Monday, February 29, 2016

Sunshine Makes A Difference!


Days of unpleasant weather were followed by several last week when the weather couldn't seem to make up its mind.
'Raw" and "chilly" were fitting descriptive words.
On Sunday we had sunshine and skies so blue it almost hurt to gaze upon them with our 
gloom-adjusted eyes.
After lunch I put on my stout shoes and had a good outdoor walk-about.
I am delighted to find signs of life on this rosebush. 
It is the one I transplanted from the corner near the south porch last spring.
It was so slow to break dormancy last year that I feared it had winter-killed.
Now, in its new spot by the timber retaining wall near the workshop, so soon after cold and snow, it has sent out new leaves.


A clump of yarrow must have been reviving under the snow.
I don't know if this is one I raised from seed or ordered from a nursery catalog.


Nepeta, moved from my former garden.



Charlie-Cat, strolling with me, has discovered the patch of freshly emerged catnip.


Some of these iris came from our interim property--the Bedfrod stone house which we renovated and sold.  Other iris were divided from some at our daughter's home. They were all thrust rather hastily into a rough plot of ground partway down the lane.
Weeds flourished around them in the very hot wet summer of 2015.
I hope I can find the gumption to clear the worst of the weeds and put down a barrier of mulch.


Dandelions are opening their bright blooms in the pasture and along the verge of the lane.


Willis followed me along the lane, but detoured back toward the house while I went out along the road.


Wild daffodils near the mailbox at the end of the lane.
I brought in a handful of them last week, picked while a spatter of rain fell.
I brought them, cool and sweet, to put in a vase on the kitchen table.
I was able to enjoy them for two days before Mima-cat discovered them and began to pull them, one by one, from the vase.
I picked a fresh bunch today.



Walking in our field--where Jimmy has done some earth-moving to discourage this bit of Spruce Pine Creek from invading the corn ground.


I didn't notice minnows in this small clear pond--perhaps they are down in the gravelly bottom where it is warmer.


Looking east [maybe south east?] up the valley. 
The farm at the end of the road belongs to our Amish neighbors.
The nearer buildings are empty, having absentee 'English' owners who bought the Amish property a year before we acquired ours.

Jim climbed out one of the upstairs hallway windows to remove this paper wasp nest that was tucked under the eaves.
The wasps [or are they hornets?] were something of a menace last summer as they could squeeze between the window frame and the screens and invade the bedrooms.
I think Jim spray-bombed the nest at some point, but decided to remove it in case it should attract new occupants. 

The base of the nest.


The papery pockets which I assume held developing wasps.
By the time I returned from my walk all these fragile fragments had been swept off by the wind.


Looking into the top of a sycamore near the creek.

Early last week a good friend in Vermont who is sorting vintage family photos contacted me to ask if I might do some research on the background of her late mother-in-law.
Some folks do crosswords, some labor over jigsaw puzzles--I enjoy the stimulation of digging for family roots.
I spent quite a few hours at my desk while the weather sulked and raged outside--deciphering faded handwriting on census forms, birth and death certificates, paging through the listings of interments in rural cemeteries of upstate New York.
I pondered, scrawled names and dates in a yellow notebook, explored google maps.
I squinted at the digitized columns of newspapers which first saw the light in the late 1800's.
As I followed family members into the 20th century I took time to glance at advertisements, to read the news notes from the little hamlets where my own folks had lived on the other side of the mountain.
There are the "Yes!' moments when relationships are made clear, the delight when a midnight 'hunch' pays off.
There is also the frustration when the expected information on a marriage isn't part of the online record--when a birth certificate hasn't been completed to give a mother's maiden name.
When I work on a genealogy project, modest as my resources are, I feel that I have become a small part of those now distant lives and situations.
These long-dead individuals parade through my over-active brain at 2 A.M. 
I become obsessed with learning their details.

I had to put the project aside on Friday and turn to other things.
I hope sometime this week to organize my findings into a 'worksheet' which I can share with my friends. We never find all the information we would like to have. 

Today I finished the small baby quilt which has been a work in progress for several weeks.
I must remember to take a photo before I fold it into a gift bag.

