Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Sunshine on the Shed Roof; A Larry and Lizzie Story


Larry opened gritty eyelids, stared into the cool darkness of his unheated bedroom.  His head ached, his body seemed heavy  He swallowed past an annoying tickle in his throat, coughed. Flopping from his side to his back he kicked irritably at the bedcovers, sending them into a tumbled heap.  Another bout of coughing made his head pound and suddenly he was wracked with chills, fumbling for the tangled blankets, wrapping them close around his ears and huddling into his pillow.
Larry dozed, woke again, alternately shivering or burning with fever; he knew that he was sick.

He jolted awake in early daylight confused by a nightmare in which a purple elephant had been sitting on his chest.  Mother's voice came from the foot of the staircase; "Larry!  Get  up or you'll be late for school!"
Larry groaned, rubbed at his burning face, let out a strangled croak and began coughing again.
He heard Mother's light footsteps on the stairs. She paused on the hallway landing, a note of concern coming into her voice, "Larry!  Lizzie!  What ails you two?  Its Monday, a school day."

Larry's younger sister, Lizzie, slept across the hall from his room at the head of the stairs. Lizzie's reply was a hoarse wail of despair, " I can't go to school, I feel awful!"
Mother's voice answering, Lizzie coughing, footsteps coming into his room--Larry heard it all as a muffled hum barely penetrating his misery.

Mother's hand, small, bony,  roughened by housework, stroked Larry's forehead. "You're hotter than a firecracker," she sighed, "and Lizzie too."  He lay hunched as the bedding was smoothed over him, tucked tidily back in place below his feet. Stair treads creaking as Mother went away, muffled sounds from the kitchen at the back of the house, then her presence again beside the bed.  He peered owlishly up at her, coughed. At her urging, he struggled up against the pillow she had plumped against the towering walnut headboard, sipped water from a glass she held for him, then slid dejectedly down into his nest of blankets. A cool cloth was placed on his forehead, covering his burning eyes. He was vaguely aware that in the room across the hall Lizzie was being tended in the same manner.

Larry must have slept again.  He became aware of noon light flooding the room, three people standing around his bed.  Mother; Father--who had brought with him a faint odor of the stable and woodshed;  he recognized with some alarm that the third person was Dr. Thompson.  A fever thermometer, tasting of alcohol, was poked under Larry's tongue, the cold disk of a stethoscope applied at various points beneath his pajama shirt.
Dr. Thompson held the thermometer to the light, declared, "One hundred three point 4--nearly the same as his sister."
The doctor looked thoughtfully from the boy in bed to his parents, waiting anxiously for a verdict.
"There have been four cases of scarlet fever in town in the past ten days.  Its possible that Larry and Lizzie are coming down with that.  On the other hand, this may be a bad flu."

"Flu!" Ill as he was, Larry heard the sudden panic in his mother's voice, saw Father's hand close protectively on her arm.

 " Maria; Stephen, no! Not that kind of flu, hopefully never again." Dr. Thompson's voice was reassuring. "If the children have scarlet fever, we'll know soon enough.  Thus far, I see no signs of a rash or badly inflamed throat.  However, they need to be kept quiet."  From his leather bag, he brought out a jar of tablets, shook some into a white paper packet.  The smell of medicines was sharp in the confines of the bedroom.
"These are for fever. I have cough syrup in my car and will leave some with you."  He looked around him, considering, then added, "Larry and Lizzie will need round the clock nursing for several days and nights. I suggest it will be easier for you if Lizzie's bed is brought in here, along with a comfortable chair for you."

The doctor's voice floated back up the stairs as he went down with father and mother.  Larry caught scattered phrases:  "Tea with honey--soup--rice pudding--keep warm--call me if you are worried."

 Larry was aware next of his sister, blanket-bundled, being placed on the foot of his bed. Thumps and skidding sounds heralded the arrival of Lizzie's narrow white-painted bedstead from across the hall, followed by the twang of springs set in place, the soft shush of sheets and quilts settling over the mattress. Mother's cushioned rocker came upstairs, along with a folding screen that was placed across the far corner of the room to shield a chamber pot.  Larry and Lizzie choked down the white pills, drowsed, lay watching the daylight seep from the room.

Far below there were the usual sounds of the farmhouse: an armload of wood tipped into the bin beside the kitchen stove, the clatter of the enamel washbasin in the pantry sink.  A faint smell of frying onions and potatoes brought no sense of appetite, but sweet hot tea offered by mother was comforting.

When the siege of sickness was finally over, Larry was never sure how long it had lasted. Nights and days ran together, distorted by fever dreams, chills, fits of coughing that left him aching and limp. Mother made endless treks up and down the stairs during the day.  At night whenever Larry awoke, she was there, greying hair in a plait, her thin form swaddled in a heavy Beacon robe. Sometimes she rested in the rocking chair, an oil lamp turned low on the small table close by.  A number of times Larry noted that she was stretched along side Lizzie, not under the covers, but wrapped in an old grey shawl.  If he stirred restlessly or Lizzie whimpered Mother was there.

