Tuesday, January 31, 2017

The "Petty Pace' of January

Our days this January have seemed plodding, with little to distinguish one from another.
I can't call to mind a winter month with such consistently sunless dull weather.
Friday morning brought a brief dusting of snow which clung to the roofs for an hour before warming to the drizzle of chilly rain which has become overly familiar.

Several plants of clary sage, snow dusted, have taken root near the side porch steps, offspring of the mother  plant which bloomed for weeks during the summer. 
Clary is considered a biennial, so perhaps I won't have flowers this year. These volunteers will need to be relocated.

A welcome sign that our desultory winter will not last forever!
Wild daffodils are emerging behind the mailbox and under the pasture fence.
Those which can be reached by the goats have been nibbled.

I found on a pantry shelf a ziplock bag holding poppy seeds.  Usually I mark the date, but hadn't done so and no idea if these were recent enough to be viable.
I sprinkled them in the sadly depleted flower border below the workshop.
I am pleased to note that the foxglove which I started from seed two summers ago has created a little colony of plants. This is most likely the perennial dark pink variety called Spanish Foxglove.
I had only one plant of the more rare apricot color which was in the corner that suffered badly from the heavy summer rains.

Indoors the lanky-stemmed amaryllis rewarded my patience with delicately striped and
 dappled blooms.
The red variety which blossomed over the New Year produced nine large flowers, while this 
has only four.

I couldn't capture a nicely detailed photo----peak bloom was during several dark days. I tried using the flash--which produced distorted color.
This at least is true to color.

Paperwhites in a west window of the upstairs hallway, have budded.
Thus far they've not been discovered by Mima-cat who loves to nibble on greenery.

 Some sunshine today--enough to inspire pegging part of the wash on the back porch lines.
I caught this sunset moment as I was bringing in an armload of firewood--dumped the wood unceremoniously on the rack behind the stove and snatched up my camera.
The half light lingered until 5:30. 
We ran errands in Russell Springs and had a late lunch there, so no need to make supper.
Crackers and cheese sufficed for a snack.
I rallied my energies and spent several hours sewing.
Who knew there would be a demand for aprons inspired by my recent photos! 

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

January Moves Along

The weather has not changed since my last post. Grey and showery days continue with only an occasional brief view of the sun.
I went outside before 7 wanting [perversely] an armful of wood from the barn rather than that stacked in the side entry.
I noticed immediately that the air had a colder bite than recent days.
A fine mist prickled against my face.
I tended the small chores of feeding the outside cats, filling their water bowl, cleaning litter boxes for the indoor cats, sweeping up the inevitable firewood debris that collects around the stove.

There has been so little sunlight since Christmas that the second-planted amaryllis has stretched up and up before finally preparing to open.
From base of the stem to tip of the flower bud is just over 26 inches.

I'm wondering if the lanky stalk will bear the weight of the blooms as they open.

The amaryllis bulb against the dark window this evening.

On Sunday afternoon I took advantage of a break in the drizzle to pull on my boots and walk down the lane.
Our renters' grandchildren have been visiting and the little girl, H. was happily prodding with a stick at the gravel in the lane; when she overturned a stone which caught her fancy she handed it to her dad for safe-keeping.
We talked for a bit, then I trudged up the road and into the field we recently sold.
The ground oozed wet with each step resulting in a very squelchy walk to the creek.
I hadn't gone far when the sky darkened, the wind picked up and I felt the first tentative drops of rain.
Turning away from the surging brown waters of the creek I noticed a heart-shaped stone. 
I think it looks a bit like the face of an eagle or hawk--see the eyes and the beak?
Hurrying back, I stopped at the lower farmhouse to show the stone to H.
She claimed it and carried it off to her mom.

With so much gloomy weather there is little to do but keep the wood fire burning, read and sew.
Edward-the-cat is ever one to take advantage of warmth near the kitchen range.

The cats were somewhat disgruntled today when daughter Gina brought her Aussie, Tori, to visit. 
Tori is amiable but has most of the attributes of a child with ADHD!

