Friday, January 20, 2023

Variable Weather: Journal, 20th January



Wild daffodils, a clump rescued from beside the old shed.


Thursday morning, 19th January and the outside temp reading at 56 F. 
The sun was stabilized in a cloud-mottled blue sky by late morning, and I felt the pull of the outdoors.
With a great effort of self-discipline I stayed inside, whisking a dustmop around to collect cat hair before hauling out the vacuum cleaner. [Given the exorbitant price of vac bags, the preliminary collection of fluff is a frugal measure.]
The warmth of the sun on the south windows brought out a pestilence of Asian lady beetles. They can rest in semi-dormancy in the tiniest crevasses or cracks around windows, emerging to trundle up and down the windowpanes, across woodwork, even taking refuge in curtain folds. 
The most determined sweeps of the vacuum wand never get them all; glancing back into the sunroom and west sunporch between other cleaning efforts there were still more beetles to pursue.

As I cleaned I noted that a wind was rising, agitating the treetops in the depth of the ravine.

By the time I gave up cleaning, served the cats their 'tea,' the temperature had risen to 64 F. The wind had also risen in velocity; when I stepped away from the shelter of the house, headed for the west wall garden, clippers in hand, I was surprised to feel the strength of the gusts.

I began by cutting back the frost-browned tangle of red valerian [centranthus ruber] grasping the long stems, hacking them back to about 8 inches from the ground. Close to the cold soil there were a few small green leaves. 
Tending the foxgloves was a slower chore, tugging gently to remove dead stalks and mounds of blackened leaves. Only one clump appears to have been badly damaged by the December freeze. I left it in place, hoping there may be some tentative new growth later,  In late autumn most of the foxgloves set new growth  attached to the original crowns. Barring a long spell of cold and wet conditions those should be fine.

By now the wind had increased, booming through bare treetops, swooping down to stir up fallen leaves. My hair was whipping loose from its clip, an increasing chill was stabbing through my light velour jacket.
I moved up to the plantings beyond the wall, hastily shearing off stems of nepeta, poking warily at the sad looking sprawl of thyme. Fresh leaves of lemon catnip curled tightly at the base of those plants nearest the house wall. I pocketed a few sprigs to bring inside, wondering if the cats would discern between the standard variety and the lemon scented.
 
Off to tip the collection of dead plant material out of my bucket at the edge of the ravine, I watched as dried stems were whisked away before they touched the ground. 
The sky had darkened. I was feeling chilled but knew that if I went in for my down vest I wouldn't likely come back outside.

The east garden is ugly with dead-looking mats of nepeta along the wall, the Knock-Out roses cut back in October crouching like prickly sentinels over the wind-flayed heads of coneflower, the lank yellowed foliage of daylilies. 
The nepeta clumps endured a rough pruning; something in the dried stems immediately 'stuffs up' my head and sets my nose to running. 
Returning my empty bucket to the greenhouse I discovered Willis-cat still stretched on the back bench, lolling in the lingering warmth rather than accompanying me as supervisor. 
I considered walking to the mailbox at the head of the lane, but was tired of being pummeled by the wind, so gave up and clumped indoors.

Jim had come in from his workshop and was stirring up the woodfire which had been allowed to go out during the day. 
I raked a brush through my tangled hair, picked up a new book and headed out to the sunporch. 
I should have stopped in the kitchen for a restorative mug of hot tea. Instead I pulled a fleece throw from the back of the basket chair, wrapped it around my shoulders and opened my book, a lovely photographic collection of northern Vermont farms, the photos taken in the 1960's and 70's when so many such farm enterprises were succumbing to economic failure.

From my chair I could look into nearly the tops of the trees in the south ravine. The wind roared and moaned, branches swayed and flailed. The sun flashed through swiftly moving clouds as it scudded in a shallow arc toward its westerly setting place.
I must have dozed for a few moments; snatching at my book before it slid to the floor I realized  daylight was fading, the sun was now an orange glob behind the trees. 

