Thursday, April 30, 2015

Cat Containers

Several days ago our local animal shelter posted a plea for donations via our beloved online journal, Columbia Magazine.
Cat and Dog food, cat litter, pet toys, soft bedding are always needed.
One correspondent posted a suggestion that a few sturdy boxes for the cat area would be welcomed by the feline residents.
The editor proposed that readers share stories and photos of cats in boxes.
I couldn't resist trolling though my many photos of our cat companions to create the above collage.
Several of these dear pets are no longer with us--making the photo review one of nostalgia.
I'm sharing the essay I wrote to accompany the collage. 

I can't recall a time when we didn't share our home with an assortment of feline companions. Over the years the numbers have varied--usually we are housing and feeding more of the creatures than  makes sense to anyone but a dedicated cat lover.

We've found that while one can make polite suggestions to a cat regarding appropriate places for napping or meditating, cats have a way of choosing their own special nooks.
We encourage them with baskets and boxes lined with remnants of soft towels or old sweaters. While these accommodations are usually accepted, nearly any empty container becomes fair game. Set down a large kettle or colander during canning season and I can guarantee it will have been taken over by the time I reach for it. An open drawer or cupboard, a closet door left ajar, an empty space on a book shelf--- all will be claimed.

Set down a basket of clean laundry, fresh from the clothesline, you will find it lures an occupant.  The basket holding a sewing or quilting project is up for grabs; if you are lucky enough to bring home an old-fashioned paper bag, it will provide hours of amusement for your cats as they scoot it 
around the room.

Cats have a way of fitting into unlikely containers: a shoebox, a shipping carton that is much too small. They have an ability to soften the edges, tuck in their paws, fold the tail tidily, creating the illusion that the space was custom made for the inhabitant.

Sometimes what we humans offer as a cozy nest is spurned and ignored while an unlikely box becomes so popular that squabbles break out. Places not intended as cat beds seem especially attractive--the small bin which holds gloves and winter hats--the basket heaped with carefully folded towels, the tray holding papers and other oddments.
A cat in a box or basket considers himself/herself both invisible and invulnerable, sprawled with legs in the air or curled into a tight slumbering ball of fur. The chosen 'bed' becomes a retreat, a hidey-hole, a lair, a den, a refuge, a place to 'sit tight' and survey the humans who are meant to 
graciously provide.

Friday, April 24, 2015

End of the Week Assessment=Tired

I've reached the end of the week feeling bone tired [an elderly sort of complaint] 
and needing to assure myself that I must have done something to list as accomplishments.
In a year that has included moving house--twice--and being involved in the renovation of two houses to date, I have lost the sense of personal satisfaction that has usually been provided by my sewing and writing. Even time to read has been at a premium--I sit with a book in my hands, but often rather foggy in concentration.
My week in review includes feeding and cleaning up after cats--of course!
The laundry gets done, bed made, dishes washed, etc.

I water the little plants residing in the pantry: these are the three surviving rosemarys, still so small, but they've had larger pots and fresh soil for encouragement.
The seedling muskmelons, tomatoes, lavender and coneflower are out-growing their containers on the pantry windowsill. I must find better accommodations for them in the next few days.

A good morning to bake--temps only just above freezing at daybreak.
Chocolate chip cookies with dried cranberries and pecans.
Not exactly what we needed, but chocolate is comforting.

Cinnamon rolls to share with a neighbor.
I am justifying the sweet treats as fuel for our labors!

Our favorite loaves--anadama bread.
I usually make this traditional New England favorite with a cooked cornmeal mush as the base.
A friend in Vermont says he adds the raw cornmeal to the other ingredients. In the interest of time I did this today and I'm pleased with the result--a bit more 'crunch' to the crust.

I took advantage of the wood stove to simmer a hearty potato soup.
Bread, still warm from the [electric] oven, with a slathering of pimento cheese which I made Wednesday evening.

