Thursday, November 29, 2012

Learning Curves

Looking back over the decades of my adult life, I realize that I've not attempted a number of things which intrigue me.
At times lack of finances and lack of time to spare have been valid constraints.
More often it has likely been that I can't bear to do things badly--or if not badly, perhaps in a
mediocre fashion.
Better not to attempt, my reasoning goes, what I will surely mess up, lose interest in, leave uncompleted.
Bluntly stated, this is about wanting to do a particular thing well--without putting in the tedious hours of practice that is necessary for the honing of skills.
I admire fine needlework, both vintage pieces of museum quality and the efforts of modern crafters.
For a number of years I have told myself that I would learn to do hand quilting.
I have a fair degree of competence in piecing quilts; I value accuracy in cutting and stitching and am persnickety enough to pick out and redo a seam which doesn't meet my standards.
For many years I made clothing for myself, for my extended family, and even for those who were willing to pay for my labor.
I can neatly accomplish the hand work necessary to finish a well-made garment.
Therefore--I encouraged myself--I should be able to carefully layer batting, backing and a neatly pieced small quilt, baste the 'sandwich' together, place it in a hoop and start placing beautifully even small stitches.

I enjoyed piecing this wallhanging last spring as a gift--it was a delight to carefully cut the owls from the batik, create the star points from snippets of other batik fabrics.
I pinned and basted the layers--and then--I procrastinated for several months about
taking that first stitch.
On the evening that I finally picked it up, determined to make a start, I experimented with several needles of varying lengths. I tried on all three of my thimbles--they all turned my middle finger into a stiff, awkward , useless thing.
I set stiches one at a time; I prodded my needle through the fabric picking up several stitches at a time, pulled them out. The stitches meandered along like the tiny footprints of an inebriated mouse.
Still, I took the project along when we vacationed in early September with J.'s sister and brother-in-law.
Lazy mornings on the screened porch, long cozy evenings curled in a squishy chair found me stitching on--pulling out my worst errors, finishing the piece.

I wasn't exactly proud of the finished quilt, although I could admit it had charm.
Some frantic emails to other quilters, a phone call to J.'s niece, [an accomplished quilter] viewing a variety of 'tutorials' had not made me good at what I wanted to do.

When Susan came with her family last week for Thanksgiving, she brought, as promised, a vintage oval quilting hoop on a stand.
The hoop adjusts to various angles. I had ready a small quilt made from blocks remaining from the huge quilt adorning our bed. This I felt would be a good 'practice piece' and it isn't
going anywhere to be critiqued.
Susan, by way of demonstartion, popped a thimble onto her middle finger and with the needle propelled by the thimble quickly took a line of tiny perfect stitches.
She assured me that with practice I could get the hang of this, meanwhile learning to be content with stitching that was neat, small and consistent if not the classical epitome of 10 or 12 to the inch.
I am persevering--not with the goal of perfection but with the hope that I can eventually accomplish something that will satisfy my standard of competance.
I have a smaller project loaded onto my round hoop and sometimes, for a few moments I almost fancy I'm 'getting it,' achieving a sort of rythym that moves the needle at a reasonable pace. I'm disciplining myself NOT to pick out stiches unless they are truly straggling!
And the other challenge?
Over the years in places I've lived there have been sing-alongs of Handels' Messiah
 at Christmas or Easter.
It always sounded like an enjoyable challenge.
When we attended the patriotic concert given by the local college choir early in November, the director announced that any who wished to participate in a performance of the familiar choruses from Messiah, could leave their name and address on a sign-up sheet in the vestibule.
Cheered on by my friend Gracie, who was at the concert with us, and with a "Why not?" sort of affirmation from J. I rashly signed my name.
Time went by and I supposed the whole project had fallen through.
On Saturday I received in the mail, the above score and a CD for practice purposes.
I'm familiar with most of the pieces in The Messiah; 20 years ago I was part of a choir who performed 'Worthy Is The Lamb' at the funeral of a family friend.
I grew up singing in church and school choirs.
I can read and sing the contralto part.
All this, I'm finding, is a far cry from being note-perfect with only a week between receiving the music and the performance on December 3rd.
There will be no rehersal.  Participants are to arrive a few minutes early, find the appropriate section of the choir and [hopefully] follow the director--or keep quiet when 'lost.'
I've pounded this out on the piano a few times, struggling with the accompaniment which is beyond my skill while trying to follow the alto line.
The CD is interesting.  First there is a recording of the five pieces performed [I assume] by the college choir. This is followed by each piece recorded with choir in the background and the alto part flawlessly sung by one beautiful voice full in the mic.
There isn't time for me to practice this as I should.
My preference would be to have both notes and words so nearly memorized that I scarcely need glance at the score and could instead keep my eyes on the conductor, be in the grip of the music.
I will have to settle for quietly blending, reading the score note by note.
There is one section I know I won't have down--many measures where one is chanting one syllable through tight runs of eigth notes. Nothing short of pure memorization and repeated drill would
 conquer that page.
Learning to accept my own mediocrity is humbling.  It is frustrating.
I still want to do well all things that I undertake.
The patience that practice demands continues to elude me.
Perhaps I can yet find joy in the doing of that which I can't perfect.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Stocking the Pantry

