Sunday, May 17, 2015

Rough Green Snake


I have been known life-long for my horror of snakes. When one crosses my path, I instantly screech loudly and levitate.
The presence of a certain shaped stick on the trail or the shuffling of dry leaves in the woods, a length of faded baler twine flung onto the verge of the roadside--all these are apt to provoke the same reaction of shuddering distaste.
I mentioned this once to an elderly friend who nodded sagely and remarked, "We are daughters of Eve, and the remembrance of the serpent lingers."

Trudging up the lane this noon, an over-filled bowl of strawberries clutched in sticky paws, I scanned the shrubbery along the fence line, wondering if I would again see the Brown Thrashers who have been busily building their nests amongst the willows
It was a surprise to note the length of supple green draped horizontally on a section of the wire.
I knew that it was a snake.
 Strangely, its presence a few feet away didn't inspire me to scream, spill the berries, and take flight.  As I watched, the snake moved slowly, gliding toward a clump of blackberry bushes. 


 At the house Jim was unloading the colanders and bowls full of strawberries which he had carefully conveyed on the 4-wheeler. 
'There's a strange snake down the lane, " I announced. 
"What kind of a snake?  What color?" 
"Bright green," I replied, heading inside for my camera. "I think you should have a look." 

We headed back down the lane on the 4-wheeler. I directed Jim to stop a few yards behind where the snake had been. 
At first I thought it had departed, then we spied it resting gracefully beyond the next fence post.  At the last minute my deeply ingrained wariness of all serpent-kind revived and I thrust my camera into Jim's hand. 


The slender green snake was cooperative.  My camera operates differently from Jim's and the green creature waited patiently, seeming undisturbed by our proximity, while Jim fiddled with buttons and I coached from a comfortable distance.
The snake slid along the fence, wound downward through the brambles, poked its head out inquiringly when Jim gently waved his cap a few inches away.

My tentative identification was smooth green snake [Opheodrys Vernalis] --although I went on to read about its 'cousin' the rough green snake [Opheodrys Aestivus.]  The differentiating factor is 'keeled dorsal scales' on the rough green snake.  Our neighbor, Jay Rose, assured me that the rough green is a local species.

The description of 'keeled scales' stayed with me as we hulled, sliced and packaged 18 quarts of strawberries for the freezer.
With the berries tidied away, I braced myself to endure a close up photo online of a serpent with keeled scales--oval scales with a distinctive ridge down the center.
Zooming in on my photos in Picasa, I determined that our resident snake does indeed wear keeled scales.

I'm under no illusion that this interesting encounter will alter my reaction to snakes in general.  I will continue to leave the room if one shows up on the TV screen.  I will surely yelp and jump if I even imagine one is lurking in my path. I will be reluctant to harvest the blackberries when they ripen knowing that our rough green snake has laid claim to the fence along the lane. 


Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Peony Love


Two years ago I discovered this lovely single peony in the midst of a rather mundane offering at Lowes.  Much as I love the petticoat ruffles of the 'bomb' type peonies, the singles seem more exotic.



I dug peony roots last spring planning to set them in a to-be-created perennial strip at the Bedford stone house which we were renovating at the time.
The peonies, along with a few other plants, spent the summer in large pots on the back patio.
The area where I thought to establish a garden wasn't practical as a maze of tree roots made digging nearly impossible.


This white one with its delicate greenish center surprised me--when--and where--did I acquire it?



Although the plant is young and was hastily stuck into the ground here in late October, it is flourishing.


This is definitely one from a bargin packaged root bought at  Wal Mart--slow to establish in its former setting, it is out-doing the others in terms of blossoms.


The blooms are small but ambitious.


When we bought the little place in Gradyville in March 2010, one of my first joyful discoveries was the presence of two vintage peonies which had spread to bushel basket size at the edge of what was to become our vegetable garden. Both were pink, one blooming earlier than the other.
I thought I had separated roots from each one--it may be that the peony planted next to this one--not likely to blossom this year--is the 'other' pink. Most likely one of the pinks is the old variety, 
Sarah Bernhardt.


This bud, opening unevenly, has a rakish look.


Iris roots in what will likely be a temporary spot.


I found four colorations of purple iris at the Gradyville home and had been dividing them each year. There was also a distinctive 'butterscotch' iris which I hoped would increase.
I snatched these roots from the ground on one of the last days packing there--seemingly I dug up only one color.
Several clumps haven't blossomed this spring--maybe I'll be happily surprised next year to see the coveted butterscotch blooms.


Yesterday, in a rare moment of sitting on the side porch I saw my first ruby-throated  hummingbird of the season, buzzing amongst the roses. Today I unearthed one of the nectar feeders and hung it out.


