Sunday, November 22, 2015


A thick and chilly fog on Friday morning.

I stood shivering on the side porch long enough to take several shots of the dense fog that swirled ahead of the sun as it climbed over the hill.
I am not partial to November in any place that we have lived. 
The glorious colors of October have bleached to duller greys and browns.
 The flowers of roadsides and gardens have been blackened by several frosty nights.
For all of the week past there has been wind--sometimes roughly gusting in with lashings of rain, at other times merely biting through one's clothes in spite of intermittent sunshine.

Darkness arrives early each afternoon with a month of decreasing daylight to be endured before the solstice and the slow turning again toward sunny hours.
I spent the week in desultory tasks: the usual rituals of meals to prepare, laundry and cleaning to be done.  I considered a number of more creative projects on my 'to do
 list and was not motivated to begin any.

I planned to do some of the grocery shopping on Wednesday as Jim was out, but torrents of rain began mid-morning and continued throughout the day.
I thought of cold drizzles down my neck at each stop, of hair whipped into my face, spectacles spattered, and decided there was nothing urgently needed.

Thursday broke sunny though chilly and after breakfast I commandeered the old mini-van--which I prefer to drive--and set out for the Mennonite community which sprawls over the area we refer to as 'South Fork.'
My first stop was at Casey County Discount Foods.
One never knows exactly what will be on offer there as merchandise comes from 
odd lots and close-outs.  Canned foods may be close to the stamped expiration date or a can
 may be 'dented.' 
Shopping there in the crowded aisles is fairly time-consuming, but my judicious poking about has resulted in considerable savings on staple items as well as some unexpected treats.

From the discount store I back-tracked to the turning which leads up a winding road, past a number of Mennonite-owned farms and retail shops.
I didn't tempt myself with a stop at either the quilt shop or the mercantile, but made for the whole foods store and bakery.
I love the smell of that shop.
Even the cardboard box in which my purchases are packed is permeated with the scent of herbs and grains, of hand-crafted soaps and lotions, of new bread.
It is a friendly shop, one whose homely goods appeal to me, one of the few places where I enjoy the task of collecting what we need.

A stop at the produce market for tomatoes and two sacks of red potatoes, a wander around the displays of pears, apples, sweet potatoes.
I note that the price of the apples and sweet potatoes is more than at the Beachy Amish farm which is about 2 miles up the ridge from our home.

Jim is in the house when I pull up to the front door and helps to haul in the bags and boxes of food.
He is not ready for lunch, so I gather up empty egg cartons and head out again to the Beachy's. 
Mr. Beachy and one of the sons are just driving out in the black truck [Beachy Amish are allowed to own and drive vehicles, which must be a sober black and without gaudy chrome trim!]
A younger son is sorting potatoes, bagging up apples that have been brought in from Pennsylvania.
I tell him that I have relatives arriving for the Thanksgiving holiday and that I need fresh eggs.
He rummages in a fridge and hands over three dozen.
I select a half bushel sack of Winesap apples, ask if I can choose sweet potatoes from one of the bins.
He obligingly holds open the plastic sack for me, notices what size potatoes I am selecting and helps to fill the sack.
He chats cheerfully, full of queries. 
His speech is thickly rural Kentucky with perhaps an overlay of the Germanic dialect common to the Amish and Mennonite families.
Sometimes I have to ask him to repeat what he has just said.
[It occurs to me occasionally to wonder if my quite precise diction is problematic for one used to southern accents.]

Charlie cat enjoying the morning son atop Jim's truck.

I didn't want to go out again on Friday, and particularly not to Wal Mart, but convinced myself that waiting until sometime next week to get a frozen turkey for the holiday meal would be even less enjoyable.
I drove into town through windy sunshine, visited the charity shops; I had my haircut, accomplished the shopping, came home vowing--as I do every year--that other than the most necessary items--I won't go near the big chain stores until after the new year!

Willis rolls in the driveway gravel while Sadie the barn cat stalks away, ears back in disapproval.

