Beautiful, Useful Rain Chains

Rain chain from Rain Chains Direct

A chain of hammered copper cups. The cups are open at the bottom, so rainwater can flow through to the ground.  Image courtesy of Rain Chains Direct.

I love watching water move, whether it’s at the beach or in a puddle stirred by the wind. I love the sounds of water, too, and sometimes I know it’s raining before I look outside, because I hear the water  gurgling down our gutters.

Recently we replaced one of those gutters – the ones my husband complains about, because they get choked with pine straw every fall – with a rain chain. It was super-easy to install. All we had to do was take off the downspout and measure the distance from the bottom of the gutter to the ground, so we’d know how long the chain needed to be.

Then we attached a gutter installer, a device that holds the chain.  You put the installer into what’s called the leader hole (the opening in the gutter that directs water to the downspout). Add the chain, tighten a bolt, and you’re done.

rain chain gutter installer, courtesy of Rain Chains Direct

Here’s the gutter installer. The chain hangs from the bar in the middle. You tighten the bolt to hold the installer in place. Image courtesy of Rain Chains Direct.

To keep the chain taut, we tapped a stake into the ground and attached it. Next I’ll put some rocks from our creek under the chain to help distribute the run-off, but you can also buy catch basins to match your chain. They don’t hold a lot of water, but they add to the charm.

And rain chains really are charming, although they’re functional, too. Best of all, they don’t clog, so nobody has to climb a ladder and dig out wet, decomposing leaves.

Rain Chains Direct

Rain chains come in many styles. Some look like flowers or small cups; others are lengths of single or doubled loops. This 100% copper rain chain has aged to a soft patina. Image courtesy of Rain Chains Direct.

All I need now is rain, since we’re currently in a drought. I’m looking forward to seeing the little copper cups on my chain channel the water to the thirsty shrubs around our foundation, and to hearing it splash and tinkle. I’m watching the skies for clouds…and watching…and watching.

Thanks to Rain Chains Direct for providing the rain chain used in my review.  The opinions are my own, freely and sincerely given.

The Nebraska Sandhills: Tanking

As a travel writer (I contribute to the Travel Channel), I get to take some pretty cool trips now and then. Recently I visited the Sandhills of central Nebraska, where we did something you can’t do in most places: we went “tankin’ “.  That’s Nebraska-speak for floating down the river in a tank once used to feed and water cattle.  (Yes, it floats just fine!)

This photo is pre-launch. Once we climbed into the tank, we sat on benches inside, and had room for a cooler packed with sandwiches, fruit and cookies. A picnic on the Middle Loup River = unbeatable summer fun.

The water’s not very deep here; maybe 4 feet in spots. It was shallow enough that one of us to get out and give us a shove when we got stuck on a sandbar. The tanks drift with the current, so paddling is optional.

The sun coming through the cottonwood trees on the bank was glorious. If we had had more time, we could’ve pulled our tanks onto the shore and picnicked there. Floating was so peaceful and calming. Nothing but the sounds of songbirds and the gurgle and bubble of the water.

See the sand on the bank? That’s why this region is known as the Sandhills. There’s very little topsoil to support trees, but the sandy hills, which cover about 1/3 of the entire state, are home to mixed prairie grasses.

More to come in part 2!

Paw-some Gifts for Pets! (You Know Your Dog Wants These)

Courtesy of West Paw Design

Human friends, writer-grrl has been researching Christmas gifts for furry friends like me. If you need  ideas for your favorite doggie (and after all, we deserve a buncha nice stuff, because we are soooo cute and loveable), then check out her list, below.

(Santa, please note: I want all this stuff and a whole lot more….wags, Miss Paws)

Shaggy dogs are adorable–but sometimes they can’t see well because their long fur flops over in their eyes.  Tame your dog’s bangs or dress up your favorite bow-wow with a bow. Your Dog Advisor has a list of useful, cute hair accessories for canines. (No, human hair clips don’t usually work. They’re prone to slip out of your pupper’s soft fur.) Choose from simple, utilitarian clips to bands to bows. Miss Paws is such a diva. She wants a bow studded with rhinestones, lace, or satin rosebuds. 

Scratch right here…puh-leeze. Itchy pups may be allergic to their bedding, especially if it’s woolen. Otto likes this Organic Bumper Bed with its easy-to-wash, removable cotton cover. These comfy sleepers are stuffed with recycled plastic, which means they’re Earth-friendly, too. Available in five mix-and-match colors, and sized extra-small to extra-large.

