Sunday, January 28, 2018

Winter Blooms

During winter, whether the remembered long Vermont and Wyoming winters or the more recent milder winters of Kentucky, I miss flowers. 
The blooms of an amaryllis or a bowl tucked full of paper white bulbs have bridged the months when there are no flowers in the garden.

I brought home an amaryllis--one of those packaged with a plastic pot and a packet of soil--on December 1st. Almost immediately the stem began to push up.  It grew lanky and tall during the short days before the solstice, leaning into the low slanting light of the north window by day, then curving dramatically toward kitchen lights which were turned on in late afternoon.
During Christmas week it bloomed--delicate etchings of apple blossom pink on waxy white petals, a glowing heart of pale green. 

One of my Christmas gifts from Dawn and Howard was this plump bulb settled in an elegant glass cylinder. Three flower buds were snuggled against the papery green covering. 
This amaryllis seemed reluctant to begin stretching. I watched daily as the white roots reached down into the black pebbles. 

Slowly the main stem pushed to the top of the vase.

A month after Christmas Eve two flower stalks stood above the rim of the glass.

I have been eagerly awaiting the time when color would appear.

Sunday morning's bloom--this evening both are more fully opened and the velvety dark centers are visible.

During the Christmas season of 2016 I collected five amaryllis bulbs of larger size than those commonly encountered in supermarket or chain store displays.
Two of these I gave to our friends who rent the lower farmhouse and barn.
During the summer I moved mine to the porch, gave them fresh potting soil and regular watering.
All three sent up leaf stalks.
Come October I cut them back, settled the three bulbs in one large pot and placed them on a dark shelf in the cool basement room.

Fred, next door, summered his bulbs in the garden--soil enriched with the bedding forked from the goat pens in the barn. When they were lifted for the winter the bulbs had nearly doubled in size.

We were away all day on Friday, traveling to the U of L dental clinic for my follow-up visit.
When we returned just after dark, I found that Fred and Bonny had parked an amaryllis on the kitchen table--'sharing' the renewed bloom time of one I had given them a year ago.

I am determined to learn how to coax a rebloom from these lovely things--but for now I have delivered my three languishing specimens into Fred's custodial care!

Tuesday, January 23, 2018


Sepia: a brownish-gray to dark olive-brown color.

Oak, beech and maple with 'toes' clutching the hillside.

The brook beside the lane--swollen with snow melt.

Oak leaves in the roadside hedgerow.

'Gumballs' on a sweet gum tree--stark against a pewter sky.

Spruce and pine huddled against the treeline--somber color on a pale sky afternoon.

Clematis seed head. 

Thursday, January 18, 2018

Stuck At Freezing

Snow began to fall over the weekend--the sticky wet kind that comes down on a grey and dismal day.
I noticed that the recorded temperature didn't seem to move from the freezing mark although by Sunday morning it was obviously much colder. 
A rim of wet snow had frozen around the edges of our old-fashioned outside thermometer.  I hoisted myself onto the kitchen counter, opened the window and tunked on the plastic case of the thermometer, then turned the bracket so that I could see the back.
The little coil on the back which responds to heat or cold to move the red indicator needle was frozen in place.
I fetched my hair dryer, turned it on and aimed it at the thermometer, shivering as a blast of cold air swept through the open window.

The blob of ice 'let go' suddenly and the red needle zoomed to the end of the dial, then began a slow descent. During this week of cold and snowy weather we've not felt sure that the thermometer was giving an accurate reading. We looked at those on offer at Lowes and once again agreed that we don't need/want a fancy digital thing that requires a battery, so a sleeker model of the dial type has been purchased and awaits installation.
My Dad was obsessed with knowing the outside temperature at all times and had thermometers posted at several downstairs windows of his home.
Jim refers frequently to the online doplar weather map, tracking storms as they move through the area.
I have accuweather forecast on my google news page--but I still want to look out the window and read the numbers!  After all, we might be in a situation where the weather is the only conversational tidbit.

After the snowfall the sun came out, skies were brilliantly blue.
Contrails stretched overhead.