One long night when he had coughed until his ribs ached and his eyes ran with weary tears, Mother brought a clean  length of muslin toweling, wrapped it snugly around his rib cage and secured it with safety pins.  He still coughed, but at least it didn't feel as though he was breaking apart.

The room reeked of the camphorated oil which Mother smeared on their chests and backs.  Slowly the fevers and chills receded, nights became more restful.

 On the morning of the fifth day [or was it the sixth day?] Larry awoke clear-headed.  He swallowed cautiously and discovered that his throat was no longer sore. "Hello, Larry," he ventured, "How are you today?"  There was a soft giggle from the bed across the room. Lizzie plumped her pillow so that she could lean against it and have a good view of her brother.  "Do you always tell yourself good morning?"  There was a faint hint of mischief in her voice.  "Of course not!" Larry was emphatic. "I'm checking to see if I can talk without coughing.  I think I'm better now.  Are you better?"
Lizzie considered this. "I'm nearly better, " she replied, "Maybe not all better yet!"

Mother's feet were heard on the stairs.  She entered the room carrying a tray which she set carefully on the small table. Steam rose from scrambled eggs, there was a plate of toast sliced into triangles, buttered and with strawberry jam. Mother rocked in her chair while the children ate, propped against pillows.  When they had finished she announced, "Its a beautiful day.  I'm going to air your blankets on the line outside; I'll bring up warm water and you can take turns to wash behind the screen. I have clean night clothes for you both and clean sheets for the beds."

Washed, hair brushed, and clad in worn soft flannel, they sat on Larry's bed, feet swinging over the side while Mother stripped and remade Lizzie's bed, then Larry moved to the rocking chair while his rumpled bed was spread with clean sheets. The window had been opened a few inches and the soft  air of an early spring thaw refreshed the fusty smell of a sickroom.

Father clumped in, a brown paper-wrapped package under one arm.  He brought with him the smell of hay, of cattle, the smell of sunshine and the whole outdoors.
When father had produced his jack knife to cut the string which bound the parcel it proved to be from Uncle Bill. Bill, married to Stephen's sister, Julia, was the foreman at a printing plant in Albany, NY.  He saved the comic sections from spare issues of the local papers, mailed them for Larry and Lizzie to enjoy.  "Good timing, eh?" said Stephen and patted Lizzie's head before disappearing into the hall.

When Mother returned with the freshly aired blankets, the comic papers were spread on the floor, Larry and Lizzie propped on their elbows, intent and absorbed.
Lunch was soup and saltine crackers, eaten with returning appetites. When Mother collected their tray Larry listened quietly as the creaking of the stairs gave way to the distant sounds of washing up--the scrape of the big teakettle onto the front burner of the wood stove, the clatter of dishes being piled on the sink drainboard in the pantry.
Satisfied that she was out of hearing, Larry announced, "Come on, Liz, we're going out.  Its warm outside.  Its spring!  We aren't sick any longer!"  Lizzie sat cross-legged on her bed, dressing a doll.  "You know we can't go out; Mother would never let us."
"Mother won't know--and it won't hurt us!  We've been indoors too long!"

Larry opened the closet door, emerged with a heavy sweater and a pair of overalls. He yanked the sweater over his head, leaving his hair on end and layered the overalls on top of his flannel pajama bottoms.  He strode to the window and although it stuck a bit he managed to push the sash to full height.  He leaned out, took an exaggerated sniff of early March air, and turned to Lizzie.  "Come on, put on heavy socks and your bathrobe."
Lizzie unfolded herself from the bed, slowly pulled on the pair of socks that Larry tossed to her.
" How are we going to get outdoors?"

Larry chuckled.  "The shed roof is just below the window.  I go out there and sit nearly every night in the summer."  He took the top blanket from his bed, folded it and dropped it out the window, handed Lizzie Mother's shawl which lay across the back of her chair.  He swung his legs through the open window, landing lightly on the roof a few feet below.  "Come on, Lizzie, I'll help you.  Its as warm as summer out here!"
It wasn't quite that warm, but the early March thaw had ushered in a balmy afternoon.  The shed faced south-west, catching the sun and the sloping tin roof held a measure of warmth. With the blanket arranged to his satisfaction, Larry leaned back against the wall of the house and shut his eyes for a moment.  He felt Lizzie relax beside him. Rising temperatures had released all manner of smells that had been winter-bound: the earthy odors of the barnyard were predominant, laced with wood smoke from neighboring chimneys. Larry was sure he could smell the lake down below the fields to the west, never mind that it was encased in ice. A cloud of tiny insects whirled at the edge of the roof, a blue jay shrieked from a bare-branched maple.  Crows wheeled against the blue of the sky, shouting raucously; presently they heard the rumble of the train from the tracks across the lake, the sound carrying across still snowy fields.
"Its nice out here." Lizzie murmured. Larry grinned.  "I told you it would be."

