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Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Seeing life through different eyes.


            The skunk piece is coming along, but the warm sunny day lured me away from the computer, out to the manure spreader to continue the multiflora rose eradication program.  What a mess, but what fun.  As I hack away at the evil canes I’m uncovering all sorts of treasures.  Old implement parts, long buried but for some small tell-tale hub or gear and assorted spring flowers that never really stood much of a chance under all the brambles have all worked their way to the surface.  I’ve pulled the rusty iron relics from their shallow graves to be discarded properly, but the flowers are an absolute delight.  This site was near the original barn that burned down around 1930, but garden flowers planted decades ago have managed to survive.  Now they can flourish.

            The plan is to reroute my nature trail so that it will pass under the huge bing-type cherry tree where the Baltimore Orioles build their charming basket nests each year.  I may even make a little bench in this new space.  At the rate I’m going, summer will be over by the time I clear the invasive wicked roses, but even so making these little discoveries is worth all the torn clothing and skin.  Change is what makes life interesting and I’m ready for some changes.

            A friend recently remarked that she thinks blogs are stupid, but I read the blogs of a couple other writers and find them interesting in different ways.  One relates the artist/horsewoman’s observations and events in her life.  It’s always upbeat, clever and interesting. The other relates the writer’s self-absorbed contemplations of life and not much more.  Since the observations are rarely about anything other than the author, they tend to be very tiresome. Blogs serve many purposes for both the writer and the reader, but I don’t agree with my friend’s opinion that they are stupid.  It’s just looking at life through different windows.   



9:56 pm edt          Comments

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Getting back in the groove.

            Travel is great, but trying to cram two weeks of work into one upon return is a real challenge and I’m having a bit of trouble meeting it!  I’ve been frantically busy since returning, yet the week is nearly half over and it feels as if I’ve accomplished little so far.

            Some of today was spent researching skunks.  I’m probably one of the few that actually find them endearing.  I even like their sulfur smell if it’s from afar and who can deny that they are beautiful little creatures.  Unfortunately, like so many other species of wildlife skunks are misunderstood and even feared.  The best rule of thumb is:  Don’t bother them and they won’t bother you.

            Right about this time of year they are busy breeding and soon the females will be tending litters of 4-7 kits with no help from the sire.  He will be off impregnating as many other girls as possible and trying not to become a splat on the center line.  Skunks are polygamous.  I’ll share more on these omnivores as the article takes shape, including a recipe to deodorize any pets that have a close-up encounter.  One word of advice; never ever use products like Febreeze or other fabric fresheners on your animals.  It is toxic.

8:05 pm edt          Comments

Monday, March 29, 2010

Yet another massacre!


            I don’t deny it.  I am a tree fanatic and when I see the senseless destruction of life forms that only enhance the world environmentally and aesthetically it sets off a rage in me that is difficult to control.  And so it was today as I drove past a large acreage where the trees were stupidly annihilated a couple of years ago, but which Nature had reclaimed.

            The area not far from my home consists of about 100 acres where a skeet club and a model airplane club have their facilities.  Unfortunately neither of these organizations owns the land.  It is owned by a buffoon who surprised everyone, especially the two clubs that lease the property by cutting down the entire buffer zone of trees that used to be so lovely and also used to protect the tenants’ facilities.  The members were outraged and rightly so!

            Not only had the entire perimeter been reduced to ugly scrub that offered little to no habitat for the wildlife in the area, it also opened up access for cretins who dump animals and rubbish, run rough-shod over the land with their ATV’s and inflict other abuse.  When confronted by the club memebers, the landowner said, “I want to return the land to the way it was when I bought it….”  It was a corn field!!!!  What a moron.

            At one point the model airplane folks planted pine trees which had grown to become a lovely grove where deer bedded down and which softened the desecrated buffer.  Today, for no logical reason the beautiful grove of evergreens was cut to the ground.

            Ironically, this landowner can never sell this piece of property because it is contaminated with lead shot from decades of being used as a target range.  Any buyer would be obligated to clean the soil at a cost of millions of dollars.  Both the skeet club and the airplane club take pride in keeping the land neat and tended, so to deliberately reduce the countryside to stumps and slash was an act of ugly aggression against both of these responsible tenants.

            I plan to find out the name of that property owner and to confront him with the question, “Why?”  The only explanation is that he is a very ignorant, arrogant fool, but this in no way lessens the anger and sadness I feel seeing more wanton destruction which suddenly seems to be going on in every direction.  I guess that while intelligent people are watching programs like Nova or Nature that emphasize the importance of natural areas, wildlife habitat and trees in general, people like this landowner must be watching nonsense like Biggest Loser.  No person with a brain commits such a massacre.

            Today’s photo shows what happens when a traveler doesn’t promptly put luggage away.  It becomes a kitty bed.



6:38 pm edt          Comments

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Spring favorite!


           How exciting to see the rhubarb!  Not only is it poking through the straw/manure mulch, but it’s spreading too.  To me rhubarb IS springtime which I officially usher in with my favorite pie.  Since the sour plant is at its prime before hot weather hits and because one can’t use frozen rhubarb for the pie, there is a rather small window of opportunity to enjoy this fabulous dessert.  The recipe is fool proof and easy.  You will either adore it or you will hate it.  There is no neutral response to rhubarb custard pie.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Prepare one 9” pie shell using the following recipe:

1/3 C. Crisco shortening (do not substitute anything else!)

1      C. flour

1/2  tsp. Kosher salt

1/4   C. cold water

With a pastry cutter, cut the first three ingredients until they are the consistency of coarse cornmeal.  Then slowly add the water, mixing lightly with a fork just until the dough holds together.  With floured hands form the dough into a ball that wipes the sides of the mixing bowl clean.  Do not overwork this pie dough!  If too sticky, add a bit of flour.

