Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Eliza's Rocking Chair

The small green-painted rocking chair stood in Grandma Eliza's bedroom, placed to the right of the closet door and near the double bed.
If one angled the chair toward the south-facing window, the view would have been of the side dooryard. a huge maple tree, and the gravel drive which stretched toward the barns.

I don't recall my great-grandmother sitting in the chair.  She was likely too busy!
Bedrooms in those days weren't considered a place for personal retreat; bedrooms were meant for sleeping, not dawdling, with a chest of drawers and the 'clothes press' to contain belongings.

The chair wore many coats of grey-green paint which my Uncle Bill, ever the conservationist, had layered with varnish.
Strangely, I haven't a clear memory of when the chair was presented to me--I think that Bill [as we always called him] gave it to me during a generous moment when we were building the small house next door in 1980.
An older neighbor told me later that such scaled-down chairs were termed 'nursing rockers'--small and light enough to be tucked out of the way or pulled out for use when an infant needed feeding or comforting during the night.
The seat of the chair was shaped from a single thick slab of wood and the side spindles have the form known as 'rabbit ears.'

When I was in my first phase of refinishing old furniture a neighbor used a heavy duty stripper to cut through the many layers of paint and varnish--the same man who cleaned up the old chest of drawers pictured in my last post.
Jim inserted some screws to reinforce the shaky joining of the rockers to the legs of the chair.
In our first-built Wyoming home I placed the little chair in a guest room where I had displayed a number of small vintage collectibles. 

As we built houses, moving  into several of them, incompletely furnished, until they sold, the rocking chair was among pieces that we stored away.

Our first Kentucky home--the yellow house--was a small 1980 ranch with no room to fit 
all of our furniture.
We had to edit our belongings to suit the space.
Perhaps unwisely, the rocking chair saw several seasons on the covered front porch.

Last month I brought the chair out from the muddle in the basement storage room.
I was dismayed to see how very fragile and weathered it had become.
In a practical sense it is probably unsafe for anyone but a slender youngster to use.
It wouldn't stand a good galloping rock.

Still, I couldn't let it go.
I dusted away the cobwebs and carried it across the drive to Jim's workshop.
When I went out several days later I found that he had applied wood glue to many of the 
cracks and fissures.
I undertook some careful hand sanding and on a day when sunlight streamed through the south-facing windows, began to apply paint.
Working with the chair I noted some features which suggest it was home made, or at least mended over the years by a home craftsman.
The lower back rung appears to have been repurposed from another chair; possibly one or two of the spindles replaced.
The chair, with other household chattels, would have been ferried across Lake Champlain
to Orwell, Vermont when my great-grandparents and grandparents bought the farm there in 1913.
It had most likely been in one of the family homes in the hamlet of Hague, New York.

The chair has been lovingly refurbished with two coats of 'Apple Grove' satin paint--the color is close to what I remember of the original and is the paint I purchased to refinish the hutch/bookcases Jim bought for me several years ago at a local auction.

Eliza's rocking chair now has its place in the small guest room.
I intend making a cushion using some of the toile fabric left from the curtains.
Perhaps this delicate treasure should wear a placard such as one sees in a museum display:
Do Not Sit On The Chair

Eddie and Eliza [Bartlett] Ross
The formal portrait isn't dated.
I believe Eliza [in reality my step-great-grandmother] was in her mid 40's at the time.
Great-grandfather Eddie was 10 years older.

Monday, October 26, 2015

A Few House Photos

Rather too many photos and not good quality--I made several attempts to photograph rooms hoping for a truer representation of colors. 
Use your imagination!

The small guest room with a double bed. 
The comforter is one I made in Wyoming of a heavy cotton--ecru background with line 'drawings' of pansies in a pale slatey blue.
The little quilt at the foot of the bed is also one of the first pieced during a long Wyoming winter.
I used the same paint in all three rooms on the north side of the hall.
It is a warm sandy neutral called 'Speckled Eggs.'

Walls look un-naturally grey in this photo.
The curtains are a Waverly toile in a plum/crimson on off white.
The framed photo has a plum mat--gift of a friend who has learned wonderful camera skills.