Sweet-scented, fragile petals.


A few plants purchased in April from a local nursery, became root-bound in their inadequate pots. 
With little time [and energy] to spare for clearing the remainder of the strip designated for perennials, I have moved most of the plants into larger pots, doing the same for those that I up-earthed from the interim garden at the stone house.


In this view you can see that the house and workshop are set very closely together, only the width of the drive between. The over-hang area of the house is typical of local Amish construction.  Anna Miller had a clothesline here to supplement the long pulley line which ran from her wash house to a tree on the other side of the brook.
The door from this back area leads directly into the finished basement room where we installed the washer and dryer.  If I choose to hang out towels and sheets there are only a few steps to carry the laundry basket.
Down the lane is what we refer to as the 'lower house'--the one currently claiming Jim's energies as he renovates it to "English" mode of living.


The above photos were all taken on Monday, before dark clouds ushered in a late afternoon rain.


There were several sharp showers overnight, and it was with fore-boding that I went out on Tuesday morning to view the peonies.


Nearly every year peonies at the height of their beauty have been muddied and flattened by a deluge.


These plants are somewhat sheltered by the overhang of the workshop roof. 
Also, the bushes are smaller, therefore less weighted down with rain.
The blossoms came through the rain unscathed.
The cool showers erased the humidity which had been with us for a week, bringing the sort of days that we wish could be typical of the entire summer season--bright, shimmering hours of sunshine without 'mugginess'--air washed clean, trees, grasses, wayside flowers, refreshed.

We made two trips on Tuesday for building supplies.
In the evening I hauled out stacks of curtain fabric, measuring, considering, picking out the hems on several sets of curtains made for windows in former houses.
My mind seethed with ideas, but today my time has been spent in baking and tending to laundry rather than sewing. 
Perhaps tomorrow I will create curtains.
Each day I will take photos of the peonies, their season is so brief and they are so flamboyantly beautiful.


Saturday, May 9, 2015

Lemon Drizzle Cake--the Recipe

http://www.epicurious.com/recipes/food/views/lindas-lemon-drizzle-cake-51159200

Above is the link for the recipe I used. Interestingly, there isn't a given measurement for the lemon juice if one needed to use bottled rather than from fresh lemons. I'm guessing 1/3 to 1/2 cup.
I was using eggs from our neighbor's hens--they varied in size--I used one large and two quite small.
I see that to follow this recipe exactly the zest should all have been added to the batter and the juice saved for the drizzle.  Several similar recipes added zest to both.
I'll likely never know if this cake is the equal of the ones made by Jennie aka Bovey Belle

INGREDIENTS

  • flour for dusting the pan
  • 1 stick butter, softened, plus more for greasing the pan
  • 3/4 cup superfine sugar
  • 2 large, free-range eggs, beaten
  • finely grated zest and juice of 3 lemons
  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose or light spelt flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/4 cup milk
  • 1/2 cup confectioner's sugar, sifted

  • Preheat the oven to 350°F. 
  • Butter and flour a 9-inch non-stick loaf pan.In a medium mixing bowl, cream the butter and sugar together with a wooden spoon (or use an electric mixer). Gradually beat in the eggs and mix until light and fluffy. Stir in the lemon zest, flour, and baking powder, and mix well. Add 2 tablespoons of the lemon juice and mix well again. Then beat in the milk.Pour the cake batter evenly into the prepared loaf pan and bake for 45 minutes.In the meantime, mix the remaining lemon juice and the confectioner's sugar together in a small bowl to make a glaze.When it's ready, take the cake out of the oven and cool in the pan for 5 minutes. Then turn it out onto a plate. Pierce the top of the cake all over with a thin skewer. Spoon the lemon glaze carefully and evenly over the cake until all of it is absorbed. Ready to eat.

Friday, May 8, 2015

Strawberries!


Late this afternoon Jim picked the first ripe strawberries of the season.
The Millers had established a fair-sized 'patch' in the back yard of the lower farmhouse.
Here they are, sliced and sprinkled with a bit of raw sugar.


Jim prefers berries on 'shortcake' [baking powder biscuits] but settled for serving them over slices of the lemon cake with dollops of vanilla ice cream for topping.



Thursday, May 7, 2015

Days in May


Those who follow Bovey Belle may have seen photos of her recent baking spree.
I knew that I had to have a Lemon Drizzle Cake.
It was easy to find recipes on line but most were from UK sites so the measurements weren't do-able for me.
I eventually found one with the ingredients listed in familiar cups, tablespoons and teaspoons.
The top of the cake browned a bit more than necessary [I'm still learning this oven] but the cake is moist--and very lemon-y.
You can see that I grated a goodly amount of lemon zest and added the pulp to the freshly-squeezed lemon for the 'drizzle' topping.


