Thursday, December 27, 2012

Cats Hate Water--Right???

A fuzzy photo due to the shake that happens when the zoom lens is fully extended, but
the image tells the story.
That's Nellie splatting his paws in an icy puddle while rain mizzles down.

Help arrives.
There is apparently treasure lurking in the depths of the puddle.

Little Edward forks a twig from the depths of the puddle.

When the game grew old it was inside to dry wet feet and fur.
This is why the finer points of decorating give way to washable cushion covers,
soft blankets or throws on the furniture.
Its a cats' world.

Bleak Outside, Cozy Within

Our holiday weather hasn't been inspiring--though clouds and intermittent drizzle are easy to bear compared to the upheavals of storm that have descended on other parts of the country.
Our Christmas dinner was at 6 pm next door with our family, then home to sit by the fire until bed time--the latter perhaps sounding dull to anyone of lesser years!
My contributions to the meal weren't laborious--two pies, a coleslaw created from a garden-fresh late cabbage,  smoked turkey.
Yesterday J.'s cousin and her family were able to make another visit from their temporary quarters just over the Tennessee line.
[They have stayed with their older son since the memorial service held for their younger son several weeks ago at his military base in Florida.]
I've learned not to stress over meal prep for guests, especially when I don't know the exact time of arrival.
I dashed up to the market for slicing tomatoes and a pound of deli roast beef, some good provolone cheese. This, with smoked turkey became a 'make your-own-sandwich' buffett.  The herb bread was still warm from my oven.
I made soup: onions and garlic sauteed in olive oil, 2 cans of chicken broth, 3 qts of home-canned tomatoes, 2 of which I buzzed in the blender. I added a bay leaf, sea salt, coarsely ground pepper, home-grown parsley and basil which had been dried from our garden. I also threw in a scant handful of tiny star pasta to give the soup more body.
I happily report that the meal
 was relished by all--coffee or tea for those who wanted, a berry pie to finish.
Rain drizzled down for part of the day, turning to wet flakes of snow for about 10 minutes.
It was after dark when we sent these dear folks on their way with many a hug.

Bobby McGee tucks up on a quilt after his rambles outside in the damp.

We have puttered today.
There is no need to cook with good food still on hand.
The house is reasonably clean.
Laundry has been done.
In spite of the chilly dank temperatures the cats have thought they should go in and out as usual.
Not liking the draught from the sliding door set ajar, we have slavishly been letting cats in and out.

Teasel has plainly wanted my rocking chair by the fire.  After her forays into the yard she has come back to wheedle with all her charms: chipper 'meows', the appeal of her big blue eyes. She has condescended to spend some time in my lap, purring, a warm and beloved presence around whom I have juggled my book and my mug of green tea.
When I abandoned the chair to attend a few things in the kitchen, my place was immediately appropropriated.
I've just told her that I intend to reclaim my spot.
You can see that she is unimpressed!
The book calls me; I shall brew another mug of tea.
J. has brought in several armloads of wood.
We are cozy and content as the grey day moves toward a chilly night.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Blessings of the Season

Christmas Eve has been another day of misty, grey-sky weather.
The sliding door was partly open as we were creating heat and the odor of frying in the kitchen.
I caught the sound of sandhill cranes flying over, wiped my hands on my apron and dashed outside with the camera.
I had little time to focus and was aiming into such light as there was as the cranes flew south down the valley, headed for their winter grounds--quite likely part of the throng which migrates to the banks of the North Platte River in Nebraska.
The voices of the cranes are harsh and croaking--we heard them often in Wyoming and saw their tall gawky forms stalking through the grass which bordered streams or rivers.

As the calling of the cranes faded, I returned to the kitchen.
Since daughter G. the queen of bakers has been making cookies for days,
we decided to produce a double batch of donuts to be shared around as a treat with morning
coffee or tea.

With the donuts done and the kitchen cleaned I felt the need to be outside in the fresh misty air.
I put on a clean shirt, shook my hair loose from its braid, tucked the camera in my pocket.
 Crossing the yard I noticed  a gathering of crows in the field where the wheat sown as a cover crop is greening.  There are still corncobs lying on the ground providing food for birds and squirrels.

