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Monday, November 30, 2009

Waste not, want not...


      Thrift is my middle name, so those who know me call whenever they have something to get rid of.  They know I’ll probably find a use for whatever it is and if I can’t I’ll know someone else who needs it.  And so it was this past weekend.

     At my favorite thrift shop I purchased a wonderful book that included a gift with purchase.  Patty, the store manager asked if I’d like some carrots (yes, carrots…) as this store is frequently the recipient of assorted produce which they in turn give to their customers.  Figuring I’d take a few for the donkeys I was stunned when ordered that I had to take 50 pounds! 

     Patty wasn’t going to let me get away with taking just a few.  She flew around the counter and began dragging a bag which was the size of a small child toward the door.  In a flash some nice fellow picked up the bounty and deposited it in my truck. 

                 While a 50 pound sack of grain is manageable, a 50 pound bag of carrots is awkward and difficult, so I stopped at neighbor Karen’s stable and unloaded a bucket full for her horses, then stopped at neighbor Sandy’s to leave another bucket full for her sheep.  There are still tons of carrots for sharing, eating and the donkeys.

                 Next came a call from a neighbor offering cordwood.  A room-sized stack of old firewood was there for the taking.  Unfortunately it had been there so long that about half of it was the heft of balsa wood.  The pile was also covered in grape vines, brambles and the ubiquitous multiflora rose.  I threw some logs in the truck and went back later with my friend to evaluate the situation. We both decided it wouldn’t make much sense as any BTU’s in that wood departed years ago.  I must admit that this was a hard decision to make, but hauling home firewood that wouldn’t produce heat just wasn’t prudent.

                 The offer of a free trailer (to pull behind the tractor) was too good to pass up.  Preliminary measurements indicated that it should fit right in the truck bed, but oops, I’d ignored the wheels on this homemade cart.  These extended beyond the bed, hence it did not fit and had to be taken apart for transport, then reassembled at home.  Yes, it needs some work, but I believe it will prove very helpful in hauling firewood cut from downed trees on this property. 

                 That’s my Nettie standing next to the trailer.  It is because of her that I now look like Mike Tyson or some other smashed-face thug.  My nose, while not crooked is swollen, bruised and discolored.  My left eye also looks like someone punched me.  All of this is a result of my nose-to-dog head encounter a few days ago.  In retrospect, this has not been a good year regarding personal safety!  I’ve had more accidents in the past twelve months than I’ve had in my entire life.  I’m almost afraid to get out of bed in the morning.  What next!

3:14 pm est          Comments

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Glad I saved it.


A lovely day for finishing up some projects.  Tom, the formerly-feral cat who is now a happy resident of the garden shed seems pleased that his digs are nicely winterized.  I don’t know what the original function of this little building was.  It’s old, but whether it’s as old as the house is a mystery.  The ramshackle little building listed about 30 degrees to the south when I bought this place. 

“Tear it down,”said everyone who saw it, but I knew it was salvagable and now I can’t imagine what I’d do without it.  At one time it had a wide plank floor, but all that remained were remnants around the perimeter.  The center flooring was completely rotted away.      

After jacking the building into an upright position we installed a new base of 2” x 12” treated lumber.  It had been covered with tar paper and asphalt roofing material which I tore off and resided with cedar shake shingles.  The tin roof was a couple layers thick and didn’t leak, so that remains, but a coating has been applied to it. 

Something had to be done about the floor, so I bought bags of cement, had sand and gravel delivered and on the hottest day of the year decided to try my hand at masonry.  I layed wooden forms, reinforced the bottoms with wire fencing material and set about mixing the first of what seemed like hundreds of wheelbarrows of cement.  The finished floor is three inches thick and is handicapped accessible with a sloped entryway.  The job just about killed me!  Who knew it would take so many loads of that heavy glop! 

Days after the project was finished, as I was recupperating from the ordeal and wondering what I’d do with all of the leftover sand and gravel, I learned that for $5.00 more than I had invested in materials I could have had a truck dump ready-mixed cement.  All I would have had to do was float the surface.  It sure would have saved a lot of hard work, but I must say that all these years later the floor is still uncracked and literally rock solid.  I’m proud of that project.

The shed serves not only as storage for gardening tools and for hardening off seedlings, not to mention being Tom’s home, but it’s also as sort of a hostel for opossum and raccoons.  I once had a coon who arrived every evening at 7:00 PM.  He’d climb up on the shelf where the water and food bowls sat, have a meal and then crawl over to the window sill and peer out to be sure the coast was clear of dogs before leaving.  At a leisurely pace he’d stroll out the brick pathway until he came to the gravel driveway, then he’d take off like a rocket.  This fat bandit was a regular for several months, but like so many others he moved on.

I believe wildlife and feral cats communicate with one another about where an easy meal can be had.  Where would they go if I’d listened to those who advised me to raze this little shed?  It’s invaluable.

6:07 pm est          Comments

Friday, November 27, 2009

Life is good.


The first snow of the season was heavy and wet, but it didn’t last long, nor did it pile up.  Soon it was just wet and cold and ugly.  Some people were happy there was no accumulation, but I look forward to a beautiful super-thick blanket of white like last winter. 

On days like this, in spite of my ongoing efforts, cold creeps into this old house like a thief in the night.  It stealthily drifts down from the attic even though I’ve stapled a heavy wool blanket on the inside of that door to enhance the insulation.  It’s really rather silly since there is no heat in the upstairs anyway. 

Days here start about 6:00 AM.  I come down the stairs with my troupe of critters who are all ecstatic just because it’s morning.  Too bad people can’t find such joy in simply waking up.  The dogs go out and then I lay a fire in the woodstove, light it and hope to see flames when I return to that room.  As the coffee brews the cats get fed.  The dog bowls are filled and by the time they are ready to come inside I have the first steaming mug of café au lait in hand.  They sniff their bowls as if expecting something different, check the kitty bowls for any leftovers and then follow me to the living room.

Most days the fire is crackling, so I settle under a down throw for an hour of reading.  This morning, as the first snow blew past the windows I was especially aware of what a lovely way this is to start a day.  Then I thought about John Grogg and wondered how (or if) he and his family were ever warm in this place.  Whenever there is a crisis here I try to remind myself how difficult life probably was for the original inhabitants of this farm.

Today while playing with my dogs one of them jumped up as I bent down. She hit my nose with such force I thought I might pass out.  Tears poured down my face and the thought of looking in the mirror to see if my nose looked like a bloody spud terrified me (it doesn’t…).  Then I thought about John G.

In 1821, if his dog smashed his nose, would he have laid on the floor crying?  Heck no!  He would have said something like, “Well, yeh, this hurts like hell, but I’ve gotta go chop some firewood (with an axe since it’s the early 19th century and we don’t have chainsaws…), or we’ll freeze to death.”

Remembering helps keep things in perspective.  No more whining.



10:06 pm est          Comments

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Thankful for my Peaceable Kingdom


When I first bought this old farm I named it The Peaceable Kingdom. Granted, it hasn’t always been peaceable, and while I no longer have the sign with this name routed into the wood, I still think of it as such.

The name comes from Edward Hicks’ famous painting, The Peaceable Kingdom where all creatures great and small seemed to live together in harmony watched over by the cosmic eye of God.  His many versions of The Peaceable Kingdom represented the delicate balance of good and evil.

Hicks spiritual beliefs espoused simplicity, self-discipline, and contact with an inner light which was the ability to see beyond the obvious.  In the 18th century, his followers were called Hicksites.  I share his beliefs and like to think of myself as a modern Hicksite.           

