Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Argiope Aurantia

Until this morning this has been "the black and yellow spider who makes zig-zag stitching in her web."
It is amazing what one can learn from the internet!
Two of these female spiders have spent the past month in webs near our front porch steps.
The one above has her web centered in a large clump of sedum which wants dividing [which I haven't done as it hosts a flourishing poison ivy.]

On Sunday morning she had two well-wrapped meals awaiting her pleasure.
This lady spider looks full to bursting, but I have not spotted an egg sack.
Perhaps she isn't quite ready to produce.
The male of the species is a tiny unremarkable creature.
He mates with the colorful large female--and then expires.
While I don't harbor ill will toward males--human or otherwise--it piques my fancy to think of this subservient and insignificant male--rather the opposite of the male birds who out-shine the drabber females.

The sister Argiope has her web fastened from the back edge of the sedum to the edge of the porch.
As I sat drinking my coffee in the nearby rocking chair, a large moth blundered into the web.
The spider plunged toward her victim, trailing a length of silk.  She had her lunch wrapped and secured in less time then it takes my sewing machine to wind a bobbin.
I was delighted to have witnessed  this moment.

Here she is with the newly packaged treat and a spare in the larder.

The lower egg sack appeared several days ago. This morning the spider was resting near a second egg sack attached to the pillar above the first one.
She seemed lethargic and rather deflated.
I read that the spiders produce one to four egg bundles late in the summer and their life cycle will come to an end with cooler weather.

Here she rests, possessively guarding her future spiderlings.

Last week I moved a pot of impatiens which is looking spent and unthrifty.
In a few days this rampaging self-sowed morning glory wrapped almost completely around the pot.

I've had to rip great throttling cords of convulvulus from the grape arbor.
These I have allowed to wander around the nandina and through the leaning hibiscus at the edge of the porch.
Leaving the spiders to their day, I walked around the porch to the old plantings at the side of the car port.  These too are troubled with poion ivy which survived my attacks on it in April.
So many tasks should be completed before the end of the season.
Some days, contemplating the "ought to do" list, I feel as deflated as my resident spider looks.

Here is an interesting article on the life and behaviors of Argiope Aurantia.

I noticed this morning that I hadn't included the link to the spider article.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

What to Do Today?

I finished canning tomatoes at 3 A.M. this morning.
I planned to tackle the remaining tomatoes after breakfast today, but a look at them last evening showed that
I would have even more going to waste in a few hours.
The Roma tomatoes were of good quality, but the large round ones had woody green cores and  like the ones from our own garden they had cracks in the tops which allowed rot to set in before the fruit was fully ripened.
I was over canning tomatoes a good hour before I had them all steamed and chunked into the kettles for a preliminary quick stewing. [I've found the partially cooked tomatoes "settle" into the jars with less wasted head room than if they are "cold-packed."]
I was getting clumsy and dull-witted--managing to slop juice, seeds, peels down the cabinet door and onto the floor when I lifted the refuse bucket for a final trip to my scrap heap.

My feet slid through dew-soaked grass as I trudged beyond the circle of the garage light.
The night air was cool on my sweaty face and nipped through the damp patches where I had dripped water down the front of my jeans.
A few cicadas scraped in the maple tree, coyotes bayed from somewhere comfortingly removed from the civilization of the dooryard.

I started tearing off wallpaper in the bathroom, thinking it would be possible to have the little room primed and ready for a top coat of paint by evening.
[Some of you may understand that it is easier to tackle a project such as this while the man of the house is out and about!]
The wallpaper, a good quality vinyl, was obviously applied to the walls when the house was finished 30 years ago.  The wall cubbies were framed and the wood trim  put in place on top of the paper.
It is not removing nicely. I have wiped it down with a hot wet towel--still the thin paper coating on the wall board is tearing off in untidy patches.
I daresay a light coating of "mud" is needed before a paint job can look good.
J. tore up the vile carpet in the bathroom and replaced it with a tile board flooring. He was not as pleased with the product as he hoped to be, but it is clean and fresh.
The sink basin and the vanity ought to be replaced, the light fixtures are very dated, but those are not replacement priorities.
Methinks I am running out of steam--with patchy  moulting walls in the bathroom and a still grubby floor in the kitchen.
Time was that will power and enthusiam carried me through such self-assigned projects.

