Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Glimpses from December's Final Days

Setting the table at Matt and Gina's for Christmas dinner.

G's Maine Coon Cat, T-Baby.

The old tobacco barn throws a long shadow onto the bleached grass of December.

Colors seemed clear and bold at noon on Christmas day.

The flower gardens are only a memory of summer. 
Seed heads of purple coneflower.

Christmas Eve morning, sharp and frosty.

Breakfast for a cold morning: waffles with a topping of blackberries from our garden [via the freezer] maple syrup and a side of turkey bacon.

Bobby McGee displays his white tummy and fat paws, while Mima sleeps beside him.

What a dear little face!

Sunday, December 22, 2013

The Short Days of December

I fell into slothful habits last week, staying up late to watch 'Doc Martin' and 'Monarch of the Glen' with J. 
via Netflix.
It has been years since I have sat still in front of a TV, therefore this has seemed out of character.
On several dark mornings we 'slept in' until 8--even the cats were content to have a later breakfast.
If the 'boy cats' begin to agitate before daylight one of us, padding blearily along to the bathroom, detours to open the sliding door to the cat yard releasing a furry tide of feline energy into the chilly morning air.
Mornings have ranged from those with frost-crisped grass, cold and crunching underfoot to the balmy restlessness of the solstice.
The 21st was a day of uneasy weather. The wind blew, the sun peered out, then ducked behind 
swift moving clouds. 
In the evening, about 9, the automated weather phone announced the possibility of a tornado moving through the area. J. brought up the doplar weather map on his laptop to track the line of the storm.
Wind shrieked in the chimney, bursts of rain pattered against the windows.
J. put a small flashlight in his pocket. I hastily tidied the kitchen.
[Why? Surely if our house was to levitate from its foundations it wouldn't matter that the supper 
dishes were washed?]
Tornadoes have passed through the region, but we seem to live in a sheltered area just beyond the edges of the storms' usual path; still we always take a few precautions.
When J. reckoned that the storm was about 15 minutes away, we herded the cats downstairs to the family room--other than Mima and Chester who always refuse to cooperate. 
I refilled the cat kibble dispenser I keep down there and took down a bowl of water.
We had noted that as the wind moaned and lashed outside through the evening, the cats  became very 'twitchy' in their behavior. Several of them roamed restlessly up and down the hallway, those nearest the fireplace were uneasy, raising their heads to peer anxiously as each burst of wind rattled down the chimney.
Teasel positioned herself on the small side table in the kitchen--a place she never frequents. Her blue eyes were wide, staring across to the kitchen window, her sleek body still and tense. 
"Shall we go downstairs with the cats?" I queried.  "Waiting for something to happen is very trying!"
J. went out to the carport, ears straining for any change in the sound of the wind.
Willis whisked through the door, damp-furred when J. returned. 
Bundling Willis into the basement, I discovered that most of our feline tribe were ranged on the staircase! Somebody let out a nervous hiss as Willis landed amongst  the displaced cats.
A rumble of thunder, rain driven against the house by a surge of wind, then a subtle sense of 
force moving on. 
The rain fell quietly, the branches of the dooryard trees ceased their anxious creaking.
J. opened the basement door and cats surged through, hastening to reclaim their favored cushioned spots. 
I expected to lie awake for a bit listening to the patter of steady rain and the occasional rumble of 
retreating thunder. 
Teasel landed on my feet.  Chester and Mima appeared from their hiding places to swarm over our pillows, purring ingratiatingly.
We slept.

Contrails and delicate clouds marked the sky on Tuesday morning.

The white vapor trails shimmer in the slanting December sunlight.

I collect the slender branches which the wind brings down and drag them into a pile, breaking them up as I need them for fire starters.  J. apparently being tired of my untidy heap, snipped them into short lengths.  I think his arrangement looks like a house for Pooh or Piglet!

I retrieved the colorful cat print quilt from the local quilt shop on Wednesday and hurried to finish the outer edges with a folded 'back-to-front' binding.  It was shipped out on Friday to our grand daughter in Colorado.