It is after 11 P.M. now. 
I have heaved chunks of wood into the fire, rescued the vase of daffodils from Mima-cat who was intending to make salad of them.

It is quiet tonight; no lashing wind such as roared through the treetops last night.
The thermometer outside the kitchen window stands at 36 F.
I have turned the calendar page to March, only half an hour ahead of reality.
Time to trudge up the stairs to bed---hopefully-- to sleep.



Friday, February 19, 2016

Photos and A Few Thoughts From The Past Week


The snowfall tapered off on Monday leaving us with fog, ankle-deep slush, half frozen snow mess on roads and driveways.
The dooryard was skiddish underfoot as was our lane.
The main roads had been plowed or salted, so if one could get a vehicle down the driveway and out to the highway it was possible to travel--with caution.


Willis spent much of the snowy weather tucked up on the cushioned wicker seat on the porch or keeping a lookout from the top of the woodpile.
Several times I watched him pick a dainty way along the lane or across the back drive.


 This photo was taken from the front porch on Thursday morning.
I noted that there was an encouraging blue-tinted bit of sky emerging from the heavy fog cover. 


By mid-morning more blue sky appeared and the blessed sun shone for the first time in many days.


By noon the snow was melting off the graveled back drive.
The cats were over-joyed to be turned out. 
Nellie followed me when I hauled my load of wood from the barn.


Bobby Mac picks his way around mounds of soggy snow.


The lawn and the lane are looking more normal.


Pottering back from the mailbox, slow in my 'muck boots,' I couldn't have enough of the blue sky and the sunshine!


It hasn't been all drudgery during the winter doldrums.
Before the second snow storm I finished the layout of my paper-pieced New York Beauty quilt blocks.  My first intention was to use this quilt as a wall hanging.
There are a few areas where I could have done better work--it was a learning process--so I've decided this is a quilt to be used rather than a display piece.
I enjoyed this project and will eventually tackle something similar with better planning of color placement and utilizing the few helpful tricks I gained.


With several possible settings for the blocks I chose an arrangement that creates a center medallion.
The background fabrics which appear white are really prints with shades of cream, tan and soft gold.


I wanted a 6 inch block as border cornerstones but felt unequal to drafting one. [Not that I could find my protractor, compass or any useful tools for such an undertaking.]
The 6 inch block pattern found on the web and printed has six star points whereas the 12 inch blocks have five points so not perhaps artistically 'correct'--but it works for me!
Most of the fabrics are from coordinated lines by Kansas Troubles for Moda, acquired when I worked at Wyoming Quilts.
[As an employee I received a discount on fabric purchases, so....!]
The completed quilt top, the backing and packaged batting have languished in a pile at the end of the kitchen counter waiting opportunity to mail away for professional machine quilting.


A young couple at our church are expecting a baby girl next month.
I wanted to make a little quilt using fabrics on hand, keeping the design simple so I could finish quickly.  I rummaged through containers of scraps and remnants, gathering small prints and fabrics with 'girly' shades of pink or softened colors.
The pattern couldn't be simpler--alternating 3 inch squares of prints and off whites.


I had a scrap of cat-themed fabric and 'fussy cut' squares to feature the various felines.


I have placed the cat blocks in such a way that the eye will be drawn to them and move across the quilt taking in the other colors.


I don't do 'cutesy' juvenile fabrics [as they are referred to in the trade.]
When I create a quilt for a baby or young child I select a traditional block pattern and colorful fabrics hoping that the quilt will be used and cherished long past infancy.

I was so nearly done with this, only a few more rows to stitch.
I put it aside on Sunday evening--to go on what became a memorable excursion to feed our friend's dog--somehow I've not taken it up again this week.



Between sewing projects and animal care and the other rather monotonous duties attended to during the past three weeks, I finished reading the final three books in the Poldark series.
Masterpiece Theatre aired the original Poldark episodes when we were living in Massachusetts in 1977/1978. 
My daughter and I were enthralled.
The books became available shortly after in mass-market paperback editions with front covers depicting the actors and actresses who had featured in the films.