Wipe the work surface with a damp cloth and then lay down one sheet of waxed paper or plastic wrap and smooth it out.  Flour this lightly and place the ball of dough in the center.  Lightly dust the ball and place a second piece of plastic over it.  Roll the dough between the two sheets.  Remove the top sheet and place the inverted pie plate over the dough.  Lift the lower sheet of plastic with the dough from beneath and position it in the pie plate.  This is much easier than trying to handle the dough alone.  Simply peel off the plastic and crimp the edges of the pie crust.  Do not prick the pie shell.  Set aside.

For the filling you will need the following:

3          C. fresh rhubarb.  You can not use frozen!

1 1/3   C. white sugar

3          TBSP. flour

1/2      tsp. salt

2          large eggs or 3 small eggs

To prepare the rhubarb:  Wash thoroughly under cold water.  Using a kitchen scissors snip off the root end and discard.  Then snip the rhubarb stalks into 1” sections.  Scissors are much easier and neater than a knife.  Mix the rhubarb with the other ingredients in a bowl and stir until thoroughly blended. 

Dump this into the unbaked pie shell and bake at 375 degrees for one hour or until pie crust is done.  The pie should have mosaic look when done as the rhubarb creates the top layer with a rich sweet/tart custard beneath it.  The pie crust will be flaky.

6:24 pm edt          Comments

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Home at last.


           What comes to mind when someone mentions Mobile, Alabama?  If you’re like me (pre-trip), your response might be, “Well, um, err, uh, nothing?”  I could not have guessed this area would be so pleasantly surprising!  Planning a vacation?  Consider this Gulf coast destination.  You will not be disappointed!

            I’ll share some of the highlights of the trip later, but after spending the day on the road, on planes and in airports since 8:00 AM I am pretty whipped tonight.  It’s always nice to come home even when home is nowhere near so luxurious as the accommodations which I’ve enjoyed since Tuesday. 

            As usual Neighbor Sandy did a fine job spoiling all the critters who nevertheless seem over the moon to have me back home.  At this writing I am still assimilating the culture shock having left elegant surroundings, deliciously-prepared meals and the stimulating company of fellow writers after returning to the real world of my humble surroundings, a peanut butter sandwich dinner and my stinky four-legged companions (Ernie required a bath).  But, like I said, I’m happy to be home, just very tired.




8:08 pm edt          Comments

Tuesday, March 23, 2010


Just after writing my latest less than uplifting post I opened the little book of Words From Great Women which I keep on my desk.  It fell open to a page of quotes by Helen Keller and since I believe things happen for a purpose, I think Ms. Keller's words were meant to be read by me on this dark day.

" To keep our faces toward change and behave like free spirits in the presence of fate is strength undefeatable."

10:44 am edt          Comments

Until later...



            The sky rumbled and a nasty storm blew in from the south last night.  Temperatures dropped and this morning is gloomy and gray, but then we all knew that nice weather was too good to be true.  The weatherman says it may even snow, but I will not be here to see it as I am leaving in about an hour for a press trip in Alabama.        

            It’s been quite a week.  I’ve been to Stat Care for what is almost-but-not-yet pneumonia, so I’m literally under the weather.  The medication I’m taking has some unpleasant side effects.  The rescued puppy I planned to bring home upon my return Saturday had to be euthanized!  He had an incurable health condition and there were no options, but I’m certainly glad that I was NOT the one forced to make that awful decision.  I wrote about finding hope, but admittedly I am finding that more than a little challenging lately.

            I’m looking forward to visiting a new city, spending a few days with fellow writers enjoying Gulf breezes, good food and some planned adventures.  Considering the past several months I think a change of scene may be just what the doctor ordered, but it is unlikely I will have time to post anything on this blog for the next several days.  I hope readers will bear with me.  I’ll be home late Saturday.  Keep your fingers crossed that new calamities are not waiting for me in Dixie.




10:31 am edt          Comments

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Hope is where you find it.



            Assorted engines snorted and roared at ET’s place all Saturday as the skeletons of deciduous trees were cut up and hauled off as cordwood, buried or heaped upon the pyre of spruce, cedar and pine.  Big trucks with loud exhausts raced up and down the road as even-noisier ATV’s raced around the muddy plot that used to be Mrs. Clark’s yard.  I tried to ignore it, but that was pretty hard to do and I looked forward to going down to T’s quiet place for dinner and a movie.

            It was nice to spend the evening there, but when I returned home a celebration was going on up the road.  Before ET arrived all I used to see when I looked up the road was a bower of lovely trees, but now I can see all the way through to Neighbor Sandy’s barn since nothing blocks the view. 

            A huge bonfire fueled by the trees ET has annihilated lit up the sky and loud music threatened to drown out the peepers.  This was probably just a prelude of what can be expected from now on.  I came inside feeling sad, angry, and disheartened and finally fell asleep questioning why I even bother doing the things I do.  For twenty years I’ve worked to create a wildlife sanctuary on my little plot of less than six acres while in just a few months ET has obliterated eight acres of habitat.  ‘What is the point,” I lamented to the dogs who politely listened to my rant as I fixed our breakfasts this morning. Then I turned on Bill Moyer whose guest was Jane Goodall, a woman who has inspired me most of my adult life. 

            Has anyone seen more destruction, disregard and exploitation of the natural world than this champion of Nature?  Probably not, but in spite of all the cruelty and devastation she has witnessed she remains optimistic and hopeful and above all else, more inspiring than ever.  I hung on her every word and my perspective changed.  She reminded me that no act is unimportant, regardless of how seemingly insignificant, even when it takes place on less than six acres.  Her intelligence, her hope for the future and her forgiveness of the stupid people responsible for all that is wrong exceed any degree of evolution I could ever hope to meet, but her words were enough to keep me from giving up. We can all do something!  ( )

            Later this afternoon our monthly women’s writers group met and again I was inspired.  Such a genuinely nice group of writers; each with a unique talent, skill or style.  I never come away from one of these meetings not having learned something very useful.  I’m very grateful to be part of this gathering of women.