Detail of smaller blocks and machine quilting.

The dooryard was squelchy this morning after a night of rain.
I made the mistake of slogging out in my slippers to tip eggshells onto the compost heap.
Later, properly booted, I made the rounds of the sodden gardens.
In the lower perennial strip, poppies have sprung up where ever seeds fell from the dried pods.
Weeds are flourishing as well in the mild Kentucky winter.

I'm having to concede that the small garden strip near the clothesline isn't a good place for perennials.
In a hard or prolonged rain the soil washes away.
I found two peony roots exposed and red leaf buds visible.
I fetched my trowel and carefully pulled wet earth to cover them. 

In the herb plot near the carport fresh leaves of lemon balm have emerged, crinkled and pungent.
Surely a frosty night will be their undoing.

I went to the garden strip where the winter cabbages are still thriving.
Nellie watched from beneath a rose bush while I picked Brussels' sprouts for supper.

Bobby crouches in the stalks of the Michaelmas daisies.

Willis marches by, keeping a catly eye on his domain.
Colder, clearer weather is predicted by Christmas Eve.
We wait, settling into winter, but mindful that each day will now welcome a few minutes more of light.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Reverting to Grey

Dogwood twigs against the dark sky.

Sunshine this morning and a frosty bite to the air.
We had errands--I needed to send off a parcel and buy stamps, J. needed items from the auto parts store.
Pebbles was nearly out of grain, so we also stopped at the mill store.
Waiting to pull out into traffic we noted that cars had been slowed by a tractor hauling in a cart load of shelled field corn.
There is still some standing in fields around the county--wet weather having delayed the harvesters.
Home again, I had thoughts of a quick walk along the road or around the edges of the soggy back field.
By the time I had done a few necessary things the sun had disappeared.  All was grey and gloomy.
I went out, but didn't have the heart to walk into the wind.
I foraged about in the lower garden and found Brussels' sprouts to cook for supper, and cut a large head of cabbage. The outer leaves were semi-frozen.  stripping them off I discovered a few green cabbage caterpillars, small and not looking lively. At the base of the cabbage, resting under the outermost leaves was a wooly bear--likewise stunned by the cold.

During the summer there were several families of robins bouncing about the dooryard.
I thought they were nesting in the two maples that edge the driveway.
With leaves off the trees I was expecting to see the large sturdy nests there.
Instead I noted one clinging to the high branches of the sweet gum tree.

Back inside, to cook the sprouts and warm up spaghetti from yesterday's supper.
Chatting with my sister on Face Book later, she mentioned that she wanted to make a rice pudding.
We discussed recipes until I, too, fancied a rice pudding.
I sweetened mine with maple syrup and added dried cherries and cinnamon.
It is about to become a bedtime snack!

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Sunshine [At last] and Frost

Sunday morning saw a landscape of trees, grass and power wires furred with frost.
Mist hung in chilly clouds.
When I drew back the living room curtains, deer were clustered in the front meadow.
I crept out quietly with my camera, but they sensed I was there on the porch.
They began to move off, coughing and wiffling nervously.

The sky lightened a bit on Monday, although it couldn't be called a sunny day.
J. has been breaking a skim of ice in Pebbles' water trough each morning.
He is assisted on his morning rounds by Willis.

A light dusting of snow greeted us on Tuesday morning.  The sun came out!
A powdering of snow lingers in a few sheltered hollows, although the harsh weather which struck many places in the east passed us by, leaving us with chilly nights [slightly below freezing] and days which have a nip in the air.

After so many housebound days [between weather and having a nasty cough] it has been a blessing to bundle up and walk outdoors of an afternoon.
The light this time of year alters colors; dried grasses and weeds which look dull and grey on an overcast day, take on a mellow amber-gold beneath the low-slanting sun.
The creek, seen here at the ford, has a deep blue sheen from the reflected clear sky.

The bare trees are stark against the sky.