While Jim worked Tuesday repairing the ceiling at the Cane Valley house, I clipped shrubbery and then loaded up a pile of bricks which had been left by the former owners.
At Jim's request I applied polyurethane in a swath down the left side of the hallway--muttering as I did so that I would not have laboriously ripped up the carpet in that area if I'd had an inkling we'd be moving. He 'polyed' the other side today.
Thursday was [at last] a day of bright sunshine.
My load of bricks from Cane Valley was still in the van. The former occupants of the lower farmhouse had placed bricks around an old well head, now overgrown with weeds. Moving the top layer of bricks was easy, but the bottom round had to be pried out with a shovel.
In spite of a late lunch at The Mustard Seed I was definitely flagging by the time I unloaded and stacked my bricks in the area where I hope to create a perennial garden. 
Our soil is gritty with many small rocks--I foresee much effort will be needed.
I parked the van between the shop and lower porch, trundled out the shop vac and spent half an hour hoovering out crumbs of earth, several families of wood lice who had emerged from the bricks and several gruesome looking spiders.

The electric company arrived with three trucks and sufficient manpower to install the overhead wires and hook up power to the 'box' just inside the gate to the lower house.
Jim promptly ran the heavy cable across the ground and into the basement.
He has several outlets installed--very evident as he has the radio or CD player blasting over the noise of drills and power saws.

Today Jim put up the partial wall which will divide the huge square room into kitchen and dining space. I am pleased to note that he has taken my suggestions to heart regarding location of the bathroom and laundry area.
[Of course he now believes it was all his own idea!  He did have a great brainstorm for creating a 
new pantry.]

Thus another week has unraveled--no great accomplishments,  rather a certain sense of plodding [not running] in circles.
If I have a job description it may be 'The Person Who Picks up the Pieces'!
I am not as martyred as I sound--merely feeling my age!

Monday, April 20, 2015

Still It Rains

The brook which borders our lane was in full spate last week after a night of pounding rain.
We have not since had a full 24 hour span without showers, drizzles, or downpours of various duration.
Heavy rain here creates freshets which pour down the steep ridges, rushing into brooks, creeks and rivers. Sections of the road disappear under sheets of water, bridges are closed, water stands in shimmering pools in fields and meadows;
gravel washes out of driveways and is deposited in the road.

Wild blue phlox has sprung up everywhere in the woods beyond the stable.
This clump was poised on  the bank of the swollen brook.
Violets, lavender-blue, yellow and a few white, hold up their heart-shaped leaves to the pummeling raindrops. 

Grass is growing apace, leaves unfolding on the trees.
All is a patchwork in tender shades of new green.
Our morning walks have been curtailed by the rain.
I put on my tall boots and squelched across the meadow after the first torrential rain.
The path we use along the boundary fence was under water--grass and violets drowned.

I had intended crossing the creek to have a closer look at a spread of blue-flowered plants--the usual fording spot was lost under a rush of foaming brown water.
The plants which I lugged home from the Cane Valley garden are still in their temporary containers ranged along the 
porch of Jim's shop.
The ground is too muddy to work.
My order of flower seeds has arrived in the mail and must be started in small pots.
The bricks I wish to move from a neglected spot at the lower farmhouse are still sitting there.
I'm not one to relish working outside with rain trickling clammily down my neck!

I picked leaves of fresh catnip from the recently dug plant. Bobby and Edward are inspired by the treat. Capturing a good photo of cats in the throes of a catnip high is difficult--much writhing and thrashing.

Jim finished the master closet on Thursday.
I was surprised that he painted the shelf supports red--but he felt that an all white closet was a bit boring. I spent several hours unpacking garments that have been mashed into Rubbermaid bins for the past two months, gathered clothes on hangers from the several tiny Amish closets.
The lower closet rails and shelves are mine--Jim's belongings are on the higher rails.
He hasn't claimed the vacant third shelf--I could find things to put there.
In spite of repeated culling I realize that once again we have accumulated too many clothes.
Never mind that the greater portion of them have been purchased at Goodwill or other charity shops.
Even good labels at bargin prices don't excuse an excess.
I finally finished painting the cabinetry for the upstairs bathroom, although the doors and hardware are yet to be installed.
Jim will not work on the shower there until later.
He painted the walls and ceiling in the master bedroom--oh, the joy of waking early in the morning and viewing my choice of colors--as opposed to acres of shiny light blue paint [the Amish choice in interior decor.] 