We discovered this vintage washstand with its new plum paint and delicate folk-art flowers at Peddlers' Mall.
I knew instantly it would be perfect in this room.

It was days after bringing the washstand home that it 'clicked' in my mind that the curtain fabric--purchased from ebay for the Bedford stone house--would be a match for the stand and that the framed iris photo would compliment both.
Such moments are very satisfying.

This room is also painted in 'Speckled Eggs'--and also appears a cloudy grey in the photo.
This chest of drawers is one I bought months before our marriage--that expanse of time alone qualifies it as vintage.
It was covered in layers of gooey varnish. 
I worked at it now and then over the years before  a Vermont neighbor used some heavy duty stripper on it.
This spring Jim hauled it out to the shop for me and I began the process of  fine sanding.
I had notions of painting it, but Jim admired the grain of the wood and applied a clear finish--when I wasn't looking.

This quilt stand was a $9 find at Peddlers' Mall.
It was painted a cold pale grey.
I sanded down the old finish and repainted it with  satin black.
[I am liking this satin black called 'Cannonball.']

This small quilt was purchased for me at the estate sale of an elderly Vermont friend.
The original piece was in fragile condition as the sashing between the blocks was threadbare.
I picked out the stitching and freed the blocks when I was recovering from an illness in 2004, found a blue printed calico that suited the mostly blue shirtings used to make the 4 patch blocks and reset them.  As the original quilt was tied, I used that approach to finish it.
I was nearly done when I noticed the faded ink signature on one block.
My friend, Esther Jane Lewis, noted that she had pieced the quilt in her 9th year--about 1916.
Several of the blocks have tiny tears, so I consider the quilt for display only.

This chest of drawers was purchased during our first year in Wyoming but not painted until about 2009.  I am disturbed that the dresser isn't centered under the flower prints--I think I moved it to this spot after Jim hung the pictures.

Another consignment shop find. The small table spent several years on our covered porch at the yellow house.
It required only minimal sanding to smooth the way for black satin paint, which I am 
finding very versatile.

Jim has made several towel racks from the distinctive vine-wrapped saplings he has collected on walks up the ridge.
They are now installed in the master bath.

Downstairs guest room.
The furniture belongs to our son.

Edward posing in a vintage wooden bowl which Jim recently repaired.
This photo gives the truest sense of the paint colors I chose for the living area and front and back halls.

Living area--the curtain fabric is not that green!  Without sunlight shining through, the fabric is a 'string' color, but with golden olive undertones.
I am very pleased with the paints I chose to compliment the fabric--a great find [$3 per yd!] at a fabric shop in Tennessee which our niece there favors for decorating projects.
I sifted through countless paint sample chips before deciding on the colors: 'Shoelace' for the lower walls and 'Pale Narcissus" for the upper.

This old treadle sewing machine base was shoved into a dark cubby hole beneath the stairs in the lower farmhouse.  I dragged it into the light and convinced Jim it could be converted to a
neat side table.
I've noticed in country decorating magazines that these have been unearthed and refinished almost to the point of becoming a cliche. 
One winter afternoon while Jim was installing electric in our house, I removed the battered top and the drawers, cleaned off the flaking finish with a wire brush.
The table top is a pre-cut piece from Lowes.
Jim sprayed the base in satin black and finished the top with clear poly.
Unlike others I have seen, he added a neat trim beneath the table top.

Curtains appearing much too green, but you can see something of the room's layout.

My reproduction maps fit on the wall over Jim's TV.
Susan folded my little quilt [hand-quilted very laboriously while Jim worked on the house] over the back of a rocking chair which our son moved across the country and then abandoned.

Again color is distorted--the red of the accent wall is a deeper more mellow shade.
The hutch on the right needs to be refinished to match the apple green one which I refinished in the summer of 2014. 
The open door leads into the sunroom. 
Both of our desks reside in the back hall to the left of the door.
The hall wraps around a central staircase.

The weighty bookcase [I suspect it was once considered a dining room piece]
is in the sunroom.

Lined valences I made to top the plain cream cotton curtains in master bedroom.
I found that fabric remnant at least a decade ago--knew it would come in useful!

