Friday, August 31, 2012

The Great Tomato Can-Can

Horses and buckboards waiting on their owners at the Mennonite produce auction.

Some of the goods on offer.
Most of the produce is sold in big lots, or if there are multiples, as in boxes of tomatoes or bags of corn, the high bidder designates how many units he/she will take at that price.

Note the small boy towing the laden trolley.
Quite young children are always there doing their part to put out the family's produce.

Gina admires a green pepper.
I wonderif these are the variety Park's Whopper.

The tag on these identified them as "Warty Thing' pumpkins.
I gather they are intended as autumn decoration rather than a prime eating pumpkin.

These are heirloom tomatoes--larger than they appear in the photo.

Can you spot J. in the bidding crowd?

There were several groups of young girls clad in the traditional Mennonite garb which would have been right at home for Laura and her sisters of "Little House on the Prairie."
I wanted to take a photo without being offensively obvious about it.  The plump, bearded gentleman got in the way, but as G. noted on seeing the photo, the girls seem to be posing and looking
directly at the camera.

Several boys were happy to haul our 9 boxes of tomatoes to the edge of the auction floor for J. and one of the nearby men to load.
G. handed the 'in charge' seeming lad 3 dollar bills.
As we exited the parking lot she was amused to see the 'tip' already being spent at the ice cream
vendor's wagon!

Canning is done--the undertaking that Cousin Tom refers to as the tomato "can-can!"
56 qts put up, 1 pint, and a bowl of stewed tomatoes for J. to sample.
There was a small percentage of waste--mostly from tomatoes that had a woody core.
Sadly, the drought has affected many of the area fruits and veg with dry and less flavorful flesh than usual.
Commercially grown tomatoes are never as juicy and tender as the varieties I grew for decdes in my Vermont garden.
Still, these will be a welcome and tasty addition to soups and sauces this winter.
The sly packers slipped a few yellow tomatoes into several boxes.  These aren't canners as they are sub-acid, but are being added to sandwiches.
My total yield works out at about $1 per quart--not counting labor and cost of using the stove.
Labor and fuel are simply part of the price of eating well.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Monday, August 27, 2012

Around Here

J. arrived home about 6 p.m. on Saturday after a 10 day absence.
One of his first concerns was the garden.
We waged war on emerging squash bugs, then his indignation was roused by the nibblings of the nocturnal opossums who have a taste for muskmelons. [On Thursday morning I discovered a half eaten one of the minature variety which had been abandoned half-way down the drive!]
J. baited the Hav-a-Hart trap with gnawed melon pieces and set it at the edge of the lower garden.
Standing in the dew-wet grass by the upper-most perennial strip on Sunday morning, I could see that he had a captive who had feasted well overnight.

Possums are not attractive with their long snouts and beady eyes. The naked rat-like tail  and double rows of sharp teeth give them a sinister appearance.
J. doesn't shoot things, so the option was release somewhere away from other houses.

The caged possum was loaded into the truck and transported by way of ever-narrowing and twisting back roads to a wooded spot.
Possum wasn't inclined to exit the cage into its new territory and had to be shaken loose.
It then trundled into the underbrush without a backward look.
I daresay this is one of those exercises in futility.
Grandson D. helpfully googled possums and learned that the female is capable of producing 8-25 kits in a single litter.  The mortality rate for possums is very high.  They are notably stupid about roads and each morning a few of them provide meals for the 'clean-up' crew of hovering vultures.
This is one of the less picturesque realities of country life.
We are not anticipating a shortage of nocturnal visits from the possum population.
[As I finished typing this post, J. appeared at my elbow to announce that a possum had ravaged another melon--this time in the upper garden.
They are agile climbers and can quickly scale a wire fence!]

Back at the house. J. decided to move a project tractor to the shop.
I missed the event of Devin steering it while J. towed it with yet another tractor.
D. enjoys a photo op, so he created a scene of brute man-power.

Ready, set, PULL!

Yes!  Isn't it fun to be young and strong?
[Not to worry--he didn't really budge the tractor and  there was no risk to his back!]