I could make a mug of green tea and take it with me to visit the kittens.
I could sit down with my current read--or wander outside with the camera.
There are 51 quarts of bottled tomatoes to be safely conveyed down the basement stairs and stowed on the shelves built by Mr. Rogers 30 years ago.
Oh, Groan!
Chester the Cat suggests that a little rest might be in order.
Tomorrow I may decide to whine and be a bit out-of-sorts!


Barn Kittens, Day 2


Sadie is the extrovert, a "talker."

"I'm listening!"

I took the kittens their morning essentials of strained chicken--a heaping teaspoon each-- and fresh water, replenished kibble, let them out of the cage.  I then  fed Pebbles who began the usual loud announcements about starving and neglected horses as soon as I slid open the dining room door.
Livestock attended, house cats polishing their bowls, I made my coffee.

When I went back to the hay barn an hour later, the kittens were playing on top of a stack of bales, but rushed to the edge to greet me.  Sally over-balanced, landed on the 4-wheeler seat and tumbled to the barn floor.
I had to assure her that "I didn't do it," before she was ready to be friends again.

Sally, making conversation.

What you don't see here is Sally's tiny claws kneading through my jeans.

Can you see why I brought them home?
Those pointy faces and big ears suggest Siamese genes in the lineage.
[Sally on the left, Sadie on the right.]

Rough and tumble play is tiring when you're a mere kitten.

"If you would stand right there I could pounce on your head!"

"I think I love you."

Sally watches through sleepy slitted eyes.

"Are you really leaving?"

I wonder how many days before they follow me down the path from barn to house?

Saturday, August 28, 2010

I Suppose I've Gone and Done it--Again!

For several weeks when we have stopped at the Amish store there have been 4 or 5 kittens skittering about in the tangle of herbs and flowering shrubs which front the building.
The kittens have been more or  less affectionately chased by the bevy of young Yoders and most recently by the Yoder puppy.
One of the kittens met an untimely end in the road.

Earlier this week when I drove Delilah and her daughters to the Mennonite markets, I saw only two kittens.
I have not cared to learn the fate of the others.
This morning I stopped at the store to buy two more boxes of canning jars.
As the scrawny kittens scurried away to peer warily from behind a flowering nicotiana, the glimmer of an idea began to take root.
I argued with myself. We cannot possibly have more cats in this little house.
I cannot possibly rescue every pitiful unwanted stray which crosses my path.
I have had heart-wrenching experiences with rescued cats in the past.
I have had heart-warming experiences with rescued cats who have become beloved pets.
I mulled these ideas over and over as I peeled and simmered tomatoes and ladled them into the waiting jars.

Delilah phoned [from the "phone booth" behind the rickety shed] to ask if I could convery her to Wal Mart.
Well, why not?  J. is away for the weekend on a canoeing trip.
I had processed such tomatoes as needed doing today.
I really didn't want to mop the floors.
 When I pulled into the Yoder driveway, the 5 children, all a bit grubby, rushed pell-mell to meet me.
The kittens danced away from their rushing feet, the puppy bounced.
"I think I should take these kittens home with me to live in our  hay barn," I announced.
A Yoder child promptly pounced on the nearest kitten and thrust it, squirming, into my arms.
The kitten looked up at me with what I took to be surprised relief and began to purr.
I could feel every bone in her thin body.
Delilah hove into view, wearing her tall black bonnet.
She explained that the kittens didn't belong to them, but to the neighbors, a rather corpulent pair who seem to spend hours sitting on their porch watching the cars that go by.
Delilah added, "I don't think they care much for the kittens.  They're always here and they're always hungry."

At Wal Mart I bought a sack of kitten kibble, then settled to wait an hour while Delilah, with three children in tow, collected items for the little girls to take to school next week.
When Delilah announced that this was a "school shopping" expedition I bit my tongue just before asking if they were buying new socks and shoes or fall clothing.
Amish children attend Amish schools. All they need are paper, pencils, crayons and such.

