Sunday, January 24, 2016

"Snow Has Fallen, Snow On Snow"

This was the view from the front porch on Friday as the predicted storm moved in.
Jim had been out already with the tractor and box blade. He doesn't have a front-mount plow--not something normally required in Kentucky.

The concrete slabs which form the covered porches on both upper and lower entries have a very smooth finish. They become perilously slippery when covered with a dusting of snow or blown-in rain.
Jim has kept the blown snow swept away during the storm and laid strips of old carpet as walkways.
Wet snow packs into the treads on the bottoms of our shoes or boots increasing the tendency to go into a skid.

Ice and snow cling to the seed pods that escaped my pruning of the hibiscus at the edge of the porch.

Wind-shredded clouds moved across the sky, blotting out the sun for much of Friday.

Bobby has been tooling about in the snow.  He was headed inside when a flutter of movement in some branches at the edge of the woodpile caught his attention.
I investigated and discovered a hapless sparrow chittering and dithering under the sticks.  I snatched up Bobby and bore him away while the small bird hopped aimlessly off the porch and blundered along the side of the 'washroom' annex.

I wish that I could in good conscience feed the birds during the winter months.
At the Gradyville farm I put out feeders during our first two winters and we enjoyed watching cardinals, juncos, sparrows and chickadees, even a few bluebirds and purple finches zooming in for a meal.
The cats watched the birds from inside, whiskery faces pressed against the sliding glass doors.
By the second winter Willis and the tortie sisters, Sadie and Sally, were menacing the birds.
With regret I decided not to put out the feeders during our last winter there.
We now have 5 cats who are regularly outside and the 'boy cats' who have outdoor privileges.
They stalk birds.
In the above photo, taken on my way into the house today after hours outside, Charlie is intent on the group of juncos picking at the recently uncovered gravel.

Willis joins Charlie.
I shooed them away from the birds.
It seems that I do this whenever I am outside.
From the kitchen window I see Sadie or Sally creeping up on a bird and rap on the glass to distract the marauding cat of the moment.
The problem, of course, is not one with a ready solution.
Coming in by the basement door a few minutes after witnessing the above, I found a freshly killed bird on the door mat.
This is the second casualty in a week.
A group of birds busily pecking at something on the ground seem blissfully unaware of the presence of a cat, one of their most common enemies. 

It snowed most of Friday night leaving our world covered in drifts of pristine snow.
Snow had drifted over the lane nearly obscuring the effects of Jim's plowing.

I layered myself in warm clothes and hauled on my lined overalls.
The overalls have a full front zipper, side zips from hips to ankles for easy on and off over boots. The lining is quilted. There are various pockets including one on each side with zips that allow one to reach into jean pockets beneath. 
By the time I have bundled myself in this 'snow suit' I feel immense, clumsy, waddling--but warm. The zipped down legs keep snow out of my boots.
I wanted photos of the snow cover before Jim began plowing again.
You can see the track I left behind me as I blundered along the snowy lane.
It wasn't til I looked back that I realized I wasn't walking in a straight line.
This was due in part to inattention as I was focused on photo ops--also yesterday's snow had frozen beneath the fresh snow cover creating uneven footing.

Weeds along the fence have caught the snow.
The stark lines of the wire as  background for the bent and twisted stems suggest pen and ink drawings or a design for crewel stitchery.

Jim phoned our friends along the road to see if they needed plowing out and learned that another neighbor had attempted their steep drive with his tractor. Coming back down the hill the tractor slid off the narrow road and into the ditch. 
Jim brushed snow off old 'Snort'n Nort'n, the venerable Dodge, put him in 4 wheel drive and lumbered up the road--ostensibly to see if he could help pull out the stuck tractor.
He was back shortly to report that two more large tractors had come to the rescue.

Our private lane leads off a dead-end spur road, understandably not one of the first to be plowed when there is a storm.
The entrepreneurial fellow who plants and harvests area cornfields keeps his machinery at a formerly Amish farm almost directly across from us as the crow might fly.  His brother-in-law [according to Jim] undertook to plow open a one-lane track through the snow.
As long as no one is hurt, no machinery wrecked, I suspect that the men of the neighborhood relish the mild excitement of hauling someone out of the ditch!