The side porch steps are flanked by rugosas.
When I noted the first stripe of deep color on the buds I hoped they might be Roseraie de l'Hay--a long time favorite.
Instead the blooms are 5 petaled, soft and blowsy. 
I'm curious whether the bush on the right of the steps will be the same.
Two more smaller rugosas grow in a bed flanking the walk.
As yet those are not budded. 

Sweet-scented.


Old roses have such interesting histories--and rugosas are always unpretentious and wonderfully hardy.


My largest rosemary, sadly, is showing the effects of severe frost damage.
The rosemarys were nipped by a surprise frost in mid autumn before I had moved them inside from the porch.
My two remaining large ones spent the rest of the winter in the small basement room here.
More damage during the horrible weather of February when temps went below freezing overnight near the basement window.
I have done some pruning and set the plant on the side porch.
It appears that more dead branches need to be removed.
I can't bear to abandon this as long as there is hope of renewal.


This one had some frost damage as well, but was not as close to the window in the basement.
It began pushing out new foliage before I moved it onto the porch.  Much of the new growth was pale and lax, but it seems to be reviving. 


Darling Nellie on the retaining wall that flanks the front drive.
The wall extends the length of the house and along the drive to the rear of the stable.
There are semi-circular metal 'loops' set at intervals in the concrete of the wall top--used to hitch Amish horses when visitors arrived in their buggies.


Nellie, showing off for my camera. He doesn't seem to realize that rolling about on a narrow ledge is courting a tumble.


Nellie in the act of jumping down from the wall.


The garden plot on the south side of the workshop.
The shop was built only a few months before we acquired the property. 
Topsoil/fill was hauled in.
As winter approached we discovered that the soil contained a liberal amount of turnip seed, a popular cover crop in the area.
Before the heavy snows arrived, I tweaked out turnip plants whenever I spent time in the yard.
During the rainy weeks of  March and April the turnips grew with a vengeance, becoming thick-rooted plants with tops rapidly  flowering and starting to form yet more seeds.

If you look beyond the tractor you will see the area that has to be cleared by hand before the small walk-behind tiller can be used. The guy wires anchoring the utility pole are driven into the ground in the near corner, which is bolstered with railroad ties. 
I'm thinking the most practical use is to establish some perennials there--with several of my salvaged roses in that triangular space which will be difficult to tend.

Tonight we set out tomato, melon and pepper plants. 
Jim sowed a row of corn and one of green beans.
We will be gardening, at least for this season, in a much smaller space than previously.
Perhaps that is not a bad thing, but it will present a learning curve.
Most of the soil on our hillside is gravel-based. 
There is potential to build up several areas with compost and hauled-in topsoil.

I ask myself if we have the available years and physical stamina to accomplish that when there are so many projects needing to be done.
The cellar cold pantry shelves are still well-laden with green beans and tomatoes which I 'put up' last season. We live a few miles down the road from a produce farm where we could buy that which we don't raise this year. We are now a 15-20 minute drive from the Mennonite produce auction.
We do have options available--although nothing quite compares with the satisfaction of 'growing your own!'


The delicate flowers of early springtime have passed their first beauty.
If you look closely at this photo you can see that seed pods were already forming along the stalks.
I haven't been able to identify this plant.
Today the temperature reached 85 F in the afternoon--so quickly the 'floor' of the woodland is becoming a mass of lush greenery--the flowers giving way to the heat.
Although we have moved merely from one end of the county to the other, the changes in soil and native plants provides a continuing interest.


Thursday, April 30, 2015

Cat Containers


Several days ago our local animal shelter posted a plea for donations via our beloved online journal, Columbia Magazine.
Cat and Dog food, cat litter, pet toys, soft bedding are always needed.
One correspondent posted a suggestion that a few sturdy boxes for the cat area would be welcomed by the feline residents.
The editor proposed that readers share stories and photos of cats in boxes.
I couldn't resist trolling though my many photos of our cat companions to create the above collage.
Several of these dear pets are no longer with us--making the photo review one of nostalgia.
I'm sharing the essay I wrote to accompany the collage. 

I can't recall a time when we didn't share our home with an assortment of feline companions. Over the years the numbers have varied--usually we are housing and feeding more of the creatures than  makes sense to anyone but a dedicated cat lover.

We've found that while one can make polite suggestions to a cat regarding appropriate places for napping or meditating, cats have a way of choosing their own special nooks.
We encourage them with baskets and boxes lined with remnants of soft towels or old sweaters. While these accommodations are usually accepted, nearly any empty container becomes fair game. Set down a large kettle or colander during canning season and I can guarantee it will have been taken over by the time I reach for it. An open drawer or cupboard, a closet door left ajar, an empty space on a book shelf--- all will be claimed.

