Thursday, December 31, 2015

December: Uneasy Weather, Animal Chores, Quiet Christmas

We will recall this December as the month in which rain was the predominant weather mode.
It has been uneasy weather, though we have escaped the damaging floods and tornadoes which have assaulted other areas.
It has been unseasonably warm along with all the wet.
We keep the wood stove puttering along to combat the damp, but have several times opened a window in kitchen or bedroom to relieve a stuffy sense of over-heating.
The track into the woods beyond the stable is squelching and the intermittent brook rushes noisily, swollen with rain.

The brook spreading beyond its shallow banks.
Charlie-cat loves to prowl along the edge.
From the kitchen window I often spot his shaggy pale-furred form picking daintily through mud and wet leaves or balancing on a felled tree trunk.
Willis and the tortie girls, spend much of their daytime on the porch, watching the rain, eyeing the birds that flit in the hedgerow, or curling themselves into snug balls on the cushioned wicker bench;  when the rain eases off, they step gingerly along the drive where their feet will stay dry.

Rain has come down in sudden heavy bursts, subsided, then slashed down again.
Thunder has boomed and rattled.
The sun has made a few sulky appearances, heavily swathed in grey clouds, then disappeared.

On 23 December we began doing animal chores for friends who live a scant half mile along the road, so that they could travel north for a family visit over Christmas.

Two hunting hounds who live in a roofed chain-link enclosure with small hutches for sleeping, needed tending once a day--clean water in their buckets and their mix of kibble and tinned food passed inside in shiny metal bowls.
They are large boisterous dogs, barking loudly and bouncing at the kennel doors when anyone approaches.
I knew that I couldn't manage the stiff fastenings on the doors, hand in filled bowls, and avoid being leaped upon, so Jim took on their care.

The chickens needed their feed flung into their small wire-covered yard, water containers checked and eggs picked up from the nest boxes which have a handy outside flap.
We shared that duty, pleased that we had been invited to bring home the fresh eggs,
 two to five per day. 
The hen's coop has a small uncovered entry and they put themselves to bed at dusk.

I was told there are 8 barn cats in residence;  I counted 6 or 7 at any one visit, several Toms with plush dark grey fur, two  torties, a tabby or two.
They quickly accepted that our arrival signaled the dishing out of their kibble.
They were wary, but not above a quick whisk about our ankles when we entered the barn.

The old house dog and the two house cats became my special charges.
King, a huge yellow lab, is nearly 14, arthritic, eyes rather clouded, a bit deaf.
He needs to be let out to pee rather frequently, the only demanding part of our care.

King has once a day meds--3 tablets and a capsule administered in a wad of soft store-bought bread.
He gulps these down obligingly, only once spitting out a soggy tablet which I retrieved and presented a second time.
I had been advised to take him out on a retractable lead, so that he wouldn't decide to lope off on an adventure.  
Several times when I went in he was sprawled on the sheet-draped sofa and didn't hear me approach until I stood by him and touched his shoulder while calling his name.
Other times he met me at the door, bouncing stiffly, eager to go out.

It was raining nearly every time I drove up to tend him--he is leisurely about accomplishing his 'duty' even in heavy rain.  Several times I lingered, waiting for a cloudburst to subside while he fidgeted.
He was attentive as I measured his kibble and stirred in the half can of wet food formulated for 'senior' dogs. 
He can be silly, flailing about on his back on the sofa, sending cushions onto the floor, or dragging his stuffed toys from the bin and joyfully flinging them about.
On one morning when I found the small living area in disarray I asked him if he had organized a 'party' after my final evening visit between 9 and 10 PM.

I drove up one afternoon at barely five o'clock--in the rain, already needing the van's headlights. I hadn't brought my flashlight, thinking that the outside motion lights would be sufficient. 
Within moments it was very dark, wind whipping, rain pelting down.
The yard lights, for whatever reason, didn't activate when we blundered around the side of the house.
King lunged into the shrubbery edging the building, looped his lead around a small magnolia tree.
I fumbled in the dark to disentangle the lead, while he tugged.
Wind-blown, damp, I emerged from my battle with the tree trunk, but hadn't reeled in the rest of the leash.  King, one foot in a loop of the lead, jogged down the steep yard while I slithered behind.  We fetched up at the edge of the drive, King muddy and winded, me tired of the adventure.
"That," I announced over the sound of rolling thunder, "that will be quite enough. GO PEE AND COME ALONG INSIDE!"