A hastily contrived hot meal an hour past noon, then back outside, Jim to continue plowing, wanting to clear the drive into the lower house prior to the freezing cold forecast for Saturday night.
I blundered in and out, winding down, coming in to load and critique more photos, shove wood into the stove, serve the cats their 'tea.'
I was surprised to note that the afternoon had gone.
Dusk was falling outside our house, but as usual there was yet a golden wash of light below--the sun making a last reappearance before dusk and the rising of the full moon.
Jim plodded down to check temps at the lower house--unoccupied this weekend, and the man meant to provide the last part for the electric furnace hasn't done so.
The huge orb of the moon was casting pale shadows on the piled snow by the time he returned.

I decided that cinnamon rolls would be a fitting treat to bolster us for the cold night ahead.

They came from the oven, light, sticky with butter and brown sugar, redolent of cinnamon.
And now--at a few minutes before 11 P.M. the outside thermometer is registering 8 degrees above zero F.
Jim has gone to bed.
The cats are quiet. Charlie-cat has chosen to stay inside this cold night.
I have heaped hay in a manger in the small stable, covered it with old towels to make a refuge for the outside cats. 
Often on a cold morning I find them tucked up on the wicker loveseat on the porch.

 Outside bright moonlight etches the trunks and branches of  the trees in sharp relief against the white of deep snow. 
We have done all that seems possible to keep the houses safe, the animals fortified against the cold.
I have rummaged out my warmest nightgown.
From my pillow I will be able to see the glow of the moon, the shadowy bare tips of the trees that march up the ridge. 

Thursday, January 21, 2016


I woke early this morning--too early to be up and about in the cold.
When I trudged into the bathroom at 6 a.m. and peered out I was surprised to see the porch roof below the window piled with snow. The yard and  lane were white and snow was sifting down in soft soundless flakes.
This is our first snow cover of the season.

I rummaged quietly in a dresser drawer for my black silk 'long johns' [Eddie Bauer!] went into the closet and chose a warm turtleneck sweater.
The kitchen was invitingly cozy, Jim having come downstairs at 4 to let Charlie-cat out and to shove more wood in the stove . 
[Charlie loves to be inside in the evening, socializing, but inevitably decides during the night that he would like to be outside, no matter the weather.]
I flicked on the porch light and discovered that Charlie, along with Nellie, would like to 'come in, please,' while Willis and the tortie sisters insisted that they needed their breakfast now 
to ward off the cold.

Two cats in, Bobby dashing out and off the porch into the snow.
He flits about, flakes glinting on his long black fur, then settles under the back bumper of the car, having a little think.
Shutting the door on the cold, I prod the fire, add several slabs of wood, open a 
new package of coffee.
Time for a hot shower before pulling on my layers of warm clothing.

By the time we have had breakfast Bobby is ready to enjoy the comforts of the house.
I pick him up and sniff the cold clean scent of snow in his fur.

The sun didn't appear today.
County offices and schools were closed due to the snow.
[After years of living in Vermont and Wyoming where winters are long and snow-laden, we feel mildly amused that a dusting of the 'white stuff' slows daily life to a crawl here in the mid-south.]
The mail is not delivered.
Walking down the lane to deliver a message to J. at the lower shop I am aware of the quiet--no sounds of traffic from the main road.
Tree branches loom stark against the pale lowering sky.

Back in the kitchen I chop onion, celery, carrot, the beginning of a pot of soup for our renter.
[The propane supplier hasn't come up with a tank of the desired size to install the gas
 for the cook stove.]
I stir up batter for cornbread to be baked in a cast iron skillet in the electric oven.
The cats clamor at my feet demanding their tea. I dish this out although they are an hour early with their request.
The kitchen fills with the homey smell of simmering vegetable soup and a pan of stewed tomatoes.
Jim has lumbered up the road with the tractor and box blade to plow our neighbor's steep driveway.
By the time he clumps through the back entry, knocking snow from his boots, I've made green salads topped with hard-boiled eggs and lemon pepper tuna.
Taking out the compost bucket I stop to admire the latest load of slab wood which J. fetched from the Amish mill yesterday.

