Sunday, February 28, 2010
11:46 am est
Reader feedback has indicated that for some unknown reason the post about My First Dog appeared in an incomplete format,
thus making it senseless. I have no idea why things like this happen, so at the risk of being redundant
I have reprinted that story. Hopefully those who were not able to read it before will now find it in its
Unlike those who wistfully remark, “Oh, we always had dogs… I remember my first…,” my own
lifelong romance with dogs got off to a bad start with Mootsy Pootsy, a hideous pooch if ever there was one. As
an only child I had begged for a dog from the time I could talk. All I wanted was a floppy-eared hound; a beagle.
A soft, warm friend who would love me and lick my face. Was that too much to ask? Apparently it
“No, absolutely no dogs,” was the oft-repeated response to my relentless pleas. My mother ruled the roost
and her word was final, so it came as a big surprise the Sunday morning she casually announced, “After church we’re
going to get a dog.” I couldn’t believe my ears! If I could just suffer
through one more church service my dream beagle was going to become a reality. I could do that, I was sure,
but it was the longest sermon ever. I should have known it was too good to be true.
it was August. I recall this as the infamous dog day of August. Oh, we went to get a dog alright, but it was the farthest
thing from a beagle anyone could imagine. My mother must have looked long and hard to find the monster
she proffered as my dog. She had answered an ad in the newspaper, so after church my mother, father and
I piled into the Sloan’s baby blue Mercury since we didn’t own a car of our own and headed off to parts unknown
to collect the prize.
We pulled up to a small brick house and a man appeared carrying the black, bug-eyed, spindly-legged, cantankerous canine
that was intended to stifle my pleas. It was a not-quite-young Manchester terrier. Could
there have been a less appropriate dog for a tomboy whose heart was set on a beagle? I think not.
sank. My mother handed the man $10.00 and Mootsy Pootsy was ours. He was not a pup by
any stretch. His teeth were green, his breath was vile and his hair was as bristly as a pigs. Even at $10.00 he was no bargain
and from the beginning he was not my dog. I didn’t want him and he didn’t like me either.
No sooner were we back on Fifth Street and the disappointing cur bit me right through my cheek and lower lip. I still
bear the scars. Typically my mother blamed me, not her new “other” child; the one with four legs, long toenails
and a lipstick red perpetually-erect penis. “Oh, go put some Bactine on it,” she said, hardly glancing at the
blood dripping from my chin. She fed Mootsy Pootsy another dog cookie as I ministered my own wounds, b0th
interior and exterior.
It was clear I was never going to get a beagle so long as I lived on Fifth Street. Although one flicker of hope had
died, another was ignited. I vowed that one day I’d escape that prison of my youth and I’d have as many dogs as
I wanted and not one would be a Manchester terrier.
Mootsy Pootsy was the first in a
string of Fifth Street dogs. As if there were some logical reason the odious creatures linage should be perpetuated, my mother
found someone with a bitch who was looking for a stud. As if to reward him for his advanced age, Mootsy finally got to hump
something other than visitors’ legs and for his effort my mother was rewarded with the pick of the litter who was christened
Rusty Lee Lee. My own moniker (Karen) was certainly not whimsical, so the names she bestowed upon her dogs
seemed utterly out of character for my no-nonsense mother.
Rusty was indeed rusty in color,
but the Lee Lee part was a mystery. Yes, he was a puppy when he arrived on Fifth Street for what was to be a brief stay, but
he was still a terrier, not a beagle. Not surprisingly Rusty Lee Lee was doted upon and coddled as I’m
sure I never was as a baby. Being ignorant of the basic essentials of pet ownership such as vaccinations, Rusty Lee Lee developed
distemper at the tender age of 18 months. No cost was too great if it meant saving him from that wretched preventable disease
which progressed in spite of the vet's valiant efforts. While he did survive, he was totally paralyzed. By this time
I had my driver's license and an Army green Ford Falcon, so it was I who was ordered to take him to be put to sleep.
My mother wailed on the back porch, her red face stained with tears as I loaded the little fellow's towel-wrapped body onto
the passenger seat for his final car ride.
On the way home I stopped by a feedstore where there was a sale on puppies. For $2.00 I bought a bright-eyed, floppy-eared
hound who loved me and licked my face for thirteen wonderful years.
Saturday, February 27, 2010
6:44 pm est
A surprise visit from an old friend was just the pick-me-up I needed.
She brought me a bouquet of fresh flowers and as I made banana nut muffins she told me about her recent trip to Florida.
We sat by the fire, poured over gardening magazines, watched a couple of British comedies and then went to the orchard with
the snow boat to collect kindling. I don’t think she had planned on outside activity, but being a
good friend she gamely helped with this and with barn chores. After that I think she had enough of my small
country life for she seemed eager to return to her own animal-free city house.
Her trip to a warmer climate sounded pleasant enough, but not my idea of a vacation. For me a perfect trip
is someplace deep in the country; the more remote the better. There I seek out animal people; the more
eccentric the better. There’s always a story waiting to be recorded just around a corner. This is
my program for all trips here and abroad, but in April I am departing from this tried and true agenda. I’m
going to New York City to meet up with friends from Australia and I must admit, I’m ready for a change. ‘Can’t
It was a great day for tracking. Fresh deer tracks very close to the house as well as fox tracks.
Opossum too are venturing closer than usual, probably to snack on the suet, bread, sunflower and bird seeds.
I’ve also been tossing out greens for any bunny that might be out and about. Coyotes were
in the news today. This is never a good thing since the average person would rather be afraid than to be educated about wildlife
of any kind. The animals are always the losers.
