Sunday, July 31, 2011

Charmingly Naughty Kittens

Time for a kitten update.
Its a good thing they are cute, as they have become rather disruptive little monkeys here in the guest room/office.
They are still shy, but coy--peeking out at us from behind things, coming close and tumbling at our feet.
We keep the inner shutters closed during these hot days, so the quallity of light for photos isn't the best.

Willow is more forth-coming than Wilbur.
Both kittens have amber eyes which turn green in the glare of the flash.

The sink basin is cool and shaped just right for a napping kitten.
But--its more comfortable if the hand towel is pulled down from its loop and arranged as a cushion.

Willow squirms and purrs under J.'s hand.

Willow climbs into my lap when I am typing or reading at the PC.
I've been finding items from my desk scattered on the floor.

Willow--being irresistable.

Kitten created havoc--the pillows have been trampled and the quilt has been tugged awry, nearly pulled from the rack.  The idea of kittens swinging from my carefully created quilt is unsettling.

Wilbur---who still doesn't trust a direct approach-- invites attention from safe places.
I love his out-stretched toes.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Insects and a Bird's Nest [Edited for insect ID.]

Matt and Gina found this curious caterpillar thingy on their porch, popped it carefully into a plastic container and gave it a ride down the road to visit me.
We have no name for it as yet.
When gently prodded, the creature retracts into the woody tube, then after a moment it begins
 again to prowl.
G. says it appears to be dragging its leafy train like a tattered ball gown.

The creature having posed for several snapshots I placed it in the herb garden to get on with whatever life cycle is next.

Bagworm photo from wikipedia

Long-time readers of my blog may recall my fascination last August with the Garden Spider [Argiope Aurantia] who spun her web in the clump of sedum near the front porch.
Before winter weather brought her demise she had created 4 egg sacks which she attached to the porch post nearest her web.
The sacks hung in place all winter through rain, snow and wind.
Late in the spring I noted that two of them had pulled free of the fine silken 'ropes' which held them in place.
Willis the Cat was seen batting the remaining two into the flower bed below.

Today, weeding near the front steps, I discovered six young garden spiders clinging to small webs with the distinctive zig-zag signature.

A closer view of the spider.

This larger version has a web on the opposite side of the steps in the box hedge.

While crawling about to take photos I came eye to eye with a katydid!

In this their second season, J.'s blackberries have grown into a formidable stand of productive brambles.
G. spotted this nest tucked into a shady nook.
There have been a number of brown birds on the electical wires above the garden--I don't
know their identity.  Perhaps they are the owners of the nest and the spotted eggs.

If the eggs hatch and these particular birds like berries,
they won't have to fly far to bring home the groceries.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Cousin Russell and The Spooly Army

 Beulah Lewis, Billy Lewis, Russell Brayton
My Mother smiled whenever she recounted the summer visits to the farm by the New York cousins.
'Aunt Emma' [sister to Mother's grandpa, Eddie Ross] had lived in Albany since her husband's passing in early middle age; 'Cousin Etta' was from Queensbury where she kept house for her husband Albert, her widower son Clifford, and grandson Russell.
There was scant affection between Eddie and his cousin Etta's husband, but that seems not to have troubled the annual pilgrimage of the two women and the little boy from the city heat and noise to the comparative calm of the Vermont farm.
Certainly the three children had a splendid time.
All three were possessed of great imaginations.
Billy was the eldest, born in 1914, Russell in 1918, and Beulah in 1919.
It seems likely that Russell may have been the ringleader in many of the undertakings.
He had a great interest in American Indians and considerable time was spent in creating 'bows' from slender springy limbs and lengths of heavy string.  Arrows were fashioned from carefully sharpened twigs.
The three, armed with these useful weapons, went on the hunt for buffalo [or other hostile Indians] stalking through the cow pasture and ranging along the edge of the woods, never too far from sight of the big white house that sat comfortably shaded by the dooryard maples.
As Mother told me decades later of her cousin's fascination with Indians I made a connection.
My sister and I in childhood, ranging over the farm buildings, had marveled at the drawings of Indians in feathered head dresses which adorned the greyed plaster walls of the 'woodshed chambers.'
"Of course," said Mother when I mentioned them. "Some days it rained, so we played in the hay barn or the woodshed.  Russell drew 'Sitting Bull' and his mighty warriers on the walls."