            Now, as I sit here typing the roar of the loudest ATV penetrates the house, but I’m determined to focus on the positive influences of the day for there were several.



7:13 pm edt          Comments

Saturday, March 20, 2010

A busy day.


            It was clean the coop day, a job that is never enjoyable, but one that I feel is important for the welfare of my birds.  These silly chickens are part of the reason I love being in the barn.  It’s really their world (and the donkeys’), but they allow me access.  The girls and their suitors were out foraging while I, the charwoman refreshed their lodging, so when they re-entered the coop at the end of the day there was big excitement.

            “Ah, nice.  I was wondering when she was going to get around to cleaning this place,” says Figi (the surviving French girl).  They always act as if they’ve been moved to a new country when the coop is freshly cleaned. Buffy and Fluffy (I did not name these two) are setting a clutch of eggs and in about four weeks chirping chicks will greet me when I enter the barn.  I never tire of hearing the peeping eggs. It’s thrilling to see the tiny beaks as they peck through the shells and sometimes I’m lucky enough to witness a wet fragile peep as it stumbles into the world.

            German scientists recently conducted studies on the olfactory systems of birds.  Surprisingly they found that chickens are among the species with the most acute sense of smell.  Since smell is important in foraging, one would expect that of wild birds to be more developed, but not so.  To think that after centuries of people keeping chickens, no one knew this until the 21st century.  Amazing!



6:12 pm edt          Comments

Friday, March 19, 2010

Foolish behaviors.


            I rounded the bend just in time to see a very large shaggy dog standing on the center line, gawking at the cars that were swerving  past him.  He had that ‘help, I’m lost’  look on his face, so I pulled off the road and called to him and he swaggered toward me.  “Want to go for a ride?” I asked and he eagerly hopped into the truck.  His tag had a phone number and an address, but the number was disconnected and after driving around for about 45 minutes, asking everyone I saw if they knew where Knollridge Circle might be it was beginning to look as if Mr. Shaggy might be coming home with me. 

            My vet’s office was nearby, so in desperation I stopped and explained the dilemma. As luck would have it Shaggy was a client there!  Yippee!  The office made a couple of calls and soon the owner’s son arrived to collect the wayward canine. We all breathed a sigh of relief. 

            I guess springtime provokes foolish behaviors, like Shaggy running away from his home and like Ted playing so much that he hurt his leg and like me embarking on my own foolish project.

            It was all part of the on-going spring cleanup, but nice weather can induce amnesia when it comes to some things.  That’s what happened today when I tackled the area behind the tractor shed.  I had apparently forgotten it had once been the site of the farms outhouse.

             Rocks of manageable sizes are handy things for building walls or walkways, but a few gigantic boulders of awkward shapes have been in the way for years, so today I decided to move them.  What a stupid idea!  No wonder they’ve been there for so long.  It would have been easier to move a car than those rocks, but with great difficulty I nudged two of the monsters free and rolled them to the fence line where they are out of the way. A third rock was simply impossible to budge after prying it loose. What to do….  A burial seemed a logical solution, but every shovel thrust met with implacable resistance. 

            Then I remembered the old crapper.  The big rocks had probably been corner posts, but the pit was lined with—what else— rocks!  I cannot move the big rock and I cannot dig a grave due to laid up smaller rocks, so I must resign myself to living with it even though it doesn’t fit in with my plan for the area.  Living with it won’t be easy. I hate incomplete projects.

             After wasting most of the afternoon struggling with the bothersome boulders I became aware of the relentless drone coming from ET’s place.  He’s into day of three of burying the torn out roots of all the beautiful trees he destroyed this winter and grading the barren acres which now host nothing but a brick house and a white barn.  His work is going smoothly because ET has a Bobcat, a track loader, two tractors and a back hoe.  I have a shovel. 

            I’ve quit work for today, but as I look out the window at that offending rock I’m considering taking a ‘welcome-to-the-neighborhood’ pie up to the Environmental Terrorist. What could it hurt?



7:37 pm edt          Comments

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Back on track!


           Happy to report that I am feeling fine today, so it must have been just some 24 hour bug that laid me flat out yesterday.  Or, perhaps it was the  medicinal jello from Neighbor Sandy.  She is a peach.  Not only did she call and offer to do my barn chores, but she brought soup, crackers, cough drops and her signature jello. 

            Jello is something I rarely, if ever make unless it’s part of a bigger recipe, but jello from Sandy has curative powers.  Not feeling well?  Jello to the rescue!  She fills the top shelf of the fridge with small disposable cups of the Technicolor stuff that’s  probably 90% sugar.  This is a very thoughtful gesture indeed, for when one is not feeling well it’s very comforting to shuffle out to the kitchen and discover this staple from my childhood all prepared and ready to eat (and no clean up involved).  Sandy is also my house sitter when I travel, so she will be in charge while I’m in Alabama next week.  The animals adore her and I know that everything is in good hands when she’s here.

            Today I received a phone call from a man with a seductive foreign accent.  He was calling to comment on my web site and suggested in no uncertain terms that I really should be embarrassed by it.  “Wouldn’t you like something, ahem, well, errr, umm, more PROFESSIONAL?  Surely you aren’t getting any business from ahh, my small COUNTY life….” 

            Perhaps if he had been a bit less insulting I would have been a bit more interested in hearing what he had to say for at some point I will indeed fine-tune this blog, but for now it is serving the intended purpose, so I bade Mr. Hotsy Totsy good day and hurried to investigate the clanging and banging on the north side of the house.  It was Mr. Gutter World and crew who were in the process of replacing the storm damaged gutters.  They worked like a team of beavers and did a terrific job, but I have to say the name of the company makes me laugh; Mr. Gutter World.  I considered referring them to Mr. Snooty Phone Caller who I’m sure would not have approved of their company moniker.