Friday, August 24, 2012

Green Katy-did and Exotic Purple Pepper

Not the clearest photos, but considering that I was teetering on a dining room chair attempting to focus on a moving insect who stilt-walked from wall, to ceiling, to curtain, perhaps understandable.

Tis the season of large insects that zoom, bounce and whir, landing in the cat yard, clinging to screens, popping in the open sliding door.
Some of them have been 'helped' inside by a cat--in the space of an hour I gently extracted two grasshoppers from Teasel's clamped jaws.  Charlie brought me an impressive black buzzy thing with iridescent gauzy wings.  Large metallic-green beetles rattle in and lie flailing on the floor while curious felines gather round to poke and prod.
Willow was very intrigued with the katy-did, leaping to the buffet for a closer look, then trying to scale the dining-room wall for a closer view while the thing bopped jauntily about.

The katydid is of the family tettigoniidae and in Britain is known as a 'bush crickett"--so says wikipedia.
One way of distinguishing a kaydid from a green grasshopper is by the length of the antennae--most visible in my second photo.

The other oddity of the day was this glossy purple pepper.
I sowed a few seeds from a packet of mixed sweet peppers.
This is one of only several plants that survived a rough season.
I made a stir-fy this afternoon with part of the pepper, an eggplant, a zuchinni and a tiny yellow crookneck squash, several pods of okra. .  A bit of onion was sauteed before I added the sliced veggies which had been bathed in beaten egg, then dredged with seasoned flour.
Even 'the boy' who is modeling the pepper above, proclaimed it good, although mentioning that he preferred last week's fry which included bits of chicken.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Thank You

There is a bond of understanding amongst those of us who love animals.
I'm thinking here of those who come to know the cats, dogs, horses, who share our space for a number of years as individuals, each one unique in personality.
It is these friends, whether we have met in person or not, who rally round with words of comfort when the loss of a pet leaves a hole in one's life. 
Having experienced the desolation of parting with a loved pet, we are gentle with the sensibilities of  those whose loss is fresh.  We remember and we feel the prickle of tears as we read another's story.
It takes a while to adjust to the empty spot beside us, time to realize that we won't see our cat curled in that favorite sunny spot on the windowsill; the dog won't be lumbering to his feet, tail wagging, ready to walk out with us.
We've had a few dogs over the years;  we're not notably clever about dogs, perhaps a bit too impatient to deal well with the training needed to integrate a dog into the household.
We've had several horses for varying lengths of time.
Our Pebbles is 25--and I watch her anxiously, knowing that the remaining  years or even months with her are surely numbered.
For me, it has always been cats.  The feline race intrigues me and I find them to be the best of
animal companions.
Some cats--like some people who cross our paths--are more memorable than others.
There are the pleasant cats who are happy to be part of the background--seemingly asking little more than to be fed, housed and well treated.  In return they make themselves agreeable.
There have been those few who were misfits, never quite settling in, remaining wary and distant.
There are the heartbreakers--those darlings, often mischievous, always original, to whom we become deeply attached, whose eventual passing leaves us diminished.
Mrs. Beasley's was not a front and center personality. She was not noisily demanding, she didn't [until her recent deterioration] do things which were disruptive. She was, for most of her 10 years, a quiet, amiable presence.
I have moved her favorite big basket out of the bedroom. I'm not ready to see it empty or appropriated by another cat. It is strange that she is not here in the room with me, purring wheezily at my feet.
I can visualize her still in so many places in the house or the cat yard.
Slowly the other cats are settling down.  Willow is still skittish, but there have been no hostilities, no cat fights shattering the calm.
I am relieved that the recent weeks of tension and indecision have passed, though wishing the outcome could have been different.
I have been warmed and encouraged by the comments left in response to Mrs. Beasley's story.
The lifespan of the animals we love is too short at best.  We take joy in their brief years with us, cherish them, adjust to their loss.
We share the tales of our cats and dogs and horses with those friends who need no explanation of the place these creatures hold in our affections.
My thanks to each of you who have taken a moment to share words of understanding.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Remembering Mrs. Beasley

My friend Jennie, viewing this photo several years ago, responded, "Daft as a brush!"