Beulah and Russell
with walking sticks, ready for adventure

Russell brought with him his 'spooly army' a collection of wooden spools in several sizes.
Large spools which had held coarse 'button and carpet thread' became 'generals.'
The sturdy spools from everyday black or white thread became 'captains', while the smaller spools which had once been wound about with colors for finer sewing became the rank and file soldiers.
In those days when all mothers, aunts and grandmothers sewed, Beulah also had her assortment of spools.
A cloudy morning might find the opposing armies lined up on the linoleum of the sitting room floor or arrayed on the dining table's slick oilcloth while Russell outlined grandiose battle plans.

The climax of at least one summer visit was the Circus Day Performance held in the haybarn with its doors rolled wide. While startled barn swallows wheeled overhead in the loft, kitchen chairs were lined up for the audience. The two grandmothers and Aunt Emma were summoned and settled to watch and applaud as the three young performers stood on their heads, flailed through almost perfect cartwheels, teetered along a plank set up on two sawhorses to serve as a 'high wire.'
The dog Shep was put through his repetoire of tricks--'roll over'--'shake hands' ---'play dead.'
'Tiger cubs' [the skittish barn kittens] were admired.
The crowning moment was when the long horizontal shutter of the bull pen was briefly lowered on its hinges and the astonished bull gaped through the confining bars, a tuffet of good clover hay dangling from his jaws.
The hatch to the bull's pen was swung into place and the wooden fasteners swiveled to hold it shut.
The circus was over and the triumphant troupers, each lugging a kitchen chair, processed to the back yard for lemonade and cookies.

Aunt Emma Ross Russell [left]
Cousin Elviretta Ross Brayton [possibly]
Mother reported that while Aunt Emma and Cousin Etta appreciated the clean airy farmhouse, the shade of the maples and the afternoons sewing in the cool parlor, they were apt to occasionally wrinkle their city noses at the barnyard odors--an affectation which caused Eddie to grin and refer to them as 'high and mighty.'
After a few weeks of bucolic vacationing on the farm, Eddie cheerfully took them across on the Fort Ticonderoga ferry and into Hague where his younger half-sister, Edna, kept a guest house.  There the ladies, with Russell in tow, could recuperate in genteel leisure before the waning days of August called them home.

Russell Brayton's high school graduation portrait.

Beulah Eliza Lewis,
yearbook photo

"Russell Brayton
grown up"
The last photo of Cousin Russell is labeled in my mother's handwriting.
There he stands, in his young man's glory of white flannels and dark blazer
in the driveway of the farm where he had played with Beulah and Billy during childhood summers.
[In the right background is the haybarn where the circus was conducted.]
I can't guess as to the occasion.  The maple tree is in leaf and the various barn doors are open suggesting summer or early autumn.
Russell Brayton enlisted 2 July, 1942 and records indicate he was married and employed as a salesman at that time.
My mother was married in August, 1941.
Mother gave me the family photos and enlarged upon the memories of the cousins and their visits in
2000 when I had become serious about family research.
She wondered "whatever became of Russell"--an indication that they lost track of each other as adults.
I learned from a noted Queensbury, NY historian, John Austin, that Russell Brayton had died in 1988.
This news seemed to astonish my mother.  For her, Russell was ever the cousin of long ago summers with his
passion for Indian lore and his spooly army.

More Buttons, Children's Books, Old Toys

More of the Geiger buttons

From The Heart of the Family
by Elizabeth Goudge

'Zelle had cleared away the tea and was washing up the cups and saucers in the kitchen while Lucilla and Meg played spillikins together.  Margaret, in the deep armchair, was perforce resting for once because Robin was on her lap, stolidly and absorbedly turning over and over in his fat hands a glass bowl with a snowstorm inside it that Margaret had had when she was a child.  Should he tire of the snowstorm, and of the little man and the red house upon which the snow fell, there was  beside them on the table a sea shell that sounded like the sea when you held it against your ear, that Lucilla had had when she was a little girl, and down on the floor was his father's Noah's Ark.......Lucilla watched the lights and shadows passing over Meg's face, and her small deft hands lifting the slithers of pale ivory without a tremor from their nest.  Meg was best at spillkins because though Lucilla had been an adept in her time, she did not now see enough to play well, and her hand shook, but it was not becasue she always won that Meg loved the game but because it had belonged to Lucilla's mother when she was a little girl.
"Wasn't your Mummy any bigger than me when her Daddy gave her the spillikins?' asked Meg.
"A little bigger," said Lucilla.  "She had them for her sixth birthday."
Meg knew perfectly well, for she asked the same question every time they played together, but the question and answer gave her such untold satisfaction that she had to ask, and be told, every time.
" My great-grandmother, " she murmured.
"No, darling," said Lucilla.  "I'm that. Your great-great-grandmother."
Meg sighed in ecstasy.  Unconsciously, both to her and Robin, that was the fascination of the beautiful and unfamiliar toys at Lavender Cottage.  They had belonged to old, old people; their father, their great-uncles and their great-aunt; their great-grandmother, and back beyond to people older still......but the toys weren't old. The snowstorm was perennially young and so was the seashell that sounded like the sea. And the spillikins were more beautiful than ever, for the ivory took on a deeper and lovelier
color with every year that passed.'