I sliced bread for sandwiches, opened a tin of Campbells Tomato Soup. 
Jim retreated to his big chair in front of his TV after supper; I turned on the heat downstairs and assembled another quilt block. 

A restless night--my head stuffy from handling nepeta stems; the boom and snarl of the wind, as always, unsettling me.

Jim was off early this morning to help friend Ruben with a problem at his place. I consumed a bowl of oatmeal, sat down to deal with paying bills, immediately discovered a charge on the credit card which shouldn't have been posted to our account. 
I considered paying it without question, balking at the thought of being 'on hold' with raspy music assaulting my ears. 
The process was typical: 15 minutes on hold, then a human voice so distorted by a bad connection that we continually had to repeat questions and answers. Finally through the static the 'operator' announced that he was connecting me with another department. Ten minute hold this time, the same invasive 'music' interspersed with the recorded assurance that my business was important but that all the 'representatives' were currently with other customers. Arrgh!
The connection to the second customer service person was clear--but English was obviously not his first language!

Son Howard appeared with his dogs moments after I finished dealing with the credit card issue.
The dogs bounded in wagging greetings. H. shuttling between his current remodeling job and his own house, had stopped to talk with J. and decided to await his return.

I began chopping onions, celery, carrots to add to the lentils which had been quietly simmering.
Outside the day was grey and dark, but the wind not as deafening. 

I was glad of the company, glad of the fire smoldering away in the woodstove, comforted by the homely smell of soup.
Jim returned an hour later, bringing in a large box which proved to hold beautiful hothouse tomatoes and two net bags of small firm onions.
He announced that he had sorted an issue with the electrical breaker box at Ruben's place and since R. and family needed to be away unexpectedly for several days he was gifting us with the bounty of tomatoes.

Having divested himself of his heavy jacket and insulated 'bib's J. informed me that he had thus far had only a cup of coffee and an English muffin for sustenance.
I pointed smugly at the kettle of thick hot soup, speedily assembled a sandwich.

As usual a cold dreary day inspires me to create hearty sustaining food.
After briefly slumping in my desk chair I returned to the kitchen. We are now well provided for the weekend with, in addition to the lentil stew, roasted butternut squash, parmesan potato slices, a lemonade icebox pie, to be supplemented with the beautiful tomatoes.

The wind has subsided; the cats are indoors; the house is not dreadfully untidy.
I've practiced the music to provide accompaniment at church for Ruben's flute.
Tomorrow promises to be another day of clouds and chilly weather. 
So be it!
I intend to be in bed by 10 p.m. comforted with the sense that the most important tasks of the day are done. 


Daffodils unwisely in bud.


Blackberry lilies in the front raised bed.


Lauren's Grape poppies have self-sowed in profusion.


Michaelmas daisies.


Curried lentil stew.


Roasted butternut squash and parmesan potato slices.

 

Monday, January 16, 2023

Mid-January: Quiet Grey Days


Blue skies have been rare this month. A promising sunrise has often faded into a sulk of dour grey clouds, bringing rain, sometimes in desultory dribbles, at other times in brief pounding deluges accompanied by the rattle of thunder. 
Morning temperatures have not been far above freezing. When I take out cat litter each morning the ground underfoot alternates between soggy and frost-crisped depending on what the previous night has brought.
Sunny afternoons have been welcomed in spite of chilly winds.


J. diverting water in the lane after a night of hard rain.


The hard freeze and snow during the last days of December left the east meadow looking sere and dun-colored, yet the verges of the lane and random patches of the lawn show a vivid green.
Much of the green is not due to the grass seed hastily strewn in the spring of 2019, but more about mat-forming weeds that are hardy through the winter.


Often a flush of color appears in the western sky after a sunless day.


