Wednesday, March 27, 2013

A Garden Inspection

Blue skies this morning--a welcome change from the surly weather that prevailed through
the days when we had guests.
I tided up the kitchen after a breakfast of pecan waffles with home-canned applesauce and maple syrup, pulled on my boots, layered sweatshirts and a down vest, and went out to take stock of the gardens.
The ground is soggy from so much recent rain, so I reconnoitered along the edges of the perennial strips.
The shiny green leaves of lemon balm have been crisped at the edges by frost.
Most of the herbs in the little plot by the carport are straggling and in need of judicious pruning.
The mat of thyme which spilled so charmingly over the concrete is a heap of
woody stems--wild and tangled.

Willis the Cat joined me and was quick to recognize a clump of catnip which has established itself at the base of a Yellow Simplicity rose.

The iris in the background were transplanted during our first season here--many clumps of them are still dotted around the yard, the roots heaving from the earth and needing to be divided.

Willis has thrashed and wallowed in the catnip and his eyes are crossed in inebriated bliss.

Recovering slightly, Willis walks with his shadow, muttering under his breath.

I despair of the weeds which have spread during the winter.
I spent many hours late in autumn clearing and tidying the beds.
We bought many sacks of mulch last summer which seem to have been less than effective
as a weed barrier.
The worst culprit is a wild form of lamium which invades ruthlessly.
I think the slightest thread of root can produce a whole colony in a matter of weeks.
Balancing on my haunches at the edge of the flower strip near the clotheslines, I grubbed weeds away from an emerging peony.
There should be--or should I say, there were planted--five peonies.
I found only two today.
The neighbor's cattle stomped about there when they broke through their pasture fence several weeks ago. Hoofprints and depressions remain in the soil around the plants.
It seemed that trying to smooth out the humps and dig out weeds would do more harm than good until the ground has dried a bit.

This vintage peony, one of two in place when we moved here, shows healthy new growth amongst the dried stems of last season. Several later-blooming peonies in this area are still hunkered down in the cold soil. Mole tunnels are evident along the edges of the stone-edged strip which borders the vegetable garden.

The tree peony puts out new leaves very early, even when the weather is still cold.

I am dismayed that few poppies have seeded from those that bloomed last year.
I brought several seed pods from the other garden last fall and sprinkled poppy seed here quite liberally.
As I was tugging at weeds to give the poppies more space, I realized that one had sprouted on top of the yellow peony, 'Molly the Witch'.  I ordered two of these last spring from a nursery specializing in peonies.
They were pricey and arrived as mere rooted cuttings rather than sturdy plants.
I cossetted them in pots through the long hot summer, putting them in the ground in September. 
I could find no sign of the second one today, nor of the other two peonies, a white one and a dark red.
Those were both sturdy plants from a local garden center.

Strands of clematis winding up the new trellis.
The process of removing the rusty wire which had supported the vines in the past disrupted some of the roots, but I think the plants will flourish again.

There are many gaps in the perennial strips.
Endless experimentation and continued replacement of perennials is not in my present budget!
I will need to rely on plants that I can start from seed, plants which have proven they can take the weeks of humid heat in July and August. More daylilies, perhaps, achilleas in varying colors, phlox, salvia.
If only the beautiful and choice plants were as hardy as dandelions!

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

A Catching Up Sort of Day

Weather in Kentucky continues to defy the calendar.
March has brought us more cold and blustery weather than either January or February.
Still, buds continue to appear on the trees and the grass is greener with each chilly shower of rain.
We have had a delightful round of company.
J.'s beloved Aunt Dorothy [nearly 89] came down from MA, with her daughter, grand daughter and great-grand daughter.  This was no small journey to undertake.
Aunt D. and her daughter stayed at our house--the others at G.'s house next door--various other relatives converged for the weekend, staying at a local motel.
Meal times were uproarious occaisions of wonderful food, story-telling and talk.

I prepared two blog posts in advance of the visit as my desk with the large PC is in the space which is also the guest bedroom and bath.
Frustratingly, the two scheduled posts didn't pop up and I had to post them manually today.