The hillside beyond the retaining wall which seemed so drab during the falling of cold rain and snow, took on glitter and sparkle. Cardinals and robins have bounced from branch to branch dislodging snow in icy puffs.

Sally cat likes the old wicker loveseat on the side porch. I made her a snug bed by placing Jim's old down vest in a sturdy box.  Sally refused to get in the box, but will bundle up in the vest with the tipped box to her back. 

Ice has to be pounded out of the water dish for the outside cats.  There are frozen mounds at the edge of the porch where we push out the ice to refill the dish several times per day.
The stray black cat, Crumple, has been lured in to the bowls of kibble; he darts off when he sees us observing him through the glass pane in the front door.

Willis enjoys this shabby folding chair headed into the sun.
He has prowled about in the snow, ever vigilant in his duties as watch cat.

Charlie, the old buffoon who spends much of his days demanding to go out, come in, go out, come in, has decided that 'in' is the better place for a cat of his age. Here he is crowding his daughter, Mima. 
Charlie has conceded that perhaps he can remain quietly indoors during these nights of near zero temperatures. 

One of the loveliest winter sights in my native New England was blue shadows cast on snow.
It isn't often that we have enough snow in Kentucky to see that effect.

Icicles dangling from the stable roof. They dripped just enough in the afternoon sunshine to create a slight trench in the snow beneath the roof overhang.

Inside in the kitchen window the amaryllis has stirred to life and is climbing above its glass vase. 
Life this week has been much about staying warm.
As Jim remarked, most of his 'work' has been to carry in wood by the armload.
We've been grateful for the heavy coats and stout boots which came with us as a legacy from Wyoming winters. Grateful, too, that in retirement we can choose to stay at home until the cold spell is over.

Friday, January 12, 2018

Mid-Winter Warmth and a Garden Clean-up

Sunrise, about 7 a.m. The air was soft and mild.

Jim finished cutting and stacking a load of hardwood slabs on Wednesday.  I am intrigued by his tidy arrangement of the firewood. The top pieces are laid slightly on the slant so that very little moisture from rain or snow can seep through the layers. 

The blooms of the amaryllis which I planted on December 1st had wilted and shriveled, so yesterday was the day for cutting down the stalk.  Almost as though it had been waiting to be center stage, the plump bulb chosen by my DIL as a Christmas gift is awake and stretching upward.

My Beefsteak Begonia, on the cabinet shelf in the new pantry is preparing to bloom. Although the blossoms aren't showy this is a favorite--the flowers are dainty and held high above the leaves on slender stalks.

I hoped that the colorful sunrise was a harbinger of blue skies and all day sunshine.
That wasn't the case, but the day was warm--68 F--with a light teasing wind. 
I needed to stay near the house as the Windstream tech man was scheduled to install an internet upgrade.
I decided to wait for him outside and tackle cleanup of the narrow strip that runs along the side porch.
Former owners planted a deep red celosia [cockscomb] which self-sows each year with great vigor.  Literally hundreds of seedlings have to be pulled out leaving room for a dozen or more stalks to mature, blossom and set their tiny round black seeds.
The soil in the planting area is gritty, rather shallow, and is mulched with fine gravel over landscape fabric [not my doing.]
It was an easy task to pull out the stalks, softened as they have been by frost and rain.

Variegated vinca rampaged through the area setting down new roots where ever a stem clung to bare ground. I began ripping it out by the handful, then dislodged whole clumps and severely pruned back the ones that were left. I trimmed the lavender nearest the steps, noted that the thyme is holding its own and the cherished 'Old Vermont' pinks are thriving. 

I was enjoying my outdoor work after the recent days of huddling in the house by the fire.
The ever-troublesome rugosas are always in need of pruning, so I whacked away at the spiny branches with garden clippers.  Each time I have to attack them I wonder afresh if the lady who chose them as landscaping had any idea of their thuggishly invasive tendency. 