The sun slid toward the western mountains, a breeze riffled through the leafless trees. Larry stretched his arms over his head, yawned.  Lizzie bundled the shawl more closely around her shoulders.
I'm getting cold," she announced.

Behind them, too late, they heard footsteps on the stairs.  Before they could stir, Mother was crossing the room; when she reached the window she gave a little cry of horror. "What do you think you're doing out there?"  Not waiting for an answer she leaned out, grasping Lizzie by the shoulders, heaved her through the window and deposited her on the bed. Larry unfolded himself and hastily crawled into the room. Mother darted to the window, brought it down with a slam.  She turned to the children, her usually calm voice shaking.  "You have been so sick! Only last night the fever broke. You will be sick again!" She sat down suddenly in the rocking chair, removed her spectacles, laid them in her aproned lap; her hands held her head as though it ached.

Larry inched across the room toward his bed. His legs suddenly felt oddly shaky.
From below came the sound of the back door opening, shutting, the sound of Father removing his boots, letting them thud to the floor.
He called from the foot of the stairs, "Demarise?" And when she did not answer, "Demarise! Que se passe-t-il?'  Father came slowly up the stairs, padded to the doorway in his heavy wool socks.  He leaned against the door jamb, a short wiry man with a shock of thick greying hair. His eyes swept over them--his wife crumpled in the chair, Lizzie, still in her bathrobe and shawl, curled against her pillow and Larry--Larry! leaning against the foot of his bed in his sweater and overalls, not wanting to meet his father's glare.

Mother replaced her spectacles, clenched her hands in her apron. "They have been outside.  After being so sick--this flu--"  Her words trailed away.
Stephen crossed the room, gripped her shoulder. " Descends; repose-toi."  She stood, looked at him, and when she made no move, he insisted. "Go down, Maintenant; Now. Je vais prendre soin de ce."
Larry and Lizzie did not understand French, but as Mother moved slowly from the room and down the stairs, Father's meaning was clear.

Father sat in mother's chair, the rockers creaked. Larry wished Father would say something. He wondered if he could get out of his clothes and into bed without falling over.
 "Larry! Why did you go outside?  Why did you take Lizzie outside.  The doctor has said you do not go out."
"We are better, not sick, " Larry insisted, but began to cough. Clumsily, he struggled out of the overalls, dropped them on the floor and managed to get into bed.  He stuck his feet under the covers, tried to stifle the coughing that had overtaken him.

"You have had FLU!"  Father's voice, though not loud, was fierce.  He brought his hands to his head as mother had done, glared round the room.
Then his voice softened.  "You do not understand.  Comprendre.  You have frightened your mother. You do not know what flu has done to our family. When you were a baby, Larry, before Lizzie was born, the flu came.  It came with the war. Mother's brothers died, Arthur, Curtis, young men. Her sister in law, Ada, died, all in one week. Next her sister, Lena, and in the spring, when he was tired, old, her father, Gilbert.  You did not know them.  All dead from flu."
Lizzie made a soft sound of distress and Father turned to her.
"Dr Thompson says you do not have that same flu. But it has frightened your mother.  Night and day she has taken care of you, and now before you are strong you have gone outside."



He rose, stumped out of the bedroom, leaving the rocker creaking slowly back and forth.
The thump of Father's feet on the stairs died away, the chair became still. Late afternoon sun spilled across the bedroom floor.
Lizzie spoke into the stillness, " We have made Mother sad.  She is very tired.  I'm tired now and I'm going to sleep." She turned on her side, the shabby grey shawl trailing from her shoulders.

Larry could think of nothing in reply.  He reached for the glass of water on the table near the bed, sipped, breathing shallowly so he wouldn't cough.

He, too, must have slept for awhile, as the room was nearly dark when he heard Mother's tread on the stairs. Moving quickly he switched on the one electric light in the room, reached to take the tray.
Mother looked tired, but her hair had been neatly repinned, she was wearing a fresh apron.
Supper was applesauce and toast; Mother made another trip over the stairs to bring mugs of tea.  She sat again in the rocking chair while they ate.
Larry wished he could make amends for the upset of the afternoon, but words came awkwardly.
At last he ventured, "Lizzie and I are much better now. You could sleep in your bed tonight. We'll be alright."

It was Father who came up to tell them goodnight.  He left the lamp turned low.  Lizzie and Larry talked quietly--the things they would do when they could go right outdoors again, the return to school, the comics sent by Uncle Bill, the relief of being well, the warmth of the sun on the shed roof.  They repeated the names Father had spoken, Arthur, Curtis, Lena, Grandfather Gilbert--Aunt Ada--"That's where my middle name came from," Lizzie murmured.