I was a few months past my second birthday on this sunny June day when, for whatever reason, I was inspired to drag my toys and belongings out to the south-facing front porch of my grandfather's house.
[We lived there until 1949 when the expected arrival of my youngest sister prompted my parents to build a small house just along the road.]
I zoomed in on this photo after scanning it, wanting to identify each of the toys.
There is a tribe of stuffed animals, doubtless suitable to my tender age--but I don't recall that they were expecially dear.  The tall bunny leaned against the porch post at the right had soft green 'fur'
and pink-lined ears.
It was perhaps the next Christmas that the beloved 'panda bear" arrived wearing a glossy red satin ribbon about his nearly non-existant 'neck.
On that same holiday cousins of my mother arrived at Grampa Mac's house for dinner.
I remember Maude and Owen stamping snow from their feet as they crossed the porch--the bustle as they came through the front door and the rush of  wood-smoke scented cold air that entered with them.
I remember Maude approaching my chair, her rather large teeth so white in a wide smile, holding out a stuffed toy she had made for me--an elephant created in sturdy grey-checked gingham with embroidered features.  I named the panda bear "Pooh" after the creature of A.A. Milne fame--and the gingham elephant became "Piglet." The strange pair occupied a place on my bed and later sat in the small rocking chair which had been my mother's before it was mine.
I passed "Pooh and Piglet" on to my children--sadly [as I now think] they disappeared when we moved from the Vermont farm in 1977.
In the black and white photo I spy a bucket and spade and a small watering can---suggestions perhaps of the gardener I would become?
Strangely, I don't recall the doll buggy--was it a remnent of my mother's childhood?

I do recall a beautiful rag doll--the "Betty doll" handmade for me by a family friend who was a gifted seamstress.  Betty Phelps created the doll with a soft muslin body, delicate embroidered features and a mop of brown yarn hair.
The doll's wardrobe was exquisite: white muslin undergarments; a dress of printed green calico embellished with dainty rickrack and tiny buttons.  The doll's coat and bonnet were of red fine-wale corduroy with a trim of dark brown ribbon.
Also noteworthy in the above photo is the presence of a cat---its distinctive shape is there resting beyond the 'fence' which my grandfather created to keep me away from that end of the porch.
Several of the planks in the porch floor at that spot could be raised for access to the cistern beneath--not likely a feat I could have managed, but his carefullness is evident.

This is all I can locate at the moment of the doll's teaset which belonged to my mother.
Although we moved to the new house next door and Christmas and birthdays brought new toys compatible with our growing years, my younger sister and I preferred to play at Grampa Mac's farmhouse.
At some point we were allowed up to the attic where we discovered the remnents of Mother's childhood in the form of the teaset and a battered doll called "Heloise."
Looking back I wonder if Heloise hadn't been handed down from my grandmother's time.
She had a tired cloth body stuffed with sawdust, a snub-nosed bisque face and [I think] hands and feet of soft kid. Her glued-on wig was in sorry shape, but she wore a dress of much-washed dimity--pink-sprigged.

photo from wikimedia commons
 My mother owned a set of The Bobbsey Twins books--highly improbable adventures of children whom today's readers would consider downright sappy.
These, along with her collection of 'Old Mother Westwind' by Thornton W. Burgess, were standard bedtime read-alouds.
My favorites of the early childhood books were undoubtedly the stories and poems of Christopher Robin and Winnie-the-Pooh. [They were the "real thing"--before Disney added cartoon characters and
bouncy tunes.]
A 4th volume, "When We Were Very Young" seems not to have survived the affections of my children and grandchildren.  My daughter and I can still spout bits of the saucy poems:
James James Morrison Morrison Weatherby George DuPree
Took great care of his mother though he was only three
James James said to his mother:
"Mother," he said, said he
"You must never go down to the end of the town,
if you don't go down with me."