Meanwhile, the internet tech guy was laboring in some frustration, working from a ladder to change something on the utility pole, tinkering at the connection box fastened to the side of the house, driving along the road to check at a nearby pole. By the time he came inside [pulling disposable plastic 'booties' over his muddy shoes] I could tell the switch-over wasn't going too well. 
The modem we had been advised to purchase [rather than pay $10 month in rental from the company] refused to 'sync' with some vital element; tech man explained that he hadn't been able to 'pull' the second line which would give us a 'bonded' connection and higher speed service. He stated that until he could have coworkers here with the 'boom truck' he couldn't finish what was required at the top of the utility pole.  He 'patched' us through with a company modem so we have service until more changes can be made.

Jim was becoming restive as he wanted to collect a truck he has acquired in his avid wheelin' and dealin' of the past month.  I was meant to be part of this expedition and follow him back with the car.  I agreed to do this only because there would be no city driving, only a number of relatively small towns on the route. 
We had gone only a few miles of the return journey when a nasty smell began drifting into the car from the truck lumbering ahead of me.  I diagnosed it as a brake caliper that wasn't releasing.  [Ask me how I knew that!]  I noted that the truck's brake lights weren't functioning although thankfully the turn signals were good. [The previous owner of the truck had become too disabled to drive it, so it had been garaged for some time.]

The metallic burnt odor continued to permeate the car--although I certainly wasn't 'tail-gating!  I was astonished when for a few moments I felt almost ill.  I let the window down, fell back a few car lengths and as the cool damp air blew in I quickly recovered.

 Jim pulled in at a convenience stop so that we could fuel up both vehicles.  I informed him that his tail lights weren't working and that I wasn't enjoying the stink of the stuck brake caliper.  He was aware of the sticking caliper but didn't know the tail lights were out.
"Do you want to stop for something to eat or continue on home." he inquired.
We agreed to stop at the Subway shop at Wal Mart.

This worked out well for me.  I was able to have a haircut at the in-house salon and pick up a few groceries that weren't available on yesterday's run to South Fork.

An orange and coral pink sunset was coloring the western sky when I left the parking lot and followed the winding road home, arriving just after dark.
Jim roared up the lane a few minutes behind me having stopped to consult with a mechanic regarding some of the work needed on the truck.

A scattery evening has ensued; Jim annoyed because the new modem wouldn't sync with his 'smart' TV in spite of coaching from our grandson. I relayed D's suggestions while Jim poked at things. Nothing worked.

 'Stop being stubborn and run that long cord from the back of the TV to the modem until I can come up to fix it!'
[I was glad all this advice was coming from D. as I hadn't a clue!]
Half an hour of turning the house upside -down in search of the special cable--until Jim recalled that he had wound it into a neat bundle and stashed it in the guest room closet!

TV on at last.  Bang, bang, head'em off at the pass.  How many movies did that John Wayne person make in a lifetime?

At 11 p.m. the thermometer stands at 50 F.  We've been warned that more cold weather will move in by morning, ushering in a weekend of sleet, snow, and freezing nights.

I have been outside to chase a possum off the front porch--got in a good whack at it with my walking stick.  Possums don't scare easily, turning to face their attacker with chattering teeth and warning hisses. They are so rat-like with their close-set eyes, naked bony tails, greedy scavenging ways-- dreadfully unappealing and messy.

Bed time and  my mind still whirring. Time to turn out the lights and toddle upstairs.
I left a bedroom window open much of the day--the room has a freshness that was missing during freezing weather. 
I am thankful for the hours of outdoor work, for weather that allowed for less cumbersome clothing.
Tomorrow we will brace for the return of winter.

Wednesday, January 10, 2018


The end of the day came [Wednesday] and I realized I hadn't taken my camera outside. 
After two days of mizzling rain and fog, sunshine appeared and the temperature soared up to 62 F. 
We've let the wood fire smolder along at a low ebb and been comfortable indoors or out without the layers of clothes we piled on during the cold weather.

Charlie and Willis taking a break on the retaining wall--a good place to dry damp cat feet. 