Sleep came early, but Larry woke once in the night. Mother was in the room. Through half closed lids he saw her lay her hand on Lizzie's forehead, tuck the covers gently around her.  Then Mother's hand was on him. the end of her braid swung lightly against his cheek.  Eyes closed, he reached to squeeze her hand, then was asleep before the sound of her slippers had scuffed to the foot of the stairs.

Photo from my sister Christy.
Larry and Lizzie circa 2006. It was an early birthday celebration for Larry who would be 90 in November.  Lizzie had just turned 88. 

I am indebted to my Aunt Liz for the bones of this story. Her son, my Cousin Thomas Archer, added the following details when I published the story on Face Book.
" This story brought joy to my heart it was just four years ago that mom passed away so I pictured her (Lizzie) in the story with uncle Larry the two little imps. I also could picture the bedrooms in the old Keller Farm house as a young child. I still have memories of the house when my Uncle Donald and Aunt Lillian lived there and I spent the night there a couple of times maybe even in the same bedroom. I’ve been in the shed that was on back of the house just off of the kitchen, last time in the shed it was winter and uncle Don said “Tommy go look in the tub”. So I did it was a big wash tub on the floor and when I looked inside there were huge fish swimming, uncle Don had caught them through the ice on lake Champlain the lake you mentioned in story. Thanks again for the chance to picture my mom as a little girl.
  I’m surprised Grandma Desjadon didn’t make an onion bag for them to wear.  My mom used to make them for me when I was a kid;  she would sew a cloth bag big enough to cover my chest and fill it with Vick’s and onions and tie it around my neck and chest it was horrible. Mom [Lizzie]  said Grandma Desjadon made them for her and Uncle Larry when they were sick and Grandma would put cut onions around the house to trap the flu bugs"









Friday, February 16, 2018

"From Hell To Breakfast" [Remembering My Father's Words]





The day did not have an auspicious beginning. 
From the upstairs bathroom window I watched rain sluicing down the green metal roof of the side porch below; the branches of the cedar trees on the side lawn flailed in the wind.
Another grey and soggy day. 

Toweling damp hair away from my face, I hauled on jeans and a shirt,  headed for the stairs, attended by the usual retinue of cats. 
The cats milled about as I turned on lights, prodded at nearly extinguished coals in the stove.
Opening the front door, ushering Charlie-cat in and the boy cats out, I noticed that one of the outdoor cats had barfed on the step--noticed, thankfully, before planting my foot in the
 congealing pile. 
With the mess disposed off, I headed for the cat kibble bin in the Amish washroom turned garage. 
Jim had left the overhead door open hoping to disperse some of the condensation that slicked the concrete floor.
"SOMETHING" had clearly trespassed in the garage during the night!
A trash bin was upended, tins strewn across the floor, likely the work of a possum.
I collected my work gloves and strode out to gather up the tins, finding that still more of them had been carried onto the gravel drive and abandoned there.
Picking up cans, with cold rain drizzling into the neck of my shirt, I suddenly thought how my late father, Larry, would have described the scene.

"That trash is strewed from hell to breakfast!"

Larry was not given to serious profanity. As I mused  over his usual lexicon, I realized that his favored epithets all contained the word Hell.

A deteriorating situation was predictably 'going to hell in a hand-basket!'

An object going too fast [as in a stranger's car on our usually quiet dirt road] was 'going hell-i ty toot' or 'hell-i-ty ding-dong!'
Larry did have a temper, and when thoroughly angered would blast out, 'Hell and damnation!'

Clattering tin cans into the now righted bin, I pondered, not for the first time, the source of my father's idioms.

The first language of my paternal grandparents was Canadian French. 
The first US born generation of families who had moved from Quebec to upstate New York, later congregating in Addison County, Vermont, French was the language they spoke with ease. 

My father dismissed French as words he didn't comprehend-- a language spoken when 'the old people' came for a visit. 
Larry's grandparents had at least a rudimentary grasp of English, clumsily phrased, accented, but serviceable. 
His parents made the decision to speak English in the home, thus sparing their children the handicap of starting school with a language barrier--a situation still common among the French Canadian families of the area when I was in school.
Although Larry's parents sometimes conversed with each other in their native tongue, Larry and his siblings had no grasp of French.

My father's phraseology seems to have been unique to him--at least I never heard others use his particular expressions. 
Growing up with a passion for descriptive words, an ear that picks up on an unfamiliar turn of phrase or a local idiom, I noted that my father sometimes arranged words a bit awkwardly in a sentence, described things in terminology peculiar to himself [a gathering of objects referred to as 'a couple, two or three.']  It was almost as though some faint cadence from the speech of his French Canadian ancestry found a home in his every day parlance, traces of which he was seemingly unaware.