Thanks to West Paw Design for this image. This is Otto, on a West Paw bumper bed. Such a hottie! ~ Miss Paws

Born to run? What dog isn’t? When you’re clenching a leash in your hand, your poor doggie can get jerked along. Canines recommend this Patento Hands-Free Leash, which lets you pump your arms naturally. That lets your running companion (moi, Miss Paws) run at a more natural pace, too. The leash attaches to a nylon wristband with a mini-pocket for your keys or a handy dog biscuit. Reflective stitching on the leash keeps us more visible at night.

Patento Pet USA makes this hands-free leash, sold by Petco stores. Image courtesy of Patento Pet USA.

Humans, I–Miss Paws–am a “power chewer,” which means that writer-grrl spends a lot of money trying to keep me in toys. If you’ve got a chewer in your pack, it can be tough to find—well, a tough toy. Tux is a toy made of a super-strong, FDA approved material. I like it when the humans stuff my Tux with a treat, but it’s also fun if they just throw it for me to catch. Sold by WestPaw, with a one-time free replacement if I do manage to gnaw it up…and I’m working on it.

On the other hand, if you’ve got a snuggle-bunny kind of pup, check out this soft, plush Owl toy. It’s featherless, with a sewn-in squeaker that guaranteed to keep you happy and annoy your humans (LOL–it’s not really annoying). These plush toys are stuffed with 100% recycled materials and they’re machine washable, so your human won’t be grossed out after you’ve got it all nice and slobbery. Best of all, it’s certified safe by third party testing.

Light up the night, so we can see where we’re going! This Dog-e-Lite leash is just what we need for our evening walks. It comes with an LED flashlight that slips onto the leash, so humans can keep one hand free (that makes it a lot easier for them to reach down and scratch behind our ears). Solar technology lets the light recharge in the sun or under artificial lights. I like that eco-friendly stuff, and writer-grrl likes not having to buy expensive batteries.

Okay, that should start my list to Santa. Writer-grrl, are you listening?

~ Miss Paws

 

 

Australia, Mate – Snapshots from Taronga Zoo

Hubs recently returned from Australia, bringing home some snapshots of the Land Down Under. Here are a few scenes from Sydney’s Taronga Zoo. They’ll have to hold me until I can visit in person.

kangaroo

© William Coulter 2016

Kangaroos are the largest marsupials living on earth, and because they can only move forward, not backward, they’re Australia’s national emblem. Isn’t this one beautiful? They roam freely in the countryside.

William Coulter 2016

© William Coulter 2016

The entrance to the zoo whets your appetite for the creatures and native plants you’re going to see.

giraffes

© William Coulter 2016

It makes sense that the feeding station for the giraffes is high in the air, like the leaves they pluck from trees in the wild.

koala

© William Coulter 2016

You’ll have hard to look hard to spot this koala; he was hiding in the foliage on the left. Probably tired of having tourists make his picture. Not much to see here, so let’s move along…

AustraliaZooCritter2016

© William Coulter 2016

The Taronga Zoo is home to more than 4,000 animals from 350 species; many are endangered.

© William Coulter 2016

© William Coulter 2016

Australia is known for his deadly animals, and it has more poisonous snakes than any other country. Spiny leaf insects like this one don’t look cuddly, but they’re harmless and are kept pets in many Australian classrooms and homes.

© William Coulter 2016

© William Coulter 2016

This is just an ordinary pup, waiting for his owner. Apparently Aussies love their dogs and take them everywhere. He’s not part of the zoo, but I’m a dog lover, so I had to include him.

Hydrangeas!

My hydrangeas have really exploded with colorful blooms this year. It’s no thanks to me, really. I suspect the recent rains helped. Take a look!

 

 

 

 

 

Tips for Writers: What to do When Your Camel Does THIS

Let’s set the scene. I’m on a press trip in Israel, at a Bedouin camp, waiting my turn to ride a camel, when the so-called “ship of the desert” in front of me does THIS.

He kneels unexpectedly, and my friends start to slide off his back. For a second everybody panics (except the Bedouin camel owner, who already got paid for this).

Contrary to what many aspiring writers think, this is typical of the freelance writing life. Yes, sometimes we get to go on fantastic press trips. We get paid–can you believe it?– for seeing another part of the world, meeting new people, and experiencing new things. Hey, we know how lucky we are.

But what others don’t know is how often a camel takes a knee.

One of my big camels–that is, one of my best clients–is about to go down, and that means my income is slipping, just like my buddies on the press trip. I’m going to have to do what I’ve done many times before: I’ve gotta round up some new camels.