Tis the season of wooly bears, those caterpillars whose black and orange markings are meant to foretell the mildness or severity of the coming winter.
I encountered more than a dozen of them in the past two weeks while gardening or other outside chores.  All are wearing a wide center band which folklore holds as a prophecy of an open winter.
We shall see.

A day of roiling clouds, blue sky hiding behind billows of steely grey.
I pulled on a ribbed sweater and zip-front 'hoodie' over a long-sleeved T and still felt the bite of the damp wind. 
With cat litter duties tended I made myself walk down the lane and back, then scuttled inside to brew a mug of tea and put another stick of wood in the fire.
My instinct during these darkening weeks is to hibernate, to huddle with a book, to be sedentary, my lap warmed with a cat.

Strangely, in spite of several nights of sharp frost, lemon balm still wears its shiny fragrant leaves.
I brought in a few sprigs, picked the final bud on the rose in the corner of the garden.

It appears dry, seared by the cold winds, nipped by the frost.
If the petals should unfold, I will be delighted--and surprised.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

A Note From Nellie

Nellie--and his human keepers--appreciate the many expressions of concern during his 'disappearance' and the joy shared on his safe return.
Nellie newly appreciates comfortable places to sleep in the sun, extra helpings of tinned cat food,  and the general fuss which continues to be made over him.

Nellie and his brother Bobby had a brief outing in the morning sun, a half hour to pick their way about in wet leaves and survey the autumn landscape.
They are not being allowed outside for unlimited time, even though it is now obvious that Nellie wasn't snatched by a predator.
When refused another outdoor run, Nellie resignedly took himself upstairs to sprawl on an old comforter kept on the foot of the bed for the cats.
There is such a thing as a thoroughly spoiled [and cherished] cat!

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

A Nearly Normal Nellie

Nellie has developed a fondness for the ledge behind the cooktop--not a good place for a cat!

Yesterday [17 November] marked two weeks since Nellie-Cat's return and 5 weeks since his disappearance.
He has not regained his full former weight, but in looking again at his photos from 03 November, I can see much progress.  His bones are no longer jutting pitifully.
Nellie spent those first days home eating and sleeping. 
Within 48 hours he had gathered enough strength to jump lightly to a bed or chair without scrambling and falling.
Toward the end of last week I remarked to Jim that Nellie was nearly back to normal--his definitive sense of mischief was in evidence.
Nellie has always hoovered his food and then pushed his way into the dishes of the slower eaters.
When I serve cat 'tea' I have to play referee.
Perhaps needless to report, I have been adding extra dollops of canned food into Nellie's bowl.

Naughtiness is contagious.
In spite of 'shooing,' Nellie thinks he should supervise the 'fry' I made for breakfast.
His brother, Bobby Mac, perches on the wheeled kitchen cart the better to peer around the divider.
Jim has allowed the 'boys' outside several times in the past few days.
On Sunday they barreled around the corner of the house, hurtled into the garden where I was clipping and digging. 
In an ecstasy of exploration they rushed under the fence, along the stream.
Nellie splatted his paws in the water, Bobby dashed back to climb the fence and do a dainty pirouette along the edge.
Their garden capers on Monday were not so innocent, as they made nasty use of my newly turned soil.  I rushed at Nellie as he flung a just-planted lavender aside and vigorously enlarged the 
resulting hole to suit his purpose.

Jim left early today, on a parts finding mission with a neighbor.
He let the cats out into the damp morning.
Our friend Jay stopped by an hour later and I went outside to greet him.
Charlie-Cat sniffed at the open door of the truck, the tortie girls pranced along the retaining wall.
Bobby gave a good imitation of a Cheshire Cat, popping up behind the low brush of the side hill.
As Jay was about to depart a flicker of movement caught my eye--Nellie parading across the 
porch roof!  He landed with a thump on the roof of Jim's truck parked nearby, came placidly to be picked up and hauled inside.
Jim has catered to Nellie and Bobby Mac--when he fixes a snack the two boys hover and beg shamelessly.  Their brother Edward, large and laconic, isn't interested in handouts.