It was my mother-the school-teacher who usually read aloud to us at bedtime, although occasionally if she was busy, Daddy stepped into the breach. 
He read well, but balked at unusual words. My sister and I found this entertaining and slyly coaxed Daddy to read our Sunday School lessons. 
Mother caught on to this when she heard us giggling as Larry struggled with 'King Nebuchadnezzar'--we were quietly but sternly informed the next day that we had been rude and it wasn't to happen again!

Gathering the last of the scattered tins,  thumping the bin back into the corner of the garage, I found that I was smiling--still annoyed with the creature who had made the mess, but warmed by memories of my father.
Undoubtedly I would need to be judicious in making Larry's pet phrases my own--but if one must clean up a rummaged trash bin first thing in the morning, there is an earthy pleasure in declaring that it was all strewn 'from hell to breakfast!'




Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Plodding On


A rare sunny day Friday gave way after dark to torrents of rain. swelling the already brimming brook.  Driving to town on Saturday morning we noted brown water sluicing along the roadsides, spilling onto the highway, standing in sheets that splashed against the car's tires.


The boy cats beg to go outside, only to be disgruntled that rain is still falling.


Watching Nellie on one of his forays I was reminded that the three boys as kittens were prone to wading through the rainwater that always settled in a rounded depression in the back lawn of our former home.
Nellie splatted along the retaining wall, took a drink of icy water, before deciding that the warmth of the kitchen was desirable.


Nellie and Mima are a tight fit in the wooden box set on the alcove table, but neither one wants to vacate. This has become a favored retreat during persistently wet and cold weather.



Two pots of blooming amaryllis continue to delight.


The large plants take considerable room on the kitchen counter which runs under a pair of north windows.
I wish I could stage a succession of blooming plants from November through March.
By the end of the week the amaryllis will have finished their season of exotic color.


 I bestirred myself on Monday to do some baking.
Jim, rummaging in the freezer for a package of venison, discovered the last pie made from our Vermont Northern Spy apples. 
Nothing would do but it should be popped in the oven, although I had already decided on making cookies.
I wanted to share food with my neighbors down the lane, so first thing this morning I concocted a kettle of curried lentil soup. [I don't know how to make soup in small quantities, so it becomes a good meal for sharing.]

By the time the soup was simmered to fragrant perfection, the sun had emerged from morning clouds.
I pulled on my boots, balanced a container of soup, a package of cookies for my friends, and a tin of cat food for the barn cat who has an injured foot. 
The young does in the upper pasture were quick to notice that I was burdened with containers and hurried to greet me at the fence; three younger doelings in the pen near the back entry of the farmhouse, set up a clamor, hoping that the food I carried was for them.

The convalescent cat was perkier this morning, wanting to hobble about in spite of keeping her stiff hind leg tucked up. B. tided a large wire cage which we set up on the sun-warmed concrete apron of the stable. I held Bonnet the cat carefully while a bed of hay was arranged in the clean cage.  Bonnet grumbled a mild protest when I placed her gently in the pen, but after B. had fastened the clasps on the door, we stepped back and watched as the calico cat curled herself into a relaxed ball, enjoying the sun on her coat.
She will be moved, cage and all, into the stable for the night--a safe place for her as her injured foot continues to heal.


 The cold and rainy winter hasn't been kind to the lavender and purple sage that live in the small herb bed at the foot of the side porch steps. The lemon thyme which edges the concrete walk beyond the porch is likewise tattered and shabby.
I considered bringing out the pruning shears--but it is too early. I need to wait until there are signs of new growth.


Although the blue sky day was alluring, I headed back indoors, swept and mopped the basement floor, did some mundane household sewing, the daily tidying.
Later in the day I went out with veg trimmings for the compost heap, noted the cross hatching of contrails.



Outside again with my camera I realized that the waning afternoon was taking on a chill.
Bobby Mac and Nellie shot into the house ahead of me when I opened the door, their adventuring over for the day. 
Moments later, preparing to wash dishes I glanced out toward the wooded side hill, still bathed in light from the sun sliding behind the opposite ridge. 
In that instant a whisk of movement caught my eye--a fox squirrel balancing along a bare low branch.  I watched fascinated as the squirrel bounced to another sapling, ran lightly up the trunk, swung to another tree and scurried down.  I lost sight of him as he scampered along the ground, his coat blending with the litter of weathered oak leaves.

These have been days ruled by the doldrums of mid-winter weather, many of them housebound days.
In between desultory domestic chores I have read myself cross-eyed, peering at my computer screen or with a book open on the table where the lighting is best.
Creativity stirs, but still below the surface--rather like the plants in my winter-worn garden, I seem to be in a holding pattern, waiting for the energizing touch of warmer weather.


Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Sluggish Weather


It rained all night. It was nearly midnight when I went upstairs to bed, but I didn't quickly fall asleep. 
My mind plodded over a number of things, none of them dire, just matters that refused to be shelved.
Rain beat on the roof, a steady drumming punctuated by wilder bursts., adding to my wakefulness. 