The house cats, Allie and Emma, were mature cats when adopted. Their exact ages aren't known but neither are young felines. 
Miss Allie needs to be lifted to the top of the washing machine in the utility room where the bowl of cat kibble is served to prevent King from eating it.
By the second day Allie realized that my visits to take King outside also meant that I would pick her up, give her a cuddle, set her up by her bowl. She nibbles a few mouthfuls then plumps her pear-shaped body onto the floor, toddles off to the sofa or the plush pet mat in the bedroom.

Miss Emma, a small and elegant dark tabby, is regal, not easily impressed.  She was never quite where I expected to find her, sometimes on the back of the sofa, sometimes sitting imperiously on the dining table, once stealthily surveying me from a chair pushed under the edge of the table, her green eyes glowing in the dimness.
She remained aloof, except when I rattled the little container of cat treats.

Our visits to care for the animals spanned 6 days, not too demanding other than the need to be there quite early in the morning to let King go outside, the late evening run, and simply remembering that he needed to relieve himself every few hours during the day.

With the weather bleak and dour outside it has been a joy to note the progress of the amaryllis and paperwhite bulbs in an upstairs window.
[It has been dark enough even at mid day to activate the flash on my camera.]
I have marveled at how quickly the paperwhite stretched once growth took off, soon needing to be tied to a twiggy stake.

This variety is slightly shorter stemmed and less heavily scented that the more common one

The bulb in full flower.  Its freshness will hold for a few days.

The bed wore a special Christmas quilt and matching pillow cases from early December until the day after Christmas.
Jim and I recalled that last December during our stay at the stone house, we were always chilled.
We had begun renovations here at the farmhouse, leaving the stone house early in the morning and returning after dark to stoke the wood fire in the basement.
It was a cold month, we bundled into bed under the Christmas quilt, fleecy blankets and 
a shabby comforter.
This year, we pushed aside the quilt, felt over-heated by the blanket and a surround of furry cats.
I have washed the blanket and put it away, changed the quilt for the lighter one in the photo. 
Today the weather has turned again, 20 degrees colder.
The old comforter has been folded at the foot of the bed, handy by, beloved of the cats.

December has raveled quietly away.
Errands have been done, a few simple gifts exchanged.
We have attended church.
We took part in a friend's birthday gathering a few days prior to Christmas, driving at dusk through lashing rain, hitting great swales of water at the edges of the road, arriving at a warm house, brightly trimmed for the holiday.
Good food, wonderful companionship.
Christmas dinner with our daughter and her family--another drive through rain, good hours spent together, then home to tend animals and stoke our own wood fire.

A strange December, our own lives so quietly paced, the larger world in such turmoil of weather, political upheaval, tragedies and distrust.

We make no fuss over the coming of the New Year.
A new calendar unfolded, a different  year's designation to write on a check or to head a letter.
I make no formal resolutions, plan no long-term goals.
I could never have imagined or predicted the changes which the unfolding of our years has revealed.
Changes are brought about by choices, by determination, by hard work, or by mis-chance beyond our own small control.
Each year, each week, every day that we are given is a favor, a blessing, ours to appreciate, ours to make meaningful, for ourselves and for those whose lives touch ours, whether closely or at 
a greater distance.

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Homemade and Cozy

Quilted wall hanging created for Howard and Dawn.
The four blocks were left from a special quilt made several years ago.

I traced on a design of inter-locking hearts.
I don't have fine hand-quilting skills, but have persevered with a few small projects.
I was distressed to find that the pencils I used to transfer the heart shapes left markings that were still visible after the piece was washed.
The pencils were labeled as specifically for quilt marking.

Quilting seen from the back of the piece.

I started the quilting prior to the June wedding--didn't pick it up again until two weeks ago.