Having Nellie at home again still seems a miracle.
He spends most nights between us on the bed, moving closer to be stroked  when he 
knows I'm awake.
We are of a mind to forgive much of his monkey business--for now, he deserves a bit of pampering.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Before the Killing Frost

Mornings have been crisp, evenings draw in early.
Dusk seeps into the house by mid-afternoon, tucked as it is between two ridges.
Outside bare branches loom against a brilliant blue sky.

The oaks still hold their satiny brown leaves; a beech just beyond the garden wears a slender branch or two of leaves gone a dull crinkled gold.

The cosmos in a last tumble of color.
There were still tightly closed buds, promise unrealized.

This coloration is one of my favorites. 

I expect that the default pink has contributed the greater yield to my gathered seeds.

Foxglove plants have settled in and flourished since the overnight rain at the beginning of the week.

A few late blooming spires on the butterfly bush.
I noticed few insects on the flowers.

Sunshine and shadows--photos full of light and dark.

Find the camouflaged  feline!
Willis has a penchant for suddenly 'being there'--like Alice's Cheshire Cat he seems to melt in and out of the picture, creeping beneath foliage, hunkering down behind a branch, stretching along the grey timbers of the retaining wall, blending. 

Don't be fooled by his look of relaxed idleness--Willis is ever watchful.

This unnamed rose gained a new lease on life when I moved it from a dry corner against the side porch to grow in the angle of the garden fence.

Willis basks in the slanting warmth of the late afternoon sun.

The kitchen is lapped in greying light by the time I come inside to thrust the two roses and a handful of cosmos into a vase.
I place it high on top of the maple hutch--out of easy cat reach.
I have left one tightly closed bud on the rosebush--will there be another bloom before winter claims the garden?

At 7:30 on Saturday morning the red needle of the thermometer positioned outside the kitchen window points to 28 degrees F.
I pull on my ancient down vest, pick up the camera.
Standing on the walk by the side porch I can see the frost-crusted stems of the cosmos.
The flower heads droop, petals shriveled, colors dulled.
Today, Sunday, I cleared the flower strip.
I worked from below the retaining wall, afternoon sun warming through my thick old 'hoodie.'

Willis trudged up the lane to roll in the gravel before stalking along the retaining wall--getting in my way. As I snipped seed heads into a bowl, he butted at my hand, nibbled at limp fronds of foliage.
I found an old rug and spread it to keep my knees from the damp while I moved along the upper edge of the strip, lifting out weeds with my slim-pointed trowel.

Charlie-Cat appeared and plastered himself blissfully against my thigh, fussing when I needed to twitch the rug along. 
I was chilled and stiff before I quite finished weeding the outer corner of the strip.
Charlie, disgruntled, had curled himself in the bed of catnip. 
Willis stalked off to put the tortie girls in their place.
I heaved myself to my feet, clumped up the back stairs to the kitchen, a bundle of catnip in hand.
Cats thronged about me as I stripped the leaves, arranged them on a tray to go into the 
woodstove oven.  
Serve cat 'tea'; slice fresh mushrooms for a creamy soup, slice homemade bread.
The hands of the wall clock stand at barely 3--has it stopped?
The digital clock on the oven confirms the time.
Frosty mornings, afternoon shadows, chilly nights
The death of the garden marks a turning point. 

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Susan's Quilt

When our niece Susan was here at the beginning of October to help with preparations for the family reunion, she brought with her a quilt top.
Susan is an expert hand quilter, but had decided she would ask our Amish neighbors to do this one for her.
She invited the ladies to choose their own pattern for the stitching.
The Miller girls, Lizzie and Mary, appeared this morning with the quilt, having walked from their home a mile down the dead-end road.
They walk bare-footed, in spite of the fact that our lane is topped with crushed rock.
The girls expressed their pleasure in working on Susan's quilt, enjoying her choice of vivid colors and her precise and tidy piecing.
The Miller sisters and their mother, Mrs. Mary, regularly quilt for a woman who markets finished quilts having paid cottage workers to piece the tops and others to do the hand quilting.
The ones I have seen were Log cabin variations.
I have several times visited their home when a quilt in progress is stretched on the large quilting frame set up in the main room of the farmhouse.
The quilting thread is measured out in yard lengths and secured to the edges of the quilt in neatly counted bundles. Pricing is based on the number of yards of threads used multiplied by 5 cents.
In this case the charge for the hand quilting was $69, as 138 yds of thread was needed.
The batting, which they supplied, was $8.
Susan will be sending a check for $100--we both feel they didn't charge enough for their neat work.
I will be interested to see how Susan binds the sawtooth edges of her quilt.
I spread it on the bed in the downstairs guest room for photos.
The bed was made in Wyoming by our son.