When the cats and I creaked into the kitchen at 6:15 I realized that Jim had been down earlier, replenished the fire, then returned to the warmth of quilts.
There was little in the morning landscape to recommend the day.
The sometime brook boiled out from the woods and surged along its gravel bed beyond the fence bordering the lane.


Mist dulled the edges of buildings, fence posts, and fields.


Charlie-cat bustled in to eat, demanded testily to go OUT again.
He crouched in the wet along the driveway adjacent to the front porch, preferring to drink from an icy puddle. 


Poached eggs on whole wheat toast for breakfast, the area around the woodstove swept and tidied, dishes washed. 
We had two quick neighborhood errands to do--such short distances that the car didn't get really warm.
It felt good to return to the cozy kitchen.
Bobby Mac had been out and about, and hurtled back indoors, his feet muddy, his fur glistening with mist. 
Matt and Gina gave us several wooden bins, three of which are in the pantry holding potatoes, onions and such.  The 4th bin remained on the table in the alcove.  Bobby likes to spend time on the table as it gives him a wide view of the back dooryard. 


Bobby was considering the bin, so I lined it with a layer of newspaper and an old towel.
It became a cozy place to dry his feet and have a wee nap.


The intricately patterned pink and white amaryllis, loaned to me by my good neighbors, is opening the third and final stem of flowers.  This one has developed at a slower pace than the first two which put forth bloom so rapidly that the huge striped flowers jostled each other for space.


 My red Christmas amaryllis is holding to a last bloom on the first stem, while the 2nd and 3rd  stem buds are slowly unfolding. 
The red amaryllis is a stockier plant than the other two that have bloomed this season.


Jim spent most of the morning working on the upstairs double hallway and the stairwell. 
This dreaded job is the last major renovation we expect to do.
This nightmarish shot with flash bounced the glow from the ceiling light into a bizarre pattern.


The taping and 'mudding' of the drywall was so poorly done that the only complete fix would be to remove it and start over, which isn't a practical solution at this point.
Jim has grimly patched, plastered, sanded, and we are determined to call it 'good enough' once the off-white paint is applied. 
I am mildly amused by the current 'farmhouse' trend in decorating.  The old farmhouses which I knew as a girl were not carefully edited rooms with coordinated displays of 'collectibles.' They were clean, simply furnished spaces: kitchens with a hulking range, a hutch and work table, open shelves, a storage pantry; a separate sink with roller towel above where menfolk coming in from the field or stable could wash up.
 Furniture was often handed down through several generations--a rocking chair here, a desk, an upright piano or a cottage pump organ.
The best pieces were gathered in the 'parlor' where the serious faces of the departed gazed down from heavy gilded frames.  Lace curtains, discreetly mended, starched and rehung for the 'best' rooms, dotted Swiss or muslin for the rooms that saw constant family use. 
Decorating wasn't done on a whim; fresh wallpaper was chosen only when alternating  seasons of winter wood smoke or glaring summer  sun had dulled the pattern.

When Jim had put away his tools, folded the stepladder and dusted himself down, I tackled the
 clean- up, first with broom and dust pan, then hoovering, followed by a wipe down of the stairs and handrail with a damp rag.
I think there is one more session of sanding and clean up before the paint can be applied.


I needed fresh air after stirring up such a dust.
In mid-afternoon I pulled on boots and a heavy jacket for a walk to the lower farmhouse.
The brook was noisy, the air was sharply cold and damp although the drizzle of rain had quit.



I had my camera with me to record the silky blooms of my friends' amaryllis.


I gave them the bulb at Christmas, 2016.  It spent the summer tenderly nestled in rich compost, growing plump, storing the nutrition needed to produce these luxuriant blooms.


On my way past the pasture, I stopped to record this moment: Blue, the Great Pyrenees, snuggling with one of her doeling charges. 

I didn't sew today.
I'm not going to sew this evening.
I'm taking my book and a mug of tea, settling into my rocking chair!

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Another Unstructured Day


On my way to bed last evening I noticed Teasel wedged into the basket on the bench near the front door.  Bobby Mac usually lays claim to this spot while Teasel prefers the rug in front of the wood stove.  She is a beautiful and photogenic creature--very much MY cat.
She greets me each morning with front paws raised--like a child wanting to be picked up and held, and that is what must be done. 
She is a warm and weighty armful, snuggling and purring with all the stops out.


Jim had a tractor delivery/pick up to make this forenoon. He invited me to go along, and since it wasn't a long journey I agreed. 
The old [1992] Dodge Cummins, 'Snort'n Nort'n,'  is the most road-worthy of the trucks at the moment.
There is always a sense of deja vu when I clamber into the cab, for this is the truck acquired during our Wyoming years and used for many trips into Utah, Idaho or Montana gathering building materials for a series of houses.