It is not possible to go anywhere in the dooryard or in the fields without an entourage of cats.
Nellie has climbed into the old apple tree--he is not as nimble as Bobby and clambered about rather unsteadily until deciding to slither down the trunk and plop to the ground.

The crows launched themselves skyward as I approached the field with my train of cats.

Bobby and Nellie romped at the foot of the ancient pear tree.

Little Edward scrambled a few feet up the pear tree before realizing that perhaps he didn't care to continue.
Back indoors as the cloudy day dimmed into an early twilight.
A mug of green tea enjoyed by the fire and a few chapters of a favorite old book.
A light supper--in anticipation of tomorrow's feast.
I missed Public Radio's broadcast of the Lessons and Carols from Kings' College, but found the entire presentation from 2010 on YouTube.
I watched it at my desk with my elderly Eggnog cat in my lap.
The architecture of English churches impresses me fully as much as the ability of the choirs.
Both are something I wish I might have experienced in person.
The cats are piled on the guest room bed behind me.
J. has retired and it behooves me to do the same.
I wish you the blessings of the Christmas season--however you keep it.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Winter Solstice: The Shortest Day

The wind wailed and howled throughout the long dark hours.
Never a sound sleeper, I'm made still more restless on a windy night.
At midnight I was wondering if the potted rosemarys on the front porch would be knocked over--but I couldn't make myself get up, put on slippers and a robe to shuffle out to the door and turn on the light.  I snuggled more deeply into the quilt and tried to conjure soothing thoughts.
From somewhere in the house--a crash--as of something toppled.
I sat up in bed and listened, but all was again silent except for the whining wind.
I slept at last, fitfully, waking to the dawn greyness.
Tip-toeing to the living room [with the usual accompaniment of cats] I pulled back the curtains.
Along the edges of the front walk there were thin traces of snow as though a cold blast had moved quickly through the evening's rain.
Bundled up and outside I had a look at the battered old thermometer mounted in the carport.
The red arrow hovered over the freezing mark: 32 F.
Wind sang in my ears and tickled icy fingers down my neck in spite of the down vest snapped up tight.
Litter boxes attended to, I pulled the camera from my pocket, aimed it at the glow of the sun as it climbed above the creek.
Pebbles stood near the barn, trumpeting a greeting, her tail streaming in the wind.
I measured out her grain, observed that she had flung her hay in an untidy heap.
Back inside, cheeks stinging from the cold, I trudged down to the basement to finish the litter box duties and start a load of laundry.
There I discovered the source of the midnight crash--a large begonia had been knocked from the edge of the table under the flourescent lights.
Kitten doings!

The wood that lies beyond our western boundary fence is not an attractive one.
Underbrush of hollies and vines has not been trimmed, fallen trees lie in mouldering skeletal tangles.
Over head this morning was a continual throbbing hum as the wind tormented the towering cedars and clashed through bare branches of oak and maple.

Often as I walk up the back meadow deer or wild turkeys melt into the shadows of the wood.
This morning there was not a creature to be seen or heard.

Pebbles watches as I walk down to the mailbox at noon.
The sun does little to counteract the chill of the wind, but it creates a lovely pattern of light on the winter landscape.

Looking to the southwest at noon.

J. fits some sashing around the garage door to keep the draughts out of his workshop.
Smoke from his woodstove hangs in a haze over the roof.

On the front porch Bobby McGee rests after the wind-inspired exercise of racing about the yard
with his brothers.

It is too cold to leave the sliding door opened even a few inches for the cats.
Nellie signals his wish to come in by thumping on the glass with his paws and waiting for the obedient cat butler to appear.

I took the camera outdoors again at 3:30 for a final documentation of this solstice day--the day my Dad would have referred to as the first day of winter.
In New England where I spent most of my life winter was just getting serious by mid-December with weeks of cold and snow yet to endure.
Although full dark would not arrive until a bit after 5, the sun
was making its departure, leaving the dooryard and barns in the grip of the longest night of the year.

In the kitchen I pulled loaves from the oven.
Pumpkin apple bread on the left.
I had punched down the dough for the herbed white bread [made with unbleached flour--always!] when I realizd that G. hadn't returned my bread pans, borrowed as she baked ahead for the holidays.
The dough which should have gone into three loaf pans had to make do with two glass casserole dishes.
We ate our supper by the fire--romaine lettuce with cucumber and tomato; chicken salad on thick slices of the still-warm herbed bread.
J. has brought in extra wood for the fire.
The cats are calm
An orange half-moon glows in the clear cold darkness of the winter sky and the wind has dropped.
Perhaps tonight we will sleep!

