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Sunday, January 31, 2010

Happiness is....


            At almost 20 degrees it feels like a heat wave.  The thermometer says it’s 19, but it feels much warmer in the sun, so it’s another perfect day to work outside. I have plenty to do thanks to a surprise visitor.

           Several weeks ago my former neighbor Rambo stopped by.  When he lived up the road he was generally reviled in the neighborhood because of the mega-macho image he liked to flaunt.  He had the biggest dogs that roamed at will and he loved knowing they frightened the family across the road so much that they put their home up for sale.  Perpetually clad in camouflage we suspected that even his bare skin was probably a mottled green and brown. Given the slightest opportunity he’d launch into details of his latest “hair-raising” hunt.  Of course he did all of this because he knew it got up the dander of the critter-loving peaceniks around him. We nicknamed him Rambo and he hated the moniker.

            But Rambo and I got on well enough.  In the summer he’d bring me walleye in exchange for garden produce and when my old dog Rudy caught a groundhog and broke it’s back I called him to dispatch the poor creature since I couldn’t do it myself. Within minutes he arrived armed with a 45 and in the blink of an eye the poor animals suffering ended, so he did have redeeming qualities.

            He moved away years ago, so his visit was unexpected.  “…so how’s your firewood supply holdin’ up?”  It's a topic that's sure to pop up in country conversations on cold winter days.  The next thing I knew he and his chainsaw were down in my woods and in no time at all he’d cut a huge fallen four trunk tree into stove-sized logs.  Rambo did the cutting, but left me to haul the logs to an accessible place to be split and stacked. The quadruple windfall south of the orchard, next to a stream is right in the midst of a multiflora rose/poison ivy thicket.

            I began this project yesterday and made considerable progress clearing the evil thorny thicket so there is now a path to the abundant wood supply.  Awkward footing to be sure, but the benefits of solitary labor in the crisp winter air are incomparable.  It was a wonderful day and I’m eager to leave this computer and get back out there. Winter’s stark nakedness intensifies the wonder of everything. 

           How else could I enjoy the birds’ free concert or know that a fox recently scampered across the frozen pond, probably in pursuit of the rabbit whose tracks seem to be everywhere. Everything that I need to be happy and healthy is all right here, literally in my backyard. All I have to do is “see” it..  There’s more than enough kindling to last a lifetime if I just collect it.  The wildlife that I cherish is all around me even if I only see its tracks.  And there’s a lovely potential trail along the rocky little stream to walk and enjoy this coming spring if I just clear it.  There’s a better-looking body under the soft fat if I just spend more time in the woods instead of in front of the woodstove.

            It’s extremely hard for me to accept the fact that I can’t change the world, but I can still find wonder and joy in my own tiny six acre world.  I have to keep reminding myself of these things to counter the “transitional landscape” (that’s the latest buzz term for vanishing countryside) all around me, but when I do, I’m happy. Time to get to work now.



1:05 pm est          Comments

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Adieu Monsieur Shrew.



            Twice I attempted to rescue the clever shrew from the feline hunting party and twice he escaped apparently without injury.  Searches for a mortally wounded critter never yielded a body, so I guess he just had second thoughts about living in the kitchen and departed as mysteriously as he’d entered.  I was happy to bid Monsieur Shrew Adieu. Nights were once again relatively restful, but any tranquility was short-lived when the next ‘game animal’ noted the ‘vacancy’ and decided to move in.  

            I was just drifting into dreamland when  a riot erupted downstairs.  I dismissed it as nothing more than cat races as Poppy, Ivy and Sissy had earlier been sliding across the wood floors in pursuit of a little ball of tinfoil.  But, it was not a friendly cat race that rattled my sleep.  As this photo suggests, it was a trophy hunt!The dear little deer mouse who had sought refuge from the bitter cold would have fared better at the Bates Motel. 

            I sometimes write wildlife profiles for a hook and bullet publication whose covers always feature some beaming “sportsman” hunkering over whatever critter he’s just blasted to smithereens with his cannon-sized weapon.  I think Poppy is hoping for the cover of CatsKill magazine.



4:14 pm est          Comments

Friday, January 29, 2010

Stepping stones, not stumbling blocks...


            It was one degree when the dogs and I slogged out to the barn this morning.  The donkeys’ heated water bucket was frozen solid.  I guess the heater only works up to a certain point although the chickens’ heated bowl works as intended.  I used a hammer to beat the ice block from the bucket and then filled it with warm water hauled from the house.  I kept reminding myself of the axiom that regarding such things as stepping stones rather than stumbling blocks is an opportunity for growth, but somehow I missed that opportunity this morning.  I cleaned the stall, fed the chickens and donkeys and was happy to scurry back to the warm house. I poured another cup of coffee, threw another log on the fire and turned on the telly.

            Quite some time ago I stopped watching the “national news.”  I don’t have cable, so viewing options are few, but I get several PBS stations and that’s all that matters to me.  This is not to say I don’t watch the news.  I watch World News and think it should be mandatory viewing instead of the insipid crap that passes for “news” on the commercial stations.  I am offended by the giggling talking heads revealing the latest gossip about some celebrity as if it actually matters. When Tiger Woods rings me up to inquire about my well being, that’s when I’ll care how he’s progressing in his sexual rehab clinic.  Good grief!

            World News makes sense of the things that affect us as well as the rest of the universe.  It’s sobering and humbling to learn how comforts we take for granted may have devastating effects on those in other parts of the world.  For instance, America is the world’s largest exporter of grain, yet one fourth of the corn produced is now being used to produce bio-fuels.  While this might sound like a good idea, research has shown there are far more efficient ‘crops’ that could be used for this purpose.  Meanwhile the price of grain in countries dependant on imports has skyrocketed, thus threatening the survival of the people who can no longer afford to eat.  Life is complicated, but the commercial “news” programs would have us believe otherwise.  “Ask your doctor if Rxxx is right for you…,” and don’t worry about the rest of the world.         

            While searching for a reference manual I came across a favorite book; Awakening the Buddha Within by Lama Surya Das.  It’s full of highlighted passages and page markers and I found myself reading it again with fresh eyes.  The premise of this thoughtful manuscript in a nutshell is to present an integrated path to wisdom, personal transformation and enlightenment.  I think watching World News is consistent with this goal.  While it may seem abstract, it all boils down to the life style we each choose.  It’s why some people are conscientious shoppers and religious recyclers while others consume and waste with abandon. 

            Attempting to be aware and taking personal responsibility for global conditions is hard work, but worth the effort.  Every decision counts, so I’m considering bamboo flooring (a sustainable wood product) for the kitchen.



10:38 am est          Comments

Thursday, January 28, 2010

This is winter.