I got through several chapters of The Seagull during Jim's stops.
I'm really trying not to rush through the book.  I tend to devour whole paragraphs at a glance and finish a good book much too quickly.



Tractor trading accomplished we roared home.  Jim decided he needed to take the car and run to the local repair shop where work is being done on his number 3 truck [no, don't ask!]

I have been eyeing the mixer presented to us this weekend by daughter Gina.
I have what might be called appliance anxiety--the first few times assembling and using a new gadget I am braced for the clatter of improperly placed parts, a whining motor, splattered ingredients.
Of course I figured it out with the help of the instruction booklet and the big beater made short work of mixing the dough for oatmeal cookies.
I was putting the last tray in the oven when Jim breezed through and announced that now he needed to deliver truck number 2 to the transmission repair shop in town--which meant I was required to follow with the car to collect him. 
He graciously conceded that he 'might be a while' and I could finish my cookie project before heading out.  I served 'tea' to the cats, washed up their dishes along with the bowls, spoons and measuring cups from the cookie bake.


 I took along my camera to record the devastation left by the huge chipper that has been at work where trees and shrubbery grow close to the roadway.


The chipper is similar to the bush hog which Jim uses behind a tractor to mow rough pastures and verges. The huge commercial thing is mounted on a retractable arm and is raised to gnaw and shred branches within its reach.


I understand why this has to be done. Our area has a lengthy growing season; invasive shrubbery and small trees can crowd the verge of the road, limiting visibility. Hand trimming on a large scale wouldn't be practical, so in comes the giant machine.


The result isn't pretty. Branches are ripped off, tree trunks are gashed, leaving behind shattered stubs.


There were few glimpses of sunshine today--a hint of pale grey-blue in the sky when we returned from town.  Jim mentioned that he hadn't taken time to eat since breakfast, what with all his errands.
I thought for a moment, suggested we stop at the corner cafe for a pizza. 

While our pizza was baking we were introduced to a new neighbor--she and her family have moved into an Amish property purchased from the same man who previously owned our farm.
We commiserated with her as she rather resignedly reviewed the temporary upheaval of living in a house where electricity and modern plumbing are slowly being installed.

Darkness was settling in as we drove up the hill to our own farmhouse. The cats greeted us as though we had been gone for many hours.  The fire was in need of serious attention.
We are snug inside this evening while rain drums on the roof. 
The weather forecast for tomorrow isn't promising;
we are surely stuck in the doldrums  of mid-winter.
We have an ample supply of firewood.
The pantry and freezer are well-stocked.
I have two new books to enjoy when I have finished The Seagull.
Sewing projects simmer on the back burner of my mind.
The pace of life may have slowed--but I never find it dull!



Monday, February 5, 2018

Feeling Mildly Lazy


After two days of grey darkness and chilly weather, with pounding rain throughout Saturday night,  sunshine  returned.
The temperature hovered at the freezing mark all day, but a clear blue sky makes the world brighter and entices me outdoors, even if for a short time.
We had errands in town this morning, including a quick gathering of groceries.
As usual, I took along a book.
I was only a few pages into the latest Ann Cleeves  mystery, "Seagull" when Jim returned to the car; he had needed to sort an error in his driver's license and it was taken care of very quickly.

Home again, riding past fields and pastures wearing drab mid-winter shades of brown and tan with here and there a patch of faded green. 
Jim lumbered off with the truck and trailer to fetch another load of slabs from a local sawmill. 
January saw us burning a fair amount of wood and Jim has found that the hardwood slabs sliced to stove lengths are a good back-up for the 'chunks' that he cut and split earlier.

With great strength of mind I laid my book on the small table in the alcove and dealt with cleaning and laundry.


I served the cats their 'tea', made a simple lunch of salad and hamburgers.
I had saved lettuce trimmings for the goats next door, so bundled into a warm old jacket, hung my camera over my shoulder and set off along the lane.
The milk goats immediately noticed that I was carrying a container,  indicating a possible treat.  They surged toward the fence, jostling each other as I tossed lettuce over the fence.

I trudged along the verge by the mailbox, hoping to see evidence of wild daffodils.
None have yet sent up green shoots in the tussocks of tangled and sodden grass that extend from the pasture.

A car stopped on the road beside me--friends whom I've not seen since Christmas.
We 'caught up' with each other, exchanging news, chatting, until a pickup truck chugged up behind.
A wave to our friends and I clambered back through  the matted grass, camera in hand, wanting a close up shot of the cluster of dried pods rising above a tangle of brush.
They appear to be the seed pods of trumpet vine--yet I don't recall noting the brilliant orange-red blooms in that spot during the summer.


Late afternoon sun was gilding the willows and assorted saplings that rim the wet weather brook beyond the fence, even as the western ridge cast cold shadows over the dooryard.