The ladies chose a stitch pattern which avoided working through the multiple seam allowances within each block.

Susan pointed out to me that each block in the quilt has an opposite: the same fabrics used but in reverse order.

The door to the guest room is usually closed.
Bobby Mac was quick to go in with me and 'help' to spread out the quilt.

Bobby Mac was prepared to stay awhile and enjoy the spill of sunshine while posing against the glowing colors.

Mrs. Mary explained when I asked how she taught her girls to quilt, that she set them early on to practice neat stitching by working around the very edges of quilts--the area that would be fully covered by the binding.
When she felt they were proficient they were allowed to stitch on a customer's quilt.
On the day that Susan and I visited to leave her quilt it was raining and dark.
Mrs. Mary and the girls had improvised a light table using their tall gas lamps set beneath a whole cloth top. They have a number of large patterns for such bedspreads which are outlined on heavy clear vinyl sheets.
Somehow they manage to trace the pattern onto the fabric without setting the whole business alight!
Before they left to walk home, having refused a ride back, I showed the Miller girls the very small quilt I hand finished this winter.
They were polite--but I suspect Mrs. Mary would set me to practicing around the edges!

Monday, November 9, 2015

Muffin Madness

Raspberry Lemon Muffins hot from the oven.

On Friday, Patty of Morning Ramble posted a recipe link on Face Book. 
I have previously enjoyed some of Patty's recipes and I was in baking mode.
I always have frozen blueberries on hand and soon the muffins were in the oven.
When they emerged, I didn't think to take a photo!  Instead I immediately enjoyed two with a 
mug of tea.
I sent half a dozen of the muffins to our neighbors--no need to be greedy.
The remaining blueberry muffins reheated nicely for weekend breakfasts.
I have included a link for the recipe.
Be advised that the cup of sugar called for is excessive.  I used 3/4 cup and will decrease it to 2/3 or 1/2 next time I make the muffins.

Monday morning I woke to the sound of rain pounding on the roof overhead.
Daylight was murky--a rainy/cloudy day in November is seldom inspiring.
Jim had an early errand.
The cats and I puttered about, made the bed, tidied the bathrooms, encouraged the wood fire.
I thought about the muffins which our niece, Susan, brought to the family reunion last month.
I didn't have her exact recipe [I do now!] but found several online and realized that any one of them would create a 'gourmet' muffin similar to the blueberry muffins.

One has to read through--or skip--the blogger's tale of muffin making before scrolling down to the actual recipe.
Again, I cut back the sugar to about 2/3 cup.
I used paper liners for the muffin pan when baking both batches.
The fruit makes a soft moist muffin and I believe they would stick to the pan badly without the liners.

Susan sent me her recipe later in the morning.
Her recipe uses lemon yogurt. 
I used sour cream as I had extra on hand.
I also added cinnamon to the topping in both recipes.
[Bakers become adept at substitutions and additions which don't detract from the intended goodness of the finished product.]

I love to bake and it is good that we have neighbors who enjoy the over production of treats.
As the days draw in and the temperatures drop outside, I enjoy the aroma of something just out of the oven, the homey odor of soup simmering, the gentle fragrant  steam from a cup of good tea.
The wood fire makes the house comfortable, but I appreciate having an electric oven for my baking.

The cats keep me company in the kitchen, taking over the rug in front of the wood stove,
hovering around the kitchen island--in case I might spill something appealing.
Edward offers to help with washing the dishes!