It is always easier to welcome loved ones than to say goodby when the moment comes for leave-taking.
I always think the best cure for the bittersweet emotions stirred by partings is to get busy.
I laundered towels and linens, decided that the weather didn't encourage pegging anything outside on the clothesline.
We've had snow squalls, moments [few] of sunshine, chilly wind, spatters of rain.
I made use of the electric dryer rather than leave the laundry for a sunny day.
Aunt D. brought her little dog with her.
My cats aren't used to dogs and didn't take to one who barked wildly and scrabbled after them each time they stuck their noses into the living room!
The dog spent considerable time in her portable kennel in the bedroom, coming out to be 'aired,' fed and socialized.
The cats--other than the undaunted 'bully boys'-- spent most of their time in the basement where I set up an extra kibble feeder and water bowl.
Each time I went downstairs I patted the 'cat pile' of furry bodies snuggled on a warm old quilt.
After the departure of family this morning, the cats, one by one, crept upstairs, had a cautious look around and decided that the house belonged to them again.
With clean laundry folded and put away, the bed freshly made up, I took time to post blog comments, read a few of my favorites, answer emails.
Lunch was left-overs from last evening's supper.
A quiet day, missing family, thankful for our time together, knowing that it is right and proper that we must all get on with the return to routine in our separate places.

Friday, March 22, 2013


There is nothing like impending guests to jump-start my spring cleaning.
The ritual of spring-cleaning surely harks back to a time when laundry had to be done without the blessing of a tumble-dryer--heavy quilts, blankets, winter-tired curtains needed warm sunny days on a clothesline outdoors.  Winter woolens were aired and stored away in smelly moth-balls until they would be needed in the fall--at which time they were aired again to remove the stench of the moth proofing.
With Jim away for 10 days at the beginning of March, it was good timing for me to tackle what needed to be done.
I took advantage of a few sunny, windy days to deal with laundry, then retreated inside to some dusting and tidying.
We have no lack of tracked in grit from the gravel driveway; each armload of wood brought in sheds specks of sawdust or bits of bark. Having a wood stove in the living room means that fluffs of powdery ash settle on shelves and the objects on the shelves.
The resident cats provide an endless source of cat hair to be vacuumed up.

I tend to get a burst of energy in the evening, and with no one around to suggest bedtime, I could dust cupboards and rearrange items until well after midnight.
Rootling in a basement closet I noticed that two large vintage crocks had never been brought out into the daylight. They were carefully wrapped in layers of newspaper when I packed up our last Wyoming house in January, 2010. I lugged the crocks upstairs thinking they could go atop the kitchen cabinets along with other similar items.
It wasn't that easy. The inner crock, swathed in newspaper, would not come loose from the larger one in which it sat.  Looking at it in frustration I realized that one--maybe both--were out of round just enough to make the inner one stick. I heaved the weighty load into the kitchen sink and aimed hot water between the two pieces of crockery. They stuck fast.  I squeezed in dish-washing liquid. More hot water, more jiggling.
Hoping to gain leverage I plunked the crocks on a towel on the kitchen floor, tried inserting a flexible spatula around the edges.
My sleeves were wet, the floor was wet.
It seemed that I could rock the inner crock a bit farther, but no amount of pulling brought it free.
A glance at the clock confirmed that I had been at this task for more than half an hour and the hands of the clock were edging toward 1 A.M.
By now the newspaper layers were quite soggy. Snatching a long-handled fork from the utensil drawer, I began tweeking out wads of the wet paper.
Back to the sink, more dish soap, more hot water, more tugging, and suddenly the inner crock lifted up from its nest inside the larger one.
The cats watched in amazement as I dragged a stepstool to the kitchen counter, placed the crocks within reach, then climbed onto the counter. I lifted them into place, clambered down, crawled back up on the counter, leaning dangerously over the fridge to position the crocks to advantage.  It did occur to me that should I topple from my perch, breaking my old bones, I wouldn't be discovered until much later!
A final tweek at the row of 'collectables' parading along the top of the cupboards and I was safely down!

Some of my crocks came from my grandfather's farmhouse, others have been picked up at auctions or flea markets.
None are of special value--I simply enjoy the look of them.

I call the shelves on this side of the fireplace 'mine.' Just to the left of the shelves sits my cherished rocking chair with a  stand to hold my current books and magazines, which have to be jostled out of the way to set down a mug of tea.
The shelves on the other side hold oddments that J. has collected.
It seemed that his collections had been edging into my space!
Since he wasn't there to protest, I climbed up to dust everything, severely relegating his objects to their own shelves.
I poked about the house, gathering up items I would like to have near me.
The boy cats enjoyed this late evening activity, trotting up and down the stairs, getting shut in closets, sniffing at each object as it emerged from a box or cupboard.
I appreciate the look of a house freshly refurbished, but I'm not one who enjoys flitting about with a feather duster and a broom.
While we are never dirty, both J. and I tend to be less than tidy by nature.
There always seems to be an overflow of papers, parts, projects and pieces that are laid down where they shouldn't remain.
For several days after a major cleaning I am militant about keeping order.
I rush to sweep up every crumb of wood debris around the fireplace, flick dust off shelves, meticulously put things away.
Slowly other more interesting activities claim me--reading, sewing, baking--and beyond the immediate cleaning and ordering of kitchen or bath or bedroom, I revert to my natural less than tidy ways.
If ever I were 'well-to-do' I should hire a cleaning lady!
Since that will never be, I will have to settle for my frantic bursts of housekeeping!