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Wednesday, March 17, 2010

My spring has sprung.
        I have the flu, so in spite of it being a sunny beautiful day, my day was spent flat on my back. Please  pardon this paltry post.  I must go lie down again.
7:13 pm edt          Comments

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Such a pretty face.


            There’s no gentle way to say it; Betty is a slob.  She’s sort of like those people ahead of you in the check-out line that you mentally make over because you're sure that under whatever the issue might be (hair, clothes, make up, etc.) there is an attractive person. 

            Although Betty is a cat I think her feline friends probably have similar discussions among themselves; “Yes, she has such a pretty face, but…,” Ivy says to Poppy.  “Oh, she’s just disgusting,” Buddy chimes in.  Buddy is fastidious about her own grooming. “I can’t stand to even look at her,” says Booger making a dramatic exit. While the other cats have pals, no one chums around with Betty.

            Until a few years ago I gave her a lion haircut and a bath each spring.  She seemed to enjoy the whole process, but now she is quite old and as discovered at the vet yesterday, she has an over-active thyroid condition that now requires little pink pills twice a day which she resists taking.  Even the vet said, “She’s a mess.” 

            Someone dumped Betty on a deserted stretch of road where I used to walk. I watched as she was making a half-hearted attempt at hunting mice, but she didn’t seem to be having much success.  She was skin and bones, but friendly and aside from her lack of self-esteem she has always been a sweetheart.  In the sixteen plus years she has lived here she has never shown any interest in personal hygiene and now she is a mass of mats.  Each day I clip and snip at least two which is about all she will tolerate.  Maybe it’s her age or maybe it’s the thyroid condition, but there is no sign of hair regeneration, so she resembles a patchwork quilt. 

            Does it look as if she cares?  What do you think? 



6:48 pm edt          Comments

Monday, March 15, 2010

Another one will come along...



            After the untimely and devastating death of Nettie I consoled myself knowing that another dog in need of a loving home would come along.  Well, it possibly has.  My daughter just left with a mom and pup she had just plucked out of harms way.  However, I think this pair probably has a home and somehow became lost.  I strongly suspect someone will claim them, but if they don’t….

            My daughter is a fine person.  I’d like her even if she were not mine.  She’s kind, honest, hard-working, thoughtful and above all she is compassionate.  Her own menagerie speaks to all of these attributes.  A brief inventory includes two large dogs; Isabelle (photo) and Lily, both Carna Corsos.  Isabelle, who weighs about 140 pounds and looks like a prize fighter is certified to visit nursing homes, schools and other educational venues.  Lily is still a baby, albeit a giant one.  Then there are the cats; twelve of them at her home, all rescued from assorted perilous conditions, but now all spayed or neutered and spoiled beyond all common sense. 

            Martin Luther is a pygmy-impersonating goat who was born on Martin Luther King day sixteen years ago, hence his name.  He had been injured by his mother shortly after being born, so he has a dodgy foot and his ears had been frostbitten too, so they aren’t quite complete.  What could Jill do?  He was represented as a pygmy kid, but as he grew it was apparent that he was not as represented. Who knows what breed he is, but she adopted him and he’s been tormenting her and getting into trouble ever since. 

            Weebles is a crippled miniature horse rescued from the killer sale (a livestock auction where horses were sold en masse to be slaughtered for meat).  His front legs were horribly deformed, so an orthopedic vet performed intense corrective surgery on him nearly two decades ago.  He and Martin serve as sort of therapy animals and delight the residents of one particular nursing home for the profoundly disabled.  I’m sure the less-than-perfect animals resonate with the humans who share that same distinction. Large Marge was a miniature pot-bellied pig rescued from a crack house.  She was also part of the therapy group, but after nearly twenty pampered years, Marge passed away last fall comforted in her final hours by companions Martin and Weebles. 

            Jill’s latest rescue (prior to the two dogs today) was Chuck the duck.  The Muscovy with frostbitten feet was unable to walk when found on the side of the road, but now that he’s been to the vet, receives daily foot baths and medication for his compromised webs Chuck has made himself Weebles’ newest friend.  Jill says she plans to make Chuck a therapy critter as well.

            In college Jill majored in Horse Production & Management and has worked solely in this field her entire life.  At her boarding stable she not only cares for other peoples equine, but gives riding and horsemanship lessons to an army of pint-sized equestrians who all adore my daughter.  PeeWee is a spotted pony I found tethered in a small yard many years ago.  Through some negotiation I managed to buy the handsome fellow and presented him to Jill as a birthday present. Along with Rocky, a Missouri Foxtrotter, Pee Wee earns his keep as a schooling horse for Jill’s young students,.

            Her stable is also home to another colony of rescued felines and just like those at her home, these are all ‘fixed’ and doted upon.  Few barn cats lead as pampered lives as those at her Fox Creek Stables.

            So, you can see why I’m proud of my daughter.  She is one of those rare individuals who never passes any animal in distress or danger.  Her animal advocacy extends beyond the animals she adopts.  She volunteers whenever and wherever there is a need to help animal welfare-related causes.  Like I said, she’s a fine person and a wonderful daughter.



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Sunday, March 14, 2010

Songs of love.


            Saturday was ugly, cold and rainy, but it was the second Saturday of the month and that meant it was potluck time, so rain or shine the friends who have reserved this Saturday every month for longer than I care to remember all gathered at K & R’s place to eat and enjoy some music and comaraderie. As usual the food was delicious and the music lively, but last night I was struck by how rare and special this collection of friends really is and remembered how it all began.       

            Long ago there was a tiny coffee house/music store called Boulder Junction.  It’s long gone now; the quaint little building razed and the luthiers moved on to more “establishment” kind of jobs, but somehow the folks in what we now loosely refer to as “the music group” all found their individual ways to this little place.  Maybe they came to pick up some guitar strings, look at a used instrument or to buy one of the lap dulcimers made at Boulder Junction.  That was my connection. 