Paint in the master bedroom and adjoining bath and 'dressing room' is 'Mystic Mocha.'
Jim, who has been heroically busy in renovating the two houses, balked at the time needed to put up wall hangings and pictures.
I had framed pictures unpacked and laid out on the beds in the guest rooms and pointed out that they couldn't remain there.
Susan, who arrived several days prior to the family reunion, quietly inquired where I wanted such to hang, then shooed me off to the kitchen while she coaxed her uncle to undertake the task.
A bit of feminine wiles were employed, "Uncle Jimmy, I don't mind putting those up, but I know you'd be upset if I accidentally bashed holes in your walls!"
The strategy worked!

My great-grandparents' marriage certificate hangs beside my dresser.
Not shown are the framed blocks salvaged from a quilt made by my g-grandmother--those are on the wall opposite the bed.

There are still projects to complete:
the pantry shelves were crudely done and need an over-haul;
the double upstairs hall and stairwell are a nightmare of sloppily done drywall--it will be a messy undertaking.
The tiny Amish closets need decent shelving.
My sewing room hasn't been wired, nor has the area beyond the bath which we call the dressing room.  That space will also have linen storage when finished.
Jim continues to work at the renovation of the large lower farmhouse.
I don't see either of us sliding into idle 'retirement' for quite some time!

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Before The Rains Came

Weather in south-central Kentucky has been all that one could wish for in October: skies of  brilliant blue, mid-day sunshine warming the air after cool and misty mornings. Twilight has painted the western horizon in  mellow shades of apricot and deep pink, fading slowly to dusty mauve and 
pearly grey.
The cosmos are still making a brave show, leaning over the timbers which form the retaining wall at the bottom of the garden.
Close up many of the individual flowers have gone ragged.
I collected a few seeds this week, intrigued to find that while the default pink-flowering plants have ripened seed, most of those on the white and bi-colors are still green and held 
stiffly in their little cups.

As I have walked in the pastures and in the edge of the woods I have found tiny short-stemmed violets--surely out of season.

Our hedgerows have quite a sprinkling of the soft maple variety locally known as Sweet Gum.
They are rather fragile trees, prone to rot.  On Wednesday Jim took the chainsaw to the tottering spire of the one at the edge of the drive--the rotted top came down in a thunderstorm in May.
Although they are not considered of value, I appreciate these trees for their handsome leaves, especially in the fall as they color in scarlet, gold or a rich purple-brown as above.

Orange-red--perhaps where a branch receives more direct sun [?]

On Thursday, late in the afternoon, the harvesters came in with their machinery. I was headed out with the car when a pickup eased over the hump in the narrow road, a red warning flag held out the driver's window.  I guessed what was approaching and carefully backed up into the driveway at the lower house to wait until the huge reaper trundled by.
This field at the foot of our lane and across the narrow road is owned by our neighbor.
Our corn ground lies to the left of this photo's edge, farther along the road.
By Friday night, our fields had also been harvested--timely, as the rains began in the night.

Tiny frost asters have sprung up where Jim kept the edges of the lane mowed during the summer.

Queen Anne's Lace bends frowsy heads over the fence along the lane.

The ridges are layered in the homespun colors of oak and hickory.

Seed heads to gather.

I want to be sure and collect a goodly amount of seed from these bi-colored cosmos.

These late-season blooms are smaller than those which opened even a few weeks ago.

Rain moved in during Friday night, continuing into the early hours of the morning--gentle, quiet rain, the more welcome for knowing the corn had been safely harvested.

Grey skies have prevailed through the weekend and more rain showers are forecast into the middle of the week.
Leaves drift down from the trees in slow swirls, caught on quiet currents of air.
The path into the woods behind the stable is now thick with fallen leaves.
The scent of cooling soil, of vegetation just starting to decay, is the scent of every autumn remembered since childhood.
Autumn is my favorite season in spite of the promise of coming winter that lurks on a frosty morning.

I have not been overly busy this quiet grey weekend;
there was church, there was time to read a bit, time to listen to a variety of music.
I browsed through some new magazines--decided I like my own 'decorating' as well as any on the glossy pages. 
Several cats vied for my lap this morning as I sat at my desk.
They have seemed needier than usual since the disappearance of Nellie.