It’s true that situations at this modern Peaceable Kingdom are often problematic. Consequences are sometimes heartwarming, sometimes tragic, but always interesting and overall, life here is pretty good.  While I’ve tried to remain true to the original mission of keeping things balanced and peaceful, it’s not always easy and certainly it is not always successful. But through this discipline I’ve grown more respectful and aware of life’s realities and for this I’m very thankful indeed. 



9:02 pm est          Comments

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Two cocks will do....


A woman living alone on an old farm with a bunch of animals is an oddity to many, there’s no argument.  Some people  come right out and ask me why I live this way.  Others (especially women) seem envious.  Most say nothing, but they drive slowly past this place peering in as if expecting to see something weird. 

They’re probably surprised to see me coming from or going to the barn in my bathrobe or some other inappropriate costume. Well, today anyone who thought my life peculiar surely had their suspicions confirmed if they saw me running around like a headless chicken, swinging a leaf rake in one hand and a large fish landing net in the other.

It wasn’t how I planned to waste this morning, but when I glanced out the window I discovered one horrendous cock fight was underway.  Until today the ever-growing rooster population was foolish yes, but harmless.  Today two of the youngest boys were really going at one another and probably would have fought to the bitter end had I not intervened.  I usually thin the flock before such fights ensue, but I've been lazy.

One of cockerels had sustained an eye injury, so he wasn’t too difficult to catch.  I just approached from his blind side, dropped the net and popped him into a cage. Then I called Mark, another of my “out of the ordinary” friends. 

“Hey, can I give you a couple of roosters,” I asked. 

“Sure, I’ll be right over,” he said.

There is a logical reason commercial breeders collect the birds at night.  Chickens are utterly clueless after dark!  Mark arrived and we agreed that chasing them would be pointless, so the other two dispensable boys will be leaving this weekend.  I’ll just snatch them from their perch as they snooze Saturday night and deliver them to Mark on Sunday morning.

He assured me he would treat the captured bird's injuries when he got back home today and I’m sure he will.  He says he’ll just be a yard bird with a bunch of old hens.  What he plans for the other two (who are each spectacular specimens) I don’t know. Randy and Pinhead will remain here. They get along well.

Mark is an advocate for meat animals.  He preaches humane livestock care as well as slaughter and I consider him sort of a male Temple Grandin with a few differences beyond gender.  He walks the talk and I respect that.



6:45 pm est          Comments

Monday, November 23, 2009



Today was really chilly, yet along the edge of Ranger Rick’s woods dandelions are blooming.  This lovely woods has been part of my daily walk since the only trails that existed had been made by wildlife, but the current owner made an actual trail shortly after he bought the land.  His name isn’t really Ranger Rick, or even Rick for that matter.  It’s just a nickname for the lucky  owner of this wooded land.

He’s a round, soft-spoken fellow who visits his property only about once a month. He’s always clad in a blue jump suit which makes his portly body look even rounder.  He cuts up any trees that might have fallen across the trail and stacks slash which he eventually puts through a chipper.  When the pile of wood chips becomes a small mountain, he spreads them on the trail which makes very nice footing for me and those who ride their horses there. 

There are stories in the woods. On the north side is what appears to be the stone foundation of a small structure; a perfect square.  Maybe it was a cabin? Shagbark hickory, enormous oaks, birch, maple, walnuts and the remnants of an old orchard along the south end shade a skimpy undergrowth.  One oddly misshapen tree produces a curious fruit. I ate one and it tasted like a combination of a plum and a mango.  I sent a photo of some bark and of the fruit to the Division of Forestry who reported it was a rare “American plum” of a sort only found on very old farmsteads.  I’ve pointed out this nondescript tree to Rick and he seemed pleased to know about it.

Many of the trees bear some telling carvings, like the “Judy” tree for instance.  Someone apparently felt inclined to immortalize Judy within a heart shape.  COON and a small arrow pointing upward is carved in another big beech tree about five feet from the ground. Maybe it identified a nesting hollow, but heavy buckshot scars suggest a masked bandit probably bit the dust there.

My favorite is the tree that declares "Tony Loves ….The second name has been obliterated by angry scarred slashes.  Cancelled love.  'Guess he changed his mind—or she did….

When I first discovered this place a few of the trees still had primitive deer stands; nothing more than 1 x 4 inch boards nailed ladder fashion up to an equally rustic platform.  They’d been there so long the trees had grown around the rungs.  Rick pulled all of them down lest they tempt someone to climb and perch in wait of deer.

I just read that Ohio has “a healthy population of about 650,000” of the state’s only big game animal.  That’s a lot of deer!  As urbanization continues its relentless sprawl, motor traffic intensifies and Bambi’s natural predators no longer exist, “management” (AKA killing) is necessary. But while hunting is a logical way to control populations, some of us like knowing that our land offers sanctuary to the pursued. 

This weekend Ranger Rick posted yellow NO HUNTING signs—for all the good it will do. There’s always someone who feels exempt from private land owners’ orders, but this year such incorrigibles are in for a surprise. Nearly all the land on this road is off limits and the local police have already been notified about the guy on an ATV who’s saying he has “permission” to hunt Rick’s woods and the land Chuck is leasing. Life out here is usually pretty uneventful, so the police said they will be happy to patrol and remove him if/when he shows up.  It’s unfortunate that it’s come to this. It will only further polarize the two factions rather than fostering tolerance and respect. 

Today I found this poem, author unknown. It doesn't necessarily apply to this post, but I want to share it anyway.


Kind hearts are the gardens.  Kind thoughts are the roots.

Kind words are the blossoms and kind deeds are the fruits.


Nice, isn't it?



7:18 pm est          Comments

Sunday, November 22, 2009

For a woman alone, screwing is hard.

I imagine that title got some attention.  Ha ha, but it's not what you might have thought. This screwing involved carpentry which I’ve discovered is  definitely not my forte

Today was a day of reckoning.  I have finally had to own up to certain truths. In taking an inventory of all the projects involving tools, saws, drills, etc. I find my efforts have an amazing failure rate regardless of how simple the project seems. While I can mentally engineer a job, I can not execute it.    Mechanically inclined, I am not!

Fixing the stall door got off to a good start, but that’s where it all ended.  I measured and cut the lumber and to my great surprise the measurement was correct the first try.  This in itself was quite encouraging since I usually measure three times and come up with three different figures.  Not today.  I measured.  I cut.  I was happy.

With my fully-charged cordless drill (best gift I’ve ever received…) I placed the wood on the door only to discover that the screws I had in the job bucket were too short.  This meant a trip to the basement workshop to search for longer ones.  That search was unproductive, but I did find that Mr. Bean the basement kitty has launched hunting season early.  This is about the time of the year it’s necessary to collect carcasses weekly.  Anyway, there were no suitable screws in my workshop.

I called Tim.  He has a very well-stocked workshop, so of course he had just the right size.  Tim can fix anything.  He’s careful and meticulous, so I went down to his house hoping all the while he would volunteer to help—but he did not.  He was deeply involved with his own project du jour, so I returned home armed with a box of big screws determined to fix that door.  I fitted the drill with that little Phillips thing that is supposed to convert the drill to a screw driver, but the little gizmo took off like a bullet and probably won’t be found until it’s stuck in a tire.

Fortunately I had a smaller one which didn’t fit as well, but it was better than nothing, I figured.  I interpreted an already-drilled hole in my recycled lumber as an omen.  It was all too good to be true.  I placed the first screw.  Too bad I had positioned the board in the wrong place on the door. 