Jim has been using the chain saw to cut a load of hardwood slabs into stove lengths. 
Willis appreciates the tidy stack as another spot where he can perch to survey the back dooryard.

The landscape is somber at this season, especially on an overcast afternoon.

Bobby Mac, undaunted by the damp, sits at the edge of the little brook, his favorite destination.

I was late in beginning my day, having fallen soundly asleep after waking while it was still dark. 
The sunshine and mild air prompted me to peg a wash on the back porch line. 
I was considering whether I wanted to drive into town for some fresh veg for salads when Jim announced that he had an errand in Liberty and we could drive back through the South Fork community and shop at the Mennonite produce market. 
The tomatoes on offer looked good [though not on a par with the juicy locally grown ones available in summer and fall] Yukon Gold potatoes, a favorite, were 2 bags for $4 and the ruby grapefruit though small, were firm and appealing. A stop at the discount food store across the way to see what we could find, and then home to serve the cats their 'tea.'
The sun had given way to clouds--not dark and forbidding, but soft scallops of pearly lavender grey.
We noted that as we finished supper--a bit before 5--it was still light outside. I carried out scraps to the compost heap without stopping to pull on a sweater or jacket.
Colder weather is expected to move in by the weekend, but this reprieve of relative warmth has buoyed our spirits.

Monday, January 8, 2018

Basic Bread

I was recently asked to share my recipe for home made bread.
I've been making bread for more years than I really like to admit.
During the winter before we married one of the women's magazines which my Mother regularly bought had a feature on making bread. As I recall the recipe was for 2 loaves of plain white bread. 
I found that the most crucial step was in having the liquid at an agreeable temperature to dissolve and activate the yeast--too hot and the yeast was killed--too cool and nothing much would happen.

My late mother-in-law made all her family's bread except when she worked full time as a Registered Nurse. Under her tutelage I learned variations on the basic recipe and refined the art of producing good bread.

My oven accommodates 4 loaves made in tins which measure 3 1/2 by 7 1/2 inches on the bottom edges. These are slightly smaller than the standard pans which I used when I had more mouths to feed.  If you have larger tins this recipe would likely produce 3 loaves.  You might also choose to shape some of the dough into dinner rolls.

The following directions are in US measures--hopefully if you are baking in a country with a different standard of measurement, either you keep a set of US measuring cups or know how to convert.

Basic Ingredients
[These don't change from one variation to another.]

4 cups warm water
1 Tablespoon salt
1 Tablespoon or one pkt of dry yeast granules
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1/4 cup honey or molasses [treacle]

You may substitute other sweeteners.  If I am planning a 'dark' bread using rye or whole wheat flour I may use molasses.  Brown or raw sugar would be acceptable.
If you wanted dinner rolls you could substitute 1/4 c of melted butter and beat in an egg when the flour is added.
Now for the variations.  It would be rare for me to make bread using all white flour.
All my baking is done with unbleached flour--currently available to me in 50 pound sacks is Seal of Minnesota Baker's Flour. 
Our favorite bread is a New England variation called 'Anadama Bread.' 
I learned to make this bread by first cooking cornmeal and water into classic cornmeal 'mush' then using that as the base for bread.
My friend, Sonny Young, shared that he adds the dry cornmeal directly to the batter.  I tried this and now use his method exclusively--it is quicker and I like the texture.
 To make Anadama bread, add one cup of yellow cornmeal to the above basic mixture and whisk to moisten the cornmeal.
If you choose to make Oatmeal Bread, 2 cups of rolled oats would be added to the warm water mixture [instead of cornmeal]  and allowed a few minutes to soak.
A cup of Wheat Germ is also a healthy addition.

We like a fairly fine textured bread that serves well as toast or sandwiches.  If I make 'whole wheat' bread I replace 1/3-1/2 of the unbleached flour with the whole wheat. 
The texture of milled grains can vary greatly--our local whole foods store has a wide variety.  My favorite is Wheat Montana's Prairie Gold.
I don't often make classic Rye Bread--rye flour creates a dense close-grained loaf--brown sugar or molasses are the best sweeteners for that--caraway or anise seeds give a distinctive taste.