As part of the renovation of our Amish farmhouse, Jim converted two small bedrooms beyond the master bedroom to make a bathroom and walk-in closet. 
He broke through a wall in order to have space to build a roomy tiled shower.
This left us with a sunny area we call[ rather grandly] the 'dressing room.'
Eventually it will house a linen cupboard and other storage. 
The old red chair was salvaged many years ago from the wet basement of a house our son considered renting. The woven seat was gone and damp had eaten at the chair legs.
A friend replaced the seat, the damaged wood was cut from the bottom of the legs.
I painted it in my favorite Olde Century Barn Red--back when  oil-based paints were standard issue.
The chair has sat on the porch of several houses.
Jim carried it up to this sunny space and a shabby blue quilted pad was placed on the seat.
Prompted by the thought of winter I decided to make the chair more inviting with a 
new pad and cushion.
The chair has become a favorite napping spot for Mima-cat, especially on a sunny day.

The prior photo is better for true colors of the fabric I used.
Faced with stacked bins of fabric, I dug through smaller containers in search of something inspiring.
I found a collection of blocks  and partially constructed bits saved from older projects.
I layered the completed block above with batting and backing and used a decorative machine stitch to quilt the piece.
An envelope type back completes the cushion.

Four more spare blocks, same method used.

Detail of the finished chair pad.

I made a larger cushion to place in Jim's recliner.

Finished cushion and pad.

Lined valances to top the living room curtains.

Color a bit washed out in these photos.
Fabric from a line produced nearly 20 years ago, purchased from ebay and intended for 
the Bedford stone house.
After the months of painting and shuffling furniture about, I've taken a quiet pleasure in creating these small embellishments--pleased to have re-purposed bits and pieces to good use.
The approach of winter stimulates an instinct to layer on warmth and coziness, small material comforts which add to a sense of 'home.'

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Fiddly Projects, Hampered By Brain Fog

Full definition of fiddly:chiefly British:  requiring close attention to detail :  fussy; especially  requiring an annoying amount of close attention.

Brain Fog: Fibro fog – also known as fibromyalgia fog and brain fog – is a term commonly used for the cognitive difficulties that can occur with fibromyalgia.

I don't waste much time discussing fibromyalgia.
Many of my friends, even some of my extended family are unaware that this condition has been a fact of my life for nearly 20 years.
I don't take medication for  FM. The physician who initially confirmed the diagnosis prescribed that I take a 5 mg Valium 3 times daily. 
I took one and spent the rest of the day staggering about in a stupor.
Not a solution!
I manage with an Advil or Aleve at the end of a particularly stressful day.
I am aware that many other sufferers are more impaired than I am.
Apparently I am able to deal fairly well with chronic pain and fatigue.

Now and then stress, over-work or over-stimulation [even of a 'good' kind] catch up with me creating a stretch of days--sometimes weeks--when I feel that I am slogging through thick mud.
At such times I don't take to my bed, I merely try to slow down.
I've not considered that I suffer from 'brain fog', although that may be a good term for the tired, wooly-brained sensation.
For the past two weeks I have felt that the months of painting, cleaning, rearranging furniture, the happy anticipation of preparing for guests, have tipped the balance.
So--I decided to be kind to myself--to tackle some gentle non-demanding projects.
I can make a quilt, refinish a large piece of furniture, cut-in paint along the ceiling of a room.
At the best of times I'm not good with fiddly little bits and pieces.

On Monday I decided to make catnip mice, using scraps of fabric and the home-grown catnip which I harvested and dried in the wood stove oven.

Our cats enjoy these soft toys, I have friends whose cats surely need a few to bat about the room.
Locating specific fabrics in the big bins lining the still to be set up sewing space, gathering the correct tools, continues to be a frustrating and time-consuming venture--the prelude to any project.
With my supplies assembled, I realized that it had been awhile since I created mice.
How did I attach the tails? Did I make them of jute garden twine?
I went in search of the ball of twine--knowing I had recently seen it--somewhere.
I poked about in Jim's shop where some of the gardening tools live; I rummaged the shelves in the pantry. After a half hour I ran the twine to earth on the counter in the basement storage room.
Assisted by the cats--delighted with my bits of cloth and the open container of dried catnip, I traced an oval lid to use as the 'body' of the mice, cut the shape from several fabric scraps, stitched, stuffed with batting and a generous portion of dried catnip.  I braided 'tails' from the jute string.
The problem came when I attempted to simultaneously secure the tails and close the 
opening in the mouse bodies. 
I am nothing if not a perfectionist in my creative endeavors and the clumsy-looking 'mice' 
were a disappointment. 
I went for a walk down the lane--the mice looked as bad when I returned 
[In the middle of the night--too late--I recalled how I had attached the tails of mice in previous years.] 