'Daft' isn't an adjective used much in America, but it suited Mrs. Beasley.
Her notably crossed-eyes gave her the look of a simpleton, but she seldom missed a trick.
Many a time I have heard her making an 'announcement' sort of meow, only to come into the room and find that she was staring at a spider--or wasp--or a beetle, as the case might be, high on the ceiling or afixed to the top of a picture frame, something that I had to strain to see.
Daft she was, but never a stupid cat.

I forget just what uproar was going on here-- it might have been the day a mouse came unwisely into the Wyoming house and went witlessly under the bed, cats in pursuit.

Mrs Beasley came to me in 2002 from a Wyoming salvage yard.  J. stopped there on an errand, and while waiting in the truck I noticed three cats.
That was enough to have me attempting to make friends.
"You won't get near those cats," called the junkyard owner; "They don't take much to people."
Unable to resist the challenge, I crouched on the gravel and made encouraging noises.  Within minutes, the tortie cat was on my lap, purring.
I collected her and brought her home 3 days later.

She was between 6 and 9 months old when she came to live with us.
I took her immediately for spaying and her shots.
She was well-mannered, clean in her habits.
The older cats looked down on her, kept her in her place, which was at the bottom of the pecking order.
That never changed. 
There were few spats or confrontations, but Mrs. Beasley remained something of a loner.
She was a one person cat--my cat.
She was quick to notice if I sat with a book--quick to appropriate my lap.
I have spent hours over the past decade reading or typing around her furry bulk.
NIghts have found her snoring [literally] in her favorite basket or tucked up against my back in bed.

None of the cats were pleased when two feral kittens appeared last summer.
J. insists that we made the mistake of keeping the kittens sequestered in this small room for nearly two months.  They were so skittish that I felt to turn them loose in the house would be to have them disappear somewhere in the woodwork, never to be retrieved.
There was no real trouble when I finally integrated them with the rest of the cat tribe.
A few hissy-fits, nothing major.
At some point during the winter months, Mrs Beasley began a determined stalking of the two tabbies.
Wilbur eventually moved outside as he had his own issues about litter boxes.
That left Willow as a prime target for an increasingly belligerant Mrs. Beasley.
Night after night we woke to screeches, thumps and wails in a high keening register---the sounds of all out feline warfare.

During the daytime, the sight of Willow asleep on the hearth rug or
walking quietly toward the water dispenser has moved Mrs. Beasley to attack.
Ears flattened, growling, she has sailed into Willow, swiping and clawing.
I coped with this, after a fashion, by 'separating' the cats, much as one might do
with small children on a playground.
Willow has never been daunted by the fence around the cat yard.  She vaults lightly in and out, going off to explore the garden. take a nap in the hay barn, chase butterflies.
In the past few weeks Mrs. B. began to 'patrol' the fence.
Willow was not allowed to come back in--on pain of fierce attack.

Sometime in April, Mrs Beasley astonished me by rushing in as I sat at my desk; she proceded to  squat and poop on the carpet a few feet away from me. This happened a number of  times.
This out-of character behavior occured several times in the kitchen before she settled on the bathtub as the most desirable place for these smelly deposits.
I learned to recognize a frenzied sort of behavior in the moments before she headed into the bathroom hallway, tried to divert her to the litter box.
All too many times I've been cleaning up cat poo in the wee hours.