Sunday, 15 January and a welcome day of sunshine!
A sharpish wind had stilled by noon and I went out, feeling liberated from the long slow days of gloomy greyness.
The spell of cold and snow has done my gardens no favors. I cut back the foxgloves after their modest fall flowering; the leaves remaining are now a sodden rotting weight on the crowns of the plants. Surely the next few weeks will bring an afternoon when I can pull away the spoiled leaves. There are small rosettes of new growth at the base of the plants. Centranthus ruber which spills over the wall [out of sight to the right] is a brown drooping curtain. It will be weeks before I can know whether the buddleias have survived. In two previous Kentucky gardens a brutal freeze has killed them. 


Behind the timber wall monarda is spreading in a mat of purple-tinged green. 


Thyme planted at the base of the clematis trellis is a tangle of wiry blighted stems, only a few sprigs of green showing life. I'm remembering that clematis begins its spring rejuvenation way too early having to be swaddled in old sheets and blankets on frosty April nights.


I slogged twice around the perimeter of our open acreage, my feet shuffling in  cut-off wellies. I took this photo while standing at the edge of the south ravine, looking toward the small storage building that now occupies the spot where our camper trailers stood during the winter of house building.  


Fuzzy seedheads in the tangle of brush that edges the ravine.


I noticed two dandelions--hardy survivors. 


Winter brings appreciation of the 'bones' of the landscape; trees twisted by weather and by decades of crowded unruly growth along the edges of the steep ravines.
Jim, with four years of mowing, bush-hogging, clipping and trimming has expanded the width of open ground along this north hillside.


If I had the agility of youth I might want to climb up and sit on this curving branch.


I spent some time standing underneath the hickory and oak trees that mark our eastern boundary, then walked along a short path that runs into the woods along the north ravine.
Nuthatches were busily scuttling up and down tree trunks as comfortable trundling downward as in working their way heads up.
It has been heartening to see more birds in the past two weeks: a large flock of robins bouncing about in the west meadow, titmice chattering on a branch above the compost dump, juncos, sparrows, a few cardinals. Starlings [sigh] and large red-tailed hawks that perch on the power lines ever on the alert for some unwary small creature.

The nests of squirrels are on view in the treetops, untidy hovels of leaves and twigs that were invisible during the summer. In one of those 'just at the right moments' I saw a squirrel pop into a small round hollow in a tree trunk, then quickly poke its head out again.


Hobbit houses in the edge of the woods.


January--the longest month of winter with often a sameness of grey inclement weather.
I read until my vision blurs; some evenings I go downstairs to finish another block of the current quilt in progress. I plonk away at the piano seeking out pieces that I can still manage more or less gracefully when it is my turn to 'play' for church. 
I make soup, bread, cookies.

On rare sunny afternoons I brew a mug of tea and sit for a few minutes in the new porch/sunroom. 
Howard installed curtain rods above the triple section window on the south wall and I clambered about to put up the ticking stripe valances modified from curtain panels I made for our Amish-built farmhouse.  This small embellishment has pleased me. 

It is too easy in a long spell of dreary weather to consider that I am merely marking time--waiting for another season, wishing for the return of abundant energy [not likely to happen to any degree at this age!]
Cousin Pat and I turn to the further unraveling of our shared French Canadian ancestry; my feeble high school grasp of French struggles with unfamiliar names recorded in faded cramped handwriting. We try to recreate the lives and the stories of these ancestors, journaliers who came from Quebec in the late 1800's with their large families, willing to work menial jobs in the hope of better education, better living conditions for their children and grandchildren.

Even the grey days, the seeming 'do nothing' days are precious. There are the small things to cherish--the two foxes seen strolling on the western end of the meadow, the deer foraging in the winter-chilled grass; the thoughts and ideas which spark research; words, fabrics, colors, patterns; seed-heads scattered on snow, pawprints and hoof prints in thawing ground. 
Worries and concerns intrude--so many situations beyond our small spheres of influence or ability; 

I am comforted on some abiding level that the seasons continue, the moon waxes and wanes, where one plant withers another springs up and blooms.
It has to be enough.





