful barriers which is why you will see them on the highways planted as screens in the medians.  When we moved to Texas the yard in our new place needed some separation from the next door neighbor.  We were told that it was against the rules to put up a fence.

The answer was Oleander plants.  They have grown up nicely and make a great border between our house and the neighbor.  They offer privacy and are just beautiful.

Just remember that they are poisonous to some animals like dogs, and even to humans too.  If you have young children, you do not want them to put the leaves in their mouths.  As for me, I always make sure to wash up good after I prune them.

If you live in warm weather and want a splash of color in your yard from summer through late fall, then this is the plant for you!  

Monday, July 14, 2014

It was Too Big!

I was going through some of my pictures to sort through for using with articles in progress.  I came across this one of Kitty taken back in 2009 about three months after we got him.  It prompted me to reflect on another problem I'm experiencing today.

Bubblews only lets you upload pictures that are 1MB or less in size.  This picture like many of mine are 2MB or bigger.  So that was the problem and since I like using original pictures for my writing, it was a BIG problem.

Solution:  My IT hubby found Converseen, it's an open source image converter and resizer program that I got from CNET

It was easy to download and use.  My honey is the computer whiz, not me, so I if I can use it, anyone can.  I used it with the above picture.  The original picture was 2.3 MB, and I converted it to 207.2 kB.  Looks great does it?

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Introducing Blondie

Today, it's all about the cats.  Cats are the best pet ever, I think.  This is my favorite picture of Blondie Cat and Connor Cat.  Aren't they so cute!

Blondie's story began one day when she just showed up.  She acted like an ex-pampered kitty who must have either gotten lost or was abandoned.  I tried to find out if someone was out looking for her, but I couldn't find any news, and no one came around looking for her.  

Blondie came around for a few days to eat, but she would leave at night.  I still had hopes that she was finding her way home again, but then one night it was forcasted to freeze.  I couldn't take the chance that she was not returning home and might be stranded out in the elements to fend for herself so I put her up in my laundry room.  The next morning I let her out, but she never left again.  She's been here ever since, and this is her home now.

She and Connor really hit it off, and they spend many days cuddled together grooming each other.  She's not much for roaming so she spends a lot of time sleeping on the front porch.

Connor, on the other hand, will only stand the lovey-dovey stuff for so long and then he's out hunting and stalking prey.

Here's the latest from WIKINUT, an article I wrote about my hunter cats:

I hope you enjoy it!

Friday, July 11, 2014

First Piece on Bubblews

Connor the Cat doesn't think he's breaking the rules.  If he could, he would remind me that my exact words were:  You're not allowed on the table!...and he would point out, "I'm NOT on the table;I'm in the box!"

Hope you got a bigger laugh from that than my other half.  Sometimes I get the feeling that he doesn't love our 5 cats as much as I do, but then I put up with his drooling old dog, so I guess we're even.

I was at a workshop for work yesterday, but I've been busy writing whenever I can.  Writing for Bubblews is interesting to say the least.

Here's the first piece I wrote for that site:

I hope you enjoy it cause it was one of those pieces that was fun to write!

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

No Rest for the Working!

Life as a cat would be grand, wouldn't it?  Kitty seems to think so.  Just laying around sleeping all day after the gruelling job of finding just the right spot to monopolize, and me?  Well, trying to maintain two writing sites and my blog and still finding time to manage five cats and a dog and a family is like running a marathon on my knees.

These people actually expect me to fix 3 meals a day and clean the house!  Can you believe that?  They're lucky that the frozen food department and I at my local HEB are good friends. It's summer time. and it's my time to relax and write!  Right?

Well, WIKINUT is going well, so far.  Here's the newest article I wrote about one cure for the summer slide that some students experience:

Hope you enjoy it!

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

On the Fence

These day I feel out of my I'm stuck on the fence...not knowing which way to go.  With YCN closing, it's left me with major decisions to make.  To keep writing or not?  Where to publish?

Thank goodness though that it's summertime, and I have the time to invest into answering these questions before the new school year starts.  So after some research, I've decided to use a friend's referral link and to start writing on Bubblews.  Yes, I know many people have had problems with this site, but someone I know has had good success there.

So now I am on WIKINUT and Bubblews and also trying to promote my blog.  Big aspirations!  But am I doing the right thing?  Am I taking on too much?  I guess only time will tell.

I will let you know this all works out for me!  Wish me luck!

Monday, July 7, 2014

A Brighter Path

Today the melancholy is gone and replaced with renewed hope for a brighter future.  I've never been one to dwell on disappointments, that only leads to me trying to find relief in the refrigerator, and my waistline cannot handle anymore of that.  So the right thing to do is find a way down a new path.

My new path has found me on WIKINUT.  So far the journey has rewarded me with connecting with old YCN friends and renewed awareness of my writing.  I've published my first piece with WIKINUT.

This poem is the story of Sassy Cat who was an abandoned cat and who somehow has wormed her way into our home and into our hearts.

Please read and let me know what you think.  I hope you enjoy it as much as I do.

Sunday, July 6, 2014


Woke up this morning thinking about the path of my life and feeling pretty melancholy.  I've suffered many of life's little deaths lately, figuratively and literally.  With it comes a lot of reflection about the new path in store for me.

Unlike the path that leads Connor (my diabetic cat) around to the back of the house where he knows what awaits him, my path has taken many twists and turns.  It has ended and begun again so many times that it makes me sad sometimes to think about the journey. 

With the death of the Yahoo Contributor Network, I've decided to really work on my blog and develop it a bit more.  So last night I spent a few hours redesigning it after seeing what some other bloggers had done.  I think I'm happy with it for now, but I will have to rework some of my links to articles as soon as YCN is completely off-line, and I will be making some tweaks in the days to come.

I also signed up with another writing platform.  YCN was my first real experience with publishing my writing, and I realized when it was announced that it was ending that I didn't want my writing journey to end.  I had to think about what writing really meant to me.  Was it for the money?  Was it for fame?

No, it was, I realized, all about me for once.  It was something I enjoyed doing just for the sake of doing.  Making connections with other writers and receiving feedback was just a great, big bonus!  In days to come I will let you know how the new platform is working for me.  I'm excited because I've found old friends and that makes me happy!