A bad omen, but I persevered.  I removed the board, repositioned it and marked the door clearly to avoid future misplacement.  This time the screw wouldn’t go into the door far enough to secure it because the drill didn't have enough power to drive it, thus leaving the board swinging like a pendulum.  No problem, I foolishly thought.  I’ll just drill some starter holes.

That might have worked if my drill bits were not all too short, broken or dull.  By now a good (bad) hour had passed and I had one screw in and that wasn’t in far enough to do a bit of good.  A manual screwdriver proved useless as  the wood was too hard.  After many more attempts, all unsuccessful and each one more frustrating than the previous effort, again I called Tim.

“I’ll come right to the point.  I need your help.  I can’t do this,” I whined.  He arrived soon thereafter with his “real man” drill and within five minutes had the board secured and it was in the proper place.  Easy peasy. 

Now it’s hardly as if this were my first fix-it project.  I’ve tackled more than I can count, but in all honesty I can count the successful efforts (probably on one hand…).  They always seem to end up looking like a Rube Goldberg creation or I hurt myself or break something else in the process.  In the past year I have hit my hand with a sledge hammer (fixing a gate), did $1,000.00 damage to my new truck when I miscalculated the width of the gate while driving supplies to a construction site, fell off a ladder backwards trying to replace window trim….  The list could go on and on.

From now on I’m calling Tim in the first place. The job will be done properly and without personal injury, unnecessary cost or frustration.  I’ve come to terms with the fact that I’m utterly inept at this stuff-- but I have other skills.

10:12 pm est          Comments

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Tempting, very tempting...


It’s not easy to be productive when sleep deprived.  Hence, I was not very productive at all today. The battery is charged so the cordless drill is ready to go and the lumber to fix the stall door is on site, but somehow working with power tools just didn’t seem like a good idea.  Tomorrow will be soon enough.

The dogs and I went for a walk and as luck would have it I discovered a large section of Kenny’s fence is down.  The two cows and the bull were resting when I started down the fence line, but upon spotting me and the dogs their interest peaked and they all rose to their feet and began heading our way.  You can bet that in spite of feeling sluggish, a power surge kicked in and the walk became a rapid jog.  The last thing I wanted was a close up encounter with those three in an open field.  Back home I called Chuck.

I think this is typical of how new friendships are born in a rural community.  “Boy, am I glad you walk out there, he said.  (Chuck lives about three miles away.)  I’m getting real tired of chasing those cows. I'll be right over.”

A walk in the woods and even an unplanned jog through a bumpy field was a good attitude adjuster.  Abstaining from sugar might also have something to do with feeling better than I did earlier.  So now I’m making a nice dinner to share with my friend.  We’ll have a good bottle of wine, a movie and if all else fails I’ll resort to Advil PM tonight.



4:01 pm est          Comments

Morning, very early....

It’s 3 AM and I should be asleep, but I’m wide awake.  Dead tired, but suddenly awake.  The house is as quiet as a tomb but for the snoring snuffling dogs.  They all sleep soundly on their respective doggie beds while I toss and turn in mine.

I lie staring toward the ceiling, listening for night sounds outdoors, but with the windows closed it’s hard to hear anything but the occasional hoot of the great horned owl.  Sometimes I see him, perched on a snag of the big dead walnut tree.  He’s majestic. I wonder why the screech owl is silent and remind myself to research that little fellow’s habits when I get to the computer.

I know the deer are moving about and they are very close to the house. I find scat on the nature trail and they’ve trod a well-worn path to the waters edge of scummy pond. A couple of trees show fresh scrapes.  It’s rutting season and they are on the move.  I get up and peer out the window, but the night is black as the inside of pocket and my glasses are on the night table, not on my face, so I couldn’t see a deer if it were looking right at me.  I climb back into my warm comfy bed and hope for sleep.

Tossing first to my left side, then to my right, I’m quickly reminded of the fall from the fence.  My rib is still sore, so I return to what I think of as the casket pose; flat on my back, legs straight, hands folded over my chest, head ever so slightly to the right.  This is how I usually fall asleep, but it’s not working.

Downstairs Poppy the cat is batting a pen or some other thing stolen from the desk across the wood floor.  I know it’s Poppy because she is often given to solitary play at strange hours.

Ernie is aware of my restlessness and rises from his dog bed. He stands up on his hind legs and licks my cheek.  “Go lie down,” I order and with a deep sigh of resignation he throws himself down on his own bed and is soon snoring again.  One of the other dogs is having a happy dream.  I hear the thump, thump, thump of a tail slapping against the floor.  I wish I were having a happy dream.

From the dining room echoes another familiar sound.  It’s Betty, the old cat up-chucking a hairball.  I remind myself to search for her unpleasant deposit when I get up.  My face itches and I hope it isn’t poison ivy gotten from some of the firewood I’ve been handling.  Oh, will morning ever come, I wonder?

I make mental lists of the winterizing that needs to be done tomorrow, assuming the weather will still be mild.  I need to get more wood shavings for the donkeys’ stall.  Having what I know is an adequate supply gives me that same satisfied feeling as having the barn stacked to the roofline with sweet-smelling hay.  It’s reassuring to know my animals will be well-fed, dry and comfortable when the temperatures are in the single digits.  I need to try to fix a warped door on the extra stall.  Never know when it will be needed for fostering some homeless creature.  That gap needs to closed.  Screwing on a 2 x 4 should correct the warp.  Is the battery for the cordless drill charged, I ask myself?

Night is so long this time of the year--especially when sleep is elusive. I’ve been watching a groundhog in the field across the road.  He’s been in a feeding frenzy, fattening up for his long winter hibernation.  Soon he’ll retreat to his cozy underground sleeping room.  I picture him curled up, mindless of the snow that will cover his subterranean digs, sound asleep.  I’m envious.

In my heart I know that tonight’s insomnia is because, like that groundhog I too have been in an eating frenzy and today it was nearly all sugar with a token bit of lettuce thrown in.  This is the price of such foolishness.  Instead of sleep I am at this computer.  Dawn will soon be breaking, but I’m jittery with fatigue. 



7:53 am est          Comments

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Things that matter


Old Kenny wept when told of Cookie’s death.  Chuck, the fellow who buried Kenny’s canine companion broke the news and I was relieved that the task did not fall upon me.  Kenny asked Chuck if there were any wounds on Cookie.  Had a coyote gotten to her, he wondered?  Chuck assured him that she was untouched and took him to see her grave which gave him some small  comfort.  Stuff like this breaks my heart.  Poor Kenny.

I try my best to be stoic, but some things just tear me apart.  Another situation that shatters my composure is a visit to a therapeutic equestrian center I’ve been remotely involved with for many years.  I’m currently working on a new article about this wonderful place.  It's often referred to as a riding facility for the disabled, but I think anyone that visits a facility like this one would agree that the word “disabled” is a misnomer.  Those served by such places are anything but disabled.  They are brave beyond all words.

At this particular stable many of the kids are very physically- challenged, yet they are so incredibly happy while interacting with the horses, other animals and the very special instructors.  Looking at some of these children I know in my heart that they won’t be around much longer, yet the joy I see on their faces gives new meaning to that cliché that it’s the quality of one’s life, not the length of it that matters.

Each year about this time I seem to fall victim to writer’s funk. I find it hard to be genuinely interested in the stuff I’m working on, but the prospect of writing  about the amazing work done by my friends at this equestrian center has rekindled the excitement I normally feel about my craft.  It’s easy to write about things that really matter.




6:49 pm est          Comments

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Another good idea gone bad.


