Tuesday, January 21, 2020

Hibernation Time

24 F. this morning and now [at noon] 30F.
We've hit a patch of colder weather this week.  As native Vermonters who more recently spent 12 years in Wyoming, we have vivid memories of 'real' winter.  Even the rare heavy snow in south-central Kentucky is gone in less than a week. Both occurrences of being 'snowed in' here happened during the four years we were living at our Amish farm.

A few lazy flakes drifted down this morning while we were eating a late breakfast--crisp small flakes of snow melting to leave a damp smudge on the brick landing at the front door.  I have trudged up the lane to the mailbox, Jim puttered about for a bit, then came inside to park in front of his TV.
Nellie-cat and his brother Robert have been outside several times, returning with chilled paws.  They give the impression that we--their humble servants--should be able to change the weather to something they could enjoy. 

I've long thought of January as a month of hibernation. If one lives where winter is a cold reality, much energy can go to keeping houses warm, ensuring that vehicles will start, commuting on icy roads.  That sense of urgency has left us with retirement and the move to a milder climate.  I may sometimes yearn for the beauty of blue shadows on deep white snow, but I wouldn't exchange that for what we now have.
January is a time for the leisurely creativity I can enjoy with a season of gardening behind me and the next one still a matter of perusing the new nursery catalogs.

 Jim's creativity this month has included the crafting of a sturdy and handsome door for the opening on the south side of the barn, as well as construction of a long-promised greenhouse.
[We've had various greenhouse components for years and not 'stayed put' long enough for the building of one to move up the list!]

Jim built a very humble lean-to greenhouse for me years ago in Vermont--using the sort of plastic sheeting that held up for only a season or two.
It was unheated and sometimes well into May I had to cover trays of seedlings with layers of newspaper or move the trays into the garage if frost threatened.
I felt such peace working in that little space--usually a cat or two joined me, and an enormous toad resided under one of the benches.
Home from work in late afternoons, I put on the kettle while changing into old jeans;  with mug of tea in hand and the radio plugged into a long extension cord, time stood still while I pricked out seedlings for transplanting, sowed seeds in 'flats' contrived from waxed milk cartons, lined up bigger pots to accommodate the special small plants arriving via mail order.

Here in south-central Kentucky we have a long growing season. A nursery in the South Fork Mennonite community offers every variety of tomato I might wish to grow--both 'heirlooms' and the newer hybrids. No need to start tomato seedlings.

My plans for the greenhouse include early crops of salad greens--and a deeper bed or two where I can protect fall crops of greens and broccoli.  The greenhouse should also make possible the decluttering of the lower porch--room to store buckets of soil mix, oddments of pots and tools,  a work space for anything gardening related. 
Jim has taken out a thermometer to monitor temps inside--20 degrees warmer than outdoors today--and he is pondering a fan to keep humid summer air moving and a tiny heat unit for late fall crops.  We shall see!

When days are sunny and mild, I usually walk at least once around the perimeter of the upper meadow and back down the lane to the spot where our campers were parked during the winter of house construction.

Although evenings are noticeably lighter, it seems that mornings are tardy.

A  brilliant sunrise doesn't always mean a sunny day.

This quilt isn't completely a January effort.  I pieced the blocks and completed the top over a number of sessions in early December, then took top, backing and batting to the quilt shop in South Fork where it was picked up by a local woman who has a long-arm quilting machine.

The baby shower [for our pastor and his wife, expecting their first child] was scheduled for 19 January.  By early last week I was fretting that the quilt wasn't returned for me to apply the binding.
The quilt shop personnel made inquiries for me and a phone call from the quilter assured me she could be finished by Wednesday.

The expected baby is a boy.  His dad is violently allergic to cats, so I doubt one will ever be a pet in that household!
I rummaged through my fabric stash, finding a 'fat quarter' pack that I was gifted when I worked at Wyoming Quilts.
I created the quilt blocks in Sawtooth Star pattern using bits of batik fabrics for the star points and 'corner stones.'

Green cats!

The backing fabric was also in my stash.  I purchased the fabric for the binding to coordinate with the marbled grey tones of the sashing and borders.

I have no patience or skill with paper, tape and bows to wrap a gift!  Appropriately sized gift bags at the local Wal Mart are priced above what I want to spend for a throw-away item.
At the last minute I decided a matching tote bag would do as a useful way to present the little quilt.

When I say 'last minute' I'm describing a Saturday evening effort! 
"Crafting" isn't really my forte.  I pulled out an older, but never used pattern, sliced out the pieces and with a hasty glance at the instructions, plonked myself at the sewing machine.
What could go wrong in such a simple process?