            Horrible weather today!  Horizontal snow and cruel biting winds meant no walk for the dogs or me.  Brrr…  They are wearing their quilted coats and seem happy to come inside after brief romps in the white stuff.  This weather makes staying at the computer and catching up on writing very appealing.  It’s warm in my office.  I can look out at the blustery conditions, watch birds at the feeders and take coffee breaks, but I’m getting a lot of work done.

            Last night’s drawing session was extremely disappointing!  Oh, the model and the studio are great.  I was the big disappointment.  My hand simply refuses to draw what my eyes are seeing.  Before you think, oh so it’s just impressionistic or maybe even abstract, rest assured it is neither.  I simply produced pathetic renderings while wishing I were at home instead of erasing, sketching and erasing….  Perhaps this is the reason my finished products were such a letdown.  I just am not a night person. Nevertheless, I’ll keep at it.

            The kitchen floor project is turning out to be more involved than I originally thought.  Aside from removing several layers of old flooring, there is the matter of the baseboard which is original to the house. Due to the multiple layers of flooring only about half of this woodwork is visible. It may have to come off and this will botch up the walls.  Some of the woodwork needs to be stripped of paint as well. When I first got this place the original back door was so thick with layers of paint that I sent it to a stripper for it was definitely not a do-it-yourself project.  That door is chestnut and bears the scars of former animals (not mine) which scratched deep grooves along the edges.  At some point in history four of the upper panels were replaced with wavy glass, but the original lock and door knobs remain.  The door has character and I wouldn’t think of changing it, but that floor is another story.... 



4:59 pm est          Comments

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Trade offs.

            January is the month I most like to go away, somewhere, anywhere, just away from the dreary, familiar cold for a while.  Unfortunately unless I come into some sort of financial windfall I won’t be booking a flight any time soon.  So, I’ve decided to stay home and get rid of the ugly kitchen floor$$$$$

            I originally bought this place with the intention of making it into a rental property, so the kitchen floor and the bathroom were planned accordingly.  Had I known at that time that I would be the resident my choices would have been different.  The bathroom floor was replaced some time ago and it’s fine now, but the kitchen is not.  The time has come to fix this.

            While this may like seem a simple project, it will not be so.  A house of this age has so many layers of flooring that the kitchen is nearly two inches higher than the dining room floor.  This means tearing out not just the linoleum (an unconvincing tan brick design), but also the underlayment, then the next layer, etc.  My daughter who would have no qualms about confronting such a task all on her own thinks I should just do a bit each day. There was a time when this would have been a viable approach, but I don’t like the idea of a prolonged mess, so I’m hiring one fellow to tear out the old and my meticulous friend T. to install a wood floor. I’ll do the finish, but while that nasty work is going on I will be up here in my office working to pay for the project even though I’d rather be going someplace.  Life is just a series of tradeoffs.

            Drawing has been a lifelong hobby, but like anything else, lapses in practice result in disappointing efforts when resumed, so I’ve enrolled in weekly life drawing sessions as a discipline.  For two hours each Wednesday evening I sit with a few other accomplished artists and sketch a model.  Tonight will be the second session.  Last week’s efforts were disappointing.  It takes a while to get one’s “eye” back after not drawing for a long time.  My eyes refused to cooperate with my pencil-wielding hand, but practice makes perfect—or so they say….

            The studio is about a half hour away, but it’s nice to just sit and draw with no interruptions; no phone calls, no cat bickering, no dogs that have to go outside five minutes after coming in.  This compromise will have to suffice for a winter “escape.” By spring I should have a new floor and maybe I’ll even be ready to immortalize Ted on canvas.  To be continued….

            Now for the good news!  The furnace is working.  The annoying wind chime is in the process of being restrung, the wood pile is replenished, my camera is back from the factory and the sun shone most of today. 

5:51 pm est          Comments

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Two views...


            By the time I had finished Monday’s evening chores it was “cold as charity,” as Larry, my Cape Breton friend would say.  But as I closed the barnyard gate and headed toward my old, cedar shake-sided house I saw a feathery plume of smoke lifting from the chimney and a soft light filtered by gauzy curtains in the living room windows.  I hurried forward. The aroma of soup bubbling in the crock pot welcomed me when I pushed open the green door and stepped inside. The day had been productive and pleasant, but it felt good to be in for the evening.

            Orange flames glowed in the woodstove and I was happy to settle into a corner of the sofa with the latest issue of the New Yorker, my favorite periodical.  I’ve been a subscriber most of my life.  The phone rang and it was the woman battling City Hall to keep her urban chickens.  She hoped I could attend the council meeting at 7:00 PM.  I sympathized with her plight, trying to deal with empty-head politicians, but as I’m not a resident of that city there really wasn’t’ much point in my attending.  I apologized and said it wasn’t likely I’d be there.  She said she understood.

            Nettie crowded herself onto the sofa where she isn’t allowed to be, but has languished at will for seven years.  She shoved the bothersome throw pillows on the floor, plunked herself down and stretched out full length with a contented sigh.  Ted was at his usual station on the floor right next to me so he could simply lift his big head for reassuring pats and caresses.  Ernie was sprawled in front of the stove with his head on the stuffed toy he’s had for three years.  No other dog is permitted to touch Ernie’s ‘baby.’

            The phone rang again and it was T. who lives a half mile down the road.  Was I “coming over” he asked?  No, I was not.  I was going nowhere.  He feigned disappointment, but I knew he too was tired and still had work to do, so I didn’t feel guilty.  I watched the Antiques Roadshow, read for a while and let the dogs out for a final pee. Little Ivy raced through the opened door into the frigid night.  “You’d BETTER get IN here,” I warned, but in coquettish feline fashion she flipped her tail and leapt from the porch to vanish in the darkness.  I didn’t worry for there are several places of refuge, but none would be warm like the room she’d just left. The dogs came in and eventually we all trudged up to the chilly bedroom.  I crawled between the icy sheets and soon drifted into a deep satisfied sleep—until 4:00 AM. 

            I’m not exactly sure what awakened me.  Maybe it was the sound of the snow plow scraping its way down the road and letting me know that things would be white when I looked outside.  Maybe it was the howling wind. Maybe the searing pain on the top of my finger from poison ivy most likely gotten from contaminated cordwood I’d hauled in a couple days ago.  It could have been the monotonous bong-bong of the wind chime on the porch.  The long chimes that usually sing a relaxing melody were obviously entangled and the clapper was only hitting the same two tubes.  Bong-bong.  Bong-bong.  There was nothing melodic about the clanging.  Bong-bong.  I made a mental note to fix it. 

            But probably what awakened me were the all too frequent intervals of the furnace fan.  I laid there listening to the oil-guzzling green monster in the cellar on which I depended for the pitiful heat it produced.  It shouldn’t have been clicking on and off with such frequency.  Something was wrong.  Bong-bong….