My cats were not concerned with the lumpy mis-shapen appearance of their new toys.
I tossed three 'mice' onto the kitchen floor where they were immediately flung into the air, flipped under the furniture, fought over, slobbered on.

My next project was easier: new kerchiefs for son Howard's beloved Katy-Dog.
He had mentioned that her 'favorite' was looking faded and tattered.
These are still a bit 'fiddly' as I need to tailor my pattern to fit my cloth--thus the double-layered triangle shapes are not cut on the true bias.

I had the benefit of Nellie's encouragement and help as I stitched the kerchiefs.

It has been suggested that Nellie remove himself from the area of my sewing--he is not impressed!

I previously vowed that I wouldn't send Christmas cards this year.
The fact that the 'artistic' cards which I prefer aren't available locally influenced that decision.
On Tuesday morning, with catnip mice and dog kerchiefs out of the way, I searched online for cards which could be created from a website.
I found one, created an account and began blundering through the process of uploading my photos to a template, adding text, printing.
It was a fidgety thing, getting the photos positioned, adjusting the 'frames,' being repeatedly prompted to save my work in progress.  Several times the website 'froze.' 
My first cards printed in near sepia tones--quite anemic looking.
Rummage a new color cartridge from the desk drawer--realize too late that the printer was insisting on printing a trial 'alignment' page--on my pricey Kodak photo paper!
I may have said a bad word at that point.
Finally, several decent copies of the Christmas postcards--which needed to be trimmed.

Bobby Mac and Edward have appropriated my cutting mat.

Cards finished. Just time to gather up packages and envelopes, drive to the Post Office which operates on 'fast time' in the next county.
Gifts for son and daughter-in-law packed into a carton, yards of strong wide tape wrapped around, address label printed and attached.
And there, on the counter, were Katy's kerchiefs!
At that point I was a believer in brain fog!
Eyeing the clock I slid the kerchiefs into a brown mailing envelope, gathered my purse [!] loaded my parcels into the car.
It was not until evening that I noticed on the table near my sewing machine a small gift which should have been included in one of the packets.

I didn't sleep well that night, my brain turning over the muddle of the past week, fretting over my lack of competence, my seeming inability to organize and carry out a few simple tasks.
I was content on Wednesday to accept Jim's invitation to ride along with him to 'look at a tractor.'
I packed a day bag with several decorating magazines, the book I'm currently reading.
We stopped for a mid-morning breakfast at a favorite restaurant.
A gentle drizzle began as I waited in the car while Jim talked tractors.
I turned the glossy pages of my magazine--admired houses furnished in classic New England style.
Home in time to serve a late tea to the cats and heat left-over shepherd's pie for our supper.

Brain and body revived after supper to the point that I was able to construct a fairly intricate paper-pieced quilt block, finished at 10 PM.

I wish I could report that I slept well, bounced from bed [!] and launched into a productive day.
Instead I slatted about for an hour or more looking for paperwork that was stashed in an unlikely place [neither of us can remember putting it in a drawer in the downstairs guest room!]
Desultory housekeeping tasks done, a simple supper prepared.
I am impatient with being tired and fuzzy headed.
I am also determined this won't become a permanent handicap.
As Jim pointed out yesterday, we are finishing the renovation of the house 'nail by nail'--our remaining belongings will be unpacked, sorted, organized.
We will become accustomed to where things need to be; surely a less demanding routine will gradually replace the long hectic months of packing, moving, renovating.
And, just perhaps, I will decide once and for all that fiddly projects aren't really my cup of tea--
brain fog or not!

Friday, December 11, 2015

Reasons Not To Decorate For Christmas!

I removed a tablecloth which Nellie and friends have been using as bathmat, napping spot, a place to wipe muddy paws after being outdoors.
I didn't spread the clean one before it was rumpled and skittered about.