When I returned the Yoders to their dooryard and helped to unload the purchases the neighbors were, surprisingly, absent from the porch.
Delilah gave a command in German to the girls and in moments they flew to the next house and were back to announce, "You can have the kittens!"
After a hectic scramble among the weeds, again assisted by an assortment of children and the puppy, I had the kittens, two tiny tortoisehell girls.
At home I dumped them in a cat carrier with a pan of kibble while I put together a wire "pen" to keep them safe until they are acclimated.
I trudged back and forth to the hay barn, carrying a  tray of litter, a small bowl of water, an old shirt of J's to make a "bed" on the upper level I had devised in the cage.
The kittens munched kibble, licked chicken "baby food" from a spoon.
They purred, rubbed bony heads against the fingers I poked through the wire of the cage.
Their eyes are bright and clear, there are no signs of intestinal upsets  and no sniffles.
I can't guarantee them safety from things that swoop, prowl or pounce.
I can feed them, have their innoculations, have them spayed in due time.
For however long they can survive in our barn, they will be well fed, petted and welcomed.
I have named them Sadie and Sally.

That's Sadie, taken this morning after each kitten had licked up a spoonfull or two of strained baby food meat. I'm hoping to put flesh on their tiny bones without over-whelming digestive systems which have been deprived.

Here they are--tumbling over the hay bale and purring like little engines.
All the photos I took this morning are blurred.
Busy kittens aren't going to hold still and pose.
I'll keep them in the cage today with visits every few hours and excursions out onto the hay bales stacked in the center aisle of the barn [Pebbles' hay!]
Tomorrow I'll let them out into the big wide world and hope that I have been recognized as the source of food and companionship.


When we bought this 30 year old Kentucky cottage in March, one of the first things to be done was a kitchen renovation.  Clean white appliances, Shaker-styled cabinetry in sleek natural maple, classic white ceramic knobs.
Lovely though it is, the operative word is "small." During the past several days every available space has been clutttered with boxes of tomatoes, processed tomatoes in jars lined up on the table, more canned tomatoes cooling by the range, empty jars, kettles colanders, utensils at every turn.

When I turned off the kitchen light at 11: p.m. --unhandily located near the far end of the kitchen--I thought I had memorized the lay-out of the tomato crates and the kettles and canners lined up on the floor for want of better space.
I immediately fell over a kettle, clattering the lid, sending cats skittering off into the darkened rooms. 

Kitchens have always been important to me.
In the past decade I have lived in a series of houses custom built by J.
I have been able to indulge a flair for designing kitchen spaces, always with an eye to what might have appeal for a buyer.
I lived and worked in this large kitchen for a year and a half--long enough to decide that the dramatic black marble countertops stained easily, and that perhaps I wasn't really enthralled with an oven recessed into the wall.  I did like the tall built in pantry with its slide-out shelves.

My last kitchen in Wyoming was one in which I pulled out all the design stops.  I did, for awhile, beleive it might be my once and for always dream kitchen.
The main cabinetry was in natural oak, built in a simple Shaker style with dark walnut "pegs" in the door and drawer corners.
An island of drawers and shelf units--facing the range--made meal preparation a joy.
The ledge above the wall cupboards was suitable for displaying antiques and collectables--and made a perfect surveillance gallery for the cats.

A large pantry held bulk supplies of grains, beans, rice, pastas and flours,
as well as extra mugs and large items.
There was even an "appliance garage" with a pull-down louvered door.
Here Teasel has ousted the electric kettle so that she can hide in the little cubby.

Sadly, during the years of living with beautiful big kitchens, I couldn't raise a garden in the harsh Wyoming climate. As I have juggled steaming kettles and tried to find room for cooling jars of tomatoes I have thought with just a bit of longing for that large, beautifully laid out kitchen.

Then I think back to the Vermont years---of the small, rather primitive log cabin which J. built on a budget. The kitchen was a really tiny space with just room for an apartment-sized range, a fridge and a double-bowl sink with the minimum of counter surrounding it.
The only charming feature of that tiny area was a baking cabinet which J. constructed exactly to my height--I remember him having me put my hands out into nothingness at just the position they would be held to knead dough or roll pastry.
Over the years, hundreds of quarts of home-grown vegetables and locally picked fruit were processed there.
Loaves of bread, apple and berry pies, steaming kettles of soup were prepared and served to family and friends.