I sometimes write for a popular garden magazine and in this capacity I get to visit some spectacular places.  The subjects of one article attributed their glorious garden to leaf mulch.  “It’s the one thing we just couldn’t do without…,” they claimed.  Well, if there’s one thing I have plenty of it’s leaves, so mulching some of them up with the tractor seemed like a great way to enjoy the mild morning temperatures and spend some productive time outside.

The plan was to mulch the rose bushes in particular, then the smaller gardens.  I could just imagine how moist and friable the soil would be come springtime after a heavy dose of this magic mulch.  I figured the project would take me about an hour tops.  I was wrong.

It should be noted that Nettie the Border Collie hates the tractor,  especially the initial startup.  She bites the tires and these are not small!  In order to prevent damage like the puncture she inflicted to a front wheel in the past I wield a broom while firing up the engine.  She barks and lunges at the wheels as I fend her off with flailing broom and screamed flimsy warnings, “You’re gonna get it!!!!”  (She knows she won’t. She can run much faster than I can.)

And so it was today.  I got on the tractor and turned the key while engaged in all the associated drama.  The tractor roared and I threw it into reverse only to discover that one of the big rear tires was flat as a pizza.  Nettie  stood grinning as I killed the engine and got off to consider the predicament. 

The bicycle pump, like most of my tools came from a thrift store and thus it isn’t quite perfect.  You have to push the little nozzle securely into the tire valve and hold the apparatus securely in place with one hand while pumping with the other and holding the wobbly pump upright with your feet.  I managed to get the tire more or less round, but that didn’t fix anything. I could hear a hiss. The tire would have to be removed and taken someplace to be repaired.  This required a jack which I do not own except for the tricky one that came with my truck.

I called neighbor Karen up the road and she soon arrived with a dandy little house jack.  “Gotta go,” she said she backing out of the driveway and leaving me to get the wheel off.

 A lug wrench is something I thought I had, but no.  The wrench for the truck wheels was too big for the lugs on the tractor, so I called neighbor Sandy (who not only possesses tools, but a husband as well).  She and Butch arrived and in a flash he quickly got the wheel off the tractor and put it in the back of the truck.  “Now, I’ve put all the nuts and the cap in this little cup,” he warned before leaving.

By now the sky was getting dark and gloomy and the air had a distinct chill that wasn’t there when this ill-fated project began. Already I was a good ninety minutes into the hour long project and not one leaf had felt the mower blades.  I set off for Terry’s Tire Town about ten miles away. 

“Oh yes, look here’s the puncture,” said Jason pointing out the distinct wound inflicted by Nettie.  When she did this remains a mystery, but suffice it to say, she had succeeded in disabling the hated tractor.  “We’ll put a tube in it, but we’ll have to go to the warehouse….  We should have it done by around five.” 

It made no sense to sit at Terry’s Tire Town for several hours, so I headed back home, stopped to dump off some food for the creek cats I'd discovered on Monday.  The black one bolted into the brush, but as I put down the food I saw the tiger one eying me from the edge of the stream, ears pinned back, eyes ablaze.  We looked at one another briefly before he hopped the water and vanished into the weeds on the opposite side.

No sooner was I home and working at the computer when Jason called to say the tire was ready to go.  It had been less than two hours, but I got back in the truck, returned to Terry’s Tire Town and picked up the repaired wheel.  A tractor tire is heavy and not easy to lift into place while trying to line up those bolts with the holes in the wheel, but at last it was on.  The bolts were tightened.  Karen’s jack was removed and put in the truck bed along with Butch’s lug wrench.  I was finally ready to make leaf mulch.  A light rain was falling. 

With Nettie safely locked in the house I made the first pass in front of the roses.  That’s when I saw what looked like a small black Frisbee shoot through the air in a stream of shredded leaves.  It was the grease cap that I’d forgotten to replace; the one Butch had distinctly told me he put in the cup, but that I had overlooked and now it is gone forever—or at least it's gone for now.

I wasted an entire afternoon, spent money that shouldn’t have needed to be spent, caught a chill, lost the wheel cap and ended up raking the wind rows of shredded leaves into the gardens.  I didn’t get all of the gardens mulched because the donkeys and chickens were ready for their dinners and darkness was fast approaching. 

I’m trying to console myself with the prospect of better soil come spring, but unlike the folks with the gorgeous garden, I think I can do without any more leaf mulch.




6:49 pm est          Comments

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

I think that I shall never see a poem as lovely as a tree...


My much loved and recently-infamous (source of the donkeys’ leaf lunch) Norway Maple tree had surgery today.  This huge old tree shades the entire west side of the farmhouse, keeping it cool and comfortable even on the hottest summer days.  It provides privacy, grace and value to my landscape.  In my estimation, nothing surpasses a mature tree in beauty and worth, both real and intangible.

Over the past couple of years storms and winds had taken a toll on this tree and had broken some of the uppermost limbs. Other limbs were rubbing the cedar shingles, so I called Dick Drake, a certified arborist to address these issues.  He and his son Mike arrived early, worked like beavers (no pun intended…) and left the maple in a healthier condition and looking lovelier than ever.

Admittedly, until I met this tree expert I didn’t appreciate the difference between a certified arborist and an ordinary tree trimmer.  Now that I do know the difference I wouldn’t trust the fate of my favorite tree to a less qualified “doctor.” I like things to look natural and uncontrived and that’s just how the Norway Maple looks. 

Those who recklessly destroy trees because of some need to control and manipulate Nature are sick—perhaps even literally since by removing trees they deprive themselves of many benefits that trees provide.  Like what, you say?  Well, beyond mere shade and beauty, being surrounded by trees just makes life more pleasant.  Trees impart a sense of peace and tranquility.  It’s a fact that people recover from surgery faster if their hospital room offers a vista with trees.

 Forests are often compared to cathedrals, thus giving trees a spiritual quality which may explain the increasing popularity of living memorials. Honoring a departed one with a tree creates a beautiful link that lives on.  For those who don’t care about such links, consider the investment benefits of trees.

Property values increase the moment trees are planted and can represent as much as 20 percent of your home's total property worth according to The International Society of Arboriculture.  A tree's value is based on four factors: size, type, condition and location as related to function and aesthetics. Just compare the cost of a property landscaped with trees to one that looks like a Walmart parking lot.

City trees enhance architecture, screen ugly views and provide privacy.  They reduce glare, cool the environment and serve as landmarks. They also offer shelter and food to wildlife. They deflect winds, intercept rain and reduce storm runoff which in turn can prevent erosion, floods and pollution.  The cooling effects save energy by reducing electrical loads for air conditioning. The leaves act as air filters by absorbing carbon dioxide and other pollutants like ozone, carbon monoxide and sulfur dioxide. In return they give us oxygen, for cripes sake! 

 Why not do something really meaningful this holiday season.  Plant some trees, take care of those you already have and stop cutting them down! 



5:16 pm est          Comments

Monday, November 16, 2009

Another sad discovery.


What a weekend! I had a houseguest from Sunday until this afternoon, plus several other guests.  This farm is on the way to nowhere, yet often I have a seemingly-endless stream of visitors.  I am certainly not complaining!  In fact I'm quite flattered and grateful that so many friends make the effort to come by for whatever reason.  

I've not heard anything more about Kenny or his reaction to news of Cookie's death.  He wasn't home that awful Saturday of the discovery and subsequent burial, so I am not sure who delivered the sad news to him.  It grieves me to think of his pain, for anyone who has ever lost a dog knows that raw empty feeling.  At his age (about 86 or so) it isn’t likely he will take in another stray.  The errant new cow is now secured within the paddock with the other cow and bull, but cattle don’t offer companionship like dogs do.