Thursday, December 20, 2012

A Wild and Woolly Day

Morning arrived, wrapped in a grey and sullen mist.
I lay for a few minutes watching as color crept into the room.
[Little Edward had obligingly pawed open the shutter nearest the bed!]
I could hear the wind whining, and the brittle rattle of branches and twigs tossed against each other.
Edward smacked the shutter again, Bobby purred encouragingly in my ear.  It was obviously time to be out of bed.
I let the kittens out through the sliding door, snatching at the curtain which wanted to follow them out into the damp.
Cat food was doled out, the fire built up, coffee perked.
J. noted a mockingbird teetering along the front walk, balancing in the wind.
Rain lashed down and the glossy leaves of the magnolia tree whipped in the wet gusts.

The bully boys, having dashed about the yard, splatted in puddles and chased soggy leaves, burst back inside, fur sparkling with damp.
Edward and Bobby tusseled and thrashed about on the kitchen floor.

Edward found a battered catnip mouse which he pushed around J's stand near the desk.

Teasel snatched the mouse and tore down the hallway, flinging herself dramatically onto a bedside rug.

Charlie who, by choice, spent the night up in the hay barn, came in, soggy-furred and flung himself exhaustedly on a chest of drawers.
I fetched a thick piece of fleece to absorb the wet and poked it underneath him.

Prodded unsympathtically by J. he opened blue eyes and wriggled himself into a sleepy heap.
By noon, the cat tribe had settled down.
J. had been in and out fetching in wood for the fire. I imbibed two mugs of green tea as I sat here addressing my few Christmas cards, penning notes.
I was aware of the wind outside, of the rain which drove against the window, slackened, pattered again.
At 3 I bundled up my stack of cards in their red envelopes, hastily wrote checks to pay the utility bills, and drove to the Post Office on the edge of town.
The wind buffeted the car, tugged my hair loose from its elastic band when I dashed for the
post office lobby.
At the market I had to park the car more than halfway down the big parking lot.
It was dark, the sky forbidding. One set of the automatic doors into Wal Mart had been braced shut against the wind.  People hurried, heads bent, collars clutched around their throats.
Home again a few minutes after 4 in the dusky gloom of early night fall.
J. was polishing off a bowl of leftover beef/barley soup.
I heated the remainder, buttered a slice of toast.
Cats lay in sleepy heaps--on the hearthrug and on the bed.
Grandson D. blew in for a few moments.
Later I talked on the phone with our son.
After hearing of his day battling snow drifts and minus zero temps in the mountains of Wyoming, I felt that we were nearly tropical by comparison!
Wild and woolly?
Its how my late Dad would have described the day.
I began wondering where the phrase originated and found this:
'like the rough, vigorous atmosphere of the early West in America: wild and woolly'.
We are headed to bed on what will be the longest night of the year but one.
Tomorrow I will fill the house with the scent of baking bread!

[I'm making a greater effort to reply to your welcome 'comments' as I post them.  Its is always a pleasure to know that someone is reading what I write!]

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Mid-Winter Gardening

A grey morning warmed into mid-day sunshine.
We were anxiously awaiting a visit from J.'s cousin and family who had gotten a later than planned start to their 2 hour trip from TN.
I did some tidying, set a kettle of my favorite beef/barley/veg soup to simmer, made a batch of chocolate chip cookies.
That done and the kitchen neat, I  put on my trusty old down vest, located my small pruners and tackled the woody stems of perennials poking through the blanket of leaves in the borders.
J. moved firewood, swept out the carport, then went to the upper garden to begin the laborious task of clipping back the blackberry canes.
Temps of around 60 F brought out a few sluggish flies and some small fluttery brown moths.

The three boy kittens [nearly cats now] trundled back and forth following J. then discovered my heaps of stems and twigs which made for wonderfully imaginative 'hides.'
Their stalking and pouncing is a delight to watch, but their movements are so quick that my camera doesn't catch their 'airs above the ground.'