            The maddening wind chime seemed amplified. My finger felt like it was on fire. The furnace clicked and hummed and I was wide awake, so I threw back the covers and padded blindly down the stairs.  Without my contacts or glasses I only see fuzzy forms, not distinct objects, but in familiar surroundings it’s easy enough to manage.  Ernie decided he needed to go out and hurried to the living room door.  A snow-covered Little Ivy raced inside as Ernie rushed out.  I could see a faint orange glow behind the glass stove doors, so I tossed in what was probably another poison ivy-tainted log before going into the kitchen to check the time.

            Pressing my nose against the clock on the stove I squinted and saw that it was 4:10 when the furnace fan clicked into action.  The hot floor register felt good on my bare feet.  I waited.  Less than five minutes later it clicked off.  That’s not the way an oil furnace is supposed to work. Ernie came in and I returned to my bed which was still warm, but sleep was elusive.  Tuesday would not be without problems and expenses.  I began a mental list:  Call Dan the furnace man.  Fix the damned wind chime.  Bong-bong.  Treat and wrap my ivy-blistered finger.  Haul in more firewood (but wear gloves).  Remind myself how lucky I am to live in a charming old farmhouse in January. 




9:41 am est          Comments

Monday, January 25, 2010

Off to a good start.


            The day began feeling more like April than January.  The weather was downright balmy when I opened the gate so my friends could drive in.  By the time my guests left it felt like the temperature had dropped twenty degrees. From that point on the day became increasingly dark, windy and frigid.  Even so, it’s been a good day.

            Two of my favorite people visited early this morning.  H. lives in south central Ohio and her mother lives just outside a city not too far from me.  Both women are fun, talented and inspiring.  H. always brings me something wonderful.  Sometimes it’s her husband’s homemade wine or their home-produced honey. Other times it’s one of the terrific products from her sister’s business—Misty Mountain Estate (P.O. Box 4, Lewisville, OH  43754).  Today it was wine jelly.  The cottage industry creates products claiming, “Fine entertaining made fast, healthy and easy.”  Everything I’ve tasted thus far lives up to this claim.           

            While cottage industries flourish in Great Britain, I imagine the bureaucracy in this country discourages many from marketing their healthy, high-quality products while junk food easily gets the government green light.  Hence, discriminating consumers must make a special effort to find products such as those produced by small, family-owned companies like Misty Mountain Estate.  I think it is well worth the effort.

            H.’s mother, a jolly, effervescent senior citizen still lives in the vertical log home she and her late husband built more than seventy years ago.  I can’t wait to visit!  Having interesting friends such as these people offset the idiots who far outnumber them, but who nevertheless manage to create a world of chaos rather than peace and joy.  I cherish friends like this more than they will ever know.

            Changes are happening at the barn.  It’s probably just coincidental, but the hens are suddenly on a laying binge, thank goodness!  The half dozen store-bought eggs were even worse than I remembered; watery, anemic, tasteless facsimiles of real eggs.  I’ve been supplementing the chickens’ diets with abundant offerings of fresh lettuce, compliments of a local grocer, but maybe the WD-40 treatment is also working.  Whatever the reason, I’m delighted to be back in the egg business.  The birds seem peppier and happier too.

            My writing is going well and I’m feeling more and more like my old self and Nikon sent a letter saying my repaired camera should be at my door tomorrow, so in spite of blustery unpleasant conditions outside my small country life is pretty satisfying.




6:49 pm est          Comments

Sunday, January 24, 2010

A drizzly day.


            Warmer temperatures have melted most, but not all of the ice and snow, so trips to the barn or out the drive still can send a careless walker off on a one-heel slide.  The animals are happy for the change, especially the chickens who spent the day pecking about, mindless of the rain that spat down all day.

            I saw the big coyote too.  It’s hard to believe, but I want to think it’s so that this is the same big guy the dogs and I encountered almost on a daily basis last year.  The dogs were extremely nervous, especially as the song dog became more brazen, sitting on the crest of the hill just watching us rather than running off.  That was an especially large specimen and the one I saw yesterday was the same size, so either a super-strain of these clever creatures is about, or this is the alpha male.

            Opossum too are suddenly in evidence.  Spotting wildlife under the current conditions is more challenging.  No snow means no tracks to follow and the animals are well camouflaged in these gray and brown landscapes.  It’s all quite wonderful.



9:30 pm est          Comments

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Another odd


            The chicken leg problem is worrisome.  So far I’ve gone through three different remedies with little if any noticeable difference.  Then I remembered my friend Mark who lives a few miles up the road.  Mark raises champion show chickens, so if anyone would know what to do it would be Mark.  I called him.

            “I know exactly what is wrong and how to cure it-- guaranteed,”  he promised.  He then proceeded to describe my chickens’ malady to a tee and advised that I “absolutely soak them with WD-40.”  At this point I was ready to try anything and I think the birds with the funky legs were up for it too.  Administering this “guaranteed” cure was a lot easier than previous treatments and it smells good.  Mark says to retreat them in ten days, so it’s marked on the calendar. I’m keeping my fingers crossed. 

            Like most of my friends Mark would be considered eccentric by some, crazy by others, but I like him.  I’ll never forget our first meeting.  I and another woman who knew Mark were sitting in her truck staking out a barn where some horses were being neglected.  We were gathering evidence to take to the prosecutor.  Suddenly Mark appeared from under a large bush where he’d been hiding and in his hand was a box of Triscut crackers.  As he approached the truck I thought, oh good, he has some snacks, but when he got to the open window he reached into the cracker box and withdrew a 38 caliber gun.  I knew right then that he was not just your average guy.  We’ve been friends for many years now although we’ve had a couple of tiffs, but he has been an invaluable resource.

            He is the manager of two county livestock auctions and he's also an advocate for farm animals.  In his vocation he is in a position to encourage and promote humane care during the animals’ lives and is committed to promoting humane slaughter as well.  He plans to call his proposed non-profit organization “Die Right.”  From a marketing perspective I think the name is catchy, direct and to the point, easy to remember and most likely unique, just like Mark.



6:15 pm est          Comments

Friday, January 22, 2010

Nice guys finish last.


            Physical labor is a good way to deal with anger issues, so I’ve been busy as a beaver today.  Why am I angry when just yesterday I noted that I simply want a life of peace and tranquility?  Seeing injustice makes me angry and injustice where the welfare of animals is at stake really sets me off. Such is the case, hence I am angry.

            The county in which I live has a deplorable history of animal control agencies.  There are two in the area, although one might just as well be selling ice cream or shoes for that would help animals about as much as this bogus organization does.  But that one will never change and those involved with animals have accepted that ugly truth.  The other entity, the one in jeopardy is the dog pound.