J. and I made the nearly 100 mile round trip today to one of two area 'Sams' Club' warehouse stores.
Over the decades, we have frequently 'bought in bulk.'
During the farming years we belonged to a rather primitive food co-op--food was ordered by a group in town and delivered to a converted church building some 30 miles away.  Group members took turns going to collect the orders, then weighing it out and packaging it for distribution.
Available were flours and grains, nuts, dried fruit, oil, honey--the staples of cooking 'from scratch.'
In later years a food coop moved into a sparkling clean building in the county's shire town. Foods were stored in plastic bins and scooped into sacks or containers to be weighed at the checkout counter.  The store had an inviting assortment of 'natural' cosmetics and soaps, candles, exotic chocolates and later added organic cheeses, yogurt and butter.
These items augmented our own garden produce and home-canned fruit and veg.
During the final years in Vermont we also bought a membership to one of the warehouse stores--Costco.
With our son and daughter having nearby households, it made sense at that time to buy in bulk and divide the fresh fruits and such that we bought during the winter months.
In Wyoming, our several attempts to raise a garden resulted in miserable failures.
Harsh wind, the lack of irrigation, hoards of grasshoppers put paid to our efforts.
Daughter G. learned that a young woman in town there managed an ordering service and she brought me a catalogue.  Orders were placed once a month.  There was a good variety of bulk baking neccessities,  large packages of delectable frozen fruits, dried fruits, good pantry staples.
There were also frozen prepared meals.  These didn't tempt us, other than a frozen tomato/basil soup base which proved to be a delicious quick supper.
Since moving to Kentucky we again have a garden with surplus produce to can and bottle for winter use.
We travel about every 2 months to the natural foods store in the Mennonite community
about 30 minutes away.
Mid-summer, with G. along, we drove to Sam's Club in Bowling Green and bought a membership which allows G. to have a buyer's card as well.
She was pleased with the opportunity to buy baking supplies in large packaging.
We bought large containers of olive oil, vegetable oil, big bottles of lemon juice, butter in six package lots--that sort of thing. 
We came home after our shopping today satisfied with the supplies which have been squirreled away in the cupboards, the freezer, and on shelves in the basement.
However, we've decided we won't renew our membership when it expires next summer.
Pricing on most items doesn't show a saving over the same things bought on our monthly shopping run to the Kroger supermarket on 'Senior Discount Day.'
[There are a few benefits to being over 60!]
Much of the packaging at the warehouse store isn't sensible for a household of two.
Produce is sold in lots that would spoil before we could use it.
A huge portion of the store shelves are given over to 'fast foods,' snacks, frozen 'dinners'--a style of eating that doesn't appeal to us.
Laundry detergent in huge dispensers is not cheaper than the smaller jugs--and I don't think I need to hoist a 30 pound jug each time I do a load of laundry!
We did come home with multi-packs of some canned staples that I like to keep on hand: cream of mushroom soup for casseroles, tinned tuna, a case of 12 cans of tomato sauce.
I bought dried fruit, a medium sized tub of cottage cheese, frozen chicken breasts, the quick cooking rolled oats which we use for porridge and in bread-making.  Several bricks of cheese found their way into my cart--I splurged on an assortment of crackers packed in smaller cello packets within a large box.
I bought a large container of coffee--reverting to a decent brand we have used before--when I realized that our preferred brand is now 3 times the cost of the other!
I bought a sack of cat kibble because we were nearly out--but it wasn't a savings over buying locally.  J. heaved two 50# bags of cat litter onto the cart.
In the drygoods aisles I found the heavy wool-blend socks I've been needing.
We stocked up on pure maple syrup.
We spent a bundle of money!
We likely will not shop Kroger next week, having blown the budget and stocked the shelves.
We may possibly go again to Sam's Club before our membership runs out in July--but we won't renew it.
 Kroger is always crowded on senior discount day--and we feel quite young and fit as we watch some of the oldsters tottering about or riding the battery-powered shopping 'carts.'
Kroger's packaging is better suited to our usage and to our storage space--better to buy several smaller containers of some items than to break down the larger amounts and repackage for the freezer or shelves.
Kroger is a mere 30 miles away compared to 50 to either of the Sam's warehouses.
The Mennonite natural foods mart continues to be a source of items which we like that are not as available elsewhere--for instance the unbleached flour which I buy in 50 # bags.
There are inevitably things which I have to buy between big shoppings--something over-looked, or some items for special occasions recipes.
Wal Mart [ similar to Tesco in the UK] is 10 minutes away--the store we love to hate--but handy when one needs ordinary things.
I daresay I'll have to brave the crowds there and the inevitable lack of cashiers for a few things during the next month, but I think it is safe to declare that we won't have to do a 'big shopping' until well into January.
Some of our supplies will last well beyond that time.
We like simple meals, basic foods well prepared, home made bread and baked goods.
As for the cats--I'll happily drive to the other side of town to stock up on kibble and litter at Tractor Supply Company--that's my kind of store!