What went wrong was bringing my over-tired brain to focus on a construction detail that was different than that used when I have made a few totes in the past.  I couldn't get my head around stitching the corners!  I was using a foam interfacing recommended by the quilt shop which also presented some unfamiliar challenges. 
I left the bag unfinished at 10:30 and fell into bed feeling cross-eyed, frustrated and STUPID!

Sunday morning, back to the sewing table and literally praying for a light bulb moment.  When the 'light' eventually switched on, the process [of course] was simple and obvious.  If only the instructions had directed 'stitch sides and bottom of bag, leaving corners open!
With that vital bit of information registered and the wrong stitches picked out, the lining and finishing of the bag was speedy.
I had time to make a pan of brownies to contribute to refreshments and to tidy my sewing table and change my clothes!

My other [invisible] accomplishment for January has been the completion of a family history project undertaken for good friends. The research has been difficult, involving an adoption for which the records are sealed.  I've worked on this intermittently for a number of years with only the scantiest of solid clues.  In the end I arranged a detailed timeline for the adoptive parents and another for the woman whom I suspect was the birth mother.  Perhaps my friends can work through the legalities of Vermont's adoption records and finally prove their late mother's family of origin.

The notes for two other family research projects are littering my desk and boggling my mind.  Neither presents burdens of 'proof'--its more about arranging the information, transcribing to type-written pages--for me a process which increasingly leads to blurred vision when I work for more than several hours at my PC screen.

Of course there's all my lovely fabric which has been emerging from storage bins, along with a renewed urge to stitch. 
These intriguing projects all have to fit around the desultory tasks of house-keeping, laundry, meals; there is the rotation of duties for church--music to practice and lesson notes to prepare for the one week that teaching a class falls to me.

It is good to be busy--good to have interests.  
Good to retreat to a comfortable chair with a book, absorbing the warmth of the wood fire when evenings are lengthy and dark.

I leave you with photos of cats 'hibernating' through the chilly morning.
Temperature has risen to 37 F, so they will venture outside; I will put on my jacket again and trudge back to the mailbox at the head of the lane.

Edward [aka Eduardo Gordo]

Clancy--who is thus far a house cat--resting after an hour of wild antics.

Nellie--who should know he's not meant to be on the window ledge above the kitchen sink.

Robert, subsiding after an hour of sitting in the window with ears laid back.

Friday, December 27, 2019

Christmas Day In The Morning

Weather on Christmas Day was in the high 60's F. If we had a picnic table we might have chosen to have the meal outdoors--or at least on the porch.

On the back porch, a 'wooly bear' awake from winter hibernation.

Men of the family gathered in the living room waiting for dinner.

Daughter and grandson chose to sit on the sun-drenched east porch.

The sunroom glows in noon light.

The main entry door at right of the photo and a view into the kitchen.
[My Sister-in-Law commented that she hadn't seen many photos of the house, so here are a few taken while we were reasonably tidy.]

I am very pleased with my lowered pastry counter--it makes rolling piecrust or kneading bread so much easier.
Counter tops created by son-in-law, Matt. Shelves and tile detail by son, Howard.

Shelf to the left of the sink.

At the end of the day--Edward, temporarily beribboned!

Tuesday, December 24, 2019

The Days Before Christmas

The morning of the solstice dawned in quiet colors.

The sun lurked briefly behind the trees at the eastern edge of the meadow than faded into a soft pewter grey sky.

Clancy the black kitten sat in the window Jim had raised to let in fresh air--and let out some of the wood stove's abundant warmth.

Jim decided to take down the fire-ravaged tree that loomed uneasily over the site where we and our son lived in the two campers last winter when our house was under construction.

The wood is starting to go soft, but is still decent enough to put out good heat.

By Monday afternoon the woodshed was ranked with the result of his labors.
Notice how the chunks of beech glow in the sunlight.

Enjoying the warmth of the sun, a bit after noon on Monday I took the long way round the hay field to connect with the lane leading to the mailbox.
I hadn't really noticed this tree when it was covered in leaves, but walking past I was intrigued by the thick wrapping of vines now visible.

I don't think this is honeysuckle vine, but will take note in the spring to see if I can identify both tree and vine.
I spent Monday evening producing two entrees for Christmas dinner which will be hosted at our house.  Swedish Meatballs [I made 65!] will be served in gravy over mashed potatoes, and for those preferring a vegetarian dish there is  lasagna stuffed with several varieties of cheese and spinach.
We went to bed in a house smelling of meatballs [onion, garlic, worcestershire] and the warm breath of tomato sauce which covered the lasagna layers.