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Ladies' Day Out

Gina's friend, Maria, traveled from Vermont for a 6 day visit last week.
We were sure she would enjoy a trip to the Casey County Mennonite shops.
I picked up the 'girls' at 10 o'clock last Thursday morning for a leisurely tour.
Our first stop was at Misty Mountain, the general store which offers a wonderous stock of kitchen goods, canning supplies, pots and pans in sizes to cook for large families, yard goods, and a sampling of Amish-made furniture and quilts.
The store also has on hand calico dresses, aprons and bonnets favored by 'plain people.
Maria and Gina modeled bonnets.

This quilt featured for sale was new to the store since my last visit.
The hand applique and small quilting stitches are exquisite.
The quilts are displayed beneath a sheet of clear protective plastic--which causes a glare in the photo.
Many years ago in Vermont I helped Maria to construct her first quilt.
A meticulous person in all that she does, Maria has gone on to make lovely quilts.
Her knitted garments are also beautifully professional.
She was pleased to find quilt backing fabric here at a better price than 'home' so bought several yards to pack into her suitcase.

This 'primitive' quilt was on display at the nearby furniture store which is presided over by a man who is easily 7 feet tall!
This shop had been greatly expanded since our last visit two years ago.
The quilt was on a rack behind a table, so a bit awkward to get a proper photo.

Applique detail of the crow in the corner block.  This would be a very simple quilt to duplicate.
Although I couldn't reach to turn over the edge, I suspect this is an imported quilt, not locally made.

This is another homespun quilt, also, I believe, an import.
I like the colors and styles of these quilts, but I disagree with the sense that 'primitive' means clumsy seams and wrinkled piecing.

As we made our way around the furniture showroom, G. discovered this over-sized version of a child's 'highchair.'  The shop owner informed us that it was made as a 'sample' such as might have been set outside a shop years ago to advertise the wares within.
G. [of course] had to clamber into the chair for a photo session and was very amused when the shop owner produced the calf nursing bottle as a prop,  We guessed that many people take advantage of the chair for a memorable photo.

The Amish rocking chairs are blissfully comfortable.
Maria is enjoying one which has a matching footstool which also rocks.
Much as I love my Grampa Mac's old rocking chair, if I had room in this little house for another, I would have come home with one of these.

G. is dispalying a braided rug in soft colors.

This is a beautifully made replica of a Hoosier kitchen cabinet.
I have one, an original, which came from the Vermont farmhouse shared by my grandparents and great-grandparents. This one has a laminated butcher block top while mine has an enameled sliding top.
Where the sugar and flour bins are shiny aluminum in the new version, mine are a white-painted metal.

The sign on this quilt stated that it was locally made. The 'patches' are of denim salvaged from jeans. At the 4 corners of each block are calico 'yo-yo's' which tie down the quilt.
Critical quilt maker that I am, I felt that the yo-yo's needed to be more firmly attached to survive wear and laundering.  The backing was a rather thin muslin with no batting.  I would have added a low-loft batting.

This lodge pole pine table and chairs are of the style often seen in log houses such as
J. built in Wyoming.
Nearly all the furniture in the shop, whether of the primitive genre or more refined was built in a scale that would dwarf the rooms of our small cottage.

Many of the decorative accessories in the shop were rather predictable: stenciled signs, fat candles in rustic wrought-iron holders, small woven or braided rag mats.
This owl caught my eye. He is made of a coarse linen and his 'apron' is attached with faux-rusty pins.
We concluded our tour with a stop at the whole foods market.
I bought a 50# sack of unbleached flour, dried beans, rice, pasta in bulk packages, a gallon jug of molasses, various other goodies, and the ultimate indulgence: a small container of pumpkin fudge.
I realized suddenly, that I was more than ready to head for home.
We had enjoyed our 'time out' but a week of cleaning or sewing until after midnight had caught
up with me.
After delivering the girls to Gina's house, it was good to return home, greet the cats, build up the fire and sit still with a mug of green tea!