Monday, November 26, 2012

25 November: A Sunday Afternoon Walk

November has long been my least favorite month.
In New England, where I spent most of my life, and in Wyoming where we lived from 1998 til early in 2010, winter comes early and comes to stay.
The sky is often overcast, chill winds blow and there is mizzling rain or soggy snow.
Here in Kentucky, we've found that November has redeeming features: crisp nights and frosty mornings give way to warmth at mid day, and slanting sunshine spreads over the harvested fields
with a mellow blessing.

November is a good time to walk around our fields or trail along the edge of the neighboring woodlot.
The ticks have gone where ever such pestilences go in cold weather. Snakes have gone sluggishly to earth.
The booming of gunfire from nearby ridges warns that hunting season is in progress, but I feel safe on our open acres.

Roadside flowers and gardens have succumbed to frost, leaving bleached stems and seed pods to sway and rattle in the wind.

I crossed the road to pick my way along the edge of Big Creek.
The water is low after the long drought of summer.
Here a rivlet foams through a rock crevice.

Here and there are tangles of this viney plant.
I haven't identified it.

This old grey barn huddles against a rocky wooded ledge on our neighbor's property.
I would like to go closer, but there is the issue of tall grass in the summer with whatever may be lurking there. I don't suppose anyone would order me off if I hiked across the pasture for a nearer view, but I haven't presumed.
Instead, I stood on a rise near the edge of our cornfield and used my camera's zoom.

A view across the corn ground.
I remember the rare blue sky days of November in Vermont.
There might be half-frozen mud underfoot, gardens and grass soddenly brown, but a sunny afternoon drew me outside, hands stuffed in pockets for warmth, ears tuned to the calls of Canada Geese flapping high above.

There is a good bit of corn on the ground for the gleaning.
The wild turkeys are keeping their own council during hunting season.
Those who survive will be glad of these hard dry kernels.

A long shot toward the area of ground which J. continues to groom for inclusion in the tillable acreage.
The disc harrow waits under a bare-branched tree.

Walking along the edge of the wood which marks our boundary, I collect sticks and twigs to use as
fire starters.
A thorny invasive vine dangles from a branch, framing a view of the weathered barns.
It was good that I spent several hours outside yesterday, for although not cold, the weather today has had little to lure me out.
Pewter grey skies, a heavy stillness which suggests we might have some much-needed rain.
As pleasing as November has been this year, it comes at the cost of continued drought.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Autumn Quiet

A few photos taken around here at the end of last week.  Each day brings changes.
Already many of hte scarlet leaves on the 'burning bush' have fallen.

A leaf from the sweet gum tree.
I love the elongated maple shape of these.

The three kittens have been enthralled with climbing the burning bush which is in the cat yard.
It is rather non-descript all year until these several autum weeks when the leaves glow with color.

The short daylight hours of November are precious with their particular shadows
and pale gold light.

I spent hours downstairs in my sewing room last week--working on projects I'm not ready to show.
My thoughts were very much with J's cousin and her family preparing for the huge military funeral for their son.  I found it difficult to think of much else.
The kittens continue to provide comic relief--above, Bobby McGee stretched on teh bed--after a bout of high-speed chase with his brothers.
For those who wonder:  we seem to be maintaining 13 [!] cats--between the barn cats, the pampered indoor darlings and those who have the privledge of going in and out.
Thirteen--how did  this happen--again?