Ideally one should have peas in the
ground by St. Patrick’s Day, but as I glance out my window the snow is still falling quite heavily, so this seems very
unlikely. It will be interesting to see how the spectacular winter weather affects the upcoming growing
season. Although there are no signs of abatement, I’m going to plant some garden seeds on the windowsills
as I do every year about this time. But this will have to wait until tomorrow because right now I have
to go shovel a path out to the truck--again.
Friday, February 26, 2010
Signs of hope.
2:52 pm est
Snow continued to rain down and icy winds stung my face as I unloaded feed from the truck. As I
was grumbling and struggling with the heavy awkward bags a lovely sound distracted me. I looked up to see
three bluebirds fluttering about in the big Norway maple. I’d seen one just the other day as he was
sneaking into one of the bluebird boxes.
While common in southern Ohio, not
many overwinter in the northern part of the state, so I am interpreting these sightings as signs of spring. Whether
I’m right or not their cheery song was a wonderful distraction. I found this description of the Eastern
bluebird in The Birds of Ohio, 1903.
"How the waiting countryside thrills
with joy when Bluebird brings us the first word of returning spring....Reflecting heaven from his back and the ground from
his breast, he floats between sky and earth like the winged voice of Hope."
Rather than post yet another photo of flocked trees, dogs decked out in their winter coats
or snowy trails leading to the barn, I'm thinking spring and looking forward to scenes like this one of Kenny's lane.
Thursday, February 25, 2010
A return to normal.
6:21 pm est
Incredibly the hoola hoop has become the best barn chewing deterrent I’ve ever tried. The donkeys
won’t go near the corner that used to be their favorite snacking section of the building. This was
a dollar well spent.
At last the kitchen has been returned to a workable space. The fridge and all the other furnishings
are back in their rightful places although the animals still are still leery of the disruption. Betty says she liked linoleum
The weatherman has predicted another foot of snow by the weekend, but I think he may be overestimating things—I
hope! Even if he's right it won't diminish the marvelous sense of relief I feel tonight. I plan to reward myself for
completing the kitchen project by lying on the sofa and catching up on some reading. Tomorrow I will devote myself to
writing projects that have been somewhat neglected for the past three weeks. Ahh....
Wednesday, February 24, 2010
7:51 pm est
Just another snowy day with three more inches of snow predicted, but
at this point, it doesn’t really matter. With the exception of some minor touching up the kitchen
is finished. I was beginning to think this day would never come. It’s a huge difference from an aesthetic
perspective, but even better is the comfort difference. No more drafts. It was a big undertaking to be
sure, but I think it was all worthwhile.
Outside nature is creating more projects just in case spring ever arrives. The gutters on the north side of the house
have crashed to the ground. The ice was too much and now I have a twisted useless mess of metal, but no more ice sickles.
Boredom has prompted some naughty donkey behavior. The grumpy long ears refuse
to venture beyond my paths coming and going to the barn. Tired of looking out at the snow they decided to entertain themselves
by eating the barn. “
Stop that right now!” I order from the upstairs window. They stop their gnawing just long
enough to look toward the house as if to say, “Make us!” I doused their snacking section with
dish soap, but they seem to have developed a taste for Dawn. Thinking they needed a diversion, I bought
them a hoola hoop at the thrift store. It seemed just the answer since they love toys.
the hoop against the chewed corner of the barn and watched, expecting them to be delighted with the strange addition.
Instead, they seem to be afraid of it. The good news is this has put a stop to their noshing—for
now anyway. I think metal will replace the wood siding come summer if the barn doesn’t collapse in
I need a vacation.
Tuesday, February 23, 2010
My first dog.
7:01 pm est
those who wistfully remark, “We always had dogs…I remember my first…,” my own lifelong romance with
dogs began with Mootsy Pootsy, a hideous pooch if ever there was one. As an only child I had begged for
a dog from the time I could talk. All I wanted was a floppy-eared hound; a beagle. A soft warm friend who
would love me and lick my face. Was that too much to ask? Apparently it was.
no dogs,” was the oft-repeated response to my relentless pleas. My mother ruled the roost and her
word was final, so it came as a big surprise the Sunday morning she casually announced, “After church we’re going
to get a dog.” I couldn’t believe my ears. If I could just suffer through one more church service,
my dream beagle was going to become a reality. Surely I could do that, but it was the longest sermon ever.
I should have known it was too good to be true.
Ironically, it was August. I recall this as the infamous dog
day of August. Oh, we went to get a dog alright, but it was the farthest thing from a beagle anyone could
imagine. My mother must have looked long and hard to find the monster she presented as my dog.
She had answered an ad in the newspaper, so after church my mother, father and I loaded into the Sloan’s baby
blue Mercury since my own family did not own a car. We pulled up to a small brick house and a man appeared
carrying the black, bug-eyed, spindly-legged, cantankerous canine that was intended to stifle my pleas. It
was a not-quite-young Manchester terrier. Could there have been a less appropriate dog for a tom-boy whose heart was set on
a beagle? I think not.
My heart sank. My mother handed the man $10.00
and Mootsy Pootsy was ours. He was not a pup. His teeth were green, his breath was vile
and his hair was as bristly as a pigs. Even at $10.00, he was no bargain and from the beginning he was
not my dog. I didn’t want him and he didn’t like me either.
sooner were we back on Fifth Street and the disappointing cur bit me; right through my cheek and lower lip. I
still bear the scars. Typically my mother blamed me, not her “other” child, the one with four
legs, long toenails and a lipstick-red perpetually-erect penis. “Oh, go put some Bactine on it,”
she said hardly glancing at the blood dripping from my chin. She fed Mootsy Pootsy another cookie as I
ministered my own wounds, both interior and exterior.