The earliest blooming stalks of the amaryllis reached their beautiful best as the weekend approached.
 The bi-colored plant has a third stem ready to bloom.


A second and third stalk are already showing velvety red buds on the amaryllis in the glass vase. 
Many times each day my eyes are drawn to these graceful and exotic bursts of color, so encouraging when the weather outside is lacking in cheer.

I had thoughts both yesterday and today of getting on with the small quilt in progress.
The piecing is done, blocks sewn together,  borders added. 
I have everything available to add the appliques which will complete the quilt top--so why am I procrastinating?
I can usually overcome 'tired' by the motivation of 'commencing' to work at a project.
It must be laziness--one of those too frequent times when I can't cudgel myself into creativity.
Tomorrow looms with no definite plans--perhaps inspiration and a measure of energy will resurface!

Thursday, February 1, 2018

A Lesson in Wasted Time


It might have been last summer--or even the previous year--that on a whim, I signed up for a class on offer at the local quilt fabric store.
The Quilter's Trunk in the nearby South Fork community is an inspiring shop--a good variety of fine quilting fabrics, notions, tools, an in-house sewing machine service and repair.  A changing exhibit of quilts large and small is intended to inspire customers.
Classes are offered, featuring new patterns or techniques

I forget the nature of my errand that particular day. As usual I took time to enjoy the projects on display.  The pieced butterflies caught my attention and I noted that a class was being offered.
Before I could find excuses not to, I had paid the fee, reserved a place, and been handed a list of the materials that would be needed.
It seemed that it would be good to challenge myself, to try something different.


Almost immediately I realized that I faced obstacles.
The pattern wouldn't be available until the morning of the class.
Speaking of 'morning'--the class was scheduled for 9 a.m.--Eastern Time, that is--and we live a few miles into the Central Time zone, making the start time 8 a.m. for me.

Have I mentioned that I am not a morning person?
I am downstairs between 6 and 7 each morning--earlier in summer, a bit later in winter.
I shower, dress, tend the cats. I am not, however, in what could be called my 'right mind!'
I spend the first half of the day doing practical, none demanding chores--house-cleaning, laundry; as the day progresses I'll tackle baking, errands.
Evenings--when I've caught my second wind--are when I feel creative, ready to sew or write, plan new projects, research an interest.

When I'm inspired to begin a quilt or crafting pattern that I've not previously made, I ponder the directions, reading through a few times, making sure that I understand the details before I get started.

The class didn't go well for me, although the instructor is one whose skills I admire.
The pattern booklet was passed out as we were setting up our sewing machines at the long work tables.  The instructor then announced that we wouldn't actually be cutting our fabrics per the instructions as she had devised a method that saved a bit of material.
I had brought with me the fabrics needed in the lengths designated on the sign-up sheet.
I wasn't interested in having a few scraps left over--or in attempting a variation on the instructions, at least not until I had made the project once according to the directions booklet.

I had been experimenting with some of the fancy stitches on my sewing machine the night before the class and belatedly realized I hadn't readjusted and tested the tension settings.  So, from the first I was in 'catch up' mode. 
Through out the class I felt that I was struggling to focus, to be alert, to work efficiently. 
Most of the ladies were chatty, bright-eyed, zooming along, and had their butterfly nearly done when the class ended.  There were a few who had worked more slowly. 
I had completed my stitching, but when I did the final pressing I found that the circular piece wouldn't lie flat.
  
I came home feeling tired and disgruntled, and with the definite sense that a group class--especially a morning class--is not an option for me.
I put away the unfinished butterfly with the vague idea that 'sometime' I might have a look and see what had gone amiss.


Jim left today after breakfast on a mission to pick up a piece of equipment he found last week.
The day was dark with the threat of rain and I opted to stay home.
I noticed the butterfly project when I was looking for something else recently and vowed that today I would finish it.  
The problem didn't seem to be in the measuring and cutting--the pieces matched the heavy plastic template that was part of the kit.
It must be that I needed to adjust the width of the seams to make the thing lie flat.
I was still fussing and fiddling when Jim returned.
When I had done all that could be done short of starting over I wasn't pleased with my work.  I considered putting the whole thing in the fire!

Doggedly I prepared the butterfly body and pinned it in the center--which still wasn't quite flat.
I had stitched around the brown body by hand when I realized I had positioned it the wrong way.
I picked the stitches, repinned, decided to use a machine applique technique--not one of my strong skills, but there it is.  The butterfly is DONE-- other than needing its antennae.

I'm not pleased with my workmanship--and I still don't know what caused the problems.
I could try it again with different fabric--working carefully at my own pace.
I find I'm not really interested in doing that!
This isn't a piece that I want to display.
I may stitch the butterfly onto a cushion cover--at least it would be useful.
I could call it a 'humility pillow'--a reminder that perhaps some projects are best jettisoned instead of wasting hours on an unsatisfactory finish.