Ironically today I discovered two animals in desperate need of someone to care.  Driving up the road early this morning en route to town I noticed two cats in a field bordering a stream.  While it would have been nice to believe they belonged to the farm, in my heart I knew that wasn’t likely.  They seemed to be licking the ground in the field where corn had been cut.  I continued on my errands, but as I passed the field several hours later, the two cats were in the very same spot, still licking at the soil.

I always carry packets of cat and dog food for just such situations, so I pulled over, got out and walked toward the pair with the open package of Friskies, all the while murmuring, “Come on, kitty, kitty….”  As I got near, they bolted into the riparian brush, but I could see they were nothing but skin and bones.  I left a generous pile of food on the spot they had literally licked bare.  There was nothing more that could be done.  They are wild, unhealthy and most likely they won’t survive the winter, but at least they have full bellies tonight. 

At home my own fat cats lounged before the wood stove, warm and secure.  If only there were a way to unite grieving Kenny with these two creatures who desperately need some love…, but isn’t that the way of the world?  It would be wonderful if making such connections were easy or even possible.

I’ll continue the meals on wheels deliveries, but their plight will haunt me and it’s not likely I’ll sleep well tonight. 




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Saturday, November 14, 2009

A sad farewell.


Yet another gorgeous day. Even these volunteer petunias are still blooming.   The two dogs who are ambulatory and I went for a walk.  Since her ACL surgery Nettie is no longer able to go on the long cross country walk she so adored.  Nowadays I sneak out of the house as quietly as possible with Ted and Ernie while Nettie naps, but I’m sure she knows.  

In the woods the sun was bright and warm.  A thick blanket of oak and beech leaves covered the trail almost hiding the acorns and hickory nuts.  It’s wonderful to see how Nature prepares the woods for winter.  The corn in the upper part of Kenny’s field which was leased out this year still hasn’t been taken off and the dry stalks rustled in the breeze. All was well—for a while.

As we approached what serves as a fence line intended to keep Kenny’s cow and bull confined to about five acres I heard an ATV approaching.  It was Chuck, the fellow farming the land. He was looking for the old Hereford cow he had just given to Kenny.  Unlike Cow and Bull, the new girl wasn’t content to stay within the pasture and had vanished. 

We had a very informative chat.  Chuck seems to be a nice guy who like me would love to own Kenny’s farm, but he learned that Kenny recently drew up a will leaving the farm to two great nieces that have probably never set foot on the place.  This was very disturbing news for it’s pretty much a sure thing that this beautiful land will be sectioned off and developed when Kenny dies.

Chuck and I chatted and commiserated about the loss of the countryside, then he set off to the north to search for the old Hereford and my dogs and I set off to the west on our established route.  At the stream the trail takes a turn to the south, just about a hundred feet in is a clump of young trees and underbrush where deer frequently lie.  No deer were resting under the scrub trees today.  It was Kenny’s old Beagle named Cookie and she was dead.

I’d suspected that Cookie had heartworm for some time and told Kenny as much, but he doesn’t put much stock in doctors, human or otherwise, so Cookie, just like his sister Ethel went untreated.  She was lying in the sunshine, looking as if she were napping when I found her.  There was nothing to be done at the time.  She was dead and much too big to carry, so I came home and called Chuck and left a message.

 Then I called neighbor Sandy who said we should get Cookie and bury her.  Yes, that would be best, I agreed, so armed with plastic bag, blanket/shroud and shovels she and I set off in my truck /hearse to retrieve and inter the dog.  Kenny wasn’t home as we drove back the old lane leading to the field.  Bumping over the land that hasn’t been worked in more than a decade, we were dreading the grave digging and having to deliver the sad news to Kenny, but Cookie was gone! 

The scraped soil told us that Chuck’s front end loader had beat us to the good deed.  He’d had gotten the message and gone back to bury the corpse.  Kenny still isn’t home.  Chuck thinks Kenny should be led to believe that someone stole his dog to take hunting.  Lying is never a good idea and speaking from personal experience, nothing is worse than having a pet vanish without a trace.  Kenny needs to know, but I hope I don’t have to be the one to tell him.




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Friday, November 13, 2009

6:44 pm est          Comments



My writing bio states that I often profile “out of the mainstream” subjects.  This is precisely why I love my job.  Frankly, there is nothing duller than spending time with cookie-cutter individuals who pretend they are special. They never are.  I love the oddballs.  These are the people who make the world interesting and very often make it a kinder place too.  Daniel Ryan was just such a person.

We met after I called a Craigslist ad. Ryan was selling some bamboo.  I knew instantly that he was “out of the mainstream” when he told me he had a rooster named Richard who drives a little cart and takes commands usually reserved for driving horses, not chickens.  Oh, and Richard has a wife named Mildred. 

Ryan is a certified Master Gardener and had been the horticulturist at a living history farm museum.  When the Farm was shorthanded he was sometimes called upon to hitch and drive the farms horses and oxen, so he knew the principals of driving.  He just never guessed they would be applicable to poultry.

Ryan fell in love with a Mille Fleur Bantam he bought at a livestock sale.  He named the little speckled rooster Richard and began taking him to work with him.  Richard was a real people bird who loved all the attention he garnered from Farm visitors.

“He helped a lot of people overcome their fear of chickens,” claims Ryan. 

Richard roamed freely in the Farm gardens, but for safety purposes Ryan fashioned a little harness so the bird could be walked like a dog on a leash throughout the grounds.  When Richard went to the right, Ryan said “Gee Richard.”  To the left; “Haw Richard.”  When he stopped; “Whoa Richard.”  And so it was the rooster learned to take verbal commands.  This was quite a feat as chickens are not known for their high IQ’s.

He put Richard to a little cart which looks like a Christmas relic retrofitted with all-terrain wheels and the roosters cart-driving career was launched.  Ryan had also acquired a lovely hen to keep Richard company, so the Farm hosted the wedding of Richard and Mildred.  “The two are never more than a few feet apart,” Ryan says, so of course she too became part of the act.  As a musician and story teller Ryan and the birds were soon getting paying gigs.

“Richard gets into places that would never allow ME in,” he laughs  referring to one job at a very snooty country club.

Ryan recently took a new job, so Richard and Mildred are now enjoying a well-deserved retirement.



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Thursday, November 12, 2009

What a day!


An old farm house on a blustery winter evening idyllic, doesn’t it?  While outside the winds are howling and the snow is piling up, inside a lovely fire is blazing in a little woodstove and the living room is toasty. I look forward to these times, although this house rarely becomes what anyone else would call “toasty.” 

Even such a modest winter comfort requires preparation, so I was especially grateful that today was dry and sunny.  With the help (ha!) of all my four-legged friends I hauled firewood to the porch and filled the wood box with kindling.  It was labor intensive, but very satisfying work.

My pretty brick porch isn’t pretty now.  The trees are bare and all the dead plants have been cut back. The floral cushions from the porch furniture have been hauled to the attic and chairs, table and loveseat are all pushed together to make room for the log rack.  Even though my favorite spot is now stark, it’s a huge relief knowing that a couple months worth of seasoned firewood is just outside the porch door. 

I’d been boxing kindling and storing it inside the tractor shed. In transferring it to the wood box I’m afraid I disturbed several mouse families.  I put their cozy nests back in the tractor shed on a shelf so they can at least recycle their construction materials. Hopefully some of them will stay in the shed rather than moving inside.