We drove the mile up the ridge to the Beachy Amish store with Tori racketing in the back seat.
A new lot of goodies was delivered last evening and after a pleasant rummage in the huge walk-in cooler we came home with orange juice, gourmet cheeses and yogurt, as well as fresh eggs just washed and packaged. 
Some of the items on offer are in food service sized packages--a boon for the many large Amish and Mennonite families who shop there. 
We've learned over several months that some of the items sold in case lots don't work well for us.  We break down packages and rewrap some things for freezer storage. I am wanting a second fridge to put either in the basement or the back entry--J. thinks we need another freezer.  We shall see whose thinking prevails. 
The ruby grapefruit ordered through the Beachy's came in yesterday. 
We have an abundance of good food on hand
Gina has shared some of the yogurt and cheese with friends and has messaged me to drive back up the ridge in the morning to replace what she has given away.
This is not at all like grocery shopping at a supermarket as we never know what each delivery will offer.  Consistently there is a goodly selection of fine-quality cheese and yogurt, 
Jim and Matt have been excited over the Hebrew National brand of salami and 'franks.'

No break in the weather is forecast; on the contrary, we're told to expect several days and nights of colder temperatures.
It appears that we will plod on through the end of the month--thankful for a good supply of firewood and a well-stocked larder.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Dreary January Weather

We've had a long spell of mostly grey and rainy weather--rain is pounding down as I write.
The ground underfoot is sodden; farm animals wallow about in muddy barnyards.
 Wind shrieks in the chimney inspiring the cats to tear through the house, skidding on scatter rugs, rumbling up and down the stairs.
I pull on boots and a hooded jacket to tramp down the lane to the mailbox or to offer salad trimmings to the goats.
I try to choose a moment when the rain isn't falling full force--like as not before I make my rounds, mist has turned to drizzle and then to downpour. 
Deprived of sunshine the landscape sulks in a monotony of grey, brown, frost-bitten drab green.
We need lights on in the house all day.

Early in the morning on Monday a faint wash of blue was encouraging.

I looked up from kitchen chores mid-morning and realized the sun had come out!

Even the drab hues of winter grass looked livelier during the few hours that the sun shone.

I was making a birthday meal for Jim and our daughter Gina, but decided that the rarity of sunshine should be recorded. 
The sun was a surprise, not predicted in the extended forecast.

Nellie strolled with me along the lane.
The blue skies were short-lived. 

Dappled clouds moved in--lovely at first, then quickly forming a pewter-colored ceiling.

This morning's sunrise was spectacular.
Jim and I stood in the drive near the side porch with our cameras attempting to record the brief flaming beauty.
Jim remarked that the flare of orange behind the ridge looked much like the distant forest fires too often viewed during our years in Wyoming.

The brilliant sunrise gave way to another day of clouds and intermittent rain.
Jim goes out each morning to build a fire in his shop.
By the time he's had a look at the day's news online, the shop is warm enough to comfortably work on the several vintage tractors he is restoring.
I have continued to rummage out fabric and make aprons.
Several family members seeing photos of those I made for Gina have expressed a desire for similar ones. It has been warm enough to pull a table in front of the sunroom windows for laying out and cutting fabric. 
The cats wander in to see if they can help.
I've alternated sewing with reading.
I sent off to alibris before Christmas for the latest in Ann Cleeves' Shetland series of mysteries, [inspired by Jennie of Codlins and Cream 2] and decided to start at the beginning and read my way up to the last published, "Thin Air" 
I try to read slowly to make the books last longer--I never can!
I'm ready to read "Thin Air"--making myself wait.
So--reading, stitching, pondering several projects, mostly marking time with routine household tasks.