Gloomy weather inspires me to bake.
Jim and I ate our way through a chocolate cream pie and a lemon meringue in the course of the week.

Flaky crust and the filling home made [no mixes!] and the garnish is real whipped cream.
I justified this indulgence as necessary to raise our spirits during the spell of wet weather--and surely all our hard work will disperse the calories.
I see no upcoming break in the work.
The heavy rains accompanied by wind loosened a roof shingle at the Cane Valley house. The resulting leak brought down a section of the ceiling in our former master bedroom. 
Jim has cleaned up the mess, patched the roof, replaced sheetrock.
I went with him yesterday to sweep and mop while he applied texture to the new portion of the ceiling, which will need painting. 
Today I helped mask and tape the kitchen cabinetry for the lower farmhouse kitchen.
My painting of our bathroom cabinetry became so time-consuming that Jim has opted for the white lacquer finish which the cabinet shop uses. His experience in spraying vehicles and machinery means this is yet one more job he can do.
The electric company office managed to [temporarily] misplace the permits and inspection paperwork pertaining to the lower farmhouse. 
That has now been found languishing on someone's desk, so today the sub-contractors came and cut the small trees which were marked months ago to be removed from the area where the 
line will be run.
We make progress, but the to-do list is a long one.

Monday, April 13, 2015


Cantaloupe seedlings moved to the pantry windowsill today.

Also on the windowsill, a few tomatoes.  They pricked through the soil on Friday.
One row is the heirloom, Purden's Purple, the other plants are Super Boy hybrid.
Our tomato crops in Kentucky have been beset by blight every year, but we persevere.
With so many tasks needing to be done in this new homeplace, the veg garden will necessarily be smaller than usual.
Rainy weather [April showers] have prevented 'turning' garden spots.
When I know how much space will be available I can buy plants locally as needed.
By the end of this week I expect I will move my containers of seedlings out to the work bench in J's shop, positioning them under the south-facing window.

I spent most of Sunday at the Cane Valley property laboriously up-earthing plants which wintered in the 'nursery' area at the bottom of the veg garden. 
Weeds are already engulfing the garden which we won't till this season.
With the house on the market and a nearly 40 mile round trip between the two properties, gardening there isn't a practical option.
Seed-grown achillias had settled in and spread into respectable clumps.
The catnip plant has already produced aromatic stems which I can cut for drying before finding a spot here to transplant.
I removed lemon thyme and clove pinks from the front strip where they had run rampant into the lawn.  I knew Jim was planning to go over and mow today and that the outermost plants would be slashed.
I took out two small roses which never looked at ease in that area, removed two lavenders, the clump of feverfew, great tangles of pinks.
I rearranged some of the plants which I left and heaved into place some large 'stepping stones' left behind by the former owners. 
These are shaped like giant feet--not my style at all, but they serve to add interest to that strip.
I speculate, rather gloomily, that a new owner is apt to bring in marigolds and petunias--so I am comfortable with salvaging those plants which I have nurtured and cherished as 'starters' for the garden I hope to create here.
All last summer I hovered over 'slips' of clematis which I was growing on in a large pot.
They were put in the ground at the Cane Valley house very late in the season--I was pleasantly surprised to see that they had wintered.
I was able to lift the little trellis, dig up the clematis roots and carefully transfer the whole thing to the floor of my van, losing only a few inches of the vine which snapped off at the tip.
I set it up against a fence post in the new garden at the end of the workshop.
In my mind's eye I can imagine the fence posts all bedecked with clematis or roses.
I have way more 'visions' and ideas than stamina at this point, but flowers are vital to my enjoyment of summer.