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Unexpectedly: A Happy Ending

Nellie-Cat returned home this morning, three weeks to the day since his mysterious disappearance.
From the first I had a heavy feeling that we wouldn't see him again. He was so totally gone away.
The general opinion was that he had been snatched by a hawk--a coyote--a bobcat, even.
A part of my mind accepted this, a part of me railed in silent anger that such a young and healthy cat's life had apparently been taken.
Still, I couldn't stop looking for him--if not now combing the roadside, the edge of the woods, the bank of the brook--I continued to scan the area of gravel in front of the stable, visible from the kitchen window. I flicked on the porch light--one last time each night--hoping against all reason to see Nellie sitting on the step.
It was with a wary sense of disbelief that looking out from a task at the kitchen sink, I saw a pale shape sitting upright on a horizontal branch in the brush heap beyond the fence.
At different times during the past three weeks, I have taken a few steps toward the brush pile, only to realize that a light blur was merely the low slanting sun highlighting a bit of bleached wood.

The cat shape on the log didn't move as I walked quietly across the gravel.  Part way across the expanse I could clearly see the grey 'mask' on the cat's face.
With a leap of my heart I called softly, "Nellie, Nellie-cat." 
The cat didn't move but something in his stance became more alert.
"Nellie!  Here kitty, kitty."

Nellie hopped down from the log, paced slowly toward me--so unlike his usual bouncing trot.
Nellie's 'meow'--like that of his brothers--is a tiny sound.
As he approached I could see his mouth opening as he answered my calls.
He fell against my ankles and I felt the purr begin.
I lifted him, noting how thin and weightless he had become.
I buried my face in his fur, wondering if his scent would offer a clue to his recent where-abouts.
His fur smelt cleanly of dry leaves, of the woods, of country air.
His purring rumbled through his lanky frame.

In the house, I tipped him onto the floor, hurried to get out cat dishes and open a tin of gourmet cat food.  "Tea!" I announced. 
The other cats invaded the kitchen, summoned by this very untimely announcement of a treat.
Faced with their returned companion, they refused to eat, marching stiffly about him while Nellie hoovered the contents of one bowl after another.

"Ello--is that you, bro?  You smell funny!"

I trotted off to the lower house where Jim was working, located him in the upstairs hallway fitting an electrical outlet.
I told him simply, "Nellie has come home."
"After three weeks," Jim marveled. "I wouldn't have thought it!"

Nellie has been tired today, doubtless a bit weak from lack of food.
He wandered about the house, checked his favorite lounging spots, had trouble with his first attempt to leap to the foot of our high bed. I lifted him up and he stretched for awhile in the pool of sunshine.
His pattern for the remainder of the day has been to nap for about 20 minutes, then visit the kibble dispenser and the water bowl. 
Whenever we have been in his vicinity he has nattered beseechingly, darted from one of us to the other, leaning against our legs, purring as though he might never have enough of our company.

Bobby sniffed him over, said 'Huh'--not a full-fledged 'hiss', but rather a huff of dismissal.
Bobby then besieged the front door as if to say, 'Alright, he's back, he wasn't eaten by a coyote or snatched by a hawk, now we can play outside again!'

In spite of Nellie's safe return, our questions aren't answered.
I suspect he may have gone up the ridge track, possibly across the area recently logged which backs on several houses along the next crossroad.
Did he wander into an outbuilding?  Was he shut in for a time?
Surely he has gone without food.
Where was he during the several rainy nights and days, the chilly dark mornings when frost lay white on the ground and mist swirled damply above the houses?
Keeping the three boy cats inside means constant watchfulness; it means denying their obvious joy in exploration, their happy prowlings about the dooryard.
For now, we feel their security and our peace of mind suggests they should be indoor cats.

Tonight, after a good 'tea' Nellie is content to curl beside Jim on the couch.
He ate his tinned food with his old relish, pushing in to polish his brothers' bowls when 
they were too slow.
I expect that he will follow us upstairs at bedtime to sprawl his long body between us.
I have missed his headlong hurtling descent of the stairs with me each morning.
He will need to learn that my first act of the day will no longer be to open the front door so that he can dash out.
Dear friends, who offered words of comfort when Nellie was lost, share now our happiness at his safe--though unexplainable--restoration to the family fold.