 

Saturday, December 31, 2022

December: Looking Back


Sunset on the eve of the solstice


Mid December mornings were frosty, but often clouds parted mid-day and let the pale sun through for a few hours. The wind most days was brisk. 
J. was finishing the outside work to enclose the west porch--he was glad when he could dismantle the staging and work inside. 
Temperatures were dropping rapidly during 23rd December and the wind became brutal. 

The 'barn cats,' Willis and Sally, have shelters set up in the unheated greenhouse and also padded boxes and a kennel on the back porch. J. wrapped the back porch kennel with insulation batting and I added extra layers of fleece blankets to their favorite lounging spots.
The cat water bowl on the front porch had to be brought inside almost hourly to have the ice layer tunked out. I served dollops of tinned cat food to bolster the two cats.

Herman--the tabby stray who has been a regular evening visitor for months, disappeared during the coldest weather through the Christmas weekend. 

27 December and the temperature right at the freezing mark at 8:30 a.m., but an improvement over prior mornings; the high point of the day was 43 F. mid-afternoon. 

That evening Herman-cat returned, looking none the worse for the cold.
We suspect that though he may have no 'fixed address' he has places to shelter and eat other than here--he is not thin or frail.


The sun makes a shallow arc this time of year, setting southerly beyond the ravine.


Snow, blown into icy drifts, greeted us on the 23rd.


We had no need to drive anywhere; the back roads here wind and plunge uphill and down--skirting the edges of ravines and creeks; fortunately freezing weather or snow is short-lived.



 Surveying the frozen and inhospitable landscape I worried for the birds, hoping they could find shelter and seed heads to nibble.
In other years and other places I have put out bird feeders--in our present situation with cats who are avid hunters I fear I would be luring birds to certain death.
Scurrying through the cold to dump kitchen scraps behind the barn I was heartened to see a group of juncos picking at frozen veg peelings.


Sunrise on Christmas morning; 13 F. at 8:30 a.m.





Looking west toward the sheds, mid-day. 
Christmas day stayed clear and cold. 
We drove to have Christmas dinner with Howard and Dawn who live about 20 minutes away.
The food was wonderful, their house warm and cozy.


Here are H and D's two rescue cats sleeping in Howard's chair in front of the fire. 
Callie, on the right, has been with them for over a year.
Ginger was rescued in mid-summer--and went in for spaying on the 27th.
Both were frail and hungry when taken in; now both are plump and devoted house pets. 


Callie is a busybody who offers to help Howard with his projects.


Howard has finished creating this lovely storage unit in the upstairs hallway. 
Throughout construction the cats have used it as a playground.


A decorative feature on one of the shelves!



Howard had a few hours to spare helping J. finish the inside of the porch room.
J. found the flooring at a local surplus/salvage outlet--half price!
I put the first coat of poly on the bay window, swept and then hoovered the floor. 
 H. moved in the basket chairs.
I started upstairs with the oak side table and [of course!] got stuck before I was halfway and had to bellow for J. to come and rescue me. 
He hoicked the table up the stairs, muttering testily, 'Why didn't you ask me to move this--you should have known you couldn't manage!
[I suppose I did suspect that--but I wanted to 'do it myself!']


We've kept a rustic ambiance similar to the center sunroom that leads into the now enclosed west porch.

I need to make washable  fitted covers for the chair cushions, alter some ticking stripe curtains [created for the kitchen in our Amish farmhouse] and make some throw pillows.
The table mat was pieced and cleverly machine quilted by J.'s cousin in Vermont


The cats have been quick to explore the new area. Rosie kept me company while I arranged things.
I'm looking forward to bringing out a few favorite collectibles--not forgetting that anything on the wide windowsill could be subject to investigation by felines.


Rosie is rather naughty, but darling.