A walk at 3 in the afternoon, along the road which winds south down the valley.
The view is of a neighboring corn field, long since shorn of its crop.
On these shortest of days, the sun slides off behind the ridge to the west, leaving the back yard chilly.
Gaps in the ridges offer sunlight glow still along the road or in our front meadow, but the cold of early evening moves in, causing me to quicken my steps where the road is shaded.

Nellie considers jumping into the cat yard to gain entrance to the house through the sliding door.

The cats who have outdoor privileges have been more willing to come in at dusk--or even a bit before as the late afternoons grow cold. Bobby is the most determined to stay out late--prowling through the tall cold grass of the back field. 
Once they've been collected inside for the night, we are amused by the feline jostlings for the warmest spots in the living room: the hearth rug, the fleece throw on the love seat, available laps.

I have spent two evenings in the living room, watching TV with J.--a most unusual past time for me.
I became enthralled with the BBC series, Land Girls, and have sat there, mug of tea at my elbow, a cat or two sharing my chair. 
Of course series 3 ended with a cliff-hanger or two and many unanswered questions.
Now we must wait for the final episodes to become available on Netflix.
I remarked to J. that I would rather have my drama in book form.
He argues that it is better to 'see' it played out.
I have enjoyed the country settings of Land Girls and especially the period clothing.
Still--I recognize that I have a vivid imagination, one that is easily impacted by too much visual stimulation.
Perhaps next week I will make up a fire downstairs and quietly retreat there to sew.
I suspect I have gone into hibernation mode!

Friday, December 6, 2013

Dark and Raining, Raining and Dark

Rain began sometime during Wednesday night. I could hear it being blown against the house--then silence, then more rain.
There was a let-up mid-morning when I pulled on my stout boots [Thank You J. for some pricey and substantial  foot gear!] and a rain coat. Days of being mostly inside while we endured coughs and colds had me longing to stretch my legs and spend time outdoors.

I was saddened to read via Dartford Warbler's blog, http://wherebeechmastfalls.blogspot.com/ of the New Forest ponies who have recently died due to over indulgence in acorns.
Needing a destination for my walk, I decided to trudge up the road to observe this year's crop of acorns from the oaks that grow between the roadway and the creek bank.
I don't know what would be considered a bumper crop, but there were heaps of brown nuts, many crushed by passing cars.

I walked along to where a hay field opens up and the creek takes a deep bend away from the road.
At the far edge of the meadow, close again to the creek bank, I was surprised to find several clumps of yucca.

It is nearly impossible to take a picture of the creek that doesn't include trash.
You can see white plastic carrier bags caught on twigs.
All along our road is a constantly renewed litter of aluminum drink cans, styrofoam cups bearing the logos of several fast food 'joints' in town; chip bags, candy wrappers, flimsy cardboard boxes which have held McDonalds' meals, all hurled onto the verge.
I had read the UK Daily Mail's article re the wild ponies before leaving the house and found much to ponder.
It seems that a small intake of the acorns along with their usual diet of forage wouldn't pose a threat to the life and health of equines, but it has been observed that once they have a 'taste' for the acorns they 'hoover' them down in lethal quantities.
Looking at the litter of junk food containers cluttering our country landscape, it seems to me that the same problem exists for humans who have too long consumed preservative/spice/sugar/synthetic flavoring laden 'snacks' in lieu of sensible meals.
I wonder if its a stretch to connect those who are careless of good nutrition with those who care nothing for the environment?

There was no lessening of grey skies all day, nor has there been today.
More of the dull rainy weather is predicted through Monday.
J. always tracking weather on the doplar map, feels that we may be within a small area that will not be visited by snow and ice from the storm trawling its way across the country.

I recall wondering about these spiny trees last winter.
The closest identification I got was some variety of locust.
Wouldn't they look fitting as background for a film with a 'dark and stormy night' theme?

Outbuildings on the abandoned farmstead next door.
There are many such in the area, weathering quietly, sagging, eventually falling over in weed-covered heaps.

