My Favorite Things

“Now, when I feel bad about how many unchecked items there are on my gardening to-do list, I remember my lack of tidying is really for the benefit of wintering wildlife and the nourishment of my garden.”

Tuesday, December 6, 2022

As I sit in my comfy chair today, there’s a favorite thing going on just outside my window. Big, fat snowflakes are falling. ‘The Sound of Music’ kind of favorite snowflake that stays on your nose and eyelashes. It’ll probably vanish by tomorrow, but there it is, making the world outside my window look like a giant snow globe.

Otherwise, there’s not a lot going on in my garden. But what is there reminds me of a few of my favorite things. While I’m sitting here, I thought I’d join in with my gardening friends for a Six on Saturday post where gardeners around the world take time to post about six garden related things. A hearty thanks to Jim Stephens of Garden Ruminations for hosting.


One and Two : Birds and New Feeders

Robins are one of my favorite birds, but they’ve been noticeably absent lately. Although robins sometimes stick around in the winter, my guess is that they’ve quietly moved on to a warmer place. I’ve noticed, too, that the geese are noisily practicing their V-formations as they make ready for their winter migration journey. My hubby and I sometimes think about joining them in their quest for warmer temps, but we choose to stay near family for now. Thankfully, some birds choose to stay for the winter in Wisconsin too. Since they have kindly decided to keep us company and amused during the long, cold months, we decided to return the favor and add some new bird feeders–feeders that the thieving squirrels couldn’t empty in a few hours. We bought three new feeders, all of which have some “squirrel resistance” mentioned on the label. Two of the feeder designs involve surrounding a tube feeder with a cage that only song birds can fit through. The third is a long red tube with slider perches. If a squirrel tries to climb aboard for a snack, its weight will trigger a sliding mechanism that closes off the seed access hole. It took our frequent diners a few hours to decide they liked the new feeders, but they seem to have adjusted well. We haven’t noticed the resident squirrels having success with snitching from the feeders…of course, we also greased the feeder poles to make their initial approach a bit slippery.

Two of the new feeders shown here (caged in background, and red in foreground). The older feeder on the right is a favorite of our resident bird-life, but the squirrels consider it a favorite too and quickly empty it.
One of the new caged tube feeders is a favorite of some of our resident birds. It’s my favorite too because it is right next to our dining area in the kitchen, allowing for a closeup view of our feathered friends.

Three: Unfinished Fall Garden Tidying + A Favorite Article

My Siberian irises are one of those plants which won’t be harmed by letting its fallen leaves stay put, but I’ll want to take care of that in early spring before new growth gets too high.

There are still quite a few garden cleanup tasks left to be accomplished. I’m thankful there is no harm in letting any of it wait until spring; in fact, there is some value in leaving it all behind. I love this article by Houzz, 7 Reasons Not to Clean Up Your Fall Garden, which explains some of those benefits, so thought I’d share it with my readers. Now, when I feel bad about how many unchecked items there are on my fall gardening to-do list, I remember my lack of tidying is really for the benefit of wintering wildlife and the nourishment of my garden.

Four & Five-ish: A Favorite Porch Plant

For several seasons now, I have been growing this ‘Livingstone Daisy’ in the pots on my south-facing front porch. There’s so much to love about this nearly care-free plant. It is an over-achiever in the foliage department, putting out beautifully lush, succulent-like foliage. The nicely variegated green and white leaves make this a very desirable plant and teeny-weeny, hot pinky-red blossoms (summer to fall) further embellish this lovely plant. I first acquired this plant when doing some volunteer deadheading of flowers at the assisted living memory care place where I work as a part-time baker. They had several of these vigorous plants which needed a haircut. I composted most of the cuttings, but took a few home to attempt water-rooting. I’m so glad I did.

Now that winter temps have decided to stick around, a few of my porch pots have unsightly frostbitten growth dangling from them, including my Livingstone Daisy. I plan to tidy those up with a haircut next time the sun pays us a visit on one of my days off.