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Capricious Spring

Spring arrived this morning with blue skies and bright sunshine, but with temperatures that
were definitely crisp.
There was a light frost on the grass when I stepped outside at 7:30 A.M.
In honor of the vernal equinox I brought out the spring/summer quilt--made several years ago with flowery fabrics and center squares in glowing yellow prints.
Bobby McGee immediately made himself comfortable on the quilt.
[Bobby is a darling cat--the smallest of the three boys, but the most independent.]

By mid-afternoon, blue skies had developed a slatey look and the wind had gotten up.
On an errand in the dooryard I felt the unmistakable sting of tiny snowflakes which blew down from a passing cloud.
An hour later sunshine again shimmered off the glossy leaves of the wind-tossed Magnolia tree.

The goat willow tree in the front yard is full of fuzzy grey pussywillows.
I would love to cut some to place on the sideboard in a pitcher, maybe walk down the road and pick some daffodils to go with them.
Sadly, any sort of 'arrangement' or 'bouquet' is a magnet for the cats, who disarrange, drag stems out of the jug or vase, often dump water.
Too many times I've forgotten to safely shut away a pitcher full of blooms at night and come out in the morning to find shredded flowers and pools of water.
So, no pussywillows indoors!

Pebbles the beloved horse is 27 this spring.
She has slowed down noticeably, spending more time lying in her stall.
In the past 5 years she has experienced several bouts of founder/laminitis which have undoubtedly left some degree of permanent damage. Jim limits her access to pasture and serves her a grain product formulated for 'Senior Horses.' During especially bad spells she is dosed with bute.
She has been outside a good deal today in all the variations of weather.  I suspect that her knees bother her--and I sympathize with these painful manifestations of aging!
She has her bad days when I feel certain we must soon, in kindess, put her down.
Then she revives and is almost spritely.
One thing hasn't changed: she relishes her food!

My efforts at 'spring cleaning' have continued spasmodically over the past week, spurred on by the pleasant prospect of guests who will arrive tomorrow.
D. enticed the kittens with my fluffy duster.
Here Bobby McGee snatches at it.

D. has had to retrieve the duster from Bobby and Edward--who evidently mistook it for a bird.
I am reminded almost daily that keeping cats complicates the process of maintaining a tidy home.
Cat hair is an endlessly renewable resource!
Today freshly washed quilts have bounced and flapped on the clothesline.
Four loaves of bread cooled on the counter beneath a blue towel.
Several unbaked pies were tucked into the freezer; a smaller one, hot from the oven and oozing blackberry juice, was served to J. as he took a break between phone calls and work in his shop.
The cookie jar is filled and a plate of cookies [decadent with both semi-sweet and white chocolate chips and dried blueberries] and a still-warm loaf have gone home with the friend whose wife barters huge brown eggs from her flock of hens for baked goods from my kitchen.
I spent a sleepy half hour in my Grampa Mac's old rocking chair by the fire, a cat in my lap, and a glossy magazine spread open to pictures of gardens in Wales, Leeds Castle, Beatrix Potter's Hill Top Farm.
Now, a mug of green tea and several hours of reading and writing at my desk.
[The big desk will be off limits for several days as it shares the space in our little guest room.]

Monday, March 18, 2013

Torrents of Rain

The crack of thunder woke us a bit after 3 A.M. I stayed awake for while, but the thunder and lightning retreated.
The storm returned full force about daybreak--if you can call such a dark morning 'daylight.'
I took the above photo from the sliding glass door around 8:30 A.M.--didn't think to deactivate the flash so raindrops and reflections are greatly magnified.

It was lighter an hour later and the force of the rain was less violent.

Puddles glistened, but the boy cats, who usually want to splash, were content to spend the morning inside.

Across the road, Big Creek was on the rampage.

This is the 'ford' used by 4-wheelers and the folks who have camps up on the ridge beyond the meadow.
The water is almost over the road.

Jim, undaunted, took the red truck on an errand in town.
He carried the camera with him. Going north past our house, this is the submerged bridge less than a mile up the road.  [We don't have to drive that way to get out, but inquiring minds need to know the conditions of the nearby roads!]

The road to the main highway goes past Gina and Matt's house.
The creek has overflowed into the meadow bordering the road.

More water where it isn't meant to be.

The rain stopped after noon, and I hoped the sky would clear.
Looking north toward the worst of the road flooding there are a few breaks in the clouds.
The boy cats ventured out when the rain quit.  They came back in with very wet feet and their belly fur damp and tangled. Good thing we have clean quilts, bedspreads and cushion covers where soggy cats can recover from outdoor adventures.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

A Morning That Feels Like Spring!