It was clear I was never going to get
a beagle so long as I lived on Fifth Street. Although one flicker of hope had died, another was ignited.
I vowed that one day I’d escape that prison of my youth and I’d have as many dogs as I wanted, and not
one would be a Manchester terrier.
Mootsy Pootsy was not the last Fifth Street dog. As if there were some
logical reason the odious creatures linage should be perpetuated my mother found someone with a bitch looking for a stud.
As if to reward him for his advanced age, Mootsy finally got to hump something other than visitor’s legs and
for his effort my family was rewarded with pick of the litter who was christened Rusty Lee Lee. My own
moniker was certainly not whimsical, so the names she bestowed upon her dogs seemed utterly out of character for my no nonsense
Rusty was indeed rusty in color, but the Lee Lee part was a mystery. Yes,
he was a puppy when he arrived on Fifth street for what was to be a brief stay, but he was still a terrier, not a beagle.
Not surprisingly Rusty Lee Lee was doted upon and coddled as I’m sure I never was as a baby. Being
ignorant of the basic essentials of pet ownership, such as vaccinations, baby Rusty developed distemper at the tender age
of 18 months. No cost was too great if it meant saving him from that wretched preventable disease which progressed in spite
of the vet’s valiant efforts. While he did survive, he was totally paralyzed. By
this time I had my driver’s license and an Army-green Ford Falcon, so it was I who was ordered to take him to be “put
to sleep.” My mother wailed on the back porch, her red face stained with tears as I loaded the little
fellow’s towel-wrapped body onto the passenger seat for his final ride.
On the way home I stopped at a feed store
where there was a sale on puppies. For $2.00 I bought a bright-eyed, floppy-eared hound who loved me and
licked my face for thirteen wonderful years.
Monday, February 22, 2010
A dark day.
6:00 pm est
A light, but steady rain penetrated today’s cold dense fog. I watched as the driver backed the ditcher off the
flatbed trailer and then pointed him toward the wagon wheel that marks Rudy and Schatzi’s graves. T.
retrieved Nettie from the tractor shed, put her in the snow boat and hauled her to the grave site. We stood
and watched as the young man’s heavy machinery bit through the snow and into the soil. I opened the
plastic bag to look at Nettie one last time. Ted stood close, sniffed his friend, then looked up at me. We
shared our sadness.
When the hole was an adequate size and depth T. gently put her in the cold ground and the earth and snow were pushed
in and piled high, marking the final resting place of yet another wonderful friend. It’s been a sad
dark day, but maybe now things will get better.
Sunday, February 21, 2010
Was this really such a good idea?
11:43 am est
“And just why did you decide not to go with the bamboo?” asked Princess Patty in her always-polite manner.
I, of course reiterated that these imperfect boards were the original floor laid by John Grogg in 1821, just
in case Patty had forgotten my enthusiasm for historic preservation. She probably didn’t think I noticed how her eyes
rolled back in exasperation, but ever the diplomat, Patty replied, “Well, you know Miss Karen that sometimes original
isn’t necessarily the best choice.”
Today I think Patty was on to something.
I am sick, sick, sick of this “original” floor. I still have three more coats of finish
to apply. A big wall cupboard blocks animal entry to the kitchen and a sign on the back door advises visitors
that work is underway and if they want to enter this madhouse they must trudge through the snow to the brick porch and come
in through the living room.
In spite of working with the back door propped open the fumes from yesterdays staining were almost lethal.
I went to bed exhausted, but was awakened from a deep sleep as they crept up the stairs forcing me to throw open
two bedroom windows (all the better to hear ET on his 3:00 AM snow mobile ride). Today the less odiferous
sealer is going on relatively well and by mid-afternoon I should finish with this stage of the project. Two
coats of final finish tomorrow should wrap up my part of the restoration work.
has been issued to all friends; upon seeing the finished floor they will be wise to say, “Gee, it looks great.”
Any other commentary will not be welcomed and they will risk having a stain-soaked rag held over their nose.
I try not to think of how simple and odor-free a prefinished bamboo floor would have been.
In the long run it would have been less expensive too. No doubt that when I die someone will buy this old house and
install, what else—a bamboo floor!
Although the kitchen project occupies most of my time and effort right now I can’t ignore the fact that Nettie
must be buried. Yesterday, driving into town I passed a place up the road that had a Bob-Cat with a digger
sitting in the driveway. I jotted down the phone number on the side and immediately called. After explaining
the situation of the dog in the shed needing interment I asked if this fellow could possibly dig a grave.
he pondered. “Is the dog dead?” I knew at that moment that he was not the
guy for the job.
This has been a rough winter in more
ways than just the inconvenient weather. Sometimes I feel like throwing caution to the wind and standing under the mega-ice
sickles that cling to the roofline. Maybe, as my mother warned one will let loose and go “right through” my head.
Friday, February 19, 2010
A brighter day.
6:25 pm est
"Laugh and the world laughs with you. Weep,
and you weep alone." (Solitude by Ella Wheeler Wilcox) Truer words were
never spoken, but comforting messages of condolence and sympathy have come from unexpected sources and for these kind words
I am ever so grateful. I hope that I will remember to be as thoughtful when someone else suffers such a
I’m also grateful for the current busy, mindless floor work for it is a sort of grief relief. With
a small hand sander I’m removing the curious green and white paint splatters, some suspicious black greasy stains and
generally evening out the color. I’ve become very intimate with these boards, but the project is
going well. I hope to finish sanding tonight so I can apply stain tomorrow. Photos will be posted upon
A blazing sun has melted a bit of the ice and snow. In an effort to prevent the gutters from being
pulled off the house I’ve knocked down some of the huge ice sickles, but it’s impossible to reach the worst ones.