If you've started with water at the correct temperature [no, I don't use a thermometer, I test the water with a clean  index finger] you should be seeing some activity in the bowl--the yeast should be softening, spreading and bubbling. The honey, etc, has given 'food' to the yeast.
At this point you will begin stirring in the unbleached flour which will create a dough that can be kneaded. 
I can't offer a measurement for this.  I add the flour, two scoops at a time and fold it in with a large wooden spoon.
As the dough becomes heavier I add one scoop at a time.
When the dough is stiff enough to be scraped into a soft mound, turn it out onto a well-floured surface and begin the kneading process.  You will need to add more flour and 'round up' the lump of dough until it is no longer sticky.
Knead until the dough is smooth and elastic.
Oil a clean bowl--at least twice as large as the lump of dough. Place the mound of dough in the oiled bowl and turn it so the oiled side is up, cover with a clean tea towel. Set to rise in a moderately warm--not hot--place until doubled.  If you poke a finger into the lump of dough and the indent remains, the dough is ready to punch down, turn onto a floured surface and shape into loaves.

Line up well-oiled pans and divide the dough into four lumps as nearly equal as possible.
Knead and shape into a smooth oval, place in the prepared pans.
As we are now a household of two persons, I divide each lump in two, knead them into smooth rounds and place two in each pan.
Once baked and cooled I slice gently through the 'seam'--that way I can remove a half loaf at a time from the freezer and reduce spoilage. 

If I'm making bread to be shared at a family meal or take to a church potluck, I shape the dough into conventional single loaves.  In this photo the full loaves were slashed with a sharp knife after being placed in the pan. 
When the shaped loaves have nearly doubled in size, preheat your oven.  With both an electric and gas oven I set the heat at 350. This temperature allows the bread to 'cook through' without developing too hard a crust. 

Bread is well baked when a hollow sound results from tapping the top of the loaf.
Spread a towel on your work surface and preferably a baker's rack on top of the towel.
Turn the loaves out of the pans as soon as they are removed from the oven. 
Brush the tops of the loaves with soft butter or with vegetable oil. 

Cover with another tea towel and allow to [hopefully] cool a bit before someone is inspired to cut a thick slice to eat while still warm enough to melt butter.
When the bread is cool the loaves can be placed in plastic bags and stored in the freezer until needed.

Sunday, January 7, 2018

A January Heat Wave

I scuttled outside in the cold, briefly, on Friday to record a few images of our frosty world.
Pale winter sunlight threw shadows across the walk and steps that lead from the side porch down the slope to the lane.

 Purple sage and winter-grey stems of lavender sprawl in the leaf littered herb bed.  The invasive rugosas thrust out stiff and thorny branches.

In the weed-plagued strips that I am determined to see as perennial borders, thyme and dianthus still hold subdued green color.

Tattered seed heads and winter-seared  leaves of clematis 'Candida' arch over the trellis and rattle against the board fence.
With chilled fingers clutching the camera, I retreated quickly to the warmth of the farmhouse.

The thermometer outside one of the north kitchen windows registered 12 degrees F a few minutes after 7 a.m. on Sunday morning, heralding our January thaw.

By noon we had gained 30 degrees of warmth!  At 3 I layered myself in sweaters, a zip-front 'hoodie' and my [fake] fur-lined boots.
A venture outside at 42 F seemed almost balmy after the long days and nights of biting cold.

 The sun was disappearing behind pale clouds, a slight wind riffled through the long-dead stalks of goldenrod and boneset still standing behind the retaining wall.
I brought out more kibble for the outside cats, fluffed the fleece blankets which line the various heavy boxes which provide them with snug beds.
I trudged to the compost heap, ventured beyond into the woods, feeling the slight shifting of warming soil beneath the heavy cover of oak leaves. 
Willis-the-cat, ever companionable, picked his way daintily behind me, alert to the possibility of  encounter with bird or beast.
I invented a few small chores, changing litter boxes, carrying in a small armload of wood although Jim had the sturdy cart already filled for the night.