Last spring Gina discovered daylilies in a different coloration than the usual orange, growing along the roadside. We each took a shovel-ful of the roots. 
I put a clump of them in this corner near the side porch steps.
Anna had grown ornamental grass in this spot, corralled in a white-painted tire.
The grass winter-killed and I was not sorry to dig up the knotted ball of dead roots and heave the tire out of the way.

Clumps of thyme--both English and Lemon--tucked in along the edge of the concrete steps.
The soil is gritty and has been mulched with crushed rock--I think thyme and lavender 
will flourish here.

The clove pinks [dianthus] had spread lustily and came up in thick mats when I began to lift them from the edge of the grass. This area runs steeply down from the side porch to the driveway in front of the shop. 
My vision is to have a 'river' of the spicy-scented 'pinks' flowing down the edge. 

Anna had planted a swath of creeping phlox on the bank.
As I worked along the edge I noticed this blue swallowtail muddling drunkenly through the blossoms.
I went to fetch my camera and returned to find Charlie cat very interested in the swoops of the butterfly.

Charlie in a pose of innocence.
It began gently to rain as I tucked the last of the dianthus in place.
I was damp and chilled by the time I had picked up pots and tools.
I shrugged into the hoodie I had left on the bench by the shop door, creaked inside.
When I ventured out to the porch a bit later, I found Charlie and his pals, Willis and Sadie tucked up on the loveseat watching the rain patter down.
So much to be done--so much!

Monday, April 6, 2015

A Moment with Willis

I was at the kitchen sink, idly rinsing a bowl.
It was near dusk of an afternoon that tended toward overcast.
I noted the dark shape of a cat's rump in the still leafless branches of the tulip poplar, nearly on a level with the kitchen window.

It was Willis, of course, surveying his kingdom from a lofty vantage point.

He turned nimbly on his branch when I went out with my camera..

His manner seemed to suggest that while he wasn't averse to a photo shoot, I'd best get on with it--he didn't plan to stay there all night!

Friday, April 3, 2015

Requiem for a Garden

Nearly three weeks ago we had errands in town and decided to drive out to our old place in Gradyville for a quick visit to the Millers.
As we approached it was evident that work had been nearly completed on the new harness shop--a building which enclosed and greatly expanded the little garage which Jim had used as a work space.

It was not until we were nearly at the top of the drive that I realized the site of my perennial garden was now covered with an expanse of crushed rock.
"My flowers!" I gasped. 
A mound of muddy earth had been pushed down to the former location of my lower flower strips--where each summer cosmos, zinnias and sunflowers had flourished.
Here and there the broken roots and branches of my cherished heirloom roses protruded from the cold tumble of dirt.
On the other side of the new building Mr Rogers' grape arbor had disappeared as had the admittedly wobbly clothesline.

We met Mose Miller on the wide porch which runs along the east side of the new shop; from within came the sound of hammering. The hum of the gasoline engine which powers Amish industry hung on the damp air.
Jim exclaimed approvingly over the new shop.  I stood shivering and staring numbly at the area where I had spent five summers setting out perennials, weeding, dividing plants, tucking in yet another new lot of seedlings.
During a break in the men's talk I turned to Mose.
"The flowers are gone," I said, rather stupidly stating the obvious.
I made sure my tone of voice was neutral.

"Yes," agreed Mose. "The flowers are gone, but see the nice parking lot for customers, for the trucks that deliver supplies."
Then, kindly enough,  "Go on in to see Anna.  She will show you her new kitchen."

I was better prepared for the changes in the house. Our 'modern' electric range had been moved out, the fridge sat in the car port--plugged in, I noted.
The small rank of drawers which  flanked the stove had been moved to stand near the built-in buffet. Laminated hardwood replaced the kitchen linoleum [the only room whose flooring we had 
not torn up.] 
All was immaculate and orderly, as I have come to expect of Anna Miller.
The table had been moved into the addition which houses a traditional Amish kitchen. 
Anna's new Kitchen Queen range--smaller than the one left in our present house--had pride of place.
I spoke enthusiastically of the changes, noting that the addition allowed for south facing windows--a definite lack in the original arrangement.