And try rolling the "R"s on this one!

Round about

And round about
And round about I go--All around the table,
The table in the nursery--

Round about
And round about
And round about I go--

I think I am a traveller escaping from a bear;
I think I am an elephant
Behind another elephant
Behind another elephant who isn't really there....
Round about
And round about
And round about and round about
And round about
And round about
I go.

I think I am a Ticket Man who's selling tickets--- please,
I think I am a doctor who is visiting a sneeze;
Perhaps I'm just a nanny who is walking with a pram
I'm feeling rather funny and I don't know what I am--
Round about
And round about
And round about I go--
All around the table,
The table in the nursery--
Round about
And round about
And round about I go:

Ah, yes--the poem goes on for a few more dizzying stanzas--but you get the idea!

I could go on too--about beloved toys, treasured books--wallowing in nostalgia as dear daughter is prone to reminding me!
If you've persisted thus far, may I invite you to share memories of childhood toys and books and games--perhaps linking to my post to create a summer pastime--

In self-defense I can only plead the interminable heat-laden days and nights of July;
The garden is in a mid-season doldrum; it is too hot for turning on the oven to bake.
So--I've retreated to the indoor pursuit of reading and writing.
Join me, if you will!

Monday, July 25, 2011


I needed one button; a simple white 1/2" shirt button with 4 holes.
Friday afternoon seemed the ideal time to catch up with a small stack of ironing and a few garments which needed the hems taken up--items which had accumulated while so many hours have been spent in the garden or putting up produce.
My sewing machine and fabrics are in the large cool family room in the basement--at least 10 degrees cooler than the main level of the house on these sweltering July days.
The vintage-style blouse, one which I  snatched from the rack at Goodwill, had sleeves which flowed past my fingertips. meant to be  gathered--one supposes at the wrist---with a fine fabric tie.
Gina, the fashion expert, agreed that I could shorten the sleeves to my favorite elbow length.
It was only when I spread the shirtwaist on the ironing board that I noticed a button missing.
Several decades ago I made many similar "blouses"--for myself, for G. and for her cousins.
[It was the era of Jessica McClintock's "Gunne Sax" vintage style frocks and blouses--rather pricey off the rack, but something of a pleasure for a skilled seamstress to produce.]
I have buttons from that time still on their tidy cards, but a rummage through two of my button boxes didn't turn up an exact match.
I stitched on a similar button so that I could wear the shirt this weekend--
but the slight mis-match troubles me.

Today I pulled out several button boxes--taking inventory of my stash.
I have many novelty buttons; some beautiful metal buttons were given to me by a friend who worked for many years at the Geiger of Austria plant in Middlebury, Vermont.
At the end of each fashion season cones of thread matched to the woolens, linens and silks of a particular "line"  were discarded, as well as the distinctive buttons.
Knowing that I was doing some tailoring at the time, C. asked if I could use buttons.
To my astonishment she appeared the next day with two zip lock bags bulging with buttons.
My grand daughter--4 or 5 years old at the time--loved to separate the buttons into matching piles.
Eventually we strung them like beads on red string to keep them sorted.

I bought the cat buttons--just because they are catty.
The impractical but intriguing owl buttons were removed from a pricey sweater that came my way.

I have buttons in baskets, buttons in tins.

I brought this tin of old buttons from my parents house after their deaths.
My mother, like all frugal homemakers, clipped and saved the buttons from clothing that was too worn to be refurbished.
J.'s mother also had a box of saved buttons and I have carried on this time-honored thrifty practice.
[I suspect my generation is the last to patch, mend or replace bottons!]

These are some of the more startling examples from my mother's box
Those three domed buttons in the center are actually clear and almost cone-shaped.
The green marbled one is huge. My Mom was quite conservative in her clothing choices--hard to imagine that she flaunted something like that green one--or even the red disks with the lop-sided white centers.

Buttons with Beatrix Potter images--I must have used some of these for a dress for one of the grand daughters.

Middlebury, Vermont [30 minutes from my home for many years]
had many lovely shops--catering to the well-to-do people associated with prestigious Middlebury College.
Danforth Pewter made all sorts of serving pieces, elaborate candlesticks, vases, pitchers.
They also produced specialty buttons, charms for bracelets, hair clasps, key chains.
The buttons were displayed in cunning wooden bins.
I was making vests [waistcoats] at the time--pieced of beautiful woolens, velveteens and such.
If the vest was a gift I sometimes bought buttons which I knew the recipient would enjoy.
I believe I meant these pansy buttons for a vest to keep--I may yet create it!