They crashed to the ground with a frightening force.
there were signs of increasing nocturnal activity. A skunk had left his eye-burning scent just outside
the door and the Great Horned Owl that serenades me as I lie in bed left traces of his hunt for what was probably a mouse
under the snow. It’s probably just wishful thinking, but I could have sworn I heard spring birdsong.
This has certainly been a winter of discontent for many besides me. We are ready for spring!
Thursday, February 18, 2010
A penetrating sadness.
6:50 pm est
I’m almost immobilized by the penetrating sadness in this house.
The dogs too are extremely reserved and cling to my legs as if they are glued there. Ted weighs
115 pounds and Ernie is about 100, so this makes walking or doing much of anything difficult.
Work on the kitchen continues, but there was nothing I could do while T. worked on all the other projects (baseboard,
wiring, dishwasher, etc.), so my kind friend Rose got me out of the house. We went out to lunch and did a bit of shopping
and it did me a world of good to be away from the reminders of Nettie that pop up when least expected. The
death of this dog has hit me very hard.
On our outing we went to the pet supply store for what else—pet food. The store was selling
young Milk Snakes for $59.95. Absolutely incredible! These snakes pop up in my cellar
and at the barn. They produce about sixty young at a pop. I may literally be sitting on a goldmine!
An opossum has been visiting the barn nightly and apparently snoozing in the donkeys stall. Each
morning I find a nice nest made in the straw in their stall. Yesterday I found the telltale footprints.
The donkeys are apparently very tolerant of transients this winter.
I find it very hard to write
during this period of grieving, but hope my readers will bear with me. I'll spring back.
Wednesday, February 17, 2010
A death in the family.
5:41 pm est
James Agee’s book by that name
has haunted me since I read it decades ago. A happy life cut short seems especially personal today.
My Nettie is dead. Anyone who has lost a beloved pet knows there are no words that convey the pain, but Agee did a
pretty good job in that book although the deceased was human, not a pet. For people like me, losing a pet is worse than losing
a person. Unlike humans, animals leave no bad memories, only happy ones of their unconditional love and devotion.
The vet put her in a black plastic bag, then wrapped her in a blanket and put her on the passenger’s seat of
my truck. With one hand on the unyielding parcel I drove home blinded by tears. The persistently-falling
snow is so deep, but I shoveled a path to the tractor shed and put my Nettie in the wheelbarrow for even in her deteriorated
state she is a big dog and then wheeled her to the shed. I opened the bag to see her face and called Ted
and Ernie so they could say their canine goodbyes. All day they have been restless and upon seeing their
friend Ted became upset and didn’t know what to do. Ernie, whose main concern in life is food seemed
confused and eager to leave the shed.
I stroked the face and caressed the
ears of the dog that broke my nose just a couple of months ago. The dog that had bitten holes in more than
a couple of tires. How she hated the tractor…. The dog that liked to beat up
the mail carrier’s truck if given a chance. Nettie who got called the cops called on me after she
scared some silly woman walking on the road. It was Nettie that required the installation of the gate at
the end of the drive. Eight plus years of assorted health issues and vet bills amounted to more money than
I’d ever want to tally. Nettie who played a daily game of ignoring me when called until I’d
say, “Come here NOW.” Then she’d wag her tail and smile and obey. It was our game.
I won’t stop missing her anytime soon.
I sat in the cold shed looking at
her one last time. She did not look like she was sleeping. Why do people make that ridiculous
remark? Dead things look dead. As soon as possible a man will come with a backhoe and
bury her next to Rudy and Schatzi and in the spring flowers will grow on her grave. Like Nettie and all
the others, some dog that needs a home will come to me and I will open my heart to it, but right now my heart is broken.
Tuesday, February 16, 2010
6:51 pm est
My heart is too heavy for me to write much in this blog today. Nettie is at the vet and the prognosis
is grim. I was up with her several times last night. She had to go outside which was
very unusual. I called the vet first thing this morning.
weeks ago she was diagnosed with a thyroid condition and has been on daily medication. The immediate improvement
was amazing. She returned to the vet two weeks ago for blood work to monitor her dosage. She had lost two pounds.
Today she weighed two pounds less, a total loss of eight pounds from her healthy weight before any of this began.
Her coat looked horrible and her eyes didn’t look right either. Tests confirmed not only severe
diabetes, but ketosis and possibly a tumor on her pancreas. Even IF they can control the diabetes there
are many more ominous indications. I think that by weeks end I may not have my Nettie anymore. The reality
of this is just beginning to set in and my heart is breaking.
Monday, February 15, 2010
Saved from an early death--maybe....
6:50 pm est
At the rate I was going, scrubbing the kitchen floor
with mineral spirits it would be June before I'd finish. The deadly fumes were making it impossible to
work even with the window wide open. After just four boards I was again overwhelmed and decided to check
with some experts to see if there were options. Calls to three paint stores all assured me that what I
was doing was totally unnecessary. Whew! The floor just needs to be clean.
Clean it is and smooth as a baby’s bottom. I’m ever so grateful to be liberated from
further health threats related to this project.
For six years before my friend decided
to sell this farm he rented it to some rather rough tenants who clearly had no respect for an historical building. The
tenant also fancied himself a “sportsman” of sorts as the upstairs window wells were full of spent
22 casings. Apparently he knocked off bunnies, bambies and anything else that looked like game before retiring for a
nap. Today I found a casing in the kitchen wall. After more than twenty years here this place is still yielding surprises;
a key, a button and another bullet.