            Folk music was hot, so the owners cleverly reserved Thursday evenings for a jam session where both accomplished musicians and those who knew nothing at all (like me) could come together and learn at least one old time tune each week.  I can still recall the fingernails-on-a-blackboard noise of way too many dulcimers playing Old Molly Hare over and over and over, but eventually the informal group established an actual repertoire of songs.  We played for monthly contra-dances, went to all the music festivals and got to know each another in the process. 

            Music was the thread that initially held us together, but over the years a strong tapestry of non-judgmental friendships developed.  That strength has seen members through all sorts of joy and sorrow.  We are all very different people, but we are all the same in our sincere concern for one another. 

            We’ve watched our children grow into interesting adults. We’ve been a pillar of support when misfortune has struck in the form of illness, fractured relationships and even death.  We tell each other how great we look even though our once-willowy bodies have in most cases grown stumpier than we’d like.  We laugh and share things we’d never tell anyone else and at the end of each monthly get-together I think every person recognizes and appreciates how lucky we are to be a part of such an extraordinary group.  I know I do.



11:54 am edt          Comments

Friday, March 12, 2010

A Day in the Country


            I sometimes lament the vanishing countryside and it’s true.  It’s a very troubling issue, but here on this tiny plot of land enough “country “remains to remind me how lucky I am and why this lifestyle is satisfying, comforting and critical to my well being.  Some of the things I value may seem questionable to others (like these donkeys!), but reader feedback tells me that my way of life is appealing to others.  Writing about my small country life is one thing, but maybe I should be more enterprising and offer something like “A Day in the Country.” 

            The itinerary could include some or all of the following:  Guests would arrive very early morning in time to enjoy a breakfast of farm fresh coddled eggs.  Then it would be off to the barn to feed and muck out the stall while fending off the attentions of the pesky pair of asses. The chickens have come to expect my verbal greeting each morning as I open the coop to feed them and let them outside for the day.  “Good morning, girls,” I say and they reply in cheery chickenspeak. Guests might find this awkward at first, but they'd soon recognize the unique pleasure of this exchange.

            Then it would be time to collect the buckets and head out to the old hand pump to draw water for the barn dwellers.  This task would offer an opportunity for morning meditation.  The squeak-clank of the pump is akin to a chant--very relaxing.  A mid-summer bonus may include learning to disassemble the pump to remove a mouse nest or even seeing just born, bean-size baby rodents. Toting the heavy water buckets builds strength, so one could think of this as an alternative to going to a gym.  Back at the barn, water buckets must be cleaned and filled and hay tossed out for the donkeys. Then guests would return to the house for another cup of coffee. 

              Additional activities might include digging in the gardens, planting trees or other barriers to shut out the intruding “real world, clearing brush to extend the Nature trail, building rustic benches on which to rest and meditate while enjoying the Nature trail, collecting eggs and perhaps experiencing hatching peeps, harvesting seasonal fruits and vegetables and throwing Frisbees for Ted until it’s time to return to the barn to repeat the morning ritual. 

            A walk through Ranger Rick’s woods and a hike around old Kenny’s field would be optional, but highly recommended. Finally guests could sit on the porch with a nice glass of wine while I prepare a delicious vegetarian dinner after which they may read or listen to music by the woodstove in the living room or, weather permitting retreat to the porch to listen to night sounds.  Extended options might be spending the night in the modest guestroom and falling asleep to the sound of spring peepers.

            Remember, I have never pretended to be a “real farmer,” so this Day in the Country could be considered a primer for a similar retreat at a real farm.  I have friends that offer such “opportunities” which they call apprenticeships.

            As the publishing industry becomes ever more challenging, this just might be something to consider….



7:57 pm est          Comments

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Spring surprise!


            The weatherman is warning folks not to get too comfortable with these nice temperatures because it’s all going to change, but he’s been making ominous predictions for days.  I don’t believe him, but I am trying to make the most of every warm sunny moment, so most of today was spent working outside getting a jump on spring projects.

            If there’s one thing every farm has plenty of it’s baling twine.  I have miles of the stuff—in eight foot pieces.  All farmers do the same thing; we save it just in case….  You never know when you’re going to need it. Baling twine falls into the same category as Duct Tape and W-D40.  These things are indispensible.  Today my copious supply of twine came in handy for securing some saggy fencing. 

            When I first got a goat I was naïve enough to think that woven wire fence would keep him confined.  It took about five minutes to discover the foolishness in that notion!  The upper and lower paddocks are fenced with high tensile wire, but unless at least one of the wires is hot a goat will step right between the strands.  None of this fencing is electrified, so I double-fenced the upper paddock with woven wire.

            While this didn’t keep the goat where he was supposed to be, the woven wire has helped keep the donkeys from getting at the vegetables I plant along one of the fence lines.  Over time the woven stuff sags, hence baling twine to the rescue! The garden spot will be safe from the troublemakers.

            One year the pesky duo found a weak spot and in a single afternoon they picked a five gallon bucket of green tomatoes, not because they had any intention of eating them.  It was just a fun thing to do.  That won’t happen again. They stood close by as I worked on the fence today, no doubt memorizing how to tie and untie knots.  They are simply incorrigible!  When pumpkin vines migrated to their side of the fence (and of course the biggest pumpkins grew there), they used the big orange globes for toys. 

            After securing the fencing I spread stall cleanings on the gardens.  I can almost taste the super duper veggies I’ll grow this summer thanks to all that nitrogen. Finally, while considering the multiflora rose eradication project out by the manure spreader a burst of purple caught my eye.  At first I thought it might be one of Ted’s toys, but as you can see it was no toy!  It was a surprising patch of crocus that had previously been hidden behind that thicket of thorns. 

            Other plants are poking through in that area as well; daffodils and lilies, chives and dog foot violets and somewhere within that jungle of brambles is a patch of asparagus.  It’s been a long winter, but days like this make it all seem like a vague distant memory.  Yes, maybe I should have been inside writing, but it was just too lovely to come indoors. I’ll write tonight…. 