Set down a basket of clean laundry, fresh from the clothesline, you will find it lures an occupant.  The basket holding a sewing or quilting project is up for grabs; if you are lucky enough to bring home an old-fashioned paper bag, it will provide hours of amusement for your cats as they scoot it 
around the room.

Cats have a way of fitting into unlikely containers: a shoebox, a shipping carton that is much too small. They have an ability to soften the edges, tuck in their paws, fold the tail tidily, creating the illusion that the space was custom made for the inhabitant.

Sometimes what we humans offer as a cozy nest is spurned and ignored while an unlikely box becomes so popular that squabbles break out. Places not intended as cat beds seem especially attractive--the small bin which holds gloves and winter hats--the basket heaped with carefully folded towels, the tray holding papers and other oddments.
A cat in a box or basket considers himself/herself both invisible and invulnerable, sprawled with legs in the air or curled into a tight slumbering ball of fur. The chosen 'bed' becomes a retreat, a hidey-hole, a lair, a den, a refuge, a place to 'sit tight' and survey the humans who are meant to 
graciously provide.

Friday, April 24, 2015

End of the Week Assessment=Tired


I've reached the end of the week feeling bone tired [an elderly sort of complaint] 
and needing to assure myself that I must have done something to list as accomplishments.
In a year that has included moving house--twice--and being involved in the renovation of two houses to date, I have lost the sense of personal satisfaction that has usually been provided by my sewing and writing. Even time to read has been at a premium--I sit with a book in my hands, but often rather foggy in concentration.
My week in review includes feeding and cleaning up after cats--of course!
The laundry gets done, bed made, dishes washed, etc.


I water the little plants residing in the pantry: these are the three surviving rosemarys, still so small, but they've had larger pots and fresh soil for encouragement.
The seedling muskmelons, tomatoes, lavender and coneflower are out-growing their containers on the pantry windowsill. I must find better accommodations for them in the next few days.


A good morning to bake--temps only just above freezing at daybreak.
Chocolate chip cookies with dried cranberries and pecans.
Not exactly what we needed, but chocolate is comforting.


Cinnamon rolls to share with a neighbor.
I am justifying the sweet treats as fuel for our labors!


Our favorite loaves--anadama bread.
I usually make this traditional New England favorite with a cooked cornmeal mush as the base.
A friend in Vermont says he adds the raw cornmeal to the other ingredients. In the interest of time I did this today and I'm pleased with the result--a bit more 'crunch' to the crust.


I took advantage of the wood stove to simmer a hearty potato soup.
Bread, still warm from the [electric] oven, with a slathering of pimento cheese which I made Wednesday evening.



While Jim worked Tuesday repairing the ceiling at the Cane Valley house, I clipped shrubbery and then loaded up a pile of bricks which had been left by the former owners.
At Jim's request I applied polyurethane in a swath down the left side of the hallway--muttering as I did so that I would not have laboriously ripped up the carpet in that area if I'd had an inkling we'd be moving. He 'polyed' the other side today.
Thursday was [at last] a day of bright sunshine.
My load of bricks from Cane Valley was still in the van. The former occupants of the lower farmhouse had placed bricks around an old well head, now overgrown with weeds. Moving the top layer of bricks was easy, but the bottom round had to be pried out with a shovel.
In spite of a late lunch at The Mustard Seed I was definitely flagging by the time I unloaded and stacked my bricks in the area where I hope to create a perennial garden. 
Our soil is gritty with many small rocks--I foresee much effort will be needed.
I parked the van between the shop and lower porch, trundled out the shop vac and spent half an hour hoovering out crumbs of earth, several families of wood lice who had emerged from the bricks and several gruesome looking spiders.


The electric company arrived with three trucks and sufficient manpower to install the overhead wires and hook up power to the 'box' just inside the gate to the lower house.
Jim promptly ran the heavy cable across the ground and into the basement.
He has several outlets installed--very evident as he has the radio or CD player blasting over the noise of drills and power saws.



Today Jim put up the partial wall which will divide the huge square room into kitchen and dining space. I am pleased to note that he has taken my suggestions to heart regarding location of the bathroom and laundry area.
[Of course he now believes it was all his own idea!  He did have a great brainstorm for creating a 
new pantry.]


Thus another week has unraveled--no great accomplishments,  rather a certain sense of plodding [not running] in circles.
If I have a job description it may be 'The Person Who Picks up the Pieces'!
I am not as martyred as I sound--merely feeling my age!