We have puttered through this balmy and sunny day before Christmas.
I lingered over pegging wash on the lines, drove down the ridge to the little store on the corner for a jug of milk and cartons of whipping cream.
I had an hour at the piano--practicing the music to accompany a friend's solo at church this week and then enjoying some of the less familiar carols that are my favorites.
Jim called on our Amish neighbors whose son was so badly injured in a logging accident early in November.
David has returned from the hospital, confined to a wheelchair without hope that he will walk again. 
I thought about this as I lingered outside tonight to enjoy the glorious sunset.
I grumble inwardly about the aches and stiffness of an aging body--but my legs still carry me on uncounted trips over the staircase each day and along the lane and around the perimeter of the field.

The sky to the southwest was already washed in golden sunset light when I left an apple cake cooling on the kitchen counter  and pushed a pan of brownies into the oven.

There was still blue sky surrounding the house and barn when I turned to look back from the middle of the hay meadow.

Jim had just wrestled an unwieldy chunk of wood into the stove and smoke billowed from the chimney, as dusk thickened. 

The sun going down in a blaze of glory!

Along the hedgerow to the east the sky deepened to dark blue, stained with the rich rose and smokey purple of the afterglow.

The sunset lingered, brilliant fire in the sky, hopefully a harbinger of another beautiful day--Christmas Day.
The house tonight smells of chocolate, and of apples, cinnamon, vanilla, and the caramel glaze poured over the cake.
My contributions for tomorrow's family meal are under control: the meatballs and gravy will go into the crockpot, the lasagna into the oven.  I will peel potatoes, perhaps make a Waldorf salad with the crisp Pink Lady apples brought home from the Beachy's Fresh Air Produce a scant mile 
down the road.
I will hoover up cat hair in the morning, take out the red-patterned tablecloth.
I don't set an elegant table--but the meal will be special, and we will enjoy our time with those of the family who can gather for the Christmas celebration.

Thursday, December 19, 2019

From Bleak To Bright

 I awoke at 5 surrounded by a wodge of felines. Strangely, the bedroom was chilly.  The last chunk of wood J. put in the stove at bedtime must have smoldered itself out.  I decided--as one does--to trudge to the bathroom and made a detour to confirm that the woodstove was indeed cold.  I resettled myself amongst the cats, turning to gaze at the winter-dark sky pin-pointed with the glint of stars. 

My pre-dawn reverie was interrupted by the unmistakable sound of a cat about to produce a hairball!
I swung out of bed in time to prod Nellie-cat off the rug. 
Turn on the light, clean up the mess, turn off light, return to bed.

By now I was chilled.  I could have done any of several things: clatter about building a fresh fire; fumble about in the dark living room finding the remote control for the electric heat; pull a quilt off the rack in the corner or fetch a blanket from the closet. The first two options would be too disruptive, and I was in that
 half-witted fog that made finding an extra  blanket unappealing.
One by one the cats returned to the bed and we lay bundled together until after 7.

There had been heavy frost overnight.  Sunrise was subdued, sending a band of light over a pale landscape.

As the sun slid above the horizon ice crystals began to sparkle along the wonky fence.

Willis, always on duty, soaking up the early sun.

There are snug 'nests' prepared on the back porch for the outdoor cats; Willis prefers the bench near the front door where he can keep track of doings.

By the time I walked up the lane to the mailbox the sky was brilliantly blue and the air had warmed. 
Puddles lingering after several rainy days had formed ice reflecting the sky.

It was far too lovely a day to stay indoors.  Camera in pocket, a fleecy scarf over my head, I decided to walk the perimeter of our open land.
I often forget that our deeded acreage includes this triangular sliver that runs from the bend in the lane down into the south ravine.

At the lower end of the property the Jane magnolia [planted by former owners] is wearing plump 'catkins.'

I've  often wondered why former owners built a house on the very edge of the ravine at the west end of the property.  Their back door must have opened onto this half-hidden path which winds steeply through brambles and small saplings.

In the shade ice crystals remained throughout the day.

 A tattered sycamore leaf.

"Someone" recently drove across the area where I transplanted foxglove.  J. insists he didn't do it. 
A strange place for wheel tracks even in this yard where tractors and pickup trucks are always towing things around.

Some weeks ago a night of heavy rain and wind toppled a dead beech growing in the side of the south ravine.  J. sliced up the branches that stretched onto the verge....

...and then pulled the trunk of the tree to the woodshed where it can be turned into firewood.

I think a limb was cut from this tree years ago and the 'wound' healed oddly.  By using a bit of imagination you can see an animal 'face' in the center of the circle.

Willis patrolled behind me as I made two rounds of the property.  He took time out to recline on a fallen log that was catching the sun.

Waiting for Willis to stretch himself and continue our walk I heard the rusty calls of sandhill cranes. 
It was a moment or two before they came into view flying from the north.
These moved swiftly on in the standard formation unlike those spotted several days ago as they hovered and circled.  J. suspects that group was 'resting in flight' or waiting on stragglers. 

At the top of the hayfield--dandelions!