Little Edward gives the pavement of the drive a good sniff as he comes to join his brothers.
Several bluebirds were busy in the yard this morning--bouncing between the lower limbs of a maple, fluttering down to teeter on the catyard fence.
I can only hope that they are wary.
These young cats have already proven themselves 'mighty hunters.'
I trimmed twiggy stems for about two hours and had come in feeling a bit stiff and ready for a mug of tea when our guests arrived.
Hugs all around--some moments that verged on tears  as we spoke of the son whom G. and P. lost so tragically during November.
Their son's fiancee was with them--a stunningly beautiful young woman, perhaps a bit bewildered as we spoke of times past and family members no longer with us.
Daughter G. and her husband M. arrived with more food to share, more recollections to ponder.
We hated to part with them when it was time for them to leave for their older son's home in TN where they will stay through the holidays.
I long for more of these sunny afternoons, although a must-do/should-do list awaits.
As I write I can glance out the unshuttered west window and see the bright moon, like a slice of melon on a dark sky platter. My dear old Eggnog kitty is warm on my lap. Teasel is on a blanket on the red chest of drawers, diligently washing her silvery grey paws.
Charlie-cat who has demanded to be outside so much lately, is sprawled on the bed behind me, while his daughter, Mima curls up beside him.
I have some reading to do here at my desk before I call it bedtime.
It has been a long and busy day.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Unsettled Weather

An unsettled day, something about the weather not right for what I know of December.

Winters came early in Wyoming, usually with October snow that stayed until spring. Bright blue skies and high sunshine predominated, but companioned by winds that roared icily down from the mountains. Standing on my west-facing porch I could taste and feel snow or sleet bourn on the rushing air, watch a storm roll down to the valley until the buildings across the highway were lost in the white and howling blur. When the storm gusted past, the sun glittered on snow, the cold bit fiercely at fingers, ears and toes.

December in Vermont could be a time of capricious weather; a time when the sun rose sullenly [if at all] over the Green Mountains, skulked behind a wall of clouds, riding a lowering sky westward to sink behind the wooded ridges which marched darkly toward Lake Champlain.

Usually there was snow--Christmas card pretty, covering the roofs and gardens in the small villages, disguising the frozen mud of farm dooryards, powdering hedgerows and shorn fields with a
clean white coverlet.

Christmas was about practice for school programs--construction paper in red and green, paste, glitter; costumes contrived and shared.

Christmas was Junior Choir rehearsal with the flapping raven-black choir robes brought out of the storage cupboard and held up for length. Mothers took them home to iron, to starch the wide white collars. We were lined up, drilled in the dignity of procession to a 4-4 beat--"Angels From the Realms of Glory.'

The snow was admired, the winter skies watched; no one wanted a 'Green Christmas'--a thaw that brought sleet or freezing rain reducing back roads to a slithery hazard, lawns to a brown-green slush.

I've not lived in Kentucky long enough to make weather proclamations, to know what is the seasonal normal. I've found December dandelions in bright bloom near the clothesline. We are still cutting kale and bringing in cabbages from the garden.

Stirring the ashes of last night's fire while the morning coffee perked, I wondered if we needed heat today. The heavy curtains over the sliding doors stirred in the breeze as the cats rushed in and out, restless,
mildly cantankerous.

I drove the few miles to Wal Mart early in the afternoon--an excursion guaranteed to make me as cantankerous as the restless cats!
I had decided--belatedly--that I needed a few cards to send out.
I roamed through the aisles of Christmas clutter--shiny paper, glittery baubles, net bags of pine cones so heavily infused with cinnamon as to be over-powering;
Racks teemed with cards labeled ridiculously as to their intended recipient [aunt-religious; son and his wife--humorous; spouse--inspirational.]
Failing to find any that interested me I headed to the office supply section hoping at least for a holiday-themed paper for my printer, a packet of red envelopes.
I stomped about, disgruntled, picked up the necessary coffee cream and headed for the checkout stands.
On a rack in one of the stands [not open, of course] were a few boxes of cards--the old-fashioned dignified sort.
I wavered over one with a lovely cardinal on a pine bough.
In the end the artistry above won the day with the nostalgic black and white of an old New England farmhouse, bare tree branches, a silvery moon.
It is doubtful that I'll get them out on time--that will mean another trip to the post office in town.
[Grumble, Bah! Humbug!]