Several times over the past two months I have declared, "This cat is having a nervous breakdown!'
We managed nights of relative calm by turning Mrs. B. with Charlie for companionship, into the cat yard for the night.  Sometimes two or three days and nights went by without poo accidents, but Willow was under constant siege.
Mrs. B. continued to enjoy her food.  Her need to be with me seemed to intensify over the past hot weeks when I've spent much time at my desk.
She has often been curled at my feet, or sprawled on the bed behind me, purring.
Still, the nasty messes and the unprovoked attacks on Willow continued.
Our other cats became nervous and testy.
"How long," I've wondered, "Before they too go into battle mode, or even feel the need to
'mark' territory?"
For two months I considered whether I should have Mrs. Beasley put down.
Other than the recent demented behaviors, she has seemed a healthy cat, one who should have enjoyed  more years ahead.
Wednesday morning, cleaning up a particularly vile mess just before daylight, I came to a decision.
This stress couldn't continue.
This morning I called our vet--a friend from our church--and made the appointment.
Even as I spent extra time with Mrs. Beasley today, I questioned whether I could and should go through with this final act.
D. insisted on driving me to the vet's office, a 20 minute journey.
In the examining room, Dr. Les listened as I described the changes in Mrs. B.'s behavior.
He examined her, taking her temperature as I talked.  He mentioned behavior modification therapy.
"It doesn't often work with cats," he admitted.
Removing the thermometer, he noted that her temperature was normal.
Turning her gently, he took her head in his hands.
"Look at her eyes," he exclaimed.
"Yes, I know--she's cross-eyed."
"No," he replied, "There's something going on here.  See how her eyes roll, how she swivels her head."
I thought back, realized that I had several times recently watched her turning her head in that odd bobbing manner. I had supposed that with aging her crossed eyes were starting to affect her sight.

"I can't be positive without an MRI," our good vet explained, "But considering what you've outlined about behavior changes and noting the movements of her eyes and head,  I suspect a brain tumor. As a tumor  grew, putting pressure on her brain, her behavior and her personality would change, consistent with what you've seen happening."
"Are you suggesting brain surgery?"
"I'm not recommending it, No," Les gave a small sigh. "If you want to be one hundred percent certain of the diagnosis, we could do testing.  I have to give you that option."

I think we both knew it wasn't a realistic option.  Something in me, some weary, guilty hesitation, even at the 11th hour, was settled. I had scolded Mrs. Beasley several times, tired of the constant need for  watchfulness, disgusted with cleaning nasty smelling messes.
Perhaps worse than the mis-placed poo, has been witnessing a basically mild-mannered pet become ferocious, seeing Willow so besieged and tormented as Mrs. Beasley attacked her repeatedly.
I'm also seeing, in retrospect, that recent strange motion of eyes and head; shouldn't I have
recognized an abnormality?

My favorite photo of Mrs Beasley taken when she had been with me only a few months.
It is over.
The vet's assistant and I stroked Mrs. Beasley, spoke loving words to her, as Les prepared his needles.
The sedative he administers prior to the lethal injection was slow to work.  She took perhaps 5 minutes to grow calm under our gentle hands.
We buried Mrs. Beasley, Devin and I, in the rich yellow loam on the west side of the hay barn.
I dug the grave there this morning, after realizing that my favored spot at the edge of the upper garden was so dry and matted with tree roots that excavation was impossible.
Devin wanted the bury-hole a bit wider and deeper, so he accomplished that while I chose several flat stones from the rubble of the former raised bed to fit on top of the smoothed earth.
I feel badly that the last months of my cat's life were marred by the bizarre changes in her personality.
They were changes that caused my affection for her to become tinged with a guilty annoyance.
My other cats are uneasily aware tonight of change in their ranks.
I had to coax Willow inside after dark.
She walked warily through the house, expecting attack.
I hope that the cat tribe will settle now, that both feline and human nerves can relax.
I miss the furry form at my feet as I type. How many nights will pass before I relinquish the habit of making room for Mrs. Beasley on the side of the bed?
As the days shorten into autumn and then winter, will another cat purr in my lap as I read?
I wish I could have done more for Mrs. Beasley.
I wish I had, in kindness to her, taken today's step weeks ago.
I miss Mrs. Beasley--as she used to be.

Monday, August 13, 2012


Willow, a mild-mannered little cat, is the target of Mrs. Beasley's un-ending and inexplicable wrath.
This ire is expressed with smacks, thumpings, growls and hisses.
[We think Mrs. B. is having a nervous breakdown.]
Willow responds by squalling loudly and running.

Storm clouds have hovered all day but the rain has 'gone around' us.
Pehaps the uneasy weather can be blamed for the crochety disposition of the cats today.
Willis can--and does--chase Willow, but in a rather lack-a-daisical, recreational manner, quite different to Mrs. B.'s attitude of closing in for a kill.
Once Willow is outside, the big 'house cats' can't nail her as she hops lightly over the cat yard fence, something they haven't attempted.