Monday, November 12, 2012

Feline Funnies [For Cat Lovers]

Sunday's weather had predictable effects on our feline residents.
The sun shone and there was a mild warmth in the air which might have been more suitable
for a month ago.
The breeze was lively, stirring fallen leaves into whirlwinds, rattling the nearly bare branches and twigs of the dooryard maples.
The 'silver' maple--the last one to let go of its foliage, gave in to the gusts, and the patter of crinkly yellow leaves sifting to the ground inspired the three kittens to mad dashes and leaps.
Teasel sat in the cat yard for a bit, beneath the brilliance of the 'burning bush". The wind ruffled her fur, whisked up leaves which danced past her face.
Twitchy with that sense of impending storm which seems so well developed in cats, she stalked inside and down the hall to the bedroom.
I happened to walk by just as she was busily raking aside the coverlet which I have spread over my newest quilt.
By the time I could snatch up the camera and focus, she had inserted herself into a make-shift hidey-place.

Teasel: "I don't want to 'make nice' for a photo session. The wind is getting on my nerves!"

Teasel: "And what is HE doing here?  Little upstart, better mind his business!"

Nellie settles comfortably while Teasel rumbles words of warning.

Teasel: "One more second and I'm coming at you with paws flying."

'Oh, for cats' sakes, find somewhere else to be!"

Back outside, Bobby McGee and Nellie pounce on leaves.

Antsy--we roam the dooryard with heightened awareness, peering at things that might be lurking.

Let's all play chase!
We have huge imaginations.

Willis: " A little of this kittenish business goes a long way
There's nothing like a timely wash to settle one's stripes."

"The humans are ready to go in the house.  I, Willis, can see in the dark and I am on full alert for things that [might] go bump in the night."

Bobby sits in the driveway, on guard.

The camera is never fast enough to capture the wild dashes, the mid-air collisions and the
"airs above the ground."

Little Edward has patroled the stoney area behind the garage.
His innocent gaze belies his catly vigilance.

"Mind the ditch! Anything could be hiding there!"

Willis, at three years old, is sleek and muscular, but already the boy kittens are bigger than he is.

Nellie: "I'm waiting for something to pop out from behind the tree--whatever it is, I'm ready!"

The mysterious creature lurking behind the dogwood is merely brother Bobby!

Willis sits on the cement of the bulkhead curbing, a bit disdainful of the antics of the younger generation.

Evening brought the rain predicted by the cats, rain and more wind.
Willow was waiting on the steps this morning with an offering of dead mouse--gone a bit soggy.
The 'boys' rushed in for a better look, but I snatched up the mouse and flushed it down the toilet before it could be torn limb from bloody limb.
Willow has taken over the top of my spinet piano, in spite of the tipple of books which J. placed there hoping to discourage the cats.

The kittens have all had a trek about the dooryard, coming in with sopping feet and coats glinting with misty rain.
It is good to be near the fire, but we're not ready to sleep away the hours of grey daylight.

There are no winners--no losers--in these dramatic tussels.
So, time for a nap.
So, time for a nap!
Eventually, everyone decides to take a nap!

Sunday, November 11, 2012


I 've debated whether I should publish a Veterans'/Remembrance Day post this year.
Those who have been with me since the beginning of my blog may recall that I created a series of posts based on the WWI letters of my Great Uncle, Lawrence Ross.
[Those posts can be viewed beginning here:  Scroll to the end of the post and click on 'newer posts' if you want to read each installment in succession.]
Memorial Day, observed at the end of May, was the time for marching bands and parades.
Veterans of former wars marched as a body, those who could fit into their uniforms wore them; All stepped out smartly, eyes straight ahead as though on the
parade ground of years ago.
Parades were followed by gatherings on the town green [or if it rained in the old Town Hall] where speeches were made, prayers offered and poems recited. 
For me as a young person, the most awe inspiring moment was when Mr. Glenn Bishop stepped to the podium to read out the names of the men who had served their country in wars from the Revolution of 1776 to the present time. Mr. Bishop sang bass in the church choir and his speaking voice was rich and mellow.
He intoned each name with solemnity, pausing to give weight and dignity, to each his due.
The reading of this list, with special note given to those whose lives had been lost, was followed by a hush. Then the sound of 'Taps' floated over the crowd, the highest note held to a shivering sweetness.

November 11 was observed in a quieter manner. Schools were closed, as were the local bank and the post office.
It was a time of quiet reflection, holding the somber memory of loss for those who grieved still for friends or family members fallen in battle.
Others spoke of the remembered jubilation of Armistice Day--those days at the end of WWI and WWII when church bells pealed, horns blared, and men, women and children shouted their relief that war had ended.