            The very title ‘dog pound’ conjures up dismal images; dogs in jail awaiting execution by a heartless warden and until the hire of our current warden several years ago that was a pretty accurate perception.  Our current warden changed all of this, but now his position is in peril, an unjustified (in my opinion) decision of elected commissioners. 

            What is the purpose of the dog pound?  It is to deal with unwanted or surplus dogs in the community, right?  During his tenure our warden has decreased the annual euthanasia rate dramatically, initiated low cost spay/neuter programs, established a working relationship with breed specific rescue groups as well as an on-site volunteer organization and increased adoptions significantly by being a personable, approachable presence at animal-related events intended to help shelter dogs find responsible homes.  In other words, he has done a hell of a job.  His reward?  He’s being fired.

            Granted, no one is perfect, nor is this man. According to one commissioner the warden’s big flaw is being a “weak manager.” This may be true.  I’m not there, but I’ve heard anecdotal stories.  And so while the commissioners loudly publicize his shortcomings real or invented, they ignore and dismiss his accomplishments.  The losers in all of this political maneuvering are the dogs behind the bars of the pound. 

            I’ve been on the phone much of the day and have learned that the commissioner who just last night told me, “I love (the warden). He’s my friend.  I just hate to do this, but….”  Today I learned from another commissioner that the guy who “loves” the warden is the one who initiated this firing.  With friends like that guy, who needs enemies?

            The sad truth about politicians is that the only thing that really matters to them is their own career.  Ruin a man’s life, jeopardize the welfare of helpless animals, undo years of hard work by countless volunteers…. None of this matters so long as the self-aggrandizing politician moves up the ladder toward whatever position he covets.  It sickens me. 

            And so consequently I have (between phone calls and emails) gotten a lot done today, but I’m still angry!  I think this monument is how politicians percieve themselves; head and shoulders above the little guys and immortal.



5:59 pm est          Comments

Thursday, January 21, 2010



            Wednesday was busy. I had not one minute to spare, hence no blog post yesterday and today has been chaotic as well for some complicated and disturbing reasons.

            Work continues at ET’s house and I must admit it looks very nice with the new windows, doors, etc.  Could there be hope beyond the stumps?  The dogs and I were walking up the road this afternoon just as ET or his roommate pulled out of the driveway. The young man politely drove slowly past me and the dogs and waved, I waved back.  I have decided that in spite of my anguish over the reckless destruction of the trees and the 3:00 AM snow mobile hobby, I am going to make every attempt to be neighborly. 

            The reasons are obvious:  It’s his property. There is nothing I can do about anything anyway. It’s none of my business.  But the real reason is that I do not like conflict or discord in my life.  I will plant a vegetative barrier, wave politely and go about my business.  I long for peace and tranquility.  God knows there is very little of either in this world.

            Today I received an email about a woman who has been living in her car with three large dogs for more than a week and apparently no one was willing to help. Experience has proven that networking is the only way things get done.  I tell you, you tell someone else, and eventually the plight falls on the ears of the person who has the power to intervene.  And so it was today.  Try to imagine yourself in such a nightmarish situation.

            The woman has a cell phone, so I called her.  She told me that for twelve years she had her own home, but lost it to foreclosure and was evicted.  She has no supportive family and she had nowhere to go.  She desperately needed to find someplace for the animals before she herself would even be considered at a homeless shelter.  I told her I would see what I could do. 

            I don’t know this person and I didn’t ask why or how she lost her home. It’s not my place to judge.  She needed help—period.  One might expect someone in such peril to be bitter, but instead she said, “I just think of those poor people in Haiti.  At least I have what I do, so I’m grateful.  Thank you for your help.”

            I was very moved and touched by her humility.  I found a place for her to take the dogs and called her with the information, but haven’t had a response yet.  The Haitian dilemma is upsetting and I’ve been considering two humanitarian agencies as recipients of my modest donation, but after today I have changed my mind.  What little I can afford to give would only be a drop in the Haitian bucket, but that same amount can mean a lot to someone like the lady living in her car.  I shall donate here at home, directly to a person in need. 



5:43 pm est          Comments

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

A busy and productive day.

            “Just once before I die I’d like to actually choose the kind of dog I get,” said neighbor Butch after his wife Sandy rescued one of the many dogs/cats dumped out here.  Almost without exception folks on this road are animal lovers who have taken in multiple critters.  I can’t think of anyone who has just one dog or one cat (except for one place).  We take pet ownership seriously and we are responsible and caring, so the discovery that ET (environmental terrorist) now has a puppy imprisoned in his bleak barren barn (with the door removed) was yet another fear realized.  Judging from what we’ve seen thus far there is little reason to think he will be a loving, responsible pet owner.  The poor puppy’s wailing goes unheeded and haunts Sandy and Butch who live next door.

            This morning as I made my way to the barn a convoy of trucks was converging on ET’s place. They parked all over the yard juxtaposed with the many ragged stumps. I couldn’t imagine what the destruction du jour might be since there isn’t much left to wreck, but later when I went to the barn to do chores I could see that all of the windows in his house were gone!  Black holes all the way around.  The soffit was ripped off too. 

            Darkness falls early these cold winter days, so it was really surprising to just get the “road report” that a new door and windows were installed by nightfall, but that a new pile of rubbish joins the mountains of debris beside and behind the house. Each day some  surprise emanates from the once-quiet place up the road.  So far, none of them have been good, but it’s got the road all abuzz.

            It’s still cold, but I managed to shovel away enough of the icy snow drift to get the big barn doors open so I could finally dump the wheelbarrow and give the stall a thorough cleaning.  During the coldest months I use straw to bed the donkeys.  It’s more difficult to muck out their stall, but I think the fluffy bed is more comfortable and warmer than wood shavings.  It felt good to leave them standing knee-deep in fresh bedding as they munched their evening hay.

            I'm still treating the chickens for their scaly leg situation.  Most of the birds can simply be picked up at will, but a few are more easily caught with the fish landing net.  They object to this in no uncertain terms, but once freed they settle right down. I hold them like footballs tucked under my arm and questioningly they look up at me. With a low worried clucking they ask what the heck I have in mind for them.  Maybe they’re remembering former companions that have been picked up never to be seen again.

            Since the medicated solution is comfortably warm, once the complaining bird is standing in this toasty foot bath it relaxes and changes its commentary. “Ahh, ‘nice… My feet were freezing from walking around in that snow all day…”              I also finished another article this afternoon.  It's been a busy and productive day.  I shall sleep well tonight.

7:12 pm est          Comments

Monday, January 18, 2010

Critter crisis.


            “Um, is this Karen…, asked the caller. I have this duck….”   Tom needed help and had been advised to call me.  The poor guy had already contacted just about everyone else imaginable, but to no avail.