As I drove the few miles home white puffs of cloud rode a sky of mottled blue. By the time I had unloaded my goods and walked down the drive to the mailbox the wind was picking up. Banks of purple-black piled in the north, darkness moved down from Payne Janes hill, casting heavy shadows over the corn ground. Pebbles the old horse raised her head, seeming to assess the changing weather as sudden thunder rumbled.

Rain spattered, the power cut off as the oven was heating for chicken and biscuits, flicked back on again and held steady. The cats huddled on the hearth rug as the wind swept past the house.

Darkness moved in early, heralded by the unexpected rose and lavender of a mid-winter sunset.

December in Kentucky may take getting used to--but it beats shoveling snow!

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Frosty Mornings

The first rays of sun strike the goat willow and the frost-whitened grass of the front field.

Mornings this past week were sharply cold and frosty, giving way to morning sun that sparkled
on crisp grass and feathered twigs with silvery light.
We are rising a bit later just now--one of the perks of retirement.
I am not allwed to be slothful, I hasten to state.
If I were inclined to linger in bed, I couldn't do so in comfort.
At the first flicker of an eyelash or wiggle of my toes, I am pounced upon by cats and lovingly urged to get up and serve their breakfast.
Teasel has been particularly importunate these chilly mornings--poking at me with an insistant paw until I emerge from the covers.
She has an endearing way of sitting up on her haunches and waving her front paws at me until I pick her up and head for the kitchen, trying not to trip over the throng of furry bodies.

The three boy kittens dash outside and gobble their treat of canned food in the carport, while the older cats eat in peace in the kitchen.
With cat tummies comfortably full its time for bird-watching, mousing, sniffing at the mole tunnels.
I start the coffee, poke up the fire, haul on jeans and a heavy top.
My limit is one cup of coffee;  with a bit of luck I can sip it by the fire and ease into the day.

My feet are still in slippers and I don't want to walk into the cold grass, so these photos were taken from the front porch or the steps.
The sun comes up now much farther to the south, beaming in low, crossing the sky in a gentle arc to disappear behind the woods of our western boundary before 4 in the afternoon.

I was back inside, warming my chilled hands when J. looking out the bedroom window, called my attention to the 5 deer crossing the north field and heading toward the road.
We often see them in the evening if we've been out, picked out in the beam of the car's headlights as we turn into our drive.
I went out again and stood on the front sidewalk, zooming with the camera, trying to focus just ahead of the bounding deer.

I was praying no traffic would come along as they reached the road.

The movement of a deer always appears effortless, springy and light.

Small household tasks have taken my days, the unexciting things which must be done to hold domestic chaos at bay.
I spent over an hour online trying to find rubber boots to replace my familiar rose-colored ones which developed leaks in both boots.
Having gone throgh two pairs of boots in the past 4 years it seemed that perhaps I should buy a
better quality.
Everything I viewed was formidable in price.  I considered authentic wellies, balked at spending that much.  Reading reviews I found that Hunters' wellies are no longer made by a Scottish firm but have been farmed out to production in China. All the reviewers felt that the quality was no longer equal to
old time wellies.
I settled on a pair of boots which are selling for $75 at Eddie Bauer.  These were $26 plus shipping  from a surplus house--only this color and size left in stock.
I'm not overly pleased with them.  Too narrow to accomodate a heavy wool sock.
What is the world coming to, when boots are a fashion item rather than the sturdy staples of a hard-working country lifestyle!

The kittens reminded me that I hadn't stripped the seeds from the last batch of sunflower heads salvaged before hard frost.
[The drying seedheads had been in a cardboard box sitting in the front hall--and the bully boys suddenly discovered them as a rattly toy to swat and watch seeds shower onto the floor.]
I learned last autumn that sunflower seeds don't shuck out easily and can leave sharp little prickles
in bare fingers.
I held the heads over a newspaper and whacked with a wooden spoon until most of the seeds fell out.
I now have enough seeds squirreled away in zip-lock bags to sow a plantation of sunflowers come spring.

Simple meals, music to practice for church, a favorite old book re-read.
A few minutes to stab away at my hand-quilting--and always the cats for company!