7:00 pm est          Comments

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

A day of discoveries.


            It was another day of clear skies and mild temperatures, so the dogs and I went for a road walk since the woods are just too difficult for Ted with his sore leg.  ET was in his driveway fiddling with some bit of equipment as we passed by, so we exchanged neighborly greetings.  On the return trip it was apparent he’d been tuning up his malicious chainsaw in order to resume his environmental assault on the two trees that remained standing, albeit in mutilated conditions.  Today these trees joined their hortacultural comrades on the slash pile.      

            The melting snow has uncovered 46 beer cans (so far) tossed along the two miles of our walking route. Budweiser and Busch seem to be the brew of choice.  Unless the weather man’s storm prediction materializes I’ll collect this litter tomorrow.

            Poppy remains the undefeated champion in the feline fight against mice.  For the past three days she has delivered a carcass to the back door.  She sits proudly in front of her kill, occasionally inflicting a few tentative slaps to the lifeless form as Sissy and Ivy watch with apparent envy.  I took photos of her and her latest victim, but in the blink of an eye this computer erased them!  Oh, to be computer savvy….  

            In the barn I discovered a petrified snake which had been hidden by hay bales.  From his condition I would say he’d been there for a while.  In the corner of the spare stall a mysterious pyramid of dirt about twenty inches tall and about a foot in diameter has erupted.  Since this stall has a brick floor and wooden walls I have no idea of the source of this mound. I find no scat, no footprints, nothing to indicate what critter created this mess which I’ve now added to the clean up list.

            It was a perfect day to sort and plant peat pots of garden seeds and  geranium cuttings.  I was working at this task when a blood-curdling scream sliced through the spring birdsong.  It was a cat in horrible distress and it was not stationary.  It was traveling on the road that intersects this one.  The dogs and my own cats froze in their tracks and all heads turned toward the east.  A minute later another scream cut through the air, further to the west. A couple of minutes later I heard one gun shot.  The implications of these anguished cries are too awful to consider and I shudder to think what I may discover when I travel out on that road.

            I think there have been quite enough discoveries for one day.



8:37 pm est          Comments

Hey, where's my other eye brow?
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Tuesday, March 9, 2010

What a day!


            What a wonderful day!  A week ago I never would have believed that on Tuesday, March 9th I would be eating lunch on the porch. All kitties were outside too, either napping or chasing one another.  Ted and Ernie rolled around in the snow, checked out the thawing ice on the pond and trotted about with big dog smiles on their faces.

            It was lovely to go outside wearing a sweater instead of being bundled up like an Eskimo.  It’s amazing how a bit of sunshine can so drastically change one’s attitude. After a very productive day, I’m no longer overwhelmed by all the damage the winter months have wrought.  I’ll deal with all of it, one project at a time. 

            I love watching my animals. Animals live in the moment.  They find joy and fun in the simplest activities.  I took this photo as Sissy as she briefly posed on a low branch of the Norway maple before racing to the top.  She’s a show-off and sped up the tree faster than any squirrel.  

            The melting snow uncovered one of  Ted’s favorite toys—a Frisbee.  Such toys are not supposed to come in the house, but he’s managed to sneak it inside and the minute I sit down he puts it on my lap and stares at me with eager anticipation.  That’s when I noticed that Ted has only one eyebrow.  He could care less!



6:35 pm est          Comments

Monday, March 8, 2010



            Until relatively recently I enjoyed all of the nuances that set rural life apart from urban living.  I had a three mile cross-country walking course right outside my door.  The old farmers that owned the land on which I walked all said, "Sure you can walk there.... " It was wonderful.  Not a day passed that I didn’t see wildlife native to the area, including some that most people never experience.  Each day I offered silent thanks for the opportunity to share such wildness.

            There was very little traffic on the road in front of my place.  Most of what rumbled past were tractors, farm trucks or school buses.  It was peaceful and quiet.  But one of the things I liked best about living here was night time.  It was dark, black as the inside of a cow unless there was a full moon.  When the sun set, my familiar world became an alien place, but in a good way.  To investigate things that went bump in the night required a bright flashlight, but I knew the sources (usually coons, opossum or fox) were nothing to fear.

            All of this has changed all too rapidly.  Someone said, “All progress requires change, but not all change is progress.”  How true.  The death of neighbor Glen launched the sale of the first large section of land to people who wasted no time in destroying great swathes of wildlife habitat.  I almost lost my mind when this massacre was taking place. My walking route was diverted from the oil road to a field so it was still cross country, but that only lasted until the newcomers dogs became a threat, so now my dogs and I must walk part of the way on the road.

            But the road has become a dangerous place as the township becomes increasingly “developed.”  Cornfields are being transformed into lawns surrounding homes of people who have no respect for narrow roadways, walkers, wildlife, equestrians or anything else that used to safely use these byways.  They speed by, chatting on their cell phones, utterly oblivious to their surroundings pushing us to the edge of our safe tranquil lives.

            Perhaps what I miss most is the blackness that used to be night.  Now nearly every house but mine is equipped with at least one hideous “security light” that blazes from dusk until dawn. How do the inhabitants tell day from night?  Truth be known, I’d love to shoot these lights out and plunge the paranoid homeowners into darkness.  It would be a learning experience for them.

            Walking back from the barn tonight I noticed that these intrusive beams seem to dot every horizon.  Soon the trees will leaf out and hide some of the energy-wasting eye sores, but they will still exist;  one more reminder of my ever-shrinking small country life.          



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Sunday, March 7, 2010

A sunny Sunday.


            What a wonderful feeling to go outside wearing just a vest (over a turtleneck and a wool sweater…).  After sweeping the porches free of debris that has accumulated over the past few months I optimistically put the snow shovel back in the garden shed.  What a relief!  It was beginning to feel like the rigid appendage had been grafted to my right arm.  Perhaps returning it to its place on the wall of tools was premature, but out of sight, out of mind.