Teasel has chosen to spend a few minutes [companionably] on the round oak table which we have moved to the center of the kitchen.

Bobby Mac has selected the small 'island' re-positioned near the electric cooktop.
It serves as a watch-point, a grooming station and an effective spot for greeting anyone 
who comes in.
I admire--in magazines and in other peoples' homes--'tablescapes' and seasonal center-pieces.
I have no lack of interesting vintage bits and pieces, baskets, crocks, bowls in which to arrange natural materials--pine cones, pebbles, pods, dried lavender, etc--
none are safe from the investigative proddings of furry paws.
A shiny horse chestnut or a handful of acorns could be rolled noisily around the floor, cones are meant to be flipped from a basket and tossed about, greenery of any sort or dried herbs and flowers must be nibbled, and perhaps subsequently hawked up messily.

The lower shelf of the antique side table could provide a place for a basket or small crock of pine or spruce twigs, adorned with berries--but it is another spot favored by Bobby Mac--conveniently near the front door, a ready escape route.

I have placed  in the little room off the master bath upstairs two small heirloom geraniums and the pots containing respectively an amaryllis and a paperwhite bulb.
Thus far these have been unmolested.
I am resigned to a lack of Christmas finery!

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

A Lovely Day: Tuesday, 8th December

The thermometer positioned outside the window over the kitchen sink showed a reading of 32 F [the freezing mark] when I came downstairs at 6:10 Tuesday morning.
Nellie, Edward, and Mima had been sprawled on our bed, and rose with me to thunder down the stairs, quickly joined by Bobby Mac and Chester. 
Teasel was curled tidily on one of the chairs at the round oak table which now sits in the middle of the kitchen rather than in the alcove.
She stretched and yawned, hopping down as I opened the stove door to poke at the faintly glowing coals within.
Wood fire tended, I step out on the chilly porch with kibble for the barn cats. 
Smoke puffs from the chimney of the lower house, a square of yellow light pours through a window.
When I open the door to return inside, Bobby and Nellie shoot past me and dash across the drive, ignoring the huffing of Sadie and Sally, the tortie sisters.
As I set the coffee pot over a burner Jim appears.
"Why are you using the electric?"  he asks, reasonably enough. 
I transfer the coffee pot to the wood stove which is now emitting the creaks and pops which indicate a lively fire.
Jim wants breakfast earlier than usual as he and Pastor Fred are planning to get up wood.
I trudge upstairs to shower, reminding Jim that I intend driving to the Post Office to send off two small Christmas packages.

Beyond that errand I have made no plans for the day, nothing particularly demands to be done.
With Fred taking on wood detail I don't need to load or unload the heavy chunks.
Address labels typed and printed, a roll of tape located, my packages are ready to go. 
On the way out to the van I pick up a Christmas CD from my desk--piano music.

It takes a scant 15 minutes to drive the winding roads to the tiny post office in the next county. 
As I approach the parking area I glance between the front seats--my handbag is not with me, doubtless still at home on the dining room hutch.
Strangely, I am not overly dismayed.  This is not a 'senior moment'--it is the sort of addle-pated thing I've done forever.
Back at the house I consider the time--the county line is the demarcation between central and eastern time--and the post office keeps odd hours.
I stow my handbag in the van, deciding to drive to the Beachy Amish farm for eggs and see if, on the way, I can spot Jim's old truck parked at the log landing off the side road.

Our elderly neighbor, Carlie, is standing at the bottom of our lane, his pickup parked at the long shop building beyond the lower house.
I stop beside him and let down the van windows.
"My little horse has done went missing," announces Carlie.
He is a slender wiry man, dressed like a cowboy in wide-brimmed hat, jeans cinched with a tooled leather belt, western boots.
The horse, a 15 month old filly, was not in her enclosure behind the house trailer this morning, not in the small barn.  She was not across the road visiting the gang of horses we've been boarding.
I tell Carlie about our Nellie cat who went missing and miraculously returned.
 I suspect Carlie doesn't hold a high opinion of cats.

" A cat will go off," he concedes, 'but that derd-blamed horse had no reason to run away."
His blue eyes are anxious, slightly puzzled.
"I give that horse a bowl of sweet feed ever' mornin' and another bowl full ever' ev'nin.'  I've looked for her til I'm plumb wore out!"