I pursued Jim's cat, Bobby Mac across the bit of pasture that borders the lane. Reaching for him as he rolled in dry grass, my fingers brushed through his long black and white fur as he bounded away, cleared the gravelly bank of the frozen stream and perched with feline nonchalance just out of reach on a fallen branch.  Determined to have him indoors before dark, I coaxed and cajoled, trailed him as he scampered up the slope, past the garden, behind the workshop. 
I realized that even with the approach of evening it was not unpleasant to be outside. As long as I kept moving I wasn't chilled!
Even during a stretch of cold weather such as we have been experiencing frost doesn't go deep in the ground. All around me, subtle but undeniable, was the freshening scent of  cool soil, milder air.
Nothing so positive yet as the awakening of green and growing things, but rather a promise, a reassurance of slowly lengthening days, the age old march of seasons in their familiar course.

Thursday, January 4, 2018

The House Is Warm!

I wonder if perhaps I succumbed to a fit of self-pity in yesterday's post. 
In my defense becoming over-tired and chilled doesn't bring out the best of me.

Jim has continued to search out and remedy spots where cold air was seeping into the house.  Most of them have been in the lower level--the walk-out basement that houses the laundry, the cold storage larder and a large workroom that can be closed off. 
This has been one of the longer spells of cold weather experienced since we moved into the farmhouse during the winter of 2015.
Today's high temperature was a mere 20 F with sunshine for most of the day.
I didn't challenge myself with anything strenuous.
There are the daily chores needed to keep a house reasonably clean; Jim and I often collaborate on meal prep if he isn't busy in the workshop.

A recipe posted on Face Book for 'Hermits' caught my eye.
My mother often made cookies of that name when I was a child.
I mixed the ingredients per the recipe which created a dough too dry and crumbly to spread in a baking pan as suggested.
A quick perusal of Hermit recipes online revealed that there is considerable variation in ingredients and method.
My mother's cookies were dropped by the spoonful on a baking sheet.

I made 1/3 cup of instant coffee using some of the granulated form that Jim keeps on hand for a quick hot drink. Stirred into the 'crumbles' this created a dough that could be deposited on a baking sheet using my usual dough scoop.
The resulting cookies--rich with molasses, spices and dried  cranberries--are moist and chewy, lovely with a mug of tea.

This was also the day to replenish our bread.
We drove up the hill to the Beachy Amish store to purchase a 50 pound sack of the unbleached flour that I use in all my baking.
Mr. Beachy was keeping the store, the only one of the family in evidence.  Usually one or more of the teenage children waits on customers.
Mr. Beachy remarked wryly that he was the only one of the family still on his feet as the rest of the household were down with a respiratory flu. 
We came home with 50 pounds of flour, a few grapefruit, a bag of Winesap apples and another flat of Noosa Lemon Yogurt.

I mixed the bread a bit differently--adding a cup of oatmeal flakes, a cup of rye flour.
It is good bread!

Tomorrow we will attend the memorial service for a man who was a member of our church. Our church community is saddened.  Joe had just passed his 42nd birthday--he was diagnosed with ALS [Lou Gehrigs's disease] over a year ago--lived as gracefully and courageously as possible. 
The funeral of a young person or one in the prime of life is always more difficult.

I have to make a dessert for the meal that will be served to family and guests, and  will likely stay to help tidy the kitchen.

For a few days I'm not planning to push myself, to set goals.
I'm about to find my place in the book I set aside, and will encourage Teasel-cat to sit with me in the rocking chair near the warmth of the fire.

Chilled To The Bone

A distracting sort of day yesterday--scuttling downstairs to a hot shower, then scrambling into clothes I had left warming by the fire. 
The night had been uneasy--while I wasn't cold enough to get up and spread another quilt on the bed, it seemed I didn't relax into real warmth and deep sleep.
[I have always 'minded the cold' and fibromyalgia definitely makes me more vulnerable to the effects of getting chilled.]
I've complained to Jim that as I sit at my desk to read or write I've been enveloped in a cold draft that swirls up from the basement room, seeps around the stairway door and enfolds me. Thus, I head upstairs to bed already chilled.
[A central stairwell anchors the house and our desks occupy the wide hallway connecting kitchen and living areas with the downstairs door located behind and between the desks.]