I never had a tree house.
Although I'm rather stupid about heights, I did--in my day--like to climb trees.
[OK, so I didn't go way up!]
One of my favorite spots to sit, swing my legs and have a quiet think, was an old apple tree in the remnant of neglected orchard at Grampa Mac's.  I could go along the road to the farm house, through the gate and down to the apple trees--or--I could take the path that curved along the embankment where my parents' house stood and reach the cluster of gnarly, unpruned trees by that route.
The special apple tree had a wide flattened branch which grew horizontally about 4 feet off the ground.  It was an easy clamber up to sit among the leaves.

I looked longingly at Willow in her box elder refuge this morning. All it needs is a ladder up to a small platform--just wide enough to place a folded old quilt.  Then, why not a book, a cat, and a mug of tea, all to be enjoyed in a shelter of green leaves [?]

Happy Ending

The friendly hound dog was reunited with his owner at 9 PM Sunday.
This was thanks to our lively on-line area "magazine."
In addition to news, community calendars, event coverage and editorials, CM provides a 'Lost and Found" service.  I posted the above photo of the hound in mid-afternoon, giving his description, our location and phone number. 
I was just out of the shower and into night clothes [after my strenuous time with the carpet removal] so didn't go out to speak with the man who arrived within moments of speaking with J. on the phone.
He lives a few miles from us, on the other side of the main highway, and had dropped in to visit a friend of his who lives up the road from our place.
Evidently the wily hound followed him cross-lots.
Whether the dog's owner saw the post or was notified by his friend--a man whom I know to be a CM reader--the outcome was a speedy reunion.
I probably don't have to state that I am greatly relieved to have one less animal-related issue to sort.
It is good to know that the amiable hound is back where he belongs!

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Walking With My Camera

I was having a bit of a 'down' day on Friday--tired and achey, not motivated to do any
of the things on the list.
Mid afternoon I decided my megrims needed to be aired, so walked through the lower garden, up around the barns, down the meadow, across to the creek, then up the front drive.
These are some of the sights along the way.
Above it the little shrub rose with the missing name tag.

Blossoms on Wise Portia--no Japanese Beetles this time around.

The bumble bee in this branch of Russian Sage was quite obliging about a photo.

Hawkeye Belle

A gaudy painted zinnia.

Swallowtail on a brilliant fuschia zinnia.

This zinnia has become a shrub.

Note the tattered wing on this golden fritillary.

Elderberries--which have become jelly today at Gina's house.

Serene and green, the view across our neighbor's pasture.

The butterfly bush has put forth fresh blooms.

Queen Anne's Lace.

Black swallowtail.

Poised!  A lucky shot.

The three little horrors.  Amazing what a bath and 10 days of adequate food has done for them.

Pebbles, the dear old lady horse.

Bobby McGee.

Neighboring pasture at dusk.
I uploaded the above photos Friday evening, forgot to caption and post!

To make up for Friday's slothfulness, today I ripped out the carpet in the 'guest room' which is also my 'hide-out'--the space with my desk and piles of notebooks.
I cut the carpet out in strips using a large sheetrock knife, then used a cat's paw tool to pry up the tack strips around the perimeter. Dust, [30 year old dust!] fluffs of yarn from the carpet --red--foam underlayment--all bundled out to the burn pile.
We replaced the flooring everywhere but the ktichen within weeks of moving in three years ago.  This was the least disgusting and worn of the carpets, but our occupancy hadn't improved it.
Carpets may be OK for households with no pets, where the occupants tiptoe about in sock feet and never spill anything.  Give me a floor that can be CLEANED!
Hopefully weeks will not go by until there is a new floor down and an 'after' photo can be shared.
I plan to paint this room while J. is away next week.
The interim owners of this place did considerable cleaning and had most of the rooms re-painted in a flat white.  Not very inspiring, but at least fresh and clean.
This is the last room for me to paint.

Lord luv us--this huge hound dog turned up slightly after noon today and it won't 'GO HOME'--where-ever that may be.
We do not want a dog, certainly not one of the Baskerville hounds, however amiable.
It has given cry several times causing a reaction in the cats that resembles apoplexy!