I promise to alert Jim and Fred, assure Carlie we will have an eye out for the filly.
"I've done held you up when you were on your way out," he apologizes.
 "I'm not in a hurry" I tell him, "And I'll go out looking when I get back."

I head the van up the steep road to the Beachy farm, window part way down to let in the mild air.
I think I know where Jim intended to get up wood ['tops' left from a logging operation last year] but see no sign of truck or tractor and decide not to risk getting off in the 'pucker brush' where I can't turn around.  
Eggs stashed in the fridge at home, hair pinned hastily back, I leave a note for Jim and begin to climb  the steep ridge track.

I can walk at a good pace along level going.
I've never been fond of climbing and now I huff and puff when I attempt the ridge trail.
I have my camera, a good excuse to stop and catch my breath, listen for the sound of the chainsaw.
I veer off the track, past a thick twist of sprawling vine.

As I stand gazing up at a mass of dark leaves caught at the top of a tree, I hear the old truck's diesel engine start.  I labor over the last rise in time to see the loaded truck lumber slowly out of sight.
Turning to trudge home I can't readily locate the track and scuff along the edge of the ridge, cutting inwards until I hit the sunken curve of the track part way down.
Rounding the bend and heading down the steepest part, I can see through the leafless trees clear to the roadway.  Carlie's white pickup is rolling slowly up the road and I imagine the old man anxiously scanning the pastures and woods on either side for a glimpse of his horse.
The men, of course, have driven around Sanders Ridge and the Dodge is parked at the lower house.
I encounter Fred who asserts that when he rose at 5 a young horse was grazing on the lawn.
"I didn't know where she belonged so I herded her into the pasture across the lane. She was still there at 9 when we went out to cut wood."
I set off along the road toward Carlie's house trailer, intent on telling him that at least his horse has not been stolen!
Behind me, Jim roars down the lane on the 4-wheeler, towing the wood splitter.
I wave wildly at him, continue on til he detaches the splitter and comes alongside.
I relay the horse saga, climb aboard the 4-wheeler. 
We trundle  through Carlie's yard--he is not there.
Jim heads the 4-wheeler across our corn field, putters along the creek.
A large grey squirrel dashes in front of us, dropping a corncob in his headlong flight toward the tangle of small trees at the edge of the creek.
Nowhere is there any sign of a palomino filly.

Jim examines the soft earth at the edge of the cornfield for hoof prints, then crosses at the shallow ford to wheel around the back field.
The sun is warm, the air soft, incredible weather for the second week of December.
Reaching our boundary fence Jim decides to cross the creek at a wide pool.
We slither down the gravely bank, water splashing. The 4-wheeler balks at the bank on the other side.
Jim whoops with glee, backs up, has at it again.
I have drawn up my feet but one shoe and sock are soaked , the other damp.
We head downstream, water flying, gravel spurting, clawing back into the field.
Both Jim's shoes are soaked. The neighbor's Border Collie, excited by the commotion barrels across the field to run alongside.

From the road we can see Carlie's truck parked near the hedgerow in his own back field.
We bounce across a shallow drainage ditch and slide to a stop  as he emerges from the line of small trees and brush. He brightens, relaxes visibly when Jim relays that the filly was alive and well at 9 a.m.
He reiterates his exasperation that she should have 'gotten out', caused him this worry and searching.
"Could she be coming in heat?  She seemed awfully frisky."  Jim suggests a possible explanation for her escape.
Carlie isn't buying this excuse.
"She's always that way--runs round her pasture, tail up, prancin'"
We speculate that the filly must have spotted the open gate near Jim's workshop. [The Millers had created several small pastures connected with heavy gates.]
Fred wouldn't have guessed the top gate was open when he shooed the filly into the pasture across from the lower house.

My wet feet are getting cold in spite of the mild day. 
We squelch into the warmth of our kitchen, drop soggy socks and shoes beside the stove.
Jim remarks, toweling his feet, "I didn't think the creek was as deep in that spot, did you?"
It is a rhetorical question, but I mutter that I had my suspicions!  
I do not enjoy unexpected dousings.
We agree on a hasty lunch of scrambled eggs, rounds of beef summer sausage crisped in a skillet on the wood range.
Dishes washed, a glance at the clock confirms that I need to make my second run to the post office--this time with funds.
While the young clerk weighs and stamps my packages I memorize the schedule pinned to the notice board.  The PO is open 7:45-11:30; closed until 12:30 for lunch, reopens until 2:45.
This is 'fast time'--to be considered in any future ventures.