            Tom lives in a city about an hour away and he’d found an injured Pekin duck  apparently at death’s door when discovered.  Tom, who sounds like a very nice fellow took the helpless bird some food and began looking for assistance. Because it was not a wild duck the Division of Wildlife couldn’t help.  And a livestock sanctuary couldn’t take it either as they only work through police or the courts dealing with abuse or cases of neglect.  A wildlife rehabber couldn’t help because it was a domesticated breed and poor Tom’s local humane society simply didn’t return any of his repeated calls for help. 

            The duck was fading fast, so Tom literally took matters into his own hands. It’s now in his garage, safe, secure, warm and well fed.  “I went to the mill and said I needed some duck feed….”  It sounds like they sold him a 50 pound bag of grain.  He says the duck can stand and flap his wings, but he can’t walk.  Long story short; I’ve put him in touch with a poultry-friendly vet located down his way and pending diagnosis of the Pekin’s problem it will be joining the feathered flock here.  I await Tom’s post-vet phone call.

            Later this same day:  It would be hard to find a dog with a sweeter disposition than Ted--so long as you don’t touch his toes.  The mere sight of the nail clipper sends this big boy into a frenzy, so what should be a simple procedure is impossible.  At 113 pounds, he’s all muscle and certainly stronger than I and several helpers, so off to the vet we went. 

            He was delighted to be going for a ride in the truck and even as he waited at the clinic he was happy and silly, picking up his lead and carrying it around and wagging his big fluffy tail.  All was well until the vet touched his foot. No amount of cajoling or wrestling matched his adrenaline-fueled fury, so like a wild animal he was given what was supposed to be a fast-acting sedative.  He should have been asleep within ten minutes, but Ted was hardly drowsy.  A second shot finally put him in a stupor.  His toes were trimmed and he was given a wake up injection.

            For what this cost I could have had a couple of deluxe pedicures myself at a fancy salon.  We will not be doing this again.




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Sunday, January 17, 2010

Down time.


             After spending the evening with a friend I was stunned to find fog so thick it was impossible to see more than a couple feet beyond the windshield!  I literally drove home blind and it was the scariest half mile ever.  A “severe fog” warning is in effect until 10:00 AM on Monday.  Meanwhile it’s cold, it’s raining, it’s soggy and miserable. 

            The donkeys spend little time outside their stall and the chickens refuse to venture outside even for some fresh air. The petulant hens prefer to sit on their perches and pout.

             “The greatest profits in farm poultry are to be attained during the winter months.”  So states the author of The People’s Book of Ready Reference. This tome of “10,000 recipes and handy facts” was published in 1903. Maybe those turn of the century birds liked winter, but my 21st century hens do not. They have not laid one egg in a month despite all my efforts to make them comfy and to offer supplemental goodies.

            Apparently I have not gone far enough for this author recommends a hot breakfast for the girls, something along the line of Cream of Wheat, grits (thoroughly cooked…) or oatmeal.  But, since the birds may object to steaming bowls of cereal I am advised to wait until it cools ever so slightly, then to stir it up into a crumbly mass. Under no circumstances should it be made sloppy or served in a less than clean, well-made trough. 

            I think the girls can extend their vacation and I’ll just buy a dozen eggs.



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Saturday, January 16, 2010

Another one bites the dust.




photos/Picture037.jpg          Another century barn has bitten the dust.  When Nikon returns my camera I’ll take some pictures since this was the barn that used to stand behind the shrine with Mary in the up-ended bathtub, guarded by the raincoat-wearing, cement goose standing next to the giant toad stool and equally large toad, or maybe it’s a frog.  The barn is now just a pile of rubble which will most likely be graded and seeded and within a year or so there will be scant hint of the massive structure that weathered about a hundred years of winter storms.

            I’ve done a mental count of how many old bank barns have vanished just within a few mile radius of my place:  Ten immediately come to mind, all quite nearby. Probably many more have perished that I don’t know about.  Of this figure five have gone up in flames, some under suspicious circumstances, but I don’t recall that anyone has ever been arrested.  The big plank-sided barns supported by hand-hewn beams and topped with slate or steel roofing each had charm, regardless of the condition.  Their efficient, modern, steel-sided replacements lack this attribute.

            An incandescent bulb casting a hazy light through cracked, cobwebby windows hinted of the warmth and rich smells from the animals sheltered inside.  Kenny’s barn is sort of like this, but to reach this ambiance one must first kick a path through mountains of junk.  The hay mow seemed orderly enough the night neighbor Sandy and I “rescued” cow when she went searching for Kenny, but getting into the lower barn where a few rusty stanchions, old harness, bottomless buckets and pitchforks with no handles are among the clutter requires navigating a tricky and dangerous obstacle course. Even so, in my estimation Kenny’s barn , like old Kenny is charming.

            To my east a white, phallic-looking silo pierces the sky.  It’s all that remains of what was locally known as “filthy farm,” a place that gave new meaning to that adjective.  Filthy farmer and his wife are dead now, but when they were alive they kept dairy cows.  My friend bought a couple calves.  He said he did it to rescue them. The manure buildup in the barn eventually blew out the side walls so that the structure didn’t look square, but slightly pyramidal.  A low, almost-visible cloud of ammonia leaked from within and even though a cobwebby light shone through the windows (those that still had glass…) this barn definitely lacked the aforementioned charm. 

            Ultimately filthy farm was purchased by a fastidious man who farms about 1,000 non-contiguous acres, so needless to say the barn was doomed.  He donated it to the volunteer fire department and it was ignited for a test burn one beautiful summer Sunday morning.  I and the dogs were just cresting the hill on the old oil road when the first billow of black smoke lifted from the flames.  It was quite a spectacular sight to be sure, but no one expected what followed. 

            Suddenly it was like the fourth of July.  No one had noticed the boxes of ammunition stored in the rafters before the fire was set.  It was certainly a day to remember.  The new owner wasted no time grading and seeding the site.  Now, filthy farm is home to only the pigeons that roost in the silo. 

            (I can’t wait to get my camera back!!!)



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Friday, January 15, 2010



            The snow is melting and now that the lovely white shroud is lifting,  winter’s fatalities are slowly being exposed;  pot holes galore, hubcaps and other car parts which fell off after hitting the pot holes, cans, bottles, garbage, dead animals and other debris.  This is the ugly part of winter.  But, on the bright side, perhaps the melt will abort what has become the environmental terrorist’s (ET) nightly activity.

            Most people are asleep at 3:00 AM.  I try to be, but have heard from others on the road that like myself, they are being awakened at this godforsaken hour by the shrill whine of ET’s snow mobile.  We are all dreading the arrival of milder weather for we see that in addition to the snow mobile he also has an ATV.  He appears not to have a job, yet paid cash for the property which he is systematically destroying.  His truck is the biggest deluxe model made.  This person is twenty one years old! 