Six: A Favorite Bush in Winter Garb

I’ve taken a real shine to hydrangea bushes the past few years. As in life, their beauty is in a constant state of change. Some color changes are soft and easy, others are dramatic and bold. All of them beautiful…even the last stage where life seems to ebb and the beauty fades.

Looking at the browned out petals, one thinks that the beauty has faded. True, but this stage has its quiet beauty too. Help me to remember that, Lord, in my later season of life.

“The grass withers, the flower fades,
    but the word of our God will stand forever.”

Isaiah 40:8

Dino Dig Birthday Cake

There is probably no boy on earth who enjoys the pleasures of a birthday celebration more than Henry. He loves birthdays almost as much as he loves squirrels!(And that’s sayin’ a LOT!)

Henry’s birthday always begins in his uber-creative mind a few months before the actual date arrives the week of Thanksgiving. Somewhere around the beginning of the school year, Henry told me he knew what he wanted his birthday cake theme to be this year. The conversation happened after church one Sunday at Culver’s where we usually take my daughter and her family for lunch. As we waited for our meal to arrive at our table, Henry sidled up to me for a chat. As he described the cake he envisioned, he enthusiastically gushed words like ‘Velociraptor’ and something about ‘Indominus Rex’ and other Jurassic World dinosaur-ish lingo. Henry had obviously set his heart on a cake that looked like a “paleontological dig site”—he wanted me to make the cake and said he would help decorate it.

So began my Pinterest search for ideas and inspiration. There was no shortage of ideas. I knew right away that I wanted to figure out a way to make dinosaur bones for the dig site. This educational site offered some freebie coloring sheets, so I chose two dinosaur skeletons from their site and resized them to fit on his cake. I laid a sheet of wax paper over the printed dinosaurs, then melted some cake decorating white chocolate candy melts, put the melted white chocolate in a Ziplock® baggie, then cut a hole in the tip of the bag to create a frosting bag and traced the outline of the dinosaurs to create the bones for the dig site. I also had enough white chocolate left to write out Henry’s name and the number 12. I let the designs set for a day to harden up nicely before peeling them off the wax paper and gently placing them on the cake. (I actually made two sets…just in case there was breakage.)

Meanwhile, I baked the Schultz family’s favorite chocolate cake recipe in a 9×13 baking pan.

Meanwhile, I baked the Schultz family’s favorite chocolate cake recipe in a 9″x13″ baking pan. I also made a half-batch of another chocolate cake recipe in an 8″x8″ baking pan for a second half-layer. The first cake is super-dark and very moist; the second layer is less chocolate-y, and a little more dense and less fragile. I frosted the entire cake with my daughter’s favorite recipe for cream cheese chocolate frosting. I kept my frosting job a little rough and dirty looking – after all, it is a dig-site.

Cream Cheese Chocolate Frosting Recipe

1 stick butter, softened

8 oz. cream cheese, softened

1/2 c. cocoa powder

4 1/2 c. powdered sugar

2 tsp. vanilla extract

1 Tbsp. milk (I used a little more)

Here’s the frosted cake with the white chocolate elements in place.

I found some chocolate-filled cookie wafer tubes at our local Dollar Store, cut the tubes to various lengths, then added them to the edges of the second layer to resemble a retaining wall. The cookie crumbs were saved to be scattered here and there like clumps of dirt.

On Saturday morning, Henry arrived excitedly carrying a little treasure box of Lego Minifigs and other cake-topper elements for his dig site. Henry and his big brother Charlie worked together at putting frosting grass on the top layer of the dig site.

I dug through my box of ribbons and found an orange one to use as a rope to cordon off the dig site. The fence posts would be the 12 birthday candles. Charlie helped construct and place the fence around the dig site. Henry finished the decorating by placing his Lego creations wherever he felt it was best.

The birthday boy was happy. Very happy. Over-joyed, really.

We had to light those candles and blow them out, of course!

I fully realize that Henry is on the threshold of becoming a teenager and there will come a year when he will no longer request a decorated cake from his Grandma Cindie. That year isn’t this year, so I will bask in the joy and blessing of this happy birthday boy and his cake.


A few more pics of the fun details Henry added to his paleontological dig site birthday cake:

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