Willis dives at the fluff of snow churned up by my boots.

He crouches and wiggles--doubtless seeing 'snow snakes' and 'hide-behinds.'

Darkness settles early on this snow-muffled grey day.
We are warm, sheltered, well-fed.
The pace of work is slow, plans easily deferring to weather.
The pantry and freezer are well-stocked.
I have books and sewing.
Jim has his TV.
Let it snow!

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Cold Winter Days

Two mornings of waking to temperatures in the single digits F. 

Smoke rises thickly against the cold air.
Our tenants will soon be living full time in the lower farmhouse.

One paperwhite bulb lags behind the others--all have grown unevenly. 

The pond across from our neighbor's house when I went to walk their elderly dog.

We were invited to bring home as many eggs as we could use. 
Jim fed the hens in the morning and gave them fresh water.  When I returned at noon to take the dog out and retrieve the mail, the hens had usually finished laying and I gathered up the eggs.
Animal tending went on for a week, as our friends had to be away.

Several weeks ago I dug out a quilting project started 2 winters ago--just before we dove into what has become the renovation of three houses!
I had made one of these paper-pieced blocks to see if it was something I might enjoy.
When I decided that the time had come to again take out my sewing I literally stood on my head to find the proper fabric--in the bottom bin at the very back of the closet in what has still not become my sewing room.
For now, the table in the alcove off the kitchen is a warm and light space to work.
I've kept my fabric, sewing machine and various 'tools' gathered there.
Inevitably, when I have time to cut pieces and stitch, I have the help of at least
 one feline--usually Nellie.

The pattern is called 'New York Beauty'.
There are more complicated versions but I feel that this basic one shows the chosen fabrics to good advantage.

This is slow work.
I completed several blocks then decided it was more efficient to create all the paper-pieced 'arcs' before adding the curved top and bottom pieces.
I learned a few refinements as I progressed.
Since one is working in reverse--the fabric pieces on the back and the stitching done through the marked paper on top, it is necessary to align the fabric carefully and pin. 
I became over-confident on the 3rd block I made, didn't align as painstakingly, didn't pin.
I had to tear out and rework almost half the block.
Lesson learned!

I located printable patterns for other paper-pieced blocks online.
I suspect this could be an addictive craft.

I put the sewing away on Sunday to prepare a birthday meal.
Jim and our daughter have birthdays a day apart, Gina's husband's falls a week later.
There were six of us at the round oak table in front of the fire.
I forgot to take photos to mark the occasion.

I have been a bit lazy these past two cold days--making hearty soup for lunch, replenishing the fire, reading. I've read the whole of a Poldark book today--too quickly, forgetting my intention to savor each paragraph.
The weather forecast for the remainder of the week isn't promising--more cold, the possibility of rain or even snow.
I suspect I'll be content to finish my quilt blocks, cook simple meals on the wood range, read with a cat on my lap.

Monday, January 11, 2016

Early January

Quiet days, small outings for errands, variable weather.
Jim continues to work on the lower house renovation, though the major work is nearing completion for now.
I have puttered at housework, enjoyed the slow pace of recent days.
I have taken photos, put them up at odd moments and neglected to add words.
This photo of the amaryllis was taken two days ago; already the first opened bud is past its early freshness.

Several days last week were warm and sunny.
I noted that the roses I moved to the strip along the garden fence have settled in and put forth shiny new leaves.

Not surprisingly weeds have flourished where the soil was stirred.
Most of the perennial foxgloves appear to have survived the late transplanting.
The lavenders look chilled and a few have been dislodged by vigorous upearthings carried on by the outdoor cats, in spite of stones placed around each small plant.
I had left two pots of foxglove  seedlings in a tray at the edge of the garden when a spell of wet chilly weather put paid to autumn gardening 
I tipped them out of the pots and with a hefty trowel poked through the stiff cold soil to set the plants in not bothering to separate them one from the other.
At least I have given them a chance to winter over and grow.
The last trailing rosemary has given up the ghost--not a surprise, but I held out hope for it.
I still ponder why they seemed to shrivel away after appearing to thrive in their small pots over the summer.