            Either his parents are extremely generous or he’s won the lottery. Nice work if you can get it, I’d say!




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Thursday, January 14, 2010

How to help.



            It is wonderful to be feeling like my old self and again to be writing about interesting subjects, yet as I work in the comfort and safety of my office, images of the incredible suffering taking place at this very minute in Haiti blur my concentration.  I learned from personal experience during the Katrina nightmare that the best way to help is not to collect items, but to send money directly to places like the Red Cross.  They know exactly what is needed, where and how to obtain it and they use it where most needed.

            When Katrina hit and the government’s action was so utterly inept, I helped organize a local animal-focused relief effort.  The response was amazing!  I collected over $4,000.00 which was given directly to St. Francis Animal Sanctuary in Louisiana.  It was and remains an outstanding sanctuary for unwanted, abused, neglected animals and it was a primary refuge for thousands of animals displaced by the hurricane.  In addition to the money, donations of all sorts filled my barn and were boxed for delivery.  This is how I came to the realization that money is more practical than material items.

            People had the very best of intentions and contributed generously if not always logically.  For instance, warehouses down there were literally overflowing with pet foods that had been given by manufacturers.  The donated foods we packed up were not needed.  Other items like bandanas for dogs were simply frivolous.  Some of the medical supplies required refrigeration.  It was a monumental undertaking, but the community support was extremely touching.

            Ultimately, we loaded about fifty big cartons of supplies into a two horse trailer and a wonderful woman involved in this good-intentioned campaign drove down to the stricken area and distributed items directly to people on the street.  She was/is an angel and our donations did make a difference, but we all learned that effective relief efforts during catastrophes like Katrina and the current Haitian quake are best handled by experienced professionals. 

            Yes, I will send a check to a legitimate aid program, but I’d also like to physically help.  I wish one of my dogs were a trained rescue or cadaver canine, but not one of this gang is even a candidate for such schooling—too old, too big, too dumb.  Maybe I could cook and distribute meals or supplies.  It just doesn’t feel right to do nothing. 



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Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Another day...


            The heavy snow hushes most sounds, but not those issuing from the environmental terrorist’s snow mobile.  The once tranquil home of Mrs. Clark is becoming party central.  Now that all of the vegetation has been laid to ruin he is in the process of ripping out the kitchen cupboards.  When not involved in this “remuddling” effort he and his friends are ripping around the countryside in the wee hours of the morning.

            Today I began dumping loads of stall cleanings over the north fence in preparation for spring planting of a barrier which will block the view, but not the reality of what is happening here.  It’s all very ugly and depressing, not just to me, but to the entire road.  We have been cursed with our worst nightmare neighbor.

            Still no break in the cold temperatures.  I’ve been busy all day and by this time of the evening it would be nice to settle in to a warm room, but it seems that by the time the living room is actually warm, it’s time to go to bed.  I’m spending the evening pouring over a bunch of gardening magazines and planning spring projects.  It’s not a bad way to pass a cold winter night, but I do wish it were a bit warmer. 

             I really wish I could help the poor victims of the Haitian earthquake, but a friend has advised that I would only be "in the way...." What a pity.



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Tuesday, January 12, 2010

I love my job!


            This is the view from my office window. Tonight as I came back up to my work space, hand on the icy stair railing it occurred to me that the wood was nearly as cold as the outside porch railing!  Much of this house is uncomfortably chilly, so I hurried in to where a space heater keeps it cozy.  It encourages me to "get to work.”  I’ve hardly been out of this room all day and for the first time in weeks I'm again enjoying my job. 

            I’m busy with a piece about old mills in Virginia.  Several months ago while on a press trip I had the opportunity to visit many historic places most of which were famous Civil War sites.  Museums, national battlefields and parks, all of them “tourist-ready,” but these spots left me uninspired.  What I found  enchanting were a couple of magnificent unrestored mills.  Something magical is almost always obliterated in the name of restoration. 

            Perhaps I could have written yet another article about the area’s killing fields or lavish plantation houses that were only lavish for the occupants who were waited on hand and foot by enslaved souls, but that prospect was  depressing.  Instead I’m researching the role early mills played and finding it very interesting. 

            The dogs would rather I come outside and play with them, but I’m afraid they will just have to entertain themselves for a few more days. 



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Monday, January 11, 2010

Cold thoughts on a cold day.


            Living in an old house one is surrounded by history.  I love uncovering this farms  past. Maybe it just seems that the history of others is more interesting than one’s own, but recently I became aware that I know more about the people who built this house than I know about my own family.  This is a strange and sometimes troubling truth.

            My mother was never forthcoming when asked about her parents; my grandparents and my father rarely said anything at all.  I have but scant memories of any ancestors.  The unanswered questions of my past never concerned me much as I believe in living in the moment,  but recently I met a woman who remarked, “I think it’s critical to know your family’s history for how else can you know yourself?”

            Considering her comment I decided to Google my father only to find absolutely nothing.  It’s as if he never existed at all.  In my memory he was a handsome man with thick wavy hair and a space between his two front teeth until unconvincing clattering dentures replaced all of his originals.  He liked to fish and bowl and he kept the lawn neat and tidy.  He did not drive a car.  He did not serve in the military, but was in the Civilian Conservation Corp.  As for those last two facts I don’t know the reasons.  My mother ruled the roost and my father seemed to just bring home a paycheck.  He had few other distinguishing facets.  In photos he rarely looked happy. What a sad legacy. 

            For some time I’ve been working on a memoir/ collection of short stories called Leaving Fifth Street.  I wonder,  if I’d known something more of my heritage, would it have seemed so necessary to high-tail it out of that place?  I don’t regret doing so, but I’ll always wonder….




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Sunday, January 10, 2010

Living the good life.



            The party was lovely and again I’m grateful for the many nice people who are part of my life.  It was horribly cold, but that didn’t deter guests.  Someone even arrived early with an old International, a behemoth that easily cleared additional space so no one would get stuck.  The house was warm, the food was delicious (as always) and conversation bright and intelligent.  I can’t think of a better way to bring life to an old farmhouse than to fill it with friends, food and music.

            Unfortunately last night confirmed my fear that the cameras auto-focus is broken as evidenced by this less than sharp photo.  I had hoped the fuzzy images were fixable with some minor adjustments, but not so.  This is no small problem as this camera is critical to my writing as I supply my own photos.  I shudder to consider the repair cost.