Eight more inches of snow are predicted
to fall through the night. Flakes the size of postage stamps were raining down as I left the barn this
evening and the white stuff is piling up faster than I can shovel it. Ice sickles now
reach from the second to the first floor. “Don’t walk under those things! They’ll snap
off and go right through your head,” warned my paranoid mother. I have never heard of this actually
happening, but I think of her words every time I look at the ever-lengthening stalactites hanging from the gutters.
Sunday, February 14, 2010
The cost of character.
1:18 pm est
When I was shopping for flooring prior to discovering the original oak, I found that dealers carry something called
“character hardwoods.” This means the boards have what used to be called flaws.
They charge a lot for "character," so I was not unhappy to find that my floor is full of it.
Although I have pulled or pounded hundreds of nails in this floor an equal number remain necessary since these are
planks nailed through the face unlike modern tongue and groove flooring. Anyone who has ever sanded a floor
knows that in such a situation sanding is not an option.
“Just scrub the floor with
mineral spirits and a stiff brush,” advised the guy at the hardware. He should have added, “And
make sure you have a valid will because you may not live to apply the final finish.”
The window was open, but even so the fumes from the “low odor” (as per the label) spirits made me woozy.
Hence, I can only do a four board width of the room per session. Surely this is the worst part of
the project-- I hope! Next comes the stain, then a couple coats of sealer followed by two or three coats
of the final finish.
To alleviate the sickening effects of the mineral spirit scrub I took the dogs for a walk on the unbroken nature trail.
The snow was past my knees, but the dogs bounded behind me followed by Sissy, the adventurous kitty. Since
I was in the lead wildlife tracks were pristine. Fox, and what I am pretty sure were coyote tracks crossed
the farthest sections of the property and vanished into the dense brush. Also deer, rabbit and squirrel
and even tiny rodent paw prints told of nocturnal activity. The wind blew the tree tops and the skeletal
branches made ominous cracking sounds. It was magical; a perfect antidote for fume fatigue.
My mind is filled with travel thoughts and I look
forward to returing to this remote fish camp in August. No phones, no electricity, no plumbing and only accessible by
float plane (for the wealthy) or a train that cuts through the wilderness and dumps off hopeful fisherman and all their gear
212 miles north of the Soo. The camp owner collects the motley crew with his boat and ferries us to the little cabins
that become 'home' for the following week. I can't wait!
9:46 am est
Even though the snow continued to blow and pile up just enough to demand more shoveling and extra care in driving,
Saturday was filled with lovely surprises. While the original ‘floor’ plan called for just
a new surface on which to walk, one thing led to another as always seems to be the case. That springiness
by the back door leading to the porch? Well, that was because part of a supporting beam in the cellar was
gone. T. spent most of the day building a replacement sill beam out of heavy treated lumber and now the
floor is rock solid.
An old friend dropped by for a lengthy visit and then Patty called to invite T. and me to dinner. Anticipating
an evening in luxury rather than the mess of my house was like winning a sweepstake! That evening we drove
through blizzard-like conditions; away from the dust and construction debris here and entered Patty’s ethereal abode.
Divine aromas enveloped us as we stepped from the blustery outside world into the warmth and comfort of fabulous food,
good wine and the company of a friend like no other.
Patty was clad in flannel pajamas. “Oh,
I was going to tell you it would be okay to come in your jammies,” she said. It would not occur to
me (and certainly not to T.) to arrive at someone’s home for dinner wearing night clothes, but that’s Patty for
you. We shared Fifth street stories over dinner, laughed and had a great time. It was simply a wonderful
and greatly appreciated respite from work.
This winter has offered some outstanding Kodak moments, but I’m thinking springtime even though its arrival will
launch a new set of home repairs. Even as I type the woodpecker is pounding away at the cedar trimof the
house and parts of the exterior now look like Swiss cheese. Oh well. This photo was taken at Oba Lake, one of
my favorite places in northern Ontario
Friday, February 12, 2010
5:50 pm est
The end of a busy week at last, but much has been accomplished and this is cause for celebration. I’m
going out to dinner with friends and looking forward to a relaxing evening for tomorrow will be another day of work on the
I’ve shoveled so much snow that it seems I’m now addicted to the activity. I actually
enjoy heaving those loads of the white stuff when I know I’m doing it for pleasure and not because I’m stuck in
the driveway again. Who needs a gym membership? I can feel myself growing stronger by
the day. Good thing I’m adopting this attitude because it is snowing again.
justifies comfort foods and one of my favorites is Apple Kuchen. It’s too delicious not to share,
so here is the recipe!
Heat oven to 350 degrees and spray a pan about 9 x
12 with Pam. Pan dimensions can vary, but this is the general size.
Make a dough of:
¼ c. melted butter
1 c. sugar
1 small can of evaporated milk (2/3 cup)
2 c. flour
1-2 tsp. almond extract
1/2 tsp. salt
Spread this mixture in the pan and
top with a generous layer of sliced apples (any variety will do, but I like Gala)
Make a crumble of 1/8 c. melted butter, ½ c. sugar and ½ c. flour plus another
tsp. of almond extract. Sprinkle over the apples and pop in the oven for 35 minutes
DO NOT OVERBAKE! Edges of the kuchen should just be starting to appear
golden. The kuchen should have a custard-like consistency under the apples.
Thursday, February 11, 2010
1:58 pm est
I admit it; I am weary of this weather that is making every little task
exhausting. I’ve shoveled the driveway more times than I can recall. While the
snow has finally stopped falling, the winds blow pathways closed in a matter of hours. Hauling water to
the barn in the little snowboat is slow-going and tiring. The workman who came to see about making a new
exterior kitchen door and some thresholds got stuck when he tried to leave. His relentless spinning tires
dug deep trenches that grabbed my wheels as I tried to leave to pick up straw bales. He drove away leaving
me to shovel the packed ruts yet again.