At last I had to mention the flowers.
"I did not know the flower gardens were to go," admitted Anna, ruefully. "I would have tried to dig up and save some of the plants.  But--I looked out and there was a machine pushing it all away."
Anna's gentle voice took on a firmer note. 

"I was not happy about what happened to the garden. I am still not happy about it!
Mose has said when the weather is warmer I should go to the nursery and buy more plants. I can have another garden."
She paused a moment for emphasis.
"I told Mose--but those plants were settled!"

We looked at each other in shared dismay over this sad reality of a garden sacrificed to male common sense and industry.
"Men!" I announced, crossly.
"Yes" agreed Anna, "Men!"
I reminded Anna of the peonies well established by the Rogers.  I had, in the second year of my occupancy, divided the clumps of iris dotted about the yard and set them around the peonies. This strip, I was assured, had not been touched.
Anna led the way to the front porch where we inspected the clumps of day lilies, so recently thrusting their pale green shoots from the cold earth.
I pointed out the achillea, started from seed, noted that the nandina had suffered from the long freeze of February and would need severe pruning. 
We speculated which of the herbs near the back door might have survived the unusual blast of 
cold weather. 
Anna sighed. "The builders tramped  across the herb garden even though I reminded 
them it was there!"

We spoke then of quilts and of the relief of the coming spring time.
When it was time to leave, I assured Anna that I hoped she would visit us at the Pellyton farm which had been her family's home for over two decades.
"We've made changes," I warned her, "It will seem different."
Anna smiled serenely, "It is your place now. And I would like to visit and see what you have done."

Sleep eluded me that night. Mentally I reviewed my lost garden: the swath of clove pinks which perfumed the air for weeks; the sturdy blue salvia; tall lilies whose fat bulbs increased each year; the tangled mat of lemon thyme along one edge; the billow of Russian sage, the distinctive fragrance of the southernwood bush; coneflowers, achillea, catnip and clary--all nurtured from tiny seedllings.
 The roses--guarded from the onslaughts of Japanese beetles, the self-sown poppies which held brilliant sway. so fresh on a May morning.
I've thought back to the late autumn days when I finished packing our bits and pieces, carefully scrubbed the little yellow house in preparation for its new owners.
Several times I gazed over my gardens, longing to take away at least the rarest and most treasured of my plants, but feeling that would be unethical.
I remembered the wrench of leaving my Vermont gardens in 1998 when we moved to the harsh and arid high plains of Wyoming.
Those gardens had been eighteen years in the making!
For me, it is more difficult to leave behind a garden than a house.

I have comforted myself that I have here some of my peonies--moved last May to the interim house in Cane Valley. There are roses growing near the front porch. Daffodils grow in a sweep of yellow and green around the mailbox at the foot of the lane.
Several of the seedlings of lavender and thyme which I tucked in near the steps clung to life during the precarious winter.

Today Jim drove me to the Mennonite garden nursery. 
While he chose cabbage and broccoli plants, I selected two large pots of clove pinks--one in a deep carmine red, the other a clear rosy pink.
I bought two veronicas, a Munstead lavender, a tiny slip of common sage.
I have marked seeds and plants in my favorite catalogue.
Jim has warned that with so much needing done, he will have little time this year to spare for making and maintaining a veg garden. The implication is that I need to restrain myself in my 
dreams of flowers.
 I know this!
My elderly knees have registered protests in prior years of weeding. 
I cannot manage as large a planting as I covet.
It won't do to raise a battalion of seedlings and have no space prepared for them.

My mind tells me I must move on from this sadness about my lost garden.

My mind tells me I must be practical and realistic as I plan a new garden.

My mind tells me these things, but I'm not sure my heart is ready to listen!