60 F and a balmy wind. Red leaf buds on the box elder tree--visible from the window over the kitchen sink--a welcome view.

Soft grey fuzzies on the goat willow tree

More of the bursting buds on the box elder.

Iris have leapt from their mid-winter crouch in the upper perennial bed.
Spring--so longed for--and so brief a season before the humid heat of summer.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Hobbit Houses--Or Merely Moles In Residence?

Friday was a beautiful day--a promise that we really will have spring.
Ignoring all the untidy things I should have sorted in the house, I put on comfortable layers of clothes, pulled on boots,  and went up the path to the barn to fetch gardening tools.
The air was cool, but the sun shone brightly, the sky was a clear, brilliant blue--very encouraging after days of dim grey clouds and cold weather.
I began raking leaves from the two perennial strips.
The north winds blow leaves in the fall from the maple trees along the drive directly into the strips and they lodge there. I was surprised to see how deeply they had drifted in some spots.

Who do you suppose lives in the earthy burrow?
There is another entrance a few feet away tucked  beside a clump of  nepeta.
I would like to think fondly of well-furnished chambers and creatures who resemble Beatrix Potter illustrations--or maybe Mole's snug house from Wind In The Willows.
Sadly, I suspect it may be part of a far-ranging mole tunnel.
Moles have lived here before our tenancy began.
During this winter I have become aware that a great deal of activity is happening just below the surface of the ground. Long ridges of dirt sink slightly underfoot when I peg out laundry on the clothesline.
The outdoor cats walk along, eyes on the ground, stopping to pat at depressions in the earth.

I labored to clear weeds under the Knock-Out roses, yanking away long ropes of mint which have done what mint always does--invade.
Here Edward digs in the newly loosened earth.
I thought he had an unsavory purpose to his excavations, but it seems he was exploring.
On the other side of the rosebush his brother Nellie was likewise poking his furry 'arm' into a tunnel--and came out with a small grey creature--which I pretended not to see.

Several obnoxious weeds are evergreen in our temperate winters.
One of them is locally called 'hen bit'--a relative of lamium. It has colonized ruthlessly, seeming to prefer spots that I have laboriously cleared.
I had forgotten there were two clumps of catnip at the far end of this planting.
Charlie has found one and is wallowing dementedly.

Willis likewise had a roll in the catnip and has stomped off, larger than life, to lay claim to the
bulkhead wall.
To the right of Willis [across the bulkhead] the herb garden has been raked.
Stalks of lavender and sage need to be trimmed--a task for another day.

I didn't stop for lunch and by mid-afternoon my energy was ebbing fast; my shoulders ached and I felt slow and lumbering.
Still, I was reluctant to stop work.
I had a bonfire smoldering away and decided that the raked piles of leaves and rubble should be burned.
I should have brought out the wheelbarrow, but getting it from the garage, trundling it around J.'s projects--a tight fit in the small space--seemed like too much effort.
I scooped up bundles of leaves, holding them against the wire tines of the rake, trailing some behind as I made repeated treks to the fire.
Nellie pounced in the leaves, smacking at real or imagined creatures, sprawling in my path with leaves caught in his fur.
Most of the mulch so painstakingly spread over the gardens in the summer has disappeared.
There are patches of bare earth where clumps of plants should be emerging.
I counted only three poppy plants where dozens self-sowed during the past two winters.
Do I blame the peristant scrapings and up-earthings of the cats?
Disturbance of the the ground by moles who may have nibbled or severed the roots of plants?

I put away my tools and limped toward the house wanting the comfort of a hot shower, wondering how many more years I will be physically able to garden in such a labor-intensive fashion.

Dressed in clean jeans and a warm pullover I drove to the store, hurriedly selecting salad makings.
Aware of my rumbling hungry innards I snatched up sandwich rolls and a package of thinly sliced turkey.
Back home, I fell into my rocking chair by the fire with a sandwich and a mug of tea.
Lurking beneath the very real misery of aching old bones was the satisfaction of having my fingers in the cool sweet earth, of hearing bird song; there was the joy of seeing transplanted lilies well settled in their new location, of brushing aside leaves and winter-blackened foliage to find the fat pink stubs of peonies thrusting up into the light.
I didn't garden today--didn't 'do' much of anything; tired; but my mind plays with images from the nursery catalogs stacked in the basket by my chair. I ponder the possibilites of the seeds and plants I have circled.
I think about the anticipated first trip to the greenhouses in the Mennonite community--a trip planned for later in the week with G. and her visiting friend.
Tired muscles, moles, weeds, blights and bugs can't quite triumph over the need
to garden in yet another season.