I have looked online at some of the promotional clips for the new series.
In this return to the books--new copies and with the additional books which Winston Graham wrote many years later--I can only think of Robin Ellis as Ross Poldark, Angharad Rees as Demelza. 
No doubt the new filming has taken advantage of better technology, and no doubt if the series is shown on American TV I will overcome my distaste for the medium and watch.
I will, however, watch with a critical eye and holding the new production to high standards.

It is seldom in a long running series that the quality of plot and character portrayal remains consistent.
I give Mr. Graham high marks in that regard.
The latter books deal with the Napoleonic Wars as a backdrop--not a period in history with which I am familiar.
Winston Graham dealt well with the emotions and personalities of his characters, with an unusual gift for bringing his female protagonists to life.
In reading a bit about him I learned that as he wrote he read aloud to his wife seeking her input on details of dress, home making, domestic scenes.
I feel certain this collaboration enhanced the great readability of these books.

Graham did not close each book or even the series with a happy resolution for each of his characters.
There were untimely deaths, quarrels, small mysteries, misdeeds never fully or happily laid to rest.
As in 'real life' Graham's people picked up the pieces and moved on.
After living with them all rather intensely for several months I shall miss the Poldarks, their loves and their sorrows and the sweeping intrigues of these people who existed only in the mind of a skillful author.
I can't think what I will read next--anything less may seem insipid!



Thursday, February 18, 2016

Hibernating Through Dreary Weather


I can't recall what day I loaded these photos--as a designation I could say 'after the first snow, before the second snow.'
The weather turned cold again, bleakly, darkly chill with only one day of sunshine--a day I didn't record with my camera.



The sameness of days and nights--dark and cold--Jim nursing his injury--me tending fires--has produced a stretch of time with little definition.
Jim was finally convinced, not I think by me, to see my chiropractor.
She took X-rays which discovered T2 and T3 vertibrae dislocated.
We drove into town through swirls of snow for two treatments last week, cancelled one when our road was socked in with heavy wet snow.
Jim found that the pain was lessened by the treatments but that his shoulder and arm remained too weak for any normal activity.


The new fall of deep snow began the day after my pet-sitting duties began.
Knowing that this time Jim couldn't take on the care of the two big hunting hounds in their pens, our friends enlisted help from the Amish family who are neighbors on their other side. 
Officially my responsibility was to walk the old dog several times each day, dole out his meds, measure out his food, care for the needs of the two indoor cats.

After the first day of snowfall it was impossible to maneuver the van up the steep rutted drive to our friends' house on the side of the ridge.  I drove to the Amish farmstead to turn around, then parked cautiously at the edge of the road and floundered up the hill through the wet snow.
Paula's barn cats usually toddled down to meet me on the doorstep, and knowing that most Amish are not fond of cats I lead the whole feline tribe back to the barn to make sure that their dishes had been generously filled with kibble.

At that time I also checked the hens' nesting boxes for eggs.  
The nest boxes are accessed by lifting a sturdy flap built part way up the outside wall of the coop.
I discovered that at least one hen was smashing eggs, leaving a sticky mess over those remaining.
Consistently it was one white hen who took issue with my attempts to gather the eggs, bouncing into the nest box and pecking at my hand when I reached in.
Whether she was the egg robber I can't be sure, although she greedily jabbed at the mess of yoke and broken shell.
When I attempted to shove her out of the way I found that hens do not easily tip over!

As the storm continued the dog walking venture became more daunting.
Jim gallantly offered to drive me over several times and I was happy to be spared the tricky task of getting the van turned back toward home with snow-filled ditches dropping off the narrow road.
On Sunday evening as we prepared to go out I noted that Jim was wearing his old sneakers.
I had struggled into boots, quilt-lined overalls, an ancient down-filled jacket, scarf and gloves.
'I think you should wear your boots,' I declared.
Amazingly this suggestion was followed.