Cowboy boots and hat--buttons which I used to decorate the collar of a denim jacket which J. wore for years.

A favorite vest which I still wear---can you see the cat face buttons?

Teasel took an interest in my button rummage.
Even one button dropped on the floor would be a choice tidbit for a bored cat to roll about.
Cats and buttons on the loose aren't a good combination: rather like handing over the button box to amuse a child who would put them in mouth, nose or ears!
I did finish the alterations and ironing, in spite of the elusive button.
I seem to be acquiring a collection of simply elegant white shirts.
If you recall Meryl Streep's wardrobe for the role of Karen Blixen in Out of Africa
you'll have an idea of the "shirtwaists" accumulating in my closet.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

The Kittens Are Thriving

We are two days short of two weeks since the [first] capture of the boy kitten, whom I call Wilbur.
Willow, the dainty girl, arrived about three days after her brother.
[How did they get here?]
The kittens are still shy--still skittering beneath the bed when we enter this room.
They have learned that I bring tinned food [yummy, fishy, smelly!] first thing in the morning, and are able to overcome their suspicions of me as a hulking human.
I stroke their little backs as they eat.

During our house renovations last summer we removed a long mirror from our bedroom door and, for want of a better place, slid it under the guest room bed.
The kittens find the glass a cool place to recline on these sweltering days.
That's Willow gazing at the camera with her brother's feet propped over her side.
[And no, I didn't choose red carpet--it was here when we bought the house and still in decent enough condition that J. didn't replace it when he put down wood floors in the other rooms.  One of these days....]

Wilbur is stouter than his sister.
You can see that the scrape on his nose has healed nicely.
The kittens eat prodigiously [and poop in their litter likewise!]

Both kittens have "filled out" on a diet of Purina Kitten Chow supplemented with a tablespoon of tinned food once or twice per day.  More than that doesn't set well.
Willow has tiny little bones.  When we rescued her, there was not much weight to her.
Both kittens are now sleek and their fur is silky.

I was in here at my desk quite a bit last week which gave the kittens some familiarity with my presence.
Although they still don't come rushing to be petted, there have been overtures--peeking from under the bed, almost wistful looks.  If picked up they purr--but dutifully rather than joyfully.

I've had several sessions at the computer today and was happily surprised to feel a small furry form weaving about my sandaled feet.  I thought it was a fluke at first. 
When a tiny tail curled round my ankle again I picked up Willow and cuddled her.  This time her purr was different. She looked into my face, arched her spine to the gentle stroke of my hand, snuggled against me for a few moments.

Willow came to me again as I was preparing this post.
These last three photos were managed as she lay in my lap

It was dusk and I hadn't opened the shutters to the cooler [slightly cooler!] night air or turned on the light, but you can see what a pretty kitten she is becoming.
Wilbur--who had to be trapped twice in the Hav-a-Hart--is still rather wary--but he knows where-of [or who-of] he is fed.  Progress!

Monday, July 18, 2011

A Week Has Whisked Away

A week since I last posted!  Stories and ideas have run about in my head--a result of trying to finish a family history project [not finished!] in between the demands of harvesting and putting up produce.
Odd segments of days and nights pop out with clarity---for the most part, the days were a repetition of hot and humid weather that left my brain feeling muffled.
The sunflowers are enjoying the heat.  The ones in the rear of the bed are towering. 
Today I found that one had crashed down.

I have to look up the name of this wildflower--again.  Bovey Belle kindly identified it for me last summer.
I used to remember this sort of thing.

Daisies, fresh before the heat of the day exhausts them.

Queen Anne's lace--to me one of the most beautiful and intricate of common wildlings.

I spotted this oddly branched goldenrod from a distance.
The dense bit in the middle looked like a bird's nest until I got closer.

This photo was an instant favorite.  I looked back at the tobacco barn awash in a field of Queen Anne's Lace that danced gently in an early morning breeze.
I remember as a child the sensation of lying down in a stand of uncut hay to gaze up at the sky--or flopping face down, supported by elbows to look at the grass roots.
I balanced on one knee to take this shot--there is a slight rise up to the barn, emphasized by the angle of the photo. I almost think I could paint it.