We are at the mercy of this stretch of inclement weather;
as retirees we can potter our way through wet grey days and early nightfall, knowing that eventually the sun will shine again.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Aprons Now and Then

Daughter Gina and I were doing the washing up after Christmas dinner when she announced, "I'd love to have you make some aprons for my birthday present if you have time."
With Gina's birthday on 17 January, I have had time. I'm not clever at shopping for gifts, especially given the constraints of a frugal retirement budget and limited places to shop.
I was delighted that she had requested something I could happily produce.
The apron pattern I've used most often for more than a decade is designated as a 'one size fits all.'
The illustration shows a happy couple--man and woman--brandishing kitchen tools and wearing 'chef' style aprons.  I've had issues with this pattern. 
An apron meant to cover a manly torso is not a good fit for a woman--unless she is tall with a sufficient bosom to prop up the apron bib!
The pattern needs tweaking.
Since our move to the farmhouse most any sewing/crafting project entails a certain amount of rummaging through bins and containers for fabrics and tools.
[I have as yet no designated and outfitted sewing room!]
Several years ago at a local charity shop I picked up two linen blend dresses in large sizes--25 cents each--with the thought that at some point the fabric could be repurposed into sturdy aprons.
By the time I ran these to earth, rummaged in a frigid closet for some remnants of decorating cotton, collected the pattern and thread, I was frustrated at the time which had been spent in what my Grampa Mac would have termed 'getting ready to commence.'

Deconstructing the two linen dresses into usable lengths of material took more time--removing buttons, picking out hems and seams, pressing the fabric.
I needed to take advantage of center seams, tucks and darts in laying out the pattern pieces.
For the apron on the right [above] I took advantage of the border print for the deep divided pocket which Gina specified. 
Cutting out the floral apron in the center was quicker as I used a length of decorator cotton.
The fabric used for the apron on the left showed some wear, needing a tiny spot of zig-zag darning.
I worked on the 3 aprons in assembly line fashion, making the ties and pockets, then finishing each apron in turn.

Gina works in a residential care home.  When she is in the house with the clients she wears an apron with deep pockets to hold keys, iphone and other small items while she prepares meals or cleans.

The apron on the left is mine.  I redrafted the original pattern to fit a petite female.
The apron at right--for Gina--has an extra deep pocket.

Three generations of my grandmothers--and a great aunt--display aprons in this photo circa 1910.
At the far back is g-g-grandmother Ann Rebecca--her apron, like her long calico dress, is a dark color.
Standing with her is g-grandmother Eliza. Her costume seems to be a dark skirt and light shirtwaist with an enveloping bib apron snugged at the waist.
G-aunt Minnie, seated in the little rocking chair appears to be wearing a long pleated  smock to protect her shirtwaist and skirt.
My grandmother Helen seated sideways on the porch steps is perhaps wearing a half apron.

When I was a girl, aprons were still a familiar part of women's at-home attire, tied on over a 'house dress' and worn for all kitchen and cleaning chores.
If an unexpected visitor arrived, the apron was whipped off to reveal a clean and tidy dress.
An apron might be made from a sturdy 'feed sack' print, the edges neatly bound with bias tape. 
The ample skirt of an apron could be hastily folded to serve as a pot holder, or gathered up to carry garden produce. 
There were dainty aprons with ruffled hems, fancy pockets and flirty sashes--for Sunday best, or serving at a church social function.

Circa 1926
My mother and her older brother with their grandmother Eliza and mother Helen.
The ladies are in everyday garb, aprons keeping them tidy.

I have a number of Grandmother Helen's aprons, too fragile now for me to wear.
I unpacked them last week and gave them a gentle washing.
I think the spots on this one were once black or navy blue--faded now.
The apron was made in three panels, machine stitched but with the seams over-cast by hand.

This dainty apron is made from a fine lawn fabric. 
The border trim is faded.
In the 1910 census Helen, age 25, listed her occupation as 'waitress, private family.'
No family story has survived to elaborate on this--Helen's maternal line were well-established in town and have been described as 'prosperous.' 
The area population swelled each summer with an influx of wealthy folks who had built 'summer cottages' or came to stay for weeks in the several boarding houses and hotels.
Catering to 'summer people' provided extra income for many families.
Perhaps Helen had a supply of dainty aprons made especially for this short term job.

Another of Helen's fancy aprons.
I think both these aprons would have been starched before pressing--the wide ties are long and  could be fluffed into a perky bow.