My family hasn't run to soldiering.
My Dad, a married man when the US draft began in WWII, was rejected when his physical suggested the possibility of TB, a supposed condition for which he had been treated a few years earlier. He stayed home, working as a mechanic, while several of his boyhood pals marched off to bootcamp.
Two of my mother's cousins enlisted, Russell Brayton and Kent Hayes.
My grandfather, McKenzie Lewis registered for the draft on June 5, 1917 when he was thirty years old and again for WWII when his age is listed as 53.
A self-employed farmer, he was not called up for either war.

MY father's uncle, Napoleon Dejadon, aged 54, also an Addison county farmer, filled out his draft card for WWII.
Napoleon had served in the earliler war, inducted 18 September, 1917.
He rose to the rank of Corporal in Battery C of 302nd Field Artillary which saw overseas action from 16 July, 1918 until April 26, 1919.
While Napoleon was serving in France, his wife Ada, with his two younger brothers, Arthur and Charles, succumbed to the Spanish Flu in October, 1918. By the turn of the year, his sister Lena was also a victim. Family tradition states that word of these deaths was kept from Napoleon until he set foot again on US soil, whereupon a Red Cross worker gave him the dreadful news.
Napoleon's father, Gilbert, had been ill with the flu at the time of the other deaths in the family.
Within months of his soldier son's return, Gilbert too was dead, worn down with grief and bouts of pneumonia.

Jim's maternal uncle, Carl Hurd, joined the Army in 1942 and served in the Pacific.
Carl Hurd

Edwin Johnson, husband of Jim's Aunt Dorothy, served in the Army, enlisting in 1943.

The husband of Jim's Aunt Elizabeth, Donald Greene, served under General Patten and was among the forces who liberated Camp Buchenwald.

Our brother-in-law, Charles Leatherman served some of his Army duty at Ft Lee, Virginia during the late 1950's.

The Viet Nam conflict was heating up when my husband, Jim came of age. After much pondering, he registered as a non-combatant, expecting to serve in the medical corp should he be called up.
Jim's twin brother, Jerry enlisted in 1963 in the Navy, serving as sonar technician on the USS Samuel B. Roberts which was deployed to duty on the Saigon River
during the Viet Nam War.

My cousin, Clarence 'Jack' Giroux, served in the army 1957-1961.
His older brother, Eugene, may also have  served.

Tom Archer

Cousin Thomas "Tom" Archer shared this photo on Face Book today.
Tom served in the Army's Mountain Infantry, training in Hawaii and in the Italian Alps.

Jim's large tribe of cousins with their spouses and offsping have scattered across the US.
It may be that there are those in the military of whose service I am unaware.

My niece's husband, Thad Stowe, was deployed to Bosnia during that recent conflict. 

And now, the most difficult part of this post to write.

Jim's younger cousin Gloria is well known to us from our Vermont years, and we have stayed in touch with her, although we moved away when her children were young.
Her two sons have had distinguished military careers.
Gloria and Pete's older son Brock Lowell, is a Staff Sergeant with 14 years service and 4 combat deployments to Iraq and Afganistan.
He is a member of the "Screaming Eagles."

Brock's younger brother Glen Lowell, with 11 years in the Army and a member of the Special Forces recently returned from an Afganistan tour--not, I think, his first.
Since his return state-side he and his girlfriend made plans to marry.

Our entire extended family was shocked and saddened to learn of Glenn's death yesterday.
In a twist of bitter irony, after surviving the rigors of combat, he was killed, not during any duty related to the military, but in a violent traffic accident near his base in Florida.

Words fail us--as they have always failed at such times.
For Glenn's extended family, for his fiancee and his many friends, Remembrance Day carries a heavy new burden.

So many wars.  So many lives lost.
So many families changed forever.
We call them heros--those who enlist or are drafted, ready to defend and protect in peacetime or in war.
We hear lofty phrases such as 'he gave his life'--the cynic in me questions whether anyone 'lays down' life freely or with patriotic fervor.
Those who serve--and have always served--whether as combatants, medics, nurses, ambulance drivers, mechanics, or in whatever capacity their country assigns to them,
serve I suspect with personal hopes and dreams 'on hold' for the duration of their term.
Surely they serve knowing there is the possibility of an ultimate sacrifice--that of the very life they hold dear.
The mothers and fathers, the brothers and sisters, spouses and sweethearts, wait out that term of service, wait in times of war with fears that must be hidden beneath brave words and smiles of encouragement and hope.
Those of us who have been kept safe by the training, the preparedness, the grim skills and the deployment of our military, can only humble say
"Thank You"
from the depths of our hearts.

The Star-Spangled Banner proudly displayed last summer at the home of
Pete and Gloria Lowell.