As the murky afternoon darkened the kitchen I made soup, enjoying the homey aroma  of simmering potato, celery, onion, a bit of turkey bacon, a pinch of curry.
Popovers out of the oven to slather with butter.

Hastily gathered catnip put on trays to cure in the wood stove oven, the stalks tossed on the floor for the cats to enjoy.
Plastic rings stitched onto the ends of curtain tie-backs.
A mug of tea, a wander through the upstairs rooms, considering what projects I may tackle this week.
Beneath tiredness, I feel a bit of creative energy rising.

Friday, October 23, 2015


I have been remiss--not saying 'thank you' in a timely way for your messages of concern and sympathy in the loss of Nellie-Cat.
I am not dealing very well with his disappearance.
I make no claims to clairvoyance--indeed wouldn't want that dubious gift--but I admit that without good reason, I felt strongly from the first moment when I called him to 'tea time'--and he didn't appear, that I wouldn't see my dear boy again.
Still, hope dies hard.
I would have him back--battered, dirty, hungry, maybe even missing an ear, an eye, a leg--if he could be returned to me I would take care of him.

How could I guess as he lay stretched beside me in the half light of early morning, my fingers lightly stroking his long fur, feeling him purr beneath my hand--how could I suspect it would be the last time I would touch him or know his presence?

I have hoped that I could write a sequel in which Nellie reappeared, came home again.
I have thus far been thwarted in even knowing with surety what carried him away without a trace.
I have walked the edges of the brook, nearly dry in its rocky bed; I have tramped along the roadside, up and down the lane, ventured up the steep ridge track, gone into the woods beyond the stable--hoping for some sign that would indicate his end, gruesome though it would surely be.
I have quartered the big pasture, eyes straining for a tuft of fur--any trace.

There is to be no happy ending, apparently no discovery that will help to draw a line under Nellie's disappearance.
I am bereft--but I feel enfolded by the kindness of your words left on my page, the letters which have arrived at my inbox.
Those of us who love animals have a bond of compassion, of shared sorrow when there is a loss.
Thank you for once again being with me in a sad time.

Saturday, October 17, 2015


Distraught:  very upset : so upset that you are not able to think clearly or behave normally

I began the week with  quiet optimism, cheered with the knowledge that major house renovations have been accomplished, rooms painted, curtains and pictures hung.
The work and bustle of hosting the family reunion had passed and it seemed time to settle in, begin to enjoy the house, slowly unpack and sort the belongings which remain in the storage room.

Time to read without falling asleep, time to write, to compose letters, reply to blog posts.
The weather offered several days of October's best--crisp, blue sky days.
On Monday I applied a second coat of dark red paint to the front door, helped Jim clean up after tearing out a wall at the lower house.

On Tuesday afternoon Jim announced that he needed to drive to the next county to purchase sheetrock for the pantry he is building in the lower farmhouse.
Did I have any errands needing done?
Yes, a few items could be quickly picked up at the supermarket.

It was an hour early for the cats' ritual 'tea time,' but I decided to dish it out before we left.
Two of the 'boy cats', Bobby and Nellie, were outside, and Bobby responded as usual to my call.
Nellie did not, unusual, as Nellie delights in food at any time.

I was mildly disturbed that he didn't appear, but trusted that he would be waiting on the front porch or on the wall when we returned.
At home an hour later, I was alarmed when there was no response to my calls of 'Nellie! Nellie!'

Jim and I took turns wandering up and down the lane, into the edge of the woods, calling until darkness fell, then going out through the evening, flashlight in hand.
We opened closet doors, went through the workshop; I even went down to the lower house, thinking that he might have followed Jim there, popped inside when the entry door was open as Jim worked.

By 7 on Wednesday morning I was out in the chilly mist, striding along the road in both directions from the bottom of the lane, dreading that I might find a still form in the ditch.
I went on calling, but with the heavy foreboding that there would be no response, no lively cat bounding out to meet me.
Nellie was gone.