            When the last guests had gone, the music continued. Just as I was drifting off to sleep a band of caroling coyotes passed through.  Morning arrived much too soon and brought with it a couple of surprises.  Tom, the garden shed cat had discovered the kitty door into the basement and was snoozing comfortably in the landing.  It’s unlikely he’s planning to go back to the shed when the cellar is about sixty degrees warmer.  He’s a sweetheart and thus far has caused no trouble.

            The other surprise was the avian breakfast club.  Two hawks sat at the very tip-top of the pine tree next to the house perusing the “menu” of small birds that were eating corn and sunflower seeds on the porch.  Ernie, the youngest dog who I must admit is not terribly bright couldn’t believe his eyes.  He stumbled from the porch with his eyes nervously cast skyward as if those hawks might swoop down and spirit his 100+ pound bulk aloft.

            And so, it’s been a lazy day of reading, reflecting and telly, but now the donkeys are braying, so it’s time to bundle up and head for the barn. Life is pretty darned good.



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Saturday, January 9, 2010

Party on.



            I’m hosting the music-potluck party here tonight.  In spite of the weather people have indicated they are planning to brave the elements.  While it will be lovely to have a house full of guests I am currently in a quandary about the parking issue.  Even if I could find someone to plow it, undoubtedly tons of gravel would be relocated to the yard.  I will have to shovel it by hand.

            I am finding it difficult to address the party preparations because I’ve been distracted by issues which have touched a nerve, thus provoking me to respond with unedited thoughts and comments.

              One such instance; a nearby city is making a big fuss about a woman who has a few hens in her urban setting.  This has become a political issue of outrageous proportions.  Ridiculous city officials are suddenly committed to protecting the community from the hazards of urban poultry.  The allegations are unfounded of course, but it has given a few small town “legislators” a chance to get their names in the paper. 

            My tolerance level is at an all-time ebb.  When I learned of the proposed ban and the harassment of this woman I fired off a letter regarding the benefits, both environmental as well as social to keeping poultry even in urban settings.   Ironically, in more progressive-thinking places existing bans on urban livestock (within reason) are being lifted.  Other events of the day have taxed my patience as well, so I'm going to use my "energy" to attack the snowy driveway, but I may think twice about hosting a future winter party....



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Friday, January 8, 2010

Necessity is the mother of invention.



            I know from blog feedback that my lifestyle seems attractive to a lot of folks, and of course I agree.  But these cozy hours by the fire, warm and fuzzy times at the barn with the critters and all the other little vignettes that probably sound idyllic have their costs.  The reality is that barn animals have to eat and that means hauling heavy sacks of feed.  And those toasty fires mean hauling logs and gathering kindling.  Tasks like these are normally easy peasy, but when it’s 20 degrees and the snow lays heavy on the ground the efforts are doubled (at least). I’m not complaining, just explaining that my small country life isn’t always as romantic as I sometimes make it seem. 

            Today was a day of labor and most of it was spent outside in the cold.  There was a truckload of supplies to be distributed and this prompted me to get the snow boat out of the garden shed rafters.  It’s amazing how manageable hauling is with such a simple improvisation.  The snow boat is actually a big plastic baby bathtub from the thrift store.  A couple of strategically drilled holes and a nylon rope handle and that fifty pound sack of grain glided across the snow like a feather.  (Ted added his toy to the load, hoping I might stop to throw it for him.) It later proved useful for hauling wood.

            I’ve tried other forms of winter transport when using the wheelbarrow isn’t an option, but nothing has worked as well as this.  A regular sled with runners is top heavy and a wagon is useless.  As a bonus the snow boat packed a nice pathway from the truck and house to the barn. It’s great when two jobs get done simultaneously.

            Without a doubt the most impressive book I’ve ever read, the one that literally changed my life was written by Scott and Helen Nearing.  Living the Good Life shared the Nearing’s back to basics lifestyle, their philosophies and certain creeds that have stuck with me to this very day like the admonition to never do just one thing at a time. When the Nearings went for walks, they also collected rocks which they deposited upon their return to whichever project site needed that particular size stone.  I was reminded of this today while collecting kindling.

            The apple trees in the old orchard have an abundance of low-hanging dead branches.  This dead wood not only hinders walking through the orchard, but it will have to be taken out in order to expand the nature trail in the spring.  By removing the aromatic apple wood now I have a ready supply of dry kindling and am also getting a jump on a future project.  This ‘killing two birds with one stone’ kind of work is very gratifying.

            Scott and Helen really did know the secret to living the good life.  While they could have simply lived as they chose without sharing, but social cooperation was KEY to the good life.  I think they wrote their first book in the 1950’s, but recently critics have tried to diminish their reputation and the (positive) influence they had on others.  I plan to reread Living the Good Life. I know it will inspire me all over again and hopefully it will help me make 2010 a more productive meaningful year.



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Thursday, January 7, 2010

The woods are lovely, dark and deep...


            And so is everything else this blustery evening.  Six more inches of snow are predicted between now and Saturday, the day I’m hosting a party.  I really doubt that anyone is going to venture out to attend our monthly music potluck, but on the off chance they do there are preparations that must be addressed.

            Opening the pipe gate at the end of the driveway is more than slightly important and  it’s already becoming difficult, so it seemed prudent to start shoveling now in an effort to keep the swing path clear.  Since the gate is 16’ wide, this entails shoveling an area 16’ x 16’, but it’s another excuse to be outside.  The dogs love it.

            Nettie went to the vet today.  She was diagnosed as having a thyroid deficiency, so she is now on medication.  It seems I work merely to pay vet bills, but I love my animals.

            I also love this poem by Robert Frost and frequently recite it to myself when on walks.  It seemed especially appropriate today.


Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening


Whose woods these are I think I know.
His house is in the village though;
He will not see me stopping here
To watch his woods fill up with snow.

My little horse must think it queer
To stop without a farmhouse near
Between the woods and frozen lake
The darkest evening of the year.

He gives his harness bells a shake
To ask if there is some mistake.
The only other sound's the sweep
Of easy wind and downy flake.

The woods are lovely, dark and deep.
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.




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Wednesday, January 6, 2010

My cup runneth over...


            Once again a scene at Kenny’s place made me laugh out loud today.  The mailbox wrecked by the snow plow hasn’t been repaired yet and apparently the mail carrier wasn’t comfortable putting mail in the bucket hung on the post for that purpose, so today Kenny literally received an air mail package.  The parcel was placed in a clear plastic bag which was then tied about six feet high on a guy wire where it whipped about in the brisk wind like a tethered bird.  One thing is certain, Kenny couldn’t miss it if he pulled in or out of his lane.