At our neighbor's place Jim let me out at the foot of the drive while he began the job of backing the van uphill enough to jockey it around.
King, the elderly Lab, was inspired to boisterous bouncing in the snow, towing me, slipping and skidding behind him, until he found the perfect spots to relieve himself. 
Back inside I took off his retractable lead, gave him a 'treat' for being a good dog.  I topped up his water bowl, then boosted the plump elderly tortie cat, Allie, up to nibble from the bowl of food placed out of King's reach, patted imperious little Emma the tabby, checked that all was safe for the night.
Back outside I noted that the van, parked at the foot of the drive, was not running.
I lurched and skidded down the hill, slid around to open the passenger door and with a sense of incredulous foreboding inquired, 'Has the van quit?'
'It appears,' replied Jim wryly, 'to have run out of gas, although the gauge is registering just under a quarter full.'
I thought this over in silence, then--'Good thing you put on your boots!'
A further thought: 'If you hadn't volunteered to drive I'd be walking home alone in the dark!'

Jim was carrying a huge LED flashlight, I had tucked a small light in my pocket.
The lights were hardly necessary in the white landscape.
We began the slightly more than half mile trek homeward, trying to walk in the tire tracks which were the only partially clear areas of the road.
I was clumsy, encumbered by my heavy overalls, huffing along a few paces behind. 
Incredibly, up ahead, a wavering yellow light approached--an Amish buggy whose only destination must be the Miller farmstead at the end of the road. 
Jim flashed his light to signal our presence, then as the buggy came nearer we stepped into the snowy ditch so as not to startle the horse.
We didn't recognize the couple who bade us a solemn, 'Good evening' as they clopped past.

At home I hauled off layers of clothing, draped the chairs around the wood stove with damp jackets, laid gloves on the warming shelf to dry.

In the morning Jim fired up 'Snort'n Nort'n' his elderly Dodge Cummins, locked the hubs in 4 wheel drive, loaded a petrol container and back we went along the snowy track.
While I did 'chores' he funneled gas into the van, started the engine, eased into the slushy road.  I clambered behind the wheel and managed to maintain that delicate balance so necessary on a snow-covered road--enough throttle for forward momentum without 'spinning out' or sliding off the road.
Behind me the old truck lumbered and growled reassuringly.

The dreadful weather detained our friends on their journey home, so perhaps I shouldn't be surprised that a week muddled by in a blurry round of  pet visits four times each day, interspersed with hauling in wood, creating simple meals, staying up late to give the fire one last fill-up to ensure a warm house in the morning.



Willis, curled on the cushioned bench on the covered porch.


Our neighbor's baby goat, 36 hours old.


Sadie, one of the tortie sisters who has become obese and rather combative.


Indoors, the cats have kept us and each other company. 
Teasel has decided that Mima needs a good wash.


Even the intrepid Nellie has chosen to be inside out of the weather, venturing out to pick his way along the drive, then return to shake snow disdainfully from his paws.
I keep an old cushion on a chair near my sewing table for his benefit.
He has managed to dislodge the cushion until it balances between the chair and a nearby low table.
With outdoor exercise curtailed by the snow and slush the cats have worked off their energy by tearing up and down stairs, chasing around the wide hallway on the main floor, skidding across kitchen counters, draping themselves on the dining table.
As I have sat drowsing over a book during the long evenings my lap has become a contested  refuge--Teasel, Mima and the ponderous Edward join me in rocking chair or desk chair.

We moved into the farmhouse in February a year ago, stowing the cats in our small car, bucking through the drifts to stay here and feed the fire, keep the newly laid water lines from freezing, taking possession of an Amish-built house in need of electricity, a modern kitchen, running hot water.
Jim had installed a flush toilet, we had a heavy industrial extension cord to run a refrigerator and Jim's power tools. 
We cooked on the wood stove,  washed dishes and bathed ourselves in hot water from the stove reservoir. 
The cats explored the house, tentatively at first, but quickly located the litter boxes in the basement, perched on windowsills to look out at unfamiliar territory, claimed the warmest spots by the stove, piled onto our bed during the nights when temperatures fell below zero F.