            As the sun melts the mountains of snow and rivers of ice more property damage comes to light.  As the snow cascaded from the south roof it ripped the arm right off one of the Adirondack chairs.  On the north side lays the twisted gutter.  The rose bushes off the brick porch took a hit as well, but all of this seems minor.  The sun is shining!

            Over the weekend I attended an art show and bought a little painting that caught my eye. While I like living in my old house with its sloping floors, wonky doorways, drafty rooms with time-worn mouse holes, I love modern art, abstraction in particular.  I think of the oddities of an old house as architectural abstractions.  Abstraction calls for thoughtful consideration and induces emotions which can be exciting, calming or liberating.  My new painting is such.

            It reminds me a bit of Mark Rothko’s classic contemplative works.  I hate it when people ask things like, “Well, what does it MEAN?” or they make insipid claims such as, “I could paint THAT…,” but they didn’t and if they did, they wouldn’t know why they did it, so I don’t even attempt to respond to these  remarks.  I think Rothko’s comment that, “Silence is so accurate,” says it all.  I love this new painting for what it is.



1:23 pm est          Comments

Friday, March 5, 2010

Survival of the fittest.


            Driving to Amish country earlier this week I saw an emaciated opossum walking along the edge of a field.  It was mid-afternoon and the nocturnal scavenger shouldn’t have been out and about, but his haggard condition clearly indicated he was hungry and desperate.  He looked awful.  As I drove home a few hours later, he was lying dead in the middle of the road.  All of this snow cover is making basic survival for wildlife extremely challenging.

            Today I encountered yet another opossum sitting on the roadside.  He too looked thin and desperate.  As luck would have it my friend had several cans of cat food in her trunk, , so we stopped to give the poor critter a meal. I opened one can and walked up to the thin confused marsupial. He didn’t flinch, but ate heartily.  He probably thought he’d died and gone to heaven, so I gave him a second can.  When we returned a couple of hours later he was gone, thank goodness.  Hopefully he was off resting his recharged body.  Perhaps no creature is as misunderstood, unappreciated and maligned as these useful creatures.  I’ve done several articles about them and they are really quite fascinating, so if you see one, don’t hurt it!

            Tonight as I closed up the chicken coop one of the hens was beating the crap out of something as her feathered friends watched from their perches as if they were spectators at sporting event.  Incredibly the big hen (the surviving French girl) had actually killed a mouse.  Winter can’t end too soon for any of us.  While I’m just tired of the inconvenience this winter has inflicted, for many of the wild things it has meant an early death.  Hurry springtime!




6:24 pm est          Comments




            I awakened at 2:00 AM thinking it was time to start the day, but the dogs continuedtheir snoring and snuffling, oblivious to my alert state.  While lying there staring up at the tongue and groove ceiling, I made a list of all that must be done today.  Why was the sky still so dark, I wondered.  It finally dawned on me (no pun intended) that perhaps it was not yet morning.  That’s when I looked at the clock.

            After half an hour of tossing and turning I padded downstairs and drank some milk.  What a wonderful, but unheralded sleep inducer!  The Milk Council really should exploit this benefit. I returned to bed and was soon fast asleep, but disturbing dreams intruded upon my rest.

            In researching an article yesterday I came across information that haunts me and this was no doubt the source of the unpleasant dreams.  Mules have always played important roles in military operations, but during WWII the American government got the bright idea to air drop them into chosen territories.  They outfitted about ten mules with parachutes and then began shoving them out of the plane.  After three plunged to their deaths the remaining mules refused to go near the open door.  That’s when the government acknowledged that mules are indeed very smart animals.

            Primarily used as pack animals to carry munitions, mules carried 250 pounds on their backs for up to 16 hours each day.  God only knows what the government is doing to animals in the current wars.  Things like this keep me awake at night.

            My friend Terry is a British harness maker who after seeing horrible suffering and unintentional injuries inflicted on donkeys and mules in Third World countries where they are the main transportation animals he decided to do something about it.  In most cases the injuries were easily preventable, but prevalent because the indigenous people just didn’t know how to create humane harnessing with the materials they had available to them.  Terry knew he could change this by designing a simple harnessing system adaptable to various materials.

            Traveling with a vet to remote sections he teaches locals how to make these harnessing systems, thus creating a cottage industry while saving the animals unimaginable suffering from improvised harness like that seen in this photo. 

            I must keep reminding myself of people like Terry to get any sleep at night. 



9:16 am est          Comments

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Thoughts at the end of the day.

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—

I took the one less traveled by,

And that has made all the difference.

                        Robert Frost


I’m growing fonder of Mr. Frost these days.  He's something of a soul mate.  This particular poem (The Road Not Taken) seems to sum up my life.  I have few, if any regrets.

Tomorrow I will take photos for the snow is just beginning to melt.  No longer is everything pristine and lovely.  Now it is dirty.  I've spent the day working on stories and feel good about finally getting back into my normal routine.  I only hope there will be no more unpleasant surprises.


9:19 pm est          Comments

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Changing times.


         A stranger seen walking on the road out here provokes all kinds of speculation.  Someone on foot with no apparent destination must surely be up to no good, so the neighborhood watch goes on alert.  Such paranoia brings back memories of when I was a kid on Fifth Street.  Strangers were treated quite differently then.

            My mother wasn’t really a good cook, but to the endless stream of hungry dogs or hobos--as they were called prior to being re-christened ‘indigents,’ her offerings must have been veritable feasts.  It didn’t occur to me at the time to wonder where any of them went after leaving our backyard.    

             It would begin with a chalk or crayoned mark found slashed on one of the maples in front of the house. For a while thereafter a stream of hungry drifters would appear knowing they would be fed without question or fear.

            For the dogs she’d put food on the cement sidewalk under the apple tree and the hungry mongrels would clean up every morsel.  For the men (and it was always men), the ritual was different. 