So--December ebbing away into its last few hours, a new calendar needed tomorrow.
The month has passed in a rather desultory way--baking, making soup to share, reading myself cross-eyed; work on the current quilt blocks; a genealogy project triggered by a random memory [an intriguing way to spend a snow day.] 

I rather expect that January will be much the same.
There is the joy each year of watching the slow return of daylight hours.

My favorite seed catalog is on my desk--do I dare dream of new gardens?



 

Friday, December 16, 2022

Blundering About


Looking beyond the shadows at the north side of the house, Thursday, mid-afternoon.


A morning of variable weather, dark clouds gave way to billowing clouds, sunshine, a nippy wind.
The ground is still soggy from the wind-driven rain that pelted down until nearly dawn on Thursday.

Seed pods on tulip poplar.


Tulip poplars are handsome year round. In spring the blossoms look like stiff tulips made of yellow and orange paper. The shell-like seed pods cling on through the winter.


Siding being applied to the outside of the porch room.
We are noticing that the new stain is not a perfect match, although I'm sure [at least 99%] that I ordered the correct color. At this point we have to hope it will weather a bit and become more of a match. Its not going to be done over.


A rubble of tools, ladders, sawhorses and staging are part of the process.


Peering up toward the window is the stray cat I call Herman.
He is not bony and starved looking, but is very wary of humans. Sometimes merely peeking through the window at him sets him off. Willis [on the top step] seems to have made peace with Herman.
I've not seen the other stray, Hector, for some weeks; last time he came to eat he was limping on a sore front paw.
The visiting cats are tidier than the raccoons or possums who come by.
One raccoon at a time usually eats without too much mess; if more than one, there are 'food fights' and  dishes are flung over the edge of the porch to land in the herb garden.

'Someone'--whether raccoon or cat--left a 'deposit' in the corner of the porch Wednesday night. Perhaps after over-eating the thought of hastening to the bushes in a downpour of rain was too much [?]
Dealing with this after [another] nearly sleepless night, then going downstairs to discover a hairball upheaval was disheartening. 
I keep old quilts and throws on the furniture and they need frequent laundering--part of the work that goes with a family of cats.


Nellie likes shelves and accesses this one via the utility cart, then onto the fridge top and along the shelf to his favorite basket. 
These are collectible Longaberger baskets and really shouldn't be occupied by cats.
Knowing Nellie as I do, any effort to coax him down can result in a welter of breakables.

The look of innocence. 

Another innocent--Miss Rosie.
J. found the tinsel tree in a trailer he was helping to clear out, brought it home and insists on displaying it. The red ribbons are frequently tugged loose.


The beauty of flowers is so fleeting--I look at them and think, 'Oh, please stay with us another day or two!'


Afternoon sun shining through red velvet petals.


The lovely Christmas arrangement delivered last evening by Dawn.
I enjoy every detail of the florist's artistry. 


I'm glad to report that Rosie has not molested the flowers today. 
Dare I leave them on the table overnight?
When humans turn the lights out at bedtime it usually signals a feline rampage.
They may have been plonked here and there, on beds, chairs, the top of the piano, but once the house is dark all kinds of mayhem takes place.

Blundering and bumbling about--a more prolonged bout than usual of insomnia has left me feeling stupid. My mind whirrs on while my body longs for sleep. 
A family failing passed on by my Dad, and one to which I am accustomed but not resigned!

I've mogged through daytime this week, doing the usual chores, even a bit of sewing, but glad I am not required to go out to a job or to 'operate machinery!'

On such nights I often turn on my bedside lamp, read until I feel my eyes closing and the book falling from my hands; turn out light, snuggle into the blankets, and immediately I'm awake again.

About the foggiest I've been today was so concentrating on preparing cabbage rolls that 5 loaves of bread were pushing over the tops of the pans before I remembered to turn on the oven.

Isn't it odd that wakeful during the night, pondering a dozen projects, one doesn't simply get out of bed, dress and do something?