Jim took my complaints seriously enough yesterday to search out a roll of weather stripping and apply it to the door casing. A strip of leather stapled to the bottom of the door now gives it a snug fit. 
Seeking the source of the draft Jim discovered that two of the windows in the lower basement room had never had caulking seal applied.  He remedied that and almost immediately the wide hall became a more agreeable place.
While he went in and out weather-proofing, I tackled a rearrangement of furniture in the kitchen and dining area. The alcove beyond the kitchen proper has become by default my sewing nook. The removal of the small hutch and matching drop leaf table called for some adjustments.
I do know how to use a measuring tape--to compare the depth and width of a piece of furniture with the available space.
Unfortunately I can't visualize how a table or cabinet or such will look when dragged to a new location.
I was hauling a kitchen island unit toward the alcove when Jim came through on an errand. He waved me off, twitched the hearth rug under the edge of the cabinet and scooted it across the floor. I turned my sewing table away from the east window, clattered about in the sunroom and dragged out a battered but comfortable wing chair to sit in the alcove corner.  I was contemplating this set-up when Jim reappeared and announced he had forgotten to eat breakfast and was there anything to be had?

Between bites of lunch I walked about to view my furniture arrangement from all angles--it was clearly awkward. 
I carted the big chair through the living room, back to the sun room, shoved the island cabinet back to its original place, much to the relief of Bobby Mac who considers it his special perch, from which he can oversee the entire area.  

This saga could continue in detail, but suffice it to say that finally I did what should have been done at the beginning: brought in our antique drop-leaf table from the sun room, positioned it under the alcove north window, wheeled a small kitchen cart to the corner where  the shelves could be stacked with bins of thread and sewing notions. 
The cats--who don't like domestic upheaval--crept out of various hiding places and demanded their 'tea.' With that dished out I pulled on layers of clothes and headed down the lane to offer apple peelings to the goats, collect the mail, return an empty milk bottle in exchange for a full one.

The sun was already sliding behind the ridge as I trudged back up the lane feeling cumbersome in my quilt-lined overalls and layered sweaters. 
I felt sure that I had earned a mug of tea, the luxury of falling into my rocking chair with a book.

Jim was on the phone when I walked in and began tugging off the cumbersome overalls.
Hearing his side of the conversation I suspected he was on the trail of yet another tractor. 
"How would you like to go for a ride?" he asked brightly.

The ridiculously tiny tractor, ready to roll off the trailer.

I didn't want to go anywhere.  I wanted my chair by the fire.
"Why would you go on a tractor chase at nearly dark?  Can't this wait til tomorrow?"

Of course it couldn't wait!  The tractor in question had been posted for sale only minutes ago. Jim, endlessly trolling craigslist, had spotted it, the seller's phone was ringing off the wall with interested callers.
I didn't want to go out in the cold.  Still, I try to play fair and Jim had given many hours to pantry renovation, had helped shove furniture about.

I layered on a more presentable assortment of clothes, clambered into the truck, still feeling reluctance.
We headed east into deepening sunset, skies painted with coral, gold-rose, paling to mauve and pearly grey.  I became aware that the truck's automatic transmission was not shifting properly.  Jim was fiddling with the lever, repeatedly attempting to activate the over-drive.
I mentioned that it might be wise to turn back, which of course didn't go over well.

The truck continued to roar along in high gear but not smoothing into overdrive.
I bit back the comments that came to mind, focused on the fading colors of the sky, the giant icicles hanging from the rock-cuts that bordered the highway.

Across the cab Jim was poking about in the console, fumbling at the edge of the seat. He admitted [testily] that he hadn't brought his notebook with the tractor seller's phone number and location.
I huddled tensely in my seat, chilled, cross, tired, berating myself for being part of this expedition.