            Yes, the snow is lovely and yes, I do like winter, but my cup runneth over!  Well, not my ‘cup,’ but my wheelbarrow.  The barn doors are frozen tight and I can’t get them open. Even if I could it’s unlikely I’d be able to push the wheelbarrow through the snow to the manure pile.  Hence, I can’t dump this load which grows ever larger thanks to donkeys that refuse to go outside and enjoy the crisp air and pristine snow.  They prefer to stand and poop in their stall all day and all night, then watch with their silly-ass smiles as I grumble about the mess and load up another muck bucket.  Inconveniences such as this load of overflowing manure and frozen doors do have a way of dimming winters beauty.  

            I’m having trouble with an article I’m working on and when writing isn’t going well every other little issue seems monumental in scope, so I’m quitting for the day and hoping things progress more smoothly tomorrow.         




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Monday, January 4, 2010

Boys with toys.


            The snow is still falling and it’s really piling up.  It’s now difficult to open and close the pipe gate at the end of the drive.  Last year around this time this became impossible due to the snow and the gate had to be lifted from its hinges until things melted a bit.  As you might have guessed by now the weather is the major topic of conversation around here, followed by a tally of how many mail boxes the snow plows have wiped out. 

            The most recent fatality was Kenny’s mailbox. This couldn’t have been good for the plow either since Kenny’s box was a sturdy improvisation made of iron well housing.  The unique contraption was spray painted a glaring, eye-burning yellow, but in an irregular pattern, sort of like yellow clouds.  The mounting post and the box are history, entombed somewhere under the ever-deepening blanket of white.  The post for his newspaper tube is also whopper-jawed, but still vertical, so Kenny has cleverly solved the problem of interrupted mail delivery by hanging a five gallon bucket on the crooked post.

            The environmental terrorist also lost his mailbox.  I’m human.  I did not think to myself, “Oh dear, tsk, tsk, my new neighbor’s mailbox has been damaged….”   No, I really thought, “Good!  Karma….”     

            Until quite recently the road sides were slightly elevated.  Wildflowers and berry bushes flourished, but they were always just one jump ahead of the mowing maniacs on the road crew who for some unfathomable reason feel compelled to annihilate the beautiful vegetation.  Late this fall these same boys with toys arrived with a bulldozer.  They cut down the gentle shoulders so that the road is now level with the adjoining land.  No doubt their thinking was that this would facilitate easier mowing in the spring.

            From a practical standpoint the former elevation served as a snow barrier.  The sides of the banks would pile up like dunes, but the road stayed relatively clear. Not anymore.  Now the west winds whip across the great expanse of winter-bare corn and soybean fields and the road drifts shut as fast as the snow plow can scrape it clean.  The section near Kenny’s place is especially dangerous and my friend and I spun off road there over the weekend.  Another “improvement” gone bad.  Why are hedgerows things of the past around here? 

            While in Great Britain last spring I had the opportunity to inspect laid hedges in Wales where some of the hedgerows are many centuries old.  Laying hedges (cutting saplings at specific points and bending them over to create a dense woven livestock barrier) is considered a much respected art form.  Do you think sickle bar mowing is ever going to share such a distinction?   At various points in history Britain’s hedges were removed, but they are being replanted for wildlife habitat.  Oh, why not here???



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Sunday, January 3, 2010



            It’s ever so cold.  Much too cold to enjoy the outdoors, but chores must be done, firewood must be hauled inside, the woodstove must be stoked and not allowed to die down, but when these tasks are finished, it’s nice to settle in with reading material, music and the smells of something good wafting from the kitchen. All of the animals are bored as can be seen on Booger's face.

            The laundry room is so cold that the washer is frozen.  It happens every year and the only solution is to run the space heater for a day or take clothes to the Laundromat which is easier and faster, not to mention less expensive than running that little power hog heater.  Frigid days like this are perfect for hearty soups, so what a delightful surprise it was to discover that I own a crock pot!  It was tucked back  in the farthest corner of the cupboard above the refrigerator, one of those places rarely visited.  All day a lovely pasta, bean, tomato concoction has been gurgling away.  Dinner will be the highlight of this blustery day.




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Saturday, January 2, 2010

Fighting the cold.


            The night was frigid and the roads were icy, but friends braved the elements to come to dinner.  I love intimate candlelight gatherings.  In addition to enhancing the appearance of the diners as well as the food, candles impart heat, something not universally available in this house. 

            Poppy, the youngest cat also loves candlelight, or any kind of fire for that matter.  She’s fascinated by it.  She sits by woodstove when I light the fire in the morning and seems mesmerized by the flames. All those candles last night were just too tempting. The pyromaniac puss now has a new hairdo.  Where her left ‘eyebrow’ used to be is a patch of singed frizz, but she doesn’t seem to mind and I suspect the next time she gets a chance she will have her little face in the fire again.

            The general rule is to serve white wine chilled and red at room temperature, but in this house that’s the same temperature.  It’s cold in here, so today I launched the New Year looking for the origins of the many drafts. Year after year I do this and yet there are still bone-chilling currents of air creeping in here, there and everywhere--or so it seems. Many were floor level, so I headed to the dreaded cellar armed with a can of Great Stuff.

             The spray insulation in a can really is great stuff under most circumstances. It reminds me of yellow Redi-Whip.  Woosh!  Gaps in the stone cellar walls and a few other places in the foundation vanished beneath the frothy foam.  It’s actually kind of fun, but it’s also very messy, so I wore plastic gloves . My hands stayed clean, but not until I looked in the mirror did I realize that some had gotten on my sweater--and in my hair! 

            Be advised: Never get this stuff in your hair!  Scraping the hardened globs from my sweater wasn’t much of a problem, but nothing short of sharp scissors removed it from my hair.  So like Poppy, I too have a slightly altered coiffure.  The difference is that I do mind.



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Friday, January 1, 2010

Eat, drink and be fat--or maybe not....



This is the best carrot cake ever and it’s hard not to overeat this treat, so maybe it's not the best way to kick off the New Year, especially if weight loss is one of your proposed resolutions!

1 ½     c. vegetable oil

2          c. sugar

4          large eggs

2          c. flour

1 ½     tsp. baking soda

2          tsp. baking powder

1          tsp. salt

2          tsp. cinnamon

2          c. grated carrots (use the food processor)

1          8 ¾ oz. can crushed pineapple (drained)

½        c. chopped pecans (I use a little more, chopped in food processor)


Grease and flour the bottom and sides of THREE 9” cake pans (or one big sheet cake pan).

Beat first 3 ingredients until blended. Combine the next 5  and add to oil mixture. Stir in the carrot, pineapple and pecans and pour into pans.

Bake at 350 until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean (about 35-45 minutes).  If you used a sheet cake pan it will take longer. Cool on racks 10 minutes and then remove from pans.   Frost with:

Cream Cheese Frosting

1                 c. butter (softened)

8                        oz. package of cream cheese

1                          Lb. of powdered sugar and 1 tsp. vanilla.




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