At home the cats rush me clamoring for their 'tea'--they begin their fuss a bit earlier each day, motivated, we assume, by the dusk that creeps into the kitchen before mid-afternoon.
'Tea' dished out, cats polishing paws and whiskers, I settle in my desk chair.
The room is overly warm, quiet, somnolent; my eyes flutter toward sleep as I try to focus on the PC  screen.  I should rouse, make a mug of tea, but Teasel is a furry weight in my lap.

A chunk of wood breaks apart in the stove, the cats stir.
Beyond the north window the sun has already disappeared behind the ridge.
I remember that I haven't dealt with the compost bucket or the cat litter boxes.
Pulling on down vest and gloves I tramp to the basement. 
Overhead the front door is flung open, Jim's footsteps cross the floor.
"Hello," he shouts.  "The horse has come back!"
I scramble up the stairs, catching him before he rushes out.
"Where?  Does Carlie know?"
"She's in the open spot at the foot of the track, beyond the gate.  I'm off to get Carlie."
Jim is down the lane on the 4-wheeler before I can collect myself, stuff my camera in my vest pocket.
I want to be present at this reunion.
I approach the clearing with caution, trailed by Willis-the-Cat--who never misses a chance to assert his role as overseer.
Jim has parked the 4-wheeler on the verge, waits as Carlie's truck rolls up the lane.

Carlie eases out, a plaited lead rope looped over his arm, a bowl of grain cradled against his chest.
The palomino filly watches his approach, pricks her ears to his quiet voice.
I am astonished by her beauty, enjoying the contrast of golden hide, silvery mane and tail.  She glows against the darkening wood beyond.

Joe's stallion in the adjoining pasture has noted the newcomer.

The stallion looks on as Carlie presents the bowl of grain.

Carlie clips the lead rope to the halter, talking to his horse, calling her by name, "Champagne."
Jim approaches, ready to help if she should lunge.

Captured, Champagne stands calmly between the two men.

 I tell the filly that she is 'beautiful, but naughty.'
She perhaps registers only the soothing tone of my voice.

At the edge of the lane Carlie pauses, plotting the next move.
He will, he announces, walk Champagne home, secure her in the pasture, walk back up to retrieve his pickup.  
He is tired after his long day of anxious searching.
"No need to walk back," Jim assures him.
"I'll follow you on the 4-wheeler, my wife will bring the truck down."

Willis, tucked up on the seat of the 4-wheeler,  watches the departure of horse and owner as they set off down the lane. Dislodged, he stalks daintily back up the lane, tail held aloft.
Champagne prances, skitters sideways, dances ahead, high-stepping, then lags behind, but she doesn't pull away.
Twilight is wrapping swiftly over the upper part of the lane, while sunlight slants across the fields beyond the road. 

The interior of Carlie's truck is immaculate.  A soft leather jacket is folded on the seat, the scarcely touched bowl of pelleted 'sweet feed' rests beyond it.
I ease the truck into gear, drive slowly around the house and head out; Carlie and Champagne are still pacing along the lane, Jim idling behind at a respectful distance.
As Carlie approaches his driveway a big blue pickup rolls down the hill: Joe and Laura, coming to check their own horses in our pasture, coming to make sure Carlie and his mare are safely home.
Joe rolls down his window, spits tobacco juice, talks to Jim.
I sit, enjoying the quiet purr of engine, remembering a similar truck I owned and loved.
Carlie at last has reached the small barn and pasture with his filly.
Laura, in the passenger seat of the blue truck, leans across Joe and shouts good-naturedly, 
"We've tried to tell Carlie he needs a quiet old horse, not a frisky young one. 
She may knock him over yet."