I have loving memories of the kitchen in my Grampa Mac's house.  It was a long narrow room situated in the ell which housed both kitchen and dining room with a cold pantry, a broom closet and a wood cupboard tucked along one side.
The space was dominated by a black cookstove, complete with resevoirs for hot water and "warming cupboards" above the cooktop--where food could be kept warm until serving time.
The oak Hoosier cabinet [now in my keeping] stood along one side wall, its interior scented by the jars of spices held in the lazy Susan.
A white cabinet sink stood at one end of the kitchen near a window which looked over the big farm meadows and off to Brandon Gap in the east.
At the far end of the kitchen was the door into the woodshed, and the old iron sink with a coarse linen roller towel hanging above.
There was always a kettle steaming on the back of the stove.
The oven door could be thrown wide and a chair drawn up when a child stumbled into the kitchen on a winter afternoon, mittens and boots clotted with snow.
Friendly talk keeps pace with busy hands in such a kitchen; tea, coffee or lemonade are handy by.

When my Cousin Bruce made a first time visit here last Sunday, two hours had passed when I realized I had never invited him to have a more comfortable seat in the living room.
I apologized, but Bruce waved aside my concerns.
"Don't you know," he said, "the best visits and the most memorable conversations have taken place around a kitchen table."

I'm still not sure where the muffin pans have been stashed.  Collectables have not been unpacked and arranged for display.  The new light fixtures still wait in their cartons for the day when J. is inspired to install them.
Yet, when I have been to town or out in the garden, I open the back door and step into my little kitchen with a sense of home coming.  It is starting to smell like my kitchen should.  The red kettle [chosen for me by my son] perches on the range in readiness for a cup of tea.
Once the tomatoes have moved from the floor to their designated mason jars, I may be able to walk across
the room in the dark with the sure sense of a familiar and cherished space.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

The Edge of Autumn

The spider who has been living for several weeks in her zig-zag stitched web by the front steps has laid her eggs.
Here is the egg sack attached to a post of the porch.
It seems a precarious place to leave spider babies-to-be.
Some of the roses and flowers in the border are reviving in the cooler weather.
The dew lingers long each morning.

These filmy sparkling webs cling to the French marigolds [which have turned into lusty shrubs] and are spread over the flat-clipped box which edges the porch.

Spice pinks, gilly flowers, if I may call them that--grown from seed.

I want to call this roadside charmer Ironweed, but it may be a form of aster.
I need a wildflower book geared to Kentucky.
[Ironweed checks out in on-line photos. "Vernonia"--probably the variety "gigantea." It does seem to be related to the larger family "asteraceae."]

The honeysuckle which bloomed so sweetly at the end of May is again perfuming the area around the clothesline.

Definitely New England Asters.

The dauntless zinnias continue to attrack butterflies and insects.

This creature refused to unfold its wings for a better view.

This swallowtail was quite kind enough to display its colors, after I galumphed round about the flower border several times in pursuit.

I wonder if particular colors attract certain species.

Thistle in bloom,

I dead-headed some of the zinnias last week and threw the spent flowers on the ground.  [Yes, I know, very untidy.]
The rain swept several heads into the edge of the next vegetable plot.
J. asked this morning what was growing there in these little clumps--how quickly the seeds sprouted in the moist heat.  I don't suppose there will be time for them to reach flowering stage before cold weather.

The spicebush swallowtail looks very dramatic on a hot pink zinnia.

There was a wonderful cool breeze all morning.
The tomatoes were not quite ripe enough to start canning, so I put on my rubber boots and wandered around the yard and along the verge of the road, enjoying everything which is in bloom.
It was as perfect an August morning as anyone could wish.

Leopard's Bane?  It grows in the rank grass at the roadside--coarse, shaggy clumps.
Again. I need a proper wild flower guide.

This is the foliage of the above plant.