            A man would come to the back of the house, often clutching a soiled cloth cap in one hand as he rapped with his other on the wooden porch boards.  These men never came up onto the porch, but stretched their arms as long as possible to humbly tap on the porch floor.  My mother would come to the back door and without saying a word begin dishing up a meal regardless of the time of day. 

           The man would sit on the cement steps waiting until the door opened.  There would be no exchange of words, just an apparent understanding between the two of them.  In her somber house dress and sensible shoes she’d move silently across the gray painted floor and hand the man a plate or maybe a bowl of soup.  Most times there was coffee too.  Then she’d scurry back inside and push the little tab that locked the storm door.  I’m sure the lock snapping into place must have been embarrassing, but it was the price to be paid for a hot meal.

            My memories of these events are always in black and white and gray; the men as soiled and colorless as the long roads they’d traveled.  Their clothes dreary and hanging like excess skin on someone who has lost a lot of weight.  They sat on the gray cement steps that led to the gray painted porch and ate from my mother’s heavy faded ironstone dishes. 

             When the meal was finished the man might bow his head and nod to my mother who stood safely behind the door,  as if to thank her. Maybe he’d say something like, “Thank ya, ma’m.”  One man scribbled a note on a scrap of paper and left it under the plate. My mother kept that note in her Bible.

            When the drifter was gone she would snap the lock open, cross the porch and retrieve the dishes sometimes using a towel to pick up the soiled plates which she’d put in the chipped double sink and pour boiling water over as if being a hobo were synonymous with being sick and contagious. 

             Things have really changed.  Nowadays people call 911 and report a suspicious person who will probably be hauled off to jail. No doubt that person will get a meal, but not like those my mother served.




8:21 pm est          Comments

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Spring is in the air.


            At first I thought it was just wishful thinking, but it’s true; spring is just around the corner.  The wildlife says it is so.  The woods are just abuzz with activity.  The silence that was so deafening just a couple of weeks ago is gone.  Birds are atwitter all day long. Squirrels scamper across the snow, across the still-frozen pond and leap from one barren limb to another.  They may already have babies in their leafy nests.

            In the barn one of the young hens is broody.  Today, against her vocal protest I took four eggs from under her.  There will be time enough for chicks to hatch when the weather improves.  Without thinking I tucked the eggs in my jacket pocket, forgot they were there and leaned against the truck.  Trust me; sticking one’s hand into a pocket of cold yellow goo is not pleasant.

            On the south side of the house, near the foundation the snow has melted enough to expose pale green shoots of the lilies that skirt the flagstone patio.  It’s all so exciting!

            I had hoped to plant some seeds today, but can’t find the bag of potting soil, nor the peat pots that I distinctly remember buying last year. I spent way too much time searching for these items, so tomorrow I’ll head to the store and get some more.  You just know the elusive soil and pots will show up then. 

            I’ve saved seeds from especially tasty tomatoes and melons and some unusual squash that I’m eager to plant.  The corner of the field that has sadly become a dog cemetery is going to be planted with melons.  Nettie had strange food preferences and melons were among her favorites. 

            The dogs and I are slowly emerging from our grief.  The boys are romping and playing again instead of moping about, but they still seem lost without their leader. Ted has even lost some weight during this period of mourning, but it seems that Ernie has found it.  He is obsessed with food and even steals bread crumbs which I put out for the birds.  It’s been a long difficult winter, but each day brings new signs that it will soon be over.  I’m hopeful and optimistic and can't wait to be taking more pictures like this one (last years garden).


9:24 pm est          Comments

An inspiring day in real country.

            I live quite near the largest Amish community in the world and used to spend a good bit of time there since I write for several heavy horse publications.  The unbroken Amish tradition of working with draft animals has provided a plethora of story subjects over the years.  While in this picturesque landscape on business yesterday I stopped in to say hello to friend Daniel Raber.  Daniel is one of the most interesting and talented people I’ve ever had the pleasure of knowing.  He is a true master carriage restorer.

            I met Daniel and his late father Alvin many years ago and to say the pair was atypical of the Amish culture would be a gross understatement.  The family was Old Order and Alvin had followed in his father’s profession making and repairing Amish buggies, but when the English (non-Amish) driving community discovered his outstanding craftsmanship he ceased buggy making and devoted his skills entirely to restoration.  Daniel learned from a master and in turn became one himself.

            “I remember working on the last buggy Dad made. I was fifteen, so I’ve been doing this (restoration) for twenty-eight years now.” 

            Alvin lost a brave battle with cancer four years ago and the loss hit Daniel hard as father and son were very close.  As Alvin’s restoration business had grown he made the decision to leave the Amish society, got a car and a cell phone and a big RV which he and Daniel drove to Alaska every year. His wonderful sense of humor was legendary and I never heard anyone say a harsh word about the jovial genius.  His knowledge of horse drawn vehicles was encyclopedic and I loved to sit and watch the father and son working on some carriage that looked more like firewood than the rare coach it actually was. 

            Daniel has carried on his father’s craft and has maybe even surpassed the mastery, but unlike Alvin  Daniel has remained Amish.  He still works out of the old barn on the family farm. The workshop is heated by a monstrous old coal furnace.  Propane, hydraulics, generators and batteries provide power. There’s an ancient oil-stained workbench, neat stacks of firewood and two dogs. His mother’s house is just a dozen yards from the barn and one brother’s place is up the lane a bit. Out of six siblings, only Daniel followed in his father’s footsteps.

            Like his dad, Daniel is a perfectionist who knows the history of every coach that comes into the shop.  One might expect someone who has restored carriages for collectors and museums globally to be snooty, but that’s not the case. He’s humble, kind, friendly and brilliant.  I’ve written about A & D Buggy Shop in the past and look forward to doing more stories very soon. 

            Check out the web site at: and be sure to look at the before and after photos although the pictures scarcely convey the work involved in restoring them to their original conditions.

10:08 am est          Comments

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