We have come full circle to another February in the Amish farmhouse. 
In spite of feeling house-bound by inclement weather and snow-clogged roads, made a bit anxious by Jim's need to favor his shoulder, wearied with heaving firewood about, I can find a quiet contentment in what we have accomplished here.
Curtains of my own making hang at the many windows, rooms are inviting with warm country colors, kitchen and pantry are organized.
We have good folks renting the transformed lower farmhouse; we have made new friends in the neighborhood.
Winter is a time for battling the elements, planning around storms, yet knowing that retirement removes the necessity to commute to work.
Even as we have waited for the snow to melt, waited for Jim's shoulder to heal, we have noticed the almost imperceptible increase of daylight.
It has been a demanding month, but we remind ourselves that spring comes early to Kentucky.







Sunday, February 7, 2016

Its All About The Weather


Life has more than usual these past two weeks been dominated by capricious weather.
The last days of January saw the melting of the deep snow--at first slowly, a softening and settling of drifts and plowed back heaps; then as the temperature climbed, mud appeared, the grassy verges of the  lane went squelchy.
I wore my boots to trek to the mailbox or on errands to the lower house.
Willis toiled behind me, avoiding the mud with distaste.


Remaining swaths of snow became dingy, grainy.
I picked my way along the garden strips where I planted out foxglove and clary as well as nursery grown plugs of phlox and achillea late in the season.
A few of the plants are visible though frost-seared while others seem to have vanished.
Beneath a tangle of dead brown stems both lemon balm and catnip present a tight mound of ground-hugging fresh growth.


A day of brilliant sunshine and azure skies gave way to high winds.


Rain came on, pounding heavy rain, melting the last remnants of snow, filling the small gullies, spilling over into walkways,.


The brook that edges the lane often dries to a mere trickle.
During the past week it has swelled to a noisy rush of water.


A few yards beyond our mailbox the gravely verge of the roadside wears a pattern like the scales of an enormous fish or some prehistoric reptile.



A neighbor's geese trundle up the road, gabbling noisily.


Rain and wind subsided and cold crept in, bringing frosty mornings.


Rising sun strikes gold fire against the wooded slope.


Near the mailbox, wild daffodils, so recently buried beneath 16 inches of snow, have poked up 
brave heads.


Contrails criss-cross the morning sky.


Nellie dashes out into the crisp morning, then finds a sunny spot on the steep slope behind the retaining wall.


Jim badly strained his back on Monday, moving and stacking the heavy green oak planks he brought down from the Amish sawmill.
He has spent several days huddled wretchedly in a corner of the leather sofa, TV remote in hand, enduring pain and [of course] refusing to see a doctor.
His injury leaves me as the chief [and only] fire tender.
We burn mostly 'slab wood' during the day.
I pile that in the sturdy 4-wheeled cart and haul it from the barn into the wash room which adjoins the kitchen. The big 'chunks' which sustain the fire at night are stacked on the front porch.
I can carry only one at a time to keep in readiness beside the stove.
Edward sometimes develops an interest in a particular piece of wood and claims it as his own.


The hearthrug is likewise beloved of the cats.

The days have segued one into another, snow-cold, uneasily warm 'weather-breeders,' sunshine, wind, rain, clouds.  
Meals must be prepared, laundry done, the cats fed, their litter boxes changed.
I tend fires, work on a quilt, sit down to read or write and find my mind has gone fuzzy.
I fetch and carry for my ailing husband, impatient with his stubborn insistence that his injuries will heal without medical intervention.
I cherish unexpected joys: this morning I was allowed to hold a very new baby goat who nuzzled and snuggled while I admired up close her soft drooping ears and tiny hooves.

This afternoon a shiny late-model pickup drew alongside the front porch; the youngest son of the former owners of our farm had come to call with his wife and two little daughters.
[They are no longer following the Amish way of life.]
They were interested to see the changes we have made to the house; we felt honored that they included us in the round of visits to their old neighborhood.
A bit later our friends from up the road appeared bringing a whole meal--lasagna hot from the oven, a salad, dessert.  


[After a  break from my composition.]

I was 'allowed' to administer massage therapy to the ailing one's shoulder.
 I have applied heat packs, handed out two naproxin tablets and a large glass of water.
I have made stern noises about the mule-headedness of those who are too 'macho' to see a physician.
We shall see where this leads!

I have loaded the stove with several hefty logs and in a few minutes will close the drafts so that the fire will keep overnight.