The paperwhites in their little tub suddenly realized their purpose and poked up sturdy green tips.
Do you see the shadowy temperature gauge attached outside the window?
We have had cold nights, frosted mornings, a true taste of winter.

The clump of catnip has now been seriously affected by freezing.
Here, on the last warm day, Nellie and Charlie had a good wallow in the fragrant stems.

When the sun shines it spills through the south-facing window onto our bed and the warmth draws the cats upstairs for the morning.
I keep the shabby comforter spread over the quilt in an attempt at cat hair containment.

Jim looked at this photo of siblings Chester and Mima, remarking that if one didn't know them they might be taken for more intelligent than they are!
They do have lovely plush fur.
Mima comes to sit with me at my desk.
Chester is skittery. 
Picking him up isn't an option.
He lands on the bed, purring, almost as soon as the light goes out at night and stays there wedged close.
He snores!

Cold weather is wonderful inspiration for baking.
Raspberry or blueberry muffins are a morning indulgence and good for sharing.

We are again providing pet care for our friends who had to be out of town for a few days.
The old dog bounces stiffly in greeting when he hears the key in the door.
I take him out to 'do his business'--which he can prolong into quite a walk-about.
Jim tends the boisterous kennel hounds, feeds the barn cats and the hens while I walk King, take him inside and dole out his meds, serve kibble to Allie and Emma the two house cats.
King is a sociable beast.
As I prepared to leave this noon after his walk he brought me a toy.

The last 'potty call' late in the evening tends to be chilly.  I have learned to shorten the retractable lead so that we don't again end up wound about the trunk of the magnolia tree while blundering through the shrubbery.  There are motion-sensor yard lights and I usually remember to take a small flashlight.
King has a definite route in mind as he zig-zags along the steep lawn--not always where I want to go!

The instruction sheet left for me states that the pets 'can have a treat if they are good.'
I give King a biscuit from his special little canister, then rattle the container that contains cat treats.
King would like to scarf up their treats as well and has to be told 'No!'

Several more cold nights are forecast before a warming trend toward the end of the week.
Jim refills the wood bins by the stove several times per day.
I am first downstairs in the morning to prod the fire into new life, adding fragrant splinters of cedar kindling, measuring coffee into the old-fashioned percolator, pushing it onto the hottest part of the stove top. 
Jim appears when the scent of coffee drifts up the stairwell.
Bobby Mac and Nellie hover at the front door, eager to go outside and sample the day.
We sit at our respective desks in the warm back hallway, coffee mugs in hand, switch on our computers. We list out what needs to be done--Jim's list usually more definite than mine.

I have appreciated these days which have unfolded quietly without urgency or drama.
My imagination is reviving--one creative project is well underway, several others lure me.
Meals are simple, cold weather comfort food.
I am well content with this seeming calm as renovations--in three houses--over nearly two years--slow to a more manageable pace.

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Settling Into January

Edward has found the old chair in the sunny space we call the 'dressing room.'

Monday's photo of the amaryllis--I forgot to take one today.
The salmon/orange color is a surprise--I thought it was meant to be more pink and white.

When I opened our mailbox yesterday it was stuffed with seed and nursery catalogs.
Before December ended we had received several--the old stand-bys--Guerney's and Shumway, a few that cater to market growers, a greenhouse supply catalog.
Guerney's and Shumway are deliberately printed in a vintage news-print format.
I've never ordered much from either--they tend toward oddities and some older seed varieties with testimonials of astonishing yields.
I find it interesting that seed companies still bother with the expense of mailing out paper catalogs.
I have ordered the bulk of my seeds online for more than a decade.
I may browse my favorite of the seed suppliers, marking varieties I would like to try, then using the catalog to help place an online order.