I found doing heavy labor quite easy today because I work like a beaver when I’m angry and I am indeed angry! I do my banking with one of the big guys.  You know, one that got a huge bail out….  I don’t think it is unreasonable to expect some degree of competency from such an established financial institution. Because I write for some foreign publications my payment check is made out in that country’s currency.  Each time I receive one of these checks the local tellers act as if I’d presented them a check from Mars.  It is always maddening, but I remain polite.

A few days ago I presented a check made out for British pounds and again received the ‘gee, what is this’ reaction.  I explained and was told the deposit would appear in my account after the conversion was made.  Had I not checked my statement on line today I might have missed the fact that this bank did a reverse conversion, thus cheating me out of 2/3 of my deposit.  I called the main headquarters since there was no point in dealing with the locals again. After punching 1 for English, 2 for something else and finally remaining on the line to speak with an “account representative” I was greeted by a solicitous voice that clearly did not originate in Kansas.  I explained the entire situation in excruciating detail and was told he would have to get a “supervisor.”

After an insufferable period of being force-fed music of the most irritating sort a female voice required that I state the problem for the third time.  I said I did not wish to seem impatient or rude, but that I found the inability to simply convert currency accurately totally inexcusable.  She then became snotty as if I were the incompetent one.  I was informed that she would “file a report noting the dispute” (with whom???) and I would see a “decision” on my account within a week. She then had the audacity to wish me a “great day.”   Aaauuuggghhh!!!!

Tomorrow I will initiate plans to severe all business with the big bank whose name begins with C.  No wonder banks go under!  Is it really too much to expect a dignified, competent financial institution, one where the employees don’t look as if they are on their way to the bowling alley, one where  country music does not assault my ears when I walk through the door or call on the phone, one whose walls are not covered in posters of grinning simpletons of the 20-something generation who are almost orgasmic because they just signed up for a new credit card.  If anyone knows if such an institution exists, please let me know.

And finally an update on the iron-stomached donkeys; they suffered no ill effects from their leaf lunch, thank goodness.  And that suspicious white car; apparently I recorded the wrong license plate from the moving vehicle. It was dusk and I have faulty vision anyway.  The plate I recorded came up registered to a big black car in the southern part of the state.  My fault. To be continued.



6:47 pm est          Comments

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

A very bad idea!


The Norway maple leaves on the patio were about a foot deep and every time I or one of the animals came in the back door, so did several of the dry leaves.  Today I decided to clean up that area to stop the leaf migration to my kitchen.  Then it occurred to me that leaves would be a good addition to the chicken coop litter.  When broken down, the leaves and the manure would be an excellent fertilizer, so after removing soiled litter I added a big load of dry fragrant leaves to the coop.  I should have stopped right there.

Since the leaves transferred from the patio to the coop had barely made a dent in those covering the bricks I decided to haul a wheelbarrow full up to the donkeys’ stall as well.  Like little kids they ran inside and were playfully shuffling about and munching great mouths full as if they hadn’t eaten in weeks.  I didn’t give it another thought until a friend called and said, “You know some leaves are toxic….”

A quick Google search revealed that indeed red maple tree leaves are lethal to horses and “some other varieties of maple trees…” are also toxic.  I flew up to the barn and ran the boys outside while I cleared all of the leaves.  It’s hard to know just how many they had eaten, but I hurried back to the house and called the vet.

“Just three pounds of red maple leaves will kill a 1,000 pound horse,” she said.  The good news is that red maples are prevalent in Canada and New England, but not so much in Ohio and she has never had a case of any equine being poisoned from leaf eating.  She doesn’t think there’s anything to worry about, but if they start urinating blood the only treatment is a total blood transfusion$$$$$

Such a worry!  All I wanted to do was make them comfy and instead I could have made them ill or worse! What seemed like such a brilliant idea was quite the opposite.  It was a very bad idea.  I’ll stick to wood shavings or straw for their bedding and the rest of the patio leaves are going on the compost pile.




7:01 pm est          Comments

Changing places.


I’ve stepped out of my normal routine twice in the past week; first to attend the Dylan concert and then again last night when I went to Hollywood. Of course I didn’t really go to Hollywood.  I went to Patty’s for dinner and a movie, but no Hollywood star’s home could outdo hers when it comes to elegance, opulence and luxury.  ‘Quite a change from my simple farm house and Spartan lifestyle.  It was great!

Patty and I grew up together on Fifth Street, a German-Italian neighborhood where the only time a house changed occupants was when/if someone died, hence she and I were classmates and friends from Kindergarten through high school.

She had great style even in elementary school.  Her family vacationed in New Mexico, so Patty was wearing Concho belts and turquoise rings before anyone else knew just how smart such accessories were.  She always stood out from the crowd, especially from mouse-like creatures like me.

My own Teutonic childhood was joyless, predictable and a period I was happy to leave behind while Patty’s Italian house bubbled with laughter, great smells and foods and a lust for living that I never knew at my family home.  I used to wish I were Italian.  We lost touch after high school, but a serendipitous encounter about a year ago rekindled our friendship.

The style Patty had when we were kids has been uniquely polished over the years.  She’s a big woman, tall and regal with ramrod-straight posture and she's always  draped in layers of beautiful fabrics that only she could pull off with such flair.  She's ever so polite with the softest voice, but she's wickedly funny and smart. Our reunion has been such fun.

Patty loves to come here to my farm and says it’s like a bit of heaven.  Our homes could not be more different, so it stands to reason that I love to visit hers as well.  Where my old house is filled with animals, books, sensible leather sofas and chairs, Patty’s place is all marble and glass and mirrors.  White down-filled sofas and chairs embrace the sitter in almost obscene luxury.  Even her cat Bella is elegant in contrast to my big lumbering dogs and cats.

We reminisce, laugh and genuinely enjoy our differences and I think each of us is richer for the experience.  I know I am. 




11:14 am est          Comments

Monday, November 9, 2009

Living alone.


I like my solitary life. This is not to say that I don’t have friends and a social life, but I like living alone in a rural setting and have never felt afraid.  However, the recurring appearance of a small white car stopped along my fence line is making me uncomfortable.  The latest incident happened late this afternoon.

I was coming back from the barn when I saw the car again parked up against the fence just north of the driveway. I hurried toward the road, but once again it drove off before I could confront the driver.  Situations like this give one cause for concern and as I type I am awaiting a call from the police because I think I got the license plate.




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Sunday, November 8, 2009

How food CAN be raised.



First, I want to apologize to anyone who has tried my fabulous bread pudding because I forgot to include the 2 TBSP. of melted butter which goes in the egg/milk concoction.  I don’t know how critical this is, but my recipe had the butter. 

Today was spent at Ralph Rice’s most inspiring farm. I’ve known Ralph for some time and have written some magazine articles about him.  Today I went to take some photos for a story that will feature him in a promotional book for Horse Progress Days, a huge Amish-organized annual event that showcases draft animals and related equipment, but Ralph is not Amish.

He does however farm with Percheron horses rather than tractors and his   73 acres of land serves as a model of truly sustainable agriculture.  He doesn’t use chemical herbicides nor pesticides nor fertilizers, yet the soil is rich and productive.  He raises hogs, Dexter cattle, Kathadin sheep, a few chickens, has bee hives, a sugar bush from which he makes maple syrup and as if this were not quite enough, he has an off-farm job as well, but he hopes that will only be necessary for another year after which he will only farm. 