The ties on this apron are short.  I think this was made for a little girl, perhaps it was Helen's when she was a child. The fabric is a shirting with fine lavender stripes.
I've had another request for aprons--so I'm not finished creating.
With several dark rainy days ahead, it will be good to have something to show for 
hours spent indoors. 
I can take pleasure in carrying on a frugal and tidy tradition of aprons!

Circa 1942.
My dad's sister, [left] and his sister-in-law, wear aprons at a family picnic.

Saturday, January 7, 2017

Sweater Weather

I don't have a digital thermometer that announces the outside temperature in increments of degree.
The white dial with its black numerals and slender red needle, mounted beyond the glass of the north-facing kitchen window, is one my father would have recognized. 
At 6:15 this morning the needle was firmly lodged at 8 F degrees above zero.
I eyed the gauge as I moved quietly about the kitchen, chunking wood into the glowing innards of the stove, thawing ice from the outdoor cats' water dish,  measuring coffee, warming a blueberry muffin.
By 8 A.M. the red needle had barely moved a degree upward.
Now, at 9:30, with the sun fully emerged, we have gained 5 degrees from the dawn reading.

Remembering our respective Vermont childhoods we chuckle gently at the idea of anything above zero F being considered frigid temperatures. 
We recall--from a benign distance--the days, weeks even, when daytime temperatures scarcely attained the zero mark before plummeting to nightly depths that threatened water pipes, defeated car batteries, taxed the endurance of even stalwart Yankees accustomed to long winters.

We made preparations. Most of the dignified clapboard farmhouses of New England had passed their centennial long before Jim and I were born. Upgrades seldom included double-paned windows or heavy insulation. 'Central heating,' laboriously installed, was a wood  or [rarely] coal-fired monster furnace such as the one which crouched in the dirt-floored cellar of Grampa Mac's house. The one heat duct rising from the furnace belched warmth through a 3 foot square metal 'register' set into the dining room floor. The Home Comfort range in the kitchen and a cabinet-clad chunk stove in the living room provided islands of warmth in the core of the old house, while rooms on the north side were shut up for the winter.

In mid October my uncle commenced the yearly ritual of preparing the farmhouse for impending winter.  Storm windows for the first floor of the house were lugged out of basement storage, wiped down, hoisted into place and the metal clips fastened.
Lengths of tarpaper were bandaged around the foundation of the main house on the north and west exposures and along the east where the kitchen ell adjoined. Dried leaves from the dooryard maples were barrowed to the house and tucked behind the tarpaper which was then secured with strips of lath. 
The door leading from the dining room to the back porch had its wood-framed screen covered in a length of heavy builders paper. The inner door was closed and latched, seldom to be opened save during a 'January thaw.'

Between milking and barn chores Grampa Mac and the hired man dealt with the winter wood supply. A circular saw, set up below the hay barn, was powered by a wide belt running between pulleys on the saw and a stationary tractor.  The whine of the saw biting through lengths of well-cured maple, beech and ash, greeted us on our walk home from the one room school house, the sound carrying on the bright and chilly October air.

Grampa Mac's woodshed was a model of organization: large chunks of wood waiting to be split were stacked to chest height along two walls. 'Limb wood' was ranged against the wall which divided the wood area from the back kitchen entry. A chopping block sat off center with well-sharpened ax and splitting hammer out of the way of those who shouldn't be messing with such implements.

Grampa Mac split wood each afternoon through the winter.  Stove lengths and kindling went into an ingenious cupboard with one door opening onto the shed hallway; a second door opened on the kitchen, so only a few steps were needed for the fire tender to reach the prepared wood.
The biggest chunks of wood, destined for the maw of the furnace, were placed on a trailer and trundled around to the east-facing cellar bulkhead. 

While the men of the household labored to barricade the house from arctic blasts, the women-folk unearthed winter gear from cedar chests and cupboards reeking of mothballs. Woolen blankets bounced on the front porch clothes lines. Men's shirts, jackets and caps in bold lumberjack checks of red, blue or green were hung in the back yard  to air on a bright blue October day.  Loose buttons were secured, a frayed elbow patched. 
My sisters and I tried on last winter's woolen skirts, standing rigidly while Mother 'let down' and repinned the hems. Sweaters, scarves and mittens emerged from the boxes which had hidden beneath our beds during summer's heat.
Our wardrobes weren't extensive--decent basics for 'every day,' something finer for 'Sunday best.'