Distraught, wondering, hurting within, I have been unable to stay indoors or to settle to any of the anticipated pleasurable tasks.
I launched myself at outdoor projects, turning over a strip in the garden for the perennial seedlings which have been out-growing their pots on the porch.
I attempted to tidy the strip which has been over-grown with cosmos and cleome.
Honeybees were working there and as I yanked up a leaning stalk of cleome I was stung just above the wrist--a sudden sharp stab of pain--quite out of proportion to the size of the stinging insect.
I gasped and batted away the throng of golden bees who swarmed to the aide of their irritable workmate.
 I retreated to the front of the house to trim the towering Rose of Sharon [hibiscus syriacus] and lop thorny branches from the rugosa planted too near the steps by one of the former owners.

Jim appeared and sensing my despairing mood, ran the tiller over my strip of turned earth, brought a shovel  and dis-interred the rugosa. 
As the sun slipped over the western ridge I refused to stop working, digging a hole on the side hill to relocate the rugosa, dragging off branches, carrying tender plants inside to the basement rooms.

I have continued through the remainder of the week setting myself to accomplish physically demanding tasks, spending long hours outside, walking, working,
 trying to accept that my pet is gone.
I try to force myself to stop looking for Nellie, to stop imagining that I see him trundling up the lane, or sprawled atop the wall in the sunshine.
My mind hums his name, and as I unhappily puzzle over what snatched him from us, my ears ring with the ancient phrase: 
"the pestilence that stalks in darkness, 
the destruction that wastes at noonday."

Nellie disappeared 'in broad daylight' taken by 'something' which prowled or flew near the house.
Almost daily we have heard the red-tailed hawks keening as they circle above the meadow.  We have heard the owls hooting at night--and blame them for the disappearance of Jim's old cat, Raisin, in September.
What other predator is stalking our cats?  Coyotes?  Bobcats?
We cannot keep all the cats confined to the house.  Several have always been 'barn cats' accustomed to life outdoors.
Nellie's brother, Bobby, is most resentful of being kept inside these past days, wily about charging through a briefly opened door.
Charlie goes in and out--and when he is determined to be 'out' his pacing and constant importunate mewing insures that out he goes.

Today, four days on, the site of the honeybee's sting on my wrist is still irritated and mildly painful. The tiny wound is visible, the flesh around it slightly discolored with yellow bruising.
I suspect it will subside and heal long before the interior pain of losing my Nellie-cat.
I cannot yet write a tribute to him.
I can't give in now to the tightly coiled knot of pain and unshed tears.

There are those who reading this might find it the maudlin ranting of an old woman, grieving a lost cat instead of expressing concern for the many tragedies all around us.
Losing a pet is a different sorrow than the parting with a human love--spouse, parent, sibling, child.
It is removed from the wider sadness that we feel when reviewing disasters of accident, war, 
flood or famine.
Those who take animals into their homes and into their hearts, to care for, to cherish as companions, need no explanation for the medley of sadness, frustration, anxiety and stunned disbelief which 
have burdened me since Nellie disappeared in the sunshine of a golden autumn day.

Monday, October 12, 2015

September Whirlwind/Reunion

We have known since early spring that we would be hosting a reunion of Jim's family in the autumn.
This gave impetus to our house renovations, although we were assured that no one was coming 
'to see the house.'
By the second week of September we were feeling the push of numerous tasks still unfinished.
Jim decided to 'texture' the walls of the main room which wraps around the center stairwell creating both a living area and front and back open hallways.
I had been thinking painted 'beadboard' wainscoating to define the lower walls, but Jim decided that trying to retro-fit beadboard without removing window and door trim would be a nightmare.
Plan 'B' called for a narrow chair rail in a clear finish with darker paint below and a carefully chosen off-white above.
I bought the fabric for the living area curtains in Tennessee over a 2014 Thanksgiving visit to our niece--a great buy on a fine decorator cotton--16+ yards.
The fabric appears to be khaki or beige at first glance.  As I unrolled it from the bolt I realized it had a light golden olive tint.
I made the first pair of curtains late in May, then put the fabric away as other tasks claimed my attention.  I couldn't find my scribbled notes re measurements when I returned to the task in September, thought I recalled what I had been doing and --without measuring the finished pair--cut the remainder of the material, a very elementary recipe for mistakes!
When it came to hemming, I discovered I had cut all the lengths 3 inches too short.
I had to face the hems with matching fabric--invisible from the right side and neat enough on the back, but twice as time-consuming.