After collecting the straw, getting
the bales over the fence and into the barn presented another challenge. Something tells me that if I were
a 30-something hotty, the strapping young man who drove past me as I struggled with them might have stopped to help.
But, since I am not a 30-something hotty, he did not stop, leaving me to trudge through the deep snow with bale after
bale, toss them over the fence into the barnyard, then climb the fence to open the top half of the Dutch door in order
to heave them into the barn. Mission accomplished.
Everything is hard, but there’s
a perverse satisfaction in struggling and getting the job done on my own. Figuring out solutions to problems
like what to do with all the manure and straw from the donkeys’ stall is also gratifying. It will
be June before the snow melts enough to get the big barn doors open so I can get the wheelbarrow out, but a muck bucket with
a rope tied to it has solved that dilemma with a bonus to boot. Fully loaded with its stinky cargo it is
heavy enough to compress the snow as I drag it to a garden site, thus making another hard wide path. By
springtime the already in place straw-manure mix will be broken down and ready to turn under. Two birds killed with a single
Yesterday was memorable for sure. Think pennies from heaven only in these modern times with inflation
and such, think paper currency; a literal windfall of the green stuff! The roads were treacherous, the
winds biting and cruel and I was eager to finish my errands and get home, but at the last minute decided to stop by a store
located in a mostly-deserted strip plaza. Stepping from my truck into the blizzard, head downward against
the winds I spotted a large denomination bill stuck in the snow.
I snatched it up before the winds carried it away, but it was only the first of several. In a matter of
minutes I had a fistful of dollars, so to speak. At the far end of the unplowed lot I saw a woman leap
from another car to grab up still more. Thinking it was her lost money I flagged the car down, but was
shocked when the driver rolled down the window and thrust her fistful in my direction. She thought I had
lost the stash. We both laughed at our good fortune and compared amounts. No one else
was anywhere to be found in the empty lot.
While finding a substantial amount of cash on a blustery day is sort of a dream come true, I couldn’t help but
feel sorry for whoever lost it. Inside the store I told the cashiers what had just happened and asked what
they thought would be the ethical thing to do. One can’t very place an ad saying; Money found blowing
in the wind. Is it yours? The store owners advised keeping the cash
and keeping quiet. Today I called the store again to see if anyone had stopped by to inquire, but no one
has, so I and the stranger in the other car are each enjoying a lovely windfall. It's still hard to believe!
Tuesday, February 9, 2010
2:17 pm est
The snow is falling faster than I can shovel and I’m running out of places to pile it, but being outside has
helped to clear my mind a bit. Winter is a contemplative time, more so than any other season. Events seem
more dramatic, more serious, more troubling now than they might seem in hopeful springtime or when considered amidst summer’s
riotous color. I’ve received some troubling news in the past couple of days and while none of it
directly affects me, my mind is spinning with concern for the friends who are involved. I care about these
A couple whose marriage seemed so perfect to outsiders announced over the weekend that they are getting a divorce.
They say the separation will be amicable, but friendly or not, this sort of change is never easy and some degree of
pain and sadness is inevitable. It’s hard knowing there is nothing I can do but to remain a friend
to both of them.
Then came a disturbing email from my friend who has just learned he has cancer. I bought this farm
from this special person. I just can’t stop thinking about him. He is such a good,
kind soul, the sort we need more of. It makes me wonder why truly fine people like him must face such trials,
but then we all know that life isn’t fair. Life is just life.
about my friend who now lives a thousand miles away brings back memories of the first time I visited the place that is my
home. The farm had been abandoned and empty for years before he bought the property with plans of “restoring”
it. Restoration is a relative word. The historical grant people didn’t approve
his plan, so the anticipated money never materialized. The notion of authentic restoration was discarded,
but he made the place livable and welcoming. It was warm and happy and honest, just like my friend. The
location seemed so remote way back then.
We sat in his kitchen and played old time music on our dulcimers and thought we were pretty good too. One
sunny day we hauled dozens of jars from the root cellar, then pried off the rusty lids and dumped the mystery foods
on his garden to be rototilled into the soil. We sat on his old butt-sprung sofa by the woodstove and drank
beer while listening to folk music on the radio. It was such fun helping my friend when he was living what later became my
small country life. He comes to visit occasionally, but his home is in the South. Now
that he is facing the isolation and uncertainty of his health crisis I wish I could help him again.
I think it’s much easier to face a personal crisis than it is to watch helplessly as those we care about face
Monday, February 8, 2010
How things get done.
6:52 pm est
The trees were frosted and shone like diamonds against the eerie indigo sky as I headed to the barn this morning. It
was stunning and I had every intention of photographing the scene, but by the time I’d finished chores I just wanted
to get inside and warm up. I shouldn’t have waited, for when I did go out again the sun was melting
the icy branches and the magic was gone. I guess this is why some people make their living as photographers
while others (like myself) do not.
There have been some ominous signs
in the publishing world due to the sluggish economy and today I felt a stab of the necessary frugality. One
of my favorite magazines to which I’m a regular contributor has had to cut the size of each issue, thus cutting back
on freelance material. The editor and I are sure that this is temporary, but even so I’m now forced
to go out and sell myself to some new magazines to take up the slack. It’s especially challenging
since all publications are feeling the same pinch.
The floor project is into phase two.
Since another big snowstorm is predicted to begin tomorrow it seemed prudent to get all the necessary supplies in now.