The one building still in use next door is a tobacco barn.
Rain started again soon after I returned to the house.
Today the dooryard is dappled with puddles; the north windows stream with droplets of rain.
Charlie and the two long-haired boy cats, Bobby and Nellie, insist on going out in the wet.They plod through the tall grass on their hunting routes, returning drenched with bits of twigs and burrs tangled in their sopping fur. I tease out the largest burrs, use the cat brush to tug through knots of wet hair and grappling stickles.
The cats collapse on the beds [the quilts covered in shabby blankets] and once dried and fluffed demand to go out again and repeat the cycle.
Our small house seems more than usually cluttered. I've done the basics of kitchen and bathroom cleaning, kept up with laundry using the electric dryer; I rummaged an apple pie from the depths of the freezer and popped it in the oven.  The house is taking on the scent of buttery pastry and spiced fruit.
A beef roast is thawing in the sink.  In the morning it will go into the crock pot with a surround of onion, carrots and potatoes, garlic, a bay leaf. 
Quilting projects tease at the back of my mind. Perhaps on Sunday I will make a fire downstairs, listen to my CD's of Celtic Christmas music, do some machine piecing.
For now--J. is working in his shop, so the house is quiet.  Smoke billows from the chimney, swirls down toward the wet ground. 
I suspect I will succumb to the lure of my rocking chair, another mug of tea, a book or my hand sewing.
It doesn't seem a day for turning my world upside-down.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

A Brown Sort of Day

Hydrangea, rain battered and then wind-dried, outside the west window. 

No sunshine yet again, although the temperatures are mild.
I got up to cough--build up the fire--cough, feed cats--cough---make the coffee--you see the pattern of my recent early mornings!
Edward the Cat streaked through the sliding door carrying a small alive mouse, with a gang of cats in
 hot pursuit.
They rampaged down the hall and burst into the bedroom where J. had one long leg out of bed.
'What?' he exclaimed, as the entire contingent thumped about under the bed.
"Catch the mouse!" I replied, and went back to the kitchen.
When J. appeared moments later I asked after the mouse.
'Oh,' he said, rather vaguely, 'I think it's gone into the closet.'
Several cats were bumbling about near the closet's bi-fold doors.
I flung them wide and began hauling out boots, canvas carrier bags, a bin of wooly socks.
The mouse was huddled against the back wall.
J. was pouring his coffee.
"Come and get the mouse!" I demanded.
He put on his gloves and in a moment had the creature cupped in his hands.
To my astonishment instead of releasing it outside, he flushed it down the toilet, while the feline gang observed.
I was a bit taken aback by this.  I only flush dead things!
Oh dear.  
[Edited to add that the mouse had been quite badly 'wounded' by the attentions of the cats, so this was a merciful end!] 
I suppose if it had been released outside, already traumatized and somewhat damaged, it would have been retrieved and fetched in again.
A bit of a grisly start to the day.

Lichen on the redbud tree by the mailbox.

J. went out to feed Pebbles while I sliced potatoes and onions to fry for breakfast.
Edward the Cat was noisily sick on the bedside rug.
Fortunately I was aware of this before stripping bedding to take downstairs to the laundry.
Edward crouched, looking on dolefully as I fetched a bottle of lemon-scented cleaner, paper towels, a scrubbing brush.
I pegged out sheets, knowing they wouldn't get completely dry on such a dull day, but hoping they would gather the fresh scent of cool air and the wintery smell of wood smoke.
Walking back from the clothesline I spied Nellie, rolling about behind the van, then prodding at something which lay still in the gravel.
My suspicions aroused, I tip-toed near enough to recognize a garter snake.
I ferreted J. out of the shop to dispose of this unwanted article.
He prodded at it with the wrench he was carrying, then, seeing that it was alive but sluggish with cold, he carried it to the brush pile by the upper garden and tossed it into the depths.
I'm not liking that brush pile and have intentions of moving it down to the burning area behind the garage.
Who knows what might take up residence in a brush pile over the winter?

A leaf from the sweet gum tree, gleaming like waxed mahogany.