When I slide out of Carlie's truck the sun has vanished, the chill of evening bites.
Carlie pushes back his cowboy hat, swipes sweat from his forehead.
He gazes at his beautiful filly, safe now.
"She ain't gettin' out again!" he declares, then, "I need to work with her; its time she was broke."
He turns to us with the courtliness of a southern gentleman.
'I thank you!  You've spent a lot of time today lookin' for that derd-blamed little horse. 
You found her. "
Jim insists it was a small matter--he happened down the lane at the right moment, just as Champagne chose to reappear.
Carlie resettles his hat. He is weary, but his day has ended well.
"You're good neighbors," he declares firmly.  "Neighbors. You let me know if there's ever somethin' I can do to help you."
He turns toward his door, I scramble aboard the 4-wheeler behind Jim.
The distance home is short through the grey swirl of twilight.
The cold air strikes through my long-sleeved shirt and jeans and I huddle deeper into my down vest.
The 4-wheeler lurches to a halt at the end of the porch.
Jim holds the red-painted front door open and we step into the soft warmth of our darkened kitchen.
I draw the day's events around me as I would a cozy sweater: blue sky, the shuffle of leaves underfoot on the ridge trail, clear creek water shimmering over smooth stones, the sunshine of noontide, 
the scent of woodsmoke in crisp air.
I savor the happy ending--the relief that Carlie's naughty golden filly is safe where she belongs.
I cross to the stove, spread my chilled hands to the heat.
It has been a lovely day--a day of small adventures; and now I am home, content.

Monday, December 7, 2015

First Week of December

Variable weather moved through our region during the first week of December.
Tuesday, December 2nd, dawned cloud-streaked and chilly after several days and nights of intermittent rain.

By late morning the sun was struggling to break through layers of clouds
There were moments of strangely vivid color--winter grass a bright green. the remaining wind-warped leaves on the oaks a waxy russet.
Walking up the lane toward the house I felt encouraged that the weather was about to change for the better.

The sky to the south-west beyond the pasture was not as promising, still dense with overcast.

Beyond the fence which is tangled with honeysuckle vine, orange leaves are a bright splash in the somber landscape. 
Identify of this shrubby plant escapes me at the moment.

A sweet gum tree clings to its crop of seed balls, a dark design etched against a misty background.

In the raised bed along the side porch steps a tiny viola has volunteered. These little plants fade and disappear with the heat of summer, but their self-sown offspring pop up and survive the cold, giving them their common name of 'johnny-jump-up.'

Purple sage presents a mottled crown of pungent leaves.

We expected over night guests on Thursday and were delighted that their arrival coincided with an afternoon of low-slanting golden sunshine which bathed the farm in a mellow and nostalgic glow.
We happily drew chairs around the wood stove, enjoying the warmth as we caught up with family news and spoke of other years, other places.
Friday morning the sun rose on a frosted and sparkling landscape.

Our guests were on their way by 7:30 and I followed them out into the crisp morning, camera in hand.  The sun which was already melting the frost along the lane, had yet to touch the sides of the steep ridges which  enfold our house.

Slowly warmth and light advanced up the lane, touching the scruffy misshapen small pines near the retaining wall.

I had more tidying and cooking to do as we had invited friends for lunch after church this week.
I always feel apologetic about cat hair--renewed almost faster than I can hoover it up.
Edward watched reproachfully as I dragged the vacuum cleaner into the living room, disturbing his nap with its whooshing noise.

Nellie darted into a cupboard when I selected a mixing bowl.
It is easy to imagine that he might have whisked into a shed or barn some miles from here, been shut in during the three weeks of his mysterious absence.

We've had an enjoyable spurt of 'company' over the past two months and inevitably we have hastened to finish renovation tasks which might otherwise have dragged along.
Late yesterday and again today I have felt a bit unsettled, suddenly aimless, with no bustle of preparations.
Linens are laundered and put away, leftover soup and salads set out for quiet meals.
A few Christmas gifts have been ordered; several will be mailed directly from the supplier [the joy of online shopping!] two need to be packaged and sent to opposite ends of the country.

The pantry shelves and the freezer are well-stocked for any holiday baking.
Hibernation mode is luring me to the quiet pleasures of books, some stitchery, a return to several projects laid aside during the long year of renovations.
As winter asserts itself, I look forward to a more contemplative season, a time when I can more fully enjoy the home we have labored to create.