My next job is to scrub the old oak with paint thinner and a stiff brush. This doesn’t sound
like a pleasant job at all, but I think the hardest part of doing this floor is going to be keeping the animals out of the
kitchen for several days and getting myself used to using the door on the south porch. Another path to shovel....
Cabin fever has hit the barn critters. The chickens are getting testy with one another, but the donkeys finally ventured
outside today. They looked as if they were stuck in cement as they stood in the middle of the barnyard and it was obvious
they weren't enjoying themselves. Tom also ventured from his basement apartment, but unlike Corky and Andy,
the silly cat enjoyed his romp in the snow.
Nature has forced everything into a slower gear and this is good. I doubt that the kitchen floor
would have been tackled with such gusto if it were milder outside. It’s also easier to focus on writing
projects since there’s no temptation to go for a walk. It’s too cold and it’s impossible
to get through the woods and it’s not fun to walk on the road. When I take a break now it’s
to pour through the mountain of gardening magazines and mentally plan the new arbor and where to put the new peach trees—if
spring ever comes.
Sunday, February 7, 2010
Weary of winter?
7:58 pm est
I know I've said how much I love the snow, but after two full hours of
shoveling just to get the truck out to the road, not to mention shoveling to the barn and to the shed and to the woodpile
and the pump, well the beauty of this winter wonderland is wearing thin. The donkeys finally ventured from
their stall, but only out to the path I’ve worn from the gate to the barn. Corky keeps reminding
me that he is after all, a Mediterranean donkey and he is just not keen on this weather.
so odd this morning to walk into a kitchen that is two inches lower than it has been all the years I’ve lived here
A great deal of work remains to be done, but the room has “the look” and I like it. The
cats wonder where the furniture is, but the dogs seem to have accepted the temporary placement of their food bowls in the
dining room as if it's no big deal.
During the demolition process a key
and a pearl button were uncovered. These are going into the ‘found items’ jar that I only wish I’d established
twenty years ago. This picture of the new/old kitchen floor in its current state reflects nothing more
in the way of cleaning than a cursory sweep with a broom. Such a strange feeling to be walking (with shoes
since there are still many protruding nails) on the floor laid by John Grogg in 1821! I find this very
Saturday, February 6, 2010
7:06 pm est
I was up at dawn. 'Couldn’t wait to get outside to take photos and enjoy the pristine landscape. The snow is about 26”
deep where it is not drifted! The donkeys refuse to set one foot outside their stall. The
dogs think it’s a little too deep to be much fun, but I think it’s gorgeous. Then it was time to get to work on
T. and I worked like beavers to get all the old stuff out, pulled about 1,000 nails and swept up nearly 200 years worth
of mouse poop. More layers of flooring revealed two new linoleum patterns and more underlayment, but what a surprise when
we pulled up the final layer and found the original oak boards. No prefinished bamboo for this kitchen
now. This was like finding gold!
This old floor wouldn’t be everyone’s cup of tea, but I think it’s great.
Lots more work to do, but the project is coming along nicely and the worst part is finished. We
are both ready to drop.
9:52 am est
Unwarmed by any sunset light So all night long the storm roared on:
The gray day darkened into night,
A night made hoary with the swarm
And whirl-dance of the blinding storm,
As zigzag, wavering to and fro,
Crossed and recrossed the wingàd snow:
And ere the early bedtime came
The white drift piled the window-frame,
And through the glass the clothes-line posts
Looked in like tall and sheeted ghosts.
The morning broke without a sun;
In tiny spherule traced with
lines Of Nature's geometric signs,
And, when the second morning shone,
We looked upon a world unknown,
On nothing we could call our own.
Around the glistening wonder bent
The blue walls of the firmament,
No cloud above, no earth below, --
A universe of sky and snow!
Friday, February 5, 2010
A bad idea.
8:31 pm est
What in the world was I thinking? What was wrong with the old kitchen floor? Am I mad???
The biggest snow storm of the year, only 1/3 of the old kitchen floor and the 5 underlaying floors removed and the
new floor is still at the store. I’m knackered. Can’t remember being so
tired. A friend and I worked for many hours uncovering the lives of past families that prepared meals in
this kitchen. I could almost pinpoint the year the fake marble went down(1960). Under
that was a hideous green and tan diamond floor(1950) beneath which was a blue marble swirl. (19??) By 1930
the pretty cool retro stuff was laid, probably at great expense. Layer upon layer of linoleum, luhan, more
linoleum, plywood, more flooring, masonite, nails that ripped skin like tissue paper. It’s been a
very rough day.
Thursday, February 4, 2010
Can't wait for spring!
6:57 pm est
Mild temperatures lured me to my “sculptural garden,” AKA
the manure spreader and corn planter. One of my readers suggested planting the surrounding area with wildflowers
and I rather like that idea. But first I had to get to the machinery which is totally engulfed in that
wretched multiflora rose. Some of the canes are as thick as my wrist and grow more than 20 feet into the
surrounding cherry trees, so this in itself is a major project.
Ever so carefully I began cutting
and pulling the wicked thorny canes with a rake to a central pile. Each cutting and clearing revealed wonderful
discoveries and I hated to stop working, but darkness was falling. I’ve only cleared the front of
the manure spreader, but the sunken iron wheels, old gears and chains all have stories to tell. It's the
first time in the many years I’ve been here that I've gotten so close to these relics.
is to clear the area around the implements, allow the roadside lilies and daffodils to flourish without competition, scatter
some Forget-me-nots and transplant some of the gooseneck plant that is taking over a garden near the house. Then
I shall make a rustic bench where I can rest on a hot summer day.