The day went on--noon looking as still and dull as early morning.
I made 4 loaves of oatmeal bread.
I creamed butter and sugar for a batch of chocolate chip cookies and discovered that J. had fried the last of the eggs at breakfast time.
[I usually trade baked goods for my neighbor's free-range eggs--but haven't done that while we were ill.]
I needed to wait til the bread was baked before driving to Wal Mart for eggs.
I was feeling very tired, yesterday's sense of recovery and strength had evaporated.
I tottered to the store, finished baking cookies, prepared supper.
Baked potato, sauteed salmon, canned green beans from last year's garden.
I think it was the 3 cookies for dessert that gave me a bit of a boost!
Tomorrow is another day--mid-week already......

Monday, December 2, 2013

Emerging From My Corner

As last week wore on so did my weariness in fighting my chesty cold.
We were glad of two comfortable bedrooms as our moments of respite from nocturnal coughing didn't coordinate for the peaceful sharing of a bed.
The weather was cold outside and windy, so we huddled, one on either side of the fireplace.
J. went out each morning to tend Pebbles and the barn cats, I bundled up to take out cat litter and the kitchen scraps which go to the refuse heap.
I added a large fleece throw to the quilt and pillow in my rocking chair.
In reach are baskets holding magazines, books currently being read, and some hand sewing.
I cluttered the stand with a stack of J.'s soft cotton handkerchiefs, a box of tissues, mugs of tea.

One survives the intermittent chills and mild fever, the snuffling, the sense of being badly abused.
Bouts of rib-juddering coughing, we agreed, were the worst of this, seconded by the sense of lethargy.
I thought of coming in to my desk, attempting to write blog posts, or letters, or work on some project, but the momentum wasn't there.
I laid aside my stitchery and simply doddered over a favorite series of books.
M. and G. appeared with a huge pot of freshly made chicken/vegetable soup and several large oranges.

Although I slept poorly last night, I awoke today with a sense of renewal and recovery.
I was scurrying about collecting laundry when J. called me to the kitchen window to observe the power-play between Nellie and Sally.
There are nearly constant 'playground' clashes amongst the cats--both indoors and out.
Sally and Sadie, the barn cat torties, have been bullied throughout their three year tenure by Willis.
Nellie and his brothers harass Willow the dithery pale tabby.
Charlie stalks about the yard seeking 'someone' to chase.
It was therefore a bit amusing to see Nellie 'treed' on the garden fence post, watching warily as Sally stomped about beneath his perch.

I always marvel at the way a cat can tidily adapt to strange small spaces. 

Nellie, appearing to have only three feet, peers down  from the post, keeping Sally within his sights.

I had a chiropractor's appointment in town so couldn't linger to watch the entire cat drama play out.
The day has been cloudy, but mild and without wind.
My 'adjustment' over [including the usual scolding from Kelli the Chiropractor who always suggests I 'might could' learn moderation in my activities] I stopped at two charity shops, delighted to find that I was breathing easily and not coughing.
[I did notice that other people were letting loose with a cacophany of coughs everywhere I went!]
I completed my errands with a stop at Wal Mart, where I indulged in the purchase of a new quilt magazine and shampoo touted as wonderful for 'silver hair!'
The  reason to be at WM was to buy a case of tinned cat food, the last can having been served for 
feline breakfasts, but somehow one never gets out of the place without a few more items landing in the cart!
There is a Subway sandwich shop within the premises of WM and on a whim I had 'grinders' made for our lunch.
D. was here helping J. when I arrived home--so I shared my 'foot long' roast beef sandwich with him, he having predictably made gagging sounds when asked if he would like part of J.'s favorite tuna salad.

Laundry folded and put away, the floor swept and a bit of tidying done.
I phoned the farrier, whose wife promised she would send him over this evening to give Pebbles feet a much needed trim.
I thought of baking--something [?] but decided that could wait til tomorrow. 
Daylight faded with a sense of deja vu--J. and D. towing that blasted tractor around the yard again!

I'm ready to thump myself down in the rocking chair with a snack and the new quilting mag--to turn again to my book for the evening.
There's a difference somehow--this evening my snug corner is a choice, a restful place at the end of a busy day--not a place to huddle and shiver and cough!