The place is neat as a pin.  All of the livestock is happy, healthy and naturally raised.  The animals have names and they come when Ralph calls to them.  No farm animal lives a better life than those at Riceland Meadows.  But Ralph is a real farmer (unlike myself) and as such the livestock on his farm ultimately become meat, but this fate does not involve stressful travel to a commercial abattoir.  They are slaughtered on the farm by Ralph, but with the same care and compassion they have known from birth.

As a vegetarian I have only scientific and anecdotal information about the quality and taste of meat raised and processed under such conditions.  But as an animal lover I saw calm happy animals which were not bored, nor destructive, nor mean-tempered.  They weren’t given hormones, nor antibiotics because livestock raised under conditions such as those at Ralph’s thrive naturally.  I mention all of this because I believe that Ohio’s Issue 2 passed because voters erroneously thought it would insure animal husbandry such as that employed at Ralph’s.  I personally do not believe for one minute that this is the case.

But for anyone who genuinely cares about “excellent animal care” (as Issue 2 yard signs claimed), I would urge them to support farmers like Ralph who work hard to produce wholesome food under humane conditions.  He isn’t the only such farmer, but you won’t find their products at WalMart.  After all, you really do get what you pay for.  Money talks and that is what will encourage excellent animal care and food safety.



7:46 pm est          Comments

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Making ends meet.


As I’ve mentioned more than once in this blog, expenses involved in living my "luxurious" small country life seem to be ever-escalating, so I’m always looking for ways to economize.  Over the years I have occasionally supplemented my chickens’ diet with what the Bakery Thrift Store called ‘bird bread.’  This consisted of a big grocery bag stuffed with loaves which had surpassed the sell-by date.  For 75 cents the chickens got a bread smorgasbord and they loved it.  I hadn’t been to the bakery for quite some time, but yesterday I stopped, intending to just grab a bag of ‘bird bread.’ 

“Oh, we only sell it by the half rack now,” I was informed by the friendly cashier.  She pointed to a tall rack containing about twenty loaves of bread.  The cost of a “half rack” was a mere $3.00, so I said I would take it, assuming that I was purchasing the rack to which she pointed. 

“Pull your truck over to the side of the building and I’ll bring it out,” she said before vanishing into a back room.  I did as instructed only to find that a “half rack” referred to the size of the fixture, not the bread on the one she had pointed to. The “half rack” awaiting me stood six feet tall and contained twelve shelves (3’ x 3’) filled with bread.  I couldn’t believe my eyes! 

I was left alone to unload this bread bonanza.  As I tossed loaf after loaf after loaf into the truck, the absurdity of my $3.00 bargain hit me.  Thankfully this commercially-produced stuff (which I do not buy for my own consumption) contains preservatives and since I would be storing it in the cool barn, it should keep well. But even so, this was a heck of a lot of bread!

Driving away and seeing the mountain of bread reflected in the rear view mirror suddenly struck me as hilarious and I couldn’t stop laughing as I drove to pick up my friend George. I was late and apologized profusely for my tardiness without mentioning the cargo load. Glancing toward the truck bed, he said,  “Hmm, did it have anything to do with BREAD?”

Back at the farm we heaped the big wheelbarrow as full as possible and headed for the barn, but the instant we entered the barnyard the donkeys did their best to steal a loaf or two from the bread mobile.  George was deputized to guard the goodies while I went inside to unlock the back door to the storage area.  It was a scene befitting an I Love Lucy skit.  The donkeys were circling the wheelbarrow as my city slicker friend hovered over it.  From inside the barn I heard, “No! Now you guys get away from here!”

As we stashed the bounty on a pallet we thought up ways one might use so much bread (besides feeding chickens). Of course there’s always toast and sandwiches, or you could make croutons and maybe cheese strata.  And what about bread pudding?  Suddenly bread pudding sounded like a great idea.   I saved a loaf of multi-grain and this morning made what I believe is one of the best bread puddings ever.  I was out of several ingredients called for in the Southern Living recipe, so this is my improvised version.  It’s fluffy, very moist and delicious and best of all, you don’t need a truck load of bread to make it.


Lightly butter a 13 x 9 x 2 inch baking dish.

Cube about nine or ten slices of bread and distribute in the prepared dish.

Add about ¾ cup of raisins (more or less…)

In a bowl beat 6 eggs with 4 cups of milk, ½ cup white sugar, plus 1 cup of brown sugar and 2 tsp. of almond extract. Add a dash of salt.

Pour this mixture over the bread and raisins and top with about ½ cup of slivered almonds.  Bake at 350 degrees for about 45 minutes. 




5:20 pm est          Comments

Friday, November 6, 2009

All is well.

How often does it happen that nearly everyone around you is of your own generation?  That’s how it was last night when I stepped out of my normally quiet routine to attend the Dylan concert.

The lights went down.  A hush fell on the house—and then, an unmistakable reverberating chord as a startling light flooded the stage.  There, as handsome as ever (in my opinion) was Bob Dylan and his incredible band for the first of what turned out to be two hours and fifteen minutes of solid performing.  The crowd was not subjected to some disappointing opening act, nor was there any patronizing chatter, not even an intermission, just hard rocking, soul throbbing music and suddenly thousands of us were all young again.  It was an absolutely wonderful evening.

This morning, as I crunched my way to the barn over the frozen grass I still felt almost euphoric.  Reflecting on the many different directions my life has taken since the days of “early Dylan” I was aware that it was all really just a very circuitous route to get where I’ve wanted to be since way back “then.”

I'm also happy to report that all the sick kitties are responding to their meds, so what can I say this evening, but all is well.


6:34 pm est          Comments

Thursday, November 5, 2009



Awoke in the night not feeling well at all.  That was bad enough in itself, but even worse because I have a ticket to see Bob Dylan in concert tonight.  Now, between putting medicine in Buddy’s ears and her eyes, giving Poppy medicine because she has the poops, dispensing Nettie and Ted’s daily dose of Glucosamine and Chondrotin with MSM plus their B-6, and not forgetting to give Bean's antibiotic for his breathing problem (have I forgotten anyone?), I’m taking medicine too.  Trust me, I rarely go to the doctor, nor do I take drugs unless it’s a last resort.

Let’s face it.  It’s been a rotten month and I haven’t been to a concert in more than twenty years (who can afford to go???).  I’m going to see Bob!




6:13 pm est          Comments

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

All is not well..


It’s freezing cold, both indoors and out.  My right side is still pretty sore from Mondays fall, but at least nothing was broken. My head has been throbbing all day and I just can’t get warm.  I know, you readers are thinking, what a whiner and I guess you would be right--today anyway.  In retrospect, this entire year has had some rough spots and the way this week is going it looks like there are more to come.

Buddy and I were back at the vet clinic early this morning.  Dare I confess that in the past month vet bills have been somewhere between $700-800.00!!!  This has stunned my finances.

Buddy recently had to have some teeth removed.  The bad teeth caused  related infections, but the vet and I thought she would quickly be on the mend after that visit.  It has not been so.  Her eyes looked peculiar.  She shook her head a lot and she couldn’t seem to get enough water.  These were all ominous symptoms, so today the doctor determined her ears are still infected and she also has a urinary tract infection.  Hopefully this round of drugs will fix things once and for all.  She’s always been a healthy cat.

As you may have guessed Buddy is a female in spite of a name that suggests otherwise.  How she got that moniker is a heartwarming story.  Like all of the animals here (with the exception of Andy the donkey), Buddy was a rescue of sorts whose life had gotten off to an ugly start, but since she now lives here her story has a happy ending.