With no table large enough to spread the curtain lengths, I mopped a section of the kitchen floor and creaked down onto my knees to measure and pin the hems.
Teasel has always taken an interest in my stitchery projects and having fabric and the lovely long tape measure near to hand meant I had a great deal of assistance.
I pondered over nearly 2 dozen paint sample cards before making my selections; the resulting harmony of the paint and curtains is bringing me pleasure.

Jim started to tile the upstairs shower, then perhaps having become impatient with a long summer of house renovation [he is working on the lower house as well] he up and rented a machine to rearrange the creek bed which went out of bounds last spring and swept away the edges of the corn field.

The rental agreement for the machine specified a certain price for a 'week'--the rental company's conception of a 'week' turned out to be 32 hours.
I walked down several times to view the earth moving project.

Perfect weather for working outdoors.

Walking at the edge of the corn ground we found a length of crimped wire half buried in the sod.

The tangle of cosmos at the edge of the sadly neglected garden have continued to delight me with their colors. Soon it will be time to gather the seeds to dry for another season.

The family were scheduled to arrive from north, south and west on October 1.
The weather for about 10 days had been nearly perfect--blue skies, sunshine after cool and misty mornings.
I decided to refinish several small pieces of furniture--a quilt rack purchased at a consignment shop in January, a small side table which had spent several seasons on the front porch at the yellow house.
Rather than work in Jim's shop, I collected the electric sander, paper for hand sanding and my paint and brushes to work in the Amish 'washroom' off the kitchen.
These are projects I enjoy, although I've found I need to 'take a break' rather than push through for hours at a time.
With paint curing, guest rooms dusted and beds made up with the nicest linens and quilts, I turned again to curtains.
On the Sunday before the gathering I cleared the kitchen island, placed the ironing board behind it and aligned several cutting mats to give me the space needed for measuring.
This novel arrangement appealed to Nellie-Cat who wanted to be part of the project.
The threat of whiskers or tail being trimmed by the rotary cutter, or his paws steamed as I pressed up hems, did not deter him.

Our niece, Susan, arrived late on Monday to assist in preparing meals for the crowd.
Susan is expert at determining how much food to purchase and prepare.
She had been baking and freezing goodies at home in Alabama and a loaded cooler was 
part of her luggage.
Susan is also an accomplished seamstress.
When I came downstairs at 6 on Tuesday morning, Susan, already showered, dressed and in her right mind, was at the sewing machine efficiently running up curtain hems.
Rain bucketed down outside, keeping Jim inside to work on the shower stall.

While rain streamed down beyond the porch and yellow leaves whirled before the wind, the house took on the smells of meatballs simmering in tomato sauce, bread in the oven, molasses cookies, chocolate chip cookies, cooling on the counter.

Susan coaxed Jim to hang the pictures I had unpacked; 
We hung the freshly ironed curtains and suddenly the simple bedrooms looked cozy and welcoming.
It continued to rain until Sunday, but our guests were game to walk or visit the nearby Mennonite shops, and of course we ate!

A second batch of bread cooling and a sponge cake waiting for strawberries and cream.

Layered salad.

Part of a buffet meal.

Susan's trifle.

Visitors in the rain.

Sunday afternoon at the Shaker Village at Pleasant Hill.

The six siblings--impossible to have everyone smiling their best on the count of three!

Departures began on the Monday, the last of our guests said goodbye and started their homeward journeys on Tuesday morning.
Willing hands had made light work of collecting towels and bed linens; I spent the day in pegging sheets on the line, tidying. Chairs and tables which had been arranged for family meals were put back in place.
The more timid of the cats crept from under the bed and prowled through the suddenly quiet rooms.
We have consumed the leftovers, Jim has finished the shower and returned to work on the 
lower house.
I have sanded a vintage rocking chair, applied a second coat of paint to the front door.
Jim needs to sort his workshop and get the wood stove set up.
I need to sort and unpack still more boxes and bins, take more items to the charity shop.
I need to dig a place in the garden for the plants I have grown on the front porch.
I look forward to settling into this home we have refurbished, coming to know it better 
as the seasons change.
Slowly a new 'normal' will unfold.