My late MIL ordered many of her seeds, especially flowers, from Park Seed Company.
I followed her practice although Park's seed pkts were often more expensive than others.
The seeds were of high quality,  packaged in tightly sealed foil wrappers, often with tiny seeds encased in a thin envelope inside.
Harris Seeds was a favorite supplier of vegetable seeds, as they specialize in varieties that performed well in our former New England seasons.

I received my first catalog from Select Seeds during one of our final seasons in Vermont.
The focus of this grower is old-fashioned flowers--those which can be hard to locate from other sources.  Some of the loveliest plants left behind in Vermont years ago--and in my ill-fated Gradyville garden--were those carefully nurtured from this company.

I am not ready yet to begin a list of seeds and plants for 2016.
I feel strongly that our gardening efforts need to be scaled back to a more manageable lay-out.
Growing good tomatoes here has been a challenge, disappointing in results.
I think I'm over potting up dozens of tomato seedlings when we have several good sources in the nearby Mennonite garden centers.
We need to consider how much a household of two can consume in fresh produce as well as how much is reasonable to 'put up.'
The kicker is always our insistence that home-grown is healthier than veg and fruit raised to commercial standards.
We have mentioned cultivating blackberries again--perhaps this time we would opt for the thornless  variety after battling bristling canes for the fruit in our Gradyville garden.
We long for a small greenhouse to extend the season.
I crave raised beds to spare my creaky bones.
Hopefully our time and energies will be freer this summer to devote to gardening.
Meanwhile, January has brought us night time temps below freezing and mornings sparkling with sunshine on frost. 
I am inspired to create 'comfort food'--soups that can simmer on the wood stove, muffins plump with blueberries from the freezer, baked potatoes. 
After the rush of house renovation, the bustle of guests, a slower pace is welcome.

Monday, January 4, 2016

In Praise of Sunshine!

The final days of 2015 brought a welcome return to blue skies and sunshine.
Damp and unseasonable warmth was replaced with crisp clean air and starlit nights.

 A tulip poplar halfway down the lane.

The fading russets and grey-browns of the winter hillside are enlivened by slanting sunlight.

Before the weather changed I spent an afternoon repotting plants.
I despair of saving my remaining rosemarys.
The two larger ones have presented brown and drying branches, brittle twigs.
I can't identify the source of the problem.
I usually add builder's sand to a standard bagged potting mix hoping to provide better drainage.
When I tipped the rosemarys from their large pots I was surprised to find that the soil toward the bottom of the pots was heavy with moisture.
I carefully pulled away soggy tangled roots, brushed soil from the remaining root balls, pruned sad looking branches and resettled the plants in fresh soil---less sand added to the mix, some peat moss worked in, a layer of crushed rock in the bottom of each pot.
I have placed them under a south window in Jim's shop.
Short of a drastic freeze-up they should be safe.
I'm not optimistic that any or all will flourish.
This is disappointing.

I trimmed the fibrous-rooted begonias which have been carried over for several seasons, brought them from the basement storage room into the laundry area to keep company on the old table with an angel wing begonia.
[Nellie feels that the table is now too crowded.]

I finished my work with the plants just before dark, potting up some slips of Swedish Ivy, and poking barely rooted stems of a vintage geranium into fresh soil, settling the remainder of my paperwhite bulbs into a decorative tin.
By the time I stored soil mix in covered buckets and swept my front porch work area, 
darkness was falling.
I gathered up the pruned bits of rosemary and flung them into the wood fire--a brief burst of spicy scent in the warm kitchen.

With the change of weather we have white and frosty mornings.

Frost covers the still green lemon balm.

 Willis samples ice-coated stems of catnip sprawled near the lemon balm in a corner of the 
perennial strip.

Willis can be counted upon for companionship no matter the weather.

Coming in by way of the steep concrete steps at the side of the house I stopped by the small plot where I have planted a few herbs.
Purple sage wears a frosty coat.

Inside I have been enjoying the progress of the amaryllis.
Behind it is my one remaining prostrate rosemary.
So many seedlings from that loved plant two years ago--so many of them slowly expired.
I would like to place the blame on the interminable hot and wet summer of the past year.

A marvel of delicate color and intricate folds.