About eleven years ago the dogs and I were going for our daily walk when suddenly Margie (now deceased) stopped in her tracks, then raced across neighbor Bill’s manicured lawn and vanished in the shrubbery.  This was atypical behavior for Margie who was usually very well-behaved, but she was on a mission that day and no amount of calling dissuaded her.  When she did emerge from the greenery, it was with a tiny kitten that is now known as Buddy.

Upon our return home I called Bill and told him about the incident.  “Oh yeah, some green car stopped in front of my place last night and just threw that cat out the window.  I don’t want it,” he said.  If you knew Bill you would understand why his indifference to the abandoned kitten didn’t really surprise me.  Buddy was mine—or should I say she was Margie’s.  They were the best of friends from that day until Margie’s untimely demise due to cancer.

Since Buddy is orange and white I foolishly assumed she was a he and made arrangements to have him/her neutered.  By this time the kitten had been here a couple of months and I still had not even thought to actually check the gender, so when the surgery date arrived, Buddy was dropped at the vet to be castrated.  Imagine my embarrassment when the clinic called later that day to politely inform me that they had spayed Buddy!  I still feel foolish about this, but that’s how she got her name.  She is a sweetie and I hope she will soon be well.




5:51 pm est          Comments

Monday, November 2, 2009

In the blink of an eye...



I scoffed when my friend said, “We’re doing leaves….”  “Doing leaves” needed no explanation. I pictured her and her mate slaving away with mowers, tarps, bags and all the other paraphernalia necessary for “doing leaves.”

 I myself don’t “do leaves,” preferring instead to simply enjoy Nature’s colorful blanket and anyway I had some important tasks to address like fixing a place on the barn which the donkeys had damaged.  It was just after completing this job that the accident occurred and as I sit here now, slouched in pain I sort of wish I’d spent the day “doing leaves.” 

I’d secured a board to my satisfaction and was standing in the sunny, but muddy barnyard appraising my handiwork.  That’s when I noticed a beer can littering the space between the barn and the road, so I climbed the four board fence as I’ve done hundreds of times before, intending to retrieve the trash.

With my right foot on the second board from the bottom I swung my left leg over and swiveled to position that foot on the opposite side.  Holding the top rail I swung my right leg over and that’s when it happened.  The muddy shoe already positioned on the road side of the fence slid off the rail and my full weight came crashing down upon the edge of the top board, knocking the wind from my lungs and my body from the fence.  The pain was excruciating.

I saw stars as I laid there, face to the sky even though the sun was shining.  Fear joined the pain as I wondered how (or if) I would get to the house or at least summon help.  In the distance I heard a car.  Pushing my supine self inch by inch toward the road I raised a blue-clad arm as the car grew nearer.  ZOOM!  It didn’t even slow down.  A second car raced past just as oblivious to my plea.  I continued inching toward the road since it was obvious I couldn’t scale the fence and I was far from any gate, not to mention the fact that I was horizontal. 

Then came the familiar whir of the approaching mail truck.  Oh surely she would see me lying flat upon the bright green grass, but no.  After stuffing my neighbor’s post box located just up from my barn, she drove right on by without heeding my pitiful plea for “HELP!”  In a flash, she too was gone.  I pushed myself over to face the grass rather than the sky and the pain subsided just a wee bit. My curious dogs and donkeys looked on from the other side of the fence.

At this point I began to question whether all those passersby had only pretended not to see me, helpless and alone. Maybe those whizzing cars were driven by people who harbored a dislike for me.  I imagined them smirking as they slowed for the stop sign at the end of the road.  “Heh, heh, heh, it looks like that miserable woman has had an accident.  Maybe she’s dead…”

It was a humbling thought.  Although I pride myself in being independent, that axiom that no man (or woman…) is an island took on new meaning.  After lying on the cold wet ground for who knows how long, I pulled myself to a more or less upright position, stumbled down the road and let myself in via the gate. I’ve been resting all day. 

The sun faded and transplanting the Rose of Sharon starts didn’t get done, nor did I get that wheelbarrow load of manure dumped on the rose bushes as I’d planned.  I didn’t make it to the bank or the grocery either, but those tasks can wait.  I think I’m okay except for an intense soreness that will probably be a lot worse by morning, but every breath is a reminder of just how vulnerable and fragile a body really is.



6:51 pm est          Comments

Sunday, November 1, 2009

A special place.




I’m happy to be home from my travels.  This trip was focused on the historical gem of Prince William County, Virginia and I would urge everyone to consider visiting this unspoiled treasure for reasons beyond the obvious. 

Certainly the Civil War battlefields and National Parks are interesting and important, but there are other things to experience, things that museums and historical monuments can’t convey.

As one might expect, the railroad played a critical role long before the War of the States conflict, and it is still a lifeline.  Trains rumble through the charming city of Manassas several times daily, stopping by the quaint depot to discharge or to collect passengers.  It was at this depot a very poignant event illustrated the city's character.

The waiting room of the depot was empty when I peeked in but for one person.  A lady of indeterminate age with uncommonly-black skin sat on the bench.  Her vision must have been poor for she was holding a bus schedule very close to her face in an attempt to read it.  “Do you live around here, she asked in a shy voice. Do you have a car?”

“No, I’m from out of state,” I replied, frankly relieved to have an honest escape from being called into service.  I was tired from wandering around the town looking in shop windows.  In retrospect I’m filled with shame at my casual indifference to this large woman dressed in a heavy winter coat and surrounded by parcels.  I should have guessed she needed some help, but instead I set off to have some lunch.

I returned later to await the rest of our group and sat on the bench outside the depot.  It was then, at least an hour since the first encounter that she appeared again, still clutching the schedule.  She began to explain her plight and finally, with obvious embarrassment asked if anyone could spare some money to help her get the bus to a nearby city where she would meet her husband. She said he was working there and she had traveled from South Carolina, but now, for some reason she was stranded and the bus would be arriving at 1:30.  Someone else responded with a polite, “No, sorry…,” and I sat mutely by, then suggested a place down the street that might be able to help her, but she said she couldn’t leave her “things.” 

When I asked what she would do, she looked downward, shook her head in despair and simply said she would pray.  Then she vanished.  By the time I had walked around the building the significance of this person’s situation hit me, but what stunned me most was that I had behaved with such indifference and parsimony.  My self-disgust could not have been greater and I set off to find the woman, but she was nowhere to be found.

Her belongings (which I later learned was everything she owned) sat piled in the center of the empty waiting room.  A big old leather suitcase, the kind no one uses these days, smaller assorted totes and some overstuffed plastic bags created a heap that could easily have been pillaged, but she had apparently become so desperate she had left this to chance.  When I discovered her she was at the visitors’ center talking on the phone. A woman I’d met earlier in the trip was working there. I slipped $5.00 in the hand of the lady on the phone and left.

Later that day I became aware of the kindness and character of the people of Manassas.  Not only had the city employee interrupted her own busy schedule to listen to the woman’s plight, but she had contacted social services which in turn arranged lodging for that night and transportation the following day.  Manassas did not ignore a stranger in need.

This place so rich in a history which embraced slavery and where schools remained segregated until the 1960’s, illustrated (to me) its evolution through this single event.  The fairness, compassion and kindness I witnessed in the train station I later found to be prevalent throughout Prince William County.  Several unique historical preservation projects are currently underway to convey the African-American experience as well as the Native-American history honestly and with a respect that has been deferred for far too long in favor of romanticizing this bit of America’s past.

I don’t know the details of the lady stranded at the train station.  I only know that someone from far away was alone and helpless and that the people of this lovely city took her under their wings.  The railway so critical in the past proved itself to still be a very important place.




8:02 pm est          Comments

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