Winter outerwear was cumbersome, heavy, mostly woolen.
Gore-tex, thinsulate, polar fleece and the like were decades in the future.
Ski pants had a woolen outer layer, a bulky wadding for warmth, a flannel lining inside.
Soaked by wet snow such garments steamed gently overnight behind the stove, often still slightly damp when needed the next day.
No house was without the dank and distinctive odor of wet wool.

By the time our children were big enough to toddle out in a Vermont snowscape winter wear had begun an evolution to warmer, sleeker, lighter-weight garments. A snowsuit that came in from an hours play mildly damp was dry in no time.
Jim's mother, a speedy knitter, toted around balls of soft synthetic yarn, clicking out sweaters, leggings, slipper-socks and mittens for her grandchildren.
Young women made the scene in 'big knits'--over-sized, fuzzy, cowl-necked garments in neon shades.
We acquired thermal long-johns, insulated boots, heavy socks that didn't shrink in the wash.

In the early 1980's--those Vermont winters of record biting cold--my friend Mary and I discovered the mail order catalogs of Lands End and Eddie Bauer. We sent off orders for Shetland wool pullovers in jewel colors of ruby, purple, sapphire and magenta. [Jim, in a rare perusal of our check book, once demanded testily, "Who the hell is Eddie Bauer?] Soon one could punch in the 800 number, place an order, recite a credit card number and within a week the brown truck rolled into the yard and off-loaded a package with the expected sweater or two. 

I made good use of my sweater collection during the interminable winters of our 12 year residency in Wyoming, adding judiciously such garments as might be needed.
Our first winter in Kentucky was so mild that I, unwisely perhaps, reduced my sweater stash.
Subsequent seasons have lead me to pounce on a lovely sweater in a favored brand whenever spied in a local charity shop.

 A bright and crisp morning in mid October this year inspired me to an assessment of my sweater collection. When all had been brought from the closet shelves and the old black wooden chest, I realized that I might be a sweater hoarder.
A few could be designated as mildly disreputable--injudiciously laundered by former owners, bought for a quarter and suited to messy chores.
Many are rather elegant and set aside as 'church clothes'--the vintage one with pearl buttons and a fur collar, the embroidered chenille, the swanky black with bling border.
Most are decent cozy things, warm and respectable, the friendly kind of garment one throws over the back of a chair to be tugged on for a walk to the mailbox or for comfort when reading in the evening.
A few unique finds [the purple cardigan with lavishly embroidered flowers] cause my fashionista daughter to roll her eyes and declare, "Mother, I hope you aren't intending to be seen in that!"

Contemplating the stacks of sweaters I suddenly thought of someone with several daughters to clothe on a small budget; before I could reconsider I found a box and chose a careful assortment of sweaters to give away. 

I kept my favorites of course: the burgundy chenille bought in a classy Vermont college town shop; the leather-buttoned cardigan with the chickadee pattern on the yoke, several stout zip-front utility sweaters that defy the coldest weather a Kentucky winter has yet presented. 
I kept the purple cardigan with the wild embroidered flowers and the nubby one with cardinals perched around the neckline.
One very special sweater, a bit fragile now and worn only once or twice per season, was a Christmas gift from my daughter the first year that she was working and had money of her own.
The pullover, knitted in a soft woolen yarn, is patterned with bands of light and dark grey set off by narrow lines of rose pink and rose red. Fluffy white 'angora' cats parade around the dark grey bands. 
After each wearing the sweater is aired and tenderly folded away, a sentimental treasure.

As another winter settles in with its scarcely predictable procession of bone-biting cold, wind and snow, spelled by balmier days of returning sun and dooryard mud, we are prepared.
Jim, like my Grampa Mac, plans ahead for the firewood supply.
Like the competent woman of Proverbs 31, I am not afraid of the snow for my household, having assured myself each year that all who fall within my care are well equipped to brave the weather in warm jackets and gloves, with a special emphasis on the comfort of wooly sweaters.