It was full dark when we reached the point where we needed to turn off the main highway. 
The super-moon was climbing above the tree line, a globe of pale gold against the night sky
Jim turned the truck onto what he thought was the correct side road and we lumbered noisily along an ever narrowing track that suddenly ended at the gate to a farmyard. 
From the window of the adjacent house colors and shapes flashed across a wide-screen TV. 
Jim crossed the frozen grass to the door, disappeared inside.
He returned 10 minutes later having been told that he should go back to 'the dollar store' on the main route and explore a turning there.
The lane was narrow, no place to make a wide sweep to turn the truck and lumbering trailer.
Fortunately Jim can do this in a tight spot.
The designated turning took us along another winding rural road--as unpromising as the first.

Roaring around a curve we noted a man in heavy clothing, a headlamp strapped over his wool cap.  He was towing a large dog on a lead. 
Jim stopped to make inquiries--he was looking for a brick house--on the right--owned by a man who drove a Fed-Ex truck--and had a small tractor for sale.

The dog barked madly, deafeningly, leaped about entangling his owner in the leash. 
"Turn around in the driveway," shouted the man, "I'll take the dog in and come back out 
 to talk with you!"
The trailer wheels spun on the frosted grass at the verge of the road. I muttered something about the folly of hauling things about in winter with a 2 wheel drive truck instead of the 4 wheel drive.
I had dire visions of being stuck for the night in a frozen corn field.
The man, having reappeared within out his hysterical canine suggested that there were two side roads close together, one posted as route 577, the other as 579--and that Jim, having struck out with 579 should go back a few miles to 577.
[ I have since seen Jim's notes, left on his desk, specifying rte 577!]

Jim slowed as a brick house, on the right,  loomed in the moonlight.  At the sound of the approaching truck lights came on in a garage, an overhead door went up and a man appeared, several dogs milling about his heels. "This is it,"  said Jim, happily, "He's been watching for us."

While Jim and the tractor owner went over its finer points the three dogs cavorted in and out of the garage, two small hybrid hounds and a jolly old black Lab whose missing back leg seemed to pose no restraints as he fended off the wrestling youngsters.
The tractor and its implements were loaded onto the trailer, the tight sweep onto the road accomplished.  The truck suddenly decided to shift smoothly into overdrive.

We stopped to eat at a favorite chain restaurant, bracing ourselves for the cold dash across the parking lot. Only a few late patrons remained and we were offered a table in front of the huge stone fireplace.
Home at last, roaring over the moonlit miles, home to put wood in the fire, to assure the cats that we really were back.
I couldn't settle to sleep. The too late meal lay heavily on my innards, days of painting, carrying, moving things, days and nights of feeling chilled, had caught up with me. 

I came down stairs, trailed by a retinue of cats, huddled miserably in a chair by the fire.
Jim appeared after a bit, bundled into his old bathrobe.
"Are you sick?"
"Not really. Supper disagreed with me--too late."
Teasel-cat landed in my lap, purring.
Jim rummaged in the fridge for a grapefruit--he has a stomach of cast iron!
It was 2 a.m. when I went back upstairs, folded myself into the blankets, felt the cats settle into their favorite positions on the wide bed.

I didn't go outside today, other than a quick dash out to offer food and water to the outdoor cats. 
The sun has shone in a brilliant sky, the temperature has climbed a few degrees.
Jim collected several sheets of blue-board insulation at the building supply, fitted some of it under the lower stairwell, blocking the cold air that had been invading the upper floor. Two more sheets of blue-board have been positioned upstairs to close off the double hallway that leads to unused guest rooms. 
I have worn my wool socks over thick tights, jeans, a heavy ribbed cardigan over a turtleneck jersey.
I made cream of tomato soup using my late mother-in-law's method, 
Comfort food, warm clothes, the house battened down against this unusual stretch of freezing weather. Cats adjusting to the rearrangement of furniture.

I have projects in mind, but am feeling like I need a little break--still anticipating hours in my old rocking chair, finding my place in the book set aside before the holidays, making room for a cat in my lap.
Being warm.