In this immediate area is also an
old well housing sticking about two feet out of the ground. Periodically letters from ODNR arrive telling
me I’m entitled to $10,000.00 toward “capping” this orphan well. While that sounds like
a lot of money for filling a pipe with cement when I called one of the recommended outfits to investigate I learned that the
actual price for the job was closer to $25,000.00 and I would be responsible for the difference! Yikes.
I have a stone slab over the 8” pipe and I’ve decided that “cap” will do.
New discoveries and new projects keep life interesting and fun.
Wednesday, February 3, 2010
The one place I did not look....
I had to pick up a friend in Cleveland and was running late due in part to the
on-going search for Poppy. Imagine my utter surprise to open the truck door and find her sitting on the passenger seat!
She had been in there for more than 24 hours with no food or water and while I expected some sort of mess, she was her perfectly-behaved
self. What a wonderful surprise. What a special kitty! All is well.
9:34 pm est
Without a trace.
1:20 pm est
I’m sick with worry.
Poppy has vanished without a trace and I fear the worst. This youngest cat was admittedly my favorite.
Such a lovable bundle of joy, always playful, always polite and well-mannered. Kind to her animal
family and loving to humans, Poppy was just a delight to have around, but now she is gone.
Yesterday was busy. There were things to haul out to the truck, things to bring inside and lots
of work to be done all over the place. It’s hard to know just when she went missing, but she was
notably absent when I passed out cat treats around dinner time. With her enthusiastic appetite, she
never missed a meal. Where could she be? Darkness had fallen, but a search was immediately launched by flashlight.
She, like all of the cats slipped in and out at will, but she was not a roamer, nor was she keen on being out in the
cold for long periods of time. Her favorite spot was on a pillow next to the floor register in the kitchen.
Outside she followed me to the barn, to the pump or to the woodpile. Athletic and healthy, Poppy could climb a tree
faster than a squirrel, so where is she? She must have run out while I was taking things to or from the
She’s not in any of the sheds, nor the barn, nor under any low-hanging pine tree, nor in a ditch, nor sleeping
on hay bales. She's not in the woods, nor in the field across the road. She is gone.
I got up twice during the night to search all of those places a second or third time, hoping perhaps to hear something
in the still of the night, but Poppy had no voice. She never meowed, unlike Buddy who ‘talks’ all the time.
Her mute state only intensifies my worry.
Anyone foolish enough to leave a
car door open might well have found a curious black kitty inspecting the interior, so my first thought was the UPS truck that
had delivered a parcel while I was away yesterday. I called them first thing this morning, but was assured
the driver had not picked up a cat when he made his drop off. I continue to search everywhere and the dogs
are helping. Even Poppy’s pal Sissy (cat) comes along, but we’ve found not a trace.
Another worry is the ice-covered pond. All of the animals seem fascinated by this phenomenon, mindless
of the danger. The ice is thunderously cracking and melting, but there is no sign that anything has broken
through. Not knowing is worse having one’s fears confirmed. At this point I have
little hope that the signs I’ve posted will lead to her return. She never left the property. Process
of elimination leaves the horrible possibility of abduction by the coyotes, but wouldn’t there be evidence of such a
It’s snowing and I have to drive to Cleveland. I’m glad the opossum article is finished for it’s
very hard to concentrate right now. I just want to find Poppy.
Tuesday, February 2, 2010
7:06 pm est
I’m working on another story about the much-maligned opossum.
Photos for such subjects always present a challenge and while I have a few, I really needed some additional images.
As luck would have it, my friend T just happened to have a young opossum awaiting burial in the orchard behind his
barn. It had met an untimely death, but I saw possibilities for this corpse! The frozen body
looked as if a steam roller had gone over it, but if I thawed, ‘rehydrated’ and wired it in some natural poses,
it would serve for a few Kodak moments. This plan really was a last resort which I hoped I wouldn’t actually
have to implement, but just in case I brought it home in a transparent plastic
bag. Several years ago I had reconstructed a dead chicken and it was not
an easy job, so I began making some phone calls.
Eventually I located a place that had a live opossum that was used for educational presentations. The
rehab center was happy to volunteer Baby as a model for my photo shoot, so this morning I hung the body bag on
the arbor through which one must pass to get to the house. I did this to remove any temptation for Nettie and planned
to deal with it later. At that point I had no further need for the corpse since a live one was certainly
preferable even if it did involve a trip to another city.
When I returned home a large box
was on the patio bench, delivered by the poor UPS man while I was gone. I can only imagine what he must
have thought when he came eye to eye with the bagged body. He already thinks I’m strange. He’s
had some other unusual encounters here, but I’ll bet this is one he won’t forget.
Monday, February 1, 2010
A dinner disaster.
8:17 pm est
The Whiting was on sale. I couldn’t recall ever having eaten Whiting, but thought I’d
give it a try. It proved to be a very bad decision and while this type of fish might be perfectly delicious
under other circumstances I can truthfully say that I will not be trying it again.
okay when I removed it from the packaging, but during the cooking process the texture seemed “off.”
Cooks recognize when something just isn’t quite right, but nevertheless I thought the unusual appearance must
just be a characteristic of the type of fish.
I took two tiny bites and my guest did the same. We both decided we didn’t like it, so I divided
the remainder among the dogs giving Nettie the lion’s share. Within a few hours she became very ill.
The other dogs had no ill effects, but rather than share the ugly details I will simply say that neither Nettie nor I got any sleep last night.
Dogs typically eat grass when their stomach is upset, but since the interior of my house is grass-free, Nettie ate
an Oriental rug instead. This did not help the situation. It was a miserable night and I’m finding
it very difficult to function today. Nettie is fine now. The rugs have been scrubbed and I am trying not
to look at the damaged one. As I said, it was a very bad night!