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Beginning January--A Return to "Normal"

2017 marks our 7th winter in Kentucky.
Each year has brought a different weather pattern, from that first chilly season with frequent light wet snows, other January days balmy enough that daffodils foolishly pushed their heads out of the sheltering earth only to be frost-nipped in February. At our first address we harvested carrots and kale from the garden one January. More recent winters have brought days of below freezing temperatures and blizzards of snow.
This year the weather over the holidays was capricious--warm, balmy, rainy, with several midnight thunderstorms.
Monday morning was grey, but no rain was falling. The air was not balmy, and I pulled on a heavy old jacket and my boots to go out.
I carried veg scraps to the goats, leaving my bucket near the fence to be collected on the way back up the lane. 
I decided to see how the creek had fared with the recent rainfall.  The long rainless autumn had left the creek bed dry for many weeks. 
The new owner of our fields across the road was working in the barn, his young daughters playing underfoot. 
I stopped to visit for a few minutes, interested in his ambitious plans to return the crop land to grass, to put up a series of gates and fences so that he can run cattle.

By the time I struck off toward the creek the air was thick with mist that caught in my hair and left a bloom of dampness on my face.
I walked the length of the nearest field along the replenished creek, but turned back when the mist threatened to become rain.

Purple sage has flourished in the herb garden, unshriven by frost.

Lavender billows over the walk, fresh new growth visible at the base of the plants.

A dianthus near the side steps is wearing tight cold buds.

Jim, in shirtsleeves, moved his latest restored tractor out of the shop to make room for another.
Tuesday morning he announced a number of errands: a large tractor part to be dropped at a machine/repair shop, paint for the latest restoration, bits and pieces needed in the shop.
I was invited to go along. 
The paint purchase took us nearly to Campbellsville and I suggested a ramble through Peddler's Mall, a large indoor flea market. 
We pottered about for nearly an hour.
Jim found some shelving; I brought home another quilt rack--another piece on my list of items to sand down and refinish.
Lunch in town and home to an afternoon going dark at 3:30!

Wednesday morning was clear and decidedly colder.
Daughter Gina arrived mid-morning for an outing we've had to postpone while she worked a staggering amount of over-time during the holidays.
We had a brief tussle over who was to be the driver [neither of us feels quite secure with the driving style of the other.]
In the end I conceded that she could drive and we headed to the South Fork community of Mennonite shops. We took our time considering the items available at the discount food store, staggering out with a load of groceries and such.
On to the whole foods market several miles up the winding road, and almost home, a look around at the Beachy Amish up on the ridge.
Gina's plan was to treat us to lunch at the Bread of Life Cafe.
Jim was the driver for this outing!
When we came out of the restaurant we were struck with a cold wind, although the sun was still shining.

Temperatures dropped overnight and we woke in a grey late dawn to flurries of snow.
I went to bed last evening firmly telling myself that I was not coming down with a head cold.
So much for positive thinking!
I have snuffled through the day, a box of tissues at hand, washing my hands repeatedly, drinking herbal tea.
I made soup, which we ate in the warm kitchen while wooly grey dusk crept up the valley.

Snowflakes caught in a sprawl of lemon thyme look like tiny blossoms.

Jim keeps a fire in his workshop. I tend the fire in the big black kitchen range. 
I gloat over the laden pantry shelves and the full-to-the-brim chest freezer in the washroom.
The cats sprawl on the rug in front of the fire, waking to tear through the house, up and down the staircase, heralding the wind and the changing temperatures.

As winter settles in, my creativity flourishes.
I've cleared a lengthy and absorbing genealogy project from my desk. I am ready to pull out folders with older notes, to update, to sort names and dates into readable order.
My stash of fabric, neglected while we undertook the renovation of two houses, is calling to me, and I've had a rootle in bins, rediscovering colors and patterns, rounding up tools.
That however, is a post for another day!