New writers don’t always realize that freelancing is as much about marketing as about writing. You constantly have to look for new outlets for your work. Putting all your eggs in one basket, no matter how big, is dangerous if things change. And believe me, they will. Editors leave. Publications fold. Budgets get cut and so do contractors and freelancers.

Right now, I’m searching the horizon for new opportunities. But it’s okay. I’ve had to do this before and I’m sure I’ll have to do it again. I’m not panicking. (Much.)

Whatever you’re doing–writing, parenting, selling shoes or painting houses–don’t despair when your camel goes down. Just look for the next oasis. They’re always out there, and that’s where you’ll find the camels.

 

 

Cruising with the Carnival Horizon

Queen Latifah

Well…okay. I didn’t really sail on the new Carnival Cruise ship, Horizon, so the title of this post isn’t quite right.

But I was invited to its official naming ceremony in New York, which was a blast. At a press conference prior to boarding, we journalists and photographers got to meet the Queen herself, Queen Latifah, who is partnering with Carnival Cruise Lines to support St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital.

What a worthy cause! The families of children fighting cancer and other childhood diseases never receive a bill from St. Jude’s–not for treatments, housing or food. It’s all provided free to them.

(If you’re moved to donate, click here. St. Jude’s has increased the survival rate among kids with cancer from 20%, when the research hospital was founded, to 80%. Our donations can push that number even higher.)

I’ll post more about the amazing Carnival Horizon naming ceremony soon, and while we stayed in port this time, I’m ready to set sail the next time I board a Carnival cruise ship.

 

Black Petunias: Black Magic For Your Garden

 

I know, I know. This petunia doesn’t look black at all in the photo. But I promise–when you see it in person, it looks like black velvet.

 

You know what they say about a little black dress. Every woman needs one in her closet.  But black flowers in your garden? Aren’t black blooms usually dead blooms?

Well, no. I recently found a basket of gorgeous, near-black petunias at our local Home Depot, and they were so velvety and unusual, I just had to bring them home. But they aren’t completely black. It’s hard to find truly black plants, and many are just very deep, dark shades of purple, purple-red, or blue.

I’m telling you, so when you look at the pictures of my petunias, you won’t wonder what I’m talking about. That’s because my “black” petunias, when photographed in the sunlight, look purple. But when the light is right, they’re dusky and mysterious and beautifully, velvet-black. Each bloom has a pale yellow star in its throat.

I  don’t know the variety name, or I’d share it.  It’s possible that mine are ‘Pinstripe’ petunias; click here to see for yourself.  I don’t think I have ‘Phantom,’ which is sold by other seed sellers and garden centers, because the yellow markings look too wide.  But I bet if you look around, you can find something similar.

If a dip into the world of inky plants makes you yearn for more, check out a book called Black Plants: 75 Striking Choices for the Garden, by Paul Bonine (Timber Press). The author covers black pansies, lilies, agapanthus, hollyhocks (like the ‘Black Watchman’ heirloom hollyhocks in my gardening book), and more, all of which might persuade you that black is the new green.

I’m not ready to convert my garden, with its springlike palette of pale blues, yellows, pinks, and rose-red, to all-black, but it’s fun to try something really different–and you know how we gardeners are. We always want someone to visit and ask, “Where did you get that?”

Update: Thanks to Gary, at PlantCareToday.com, who wrote to tell me that King George III sent Napoleon Bonaparte’s brother, Joseph, to explore Argentina. While he was there, he collected samples that were used later to confirm that petunias and tobacco are related. Learn more about petunia care here.

 

Irresistible Shed Makeovers

artist shed, courtesy of Lowe's

Courtesy of Lowe’s

Today I’m sharing a post I wrote for HGTV.com about transforming an ordinary garden shed into –well, whatever you like. Turn it into a she-shed, a yoga studio, a place to paint or just a personal escape. Click here the to explore all the possibilities.

Woolly: A Book Review

Occasionally, publishers send me complimentary copies of books to review, or I’m approved for a title I’ve requested on Netgalley.com, like Woolly: The True Story of the Quest to Revive One of History’s Most Iconic Extinct Creatures (Simon and Schuster) I’ve got to admit: I thought this was a novel after I read the first few pages. Author Ben Mezrich is a really engaging storyteller, and this non-fiction book has a Jurassic Park quality that might make you think it’s all made up. But surprisingly, it’s not, and the way Mezrich writes about real-life scientists and their research work makes for a terrific read. Highly recommended, even if you’re not a woolly mammoth fan.